Monday, September 30, 2013

Day 1: Paradise lost and Ruiru vbs

We eased our way into the trip with a free morning. We had our sweet driver, Martin, take us to a place called paradise lost. It was just a few minutes from where we were staying and ended up being the perfect opener for the trip. We walked the coffee farms, watched some locals play a soccer game, tried to feed some donkeys and camels and walked down to a waterfall there.
You could walk behind the waterfall into some caves. The guide was telling us in the war in the 60s hundreds of people would hide in these caves from rebel attack. I cannot imagine hundreds of people piled in these caves, at some points ducking and squeezing through to get to the next opening to wait it out in the pitch black, hungry and afraid. The beauty juxtaposed with the pain always rocks me.
We picnicked and discussed getting our hearts and attitudes ready for the trip and what our hopes and prayers were for the week. It was a restful and recharging morning after a long 20 hour journey.
Then we headed straight to Ruiru, a lower income suburb of Nairobi. The church VBS was expecting 100-125 kids and 200+ showed up. Chasing our van in with excited waves and bangs on the window. At first I could see the discomfort in Reese as she realized that these kids were going to storm her once we got out of this van. It was awesome to see her stretch out of her comfort zone as her shyness began to melt away after a few minutes as they rubbed her hair and kept saying soft! And scratched at her skin as if maybe the white was just painted over someone who resembled themselves underneath.
She finally broke out of her shell after the lesson and grabbed a jump rope and got in with the girls. We got some hand games going in a round and there was laughter and exchanged lessons in different songs and languages.

 I pulled a few girls aside as we played and spoke with them about their family situations, who they knew Jesus to be, and what they enjoy doing. The strength of the children is probably what amazes me most. Some orphans living with grandparents, some abused at home, some with scars all over their body from who knows what, some who's parents have AIDS, etc.

They rarely tell their stories looking for pity but instead tell them just as their story, that they find enjoyment in school, washing dishes, taking care of siblings. I asked a girl named Janice about who Jesus was to her. "The one who died on the cross". Yes. For you Janice. She told me how she talked to him throughout the day when things are hard and when things are good. Then back to jump roping and racing relays. It was soon time to go. I think it always surprises me how resilient my own kids are too. I remember taking Reese and Wheeler to Brazil and seeing them jump right in to a camp that was with kids not speaking their language in a country they weren't familiar with. I can push them far more than I do and they are not bound my the obstacles I am. They can adapt, adjust and jump in. Skin color, language, culture is far less of a barrier for them than it used to be for me. It blesses my heart more than anything else to see my kids embrace other cultures, people who have far bigger struggles then they could ever comprehend, and remind them of childhood, laughter, just being a kid. It was a beautiful day. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

When trip meets tragedy

So I wrote an earlier post about taking my children overseas out of the "safe" and comfortable bubble of church, community, America. So it is slightly ironic that the day after we arrive in Nairobi, gunmen take over the mall we were slated to go to afew days later. The mall where 6 months ago, my husband and 5 year old son sat and had frozen yogurt and bought Kenyan souvenirs. Then stories poured out of this tragedy about gunmen releasing Muslims and targeting American and Kenyan Christians, shooting them if they didn't profess faith in Allah. 
Now it is real. Here I am with my 7 year old daughter 3 miles away from terror, persecution. Sitting on the bed after showering for the day and watching smoke rise from a mall where children, parents, Americans, Kenyans are losing their lives. The conversation became more real. I had the choice to bypass the situation with Reese and proceed on with our orphanage visits and ministry work. But why? God put this opportunity in our path to discuss suffering, sin and persecution. It's one thing to sit in chapel hill and tell her about people around the world that can be killed for their faith. It's another thing on that bed in Nairobi watching smoke rise and talk about the people that were still in there hiding, hungry, scared and faced with a choice to give their lives for Jesus if asked. 
As a mother, I tried to work this out in my heart. If I were 3 miles closer, in that mall that day, holding Reese's hand and then asked at gunpoint if I denounced Jesus or we both died. The ultimate choice. What struggle. My flesh says say a white lie and get my daughter to safety. My heart says this is what I was made for, called to, the adventure I was created for. I decided in my heart again then. My answer is Jesus. Even at the cost of my family, my life, her life. 
I decided not to shield her from the situation. We talked about it together that night, prayed for those people, prayed we would live in boldness and not fear. I found her journal the next day asking God to forgive the men who had made such bad choices, to take good care of the people that were hurt. 
I guess walking into Nairobi on day one and this being our experience would make many doubt why we took a trip like this. It only confirmed it for me. This is why I want to expose our kids to Gods bigger heartbeat, the plight of many around the world, life outside of little North Carolina. 
Africa always has a way of settings the reset button in my heart. It asks me where I am with Jesus. How am I following him where he actually went on the earth. Who does he love and how do I reflect that in my life. What does life look like when I get home. How does this change things? How will my giving shift. How can I be bolder with others here and home? Swirling questions buffered in his grace as I walk this journey in the red dirt here. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Happy 5th Birthday Maran

5 years you have been alive, I have spent only 1 of those with you. It is a beautiful and a hard thing to know you have a past without me.  So many days I thank God for your birth mom. I see her thumbprints all over your heart. When we set our hearts on adopting children aged 1-5 I prepared myself for the worst. Tantrums, trouble attaching, a child that may not want me to touch or hold them, would take forever to call me mommy or say I love you, rage, bitterness, pain.
God allowed me to peek into you heart through our month in Congo and process some of these traits with you. He allowed me to enter in your suffering (nearly 1 year ago next week) and just be with you as the confusion and the hurt swept through your body. But yet he also spared me of much.
You are the most excitable and affectionate child we have. You drink in affection and it bubbles out of your heart. It often strikes me to still see the surprise in your eyes as I tell you God made you beautiful, special, different, unique. Even though I tell you some of these daily, it still seems surprising and new to you. It is like filling a deep empty well, each drop of affection drops deep into your heart. God has to fill in the gaps. I mess up as your mom daily. I cannot fill that empty well that resides in your heart. Only he can. And some days that is all I can rest in. You have seen more life, more hurt than any 5 year old I have ever met. You know how to survive, alone, push down fear, be independent, be a mom, put your walls up, protect yourself. These are traits sometimes I wish you didn't have, but I trust that God is bringing this good work in you to completion. I believe he will use each of those past hurts, scars, pains, wounds, trauma to tell a bigger story with your life. Jesus was with you when you had never even heard his name. He was with you when I couldn't be there to be the mom you needed. He was with you the last day you ever saw your birth mother. The days you were alone, scared, and living in an orphanage.
You have had a big year. Last year this day I wrote you this, it still resounds in my heart for you so deeply even though I had only seen your picture when I wrote it.
The greatest joy for me as your mom is to see God's truth start to sink into your heart, and start to fill in all those cracks of brokenness. The scars will never go away, your past will always be your past, but God is filling it in, healing it, redeeming it, using it. I am a broken vessel too.
The other Sunday morning we were all snuggling in bed and you and Levi and Wheeler were going under the covers and popping out and I would squeeze you when you came out. In true Maran fashion, you were giggling and squealing with joy and excitement, and you all the sudden blurted out "Levi! We have a family now!" There I sat, stunned in bed, heart melted, that 11 months later this truth has started to sink in. You have a family. Forever.
Another day, preparing for Reese's Kenya trip, you came to me and said "I have a plan, we can go to the store and buy some money,pack it in your suitcase and you can take it to Africa so people won't be hungry anymore!" Sweet girl. God is trading your survival nature, your get what you can get heart, in for a generous heart, a heart that sees others hurting, hungry, the way you were. He has started to make you sensitive to the needs of others. This is a huge victory for you, it shows Jesus at work in your heart. Because for so long you have operated out of a "give me, take what I need, fend for myself" mentality. God is still in the miracle business.
Another fond memory was a month or two ago when my phone was on random playlists that I hadn't played in a while and the song 'Beautiful Things' by Gungor came on. You stopped, gasped, and said "mom, remember when I used to hit you in the face in Africa and you just sang me this song?" My heart stopped and I realized, those hours on end of me calling out to God in my own desperation and sin and need sunk in your heart. My desperation mattered. I sang over you, even when I didn't feel like it, even when I thought you couldn't hear me, even when I thought you didn't want me. But you heard. You remembered. God used it.
So Happy Birthday my 5 year old treasure. You are teaching me so much about enjoying life, being content in the small things, living in desperate dependence on God, and letting God fill in my cracks to make me more like Jesus.
Just like your name sake, Maran'atha- Come Lord, quickly. Heal us. Be near. Redeem the brokenness.
You are a treasure of immense value,

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Creative Correction

So I do not write this because I am a stellar parent and have all the best ideas at how to steer four little hearts to Jesus.. But I pray that God continues to give me wisdom in how to discipline and parent our kids and I know I got the small bit I have from great books, trial and error, prayer, and being around other awesome moms who are trying to be intentional.
I am so pumped Lil Light O' Mine decided to do this blog link up and I cannot wait to read the other posts from other mamas trying to tackle this job of being a light to babies, toddlers, elementary schoolers and beyond. This is my toughest assignment and I try to take it seriously and live each day with intentionality and consistency as I attempt to train our kids to Love God, respect selves, authority and others, treat people with kindness, choose joy and generosity, be on the look out for ways to serve, and love well. 
And first off, two of my favorite parenting books have been Scream Free Parenting by Hal Runkel and Don't make me count to 3 by Ginger plowman. 
Lets start with what we have determined our family values to be (written about in this post) so I can focus on what I am actually trying to TEACH my children instead of just saying no no no all the time. I feel like you need to know the qualities you want your children want to have and embody your discipline around those traits. For us, through 3 years of prayer and figuring it out, we've decided these are the values we want to pass to our children. 

1. Family/Relationships- We will put high worth on healthy communication, forgiveness and respect for each other.
2. Humility- We will remember who we are in Christ and therefore see extreme value in others.
3. Faith- We will put our trust in Christ and the word of God and live it out in action.
4. Gratitude- We will have an attitude of thankfulness knowing we deserve nothing and Christ has already given us everything.
5. Stewardship/Generosity- We will share and give generously of all God has entrusted to us.

Now, Here are some of our main issues and how we try to address them daily. 
1. Arguing- with a 7, 5 1/2, 5 and 2 year old this is a big one in our house. Arguing is usually rooted in the fact that I'm not getting my way. We've memorized the verse "do all things without complaining or arguing" but this is just the command. Not the heart behind it. I do my kids an injustice to give them a command without pointing them to Gods heart behind it and that the "rule" was given in love, for our protection, and with our best in mind. One of our values is healthy relationships in our family and arguing butts up against that in a big way. When an argument breaks out, I stop them and ask if this is how we want to treat each other. Is it kind? Is what we are saying true? Is it how we want to be treated. Is there a better way we could try it again with kindness and work it out in a loving way? I am trying to teach my kids how to think. How to think about interacting with others, how to think through a problem or issue. This is more important then getting them to stop arguing.  However, if all else fails, saran wrapping the two arguers together until they work it out is a great option.
2. Tattling- this is especially big with one unmentioned child in our house. :) Tattling at its root wants to make the other person get in trouble usually this making yourself looking like an angel child while pointing out the flaws in your sibling. It bites at humility and relationships. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 tackles the main issues with tattling. It is not kind, it is boasting, it is delighting in evil, it is not usually protecting, and it is proud. We talk about this verse and think if we really do delight in seeing someone else get in trouble. My main tactic here is that I know when it is coming. As soon as that child approaches me and they get their siblings name out of their mouth, I ask them to stop. I asked if they've talked to their sibling about it with kind words. Usually its a no and they go back and work it out on their own. If they have we go together and work it out taking turns speaking so they can get the hang of it. 
3. Taking- this strikes right at the heart of another two of our values. Generosity and Humility. Taking is an "I want it now" impulse, not putting others first or sharing.  So we talk about sharing and how we feel when someone shares with us, we talk about how we feel when someone takes from us. We talk about what it looks like to use our words to talk about what we want and make a good choice. 
4. Disrespect- This is one we have crept into over the last 2 years. Few things get under my skin more than this. So it is usually an internal battle for me to take a second and get over the fact that I think 'Ive been wronged' and deal with the issue at hand so my anger is not a factor in the dispute. This is a big deal in our home. We tell our kids, God picked us to be your mom and dad and he gave us the job to point you to Him. When you disrespect us, you are really disrespecting God, his choice of us, and the fact that he has set us as authority over you. If it is a smaller offense we use the old "Try that again with respect". If it escalates to any arm crossing (NOT OK in our home) or stomping then we talk through the why's of their behavior and how their words and body language have the power to hurt others. Direct Defiance and Crossing the line disrespect still get a pop on the leg with a wooden spoon in this house. Call me crazy or mean or whatever.
5. Ungratefulness/Whining- This one is my other top grievance that gets under my skin personally. Usually it looks subtle. I put the dinner plate down and someone says "no! Not this. Yuck!" or someone gets a toy at school or dentist or whatever and someone asks "Hey I wanted one of those, why didn't I get one!" Or, the dreaded phrase in our house that is a HUGE no no for our family is the words "No Fair!" Nothing makes me want to go postal on my kid as when I hear those words. I have to physically restrain myself from pulling up google images of starving kids with their ribs poking out, or kids walking miles to collect dirty water when my kids say no fair. Not fair? I'll show you not fair. But, I realize that may not be the best route. ;) So we say, we have to choose to have a thankful heart, even when it may not look like much to be thankful for. We have to choose not to envy (working on this definition in our home) and choose to rejoice with our sibling that got the gift and be thankful they did. This is tough. I give them life examples of how my attitude sometimes isn't grateful and how God gave us the ultimate gift and everything else on top of that is just extra. 

6. Attitude- this goes along with disrespect a bit I guess. But I think the tendency is as girls age is to just write off their attitudes as "girls being girls". This is not ok. I have got to address the attitude first. With my oldest this is so important because she is my pleaser, my rule follower, but you can see the heart in her attitude. She may be obeying all the things I ask but I can see the attitude of her heart and that it is not sincere or out of a desire to Love God in that way, but that its just an empty action with a rotten attitude behind it. So we try to address the attitude, not just the outward behavior. This is tough and one I am just getting into more an more. I am trying to fill her heart with verses about guarding her heart, clothing herself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, people look at the outward appearance the Lord looks at the heart, etc. We ask each other regularly for forgiveness for our attitudes because it really starts with my vulnerability to apologize and make an example of my mistakes and shortcomings as well. We have to choose joy even in the midst of tough stuff, and ask God to "clean the yuck" out of our hearts daily so we can love and serve each other with a joyful heart.

I recognize I am scraping the surface of this parenting stuff. John and I sat down the other night and realized in 7 years we will have a 14 year old, two 12 year olds and a 9 year old. That will be a whole different trenches of parenting. I pray that God continues to use me to point them to him, and that he shapes and molds their hearts into more like his. All of my efforts are in vain if he isn't at the forefront. Salvation belongs to the Lord, not me. I cannot make my kids believe, but I pray our home is an environment where believing comes easily and a practicing grounds for how to be a loyal friend, a submitted spouse, a cheerful giver, a humble co-worker, a hard working student. I put all my efforts at the foot of the cross and ask him to multiply my weak and feeble attempts.
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