3:00 is 4:30

The other day, Marc and our neighbor, Henry, went door-to-door in the village sharing the Gospel of the Kingdom. The reception was very positive and there is some follow up that needs to be done as a result–because the idea is to make disciples, not just converts. Many of the people Marc spoke with were women, so if they expressed interest in knowing more or in further follow up, he referred them to me and asked them to drop in for a visit.

One of the ladies said she would come and meet with me the following day at 3:00 in the afternoon. I thought, what an ideal time! The littlest three would all be napping at that time, I already had supper started, and the day’s work was, by-and-large, completed. No children’s chores to oversee until about 4:30, and the big kids would either be finishing school work or enjoying some free time (likely outside). Perfect!

Unfortunately, 3:00 came and went. Suddenly,at 4:30, she appeared at the door–just moments after all the littles had woken up, needed help in the potty, and wanted water and a snack. The big kids now needed me to dump their heavy water containers into the water tank, as their afternoon job involved several trips to the spring. I was also going to need to get food re-heating on the stove and get things going for supper. But…I had to drop everything (as much as possible) and follow up with this woman who was so very eager to meet me and learn more about following Jesus. So that is what I did.

I recall reading in the Kenya “Culture” book that time is a very Western concept, and that Americans coming to Africa often struggle to throw off the shackles of the clock. How true it is! This is just one example; Marc has had experience with this as well. Often he’ll have a training scheduled to begin at 9:00, and folks don’t start drifting in until noon. One Kenyan laughingly told him that if people actually show up on the same day as the event, that’s pretty good.

One more thing we need to adjust to. Need to keep on remembering why we’re here and what’s important, so we can truly make the most of every opportunity–whether it shows up at 3:00 or 4:30. Here’s a reminder for all of us–we need to focus on the eternal, not the temporal; and God’s timing is usually not the same as ours. Be prepared, whether you’re needed at 3:00 when it’s convenient, or 4:30…when it’s not.

 

Slowing Down

One thing we’ve realized is that things move much slower in Africa. Without many of the conveniences that we’ve been used to, daily tasks are much more time-consuming. Even a “quick trip” into town never turns out to be “quick.” Internet is painfully slow at times. There is no convenience food–the closest thing to fast food is fruit and popcorn for a meal (which may not be a bad thing!).

We’ve always known that life in America is lived at a faster pace–both internally and externally. We have often felt pressured to work faster and do better, and by default it’s sometimes been hard to maintain spiritual growth and capture God’s peace. When the world whirls around you at a breakneck pace, it can be difficult to take a step back and focus on the One who is at the center of it all. However, here in Africa, it seems that everyone is in one accord with the slower pace. It’s not uncommon to see families congregating under a shade tree in the middle of a hot afternoon. When someone stops by for tea, they typically stay a while. If your neighbor sees you out sweeping your veranda, it’s a good opportunity for them to come over and chat for a few minutes. In the evening, after the house starts to darken, families often wander outside where it is still light and you can hear conversation, laughter, and games.

While this slower pace has been occasionally frustrating to our American flesh, there are benefits. We’re here to share the Gospel of the Kingdom and engage in discipleship–and those relationships only flourish where time can be invested. It’s also been a blessing to our family, as the children have each individually gone on town trips with their Dad and enjoyed the extended one-on-one time. The girls and I are work together on laundry and food preparation and are trying to take the opportunity to really enjoy the moments we spend together serving one another and talking as we work.

Even if things around you move quickly, try to slow down and find the quiet presence of God in your everyday moments. Seize hold of what He wants to accomplish in His time, and don’t be distracted by all the “doings.”

 

“I get like that, too…”

As parents, we all want to give good things to our children and see them growing up strong in the Lord–particularly in areas where we ourselves have been weak. But of course, there are inevitably those negative character traits, harmful appetites, and so on that we unintentionally transmit. Then there are genetics and environmental influences that often don’t work in our favor.  And I don’t even want to open the Pandora’s box of “generational curses.” Some days I ponder this reality and I can only be tremendously grateful for God’s grace.

This morning we got to laughing over which of the kids had “Dad’s feet” (really cute Flinstone feet) versus “Mom’s feet” (umm, not-so-cute). Which turned into a discussion of who among them had “Dad’s nose” versus what we call a “Starkey nose” (a “larger” nose, of course from my side of the family). And then there were even a few comments about teeth, in which I also came out quite the loser by comparison. Thankfully, I can call a spade a spade and my physical flaws no longer bother me so much.

What did bother me was a conversation I had later in the day with one of my children, who often has problems with school assignments and sometimes struggles to have a good attitude and remain diligent. This particular child has made a lot of progress in this area, but today the lesson (being something new), combined with the self-induced pressure of feeling “behind” and the frustration of contemplating not having any free time  because school work would take so long, brought on some bouts of tears which said child tried very hard to control, but which (upon further contemplation of the facts at hand) sprang up again within a short time.

I told this child about a Scripture that I often meditate upon when I am discouraged. It comes from 1 Samuel 30, where we read about a very challenging situation that King David is facing; and the text sums it up this way:

“And David was greatly distressed…but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. ” (1 Samuel 30:6)

With that, I recommended that this child remain encouraged in God’s presence and in His ability to comfort, strengthen, and enable us for the task at hand. I almost left it at that. I like to keep things simple, knowing that God will continue to speak to my children’s hearts in the absence of my many words. Instead, I decided to share a little bit about my history of depression, and how I have (with God’s help) experienced victory in that area of my life. I thought it would be helpful to share a couple of strategies for dealing with discouragement, and a little bit of personal testimony often helps a message hit its mark.

I began quite simply with a question: “Do you know what depression is?” And after the “I think so” response I explained it, just for clarification: “Depression is when you feel discouraged or very sad, and sometimes it’s hard to stop feeling that way, even though a lot of times you can think of lots of reasons why you should be able to be happy.” And then I was going to move on to simply offer a couple of tips on how to cope with negative emotions, which I was sure would be helpful. But there I was interrupted, with a comment that made my heart sink: “Yeah, I get like that, too.”

Really, I thought so. I saw that this child had a personality like mine, a predisposition to those negative emotions that “run in the family.” Still, I hoped against hope that this sweet soul wouldn’t have the same struggles that I have had. But, I am thankful that I am in a position to truly disciple this child through difficult moments, with understanding, with love, and…with hope of victory. Because there is victory!

Several years ago now, when I was going through a season of struggling with depression, I deeply appreciated the message of this song (“Keep Singing,” by Mercy Me):

Though I’ve not had any bouts with depression in quite a long time, there has been some “warfare” in that area lately. I’ve had to be on my guard and in prayer. And I keep asking God, as the lyrics to this song ask, “Can I climb up in your lap? I don’t want to leave…” Discouragement doesn’t stay around long when you envision yourself climbing into the lap of the Father who loves you and keeps your soul (Psalm 121). By His grace, we truly can “encourage [ourselves] in the Lord,” as David did, and experience victory even when things are overwhelmingly discouraging. I am so thankful for His compassion, and also grateful that I can share the hope of this journey with my child.

15 Nickels or 10 Dimes?

My daughter was working on her second grade math workbook today, focusing on counting coins. She was reading the questions out loud to me and then telling me the answer as I worked at the stove.

Question: “Which would you rather have in your piggy bank, 15 nickels or 10 dimes?”

Answer: “10 dimes!”

My question, in response: “Well, if you had 10 dimes and gave away 25 cents to someone who had need, leaving you with 15 nickels, isn’t it indeed better to have 15 nickels?”

My daughter’s answer: “Of course that would be better. But that’s not the answer the book tells me to put down.”

Reply: “That’s because the way of the world and the Kingdom way are in opposition to one another. It’s not unusual that the world expects something different than Jesus would expect.”

 

After this, we talked about some Scriptures:

“Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’” (Matthew 19:21)

 

“But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17)

How many opportunities we have in the course of each day to disciple our children. It’s easy to let those moments pass, unseen in the busyness of life. Let’s strive, instead, to embrace them! Ask the Lord to open your eyes and help you to “make the most of every opportunity”–to bring to mind the lessons and Scriptures that can help your children daily to grow in the Truth.

When You Feel Miserable, Stop and Ask Yourself Why

“[Jesus] said, Blessed (happy and to be envied) rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey and practice it!” (Luke 11:28, AMP)
Some time ago, when it seemed like all the children were doing was bickering and grumbling, I asked them how their behavior made them feel. They all admitted that they were pretty miserable. After reading Luke 11:28, I presented them with a challenge: “If you are feeling miserable, just stop and ask yourself why.” After analyzing some of the more recent circumstances, we could see that, almost without exception, feelings of misery resulted from not walking in obedience to God’s Word.
Interestingly, I have been reading The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchangeable Person by E. Stanley Jones (written at the ripe old age of 87), and his life-conclusions about the Kingdom of God have been enlightening and encouraging. As I read his opinion about how we, as people, were actually created to obey the Kingdom laws, I recalled the conversation that I had had with the children, and could see how this was so. He says,
Tertullian said the soul is naturally Christian. Reinhold Niebuhr says the soul is naturally pagan. Dr. Walter Horton says the soul is naturally half-pagan and half-Christian. I vote with Tertullian. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Why? Because he puts nothing on you? On the contrary, when you follow him he dumps the world and its troubles into your heart. Then the Christian way is the hard way? No. What is the law of happiness in the world? It seems to be this: The most miserable people in the world are the people who are self-centered, who won’t do anything for anybody, except themselves. They are centers of misery, with no exceptions. On the contrary, the happiest people are the people who deliberately take on themselves the sorrows and troubles of others. Their hearts sing with a strange wild joy, automatically and with no exceptions. We are structured for the outgoingness of the love of the Kingdom. It is our native land.
And further,
So the starry heavens above and the moral law within speak of the dependableness and utter surety of the Unshakable Kingdom. And that kingdom is without us and within us—“the kingdom of heaven is within you”—therefore you break its laws written within you and you get broken. On the other hand, you obey its laws and its principles and its attitudes and at any period of life, in any circumstances, you can say to yourself, “What a life!”
I’m trying to apply this conclusion and this challenge to my own life, moment-by-moment. Historically, my tendency has been to blame others, or circumstances, for my own lack of joy; I’ve made progress in this area but…I can always do better. Sometimes I fail to be thankful. Other times it’s my selfish desires that get in the way. Or my attempt to control a situation is what brings misery. No matter what recent (or past) instance I analyze in light of this Kingdom-living-and-joy paradigm, I can honestly say that my feelings of “miserableness” do always seem to have a root in my failure to live as Christ, by His example and His Kingdom principles.
If we’re not experiencing joy, let’s stop and ask ourselves honestly, why? If we’re not in line with God’s Word or Christ’s example, let’s simply repent…change direction…and get in line with where God wants us to be. Will you take this up this challenge with me?

When You Feel Like Banging Your Head Against a Wall…

…yeah, that’s a good way to describe how I felt yesterday. Ever have one of those days?

The past few months have been particularly challenging for me. Marc went back to work full-time after working from home for most of the past 4 years. Not only that, but he has a 3-hour, round-trip daily commute and so is gone for at least 12 hours. For many of you, that’s reality…and I’ve gotten used to it, but it was a difficult transition given what our situation had been.

Right at the same time, I was experiencing my first trimester of pregnancy, with extreme tiredness and day-long nausea unlike any of my other previous pregnancies. Again, not something that other ladies don’t go through, but combined with the transition to “solo” days with our brood of seven, I was pretty exhausted and drained.

Then Marc and my oldest son went away for three weeks to Kenya. I praise God for everything that was accomplished in terms of training and Kingdom Expansion while they were there, but…that was a l-o-n-g three weeks.

I figured after the holidays things would normalize. But I forgot how active my children are, how much they love to be outside…and how STUCK INSIDE we all are during winters in Indiana. Our 1400 SF house seems smaller than it used to. And it’s loud.

With all of these transitions, and with my sickness and tiredness, I haven’t been as consistent as I both want and need to be in the discipleship of the children and in relationship-building. I can see that some things are suffering a bit as a result, although I am thankful for the Lord’s grace in enabling me to “persevere” and actually come out of a trying time on a pretty good note overall. Still, we’ve gotten into some habits that need to be reversed or replaced, and that will require yet another period of transition for all of  us. I’ll be honest, I want to see better fruit but the amount of effort that I think it will require is a little intimidating.

I was a little discouraged in contemplating all of this yesterday, after an unexpectedly overwhelming afternoon. However, I had the pleasure of reading this morning from Habakkuk 3:17-19:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,  he enables me to tread on the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

This verse reminds me that even if we don’t see the “fruit” we desire..even if things are challenging…we can and should still rejoice in the LORD. He is our strength. Let us persevere in Him!

"I’ve been trying really hard to do it God’s way…"

Yesterday was “one of those days.” Can’t explain why exactly, but it just seemed like everything took longer than it needed to, involved more arguing, whining, and complaining than usual, and…ultimately resulted in me yelling at the children, which we all HATE. Of course, the words were barely out of my mouth when I apologized and tried to re-set things. Even so, I ended the day feeling discouraged for a variety of reasons, the least of which was because I was feeling like the children just weren’t “getting it.”

You know what I mean…it seems like we invest so much, so constantly in our children. We want to impart in them a godly character, but we want that not to come from duty but out of a heart of love that is surrendered to Christ. That’s a lofty goal for little ones, to be sure, and I’m usually pretty realistic in my expectations. Even so, I felt like even my older children were struggling more than usual and I was exhausted by the effort.

The kids knew I was discouraged. After our evening time of prayer and Bible reading, my nine year-old son put his head in my lap and said, “Mom, I’ve been trying really hard to do it God’s way.” But then he kind of chuckled and said, “Well, not really, I guess I just do pretty good most of the time.” And he’s right…he is usually pretty compliant and quiet. He encourages his siblings to do what’s expected of them. He “goes with the program” pretty well. On the other hand, I can readily admit that I have a few other children who are not like that. If they’re not really striving to please the Lord, it is more than obvious in their behavior.

This made me realize how easy it is for me to let our quiet kids “off the hook,” in the sense that they don’t go through as many “teachable moments” as their other siblings. They don’t consistently get called on the carpet for their misdeeds (or worse yet, I don’t always address occasional troubles with their “heart condition,” because it doesn’t necessarily result in acting-out behaviors). I have to admit, in the hustle-and-bustle of every day, I tend to correct the obvious problems and let the “little things” slide. Trouble is, it’s usually my quiet kids that do the “little things.” As a result, I don’t think they’re as likely to be “convicted” and see their sin as sin, because they’re comparatively “better” than others…and likely, they have a harder time understanding their need for repentance. But, as I told my son upon reflection this morning, Hell is going to be full of a lot “good” people.

I hope that as parents, we will all challenge ourselves with this understanding and apply it well as we disciple our children in the Lord.

Cover up or Clean up?

In order to protect the innocent, I’m not using real names in this story…but I want to tell you about a man named “Fred.”

Fred grew up in a home where his mom and sisters were in charge of the domestic sphere. In other words, the boys did “guy” things and the girls cooked and cleaned. Not surprisingly, Fred views housework as “women’s work.” Not a problem for Fred…he got married and his wife took on that role. That is, until they divorced. So what did Fred do? Not much. He cooked some simple meals because he got hungry, but otherwise the house just followed the natural order of things, moving from a state of order to disorder. He had a couple of boys  who did dishes and occasional chores, just to avoid total embarrassment if their friends came over.

Now the boys are grown, so what does Fred do? He lets dishes pile up in the sink. When he needs one or two, he washes them. It’s rare that he washes the whole sink full; just the ones he needs will suffice.

Fred’s sheets and mattress start to get a little smelly. What does he do? Sprays some extra strength Febreeze, of course.

And those flies continually populating around the garbage can and open containers of recyclables? Spray them with Black Flag flying insect killer!

Running out of clean clothes? It’s easier to just buy some new ones.

When it gets bad enough, the solution? Hire some help; get someone else to deal with the overwhelming mess!

No, this isn’t an indictment against Fred for laziness or even for what some might consider “chauvenistic” views on the roles of men and women. Instead, I want you to think about how you responded to Fred’s “solutions.” Did you think to yourself, “Why not just keep the garbage area cleaner if you want to eliminate pesky flies?”, or  “Spray Febreeze on dirty sheets! How disgusting! Why not just throw them in the washing machine?” Easy enough, right?

But how often do we all follow a similar pattern in our own lives, about things perhaps less obvious? When our children are disobedient, instead of correcting them and teaching them how important it is to obey God by obeying their parents, we make excuses. (“Oh, he’s been a little sick lately. He’s really not himself.” “We’ve been out of our usual routines, so she’s really acting up.”) Why do we do this? Sometimes it is a result of laziness. Or, we think these are just “little things” and we don’t want to make a big issue out of them. Trouble is, it’s like piling up garbage and half-rinsed recyclables. Eventually the flies start populating the kitchen and we find ourselves getting out nasty chemicals when all we had to do to avoid it was to keep up with the mess, little-by-little.

Or in our own personal lives, we allow little sins to creep in, which become like dirty sheets becoming smellier and smellier as the little sins snowball into bigger ones–all easily excusable until the stain and odor become overwhelming. Maybe we start by allowing ourselves to express our irritation by speaking harshly to the children. Soon, we are raising our voices and yelling. Then, we become angry and snap, “Are you stupid?” to a child who accidentally spills the milk or makes some other inconvenient mess. Little by little we have justified our actions and covered up these steps of sin, and yet now the words of Jesus remind us,

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca, ‘ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:22)

So instead of “covering over” our sins until they become a noisome stench, why don’t we just repent? Moment-by-moment, confess those things which are displeasing to God. Seek the grace of God that He gives so that we might grow in holiness and do the things that glorify Him. Let’s toss those proverbial sheets in the washing machine instead of spraying the Febreeze and hoping no one will notice.

I am striving to stay “clean,” not just in my home management but in my spiritual life and parenting as well. Instead of letting things pile up, I’m trying to do regular maintenance to avoid those radical “solutions” that really just amount to putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound. This means being consistent in discipling (“discipling,” not just “disciplining”) my children; being proactive in maintaining relationships; and especially abiding in Christ–seeking to walk in a manner worthy and repenting when I realize that I have fallen short.

I just want to encourage you today…don’t be a “Fred” in any area of your life! 🙂

Having Fun and Enjoying Motherhood

Last night we watched some videos from when our oldest was three and his brother was one. It was some sweet memories. As I thought upon that time in my life, I was kind of wistful over what I felt was now somewhat missing.

I used to have more fun with the children.

We painted with spray bottles full of watered down paint outside. We covered the dining room floor with butcher paper and fingerpainted…body painted! We dabbled in shaving cream, played silly games, and danced.

Many children and much “life” later, I find that we don’t do so much of this stuff. I wondered, can I get back to that enjoyment of life…that fun stuff…with my kids?

And I realized that while, in some ways, I would like to, I thought about where I was during that time…and I had to admit that even though we had lots of “fun” together, I did not really enjoy being a Mom. And, even though my children had lots of experiences…we all had to admit that my oldest displayed a lot of brattiness (and disobedience) in the series of videos that we watched.

So, although doing those things seemed good to me at first blush, I had to admit that the “doings” didn’t promote our overall goals of parenting; nor was I the Mom I wanted to be, in spite of it all.

However, the videos did remind me that we all need to enjoy life more together. We’ve been busy lately…with gardening, canning, now back-to-schooling…and I don’t want the “doings” of life to interfere with our “being” together. Unfortunately, that happens sometimes.

Several of the children have been asking me when we can make “edible playdough” again. I think we will do that today. 🙂 What can you say “YES” to, to enjoy one another and enjoy motherhood today?

Work, Work, and More Work?

Here’s a story (title: “Worck Today”) written yesterday by my seven year-old:

Some days it just feels like it’s work, work, and more work, doesn’t it? I commented about the girl’s smiling face, and my daughter said, “Work is fun! We work a lot.” My husband and I have been getting a good chuckle out of this one. And, no, we don’t actually have a horse. The rest is pretty accurate, though. 🙂