Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Bringing the Amazing from the Ordinary

Whew. It was one of those days. One of those days when nothing particularly tragic happened at our house, but a hard day none the less. One of those days where everything seemed way worse or much harder than it actually was. One of those days when it would be easy to end the day defeated, feeling like a failure for needing help (or wanting help) and just plain missing your husband.

I am just an emotional mess. I'm sleep deprived, having spent every night since Chris has been gone wrestling with kiddos...mainly one completely miserable little sicky. And the most exciting moments of my days, the ones where I get texts and calls from Africa, have mostly come at the expense of what little sleep I have been able to steal. I've gotten stressed, lost my temper, agonized over decisions that aren't going to alter eternity (as far as I know), longed for Chris to come home, and felt broken-hearted over the sad stories of people all around me and those on the other side of the world.

But I know it's been so much more physically, emotionally, and spiritually challenging for the fifteen people who are sleep deprived in the midst of challenging circumstances in Africa. While there have been such moments of rejoicing over what God is doing there, I can hear the stress and strain in my husband's voice, even when I'm only "hearing" via text.

Then there is this. This amazing picture. This beautiful picture of these men I will probably never meet who are now in possession of this little contraption that was sitting in my basement this time last week. This picture that just sums it all up. The love of God and His ability to meet every need.

I just cannot believe this is actually happening! It seems so surreal. And yet, I know it's very real, because it's hard and it's costing me something.

Now, I don't want to exaggerate my or my family's sacrifice, because it's miniscule compared to what so many have given. But today, in the midst of the emotional roller coaster of answered prayers, crying toddlers, dreams realized, lives touched in the name of Jesus, temper tantrums, sickness, fighting, struggling, prayers of countless friends, and a dinner provided to a weary momma - I had the thought: "This is what it feels like to sacrifice. Of course it's hard. He promised it would be."

This sounds a little melodramatic. It's just my regular life, and one I feel shouldn't have me beaten so often, because it's so stinkin' easy compared to so many. But, the fact remains, that when Jesus calls you to something more and you answer, amidst all kinds of fear and hope, it's going to cost you. And it's going to expose your sin. And it's going to awaken a mixture of joy and sorrow that maybe you've never experienced before.

But maybe, just maybe, that's what knowing Jesus and being truly alive really means. It means being reminded of the grace we so desperately need and being in love with the One who so freely gives that us and through us.

It is humbling for me to sit here in my comfortable, safe, air-conditioned bedroom and know that somehow, if only by helping to make this opportunity available to my husband, I am a part of this. It is overwhelming to think that God blessed me by giving me a husband who would want to do this. And it is beautiful to see how God has taken plain, ordinary, broken, imperfect people and used them to make this day possible.

We all know that's what He does, but sometimes I don't think we really believe He'll do it with us.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Hand, Foot, Mouth, and Mind

You know your husband is in Africa when you spend your sick kid's entire nap time (precious time, as any mama knows) on Google maps trying to find one tiny hotel in the middle of a huge continent. Can I just say that the fact that we can type in a place anywhere in the world and almost instantly see an actual photo of it is amazing? Okay, not anywhere. Not the hotel I happen to be looking for...but something very close to it, I'm sure.

And, yes, I said sick kid. Because you know when you send family members to Africa and then write a blog about how God has changed your heart and how eternal things matter so much to you, you're gonna get smacked in the face with a sick kid and a long, boooorrriiing week at home. Along with a few sleepless nights thrown in for good measure.

Our Poor Little Sam has been graced by the presence of what Dr. Mommy has diagnoses as hand, foot, and mouth disease. I know, it sounds like he has extra feet and hands growing from every part of his body or that his appendages are being eaten away by some flesh-eating virus. Fortunately, he's only mostly miserable and unsightly with a mouth full of painful sores and a sweet little chubby body covered in red bumps and blisters. That's all. And just for fun, we have a few swollen, itchy mosquito bites thrown in, just to annoy him in those moments when his mouth isn't killing him.

Sam, on a happier day

Okay, that makes the fact that I have been battling self-pity sound horrible when Poor Little Sam is the one who's sick. But, as any human, sinful, self-loving mom knows, when the kids get sick, they're not the only ones who suffer. One of the cons of parenthood: When a kid is sick, we all suffer. Mostly mom. I'm thinking of having that embroidered on a throw pillow. What do you think?

One of the pros of parenthood: When a kid is sick, Mommy gets extra snuggles. Let's face it, though. That's only a pro for the first 24-48 hours. After that, snuggling starts to feel overrated and a little more leech-like.

So, we're just hanging out at the Palace de Bond and doing awesome things like spending the afternoon perusing Africa on Google Maps. Don't be jealous.

To change the subject: A few days ago I woke up (which is always a good way to start your day), and my mind started running before my head got off my pillow, as usual. One of my first thoughts: I hope our poop gets cleaned up today. You see, we were still right in the middle of the saga of our stinky backyard.

Finally, there were men in my yard, and I couldn't have been happier to see them. For two weeks, we had a river of sewage flowing down our backyard mountain. You see, in all of God's sovereignty and goodness, He had chosen to plant our poopy problems right in the middle of the wettest summer in recent memory. Call it the Sovereign Will of God or just plain old bad luck, but these poor men who spend each day cleaning up sewage hadn't had the good fortune to be able to come play in mine for the last couple of weeks.

(Do you think they wake up each morning, look outside to see how the weather looks, and declare, "Woohoo! It's dry enough for me to go clean up refuse today! Finally!")

I just feel so sorry for them, but I am so thankful that someone is willing to take on this horrible job. As they say, "Somebody's gotta do it," and thank the good Lord it's not me!

I'm just the poor person who gets to pay said men to clean up my poop. Though it's a tough decision, I'm going to call my end of the deal better because I don't actually have to smell like the mess when it's all said and done.

It's been kind of funny how sewage has been one of the first things on my mind each day when I've woken up over the past several weeks. More recently, there have been thoughts of how to sooth mouth ulcers and the disappointment of messed up plans on my mind. They say that all you have to do is look in a person's checkbook to see where their true priorities lie, and I would venture to guess that the first few thoughts that cross a person's mind upon waking each day would be a pretty good measuring stick as well.

Usually the very first thought on my mind is, "Oh my gosh. Why is this kid in my bed AGAIN?!" Then my mind quickly heads down the path of food. It's a little embarrassing to admit that food is one of the first and most frequent topics of thought for me. Thankfully, it's not "how can I get it?" but "what should we eat today?"

My heart's desire, though, is for the first thoughts of my day to be thanks and praise to God. It's so easy to immediately start to make the mental to-do list, to worry about a stinky backyard, to get frustrated with kids who woke you up early AGAIN. But the day is not ours to worry or plan or whine. It is a gift from the Lord and is already planned out by him. I want my thoughts to be "Thank you, Lord, for the fact that I woke up again. Thanks for another day. What should we do today?"

I think so many of my disappointments, worries, and frustrations stem from the fact that I approach my day as though it is just that - mine. But it's a gift from him and it's to be used for his purposes. Even if his purposes are to stare out my back window at this and remind myself of his goodness and faithfulness in the midst of expensive work done by stinky people.

Here they are. Some of my favorite men in the world. If only I knew their names.
Or if his purpose is to teach me perseverance and joy through sick children and travelling husbands.

Or if his purpose is to let me see his beauty and majesty while gazing at the beach. I'm just sayin', that would be okay with me.

So, I'm going to think about my thoughts a little more, and see how the Lord will change them to see what he sees, what he's doing, and how awesome he is rather than what is happening in the small, physical world in front of me.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life. Psalm 143:8

Monday, July 15, 2013

From Vision to Reality

There aren't many mornings where all four kiddos sleep past 7am. That little stinker Sam likes to start the day with the sun. This was one of the rare days when, though all three boys were piled in my bed with me (it wasn't a choice on my part so much as an all-night-long process on theirs), they all blissfully slept past 7. So, naturally, I got a phone call at 5:50am.

This might be one of the few phone calls I could get so early on a sleeping-in day that wouldn't drive me to cussing. When that long, weird-looking number appeared on my phone's display, I promptly hopped out of bed and darted for the only quiet, empty room where I wouldn't disturb the sleepers - the boys' bedroom. (Because why would they be sleeping in there?)

You see, it was my sweet husband calling from another continent and I was eager to hear that they had reached their destination, after over 36 exhausting hours of travel, and had gotten some rest. It's mind-boggling to think that the vision and ministry that began just over two years ago has gotten to this point: a team of fifteen brave, adventurous people have set out for Uganda to deliver the first set of bicycle-powered generators to people in Africa who have no reliable source of electricity. I just don't have words to describe the surreal feeling of seeing God's idea coming to fruition...and I'm not even the one in Africa!

You know one way I'm certain this is God's doing? Over the years, Chris has travelled for various reasons, many times for mission trips, and all the other times there was some sort of chip (though sometimes a smaller chip than others) on my shoulder at the thought of being left alone with all of the daily responsibilities of running our family while he set out on another adventure. (Not that I wanted to go on an adventure, mind you, because I'm not that sort of girl. I just wanted him here to help with these crazy kids!)

But this time is different. While I dreaded seeing him go, I feel grateful for the chance to care for our family and relay trip updates to those back at home while he goes to lead this trip and fulfill God's calling on his life.

Seriously, that's a miracle, folks. (Disclaimer: We're on Day 3 of 11. I may feel differently a week from now...but probably not.)

The Lord has worked in many hearts and lives (not just ours) in order to bring us all to this day, and I think that's what it's really all about.

Yesterday, as I sat in church with my daughter, I was bubbling over with gratitude and pride. The pastor was preaching through Ecclesiastes, which is a book recounting the somewhat hopeless and forlorn musings of King Solomon, a man whose heart had wandered away from the Lord he'd once sought after. As he looked at all the suffering in the world around him, suffering that happened to the poor and powerless as a result of the evil, selfish hearts of the powerful, he concluded that it'd be better to be dead. What he failed to see was that it was within his reach, as a powerful and extremely wealthy man, to stop mourning over the plight of others and step in to help them in the name of the Lord.

As a people with basically unlimited resources (money, power, education, influence), why do we as Americans sit around and bemoan the suffering and hopelessness of the dying world more often than we step in to do what we can to help with what we've been given? Why do we question God's mercy, justice, and love more than we seek to be the manifestation of His mercy, justice, and love?

As we saw the foolishness and wasted life and resources of Solomon and heard the challenge to step up and make an eternal difference in this world full of suffering, I realized that my husband, brother, and thirteen other people on the DFH Uganda team are doing just that. It feels like a drop in the ocean at times, but we're all called to do our tiny little drop of a part. I'm beyond grateful and proud to be the wife of a man who is running after the eternal, and I'm thrilled and humbled that I get to partner with him, my wonderful brother, and my sweet sister (in-law and in Christ), as well as many other family members and friends, to take our little water dropper and make a small difference in a big ocean.

Who am I that I get to play a part in this amazing endeavor? I am a daughter of a loving King, the wife of a Godly man, the sister of a sacrificial couple, the friend of friends to the friendless, the mother of four future Kingdom Builders, a prayer partner to missionaries.

And I'm off to tame these wild animals who are destroying my house as I type.

That's my privilege and service to my King. (I will have to remind myself of that approximately 34, 587 times today.)

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker,
    but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. Proverbs 14:31

Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,
    and he will reward them for what they have done. Proverbs 19:17

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
    to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor." Luke 4:18-19

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My Sticky, Stinky, Oozing Life

I know I've been away for a while, but I'm back with exciting news about our summer. We're remodeling our backyard!


This is actually more of an underground remodeling job courtesy of the man who installed our septic tank, and apparently did quite the horrible job of it. Yes, we were hoping one day we'd get to pour our life savings into cleaning up our poop. It's pretty much the summation of the American Dream, don't you think?

But it's okay, because this stinky hole of sewage in my yard this week has really been about forgiveness, gratitude, trust and humility.

I've realized something. In my thought life, in my inner being, my life oozes Jesus. I don't mean that I look or act just like him (he knows I constantly fall short), but I mean he pervades every aspect of my life. He has ruined me for this world. We have a copy of The Jesus Storybook Bible, and its tag line is "Where every story whispers his name." I've realized that that tag line should characterize not only the story of the Bible, but the story of our lives. And, I think for me, it does.

We have this compartmentalizing thing going on in America. We have the financial aspect of our lives: money - how to get it, what to do with it, how to plan so that we'll never be without it. We have our health and bodies: whole foods, low fat foods, Weight Watchers points, gym memberships, plastic surgery. We have our kids: what teacher did they get, what clothes do they wear, how smart are they, what friends do they have. We have our time: the crazy daily schedule, the vacations we have planned, the extra-curricular activities we must cart our kids to, the date we have scheduled to retire. And then we take pictures of all of it and post it on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter so that it all looks just like we want everyone to think it does.

And in between all this stuff, we stuff Jesus. It's the American way. We have our cake. We want some ice cream. And then we'll top it off with some Jesus just to make it presentable.

But he's ruined that for me. I can't escape him. He's everywhere I look, in everyone I talk to, behind every circumstance and situation that presents itself in my day. He's in the housework, in the checkbook, in my kids' faces, at Wal-mart, in our future plans, in my past, in the giant hole filled with sewage in my backyard.

He wont' leave me alone.

And that's the way it should be. Because " him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together."

If we really know him, in the end, every pore of our beings, every thought that crosses our minds, every penny in our bank account, every second of our lives, every muscle we move should ooze him.

He is beginning to consume me.

Shall I give an example?

I don't know about you, but sometimes my kids annoy me. There. I said it. And I'll just say the threshold of my annoyance pretty much bottoms out at the end of a long, tiring day of refereeing fights, folding laundry, cooking three meals and fifteen snacks, running errands, and sweeping up enough crumbs to feed an army (of mice). So, when the point at which I will be able to finally take a shower and sit down is in view and a pocket full of fully laundered and dried gum presents itself to me unexpectedly, the chances of me going ballistic are pretty high.


Okay, so it really happened. I lost it with the culprit (who will remain unnamed...but YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE), declared the month of July to be gumless for said child, and sent the little varmint to bed on a sour note. Yes, rule #345 of Good Mommyhood is: Never send the child to bed on a sour note, to stew on their failures and question your love for them.

Broke it and didn't care.

So, this poor child, whose lot in life is to be used as a tool by God to teach his sinful mommy lesson after lesson, had the misfortune of being the object of bedtime wrath two nights in a row. Same scene: tired mommy just wants to get the hundreds of dishes washed so she can sit down. (Notice how the goals of my life have been lowered. Goal at age 19: Change the world. Goal at age 36: Just sit down.) Just as the last dish is laid on the towel to dry, she moseys over to the table to do one last crumb check and her tired feet find their way into dried, sticky cantaloupe juice.

Perhaps I should have declared him canteloupeless for July as well, but this time I just went on a weak rant. I didn't even have the energy to yell. I did, however, have the strength to mutter this response to his squeeked-out little question (here is where I reveal to you the depth of my wickedness and the surety of this child's future need of a therapist):

Q: Mommy, when you finish that (referring to the hand-scrubbing of the entire kitchen floor I was doing), will you come tell me goodnight in my room?

A: No! I will not come into your room because I'm so stinkin' tired that when I get done with this, I'm going take my shower and SIT DOWN.

So he hangs his head and heads to bed, and I keep scrubbing. While I'm questioning why I have been plagued with the messiest, most thoughtless children to ever walk the face of the earth and why this has happened two nights in a row, that terribly annoying, quiet whisper says to me:

"Maybe it's because, in my grace, I've given you another chance."

Another chance? To scrub my floor and hit the bed dead tired?

"Another chance with your kid. A chance to get it right this time"

Dang it. See? He's consumed me to the point that everything in my life is really about Jesus. Even sticky floors and pockets.

I had enough sense to listen and take the hand he'd mercifully extended me. And, that night, I got it right. The day closed with hugs, kisses, and assurances of love rather than rage.

There was an apology for juice-dripping in there, too.

And I am realizing that what I'm most thankful for in life (a life in which I have lots to be thankful for) is the all-consuming nature of Christ...who is taking all things (sticky floors and botched septic tanks included) and making it about Him...which just also happens to be for my good.

Is he making a mess of your life yet? If you know him, he should be. It's what he does.