Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Just to make you smile

A while ago I was teaching some of my students about writing simple, clear sentences. They always want to write these long, flowery, verbose things and consequentially, their writing is very difficult to understand. I asked them to write three simple sentences about their favorite sport. This guy cracked me up, so I thought I would share it with you.

“The sport that I like the most is swimming. Swimming allows you to exercise your entire body. Unfortunately, I can’t swim.”

Just to make sure you're smiling, here are a few recent pictures of our little ham :-)

"yum, yum, yum, I love Cheerios!"

"The ocean is awesome!"

"One of my favorite pastimes - seeing who can roar the loudest, me or Daddy!"

"I LOVE food!!!!"

"For me! You shouldn't have!"

"Super baby!!!"

"Mush, Daddy!"

"iPhones, handy and also delicious!"

"Yes, if fact I am too cool for school!"

"Yup, I'm 11 months old - look at me go!!!"

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gina's Boys

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
-Psalm 27:13-14

That's what I read this morning, and after I read it, I couldn't stop thinking about the woman I met on Sunday at church. Her name was Gina and she came in with the cutest little boys. Same height, toddling right on her heels, two years old. They started dancing around, and Savannah was watching them and squealing, so Gina and I struck up a conversation.

When Gina was pregnant she knew there was more than one baby. She was huge, and her stomach never stopped moving. Her husband worked for the government, so even though he showed up to work everyday most months he didn't get paid his salary. About halfway through her pregnancy she had to stop working because she could hardly stand and she was retaining so much fluid that she couldn't even close her hands to grasp anything. Her midwife got scared. She told Gina that she was going to die if she didn't give her money to go and perform ceremonies involving demon worship. Gina refused. She said that she was in the hand of God. Her midwife continued to tell her she was going to die everyday.

When her labor started, her midwife was expecting the worst. One baby came, then the next, then the next. Triplets!!! No C-section, no drama, no problems. Three healthy babies, one healthy mother. The midwife was amazed and that day she gave her life to the Lord. Gina was confident that she would see God's goodness and even when she didn't know how things would turn out, she was completely content waiting on Him.

I wish her story ended there; but there were only two little boys with her on Sunday. After the boys' first birthday, one of them got sick. He had a high fever and wouldn't stop vomiting. She took him to the hospital and found out that he had malaria and was severely dehydrated. They started treatment and then left him alone for hours, waiting for a bribe to come back into the room. Gina begged them to come and look at him again when he became lethargic and blood was climbing up the IV tube that was supposed to be giving him nutrients. In the end, he died in front of her. As she looked at me with tears in her eyes (and quite a few in mine as well) her face lit up with a huge smile and she said, “I don't have a single complaint against God for what happened to my son. All my life, He has taken care of me and He knows better than I do what my son needed. My son is with Him, and I will see him again. Right now I look at my other sons and I know I am blessed, but even if they were all taken away from me I would still know that I am blessed.”

I was floored by Gina's faith and strength. I was inspired by her joy; and I was humbled. After we chatted a while longer I sat down with Savannah and all I could think about was Romans 5:3-4:
We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Nobody likes suffering. Nobody likes pain and hurt and disappointment, but when we invite Jesus to come into our suffering, to be with us in our hurt, that's when suffering produces perseverance; and when God gives us the strength to persevere, we develop character; and from the fiber of our character, springs hope. Gina was filled with it.

Sometimes in the middle of our hurt we turn from God. We shut Him out and all we have is pain. God waits for us to invite Him in, so that He can change us. God has used so many difficult things in my life to make me who I am; to teach me more about myself and more about Him. I don't know what pain will come in my future, but I do know that God can use it to strengthen me and to make hope fill my heart and shine from my face. I am confident that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living and I'm waiting on Him.

It's not easy to get a good picture on a camera phone in a dark room :-) Gina and her two boys. Their names are in Balanta (her tribal language) but they translate to "God loves us" and "God loves you". The one who died was named "God loves me"

Monday, August 1, 2011

Lord, Show Your Power!

A few days ago I was reading First Corinthians and I was struck by something in a new way. Paul opens chapter 2 with these words:
“When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.”
-1st Corinthians 2:1-5

As I read this, many questions started swirling around in my head. How many times have I prayed that God would give me just the right words? How many hours have I spent planning out exactly what I would say before I speak to a church in the US or a group of women here in Bissau? How many days have I spent praying that God would give me the clearest, most impactful words to share the gospel with a friend of family member?

All of that is certainly part of it, but if that's all I do to prepare, then I've missed the point entirely. Paul doesn't want the faith of the people to rest on man's wisdom. Why? Because it's insufficient. I don't want the message that God gives me to rest on my eloquence. Why? Because it's not enough. People's lives are not going to be changed by the Gospel unless the Holy Spirit comes with power. If I want to see lives transformed, I need to spend far less time searching for the perfect simile and far more time on my knees before an almighty God.

I was thinking about this when I gave Savannah her bath last night. Just this past week she's started to make the transition from playing in the water to playing with the water. While I was sitting next to the tub, she abandoned the rubber ducky that she had been vigorously squeaking between her gums, and decided that it was about time to check out this wet stuff she was surrounded by. She stared at the water carefully, leaned her head all the way to the side a few times, opened her hands and prepared herself. Then, slap, her arms sprang into action like a pouncing lion and her hands smacked each other as the water evaded her grasp. With a confused look on her face she tried again and again and again with the same lack of success.

What Savannah doesn't know is that you can't grab the water the same way that you grab a ball or a doll. It's not something you can pick up and turn around and examine from every angle like her toys. What we forget, is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ isn't reducible to a scripted sales pitch. The life changing power of the Holy Spirit, like the water in Savannah's bath, isn't something that can be grasped with my hand and controlled. No matter how long I stare at the words I want to say, carefully crafting them into the message I want to deliver; no matter how enthusiastic and ready I am; no matter how much I want to make an impact; like Savannah, I end up with a handful of nothing if I'm doing it on my own.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Being a Mom in Guinea-Bissau

For the past week, my little 8 month-old Savannah has been saying “mom”. She doesn't know what it means, but it still melts my heart! Hearing her say my name got me thinking about the adventure of motherhood that started about a year and a half ago.

When I got pregnant with Savannah people asked me if I was nervous because I was going to be pregnant so long without going to the doctor. People asked me if I was worried about flying so much while I was pregnant. People asked me if I was scared about giving birth. People asked me if I was worried about bringing such a small baby back to Africa. People asked me all kinds of things, and much to their surprise the answer to pretty much all of their questions was no. As soon as we found out that we were having a baby I had a tremendous peace about the pregnancy and about her health and safety growing up in Africa.

Maybe I should've been a little nervous. Guinea-Bissau is one of the 5 poorest countries in the world, and because of that, disease and malnutrition run rampant. It was recently listed as the worst place in the world to be a mother, in part because of the high infant and child mortality. In Guinea-Bissau 10% of children die before their first birthday and 20% die before they reach the age of 5. In the US, those stats are 0.6% and 0.8%.

The thing is, I knew that God called Jason and I here. I knew that God gave us this baby. I knew that God loves her more I ever could. I knew that God could take care of my baby just as well here as He could in the US. And, I knew that if all that was true then God had a plan for this little girl that involved this time in Guinea-Bissau.

Sweet baby fresh out of the bath :-)

The thing that no one asked me was if I thought that I would be a good mom in Africa. That was the thing I wondered about. I knew that God could take care of my baby, what I didn't know is if I would be able to adjust to all that goes along with being a missionary in a third world country and being a mom.

Going from a family of two to a family of three is a huge step anywhere. Making the change from consulting only each other when making plans, to planning the whole day (and night) around a tiny unpredictable thing that can't even talk and changes every day, is a big adjustment! Add to that cloth diapers that dry on a line, cooking from scratch for all of our and her meals, no pediatrician around to answer all of my questions, and all of the work it takes just living in west africa, and that's a lot. Add to that the fact that we live so far away from our family so we don't have them around to babysit for, help with, or generally love on our baby girl. Add to that living in a culture that raises their children completely differently than my own and the stress of constantly having to decide when I'm going to be African and when I'm going to be American; and how in the world to be American in the middle of Africa. Roll all of that up into a big ball and plunk it in the lap of someone who likes to do things right and who doesn't thrive on surprises and uncertainty, and you see my dilemma.

Drying diapers on the line

Weighing Savannah with a luggage scale, Sydney's leash, and a bucket

Baby girl LOVES to eat!!!

Savannah will be nine months old this week, and since she came over to Guinea-Bissau when she was three months old she has now spent almost twice as much of her life in Africa as in America. I guess now's as good a time as any to ask myself how I'm doing.

I had to develop a little thicker skin when I was chastised for not feeding my five month old every two hours all night, or for bringing my non-walking baby outside in the 90 degree weather without socks and shoes on. I had to relax a little bit about Savannah's schedule when one of our neighbors passed away and women were wailing outside of our house for 48 hours. I had to offend some of my students when they come over two hours late to pick up their assignments and I couldn't see them because I was giving my baby a bath and then going to read her a story and nurse her and put her down for the night and I wasn't willing to be interrupted just because they didn't come on time.

Grading papers with my assistant on my knee and our faithful dog, Sydney

But, even with all of that, I'd say it's going really well. Savannah is growing like a weed, adapting like a pro to every little thing that comes along, and I am happy and confident. Is that because I, all of a sudden, discovered that I have amazing, previously untapped, mothering super powers? No, I don't think so. Partially I think it's because Jason and I both grew up with such amazing, dedicated mothers that set wonderful examples of mothering with grace and joy. And for the rest of it, I'm convinced that just like God had a purpose for Savannah growing up in Africa, He also had a purpose for me being a mom here. Even with all of things that I was uncertain about, everything is just working, and even going smoothly. God truly does give us grace for every situation exactly when we need it (and not a moment too soon!) and I'm so grateful to Him for the blessing of my little family here in Guinea-Bissau!

Savannah wants to touch EVERYTHING that mommy touches! Here she's learning a valuable lesson about reading labels :-)

Story time with Mommy, before Savannah was old enough to sit up.

Wow, knitting is confusing! Don't worry, Savannah, you'll get it!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

My Mother's Eyes

My daughter has my mother's eyes and it's wonderful and sad all at the same time. There's nothing like becoming a mom to make you realize how much you still need to learn from your own, and when I look into the adoring eyes of my biggest tiny fan I miss my mom so much! It's always been hard living an ocean away from my family – missing big events and so many little hugs – but it's even harder now that I have so much joy that I want to share with them.

My daughter is amazing. She laughs and cries and squeals and goos and shrieks with joy at the sight of me. She loves her life! She found her feet last week and ever since then she can't stop grabbing them. She started eating off of a spoon this month and every time she even sees a bib she gasps in delight. She's been working for months at perfecting her motoboat noise and now that she's finally got it, she does it whenever she's really happy to see someone.

As I marvel at this little miracle God has entrusted to me, I am amazed at how strong my need is to cherish and take care of her. When I look into her tiny little face and see the lacy blue eyes of my mother staring back at me I realize over and over again how blessed I am.

Happy mother's day Mom! I love you :-)

This is what was waiting for me when I got out of the shower this morning :-)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Birthday Girl

Well we have a 14 year-old mother of 5 living with us. 14 in dog years that is - Happy 2nd birthday to our Australian Cattle Dog, Sydney.

Syd likes to sleep on soft things, but when we got back we couldn't find the little rug that we had for her. I looked in all of the stores here but no one has rugs right now. I bought her a hand towel, but it just gets all wadded up under her. I decided that for her birthday I wanted to do something nice for her.

I had some extra fabric from past projects laying around so I got online and figured out how to crochet a rag rug - there was only one problem, I didn't have a crochet hook big enough for the job. Never fear, Jason to the rescue! I described what I needed and he whittled it for me out of a wood scrap from the shop. Then I ripped the fabric into strips, attached them together, and got to work.

Jason got the hook made in the morning and the rug took me about 3 days. We gave it to Sydney yesterday and she cuddled up right on it. We also gave her a bone and Jason got this picture of her this morning.

Now that this rug was such a success it makes me want to make tons more! Since rugs aren't available here I talked to some of my Guinean friends about the possibility of teaching women how to make them and they thought it was a great idea. I'll probably make a few more first and get all of the kinks worked out, but I'm pretty excited about the possibility already! First I've got to get the curtains finished in the kitchen though :-)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Mixed Blessing

About a week ago I started noticing that Savannah wasn't really nursing much when she got up every three or four hours in the night. I decided to see if she was really hungry, so I started just rearranging her blankets, rubbing her tummy for a minute and giving her back her paci. Sure enough that was all she needed. So for the past five nights she's been sleeping 8 to 10 hours with 2 little mini wake ups. Last night however, was different.

After a bath, some fun calm play time and some rocking, I fed her a little after nine and put her down. I heard her once for just a minute around 3ish, but she fell back to sleep quickly so I didn't even get out of bed. Around 6:30 I woke up to the sound of her happily chirping. I was elated. An entire night without my feet hitting the floor.

As I joyfully hopped out of bed to snuggle up my baby girl my feet splashed into a puddle of water... My first thought was a very unkind one directed at our dog, Sydney. Upon further inspection I discovered that the puddle covered a good amount of floor in our room and the hallway and my anger with our dog turned into curiosity. I traced the water back to it's source - our lovely washing machine! (We haven't gotten our new machine yet because it requires a 4 hour car trip and a border crossing, but I think the events of last night might've bumped it up a few notches on our priority list!)

The washing machine and I have an interesting relationship these days. I would characterize it as love/hate. Don't get me wrong, I am super grateful for it and it's saving my bacon with these cloth diapers, but it does require a little TLC. The pump motor and the temperature gauge are broken and the filling mechanism doesn't work great. So with each load I have to manually drain and fill the machine 4 times and I never really know what temperature it is going to decide to wash the clothes in. Luckily it is super tiny so washing an all red/pink load and an all blue/green load isn't really wasting any space :-)

Back to last night. I guess even though the machine was unplugged something in it decided it would be a good time to fill up with water, which it did until the water spilled onto the floor and wended it's way throughout our house. If Savannah hadn't been so wonderful I would've been up several times in the night and I probably would've noticed the water all over the floor much sooner. Isn't that the way that it always goes :-)

Savannah hanging out with a few of her Brazilian friends

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Another Day, Another Strike

I know there are some people in the world who love the snow, but I am not one of them! I love being back in the land of perpetual summer! Second only to the wonderful warmth are the piles of fresh fruits and veggies. Yesterday we had deep red tomatoes that had just been picked off of someone's vine that morning. We got a whole bag of them for 50 cents and I think we ate half of the bag for lunch :-)

We went to a birthday party this weekend for the little girl of some other missionaries here. Her dad, Jens, is from Germany and her mom, Anna, is from Ivory Coast. While we were eating my friend Anna took Savannah in the other room for a minute. When she walked back in she turned around and this is what I saw:
Savannah looked so cute peeking out and I laughed so hard!!!!!

Cooking is always a challenge the first week back. It always takes a few days to get the dishes and the cooking stuff unpacked, washed, and put away; and it takes several trips to the market to get my kitchen stocked with all of the different ingredients I need to cook from scratch. This time I thought I had a great plan – I bought peanut butter, jelly, and tuna in Dakar on our way down. The only thing that I was missing was bread. Since there are little huts that bake bread everyday on every street, my plan was to have sandwiches for a few days until I could get the house in order. Great plan right? The only problem was when we got here all of the bread bakers in the city were on strike!

The government fixes the price of a lot of different things here and bread is one of them. A loaf of french bread is 20 cents anywhere you go in the city. The problem with that is the price of flour has risen and the bread makers haven't been making any money. The bread makers decided that they had to raise the price to 30 cents. The people refused to pay 30 cents and the bread workers went on strike. I've seen the taxi drivers strike, the rice sellers strike, the postal workers strike, and the teachers strike, but I did not anticipate a bread worker strike right when we got back! After about 4 days they did get it resolved. They bread makers decided to make slightly smaller loaves and sell them for 20 cents :-)

In the Kitchen with my darling little girl in her dress from Aunt Rachel

Savannah can sleep anywhere but she especially likes her monkey bed :-)