Monday, December 23, 2013

Have Yourself a Merry Little...

Christmas. In Africa. What a blessing!

It's been incredibly busy these past couple of months. We hired a School Administrator, Head Teacher, three other teachers, a groundskeeper, and day guard. We ran into some personal and professional problems with our Admin and had to make a difficult decision to let them go. We had several families meander in with kids, some families without, and all wanted to barter the price of tuition while their children gave us blank stares (they didn't know English, nor the national language, nor were they very responsive to our basic Somali). We had money troubles with the bank in the States, refusing to transfer money to Kenya. Which in turn gave us trouble with the furniture, textbook, and school supply people in getting our stuff in time before all the companies took their holiday.

Registration forms have been printed, student and teacher handbooks written, uniforms designed and displayed, syllabi purchased from the MOE, curricula made, to do lists were conquered, and errands were run. Even so... we all feel like we've forgotten something. Perhaps the cook, who isn't hired yet.

The ESL school has been booming! We doubled our attendance since last term and almost doubled in our inquires since this term. My students did phenomenally well, all who stayed the full course passed with A/B averages. They were incredibly proud of their certificates of completion which we handed out on the 19th. It was a wonderful, yet informal, ceremony complete with lunch, jokes, and lots of pictures! I may not be teaching my class come January because my work at the Primary School is a full time job, but I know they will be in good hands.

Christmas shopping is a new experience in Kenya. There are still the usual questions of "what to get so-and-so" and "when do I plan my shopping day(s)" plus the added "who would even sell this" and "where can I get this without paying five times the price it's worth" to answer. House wares and furniture tastes are different here.... pinterest has helped me a lot in some of my decorating and creation.

We found some toys for our next door neighbor's kids and the young boy found his present by accident. As a result, rumor has spread throughout the whole complex that the muzungus (white people) bought gifts for all their neighbors. We hope the built-up anticipation doesn't end in disappointment on Christmas morn.

Today we plan to invite a friend over for late lunch (a visit which will most likely last till evening if she comes at all) and visit the school to collect some pre-registration fees from our ESL students. Tomorrow will be our "girls only Christmas party" where the girl students and neighbors in our apartment complex will enjoy some cookie decorating, dancing, and singing. The following day will be the BIG Day!

I can't believe how quickly this year has gone and especially how these past couple months have flown. It's exciting and wonderful to be here, working and living with our wonderful neighbors and students. We love the relationships we have, and we hope they continue to grow as the days go by.

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! We love you!


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Neighborhood #1

Life in Africa.

We wake up to a rooster in the morning at times and at other times we hear the call to prayer in the early morning hours. We walk by more scattered chickens, dogs, some goats, and a constant stream of people coming and going.

We buy our fruits and veggies from Jane, who owns a small wood and tin shack full of produce and non-perishable groceries. Vegetables are fresh and sold at every corner and all along the road. Sodas are dirt cheap, provided you return the glass bottles to be refilled. Milk is purchased in small sandwich bags or triangular cartons. People set up their shops every morning and in the evening most gather up all their wares into a large sack and take it home with them.

Being white (not Indian or Black) is a spectacle and invites comments from strangers, beggars, children, and anyone else with an opinion.

Neighbors know who you are, what you have, what you don't have, and who you spend time with. Almost any price can be negotiated, meaning if you don't negotiate there's good chance you're paying more than anyone else who fights for a better price.

Almost anyone will stop and conversation with you if you approach them. Frequenting the same place makes friends quickly.

Piles of trash and sewage is a regular site walking in our the neighborhood. Sometimes you will find small gangs of children sifting through the garbage while sniffing glue. Everyone wants your money but most will appreciate you more if you give them recognition.

Tea time is important for any self-respecting Kenyan. If you don't take time to have a break you are missing something in your life.

This is our neighborhood. This is our home. We have unpredictable plumbing and electricity. We have reliable friends. Life is fresh and wild here. This is life in Africa.

video

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Anniversary Celebration

This week we celebrated two things (on the same day, actually):

1) One full year as man and wife.
2) Six full months in Kenya.

I love being a wife. I love learning about God with my husband. I love his insights. I love being in a safe environment with him while my expand my patience and grace. I love watching his patience and grace expand in dealing with me. I genuinely believed I married the man God wanted me to marry, and for that I am exceedingly grateful.

I love being in Kenya. It's an incredible challenge being here. I have really spectacular days and I have really difficult days. I love the people I work with. Sometimes I experience frustration as a woman in a Muslim context -- the restrictions that apply -- but overall I find the culture of the Somali beautiful.

My students are wonderful. I have 10: nine men and one woman. They are all determined to learn. We joke together, they continually test classroom boundaries. They all sigh as I make them repeat the conjugated verbs over and over again. It's a blast. I care about all of them and pray for them regularly.

If you would like to join with me in prayer, please do! In particular, Abdi's wife has just miscarried and they are grieving that loss. My one girl student tests social convention by attending my class regularly and being the best student. Pray for courage and hope to remain with her as she makes a better life for herself.

The Primary School is moving forward. We hired some new staff to help direct us in legal and academic decisions. It is a lot of work, nobody really knows where their job ends and other jobs begin. We brainstorm together, not really knowing the possibility of our dreams or ideas. We have a HUGE portion on our plate these upcoming weeks, especially these next four weeks. We anticipate beginning enrollment the end of next month.

Please pray for wisdom, energy, and focus for those of us working on the Primary School committee (especially me). We need it!

Our neighbors are wonderful, we see them regularly throughout the week. We play games and occasionally they stay long enough to get some food in their bellies made my yours truly. They are a genuine, good-natured, honest family. Complete with the drama that teenage life and young life brings.

Pray in particular for the oldest daughter living there. She is experiencing incredible stress and frustration. She is afraid to share her whole story to me and divulges only parts. I can see the worry and sorrow on her face.

We love you. We love this season of our lives. We have much to celebrate and be thankful.


"Give thanks for the Lord for he is good, His love endures forever." ~ Psalm 107


Sunday, September 29, 2013

September Happenings

This month has been an amazing month altogether.

First, our Kid's Festival was a huge success. We were all worried on Monday when only a handful of people showed up and lingered around during the day. Tuesday was the exact opposite: over 100 guests were on our premises. It was far more than any of us anticipated and was a bit of a scramble for us to find the resources for food, silverware, and entertainment for the overwhelming amount of kids. Wednesday and Thursday kept pace with dozens more people than our expectations. Overall, it was a wonderful outreach to the community and excellent advertising for our school. We sent out newsletters earlier this month chronicling the Festival events, email us if you would like to be part of those updates. :)

Westgate was also a big situation this month. For those that haven't heard, about a dozen people entered the mall and shot bystanders. About 70 were killed. The mall is a very prestigious business in our city and attracts many upscale tourists and residents. Jeff was there four days before the incident, he was meeting with our boss at Urban Burger. Praise God he was protected that day!

We finished our language study on Friday. We were sad to wrap up our classes with our wonderful teacher. He invited us to his house the weekend before (which happened to be the same weekend the Westgate incident happened). We visited, looked at old photographs, and talked about life with him and his wife. We were served a large pizza dish full of spaghetti, Ethiopian injera, goat meat, hard boiled eggs, and whole bananas. Our teacher laughed and applauded me for sucking the marrow out of the goat bone. It was a wonderful time.

We were able to pray for the Westgate victims with our teacher during our final week. He was impressed that we prayed for the shooters as well as the families. But of course! How could we ignore those who are living in favor of those passed on?

For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. ~ Romans 14:9

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ~ Romans 5:8

Please continue to pray for those families and friends who are mourning, the shooters and their salvation, as well as the indirect victims of this aftermath. Because Al Shabaab has claimed responsibility for this event there innocent people have been arrested in Eastleigh. They are taken to jail for no crime or cause. They are often victims of extortion.

We have begun teaching ESL classes in the afternoons for 9-week another term. Jeff has more advanced students while I work with the beginning level. It's a challenge trying to explain words such as "to like" and "to do" without words! I thoroughly enjoy my students... I am teaching the only available "mixed class" (both men and women). One student wants to be president of Somalia one day! I think he is coaxing me into correcting his campaign speech sentence by sentence. :) 

Nairobi life has been good. Rain fell heavy for about a week straight and the muddy sidewalks were slippery like ice. Our apartment complex has been peaceful since school has started for most kids. We miss our family, friends, and spiritual brothers and sisters on the other side of the ocean. Still, every day we count to be a blessing here. Praise HIM!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Busy Bees

This month has been amazing.

We were able to witness our first Eid celebration early August. It was exhilarating to hear the whistles, music, and laughter throughout the night and especially early morning. It sounded like Christmas morning!

The night of Eid we gave our neighbors some treats to commemorate the breaking of the fast. In turn, they showered us with gifts: curtains, household decorations, sodas, cookies, a pair of shoes and a dress. We had the chance to visit with them and develop wonderful relationships with the kids that has continued throughout the month.


Amed, 10, loves Jeff and loves to learn about technology, music, and wrestling. He is funny, inquisitive, and brilliant.


Bajia, 8, loves to play with me. She enjoys combing my hair, bouncing our exercise ball around the house, spinning around as fast as we can (I hold her and twirl like a whirling dervish for as long as I can stand), and talking about family.

Asha, 19, enjoys talking about boys, beauty, and Nairobi life. She is generous, kind, and incredibly charming.


One night we heard the sounds of clapping, singing, and something of a Xena warrior cry. Interested, we went out to see what was happening. A wedding celebration was taking place! From our balconies we cheered with the merrymakers and our neighbors led us downstairs to see the home of the newlyweds. From inside someone called "soo dhawoow!"(welcome!) and, being pushed from behind by inquisitive girls trying to look inside, I went in! My husband followed, along with some bashful neighbor girls. We introduced ourselves and were served meat, tea, and cookies. Our presence there was something of a spectacle (Americans! Wow!); had it not been so late we would have stayed longer.

This month we have also been planning a Kids Fair at our school. We expect a full week of games, skits, and crafts for children as well as varied activities for the mothers there (medical clinic, health classes, movies, English classes, games, henna, tea). I have been spearheading the project with scheduling, working with the cook, henna artist, and visiting nurse practitioner. A special team from Tennessee is coming to work with the kids and teach them. It has certainly been busy! Already next week we begin the four day Fair. We hope this time will be a blessing to everyone who participates and attends, and that we can promote our school within the community as we begin to enroll kids for the 2014 school year (starting January).

Our leaders have also been working hard planning and visiting people stateside for meetings. They have had their own hectic month with worldwide traveling, school starting (for their kids), and moving houses across town.

Life in Nairobi has been treating us well. Each day we become more accustomed to the unpredictable nature of our daily lives and each day we rejoice for the opportunity to live within this amazing, unique, and exotically beautiful community.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Ramadan

It's been a while since our last posting...

We are in the last few days of Ramadan, a holy month to Muslims when they fast from sunrise to sunset. Its beginning and end is determined by the moon (seeing a crescent in the sky at night), and Muslims believe that elements of the Quran (and other Holy books) were revealed consistently throughout this month to each of the holy prophets, and certain days significant in this revelation.

2nd day of Ramadan: Moses received the Torah
12th day of Ramadan: Jesus received the Gospel
18th day of Ramadan: David received the Psalms
Laylat al-Qadr (sometime between the last ten days of Ramadan): the Quran is first revealed to Muhammad

We are officially in the last ten days of the month. One of these days (the day changes from year to year) is considered the "Night of Power" or "Night of Destiny". Muslims pray diligently this day since they believe their prayers are multiplied over 1000 times.

Ramadan has been a difficult month for us. We began the month fasting daylight hours along with our neighbors (although we drank water, which would be considered "breaking" a Ramadan fast). Throughout the month we have experienced physical illness, dissensions, and unusual stress. It has been an eye-opening experience being in the midst of a genuine spiritual battle that has permeated all aspects of our lives.

That being said, prayer has been all the sweeter. We have had wonderful opportunities to pray for our local friends and neighbors, and it's as if some quiet breakthrough within the community has been made. We feel more accepted and acceptable each new day. Each day reading the Word has been a refuge for me, like returning to a secret well in the desert sands. My weakness has stood out, blaring and ugly, and I have no shame.

"For when I am weak, then I am strong." ~ 2 Corinthians 12:10




Please pray for our neighbors, our relationships, our friends (and us!): this has been a beautiful albeit sensitive month. Pray for genuine holy truth to be revealed during the Night of Power, for boldness, and faith in a creative and powerful God who is constantly at work among us. Pray for continued strength and urgency within us, and join us in intercession for those whom God has called "precious"!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Back to Basics

Psalm 115:1-8
Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
    for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

Why should the nations say,
    “Where is their God?”

Our God is in the heavens;
    he does all that he pleases.
 
Their idols are silver and gold,
    the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
    eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
    noses, but do not smell. 
 They have hands, but do not feel;
    feet, but do not walk;
    and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
    so do all who trust in them.

Sometimes I forget the omnipotence of God. Sometimes I think He is not perceptive to my trouble or pain; sometimes I think my worries are nearer to me than Him.

I forget that God is powerful enough to do whatever He pleases to do.

I wonder if, when I worry, I am not like those who create and trust in idols. The one described in Psalm 115 has all tangible evidence of life. It is a physical entity that I can see, touch, think about. It's realistic... it has feet, a nose, hands, a mouth. How many times do I worry about situations that are very real to me: tangible, logical, realistic? A lot. And I feel justified because of its very real-ness.

But in comparison to God... the strength of God, the Mercy of God... these very realistic worries have no power. The "mouth", "eyes", "nose", "hands", "feet" become useless. It's almost comical, almost embarrassing, that I would be so engrossed with something so harmless. Like I was afraid of a rock on the ground because it was shaped like a cartoon spider.

Sadly, I still worry. And I give it power over my decisions, I allow it to manipulate how I view people and places around me. I reorganize my priorities in anticipation to foreseeable problems. On a spiritual level I become like those who make and trust in useless idols: I too become useless.

Trusting in God can be a hard thing. Embracing the idea that "God does whatever He pleases" in tandem with God being intimately involved with every aspect of my life still challenges me today. But it's a wonderful reminder that God is not only in charge of my life, He also thoroughly enjoys taking care of me.
 
The dead do not praise the Lord,
    nor do any who go down into silence.
But we will bless the Lord 
 from this time forth and forevermore.   
Psalm 115:17-18
 
God enjoys praise. And He delights in the one who praises Him. The second half of this Psalm affirms life, prosperity, and blessings. It ends with a wonderful statement about the relationship between a God who "does all that he pleases" and His people. I keep Psalm 115 (and so many others, they are all so good!) close to my heart because it reminds me of both God's power and His love. And that's way funner to think about than whatever worries once occupied my mind!

****
One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard:  
That You, O God, are strong,
and that You, O Lord, are loving. 
Psalm 62:11-12

Monday, June 17, 2013

If ever so humble...

... there's no place like home!

We are officially residents of the Pangani area in Nairobi, a neighboring district to Eastleigh. We live on the third floor of the complex, that is, up two flights of stairs from ground level. According to the Kenyan builders, that would make us residents of floor number two since the ground floor is technically floor number zero.

Our home is wall-to-wall and ceiling-to-ceiling concrete. Might conjure up mental images of a prison cell if you get to carried away with that definition. Luckily, our walls are painted a happy pastel yellow with earthy red floors to mimic sunshine and fresh earth. Plus, lighter colors give the illusion of bigger rooms. ;)

Our couches and bed frame were custom made by local craftsmen! One of many differences between here and the States is that there are very few furniture chains... if you want some you just find a street shop in the area and begin discussing design and price. We took the easy way out and purchased the same design from the same artisans as another couple who work with us. I must say though, our couches are significantly softer than theirs (Kenyans like it FIRM)!
 
This is my first "home to myself" as a wife. I catch myself scheming and planning how to decorate the place over time, colors and textures and pinterest ideas follow me through language class and into the night.

It took us a while (or maybe I should say it took me a while; Jeff has a busier schedule than I) to clean up the apartment and get unpacked. I still have a few areas, like the highest cabinets in our bedroom, to clean (*ahem* kinda waiting for hubby to do a spider and cockroach check up there first).

We wake up each day to the Muslim Call to Prayer at 5:30. It's strange to hear the melodious voice singing in a language I don't understand. I lie in bed and say my own prayers over us and the people we are working with in the calm dark mornings.

As the day progresses the children leave for school, men head off to their jobs, and the women begin their housework. By the time we come home in the afternoon, gangs of children are running through the courtyard, solemn groups of teenagers loiter in the corner, smoke rises up from some balconies smelling of seasoned goat meat, and radio music echoes throughout the complex. Even deep into the night there are voices, music, laughter, arguments, hammering, and shuffling of feet sounding off in charming discord.

We love it here. Things are new. Things are different. It makes for challenges and battles. It also fosters opportunity and growth. We thank God for this time. We thank God for our neighbors, for our language teacher, for the adult students attending ESL classes, and for our co-workers. And we thank God for YOU!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Three weeks in Kenya!

Today marks three weeks and one day in Nairobi. Some things I remember quite well, but a lot has changed in the past couple years from my memories here.

Relationship dynamics are always changing, it seems. People on our team are leaving or joining us, faces I would recognize from my last trip here are working in different areas far from us. Jeff & I have met some new people and shared new experiences together. It's been a blast.

A couple of fun experiences has been trying our hand with the public transportation options. Matatus, sort of a cross-breed of a bus and a van, are the most popular form of transportation for most people without vehicles (that means us!). The drivers here are insanely good, and insanely reckless. It's quite common for them to squeeze past two parallel cars with only one inch to spare on each side. Or to aggressively cut into traffic while *almost* touching the bumper of the car in front. I still find myself gasping quietly when we get to close to a pedestrian (going 50 mph) or stop so close to other cars that I'm already anticipating the crash. Even so, I find the ride somewhat exhilarating and... at risk of seeming dorky... kind of cool. Like here I am in this wild matatu, yeah, you and I both know I've got street smarts!

The trickiest part is payment. Since we are muzungus (white people), we regularly get charged higher than the average Kenyan. They call it "skin tax". Sometimes you can barter down so that you pay only 10 shillings (abbreviation: ksh) more. It's mentally exhausting for me to assert myself so much with strangers on a regular basis, but it's a part of life here and let's face it... it's probably good for me to develop my assertiveness a wee bit more.

Another transportation option is the piki piki, or motorcycle taxi. I have never been on a motorcycle before Kenya... and now I can say I've ridden twice, without a helmet! The scariest part is going over the multiple speed bumps on the road while clenching the bottom of your seat for security (they have bars at the bottom of your seat, no back side, and it's technically not okay to hold onto the driver). My fingers always hurt at the end of the ride from holding on so tight! I've definitely prayed some serious prayers of safety while bobbing up and down over the bumps and hills in traffic. But it is a great way to get around when you don't have time to jump back and forth among random matatu stops, or you want to travel in an area where matatus aren't allowed.

Of course, there's walking too. We got lost on our first trip to the grocery store (called Nakumatt, and sort of reminds me of Walmart before they revamped their design-- remember the blue and white non super centers?). It wasn't until we figured out just how far off we were that I realized how much I relied on driving with our team leaders our first 10 days here. Now we are experts and go the the market almost daily. :)

We looked at apartments in different complexes. There was talk of moving the whole team into a new complex (our leader will not split us up, we will all stay in the same complex wherever it is) and I'm not sure the decision has officially been made whether or not everyone is moving or if we are joining the team where they already stay. I think unofficially we are staying, seeing as how Jeff & I chose an apartment there and visited again while they were repainting to go check what repairs needed to be done.

Our apartment reminded me a lot of my grandmother's place in Mexico. The walls are pale yellow with a white border (a thin strip of wood) along the top. The floors are concrete, painted a rusty reddish color. We have two bedrooms: a master, and another small one, both with cabinetry built into the walls. The kitchen is small, with built-in counters just large enough to house the sink and a drying rack for dishes. We will have to buy our own appliances & furniture out of pocket, the plus side to that is we can buy whatever we want or can afford, the downside of course, is that a fridge and stove and bed are major purchases that don't come cheap.

Another interesting feature is our bathroom. It seems common here that the toilet and shower occupy separate rooms, with the sink to wash up in the hallway. Of course, we did look at one apartment that had everything together in the same room... not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing that I could've taken a shower and gone #2 at the same time (they were so close together! No curtains, no walls). All in all, I'm excited to move in. It'll be our first official home (as in all to us, no roommates or parents, the WHOLE place is ours) as a couple. I've already bought gift wrap (yeah like stuff to wrap presents with) to use as wallpaper for the sink in the hallway... hope it works!

Yesterday we visited the house of our language teacher. Jeff & I haven't officially begun classes, but I do know "yes" (ha), "no" (maya), and "thank you" (sounds like ma-ha sem-et). We had lunch there, which was quite a fun experience! They brought out a plastic mat, about the size of a small rug with print on it mimicking a floor rug, and then brought a pizza tray loaded with rice, noodles (skinny like ramen noodles), cooked goat with bell peppers, some other Ethiopian meat in red sauce (the family was raised in Ethiopia), hard boiled eggs, and whole peeled bananas. After washing hands using a bowl and pitcher, we dig in with our right hands (left hands are unclean, and therefore unfit for eating and shaking hands). Of course, our language teacher spilled the least amount of food. I found it all to be delicious and somewhat mild in flavor. We had tea afterwards and sat on a mattress on the floor. It had a fitted sheet around it, a maroon acrylic fabric, with pillows along the walls (the mattress was pushed up against the corner of the room). People laughed and joke and spoke of bridges built in Ethiopia, of children and marriage and motherhood, of food and family. Sometimes someone on our team would lean over to me and translate, and sometimes I'd just happily make up the conversation in my head.

All in all, we are learning new things in new ways. It's fun to watch and listen, to ask questions and sometimes just mess up. We can't wait to see how things unfold as we get to move into our apartment, start schooling, and start language classes!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Karibu to Kenya

This past three weeks have been a blur.

Packing suitcases, throwing everything out & re-organizing suitcases, finding out they are too heavy, throwing everything out & re-organizing again.... then off to Denver... then London... and finally Nairobi. The trip was a bit rough on me (I rolled my ankle two days before our flight from Denver! What luck) but in some ways it was exhilarating. It was fun landing in London, looking like a couple of tourists, asking silly questions and not laughing at any jokes because we are in *serious mode*. My heart fluttered when we boarded the plane to Nairobi, this is it!

We rode a 777, those big planes with screens in the back of the seats. I got to finish Les Mis, and had a little too much fun imagining my own script to the cartoons playing on a certain channel (you listen in by plugging in your headphones to your armrest - I didn't do that for these cartoons. Hence, they were silent). Nairobi landing was smooth, although my heart was racing the whole time! What if something was wrong with our visas? What if we forgot some pertinent information or document? What if we looked too suspicious with our American scowls and messy hair? I felt like a secret agent about to get caught.

We stayed with our team leaders for about 10 days. They are a great family. Internet was limited, so we sent a short email to parents letting us know we arrived and then pulled out our books. It's amazing how much free time you have when you cut internet out of your life. Try it for a week, if you dare! ;)

Yesterday we moved into a guest house on the north end of the city. Our team has taken it easy on us in order to let my ankle heal. This has been a blessing but I am also SO anxious to start. So many years of my life have led up to this trip... I am learning the art of "African timing"... throw away the clock and the calendar, it happens when it happens!

Even though I am excited to begin, I am ready to explore the city, I am nervous but determined to be immersed into the rich culture and life of my surroundings I am also happy to rest. This morning I woke up thinking how our rest is a form of worship

So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. ~ Genesis 2:3

We honor God when we acknowledge our need to rest and embrace it. Sometimes it's easy to do so, sometimes it's not. Obligations, responsibilities, duties, errands... they pile up. We admire people who can get "so much done" in a day. We pursue accomplishments like trophies. That work ethic can be good, but it all depends on where you place it amongst your priorities. Whether you value it above God, yourself, your family, your friends, or the very people you are working for.

All that to say... I am grateful for accomplishments, and I am grateful for rest. I am in awe that God, knowing our need for rest (but our desire to keep accomplishing), made it a command to rest among the Israelites. I can't wait to see how this period of rest fleshes out... and how it catapults me into the next chapter when that time comes.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hello, Goodbye!

We said "goodbye" to our first home as a married couple on Friday. For me, it was a little over 5 months of bonding with the good ol' Harney household, but Jeff had to bid farewell to his home of 10 years.

I have never been a good packer. As a young twenty-something who has not lived in the same room for more than 3 years at a time (since high school) my mind is always blown when I realize how much stuff I carry along with me. What's worse is that I can't bear to throw any of it away. Somehow every little ridiculous item is directly linked to my survival in the civilized world. Now, I am very much aware of this weakness of perspective, and have made up for this handicap by packing up to four weeks before an estimated departure time. :) It definitely helps.

                                                      good memories at our first home

Amidst this packing up, planning, scheduling we have said a lot of goodbyes. Friends and family in El Paso, Laramie, and even here in Douglas have shared well wishes and have expressed hope in our safety & happiness. But... I haven't really dwelt on any of these farewells. Instead, I feel like I am saying a series of "hellos" to all the new experiences I am awaiting. I can't help but hear the Beatles song running through my head as I give long "until next time" hugs, "take care" kisses, and "thanks for everything" handshakes:

I don't know why you say goodbye I say hello...

A week from today we will be on our way to Denver to board a plane to Africa. It has been an incredible journey full of relationships that I cherish and hope to nurture; relationships I would not have otherwise made if I was not working overseas for the next two years.

I can't wait to say hello to all the new challenges, friends, hopes, inspirations, and experiences. I don't think I will be saying goodbye to the old ones either. After all, the more crayons you have, the more ways you can color your world.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Ordinary Failures

"During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew." ~Exodus 2:23-25

This morning's sermon was about God working through the ordinary. The biblical illustration of this truth was the story of Moses, who lived 40 years in the desert as a shepherd when he first saw the burning bush. I didn't know it when the pastor started speaking... but I really needed to hear that sermon.

We are leaving for Africa in about two weeks. We have been packing, collecting papers (birth certificates, transcripts, etc.), visiting family, cleaning. When I wake up and see a mess of suitcases mostly full, random object strewn about still needing to be packed, a list of calls to make, meals to cook, dishes to clean... life feels pretty ordinary. I know in two weeks it will take on new excitement & adventure but today, yesterday, two months ago.... it feels absolutely mundane.

This last week I have felt the exhaustion of ordinary life heavy on my shoulders. I felt bored, emotionally tired, physically achy, spiritually lethargic. Two nights ago I was at my limit. I was in pain, lonely, restless, desperate. I felt ashamed at my own weakness. In the midst of it I thought with desperate tears, "oh God... where are you? Why have you forgotten me???"

Sometimes I forget to realize that God remembers me in my ordinary life with my quiet groans. I am sure the Israelites felt the same: being forgotten by God after generations and generations of slavery. But God doesn't forget his promises.  God doesn't lack understanding of our sorrows, whether they be God-sized or not. God recognizes our need for relief, be it from a huge weight we carry or the days/weeks/years of carrying a not-so-huge weight. 

Brown recluses are some of the scariest spiders I have ever encountered. The potential damage they leave behind is horrendous. They are about the size of a quarter. If you've never heard about these guys, I dare you to google "brown recluse bite" and check out the images! *caution: it's graphic* Small problems, like the brown recluse, can have a detrimental erosion on our person. 

As a person with a driving sense of responsibility (and pride in that drive) it's hard to admit that the little things can wear me down so much. It's doubly hard to beg God for relief when I still think I can carry on a little longer. I feel irresponsible not to work harder, stand firmer, find more strength. But, God knows. That's my favorite part of the Exodus passage at the beginning of this post. He sees.... and He knows. He knows in a deeply intimate way exactly what we feel and think when we are tired, burdened, heavy in our hearts, confused, lost, lonely, frustrated, unhappy. 

If you ever come to the point of loneliness and frustration at things that shouldn't have unraveled you the way they did, or maybe if you don't even know why you feel the way you are feeling or think the way you are thinking; I invite you to let God in on it. He sees. He knows.




Thursday, March 21, 2013

Writer's Block

This is probably not going to be a long post.

The past month-ish I have been experiencing a bad case of... you guessed it... writer's block.

We have had amazing experiences with the churches we have spoken to (and at). We have been blessed in unexpected and BIG ways. We had encouraging, touching interactions with people who were, up until that moment, complete strangers. People have extended the hand of friendship with us. People have shared their own amazing God stories. It's been amazing, incredible, wonderful, refreshing.

I have been wanting to share these experiences. I have been wanting to conjure up the right words to capture my reflections accurately. But I run flat one or two sentences into it.

Up until I began THIS post, it felt like a bad thing that I hadn't written more. Was I ungrateful? Lazy? Unwise? Where did this sudden writer's block come from? Why be silent when there's much to praise God for?

I am very much a task-oriented person, and I feel most satisfied with myself when I am doing constructive things. I consider my work ethic to be a grave responsibility I carry with me. So to NOT be doing something that I feel needs to be done... well, let's just say I carry it around in my mind until it's done. Sort of like a mental constipation.

But maybe... sometimes... we are in a season of listening. Watching. Waiting in silence and allowing ourselves to be recipients of grace. In our hearts we rejoice, but our tongues are stilled at our own blessings from God. Maybe. Sometimes. It's better this way.

Be still, and know that I am God. ~ Psalm 46:10


Friday, February 22, 2013

Make you feel my Love

There's a song that always makes me cry. To me it's the story of Jesus, the love of God. I always imagine God singing this to the suffering people of the world, and especially to me when I need His big shoulder to rest my head on. This is one of those moments.

Make you feel my Love
by Adele

When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love

 

When the evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love

 

I know you haven't made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong
I've known it from the moment that we met 

No doubt in my mind where you belong
 

I'd go hungry
I'd go black and blue
I'd go crawling down the avenue
No, there's nothing that I wouldn't do
To make you feel my love

 

The storms are raging on the rolling sea
And on the highway of regret
The winds of change are blowing wild and free
You ain't seen nothing like me yet

 

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
Nothing that I wouldn't do
Go to the ends of the Earth for you
To make you feel my love

To make you feel my love

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Rebelling against a culture of niceness

Do Christians have to be nice?

This is a hard question for me to answer. For several years I would have said yes. Yes, it is mandatory that Christians, at least good Christians, are to be nice. But.... is that biblical?

Really the heart of the question is what "nice" means to you. For me, "nice" meant being pleasant, it meant saying "yes" to someone in need unless you really really REALLY can't do it. It meant giving money to everyone who asked, spending time with everyone who wanted to. It essentially meant bending over backwards for other people.

I have lied in the name of niceness. I have cheated for the sake of niceness. I have done good deeds with a bitter and frustrated spirit in order to achieve my vision of "Christian niceness". I was afraid of what people would think of me if I wasn't nice.

And I never knew I was biblically off-center. Even in Bible school I didn't accept the idea that Christianity and niceness (my idea of it, anyway) did not always go hand-in-hand. But then, how are Christians supposed to behave?

Over and over again, writers in the New Testament emphasize love. Love God. Love your brother. Love your neighbor. Paul sums "love" up beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love is patient, kind, humble, forgiving, honest, truthful, and persistent. It is not always nice. 
   
Maybe you ask, as I did, what's the difference between "kindness" and "niceness"? 

My best answer, through my experiences with God and with people, is this: kindness is ALWAYS obedient to the will of God. In action, it sees a person through God's eyes, sees the underlying need, and asks God to be used by Him to take part in bringing healing, hope, and satisfaction of that need. Niceness, takes the person or situation into your own hands and attempts to generate a result of happiness or satisfaction. The underlying difference is in motive... are you working without reward, in obedience to God? Or do you expect to see some result of your efforts (however selfless you think those results look like)?

In Matthew 15:21-28, a Caananite woman approaches Jesus asking for healing for her daughter. Jesus' response is not very nice. First, he ignores her. His disciples, annoyed by this woman, prompt Jesus to send her away. Even when the woman gains audience with him he says,  "It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs". That's not a very nice thing to say. Bearing in mind that Jesus is Emmanuel (GOD with us), the son of God, the Messiah.... what does that say about this woman? What does it say about God and being Christ-like?

The heart of the matter in this passage is that Jesus came to earth to fulfill Jewish prophecy (and eventually save the world through his sacrifice). God's will for his life and ministry was completely for the Israelites. It was in his death and resurrection that allowed Gentiles like me to approach the throne of God apart from Jewish law. Jesus may have not been nice to this woman, but in his kindness He first submitted himself to God's will (ministering only to Israel) then secondly, seeing that God was in this situation ("Woman, you have great faith!"), allowed God to work in Him to serve her. 

I just recently read the Johns (1 John, 2 John, 3 John). The author repeatedly states that anyone who does good is of God. Anyone who walks in light is in the light of God. Anyone who does otherwise.... is apart from God. The source of a Christian's salvation, transformation, and growth is in God. Which means.... unless God is telling you directly to be "nice".... you don't have to be "nice". But you ARE required to love.

So, what's the point of making a distinction?

In short, it's to drive out any fear in our lives. Even passive fears.

It's not to give us license to be jerks, or to hurt people's feelings through "blunt" honesty (a.k.a. rudeness). But personally, as a "nice" Christian, I have struggled with confronting friends with the truth. I have "bit my tongue" about the Bible. I have listened to people insult my beliefs and said nothing in return.  I live with just a twinge of fear that people won't like me otherwise. A big enough twinge that it affect my actions on a regular basis. None of these things are Biblical. But they are nice.

Instead of trying to so hard to be nice, what if we let love shine? Which may mean confronting some things or people, being less well-liked, being more humbly aware of the impact of our actions and words on an eternal level. It's quite a few notches harder than just being nice, but I bet it's also a lot more rewarding.

For all you nice introvert Christians out there.... let's quietly rebel against the culture of "Christian niceness"; and rather embrace love and the fearless trust in Jesus that goes with it.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  ~ 1 John 4:18



Sunday, February 3, 2013

Celebrating God's Timing

This coming Valentine's Day will mark our first anniversary of being a couple. In February 2011, we hopped on Skype to have our first "date". During this date, Jeff asked me to be his girlfriend.

I wanted to celebrate this milestone with pomp. I researched B&Bs, unique date ideas, gifts, etc. I was excited to create a "getaway" with my honey. This morning, as we were getting ready for church, I suddenly realized that this Valentines Day.... well, it will be during "that time of the month" for me. Suddenly my plans, and ideas on how to romance my sweetie, took on a different light. But I wasn't upset or disappointed or miffed about how that may disorient my celebration of our relationship. I consider every day with my husband a celebration anyways, so what if plans are pushed to another day, week, or year? So what if my ideas will manifest itself into something less glorious when the appropriate time comes?

And then.... I thought about God. All the times I've complained and whined and collapsed in despair because my plans with God were delayed. All the times I thought about giving up on everything because my timeline was stretched, manipulated, broken. All the times I threw my soul up in tantrum because the glory of it was gone.

Compare that to our Africa adventure. Months of stepping out in faith where sometimes the rewards are tangible and sometimes the reward IS the joy of obedience. Months of waiting, hoping, praying, planning....

I have been waiting for this step since I was 18 years old. I am 26 now. After eight years of waiting, hoping, praying, planning.... I am okay with where we are. I am ready to be in Kenya, but I am also rejoicing in every day I have here in the States. I can't help but thank God in utter humility for allowing me to grow from who I was to who I am becoming. To find myself desperately clinging to obedience for the sake of MY life, happiness, and strength.


"... and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." ~ Romans 5:5


Today, I am focusing on the discipline of celebrating God's timing. It becomes remarkably easier when I believe wholeheartedly that, whether according to my plans or not, what God has promised He will fulfill. My hope is beyond wishful thinking. It is rooted in the greatest truth I know. So what if it's not today, or according to my plans? When it does happen, it will be exactly when it is supposed to happen. Isn't that the greatest comfort of all?


Stand firm in your faith. Stand firm in God's character and in His promises. And celebrate His timing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What I want is what I've not got, and what I need is all around me

I've always wondered what those Dave Matthews lyrics meant:

What I want is what I've not got, and what I need is all around me

Last week we left El Paso to make our way back to Laramie. I was a bit sad saying goodbye to my family and my home. As we were packing my heart was heavy.... is this the last time I will see my parents until we return from Africa?

Jeff unexpectedly holds me tight and answers the question I had not yet voiced, "don't worry, we will see your family again before we leave." What a blessing to hear that! But still... I hated saying goodbye.

While we were staying in El Paso I was on a mission to arm ourselves for the Wyoming winter we would return to. We found a suitable coat for Jeff (who insisted that his thin sweaters were fine. I think not!) and searched high & low for insulated and affordable boots for me. I once had a pair I wore while attending school in Minnesota, but could not find them.

The day before we left for our 14 hour drive I still had not found the right pair of boots to buy. Every pair was not warm enough, or too stiff, or too expensive, or too manly.... nothing seemed just right. I decided I would just bare the cold with what I had, but in the mean time I would find a pair of old dress shoes I once loved. It wasn't what I originally planned, nor was it a practical thing to pack, but I did want to bring them with me.

I searched the house for them. No such luck. But in the process of looking for my adorable but impractical dress shoes I found my original boots from Minnesota. They looked a little dusty, but otherwise brand new! I felt an overwhelming sense of gratefulness, like God was telling me, "it's time to go back to Wyoming." The dismay I was feeling about leaving home was lifted, I was ready to return to Laramie.

We arose early in the morning and hit the road. It was a long trip. During the last few hours of our drive I started becoming irritable. I was hungry, cramped, and tired. The restaurant we had discussed visiting was packed with eager Broncos fans watching the playoff game. We were in a strange town, caring for two tropical fish in the passenger seat, and now it seemed that we would not have the chance of a sit-down dinner (and break from the full day of driving). We ordered to go (the most delicious wings I ever had) and hit the road again. An hour or so from Laramie the truck started having problems. We pulled over three or four times. Jeff called family and asked if they would be willing to pick us up if we needed it. I prayed each time we pulled over. I didn't want to think about sitting silently in the truck in the freezing weather waiting for someone, transfer our belongings from our truck to another vehicle, and still have more driving to do.

On our last pull over, we prayed together and held each other. We spoke of God's faithfulness. I asked my parents to pray for us. We started the car and began driving cautiously. This time I watched the clock to see how long it would take for the truck to act up again. 45 minutes later, we made it into town. I was so grateful. It was -20* outside. We unloaded our things and crawled into bed.

The next day (Sunday) we walked to a nearby church we had never been to for their second service. I was too nervous to use the truck again and I was still a little stiff from all that sitting the day before! As we entered the congregants told us that second service was canceled because the pastor's mother-in-law had passed away. We thanked them and turned around to walk home. I was very discouraged because I wanted to come to church and thank God for allowing us to make it into Laramie safely. I felt guilty that we didn't attend the first service, which was held that morning. I felt incomplete in my gratitude because I did not offer my thanksgiving in the house of God.

Jeff & I decided to reach each others devotionals out loud in our bedroom, a practice we had tried only once before. Two very different passages, two very different devotionals. Yet there was the same theme in both of them: accepting trials and struggles with joy because it gives us the opportunity to trust in God all the more. In fact, this very practice of finding joy in the difficult times builds the foundation for unshakable joy in Christ. And through the joy of being in Christ we find continued strength to endure the heartaches, setbacks, and frustrations of life.

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." ~ Philippians 4:11-13

Sometimes what I want to happen doesn't happen. Sometimes it happens but not in the way I wanted it to happen. But I have never been in desperate need of the basic necessities of life. Consequently, I have never really needed to depend on God for my needs.

God is changing that. I am finding in little ways and in big ways that I am at the mercy of His will. That my very existence and survival is resting on His divine sovereignty. Very fortunately for me, this relationship is not a disheartening one because God is Love. I am grateful that God loves me enough to intentionally put forth the effort to grow me, groom me, and shape me into a more Christ-like individual. He doesn't just offer salvation, He offers development. I am also humbled that these lessons, which I have known for years in theory (God is faithful? Yes! God will give you what you need? Sure!) I am now learning in a deeply intimate way that is shaping who I am as a person.

I thank God for providing the things we need, and also the things we think we need. I thank God when our plans are disrupted because deep down they are opportunities to develop our choices and character. I thank Him for providing "wake up calls" every once in a while in my life to remind me about what really matters.

"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever."  ~ Psalm 107:1