Sunday, May 21, 2017

Fixing Our Focus, Part III

Fixing Our Focus, Part I
Fixing our Focus, Part II

Looking through the viewfinder or at the screen on the back of your camera makes taking pictures fairly easy.  You more or less get what you see through the viewfinder.

But have you ever seen a photographer trying to take a picture with the camera facing behind them?  It even sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?  You take pictures of what you can see, and you can't really see behind you. For a photo challenge where you take a picture a day for a month, the challenge was "hair".  I tried and tried to take a picture of the back of my head.  It was way harder than I thought it would be and this was the best I got.  Yeah, it turned out to not really be focused behind me.


I suppose it’s possible to hold your camera backwards and take whatever kind of picture you get, but if you can’t see in the viewfinder, it’s awfully hard to find the focus.  Paul reminds us to “forget what is behind”.  Yes, there is a sense of remembrance, especially as the remembering brings to mind God’s goodness to us in the past.  There is nothing wrong with memorial stones.  But if we keep ruminating on how we hurt somebody, on how they hurt us, on all of our awful sins that Jesus has already forgiven, on how we were victimized, on how we have been dealt a bad lot, we will run off course just like a runner who keeps looking back runs out of his lane.  We will trip and fall.  We just can’t run well while looking back any more than a photographer can take a good picture holding his camera backwards.

Finally, a photographer can take a landscape picture or a picture of an event happening in a room.  The photographer will use a broad focus, showing everything at once.  The foreground, the background, and the central areas all have the same focus.  

While that is easy enough to do in photography, seeing all of life in focus isn't something we can do right now.  For now only God can see the whole picture and understand how it’s all working together.  We need to trust him for our future.  As we do, we will be focusing on Jesus and the end of the race.  And someday the mystery will be fully revealed to us and we will no longer see as through a dark glass.  It will all come into focus for us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:1-3

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mom, Be Easy on Yourself

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there and to all those who are honoring their moms today.  

Here in Niger Mother's Day isn't a thing.  In fact, most moms soldier on day after day without a lot of praise or gifts of appreciation for their hard work.  But like moms everywhere, they take pride in their kids, work hard for them, and defend them from those who would harm them.  At the same time, they have few expectations of receiving gifts, praise, or breakfast in bed (they would probably think that's a hilarious concept!). 

Let's be encouraged by our Nigerien sisters and be easy on ourselves today, Moms.  Let's be easy on our kids and husbands, too.  Maybe all of your expectations for the day aren't met, but try to look at the good things in the day.  All of us have moms, and even if your relationship with your mom isn't good, she did give you life. We may not get gifts, visits from family, or even much recognition.  But we have our children and we have love.  And most of us have far more than our Nigerien sisters have as far as housing, clothes, schooling options, and food.  You may feel that you aren't a good mom, but if you are doing the best you can, praying to God for wisdom, and are not abusing your children, then you're a good mom.  So be easy on yourself.

John is gone to England and obviously my kids aren't here.  But I went out for lunch with a visitor who arrived in the country last night and who is headed east tomorrow.  Afterwards I took her souvenir shopping.  My neighbors also invited me for lunch, but I couldn't be two places at once. :) I got to WhatsApp with my kids (We made a family chat so we can all be on at the same time.  It's wonderful!) This evening I'll call my mom.  So, even though it's not the Mother's Day I would choose for myself, I do choose to make the best of it and remember that this is the day the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it.  It's the day our loving Father has planned for me and I don't question why it's not my idea of the perfect Mother's Day.

I know there are many women who have painful, relationships with their mothers and who have been deeply hurt by the person who should love them most.  There are many who do not have children but would long to have their arms filled with a deep longing that only a child can satisfy. Today the pain is even more intense as they look around and see motherhood being celebrated. Please know that you are loved and that Jesus can fill your heart. I hope that today you can also find reasons to rejoice and that the day is not too difficult and painful for you.  Be easy on yourself.  God understands the pain in your heart.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Another Year Done and Dusted

Today is my birthday, and just like that, another year, done and dusted.  Life sure is hard sometimes, but I am so blessed with the life I've been given.  "LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.  The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance." (Psalm 16:5, 6)  I thought it would be good to look back over this past year of mine to see how the Lord has been my portion and my cup and how He has delighted in me and blessed me.

May 2016 -- The highlight of last May was a trip to Oxford and two weeks with John while he was fulfilling his on-site study requirements.

June 2016 -- On the way back from England we spent an overnight in Istanbul, Turkey.  John spent the first four years of his life in Turkey, so we had both wanted to see more of the country than just the inside of the airport.

July 2016 -- OK, I'm cheating just a bit because there were two really significant events in July.  One was that we got to visit our TIMO team on location (only part of the team is pictured). 

And the second was that we got to attend the installation of a pastor in a small village church that we helped to get started.  We know there are still many challenges ahead for them, but this was a very rewarding day for us.

August 2016 - In August we celebrated our 30th anniversary.  We decided to celebrate at church with our family there.

September 2016 -- September must have been kind of boring because I sure don't have many pictures.  Sometimes living here we see all the dryness and dirt and brown and feel discouraged.  But if one really looks, there is color to be seen all around us.  The cloth and outfits worn make up for the lack of color in the landscape.  And look at this gorgeous sunset!

October 2016 -- Well, what September lacked in excitement, October more than made up for it as we added a new grandson to the family.  We were able to spend our vacation in the USA and spent time with the newest member of the family, Hezekiah James Hines, as well as with his big sister, Tera.  It was so much fun to get to know her now that she's old enough to interact with us.  We loved having all of us together for a little while.

November 2016 -- We got to visit my parents and John's mom during November and spend more time with our kids and grandkids.  When we arrived in the USA in October, we never dreamt that we'd get to spend Thanksgiving with John's three brothers and their families!  But they celebrated in Cleveland where our nephew plays football, so we were able to drive up for the day.  Not everybody is in this picture, but this is a good representation of the crew.

December 2016 - We returned to Niger to find our church going through some struggles.  There were a lot of extra teaching and prayer times in December.  It was a sad time and hard to get into the Christmas spirit, but we did celebrate and enjoyed the day in spite of everything.  I just want to say that we have seen a real spiritual awakening in several of our Bible study members and they trace the beginning of that back to these meetings we had in December.  So, glory to God, He works for His glory even through difficult situations!  December is ladies' month at our church and here we are all dressed in our "uniform".

January 2016 -- The next few months were tough months with some stressful things at work as well as John having to attend many, many meetings at church.  That stressed him, which stressed me.  But God gave us the strength to keep going, hopefully with joy (at least more days than not).  A big highlight every year is our Spiritual Life Conference in which all our missionaries come together.  Here is John doing what he loves to do.

February 2016 -  A large part of John's doctoral research was doing case studies at three different local churches.  We did follow-up visits to those churches in February and March.  Here's John hanging out with a church member.  It's been enjoyable to get to know some of the other churches in the area and we hope we can stay in touch even when the doctorate is completed.

March 2016 -  The harmattan helps to keep days cooler during November - February and even into March we will have very pleasant nights.  Harmattan is the dust that blows down from the desert.  It's a bit hard to breathe.  I had a terrible flu in January and John and I were both sick with respiratory problems in March.  Yeah, when you breathe this, it's a wonder we aren't sick more often!  I'm so thankful for overall good health.

April 2016 - The big news for April, of course, is that we have twin grandsons, born on April 21.  Welcome to the world Levi Daniel and Everett Michael DeValve!  We can't wait to meet you in person!

May 2016 - We really enjoy our Bible study group and God has worked in many of their lives this year.  Many of them have or will soon be graduating and we'll be going on home assignment.  As with any group photo, you never get anybody but here we are our "patriarch John".

And for the year ahead.....
We will finish up here and go on home assignment in July.  I have so much work to do between now and then!
I am really looking forward to spending time with our parents, with our kids, and with our grandkids.  This will probably be the main highlight of the year ahead.
We will be reporting to our supporting churches and we already have most of our fall schedule lined up.  We will start working on our spring schedule soon.
John will be doing the final defense of his dissertation and the doctoral process will be behind us.
We will be on the road a lot, but we hope to visit some fun places between destinations.

I pray that I will continue to have a passion for sharing the gospel, for helping the disinherited (to borrow a term from Howard Thurman), and to love God above everything.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

April Reading List

I definitely read more books in April than I did in March!  That is partly because by the end of April I was almost, but not quite finished with a couple of books.

My first book was The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper, which I downloaded on my kindle for free.  The opening scene is the tranquil Glimmerglass Lake. A week, many adventures, and 576 pages later the book ends with Glimmerglass Lake once again as tranquil as it was before the adventures of Deerslayer took place. In the space of one week, there is mystery, romance, adventure, battle scenes, and Deerslayer becoming a warrior in his own right.

In reading this book, one must remember several things. First, it was the writing style in 1841 to write long, wordy, descriptive sentences. Today's modern reader may struggle with that, but I found the story itself worth all the extra verbiage.

Secondly, it's easy to see Deerslayer as racist or prejudiced. Deerslayer keeps referring to "white gifts" and "Indian gifts" and if one did not understand the time in which the book is written, it would be easy to assume that he was racist. However, Hurry Harry's view of Indians as being almost less than human was probably more the common view of the day, and it definitely is a racist view. Deerslayer sees Indians and whites as equal, though different. I'm sure that was quite a liberal view for 1841 and especially for the days of the French and Indian War which was the setting for the novel. I believe that if there had been more Deerslayers and fewer Hurry Harry's in America, there would have been fewer atrocities committed against the American Nations.

Thirdly, I love how Deerslayer is a Christian and he allows that to speak into all areas of his life. Even where I may disagree with his conclusions, Cooper paints Deerslayer as a man of convictions, of honesty, and of integrity. I did have a few problems with some of Deerslayer's conclusions, such as believing that all men will make it to "heaven" or to the "happy hunting grounds" or whatever they call it if they have followed their "god/God" and have lived a good life.

All in all, I enjoyed the book.

The second book was The Finding of Jasper Holt by Grace Livingston Hill, because every now and then you just need some super light reading.  Grace Livingston Hill books border on being corny, and yet I enjoy them! This book seems somewhat implausible ... the heroine and the hero survive a tragedy together; her purity and beauty inspire him to change; but even though he's a rogue, he turns out to not be so bad after all.

My third book for April was Emotionally Mature Spirituality by Peter Scazzero.  I had mixed feelings about this book. There were several things I didn't agree with and I won't list them all. But some of my objections were:
1. The title. It sounds like we have to be emotionally healthy before we can grow spiritually. I think on the converse, that when we give our lives to Jesus and allow the Spirit to work, that He can change our emotions and heal our baggage. I would have liked it better if it had been called Spiritually Healthy Emotions.
2. He was quite insistent that we have to know ourselves to know God. I agree and I don't agree. We do need to be aware of our utter despicable sinfulness to cry out to God to save us. But as we get to know God better and better, He points out the things in our lives that need to change, including emotional things.
3. I've not visited his church, so I don't want to be too critical. But I am always a little suspicious when church leadership promotes one way of doing extra-biblical things as the way it has to be done. I realize every church has its culture and perhaps a practice of mysticism to become healthy spiritually and emotionally is just part of their church culture. I don't know, but I am suspicious.
4. The idea of praying the "Jesus prayer" (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.) in time to your breathing just seems weird and new-agey to me.

Now, some good things to be said about the book.
1. There are many, many, many emotionally unhealthy people in our world. I don't think it's wrong to seek professional help to deal with poor emotional practices. If you go to a health professional for physical help and healing, why not go to a professional for emotional help and healing. It may be that this book helps you realize some areas where you need help. But again, I think it is God who helps you be aware of your need for help as you follow Him, and not that you need to be completely whole emotionally before you can know God.
2. One needs balance in following contemplative and mystical practices. But I found it helpful to be reminded that it's a good idea to set aside time throughout the day for prayer and Bible reading.
3. What a great reminder to keep the Sabbath!
4. The author does a great job of pointing out how often we as believers lie ("I'm fine", etc.) and how often we try to meet unrealistic expectations from others instead of just taking time to be with Jesus and do what He wants.

In conclusion, I would really only recommend this book to mature discerning Christians. I think there's too much poor theology that would confuse new believers. 

And the fourth book was Fall on Your Knees by Anne-Marie MacDonald.  This is a book about family relationships ... or maybe I should say dysfunctional family relationships. It deals with incest, abuse, homosexuality, racial prejudice, and trauma and its out-workings all in one book. Those are a lot of heavy subjects to put into one volume. I started out really liking the book and thankful that the author was able to write about dark, heavy subjects without crossing the line into lewdness and more information than we need to know. But the book got worse as it went on. Not only did Ms. MacDonald make the book much longer than it needed to be, but the family got weirder and weirder. I will say that Ms. MacDonald is an excellent writer and she kept me turning the pages until near the end when I started skimming because I really wanted to finish the book and it just seemed to go on and on. I never lost the plot by skipping pages! So, I didn't hate the book, but it's not one I would tell others they just really need to read.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Our Easter Celebration

When you think about it, Easter should be the most important celebration on the Christian calendar.  We remember Jesus' death and resurrection.  And it was both of those events that changed everything.  Unfortunately, for most of us, Easter is less of a celebration than Christmas, which is also important, of course.  Because if Jesus hadn't come to earth, he couldn't have died and rose again, either!

Every now and then I get nostalgic.  My Great Aunt Jeanette, who was one of my favorite people to ever live, loved holidays and always made them special.  In 2006 we were with her at her house for Easter.  By then she was about 89 years old, but she made sure we all dyed eggs together.  We also made a cake together for Easter dinner.  Her brother, my Great Uncle Carl, was visiting her from California.  The two of them really knew how to have fun.  I am so glad we spent Easter with them that year as it was the last time I ever saw either of them.

This picture is pretty typical of our years up in the village.  We'd have church on mats under the trees.  Afterwards the men would sit around and play cards or listen to music or sleep and the women would cook a big dinner.  Those are good memories, too, though sometimes those days were VERY hot (it's usually well over 100 degrees during the Easter season!) and so those days were exhausting.

Any way, on to this year's Easter, which will probably also be a year I'll never forget, though for entirely different reasons.  The Saturday before Easter, April 8, we went to an all-church concert at the biggest gathering place in Niger.  I took my camera, pulled it out to take pictures, and discovered that the battery was dead.  So I had to take photos with my cell phone, so they're not the greatest quality.

They had groups from different churches singing in different languages using traditional and modern instruments and styles.  There was a Zarma women's choir and they sang two songs two different ladies in the group had written.  That was really exciting for us as there has been a dearth of original songs in this language!  A lot of women in the audience got up and danced when they sang.  

The favorite group was definitely the Fulani.  They did a Wodaabe (a specific group of Fulani) style song.  The audience loved it! 

One group sang with a sort of desert blues style.  Others did more western-style singing.  All of them were enjoyed by the audience.  The cool thing about the concert was that all churches were invited.  The hall seats 1500 and it seemed that most of the seats were taken.

The Easter weekend started with Good Friday.  John found out Thursday night that he was to preach Friday night.  He managed to pull together a good message on Jesus' last words on the cross, with a special focus on "It is finished".  The French says it so much better than the English:  "Tout est accompli", which means "Everything is accomplished."  Everything that Jesus came to do was done.  Everything that we need for salvation and for living a holy life was done.  The final sacrifice was made.  There is nothing more to do but believe. 

The Saturday before Easter was crazy busy.  We went to our friend's son's wedding.  Some other friends went with us.  Our friend, "Moses", found us ladies a nice place to sit and food was brought to us.  It was pretty yummy, even if we did make a mess as only white people eating without spoons can do. Believe me, there is an art to eating with your hands and I don't have it!


Here is a picture of John with "Moses" and his family.  He has four wives and a bunch of kids.  In this picture are his wives, his mom, and just a few of his kids. I love how Nigeriens are so hospitable; wherever we go, we are treated like royalty, as are all the other guests.  The bridegroom, his son, had been in a bad motorcycle accident in January.  He had internal injuries and had to have surgery.  Thankfully he lived.


When we got home from that, John had his moolo lesson and I went grocery shopping.  After a quick lunch, John went to the doctoral defense of his friend, Nephtali.  He has been studying medicine with a specialty in ophthalmology.  After being grilled by the "jury", he was given "highest honors with congratulations by the jury".  Apparently when they say that, it's a pretty big deal and not something everybody gets, even if they pass.

That day was a big baking day for me.  I often spend much of Saturday trying to do cooking prep for the rest of the week, but that day I had an extra lot I was trying to do.  You know what they say about, if you can't stand the heat in the kitchen, get out?


Yeah, if I did that we'd never eat.  Yep, it was 95 degrees in there.

I put soup in the crock pot and then made corn bread to go with it.  I made two cakes for meetings coming up at the office this week, cookies for John, and hot cross buns for Easter breakfast. 


After eating our supper of soup (why soup when it's 95 in the kitchen?!) and corn bread, we went to a reception for Nephtali.  He is very musical so he and his friends did some singing, there was food, and, of course, speeches.  His mom, dad, siblings, and other relatives were able to come from Benin for the celebration.  John had met his mom and dad (pictured here talking to John) when he traveled to Benin with Nephtali.

Nephtali was singing and his mom danced up to the front and hugged him then she and I presume an aunt danced.  It was a very special and joyous occasion, but we did leave early because we were so tired.  We sure are going to miss this young man!  I know he will go far with God.

Easter morning we got up bright and early, ate our hot cross buns, and got to church in time for the 6:30 sunrise service.  

Immediately following the sunrise service, there was a baptism and two of the young people who attend our Bible study were baptized!  It was really a privilege to see them taking this step of obedience.

After the baptism, there was a breakfast.  Aren't they beautiful?  The joy of the resurrection is on their faces!

The breakfast was followed by a three-hour church service.  Our church has been through some hard times recently and as a result we "fasted" from having a lot of extra music.  We have had only the piano since December and no choir.  It was fitting that all the instruments were back and the choir sang to celebrate the most joyous day of the year!  The Sunday School children also did a presentation.  Amazing Grace was sung in English, French, and Hausa.  We had a message, the presentation of those who had been baptized, and communion. 

It was a full morning.  And did I mention that it's hot?  LOL.  We went home and had dinner and took long naps that afternoon!

What did you do for Easter?  I hope it was as memorable as ours.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Cooking Ex Nihilo: Making English Muffins

Living in a former French colony has its advantages when it comes to bread.  There's really nothing better than fresh baguette!  And then there are croissants and pain au chocolat, awesome in their buttery deliciousness.  As delicious and wonderful as these things are, every now and then one longs for a good old English muffin (which is probably more American than English!).

Now, I'm not gonna lie.  As with making any sort of bread-anything, there is a fair bit of time involved.  But a lot of the time is waiting for things to rise at which point you can do other things.  

I use a recipe in the More with Less Cookbook.  Since it's there, I won't write it out here, and I do encourage you to get a copy of that cookbook if you don't own it yet.  

I  cheat and make the dough in my bread machine, but it's easy enough to do by hand.  The main thing with dough, both in a machine and by hand, is to add the flour gradually.  If you add it all at once, it can get really tough and difficult to manage and will cook with the consistency of a rock.  You'll know you have the right amount of flour when the dough is no longer sticky and it is pliable and easy to manage. For some reason, the amount of dough the recipe calls for is not enough when made in my machine.

With English muffins, you let the dough rise and then punch it down and then cover it and let it sit for about 10 minutes.  You then roll it out and cut it into rounds.  

I used a large juice glass to cut my muffins, but you can also use a biscuit cutter.  Once you have them cut out, dip them into corn meal and place them on a pan to rise the second time.

English muffins are cooked on top of the stove, not in the oven.  We have a big griddle that fits over two burners and I can cook 8-10 muffins at a time.  The trick is to not have the heat too high or the muffins cook quickly on the surface but then they are gooey on the inside.

Once they are done, they are great with butter and jam.  We also like to make Egg McMuff*ns for a yummy breakfast sandwich.  They also freeze well.

These are not exactly like store-bought English muffins, but they are delicious, especially if you don't expect them to be exactly the same.