Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Open mouth, insert money.

There are times when all the signs point towards intervention, and yet God clearly tells someone to stay put. I've seen it happen, and I've supported it, and I've praised God when He goes against conventional wisdom. It happens with financial 'signs,' medical 'signs,' and everything in between.

I know. That seems to go against what I said just a few days ago. But here's the truth: as much as I rage against this reality...life isn't a cook-book, or a flow-chart, or any other simple color-by-number endeavor. It's never as black and white as the words on the screen make it appear.

We can't make snap decisions that remove a vibrant relationship as we discern whether circumstances are an opportunity for faith in staying, or faith in changing.

Flashback. (Ladies down south--since you're now my coworkers and you probably don't know this story, go ahead and skip ahead now to save yourselves from retroactive heart palpitations!) Omara was 6 months old, and we lived in Malawi where health care was extremely limited and the central hospital had a pediatric fatality rate of over 60%. She got her 6-month vaccines, and a few days later spiked a 103 fever. Then it crept up-104. 104.9. And then, when I was feeding her, I noticed that her fontanel was bulging. Some of you may know that's a big deal. Fever + bulging fontanel = meningitis until proven otherwise. Except that she didn't show any other signs. She was eating well. Her blood counts were normal. And so I wrestled for hours that night--agonizing over what I should do. I knew if I called my medical coordinators, we would be on the next plane, maybe even an evac flight at an enormous cost to the company. And as I wrestled, I knew in my spirit that whatever was going on could be managed where we were. Against conventional wisdom. And the next night she broke out in the rash that signaled the harmless viral illness, Roseola, with well-documented symptoms of very high fever and 'aseptic meningitis' which needs no treatment and has no long-term consequences. I learned something about faith in staying that night. It's not simple.

Flash-forward. Ethan is 11 years old. He's always been our sensitive one, less able to handle the hard knocks of life, the constant good-byes just when he's made a friend. His ADHD took us on a trip to South Africa from Malawi, because the signs were clear then that he needed some help. It helped for awhile. Then Dad's death in 2013 hit him harder than we expected. We've worked with professionals here in Kenya to help with processing the grief of loosing Grandpa. The ambiguous grief of loosing friends who aren't dead but are just as absent after they've moved away. The pressures of school and grades and handling expectations. We've 'read' the signs and made changes, with home-schooling for a portion of last year. We've pulled together all the possible resources at his school. And as we look ahead to junior high next year, the signs are clear. Our irrevocable calling is to care for him to the best of our abilities. That could be done for awhile in Malawi. Then it could be done in Kenya. And now. Now it's time to put my money where my mouth is.

Hello from the other side.

It's a lot easier to be counseling than to be experiencing! But when I talked with people dealing with similar issues, I spoke from the heart. I believed my convictions. I had faith it was godly counsel as best I knew to give.

And so we are moving forward, learning about faith in leaving this time. We'll return in June, most likely be in North Carolina (Raleigh-Durham area) due to the resources there. We will spend a full year, living out our calling by getting Ethan the support he needs to know and believe in his ability to thrive as God designed him to, and then to live within that confidence. We plan to return, stronger and healthier, in June 2017, ready to keep living out our calling here.
 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Called

As medical coordinator, I spend a fair amount of time talking with people about calling. Sounds strange, does it? Not out here! Not when overseas workers' ability to do their jobs depends directly on events outside of their control, and when we are committed to affirm God's sovereignty in everything. There is no separation of work and life here--it's all one big circle of action and interaction as our lives minister and our ministry affects our lives in a fully integrated way. When it works, it really works. When it's hard, it's really hard. It's probably how it's supposed to be, how it worked with Jesus and all, but it's not very American. Not with separation of church and state, which so often means separation of public and private; separation of Sunday and Monday-Saturday. We chafe against it sometimes, over here. And when things happen which threaten our 'calling' we cry out, "How can this be? I was CALLED here, to do this!"

And so I've had time to mull over calling, and I've come to some very strong beliefs about this thing we know as Calling; beliefs that fly in the face of traditional understandings. (You may note a striking similarity between this and a recent sermon by Dr David Platt. I would claim he stole my ideas if I'd ever had the chance to 'counsel him (HA!) but I'll have to settle with concluding that he's just very brilliant!) I believe there are only three true, irrevocable callings.
  1. We are called as children of God. This calling can never be challenged, changed, or revoked.
  2. We are called to be faithful to our families. As a married woman with children, that means I am called to be a good wife and a good mother. As long as they are alive, that calling can never be challenged, changed, or revoked (this is not meant to be a debate on Biblically-justified divorce, which I believe does exist as a rare exception).
  3. We are called to make God's name known and His praise increased. This never ceases. This is what being a Jesus-follower is all about. Every one of us. Always. Wherever we are.
Note what's not on my list. Nurse. Missionary. NGO-worker. Pastor. Lawyer. Resident of Africa, Asia, Europe, or the Americas. Oregon. Alabama. The list goes on, really, of the things NOT on the list. And that's where the greatest confusion lies--when we elevate one of the transient callings to the place of an irrevocable one and distort where our true identity lies.

So when one is called to work in Sudan, and war breaks out and you have to evacuate...there's your sign that your calling to that location has changed. When you're called to India and then your visa is denied, there's your sign. When you're called to be a nurse and then you have a child who needs you at home, there's your sign.

But what about when it's your own body that betrays you? An illness or chronic disease that limits where you can live? It can be devastating to make peace between the presence of an illness, God's sovereignty over health, and a sense of calling to a specific location/role. Or even worse--what you if you're still able to do the work God had 'called' you to, but your CHILD has an issue that requires help? Ahhhh. That's the worst for many to come to grips with, and why, historically, many children's needs have gone unmet on the field.

And these harder cases are where I usually enter the picture, in my limited way. Encouraging people when I have to tell them that a transient calling is incompatible with an irrevocable one. I can't put words on the screen to adequately show how painful that is, what a wrestling match is required before people can find peace. And to be honest, sometimes it is too confused for people to accept, because our identities are too wrapped up in what we do. There are too many needs and not enough workers as it is. As if God NEEDS us to be here to get His will and His work done. But a wise friend recently reminded me...God doesn't need us. He gives us the gift of working with Him, and the honor of presenting our efforts to Him in love, but He's not depending on us to get things done. He's simply asking us to be obedient, even if that means change.

So my advice is this--when a temporary calling and an irrevocable calling are incompatible, prayerfully go with the irrevocable one. Stay faithful to keeping your identity in Christ and not your job or title. Honor God by taking care of your husband, your wife, or your children. Worship God by keeping your body, His temple, healthy and effective. Know that God can take care of the work without your help, as much as it pains us to admit.
 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

And so it begins

I can't believe my last post was back in June. It's now September. You'd think we were busy or something!!!

Home-schooling ended with more than a fizzle than a bang. Ethan finished everything he was supposed to get done to stay caught up with his class even a few days early. But that does not imply it was without tears or gnashing of teeth, or more often, simply just-below-the-surface irritation and an eye-roll suppressed only by the most extreme will-power.

I am not meant to be his teacher.

The rest of the summer passed in a haze of a great vacation, meetings, ministry, moving, and doctor's appointments. The kids had a blast. I rejoiced every morning the alarm didn't go off, and then rapidly reverted to cursing the craziness of four children and three dogs underfoot in our new, single story house. I was so used to saying, "Go upstairs!" in moments of exasperation, that once we had no upstairs I felt paralyzed. Until I realized the whole point of the new house was the large yard, in equatorial Africa where winter is played out in 78 degree days. "Go outside!" saved the day, and I figure the children are better off for it.

Anya, grade 8
School here starts early, so by August 1 the dreaded (by them) countdown was on. Almost to the day the calendar flipped over, Ethan began having trouble sleeping again, started getting into things he shouldn't, started being more sensitive. Isaac started getting mad at 'stupid school' for 'wasting all his time'. And Omara began incessantly crying and whining, and at the same time adorably asking, "If I eat all my dinner, will I grow big enough to go to school too?" Only Anya was unaffected. Or I should say, pleasantly affected. She got out the hair-dryer, practiced with new styles, and upped the teeny-head toss to perfection.

All that counseling we've done prepared me to interpret rather than react.  "Find the reason. Find the reason" I heard the counselor saying in my ear...it had to have been the counselor because, as inevitably happens, I was single-parenting for the first 2 weeks of August.

Ethan, grade 5
Ok--this wasn't brain surgery. Ethan: stressed about starting school. Isaac: stressed about starting school. Omara: stressed about everyone else starting school. Anya: never stressed about anything.
So we got cool back to school haircuts, and went out for ice cream, and read extra books, and ignored as much of the reactive behavior as possible, and Chad made it back to take some of the pressure off me.

Isaac, grade 1
School started on Aug 11, and I'm happy to report that everyone is still alive and kicking. Some days kicking all the way to the car, but kicking is better than the alternative, right? Everyone has great teachers; Ethan's in particular is doing so much to ease his stress with modified assignments, oral testing, and gentleness. I can't tell you the relief and gratefulness I feel! It turns out all that African sun bleached out most of what Isaac learned in KG, so he's not enjoying the steep learning curve again, but he'll get there!

After our meetings with Ethan's teacher, and the obvious efforts she is making to help him, and after he started answering, "Awesome!" to the daily, "how was school?"...I somehow expected we were home free. You know--that parenting would go back to being easy (as if it ever was).

Omara, desperately longing to start school
Of course, that's not the case. I shed a few tears in my coffee as that pipe dream blew up in my face. Ethan is still stressed by the very presence of school--be it with me, or with a kind, patient teacher (yes, those are opposites!) We can't ask for a better teacher, and we can't do more to set him up for success, and it's still going to be a daily exercise of speaking encouragement, ignoring irritations, picking battles, and staying positive.

I didn't ask for this challenge any more than he asked for a brain that has trouble processing at the speed in which life goes by. Any more than he asked to be overwhelmed by challenges and discouraged by failures. Or to be distracted by every single sound and sight and thought.

I didn't ask for it, but I'll accept the challenge, because it's the one that's been given to us. And how can I possibly ask Ethan to face his challenges with courage and determination if I don't show the same?
 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

From the Mouth of Babes

I am task oriented. If you look the term up in the dictionary, I'm pretty sure my latest passport photo is there to sum it all up. It doesn't bode well for life in Africa, actually. Or life with 4 kids. 4 kids IN Africa almost puts me over the line into certifiable.

I've read so many books and blogs about motherhood, and its sacred value, and I believe it all with my head. But in the day-to-day grind its really hard for me to get excited about laundry which just gets dirty again, or dinner which gets rapidly devoured, has to be cleaned up off the table and floor, and then has to be wiped off bottoms the next day. (Sorry if that's too much--I'm a nurse with 4 kids. Poop stopped horrifying me years ago.) What they don't necessarily tell you about task-orientated people is that we want to do a meaningful task, check if off the list, and move on to the next meaningful task---not face the same mundane thing 17 minutes later. Because that's not accomplishing tasks. That's my worst nightmare. And that's life. But as much as I despise the 'wash and repeat' nature of a mom's life, it's still easier to do that load of laundry than to tackle tasks like:

1. turn children's hearts towards God.
2. foster gentleness and grace towards one another
3. embrace each child's differences and build self-esteem without entitlement
4. teach children how to balance life between cultures and how to help without hurting
5. encourage generosity towards the needs around us while avoiding bitterness at the
     things we've given up to be here

Chad has been out of town a lot this year. The first few times were rough, mostly because I maintained such a long list of things to do each day, and I never put being both mom and dad to the kids on the list (cause really--how do you check that off???). But slowly, with gentle reminders from my dear husband and prompting from the Holy Spirit, (and the return of my work partner to take some of the tasks off my plate--hallelujah!) I'm starting to get it, and we're in a rhythm that's working pretty well. There might be hope for me yet, because... miracle alert!...yesterday I put aside packing boxes for our upcoming move and painted rocks with the kids all afternoon. No joke!

Last night, Omara was in tears because she couldn't find any pajama bottoms at bedtime. The clean laundry, folded but not put away yet (see, task undone) was nearby so I pulled out clean jammies and said, "Momma saves the day!" She laughed and said, "No, you don't!" so I tickled her, she squealed, and we went up to bed.

This morning, she was still in those jammies when she wanted to go play, so I told her to get dressed. She cried because she didn't want to go upstairs to get clothes...so once again, I pulled out clean clothes from the same laundry basket full of cloths still not put away, and said, "See, momma saves the day again!"

Omara rolled her eyes and said, "Mom, washing laundry does not save the day."

I have to admit, that voice inside my head...you know the one that always feels under (or un-)appreciated? It tried to take a jab at me. "For crying out loud child, it totally saves the day, because it's now TWICE averted a 4-year-old-melt-down, and anything that can do that is most definitely a day-saver!!!!!"

But that was just in my head.

Out-loud I said, "I thought surely washing laundry saved the day!"

In her best lecturing voice, she shook her head at me and explained, "No, mom. It doesn't. Kisses, and kisses with hugs, save the day." And with a big juicy kiss planted on my cheek, she danced off.

Kisses with hugs. That I can do. Maybe, just maybe, it'll save the day in the end.

I'll add that to the list...

 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The days crawl as the months fly

There are days I feel like I have nothing to write about--the dullness of life answering e-mail and breaking up fights between over-active children. And then 2 months go by, and I can't wrap my head around how to talk about all that has happened in those 60 days, and I swear to never let so much time go without updating this blog again!

In the past 2 months...

We lost our place of worship on campus due to a foiled attack at University of Nairobi; the terrorists were caught, but all religious meetings were banned from the dorms. We met outside in the center square for 5 or 6 weeks, and people (us included) were discouraged. And then, just when we were losing hope, one of our students found favor in the eyes of the officials and got us granted access again! Last week, we worshiped in our old Hall 3 TV lounge along with 24 others. God is Faithful in providing what we need to glorify His name!

Chad was arrested by a very angry police man for going12 miles/hr over the speed limit. Thankfully the high-school kids he was carrying pulled together the $110 bail, since he didn't have enough, and he was released. Under orders to show up in court the following Monday. Along with every other person pulled over in random stops and for contrived reasons over the weekend. I tried to get him to court on time, but the traffic at 7am was so thick I was couldn't move, so he jumped out of the car in his suit and nice shoes, and ran the 5km. In order to be there by 8. In order to wait for the judge to show up at 9. In order to wait for her to work through old cases first while sitting with hundreds of others squeezed onto a few rough benches, while being worked over by the police offering to make their 'cases' go away in exchange for some 'tea'. In order for her to take a break at 11 and return at 12:20. In order to be called before her, to be given 5 seconds to admit guilt, and be fined $200 for this serious infraction. And warned that next time it will be much more severe. Because, you know, when there are taxi drivers going the wrong way down streets and buses passing on the wrong side by driving up on the side walks, and pure mayhem in the round-abouts, going 43 miles per hour on the main highway is really uncalled for. Forgive us.

The day after his court appearance, we drove the 9 1/2 death-defying hours to the coast. It actually wasn't that bad--we were only run off the road 9 times total, so who can complain? The kids were total champs; 9 1/2 hrs, 2 squatty-potty breaks, no fast food, and no electronics? Amazing! And then--all inclusive resort on the Indian Ocean? Yes, please!!! The only good thing about all the terrorist threats and travel advisories is rocking-low hotel deals!  So anyone looking for a good time--I'm telling you, Turtle Bay is where it's at!!!
 
Of course, all vacations must end, so we packed up and made the 9 1/2 hr death-defying drive back home, and it's always worse heading back to normal life, right? We hit truck traffic on the outskirts of town, and could feel the pressure rising again. You really have to have driven here in Nairobi before you can fully appreciate the horror, or the anger it invokes. The only thing worse was...Chad getting pulled over by another angry police man. Again. No joke. I thought Chad might just turn the car around and head to the airport. Take it as a definite sign we were being called to move back to sanity. There was a delicate dance around the police man's offer of a 3,000/= bribe, and let me tell you--that's where the rubber hits the road. How committed are you to refusing corruption? Committed enough to pass up $30 and your convictions in exchange for a $300 fine, a full day in a stinking court, and intentional humiliation??? We stood firm, though, and groveled low, and this time we were shown mercy. Once the police heard Chad is a pastor and "must have a receipt for all payments" (aka doesn't bribe), he made us grovel just a bit lower and then waved us away in disgust. And I believe God was in that, because I'm not sure we could have survived another day in court again so soon!

So that's what happens in 2 months in the life of a worker overseas. Really high highs, and really low lows, and a lot of every day life in between. So don't pity, and don't praise...just honor our attempts to live faithfully where God has placed us by living faithfully where God has placed you.

 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

It was the worst of times, it was the best of times


Tragedy is raging around us, and we're not in the very middle of any of it.

But we've got court-side seats to a lot of it. Flames of others' heartbreak and suffering seem to lick at my feet at all times. Medical crises. Home invasions. Mental breakdowns. Violence. Al-Shabab. Threats. Violence. More violence.

And I know that it shouldn't overwhelm me; I am only a minor player in each event. But to be honest, it does. It grieves me, and tires me, and builds up, straw upon straw, on this tired camel.

I was on a business trip last week to an area near Ethiopia, and let me just give a shout-out to those working in that HEAT. Oh. My. Goodness!!!! It was a great trip, but a lot of work and a lot of sweat. Literally.
Lots of sweat.
I was there when the massacre occurred in Garissa, so I watched in remote horror from my hotel room. NOT AGAIN. Please, Jesus, not again. A couple of bales of straw fell as I saw those horrible photos from the aftermath.

And then I developed a case of shingles. No joke. So insignificant next to the horrors at the University. But one more straw.

As my plane landed back in Kenya on Good Friday, my phone blew up with texts and e-mail regarding another horrible situation. Chad and I were up until 2am working on that. Straws.

On Saturday, we spent hours talking about Garissa. And University of Nairobi. And the church service there on Easter Sunday, where Chad needed to bring a message of hope and forgiveness and life defeating death. And if it made sense to take our family there, given the threats that Garissa was just the beginning of attacks against Universities in Kenya. And we agreed we would go. That could be a whole blog entry itself, but suffice it to say Straws.

That night, Chad woke up with severe pain, taking his breath entirely away. I had the opportunity to practice my NP skills and see a massively positive Murphy's sign (definitely gallbladder attack!) So off to the ER we went, with a dear friend willing to come over at 1am and sit in our cold living room in case our kids woke up.

Unfortunately, or fortunately? the ultrasound and blood work was entirely normal. "Acalculous Biliary Colic" sounds much fancier than it is. Basically, it's a gallbladder attack with no evidence of one! Super fun. Starting to feel like the straw-man by this time.

Sunday morning the kids woke as if nothing was wrong, excited for Easter. I stumbled out of bed, having had 3 hours of sleep, and got a pathetic breakfast of cold cereal on the table. No way Chad was preaching, so he called his guys. No problem, they said. We'll hold service without you, they said.

Worship will go on.

But I wasn't really worshiping. I was thankful for Jesus and all, and I was repeating over and over in my head, "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow," but it was more a desperate plea than worship. Like, "Please. Can you help me face tomorrow?" "Please, can I feel like I'm alive as well????" Then add on top of that the guilt for an entirely non-intentional holy week for the kids, and no special meal, and not even church?!?!?!? I wondered what it will actually feel like when the camel's back breaks.

At noon, as I was contemplating if Easter lunch should be PB &J or toasted cheese, our college guys called again. They wanted to come over and pray for Chad. So sure enough, 8 guys trooped over across town, bringing a guitar and their worship.

And suddenly, church came to us. There in our living room, groggy and overwhelmed and sleep deprived and discouraged, they prayed for us, and they sang Luya and Swahili worship songs, and we laughed and talked and just enjoyed being together. Chad had a chance to encourage them with the words he'd wanted to share. Conversation naturally drifted to life-on-life topics like dating, and future wives, and parenthood. Man, that's where discipleship HAPPENS!!!

I whipped up a couple batches of home-made cinnamon rolls, and we had enough dyed eggs to share, and they had brought fresh tropical bananas as a gift to us...and we put it all together for the most blessed Easter lunch I can remember.

And isn't that the real message of Easter? When the new dresses and the honey-baked ham and chocolate bunnies melt away, isn't it all about blessings in the midst of tragedy? Hope when everything seems hopeless? Forgiveness when that seems impossible? The Church being the extension of Jesus Himself, to come to us in our times of need?