African outfits

African outfits
Our crazy family

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Coffee snobbery to a new level

Anyone who know my husband, knows that he loves to make yummy coffee drinks.  We own a little espresso/barista machine that he uses to steam his milk and makes shots of espresso for the most wonderful latte'.  Every morning throughout the year he makes me a coffee drink that far surpasses any coffee shop.  I'm pretty spoiled.

When we go camping or if we are at a hotel, away from his espresso machine, he will bring along our french press so that we do not have to go without great coffee.  He really gets a kick out of serving people by making coffee drinks for them and watching their faces when they discover how good it is.  It's early right now and I'm going without coffee until he gets up to make me one.  I just know that it's worth the wait.  I usually only have one coffee a day so it better be good.  He loves making me coffee, you could even say it is his "love language" to me.

In Cameroon, coffee is one of their main exports.  The books that I have read say that they grow coffee there but do not usually drink the coffee.  We were concerned about being able to find coffee in Ndu where we will be.  A friend who has been there mentioned that you can get it but we will need to roast our own beans!  The thought of this makes me giggle.  Drew is already so particular about making the perfect coffee, I know he will embrace roasting his own beans.  There will be no stopping him and he will no longer be satisfied with a normal cup of coffee again.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Blessings Showered Down

December is here and I’m starting to freak out a little at how fast the time is going.  This morning I was taking a long shower, talking to God about all the things on my mind and trying to let go of my worries.  Ever since my children were small I have had a rule not to bug me in the shower unless the house is on fire.  I justify it because I have always been with my kids day and night.  Being in the shower is like a little retreat or personal spa treatment, it gives me time to renew my mind and be a better Mom.

 I was showering and praying about what to bring to Africa without over packing.  No small feat, because when we camp we pack for comfort.  I definitely struggle with over packing.   This will be much longer than any camping trip I have ever been on.  It's not fair to compare it with camping but that is the closest thing in my experiences.  We will have a house to live in so I certainly will have a comfortable place but it will be different. 

Right in the middle of my prayer, the thought came into my mind – How many people in the world don’t even have enough water to drink?  What would they think right now if they could see me standing here?  Besides the shock of seeing a naked, overweight, very white, 40 something woman- I wonder what would go through their mind?  I’m sure for some it would be something they could barely wrap their minds around.  They would probably think I had lost my mind wasting water like that.  If I wanted I could drink my shower water and not get sick.  Here I am with gallons of water washing over me and down the drain, while people all over the world are dying from disease caused by  infected water.   It’s not like I can bottle up the water going down my drain and make any kind of difference, but do I really understand what an amazing blessing it is not to worry about water?

We may or may not have access to showers on a daily basis while in Africa, but at least our showers will need to be much shorter than we enjoy here.  I read one story of a short term missions team that was in Africa for 2 weeks in a village that had a shortage of water.  They had rationed out water for the team to drink but one lady was using the filtered water to wash her hair.  All I could think was – Please Lord, help me not to be so culturally insensitive that I do something so incredibly selfish.  I know that I am selfish through and through and  my eyes are going to be opened to that fact more and more while we are in Africa.  

Today I am thankful for my fresh water to drink, my toilet to flush, my hot shower, my sink with running water to wash my dishes.  I'm also thankful for the amazing blessing of getting to go without these things for even a short while and live like most of the world.  We live in a land of abundance, in a season of even more abundance.  God, show me how to be content, to let go of wanting more, to be satisfied with the blessings all around me big and small.  Help me to be satisfied in you alone.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What About School?

Probably the most frequent question I get asked concerning our trip to Africa is "What about school?"  It's a fair question and looks different depending on who it is coming from.  We are a homeschooling family but even that does not look the same in every family.  Some may take classes online, we don't.  Some are very relaxed and don't follow any type of curriculum, we follow more than one.  Some take classes through a co-op of families, we do.  There is freedom in our decisions on how to teach our kids, but in many ways I feel a great pressure in that freedom.  I do feel like I have "eyes" watching me at times and there is a pressure to some degree of caring what others think (by this I mean extended family or friends that don't homeschool).  I would say my biggest reason for the pressure I feel is that I don't want to fail my kids.  I don't want them to be ill prepared for life or finding a decent career path using the skills and talents God has given them.  I have one shot at this, there are no "do overs".

Originally, when I thought of going to Africa, I did think that we would just bring our work with us.  My reasoning is that I didn't want to get behind on anything.  After talking to a friend that had gone with her family on the mission field for an extended time, she helped me see it differently.  I believe her comment was, "Why would you want to taint your child's experience by bringing their 'American' school work with them?  They would miss so much."  Giving that some thought, I realized she was right in many ways and I needed to come up with a plan.

We started our basic school work several weeks early and I had each of my kids test out of the first few chapters of review in their math books.  Our co-op has been wonderful and the kid will be able to jump in the middle of their subjects when we return.  For their Enviromental Science class they will be doing a project on what they learned in Cameroon with regard to Enviro Science.  As a family we love to read aloud, or individually, so we will have a Kindle full of books as well as the real deal.  Math will be real life stuff like dealing with conversions, buying things from market, figuring travel time and working through real life construction puzzles with their Dad.   We will have a front row seat on our African culture class.  French is spoken in parts of Cameroon so they will have a chance to put their French into practice.  They will learn about Bible translation and the effects of illiteracy and how they can help.  They will learn compassion and mercy that would never come from seeing a documentary or reading about poverty.  Their one assignment that they will all have to do is to keep a journal of our trip so they can document it through their own eyes.

My hope is that all of us will walk away forever changed from this experience, but especially my children.  I hope that they come home with a vision for how God can use their lives.  My wish would be for them to work hard at the tasks put before them and the school that must happen to reach their goal.  I would want for them to see school as essential steps to live a bigger life with purpose and not just a time to do the bare minimum.  They do not need to wait until they are adults to make a difference in this world, they can begin today.

I think the answer I got from our travel nurse is the one I liked the best.  When I told her we were not bringing our regular school books with us, she responded "Oh, field work, sounds good!"

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Provision My Way

Yesterday I shared how God has been providing for us in some amazing ways over the years, but more specifically leading up to our trip to Africa.  I am an idea person, so when we first started realizing just how much this trip would cost, my mind started thinking of different ways to make it happen.

Earlier this year "Minute to Win It" was in town looking for people to be on their show.  We don't even watch the show usually because it is on Wednesday nights and we are at AWANA on Wednesday nights.  A few times we have caught the end of the show or watched it on some of the free Wednesday nights we had.  If you have never seen the show, the contestants do all kinds of crazy games/competitions and each time they successfully complete the challenge they move up a level.  Each challenge has a dollar amount and you can win lots and lots of money.  When I heard about the local auditions I shot them an email.  For whatever reason, I got a reply email with an invitation to audition with my family and a VIP pass so we could move to the head of the line.  I was so excited and completely sure that God was going to let us get on the show.  I figured we could give God glory since we had a good reason for wanting the money.  It would also be a quick and easy way to have all the funds we needed and maybe some leftover too.  I liked the idea of an easy solution to our money dilemma.

Things got crazy around here for a while.  We checked out the "Minute to Win It" web site for all the different challenges that had been done.  We set up stations so we could practice all the different games.  I have to admit, I was terrible at all of them.  I was too impatient to bounce a pencil in a cup or get a cookie from my forehead to my mouth.  I wanted to get on the show because it sounded like an easy way to get to Africa but I really didn't want to practice so that I would be ready.  Thankfully, my kids were great at almost every challenge they tried. Although they were having trouble getting a playing card to lodge itself into a watermelon by throwing it from 3 feet away.  I'm still finding cards in random places in my basement.  I was feeling a little nervous because we wanted to be good examples since we were using our money for missions.  All the competition brought out some pretty ugly parts of our character and we hadn't even left our home.  We laughed a lot too as we stacked Oreos on our foreheads and did other crazy stunts.  We put everything else on hold as we worked on our training, not knowing exactly what would be expected of us at the auditions.

The day of the auditions finally arrived and we headed out to the furniture store where auditions were being held.  Our 10 page application was all filled out and we had our matching shirts to boot.  The store was overflowing with people and once inside the door the line of contestant hopefuls wound and wound throughout the store, they would have a long wait ahead of them.  With our pass we awkwardly walked past all these staring eyes to the front of the line.  Everyone else had only one page applications so we felt pretty good about our chances.  The "audition" was over in about 30 seconds and we were walking out the door.  That was very anti-climatic but we were all so thankful that we were not part of the crowd waiting all day in line to have the same experience.We never heard from "Minute to Win It" again.  All that practicing for nothing except to annoy me whenever I find another ping pong ball, or card, or cup with holes in it, in a cupboard or under furniture.  It was kind of a waste of time in the end.

Thinking about that experience showed me just how easy it is to get our eyes off of what God intends for us and that which is fun or will make life easy.  I wanted to "win big" for a good cause but in doing so I would have missed so much.  The people who have been praying for us for months probably wouldn't be, since most of these people knew what we were doing from our support letter.  Our family has been so touched by the sense of community we have had knowing people are investing in us on our journey, both financially and through prayer.  Practicing for "Minute to Win It" would not have prepared us for what we will be doing in Africa.  However, working on remodeling the house that we helped "flip" was great preparation for all of us (since we will be doing construction projects).   We have had lots of opportunity to work together as a team and support one another.  Our character has grown as we have had to work harder than we ever have before and persevere to the end.

"God's ways are higher than our ways" and I've found that to be true.  We are winners!  My faith has grown leaps and bounds this year as I've seen first hand God's faithfulness.  My kids wanted to be on "Minute to Win It" because they have never been on an airplane.  They will get to be on an airplane for a VERY long time and God used our hard work, along with big and small gifts and lots of prayer from our friends.

Monday, November 28, 2011

God's Provision

As we are coming closer to leaving for Africa, I am in awe of how God is providing all that we need.  The idea of having enough money in our bank account to pay all our bills (house,insurance, utilities) while we are away and having enough for 5 of us to travel was overwhelming to say the least.  It was the "mountain" that had to be moved in order for this dream to become a reality.  It was also the sign that we would know this was God giving us these desires, because if He was not behind this trip there would be no way that we could make it happen.  It has been a faith journey from the very beginning, but to be honest, that journey began with our family long before this mission trip.

Back in the late 80's, when my young marriage failed and I found myself parenting alone, I realized I could not make it on my own.  I saw for the first time how my decisions and selfishness had got me to a place that was very hard.  For the first time I really understood my need for a Savior and surrendered my future to my Lord Jesus Christ.  I had a lot to learn along that road (and I am still learning), but it was the best decision I have ever made.  As a single Mom, things were tight even though I had a full time job with good benefits.  One day I was reading in Malachi where God is talking about tithing and it says to "test Me in this".  I had no money and didn't even know how I was going to pay my house payment that month.  I chose to take the Bible at it's word and test God in this area.  I tithed that next paycheck and had a peace and a security that I had not felt before.  In addition to that, God provided in so many amazing ways that my faith was strengthened.  I know some of you will read this and say that Malachi is in the Old Testament so we don't need to follow the idea of tithing the first 10% of your income.  I'm not here to debate, I'm here to tell my story that God has been faithful and my experience is that he really has provided all that I have needed.  As New Testament Christians, I believe that it's all God's money anyway, we should be giving at least 10%.  I did go through a short time when a well meaning Christian advised me that God didn't intend for the poor to have to give back to be provided for.  That time was a time of worry and anxiety and I will not go back to that type of thinking.

When I met Drew, one thing that attracted me to him was his conviction and practice of tithing.  I knew that most marriages struggle because of money issues and this was an important foundation for both of us.  We have been married for over 18 years now and Drew has been in seasonal construction for all of those years.  We have had years of plenty and especially in the past few, years of lean.  God has been our provider through them all.  As long as I have my eyes fixed on Him and not on circumstances, my heart is at peace.  As soon as I take them off my real source of income, I get anxious, worried and filled with doubt.  My friends know that most years as winter approaches I start to get worried and have to remind myself that God has never let us down.

Last year's winter season had Drew feeling very anxious.  The season before his income had dropped quite a bit from previous years and we didn't have as much money in the bank for the long winter as we liked.   This was also right about the time that I brought up our whole family going to Africa.  A couple of things happened that helped calm his nerves, and had nothing to do with us getting more money.  The first was when we started praying for Africa, we were reminded of all the ways God had provided for us in the past.  We also realized how it was out of our control in many ways.  The second was that Drew had a lead part in a musical that the kids were in at the church where they had attended AWANA.  The part was a bit cheesy but most of his lines were directly from scripture.  For an hour most days he would go over and over the lines from this play, which was all about taking our burdens to the "Rock" of our Salvation.  Something about saying these truths out loud day after day, transformed my husband.  The timing of this musical couldn't have been more perfect.

Once we made the decision to move forward with our trip to Africa we still had no idea where the money would come from.  Knowing many of you have hearts for missions, we sent out support letters for those who may want to partner with us on this adventure.  That has been humbling and encouraging to see so many people come up along side us and help make this happen.  We are so thankful for the gifts that have come in.  We have received large sums from anonymous givers and some from names we don't even know, as well as from our friends and family.  The Bible talks about faith without works being dead and we have worked hard this year to do our part.  A friend had been talking for 2 years with Drew about "flipping" a house together but the right house just never came along.  Right in the middle of us trying to find a way to make this work, the perfect house came along that our whole family could work on.  We appreciate the fact that he would take the risk to have us work on this huge investment.  It was hard work but has provided all that we need to pay the bills while we are gone.  Ellie and I have sold Norwex products and cleaned houses together.  The boys have done lawn work and other odd jobs to pitch in for the expenses coming up.  Drew has had many side job opportunities, almost more than he has time in a day to do.  Drew's sister gave us a laptop that we can use to stay in communication while we are away.  It has been so cool for all of us to see God's hand in providing opportunity as well as money for our needs.

My faith has grown so much this year and reading this makes it look as if it all came right when I thought it should.  We have had deadlines along the way for expenses and I don't think we have had enough in our account for any of them.  As each deadline has come (like for airline tickets), we have prayed like crazy for God to show us what to do.  In the end, we felt at peace and went forward with the purchase not knowing if all the funds would be there or not.  Each time at just the right moment (but later than I would have preferred), the money has been there.  I'm embarrassed to say that I still have moments of doubt even after seeing God's hand provide time after time.  I don't want to be so stressed that I can't see where the last money is going to come from, or if we will have enough in our savings for all our bills after paying out what needs to be paid. I feel so unworthy of all these blessings that have been showered down on us.       

I'm amazed at God's patience with me.  Even this weekend as I was once again praying and asking (and even doubting a little), a number of random people came up to us and gave us gifts of $100 each.  I'm like a little child that has to see and touch to believe.  Lord help me in my unbelief as we continue waiting on you!