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.

Family Challenge: Eat Locally

When we first moved to Kenya, one of our greatest challenges was adapting our appetites to the food that was available locally. (There’s a whole chapter dedicated to this in my first-year memoir, The Kingdom of God is not About Eating and Drinking.) Though contentment with our diet was difficult during year one, it was somehow achieved during year two, although we still did make some concessions. Items you might not find on our neighbors’ tables would include spaghetti; Ramen noodles; chicken, beef, or pork a couple of times per week; and (occasionally) oatmeal for breakfast or pizza for supper. Eventually, we conceded to purchasing Ghee (clarified butter) during our trips to Kitale, as a healthier replacement for the yellow “cooking fat” and margarine available locally. We felt OK about “extras” like vanilla and vinegar, also only available in town. All in all, we were pretty pleased with our menus, the resulting budget, and achieving that sometimes-elusive “balance” that being a mzungu in Africa (and particularly, a Kingdom Christian in Africa) seems to require.

Somehow, during the past six months or so, we’ve begun to feel like some of what we’ve allowed/excused in our eating habits has crossed the fine line into over-indulgence. I’m not sure why or how that happened. It may have to do with the fact that there are now two new “Super Stores” in Kitale that cater to wazungu like us. And if it’s available somewhat locally, then it must be OK, right? At least, that’s how we ended up reasoning. Also, in hosting a steady stream of visitors earlier in the year (and wanting to accommodate their American appetites and show them hospitality that they would appreciate), perhaps our appetites learned to re-appreciate a more expanded palate? But, we were left with the nagging feeling that we’ve made concessions that perhaps were not best for us, practically or spiritually. I can never read Jesus’ teachings in Luke 6 (verses 24-25) without some serious self-examination:

But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry…

We have the option to eat what and how we want because we are rich. Perhaps not any longer by American standards, but certainly in comparison to our neighbors here. And we have tried very hard to live in light of that reality and walk in obedience to Jesus. It is, however, a continual challenge and we feel that the balance has swung too far in a direction we don’t care to go. So we’re making some changes once again…

As a family, we have decided to take a 30-day challenge: eat locally. And by “locally,” I mean what is available in the half-dozen shops in our area–not in the large village market, and definitely NOT the “big city” of Kitale.  We talked about what that would mean, the sacrifices we would need to make…and wondered, could we really do it? I’ll admit, I struggled with making the decision, feeling like we’re sacrificing good health. Because frankly, some of our neighbors’ health struggles that we commonly see in the clinic are caused by nutritional deficiencies, and certainly their immune response to illness is often compromised by the same. So, I asked myself, if we eat more like the locals do, will it be harmful to our health, and (if that is the case) is it really good stewardship to move in that direction? However, I do believe that if we are striving to be good stewards and live Christ’s Kingdom teachings to the best of our abilities, He will certainly provide us with “daily bread” that will meet all our needs.

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We’ll be eating more cabbage soup…

So here’s what “eating locally” means: No beef. If we’re having meat, it’s going to be a chicken we slaughter ourselves. Menu staples are rice, potatoes, cabbage, milk (1-2 L per day), eggs, maize, and beans. Fruits in-season are bananas and avocadoes, though they will be “out of season” for at least a couple of months here-and-there. We also score yellow cherries once in a while. Local shops sell flour, baking powder, salt, margarine, and cooking fat. One of our neighbors just started a little business of roasting peanuts–that’s good protein we would not otherwise have, and it supports a brother in our fellowship (win-win!). Currently we are eating fresh corn from the garden (though it will soon be dry enough to shell), and we also grow our own sukuma (kale), spinach, onions, and pumpkins (that’s Micah’s crop and we pay him 10-20 shillings per pumpkin, which to  a seven year-old is very exciting!). 

While we’ve agreed that we want to only eat what is available in our local shops, we are making a once-weekly trip to the village market to buy the bulk of those items, since economically and practically it makes more sense. For example, we can buy margarine at the shops here, but only in the smallest of quantities, so we’ll be getting a larger size at the market. We can get potatoes and cabbages locally, but not always in quantities necessary for the size of our family, and certainly the potatoes and cabbages are larger and “nicer” at the market. So that’s one concession we’re making, but I think it’s reasonable. We’re also adding three items from the market that are not generally available locally: garlic, tomatoes, and green peppers–in the interest of health.

Based on what we have locally available, our menu options are fewer and not-so-varied, but certainly this is good for our appetites. My only real “complaint” (and I’m certainly not complaining) is that our menu is pretty high on the carbohydrates. But maybe that’s OK and it’s just my American sensibilities that are offended by the perceived lack of “balance” in our diet. There’s probably more balance than I think, and perhaps God is giving us just what we need. All in the name of learning contentment with what He provides. All in all, I definitely think this is do-able, and very good for our family.

Since we have eight children (some with rather entrenched preferences in regard to food), we’re trying to move forward with everyone on board, and we want there to be agreement that this a good thing for all of us, both practically and spiritually. While some are more enthusiastic than others, we’ve all agreed to local-food-only on the basis of a “thirty day challenge.” We’ve just finished the first week, and we’ll evaluate in a few more weeks to see what everyone thinks about continuing. Personally, Marc and I hope that everyone will see that it’s a good thing and will be happy to make more permanent adjustments. On the other hand, perhaps some changes will need to be made. We’ll see…and we’ll keep you posted!

 

“How are you Loving your Neighbor?”

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Peter’s recent baptism

During our Sunday morning fellowship, all the men are free to share  as the Holy Spirit leads.The interactive service is usually encouraging, often interesting, and sometimes just l-o-n-g. In African culture, wazee (old men) are respected, and since our church boasts many of them, it’s not uncommon for all of them to feel compelled to say “something.” This week, one of our newly-baptized wazee, Peter (I think he is about 80 years old), sang us a worship song, which brought a smile to my face.

However, mostly I am still thinking about what Nashon shared…wish I had a picture of him to show you, but the fact that we don’t might tell you something about how shy he is. Marc sometimes takes him along for assistance with translation, and if he’s struggling with words or if something strikes him as humorous, he often gets a hard-to-control case of the giggles. Nashon is (I think) 23 years old, which here in Kenya is still considered a “youth.” (A youth can actually be as old as 30!) But his challenge to all of us during this week’s fellowship showed a wisdom that perhaps even the wazee would envy (though I’m sure they would never say so).

Many spoke about loving one another this week (must have been a Holy Spirit theme) and I don’t think I could even summarize all of what Nashon had to say, but really, it was only one statement/question which made me think, and perhaps even challenged me:

People find it easy to love someone who is far away. But you, how are you loving your neighbor?

And isn’t it true? When we lived in America, it was “easy” to send money to this cause, that person…all good, and certainly something we should all do. I’m not knocking financial giving. But at the same time, I could be challenged to love those closest to me in practical ways (even my family members) when I had to see all the attitudes and behaviors in them that I didn’t like, deal with situations that weren’t easy or comfortable, and see in myself all the areas needing improvement as a result.

How often do we all willingly give or do things for others who are “far away” (i.e., perhaps not intimately involved in our lives), but neglect to really love (in word and deed) those closest to us? Why is it that others so often see our good sides, while we “let it all hang out” at home and let those we’re supposed to love the most see us at our very worst?

As a fellowship, we got back together at 6 PM for our communion meal. Our brother  Sam opened up the fellowship by sharing a bit, and I don’t know if he meant to continue on the morning’s theme, but he also talked about loving others and wondered,

If someone went and talked to your neighbor, what would he say? Would he say that you are a Christian?

It’s true that we all will only stand before God in judgment and that no man can know another’s heart…but at the same time, a tree is known by its fruit. The people we are closest to are the ones who should be witness to our “fruit.” And they are, whether it be good or bad.

You, how are you loving your “neighbor”? If someone went and talked to your neighbor, what would he say?

Random Thoughts on Children and Chores

Last week I received an email from a friend who expressed some concerns about her 12 year-old son’s laziness and lack of desire to help with work around the house, and asked for my advice. In her comments, she said, “I get concerned because he doesn’t want to go that extra mile. He doesn’t even want to go the first mile!” I sent her an unexpectedly long response with my thoughts on the topic of children and chores. Figured it would make a good blog post, since the blog muse rarely hits any more and, when it does, time to write is often elusive. So here goes…

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I was chuckling reading your question, as I have often found myself saying to various children at different times, “Never mind going the extra mile–you’re not even going the first one!” I think it’s just human nature to be lazy and unfortunately, it’s our job as parents to conform those tendencies into something useful. Some of my children are good workers and look for ways to help/things to do, others will do anything upon request but rarely voluntarily, and then there are those who grumble through the most basic chores, as if it were the end of the world. (Of course, sometimes all the kids show these various character traits at various times.) We try to teach frequently about the value of work/the importance of diligence (either family devotional times or my time with the kids during the day/homeschooling, etc.) and at a time when they’re not being defensive/rebellious and feeling like I’m correcting them because they’re NOT doing what they should. As for correction when needed, it depends on the situation/reason.

If they’re not working due to a bad attitude, I do try to be encouraging rather than just corrective (“I know you want to do your project rather than what I’m asking, and I’m sorry. But we all need to do our part and serve one another. Try to do it cheerfully as unto the Lord, and you’ll find that you can back to what you were doing pretty quickly.”) Then I tend to leave them alone and let them have a bad attitude if they want to. It surprises me the number of times my encouragement leads to (eventual) repentance over the bad attitude towards work.

If it’s an ongoing problem with laziness, I tend to be a little more firm. (“It’s my job to prepare you for adulthood and if you don’t learn to work you will not be able to provide for yourself, never mind for a family if you should have one. That would be shameful, as our witness to others often comes from our example in working hard with our hands–1 Thessalonians 4:10. So you’ll have to learn to do the job and do it well. I expect you to do your work in good time and do it thoroughly, or you can expect some spankings.” Sometimes the admonition is enough (though the work might then get done with a less-than-stellar attitude) but other times they do need that spanking. If not a spanking, definitely consequences (such as other chores to complete so that they can “practice” working hard!).

Of course, sometimes even my best workers “don’t feel like it,” and I understand that because occasionally I feel the same way. In that case, I usually pitch in and lend a hand, as “many hands make light work.”  I usually find that the example helps and they often get right back to working cheerfully and I even find them “going the extra mile.”

In all cases, I try to model hard work for my kids and almost always refuse to ask them to do anything in terms of work if I am not also working alongside of them (if not on the same task, at least *something.*) Then if they are complaining or not wanting to do a job, I can gently remind them that we ALL have a responsibility to pitch in and they are not being asked to do something that others are not also doing. Sometimes the team mentality helps to encourage. Exceptions are if someone is sick or unable to work (even me!), in which case everyone is encouraged to pitch in and serve to help out for those who are unable.

Though it is hard and I sometimes am too distracted/busy, I do try to check all the children’s work as they finish. Anything that is not done well gets a verbal correction or  “reminder” for what to do differently or better next time. If the job quality is really unacceptable (standards vary according to age an ability) and I think it’s because of laziness/desire to get back to playing or personal projects, I have them re-do the job and sometimes even follow-up with an additional task “because they obviously need practice with how to work hard and do an acceptable job.” This usually keeps things running smoothly.

 

It helps to have times devoted to work when everyone knows that they will have responsibilities, but as you said there are inevitable times when other things need to get done. Don’t be too discouraged about what you perceive as a character deficiency. Just keep on teaching in a positive manner and correcting when needed.

Some questions to ask yourself/things to consider…these are ways that I self-evaluate, which may or may not be applicable in your situation:

–are you investing in your relationships with your kids so that they feel valued and loved  by you, and not just that they are appreciated by you for the work that they do?

–Are you modeling cheerful labor and encouraging a positive attitude in various ways, rather than making household jobs seem burdensome?

–Are you encouraging good work and helping the children see the benefit and blessing of what they do, instead of only correcting problems when they arise?

–Are you being realistic in your standards in regard to quality of work and ability in doing various jobs?

–Boys really are different than girls. I find that I am asking my boys to participate less and less in kitchen work (especially dishes) BUT they are the ones who do the shopping, which is a big responsibility…My oldest son is the plumbing and electrical “go-to” and he often does repairs to bikes and other things around the house, so I think that’s a “fair trade” in releasing him from more of the mundane household tasks. My next-oldest boy is not as mechanically inclined as his brother, but he does enjoy cooking so I’m trying to teach him more in the kitchen (still need to devote more time to that) and he willingly takes care of the animals and works in the garden. So, does your son have work that he prefers, which you can delegate to him “in exchange” for other people doing tasks that he doesn’t like so much? Not that this is always possible, and I think all children need to have proficiency most things. Not to mention, often in life we must do things we don’t “prefer,” and that’s a good lesson for children to learn–even my oldest does dishes from time to time!–BUT, in the short-term sometimes it does help attitudes about work if one can take a break from chores that are particularly burdensome.

–Generally speaking, do you have regular and expected times for chores to be done? We almost always do “wake-up jobs,” something small after breakfast and family devotions (breakfast dishes, quick clean-up to make the house presentable, etc.), and then afternoon jobs (supper prep, clean-up from the day’s activities, bringing in the laundry, etc.) If the children know to expect this, they are less inclined to feel frustrated about projects/play time interrupted, etc. Of course if you always felt that what you were doing was being interrupted, you wouldn’t like it either. If you are asking for an “unexpected” job to be done, a “five minute warning” if they’re in the middle of something is usually appreciated and makes the work less offensive. And although I do expect children to obey a request “just because” and not always need to know “why,” they certainly respond much better to those big or unexpected jobs if you can provide some reasoning and encouragement. (“I know weeding the garden is a big job, but those weeds are going to be flowering if we don’t take care of them and that will give us even MORE to keep up with! We’ll all work together and try to make it easier for everyone.”)

–Do the children have a good balance between school, chores, and personal free time? Of course we are preparing our children for a lifetime of work, but they are children, after all. At age 12, your son should be investing perhaps 3-4 hours in “school” (I find that my older children can complete all their assignments in that amount or less *IF* they are being diligent…which sometimes they are NOT). Then, a roughly equivalent amount of time in actual work, if you have enough for him to do (indoors, outdoors, or in serving others in some way). Of course you have family times where you do various things, and meal times, but that should still give him a good couple of hours of personal/free time during the day. Of course, it’s important to intersperse work with appropriate short breaks, etc. For example, even though our mornings are devoted to “school” (roughly 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM), I tell the kids that they should do their math or language arts first, then they can have a 10-15 minute break. After that, they get the the other primary assignment done and move on to whatever is scheduled for “electives.”  If we’re working on a long job (like harvesting maize/beans or weeding the garden or our Saturday whole-house cleaning), we usually work for 30-45 minutes then take a 10 minute break. Sometimes a cup of juice or a small snack goes a long way. :)

I admit, I used to be a bit more of a “drill sergeant” in regards to the children’s work…I think I have become much more gracious in how I ask the children to do things, more realistic in my expectations, and a lot more encouraging of sincere effort, as well as more instructive in taking advantage of “teachable moments.” I have definitely seen that my approach and attitude affects a lot in terms of how the children respond. It is true that they choose their own attitude…but if they “choose” a bad one, I can either exacerbate it or reduce it by how I respond. This has become more than obvious throughout my oldest son’s early teenage years.Re: boys-turning-into-young men…which your son is… they definitely don’t like to be tied to Mama’s apron strings (*wink*). So, is your son spending good time with his Dad? Does Dad give him jobs to do so that he can feel like he is contributing in a “manly” way to the household? In addition to the things you are asking him to do, is he learning practical skills that will help him feel productive/grown up? (I’m not meaning for this to sound sexist, which it might…but boys and girls are definitely different and I think it is important to acknowledge that in our parenting.)  I struggle with this a little more with my second son than I did with the first, as my oldest has always wanted to do the things his Dad does and has just has a mind/aptitude for various skills, which his brother has little interest in and aptitude for. However, I’m not too worried about it. I’m keeping focused on the primary thing (“seek first the Kingdom of God!”) and I figure the future will unfold itself. He generally has a cheerful attitude about work, and although he doesn’t have a penchant for manual labor (particularly things like weeding the garden), I do find that he is particularly meticulous in his work, which I try to encourage and compliment. If the two boys are “sharing” garden weeding, the oldest gets twice as much done in half the time (to his brother’s frustration), BUT the younger one does a much more thorough job, whereas his brother just “gets the job done.”

Whatever the issues are, remember that you can only do your part in training, encouraging, and disciplining, and there is much that you have to leave to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. There is seed time and harvest, and we are given our children for 18-ish years for a good reason…they need that long and that much ongoing work on our part.  And as you know by now, each one his his/her strengths and weaknesses, so we need to encourage the strengths and work on the weaknesses, without expecting that everyone will be of the same ability/personality, etc. For example, one of my daughters, at only age 9, is a VERY capable household helper. She knows what generally needs to be done and jumps in to help. She can prepare complete meals on her own and willingly does so. In fact, if she is “bored,” she typically looks for work to do. Since her personality is somewhat like mine and I definitely appreciate her help, it is easy for me to encourage her, but I find that it somewhat embitters her older sister (age 11) when she gets too much complimenting (from me or others). My oldest daughter just doesn’t have that mind or that work ethic in regard to many of the household tasks (though she generally does whatever she is “asked” to do and does it fairly well) BUT she is an excellent seamstress-in-training, a great artist and storyteller, and generally very creative–all gifts which I know the Lord will use in His special way.

 

I hope you have been encouraged, or perhaps challenged, by these random thoughts on children and chores. Feel free to add your own thoughts (or questions) in comments!

Meet Silas…

We met Silas pretty much on day one when we moved to the village here in Kenya. He owns a shop just across the street from our house, where he lives and works with his wife, daughter, and newborn baby son.

Though we didn’t know it from the moment we met, Silas was eventually identified as that “man of peace” that would be instrumental in expanding the Kingdom of God in our community.

2014-06-24 17.24.31Recently, we helped Silas to purchase a piki piki (motorbike), in hopes that a fledgling business as a boda boda (driver) would help provide more comfortably for their family so that Silas would be more free to invest his time “on the mission.” Most recently, he coordinated many of the brothers (under the direction of Charlton Sweazy) to construct a home for a widow in our fellowship. He also regularly shares the Gospel of the Kingdom with visitors to his little shop, runs patients to the local clinic under Wanda’s direction, and visits satellite fellowships that are still in need of teaching and discipleship. If there’s anything to be done, not only do we trust Silas to do it, but he is always willing.

If Silas has a fault, it’s his memory. Rumor has it he suffered a head injury as a youth and was never the same (though we’ve never confirmed that to be true). In any case, he often confuses the English words “remember” and “forget” and he’s always “remembering” something–which is really “forgetting.” So when you call him to pick you up on his piki piki, he sometimes gets distracted and then “forgets to remember,” or “remembers to forget.” In other words, multiple phone calls by way of reminder are often necessary. And sometimes he shows up at the door and, after greeting and small talk, when asked if he needs something, he may stand there with a dazed look for several minutes before, with a shake of his head, he says, “Oh, yes!” and then proceeds with the reason for his visit.

We love Silas!

Riding on the piki today behind Silas, on my way to a women’s meeting, reminded me just why someone like Silas is such a gem. For starters, let me compare him with many other drivers at the boda boda “stage” in town (the place where you can hire a driver from a sea of motorbikes). Many of them are drunkards (not necessarily abstaining in order to pursue a living as a driver). Some are just plain rude and crude. Then there are those who lack not only a desire for safety but common sense as well. Couple that with dirt roads where potholes are the rule rather than the exception, impromptu speed bumps pop up unexpectedly, and pikis share the road with animals, pedestrians, bicycles, the occasional car, and other unsafe pikis often driving at high speeds, and a ride into town (or even a couple kilometers to a women’s meeting) can be downright scary.

I meditated on this as I rode peacefully on the back of Silas’s motorbike this morning. Needless to say, Silas is as straight-laced as they come. He drives at a moderate speed and even slows down for speed bumps so I don’t fly up off the seat. I smiled when we came upon a little girl, maybe a year old, sitting in a little pothole in the dirt path we were driving on. I wondered what Silas was doing as he stopped and beeped his horn, since the house we were at wasn’t our final destination. Turns out he just wanted to get the attention of the girl’s mother, who was busy doing her wash in the courtyard.  They had a short conversation, and then Silas said to me, “Yeah, many drivers they go too fast and they might not see her.” True enough!

I called him to come pick me up as I thought our meeting was wrapping up, since for him it was about a 15-minute ride and I didn’t really want to wait around. However, as it turns out, our closing prayer time went on longer than I thought it would and, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Silas pull up on the path outside before we finished. He ended up sitting there for about 10 minutes and I wondered what was going on when I saw him turn around and disappear down the path the same way he had come. To my amusement, when I exited the house I found him giving one of the neighborhood little tykes (about 2 years old, maybe) a spin on his piki, safely situated on the gas tank in front of him. Needless to say, the boy was smiling from ear to ear.

I apologized for making him wait and said,”Those Mamas prayed long today!” To which he simply laughed and said, “Yeah, it’s like that.” (That’s one of Silas’s favorite phrases, which he uses liberally and sometimes in a way totally unrelated to the conversation.)

To my surprise, one of the Mamas from the meeting begged a ride home, since it was on our way. Without missing a beat, I got squashed between her and Silas like a mzungu sandwich. Ordinarily, having a piki driver practically in my lap would make me uncomfortable, but knowing that it also  made Silas uncomfortable actually made me feel better. I noticed that he scooted up on the gas tank as far as he possibly could to create more space for me. ;)

So now you’ve met Silas and gone with me a  morning errand on the back of his piki. …”It’s like that.”

Some of us are Normal

I know that many people don’t “get” homeschooling. We’re not a majority, so it seems we constantly have to prove ourselves. I’ve been guilty of singing the praises of homeschooling, while minimizing the difficulties, occasional blunders, and frequent uncertainties. But I still cringe when I read news articles and blogs talking about how homeschoolers out-perform their public school counterparts on tests of all kinds. And what about those who play musical instruments practically from the womb, or shine like stars in the universe as they go out boldly into the community and earn friends of all ages for themselves?

Certainly, many homeschoolers excel in this nurturing environment and are able to develop in their personal giftings to an extent that they could not in a public school environment. Many are also well-socialized, despite the stereotypes that try to portray otherwise. I’m happy for them, but what if some of us homeschoolers are just…normal? (Like many public-schooled children are…normal.) After years of homeschooling, and speaking on the homeschool circuit for several years, I can honestly say that many homeschoolers probably feel that they have to justify their methods and “results” to fellow homeschoolers more than they do to outside critics.

Our oldest son gets a lot of attention here in Africa. He’s just shy of 15, but he can repair phones, do electrical and plumbing work, fix motorbikes, and more. He’s always been more comfortable around adults than other children. Probably part and parcel of being the oldest child who got the most focused attention. That, and his particular personality and intelligence. I wouldn’t say that he can do what he does *just* because we homeschool. Truth is, we homeschool seven other children as well, and the others don’t show these same aptitudes and abilities. Does that mean our homeschooling is not successful? NO. It just means that God made each of our children differently and has individual plans for their lives.

None of our children play a musical instrument (except one, who is self-taught and  picks up the guitar only occasionally). Some can barely hold a note in song. While a couple of them are interested in art and pretty good at drawing, we haven’t really done much to hone those skills. Our oldest girls can cook and sew, but only to a certain level of functionality. You won’t find them whipping up four-course meals or sewing Victorian-era dresses; instead, they’re making spaghetti with an awesome homemade sauce and attacking our never-ending mending pile. We’re living in a foreign country and trying to learn a second language, but it’s been a slow and not very pleasant process over all. One of the kids loves animals and would spend all day catching critters and learning about them, but confesses that he doesn’t see much career opportunity in doing so.

And when it comes to that socialization? Some of the kids are pretty good at it, and others are still “works in progress.” However, I don’t think that’s based on the fact that we homeschool, but rather is largely a function of personality. Would they do better in public school? I think it would be detrimental to their progress in social development, rather than helpful. Instead, homeschooling allows me to see areas where my children need to grow, and enables me to work those lessons into daily life. It’s a slow-and-steady process, but we persevere.

As an aside, I also cringe when I read or hear teachings about how the teenage years are (or should be) a “myth” for the Christian homeschooler. We’re going to have two teenagers in our family all too soon, and I can tell you that growth spurts (and the accompanying tiredness), hormones, and emotions at this age are all too real. Many Christian parents have done their very best through this stage and have “lost” their children to the world. I don’t think we need any more guilt (albeit well-meaning) as we navigate this already-difficult phase of life.

In the final analysis, our homeschooling family is pretty average. However, we’re not after academic success or worldly accolades. Ultimately, we want to raise children who love God with all their hearts and who love their neighbors as themselves.  But even in their spiritual growth, our children are probably pretty “normal” for their various ages and stages. Some are not regenerated, and we’re just trying to teach them habits of obedience and good behavior. Others are seeking to please God but occasionally struggle with the flesh and have questions about what we’ve taught them and try to live out. I don’t know how our journey is going to end, but I trust God. And I’m okay with being pretty normal.

The Hidden Enemy: High Expectations

It’s innocent enough: “What’s for lunch?”

“Rice.”

Oh.”

After this same exchange with four children in a space of about five minutes (possibly including a couple of eye-rolls and a sigh or two–not from me), I start thinking to myself. They used to really like rice. I could make six cups of rice and they’d ask for more. Today I’m making three and there’ll probably be left-overs. Their appetites just prefer all the things they enjoy. Why can’t they be grateful with what God gives us? Are they ever going to learn contentment? They don’t think about our neighbors here…for most of them, rice is an indulgence. And they don’t even put margarine and salt on it!

Suddenly when the fifth child asks, “What’s for lunch?” my answer comes in an irritated tone. When the sixth child asks, I respond, “Rice! Let’s just be thankful, okay?,” which is usually enough to send the confused child back to wherever he/she came from.

It’s amazing how I can over-think a situation.  Often, my assessments are correct, but I’ll admit that I have a tendency to over-react. After going through scenarios like this more times than I can count, I’ve realized something: I have high expectations. So often I expect my children to behave like little adults. To respond like I would in a given situation. To remember and do everything we have taught, trained, and encouraged them to do. To apply Biblical wisdom to their life situations, even if their immature minds still don’t necessarily have the experience to do so. And when they fail? I’ve been known to nag. Criticize. Correct unfairly. Over-do the discussion (lecture?)

Sigh.

Aware of my own deficiencies and the potential consequences in my relationships with my children, I’ve been working on it for some time now. Slowly and steadily making improvements and not taking things so seriously. Expecting my children to be foolish (the Bible says they will be). Not making too big a deal of it when a new visitor comes and three of the girls scurry around the corner, giggling, to avoid greeting him (despite how we have tried to train and encourage them to exhibit good manners…without prompting). I’m learning to shut my mouth during conversations and let my children share their thoughts and experiences without putting  in my two cents before they’ve even finished.

The other day I had an email conversation with a dear sister in Christ that confirmed that I need to continue this battle against my high expectations, because they are indeed a hidden enemy. And the stakes are high. I want to share her experience with you–truly, an older woman who is reaching out to teach younger women how to love their children (see Titus 2:4).

She is at the stage where she is watching her children, now fledgling adults, make some decisions she wishes they did not make. There is distance in their relationships, so her influence is limited. She is praying fervently and trusting God to work all things for good. And though she doesn’t say it, she’s hurting.

This dear woman has a vibrant walk with the Lord. She’s tried to live a sincere and authentic walk with the Lord before her children. And here, near the end, she wonders, What could I have done differently?

And here’s what she was kind enough to share with me, very honestly and transparently: she could have lowered her expectations.

My thoughts wander after reading her email. It’s evident that she’s realized (and her near-grown children have even told her) that it’s been difficult to be people different than she is, and different than she expects them to be. Somehow, they’ve felt like they could never measure up. Maybe, due to their discouragement, it was easier to stop trying. I imagine myself in her place. I wonder if the children grew tired of being over-corrected, of having their attempts at individuality overly stifled, of being expected to “perform” to a level that perhaps they’ve not been capable of. So over time, they’ve grown quiet. Distant. Independent.

She prays.

And today I pray that for me and my children, that these efforts I’ve made to change myself and alter my expectations (and responses) will have been made in enough time to make a difference in their lives, and in their walks with the Lord. I pray that the experience of my friend, and other Moms like her, will reach other young Moms in enough time that they will surrender their high and false expectations and live in the reality of the everyday. No matter how things look, we must love, we must serve, we must persevere. Most important, we must trust God to do what we cannot in the hearts of our children, and to take the meager offering of our mothering and make a masterpiece of it.

 

 

 

On Feeling Like an “Outsider”

Recently we got a chance to visit with a fellow missionary family here in the Kitale area, which was a great blessing. During the course of our  conversation, I was asked if (now that we have been here in Kenya for almost two years), we feel like we have really “integrated” into the community here. My answer was mostly no, but I’ve been thinking about the subject off and on ever since.

In one sense, I think we have integrated as much as we possibly can. Local children no longer chase after us yelling, “Mzungu, Mzungu, how are you?” everywhere we go. Our children are no longer harassed by constant attention (stares, poking, prodding, and pushing) when they are out and about in the neighborhood. I am blessed to see our yard full of smiling and laughing brown faces in addition to the eight white faces of our children on most afternoons. Even better, I like to hear the back-and-forth conversation in Swahili as the children play. Even Enoch (age 2) has picked up an impressive little vocabulary. I laugh when he asks his friend Nila, “Taco nini?“. What he really means is, “Unataka nini?” or, “What do you want?” but of course he’s only two…and he doesn’t understand that everyone is giggling at him not just because he’s adorable, but because taco is a bit of a crude word in Swahili.

Crowds of kids no longer line up along our fence and stare for hours on end; it’s only during school vacations when children visit from farther-away places that we can’t name each and every one of our little guests.  And we no longer welcome a seemingly unending stream of adult visitors who are trying to figure us out. Most people know who we are and why we are here.

Hosting a home fellowship is a small part of our “mission” here, and it’s really just a means of showing people how it’s done so that more local home fellowships will be birthed; we have little interest in spear-heading a mzungu-centric “church.” Our first attempt at house-churching attracted way too much attention–too many people, all committed to other local churches and not coming out of much beyond curiosity–or a desire to garner the favor of the wazungu. But even that has changed; now the majority of folks come for the purposes of fellowship and discipleship and we rarely have visitors  who don’t sincerely want to know more about the Gospel of the Kingdom and what it means to live as a follower of Christ. So even in that regard, I feel a much greater sense of acceptance and effectiveness.

We have different ways of doing things, all oddities to our neighbors and the subject of much conversation at first: we don’t really like ugali; we homeschool; we don’t really believe (as most people here seem to) that it takes a village to raise a child and children should be seen and not heard; we are certainly more technologically advanced than most folks around here; and of course, we have a larger house and more possessions than almost everyone we know. All these differences have, for the most part, been slowly accepted as a part of who we are and, though we are obviously different, we’re no longer viewed as “outsiders,” as much as we were at first. We’ve been welcomed, accepted, and, as much as is possible, integrated into our community.

On the other hand, there are ways in which I don’t think we can ever really integrate. Learning Swahili has been a struggle and, though most of us can follow a simple conversation and make small talk, it will be a long time before we’re fluent enough to hold a meaningful conversation. This is particularly difficult when it comes to ministry and fellowship/discipleship. Relying on translation is a necessary discomfort for me; I know I am missing out on so much in the development of relationships and greatly wish that there was better integration in that regard. We would be much more effective for the Kingdom if circumstances were different but I trust that God can work through us even with our limitations.

As well, there is  much that we cannot culturally comprehend, as we have a very Western mind-set and and ingrained lifestyle that is very different from what is normal here. We’ve learned, and continue to learn, much about communication, realities of life here, and ways of doing things; but without first-hand experience we often find ourselves, by default, on the “outside.” I don’t know if we can ever really overcome these differences, any more than we will cease to be an oddity simply because of the whiteness of our skin.

But in spite of the awkwardness and the discomfort that are the inevitable outcome of so many meetings and conversations, I have hope. I know that God can use us in spite of our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9). I trust that it is His work that is being done and that there is much more being accomplished than what I can see with my own eyes. And I understand more and more what it means to be “in the world but not of the world” (for example, John 15:19).  Hebrews 11 speaks of those who walk in faith as people who confess to being “strangers and exiles on the earth,” and the Apostle Peter urges us to live as examples to those around us, because we are “aliens and strangers” here. Feeling, in some ways, not totally integrated into our community here, just reminds me of how God wants me to view my citizenship here on earth. In many ways, a certain level of discomfort is good. The seemingly unending self-assessment that we go through as a result of the many cultural differences is equally beneficial.

Truthfully, sometimes I feel like it would be easier to go back to America–where we fit in better, and where relationships would be more natural and more effective for discipleship. I don’t think we will ever totally “integrate” here, but maybe we aren’t meant to. We’re being stretched, we’re growing, and we will accomplish whatever is God’s will for us to accomplish while we are here.  As with everything, we trust that God is working all things for good and for His glory.

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