Monday, September 17, 2018

Every Breath...

Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life my soul my all.

I'm learning about worship. I believe that trees and bumble bees and grapefruit and cumulonimbus clouds can bring glory to God and proclaim His majesty. Why do I think that the things I daily do are somehow different... less... insignificant? On the one hand, they are because they are acts and creations of a creature, not the creator. But on the other hand, goodness! What majesty that a created thing could turn and willingly give back, as an act of worship, every emanation of life whether intentional or consequential! That God could so grip and enable the fickle heart of man that breath itself could be praise!

How would my spiritual perspective change if I truly believed I could live out every single aspect of my day to please God?

What if I could believe that weeding my herb garden could be worship the same way I believe singing hymns can be?

What if I saw His glory, not just in tadpoles and archipelagos, but in the creative abilities and discernment He put in me?

What if I really believed that I was a masterpiece, rather than a rehabilitation project?

What would change in my life if I saw the mind of Christ in me (the hope of glory)?

How would I live differently if I saw soul work as equal to/more important than physical or mental work?

Living a life of full-time worship is a giving over of everything. Giving everything might mean letting go of my categories. It might mean living out the image of Christ, the works of Christ, and the life of Christ while brushing my teeth, walking to class, or melting plastic over a fire to repair my water jug. It might mean learning to see worship in the welcoming of a neighbor at an inconvenient time, or in closing my eyes for a few moments' rest mid-afternoon.

Why do I categorize? What is it in me that sees some things as mundane and others as holy? Is not God the creator of all things? As a spiritual being with a physical body, is it possible that washing my hair or hanging a mosquito net could be as spiritual as listening to a sermon or sharing the gospel? Can I pretend that I steward this gift of life properly if I cannot curate well mind, body, and soul alike?

Possibly, nearly any life incident describable by a verb could also be described as worship, when properly executed. Possibly the interconnectivity of mind, soul, and spirit relates to an association between the out workings of these unique parts. Maybe neglect of one aspect is neglect of all, and nurture of one is nurturing to all. Maybe I'm finally putting some practical application to the profoundly simple words, "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."

Sunday, September 9, 2018

I don't want a lamb to pee on my cereal and 7 other things I never thought I'd say...

Should I buy some green meat today at the market?

I'm not feeling so well, but don't worry, I think it's just food poisoning.

I can't do class at the normal time tomorrow, I'll be at a circumcision party

Please don't drink gasoline, it won't cure your stomach ache.

I didn't even wake up when the hyena ate a donkey about 30 yards from my tent.

No thanks, I'd rather you didn't slice my skin with a razor blade to help my wound heal.

Oh look! We got some kidney as an appetizer!

I think my life is about the biggest and most wonderful adventure a girl could ask for. A few months back, while I was in the capital, I realized that I had spoken 3 languages, purchased a watermelon, and negotiated for and ridden a motorcycle all before 7 am. To all who know me well, you know that adventure and I have a magnetic attraction. You know that I have dreamed most of my life of living far away and learning language and culture not my own. I'm living the dream.
   Sometimes, I look at one of my housemates and just express awe at where we live and what we do. I'm aware of the rare privilege I experience on a daily basis of learning the beautiful intricacies of a new culture and language: of traveling to places few others have seen or experienced: of finding myself stretched so far that God is really the only place left to turn. I remind myself that dreams really do come true.

But dreams are often vague and fuzzy. They don't always include the daily details like killing cockroaches in the bathroom at 3 am, and nearly fainting of heat exhaustion while grocery shopping. They don't detail the exhaustion of explaining 8 times in one day that you are single and childless in a culture where childlessness is a shame, and a woman's identity is her husband and children. They don't highlight that language leaning is lonely, because you cannot express yourself well in the language you're learning, and even your heart language skills begin to decline.

Someone once told me that God usually only gives us the next step of obedience because if he showed us the whole picture, we'd say 'no'. Maybe that's true. Maybe if you'd told me 10 years ago that I'd be on the verge of my 32nd birthday, living in the far-off desert regions of Africa, single, childless, halfway through my 3rd consecutive year of language learning, dealing with sickness almost weekly, and not making any significant strides toward changing the world, maybe I would have said 'no'. Maybe if I'd known how hard it is to deal with grief, loss, and tragedy from afar, and how much effort goes into maintaining long distance relationships with all but 7 people in your life I'd have shied from the challenge. But today, knowing the other side of things, I can still maintain that I'm living the dream. It's taking more grace and grit than I could've predicted, and the details are significantly different than those I would have included, but it still thrills my heart to imagine what God has in store next. Whether this journey of mine ever has much impact on the people around me, I see ways God has changed me which make everything worth it. I'm learning things about trust that I could have learned in no other way. I guess I'll continue to dream big, and then hang on for the ride!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Becoming Human

I never, ever imagined myself sitting on a mat outside my front door with my foot in a man’s lap and him pulling each of my toes until they cracked. In fact, I’ve never had so many people pull my toes in all my life together. The thing is, I stepped on my foot wrong while it was asleep, and incurred the sort of injury which caused a three-week limp. Limping isn’t my preferred method of transportation in any country, but here, it is somewhat less enjoyable.

A man rode by on a motorcycle at one point, and began to survey me on my condition, in French. “Madame, are you injured?” For a fleeting second, I toyed with a sarcastic, “No, I just don’t get stared at enough in this country based only on my skin color, so I decided an awkward limp would help me meet my attention quota.”  Believe it or not, limping on uneven ground in 95’ heat with 20 lbs of groceries and 369 people asking if and how you were hurt(in another language) is exhausting.
The great news is I did receive some medical advice which I had never formerly had reason to consider. Did you know, for example, that if your foot has ‘fallen’, you should have someone pull your toes morning and night for three days, rub Chinese lotion on it, and massage it with hot water until it hurts? At the end of these magical three days, voila, your foot will be better. If you want that swelling to go down, simply get a sharp razor blade and slice parallel to the injury several times. Along with this advice, I had several offers to administer the aforementioned cures. I declined, admitting when asked, to being afraid of the proffered treatments.
A rather grace-filled part of this experience is the way I’ve become human in the eyes of friends and neighbors. So many helped me find motor bikes, did the chores which involved walking, or advised me to stay and rest on the mat while they let themselves out. This has been a season of weakness, and of learning just how sweet and caring is this community of which I am becoming a part.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Beauty of Weakness…If there is one thing living in this country has taught me, it’s how
weak I am. One of my roommates amusingly observed, “Living here is
like, ‘I wonder where I’ll get hives today?’” As humor often has an
element of truth, I will leave it to you, the reader, to draw
conclusions as to the effects this place has on one’s integumentary
system. As for the rest of my corporal systems, I think every one of
them has rebelled at least once in my four months here. In fact, until
a few weeks ago, my two housemates and I hadn’t gone 5 days together
where we all felt well. Having always considered myself a strong,
independent woman with a lot of ambition, the ongoing reminders of my
physical weakness have brought me to my knees in new ways. There are
days where a two hour language lesson, 105’ heat, and cooking three
meals seems all I can accomplish. For a girl who’s always managed to
pack more into her life than was probably wise, I find myself failing
to meet my personal ideals on an almost daily basis. Of course, there
are also days like yesterday.
It began at 5:45am when my alarm chirpily reminded me that Fridays are
ladies’ prayer at 6:15. An hour later, I found myself greeting about
50 women at a neighbor’s wedding. Two hours, a hearty Chadian meal, a
myriad of dishes, and countless greetings later, I rushed back to my
house for two hours of language tutoring. As a rest time, I caught up
on email for around a half-hour. I then made lunch and baked a cake,
preparing for three hours of meetings with teammates. I capped all
that off with dinner and game night. Not shabby in terms of using
every minute in a day productively.

So what’s the balance between rest and work? What does that look like

here, where my body needs more rest than it ever has, and still
struggles to keep healthy? How do I maintain ambition, push myself,
and overcome obstacles without paying for it in exhaustion, illness,
or vulnerability to spiritual attack? In truth, I don’t know. “Go as a
learner” they said, and I was eager to devour new language, culture,
and practice, but I never imagined how much I would need to learn
about myself and my relationship with God. And here I find myself
admitting… even spiritually and emotionally, I am weak. You guys, this
is hard. I have surely always been in possession of these particular
weaknesses, yet I’ve never been in an environment which tested them to
this degree. Here, I learn so personally about a God who uses the weak
things of this world to confound the things which are mighty (I
Corinthians 1:27). I echo the Psalmist who says “Have mercy upon me,
Oh Lord, for I am weak.” And I learn about the humility required to
admit my susceptibility to a degree of weakness I would formerly have
Now I understand a little tiny bit about another type of weakness. And
the humility required of God who took on human flesh and weakness that
He might be ‘in all ways tempted as we are’ and persevere that He
might redeem mankind. Oh beautiful weakness! Suddenly I see it, not as
a thing to be despised, but as glimpse into my mortality, incredibly
juxtapositioned with my immortality. I understand in a new way a bit
of what it took for Jesus to leave His capabilities, and the things
which were familiar to go and do a new work on earth. I see my
awareness of this weakness as a chance to draw near to God, and allow
Him to fulfill His promise of drawing near to me. So yes, I am weak.
In this flesh and in this context I have no hope of overcoming this
total weakness. However, due to a God who promises His strength in my
weakness, I have every hope of watching the glory of God’s strength
play out in my weakness. And I anticipate experiencing the beauty and
power of the ugly cross covering every weakness in Strength.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Surprise Parties

In the US, when we hear “Surprise Party”, we generally think of an unexpected birthday party which begins by people jumping out from behind your furniture and shouting in unison the emotion that they’re expecting you to feel.
Ours began with a goat. 
We were new in the town, one week, to be exact, and we’d just moved into a new and unfinished house. Between the 105’ days and the exhaustion of trying to learn a language and culture and assimilate a new team, we were pretty beat that moving day. It was that afternoon that our friends called us and announced it. In an extremely generous turn of events, their local friends had purchased us a goat, and “SURPRISE!” we were hosting a party!
One of the singular benefits of living in a place where party food is purchased live, is that when the need arises to postpone a party, it’s not all too catastrophic. They would house and feed the goat, they said, and we could put the party off two days in order to get on our feet. This included purchasing several large party platters, learning that the party would be hosted at a friend’s house, and figuring out how to explain that while we graciously accepted the goat, it was not to be killed in sacrifice.
The day of the party arrived, as did a cute, hobbled goat, seven local friends, and the eleven on our team. We were ushered into the backyard to witness the death of the goat, in its full, gruesome glory. The custom here is to kill animals by letting them bleed out, which leads to a fairly dramatic slaughter. Once dead, the goat required every hand present for its skinning, quartering, and cleaning. Having some experience with the cleaning and braiding of intestines, I jumped right in.
Lunch couldn’t be served until we had washed the stomachs (goats have four) and liver and cooked them as an appetizer. Adding to the surprise of my surprise party, I learned that we would consume every single part of the goat save the gall bladder, the hooves, and the skin. Pancreases, in case you’re wondering, have very much the texture you might imaging based on the diagram from your 9th grade text book. We helped make green sauce, consisting of meat, onions, and pounded okra, cucumber salad, custard, esh (millet dough), red sauce, consisting of tomatoes, all the extra innards, meat, sweet potato, and onion, and grilled goat chops. All the food was piled onto platters, separately for men, woman, and children, and served up as the afternoon faded.
I learned a few more surprising things at this surprise party. I learned that there are a few rules of etiquette to sitting on the ground around a common platter and eating off it with your right hand. I learned that you eat all the sauce out of a dish before you agree to go for the meat. And I learned just how much laughter, joy, and friendship there can be, even when there isn’t a shared language.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Pigeon Shuffle

The Pigeon Shuffle
I woke up in mild terror, realizing I had just heard a really loud thud, and experiencing a second day just after the shock of consciousness. First morning light has just begun, meaning it was about 4:50 am. My first night in a new house, in a new town, in a new country, on a new continent, I was a little sensitive to the sounds I was hearing. The thudding was loud enough that you probably could have convinced me our neighbors were catapulting small dogs over the wall onto our tin roof. It turns out that our local pigeon population isn't very good with the landing gear. Having limited prior acquaintance with pigeons, I cannot say whether ours are frightfully lacking, or whether this is a fault of the pigeon population worldwide. After a series of crash landings, they began practicing the Pigeon Shuffle, which includes scratching, cooing, and lots of fluffing of the feathers.
In other news, our house/yard sightings have been fairly tame and include lizards ranging in size from 3-16 inches long, three Guinea fowl who sound like a rusty pump handle, a cat, spiders of various sizes, some mice of substantial size, toads, about 150 small birds who nest nightly in our mango tree, and a child who braved the glass-topped wall on a dare. Oh yeah, and 76,982,910 flies, less the 14 I've killed in my fly trap. That doesn't include the menagerie that awaits just outside my gate.

To accent the Pigeon Shuffle, we seem to have a neighbor cow with both morning and evening intestinal discomfort, and a chorus of roosters unwilling to be outdone by the hoarse cow noises. Occasional it's goat bleets and motorcycle horns accent in just the right places. Throughout days, intermittent knocking on the gate keeps us listening for friends, neighbors, and curious children. Evening noises include a solid hour of chirping by our little birdie friends just preceding a frenzied flutter to claim the best branches for a nighttime roost. Beyond that, a local donkey serenades us most nights with intermittent braying, and the nightly broadcasted soccer matches are just audible as darkness falls. Our neighbor baby chimes I  from time to time as the usual evening cooking sounds clang, mix, and clatter their way into our little yard. Over it all come the sounds of many little voices, gathered to recite from their Book in one of the courtyards just adjacent to our own. Along with our laughter, that about sums up our personal cacophony singing us through the rhythm of our days.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

I Said Yes!!!!!!!!

Today was partly cloudy, with a pinch of yearning and a light sprinkle of tears. The forecast for tomorrow is mostly sunny, I'd say. Rumor has it (and Facebook confirms) that a good friend was married today. I see pictures of so many friends in one place, celebrating, happy, familiar. A little part of my heart really longed to be with friends and family and to share the plethora of emotions that accompany such a happy occasion.

This probably isn't your typical idea of "I said Yes!" Someone did, for sure, but where do I come into that picture? I went for a walk to try to figure that out. God and I had a long, long talk about so many things and people, and I told Him "Yes".

Yes, I will follow you to the ends of the earth.
Yes, I will find my joy and satisfaction in Your love.
Yes, I will do my best to please and serve and obey you.
Yes, I will forsake all others.
Yes, I will give my life to you.

At this point, the clouds dispelled a bit, and rays of joy began to fill my heart. It has been my experience that saying 'yes' to God is a bit like sending a beam of light through a prism. Certainly, the direction of that light beam has to change, but suddenly there is a surprising and colorful array of beauty to experience. That 'yes' which originally seemed to be a sacrifice is suddenly broader, richer, and more lovely than it ever could've been before the course change.

In this season, my colors have been gradually intensifying into a satisfying rainbow. I have the joy of a new church family, and so, so many of them have welcomed me into their homes. I have the joy of living with a lovely host family in whom I can daily see the work of Jesus and as an added benefit, the food is amazing! I've been given the joy of learning a new language and culture, and that gift is made sweeter because I'm able to share the experiences with a teammate. I've been incredibly amazed to watch God bring about 100% of my monthly financial needs through His people in a very tangible expression of their love. I have children in my life on a daily basis. My French teachers are delightful, and we share a common love of God and people. As a final band of color, I have the all-surpassing joy of serving a good, good God.

So all in all, my forecast is looking pretty bright. I even learned a ton of French words for weather last week, so I'm well on my way to confusing people in French. It's days like this that I take time to read my emotional and spiritual barometer, and re-calibrate myself  with a reminder of how wonderful it is to say "YES!"