Saturday, March 18, 2023

Repost: Hard Doesn't Mean Bad or Wrong

I wrote this back in 2015, and have been thinking about it a lot lately. The last two months... year... five years... seventeen years... have all been difficult. Really difficult. And just as I predicted eight years ago, it has only gotten harder as time has gone on. My younger self honestly had a better outlook on it than my older, much more weary self does, and I needed to re-read these encouraging words. Maybe you do, too, so I'm sharing it again:

I've been chewing on a thought lately that I need to get out. I'm not sure how eloquently I'll get it out, but I'm going to try.

Just because something is hard, doesn't mean that it's bad or wrong.

Actually, I would argue that hard is good, and if you aren't doing anything hard, then you're probably doing something wrong.

I just thought this was a great picture for a post about doing hard things.

Because God doesn't mold us into being more like Christ through the easy stuff. Think back on the times when you grew the most in your faith. For me it has been our first move to a new city after we got married, infertility, Jude's autism, moving back from Moldova, miscarriage and more infertility, Josh struggling to find work, foster adoption... these have been the times that have been so hard, I didn't know if I could go on. The times that have left me sobbing before God and sometimes before a person or two whom I trust. The times that have made me cling to Jesus for dear life, and instead of walk away from him, say with Simon Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68)

One of Jude's first therapy sessions. Autism has brought us to our knees probably more than anything else.

But for as desperately, miserably hard as those times have been, they have also been the sweetest times of fellowship with and comfort from God that I have ever known, and I look back on them not with regret or pain, but deep fondness and thankfulness to God for drawing me nearer to him through them. Not just for getting me through them, but for bringing me into them in the first place.

Would I have chosen to go through those times? Not a chance. Does it make me uneasy to think about the times he will bring me into and through in the future? A bit. Because if there's one thing I've learned in my 12 years of walking with God, it's that the trials that strengthen our faith and trust in God are like lifting weights--they get harder and heavier each time. But they are so worth it for the sake of a stronger faith in God, knowing and loving him more deeply, and showing his glory more clearly to those around me.

That M.Div. was worth it, but it was not an easy few years.

Think about Elisabeth Elliot, who just passed on to Heaven. Everyone who is familiar with her story looks at her in awe and wishes for just a small measure of her faith in God. But look at everything she suffered in her life, and how she clung to God through them! Our faith is small not because there was anything special about Elisabeth Elliot from a human perspective, but because we shrink away from anything that might be hard or make us uncomfortable or encroach on our American Dream, and by the grace of God she didn't. There is a reason Paul wrote to us in Romans:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope,
and hope does not put us to shame,
because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5 ESV, emphasis mine)
We REJOICE in our sufferings!

So I'm learning to lean in to the hard. Not necessarily to go looking for it, but to embrace it when it comes or when God calls us into a path that we know will be hard. Because I don't want a complacent life where I never grow more into the image of Christ. I don't want an easy life that even an unbeliever could live, where God's power, love, comfort, and eternal worth aren't put on display for his glory. I want to know him and make him known through the hard times.

Don't believe the lie that hard things are bad.

If you feel God calling you to do something that will be hard, don't shrink from it. It could be the best thing you've ever done.

And the hard thing you're going through may be really awful right now, but if you hold fast to God, someday you will look back on it with thanulness when you remember the depth of comfort and faith that met you there.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18 ESV)

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

February 2023

 February has somehow been both very chill and very stressful. We haven't done much outside the home this month, but we've had plenty of things going on at home to keep us busy. Josh has been teaching at Shepherds Academy, I've hired and trained homeschool teachers for the kids, and we've had a million side projects, repairmen in and out of the house for various things that have broken, and a constant run of metaphorical fires to put out.

We started the month by hosting our homeschool friends at our house for our monthly get-together. It had been a long time since we'd seen our friends here, and it was so much fun to get to hang out with them again! 

We celebrated Jude's 14th birthday by all going out for sorbet and putting candles in his favorite meal, meatloaf, because he doesn't like cake. He's an absolute gift.

Poe has proven to be such a sweet, funny, and smart guard dog. He's instinctively learned from the way we follow Jude around and keep a close eye on him that Jude must be protected. Wherever Jude is, Poe is close by keeping an eye on him. If Poe thinks Jude is doing something he shouldn't, like climbing on something, he will look at us and ruff as if to say, "aren't you going to stop him??" One day (pictured above) Jude and I were outside when it started raining. I got in the truck while he continued happily walking around in the rain. Poe walked up, saw that Jude was alone, and started urgently looking around and barking! I had to open the truck door to let Poe know I was watching him before he stopped, but Poe stayed really close and didn't take his eyes off Jude anyway. I guess he doesn't trust me! Ha!

We've made some new friends who moved here while we were in the US, and we spent one Saturday at their house with the kids playing in the pool and exploring their grounds. It's been great to get to know them, and they have a daughter Taylah's age, which has been great for her.

Our kids have spent loads and loads of time with our neighbors'/colleagues' kids. I've been thinking about what a blessing it is to have them close by, these built-in best friends and playmates. Their younger daughter has gotten to a really fun age and has so much personality. She's learned some English from her big sister and from us, and her favorite thing to say right now is, "I don't know" to everything. Having seven kids in the house can get a bit chaotic, but thankfully we can just send them outside most of the time since the weather is so nice.

As I said, Josh has been teaching this whole month. The residential students of Shepherds Academy stay for a longer time than the modular students, and are taught and discipled more in-depth. He and our Malawian colleague, Isaac, have been teaching several subjects, and our friend and new translator, Khama, is doing a great job keeping up with Josh in class.

Malawi is still experiencing 10 hour daily load shedding, but for some wonderful reason our line doesn't usually get the full blackout scheduled. In case I haven't explained before, load shedding is when there are planned blackouts (usually either all morning, all afternoon/evening, or a little in the morning and a little in the afternoon/evening) because the country isn't producing enough power for everyone to have power all the time. Every week a load shedding schedule is released so you know when to expect the power to be out. It can be a pain, but I honestly really love our lamp-lit evenings, and the power comes back on just as we are ready to go to sleep, so we still have our fans and sound machines.

We spent a full Saturday last weekend gardening in the front yard. When we left for America, all of my houseplants got moved outside for easier watering, but few of them survived. So I bought a bunch of new plants at the nursery and we worked hard getting them potted. We also planted a whole row of Amaryllis along our front wall, which we're really excited to see fill in and bloom. I love that Amaryllis leaves look nice all year as a border, and then look really stunning in hot season when they're blooming!

To wrap up, I just have to add in this picture I took from our front porch a few days ago. We're in our fifth year of living here and this view of the Zomba plateau never gets old to me, especially during rainy season when it's so clear and green. It takes my breath away every single day. Our Creator is amazing!

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

January 2023

Oh January. You were such a roller coaster of a month for us in every possible way. Let's recap.

We started the New Year the same way we always do, waking up on our mattresses in the living room floor. I never sleep great when we do this, but it's so worth it for the memories we make with this tradition.

We had lunch with all the grandparents at Josh's parents house, and his mom cooked a traditional New Year's Day meal of hog's jowl, black-eyed peas, cooked cabbage, corn bread, and some other yummies.

We spent as much time as possible with the grandparents in our last couple of weeks in Kentucky.

We also drove to Nashville for one night so the girls could have a sleepover with Skye, who lived with us for 2 months 3 years ago. They had an awesome time, and it was fun to meet her mom too.

Josh continued to preach in a different church every Sunday. It was particularly special for him to get to preach at Waldo Baptist Church where his former youth pastor, Trad York, is the pastor. The grandparents watched the kids so I could go too, and we got to have a date lunch in Paducah afterward.

We went to my hometown one last time to see some of my family, especially my dad's side of the family. His sisters came to my parents' house to visit, and then later my sister and I went to visit our grandparents. It's pretty impressive that my grandmother is still so healthy and so are all of her kids, and it was fun to recreate the picture above of the four siblings as kids (minus the neighbor kid from the first photo). Not all of them may want the world to know exactly how old they are, but you may remember that we just celebrated my dad's 80th birthday in November, so you can do some rough estimating!

We also celebrated Haylee's and my birthdays just before we left! Haylee requested a cake that looked like the cake Hagrid made Harry Potter for his 11th birthday, and Janice surprised me with one for me too! 

We said goodbye to the sweet, tiny house that we've been blessed to call home for 7 months.

And then we said goodbye to our parents at the airport in St. Louis. Jude's face in the picture above says it all. After we said goodbye and started walking toward security, he went back and grabbed both grandmas and tried to bring them with us. If only we could.

After two flights, we said hello to Rome, Italy for a few days on our way back to Malawi! Having a stop in between proved to be a really good way to let our hearts and minds transition from one continent to another, and we're thankful to be able to do it. We visited a bunch of places that we didn't have time for the last time we were in Rome, including the place where Julius Cesar was killed, Hadrian's Mausoleum/Castel Sant'Angelo, the Scala Sancta, a Percy Jackson themed tour of the Capitoline Museum, the Capuchin Crypt, and more. We also ate a LOT of gelato, of course, even though it was really cold. When in Rome, right?

From Rome, we took two more flights and finally arrived in Malawi! We didn't have any trouble with Rey on Ethiopian Airlines in June, but this time we had a lot of fuss both in Rome and in Addis Ababa about her. Both times they were unsure about whether or not they could let her on the plane, even though she's clearly a service dog and had been on a lot of flights already, some with Ethiopian Airlines themselves. Both times, we prayed for favor and God answered and let us through.

We spent the last week of January just settling back in here in our home in Malawi, Josh preparing for his school to start (it started Monday), and me interviewing applicants for tutors for our kids so they can get back to school asap.

We also got a new kitten. Let me explain (since many of you know we already have several). A couple of years ago we had a grey kitten named Minnie whose fur was different from the rest of the cats. It was softer and thicker, almost like rabbit fur, and, most importantly, she didn't bother JJ's recently developed cat allergies like the other cats did. For this sweet, cat-loving boy to develop a cat allergy was really hard on him, but at least he had Minnie he could love on. Until one day Minnie wandered out our front gate. We didn't think anything about it at the time, because all of our cats come and go a lot, but Minnie wasn't quite as smart as the others and never left our walls. We tell ourselves that she got lost and adopted by another loving family, but whatever happened, she never came home. The internet told me that a lot of "blue" (aka grey) cats have that different kind of fur and are generally known as less allergenic, so I started keeping an eye out in Malawi for another kitten like her. Just a couple of weeks before we left the US to return, the SPCA posted a picture of a sweet grey baby needing a home! It was meant to be! So this little guy joined our madhouse and now responds (sort of) to Percy.

For as hard as it was to say goodbye, it is so good to be back to our home and our stuff and our pets and the amazing weather of Malawi (I'm currently writing from my front porch on a perfectly mid-70's degree day, while Kentucky endures some kind of ice storm and temperatures that we do not miss). We miss our family in the US, and we wish we could live closer. But we also love our life here, and we're thankful for that because this is where God has called us to be for this season, and being miserable here would make things really hard and not bring him the glory that he deserves.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

December 2022


We kicked off the month by ice skating with my mom in downtown Murray. They had a big Christmas event that was really neat. The boys and I loved the ice skating SO MUCH, and Abe, in true Abe fashion, was unusually good at it unusually quickly. That kid is so athletic. The girls and mom didn't love it so much, but after the ice skating Josh took the boys home and we gals wandered around downtown for a while enjoying the other things there were to do.

We left the next morning to head to Bat Cave, North Carolina, just outside of Asheville. We got to spend some time with old friends from seminary days and their sweet family, and Josh preached at their church that Sunday. Then we drove from there on down to Orlando to spend the week with Josh's family and enjoy our Christmas presents: two days at Disney World!

We spent one day at Hollywood Studios and one day at Magic Kingdom, and it was amazing. We did everything we wanted to do thanks to low crowds and Jude's disability access pass, which allowed us to wait for each ride outside of the line and come back when it was time to ride.

We eventually had to say our first goodbyes to Josh's sister and family and head back to Kentucky. It's been sweet to get to spend so much time with them and get to know our two nieces/cousins who we'd never met.

The day after we returned to Kentucky, JJ was a drummer in the Christmas performance at church. Abraham was supposed to sing, too, but he got cold feet at the last minute. 

That same day was also Taylah's birthday! It worked out perfectly that the grandparents all came to see JJ at church and then came to our house to celebrate her birthday afterward. It's crazy that we now have THREE teenagers in our house!

We celebrated Christmas with my mom's side of the family a little early. Mom is one of 10 siblings (9 girls and 1 boy), and half of them were able to make it to the party along with a generous smattering of cousins and our kids. It was a great time.

I drove up to my hometown of Marion, Kentucky to see my sister sworn in as the new mayor! We're all so proud of her! I also learned something funny about my state that night, which is that in Kentucky every elected official has to swear in like 4 different ways that they have never taken part in a duel. Ha!

We all took Josh's Papaw out for lunch at his favorite restaurant, The Four Seasons. The kids were all good and it was a really special time to get to spend with him. He's had a lot of health troubles the last few years, but he's getting around so well now.

On Christmas Eve, Josh's mom fixed a Polish Christmas dinner (and I had the VeggieTales 8 Polish Foods of Christmas song stuck in my head all night). Her mom's parents were Polish from Lithuania, and Mamaw was teaching us the Polish phrases that she remembers from her parents. It was delicious and a good time with family.

We took our annual Christmas Eve picture before bed, and I shared this story with this picture on social media, but I want to have it here too: We have taken Christmas Eve pajama pictures in front of a tree since 2014. But tonight Jude absolutely (and wordlessly) insisted that we take this one in front of the fireplace instead. He refused to sit in front of the tree, and instead firmly planted himself in that spot until we relented and his siblings moved. We tried to take this one and then move to in front of the tree, but he again refused. He’s a funny dude who knows what he wants and is pretty good at getting his point across even without words. I like how his idea turned out. 

On Christmas Day, we had the grandparents over for opening stockings and a big breakfast. Then we all went to church together and went to Josh's parents' house for lunch afterward. After lunch Josh and his dad took the kids out sledding behind the 4-wheeler for as long as they could stand the cold. They all had some much fun, and Jude would have never come in if it was up to him!

A few days after Christmas, we had a gathering with some of Josh's dad's side of the family. It was a fun time. I hardly took any pictures, but the kids had a blast playing with their cousin.

And we ended the year the same way we've been ending our years since 2014: by moving our mattresses to the living room and having a jump/dance party for a while before settling down to watch a movie and sleep together in the living room. It's such a sweet tradition. We never stay up until midnight, and it's never the best night of sleep for me (I'm a light sleeper anyway), but I love it.

Looking back, it's been a crazy month and an even crazier year. So much has happened that my brain can hardly comprehend it all. We are feeling all the feelings about going back to Malawi in January, but we can honestly say that we've truly made the most of our time in the US!

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

November 2022

November was another very full month for us, and we so thankful for all of it.

We started the month by spending a few days in Gatlinburg with Josh's parents and my mom. We hiked in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, had breakfast with some friends who had been missionaries in neighboring Zimbabwe, did go-karts and a mountain coaster, and were blessed with the gift of tickets to Dolly Parton's Stampede dinner show, which was so fun.

Taylah believed in Christ for salvation a couple of months earlier, and Josh had a free Sunday in November where he could be at Hardin Baptist to baptize her. It was a very special day.

We voted in person for the first time in four years! We love teaching our kids about the civic duty of voting in elections big and small. We also celebrated my sister winning the mayoral election in my hometown of Marion!

We spent a lot of time at Josh's parents' house enjoying the last warm days and big leaf piles.

Josh submitted his first book to the publisher! The Bible Guidebook is a project we've both worked hard on (him writing and me editing) for a few years now, and we're so excited to see it come to life! 

We celebrated my dad's 80th birthday with a surprise party!

We got snow for the first time in four years! It wasn't a lot, but when you haven't seen it in that long and you don't know if it will snow again, you make the most of it! We had a fun morning out playing in it, mostly making snowballs from the snow on the vehicles and trampoline and throwing them at each other.

The day we got snow, Jude saw it and started saying, "Christmas tree." So we got out the Christmas decorations we'd kept in storage and put them all up. Jude loves Christmas more than just about anyone, and it made him so happy to decorate. It made me happy to see him so happy, and it really does help this house feel so much more cozy.

JJ got glasses! He actually only needs them for reading, and the prescription is not very strong, but he loves them and wears them almost all the time. He has always been a nerd in an athlete's body, and I feel like the glasses help his outside match his inside. Ha.

I ran in a turkey trot on Thanksgiving morning! (I didn't run in the hat, I got it afterward.) I was so excited that I accidentally got there over an hour early. I'm a slow runner, but I pushed myself and did really good for me. I got 5th in my age group (out of 11) and it felt great!

We had Thanksgiving lunch with both sides of Josh's family, and it was so great to get to see almost everyone!

And then we went to my cousin's house to have more Thanksgiving with some of my mom's side of the family! It was so great to see them, too!

We pulled off some extended family Christmas card pictures with me as the photographer. I think we got some really good ones!

And we wrapped up the month by meeting a guy at midnight to ship some totes and boxes of things (mostly books and a few household items) to Malawi! We can't believe the time to go back is already starting to creep near (mid-January).