Friday, May 18, 2018

The Yeses and the Nos


Life is full of endless possibilities to do good things.

and

There are only twenty-four hours in a day.

It's a dilemma, to be sure, and it's an area the Lord has been slowly teaching me in over the last couple years.

I've learned that before saying yes or no to activities and commitments (especially when the calendar is getting fuller) it can be wise to pause and think honestly about my answer.  These are some of the questions I ask myself -

Am I saying yes because I'm afraid of missing out?
Am I saying yes because I want to make a point or in some way control how others perceive me?
Am I saying yes because I feel like I have to?
Am I saying yes because everyone else is?

Am I saying no because something is outside my comfort zone?
Am I saying no because I'm feeling tired and stretched thin?
Am I saying no simply because I've never considered it in the past?

Am I afraid of what others will think if I say yes/no?

Is this an opportunity that might come again, or is this my "only chance"?

Will this opportunity interfere with faithfulness in the responsibilities God has already given me?

Is there a pressure, a sense of obligation, like God will be disappointed in me if I don't do this?

These questions give me some clarity and help me evaluate my motives.  I want to be intentional with my yeses and nos, not simply default to one or the other.  God has given me my life, time, resources, energy, etc., and He wants me to be a good steward of it.

I also believe good stewardship should be framed by our understanding of grace.  Sometimes, we might not choose The Single Most Valuable Activity that we could be involved in at given time; there's grace for that.  Evaluating decisions and seeking to be intentional doesn't mean that we should imagine God is up in heaven, just waiting to pounce on us if we somehow fall short in these decisions.  There might not even be a "best" in every situation; sometimes there are simply a number of equally good things that can all bring God glory, and we have the freedom to say yes to this one, no to that one.

So...I'm learning to pause, to evaluate, and ultimately to trust His Spirit living me as life continues to provide its endless and varied opportunities.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Walk Home


I could take the bus, but I prefer walking home after my language sessions.  The forty minutes give me a chance to process, to decompress without being jostled by the rush-hour hordes on public transportation.

The first few blocks coming from the language center are always packed.  People wait for buses, and then there's a mad collective scramble to get on.  Someone is always hanging on the side when they pull away.

I step between business men, students, mothers with babies on their back, my natural speed-walking pace slowed down somewhat.  When the crowd is thick, I pull my already small shoulders closer together and doggedly wiggle my way through.

Two rond-points, one right next to the other, are congested with traffic.  Nobody is following the signs, of course.  At this time of day, there are often officers directing traffic with shrill blows of a whistle, much gesticulation, and shouting.  Drivers get impatient sometimes and forge their own paths, cutting across lanes and onto sidewalks.  Moto drivers are the worst.  I've been nearly run over by them more than a few times.

After the second rond-point, I turn down a side street that takes me into a quieter neighborhood.  Here, bougainvilleas cascade over walls.  They come in a dozen colors - more than I ever knew existed before I lived here - and they're a bright spot against the endless sand and sand-colored buildings.  A horse cart rumbles past, stirring up a tremendous dust cloud.  I cover my face with the dangling tails of my headscarf and cough repeatedly.

The phone credit vendor on the corner sees me and calls out a greeting.  I reply and turn again, this time to follow another main street.  The sidewalk is wider and there is little danger of getting run over here.

I pass the Catholic school, a supermarchĂ©, some fruit and vegetables stands, and various shops.  Some sell ready-made clothes, some are tailors' shops, some sell cosmetics and handbags.  A creepy mannequin stares out one of the windows and even though I know it's there, it still startles me.

The sun beats down, merciless and inescapable.  My shirt clings to me and I feel sweat trickle down my neck, but I'm more than halfway home.  The sidewalk ends and I trudge through the sand.  I can feel it coat my sticky feet, rubbing underneath the sandal straps.  I distract myself by looking at the roadside nursery, full of all kinds of dust-covered plants in brightly painted pots, and then at the makeshift goat-pen a little farther along.

A bus screeches past me - one of only two lines into Hann Mariste - and judging by the sound of its brakes, this is one of the buses from the older line.

I need bread so I stop by one of the boutiques.  For 100 CFA (about 20 cents), I get a crusty baguette wrapped in newspaper.  I could stop by the bakery, but their bread is different and I've grown accustomed to the airier baguettes - the ones with crust so thin it shatters everywhere when you cut it - that the boutiques sell.  It's the kind Angèle always buys.

The gas station is within sight.  I'm almost home.  I cut through the parking lot and briefly entertain the notion of popping into the little superette for some jam, then decide against it.  I just want to get home and change into fresh, unsweaty clothes.

Past two more boutiques, some boys kicking a soccer ball, and a girl getting her hair braided on her front steps, and then I turn the last corner in this sea of sand.

My neighbors wave and we chat for a bit, little Simeon coming over to shake my hand as he always does.  I head inside and up the stairs to my fourth-story apartment.  The sun is dipping lower and the rooms are in shadows.  I flip on the kitchen light and listen to the collective dinner sounds in my apartment building - mortar pounding rhythmically, onions sizzling, and pots clanging - while I fix my own meal.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Tellement de Joies



Tellement de joies - so much joy.

It's a line from this song that runs through my head over and over these days.

The Lord is my Shepherd
I will lack nothing...

He guides me step by step...

In His presence
There's so much joy
So much joy

- - -

During my training in Missouri, God showed me that He was big.  So far beyond my imagination.  So able.  So powerful.  So outside any deplorable box that I had tried to put Him in.  This was also when my grace awakening began and it completely changed how I related to Him.
When I moved back to California and begin preparing for the move to West Africa, I saw repeatedly that God was faithful.  Faithful to keep His promises, faithful to provide, faithful to His own character.
In Senegal, I began to see just how good, how kind He was.  A good Father who loves to give good gifts.  His heart toward me is always good.  Whether or not I can understand what He does or allows, I will always have a thousand reasons to thank Him.
Coming back to California and then eventually moving to here to work at the Bible school, I learned that He is my Rock, my unshakeable safe place.  When the future was full of questions, when change swirled all around me and I wondered who I even was - He was my constant, unchangeable and completely trustworthy.  I flung myself into Him with desperation and He was enough for all of it.

In the past year or so, this truth has continued to surface, clearer and clearer with each passing month: He is the dearest and truest Friend I could ask for, and to walk with Him is unbelievably sweet.

So much joy.

I find myself looking back over the years....

And I realize, with stunning clarity, that He is sweeter to me - not in spite of, but precisely because of the disappointments, the things that didn't go the way I thought they would, and the prayers that were not answered.

This is no glib proclamation.  Life still has ups and downs.  I'm not in some constant state of saccharine happiness.  There are still questions met with silence and prayers that remain unanswered.

But there's a deep confidence now: my greatest joy is finding Him.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Story of the Bunting

I love bunting.

It's pretty, whimsical, and festive.

And it's a truth-reminder for me.

- - -

Early on during my time in Senegal, I really struggled.  I couldn't seem to stop telling God about all the things I disliked.  Life is always a mix of the good and bad, the easy and the challenging, but I could only see the challenges.

And I was utterly miserable.

One day, something clicked.  I was waiting for something to change, for things to feel easier.  To feel like being thankful.  But that's not how joy works.  Joy comes when we make the choice to thank God for His gifts, regardless of how we feel.

I needed to do something tangible to remind myself of this truth, that every day joy was waiting for me if I'd only thank God for His goodness.  So I made bunting and strung it up in my living room.  Bunting feels so festive - like there's something to celebrate.  And there is!

Every time I walked past the living room, I had a reminder: Choose joy, not ungratefulness.  Revel in the grace that He so freely showers me with.

- - -

Now, bunting hangs wherever I call home.

It's my declaration that I believe God is always good and that His gifts are to be celebrated every day of my life.


Bunting to match the banana yellow of my living room in Senegal


Bunting made from a favorite calendar up in my third-floor apartment at the Bible school


Fabric bunting in my current little home

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Unexpected



It must be the call to prayer that rouses me from my sleep.

The damp air seeps through the glassless-but-shuttered window inches away from my head.  I shift on the thin foam mattress, my foot brushing against the mosquito net.  Trucks clatter up the road past the house on their way to the market - which I can smell from where I lay.

I have never lived here before, and yet my mind has been imagining Africa for the better part of two decades.  I have read so many stories, seen a thousand pictures.

It's astonishing, when I stop to think, just how little of Senegal surprises me in these early days.

The way the heat feels oppressive - positively smothering in the middle of the day - and the way my skin is sticky with the sweat that never fully dries.  I have a prickly heat rash everywhere and it doesn't go away for weeks.

I see the children's faces, the bare feet of the ones who are begging.

The ladies balancing buckets on their heads.

Meat with flies swirling around.  Colorful vegetables in piles on sheets of tarp.  Fish.  So much fish.  Fresh, dried, smoked, salted, rotting.

Mortars pound, shoppers barter, buses screech, horse hooves clip-clop.

I have heard it all, seen it all, in my mind before.

What of this have I not expected?

What is different than how I imagined it to be?

Me.

I have been dreaming of doing great things for God, of being a missionary hero, ever since I was six or so and read Missionary Stories with the Millers.  How I would learn a language and befriend people and share Jesus.

And here I am.

I can't even talk to people.  I am bumbling and stupid and scared - too small in the face of the task before me.

Somehow I never imagined this in all my missionary dreams.  I was always the hero, strong and capable.

There is a depth of emptiness that I've never experienced before, a crushing sense of my not-enough-ness.

It's as suffocating as the blazing equatorial sun at mid-afternoon.

Here, in this place where my identity and expectations of myself unravel with frightful speed, God shows up yet again with His relentlessly extravagant grace.

I should expect that by now, and yet it still catches me by surprise.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

This...


This is a salad that Raylea inspired me to make.  She told me about it when we were hanging out last Saturday, and I couldn't stop thinking about until Wednesday night, when I made it for dinner (with a few tweaks).

It had -
Spinach
Rotisserie chicken
Red bell pepper
Cucumber
Tomato
Green olives
Feta cheese
Roasted sweet potato cubes (she seasons them with Lipton onion soup mix; I used beef bouillon cube, onion and garlic powder, pepper, and paprika - I needed an MSG- and gluten-free option) 
Greek dressing

It was soooo good.


This is how it looks when spring finally comes to town, and everything rejoices.



This is a close-up of the tiny chartreuse pom-poms that covered my tree (and most of the others along our street) by the thousands.





This is when our lovely Tuesday small group grabbed coffee and poked around in an antique store for our last get-together of the semester.


This is because we're not always serious. ;)


This is when my office turns into a giant sorting station for piles and piles of curtains.  The good news is, we now have new curtains for ALL the guest house windows (all the big ones; the small above-the-kitchen-sink windows will require a completely different kind of curtain, so I'm not counting them as part of this project), and all the disappointingly defective/stained curtains have been returned.

Shout out (again, because they're awesome) to Casie and Kristi for helping me decide on these curtains and to Emily who helped me inspect and sort through those piles.

I couldn't be happier working with you ladies!


This is bedtime snuggles with my favorite Jonah.  He's getting so big...walking around so fast now and chattering up a storm, but I'm so happy that he still likes to snuggle before bed.  I can never have too many Jonah snuggles.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Because God Speaks French


"God, thank You that You speak French."

One of my classmates prayed that in our early days of the French program (nearly five years ago!).  I distinctly remember feeling annoyed at that prayer.

I, for one, did not like French, and I didn't like the idea that God spoke it, either.

Everyone says French is a beautiful language.  I disagreed vehemently.

It sounded awful and felt even worse when I tried to speak it, like peanut butter was stuck to the roof of my mouth.

The problem lay not with my language abilities but with my attitude.  I grumped and grumbled and complained to God.  If only it wasn't like this, I might not be so unhappy.

I did learn, though.  I understood more and more and even the sticky peanut butter words started to roll off my tongue more easily.

Something else started happening.  My host family was assigned to me and I got to know my language helper better and better.  In the context of these safe and caring relationships God was kindly giving me, my perspective began to shift.  I slowly felt less like someone outside a disliked-world.  They pulled me into this new world with them and to my utter surprise, I began, ever-so-slowly, to like it.

Grace - like it always does in my life - went from a trickle in a dam to a gushing flood.

- - -

This week, I've found myself replaying a few French worship songs over and over.  The words are powerful and the truth they convey has expressed so perfectly what is in my heart.

Yes, God speaks French.  And now I see how wonderful that is.  No one of us, no group of us, will ever be barred from a relationship with a God who cannot understand us - because He can understand every one of us.

And what's more - He is a God so great and big and infinitely awesome that no one language would ever be enough to express He who is.  All the languages together fall short, too, but they are better than just one to praise Him, to talk to Him, to tell about how great He is.

So God...thank You that You speak French.  And English.  And Spanish, and Wolof, and Serer, and all the other languages that I don't even know about.  You are such an amazing God.