Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Today's Tidbit...

...from the daily calendar of African proverbs compiled by Annetta Miller:

"Worrying is like a rocking chair; it swings you back and forth and takes you nowhere."
(Kenyan proverb)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Big Question

When Matt’s not traveling, I get to go to church on Sunday evenings. I really love our church! And frankly, I need the extra spiritual input. As much as I love the idea of going to church as a family (which we do on Sunday mornings), trying to hold onto a wiggly toddler and convince her antsy brother to Sit Still and Be Quiet takes its toll on my ability to focus during that part of the service before the children go to their classes. Thank God for worship music! The freedom of movement and noise gives me a chance to connect with Him through the songs. So yes, on the Sunday nights that Matt’s home, I look forward to going to church. Alone.

Evening services are always well attended, but last week it was packed. We were all there to witness and celebrate a young woman’s baptism -- a graceful, beautiful 21 year-old who, although raised in a Christian home, spent her teenage years saying, “I don’t have time for God.” A graceful, beautiful 21 year-old who now says she only has time for God.

A graceful, beautiful 21 year-old who is battling cancer.

She was diagnosed with Hodgkins’ Lymphoma less than two years ago, at the age of 19. Four rounds of chemotherapy, 175 days in hospital and three relapses later, the cancer is not only back, it has now spread to other areas of her body. She’s chosen not to go through additional treatments. The prognosis is, um, not good.

For the last two years, she’s been consumed with the Big Question: WHY? Why me? Why would a loving God allow a good person to suffer in such a dreadful way? And such a young person, too -- nineteen! (This is one of those situations that automatically gets added to my already long list of Things I Would Do Differently If I Was In Charge of the Universe.)

Last Sunday, though, she stood there: petite and radiant and calm. Sincerely giving God glory for who He is. Believing Him for healing, even now. Declaring her devotion to Him in response to His sacrificial love for her. Sharing verse after verse of Scripture that has spoken powerfully to her of God’s greatness, His goodness, His trustworthiness, even now in the middle of this awful time. Especially now.

Listening to her testimony got me thinking: We tend to ask WHY these things happen, but maybe a more realistic question is, HOW will we react WHEN they do?

In the West, I think we’ve been lulled by our relatively cushy lifestyles into believing that suffering is something best avoided. Certainly, it hurts -- and no one likes pain! But we seem to regard suffering as strange and unnatural. We think we're somehow entitled to a pain-free, trouble-free life. We assume that, if something deeply uncomfortable comes our way, God must be picking on us. We lash out at Him or at the people who are closest to us, and we feel sorry for ourselves. We try to find a way out of our misery.

But what happens when there is no way out? At least, not at a price we’re willing to pay. What then? According to the young woman who was baptized last week, we can choose to either dwell on WHAT God does for us or on WHO He is.

Circumstances constantly change. Feelings come and go. Life often turns out differently than we expected it would. That’s why a lot of people end up discouraged and disillusioned. And that’s why my very most favorite thing about God is that He is always the same. Guaranteed. So even when I don’t understand why certain things happen in this world, I can trust Him because He has not, He cannot, He will never change. Regardless of what I may be going through, He is still trustworthy. Still faithful. Still loving and kind and good. (And His Word is still true, too.)

If you haven’t yet read The Heavenly Man by Brother Yun, it's amazing. After suffering in a Chinese prison for his Christian faith, he described his persecution this way:
I had experienced so much in those four years, but God had been faithful. I’d suffered some horrible tortures, but God had been faithful. I’d been dragged in front of judges and courts, but God had been faithful. I’d been hungry, thirsty and had fainted from exhaustion, but God had been faithful.

Through it all, God was always faithful and loving to me. He had never left me nor forsaken me. His grace was always sufficient, and He provided for my every need.

I didn’t suffer for Jesus in prison. No! I was with Jesus, and I experienced His very real presence, joy and peace every day. It’s not those in prison for the sake of the gospel who suffer. The person who suffers is he who never experiences God’s intimate presence.

Not that I’m eager to suffer in any way, but it’s a comfort to know that WHEN I do, God will be right there with me. Bringing beauty out of ashes. Redeeming. Restoring. Renewing. Refining my character along the way.

By focusing on, trusting and resting in Him, we find -- like the young woman who was baptized last week -- that our view of things goes beyond our circumstances and even our questions. And we find comfort, strength and joy in the Answer of WHO He is.

* * * * * * *
Faithful One, so unchanging
Ageless One, You’re my rock of peace
Lord of all, I depend on You
I call out to You, again and again
I call out to You, again and again

You are my rock in times of trouble
You lift me up when I fall down
All through the storm
Your love is the anchor
My hope is in You alone
(Words and Music by Brian Doerksen)

God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
(Hebrews 13: 5b, 8 NIV)

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (James 1:2-4 The Message)

My ears had heard of You,
but now my eyes have seen You.
(Job 42:5 NIV)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Peace (But Not Necessarily Quiet)

Somehow I managed to live 40 years without trying Iranian food, and now I’ve had it twice in one week! On Monday we ate dinner at an Iranian kebab shop that Matt discovered recently. And just now I’ve come back from our neighbors’ housewarming party. Mmmm... My mouth is still in heaven.

And my ears are still ringing. I’m such an old, old fogey that I can’t actually remember the last time I was at a party with a DJ or one where the music was so loud I couldn’t hear a word the person next to me was shouting. It’s fortunate in it’s own way, though, because the decibel level camouflaged the outrageously happy food noises I was making with each bite of the chicken, rice, lentil and lamb dishes.

One young Iranian woman I met asked me what I thought about the current political situation between the US and Iran. It’s a fairly common question in my experience as an American living overseas, although the country changes according to the nationality of whomever I'm talking to at the time. My answer is always the same: The world’s gone mad. It’s really sad. We desperately need God's peace.

Interestingly enough, I had taken a peace lily to the party along with a note wishing the new neighbors blessing, joy and peace in their new home. In the card I included the well-known verses from Numbers, below.

The party is still going on across the street, and I’m on my way to bed. My thoughts tonight are of yummy food, the joys of cross-cultural friendships and a deep longing for God’s peace on earth, among all people everywhere.

* * * * * * *
May the Lord bless you and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you His favor and give you His peace.
(Numbers 6:24-26 NLT)

The angel said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide." ...Peace to all men and women on earth... (Luke 2:10, 14 The Message)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given... And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 NIV)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Elijah Update (October 22)

For new readers to this blog, the following update is about a strong and brave little guy named Elijah, born February 6, 2007. His mom and I worked together at Rift Valley Academy in 1996-1999. Elijah has Hemophilia B, but more importantly, he has a worldwide prayer support team! Since my initial post about Elijah and his mom's initial update the very next day, posting updates from Elijah's parents on this blog is a small way I can give support from far away and generate much-needed prayer for Elijah's continued growth and healing. So please, join the praying!

Dear friends,

Oh my! Elijah is now eight months, going on nine months, and we were never sure if he would see one month. God is good! A few nights ago Joel and I were talking about Elijah's last flight to Wichita. People had given up on him. Children's had sent us home, the hospital here in Ness City was in over their heads, our pediatrician let us know that he did not have any hope and when we were trying to get him to Wesley there were lots of conversations with doctors there, so we understood what to expect from them. It grieves me to say that I had given up hope as well. I was at my lowest point looking at him struggle to breathe. I was numb. As we look back, this was the human view of Elijah's condition. Not the view that God had.

Joel went on the flight with Elijah to Wesley, and a friend drove me the three-hour trip. Joel had to be the strong one for so many days during this time. He was on the flight, and things were not looking good for Elijah. He began to sing Jesus Loves You and started to cry. The paramedic on the flight finished it for him. The paramedic happened to be the grandson of a friend here in Ness City. When they arrived at the hospital, the security guard tried to send them to regular pediatrics, but this paramedic went straight to PICU which possibly saved his life. The nurse on duty that
night was one we had met before. She was a no-nonsense kind of nurse who took charge and made things happen.

God was always putting people in our path to help us along the way. We look back at our nurses and doctors and are so grateful for each one of them. God gave us the nurses we needed at each stage. We had nurses cry with us as we waited to see if Elijah could make it through some tough nights. We had several nurses pray and sing over Elijah, one who went into a difficult surgery with him and helped keep him from feeling pain after the surgery. We had nurses call on their days off to check on him. God was always watching out for us. Once again the details were amazing. The Ronald McDonald House was in walking distance. We had special friends who would come to visit and bring food and cookies.

Now when we sing "Jesus Loves You" to Elijah, he laughs and giggles. (Any time we mention the name Jesus, he smiles.) When Elijah was in the hospital, we changed the words a bit and sang it this way -- we still do:

Jesus loves Elijah
For the Bible tells us so
Little ones to Him belong
Elijah is weak
Yes, Jesus Loves Elijah
Yes, Jesus Loves Elijah
Yes, Jesus Loves Elijah
The Bible tells us so.

Joel asked me, "Are we ever going to stop crying?" I said, "Nope, Elijah is just an amazing miracle." Tears still come quickly for us as we watch Elijah grow. What a blessing to have him with us today. People seem amazed when they ask us how he's doing. We say GREAT and they say, "Really?" as if we are just joking.

This week was a big sale at our family furniture store. So many people told us of their prayers and concern for our little boy. We are amazed at how far and wide Elijah has gone. He has gone into prison ministry, his photo has been on the big screen at churches we do not even know and he is known in Haiti, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland, England, all over Africa, South America, India, the United States, Canada... and I'm sure there are more. Thank you!

How is he doing now? Elijah is getting stronger, starting to put weight on his legs and stands up with help, thinks that rolling over is not all it's cracked up to be (meaning, he gets almost over and then goes back to his back and smiles), no crawling yet, but that might take time. After getting desperate for some sleep, we got a program off of the internet, and now Elijah sleeps from 6:30 pm to 7:00 am. YEAH! We highly recommend this lady if you have a baby or toddler who does not sleep through the night.

One concern we do have is that Elijah is not keeping his food down. We have been watching him and he does not have any neurological changes or anything to be concerned about, he just can't seem to keep it in his tummy. He is never upset by it, though. He eats, it comes back up and he smiles and keeps eating. The only time he seems to be able to keep the food in is during the night. His bed is dry in the morning so we do not think he continues to spit up in his bed. Please pray with us that we figure out what to do. Do we need to change formulas? Change the water we use? Is it something else?

Elijah has a scheduled CT Scan on Friday, so if there is a problem we will know then. We haven't seen any changes so aren't concerned about it. The scan is just "maintenance" for his shunt. Please also continue to pray for his veins to open up and flow properly. Pray for his lymphatic system to clear up so that the chyle can move through the proper channels and not just into his abdomen. Pray that he will put on some weight. Thank you.

On a side note... Many people have asked us to consider writing a book. I've been trying to do some research but can't seem to find what I think I want. HA! Is there anyone out there who knows the system and what we need to do to make this happen? I know several of you have written books... Are you willing to share some advice?

Thank you so much for all the prayers!
Judy, Joel II and Elijah

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Miles Away, But Never Forgotten

Yesterday Jack came home from nursery school with a little booklet called All About Me. On the front cover is his self-portrait, a long-legged spider-looking stick person with a big happy smile, standing underneath a cherry tree. And below that he's written his name, clearly, with the J capitalized and the -ack in lowercase letters.

The next page, entitled My Hand Print, shows a print of Jack's hand dipped in paint. The following page is called My Family, and there he has drawn all four of us -- smiling, long-legged spider-looking creatures with distinct differences of hair (Daddy: none; Mommy: big and loopy; Jack: something akin to a Charlie Chaplin mustache) and height (Sophie: smaller than everyone else, with the same big hair as Mommy).

The last page is My Friends. On it Jack has drawn a lone, smiling, long-legged spider-looking green guy. At the bottom of the picture, one of the nursery teachers has written the green guy's name: Levi.

Even though he has several friends at church and nursery school here in England -- little boys we get together with for play dates, picnics and Sunday afternoon rides on the miniature steam trains in the park across the road -- Jack still considers Levi to be best friend. Even though Levi and his family still live in Cyprus. Even though we left nearly two years ago. (Can it be?) Even though that's almost half of Jack's lifetime.

There are days when I'm awash in the emotion of missing friends and family among whom I/we used to live, days when it feels wrong not to be part of one another's daily lives anymore.

Today, as I'm confronted again by the reality that our children's hearts will experience the same underside of this nomadic lifestyle we've chosen, is one of those days.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

If I Believed in Luck...

Then I'd say Matt is my lucky star. But since I believe in Blessing instead, here's a photo of the wonderful guy who lights up my life (and whose graying beard makes me swoon). Likewise, Jack and Sophie are never so happy as when they're with Daddy. Every family should be blessed with a man like mine. Happy Birthday, my Love!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Culture Quiz

Over the summer, FOR SALE signs pop up in front of two houses directly across from yours. New families move into both houses within a few days of one another. Do you:

A) Peer at them from behind your net curtains, trying to figure out who they are but making no direct contact;
B) Wave politely when you both happen to be outside at the same time;
C) Knock on their doors, introduce yourself, give them a plate of muffins and welcome them to the neighborhood?

In spite of making deliberate efforts to adapt to the cultures I’ve lived among, there are times when my American-ness just won’t be denied. So yes, this week I followed option C. (In my experience, A is customary in England, and B is customary in Cyprus. In Kenya, on the other hand, my next-door neighbors invited me to their house for dinner night after night after night and ended up practically adopting me into their family! But that’s another post for another time.)

I’ve been the new neighbor more times than I can count, so I was really excited to finally be the established one. As soon as I saw the FOR SALE signs several months ago, I started to pray that God would allow us to develop relationships with these new families and that they would have the opportunity to see Jesus in and through us.

So one evening last week when I noticed lights on in both houses, I took a plate of muffins first to one house and then to the other. Both seemed pleased, if a bit surprised, and both said they would come for tea when things settle down a bit. My accent clearly announced my country of origin, so I hoped that if I came across as being too friendly (which could cause suspicion, the very opposite of what I wanted to accomplish) they would dismiss it as just a difference of culture.

Well. Yesterday afternoon the doorbell rang, which it rarely does here -- people do not usually drop by unannounced. I was practically beside myself to see Naghmeh standing there! She came in, met the kiddos and said how much she and her husband appreciated my coming by. They’re from Iran, she said, and that’s exactly what they were accustomed to -- neighbors being kind and helpful to one another. In the 15 years they’ve lived in greater London, she said the non-interaction of people living right next to each other has been really strange for them.

She gave me a box of traditional Iranian sweets called Honey Sohan -- reminds me of peanut brittle, except it’s softer and made with pistachios -- YUM! And she invited us to their housewarming party in a few weeks. Hooray! I can’t wait to see how this relationship will develop, how God will answer prayer.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Traveling About Town and the Matter of Perspective

Growing up as I did in midwest suburbia -- and full as I was of American teenage fluff-for-brains -- I was positively mortified (my exact words at the time) whenever staying after school for a meeting of one kind or another meant that I had to ride the city bus home. In high school, driving your own car was cool. Taking the bus? Not cool. As in, so low on the “cool” scale that it didn’t even register. All I could think about on those rides home was, What if someone I know sees me? It's embarrassing to admit now, but back then practicality meant nothing; image was everything.

When I lived in Nairobi, in the IMI guesthouse on the corner of Ole Shapara Road in South C, there was a matatu stop just outside the front gate. I was single, so while there were times I reserved our team vehicle in advance, there were plenty of times I didn’t plan that far ahead. A visiting friend from another TMO team helped me take the adventurous step of actually getting on one of the matatus and riding it into town to see where it went. After that, there was no looking back. Any time I wanted to meet a friend, shop or just get out among people, I hopped onto one of the matatus and was downtown within a matter of minutes. Ahhh, freedom!

The thing about matatus back then was that they were nearly always crammed with as many passengers as could physically (contort their bodies so as to) fit into the mini-bus, regardless of designated seating. I became so used to being squashed up next to people I’d never met that one time, as the matatu waited for passengers, I found myself in the middle of the bench seat just behind the driver with a woman sitting right up next to me. I’m telling you, our bodies were touching from our shoulders all the way down to our ankles, and it was at least 20 minutes before I realized we were the only two passengers on the matatu. I went right home and wrote my mother that I had officially lost all sense of personal space! Not that that was a bad thing. I took it as a happy sign that I was feeling at home in Nairobi, adjusting to my new surroundings and letting go of cultural assumptions that were of no benefit there. But I digress.

Here in England we are blessed to have a car. When Matt isn’t away on assignment, he walks to the office -- so if I need to go somewhere beyond our little village I can drive if I want to. Of course, there is the Tube. (Which the kids love and which I find to be infinitely more relaxing than getting them in and out of car seats, fighting traffic, finding and paying for parking, getting the stroller in and out of the boot, etc.) And, of course, there is also the bus.

Red double-decker buses pass us all the time as we’re out and about, but until today I hadn’t taken the time to figure out any of the local bus routes. With the train, you can pick up a free copy of a Tube map at any station, take it home and study it to make sure you know where you’re going. Once you get on the train, there’s another, enlarged map to remind you of each stop along that line. With the car, road maps are for sale at most newsagents, and if you’re not from here, you can always invest in a SatNav to help you get where you need to go. (Which we did, as no English road follows a straight line, nor does it retain the same name from one end of it to the other. Sad to say, my normally keen sense of direction is rendered nearly useless in this country.)

Since I’m usually accompanied by either one or both of the children, in the 15 months that we’ve lived here I’ve settled for the comfort of the two Known options (driving or taking the Tube) as opposed to the Unknown realm of taking the bus. But lately Jack has been asking to ride the bus... And today we finally did! I had a destination in mind, I asked some mums about it during a play date yesterday and this morning during Matt’s men’s Bible study, the kiddos and I set off for one of my favorite shopping areas a few towns away. It has always been a bit of a pain to get there by car, find parking, etc. but now I can’t believe how easily (and cheaply) we got there on the bus! And, guess what? At the main station where we ended up, I even found a bus guide for this entire area of London. I’ve been poring over it all evening and am so excited to have demystified the enigma of public transportation. (Which, by definition, is how the vast majority of people go about their lives every single day. How hard can it be?)

Allllllllll that is to say that, as time goes by, I’m getting more and more adjusted to living here. But isn’t it funny that I could feel so liberated (and most definitely cool) just by riding the bus?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Top Ten Reasons Why I Love Autumn in England

10. It’s supposed to be cold and dreary outside.
9. On days when the sky is clear and blue, the air smells deliciously crisp.
8. Speaking of deliciously crisp, Cox apples have become my new favorite -- the classic English apple.
7. Now that the sun is coming up later, Jack and especially Sophie are sleeping in a bit later in the mornings.
6. Multi-colored leaves blanket the sidewalks on the way to/from Jack’s school.
5. Everywhere I look, I’m reminded of growing up in Michigan (where fall reigns supreme).
4. Foggy mornings like today take me back to Kijabe in the rainy season.
3. I feel compelled to make things like chicken-pot-pie, chili with corn bread and pear-ginger muffins.
2. Pumpkins and butternut squash are available in the markets.
1. Tea is appropriate all day long!

This afternoon the kids and I walked up to the train station and rode a few stops to a neighboring town. We walked along the high street and up to the duck pond, moseying along and enjoying the glorious fall day. Just being out in it felt like pure luxury -- visiting the various charity shops (of course!), checking in at the pet shop to see the kittens and bunnies, feeding the ducks, stopping at my favorite café for a cappuccino (me) and smoothies (Jack and Sophie) before heading back home.

I’ve always been an autumn-fever kind of girl, and today was one of those perfect days I’ll carry in my mind for years to come.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Christmas by Candlelight

It’s the first week of October and already I’m thinking about Christmas -- partly because of the gray, foggy mornings we’ve woken up to this week and partly because if I plan this far ahead I have a better chance of being relaxed during December itself. (Last year I started on our Christmas cards in September! It sounds ridiculous, I know, but hey -- they were ready by November, in time for my mom to carry them back to the States for mailing, and the only thing more ridiculous than starting on Christmas cards in September is paying UK overseas postage rates.)

But also, I’m really excited because this year Sophie can start understanding about Baby Jesus. Last year she was just a baby herself. Now she’s old enough to play with the nativity set made of felt, a lovely gift from friends in Kazakhstan, and she can point out the different characters in her storybook pictures of the first Christmas. It has been incredible to watch Jack soak up the Christmas story these past few years, and now Sophie can join in the wonderment, too!

In many ways, I enjoy the anticipation of Christmas even more than the Day itself. I love the cozy atmosphere here at home -- Christmas music playing, sweet treats baking, tree lights twinkling -- and I love having an entire month to ponder the miracle that is Christmas.

Ever since I can remember, Christmas Eve has been our big celebration of Jesus’ birth. In my experience Christmas Day tends to be a time for family, presents and food -- but Christmas Eve has always been synonymous with reverence and candlelight. I really love a good Christmas Eve candlelight service, don’t you? I think the very best one I’ve ever attended was at the All Saints’ Cathedral in Nairobi, but really, it’s hard to go wrong with reading Scripture, singing carols and lighting candles!

In the last few years we’ve inaugurated a family tradition of doing something similar at home, too. We were inspired by a Christmas Eve at Brett and Tina’s when we all lived in Cyprus. After a lovely meal together, guests took turns reading verses and lighting candles to represent the various witnesses to the birth of Jesus.

This year, in addition to our family time on Christmas Eve, I’m also inviting some of my Christian mum friends for a quiet evening of reading and lighting candles in remembrance of the Christmas story at the beginning of December. It’s hard for mothers of young ones to find Alone Time, ever, let alone Time Alone to prepare their hearts for Christmas. I’m hoping that a cup of tea with festive goodies in a roomful of other mums and a time of quiet meditation and reflection will give them a chance to do just that. And I’m hoping that, with full hearts and peaceful spirits, they’ll head into the rest of the month better able to nurture their families’ preparation for Christmas, too.

In case you’d like to adopt something similar, either with your own family/friends or by hosting a group of young mothers in your home, the verses our family reads are listed at the end of this post. The concept is adaptable, but here’s what has been meaningful for us: On a low table, arrange 12 unlit candles/tea lights around or among the figures of a nativity set. Ask someone to read the first set of verses. (I’ve included my preferred versions of Scripture for each of the witnesses, but you can use whatever translation communicates most clearly to your group.) The reader then lights one of the candles. Another person reads the next set of verses and then lights another candle, and so on. When all the candles are lit, we usually end by playing a song like Welcome to Our World by Chris Rice or Here With Us by Joy Williams. And we close by praising God for the wonderful gift of Jesus.

For this year's early-December gathering, I’d really like to burn a CD of some of my favorite worshipful Christmas songs for each mum to take home as well. You know, the more I think about it, the more excited I become about intentionally reaching out this holiday season, about helping these women focus on Jesus. Because God's comfort and joy is meant to be shared. And because it’s never too early to start thinking about Christmas.

* * * * * *
The Prophets -- Isaiah 7:14, 9:2, 6-7 (NIV); Micah 5:2, 4-5a (NIV)
Mary -- Luke 1:26-38 (NLT)
Elizabeth -- Luke 1:39-45 (NLT)
Joseph -- Matthew 1:18-24 (NLT)
Zechariah -- Luke 1:68-79 (NLT)
The birth of Jesus -- Luke 2:1-7 (NLT)
Angels -- Luke 2:8-14 (The Message)
Shepherds -- Luke 2:15-20 (The Message)
Wise Men -- Matthew 2:1-12 (NLT)
Simeon -- Luke 2:21-32 (NLT)
Anna -- Luke 2:36-40 (NLT)
John -- John 1:1-14 (NLT)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Sunday in September

I haven't posted pictures of the kiddos in ages, so instead of reading text today, just feast your eyes on these sweet dumplings!

Center Stage