Thursday, November 17, 2016

For the Days When God Asks Us to Do Hard Things......

It's Saturday and time for children's Bible club.
My friend who normally helps me is at a funeral, and I get to go it alone.
I'm telling the story of the Jesse Tree as we prepare for Christmas ~ leading the children from the first, dark fall of man to the bright, hopeful birth of Jesus.
I've told this story so many times, yet again, today, I'm afraid.
I fear that I won't be able to tell it with all the passion it deserves.
Fearful that my language skills will fail me when I need them the most.
Afraid that these dear ones will miss the truths and never truly understand why Jesus came to this earth.

From there we head to a salvation Bible study.
I have a young lady I am discipling helping me with this study.
The young mother we are visiting cannot speak any of the languages I speak, thus my helper.
She is from the same area of a neighboring country as this woman and has agreed to act as my interpreter.
I love hearing the gospel shared in a new-to-me tongue, but my translator is new to this and doesn't trust her abilities.
For myself, I'm unsure if everyone is understanding or not.
It seems to go well, but I leave, wondering how well the gospel has been shared.

It's Sunday, and church is finished for the morning.
My husband is teaching the afternoon Bible classes to those who desire to know more and want to teach God's Word.
While my children and their friends swing from palm branches and chase birds, I sit in a small concrete enclosure and talk with a young lady who has been visiting our church for several weeks.
As we sit at the rickety table with Bibles open, I hear her story.
It is sad, and painful, yet hopeful, too.
I see how God has guided and worked and brought her to this place of hearing the true gospel preached, and I'm afraid that I am going to mess up....
that I won't be able to share God's loving plan for man....
that she will run from the truth and reject Christ.

It's Tuesday night and the electricity has been off from the electric company for several hours.
We sit in a dim front room with a friend and counsel through hard questions, long pauses, painful silences.
I wonder if the questions are right, and will the answers be right, and how will this all come out right in the end?
I see choices being made, and they make me afraid.
We pray for wisdom, but ultimately each man must decide to follow God himself.

It's Wednesday, and my littlest has had an allergic reaction and her foot and toes look like fat, red sausages.
Everything in my mind is telling me to calm down, and all my gut tells me to do is panic.
I'm sore and hurting from a tumble I took after slipping in a puddle of water a little one had forgotten to clean up, and all I want to do is stay in bed until I feel like I haven't been broken into a million pieces, and now I have to play nurse on top of everything else.
What if it's not just a reaction, what if it is something much more dire?

We head to the schoolroom, and we work through our timetable, and we seek to learn together.
I try to split my time between my big girls and my little girls, and I try not to think about my other responsibilities like the mountain of clean laundry that used to be hiding behind the hallway bookshelf, but is now peeking out everywhere...
or the laundry baskets full of dirty clothes that are spilling over onto the floor...
or the tomatoes that are waiting to be roasted in the kitchen....
or the emails and grocery lists that need to be written for Thanksgiving....which I've suddenly realized is just a week away.

It's Thursday, and a new missionary is in the kitchen learning how to cook Ghanaian food, and the phone rings and it's for me, and would it be okay if the caller can come talk to 15 minutes?
I hustle my people out to the porch table to eat some lunch, and I sit and listen.
I answer some questions and talk about how to read the Bible and be faithful in prayer time.
Then comes the hard moments and the hurting places, and I wonder how to lead a sad soul to see the glimpses of light in the dark times.
Am I sharing the truth clearly enough?
Has anything I said really guided my friend to truth?

I have been walking through some hard valleys for a while now: rocky, steep paths, twisty-turny roads where there isn't much clearance to see far ahead.
As I have walked these tracks, God has continually given me a load to carry.
At times it seems He has even added to my already heavy pack.
I wonder why.

I wonder why he has asked more of me than He has ever asked before.
I ask why he continually brings us those in need of hope, and truth, and the gospel, and Scripture when I feel so inadequate to this task.
And that is the point where He meets me.

He places me in front of a group of children, speaking the greatest story ever told, in probably some of the poorest Twi these children have ever heard so that when they do understand, He gets the glory.
He gives me a brand-new interpreter in a speech I do not know so that when a lesson makes the tiniest bit of headway, He alone can be the reason.
He prompts me to share the gospel with the broken-hearted, the hurt one, so that when that soul does cry out for salvation, He is the answer.

He sits me at the counseling table and reminds me that my reasoning and my thoughts and my answers will never be enough, because then He must be the answer for every needy person who comes.
He sends seeming emergencies, and pain, and overwhelming situations, so that I am reminded again and again that I can do nothing to protect myself or my children from that which will come, but instead must put my faith in His goodness.

Yes, He even sends the long list of daily chores and needy children so that I always have a visible reminder that I cannot be the believer, wife, mother, teacher, or homekeeper that I need to be without His ever present strength.

On our weekly nature walk we pass a mammoth tree that has been cut right down.
It's been chopped and hacked and has splinter-crashed to the ground.
It lays there to slowly dry up and eventually be carted away for somebody's firewood.

As my children clamber around this dead giant, I see the truth of Jesus' words clearly....

John 15:4-5

As we wander away from the now-dead tree I am reminded.
God brings me to these hard places again and again so that I will never forget that my hope, my life is in the vine.

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.