Thursday, November 6, 2014

Not a Waste

In our last prayer letter, we mentioned a tree planting ceremony we had for Dad. That was back in July, I think, and now it's November, so clearly I'm not doing great with my updates! But as much as I consider myself a "thinker," not a "feeler"; as much as I 'deal with it and move on,' I have to confess this stuff with loosing a parent isn't easy. I've not found it easy to face the feelings and emotions, and have discovered what a cowardly avoid-er I actually am when it comes to unpleasant things!

But this tree-planting was a great idea, given to us by great friends, Don and Jane Jones here in Nairobi. It opened a can of worms the day we did it--Ethan in particular had emotional melt-down after melt-down, and I myself was on the grumpy side (though don't let Chad know I'm admitting it!) But it did, in an inexplicable way, give us something concrete to funnel our sadness into, or to remember Dad in a way that wasn't too raw or painful. And tending to the tree even now gives us a little something physical to do that seems to help. And bit by bit we're all doing better, I think, with time and with God and with counseling and with each other making adjustments and communicating love and acceptance better.

Loosing Dad so unexpectedly, so early, so quickly, so agonizingly slowly...I will never say that it was fun or good. I still maintain that evil's death and destruction and all that is wrong with the fallen world is personified in the face of ravaging cancer. I will never say that God made Dad suffer in order to teach me something, or to grow my family's depth or make us face issues we were trying to avoid. Never.

But cancer happened. And God was with us through it. And may I never be so blind or hard-hearted to not learn something through suffering. God forbid I waste Dad's cancer.

And so the dominoes of life fell at unexpected angles as they often do, triggering chain-reactions we didn't realize were there. Dad's death was a significant blow to our son, and overwhelmed his ability to process all the see-you-later-but-probably-not good-byes that he has faced in his short life. His grief led to challenging behaviors, because he's a kid, and that's what kids do when they are overwhelmed! It exposed weaknesses in our ability to correct his behaviors AND communicate love and acceptance, which led to depression, which led to counseling.

And counseling has led to better understanding, more acceptance, free-er expressions of unconditional love with Ethan, with our other kids, and with each other. It has forced self-reflection, and reliance on God.

So, when I watch this funny African pine tree (a perfect symbol for my quirky, Pacific Northwest father!) grow and thrive, I will always remember the other side of suffering. The growth that comes out of death, if you face it and roll with it and let it add to your life.

So, whatever you do, don't waste your suffering.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Top Ten Pet Peeves--I just have to let it out!!!!

Ok, I don't let myself linger on the negative very much, because every place has it's good things and it's challenges. And what can you do about the challenges, anyway? We do love being here, and no place is perfect. But I have to admit--as I'm cleaning African-mud messes or stuck in crazy traffic, I sometimes sooth myself by "writing" crabby blogs in my head. Is that strange????

Well, this week has had some doozies, and it's been too long since I've written anything, so I'm giving in to my need to vent. So here are the top ten things, in no particular order, which send me to my knees in a semi-futile attempt to give thanks in all situations!!!

  1. Large, important buildings (say, hospitals!) that are built with no thought of parking for the people that just might come use the services. I've literally spent an hour in 'traffic' inside the parking lot.
  2. Parking attendants who don't actually "attend" to anything at all. I asked one if there were any spots left in the lot before I entered. He smiled at me and said, "Ahh. But it's just a matter of luck." Thanks.
  3. Large, fancy malls who allow each individual store to determine their own hours, so that you never know exactly who is open when and on which day. The on-line profiles proudly boast being open 7 days a week, 8-8...but that would be the fancy doors to the open floor space of the mall, NOT the shops inside. If you want to go stand in an empty mall and stare at barred and padlocked store-gates, you are welcome at 8am, I found out.
  4. Drivers who feel that lanes, red lights, stop signs, "one-way" roads, and 'no parking' signs are optional suggestions which clearly do not apply to them.
  5. Having to work so hard to clean the food I spend too much money on in big expensive stores: cutting out worms from my strawberries, soaking chicken poop off my eggs, scrubbing layers of mud off my potatoes, remixing my peanut butter, and cutting bones, skin, and fat out of my meat. If I'm going to have to do that much work, it should have either come from my own garden, or have been cheap.
  6. Buying my meat from men in bloody aprons and galoshes but no gloves. The same men who think nothing of setting the bag in a pile of one meat while filling it up, all while swatting at the hundreds of flies. And that's the reputable butcher--don't even ask what the market is like. Honestly, you don't want to know.
  7. Hoards of flying ants who loose their wings, allowing the maggot-like wormmy things to crawl under the doors in such obscene numbers that the floors look like they're writhing. And then they smoosh and smear when you try to sweep them up. It's beyond disgusting.
  8. Paying $12 for a small block of stinky, crummy cheese. Have you heard the expression, "cut the cheese?" It never made sense before I came to Kenya, but now I understand...
  9. Having a freezer full of flour, rice, bread and noodles to keep them from getting wormy or moldy, or both. No, not ice cream or Popsicles or easy-to-eat-dinners, or even frozen berries. Bread and flour and noodles.
  10. Having roses and sunflowers and pineapples and bananas grow all year long, because there's never a winter to kill them off. Sunshine, with or without clouds, year-round. It's so boring! (Ok, you got me...that's more of a 'humble-brag' item, but what was I supposed to do? A top-9 list just sounds weird!)

Friday, June 27, 2014

A long run--part 2

So my last musings ended on a low note. Tired. Discouraged. Overwhelmed. Real.

And I want to enumerate on three things that have come out of these past few weeks for me. One I've had an inkling of over the years, and the second I've known all along but I want to make sure to publicly confess it to make sure you don't miss it. The third is a new lesson altogether.

1. Obeying God does not guarantee a life of ease. I believe this is one of Satan's masterpiece-lies to make us feel like we're wasting our time when things get hard, to make us doubt God's goodness, to  make us feel foolish for trudging through the grime of life as if there is something noble about sacrifice and obedience. But friends, it is a lie! There IS nobility in the struggle. There IS grace in the pain and the fatigue and the discouragement of obedience. Jesus himself agonized until drops of blood fell from his forehead---imagine what he might have blogged that night had he been a different generation!!! And because Jesus did it, and came through it with certainty and dogged determination to stay the course, I know that I am also free to wrestle and cry and ask if there's any way this cup can pass. And then to rise up with that same dogged determination.

2. I've said it before, and I know I'll say it again. We--the people who have accepted a call to place ourselves overseas to do what God has asked us personally and us globally to do--are not perfect. Nor  does our calling give us any sort of immunity to discouragement, depression, or disillusionment. In fact, I think it sets us up for perhaps even more. Because, let's be honest--we all kind of have Gandhi-complexes. You know what I mean, right? Convinced we can turn this world upside down. Determined to see darkness shattered and truth illuminated and pain and suffering banished. Ready to fight injustice and show love and be conduits for healing. And God can do all that and more...and yet we rarely see it in the grand scale we expect. I'm learning about expectations, and about expectations I've had of God, and of the pain that can happen when our focus is wrong and God starts to not live up to our expectations of our plans in our timing. Dangerous, and common.

So don't put us on a pedestal. And don't pity us. Just pray for us, that we would be faithful to our calling (and only our calling), just as you are being faithful to yours.

3. Joy comes in the morning. This is my new lesson. As I sat here at my desk a month ago and cried, and wondered what I could do to get out of my funk, I was at a loss. How do you make yourself feel things you just don't feel? Dogged determination works for a time--but it's also exhausting, and it's not enough for the long-haul. I was reading a book called, "Expectations and Burnout" by Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss, and I was struck by a passage they referred to in Colossians 1. The larger passage (v 9-12) is great and I would encourage you to read it all. But for now, look at verse 11--'being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience"... and look who is doing the acting and who is doing the receiving. God wants me to have great endurance and patience to live this life--in all its glory and all its shame--bearing fruit in every good work, pleasing Him in every way, and so he strengthens me to do just that.

There was nothing I "did" to lift my head up and feel joy again, other than to cry and plead. One night I was directed to this passage in Colossians and I lay in bed, pondering it. And the next morning, things seemed a little more manageable. That day I kept faithful to dogged determination, and the next morning it seemed even easier. Just as subtle as a dawn breaking, God met me where I was and helped lead me to more solid ground.

So if anyone else is out there, struggling or suffering or feeling the heavy burden--I don't have a 12-step plan for you to follow. There isn't a flow-sheet or recipe or formula to plug things into. It's a matter of crying out in honest pain, and then of putting one step in front of the other, knowing that God IS faithful and He WILL reveal Himself by your side to establish your foot on the rock once again.

I don't like that as much as a neat formula. If I do x, then will happen--it's beautiful, stable, dependable, understandable. But it's not God, who is beautiful and dependable, but entirely unfathomable. So, in an completely anti-self-help spirit: Cry. Seek. Be. Wait.