Sunday, December 24, 2017

You Won't Find 'Emptiness' On a Christmas Card

I forget that the story of Christmas is a story of humility.

He made himself nothing....being made in human likeness.

God With Us--Emmanuel.  But what did that require?

He emptied himself.  
He humbled himself.

The God who flung planets into space and kept them whirling around and around, the God who made the universe with just a word, the one who could do anything at all--was making himself small.  And coming a baby.  (Sally Lloyd-Jones)

It's incomprehensible.  I can't come close to grasping who God is, so how can I begin to understand what he gave up?

The more I become aware of his sacrifice, the more I wonder why I so easily consume the world's delicacies:  The highest ideal is your own self-fulfillment.  Anything goes as long as you don't hurt anyone else.

The problem is that self-fulfillment almost always does hurt someone else.  It's simply not possible to love myself and love others at the same time.  And in trying, I find neither.  

Love, Joy, Peace, Hope--these are the words we find on Christmas cards.  We forget, though, that none of that would have been possible without humility.  Emptiness.  These are not words that are often used at Christmas, yet just as important.

We want the love and the joy, but without the cost.  We want peace and hope, but on our own terms.  It doesn't work that way.

Of course, God is not a kill-joy.  He is all about joy.  He is the essence of love.  But as we frantically fight after fulfillment, popping pills and climbing the corporate ladder and swiping credit cards and fruitlessly trying to keep our bodies young, we forget that the way of joy and love is found through emptiness.  

God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

So why then do we strive so hard after strength?

When I fail, why should I be bothered by humiliation?  When I am inadequate, why should I try to hide it?  Why should there be shame in weakness?  Being brought low is the path to joy.  Emptying myself for others is the way of true love.  

That baby, lying in the manger, represents a lot of things.  But for me, this year, he is a reminder of humility.   

Blessed are the poor in spirit 
        for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Tanzania's "Christmas Trees" which burst into bloom every December.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Story of Nikky (and me, and her mom, and Kajal, and God...oh, and red chicken)

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Nikky.

We met Nikky when we first arrived in Tanzania, way back in 2001.  We had joined a church that came out of the Indian population of Dar es Salaam.  Nikky, her mom, and her brother were a part of that church.

Nikky and her family were a big part of our lives for those two years.  I was her Sunday School teacher.

And every Wednesday evening, we would go to her family's house, where Gil would lead a Bible study.  Her mom, Shital, is a wonderful cook, and each Wednesday we would eat her famous red sekala chicken and chips.  It was our favorite meal in Tanzania.

We even had the privilege of being present when Nikky's mom married her step dad.

When we left Tanzania in 2003, we lost touch with Nikky's family.  When we returned in 2005, we were living in a different part of the city and fully immersed in Haven of Peace Academy. 

Meanwhile, Nikky and her family starting attending a different church.  The pastor of that church happened to be the husband of HOPAC's kindergarten teacher.  So when the kindergarten class needed a new teacher's assistant, she told Nikky to apply.  So imagine my surprise when one day, a few years ago, I saw Nikky (all grown up) walking across the HOPAC campus.

It was a joyful reunion.  We visited their church, where Shital was serving in leadership.  Shital had always loved Gil's teaching and jumped at the chance to join the Reach Tanzania Bible School.  That was a year ago.

(Shital is front left)

In August, I began my new position as elementary principal at Haven of Peace Academy, where Nikky has continued to work as a teacher's assistant.  So I became her boss.  

Last week, Nikky got married, and we got to be there.  

This is Nikky with her HOPAC family.

And this is us with Nikky, her mom and dad, and Kajal, another wonderful friend from our old church days together.

(This was Kajal and me in 2002.)

Fifteen years.  I stand in awe of how God has blessed us with such wonderful relationships.  

And almost just as exciting, a few months ago, Shital opened a restaurant in our area.  Where she is selling her red sekela chicken, of course.  Our lives are now complete.  

And we all lived happily ever after.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Tribute to a Good Dog

Minnie came home to us in September of 2005.  We had just returned to Tanzania, and we bought her from a friend was was breeding Jack Russells.  

Minnie was our first baby.  

I remember when we had had her for about a year, we thought she was going to die.  We had a team from the States visiting us, and one morning, one of the guys told us that he thought Minnie had eaten his malaria pills.  After unsuccessfully trying to get her to throw up, we called the vet.  He told us there was nothing we could do, that she would die and it would probably take a few days.  We were devastated, but we didn't want the team member to feel bad, so we didn't tell the team.  For days, we waited with dread for her to die.  

A week later, the guy casually told us that he had found the pills the next day, that Minnie hadn't eaten them after all.  Having no idea of our inner turmoil, he hadn't bothered to tell us!

Since Minnie was our first baby, that's probably why, once we brought home a real baby, she went through a bit of a shock.  For a couple months, she walked around like she was in constant pain, trembling and with an arched back.  Again, we thought she would die, and I took her to the vet three times.  Each time the vet found nothing wrong with her.  In the end, she recovered, and we attributed it to sibling rivalry.  And once Minnie discovered that this new baby provided a constant source of snacks, all was well.

Minnie was Grace's first playmate.

And when Grace was in first grade and dressed up like the Grinch, Minnie got to be Max.  Daddy decided that Max needed to be brown, not white, so he dyed Minnie with henna.  Except...she didn't turn brown, she turned orange.  And she stayed orange for months.

Minnie gave us two litters of puppies.  

Four in the first set.

And three in the second.

I gotta say, not much is cuter than Jack Russell puppies.  They all went to friends and we still see many of them regularly.

A few years ago, Minnie broke her leg.  (Well, her leg was actually run over, but that's another story.)  The vet made a house call and sedated Minnie on our coffee table while he set her leg.  Grace got to assist.  Since then, she never liked using her back leg.

Minnie killed lots of critters, like any good Jack Russell.  She was loyal and faithful and she loved us, even after we would leave for the States for months or even a year.

Last Saturday night, I could tell that Minnie wasn't feeling well.  We worried about her all day Sunday, and on Monday I took her to the vet.  He couldn't tell what was wrong with her, but gave her antibiotics and was optimistic.  

Tuesday morning, I could tell that she had deteriorated.  As soon as we got home from school, Lily and I jumped in the car and rushed to the vet.  She died in Lily's arms minutes before we arrived.  Ironically, she died on the same day that her second litter was born, six years ago.

Minnie used to sleep in the kids' room.  But in the last several years, we had such a battle with ticks that Minnie spent most of her time outside.  She and I had a nightly ritual when I would pull off about 25 ticks from her small body...every day.  Thankfully, this last year she was finally tick-free. 

I'm not really a dog person.  We've always had dogs because they are important for security in Tanzania.  We've had four other dogs die in the last few years, most of whom came to us when they were much older--and I really wasn't terribly traumatized.  But Minnie is the only one we've had since she was a puppy.  She was with us twelve years.  She's shared our family history since before we even had children.

Losing Minnie makes me feel very old.  Like I suddenly have an awareness of how much time has passed.  It's so strange not having her around.

So I miss her.  She was a good dog.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Choosing the Desert

"Unlike many in the world, I’ve had the incredible privilege of never needing to worry about my daily bread.  Perhaps that’s why God allowed me to be deprived of my daily sleep.  And there are a myriad of other ways we can be sent into the desert involuntarily—cancer, hurricane, betrayal."

I wrote how Choosing Missions Means Choosing the Desert at A Life Overseas.  But I think this post applies to any0ne who has chosen the desert--and that can look like adoption or foster care (or maybe parenting in general!) or church ministry or any kind of sacrifice made in the name of the Kingdom of God.

So this post is dedicated to those who, for any reason, have chosen the desert.  May God meet you there and show himself as your Bread of Life.

Earlier this year, I went through a season of insomnia.  A chaotic furlough, a new job, and lots of life change brought on anxiety, which bred sleeplessness, which bred more anxiety, until I was a mess.

I lay awake many nights and begged God, “You know I need to sleep.  You know I can’t function without it.  I believe you want me to be productive.  So why won’t you help me sleep?”

And the Word of God spoke to me through Deuteronomy 6:

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

There I was, wandering in the desert, feeling desperate, crushed, and abandoned by God.  Until I remembered that the desert is the very best place for God to meet me.   

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna….to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

God caused you to hunger.  Just like sleep, bread is necessary for life itself, yet God wanted his people to remember that their very existence depended on God and his Word.

Thousands of years later, our Savior voluntarily went into the desert, and learned for himself that man does not live by bread alone.  And not long after that, he stood tall and declared himself to be our Bread of Life, sent down from Heaven.

Unlike many in the world, I’ve had the incredible privilege of never needing to worry about my daily bread.  Perhaps that’s why God allowed me to be deprived of my daily sleep.  And there are a myriad of other ways we can be sent into the desert involuntarily—cancer, hurricane, betrayal.

As insomnia helped me to understand the value of the desert, I realized that choosing missions is one of the ways we voluntarily choose the desert. 

In choosing missions, we leave behind our support structures:  family, church, friends.

Choosing missions means learning new ways of survival:  how to communicate, how to care for our children, how to provide for our basic needs.  Most of the time, we give up many of the comforts of home, whether it be as simple as McDonald’s Playland or as complex as feeling understood by the people around us.

Missions sometimes means we find ourselves in a spiritual wasteland:  a city where we are one of only handful of believers.  Where the oppression, whether seen or unseen, lies heavy on our shoulders.

Choosing missions means choosing the life of a stranger, an outsider.  We are often misunderstood.  We often feel alone, and as time goes by, we often feel disconnected in our “home” countries as well.  Like it did for our Savior, the desert brings on temptation strong and thick.  But unlike our Savior, we often cave to it.

So why, why, why do we choose this life?  Why on earth would we choose this desert? 

Because man does not live by bread alone, or cream cheese, or even Starbucks.  Man does not live by running water, or air conditioning, or indoor heating.  He is not sustained by paved roads, or fast internet, or stylish clothes.  He even does not live by English education for his kids, by real turkey on Thanksgiving or by cold Christmases and the smell of pine trees.


We live by every Word that comes from the mouth of God. 
Click here to read the rest.  

Medina Life, August through November

Grace got to play on a Jr. NBA basketball team.  

My girl sets a mean pick.  She may be sweet and friendly in real life, but her basketball nickname was "Mini Beast."

Life at Reach Tanzania Bible School.

Some of our favorite students with our favorite partners.  

During the October school break, we went away with a bunch of friends for a few days to a conference center at the base of the Morogoro Mountains.  The kids enjoyed the wide open spaces that we don't see in the city.

But the best part about that vacation?  The one-year-old quadruplets.  Their mom has been my friend for 12 years now, and she's in the office next to mine at HOPAC.  Her quads pretty much steal the show wherever they go.

Enough babies to go around for everyone!

Lily dancing at her third grade assembly.

My football-obsessed boy.  He FINALLY is old enough to play on a real HOPAC team--a dream come true for him.

Pamoja Week at HOPAC (like Spirit Week).  FIVE people in our house needed costumes this year!  Thankfully I'm married to a very creative man who is not intimidated by this challenge. 
This was Career Day.

Sports Day.  The only time in my life I've worn shin guards.

Ancient Day.  Yes, I am Moses.

A different kind of dressing up:  Daddy was putting on a tie for preaching, and Johnny wanted one too.

And when he's not creating costumes or preaching, he was coaching Grace's soccer team.  Which came out in first place for their season!

Greek Day in Josiah's fourth grade class:  Acting in their tragedy play.