Monday, July 14, 2014

It's a new day

Hi from Rwanda! We've been here a little over a week now. I wish you could have seen the giddy joy on the kids' faces when we pulled into our driveway. After a month of suitcases, sleeping on floors and sharing others' toys, they finally had a sense again of "ours." It was beautiful and fun.
Our house is great and the school had a couple of people who worked so hard to get it ready for us. They truly went above and beyond duty, as this is their summer vacation, and our house is older, thereby "quirkier." If I had known just how well they would have stocked this place, I would have stressed out less about packing. :). We were warmly received by the school family that is here for the summer, and have felt supported in the midst of our transition.

Our dear friend and one-time nanny Stephanie added a week to her busy summer travel schedule to come help us out and hang out with us. It was precious and we were sad that it could only be a week.

There's so much more to describe... Figuring out grocery stores and cooking, having a house staff and figuring out how to communicate with them, meeting new friends and trying new churches, experiencing two 4th of July events at the US embassy, driving a fav 4 a again, and the eternal hunt for crackers.

But, for now, there's today. After over two years, it's time for Ben to pack his briefcase and go to work. Actually, we need to drop him off at work :) I've truly missed seeing him do the good work that God prepared beforehand for him to do (eph 2). I grieved his resignation and longed for the day he could get back to it again. But that day is here and I'm super sad.

Please keep praying for us and join us in thanking God that we are here in Rwanda, we are loving it, and God is providing everything we need.


At least we found the pizza place :)


Monday, June 30, 2014

Away we go

Ben's family threw us a beautiful send-off here in New York and my parents came to be a part of it. It was wonderful to see and be prayed for by so many supporters and friends.  
That dreaded day is here, when we have to decide what is actually going to get stuffed into our suitcases and what we're willing to say goodbye to for the foreseeable future. How many books can one child carry in his or her own backpack? How many books will one child actually read during 24 hours of travel? How many hours can any of our devices hold a charge? And most importantly, when I finally beat level 350 of candy crush (embarrassing confession), how will I be able to wait until I can connect with Facebook to ask for tickets?

Today looks like this:
1) Laundry
2) Pack
3) Argue over what goes and what stays
4) Break the kids' hearts that they have to carry their own stuff
5) Get the kids excited that on international flights there will be plenty of movies
6) Drive to various banks to get all our money in bills printed after 2006.
7) Spend precious moments with family.
8) Load up my Kindle
9) rest

Tomorrow looks like this:
1) Pack up all the things you can't pack ahead of time (toothbrushes, pajamas, chargers, etc.)
2) Showers for Susie and the kids
3) Make sure the kids are each dressed in their US World Cup jerseys
4) Ben, along with his dad and brother, will take 26 pieces of luggage to the airport in a rented cargo van.
5) shower for Ben
6) Final prayers, hugs, words and tears in with Ben's fan in Merrick
7) Go to the airport and meet Susie's parents for more prayers, hugs, words and tears.
8) Check-in
9) Security
****My genius idea for this trip is to leave the stroller behind and use this to transport kids and items. I will have family members standing by with a stroller in case the TSA disagrees with my ingenuity. ****
10) Hope the World Cup game is on in the airport terminal.
11) Sit at the Brussels Airlines gate outfitted in USA soccer jerseys while the US plays Belgium. Try not to act like loud, ugly Americans while enthusiastically cheering for our team. Feel slightly awkward about that.
12) Board. Hand out headphones, water bottles and gum. Explain to Charlie and Annie that they are too young for gum, or give them special gumdrops called "gum."
13) Preemptively apologize to all those seated around us, and be glad that on an international flight, their drinks are free and we don't have to spring for them to take the edge off.
14) Watch movies, read books and relax on our way to Kigali, via Brussels.

Where do you stand on the idea of drugging kids for flights? Honestly, we tried it when Simon was a baby and, while it fortunately didn't key him up, it didn't seem to have any sedative effects either. So, we've never done it since. Plus, this Friday's episode of What Would You Do centered around drugging kids to make them sleep and it seems to be generally disapproved of (except by every mom I've spoken to who has taken a small child on an overnight plane trip). Thanks to the magic of on-demand media, Annie will probably be our only tricky one. She may be content to repeat her favorite word loudly (alternately "mama," "Talya," or "airplane")....for the first 45 minutes. Then she'll want to explore and eat off her neighbors' trays and roam the aisles and bother flight attendants.

When we land in Kigali it will be evening. We don't yet know if our house will be ready for our arrival or if we'll be temporarily crashing with friends. We will be welcomed by the small army required to transport 6 people and 30 bags and boxes. We will attempt to convince the kids it's time to sleep (again) and wake up to start our life in Rwanda.

Thank you for your prayers, and please keep them going. We are tired and we haven't left yet. Pray for peace, contentment, confidence in God's presence with us, and for those who are assisting us in getting settled. We leave completely dependent on God for His leading, providing, and sustaining.

'Til we get internet,
Susie for Team Thomas


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Candlesticks

If you've followed any of our web updates, our prayer letters, or Facebook, than you are well acquainted with our schedule and know that we're in New York for our last few days before departing for Rwanda on Tuesday. I don't even have to feel weird about telling the internet we're not at home, because - guess what Thieves? We have no home, and no stuff in it. Knock yourselves out. I can't vouch for the new owners' taste in valuables, but they're much more likely than I to have a big dog and a gun.

So,  I'll refrain from giving you a play-by-play of the last month. It's been busy, frantic, happy, sad, rich and full. Instead, I'll focus on something I don't usually talk about on this site (although I'm happy to speak about in person if you ask) --  how I'm doing spiritually; what God's been teaching me lately.

If you need background, there's this. Refresh yourself and remember that I'm recovering from a pretty dry and lonely existence spiritually. So, it is with awe and gratitude that I say, things are good. I am peaceably and consistently aware of God's work in my heart and his presence in my day. It still surprises me sometimes when I'll have a thought I quickly recognize as thanks and not cynicism. (Of course, cynicism is still there too).

Ben and I have been part of an intense mentored dischipeship program called Sonship. The basic point is learning how to practically apply the gospel to our lives. We started it about 2 weeks before I got sick, and started intense treatment, so we are on the slow track, but it's changing us. And perhaps the slow track is the best place for change to happen, right?

Our mentor's name is Stu and we enjoy every time we don't forget we have an appointment and get to talk to him together. He's had some great ways of explaining the gospel to us - not the gospel for salvation, but the gospel as Christ's righteousness given to us. I'm sure you've heard some of those analogies too. I'll try not to get too preachy, but my secret dream job is preaching, and I'm sure I can find a quiz on Facebook to tell me that that's the job I should have, my abysmal record of breaking into hysterics behind the pulpit at my brother's wedding notwithstanding.

So, I know the gist. The gospel is more than just God's forgiveness of our sins. That's the first part. We owe one thousand dollars and God cancels that debt: forgiven. But, there's more; the second part. God then deposits ten million dollars into an endowed account that will NEVER go broke.

It's a beautiful truth that was made more beautiful for me last night. Last night, Ben's parents watched the kids while we went to Broadway to see Les Miserables, which I've seen before (20 years ago?) and Ben has always wanted to see. Due to some great teaching, we already knew the gospel themes of the story, but I mean, does it ever get old? In an early scene, Jean Valjean, a paroled convict steals silver from a Bishop who offered him help. The police catch Valjean red(silver)-handed, and he lies and tells them the silver was a gift. The Bishop, presented with this evidence, displays two candlestick and says:
That is right.
But my friend you left so early
Surely something slipped your mind
You forgot I gave these also;
Would you leave the best behind?


The Candlesticks are the best part of the gospel, the part we often leave behind. You see, depending on your perspective, Les Mis is also a story of a false gospel. It is often described as a story of redemption, where Valjean uses his gifted silver to improve himself. And, that is what we want to believe: that I believed the gospel for salvation and self-improvement. And so, as a Christian, I often spend my time proving to myself and my friends and my family and the world my improvement, my redemption. And every time I rise to defend myself, or lie just a bit to improve my side of the story, or give thoughts as to why my anger is justified, I am telling Jesus, "I don't need the candlesticks, I'll just take the cup."

Ahem. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Is this blog post not a bit of that very sin: informing you of my righteousness? I am so stinking aware of that as I type. Yes. I know that sins taints my every choice, and I know sin is here now too. So, with fingers busy on the keyboard, I've got the candlesticks firmly between my teeth. And, if it sounds like false modesty to you, you are probably right. But, there is still a voice in my heart that is not the cackle of the braggart or the whine of a Judge Judy defendant (those are there too), but the song of a sparrow that was created to sing. 

God changes me, and as he changes me, he fills me with song. And if that's not a dag-gone miracle.....

Also. I am still working on Scripture memory. I read a book that shared a method on how to do extended Scripture memory. I gave the method a try. It wasn't for me. It stole from me the devotional magic. So, I ditched it and have gone back to the old standard of repeat, repeat, repeat. Out loud, quietly, when I lay down, when I wake up. No matter how good my book is, when rocking Annie for her nap, I close my Kindle app and open YouVersion, and we speak life to ourselves. And, I truly believe that the moments spent in that sacred exercise are the moments that lead to me seeing grace on Broadway and having the courage to sing my own song. If you are inclined to pray me through my  goals or join me on the journey, I'm hoping to have the book of Ephesians memorized by Thanksgiving. I just started chapter 2. And Paul. Oh, Paul and I still have issues. I'm not sure what it's like in Greek, but it just seems like he's out to use at least 5 prepositional phrases each sentence. And I want to call Mrs. Heath for help diagramming the sentences so I can make sense of it all. 

One more thought on Les Mis. I remembered the gospel in the play. But, I had either forgotten or was never aware that the musical ends essentially with an amazing altar call:

Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light.

For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.

They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord.
We will walk behind the ploughshare;
We will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward.

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
When tomorrow comes!

From a girl who will never sing on Broadway, this post is my song: "The music of a people who are climbing to the light."

Candlesticks, people. 
xoxo,
Susie (can you tell the difference when we write or should Ben and I identify ourselves?)


Monday, June 9, 2014

Home is always found at lake George.

Our last week in ohio was grueling. Emotionally and physically, as we said goodbye to the people, places and things that defined our existence for the past 12 years. The last time we left ohio, it was for India. That was also hard, but we knew we were only gone a year, and we would come back to home: friends, our house full of our stuff where we would go back to our work. This goodbye was entirely different, as we sold our house and most of our stuff. The people goodbyes were more painful, because there were no promises of we'll be back, and very few responses of we'll come visit.
The last day of school was a heartbreaker. I walked into the 2nd grade classroom at the beginning of the day because it was the teacher's last day and girls were crying everywhere. At pickup several hours later, tears had spread like some sort of contagion. We took the kids and their friends out for ice cream because that's how Team Thomas deals with our feelings.
And we sat there, teary and sticky in the middle of fairborn, saying our goodbyes to home.
The next day we had to get all the remnants of our house into the van and head to three soccer games at the y. People, go out and join your YMCA. That has been a difference-maker in our life as far as connecting with our community. Neighborhoods these days, unless you live a very intentional life, tend to be arranged very comfortably to include all the people in town who are just like you. Our Y caters to and serves our whole city, putting us in the paths of families we would never meet on a neighborhood walk or at a PTO meeting (not like I've been to more than 2 PTO meetings in 3 years).
Anyway, it was a sentimental couple of days, but we were able to do the final lap, touching all the bases, before heading into the home stretch, which was a long drive to Philadelphia, with the things in our car swallowing our four kids.
The kids have done great, but it is wearing. Charlie woke up multiple times screaming, "I don't want to leave ohio!!!!!!" It was sad. Talya has several times complained that her heart hurts. She means physically. She is genuinely concerned about having a heart attack. We are not worried about her health, but definitely think that it could be a symptom of a lot of stress on a little body.
Now we are at Lake George, our place of decompression and family and the one place that is more "home" than any other. The kids are enjoying the freezing lake and I'm loving the heavenly views of mountains diving into crystal-clear water. We had a good weekend with most of my family and bens parents come up in a few days.
We already miss the friends we've left, and we already feel that sense of homelessness that is all too familiar to missionaries and ex-patriates the world over, but there is no better place to deal with those things than right here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Day of Prayer - Bragging on my wife!

There are very few days, if any that go by where I am not overwhelmed with God's literal goodness to us, as I consider the state of Susie's brain, and how well she is doing.  Many of those times are sparked by the normal things in life.  Watching Susie cook dinner, watching her read with the kids, watching her do Talya and Annie's hair, watching her workout.  Normal, everyday moments that I am completely thankful for because I wasn't sure we would ever have normal again.  Then there are extra special, extraordinary moments that we experience that trigger being overrun by God's goodness and grace.

This morning and afternoon would fit into the extraordinary.  Two times a year the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ International joins together for our Day of Prayer around the world.  Today was our Day of Prayer.  Once every two years, Athletes in Action staff gather in the Spring for a few days of meetings.  Some of the people who have shaped who we are are counted in this group.  Today marked the first day of our Springboard meetings.  Two times a year the Global Leadership Council (GLC) gathers together.  These men and women are some of my heroes and I will count it a pure joy to have served them.  Today marked the first day the GLC was together.  What an absolutely special day it has been. 

Susie was responsible for designing, leading and executing our Day of Prayer today.  Trying to organize 300 plus people to pray for the whole day is no small task, especially when they haven't seen each other in awhile.  Watching her brain at work in the days leading up to today was an overwhelming source of grace for me.  The designs, the patterns, the colors, the thoughts all coming together was a true form of artistry.  Watching her creativity come alive is a beautiful thing.  I would count creativity as one of her top 3 gifts.  I only hope you have the joy of experiencing it some day.  Watching her do what she does best for a large group - unleashing her creativity so others can enjoy a time of gathering - brings me significant joy.  

As we were in the big room, surrounded by 300 plus people,  I just kept thinking to myself, "Thank you Abba."  Two years ago at our Springboard meetings we were dealing with devastating news of Susie's tumor and prognosis.  Two years later, Susie Thomas' brain was working as it should, unleashing all sorts of creative ways to pray for our AIA and CRU families worldwide.  To me, this will never, ever stop feeling extraordinary.  Thankful for God's grace, mercy and love. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Need help with this Audio Bible thing?

If you have an iPhone, this graphic should help you figure out how to make a recording and send it to me.  Come on people, only 1200 spots left to sign up for! :)  Original info is here:

Susie

Thursday, March 27, 2014

An epic (and maybe impossible) idea I need your help with:

Yes, you.

Ben is downstairs organizing our life into piles and boxes. We signed a contract with a realtor this morning. Our lists are long and getting longer. We are in the beginning of the process where we say goodbye to our life here.
One of the things we're attempting to do is make ways for our kids to transition well from one life to the next. Lists of places we want to eat one more time, friends we need to have sleepovers with, Ohio go-tos that we've never gone to. And, I had an idea for a gift I'd like to give them. An audio Bible. They like to listen to CDs when they go to sleep, but Talya gets nightmares from Imagination Station.
And, I was thinking, that a great audio Bible would be one not just for kids, but just for them. A great audio Bible just for them would be read by someone they know. No, someones they know. People who love them, pray for them, and have invested in their lives to help shape them into the fantastic kids they are.

But, you know what? The Bible is long. Really, really long. And if even one chapter is missing, it's just not the Bible. So, I need to enlist your help. I am asking you to help record at least one of the one thousand one hundred fifty-four chapters of the Bible. Use whatever version you'd like. Enlist the help of all the readers in your family. I'd love my kids to grow up hearing the Bible read to them by men and women and boys and girls of all ages, cultures, accents, and even languages. I want them to hear it as they're falling asleep. I want it to shape their dreams, stoke their imaginations, frame their questions, and give them something to argue about when they're old enough for facebook. :)

Would you help me with that? I have a general idea of how I can make this work, but the first thing I need is content. I've created a sign-up list that you can use to "sign up" to read chapters of the Bible. To use this list, you should not need to create an account or anything. Please find the chapter you'd like to read and click "sign up." You may sign up for as many chapters as you'd like, and really, please do.

Then, record your reading of the chapter. I do this using the voice memos app on my iphone. When I am finished, I hit the "done" button and then go to that file, click the button that looks like a box with an arrow coming out of it, and select "mail." You can mail it here. That's all. Email me if you have any questions.

Maybe you do family devotions and you could spend some time reading Scripture to our family? Or maybe you don't do family devotions (no judgment here!), and you could let your kids stay up 15 minutes late to help with this? This project will take hours - combined hours of your reading and our listening. And those hours spent by hundreds of people with words that give Life, I can't help but imagine that they could change the world.

Thanks - this is a huge project, but one that if we can pull it off, will mean so much to our family. Please consider having your family help with this goodbye present?

Sign up here:
Genesis - 2 Samuel
I Kings - Psalms
Oops- forgot II Chronicles!
Proverbs - Daniel
Hosea - Malachi
New Testament


PS, there's a really good chance I've made some mistakes in setting this up. Please just let me know if you find them. I've put a lot of imagination into this, but that doesn't mean it's well planned :)