Wednesday, August 28, 2013

To God be the Glory...

...great things he hath done!

Big and little.

Lately I have been in awe of all the "little" ways God has been showing himself to me.  Ways that can only be him, because there is no other explanation.  Things that in the grand scheme of life don't seem like they (as far as that particular action) really matter.  But he knew they mattered to me - and he showed himself!

I guess he always does - but sometimes it does not seem as obvious.  Or is it that sometimes I am not looking as intently?

One of the things that Shawn has felt God has told him again and again in the support raising process is that when we finally get to the point where it is not about our contacts, our friends, our abilities,  then he will intervene.  And in doing so, HE will get the glory.  Well, he is getting that now.  We have reached the end of the line when it comes to natural contacts and people to ask.  We have spoken with almost every family member and friend/acquaintance we have ever know!  And it has been a wonderful, fun, sometimes-stressful, but usually rewarding in an "at-least-we-were-able-to-reconnect" way.  And our kids know their second and third cousins more than I ever imagined they would!  (They will get to know many of them better of this next trip!)

But from here on out, it is God.  (ha - like it wasn't before.  I am so prideful!)  Any new contacts, and new support, and new prayer people, any new churches - it all comes from him.  And that is a HUGE relief.

But it wasn't always.  When I first realized that was the point that we were at, I panicked.  I am not always the most trusting person - and God has gotten the brunt of that.  He does not need to prove himself and his goodness and love for me, yet he has decided to do just that again and again.  And in the last week, I have seen him everywhere and in everything.  From being the finder of lost things to being the God who asks people to remind me of his word - even new friends that we are still getting to know!  And it is perfect and exactly what I needed in that moment.  His timing is impeccable.

So I am learning to give him the glory.  It is in line with living a life of thankfulness - which has taken the back seat in my life since I started fund raising.  But no more!  I am thankful for you all, for the God who made our paths cross, and for his love and work in my life.   

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


This morning I had the fun task of taking RJ to the dentist.  For some reason my youngest two have bad teeth - weak enamel or the fact that they only floss when I am standing over them glaring are probably the biggest reasons, because we don't eat a lot of sticky, sweet things!  A couple years ago I had to take Andrew to the dentist and he was put under conscious sedation.  It was one of the worst experiences of my life!  After over an hour of yelling, screaming, crying out for help and calling my name as I held him down so they could operate, they fixed 8 cavities and pulled several teeth.  (They also cleaned them while he was under!)  They were right - he didn't remember a thing - but I was scarred for life.

Today they gave RJ laughing gas and then Novocaine, but he still had a hard time when they actually started pulling.  Watching him grab the chair and cry was terrible.  For one thing, I had inadvertently lied to him.  I was under the assumption the reason I was paying extra for the laughing gas was so he wouldn't feel anything - but he obviously did.  And now we get to go back in another two weeks to get the other side done.  Fun times.

I know that these things are sometimes painful, and can cause anxiety in my children (and me!) - but ultimately they are for their own good.  Getting shots to prevent disease, removing infection from the body, and fixing things that are broken are all beneficial things that can seem not-so-beneficial at the moment.  When RJ was just 6 months old he went in for open heart surgery to repair 2 holes (ASD and VSD for those of you medical people.)  It was AWFUL!  Not being able to feed him in the morning and hearing his pathetic whines because he was hungry and too young to understand; seeing the tubes and the not being able to hold him afterwards;  he started getting an infection, and they had to beat on his back every few hours after breaking open his sternum - the whole thing was terrible.  Yet it was this very thing that caused him to be able to live and have a life that doesn't revolve around hospitals and surgeries.  I hated it, but God got us through it and he is healthy and alive.

I think about parents who have to watch their child go through sickness or tragedy.  It broke my heart today just to hear RJ crying, and have him know that I was there and allowing it to happen.  But what about those parents that have to watch as their child goes through cancer treatments?  Or dies slowly because of lack of food or clean drinking water?  What about the moms and dads in South Sudan and other countries like it that have seen their children raped, maimed, killed, and taken by their own country?  How does one heal after that?  How does one cope?  It's hard to see the purpose in those things - they are not like getting life healing surgery or having an infection taken out of your mouth.  It's just plain evil and sin in this world.  But these parents, these families, still need to know God's healing and his love.

When we were in the hospital for RJ's surgery there was a little girl there that was only around 6 - and she was going through her second round cancer.  She could no longer walk because of the treatments, and she had no hair.  Her mother was taking her around trick or treating that day in the kid's ward (it was Halloween) and I met them on the elevator.  I was nervous and sad for RJ, but I knew I would be taking him home in a few days and he would be healthy and happy.  There was not that promise for this little girl.  Watching her mom broke me in ways I can't describe.

As we go to South Sudan we will meet parents who have lost kids in all ways - famine, war, poverty, childbirth, disease - even preventable ones.  I am asking God to keep my heart tender and breakable, even though it will hurt badly at times.  I want to always see people through his eyes and with his heart.  It's not a prayer I take lightly - but I believe it's an important one.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

climbing mountains

This last week we spent time with friends in northern Maine, at a family cabin.  It was a wonderful time with many fun things to do, and we are so grateful for it!  I also learned (re-learned?) an important lesson as we decided to go hiking in Acadia National Park.

My friends, Hannah and Christina, are kind of super hikers.  They would say that was not true, but it is.  So when they suggested doing the Beehive, I was apprehensive.  Then I looked it up online and got even more nervous.  I was not thinking so much about the straight up hike for myself as I was the fact that I had to watch the kids do it!  When the warning signs look like the one below, you tend to think twice as a mom!

However, just the day before we went exploring an island that had a lot of cliffs and rocks to climb and the kids did awesome so I decided to give it a try.

When we pulled up and saw the mountain that was the Beehive, I tried not to show my distress.  I knew there was no way I could keep up with these two climbing.  However, I also knew that my kids really wanted to do it, so I started off with no complaints.  I didn't take long for me to start huffing and puffing.  Then the pressure to keep up came on, and I felt like a failure.

You know those moments when you really want to do something, but there's enough doubt, pride, or embarrassment that you don't?  Well, I know those moments in my life - and they often come to the fact that I know I have to lose some weight, and I allow that to rule what I do or don't do.  I didn't zip line with the kids this summer, even though I REALLY wanted to, because I was embarrassed of my weight.  I haven't tried a ropes course, even though it sounds like fun, because I was worried about what people think.  There aren't many times in life when I think about what others think - I tend to do things off the cuff and think about it too late.  But when it comes to my weight, I am always self conscious.

So when Hannah and Christina, and our friend Carrie started up the mountain at breakneck speed, I tried to get them to go without me.  I was disappointed in myself -especially since I knew how much Andrew wanted to go.  But I was not going to "hold them back" or make it boring for them because of my slowness.  I knew I could do it - but not at the rate they were going.

Then in stepped my dear, sweet, stubborn sister.

Christina is one of my best friends.  She is quiet and thoughtful and introspective.  And stubborn - very stubborn.  She intervened and sweetly and politely told me that the reason she wanted to do this particular mountain again was because she wanted to experience it with us.  She told me I could set the pace, and the put me up front.  She was sweet, thoughtful - and determined.  And I am so thankful for that.  Christina saw the desire in me, and knew the potential in me (I am also slightly stubborn) and pushed me that way I needed to be to go.  She knows my struggles with my self image, as we have talked a lot about this, so this was one way she was not going to let me use that excuse.

So I slowly started the climb.  And you know what?  We passed and were passed by the same group of people over and over again.  That means we were all going the same pace, taking rests, taking in the view, taking pictures, etc.  And absolutely no one cared what I looked like.  Funny thing, pride.  I get so self focused sometimes!

And we made it - all of us - to the top!  RJ was making me laugh as he repeatedly (and throughout the week) exclaimed, "I climbed a mountain - I can do anything!"  Though I wouldn't have said it quite like that - or out loud - I felt the same way!  I realized how much more I can and need to push myself and our kids.  We are a lot stronger than I realized.  We all loved it, and it was a sweet victory!  It was also a wonderful reminder to me of why we need those friends who push us to be all that we can be.

I am thankful for my friends - not just in the times that we are literally mountain climbing, but in those times that we are emotionally stuck, or spiritually dry.  I have friends that push in those times also - by praying with and for me, by reprimanding me if needed, by sticking close by, and by reminding me of all that is true and pointing out the lies I am believing!  I thank God for you all!  

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Isn't it wonderful how God has created us with so many ways to be touched emotionally through all our senses?  I see my kids smile and feel like the world is right; I smell freshly cut grass and lilacs and it means new beginnings and hope; I feel the weightlessness of my body floating in the cool lake, and it resets my mind back to being settled; I taste the warm, exotic spices that flavor indian foods and I think there cannot be a better culture as far as food goes; and I hear the voice of a friend that I haven't seen in far too long over the phone, and it transports me back to a time and place we were together.

I had that last experience tonight.

Talking with Althea on the phone made me so very happy!  Althea was the woman who stepped in when we were in Malawi and floundering around not knowing what we were supposed to be doing!  She was the one the pastors took us to when we said, "Please take us to a white person."  She drove me to the ER and took care of all the cultural things I didn't (and couldn't at the time) understand when Andrew had to have emergency surgery.  She drove us all over getting groceries, furniture, plants, medicines, and money.  And most importantly, she introduced us to the missionary community in Blantyre that made us be able to start breathing again and believe that maybe we actually could do this missionary thing.  She was a God-send, and remains a woman whom I love and trust to this day.  And hearing her voice on the other end of the phone, that wonderful South African lilt and the encouraging, exhorting words that she always speaks - it was a gift to me today to remind me of my excitement to be back in Africa.

Because this has been a bad week for me.  No reason in particular.  In fact, by all outside things, it seems like it should have been a good one.  Our van was declared safe and usable after all; we had a new supporter; we heard from a church about speaking; and I have felt very clearly that God is about to do something big in this process.  Yet I refused to be hopeful and happy.  Instead I was fearful, anxious, and sad.  I was doubtful about my ability to live and thrive in South Sudan.  I was scared about the idea of having our family spread out over a few countries in a couple of years.  I was worried about team dynamics and what things will be like by the time we get there.  And I gave in to those things, those lies, as though they were truth - even after admitting they were not!  I had fears about death, money, and family things.  I had near panic attacks as I allowed my mind and thoughts to take me to dark places.  I gave into sadness that was deep and threatened to drown me.  And even though I recognized it as attack, I didn't feel like I had enough energy or hope to fight it off.

But today God broke through.  And He did it in those little ways that I was not even looking for.  I went to church and heard the worship leader tell us to expect and anticipate, so I did.  But the real healing (the sermon was on healing, oddly enough) came from the simple fellowship of being with people I love who love me back.  It was not a particular song or word or sermon, but rather a culmination of people, love and laughter that made me start to surface.  It was like my senses all started to wake up again and notice all the ways He is around and has blessed me.  And talking with Althea tonight was just icing on the cake!  I am so thankful for my God who continues to love and pursue me in all ways!  

Monday, July 29, 2013


As missionaries, we have been commissioned a few times in our lives.  The churches that we have come from have sent us out and prayed over us.  The actual definition of commission, if you look it up in webster's dictionary is this:  "Order or authorize to do or produce something."  Kind of generic in terms of things, yet in the missionary world it is on par with being told, "You have our blessing.  Not only that- you have our prayers and we are praying for you to have the power and the authority to go and produce disciples."  We know those churches stand behind us, pray for us and with us, encourage us, support us, and are a big part of what we are doing.  It's a special relationship.

But we have never had the opportunity to be commissioned quite the way we were last weekend.
                                                The kids with their great grandma Boda!

Shawn's grandmother turns 100 this year!  And in honor of her 100th birthday and in celebration of the amazing, godly example she has been and the heritage she is leaving behind her one day, we partied - 300 of us!  Shawn's family is huge - he has 33 first cousins!  From his grandparents on down there are 192 people and counting.  But it's not simply the size of the family that makes this so remarkable - it's the fact that such a huge percentage of the family follows and loves Jesus.  Grandma's prayers over the years have been answered in wonderful ways - she has several children and grandchildren in full time ministry, and many, many more that are serving Jesus in their jobs, families, and communities.  She is, at 99 (she actually turns 100 in September), a supporter of ours in going to the mission field in all ways!

                                                      Shawn with (most of) his cousins!

And she put actions behind her prayers - taking in grandchildren that needed a firm hand and a loving place to live, loving people and accepting them with all their faults, and sometimes speaking her mind!  She came from a place in her life that was not always easy, and I felt from the beginning of my relationship with her that she understood some of the things in my own life that I struggled with.

So to stand up front of these 300 people, have the family come and lay their hands on us and pray for us in getting to the mission field and then the ministry we will be doing there - it was a powerful thing.  We felt like it was yet another confirmation that God is working, and that it is his timing alone that is keeping us here right now as he continues to make things fall into place.

                                   Some of the family that are in full time ministry praying over us

I am so thankful that we were still here to celebrate grandma and to have this time with family.  While I am feeling extremely antsy to get to South Sudan - especially as the summer is flying by and time seems like it is speeding - I am learning to take joy in all the things that we can experience and know while we are still here.  

Friday, July 12, 2013


Ever have one of those weeks at a camp or a retreat, or maybe just time spent alone with God and you take in so much good stuff that you can't digest it all at once?  That was last week at Delta Lake for me.  The morning speaker, Dr. Frank Chan from Nyack College and ATS, spoke into my life as though he had been following us around for the last year taking notes.  Each day I went and pulled out my phone and wrote down everything he said as fast as I could - because I have to keep my hands moving to pay attention to what is being said.  Yes, I am that learner.

So as I went through my notes this week to review, the thing that kept popping up in my head was one of the things he said the first day.  We are God's "poema."  This word, in Greek literally means, "That which is made."  It's where our English word poem comes in.  I have heard it said we are God's masterpiece, we are his workmanship, we are his work of art.  And all these paint a beautiful picture.  But being a voracious reader and a person who writes to work things out, this idea of a being a poem was so mind-blowing to me that I have come back to it time and time again.

Yes, a poem.  One with many stanzas.  Complicated in it's own right, yet beautiful.  Telling a complete story but not until the end when the author is ready to finish it.  You can't take one line or even one stanza of a poem and see the whole beauty or the whole story - you must read slowly and take in each part.  Then at the end it explodes with completeness.  A Psalm.  A story put to music.  A poem.

And I am God's poema?

I don't see myself as that.  I don't see my life as that - especially when I try to take in the little day to day things that make up each line.  I see myself as a faithless woman who whines and complains.  I see my life as stuck.  I see my legacy that I am leaving the children as a hopeless one, riddled with generational sins.  As a writer, I can be so melodramatic!  Yet that is not the whole story.

I am a sinner - but I am saved from that.  I once was a slave to myself, but now I have a new master.  The old is dead and the new has come.  I am like those many, many Psalms that make me identify with the author - the ones that say, "Woe is me, why have you forsaken me?" only to end on, "You are my God and my King.  In you will I trust."  It may take me a while to get to that end, but I do.  Because I am his poema, and he is doing a beautiful thing in me.

So today as I wake, give myself to Him who created me and is still creating this poem, I am thankful.  I am grateful.  I am hopeful.  There are shades of frustration, apathy, anger, and doubt - but they will ultimately be overshadowed by the Author as he continues this story.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

language learning

One of the things that we conversed about with the Massos as we met last week was language learning.  There are a few languages in Mundri - the two main ones being Moru and Juba Arabic.  There is obviously not a Rosetta Stone for either of these languages (Juba Arabic is quite different form the more formal Arabic), and so one of the trainings that we will be going to is a language learning training.  Honestly, I don't even know what that means.  All I know is that we will learn skills that help us pick up language by being immersed in it.  

There came the question - how do you immerse yourself into a community enough to learn the language?  The singles on the team have all done home stays with friends in the community.  These can be as short as a few days or as long as a few weeks.  It is ideal, because it not only surrounds you the language, but the culture.  You are cooking, cleaning, living among people the way they live.  That's all fine and dandy for one person - but 6?  Hello - we would take over! 

So Michael and Karen suggested that we get a tent big enough for our family to sleep in and we take it with us to put up on the trips we take as a family.  I'm not much of a tent camper, but this could be adventurous - and certainly a good way to be in the middle of community life.  (By the way, just to clarify - these would be short term camping trips - not our permanent living situation!)  

This idea took me back to the times that we went to the bush in Malawi.  We would pull up the flat bed truck that the ministry owned, fill it with foam mattresses, park it under a tree, and hang mosquito nets.  That would be our bedroom for the next several days.  It was messy, crazy, and breathtaking.  If you have never slept under an African sky, I suggest putting it on your bucket list.  We would go to bed with the smell of campfires, the beat of drums from a funeral somewhere, and the howls of hyenas in background.  Then, when the sun started to rise, we would wake up to several little faces peering at us over the side of the truck - laughing at the "Muzunga Wamisala" (Crazy white people) sleeping!  At least a tent would afford a tiny bit of privacy, right?  

So we have added "buy tent" to our list of things to do before we leave.  Any suggestions of affordable, easy to put up tents big enough for our family are welcomed.  

Someone asked how the kids will like this.  Let me tell you - in Malawi the kids adjusted much better than we did!  There is also the fact that they were willing to be watched, touched, etc in the village, because they knew that we would be home in the safety and privacy of our our home eventually.  It will be the same for us in Mundri - we will have a home built on the compound and we will be around the team.  Having this security is what will allow us to forge ahead into the unfamiliar world of new languages, new cultures, new people who point and stare, and being the stand out minority.  

If you want a good peek at life in Mundri right now with only 4 single women on the compound, read Heidi's blog off to the side of this one.  It's called "Four women and a compound - the series"  :)  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

philly fun

Woke up this morning feeling a little sad.  We had an amazing day with some of our team members that are here in the States right now.  We spent the entire day on Monday with the Masso family, mostly hanging out at Aunt Linda and Uncle Fred's house as the kids swam in the creek and the adults (and RJ) sat in the shade and talked about everything.  There was also some baseball time and, of course, some swordplay for the boys.  ;)
(The boys had a great time doing boy things all night - especially with the walkie talkies!)

Then Tuesday we went to the Sending Center (WHM headquarters in Jenkintown) and said hi to some people there while they were in the middle of a week of A& O.  The exciting thing about this is that there are two new members of the team getting ready to go to South Sudan from this!  Yay!  It's a married couple, and we look forward to getting there and getting to know "Aunt" Theresa and "Uncle" Will better.  We also had the chance to finally meet our super patient and ever encouraging support raising coach, Jennifer.  After a year and a half of talking to someone almost weekly, it's nice to put a face to the voice!  Then we headed over to where the Massos will be staying as they are here and met Karen's family.  That evening the Massos, the McCloys, the Wallaces, the Reeds, and John Sender devoured pizzas, talked about team life, played a couple rousing games of Signs and Mafia, and just enjoyed each other.  It was a nice glimpse into the team side of things in South Sudan.

(Anna and Liana - hanging out)

So today feels like a bit of a letdown, as we drive away from the area and from so many people who understand where we are going, what we are going to be doing, how hard support raising is, and what it means to move to Africa.  (Many of those people understand much better than we do!)  It felt like we were a part of something again this week - like it was something we were walking towards instead of saying goodbye to.

And yet, even in the midst of it, there were some things that we had to let go of.  The Massos are leaving South Sudan in the summer of 2014.  They will still be a part of things happening there, as their desire at this point is to come to South Sudan on breaks.  (The school system is three months on, one month off there.)  Michael will be teaching Community Development at a seminary in Kenya, but still feels like he has some work to do in Mundri.  There is no real plan of action for how this will all work yet - flexibility is key again!  This was, of course, news that really affected us as a family.  The idea of moving to Mundri with another family that had kids our own children's ages was such a huge draw for us.  And the fact that we have so quickly developed wonderful friendships with them was just the icing on the cake about going back to Africa.  We have had to process through and mourn this loss of everyday relationship with them.  I am thankful that they have talked through all this with us and given us the chance to do this over time - and had the chance to do it themselves.  When we were first thinking about this, we wanted to pull away - we are all experiencing enough loss right now so why bother to invest in more friendships?  But God made it clear that was not the right thing, and I am so thankful that we have this wonderful family in our lives.  By the Massos being in Kenya during the school terms, it makes it more of a possibility that Anna could go to RVA if she desires, and that we would have a place to stay when we visit her there.  These things are all working in ways we would not have predicted, but I can still see his hand in it.

(John Sender showing love to John and Andrew.)

Soooooooo....this makes our goal of getting to South Sudan by the end of this year even bigger in our minds.  We really would love to have a few months with the Massos there.  We want to continue to cement some of these friendships and have another family there to help us navigate through life as a family in Mundri.  (The very scary thought just occurred to me that we will be that family for other families that come in!)  So I am asking you to pray for a few things:

1.  For our support to come in miraculously.  We would need huge bunches of it to come in the next couple months to get to trainings when they are offered.  Even as early as next month!  I don't know how God will do that, but I know he can!

2.  For the Massos - as they travel and talk about things with people here.  For relaxing, amazing time with family stateside.  For Acacia, as she is still at RVA and will have to travel here alone at the end of the summer.

3.  For the team in Mundri!  Bethany is acting as fill in team leader, and when she goes to RVA for a term, Larissa will fill-in for the fill-in!  Lots of transition.  There is also the fact that many of the team have terms that end around the same time.  Please pray for them and for new recruits.  (Know anyone???)

Lastly, I wanted to touch on the fact that South Sudan has been in the news again recently because of some abducted pastors and things happening in the Jonglei State.  Thank you for your prayers for South Sudan and the people there.  Thank you for staying up-to-date on what is happening.  That is not the state we will be in, so there is no need for you to worry about us or our team in this situation.  As we talked last night with the Massos, there has been no time of them being there (even in the middle of when it was becoming it's own country) that they felt unsafe.  I just wanted to put some minds at rest!  :)

Thanks for your prayers.  I know this is more informative and a lot longer than usual.  I just wanted to continue to communicate to you - our friends and family - on the things that are happening!  

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Acting like an orphan

"A believer is living as an 'orphan' when he or she has in some way or other lost touch with the grace of God. In isolation from the promises, the orphan has developed a small view of Christ and a small view of the gospel. In contrast, a believer is living as a son or daughter when he or she is walking in faith, and living according to God’s promises. Sons and daughters have a large Christ and a large gospel." The Sonship Course, WHM

 We have been traveling a lot again recently - different beds every night. This usually means that I leave behind stuff, or discover that I have forgotten something. (The most recent thing I forgot was our prayer cards - kind of an important thing when you are raising support!) sigh...

 As I got in the van yesterday I was on the verge of tears. "I forgot my shampoo and conditioner, so I will have to buy yet another bottle! I'm tired of this! I'm ready to give up!" Haha - even as I write that, I realize how childish it sounds - I'm not usually a woman who is undone by shampoo! Shawn looked at me and said, (as he has several times recently - I'm a slow learner, or a very stubborn person)- "This is not about shampoo or raising support or traveling or even our feelings. This is about learning to remember who we are in Christ. That He is for us. That he loves us. When we choose to believe the lies and live like orphans, we are choosing to sin. We know better. It's time to grow up." sigh (again)...

 One of the things that we are so thankful for about the fact that God brought us to World Harvest Mission is the Sonship course. We have learned and continue to learn so much from this course. As we have spent the last 3 years trying to regurgitate what we have learned to the churches we were ministering to, I think sometimes they thought we were insane. But even if nothing ever came from our meeting up with WHM other than this course, it would be worth it. I have realized and understood that I live my life as an orphan so often, that sometimes it seems like the norm to me. But the problem with that is that God is NOT a small God. And his gospel is NOT a small gospel! It is the life and truth and hope and purpose and breath of who we are! It is saving and life-giving and life-changing. And He, oh he is complete, whole, holy, just, loving, living, pure, perfect, and so beyond my comprehension.

 And I know these things in my head - but my heart is so fickel and my feelings are so wavering. However, Shawn is right. It is time to grow up.

 It's time to take these ideals and ideas and make them real. Believe them. Live as though I believe them. Surrender. Hope. Trust. Accept. Even when I don't feel like it or can't see it. This morning as we wake up in house number 3 in the last 3 days (and we are thankful, we really are!) and prepare to go to church number 3,605,204,917 that we don't know, and meet people when I feel out of steam and out of sorts, I will trust. Trust that we are here for a reason and purpose. Trust that God is for me and he loves me as well as the people of this church. That he has a plan for each of us and somehow those plans connect today. That he is a much bigger God with an infinitely bigger grace than I give him credit for. And I will soak in his word, his love, his presence so I am not isolated from the truth of Him.

 Thank you, Dad.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

in Dad's footsteps

Yesterday Shawn, his dad, RJ, and I went for a walk in the woods behind my in-law's house.  Shawn was reminiscing about life there growing up, and even commented, "This is where my love of adventure started."  RJ came along because his other option was jumping on the trampoline with his siblings, and he hates that.  So he decided to trudge along with us.  He was quite a trooper, and ended up enjoying the walk.  We saw a pond full of beavers and their dams, raccoon and deer tracks, turkey feathers that quickly became a treasure and even a brand new baby deer bedded down in the field outside the woods.  It was a wonderful walk through nature!

At one point we were walking through a path that was filled with pricker bushes.  I got stuck on a few and Shawn helped me out, then RJ was feeling intimidated to walk by them.  Shawn started tromping down the path in front of him and told RJ to follow his path.  Whenever he was nervous he would look back at me, and I would simply remind him to follow his dad's footsteps and he would stay safe and pricker free!  When we got to the clearing and saw that the field was higher than RJ's height, Shawn put him on his shoulders so that he could see easily and feel  safe again.

It's an obvious parallel, but when I saw it played out in real life with RJ and his dad I was reminded again of how much my Dad loves me.  How sometimes he allows me to wander off and explore and figure things out, but he is nearby watching.  Other times he is tromping down the path in front, and as long as I am careful those prickers won't get me - or at least not to the point of destruction.  Then there are those times (often) when I am in over my head and he carries me so I can see clearly and feel safe.  I am thankful for this relationship.  And I am thankful for a God who takes the simple, beautiful things in life to remind me of the things that should be obvious.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

the sappiest top ten

Shawn and I have been married for 17 years today!  In this day and age, that is an eternity!  We do a lot of marriage  counseling and pre-marital counseling with other people, and because of that I am often of reminded of how blessed I am, and how much marriage is a gift from God.  This post is not meant to hurt anyone out there struggling with singleness or a hurting marriage - if you are our friends, you know we pray for you constantly!  Actually this post is not designed for anything except to say thanks to God for this full, amazing marriage he has given me!  So here goes...

Ten reason why marriage to Shawn rocks!

10.  I have a live-in bug killer!  As you know from  a recent post, I hate bugs.  I remember clearly when we were in Florida on our honeymoon...we were fast asleep and a big bug crawled on me.  I threw it across the room, then couldn't sleep because I was afraid it would come back!  Shawn patiently got up and looked around, then when he couldn't find it made up some silly story about it coming in to find food for her children, etc., etc.  It was dumb - and made me laugh and forget about being scared of a silly bug.  I knew then (again) that I had made the right choice.

9.  He makes me laugh.  Sometimes he makes me laugh when I am feeling down or sad, and I love that.  Other times I am trying to be mad at him, and he still makes me laugh, which makes me even madder - temporarily.  But there is no shortage of laughter in our marriage.  The times that we have realized something serious is going on and we have sought counseling were those times when we couldn't remember the last time we really laughed together.  I am thankful for a sense of humor - you need it being married to me!

8.  He doesn't do just the "man things" in our work load.  I admit, I am a woman who likes to say, "Anything you can do, I can do better."  But it's just not true.  Nor do I want to do those things.  I love that he takes out the trash, mows the lawn (when we have one), and packs up the car for trips.  But he also puts the kids to bed each night - and has always done that.  He was often the one who woke up in the night to feed howling babies, because he needed less sleep than me (and decided that a little tiredness was better than a grumpy wife!)  He's kind of all-purpose.

7.  He balances me.  My emotions are everywhere and off the chart.  I get caught up in something and want to jump right in.  He looks, prays, asks advice from wise counsel, and prays some more for days (weeks, months...)  I am thankful that we have had a lot less consequences to deal with because of his patience than we would have with me being impetuous.

6.  He is a good friend.  Not just to me (though he is my best friend) but to his other friends.  To become Shawn's friend, it takes time spent together.  He does not make friends that he trusts with his heart easily.  But once he does, you are his friend for life.  He prays for them, he calls, and he tries to visit.  He spends as much time together with them as possible in a world where everyone is on the move and relationships become as in depth as facebook.

5.  And speaking of friends - he is wise is choosing them.  I like the men that Shawn would call his closest friends.  They are fun, love Jesus, challenge him, stretch him, pray for him, give good counsel, and make me laugh.  (You have to have a good sense of humor to be Shawn's friend, too, apparently!)

4.  By being married to Shawn I was adopted into an amazing family!  Not just his immediate family - though they kinda rock.  But his whole family.  And it is a BIG family - I was number 120 from his grandparents on down!  I love it.  I love traveling across the US and staying with cousins all along the way.  I love that there are constantly new additions and that the family really tries hard to get together and be with each other. This summer we celebrate his grandmother's 100th birthday and there will be a ton of family there - I can't wait!

3.  He is a walking encyclopedia.  I hate that when I am playing against him in trivia pursuit.  But in real life I have gotten used to saying to people, "Ask Shawn, he would know."  (I can't believe I am admitting that out loud!)  He retains what I joke to be "useless" fact, but it makes life interesting.  He can tell me baseball stats, stories from history, and he kicks butt in geoguessr (a google game).  He is also willing to try to learn new things.  He has recently bought a bass guitar to learn and even talks of taking a class in mechanics while we are fund raising.  He keeps me on my toes!

2.  He is an amazing dad.  Let me say that again - AMAZING.  Our sons will have no excuse when it comes to growing up to be godly husbands and men - they see it everyday.  And Anna will know exactly how high that bar for a good husband should be.  I anticipate that  our "PK"s won't grow up resenting the church, because they have seen their father be real, genuine, and love what he does and the people he does it with!  He loves the kids wholeheartedly, forgives, asks forgiveness, talks realistically with them, plays games, hugs, laughs, cries, wrestles, snuggles, prays with them, prays for them, and loves me in front of them.  When I married him I suspected this would be the case, but to see it plays out each day takes my breath away.

1.  Finally, he loves me completely, as is.  He loves me more than I love myself often, and is teaching me to love myself better.  He does this by falling in love with Jesus more and more each day.  We have discovered that our relationship with each other can only be as healthy as our relationship with the Father.  So when we start to notice those telltale signs - loss of laughter, joy, time together, etc, we jump back into the Word and start from there.  He is my rock and my best friend.  (Sappy enough for you?  lol)

So there you have it.  Sorry this is not some great, life-changing post (as if any of them are!)  But this is my way of saying thanks to God for this awesome marriage and man,

Thursday, May 16, 2013

scars of life

Yesterday the kids and I were talking about scars.  It started when John pointed one out on his arm and said, "I still have this scar."  I told him it might fade, but the scar would always be there if he looked hard enough.  This got us looking all over our arms and legs and talking about the scars and where they came from.  Some of the stories were cool, in a gross out sort of way - bones sticking through skin, cuts from an Africa adventure, and a weird burn scar on Shawn's arm from a lawn mower that the nurse thought he had don purposely for me because it looked like a heart!  Others were more silly or embarrassing - the pencil points stuck in Anna's head and John's leg, or the numerous shaving scars from when I was a teenager (Seems I was always in a hurry!)  There were a few that were not shown, but talked about - the scars from C-sections or gallbladder surgeries.  Shawn also has a scar from his cleft lip surgeries all through childhood.

Scars are kind of cool how they have a story to tell.  Some are good - life giving or life saving even.  Some changed quality of life.  Some are from the everyday bumps and bruises that we get in this life.  Regardless, they all have a story, and they all are a part of us from that point on.

In the evening we were at church and we were talking about the job of the Holy Spirit.  Pastor Chris was writing on the board and putting people's answers up to the question of, "What makes a Christ follower different?"  At the top was, "Forgiveness" and underneath was "Love your enemies."  I was staring at those two things and it clicked in my mind that forgiveness is really the key, because if you forgive, the person is no longer your enemy.  Not if it is something from the past, anyway. (An ongoing forgiveness is a different thing.)  The consequences of the situation may still be there, but like those scars, they will fade.  And like those scars, they each have a story, and that story helps to shape us.

I was thinking about the times in my life when I have had to forgive.  There have been little situations - misunderstandings, hurtful words, etc.  They are like those little scars that we only notice if we look hard.  They are still there and have helped us be molded into who we are today.  Maybe I learned how to be a better friend because of it, or I was reminded that the only perfect in this world is God.  Whatever the outcome, it has become part of me.  The bigger things - abuse, betrayal, etc - those are the big scars that stand out and sometimes make us self conscious.  They might be the ones that we would rather have plastic surgery on and forget.  Yet even if they are covered in makeup or new skin, they are still part of our body and have affected us.  We can try to forget, ignore the repercussions, or look the other way, but ultimately their existence is still very real.  And the consequences are a permanent part of our outlook.

But - just like those scars that people see and we can't hide - those stories of our lives are ones that need to be told and shared.  They are the ones that are used to affect people, to help them learn their own forgiveness, and to have hope in a real future.  When people with a cleft lip (or someone who has gone though it) see Shawn's scar, they are instantly a friend-someone who understands and can bond.  When they find out he has made a life of speaking in public, it is an encouragement and hope.  The same happens with those emotional scars.  When people hear about overcoming abuse and see a life lived in freedom and fullness, they gravitate towards the one who is victorious in it and have their own hope.

Not anythings new, by any means,  Not even close to a new analogy.  But one that was sticking in my mind all day yesterday.  Thank you, Lord, for my life - the good and the bad; the scars and the new healing. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

cockroaches and crabbiness

It's amazing how something so little can be my undoing!  Tonight I saw a cockroach.  Well, actually I saw two - and the second one did not make me react any less than the first!  I know,  I know - I can hear you all now, "You're moving to Africa.  Suck it up, honey."  This is not the first time those little brown (or black, depending on where you live) bugs have made me question my sanity.  A few years ago when we visited what was then Sudan, I wrote a blog about waking in the night and losing it over a cockroach I almost stepped on while going to the bathroom!  (I was trying to post it here, but for some reason the blog has no title.  You can look it up back in 2010 if you want proof!)  Those things give me the creeps!

It's the element of surprise, you know?  There you are - making breakfast  and minding your own business when suddenly one scurries past you on the counter in your peripheral vision!  Too fast to be sure, but not so fast that you have any real doubt!  Or you're putting sunblock on your face and reaching in the bag causes you to screech and yell out your husband's name along with the words, "Kill it, kill it" because it is hiding in the corners of the toiletry bag, it's antennae feeling around and almost touching your hand!  Or you are sleeping at night and you feel something crawling on you so you instinctively do a grab and throw, only to fully wake up and realize with horror that your night of sleeping is done.  Yes. That's my relationship with those little, disgusting creatures.

"You'll get used to it again, Babe," says my patient and brave husband. "You did last time."  I suppose I will.  I remember very clearly in Malawi when I tried to sleep the first night and I tucked my mosquito net in as tight as possible and avoided having any of it touch me.  I watched as lizards ans spiders crawled everywhere and got very little sleep those first few nights - even after a LONG plane ride to get there.  By the end of our time there I was in a store picking up some food to make dinner and a huge rat ran across my feet and into a pile of rice or flour or something at the end of the aisle.  Not my favorite animal, but what was I to do?  I simply laughed and kept shopping.  The horror I would have felt a year earlier was replaced with the practicality of living in a 3rd world country with my family.  It was adjust or have a nervous breakdown!  And God was good in giving me the strength to do it.

These are silly things when compared to the harsh reality that many people live in.  Bugs and rats, really?  But the truth is, I can react this irrationally in many situations that are different from my normal life now.  Sometimes Satan sneaks in the doubt through those little things.  I see bugs and freak out - "Can I do this?"  Last summer while staying in a cabin at Delta Lake I was trying to take a nap because I was sick. It was one of those few NY days where it was almost 100 degrees outside, so the cabin was hot and stuffy and there was no sleep to be had.  One week of heat like that to sleep in and I was grumpy and tired.  I fretted and worried the whole time, "Can I REALLY do this, Lord?"

Nope.  Not on my own.  I already know that.  There's no romantic notions in my head about that part of moving to Africa.  I will still HATE bugs (in my oatmeal, in my bed, in the latrine - there's no good place for any bug); I will love not having snow, but the heat will be oppressive at times and sweat will be my new scent of the day;  I will lose sleep in those nights when the drums beat all night long and the wailing from a funeral happens; I will have times when people I have grown to love get sick or even die from things that should be preventable; and I'll get frustrated, angry,  and overwhelmed by the brokenness of this world more often than I can imagine.  And God will never leave me nor forsake me.  He will be my Rock and me Redeemer, just as he is now.

Just as he was last night, as I actually fell into a deep sleep soon after seeing a roach, and dreamed of flying on a plane and hanging out with friends instead of having a restless sleep for fear of bugs!  I'm a sad case, I know.  ;)  But God still loves me!  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

My Rock and my Redeemer

"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, oh Lord my Rock and my Redeemer."  Psalm 19:14

I have known this verse since for as long as I can remember - it is as easily recitable as John 3:16 to me!  .An amazing woman and pastor's wife, Charm Fields, has had us recite this for as long as I can remember.  When I first learned it, it was like a wonderful prayer.  Many times as I repeated it, I wasn't even paying attention to the words.  But there have been times that it has come back to my mind in the moments I needed it - the way all of God's word does as we take time to memorize and pray through it.

Today I was getting ready for the day and it came to mind as I was praying.  But something strange happened.  Usually as I get to the end - the "Lord my Rock and my Redeemer" part, I kinda mumble through it.  After all, the asking of God to change and reshape our hearts and words is the important part, right?  You could easily insert any name of God there (in my mind), it just happened to be what the Psalmist thought at that moment.

But as I was praying, the end part became a really important, very clear part of the verse.  It was the part that God wanted me to think on.  He is my Rock and my Redeemer!  There is nothing small or insignificant about that!  Because he is my Rock, he is my strength - the one I lean on, stand on, the one that is firm and unchanging - so unlike me.  He is the where my strength comes from.

And he is my Redeemer.  He has ransomed me, rescued me, saved me.  He took my sins and bought life for me with his blood.  Nothing else can replace that - and nothing else has too!  His redemption of me is a permanent thing.

It is because he is these two particular things that I CAN have thoughts and words that are pleasing to him.  It's not a prayer to "try harder" (which is what I so often find myself doing) but rather to live in the truth that the old me is dead and the new me (because of his redemption and because he is unchanging) has words that give life!  These words are of joy, peace, encouragement, hope, and meaning rather than cutting down and causing death and harm.  Because of him my heart is new is the things that flow from it are also life giving and life sustaining.

I'm not a seminary grad.  I don't have fancy letters after my name.  Sometimes I think, "I should have known this before!"  But I am thankful for the things he shows me new everyday - even from "old" things.  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

solar powered

I'm pretty sure I'm solar powered.  When the sun is gone, it is cold and damp, and the landscape seems colorless, I feel the same way.  Everything affects me differently in these times.  Oh, I love a good, powerful thunderstorm - as long as it doesn't last for weeks or months. Then bring on the sunshine!  I start to feel like I can do anything, like the world really does have some good people in it, and like there is something to smile about.  And I know most people feel this way, but (ask my husband) I am extreme in it.  I have researched the places in the world where the sun shines the most so that I know where to live!  ;)  (I can't tell you the percentage of days that South Sudan has sunshine, but it's a good bet that they have more than upstate NY!)

Please be in prayer for us as we head south again this week to speak at some churches, meet more people, and soak up the sunshine.  We have a lot more support to raise, and we are praying that this trip helps us on that path and we meet some more people to join us in this adventure.  But we  also are praying that God would refresh and rejuvenate us in every way - physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Would you join us?  Thanks! 

Friday, April 19, 2013

white canvas

I am kind of a control freak.  Yes, I know - I am sure that comes as a surprise to you.  ;)   Well, believe it or not, it still surprises me from time to time!  The tightness that I like to try to hold the reigns in my life is astounding to me at times.  And when things don't happen the way I envision them, it totally throws me off.

Today was a day that I talked, yelled, cried, prayed, and finally surrendered (again) to God.  But this was a different way.  Today I realized that I had to give up my vision of what the future looks like.  I feel confident that God has us working with WHM in South Sudan.  But how that plays out, what it looks like, when, who is with us, and the little details are things that I have come to accept (at least in this moment) that I don't know.  And probably won't until they are happening.  I have had so many paintings  in my head - dreams of how things will look, the time frame, reasons about why those things are "right."  But today, for the first time, I surrendered those paintings.  My gallery, if you will, is nothing but a white wall right now.

I don't really like white walls.

I love color - splashes of bright designs.  Patterns and warmth and designs and artsy stuff.  White walls - well, they seem so plain and boring and lifeless to me.  Clean, yes (well, they wouldn't be in my house), but still still plain.  So to offer up my future, my dreams to God as a white washed canvas is super scary to me.  What if he leaves it that way?

Yet I know that he is the great artist.  Look at this world - the nature, the people, the colors, the vibrant life that is all around us.  Even in the brokenness that is overflowing all around us, he is there and breaking through in abundance.  And if he applies all that color to the world around me, I have to believe he will apply that to me, my hopes, and my dreams.

One brush stroke at a time.  That's where this whole surrendering thing will remain hard.  See, I am a person who loves to cast vision and dream.  So when he makes a blue streak and then stops, I will start to jump to every possibility that could mean.  I will imagine and dream,  and then decide which of my scenarios is the most probable and which is the best according to me.  Then I will start filling in the canvas myself.  Then I'll get angry because God is not having things play out the way I have painted them, and he will have to remind me again that he is the artist.

Don't get me wrong - dreaming and hoping is ok.  But it is important for us - especially people like me who take an idea and run with it - to make sure that these dreams and ideas are actually coming from God.  And even more important for me to keep communicating with God and not get angry because he is not making my own picture come to fruition my way.

 I am not The Artist.  

Saturday, April 13, 2013


I am slightly obsessed with doing puzzles.  Usually this happens each winter when I want to hibernate and start to get bored.  But for some reason this season I have continued doing them even with nice(ish) weather.  And it's not just a puzzle here and there.  Anna and I went to the dollar store a few different times and bought a bunch of simple 500 piece puzzles.  And they are mostly all done.

As I was finishing one today and feeling so accomplished, it dawned on me that is probably why I am having puzzle overload is one of the only things in my life I have any control over right now; one of the only things that I can can "complete" and get done.

Support raising continues to be one of the hardest things we have ever done (and we have been in some crazy churches!)  The worst part is that there are days where we wake up and wonder, "What exactly are we supposed to be doing today?"  We can put in days of work in a mailing, or calling people, planning parties, having face-to-faces, etc - yet we really have no control over what the outcome of any of those things are.

At least when you are doing a "normal" job you can make goals, have plans to reach them, then start checking off that list.  No matter how many things I "accomplish" and how many checks I make, I never know if any of it mattered that day.

Doing my puzzle I can see the end result.  I know each piece being put in is like a check on my list and it will make a compete thing that will be done as fast as I can do it.

As fast as I can do it...and there's the problem.

I am a stinky wait-er.  And it is even worse when I am not sure why I am waiting - when there is no clear or logical reason to be sitting and waiting.  I want to do something.  I want to be in control of how things play out.  The fact that He has called me to a place like Africa must really be making God chuckle sometimes.

It's not about me doing it.  It's about me obeying and taking whatever steps he says and waiting on him to make it happen. AND IT IS SO FRUSTRATING!!  But I am trying, and he is teaching me.  My prayers for the miraculous to happen and for us to get to Africa ASAP will not stop, but each day we are trying to say, "Help me enjoy this day, this journey."  Some days we are better at it than others - this week we were terrible at it!  

Thanks for your prayers of encouragement, miracles, faith, and hope! (And patience...I guess.)  ;)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Just visiting

When we lived in Malawi it was custom to welcome visitors that were in your church.  And not just a handshake and a "hi," but you had to have them come to the front of the church, have them tell their name, why they were there, where they were from, who they knew at the the church, etc.  It always seemed like overkill to me, as a person who would have preferred to stay tucked away in the back row (also not allowed - especially as a white visitor!)  But it would have been offensive to them if the whole thing had not been played out.

Personally, I hate being a visitor.  We have been "visiting" a different church at least once a week for a couple of months now.  And please don't get me wrong - most of these churches have welcomed us with open arms and warm hearts.  It's not about the host.  But inside me I cringe at the term.  "Visitor" implies that you don't really belong there; that you are not part of the daily activities there enough to know what is going on, or to be a part of something.  In short, it implies that you are on the outside looking in.  And I don't know about you, but I don't want to continually be on the outside and on my own.  Everyone wants to belong to something somewhere.  It's one of those amazing things about being part of a church family!

Yet God reminds me again that I am just a visitor.  I am an alien and stranger in this world. And it's not just because of the life that I have signed up for - which is one, admittedly, of never fitting in no matter what country I live in.  But because this world is not my home.  I know I have written about this before, but my limited brain power sometimes refuses to believe this and live as though it is true.  I want to grasp on to something here and believe that it is forever and will never change and will always revolve around me.  Amazingly selfish (and sounds like a 5 year old) I know, but true.  It's just another way this long process of support raising is pointing out those things that I like to ignore most of the time.  So today my prayer is to remember who I am for real - a citizen of Heaven and a child of the King of Kings.  To remember that this world is temporary, and that I want all those people around me to be a part of the forever kingdom with me.  To pray to and love the Father that will never call me a visitor in His house.  To be an ambassador to this strange and foreign land that I am visiting.  

Saturday, March 16, 2013

even the winds and the waves obey him

Mark 4:35-41

New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Calms the Storm

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

As I was reading this to the boys before bed tonight, I actually had to stop at verse 40.  They looked at me, puzzled for a moment about what the hold up was, so I finished reading.  Then we talked about faith a little - what it is, what is isn't, how it is, etc.  Usually Shawn puts the kids to bed and does this with them, but I was thankful to be the one reading it tonight, because I needed to hear it.  

I have been thinking about so many things lately that cause my heart to be heavy.  Friends whose families are falling apart for one reason or another; mothers whose hearts are breaking as they watch their children self-destruct and feel helpless; friends facing long cancer journeys with no promises of health and healing here; kids whose families are killing and being killed -by each other-not understanding the effect it has on everyone that comes into their paths.  

This world is messed up.  Broken.  

I fear a lot, I do.  I admit it.  I am often saying to Shawn, "Should I be worried about this?"  Fear use to overtake everything in my life.  I couldn't stay alone - yet here I am in our house without him tonight.  I couldn't be in the dark - now I can't sleep with a light on.  At times I couldn't even ride in the car without having panic attacks because I was afraid of having an accident.  Now I feel like I practically live on the road.  I have been victorious over many fears in my life.

Yet when it comes to things with people - those people I love - I get afraid.  Afraid that I can't help.  Afraid that I have somehow failed them.  Afraid that God has stopped listening to my prayers for them.  The squalls start to come in and fear, anxiety, and doubt creep in to every pore in my body.  And I ride out the storm for a while - too proud to call out for help or too caught up in believing the lie that he is not involved anymore.  But when I do, when I finally cry out to Him, then he calms the storm.

Not outwardly - at least not usually.  The diagnosis is still the same, the helplessness is still there.  People are still responsible for their own choices, and I can't make them for them.  But inwardly, the storm starts to calm and I start to remember who He is.

He is the one that even the winds and the waves obey.

Andrew, RJ, and I talked about that tonight.  How cool it would be to be able to say, "Stop!" and have the wind die down and the sea go calm.  Yet we have that power, don't we?  Again, maybe not in the physical sense (always).  But in those inward things, or in those spiritual places where we are a torrent of guilt, shame, fear, anger, lust...we can speak against those in the name of Jesus.

I am thankful for kids who remember these things better than me sometimes.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

one of the reasons...

I realized as I was talking with friends tonight about our time in Malawi that there are so many stories from that life that have shaped who we are, what we believe, and why we do what we do, and I have not shared too many of them.  They felt personal and overwhelming sometimes.  And the fact that we are not going back to Malawi, but rather to South Sudan made me decide not to share much about the "previous" life.  But tonight I remembered some of the reasons why we are continuing on this path, and since we have had a lot of questions like, "Why Africa, don't we have problems here?" I decided it was time to share.

While we were in Malawi we became dear friends with the pastors that we worked with and their families.  There were a few of the wives that I particularly got to know and love, and they were a buffer for me in this new, crazy culture that I had no experience with.  They helped me communicate, understand when to speak and when to accept, and know what my role was expected to be in most situations.  Though my Chichewa was almost nonexistent (save for a few songs and greetings) and their English was rough at best, we made a friendship of sorts.

One of these women had a baby while we were there.  I had walked alongside her as she had bleeding and problems in the pregnancy.  I learned how the Malawians viewed such problems, and took issue with the solutions enough times to step in and take her to a real doctor.  But overall it seemed like things were going well.  When the baby was born 5 weeks early, we worried, but relaxed as he seemed to be tiny but healthy.

When we spent Superbowl Sunday at a friend's house and stayed up to watch the game live, eat chili, and drink soda at 3 am, we were already awake when the call came to us that the baby had died.  No explanation.  Oh, and the mom was hemorrhaging - which was apparently a totally separate issue.

As we left our kids with our missionary friends and went to the hospital we were in shock.  We had no idea what had happened, we just knew (because we were told) that I needed to help the women in the family collect the baby and bury him and Shawn needed to be with the father.  The mom was not able to leave because she was recovering from sever blood loss, and the father was not allowed to come because it was not culturally appropriate.  We were told that because the baby was only 5 days old, the father (or any male) would not attend the funeral.  In fact, there would not even be a coffin because they did not make them for babies that young because so many died.


We arrived, I checked on the mom, and then we gathered this tiny little bundle in our arms and filled three vehicles with women from the family to go to find a place to bury him.  When we got to the cemetery, my role was to talk with the guard, persuade him to find us a plot, and then pay him.  (Later I realized that this really was culturally appropriate as the "boss" of the father, though not an absolute.  At any rate, it was a few thousand kwacha as long as we did most of the digging, and I consider it one of those times that even if I got taken advantage of, it was ok.)  The guard started the grave, then the women took turns finishing it.

The thing you remember at times like that are strange.  There was line of ants going by.  You know, one of those long lines that you don't want to step in the middle of because you will be swarmed and bitten.  We carefully avoided it.  I noticed that the women had many kitenges, or the pretty cloth wraps that they tied around their waists and used for everything from tying babies to their backs to laying on the ground for a rest in the shade.  I also had one on that day, since we had come from our friend's superbowl party and I was not feeling as appropriately dressed as I wanted to be.  The sky was blue and the the guards were standing back respectfully, yet not having a lot of emotion.  Actually, the whole scene was emotionless - not at all what you expect from an African funeral.  But then again, this was just a baby.

The grave was dug about 3-4 feet deep, then another foot or two under the solid ground so that the body could be placed in a cave like area where animals could not dig it up easily.  The women started taking off the extra kitenges they had worn and handed them to the person holding the baby.  It became clear to me that they were wrapping this tiny little body in a soft bundle of bright, beautiful cloth.  The contradiction was absurd to me in my state of shock.  I also took mine off and realized that my last minute grab of this cloth was a gift  from God, as the women rewarded me with sad smiles.  Then the grandmother herself climbed in and placed her grandson into the hole. I had to keep reminding myself that this was her grandson, a real baby boy, a child.  The whole scene was too much for me to process. After a few handful of dirt were thrown in and I was asked to pray (which I had to do in English, and was thankful that most people could not understand because I have never felt more at a loss for words) the guards came and finished filling it in.

Grandma cried for the first time at that point.  It was a silent cry, but as I reached out and held her hand tears came freely for both of us.  We walked back to the cars and went to the hospital.  The women were abnormally silent, and it grated on my nerves.  I had never gone anywhere in Malawi with a group of women where there was silence!  There were songs for every occasion - weddings, engagements, birthdays, special feasts, bible studies - even riding in a car together!  Yet there was no song for his baby and his family, no outpouring of grief.  In some ways I longed for the typical wails and ululations that one expected from this culture.

A few days later the mother still had not been released because her paperwork had gotten lost.  The parents had been told that the reason for their baby's death was that while the mother was in surgery the nurses had tried to feed the child.  He had thrown up and was left by himself and suffocated.  That's what we were told.  The truth is, everything in these situations becomes so blurry and the communication is so bad that we may never know what really happened.  We don't even know what surgery the mother had, since her paperwork was lost - though to my knowledge she has not had another child.  Now the hospital would not release her, and she was stuck in a room with 7 other mothers who were in various stages of labor and delivery.  She had text me earlier in the day to say that her eyes were swollen shut from grief, even though she "knew" she should not be so upset because he "became late" - it happened all the time.

I didn't often use my status as a white person to my advantage in Malawi - we usually attracted enough attention wherever we went without trying.  However that day I marched into the office, demanded her charts (which they suddenly and miraculously found-though they were not complete), threw some money on the table, got a "paid in full receipt," and took her home.  This was torture.  This was unthinkable to me in my western mind.  Yet this was not the only baby that "became late" while I was there.  And this was not the last time I dealt with corrupt people in places of influence, or the hopelessness of the common people who accepted that this was their plight.

My experience may be different from other people's in Africa - even in Malawi.  We were basically on our own there - learning in the day by day and making a lot of mistakes in the process.  I have realized that our experiences were often different from other missionaries.  That was one of the the biggest draws we had to World Harvest Mission and their amazing team mentality, because we didn't want to do this alone again.  But whether it is different or not, it is still real - it is still my experience.  And it is a very tangible, raw thing that made my heart African.  It is one of those things that made me know I had to be there.  South Sudan is very different from Malawi in many ways. However, there is a saying I have heard ex-pats all over the continent say:  "This is Africa."  Some things are the same all over.    Read my teammates blogs (on the side of this page) or the Myhre's blog about being doctors in Uganda.  The things that people on this continent face, accept as normal, and deal with each day are things that should shock us.

I have been given much indeed.  If you are reading this, then you have too - even if (like me) you do not always feel that way.  We have been blessed in ways that really make no sense to me when I compare it to so many people in other countries.  And this is just one of my answers to "Why Africa."

Sunday, February 24, 2013

the one where I whine until it comes full circle...

Ok, I admit it - I am grumpy.  I am looking outside at yet another grey, colorless day with white flakes coming down, and it is ticking me off.  I really hate winter.

And I know - I should be thankful because I missed the month of January while support raising in the south.  I should be thankful that I am looking at just another month of real winter, then spring will be here.  I should be thankful that I am in a warm, dry house - even if that house isn't mine.  Maybe especially because that house isn't mine.  Even in our travels we have been housed, cared for, and loved.

But honestly, I just feel grumpy.  And impatient. And ornery.  And though my original hope was to get on here and write about it as it fell away from me, I realize that is not happening this time, and I have a choice to make.


I don't want to make a choice.

(Please read above line in the best whiney voice you can conjure up.)

What do I want?
I want to be somewhere warm and sunny.  I want to see blue skies.  I want to feel like I have a home and feel settled again.  At least a place that is where I reside for the majority of my time.  I want to be packing to go to South Sudan soon - or at least to training in Colorado.  I want to be typing a blog that tells you that after this week of praying together we had gobs of support come in and we are headed out in a few weeks....
wait.  uh oh.

And then, as I sit writing, it comes to me.  Once again I am hit smack in the gut with my flesh.

I realized even as I was typing up the invite to have you all pray last week that my ultimate goal was to help God see how spiritual I was and that I was "getting it" - whatever it was that he is wanting us to learn - and that we could "move on" now.  I understood that my attempts to manipulate God and pull the wool over his eyes were lame and pitiful at the very least - and blatant sin if named correctly.  Yet that didn't stop me.

Because, you see, I also knew that even if my motives weren't completely pure, most of you praying were sincerely praying for us with hearts that believe and love and desire.  We can't do that for ourselves very often without all the other garbage in there.  The self focus and plans that we make for ourselves often blur our view and motives.  But usually when we are praying for others, we are doing it because we have real empathy, desire, and longing for them and about them that is really about what we are praying for.  In a very real sense, I needed you to "stand in the gap" for us.  Yes, for support raising, but also simply for us.  For our hearts, minds, emotions, souls, desires, feelings, wants, and weaknesses.

So I guess, even though though the sky is still grey, the sun seems as though it is never coming out again, and the reports coming in last week were the same numbers as the week before, I am thankful.  Thankful that I am not doing this alone.  That I have friends who read this stupid, whiney, all-about-Heather blog and still love me.  Still pray.  And believe for me when I can't.  And do it in ways that are begging for God's perfect plan to be carried out to completion - even when it feels like I am fighting it every step of the way sometimes!  I am thankful for you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


One of the things that I have realized on this trip is how amazing it is to have freedom - simply the freedom to drive cross country and enjoy all the beautiful views.  Whether it was white sandy beaches or snow covered fields, sparkling blue skies or dark, foreboding clouds, flat land that goes for miles or rolling mountains in Tennessee - we have seen some amazing things on this trip!

A few days ago I heard from my step-brother’s mom.  She was letting me know that Richie has been sentenced and moved to a high security federal prison in upstate NY.  It is about 3 hours away for me in Albany, and 7 for her. It's sometimes called "The Siberia of NY." This is a big difference from where he was before, when most of the family could go during visiting hours.  I was sad for him, as I thought about the lack of visitors he will probably receive there. Not to mention that it is no longer a simple county jail – but instead a prison where many infamous prisoners have been housed for rape, murder, and kidnapping.  This is the place that my brother will be living for the next 25 years to life.  His mistakes have cost his freedom.  

The pastor at the church we attended this week was talking about the fact that nothing that we do can change the end results of this life if we know Jesus.  He was talking about the fact that the freedom that we have to choose Heaven was given to us at the ultimate price, and there's nothing we can do to change that.  We are positionally set.  However, there are things in the world that we face, choices we make and the flesh that we fight.  Sometimes we make the wrong choices.  And most of the time these choices are made knowingly - sometimes even in the face of the idea that we are "safe" anyway, because of God's grace.  Though that may be true, we still lose a lot as a Christian when we decide to live as though Heaven is the only thing that matters.  When we don't align our everyday thoughts, choices, desires, and actions with what God has in mind for us, we sacrifice a lot of the freedom that we have as Christians.  

As I was thinking about this alongside of the stuff happening with my brother I could see obvious consequences in his life.  He has since professed Christ, and  after much communication with him including a visit, I believe he is sincere. But his choices that he made have consequences that cannot be erased.  He will not see his daughters grow up, he will not be able to enjoy the ocean's surf for a very long time, he will not be able to choose what he wants to have for dinner or when to wake up and go to bed - the simplest things are decided for him now.  

Though we may not all have things that seem that obvious, there are so many things that keep us prisoner and take away our freedoms.  I have watched as friends lose spouses because they choose to believe the grass is greener elsewhere.  This brings an onslaught of death and decay to everyone in their path, not just them.  We see friends being caught up in pornography because they make the decision to believe that their right to own a computer and have unlimited Internet is more important than their goal of thinking upon things that are holy and pure.  In my own life, I see prison walls come up when I choose to believe the lies that God is not for me, and that he does not love me, take joy in me, and delight in me.  I get trapped in anger, self-pity, and arrogance when I choose to live this way.  

But there is real freedom when we open our eyes to these things.  Even in his physical prison my brother can experience freedom that comes from knowing Jesus in real and intimate ways and believing that his Word is Truth.  I am so thankful for a Father who wraps me in his arms and shows me not only who I am in him and his love for me, but the freedom that comes from living in his will.  And then ultimately, the peace.  

Another in the fire

Maybe you don't know what the process to move overseas is like, but there was a lot of what we thought of as jumping through hoops ...