Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day

Today is a day to remember our fallen heroes, but I also am asking God to bless the wives, husbands, parents and children of our current soldiers. 

They each pay a huge price, missing their daddy or mommy, husband or wife, son or daughter, while they serve overseas. And the soldier also pays such a huge, huge price. 

What a sacrifice of his or her life and time and all he or she holds dear. These families - the soldiers, the spouses, the parents and their children - need our love and support. 

Click to See a Great Video 

I hope our government fully appreciates all they do and all they give up. I don't know if they do, but at least we, the USA citizens, can be kind to them. I wish our government would take care of our veterans the way they should. Let's think of and try to do something special for someone - or for someone's family - who is active in the military today.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Surprising Obstacles

Last December, during routine blood tests to check my weird thyroid,  my doctor noticed some out of the ordinary numbers regarding my kidney function.

Someone needs to inform my body that "Fifty = Fabulous", and not Fifty = Full On Body Fail". 

We redid the test a few times, always getting the same results.  The numbers weren't good, but they weren't horrible either, so I went ahead and returned to Rwanda.  I didn't want to delay my return any further, because as it was, I would only just make it back in time to meet Sam and Ruthie for their midterm 4 day break from school.  We had planned for me to fly directly back to Nairobi to meet them, as Tim could not take off work in Rwanda at that time.  It is required for one parent, or a guardian, which we would have had to pre-arrange and hadn't, to be there to pick up kids for this break time when the school shuts down for much needed staff R&R.  Besides really missing my kids, I was quite obligated to be there as well.  So, pretty much unless I was dying, I really needed to get on the plane and get to Africa.

Since then, my sweet in-house doctor, Tim, has made sure I've continued monitoring my kidney numbers via testing in an excellent clinic in Nairobi.  We'd thought perhaps this kidney deal was a temporary problem, which would rectify itself with some time.  However, six months later, my numbers still aren't good.

Frustrating, but certainly nowhere near the kind of concerns, hurts and problems we see daily with so many patients at our hospital - and with patients who have absolutely ZERO other options to just "fly to Kenya or America" for further care.

This really is just what I'd call a kidney "glitch".  It is nowhere near a crisis, or anything super scary.  It is just something we need to watch, and would sure like to figure out.  Yes, it's not good, but truly, it's not a big deal, either.

But, this kidney glitch highlights for me once again the unfairness of this current world.  I admit I am thankful to be born into the privilege that allows me to pay attention to something that wouldn't even be detected yet, were it happening with one of our friends here in Rwanda.  Yet I am also filled with enormous guilt that I am so privileged.  This once more makes me long for Heaven, when finally all will be made right.  All will be equally unfair there.  No one will be there out of "fairness".  All will be enjoying an eternal life of privilege, the bliss and joy of living and loving in a perfect environment, soaking up all that love and care, thrilled to be daily in the presence of our Friend and Savior, Jesus.  None will be left out, none will be second or third class.  None will be deprived while 10% consume 90% of the benefits.  I can't wait.

Meanwhile, my kidneys.  Even after multiple tests, we have no idea why they aren't working well.  We only know that they aren't.  They aren't terrible - I'm far from needing dialysis or anything.  But it is a concern.  I'm a point away from being stage 3 - so, technically stage 2, a good thing.

Is it because of my lifelong habit of drinking Coca-cola, for many years diet and the last 10 the "real thing"?  Is it because I have neglected to eat my veggies regularly?   Am I just unlucky in the kidney department?

We don't know.  But we are now at the point where I need to go back home for a biopsy.  Hopefully, that will tell us why this is happening and help us make a plan.

I won't be able to see anyone besides a few family members on my very quick 10 day trip - but I'd sure love to have your prayers as we try to understand what is happening with this half a century young body of mine, and how it will impact our future ministry in Africa.  We love working here.  We love living here.

Tim jokes that I must have been born African and switched at birth - I thrive in this culture.  And not just because we get to operate on "African Time" - though that really is a big plus for me!  But also, I love the food, the smiles, the greeting your friends on the road, the walking, not having to even worry one minute about my outfit being in style or ever concerning myself or watching others concern themselves with keeping up with the Joneses.  Heck, the Joneses don't even live here.  What do any of us care what they do?

Is it wrong to enjoy where you live and minister?  Or are we only supposed to go where we "suffer for Jesus"?  That isn't a real question, so no need to answer it.  Of course, it sure seems to me that God usually - not always, but usually - gives a real love of a place to those he sends somewhere - He is a good God and loving Father, yes?  Anyway, He certainly has done that for Tim and me and our kids.  As much as I love and miss the good ole USA, especially the Texas part,  I will always be so grateful to have moved to Africa and discovered whole new "lands that I love" and new countries that I pray for God to bless.  I don't just sing "God Bless America" anymore, but "God Bless America, and Rwanda, and Kenya, and DRC, and Burundi...."

Will you pray for me about my kidneys?  And for my travel back home?  And for the biopsy procedure?  And will you pray for Deste as I have to leave him behind yet again for another trip?  He'll be home with his Dad,  and with Aunt Jeanne, too, but still.....I worry about his heart - he has gone through so many changes!  Will you pray for our family? 

Thank you. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Conflict and Jesus

One thing movies like Pocahontas and Avatar have right ~ when men and women involve themselves in a place, or in a mission, a job, a sport, a church, or anything else, hurt will come.

Why will hurt come?

Because hurting other humans, or the rest of creation - environment, trees, and animals - is one of the things we humans do well.

Yes, we also heal other humans and other parts of creation, as we also are creative, imaginative, and constructive.

But, sadly, sometimes intentionally and sometimes by complete accident, we humans also often hurt others and other things.

"All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God."  Romans 3:23

"The wages of sin is death...."  Romans 6:23

The “whole creation groans”, waiting for the time when Christ will return to liberate it from the effects of death. ~ Romans 8:22

We experience conflict when we disagree with others on a variety of issues, and yet insist on getting our own way.  Conflict is a natural occurring phenomenon any time you have people working together. With conflict, comes hurt. 

Being a Christian doesn't exempt us from human conflict, any more than being a Christian magically turns us into people who never sin, never fall short of God's mark for us.  If you don't know that, you must have never met a Christian, or if you are a Christian, you must have never looked in a mirror.  Just sayin'. 

James chapter 4 discusses conflict and other negative consequences of our broken, sinful nature.  It is here if you want to read the whole thing.  It's good stuff.  It starts off with this honest appraisal:  What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God." 

For the last few months - actually, longer - I've been in conflict with someone in our mission, and it has challenged, saddened, confused and drained me to the core.

My own efforts to "fix the situation" have come up empty.  I guess it's been one of those "growing things" that we all hate at the time, but for which, much, much later, we look back and give thanks, because we learned so much.  I can't wait to get to the thankful part! Yes,  I am "counting it all joy, when I face this trial, knowing that the testing of my faith will produce endurance" (James 1:2) - I am giving thanks, theoretically, anyway.  I do believe that God has orchestrated this - or at least that He knew it was coming, is in control and is going to use it, is even using it now, for my good and for the other person's good.  So, I am theoretically thankful for it.  I really am.  But I want to be experientially thankful for it!  I can't wait until I can SEE and SAY what great thing God did in the midst of and because of this trial.  But of course I can't do that until the conflict has somehow been worked out.  
Just like Forest Gump, "I don't have anything else to say about that"  (this conflict).  I don't have a nice, tied-up-with-a-pretty-bow story about how God came in and gave us both victory.  Of how two people, each called by God to serve him here in Rwanda, each trying to live out that call to the best of his or her ability and in God's strength, each trying to hear God's voice and obey Him in this situation,  somehow worked everything out.  Because we haven't yet.  But I do hope and trust that I will have that story to tell, eventually.  I do know God has seen me through much harder things than this.  I know that He, Who made the mountains, Who calmed the seas, Who found a husband for a girl who had more issues than the sand on the seashore, and Who kept that girl's marriage together and happy (most of the time!) for 23 years.......that same God can work in and through this conflict.   But -- I don't have a clue right now about how He will do that.  I am still walking through it.

It doesn't make a good blog post.  I am only mentioning the conflict at all for these two reasons: 

1. To Be Real.

I could easily not mention the "crap" part about being a missionary, the part where I am soooo not worthy to even be here on my own merit.  I wouldn't have to lie, I could just happen to not mention it, and instead could keep writing about all the sweet and precious kids and patients we get to help.  I could allow our friends and other readers to think we are really amazing people.  Yes, that's fun, and it glorifies us.  But we aren't supposed to be about glorifying us, are we?  We are about shining a light onto Jesus, the only One who, if you admire Him from afar, won't disappoint you when you get to know Him up close and personal.  

You'd be surprised how many emails I get from people who read this blog, people who tell me I am "so amazing" and how admired I am for my work here.  I wonder sometimes, "Do they say this because I fail to present an adequate picture of the very simple person I actually am?  Or very complicated?  Yes, I love Jesus and I am here to serve Him - but I also often, so often, fall short of the desire to do that.   I am being used by Him not because I am good, not because I am amazing, but just because I am His and He loves me.  

Maybe I have not shown my weakness in this blog, but have only shown my "holiness".  (I have to laugh when I even type that word, as I am only HOLY because Jesus made me HOLY, not because I've ever acted HOLY for one day of my Christian life.)

Well, I thought this admission of my conflict problem might help to pop that silly "you are amazing" bubble.  I'm a big, fat sinner, just like everyone else reading this and everyone else on the planet.  I can be and often am stubborn, inflexible, angry, overly sensitive, defensive and even unforgiving.  Even though I happen to be called a missionary and happen to live and work in Rwanda.

The second reason I'm posting this: 

2. To Ask for Prayer, and Lots of It.  
  • Not only that we can have enough funds to help those here we came to serve, which we do need.  In fact, we need 100 more people to give $100 a year (less than $10 a month) to meet our current support needs.  If you want to do that, click here. 
  • Not only for our physical health, which we also need - as you'll see in an upcoming post.
  • Not only for our kids' emotional, spiritual, and physical health - and for their education, which they need.
  • BUT ALSO....For God to show us the various ways we daily turn away from Him, and to strengthen us to repent and turn BACK to Him.
  • For God to show us where we try to find life and meaning apart from Him, the only source of life and meaning, and to help us to leave those things behind and once again make Him our all in all. 
  • For God to help us to learn to TRULY LOVE our neighbor as ourselves, even those we dislike, to seek to UNDERSTAND those by whom we are befuddled, to FORGIVE endlessly, as He has forgiven us, to HUMBLY ask forgiveness for our sin against others.  
People seem to love to put Christian workers on some kind of strange pedestal, and maybe part of the reason is because we Christian workers are afraid to tell the truth, lest our financial and prayer support dry up, a very real concern.  Because, we cannot keep doing the work He gave us to do, as messed up as we may be, without your prayers and your financial backing.  But we also cannot keep doing the work He gave us to do if we do not live in the Truth.   Regardless of what happens, we need to live in the truth that we are dearly loved, God-empowered, God-sent, messed up people, who don't get to do cool things because of how amazing we are, but because of how amazing He is.  We are no different than anyone else.  We are loved, we love, we walk, we stumble, we fall, we sin, we look up to Him, we get up, we begin again.  Just like everyone else.  As the old saying goes, "We are just beggars telling other beggars where we found some mighty tasty bread." The one to admire and follow is Jesus, no matter which side of the ocean you find yourself working. 

If you're experiencing conflict that you just don't know how to resolve, I'm sharing a link that is helping me as I keep wading through the mire of my conflict problem.  It's given me so many great things to pray and think about!  Maybe it will help you, too. 

Click Here for a neat website on resolving conflict. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

All in the Family

Our 23rd Anniversary Weekend

It might seem a bit strange for a couple to spend their anniversary celebration weekend WITH some of their children, but for us, this year, it was a perfect plan.  

Tim and I had to send Ruthie and Sam back to their boarding school two weeks ago, and we missed them already.  Since I needed to come to Nairobi last week for some medical tests (nothing too serious; don't worry, mom!), Tim decided to come join me here for the weekend so we could celebrate.  

Being so near the kids, we couldn't imagine spending the weekend so nearby them without seeing them.  So, the family-friendly anniversary weekend was born.  We found a very reasonably priced lodge called the "Lake Naivasha Resort", and headed out there on Saturday.  

For nearby families, we really enjoyed this place.  They have a few "luxury tent cabins", which means the tents have comfortable bed, toilet, sink, shower and electricity included.  There are multiple (10?) other non-luxury tents in a grove of beautiful Acacia trees, closer to the lake, which have the bed, but not the bathroom nor electricity, for quite a bargain price, especially in low season like now.  Then there are maybe 10 or 12 log type cabins - I didn't see inside those, but assume they were your basic cabin. They do have electricity.  The grounds are beautiful.  Large, open lawn, beautiful, tall trees, a clean and refreshing swimming pool, a restaurant, and dock with some small boats for cruising around the lake.  


More than anything, the beauty of this place comforted our tired souls and bodies, and provided an uninterrupted place for the four of us to visit, catch up, and just enjoy being together. 

Being Americans, of course we were also entertained by the numerous monkeys, especially the mamas and baby monkeys, roaming about and causing mischief.  One time, I wandered back to my tent from the swimming pool, only to find about 4 monkeys on my bed!  They scampered out as soon as I disturbed them by daring to enter my room.  I assume these cute little guys annoy locals, as they are scavengers and cause a bunch of chaos - kind of the way ranchers in Texas feel about armadillos, nutria in our lakes, and for some, even deer.  But for us Americans, we enjoyed every moment of watching these cute monkeys running around, stealing food, balancing and climbing trees so skillfully. 


What a treat!  Ice in our coke!  Ahhhhhh

I'm not going to want to go back to Nairobi tomorrow! 

But, I can't wait to return to Rwanda on Wednesday or Thursday to see my sweet Deste and Jeanne.  I miss them so much. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Shoots from Stumps

"A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit." ~ Isaiah 11:1

Lately I've run into some brick walls in my personal ministry here in Rwanda.  Things I would like to do, and feel moved to start, haven't worked out, and some things I've done, although they turned out well, have turned out to be very, very complicated.  Not that I wouldn't choose to do it again if I'd known how complicated life would become - but I might have taken a deeper breath first, and prepared myself for the walk through the mire to get from point A to point B.  

Tough times often spur introspection, and rightly so.  

"What could I have done differently?"  
"Was this really necessary or beneficial?"  
"What would I do next time?" 
"Am I making a difference or helping anyone at all?"

And of course, the well worn favorite of ex-pats everywhere, 

"What in the world am I even doing here?"  

With these questions running around in my brain, bouncing up against one another, I opened to Isaiah 11, having no idea how gently and dearly the words written there would encourage and affirm me.  

"A shoot will come up"........."from the stump of Jesse."  (from the stump of a dead old tree)

Something new and good would spring up from something old and dead.  The "shoot" here refers to Jesus, who would one day be born through the family line of David.  Jesse was David's dad, and not nearly such an amazing guy as David was.  Yet, from the dead old stump of Jesse, Jesus was born - and He turned the world upside down!  He brought LIGHT out of darkness, HOPE out of despair, and TRUTH into a world of lies.  

Ripples of Jesus's ministry are still moving outward to this day, over 2,000 years after His death and resurrection.   

But that was Jesus, the Divine Son of God.  Of course He turned the world upside down.  Of course his presence and work accomplished so much.  

As I read this passage, I was encouraged.  Any work that God leads anyone to do, anything done through the power of Jesus' Name, even though done by the equivalent of an old tree stump - is sure to somehow, some way produce a new shoot of life, a new promise of redemption and of miracles and of second chances and of God's love to his people.  

Only God knows what fruit will grow from what we often feel are our paltry offerings to God. 

When you think about it, compared to what God has done for us - anything anyone ever does for God is a "small thing".  It's all small stuff.   But we can choose to trust that God will take our very small things, things only as good as what you could expect to come from an old tree stump, and bring out from them beautiful shoots which will grow into solid, strong trees, which will then produce fruit and will become real blessings to many.  

That's real encouragement.  The truth is, what each of us do, no matter how mundane or incredibly small it may seem sometimes, it all matters.  It ALL matters. 

So, if God moves in your heart to bake some cookies for a neighbor, to help a friend update her resume while she looks for a new job, to seek to bring justice to someone who has been mistreated and used or neglected, or to just do the dishes when it's not your turn, do not think this is too small a thing for God.  Nothing is too small for Him.  And He can take all our work, no matter how closely it resembles an old tree stump's leftovers, recover it and make it into a tall, strong tree for His Glory.  

Don't give up!  

 A few of the shoots growing up out of my old stump......things that give me joy and happiness and hope for the future.....
One of Tim's patients from last year came to visit and brought her new baby!  This is child number 7 for her!

Our dear friend and "adopted son", Pacifique -on his way to drop off his application for medical school.  

Saying good-bye to our little sweetheart, Kito, the day he was taking the ferry boat back to Idjwi Island with his Uncle. 

Jeanne and Kito, saying good-bye.

Kito's Uncle, who came to take him home.  What a sweet man. 

Gordance, a friend who attends our nearby University.

A partially paralyzed grandmother who couldn't see to read anymore.  Pacifique brought her some reading glasses. 

My friend at the market who sells ladies and children's clothing. (Above and below)

Dear friends who are seamstresses.  (above and below)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Remember Your Journey

In reading through Micah recently, these verses encouraged me:

“Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, 
that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.” 
 ~ Micah 6:5b

Since June 2012, but really since April 2011, when we said “YES, We Will Go”, and made our decision to move to Africa public, life has moved at warp speed much of the time.  I almost feel as though I have lived two lives, the Pre-Africa life and the Africa one. 

As I reflect on our family’s identity, I sometimes have a hard time looking at our family history in any kind of continuum – instead it feels like two separate lives – that is how different the experiences are.

I love Rwanda.  I love East Africa (the only part of Africa I’ve seen).  But sometimes, even when everything is good, so good, in this present African life, sometimes I yearn, I long, like a child away at camp for the first time, for my Pre-Africa life. 

I see that past life through a very rose-colored lens, conveniently forgetting any and all arguments, sibling rivalries, loads and loads of laundry, home repairs constantly needed, marital strife, and all other stresses, and I only remember my happy little house in my small town neighborhood, where I homeschooled our four children, raised chickens, enjoyed having pets, swam almost year round with the family in our pool, took my kids to music lessons, baseball practice and games, boy scouts and the waterpark, and visited with friends while buying whatever I liked at the town grocery store, the town social hub, the H-E-B.  I even have extremely happy memories of building snowmen and sledding down the hill by our house, on formal dinner serving trays (because what Texan owns a real sled??) on those few glorious days every other winter or so when we would have ice, sleet or even snow storms.

What is my very favorite memory of our Pre-Africa life?

 My favorite memory of all is remembering how we all lived under the same roof.  

 I fondly look back on those days, especially when I’m missing my kids like crazy. 

Those four sweet little homeschoolers of the past now live in Illinois, Texas and Kijabe, Kenya, while their Mom and Dad live in Kibogora, Rwanda.  Instead of living in bedrooms sharing a common hallway, we now live in locales sharing only the same planet.  Gone are the days of muddy footprints on the floor, of wet trails leading through my house from the outdoor pool to the refrigerator for a snack, of homemade “I love you” cards and jelly smeared hand and face hugs.  But, I do get to say hello to today:  of having intelligent, inspiring and challenging conversations with my globally aware and sensititive adult and teen children, to read books that THEY recommend to ME (instead of reading Dr. Seuss over and over to them!), and I do get to enjoy watching them become independent citizens of God’s world. 

My challenge when I’m feeling homesick for my former life is to remember that we will always be family, we will always be knitted together with love, no matter how many miles separate us. 

But when I’m longing for a time travel machine, so I can relive just one of those days when the children were young and we all shared the same roof, in the same wonderful town –  for the days when we would go to the hospital and visit their Daddy in between his cases – this passage from Micah reminded me. 

“Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, 
that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.” 
 ~ Micah 6:5b

Consider the journey.  Remember your journey.   

 It is good for me to remember the past. 

But more importantly, it is good that I remember all the times God saved, protected, guided, corrected, warned, inspired, and helped me and us in the past – indeed, I need to remember all the times he did these for each member of our family. 

Because, though my memory is so rose colored, the truth is, those days were often hard, just as these days can be hard. We had more than our share of interpersonal conflict in our home.  Though I worked and tried to provide a peaceful home for our family, I think my battles with anxiety and with other demons were big contributors to our daily struggles ~ we often fought, we sometimes really misunderstood each other, we judged, and we hurt one another. 

Sometimes, Tim and I wanted to just give up on our marriage.  We were so different!  How would we ever be able to understand each other?  Sometimes, we wondered if God knew what he was doing when he let us be the parents of our children – we felt so clueless as to how to raise them the way God wanted!  (We didn’t even know what He might want a lot of the time.)   And yet, amazingly, in spite of our mistakes, they all turned out great. 

 Remember your journey.  

Remember His faithfulness. 

Yes,  God was soooo faithful to us.  He got us through.  He gave us love and hope and he daily renewed our strength.  In spite of our stubborn natures (and oh, are we stubborn!), of our myriad mistakes, or some decisions that we knew were wrong, yet chose to make anyway (okay, I’m speaking for myself in that one – I don’t think Tim ever made those, but I sure did), God was so faithful to us to keep us all together and to see us through. 

His grace and mercy to us are why we are a family today.  Of why we all still have each other.  Of why we have HIM.  And when I read this passage from Micah, I remember, to keep being able to trust Him for where we are now, for where we are going, I must remember the way He kept us safe, and kept us going, in our past journeys. That gives me the strength and hope to keep trusting Him on our new journey. 

So, how about you?  How does remembering God’s faithfulness to you in your past impact your journey with Him today? What are some specific ways He showed his love and faithfulness, grace and/or mercy to you in your past?  And how will that make a difference for your heart’s cry to Him now?  I’ d love to hear. 

“Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, 
that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.” 
 ~ Micah 6:5b