Sunday, May 28, 2017

May book list

May is our hottest most miserable month here.  Temperatures are around 105 or more every day and the humidity increases making it feel even worse.  One of the hardest things about the heat is the way it zaps your energy.  After putting in a day of work, you're pretty much done.  Reading is a great activity for when you don't feel like doing anything.  And one thing you can do when the power is off, is read.  So May is not a good month for doing big projects, but it is a good month for getting some reading done.

The Power of Suffering:  Strengthening Your Faith in the Refiner's Fire by John MacArthur
 Our culture seems, on the whole, to do what they can to prevent and to avoid suffering, yet suffering of some sort comes to each of us.  MacArthur has some very helpful things to say and this book would be one I'd be willing to share with people going through a hard time. He gives a good solid theology for suffering. He said two things, though, that I'm not sure I agree with.  The first was that MacArthur thinks that when Paul said he had a thorn in the flesh, he believes that thorn was a person. I've never heard that before and am not sure I agree. The other thing he said is that miracles don't happen today and I don't agree with that at all, though I do agree that we probably overuse and loosely use the word "miracle".  I liked how he pointed out that while suffering helps us grow in patience, that's not the main purpose of our suffering. The main purpose is to help us know better how to worship, honor, and glorify God in everything. When we get to heaven, we won't need to be patient, but we will be spending the rest of our lives glorifying God. For me the book was not written in an engaging manner and I would have benefited more if he'd included real ways in which he had suffered and learned these biblical truths.

A House Divided by Robert Whitlow
This book takes a close look at alcoholism and its effects on a family. The author gives us an inside look at the 12-step program while showing that it is God who can change lives. I enjoyed this book, but some of the legal details (the father and two children are all lawyers) went a little over my head. I also thought the case two of them were working on came together a bit fast in the end. Otherwise it was a good read.

Stolen Woman by Kimberly Rae
I think that Ms. Rae did an excellent job developing the characters, but I found parts of the plot quite implausible. Nevertheless, I was sorry to come to the end of the book. I also felt like the author has a good knowledge of India, its peoples, being a third culture kid, and of injustices taking place in our world.

The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos by Michael Freeman
I took my time reading through this book (more than a year!). As the subtitle says, it is all about composing and designing better pictures. The author introduces a lot of technical aspects of photographing which, when you see them in a picture you know it's a good photo without being able to say why. He teaches you things such vectors, using circles and rectangles, dynamic tension, filling the frame, and color in composition, just to name a few. I took a long time reading this book as it has a LOT of information and I found I wanted to look up examples of the techniques on the internet and try to think of how to use what he was teaching in photography. Reading through this book made me realize how much there is to learn about photography and how far I still need to go! The author does assume you know your camera well and that you know basic photography terminology, but you don't need to be a professional to understand the book.

The Young Mountaineers Short Stories by Mary Noailles Murfree
I came across a list awhile ago that compared what 8th and 9th grade students in the 1930's were required to read. Of course, I can't find it on the internet now, but at the time I went on Amazon and found a lot of them and downloaded them for free. This was one of them. This is a series of short stories about young boys having all sorts of adventures in the mountains of Tennessee. The stories are well-written and still very readable and enjoyable, but probably most kids today wouldn't "get" the setting. There was also a lot of dialect that was hard to read. I think boys of today who like to be outdoors and who like adventure, camping, hiking, being in the wilderness, etc. would still enjoy these stories. The stories are also good because, without being preachy, the author shows her characters learning how to be honest, to be brave, to be honorable, etc. 

True Religion: Taking Pieces of Heaven to Places of Hell on Earth by Palmer Chinchen
I liked this book as far as it went, but I felt like Dr. Chinchen's emphasis did not go far enough. He really did a great job on challenging young people to get involved in missions and to do what they can to bring "pieces of heaven to places of hell on earth". No believer should ignore the plight of others and Dr. Chinchen really challenges young people to get involved. I think the audience of the book is meant to be university age students and I love how he makes helping the poor and doing missions something that is in the realm of possibility for each person. However, the focus really seemed to be on short term missions and on short term solutions such as collecting shoes for people, which I'm not criticizing. But I do wish he had put more of an emphasis on committing to life-long missions. It's a lot different to take a day and wash dirty children than it is to have dirty children surrounding you year after year and realizing that whatever you can do is so small compared to what they really need. It's fine to go in and deliver hundreds of shoes, but it's a lot different to live year after year with people who, when those shoes are worn out, still won't have the means to purchase a pair of shoes for themselves. There have to be better ways of helping pull people out of poverty than "band-aid" solutions like passing out shoes and giving kids baths. Those things are great.....but I wish Dr. Chinchen had put more of an emphasis on getting in there for the long haul. As a personnel coordinator of a mission in one of the poorest countries in the world it is my job to place teams and individuals. I can tell you that teams are a lot of work for the missionaries on the ground and that the benefits are more for the team members (and often those benefits are worth the hard work of hosting teams!) than for the host culture. I also have mixed feelings about the phrase "hell on earth" because somehow it feels judgmental to me. There are places that truly are hell on earth; but I think it's a misconception that everybody living in poverty is miserable and unhappy. Some of the poorest people I know are happier than some of the richest people I know. 

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.