31 January 2012

Culture, family, relationships and church

Sunday morning, at our Nigerien, service, the preacher reminded his listeners that "...if you just show up to listen to the teaching and are not actively using your gifts or seeking to minister to others in the church family, then you really don't belong... you aren't really a member of the family."

I must admit - when I heard this, I immediately bristled. His statement sounded an awful lot like salvation was dependent upon church involvement - personal doing instead of what Jesus has done. The preacher then followed this statement up by saying something to the effect that if you weren't ministering to your church family, you should question whether or not you were a true follower of Jesus... because others certainly would. I was so mad at hearing this that I heard little, if any, of the rest of the sermon. I stopped translating for my niece... I can't even remember the passage of Scripture from which he was preaching.

Once my stewing had slowed to a gentler simmer, I started to wonder if maybe, in this particular circumstance, my hearing was shaded by my cultural background and understandings. And, of course, my cultural perspective is the more biblical one, right?

That prejudiced sort of thinking happens a lot more than I care to admit... I assume my take on something is right simply because it is what I think - it is what I've always thought - and then I search for "evidence" to support my opinion... instead of simply allowing God to speak to me through His Word, His world or His people.

As I've been learning Zarma, I've found one word, in particular, quite fascinating, just because of the plethora of ways it is used... it is the word I would loosely translate to English as "hear." But it is used in a variety of ways within the language. If I want to ask "What is your name?" I essentially ask "What do you hear?" Mamata, the elderly grandmother in my literacy class will ask her granddaughter, "Do you hear me?" only what she is really saying is, "Do you understand what I just asked you to do and are you going to obey?" Almost clear as day, sitting and stewing in that church service last Sunday, I felt the Holy Spirit say (in Zarma, just like Mamata), "Do you hear me?"

In this culture, in this world, loyalty to, care of and sacrifice for your family - including extended family i.e. community i.e. even entire village - is so important. It is almost the opposite of our individualistic western culture - where at most, the nuclear family remains one of several priorities. There is no such ideal as "being true to yourself." Many who choose to follow Christ lose those family and community ties, responsibilities and privileges - because of that decision. Often publically shamed, they are rejected, persecuted, no longer welcome at family events and functions, forgotten... they are outsiders. When community has been so key, it is a miserable experience to no longer have those relationships. I think my friends who have walked that road understand so much more the experience of the Lord, as He was "despised and rejected by men."

I began to try and consider the preacher's statement through Nigerien tinted cultural glasses. Not belonging is serious. It hurts the person. It injures his or her community. Willingly engaging in behavior that risks relationship and group cohesiveness is, simply put, not acceptable. In every other area of life here, it is wrong - an almost unpardonable sin that is so awful it isn't even considered a feasible possibility. This makes it hard for individuals to place their trust in Christ. But at the same time, this same mentality could lead to some pretty amazing churches. 

Last Sunday, everyone sitting on those hard metal barred "pews" was confronted with sin. Refusing or simply choosing not to particpate in the life, nurture and growth of the church by avoiding moments of ministry (no matter what the excuse) should be as foreign within the life of church as it is in families, neighborhoods, communities or villages all over this country.

This week, I'm trying to wait and listen as I've asked the Lord to show me what I need to do to truly belong to the church community where He has placed me. I want to hear Him...

How about you?

30 January 2012

Multitude Monday - 1000 Gifts ~ Reconnecting

Wow! I knew it had been a few weeks since my last Multitude Monday post... I didn't realize it had been nearly a month. Internet has been bipolar in this country for the last month. First, we didn't have it at all. Since then it was either really good or really bad, depending on the moment; those moments I have actually had to blog have coincided with the bad ones. WAWA-ed (West Africa wins again) yet once again! We've even thought things were back to normal again... only to have our cyber traffic crawl to a halt, yet another time. So, who knows?

I have a long list to post - it has been four weeks, ya know! - so I won't chatter along too much, but I did want to mention two thoughts that have been rumbling and rampaging about in my mind since hearing them in church yesterday:
  1. At our morning, Nigerien, service, the preacher reminded his listeners that "...if you just show up to listen to the teaching and are not actively using your gifts or seeking to minister to others in the church family, then you really don't belong... you aren't really a member of the family."
  2. At the evening worship service, generally a gathering of expats where we worship in a bit more western (and natural for me) style, the speaker asked if anyone actually knew what it was like to stand before real royalty... you know, like they show in the movies... where you immediately bow or kneel or do something to lower and humble yourself and your position simply because you are in the presence of one who is undeniably recognized as awesome and powerful and above you?
I'd like to share more about my mental rumblings and rampagings... and will later this week... but first wondered:
What is your initial reaction
to either one (or both) of those thoughts?

this week's gratitude list:
(#s 1827 - 1879)

a lovely cool season this year

the fun of feeling the season beginning to change

beautiful maniac guard dogs who don't let anyone near the house without letting us know

the encouragement of a spiritual life conference

the challenge of a spiritual life conference

listening to friends give God the credit and the glory for all He is doing... all over this country

soft-hearted teens

Sunday morning breakfast - delivered

Education conferences

being reminded of what I already know... and learning some new stuff, too... about those amazing creatures called "third culture kids"

big boys making decisions - even when I don't agree

the priviledge of discipling

an opportunity that was not only unexpected... it was undreamed of

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman - many fun nights with the kiddos

the teachable moments and good discussions that have followed episodes of that tv show

romantic movie soundtracks to work to

full schedules

watching horseback riding lessons

beautiful and ornery stallions that make my girl smile

bipolar internet forcing me to plan my time on line... and be flexible when those plans don't work

researching questions

everyone, at least for the moment, more or less healthy

a night without coughing

M&M actually choosing to sleep with her sisters now... sometimes

clean laundry

hair growing longer

giving things away that we no longer need or use

melon surprise growing in our garden (along with watermelons and tomatoes... and hopefully cucumbers, very soon)

trial and error gardening learning curve

a very special new fb friend... my brand new thirteen year old Nadia

international dancing

clean floors

omelettes and coffee and hot chocolate for a Saturday morning breakfast

finding a routine again

asking about bamboo poles... and finding them the first try

having a game plan... even while knowing that plan will probably look totally different in a few months

studying Job in detail - again

reading recovery lessons

teaching algebra to a motivated student

great kids

culture questions

Mamata's progress as she continues to work to learn to read

feeling alone which forces me to look elsewhere

finishing up the dishes on Monday morning before I leave for work

three year old dish washing helper

visiting with Safana... and finding out that her mother is okay

praying for the salvation of dear friends

the thought that hanging tight to hope and faith even when you have no reason to is the type of sincere faith that pleases God

amazing verses scattered all throughout the book of Job

God's faithfulness in teaching despite my lack of faithfulness in striving to learn

green-growing-like-crazy-vines coloring my otherwise mostly orange yard

sharing a blanket with a friend who doesn't have one

singing my favorite praise and worship song at church last night

27 January 2012

Five Minute Friday ~ Tender

I see the word tender and I don't think "adjective."

I think "noun..." and I see people who have been "tenders" in my life.

...because a "tender" is a person who allows him or herself to be stretched, always self-inclining towards people, paying attention.

A "tender" notices details, remembers them and then acts on those memories.

"Tenders" mind the hurts of other. They hurt with them, objecting that something is causing a precious one pain, watching over and walking through the aches together. "Tenders" strive to stop injury at its source.

"Tenders" are likely to look after or care for those who need guidance and direction, gently pointing them in the way.

"Tenders" overlook faults, yet don't excuse them, all the while gently shepherding in better direction, always discipling.

"Tenders" nurture and cultivate relationships in all they are, say and do, for they grasp that people really are God's priority.

Lord, grant me your grace and your strength, to be a "tender" this day, this moment... and to have the courage to pray this prayer every day.

08 January 2012

My Top Ten Favorite Books from 2011

I read 70 some books last year - these are the ones that made the top of my list!

10. Meeting of the Waters, by Fritz Kling
"The Meeting of the Waters identifies seven trends having a major impact on the Church around the world—and on every Christian at home in every country..." This book challenged me to think about what missions could and should look like in this rapidly changing, technologically charged world.
9. The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein

"This is a book about love and devotion. Enzo, the dog, is the narrator. He watches over his man, Denny, and Denny's wife and daughter. Enzo is true love and loyalty. He is belief in the hearafter. He is the truest friend and protector. This is a story of love told through tales of racing and the the unfiltered love your best canine friend." Although some parts of this book were very uncomfortable (language, adult content), what made it a winner for me was the perspective - giving me glimpses into a worldview with which I can't relate, but in a gentle, not-so-offensive way. I'd be interested to give another one of his books a try.
8. The Waymaker, by Michael D Warden
"With the rediscovery of the Book of Dei'lo, the lines of war have been drawn across the Inherited Lands. Behind their fortified walls, the forces for good and evil are massing for the ultimate conflict, pitting the two Languages of Power against one another in open battle for the first time..." Exciting adventure read and at the same time, an allegory that challenged me spiritually.
7. In the Company of Others, by Jan Karon
"Father Tim and Cynthia arrive in the west of Ireland, intent on researching his Kavanagh ancestry from the comfort of a charming fishing lodge. The charm, however, is broken entirely when Cynthia startles a burglar and sprains her already-injured ankle. Then a cherished and valuable painting is stolen from the lodge owners, and Cynthia's pain pales in comparison to the wound at the center of this bitterly estranged Irish family. In the Company of Others is a moving testament to the desperate struggle to hide the truth at any cost and the powerful need to confess. Of all her winning novels, Jan Karon says this 'dark-haired child' is her favorite-a sentiment readers everywhere are certain to share." Although heavier than her other books and thus a bit of a departure from the typical Mitford-style story, people you like and who feel like they could be your neighbors made this a delightful read.
6. My Seventh Monsoon, by Naomi Reed
" 'The seventh monsoon was the hardest of them all. I sat on the back porch of our Himalayan home and stared as the rain streamed down all around me. I had never felt so hemmed in – by the constant rain, by the effects of the civil war and by the demands of home-school. As I sat there and listened to the pounding on our tin roof, I wondered whether I would make it through. I wondered whether I would cope with another 120 days of rain. And in doing so, I began to long for another season . . .’ From the view point of her seventh monsoon, Naomi Reed takes time to look back on the seasons of her life. As she does so, she shares with us her journey of faith and mission and reveals poignant truths about God and the way he works his purposes in our lives through seasons." I love missionary stories and this one is very authentic, heart-warming and spiritually challenging. I found Naomi's story inspiring.
5. The Trophy Chase Trilogy, by George Bryan Polivka
"In this Pirates of the Caribbean meets C.S. Lewis epic adventure, Packer Throme is a failed seminarian turned master swordsman with eight small tasks on his to-do list:

1.) Save fishing village from poverty and starvation
2.) Win heart of long-time love, Panna Seline
3.) Honor dead father
4.) Stow away on pirate ship
5.) Find the Firefish -a creature everyone thinks is a myth
6.) Avoid a deadly assassin
7.) Stop a war
8.) Redeem self from spiritual disgrace

Completing such a short list should be easy... right?"

This trilogy was simply delightful: a fun read, spiritually provocative, exciting... I immediately passed the series long to  my kids and I think from Anna on up, they all enjoyed it, too!
4. 40 Loaves: breaking bread with our Father each day,  by C D Baker
“ 'Why don’t I have more faith?' 'Why am I so bored with Jesus?' 'Why are Christians so hard for me to like?' There are many questions we’re not supposed to ask when playing by the religious rules. It makes people uncomfortable. So why is it that Jesus invited questions and even asked some of them himself? What is it that you’re afraid to ask God?..." I loved being challenged to ask hard questions and finding that even if I didn't know the answers, I grew to better know my God in the simple asking. 
"...a mysterious girl from Sri Lanka moved to town in the summer of 1979, Shelby (nicknamed Turtle) invited her to a secret haven: the Blue Hole. Turtle had no idea how much that simple gesture would affect the rest of her life, or the lives of those she loved. In a time when America was technically well beyond the Civil Rights era, there were those in Turtle's small Appalachian town who rejected the presence of someone different. And in just one summer-in a collision of love, hate, jealousy, beauty, and a sacred, muddy swimming hole-nothing and everything changed." Heartwarming, heart-breaking and yet still hopeful... definitely thought-provoking... this is another one I passed right along to my teenagers, as this story really makes you think about the unexpected consequences of what seemed like such a simple action... at first.
2. One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp
"Drawing heartbreaking beauty out of the simplest of details, Ann Voskamp invites you into her grace-bathed life of farming, parenting, and writing---and deeper still into your own life. Here you will discover a way of seeing that opens your eyes to thanksgiving, a way of living so you are not afraid to die, and a way of becoming present to God that brings you deep and lasting joy." Ann's blog is a must daily read for me. I've been participating with her Multitude Mondays - 1000 Gifts now for almost 2 years. This is a beautiful book, best digested slowly and thoughtfully. I'm looking forward to reading it again this year.
" ‘The Himalayan view from our back porch was normally breathtaking but that day I sat there and wondered. Ten years of civil war, a deteriorating health system, an economic crisis and a political stalemate. It was a background of hopelessness for the lives of our Nepali friends and the community that we lived in. In such setting of pain and darkness, how could God reveal his nature? And how could he call me by name? I wasn’t sure. I didn’t think it was possible.’ From within the uncertainty of Nepal’s civil war, Naomi Reed continues the story of her family’s desire to train Nepali physiotherapists and share God’s love in word and action. Her honesty and genuine longing to see God’s purposes and sovereignty make this unforgettable reading." I've already written a review of both of Naomi's books - and I found this one more powerful than the first. One of the things I most enjoyed was her very authentic transparency - I feel like I could sit down over a cup of tea and just visit with her. I've been privileged to correspond with Naomi a few times over the course of this past year - and I still get that same impression... maybe some day... 
(Note - 2011 is the year I read the book... not the year the book was written, and with the exception of the Trophy Chase Trilogy, all book descriptions can be found at Shelfari.com.)

07 January 2012

Mullings and Musings ~ thinking much about marriage these days as I prepare for Ladies' Bible study

  • "Whose Wife Are You?" (As I've been asked by our Pastor's wife to teach a Bible study series on marriage, the husband/wife relationship and what submission should look like, this is, I think, one of the most biblical, best bits I've read to date. What do you think?)
"...the way my wife submits to me, as the leader in the home, may look quite different from the way another wife submits to her own husband. The big picture should be the same—he is to lead his wife and she is to follow within the role of a helper. But the particulars of that leading and following will vary a great deal based on the two personalities, based on the dynamics of the relationship, based on the stage in life, based on their individual strengths and weaknesses."

  • "Be You" (Loved, loved, love this... maybe because I could have written this article myself, even as I sometimes catch myself still trying and striving to be someone I think I should be... but not who God created me to be or who my husband needs me to be.)
"I am learning to be careful with using the phrase “Biblical model” to justify our lifestyles. There is a Biblical model of God commanding a man to marry a prostitute.

I am trying to work this out in my own life. I know that God wants my heart, my affections first and foremost. What that looks like will be as varied as the people God has chosen."

"I'm done taking my cues on what kind of wife I should be from anyone but him. I'm determined to honor the unique man that he is. From here on out I submit myself to my own husband. When it comes to what it means to be a good wife to him, beyond the Scripture, no one but he has a right to inform me.  I will learn from him at home."

  • "Looking back at life's decisions..." (Not exactly intended to relate specifically to marriage - but it was in this context that I read the article and it seems to add to the discussion.)
"Sylvia Plath once wrote, 'I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet ... and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion. ... I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.' "

06 January 2012

5 Minute Friday ~ Roar

I remember the first time I hear a lion roar in real life... at a zoo. It was a terrifying sound.

It was even more terrifying when, after moving to a new neighborhood in Niamey, we heard that same sound from one of the surrounding houses. It isn't one of the sounds where you wonder, "What in the world was that?" The hairs on the back of my neck were definitely standing on edge. Sometimes, you can hear the lions at the zoo in town early in the morning or if it is close to feeding time.

Recently, Tim and the older kids went camping at a game park not far from Niamey - and heard lions and baboons fussing at each other every night - and this was taking place 5-600 meters from the campground. There were also certain treks they couldn't take without an armed guard accompanying them (for a small fee, of course).

Tim and the other men went on a night safari - and on the road just outside of the campground, they met a lionness. She arrogantly "flirted and toyed" with them, unintimidated and in no rush to move off the road and allow the men in their Landcruiser an opportunity to drive on past.

When we take our little ones to the zoo here, the lions are often pacing. And when they see our smaller children, we can watch them stalk up and down in their cages, their pacing and their eyes watching the kids as they run back and forth. One of our girls who noticed this called it "creepy."

I think there are 15 or so different verses in the Bible that refer to a roaring lion. But the most well known words to me come from 1 Peter 5: "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world."

The enemy is just like those lions pacing and prowling, eyeing little girls with obvious desire... and I'm so thankful those lions are caged. So I ask myself, spiritually, is there some key for caging the raging lion that would seek to devour me? According to Peter, controlling my passions, desires, fears... staying always on guard, watching, surveying, preparing, fortifying... and then resisting by standing firm in the faith, particularly by recognizing that those roars seem louder and scarier in the shadows of suffering, but that is not unique to me and mine.

05 January 2012

Parc W 2011 ~ Note to self: "When sending your family off to an African game park, always make sure the camera battery is completely charged."

Well, as much as I was looking forward to a vacation (any vacation) this year... after staying home last year with the littles while Tim scoped the place out...

The littles and I still missed out.

Our four younger ones were really too sick to go camping {insert very sad face and tiny violins playing as I indulge in a very short self-pity party...} and so Tim headed out with the biggers while I stayed home.

And we forgot to charge the camera batteries before they left, so while they had some great photo opps... and got some pretty awesome photos... they had to be judicious with how much they used the camera.

And they still returned with a plethora of photos!

I'm really not bitter about this, although honesty forces me to admit I shed a few selfish tears being left behind... again... initially... I'm glad we made the choice we did because the younger four would have been miserable had we tried to take them (as would have been their mama) and the bigger five - including Leandra - would have been pretty wretched if they hadn't gone (as would have been their daddy).

So I am glad they had a good time and all stayed safe... although...
  • stories about elephants charging the Land Cruiser,
  • lion and baboons harassing each other less than a kilometer from camp,
  • crazy plunging from a cliff into murky water where crocs could be concealed,
  • hikes into the Gorge where they had to engage an armed guard to go with them... (for protection from what, exactly... or do I really want to know?)

...do lead me to shake my head in wonder at these thrill seeking teens and daddy!

Maybe I'm turning into "Old Fogey"
(i.e. an extremely fussy, old-fashioned, or conservative person, fuddy-duddy,
square, stick-in-the-mud, antique, dinosaur, fossil, relic,
anachronism, dodo...)

So enjoy the rest of the photos...
and don't miss a final question at the very end!

Please do tell..
What's your favorite picture and why?

03 January 2012

You want to teach Sunday School? Go find your own scholars...

Surprising statement?

I thought so...

It is not exactly your typical response to one seeking to serve in her church's Sunday School program is it? ...yet it was essentially what Rosalind Goforth was told.
"Some years later, having moved to a strange city, a great longing came to do some definite service for my Master. One day there came to the Bible class I attended a call for teachers to aid in a Sunday School nearby. When I presented myself before the superintendent and offered my services, it is not much wonder I received a rebuff, for I was young and quite unknown. I was told that if I wished a class, it would be well for me to find my own scholars. I can remember how a lump seemed choking me all the way home that day.
At last, determining not to be baffled, I prayed the Lord to help me get some scholars, I went forth, praying every step of the way, the following Saturday afternoon; and canvassing just one short street near our home, I received the promise of nineteen children for Sunday school. The next day a rather victorious young woman walked up to the Sunday school superintendent with seventeen children following. Needless to say I was given a class."
Just imagine how the church might grow if we were all so determined to serve and minister...

I've discovered an on-line treasure... and am now working my way through ~

How I Know God Answers Prayer
The Personal Testimony of One Lifetime
by Rosalind Goforth

Another Book for Horse Crazy Little (or not so little) Girls

In fourth grade and horse crazy, Ellie thinks... dreams... lives horses. In fact, much to the amusement of her entire class, her recently announced "science" experiment at school is determining the most effective way of convincing parents to get their girl a horse: begging, crying or praying. That's when a shaggy, skinny, spotted pinto running lost and distressed down the road causes her trouble at school while galloping straight into her heart. But will Ellie even recognize this as the answer to her prayers?

Horse Dreams by Dandi Daley Mackall is one of those almost perfect little girl/tween horse stories. Although the plot is predictable and the "stars" of the story are stereotypical, it is a quick and uncomplicated read including amusing, humorous personalities that will encourage any girl who has ever dreamed of having her own horse to keep on dreaming and imagining and most of all, praying... And what little girl (and sometimes big girl) doesn't have that dream at some time in her life?

I enjoyed the book well enough that, without hesitation, I'd pick up additional ones in the series, and I'm certainly looking forward to passing it along to my own horse crazy tweens and little girls who are always looking for another good horse story to devour.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tyndale as a part of their Book Review Blogger program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 244: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and and Testimonials in Advertising.

02 January 2012

Multitude Monday - 1000 Gifts ~ A splinter story

"...and then your life isn't your own anymore. Love takes hostages..."

I've come across that quote many times recently - always attributed to a different person, so I don't know who actually first said it or where it really comes from, but I've been thinking about it quite a bit.

Pretty graphic description, not at all flattering... but right or wrong, I've agreed with that sentiment of late, particularly as it relates to this mama and how I love these children God has given me. Let me tell you just one of about 10 stories I could recount from the past month...

Several weeks ago, I returned to the Rec Center (where we tend to hang out as a family on Saturdays) after teaching ladies' Bible study to find my baby boy laying on a pool chair snuggled up to his cousin, his right eye very red and inflamed and tearing almost continually. Apparently, Jonathan had been playing in a tree, climbing and monkeying around with his buddies, and ended up getting poked in the eye with a branch. He wasn't complaining, yet it was obvious he was uncomfortable and somewhat distressed.

My immediate reaction was guilt... was this somehow my fault and if I'd been ministering to my family instead of off ministering to others, this might not have happened?

Then anger joined the party in my mind, directed primarily towards my husband - after all, if he'd been watching the kids instead of reading The Isles (a history book that he has been meandering through for about 6 months), this might not have happened... and why didn't he call me or why wasn't he doing something to help our little guy feel better?

My little guy was hurting, and so was I. I was heart-sore, and wondering what I should do to help him, praying for God's intervention, losing sleep as I'd wake up to check on him and his eye throughout the night... it had become more than simply caring and was preoccupation.

That's what I mean when I say that I've been agreeing with that sentiment... "Love takes hostages."

According to Miriam Webster, a hostage is
  1. a person held by one party in a conflict as a pledge pending the fulfillment of an agreement; a person taken by force to secure the taker's demands
  2. one that is involuntarily controlled by an outside influence
It is that second definition that particularly resonates.

Way more than I care to admit, in fact. 

During those intervening weeks since Jonathan first hurt his eye, I've felt as though against my will, preoccupations and worries and wonders of what would happen and what we should do have derailed and detained my thoughts.

I'd dwell on this particular situation, rapidly running a mental gamut... touching on many aspects... a wide array ranging from:
  • gentle acceptance of God's sovereignty to begging and pleading for healing,
  • guilt that I wasn't there to protect him and my initial anger towards my husband who was there but didn't,
  • choosing to question God and let Him know my extreme displeasure at this set of circumstances,
  • asking angry Why's? then gently seeking "How are You using this to grow Jon, to grow our family,... to grow me?"
Really, there are too many extremes to list.

I can say, without doubt, that being hostage to these tumultuous emotions and ranging thoughts does not result in either peace or liberty - promises that are mine to claim, if I would learn to truly trust... and thankfulness was either fleeting or forced.

I'm relieved to share that the outcome of this particular incident is one where my desires agreed with the God's plan. After the initial injury and a day with absolutely no improvement, we consulted with an optometrist friend who said that the cornea was definitely scratched, twice. She recommended we see an ophthamalogist. We did. He told us that the cornea was both lacerated and ulcerated - and then that a shard of wood had penetrated the globe of the eye and was still embedded in the cornea. Jonathan would eventually need surgery to remove the piece of wood from his eye. Surgery in a place like Niger is a scary word because here that could very well mean medical evacuation. The doctor recommended waiting a bit, continuing with ointments and drops to encourage healing - because as the cornea heals, it tends to push foreign objects towards the surface, resulting in a better prognosis for any future surgery.

Last Saturday Tim took Jon back to the ophthalmologist. The doctor looked into his eye, looked up at Tim and said “Oh! The splinters are gone.” Tim’s response? "Splinters?" and then: “Praise God!” In one week's time, we went from probable surgery to a very particular and tender demonstration of God’s love, care and kindness. This past week, as the cornea continued to heal, the pieces of the branch that still remained  a week ago (and nearly 1 month after the initial accident) had been pushed up and out – and all the way out of his eye. In no way so I want to imply that God wouldn't have loved and cared if He'd chosen not to answer our prayers in this way way, yet we are very thankful that He did. Frankly, though, I don't know if I'd be writing this if He'd chosen a different path for us... for while my head knows... my heart struggles.

I don't know exactly what the answer is. I'm agreeing wholeheartedly with Ann today when she writes: "A woman can know faith in her head and fear in her heart." I can confess this lack of gentle, confident trust as sin one moment... live in the gift of each moment, having peace and freedom from worry and control the next... and then start the cycle if distrust and discontent with the whole kaboodle all over again when Jonathan needed drops in his eye, his patch changed, or asked to go lay down because his one good eye was simply tuckered out.

It has felt very much, if not like a thorn in my flesh, then maybe like a sliver continually poking and prodding around in my heart... not unlike those splinters lodged in my boy's eye. This "thorn" in my life, an at times paralyzing fear for the well-being of one of my children, not only serves to keep me humble (as Paul said), but continually drives me to communion with God because I not only see how desperately weak and helpless I am - I live and breath it... so much so that at times I am incapacitated by it. Now, if I could just learn to be OK with this... accepting it also as God's kindness and good grace...
"...for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me-- to keep me from exalting myself!" (2 Cor 12:7b, NASB)

this week's gratitude list
(#s 1799 - 1826)

splinter stories - even when the lessons are still very much in process and far from mastered

the way God made corneas to heal

our own, very personal miracle of healing

testifying to the ophthamalogist that this was all God

seeing both of those bright, big blue eyes minus shades or a patch

little boy running wild once again

7 year old artist using both of his eyes to draw quite detailed still-lifes

big cousin watching younger cousin at her horseback riding lesson

softball and kickball on New Year's Eve

totally homemade smores - marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars - around our campfire

immediately devoured Nestle chocolate bars sent to the kiddos by a friend

fewer coughing episodes throughout the night

vacation jam sessions in the living room

safe canoeing adventures - despite one close call with a hippo

this time seeing elephants and lions... not just the signs of them...

a friend who helped me with the sickies who had to stay home and couldn't take the camping trip to the game park

baguette pizza and a movie... with chocolate chip cookies for dessert

two different hot water heaters - to double up the steamy shower capacity for croupy little ones

coke and Pringles for tummies that don't think anything else sounds possible

waterbed heaters for sickies who have the chills

finally starting the process of cleaning my desk

another one has finally mastered the skill of bike riding

staying in my jammies all day... even when being sick is the excuse for doing so

another bread maker in the family... Yay Tori!!!

challenging Bible reading plans... and the fact that His mercies are new every morning

developing good new habits

organizing videos, dvds and cds - even when it is a never-ending project

heart to hearts with almost 9 year olds


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