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

 

One of Those Days

One of Those Days

I’m wandering slowly, aimlessly thoughout the house, trying to think of an activity that will get my limbs moving. But not so much as to whip up all the hot air around me, making the heat even harder to ignore. I’d been sitting for quite some time, writing out long-hand my notes for the presentation I’m scheduled to give at a women’s conference later this week. I was tired of sitting so, after peeling my glowing arm off the paper, I stood. And made my way to … where? Oh my, it’s that 3 p.m. slump that presents itself most days at exactly this time. I usually weather it pretty well but when it’s this hot, I don’t weather much well. I’ll begin this sweaty, slump with a cup of coffee. A small one, because I don’t really yearn to drink it as much as I crave the ritual. Now, at least, I can wander slowly and aimlessly with coffee in hand.

Maybe I should go online, again, for the sixth time today, or the tenth. I lost track. I go online about as often as my husband dashes into the shower for a quick cooling. I have given up on that method of feeling good because the lovely, cool feeling doesn’t last long enough to get me from one side of our modest house to the other, making me feel quite cheated. Back to my idea of checking email again – I must exercise a bit of self-discipline. I pick up my Kindle instead, which doesn’t require hardly any effort to turn a page, and open to Colossians. I’m putting the text to music – for my personal benefit only. No one else would want to sing it as I’m certainly no composer.  I review a few “stanzas”.  There. That has reset my soul and I’m in a good place. What shall I do next?

Dust the sills. This doesn’t require hardly any energy and it always needs doing. The window sills are particularly disgusting. When the sand pit we call our yard blows daily into the house, I think 50% of it must make its landing on the sills before the remainder hits the floor. On my “full steam ahead” days, when I sweep and mop and do laundry and dust and bake and write and everything – I scorn the sills. They are speed bumps that curb my domestic enthusiasm. I have to actually slow down to dust them because of all the burglar bars that interfere. It is a tedious chore. Mindless. And just the thing for this hour.

Next? Here I sit, obviously. It really tells you something when a body is too languid to do anything but dust the sills and a mind too fried to do anything but write about it.

But behold! What is this? The wind is picking up! Do I hear thunder in the distance? Might this oppressive heat be a portent of a refreshing shower?

It occurs to me that quite a few people here are wilting under the oppression of the Enemy of their souls. Their spirits are languid, they are floundering, aimless, not knowing which way to turn. They are sheep without a shepherd, seedlings without water. On Friday I am bringing buckets of water to scores of women, many are plants of the Lord Jesus. I’m going to douse them in Colossians. We’re going to jump in, get washed up and stay in the cool water of God’s word for two days straight. I’m hoping to show some how to swim. It might be intolerably hot under the tin roof of the church building. I sure hope not, but if it is, we’ll need the cool water from heaven all the more.

The Silent Talk Show

“Hey, lets get a pizza over at Debonairs and see if their TV is showing the World Series!” (We don’t have TV. If something big happens, like hurricane Matthew, we race over to the 2-counter food court and ask them to flip the channel to BBC News.) It had been a full day and the house was just too hot to even make a sandwich in the kitchen. Besides, Debonairs has air conditioning! It didn’t take me any time at all to convince my husband this was a good plan. He was languishing (did I mention the heat?); he grew up in a Chicago suburb; his baseball team hadn’t won a World Series in over 100 years (he missed that game) and today the final game would be played. The winner would be the champion. So, just maybe, this one game would make world news. The food court it is.

Three men were chatting away on the wall screen. No green field, no ball players, no cheering fans. Just three men flapping their mouths up and down talking about … well, the management had it on mute but we soon surmised that this was a sports talk show, most likely out of neighboring South Africa. Then, suddenly, we were looking at a Cub’s game. “Look! It is the World Series!” But alas, it was just a 5 second Cubs clip followed by an equally short clip of the Bulls in action, and then five seconds of the Bears running a play. Then we were back to the three chatty men. At least they must be talking about Chicago teams! Then there was a clip of a CEO-looking man break dancing on a soccer field, surrounded by the players watching his demonstration. The stands looked empty. Must have been a private party. Or maybe that’s how the players spend their practice time … and maybe these commentators are discussing the rigorous training and discipline characteristic of the Chicago teams … in comparison to the fun and games that comprise soccer training camp … What??? Well, we couldn’t hear a word and we don’t read lips, so we can make up anything we want, right?

Later, I got to thinking about that. Just that morning I had attempted to train several bench-fulls of men and women in a “simple” way to read the Bible for understanding – understanding that leads to application and a transformed life. Several readers of language Lu were identified. There is a Bible published in the Lu language and they had their Bibles with them. The participants were divided into small groups, with a reader in each group. The reader was instructed to read the two verses, aloud, several times to their listeners. I instructed them to identify one thing those verses tell them that God desires, or wants. I smiled to see them lean in, listen to the word being read, then discuss it. Some had the response I was hoping for. However, most gave one of three responses: 1. the reader stood and just reread the verses with no comment, or, 2. if I repeated the question the group attempted to quote the verse from memory, or 3. someone would make a [possibly] true statement about God that was totally unrelated to the verses read.

Were the readers simply decoding the words, unable to recognize punctuation and use voice inflection that lends to accurate communication? Were the listeners hearing the same way I was “hearing” the chatty men on TV? Most of the people we train have not grown up learning to think critically, rather, they are trained to obey instructions from the top, from the big chiefs (or the pastor) whose role it is to do the thinking. Words are read off the page but it is the job of someone in a “higher position” to give the words meaning and explain the sense of it. And so if pressed to answer the question “what does this verse tell us about God?” the field is open for imaginative interpretation in the event there is no answer-man around.

It’s a hallelujah moment for me whenever a woman, especially a woman, catches on. What freedom there is in being able to read the Bible herself, to know God is speaking directly to her in his word, and to learn from God when she’s alone, not being limited by a lack of available “teachers”. But whether she is a critical thinker or not, only the Holy Spirit can open ears that have been deaf to his word. I can’t make this happen. How freeing this is for me! I present the opportunity to hear the word, the Author makes it come alive. He releases the “mute” button and brings up the volume.

We woke up this morning to the online news: “The Cubs did it!!! They won!” Now I wonder what those chatty men are saying. “Wow, can you believe it? I’ve seen a lot of games, and teams and I’ve seen a lot of cities. But Chicago is the best and has the best! .. Maybe we should move there. Maybe their local station would hire us … I can break dance …”

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!

Glory For Me!

Glory For Me!

That which gives you your sense of worth
is your glory.

“Glory!” What comes to mind when you hear the word? I think: jaw-dropping awesomeness, perfection, God, and Christmas. “Glory!” What do you see? I see angels, white and blinding light, glitter and sparkles. Glory. It’s one of those Bible words that we don’t use much nowadays, unless it’s December and we’re singing about it. But the word does appear in the Bible over and over. I was seeing the “glory” theme so often that I decided I’d better take a closer look and understand what is actually being said.

The glory of God is easier to define, even from a brief dictionary definition. glory – n. 1 high renown or honor won by notable achievements 2 magnificence; great beauty; a thing that is beautiful or distinctive; a special cause for pride, respect, or delight. Granted, this only scratches the surface of what the prophets and apostles mean when they speak of God’s glory but at least our understanding is pointed in the right direction. What really threw me was the passages that quote a human being saying “my glory”. What is that about? Take Psalm 16, for example, where we listen in as David alternately prays to God and talks to his own soul. Towards the end he says,

“Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices…”

Now, if you are using a modern paraphrase, you probably won’t see the word “glory” here. The translators have accommodated our self-imposed, limited vocabulary. I’m sorry about that because I think the meaning intended in the original manuscript holds layers of richness that contextualised translations miss.

One commentator, Matthew Henry, explains that “our glory is that within us that makes us different from the beasts”. Our tongue, our ability to speak, distinguishes us from animals. Therefore, in the case of Psalm 16 David audibly, with speech, rejoices in the Lord. But speech is not our only distinguishing characteristic. There’s a deeper layer of meaning to “glory”.

We differ from animals in that we are aware of the self. We think about our self. We consider our image and we ponder the level of satisfaction we have attained. We are conscious of our self, of our soul. So now I invite you to read Psalm 84 with that in mind. Notice that in David’s self-awareness, he directs his soul to God. David is the king! He sits on a throne and lives in a palace! But this is not where he finds his worth. “The Lord will give grace and glory”, he assures his soul, “no good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” We see here, then, that “glory” also carries the meaning ‘the weight of significance, honor, esteem’. And here is the point. David, for all his talents, skills, wealth and power derived the weight of his significance from the Lord who gives it to those who trust in him! What freedom this truth has given me from the bondage of self — of having to assert myself, to protect and look after the measure of my worth and significance!

Do you see the powerful truth here? If you trust in the Lord Jesus your identity, self-esteem, value and worth is wrapped up in him. He shares his glory with you. In Him you live and move and have your being. Our personal glory is centered in our Savior, the only truly Glorious One.

Now, when you read your Bible and come across the phrase “my glory”, don’t rush over it. Amplify the meaning with “my esteem” or “the weight of significance” and catch a glimpse of the further glories that await you and I! Go to John 17 with this in mind and you’ll be blown away! Christ’s glory, which He has given to us, is for the purpose of unity among us, His followers, to the end that the world may know God sent Jesus. I am identified with Christ, sharing in his worth, not to realize my self but to manifest the truth of the gospel, God’s glory, to the world! Genuine significance lies in an absence of pride in the “me” that I love, and finds its pride and worth in God’s glory.

There is an old hymn I sang as a child that comes to mind. Sing along with me (or say it) and in your mind think “significance or esteem” when you sing “glory”.

When all my labors and trials are o’er, and I am safe on that beautiful shore,
Just to be near the dear Lord I adore, will through the ages be glory for me.

[chorus] Oh that will be glory for me, glory for me, glory for me. When by His grace I shall look on His face,
That will be glory, be glory for me!

When, by the gift of His infinite grace, I am accorded in Heaven a place,
Just to be there and to look on His face, will through the ages be glory for me. [chorus]

Friends will be there I have loved long ago; Joy like a river around me will flow;
Yet, just a smile from my Savior, I know, will through the ages be glory for me. [chorus]

Perplexed, but

Perplexed, but

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart…we are perplexed but not in despair …
II Corinthians 4:1, 8

Perplexed: baffled, bewildered, there is no accounting for it. Perplexed – it suggests humility; accepting that I don’t have all the information. Therefore, I will wait. “Perplexed but” suggests hope. There is light at the end of this tunnel. The situation is still in process. There is an answer, a response, a reason, and I simply don’t know yet what it is. Closure will come, in time. Therefore, I need not despair. Despair has made the decision, passed the judgement and pronounced in all its pride, “This is the final word. It is hopeless. I quit. It’s the end.”

One element of ministry that perplexes me chronically is the language barrier. Mary invited a few ladies to her house for a simple Bible study. I was to show them how to read for comprehension leading to life transformation. Though church go-ers, they had rarely read the Bible with the expectation of understanding it. My role in the group was a small one, and was made even smaller by the fact that the ladies and I did not share a common language. So, Mary recruited one of her sons, a young adult with English language ability, to interpret. Through him, I gave the brief instruction. They were to read the story, repeating it until everyone understood the content. Then they were to say what the text tells us about God, about humans in general, and about themselves in particular. The young interpreter caught on immediately and began adding his own responses. He later told me he could imagine doing this kind of study with his friends.

The next week, another one of Mary’s young sons interpreted. Like his brother, he engaged in the process until, soon, I was completely left out of their conversation!Forgetting to interpret for me, he joined them in their study and helped them look for the meaning in the text by answering those three, key questions. We were in Mark’s gospel, hearing about the dinner at Levi’s house. Jesus was there as a guest, rubbing shoulders with the despised tax collectors and sinners. “What do we learn about Jesus here?”, I asked, in English. Only my interpreter heard me.

The complex language situation, the fact that various languages are spoken and each woman I know feels strongly that I should learn hers, is chronically perplexing. These “language wars” bewilder me. What’s more, the nature and duration of our assignment here does not lend itself to intentional language acquisition. To choose, then, not to learn a local language works death in me. It isolates me, prevents me from engaging in what I have always considered “viable ministry”. I lose my default mode of communication – verbal. It’s like seeing and hearing everyone through a thick wall of foggy glass. This is so perplexing as to lead, in the natural, to despair.

“We are perplexed but we don’t despair”, declares the apostle Paul. I’ve learned that the slide downward from perplexity to cynicism/despair happens as I begin to look for a way to avoid perplexing situations. I do this when I turn my thoughts towards my personal, unmet “needs”.  I need: to play my cello, a choir to sing in, a class to teach, to express myself, a better way to use my abilities, a better ministry plan … Did you notice that the great missionary Paul never went that direction? He doesn’t run back to the things that gave him widespread credibility and affirmation. Instead, he is proud to carry about in his body the death of the Lord Jesus. This death to self is at work in him to bring life to those who are being saved.

The response tumbled out of my young interpreter’s mouth, “Jesus was friendly! People, especially sinners, liked to be with him and he, with them! I never knew that! I, and all my friends, believe Jesus to be very serious and not someone you would want to be around. Now I see that he would even probably like to be with us! Hey, can I keep coming to this study?”

Wow! And now I see how this death in me is working life in Mary’s family. Her sons may not have responded to an invitation to attend a youth Bible study. But because their mother needed an interpreter, and they like to use English, they were poised for the Spirit to touch their hearts through the living word of God. Seeds were planted and, who knows, they may lead a movement of young people who become transformed by the gospel. My weakness could actually be God’s Plan A to train up a particular godly leader!

Whatever role you and I currently have – as followers of Christ we are, by vocation, ambassadors of reconciliation within our respective spheres of influence. I especially think of the mommies among us – ambassadors to your children, husband and all who cross your doorstep. You have probably laid aside a part of you in order to minister to your family – maybe you left a fulfilling career, the mental challenge of academia or the applause of an audience and all the personal affirmation and identity these things bestow. When you are perplexed beyond words, bewildered and baffled by the death of that brilliant side of you, wait! Don’t despair! Don’t insist on reasserting that self. Let perplexity work humility. Turn your thoughts to consider what Christ gave so that you could have life. Consider the death to himself that Paul embraced, for the sake of the young believers. Consider how putting to death your demand for personal satisfaction is working life in your children, your friends, your co-workers, and in your own soul.

Your and my perplexities are light compared to the eternal weight of glory awaiting us!

Philippians 3:4-7; II Corinthians 4:7-18; 5:18; Colossians 1:24

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