Monday, January 31, 2011

Do you need to remember?


Inside out.

Upside down.

I had turned my thinking—my heart, my dreams—inside out and upside down in order to say “yes” to God and move to Africa. Deep down I knew His dreams for me were better than my dreams.

After only four months on African soil, I’d fallen in love with Africa and its people, and my husband and I were enthusiastic in embracing the new ministries God gave each of us.

And then it happened:

We learned our first grandchild was on the wayand I suddenly doubted, I questioned

Why, God, did You have to send me so far from home?

But then I remembered.

With a leaden, hammering heart, I took a deep breath and remembered:

I had given God many months to clarify whether He wanted us to move to Africa, and He said “Yes.” Only “Yes.” 

And I remembered the hundred times as much, those intangible, other-worldly bonuses and joys God was, even then, packaging up for me—and I didn’t want to miss any of them!

And I remembered:

… On our way to Africa, we spent a few days in England … in an old World War II barracks. A poster in our dorm room displayed Psalm 126:5–6, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping … will return with songs of joy.”

I pondered those words at length because I didn’t know what they meant for me specifically, but I did understand about tears. I shed tears on my way to Africa because I couldn’t see our children or parents for four long years.…

But, what about those verses about tears turned to joy? Could I believe it? Would I believe it? Would I believe that God could turn my tears into joy?

I thought about it for a couple of days and then, there in our dark little barracks room in England, I stood before that poster and told God I’d give Him time to show me songs of joy in Africa.… (from Grandma’s Letters from Africa, Chapter 3)

And so, there in Nairobi, I did what Priscilla Shirer said:

I raised my hands in surrender to my God, trusting Him for His best dreams and His best outcome for my life and that of my kids and grandkids.

I lifted my heart in surrender to God and recommitted myself to abiding where He had placed me and to the role He had for me in His Vast, Eternal Agenda.

I told Him I’d watch for His hundred-times-as-much treasures.

And I told God, yet again, that I’d give Him time to turn my tears to joy.

Some of you have heartaches—all because you said “Yes” to God and His purposes. Initially you had set out with conviction and enthusiasm, but then something happened, and now maybe you question God and doubt your decision to go where His finger pointed.

I know you struggle—you send e-mails, I read your blogs and Facebook messages, I receive your prayer requests.

Precious friends, what do you need to remember today?

Think back on your conversations with God. Remember how He confirmed His direction for your life. Remember what you committed to Him. Remember the Bible verses that inspired you to make that commitment. Remember your joy in setting out.

Friends, if you “see the Lord calling the shots and regulating [your] existence,” remember, fling up your “hands in surrender … and trust God to bring about His best outcome in life’s circumstances.” (Priscilla Shirer, Anointed, Transformed, Redeemed)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Going to be grandparents!

“What?” I keep saying … But this was no accident. We were trying, and hey, it works.…

Jill is pretty sure that she is pregnant. She took a little home test two days ago. We even started a video.…

Thus wrote our son, Matt, while my husband, Dave, and I were still in rural Kenya on our orientation course, but we didn’t receive it until we had moved into Jerrie’s flat in Nairobi.

A grandbaby! We were so excited!

Jill and Matt had been married nearly four years and we knew that eventually this glorious day would arrive. Joy, glee, delight, bliss, elation—they all bubbled inside me.

The news, however, also ripped a tender scab off my heart: Our grandchild would be three years old before we’d meet him or her.

A few years earlier when God and my husband had both hollered, “Africa!” I thought I might die of a broken heart if I had to leave my kids—and grandkids that were surely on the way—and move to the opposite side of the planet.

Here’s how I explained it in Chapter 2 of Grandma’s Letters from Africa:

"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…."

Now, with news of this first grandchild, I was tempted to wail and stomp my foot:

Why, God, did You have to send me so far from home?

Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about!

You’ve left kids and grandkids because God tapped you on the shoulder and said, “My Plan A for you, Beloved, is better than your own Plan A.”

And you knew He was right so you set aside your plans, turned, and took a wild-eyed, screaming, sobbing leap of faith.

Later, though, when it hurt to live within God’s Plan A, when “shadows of earthly disappointments” piled up, maybe you, like me, questioned God. Perhaps you doubted your decision to choose His Plan A.

If so, what did you do about your hurts and disappointments and doubts? What did God do? What advice and encouragement can you offer someone stuck in that spot today?

Let us hear from you in one of three ways: (1) leave a comment below, (2) e-mail me at GrandmaLetters [at] aol [dot] com, or (3) leave a comment on Facebook.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

No Hooting! What’s hooting?

Jik. Blue Band. Corgettes, mosi chips, washing up powder, potassium permanganate, capsicum, surgical spirits, Hessian cloth.…

In Chapter 4 of Grandma’s Letters from Africa, I wrote about discovering new-to-us foods, vocabulary, grocery-shopping etiquette, customs, friends, churches—you name it!

Among our adjustments: a miniature refrigerator and cooker (stove). If you’ve read Grandma’s Letters from Africa, you’ll remember my gleeful preparation of our favorite casserole in my brand spanking new baking dish, but when I slipped it into the oven, I couldn’t get the door closed! Aaargh.

Adapting to new cultures can create traumatic moments but—honestly—most of the time we look back and laugh at our predicaments.

I remember when a new arrival, Annie, spotted a common roadside sign that made no sense to her. She read it aloud, “No hooting.”

She paused.

“No hooting?! What’s ‘hooting?”

I wonder what ran through her mind: No hollering? No yelling? And if so, why no hollering or yelling?

What do you think “No hooting” means? 

Then there’s Aretta Loving and her husband Ed, who, as newcomers, wondered at the many metal signs fastened to driveway gates with “Mbwa Kali” on them.

Not knowing KiSwahili (the Swahili language), they thought, “A lot of people by the same name live here on this street. Guess they’re all relatives. We sure hope they get along well together!”

Wrong! Do you know what “Mbwa Kali” means?

Recently I smiled when I heard a story from Judy, who used to work with us in Nairobi but now works in Papua New Guinea. She bought a container of stuff called “The United States Aloe Vera Gel,” and the label read, “This product is outside the supplies, not to take.”

If you were Judy, what would you do with this product?

Ryan Murphy jotted down his early impressions of Kenya in his book, All That You Can’t Leave Behind: A rookie missionary’s life in Africa.

Below is an excerpt:

Somebody told me to write down all of my first impressions of Kenya, [because] I’d soon become numb to them and wouldn’t notice anymore. Here are a few.

On the plane from London to Nairobi, whites were the minority and Americans were the super-minority.

Two giraffe 500 yards from the airport exit. (What’s the plural for giraffe?)

They drive on the left side of the road usually, but more frequently they drive on the “good side” of the road. The good side probably wouldn’t be called “good” in the U.S.; it’d probably get someone fired.

Half completed concrete block buildings, filled with people inside.

22 people (including us) in a covered Toyota truck on our way to church.

Duka is the word for a small store. Dukas don’t have specific hours of business. People shop there whenever they are open.

Days and nights are equal lengths close to the equator.

Scratchy toilet paper.

Prices are always negotiable. Sometimes they are higher if you are a rich mzungu (white).

Ah, yes, such sightings and experiences bombarded us when we first arrived. Some of them left us perplexed. Often embarrassed. But like I said, usually we look back and laugh at our predicaments. They make for great memories, too.

Got any stories you can add to these? Hope so! Leave a comment below or e-mail me at GrandmaLetters [at] aol [dot] com. Or join us at Facebook.

Books by Aretta Loving (order from

Together We Can! A Mosaic of Stories and Devotions Displaying the Impact of God’s Word

Slices of Life, Stories and Devotions from a Bible Translator

Books by Ryan Murphy:

All That You Can’t Leave Behind: A rookie missionary’s life in Africa

Winter Spring Summer Fall: Living and lasting in missions

Monday, January 24, 2011

What does “home” mean to you?


Home.” What does “home” mean to you?

I’ve been thinking about Chapter 4 of Grandma’s Letters from Africa and recalling how excited I was to set up “a home” in Nairobi.

My husband, Dave, and I had lived out of suitcases for five months. We were eager to find one place where we could settle down and sink in.

And we did: for a few weeks we borrowed a small apartment while a coworker, Jerrie, was on furlough.

The furniture belonged to Jerrie. She had chosen the style, colors, and arrangement.

The phone number belonged to Jerrie, the refrigerator and cooker belonged to Jerrie, the water filter belonged to Jerrie.

The place was Jerrie's home,  not ours, but for two months, it felt like home to us.


Because Dave and I got to unpack our luggage and boxes and duffle bag.

Because we got to decide what time to wake up in the morning and, at the end of the day, we chose when to turn off the lights and go to bed.

I could leave my toothbrush in the bathroom and put my makeup in the cabinet.

I chose a chair in the living room for my morning Bible study and prayer, and I could leave my Bible on the end table if I wanted to.

I got to plan menus and set the dining room table just so. Dave and I got to invite people over for dinner—or not, if that was what we wanted.

Missionaries are often in transition, in limbo, between homes.

I think of Jessica, who recently moved to Liberia with her husband. In “Finding Home” she acknowledged how unsettling life was during transition—living out of suitcases, surrounded by the unfamiliar, without her own little space to organize and identify as her home.

From Tanzania, Brett Harrison wrote

Home to me has something to do with patterns and certainties, with expectations and comfort and security. One thing that makes our house my home is that I can get up every morning and have some time to myself with a Bible and a prayer list… in the same place, with the same coffee and the same mug.… It’s nice to have one place that feels like home. I don’t think it’s so much about being comfortable on this earth, and grasping firmly to the things of this world. It’s more about having one little “kingdom place” on earth that’s as close to heaven as I can experience in this life. And that, for me, is my home.
If you are heading to the mission field, even for a short stint, I encourage you to create a home for yourself even if you don't feel at home.

The view from your window might be unfamiliar. Smells, tastes, sounds might be foreign. But find yourself a space, even if it’s only a few square feet—maybe only a pad on the ground.

Establish a sense of order, routines that work for you. Create a refuge where you can recharge, plan, evaluate, and dream.

Find your private place to hang out with God and, like Brett said, make it as close to heaven as you can.

What does “home” mean to you?

How have you created a home for yourself?

What can you do to make it closer to heaven?

(Be sure to check out Brett’s blog, Aliens and Strangers.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

The smells, mostly


I sit here at my computer in the U.S., stir up old brain cells, and try to recapture first impressions of Nairobi—unfamiliar things that caught my attention.

What do I recall most?

The smells:

Thick black exhaust.

Burning trash.

Body odor.

Charcoal fires cooking families’ meals, right there in the capital city.

Unrefrigerated meat in butcheries.


Dust and mud—there was more than soil in it….

I also recall:

The spicy aroma of eucalyptus leaves burning in neighbors’ yards. 

Japheth’s broom made of fresh herb branches.

The heavy perfume of the trumpet plant.

The other day I asked a couple of friends what smells they remember.

Kim recalls, as I do, burning trash and diesel fumes (but she also adds that those are mostly a thing of the past—Hooray!) She says,

My very first impression was that the air was filled with spices, [and] something else I can't put my finger on, but it's kind of sour and rotten.

Debi says,
I remember the contrasts: The frangipani blossoms just blew me away with their buttery smell, and the matatus’ diesel fumes gave me a headache. I prefer to fill my thoughts with frangipani! I remember walking down the road and smelling hot oil from the mandazis coming from the dukas. And the jacarunda had a flowery smell as well. I loved it all.

I recall the strong perfumy scent of washing up powder for sale at neighborhood dukas.

Samosas frying in hot oil.

Askaris’ nighttime fires.

Some of you will soon move overseas. I encourage you to take lots of photos and jot down memories while everything is new. What do you taste? What do you see, smell, feel, and hear?

Some of you have lived overseas for many years. A few of you have lived in a number of foreign countries. What do you recall of your first impressions, those things that seemed so foreign?

Feel free to leave a comment below or on the Facebook Page. We’d enjoy hearing your stories!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Life: but a breath, part 2

Do you and I need to turn our thinking inside out?
Make a new beginning?

At the end of my life, I don’t want to look back with regrets.

I’m still thinking about Monday’s blog, Life: but a breath. Those two Bible verses still flutter in my head and tremble in my heart:

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
Remind me that my days are numbered,
and that my life is fleeing away.…
human existence is but a breath.
Psalm 39:4-5 NLT

Teach us to make the most of our time.…
Psalm 90:12 NLT

That sense of urgency remains. I long to focus on God’s purposes for my life—because on my last day, I don’t want to mourn, “If only I had…. If only I had….”

What about you?

The other day I was moved by Susan Kelton’s meditations at My Grandmother is … Praying For Me and she said I could share them with you:

How do I want this year to be different from last year?

Somehow it seems important to think and re-think that our days are numbered—according to the Lord—and He wants us to be fully engaged in where He is moving in our lives. I’ve found even in these first few days of the new year, He has had “new” messages for me that have been tender and profound about His plans for me and I can hardly wait to be part of the plan as it unfolds in the future. My challenge is “be still and know”….don’t be so rigid in what I think and have planned that I miss what God wants to re-prioritize for my life.
New beginnings. They can happen at any time—no pre-set date or calendar change required….just being open to the still small voice of a loving God who cares so much about us that He sent His only Son to redeem us. What a new life! Happy New Year!

See what I mean about Susan’s sweet spirit? I have a feeling her tender heart has blessed you as much as it has me.

Susan asked: How do I want this year to be different from last year?

And how about you? How do you want 2011 to be different from 2010?


Nobody can go back and start a new beginning,
but anyone can start today and make a new ending.
Maria Robinson

It doesn’t matter if you’re in your twenties or eighties. Make the best of the years you have left—even if it means turning your thinking inside out.

Be sure to visit Susan at My Grandmother is … Praying For Me and check out the book, of the same name, which she co-authored with Kathryn March and Pamela Ferress. You can also find them at their Facebook Page.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Life: but a breath


A call for introspection—yours and mine

Introspection: looking within, soul-searching,
deliberation, purposefulness

A friend’s husband died last week. His death was unexpected.

Christina Taylor Green, age nine, was gunned down in Tucson a week or so ago, along with five other people. Their deaths were unexpected.

Friday I blogged about John Bendor-Samuel who died a few days ago, struck down by a car. His death was unexpected.

You don’t know when you’ll die. I don’t know when I’ll die.

Throughout recent days and nights, a couple of Bible verses have played and replayed through my head:

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
Remind me that my days are numbered,
and that my life is fleeing away.…
human existence is but a breath.
Psalm 39:4-5 NLT

Teach us to make the most of our time.…
Psalm 90:12 NLT

One of my favorite Bible verses is Acts 13:36. It simply states that when David had fulfilled God’s purposes for his own generation, he died and was buried with his ancestors.

At the end of his life, imagine—just imagine!—what David must have felt in every cell of his soul and mind and spirit, all because he had fulfilled God’s purposes for his own generation!

What a sense of satisfaction he must have enjoyed,

a sacred awareness of completion,

a God-given insight into finishing well in His estimation.

Oh, I long to fulfill God’s purposes for my life!

How about you?

You and I are just ordinary, everyday people, but God has a unique set of purposes for each person—even you, even me!

God knows the number of your days.

He wrote His best plans on every calendar page of your life.

Don’t believe me? Check out Psalm 139, especially verses 13-16.

OK, but how? 

Do you know what God wrote on your calendar’s pages?

Are you wondering how to fulfill God’s purposes for your life?

First, pray and study the Bible. The starting point is Mark 12:30-31.

Don’t put it off! You don’t know how many productive years you have. Make a specific commitment and start today!

Start with Me 

Second, let me tell you about a short, easy-to-read book, Start with Me: A Modern Parable, by Michael Seaton and John Blase.

Start with Me … is a fictional story about ordinary people. People like you and me. People who want to … help bring healing and comfort to those in need, who want to, as Jesus commanded, “love their neighbor,” but don’t know where to begin … how to start. 
Start with Me will open your eyes and your heart to the Good Samaritan opportunities waiting for you—in your church, your neighborhood, your town, and around the world.… (from the back cover)

Check it out! Start with Me will show you how easy it is to begin today, right where you live and work.

Also, get acquainted with The start> Project at It could change your life.

May God help us discover
His purposes for our lives,
and give us the zeal
to pursue them.
And in His grace, may God teach us
to make the most of our time.
(Psalm 90:12)

Do you sense the urgency? Start today!

I want to always be reaching.
I want to have my faith pull me into places
and heart-positions I never expected.

Introspection: looking within, soul-searching, deliberation, purposefulness

Friday, January 14, 2011

John Bendor-Samuel


A hero of the faith.

A legend in his own lifetime.

“…Warm, approachable, humble, wise, prayerful.” A man who possessed “buckets full of common sense.…” A man of fortitude, endurance, and “ignorant boldness.”

John Bendor-Samuel: Brilliant. Adventuresome. Gifted. Tireless.

A man we affectionately called JBS, a man who changed the worldthe world!—by directly or indirectly placing mother-tongue Scripture translations into the hands and hearts of “thousands—perhaps millions—of individuals worldwide.”

Struck down by a car January 6. John Bendor-Samuel is gone.

I wonder: What did JBS do when he saw God face to face?

Have you ever imagined what you will do when you see God face to face?

JBS attended our annual Africa Area meetings and every time I caught sight of him, he reminded me of Teddy Roosevelt. Do you see a resemblance?

I enjoyed standing at a distance, watching him in action. He spoke in a rapid, clipped, Englishman-intellectual way, and he always smiled. He appeared to enjoy every moment.

JBS earned oodles of university degrees. He pioneered Bible translation and literacy work across the African continent. He occupied leadership roles: Africa Area Director, Executive Vice President of SIL International, Executive Directorof Wycliffe Bible Translators, UK, and served on the SIL Board of Directors. JBS encouraged partnerships with universities, governments, non-governmental agencies, churches, mission organizations, and local Bible societies.

In Dallas a few years back, I had dinner with JBS in the home of his brother David (DBS) and David’s bride, Margaret—just the four of us—to discuss a work-related issue.

Throughout the evening, I kept saying to myself, “I think you’re supposed to be very nervous... Speak as if you had something occupying that space between your ears... Remember your manners.”

I begged God to help me not burp or get food stuck between my teeth.

I need not have worried. The Bendor-Samuels made me comfortable—despite my very American dining practices compared to their very British practices. They didn’t ask me trick questions (or if they did, they went over my head). If I got food stuck between my teeth, they didn’t stare. The Bendor-Samuels didn’t make me painfully aware of my intellectual shortcomings, or my spiritual ones, either. They were just regular folks.

I was reminded of this when I read John Hamilton’s words:

I recall him arriving at our home in Belfast one afternoon, removing his shoes at the door and extracting a pair of slippers from his bag. After tea, he was promptly in the kitchen, sleeves rolled up and washing the dishes.

John also recalled JBS’s enthusiasm for Bible translation:

My other abiding memory is the passion of his speaking and his passion for the Bibleless peoples of the world. Every time I heard him speak, I wanted to jump up and shout: “Yes! I will join Wycliffe!” The last time I remember wanting to do that was at Belfast Bible College – at which time I had been a Wycliffe member for some ten years…. (Read more of John Hamilton’s memories at Dr John Bendor-Samuel: Wycliffe UK pioneer 1929-2011.

Yes, JBS was just an ordinary guy, but he let God accomplish extraordinary feats—Works of Giants—in and through him.

You might remember my former coworker Eddie in my post, Bemused, Bothered, and Bewildered. He says, “John was a towering figure on the international mission scene. He was well known and widely respected around the world for his passion for God’s word and the needs of minority people groups….” (Eddie Arthur, Executive Director, Wycliffe Bible Translators, UK)

I encourage you to read Eddie’s angst and humility in sitting in the seat JBS used to occupy. Eddie writes,

On the door to my office it says, Executive Director: Eddie Arthur.… There are times when I wonder what on earth I’m doing in that office anyway … because of some of the men who have sat in that office before me. John Bendor-Samuel, one of my predecessors as the [Executive Director, Wycliffe Bible Translators UK] was perhaps the most remarkable person I’ve ever met.… 

I wonder what JBS did when he saw God face to face.

Have you ever imagined what you will do when you see God face to face? (1 Corinthians 13:12, Job 19:27, Matthew 5:8, Psalm 17:15)


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New? Karibu!


We’re enjoying lots of new “fans” of the Facebook Page for Grandma’s Letters from Africa! If you are one of them, Karibu! Welcome!


Does anyone else out there want to be a Facebook fan? (Well, OK, it’s called a “like” now.) Simply click on this, Grandma’s Letters from Africa Facebook Page, then click on “like” at the top of the page, and you’ll receive notification each time I post on the blog.

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If you’re not on Facebook, you can easily follow this blog by clicking on “Followers” below in the left column and you’ll receive a notice each time I post a message. (If you need to set up a Google account to do so, click on Gizmos, Doodads, and Thingamabobs for instructions.)

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We’ll enjoy getting acquainted with you. Feel free to leave comments on the blog or Facebook Page, or e-mail me at GrandmaLetters [at] aol [dot] com.

Whether you’re following on Facebook or the blog, Karibu! Welcome! We’re glad you’re here!


Monday, January 10, 2011

A new kind of Christmas

During our first Christmas in Nairobi, the sun shone brightly and daytime temperatures reached the low eighties. No frost, no snow, no ice.

Dave and I hadn’t bought gifts for each other or for relatives back home.

We owned neither Christmas music nor decorations—I’d left them back in the States with our daughter Karen. I longed for the fragrance of an evergreen Christmas tree. Nakumatt sold a meager selection of decorations—but definitely not in my style. I left them at Nakumatt.

Last week I told you how much we missed our kids and parents during our first Christmas in Africa.

I wallowed in misery—a little—but quickly came to my senses: the Christmas story remains the same even if our climate, location, decorations, smells, menu, and human connections change.

I concluded that I shouldn’t try to replicate life-long family Christmas traditions. Instead, I should start new Christmas customs and make unique memories.

God helped me see that others around us in Nairobi missed their loved ones, too. At times like Christmas, missionaries need to stick together and stand in for loved ones. 

With that in mind, we fixed Christmas dinner for the young ladies who’d lived in the “Thomas Estates” in Maasai-land, the ones who called me “Mom.” Far from their families and everything familiar, they probably felt as numb and disoriented as we did so on Christmas day my husband and I served as a substitute Mom and Pop for them.

(I’ve always wondered if they knew they filled in as substitute kids for us that day.)

On the mission field, it’s imperative to nurture community, to foster a sense of family—to belong to a group of people who stand in for each other as moms, dads, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, grandparents.

Some of you might ask, “Why would you leave your loved ones and move to Africa and live among strangers?”

Why? Because millions of people around the world have yet to hear the Christmas story in a language they understand. For them, God is distant because He speaks a foreign language. For them, the Christmas story is, at best, vague. (How much of the Christmas story would you understand if your only Bible was written in, for example, Sabaot? Or Tunebo?)

Each Christmas that we lived in Africa, thousands of people—probably tens of thousands across that vast continent—heard the Christmas story for the first time in the language of their heart, the language they understand best—thanks to the work of our organization, Wycliffe Bible Translators, and similar organizations.

Christmas on the Cape Verde Islands

Off the west coast of Africa, when people living on the Cape Verde Islands heard the Christmas story from Luke 2 in their own language for the first time,


the [Cape Verdean] translation team began to sob. A row of teenage girls stared at each other in wide-eyed wonder and then dissolved into a group hug. Eyes glistened with tears. As the last word was read, a spontaneous cheer erupted: “Amen! Hallelujah!” *

Would you like to hear the Christmas story those Cape Verdeans heard? You can! It’s really cool! Go to the Cape Verdean Translation Association’s website, click on the box in the top left corner labeled “Stória di Natal,” and then scroll down to “Nasimentu de Jizus (Lúkas 2:1-7).” (PC users: to hear the recording, you’ll need to use Internet Explorer, not Firefox.)

Information for this story is courtesy of the Cape Verdean Translation Association.

*Click to read this story as told by Bob Creson, President/CEO of Wycliffe USA. (If you read Grandma’s Letters from Africa, you read a little vignette about Bob. He also wrote a nice endorsement for the book. You can read it in the left column of this blog.)


Friday, January 7, 2011

Home for Christmas, only in my dreams, Part 2


In recent days, I’ve thought a lot about several people who, for the first time, spent Christmas 2010 far from loved ones, surrounded by the unfamiliar—

I think of Jessica,


and Heidi.

I wonder if they sensed the same numbness I felt my first Christmas in Africa, so cut off from kids, parents, extended family (mind you, we didn’t have e-mail back then, or Skype, or cell phones!), and our traditional Christmas culture.

I’ve thought a lot about that numbness, that zombie-like semi-anesthetized sensation.

Could it have been a holy dullness?

Could it have been a God-given gift?

Could that half-unfeelingness have protected us from a meltdown?

I’ll never know the answer, but I do know God got us through it and He got our kids and parents through it. 

Now, looking back on that first Christmas in Africa, I smile because I have fond memories, good memories.

Why? Because:

It's a good thing
to have all the props pulled out from under us
It gives us some sense
of what is rock under our feet,
and what is sand.

God plopped us into a nation and city devoid of the worst of the Western world’s Christmas glitz and commercialism. He assigned us a place and a time to ponder the real meaning of Christmas.

He gave us a place and a time to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10) and to sift through “what is rock under our feet, and what is sand.”

He reminded us of:

His choice to send us to Africa,

and of His purposes for us there,

and the cost of following Him,

and His ability to take care of our kids half a world away.

Though it hurt, the resulting focus and spiritual growth felt good and right. You know what I mean?

Have you lived far from home at Christmas?

How did God help you through it?

What did He teach you about Himself? About yourself?

What new insights did He give you about the real meaning of Christmas?

What surprises of joy did He bring your way?

What would you have missed if you’d been unwilling to move far from loved ones?

(This Christmas in Zambia, Katy and her husband Kahler went hunting and brought home warthog and impala!)

How have you spent Christmas in far away places?

Leave a comment below, or e-mail me at GrandmaLetters [at] aol [dot] com. (Replace [at] with @ and replace [dot] with a period, scrunch everything together, and that should reach me.) Another option: Go to Grandma’s Letters from Africa on Facebook and leave a comment there (see the link to Facebook in the left column).


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Home for Christmas, only in my dreams


Dear Mom and Dad,

It was so fun to look through and put up all your Christmas decorations and ornaments. They are so pretty and so special to me. But … somehow, it just doesn’t look right. It doesn’t feel quite right. I miss you very much. It isn’t complete without you. I would cherish just one hug from you each right now, and a smile.…



My husband, Dave, and I received that note from our daughter a few days before our first Christmas in Africa.

Karen had just turned 21. A few months earlier, she’d graduated from college and started teaching middle school 1400 miles away from her college friends and her brother and sister-in-law, Matt and Jill. We, her parents, had relocated on the opposite side of the world.

I still want to weep over the pain we caused our Karen Anne.

I must be honest: If you’ve read Grandma’s Letters from Africa, you know I had significant reservations about leaving our young adult kids in order to take on ministries in Africa, and sometimes, when I received letters like Karen’s, I wondered if we’d done the wrong thing.

Should I have refused to go?

The importance of remembering

When such doubts overwhelmed me, eventually I’d think back to the months I waited for God to show me whether it was His will for us to move to Africa with Wycliffe Bible Translators: 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. Only green! He could have come up with a hundred ways to keep us home, but He didn’t. Not one.

Remembering God’s clear confirmation helped me gain perspective our first Christmas far from loved ones.

Then, too, I reminded myself of the Bible verses Karen wrote and gave me the day we left, like Matthew 16:25-26, pictured here. (I encourage you to read Saying goodbye to Karen.)

Self-denial. Self-sacrifice. Jesus can ask us to do so because He had to live that way, too, in order to fulfill God’s purposes. He role-modeled how to fulfill God’s purposes for our lives, and God’s purposes for our children’s lives, too.

Karen recognized, and wanted to assure me that she knew, that if we follow the Lord, we—and she—must deny ourselves and take up our cross.

Remembering the Bible verses Karen gave me offered perspective on our first Christmas far from loved ones.

I also recalled spending a few days in England on our way to Africa. In a dark old barracks room, I stood before a poster with this Bible passage: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping … will return with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:5-6).

I’d pondered those words for several days and eventually I stood before that poster and told God I’d give Him time to dry my tears and show me songs of joy. Now, four months later, Christmas had come and I fought tears, but remembering my commitment to God helped stabilize my perspective on our first Christmas far from loved ones: I’d give Him more time to turn my tears to joy in Africa.

“Have you ever known

a weakening in the inward places of your soul

because you had let slip the memory

of what your God did in the past?”

(Amy Carmichael, Edges of His Ways)

Today are you struggling with something God called you to do? Having second thoughts? Wondering whether the pain is worth it?

If so, take time to remember the pathways God led you down, recall the assurances He gave you, summon up the Bible verses you claimed. Ask God to use them to give you perspective on today.

May God give you and me a holy unforgetfulness and a faithful tenacity as we love, honor, and serve Him in 2011!

Can I be praying for you? If so, leave a comment below or e-mail me at GrandmaLetters [at] aol [dot] com. (Replace [at] with @ and replace [dot] with a period, scrunch everything together, and that should reach me.) Another option: Go to Grandma’s Letters from Africa on Facebook and leave a comment there (see the link to Facebook in the left column).