Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Collecting My Thoughts and Trying To Hold Onto Them

I'm making a list.

I wake up each morning intending to do all kinds of things that, somehow, I never do. Little organizational things like putting pictures into frames, going through our closets for donations to the charity shops and updating Sophie's baby book. Big meaningful things like finishing those parenting books, updating our blessings journal and making phone calls I've been meaning to make.

Lists motivate me and help keep me focused. I'm much more productive when I'm working from a list than when I'm just winging it. Some days winging it can be relaxing and therapeutic, but some days I end up feeling like I've wasted a perfectly good chance to get something done.

What I really need to keep a list of, though, in addition to tasks, is ideas for posts on this blog. During the day I'm struck with great ideas -- funny things that happen, little observations on life, conversations with my kids -- but by the time I sit down to the computer, it's all gone. My memory is hopeless. I'm going to have to start doing those special keep-your-brain-active quiz things that they advertise for the elderly. Or else, I'm going to have to carry a pen and paper with me wherever I go.

Because today, for example, several excellent ideas came to mind...

Ummm, what was I saying?

Monday, June 23, 2008


I took Jack to the clinic this morning. The doctor confirmed our suspicions: a mild ear infection. It's called here, of all things, glue ear: thick, sticky fluid behind the eardrum. Normally the eardrum should be gray and shiny. Jack's is pink and dull. His symptoms are typical: moodiness, slightly raised temperature, loss of appetite and hearing. I knew something was wrong when Jack started turning up the volume on the television and was constantly asking, "What did you say?" The good news: with antibiotics it should clear up in 7-10 days. And also: it's treatable, temporary and not too terribly painful. I'm really thankful for our family's normally excellent health. Counting your blessings, practicing the attitude of gratitude, looking for the silver lining: whatever you call it, it's a habit worth repeating.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Two Years Well Spent

I just filled out a survey for alumni of Africa Inland Mission's TIMO (Training In Ministry Outreach) program. Although TIMO usually establishes two-year teams among people groups in rural villages in Africa, in 1994-1996 our team lived among the South Asians of Nairobi. Twelve years ago may seem like a vague and distant memory to a lot of people my age (!), but my time with TIMO was one of the most defining periods of my life. Answering the survey questions this morning was like commenting on something real and vital and presently active right now. In fact, I was just saying this week to a former student passing through London on a long layover (It was soooo lovely to reconnect with you, Danielle! You’re a beautiful young woman, inside and out, and I’m so very proud of you!) how much my experiences with TIMO prepared me to do just what I’m doing now, right where we are. The invesment of those two years continues to pay huge dividends in my life (and, I pray, in the lives of those around me).

Then I was single and enjoyed the freedom of disappearing into my neighbors’ lives for days at a time: I began waxing, wore shalwar kameez and painted my nails in matching colors, drank pots of masala tea, ate with my hands, watched scores of Hindi films while listening to endless amounts of extended-family gossip, shopped on Ngara Road, attended henna parties and elaborate wedding rituals and, by God’s grace, had several chances to share Truth. No longer single and no longer living in Africa, I’m tied to our home and family routines. I wear jeans, go sleeveless and shop at Sainsbury’s, but the lessons of putting people ahead of time/tasks and investing in cross-cultural friendships have served me well. Extremely, beautifully, immeasurably well.

I tried to answer the open-ended questions of the survey in broad terms because I knew if I started describing individual women (and their particular situations) who’ve been part of my life since TIMO, I’d end up going on and on. That’s something better talked about in person over a pot of tea in the garden or, say, in heaven when we’ve got all the time in the world. Even the generalities, though, are specific in their beneficial impact on my life and work:
As an orientation for further cross-cultural work, TIMO was:
Perfect! TIMO gave me skills and insight that I rely on constantly, most notably the ability to plant myself deeply in the host culture, building and finding joy in heart-level relationships among women within the local community. This has proved to be my lifeline as a (now) wife and mother of two small children because my husband’s ministry requires frequent travel out of the country and there are no other workers with our company living nearby. My life/ministry here is rich and full with friendships across several cultures, and I feel the benefit and influence of my years with TIMO on a daily basis. TIMO also planted in me a deep love and appreciation for South Asian people, food and culture. In both Cyprus and now England, God has brought women from Hindu, Muslim and Sikh backgrounds into my life, extending my opportunities to interact with our team’s wider people group even though I no longer live in Nairobi.

Overall, my TIMO experience was:
Outstanding! Life-changing! A tremendous gift! I’m amazed to look back and see all the ways God used TIMO to prepare my heart and mind specifically for situations I’ve encountered in the twelve (!) years since our team served together. I’m confident that the coming years will reveal even more miracles of His plan to bless and multiply the TIMO investment, and I’m only one among many!
I have a soft, warm spot in my heart for AIM, for TIMO and for all the people -- colleagues, teammates, RVA students and their parents, African/Asian neighbors and friends, other expats -- who were part of that season of my life. They would probably be surprised to know how very often they are part of my thoughts and prayers during the day and my dreams at night, even after all this time.

Sometimes I’m the one who’s surprised, as I was by a call on my mobile phone during a mums’ Bible study recently. The number on display began with 254, the country code for Kenya. “Excuse me,” I said to the other mums. “I really need to take this call.” And suddenly, there was the familiar voice of my Muslim neighbor from South C, calling to say they’d had another grandbaby and when are we coming to see them in Nairobi?

Often I even have a little déjà vu moment, like earlier this week when Sophie stood perfectly still on one of our dining room chairs as a Muslim friend combed and braided her hair. (She never stands still for me!) I was brushing and braiding the long, thick, dark hair of my friend’s two young daughters, and the scene reminded me of the untold hours I spent “doing hair” with the daughters and female cousins of that very same neighbor family. (As Sophie gets older I’m having fun rediscovering girly things and sharing them with her!)

(Many of my friends here have boys because they’re the mums of Jack’s friends at school, but God brought M into my life when we first moved here and renewed our relationship this spring when her elder daughter began taking piano lessons from a woman just down the street from us. Now every Tuesday afternoon M and her daughters walk home from school with us. The children play sweetly together, T goes to her lesson and in the meantime M and I drink tea and chat. She has a lot of pain in her life, and our weekly visits are ideal opportunities for me to share Scripture and speak Truth to her deeply felt needs.)

All this reflection on my TIMO experience and its relevance to the wider call on my life makes me even more grateful to God for the ways He has led me and for the grace-full gift of faith and willingness to follow Him on His terms. It makes me want to encourage young, single believers everywhere to pursue cross-cultural opportunities like TIMO now, while life is relatively uncomplicated and unconfined, just God-and-me. It makes me appreciate the continuity of life, even of seemingly different phases, and the importance of teaching my children the song as well as the concept: Trust and Obey.

It also makes me wonder where Jack and Sophie will end up living when they grow up, in which cultural contexts they will plant their lives and among what people groups they will find the joy of living out their faith for Jesus’ sake?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Every Child Should Be So Blessed

Ten years ago next month, God brought a wonderful man into my life. So wonderful, in fact, that I still wake up each morning intensely relieved, with feelings of admiration and attraction for Matt and indescribable gratefulness to God. One of these days when our little ones are older and my time is not as occupied, I'll sit down and write the story of God's grace in bringing us together. On my end, it was after a season of intentional singleness while recovering from years of regrettable decisions in dating (say that five times fast). To sum up: it was a miracle.

Even when I knew that I loved Matt and wanted to marry him, it wasn't until I really felt God say, "This man is from Me; you can trust him," that I knew. Part of the revelation came in my recognition of Matt's integrity and strength of character -- I knew that he would be a good father to our children. I still remember exactly where I was, coming around the break in the hedge at the end of my early morning walk, when it hit me: Our children would be safe and well cared for on every level.

Of course, when you've known someone ten weeks it's impossible to imagine all the ways a statement like that will play out over ten years' time -- how much I would come to depend on his common sense in times of both certainty and self-doubt; how much his humility and honesty would give our family the love and security that no money can buy; how often his sense of humor would dissolve tension and enable us to find the balance that is crucial to a successful team. Back then, how could I have known these things?

How could I have known how heart-meltingly lovely it would be to see his sweet nature expressed in Jack's personality and his brown eyes reproduced in Sophie's expressions? Or how intensely, how immensely my feelings for him would grow over the years while watching him give and receive affection with them -- playing, teaching, encouraging, praying?

It's not easy, working on something as important as building a family with someone as different from one another as we are in many ways. But I see God's wisdom in bringing us together so that we can trust one another's strengths and balance out one another's weaknesses. We're definitely better together than we are separately, and I'm in awe that I get to be the one walking through life by his side. Our kids have a tremendous role model, and you only need to see their reaction whenever he walks into the room to understand how much they value him as well.

You are an extraordinary man and a truly amazing dad. Happy Father's Day, my Love!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Another Benefit of Being An Older Mom: My Kids Are Too Young To Feel Embarrassed By Me (Yet)

A friend of mine here has a list of things she wants to do before she turns 40. It never occurred to me in my 30s to make such a list. I’ve never been good at long-term goal-setting. I’m great, though, at looking back and being really grateful for the opportunities that have come my way.

I can confidently say that I would never have aspired to start running at age 40, but guess what? I’m halfway through the Couch to 5k program. And on Tuesday night I attended my first Bollywood Dancing class. You heard me! I’m so excited and, simultaneously, so shocked at myself. I’ve never been athletic or physically coordinated by any stretch of the imagination. Not only that, but I have absolutely no innate sense of rhythm.

But here I am, turning 41 in a couple weeks, enjoying the challenge of trying to make my body do new and strange things. I wonder: Is this what it feels like to embrace the freedom of getting older, or is this what a mid-life crisis looks like?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I'm Still Here

I haven't posted much over the past few weeks. First of all, my sister was here! It was pure joy, both having her join in on family life during the day and having her all to myself when the kids were in bed. Lynda came for Jack's half-term break from school, halfway through the two weeks Matt was gone, and we didn't dare waste time on frivolities like watching tv or writing blog posts. Instead we played with Jack and Sophie, took them to the park and hung out in our back garden. We laughed and sang and danced. We made and ate gorgeous meals. We read some, went to the gym some and talked lots. She flew back to NYC last Tuesday, and I fully intended to write about how wonderful her time with us was, but going into all the details was too hard. I missed her too much!

I also haven't spent much time on the computer because the weather has been beautiful, and much of every day I've been outside in our little back garden! This is our third summer here, and after planting, pruning, moving and removing various plants, I'm really happy about how it's all progressing. So won't you pardon me for not posting as regularly while this glorious summer season is here? I want to soak up as much of paradise as I possibly can, while I can.

The other, weightier thing I've been caught up in is the new phase of parenting we find ourselves in. The baby phase I loved, I mean loved, both times around. It's physically exhausting but emotionally rewarding, and we were blessed with sweetsweet, easy babies. The toddler phase can be challenging, I'll admit, but all in all it was predictable, manageable and I still felt somewhat in control. This, though? Not so much. I don't even know what to call it, but basically in the past several months Jack has become his own person (!) with his own ideas (!), his own agenda (!) and his own priorities (!). The hardest bit for me has been facing the fact that I'm definitely not in control.

At first I felt threatened. Then angry. Then defensive, and then scared. I thought about it. I prayed about it. I started talking about it -- to Matt, to the other mums in my small group and at coffee mornings with mums from school -- and I soon recognized that the problem wasn't so much with Jack but with me. I had allowed my expectations of Jack's behavior to affect my attitude toward him, and we were both showing clear signs of feeling the disconnect.

In addition to some refreshingly honest mom blogs, I've been reading some books that are challenging me to think outside my normal box of Proper Parenting. Although not written from a specifically Christian perspective (no offense, Dr. James Dobson, but Bringing Up Boys gave me nothing practical or substantial to go on), they emphasize the importance of treating our children with respect and honor, the way we would want to be treated -- parenting by the Golden Rule -- and showing them unconditional love. These two ideas (not really new, are they? but freshly examined and applied, you might say) have radically affected my thoughts, words and actions toward both Jack and Sophie in the last several weeks.

I hesitate to share the titles of the books because I'm several chapters into each but not all the way through any. And I hesitate to share specific examples of situations I've mishandled with Jack because I'm not brave enough to expose my parenting weaknesses that fully. (You're okay just taking my word for it, right?) But I will say that the reason this new approach is making sense to me is that I know how drastically differently I respond when I'm confronted with something I've done wrong, depending on how I'm confronted. Although I'm no longer a child, my inner sense of security is the same as it has been my entire life: strong and confident when approached gently -- with humility, understanding and grace -- and fearful and defensive when approached harshly -- with judgment, criticism and condemnation. In the former, I'm truly sorry and eagerly look for ways to change/make amends for whatever I've said/thought/done. In the latter, my gut reaction is to defend myself and resist accepting that there may be some truth in the matter.

It's also making sense to me because the Bible is clear that God loves us unconditionally and that, as our Heavenly Father, He's the ideal parenting example. How many times have I done something wrong and been shouted at from the heavens or immediately struck by lightning as a direct result? By contrast, how many times have I done something wrong and been uncomfortable in my conscience, confronted by the words of Scripture/a thoughtful friend/pastor/counselor or suffered the natural consequences?

It may appear that I've become more permissive as a mom or that I've loosened my grip, lowered my expectations and softened my approach toward parent/child accountability. My ongoing quest is to exhibit wisdom, balance and truth in my parenting, to treat my children with dignity, grace and unconditional love and to lovingly prepare and enable them to -- willingly and joyfully -- make wise decisions, both now and as they continue life's journey.

Anyway, that's where I've been the last several weeks.

* * * * * * *
Love is patient, love is kind... It is not rude... it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Elijah Update (June 2008)

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,

Wow! God is AMAZING! Have you ever looked out at the world and thought,
"What is God doing?" I learned a long time ago that He knows exactly what He is doing, and we are here to bring our praise to the Father no matter what our circumstances may be.

Throughout our days, weeks and months in the hospital, not
knowing if Elijah would live the next few hours, we commented several times that we cannot imagine our lives without Christ. God carried us through our tough times and carries us daily as we face the unknown of the future. Whatever your circumstances, remember that God has a plan. We may NEVER know it here on this earth, but He really does have a bigger plan.

We haven't sent out an update since Elijah's birthday in February, but we've
heard from many Elijah warriors who are going through some withdrawal, so we thought we'd throw out a quick update and let you know that Elijah is doing GREAT!

He will be 16 months old this week and hasn't
needed any replacement factor for Hemophilia since August of 2007 -- almost a year! He is trying to figure out the crawling thing now. He is quite funny how he scoots on his side. He is a FAST roller, though, and can get to where he wants to be before you blink if you're not paying attention. If something is in his way, he rolls over it -- toys, pillows, etc. Nothing can stop him from his goal. We love to see this daily as he continues to develop cognitive skills. There appears to be no evidence of damage from his brain hemorrhage. God is AMAZING.

We had hoped that Elijah would be walking by October of this year as he will become a big brother around October 9, but he is moving at his own pace and strengthening his muscles after months of surgeries and being "bundled like a burrito" so he
couldn't pull out any tubes. Be praying for us as we work with him to crawl and walk, keep him from having severe injuries and work with a newborn at the same time.

You may ask... "What if your second child has Hemophilia as well?
Why would you have a second child?"

God tells us that children are a blessing, and we are so excited about a second one. We pray that our new little one is free from a bleeding
disorder, but there is nothing wrong with Elijah. We don't want him growing up thinking he is different or odd. He has a condition that is treatable, and we are grateful for his life.

If Elijah's brother or sister has Hemophilia, we will praise the Lord. Elijah will then have someone to teach, someone to talk to about life, someone to go to camp with, someone who will understand when he feels down about infusions. If our boy/girl does not
have Hemophilia, we will yet praise the Lord. Praise Him in all circumstances. He really does know the big picture!
We hope you are enjoying your start of summer. Schools are out here in Kansas,
and we are awaiting the wheat harvest in a few months. As always, we appreciate your prayers for Elijah and for us.

In the love of Christ,
Judy, Joel and Elijah