Sunday, February 22, 2015

Giving Thanks for All Things

"But awakening to joy awakens to pain.
"Joy and pain, they are two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don't numb themselves to really living....  Yet I know it in the vein and the visceral:  life is loss."
--Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts

Monday-- I'm thankful for a new outfit.  The tailor promised I'd have it in two weeks and it was more like five.  She was sick and in the clinic, and then I had to have her re-do part of it.  John got me this cloth for Christmas.

Tuesday -- We were given a lot of potatoes.  I love potatoes, so I'm thankful!  We've been eating a lot of potato meals such as potato soup, potato salad, and scalloped potatoes.

Wednesday -- This week John and I were able to attend a Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills seminar.  Attending one of these seminars is considered professional development by SIM.  It was well worth the time and cost.  I'm thankful we could attend.  This picture was taken during a break.

Thursday -- We dealt with a host of subjects including handling conflict, stress, open communication, and encouraging others.  We worked a lot in small groups, did simulations, had Bible studies, and had lots of homework reading to do.  I loved how we were taught with very little lecture.  

"Only the Word is the answer to rightly reading the world, because the Word has nail-scarred hands that cup our face close, wipe away the tears running down, has eyes to look deep into our brimming ache, and whisper, 'I know.  I know.'"  --Ann Voskamp

Friday -- Out of 24 people in attendance, only six of us work with SIM Niger, so it was good to meet some new friends.  One of my favorite aspects of the seminar was the cross-cultural insights we gained.  My sister on the left works here in Niger and the one in the center is from Nigeria, but works in Burkina Faso.

Saturday -- Rain!  What?  In February?  That doesn't happen often, I can tell you.  When it does, it's just a few sprinkles.  But we got enough to make a few little puddles. 

Sunday -- I love how they were dancing together during worship this morning.  I'm thankful for the joy of music in this little church.

"...Eucharisteo is how Jesus, at the Last Supper, showed us to transfigure all things--take the pain that is given, give thanks for it, and transform it into a joy that fills all emptiness.... The hard discipline to number the griefs as grace because as the God chooses to cut into my ungrateful heart to make me whole."  --Ann Voskamp

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Finding Time

If you are a regular visitor to my blog, you know I've been reading Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts.  In the chapter I'm in now, she talks a lot about how we are always in a hurry.  She says, "In a world addicted to speed, I blur the moments into one unholy smear."  I can identify with that!  How about you?  To summarize the chapter, the way to slow down time is to learn to give thanks in each moment, to have time for God, to worship in the every day ordinariness of life.

Here are some of my slow-down-time worship moments of the week.

Monday:  Sometimes during the dry season the sky is really dusty and hazy.  But other days it is brilliant blue.  When I walk down our drive to our gate I see this tree across the street.  I love its brilliant green leaves against the azure sky.  The colors God creates take my breath away!

"I don't really want more time; I just want enough time.  Time to breathe deep and time to see real and time to laugh, time to give You glory and rest deep and sing joy and just enough time in a day not to feel hounded, pressed, driven, or wild to get it all done--yesterday.... who actually knows how to take time and live with soul and body and God all in sync?"  Ann Voskamp

Tuesday:  It's fresh veggie season!  John grew the cilantro himself in a pot in an herb garden he made for me.  The tomatoes are locally grown.  I'm thankful for home-made tacos and salsa!  And again...the colors...the red and green is so beautiful together.

"When I'm present, I meet I AM, the very presence of a present God.  In His embrace, time loses all sense of speed and stress and space and stands so still and...holy."  Ann Voskamp

Wednesday:  This picture hangs on my office wall.  I don't know who it originally belonged to, but I inherited it when I took on this job.  It's quite the conversation piece...shepherds and their flocks, a common sight in Niger.  I'm thankful for a nice office.

Thursday:  The amount of work John has to do for his doctorate is overwhelming at times, to say the least.  I'm thankful that I've been able to stay home one morning a week to help him.  My current job is cutting up interviews and pasting them on cards for indexing and easy referral as he writes his thesis.

 Friday:  I babysat my grandbaby! :)  OK, well, if you want to call placing a baby in front of a screen and letting Grandma babble at her while mommy took a shower babysitting.  I think both Tera and I had fun and I'm thankful for the few moments I got with her.  I'm also VERY thankful for Skype, something we didn't have when our kids were growing up far away from their grandparents.

Saturday:  As I said, it's fresh fruit and veggie season.  Every Saturday I'm working on putting up some veggies in our freezer for the time of year when nothing is available.  This week it was carrots and tomatoes.  I got the equivalent of nine cans of tomatoes for the price of about two cans of tomatoes.  So I'm thankful to save money and to be able to eat vegetables without any preservatives.

Sunday:  Today we visited a church in a town outside of Niamey.  It's not too far away, but far enough that we get out of the big city.  We get to feel the wind in our hair, the sand in our teeth, the flies in our eyes.... No, seriously, it's just a good feeling to leave the city behind and get out into the wide open spaces (and yes, there was a lot of harmattan today, so there was definitely that feel of sand in our teeth).  I'm thankful too for the little group of believers in this town.

"I redeem time from neglect and apathy and inattentiveness when I swell with thanks and weigh the moment down and it's giving thanks to God for this moment that multiplies the moments, time made enough."  Ann Voskamp

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Practising Thankfulness

Ann Voskamp on writing a thankfulness list:  "They are just the common things and maybe I don't even know they are gifts really until I write them down....  This writing it down -- it is sort of like...unwrapping love."

Monday:  Back on the weekend of January 16 and 17 when the churches were burnt, John traveled north to our village that Friday afternoon.  On Saturday morning when he got up, he had a flat tire.  So he went to change the tire and discovered that his spare was also flat (we had recently had it fixed, so I'm not sure how that happened).  The tire repair guy up there told him there was no place in town to fix tubeless tires.  So John called me and I was going to go out to buy him two new tires to send up on a bush taxi.  But just as I was heading out the rioting started, so I went back home.  Later in the day a M*sl*m friend bought us two tires and got them sent up to John.  Of course, after all that he found out that there was a place in the town that could fix them.  So today I'm thankful once again for keeping us all safe and a new tire and three spares (one of them brand new!)

Tuesday:  These boxes of supplies for Galmi Hospital in the case of an Ebola outbreak have not been needed.  I'm thankful for that!

"The list, it feels foreign, strange.  Long, I am woman who speaks but one language, the language of the fall--discontentment and self-condemnation, the critical eye and the never satisfied.
....Well, if all these were gifts that God gives--then wasn't my writing down the list like...receiving?  Like taking with thanks.
--Ann Voskamp

Wednesday:  KS and E were missionaries here in Niger for around 10 years.  I took them around town for a tour of some of our ministries in Niamey.  Here they are meeting a Christian leader who had been one of their little neighbor boys.  What a reunion!  A little bit of heaven, don't you think?  I can just see the reunions with people we haven't seen in ages.  And the stories we'll hear of "Remember when you let me work for you to earn money to buy a Bible?  Remember how you helped me with family needs?  Remember how you taught me about God's love and faithfulness? I'm thankful for reunions and encouragement and a little taste of heaven in joyful hugs.

Thursday:  Wednesday was actually my dad's birthday.  Here's an old picture from the archives.  I've always been a daddy's girl and am so thankful for a dad that I respect and who I still go to for advice.

"Practiced [thankfulness] until it became the second nature, the first skin.  Practice is the hardest part of learning, and training is the essence of transformation. Practice, practice, practice."
--Ann Voskamp

Friday:  A year ago our roof was replaced on our apartment.  The metal from the roof was still mostly good and so it was suggested we use it to cover our terrace.  It's a bit complicated, but the project had to be approved and the process took time.  But I'm thankful that this week the workers showed up and have gotten it done in no time at all!  There is still a 2nd section to do but that shouldn't take long at all.  This will give a little more shade to the house and keep the sun off the front part of it.  

Saturday:  I'm thankful for delicious fresh vegetables that are in season right now.  On Saturday I put up green beans and cauliflower.  It will be nice when the fresh veggies are in scarce supply to just pull out a packet of frozen veggies.

Sunday:  I'm thankful for a shaded terrace to have some quiet time with Jesus this afternoon.

"Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped.  God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given:  joy.

"It is true I never want to stop learning the hard eucharisteo for the deathbeds and the dark skies and the prodigal sons.  But I accept this [thankfulness for small things]is the way to begin, and all hard things come in due time and with practice....  Gratitude for the seemingly insignificant--a seed--this plants the giant miracle....  Do not disdain the small.  The whole of the life--even the hard--is made up of  the minute parts, and if I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole....  It is this:  to give thanks in this one small thing.  The moments will add up."
--Ann Voskamp

Books Read in 2014

I'm a little late on my traditional January post reviewing the books I've read in the past year.  In the year 2014 I read 38 books, many of which I downloaded for free on my Kindle when they were on a special offer.  I'll write a brief paragraph about my top 10 favorites and then just list the remaining books.  In both cases, the books are listed in the order read, not in the order of most enjoyed.

1. Diamond Fractal by Karen Keegan and Minna Kayser.  Karen and Minna are missionary kids, raised by parents working in the same mission but on opposite sides of the African continent.  They met each other as adults.  Minna had been repeatedly abused as a child.  Each time she was abused her mind created a personality to protect herself from the memory of that abuse.  This is a fascinating, though sometimes disturbing, story of how her new friend, Karen, was used by God to help her work through her past.  I'm sure that neither Karen nor Minna would recommend that a non-professional attempt to help somebody with fractured personalities.  This is simply their story.

2.  Winter Haven by Athol Dickson is a good nail-biting mystery...a bit Gothic, and very well-written.  Yes, the premise is a bit far-fetched, but he makes it believable.

3.  Undaunted by Josh McDowell (I believe with a ghost writer) is an excellent autobiographical book.  Josh was raised by a cruel alcoholic father and saw his mother abused. Josh himself was abused by a man who worked in their home. As he grew older he became more and more angry and as a teenager was bigger and stronger than his father and was able to use physical force against his father and against the man who abused him.  This is an amazing story of how God took an angry, bitter, revengeful young man who had completely turned his back on God, led him to study the Scriptures thoroughly, and then to give his life to God, and to be used by him to minister to youth all over the world.

4.  When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  As we look around at the impoverished, hurting parts of our world, our response is to want to help.  Helping is biblical, yet sometimes the way we do it can cause more harm than good.  The authors show when helping is harmful and how to manage helping that is actually helpful.

5.  In the Land of Blue Burquas by Kate McCord (a pseudonym).  Ms. McCord worked for an NGO in Afghanistan.  In this book she shares how she learned to turn conversations with her M*sl*m friends into chances to share the Gospel.  It's an excellent book for learning how to share your faith in practical ways. I read from a borrowed copy and want to buy my own so I can mark it up....sorry, but there are times when a Kindle copy just won't do!

6.  The Birth Partner:  A Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Doulas, and All other Labor Companions by Penny Simpkin.  I read this book hoping that I would be with Suzanne when her baby was born.  Unfortunately we were about three hours late to the event! :)  In spite of not being able to use what I learned (or re-learned since it's been over 20 years since I've done this), I found this book very helpful and highly recommend it to any dad or anybody else who plans to be present at a delivery.  I actually found it more helpful than Ina May's Guide to Childbirth.

7.  Nine Hills to Nambonkaha by Sarah Erdmann.  Ms. Erdmann relates her story of her time as a Peace Corps volunteer in northern Cote d'Ivoire.  She has an excellent writing style and describes so vividly a life similar to ours in our village northwest of here.  I wish I could write a book about our time there as well as she has written about her time as a Peace Corps volunteer.

8.  And Remember That I Am a Man by John Bushore.  Mr. Bushore relates the true story of a slave who bought his own freedom three times. Each time the master he freed himself from took back his offer.  This was a really good book showing the extent to which a slave was willing to go to get freedom and the depravity and meanness of some slave owners who considered slaves to be less than human.

9.  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is a freebie I downloaded on Kindle.  It's a classic and is delightfully written with a story that takes place both in London and in Paris.  It is one of Dickens' shorter books, so if you've never read anything by him, this is a good place to start.

10.  Heroes and Monsters:  An Honest Look at What It Means to Be Human by Josh James Riebock.  I know, it sounds a bit weird, and it is a bit weird.  Mr. Riebock writes intimately about his relationship with God and with the Holy Spirit, but not in traditional ways.  So if you will get offended by God and the Holy Spirit called anything but those names, this might not be the book for you.  Personally I found it refreshing to stand back and look at God in the way a child might.  Mr. Riebock is a masterful writer and this book really helped me desire a deeper personal relationship with Jesus.

And the rest:
11.  My Emily  by Matt Patterson
12.  River Way Home by Jason Wellnitz
13.  They Shall See God by Athol Dickson
14.  Friends, Lovers, Chocolate by Alexander McCall Smith
15.  Real Christianity by Wilbur Wilberforce
16.  Fatherless by James Dobson and Kurt Bruner
17.  The Blind Years by Catherine Cookson
18.  The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis
19.  A New Promise by Julie Eller
20.  Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles by Steven Stiles
21.  The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
22.  The Pastor's Wife by Jennifer Al Lee
23.  Facing Redemption by Kimberly McKay
24.  October Baby by Eric Wilson
25.  A Lasting Impression by Tamera Alexander
26.  To Whisper Her Name by Tamera Alexander
27.  For Keeps by Chautona Havig
28.  Here We Come by Chautona Havig
29.  Ina May's Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
30.  Faith, Hope, and Love by Kimberly Rae Jordan
31.  All Things New by Lynn Austin
32.  Surviving without Romance by Mary Lou Cummins
33.  Water's Edge by Robert Whitlow
34.  Impact My Life!  Biblical Mentoring Simplified by Elisa Pulliam
35.  Out of Africa & Shadows on the Grass by Karen Blixen
36.  The Witch Doctor's Wife by Tamar Myers
37.  The Faithful One by Michele Chynoweth
38.  Broken Pottery by Jennifer Ann

Monday, February 02, 2015

Thankful for the Story God is Writing

There's a reason I'm not writing the story and God is.  He knows how it all works out, where it all leads, what it all means.
Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts

Monday -- About a year ago one of our missionaries, Linda, began looking into a ministry that helps those who have gone through trauma.  She had no idea where all it would lead, but stepped out in faith that this was what God wanted her to do.  To make a long story short, she and another missionary attended a training last September (not sure the exact date). After that training, they chose dates in February (I won't specify the dates for security reasons) to hold a training session for pastors and Christian workers to train them in helping those who have been through trauma.  Suddenly we have families who have been traumatized in losing their homes and all their belongings, pastors traumatized by losing their churches and who still need to lead their flocks, church members traumatized by losing their churches, and children who can't make sense of any of it.  Can you see God's perfect timing in giving Linda this vision and planning this training for February!!  I'm thankful  for Linda and for the very hard work she and others are putting into providing trauma care for pastors and church members.  Can you be sure to pray for Linda and the others this month?

Tuesday -- My neighbor had some sheets and blankets and kitchen stuff that still had a lot of good use in them but that she was no longer using.  She divided them among the three families at one of the churches that had lost all the homes on the compound.  I was able to buy some clothes and my neighbor's daughter bought a piece of cloth with her own money to give to one of the ladies.  Later that week as we prepared a house for a new family coming we discovered the previous occupants had left behind a bunch of stuffed animals and some other things that we'll pass on to the two year old and five year old children of one of the families.  We also have a jembe (drum) that we gave to the church. The kids at the missionary school have brought in clothes and pieces of cloth to be donated.  I heard today of people in another country who are sending over donated items. I'm thankful we can participate in a small way in restoring what these families lost.

Wednesday -- This is broccoli.  That might not be anything special to you, but we can only get it for about four weeks of the year.  In September John and I bought a small freezer which means now we can freeze veggies when they're in season and pull them out during the time of year when very little fresh stuff is available.  I'm thankful for broccoli and a freezer so we can save some for later.

Thursday -- John's birthday was on Thursday.  I made him a chicken-broccoli casserole and a cheesecake for dessert.  I discovered that another missionary who is new in town had had her birthday on the 27th, so I invited her to join us and to celebrate her birthday with John.  She brought along the strawberry sorbet.  I'm thankful for my husband!!!

Friday -- I'm thankful for these purple flowers.  I have no idea what they're called, but they sure are pretty.  (Notice the layer of dust on the leaves!)

Saturday --  I felt so tired all day and took the opportunity to snooze with Queen of Sheba.  It's no wonder I was so tired....I spent most of Sunday in bed with a fever. I'm thankful for my little furry friend and that I recovered quickly.

 Sunday -- We were able to go to one of the churches that had been burnt.  The church building wasn't too bad other than the ceiling and that one wall.  But the store room behind had a lot of damage and the three houses on the compound are in terrible condition.  This is a simple church and all they had before were benches, a few plastic chairs, a pulpit and a communion table.  In the past two weeks they'd already gotten a new pulpit.  I'm not sure if they bought the chairs or rented them (you can rent these plastic chairs here for your special occasions).  Oh, and a clock. :)  No fans,no electricity....pretty simple.  I'm thankful that we could worship together with those who have been counted worthy to suffer for Jesus.

Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of what He gives.  Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! to His grace.

The act of sacrificing thank offerings to God...prepares the way for God to show us His fullest salvation from bitter, angry, resentful lives and from all sin that estranges us from Him...  Our salvation in Christ is real, yet the completeness of that salvation is not fully realized in a life until the life realizes the need to give thanks.

Ann Voskamp
One Thousand Gifts