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

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A Guide for the Descent

A Guide for the Descent

Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, our first Spoon Licker boarded a plane in Kenya and flew away to college life in the U.S.A. His high school graduation marked the end of the season when we, all seven of us, lived in Africa … until this month. For almost eight days we lived together again on the continent we had all called “home” for so many years. Our seven has multiplied to twenty-one and there we were, under “one roof” again. During those short but glorious eight days, we visited, played games, sang, read God’s word together, prayed, cooked, shopped, washed clothes and even got a little sleep now and then. And we went places.

We had a guide who led us on each of these outings. These men knew the roads and drove us safely to the day’s destination. Our safari drivers knew where to find the animals and took us right to them. A family our size, with members from babies to grandparents, can be cumbersome to move. Our guides were patient as they periodically reminded us, gently, that “we need to be going now”.

One fine day, a knowledgeable, local man led us on a trail through his village at the base of majestic Kilimanjaro. The path was well beaten, so we probably wouldn’t have gotten lost by ourselves but our guide stopped us along the way to describe the flora and fauna and traditional customs and practices that related to the things we were seeing. Our journey was enhanced by this expert who had been this way hundreds of times before. He was not only knowledgeable, but enthusiastic about his mountain home.

We trusted him to lead us safely. The path was usually wide enough for just one person; it often bordered the very rim of a ravine. Caution was necessary. One of our small ones slipped, falling over the edge only to be immediately caught up by our watchful guide.

The views of the lush valley, the living compounds and the terraced gardens were reward enough for our exertions. However, the real prize and goal of the long hike was the waterfall at the end. And we weren’t disappointed. After splashing in the water and slipping on the rocks, it was finally time to get off the mountainside. Mothers threw their calls to the head of the line, “Junior, I said walk! Don’t run!” (Names have been changed to protect the guilty.) Going down can be treacherous and the risk of falling is greater than on the ascent. The guide walked in front, a barrier to stop any bodies whose legs moved faster than their heads.

It’s suddenly over. This epic Africa reunion, this mountain top experience, is history. I am required to leave the peak, but don’t know how. My human guides were exactly suited to their job, and their job is over. I need a different Guide for this descent. Planning this event took years. It was challenging and exciting. But coming down afterwards can be perilous. I’ve stood at the top with my husband, children and grandchildren, together. I gloried in the unity expressed as we worshiped our Lord Jesus together, sang and laughed, played and prayed; as I observed our members demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit in self-control, in patience and in overlooking the faults of others. Together we pressed into the moments and tasted joy. How do I come down from this? My Lord Jesus— patient, knowledgeable, eager to lead me— takes me safely down.

“Father God, give me your mind and your thoughts. Orient my reflections. Monitor my emotions. Correct any wrong impressions I may carry with me. Keep me from slipping on these small pebbles that become little wheels under the weight of my foot, sending me careening. Control the speed of my descent – not too fast lest I race over a word or deed worthy of a longer look; and not too slow, lest I become distracted from the present joys, morosely mourning the end of the peak experience, dishonouring you and distrusting your goodness by coveting more.

“You have done great things for us. May I remember with a thankful heart. May I keep Christ, the wisdom that is his, before me at every turn. Remind me that the gathering, though so personally satisfying, was ultimately about you. Our coming together was not an end in itself for our sakes alone, but served (and serves still) to exalt Jesus as Lord and Saviour so that you, Lord God, will be known by those in our respective realms of influence. With this mind, I will descend safely and my foot will not stumble. Amen.”

I Corinthians 13; Proverbs 3:19-26, Psalm 87:7; Psalm121; Philippians 2:1-11

A Spoon Lickers Memory

A Spoon Lickers Memory

 It’s winter in Namibia. The wind bites outside and the ceramic tile floor is cold inside. I know of some North American ex-pats, living in this part of the world, who actually celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas in July because that’s when it feels right. Our family never went so far as that, but I did try to keep as many of our traditions as possible. Over the years, bit by bit, I modified my expectations. I remember one very hot December 25th we even had chicken and noodles (homemade at that!) for our holiday feast. Christ’s birth brought hope and joy to the world and our home, just the same.

So it is fitting that I post, in July, an article one of my SLs wrote about a Thanksgiving at home almost 20 years ago.  I am delighted to present …

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Lessons from an Ill-fated Holiday Feast

by Heidi Carlson

A naked, fluorescent bulb dangled from the ceiling. The power source – a dusty car battery – lay on the red cement floor. Figures in varying stages of acute fatigue cast shadows on the cement block walls that were hosts to various shades of deteriorating white. Humidity engulfed them as they quickly stripped off every possible layer of clothing, only preserving the most minimal, acceptable amount of modesty. A mosquito whirred its wings in dizzying flight on the window screen. In a split-second, a gecko expertly ran down the screen from the top corner and ate his hearty meal just as we were beginning ours. This was not the setting of a military interrogation, but the setting of our Thanksgiving dinner.

How did it come to this? How did we get here, across the days and miles?

A school bus, two plane rides, a crowded-goats-included public bus, the back of a pick-up truck over the mountain along the lake, across no man’s land by bicycle, a hitchhiked ride in a businessman’s Land Rover, and, finally, a twelve-hour journey in the “first class” car of a very slow train. What it amounted to was complete exhaustion. I have since felt similar exhaustion in the days that followed the birth of each of my children. That delirious exhaustion is notorious. I also have felt the same weary, travel-induced walking coma in Portugal when, after several flights and time changes, our hosts treated us to a traditional Portuguese feast of bacalhau com natas (creamed cod) at 10 pm. The feast was impeccable. I remember every delicious bite – before I rudely crashed back on the sofa and surrendered to my primal need for sleep.

But this post-train ride Thanksgiving was a joyous homecoming with a feast fit for the prodigal son. Mom had waited for months, then weeks, then days and hours for our return from boarding school and had prepared traditional American fare – almost.

Helmeted Guinea FowlTurkey was not available in Mozambique, so she marinated and roasted a local guinea fowl. Pumpkins? Not available. How about sweet potato pie instead? There was an assortment of other dishes spread across the table in the buzzing glare of the bulb. With few words and weak smiles, I forced myself to be gracious and eat something before I crawled under the mosquito net and went to bed. Locally grown guinea fowl sounds like a foodie-gourmet-heritage breed kind of thing to eat. But this wild guinea fowl? Not so much. The first few movements of the jaw brought out the rich flavor enhanced by the marinade. The following 20 or so chews failed to break down the tight sinews. It was like chewing gum, but guinea fowl gum. After the flavor was gone, the muscle was still there. Really good flavor, we kept saying sincerely. It was true. But it didn’t mask the toughness of the wild fowl.

Then there was the sweet potato pie, the other item on the menu I remember distinctly. It tasted just as a fine sweet potato pie should taste. That is to say, it doesn’t taste at all, and should not be substituted for, the expected pumpkin pie. The two are not remotely related.

I felt so guilty. We were forcing grins and trying to keep our lids open for a meal Mom had prepared with great love in expectation of our return. One could say it was a complete flop as far as holiday meals go, but I don’t think so. We took away several lessons. First, don’t try to recreate food from the home country with inadequate substitutes. Early members of the vegetarian movement can relate to this. No, tofu does not taste like chicken, so don’t tell me it does. Use available ingredients to make something delicious that stands on its own without having to be compared to a dish from yesteryears and yestercountries.

Second, ill-fated meals often become the most memorable. We can look back and laugh at the comedy of this event and the perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances. At the time, we were not laughing. There were probably some unkind words spoken, considering we all just wanted to get some rest and start a new day. But now when my fish bake is overcooked and mushy (nasty!), I can laugh about it and regret just the foul flavor, not also a foul attitude.

And the third lesson is for parents of children in boarding school who may have traveled many miles and perhaps even days to get home: Hold your horses and let the kids get some rest so they can give the proper attention to a meal they’ve waited months to eat.

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Heidi and her husband, now with their own SLs, travel the world together.  Periodically they live awhile in one place before moving on.  Read about it all at willtravelwithkids.

Pizza Night

Pizza Night

There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless -a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil … Job’s sons would take turns preparing feasts in their homes, and they would also invite their three sisters to celebrate with them. When these celebrations ended – sometimes after several days – Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” Job 1:1-5

It’s Friday! I head to the kitchen to begin the ritual that has engaged me almost every Friday afternoon for the the past 30 years.

I begin by finely dicing a couple plum tomatoes.

Family traditions have eluded me over the years. I love tradition, but it’s hard to keep one going when you find yourself in a different country, a different culture, with different friends and different shopping options every few years. Seasons don’t line up right, either. That tradition we tried to institute in place L just doesn’t fit in location M. And then there’s my own mind that simply doesn’t remember, what with all the changes in our situation. SpoonLicker3 (see My Turn to Lick the Spoon) turns 13 and I ask myself, “What did we do for SL1 and 2 on this birthday?” Beats me. That was a continent and a language ago. But Friday night pizza? That has stuck.

The tomatoes slide into the saucepan where a tablespoon or 2 of tomato paste awaits to receive them, along with a bit of water, several heaping spoons of freshly minced garlic and an equal amount of Italian herbs and a bay leaf. Then, a spoon of olive oil. Put to the heat, it simmers gently. This is when the household members inhale deeply and I hear, “Yay! It’s pizza night!”

We discovered that, especially when living cross-culturally, good family times don’t always come naturally. After a rough week of language learning, or repeated failed attempts to meet with that key person, or when you don’t have running, the roof leaks and the power lines have been bombed again … an intentional “good time” tradition is essential to spiritual health. Thus began pizza and game night. We, and our friends who had the same kind of week, needed to have fun together.

I start chopping and slicing. The toppings all depend on where we are. Today I’m in northern Namibia. Local fresh produce available: tomatoes, onions, squashes and root vegetables. A grated carrot periodically finds its way onto my pizzas but a squash or potato has yet to appear there but …

… I’ve frequently allowed left-overs to sneak onto a pizza. After all, given enough garlic and cheese, who’s to know? But fish from the day before wouldn’t be concealed. That Friday, in Nampula, Mozambique, we took the pizza to a friend’s house for that “good time” we’d waited all week for. Jacob, a dear missionary friend who likes to call my cooking “earthy”, took one bite of the pizza and hollered, “This is horrible! What’s in this?” I think it’s the only time one of my pizzas was declared an abject, unredeemable failure. That threw some cold water (or maybe I should say cold fish) on our Friday Fun Time. My SLs have their own homes and ways to “do pizza” now.  I wonder if any of them are baking one tonight, or maybe picking it up in a box?  But my hubby still prefers my pizza, thankfully. Probably the person who likes my pizza best, though, is … me!

Some great Portuguese sausages are sold here; I thinly slice a link. Most food is imported from South Africa so I have mushrooms and green pepper to slice up, in addition to a sweet onion. I like a lot of toppings. (You know the pizza wasn’t hearty enough if the kids want a bowl of cereal for dessert.) Oh, the sauce has simmered down to a spreadable, but not runny, consistency. It is set aside to cool.

I ponder good times in hard places. We have a SpoonLicker who very frequently prayed: “… and God, help us have a good time.“ This SL hoped for a life a little less hard, and with a lot more fun. Living in a war-torn, foreign country meant that home life was more about building character than having fun. We tried to teach our children that God could and would use the stresses for his good purpose’ to make them holy.  Another SL, gone from his Africa home and not having fun adapting to western culture, bellowed: “I wish God didn’t care so much about making me holy!”  He had learned to recognize the holiness training ground.

Now for the crust. I like to use as much whole wheat flour as possible in the hopes that it will be more healthy and filling. Making dough is simple: a couple teaspoons yeast sprinkled into 1 1/2 cups of warm water – add a tablespoon of olive oil and gradually stir in four or more cups of flour plus a couple teaspoons of salt. I turn the dough out onto a floured counter top and begin kneading.

Fold, press, turn. Again and again and, for some weird reason, Job’s children now come to my mind. Apparently, they liked to have a good time too. They were grown, each with their own home and families, but the guys would take turns having’”pizza night” at their house. They always included their sisters, too. These grown kids just enjoyed being together. They had fun, I’m thinking. The Bible seems to indicate that Dad Job didn’t go to these events. Maybe he knew they’d have more fun without him.

I roll out the dough and lay it in a sheet pan that I’ve liberally sprinkled with cornmeal. Building materials in place, construction begins. I spread the sauce, then carefully place the vegetables, sausage and kalamata olives evenly, out to the very edges. In other places gouda was the only cheese available. But here there is mozzarella and feta, and both go onto this one. I powder the top with a little parmesan, carried over in our suitcase as we can’t get it here. Ta-daah! Another work of art is displayed on the counter top until the dough has risen and it’s ready to bake.

I don’t think Job was at all opposed to his kids having a good time. Parents like to see their children getting along, desirous of each other’s company, especially as adults. But he was more concerned that they be holy, that the way they live would be acceptable to God. He didn’t pray, “Help them have a good time”, or “Help them be happy” but “Make them holy.” He offered sacrifices on their behalf towards this end. Old Testament sacrifices all pointed to Christ – to his person and to his work on the cross. They illustrated that being holy and accepted by God is a gift offered only by Jesus Christ’s own sacrifice. If Job had lived on this side of the cross, his prayers might have been something like this: “God, may my children know their sin and go to Christ for forgiveness. Cover them with the blood of your sacrifice. Make them holy. Keep them from careless, thoughtless words and actions while they’re having fun. Cause them to want you, to love you and be hungry and thirsty for intimacy with you. Protect them from the evil one and his lies that tempt towards atheism, agnosticism, humanism and fatalism. May they be more Christ-conscious than Self-conscious.”

My daily and continuous prayers for my own children when they were young was that they would believe and trust Jesus Christ as their Savior, the One who died on the cross for the ungodly – them. As they grew up, I added, and continue to add to that prayer: when they are sinking in despondency, I pray they will experience Christ their Hope and Counselor; when their heart is hurting, that they experience Christ the complete Comforter; when they need guidance or direction, that they find in Christ all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I pray that they will be more conscious of Christ’s sufficiency than they are of their own deficiencies. I pray that they will look less at themselves and more at Christ.

J.C. Ryle of the 19th century said, “In all true saving religion Christ is all: all in justification, all in sanctification, all in comfort, all in hope. Blessed is that mother’s child that knows it, and far more blessed is he that feels it, too.”

Pizza’s done! We snuggle up side by side with the computer in front of us on the coffee table, large slabs of pizza on our plates. We’re hoping to find something good to watch on YouTube and that internet will be fast enough to stream it in tonight. We’re ready for a Friday Night Good Time!

Recommended link:   http://www.biblebb.com/files/ryle/christ_is_all.htm

Everything is Enough

A warm hello to all of you who share my same faith in God our Savior Jesus Christ. There is a feast set before us; a feast of grace and peace for our soul, heaped up, overflowing and never running out! The bowl is never empty! Let’s savor a lick from the spoon scooped out from the bowl of II Peter.

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”…His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us…”  [The … means that you really need to dig into all that comes before and after this small lick.]

All things.   Life.    And godliness. That about covers it.  Sweeping. Broad. It leaves out nothing that is of enduring significance either for this life, or the next.

Life. My circumstances, situation, the conditions in which I live, move and function. Life. The way my mind thinks about my situation; my soul’s response to circumstances.

Godliness. A particular response of the soul wherein God makes me to be at peace with Him, with others and with my own conscience. Godliness. Understanding and interpreting life from the vantage point of faith in Christ and all He has promised me here, and forever.

Dear reader, let this truth settle into your mind and heart. God’s divine power has [already] provided for you everything that you need to live in your present situation. He has already given you all that your soul requires to be at peace, to act wisely and to escape being wounded in spirit by the corruptness that is all around.

How is this wondrous, blessed condition brought about? God has already made the Way for you to know Him. Twice it is written here. The grace, this peace, is in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. It is through the knowledge of Him that we lay claim to the feast for the soul. The soul’s resource is in knowing Jesus. Period. It is that simple. This life-giving knowledge of Jesus is revealed in God’s word, the Bible. Only. Exclusively.

I wonder if the apostle Peter wouldn’t say something like this: God’s divine power has given me everything I need to cope with persecution as I get to know the crucified and risen Christ better and better.

A refugee fleeing for her life, physically, can say, “God’s divine power has given me everything I need to encourage my soul and not succumb to hate or despair as I learn more and more about Jesus from the Bible, and believe everything it says about Him. A U.N. camp can not offer my soul any remedy that the Holy Spirit does not already offer, through the Word.”

One soldier survived when all the others were killed by a roadside bomb. If that dear one has his faith in the Lord Jesus, he already has all he needs to heal his soul and mind of the trauma. Healing, comfort, hope and a future is granted to him through the knowledge of Christ and His promises.

King David, the first disciples, the ancient Christians, those Christ-followers down through the ages all knew something we seem to have forgotten in these recent decades. Many have become absorbed and fascinated with the human idea that we can study and understand the soul apart from the Creator and Designer of it. What’s more, we are being told that God’s word is not sufficient to meet the real, deep needs of the soul. The knowledge of Christ, as He is revealed in the Bible, is supposedly shamefully simplistic and irrelevant to the deeper, larger issues that humans face today. Heart and soul conditions have been renamed with labels we don’t find in Scripture. These labels may help us categorise human behavior but they tend to send us in the wrong direction for wisdom and help in need. Human philosophies of the soul undermine our confidence in God’s word as the sufficient and authoritative, first and last word on the soul.

I can testify with the cloud of witnesses who have gone before me that, indeed, God’s divine power has provided me with every encouragement, exhortation, every teaching and all nourishment that is necessary to my soul; this soul that lives in a foreign culture, this soul that yearns for a home, this soul that is tempted to think of myself more highly than I ought, to replaying horrific conversations, and, this soul that is hungry for God. Feasting on Christ, to know Him as He is made known in God’s word, always has been, and is, complete and sufficient nourishment for this, my soul.

One of my Spoon Lickers, a TCK (third culture kid = one who’s parents raised him in a culture that was not their own, a new culture to the whole family) recently told me that the most important thing he learned growing up in our home was that “God’s word is enough.” He has obtained faith, the Holy Spirit lives in him. He has a Bible. Therefore, he is confident that he has everything he needs for his soul to really and truly live, anytime, anywhere, in any situation.

Do you believe that the knowledge of Christ is sufficient to address your circumstances, the issues of your soul? Do you believe that the Bible is God’s word, given to be our sole source of this knowledge? How would your life change if you really did believe this? What changes would you make in your reading material, your online searches, the people you talk to about your problems? What changes might your children see in you?

You can give your children nothing more valuable than a steadfast confidence in God’s Word as the one and only, the totally sufficient resource that trains the soul to truly live.

II Peter; Colossians 2:8; Ps. 119; Hebrews 1