A Two-Acre Wide World

Before our move, I remember reflecting often on what our littles might miss in coming to Africa (see, for example, this post). Enoch came here at the tender age of nine months and will soon be two. Now that he is of an age to observe and understand more and communicate a bit, we are realizing how small his world really is here.

We aren’t far from the main road (which is still a dirt road, not pavement, so “main road” is a relative term). However, in front of our house is only a small dirt path, just about one person wide. Given that we are near the main road and not too far from a spring that many here frequent, we do see a lot of foot traffic. Enoch is happy to greet our many visitors, and lately he’s been going across the street to Silas’s shop in the morning to get milk with one of the big girls. He always gets a sweet of some kind from Mama Sharon, so he enjoys the trip. He also goes down our dirt path with some frequency to the house next door to visit “Auntie Jane” and Babu (Grandfather) and Nya Nya (Grandmother). He’s made it as far as Auntie Judy’s (several houses down) when one day Micah and the littles and I chased a tractor down to a nearby field to watch it work. That makes Enoch’s world about two acres wide, and that’s probably a generous figure.

Enoch and big sister Hannah

I don’t think about it too much, but after our recent trip to Eldoret (the big city) I realized how little experience Enoch really has with the world. He’s only been in a vehicle three times, and for the first two he was pretty oblivious. He was, however, amazed with all he could see flying by the windows on the way to Eldoret and tried his best to communicate his excitement. There were tons of “good boys.” (His word for dog, because I’m always telling our Simba he’s a “good boy!” Enoch generalizes “good boy” to include goats, cows, pigs, and other large animals as well. We saw plenty of those road-side on the trip.).

The restaurant was another new experience for him. Though normally happy to greet people, he was suddenly shy in this new environment and ducked his head each time the waitress came by. He also hid from the people in the booth across from us, who thought he was adorable and would have loved for him to wave at them. He did, however, enjoy looking out the window and pointing excitedly at all the “Mrrrmmmm” (his vroom-vroom sound for motorbike or car). He had never seen so many at once!

The funniest of all was putting him in a shopping cart at Nakumatt, the super store. Rather than being excited about this totally new mode of travel (and in spite of my exaggerated efforts to let him know this was a fun new type of “vroom!”), he leaned forward in the seat with a look of sheer terror in his eyes, just begging me to get him out of there. He even cried, but we insisted he should be enjoying the ride. Eventually he calmed down, but I don’t think he ever really felt comfortable with the whole shopping cart thing. This was just one more stark contrast between Enoch’s experience and that of our older children.

The fact that it’s a small world for Enoch doesn’t really bother me at this point–it’s just notable in comparison to what our other children (and we ourselves) have experienced in America. For now, Enoch is very comfortable on the two acres that are his to explore. Eventually, his world will widen–but there’s plenty of time for that.

“What you can’t do, God can”

She wakes up early and comes to snuggle under my blanket while I read my Bible on the Kindle.

I lay down in her bed and tickle her; she giggles and tells me, “Mom, you’re my best girl!”

 

Now that so many of my children are getting older, I miss these times with them. I wish that connecting with them was still this easy. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with maintaining relationships with all eight of them, and I wonder if what I’m doing is enough. Life is so busy, our house so loud, and private times with each one so hard to come by.

I suppose all of us mothers feel this way from time to time, regardless of how many children we have or what our life’s circumstances are. I keep reminding myself of a word of encouragement that I received at a church service one Sunday evening. I think we had five children at the time and I had bundled them all up and taken them to this special service (I don’t remember where Marc was at the time, but I think he was traveling for work). I was hesitant, as I wasn’t sure they would all behave–especially as the evening got into bed time. I did end up having to leave early, just as the prayer time was beginning. I tried to be unobtrusive as I made my way to the door, but I remember (to my embarrassment) that the speaker stopped in the middle of whatever he was saying to address me before I made my hasty exit. He blessed my family and spoke some words that I don’t remember, but here’s what stuck with me:

“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.”

And I trust in that…every day. I strive to please and glorify God, but I know that I fail in more ways than I realize. Maybe I’m not in “sin,” but I know I could do better…invest more…be less self-focused, sometimes. This is especially true in the important area of relationships. I wish there was more of me to go around. But I pray that as I do my part, God would do His. That He would fill in the gaps and do something more with my sometimes inadequate attempts at mothering.

Yesterday, I was reading First Timothy and pondered the qualifications for widows (1 Timothy 5:9-11). She must have a “reputation for good works,” the first among those being “if she has brought up children.” This work we are doing…it is a good work, and done faithfully, it brings great reward. So let us press on, even when we cannot do so with perfection. Let us trust in God that He will be faithful to bring our efforts to completion.

“We were six, now we are four”

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting with three women, who gave up many precious hours of their day and traveled many miles just to get to know me a little. Marc has been going to their fellowship gatherings frequently on Sunday mornings and always tells me how much I would enjoy going. They love Jesus and love each other.

Unfortunately, their meetings go long…many hours…and we don’t want to leave the children on their own at home for that long. And equally unfortunately, transporting the lot of us is not practical or financially possible. So yesterday, they came to me.

I appreciated their words of encouragement and their spiritual support, the promise of continued prayer.

I laughed at their enthusiasm about our family of eight children; they are convinced that Americans only have two children and that is “normal.” But I was sad as we asked each of the women, in turn, how many children they had.

We were six, now we are four.

We had six, now we are five.

We were nine, now we are eight.

We didn’t want to follow up with the question of what happened to the children who are now not with them. These weren’t miscarriages they were talking about (though that is a difficult enough loss), these were children held and fed and loved, for who knows how long a time before they succumbed to…what? Malnutrition? Disease? I can only guess. But the sad thing is, many women here share the same unfortunate reality: we were six, now we are four.

We have two cats and a dog and can buy Front Line for the dog, but there is no treatment for the cats. The best we can do is flea baths when we notice the little critters. Since the cats sit on the couches and sleep with some of us, we all endure a few days of itchy bites before the fleas meet their demise for another season. This week, about half our family has worked its way through malaria, in spite of there supposedly being few malaria-bearing mosquitoes at our elevation. And how did so many end up with it? Marc was both surprised and disturbed to find that fleas carry malaria, just like mosquitoes do. (Made us think of the Bubonic Plague, and shiver). So although we’d resisted chemical treatment for fleas, we sprayed down the carpet, the furniture, and the beds to get a little more aggressive against the disease-bearing intruders. And for us, though malaria has been a discomfort and an inconvenience, it’s highly treatable. With a visit to the local chemist, a few dollars, and a few days’ time, we’re working our way through it.

What do the visit with my sisters in Christ and our recent experience with malaria have to do with each other? Well, I would guess that one or more of those precious children might have suffered with malaria or something equally treatable. But their family didn’t have the money to get the medicine that is readily available. Such cases are all-too-common here.

This morning, I was reading Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis, who serves in Uganda. She gives tirelessly of herself to serve “the least of these.” She removes jiggers, gives baths, provides medicine, offers food, and loves.

I want to do more. I’m trusting that God will show us just what it is He wants us to do next.

“It Didn’t Seem Like You Love Me”

In our last e-newsletter, I talked about how I’m re-grouping in my parenting, and some of the things I’m focusing on. One of the main things is LOVE. I mentioned briefly how important it is to express love in a way that it is received–maybe you’re familiar with the “five love languages” as an example of that. So that’s by way of preface to something that happened over this weekend…

I’ve been asked to once again take up the habit of writing back and forth to some of the children in dedicated notebooks–a practice we all enjoyed in the states but that hasn’t carried over into Africa, unfortunately, since things have been rather busy. This past week has been a joy of re-connecting in a new way with several of my children. And then, two of my girls decided that they were going to start writing to each other. They’ve been scribbling notes to one another, mostly talking about the games they will play or drawing sweet pictures of them hugging each other. I stumbled upon the notebook on Saturday and sat perusing it, smiling. Then, my smile faded when I read this exchange:

…”Can we love each other, please?”…

“Of course I love you! You are my sister.”

“It didn’t seem like you love me.”

It filled me with sadness to have one of my children feel…unloved. The frustrating part is that she is loved, and she just doesn’t feel like she is. How often does that happen with various family members, during the different seasons of life that we struggle through? With my girls’ permission, I shared what they wrote with the family during our evening devotional time and just encouraged them all to keep on loving one another. It’s as simple as this:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

And this:

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12)

“It’s Just that I was Right in the Middle of my Chapter…”

Mornings are always busy here. We all get up early and, like it or not, seem to hit the ground running. Jobs, breakfast, usually more work, and then schooling. I try to balance the kids’ busy-ness with some little “breaks” built in, but sometimes there’s just too much to do!

When the children first get up, they’re expected to make their beds and get themselves presentable for the day, then have some Bible time or quiet reading time until we are all ready for family devotions. Lately, one of my children in particular has been absorbed in a personal reading book that apparently has been very captivating, so when we’ve asked them to “put the book down” to do the next thing, we’ve been met with a rather sour attitude in response. Unfortunately, the overtone tends to permeate the rest of the morning’s activities. Much gentle encouragement and prayer have been the general prescription, and usually after a while I get a hug and and apology.

Today, more of the same. After trying to get the kids to pitch in and work together to clear the table (while each one wanted to just do their own thing and let everyone else shoulder the burden), I assigned morning jobs and got some flack from said child who lately has been struggling to have a positive attitude about work responsibilities. After a short conversation (in which I didn’t really feel like being kind, but forced myself to anyway), the child said to me, “I’m sorry I had a bad attitude. It’s just that I was right in the middle of a chapter!” To which I could only express my agreement, because I’ve felt similar frustrations in being interrupted. Another opportunity to be reminded of the power of sympathy.

It has seemed to me that this particular child has had a bad attitude about work, and I’ve been trying to address it as such. Yet all the while I was missing the mark with my encouragements because I failed to see the “root cause.” It wasn’t laziness, as I assumed…it was just frustration in not getting to finish something started. Granted, we all must learn to sacrifice our personal preferences and serve others in love…but that is a process, isn’t it? So my lesson this morning is this: just as I need to address the “root causes” in my own spiritual growth in order to see victory, in the same way I need to commit my children to prayer and seek wisdom so that I can identify the root causes that drive their behavior, and address them effectively. Something else that I suppose I knew, but needs a reminder every once in a while.

(And, the “5-minute warning” prior to a change in activity never hurts, either. I tend to forget about that, too…)

The Power of Sympathy

Historically, we haven’t been perfect at encouraging our children. We talk about that in our book, The Values-Driven Family:

We both grew up in homes where we knew we were loved; our parents did their very best in every way to bring us to adulthood successfully. Yet we both also would say that we grew up in an environment that leaned toward the critical. Whether reality or simply our own perception of things, we constantly felt like we had to “measure up,” and if we failed we felt a certain condemnation. This somewhat negative overtone to our family lives, however, didn’t really become obvious until we prayerfully considered our own shortcomings as parents. It was then that we saw that we were perpetuating this learned pattern of parenting, and propagating a spirit of discouragement rather than encouragement. As a result, our best efforts in training, discipline, and even relationship-building were falling short.

(p. 18)

We talk about a few ways that we’ve tried to overcome this deficiency, the least of which was to implement the use of the Core Value Chart (more about that and a free copy here). Developing healthy and loving relationships with each of our children has also been important–but I won’t deny that we’ve had our struggles there, too.

Personally, I’ve become convicted over time that not only is encouragement necessary in relationships, but so is sympathy. Not the artificial kind that comes across as being condescending, but a true desire to connect and understand. I reflected on this yet again this morning as I read from the book of Hebrews in my quiet time:

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

True sympathy can mean giving a hug at just the right time. Perhaps, like the friends of Job, we sit in silence when words will get in the way. I find that I often express sympathy by sharing my own similar struggles or stories from my past–and I end by simply saying, “I understand.” This is my favorite way to express sympathy, because then I get to take the next step and share how the Lord has strengthened me or helped me to overcome, or I can express how I’ve experienced His comforting presence during difficult times. This is not only good for our family relationships, but it is also an excellent discipleship opportunity as we strive to help our children grow closer to the Lord.

I need the Lord to give me gentle reminders in this area quite often, because it’s easy to lose sight of sympathy in the everyday hustle-and-bustle of life. Think on these things today, and don’t forget to extend mercy to your children and give grace to help them in their time of need.

It Takes a Village?

The expression (straight from this area of the world, I think) it takes a village to raise a child is now common place and often quoted in support of the need for community in raising children.

I agree, and I disagree.

There are a lot of children in this village, and lots of family in community here. So very often, the children are allowed to go from place to place without their parents. Just one example: a boy of 2-1/2 years whom I’ll call “Tommy.” Tommy visited our home with his mother and played with our children a few times. Subsequently, one morning he showed up at our door and walked in without invitation and without parental accompaniment. I watched, bemused, as he engaged our littles with some toys, saying nothing the entire time. Once bored, he wandered off toward his grandparents’ house. Later, I saw him returning toward home with a cup full of beans and corn. About an hour had elapsed, during which time I believe his mother was doing her wash. I don’t know if she knew for sure where Tommy was the whole time.

Very often in the morning (during our school time) Jane will come and say hello. She sometimes invites the littles to go to her home or to see her parents (they all live right next door). Since the littles are occasionally uninvolved during our academic mornings, and since the children enjoy playing with the animals there and sometimes interacting with Jane’s young son, I allow them to go for a while. Frankly, I hesitate to offend by refusing, since everyone knows it takes a village and all.

However.

This is a safe place to be, all things considered. Most of the families here are in community and are “good” people. I don’t really worry about the children’s physical safety when they’re apart from me. My hesitation in giving them more freedom is not about that at all. The problem is that though most of these folks are “good” people, there is a chasm between them and us in terms of world view. You don’t go very far before you encounter the community witch doctor and see various “shrines” set up in people’s homes and yards. Ancestor worship is alive and well here. The Bible says that our battle is not against flesh and blood and that there are powers and principalities in high places who are opposed to Christ, and I believe it. I also believe that our children are spiritually vulnerable to attack. If I do let them go visiting, it is not without praying for spiritual protection almost the entire time they’re gone.

If the spiritual issues aren’t enough of a consideration, I’ve also seen some of the fruit of it takes  a village. One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced is the children. The ones who have nothing better to do than line up at our fence for hours on end are the biggest trouble makers. And where are their parents? Letting the village raise their children.

I won’t say that it doesn’t take a village. But I will say, you should take a good look at the village and make a considered decision about whether or not you want it raising your children.

Ideally, the Body of Christ…the family of Kingdom Christians…IS the village. And in that case, community is, indeed, a benefit and a blessing. But don’t be deceived by the worldly concept of it takes a village. Be vigilant to supervise, love, and disciple your own children. Keep them close, and be thankful for the Body of Christ when you find true community to support you in raising your children and chasing after Jesus.

 

Problems with Children

Quite unexpectedly, one of the frustrations we’ve encountered here in Africa is…the children.

This is a very small group. The number of children gawking at the fence has gotten into the teens, if not twenties.

They line up, sometimes in great numbers,  along our fence at all hours of the day, hoping to get a glimpse of us–or better yet, be invited in to play. However, it can be hard to discern which ones have pure motives and which are…not so good–because there is definitely a distinction. While many of the children try to communicate with ours, there is another portion who simply laugh and mimic whenever our children try to speak to them in Swahili. Even though it’s Kenyan custom to ask to enter someone’s home (they  will ask, “Hodi?”–may I come in?–even when they are specifically welcomed), some of the children frequently ignore this gesture of respect. While we are schooling in the morning, the Kenyan children who are too young for school or too poor to attend will often make games of sneaking inside our gate and running to our open veranda or through the yard, only to dash off again when I step outside to ask them for privacy while we’re doing our work. When the children go to gather water, some of the local kids will help, while others pull hair, pinch skin, and generally make nuisances of themselves. Some nights when the sun goes down, we’ll still hear a lineup of children at the fence hooting and hollering–just to annoy. All in all, the negative behaviors haven’t been anything “over the top,” but still something we’ve had to address.

Our children love to play with the neighborhood children, but it has sometimes been a challenge to deal with the “bad” along with the good and maintain some boundaries for the health of our family. Helping our children to deal with this issue in a way that honors Christ and leaves them feeling secure has been an occasional test of my parenting skills and a matter of much prayer.

This past week, we had a couple of successes that leave us hopeful that we can have a positive impact in our relationships with the local children, while at the same time maintaining those necessary boundaries.

One day, after the children had been complaining about harassment on their way to the spring for several days in a row (with my advice being just to ignore it, since it seemed annoying but not hurtful), I figured something had to change. We talked about what the Bible might have to say about the subject and Jesus’ command to, “Love your enemies” came up, as well as the Scripture “return evil with good.” So, when the kids went out for their afternoon free time, they invited the neighborhood children into the yard and everyone had a small candy as a treat. Then, when it was time to gather water, I reminded the children about how it was written in Thessalonians that Christians should be taught to “work with their hands,” and about some of the Biblical admonitions not to be idle. So, my advice was that if any of the children had nothing better to do than poke and prod them and be bothersome, they should give the child their water jug and cheerfully insist, “Saidia, tafadali.” (“Help me, please!). Happily, this seems to be a successful strategy so far.

This past weekend, we had a yard full of kids for the morning on Saturday, playing ball and digging in the dirt. There was another whole bunch of kids at the fence as usual but we had an unlikely ally helping to separate the wheat from the chaff–our neighbor across the way (who doesn’t speak a lick of English but who seems very nice and has spoken with Marc through another neighbor who translated). He made sure to keep the gate shut against those kids that he seemed to recognize as “troublemakers” and chased them off with a barrage of Bukusu (the local dialect). We chuckled when he even brandished a switch at one point, though I don’t think he used it. As a result, the morning was relatively quiet and very enjoyable for all of the children involved. Come lunch time, I sent out a bunch of food and we enjoyed a picnic under a shade tree. I insisted to our kids that we should not let in anyone who had not already been here playing–I wasn’t about to feed the whole neighborhood! So anyone who came to the gate while we ate was politely told, “Hapana!” (Quite simply, “No!”) I am hopeful that this showed the kids who were just there for the sake of curiosity (or trouble) that there are benefits to being respectful of rules and boundaries.

We’re still navigating the waters of helping the children to develop and nurture healthy relationships in the community, and I’m thankful for recent progress on this front. Would love for you to share any thoughts you might have about how to deal with this type of situation in a positive manner.

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.”

 

Lights Out

Every day, the sun comes up at almost exactly 6:30 AM and goes down at almost exactly 6:30 PM. And when you don’t have electricity, that’s pretty early for lights out. We have some limited solar capability, so we can run an indoor light on occasion, and of course we have lanterns–but of course, there’ s a limit to what can be done by lantern light.

Earlier this school year, the children and I were studying about the Amish, and I found it interesting that one of the reasons they felt it was a benefit to be without electricity was because it was conducive to family unity; when the sun went down and the only lantern in the house was hung up in the common room, by default everyone gravitated there. And you know what? It’s true! When we light the lantern at about 6:20, the sitting room is the only place to be. We have our Bible and prayer time together as a family, and then we just…talk. Marc and I have reminisced about our childhoods some, and it’s amazing how much the children enjoy the stories of our memories. We share about our day, our hopes, our God, and whatever is on our minds. It has been a real blessing to enjoy long evenings together without the distractions of continued work, computers, and the individual pursuits that we typically engaged in when there were lights in every room in the house at the flip of a switch.

I challenge you to be more consistent about “powering down” and see how it can benefit your family relationships!