Monday, May 31, 2010

A Race with No End

When I was in England with John we saw a boy wearing a t-shirt that proclaimed, "Where there is no finish line." 

I understand that N*ke had a series of posters in the early 1990's that proclaimed "There is no finish line."  I think I understand what they are trying to say.  You should "Set your goals.  Follow your heart.  Live your dreams."  And if you're wearing N*kes you'll never get tired and you can go on endlessly.  And in some things, you set a goal, achieve it, set another goal, achieve it, and so on. You keep pressing foward.  However, if you set a small goal, achieve it and then quit, you'll never get very far.

But when I saw the shirt my reaction was, "Now THAT would be awful!"  Who wants to run in an endless race?  Who wants to play an endless game?  Who wants to follow an endless course?  Who wants to go through an endless ordeal?  Who wants to live an endless life (especially if you keep getting older and more decrepit but never die)?  

Talk about exhausting.  Running endlessly.  Playing endlessly.  Going through an endless ordeal.  Never getting the satisfaction of having won the race.

Half the fun of competition is the finish line.  It gives you something to aim for.  It reminds you that the end is in sight.  It presents an achievable goal.  It lets you quit before you drop dead of exhaustion.  And if you didn't do so well, it gives you a chance to run in another race, to play another game.

If this is true in races, games, and one-time ordeals, how much more it is true in the race of life.  The long, difficult race is possible when we know there is an end and that there is a reward for finishing the race.  Paul wrote in Philippians 3:12-14: "But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us."

And in II Timothy 4:7, 8 Paul wrote: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.  And now the prize awaits me--the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return.  and the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing." 

Yep.  I think we should play or run to win.  I think it is downright exhausting.  But, thank God, there is a finish line and He will be there when I cross it!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Jeremy's Wedding

In 2006 Jeremy came to Niger to live and work with our family.  He got to see all sides of missionary work.  He saw some of the thrills, a lot of the discouragements (we were going through probably the most discouraging time in our ministry while he was with us), the hard work, the required perseverance, the necessary sense of humor, the importance of spending time with people, and the rewards.  This picture brings back some memories and is an example of some of the things he experienced....we had just come back from Niamey.  While we were gone the workmen were supposed to repair our salanga (latrine).  We had no running water due to a water shortage and had to haul in every drop of water we used, so we conserved greatly by using the salanga instead of flushing the toilet.  Well, if you look in the background of the picture, you will see a huge cement slab leaning against the wall.  That is the top of our salanga.  Yep, we came home, the work had been begun but was not finished, and we were met with an open pit.  So, you guessed it, we precariously balanced on the edge of an open pit (and not an empty pit, but....well, use your imagination) to do our business.  And that's how Jeremy was.  He just did what he needed to do while showing an incredible maturity and reflecting Christ.  I know it was often difficult for him, but we really grew to love Jeremy during the six months he lived with us.

So it was exciting this past weekend to be able to go to his wedding to Julianna.  As is typical of Jeremy (and of Julianna) their wedding reflected their love for each other, for their families, and especially for the Lord.  It was a truly fun celebration.  A lot of things in the wedding were unique to Jeremy and Julianna (at least they were things I had never seen before).

When Julianna's dad gave her away,
he explained how they had given her a purity ring and he gave the ring to Jeremy.  He said the original ring had been lost, but her purity was still intact.  
Then when the pastor asked the best man for the ring,
the groomsmen started tossing it back and forth between them (not the REAL ring, obviously!).  Instead of doing unity candles, Jeremy and Julianna mixed jars of sand into one big jar.  Then they took communion and while they were worshiping together, two of Julianna's friends (she is a trained ballerina)
danced while a soloist sang Faithful God.  Another unique and really cool thing, is that Jeremy's grandpa was one of the groomsmen.

The reception was also beautiful.  Jeremy and Julianna's wedding dance was's fun to watch two people who really know how to dance, one of them professionally.  Of course, they had Julianna dance with her father and Jeremy with his mother, but then they had an "in-law" dance and Jeremy danced with his mother-in-law and Julianna danced with her father-in-law. 
Then mid-way through Julianna's dad came and cut in and danced with his wife, Jeremy went to Julianna, and Jeremy's mom came and danced with his dad.  They also had the dance for all the couples and then they eliminate them by how many years they've been married. 
The couple left the longest had been married 45 years and were Julianna's grandparents.  Jeremy used the opportunity to ask them for advice to a happy marriage.  The answer..."patience" and "love".

I'm so glad we got to attend their wedding!   And I know they'll have the patience and love it takes to have a long and happy marriage.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Unclean Women

The January 2010 issue of Christianity Today ran an article by L. Lewis Wall entitled Jesus and the Unclean Woman.  Let me encourage you to read that article in its entirety.  You can go directly to the article on-line by clicking on the words "Christianity Today" or check your local public or church library for a copy of the magazine.  It is well worth reading.

Dr. Wall, as a physician, goes into more detail and explanation about the story of the unclean woman that Jesus healed than I believe I have ever heard.  He takes an in-depth look at Mark 5:25-34 and explains the passage by looking at the Levitical laws in Leviticus 15:19-28.  I have always felt sorry for this woman who had bled for 12 years, but I had never thought of how deep her shame ran.  Dr. Wall points out as a medical expert that she was most likely infertile.  Infertility in the culture of Jesus' day was a woman's biggest shame.  Secondly she was always unclean.  Every thing she sat on or touched was unclean.  Every person she touched or who touched her was unclean.

Dr. Wall writes, "To have near-constant bleeding for 12 years in a society where such rules were rigorously enforced would be awful.  You would be constantly unclean.  Those who knew about your condition would not welcome you.  You could not participate in religious services or activities.  An accident of menstrual hygiene could disrupt your household at great inconvenience to those living with you.  The burden of 12 years of such uncleanness would have been overwhelming.  The woman of Mark 5 must have wondered why such a thing had been visited upon her.

"Furthermore, if her husband was a righteous man, he wouldn't have come near her due to her impurity--which was virtually all of the time--so the likelihood of her being permanently childless would have been certain.

"We now understand why the woman was desperate to find Jesus."

Can you imagine the constant shame?  Can you imagine why she felt compelled to sneak through the crowd and touch Jesus' garment as surreptitiously as possible?  And why she was reticent to explain her problem publicly?

And think of Jesus.  He loved this woman.  Perhaps he touched her.  He called her, "Daughter".  And he healed her.

Throughout the world, especially in desperately poor countries such as Niger, there are women today who are outcasts in much the same way.  They are women who have undergone a difficult birth process in which the vagina is injured.  Dr. Wall explains, "[During a prolonged delivery] the skull is forced relentlessly downward by the contractions, but the unyielding bones of her pelvis refuse to let it pass.  As her pelvis's soft tissues are crushed, they die and slough away, forming a fistula.  Once this happens, the fistula will not heal without a surgical operation."  The woman constantly leaks urine, is unable to bear more children, and is shunned by her family and friends, and usually divorced by her husband.  They are unclean women.
(This is a picture of one of my friends.  She does not have fistula.)

The exciting news is that Jesus loves them just like he loved the unclean woman in the Bible story.  The Worldwide Fistula Fund is building a hospital in Niger to reach out to women with obstetric fistulas.  The hospital is being built on the same compound as one of SIM's medical centers.  This will enable the SIM chaplains to be able to share the Good News of the Healer with these women.  

The director of our SIM medical center recently shared this (used with permission):
"May 3
She is 14 years old.  Six months ago she had a baby. (She was pregnant before her first menstrual period.)  She spent three months in hospital recovering after delivery, she lost the baby, she has fistula, her husband left her.  Now she is slowly recovering after surgery...  She looks very sick.  Her kidneys are not working properly but she still....managed to smile and express gratitude for the care she received.  Please pray for her!

"May 5
The 14 year old girl is beaming with a smile this morning.  She has recovered so quickly.  Her fistula has been repaired.  She is dry with no more urine smell.  She now walks around, very happy and looking healthy.  She will go home in two days time.  Thank you all for praying for her; she's been shown the love of Christ.  Please pray for her future; that she will accept Christ the Saviour in her heart and be at liberty to serve Him."

Isn't that exciting!!!???  Here is another link to help round out the picture.  Missionary colleagues tell the story of the construction of the fistula hospital here at this link.

Just one more note.  If you would like to be involved in helping these women with fistula be restored to living a normal life, you can donate either here or here (Just click on the word "here".  The first link is for the Worldwide Fistula Fund and the 2nd one is for SIM.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day

We don't do much to celebrate Mother's Day in Niger.  The last six years or so that we were in Tera Daniel and Suzanne were always at boarding school for Mother's Day, so John would usually make me dinner, but that would be it for Mother's Day.  Now, let me tell you, cooking a meal for me in May, the hottest most awful month of the year in Niger, is no small gift!!!  It's a pretty big deal and always much appreciated.

And I don't know when the last time was that I was with MY mom on Mother's Day.  So it was a treat yesterday to be able to celebrate Mother's Day with my mom. 
Here we are on what appears to be Mother's Day (it may have been my Dad's graduation) about 45 years ago! I don't look overly happy with the idea of having my picture taken....that's me in the middle.
And here we are yesterday.  It's too bad my brother and sister couldn't have been with us yesterday, but they did both call, within minutes of each other.

We decided we didn't want to go out to dinner....too expensive and too many crowds.  So before church I put a chicken and sweet potatoes in the oven.  When we got home Suzanne finished making the dinner.  She made stovetop dressing and broccoli and for dessert we had a delicious chocolate chip cake she had made for my birthday on the 7th.  Daniel picked a bouquet of flowers for me (lilacs, my favorite and something else pretty)
and carved the chicken.  We all spent the afternoon reading and just hanging out....all of us on the same couch for awhile.

 I love being a mom to Daniel and Suzanne.  And I love my mom and am glad I got to honor her on Mother's Day.  She is truly a virtuous woman and I want to rise up and call her blessed.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Really the Last Post about Oxford

I thought that my last post would be the last about Oxford.  Well, it was the last from Oxford, but not the last about Oxford.  I promise this will be my last Oxford-related post!

The last week I was in Oxford I didn't really do much.  I'd seen everything I had wanted to see, so I just went for walks and packed and took care of some last-minute details.  As I mentioned before, we lived very near a meadow.  This meadow was a grazing area for cows and horses and ponies, but people could walk through it and even sit on the grass and read a book, chat with a friend, or have a picnic....better watch where you sit, though! 
I often saw the cows, but had only seen the horses one evening way down at the other end of the meadow, which is probably at least a mile long.  So one of my last days I went out with my camera to find the horses, assuming I'd have to walk all the way to the end.  I arrived at the meadow and there they were at our end of the meadow!  I tried to find out information about these horses.  I read some place that they are wild horses, but I don't think they are.  Some of them had blankets on and they were all very tame.  In fact, one was a little too friendly and even though I didn't have anything to give him he almost acted like he'd stick his nose right in my pockets looking for a carrot or something! 

The night before I left John and I went punting with two of our friends we had met in Niger about seven years ago. Punting is very much an Oxford (also Cambridge) tradition.  You go in a flat boat and
use a pole to navigate.  We were moving along down the river, eating our sandwiches.  John was eating his sandwich, talking away, when the guy poling said, "Watch out there, John!"  John looks to his left and there was a swan so close he was trying to snatch John's sandwich right out of his
hand!  We threw some chips in the water to get him to go away from the boat.  He glided along with us for awhile, but soon lost interest.  Both of our friends took a turn punting and then they turned it over to John.  It's not as easy as it looks....a few weeks earlier we had watched people punting.  They were going around in circles, going backwards, and bumping it from one bank to another. 
The pole is over 12 feet long and heavy and it takes awhile to get the knack of using it to propel the boat forwards and not backwards and to use it to steer in the direction you really want to go.  Once John got the hang of working with the pole, he did a really great job.  It was an hour well spent (we just rented the boat for an hour).  If you want you can also hire a punter with your punt, but we wanted to do it ourselves. 
Our flat was near the canal and there were always mallards and moor hens that liked to be fed crusts of bread.  Right before I left I noticed this mallard had a brood of ten ducklings!
I flew back to the US on Thursday and had an uneventful trip.  I even had an empty seat next to me which gave me a lot more room to spread out and be comfortable.  Daniel and Suzanne got home from Cedarville on Friday and my parents are up from Florida.  We are enjoying the fantastic spring weather, but are missing John who is back to cold and rainy weather in England.