Grateful for the Body of Christ

What a week it has been!

This time last week, we were still in Nashville, and Rusty and I were debating whether to take Elizabeth into a clinic as she seemed to be pretty sick (high fever, congested, having trouble breathing). He eventually left the house with her, the address of a local clinic programmed into his phone. Several hours later, when I saw them again, it was in the emergency room at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. We had been trying to avoid a trip to the E.R. by visiting a local urgent care clinic, but we landed there anyway, and even added a ride in an ambulance to boot as the clinic decided she was doing so poorly that she needed to be on oxygen for the brief trip to the hospital.

Elizabeth was diagnosed with croup and given steroids and a breathing treatment, and after several hours of observation, they sent us home. As has been the case every time our family has faced a crisis over the years, I was humbly amazed and unspeakably grateful at the outpouring of support we received from our church family. Terri gave me a ride from the church to where our car was parked so I could drive it to the hospital. Amy went with me to the hospital, helped me find it and figure out where to park, walked inside with me, waited with us, and went to the cafeteria and bought Rusty something to eat. She and her doctor husband, Nathan, kept Alex and Stephen at their house overnight and most of the next day. Jane stayed with Benjamin at her house and put him to bed. Nathan called us repeatedly to check up on us. Claudia brought dinner one evening. Henry and Jane graciously allowed us to stay a few extra days with them as we attempted to recover (our entire family ended up getting sick at the same time).

I have not even allowed myself to dwell on how much our little trip to the E.R. is going to end up costing, but we have already had several people ask and offer financial assistance if we need it. As we began to consider the possibility that we might need to cancel our remaining speaking appointments for this trip and just head back to Seattle early, we had nothing but support and genuine understanding from all those we were considering backing out on. Many prayed for our family and offered words of encouragement via Facebook.

It’s enough to make you wonder what people who aren’t part of a church community do when things like this happen to them? I have wondered this often over the years. When your house burns to the ground, or there’s a death in the family, or your baby is 2 born two months premature, these are the times when I have witnessed churches pull together, rally the troops, and surround the one-in-need with real, tangible help, not to mention emotional and spiritual support. What happens if you aren’t part of a body like this? I suppose family members can provide this to some extent, but what if you live far from extended family?

At the end of the day, as we all collapsed exhausted into our beds, Elizabeth finally breathing somewhat peacefully, I was overcome by a profound gratitude for all the myriad ways we had been ministered to in our time of need by the body of Christ.

We spent the next several days recovering, decided to cancel most of the rest of our appointments for this home ministry assignment, drove to Memphis on Thursday, Oklahoma City on Friday, and tomorrow, we will begin the push westward to Portland, and finally to Seattle.

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Celebrating Passover

We celebrated Passover in our home for the third time this year. Friends introduced us to the idea of the Messianic Passover years ago when we were living in Japan. Since then, we have also experienced it in a church setting, but it wasn’t until we were living in Portugal that we tried hosting a seder dinner in our own home. And ever since our first one, I knew I wanted Passover to become a part of our Holy Week / Easter remembrances and celebrations each year.

Why would a Christian family observe a Jewish holiday? Here are a couple of reasons we have made it one of our traditions: Every time I participate in a Passover dinner and service, my understanding of the Christian practice of taking communion is deepened and enriched. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper when he was celebrating the Passover with his disciples, and it wasn’t just a quick 10-minute service where trays of tiny crackers and cups of grape juice were passed around. It was a lengthy service built around an entire meal with many symbolic elements. Jesus “re-imagined” the Passover and some of those elements, when he told us to “do this in remembrance of me.”

But beyond that, I think there is much that Christians can gain from the study of Jewish culture. Not only were Christ and the apostles all Jews, but the early church was heavily influenced by Jewish culture. I think Christianity does itself something of a disservice when it ignores that rich heritage entirely. Passover was my first foray into Jewish tradition, but I am interested in learning more about other Jewish holidays and festivals, such as Purim and Hannukah. I’m sure that there are faith lessons I could take away from those holidays as well.

If you have never participated in a Messianic Passover, I encourage you to try to find a way to do so, either in a church setting or in your own home. There are many excellent resources online for planning and hosting your own seder, including free printable and downloadable copies of the haggadah (the script that you follow during the service).

Walking with Giants

Having been in Ecuador almost a year now, one thing I am starting to notice is the longevity of so many missionary families. 10 years or less in the country and you are pretty much still a “newby” by comparison. 15 years, and you’ve been here “awhile,” but not in a jaw-dropping way. 20 plus years, and you’re considered a veteran — but you’re not exactly an anomaly since there are quite a few veteran missionaries around!

Yesterday, I went to the homeschool mothers’ monthly planning meeting. I am one of the youngest moms in the group, with younger kids, just starting out in Ecuador, just starting out on our homeschool journey. Most of the other moms have large families, and years of parenting and missionary experience. As we were sitting around the table drinking tea and chatting, I stopped to silently marvel at the collective wisdom gathered there. How thankful I am to be able to learn from those who have walked this path before me!

Then, tonight, we had Neil and Ruth Wiebe over for dinner. The Wiebes worked as Wycliffe Bible Translators in Ecuador many years ago, translating the Bible into Chapalachi, the language of the Chachi Indians who live on the Cayapas River. They are back in Ecuador for a brief visit, and graciously agreed to have dinner with us so we could pepper them with all manner of questions. They are even going out to Kumanii with Rusty next weekend.

The Wiebes were in Ecuador for 38 years — 12 of them spent living in the jungle on the Cayapas River, and the remainder of the time in Quito. It is hard for me to even conceive of doing the same thing for 38 years. Let’s see, 38 years — it’s longer than I’ve been alive. In 38 years, I’ll be almost 75 years old. Anyway you slice it, it’s a long time. And it’s most definitely a long time to spend on the mission field!

I have the utmost respect for those who do the hard and often thankless work of translating the Scriptures into other languages. They come and they live among a people, often in a remote area. They struggle to learn a language that may not have a textbook, or someone who knows how to teach it, or even a written form. Then, they painstakingly translate the Scriptures, verse for verse, idea for idea, word for word, trying to stay faithful to the original text, trying to make it readable, trying to make the story of God accessible to those who have never had it before in their heart language. Neil was telling the story tonight of struggling with how to translate the word “priest,” because the Chapalachi word has so much religious and cultural baggage due to the heavy Catholic influence. Eventually, they decided to use a phrase describing what a priest does: “one who approaches God on behalf of the people” because they felt like that was a better representation of the idea of a priest, and one that would not immediately connote a Catholic priest.

It is so easy for us to take for granted the fact that we have ready access to God’s Word in multiple forms, in multiple versions. But there are still many people groups around the world who can’t read the life-giving words of the Bible for themselves because it has not yet been translated into their language. I’m thankful for people like the Wiebes, who have spent their lives working to change that — the New Testament, as well as Genesis and Exodus are now available in the Chapalachi language!

But there is still much work to be done. I don’t typically observe Lent in the traditional sense, but this year, I have been working my way through this 40-day e-book devotional called “Jesus Brings Freedom,” with a prayer focus on the Bibleless peoples of the world. Download your free copy here and partner in prayer with those who are working to make “God’s Word accessible to all people in the language of their heart” (Wycliffe’s vision statement).

Awesome AIMers!

Right after the medical campaign, for a couple of nights, we kept five students from the Adventures in Missions (AIM) program who are currently doing their field assignment in Sucre, Bolivia. They came to help with the medical campaign and stayed afterwards for about a week to do some sight-seeing before going back to Sucre.

I have written before about the blessing of having visitors in our home here and here, and this time was certainly no exception. These kids (can I call them kids since I am twice their age?) impressed me so much with their servant hearts, their attitudes of gratefulness, and how they played with and loved on my children. The girls were constantly in the kitchen asking if they could help with food prep; they washed dishes without being asked; the guys did puzzles with the boys and played Mario Kart with them; and they even made their beds every day! One night, the girls all sat and watched with keen interest a film called “Real Love Stories,” in which Rusty and I were featured. (A friend of ours made this film years ago to show the youth group at the Metro Church of Christ in Portland, where we were attending at the time.)

(If any of you AIMers read this post, feel free to pass it on to your parents and let them know what awesome kids I think they raised! I hope my boys turn out just like all of you!)

Rusty and I so enjoy being around young people with a heart for missions. In fact, working with teens and college students was one of the aspects about this opportunity with Operation Ecuador that Rusty found most appealing. He has always enjoyed working with this age-group, from back when we lived in Japan and he got to take the Pac Rim students from Oklahoma Christian University around Tokyo and Nikko for three days. In fact, if we hadn’t gone into missions, I probably would have strongly encouraged Rusty to pursue campus ministry — he has both the heart and the giftedness for it.

For my part, I find the enthusiasm and zeal of young missionary apprentices both heart-warming and contagious. I wouldn’t really call myself an “old” or “seasoned” missionary — we haven’t even been in Ecuador for a year — but we’ve been around the world enough and lived overseas enough to experience the occasional slumps, to have to fight the tendency to become jaded. And sometimes it’s good to remember why missions is so exciting, that it truly is a blessing to join God in the work of reconciling souls to himself. Young people just starting out, just getting their feet wet in the mission field, can help remind us of that.

I have had many positive experiences with AIMers through the years… from a college roommate who went through the program, to my brother-in-law, to several fantastic AIM teams that we had the privilege to know in Mito, Japan. And I now have another positive experience to add to my list with this team from Sucre. Thank you, AIM, for your high caliber program, and thank you, Sucre Team (Andrea, Kacie, Kaylin, Brett, and Cameron) for staying with us and letting us get to know you!

The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 4

Week 4 is about rising early. Read the entire post here.

I had a feeling this one was coming. Now I see why the sleep challenge was so important! After all, you get enough sleep and go to bed on time so you can rise early, right? It really is a noble concept, and in my life BC (that’s Before Children), I actually was an early riser. Back when I had morning classes or a job that I had to be on time for. Back when I was more self-motivated and way better at time management than I am now. Back when I had yet to experience true, mind-altering sleep-deprivation.

I really do love getting up early (as in, before my kids)… when I’m well-rested, that is. I love the stillness of the house in the early morning. I love watching the sun rise and greeting the new day. I love having that time all to myself, not having to meet needs and demands and be a wife and a mom, but just BE. I love spending time with God — studying His Word, spending time in prayer, writing in my prayer/gratitude journal.

When I am in the habit of rising early, I am more likely to have a regular and focused Quiet Time. And lately, since I haven’t even been setting an alarm, but rather waiting to be woken up by the pitter-pat of little feet (or, more often, the screams of the 3-year old being pestered by his older brother), Quiet Time has really fallen by the wayside. Honestly? This is one habit that I have struggled so much with over the years. There are some seasons when I do really well, but then something happens, and I get off track, and — well, sometimes, it’s just easier to stay off track than it is to pick myself up and get back on.

Beth Moore study, Bible, prayer journal, pen

Beth Moore study, Bible, prayer journal, pen

When my sweet, ever-so-disciplined sister came back from the States last summer, she brought two of Beth Moore’s new James Bible study workbooks with her for us to do together. I am so not a good Bible study partner (sorry, Julie). I started out strong, but life got busy, and I haven’t picked it up for several weeks. I’m ready to pick it back up again, but it’s going to require being more disciplined about rising early. As in, using an alarm and all that good stuff.

Our veranda. On a clear day, the view is beautiful -- even some snow-capped peaks!

Our veranda. On a clear day, the view is beautiful — even some snow-capped peaks!

So, today, I got up at 6:30. (The boys sometimes wake up around this time, but they are supposed to stay in their rooms and play quietly until 7:00.) I thought about going out on the porch, but it was raining, so I ended up downstairs in our comfy recliner. I read from the Psalms and then I got out my prayer journal. My last entry was in October of last year.

My other spot -- a comfy recliner.

My other spot — a comfy recliner.

I picked up my pen. What do you say to someone you haven’t really talked to in several months? How do you reconnect?

Hi, God. It’s me. I’m sorry I haven’t made my relationship with you more of a priority these last few months…

Well, it’s a start, anyway.

1,000 Reasons to be Thankful

At the first of last year, I shared on our family blog my intent to take the Joy Dare on Ann Voskamp’s blog, A Holy Experience, and count 1,000 gifts in 2012. I got a little behind what with the craziness of December, and then I lost December’s print-out on our trip, but this afternoon, I stole a few quiet moments to sit outside on our veranda and catch up. The idea is to list three things you are thankful for each day of the year, resulting in over 1,000 gifts listed by the year’s end. If I numbered correctly, then there are exactly 1,098 items on my list! That’s a lot to be thankful for!

This has been an interesting experiment for me. I’ve certainly become more aware of all that I have to thank God for. Sometimes, my eyes were opened to gifts that I probably would not have recognized otherwise. At the same time, it was a stretch for me to discover gifts that were “ugly-beautiful” or the gifts that Ann calls “hard eucharisteo,” those things that are difficult to give thanks for, that maybe don’t even seem like gifts at all.

On her blog, Ann points to research that suggests that people who develop an “attitude of gratitude” are generally happier, and have less stress, more energy, and better relationships. I can’t say that I really found any of that to be true for me this year. I think I would like to try this again at some point in the future when I feel like I’ve regained my equilibrium somewhat, when I’m “normal” again (whatever that means – ha!). Honestly, at times this year, I felt like all my gratitude practice was doing was keeping the depression and the discouragement at bay. I suppose if being thankful does at least that much, that’s probably a good thing.

Ann is doing the Joy Dare again this year, if you are interested in joining in. Click here for all the details. And if you don’t subscribe to her blog, well, you really should!