Sunday, September 27, 2015

For the Days When It's Too Dark to See the Next Step.....

Many decades ago Africa was called the Dark Continent.
Truly, I never knew darkness until coming here.
My first trip to visit this place I now call home was some 15 years ago.
Our airplane landed late at night, we went through customs, got our baggage, went straight to a nearby restaurant, and then drove most of the night through the darkest, bushiest place I'd ever seen in my life.
For hours the only lights we saw were the passing headlights of trucks and cars, dying cook fires in villages we passed, and a newly-flipped semi-truck that was burning while people were still trying to empty it of its cargo.

We were so tired by the time we got to our guest house rooms that I can hardly remember it. The next day was a busy blur of heat, bright sunshine, lots of noise, and trying to stay awake. I think we slept a bit that afternoon, and by the time the sun went down, every one of us on the trip was wide awake. That night a tropical storm came crashing in, lightning shredding the sky, thunder rolling and beating down on us. As soon as the winds began to howl, the lights went off. Standing on our third floor balcony, we searched for just a prick of light, but as far as our eyes could see, there was nothing but darkness. Soon the rains came, wave after wave of hot water trying to knock us down. We laughed, and we played, and we screamed into the roiling, soaking black of the night.
There were glimpses of a greater darkness on that trip, but nothing I could really comprehend until I moved here.

I've learned to face physical darkness, as we often live for hours and hours without electricity, and sometimes the hours stretch into days and nights.
I've met people here whose eyes are pits of darkness, their minds so tainted by sin that there is not a flicker of light or life left.
Some days the darkness comes for me.
It begins to creep around the edges of my mind, the lies that Satan whispers just loud enough to be heard.
He sends noises and fears in the deep hours of the night, when the mind is fuzzy with sleep, and it is easy to fall prey to His fiery darts speeding one after the other, starting a smoldering fire of terror in my soul.
Other days, it isn't the darkness I can physically feel, but a darkness of the emotions.
It isn't the pulsing, sweating, in-the-pit-of-the-stomach-fear, but instead a discouraging, worrying, dullness that slowly overtakes the heart, until all is dry, and shriveled, and empty.
This is the fear that comes when trials arise with no clear answers, when friends and family are facing pain and there is nothing anyone can do it take it away, when I feel like I should know all the words to say to make it better, but my mind is empty, my tongue is still, and the prayers sent heavenward feel like they are bouncing off brass.
This darkness aches.
It wants to lose hope.
It's the darkness that feels like it will never ever end, that nothing will ever be right in this sad world again.
It's a suffocating darkness that slowly presses all the air out of the lungs and all the truth out of the mind.

This is a place God asks us to live from time to time: a place with no seeming answers, no clear direction, and sometimes, no words to even pray.
We sit in this darkness, hunting for a tiny ray of light.
We try to force our mouths to frame the words of a prayer, though it comes out jumbled and senseless.
We seek the way to go forward, but there isn't even light for a step.
It seems like this is a darkness that will never end, the light blotted out permanently.

It is in these times I must remember to be still, to not force to move forward.
Though all I want is to find a way out of this hard place, I must not move before it is my time to do so.
I'm learning the importance of quiet expectation and hopeful surrender.
I practice waiting patiently.
And as I learn to match my will to His, the waiting becomes a time of peaceful resting, knowing that when He's ready, His light will burst through the clouds, bringing light, and life, and hope to those who sit in darkness.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

This Month & Random Facts

It's late on Sunday night, and I'm tired.
We had an amazing day at church today ~ one of our members brought 30 visitors today......
Yes, you read that right.
He's part of a group of men who've come together to help the underprivileged, and he's been working for quite a while to get them to visit our church.
Today they came, a few bringing their wives and small children.
We love all our opportunities to minister, but some days take a bit more out of a person, if you know what I mean.
Really, this month has been that way.
It's been a month of lots of good, but out-of-the-ordinary chances to share the gospel and edify the brethren.

As my mind was kind of reeling through this crazy month {that's not over yet!}, I started scrolling through my pictures.......
which led to the thought of odd things......
which led to this totally random post.

If you are up for it, here are some strange and funny facts about me and my life:

#1. Even though I live in Africa, I too have to go to the zoo to see elephants.

#2. I stink at taking selfies. This was my best one after 8 tries!

#3. I am a food snob. In fact, I pack weird gourmet salt in my luggage to bring to Ghana. I cannot eat chocolate brownies or chocolate chip cookies without salt now.

#4. I render my own lard {see #3}.

#5. We have a new baby born to one of our church members, but she cannot leave the house or be called by her proper name until she is 40 days old.

#6. Nothing makes my mama-teacher heart thump like a little one's very first renditions of those she loves!

#7. My youngest just turned two. Her local name is Yaa Nane, which literally means Thursday-born girl, fourth in her family. Because I have four girls, people outside will often call me Nane-Maame, meaning mother of four.

#8. My younger two can be found most hours of most days with their "babies" on their backs. And yes, my daughter thinks Peter Rabbit is her baby.

#9. I used to struggle with a Martha Stewart complex. Having four children has really helped me get over that. In fact, when Mackay's birthday cake fell apart, I just told everybody it was a Jungle Earthquake Cake. Since it tasted good, nobody cared!

#10. I love to craft, but I have very little time or resources, so I have to plan each one very carefully. Sometimes it take months {or years} to get some of them done. Right now I'm redoing a small shelf in the schoolroom by decoupaging it with stamps from all over the world my mother has been saving for a long time{a decade, maybe?}. Yes, the fun is in seeing the final product, but I find lots of fun in the doing, too!

*So just for fun, what is a totally random, little known bit of information about you?
I'd love to hear!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

For the Days When You've Believed a Lie.....About Yourself

There are days in life when suddenly a door explodes open in your mind and you suddenly know something about yourself that's always been there but you never really knew before.
There are days that mark a point in life that you can measure everything else from, because some new truth has so gripped your soul that everything must be different from that point on.
And there are times when your heart hurts and you feel empty because of all the tears you've shed for realization of truths that somehow you've missed your entire existence.

That's been my life lately.
None of this is because I'm an amazingly spiritual person with keen soul insight, in fact, the opposite is true.
My recent revelations have come about because the Holy Spirit has slowly been whispering truth into my soul's ears, and I've finally awakened enough to hear the are believing lies.

How exactly does one start to believe a lie?
It's not always easy to pinpoint the moment when a lie gets accepted as truth in one's mind, but it happens, more often than I ever realized.
Lies about

I use my time to answer waiting emails, and a voice hisses that I should be cleaning up the kitchen.
I start washing the dirty lunch dishes, and a whisper reminds me of all those waiting emails.
I eat an apple before supper, and the accusations ring through my mind about how I should have had more self-control.
I eat an extra piece of dessert at a friend's house, and the mocking voice haunts me with the thought that I'm not taking care of the temple God has given me.
I hate my to-do list, because whatever I do, it will be wrong.
I despise eating, because no matter what I choose, certainly I could have made a better choice.
If I spend time playing with my girls, I feel guilty for skipping the necessary housework.
As I grab the broom and start sweeping the house, I feel the burden on my shoulders reminding me I'm not outside with my girls.
I go through a tiring time, and I get discouraged.

The first attacks are those barbed hooks of doubt, embedding themselves into my soul.
As I try to pull them out, part of me is left torn and bleeding.
I search the Scripture for truth, but verse after verse is twisted into an ugly weapon to be used against me.
I've swallowed the hook of a lie, and I'm caught.

How many of those lures have I gulped down over the years?
Enough to cause a lot of internal damage.
I feel weak, hollow, guilty.

This is not how God intended me to live.
The Father of Lies desires for me to live this way.
He does his best to deceive me into believing that this is just how I am.
These are just besetting sins.
I'm stuck this way.
It is a lie.

There is victory in Christ.
There is healing for my soul.
I can live in the spirit and not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.
He can gently pull out those snares and make me whole again.
I don't have to live in fear or doubt or worry or shame.

So I hunt for those hidden lies, the ones I know are buried down so deeply that they are easy to miss.
Once I find them, I ask God for the truth I need to know to remove them.
I search my life for the untruths I've allowed to flood my mind about this particular snare, and then I memorize God's true words about this area of my life.
I grab onto these Words as the lifeline they are.
And then I let my Saviour pull me to safety.
I am His, and He is mine.
On this, I can safely stand,
resting in His holy, loving hand.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

My Church Family

They come from different tribes and various villages.
They speak lots of languages, many of them speak more than two.

Some of them come, and we wonder if they are catching anything at all, because they can't speak the same tongue as anyone else in our congregation.
Some are well educated, having earned masters degrees.
Many of them cannot read any of the one, two, or three languages they can speak.

Some of them live with grandparents, or aunts, or uncles, or family friends.
Many of them have never lived with both a mom and dad in the same house.
Some of them have grown up with one father and many mothers.

It takes lots of time for some of the little ones to get comfortable in Sunday School.
Months will go by with them simply staring as the songs are sung and the stories are told.

They invite neighbors, co-workers, friends, family, all so they can hear the truth of the gospel they won't hear too many other places.
They ask Pastor to help them visit those who've never heard the truth of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection.

They call when they are sick, someone is in the hospital, or a new baby has been born.
They call when they are struggling with temptation and need answers or counsel.

Some days the little ones are naughty.
Some days it's all I can do to get them to sit still for twenty minutes.
They get excited when something new happens in Sunday school ~ coloring Goliath with colored pencils is a rare treat.
There aren't special take-home papers every week or snacks, but that's okay, because these little ones are getting to hear all the stories of the Bible for the first time.

We crowd together, elbows and knees and smart remarks flying, and we try to work together.
We play review games, and some days, many of the children don't remember the answers......but then one day, someone who has never answered a question before gets one right.
Everybody cheers!

We work hard to get people in church, but many days what we have to offer ~ the truth ~ nobody wants.
It's always hard when those you've worked with and labored for suddenly disappear.
It's hard to live in a place where people don't have permanent homes except in their home villages.
The people we work with have always been a transient people.

But some of our people we've known for a long time.
We've seen their children born, and growing, and now they are part of Sunday school.
We see as they try to raise their children in a Christian home ~ something they've never experienced themselves.

They don't always do it right.....but they try.
They desire to see God work in their families.

We are thankful for our university students, who though they are from other cities, have chosen to join us while they are here for schooling.
It's always fun to try to tune your ear to a new dialect.

Some of these people we will pour our hearts into, and then suddenly, they'll be gone.
Some will be sick a few days and then gone into eternity.
Others will have to move, and the new place/new relative they're staying with/new circumstances won't allow them to be in church.
It's hard when such a one is whisked away.

Most of them have had a close family member die.
Others live oceans apart from those dear to them.

They are all different, with more backgrounds and heartwrenching stories than one could possibly imagine, but they share one thing in common: they love Jesus, and they love their church family.
They are faithful and hardworking.
They serve without complaint.
They give of what they have to see God's work go forward.

They aren't perfect, but I'm so glad I'm blessed to call them my church family here in Ghana.

Friday, September 11, 2015


{a rose from my bush I thought would never bloom!}

My hubby and I arrived on the mission field with 10 U-Haul cardboard boxes and 2 suitcases.
We tried to pack what we thought we'd really need.
Really? We had no idea what we were doing.
Our boxes included things like cut-in-half rolls of Christmas wrapping paper, a laptop, maternity clothes, sweatshirts, hiking boots, a beautiful pitcher we'd received as a wedding gift, an econo-size bottle of hand sanitizer, a Camelback water carrier, backpacks, Nike sports sandals, white dress shirts, and a nativity.
As you can imagine, we would have done better to maybe pack things like bed sheets, towels, study books, and NO white dress shirts.

{got our couch recovered with fake leather by the man we redoes car interiors ~ now I can wipe off all the sticky hand prints!}

Though it might sound odd, one thing I really struggled with packing, and then wished I'd packed more of, was things to make our living place a home.
Our first three years on the field we lived in three different places.
Place number one was a local third-floor apartment, which included an open space blocked from our neighbors by a tall plywood 3/4 wall {that bats and all manner of other creatures could fly over}, a bedroom for John and me, a bedroom for the pastor we were staying with, a toilet room {really, that was the only thing in that room}, a shower room {with a pit shower}, a room for our living room, a kitchen with a wooden table with a hotplate, a cupboard, a small fridge, and a tap and drain, and a balcony to hang our clothes on. We had a bar behind us, a bar to the right of us, a charismatic church to the left of us, and a mosque a few streets over.

{new lamps for my birthday to replace the bare bulbs we've had since we moved here!}

Place number two was more than we wanted, but we were desperate to find a place of our own before Carey was born.
It was a two-floor duplex that downstairs had a big living room, a bathroom with toilet and tub, and a kitchen so small our new full-size fridge had to sit in the hallway, and an upstairs landing with three bedrooms off of it, one including a bathroom with tub and toilet, and a balcony. One of the upstairs bedrooms couldn't be used, because the built-in closet had become infested with flying ants, and no matter what we did, we never could seem to get rid of them.
This house had the brand-new fashionable glass windows......with no screens. And since we don't use insulation in our roofs here, we slept in the oven that was created by tropical sun beating on zinc roofing sheets all day.
We had a small elementary school right at the back of our house, and every morning we'd wake to ten or twenty kids standing on the flat roof of the school building trying to look in our bedroom windows.

{my mother's day gift!}

The last place {and the place we still live} was a flat. God literally dropped this place in our laps. It was built in a style we were a little more used to, as many of the houses here have lots of corridors with all the rooms branching off of them. It had a front porch, a large living room, a hall, a large kitchen with pantry, a bedroom for the girls, a school room, an alcove for the washing machine and a bathroom, and a master bedroom with attached bathroom.
The hotel next door hosts rocking all-night parties from time to time.

{an old mirror my kids broke turned into a chalkboard}

The funny thing is, all these places had one big thing in common ~ they were just buildings to live in. They weren't homes.
When we moved here, we were young and enthusiastic about the work God had called us to. We didn't really think much about the importance of having a home on the mission field. We were "here to preach the gospel!" We "didn't need nothing fancy!"
Each one was just a shelter to eat in, bathe in, and sleep in.

{my "new" kitchen chalkboard made from contact paper}

How very, very wrong we were.
Isobel Kuhn was told, "When you get to the mission field, all the scum of your nature will rise to the top." As horrible as that sounds, it is the absolute truth. God has to work on the missionary before the missionary can ever do any work for God.
God uses every single available tool to help in refining the missionary. And, oh, it hurts.
It's easy to imagine yourself as a good Christian at home, but as Ruth Paxson put it,
"Let us put this best product of the flesh to the test. Let us take it from a home in which love reigned and sweet companionship was its daily portion, where books lined the library shelves, beautiful pictures adorned the walls, snow white linen covered the table, and from a community life that offered everything to satisfy the intellectual, social, aesthetic, and spiritual desires and needs. Transplant this life to an inferior village on the mission field to live within a house with several people of varying temperaments and tastes, with limited household appointments, with untaught, untrained servants, with nothing upon which to rest the eye but mud walls and dirty narrow streets, surrounded by jarring voices and unpleasant odors, and a furlough seven years off -- would this best product of the flesh stand the test and come off more than conqueror?"
While things for us weren't quite so extreme, to a newcomer's eye, they seemed the same.
And our flesh? It did not conquer.

{my hubby's old map, a dowel rod, and some twine ~ perfect cover up for an oddly placed window}

As we learned more about ourselves, the Lord began to show us the importance of a home. Not a house, but a HOME. Not because we deserved it, but because we needed it. Our job here is all-consuming, and a place to rest, a place to raise our children surrounded by the beauty the Lord allows, a place to feel safe when everything outside seems hostile, a place to show hospitality to believers and unbelievers alike, a place to laugh, and learn, and grow together, and a place to exemplify what a godly marriage and biblical child-rearing looks like are so necessary to our mission.

{inspiring words!}

It's not so much about what the house looks like ~ it's more about what happens here.
Do we live in such a way that people wealthier than us and people poorer than us can both come to our home a feel welcome?
Do I spend lots of money trying to make everything perfect, or do I use a bit of imagination and what I have available to make our home warm and comfortable?
Is our home full of life, the True Life, that makes all things alive again?
Ultimately, I must ask, Is my home a gift I can give myself, my family, my friends, those I minister to, and my Lord?

*A glance into some newly refreshed "corners" of our home.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Our Nest: From Schoolroom into Library & Some Thoughts on Learning at Home

{an old picture of our schoolroom}

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
That's what our favorite educator once said.....but some days the air gets thin, and those good habits go veering off the rails, and we fill our days with things that stifle life, not give it.

{when you run out of room for bookshelves....go up!}

When I sit down to write out my plans for the looming school year, I try to keep in mind the things I've learned to be true about teaching my girls at home:

1. The first tool of education is the atmosphere. It is the air we breathe and the shield that protects us from that which would harm us. I don't set up my house in miniature, remove everything that is too advanced, speak in baby talk, or paint my walls in garish colors just because my littlest might like it. Instead, I ask myself if each part of our lives is teaching what I feel should be taught. Is our home comfortable for learning? Do we have access to living books and the best ideas that will feed our minds? Am I continuing my own life education as their mother? Are we curious? thoughtful? hard working? Do we live in a home where minds are stretched? Is learning a part of our everyday life?

{our new bench seat under the window ~ doubles as a bed for visitors!}

2. The second tool of education is discipline. What are our habits? Am I doing the hard work of instilling good habits in my children, or am I just hoping they'll "grow out of" the bad habits and "someday" develop good ones? Are we consistently practicing doing the right things? Once something is a habit, it's like a train on a train track. It's not too hard to keep it going the right direction. Habits are hard......but they make life easy. 
I must be willing to ask myself the difficult questions: do we speak kindly? study passionately? work diligently? do we complain? "forget" to do our assignments? Are we a family that loves each other? Are we striving to live out the gospel? Do we think truth?
As Charlotte put it, "Every day, every hour the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon anything else future character and conduct depend."

{our arts and crafts shelf ~ muffin tins are perfect for holding all the tiny bits and bobs}

{our math manipulatives from Right Start Mathematics}

{a perfect spot to read}

3. The third tool of education is life. I heard it many years ago from a godly man, "Life touches life." Every day I am supposed to be following Christ, and I should be inviting my children to go with me so that one day, they too will choose to follow Him. I knew that to be true about discipleship, but it took a while for me to understand that it applied to the education of my children, too.
But not only my life should be touching their lives. Authors, composers, artists, scientists, geographers, and the Word Himself should all be speaking directly to my children through the use of living books. We feed our minds with ideas that make us think. We eat widely and sumptuously. We feast on the beauty of the masters, whether in music or art or poetry or Shakespeare or the Bible.

{nature study supplies}

{an old desk we had refurbished into a table to fit everybody}

{Mackay LOVES kneading dough.....actually pounding it to death!}

{our nature shelf}

I must also keep in mind why we are doing our schooling this way....
"The question is not, -- how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education -- but how much does he care? And about how many orders does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? And, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?" 
I'm not planting seeds just for today; I'm planting seeds for a lifetime.

*So pleased to say that we no longer have a classroom....we have a library.
I've always wanted to live in a house with a library. I just didn't realize all I had to do was build one!
This room is a bit tricky to take good pictures in, but I hope you've enjoyed the peeks here and there.
These two photos were our inspiration for our shelves. I'm so very thankful that we have talented carpenters, beautiful wood, and amazing prices here in Ghana!