Surprise Pregnancy at 40: How Do We Respond When God Does the Unexpected?

I’ll be 40 when this August comes around. On that same day our oldest son will turn 16.  Just a week later our daughter will turn 7.  And a month before our baby is due to arrive, our middle son will turn 11.

It has been years since I changed a diaper, bought a sippy cup or had to plan my day around nap times.  It is an understatement to write that I’m relieved those days are over.  I never was the girl who was eager for all those things.  Pregnancy, nursing, babies, toddlers, preschoolers — it’s all adorable. But, let’s be honest: those years are absolutely all consuming and exhausting.  Been there. Done that. Came out alive. Whew.

So, when my husband and I learned that we are expecting a baby, I did what most women probably do at this stage of life: I cried.  All the images of the above came back to me like I was being sucked in by a giant time-machine vacuum to the land of “do-over”.  My husband stared at the ceiling and let out big sighs.  Of course one knows how these things happen, but really, how did this happen?  The odds against this had been way too high.

I proceeded to wake up in cold sweats the next several weeks and vomit by day.

Initially, God and I were not on very good speaking terms.  The conversations were usually one-way and accusatory.

You never let me know about this — zero preparation!” “Do you realize we’ll be almost 60 when this child graduates from high school?“, “Did you forget we live in a foreign country now and everything will be so much more complicated? — how much more do you think I can take?” “We don’t have any room in our budget for diapers, wipes, or another round of education!” and “We don’t have the energy for this anymore! Hasn’t my body been through enough?!“and “What will the kids think!

According to the World Health Organization, every year there are an estimated 40-50 million abortions.  This corresponds to approximately 125,000 abortions per day.  Research is showing that for the first time older women are having more abortions than under-18’s! 

For the very first time, if just for a moment– apart from the heart of God–, I could understand that last, horrific statistic.

We live in an uncontrollable world and as humans, we exert a tremendous amount of energy trying to control it.  Like a stun gun to my heart, this unexpected pregnancy stopped me in my path and begged the question: how will I respond when God does the unexpected? 

Because he does the unexpected over and over.  He doesn’t just allow it; he performs it.

If God were a storyteller (and actually, he’s the greatest), he employs the utterly unexpected — at the very last moment — as his favorite literary vice to bring the plot to unforgettable climax. The breathtaking ramifications shine the spotlight not on the players, but the author.  Just think about these  examples that no one saw coming:

  • God floods the earth as a means of mercy.
  • God interjects himself into human history through a child-less man named Abraham and promises to bless him with limitless descendants.  He then waits till his wife is 90 and then brings pregnancy.
  • God picks a murdering, stuttering shepherd to lead his people out of the 400 years of slavery of Egypt.
  • The Jewish people expect God to send a mighty King to rise from among them and set them free from Roman rule. God sends a baby who dies as a criminal with no regard to bringing political and economic deliverance to the Jews but, to the whole world for all time.  

The list could go on and cover nearly every recorded incident in the bible.  God is always up to the unexpected and the often, unexplained.  Those who could flow with this went the way of God and those who could not, were left in his wake because he was not and is not about to stop.

The message is clear: We either are willing to be undone and go the unpredictable way of the flowing Spirit or we stay living small, controlled and boxy lives.  

When I came to this realization, the shock of this pregnancy did not dissipate but the miracle of it, the sheer awe, became greater.  I long for the way of the Spirit; I don’t ever want to pull back from the flow.  So, I began to lay my hands on my belly and speak words of welcome, acceptance and love over this new life.  I broke the word curses I had lamented out-loud, for even in the womb the tone is set for a life of blessed acceptance or shameful rejection.

It became clear: there two paths are set before me.  One, was the way of death. It is dark, despairing, grumble-ridden and heavy with feelings of being overwhelmed.  A bitter, tight, ugly and tired woman will emerge from that path.  The other is the way of life. It is full of light.  The woman who emerges from this path laughs at the years to come without fear. She walks with a sense of dignity, beauty and grace.  I want this path; I want to become this fearless woman.

When we began to let the news leak out, the transparency of those who walk in the Way of the Unexpected God and those who tend to walk in the Way of the Controlled Life become more evident, through the responses. 

I have needed the comments of “This is going to be awesome” and “God is so amazing” and “He never places an order and then does not take care of the bill” and “Don’t you love it when God does stuff like this!”.   Yes, the empathy for my fragile heart and tired body has also been essential from my dearest friends, but not the looks of pity or the sense that this will take us backwards or simply be too much.

We tell God, we sing to him our songs of surrender.  We exclaim His wisdom and power.  We teach our children that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.

Yet, we too often forget that we love and serve with a God who creates a beating heart in a secret place, who brings his Spirit in flames of fire on his followers so they speak in strange tongues, who loves to sit among the harlots, who might put an evil person in a place of authority so he can pull out his glory in the last unexpected moment, who says the last will be first and the first will be last.  We have a God who does not make sense, yet at the same time is the father of truth and logic! Can we handle this untamable God? 

Forgive me my Papa God, for withdrawing my trust when you do the unexpected.  Forgive me for acting as though I am the Sovereign. Forgive me, my Mighty King for living as though you are not my ruling authority.  Forgive me, Holy Spirit for not willingly giving my body up again as an intrument of righteousness.  Forgive me, my Savior for forgetting that your grace is not too small, your tenderness not too lean and your provisions ever endless.  Forgive me, oh Artist and Author of life, for looking at your creation with the small eyes of the world and not the large eyes of eternity.  I repent.  Increase my strength to be faithful! 

Last week we had an in-depth ultrasound performed (due to my age, of course…) to check the health of our baby.  On a large screen, we saw human life the size of a peach.  The oversized head held the developing brain.  The heart beat out with triumph from the tiny chest.  The spine curved and supported the body with exactness.  The tiny legs and feet kicked and floated through the precisely measured amniotic fluid.  The arms, spindly and free, waved about and for a few moments raised their hands and then let just one hand stay up in greeting and in praise.  Five tiny fingers flexed to show off their perfection.  It was love at first sight. 

My husband and I looked at each other, sheepishly.  The God of the Unexpected had been silently weaving a new life together which he had imagined before he spoke the world into existence. He had been busy at work, ignoring completely our shock and not slowing his pace in spite of our objections.

I came home, looked intently at this photo of our son and in the aloneness of our room responded in the only way I now could: I bowed down before our Holy, Holy, Holy God.

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UPDATE:

      Our beautiful and healthy son, Jorgen Samuel was born on December 27, 2016! 

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The Prayers of Genesis.

Today I completed a year-long personal devotional and expositional study of the earliest concept of prayer and all the prayers recorded in the book of Genesis.  Herbert Lockyer’s classic book has been my faithful guide and will continue to lead me through the rest of the prayers of the entire bible.

Prayer, understood most simply is this: the desire, opportunity and privilege of talking with God and hearing from God.  The first instinctual prayer was natural conversation; open fellowship in the delight of existence.  The Spirit of God, through this study, has renewed in me this most beautiful, ancient and intended form of prayer.  It is the way I hear my youngest children talking with God in their rooms in the early morning hours as they dress for school. It is the way most of us grow out of, but never should.

But, I have been growing young again! Indeed, I find myself throughout my days simply enjoying His presence and speaking with Him as if we are walking in Eden together, our communion undisturbed and alive, lifted above the critical issues of the world and of my smaller daily life.

The Cross of Jesus Christ has made this dialogue, altered through the tragic entrance of sin, whole again.

It would be pages to elebrorate for you all I have “taken away” from my study, so I shall simply record in points the main thrusts of prayer in Genesis.  May you be blessed.

  • First account of “prayer” is God-initiated; man is the responder. All begins with God.
  • In the 235th year of the world, the idea of “social, corporate” prayer began.  When forgotten, decline begins.
  • Prayer brings in spiritual progress.
  • Worship, communion and sacrifice are all bound up in God’s call to us and our calling out to Him.
  • Earliest relationship (prayers) of the saints was focused on fulfilling commands and believing promises.  No emphasis on full-disclosure, but on faith.
  • All three patriarchs has to ask through prayer and wait for a child.  All had to pray (ask) for the promise to be fulfilled.
  • Loneliness, anguish and rejection = crying out prayer = God responding by both hearing and seeing.
  • Prayer gives revelation.
  • Prayer can ask for more than God initially offers to give.
  • There is no true prayer apart from deep humility, ever.
  • Intercessory prayer is the saint’s “soul sweat”.  It is hard work.
  • Prevailing intercession is the costliest service a Christian can render.
  • God never responds to prayer, acting in good or ill towards anyone, without full understanding and appreciation of their circumstances.
  • God can restrain our spirits from from intercessory prayer; when He has determined something He forbids it to be prayed about.  Not all prayers for cities and sinners are “answered”.
  • The names and blessings we can bestow on a person or place are expressions of faith equivilant to prayer.
  • It is not always wrong to ask for a “sign” when we pray to confirm God’s mind on a matter.
  • Pray according to the revealed character of God.  This has power and brings Him pleasure.
  • God will answer prayers in line with His purposed will, but He is never in a hurry to do so.  He’s been working the backstory all along.
  • Prayer changes circumstances.
  • We don’t have to be afraid to express to God, “I need this in order to do that (which you’ve called me to).”
  • God’s response often to our prayers is “fear not…I am with you.”
  • We can appeal to God’s faithfulness in the verbiage of Him as our Father.
  • We should pray not with the boldness of self-confidence but the boldness of faith.
  • The surest way to prevail with men and circumstances is to prevail with God.  His is the first and last word.
  • To live a life of prayer is to be a God-conscious person, in all things.
  • The way to die (and live!) is with blessing and prayers on our lips, our eyes heavenward.

 

 

The Benefits of Quitting Facebook.

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It’s been over a year since I shut down my Facebook account. I quit cold turkey. There have been no withdrawal symptoms whatsoever.  Some called it social suicide, a hibernation of sorts from modern society.  How would people get ahold of me and notify me of important news and happenings?  Some cheered that I joined the ranks of non-conformists.  Still others wondered how I had the “guts” (seriously?!).  We must not forget about the self-promotion aspect; my blog readership would significantly drop, book sales would plummet! Others were convinced that as missionaries living on support (ie. donations) we would lose significant funding if we stepped off the social media platform.  Honestly, the exact opposite has occurred.

I don’t believe that Facebook is something evil and is not capable of good.  I’ve experienced many good things as a result of my past membership.  It can be a valuable tool.  So, why did I do it?  Well, for the reason I hope I do most things: God told me to.

What, you say?  God?  Yes.  I believe He still speaks. I believe it’s not presumptuous or self-righteous to say this.  I believe He desires that we consult Him over matters of our daily lives.  I believe I don’t and probably you don’t, do it enough.  I believe we live not for the approval of man (that is hard), but Him.  I believe when He tells us to do or not to do something it’s for our good and His glory.  I’ve felt the good part in this Facebook resignation.

The following have been some of the benefits (I already told you the reason) of my obedience to quit:

I can focus and mind my own business better.  I can live my life and not feel the compulsion to report it.  I’m no longer my own paparazzi.  My husband taught our 6-year old daughter to ride a bike without training wheels the other day.  I sat in the grass and watched her ride up and down the common area in front of our house.  Her stringy blonde hair blew in the autumn breeze, her eyes were shining while her two brothers ran beside her, cheering.  I snapped a couple of photos on my phone, quickly sent one to each of my sisters and then sat down and simply watched her for a long time.  I did not need to share that sacred moment with hundreds of “friends”.  I did not take the time to think of a witty or precious post.  Until I quit Facebook, I had not realized how much I viewed my life through that lense of “posts” and how much my mind busied itself with composing explanations.   The images we try to create can actually minimize the actual moments of our lives. We become our greatest fans and forget how jealous God is for us.  I’m convinced He’s kept record of all the “posts” of my life.  I’m sure I will be surprised at what He deems post-worthy.

I can be more concerned about my faithfulness than my following.   Let’s face it: doing the dishes, cooking the meals, going to work, training the children and folding the laundry is not as enhancing to our egos as how many people have read and commented on our posts or joined our cause.  But the truth is the majority of the human race spends their days doing those normal things, too.  We like to create the illusion that we are saving, influencing or changing the greater world, more than our own small ones.  We are a people rather obsessed with this like no other time in history and it’s rather silly.  I live in a developing country. My husband works hard to bring clean water to people here.  I get to sit on dirt floors in off-the-road villages.  Many of the inhabitants just do what is put in front of them on a daily basis and they do it quietly. We look at this and call it poverty.  But aren’t we the ones who are impoverished because we’ve believed the lie that it is more important to be “followed” than to be quietly faithful?  If our faithfulness happens to “make it big”, that’s His prerogative. I don’t have the time or energy to ensure it.

I sleep better.  I get over-stimulated quickly.  I’m a sponge.  Images, articles and comments on Facebook often bothered my sensitive spirit.  Information was given that I did not request, that I often was not ready to receive and process.  My internal prayer list was getting man-induced and not Spirit-led.  It’s the same reason I hate TV; overall it’s intrusive, loud, opinionated, artificial and exhausting.  I have been amazed at how much more I hear from Jesus when I listen to the world less.

I have deeper relationships.  I could not keep up with the messages and my emails.  I never got into Twitter or Instagram. That would have pushed me over the edge.  I realize some personalities thrive on all of that, but I am not one of them.  I like a quiet life.  I like real email letters even if it often takes me weeks to respond.  I savor the paragraphs.  I like when a friend calls to chat and has no idea what’s going on in my life and we can truly “catch up”.  I like when people feel valued by me and not just one of rest of the commenters.  I’ve pulled out long-neglected stationary and used it.  We are not designed to know so many people.  I’d rather know a few really well.

I’m not tempted to believe I’m on trial everyday.  The verdict is already in.  We are frail creatures.  Our feelings of self-worth can rise or fall in a given day based on the comments and likes we receive on Facebook.  We might exceed mediocrity one day, but the next day we feel we had better keep up the momentum or those questions of “Am I enough? Is what I am doing enough? Am I exceptional?  Have I made a difference in anyone’s life? Does anyone notice me?” will return to haunt us.  We can spend our lives working to keep those questions answered well.  Facebook, even for those who know in their head their identity in Christ, can tempt a powerful relapse into the flesh.  The truth is that I’m not in court everyday and neither are you.  It was finished on the cross.  Because Jesus is enough, so am I.  The response is joyful gratitude.

I can experience the joy of not knowing everything.  I was not one who spent hours on Facebook, but I got carried away enough to know when so-and-so’s son lost a tooth, what Susie made for dinner, what Sam thought about the football game, how politically-minded Mister X happened to be, how good-at-40-now Mrs. Jones looks or that this boy and that girl are now in a relationship.  I love talking to people and actually being surprised!  I love running into people and not knowing what is happening in their lives! I love hearing news about others lives directly from them to me.  Have you heard the saying, “distance adds intrigue”? Yes, we need a little more intrigue.  We need some privacy.  I don’t need to show you a photo of what I look like when I wake up in the morning and neither do you.  We have a skewed view of authenticity, but that’s another topic.

I can adjust to a new culture more fully.  This one benefit  is especially personal to my situation.  Facebook can be the death of cultural adjustment for missionaries and the like.  For me, trying to reconcile two worlds on a daily basis was too much.  It hurt and confused my brain.  I can not be fully there (USA) and fully here (Mexico).  We each are made to live fully exactly where we are.  I need all the help I can get to accomplish that great feat.

There you have it.  I daresay in light of all these benefits, there is no turning back. Until God lets me know otherwise.  So, drop me an email, pick up the phone or better yet, write me a hand-written letter! Eek, on second thought, don’t.  I will not get it until next year. I have given into WhatsApp.  Try that.

The-quieter-you-become-the-more-you-can-hear.

Something Beautiful: The Stories of One Day.

This is the story of my husband’s day yesterday and this is the story of mine:

His:  Benjamin drove a team of fifteen college-aged students out to a cistern work site in a village about an hour away, stopping to pick up more supplies on the way.  He worked in cooperation with the local foreman in the big project of building another cistern to triple the water 300 families in this town will be receiving into their homes. There is something beautiful about helping bring water (because water changes everything, right?) to people.

Ben left the team and drove to the nearby house of a man, whom we witnessed come to Jesus last summer. He’s been reluctant to take the time for discipleship, but Ben has been faithful to keep in contact with him.  He was welcomed into his home yesterday and introduced to his new “wife” (co-habitation with the facade of marriage is common here).

“She does not understand about Jesus like you have taught me, Ben.  I don’t know how to explain it all. You’ve got to tell her; will you now?”  Ben took a seat and began to carefully explain grace vs. works, Jesus as the only mediator between God and man, how the cannon of scripture came to be, the truth of the Word and the hope of eternity with peace, purpose and joy in this life.  The wife listened intently, trying to reconcile this with the brand of Mexican Roman Catholicism she has only known.

Ben felt he said everything in the manner he was supposed to, for that time.  The husband thanked him and said now he and his wife could talk more and have Ben over again for more conversation.   There is something beautiful about opening up the well of salvation to another who is lost. 

Ben then left to wrap up the work on the cistern for the day.  Now it was time to get to the little tienda in which he leads a bible study and discussion every Wednesday evening.  They have done an overview of the basic doctrines of Christianity, delved into marriage and family and now are looking at biblical prophecy.  There is something beautiful about engaging with new believers as they wrestle with understanding the Word for the first time and open up their hearts, in trust, to ask real questions. 

On the way, he stopped by a home where a man and his wife live with their two girls.  Ben has shared many meals with them of meager tortillas and beans, listened to their stories, counseled them, given Jesus Storybook Bibles to their daughters and taught them what it is to pray.  Here, often if you want people to show up somewhere you have to drive to their homes and almost literally push them into your vehicle and drive them to the place. “Get it, let’s go!”  Ben called to this man and his wife.  They rushed to bring their girls to grandma and got in to get to the study.  There is something beautiful about pursuing people to come to truth when, in their own wallowing, they would be so reluctant to do so.

The study was engaging.  Ben arranged he would be back this Saturday morning to pick each of them up to bring them to the prayer seminar we are hosting at our church, taught by our Pastor from Florida and our short-term team.  The discussion about this and the details was anything but short in this culture that talks around in circles until they finally land on definites.  There is something beautiful about offering a place to learn and grow and be ministered to in prayer to a people who have never had the opportunity to experience such a setting in all their lives. 

After this time, Ben drove to another town about 20 minutes away to share a late supper with a pastor and his wife in their 2-room house, which also serves as their church.  They have labored in this town for 7 years and now have two families that have become disciples of Christ.  The ground, spiritually, is fiercely hard and hostile.  Ben and those two talked and prayed and schemed up a wonderful outreach to engage this town.

On Monday, we’ll bring our team to the town center.  We have a city permit to rent and set up in the basketball courts, in the shadow of the 400-year old church and ex-convent.  We’ll put up a tent with chairs underneath.  There we’ll love on children with activities and games, have a message and testimonies and then show a film to reach their hearts.  Music that Ben will play will draw them in, for folks love to gather in such a setting.  Afterwards, we’ll all head back to the pastor’s home and share a meal with his wife and his small body of believers.  We’ll love on them, strengthen them and encourage them, all together.  There is something beautiful about planning hope and offering ourselves, for the sake of the gospel all unto the Jesus we love. 

He was home by 11pm and that was his day.

Hers:  I awoke to get breakfast for our children.  The dishes and laundry met me yet again in piles, for our water supply has been intermittent.  I had to fight for joy all day, under that light.  We shared a pot of oatmeal around the table and the children ate as I read from the Psalms and from the Proverbs.  The younger two bickered a bit, again.  Sigh. We prayed for Dad, for us, for the team coming and for all the cares we have and others have that came to mind.  I drove the girl up to school while the boys ran the dogs.  I was already tired.  But there is something beautiful about a day fresh before me, even when it can all seem so routine and insignificant. 

The boys had neglected their chores before the start of school work.  Not the first time this happened.  It affected our whole family.  I had to talk firm and hard, again with reminders and consequences.  Still, there must be something beautiful about the training in character and discipline of our children.  Even when the mother wishes she could look the other way.

I sat down with our middle boy, working painfully yet again, on the structure of writing a simple paragraph.  Then we moved on to math memory cards, the study of the Mycenaean culture in ancient Greece, the bible lesson where we studied all the battles in  the book of Joshua, the learning how to use a Thesaurus and the daily editing skills.  Have I made any head-way with this boy this year, academically?  I wondered again as it can be arduous to school a boy at this wiggly age. But still.. there is something beautiful about taking part in the growth of a boy as he fumbles from learning up to more learning. 

Time to throw in more laundry and get it on the line. Time to organize some things in the school room and correct some papers. Time to unclog a toilet.  Time to wash that stack of dishes.  Time to run to the market store to pick up some produce for supper.  Time to pick up the girl from school and hear about her day as she alternates her words from Spanish to English and back again. Oh, for some quiet, but… there is something beautiful in doing daily work unto the Lord.  It all matters; it all counts. I remind myself of this truth, for it can get hard and it can get lonely and I am still, so slowly, learning the language I hear all around me.

We finish school with the oldest boy given a science test and talking with me about his study of MacBeth.  The garden needs to be weeded.  The garbages must be taken out (lock the cans to the fence, boys, so they don’t get stolen!).  The dogs need to be run again.  The chores to be finished.  The supper made and eaten.  The oldest boy bikes to his Taekwondo class, the girl run up to her ballet class.  They are all interacting with the culture and people around them.  All growing in wisdom, in stature (indeed, they are getting so tall!) and in favor with God and men.  I think.  I dearly hope.  There is something beautiful about being a mother to oversee all of this and facilitate the days, even in a land so different from the one I come have known.

Showers are done, dishes are cleared, laundry is folded.  We prayed some more, worshipped a bit, shut all the windows before another downpour started.  The oldest boy climbed up on the roof to make sure the tinaco was getting full of water again from the cistern pump — he is so handy now with these things.

I tuck in the girl.  She asked me, in the dimness of her night light how snails are born, why we can’t see wind and how it is that Jesus can hear her when she whispers to him in her bed. She wonders why he does not give her a very special friend who speaks English and why she has to be the only girl in the family.  I try to answer the best I can.  Sometimes I wish I were a walking encyclopedia or I had a magic wand.  We talk for a bit, even though I am so tired and I leave the room after I bless her.  There is something beautiful about trying to answer the questions in a little girl’s heart, so she knows she is not alone and that she is loved.

The middle son, he is up in his bed reading, “The Jungle Book“, trying to sound out the words he doesn’t know. We talk about his thoughts — BB guns, remote control helicopters, the pyramids in Egypt and how one can really know that God answers prayers and what difference it makes, really, when God says he is always with us.  He is thinking the thoughts of a boy and wrestling out the thoughts of an emerging young man, trying to make a little sense of the world he finds himself in.  Again, I am so tired, but he needs my exclamations over his delights and he needs my reassurance that all I am teaching him from the Word is really true.  There is something beautiful in these moments.

I walk downstairs to say good-night to the oldest boy, now taller than his dad and quickly catching up to me.  He is stretched out on his little couch, reading on his kindle.  I sit down next to him.  Again, I am so tired but I have not peered inside his heart in awhile.  Being older and more self-sufficient sometimes I confess, I forget.  “How are you doing, buddy?” I ask.

He starts to respond slowly, but then his words pick up speed.  There is a lot going on in that mind of his and I listen to his line of analytical thought and look at him in awe.  There is more hair emerging on his upper lip.  There is a firmness in his voice as he tells me how he has been examing elements of faith and pondering them deeply, trying to find his own way and come to his own conclusions based on the foundation we have given him.   He looks over at his bookshelf with fondness, for these are his friends when friends are hard to come by here.  I know the feeling.  He tells me of his struggles and his victories, of the little desires he has to somehow save for some things to enhance his bike and his room.  These are all important to him.  And I have not listened in awhile. There is something beautiful in really listening to your child.

“Let’s read together, will you start this book with me?” and he hands me a book on evangelism.  What a boy, what a young man!  He’s finding his wings.  He’s got dreams about his life up ahead.  He knows Dad is living his dream and calling and I am too and he rests in that, but he’s finding what it is to be his own man in all of this.  He’ll be 15 this summer and I realize with a jolt, it is all going fast.  That in the few years we have left together, I’ve got to listen often and help him fly.

Funny how the tables turn. Funny how when you serve, you sacrifice so many of your own ambitions but then find out in the giving that it is all worth it. That it is valuable to empower the growth of others, while God is good to somehow still enable yours.

 There is something beautiful in all of that.

So we read, we talked about our reading, we prayed and hugged.

I finally get a shower, folded another load of laundry, make my list of what I need to do the next day and say my own prayers. It is late and I meant to get to bed much earlier before it all begins again.  I meant to find some time to study my Spanish vocabulary, but it is all I could do that day.  “It is all, unto you O Lord,” I whisper.  Sometimes the role I usually play of being the “stay-at-home missionary” seems insignificant. My husband’s days can seem so much more valuable.  I know it is not true, but I, like any mother can sometimes entertain that lie.

I was in bed by 10:50pm and that was my day.

I remembered, as I lay on my pillow and heard the door unlock downstairs and imagined my husband sitting down to take off his work boots, the verses our friend, Kent had emailed that day in response to our thanks to all he had given last summer on the team that had come from Florida.  He responded with something beautiful:

So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ – Luke 17:10

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.  -Acts 20:24

Top 10 Things Learned in the Last 23 Years: From Ben in Mexico.

My husband will turn 40 this August (gulp!). We’ve been commenting often about this fact and I have been reflecting on the last 20 years that we have known each other. In light of that, I thought this blog entry was worth a re-posting. It is one of the few, if only, written by Benjamin. Little did we know at the time of this writing back in 2012 we would now be living here! God is good.

In March after ten years, we returned to Mexico to serve as a family for two weeks.  Ben spoke to the students and staff at Puebla Christian school where he attended for six years, 23 years ago.   Here I wanted to give you a peek into the heart of my amazing husband through his words.  There are few people I have meant in my life with greater humility, honesty, perseverance, integrity,  genuine care for people (always believing the best about them), steadfast faith and daily focus on Jesus and eternity.  He’s a no-frills, self-proclaimed hands-on man and deems himself an ineffective communicator (I beg to differ as might you after you read his words) who would rather set up 12 campsites alone than speak publicly–but he also believes in doing hard things, willing to model this for his boys.  Enjoy!

Top 10 Things I’ve learned in the Last 23 Years:  

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Intended for Wholeness.

It was not the first time I had admired a certain vase made of burl wood sitting on table against a wall in my counselor-friend’s living room.  Rounded yet uneven, it was sanded smooth to show the complexity of the grains and stood about 30 inches tall.  No human hand had carved it out from within, it was created like that.

I thought how lovely something would look inside of it and finally asked, “Why do you always keep that vase empty?”  My friend walked over to the table and turned the vase around.  The other side was riddled with holes and crevices, rough and uneven.  “See? I had to buy this when I saw it; I need the constant reminder of what I am and what this world is now until the redemption of all things. We are not yet whole, but it is coming.”

burl vase

I wrestled with hating that vase and its broken beauty. We are at once smooth and retainable and at once knarled and hole-ridden.  The tension we live is the already-but-not-yet.  But hope is true because gradually all is becoming more whole.

I know I am.

You see, becoming a confessed child of God does not end the reformation of our character into Christ-likeness; it only activates the process. Satan realizes this and still has prey on believers through their old nature, working hard to prevent us from coming into the fullness of Christ’s nature in our lives.

We reduce the Gospel when we promote that all is accomplished when we “pray the sinner’s prayer” when it fact all has just begun.  Going from death to life implies growth (Eph. 4:15).  Appropriating the shed blood of Jesus into every arena of our lives, both past and present is the process of sanctification, no matter how painful or humbling.

We are to partner with the Holy Spirit’s passion to make us whole and to display in our lives in ever-increasing and on-going measure the beauty, the power and the mystery of redemption.  We are to partner with the work he is doing in the lives of those we love all around us.

When we speak of “inner-healing” this is exactly what it really means. It has nothing to do with “trying to do better”, motivational pep-talks of recognizing my innate potential, acting as if our past holds no present influence in our lives now, simply being sure I attend church or more intake of facts and knowledge.

Information and participation that does not lead to transformation is useless. It’s just pious religiosity. And frankly, it is boring, lifeless and utterly devoid of the power of the resurrected Jesus and his gospel.   He desires salvation to be fully effective in all dimensions of our life and character.

Healing or better stated, sanctification, leads to wholeness.  Wholeness leads to more of the glory of God in our lives. His glory in our lives ushers in constant restoration.  And this enables us to truly live in shalom: replacing or providing what is needed in order to make us whole and complete.

Thank you Father, that you never let go of this process in my life. Thank you that you intend for me, wholeness.

Another Aspect of Culture Shock: Disillusionment

Last week while hiking, my husband and I saw a man in black speedo-like underwear and a straw hat walking through a cactus field, tapping with a slender stick the almost ripe napoles, three scraggly dogs marching in a line behind him. We hardly blinked.

This morning I passed a stately white horse–the tallest horse I have ever seen– riding on the side of the road, cantering along carrying a man who held in one arm what seemed to be a six-month old baby boy. That’s right, a baby.  I nodded as they passed and drove on, over yet another steep tope.

I stopped at my favorite little juice stand to get fresh jugo de zanahoria.  The young woman promised me she would make it right up and that yes, they indeed had zanahorias this morning.  They did not and she brought me jugo de betebel with a smile.  I took it with a gracious and handed her my 10 pesos.  Here, it was not a lie she told, it was a kindness she extended not to trouble my mind over what was not and then quickly replace it with something else.

This afternoon I biked next to a truck that had randomly stopped on a local street and proceeded to shovel out mounds of debris and garbage into the ditch and drive off.  I crinkled my nose to avoid the smell and rode on to get my daughter from pre-school.  A motorcycle holding an entire family, complete with another infant passed me, a herd of goats wandering around bleated and a man on a bike–with tires on his neck, arms and legs–struggled to get to the nearby auto mechanic to make a delivery.

I didn’t even smile.  The sights and smells have become normal.

Evidently, I am proceeding right along on the trail of culture shock.  Coming into the realm of acceptance and negotiation and all that jazz. However, an important stop I’ve made along the way is the little rest area marked with a hazy sign that reads, “disillusionment”.  I’ve unintentionally camped out there for the last couple of months; it has caused me to be rather frozen and unsure, both slow and wild in my thinking at the same time. But soon I think, I’ll be on my way again.  On my way, but not without being undone.  Yet again.

Disillusionment: Untrue ideas and beliefs one has acquired along the way; a false way of seeing things.

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Disillusionment is an important work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It wakes us up to see things as they really are and to recognize more clearly how to take a humble role in the midst.  All the great thinkers I have read who have wanted more of God in their lives recognize this and with it, cooperate fully.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that when we live with illusions we come to whatever it is God has brought us to as consumers and demanders (ouch!), often not noticing our posture.  CS Lewis said it drives us to deeper reliance on God for it makes us painfully aware that all, including ourselves, is not as it should be and we are at the mercy of a merciful and forgiving Savior.  St. John of the Cross wrote something to the effect of that when we draw nearer to God, we pull closer to His truth about all things, not ours.  Disillusionment is a hard acceptance of sorts, a relinquishment, an understanding.

So, disillusionment in culture shock, what role does it play?

I have found that when recognized it opens up space for grieving.  Grieving all the things, the places and the people you said farewell to when you yielded to a particular call in a particular place.  Grieving that all is not what you couldn’t help but envision from scraps of your memories and research, tidbits of hearsay and others experiences, understandings of what it would really look like, on a daily basis. Yes, those dreams that kept you up at night while you planned the details in your mind all nice and tidy with a certain excited anticipation.  It’s almost like falling in love and then encountering the un-beautiful parts of a committed marriage.  But the unavoidable grief– it is a holy and slow lament, often hard to even articulate, especially when one knows the deep joy in being right where they are to be–for me, here in Mexico.

Leaning into disillusionment also gives opportunity as you live day in and day out to see afresh that even here, things are not as they should be and not as you had hoped. The world is cracked everywhere, with as much severity, and aching for the day when all will be made right.

You knew that, of course your logical head knew that, but it hurts the heart to learn it again in another time and another place.  It makes your soul sigh and dig in for the long, long haul.  It can’t help but make your shoulders sag from time to time with the understanding again that we Christ-followers can be something else, even those here…perhaps, especially those here:)

Not only does it give the tickets to grief and the revelation to truly see things, it asks some hard and often plain annoying questions:  Are you willing to still be teachable?  Are you willing to keep observing?  Are you willing to speak when you know it is the zeal of the Spirit and not your own passion?  Are you willing to walk so in step with the Spirit that you know when to just accept that is how things work in this culture or say “no” and rise up in holy and defiant prayer and action?  Are you willing to keep on with trying to decipher another language, even when it seems futile and though your ear is advancing your response is often tongue-tied?  Are you willing to submit to the snail pace, it seems, of vision and communication?  Are you willing to give, to love, to rest when you need to and to keep on and keep on even with no “quantitative results”?  And the questions really, they just keep continuing.  Thankfully, Jesus showed the answer to every single one of them.

Normal?  What’s your daily normal?

Here in this place, mine is becoming more and more the truth of the Gospel.  The story that haunts me and never can seem to get enough of me nor I it:  I am more needy, more desperate, more sinful that I can fathom yet more loved, delighted in, more filled and sustained that I can imagine.

Thank God for the gift of disillusionment.

*If  you happen to read Oswald Chambers “My Utmost for His Highest” turn to the entry for July 30th.  

 

 

A Letter to My Girl on Becoming a Woman.

You, my effervescent beautiful little girl, are appointed to become a woman one day.  I think on this often and there are some things I want you to know.  Really know.   They have been my revelations.  May they become your declarations. 

Kiersta in the Angel Dress

You were first imagined in the mind of God and thrust into human history within my womb. When He spoke you into existence, He spoke a word.  And that word will never be spoken again.  So my girl, let your life speak the word He intended.

He chose the times and places of your life. Yes, He chose the generation you would be born into and even what ancestral line from which you would emerge–all so that you call out to Him the loudest and the clearest. This is the same God who spoke into existence water and the way a bird sings and a flower smells and the sun burns.  He, being all generous and good–the very meaning of love itself–longs for you as a groom longs for his own bride.  You were always meant to belong to Him.  You can trust Him.  Wholly.

You were created to know Him, your one true Hero.  To be His image-bearer, aligning yourself with Him at every possible level.  His heart is to be your heart; His mind–your mind; His will–your will.  You were made for complete consecration if you are to be all that He dreams and intends you to become.

You are a warrior, a helper of power and strength corresponding in every way with men and in every way their equal.  You and your sisters in the Kingdom that will never end are their greatest allies in the life of faith, advancing the Kingdom of God within and without, doing front-line battle with the forces of darkness.  You are to labor together in beneficial alliance.   You are in a hierarchy of responsibility, not domination. Lovingly and selflessly, use every ounce of all that you are to build up His beloved church with the confidence that the Holy Spirit made no mistakes when your gifts were bestowed.

And if you are called into the covenant of marriage, you and your husband are to become like one body that should never be decapitated through the severing of what God has mysteriously made one. You are to nurture one another through mutual love and honor, laying down your lives in humility out of reverence for your God.  The picture of your union is meant to leave the world breathless.

You are a culture-maker, a co-creator and cultivator on earth, to work with all you have and will be given.  You are made to be a learner with an insatiable curiosity.  Through your very body, yes, the eternal souls you may birth and through your mentoring of others as you make disciples you are a recipient and conduit of the Gospel of Grace.  Imagine.  Be in awe.  These are no small things and they will require much prayer and intention. You are to be a passionate and wise woman of prayer, the floor of your prayer closet worn out from your bowed position.

The externals of being a woman? Your beauty comes from the fact that you know you are beloved.  Don’t waste your energy trying to impress.  Stay in simplicity and ignore the fads.  After all, the verdict is already in and it will not change.  Run along unhindered, with delight in your lovely long limbs and strings of blonde hair accentuated by your Daddy’s eyes.

Your unique, once-in-history voice is not to be silenced by timidity or intimidation.  It is to proclaim hope, even in suffering, to the broken beauty all around you.  We are all only in the first story, but the second one is coming.  Long for His appearing!  And you can be sure that your voice is to speak His praises in the ages to come, for you are made for eternity.

Yes, proclaim the love that never ends, for you and for the world.  And if that means you must go, then go for you serve a God who travels.  He left His home for you, go and do likewise for a people He loves if that is what He asks.

Know this: Everything that ever has been or ever will be expected of you was done on the Cross by Jesus Christ when your Father got his daughter back. Your response is gratitude. Not earning, not owing, not proving.  Loving. Remember, you were once lost, alienated, fearful and full of shame.  You hid.  But you are not to stay in hiding.  You are free and you are not a slave to sin and all its residue of bondage.  You are to become ever more whole, going from glory to glory.   Shalom is your blood-bought birthright.

Live out of a grateful heart.  You have done nothing to earn or deserve the standing you have in Jesus and in this one eternal fairy tale.

Your Hero, let Him have your heart.

It is all because of Him you are truly empowered.  And my girl, all because of His grace, you’ll become a woman.

And be ever-loved by your Mama.

Hitting Culture Shock

After seven months of living here in Mexico, I finally hit culture shock.  Slammed right into it. Literally.

Being a mother and a wife with the inner compulsion to tend to my family and walk them well through their phases of adjustment, I came in last place to the inevitable.  We know the textbook definition of culture shock, right?  It goes something like this: “feelings of confusion, doubt or nervousness caused by being in a place (such as a foreign country) that is very different from what you are used to and can be described as consisting of four distinct phases: Honeymoon, Negotiation, Adjustment, and Mastery.”

A die-hard idealist and creative, I recoil at conforming generalizations and believe there is always a way around or over what most folks think is routine. Apparently when it comes to adjusting to a new culture, the studies are fairly accurate and there are little responsive alternatives. Ehh, I hate admitting that.

Apparently my honeymoon ended last week.

I had not been feeling well for days (these darn parasites).  Our roof was leaking. Our water flow from our rooftop cistern was intermittent. The cold here in our cement ice-box home with no central heat was seeping into my Floridian heat-loving bones and evoking me to plain grumpiness. There was a discrepancy over a payment to our little neighborhood gate service, so our guards were not letting me in our out without me having to do it myself, multiple times a day.  In the cold, mind you.  The workman who have been building multiple houses against the back of ours were unrelentingly in their last four months of banging and drilling into our walls from dawn until dusk.  And my Spanish studies? Well, I was doing as good in those as I did in high school math. Oh wait, I never made it to high school math.

Knowing I crave nature and the life it breathes back into me, I packed a snack and water for the kiddos and loaded our girl and our two dogs into our Pilot.  I would fight speed bumps and crazy traffic again to pick up the boys from school and we would go directly to hike through the hills near our home and sit in the quiet.

I could not wait.

We retrieved the boys and got back on the road.  All was calm and quiet as we drove.  Rounding a corner, there was a line-up of cars that stopped and started.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a chalky-blue old VW bug serve in front of the car ahead of me clear across the street into a gate which shut behind it.  The fancy little tan pearly car stopped abruptly and I slammed into it.  Full force.

The dogs yipped.  I pulled over into a little area in front of a taco stand, a mechanic, a teinda, and a tortilleria and got out.  The two young women, obviously more Spaniard and upper-class, in the pearly ride also pulled in and we began to talk.  Thankfully the passenger spoke good English.  We inspected their car and saw a slight indentation and a long scratch on their bumper.  You would have thought the whole back end of the car was smashed in the way they carried on.  They hemmed and hawed, calling the driver’s father and insurance.  My cell was not operating (I hate cell phones and had forgotten I needed to put more minutes on it), so I borrowed theirs and tried to call my husband’s cell, multiple times with no answer.  We have insurance, but I already experienced having to wait 3 hours before for an adjuster to come and remember all the paperwork, in Spanish, and there was no way I had the energy or the clarity for that process.

I wish I could tell you that I looked on these ladies with compassion and saw this as a divine “ministry opportunity”.  I was praying in my mind for wisdom and calm.  But not for them.

As I stood there, the accumulation of all I have seen, felt and experienced that has not been enchanting, exotic or wonderfully curious rose up out of me, “Look around you girls!  See that old woman with braids walking just down the way carrying a basket?  She doesn’t even have shoes on and it looks like her feet have blisters!  And look the other way, see the garbage strewn all over the side of the road and the wild dogs so skinny you can see their hip bones picking through it? See the little girl selling candies looking like she has not had a bath in two weeks?  Now look at your fancy little car with the little dent and scratch.  Hello!?  Could we bring in a little perspective here, please?  I mean, big deal.  How can you ignore real issues? What is up with the contradictions of this culture?  You realize I am still standing here and I could have driven off, like I see most of you people do multiple times a week, taking no responsibility or care.  And don’t you even try to squeeze tons of money out of me because I am a tall, white gringo who you assume has money.  I don’t!  So stop taking advantage of me, even if you know I can’t understand everything you say! I may often feel like a kinder-gardener here, but I am a grown woman!  There are bigger stories all around you than this little dent that happened because of another crazy driver.  You all drive crazy so why don’t you just get used to all the dents! And no, I will not give you a copy of my ID and my papers like you keep asking, absolutely not!  Here, take the last of my grocery money, my household money and my gas money from my categorized envelopes.  And I don’t have anymore in my bank account.  I am doing this because the One I follow says that when someone asks you for something you give him even more and I may be really upset right now but I am going to do something right because I feel He is telling me to. “

The poor women just stared at me.  They took the money that would cover their repair according to the mechanic (I heard him give the estimate and understood what he said, and told the girls so when they tried to triple the figure on me).

Yep, no salvation story here.  Just the guts of humanness. Ick.  And I hated, HATED that I spoke down to and referred to the people here, the people I love for heaven’s sake as “you people”.  I have heard other expats do this and I abhorred it.

I got in the car and my wise oldest son patted my leg and said, “Mom, I think you just hit culture shock.  You are kinda slow at coming to these things. You didn’t yell at them.  You spoke like Jesus in Matthew when he called the Pharisees a brood of vipers.  So maybe it was not so bad.  Why don’t you drive home slow and I’ll give the little ones their snacks and we’ll walk the dogs around the neighborhood.  And what is that black stuff running off your eyes with your tears? You look terrible.”

Great Mom moment.  I came home and sobbed. I hardly ever sob.  Where was my husband in all of this?  I later learned he was in a dentist chair getting 3 wisdom teeth pulled and four fillings replaced. It was a last moment decision, or as he called it an “opportunity”. No wonder he could not answer the phone.  The week didn’t perk up from there but those are other stories.

I have been processing this whole issue of culture shock (which can be so ambiguous and hard to define when you are living it) and these are some of my thoughts:

  • Jesus experienced culture shock.  When I was driving home with my kids, I heard His voice say to my heart, “I did this too, I know. I have never asked you to follow me where I have not already been.”  He gave up his dignity to come to us.  Yes, this was probably the most humbling aspect of Jesus’ appearance on earth as a full human being.  In the heavenly realms Jesus is all-loved and all-worshiped and all-respected. However, on earth Jesus intentionally put himself into the hands of his own creation (what a God!).  He knows and I can rest in this.  He is tender towards me when I am not often like that towards myself.  And He, well is the Savior of Mexico. I am not. Psalm 47
  • It is a privilege to experience the humility of adjusting to another culture because it is another means of sanctification.  Really, how many of us get to experience this particular way of being utterly undone? It is well-known fact that anything that lies beneath in your own soul or that already are issues in your home culture, will be surface and be magnified in your new culture.  For me, hitting the wall meant hitting my knees.  “Undo my pride as I confess it and replace it with humility, Abba.  Apart from You I don’t have the power to not become apathetic towards the people and the issues here.  My sense of isolation is  a call to lean deeper into you.  Fill me afresh with so much of You that I am full.  I avail myself to You in all my inadequacies.  And when things rise up in me that may be my flesh, that dead man walking, I might see just failure, but you see your blood.  You see more pages I am giving you to write more chapters on redemption. Give me eyes to see the way You see or my perspective will keep me in bondage.”  
  • I have to accept that I will never be Mexican.   I have a pile of books near my reading chair on Mexican culture, I ask as many questions as occur to me, I listen and observe closely the mannerisms and ways of communicating of the people here, but I cannot be incarnational, not really (which goes against all my missions training, I know).  The Jesus in me can rise forward and supersede culture when those encounters are needed, but my culture is deeply embedded into who I am.  And God celebrates this.  The greatest thing which bind the cultures together is the love of Jesus and I can express that love by the sharing of who I am, where I have come from and what I have.  I don’t hold onto it all as if it is of no value here, nor do I hide away fearing rejection. But I have in some ways.  Even in regards to the other expats here, which can also be a temptation.  I can give to those who want to partake.  And it will not be everybody, just those God has sent me to and them to me.  I am who God has created me to be and I am here because He has ordained it and I have obeyed with a full heart.  And another thing: it all takes time. Urgh!
  • I have to engage in that which is life-giving to me; these are gifts from God and if I don’t freely receive I cannot freely give.  It has taken me seven months to set up my art studio here and I have still not opened my paints.  I have not planted flowers or vegetables in pots.  I longingly look at my ideas for the next books I want to write. Strolling through nature outside the city beckons me more times than I answer.   Why?  I have believed the lie that these things are selfish and that we are not being sacrificially financially supported to engage in personal pursuits.  There is too much “real ministry to do”– just look at the needs all around us!  And, after all we live nicer than so many others here, how could I ever add even more beauty to my life?  Most missionaries wrestle through these same thoughts, at least the majority I have spoken to; we can be afraid to show you how human we are and how North American we live within our own walls as if suffering and scarcity are the true marks of a called servant.  But when I don’t do those things in which I feel God’s pleasure, those ways in which I am taking part in creating culture and in exercising godly dominion, I begin to wilt.  And then it all compounds and seems to much. Then I am especially susceptible to the pitfalls of culture shock and I may stunt the necessary process of full enculteration.  I feel heavy and wooden, ineffective and even lost.  I am not in a posture to listen and be, but to do and go.  As if it all depended on me, as if the fruit in my life is all my prerogative and not the Gardeners. Forgive me Yeshua.  How I wish I could have watched you in your carpenter’s shop all those years and seen what it all meant.
  • It is easier to move forward in the process when you know you have the blessing.   Our pastor here preached yesterday on John’s baptism.  I love the imagery he gave of describing the humanity of Jesus and how hard it is for any of us to embark on a new path in our pilgrimage.  We see all the obstacles ahead of us and the hardness which we know we are being called to walk through, and without the blessing of our Father we cannot do it, we cannot go.  Here the Father God spoke His pleasure and made the Son feel His belovedness, empowering Him with the gifts of the Spirit.  If Jesus Himself could not go forward into His ministry of rescuing the whole world without this profound blessing, how can we go it alone?  How can we not hear and receive these same things from Him, through one another?  We cannot. Oh we do not bless each other enough! On my weary days I read the notes of blessing folks post on our family fb page, I read the prayers people have sent us and the words of encouragement I don’t always have the time to respond to. I almost feel unworthy of all the time and attention people have taken with these, but then I remember this is the function of the Body and I have to receive.  It is humbling. And most often, I take out a letter our missions pastor gave us on our leaving.  He wrote on behalf of our church, “We bless you and say a genuine “amen ” to the Blycker family answering the call to serve in Mexico.  We ask and will continue to ask for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit for smooth transitions, effective ministries, and every possible need to be met.  With confidence in the power of the resurrected Jesus, we know there will be huge success for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the expansion of His kingdom on earth because of this act of obedience.  We much love and respect, go with our blessing and make disciples.  We love you!” Brings tears to my eyes every time.  We just see these little seeds of our often nutty lives here, but they see a harvest.

And so does God.  No matter what “walls”, or cars we hit.

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I Am Here.

Written four years ago, this Christmas post. The years have changed us and now I write from Mexico. But still, He is Here.

My new daughter cries in the middle of the night; she is hungry and needs the nourishment only I, her mother can give.  My presence always comes to her before the milk as I whisper “Mama is here, Mama’s here”.  She screams in the car seat the entire time we go from point A to point B; she feels alone and to her it seems as if we are going nowhere.  She knows not my presence in the driver’s seat.  If only she would hush her wails she would hear me saying, “Mama’s here. I am here.” 

 My preschooler does not know how proudly I peer out of the kitchen window as I cook, watching him riding his bike around and around the driveway.  I see that his curve was too sharp and I know he will fall, so I turn to run before he knows how much I am needed.  He falls…

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What Life is Like, Here.

It is time I write down some of my observations of living in Mexico as my fresh eyes are becoming more accustomed to the culture around me.  So, this is for my own records and for many of my friends who have asked me what life is like here. For many of you with young children, you understand that sometimes things in our lives must be reduced to bullet points:

  • The smell.  Mexico has a definite scent I noticed as a girl when I first came to this land. It is a mixture of fresh tortillas and lime, terracotta tile, dusty roads, floral-scented ajax, arroz con leche and cheaply floral infused detergent. Its a strange mixture of earthy and chemical.  I close my eyes and take a deep breath as I walk the streets here and I am 15 again with adolescent optimism and curiosity.  The smell makes me feel that the whole world lies before me.
  • The driving. Well. It is different.  My first experience driving on my own, I heard the strange squeal of an ambulance several cars behind me on the highway. Instinct told me to pull over, but then I noticed the cars around me were actually racing the ambulance.  If I did not join in the race, I would be smashed, so race I did. Like a crazy woman.  I beat the ambulance and eventually it turned off behind me in the direction of the hospital.  Then I did pull over just to ponder if that really happened.  And the police?  Well, thanks to my heavily tinted windows and Mexico plates I have never been pulled over.  But I thought I would be many times until I realized that the cops here just like to drive with their lights and sirens on for no particular reason than to feel high and mighty.  Yesterday I drove down a road that had four cops on each side pointing guns at each other. No one seemed alarmed.  So I sat at a red light between them and reviewed my Spanish flashcards, the one that said “I have moved to a strange planet.”
  • The grocery stores.  My first time in one alone I was approached every several feet by a smartly dressed representative of a particular brand of milk or yogurt, holding out a tray for me to sample their product.  Who knew Mexico has like 50 brands of milk and 80 brands of yogurt and that one store will actually carry them all? I should get a t-shirt that says “I don’t do dairy”  They don’t, however, carry things like lemons or natural peanut butter or imported ice-cream for less than $13. Who knew it takes so many people doing so many little jobs to run a grocery store?  And who knew the Holy Water of Mexico is Coca-Cola?  And who knew that man can live by bread alone, here in Mexico?
  • Roads.  I expected the potholes and topes (speed bumps).  I expected every car for itself and that a speed limit is a nice suggestion.  I even expected the crosses and flowers and shrines on the sides of the road to mark where someone met their death, but I did not expect the little men.  That is the little men (the ones I have seen are all little) who wake up in the morning and decide, “Today I will buy a small can of paint and a brush and paint bright lines on a tope so my fellow countrymen do not fly over the bump and damage their car.  I will then stand there and hold out a tin can so they can contribute to my kind act.  In fact I may not let them pass until they do, unless they put the medal to the pedal and I must leap out of the way for dear life. Yes, this is how I will spend my day!  Tomorrow I shall buy some cement and go around filling potholes.”  I confess I have hit the pedal hard more than once…
  • The unconventional ingenuity and nonchalance.  Unlike the US, this is not a crisis-oriented culture. At all.  Most people live fully in the present (why think forward when survival is at hand and hey, there is enough joy for today!) thus they make things work. Now.  Like hitching a ride in the back of a garbage truck.  Last week I was behind 4 men who were taking a snooze and getting a ride on a pile of trash. Yesterday about four kids were riding on top of a truckload (like 9 feet up) of cilantro.  The man down the street just ties his damaged bumper on with rope.  Black and white TVs?  Keep ’em working and open up your own shop to fix ’em!  Hang stiff underwear on special hangers and set them outside your store; the colors and shapes and variety of sizes are bound to attract! Upholster furniture on the side of the road, within inches of buses passing by because your little shop just doesn’t provide enough work room.  And car seats?  Just put the baby on your lap and when they get jittery have them crawl around on the floor in the backseat.  Mop with a stick and a rag at the end and just push it around.  Use Styrofoam to put in the walls for insulation when you are constructing a house.  Build the walls and then bang holes in them to install the pipes for plumbing.  Stick shards of glass on the tops of your walls to prevent robbers from jumping over.  Sleep late and stay up late and who says kids need bedtimes? Don’t have a car?  Then get a bike and stick your whole family on it!  You want your donkey to stop being distracted by the stray dogs when you are trying to plow the field with it?  Then stick a sack over its head so it can’t see them.  Don’t want to pay taxes on the house you are building?  Then leave some of it unfinished and dilapidated looking; it will save you money! Don’t give folks a menu in your little restaurant, just plop some food in front of them with a smile or go next door and see what produce just came in.  And should not every bank have a very armed guard pacing back and forth in front of it?
  • Contradictions.  Everywhere.  I often have on one side of me a new 2013 car, the driver looking like they are out of Vogue magazine and on the other side of me a donkey cart with a husband and wife in straw hats with no shoes or teeth.  It boggles the mind, the sharp distinction between the rich and poor with me sitting in between grieved over both sides and their obvious poverty. The same element is seen within housing and stores and it is all finely accepted.  The classes do not mix or hold out a hand to pull out or pull up.  Oh, it has been shocking to see how news is reported on the TV and in print media.  Dead bodies are shown, fully and all gory details right out there with no prudence or discretion.  Gulp.
  • People.  They are warm and accepting (and just beautiful), but do not easily trust and often speak what you want to hear.  Confrontation is not comfortable unless the venue (like a neighborhood meeting) is right, then it is like a soap opera drama.  Americans are loud, Mexicans are much more calm and reserved. They take things as they come with an element of fatalism yet contentedness. Yelling for my kids down the road is not kosher.  The more white, Spanish Mexicans and leery of the darker, more Indian looking Mexicans.  All these years I wanted to be tanner and they want to be whiter! The culture is quiet unless yet another fiesta is happening. There is pain, but it is inflicted behind closed doors.  Tradition here is paramount to the people, even if they don’t understand the significance of all that they do, they are doing what has always been done. They are proud of their history and culture.  Generosity?  I think this culture has a corner on that virtue, especially, ironically enough, among the poorest.  And clowns, how they love clowns and storytellers!  One can dress up even with just a red nose and painted smile, grab a mic and little amp and within 15 minutes have a large crowd hanging on their every word. They love oral transmission so puppets, still very cool here for all ages. The little ladies and men probably my parents age, they stand on curbs selling bits of fruits or vegetables to get by.  And when they are sick?  Well, they go to the low-end more normal hospital here but they must be accompanied by a family member or friend to change their bedpan and give them food and if there are no beds left, then roll out their IV and sleep on the sidewalk with them outside of the hospital.  Down the street are some of the best hospitals in Mexico. The ones that take our insurance card should we get ill.  Can hardly handle that fact.
  • Work.  Stats say that Mexico has the largest and hardest working work force in the world. Living here, I don’t doubt it.  But, certainly not the best paid for all their efforts. These are not lazy folks and they are not too proud to do whatever to make a peso.  Even if that means painting your body with silver paint, standing on top of a ladder at the end of a row of traffic waiting at a red light, taking a swig of gasoline and blowing a breath of real fire, while juggling.  One does not know whether to laugh or cry.  I opt for cry as I look at the slow death.  And then there is the lady selling green chicklet gum at the red lights, the children selling socks and nuts, the old man selling rags to wash your car with, the young man selling trays he made from pine.  Everywhere you go, someone is selling something. Handmade, bought in surplus or off the black market–its all around.  Folks even work at going through the garbage to take out the recyclables. No efficient (I don’t think they have that word!) recycle bins here, just more jobs for more folks to pick through more garbage. Meanwhile the CEO executives go to their jobs just around the corner from the heap of garbage and the “have everythings” go to the prestigious university just 15 minutes from our house.
  • The weather and altitude.  Granted, we moved from Florida. Zero elevation, 100% humidity, ocean air, shorts worn almost all year around, red ants, sand, alligators, scrubby pine trees.  You know.  Here we went up in the world to 7,000 feet.  The nights and mornings are cool, okay they are incredibly cold.  And the mountains, okay they are actually volcanoes we see on clear days surround us.  Majestic is barely the best word to describe the site. Ahhh…  There is no such thing as heat in these brick and/or cement made houses.  No such thing as screens in the windows.  Cracks around the windows and doors abound; things are not exactly an airtight fit.  At least in our house.  The wind often blows out of pilot light on the roof which heats our water tank, so sometimes I skip the shower.  In our home though, we always can count on having water! No dishwasher, just mounds of dishes that can be quite challenging to keep on top of.  And  don’t forget they must dry completely or the risk of parasites from the water.  Don’t stick your toothbrush in the water!  Some do, we tried and got sick.  Folks here do a parasite cleanse every six months, killing everything in their guts.  Its a normal part of life here, just like the wild dogs and the poop on the sidewalks and the scarcity of cats (they poison them).  Keeping house here is much harder because of the dust and the flies (we have sticky fly traps hanging from our ceilings).  Not to mention the lovely wolf spiders and the cara de ninos (giant ants; look them up and you’ll squeal).  We caught seven mice in our kitchen and pantry last week. Could be worse; we don’t have scorpions here!  We are getting used to the attitude though at times we still run out of breath and get tired. Perhaps we’ll be able to run a marathon when we visit Florida again!
  • Slower Pace and Lower Expectations.  There is not such stress in the air like I felt in the states.  Things are expected to take forever.  And they do.  Maybe if you pay and pay well a service will speed up.  Doubtful still.  Most places don’t even post store hours, especially family owned places (which is the majority of how families make it here). Timeliness is important in certain contexts, but lingering always happens.  Manana forever indeed! Expectations are much lower than in the states.  Things overall (except for the wealthy class and even then…) are not expected to be as sleek, progressive (c’mon the most common music we hear played here is from the 80’s) and put together. Folks are more accommodating, simple and patient.  Bathrooms don’t really need to provide toilet paper now do they? Another job can be provided for a woman if you pay her for a few squares.  And why should toilets be able to handling flushing the paper anyways?
  • Hand gestures.  They don’t mean the same things here.  If I motion for you to come, I am actually telling you to go. This one is very useful here: Bring your middle finger and your thumb together while extending your forefinger, then waggle your forefinger back and forth, like you are shaking your finger no. I use it at stop lights to prevent the windshield washing guys from smearing my windows. Now all I have to do is a very casual finger no and my car is skipped without comment.  And to say thank you, just put all your fingers together and hold up your hand, palm towards you and move it ever so slightly. There are more I am still learning.  But I do know you don’t point here. No, no!
  • Food.  Yep, it’s spicy!  And they eat breakfast twice, lunch late and supper way late.  Have not adjusted to that all the way.  You know what they sell by the gallons and smear on most things?  Mayonnaise!  Which  our whole family hates.  Food is a big deal here, they sell it on every corner and they love to snack.  The Mole Poblano is incredible as are several other common dishes I am growing to love but cannot remember.  Cannot however, do chicken feet, cow tongue, brains or intestines.  Cannot stand to walk by the butcher because everything is just out. And limes and chili–they are the spice of life here!  It has been a challenge to rethink how I feed my family and how to do it in an affordable and easy way.  All produce must be soaked in a bucket for 15 minutes in microderm, an iodine solution that kills parasites.  It can be a big job for folks like us who go through allot of produce.  But the fresh stuff is amazing tasting! And to boil water takes much longer, as does baking with my Celsius reading oven that I must hand light.   Oh my, I did not even mention that things here are weighed only in kilos, miles are measured in meters and all the like.  Still confused.
  • Followers of Jesus.  You know, this is getting long and this category I have much to say about.  I’ll save that for another post.

I like it here.  Really like it.  Wouldn’t you?

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Take Your Place.

The plight of women and children here in Mexico and specifically where we live in the Puebla/Cholula area breaks my heart.

Yesterday alone I was approached in my vehicle by 3 women and 4 children (under about the age of 8). One woman was about 8 months pregnant with three beautiful brown snotty-nosed children trailing her through traffic as she sold small handbags and chewing gum. Most likely she has more children at home and her husband is an alcoholic who beats her. Perhaps he has three other wives and their children he does not support. Maybe not, but that is how it goes here for so many women.

Another woman, thin and weary-looking, carried a sleeping child in her arms while she held up a doctor’s script, trying to get donations to purchase medicine.  And yet another woman with heavy eye-liner pounded on my window to hand out an advertisement for the local porn night-club. A boy dressed in pressed slacks and a collared shirt about the age of my 2nd grade son tried to hand me a business card to a local store for a discount on exotic sex toys. The other children were dodging traffic to sell flowers, fly swatters and and fresh-squeezed orange juice.  The children may or may not have a home and a family.  I kept driving, stopping at the red lights and distracting my 4-year old daughter from looking out the window to see rows of Playboy magazine displayed for sale on the grassy median.

Can you imagine your children out in the streets?

Or your pregnant daughter selling gum by knocking on car windows?

Many of these “stories” are not “legit” and others are; there is little way of knowing as you drive through the streets. It has all become our daily norm and most people become immune to the sights, just part of the local landscape.

Recent stats in Puebla state that 283,236 children between the ages of 5 and 17 work. Some 106,295 of them do not attend school. These children and their mamas who are out working in the streets in this urban area and then more so in the rural areas are open targets for human-trafficking.

There is a “hotel” I pass often with high brown metal gates and castle-like towers in which late at night or in the early morning hours van-loads of women and children are brought in, assumed to be forced into slavery. It is a known and accepted fact, even to the police. But nothing is done.

I weep. And sometimes I pull over near it in an inconspicuous place and pray so loud the windows in my Pilot almost rattle. There are times when our prayers are like a soft wind, a weeping prophet or a tenacious bulldog.  This gringo cannot storm the gates, but the armies of heaven can.

It was publicized that Mexico finally passed human-rights laws to protect women and children. Yet, bribes prevail and apathy ensues. The Government of Mexico does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it “says” it is making significant efforts to do so.

I spent time with a woman Monday night whom has worked for the last 20 years with her family in the villages rescuing women and children. She is a mother and a wife, just one year my elder. Her stories were horrific. Last week she had to take a 9-month old baby girl in for a hysterectomy as she had been so badly damaged by rape since her birth.

Yes, go ahead and vomit. I nearly did.

But then get on your knees with me.

Oh church, would you please walk away from all that distracts you and competes for your time and all your pettiness and get into your prayer closets?  Turn off your TVs and movies that mock the beauty of human sexuality and the covenant of marriage. Women, stop flaunting yourselves and wearing bikinis  and see-through blouses in front of your teenage sons. Save it for the bedroom.  Throw out your Victoria Secret magazines.

Call a spade a spade. You are called to live holy lives. Holy. Pure. Intentional. Disciples. Grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ that declares you are more sinful than you could ever imagine, yet more loved than you dare to hope.

And you want to change the world you say? Then pray.

I am convinced that history belongs to the intercessors.

This woman I spoke with, begged me with tears in her eyes to pray. I hope to visit her and these rescued women and children (who often deny anything has been done to them though the damage and evidence is obvious) and pray over them, for this obscene mess of sin takes the power of a Savior. It is too big for me and you.

Yes, the more I live and the more I see, the more I am compelled to believe that prayer and living out of a prayerful life is the only real thing that changes the world.

I have been studying more about prayer and I see that God has indicated His desire to release His power in our world when we request it from His throne.   Jesus taught us how to pray when He said: “Our father who is in heaven, holy is Your name.” Then He gave is the “partnership phrase” as key: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God has basically said, “What you ask Me to do as we partner on earth, I’ll answer with My love, My power, My wisdom and in My time with all the force of heaven’s throne engaging whom and what you ask Me to engage.” 1

There is little time to dance around this theologically and debate together about the sovereignty of God and the place of prayer and such. I have spent years trying to work through all of that and I have no pat answers. But what I do know is God works through the prayers of His people and this He has ordained.  I am walking in the prayers of intercessors here and right now before the throne.  Most likely, so are you.

Most Christians I have met do not take this seriously; they prayer-whine or pansy pray or tag on to everything as if a disclaimer, “if it be thy will” or run ahead and make their plans and programs.  I spent my time doing this and then confessed it as sin.

You see, when we pray as individuals and corporately, when we seek His face in Scripture and when we worship, we WILL pray according to His will, for we WILL come to know His heart!   And He will throw up His arms in relief that we have finally ceased to be afraid of presumption.  We have learned to discern His heart and taken Him at His word to come boldly in His presence, in awe at His mighty power and holiness.   Taking up our place as intercessors, we are covered by the blood of Jesus and empowered by the Spirit.

Can I get an “amen”? Let it be so.

Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. He has sent us as His representatives, His redeemed image-bearers to set the captives free. That means we have to take notice of the captives and what it is that binds them. The root is often hopelessness. Which goes far, far back to the garden where the first relationships were broken and the DNA of the sin-seed began to be transmitted.

Only by prayer can those shackles begin to loosen and the Spirit of the Almighty breathe in hope. And if you have one ounce of disdain, a critical spirit, a tinge of unforgiveness, or a belief that your prayers are not effectual then let the Spirit deal with you or your prayers do not come from a heart that speaks truth (Psalm 15).  God cannot hear you when you cherish sin in your heart.

I am pleading with you that you invoke the name of Jesus with me for the women and children here in Puebla/Cholula and the surrounding villages. Through intentional intercession, take your role on the earth-side and God will answer with His works and His wisdom from His heaven-side throne.

Let it never be said that for the sake of the thousands of women and children He so loves that we never took our place this side of heaven.

Don’t Waste Your Motherhood.

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Mothering is all about disciple-making.  Take that element out of the equation and what you have left is at its best is ooey-goey nurturing and perhaps the production of good citizens and a relatively healthy family environment where you’ve kissed boo-boos, kept them fed and clothed and ensured their academic potential and even cultural savvy-ness, but still it is essentially void of life’s greatest purpose: to know Jesus and make Him known.

We are all preparing for eternity.  This is not all there is and if a day goes by that I don’t remind myself and my children that at the end of all our work and words is Home, my eyes are not fixed high enough.

I know of no greater way as a mother to maintain a supernatural vision of earthly realities than being consistently intentional in discipling my own children. But what does it look like to make disciples as a mother?  Let me offer some insights:

1.     In order to make disciples, you have to first be a disciple (a learner; one who adheres to the principles and instructions provided by another. There is a whole chapter on this concept here).  If I as a mother lose a vision of my own sin and my desperate need for the Gospel daily I fall into pride and legalism.  Which in mothering often takes the form of control, nagging and perfectionism. That all makes me tightly wound.  And in that case I need deliverance for in that there is no gentleness, no grace, no quiet spirit, no leaving a trail of peace behind me, no trust and I need the Gospel. Again.  I need to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit in absolute surrender or I am lost.  The Spirit is my counselor, my teacher, my wisdom, the One who is ever leading me.

Unless my children SEE and HEAR this (talk about your walk with Him–it ought to be as natural as breathing, not something privatized and strange to their ears and eyes! And yes, that includes letting them hear you pray and I mean really pray!) they do not know that you too are a disciple!  Yes, to live as a disciple means addressing the brokenness in my own soul that has and does come up so I might come into greater healing and minister more effectively.  It means confessing my sins to one another that I might be healed.  It means my children seeing me do this and hearing that I seek out counselor and mentors. A mother disciple-maker lives out her own constant apprenticeship. 

2.  Disciple out of who God designed you to be: your personality, strengths, interests and spiritual gifts.  If you chose not to, you will fall into exhaustion deep in your soul, fall into the comparison trap and sabotage all your best efforts. Here is a good resource for this if you are not sure who you are.

You do not have to become someone different and new to make disciples;  you do have to become more of you in the fullness and wholeness God designed.

For me this means playing basketball, soccer and baseball with my boys.  It means handing off math and science questions to Dad.  It means making simple and healthy meals not spending hours trying something new to wow my crowd. It means serving kale/spinach/pineapple/coconut oil/lemon protein smoothies for breakfast 🙂  It means not watching TV and reading mounds of books to my kids.  It means using my spiritual gifts of prophecy, knowledge, discernment, teaching and exhortation to cast vision, to speak truth into their lives, to illuminate Scripture, to instruct them on spiritual warfare, to educate them on global needs and affairs, to intercede with them on behalf of others.  It means teaching them about beauty and order in our home and to observe it in nature.

It means taking care of myself and expressing my own needs (and teaching them to do the same).  It means I don’t sew or scrapbook or know the latest technology or lead a PTA group or have my own home business or rush off to corporate meetings or remember that someone might need a meal or sing and play guitar or act in the local theater ..that list could go on.  And I am okay with that fact.

The more your children see your growth and acceptance in who you are in Jesus–mind, body and soul, the more they will feel their beloved-ness by God.

And oh, isn’t one of our goals in disciple-making, for others, for our children to know the deep, deep love of Jesus?  That He longs for them, that He rubs His hands in delight every time He hears their voices calling His name, that He expects nothing of them but what He already did for them on the cross?  That all the rest that we can do and say is gratitude, intentional and joyous gratitude?

3.  Discipling your children, or anyone else for that matter, does not mean you have to know everything.  About the Word, ethics, science, social behavior, relationship issues, politics and how it all relates to God.  If we all waited until we were 100% prepared to be mothers we would all still be pregnant. Can you imagine?  None of us were ready when those babies were placed in our arms.  But God had this ingenious plan; as they grew we would grow, going from glory to glory. It’s called synergy.  Nothing grows in utter isolation.  When we agree to mother, to disciple, we agree to depend wholly on a miraculous God to show Himself mighty because we are not enough.

Our pastor recently spoke about discipleship, pointing to the story of Zacchaeus.  He noted how Jesus did not wait to be invited by the wee little man.  He initiated.  He pursued.  He built a relationship in 10 seconds just by knowing his name.  I get frustrated with women who wait for their children to show interest in Jesus or church or other things they deem holy.  They don’t push, they don’t expect, they don’t teach, they don’t talk, they wait.  Sometimes for a lifetime and then wonder why their kids are so far away in every sense of the word.  Discipleship takes proactive tenacity and though you must inquire of the Holy Spirit who He would have you disciple this year, you never have to pray that prayer about your children or grandchildren.  They are your disciples   So, get on with it!

Let them ask their questions and find the answers together.  Most of disciple-making is getting on someone else’s turf and letting them ask questions.  It is not time for motivational pep-talks or preaching, but of mutual sharing and learning.   Search the Scriptures together.   Memorize and meditate on Scripture. We do this very slowly, no verse a week in this house; we “chew” too much!

If you need a fantastic structure to start moving through with your children check out my personal favorite here.  Again, after five years we are still not done with book two because we don’t rush.  Scripture is more than often something to linger in, not to accumulate. Worship together and for heaven’s sake get out of any stiff religious or cultural boxes and lift your hands and dance with them (sorry, it’s biblical!).

There is no true discipleship without a love-affair with the Word of God and worship, hungering for His manifest presence. 

4.  Discipling our children builds within them the true skills to live and love well. Remember the two greatest commandments–to love God and love each other? God actually gave these to us for our benefit because He knew that to walk in these is to live in the two greatest blessings in life; true relational intimacy with Him and others.  Obviously then, these should be the focus of our mothering as we raise disciples of Jesus.  This boils down to teaching our children then, relational skills.

I once read that the quality of our earthly relationships determines the quality of our heavenly ones.  That would make sense that the foundation we are building now will be that which we add to for all eternity!  So, let’s get practical about this, discipling our children how to:

  •      Listen to others–teach them to ask good questions, to make themselves students of others, to truly hear hearts.
  •      To settle conflicts–teach them the goal is not to avoid them for they actually help us grow, but to figure out how to bring two opposing opinions together as close         as possible for good resolution.
  •      To put others interests before their own–an attitude of humility, service and care for others.
  •      To co-operate–how to work with and not against others, to “ark” together as a family in a common goal or vision not live separate lives.
  •      To function appropriately in various specific relationships–friendships, siblings, marriage, boss/employee.

Relational dynamics centered on Jesus produces love and service.  When my children are in the thick of it I sit them down and without any other words start reading the book of First John to them. We linger there for quite awhile and the Word is enough.

I’ve mothered now for almost thirteen years.  We have three children here and we sent one on up ahead.  I know each one of my children are miracles for I was not supposed to be able to have them.  But that was before God healed my body and every other part of me.  I  greet my children each morning with a joy that we are alive together in the here and now.  This is our time in history ordained by God before the foundations of the world.  And this is your time.

I know there is a cost to being a mother disciple-maker. Believe me, I know.  There is always a cost for that which is noble and lasting.

But if you commit to discipling just one of your children and they in turn this year disciple another (and even my seven year old can do this) and their disciples do the same, then at the end of 10 years there will be 1,024 disciples!  At the end of 15 years, 32,768 disciples!   At the end of 20 years, 1, 4800,576 disciples and in 30 years over one billion people made disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

I don’t know about you, but I am aiming for 3 billion.

Yes, three billion worshipers of Jesus that know Him and make Him known.  I want to stand with them and my sweet husband and our children before the Throne one day and together cry, “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever!”

I’m counting on seeing you and your gang there among the billions.

So don’t waste your motherhood.

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A Child Shall Lead Them.

Because these are the things I want to remember.  The little things that might actually be the big things…

Anders and Angel

Me:  C’mon with me Doctor Anders to the hand doctor.  Brush your teeth, change the shirt you have now worn for three days in a row, tie your shoes, make sure you have underwear on and buckle into Ebeneezer (so we name our vehicles),

Anders (age 7): Alright!  Let me grab Larsen’s camera so I can get some close-ups of the stitches on your hand. We’ll just call this a date. Let’s hope it involves food.

So we drive 25 minutes, on the way singing together every worship song we can think of with him really wishing he was strumming his guitar (not that he knows any chords yet but the feel makes him glad).  Enter into the waiting room where he reads a read-aloud booklet to me.  His reading is coming along, but I am still waiting for the “click”.  I love the clicks in parenting.  I am sure God must love the clicks in me, slow as they come.

Me (while the doc examines my hand):  So, the pain and slight swelling is still there but it is coming along.  When can I swim and when can I play basketball with my boys?

Doc:  You know, I cut down quite far through several layers almost down to your bone to get to the root of the cyst.  Because I went so deep the healing will take longer.  Ten days until you can immerse it in water and four weeks at least until you are throwing any balls.  Healing does not happen with speed.

Me (thinking):  I know this truth and as long as I can remember I have been impatient with this truth yet without the process, healing remains incomplete and full function never returns.  He binds us the broken-hearted like the bandage around my hand not to cover it but to heal it, intending wholeness.   Thank you sweet Jesus that you use all things to instruct me about who You are.

Anders:  Hmmm…be still Mom for the camera.  This is interesting.

Me: Doesn’t it make you feel faint?

Anders:  Pain that is not on me doesn’t bother me as much for some reason.  But when it comes to me, oh boy I really feel it!!  So where are we going now?

Me:  A library. I need a few good hours with you to go over your schoolwork.  You take the Stanford next week for the first time and I want you to feel prepared.

So we drive to a library we have never been too and get giddy at the sight of all the books, the quiet, the sunlight.  Call us weird.  Books with my kids is to me one of life’s sweetest things.

Me:  Okay, let’s sprawl out on this couch-type things and get started.

First we read biographies.  He loves a good biography.  This time around we delve into Louis Braille, George Washington and Harriet Tubman.  We spend a lot of time on Tubman and the Civil War.  He is listening like a laser would point.   Then we go into reading flashcards, onto his phonics workbooks, a review of spelling words, then into double and triple digit addition and subtraction to finish it all up with a review of how to tell time.  He’s a quiet learner, usually co-operative if there are no interruptions and focused if there is not activity around him. We stay until the library closes, happy together.  Then we get hungry.

Me: What are you hungry for?  Let’s imagine what would taste really good to us right now.

Anders:  Chinese.  They have the white rice you never buy with sweet and sour chicken.  Or a nice cafe or coffee shop because you know I really like those sort of places. they feel nice and cozy inside.

So we drive with no luck in finding any sort of these places that are appealing enough to walk into and sit.  We come upon a Wal-Mart which always reminds us of Grandma Blycker.  She loves Wal-Marts Anders quips.  Let’s just wander around and pick out some food.  Sure. I say, nothing wrong with “seeking our fortune” sometimes.

He picks out raspberry Greek yogurts, pretzel crackers, strawberries, mango sorbet and orange juice for us.  I have a fruit fly for a son.

We pay for our funny dinner and sit in Ebeneezer together in the Wal-Mart parking lot.  He is smiling quiet-like as if this is a night to remember and I give him a big kiss on his head and tell him maybe tonight will be the night he’ll loose those two loose front teeth that are flapping back and forth like a trap door.

Me:  So, how are doing Zeker (his middle name is Ezekiel and sometimes we call him Zeke) with us almost being ready to move to Mexico?  Anything about that you want to chat about now we have some time?

Anders:  He leans back and looks at the stars and says kinda slow -I have not thought about all of it at all until a couple days ago.  I lay on my bed and stared up at the ceiling and told myself that now I would put some thought into it all.  So I did.  And the more I thought about it the bigger it got.  This is all big, really big.  I’m small and I don’t think I even understand how big it all is, but that is okay.  I know God is with us.

Can’t we all say that about the world we find ourselves in?

His biggest concern is about the school he will attend in Mexico–can he sit still that long?  Will he have a good friend?  Will the teacher be kind and warm?  Will the work be too hard?  Will he miss me too much?

Me:  We’ve been talking and praying about your relationship with your brother and sister.  And so have they.  How do you think your friendships with them are going?  Any thoughts, concerns, victories?

Anders:  Well, I’ll tell ya the reason Lars and I are doing so much better as brothers lately is because of me (I try not to smirk at this point). I’m holding back real hard on not seeking revenge when he makes me mad or annoys me.  The self-control thing and giving a gentle answer is killing me sometimes.  I gotta give Jesus my thoughts right away when I just wanna grab his neck and pin him to the ground.  He did not used to be so feisty as he is now and I know is must have to do with those hormone things I hear about that happen when you are almost a teenager.  He didn’t used to be like that at all.  It’s like I started growing up and he started growing down.  I tell ya its hard work but I really want us to be good friends.  We are still praying together at night in our room, but sometimes when I pray aloud for him I am actually telling God what to tell him. I suppose that isn’t really praying but then Lars has to listen to me.

Me: (the hormone part about had me choking on my fruit…he’s right!)  You know, when you grow up you have these same feelings about others and sometimes do these same things.  It’s called being human but as the Spirit controls your life more and more you become the real idea of what God meant when He made us to be human and reflect who He is.  But I sure hear you and I want to encourage you to keep on and try to notice the ways Lars is helping your friendship grow too and don’t get too puffed up about yourself and what you are doing–that is not very humble if you know what I mean.  Am I talking too adult or do you get what I am saying Zeke?

Anders:  Yea, I think you mean I should think about him more than me.  It is just so much easier to think all about me.  Sigh….

Me:  So how are things going with Kiersta?  I think I can guess, but you tell me.

Anders:  Well, you know, you hear her everyday!  She never stops talking and she screams and yells so much.  She is even daring to dis-respect you and Dad and that is not right.  You would think for all the times she is disciplined she would stop those annoying tantrums.  I mean I want to be her friend but she always yelling “AAAANNNNDDDEEERRRSSS!”.  It makes me nuts!  She is gonna have one hard life is she doesn’t cut it out.

Me:  I understand completely.  But you know how you and I are talking everything out here together and you can tell me your thoughts and feelings?  Well, she can’t yet and she is feeling some “transitional stress” which just means she knows things are a little different, she knows we are moving and the only way she knows to deal with it is to act like she is.  I am not saying it is right or we will let her, but we do have to answer with a gentle word and pray for her.  Sometimes it is okay if you need a break from her too.  We all do.

Anders:  Yea, that’s the truth.  I am just smack in the middle.

Me:  You know I was too.  I get it.  But God planned it for a reason and our family would be lonely without you right there in the middle.

Anders:  So they have pet stores in Mexico, huh?  Hard to believe for some reason.  I hope they have finches.  I want a finch room.  One wall I want to cover with my paintings of finches and the other walls hang Indian stuff and set up my guitar and keyboard.  I’ve been thinking about that.  And in my times with Jesus in the morning, I have been talking with him about a new home for my finch-bird Calvin because I know we can’t take him.  He has to go to someone who has a cage and would really love him because I am taking my cage for Calvin II.  I just don’t know who that would be and I am getting concerned.

So we pause to pray about his beloved bird.

Me:  What else have you been talking with Jesus about?  What He been speaking to you?

Anders:  Oh I mostly thank Him for life.  To be alive is so amazing, you know?  He tells me I am His.

Yea, son I know.  I know.  But I needed to be reminded again.

Anders:  Okay, I have to ask you something really serious.  The God of the Universe is sitting right next to you so you have to tell me the truth.  Does the tooth-fairy really exist?

Me:  Well, what if I told you I became the tooth-fairy?

Anders starts laughing so hard he can hardly breathe.  Between his howling I manage to understand that he is imagining me in a tu-tu with wings, a wand and fairy dust.  The vision of this for some reason is hilarious.  I suppose it doesn’t exactly fit my personality.

Anders:  So you are telling me it is you.  And if it is you or Dad then sometimes you must forget, huh?  I mean one time I had a tooth under my pillow until it rotted away!  That got me thinking!  That just was wrong!

Me: Opps.  Sometimes we forget or we don’t happen to have cash or coins.  You know, the tooth-fairy needs to get more work or she’s on vacation.

Anders:  Hhmp.  It wouldn’t hurt to make a note to herself.  So, it’s you but I still like to pretend.  Is it okay to pretend this?

Me:  I think so.  I think when we imagine things like this when we are children it helps us to believe more as we grow older in a God we can’t see though we see the effects all around us of His presence.

Anders:  So believing in the tooth-fairy builds your faith!

Me: ( laughing) You might say that, but you know what I mean.  Remember I told you before how the older CS Lewis got the more he read fairy tales   The beauty, the mystery, the battles of good and evil led him more and more to the greatest most truest tale, the story of God.  All good stories are His and our imaginations are holy.

Anders:  I like that.  I still think I’d like to see you in wings with a wand!

And he laughs again hysterically all the way home and when we arrive there he runs out and around to open my door and gives me a hug and a kiss on my cheek.

Then he takes my hand and leads me into the house.

Even In A Grocery Store.

Last week, I did a bit of grocery shopping alone.  If you are/have ever been a mother of young children, you understand how delicious this is to linger in the car with your own uninterrupted thoughts and then emerge to be able to actually acknowledge the world around you.  It makes a parent feel rather grown-up and human-like.   Not to mention the satisfaction of paying for your items and discovering nothing odd in the line-up like another bottle of glitter neon glue or a gallon of Superman ice-cream full of horrid food coloring and other unmentionables. The most embarrassing was a bright satin pink D-size bra hidden under a giant bag of frozen green beans. No kidding.  Our daughter is fanatical about pink, no matter what it is or if it will ever fit her mother.

Anyhow, this shopping took me to the local Liquidation Outlet which is a thrifty hole-in-the-wall grocery store on the wrong side of the tracks selling items the local stores were not able to.  At an often 75% discount, expiration dates or damaged boxes are not a big deal for this family, especially when I can get items I would normally only be able to find in the health food section.  I stock up 1-2 times a month, so the girls that work there have come to recognize this 6″ foot blonde.

Feeling unusually extroverted that morning and directed by the Spirit during my quiet time in the car that was I was to speak hope within the store, I greeted one of the little ladies with a smile and an inquiry of how she was doing that day.  Her snappy eyes darted to and fro as she stopped loading the shelves and began to tell me about how her church was allowing her to do another bake sale. “I have already made $6,000 through selling my baked goods and my goal is to get to $10,000!”  I listened as she told me how cupcake makers make the perfect cakes (who knew these even existed?), and how Oreos can be made into pops when dipped in icing with a stick shoved between the filling and how cookies should always be over-sized if they are to sell well.

“Can I tell you my dream?” she asked.  She surprised herself, not counting on this momentary vulnerability.  I smiled, telling her that would be a real “treat”.   These are golden moments for me when I get to perch on the edge of someone’s soul and peer in, seeing just what the Father is up to beyond myself. Thrilling!

“I want to lease the place next door and make it my own soup, sandwich and bake shop. Like a cafe!  That way I could do what I love all day long!  My husband, he is sick a lot and can only work-part time so maybe he could be with me.  We could play Christian music and put tracks on the tables; I could do anything I wanted in my own place!”

I told her that was a beautiful, beautiful dream.

“So, I just need to go out and remember to buy my weekly ticket today!” she quipped.

“For what?” I asked, perplexed to go quickly go from the abstract to the concrete.

“For the lottery, of course.  There is no way I can come up with enough money to make this dream happen,”  she replied.

Something rose up inside of me like a lion and I pounced in the way perhaps Aslan would have, so good but firm,  “No! You cannot come up with enough resources for this dream on your own.  Why would God give you dream that You did not desperately need Him to make it happen?  He wants all of your trust and all of your hope to be in Him, nothing and no one else.  Don’t you dare go out and waste anymore money on a lottery ticket.  Look to Him only and He will astonish you.  It is all His and you are the daughter of a King!  Give Him back the dream He gave you.”

I shocked her.

A tiny tear trickled down her face.

She went and sat down at her cashier’s perch, staring at the keys on her old register.

I returned to my shopping. If I had said something insensitive I would have known it, for the words that burst out of me felt like they came from a place bigger than my opinion.

When it was time to check out, another young lady served me.  I paid for my cartload and before I stuffed the change back into my purse, the Holy Spirit told me to give it all to the Dreamer of the Cafe.  He wanted her to know that she was loved and what it was like to receive from His hand.  So I reached across and gave it all to her and told her just that and to use it for supplies for her next bake sale.

She gasped. It was not much. “You don’t have to do this!  No one has ever just given me money!”  I smiled and urged her to keep trusting Him and praying with boldness.

I have been praying for her daily, this beautiful Dreamer of the Cafe. Would you pray for her (I don’t even know her name!) after you’ve finished reading? And if you desire, would you stick $5 in an envelope and mail it to “The Lady Who Does Bake Sales” c/o The Liquidation Outlet at 3853F  Cleveland Ave. Fort Myers, FL 33901.  DON’T mention me or this blog, please.  Just slip in an encouraging note or scripture.

I don’t make it a practice to tell anyone these little happenings, especially when they involve giving, but I felt an urge to write it down.  To remind you, dear reader, that you are a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Gospel that makes peace, that offers hope, that multiplies our little fish and bread, that points it all back to Him.

Even in a grocery store.