Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What's it like to live in Africa????

Ethan had the joy of receiving a letter in the mail--the real mail, with a stamp and everything!--a first here in Africa for him. It was written by a sweet boy at one of our churches; a boy we've never met. Ethan was thrilled to get it, and he read it aloud for us. It was very sweet. And then came the line that gives me hives every time.

"What's it like to live in Africa?"

Not because it's not a valid question. I understand how inconceivable and incomprehensible living in Africa might seem. Yes, I understand why the question inevitably comes. The hives are a result of just how difficult that question is to answer.

How does one wrap up the experience of DIFFERENT in a concise sentence, as if the 26 letters plus punctuation could possibly be enough to bring clarity as to what it's like?

How does one describe the ease with which we pat ourselves on the back and say to God and others, "We've sacrificed so much. We're so Radical. Now give us what we've earned." And then minutes later seeing others' sufferings, and the force with which we're struck to our knees, crying out to God and others, "We've been given so much. We're still clinging to our own rights and desires. Please give us what we need."

How does one describe the deep, nearly suffocating desire to see Christ make a difference in the spiritual, physical, political, and social darkness all around us, and the fight against hopelessness that it will ever come to pass on this earth.

How does one talk about trusting our children's wellbeing to God's lovingkindness, and also the need to be in tune with their needs so as not to neglect them for the sake of the work. Or to reconcile God's call on our chilrden's lives, when it wasn't their decision to come out here.

How does one describe the beauty of a foreign land, the beauty of a foreign people, the intrigue of hearing foreign tongues all around, the frustration of always being the foreigner.

So what's it like to live in Africa?? It's like driving on an unfamiliar highway; one with pot-holes aplenty, and a chasm on one side and rising cliffs on the other, with an enemy trying to knock us into the chasm or into the cliffs. Oh, and we're in a standard-shift car. With no cruise control. . Every moment, trying to take in the sights and make sense of the sounds. Every moment, concentrating on the road with painful intensity. Always aware, always alert, always double-checking speed, and fuel, and lights. It's exhilarating and exhausting. It's rewarding and punishing. It's never dull, and sometimes we cry out for dull. But it's real, and it's important, and it's our road, prepared in advance for us to travel. We may look a little wind-blown; I wouldn't call it a joy-ride, but it's the road-trip of a lifetime.

So, what's it like to live in America?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Times-Table Contentment

I read this great book--I've recommended it before, but if you didn't listen the first time...Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow. She makes a great point of Philippians 4:11, when Paul writes, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances..." Learned. Not "I am especially and miraculously gifted." Learned. Like the grueling work my 9-year old dreads when facing the times tables. Learned with practice and more practice and then some more practice. Learned and then forgotten and then relearned. And there-in lies the rub. Because not everything is like riding a bicycle. I find contentment more like 7x8--that elusive thing you've learned so many times before but in the heat of the timed-math-test, it seems as unfamiliar as if you've never seen it before. Contentment.

I haven't written for the past month. Why, you ask?? Many reasons, but perhaps because I was stuck in traffic where the 2 lane road became 4 lanes with no warning, and I had to fight for every meter against 2-ton trucks and passenger buses and crazy taxi drivers who feel that life and death are equal realities, so why try to fight fate. I could have been trying to figure out what to do for dinner because the 3 liters of milk I bought were already sour--I forgot to check the expiration date, and they always push the expired ones nearest you, in hopes of selling them anyway. Or maybe I was mixing up my second cake from scratch before 8am because the fourth egg of the first cake was rotten, and I forgot to crack it in a separate bowl first. You always have to crack them individually in their own bowl before adding them to the batter--what was I thinking???? Or I could have been sifting bugs out of my flour and my rice, because I forgot that flour and rice have to be kept in the freezer. Or scrambling to find an alternative hospital for an emergency surgery because our main hospital's laproscope "went down." It was probably one of those things. Or it was the distraction I felt in the face of my annoyance (which, lets be honest, was more like anger) for hours when these little, or not so little, issues threatened my very sanity.

And then I was part of a week-long leadership training meeting, set in the Aberdare mountains near Mt Kenya. Amazing cabins, with fluffy duvets and hot water bottles placed just right at night so that the bed was toasty warm despite the high-elevation chill. And incredible gourmet buffet meals which I neither had to cook nor wash up dishes after. And adult, godly conversations and challenges and inspiration.  Meetings only mildly interrupted by peacocks and warthogs and baboons, followed by thoughtful walks among giraffe and gazelle. Our last night, they rang little bells in our room to notify us when the black rhinos appeared at the watering hole. And then we saw a leopard with a fresth kill on our way home. I mean, honestly. I might as well be on an all-expense paid 3 year safari for all the suffering for the Lord I do sometimes!

And so I'm back, now, to the world of traffic jams and sour milk, and back to the times tables. But the gift of last week was to remind me that things are incredibly hard here sometimes, and incredibly infuriating even more often, and incredibly filled with blessing far more than I give it credit for. God promises in Matthew 19:29 that whatever we have lost for His sake, we will get back 100-fold PLUS eternal life. Those are some fine odds, if you think about it! As for us, we have found God to be faithful to that promise, as we've left homes and parents and siblings and 'fields' and as we've gained friends and family and experience and new fields.

I'm going to have to keep studying my times-tables so that when the power goes off just as I need it most, I can recall that promise, recall God's faithfulness, recall contentment in the circumstances. Because life just has ups and downs and trials and joys; and really, challenging is more fun, right? I mean, who enjoys chanting their 1s times-tables. So I'll embrace "7x8=56"..."with great annoyances come great blessings". Has a ring to it, don't you think?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Safe and Sound and Exhausted

I've concluded that a 35 hour trip with 4 kids really is epic, and in a perfect world, should not be a routine part of life. I kept reminding myself that we won't have to do it again for 3 1/2 years, at which time our youngest will be nearing age 7. But...we survived in relatively good shape. There are no photos, however, because relative good shape does not need documentation...because relative is still relative!!!

Incredible friends, David and Jeweliann Norrie, saved us by insisting on driving us to the airport at 3:30 am in the Highland Baptist Church bus when it became apparent that the "free airport shuttle" from our hotel would not be able to handle our 16 trunks, 10 carry-ons, 2 car seats, and 1 stroller (odd, don't you think???). They also sat with your comatose kiddos while we checked in. Only 1 bag was overweight, by 1lb, and we had a very reasonable woman who didn't make us cut the zip-tie to rearrange weight! And then she confessed the flight was over-booked, so she offered to check as much hand-luggage as we wanted to our final destination for free. Hallelujah!!! We off-loaded 3 more, and looking back, I don't know how we would have managed those ones!

The flight to Newark was uneventful. The 4-hr layover was a bit painful, as the reality started to sink into the kids' (you know, once their brains woke up!) and their emotions ranged from anger, mostly just anger. No one slept on the next flight, and we arrived in Brussels--the most confusing airport I've ever been in, for the record--just in time for the fatigue to kick in.  Once we made it to our connecting gate, we all dropped our bags, dropped ourselves, and lay down, yes on the floor. Like I said, some things don't actually need to be photographed!

The flight on to Nairobi (via Kigali, Rwanda) was the longest of the 3, at 10 hrs 50 minutes. Definitely not ideal for your last leg. But it was only about 1/2 full, which meant we got to spread out over 3 rows!!!  Pure awesomeness. The kids slept for at least 9 hours, and we each got about 4 or 5 hours in. Incredible, right???? Yes, but every silver lining has a cloud behind it. By the time we arrived home at 1 am, the kids were so refreshed and wide awake, there was no chance they were going to bed without a fight! We finally got the little ones to sleep again, but Anya and Ethan never did. Not that we knew that, because we collapsed in bed and slept until 7am when Anya and Ethan couldn't stand being quiet anymore. Negligent parenting? Perhaps, but all the judgement in the world couldn't have kept me awake!!!

Thursday we played and greeted everyone (that would be the kids and Chad) and unpacked (and that would be Miriam) and then had pizza night with the Suels again. Yeah!!! So great to be back with friends and co-workers! We all feel asleep at a reasonable hour, and it was good until midnight, when Omara woke up. I took first shift with her and unpacked and sorted piles of clothes-to-grow-into until 4am when Chad relieved me and I slept for a few more hours. The rest of today was equally busy with packing, cleaning, sorting, and organizing--and we're done! All suitcases, all carry-ons, and all storage we had left here. Unpacked, put away. House clean. AWESOME!!!!

So enough of the play-by-play! We're here, we're safe, we're unpacked. But how ARE we???? The sunshine is amazing--tank tops and shorts today. Our house is so comfortable and familiar, and our co-workers are great. So we're happy. It feels like we're home. The hard parts are there too...Isaac stormed around today screaming and punching the air in frustration that he couldn't eat Bran Flakes (didn't I tell you????!!!), saying, "There's no cereal in Kenya and we have to stay here for 3 years?????" I wanted to scream and punch the air when I remembered what it's like to have to boil water to wash dishes (can't believe I didn't think to say good-bye to Kenmore in my previous blog...what I wouldn't give to be able to hide dirty dishes in a magic box that later washes them!!) I have a ridiculously large pile of laundry to do and I can't face the thought of hanging them on the line. And then there is the familiar angst that descended upon me the minute the friendly Kenyan porters started helping us pull luggage off the belt at the airport. 35 hours earlier, I was feeling sorry for myself that I had to (and could) put my life into 16 pathetic footlockers. And then...boom, just like that--all my conveniences and luxuries, packed in a massive pile of luggage, looked obscene next to the simple lives lived by those around us here. I just can't win!!!!

Well, my roiboos-caramel-chai tea is finished (thank, Beth--it's great!) and my back is killing me, so I'm going to sign off. Looking forward to worship tomorrow at our church here, and then to the grocery store to stock back up, and then I'm going to make granola, so that Isaac can eat his cereal. We do what we gotta do, right????