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When does life get easy?

June 7, 2018

One of the advantages of getting older is gaining a broader perspective on life stages. Having survived so many of them, I’ve experienced the joys and hardships of each one. In the hectic days of raising our four kids, a lady at church commented on her child’s high school graduation. I remember standing there and counting the years I had left before that happened for me! Exhaustion was my normal. Life was crazy. Parenting is hard work. Parenting while working across cultures has an added set of challenges.

Older parents said, “It goes so quickly! Treasure each moment.” They said it with all-knowing smiles. I tried to treasure the chaos, sometimes I succeeded! Other times not so much.  Mothering young kids was such hard work and took so much energy, it didn’t seem like it would go quickly. Days went slowly. Nights when everyone was sleeping went by fast! I wanted life to be easier. It seemed that since it was so difficult then, it had to get easier when they grew up!

When current circumstances are difficult, we are tempted to think that the next stage of life must be easier.

Every stage of life has its joys and challenges. And now I do know those days with young children go quickly (picture a knowing smile). The truth is there is no perfect time in life where everything is easy. When we think we had that in the past, we are using selective memory.  Looking back, we can think it was easier. The problems we were facing then seem simple in comparison to what we are facing now. We also know more now that we didn’t know then. We’ve gained perspective. What makes us think that there will be a time in the future when life will be easy?

After our kids finish high school, they face college choices, work opportunities, possible spouse selection—many major transitions. We care for aging parents and come to grips with our own weakening bodies. Beloved grandchildren are growing up in a dangerous world. There is never a time in this life where everything is easy. We are always trusting God, always working hard, day after day.

Jesus said not to worry about tomorrow because each day has enough trouble of its own. It is tempting to borrow tomorrow’s possible troubles and worry about them today. The ‘what ifs’ of tomorrow can drain the soul of energy and fill it with anxiety.

We also must not long for what we assume will be an easier tomorrow because we are having a terrible today! Challenges change, but there are still challenges. Our focus must be trusting God today, for today, in today, all day.

We need not dread a harder tomorrow; we also must not long for the illusion of an easier one.

We have today; today with its joys and challenges. I plan to enjoy the happy moments. Thank God for them and rejoice in his kindness. I choose to trust God in the challenges. Thank Him for them and have confidence in His good purposes. Don’t stress about tomorrow’s possible concerns or yearn for tomorrow’s possible comforts. Tomorrow we will still have plenty of both. Today we have Jesus who promises never to leave us and always to love us. He has already been to tomorrow and His hand will still hold ours.

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Of Hamsters and Humans

May 14, 2018

Miss Brown was a hamster.

Long ago one of our kids wanted a pet for his birthday. We tried guinea pigs (they both died within a week leading us to determine we are not guinea pig people). So, we thought a hamster might be nice. We got a cage. We bought the little hamster. Our son named her Miss Brown. It was fun watching her. At times the kids would hold her to pet her. Once she started chewing holes in their shirts we limited time spent holding her.

But soon after we got her, she hid herself away in the cage and made a little nest. We didn’t see her as often and we didn’t know why.

She then had 11 babies. Yes, 11.

Ah, that was why. It made sense to me that she would need some time to prepare and adjust!

Hmm, maybe we were hamster people! Buy one, get twelve!

We changed her name to Mrs. Brown. She and her babies stayed in a little corner of the cage near the food.  I kept them supplied with food and  water. We anticipated watching the babies grow.

Until one fateful morning. Our oldest son yelled urgently for us to come. We ran into the room and he pointed at the hamsters in the cage.

The cute hamsters, now known to me as revolting little cannibals, were eating the runt. Our son felt distraught. I was upset. Who knew that hamsters eat their young? He cried out, “We wouldn’t do that to Katie!” Katie is our youngest child.

No, we wouldn’t. From that moment on I never felt the same way about Mrs. Brown…or hamsters in general.

I felt guilty. Was I not feeing them enough? I determined to give them more food than ever so all the other little ones were safe.

As the ten little ones grew, I knew that they could begin to reproduce quickly. I bought another cage and needed to separate the boys from the girls.

One problem. How does one tell the difference on such tiny creatures? Thankfully, we had a book about hamsters. After reading what to look for, I examined their little underbellies and soon segregated them. I felt confident I had done it correctly.

One morning my son called us again, “Mom, Dad! Something is wrong!” Fearful of facing another act of cannibalism, we entered with trepidation. But that wasn’t the problem. I missed a boy hamster who was in with the girls. We lost no time in moving him to the other cage.

We couldn’t keep all the hamsters. We didn’t want to keep all the hamsters. We called friends. We called friends of friends. We called friends of friends in different cities highlighting the cuteness of hamsters. We did not mention their cannibalistic tendencies. Nor did we mention my one miscount.

After some time, all the babies had new homes.

Maybe Mrs. Brown was tired or lonely, but it wasn’t long before Mrs. Brown went the way of the guinea pigs.

We determined we weren’t hamster people either.

Hellos, Good byes and Ugly Cries

April 9, 2018

There are many things I don’t like. Cold showers. Lukewarm tea. Liver and onions. Pillows that are too high. Tires that are too low. Cockroaches.  But at the top of that list is saying good bye.

As I write this, I am sitting in a hotel room and my flight home is in the morning. I just finished having an ugly cry. (I dislike those, too!) You know what I mean, right? It’s the kind of cry you can’t hold in any longer—it bursts out in slightly hysterical sobbing noises. It is like my heart has broken open and its fluid’s only outflow is in the tears running down my cheeks.

No one has died. I feel like a whiner. Guilt creeps its way into my heart for feeling this sad because I know I am blessed to be able to say hello! But sadness feels overwhelming at this moment.

uae 2018I was with my daughter and her family for about two weeks helping after the birth of their third child. I washed dishes, read stories, played hide and seek, did laundry, talked and listened. Changing diapers became normal again. I rocked, patted and kissed all the littles multiple times daily. I enjoyed chatting with my daughter and my son-in-law. The time went quickly, though, and the day came to say good bye.

I was brave as I hugged and kissed my daughter and each of her three children good-bye. Hugs and kisses were generously given by the four-year-old and two-year-old. I pecked the baby’s cheek and said a quick good bye. Avoiding long good byes is necessary for me to avoid becoming a blubbering mess. I kept a tight rein on my emotions as my son-in-law drove me to the airport. Hugging him good bye, I kept up a strong front. At the check-in counter my eyes filled but didn’t spill. I stood stoically through the immigration line. I kept the tears at bay on the plane. All the way to the hotel, I chatted with different people. No one could tell I was one huge tear drop on the inside waiting to escape.

Alone in my room, self-control abandoned me. Tears flowed. 

Good byes are a big part of this life to which God has called us. I have lost count of how many hellos and good byes we have said through the years. Family members, team members, friends—all coming and going, never seeing some again in this life time. Other times we have surprise reunions, but always say good bye again. It doesn’t get any easier. There are more and more loved people to whom we say good bye.

I wonder if one reason good byes are so hard is that our souls weren’t originally made to say them. This is true when we encounter death. We are eternal creatures, made to live forever in God’s presence. But because of sin, death entered the picture. Our bodies break down. Good byes happen when hearts stop beating…for those in Christ the good bye is only temporary, but the grief often feels like it will last forever.

I don’t know if that reasoning counts when families just live far apart. Maybe we all wouldn’t have stayed in the garden of Eden if sin hadn’t entered the world. There might have been worlds to explore and other gardens to cultivate. Families would have said good bye to each other then, too.

It can be easy for me to focus so much on the sorrow of saying good bye that I lose sight of the joy in the many hellos. How blessed am I that I could help my daughters when their children were born? How amazing is it that I could be with my sons and their wives soon after their children were born? With technology, we send pictures or share stories.  I enjoy Skyping with my parents who live on a different continent and was able to visit them recently. There are so many hellos for which I am grateful!

Hellos don’t take away the sadness of good byes. After time together, I miss my family even more keenly. But it is worth the pain of saying good bye to experience the joy of saying hello. It is worth the heartbreak to treasure heartfelt moments. Good byes enable me to more fully savor the preciousness of hellos.

Because of disliking good byes, I started wondering why the word ‘good’ was even included in it! I looked on line and found its etymology from Merriam Webster. Good bye is an alteration of ‘God be with you’ (circa 1580). 

That phrase comforts me. I know God is with each of us all the time. God never leaves so never has to say good bye! The good byes I said today could remind me of a day that is coming when we will say a final good-bye to all good byes!  

However, until that day I will delight in the hellos and take comfort that when I say good bye, God doesn’t! He soothes our souls, especially during ugly cries. God is with us.

All-American Baseball … Kind Of

March 7, 2018

I remember being on home assignment when our kids were young. We were staying with my parents for a short time. The grass was wonderfully green, and the kids were able to play outside, shooting baskets or playing catch. It felt so “normal” to me. I remember playing kickball or spud outside with friends in the field across the street as a child. The country road was quiet, and playing outside on warm summer evenings seemed so . . . American. We grilled outside, went for walks in local parks, and enjoyed simply hanging out with family.

What was normal for me was unusual for my kids. They were growing up in a city of 15 million people. Streets were crowded; rabid dogs and herds of woolly sheep, goats, water buffalo, and even camels roamed the streets in between cars, buses, bikes, and taxis. To play safely we had to go to a special park or club. Going outside to play without cars honking or animals wandering was something they hadn’t experienced much.

One day our boys went outside to play catch. They weren’t out there long before they came inside looking guilty. “Um, Mom, we were playing catch, and the baseball broke the neighbor’s window.”

I was thrilled! (The boys were surprised at my response!) I never thought our kids would get to do something so “American.” It was like a scene out of Leave It to Beaver. I tried not to act too elated in front of the children. After all, this was a serious thing. They needed to go over to the neighbor, apologize, and offer to pay for the damages.

This was way cool! Calmly, we walked over to the neighbor’s house and knocked on the door. A guy I went to high school with opened the door. I guess I wasn’t as calm as I thought, and I just couldn’t stop smiling as we explained what happened. He must have thought it was rather strange for a mother to be so excited about a broken window. But that’s because he thought it was a normal event and not something special. I’m not sure what my sons thought since they probably had assumed they would be in trouble! The neighbor said he would get it fixed and let us know how much it cost.

We went back to my parents’ home, and everything was wonderfully resolved, exactly like an episode in Leave It to Beaver, except I wasn’t wearing pearls. Plus, in just a few short months we were headed back to our host city where no one really played baseball, almost everyone lived in apartment buildings, and no one knew who Beaver was! How many chances would I have to be in a situation like those depicted by my old favorite television shows?

Surprisingly, not too long after that, our boys actually had the chance to play baseball as someone started a Little League program in our host country. They signed up, learned the rules, and got to play baseball. They loved it.

The only difference from the baseball games they would have played in the States was the herd of goats grazing in the outfield!

This is one of the stories found in More Screams, Different Deserts.   

Before I Said “I do”

February 15, 2018

engagement photo

                                        Our engagement … forty years ago this month!  

When I was a student at Moody Bible Institute I met Don at the gym. I went with a group of girls to play volleyball. He went with a group of guys to place basketball. The girls got there first so the guys joined us in a game of volleyball. Due to the size of the gym we could only play one sport at a time!

After volleyball, some of us decided to stay to also play basketball. I played on a team in high school and I had quite a nice outside jump shot. There were three things I noticed about Don. One, he passed the ball to girls. This was not a normal thing in the 1970s. Guys assumed girls couldn’t play well so they would often hog the ball. I was impressed. Secondly, he never lost his temper. Winning or losing, he was calm, cool and collected. I was very impressed. The third thing I noticed about him, and though I mention this last it was the first thing I noticed, he had great thighs! Not since watching Carlton Fisk play baseball had I admired a man’s thighs this much. I was thoroughly impressed.

After returning to my room I looked him up in the yearbook. I had no clue how to begin to say his last name! It turns out he was also in my church history class. He sat next to me the following semester in theology class. We had deep theological discussions on the way to chapel. If I could come up with a hard-enough question, our discussion lasted so long that we ended up sitting together. Soon we started dating. Around the same time, I was reading 1 Corinthians and came to chapter 7:32-35:

I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord.  But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

Jesus changed my life. I wanted to serve him wholeheartedly and unreservedly. After reading this passage I saw marriage as an obstacle to my service to the Lord. I did not want to be divided in my devotion to God. But I still liked Don.

As our relationship progressed, we often had long talks about marriage. I struggled with seeing marriage as an option if it was going to limit my walk with God and ministry for him. I also struggled because I was growing in my love and respect for Don, his heart for the Lord and his desire to serve him. If I was convinced about being single and doubtful about marriage, why was I dating him?

Don had three older brothers who were married and involved in ministry with their wives. I grew up watching couples who served God together. It didn’t seem like marriage was a hindrance to them or their ministries. There was also the passage in Ephesians 5 that talked about marriage reflecting the love of Christ for the church and the church’s submission to Him.

At first, I thought that staying single would be the more spiritual thing to do; it would bring more honor to the Lord. Then as I thought about marriage I saw that married people, too, could be used by God.

Both single and married people serve God and honor him. Married couples serve the Lord together but also, individually. Single people serve the Lord individually but also together with other members in the family of God. My question at that time: which way was he leading me?

As we sought God and prayed about it, I came to understand that we could serve God together as a married couple. However, I couldn’t quite see myself as a pastor’s wife. Almost every pastor’s wife I’d ever known has played the piano. I played basketball! Most pastor’s wives I’d known had gentle and quiet spirits. Those would not be the words I would use to describe my spirit. How was this going to work? I didn’t have many doubts about getting married, but I began to wonder about what my role would look like.

Thankfully God has reminded me through the years, that he doesn’t have or desire cookie cutter children. Each one of us is uniquely made and designed by him to serve him. He could use a married, basketball playing, not-so-quiet-and-gentle spirited woman for his glory, too!

 

 

Little shoe, Big city; Little faith, Big God

January 3, 2018

Family 014

This month I celebrate my youngest daughter’s birthday. She is now raising her own children. However, when she was around one-year-old God used her lost shoe to teach me a lesson about his power and care. Though many years have gone by, I haven’t forgotten what she helped me learn that day: there is nothing too hard for God.

I remember riding in one of the thousands of taxis in the capital city of our new host country. My youngest daughter had recently gotten a new pair of shoes from her grandma. They looked so cute on her little feet. When we arrived at our destination, I got out of the taxi, paid the driver, and wen on my way carrying Katie. As we were walking into the store, I noticed that one of her new shoes was missing. It had fallen off her foot in the taxi. I ran outside, but I was too late. The taxi was already gone, lost in a sea of other taxis.

I was so sad. The shoes were a gift from my mom and I had liked them. I thought about praying for that shoe. I realized, though, that with all the taxis in the city, it would be impossible for that shoe to find its way back to us. So, I dismissed the idea of praying and accepted the inevitable loss of one cute shoe. She might lose the other one soon and then her feet would match again!

I saw some coworkers later that day and told them of this minor loss. I couldn’t help feeling a major disappointment. It was the first time she had ever worn them—too bad we’d never see that shoe again. She had only gotten to wear them about 15 minutes or so.

As the day went on, a teammate, Mark was riding in a taxi talking to the driver. The driver asked him where he was from and Mark said, “America.” The driver told him of an American woman who had ridden in his taxi that morning who had also spoken Arabic. He then proceeded to hold up the shoe that she had left in the taxi. Mark looked at the shoe and told him he knew that American woman and the shoes belonged to her daughter! The driver asked him where she lived.

A little later I heard a knock at the door. I went to open it and there was a man holding out my daughter’s shoe to me. I was speechless. I took the shoe and my husband came to the door with me to thank the driver.

Impossible? Too hard? Why even pray about it? It could never happen. Stunned, I became aware of the limitations I had put on God. He was showing me that nothing is impossible for Him. Finding a shoe in a city of 18 million people (that’s about 36 million shoes!) and bringing this one little shoe to me in my own home was easy for God. He arranged the taxi rides.

Why did he do this? God wanted to change my viewpoint. He was disappointed in my estimation of him. I had little faith and saw a huge impossibility in one tiny shoe. God wanted to renew my vision, to see that no matter the challenge he is always able.

The next time you start to think, “Oh, that’s impossible!” Refocus on the truth that God specializes in what we think is impossible. Remember a little shoe in a big city that came home to a woman of little faith who had a big God!

 

This is one of 52 stories found in Screams in the Desert

When Harassment Meets Forgiveness

December 5, 2017

We had been living in the Middle East for a while and I knew culturally what was proper and what wasn’t. I knew the language. I knew how to deal with sexual harassment. It was appalling, but also expected, since it was so common. Dress modestly. Don’t look unknown men in the eyes. Don’t talk to the opposite sex in public. Keep conversation with taxi drivers to a minimum.  

I was fortunate in that when I was with my husband, I rarely had trouble. Having children with me was sometimes a deterrent to the less aggressive harassers. When I was out and about in the city, I grieved that I had to prepare what I would say or do when touched or spoken to inappropriately.   

Sexual harassment was rampant. It shriveled my soul and made me feel unfortunate to be a woman and ashamed at what men were like. I came to detest and judge men I didn’t even know as I saw each one as a possible predator.   

What angered me, though, is that I could do everything right in that culture—according to their rules I was doing what should protect me as a woman—and still be hassled. In my dress and my behavior, there was no cause for harassment of any kind. Yet, it still happened.   

And in their culture, I was the one to blame. Not the men. I discovered that women, though veiled and covered from head to foot, would continue to be an object of sexual interest and still be at fault for arousing that interest. I learned that when a woman is harassed, she is to blame. She bears the responsibility. Men are free to continue pursuing evil.   

There were socially acceptable, and often effective, responses to harassment. I could ignore filthy words though they still pierced my heart and dismiss lewd gestures though they offended my morals. Seeking help from others nearby was an option. I once asked an older man for help and I can still see him chasing the young men away with his upraised cane. Other options included praying for protection and resorting to a physical response such as hitting or punching. Though not encouraged, it was sometimes necessary. In seeking to protect myself and a friend, I had no recourse but to swing a fist at a young man who unfortunately (from my perspective) or fortunately (from his) ducked and I missed. There were phrases to shout to shame him such as, “Don’t you have a mother or a sister? Would you want them treated this way?”  

Time after time, year after year there were episodes of harassment. After every unwanted touch and unwelcome proposition, I felt a little less pure, a little less whole each time.    

It came to a climax one afternoon when I was walking down the street doing everything that was culturally proper. From a distance, I saw that there was a man walking toward me. I was modest and looking down, not planning to say anything. Moving away to the other side of the walkway, my goal was to avoid any encounter. He veered toward me and made an obscene gesture, impossible to miss.  

Angry, I said, “God damn him to hell,” as I evaded him and hurried away to get as far from him as possible.    

Did I pray those words? Was I asking God to condemn him? I think so. It was as if all those pent-up feelings of helplessness and rage came bubbling to the surface. I hated this man so much that I wanted him to suffer everlasting agony apart from God because of his wicked behavior toward me.    

I didn’t get far before I seemed to hear God whisper, “Is that really what you want? Do you want this lost man to spend eternity in hell?”    

“Yes, that is what I want.” I thought.     

And then I thought about what hell is like. Eternal punishment. What it would be like apart from God—forever in torment, in agony, in darkness away from the light and love of God. I reflected on my sin and what I deserved because I am a sinner, too. My destiny was that same eternal destiny until God in his mercy saved me.    

I realized anew that if it wasn’t for the grace of God, because of my sin I would also be doomed. God forgave my sins through Christ and I could now spend eternity with him. What if I had never met Jesus? What if no one told me about his love for me? I, too would stand condemned.    

In that moment, I knew I could not wish upon a fellow human being that eternal punishment. And by God’s grace I forgave that man. I prayed that God would not hold that sin— aimed against me— against him. I prayed for his salvation, that someone would tell him about Jesus.    

That forgiveness didn’t change my circumstances; it was not a one-time event that changed my heart forever! Yet, forgiving and continuing to forgive, kept his sin from poisoning my soul. I still went out of my home prepared for possible harassment and struggled in my attitude towards men in that culture. I was angry at the injustice for women in that place and still am.   

Forgiveness didn’t condone his actions nor excuse his behavior. It didn’t mean that if there was a way for him to be accountable for his wrong-doing I wouldn’t take it. In some parts of the world, women have recourse. They can take legal action, go to the press, report it to the police or their employer. In many of the countries where women go to share the gospel, this is not the case. These women do what they can to protect themselves and others. Teammates seek to be of help. The community can come to her aid. But, for the sake of the gospel, they encounter unwelcome touches, rude comments and immoral propositions. They do so knowing it will continue to happen until communities are transformed by the gospel they came to share!   

I want to acknowledge their hardship, affirm their ministry, and pray for their protection. I pray that God will shield their bodies from harm and their souls from bitterness. As they live godly lives, in the midst of darkness, may their light shine in the name of Jesus. May men and women come to know the forgiveness found only in him. May harassment stop and respect given as God changes lives. 

I recognize there are women who have experienced far worse than harassment. Young men face predators. Evil people extort the weak; exploiting children and marketing slaves. It is heartbreaking that people sell other people. It is soul wrenching that people buy them.  

I long to see injustice in this world stopped. I hope to see evil punished and justice come. May mercy flow and the vulnerable find protection   

Let us pray for all souls, those who are wronged and those who perpetuate the wrongs, to know Jesus. He is everyone’s only hope for this life and the life to come. One day God’s wrath will come. Injustices and evil will be punished.   

Until that day, may we each experience that amazing grace where we find forgiveness of sins in Christ. Out of that grace, may we also forgive those who hurt us and seek to protect those who are yet vulnerable.