Travel Tales

Yet another transition is approaching.  Notice the first two syllables of  that noun.  More buses, cars, trains and airports.  I muse on past experiences, and I smile now, even if I wasn’t smiling then.  I invite you to smile along as I recall:

Going through security check at the Frankfurt Airport, the officer pulled Paul aside to empty the contents of his carry-on pack. “Too much electronics”, he stated as he pulled out cords, adapters and various devices. His parting shot was an order, “Tuck in your shirt.”

******

It was our flight to Kenya from Lisbon in ’88. A misunderstanding resulted in our family of 6 running through the terminal to board the plane that sat waiting just for us, the late ones. The other passengers sat quietly, buckled in and ready to taxi, and watched the harried parents herd their bouncing little ones down the aisle and into their proper seats. The parents were trying not to be noticed but gave up that notion when the 5-year old claimed a window seat, took a quick look at the “window sill” and hollered, “Mommy, my window won’t open!”

******

Then there was the morphing bag – a nifty, nylon garment bag that folded in half with a shoulder strap at the fold, to be carried like any other thin bag of 36”x36”x6”. Trouble is, in addition to the 3 or four shirts it was designed to carry, hubby tucked all the other items one might (and even what one might not) transport in a normal “carry-on” piece of luggage. These items naturally sank to the ends of the bag when it was folded and mounted up there in a lumpy pile. The weight stretched the sides taut, giving it an “A” shape, making the bag appear much bigger and fuller than it was. As it hung from his shoulder, it looked like a bag that should have been checked. The officials at the gate always thought so, too. Without fail he would be stopped and questioned. Without fail, my man would quickly demonstrate the bag’s wonderful morphing qualities while we pretended we didn’t know him. (Where was our sense of humor, I ask you?) “See, it just scrunches and changes to accommodate itself to whatever space is available in the overhead bin!” What a marvel. We traveled for years with this morphing marvel, the children and I gradually lagging further and further behind the daddy in airport lines to avoid yet another embarrassment. The kids were grown and gone when Daddy finally retired his carry-on garment bag for something more suitable: a fleecy, florescent orange back pack. I guess that’s so Grandma here doesn’t lose sight of him in a crowded transit lounge.

The Endless One

The Endless One

The book my husband and I are reading aloud reminds me of those times when the kids found themselves indoors, in a room together. You remember.

You hear them “playing” in the next room. They call to one another, you hear the thudding of feet hitting the floor, of something hitting the wall, laughing. The pitch rises, the activity escalates to a frenzy, and you know you better step in before the pointless, foolish, nonsensical horse-play turns foul. This is when we, the mom or dad, step in to give direction to the energy. “Stop what you are doing and pick an activity with a beginning and an end.” [Free parenting tip: this instruction directs the rowdy, uncontrolled children to focus on a direction – a game with parameters and boundaries that doesn’t allow for uncontrolled silliness which often results in the youngest of the bunch getting hurt. “Get out the Lego and build something to display on the supper table as our centerpiece. Play Sardines. Play ‘pretend’ where you each have a specific role. Read a book. Go climb a tree. You discuss it and agree on an activity that has rules.” Believe it or not, the kids actually seem relieved to have authority intervene and put a stop to what they, in their childishness, could no longer control.]

It’s the book that never ends. On our e-reader, we’ve been tapping the right of the screen for over a year and there’s still no end in sight. Thinking it would be good to know more about church history, we bought (real cheap) and downloaded “History of the Christian Church – from the 1st to the 19th Century (All 8 Volumes)”. We have read more detailed discussion than I thought could exist about every pope, every reformer and every friend and enemy of each of them.

We’re in Volume 8, the Reformation. We begin to see similarities between the church of the early 16th century and that of northern Namibia today. We have lively discussions, the two of us, as we compare and contrast the past and present, and pray for our Namibian brethren.

Then one day, I tapped the screen to peel off the next layer of discussion on the Calvinistic system of predestination. My eyes glazed over as I looked with disbelief at some very long, very strange words I had never seen before in all my Christian education. Apparently the actual words used in Scripture are not enough to satisfy us as to God’s purposes. These brilliant minds made up new words in order to expand our maze of wanderings in God’s infinite wisdom. Thorough counter-arguments, agreements, and agreements with exceptions postulated by every known theologian from then, to “now” (“now” meaning 1890, the date of publication!) consume hours of our reading time.

Grownups can meander aimlessly in the endless labyrinth of inquiry into Divine mysteries, just as children’s play can be foolishly endless. We, too, must have our thoughts directed. So God steps into our verbosity and redirects us to approach the subject with reverence and a humble sense of the limitation of our mental capacities.

So then, on the workings of God’s grace, the recipients of it and the “timing” of it’s effective application, I offer some of my favorite quotes from our various readings as some “rules to think by” :

“The difference between the two schools [those 2 interminably long words referred to above] is practically worthless, and only exposes the folly of man’s daring to search the secrets of God’s eternal counsel …” Philip Schaff

“There is a learned ignorance of things which it is neither permitted nor lawful to know, and avidity of knowledge is a species of madness.”  John Calvin

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Moses

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?’” Paul the apostle

Paul himself “humbly sits at the brink and adores the depth.” The angels themselves puzzle over God’s grace and mercy revealed through Jesus Christ and His gospel. (I Peter 1:12)

“We are forbidden curiously to enquire into the secret counsels of God and to determine concerning them. … We are directed and encouraged diligently to enquire into that which God has made known … He has kept back nothing that is profitable for us, but that only which it is good for us to be ignorant of. We ought to acquaint ourselves, and our children too, with the things of God that are revealed. … All our knowledge must be in order to practice, for this is the end of all divine revelation, not to furnish us with curious subjects of speculation and discourse …” Matthew Henry

And, finally, one of my favorite hymns is the prelude and postlude to every read-aloud session, reminding me that “the only way out of the labyrinth is the Ariadne thread of the love of God in Christ, and this is a still greater, but more blessed mystery, which we can adore rather than comprehend”. Schaff

I Know Whom I Have Believed

I know not why God’s wondrous grace to me He has made known,
Nor why unworthy – Christ in love redeemed me for His own.

(chorus)
But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able
to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.

I know not how this saving faith to me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word wrought peace within my heart.

I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word, creating faith in Him.

I know not what of good or ill may be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days, before His face I see.

I know not when my Lord may come, at night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him, or meet Him in the air.

————-
Deut. 29:29; Rom. 11:33-36; I Cor . 2:6-12; Ps. 139:6

Photo: Nampula, Mozambique, May 2008

Grandma’s Reflections: Romans 8

Grandma’s Reflections: Romans 8

“Abba! Abba!”, cried a little boy, who raced with his arms lifted high towards a man across the terminal. His Daddy caught him up for a joyous reunion. My son, knowing Whose he is, witnessed this scene upon his arrival in Israel. It was the first of many “Ah! Wow!” moments he and his wife experienced during their visit to that land.

… but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry “Abba! Father!”

Meanwhile, on another continent, their children were with me and my husband. While those words from Paul’s letter to the Romans warmed his soul, that same letter was impressing me in another way.

Their youngest, not yet talking, expresses herself with finger jabs and movements reminiscent of a rider on a trotting horse. Then a glottal stop releases into a nasal grunt-squeak. Incomprehensible. But she is insistent. Her gesticulations becomes more rapid. Her brow furrows. Her eyes dart back and forth between this Baba and Grandma as if to say, “I know that you know what I’m saying so why don’t you just — respond accordingly! What’s with you gray-hairs anyway?”

…the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we don’t know what to pray for as we ought …

Frustrated, I don’t understand her. I want to answer her request appropriately but, more than that, I want her to just stop it! My frailty knows the temptation to lose patience, to tune out or to (imagine!) be offended that she isn’t acting “properly” towards me, almighty adult that I am. It occurred to me that my Heavenly Father never loses patience with my stuttering in his ear, nor takes offense because I dare to approach Almighty God with my limited understanding of Him.

The incident passed, on to the next need to be met … (God feeds mothers of tiny ones, and babysitting Grandmothers, in little bites as they go along. Quiet, alone- time for prayer might not happen every day.) Honesty, the next need to be met probably had to do with the trash. More incomprehensible than the baby’s whining was how to dispose of the cellophane on the cardboard packaging, or where to throw the metal jar lid. There must be five or six receptacles in every German home, each receiving its own, specific type of “throw away” item. They call it recycling. I call it crazy. I met a lady who, after her first visit to this place, returned home with her used dental floss in her suitcase because she didn’t know how to dispose of it in Germany! I didn’t even understand the booklet, written in English, explaining the system. I fear that if I ever return the immigration officer will scan my passport after which a siren will sound and a warning will flash across his screen: “Plastic container found in rubbish bin after last visit. Danger to society. Apprehend immediately.” But I digress. Romans is not about being patient with babies. It’s about the privileges granted to God’s true children. The message is not“recycle”, but restoration.

…but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God …

We are weak in prayer. We don’t know how we should pray because we don’t fully comprehend God’s will and can’t pray in agreement with HIm. We don’t know what to ask. We are shortsighted and very much biased in favor of the flesh [our nature that seeks to gratify our self]. We are distracted, poking our finger here and there, uttering insistent, loud noises, thinking that we know what we need. But the Spirit of God knows us better than we know ourselves and he knows God’s desires and plans. So, His Spirit in us (given freely to only those who accept adoption) helps us, or ‘heaves/lifts with us’. He interprets our requests, and Christ himself intercedes on our behalf. When our soul is so troubled that articulate prayer is impossible, the Spirit knows our heart and knows how to line it up in accord with the will of the Father. What patient attentiveness! That He should take the cries of His children so seriously; that He should have made such a perfect way for them to approach Him, anytime, anywhere and in any circumstance; that He should attend to them; that He brings his divine character to bear upon their case, unfolding His response so that all things work for the good of His children and for His glory — this is a certainty for us to dwell upon, to rest in.

The opening chapters address sin, God’s wrath and judgement, our darkened understanding and rebellion against God, the brokenness of all His creation, and what we all justly deserve. The message is doom for those not in Christ. And then it surges into hope, redemption and the guarantee of restoration, addressed to those who receive Christ. The restoration of creation is the greater theme. Why, in our moments of quiet solitude, do we detect a whisper of unnamed longing in our soul? Every request is fundamentally a prayer to restore a body or a relationship, to restore fruitfulness to our fields, to mend a broken vocation, or our honor, or the government, the economy, society, to return our joy, to give back to us what we had before sin entered the world … “Restore!” is the cry of our soul. We long for the promised consummation of our redemption and the complete restoration of all creation, perfect and complete. The Father who hears and takes seriously our babbling is the same Father who will return to this earth as the victorious, resurrected One, the Vindicator, the Just, the One who will ultimately, finally, restore all that concerns me and all that concerns Him. He understands our groaning in prayer for what it really is. “Abba! My own Daddy! Please come make everything all right.” At just the perfect time, He will.

—————-
photo: 2nd generation spoon licker
extra-biblical source: Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary

Is That ALL?

Is That ALL?

“Is that ALL?”, I fairly shouted at God. After asking Him, beseeching Him earnestly for rain; after days of watching the storms come close but then skirt our town, the thunderheads rolled in. I had been watching them all day as they slowly crawled up to us. Before evening they arrived, and the rain did fall, hard and promising. I stood at the kitchen window to watch this answer to prayer unfold. Audibly, I thanked the God who sent it our way this time. However, the yard of sand was barely wet before the clouds released just one, final dribble, thus ending what had barely begun. And I was incredulous. I heard a loud whine – “Really, God? Is that all you’re giving us after such a long and hopeful wait?” Oops. That voice was mine. …

“Is that all?” It’s December 26th. Maybe you heard the whine from a child. Or maybe you thought it. The post-Christmas let down. Then there’s a hazy, nagging disappointment at the close of a happy event, meeting or conversation. You had somehow expected — more. And then there are the large and looming disappointments, like:

the end of a relationship – “Is this it, then? After all these years is this ALL?”,
or looking back on years of living in hard-to-be places so that some might come to know Christ Jesus, and asking “Is this it? All my life for this small handful of fruit? Really, God?”
or studying hard for that one degree that will get you that job that will get you that career …but it doesn’t work out that way and you sputter “Really, God? Is this ALL I’m to expect?”

Ah, you and I, once young, rising stars who could go anywhere and do anything. The older, wiser ones nodded and smiled, and waited to see what we’d become. The brightness has now faded into a glow. We are ordinary after all. Are you tempted to disappointment? “Is this all, Lord?” Had we expected more fruit, or more affirmation, or to be more cherished, or for more in our 401K? Let’s be careful that the questions we pose, silently or audibly, do not stem from a bitter root of chronic disappointment.

A chronically disappointed person is, at the root, a person in rebellion against God. Pow. Pretty strong statement there, but I didn’t make it up. From Genesis (or at least Exodus 16) all the way through to the apostles’ specific teachings (especially Hebrews 3:7-19) to those of faith in Christ we are warned: ungratefulness = unbelief = disobedience = rebellion = sin (= death). A chronically disappointed heart is a complaining heart. Complaining isn’t really against other people or circumstances; it is really ultimately against God. It is saying, “I am not getting my due, so therefore God isn’t really good. I would do it differently, better. I would be a better god than God.” Does this ring a bell? Know of anyone who has taken action on that premise? So, yes, this is serious stuff. My innocent outburst against the rain stopping may not have been so innocent. Our spontaneous expressions of exasperating disappointment are red flags that direct us to peer into our own hearts and identify sin that may be hiding there. Due to the eternal goodness of God, He is eager to grant us repentance.

So what does repentance look like in this case? Romans 2:4 is a good start. First, you and I must own up to our unbelief. This is called confession. Repentance means to stop going one way, to turn and go a different direction. God’s goodness is meant to turn us. We want to choose the road of chronic gratefulness instead.

… I clapped my hand over my mouth, and went to study my wall map, which is a visual tool I’ve created to help me cultivate gratefulness. This is where I note the ways God’s goodness is clearly visible to me. The map is quickly filling with notes of gracious over-and-above blessings, the sequence and timing of each one truly remarkable, gifts with my name on it from my Heavenly Father. The little “overflowing bowl” icons I draw by each note far outnumber the little icons identifying activities and outcomes that might be in the “Is this all?” category. Clearly, then, God is more interested in sustaining, supporting and encouraging me than he is in waving successes and fruits of my labor before my eyes. His will for you and me is to believe Him with a thankful heart. “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord [have you?], so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving [italics mine].” Col. 2:6, 7  I am amazed, humbled. How dare I not believe in His sovereign goodness. How dare I not overflow with thanksgiving?

“It this all, then? That’s IT?” Yes, for some things it is. The time comes to recognize the end of some events, some seasons. It is with thankfulness that we do so because we know that God is good in all He does. “Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! [That would be you and me.] For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.” Ps. 107:8

At the edge of my map I have written these verses:
My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure. … Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it. Is. 46:10, 11

This is NOT all!, the Only Just, Righteous, Good God has declared! There is more! He is not finished! No one, nothing, will derail or stop Him from completing His good plan for you and me, and all His creation. So, hold your tongue when the rain stops – unless it speaks from a grateful heart.

Will You Not Play?

Will You Not Play?

“Will you play cello in the small orchestra I’m assembling?” the music director asked. It was 1987, in Lisbon, where we were immersed in language learning for two years in preparation for work in Lusophone Africa. I had left my cello behind at the urging of a well-known ethnomusicologist who warned me that if the “indigenous people are exposed to western tone structure and instruments they will lose their own music”. The inference was that I would be committing an unpardonable anthropological crime if I took my cello to Africa. But I received the exhortation as godly wisdom and relinquished my hobby for the higher calling on my life: to take the word of God to a people who did not yet have it. I believed that my God would provide anything he knew I had to have to thrive in our new place. And so, I gave my regrets to the director – who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

“…but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him; in those who hope in his steadfast love.” Psalm 147:11

“I think I have a cello for you!” responded this persistent one. Sure enough, stashed away in someone’s attic languished a cello. It had been purchased years earlier at the flea market but the owner left it when she returned to her home country. It was in poor condition from lack of care and full of wood-worm holes. My heart sank as I considered the fortune required to have it repaired. The owner, knowing this, sent me the message that if I could bear the cost of repair, it was mine. I didn’t have to pray about it. This was no coincidence. God knew more about my future location than the ethnomusicologist and I received his gift with two hands (the African way of receiving with a full and thankful heart). I felt the pleasure my heavenly Father took in returning music to me. What’s more, the cost of repair turned out to be minimal, due to the exchange rate at the time. My precious Lord brought to new life what I had put to death for his sake. He gave back the part of me that gave him pleasure. I became a cellist once again. And this cello made it to Africa.

I did not commit the unpardonable, anthropological crime. Coca-cola and pop music idols from the west had already beaten us to our destination. Our “oldies” were their “newsies” and how they loved them. Rock music blared from every bar (and there are many of those). Would my little ‘ole cello, being played in the house for my family’s benefit, corrupt the homes and neighborhoods where I lived? I thought not. Definitely not.

By 2010, this instrument had done a good bit of traveling. Finally, it returned to the U.S. with me. But it had literally come unglued during the flight. The extreme climates I’d exposed it to and that final journey had done a number. I had it repaired by a master and it’s probably a better specimen than it’s ever been. “Farmboy” (affectionately named in honor of its supposed origins – but that’s another story) is fragile, though. So, when my husband and I took this recent assignment in Namibia, I left it home. With the confidence of a “seasoned missionary”, well accustomed to necessary sacrifices, I didn’t think twice about living for two years without a cello. For a “seasoned missionary” with open-ended assignments lasting a decade or more under my belt, a two-year assignment is “nothing”. I actually convinced myself, and glibly declared to my friends, “I can do anything for two years! Why, that’s a drop in the bucket of life!” Not. Almost immediately the short-term assignment took on a plodding, endless character. Clearly, the God who gave his life to save me from such pride had more to teach me regarding being “seasoned” – mainly that it’s less about my history and more about him.

My perceptive husband was noticing that I just wasn’t “the gal I used to be”. After all, I had been attached to a cello when he met me. I was “M—E—who-played-the-cello”. Turns out, “cellist” is a part of me that also delights him, even as it delights my Lord. So my man was determined to find a cello for me here. It is true that in my uncertain moments before we left for Namibia I researched “travel cello” online. I actually found one, but didn’t pursue it. My husband, possibly fearing I would go the way of Farmboy and become unglued, directed me to put in an order for the “practice cello designed for air travel”, called Prakticello. This was risky. No cellist of my acquaintance had ever heard of this “instrument”. I had never seen it nor played it in person. Hubby was blessedly insistent, though, so we took the plunge and ordered. We found a traveler willing to hand carry it to the capitol. We drove a day (each way) to retrieve it. And now, I am a cellist — again. And once again, my heart leaps at the joy my heavenly Father has over me. As if his joy over saving and redeeming me from sin’s powerful grip, and forgiving me of my pride isn’t enough, he gives me a cello too! — again! I am not really a seasoned anything. But I am seasoned by God’s presence; daily sprinkled with his loving kindness, spiced up by his generosity and perfect gifts; growing older in the certainty that it delights him to season me so.

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

 

Bye Lines

Bye Lines

“Time to say ‘goodbye’”, Sarah Brightman’s breathy crooning soared up and over the mango and the cashew trees, wafting in under our tin roof. The bar down the road, like most bars in Africa, graciously shared their music with the entire neighborhood. One raunchy, raucous rap or intrusive, throbbing rock song after another pushed it’s way into our evening routine. Then, suddenly, Sarah is singing goodbye. It seemed so incongruous, out of place – and yet, comforting in an odd sort of way.

Here are some down to earth goodbyes I have known:

“May the Lord watch between me and thee, while we are absent one from the other.” One branch of my family repeats in unison this covenant made between Laban and Jacob. (Gen. 31:49) Their relationship had been strained, at best. Deceit and mistreatment are the words that come to mind. When Jacob finally left Laban’s employ they reconciled, promising not to avenge wrongs, acknowledging that God would see and hold accountable the one who sabotages their family relationships. I’m not sure why my family clan has used this as their goodbye, but it really would be an appropriate one for some of our situations.

“I hate goodbyes – I’ll just say ‘until next time’”.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” The Aaronic blessing – Numbers 6:24-26

Tearful goodbyes: Standing in a circle, holding hands, various ones pray, then we sing the Doxology together. God has blessed one branch of my family with more than their share of musical talent. I love singing with them but never make it to the final “Amen” of that farewell, as I’m usually sobbing by that time. Some of those family members I will never see again this side of Heaven.

Painful goodbyes: the final visit with grandchildren before returning to Africa for another term — my small grandson spontaneously stooped down, grabbed a couple pieces of gravel from the drive and handed them to me as I got into the car – his way of recognizing my sadness and bestowing a blessing. I only registered the blessing later. At the time, it all just hurt.

I remember clearly where my brave, precious mother was sitting when I bade farewell before our final term in Mozambique. Usually positive and dry-eyed when we depart, this time her lip was trembling, her eyes pleading. I sensed within me that I’d never see her walk again. We promised to not go more than a year without seeing her. She smiled then, and released us. It was a painful departure, and it was the last time I saw her walk.

I carry deep within me my father-in-law’s goodbye. Here we were, a young couple with four little children and ten pieces of luggage at least. A crowd of dear friends and family gathered around us at O’Hare to enclose us in a tight circle and pray for us before we boarded our plane for another continent. The children were his grandchildren; the luggage, the possessions they would need for the next four years; but the young man was his own son. My husband’s dear father, and mine because hubby and I are one, gripped me in an uncharacteristic hug. And then, with his voice close to my ear he chocked out , “Please, take care of my son.” At various times in our marriage, his heartfelt “last instructions” have echoed in my mind and I remember that my husband is also someone’s beloved son whom they hope will be cherished as they have cherished him.

I have known some who pick a quarrel in the final days or hours before a goodbye that will initiate a long separation. Maybe they think: “It won’t be so painful if I convince myself they aren’t worthy of my love anyway.” This way of saying goodbye is selfish, destructive to all parties, and is like a curse on the relationship.

Goodbyes are important. The way we say goodbye can pronounce a curse, or a blessing.

Elijah bade farewell to his ardent disciple, Elisha, with a blessing – the prophetic mantle was passed on to him with all the enabling he needed to fulfil God’s calling. II Kings 2

Jesus’ goodbye to his disciples was a promise of great blessing – a clear mandate for service and the power of the Holy Spirit within them to qualify them for the work. (Acts 1) In both the case of Elijah and Jesus, their disciples received a greater blessing at the farewell than they had while living in the bodily presence of their master. They received a double portion, a blessing that saw them through to the end of their days.

How often have I bid a farewell with my mind full of my own sorrow and deprivation? Was my loved one blessed in the parting, or have I been too absorbed with my feelings about the separation to bestow a blessing?

Our family parted in July after a sweet reunion. We planned our goodbye ritual in advance: we stood in a circle, sang Mayibuye (our favorite Africa song), repeated Aaron’s blessing as a prayer, then sang the Doxology. It moved me, blessed me, and I actually made it to the “Amen” – just. Our farewell was a fitting end, sending us all our separate ways with full and happy hearts.

How do you say goodbye? I know that I want to be less concerned about expressing my personal feelings and more generous to appropriately bless.

Time to say goodbye! So, I’ll see ya’ — here, there, or in the air!

On Pencils, Planes, and Prayer

On Pencils, Planes, and Prayer

It’s that time of year again. Back to school. Newspaper ads illustrated with colorful Fall leaves, rulers, and pencils. Phone calls to organise the car pool. Athletic fees, new jeans, a bigger back pack. But these are not my memories of my children’s back to school days.

My memories of the season are: not wanting to go to bed that last night of their month home, confirming they had the clothes they needed for the next 3 months at least, a two-day road trip to the international airport and lapping up every last minute of being together, sharing the Lord’s supper that final night, waving to them from the observation deck as they boarded the plane, and already longing for the day three months hence when I would see them coming my direction across the tarmac.

I had been one of those moms who vehemently declared she would never, ever send her children to boarding school. I was not THAT kind of mom. I like to redeem myself by saying that we did not send them— rather, they begged to go and we finally released them!

Our first SL was not yet ten when we made a quick stop, during a Kenyan road trip, at The School, that excellent ‘school in the clouds’ which perches perfectly on the edge of the Rift Valley. He then announced, “I will go to this school,” and his mom shot back, “I don’t think so”, but inside she said “over my dead body”. Thankfully for me, attending The School wasn’t even an option for us – our finances would not permit the expense. Relieved, I put the whole issue out of my mind. But the SL did not. The idea simmered there his whole, homeschooling/public schooling life until one bright day, when the circumstances of our family changed completely. This was the day we realized that the organization we had recently joined was the one to which The School belonged. And now, The School belonged to us, too.

We had been in our homeland, sweating through a transition for almost five years. All of our children were eager to return to Africa but the eldest was ready to enter his junior year of high school and we wondered. .. Would this one, almost ready to leave home anyway, want to return with us? “Will you? Would you [pleeeeease]?” (we were almost afraid to ask). And the response? “I will. But only if I can go to The School.” So we exalted together that what had heretofore been impossible, God had worked to make possible. God had known all along what we had never imagined. We had about three weeks to get our 16-year old ready, and then he was gone. This sudden burst out of the family circle that left a big hole that took my breath away. I didn’t think I could go through this four more times. But my husband and I were faced with the probability that we would, because the door had been opened – and now it swung both ways.

SL2 began to set her sights on The School, too. So, I made a plan. Homeschooling moms have a broad job description, and I loved that. I incorporated my plan into their home education. It went something like this: Your dad and I will consider letting you go to THE boarding school of your dreams (but not before 9th grade) if and when you demonstrate you are ready. Before you are ready to leave home you must possess and regularly demonstrate these skills and habits (boys and girl alike):

  1. Be a leader, not a blind follower. Must not give in to peer pressure.
    2.  Must be in the habit of reading your Bible and praying on a daily basis, without being reminded.
    3.  We must observe that your faith influences every area of your life.
    4.  You must know how to scramble eggs, cook pasta, set the table and clean up       afterwards.
    5.  You must know how to mend seams and sew on buttons and put in a hem by hand.
    6. You must master the art of cleaning the house (and this will take lots of practice), including the toilet and even down to dusting the baseboards (if they exist).
    7.  You must be a good student in your home studies.
    8.  Finally, in those weeks before you leave, you sew the name tags, required by the school’s laundry service, on your own clothes!

I thought I had it fixed. After all, many young people today don’t even go into marriage with these requirements met! Yep, I was sure I’d have the remaining four SLs home for life! Well, you’ve already guessed that it didn’t happen that way. Here’s what did happen. I engaged in what has been the highest privilege of my life: to prepare the children God gave us to leave home. God generously showered us with wise counsel from His word, and blessed us with faith and His presence in order to use us as vehicles of grace in their lives. We became simply the tools He used for a season to fashion these children according to His plan.

Over the next ten years God was very busy in our children’s lives and hearts. And the tools He used got a good workout! SL2 was ready, as far as we were concerned. But she believed she needed one more year to establish Mozambique as her home before she left it. And she wanted to be engaged in a ministry apart from her parents before she left. God worked wisdom within her.

A couple years later, the next one was ready. But he said he had unfinished business with his Mozambican friends. Some had not yet heard the gospel clearly and he wanted another year to witness to them. God worked to form a leader after His own heart.

And so it went, with each one, God was working. What an honor, what an adventure it was to participate with our Heavenly Father as He set each one on the course of His choosing. Oh yes, at first I cleverly made plans to enjoy our teenagers at home until they went to college. But soon I saw clearly how God wanted to turn those plans into His own program to send them away to be a light and salt in other places. I am so grateful that they are His; that He has known all along how He will form their hearts. They belong to Him, not to me. And He does all things well.

Are you shopping for pencils and back packs? Maybe your students don’t go further than dining room table for lessons.  Did you just put your precious son or daughter on a plane.  Maybe, like me, you’re a grandparent now, observing from afar as your grandchildren enter the “back to school” season.  Whatever the case, this is a prayer for our children that the Father delights to answer:

“May the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make them complete in every good work to do His will, working in them what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Hebrews 13:20, 21