Thursday, January 26, 2023

Missed the Train!

I hate missing the train!
 Today I missed the train. I had planned a day in Chicago with a dear friend I met 10 years ago, also a new bride living her first year of marriage in Nigeria. My anticipation of a sweet fellowship long missed made me tingly with excitement!  My husband stayed up late one night to get me the train ticket that left this morning right from Holland, MI at 6:49am and my mother got me there with time to spare. 

Why did I miss the train?  I was buying water from a vending machine.  The stupidity of it all, the pathetic scene I made running alongside the barely moving train begging the conductor to "please, please let me hop on" (Afterall, that's what they do in all the movies) makes me flush...and I don't get embarrassed easily. 

As annoying and disappointing situations do, it made me think.  I pack my life full of "one more thing while I wait."  Wait for what? The waiting IS the thing that I'm doing!  Am I missing the train for a little sip of water?  Am I forfeiting the way to get me to a life of refreshment, community, and ultimate joy because I can't stand to wait? 

I recently went to tea with my sister-in-law, another opportunity not to be missed as this will be the last outing we had before she gets married.  The night before we planned our 6:30am get away.  Ironically, it followed a discussion with the family about how hard it was for us to get time early in the morning to be with Jesus. 

A picture of a time I didn't miss the train to Chicago...because I drove.


In the morning, I shook my head as I realized that I can get up when I want to! Apparently, the getting up and making time for Jesus isn't the problem.  Jesus will love me if I get up early to be with him or not, but do I love him enough to do it anyway? 

"Don't be hard on yourself," I can hear people saying. But there's a time we have to ask ourselves if we are missing the train...the big, transporting, restful experience of walking with Jesus while we stand outside a vending machine waiting for a sip of...what? While we pack one more thing into our already stuffed journeying lives. 

Lesson learned. 



Saturday, December 31, 2022

Wrapping

Olivia reveling in snow!

 

We had our annual Christmas caroling event for our family, a 20-year-old tradition that started with my nephew. This year we added Karaoke at the end of it...inspired by a different nephew and a niece revealing their mad vocal skills!  They were discovered, and the karaokeing began! I sang At this Table by Indina Menzel- sung here by Selah.  Better to hear them sing it than me, let me tell you! The first verse reflects my childhood family culture as I remember it, and how they shaped my love for God and for people...how they have wrapped me up and spoken affirmation over my life and those who came into our home throughout the years. 

 It says:

At this table, everyone is welcomeAt this table, everyone is seenAt this table, everybody mattersNo one falls betweenAt this table, you can say whateverAt this table, you can speak your mindAt this table, everything's forgivenThere's enough for everyone
 
One young person in my family commented later, "it's not possible..." and a wise adult in her life (not me) said, "but it's the ideal." 
 
 
 
***
 
I was in a most delightful place (a thrift store) where bits of friendly conversations floated across isles of discarded treasures. One person, who happened to be in every isle I wanted to go down, made several remarks to other miners like myself that struck me as exceptionally insightful and caring. I smiled listening to her and thought , "I want to speak meaningfully in passing like that."  The moment came where we were cart to cart, rack to rack, and I made an offhand comment about Nigeria.

She stopped, looked at me, and started a different kind of rummaging, through the things of my heart.  I very soon found out that this lovely person, Maria, was not focused on wrapping Christmas gifts, but on wrapping...me!  And she bound me in layers and layers. She taped them with hugs, tears, and prayer.  I felt wholeness, and the warmth that heals a brokenness that I didn't even know was there.  God surprised me with his lavish, tender care through this sister.  She changed my life in those 10 minutes we spent together. I know it cost her something, her time and energy, emotion that could have been used on strengthening other areas or building closer to home...but she chose me...and in doing so, reminded me that God does too.  It's like she was singing the chorus of the song "At This Table."  It says:

So come as you areRemember that the door is always openYes, come as you areThe perfect gift that you could bring is your heartSo come, come as you are...
 
Pull up a chair. 
 
I love these words, they ARE my ideal, and when I think about Jesus, his ragamuffin lot that were thickheaded, with different political views, social standing, and professions, I think it's his too! He says "pull up a chair" to his people from Thailand to Morocco to Chile to Nigeria every single morning, and he says it because he wants to wrap them in his love.  I want to be like that too.  I want to do the hard thing, like Maria did, like Jesus did, to see, really see, and wrap, joyfully wrap others in this beautiful season  where we celebrate the one who came wrapped in clothes to a world wrapped in darkness so he could wrap them with love and light. 

Maybe I'll form a habit, and it will flow into the New Year!  Bob Goff says in his book Everybody Always, "Love isn't something we fall into; love is someone we become." 
 
Yes, Lord, do it in me! 
 

My little sister, Leah, is a wrapper extraordinaire. I've learned a lot from her.


 
 

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Sea Monsters and Missionaries

 "Some people, they'll never accept him, but some will, and he seems to know how to pick the good ones." -Luca's grandmum encouraging his mother in Pixar's "Luca"

We have been in the United States for almost two weeks.  As Daso and I rode out of our compound gate for one of our last outings before we said goodbye for a few months, she asked, eyes shining "What are you excited about the most?"  Tears came to my eyes, because what I was excited about was introducing her to my world.  The child who has called me "mommy" for the last 8 years, finally seeing part of what made me the mommy that I am. I couldn't think of anything at the time. 

I could answer her question much better now: Family gatherings, playgrounds, libraries, Christmas lights, pizza, cheese, butter, chocolate hidden in my dad's cupboard, children's church, worshiping in my heart language, walking in a crowd and looking like everyone else, anonymity, sleeping in, bagels, pretty houses without walls around them, driving at night, firesides, remembering Josh, basketball games, a TV to watch the World Cup on, sledding, wearing a snowsuit, hugging my mom, listening to her and my dad harmonize in church on either side of me, friends who have known me before I was me, warm embraces from church family...and the list could go on and on.  


Today I went to a playground with my children, an indoor playground intentionally designed with the development and hearts of children in mind. 

 I watched my children pretending, exploring, exclaiming in two languages and I both rejoiced and ached. I rejoice in their delight and the opportunities these trips here afford them.  I ache for my other "children" who sit on plastic mats on an unfinished cement floor to hear the stories (the only stories) read to them at our library who's laughter rings in my heart even now because they are so full, so thankful and open and eager. I rejoice at the multi-lingual and multi-cultural children I get to walk hand in hand with every day, and I ache that some will never accept them, but pray they will know how to pick the good ones. I rejoice that the children of Holland, MI have so much abundance and for those that don't, they have Christmas boxes lining church corridors awaiting them because of the generous hearts of our Father's loving family. I ache that I have two dear, dear friends in Nigeria who need emergency surgeries and I feel stuck thinking of how to help them get the resources they need.  How can I be in awe of the beautiful things of this country EVERY SINGLE TIME I RETURN! How can I long for the simple yet profound beauty of my Nigerian home when so much good, so many wonderful people, surround me here? 


Tonight we watched Luca, a Pixar film about a sea monster who transforms into a human when on land, as long as he stays dry.  He changes into the form of a human, shaking off his beautiful blue scales, but he doesn't know how to walk properly, what to talk about (unknowingly insulting people he passes), or what those little lights poking holes in the dark sky are. His clothes don't quite fit right, and he feels more awkward than he looks. Once when his enthusiasm bubbles up at learning about the galaxies,  he says to his new friend, "Too much?"  She giggles and says what he said to her when she asked the same question, "Never."  I'm thankful I have those friends here in Holland that remind me that I'm never "too much" because when I come here from Nigeria, I feel all the things I fight for daily, the passions that want to overflow must have a weighted blanket thrown over them before I too readily spew the life-altering causes, stories of resilient transformative people, the desperate hopes, the beckoning needs.  I don't make small talk very well, my clothes never fit right, and I'm ignorant of how a Christ follower acts in "normal" society.  

I am that sea monster, not talking about my other world because I'm...just not sure of what it means to love being here but not belong here.  I don't know how the blueness of my scales and the life experiences that make me who I am will shock others or make them feel uncomfortable. Those who talk with me may not realize the calm nature of the hues that are filtered by this uncertainty, and may find what I do share quite "other" enough. By the end of the movie, Luca and his other sea monster friend, have become comfortable in their two skins. They have proven that they can be both sea monster and human. 

I do hope that my children, as they grow, can muster their courage to be scaly blue or blandly pink, fully third-culture-kid, American, or Nigerian or their own unique combination. That they will know how to pick the people who will accept their "otherness" joyfully. I hope I can lead them in that, too!  It surprises me that after 15 years in Africa, this phenomenon of  changing skins is still a conscious effort. Call it "phantom tail" or call it "Bruno" (you'll have to watch the movie) but what I do know is that while I'm figuring this stuff out, God places each of us right where we will be blessed and be a blessing using our experiences and gifts, being exactly who he made us to be for this time and place we find ourselves in. 



Saturday, November 12, 2022

What's It All For?

This one I wrote in August as well! It does give a peak into what I've been up to...but it's a little out of date. 

My life couldn't be MORE FULL WITH MEANINGFUL ACTIVITY! I feel like my life is one run-on sentence in bold, caps, and ending in exclamation points!!!!! Since we got back from our family trip to Lagos, there has been one sprint after another. 

Zach had an AC (Advisory Commitee) meeting, requiring late nights and lots of important decisions. 

I started drama practice 3 days a week for the month of July with 20 young people to perform a children's book "Babushka Baba Yaga." 



 

I was choreographing, together with a couple of friends, my life story. Yes, I danced my way through my life.  It was part of the rememberance journey I've been on. 



 

My back had a big issue and I got some serious boils. 

A many year prayer for a boys Bible study got going...all I had to do was basically suggest it and lay down some ground rules and drive people around!  

Performed our play and my life choreography on the same day.  


 

I started the hunt for a place for my summer library...and found one!  

We left for a weeklong change of pace and scenery at Miango, leaving Zach to work and rest at home. 

The boys Bible study went for a retreat the next day, the same day Zach left for Ethiopia. 

 The library (The Orange Hat) is up and running.  About 150 kids registered our first week. 

 Thinking about homeschooling my girls and what that needs to look like, and meeting with another mom to plan together. 

These are the big things, but we still have the little joys too with lots of giggles, cuddles, learnings daily with my girls.  I have a daily exercise time with a group of ladies where we dance and pray and laugh together. We have our weekly Bible study at the church with 50-80 kids weekly.  Zach is under constant pressure at the office to do more.  He faithfully seeks God's face early in the morning before the business begins.  

Amid all the exclamation points and one sentence cramming itself into another, I have been wapped upside the head with a floofin tundrunus, and realised that if it's not all in the power of the Spirit of the Lord of Heaven's Armies, then I'm not acheiving what is possible, at best, and wasting my time, energy, and lift at worst.  So what if people are entertained, children engaged, children learning to read, family fed if I'm not making the most of the opportunities presented to me because I'm not in tune with the Holy Spirit!  SOOOOO,  with this conviction splatting against my heart, I am seeking God more actively than I ha...



 


Turning 40

I wrote this three months ago but never posted it!  I can't believe I've not written for that long. I will post it anyway, and then write one from today...

Walking home tonight from the children's Bible study in the neighborhood where we first lived as newlyweds 10 years ago, a deluge of memories smacked me upside my unsuspecting heart.  I was with Uncle Dala, a dear friend, who has only been part of our family for two years. Remembering walking with Mariama on my back, meeting young girls that we've watched become young women on a certain corner, greeting elderly women outside their homes where I've eaten celebratory food offered as I passed by, felt like too much to describe to Uncle Dala as we walked home.  I turned 40 on Monday, the 15th of August.  On Tuesday, the 16th we remembered one year when my brother died. I don't know how to reconcile the fullness of life, the richness of all I experience and have experienced living in Nigeria with the abruptness of change and death. 

 Processing loss and grief alongside the joy of living is a very delicate balance.  In movies they like to refer to how the person who has left you on earth would want you to live your life.  There's no doubt that as life sprints forward and you get farther from the memories of those you've loved, that you run differently because of them, but it seems they cannot speak into how you respond to their absence.  To the living, maybe, but not to the grieving, which leaves a gap once again of how to balance these tender moments...


 So, that's as much as I wrote in August, and I'll leave it with that and this picture above.  To say that Josh Watkin knew how to make moments special is an understatement.  He and Amy created this scene year after year!  A tree that shouldn't have fit into the space provided, loaded with memories, a warm fire, and thoughtful gifts.  I'm going home for Christmas, my first without Josh.  Thankfully, none of us are without the beauty that he imparted to us, and we have each person in the family...the holders of memories, laughter, joy, and pioneers to the way forward.

Friday, August 5, 2022

How Can They Think That?

"People say"There's nothing good about Nigeria" but when you see this...how can they even think that?" -Daso after visiting Nike Art Gallery in Lagos, Nigeria.

 

We went to Nike Art Gallery.  What can I say? Free. Overwhelmingly beautiful. Daso really said it best.  Not only were the pictures stunning, but the images and sculptures spoke so movingly to the raw beauty that bombards the senses in Nigeria.  I wanted to sit with the paintings and learn from them, to be able to gaze upon the scenes that have captivated me again and again while living here.  The dynamism of life doesn't allow me to sit and absorb all the things I love, but when you have it painted in front of you...or beaded or "clothed"... you are invited to linger.  With 4 small children, we didn't linger nearly long enough, but it was a truly splendid way to spend a morning.

Even the junk in Nigeria is beautiful!

Why did I throw those random duplos away...Oh, and that one handled scissor, the empty tape dispensor...I could have made a self portrait!

These are beads...tiny beads. This artist most definitely does NOT do her art with her 2 1/2 year old twins around. The founder of the gallery actually made this piece. We got to meet her!
 




 
  


We were all smitten.

Made from cloth!  If only my scraps came together so well!

Four stories! 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Powerful and Gentle

After flying to Lagos on Monday, our family went to the beach on Tuesday morning.  

I bustled around from child to child getting off clothes to swimwear waiting to be immersed in the salty water of the Atlantic, taking pictures of Daso as she saw the expanse of water for the first time, and attempting the impossible task of keeping everything from becoming sandy. 


 

Finally, we were ready and headed to the water, the waves rolling in powerfully.  







Olivia was the first to be swept and rolled over by the wave up on the shore, then Lydia was swept in, and I had to rush in to pull her out. 

 

We felt hesitant then to attempt going too close, as the undercurrent and power of the waves were intimidating.  I refused, however, to miss this opportunity to let Daso stand in the waves. 

 So, squeezing the blood out of my hand with her adrenaline infused grip, we bravely stepped into the water...slowly.  "Everything's moving, Mommy!" She shouted, "I want to go out!"  At that moment, the song, "I'm diving in, I'm going deep, and over my head I want to be..." came to mind.  I told her, "God's love is like these waves.  Overwhelming, powerful, expansive, and never stops coming.  But you can understand why people might be afraid to dive into that."  In his love, we come undone, immersed, surrounded.  It's beautiful and scary. We mostly found ourselves sitting and enjoying the power of it all.

 The next day we wanted to try a different beach that had been recommended to us.  We found a very different scene.  The waves were being tempered by a rock barrier some distance off shore.  We walked in, knelt in the sand with water up to our necks, and let the waves ripple around us.  The children swam and splashed and collected shells for hours. I thought, "God's love is like this, too! Gentle, continuous, soothing, inviting." 

In our devotions in the evening I shared how Elijah experienced God in the powerful fire from heaven that consumed the sacrifice, stones, and licked up the water all around in his competition with the prophets of Baal.  Then he fled out of fear of a woman named Jezebel and met God again in a mountain where he wasn't in the fire, or the wind, or the earthquake, but in a whisper. God is so full of knowledge and love that he can speak to us with that love powerfully or gently wherever we find ourselves.  He knows when we are pumped up and ready to experience his power, and when the journey is too great for us.  

"Things never happen the same way twice, dear one," comes to my mind now, words that Aslan spoke to Lucy in the Chronicles of Narnia.  I'm so glad they don't, because how else would we know the expanse of this dynamic love of God?

Missed the Train!

I hate missing the train!  Today I missed the train. I had planned a day in Chicago with a dear friend I met 10 years ago, also a new bride ...