Saturday, July 31, 2010

Happy Birthday, Maggie!

In honor of my first grandchild’s birth, I entitled Chapter 6 of Grandma’s Letters from Africa “Margaret Laura Kathleen Thomas.” Today we’re again celebrating the birth of this beautiful, delightful young lady: Happy Birthday, Maggie!

Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail I sent Maggie while sitting at my computer in Nairobi. She was only a few hours old then:

Back in 1967 when I married your grandpa, I became “Mrs. Thomas.” That was very new and somehow it didn’t seem right because “Mrs. Thomas” was Dave Thomas’s mother.

Eventually I got used to it, though, and then in 1990 your dad married your mom, and I became a mother-in-law, “Mom Thomas.” That was very new and somehow it didn’t seem right because “Mom Thomas” was Dave Thomas’s mother.

Eventually I got used to it, though, and then in 1994 I became “Grandma Thomas.” But that seems very new and somehow it doesn’t seem right because “Grandma Thomas” is Dave Thomas’s mother.

Now that I’m a grandmother I’m feeling old, but when I told a friend about my first grandchild, she looked at me, paused, smiled, and said, “How wonderful that you can enjoy your grandchildren while you’re so young!” Bless her! (Excerpt from Grandma’s Letters from Africa, Chapter 6)

Happy Birthday, Maggie! We love you!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Are you age 35? 40? Approaching middle age? Soon to be an empty-nester?

A special note to people age 35 to 40—those who will soon be mid-lifers and/or empty-nesters:

A number of years ago my husband, Dave, said, “At church they teach us to tithe—give 10 percent—of our money, so why not encourage people to also tithe their professional lives?”

In other words, after working twenty years in a career, how about working two years in a ministry? Or after thirty years, how about three years in ministry? Great idea!

And, in fact, a number of mid-lifers, empty-nesters, and baby boomers—instead of retiring to a life of leisure—are transitioning into ministries, even overseas missions. Most people in this age group have good health, energy, and a wealth of experience and wisdom to share. Many organizations recognize this and actively recruit such people.

When you arrive at those empty-nest years, maybe you will be ready to try something new, so I invite you to read my memoir, Grandma’s Letters from Africa. Read over my granddaughter Maggie’s shoulder and learn how a mid-life woman—I—moved to Africa and even lived to tell about it! And while you read, keep in mind that maybe you could do something like this, too.

Perhaps a second career in missions will be just what you’re looking for—maybe for a few months, maybe for a few years. Working on the mission field is doable as long as people are willing, flexible, and strong in their faith. So while you read over Maggie’s shoulder, I hope you’ll say to yourself, “If that gal could do it, so can I! Where do I sign up?”

In many parts the world, not just Africa, the needs are enormous. The rewards are, too.

If you are asking, “Where do I sign up?” check out The Finishers Project. The wonderful folks there can help match your interests with any number of mission opportunities and other ministries.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

How it all got started

All I ever wanted was to live a quiet, secure life in a little white house with a picket fence and a rose garden, but my husband Dave and our adventuresome God had other plans. Just when our youngest finished college, both Dave and God hollered, “Africa!”

Stunned, I asked myself, How can we leave our kids and parents and live on the other side of the planet? For months, I waited for God to convince me that He really wanted us to move to Africa. I gave Him every opportunity to either show us green lights and send us to Africa or red lights and keep us home—and He gave us only green. So I sighed, and turned, and took a radical, outrageous, blind leap of faith.

A year after we moved to Africa with Wycliffe Bible Translators, our daughter-in-law Jill gave birth to our first grandchild and it occurred to me that I was not the traditional, quaint little grandmother I always envisioned. No, I had stumbled into adventures most grandmas couldn’t imagine—a hippo charged me, a baboon pooped in my breakfast, and I drank tea from a pot cleaned with cow’s urine.

I decided to write those stories, and more, in letters to my granddaughter, Maggie. I knew she was too young to understand them then, but I also knew that someday she, and my future grandchildren, would grow up and enjoy my tales. Recently the right time arrived. I gathered my old letters and compiled them for the grandchildren—six of them now—and for Grandma’s Letters from Africa, a memoir about my first four years in Africa.

Grandma’s Letters from Africa is not merely an account of adventure. This is my story about balancing God’s call with responsibilities toward my husband, children, grandchildren, and aging parents. It’s my record of everyday life in a behind-the-scenes, yet important, role. It recounts hilarious incidents and frightful ones, joys and heartaches, answered prayers and those God seemed to leave unanswered. Grandma’s Letters from Africa is my story about falling in love with Africa, its people, and the work—both official and unofficial—God gave me.

Above all, it’s a chronicle of God’s heart, His delightful creativity, and His amazing power to help those in need.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Up close and personal

At first, I observed the Maasai from afar—my fellow orientees and I sat on canvas safari chairs in the shade of giant fig trees and listened to an anthropologist’s lectures on the Maasai culture.

During that phase of orientation, I associated with the Maasai, ever so slightly, because several men worked as our night guards. (That’s a picture of them; the head guard, John, wears the suit.) Since they did not speak my language and I didn’t speak theirs, mostly I nodded politely and kept my distance.

Because the Maasai needed money, the women asked us to hire them to scrub laundry in the little stream beside our camp. One day a handful of Maasai women came to camp with a gift: they danced and sang for us in their unique traditional way—but I stood back and watched. Only Chrissie danced with them—bless her heart. Looking back now, I wish I’d followed Chrissie’s example, but I stood back and remained an observer.

Then one day our head guard, John, invited some of us to his home for tea and:

…After a fifteen-minute walk across the desert, we spotted his manyatta, a cluster of seven or eight huts enclosed within a thick wall of thorn bushes that kept wild animals out at night. The Maasai kept their goats and cattle inside the wall at night so manure littered their yard. Children played in the yard, too, their faces dotted with tenacious flies.…

John’s children walked up within inches of me, heads bowed: this was their way of asking me to bless them by touching their heads. I could no longer stand at a distance. I reached out and touched their little heads and gave them their blessing but, looking back on it, I’m sure I received the bigger blessing.

I stooped down into John’s hut, felt my way along a darkened hallway, and entered the main room.

I took a seat on a wood bench against John’s dung-mud-and-stick wall and in doing so, I had entered the heart of that Maasai family’s world.

John’s wife squatted on the dirt floor over a fire where she boiled milk, water, tea, and sugar together: chai.

Two things worried me about their chai, though, because they made it with water from that dirty little brook, and because I heard that Maasai clean their pots with cow urine and charcoal. This germ-phobic old woman found the situation stressful.…

The primitive setting, the dwelling, the smoke-filled room, the furnishings, the cooking method—everything seemed alien.

But then John prayed for us:

When the chai was ready, John prayed in English and, to my surprise, he prayed only for us. On and on he prayed, asking God to shower His blessings upon us. Only a man well acquainted with God could pray the way John did. His prayer brought tears to my eyes.

…We visited for about an hour … and then we hiked back to camp. Along the way, I pondered how John and his family lived in what Westerners might consider poverty, and yet they were rich in hospitality, dignity, and the love of God. I had worried about manure, soot, cow urine, and contaminated water, but in reality, I had stood on holy ground. God lived in that place. (Grandma’s Letters from Africa, Chapter 2)

Now I look back and realize that John and his family are part of the “hundred times as much” God provided in answer to Karen’s prayer.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Don't tell Mom everything

I Miss My Mother
by J. H., Burundi/USA

I miss my mother. This problem crops up everywhere. For most missionary women and mothers, we are overwhelmed with new surroundings and we “just want Mom.…”

Try to communicate often. Stay in prayer, stay in touch.

Do not tell your mother everything; she will worry, and usually the problem is over before she gets the news.

When you leave your mother to go to the field, or when you come home on furlough, find a relative or friend to put aside a gift for your mother (or mother-in-law) [to give her when you’re gone] to let her know just how much you have appreciated her.…

We need mothers; we are lonely and begin to look for “mothering substitutes.” Usually God brings older women into our lives to show us the way. And basically they show us:

How to schedule our days.

How to use local products to make familiar recipes.

And tell us “don’t forget to sift your flour.”

Pray and ask God for someone who is older and wiser; one who has lived successfully in the country that God has called you to. Chances are that the very friend you have chosen to speak with, and open up to, was dreadfully homesick as well. God understands, and He says to us, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother, or children of fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Mathew 19:29). Trust Him with this desire for your heart.

© Women of the Harvest; published in Women of the Harvest Magazine, Sept/Oct, 2001. Article used by permission.

Monday, July 26, 2010

They called me "Mom"

On July 14, my daughter Karen blogged about reading Matthew 19:29 the night before her dad and I left for Africa:

“‘And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life’ (Matthew 19:29.) … I remember thinking I needed to trust God for the promise in that verse, both for me and for my parents: that we would receive a hundredfold. I prayed that for my mom that night. I asked God to give her a hundredfold for all her sadness, for all she was leaving behind. I remember writing the verse down to give to her. I wanted her to know that I understood, that I trusted God, that I believed Him and His promises—for myself and for her.”

Little did Karen know the many ways God would answer that prayer.

In Chapter 2 of Grandma’s Letters from Africa, I wrote about arriving at the second locale for Kenya Safari, our orientation course. Even though my husband, Dave, was still recovering from illness, we had to clear undergrowth and pitch our tent. A couple of young ladies in our group struggled to clear their land so Dave, weary and weak, helped them too. Bless his heart.

I wrote:

“Those gals seemed comforted by our presence and before long, they called me ‘Mom.’”

Do you see it?! Jesus said those who leave children for his sake would receive a hundred times as much, and Karen prayed for that. God answers prayers in various ways—some of His answers are deep and spiritual, others are everyday things—and there in Maasai-land, God provided a few young ladies to call me “Mom.” That probably didn’t fall into the deeply spiritual category, but believe me, I was delighted to add a few kids to my “family” that day!

Shortly after we arrived in Maasai-land, one of the young ladies, Sue, had a birthday, and it was within a day or two of Karen’s birthday. I wrote:

“I felt heartsick—I wanted to see my Karen on her special day. Then I thought of Sue’s mother. No doubt she longed to be with her daughter. That’s when it occurred to me that, in a small way, I could stand in for Sue’s mom, so I gave Sue a birthday hug and told her it was from her mother. I prayed that someone would do the same for my Karen Anne.” (Grandma’s Letters from Africa, Chapter 2)

So, you see, people who leave children (like I did) and leave parents (like Sue and the other young ladies did) receive more than spiritual gifts and blessings from God—He also gives us people who stand in for loved ones.

The lovely ladies you see in that picture with Dave and me are part of the “hundred times as much” God gave me. I still keep in touch with a few of them.

I’m smiling.

Are you smiling? Has God blessed you with special people to stand in for your family? Tell us your story. Leave a comment below (for instructions click here), or e-mail me at GrandmaLetters [at] aol [dot] com. (Replace [at] with @ and replace [dot] with a period, and scrunch them all together without any gaps, and you’ll be all set.)

Friday, July 23, 2010

For you lurkers: Gizmos, Doodads, and Thingamabobs

You know what lurking is, don’t you? It’s reading blogs without leaving comments.

Lurking is hard on bloggers.

Lurking can also frustrate those who wish to leave a comment but can’t figure out how.

I know because I’ve been a lurker myself and because some of you tell me you don’t know how to leave a comment.

If you are a dismayed lurker, I have good news!

I’ve added gizmos to make it easier to respond without leaving a comment. See those little doodads below that say funny, interesting, and cool? Click on those and see what happens. It couldn’t be easier.

You’ll also see other thingamabobs down there on the right—little square tabs. Run your mouse over them and you’ll see how to e-mail blog posts to friends and share them on Facebook, Google Buzz, and Twitter.

Gizmos, doodads, and thingamabobs aside, the best way to leave a comment is to establish a Google Account. It’s simple and free and will let you comment on lots of other people’s blogs, too. If you click into my comment box, you’ll see a way to set up your Google Account. (Still need help? Click on this link.)

I always welcome your e-mails, too, at GrandmaLetters [at] aol [dot] com. (Replace [at] with @ and replace [dot] with a period, and scrunch them all together without any gaps, and you’ll be all set.)

Let me know what you think, what you like, what you don’t like, topics you’d like me to cover, and especially tell me your stories! I know you have some!

Lurk no more!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bathrooms of the World

In case you haven’t noticed, we’re working on one of several “Quaint I Ain’t” themes. Monday I blogged about a pit latrine. A couple days ago I blogged about longing for a loo. Yesterday you read Barbara’s outhouse escapade. And let’s not forget about my earlier post about the choo in Maasai-land. Today we’ll hear from missionary B. Arnold about…. well, you know….

B. admits to life-long anxieties about restrooms and says that when she arrived in Burkina Faso, West Africa, she was introduced to “the thrills and chills” of “multi-bathroom experiences” and concluded she needed to make some changes.

In this excerpt from her article, Bathrooms of the World, she recounts her first trip to a village for an open-air evangelism campaign:

We were greeted and then led into a very nice courtyard where we were fed supper by the host family. After supper I used the facilities in their yard which consisted of a three-sided mud brick building with no roof and a hole in the center of the cement floor. The hole in the center of the floor meant that this outhouse [unlike some others] was a multi-purpose unit and could be used for all “needs.” For a bush village these were very deluxe accommodations. The “outhouse” provided for some semblance of privacy and luxury as well.

Once the veil of darkness fell upon the village we began our open air evangelism campaign but part way through the service I had to once again use the “facilities.” It was then that I realized that I had forgotten my flashlight. I asked one of the pastors if I could borrow his and he gladly loaned it to me for my little private moment.…

I entered into the deluxe accommodations and then discovered my dilemma: what to do with the flashlight while making use of the hole? If I placed the flashlight on the wall I could not see to find the hole and if I held the flashlight I could not manage my dress while busy. What to do? What do to?

… My only choice would be to place the flashlight in my mouth (yes I know that it was dirty!) and then be as quick as possible before I gagged.…

I looked down to find the hole and when I did, the flashlight shone down into the dark abyss. Soon I was “busy” and at almost the same time thousands of giant cockroaches began pouring out of the hole having been disturbed by the light. I could not scream as the borrowed flashlight would fall into the hole—I could not stop—and I could not stand still. Soon I was dancing back and forth, stomping and tromping and shaking off the critters as they tried to crawl up my legs!…

Finally I was able to leave the “deluxe” facilities and leaned against the wall trying to compose myself. I began to shake at the thought of it all and then just as suddenly, I began to laugh.… I must have been a site [sic] to behold.

I’m sure that the people who were watching the beam of light dancing around and around in the dark [from inside that three-sided, roofless outhouse] must have wondered what in the world that crazy American woman was doing.…

©Women of the Harvest Magazine, Sept/Oct, 2001. Excerpts used by permission.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Through The Outhouse Floor

“Did you notice that the slide bolt is missing off our outhouse door?”

“And that floor sure didn’t last long. The boards must have been green. Already they’re rotting.”

In her memoir, Through the Outhouse Floor, Barbara Thomas writes that when she, her husband Paul, and their sons returned to Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) after their furlough in the U.S., repairs awaited them.

Barbara continues,

One afternoon I grabbed a hammer, nails and a new slide bolt. I was tired of using a rock to keep the door shut every time I went to the outhouse. I placed the slide bolt on the door, matching it to its metal slot in the doorframe and penciled in where the nails should go. I opened the door, braced it against the wall, and hammered the slide bolt into place. The nails extended through the thin plank door. I banged the nails down flat on the other side. I stepped inside again and closed the door, sliding the bolt home. Perfect. I stepped back with a feeling of pride. My foot landed on a rotted section of flooring. The floor cracked and gave way.

My left leg dangled over the fifteen-foot black hole. I felt like screaming for help but on further reflection I decided I didn’t want the entire village converging on the outhouse to see me in this predicament. Besides, the door was still bolted shut….

Barbara, undaunted, explained,

Using my arms and free leg, all still at floorboard level, I hoisted myself up … unbolted the door and limped to the house.

Barbara admitted the incident inflicted a slight wound to her pride, but just think—the experience provided her with the title for her memoir! (The old silver lining thing, right?)

(You’ll enjoy Kim’s review of Through the Outhouse Floor as well as customer reviews at Amazon.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Longing for a loo

Yesterday I told you I’d never heard of pit latrines and never dreamed (nightmared) I’d use them.

The day came, however, when I would’ve given anything for a pit latrine. In Chapter 2 of Grandma’s Letters from Africa, I wrote the following about day thirteen of Kenya Safari, our orientation course:

… We left the shade and lush vegetation of Lake Naivasha and set out across the desert for our next phase of Kenya Safari.

Much of our route took us through The Great Rift Valley where, for three thousand miles, the surface of the earth is pulling apart, leaving a gaping scar across the earth’s face. The valley runs all the way from Mozambique to Syria, from southern Africa to southwestern Asia.

… Eventually we stopped alongside the road to empty our bladders. Squatting down in a skirt was not the hardest part. The hardest part was the knowledge that wild creatures lived out there in the bush.

A woman on our orientation staff had told me about sitting in her outhouse in Zaire when she felt a sharp pain on her behind. She found two wounds, side by side, and nearly passed out wondering what kind of snake made those fang marks. In her panic, she radioed to request evacuation, only to discover later that those were not fang marks. No, she found a chicken down inside that outhouse.

“Well”, I said to myself, wandering deeper into the bush to find a private place, “just because her bite turned out to be harmless, that doesn’t guarantee I’ll be as lucky.” Many a time [I’d warned my kids], “It doesn’t always happen to the other guy, you know.”

All I ever wanted was to live in a little white house with a picket fence and a rose garden! And a toilet! (Grandma’s Letters from Africa, Chapter 2)

When I get to heaven, I plan to ask God why He created women … uh, how shall I say this? I plan to ask why He made bladder-emptying so inconvenient for women, compared to men….

Looking back now, I realize that both pit latrines and wandering through the bush longing for a loo were part of my African adventures, those happenings that bring a smile only when they’re all over.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How to use a pit latrine

Friday I promised to put aside the heavy stuff and focus on antics that hollered at me, “You’re not the traditional, quaint little grandma you always envisioned!” You know—the “Quaint I Ain’t” stuff. Hang on, here we go!

In rural Africa, I encountered something I never heard of before, something I never dreamed (nightmared) I’d use: a pit latrine.

Pit latrines transformed my perspective on dark, smelly outhouses with black toilet seats: they were things of beauty compared to pit latrines.

In her article, How to use a pit latrine on your Kenya safari, Anne Huysman describes pit latrines this way:

There is a rectangular aperture in the middle over which you squat or stand with one leg on each side of the hole. Neither of these two choices are easy for first time users and especially for children, the elderly or safari travelers with serious weight issues.

Ventilation is normally poor in the latrine resulting to a build-up of pungent odors which can easily knock you down. Another nuisance will be from flies which are attracted by the content in the shallow holes.

Anne gives this helpful advice (I sure wish I’d known all this before I moved to Africa):

5 easy to follow tips on how to use a pit latrine:

1. Use the toilets in your hotel before you start off for long Kenya safari drives. This way you may be able to hold on until you get to the next lodge or keep your visit to the pit latrines to the minimum.

2. Be as comfortable as possible when using the pit latrine. Therefore hand over your bags and jackets to people traveling with you on the Kenyan safari. Be careful not to leave your belongings unattended.

3. Whatever contraption has been put up as a door latch, give it a test and hook it up properly. You can't afford to have the door flying open half-way [through] your operations!

4. Carry your own toilet paper. Though some curio shops along the Kenya safari routes provide toilet paper, it is not guaranteed. No harm in realizing that you didn't need it, than needing it and you don't have it.

5. Finally, after using the pit latrine wash your hands thoroughly preferably with liquid soap. There may be a running tap or a water tank outside the toilet, if not use your bottled water. Where a bar soap is provided, use it only if there is a good supply of tap water, remember a bar soap can be a good depository for germs.

All done and ready to move on with your Kenya safari? Not so quick before posing for a picture outside the pit latrine, this will be one photo that will show that you were truly there and did that!

Anne Huysman is the co-owner of Ontdek Kenya, a Wildlife Safari operator based in Kenya. Learn more about Anne and contact her through this link.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Emma Elisabeth Anne Thomas

In honor of Emma’s birth, I entitled Chapter 16, “Emma Elisabeth Anne Thomas.” We all received a delightful gift July 17 when Emma joined our family!

When her Great-grandma Kay received the news, she sat down and wrote this poem:

Dear Lord, bless sweet Emma Elisabeth Anne!
We know for her life you’ve a wonderful plan.
How we’ll love her, enjoy her, and play with her too—
Her Mommy and Daddy will tell her of You.
They’ll help her to walk and to talk and to pray,
And big sister Maggie will teach her to play.
So, Lord, thanks for Emma Elisabeth Anne,
She’s welcomed with joy by the whole of our clan!

Great-grandma Kay

Happy Birthday, Em! We love you!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The dead Elephant in The Room

“… if we’re not willing to make an Abraham-like sacrifice, we’ll miss out on God’s best for us. [On our drive to Dallas for pre-field meetings] I … asked myself, ‘What would I have forfeited if I’d refused to go to Africa?’ I wondered what Jesus meant when He said those who leave houses and families for His sake would receive a hundred times as much. What, specifically, is that ‘hundred times as much’? I couldn’t envision the answers. I sensed only that I’d have regrets if I missed that elusive ‘best’ and that mysterious ‘hundred times as much.’ (Grandma’s Letters from Africa, Chapter 2)

Before I read Karen’s blog post for Wednesday, I didn’t know she prayed God would give me His “hundred times as much.” When I read her words, tears stung my eyes and the earth buckled. I can’t find words…

I was not hoping—and Karen was not praying—for material rewards. I envisioned God would answer by surprising me with His peace, friends, joy in serving Him, an opportunity to experience Africa, and new things to learn about Him—and oh, yes, He gave me all those, and more! God answered Karen’s prayers—Grandma’s Letters from Africa is my testimony to that.

I believe He also heaped His hundred times as much upon Karen, Matt, and my husband.

The wise old author of Ecclesiastes said there’s a time to mourn and a time to dance (3:4). We mourned over saying goodbye to each other and living on opposite sides of the world.

Now, the time to dance has arrived, but we can’t if The Elephant in The Room takes up all the space, so—The Elephant in The Room lives no more.

Do you see that pile of branches and logs in the picture? When an elephant dies, its fellow elephants heap logs, branches, and leaves over it.

Yes, friends, The Elephant in The Room lives no more! Let the dancing begin!

Come back Monday for epidoses from Grandma’s Letters from Africa that hollered at me, “You’re not the traditional, quaint little grandma you always envisioned!”

No, quaint I ain’t. Sigh…

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Loss? Or adventure?

Today Karen’s post begins with the scene I blogged about on July 11—saying goodbye:

The next morning, while it was still dark gray outside, I stood with my sweet Grandma Kay in the middle of the street watching my mom and dad drive away. I was so sad I hurt. My best friends, my rocks, my supports were as good as gone to the moon. It would take at best a couple weeks for a letter to get from one to the other. My parents wouldn’t have a phone, and they wouldn’t have e-mail for months. I didn’t know the next time I’d hear their voices or see their faces.

I was so proud of them, though, so full of respect for their selflessness and admiration for their abandoned trust and obedience to God. And I knew that Jesus would keep His promise. I knew that my parents were giving me a great and beautiful gift in showing me again what it looked like to follow Jesus.

In the months and years that followed, I missed my parents but just like God, it didn’t matter where I was compared to them, they were always available, their love and care didn’t falter. Home was with them—even in letters, e-mails, brief phone calls, and summer visits. God’s love and provision was steadfast and true. His word was challenge and comfort and home.

My parents gave up a great deal by our common sense standards and yet, really, they gained much more and in the process allowed me the chance to do the same. What originally looked and felt like loss was a wonderful adventure—because it was with Jesus.

And now, these years later, as I look back I understand that my life, too, is an adventure with God. My husband and I haven’t gone to Africa with our family, but we are on an adventure of our own with God, an adventure of trusting Him to do something that seems impossible, something that makes no sense according to common sense, and yet He’s doing it and allowing us to be a part.

The example I received from God through my parents’ lives has shaped my heart and mind and I’ve no doubt that their obedience has allowed my life and my walk with God to be richer and deeper.

I’ve learned I can take God at His word.

I’ve learned that following Jesus hurts sometimes.

I’ve learned that home isn’t a building.

I’ve learned that God wants to use us in unexpected ways.

And I’ve learned that what doesn’t make sense to us often does make sense to God, and if we’ll let Him, He will take us on some amazing adventures.

One of God’s most precious gifts to me has always been my parents, and my parents’ most precious gift to me has been their love for God.

Because some of you have young adult kids and you’re wrestling with whether to move overseas, I asked Karen to jot down her recollections of the months surrounding her parents’ departure for the mission field.

Our hope and prayer is that God will use her story to help you discern His unique plans for you and your family.

If Karen’s words have blessed you, please let her know! Leave a comment below or e-mail me at GrandmaLetters [at] aol [dot] com.

Karen, her husband Brian, and their three beautiful boys live in southern California. Karen and Brian teach at a Christian School, and Brian pastors The Malibu Gathering, where Karen and the boys are enthusiastically involved.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Karen and the hundred times as much

Continuing from yesterday with guest blogger Karen:

I remember helping my parents pack their treasures away that summer and moving out of the house I’d grown up in. I was attached to that house, to those books, and dishes, the creaks in the hallway floor, the smell of the spices in the cupboards, the view from the kitchen table of the walk outside the front door, the basketball hoop above the garage door, and the cracks in the driveway we used for the free-throw line. Moving out was hard for my mom especially, although I think she tried not to show me.

I read the gospel of Matthew that summer and many of Jesus’ words were difficult, sharp, and real, and I was challenged to ask myself if I really believed them—did I take Jesus at his word? Both the difficult words and the comforting words? My parents were taking him at his word. They were throwing everything they had into his care, against common sense, outside their comfort zones. My self-centered sadness was tempered by deep admiration, and a desire to trust God and live accordingly, like they were doing. I was learning, slowly, that with my eyes on God, I could view change as adventure instead of loss.

I accepted my first teaching job that summer and my dad helped me find a little house to buy, both of which were equally thrilling and terrifying. The excitement of those upcoming transitions, of my entrance into the adult world, with all my optimism and 21-year-old confidence, helped some, but also made their departure more difficult. I entered these new roles without the comfort of knowing that I could fall back on my parents’ guidance and help.

God’s greatest gift to me had always been the love and support of my parents. They had been the sigh and deep breath of knowing I had backup—they’d been there for me no matter what. I’d always known I’d make it because, well, because Mom and Dad were there. My Great-grandpa Mac had assured my Grandma Kay, “You can always come home," and that’s the kind of parents I had.

But with them in Africa, I couldn’t just make a phone call or stop by for an infusion of confidence and encouragement. I was learning that God himself would be my support and that He was enough.

The night before my parents left, I remember crying. And I remember my mom crying—the only time I specifically remember her crying. Her grief was tangible. It was as if I could actually feel her heart breaking. We of course had talked about our sadness, about her worries of leaving me, about the difficulties, about trusting God, but that night it was as if I couldn’t reach her. Words and hugs weren’t enough. She was isolated in her sadness, and I suppose I was too, and both of us were trying to think of the other.

I remember opening my Bible and, not to overstate it, but it was like an epiphany. Words I’d read before suddenly were clear and true and alive, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29.) That’s what my parents were doing. They were following Jesus. It was suddenly so beautifully clear to me that that’s what it is all about, and if we are doing that, nothing can go wrong. It might not go the way we expect and it might hurt, it might even break our hearts, but we would be all right because God was with us and we were trusting him.

I remember thinking I needed to trust God for the promise in that verse, both for me and for my parents: that we would receive a hundredfold. I prayed that for my mom that night. I asked God to give her a hundredfold for all her sadness, for all she was leaving behind. I remember writing the verse down to give to her. I wanted her to know that I understood, that I trusted God, that I believed Him and His promises—for myself and for her.

By now, friends, you understand why Karen is so dear to me and why my heart broke to leave her.

Come back tomorrow for Karen’s 3rd and final post—for now, at least.

Karen, her husband Brian, and their three beautiful boys live in southern California. Karen and Brian teach at a Christian School, and Brian pastors The Malibu Gathering, where Karen and the boys are enthusiastically involved.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Where was home?

Today I’m delighted to introduce you to Karen. If you’ve read Grandma’s Letters from Africa, you know her as my precious daughter. That’s a recent picture of Karen, her husband, Brian, and their three terrific sons—my grandsons!

Now, Brian had not entered Karen’s life when my husband and I left for Africa. She was all alone. Moving half a world away from her was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve told you about that in recent posts.

Because some of you have young adult kids and you’re wrestling with whether to move overseas, I asked Karen to jot down her recollections of the months surrounding her parents’ departure for the mission field.

Our hope and prayer is that God will use her story to help you discern His unique plans for you and your family.

I don’t remember when, exactly, my parents told me they were moving to Africa. It was during my senior year of college and I remember the very beige apartment I was living in and the hill across the street that I used to run. It was in those places that I tried to come to grips with their move and what felt to me like my loss of them. I was probably a bit melodramatic, 21 years old, finishing college, and figuring Africa might as well have been the moon. I was terribly sad but in tune with God enough to know that much of my sadness was selfish and self-absorbed, which only complicated my emotions. Regardless, as I look back now, I agree with my mom in her book when she talks about grieving and mourning.

You might have to know my parents to really understand why it was such a big deal, although reading my mom’s book, Grandma’s Letters from Africa, gives you a good glimpse into the woman she genuinely is, the woman I’d always had as my mom, my fall-back. My parents had been my rocks. They had been my inspirations. They had been my examples and my guides. They showed me Jesus.

My dad and I would go on walks together and talk about Jesus and life, and he showed me that they are inseparable, that life is ministry. He lived a life that trusted God idealistically, steadfastly, and creatively, and he gave me that same view as my paradigm.

My mom had made our house a home and left no doubt in me or my brother of her love for us and for God. My mom was my example of integrity, hard work, selflessness, and the courage to tangibly trust God completely and utterly.

As I look back now on my youth and specifically those days before my parents left for Africa, I understand that it was the unconditional love my parents showed me, showed each other, and showed God, that had defined my life.

I had always known that no matter what, I could always go home. But where was home if my parents were in Africa?

Come back tomorrow for Part 2 from Karen. You won’t want to miss it!

Karen, her husband Brian, and their three beautiful boys live in southern California. Karen and Brian teach at a Christian school, and Brian pastors The Malibu Gathering, where Karen and the boys are enthusiastically involved.

Monday, July 12, 2010

An upside-down, inside-out world

First, a brief recap from yesterday:

… We were heading toward Dallas for pre-field meetings. That first morning in the car, I opened my favorite devotional book. To my surprise, Karen had lettered several Bible verses and slipped them into the book on special dates.

For August 11, the date of our flight out of the States, she wrote in her graceful script, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39). (Grandma’s Letters from Africa, Chapter 2)

When I read those words in Karen’s handwriting, I sensed she had gone through her own grieving, loosened her grip on her parents, and placed them in God’s hands—so that she could pick up her cross and follow Him.

Tom Wright’s thoughts about the cross:

… Jesus didn’t say, as do some modern evangelists, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

Nor did he say, “I accept you as you are, so you can now happily do whatever comes naturally.”

He said, “If you want to become my followers, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

He spoke of losing one’s life in order to gain it, as opposed to clinging to it and so losing it.

He spoke of this in direct relation to himself and his own forthcoming humiliation and death, followed by resurrection and exaltation.

Exactly in line with the Beatitudes, he was describing and inviting his followers to enter

an upside-down world,

an inside-out world,

a world where all the things people normally assume about human flourishing … are set aside and a new order is established. (Virtue Reborn, by Tom Wright, p. 100) (Source:
Eddie’s blog. Thanks, my friend.)

Amy Carmichael’s thoughts about the cross:

…Often we accept the cross in theory, but when it comes to practice, we either do not recognize it for what it is, or we recognize it and try to avoid it…. It is not illness (that comes to all), or bereavement (that also is the common lot of man). It is something voluntarily suffered for the Lord Jesus, some denial of self, that would not be if we were not following Him…; It always has at its core the denial of self and self-love and all its manifestation. Self-choices go down before the call to take up the cross and follow. (Amy Carmichael, Edges of His Ways)

What are your thoughts about the cross? Do you agree or disagree with Tom Wright? With Amy Carmichael?

Leave a comment below or e-mail me at GrandmaLetters [at] aol [dot] com.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Saying goodbye to Karen

In 1993, on today’s date, July 11, my husband and I slid into our car, pulled the doors closed, and clicked on seat belts. Dave turned the key, shifted into reverse, and inched the car down the driveway.

My mother stood beside our car with her arm around Karen and together they waved goodbye. Tears streaked their faces. I choked on my own sobs. How could I survive four years without seeing them? (Grandma’s Letters from Africa, Chapter 2)

Matt, age 23, had graduated from college, married his sweetheart, Jill, and established himself as an educator.

Karen, age 21 and fresh out of college, was in the process of moving some 1,200 miles from her college town and establishing her home and teaching career. Matt and Jill had each other, their own support system, but Karen was all alone.

… We were heading toward Dallas for pre-field meetings. That first morning in the car, I opened my favorite devotional book. To my surprise, Karen had lettered several Bible verses and slipped them into the book on special dates.

For August 11, the date of our flight out of the States, she wrote in her graceful script, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39). (Grandma’s Letters from Africa, Chapter 2)
When I read those words in Karen’s handwriting, I sensed she had gone through her own grieving, loosened her grip on her parents, and placed them in God’s hands—so that she could pick up her cross and follow Him.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"Deliberate confidence in the character of God"

Let’s continue with Thursday’s lessons from Abraham.

With utmost trust, Abraham trudged up the mountainside with a pile of wood, knife, fire, two servants, and his beloved son, Isaac.

Along the way, I suspect Abraham re-lived past interactions with God. Take this one, for example:

“When God promised Abraham that he would become the father of many nations [through Isaac’s descendents], Abraham believed him. God had also said, ‘Your descendants will be as numerous as the stars,’ even though such a promise seemed utterly impossible! And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though he knew that he was too old to be a father at the age of one hundred and that Sarah, his wife, had never been able to have children. Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger.… He was absolutely convinced that God was able to do anything he promised.” (Romans 4:18-21, NLT)

And He did: He gave Abraham and Sarah their son Isaac.

So now, in the current seemingly impossible situation, because Abraham personally knew God’s character, he remained convinced God could do anything He promised.

Picture the scene. Isaac asked his father, “Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?”

Since Abraham was only human, I wonder if he swallowed hard before he answered.

I wonder if Abraham asked himself, How can God keep His promises? They depend on Isaac staying alive!

If so, his faith wobbled only momentarily. As Oswald Chambers said,

“Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.”
With that kind of faith, Abraham told Isaac, “God will provide the lamb, my son.”

Because he already knew God’s character, in “blind-eyed, bent-kneed acceptance” of God’s plan, “against all hope, Abraham in hope believed” (Romans 4:18, NIV) that God would provide.

“Abraham held to God’s promise (17:19) even as he went to carry out that which would seem to prevent its fulfillment.” (Oswald Chambers, Not Knowing Where)

When the summit came into view, he told his servants to wait there because, he said, he and Isaac would climb higher to worship. Worship! (Do you have tears in your eyes? I do.)

That’s not all he said. “We will return,” he said. We will return!

Abraham didn’t know exactly how God would provide, but he “reasoned that God could raise the dead” (Hebrews 11:29), if necessary. All he knew was that God could do anything He promised.

With deliberate faith and an angel looking on, Abraham placed first wood and then Isaac on the altar.

His mind and heart must have reeled, yet Abraham was willing to do what God asked.

“Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One who is leading.” (Oswald Chambers)

You know how the story ends: Abraham lifted his knife high over his son.

At that moment, the angel of the Lord shouted, “Put down the knife! Now I know you truly love God because you have not withheld even your beloved Isaac!”

Abraham looked over and saw a ram stuck in a bush—God provided it for the sacrifice in place of Isaac—and worship the two did, just as Abraham had said! And descend the mountain the two did, just as Abraham had said!

Abraham loved God supremely, served Him loyally, and obeyed Him humbly.

No wonder we call Abraham “the father of all who believe” (Romans 4:11)!

Friday, July 9, 2010

“Blind-eyed, bent-kneed acceptance … of a greater plan”

We’ve almost brought down that Elephant in the Room so let’s continue from yesterday:

At the time I didn’t understand but, looking back now, I see God simply asked me to follow through on commitments and promises I’d made to Him. (I shared a couple of them on
Wednesday.) He asked me to loosen my grip voluntarily on my kids, grandkids, and my dreams—as an act of worship, an expression of my commitment to Him.

Every man and woman of God who walked this earth ahead of us—biblical figures, heroes of the faith, and ordinary inconspicuous people—faced inner conflicts and difficult choices on the way to fulfilling his or her God-given purposes. That is still true today.

“Aren’t there times when your future seems to balance on a single decision?”
(Chuck Swindoll, Abraham, The Friend of God)

In her Bible Study on Esther, Beth Moore says God often uses something huge to pivot us, to turn us in a new direction that leads to what she calls our “sweet destiny,” our God-appointed destiny. She writes:

“We can refuse to walk in obedience to God or cower in fear from our calling and He will undoubtedly still accomplish His agenda. As for us, however, we will pass up the fulfillment of our own entire life-purpose.…”

“None of our purposes will be fulfilled easily. All of them will require the most difficult decisions we think we can make. Decisions that we may feel will practically kill us.… At some of the hardest times in my life, I have been able to make the more difficult choice out of
pure blind-eyed, bent-kneed acceptance that it was somehow part of a greater plan.…”

“At strategic times of internal war I stop and ask myself,
‘What if this is a critical moment? What if this very thing, this very decision, is the most important piece of the puzzle comprising my purpose?’”

God tests you and me so we’ll discover if He is our first priority. He asks us for our best so He can give us His better. He offers us a gift that will bring our faith to a higher, deeper, broader level.

What is God asking you to offer up to him voluntarily, as a gift, as an act of worship?

Could this be your critical moment? Is God asking you for
“blind-eyed, bent-kneed acceptance” of His greater plan for your life?

Could this decision be the most important step toward fulfilling your sweet, God-appointed destiny?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Gems and treasures in the soil beneath The Elephant in the Room

Today we’ll discover some of those buried gems and treasures I mentioned a couple of days ago, the ones buried in the rocky soil beneath the heavy feet of that Elephant in the Room. Let’s dig in:

At first it makes no sense that the God of grace, the God of mercy, comfort, and unfailing love would ask Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering.

God had promised Abraham this son, Isaac. God had promised descendents through Isaac—as many as the stars in the heavens. He’d promised to make Isaac’s descendents into a great nation and give them the Promised Land. He’d said that all people on earth would be blessed through Isaac.

And God wanted Abraham to put Isaac to death?

Now, God and Abraham had already enjoyed a long, close relationship, the type illustrated in Genesis 17:3—when God appeared before him, Abraham fell on his face.

“…Note the times when Abraham did not speak before God but remained silent before Him—not sullen, but silent. Awe is just that—reverential dread and wonder .… Awe is the condition of a man’s spirit when he realizes who God is and what He has done for him personally.…

Abraham’s posture is an expression of deep humility,trustful confidence, and pure joy—the characteristics of faith in God.…" (Not Knowing Where, Oswald Chambers, p. 88-89) [emphasis added]

That’s important information. God made His request within the context of a trusting, personal relationship.

The NIV study Bible note for Genesis 22:2 reads: “Abraham had [previously] committed himself by covenant to be obedient to the Lord and had consecrated his son Isaac to the Lord .…”

Given that, God’s request of Abraham seemed based on, and a result of, Abraham’s willingness to “walk the talk,” to follow through on his covenant and commitments.

One key to understanding God’s bizarre request is the burnt offering. The NIV Study Bible explains: “The Hebrew word for ‘offering’ used here [Leviticus 1:2-3] comes from the word translated ‘brings.’ An ‘offering’ is something that someone ‘brings’ to God as a gift (most offerings are voluntary, such as the burnt offering).… Anyone could offer special burnt offerings to express devotion to the Lord.” An NIV Study Bible chart defines burnt offering as a voluntary act of worship, an expression of devotion, commitment, and complete surrender to God. [emphasis added]

God asked Abraham if he’d offer up Isaac voluntarily, as an act of worship, as a gift, as an expression of his devotion to Him.

“The Lord put his servant’s faith and loyalty to the supreme test, thereby instructing Abraham, Isaac and their descendants as to the kind of total consecration the Lord’s covenant requires.” (NIV Study Bible note for Genesis 22:2)

“The very nature of faith is that it must be tried; faith untried is only ideally real, not actually real.… God proved Abraham’s faith by placing him in the most extreme crisis possible, for faith must prove itself by the inward concession of the believer’s dearest objects.” (Oswald Chambers, Not Knowing Where)

God asked Abraham, as part of their covenant, to give Him his dearest and best so He could give Abraham gems and buried treasure: His better.

This was God’s supreme test of Abraham’s faith and loyalty.

This was a pivotal point in Abraham’s life. He could do what God asked, or he could pretend God had not spoken.

Abraham was about to discover if indeed God was his first priority.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Closed fists and white knuckles

Soon, I promise, we’ll return to lighter topics and “quaint I ain’t moments,” but for now I’m still trying to bring down The Elephant in the Room.

“Sometimes people and things can become too important to us. We grip them with closed fists and white knuckles,” Chuck Swindoll writes, “and God has to pry open our fingers to loosen our hold. Perhaps that’s how it was between Abraham and Isaac.” (Abraham, The Friend of God)

Swindoll also writes:

“There are times when we look up full-hearted and prayerfully say, “O, Lord, in this crisp, clear, beautiful moment, You have everything that I own. You have all of me. There is nothing, nothing that I hold back.”

“It’s amazing how soon after those times of commitment
God seems to require something sacred in our lives that puts us to the test.”

I know what he means. In Chapter 2 of Grandma’s Letters from Africa I wrote of my grief over God’s request to leave my kids (and future grandkids) and move to Africa, and yet:

I thought of the times I had felt God’s tug, and the accompanying pain in my heart, while I sang the words—sincerely, I thought—“Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life my all.”* Had I really meant those words? My all? Even my children?

While I waited for God’s answer and He waited for mine, I thought about the summer of my 15th year when our youth director challenged us to commit our lives 100 percent to God. A few kids went forward but I remained in my chair, weighing what that commitment might entail. I recognized I could neither see into the future nor fully comprehend God’s ways, yet I stood and walked forward. I really meant it—at the time.

May 7, I blogged about the promises we make to God, seemingly every Sunday with our worship songs:

“I am Yours, God. Take me and use me.”
“I’ll live my life for You. I’ll do anything You ask.”
“I love You more than anything else.”
“All I am and all I have – Lord I give them all to You.”

You and I sing words like those, and sometimes pray them, but do we really mean them?

Discipleship involves keeping commitments and establishing priorities.

Jesus taught, in Luke 9, that when we say we’ll follow Him, we must first count the cost—realistically.

I’d heard those concepts in sermons, learned them in Bible studies, I’d even taught them in Bible studies, and now the time had come: Was I willing to epignosis them more than ever before?

God was offering me a gift, offering to bring my faith to a higher, deeper, broader level.

Accepting His gift, however, meant I had to sort through my entangled loyalties.

Recently I ran across notes I took while listening to Chuck Swindoll’s radio program around that time:

“God might be saying, ‘I want the Isaac of your life, without reservation, and I will show you step by step why I want your Isaac. You struggle because you’re unwilling to give God something you cherish. God wants first place in your life so He can arrange it the way He wants and so that you may be supremely happy.”

More on this tomorrow…. We’ve almost wrestled that elephant to the ground!

* When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Isaac Watts and Lowell Mason

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Elephant in the Room, Part 3

We North Americans build our lives around our homes, possessions, spouses, children, friends, careers, income, health insurance, retirement plans, bank accounts, investments, dreams, and plans for the future.

We call it “The American Dream.”

If someone destroys them or takes them away from us, we:

get mad,

fall apart,

feel victimized,

cry “Unfair!”

and feel cheated out of our rights.

God asks us, however, to hold them loosely, and for good reason—so that He can occupy first place in our lives. Remember Jesus’ words I blogged about a few days ago?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30, Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

The Message puts it this way: “…Love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.”

Usually we estimate that our love for God is enough and that our grasp on loved ones, treasures, and dreams is loose enough.

But because God’s ways and thoughts are so different and so much higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9), sometimes He whispers, “Your grip is still too tight.”

God isn’t mean-spirited.

No, the point is this: He has something better for us, something that would leave us utterly amazed, things we wouldn’t believe even if we were told (Habakkuk 1:5).

But God lets us decide whether we want His something better.

Sometimes, to help us decide, God puts us to the test, for both His sake and ours. Our decisions reveal to God—and to us, if we’re willing—the status of our faith in, and commitment to, Him.

God put many of our heroes and mentors to the test, including our dear Old Testament role model, Abraham.

God asked him to do the incomprehensible—unthinkable—unimaginable: He asked Abraham to place his beloved son, Isaac, on an altar and sacrifice him as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:1-2).

Do you think Abraham staggered at the request? I do.

Abraham played a key role in my eventual willingness to move to Africa, but let me hasten to make this clear: God wasn’t asking me to put my children to death.

It took a while to figure it out, but God was asking me to die to the dreams and plans I had as mother to my kids and grandmother to their kids.

And yes, I staggered at God’s request.

But He was offering me His something better—which, in time, would leave me utterly amazed, things I wouldn’t believe even if I were told (Habakkuk 1:5).

In coming days we’ll ponder what God asked Abraham to do, and why, but for now, what about you?

Is God asking you to do something incomprehensible, unthinkable, unimaginable?

Are you staggering from the enormity of it all?

Could it be that He is asking you to give up to Him your best so that He can give you His better? Something that will leave you utterly amazed, things you wouldn’t believe even if you were told? (Habakkuk 1:5)

Come back tomorrow because, as I said yesterday, we have gems and priceless treasures to mine.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Elephant in the Room, Part 2—I’m doing this for you!

“Just when our youngest finished college, both Dave and God hollered ‘Africa!’ Stunned, I asked myself, How can we leave our kids … and live on the other side of the planet?”

“Everything within me cried out that my children still needed their parents. I recognized they didn’t need us the way they did when they were little, but I believed they needed our behind-the-scenes support to transition out of the world of college and into the world of professionals.”

(from the Preface and Chapter 2, Grandma’s Letters from Africa)

So here’s what I referred to June 23, the elephant in the room, the topic I’ve been ignoring.

Wait. Not “ignoring.” I’ve simply been unable to blog about it.

Recent blog posts, however, helped me stand closer and lean in, and now I’m looking that elephant in the eye.

So this is it:

I didn’t want to move to Africa because I didn’t want to leave my kids. If you’ve read Chapter 2 of Grandma’s Letters from Africa, you know what I mean.

I had taken my mothering role seriously. My commitment throbbed deep in my heart because, I believed then and believe now, God Himself put it there—He had given me that high calling. As a result, I had made numerous choices so I could do the job right. My role as Matt and Karen’s mother was my joy, my delight, my privilege.

And since God had given me those precious children as well as the job of raising them well, it didn’t make sense that He would ask me to move half a world away from them—and the grandchildren that would surely join the family soon.

I wrote in Chapter 2:

Silently I cried out, When I became a mother, I did not plan to walk away from my children after only twenty-one years! I always dreamed our children and grandchildren would live nearby and that we’d get together often—but now this! This felt like a tragic surprise ending to the motherhood I always envisioned….

I spoke about this at our Port Angeles church and I wrote about it in the book. Blogging about it, however, resembles ripping sutures off a wound, and that caught me by surprise.

I could skip this topic and move on to others in Chapter 2—if it weren’t for some of you.

You see, the reason I published the book (instead of simply making copies of the letters for my grandchildren),

and the reason I’m blogging about it,

is this:

God is asking other mid-lifers and empty-nesters—maybe even you—to move into overseas missions work.

And because I know that can be scary

and because I remember that leaving young adult children and grandchildren can wrench hearts

and because I recall how much other people’s stories helped me …

I’m doing this for you, readers! I’m doing this for you!

Because other people took time to tell their stories, they changed my heart and strengthened my faith until I could say “yes” to God’s invitation to Africa.

Perhaps God will use my story to help you write new chapters into your story.

Do come back tomorrow because we have gems and priceless treasures to mine from the rocky soil beneath that elephant’s heavy feet.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Nancy Cardoza

Nancy Cardoza is making a radical lifestyle change in order to defend the cause of the weak and fatherless, maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed, rescue the weak and needy, and deliver them from the hand of the wicked (Psalm 82:3-4).

Soon Nancy will begin working with Every Child Ministries (ECM) in northern Uganda where, for over 20 years, The Lord’s Resistance Army rebels have killed or maimed thousands of civilians and abducted over 60,000 children. Up to two million have fled from their homes and villages.

Doesn’t that just break your heart?!

Nancy writes in her blog, Going in Love:

I am very excited about starting this new chapter in my life and I am anxious to start using my many years in the business world to implement occupational training and self-sustaining programs, including microfinance projects.

The idea of microfinance dates back to 1976 when Bangladesh’s Muhammad Yunus proposed this solution to poverty: lend poor people money on terms that are suitable to them, teach them a few sound financial principles, and they will help themselves.

For example, a small loan of $100 may be all that is needed for a person to purchase a sewing machine and supplies and begin a sewing/tailoring business, or to purchase chickens and sell the eggs.

The loans are paid back with interest and then given as a loan to the next person.

The goal is to help families, and even communities, out of poverty by helping them become financially self-sufficient.

I’m a huge fan of microfinance endeavors so I applaud Nancy and ECM for their efforts with that program!

A couple of months ago, Nancy sold her house and got rid of all her furniture, only to learn later that the potential buyers could not arrange financing. Her house is on the market again so, instead of living in Uganda now, as she had hoped, Nancy’s “camping” in her empty house.

That’s not all. Thinking she was on her way to Uganda, she resigned from her employment in April.

Does that give you a knot in your stomach? It does mine.

Nancy admits to being outside her comfort zone these days but says,

I know God is in control and has me waiting for a reason. My desire is to live in total obedience and to learn the lessons I believe the Lord is teaching me right now. His lessons may be a little painful or unnerving at the moment but I know they are necessary in order to prepare me to better serve Him. The rewards and blessings will be well worth it though, I'm sure.

I hope you’ll check out Nancy’s blog—she is an amazing woman. She’s moving to Uganda to help countless young people like Jimmy. (If you haven’t yet viewed the Jimmy video, click here. You’ll remember it the rest of your life!).

Please consider joining Nancy’s team of prayer and financial partners—because your rewards and blessings will be well worth it!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Gratitude, Part 2

Have you looked at yesterday’s blog post and the video about gratitude? Click here to see the video. The scene illustrates profound, passionate gratitude in a way unlike I’ve seen before.

You might remember it the rest of your life. I know I will.

Today, let’s look at another side of gratitude.

Now that Jimmy has met his sponsor, Mark, what do you think? Would Jimmy balk at hanging out with Mark?

What if Mark needed help with heavy lifting, packing, and moving his family across town on the hottest day of the year? Would Jimmy make excuses to get out of helping?

What if Mark needed help digging his car from under a foot of snow in sub-freezing temperatures?

What if Mark grew old and wheelchair-bound? Do you think Jimmy would help him transfer onto and off the toilet? Help him bathe? Cut his toenails?

Or would Jimmy try to get out of it?

What do you think?

I’ll tell you what I think: I believe Jimmy will go out of his way the rest of his life to show Mark gratitude even if doing so requires inconvenience and sacrifice.

Who has helped you in a big way?

It may be that a fireman pulled you from a burning house.

Perhaps a relative or coworker or boss forgave you for a huge, stupid, costly mistake.

Maybe a couple adopted you and gave you parents and a home and lots of love.

Maybe a lifeguard resuscitated your child when he almost drowned.

If so, I suspect you want to do everything you can to express your thanks.

If he or she needed help, even if it inconvenienced you, even if it involved hard, dirty work, I suspect you’d do anything.

Am I right?

If you’d like to share your story, leave a comment below or send an e-mail to GrandmaLetters [at] aol [dot] com.

P.S. I’m getting closer to confronting that Elephant in the Room. Stay tuned…