Sunday, February 24, 2019

Be Still

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…”

As I sit here right now, I feel like every nerve is my body is on edge.  Anxiety is creeping in.  I just text a friend to say that anxiety was winning today.  I am reading these verses over and over again, yet all around me is NOISE!
There is construction happening on three sides of us.  Construction in Africa means constant pounding all day long.  The guard is listening to music on his radio where he is sitting, which is right below my bedroom window.  Our kitchen sink is plugged so there are two plumbers talking and pounding away in the that room.  Cars are driving by – mufflers loud and spilling out noise, people are  walking by and chattering in one of their many languages that make no sense to me.  There’s an ibis outside making his loud and annoying sound over and over again.  The area out back of the flat, which is a slum area, is hopping with people hawking things, music blaring, dogs barking incessantly, and children laughing and crying.
If you were to ask me at a different time, I would tell you these are the sounds of my life – the sounds of the city in Kenya. I would take comfort in many of them, knowing it was normal life happening around me.
But today…
Today I want to yell at the whole world to just shut up for a few minutes.
When we were at pre-field training for the mission field, we did this exercise that happened every few days where the leaders would tell us we had 15 minutes to go hear Jesus.  It was supposed to train us to quiet our minds, calm our hearts, and be in his presence whenever we had the chance – even for 15 minutes in the middle of a busy day.
If this was a graded activity, I would have failed miserably.
Our two youngest boys have ADHD, and there’s no doubt where they get that from!  To have noise around me, questions swirling in my heart, and a math lesson that is stumping me makes it almost impossible for me to stop where my heart and mind are and hear Him.
But He knows that.
And suddenly he meets me.  He breaks through the noise, the anxiety, the chaos around.  Suddenly my heart is pulled in the direction of peace and stillness, if only for a moment or two.  The voice of my Father sings over me, and I sigh in relief as I gulp in fresh air – like new life filling dead bones.  The noise starts to dissipate into a familiar comfort again as the Spirit envelops me in his love.
I know I am His.  I couldn’t find him myself.  I couldn’t quiet the world around me.  But Abba knew my need, my heart,  and inclined his ear toward me and covered me under his wings.  I am so grateful.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Welcome Back

Welcome back to my original blog!  With the fact that we are moving back to the US in April I wanted to get this one up and running again.  I have copied over some of the most popular blogs from wallacesinafrica.  Thanks for going along for the ride with us!  We look forward to more new adventures as we wander this crazy life God has given us together!
So no more  This is where it's happening! ;)

The Wisdom of Pooh

You guys…loving people is hard.  Waiting is hard.  Goodbyes are hard.  Uncertainty is hard.  Living in the day – in the moment – it is all so hard.

Yet this is where God has us right now.
If you have not heard our news yet – we are finishing up our term here in Nairobi and planning to move back to the US at the end of April.  There are several reasons for this (See our recent e-letter HERE to get answers to all your FAQs).  We are currently living in a state of goodbye with no clear hello in front of us.  I have been paying that God would show us a glimpse of what is next for us in the States, but so far he has chosen to have us sit and wait.  We have our own ideas of what possibilities excite us and what seems like a great fit, but waiting on his timing and his plan is something that we have never done very patiently.
So here we are.
And grief – it’s a sneaky little thing.  I have found myself full of gratefulness and hope one moment and a sobbing puddle of sadness the next – for no logical reason!   Each time we tell someone here, the grief is new and fresh and it wears on one’s heart after a while.  I feel very raw as the emotions crash over me.
Yet we have also felt loved.  I know that if it were easy to leave, we would have to question the way we lived our lives here.  Last year as I sat unassumingly with my dear friend on our patio and talked her through her time leaving here. I told her that I was praying it would be hard.  She had been struggling and was ready to leave and have no ties left behind. But we both wanted her to take only what God wanted her to take from the experience.  By the time she left, her heart ached at the thought of leaving people she dearly loved and who loved her back.  She jokingly chastised me for that prayer.  At the time I thought we would not leave Nairobi for several years, so I didn’t think too much about it personally.
Every time we have had to leave a place and people we have loved that quote from Winnie the Pooh comes back to me.  “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
The goodbyes seem even harder when the other side of things is still a blank canvas.  We don’t know where the hellos will come from or where our next “Something that makes saying goodby so hard” is. Honestly, we are both praying that the next goodbye is decades down the road.  We long for home and roots and community and a true sense of belonging.
But for now we will live in the moment as much as possible.  We will hang out often, dance like crazy, cry without shame, sing loudly, play wildly, eat together often, laugh hysterically.  We will live life and continue to love and be loved.  And we will trust in the hope of the one who gives more abundantly than we can ever ask or imagine.
It’s still hard.  But hard isn’t always bad.

God in the Curry

I don’t know when the smell of curries became a comfort smell for me.
I don't know when the smell of curries became home for me. 

Today as I was walking through Diamond Plaza (Little India here in Nairobi) I instantly went to a place of feeling safe and at home when I caught a whiff of turmeric and cumin wafting through the air.  These warm spices automatically hit my senses and make me happy. It brings to mind pictures of English class with my ladies; Karogas (BBQ’s) with friends – laughing, eating, and visiting; cooking lessons with our neighbor when the interns were here; and henna with friends after taking chai together.
Somewhere along the line India became home, and I’ve never even been there.
This time back in Kenya has been a bit difficult for me.  Shawn and Anna are missing from everyday life.  (Shawn will be back this week!!) I came back to a whole new team, because our Nairobi team became two as we focus on more specific ministries.  We no longer live in the house we were in for the past 1.5 year – not even in the same part of town.  We are staying in a friend’s flat while they are on home assignment, so even the furniture is different.  The boys are finishing this year’s school online rather than returning to Rosslyn, so that community is lost.  I have a new job – an actual job with a real description- that is keeping me hopping as I figure out how to balance kids, work, and the chaos that is often life here. I feel out of sorts a lot as I navigate these things.
But today, after walking into town to meet a friend for lunch, I stopped in the market to pick up fresh bread, a few spices, and a treat for the boys, and suddenly I was “home.”  I stood still for just a moment in the familiarity of it all, and thanked God for this time of life.  It wasn’t hard to find him in the middle of the craziness that is Diamond Plaza and Nairobi – he came to me on the smell of the curry.

Holding My Breath

Living in a developing country often has things to it that get me wondering what in the world I am doing.  I’ve noticed a common phrase coming out of my mouth as I am driving is, “I just don’t understand” meaning, “What in the world do you think you’re doing?!?”  Literally every time I am driving this phrase or some variation is said (ahem, yelled) at least once.  A little head shaking and maybe a glare if they look in their mirror (rarely) and then we move on.  (I’m such a good missionary…)

Insane driving aside, I do love Kenya.  But there’s a certain feel here that I don’t experience in my home culture.  I am in the last minutes of getting things ready for our apprentices to come.  I will be teaching orientation for them for the first week.  We will talk about specific things in Kenya, how to not just survive, but to thrive and excel here.  We will talk about medical things, drinking water, cultural adjustments, what to do when the honeymoon phase wears off, etc.  I feel pretty prepared for much of this, and am excited about picking them up at the airport and starting the program.
However this week something happened.
Most of you reading this probably know a terrorist attack happened in the Westlands area of Nairobi, just a couple miles from our old house and not far from where we are now.  It started with a suicide bomber and ended with at least 21 people dead and many more wounded.  It last through the night and there were hostages.  Being just a few miles away from Westgate Mall, where a few years ago a the same group attacked, it brought back many feelings for people who live here.  It happened right next door to a place I frequent and love  – and where I should have been having lunch with friends, but I cancelled due to jet lag and preparing for this week. Everyone there was safe, and I probably would have missed the bomb even if I had gone to lunch, but I have to admit that it shook me.
As I talk to these apprentices tomorrow I will touch on the fact that terrorism is a fact of life here.  Kenya is at war with Somalia, and the group that sent these people have sent some before and will send more again.
Today I had a lot of errands to run to get ready for teaching and the easiest way to do that was to go to a local mall that has every store I needed.  I took the boys with me to get them out of the house after we finished school, but on my way there I felt myself start to hold my breath.  Not panic, really, but a catching of my heart in the thought of where we were going.
This terrorist group has targeted places where wealthy Kenyans and ex-pats go, and this mall was the ultimate place for that.  The boys didn’t want to shop, of course, so I ordered them lunch and prepared to go to the stores I needed to go.  I have left them at a table eating before there, and even had a passing thought of what to do if something happened.  But today I went back to the table and sat down.
Living in Kenya (and South Sudan before) we’ve had all the talks about safety and evacuation, etc.  But today I had to review with them to be consciously aware of the situation around them.  What a world we live in – talking to our children about evil things that we hope will never happen, but understand still could.  Preparing them to stick together, find a safe place, hide, and do not come out for anyone unless you are positive it is the military. We had packed our go bags in Sudan and ended up using them.  Now today I was reviewing what to do in a hostage situation.
So I shopped, and checked in after each store.  They laughed and ate delicious kabobs and didn’t think about things again.  But I held my breath just a little longer than usual.
I acknowledge that evil happens everywhere – even in the places that we deem safest.  But I had forgotten about that need to be just a little bit more aware each day here.  As I teach the apprentices about this amazing country and how to live and love here, I will also have to tell them to make sure their eyes are open just a little more.
So we pray for Kenya, and for all of this world.  We know and live in the hope that evil will ultimately be defeated.  But for now we live, we love, we pray, and we trust that God, who is always with us, has a plan that is good.
(Side note, those of you who know RJ and his anxiety may be questioning all these things, but he has not shown any real anxiety in this time and for that I am so grateful.  He seems to be doing well in the adjustment back!)

The One Where I Watched NCIS

(*This has been transferred over from my other blog, along with many others recently posted.  It was written over three years ago!  Thanks!)

As we are coming upon a year (!) in Kenya this month, I have been thinking a lot about the last couple of years.  I wrote a blog a few years ago about the true desires of my heart for my kids (here) and I have thought about this blog several times in the last two years.  It was easy to say as I wrote it in the comfort of my comfortable, safe little home at the time.  My kids had seen some sorrow with the death of their grandmother and a drowning of a friend from church.  But for the most part when I wrote that blog, they had not seen a lot of the real world.  Though I knew it was coming, I didn’t really know what was coming.  I didn’t know that when I ripped teenagers away from their familiar world with technology and friends and family and clean drinking water from the tap and fast food and A/C how much anger would come from that.  I didn’t understand that living in a remote, war-torn place could cause such a deep wound on the hearts and the psyche of all of us, and that it would mean that, of course I couldn’t take care of the 6 of us – I couldn’t take care of myself.  It was a daily lesson in survival for emotional and spiritual health.  I knew that war was there – but what did that really mean to me?  I had not lived through gunfire, burnings, and assassination attempts on people I knew before.  I wasn’t prepared for those people to have a real face, a name, a family.  To cry with me about it – or worse yet, to talk about it with a stone-faced look because it has become all too normal.  I had gone through simulations in training on what to do in different crisis situations, but I had never lived with a go-bag packed before so we could take off with a change of clothes, malaria meds, and our important documents in minutes if we needed too.  Growing up in PA I had certainly shot a gun and seen hunters use them – but on animals or tin can targets – not on people. And I had never seen tracer fire or heard AK-47s.  I was not in the military, after all.
When I wrote that blog, I must have been naive, right?
When we left South Sudan and were in a safe place to process the huge amounts of grief and fear we had felt over the past year and I started to see the affects on my kids, I thought yes, I must have been naive.  I was so angry at the woman – the mom – who wrote that stupid blog.  What did she know? I was embarrassed because I knew so many people had read the blog and yet I wasn’t even sure any of it was true anymore.  I was mad that I couldn’t be that woman – that I didn’t even want to be.
It had felt good and empowering (and pretty darn prideful, if I am willing to be honest) to write that the first time and “know” that I must have something in me that many people don’t.  Us missionaries – we can be pretty arrogant in the name of sacrifice and service.
So while we took the last year to heal in many ways and start to really embrace life here I ignored that blog and all it’s implications.  But then tonight I was watching an episode of NCIS  (Isn’t this how all the good spiritual revelations start?)  They were in South Sudan rescuing some military doctors who volunteered their time while off duty.  And from the get-go, I realized it was not just a tv show for me.  Though annoyed at the mispronunciation of “Juba” (really people – it’s four letters long!) I found myself in tears at the first sighting of the makeshift hospital tent where the people were gunned down.  I felt panicked at seeing the gunships come in.  I felt a homesickness for the people and the accents and the Juba Arabic and the landscape.  Because yes, it had been HARD.  But it was also GOOD.  I experienced over and over again the hospitality and love of a people that just wanted to be left alone to live in peace.  I heard stories of loss and survival that ripped my heart in two and put a burning desire to see justice come to light.  I learned anew what hope looked like, even when it made no sense to me.
And my kids experienced all of these things right along with us.  Their hearts and eyes were opened to things that may seem harsh and over the top, but are realities of the majority of people of this world. I have talked with my kids about these things.  Anna said she remembers clearly the day after lockdown when she realized that the Sudanese people have no other choices.  We talked about evacuation and safety and looked at what seemed like limited options – but they were still options.  We had an out, but they didn’t.   She also realized that the Sudanese cared about us enough that they wanted us to have that out and to use it.  It wasn’t fair and it opened her heart up to justice and love and empathy and compassion.  John has talked about how the last year shaped him and that even though it was rough and he was angry most of the time, God has since shown him some things about himself and about this world that he has realized he would never really understand without having South Sudan in his life.  Andrew and RJ have really only good memories of Mundri (other than the latrine)  because yes, we had an amazing team and some really awesome times there.  They are both shaped by the input of a team that poured into them and loved them.  And what young boy doesn’t love the adventure of wide open spaces and bows and arrows?
Would I have liked to have spared them some of the things they have seen and known.  From a certain standpoint, of course!  No mother enjoys watching her children ache and cry and grieve while not knowing how to help them.  Yet I really like who my kids are today.  I love seeing their hearts open to new things and people.  I love seeing the compassion they have and the passions He has put in their hearts.  It has been our prayer for as long as I can remember that our kids would be justice seekers and risk takers in this world and they wouldn’t be content with status quo.
I forgot that for a while.  I got caught up and forgot that God is sovereign. I saw only the “in the moment” and not the molding and shaping that was happening for His good.
My kids are healthy.  They are happy.  And more importantly, they are in love with Jesus.  That looks different for each of them, but it happened in deeper, more profound ways because of this last year.  Grief can draw a sense of purpose out of you in ways that times of ease cannot.
So tonight I stand back alongside that naive woman who wrote the blog a few years ago and the quote from the book I was reading ( and need to reread, apparently) called ‘Parenting Beyond Your Capacity’ that says “The mission of your family is not to ultimately protect your kids but to mobilize them to demonstrate God’s love to a broken world.”  Of course I will continue praying protection over my kids.  But I will also pray for boldness, for compassion, for broken hearts that seek him, for things that bring them repeatedly to the place where they remember he is all they need, and for being justice seekers and grace bringers into this very broken world.
And I will pray for my own heart to be steadfast in this.

Mundri Mussings

(Originally posted Feb. 2016)

(Ok, I’m terrible at titles…)

A year ago yesterday we left Mundri.
It was supposed to be for just 7 weeks. We were scheduled to go to Kenya for an East Africa retreat and conference with all the Serge missionaries. After a couple months of severe pain and sickness, Shawn was told he had to get on the next MAF plane out and get into see a doctor to figure out what was happening. He had lost 20 pounds in just a couple weeks, had a high fever, and we were pretty sure had a kidney stone that wouldn’t pass (turns out there were seven stuck on either side). But both sides hurt, so after debating the should we or shouldn’t we, I was relieved to have someone in charge tell us there was no option.
So Friday we spent the afternoon trying to book a MAF flight to no avail, and finally decided to just drive to juba and catch a commercial flight out on Sunday. We had no idea how long it would take to drive there (they had done it anywhere from 6 hours to 12!) so we decided to stay over in juba Saturday night and fly to Kenya Sunday. Almost 48 hours of travel time to visit the doctor.
Then we packed. We were leaving for 7 weeks, but had limited luggage allowance on the plane. We packed about 4 outfits each plus swim suits for the retreat. Our tech toys came with us along with malaria meds so we could resume taking them before we came back to mundri (we wouldn’t need those in Kenya except in the coast), and a few toiletries (we would be restocking in Nairobi) and we were ready. Theresa helped me figure out how to take enough school for 6 weeks, and we copied books and ripped out workbook pages to make the weight less.
I packed up all the pantry food, because I didn’t want rats eating our precious cake mix or chocolate chips. I packed up a lot of clothing because I didn’t want rats eating my skirts and underwear! As I was looking around I thought- very briefly- “I should pack most things up just in case they have to evacuate while we are gone.” This was a fleeting thought, but always a consideration when we lived there. We talked about evacuating and gun fire and go bags and ways out all the time. It was a practical way of life, not a panic thing. And since I was already packing and we didn’t have a huge house, I decided to pack things up a little more securely so the Reeds and Justin wouldn’t have to think about that in the rare event that actually did evacuate. Plus, it had another advantage…it was dry season and I had to dust twice a day to keep up. With things packed away, I wouldn’t have as much to clean when we got back.
The next morning we loaded the car early, hugged teammates goodbye, and drove through town. As we drove through mundri town I looked for Andiwa, my language helper and sweet friend so I could say goodbye and explain language lessons would be on hold for a few weeks, but then I remembered she was in Lui for the weekend. When we drove through Mirikalanga, I scanned the tea house where Maria had started working so I could say goodbye, but she wasn’t around. I almost asked Shawn to stop so I could run and hug Cici goodbye, but I knew there was no such thing as a quick goodbye, and I would have to see everyone, and Shawn was very sick, and we didn’t how long the drive would be. So I quickly decided a text would do and I would catch up when we got back.
But we never went back.
I never got to hug Cici goodbye or chase little Tabita around again. I never got to share a chai with Maria while holding baby Larissa again. Andiwa called, so I spoke to her briefly on the phone, but after all hell broke loose in Mundri, I have never been able to reach her. Her number is turned off and the one time someone answered it wasn’t her. I didn’t see Elazai and Phoebe to tell them what an inspiration their long marriage and faithfulness to each other despite war, infertility, and insecurity was to me. I didn’t get to see Rina again, and a budding friendship built on similarities of life and laughter together was nipped quickly. I didn’t get to buy another Rolex (egg and chapati) from Gideon and talk to him about his dreams of going to America. I didn’t get to buy sugar from Makonis Billy and hear him say, “Ah, my people!” I didn’t get to sit with Stephen’s family on their compound in almost complete silence, but a comfortable peace. I didn’t get to buy g-nut paste from the older ladies in town who good naturedly competed for our business. I didn’t get to eat shea from Maggie’s again. So many losses….
Two weeks after we left, while Shawn was recuperating from his first surgery, we got word that we had to evacuate our team immediately. 24 hours later our friends stood before us in Nairobi shell-shocked and bedraggled. What had just happened?
They closed up the compound, packed a go back (they had even less allowed weight than we did because of MAF) and waited on us to let them know when their flight was coming. I remember coordinating it from this side. Shawn was in bed recuperating, I was having a brunch with some friends before we went to Rosslyn to watch RVA and Rosslyn play basketball in a tournament. How could things look so normal here while I was making evacuation plans for my friends? How could I be sitting in Java House while texting plans to help them stay safe? I was still in culture shock myself.
Our team said their goodbyes…and it was impossibly hard and guilt-filled for security reason I can’t get into. To keep others safe they couldn’t really tell the whole story why they were leaving, because of chaos and destruction that could occur. In short, they had to lie to people that were friends. It wasn’t their fault. Nothing could be done, and they were given strict guidelines to follow for the good of everyone involved. We had to leave our Sudanese friends in God’s hands.
Their goodbyes were even harder than our lack of goodbyes.
There hasn’t been closure for most of us that left last year. Larissa left in January for a “short” home assignment thinking she would be back. We left for 7 weeks, with plans in place for ministry and language learning when we got back. The Reeds and Justin still have their hearts set in going back, though that looks less and less likely with each passing day. They guys were able to go back in the fall for just 48 hours to get a few things and try to make a longer term closure of the compound. They saw people and talked and hugged and ate and cried and prayed. They closed up shop as securely as they could, but most everything has been looted or burned now. People are scattered all over or missing or worse. This country that had had so much hope when we initially signed up to go is in anarchy and hopelessness. People would rather live in refugee camps than go back to face war again.
And who can blame them? This is not the first war most of them have seen. In fact, war is all most of them know.
But closure is a funny thing. We have moved a lot in our marriage. Whether it was across town or across the world, I have always taken the time when the house is empty to walk through each room and remember and grieve and smile and pray a prayer of thanksgiving. To touch the walls (I’m very tactile) and breathe in the smell. It sounds melodramatic, but it was my ritual.
I didn’t get to do that in my cute little mundri house. I would have loved to have stood in my kitchen window and watch the neighbor kids in one of their many daily visits to the well, each with a jerry can matching their ability to carry the water- right down to tiny little Acacia with her tin can sized bottle. I would have loved to admire my newly built pantry that freed up kitchen space and looked so nice. I would have laughed at the clothes line going across the whole living area for those days when the clothes would not dry outside. I would have front-porch-sat one more time in the late afternoon before team dinner when everyone was getting back from various activities for the day and getting showers to attempt to clean up and cool off. They would stop by our porch in the way to the team house for dinner, and we would process the day together. I would have walked in the school house and been thankful for this building that helped give us some sort of schedule in the day. I would have had one more date night in the Tamarind Cafe, a little room Shawn and will decorated for Theresa and I when we complained there was no way to go on a date in mundri.
I would have taken a picture of the wall in our house with the Masso kids measurements over the years they lived in the house. We didn’t let them paint over that in the pantry making process
I would have had Shawn stop so I could hug my friends one more time.
But these things can’t happen, and there’s no turning back time.
We are on a wonderful new team and I am loving Nairobi and our life here. Though at times I struggled with guilt of really letting myself embrace this place, because it meant I was fully letting go of Mundri, I have learned a lot about the capacity of the heart to let more in. It’s fascinating and amazing how much we can hold on to and call ours when we come to realize that hellos and love and friendship is at least as powerful the pain of goodbyes and loss. You can’t have one without the other, and I refuse to give up the first. So I have come to accept and even sit in and be ok with the latter.
I have come to terms with the fact that even if I did go back, nothing would be the same. Most of the people are gone, the home I lived in is empty and looted. The solar panals are mostly gone, so power and internet is not an option anymore. The shops are destroyed and empty, the cafes are not open. Mundri is a shadow of its former bustling self.
And I grieve slowly. When my mom died, the grief was intense at first. Years later it comes in waves and at unexpected times. I suspect that Mundri will be similar for me. When I’m walking in the village here in Kenya and the camp fire smells and small town feel hits me like a ton of bricks out of the blue. When I’m laughing and enjoying new friends and I suddenly wonder where Andiwa is and if she’s ok. I’ve come to realize that this is healthy and normal, and there is no real end when it comes to grief, but more of a riding the waves.  I can also smile and be thankful for the good things that came from our short time in Mundri as well.
And in the middle of it all, I can keep falling in love with Kenya, with our church, with new friends. We’ve been trying to teach our kids that giving yourself in friendship to a new person does not make you disloyal to an old friend, it simply adds more depth and love to your life. You don’t have to hate one to love the other. You don’t have to ignore one or forget it to immerse yourself in the other. We have deep, abiding friendships and memories all over the world because we’ve chosen to live this way rather than cut ourselves off in case of hard goodbyes.
This doesn’t have to be different. I can embrace the impossible hardness and immense joy that came from living in Mundri and mourn that loss while still jumping whole-heartedly into life here. I can add our life in the States into that recipe and have a complicated, messy ball of emotions, but learn to live in that mess and fully experience each day and each feeling as it comes. I don’t have to choose Kenya over South Sudan or the States over Kenya. I can love (and sometimes hate) them all- in the same breath.
I guess leaving Mundri without a lot of closure has helped me realize that. Life isn’t black and white. It’s more like a big canvas of crazy colors and patterns that don’t always match and make sense. Sometimes they clash and we can barely look at them side by side. But it’s vibrant and full of energy and emotions.
A year ago yesterday I left a life I loved and hated to the extreme. And I entered into a place where (unbeknownst to me at the time) I would soon call home and learn to love and hate to the extreme at times. And I am thankful for this crazy, bumpy, chaotic, sometimes insanely hard road of life that God has placed me on.

Beast of Burden

“Bullet is just eating everything, leaves, trees, ground, person. Eating them. Just making person to bleed everywhere. We are just like wild animals now, with no place to be going. Sun, why are you shining at this world? I am wanting to catch you in my hands, to squeeze you until you can not shine no more. That way, everything is always dark and nobody’s ever having to see all the terrible things that are happening here.”     -Agu, Beasts of No Nation

(Warning, if you haven’t watched Beasts of No Nation and want to without knowing the story, don’t read any further.  There will be spoilers.)
Tonight I watched a movie that just about ripped my heart out.  I had to stop it several times and compose myself.  Beasts of No Nation was filmed in Ghana and is about an unnamed country in Africa.  But honestly, I felt like I was watching a documentary of South Sudan.  It has taken criticism from some, talking about how it makes it seem like all of Africa is one in the same.  To me, it just reminds me that all of the world – all of humanity – is the same.  We are broken.  We are evil at heart.  We are hurting and surviving living a world of people who are hurting and surviving.  There are things out of our control, out of our reach that we feel we cannot do anything about, and so we turn a blind eye and deaf ear.
Until we know the Truth.
I watched in horror as  Agu’s family was killed by rogue, power-hungry government soldiers and he ran.  I watched, sobbing, as he was captured by rebel soldiers and initiated into “manhood.” I covered my face and felt sick to my stomach as he killed his first man – an engineer there to build new roads and not involved in the war at all – with a machete, and then I couldn’t stop looking in shocked horror as he hacked and hacked after that first blow because his little, abused, boy body and mind were so filled with anger and  sorrow and confusion.  I almost gagged as the Commandant, a charismatic sociopath made Agu feel like he was his father, yet brought him into his bed and did unspeakable things to him.
This movie is not for the faint of heart, but I believe you should watch it.  (Not children!  This is not a family movie!)  It will make you react in ways that you should question and process – especially if you have children or if you know anyone who lives in places like this.  It will remind you what so many people are facing and dealing with.  It will be a call to prayer and battle.
My thoughts and heart were giving me whiplash as I went back and forth between remembering the boys in Mundri who could very well be facing these situations in their lives, and my own boys – particularly RJ, who is about the age that Agu is in the movie.
I thought of the boys who made signs for our house when we first moved to Mundri.  We played Uno together to learn Arabic numbers and colors.  My kids baked delicious pumpkin bread with them.  They helped do work around town to earn Futball jerseys, and would work full days to get these precious gifts.  The loved wrestling and John Cena and Futball  (Soccer) and Fanta.  They went to school when it was open and studied hard to pass exams, which were their only hope out.  They climbed mango trees and ate until their bellies were extended during mango season.  They played with my boys – slingshots, fishing, ball, running around and exploring.  These are the kids that the monsters are targeting.  These are the same types of boys that are picking up machine guns and killing whole villages, that are slaughtering with machetes, raping women who could be their mom’s age, and traveling with some of the most dangerous men you could ever meet.  But here’s the kicker for me – these are not just boys on a movie or in a book or the news cast.  I now KNOW these boys.  The have real names, faces, families, dreams.
And RJ…my RJ.  What would he do if I was taken from him, or John, Andrew, and Shawn were killed in front of him.  What if Anna was given, kicking and screaming, to a soldier for his payment that month because there was no more money and the soldiers on both sides were demanding some sort of compensation.  What if he were forced through an initiation like that, where it was kill or be killed?  Is it possible that his extremely sensitive heart and emotions could be hardened and perverted because of pain and trauma?  Of course it is…he is human.
And I can’t get my mind around it all.
Each day I hear news from South Sudan that makes me weep.  I read news about Syria and Brussles and other places and I just want to to turn my head and thank God that it’s not me.  Because he can’t really expect me to carry that pain with me all the time, can he?  What kind of burden can I bear?
“I saw terrible things… and I did terrible things. So if I’m talking to you, it will make me sad and it will make you too sad. In this life… I just want to be happy in this life. If I’m telling this to you… you will think that… I am some sort of beast… or devil. I am all of these things… but I also having mother… father… brother and sister once. They loved me.”  (Agu)
I plead, “Oh God of justice, please act.  Lord of mercy, intervene.  Father of Love, pour down your Spirit on this broken world.”  And he says, “I am here.  I am in you and my church – my bride.  I am present and I will overcome this evil.  But for now I want you to fight.”
Friends, it’s time to wake up and fight.  We cannot turn a blind eye anymore.  We need to remind this world that they do have a Father that loves them.

Just Stop

(Originally published 2017)
This week has been one of those blah weeks where I can’t seem to find the energy to be thankful for anything, but there is more than enough energy for complaining and finding the worst. It’s been one of those weeks where I stop asking God to change my heart and start begging him to change everything and everyone else- just make it stop. Stop with potholes, flat tires, and yet another suspicious noise on the vehicle. Stop with children’s eye rolling and sighing every time you ask something. Stop with ants in the pantry, the (expensive) peanut butter, and the refrigerator. (How is that even possible?)  Stop with team tension, change, and miscommunication.  Stop with school projects, tests, and bake sales that seem endless. Just stop.
When I feel that way I get tired, sulky, and overly sensitive and I stop. I stop praying for his eyes. I stop pursuing peace, patience, kindness, joy, compassion, forgiveness, and love. I stop believing the best in people and do an instant 180 to think that everyone is against me and has only their own good in mind. I settle into being annoyed by life happening around me.  I get (more) self-righteous, feel like I have all the answers if people would just stop being stupid and listen for once, and allow that deep pride to bloom into all out arrogance. It’s rotten.
I was in that mind frame walking into church is morning.  Believe me when I say I know how to put on a good face. I can be the happy Christian-pastor’s wife- missionary when I need to be. But it’s not genuine at times, and this was one of those days.  Inside I have a bad attitude, am super critical, and impatient.
Then the worship team played the song above, and the Spirit, whom I was so stubbornly avoiding, broke through.
“That’s the cry of my heart…”
It has been the cry of my heart at times. But not recently. My heart has cried only for my own self, my own comfort, my own recognition, my own desire to be acknowledged and needed, my own longing for a role and place in this world.  And not in a way where I was pleading for it so others could know him, but because I want to be recognized as valuable to the people around me. I want to be important.  I want to recognized- because it’s what I’ve been seeking in my flesh.
But the Spirit, in a loving, patient, compassionate, firm way broke through that wall of self this morning. He didn’t wait for me to ask. He didn’t hold back until I had repented and became “good” again. No, he overwhelmed me with his love for me. He pressed his truth into my heart and mind and opened my eyes to this being my purpose.
He met me where I was, and it wasn’t a pretty place.
All of the things that I’ve been clinging to so desperately – a job description that’s more tangible, a place in this ministry, a recognition of my worth, a desire for my kids to seek him…they aren’t bad. But my reason for seeking them out- for my own self worth, for my own pride- was eating away at me because it is not from him.
When I heard him this morning in that song, I was reminded that my call is to love him and be loved by him.  What a burden was lifted!  He didn’t change the wants and needs, but he put the reasoning behind them back in order. Yes, I want to see my children love him because that is his heart- not because it makes my life easier and I look better. Yes, I want to know my role and my place in this ministry- because then I can go whole heartedly in it for him, not because I want to be irreplaceable and thought of as this great person. I was also reminded my primary ministry is to have a heart that cries for the lost.
And my worth doesn’t come from people recognizing my piano “skills”, my writing ability, my wonderful ideas or anything else that I so crave. It comes from knowing that he pursued me, and continues to do so, even when I’m in the ugly, prideful phases where I stubbornly refuse to ask.
So in a matter of moments God took this heart- blackened, hardened, and angry as it was- and reminded me that he loves me. He values me. I am precious. I am worthwhile. My only need is to allow my heart to cry for others to know this about themselves.  The truth will set us free.


Each evening I sit with Andrew and RJ and I read aloud to them.  We have been reading through a wonderful series from Andrew Peterson called “The Wingfeather Saga”, which I highly recommend to everyone regardless of age.  I have read it myself three times and still enjoy it each time!  And I love seeing the boys’ reactions when we get to the end of  a chapter, where the author has very skillfully left you in suspense as to what will happen next!  They beg and plead for one more chapter, and I truly believe it’s not just because when we are done reading they will be going to bed!  
One night as I was sitting there waiting for them to brush their teeth before we got started reading I looked over and there sat this stuffed dog who (in my mind) is called Ebenezer:
This dog is one of those Ebenezer stones – a stone of help and remembrance.  This dog has traveled the world with us.  He was given to RJ when, at 6 months old, he went in for open heart surgery to repair two holes in his heart that weren’t repairing themselves.  A friend and mentor of ours from the District office where Shawn worked as a pastor met us at 5:30 AM to pray for us, pray over RJ, and sit with us during the surgery.  He brought balloons which were attached to this big, silly looking pooch.  At the time, I think the dog wasn’t much smaller than our baby who was refusing to eat and grow, so it really made an impression on me.  But even more so, I remember the feeling of being loved – of the fact that we were not alone in this.  During that time in the hospital we set up a site where we could update people and they could leave comments.  I printed off those comments so he could have them later in life, and we had people praying for him from all over the world.  It was encouraging and humbling at the same time. 
RJ went on to recover completely from surgery with just two scars – one on his chest and one near his stomach.  When we left a year and a half later for Malawi his heart specialist told us to “act like nothing ever happened except when he needs dental work  – then get antibiotics!”  And so we have.  
We went to Malawi, fell in love with Africa and her people.  We had adventures while camping in the bush and hearing hippos.  Got scared of a little black snake that we were sure must be the dangerous Black Mamba we kept hearing about (it wasn’t), moved houses three times, made friends, ate termites, experienced church in a different language, and determined that we would live there forever.  
We didn’t. 
Plans changed and we ended up home in New York again.  The dog was one of the few things that made the trip there and back with us, as most things got left.  After a few months of living in my in-law’s basement we were offered a church in Troy, NY and moved there wondering what was next.  Doggie came along.  There we once again fell in love with the people.  We pastored two churches that couldn’t have been more different from each other, and reveled in the diversity of God’s people even within a few miles of each other let alone a different country.  We laughed and cried.  We mourned the loss of my mom and were loved on by people in that grief.  We moved 4 times in our 5 years there, and big brown puppy came along for the ride.  Each time he would be put on RJ’s bed and I would see it occasionally and smile at the adventures of the dog and how much love we felt from the people who gave him to us.  
When we moved to South Sudan we didn’t take the puppy.  It was going to be dusty and dry, the land there harsh and somewhat volatile.  We knew there was always a chance of evacuation and so because of that we packed most of our keepsakes in different bins in the States and stored them with family.  RJ mentioned several times while we were there that he missed his dog.  (He is a child of tradition and doesn’t enjoy change much.  Poor kid!)  
A year and a half later after evacuating South Sudan and moving to Kenya we went back to the States and started going through things because the person storing our stuff was moving.  We decided to take things back to Kenya because we want to be here long term and wanted to personalize our lives here.  The dog was on the top of RJ’s list, and Andrew even stuffed it in his carry one when we ran out of room in the bins.  So now he sits here – reminding us of God’s goodness in our lives.  
Just like the situation surrounding the receiving of the dog, much of our life has not been what we planned.  We didn’t think we would ever be facing open heart surgery with our baby while he sat in congestive heart failure.  We didn’t think we would move so many times – almost every time we went somewhere we talked about settling down and hoped to be there “forever.”  We didn’t expect to have to leave Malawi.  We were finally on the field and thought that after all that time of preparing we would be there until we retired.  We didn’t really expect to evacuate Mundri, despite all the talk of war and go-bags and evacuation plans.  
Yet there are so many things we would have missed out on without those unexpected and unplanned detours in life.  We wouldn’t have experienced  so many of the deep, life-giving, abiding, rich friendships that we have.  We would have missed the extra time with people in the seasons of wait.  We wouldn’t have experienced the faithfulness and provision of God time and time again.  
We hope, desire, yearn to be in Kenya long term.  We don’t want to move and have upheaval again.  We love our lives here – our friends, our church, our team.  And as far as we can see, that’s the plan.  But we have come to the place where we realize that we can’t see his plans in the details that we wish we could.  Often we can’t even see a blurry view of those plans and we have to go blindly into whatever he pushes us towards.  He is doing a work in us.  And every time I see the brown stuffed dog I am reminded of His love for us.  Isn’t God funny that way – to use a stuffed animal of all things to remind us who he is?!  
So, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, [which in this case is a brown, stuffed puppy] hither by Thy help I’ve come; And I hope, by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home.   Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God;  He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.”  (Come Thou Fount, hymn by Robert Robinson)
(Originally published 2018)

I Will Rise

(Originally published 2017)

“There’s a peace I’ve come to know
Though my heart and flesh may fail.
There’s an anchor for my soul
I can say ‘It is well.'”
Yesterday we had the memorial service of a wonderful man of faith in our church.  He was a cornerstone and a rock in the church history, serving as assistant pastor as one point and in leadership.  But more than that, he was a faithful example of the goodness of Jesus.  
Shafkat was born into a Muslim family, got into an accident while driving recklessly as a 19 year old, and woke up in the hospital with portions of his leg bones sticking through his skin and paralyzed from the waist down.  This would be a huge tragedy anywhere, but in Africa it is extremely hard to be disabled.  There is stigma and hardship that comes with the territory in ways that are not so pronounced in the States.  Shafkat (from my understanding) spent a good portion of the next decade in the hospital.  He was never able to walk again, but doctors thought it was a miracle that he even lived.  While in the hospital someone gave him a Bible, and with nothing else to do he started reading it from the beginning.  By the time he reached the gospels, he knew he needed to surrender his life to Isa al-Masih.  He married a wonderful Christian woman, and the two of them spent the next 17 years in ministry.  He founded a mission called Overcomers By Grace (OBG) where the motto was “Disability is not Inability” and the focus was on Jesus Messiah.  
“Jesus has overcome
And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
He is risen from the dead”
But more than founding ministries for disabled people, more than being Assistant Pastor at New City Fellowship, Shafkat and Sabia lived out their faith in every day.  Testimony after testimony – even from his Muslim family who attended the memorial – was that they loved people.  There was nothing they would not do for people.  They were sacrificial.  
I  didn’t know Shafkat well.  We haven’t been around long enough yet to know everyone.  Yet I learned about the man he was at his funeral.  And more importantly, Muslim, Christian, and Hindu alike came together in one building where we sang songs to glorify “The God of Shafkat” and to talk about the reason for him being the person he had become. 
That morning the worship team lead the church in singing “I will Rise” by Chris Tomlin.  I knew before the words even started that I would lose it.  It was sung at my mom’s funeral.  Most days when I expect it I steel my heart towards it.  But yesterday I knew, with all the death and chaos and tragedies we had seen recently in our church – I knew I had to release it and hear those words.  So I cried.  And I prayed.  And I opened my eyes to look at the singers on the worship team in front of me – two of whom had lost their sister recently – and I cried some more.  For them,  For me, for Sabia…for those left behind.  But not for those who have gone ahead – they are in a place that we can only dream about right now.
“There’s a day that’s drawing near
When this darkness breaks to light
And the shadows disappear
And my faith shall be my eyes “

My dad had wanted my mom’s funeral to be small and for family.  It wasn’t even really announced, and we didn’t have calling hours except for my sisters and I.  But people came from all over to the graveside!  I was humbled and amazed as my sisters and I sat (while everyone else stood in the hot August sun) for a long time and heard testimony after testimony of her love for people because of her love for Jesus.  I prayed that hearts would be opened and softened and seeds planted.  Just like I prayed yesterday for people to come out of the darkness.  
“And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise- 
I will rise”
I am grateful that I know death is the last victory for the enemy here on earth, but there is more to the story.  I sat with tears in my eyes as I pictured Shafkat whole and dancing and jumping and running around again.  I pictured my mom – beautiful and whole and pain free in a body no longer racked with cancer.  My uncle singing and playing his guitar.  My young friend who died all too soon in car accident making jokes and flashing his smile.  My husband’s grandmother up there interceding for us even now.
Thank you, Jesus.   
“And I hear the voice of many angels sing,
‘Worthy is the Lamb’
And I hear the cry of every longing heart,
‘Worthy is the Lamb, Worthy is the Lamb.'”

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 ...