Unraveled, Part 1

Before I begin: 

I am one of those people who writes to sort out my own thoughts. Maybe these ideas make sense to you, or maybe they don't. If they don't, please don't feel obligated to read, but if they do, please feel free to join me as I begin to share how God has turned my life upside down in the last few years. He has been so good to shine His loving light into the darkest recesses of my heart and mind, and maybe some of that light might spotlight a few places in your heart and mind, too. Thanks for joining me as we journey together towards Jesus.

I am by no means a patient person. 
Walking fast, talking fast, moving fast....well, that is just how I am.
When I moved to East Tennessee to attend college I had people regularly stop me and ask why I was in such a hurry all the time. What was the rush?
Maybe somewhere I got the idea in my head that if I didn't hurry I'd miss out on life, so I whisked from one thing to the next.
Always efficient.
Always industrious.
Always getting the next thing done on the list so I could go to the next and then the next and then the next.
In all this speeding along, I also came to the erroneous conclusion that learning and knowledge, understanding and wisdom could come the same way.
Read this book.
Take this class.
Listen to this sermon.
Double check.
Make this decision.
Check. Check.
Right down the list I moved, sure that as soon as I had heard all the right things I would "get it."
But I didn't.
I felt like my mind and my heart were always in continual knots, all snarled and twisted, hoping to find some way to smooth everything out.
I kept tugging, yanking, jerking, pulling, trying to sort all these things I thought I knew into their proper places, but deep inside of me knowing that I was missing something.

The January before a milestone birthday I felt like I was at a crossroads. Was I ever going to see the growth that I had always longed for? Would I ever feel like this was "mine," that I could actually have personal fellowship with the One I called Lord? Or would I always feel like I was just missing it, that it was looming somewhere out there, just far enough out of reach that I could never quite grasp it?

My cry for ears to hear and eyes to see was one of desperation, but it was a cry.
Per the usual, though, God did not answer my prayers in the way I expected.
He didn't drop what I thought I wanted in my lap.
He showed me a way instead of giving me an answer.

The Holy Spirit began to show me that the way to true growth and loving fellowship was not about a list of do's and don'ts, in fact it wasn't about a list at all. It looked more like sitting down with my tangled sewing basket, pulling out the tumbled mass of threads, and starting to unravel them one by one. Patient, purposeful tearing apart of what I thought to be true was what I really needed.

He began to show me that my years of being an answer-getter was getting me nowhere.
I am to seek a Person.
My way of rushing to the next thing was only hurrying me away from Him.
He is in no hurry.
My habits of speed and efficiency were just boons to my pride.
He asked for humility.
Rather than me doing my best to make a spiritual life for myself, He asked me to trust His way and leave the weaving up to Him.

When It's a Using-Crutches-No-Electricity-Fighting-Ants-And-Fears Kinda Week

I know exactly when I took these pictures, because the day after we tromped all around our neighborhood reveling in creation, playing Pooh Sticks at the meandering river, and snapping pictures of birds, I went to have my foot cut open.
I've had a problem for a while now, one that we tried to deal with on furlough, but it just didn't get fixed properly. So now was the time. The doctor was familiar with the growth; it seems to be something that arises more commonly here than on the other side of the pond. I asked not to be put to sleep. He has done more than one surgery on me before. He knows how I hate to be put to sleep. He knows how those types of medicine affect me. He agreed.
He started early, and though he used local anesthetics, I could still feel pressure....a lot of pressure. As I lay there in that cold, quiet, sterile room I knew that I was facing a battle of the mind.
I have learned in these almost 17 years here in Ghana that fear is a powerful thing, and it is not of God.
But some days? Fear seems to be the easiest thing.
As he cut, and pulled, and tugged my foot, doing his best to remove the growth that wouldn't stop getting bigger, that was beginning to press my bones apart, I began to pray. It was a prayer of desperation, because all I really wanted was for it to stop.

Maybe all of us are feeling a bit like this right now? Like we just want all of *THIS* to stop?
Our lives have been turned upside-down and inside-out, and when is enough.....enough?
We have been locked in our homes, and locked out of church, and locked away from friends and family since the middle of March, and for us, at least, there is not yet an end in sight.
We found out yesterday that all mail to and from the U.S. has been suspended, because the flights are all suspended. All those letters we've been writing to friends and grandparents and great-grandparents are sitting in a mail bag somewhere, waiting for the day they can be put on a plane and go. We were supposed to have visitors coming in June who were supposed to be bringing our next round of school books, and that trip is canceled, and how are we to get those books here now?
Fear has a way of popping up most unexpectedly.

I've been sitting on the couch for almost two weeks now, school books, and slates, and lesson plans piled around me. My hubby and the girls have been carrying the load of cooking and cleaning and washing, and I've been sitting.
I can fear that they will all get frustrated with me in my inability to help.

With the recent rains we've had an infestation of flying ants, and so every evening the kids grab their flip-flops and stomp and smack and smear dead ants on the walls. I can't even help stomp. I just have to holler from the couch if a queen shows up, because those have stingers.

The night rains begin with heavy winds, so we've been without power the last few nights. The concrete floor is cooler to sleep on than the bed so down I go. Healing foot is propped up on a pillow, bed sheet is wrapped around my head to keep the buzzing mosquitoes out of my ears, and I pray that I'll be able to sleep through all the night noises -- two nights ago it was gun shots, last night it was the gate rattling in the wind and rain.
Satan knows how to multiply my fears in the night.

How often have I felt worn out, undone, empty, weary, useless, and afraid these last few weeks?
That I have had enough!?
More times than I can count.
And how often have I cried out to Jesus in desperation and He has calmed my heart and mind these last few weeks?
As many times as I have called.

As I lay on that operating table struggling to pray rather than feel, the Holy Spirit so gently reminded me that I was not the first to pass through pain.
I am not the first to have to face what was unwanted and hard.
I am not the first who was limited in what could be controlled.
I am not the first to fight sickness, infestations, or darkness.
Jesus already faced all of that for me.  

When I am tempted to throw my hands up in despair and give in to the anger, and the fear, and the frustration, and the desire for it all to just go away, I have a truth I must meditate on:
If he took on flesh and bore my sin, can He not carry me through these hard days?
I believe He can.

Saturday Large Room, 3

Welcome to the Large Room!

This week I've had plenty of time to reflect on my role as a mother. I had foot surgery on Tuesday, and since then I've had to turn over many of my duties to my hubby and girls. They have done an excellent job, but it has also made me think on what are the truly important parts of being a mama and what are secondary.
As mamas we are called to be keepers of our homes. We get to set the atmosphere.
We need vibrant and growing hearts and minds that will encourage our children to have the same. What is important to us will become important to them.

First up, two excellent pieces about parenting and motherhood from Ann Voskamp:

Parents Who Want to Give Up : Raising Boys

How to 100% Disappointment-Proof Your Mother's Day

Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures by Henry Ossawa Tanner {take some time to look at this picture and study it together}.

Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Lilias Trotter's {missionary to North Africa} favorite hymn

John Muir Laws is sharing his incredible nature journaling resources for free right now!

Hundreds of Viking mama artifacts found in a melting pass through the mountains

Melting glaciers reveal lost mountain pass and artifacts used by Vikings

Can you imagine being a mama here?

A book suggestion for teen girls and their mamas! This is a personal favorite {Carey actually has this beautiful copy} that I think should be read by every girl before she leaves home! Of course, it is available on Kindle and Audiobook, too.

Saturday Large Room, 2

Welcome to the Large Room!

Years ago our family chose the 40 days after Easter to spend time thinking about what Jesus called his disciples to do: preach the gospel and make disciples. To help us toward that end we spend this time reading missionary biographies together, singing missions songs, praying more for our missionaries we already pray for, looking for ways to encourage missionaries we know, talking about how we can faithfully share the gospel, and seeking the Lord's will about how we should use our money for missions in the coming year. Today I'm going to be sharing some missions ideas, along with a few other ideas to keep our minds fed this week.

Jenny {from one of my favorite Etsy shops, Carrot Top Paper Shop} has been sharing some Youtube videos for kids who are interested in learning watercolor painting.

Do you like paper dolls? Cottage Chronicles has Little House on the Prairie paper dolls for free and Farmer Boy paper dolls for $7!

"Little House on the Prairie" Paper Dolls Collection. Ready to print in full color, or color your own at home. Printable paper dolls and crafts for homeschool or hours of fun anytime.

Hudson Taylor's favorite hymn {and one of my favorites too!}

The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road by James Tissot {take some time to look at and then discuss this picture together}

Brooklyn Museum - The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road (Les pèlerins d'Emmaüs en chemin) - James Tissot

5 Tips for Training Little Evangelists ~ Please read this in its entirety. How our children learn to speak is just as important as what they learn to speak.

A book suggestion for all ages! Right now we are reading Amy Carmichael: Rescuer of Precious Jewels from the Christian Heroes Then & Now series. We have several from this series, and every one we've read has been excellent! {available in Kindle and Audiobook, too!}

One of Jesus' commands to us: Consider the Birds on Story Warren

The African Pied Wagtail is one of my favorite birds here in Ghana. He has a huge voice and wiggles his tail up and down while he sings :)
What birds have you been seeing where you live? I'd love to hear!

African Pied Wagtail (Motacilla aguimp) videos, photos and sound ...

The Truth About Pockets

The story opens with a woman found on the edge of a village one morning, collapsed, spent, and silent. She was in great need, but she had one skill she could contribute to the village. She could sew. Exotic materials, dramatic patterns, ribbons, fretwork, embroidery, smocking, and tucking, she could do it all. They didn't want any of that, though. They wanted plain, simple garments, the better to work in. Since their tailor had just died, they would allow her to live there as long as she followed their rules, dressed like them, and made the clothes they needed. She agreed.

This village was just like the clothing they desired -- all work and no play. Life was for work, nothing more. In time, she couldn't stand the drab dullness, the mind-numbing sameness of always making the gray, lifeless clothing the villagers asked for.

One day while sewing herself a new dress just like every other dress in the village, she realized she could not live without joy and beauty any longer. So she flipped her dress pockets inside out and began to embroider. She filled her pockets with scenes of far-away places, of tropical beaches, of strange animals, and magical ports-of-call, and then flipped them right side in so that only she knew about them. On the cold dark days, she slipped her hands into her pockets and was warmed by the pictures-in-thread she found there.

She pitied her fellowmen, and in time she knew she couldn't keep this sweet secret of happiness for herself alone, so she began embroidering other people's pockets inside their uniform gray dresses and trousers. She didn't tell them what was hiding inside those pockets, but those bumps and swirls, those silken knots and curly-cues began to make a difference. A flower placed in a bottle on a window sill to relieve tired eyes, a song on the lips to raise the spirits, a hint of a story tumbling out, a breath of imagination to turn the mundane into the magical, these were the results of those fantastic pockets. 
Those bits and bobs of hidden beauty grew and multiplied, and little by little the village was transformed into a place where people could do more than make a living. They could have a life full of color and wonder and dreams and joy and hope for what lay over the next horizon.

There have been days in my life that have felt an awful lot like how I imagine life in that village was -- gray days full of work, getting through, and just making it until tomorrow. Over the years, I have learned that that is not really living. That is surviving. Surviving is what I can do.

Those pockets had life poured into them so they couldn't help but produce life in those who came into contact with them. 
The psalmist put it this way, 
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsover he doeth shall prosper. 

In these days of isolation and fear, separation and worry, I ask myself if I have any pockets to offer those around me. Am I like those dreary, dull villagers going through the same routine day after day, existing, but never truly living? 
Am I a tree that is withering away during the drought?
Or am I a fruitful bough? 
Am I a quiet seamstress stitching away at hidden pockets? 
Have I allowed enough Life to be poured into me so that I may pour it into others?

*This parable and a few pictures are from one of my favorite picture books ever, Pockets by Jennifer Armstrong. 

Saturday Large Room, 1

In Psalm 31:8 David utters these words,
And hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy: thou hast set my feet in a large room.
What is most surprising about these words is that he wrote them when he was in hiding from King Saul. One would think that living as a fugitive in the caves and wilderness would make David feel shut up and squeezed into a tight place....maybe a bit like living in quarantine?
But he didn't. He said that God had set his feet in a large room.
David always had what he needed, because he had learned that life came not from who he was or the things he accomplished, but Who he was with and what he spent his time thinking on.

So without further delay, I offer you a few keys that might open into large rooms for you and your families. This isn't just a list of things to do, but rather a collection of ideas to think about. See what might work for you. Open a few doors. Dwell on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report together. Rather than wasting this time or just staying busy for busy's sake, maybe you can begin thinking on something new. Maybe you can start to live in that large room just like David.
{The links are the titles, not the pictures!}

Some easy Easter chalk art

A beautiful coloring page/sticker page for Spring

The Resurrection by Carl Heinrich Bloch {Look at this picture and talk about it together.}

The Resurrection by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1881

 11 of the Most Powerful Lyrics in the Hymnbook | LDS Living

The Solar System to scale

Harriet Tubman - Family, Underground Railroad & Death - Biography

The Growly Books: Begin by [Philip Ulrich, Erin Ulrich]

And last of all, step outside and see what new and exciting things you can notice today.
I'd love to hear about what you see!

For the Days When Your Mind Wants to Wonder....

This afternoon I'm in the kitchen.
The sunlight is streaming through my western-facing windows, the smells of supper are filling me with joy.
My fingers are sticky with bread dough as I make buns for the pulled pork sandwiches we are going to be eating in a few hours.

On the wall above the counter top I frequent the most, hang words.
I'm a word person. My hubby, who is a picture thinker, is regularly shocked by my ability to think words. They are as necessary to me as meat and drink.
I need to see them for them to stick in my mind:
Psalm 148,
A poem from Charles Wesley, The Christian Journeying Home,
A selection of verses from Isaiah 40,
A quote from A.B. Simpson.
All these words have one purpose: to pull my wandering mind around to truth.
They act as my compass, pointing me to True North.

My mind can drive me, push me, drag me to places I don't need to go.
That is naturally how I work.....
how we all work, maybe?
Isn't that why we are commanded
to love the Lord our God with all our
Yet how often do I allow my mind to just run amok,
skipping from idea to idea,
distraction to distraction,
worry to worry,
fear to fear?

I remember the day that I was struck by the truth that sins of the mind are still sin.
Oh, I knew that thinking bad pictures and bad words were sin.
I understood that a mind full of hatred and jealousy and mean feelings towards others was sinful,
but what about worry?
Those were just normal things people think about, weren't they?

I've written before about my battles with both fear and doubt, and I can now testify that they were besetting sins that kept me from living in victory.
During this time of testing the world over, we have many things we cannot do.
But there is one thing we can do, and that is think Truth.
So I rest in the truth that God is sovereign.
I accept that God has allowed this virus and the fall-out from it.
I remove all secondary causes.
I meditate on who He is, and I let His Words point me in the way to walk.
I may not be able to step outside my compound walls right now, but my mind can climb the heights with Him if I will obediently follow.