Posted in Living this Life

Ant wars

OK – it’s time to get really real.

Confessions of a restless heart: Something happens to a spirit that is raised on the other side of the world. It isn’t just the soil of Africa that got embedded in my soul, but the question of what else lies out there. When your normal has always been red clay soil and friends with dark hair and different skin, speaking with dialect so different from your own that you learn to read eyes and body language. You learn to feel more at home in a bustling airport than your own small town ambience. Embedded in you is the curiosity for the unexplored.

They call it wanderlust. And familiar though it is, it can become a dangerous siren call. A source of ill defined pride. A lack of contentment in what is, the beauty that is around you. There is much I can say on this, but for my own protection, my God has planted my feet firmly on American soil for many years. And every time my heart starts to wander away, He gently woos me back to this place – whatever that looks like at the moment. It is always a beautiful place – even if it just my own backyard.

You can imagine what this season filled with words like “quarantine” and “stay at home” – though productive and rich in it’s own unique opportunities – has brought out in me. If there is anything that stirs up wanderlust in a heart, it is being told you can’t.

And in this place, right here, is where I found this scene: my boys, in my backyard.

IMG_6822Watching in awe at the sight of a dead worm. It wasn’t the dead worm that fascinated them, but the lone ant trying in vain to lift the worm and carry it off. Other ants came along to help (or steal), and then left. I don’t know how long they sat and watched this display of heroic strength, but it helped my  heart rest. Because there’s this quote that has rattled around in my head for a while and it came to the surface at the sight of my boys today. It’s by the author and director of one of my favorite nature documentaries (https://riotandthedance.com/), and it helps keep me grounded when my heart tries to run away with me.

“So, we can marvel at our Creator’s abilities and worship Him for what we see, but we can also see these broken things and know that creation groans for the Resurrection… When you’re able to sit in awe of an ant war on the sidewalk in front of your own house, then the awe that you experience looking at God’s creation near you, where he has placed you, will lead you outward. It will give you a desire to see more of His work, to walk through the rest of His museum. But if you sit in your corner of His museum and say, “I’m super bored, maybe there’s something more interesting over there”—well, that’s not a healthy approach. We should not explore because we resent where we live or where we’ve been placed in the world. We should not explore out of boredom or out of numbness, but out of gratitude and excitement and wonder.  – N. D. Wilson

So that’s it. That’s all I have today. A renewed focus on finding the wonder in my backyard because it’s there. I just miss it too often, gazing over the fence into the “vast beyond”. Maybe we’ll get to explore His great museum again someday soon, but until then, let’s all find a great ant war to cheer on (and feel free to add some sports commentary to it, for those missing their favorite teams right now).

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

 

Posted in Living this Life

The scent of a flower we have not found

I had that dream again. It’s never the same, but the location is. I guess some places are so tied to our emotions in a visceral way that we can’t shake ourselves free of them.

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In my dream, I’m back in Amsterdam … I don’t remember all the details, but I always wake up with that aching sense of homesickness. I call it homesickness – I think the proper word might be nostalgia. Bittersweet nostalgia – pulled to the surface by the adventures we’ve had these past weeks.

Over the last week, I have walked down trails of remembrance with my family. It started at the ocean. Walking down the boards, my husband told us stories of when he was younger and the memories carved into that beach. We re-lived his memories and made new ones along the way.

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We worshiped at the church he grew up in, hugged and kissed faces that had watched him become the man he is today. We saw old schools, drove by old banks and post offices, and ate way too much pizza. We drove by the beach where he learned to swim, and saw the brick steps of his old house, where a 6 year old Brad sat with his mom and asked Jesus to be Lord of his life.

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It was beautiful and fun. I love hearing the stories that come when we are in these special kind of places. And yet in the quiet moments, I found myself feeling an ache creep across my soul.

An ache for my own memories. My dreams bring me back to Amsterdam, but there are other places. Ones that pull at my heart even stronger. They live on only in my mind … changed forever by the ravages of war. Places I haven’t seen since I was 14 – places I can never return to.

me and monkeyThere are foods I try to describe to my children, but the words don’t exist to really capture the sense. It would be impossible to find a way for someone to feel the sticky wet air of Africa, the smells that fill your senses, the noises that are so rich – and yet it’s all so different. Sometimes I wonder if my memories are accurate – it’s been so long. How my heart longs to walk those red dirt roads one more time, to experience the wild cacophony and colors of the Liberian marketplace!

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Nostalgia is a strange beast. It seems to always be there, waiting for the right trigger to explode in your heart. But like an itch you can’t reach, it’s an ache that can’t be filled. So what do we do with these strange longings that surface and call our hearts to other times and places?

I wonder if this is what Ecclesiastes 3:11 means when it says that God has “set eternity in the heart of man”. One version says He has planted eternity in our hearts – like a seed that grows ever bigger, beckoning us to another time and place. We think it’s a longing for the past, when in reality it’s a longing for our future home. Our longing for heaven, for that one good that will never end, is wrapped up in these exquisite remembrances, carrying so much joy and pain in the same breath.

In 1 Chronicles we read that our days on earth are like a shadow – A shadow is but a distorted reflection of what is real. We are filled with this sense that this life is all so fleeting, but someday we will live in what is real and will never be lost. And so we call it names like nostalgia, and we long for the “good old days” when life was simpler.

C. S. Lewis puts it so much better, of course. “Apparently,” he says, “our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.”

Keep reading! He says, “In speaking of this desire for our own faroff country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves… If [we go] back to those moments in the past, [we] would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what [we] remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering… These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

When the pangs hit my heart, I think of what is to come. And I marvel that when Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for us, He meant it – a home that will never end, a safety that cannot be taken from us, an eternity that won’t rust or fade.

It leaves me hungry for heaven. How about you?

Posted in Walking it out

Do the next thing

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A couple of days ago, I got to wear my Liberian dress and talk to a younger generation about what it was like to grow up in Africa.

We talked about that big word “missions” and what it means to spend a lifetime telling others about a relationship with Jesus. We talked about languages and laughed when a mispronounced word turned a man’s name into “sheep”. We played African instruments and looked at pictures of me at 7 holding a monkey. We touched the 10 foot long boa constrictor skin I brought with me and talked of God’s miraculous power in saving my sister who was bitten by a viper a lifetime ago.

me and monkey

But in the days since, I keep thinking of things I forgot to tell them. I remembered to tell them my Kisi name (Finda Soko), but I forgot to show them the unique and very cool way Liberians shake hands! I told some about that time I ate a rotten porcupine – but forgot to show them the picture of grasshoppers fried to a golden yummy crisp in palm oil! But even as my thoughts swirl, there’s this one thing that I can’t shake … it keeps swelling in my heart.

You see, my parents were just farm kids. You might think that you need some special experience or “background” to prepare you to move your family to Africa and translate the Bible into a language that has never even been written down. And while there’s no denying that my mom and dad are two amazing people – and that they definitely had training before they went –  they started out on a simple farm in North Dakota, doing what farm kids do across this world every day.

So what I can’t stop thinking about is this: what makes them so special?  Why did they end up in the middle of this grand adventure that has taken them to the far corners of the world and changed hundreds of people’s lives as they’ve walked?  And I think it comes down to one word.

Simple obedience. A heart to hear God … and then simply follow.  Sometimes we can’t hear God because our world is so full of noise. Distractions surround us and consume us. When is the last time you stopped, breathed in deep His holy breath, and just listened?

But then sometimes we do hear His voice.  And like Moses, we deflect. We find every reason why we are not qualified, every reason we will fail. And we tell God that someone else would do a better job. And while we applaud the efforts of those around us, we hide inside our own quaking insecurities.

Sometimes we get really busy doing good things for God – until we end up empty and lost, realizing we weren’t really following Him, but our own personal notions of godliness.

Because, let’s be honest. Which one of us really feels qualified, gifted, or talented enough to do great things for God? And isn’t that just the point? I told these kids the other day that God has hidden treasures in them – gifts that they will discover as they walk with Him. And each discovered gift gives them a new opportunity to follow Jesus more fully.

What gifts has God placed in you? We like to think of gifts in grandiose terms – music played in Carnegie Hall and art displayed in the Louvre. Have we forgotten the lesson of 1 Samuel 16:7?  “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” What lies in your heart, my friend, that is begging to be let out? What next step is the Lord calling you to take? Because a calling isn’t a grand plan for your life – it is this day lived in full obedience to Him! In the array of gifts God has hidden in me, there is one embarrassingly simple thing that has reached more people for Him than any other. It is this: a mere smile.

A simple genuine smile has opened more doors to conversations about the freedom Jesus has brought me than any long-winded argument about apologetics ever has. There are other gifts and abilities God wants me to use for Him, but what I’m trying to say is this: don’t wait for the big moments. Or for the more talented people who’s gifts seem to shine brighter by man’s standards

God is calling you, today, to offer everything you have, large and small, to Him.

And the adventure that lies before you will take your breath away. It starts with one step of obedience.

“Many a questioning, many a fear,

Many a doubt hath its quieting here.

Moment by moment, let down from heaven,

Time, opportunity, guidance are given.

Fear not tomorrows, child of the King –

Trust them with Jesus. Do the next thing!” (ancient Saxon legend)

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