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Pregnancy and Birth Overseas- Richelle in Quebec and also Niger

Well, I’ve had 5 partial or complete pregnancies and 3 births in our country of ministry: one in Quebec, Canada and 2 in Niamey, Niger, so it is hard to know where to start!

My first pregnancy/delivery in a foreign country happened in Quebec, Canada. We were studying the French language before heading to W. Africa. The language barrier was really my only initial concern. I had a fabulous doctor who was very patient with my mistakes: he asked me if I was planning to breastfeed; I thought he was asking me about my summer plans… and I proceeded to answer accordingly. I was horribly embarrassed, but my doctor was very kind and gracious. Being pregnant in language school (and taking final exams with baby in arms) seemed to endear our family to many teachers and students; older people from the traditionally Catholic country appreciated the fact that we were having our fourth child. Experiencing pregnancy and delivery in your host country is an incredibly bonding, door-opening opportunity – to meet people, to become established in your community, to trust the Lord even when you have no clue what is going on all around you, and to live an authentic and transparent testimony because in labor, pretty much all is laid bare… (No pun initially intended, but then I thought about it for  a moment.  (-: ) After 5 days of labor, 3 in the hospital and the good part of a day on pitocin, our healthy 9’11” daughter was born just minutes before the doctor arrived to prep for a c-section.  Even with the incredibly long, painful and frustrating labor, it was a wonderful experience and opened our hearts to the possibility of having a baby in W. Africa.

We found out we were expecting our next child just days after we’d purchased plane tickets to return to the States for furlough. Since I’d be home midway through the 2nd trimester and it was my 6th (5th full term) pregnancy, I skipped prenatal care in Niger and she was born in the States. I did find the first trimester and the nausea/fatigue typical of the beginning of a pregnancy to be much worse (probably partly due to prophylactic medications for malaria) and the excessive heat of Niamey.

Both our 6th and 7th children were born in Niger. Niger is very poor and has limitations as to what is available medically. Women had regularly had their babies in Niger in times past, but after a few very bad experiences in local clinics and a missionary hospital that could no longer accept missionary patients, women had essentially stopped considering that as a possibility. Our 6th was a bit of a surprise, and was due just a month before we were scheduled for another 6 month furlough. Because of that timing and after much prayer and counsel, we decided that we would stay and I would have the baby in Niger. We researched a few of the clinics and based on the recommendation of a missionary midwife (who worked out in the bush), decided on a doctor and a clinic.

By this time, language was no longer an issue – but culturally, things were very different. The doctor was comfortable with my husband being present for the delivery; the midwives who worked with her weren’t as much at ease with that idea. As a result, we had decided a friend would accompany me. The clinic was clean, but it certainly was not a labor and delivery suite like you might find in the States, there were no pain medications available and if a child was born with problems so significant that he couldn’t be stabilized for an emergency evacuation, there was little that the doctors and midwives would be able to do. Simply put, the consensus was that it was a safe place to have an uncomplicated delivery. Since none of my deliveries had ever been “complicated,” we were comfortable with this fact, and were ready to choose to accept God’s sovereignty in any possible outcome. Culturally, I had to remember that the doctor or midwife was the “professional expert;” asking questions or disagreeing with something they’d decided or wanted to do could be seen as rude or disrespectful and could impact care. You are expected to labor silently, through all stages of labor. If labor isn’t progressing rapidly enough, midwives will use all sorts of methods to help “force” it along; fortunately, that was not an issue in either of my deliveries.

I had to bring all of my supplies – medications (I’m Rh -), mosquito net, towels, diapers, soap, everything to care for the cord, etc… things I’d need for the baby and for myself post partum as the clinic did not supply anything non-medical. After the baby was born, we found out that we were supposed to take care of the placenta. Fortunately, they had mercy on us and didn’t require that of the “white folks.” I stayed overnight – and was locked into the wing of the clinic where my room was. If I needed help for something, I had to ring the “emergency room,” who was not always able to respond promptly (my IV that they wanted to keep in place because of the Rhogam I’d need the next day kept falling out as I was trying to care for a newborn and swat away the mosquitoes. I’d brought everything I could think of that I’d need, but not a mosquito net to protect the baby.) Not only was it important to have someone there for labor and delivery, it was essential to have help that first night in the clinic.

All in all, it was a fabulous, and very inexpensive experience having our son in our country of service, and the people to whom we minister love the fact that he is a “vrai nigerien!” When we found out that number 7 was on her way, there was no doubt in our minds that she’d be born in Niger, too. This time I knew what to expect and was also more familiar with the culture. One huge difference was that midwives were quite happy to have my husband accompany me. In the intervening years, other expat women had chosen to have their babies at this same clinic, so the medical staff was becoming more accustomed to “Western” ideas regarding labor and delivery. And it was a good thing he was there, because the midwife was out making herself a cup of tea when our daughter decided to arrive; she came running in immediately, but it was “daddy” who actually delivered her! We tried to convince the clinic that we should get a discount on the price because of that fact; they didn’t agree!

Health concerns for me which could have necessitated taking the baby early demanded that I return to the US for the birth of our last child. Knowing the lack of adequate care for preemies and considering the higher possibility of that occurrence made the decision obvious, but it was a decision made through many tears and after much prayer and consultation with the doctors in Niamey who knew us and who had been caring for our family for several years. I truly wrestled with God about this, even after my husband had already made the decision. It also meant splitting our family up for 3 months: I came home early in the third trimester with 3 of our children while my husband remained in Niger with the other 4, and did not even meet his little one until she was almost 2 months old. After that experience, I have an immense respect and burden for single mothers and for women who, out of necessity, must walk through that experience without the presence of their husband. God was so good and provided for us wonderfully on both continents, but it was an incredible challenge, from the really practical (I had to shovel the driveway while in labor to get the car out so we could head for the hospital) to the emotions involved with walking into labor knowing there could be scary complications and not having my best earthly friend there with me. So, as crazy as it sounds, with all the advances, comforts and options available here and the experience of 7 other deliveries, it was the hardest one. Yet as always, God was so faithful, so true and He provided marvelously in ordaining this circumstance that drove me straight to Him.

Richelle, thank you so very much for sharing your birth experiences and encouragements with us! Does anyone have any questions for Richelle?

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Dissolved- Part II

(Click here to read Dissolved: Part I )

Time passed; in the intervening months God graciously provided us with a new infrastructure. Most of our supporters did decide to stay with us and some surprising partners have generously provided since monies like future support, funds saved for education and plane tickets, etc., were all lost to us with the dissolution of our organization. Daily, our lives and ministries continue.

Yet in many ways, we are still stuck halfway across that high wire, very much in limbo. We keep things running here, waiting for the human powers that be to decide what will be… while we wait to hear all of the legal ramifications of this process back in the States, while we try and cling to the truth that God is sovereign.

I ‘m reading a book called The Land Between: Finding God in Difficult Transitions. One of my friends, hearing of our particular circumstances, wrote me and asked if she could get me this book. I’ve been very thankful for it as I’ve slowly worked my way through it. Today I read:

“At the beginning of the story, Abraham was asked to trust God by letting go of his past—by moving away from his people and his country. Now, near the end of his journey, Abraham is asked to trust God by letting go of his future—releasing his beloved son Isaac through whom the promised blessing is to be fulfilled.”1

Over 12 years ago, when we first left for the field, God asked us to trust Him by letting go of our past, of all that was familiar, moving us far away to where all was new and foreign, family and friends were far behind; normal clothes and cultures and climates seemed another world, one very unreachable and very far away. Just like Abraham, we’d trusted God and let go of our past, moving from our known peoples and country. There were hard, challenging moments, but there were also amazing, mountain top experiences with the Lord and the joy of serving Him in this place that, in hindsight, make those moments of trusting seem a lot more exciting than terrifying. We’ve come to the point where most of the time, we trust God with the past.

As we’ve followed Him down this path over these 12 years, we’ve learned much about trusting God in the moment… some moments, by His grace, we trust well, totally and confidently. Other times, however, in our strength, we try and bully or bribe our way into an outcome we want. That has been a constant temptation during these high wire months of limbo. Sometimes God whispers… other times He allows circumstances to shout: “Will you let me lead you day… by day… by day. Will you let me take what seems so rancid to you and turn it into something delightfully sweet as you see My hand working in you, on your behalf?”

In this most recent “faith crisis”, God seems to be asking us a new question: “Will you let go of your future? Will you release your plans and dreams? Will you stop struggling to achieve them? Can you gently step aside and allow Me free reign to do what I will do. Will you still choose to trust Me, even in those moments when you don’t understand, see no possibilities… then tenaciously cling to faith even when all man’s wisdom and even your heart says there’s no point and nothing left to cling to?” God asks us to be living sacrifices – our home church pastor has often said that the only problem with a living sacrifice is that it has a tendency to get up and crawl right off that altar!

Our little three year old M&M wanders the house singing almost every day. Invariably, she’ll launch into the Chris Tomlin song, I Will Follow.

Where You go, I’ll go.
Where You stay, I’ll stay.
When you move, I’ll move.
I will follow…

Some days, she sings it word perfect.

Other days, however? She’ll launch into an M&M revised adaptation. Those tsubborn, independent adjustments ring out loud and clear:

When You go, I’ll stay.
When You stay, I’ll go.
When You go, I’ll stay.
When You stay, I’ll go.
(repeat at least 8 times)

Funny – but it is also sobering, because her adaptation is me.

There are days when letting go of past, present and future is the only thing I want to do, recklessly throwing my everything into His hands and His plans. Those days are scary and hard – but also full of joy, triumph and the peace that comes with obedience. What about all those other days, though? The ones where I sing, just like my little one, that I’m heading my own way, doing my own thing, and all of that in my own timing.

As missionaries, people think it is easy for us to let go – following the Great Shepherd is our claim! Occasionally it is. Most often, it isn’t.

Sometimes we need all that we thought secure, every dream we had for the future, to simply dissolve all around us, first melting, then trickling and finally surging far, far away until we are left standing in the desert with no hope for the future… nothing… except God…

I’ve been in that place the last few months. I’m in that place right now.

It is in that place that finally, now, I’m learning… I’m sometimes beginning to expect God.

What does God have to do to get you in a place where all of your expectations rest in Him and Him alone?

1 Manion, Jeff (2010-07-14). The Land Between: Finding God in Difficult Transitions (Kindle Locations 433-435). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

(Post by: Richelle)

Dissolved- Part 1

Missionaries… all who follow Christ… are told to count the cost. But what about when something unthinkable happens? How do you prepare for that?

Late at night, on August 24, 2011, we received the following in a letter from our sending organization:

“Following extensive objective assessment and the advice of legal counsel, we are beginning action to dissolve… The organization will be in the process of shutting down over the next week and a half. Funds to continue are not available… final payments of reimbursable expenses will be paid as of August 23rd and health insurance will be paid through September 2011. Thereafter, there will be no disbursement from EBM to anyone other than to protect and complete the above process… On September 2, 2011, the… home office will close its doors… Further, missionaries and sending churches should immediately contact donors and have their donations diverted to the sending church… If help is needed the staff… would be more than happy to assist you with this process until September 2, 2011. On August 31st, [our organization] will be closing its books after which all donations will be returned to the sender.”

Needless to say, we didn’t sleep much that night. We had lots of questions, and no immediate answers…

  • How in the world are we going to provide for 8 kids and an 18 year old niece… in a foreign land…with no salary?
  • What about school for our children (recognizing that termites ate at least a third of our home schooling curriculum during our last home assignment)?
  • Could we? How would we get home if we had to?
  • What does this mean for now? And in the immediate future?
  • What in the world should we do?
  • How do we explain this to our local colleagues?
  • What exactly is “this”?

I’d really thought I’d heard of and considered all the possible missionary “catastrophe” scenarios: medical emergencies, coup d’états, banditry or break-in, kidnapping and hostage situations, physical violence, in-country massive currency devaluation, drought, necessities unavailable, refugee influx, emergency evacuation… and while I didn’t ever want anything like that to happen to our family, it had, at least at some point, bleeped somewhere on my radar screen that it was a possibility.

The dissolution of our sending organization and as a consequence, of the majority of the infrastructure key to our W. African existence hadn’t… ever… crossed… my mind… Seriously. Not even remotely.

Our home office was closing its doors and from the backside of the desert in W. Africa (otherwise known as the land of frequent power outages, bipolar internet and the lesser known reality that we still cannot direct dial our home area code in the States from this place), we had one week to contact all of our supporters to tell them to stop giving until we could make other arrangements. We needed to find a new organization in the States able and willing to receive and receipt funds, but also one that would be acceptable to our current support team. Any services that our home office had handled before? We now needed to find someone else who could and would assume those responsibilities. And there was the concern that people might just decide to no longer partner with us in this ministry, feeling that our previous organization had been less than transparent… some even felt dishonest.

Our team of missionaries in Niger and Benin at the time of the dissolution

We understood immediately that our situation wasn’t catastrophic. We were all healthy, together, with a roof over our head and in the midst of an amazing missionary community that literally wrapped its arms tightly around us and cared for us, far above and beyond what we would have asked or could have imagined. On the other hand, it fely like calamity stalking… we were walking a high wire far above ground without any sort of safety net… and it wouldn’t take much to send us plummeting down…

I wish I could say that Tim and I immediately fell on our knees and took our worries before the Lord. Tim might have… I didn’t unless you count those “Oh God… what are we going to do?” type utterances as prayers.

Has anything similar every happened to you? Can you even imagine anything like this happening? What would be your first thoughts and worries?

(Post by: Richelle)

Memorial Service for Julie and Timmy

I posted recently about the tragic death of Julie Kurrle, missionary to Paraguay, and her young son, Timmy, asking you to be in prayer for their family and loved ones. Richelle passed along a beautiful post to from Christie Hagerman’s blog about the memorial service that I just had to share with you. Please take some time to read this post and to continue to pray for those who continue to grieve.

 

Tearing Down High Places: Part 2

Recently, I shared how I came to realize that I had, in a very real sense, set myself and our marriage up as a “high place” for my husband. Although I never would have said it, nor probably even thought it, the Holy Spirit showed me that my hurt, angry and bitter response to my husband’s need for God – instead of turning to me – as he wandered through the home-going of his mother unequivocally confirmed that truth in my heart.

God Himself stated that it was not good for the man to be alone – and He made that statement in the perfection of the Garden where God served as Adam’s company and companion. In that perfect moment, a time before sin became a part of the equation, God not only gave Adam (and the rest of us) permission to desire and need human companionship… fellowship… community… with someone who was not God – He ordained it! Yet week after week, we sing beautiful, heart-stirring worship songs about intimacy and relationship with the Lord being our “all in all;” that He’s “more than enough.” How do we reconcile these two?

It must be that the yanking back and forth between two good, God-given, complementary desires came when sin became a part of the equation. One of the consequences of sin was that Eve’s desire would be for her husband. At first, that doesn’t seem to fit with all of the other consequences. I read that and think, “Of course! Her desire should be for her husband. That’s a good thing, right?”

That particular Hebrew word occurs three times in the Bible.  In Genesis 3, it refers to the longing a wife will have for her husband. In Song of Songs 7, it refers to the longing of a man for a woman. What is so sobering is that in Genesis 4, it refers to the craving of a beast to devour its prey.  When I look at that third connotation of the original word, when I see that it is used in the context of a curse -negative consequences resulting from sin… I have to ask myself if the Lord wasn’t telling Eve that part of her continual struggle would be fighting against a longing that, if not confessed and repented from, then submitted to the authority of the Lord and the help and power of the Holy Spirit, could devour both her and the one she has promised to love above all else?

That word devour illicit vivid images… remember Peter’s words about Satan “prowling about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour?” What about David’s vigilance as a shepherd, necessary to prevent lions and bears from mauling the flocks for which he cared? And then there is, for me, the unforgettable biblical account that I once taught to the ladies in our church’s Bible study. In 2 Kings 17, the King of Assyria sent people to repopulate the area once inhabited by the Israel – and lions were devouring the people. The solution? A Jewish priest was commissioned to teach the people how to fear and worship the Lord – which the nations did. But they also kept their own high places and worshipped their own gods at the same time. In verse 33, it is written, “They feared the Lord and served their own gods,” Later, in verse 41, “So while these nations feared the Lord, they also served their idols; their children likewise and their grandchildren, as their fathers did, so they do to this day.”

Sobering words.

On his web page Spiritual Leadership, Henry Blackaby writes:

“Appealing to peoples’ carnal nature, the high places were always popular…” and

“High places are seductive… Such hedonistic religion appealed to peoples’ base senses of greed and sensuality. No wonder God commanded Joshua to obliterate…”

Resulting from that first sin in the Garden, I must recognize this continual temptation of a longing for my husband that distorts the original desire and need God placed within mankind to find joy and fulfillment in the companionship of a spouse or of others like us that complements the worship and adoration of Him as God and Lord. If my husband (…or child, etc.) subtly becomes the focus of my adoration and worship – and I set him up as a “high place,”  I then begin to demand that same sort of attention from him in return – trying to lead him to a high place centered on me. I become jealous, playing the part of jilted lover or forsaken friend when that does not happen. If not arrested, that longing can devour me… and the one who is the object of my longing.

Vigilance is key to stopping high place construction before it starts. I find I must continually present this temptation to the Lord each time the Holy Spirit reveals that I’ve begun… or have already built and begun worshipping once more at that pagan altar. I need to go back to the solution offered in 2 Kings 17. I must relearn a holy fear and reverence of the Lord. Yet I think it is clear from that chapter that a fear of the Lord who allowed devouring lions that terrify is not sufficient. Read of all the kings and rulers who feared and worshipped the Lord, but allowed the high places to remain… with consequences for those around them and for those who followed after them. The rest of the solution requires persistent, nitty-gritty obedience. I usually think of the following words, from Deuteronomy 6, as directed towards parents and leaders – but what if I applied them to all relationships…

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words which I am commanding you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates… then watch yourself, and see that you do not forget… You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name. You shall not follow other gods… you shall not put the Lord your God to the test… You should diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and His testimonies and His statutes… You shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord… So the Lord commanded us to observe al these… to fear the Lord our God for our good always and for our survival as it is today. It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this, just as He commanded us.”

(Post by: Richelle)

Tearing Down High Places- Part 1

My mother-in-law died last year, just before Christmas. This year, we’ve walked through the one year anniversary of her promotion to glory. In some ways, it feels surreal. After all, it wasn’t our first time to celebrate the Savior’s birth without her presence. As missionaries serving far from our families, that is actually the norm. But we couldn’t call… or video Skype… and just knowing that Dad was facing a second Christmas without her? …it made my heart ache. It also reminds me of a heart-aching lesson the Lord taught me in that season, a lesson about the cost of gifting sacrificial love.

When we returned to our place of service in July, 2010, we knew my husband’s mother’s health was fragile; we never dreamed she’d see her Savior face to face before that Christmas. Thankfully, Tim was able to make a whirlwind trip back to the States for that Thanksgiving, spending it with his parents, and having the opportunity to say a final earthly goodbye to his mama. I know that time, while heartbreaking for the rest of us who couldn’t go and be with Mom/Grandma, was a treasured and precious time for both my husband and his parents.

While he was gone, I started scheming. Our 16th wedding anniversary was coming up shortly after his return… We hadn’t gone away together, just the two of us, for over 8 years… A friend volunteered to take our kids for the weekend, to let us get away to a lovely-for-West-Africa little resort literally just minutes away from our house for the weekend… Offers like that don’t grow on trees! What’s more? We actually had a bit of surplus in the budget and could afford to retreat, together…

As I said, I started scheming… dreaming… anticipating time… just the two of us… after some very long, difficult and stressful weeks apart. I was excited; friends were excited for me – for us. Raising eight children – the youngest of which was just winding up nursing – busy lives, and a limited budget? That meant that those sorts of opportunities truly were few and far between. Then factor in the reality that even thinking about all the prep work required to leave this family often discourages any desire to do so. But this time? I was more than ready. One night, while chatting on-line, I quietly typed these dreamy ideas to Tim as our littlest one slept on my lap, sweet little hands cupping my face. He seemed as excited about this little get-away as I was… and I couldn’t wait for him to be home.

Literally, just days after he left the States and returned to Niger, his mother’s situation turned critical.  It was not long before the decision was made to remove one of the gentlest, sweetest women I’ve ever known from life support. Tim was devastated… we all were… There’d been unexpected moments of hope- talk of transplants and even some plans for the future. So, while not unexpected, reality still seized us by surprise, accosting our already aching hearts.  We couldn’t afford another trip home that quickly for him to attend her funeral. As Tim grieved, he started talking about wanting to just get away from the city, away from all of the people asking him how he was doing and the well-meaning but sorrowful, sympathetic looks directed his way. He wanted to take our older children to a wild game park/reserve and just camp out for 2 or 3 days, accomplishing in his mind two things: 1) escape and time alone with his big kids who are much better than his wife at living in, enjoying… the present moment and 2) scoping the place out and seeing if it might be a place we could vacation as a family.

If he took this camping trip, however, our just-the-two-of-us-get-away simply wouldn’t… couldn’t… happen. He decided – and it wasn’t the decision I wanted.

I was hurt. Hurt soon turned to anger.

I sullenly nursed anger and wounded pride (After all, what would I say to all those friends with husbands who would never choose something over a weekend away with their gal?) until a still small voice gently confronted me, stopping me in my internal foot-stomping tracks and prolific self-pity party. The Holy Spirit pointed out that my hurt-turned-angry feelings sprang from jealousy more than anything else. I had wanted to be the one Tim turned to in his grief. I wanted him to need me above all else, to choose me as the one upon whom he’d lean. In reality, he was telling me he needed time alone and away with THE Comforter. That truth should have delighted my heart… but it didn’t.

So what do we wives do when the Lord shows us that we’ve tried to set ourselves up as our husband’s idol, expecting our man to have needs met by us when he should be running first to God? In the Old Testament, the Israelites are commanded to tear down and destroy high places tempting idol worship. (Deuteronomy 12:1-5 is an example.) The word translated tear down is, in other places, also translated “utterly destroy,” “obliterate,” “make perish completely…”  I see no other choice than to choose to die to self and free my husband from this subtly insidious expectation that he worship, adore and run to me first and foremost. To love well, I must obliterate that idolatrous construction of my expectations for what our marriage and our friendship… our relationship… will look like.

It is one thing to recognize that you have “high places” – areas that tempt you to worship someone or something other than God. It is another to realize, as you examine your life, that the Holy Spirit is gently pointing out high places I have constructed for my husband… my children… my friends, etc.?  

Might He be showing you one or two?

If so, how do we go about tearing down those places?

(Post by: Richelle)

Homesick

This is our 11th year in Niger, so it really shouldn’t catch me by surprise, yet it does.

Every year.

Just before my September birthday, I find myself moody, easily angered, tearful, rapidly frustrated by the idiosyncrasies of living here, and continually questioning God. My husband remarks on my unusually temperamental nature, wondering if I’ve been getting enough sleep. My kids know that I’m going to fuss at them about the messy state of their room – and on particularly bad days, the state of the entire house. Others words that would normally roll right off like water on oil penetrate and hurt, whether intended that way or not. Oversensitive, glum, fatigued by everything about life in this land, I plug along for another month or so.

Then one day, usually sometime in early November, the sky changes from unrelenting sun and faded blue to bright but cool blue, a breeze blows and most days there is a morning haze of harmattan dust or fog over the river. I look for my single cozy sweater to wear while sitting on the terrace and drinking my morning tea. The children (and sometimes even their daddy) dig out socks to wear with their flip-flops. Orange squash are plentiful next to the bridge on the far side of the river. And yellow leaves begin to tumble from one particular type of tree.

And I remember.

I remember why I’ve felt so not me. I’m homesick. Fall is my absolute favorite season of the year, beginning from my birthday and lasting through Thanksgiving. The chill in the air, snuggly sweaters, hiking boots and hot chocolate… Hayrides and bonfires, roasting marshmallows, harvesting apples and fresh mulled apple cider… College football (any football, really) vivid and vibrant colors gracing the trees, piles of raked leaves and giggly children playing, and deer season… Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and all the delight of friends and family at Thanksgiving… Autumn arrives back home, leaving me here, melancholy and nostalgic, wistfully longing for favorite things I miss, and on those really hard days, evoking regret for this decision to live, work and minister in this place.

As one living in an adopted home that is far away and so different from what I’ve always considered home, bouts with homesickness are not surprising. What is surprising, to me at least, is the strength of that longing for another place, my place– and the guiltiness that wells up within because in this moment, I’m not content where God has placed me doing what He has called me to do. I don’t doubt that I’m where I’m supposed to be. I simply don’t want to be here. If I let this continue, I’m stepping into sin.

At least once I remember, once I’ve recognized the problem, I know what to do. It really isn’t a 1-2-3 list of steps to follow to banish homesickness. I wish I could wave some sort of biblical wand, like the fairy godmother in Cinderella, to erase that longing for another place, but I find that for me, it is actually a process of confession, choosing contentment, thankfulness and praise.

I first recognize that, while that feeling homesick is not a sin, my resulting discontentment and ungracious attitude towards God and others is. I repent and confess, remembering that contentment is learned. It is also a choice I can make each time someone or something tempts me to let disgruntlement consume. After setting things right with the Lord, I also have to admit my sinful behavior and ask forgiveness from those who’ve been hurt or offended by my season of short temper, spiteful words and other “yuckiness” boiling over.

Then I begin to give thanks. Homesickness is living at least one thing the Savior knew quite well: a longing for another place that never quite goes away. In that opportunity to share in the earthly experience of the Lord, I can begin to give back to God a sacrifice of praise, a gift of gratitude and obedience. I think of words in Philippians 3 and Romans 8:17:

“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…”

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

That longing I feel for another place? It brings to mind so many blessings that I could never begin to number them all. People, places, poignant memories, precious moments, perfect splendor as I regard God’s handiwork… all are priceless treasures. I do have a choice: I can mope and complain that I can’t live those moments every minute, that I can’t metaphorically grasp them all in my hand all at once… or I can be overwhelmed and overcome by infinite mercies and graces bestowed each day and then let my cup of praise and thankfulness run over.

I can also permit this yearning for home remind me of an ever growing longing for my forever home and the awesome presence of God – directing my thoughts upward, near to the heart of God, toward heaven and eternity.

The Lord, in His grace, allowed me to remember a bit sooner this year. Maybe that means I’m making progress!

How has homesickness appeared in your life? Would you have a moment to share a bit and encourage others with how God has led you personally through these tough seasons? Would anyone appreciate prayer as they walk through a time of homesickness? Let’s all be praying today for our sisters around the world who are facing this heartache right now.

(Post by: Richelle)

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…

A couple of months ago, I shared during our staff devotional time at the MK school where I teach. The past few weeks had been crazy busy for me, so I was wanting to share something simple, short and sweet… something that was near to my heart because it was something God had already been teaching… working on in me… something that was “testimony” rather than “teaching,” simply because of my personal convictions regarding devotional times in mixed groups…

And the Holy Spirit led me back to where I’d started at the beginning of this school year. During our staff orientation time, way back in August, just after we’d returned to Niger, we were given a small chunk of time to get alone with the Lord and meditate on Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd;

I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness

for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy

shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Psalm 23 (ESV)

I’ve shared from this Psalm several times recently…  the Lord has spoken to me about shepherding the children He’s given… His Spirit has convicted me regarding the importance of reflecting on and listing our many blessings (and no matter how difficult or hard things seem, we all have more than we can count) which changes our perspective from saying we have just what we need that to recognizing that our cup is overflowing. And as He brought me, over the course of the past few weeks, back once again to these familiar words, the following picture came into focus…

David begins the Psalm testifying that he is adequately cared for; he begins listing the ways that God, his Shepherd, cares for him, meeting every need. The Lord is the One Who leads, Who provides, Who renews, Who protects, Who limits, Who encourages.  What is striking is that the first instances of this shepherding are all positive – things we humans traditionally appreciate and/or enjoy. But then, David begins listing hard things. God, his shepherd, is the One Who leads him into times of death (which I believe can be figurative, as in dying to self, or literal, as in the death of a loved one or even a brush with our own mortality and unavoidable death), the One Who brings challenging things into his life, the One Who applies the rod when chastening is needed, the One Who puts everything into order while He brings us into places of confrontation with our enemies…

What I find so striking is what David says right after he lists those hard things: He anoints my head with oil… or He honors me; my cup overflows… or I’m totally overwhelmed by all of these instances of the Lord’s blessing and the unmistakable evidence of His hand caring for me, exquisite and difficult as it might be. That bit about the honoring – it made me think back to something I shared awhile back- a part of Helen Roseveare’s testimony: Can we thank God for entrusting us with those impossibly difficult and hurtful things in our lives? Can we thank Him, counting it a privilege to suffer as He suffered for us and to thus share that experience with Him?

A few years ago, after a teaching a Bible study on Colossians 3:12-14, the Holy Spirit really impressed upon my heart that He wanted to teach me what it meant to be gentle, as described in those verses, as a part of the fruit of the Spirit. I’d always heard gentleness described as strength carefully controlled. That may be one facet of it; however, I now believe a better synonym for gentleness is teachable-ness – holding my hopes, dreams, desires and goals for today and the future with an open hand so that whatever/whenever/however, I thank the Lord for His orchestration of my life, regardless of whether I define my situation as satisfying or difficult. I think it means not throwing my hands up in despair and crying, “Why, Lord?” when He places challenging, painful, scary, unexpected or otherwise-unpleasant-as-defined-by-me circumstances in the path, refusing to see the multitude of blessings past, present and remember the promise of ones future.

The people to whom we seek to minister have an expression that essentially means “As God wills, so be it.” At first I struggled with how this was… but wasn’t… an accurate reflection of the Lord, my Shepherd. That confusion, however, has finally cleared. Our friends here? They toss around this phrase, but WITHOUT the confident expectation that their god is looking out for their absolute best and his perfect will… because he is capricious and so far removed from the nitty-gritty of his followers’ lives. They CANNOT trust that all their god does, even the hard things, he does ONLY because he loves intimately and infinitely, and that they too are evidence of grace.

Followers of the Great Shepherd, the One and Only I AM, can rest in that knowledge. I can be confident that the Almighty is arranging all for my absolute best, His perfect will AND His never-ending glory. He does so, continually, for every soul He has ever created. I can trust Him implicitly because He loves me intimately and infinitely. And so, I want to become one of His children who (because I’m not grasping and clutching to whatever it might be that I’ve decided I value) proclaims… testifies… whispers… or even cries… “As God wills, and I will thank and praise Him for it and for His amazing, overflowing grace manifested to me through each and every situation!” because the only One to which I cling is God alone.

(Post by: Richelle)

Pondering Prayer

Most moms pray for their kids. I do. Every day… sometimes many moments of a day are spent petitioning the Lord, interceding for my children… or begging Him for wisdom, insight and discernment regarding so and so about such and such. Sometimes my prayers are flung like arrows – short, quick pleas fired desperately upward, often in crisis moments… Sometimes they are intense times of intercession where the Lord has impressed upon my heart a particular passage linked to a particular child and I pray Scripture over and for my child… Sometimes my husband and I pray together as we work together parenting the crew God has gifted to us…  or often a friend and I bow our hearts before the Almighty on behalf of our children, united by the Spirit. One certainty: my daily survival as a wife, mom, missionary, teacher, and person depends on prayer. The more I walk the road of this life, the more I find that I need to…  I desire to… pray more:   more continuously, more “Scripture –ally,” more ardently.

My prayers have changed as my children have grown.  Maybe that seems obvious; after all, children grow and mature. Their weaknesses, strengths and needs change. But my prayers haven’t changed for that reason, and as I’ve reflected on this, I must say that the realization astonishes me. When I became a parent, I often prayed for temporal and obvious things usually related to safety, protection from all the big and little “owies” of life and good health… I still pray for those things, but they are no longer the focus when I pray for my children. Rather than primarily centering my attention on those – the scary things that tend to jump immediately to my mind when I worry about what bad might happen to these little people I love so much – the Holy Spirit has begun interceding, guiding my intercessions, and sometimes He leads me to pray hard things for my children.

I’d like to share a few morsels from my menu for prayer. It is neither a recipe to be followed, nor a list of items to cross off (in fact, this is the first time I’ve actually penned any of this in black and white). I prefer to think of it as a selection of things that have been branded onto my heart, things that I’m led to pray repeatedly and fairly frequently for some or for all of my children. As I spend more time quiet before the Lord, in that silence I am learning the Spirit wants to intercede, leading my wandering, helter-skelter prayer paths… directing and guiding petitions so that instead of simply praying God’s Word back to Him or praying through a list I’ve scratched out in my finite thinking, I allow Him to plot His points for prayer, bringing yet another area of my life into submission to the Lord.  I pray that

·         when my children sin, they get caught… and that there are consequences that leave a lasting impression.

·         they learn, first to recognize and then to abhor any appearance of deceitfulness or pride, in themselves.

·         my children experience loneliness so that they begin to learn that Jesus is the One and Only best friend.

·         they have courage to walk differently from their peers if those peers are not following Jesus.

·         they have courage to walk difficult paths with their peers who are seeking to please the Lord.

·         God shows them clearly where they are weak so that then, they can see Him prove Himself strong.

·         they are content with this missionary life, thanking God continually for how He has chosen to use our family.

·         if someday God trusts any one of my children with suffering for His name’s sake, they will recognize the privilege that has been entrusted to them.

·         At tender ages, they trust God with and thank Him for their moments of pain (I’ve learned not to pray that the Lord spares them from the sting, either). Those moments will come – and the stakes only get higher as they get older.

Do you find your prayers for your children changing with time? How? What does the Lord lead you to pray, specifically, for your children?

(Post by: Richelle)

Spinning or Trusting? (Part 2)

In the first part of this two part post, I shared a bit of my testimony regarding God’s provision for our family over the last year. What I’m more than a little embarrassed to admit is that I had all of those doubts EVEN after I’d seen God provide and care for us miraculously so many times before, carrying us through difficult and scary medical crises, impossibly hard financial predicaments and even tense and uncertain political atmospheres.

Yes, our family is large.  And yes, more often than not, we have just enough – no extra, no margin… and that is uncomfortable. Yet we see God come through time after time –

  • providing, sometimes sufficiently and other times abundantly, or removing need,
  • giving discernment,
  • showing us needed modifications to our plans and lifestyles, or
  • simply adjusting our expectations.

Our judgment and wisdom has often been questioned:  Are we right to ask churches to provide for our large family on the mission field? What about college and our children’s future? Flying our family one way to or from the field is a huge cost – is that the wisest use of missions’ monies… and what would happen if we needed (for whatever reason) an emergency evacuation?

More than once, we’ve questioned our own judgment and wisdom: Is it wise to bring small children to a place where sometimes, deadly disease is rampant and unpreventable? Should we leave our parents when they are aging and facing physical challenges? How do we provide stability and a good send-off for our children as they move out of the shelter of our home and on to independent living and post-secondary education?

Obviously, we feel that we are exactly where God wants us. He has given each one of our children.  It is His job to provide, and He promises to supply all of our needs according to His riches in glory. Our job, therefore, is:

  • trusting,
  • learning contentment in whatsoever state He sees fit to place us,
  • accounting faithfully to Him, our churches and our mission for our expenditures, and
  • seeking to be Spirit-led, wise stewards, using the time, talents and resources He has given for His honor and His glory first and foremost.

When I’m tempted to stew, to wonder, to fear… to start re-spinning my fragile and insufficient web… I hope I’m learning to pray and quickly think of God’s provision through the sweet lady from our church who delivered baked goods and non-perishables to our home every Wednesday last year. I want to remember all the prayers and words of encouragement from almost every continent when our daughter lay sick on a clinic bed with resistant malaria and dysentery. I’m humbled by my friend and neighbor, who regularly shares with my children, out of her physical and spiritual poverty, tangible gifts of beignets and fari masa she has made to sell alongside the road.

Having a large family on the mission field is exciting because it gives us, as parents, so much opportunity to learn and live these truths… and to disciple our children in them. It is so much better to find our refuge and provision in the Lord rather than trusting in any man, whether that be “self” or a group of churches and supporters back in our home country… all the while realizing that God’s abundance often flows through the generosity of others. God, in His grace, has given us this opportunity to live in faith and trust day by day, every day. If we were any fewer, in any other place or in any other career, we might not have to, and I’m doubtful that on my own I would so choose.

I’m so thankful we are who we are, right where we are, doing what we do.

In what uncomfortable situations has the Lord placed you, and why are you thankful for it? How do you “lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him?”

(Post by: Richelle)

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