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?

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Hope 5

 If this wasn't part of a blog series, I'd have named it, "Leave me alone!" 

Ed, Linda, little Mariama, and me 15 years after I met them.

The dessert was delicious, and the company even sweeter so I continued going to the Wycliffe recruiter's house when they offered their dessert nights throughout my college years.  Ed and Linda were relentless in their acceptance of me as I was openly hostile to the thought of joining Wycliffe, a giant in the world of missions. I was looking for an organization where I could know everyone and that was more....homey.  Despite my resolve, the stories of God's Word impacting individuals and language groups that others had overlooked, well, my eye humidity levels were always really high on these special nights. 

I started a full time Spanish teaching job in Holland, MI the year after I graduated from college.  After they said I was hired (as I walked out of the office), I drove down the street with my window open shouting at Centennial park and all the stupefied bystanders, "Somebody wants me!" I had told those interviewing me that I didn't want the job but my mom wanted me to stay closer to home, and I did believe in what they were trying to do so I was applying. Ok, so I might have teared up when I told them that Latino kids needed to be able to converse with their grandparents...it's true! But I think all of us in that room felt like we had been drawn together for that moment.  So, there I was, a five year position having been offered, full benefits, and in the most beautiful city in the country (I may be biased)! 

 

Beautiful downtown Holland

I still love going back and sharing the beauty with my girls. (2021)

 I went to SIFAT (see previous post) over the summer to be a camp counselor, telling Sarah Corson's stories in first person because she wasn't able to join us in person. I couldn't believe the weight of them, the burden that landed heavily on my heart every single time I told the stories I had heard as a girl on that same campus. 

There was this one student from Cameroon, Pastor Fimba, and every week he would stand up and invite the youth to come to Cameroon and help meet the needs of his country.  I always nodded, looking around the room as I prayed for those young people to accept the call.  Then, one night, a question struck my heart as I peered around sagely, hoping to see at least one camper who was visibly moved..."What about you?" "What about me?" I countered. "I speak Spanish, and I don't even know where Cameroon is!" (Funny I had never looked that up after hearing Pastor Fimba week after week.)  None the less, I knew I needed to be open if I expected others to be, so I told Pastor Fimba after the talk that night that I thought I was supposed to some day go to his country.  He nodded and smiled, and moved on...as did I. 

Back to Michigan I felt surprisingly happy in Holland.  I had asked God every semester in college if it was time for me to quit college and move overseas yet, and I kept feeling like I needed to see that thing through.  So, I stayed. Got my degree in teaching, and felt really, really ready to go.  But I had found a group of kids I could pour myself into in my Holland Public students, and I had realized mission was at my doorstep.  Toward the end of the year, I told God he better make me uncomfortable or I might just stay in America.  The next week the administration sat me down and said they were cutting the size of the program and I was the one to take the hit. I was going to be part time, lose my benefits (I had just had a very expensive knee surgery which was totally covered), and be moved to Kindergarten from 4-5th grade (a curriculum which we had written throughout the year) the following year. 

I thanked them and went felt thankfully uncomfortable.  I went home to call around to see where they needed me overseas.  I started with SIFAT's contacts in Ecuador but the mission school I had visited was no where in their records, like it had vanished into the jungle.  Because Ed and Linda wouldn't leave me alone, I had been told about 1,872 times at dessert nights and over bagels and chai tea in scenic downtown Holland that Wycliffe needed missionary kid teachers, I called Wycliffe.  I told them I didn't want to teach in an MK school, I wanted to be itinerant, living in a village, and did they have a position like that open?" Pretty sure it all came out in one sentence because I wasn't psyched about my resolve having crumbled so easily.  The person on the other end said, "Our biggest needs are in Mozambique and Cameroon."  A pause. "I'll take the position in Cameroon." I'm sure she said something else, but I checked out on details.  Somehow I started the application process, told the school that I wasn't going to return the following year, saw God provide financially through his body, and in 6 months, I was in Cameroon. In my first month I made it to the Northwest to visit a surprised Reverend Fimba and stay with his family for a week during my orientation to the country he invited me to.

I remember that God calls us generally and specifically.  He calls us to be his.  He calls us to surrender.  He calls us to trust that his grace is sufficient and his love is unconditional.  He calls us to make disciples. All of us. Then there is the "good works that he planned in advance for us to do," (Eph 2:10) that I believe are specific to our giftings and the desires he plants in our deepest being.  I was called to those kids in Holland for that year.  I was called to Cameroon that night at SIFAT. I was quite literally called into that administration building so my calling to Cameroon could be confirmed.  I remember that God chose me not because I was fit for it but because he delighted to do so, and it delighted me to accept.  Not only did he call me, but I remember that he gave me a heart for the young ones he called me to in Cameroon.  

 I think I'll leave that remembering for another post.


 

Friday, February 11, 2022

Hope 4

Sarah and Ken Corson

This is part four of a blog series on building hope through remembering faith. Hope 1 Hope 2  Hope 3

The clay pot that was assembled from the shards of my alabaster jar, making up my life at SIFAT, was one where I "held the treasure and knew that the all-surpassing power was from God and not from me." (2 Corinthians 4).  My alabaster jar had been shattered, the fragments of my life in New York and my new life in Alabama were connected in such a way for maximum luminescence, the outpouring of the Presence in me "being clearly seen" because of my weakness.  

In preparing to write this blog, I called Sarah Corson, co-founder of SIFAT.  People like to ask the question, "Who is a role model for you." Let me introduce you to the answer that often rolls of my tongue. 

Sarah Corson's smile holds warmth and life.

We sat under a tree outside of the main office on the SIFAT campus.  I was still getting my barrings after our whirlwind move south mid-school year in a downpour.  I was surrounded by others my age who had come for a visit, for a challenge by their youth leaders. Sarah Corson spoke with conviction, her tanned skin and crown of white hair accentuating the riveting passion in her blue eyes as she told of the baby too weak to cry in her arms and the unnamed old man carrying mounds of Chiquita bananas on his back in Costa Rica. When the first hand accounts ended, she paused, looked at us with tears in her eyes and said, “Now that you know, you cannot keep on living as those who are ignorant.”  Her husband, Ken, got up and said, “To whom much is given, much is required. (Luke 12:48).  You have been given much, what is God requiring of you?"  For three years I lived among these dynamic people, learning from their sacrifice, learning to love Jesus with abandon.  Not only them, but God brought to our doorstep brothers and sisters from Rwanda, Pakistan, India, Bolivia, Ecuador, Haiti, and many other countries who came to train at SIFAT.  Two brothers from Rwanda were from two different tribes, and had a shared trauma that hurled them to the ground at a gunshot from one of the deer hunters in the Alabama woods.  Upon seeing each other at the SIFAT campus, they embraced, something they wouldn't have done in their homeland. One of many stories and experiences I reveled in.  I gathered in my mind the Christlikeness of these people, hoping the greatness of my God I saw in them would somehow grow in me. Like waves washing over my heart, the passion, the mission that drove the lives of these brothers and sisters seeped into the cracks in my jar and mingled with the growing faith, nourishing the tender longing in my heart to follow Jesus to the places of the world that were hurting.   

I remember the songs sung around a campfire at the simulated third world village, our hammocks hung behind us. The words from the song Faithful Men still ring in my heart all these years later: 

Verse 1
Come and join the reapers
All the kingdom seekers
Laying down your life to
Find it in the end

Come and share the harvest
Help to light the darkness
For the Lord is calling faithful men 
 
 

"It only takes a spark to get a fire going..." 

Week after week a new high school youth group would come throughout the summer.  I was a junior camp counselor, leading work teams to dig a ditch, clear a hillside with machetes, pick blueberries, or make bricks.  I made deep friendships in every group as we worked, ate and washed up, worshiped, mud wrestled, swam in the stream, and learned about the needs of the world together.  

I remember how God carried me to and away from SIFAT for a very significant season of my life.  I remember how Sarah Corson and others spoke so passionately, fueling my own desire to live with abandon.  I remember the pictures seared in my mind of suffering people from Sarah Corson's stories.  I remember the paraphrase of Matthew 25 that hung in the cafeteria, where we fellowshipped daily during the three years I lived there and the two summers I returned as an adult to be a camp counselor. I remember how mission made itself real every day I went to the public high school I attended, and then returned to my SIFAT cacoon day after day. I remember how God gave me a Spirit filled body of believers in a local church that embraced all colors in a stubbornly segregated south, helping us to glorify God in all of his diverse beauty.  I remember how the disjointedness of my life at 13 became a beautiful new masterpiece that made me stand in awe of how God was stitching me together. I remember leaving America for the first time to travel to Ecuador at 16 to witness the work that a SIFAT graduate was doing with children in the outskirts of Quito and how that climactic experience ushered my family into another move back north. With that news, I had learned that saying goodbye also meant saying hello, and I was ready to see what God was going to do next, in Michigan. I remember driving From Alabama to Michigan in my deep blue 1980 Oldsmobile with my little sister by my side so we could start school before Mom and Dad joined us.  A whole new world it was, where the lawns would make an army sergeant happy with their timely watering systems and tip top hedging and regularity.  No unseemly clotheslines or a junk truck for parts parked in front yards.  No kudzu climbing telephone polls or solar water heaters with a bicycle powered pump bringing water up out of the stream on the side.

 Our new town held it's own kind of beauty, my vibrant sister who was fighting leukemia at the time, and my big brother with his delightful growing family.  Speak of role models, I guess that will be a remembering for another time. 

Introducing my new little family to my happy place in 2017, a month before Lydia joined us.







 



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 ...