On Suffering and Memories

A good friend of mine’s husband has been battling cancer for a while now. They are the kind of family that everyone loves, totally committed to God and such people of faith. During this journey they have seen amazing miracles when the doctors said such and such would happen and it didn’t and great seasons when it looked like all was well, then one day it wasn’t. Today is looks to be that he may be entering into his last days. Personally I cannot imagine what is going on in the heart and mind of my friend or her children, to be where you have to say goodbye to one of the closest person in your life… words fail me.

The other day, the children and I were reading our daily Good Dirt devotional, it was in Mark 14 when Jesus and his disciples were in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus prayed in full faith, “Father all things are possible for you, remove this cup from me.” And it stuck me, Jesus in all of his humanity and all of his godhood, he desired to be removed from suffering. He prayed this prayer over and over again that night and although this may not be a huge revelation for most, to me it was a comfort. Jesus was prefect and yet in his perfection he still longed to be free from suffering and pain. I long for the same, I long that my friends would be freed from suffering and pain and from the pain that separation brings. Yet, sin is in our world and with that pain, suffering and death come to.

So everyday since, as I daily pray for my friends, I look for ways to celebrate each day with my children. For life is short and we truly never know how many more days we have together. My daughter is currently obsessed with the story “Curious George goes camping” desiring it to be read daily and asking regularly when we get to go camping. For many days I said “maybe someday” thinking of when we could be in a place where poisons snakes and malaria carrying mosquitoes do not lurk in the night. But after this I thought we better make it today. So we put up a tent in the bedroom and pulled all the cushions off the couch, we roasted marshmallows over the stove using forks and stayed up late watching a movie. We took a night off and made some memories.

In that same day of devotions, we were asked, “What is something you pray for?” Well I pray for a long life so that my children will have a lifetime of memories with me to help them endure the separation that death brings, and I pray that the God of Peace would grant his peace upon my friend, her family and every other family like theirs who’s family members life was not long enough and they endure the pain of separation too soon. I pray that every day, we would remember that each day is about making memories and not about routines or schedules, about relationships and life with God above all else. Those are just some of the things I pray for.

Advertisements

A Reminder in the Ordinary days

I have come to believe that children exists not for the purpose of becoming adults but rather for the purpose of reminding adults how to be childlike. Let me illustrate. Several weeks ago my husband shared with our mission community about the importance of remembering Emmanuel, God with us. It was a short sermon, mostly challenging us on how we live out every day in this awareness of God being with us. Later we were discussing what this means to us and my six year old shared that it’s like sometimes when he is sick, he forgets. He forgets that God is with him in that moment. Such simplicity and yet so powerful truth there.

As we enter into the ordinary days, the days of the calendar that is not full of celebrations or holy days to remind us, it’s so easy to forget. It’s too easy to think of Emmanuel as the phrase of Christmastide and not of the everyday. This is where children come in handy, see my three year old does not forget easily. She is very sharp and that message on Emmanuel was powerfully embedded in her heart. Sometimes as a punishment, I will make her go sit in her room “all by herself” for which since she heard this message, she replies, “Not by myself mom, because Jesus is always with me.” What do you say to that? Or when the stuff animal needed to stay home from the car trip, “Oh mom, your right it’s okay that Coco stays, because Jesus is with him too.” Most of all through I have been taught by my little girl how the full belief in this truth truly does cast out all fear. Last week, while she was playing outside with her friend, I lost sight of them for a few minutes, but being confident that they were in the area didn’t worry too much about it. Later when she came inside she was telling me a story about her going to the school, which we have on the campus but is a good 500 yards from our house down a little path through the bush, so I figured that she was using her imagination for a good story. At lunch I learned from one of the students that she did indeed walk the entire distant in the bush to visit them at school, and when the student told her that it wasn’t safe for her to come out there alone she simply said “I wasn’t alone, Jesus was with me.”

As much as I abhor the thought of my three year old tromping through the bush by herself, I am so thankful that she knows no fear. I love the fact that she isn’t unaware of the danger but rather confident of the constant presence of Jesus, so there is no fear in that danger. I have been so challenged by her complete confidence and rest assurance every day that Jesus is with her. Through Good Dirt, we aren’t just trying to teach our children how to have a family devotion or a daily quiet time, through those things are good, we are trying to teach them how to make God apart of their everyday, every moment of life. Yet, who would have known that instead they would be teaching me these very things. That moment when I am scared or unsure, how easy it is to forget Emmanuel, yet, this beautiful princess in my sight is a constant reminder that indeed God is with us.

Celebrations

As we follow the church calendar for our daily family devotions, we find that Eastertide is about celebrations, first and foremost celebrating who we are as redeemed in Christ thanks to the work of the cross, and second as those whose hope is in the power of the resurrection. Personally I love celebrations, I have often thought that if I could do a career change I would be in big event management because I love a good party. I love seeing people come together and laughing together, telling stories, allowing the cares of this world to pass away if only for those few hours. I love Christmas and Thanksgiving and well, every holiday, because I get to use them as an excuse for celebration.

A few days ago was my birthday, and every year I struggle with wanting to do some big celebration due to the reasons stated above, however this year I decided that as long as I wasn’t required to homeschool my son and actively participate in normal community life on my birthday I would be content. This was the first year that we has a family celebrated with just us. And it was beautiful. My husband led our children in singing to me happy birthday, not once but three times, with the last time bringing out the guitars (husband knows, son is still learning) while my daughter danced around in joyful glee. It was one of those moments that I know that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Dallas Willard said “We engage in celebration when we enjoy ourselves, our life, our world, in conjunction with our faith and confidence in God’s greatness, beauty, and goodness.” In that moment as we as a family were celebrating my birthday, I felt the delight of God himself in us. Zephaniah 3:17 says that “He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with his love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” If we serve a God who delights in us and rejoices over us with singing, how much more should we be doing the same thing over each other? In the country where we currently live, rejoicing over others or even with others is not common, it’s actually very rare. Yet I have seen first-hand what power there is in celebrating each other and celebrating with each other. The Bible tells us Nehemiah 8:10 that the joy of the Lord is your strength. I quoted this verse for years and years never realizing that this statement comes directly from a command to go and feast in the goodness of God, to celebrate before the Lord. It literally says to go and feast “for this day is holy to our Lord.” Yes, the joy of the Lord is our strength and it that joy is renewed, our strength is revitalized in the celebration unto God.

In light of that, I am now more determined than ever to teach my children how to celebrate, maybe in simpler ways but in every opportunity to celebrate all that God has done for us, through us and with us. I want my children to know the delight that God has in us and how as messenger of His good news, we sure should delight in others as well.

Rhythm

Rhythm, if there is something that I know it’s that some of us have rhythm naturally and some of us don’t.

One of my favorite things of living in West Africa is the dancing, and maybe that’s cliché but it’s true. There is something so beautiful watching Africans dancing and every tribe or region has its very own dance. The music doesn’t matter, most often there isn’t any music, only the drums and that’s all that matters, the rhythm. Last week our campus celebrated the graduation of the discipleship training school and part of the celebration was dancing. In one particular dance, the African men would do the dance out front and then the women, both sets completely on time and amazingly agile. There were three non-Africans with them, whites to be specific, and they too joined in the dance. But it was quite a different dance. Not because they intended on doing a different dance but something in them couldn’t quite find the rhythm. They had fun and everyone cheered for them but the rhythm just wasn’t there.

In Good Dirt, we talk about setting up a rhythm to doing the devotional with our children. Trying to set a rhythm to it and work it into our daily lives. Although we are four months into it, I have struggled over and over again to do a set rhythm and I have finally thrown my hands up in defeat. I can’t seem to get the attention of my children to do it more than once a day, actually that once a day is a challenge by itself. As I wonder if I am the only white girl who can’t find the rhythm in this figurative dance (because I am always that white girl in the real dancing around here) I realize that I am trying to dance my own families dance to someone else’s drum beat. Our family isn’t the formal type, we are not very good at specific set traditions; we are more the spontaneous, flexible family type. So I have had to come up with our own rhythm, starting with getting my two year old on my lap and getting her to ask Jesus to focus her heart, her mind, her eyes, her ears, and all of her on him, while pointing to each body part as she does it. Wow, it has worked wonders in getting her to engage in reading time. I have started to try to simply incorporate our talking to God throughout the day as I remember. It’s starting to look a bit more like a beautiful dance with God. I finally see it, it’s not a sloppy movement of good intentions, but rather a rhythm of dancing with God in the everyday sloppiness of our lives. Maybe I will only have to be the rhythm-less white girl in the actually dancing. Here is to each family finding their rhythm of dancing with God.

“What if?”

First off let me start with a confession. The busyness of life has gotten the better of this family this past month and we have only managed to squeeze in a few days of family devotion time yet as I look at those few times, I always see such beauty.

One of the days we managed to do Good Dirt, was a day on which Jesus taught us not to worry. Matthew 6:26 has always been one of my favorite verses; however, it was not in the context of worry for me, rather a reminder of my value as a person—that I am valuable enough to be cared for by God. I realized as I went through these verses with my children that it is easy for children growing up in a healthy household to trust God to provide for them because their parents do. It is as we grow up and begin to see the world around us that we start to need to learn this lesson of “do not worry”.

In the past year, I have been witness to many tragedies, horror stories and realities, that thankfully as a child, I didn’t know could happen to people I actually knew. It is seeing this reality, these horrors of the world around me that causes me to know why Jesus taught about not worrying in Matthew 6. When you begin to realize that these troubles of the world are a real thing, are not unusual, the temptation to fall into worry and thinking of the great “what if?” of life can become all consuming, which is why once again I say a prayer of gratefulness of being a parent.

When you are in the middle of toddler and baby chaos some days it’s easy to fall into envy of single or childless people. But wait, what does that have to do with worry? Well I may homeschool my son, but daily my children teach me in God’s ways. As we read this scripture I asked my children what three things Jesus specifically says not to worry about, and my son quickly responses “food, your clothes and the day.” That’s when it hits me, we often fear the day, the moment when each day no longer becomes a blessing but rather a day of “what if.”

To not worry is more easily said than done, it takes conscious effort every day to choose to not worry. One thing works best for me: a heart of gratitude. When I think on my worries, the things that could happen or what I do not have, I become frantic, irritable and frankly rather selfish. But when I think of all that I have, when each morning instead of waking up thinking of how little sleep I had, thinking on what a gift it is to have another day where I am healthy, blessed with three wonderful children, a great marriage, worries don’t find a way in. Celebrating that each day, each penny received, each plate of food put in front of me, is more than most in the world has, I find that peace and joy easily replace worry. This is something that my children teach me. The joy of having a favorite food, or a soda on a hot day, rejoicing over playing a great game with their friends and laughing at the fact that you can make another person laugh. Where is worry to be found amongst such? “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Mark 10:15

Seeing for the first time…again

I find it interesting that the word smothering is only one additional letter from mothering, which is exactly how mothering feels like some days; smothering. Now please hear my heart, I love my children and I am so thankful for the privilege of motherhood but a woman does need to be able to use the restroom without interruptions or visitors!

Reading through the book of Mark with my children has been eye opening to me; I have always read the gospels through so quickly that I didn’t take time to ponder the flow of Jesus’ life. Reading it in small batches each day, expounding on the small points so that my five year old understands it, makes me really understand it too. And much to my delight, I see Jesus constantly surrounded by crowds of people, so much so that He and his disciples cannot even eat! That brings comfort to this mommy who is often crying out, “Can’t I just eat please?”  The beauty of it for me, is that I see Jesus never got frustrated with the crowds, he didn’t yell at them to just leave him alone, He patiently taught them and healed them. Now I acknowledge that Jesus is fully God (and human) and perfect, both of which I am not (thank goodness!) but he is my example and I think I have realized his secret.

He knew that his earthly ministry was limited to three short years. He knew that the hearts in those crowds were desperate for his life, his teachings, his hope and those were the only years He had to show it to them. His years on this earth were limited and most of all, he was teaching his disciples the most important things so that when His time was finished they would know how to go and spread his life to the world.

Thankfully God has given me the same opportunity. Every day I am smothered by mothering, yet I realize that these are short years indeed and every time that my daughter calls “Mommy look!” I need to stop and look, because that only lasts a few short years. Some days feel like they will never end but the years do fly by. I know too, that each day I have the privilege to walk in such a way that when my children leave my house and live on their own, they will know the way to walk.

I want them to know that each day, we can’t do it by ourselves, we need God each day. I love how my son loves to hear the scripture reading each day, he gets excited when he knows what Jesus is doing, like a miracle. The scriptures are alive and breathing to him, and I remember in that moment that yes, they are truly amazing. These stories can grow stale after years of hearing or being taught about them, but when I see my son hear the story for the first time, I feel the awe once again and breathe a small thank you to God for his everlasting power. Jesus was God, yet fully man, and thankfully one that in those moments of my day, that I feel like I can never get a little time to myself, he whispers in my heart, “I know darling, I have been there too. Just hold on, it will be over before you know it.”

This is the God that I have given my life over to, the one that is always with me, who understands because he was a man, tempted just like me, and knows how it feels to be smothered and yet chose to die to yourself and delight in those smothering you. He is Immanuel who has come for each of us.

“The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with his love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

Faith like a child

This is our second year celebrating advent and preparing ourselves for Christmas in our spirits not just in buying gifts. I was unsure at first how much of it my small children would get. I mean seriously how much can a five year old understand, the answer is more than I can know. My five year old son is always amazing me with this depth of connection with God already. As my husband asked him what he knew about Jesus he spoke such a clear gospel message that I wondered how I could have ever thought he wouldn’t get advent. His response for what he is most thankful from Jesus for today was, “His peace”. Indeed his peace is so true. In the last four weeks, peace has come to rest in our house, we chose to do the weeding section of the devotional right before bed and although in the beginning it was a bit hard to keep their attention, our children have never gone to bed with such ease or peace. Very rarely do they bicker or complain at bed time. It has also been a sweet time of them each cuddling up to mom or dad as we discuss how God was apart of our day. We finish each night with a prayer time, starting with our two year old and ending with dad. I can tell you nothing eases a hard days worth of work like hearing your two year old pray a blessing over you from heaven.

On Christmas night after the chaos ended, we sat around the tree reading the story of Jesus’ birth. Once we were finished, Ezekiel lead the family in acting out the story, with his baby brother playing the part of Jesus. It was beautiful, to be lead by our children in remembering what Christmas is all about. You can have faith and find faith for yourself but you can also pass it on to your children and this devotional is helping us as parents do that. On Christmas morning our son couldn’t find his first gift and was very upset about making the whole house look for it. Then we reminded him to pray, to ask Jesus for his help, about ten minutes later it was found and he learned that he could trust God to help him in his time of need. I may not have a wealth of money to pass down to him but if I can give him the full understanding of God’s love for him, my life is worth it.
The blessing is that no matter how old you are there is no limit to God’s word impacting us. The day we read of the last supper and how Peter denied Christ, Joseph was reminded how weak we are, no matter how Godly you think you are or how strong in the Lord, it’s impossible to serve Him without His help.
It’s beautiful to look back at this last month and see how much we as individuals and family has grown together and in the Lord.

Meet the Ouedraogos

IMG_0834

We are the Ouedraogo’s; Joseph, Meleah, Ezekiel, Nere-Waya and Judah. Our family consist of two nationalities, three different skin tones and four languages.

We currently serve as missionaries with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Noepe, Togo, a small French speaking country in west Africa. Joseph and I met doing training with YWAM in Kona Hawaii where we fell in love and decided to get married. Since then we have been to four different nations doing training and missions work. In 2011, we settled in Noepe, Togo to re-pioneer a YWAM campus here.

Joseph is from Burkina Faso, a French speaking country in west Africa. Meleah is from the USA, grew up all over the country but claims Colorado now. Ezekiel (who is 5) is our compassionate warrior with a passion for justice. He is faithful to pray, especially for the hurt and needy, and is extremely discerning and loves deeply. Nere-Waya is two, her name means “beauty has come” and it’s true of course, (as every biased mother would say) but its also true of how she sees the world. She has a keen sense for beauty. She loves flowers and the sky at sunset. She will break down in tears if her brother says her cereal bowl isn’t as pretty as his. Everything is, and should be, beautiful according to her. Our youngest Judah, just joined us in October, he is a wonderful baby who already loves to smile.

Our family is unique and so are our celebrations, but we love to celebrate. Thanksgiving has always been one of my most favorite holidays and is full of wonderful memories for me. So even through we live in Togo, Thanksgiving is still always celebrated. Our biggest challenge is finding turkey; the first year we substituted it for some chicken that turned out so chewy it made beef jerky seem like mashed potatoes. Last year in a stroke of genius (and desperation) we had turkey deli meat, slightly sautéed. Yet no matter what, it still causes me to remember to take time out and be thankful for my life and teach my children to do it too.

That is part of why we are doing Good Dirt. We want to be intentional about learning about God together as a family and to learn more about doing spiritual disciplines in our daily lives. I want all of our days to be opportunities to take time out to focus on what God has given us, not just on Thanksgiving day, and I hope doing this family devotional will do exactly that.