Giants and Grapes

Giants and Grapes
"Going from strength to strength until each of us appears before God in Zion." Ps. 84

Friday, January 24, 2020

Acacia and Olivia are in cribs!

Good news from the early hours this morning!  Acacia has graduated to a crib!  This means she is now able to keep herself warm on her own.  Thank God with us!

Yesterday I asked you to pray for peace for Christy and for me.  Yesterday, as I was reflecting on some verses (I cannot recall which ones!),  I suddenly found myself kneeling on the ground and praying, with a realization that God is truly wise beyond my understanding, and that I wanted what he wanted.  If he chooses to do something differently than I would have wanted it done, then his way is better, even if I cannot understand it.

Later in the day, we also got some good news and clarification.  We had thought Olivia needed to go back on oxygen and might possibly have an infection.  However, in the evening she showed no signs of inflammation or increased white blood cell count.  Also, she had never been on oxygen this time.  That was just a miscommunication.  This morning even took her back off the breathing support, and graduated her to a crib, too!  What surprising good news!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Breathing challenges and peace

So far in our little girls' journey it has been slow and steady progress for both of them.  However, today we have a new prayer request.  Both little ones originally had challenges with apnea,  which means their breathing sometimes stops.  Both were receiving caffeine to help stimulate them to breathe.  You can thank God with us that Acacia is no longer needing caffiene.  But  Olivia has been having more trouble with apnea and it is a concern.  She is back on breathing support now.  They both also seem to have developed coughs.  Please continue to pray with us for our girls, especially for their breathing.

Also, pray with us for us (Christy and I) as we deal with the emotions of watching our little ones.  We continually wish we could do more and are afraid of causing harm.  Of course there is so much that is out of our hands, but the little we can do, we want to do well.  Yet we are so tired!  Please pray for God's peace. I (Zach) am thankful for his peace, and yet with each surprise of not-so-good news, I find I feel afraid.  I want to stop worrying and I choose to trust him, but it isn't easy!

Our little trees are growing

Trees take time to grow, and Acacia and Olivia are no exception.  We thank God for some major milestones: they are no longer on oxygen, no longer on breathing support, and no longer needing an IV.  More recently, they are gaining weight well and have passed their birth weights, and are even feeding by mouth.

Before the girls can come home, they need to gain weight, keep warm on their own, and keep their heart rates and breathing up continually for five days.  This growth will probably take several weeks.  Please pray for God to continue to make them grow!  In particular, we are asking God to make them and their mother strong enough for them to drink mommy's milk every three hours.  (We recently reached a milestone of about once every twelve hours!)  Christy would love to have abundant milk to give them.  We are so thankful for donor milk, what a precious gift!

Things have not gone as we planned, yet we are so grateful that they didn't.  These sweet girls were born on Jan 2, they very day we had originally planned to return from Nigeria to the US.  Please pray that God will continue to give us peace and guide us in his perfect plan.

Olivia and Acacia

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Ten Weeks

Today the skies are dripping and grey in the Indiana town where we find ourselves unexpectedly staying with Zach's parents.  I sit pumping...again.  It's an essential, repetitive role that yields so little satisfaction for me in this swirling season of life.  Despite the clouds around us, only 20 minutes away, there are these incredible, fragile yet feisty little girls that decided to show up two months before their due date.  I read a devotion yesterday morning, while pumping at 4am, about storms in our lives.  I visited the girls at 5:30am, and realized that in the midst of this seeming storm, the fact that I can hold Acacia and Olivia in my arms and that they get stronger every day is one way God has spoken his peace to me. far I have to go to grasp what this really means.  So many of us are looking for inner peace, and what we often want to do to find it is escape.  In the last 10 weeks, my understanding of what peace looks like as a follower of Christ has been transformed.

We went to Nigeria in late October, and originally planned on returning on January 2nd.  We were asked to return earlier due to our pregnancy with twins.  Despite my annoyance, we did change our tickets to December 4th, and I felt peace in that decision.  The 5 weeks in Nigeria were VERY full.  I did about 5 trainings to build a facilitation team and 3 teacher trainings both in Jos and surrounding villages. Kirstin (my sister in law) ran another training with facilitators I'd trained in Northern Nigeria because I couldn't travel.  This was an answer to many years of praying for opportunities to train children's ministry workers, and God led the way as teachers responded beautifully to the trainings.  The schedule for the trainings was given to us a few days in advance of each training, but there was peace.

Women's literacy class
During these 5 weeks in Nigeria, I also visited the schools where we have children enrolled, talked with teachers and principals, visited the Orange Hat (read more here), encouraged the women in the literacy class, wrote lesson plans and curriculum to keep things rolling, visited the children's Bible study at the church where we've served the last 4 years, said goodbye to so many special people, and, with the help of my neighbors and Kirstin, packed the house we've rented the last three years and moved out.  This was a last minute decision, and we don't know where we will go when we return, but there was peace. We were still packing when our ride arrived for the airport.  We traveled the 5 hours to Abuja, and said bye to Aunty Kirstin there, the next day boarding our flight to Chicago via Ethiopia.

Our new home in Michigan
The flight time itself was 24 hours, not counting layovers.  We arrived in Michigan to find our rented house had been repainted beautifully and the girls' room decorated and gifts of books, toys, and matching clothes were neatly arranged.  New snow boots, coats, and snow pants hung in the entryway and the cupboards were stocked with food.  We settled in for two weeks, visiting my family and figuring out how to survive again in America when it came time to travel to Indiana for Christmas.  I felt exhausted heading down to Indiana.  I spent most of the holiday with Zach's family in my room, either totally nauseated, in pain, or sleeping.  Finally, I was having cramping, and we decided we needed to head back to Michigan.  That same morning, we went to the hospital to make sure everything was alright before heading through 4 hours of cornfields on our way to Michigan.  It was January 2nd, I was 31 weeks pregnant.

What the doctors found were two babies eager to get out, already forcing their way down, feet first. I guess they got the "hit-the-road-running" gene from me!   But I wasn't running anywhere this time. After an emergency C-section, our little girls went to the NICU where they will remain for another month, at least. It is a forced "STOP!"  Yet, these days are anything but restful, surely not the escape I would have wanted to find peace.  They consist of a lot of driving to and from the hospital, spending as much time with Mariama and Lydia as possible, sleeping when I can.  Surprisingly, in the midst of it, there is peace at the core of my being.
The girls' beautiful room

Yesterday, after reading that devotion on storms, and having a sweet time with my baby girls, I fell flat on my face in the hospital hallway.  It shook me a bit, but I got up and drove home.  Then, on our way back to the NICU, one of our car tires burst, and we didn't make it for the feeding time. In fact, we arrived 3 hours later for the next feeding.  One of my bigger girls wouldn't sleep last night, so I spent two hours in the evening loving her and snuggling before pumping twice in the night.  Yet there is this deep sense of well-being, this resting, as Acacia and Olivia do in my arms.  I have never been so tired, yet I feel so peaceful.  "I do not give to you as the world gives, do not let your hearts be troubled," said Jesus.  Isn't that the truth!

In ten weeks, we have changed cultures, homes several times, food, wardrobe, jobs, pace, and we've gone from a family of four to a family of six.  I never had time to sit and just feel my babies kicking, to buy them clothes, to prepare space for them or think about what life might be like with 4 little people to care for.  But here we are, and there is peace, and I'm so thankful that peace does not come from clear skies and lack of activities, but it comes from the God of peace who calms the storms of our hearts because he's in our boat (Matthew 8:23-27), and he is "the God who sees me" (Genesis 16:13).  In August, when I found out we were pregnant with twins, I was very fearful about  our babies not making it.  I asked God what he wanted me to do, and I felt that he said, "Trust that I'm good."  Not easy in a world where evil seems to prevail and children die of hunger, starvation, or being born too early.  But throughout this pregnancy, he asked me to trust him.  He didn't promise my girls would come at their appointed time or even that they would live, but he did promise me his goodness.  Today I listened to a song called "Trust in You" by Lauren Daigle that says:
"When you don't move the mountains I needed you to move,
When you don't part the waters, I wish I could walk through
When you don't give the answers, when I cry out to you
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in you."
(Listen to this song)

As I listened today, tears rolling down my face, I realized that these 10 weeks have been a continual lesson teaching  the truth and living into the truth that the peace I crave comes from resting in the Father's arms and trusting that He is good. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

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Friday, November 1, 2019

Pray for director nominations

 "At your table groups, thank God for what he has done through us in this past year."  Tom, our director in Nigeria, is an introvert.  Quiet, calm, and humbly following God, he has led our group in Nigeria through some difficult decisions over the last four years.   A couple of times a year, like yesterday, he gets in front of the whole group and excitedly shares about what God has been doing through us.   As we reflected yesterday on what God has been doing not only in Nigeria, but throughout Africa, I was deeply encouraged.
About a year from now, Tom is planning to hand over the leadership of our organization.  Who will pick up this role?  A special committee was formed including me, to guide the process of inviting people to consider applying for the role.    Over the next two weeks, the people who were nominated will be asked to prayerfully consider letting their names stand.  Can you please pray along with them in this decision? 
Although each of the people is well qualified in different ways, each of them could only do this job with the Lord's strength.  Please pray that several individuals will allow their names to stand.  Last time we did this process, in the end, only Tom allowed his name to stand!  He has been a great leader, but as part of a committee helping guide the process, we would prefer that God give us more names.

Monday, October 28, 2019

He's On Leave

I, Christy, called around to the potential interested trainers, and, hearing my dear friend, Chris, on the other line said, "I'm so glad you are interested in being part of training others!  What about your job?"  "I'm on leave," he informed me happily.  Isn't that just like God?  You see, out of all the trainers coming tomorrow for the two day workshop where we will prepare ourselves to go and train others, Chris is the only one who has actually been through this training before, more than once.  He is the one who sat with me three years ago, praying for teachers to come join us in teaching the children of our small Bible study on Thursday nights as we saw the numbers growing quickly. 

This is an answer to prayer.  God is bringing together a team, with many competent people.  There are now eight people planning to attend tomorrow, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

I'm writing to ask for prayer.  I'm up too late, still preparing.  I'm a bit jetlagged. We still don't have a schedule for when we will be doing trainings and where starting November 9th.  However, God isn't on leave, uncle Chris is, what a great combination!  Please pray for me as I train these that God has brought, helping us to become a strong team.  Pray for the teachers that we will be joining hands with later, and pray for the children who will hear the story of Jesus and choose to follow him.