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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Nicaragua Knocking On My Door

Several years ago, our church began partnering with other churches in Nicaragua.  Admittedly, this didn’t really connect with me.  A sister church in a faraway place is neat and all, but it was one of those unfortunate out-of-sight-out-of-mind situations.  Until one day they announced that they would have a table in the back full of Compassion sponsorship opportunities.  I had always wanted to sponsor a child so this seemed like a neat opportunity.

I walked up to their table and stared down at the packets.  I purposefully avoided looking at the faces.  Instead, I searched through the birth dates.  When I found one that matched Reagan’s within a few days, I picked up the packet.  I stared down into the serious face of the most beautiful boy.  And there, in the fellowship hall of Faith CRC in Pella, Iowa, I met Angel Isaac. 

That was the day Nicaragua knocked on my door.

I’m guessing he hadn’t had many photo shoots before.  Someone probably posed him in that alley and stepped back and clicked a good picture of a boy who didn’t know why he should smile for a camera.  He was clean and the background was neat.  But at his age he was too young to probably understand what a sponsor really was.

We began the normal correspondence.  I am embarrassed to admit how hard it was to step outside my comfortable American culture and just relate to him on a human-to-human level.  There were times when I would write something down and then delete it, because it felt proud and I worried it would be so foreign to him.  With every letter to Angel, I have tried hard to not sound like some bizarrely wealthy and snobbish rich woman.

His letters to me are sweet.  I love receiving them.  He writes about his life, his family, sports he plays.  And I get a glimpse of the boy he is – the boy he is growing up to be.

One of the reasons I signed up all those years ago was the little plug that our church would be sending missions teams down to Nicaragua.  This would make it more possible for us to arrange visits or to arrange for gifts to go down to our sponsored children.  And just a month or so ago, such an invitation was extended in our newsletter.

I jumped at the chance.  I didn’t really have the time to do the shopping, but I somehow managed to get to Walmart.  I strolled the aisles and I searched for things that Reagan’s male friends might enjoy.  Stickers, crayons, notebooks, legos, and little toys went in my shopping cart.  Deodorant, a toothbrush, a comb went in too.  I pushed my cart full of gifts for Angel up to the checkout.

“I got to shop for a little boy in Nicaragua,” I said to the clerk.  I’m sure she smiled and said something nice but I was suddenly overcome with emotion.  With tears in my eyes I watched her scan the packages of crayons and colored pencils absolutely coated in English words that Angel probably wouldn’t understand.  Does he even use deodorant?  I had no idea.  Was he too old for a little hot wheels toy car?  Possibly. 

But then I heard God remind me, “Does it matter?  What do you think Angel will feel when he opens this backpack?”

It’s a small miracle that I made it out to my car.

I went home, carefully packed my little gift, tucked in a few photos of our family, and immediately delivered it to Marlo and Carol – members of our church who would deliver it to Nicaragua.  I gave them all the information they would need for the gift to get to Angel.  And that was it.

So many times in the last few weeks I have wondered if Angel had gotten his backpack yet.  Out of nowhere he would enter my mind and I would imagine his reaction. 

But this afternoon I got this email.  And it’s full of the face of a smiling boy standing with the contents of my gift spread all around him.


There are our photos right out in front.

There he is on the other side of the world.

And once again, here is Nicaragua knocking on my door.

I don’t know if I will ever actually meet Angel.  Travel terrifies me and being a mom to young kids had demands all its own.  I would love to go someday.  I’m sure he would be horrified because I would be a crying mess – much like the lady I was at Walmart – much like the lady I was when I opened an email to see his sweet smile.  I would want to hug him too tightly and for too long.  I would have a million questions and so few words in his language.  Maybe someday God will open that door.

But for now, He has given us this.  He has shown me, and shown Angel too, that love sees no distance. 

Love knows no language barriers.

Love looks a lot like a backpack full of school supplies and little toys and tiny tokens of affection.

Love looks like the smiling face of that beautiful boy.

And love is always always always worth it.


Oh Angel, I pray that every time you slip that backpack on, you can imagine my arms giving you a squeeze.  I hope as you color and draw your world becomes more beautiful.  I pray that those photos find a place on the wall in your home (just as yours is on the wall in ours) and that every time you look at it you will know that you are loved.  Yes, loved by me.  But more than that – that God loved you so that he brought us together in this one small way.  P.S.  I love your smile.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Just Here

This has been a hard week.

After a full weekend with Brian’s family, we were geared up for one last day of activity.  On the morning of the Fourth of July, Hunter woke up with a small reddish area at the site of his tick bite from a week ago.  We didn’t get overly concerned as this was, according to the internet, a fairly common reaction.  But as the day wore on, he got increasingly more uncomfortable and the small red area grew larger and turned purple.  Still, he played even through fireworks late Monday night.  Tuesday morning he was in so much pain that I could not even pick him up and carry him without causing him pain.  We quickly brought him in and he was diagnosed with cellulitis.  We got him on “gorilla strength” antibiotics and have been doing our best to keep him comfortable.

He can’t really walk without extreme pain so I carry him, very very gingerly, everywhere he needs to go.

He can’t sit up due to the location of the infection.

His sleep is not sound and he needs comfort several times in the night.

He hates the taste of his meds and giving it to him is awful.

He screams any time he has his diaper changed (normally he doesn’t wear one, but given the nature of what he is dealing with and the side-effects of his medication it is necessary).  It takes two of us to even manage it.

He hasn’t played in two full days.

He hasn’t run through the house in two full days.

He hasn’t made a silly face to make us laugh in two full days.

I’m going to be honest – tonight I’m struggling.

I’m struggling to trust that the medication is working.  The doctor warned me that it would take some time.  And yet I’m just worried.

I’m struggling to remember even what day it is because I have spent all of the last several days being glued to his side.  He won’t let me leave him and asks for me repeatedly.  And even though there is no where I would rather be…I’m just tired.  After two days of sitting on the floor beside his perch on the couch, all of time seems one big blur.

I’m struggling to be patient with my other two kiddos who have needs as well.  I feel utterly spent and that is ridiculous because I am not actually doing anything other than sitting on the floor, begging my little boy to drink, and feeding him bites of food.  My energy is gone.

I’m struggling to reject the voice of the enemy who wants me to believe that maybe this is worse than what the doctor said it was.  Struggling to not listen to the worry that the diagnosis was wrong.  Struggling to ignore the worry that maybe I didn’t get all of the tick out when I know I checked so specifically to make sure that I had.

I flip flop between great moments of peace and comfort and hope to moments of fear and worry and anxiety.

There’s no neat-and-tidy bow on this one.  There’s just this – a valley.  When your three year old screams in pain every time you gently carry him, that’s a valley. 

Maybe its not necessarily the shadow of death that I fear here.  But the weight of suffering and the agony of waiting press in around me.  How long, Oh Lord?

I am working to dig deep and to find that Job-like faith that says, “even so…” 

It could certainly be worse.  But that’s not the brave face I put on in my prayers.  In my murmured pleadings it is always this – it could certainly be better.  Please let it get better.  Please let him get better.

So here’s where I find my only comfort tonight – that I speak all these honest broken prayers to a Father who watched His own Son suffer mightily.    

It would be hard, if not impossible, for me to pray to a God who hadn’t felt and experienced and lived through the agony and victory of the cross.  How could I trust Him to feel my pain, to feel any pain at all, if He’d never watched His Beloved suffer and die?  What’s more, how could I pray to a God, love a God, trust in a God who didn’t recognize the incredible pain of loss enough to reverse it with an empty tomb.

He hates pain.  He hates suffering.  He hates sicknesses, and hatred, and death, and oppression, and cancer, and AIDs, and malaria, and hunger.  He hates cellulitis in little three year old boys who should be running through the house. 

He hates it all and someday He will erase and reverse it. 


But for tonight, He holds me as I kneel and cry and pray for the little boy in the room down the hall.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Turning It Around

Yesterday was a long, non-smooth day. 

Despite the heat, my kids played outside in the morning.  But from the minute they walked back in the house they were a handful.  Three handfuls.  And I only have two hands.

They played games that annoy me because they involve shrieking and opening and closing doors.  They bounced beach balls too hard (I can’t even type that without feeling like an intolerant jerk – but it’s true – loud beach balls drive me cray-cray).  They intentionally irritated one another, especially Hunter, till the victim ended up in tears.  There was tattling.  There was shoving.  There was hitting.  There were countless requests for tv time or a movie. 

One of Maddie’s chores for the day was to make a pan of bars for dessert for supper.  So there she stood in the kitchen after having snuck away from the other two, ready to do one of her favorite things – baking.  She dumped half a cup of flour on the floor and jumped off the chair which slammed it into my foot and the words flew out of my mouth.  Not the kind of words I will regret for the rest of my life.  But angry, irritated, impatient words.

Her shoulders slumped and the corners of her mouth turned down.  “I don’t even want to do this anymore,” she muttered.

Oh man.  “Neither do I,” I thought to myself.  Somehow in that moment I scraped enough Mom-goodness together that I made a joke and made the rest of the job more fun.  She laughed and soon the pile of flour was wiped up, the mixer was whirring away, and the smile was on her face again. 

I’m not saying the rest of the day was smooth-sailing.  The bickering continued.  One kid hated my supper.  Bedtime was a long long long drawn out affair. 

But I am encouraged to know that just because I get it wrong on occasion, that doesn’t mean I always will.  I can turn it around.  With a joke.  With a smile.  With a hug.  With an apology.  With a prayer. 


Today I’m praying for all the Mommas who are slogging their own way through summer – be it the fun days or the monotonous ones.  It’s all exhausting in its own way, isn’t it?  Praying that God will give you reminders to have grace for yourself and opportunities to turn those hard moments around when they sneak up on you.





Monday, June 13, 2016

Shaken

They're all packed and put away - every box containing odds and ends we find so essential to our week at VBS.  I breathe a sigh of relief.  Summer finally begins for me.

We sat down this weekend and over countless hours we planned out and reserved our family vacation.  So much planning for a vacation - I understand the concept of travel agents more and more all the time.

Brian has finished his last meeting for church council.  He, too, is feeling a sense of relief and that a burden has been lifted.

We find ourselves looking at weeks and weeks of summer with a sense of quiet calm and relaxation.

But just a few states down, the world has been turned upside down.  And as the news trickles in about the who, and the why and the how, my world seems suddenly scarier and darker.  Because what happens there...it could happen here.

I ache for parents and sisters and brothers and friends who are reeling after loss.  My heart is with those struggling to recover in hospital rooms filled with IVs and beeping monitors.  I can only imagine the confusion and shock covering the ones who were fortunate enough to walk away unharmed.

So I pray.  I pray that God will be near to them and that He will meet their needs.  I pray He will place people in their lives who can speak comfort and peace and love.  I pray that we will all look to the God who speaks of forgiveness and mercy and grace - the One who came so that all may live.



I watched the news reporters struggle to make sense of what has happened.  I listened to them grapple with the new reality that this kind of terrorism is almost impossible to fight.  And I have read pieces that reflect the political positioning already happening around this issue.

I'm one of the people in this country who find themselves completely dissatisfied with the candidates placed before me.  I struggle to understand why anyone needs to buy an assault rifle even if there is a legal process.  I struggle with the ease of which a woman can end the life of her unborn child.  I struggle to find a party that represents my views.  I feel almost left out.

I'm not trying to start a political debate.  If you believe differently than me that is okay.  In fact, it is so okay that I will smile and nod at you while you share your side.  And I will hope that you will do the same for me.  And that neither one of us will feel it is necessary to go out and purchase a killing machine simply because there are people who are different than us.

My lips tremble as I pray.  "Are you still in control?  Is the whole world still in your hands?  Because there are times when I feel like it is just crumbling to pieces around me.  And I am afraid for my children."

He doesn't leave me there.  He reminds me that it is okay if there is no political party that shares all of my concerns.  I can still be light.  He reminds me that it is okay if there are those who are different than me.  I can still love.  He reminds me that it is okay if there are evil men and women who hate everyone who is free and different.  I can still hope.  Because He is still here.

Our role is not diminished.  It is with every act of hate that we find our own acts of love magnified, amplified and multiplied.  Light is even more striking in darkness.  And though I cannot be thankful that such an atrocity could happen, I am choosing to see the doors that have opened for us to step out in love.



When these acts of terror shake us, I pray that they will shake us loose from every comfort that blinds us and hardens our hearts and that we will be moved past our pity to compassion.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

So Thankful

VBS is done for another year.  The jungle vines, the fake palm trees, the hundreds of stuffed animals are packed away yet again.  The craft room has been cleaned up.  The snacks have been eaten.  And I am home with my people.



It was a crazy five days.  It was busy.  There is a nearly constant stream of work that needs to be done in order to stay just one step ahead of 90+ energetic third graders.

I am thankful.  Not simply because it is over, though I am glad to be home with my feet up.  I am thankful for so many reasons.  Each reason bearing a name and a face.

I am thankful for Gary, Colin and Jeremy who were there each day, setting up great outdoor games and just having a great time playing the recreation games with the kids.

I am thankful for Ryan, who told the story and shared God's voice with a bunch of amazingly quiet and attentive kids.

I am thankful for Eilene, Heather, Karen, and Nia who welcomed the kids of the other volunteers.  They took them outside to play, fed them snacks, changed diapers and doted on littles while the Mommas were busy elsewhere.

I am thankful for Lindsay who mastered the snacks like a boss. 

I am thankful for Renae, Elaina, Rosie, Kim, Ruth, Cassie and Michelle who helped all those kiddos make really fun, and sometimes really messy crafts. 




I am also thankful for Cassie as she stood at the front and led all those kids in singing some really fun songs complete with actions.



I am thankful for 18 teachers and helpers like Makenna, Sophine, Lynae, Chloe, Greta, Evan, Tessa and Holden who were there each and every day to show some love to the kids in their classes. 



I am thankful for Nancy who was so helpful in so many ways as she met our secretarial needs over the past month or more.

I am thankful for Bob and the way he was so gracious to help us in whatever way he could even as we got in the way of his janitorial duties.

I am thankful for the church family who donated snacks, crafts and prayers so that our week could be a wonderful success.

And I am extremely thankful for Shalene, Cassie (again!) and Tanya who so fearlessly coordinate our program.  With seemingly effortless teamwork they pool their efforts and cover every single need.  They are such a joy to work with.



The faces of those third graders keep going through my mind.  And then they are followed with the names and faces of all those who showed up this week to show them what it is like to be loved and to point them to the One who loves them 



Grateful.  So very very grateful for our week, the third graders, and all our many volunteers.  








Thursday, June 09, 2016

Fifteen

Dear Brian,

Fifteen.  This is the number of years our married life has spanned.  We moved into our first house on our first anniversary.  On our fourth anniversary, we were delightedly but anxiously expecting our second baby after miscarrying our first.  On our eighth anniversary we were proud parents of two little girls, and  you were fairly sure we were done having babies.  On our tenth anniversary we had three kids.  On our thirteenth anniversary we were settling into our brand new custom built dream home. 

And here we are.  Number fifteen.



I think it is safe to say that we didn’t really expect life to go the way it has.  When we were engaged I had all these pictures in my mind of what it would be like for us to be married.  I envisioned, very specifically, us eating breakfast together in the mornings – you spooning cereal out of an eggplant purple ceramic cereal bowl.  I searched for months for those cereal bowls and never found them. 


I pictured our journey toward parenthood as one very well thought-out and planned.  I thought it would take us about 9 months or less to get pregnant and then we would be on our merry way into the world of choosing nursery furniture and crib bedding and tiny layettes.  After two years of trying, we were delighted and then crushed to lose our first baby to miscarriage. 

I pictured our first born, Reagan, being the ideal baby – the one everyone crooned over and just adored.  And there was some of that.  But there was also a lot of colic and we barely slogged through the first four months of her life.  I say that without having any really solid memories of those first four months.  I’m sure we made it because here we are and she is now 9 ½ years old.  But I couldn’t name much about that time because it is all lost in a sleep-deprived battle-scarred haze of screaming baby.

I pictured staying home with our kids as being a time when I would lose myself.  I was terrified that I would sort of lose it and stay in my pajamas around the clock.  I worried that I would become this catatonic housekeeper/cook/babysitter who never wore makeup or curled her hair.   Turns out staying home is awesome and I love it and I wouldn’t trade this time for anything.  Sometimes the vision is a negative one and we can be happily surprised by the good that lies ahead of us.


I know you pictured two kids, but you got three.  Here we are with our three little people and every time I look at Hunter I tease you about “not wanting him”.  Of course you did want him, but I know I pushed you into it.  You’ve similarly pushed me in ways I didn’t want to go but that turned out to be the best decision for us.

The key is to not get stuck in the vision, but to stick with each other as the vision changes.

This spring you went on your longest work trip ever – 10 days to Europe.  I stayed home and held down the fort and you checked in regularly.  I learned the obvious lessons – like how much I rely on you to do the everyday chores around the house or how much I look forward to that 5:30 p.m. on the clock when you are scheduled to arrive home each day.  But I’m also an over-worrier so I spent time picturing what would happen to me if you didn’t come home.  And it struck me the other day as I was thinking about those morbid musings, that I never in all our days of marriage have considered the possibility of you not coming home because you had given up on me.  I’ve always known, in the depth of my being, that you would never leave me in any way other than death.  At the very core of your heart, you are faithfulness personified. 

I’m not always an easy person to love.  I am a woman of high emotions which can mean I am either a great deal of fun or I am a large headache.  This is the part where others would say “Thanks for balancing me out, honey.  For being my rock when I’m losing it.”  So that’s not us either.  We’re both prone to the highs and lows and that has made our marriage exciting and very challenging.

 

Fifteen years ago when people told us that marriage was work, I nodded my head in solemn and completely ignorant agreement.  Yes, we will work hard to maintain the yard, to earn an income, to keep the house orderly, and to rear the children.  Yes, indeed, we are in this to WORK!  Obviously, that wasn’t the kind of work to which those kind souls were referring. 

We have worked every single day of fifteen years to stay together.  That is humbling to admit.  We fight to communicate well, but we don’t give up.  We fight to understand each other when we are so very different, but we don’t give up.  We fight to parent our children in the best way we can, but we don’t give up.  We fight to make the best decision for our family, but we don’t give up.  It’s oddly empowering to look back and see how much we have disagreed but persisted until we could somehow compromise or meet in the middle or at least agree to disagree.

For fifteen years, we have fought to stay together even as the vision changed – sometimes daily.  My vision of the perfect married couple who have quiet discussions is something I should probably let go of.  Because this is who we are – the people who work to stay together. 

Don’t get me wrong - most of the time things are good.  Most of the time we are a great team.  But sometimes…sometimes it is work.  It hasn’t always been easy.  But the work has been good.  The work has been marked by faithfulness.  The work is tested tenacity and resilience.  The work is walking by faith even when we cannot see. 

I’m glad you’ve been there by my side through it all.  I’m glad that I’ve never had to question your dedication and your promise to stay with me.  I’m glad I have you to walk next to even when we feel blindsided by a clouded vision.  I’m glad you won’t give up on me and that I can say with confidence that I won’t give up on you, on us, either. 

I have loved being yours for fifteen years.  And it is with a quiet sense of peace and joy that I look forward to as many tomorrows and vision changes as we are blessed with.  I love you.

~Jean


Wednesday, June 08, 2016

From the Corner of my Piano

The corner of my piano is full.


Every few months I spend weeks researching books and reading reviews for movies.  After I've done my due diligence, I order the best and newest things I can find.  And on one happy day a large box (or boxes) is delivered to my doorstep.

Even though I know exactly what is inside, it always feels a little like Christmas to open that big box and hold those precious new books, full of their wonderful new stories, in my hands.  And then as I process them to be shelved in our church library, I go on a major reading bender.




It was only a year or two ago when our church was trying to decide what to do with the library space.  Do we keep it open?  Do we just close it and use that space for something else?  I'll be completely honest, I was ambivalent about it.  I didn't really care either way.

But then I received a request to take on a role as Co-Director.  And almost instantly a little spark ignited in my heart.  Ideas for how the space could be laid out.  Thoughts about what kinds of materials we could offer.  Plans for how we could effectively manage and organize our collection.  All of it was seemingly there in an instant.

And so the decision was made to keep our church library - but to overhaul it, remodel it, refine our collection and to invest more time, effort and resources in it.  Months of work ensued.  We sorted through shelves and shelves of books, keeping mostly just the newest materials.

For nearly a year now our library has been open and operating.  It's been getting good use and we've been kept busy ordering new materials and re-shelving the books that have been returned.  And I absolutely love it.  I love every part of it.  Every time I get to do something for our library, it feels like an opportunity and not an obligation.

Being Co-Director has brought me so much joy as I serve the members of my church family this way.  I absolutely delight in it and am so thankful that God gave me such an unexpected and wonderful gift.