Stages

At 4:15 in the morning I realized, after my usual pee break, that I had forgotten to do something online.  So I grabbed my phone to do it before I could forget about it the next day…and 20 min. later after reading a random blog I realized something, besides that I was starving and wide awake.  So a snack later I am sitting here at 5 am trying to put it into words, because if I wait til morning there’s no way I’ll even remember it let alone have the time to write it down.  ;)

I realized that I have moved on.  I am no longer in the stage of the stay-at-home mommy blogger that I was reading.  No longer in the days of only 1 or 2 kids at home, the days of trying to figure out DIY laundry detergent, laundry systems, homemade organic baby food, green smoothies; the days of trying to cope with a new body image that includes train tracks over half of my belly and the suspicion that things won’t actually ever get better; the days of trying so hard to figure this whole mommy in charge thing day in, day out, when the lack of vitality makes getting a shower a big accomplishment.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I can still have all those conversations w/ my girlfriends who are still in that stage, and I might actually have something to contribute.  I have figured out how to get laundry done for 7 people.  I can make my own homemade lotion and it’s pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.  And green smoothies are a regular item on the menu.   (but…I also buy baby food from the store.  Shh, don’t tell anyone!)  Also, I do “get it” still.  I am pregnant, trying to figure out how my 19 month old is going to cope when she gets kicked out of the bed for the sake of the new baby…sometime soon.  All I have to hear are the words “stomach flu” and my vision goes a little blurry.  But usually I just smile and nod while my younger friends talk about what they’re learning…and I realized that’s not my stage anymore.

I’m drawn to the women whose eyes show battle lines from years of effort.  The ones who need gentle prodding to talk about themselves, how they have made it so far.  The ones who look pretty put together but who have coped with things I’m still only vaguely in dread of (4 girls hitting puberty??).  I want to talk to them, I want to know how they made it this far.  I want to know how, after 10 years of child-rearing, you can keep going and not be the burnt out shell you feel like but still get excited over homemade playdough creations.  I’m in the middle and it’s hard.  I want to hear from the ones who actually have made it through that it is possible to make it through!  And without (hopefully) having children too scarred.  I am realizing that all DIY projects aside, it’s my sinful nature and my children’s sinful nature that is the biggest problem and that can’t be fixed with a new system.  All those books of the ilk of “how to have a new child by Friday” make me almost nauseous w/ cynicism.

I need to be reminded that it is by grace alone that we are saved, not by our own works.  And that grace is new every morning, because great is HIS faithfulness, not my own.  I am tired.  And there’s still a long ways to go…

That’s the stage I’m at.  So I’m going to keep looking for those women, and keep trying to remember the lessons learned in the trenches the hard way, and above all keep trying.  For my kids’ sakes, and my own.

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False Guilt

shoeThis is a picture of our shoes. 

For the past several months, a combination of VERY tight finances and a dog that is just emerging from puppyhood has meant that 3 out of our family of 7 have been wearing shoes that most people would probably just toss (the other 4 have been making do with 1 pair of shoes).  However, since we couldn’t really afford to replace them, we made do and were only occasionally embarrassed when someone noticed the teeth marks (actually, it’s fairly surprising how few people notice your shoes…another thought for another day). 

This week we got our tax refund money, and after taking care of some important things, my thoughts turned to shoes.  So I spent a night or two on ebay putting in bids on brand name, but used, shoes to replace the chewed ones.  After actually winning all of the auctions (yay! gotta love holiday weekends!) and paying for all of my choices…the guilt set in.  I spent how much on shoes?!?? Granted, the total amount I spent on shoes for 4 people, even though name brand, is probably less than most men would spend on a pair of dress shoes, but it seemed like an awful lot of money to me once it left our bank account!

And that got me thinking…why, really, am I feeling guilty for replacing broken shoes for my family?  Is this true or false guilt?

Let me explain.  I believe that part of the result of having a “sin” nature, having been born with a proclivity for evil (Genesis 6:5), means that humans have “seared” (burnt like steak) consciences.  Some of us do not feel guilty for doing things that are, actually, wrong and that we should feel guilt over.  I can think of a few stellar examples but will not share them.  However, I think everyone can think of someone who did something awful and somehow doesn’t seem bothered by it in the least.  To me, this is a True guilt.

Then there is False guilt.  This is the guilt people feel over doing something that is not actually wrong, or the guilt felt over a circumstance that a person actually had no control over.  This is the kind of guilt that makes someone puke up a meal because they don’t believe that they deserved to eat it, or the guilt that a hostess feels over having a luncheon ruined by rain.  This kind of guilt is FALSE.

To believe in this distinction, of course you have to have an objective set of what is actually right and what is actually wrong to think/say/do.  Obviously a debated topic but I am going to skip over all that and say that since I am a Christian, I am going with the belief that it is what GOD says is right and wrong that is important, and that information can be found in His word to us, the Bible, and in the life and actions of His son, Jesus.  Proverbs 30:5 says that, “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”  Works for me.  :)

So should I go with my “feeling” of guilt over buying shoes or should I check what the Bible says?  Again, if my heart is as wicked as the Bible says, can I trust it to tell me if I have actually done something wrong?  I believe that the answer is no. No matter what I feel about something, whether it is guilt or assurance that I was in the right, I have to check my feelings against the Bible.

For me, this little matter of buying new shoes ended up being a fairly simple one to analyze once I actually thought about it.  The Bible says that believers should take care of their families or they are worse than unbelievers (1 Timothy 5:8).  It also says to be a good steward of what God gives you.  I chose to buy used shoes that will last a long time, so I think that qualifies as taking care of the finances God has given us.  So in the end, my feeling of guilt over buying shoes for my family is, according to God’s word, a feeling of false guilt.  Phew.  :)

But it also reminded me of an important truth of Christianity.  Christianity says that even though our hearts are evil, Jesus Christ died to take away the just punishment for our sins and if we believe in him, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1.  Therefore, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebrews 10:22.  We should feel the guilt of our sins, of doing things that actually are _wrong_, but if we are Christian we need to remember that He has taken away our guilt in front of God.  Once forgiven, those sins should not and cannot condemn us anymore!  Our hearts have been cleaned.  While it can be tempting to allow guilt for past wrong actions to haunt us (and our adversary, the devil, is always happy to accuse us), we need to remember that in Christ we have been forgiven!  Hallelujah!

Happy Palm Sunday.  =D

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Magnum Opus

I don’t think that many of the world’s best writers have been women with a lot of kids.  Well, make that women with a lot of kids who also homeschool their kids.  Can you imagine?  “I want to write the world’s most erudite, insightful novel on the condition of man.  I know, I will gather a passel of small children and lock myself away in a small house with them and WRITE.”  Ha!

There isn’t anything wrong with that.  I, for one, have always believed that you shouldn’t write unless you actually have something to say.  And in the midst of the crazy of raising children, it is an accomplishment to even finish a sentence (ha, this particular sentence was just interrupted by child 1 asking if we can make bicycles out of scrap metal for a homeschool project.  Answer: No. ;) ).  I assume that most of my homeschooling crazy compatriots are expending most of their energy raising their “magnum opuses”, not writing them.  I wonder, how many of the world’s best writers had their mothers as their primary teachers and caregivers?  :D

That is not the reason that I haven’t posted a blog entry for months.  Without going into gruesome details, this summer has been extremely hard.  And we had nothing to say that we wanted to say publicly.  In fact, today marks my “semi-retirement” from full time work cleaning houses to half-time work, half-time staying at home homeschooling the kids.  It also marks Nathan’s retirement from full-time caregiving to half-time caregiving, half-time student.  And this summer of being away from my kids most of the day has made me realize a few things.  First, it is a lot easier to hear your own thoughts when you are alone.  Second, most of my thoughts are actually very plebeian.  Third, I am an extremely jealous mother.  It has been hard missing those precious “firsts” of our youngest baby, even when it is my husband who is seeing them instead of me.  And fourth, I never want to be a career woman.  I am definitely not cut out for it.  Although it has been easy to lose sight of in the stress of raising my kids, I actually do want to be home with them.  I am now “aspiring” to be a stay-at-home mom again (full time)!

This past weekend marked 10 years since Nathan and I covenanted with each other and God to walk the path He has laid out for us, together.  Both of us struggle with a desire to run away when things get tough, and this summer has been one of the toughest.  So for our anniversary, we ran away…together, and with all 5 children and my mother (and 2 dogs)!  We went tent-camping in the San Jacinto mountains, near Idyllwild.  For three days we mucked about in the dirt, rolled around on air mattresses, went to bed at 8pm and woke up at 6 am (yes – all of us), and remembered what it is like to just breathe.  I always wonder what my children will remember about our life.  Will this weekend be a memory of splashing in a pool, riding a horse, seeing the views, building dams, climbing rocks?  Or will they remember puke, not-their-favorite camp food, hysterics when thunder closed the pool, bee stings, “this is vacation and I don’t have to do chores” arguments, chasing after runaway dogs?  I hope to be sitting in my rocker one day hearing them reminisce, chuckling softly to myself at the vagaries of how time sweetens memories.

So.  With the new school year upon us, perhaps I will find (carve) some time out to write.  Perhaps not.  But I hope that you, the random public and family and friends, will perhaps understand a little better if you don’t see a magnum opus of blogging on this site.  ;)  Pray for us!  :D

Our campsite in Idyllwild

Our campsite in Idyllwild

Our dogs, Kona and Roxy

Our dogs, Kona and Roxy

PS – homeschooling does have its advantages.  We loved going camping the weekend _after_ Labor Day, it was practically empty and we had the best spot!  :D

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Books!

We put a few feelers out to see if anyone was interested in donating theological books for the seminary in Kumba, Cameroon.  We now have about 55 _boxes_ of books sitting in our garage!  We are still working out how to get the books to Cameroon, but in the meantime we decided to sell the books that didn’t make it through our first “culling” for the seminary, to help pay shipping costs.  We have listed the books at two places, please check them out!

Amazon

Alibris

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Eyes to See

Just like just about every other morning, you wake up and get the kids some breakfast.  Your husband has already left because at this time of the year, his work requires early hours.  You finish the breakfast cleanup, send the kids to get ready for school, and enjoy a minute with your littlest before scooting the rest out the door so that they’re not late.  Then you head out the door yourself to get some work done before lunch.  After lunch, you get the toddlers to bathe and start dinner preparations; your husband arrives home and rests a bit before dinner, and you smile as you listen to your kids practicing soccer outside….and if you were to count your blessings, then healthy children, a hardworking husband, enough food for everyone, enough money to send the kids to school… these things would be at the top of your list.

This sounds a lot like a day a mom here in California could have.  In its essence, it is a mother’s day around the world.  In Cameroon, where we spent two weeks in February for our vision trip, it might be a typical day for a village woman.  Except the details…your husband is working hard to get the cocoa trees ready for the upcoming harvest; your kids are among the academically better-off in the village to be able to attend the private school, because the public school teachers might ..or might not.. show up to teach; you’re strapping your baby to your back to get some land cleared, by hand with a machete, to prepare for the coming rainy season; your toddlers bathe naked in front of your house with a bucket because that is where the water is…and so on.

One of the prayer requests God answered for us during our “vision” trip was to see the people.  When we first arrived, we were overwhelmed by all the strange faces.  We were followed by children crying “White man!  White man!”  It was easy to feel like Cameroonians were about as similar to us as Martians.  Yet, after living in the village a week, eventually we were able to “see” – the people there are people just like us.  Children disobey in church just like mine.  Women and men work hard to keep “body and soul” together there too.  And that comforts me because in God’s time, our little family will be living there too… :)

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Cameroon…

We would like to share about our World Team vision trip to Cameroon, Africa.  We have posted other photos from our trip here.

We went to Cameroon February 11-27th, 2013.  We were in Bamenda for 2 days, Big Bekondo for 7 and Kumba for 3…it all adds up if you count travel time. :)cameroon_map_SW(map of the southwest area of Cameroon, which is where the English speaking area is, the rest of the country speaks French)

After 2 days of travel (with our 3 month old baby Talia), we arrived on Weds night into the Douala airport.  The heat and humidity enveloped us like a warm hug (or like a “bear hug” as Nathan says) as we stepped off the plane.  The Brussels airport, with its colorful lights and duty-free shops and seemingly endless corridors and escalators, had reminded me of a pretty, carnivorous plant-like maze; the Douala airport seemed grungy (ie, tiles missing from the floor) and chaotic in comparison.  We had gotten a Facebook message the night before in Brussels that our contact had changed to Vincent, who would meet us at the airport, and Serge from one of the airlines might be able to help us get to Vincent.  When we made it through customs on the way to baggage claim, we were mobbed by the eagerly helpful porters for hire…some of whom were overly eager.  What a relief to be met by Serge, who shooed the porters away and got our bags for us, then directed us to where we could meet Vincent (who had been waving at us from the 2nd floor mezzanine).  We loaded up and after a quick bakery stop for dinner food, settled into our very nice room at the Douala Baptist rest house.  The next day we made it to Bamenda by the early afternoon, where we joined the homeschooling missions crowd during the last two days of their bi-annual 2 weeks of teaching get-together.  This is where we met the other World Team missionaries who are homeschooling their children, and some other homeschooling missionary families.  After a surfeit of strangeness, the homeschool conference was like a welcome reprieve as we were surrounded by like-minded (really neat, actually!) folks who are living the life we are aspiring to.  The constant smell of burning trash, the haze of the smoke and dust of the end of the dry season, the endless unfamiliar faces, the shock of AFRICA, all faded into an acceptable background roar…bamenda

It was in Bamenda that we were first able to make contact with the other people we had travelled half-way around the world to meet.  World Team is partnered with the Cameroon Baptist Convention, and so our first meeting was with the CBC head of missions.  As Nathan is aspiring to teach at a CBC seminary, it was an important meeting since the educational wing of the CBC is under the missions head.  Thankfully, we were given the “hand of welcome” and invited to continue discussions with the Kumba seminary.  There is also a larger CBC seminary in Ndu, and we were open to considering serving there as well, but only had time to visit the Kumba seminary.  After a wonderful 2 days of fellowship, we headed down from Bamenda to Big Bekondo with the Friesens, who were our WT hosts for the trip.  They have been serving in Bible translation with the Oroko tribe in Big Bekondo for 15 years.  On a side note, Cameroon has over 270 tribal languages and is one of the  most dense places left in the world where Bible translation is a real need; the Oroko language was purely oral until the Friesens and their teammates the Scotts worked out a written system.  Now almost half of the New Testament is translated into Oroko!  A neat use of technology: Dan Friesen was able to send the audio file of the Oroko translation of Jonah via cell phones (in person) to many Oroko leaders at a regional meeting just before meeting us in Bamenda!

Back to our trip.  We would be the only WT personnel working within the educational system of Cameroon if we ended up coming as missionaries, so our vision trip looked different than most others.  Even so, we stayed in the village of Big Bekondo for the majority of our trip.  Our first Sunday we worshipped with the Oroko people.  Tuesday, Nathan and Dan headed into Kumba, about a 45 minute drive during the dry season, so that Nathan could attend classes at the seminary and meet various people.  The trip went very well, except that wearing a tie gave Nathan heat rash around his neck!  Talia and I stayed in the village.  I found spending the week in one place to be just exactly what I needed.  Talia did as well as a 3 month old baby can do, getting plunked into equatorial Africa while not feeling great from taking anti-malarials, but she still found it difficult to travel much.  I have always, in every place I have visited (and the list is fairly long), preferred to get to know the people living there and taste life as it is…I am not the “a new tourist trap every 2 days” kind of girl.  ;)

The village.  It’s more like a town in size, but felt like a village, especially as we were on the outskirts.  Goats and chickens and children everywhere.  I tried not to act terribly much like a gawking tourist, but we were so out of place…hearing “white man, white man!” everywhere we went…and then I discovered that the people actually _wanted_ me to take their photos!  :D We had some great meetings with local lay leaders while there, and were able to taste life as the Friesens live it which is not too different from life in “town” (Kumba).  We were spoiled rotten by their cook!  Fresh pineapples, buns, chips, oh my!

But, all good things must come to an end, and the end of our week quickly came.  To give us a better idea of what living in Kumba might be like, the Friesens took us into town the weekend before leaving and we all stayed with a Lutheran couple at their compound.  We also visited a Swiss couple who were teaching at the Presbyterian seminary.  Kumba is likened to the “wild west” and we expected it to seem wild, but after a week in the village we found that my prayer had been answered: God had given us eyes to see things as they were, not as a blinding disorienting kaleidoscope of stimuli.  Instead of masses of strangers, we saw mothers, kids, shop owners, gas attendants…in other words, normal life being lived by normal people.  Here’s a shot from a gas station:

gas

We came to Cameroon because when we felt God calling us into teaching and missions, about 5 years ago, we knew that we wanted to go where the need is great for Biblical teaching.  We wanted to serve an already existing national church by providing free (for them, of course we would need to raise support) theological support staff.  We had narrowed our focus to either Asia or Africa, and after our RACE assessment with World Team, felt drawn to the Cameroon field.  While actually in Cameroon, we were made aware that “You Are Welcome” – the greeting we heard over and over – is genuine and the need is real.  The Kumba seminary we came to visit is short of staff and current professors are carrying very heavy loads.  The Cameroon church is established but struggles with some issues.  Our Big Bekondo pastor is trying to pastor 8 churches!  There is no doubt that Nathan could be of use there both at the seminary and doing lay leadership seminar training; now it came down to the question, “Can we live here?  Can we move our 5 children here and raise them as third-cuture kids?”  We heard the news of the French family’s kidnapping in the north of Cameroon by Nigerian muslim militants, while we were there, almost as a warning (the family has yet to be released or found yet, weeks later).  One of the words that comes easily to my lips when asked about our trip now is “sobering” – we feel that we saw the real difficulties and dangers of choosing to come to Cameroon as missionaries.

Yet that is not the entire story, nor even half of it.  Cameroon is gorgeous.  I love the tropics, so it isn’t hard for me to gush about fresh tropical fruits, warmth, opportunities and beauty.  We would be working in Africa, where our hearts have led us, yet able to speak English.  The people we met, even those who appeared stern at first, all gave us a uniform impression of welcome and friendliness.  The teammates we would be working with, Cameroonian and other nationalities, all gave us the impression that it would be an honor to work with them (please don’t take my lack of names or specific mention of anyone as a slight; I have a high sense of privacy online and so I do not want to make public mention of others here without permission).

In the end, this picture feels like our answer.  Cameroon is like the beautiful plant in the background; gorgeous but with thorns.  Yet while working and living there might be hard, like the volcanic rock in my hand, the promise of the reward of following God where He is leading us is like the lily, growing out of rich volcanic soil…and that is why we have chosen to go to Cameroon as missionaries with World Team.

tropical

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Life Signs

We are in an intense period right now.  We are finishing up Nathan’s thesis so he can actually graduate (from Westminster Seminary California with a Master of Arts in Historical Theology), we are trying to find work to get some income in, we are preparing to go to Cameroon for two weeks with our baby while Nathan’s parents take care of our other 4, I am trying to get all my shifts in at the ER so I can “graduate” from Palomar Hospital’s Intern program, we are preparing to move in a few months….oh, and we are trying to catch up on homeschooling because we had to take a break when I had Talia!

I’m tired just typing all of that.  :P  And if you would like to pray for us, we have just sent out a prayer letter.  Sign up here and we will send it to you!

I am a planner.  So I am trying to imagine all the things that I should be preparing for during our trip to Cameroon.  We will be going from this:

Escondido City Hall (Escondido City Hall)

to this:

Douala city sceneWe will not be in the city of Douala long, but will be visiting Bamenda and Kumba, which are more like this:Kumba High SchoolThis image of Kumba’s High School is, from what we’ve seen, fairly typical of public buildings.  No money wasted on planters, fountains, or new paint.  And this is definitely life in the tropics – I can taste the air just looking at this picture!

We have been moving towards this step for about 5 years now, and we aren’t even “there” yet.  I have felt frustrated at times, and at other times I feel gratitude for the preparation phase of our life taking place in clean, prosperous California and Canada.  It would be a culture shock, there is no doubt, moving from California to Cameroon, Africa.  And just going for two weeks will be intense and tiring and exhilirating and crazy and a whole lot more I don’t even know about yet!  We are planning on meeting with some people and exploring opportunities for Nathan to serve in a teaching role to Cameroonian church leaders.

It is very humbling to consider that God, as far as we can tell, has a plan for Nathan to serve in that way – there is no doubt that the verse from James 3 strikes fear into the heart!  “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”

Nathan knows for certain (and so do I) that we are not perfect.  Hah!  As we say in the “About Us” page, if you are looking for sin in our lives you will certainly find it!  Yet, this verse also holds the key to our desire to serve in Africa.  For there are not many who can teach who choose to teach in Africa; and if our God is the God of the whole world, and all believers are our family, as we proclaim, then we feel we must pursue serving where the need is great… and we hope that our lives may also in some way encourage others to consider serving too…

We want this to be true of us:  For me, to live is Christ; and to die is gain!  :)  (Philippians 1:21)

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