Monday, December 30, 2013

This Happy Morning

Christmas--Take Two

Seventeen of us (and four dogs) crammed into my brother and sister-in-law's house for three days.  People slept everywhere.  But there was light and laughter and games and cousins and singing and a baby dressed as Santa and a whole lot of tamales.  Oh yes--there were a whole lot of  tamales.

A couple days later, Gil, his brother Brandon, and his sister Tabby had their first soccer league game of the season.  Brandon and Tabby have agreed to drive over an hour each way, each Saturday, for the next few months so that they can play soccer with Gil.  They must know Gil's love language.

 Tamale making:  Getting in touch with our Hispanic side.

We all decided that we really do believe in Santa, after all.

There are so few truly perfect times in our lives, aren't there?  When no one is sick, when everything goes as planned, when everyone is happy and enjoying each other.

God gave us that perfect time these weeks--full of memories and joy and family and rest.  It was a beautiful gift.

Yea, Lord we greet thee
Born this happy morning!
Jesus to thee be all glory given.
Word of the Father
Now in flesh appearing
Oh Come Let Us Adore Him!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Whole Lot of Wonderful

It's been four years since I've been home for Christmas, and before that it was another four years.

We drove up to spend last week with my family.  It was perfect.

My parents have lived in the same house since I was two, the house where I spent so many Christmases and now get to share with my kids.  

We went ice skating; we went to Christmas in the Park; we went Christmas shopping.  I got to spend time with old friends from high school/college, and even older friends that were my neighbors growing up.  

My only brother became a Daddy for the first time, just a few weeks ago, so I got to meet Emma.  She is perfect and the cutest niece in the world and she joined our family through adoption, so I'm going to make you look at her pictures even if you don't know my brother.  

We celebrated Christmas with my family yesterday--Christmas Eve, and right now we are in the car, headed back down south for Christmas, Take Two, with Gil's family.  

It was a happy, happy week.  

Yes, she really is that cute.  And Gil took that picture.  

So it was really only about 50 degrees....even though they are dressed like Eskimos.  

Our biggest task this week was to make a gingerbread house for the family competition.  First time my family did this, and it will not be an annual event, due to the fact that it put the majority of the contestants in a bad mood.  It's harder than you think, this gingerbread making stuff.

Gil and I, however, mostly had a great time working on ours.  Except for the actual construction of the house, when there was a lot of screaming and yelling and panicking until the thing was up and standing.  After that, it was fun.  

And of course, we made Narnia.  Oh yes we did.

Their Mom and their Dad played with my brother and me when we were their age.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Waiting for Edmund

My kids really want an Edmund.

They have a Peter, a Susan, and a Lucy, but they can't really be the Pevensie kids until they get an Edmund.

We started working on a fourth adoption almost two years ago.  Lots of people are asking us, "How's it going with your Ethiopia adoption?"

So here's the answer to that question.

Ethiopia has majorly slowed down their adoptions, like many countries in the world.  This needed to happen to some extent, because some fraud had crept into the system.  There have been some nasty stories.  But that doesn't change the fact that there still are millions of children in Ethiopia who are true orphans and need families.

Our agency is currently having significant problems getting referrals in Ethiopia.  I don't believe this is for any fault of their own, but because of how African governments (or perhaps governments in general) have a tendency to operate.

That means that our Ethiopia adoption is basically at a complete standstill.  We may need to consider switching over to a different African country.


If you recall the story of this adoption, you may remember that we originally wanted to adopt a fourth from Tanzania.  In fact, we even were thinking of a particular child.  Unfortunately, we were told that Tanzanian regulations limited the number of adopted children to Three.  I pushed as hard as I could; I cried in front of them, and the answer was still No.

When I was given that answer two years ago, it was based on new regulations that had yet to be actually published.  Shortly before we left Tanzania in July, the regulations were published and we were able to read them ourselves.

And based on that, we believe we have a case for trying again to push for a fourth child from Tanzania.  We cannot do that from the States, so we have to wait until we return.

And yes, I'm still thinking about this little guy.  It's been over two years since I met him.  I gave up on the idea that he could be mine, but now there are feathers of hope.  He will be four years old soon, and he still does not have a family.

I really have no idea if Tanzania will let us pursue a fourth.  Will you pray with us?

We have not closed the door on Ethiopia, or another international adoption, because we just don't know what will happen.

We really, really want an Edmund.  But we don't know what God wants, so we trust Him.  He has already been so good to us.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Feeling What She Feels

I was crowned yesterday, for the first time.  In my mouth, that is.

It was a big deal for me, considering I've never had braces or even a cavity.  My crown was needed because of a cracked tooth, so I can still say I've never had a cavity.  Thank you, Good Genes.

As I was sitting there miserably in the dentist chair, as a Very Educated Person hacked away inside my mouth, I found myself thankful.  Because ultimately, she was fixing my tooth.

I remember the first time that Esta came to me for money for a toothache.  We paid for her medical expenses, so I was okay with giving her the $10 she asked for to go to the dentist.

I was horrified the next day when she showed me the hole in her mouth.  He had knocked the tooth out!  She wasn't surprised.  Apparently that's what you do in Tanzania when you have a toothache.  I don't know if he used anesthetic; I don't know that word in Swahili.

The following year, she asked me again for $10 for another tooth.  This time, I told her to find out if she could pay more to have it fixed instead of knocked out.  She came back and shook her head.

I felt helpless.  The only dentists I knew who actually fixed teeth charged western prices.  We have insurance for that, but we were Esta's insurance, and we couldn't afford that.  So I gave her the $10 and she came back with one less tooth.  Again.

Recently I read Uncle Tom's Cabin for the first time.  I was profoundly impacted.  One of the major things that stuck out to me was that white people kept assuming that African-American people thought and felt differently than they did.  They justified so much of their horrifying behavior this way.

[Two southern women were discussing the practice of selling off the children of slaves.  One woman asked the other,] "Suppose, ma'am, your two children, there, should be taken from you, and sold?"

"We can't reason from our feelings to those of this class of persons," said the other lady.  

I was struck by the fact that even though I can't imagine ever doing such despicable things, I am guilty of thinking that people who are "of a different class" must somehow think or feel differently than me.

We pride ourselves on not being racially prejudiced.  But are we prejudiced against the poor?

Half the world lives on two dollars a day.  We hear that a lot, don't we?

And we think, how is that possible?  What does that even mean?  We think:
It must be different for them.  The standard of living must be cheaper.  In the pictures, the children always look so happy.  They've learned to be happy with less.  And losing multiple small children to preventable diseases, or living without clean water, or losing all their possessions to a typhoon--well, they are used to a hard life.  And they probably didn't have many possessions to begin with.  It's probably not as hard for them as it would be for me.  
We can't reason from our feelings to those of this class of persons.

So let's consider this.  Here's what I've observed.

Yeah, some things are cheaper.  Sort of.
Housing is cheaper, if you're okay with your whole family living in one room with no plumbing or electricity.
Transportation is cheaper, if you're okay with cramming 20 people in a mini-van.   And waiting an hour for it.

But food?  Food in the third world costs the same as in America.  (On average, with some exceptions.)
Imagine feeding your family, in America, on $100 a month.
Food in the third world costs the same as in America.

Impossible, you say.  We would starve.  After all, even welfare recipients in America get $400 a month in food stamps.

You wouldn't starve on $100 a month, if your grocery list consisted of only:
dried beans
oil (the cheapest kind)
tomato paste
white rice

You would never eat out.  Never have Starbucks.  You would grow your own vegetables, and maybe have a chicken or two running around your yard eating bugs.  If you ever buy meat, it would usually be organ meat such as heart or liver.  Soda would be for special occasions.

That's how they live on two dollars a day.

I'm not about guilt here.  And I'm not about judging.  I spend a lot more than $100 a month on food for my family, and we do eat out sometimes--even in Tanzania.  I'm not about throwing more money at some "good cause" just to assuage our consciences, because as I've written before, often that makes things worse.

I'm about identifying with the very poor.  Trying hard to feel their pain and their fear and their joy.  I know I can't; I know I probably never will--but I want to try.  Because that's the first step to really understanding how to help.  After all, we're talking about half the world's population.  And we are the aristocracy.

Last week I saw a magazine picture of a Filipino woman sitting beside her small, dead son after the typhoon.  He was carefully wrapped in a blanket, and the photographer had captured the look of absolute despair on the mother's face.

I wept.  And I allowed the grief to wash over me.

She is not different.  Her grief is not different.  We can reason from our feelings to those of this class of persons.

Like what it would feel like to have another tooth knocked out every time I had a toothache.

To whom much has been given, much will be required.  

"And they tell us that the Bible is on their side; certainly all the power is.  They are rich, and healthy, and happy; they are members of churches, expecting to go to heaven; and they get along so easy in the world, and have it all their own way; and poor, honest, faithful Christians--Christians as good or better than they--are lying in the very dust under their feet."
Uncle Tom's Cabin

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


We are squeezing out every possible bit of holiday joy this year.  

Since our families live over 300 miles apart from each other, we figured the only way to spend time with all of them at Thanksgiving was to make them come to us.  So they did--my parents, Gil's parents, and Gil's brother and family--all squished into our little apartment on Thanksgiving.

I would like the world to know that for the first time in many years, I did NOT make a pumpkin pie from scratch.  I happily skipped over to Costco and paid $5.99 for a pie that I did not bake.  Then I sat on the couch and enjoyed the fact that I was not baking pumpkin pie.  It was a beautiful thing.

We all spent much of the weekend together--which included my birthday, picking out a Christmas tree, a trip to the zoo, and listening to Gil rock his sermon at our home church on Sunday.  

Soaking it up.

Right back at you, Kid.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Do Not Destroy the Work of God for the Sake of [Education]

So we're homeschooling this year.

And I really didn't want to write about it.  I'm doing this very reluctantly.  Because for heaven's sake, the world doesn't need one more blog post about Christian schooling choices.

But I decided to go ahead and write about it because
1)  People keep asking about what we are doing for school this year and

2)  Because it seems that there is an (unhealthy) idea that pastors and missionaries are somehow more spiritual and thus must be more spiritual in their schooling choices and thus must be emulated in their schooling choices.  I know this because I have been guilty of doing this with other pastors and missionaries, even though I am one myself.  And the thought that people are somehow looking at my choices as more spiritual because of my profession makes me nauseous.

So anyway.  Let's just get one thing clear.  I am not making a statement by homeschooling my kids.  We are doing it because it's what works best--for our schedule, our kids, our ministry this year.  

Of course, our family is benefiting from it.  There are a lot of benefits to homeschool.  But our family is also missing out on other good, stretching and strengthening things by not being in a traditional school.  Definitely.

I actually have some pretty strong opinions about education.  I've taught in both private and public schools.  For 10 years, I've been able to have a part in the formation of Haven of Peace Academy.  When we get back to Tanzania, I am going to join the board of governors at HOPAC.  I am passionate about education.

But I don't like to write about it.  I have read so many blogs, too many blogs, about this war going on among Christians over the subject of education.  And it gets nasty.  And we feel guilty and we feel judged and we feel arrogant.  Blech.

One man considers [one form of education] more sacred than another; another man considers [all forms] alike.  Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.  

Why do you judge your brother?  Or why do you look down on your brother?  

You want my statement?  Here's my statement:
Pray.  Research.
Know your kids; know yourself; know your options.
And most importantly, what is often overlooked:  Know your calling, your purpose, your ministry as a family.

So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.  

I have seen godly kids emerge from all types of education.  I have seen ungodly kids emerge from all types of education.  God is sovereign, and there are no guarantees.

As for one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that [no form of education] is unclean in itself.  But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.  

All of us as followers of Jesus need to be thinking like missionaries.  It's not only those of us in Africa who are called to the Great Commission.  All of us are called to make sacrifices for the sake of the gospel.  And sometimes that sacrifice will mean homeschool, and sometimes private school, sometimes public school, and sometimes even boarding school.  All involve different kinds of sacrifices, and all can reap different kinds of rewards.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.  

(Romans 14)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Eternity in My Heart

Before we left Tanzania, I told my friend Alyssa, I'm scared I'll like it too much in America.  I'm afraid it will be too hard to come back to Tanzania.

I like it here.  I like my apartment.  I like that I never have to worry about water or electricity problems.  I like being comfortable.

I like that I can run out to the store at 8:00 at night and know I will find exactly what I need, and be back home in 20 minutes.

I like that I can walk through the neighborhood and no one stares at me because I stick out.  There's a pediatrician's office right down the street.  There's meat I don't have to cook for 5 hours to make it chewable.

I love that our families are so close and we get to see them all the time.  I love that we get to spend time with so many life-long friends.  I love that my kids get to be in Awana.

But I have been haunted.

It's all temporary.
It won't last.
It won't last.

It's only a year.  It will go by fast.  And leaving will be that much harder because it's so fresh in my heart.

It steals my joy.  It's hard for me to enjoy it all, knowing that it's not permanent and it will all end sooner than I want it to.

I ache for permanent.
For never-ending.
For eternal.

For eternity.  That's what it's all about, isn't it?

Because the truth is, that even if I got my perfect little life in America, with the Victorian house with the porch swing and white picket fence, even if I owned it and we were all healthy and financially stable with a great retirement plan,

It still would be temporary.

Because there are always fires and earthquakes and typhoons and cancer and robbers and failing stock markets and death.

And I know this, so why do I have such a hard time accepting it?  Why is there such a deep ache in my heart for permanent when everything around me is temporary?

Because I was not created for temporary.
As Solomon wrote, Eternity is in my heart.

Yet looking for eternity on earth is futile.  Chasing after the wind.

And so I seek to embrace this temporary life.  My temporary life in America; my temporary life on earth.  To find the joy in each of these days God gives me, in whatever country, whatever house, whatever situation I am in.  To live fully and completely here and now, knowing that the Permanent is yet to come.

We are not home yet.

hiking with Anchor Church friends in Long Beach

watching Uncle Brandon's soccer game

Awana Sparks

speaking at Concord Bible Church

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Boy with the Million Dollar Smile

My boy turned six recently.  

Josiah shares a birthday with his Uncle Brandon, and this was the very first year they got to celebrate together.  In fact, it's the first time he's ever celebrated a birthday with any extended family.  

He's a little guy for his age, but he makes up for it with energy and physical strength.  Josiah weighs 36 pounds (3rd percentile!), but he can do 10 pull-ups, hold a perfect head stand for 20 seconds, and has a very visible six-pack on his lean mean body.  We put the kid in gymnastics this year.  It might be his destiny.  
But really, he would rather just play soccer.  

I'm a sucker for my little buddy's smile.  Sure am glad he is in my life.