Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Night

It was Angèle's mom's birthday and we were spending the night outside the city.

We'd eaten mini fatayas - fried meat turnovers - a hearty dinner, cake, and downed endless rounds of fruit juice and hot tea.

Eventually around 3:00am, my eyes refused to stay open any longer, so I excused myself to bed...although I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep right away, since the bedroom was right off the living room where everyone was hanging out.

I crawled under the mosquito net and tucked myself in.  I was anything but comfortable.

Mosquitoes - a veritable swarm of them - whined outside the net.  I lay there hoping and praying they wouldn't discover the all-too-obvious holes in the net.

At some point, one of the kids would be coming in to sleep.  My only hope was to fall asleep before then.

But before too long, the door opened, the light was turned on, and Germain tugged at the mosquito net.  He wiggled under it and flopped down on the other side of the bed.

He promptly fell asleep and proceeded to snore.  Loudly.  I nudged him.  He neither moved nor stopped snoring.  I pushed harder.  No luck.  I sat up and tried rolling him halfway over.  Still no luck.

I sank back down on my pillow and sighed irritably - the kind of irritation that comes with deep exhaustion.

It was going to be an intolerable night.

However, in keeping with His record of unexpected grace, the Lord gave me a gift that night: the gift of time with Him.  Time to work through things, to reflect, to listen to Him.  As the case usually is, I hadn't realized I needed it and certainly wouldn't have ever asked for it in the form of a sleepless night...

But that's the beauty of grace.  He knows what we need and is so ready to give us exactly that.

Monday, July 17, 2017

À la prochaine

It's Sunday night, the last night of my stay in Senegal.

At around 10 o' clock, we all pile in a taxi - Julien and Germain in the front passenger's seat, Angèle and I in the back with the two younger boys - and head to the airport.

We bounce along the bumpy roads and Theo falls asleep, nestled in my arms.

Angèle and I talk, but the conversation feels slightly strained.  I know why.  She's trying to keep a handle on her emotions.

We're at the airport now.  The taxi driver parks, we get out, and Julien takes my suitcases out of the trunk.

I bend down and kiss the boys.  Theo leans against me sleepily, only half grasping that Tata Rachel is leaving and won't be back for a while.  How many inches will they grow between now and the next time I see them?

I wish I could take them home with me.  I've teased Angèle that I could just hide them all in my suitcases.  Julien tells me I'll have a big problem with the authorities if I try that...

Angèle smiles faintly.  Words are never enough to express the gratitude I have for them, but I speak them anyway, past the lump in my throat.  They wish God's blessings for me and my family.

More hugs and kisses, and finally we say -

À la prochaine fois.

No goodbye...just until next time.

Whenever that will be.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Summer Days

Fireflies at dusk.
Late sunsets.
Insect chorus.
Breezes whispering through the leaves.
Watermelon and strawberries and fresh salads and enough produce at the store to make my California heart happy.

This time of year even has its own smell - sun, plants, grass clippings, the dampness of the earth from recent rains, and the humidity in the air itself.

Summer is in full swing.

...which honestly feels like no swing most days.

After getting back from Senegal, both work and life have seemed almost painfully slow.

I expected summer to be slow and quiet - but not this slow.  Not this quiet.

I've loved the fireflies and summer storms and evenings that stretch on and on, but in the last few months, waiting and disappointment have also shown up uninvited.  Even the word failure might have flitted through my mind a few times.  Changes intimidated or unsettled me.

It turns out I'm not a pro at handling any of that.

I headed to Senegal with a lot on my mind, expecting it all to hit me when I came back.

But there has been grace.

So much grace.

Questions and anxieties - some of which I was only aware of in the background of my mind - have been stilled in a way that I know can only be God.

What is this season if not another way to experience His grace?

- - -

Oh, hello there, baby Ava. also known as "Avers" thanks to her brother.

He's such a ham.  I love it.

Look at those little arms and that little face.

Goodness, I miss them.

- - -

Pretty soon I'll be saying adiós to my third-floor apartment and moving to an apartment across the street.

The walls will get a fresh coat of paint first...a prospect which has daunted me more than a little.  (I mean, who knew there were so many dozens of off-white paint shades?!)

But yay for friends who have offered with both the painting and the moving.  I'm slightly less daunted knowing I don't have to do it all by myself.

While there are definitely going to be some things about living on third floor that I'll miss, I can't wait to get settled into the new apartment.  It's the most darling little place.

For one - I'm beyond thrilled that I'll get my own bathroom.  (Seriously, I think that is my single favorite thing about the new place!)

There's a screened porch downstairs, and even a yard.  Oh, the luxury!

I'm looking forward to giving you a tour soon. :)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Here I Am, Lord

July 2, 2002.

Fifteen years ago today, I told God I'd go wherever He called me.

For as long as I could remember, I'd wanted to be a missionary.  The desire was sparked both by stories I read - starting with Missionary Stories and the Millers - and by the real-life missionaries I knew.  But in 2001, a news story brought a harsh reality and forced me to re-examine my desire.

"Two Killed as Missionary Plane is Shot Down in Peru," the headlines read.

Peru, the country my best friend and her family were heading to serve in.  This brought it all too close to home.

I wrestled for months - in my own young way - over whether I still wanted to be a missionary.  I wanted to count the cost, and that wasn't something to be done lightly.  This could be scary.  I might even die.  Was I willing to follow Him, even if it meant that?

The day came when God's call to me became unmistakably clear.  I remember as if it were yesterday, remember kneeling down right then, and saying, "Yes, Lord, I'll go wherever You want me to go.  Here I am, Lord.  Send me."

Oh, what a journey it's been.

Very little of my life has gone how I envisioned it would when I told God Yes fifteen years ago.  I didn't imagine that following Him would lead to the emptiness, the not-enough-ness, the questions, the searching that it did.  I didn't imagine that after planning and preparing nearly my whole life to follow Him overseas, I'd spend two short years in Senegal and today be working in an office in the U.S.

Grace has surprised me in every conceivable way.  I've seen Him bigger, so much bigger, than my wildest imaginations.  I've watched Him keep a thousand promises.  My faith has been small and weak so often, but He has been steadfastly faithful.  He has gripped me in His hand - exactly like He said He would - even when I've had no strength to cling to Him or when I've tried to push Him away. Each change, each new season has been filled with grace-gifts that are rarely what I think I want but always exactly what I need.

And He has been here...

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God
You are faithful

Yes.  Yes.

Who knows what the future holds?

I don't, but I'm slowly learning to trust the God I said Yes to all those years ago.

He is big.
He is faithful.
He is oh, so good.  So very good.

What grace is mine.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Wash Day

As soon as breakfast is over, I get started on my laundry.

I sit on a low wooden stool in the courtyard, plastic wash basin balanced on the ledge next to the water faucet.

I dunk the clothes in and swish them around a bit.  One by one, I pull them out and scrub them vigorously with the bar of soap that smells faintly of lemongrass.

Frotte, frotte, frotte.

Sokhna, the girl who works for Angèle, sits across from me, cleaning the fish for lunch.  She scrapes scales with the dull knife, and I catch a whiff of the comfortingly familiar scent of ocean and salt.  It's fresh - the way fish should smell - not like the nearby market on a hot day.

Each soap-sudsy piece goes into a second basin.  When everything has been scrubbed, I tip the first basin and let the dusty gray water swirl down the drain.  I fill up the second basin to rinse the clothes.  I switch between basins for about three rinses - until the water runs clear - and then wring the clothes out.

I stand up and wipe the clothesline.  There's always dust.

Sweat clings to my skin as I hang the clothes up, from the heat of the sun and from the amount of water used in the process.

At last I'm done - the courtyard is lined with clean laundry.  It's a gratifying sight.

Angèle has finished giving the boys their baths.  She hands me the baby so she can shower, too.

I settle on the couch and, from down the hall, the fragrant smell of Sokhna's lunch reminds me that somehow I'm hungry again.  Maybe I worked up an appetite doing all that laundry.  Or just maybe garlic, onions, herbs, and chilies are irresistible no matter what one has spent the morning doing.

Friday, June 23, 2017


A two-week break from life at the Bible school -

I added a few more stamps to my passport, ate heaps of rice, and (unlike last summer), actually have pictures to prove I was there.

- - -

You guys, this family...

I can't even tell you how much they have been to me.

It's largely because of them that I learned to love Senegal.  When all was still unfamiliar and unsettling, they welcomed me into their home and family, giving me unbelievable grace as I bumbled through that new world.

They taught me about friendship and loyalty and love and family and courage.

Such gifts.

- - -

This is Lac Rose (or "Pink Lake", because of the algae that turns the water pink during certain seasons), about an hour's drive from Julien and Angèle's.  I'd never been there before, so we went one Saturday with her parents and siblings and spent the afternoon there.

Picnic, Senegalese-style -

We ate rice, onion sauce, and most deliciously marinated pork.  Then we had fruit salad and drank juice.  And tea.  And more juice.

It was all so calm, so lovely, so different from the city.

Afterwards, we walked along the lake and saw piles and piles of freshly harvested salt.

Someone even gave me a little free sachet to take home - so now I have Senegalese salt sitting on my counter.

I'm not sure there's any significant difference from non-Senegalese salt...I've yet to try it. :)

One day while I was there, I'd gone to visit a friend and took a taxi from her house back to Angèle's.  The taxi driver took a route that wound right through my old neighborhood, the road I took every day to and from French class for nearly two years.

A thousand moments of everyday life came flooding back -

Sun beating down on me
The screech of a bus breaking for a turn
Sand on my feet
Laughter of the ladies at the vegetable stand
Boys with rusty tomato cans asking for a few coins
Dust and sweat clinging to my skin
The mosque's prayer call blaring from the loudspeaker
The click of heels and the swish of stiff basin fabric
Horse carts rattling past
The smell of the trash heap
The smell of the bakery
Stray kittens playing in the sand
Bougainvilleas blooming in every color imaginable

And I remembered.  I remembered how hard it was, yes, but mostly I remembered how good God was.

I wish I'd seen that more while I was there before.

It made me realize this - I want to see God's goodness as I'm going through things, not just after the fact. I want to have my eyes open, to look around and notice His goodness to me right. now.  I don't want to miss His hand; I want to have a heart of thankfulness.

The following sequence cracks me up so much -

There's more to tell, but that'll be for another day. :)