Psalm 139…Amish-Country Style

Psalm 139 has been my life Scripture.  While in Ukraine, I relied heavily on God’s message in this Psalm for courage and strength.  For instance, I don’t mind flying, but it’s not on my list of favorites by far.  When I fly, I always recite verses 9-10, and it helps me remember who is in control of the plane and the journey.  Or, when I walked 32 flights of stairs to visit with some precious Ukrainian people in their apartment because the building’s elevator was iffy, I heard verses 2-3 roll around in my mind.  God continues to speak to me through this collection of verses, so thought I would share this post again and hope it speaks to you, too! 🙂

This passage has shared mountain-top highs with me and pulled my soul out of the pit.  It is a joy to offer a visual perspective of David’s incredible, tender heart seen through the eyes of the Amish country.

Psalm 139: 1-18, 23-24

Oh LORD, you have searched me and you know me.

You know when I sit

and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out

and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

you know it completely, O LORD.

You hem me in – behind and before;

you have laid your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”

even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place.

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!

Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.

When I awake, I am still with you.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

Test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.


I’m not sure where all of this is leading us, but Bruce (my husband) and I are restless.  We can’t pretend we never saw the need.  We can’t pretend there isn’t STILL a need.  We can’t  ignore the 26,000 children who will die today from otherwise preventable sickness and disease.

We can’t forget the love and friendship extended to us when we were in Kenya.  We can’t forget the smiles and humble nature of the Kenyans from whom Americans could learn a lot!  We keep circling back to a place where we are so confused.  Both of us knew only our way of life for our entire lives.  Yes, we saw impoverished people on t.v.  Yes, we learned about people groups from all over the world in school.  However, I think we have finally realized why we are different now after going on mission to Kenya.

There is a strong, idol-like filter on America.  Everything we see, heard and read about pre-Kenya passed through a filter that encompassed all of our senses and soul.  The filter is called, normal.  What people view as normal is what they come to accept for their lives as the way things are supposed to be.  The most frightening thing about this filter is that we grew up believing our normal is right.  Right for us.  Before our trip, we heard of needs and did our best to meet them through financial aid and giving our time and energy toward projects like Operation Christmas Child and Samaritan’s Purse.  We went to bed at night, resting our heads on our soft pillows behind locked doors in a safe home, and we slept peacefully believing we had done what was required of us as believers.

Our restlessness isn’t only about experiencing the devastating needs in Kenya, which is much like so many other countries, but about who we are called to be as Christ-followers.  Just as when I add filters to my camera lens, everything I see through the viewfinder is altered by the filter’s skew.  It’s the same way with the American filter.  It has been removed, and Bruce and I stand wide-eyed, to the point of nausea, at what we allowed ourselves to become out of pure ignorance.  Our society is so content and comfortable where we are, that we risk nothing out of that comfort zone that jeopardizes what we want.  For some to say that they feel solely called to help fellow Americans, which is important in its own rite, says, as David Platt puts it in his book Radical, we boast that we feel called to help only 5% of the world’s population.  Is that Christ?

During one of our annual events held to benefit Samaritan’s Purse, someone I know came up to me and said, This is good and all, but next year I’m keeping my money here and helping my homeland.

Again, that is great and noble and needed.  But, dare I say, it is not enough.  Would any of us be believers today had the disciples in Acts stayed right where they were and never acted on the Great Commission given by Jesus?

Our society is drunk on pleasure, gorged on greediness, and is caught in a sleeper-hold of comfort.  My family is among them.   I am ashamed to say that our society will take care of others, only after the portion we give ourselves is met first.  What could possibly be an example of this?  Most people in the world live on a $1 or less.  Our society spends hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, on sports and arts for our children, thousands on holiday decorations, hundreds of thousands on clothes, shoes and cosmetics.  This isn’t mentioning the billions on vehicles, homes and education.  The far majority of what we spend our money on will not last. There will be no legacy.  No lasting impact for the Kingdom.  No special approval from God.  It’s just stuff that has woven us in its web and convinced us that these things will mean something one day.  Will they?

Below is an email that we recently received from our dear friend, Joseph.  We met him in Kenya. He is an overseer of an orphanage that we fell absolutely in love with there.  Some friends of ours are back there right now, and delivered a box of supplies we sent with them.  When we read this, we cried.  Why?  Because Joseph is a fellow believer.  We will spend eternity with him.  For now, he is hurting.  A couple of months ago, he lost his oldest son, whom we met, while trying to earn money for his family as a taxi driver of a piki piki (motorcycle).  We were devastated by the news.

It is very true that until a connection is made, it’s very easy for people to shrug off what they don’t want to deal with.  Joseph and the children are family to us. We pray for them every day.  The depth of my heart that was touched by his letter is impossible to put into words.  I invite you to share it with me…


Greetings in the name of Jesus, how are you? We are all fine here. God has blessed us with rain although to others it devastating. The crops are doing well despite only yellowing of leaves in corn.

Your friends came to visit us on Wednesday, and they relayed your greetings and your friends’.

We have received the supplies and we are all happy about them.

We are happy when we are with you in prayers and we will not forget you for being with us also in the time of grief.  May God be with you and guide you as we are praying for you .

I remember your compassion when you were with us. The love of Christ that I have for you is never ending, may God bless you.

 Yours Faithfully,


To me, his letter was like reading the New Testament.  Brothers and sisters in Christ sharing His love and friendship whether near or far apart.  This is what will last.  This is what will impact future generations.  This is what furthers the Kingdom.  The photos below are of the Kenyans’ normal.  Does this look okay to us who have homes and vehicles and jobs?  I shot these throughout Kenya, not one solitary corner of the community. Step outside of Nairobi (with its slums as well as the business sector) and this is the countryside – a small, but accurate sampling.

I am most certain this post today will upset some people.  Frankly, I am upset too, as I see what believers in our country are capable of doing and what it is NOT being done.  Bruce and I don’t have all the answers, but we are restless.  Are you?

The Unexpected Gift

Photo via Droid Wallpapers

I had the privilege of celebrating my son’s 16th birthday this weekend.  Little did we know, this day would change his life forever.

It was a very full day of several events, one of which was my daughter’s soccer game.  My husband and I drove separately with plans to meet at the field.  I had our boys with me.  As we drove to the game, my birthday boy talked on the cell phone to his nana as I approached a busy intersection.  Turning right at the light, we saw a homeless gentleman standing on the corner holding a sign and asking for food.

There was nothing I could do because of the traffic flow.  We were already 20 minutes late to the game, and I wasn’t quite sure where I was even going as this was the first time they’ve played at this field.  Add to that, the concrete medians and turn lanes and lights, and well, this was not something I could easily navigate on the fly.

However, we have gift bags in our van for just such an occasion as running into a person who is homeless.  We keep a laundry basket in the back of the van filled with brightly colored, glossy gift bags with lots of colorful curly ribbon tied to the handle and tissue paper bursting out from the bag.  In the bags, we put soup, water, granola bars, etc. along with encouraging Scripture and a prayer of salvation.  The reason we dress everything up in a gift bag is because we wonder just how long it may have been that someone in this desperate state has received a present.  It has been a joy to hand these out and connect with our community, as well as have deep conversations with our children about our responsibility as believers to help others by being the hands and feet of Christ.

Knowing these bags were in the back made me feel quite guilty that the spontaneity of the moment did not lend itself to give this gentleman one.  My birthday boy finished his phone call with Nana, then began to tell me how we needed to go back to the man.

I was torn between arriving even later at my daughter’s last game before tournament and delivering the gift bag.  I was tired from a very busy week and, well, I came to the end of myself.

I told my son, Tell you what, we’ll drive back the same way after the game and look for him.

My son replied, But we don’t know how long he’s been there.  Maybe a long time.  We should go back now.

Disheartened by my inability to be both places at once, I promised we’d go after the game.  We reached the field, but my son couldn’t let it go.  He is an extremely easy-to-please kind of guy who rarely has strong preferences.  He goes with the flow and has quite a relaxed personality.  But this time, he was insistent.

We really have to go back, Mom, he persisted.  I can’t let this go.

I was a bit baffled at his insistence because we’ve given out many bags and will continue to.  I didn’t understand what was different with my son this time.  We walked down the field, set up our chairs next to my husband’s, and I plopped myself down hoping to stave off a migraine, caused by an impending weather front, that I felt coming on.

Can we leave and come back? he asked.  It won’t take long.  I know I’m supposed to do this.

I’m happy to try look for him on our way home, Honey.  The game won’t be much longer, I replied nursing my headache.

A few moments passed as we watched the game, then he asked again.  Can we go at halftime?

This was really unlike him.  Typically, he is the first to let something go.  A peaceful life is more important to him than pushing his issue.

How about you ask your dad to take you at halftime? I proposed.  My migraine was at the crossroads of either going away or blowing up to epic proportions.

The halftime whistle blew, and my husband and son bolted to the van.  I have no earthly idea why I said this (referring to the gift bags), but before they left, out of my mouth spilled, Why not take two?  I didn’t know if he decided to or not as they drove away.

The second half of the game began, and eventually my husband and son reappeared.  I asked my son, Was he still there?  Did you give him the bag?

Yes and no, he answered.  That made no sense to me.  The situation was either or, so I inquired.

This is what they told me…they drove back to the large intersection, but didn’t see the gentleman.  Disappointed, they crossed the intersection to make a u-turn and return to the game.  Just then, my husband saw the man at a city bus stop out of the corner of his eye.  My two guys devised a plan and as quickly as possible they made the u-turn in hopes of catching up to the man.  As they approached the bus, the man got onto the bus and it drove off.

Arg!  What were they going to do?  They weren’t sure, but they knew they couldn’t give up.  In a split-second decision, they followed the bus many blocks as it bypassed the next five stops.  At the sixth stop, the bus finally stopped.  Our son jumped out of our van and ran toward the bus. A businessman stepped off of the bus, saw my son, and told the bus driver someone was coming and to please wait for him.  She held the bus for my son, and he jumped aboard and asked the bus driver, Can you please wait a second?

He said she looked stunned and confused, but agreed.  Our son walked the aisle of the bus toward the back where the man was sitting.  He approached the man and held out his hand to him and introduced himself with a firm handshake and a big smile.

What did you say? I asked with eager anticipation on the field during the 3rd quarter.

Our son continued, I told him that we saw him earlier, but couldn’t turn around.  That Jesus loved him and wanted him to know that.  Then I gave him the gift bag.  

Okay, hold on a second, I interrupted.  You mean you guys followed the bus several blocks, and you jumped out of our van, ran to the bus, hopped onto the bus and asked the bus driver to hold her schedule and wait for you?  Really? I said with sheer astonishment.  Our son has never done anything this bold before.

What did the man say? What did he do? I asked.

Well, after shaking my hand, he sat there for several seconds – speechless.  He had a blank stare on his face as if in disbelief.  Then, I gave him the bag and his eyes grew huge!  He couldn’t believe it was for him.  He said, “Thanks so much.  I appreciate it.”  Mom, this man shared a seat with his fellow homeless friend.  And…I had two bags.  The other man looked at me kindly and said, “Thank you.” 

My son sat next to me at the game completely sure that this task was the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  We talked about what it felt like to be the hands and feet of Christ, literally.

We knew in our hearts that God had an agenda on this particular day.  He knew this man’s timeline and had a divine appointment with him.  If my husband and son had not ran to the van, or they caught a red light, or simply weren’t looking in the precise direction of the bus, they would have missed him for sure.  It was an almost near-miss, but it wasn’t.  This mission impossible was perfectly executed with a team of players from our little family, to my daughter’s soccer game that was at this time and in this first-ever location, to the clerk who checked out the gift items at the store, to the business man who called out to hold the bus, to the bus driver who let my son hop on momentarily, to the other cars who drove around my husband’s van as he waited on the road behind the bus.  Do you see how extraordinary this ordinary moment was?  The people. The timing.  The whole thing was beyond coincidence.  It was as though it had been rehearsed a million times – yet none of us knew it.  God did.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. Luke 19:10

This was no not about my guys, rather what God had on His mind that afternoon.  Even more than receiving the gift bag, this man needed to see God pursue him.  Think about how it would’ve felt for the man to be sitting on the corner holding a sign for food for who knows how long, then ride the bus for several blocks when a teenage stranger jumps on with a colorful, shiny bag and says that he saw him earlier and had this gift for him so they chased the bus down.  I would have been speechless, too!

There was a duel purpose in God’s will that day.  Things could have played out like the other times when we’ve sat at a red light and simply made the acquaintance of someone who needs food and we’ve given them the bag.  No.  Not this time.  God radically pursued this gentleman in a very personal way.

For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. Ezekiel 34:11

We don’t know if this man has ever accepted Christ as his personal Savior, but truly he was sought by God because God allowed everything to work out to the very second.  Whether his soul was lost, or perhaps he just felt lost in society-displaced by circumstance-or lonely. Perhaps he felt lost within himself or separated from family. We don’t know this man’s story, but God moved heaven and earth to be a part of it. 

We may be utterly lost in our lives, in ourselves, and feel completely alone, but we are not.  We are never out of arm’s reach of God who made us, breathed life into us, and sent His Son as the final blood sacrifice for us.  No other god has ever done that.  God’s love is relentless, radical, unconditional and unstoppable.  The choice is ours to accept it.

(The prodigal son said) ‘I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’  So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again;he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. Luke 15:20-24

The biggest part for my husband, who couldn’t get through the story without choking back tears was, as he said, Two bags.  Not three, not one, not four…two.  No one could have ever known this man would have a friend with him in the same dire straits.  But God did.  For our son, he summed it up best when he told us, “Being a small part of this incredible moment was the best birthday present I received.”

<<Check out the companion song to this post on my Tunes page!>>

The Cure for a Mid-Life Crisis

Photo via Pinterest

I dreaded turning 40 my entire life.  That number always seemed like a lifetime away! Well, it came knocking on my door, and I have to say I didn’t handle it very well.  Okay, I freaked out.  I tried to hide it on the outside, but on the inside things changed.  Wow, I never thought I’d be a cliché, but so much of what people say about turning 40 is true!

I began to look back on my life – the good, bad and the ugly.  I spent quiet time alone reflecting on the way things were and they way things are now.  I noticed physical changes (oh joy!) as well as a shift in my attitude – for the good, I think.  I became less concerned with what people think of me.  I’m not motivated by people’s approval nearly as much as I used to be.  I began standing up for myself.  I realized that I cannot be everything to everyone all the time…and that’s okay.  I’m a lot more relaxed because I see things from a different perspective – hopefully a little wiser than before.

After pondering the past, I turned my focus to the future and joke that I’ve got one foot in the grave.  Well, based on statistics I do!  This weird sense of, I have to do all the things I’ve ever wanted to because, tick tock, time’s a wastin’!, crept into my thinking.  I felt a surge of self-imposed pressure to fulfill dreams and finally write and complete my bucket list right now.

At the same time, my husband is a few years older than me, and he has been swept in the undertow of being the primary provider for our family for so long he just doesn’t know any different.  He likes his position in life, though he stays continually tired.

He was a bit numb to a mid-life crisis because that takes extra time and energy he doesn’t have. On the contrary, some strange alarm went off inside me and I felt like a racehorse just waiting for the life’s gate to spring open.

What was I do to with myself?  I had a bad case of mid-life crisis!  What in the world is the remedy?  We’re not “stuffy” people so buying stuff isn’t going to fix it.  I’m not going to do anything foolish as the cliché goes.  But where would I be able to put all of this electrified energy and sense of urgency to do something completely out of my norm?

Enter…a mission trip to Africa.

I never saw that coming!  Who knew God had been working behind the scenes for many months to prepare our family’s hearts to go on mission.  We were as surprised as the friends and family we told.  But, we could not deny that this was exactly what God was sitting on us to do.  So we did.

Let me just say that when I look back on who I was pre-Africa, and in full-blown mid-life crisis mode, was utterly resolved in 2 weeks.  Just by reading the above of what I was feeling, it was all so self-centered!  A mid-life crisis usually is.  After all, it’s all about us.

There is nothing wrong with wanting a change in one’s life.  No one can blame someone for wanting shake up the norm a bit or fulfill a life dream.  But, the entire difference rode on the fact that a mission trip is designed for us to serve – not be served.

If we are to live like Christ, we must think like Him.  Matthew 20:28, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

I was standing at a crossroads in life and was tempted to make the second half of my life all about me and my time and what I wanted to do.  My human nature was screaming its demands!  But, then we stepped onto the plane bound for Kenya.  I left my home, family and friends behind.  I also left part of myself.  I stepped off the plane in Kenya and, from that moment on, everything changed.  Not just for me, but for my husband, too.

For two weeks I watched my man of 22 years be on the verge of laughing or crying 24/7.  A part of him awakened – the part that craves life.  He rediscovered a passion for being part of something larger than himself.  A passion for helping others, sharing Jesus’ love, and living life to the fullest.  He also emerged an entirely new husband and father.  We all liked the former one, but this one has zeal for godly leadership in all ways of daily living.  Even his physical countenance changed.  I could not stop staring at him the entire trip, because I watched him morph from tired to totally alive.

I shook off my mid-life pity party over everything I haven’t been able to do, and saw, without blinders, this great big world God holds in His hands and the possibilities it possesses.  I fell in love with the Kenyan people and created bonds with our American team that will last a lifetime. Where my previous focus began to shift on myself, God used this mission trip to gently turn my face back toward His Kingdom work and toward the life that is waiting for me after this one passes.  I have always loved people and diversity, but serving on mission exploded in me a passion for others.  I LOVED serving, helping and assisting the Kenyan folk and our team.  Although I had no idea what I was doing, I was willing to do whatever was needed and we made memories that will carry me the rest of my life.  On the flip side, my heart utterly broke over the poverty Kenyans endure every single day.

Serving on mission was not something we sought out so much as it was what God called us to. God calls all believers to serve in some capacity, and we should all be seeking opportunities.  This was a huge lesson I learned.  It is the most humbling work I’ve ever done.  We serve locally as well, and that is also needed, but there is something very different about  leaving all of our creature comforts, language, culture, everything we understand as our normal, and go somewhere we don’t fit in, yet are so warmly welcomed by those waiting to greet us to work together for a common good – God’s will.  It is a truly unique experience that simply cannot be replicated at home.

A vacation trip of a lifetime is an incredible experience, and there is nothing wrong with that. We’d all love to take one!  But, I saw how vastly different vacations are from mission trips.  I’ve never been so tired, so drained, so energized, so alive – all at the same time – in all my life.  Our trip had purpose and meaning.  The work we began will long outlast the memory of us being there.  I like to watch the Travel Channel with Samantha Brown, Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern.  I’ve learned a lot as an armchair traveler about the difference between simply being a tourist and immersing oneself in a different culture and experiencing it from the inside out.  I’ll take immersion any day.

We are gearing up for our next mission trip this summer, and I can hardly wait to get started.  I left a piece of my heart in Kenya and will again on this trip I am sure.  When we look at the world through God’s eyes, and see His unconditional, relentless love for it, we must simply be a part of what He is doing no matter where or when.  There are so many bad things happening in the world right now.  But, traveling with God on mission allowed me to see there is a whole lot of good being done as well.

I may have left part of my heart on mission, but I brought back hope, empathy and an intense desire to serve those who need a helping hand. It’s how Christ lived.  He commands believers to do the same.

(Jesus) said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” 

~ Mark 16:15

My only regret is that we waited so long to go.  If I could rewind time…but I can’t.  However, serving on mission is something I really look forward to doing as long as I am physically able, and that gets me really excited about the next half of my life.

<<Check out a great book recommendation on my Books page!>>

Torn in two

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ~ Micah 6:8

I was picking up the house recently when something stopped me dead in my tracks.  Literally, I took one step forward and froze.  Looking down at our coffee table, I saw some mailers that have sat for over a week.  Each one was complimentary and was delivered to my home – ironically arriving within a day of each other.  When they arrived, I placed them on my coffee table like I do with current mailers and never gave it another thought.

This time, my heart skipped a beat as I gazed, with fresh eyes, at the dichotomy of these things. See for yourself…

Do you see what I see?  Contradiction.  Two worlds clashing.

Both of those reflect me, and I am frustrated!  On one hand, my heart is passionate for all people and want no one to suffer.  I want everyone to know the love of Jesus and have all of their needs met; for everyone to realize their goals and dreams; and for peace and provisions worldwide.

On the other hand, I get stuck in what I know as normal.  I like Restoration Hardware (though I can’t afford most of what they sell).  I like their style, ideas, and clean lines.  It’s not just Restoration Hardware, but this is the mailer that happened to be sent at the same time as PrayerPoint.  I’m not picking on it, but I am confused with where it all stands with me.

I think I’ve spent my life like most people in America.  I have not been blind to the world around me, but honestly, it didn’t directly affect my daily 24/7.  The needs and injustices of this world have always made me want to help, and we do what we can, but within the longitutde and latitude of my life in America, there is a whole different normal.

I’m not saying there is not hardship and suffering here. There is. But, comparatively, we do not live in a war-torn land; we have freedom of speech & religion; we have basic things like paved roads, clean water and electricity;  we have sanitation systems that keep infection and disease down; we have laws (albeit not perfect!) against child labor, for safe working conditions, to monitor sanitation levels in restaurants, hospitals, etc.; truancy laws to keep kids in school; laws against child abuse, parent abuse and spousal abuse; and we have legal rights in the justice system.  Take away the tangible things and America is still, by far, a very rich place in which to live.

Most people in the world have far fewer rights and protections and live on $1 or less per day.  26,000 people, including children, die every day from preventable diseases and illnesses.  The rate of human trafficking, starvation, drought and political conflict is mind-boggling.  Does it affect where my kids go to school?  Where I buy my groceries? Where I go to church? I must admit, for many years I kept the two dichotomies separated.  We help locally and globally, but my daily grind did not know the physical hardships of most people in the world.

In the last few years, however, God has awoken me from a hazy sleep.  He broadened my narrow vision in a whole new way.  With the organizations we volunteer for, God has given us more work and responsibilities.  With our church, God has given us more opportunities to serve.

It’s a whole different story to know orphans that I call by name and pray for every day.  Whose faces are on the walls of my daughter’s bedroom and who are smiling at me every time I close my eyes wondering how they are doing in Kenya.  Children we’ve met, played with and held.  Teens who have dreams and hopes and goals, but little to no help to achieve them.

No one is less important than anyone else, but “here” and “there” have felt light years apart for years.

I’ve always been a huge advocate for water conservation because I grew up in an area where there was a constant threat of drought.  I try to do my part by taking very short showers; turning off the water when brushing my teeth; dumping boiled vegetable water on my outdoor potted plants; watering indoor plants with leftover cups of water; using large shade trees to cool the grass instead of a sprinkler system; and using water-saving car washes (only when truly needed) versus the hose water running down the gutter.  Very little water goes to waste in our house.  Even still, I feel so guilty for using any of it because I saw the miles people walk, barefoot and carrying plastic jugs, to fetch their daily water supply.  The water I wash my dishes with is far cleaner than the only water many people have to drink.

And, we have a house.  It’s not the biggest, it’s not the smallest.  We do, however, use every square inch of it – none of it wasted space.  One could look at the daily messes in it to know that it is true!  But, how many people in the world have a house?  Not many.   Every night when we say prayers with the kids, we thank God for a bed to sleep in and a roof over our heads.  But, we also pray for those who don’t have such luxuries.

That’s my point.  Why do some people call them luxuries and some call it a normal standard of living?  It’s all what we’re used to.

My life has been used to one way of living.  My heart has always known better.  As I experience more of this planet, the gap between the two dichotomies is only growing wider and it’s tearing me in two.

How do I enjoy things like flipping through a Restoration Hardware catalog and dreaming of the what-ifs, while I know children are dying because they don’t have simple vaccines or enough food to survive?

How do I serve those who need help, but still be thankful for what God has blessed me with like a full belly, shoes on my feet, and a home with doors to lock and a van to drive?

I can’t figure this out.  Part of me wants to sell everything and move to a faraway land.  Part of me feels called to stay put and continue the ministries that we do stateside that help people all over the world because of the resources we have here.

The summer before God called our family to short-term mission, we put a pool in the backyard of our home that we’ve lived in for 15 years.  It’s not a huge pool, but it fits the size of our motley crew.  We saved for a very, very long time and made sacrifices in other areas to make it happen.  It has been a great tool to strengthen our family time, and we love to have extended family and friends over to enjoy it with us.   But, the next summer we surprisingly found ourselves in Africa, and this summer we are preparing for another mission to a different part of the world, and my husband and I wonder if we did the right thing with the pool.  We are deeply thankful God allowed us to save the money to do it, but I also now know a lot better now how far that money could go to help people simply survive.  If we had the same choice to make all over again, would we build it?  And is this a contradiction to my water conservation awareness?


I may never find a balance within my heart with these two parts of me.  The world itself is not balanced.  It does bother me, however, to not even notice the two vastly different mailers sitting right next to each other on my coffee table as if they were equal reading.  They are not.

One thing I can do is this:

  • Continue to teach my children the difference between need and want (Matthew 6: 25-33)
  • Teach them the value of serving others (Matthew 20:26-28)
  • Teach them to consider others more highly than they consider themselves (Philippians 2:3)
  • Teach them not to be afraid of hard work (2 Thessalonians 3:7-12)
  • Teach them to be grateful for what they have, not to have too much of it, and be willing to share it (Philippians 3:12-13; Acts 2:44-45)
  • Teach them the value of money and its proper place in our lives (1 Timothy 6:6-10)
  • Teach them to tithe (Leviticus 27:30; Matthew 22:21)
  • Teach them to work as unto the Lord and not for the glory of people or ourselves (Ephesians 6:7-8; Colossians 3:23-24)
  • Talk with them about ways they can use their gifts and talents to make a difference in this world (Ephesians 2:10)
  • Talk with them about what lasts in this world – and what doesn’t (Matthew 6:19-21)
  • Talk with them about love and who deserves our whole heart (Deuteronomy 6:5)
  • Encourage them to always look for good to do…and do it (1 Timothy 6:18)
  • Example all of this in my own life first.

Children truly imitate their parents – for better or worse.  If we want to play a role in helping this world survive for generations to come, change needs to begin with us.

Decades ago, my mom clipped a poem by Charles Kingsley and pinned it to our kitchen corkboard.  This little piece of paper is one of the only (and most beloved) treasures I have left from losing everything in catastrophic loss when I was a teen.  Below is a scan of the original.

Every time I try to wrap my head around the dichotomy of my world and the world, I end up with more questions than answers.  Returning from Africa, I feel like I have no home.  Like I told a friend, I’m not comfortable living in this society because we have so much, but I’m not sure I could handle living there with its unrelenting hardships.

I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere.

I think that’s exactly where God wants our hearts.  As Christians, we are citizens of another world.  A world our eyes cannot see, but one our hearts are drawn to.  This isn’t where we belong.  It shouldn’t be comfortable.  Pardon the double negative, but it shouldn’t be a place that we wouldn’t want to leave if the Lord called us home.

John 18:36 – Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” 

Philippians 3:20-21 –  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

1 Peter 2:11 – Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.

I can relate as someone who finds herself a nomad at heart, a stranger passing through this life.

God wants us to enjoy His gift of life, to enjoy the tangible and intangible blessings of life, and be thankful for what He has given us (not which was attained by selfish desire).  But, He never meant for us to keep it all to ourselves.  I’m not only referring to money and physical resources, He also wants us to share our time, talents and energy; our love, friendship and humor; everything that makes us unique that He inspired in us for His purposes.  Most of all, He wants us to share the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, the free gift of eternal life that the world cannot take away.

As the world economy and our American economy both feel the tremble of emerging fault lines beneath our feet, serious thought and prayer need to play a major part in how we spend every dollar and donate every hour of our time & resources.  Time is short.  Life is precious.  God help us.

Rules for life

In my mind, I’m back in Kenya.  This time it is night.  We are no longer on mission.  It is the end of the trip, and we are on safari.  This place was like nothing I have ever seen.  Very eco-friendly.  Amazing!  The detached huts were spaced well apart, and the one, large dining hut was a decent walk away.  That was it.  No gates. No fences.  No trace of humanness.  Just wild, wide open space and a small, gravel path that connected the huts together.  Below us was a river that hippos splash in all day.  At any time, you can hear them grunt and moan and show off.

Everyday, we set of on safari with a guide.  Most were Maasai warriors – the real deal.  Friendly.  Strong.  Brave.  Confident.  We saw so many amazing animals up close and very personal – it took my breath away.  However, more surreal than that was nighttime.  There were clearly stated rules we had to follow.  This is what we were told, Under no circumstances, ever, do you come out of your hut at night alone.  There are predators that come to this camp, and you must not venture outside your hut.  If you need something, use this small light.  Shine it in the night, and a Masai watchman will come running to help you.  When leaving the dining lodge, you must have an escort because it will be dark.  You must NOT walk to your hut alone in the dark.  The reiterated their point several times.  Got it.

Were the hosts doing this to spoil our fun?  Absotluely not.  They were doing it to keep us safe.  After dinner one night, a small group of us huddled together to wait for a Maasai escort to go to our huts for the night.  It seemed out of nowhere, a tall, slender Maasai in a bright red kanga (a one-piece garment), holding a walking stick taller than him, appeared from the darkness.  My friend walked with him down the path, chatting as they went, when suddenly he stopped moving and shushed her.  He said, Wait.  Lion.  He cocked his ear toward the black of night and listened.  After a few seconds (which seemed like an eternity to my friend, frozen in fear) he softly spoke, Two-hundreds yards.  We’re okay.  My friend said she was about to crawl up under his kanga in fear as they continued trekking to her hut.

When it was my family’s turn, we wanted to all climb on the Maasai’s shoulders!  The danger was so real you could sense it, like smelling rain before it begins to fall. As we walked down the narrow gravel path to our hut, the Maasai shone his flashlight into the bushes inches from our feet.  I didn’t even want to know what he was looking out for.  I asked our Maasai, Do you ever get scared?  This huge warrior, donning a war-colored kanga and armed with only a spear, looked at me with his deep, dark eyes and stated firmly, No – as if I had just asked a stupid question.  Well, okay then, I thought to myself.  I didn’t bring it up again.  Later I found out that this Maasai has killed, not one, but six lions with his bare hands!  Oh…my…word! Another Maasai with our team once jumped into a hippo-infested, crocodile-plagued river to save five drowning tourists.  He jumped in and saved them all, all by himself.  Wow.  These men are modern-day superheroes!

As we slept that night in our hut, with the steel door locked and the canvas windows zipped up, the nighttime activity began.  Nighttime on the Mara is very active.  Hunting is huge at this time.  The day before we arrived, a jaguar had been seen walking through the camp.  Whoa.  They didn’t have to tell me twice to stay in our hut.  The beds lined the perimter of the hut, with our heads against the dried mud wall.  The steel door made me feel safe, but the entire backside of the hut was canvas (like a tent).  My husband jokingly said, It’s just a wrapper (as in a candy bar and we’re the treat).  Ha ha, Honey.  The lights were shut off (literally, they cut power to the rooms at 11pm).  We could not see the hand in front of our face.  But, that was kind of okay with me because that meant we couldn’t see the enormous bugs hanging on the mosquito nets that draped over our beds.

Then it began.  Thump.  Bump.  Snort.  Groan.  Moan.  Grunt.  Kick. Wham! up against the walls our heads were resting against.  The animals came.  In large number.  They were literally right outside, and only a mud wall stood between us and them.  My heart beat so hard I knew for sure every predator within miles could hear it. Hippos, zebra, wildebeests, Thompson gazelles, you name it, was there.  Oh, and at least one lion that the Maasai heard.  All night, the thumping and bumping up against our mud wall continued.  My family and I laid there, in the stark blackness, and whispered, Did you hear that?  Did you feel that?  The owners weren’t kidding when they said the danger is real.

Obviously, we survived.  In fact, we had the best time of our entire lives!!  Why? How?  Every moment we were there, we were in some kind of danger.  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves because we obeyed the rules.  We stayed on the marked paths.  We didn’t go out after dark.  We enlisted the Maasai to help us when needed.  When near the wild animals, we didn’t call to them or disturb them.  We kept all limbs inside the open-air vehicles at all times.  We sat very, very quietly when animals passed by our Landrover.  In addition to medicine and protective clothing, we followed bug repellent guidelines so as to avoid contracting malaria.  These are examples of rules that are meant to keep us safe, not spoil our fun, while in the wild.

Living according to God’s Word is the same.  He has given us the Bible as a rulebook, of sorts, to follow.  Is this to spoil our quality of life?  No, in fact, it is to enhance it.  When we live with Christ in our heart, we desire to please God.  It’s a choice we make.  Jesus said Himself, The thief comes only to steal and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).  In keeping God’s commandments in both the Old and New Testaments, we have freedom to really, truly, deeply live – not merely survive.

2 Timothy 3:16-17, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Leviticus 25:18 (God speaking), Follow my decress and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land.

Proverbs 3:5-6 promises, Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.

Psalm 119:33-35, Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end.  Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.  Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.

John 14:15 (Jesus speaking), If you love me, you will obey what I command.

Instead of resenting and testing the boundaries God has set for our lives as believers, let’s embrace them!  He has our best interest at heart and is working for our eternal good – all the time.  Dwell in God’s Word.  Absorb it.  Let it become who you are.  We will continue to sin, sinful people that we are.  But, we can minimize the difficulties we create for ourselves when living according to the standard God has set in the Bible.  In doing so, we are free to fully enjoy the life in Christ has to offer such as trust, joy, peace, and contentment.  Psalm 91:1-2 says it best, He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’

The Maasai have their knowledge, strength, courage, walking sticks, and handmade spears to keep them safe.  All are very impressive.  Christians have the Word of God which is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12) –  the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17).  In it, He’s given us everything we need to make wise choices.  Choose wisely today.

<<Check out some of my safari photos in the Photo Gallery page!>>

I am here, my heart is there

I woke up in Africa today, if only in my heart.  We traveled to Kenya as a family last summer on a short-term mission trip, and I am convinced part of me stayed there.  If I close my eyes and draw a deep breath, I can still smell the smoke from the Masai warriors’ burned wood.  If I sink my ears into my pillow, I can hear the laughter of the hundreds of children we had the pleasure to meet.  If I dismiss the daily to-do’s waiting for me, I am able to replay the memories we made as a team and as individuals.

What I still can’t forget are the smiles.  Hundreds and hundreds of smiles shining at us.  I can’t forget the extremely special people we met.  We felt like we had known them for a lifetime.  I miss them.

And the tomatoes!  I’ve never in all my life had a tomato so sweet and delicious – you could eat them like an apple.  The smell of the night air.  Unpolluted.  Dewey. Sweet.  The fun we had!  Singing, sharing, working.  Standing on a mountain top, looking at people who have never seen white folk.  I’d never seen Kenyan tribal folk.  The language barrier – and how it really didn’t matter.  Love truly knows no language.  Smiles, playing, and just being together provided so much love we needn’t say a word.  I was captivated watching the children’s faces as they saw themselves for the first time – through my camera’s lens.  Never had some seen what they look like.  Never had they seen themselves in motion as on Bruce’s iPad.  The squeals of delight and fascination were contagious.

The poverty.  Heart-breaking poverty.  It was everywhere my eye wandered.  I couldn’t get away from it.  Even in our bunk rooms, children stood outside the door begging.  Give me sweets?  Give me Bible?  Give me sweets?  Give me Bible? they repeated over and over.  There is so much need.  They need clean water, dental hygiene, shoes, clothes that do not have gaping holes in them and that actually fit.  They need allergy medicine, education, medical care, and to hear they are loved.  My heart broke for them – with good reason.  They have many, many important needs.

However, when we asked them if they want what we have in America, they said no.  Hmm.  Why?  Because, they said, we see what it costs you to have it. Wow.  I was speechless.  They nailed it.  They are impoverished people, but they are hard-working, loving, accepting people.  They pay no attention to status, material possessions or anything that labels a person.  They are thrilled just to spend time together.  They have true community.  Something we lack.

We worked primarily with children.  It still amazes me that the entire time we were there, I heard not one single complaint from them!  Not one I’m bored, I’m tired, I don’t want to, but why, why not, I’m cold, I’m hungry, or a single negative comment.  Not one.  Children who have no parents, no shoes, no possessions to call their own.  Not even electricity or running water.

But boy were they happy!  They laughed and sang and took us by the hand and showed us their orphanages, schools, and church.  They played soccer with us, danced with us, braided my daughter’s hair, and showed us how to harvest corn in the fields.  They wanted nothing from us, but were so thankful for what we brought.  I met a boy who has the mind of an engineer, and I got to introduce a Rubik’s Cube to him.  I met a teenage girl that hopped on our bus to ride up the mountain that she climbs every day…just because she wanted to feel what it was like to ride in a vehicle.  She wants to be a teacher or doctor.

My kids fell head over heels in love with all of the children.  My daughter is still trying to convince us to adopt the special friend she made.  If only life were that easy.  My oldest teen made instant friends with another teen there who wants to be a pastor.  They were soul brothers just like that.  My youngest helped buy and cut wood with his dad, and played soccer every single day with boys his age.  They helped with VBS, led worship at church, and dug ditches to help build a kitchen onto one orphanage.  Our children were changed forever.  All of the children on the team were.  We all were.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so embedded is a video I made from the photos I took.  Watch with me.  I need to see their faces again.  Smell the dewy air.  Feel the rich soil beneath your feet.  Hear nothing but kids laughing and playing.  See the precious, beautiful Kenyan people.  They have many needs, but after being with them, I think they are some of the richest people in the world.