Saturday, December 29, 2018

A Chance to Die



"Missionary life is simply a chance to die." 

It certainly started out that way. There were a million chances every day to die to myself and my desires, my comfort, my convenience. When everything--literally everything--felt new and strange, when I had to re-learn how to drive, shop, cook, speak, sleep. When the power would go out for twelve hours a day and the ticks and cockroaches were battling to rule my kitchen, when I felt abandoned and alone, incompetent and exhausted.

But time is a miracle-worker. We took control of the electricity and the bugs, the driving became routine, cooking became easy. I learned to communicate. This country gave me my babies, and they have grown and thrived here. After moving six times in our first eight years of marriage, we moved to a house that wasn't falling down and have remarkably lived in it for nine years. We found our niche in ministries that are fulfilling and flourishing. And the friends....the friends are something akin to siblings who grow up together. Broad and deep and everlasting.

Sure, there are still moments of frustration, like on Christmas Eve when the air was sweltering and the power went on and off four times. But somehow those things don't matter as much anymore because they've just become life, and the good things outweigh the hard.

One day I woke up and discovered that this life that started as a chance to die was now grasped tightly in my clenched hands. This is mine. I like this. Don't take this away from me. 

The heart gravitates so quickly to familiarity and comfort, to knowing and being known. Amy Carmichael wrote, "Missionary life is simply a chance to die." But even missionary life, with all of its perceived and real challenges, can become comfortable. 

Comfort isn't wrong, but it can be dangerous. Like sinking into a beanbag chair with a good book and a crackling fire, comfort makes it hard to get moving. To look around. To consider other people, other possibilities, other needs. It feels so good that it's easy to say "God wants me here" when maybe it's really just me refusing to think otherwise.  

Of course, that doesn't mean that I should intentionally go hopping around from one difficult circumstance to the next, like a self-flagellating monk. But it does mean that I need to be consciously aware of the sinister appeal of comfort to cloud my vision of where God may be leading me. It means I need to allow God to pry open that vice-like grip on what I want out of life, to say Thy will be done and actually believe it.

2019 is certain to be a year of upheaval in my life, with changes coming that will tear into that familiarity and comfort I have enjoyed for so long. May I look up. Open my hands. Die to myself. One thing I have learned--a chance to die is always a privilege. I don't want to waste it.

Monday, December 17, 2018

I Really Just Want to Be Like God



I was awake for hours last night, frustrated. I'm on Christmas break and shouldn't be stressed or anxious.

But then it dawned on me--through the crazy busyness of this last school term, I hadn't had time to process the other stress and anxiety in our lives right now. So now that school is done for a few weeks, my mind has a chance to go there.

I hate going there. It's been easier to just focus on teacher observations and ACSI accreditation paperwork and our Christmas production and reports cards than think about the future. The uncertainty we've been facing for the last six months has crystallized into an almost-certainty that our time in Tanzania is coming to an end. We're pretty sure we can make it work for another year and a half, but that might be it.

A year and a half doesn't feel very long at all when you've spent your entire adult life in a place--almost twenty years. If I allow myself to dwell on it, I am overwhelmed with grief at the thought of what we would be leaving. And when I think about what comes after that year and a half, all I see is a black hole. For someone who likes her life planned out at least five years in advance, that's what keeps me awake at night.

If we have to leave Tanzania, what would be next? Would we go somewhere else in Africa or would we return to the States? And if so, where? We own no home anywhere; we have literally no possessions in America. The cities in California that feel most like home just happen to be some of the most expensive in the United States--not very promising for a family of six living on (likely) a ministry salary.

In a year and a half, we could be starting over completely from scratch. And that is so very daunting and scary. Especially considering that we'll have one child starting high school and two others in middle school. Not exactly ideal ages for massive life upheaval.

Those kids. Oh, those kids. My kids who are Tanzanian by blood but raised by American parents in their homeland. We've already majorly messed with their identity; how would this transition affect them? How would we possibly decide what home, what school, what community would be best for them? Except, we probably won't have the luxury of making decisions based on what is best for our kids. That is, if I even knew what would be best for them.

So at midnight last night, by the light of my Kindle, I read from Jen Wilkin's None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different from Us (And Why That's a Good Thing). And I was reminded that the heart of my anxiety about my future is that I want to be like God. 

I want to be omniscient, to know everything. I want to know what's coming. I want to know the very best possible choices I could make for my kids. I want the reassurance that everything for them will turn out okay.

I want to be self-sufficient, to be able to assure myself that we will be able to handle this next stage of life without being a burden on anyone.

I want to be sovereign. I want to have complete control over what happens next, where we live, what we do. Wilkin writes, "We want our rule. We want our kingdom, our power, our glory. We want the very throne of God."

I can pray, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, but really I want my kingdom, my will.

I really just want to be like God.

So there it is: Just as that ancient Deceiver whispered in the ear of Eve, so he murmurs the same temptations in my ear. You need to know. You need control. You need self-sufficiency.

When really, I need no such things. I don't need to be like God; I just need God. He is enough. Jen Wilkin writes, "Our limits teach us the fear of the Lord. They are reminders that keep us from falsely believing that we can be like God. When I reach the limit of my strength, I worship the One whose strength never flags. When I reach the limit of my reason, I worship the One whose reason is beyond searching out."

This morning I opened to Isaiah 50:10:
Let him who walks in darkness
and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God.

The future may be a black hole, but there is always Light.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Parents Brought Their Children to John Hartfield's Lynching


One night we talked with our kids about the Roman Colosseum and the Christians who were ripped to shreds by wild animals in front of thousands of blood-thirsty fans.

"People still are entertained by violence," we said. "Like with video games or Extreme Fighting."

Thankfully, I thought, we've moved past that brutal time in ancient history when people were entertained by actual killing.

And then I read about John Hartfield.

On June 26, 1919, John Hartfield was lynched in Ellisville, Mississippi.

I'd known about lynchings, and was duly horrified by them, but I always just assumed that lynchings were done by small groups of wicked, racist white men.

And they were. But what I didn't know was that lynchings often were public spectacles. John Hartfield was one of them.

John Hartfield had the unfortunate crime of falling in love with a white woman. It didn't matter that it was mutual. And for that, the people of Ellisville, Mississippi decided he should die.

But this was no spontaneous outburst of violent anger. No, this lynching was planned in advance. This article from New York Times says, "The front page of The Jackson Daily News announced that Mr. Hartfield would be lynched at 5 p.m. 'Governor Bilbo Says He Is Powerless to Prevent It,' the headline read. 'Thousands of People Are Flocking Into Ellisville to Attend the Event.'"

Only 1700 people lived in the town of Ellisville. However, there were at least ten thousand people who swarmed to Ellisville for the lynching. Men, women, and children. It was a party atmosphere. There were food vendors and photo postcards. 


John was strung up and then shot until his body fell apart. Some people took body parts as souvenirs.


In horrified fascination, I did a little searching to see if this was an isolated event. But no, actually, it wasn't. One source says, "Lynchings were popular and public events, attracting thousands of celebratory, grinning onlookers. White children even “played” lynching in a game called “Salisbury.”

“Parents brought their children like they were coming to a picnic,” said Korea Strowder, now 94. “It was a big to-do, all right." “It was very much like a spectator sport,” Angela Sims said. “Children were even dismissed from school.”


And lynchings didn't just happen in Mississippi and Alabama, but even as far north as Missouri and Kansas.


This is our country, Americans. This is our history, from only one hundred years ago. This was sanctioned behavior in our Christian nation, founded on Christian principles. The land of the free and the home of the brave. The nation founded on the premise that all men are created equal and entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 


I'm still very grateful to be an American, as I've seen and experienced first-hand the privilege that it is to be a part of my nation. But maybe this story will help you understand why I'm apprehensive about the possibility of relocating my dark-skinned children to the land of my birth. Maybe it will help all of us to listen a little more carefully to our black friends and acquaintances. And maybe it will help us all to consider a little more deeply the depravity that dwells in all of our hearts.


Sunday, December 2, 2018

Medina Life, August to November 2018


Lily's Broken Tooth

She's smiling here, but she sure wasn't when it happened in August. Lily fell smack on her face, bashing in her two front teeth. The dentist was able to push them back into place, and we'll find out in January whether they will need root canals. For now, she's sporting the chipped-tooth look.


Grace is a Beast in Basketball and Soccer

Grace continued her participation on HOPAC's Jr. NBA basketball team, living up to her nickname as "Mini-Beast" on the court. She is a force to be reckoned with!
Grace (as a 7th grader) was bumped up to the U15 (like JV) team. Her team won the league tournament yesterday, and she played all four games without being subbed!




Johnny Turned Seven

This is what happens when you put the icing on a cake that hasn't cooled yet: Yes, I know it looks like it's bleeding.




Josiah Turned Eleven


Since Josiah's party was the day after we returned from Anja's wedding, I ordered a cake for the first time ever. As you can see the results were much better than Johnny's bleeding cake.

Pamoja Week at HOPAC: Color Explosion Day!

Meanwhile, Johnny Began His Taekwondo Career




And Lily Had Her First Speaking Part as the Goddess Demeter



We All Celebrated Zawadi's Adoption










Saturday, November 24, 2018

When Traditions Are Bittersweet

Mohammed's birthday fell on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving this year, which meant we all had the day off. Usually our mission team celebrates Thanksgiving on the weekend before or after, but this year, we got to have it on Tuesday, which felt a little more authentic.

Our team has its own traditions now; we barely need to coordinate who is bringing what because we pretty much already know. Though Grace did make her first apple pie this year, which is perfect for a middle-schooler who is content to sit and peel apples for two hours (as long as "Hamilton" is playing, which felt appropriate for Thanksgiving). I think that's the first apple pie we've had since "Aunt" Betty left Tanzania several years ago. 

So we met at the home of friends who have hosted Thanksgiving for the last several years, and played Wiffle ball out on the lawn while dodging toddlers making a run for it. And the whipped cream melted on contact with the balmy air and the five roasted chickens made up for the lack of turkey. 

There is comfort in sameness, like well-worn shoes. Thanksgiving in Tanzania never feels like Thanksgiving in America, because, well, Thanksgiving is American. But we've created our own version of it, and what might have felt like second-best many years ago has now become tradition. 

The nature of this life overseas, though, warns us against making traditions. Putting down roots is forbidden, and those who do so suffer the consequences. In the absence of our own families, we may forge family connections that are deep and strong, but we do so at our own peril. Because everyone knows, even if we try to forget, that all of this overseas life is always temporary.

The family who has hosted Thanksgiving for the last several years is most likely leaving next year. Others will not be far behind. And for the rest of us, due to circumstances beyond our control, we are all realizing that our days in Tanzania could be numbered. Next Thanksgiving, our mission might not have a team here.

The Future is a constant topic of conversation, so whispers of it flew around all day on Tuesday. We can't ignore it, of course. But nobody mentioned that this could have been our last Thanksgiving together. As far as I know, no one even took any pictures, for probably the first time ever. It's almost like taking pictures would have had to make us admit that everything is changing. And since our lives have been full of so many good-byes, sometimes we'd rather just pretend that they won't happen.

Yet there is always so much sweetness with the bitter in this overseas life. And since I don't have any pictures from our Tanzanian Thanksgiving this year, I'll delight in the ones from years past.











Sunday, November 18, 2018

This is Tanzania

This is Tanzania:
Kigamboni Beach, Dar es Salaam


During our October mid-term break from school, we visited our favorite beach for a few days with good friends.









This is also Tanzania....
Mufindi, Iringa region


Mufindi is a long way from Dar es Salaam, so it's a place we had never visited before--but always wanted to. So when Anja, one of our favorite former students, invited us to her wedding in Mufindi, we knew we couldn't pass up the chance to go. We all took off time from school, got on a bus for 14 hours each way, and spent three days at Mufindi Highlands Lodge.

We rode horses, played croquet and lawn tennis, ate absolutely amazing food, and enjoyed being really cold.


That's Johnny, and yes, shortly after this picture was taken, he did fall in.

....which is why he's naked in this picture.

Lily and lily.



And yes, Johnny did fall off his horse too. Don't worry, he's fine.

Those are jacaranda trees....just imagine what they look like when they are in bloom.


One of the best parts was that everyone's favorite two-year-old quadruplets came too! (Ironically, several years previously, I had been at their parents wedding in Kenya as well.)





The day of the wedding....










This is Tanzania. How extraordinary that I get to call it home.