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Encourage Yourself in the Lord

Ups and downs in life are inevitable. Some days, I feel at the top of my game spiritually. I’m up early praying and reading my Bible. I see God answer those prayers. I feel close to Him. Other days, I get up later than I want to, go through the day feeling spiritually drained, or end up regretting missing out on what I see (in retrospect) as “God opportunities.” Practically speaking, maybe I go to bed tired and wake up tired and feel irritable all day. Maybe I successfully hold my tongue when the volume from our nine children increases beyond my tolerance level, or when I hear their cross words and they refuse my kind correction. Or, maybe I don’t hold my tongue, and then all of us feel bad for a while until I sit them all down and apologize. Some days I am productive and feel good. Other days, I just hope no one comes to the door (unfortunately, that rarely happens around here!).

None of us want to be “people-pleasers,” doing what we do to get accolades and pats on the back. But,  the Bible does tell us to “encourage one another and build each other up,” and to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” We all need a boost from people around us sometimes, and I think God knows that we need other people to come alongside of us to help us be our best. But in the day-to-day grind and the ordinariness of everyday, there are few people who do that for us with any consistency. Frankly, much of what we do is unseen by others. We live largely independent lives and often just don’t cross paths with people. And maybe you’ve been in the same position as me on occasion: when you do get some words of encouragement  (“Your children are so well-behaved!,” for example), all you can do is think to yourself, “Yeah, they should sit at our supper table for a few nights, then they’d hear how often I have to correct things like feet on the table, eating with fingers, not washing hands with soap, over-indulging in food,” etc., etc. Even what is meant as encouragement, when turned over in a negative mind, can have the opposite effect and we end up meditating on all we wish we could change.

Spiritually speaking, there are going to be times when you lack a mentor who can challenge you and encourage you to stay strong in your walk with the Lord. One of my dearest sisters in the Lord never let a conversation end until she asked me, “What are you reading during your devotional time?” or, “How is your prayer life?” I really loved that about her and, as a result, I’ve always tried to have interactions that SPEAK life rather than just TALK ABOUT life. I try to be consistent with prayer and reading, but let’s face it, we all go through times where we get busy and don’t have regular time for that (even worse if it’s purposely so, because we don’t really want to hear from God…ouch!) If you don’t have someone who knows where you’re at and can provide some accountability, it’s often hard to get back on track. Whether practical or spiritual encouragement, let’s face it: Encouragement is so necessary, but often so absent.

Over the years, I’ve learned something important about both my walk with the Lord and my parenting journey: neither are going to have the outcome I desire unless I encourage myself in the Lord. I can’t depend on other people, my own emotions are often deceitful, and circumstances are out of my control. The only sure thing I have, the only thing I can depend on, is God and His Word. So when I need encouragement, that’s where I have to go. And if I don’t, it’s as Hebrews says–it’s all too easy to become “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (see Hebrews 3:13).

bible_transparent_208I remember being a young Mom of three and sitting in my prayer closet during the wee hours of the morning. I don’t know exactly what I was crying to God about, but that’s what I was doing. And then I opened my Bible to 1 Samuel 30 and read of the distress of David: the Amalekites had destroyed his city and taken his wives and daughters captive, along with the families of all his men. The people talked of stoning him. And what did he do? He “strengthened himself,” or “encouraged himself in the Lord.” (verse 6). What does this mean? This passage doesn’t specify, but if you read the Psalms, you can see it. Even when things wee at their worst (perhaps especially so, in fact), David meditated on who God is: the goodness of God; His love; His faithfulness. He remembered how God had worked on his life: rescuing him from his enemies, keeping his promises, working all David’s circumstances for his good and for the fulfillment of God’s purposes. David also, even in his angst, put his hope in God and in His Word. He trusted God and believed He would see God’s goodness. He knew God would be faithful to His Word, so he focused on that rather than on his circumstances. This is what I have tried to train myself to do over the years (though I still have times when I’m not as good at it as I need to be).

And this is how we must encourage ourselves in the Lord when we don’t have others to share our burdens, when we stumble and don’t have someone to steady us, or when we get discouraged and need to re-focus. God is there. He sees and knows. He is our Helper in times of trouble. Hid Word does not return void. One of the best things I’ve done is to memorize God’s Word over the years. Reading is good, but memorizing is even better. I actually haven’t devoted much time to Scripture memory in recent years, but I was very faithful to it during my early years as a Christian and it has served me well. When I am discouraged or struggling and need to hear from the Lord, He speaks to me–usually through the Words that have been memorized over the years. And I am encouraged in the Lord. I put my hope in His promises.

Do you have a Scripture that you faithfully pray over your family, or a “life verse” that you remind yourself of regularly? Are you “encouraging yourself in the Lord” through regular times of reading and prayer? Are you reminding yourself often of what God has done in your life, trusting that He’s still at work in ways you don’t see?

 

Five Loaves and Two Fish, Mama-Style

I was blogging a lot when we first moved to Kenya; it was quite a therapeutic way to process the transition and also to let folks know what was going on with our family. Slowly, I stopped, as life on the mission field got quite busy and I tried to get back into a new groove with homeschooling, which had been reduced to rather bare-bones with the move. I’m still not where I want to be in terms of homeschooling, but our oldest completed his GED last year at age 16, so I’m somewhat optimistic that we’re moving in the right direction.

IMG_0518Blogging when our children were young was easy; there were so many sweet moments I wanted to document. And when there were challenges, they were the small problems of small children (which don’t feel so small when you’re a weary Mom to many Littles, so I don’t say that lightly!) Now that they’re bigger children with bigger problems and there is privacy to protect, it’s hard to know what to say and what not to say in this space. But, I suppose I can talk about me, so if you’d give me the grace to do so, I’d like to share some thoughts as we have just welcomed blessing number 9 to our family, baby Joanna (born in September 2015).

Being a new Mom again at age 42, after 4-1/2 years of thinking that I was done with babies, has been an interesting experience. I always knew that children were a blessing, but Baby Joanna really feels like one! They say you can’t spoil a baby, but she is held more and loved more than any baby before her. There are few times I feel compelled to just let her cry, but those times that I do, one of her big sisters comes to her rescue! Not only do I have many hands to help with the baby, but also many hands to help with housework and meal preparation. It is a totally different experience than coming home with our first, second, third, fourth, and even fifth children! If you are a Mom of young children now, I promise you, it is so worth the investment in your children as you teach, train, encourage, and equip them with practical life skills and an attitude of service. It is tiring while you’re doing it (believe me, I know!)…that precept upon precept, capturing those “teachable moments” of correction (which usually happen at the most inconvenient times, or happen so often that you feel you get precious little else done!). BUT, perseverance has its perfect work and it is a blessing to see the fruit of years and labor in the Lord.

No, our children are not perfect; I would never claim that. But, neither am I. Yet I cling to the promise of a word that was spoken to me many years ago now. It was during a “revival”-type church service where a guest preacher brought a fiery sermon and ended with a very meaningful time of prayer. I had gone without my husband, who was away on business, and with my 5 young children, aged about 9 on down to 1. I don’t know what compelled me to go, since the service started just about when I would have been putting the kids down to bed. And all Mamas know that you just don’t mess with bed time. I went anyway…seeking more of the Lord and needing some encouragement, if I remember correctly. I fully expected at least two of the children to melt down, but 9:00 came and went and the evening went on in prayer. I figured I’d gotten as much as I would get (though I can’t even tell you now what the sermon was about), so I slipped out of the back row and started making toward the rear exit with all the children. I remember silently congratulating myself on the fact that we were doing so without disrupting the focused prayer that was in progress. Then, the speaker at the front of the sanctuary happened to lift his head as I looked up from one of my Littles at the back door. Our eyes met. He spoke rather loudly: “I have a word for you today!” and suddenly all heads lifted and all eyes were on me. I felt like I could have melted into the floor–and wanted to! But he came to the back where I was and spoke many encouraging words about children and family to me. He even spoke specific words over each of my older children. I wish I could remember them now. Bu then he came to me. He spoke about my weariness as if he knew. And these are the words I remember…words that have echoed over the years and continued to encourage me when things have been hard: “You’re not Super Woman! You’re not a super wife. You’re not a super mother. But what you can’t do, God can.”

I knew it to be true. I still know it to be true. And it’s not just true for me–it’s true for all of us! No matter where you are in this journey of mothering–physically weary Mom of Littles, or emotionally weary Mom of older children, certain of the outcome of your efforts (which sometimes God mercifully allows us to be), or uncertain…know that God can. Like the little boy who brought five loaves and two fish to Jesus, and ended up feeding a multitude, bring your offering every day to Jesus and know that He will do with it what you can’t. Bring your tear-wiping, your hugs, your pats on the back, the Bible-reading, the encouraging (even if you’re discouraged yourself), the kindness when you feel irritable…the list goes on and on. We do when we feel like we can’t do any more. We invest in what seems like a lost cause. We give out of our emptiness. And God knows. He takes those feeble efforts and does what only He can. I’m still living that, but I know it to be true. It’s true for me, and it’s true for you. Press on, Mama.

Our First Visit to Uganda as a Family!

I’ll admit, I haven’t always enjoyed village life. At first, I struggled with the loss of my independence, having no car and not having much at all to do, particularly with the children (I mean, after all our “work” was done). I liked being able to jump in the car for an occasional outing to the local museums or parks. I certainly missed the local library. And I even missed grocery shopping and running errands, tedious as both could be with a bunch of children in tow. Although I had always been busy at home, village life took it to a whole new level. That was an admitted adjustment. But once I got used to it, I found a great deal of contentment in my circumstances and in my role as wife, homeschooling mom, and behind-the-scenes missionary.

Selling most of our possessions so that we could move to Kenya left us living a very simple life at first. That also took some getting used to. But by the time our small shipping crate finally came, several months after our arrival, I found that I didn’t really miss much of what was inside. Except the books, of course. I definitely appreciated having our small library once again, and certainly the added kitchenware was a blessing—even the Bosch mixer—but I had discovered that most of what I had considered “indispensable,” wasn’t. Village life…simple life…was growing on me.

Then there is the small-town feel of the village. I’ve always enjoyed rural living, but village life in Africa when you’re a mzungu is challenging. I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of the village gossip, but it has been nice to know our neighbors and be able to keep abreast of what’s going on just by asking some questions of a few select people. At first we were an oddity among our neighbors and it seemed like half the village lived at our gate and gawked at us every time we stepped out the door. But, as with the other things, that too passed and now, though we’ll always be the wazungu, we’re left more or less to ourselves.

Since we’ve gotten a car and been able go into town a little more often, and especially since the coming of Nakumatt (*almost* a Superstore) about two years ago, village life has been a lot more bearable. But having more “things” available in town and easy access to them, has reminded me how much pull the world has. I have to remind myself that I don’t need more gadgets, the kids don’t need more toys, and our simple village market meals really are just fine, for the most part.

Recently we spent a couple weeks in Jinja, the second largest city in Uganda. Although it didn’t boast a “Superstore,” there were a lot of nice mzungu-style restaurants and a cheap-enough swimming resort along the Nile River that we got to enjoy a couple of times. Our days were spent in a very nice house on a YWAM base, where I did appreciate the convenience of a flushing toilet. But after all that, I have to say I was ready to go home…back to the village. I actually missed my choo (outdoor potty) because I was reminded that I did not miss cleaning toilets. I didn’t miss vacuuming carpets, either. I also appreciated anew the modesty of the village women.

One thing I found interesting was the YWAM dining hall. They serve three meals a day and it didn’t take us long to figure out that they don’t vary much from day to day. Breakfast was always a peanut butter sandwich with chai and a banana. Lunch was typically posho (boiled cornmeal, which we call ugali in Kenya) with a side of beans and plain pasta or potatoes. Supper was rice with beans, or rice with cowpeas, or (once a week) rice with meat, and a side of cabbage or sukuma (kale). Although breakfast got kind of boring, it was nutritious enough and…we got used to it. Lunch had a rather unusual combination of items (us not being used to eating beans or particularly pasta with our posho), but that, too, was filling and…we got used to it. Although in the village I’ve weaned us down to some simple meal options, we still have some variety when we go into town once a week or so, and we certainly didn’t eat the same thing every day. But I left the “big city” with a greater contentment about simple and repetitive meals, which I think was a good lesson for all of us.

We also picked up a new routine in Uganda. At the dining hall, they have a “bring your own” method of serving food, wherein every guest carries in their own plate and fork. There were basins set up just outside the dining hall with soapy water and rinsing water, where everyone exiting was responsible for washing their own plate and utensil. It took just a few minutes, but it amazed me that I never thought of doing such a thing at home. With dishes for 10 or more people, plus meal prep pots and utensils, washing dishes is a twice-daily chore that two children share and no one likes very much…it’s one of the few tasks that inspires grumbling at our house. We decided to set up basins in the sink so that everyone could wash their personal dishes after each meal, leaving only the meal prep dishes for chore time. With the reduction in overall dish-washing, we can assign only one person to the job, freeing up the second person for other tasks that might get neglected, and easing up the load over all. So far, I’m liking it!

Hannah and Joanna in Uganda. Joanna is three months old already!

Hannah and Joanna in Uganda. Joanna is three months old already!

Jonah's patience was rewarded as he got a Capuchin monkey to eat out of his hand! Very rewarding for our critter-loving son. :)

Jonah’s patience was rewarded as he got a Vervet monkey to eat out of his hand! Very exciting for our critter-loving son. :)

 

We went to Uganda to get our passports stamped, now that our 2-year work permits are approved. In Uganda, they actually keep your passports for this process, which left us stranded in-country until all was completed. It turned out to be a nice vacation for all of us, plus Marc and Nashon (our Kenyan brother) went out on some missions and looked for a future residence for our family.

Our plan is to continue to support the Kenya mission but share time with launching a Uganda mission. We’ll see how the Lord directs these transitions. For now, our two weeks away were very encouraging. Our fellowship’s deacon, Mzee Timothy, did an awesome job managing our food program for malnourished children and the medical needs in the community that the ministry supports, and overseeing the Sunday meeting. Our brother Lazarus, an overseer of our Bidii fellowship and an evangelist and teacher, went out regularly with one or two of the wazee (elders) from our Saboti church. Together, they continued to encourage and teach at the various fellowships and make sure that everything was running smoothly in our absence. A great test, which everyone passed with flying colors! God is good.

 

Self-Evaluation in Christian Parenting

If you’ve been doing this parenting gig for any length of time, you know without our telling you that there’s no such thing as perfect children. Not only that, we’re never going to be perfect parents. So how do you know if what you’re doing is working? Is there any basis for evaluation until you’ve successfully raised your children…or discovered, too late, that they’ve got major character flaws, aren’t walking with the Lord, or can’t hold down a job once they’ve reached the magic “age of emancipation”?

We’ve always believed in “iterative parenting;” that is, ongoing self-evaluation in the target areas that we’ve self-defined as “successful Christian parenting.” These goals will obviously differ from family to family. For some, academic achievement is important so that their children will be able to successfully compete in the global marketplace. For others, it’s having children that will work well with their hands and be able to provide for themselves and their future families in this way. Some have specific spiritual goals and milestones they’d like their children to achieve (i.e., baptism) while others take a “wait and see” or “let them decide for themselves later” approach. Regardless of our long-term goals and how we feel we’re tracking in meeting them, there are always ongoing character issues that we see the need to work on, both in ourselves and our children (because, as we all know, the apples don’t fall far from the tree!).

Some character deficiencies  in our oldest son (now 16) were recently brought to our attention. And guess what? Because we practice iterative parenting and are constantly self-evaluating and making changes in ourselves and in our parenting, not one thing on that list was a surprise to us. In fact, we agreed with just about all of it. So what did we do? We shared the observations with our son and asked him to self-evaluate and make any changes he felt necessary, knowing that these character deficiencies were obvious to others and also to God. Does this mean we are failing, or have failed, in our parenting? Far from it. In fact, we were encouraged. Why? Because our son has made a commitment to following Christ. In sincere repentance, he has been baptized within the last year, and we’ve seen the fruit of true repentance in his life. Yes, he’s struggled with some things, and people can observe those weaknesses. But what others don’t see is our ongoing communication with our son regarding these issues; his desire to honor God in these areas; his active repentance, asking for forgiveness, and steady growth in grace to overcome in his areas of failure. So rather than admitting defeat in our parenting, we see much victory and are thankful for how God has guided us along the sometimes-difficult paths of Christian parenting.

And alongside our son, we’re growing too, because we know that (unfortunately) many of our children’s struggles, failings, and weaknesses come from things that we, as parents need to change in ourselves. How willing are we to humble ourselves and admit to this? How able are we to “forget what is behind” and “strain toward what is ahead,” pressing on toward perfection in Christ Jesus? (See Philippians 3:12-16)

Here are some honest questions that might help you in your ongoing sef-evaluation as a Christian parent. These are just a starting point; God and others may reveal others which are specific to your needs or circumstances.

  • Do our daily routines and activities reflect the priorities we profess?
  • Am I willing to do the hard things, and ask my children to do hard things, to overcome character deficiencies?
  • Am I consistently training my children in God’s Word and “practicing what I preach”?
  • When I fail to be the example I would like to be in my parenting, am I able to humble myself to my child or others, confess sins, and seek God for lasting change?
  • How open am I to receiving correction or suggestions from others?
If you like a more concrete approach to evaluation, take at look at our free “Family Planner for Character Growth and Development,” available for download here.

Remember that children’s growth in all areas is a process that requires patience, prayers, and ongoing effort on our part as parents. Though there are many things, both practical and spiritual, that we need to invest in and focus on, never forget the most important thing: bringing honor and glory to God and raising our children to do the same. I like how the apostle Paul viewed his work with the church in Galatia, with whom he was “perplexed” at the time of his letter writing: “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you…” (see Galatians 4:19-20). Let us similarly encourage ourselves as parents; whether we are blessed or perplexed with how things appear with our children, we must continue on in the process of laboring for the formation of Christ in them. Blessings to you as you press on in your parenting, for God’s glory!

“Dirty Dozen” shopping list

After making it through our 30-day Local Food challenge, and deciding to make it a bit more permanent (but also a little more flexible), I’ve decided that I really like the simplicity of buying only a short list of food items each week and eating simple, somewhat repetitive meals. Granted, when the Sweazys came over for supper last night and the subject of furlough came up, we suddenly began discussing all the favorite eateries we might like to visit if we ever went back to America. Yeah…moments of weakness, but I digress.

I’m still pretty surprised that we seem to be doing so well on plus-or-minus 12 grocery items per week. What I think of as our “dirty dozen” includes staples from our grain storage: maize, beans, and rice, as well as items we can easily buy at the local shops: baking powder, salt, eggs, and milk.  We go to the market once a week for the remainder: tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, potatoes, and cabbage.  We’ve ended up making somewhat permanent exceptions for the following items, which we pick up in Kitale: a few seasonings (Italian seasoning, chili powder and cinnamon); Ghee or margarine; quality vegetable shortening (the locals call it “cooking fat,” and though we can buy it at the our neighborhood shops, it’s a bright yellow, sub-standard variety and I just can’t bring myself to use it unless I absolutely have to); and cocoa (for our morning hot chocolate, which is one of the few ways we get  milk into our diet on a daily basis…we have to boil it but then can’t refrigerate). We’ve gotten a little more flexible after the 30-day challenge and also occasionally have spaghetti…and pizza was a must-have for Hannah’s recent birthday celebration. I’m also trying to get fruit  once per week at the market, since the avocadoes and bananas that had been coming to our door somewhat regularly have now been out-of-season for a while.

Along with wanting to eat more locally/more inexpensively/more simply, we’ve also (within the past couple of months) eliminated beef and store-bought chicken from our diet. This was a decision made in light of Biblical teachings because of the culture we find ourselves in. We either slaughter a chicken or buy pork from the local butchery once a week, and recently we found a good source for mutton that we’ll probably have now and then.

Our “dirty dozen” shopping list and the resulting simplified food menus  have been good for our food budget but more than that, beneficial in reminding us that what we were once used to in terms of meals are certainly not “normal” to the vast majority of the rest of the world. It has also been a very helpful spiritual discipline in terms of conquering the flesh. We want to continue to challenge ourselves to be increasingly less indulgent in terms of food so that we will not find ourselves slaves to our stomachs. Throughout this process of streamlining, I have found myself thinking often of Finny Kuruvilla’s words in King Jesus Claims His Church (p. 205):

     The world and the media exert considerable force on our minds. Unless we are consciously resisting its pull, we will be prey. The world promotes stimulation and thrill-seeking through the palate. The world chases after a new delicacy and flavor with nearly every meal, fostering the lust of the flesh. Thus while all foods are clean and to be received with thanksgiving (Mark 7:19; 1 Tim. 4:4), believers should be content to eat simple and repetitive meals. This battle is more easily won if addressed early; one’s tasted are developed in childhood. Insofar as possible, parents should provide simple, nutritious meals that emphasize vegetables, legumes, and while grains, rather than fats, meats, and sweets. Restaurant patronage should be minimized to teach children contentment with simple home cooking. Few people think of these disciplines as connected to spiritual victory, but they surely are.

     …The connections between food, self-discipline, and spiritual power are profound.

They are profound, indeed…

Family Happenings

Yes, we’re still here…just haven’t made time to blog. And I find that once I’ve been away from this space for a while, it’s hard to know how to get back into it. So I’ll just jump in with a few things by way of update.

We’ve been busy on the mission front, as usual, and hope to begin  updating the Kingdom Driven Ministries blog more regularly. If you hop on over there, you’ll see that we recently hosted a regional women’s meeting that was a real blessing, and we separated our overly-large home fellowship into three smaller congregations. (Exciting!)

We’ve leased a property a few kilometers from our current home, which is eventually going to house some livestock (cows, chickens, rabbits) as well as  additional crops (bananas, maize, and I don’t know what else). Milk and eggs are often hard to come by and a little more meat in our diet is not a bad thing. The property will also be used in various ways to benefit the brothers in our local fellowships.  We were  able to enjoy a little more family time than usual at year’s end, which was very nice, so Marc and the boys built some nest boxes and a rabbit hutch for use at the new place.

My intermittent frustrations with homeschooling here in Kenya are no big secret, though things have gotten somewhat better this academic year. I still haven’t seemed to consistently find time for Circle Time, especially for my Littles…and there are definitely things I want to work on in terms of both spiritual instruction and practical training.

2015-01-21 11.37.35For a number of reasons, during this week I asked my oldest daughter, Rebekah (who will be 12 on Friday), if she wanted to take the week off of school and be my “Mother’s Helper.” On Monday she helped me move around the furniture in our sitting room/dining area in order to better accommodate another missionary family (the Nafzigers) who will be moving in with us as of next week. Yesterday, I asked Rebekah to do a short Circle Time with the Little ones, and she did such a good job that we talked about making it a more permanent daily arrangement. We have the rest of the week to see how she (and they) like it. Meanwhile, having a consistent second hand to assist with home management and homeschooling has been a real blessing to me…maybe that’s why I have finally found time to sit down and blog. 🙂

 

 

 

Aaaand….we had pizza

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, we have a confession to make. Two weeks into our 30-day challenge to eat from our local markets…we had pizza. In discussing what we could and couldn’t get locally, Marc laughed and said something about how this could be a really great business opportunity for folks in our community–sort of like bringing the store to our door. We already have people selling us eggs, bananas, and avocadoes. Next step…cheese and tomato paste? So in the midst of lunch with Reagan (one of the brothers here), it came up that he was going to be making a trip to Kitale, and we jokingly mentioned the “store to your door” idea. Reagan jumped on it, as making some profit on a trip he was already making (enough to pay his transport) was very appealing to him. And the deal was done…we had pizza for supper.

So we briefly re-visited our goals for the Challenge to debate if the pizza decision was OK or not. Of course, there was the spiritual side of things, wherein we felt like local eating would help us to conform our appetites in a better direction. Though stoicism wasn’t our goal, in this regard, pizza was a bit of a disappointment. On the other hand, we do want to support the local economy, particularly the believers in our community. And so the pizza would be good on that score. And then there’s simply how good local eating is for our budget. On that front, pizza is a definite bust. All in all, we didn’t feel “guilty” for eating pizza once in the month, but I’m not sure it will happen again any time soon.

How about the rest of the 30 days? As was to be expected, our menus were not very varied. At about the third week, my enthusiasm waned as I was trying to prepare a “quick lunch” after a busy morning of homeschooling, and was lacking in most of the dozen or so ingredients that now formed the basis of our meals. Potatoes? Nope. Eggs? None on the shelf. Rice? Just had that for supper last night and likely would again that night. I don’t remember what we ate, but the good news is, I talked myself out of getting frustrated/discouraged about it.

For the most part, breakfasts were a plain coffee cake or mandazi (non-sweet donuts) with hot cocoa or herbal tea. Lunch was usually leftovers from supper the night before, rice, or kitheri (corn and beans). I tried to make our suppers somewhat more interesting and nutritionally balanced: eggs with tomatoes and peppers and a side of home fried potatoes, creamy cabbage and potato soup, homemade egg noodles with “faux cheese” (essentially a garlic-flavored white sauce) and spinach, or, once a week, stewed chicken with mashed potatoes. If none of these were available, we defaulted to rice and beans (usually eaten a few times a week, often with avocado). We even had dessert once or twice a week: pumpkin pie, sugar cookies, or what have you. The bananas that came to our door were always a good afternoon snack or a supplement to lunch.

And speaking of bananas, we hadn’t developed a taste for the “cooking bananas,” or plantains, that are readily available and cheap here. They are cooked while still green and are a pretty good substitute for potatoes. However, I never really put the effort into learning to cook them, until around week 3 of the Challenge when we harvested some from our backyard, and I figured it was as good a time as any. When I did a little research and found out how good they are for you, we started eating them more often!

I was pretty surprised that we could eat locally without resorting to ugali. Our supply of dry maize from last year ran out month or two ago, and we’re still a week or so from shelling what’s in the garden now, so if we were to have ugali we’d have to buy maize at one of the local shops. In this in-between season, maize is actually more expensive than rice. Though the Littles really like ugali, the rest of us just kind of tolerate it, so it was fine with all of us to eat more rice and skip the ugali  entirely.

The Littles were generally accommodating of the dietary changes. Those with more entrenched preferences in regard to appetite were a little more resistant and apt to complain, though that was minimal overall. We celebrated two birthdays during the month and I expected moans and groans over missing out on birthday pizza, but somewhat surprisingly, that didn’t happen. When Micah turned seven, I made a “breakfast pizza”–pizza crust with hashbrowns, scrambled eggs and “faux cheese” on top. On Deborah’s 10th birthday, we had her favorite meal: cabbage, cornbread, and potatoes. However, Marc allowed an exception to the “local food only” rule and we bought a bag of carrots at the village market to add to the meal, since that was a request of the birthday girl and seemed reasonable. As we neared the end of the 30 days, I heard no complaining at all. Everyone knew why the decision had been made, and maybe realized it wasn’t so bad after all. And so, it seems that we have consensus on moving this from a 30-day “experiment” to a more permanent way of life for the Carrier family. God is good!

 

Homeschooling in Kenya: years in review

We came to Kenya at roughly the mid-point of the 2011-2012 school year. Suffice it to say, between packing, moving, and settling in here, I was happy if we managed to do some sort of language arts and math on a daily basis. In fact, the only text books we brought with us on the plane were our math books. Almost all our other books were shipped by crate, which didn’t arrive until we had been here several months. And by then, hours of daily wash and other manually intensive labors (which we were totally not used to), as well as a near-constant stream of visitors, made schooling pretty hit-or-miss for much longer than I would have liked.

We started the 2012-2013 school year in September and I did so with some trepidation. I wanted to get back into our routine of having a daily Circle Time with all the children, which normally includes reading aloud, singing, Scripture memory, “Training Times,” and so on. This time of teaching, direction, and family unity had become a greatly missed element of our homeschooling day.  Unfortunately, I found that particular habit somehow hard to re-establish, no matter how much I wanted to include it in our day. I think we might have had a dozen “Circle Times” throughout the year.

I also hoped to get beyond the Language Arts and Math basics that had been our routine. Don’t get me wrong, we were all learning plenty of new life skills and growing in our character, not to mention (sort of) learning Swahili, so there was lots we were doing that had great value and didn’t fit neatly into my “plan book.” And we didn’t entirely neglect electives…but I definitely wanted to step things up a notch.

As such, Marc and I decided early in 2013 to hire a wash lady to come in six days per week. It freed up a big chunk of my morning so that I could  focus on nurturing, discipling, and homeschooling the children. Even so, I wondered where the time went each day. We never seemed to get to that long list of things I wanted to “do” with the kids, and I started to worry about those dreaded “gaps” in their education. Would we ever get back into that old routine that had allowed us to accomplish so much? It seemed that the answer was no. In the early part of 2013, we hosted a steady stream of visitors. Just as we were recovering from that, Marc got in a motorbike accident and wrecked his knee, which put some burden on the family to help him out with a lot of daily functions. However, it was also a great opportunity to learn to serve cheerfully and put our faith into practice. There’s nothing like “life lessons!”

A month later,  I thought we’d get back to “normal,” but it just didn’t happen. Even though I wasn’t doing wash daily, meal preparation and housekeeping were still labor-intensive. As well, we continued to welcome steady streams of visitors who needed medical or food assistance–and of course, that operated on their schedules, not mine.

I spent much of our 2013-2014 school year still feeling like we just didn’t have the time. We did better, that’s for sure, but still didn’t manage to coordinate Circle Time very often and were still not as organized as I wanted to be with electives. Isaiah was now in 9th grade and I found that while we had excellent resources to get through the elementary and even middle school years, there was a gap as we entered high school. We had Math covered, but Language Arts was wanting. I thought we could use a free online website that boasted a pretty good high school syllabus, BUT our Internet just didn’t cooperate, so that was a disappointment. We made do with some intensive reading and writing, a GED preparation handbook, and occasional Internet-based studies. However, near the tail-end of the year, we ended up having a visitor who brought a high-school level Language Arts series of textbooks, which was a real blessing. Even so, I figured we might as well wait until  the new school year to begin it.

I also felt like my Littles weren’t getting enough attention. The big kids were kind of on “auto pilot” with a lot of their schoolwork, but I had a first-grader who was quite a reluctant reader, a pre-schooler who was ready to read (and I just didn’t have the time!), and in general I felt that all my younger children could use more of my attention. But I (we) were doing the best could…which was a frustration in itself. What could we possibly change up to make our homeschooling and family life more like what I thought it should be?

We ended up taking several months’ vacation this summer–something unusual to our homeschooling routine, for the last several years at least. We somehow have ended up schooling almost year-round, with days or weeks of as-needed to accommodate whatever was going on in “life.” I wondered if the break would be detrimental; the kids have always needed to retain some semblance of routine and productivity or else we end up dealing with behavioral issues, “boredom,” and so on. Not to mention serious complaining and struggle when we do try to get back in the groove. But I definitely needed a break, so…several months off it was.

I picked a random date of August 25 to start our new school year. I went in with little preparation, other than re-reading key sections of my old favorite, Homeschooling Year by Year (Rebecca Rupp), and tapping some random notes on possible schedule changes into a Word doc on my Android. I also purchased a few Kindle books, as I hoped to start Circle Time again with some regularity and needed a fresh read-aloud that our children of many differing ages could all enjoy.

We’re now almost at the end of our second week, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how smoothly things have gone. We’re accomplishing the basics, plus Circle Time, AND even electives every day, plus keeping up with house stuff and the regular demands of missionary life, without me feeling overwhelmed or like something is being sacrificed somewhere. I’m not sure how long this will continue, but I surely hope it does!

In trying to figure out just what allowed for this change (and why we weren’t able to accomplish it sooner), I see two significant things having occurred: The Sweazy family moved in next door in April and have become an integral part of the mission. Wanda, in particular, takes care of the regular medical needs of the needy in our community–something that had previously fallen to me.  Not only that, but I made a concerted  effort during the end of our last school year (and over our 3-month break) to train my older girls (ages 11 and 9) in many of the labor-intensive food preparation activities that I take care of on a daily basis. Thankfully, they have done well and are excited about the responsibility, which has removed a significant burden from me. (Incidentally, the start of the new school coincided with the beginning of our “30-day Challenge” to eat locally, which means greatly simplified menu options that either the girls or I can prepare).

I also realized that during our previous years here in Kenya, dealing with baby Enoch was probably quite a bit more time-intensive (and emotionally demanding) than I had realized. Suffice it to say, he was a rather difficult baby until he began to be able to toddle around at about 14 months, and even afterwards had a temperament which made it hard to smoothly integrate him into our school days. Now, however, I am pleased to say that at three years old, he is much better trained, and even excited to be doing his own “school” (which usually consists of copying shapes or drawings, writing random letters, and “reading” lots of books).

And so, I find myself simply thankful for “new beginnings” and am looking forward to what the Lord will do with this next year of homeschooling on the mission field.

 

 

 

 

“I shined the light, and the man fell down”

david and violetThis is David, along with his wife, Violet, and four of their six children. David is a pretty big guy. Our two oldest boys were testing his strength this morning, and they found it amusing that he could pick up 13 year-old Jonah with one arm and hold him in a seated position on his bicep.

I’m not sure how long David has been a part of our fellowship…maybe six months? He and Isaiah somehow became fast friends when Isaiah was overseeing a bunch of guys (including David) as they dug a local fish pond. In fact, the effort to communicate with David (who speaks very little English) was what made Isaiah functionally fluent in Swahili.

David had been living somewhat far away when he responded to the message of the Kingdom and was baptized. That, combined with the fact that he struggles with reading (as far as we know), made for a slow process of discipleship. At one point, the church elders had to address a significant issue with him, but he showed sincere repentance and one of the next steps was a willing move to a location closer to the fellowship so that he could grow stronger spiritually. He lived right across the path from us for a while, was forced to move, and then found another place across the main road. There are several brothers who live near each other there, so it’s a great way for them all to mutually encourage one another. The accountability has also been good for David.

One thing we’ve all noticed about David is that he’s a really good Dad. His children obviously love and respect him and he’s cared for them well as his wife has recently struggled with illness. However, Isaiah (who spends a lot of time at David’s house) did report that David has a bit of a temper when the children misbehave.

Sunday at our communion meal, a large group of about 20 adults ate together and then were encouraged by our brother Sam to examine ourselves in preparation for sharing in the body and blood of Christ. This is always a quiet and introspective time and although public confessions are encouraged, they are somewhat rare. Such a thing is just not a part of African culture. This week, however, was an exception. Many stood to confess and share their struggles and ask for prayer. David was one of them–the first time he’s publicly shared during our fellowship meal.

The night before, he had been sleeping at his home farm some distance away. He still has a house there, which has a sleeping mat and a few other things in it because he stays there when it’s time to plant or harvest beans or maize. Although a vacant house is usually an invitation for robbery or vandalism, David’s brothers live close by so there have thus far been no problems. However, on this particular Saturday night as David was sleeping, he reported that he was awakened by some unusual noises outside the house. He went out with his spotlight and found nothing, so returned to bed.

Some time later, he was abruptly awakened by some more noises. Though nothing obvious, he knew it meant trouble. He said that he got out of bed and stood by the window. (His house is a mud-and-stick construction with one window and one door, which is typical in our area.) Soon, water began to seep in around the window and he guessed that there were three men outside trying to break through the wall and enter the house. He simply waited quietly in the dark with a fimbo (a straight club with a large round ball on one end, which can easily finish someone) and a flashlight in his hands.

Eventually, one of the men worked his way in, leaving his two friends outside. David reported that he struggled internally; his strong reaction was to beat the man and cause the robbers to leave. (You must understand that here, robbers don’t just come to steal and then quietly leave. In the face of any opposition, they typically have and use machetes or knives to defend themselves. It’s kill-or-be-killed, since any robbers caught in the act are typically subject to vigilante justice, often having petrol poured on them and a match lit.)

However, David said, he had “another voice” telling him not to follow his natural reaction. Instead, he quickly positioned himself in front of the broken-through wall and shined his spotlight in the face of the intruder. In his own words, he “shined his light, and the man fell down!” He told the man, “You will not get out of here!” and tied his hands together. He then called his brothers, and the men all stood watch until morning, when it was determined that the man was a neighbor and should be freed without repercussions. His friends had already fled.

I wondered, if David had not sinned against the man, why was he standing to confess? And then he admitted that he felt that his feelings of anger were sin and he was asking for forgiveness and prayer.

After the Communion meal, we talked as a family. Marc wondered aloud if, when David said, “he shined his light and the man fell down!,” that was an African way of confessing that he had turned on his flashlight and then beamed the guy in the head with the club. (This is not a big stretch if you understand the differences between our Western-style of communication and their Eastern style.) So he sent Isaiah to David’s house to “confirm.” As it turned out, David did, indeed, refrain from doing harm to the man, choosing instead to “love his enemies” and “not resist an evildoer,” as Jesus had commanded. The intruder, expecting to break through the wall into an empty house, was probably just greatly surprised to find that he was not alone. Given David’s size, I can understand his reaction.

With the struggles we sometimes face in the lengthy and difficult process of discipleship, David’s testimony of this weekend stands as a great encouragement not only to us, but to our entire fellowship. It demonstrates the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth of Jesus’ teachings and God’s upside-down Kingdom, and the power of the Holy Spirit to help us walk in that truth, even when our flesh would prompt us to do otherwise. Join me in praising God and in praying for David and others in our fellowship here who are striving to enter the narrow gate and follow the path that leads to eternal life.

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