Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Auntie Corner

It's been a while since I've shared any pictures of Malachi, or "Little Dude" as we like to call him.

But how sad would it be not to share cuteness like this?


Seriously, I can't even.

He melts my heart completely.


I just want to squeeze him and tickle him and kiss him.

December.  Must wait till December...


All decked out for the Fourth.

He's getting so big.

He's so curious.

He sleeps in a bed instead of a crib now.

He kisses the phone when I call.

And...


Yes, you read that shirt right.  I'm going to be an auntie again this fall!


And it's going to be a girl!!  I can't wait to meet her.

You know what's super fun?  The day I found out Sarah and Brian were expecting, my good friend Tamara told me they were also expecting again: "You're going to be an auntie times two!"  And I thought to myself...How cool would it be if I were actually going to be an auntie times THREE?!

So I called Angèle up later that day and told her the news.  "Is there anything you want to tell me, maybe...?" I prodded (because that's the kind of friendship we have).  "Oh, no, Rachel.  No, I'm not expecting."  So she said.

She actually was and didn't know it yet.  ("How did you know?!" she asked me later.  "I didn't even know yet!"  I laughed and told her I'd just had this feeling...)

Which means that this fall, I will indeed get to be an auntie times three!  I still get all giddy thinking about it. :)

- - -


Last weekend I got to watch this cutie, his brother, and two of his sisters while their parents snuck away.


I can't even tell you how much I love him.  And the whole family.

I wish I would have gotten more pictures, but...well, let's just say there were a whole lot of other things vying for my attention. :)

Also, T-mama?  You're a rock star, being mommy to all of them day in and day out.

- - -

Well, there you go.  A little bit of cuteness to brighten up your day.  Or evening, as the case may be.

Monday, July 11, 2016

What Life Looks Like


Sometimes ministry looks like this -


Filling in at the front desk.  (The idea made me a bit nervous - I know that's silly - but it was relatively painless, and I'll be doing it again soon.  The more I do it, the less scary it should seem.  Right?)


Deep cleaning in the guest house.


Sorting through and organizing guest house kitchen stuff.


While sorting and cleaning I found this (left by previous guests)...


...and this (a very old recipe book stuffed in one of the drawers).  Among other things.

- - -


My summer reading stack.  How many can I get through before the semester starts??


"I'm so homely nobody will ever want to marry me - unless it might be a foreign missionary.  I suppose a foreign missionary mightn't be very particular."

That made me laugh way too hard for so many reasons.  Also?  I think Anne Shirley just might be my favorite fictional character ever, although the book itself can't actually knock Evangelists in Chains from its place of my favorite fiction book.

- - -

Around the school -


Improvements on the third floor!  The ladies lounge is being turned into a dorm so we have enough room for all the students coming this fall (Yay that "having enough room" is something we have to think about this semester!).


And another recent improvement - we have something entirely new at school.  A ditorium.  (Actually the "u" just randomly fell down one day, but how unimaginative does that sound?)

- - -


When someone goes on a trip and your "pay" for watering their garden is some of the harvest...how could you complain?  Incidentally, I had forgotten just how incredible garden fresh peas were.


I miss spring's tulips, but I discovered this house not too far from school with a whole bunch of sweet peas cascading over the fence.  Just dreamy.  (Dreamy is a word I rarely use, but a fence of sweet peas seems to merit it.)


This is the view from my window now.  Only a few short months ago, this place was white and bare branches and gray skies.  Now the trees are so full I can't even see the houses across the street.  Oh, and when a breeze blows through?  It sounds simply delightful with all those leaves.

- - -

In the office -


The guest house has new sheets!  They were delivered in like umpteen boxes last week.  If you only knew the hours of deliberation I spent on exactly what kind I should get (because I'm stupidly and hopelessly over-analytical), you'd understand how momentous the delivery was.


Also last week...my office looked like this.  My friend and sometimes-office-mate Raylea was getting married, and I was helping out with the reception.  My office happened to be the most convenient place to temporarily store the snacks.  And décor.  And serving dishes.  And...


And also all those new sheets in boxes. :)


I was cutting up burlap sacks for the reception décor, and guess what kept falling out of the bags?  Little unroasted coffee beans.  Funny.


My office plants are growing so happily.  Sigh.

- - -

The kitchen was a happenin' place the other weekend -


Creamy homemade yogurt.

I checked around, and the best price for Greek whole-fat yogurt was $3.50/quart.  I bought a gallon of whole milk for $1.99 (which gave me about 2.5 quarts of yogurt once it was strained).  You do the math.


I think my bread bowl may not be big enough for this recipe...


There was also a big pot of beans made, veggies chopped, and other food things.  It was a very productive Saturday, if I do say so myself!

- - -

My little home -


Sometimes I light candles just because they're pretty.


Fabric is my one weakness.  Fabric on sale is even better.  You're wondering what this will be for?  Just you wait and see!


My tulip frames are hanging up now.  At last.


And I have a couple new frames up in the living room now too.  One is missing a picture, and the other will eventually have some words printed on it.  But at least they're up on the wall, right?

- - -

Friday's wedding -


The wedding and reception were outdoors in a woodsy-garden place not too far from the school.


Ten minutes before the ceremony was supposed to start, it started pouring!  I mean, people got absolutely drenched.  I was inside working on reception stuff, so I escaped drowning getting uncomfortably wet.  Everyone took refuge in the garden house and about half an hour later, the ceremony was able to start.


Raylea and Connor


The reception workspace - it was a bit chaotic with so little table space and so many coolers, platters, and containers to work with!


The reception spread.  A bunch of ladies - some here on staff, some from Raylea's family - all pitched in and brought stuff, and everything was delicious!


Isn't she a lovely bride?


I tell you, this place was gorgeous.  So green, so lush, so...words fail me.  And at night, with all those lights strung up?  Magical.


I got to bring home some of the flowers from the centerpieces.  That made me happy.

- - -

There aren't any pictures from the Fourth which I spent with some super cool friends, or from the extensive grocery shopping trip I made with another friend, or the multi-church sing time in the park last night...

Or lots of other little everyday moments.

But that's okay.

Monday, June 27, 2016

So Much Grace

If you've been here around much, you've noticed there's an awful lot of grace stuff.

Maybe you wonder why I talk about it so. much.  "With a million perfectly good things to write about, why keep coming back to one subject?  Aren't you afraid people will get, you know, bored??"

I freely admit: I'm obsessed with grace.

It's on the spine of at least half-a-dozen of the books I own, shows up all the time in my blog posts and the songs playing on Pandora, is engraved on my ring and on my favorite necklace, and if I was a tattoo kind of girl (which, for the record, I'm not...needles), I'd have that word inked right across my forehead.

Back in 2011, when grace's dawn began to break in my soul, I was caught up in the sheer immensity of what I'd been missing my whole life.  As wonderful as those early months were, I was also terrified that it would all eventually become ordinary, that it would lose its wonder, its shiny newness, that one day I'd cease to be thrilled with what God had done.  I didn't want that to happen.  But doesn't newness always wear off?

Those fears make me throw my head back and laugh now.

You guys, I'm so in love.  Even more so now, if that were possible.

This former Pharisee heart of mine has been set free to live, but the memory of the old way is not gone.  I look back and I know what God has rescued me from - the depths of my self-effort and ugly pride and exhaustion.  It makes me all the more grateful.

And He has continued to flood my thirsty soul with grace, soaking down deeper and deeper into layers of belief and thinking.  The more I learn the more I see how much I have to learn.  Fear has been replaced with the elation of a little kid in a never-ending candy shop.

'Cause that's the thing about God's grace: it has no limits.  There's always, always more.  More to experience.  More to discover.  It never runs out or gets old.  And today, five years later, it amazes me - dazzles me - just as much as it did those first few months.

I can't help myself.  I'm going to talk and write and sing about it, because how can I not?

So much grace.  Too much grace to keep it inside.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Answer

Sometimes things hit you unexpectedly.

I was working on my newsletter last Friday, just writing the simplest of paragraphs about my visit to Senegal, when I suddenly realized that, in spite of my last blog post, I hadn't entirely processed the trip.

These questions started to surface -
Why had the prospect of going back been such a tremendous struggle?  Why, since I moved last summer, has West Africa and those two years I spent there been such a raw, tender spot?  Why did it feel that way even after I settled into a new ministry that I sincerely loved?

Because, I realized, it was a loss...and grieving (even though maybe I hadn't identified it as such) is a normal thing that follows a loss.

It sounds melodramatic to say it that way, I know, and I apologize.  But you understand how big a part of me this was.

I'd spent well over fifteen years of my life imagining, planning for, training and working towards this ("this" being serving the Lord overseas).  When I landed in Senegal back in August 2013, I fully expected to spend the next thirty-or-so years of my life there.  My whole purpose and identity was wrapped up in the idea that I'd be doing just that.

After two short years, it all seemed to vanish when I set foot on that Delta flight to JFK.

I came back scared of the great unknown.  A mental canvas, once colorfully painted with scenes of life in Africa, now loomed large and inescapable in front of me - and to my horror, it was entirely blank.

There was nothing left to look at - nothing or no one, that is, but God.  And, in looking at Him, I started to see: He actually is enough.  He is good.  He is faithful and perfect and He can be trusted.

It was an odd answer to so many prayers I'd prayed.  I'd prayed to know Him better.  To walk closer with Him.  To find my identity in Him alone.  To cling to Him and nothing. else.

I just never intended the journey to look this way.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “You can’t analyze God.  He is too awesome, too big, too mysterious.  I know now, Lord, why You utter no answer.  You Yourself are the answer.”

I find myself nodding amen to that.  I don't have life's path all figured out now, don't have a plan for the next ten years, don't have answers to so many questions that could still be asked.
The funny thing is, it doesn't matter so much to me anymore.
Because instead of answers, I have Him.

Him -
the God I've gotten to know so much better through of all this
the God who held me in His arms when I cried in fear or emptiness or grief
the God who led me, who walked with me through every high and every low on this road.

I've never been alone once.  He's been an even more incredible companion then I could have ever imagined.  Yes, I knew He was God, and of course God's amazing, but merely knowing the truth isn't the same as experiencing the truth and embracing it with everything you have.

So I look back at this crazy journey.  It boggles me a bit, just how very different it looks than...anything I pictured.  But I know this is Him.  His work.  His hand in my life.  And I love Him for it.

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Lesson in Peace

I bought my tickets for Senegal back in March.  Initially I was beyond thrilled to go back and see people.  But as the trip grew closer, something odd happened.  Anxiety reared its ugly head in my heart.  There was a whole list of things I started worrying about.

What if the food or water makes me sick because I'm not used to it anymore?
What if I make a lot of cultural blunders and just feel hopelessly out of place?
What if I've forgotten a lot of French and communicating is a struggle?
What if Theo doesn't remember me [he was not quite 1 year old when I left]?
What if leaving them again is too hard?
What if, when I come back to "normal life" here, it's hard to get into the swing of things and the whole summer just feels funky?

And probably the biggest fear I had -

What if it's too difficult and painful to be reminded of the life and ministry I'd said goodbye to?

I was telling one of my coworkers about it, and she suggested that going back might give me some kind of closure.  I wasn't sure; I really had no idea what to expect.  But fear hung over me and by the time I left, I was one big ball of nerves wondering, "What am I doing?  Why in the world did I think it would be a good idea to go back?"

It wasn't like I could back out of it then, so I gulped hard and got on the plane.

Hours later we touched down.  As we spilled onto the tarmac in the early-morning darkness, the familiar scent of fish, the ocean, and sweat greeted me.

There was no overwhelming flood of memories or emotions.  The air, the traffic, the buildings, the people - it all felt so ordinary and everyday.  Like I'd been there only the week before.  Like I'd never packed up and said goodbye.

Julien picked me up and we got back to the house around 6:00am.  Angèle was up to say hi, and then they told me, "We're going back to bed.  Just go to sleep and don't worry about the time.  You need to rest after your trip."

I laid down and closed my eyes although I was sure I wouldn't sleep.

Peace washed over me as I thought back over the past year-and-a-half: This whole thing is God's story.  This is how He's led me.  He led me here to Senegal for two years, He led me back to the States, and where I am right now - serving at the Bible Institute - is exactly where He wants me to be.  This has all been part of His plan, even though I haven't always been able to see clearly around the next bend.

The next two weeks looked very different than I'd been picturing only hours before.

I never got sick.
I didn't feel out of place.
Language and culture came back quickly, although perhaps a few spots were a bit rusty.
Theo was attached (quite literally) to me from the first morning and threw a fit anytime I left.

I didn't feel pressure to notice or take in everything.  I saw life through everyday eyes, not through the eyes of the overwhelmed newcomer nor of the girl facing a difficult goodbye.

Honestly, there aren't many stories to tell.  There weren't any really big moments.  There weren't any pictures.  It was all so ordinary, so natural, so delightfully mundane.  Laundry hung to dry in the courtyard.  The kids got into trouble and we scolded them.  I ate rice - heap after delicious heap of rice.  We walked to the boutique and our feet got predictably sandy.

And I can't tell you how grateful I am that it was this way.

One day when we were out, I looked around and found myself thinking, "Yes, I still love West Africa.  I suppose I always will.  But I know where God wants me right now."  It was a long time in coming, but at last I reached the point where I fully realized there was nowhere else in this world I wanted to be.  My heart no longer felt pulled between two places the way it had before. 

Goodbyes, when it was finally time for them, didn't sting the way I expected they would.  Who knows if I'll go back for another visit someday?  I'd like to, but I'm also okay with it if God doesn't provide that opportunity.

I flew home and friends were waiting to welcome me back (with dinner and Downton Abbey).  My suitcases were all unpacked that evening.  By the time I climbed into bed, I was sufficiently exhausted to sleep through the night, wake up the next morning and go into work without the slightest hint of jetlag.

So closure?  I'm not exactly sure that's the word for it.  But God's peace has done its work in my heart and I'm thankful.  Thankful for those two years I spent in Senegal.  Thankful for how He led me to NTBI.  Thankful that this place is home and that He is with me, no matter what the future holds.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

This...


This is what the halls on third floor looked like a week ago.  Actually, this picture doesn't even begin to capture the chaos spilling out into the hall as students cleaned and packed.


This is the blurry line of grads Saturday.


This is when I tried to get a picture of all the grads after the ceremony, but I waited too long.  I was trying to be patient and not push through the crowd to get a shot, but maybe that was a bad strategy.


This is their class motto: Be who God declared you to be.


This is the senior class at Wayumi.


This is my new living room set-up.  There are still a few little things that I'd like to do, but at least the furniture buying is over.  Oh, and can I just say how thrilled I am with how comfy that loveseat is?


This is my snacking weakness: Cheez-its.  Did you know it would take 1.1 quintillion Cheez-its to fill the Grand Canyon?  I wonder how long it would take me to eat my way through 1.1 quintillion Cheez-its...


This is what ministry looks like sometimes - mountains and mountains of guest house laundry (and this doesn't count what was in the washer and dryer at the time).  Nothing even remotely glamorous there.  No seeming eternal significance.  Just...laundry.  And yet it's a very necessary part of running a guest house.


This is packing for my visit to West Africa...tomorrow!  Eeeek!


This is because my neighbor-friend, Kayla, asked me to dry flowers she was given just before she left town. 





And not pictured: the after-graduation bonfire Saturday night (with temperatures not far above freezing), the light dusting of snow (insanity!) waiting for us Sunday morning, the staff picnic tonight, the great study I had with Jackie (see the end of the my last post), or the way my brain has felt all week.

Speaking of how my brain has felt, I must keep pressing forward with my to-do list, or my brain will go into fits or possibly explode.  Which I'd like to avoid.

So, until I return from sunny Africa!