Friday, July 26, 2013

Soaking in the Joy

On vacation with Gil's family at a resort in San Diego 
and then at a horse ranch, 
on vacation with my family at Bass Lake, 
berry picking.






















Sunday, July 21, 2013

All Things Good

cul·ture shock
Noun
The feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.

Life change comes when we receive life with thanks and ask for nothing to change. (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts)

Leaving routine and all that was familiar. 
Before going shopping, I keep thinking that I need to make sure I have enough cash, before realizing that I can just use a card. 
I automatically take off my shoes when entering a house, and I compulsively lock my car doors when driving. 
I barely notice the triple-digit weather, but put on a jacket in air conditioning. 
Colors and tastes seem stronger, advertisements feel like they are in my face, grocery stores simultaneously fill me with both uncontrollable excitement and anxiety.

I've been moody.  Feeling more introverted than usual.  Wondering what is wrong with me.  Connected but by a long string.  Loved but lost.  Disoriented.

Disoriented

Undeserving, honestly, of the generous, unconditional embrace from all those around me. 



I feel sometimes like two people, or living two lives.  I don't belong fully to either of them.  I don't fully understand either of them.

Yet there is breathtaking blessing in living two lives.  If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then long absence makes the heart really fond.
of salami
wildflowers
laughter over old family pictures
snuggling a new nephew


strawberries and ice cream
smooth roads
cousins


my Daddy's garden
grandkids and grandparents together
fireworks


breathing in
moment
by
moment.


The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world. (Ann Voskamp)

Yes.
Disorientation turns to clarity.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Us

 
Just a few days before we left Tanzania, our good friend Dyan did this beautiful photoshoot for us. 
Hoping to get a good prayer card picture out of this!
Since it is so weird to know that our picture ends up on hundreds of refrigerators, anyone out there have an opinion on which picture to use?  :-)
 













Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Compelled by Love

The hardest years were 2006 and 2011.  Those were the years that Tanzania had massive power shortages, resulting in power cuts that went as high as 40 or even 60 hours per week. 

It's always hot there, but during power cuts, it's stifling.  I felt like I was sitting in a dark, stuffy cave.  Or covered with a wet blanket in 90 degree weather.  I could not sleep.  I didn't want to cook.  I didn't want to work.  I didn't want to play with my kids.  I wanted to sit in the bathtub and feel sorry for myself.  For days.

But the strongest emotion I felt was not frustration, or annoyance, or depression, even though I did feel all those things.  Mostly I felt guilty.

Guilty because I was feeling frustrated, annoyed, and depressed. I would tell myself repeatedly, Billions of people all over the world, including many who live down the street from me, never have electricity.   What's wrong with you?  Why is this such a big deal? 

I felt weak.  I felt whiny.  I felt obsessed with my own comfort.  And that made me feel even more guilty. 

Many people we knew had purchased back-up power systems.  We did not.  After all, we were missionaries to Africa.  We were tough.  We should be able to put up with no electricity.  And how could we live with the guilt if we owned a generator? 

But after enough time, God worked on us.  We came to realize that guilt as a motivator accomplishes nothing. 

After multiple Friday night youth groups with no power, we realized that youth group is not very effective with 30 teenagers in a dark, stuffy house.  We realized that our productivity went way down when we had no power--when we couldn't use our computers, or get a good night's sleep, or host people for dinner. 

So we bought a generator.  And a year after that, we bought a battery inverter system as well. 

Yep, they were expensive.  Your average Tanzanian would never be able to afford them.  But I had gotten over the guilt and realized that it came down to our motive.  We needed reliable electricity to do our ministry well, to do what people had sent us there to do. 

My intention in my previous post was not to inspire guilt in middle class Americans.  Being wealthy and privileged is not a sin.  Only the love of money is a root to evil, not money itself.  And if hearing about the plight of the rest of the world makes you feel guilty, then all that is accomplished will be throwing money at it every once in a while, to assuage your guilt. 

I wrote that post because living in a third-world country for 16 years of my life has made me thankful.  Deeply, achingly thankful for what I have been undeservedly granted.  And it has given me a strong sense of responsibility to use what I have been given (not just finances, but my health, education, resources) to God's glory.  Not because I feel guilty for having those things, but because I feel like I have been entrusted with a sacred treasure that I must use wisely and carefully. 

It's kind of like salvation.  If we feel guilty and indebted to God for what He has done for us through Jesus, all that we will be motivated to do is legalistic duty to get rid of the guilt.  But if we are motivated by thankfulness for the tremendous gift He has given us, then it will be love that compels us. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

You don't know how good you've got it, Middle Class America.

Reflections from a Week in Culture Shock


Yeah, you have some crime.  But you don't need bars on your windows, a wall around your house, and a private security company to keep you safe.  You can walk down the street with a purse on your arm and not worry about it being grabbed by someone in a moving car.  You can leave chairs on the sidewalk on the 4th of July, and no one takes them.  

You can worship who you want, when you want, and where you want.  You can even convert to a different religion if you want to, and practically no one will care.  You certainly won't be arrested for it.

Your stores are stuffed with food, and never run out.  If they happen to run out of the exact flavor of cream cheese that you want, there are big apologies, and you just go to a different store.  You even are given the luxury of worrying about whether or not something is "organic" or "genetically modified."  And if you are down on your luck, there are thousands of churches or food banks or welfare offices ready and waiting to pass out food for free.

When a woman goes into labor, sometimes you worry about the baby, but you hardly ever worry about the mom.  A baby that dies in childbirth is an epic tragedy (as it should be), so much so that even strangers on Facebook send you their condolences.  Losing a child (or two, or three) is not normal life for you.  You don't think about how you're just happy to have survived childbirth yourself. 

You have clean drinking water that comes out of every tap in your house.  You don't have to walk five miles to find water that's full of cholera.  In fact, you are even given the luxury of not liking the taste of that water, so you spend your money on water in bottles. 

Your thrift stores are given so many of your cast-off clothes that they are only able to sell a small portion.  Your family lives in an entire house, not just one room in a house.  And even then, you have to rent a storage unit because you can't fit all of your stuff into it.

Your children's childhoods are valued.  You have parks everywhere with colorful slides and Children's Museums and kids' menus at restaurants and swimming pools in your backyard.  They are not expected, or needed, to haul water or dig farms when they are six years old. 

It is assumed your children will be part of the 7% of the world with a college degree.  They have one teacher to 30 children, instead of one teacher to 100 children.  They have books and markers and colorful room decorations.  Each child has his own desk with his name on it, instead of three children crammed onto one desk.  This education is free, and if you are not satisfied with it, you are given the freedom to educate them yourself, at home--and you won't be arrested for it.

If your child is born with a cleft pallet, there is no question of whether it will be fixed.  You don't worry about polio or malaria or cholera.  You have a fair amount of confidence that your child will live until adulthood.  If your child is bit by a snake or breaks a leg, you call a number and an emergency vehicle will be at your door in five minutes.  You don't have to worry about how you will get your child (without a car) to a hospital (which may or may not have medicine that day) 50 miles away.

If you are pulled over by police, you are not expected to bribe them.  Most of the time, you believe that the police are actually there to serve you and protect you, not rob you or rape you.  If your house catches on fire, you are not forced to stand and watch it burn; you simply call a number and a fire truck will be there in five minutes. 

For the most part, you know your taxes are not lining the pockets of your politicians.  You get roads and schools and libraries.  It is not an assumption that your elections are rigged, and the losing party will not start a riot that kills hundreds of people.  Your government has checks and balances, and you are not ruled by a ruthless dictator who feeds people to his crocodiles for fun.

Middle Class America, I know your lives aren't perfect. 

But to whom much has been given, much will be expected. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Ebenezer

A number of years ago, a wonderful art teacher came to HOPAC with his wife and four small sons.  He was a talented teacher and he had committed to staying long-term.  Just a few months after they arrived, the whole family went to a Swahili language school a few hours away.  One day during this language school, their oldest son, who was about 9 years old, was outside playing hide and seek with his brothers.  He jumped into a pit to hide, not knowing that the pit had been used to burn trash that morning and the burning embers were only covered with sand.

The boy received third degree burns on his legs and hands.  He was medically evacuated to South Africa where he underwent multiple skin grafts.  So, less than a year after they arrived, they had to go back home. 

We've said more good-byes than we can count in these last years.  But the hardest ones were when a family had to leave much sooner than they intended.  It happened many times for many reasons:  a sick child who just wasn't getting better, a teenager who needed counseling, conflict in a mission, trauma from a stillborn baby. 

Which is why I recognize the blessing God has granted us in allowing us to finish well.  The years were not always easy and were sometimes really hard.  There were many times of darkness when we couldn't see God's ways.  But we finished. 

There's a story in the Old Testament (I Samuel 7) when God brought His people through a really difficult experience, and the prophet Samuel makes a memorial to remind the people of God's deliverance.  He calls the memorial Ebenezer which means Thus far has the Lord helped us

It's interesting how many times God has reminded us of this story of the Ebenezer in the past few weeks.  It's obvious why: Thus far has the Lord helped us.  His grace allowed us to finish what we set out to do, and to finish well.

I can't set up a physical memorial in my backyard, but I can make this year my memorial.  We will be traveling all over the United States, testifying to God's gracious help.  And Samuel knew that when we are able to remind ourselves of what He has already done for us, we are also able to trust Him for the future.