Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas, Every One!

May we celebrate this special day with joy, wonder and a grown-up determination to believe with childlike faith.

A very merry Christmas to you all!

Favorite Thing #7

I love that part of our Christmas traditions involve baking sweet treats to share with friends and family. This year Jack made gingerbread boys for his teachers at school. I helped by rolling the dough and by transporting cookies to/from pan and oven, but he did the rest!

Favorite Thing #6

Since England doesn't have the separation of church and state, and since the Church of England is the official religion of the country, in December every class in every government-sponsored (American = public) school does a nativity play.

Guess who was a Wise Man this year? (Hint: He's wearing a red robe in this picture and, during the performance, did everything BUT sing the songs he'd been practicing at home for weeks.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Favorite Thing #5

Giving and receiving gifts is fun any time of year, but at Christmas it has special significance. We give one another presents because 2000 years ago God sent Jesus to earth, the greatest and most generous gift ever.

If you're looking for a meaningful Christmas gift for someone you care about, check out Nigel Barham's list of World Changer gifts, or visit World Vision for a host of ideas on ways to honor your loved one and make a difference in someone's life this Christmas and all year round.

And maybe, just maybe, into eternity, too.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Favorite Thing #4

Especially at this time of year, I love to bask in the power of these three statements, some of my favorites in all of Scripture:

Nothing is impossible with God.

I am the Lord's servant... May it be to me as you have said.

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!

(The words of Gabriel, Mary and Elizabeth from Luke 1:37-38, 45 NIV)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Favorite Thing #3

Bedtime prayers at our house usually end something like this --

Me: Thank You, Jesus, for being our Savior and our Shepherd and our Very Best Friend. Thank You that You're always, always with us and that You never, ever change.

Jack (whispering): And don't forget to say Thank You that Jesus makes miracles.

Me: Oh yes, we thank You, Jesus, that You make miracles.

Jack: And that He never makes mistakes.

Me: We absolutely thank You, Jesus, that You never make mistakes. Thank You that we can always trust You, no matter what. It is so wonderful to know that You will always keep Your promises.

One of my favorite things about Christmas is being reminded of God's faithfulness, His predictability to do the miraculous, the extraordinary, beyond-your-wildest-dreams, whatever-it-takes to keep His Word.

* * * * * * *
To believe in a miracle is only a way of saying that God is free -- free to do a new thing. (Eugene H. Peterson)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Favorite Thing #2

Another thing I love about the Christmas season is taking the opportunity to share the comfort and joy of Jesus' birth with friends who don't yet know Him.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Few of My Favorite Things (Or, my attempt to shorten the days between posts during this wondrous, too-busy season that is Advent)

‘Tis the season to do many fun things except keep up with this blog, it seems! Forgive my silence, won’t you, while I get myself all wrapped up in the comfort and joy of celebrating God-with-us.

Part of that comfort and joy, for me, is listening to Christmas music. So today’s Favorite Thing is a sampling of my best-loved lines from Christmas carols.

O come, O come, Emmanuel...
That glorious song of old...
O come to us, abide with us...
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing; O come, let us adore Him!
This, this is Christ the King!
A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn...
Light and life to all He brings...
Son of God, love's pure light... The dawn of redeeming grace!
Peace on earth and mercy mild; God and sinners reconciled!
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care...
His law is love and His gospel is peace...
Chains shall He break... and in His name all oppression shall cease!
To free all those who trust in Him from Satan's power and might...
O tidings of comfort and joy!
Joy to the world! The Lord is come!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Elijah Update (December 3)

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,

I was just looking over past e-mails and realized that over a month has passed since we sent out an Elijah Update. What a wonderful feeling we have when we realize that there haven't been any major, or minor, medical events in Elijah's life for over a month. God has truly blessed us and our little boy.

We did have a scheduled clinic visit with the hemophilia team in mid-November, but I don't call it an "event". It is just something we will have to do every year. As Elijah gets older the clinic team will check his joints for range of motion, they will check his bumps and bruises and his blood will be checked for inhibitors and other things that can be dangerous for people with hemophilia. All of Elijah's reports came back great, and Dr. W was "astounded". We pray that someday he will stand in awe of The One who healed our little boy, but until then we pray that God will continue to impress and amaze.

While we were at the clinic we received a visit from Dr. P. We hadn't seen her since the day we left Children's Mercy Hospital eight months ago. We were excited for her to see Elijah and know firsthand of his great health. After talking with us and watching Elijah, Dr. P said she was never so glad to be so wrong. We too are glad.

The rest of the month of November has been filled with "firsts" for our family: Elijah's first family Christmas photo, Elijah's first Christmas tree, Elijah's first non-hospital snow and, of course, Elijah's first Thanksgiving. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving Grams, Papa, Judy, Elijah and I drove about 30 miles to a Christmas tree farm to pick out our family tree. Snow was on the ground as we tramped through the field looking for that special tree. We found just the right one, cut it down and headed back to the barn for some hot chocolate. It was a fun outing with good memories. Judy and I decorated the tree that night while Elijah was asleep. It is a
beautiful tree with lots of fun decorations -- again, more good memories.

Judy speaks:
When it seems that we are heading toward a mountain top we get hit again with something new. Joel was working at the Funeral Home trying to get a casket out of the van. He knew it was heavy but thought, "Let me give it one more try." POP. Something happened to his back. To make a long story short, an ambulance came, he spent two nights in the hospital, I drove him to Hays for an MRI and then drove him back to the hospital. Praise the Lord it was not worse. The injury can be treated with therapy, so now the work begins. One week later and he is still hurting. Every day he would say, "I think I'm going to go to work today," but then he would be hurting so much he would go back to bed and forget it. Elijah and I had to walk around quietly, taking care of Daddy and playing quietly. Joel isn't allowed to pick up Elijah and was told that he cannot pick up anything heavier than a phone. He is doing a very good job of following that rule and can tell when something may be too heavy. Elijah is handling it well and smiles at his daddy whenever he sees him. He even played quietly in his chair next to his daddy who was asleep on the couch. My muscles are going to get stronger during these next months as I do the lifting and carrying Joel used to do for us. Please pray with us for Joel's back, that the Lord would completely heal him and that we would both learn the lessons He has for us in this trial.

Joel again:
During this experience, God has been good to us. As Judy wrote, the injury could have been much more debilitating. However, it seems I injured my back just enough to make me slow down and take a few days off, and over time therapy and exercise will mend the injury. Since the end of October my dad, who is 78 years old, and I have been the delivery boys for the furniture store, and it has been a busy, tiring month. Because one person just cannot deliver a refrigerator, my dad hasn't had to lift and deliver since my accident. So God is allowing both of us to relax and allow our bodies to mend. We are thankful that God has kept the funeral work to a minimum this week and the furniture store has kept busy without the need for deliveries.

These few days at home have also allowed me to see all the work Judy does with Elijah, for the house, for the flower shop and for me. She is an amazing woman. Please pray for her strength and endurance while I recover.

We pray that everyone has a wonderful Christmas and that the Lord will shine brightly in your family celebrations. Praise the Lord with us for Elijah's life and his first Christmas.

Joel, Judy, and Elijah

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Let the Celebration Begin

Finally, finally, FINALLY it’s here: December 1st.

Jack has been anxiously counting down to the day he can start opening his Divine chocolate advent calendar. A friend from church gave him one last year, and when we saw them in the Oxfam shop this fall, he could hardly wait to get another one.

My sweetie-with-a-sweet-tooth is excited about the milk chocolate heart hidden behind each day's window. I’m excited for any chance to support Fairtrade and to have finally found an advent calendar that actually -- beautifully and accurately -- celebrates the birth of Jesus, one delicious day at a time.

For those of you who live in the US, the website says they’re available at Whole Foods stores.

Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Let's Hear It For the NHS

This morning at Superdrug I pulled out my wallet to pay for antibiotics for little Sophie's chest and ear infections, when the pharmacist informed me that prescription medication for children (and pensioners) is FREE in the UK. She looked at me like, "How could anyone even think of charging money to treat the very young and the very old?" Hm. She's got a point.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

And Speaking of Blessings

In the Berge family, at Thanksgiving we always go around the table and each name something we're thankful for. These three top my list.

Three Times Today I Was Stunned Into Silence

1. Standing at the checkout line at the grocery store this morning, watching the cashier do a price check on four packs of green beans for our Thanksgiving dinner. (The holiday is obviously not observed in England -- everyone goes to work and school as normal -- so we’re celebrating on Saturday.) To get the attention of the store manager at her desk at least 50 feet away, the cashier raised her hand. Just raised her hand. Imagine! She didn’t shout into a microphone, “Price check on register three, please. Price check on register three.” She didn’t even wave wildly to get the manager’s attention. Instead, with perfect confidence and dignified calmness, she simply raised her hand. And yes, somehow, in the midst of morning mayhem and spite of looking down to read something on her desk, the manager was at the checkout assisting me in less than 60 seconds. I was shocked, first of all, that that was protocol and secondly, that it worked. Call it a small but significant triumph for British restraint and reserve.

2. Walking away from Jack’s school at noon, chatting with one of the other mums and inviting her to come next-to-next Friday for a Christmas coffee morning. “Please bring something traditional from your home country (Italy) that you would eat at Christmastime,” I said. Her response: “Please don’t be offended, but we don’t celebrate Christmas, so I won’t be able to come. Thank you for thinking of me.” I was so surprised I didn’t know what to say. She came to our house one morning earlier this month and seemed to enjoy herself. The other mums coming are either Hindu, Muslim or English (nominal, “cultural” Christians at best). I sure wasn’t expecting to encounter a refusal based on the religious aspect of Christmas. And besides, who declines an offer of coffee, tea and international holiday food among friends?

3. Watching Matt and Jack play ConnectFour tonight while Sophie played peek-a-boo with Matt behind his back. I ask you, is there anything that warms a mother’s heart more than the sight of her husband playing with their children and the sound of their combined laughter? I was blown away in that moment. On the eve of my favorite American holiday, I’m thinking about the various aspects of our life together and counting the many, many blessings. Truly, my cup overflows.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Back From Where I've Been

There are weeks when I’m flooded with things to write about, and when I have the physical and mental wherewithal to write about them, I do. Then there are weeks like the last two when our daily lives are packed full of great, blog-worthy happenings, but after being in high gear all day, when I finally get the kids in bed -- especially when Matt is traveling -- well, I barely have it in me to compose a coherent sentence. Ditto when I come down with a massive head cold within hours of Matt walking through the front door. So here I am today, looking out at the drizzling rain and feeling much better, thankyouverymuch, thinking about the many posts I’d like to write:

• About having three of Jack’s friends (and their mums and their younger siblings) over to our house on the Saturday afternoon Matt was away

• About the boys playing quietly (Warning! Warning!) upstairs until I discovered that they were taking turns holding Jack’s goldfish

• About letting Jack decide which fantasy character he wanted to be and making the costume for him to wear to his nursery school party

• About my ongoing conversations with Francis, the Ugandan man who washes cars in the parking lot of our Sainsbury’s so he can save up money to return to his home country and start his own business

• About sharing the story of God’s faithfulness in my life with the senior citizens’ fellowship at our church

• About spending the afternoon with a South African mum friend from church whose daughter is just six weeks younger than Sophie and how being with her feels like we've known each other all our lives

• About demonstrating how to make an apple pie for an Indian mum friend and the smile on her face when she took it home to share with her family

• About Sophie sounding a little less like r2d2 and starting to say distinct (but not always distinguishable) words and the happy-happy look on her face when we repeat them and she knows that we know what she means

We’ve had a great time these past two weeks. But since I don’t have time or energy enough to write about it all, I’m going to send you to a post written by my friend and former student, Michelle. Dealing with some of the challenges of being an authentic witness for Christ among the younger generation, her entry of November 12 is worth pondering.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

You Don’t Say

“A person is not rewarded for having a brain but for using it.”
(Cameroonian proverb)

Friday, November 9, 2007

It's About Time

Matt’s away this week, on assignment in a country with less-than-reliable internet access, so I’m finally learning how to send text messages from my mobile phone. I know, I know... The things we do for love!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Have Audience, Will Speak

On Friday morning I invited a few mums of boys from Jack’s class back to our house while the children were in school. Among us we spoke four languages -- English, Hindi, Italian and Polish -- but not one of us could understand Sophie.

My little sweetheart babbled on and on all morning while singing songs, looking at books, taking her baby doll for a walk in the stroller and bringing toys to the other mums. Deliriously happy to have not only free reign of the toys but also our undivided attention, she spoke at length with each of us.

I can only imagine all that she was talking about, but she clearly enjoyed herself -- which is the main thing, I guess. Talking with girlfriends and drinking tea... Sophie’s practical education is starting early!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Commission Stories

There's a new website in my sidebar under Making A World of Difference: Commission Stories. This site features multi-media presentations (photographs, stories, video clips and audio slideshows) of current ways God is at work among the nations. The site is still young, but it won’t be long before there are stories updated weekly from around the world.

Matt’s work runs in a variety of places, and this will be one of them. But don’t just look for Matt’s images — go there to see and hear the reports of the many other talented writers, photographers and videographers within our company.

You may choose to subscribe to receive notification by e-mail when new stories are published, subscribe to receive iTunes podcasts, join the Commission Stories YouTube group or add a link to Commission Stories on your blog. Just go to the Feeds & Sharing page for more information on how to do that.

Another neat feature about this website, as stated on the About page, is that every piece of media on this site is available for download and use. Below each feature is a “Download” button that provides various sizes and formats of media to fit your needs. We hope you will use the photos, video, text and presentations to educate and inspire others. Join us in sharing how God is moving today among every nation, tribe, people and language.

Check out the website. Watch the videos and read the stories. Keep checking back in weeks to come, and tell your family and friends. We want to spread the word!

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

Saturday, September 29, 2007

For Love of Settee

Since moving to England last summer, Matt and I have noticed a few things the British are passionate about. The clear, overall favorite is football, i.e., soccer. Think of the love that Americans have for baseball, basketball and our version of football combined. Then multiply that by fifty thirty hundred (Jack's favorite, "most highest" number). It's true, the British also love their chips, i.e., french fries. Teenagers on the street eat them as an afternoon snack on their way home from school; grown-ups eat them for lunch. In fact, the potato is practically omnipresent in the British diet. But to our outsider view, one more thing runs closely behind these two. Apparently, as Matt says, these people be lovin' their couches.

What is with UK television commercials for sofas? You heard me. Sofas. Matt and I are sitting here watching The X-Factor (the British version of American Idol), and Every. Single. Break! shows at least one commercial for a BIG SALE (always in capital letters) on sofas in one furniture store or another. The strange thing is, this is not unusual. Similar ads are constantly on the telly. Adverts are dropped through the mail slot in our front door on a weekly basis. Full-page ads are taken out in local newspapers. And there are two massive sofa showrooms within three miles of our small town. There is absolutely no telling how many sofa sets are being bought and sold in the UK's bigger cities.

We have yet to figure out this love affair with the couch. Any insight? (Anyone? Anyone?)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Longest Dream

A friend once told me: “When your kids are young, the years go by fast but the days go so slow.” It’s true, isn’t it? For all of us, I mean. No matter how old we are or what we’re going through, part of the human condition is that the here-and-now seems to inch along and the future stretches out endlessly ahead of us, while the past is... Gone. Instantly.

I suppose I’m thinking about the passing of time because Matt’s godfather died this week. Uncle Charles battled numerous illnesses in his life, beat cancer twice, survived several surgeries and was finally overcome by an infection that spread throughout his body from the portal for his third barrage of chemo treatments. Even then, when the doctor said he had anywhere from a day to a week left, Uncle Charles held on longer than anyone expected that he would. The hospital staff called him the Iron Man because of it.

Uncle Charles was one of those strong-and-silent types. In the few times I’ve been blessed to spend time with him and Aunt Sue, he sat quietly in the big group, smiling while the ladies talked (and talked and talked and talked). But one-on-one, he had some mighty strong convictions, and he didn’t hesitate sharing them. His favorite statement in recent years was, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who holds my future.”

I think that’s what I’ll remember most about Uncle Charles: The only thing stronger than his will to live was his faith in Christ.

Keith Green had this great song where he described his experience of accepting Jesus “like waking up from the longest dream,” and I’ve often thought that dying will be the same way. This life certainly feels real, and I don’t doubt its importance or its relevance, but in the eternal scheme of things, what we go through on this earth is only one dimension of the life that is to come.

That comforts and inspires me. Because just like my dreams, there are lots of things in this life that don’t make sense. Just like my dreams, I get caught up in thinking that what I’m experiencing right now is all there is. And just like my dreams, I have to remind myself of what’s really real and what only feels that way.

I’m thankful for Uncle Charles, for all that he meant to Matt's family and for his example of hope and humility, faith and love, determination and strength. Since his death, I’ve been picturing him in Heaven, waking up to a bigger, brighter, bolder reality than any of us can imagine. Even in our wildest dreams.

* * * * *
Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in Me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with Me where I am. (John 14:1-3 NLT)

No eye has seen, no ear has heard and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9 NLT)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea... I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light... Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations... No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 21:1, 22-24a and 22:1-5 NIV)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

You Know What They Say About Spilled Milk

I’m wearing two small stickers today: a kitty cat and a leopard. Jack came and put them on my sweater and said, “These are for you, Mommy. One is for doing a good job in the garden, and one is for taking good care of us.”

Moments like that make me even more thankful for this short, magical season of life at home with two little ones. Mind you, it doesn’t always feel so short. Or so magical.

Yesterday it seemed like every single thing I tried to do either took forever or was undone by Sophie the minute my back was turned. I’d been up since 5:30 and before it was even midmorning I was feeling weighed down. When I checked the clock at 9:25, I was sure that we’d be on the way to the grocery store five minutes later, but I was still trying to get out the door at 9:45. (With Jack at nursery in the mornings, it was just me and Sophie! This should not be a problem.)

Finally, everything was ready. Keys in hand, I was just about to scoop Sophie up and carry her to the car. Oops, I’d forgotten to get a sippy cup of milk to ensure a more cooperative toddler on our adventure up and down the aisles at Sainsbury’s. I went back to the kitchen, poured milk into the mug, put the mug into the microwave, checked over my grocery list while it heated, then reached to get the mug and... I still don’t know exactly what happened, but suddenly I was surrounded (and had been splashed) by warm milk. What a mess! At first I just stood there and stared at that crazy puddle of milk. I think I even said out loud: You’ve got to be kidding! It had been one thing after another all morning, and now this. I closed my eyes. (Breathe in. Breathe out.)

After a long moment of absolute stillness, I turned to the kitchen sink for a sponge and happened to glance out the window. The sun was shining, and the bright, happy colors of a few late-summer flowers peeked at me from the garden. In the next room, I heard my baby-not-really-a-baby- anymore playing happily on the floor. And just like that, the frenzy was gone. That dark, ominous I’m-only-as-good-as-my-to-do-list-is-done cloud was gone. I felt lighter, freer, and I was smiling. In fact, I laughed -- mainly at myself for getting so worked up about such inconsequential things and then at how good my life truly is.

By the time the milk was cleaned up, I was a new woman. Relaxed instead of stressed. Grateful instead of frustrated. The rest of the day can be described by one simple word: FUN! I played with the kids, read lots of stories, sang lots of songs. Matt came home to a sink full of dishes, a basket full of laundry and toys e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e, but he also came home to a really happy family. What I've got to remember is that it doesn’t matter whether I feel successful or not. In the eyes of the ones who matter, I’m doing a good job.

And I’ve got the stickers to prove it.

* * * * * *
A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands. (Proverbs 14:1 NLT)

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:11 NIV)

(Jesus said) “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me -- watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message)

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father encourage you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say. (2 Thessalonians 2:16 NCV)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Goodnight Moon

Tonight Jack not only joined Sophie for her bedtime stories, for the first time he “read” them to her, too! I’m not sure which one of the three of us enjoyed it more or who was more proud...

I’ll try to post some new photos of the kiddos soon. They’re growing up much too fast!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Elijah Update (September 14)

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 Elijah Warriors,

Thank you so much for all you have done for us over these seven months of Elijah's life. During my pregnancy if someone had told me that we would be going through all of this, I think I would have had a nervous breakdown. God never gives us more then we can bear, and He has given Joel and me the strength to make it from day to day. We are so grateful for each other, grateful we have the other to share all these trials and joys. We have been SO blessed!! Elijah is so much fun to have around. He keeps us smiling and makes us laugh more often than cry. We love to watch him get excited about doing something new. His little mind is thrilled to be able to have a new skill.

Last month Elijah had some shots. These shots caused a lot of turmoil and
sleeplessness in the house. Joel and I were concerned about Elijah and thought that we should get him an infusion of Factor IX in case there was bleeding that we could not see. During the process of getting the infusion, Elijah developed a severe bruise on his hand/wrist. We were in Kansas City on business and had someone come and check Elijah.

Her immediate response to us was, "You need to take Elijah to the Emergency Room at Children's Mercy. This looks like Compartmental Syndrome."

Speaking of Emergency Rooms, did you know that they are now called "Emergency Departments"? No more ER, just ED. Anyway, I was not looking forward to heading back to the hospital that has so many hard memories. Aughhh!!! We learned all about Compartmental Syndrome.

The way we understand compartmental syndrome is this: Muscles are surrounded by tissue to keep the muscles nicely grouped together. If the muscle is damaged and oozes blood and if the tissue surrounding the muscle is not damaged, the blood has nowhere to go so the oozing blood starts to put pressure on the muscle. It can put so much pressure on the muscle that great pain ensues, and it can even damage nerves and everything else that is getting squeezed. In normal people a surgeon can cut the tissue to relieve the pressure, but this isn't a good idea for people with hemophilia.

We were told that we may be at Children's Mercy for several days. If this syndrome is not treated in children it can lead to amputation and all sorts of bad things. We got to the ED and were taken right in to be checked. A doctor came in and decided that Elijah was not experiencing the symptoms of Compartmental Syndrome and all we needed was an infusion of Factor IX. A nurse came in and infused Elijah, and we then waited for two hours before we were allowed to leave. The staff told us that the Hemophilia Clinic would probably want to see us the next day to check on Elijah, so we went back to Joel's sister's house to spend the night once again.

We went back the next day to Children's Mercy and met with our Hemophilia nurse and doctor. This is the first time they have seen Elijah in person since we left Children's Mercy in March. They were excited to see him and watch him respond to his mom and dad. They watched his eyes as he followed us wherever we went and laughed at us. Joel and I remember the "team meeting" we had before Elijah had his Superior Vena Cava Syndrome and we were told for the first time that Elijah had "severe damage to his brain tissue". We praise the Lord that there appears to be no effect from the damage of the hemorrhage. Elijah is doing very well. Attached is a photo of Elijah with his Hemophilia Nurse, Judy. She has been a great encouragement to us over the months as she shares our belief in a God who heals. We are grateful for the people the Lord has placed in our path throughout this journey.

We were so excited to finally get home again with our little boy that we have not wanted to leave.

Due to Elijah's history, he qualifies to be evaluated by a local group who helps children who may have developmental problems. A speech therapist and physical therapist have been over to evaluate Elijah, and they do not see a huge problem. Praise the Lord again! They will continue working with him but feel that he is doing GREAT. During his PT, his therapist said, "Well, I was expecting to come over and see a little boy who could not do anything, but you are doing great!" Elijah is about 3 months behind physically which is wonderful considering he was on his back in a hospital with wires, chest tubes, breathing tubes, etc. for almost 5 months. We keep working with him every day to help him get stronger. Helping him get stronger holds both joys and worries. He has a higher chance of needing Factor IX once he begins to get mobile, but it is so much fun to watch him smile when he can stand or sit up with help.

The other day at church I heard a little kid hit her head on the pew. How many times in my lifetime have I heard that sound? It never bothered me before, but I began to think about that happening to Elijah and how he may need medicine after doing something like that. We would have to watch him for days to see if there was a problem. So many things, yet we know they are minor when we look at all Elijah has experienced in this life.

During August we were also in Tupelo, MS, for business, and Elijah was with us. He handled the trip very well and with several more stops then we are used to, he made the trip with flying colors. Every furniture showroom we were in, people asked about our boy. People wanted to ask about his shunt, but some just walked by him several times and did not say anything. Others asked if he was premature, if he was going to be okay, most just said that he was the cutest boy they had ever seen... "What BIG eyes!" We met several people who have lost children. One lost a little girl at two days old, one lost a daughter at 18 years old. So many stories out there, and Elijah is allowing us to hear them, allowing people to share their pain and sorrow and allowing us to share our faith with them. One man told us of the anger he had toward God when his child died, but he is over that now and cannot imagine life without a Savior and a relationship with Jesus Christ.

We met a man in his 60s who has Hemophilia A, and we shared stories. We thanked him for all that he had to go through so that Elijah's life may be easier. This man had both knees replaced, both hips, etc. The older generation of men (and a few women) went through so much. An entire generation lost their lives from HIV/AIDS after receiving transfusions with tainted blood. He told us of a story of a friend of his who has had so many problems from his Hemophilia. Later in life he also had to have his liver replaced and said, "I have so much wrong with me now, but at least I don't have Hemophilia anymore!" (The liver is where the clotting factors are produced.) It sure would be wonderful if replacing the liver was not such a huge deal! Continue to pray with us that the research and medicines will become better and more cost effective.

Work has overwhelmed us at times, but Elijah helps us get our things done. The other day he sat in his stroller while his daddy set up flowers for a funeral service. I am sure he shared his opinion on the positioning of the flowers. He goes to work with his mommy at the flower shop and sometimes slows the work process down, but overall he plays very well by himself.

What an amazing few months we have had with Elijah at home. Thank you again for praying us through!

In Christ,
Joel, Judy and Elijah

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Brotherly Love Plans Ahead

"Mommy, when I grow too big to live here with you and Daddy, can I take Sophie with me to my new house?"

Monday, September 10, 2007

Excuses, Excuses

My, my, my... It has been a while since I’ve written on this blog. That’s not to say there hasn't been anything to write about. It’s just that my best stay-focused, think-coherently on-the-computer times are later at night, and since I started getting up early again, I absolutely cannot stay up as long as I could when I slept until the kids woke up. So I’ve traded prime Blog Time for a more consistent Quiet Time.

I needed to reassess my routine now that Jack’s in the morning session at nursery school. The good news is, I have Sophie all to myself in the mornings and Jack all to myself in the afternoons (while Sophie naps). The bad news is, time to myself seems to have disappeared entirely, making those early morning quiet times even more of a priority.

So I’m not ignoring this blog, just trying to find my balance.

I'll be back soon!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Most Important Meal of the Day

"Mommy, for my breakfast I want Crack, Snapple, Pop."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I'm Not Political, But ...

I just want to say how much I appreciated the coverage of God’s Warriors on CNN last week. Did you catch it? If not, find someone with TiVo who can tape it for you. It’s long, but it’s well done and it has a lot to say about how religion is shaping the politics of our world.

I’m always amazed at how much there is to learn when it comes to people and ideas we think we already know about -- including our own. I’m not sure I was all that surprised, but I did have to laugh when the guy I related to the most on the Christian segment was someone Christiane Amanpour referred to as The Heretic!

But mainly I was encouraged to hear him articulating things I’ve been thinking and talking about in the past few years. I’m looking forward to reading his book, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church.

(The kids have been sick with a stomach bug, so my post in response The Heavenly Man will have to wait a little while longer before it gets out of my head and onto this blog.)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

O Africa!

Mma Potokwani drew a deep breath. “I am always happy when I am in the bush,” she said. “I think everybody is.”

“I certainly am,” said Mma Ramotswe. “I live in a town, but I do not think my heart lives there.”

“Our stomachs live in towns,” said Mma Potokwani, patting the front of her dress. “That is where the work is. Our stomachs know that. But our hearts are usually somewhere else.”

From The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Representing God

I’ve been meaning to post more of my thoughts about Brother Yun’s experiences in The Heavenly Man, but before I get to that I’ve just got to ask:

Has anyone else been counting down the days to CNN’s God’s Warriors report by Christiane Amanpour? Here in England it starts tonight at 7pm -- I’m not sure what time it’s airing where you are. (For an overview of the program, click on the link above and then select “God’s Warriors Show Trailer” under “Behind the Scenes”.)

As a woman who identifies herself as being in relationship with God through Jesus Christ more than a follower of the Christian religion, I’m interested in this report on several levels:

➢ All three religions believe in One God.
➢ All three religions trace their beginnings to Abraham.
➢ All three religions believe that God has clearly communicated His expectations for human behavior.
➢ All three religions believe that, having rejected God’s commands, society is a mess on a global scale.
➢ All three religions believe that, living in submission to God’s commands, they are His favored ones.
➢ All three religions believe that they have God’s solution for bringing peace and propriety to a world gone mad.
➢ All three religions believe that they are working out their salvation with fear and trembling as God works in them to will and to act according to His good purpose (Philippians 2:12-13).

I’m particularly interested in how those who sincerely believe that they are God’s people have managed to alienate one another to the extent that we have. It seems to me that the world would be a lot less scary if we worked together rather than against one another!

In my opinion, here’s a small but significant way that we as women can start: Christian women who value modesty and desire to cultivate inner beauty (think Proverbs 31) have much in common with Muslim women who wear the hijab. By reaching out to one another, befriending one another, finding ways to serve one another, inviting one another into our lives and homes, gracefully giving to and receiving from one another, we’ll not only find a great sisterhood but we’ll also challenge those around us (and even ourselves) to rethink the stereotypes assumed in the name of religion.

I think one of the reasons I’m drawn to friendships with international women (and they to me) is that we share the traditional values of faith and family, modesty and kindness, moral and social responsibility. I’ve found that I have a lot more to talk about with believing women of other cultures/religions than I do with unbelieving women from my own culture. To be honest, it’s probably a bit of selfishness on my part that causes me to seek these friendships -- they’re deeply fulfilling and mutually supportive.

But it’s also a chance for me to share the love and light, peace and joy, hope and grace that I have because of the difference Jesus has made in me. This is my way of representing God, of living out His purpose for me as I understand it. And isn’t that what it means to be an ambassador for Him?

* * * * * * *
Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand -- shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 The Message)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My Mother-in-Law Has a Little Saying Above Her Kitchen Sink

"Mothers hold their children's hands for a while but their hearts forever."

Sophie has been climbing UP the stairs for months, and now she's learned to come DOWN all by herself. For her, this means freedom -- she can go anywhere in the house at any time she chooses. For me, this means freedom of a different sort -- my daughter no longer “needs” me in the same way that she has until now. Sure, I’m the one who encouraged her to push past her fears and go for it (on her belly, feet first), but I’m also the one who aches at letting go of that part of our mother-child relationship.

Jack is even further down the road to self-sufficiency. He can get dressed/undressed by himself. He can use the bathroom by himself. He can wash his hands, brush his teeth and put on his shoes all by himself. Man, it still catches me by surprise when we’re on our way out the door to go somewhere and I realize that all I’ve had to do for him is tame that wild hair.

So to console my sentimental heart and help myself come to grips with their increasing independence, I’ve spent the afternoon updating Jack and Sophie's baby books.

Monday, August 20, 2007

He Has His Father's Sense of Humor

"Good night, Mommy. I hope you have sweet dreams... And I hope you have a funny dream!"

Monday, August 13, 2007

What Goes Up Must Come Down… Somehow

I like to think I’m a fairly intelligent person, but for the life of me I can’t figure out how prayer works. I only know that, somehow, God always hears and always answers prayer. And, often, He does so in ways we hadn’t dared to hope. This post is dedicated to our praying friends around the world who constantly lift up our needs in prayer and to our Heavenly Father who loves giving good gifts to His children.

Last week I sent out a prayer request. Jack, Sophie and I were flying to Turkey to meet Matt. He had been on a 9-day assignment in the southern part of the country and was meeting us in Istanbul. Together we were looking forward to several days in one of our favorite cities with some of our favorite colleagues.

I asked for:
• safe and “uneventful” travel
• content kids within the confinement of two seats on a 4-hour flight with no movies
• a short visa line at the Istanbul airport

God answered:
... With a frank, natural discussion about spiritual things with John, our faithful taxi driver, while he navigated heavy morning traffic on the way to the airport. Somehow we managed to touch on life after death, works vs. grace, religion vs. relationship, Good vs. evil in the world and trying to control our lives vs. Trust and Obey. I had amazing opportunities to speak Truth into his life, and when we pulled up at Departures, John said, “This has been a great way to start my day.” Exhiliarating!

... With a BA employee who approached me within 60 seconds of our joining the check-in line and escorted the three of us around the corner to Premium Check-In. (If you’ve ever been part of the chaos that is Terminal 1 Departures, you may understand what a blessing this was!) Somehow, less than ten minutes later, we were headed toward Security... But the line for Security was really long, and I had to go to the bathroom. I opted to find a bathroom in the check-in area rather than waiting in that line first. When we came out of the bathroom, the Security line had somehow dwindled to a handful of people.

... With an empty arm of the terminal where Jack and Sophie could run and play freely and I could sit and watch them, worry-free, until it was time to go. Somehow the woman who checked us in told me where we needed to be, even though the gate for our flight wasn’t announced until 20 minutes before our scheduled departure. It couldn’t have been more perfect!

... With three seats (instead of two!) in the bulkhead middle section of the airplane. In spite of the flight being full, somehow we had extra room for the kids to spread out, get up and down from their seats (without bothering anyone in front of us), get extra attention from the flight attendants, etc.

... With kids’ travel packs from the airline. Among other things, Sophie’s contained a small box of four crayons. Somehow she spent the better part of an hour taking them out of the box and putting them back in again. (No kidding!)

... With an in-flight movie! Not that we watched it, but it was there and we had been told it wouldn’t be. (I could hear God saying, “See? See what I can do? Amazingly, abundantly more than you could ask or imagine!”)

... With a visa line about four people deep. (This is unheard of in the Istanbul airport!) Somehow we got our visas and were on to Passport Control in less than five minutes... And as soon as we got in that line, about 12 people from the front, airport employees came behind us to latch the ropes so that everyone else would have to snake around instead of walking straight up to the front as we had done. I turned to look back and saw an enormous crowd of people heading our way. Three or four flights must have landed all at once, but somehow we sailed right on through ahead of everyone.

So a huge THANK YOU to everyone who prayed for us on Thursday! The entire experience was blessed from start to finish. We've had a tremendous weekend here in Istanbul, full of further blessings, many more than I can describe. All four of us travel back to England tomorrow, and I can't wait to see how God will answer prayer for our trip home. Somehow!

* * * * * * *
God can do anything, you know -- far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. (Ephesians 3:20 The Message)

I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! (Malachi 3:10 NLT)

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (James 5:16 NLT)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Feels Like Home

The sun is setting, and the kids are asleep after a perfectly glorious day.

In the morning we went to a park about 30 minutes away. Lakes, sailboats, swans/geese/ducks, lots of grass and trees and an amazing playground! But the best part was going there to meet up with three of Jack’s friends from school. They’ve only been on summer break for two weeks, but the boys were delighted with one another’s company, and it was sweet to watch them running, playing and talking to one another like old friends. And I had time to talk with their mums!

Then in the afternoon we had a nice, long visit with our Asian neighbors. Starting at our house and ending up at theirs, we talked about everything from gardens to chickens, children to church, curries to Baby Einstein -- it was all I could do to tear ourselves away to get Jack and Sophie home for supper/bath/bedtime.

A year ago we didn’t know anyone!

God answers prayer.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Hard Part of Saying Yes

For some reason, Jack has never liked Veggie Tales. (Or, I should say, not as much as I do.) But while we were away last week, one morning when it was really raining we put on the Veggie Tales JONAH movie my mom had given him at Christmas. And, voilĂ ! Now he’s a huge fan. I guess it just took the retelling of a favorite Bible story to help him past the confusion of talking vegetables.

Ever since he was a baby, I’ve sung songs to Jack, and as soon as he was able to talk he started to ask for songs by name. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was the Star Song; the Alphabet was the ABC Song; Old MacDonald Had a Farm was the Farm Song, etc. I guess he thought there were songs about everything because he would ask me to sing about random things -- whatever he was thinking about or looking at right at that particular moment. It was the winter Sophie was born, and we were staying in a furnished apartment in Virginia. On the wall in Jack’s room was a print of a painting with lots of different creatures under the sea. So one night at bedtime he asked, “Mommy, sing me the Whale Song.”

The only thing I could think to sing about was Jonah and the whale! What to do? I had to make up a song that told the whole story. He asked for it again the next night and the next night and the next, and now it’s among the standard line-up of night-night songs at our house.

At the moment Jack’s at that stage of asking “Why?” about seemingly everything under the sun, so in answer to his questions about the meaning of the words in the Whale Song, we’ve ended up talking several times about how God asks us to do things for Him and about our choice to either say No, as Jonah did at first, or Yes, as he did after he had time in the belly of a whale to rethink his decision. We’ve talked about the fact that our willingness (or not) to obey God affects not only us but other people as well. And about how important it is to always say Yes, no matter what God asks us to do or where He asks us to go. Until now I’ve tried to leave it at that. I figured that explanation of Trust and Obey was heavy enough for a four year-old!

But over the weekend, our friend who lives in Afghanistan was here, and Jack fell in love with her all over again (which is really sweet because she was a favorite when he was little, but he can’t remember that). When it came time for her to leave, Jack got really quiet. He came up to me, put his head down and said softly, “Why does she have to go away?” Poor guy. We’ve had lots of people coming and going in the last year (London is on the way to everywhere!), as well as all the hellos/good-byes with our beloved families, and now Jack is starting to be able to articulate how he feels about it.

So I got down on my knees, held him in my arms and said, “Do you remember our talks about how important it is to say Yes to God? Saying Yes is always, always, always the best thing to do, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Sometimes it means we have to live far away from people that we love. When God asked (this friend) to go to Afghanistan, she said Yes. Right now we feel sad because she’s leaving us. We wish she could stay right here, but if she did that she wouldn’t be obeying God. And the people in Afghanistan wouldn’t have the blessing of having her there among them. We can pray for her while she’s gone, and we’ll look forward to seeing her again next time. But it hurts our hearts to see her go away. This is the hard part of saying Yes.”

I think I said this without crying, which is itself a minor miracle because the pain of being separated from loved ones due to following God is one of my biggest pet peeves with Him. (In addition to all the other times I've moaned on this very blog about this very thing, today is the birthday of my dearest friend from Asbury College. When I called the Bahamas and heard her voice on the other end of the line, I was suddenly both ecstatic to talk with her and devastated that we haven’t been living next door to one another every single day of the past 18 years. To think that she has only seen my children in pictures! I hate it!)

But then I picked up a book I recently borrowed from some friends at church. (We have a wonderful county library system here, but there aren’t many Christian titles.) Several friends in Cyprus had recommended it a few years ago -- it’s called The Heavenly Man. As I began to read the true story of Brother Yun’s persecution for the Name of Jesus in China, I realized that I haven’t even begun to understand how hard saying Yes to God can be!

I’m not sure at what point Jack’s questions will address the expected reality of suffering for our faith, but when they do I pray the Holy Spirit will give me wisdom in how I answer. Right now I need to get back to reading this book. I have a feeling I’ll have more to say tomorrow!

* * * * * * *
Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. (Jonah 2:8 NIV)

To obey is better than sacrifice. (1 Samuel 15:22 NIV)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Elijah Update (July 31)

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 Elijah Warriors,

We wanted to start out our email to you with a reminder. Just three months ago our doctors were up against a wall. Just three months ago we were in the midst of a battle for Elijah's life. Last week Elijah went to see his Pediatric Surgeon, the one who was very worried and sad just three months ago. At first he cried when he heard her voice, but once he realized she was not going to do anything, he listened intently to her instructions and smiled. We are excited to start weaning Elijah off of his meds and his special formula. We have a three week plan, and so far Elijah is handling it well. Peas and green beans have been attempted, and I think that green beans must be better. :) Rejoice with us in the improvement in Elijah and his wonderful doctors visits.

Every night we line up all of his medicines for the night, make his formula with all the additions and get things in order for the night and next day. Pray with us that Elijah is able to come off of all these meds and special formula creations.

We are so sorry that we've taken so long to get back with everyone. We've had many people write us in "Elijah Withdrawal" wondering what is happening in his life. Our time at home has been great. He continues to get stronger and build up his muscle control. He is eating very well and gaining weight. Our neurosurgeon was very happy with the way Elijah's brain hemorrhage is healing and does not need to see him again for several months.

On the 4th of July when others were celebrating the freedoms we have in our nation, Joel and I were learning how to give Elijah his infusions. A nurse came to Ness City from the company we get our Factor IX from, and she gave us our lessons. We practiced on her and then practiced on each other. She kept telling us that we're going to be great giving Elijah his infusions. Confidence! That is exactly what we need! We felt 100% better after the meeting with her and our County Health Nurse. God keeps putting people into our path who share our faith and know the only way to explain Elijah being alive is the Power of God. What a blessing.

Judy's mom, dad, sister, niece and nephew drove all the way from the east coast to spend some time with us. Elijah had so much fun laughing and smiling at his cousins and his Mimi and Pop-Pop. It was a great week, but it went by too quickly for us. We also had visits from one of Judy's dorm girls and her family and some RVA staff members, Steve and Nancy Peiffer and family. Steve said that back in March when we asked for people to pray that God would take Elijah quickly and without much pain, he felt he could not pray that for us. He prayed that God would allow him to meet Elijah one day. There were tears as they looked at him and realized this was an answer to that prayer. They got to see Elijah.

During our journey there have been times that we have wanted to "get out". We no longer wanted to be a part of this "story". It has been wearing, tiring and just plain overwhelming. And we didn't know why God wasn't more visible to us.

Once again I'm reminded of a portion of CS Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian. The four children (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) have been called back to Narnia They've been traveling all day finding their own path, and they are just worn out. They don’t know how to get where they are going, they don’t know what they will find when they get there and they don’t understand why Aslan hasn’t appeared yet. At this point of the story only Lucy has seen Aslan, and the others don’t believe her. Finally Susan is the last to see Aslan, and this is where we pick up the story.

“Lucy,” said Susan in a very small voice.
“Yes!” said Lucy.
“I see him how. I’m sorry.”
“That’s all right.”
“But I’ve been far worse than you know. I really believed it was him – he, I mean – yesterday. When he warned us not to go down to the fir wood. And I really believed it was him tonight, when you woke us up. I mean, deep down inside. Or I could have, if I’d let myself. But I just wanted to get out of the woods and – Oh, I don’t know. And what ever am I going to say to him?”

Judy and I wanted to be out of the “woods” so badly, and we wanted to see God, not just believe He was present. But you know what? God was present. He was with Judy, Elijah and me all the way during this six month journey. Even people who weren’t interested in looking for God were able to see His hand in Elijah’s life.

When the children were willing to follow Lucy and Aslan (who they couldn’t see), Aslan led the children to safety. When we, Judy and I and everyone else reading this e-mail, are willing to follow God, He will lead us through our journey in life. We don’t know where He will lead us and we aren’t assured that the journey will be easy, but we know He is with us, and at the end of the journey we will still be with God.

We are so thankful that God is allowing us to continue our journey with Elijah. We pray that the journey will be a long one, and we pray that the rest of the journey will be easier than the last six months have been. But with God leading, we will accept whatever He leads us through. And we pray that God will give us the strength to accept everything with thanksgiving and joy.

In Christ,
Joel, Judy and Elijah