Saturday, November 13, 2021

Every Breath

 "We lost our baby girl," the text came just as I arrived at the hospital to meet a friend and colleague who's baby had come at 23 weeks.  They were already on their way home. I arrived at the home to see baby girl still gasping for breaths occasionally.  Not yet home with Jesus.  These are my words to her in those moments.  

Baby Girl holding on to life

Thank you for coming, for your fight. 

16 hours in this dark world before you saw the light.

Thank you for staying, sweet, fragile girl. 

For fighting so hard in this broken world. 

Each breath of yours, made me stand amazed, 

How easily it comes to me all my days. 

I wondered, with your eyes closed if you were seeing him, 

Taking baby steps into his arms, seeing his proud grin. 

Still hearing us, tell your story again and again, 

How you were going home to see your twin. 

How every hospital said they were at capacity, 

How you had held on with such tenacity. 

You never cried, were calm and still, 

But you did cause a stir as any baby will. 

Your body was growing cold, though bundled tight, 

Your daddy put you to his skin, it just seemed right, 

And you made your first whimpering sound, his tears flowed,

The most beautiful gift, in our hearts forever stowed. 

I dropped my milk into your mouth, your small lips respond, 

After 20 minutes and a few more sweet sounds, you'd gone beyond. 

Beyond our reach, beyond our touch, 

beyond the pain, never beyond our love.

Your mommy and daddy will miss you, 

The unfulfilled dreams, longing to kiss you.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Six Years of Amazing

Alarming. Six years ago I held my firstborn in my arms and wept with unfettered joy.  I went home with my mother two hours later to my father who had been waiting for us by candlelight in our Nigerian home. Two weeks later they left me with this little wonder asleep in my arms. This little person was ours? It was alarming that God would give us, fallible human beings, this treasure to hold, protect, and nurture in his love. 

Marvelous. In her first year, I learned to accept help from every woman on the street as they all corrected how I dressed, carried, fed, talked to, covered, and washed "our baby." I learned how having a child in a community knits you together with that community.

 

 


Attached. In her second year, she said her first big goodbyes 
Cousins.
and lots of hello's to family that didn't really know her yet!  

My grandmother.
 
 

Zestilacious!  In her third year, her sparkliness and zest for life and learning were evident. She introduced her new sister to the world with joy.

 


We saw how she was a vital part of our family ministry and she helped shape it!




Imagination. 

There is no containing her worlds, stories, and explosion of colorful thoughts that have followed her everywhere she goes. 


Naturalist

Mariama has wonderful conversations with the gardener on our compound.  She shows him around our yard, exposing the tender growth or unusual plants that she has recently discovered.  When she was five, she attended a forest school, and her love for nature grew. 



Growth

This sixth year of her life has been remarkable in so many ways!  Tonight at devotions we were sharing times we have trusted God, and she said, "I needed to trust God when I was in America and I was five, and I had to go to "real school" and then I had to stop going to school and stop going to ballet and move around a lot, and there was a lot of change. So, I had to trust God." 





 

On her birthday we were having sparkling juice, and she said, "This reminds me of what I want to do when I grow up." "Really, how?" I asked.  "Aunty Leah (that's my 36 year old sister who has Down Syndrome) loves sparkling juice, and when I grow up I want to teach people like Aunty Leah."  

 

I can't wait to see what the future holds with this delightful human being that God has so graciously given us to steward and hold.

 

 

Saturday, September 25, 2021

I Will Rise

 

Lake Michigan with my four beauties.

I walked as quickly as I could, tears spilling down my face into the bathroom in my church, with the echo of those beautiful words, "I will rise, on eagles wings, no more sorrow, no more pain, I will rise," reverberating in my heart that spilled out in sobs. 

My parents and sister Leah

I spent three weeks in the United States and am so thankful for the time I was with my family as they reflected on the remarkable life of my brother, Josh Watkin. There was more laughter than tears, as I think he would have wanted it. 

I heard this song my last Sunday at church, two days before I boarded the plane to come back to Nigeria.  I'm not sure, but I think what moved me so deeply that Sunday morning, was imaging my brother rising, and me joining him someday. And then comes the final, triumphant lyrics at the end,

"And I hear the voice of many angels sing
Worthy is the Lamb
And I hear the cry of every longing heart
Worthy is the Lamb."  
 
The week before in church there was a song that was sung and I felt so numb to the thankfulness that the lyrics expressed for the sacrifice of Christ. I stood there, arms crossed, feeling like I didn't get it, I couldn't soak in the wonder of his grace in the face of such tragedy.  The song had a line about seeing Jesus "face to face," and I knew that's why I didn't get it...I wasn't face to face with the Giver of Life.   I sensed, "Josh gets it, and he's saying it to me now." Peace washed over me as I realized that on this side of heaven, I do not have the capacity to understand the greatness of God and his goodness.  I looked around and thought, "We are ALL seeing dimly, a shadow, in our closest moments with Jesus, of how radiantly beautiful his love is, his being is, his gaze is upon us is.  Oh, but those who have gone before us get it!"  I remembered looking at Josh's body in the casket.  Still, silent...and empty. So unlike he is now.  It was a shell, and the real, true, vibrant, strong, loving, passionate, gifted man that shaped so much of my life, is experiencing fullness of joy. 
My dad with my nephew and my brother's chainsaw at the family visitation.
 
 I can't wait to rise and meet him and my Jesus in the air, and then to sing that unifying hymn together!  All nations, tribes and tongues, "Worthy is the Lamb."  He has conquered death for all of us, and it holds no sting.  It does hold pain because we were never meant to experience it, but there is no life stealing sting, only hope because our rising still lies ahead!
 


Thursday, August 12, 2021

Translating the Bible without writing anything

 "We are hoping to translate the Bible into 1000 languages worldwide."  

We sat in a circle under the mango trees behind the SIL office.  If I hadn't already heard about this vision,  my jaw would have dropped.  One thousand languages in just four years?  I knew seventy to one hundred of those were supposed to be in Nigeria.  Starting seven new Bible translation projects would be crazy in this time frame, but seventy?  It seemed impossible.

They shared a little more of their plan with us.  These translations would not be written down.  The whole process would be done orally, with audio recordings of drafts and audio recordings for consultant reviews, and audio recordings for community checking all the way up to the final professional audio recordings of the translated Scripture.  This removes the need for developing and finalizing a good alphabet before getting started.

It is not a new idea.  I have been hearing about Oral Bible Translation (OBT) for several years now.  What is new is that in the last four months, I have had three or four different new organizations contact me saying they want to start OBT in Nigeria and want to know which languages they should work with.  With over two hundred languages still left, new ideas, approached with care, are certainly welcome.

I was grateful for the others gathered around the circle representing six different organizations.  Seasoned Bible Translation partners asked critical questions in a respectful way.  Individuals introduced each other with honor, even though we were as different as could be: our organization so focused on detailed academic care of handling languages and the Bible, their organization willing to do anything (yes, pretty much anything) that would glorify God and advance his purposes.  It felt like a little picture of heaven for a moment, with each part of the body doing what they do best.  Thank God with us and pray for even better partnership!


The mango trees behind our office.  A beautiful place to meet, pray and celebrate! Photo credit: Jay Abai.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

You Is Not You Without Me



 "He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.  Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God." 1 Peter 1:21

Sometimes pastors will say, "The "you" here is referring to the church, to all of us."  This has, at times, made me want to refrain from making it too personal because I don't want to apply something to myself, or claim a truth that wasn't meant for me in particular.  When I read this verse above, I thought, "He was chosen for me", then caught myself, "no, for all of us, let me not be too self-centered."  Then another thought pushed that one back.  The "You" here is not "You" without ME in it! So, if it doesn't apply to me personally, than it doesn't apply to the body of Christ either because I am part of the body.  You take me out, and the body is just not the same.  I don't think this is self-elevating.  I think it is self-penetrating and God-celebrating!  It touches me deeply to know that Christ was chosen for me before the creation of the world, and I believe in God because of HIM, and MY faith and MY hope are in GOD...along with all my brothers and sisters around the world!  

I listened to a song called "Pieces" by Bethel Music.  I don't agree with all the ideas in the song, but these words did impact me as I searched for God over the last few days: 

"Your love's not fractured
It's not a troubled mind
It isn't anxious
It's not the restless kind
Your love's not passive
It's never disengaged
It's always present"

Our world is broken, and the suffering that people around me are experiencing is reason enough to cry out to God for restoration and healing.  In praying I sometimes feel like God should reach out to the hungry child, the abused woman, the dying baby first before he comes to me, like a queue of need.  I keep moving to the end of the line as I see the needs of others.  I realized, in this time apart, that God doesn't need to choose!  He already chose me, and that means that his eyes are one me, weather my need seems as desperate as the next person or not.  His delight is to bring me to wholeness, and in reaching me, he's not ignoring the dying baby.  He's holding us both.  

To say that we are each included, individually, in the promises and hope of Christ, shows how our God is not only loving and powerful but personal and close. Jesus was chosen for you and me and us! 

Hallelujah! 


Friday, July 23, 2021

DEAD

 


 

I've walked many times through this cemetery with my husband and children.  I always go to the small twin grave, where Edith and Ethel, two baby girls died within 12 days of each other. This time, peering down at the names and dates of two souls, bound in the womb, then reuniting in heaven in the arms of Jesus, was especially moving.  Just walking into the mission cemetery this time brought the weighted reality of our frail humanness within focus, though blurred by my tears. 


The first time I visited the Miango cemetery, I was engaged to Zach.  He showed me the grave of his aunt and told me her story of serving the sick as a doctor, which lead to her catching a fatal disease.  As we left, Zach walked ahead of me, and I paused to turn around and look at the graves of those who had trodden this soil before me.  I told God, "If you can call these faithful ones to live and die here, loving you and loving Nigerians to you, I am willing to live and die here too for your sake and your glory.  In that moment, I felt not only called to Zach, but also to this Nigeria he had grown to love.

Today, 9 years later, I sit in the gazebo overlooking the cemetery, and feel God calling me  once again, to himself, to a victorious death. I sang, 

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he as given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you...In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Though you have not seen him you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls." 1 Peter 1:3-4, 6-9

That day, when my fiance introduced me to this place, was a kind of dying to other dreams, but in that sacrifice, I have found so much joy and life! I have been given all of these things highlighted above! Christ is my imperishable treasure, and because of him, death, even the daily dying, has no sting! 

 




Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Soul Memory

My signature article of clothing in this season is my apron!

I started really reading my Bible when I was 13.  That was when my mother went out and bought me a Bible, the Life Application Bible, and I loved it.  It was big and red, and soon it was read all over!  I had an insatiable hunger for the presence of God. 

Through high school and college, I had sweet, intimate times with Jesus.  He spoke through his Word, and I responded with song, poetry, eloquent entries in journals now stacked in a back corner in the US. 

 I moved to Africa and had adventures with God traveling as an MK teacher all over Cameroon and CAR. God was my travel partner, my friend, my ever present joy, the Creator of the green hills we climbed and rivers we crossed in canoes or helicopter.  The discipline of being with God, of hearing his voice felt less like a regiment and more like breathing.  Fluid, necessary, natural.    

Fast forward to 2021, a decade later, and at 9pm four of my five girls are in bed.  We have come to retreat together, leaving Daddy to work in the city and have some quiet time after a week of family holiday.  As the time came to retreat, I became anxious.  How do I start?  How do I sit still long enough to hear God speak, quieting my mind to be in his presence?  How ironic that what was once like breathing left me with a tightening in my chest restricting my airflow. 

Yankari...a warm natural spring flows clear from a huge rock! Truly miraculous!


Our family spent a couple of days resting here.

Then a sweet memory floated into my heart like the scent of fresh bread from my little kitchen oven. I had a sense that this was a moment where soul memory would gracefully usher me back to the place where my heart rejoices in the Lord.  Like when I execute a move I learned in soccer practice in middle school (Over 20 years ago) for a group of surprised soccer campers or show Daso how a hand-off (over 10 years ago) is supposed to work on the track with the baton held and extended in my right hand or salsa after two years  without missing a beat...if God made muscle memory so powerfully to flow from our past to impact our present, why wouldn't he now use soul memory, when I most long for a rest with Jesus, to sense his presence, and quiet my heart? 

I think he will, and I am looking forward to breathing deeply in his presence this week.  



Every Breath

 "We lost our baby girl," the text came just as I arrived at the hospital to meet a friend and colleague who's baby had come a...