Sunday, October 16, 2016

For the Days When God Gives You a Thorn....

I spend the days leading up to Thursday trying to get everything ready for our trip.
There is the normal list anybody might make when preparing to travel out of town for a few days: washing and drying laundry, pulling out all the clothes to be taken on the trip and getting them packed before they can be worn on accident, and getting the house clean, because who wants to come home to a mess?
There is also the abnormal list anybody might make when living in Ghana: making and packing food for breakfast on the road, because there are no fast-food restaurants on the way, packing all things necessary for roadside pit stops, because there are only two rest stops {right next door to each other!} on this trip of almost 300 km, and packing plenty of water, because traveling past 9 am gets really hot.
Then there is MY list, the one that I don't dare write down.

We aren't going on a vacation.
Oh, we plan on trying to work in a few fun things, but this is a visit made out of necessity.
We have two passports to renew.
Though they simply look like small, blue booklets, without them we cannot do any of the things we do here daily.
Since our children are underage, there is a long list of necessary documents and requirements including picture progressions from birth, birth certificates, papers proving everybody involved is who they say they are, forms, money, and the list goes on.
I spend one frantic morning trying to find the missing original birth certificates, because all I can find is copies, and nothing without the official seal is good enough for the government, but finally our file is ready to be packed in daddy's bag.
He gets to carry all the really important stuff.

Then there is the other reason for this journey.
Our little Lili has a doctor's appointment.
It has been about 18 months since she had her heart surgery here in Ghana.
I have nothing physical I have to pack for this part of our trip.
The doctor has her records.
I simply have to pack up my hopes, expectations, and five-year old prayers for my daughter's heart.

We enjoy the trip down the coast: the green, foggy jungle, the stretches of golden grassland, and the jutting rocky mountains all making the excursion an enjoyable one.
We meet with friends.
We visit some of our favorite places.
We sit in lots of traffic.
We pick up a few special things we can't get at home.
We relax a bit at the guest house.
I try to stuff my list down deep inside of me: the questions, the wonderings, the what-ifs.

Saturday morning Daddy takes Lili to the clinic.
I wait with everyone else at the guest house.
Though she is to be the first appointment of the day, it takes longer than expected.
We have hoped and prayed for this day.
We want to hear that the surgery was completely successful.
We want to hear that the enlargement of her heart is gone now that the pressure is gone.
We want her to be perfectly whole.

Through the window I see the car pull in the gate.
I watch my husband get out of the car, and I know.
From the look in his eyes, the hunch of his shoulders, I can see that this list I've carried so long is not going to get thrown away with the old, used-up lists after our trip.

John tells me about the appointment.
Lili is pale, her eyes wide and a bit scared.
She's been a brave girl, but every time she has to lay in a room, hooked up to the machines, she remembers some of the pain she's already had to face in her short life.
I wanted those days to be gone.
I don't want her to have to face these things again.

The doctor is pleased with Lili's growth and health.
Dr. Yaa is excited to hear of her progress.
As she does the scan, she's happy to see that the surgery was a complete success and the enlargement of her heart that was there after her operation is gone.
But then she notices a problem, another area where the oxygenated and unoxygenated blood seems to be mixing.
It seems that the swelling of her tiny heart was plugging up another hole.
Now that the enlargement is gone, there is nothing to stop the blue and red from mixing.

The hole is too small to require surgery.
She doesn't have to take medicine.
In fact, she only needs to have her heart checked every other year.
She will have to be monitored more closely during puberty and any future pregnancies.
These are the times when a hole in the heart can be cause for concern.
All in all, the prognosis is a good one.

But it is NOT the one I wanted.
I wanted Lili healed.
I pleaded for this trial to be removed.
I didn't want to bear this difficulty anymore.
So many times I've asked God to take this away.
The thorn stabs deep.
As it gouges me, God quietly asks me if I'm willing to accept this in my life.
It is hard to say yes, because this isn't a difficulty just for myself, but for my family, for my daughter.
As the fears and worries course through my mind, He brings another image to mind: another One who had to face the thorns.
A child who had to grow up knowing that someday He would wear a crown of thorns, and then would freely give His life for me and for my Lili.
And so, I surrender.
I open my hands to whatever He chooses for our lives and receive it as good.
I will bear these spikes, these barbs, knowing that His grace will be enough,
resting in the hope that His strength will be made perfect in our weakness.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

For the Days When You're Afraid of the Week Ahead....

Dear Soul,
It's Sunday night here and all is quiet.
Ahhhhh, not something I get to enjoy too much in this household of mine.
It's been a drizzly, muddly, cold day here {well, cold is a bit relative!}.
I'm taking a few minutes on this Sunday evening to reflect on my week just past and the one almost knocking at my door.

Though technically Sunday is the first day of the week and Saturday is the last, my life seems to be hinged on Sunday.
As a missionary, Sundays end up being both the last day of my busy week, and the first day of the next.
The week we've just finished was a busy one, but then again, they are all busy, aren't they?
I had my share of mess-ups.
Several mornings were rough and frustrating.
We had chunks of school time that my only goal was to just.get.through.them.
I'm afraid we weren't always happy to be "learning together."
Supper wasn't always on the table on time.
In fact, there was more than one night when I was slinging hash, and barking orders, and buckling sandals, and remembering {right before I needed to run out the door} that I hadn't managed to get in the bathtub yet.

There were days when I said unkind words,
rolled my eyes,
got frustrated,
pretended I didn't hear my kiddos calling my name,
was not loving to my husband.

I'm not proud of those facts, but that doesn't make them untrue.

Some days I was able to wake up early and get both my Bible reading AND prayer time done before the little ones came pounding down my door for breakfast.
I was able to talk gently and calmly even when one of my children had soaked herself completely {and changed her clothes!} five times in one day.
Some days school went smoothly and we spent time reading aloud and enjoying the gift of just being a family.

I sinned.
I asked for forgiveness.
I was afraid.
I walked by faith.
I made choices based on my fleshly desires.
I made decisions based on God's Word.
I wanted to quit.
I did.
I started over again.

I had good moments and bad ones,
happiness and sadness,
victories and defeats.
And now, on the cusp of a clean, new, empty week, I have a choice.

I can look at all the failures of the last week and sink to wallow in despair,
or I can accept the truth that my God's mercies are new every morning and look to Him to lead me through the days ahead.
By faith, I choose to look to the Faithful One.

Have a lovely week!

P.S. This week we go for Lili's 2 year heart check-up.  Would you please pray that she is given a clean bill of health? Thank you.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

For the Days When You Know You Need to Pray.......But It's Hard To Do

It's something all of us *know* we are supposed to do.
I think many of us want to pray.
I'm guessing that for most of us, we try to do it, too.

I know that personally I've tried many times to start a prayer journal.
I've set up prayer schedules, and prayer lists, and prayer times.
I've visited prayer closets, and signed up for prayer vigils.
I've read books on prayer, and I've read different bloggers thoughts on how to start praying.
I've learned acrostics to pray more intelligently.

But for me, all of those attempts were lacking on thing.....
actually praying.
Being raised by godly parents, having many godly mentors, and being raised in a good church, I've heard about others having prayers answered.
I've seen it in my family growing up.
I've even had prayers answered myself.

I still wouldn't say that I had a consistent, real prayer life, though.

Several years ago, we started a family devotional time.
We would read a little bit of Scripture, and then John would pray for our day.
Then one day John mentioned that we really needed to pray about our upcoming rent and some things with our landlady.
Since I have an awful memory, I asked if I could write it on a card.
I could pull it out at breakfast, and then I would remember to remind him to pray for the situation.

Over time we began to slowly add cards.
We didn't plan it all out specifically, it just kind of happened.
I found an old basket, pulled out our stash of 3x5 cards, and slowly our prayer basket grew.
We added our missionary prayer cards.
After Christmas I added all the family pictures we'd been sent.
One day John thought we should add our supporting churches.
I added a stack for the missionaries we know and pray for here in Ghana.
It gave us a chance to bring our family's needs and things we felt should be prayed for before the Lord, together, as a family.

And then one day, something unbelievable happened!
That very first prayer card, the one about our rent and our landlady got answered.
Out of the blue!
It was a matter we thought would have to be dealt with when the rent came due, after lengthy discussions with our landlady and her lawyer.
Instead, God prompted her to send us a letter, months before our rent was to be paid {we pay two years at a go, here!}, with all our concerns already answered......and we hadn't asked her any of the questions yet.

You would think that I would grasp the power of God's working in this situation, but as excited as I was, I didn't really dwell on the fact that God was answering these simple prayers we were praying every morning at breakfast.

Since that day several years ago, our family has seen God answer numerous prayers, both big and small.
Sadly, since I'm made of forgetful flesh, I've doubted God's guidance recently.

We have a lot of things we are praying about right now.
BIG things.
Things that need answers.

I've been tempted to worry.
I don't exactly need the answers right now, but it sure would be nice.
Every morning when we pull out the cards, the Lord reminds me that He has it under control.

And then last week rolled around.
We got an unexpected email, which led to a skype call.
This was followed by another phone call from a friend far away.
And suddenly, God has answered prayer after prayer after prayer.
After silence for so long, He simply opened the heavens and dropped the answered prayers right into our waiting hands.....
right on time, if not a bit early!

I share this with you today not to boast about how well I pray,
or what a spiritual person I am,
or to garner applause,
or gather praise.
I write this so that if there is someone reading who has a burdened heart,
who wonders if God is listening at all,
or struggles with the discipline it takes to pray,
that maybe this will encourage that one to
write it down
and pray that prayer
and wait patiently to see God answer.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

New Mercies

So this is what we've been doing the last several weeks.....
a lot of living
and working
and serving
and ministering
and learning
and growing
and making messes
and crying
and reading
and writing
and feeling worn out
and feeling full of joy
and feeling overwhelmed
and feeling hopeful.
His mercies and His strength are new every single morning.
I couldn't be more grateful.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

For the Days When Nothing Goes as Planned.....

We started something new on Monday morning ~ our first meeting of our little homeschool group.
It is nothing fancy, and isn't going to grow any bigger.
It's just the little circle of missionary families that are working with us right now meeting together from time to time to learn something.

We had a very long weekend we'd just finished {having a day of special studies at church most of the day Saturday}, so I was looking forward to a productive week.
In my mind everything was planned out nice and orderly.
On Monday, a dear friend was coming to teach our group how to make traditional tie-and-dye cloth.
She was to arrive at ten o'clock; we'd learn a bit; our group would be finished by two o'clock, and then some of our friends would come for a cook out.

On Tuesday the carpenter would come to install the cabinets in our slowly-being-renovated kitchen.
We'd jump back into school Tuesday while he was doing so.
He'd be done with installation by the end of school, and then as a family we'd clean up the construction mess and have a bright and shiny new kitchen {something we've been working towards for five months!}.

We'd have a lovely week of school following the excitement of Monday and get lots accomplished.
Hopefully we'd even get the last box of school things we were waiting on! week hasn't gone like any of that at all.
My friend got delayed on Monday.
She didn't arrive at my house until ten minutes after one.
We still had a great time learning from her, and our cloth turned out beautifully {if I do say so myself!}, but it didn't go according to plan.

I ended up not getting to cook supper until later than I'd planned.
Our sausages didn't get buns made to match.
We had a wonderful, refreshing time with our friends.
But, it wasn't how I'd thought it would go.

When we started clearing out our kitchen Tuesday morning for the carpenter, we realized that we better deep clean everything before he arrived.
Dad called a "lifeschool day" and everybody jumped in to help.
We did a good dose of spring cleaning, but the carpenter never showed up, which meant that the entire contents of my kitchen were now piled in our front living/dining room.

The carpenter called Wednesday morning and said he was on his way, so I started a load of laundry {which after several off-schedule days I was woefully behind on!} and headed into the school room with the girls.
He finally arrived to drop off the cabinets and inform us he couldn't install them right then.
At that point my washer started making strange noises.

As I looked at the cabinets, I realized the carpenter had added a bit of artistic flair to one of the pieces.
I didn't like it at all.
The repair man said he could only come to our house if my husband came to pick him up.
John had a list a million miles long of things to be done, and a repair man from the same place had just been at our house on Monday to fix something else that had broken, so he asked the repair man to take public transportation to the house.
He never showed up.

The carpenter finally arrived this morning with all his tools and his apprentice in tow.
What should have taken three hours was still not done at six o'clock this evening.
Apparently the mason who poured the concrete frames for the cabinets did not ever use a level.....
enough about that.
The repair man for the washing machine called to say he was on his way to our house twice.
He never managed to arrive.

By the time school was out today I was feeling absolutely spent, wrung out, exhausted.
I shooed the kiddos outside and tried to gather my wildly scattered thoughts.
Why did I feel so frustrated?
Why was I on edge?
I knew my mind needed renewing, but where had my thinking gone wrong in the first place?

As I thought back over my week, I started to puzzle out a bit of a design.
It was vague at first, but the longer I analyzed my week, the clearer it became.
My week looked a bit like the beginning stages of our tie-and-dye.
As we were preparing our cloth for dying, our teacher showed us the ways to fold or tie the cloth to gain a specific pattern when we were finished.
I couldn't see how see how it was going to turn out, but if I followed the proper procedure it would produce something lovely.

I started my week with an extensive list of plans.
They weren't bad or sinful.
They were MINE, though, and I wanted them to go exactly my way.
When something arose that I didn't foresee happening, instead of dying to self and letting go of what I thought should happen, I got irritated.
My rights were being trampled on.
Why weren't people respecting my time? plans? needs? way of doing things?

The Master Artist knew what He wanted my week to look like.
He knew where the folds and bends should be, where the dye should pool deeply, and where it should simply wash the fabric with a light color.
He could see what I couldn't.
He understood that I was valuing having my way above all else, and that this week wasn't about my plans at all.
It was about reminding me that His will for my life is far more important than anything I can plan out, and that if I yield myself a living sacrifice,
He can make my life something intricate, beautiful, and glorifying to Him.