Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A childhood, past and present

There's something that's been brewing for a few weeks now. In it, I could sniff the potential for my kids' disappointment - the Christmas program at school. Auditions. Scripts. Acceptance. Rejection. Like with most things academic, this is not chancy for Simon. He would almost certainly get a part he auditioned for and bask in his success. For Sweet T, though, the forecast read different. Old enough to audition, but too young to read the script. Old enough to know she wanted what her big brother wants, but too young to understand her capacity. I could see it coming, and I began praying for her heart, and for my mother's shepherding of it. On the surface, there were two options: prepare her for success or prepare her for disappointment. Of course, both of those options are completely wrong. One risks building her up for a bigger fall, and one risks leading her to believe I think she isn't good enough. In speaking to a good friend about our daughters' various disappointments this school year, we chatted about how, of course we would love to protect them from Hard Things, but how so much more, we want them to know Jesus is with them in and bigger than those Hard Things.
Today, my mother's intuition was semi-confirmed by a reliable source that there will be disappointment, and probably tears regarding the Christmas program. I am thankful to know before she sees the list posted without her name on it.
I've spent the following couple of hours reflecting on two of my similar experiences as a child. First, was fourth grade. I was new at a small school and there were 4 girls in my class. Suzanne, Amy, Cara, and I were all each other had. I was immediately accepted by them because they didn't have a choice. The Christmas program was Psalty's Christmas (Christmas is a time, Christmas is a time, Christmas is a time to looo-ooove.) The auditions were for the ensemble (definition: girls who can sing). Suzanne, Amy and Cara all had (and probably still have) beautiful voices. One might think all 9 year old girls can passably sing, but not true. In fact, I didn't know I had a bad voice until I heard myself during the try-out and realized how different I sounded from the other girls. But, still, would they really cut one girl?!?!?! Yes, they would. And there I was, the only girl I knew that would be still standing on the risers when the stars took the microphone.
Of course, my Dad had the power to change all of this. And he did, in a very appropriate way. He didn't demand that I get a solo, but after he talked to the teachers, I ended up in the "sign language choir" (translation: girls who suck at singing but can be taught to move their hands correctly) with the third graders. Honestly, this did help. And, as a parent and teacher myself, I think it was the best course of action. But, it didn't take away the disappointment. The circumstances changed, and I felt seen and loved and supported by my dad, but I still felt the not-enough-ness that comes when your name's not on the list.
Next came fifth grade and what might turn out to be my worst day ever in my whole life. In one day, I lost the Spelling Bee (pacific. one eff, two effs, whatever, English is a dumb language) and found out I hadn't gotten a role in Pollyanna. I was crushed. It is still a memory that brings tears to my eyes.
Of course, my Dad had the power to change all of this (not in any way that wouldn't end up in a lawsuit), but he didn't.
Instead, when I came home and ran up to my bed after school, I found a heart-shaped box of candy and a letter scrawled on a card in a pink envelope (must have been Valentine's season). And, in the midst of my disappointment, words of love, affirmation and encouragement formed what would turn out to be the most significant memory of my childhood.
That's what I want for my kids. I want them to know they are loved through every disappointment, that they are enough, that they are great. Sometimes there will be a solution that can help. But, sometimes, there will only be the words I Love You.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Missionary Kids

I never would have planned on raising missionary kids, although as soon as I fell in love with Ben, I began to learn about what it means to be (or marry, or give birth to) "third culture kids." TCKs are people who grow up with multiple cultural identities, and this life breeds all kinds of unique strengths as well as creates some challenges.

One of the great things about staying on staff with Cru when we made this transition is that the organization cares for our entire family. When we were at our pre-field training a year ago, a couple of Cru staff members came up to visit and spend time with our kids. They encouraged them to be Missionary Kids (kids who share their faith in a new culture), as opposed to Missionaries' Kids (kids who are dragged along by their parents' jobs). They gave our kids a book called Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World, which Simon has devoured at least twice.

This week, he came into my room and asked if he could borrow some paper to make a list. Later, he requested tape so he could hang his project on his wall. This is his list: "Tips on being a successful missionary."


Obviously, I am proud of him, but what brings tears to my eyes is how pleased I am that he is embracing this experience and choosing to learn from it.

(It should go without saying that not all of our moments are rosy, but some of them are!)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Highlight, Lowlight

Highlight Lowlight is a tradition/game/conversation we try to have daily as a family. We each go around and share the best and worst part of our day. For the kids, it usually sounds like this, "My highlight is I was line leader. My lowlight was someone laughed at me."

Today I'll give you my overall Rwandan Adventure highlight and lowlight, which both happened within the past 24 hours.

Last night was my lowlight when, driving home from a friend's house with Talya in the backseat, I was sideswiped by another (bigger) vehicle. We were both fine and the damage to the car was minimal, but it was just an overwhelming moment of NOW WHAT DO I DO? I've never been in an accident before, much less in a country where I am a foreigner and in a car that I don't own, and in a situation where I am likely to be blamed just by reason of my appearance (Mzungu), and can't communicate with the authorities because of language difficulties.





It got additionally confusing and comical when the police informed me that the other car was a government car ("His Excellency's"). My response was, "The government should drive better, no?" I thought this was hilarious, and the police officer giggled. Looking back, that is a very unwise thing to say in a country that offers no freedom of speech. Yet, God protected me from another driver, a system I didn't understand, and my own foolish words. I came home and the car is at the shop to get the fender put back in place. Where is Van Eck Automotive when you need them?

And then I had my highlight today. I believe I've mentioned chapel groups. Each week at chapel, we break up into discussion groups to chat about the morning's lesson. We keep the same groups, so it is a great opportunity to get to know four of my sixth grade girls. I've been amazed at the opportunities to talk about the gospel both in class and in chapel groups. These kids know the salvation gospel - Jesus died for your sins - but what a privilege to be able to talk about how each of them can be confident in God's love for them and what that means in their 6th grade lives, and in my life.

The last week of the month is set aside for chapel groups to spend more time together. The school provides sodas to set the tone and we planned today at lunch as our time to chat. So fun! Ineza, Laura, Elise and Nicole joined me over cafeteria food and Fanta and I told them we could talk about whatever they wanted. The questions started with what percentage of the world is Christian, which I googled and we discussed what that might mean. That led to their experiences with people of other faiths and Catholocism, which is predominant in Rwanda. It was fun to explore the richness of Catholic theology and a few practices which differ from what we teach at KICS. Then they asked how I met Mr Thomas, which is always a great story to tell to pre-dating adolescents.

It is a highlight to share our life with students - that is why we're here and I'm thankful God is providing opportunities for both me and Ben.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

I Keep Singing Oceans

Oh my gosh, I'm about to be a brat. But, today is Sunday and it's been a great day of worshiping in a church, eating with friends, resting at home, and getting to know new people.

And, earlier this week, I saw this post on Facebook called Stop Singing Oceans. And I skimmed it. So, let's be honest. I SKIMMED it. I didn't finish it and I didn't study it. What I read got me all fired up; it felt judgmental and critical and I started crafting a fine blog critique of blog criticism. And then I called myself a hypocrite and put the thing to bed.

But then, as I walked into church this morning (late), we started singing Oceans. So, of course, it all came back. What I took to be the author's point was that we shouldn't ask God to lead us to place with no borders if we don't mean it. Again, all fairness: maybe that wasn't her point. Maybe in my judgmental high, I missed some irony or a deeper point.

But what washed over me this morning as I re-wrestled with these ideas was thanksgiving. Because, every Sunday morning, I am invited to loudly and with spirit sing songs full of words that are impossible to fully mean. As a wretch, a sinner, at war with my flesh, I am unable to worship God with complete purity of heart. But, we gather together anyway and do it. And I am so thankful that we can do that. That we can enter into a place with God where we can say/sing/pray/recite/responsively read deep words of affirmation of our faith - a faith that I don't always feel, and I don't always mean, and I am terrified of where it will lead, and I still know is Truth.

I can do it with transparency before God because he knows my heart. He knows the things I am holding back. He knows the borders I'm hoping He will let me keep erected. He sees those things and invites me to worship Him anyway. He invites me to sing Amazing Grace even on the mornings when I'm sure I'm less of a wretch than you. He has allowed the great hymns and the contemporary tunes to be authored by sinners and sung by the masses. He asks for our my whole heart, but promises that where my worship is incomplete, insufficient, and inattentive, He intercedes for me with the Father.

So, I can sing Oceans or the Doxology or Holy, Holy, Holy to the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY. And on the Sunday mornings when I do it as a hypocrite (about 4 times a month), He sees what I'm holding back, accepts what I offer and calls me His.

One of the songs that I kinda hate, but still holds so much meaning for me is "Here I am to worship." The tune kind of gets to me, but the sentence, "Here I am to say that you're my God," feels like exactly what worship should be. Me saying that over and over again. Sometimes I don't have a lot to bring, but I can always say that with confidence and joy.

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So, we have found a church that we are enjoying. It's called Christian Life Assembly. It's a fairly diverse congregation, but *feels* mostly African, which is something we were desiring. Today's sermon was a beautiful, truthful, deep, artful exploration of the gospel (Galatians 3:3) throughout Scripture. We are hoping to join a neighborhood cell group soon and get to know some more people. We just had a great dinner with one of the pastors and his family.

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Disclaimer: Ben hasn't read this post and the opinions expressed herein are mine alone. (Susie)

Friday, September 12, 2014

A brain update and a pretty picture (not of my brain)

I had a brain MRI last week and it has yet to have been reviewed by my dr in the states but a few docs here have peeked at it and have given us the thumbs up. So, we pray thanks, breathe faith, and take another step into the future. 

Also, we are on a staff retreat right now in a beautiful place called Kibuye. I mean, these forested hills overlooking a lake look more like my lake George than my preconceived notions of Africa. 



Monday, September 8, 2014

Baby, Baby

In no particular order, here is my firstborn through the years:










Gosh, I love him. He gets better every day. He's smart and funny and interesting. He loves to learn and read and ask questions. He is kind to others, and helpful to me. He has weathered this change with courage. He's nine and the older he gets, the less I find myself hoping it slows down, and the more eager I am to see who he's becoming. Happy birthday Simon - use your powers for good!





Sunday, August 31, 2014

Diversity and the commitment to my discomfort

I read this article yesterday. Actually, I skimmed it. Then, I threw my iPad at Ben, and ordered him to read it and report on his thoughts. The sentences I skimmed in a hurry made a huge impact on me. I was fascinated by the principle presented on pursuing diversity, even though, it kind of seems obvious. If diversity is a priority in my life, ministry, organization (what have you), than I will be committed to my own discomfort. I will prioritize my dissatisfaction, and I will not whine when I experience it. I will offer up my preferences to Jesus for another who is different than me, and I will do it in praise.

I read this from the standpoint of someone whose main ministry responsibilities outside of the home have involved conference planning (heavy on musical worship, prayer and Bible teaching). I have worked on teams where we have put A LOT of thought into reflecting and encouraging diversity - in a context that is not super diverse. The context is important, because reflecting diversity is easy (I would imagine) if you have it. For instance, if I was to put together promotional materials for KICS, it would be a natural thing requiring no effort in photoshop to reflect diversity in our student body. It's just there. Showing it and celebrating it are easy. In my last ministry assignment, there wasn't a lot of diversity to reflect, but we had a desire to encourage it, and facilitate it. Of course, there was a tiny bit of ethnic diversity in our conference rooms, and honoring and respecting those brave souls (because, it takes courage, people, to be the glaringly invisible one in the room every day at your job) and their backgrounds, cultures and preferences was important.

I also think about this issue from my current situation - a minority in a foreign country. This situation also requires complex distinctions, because in my current context, minority does not equal marginalized. I'm an ethnic minority, but my relative wealth still grants me a power and privilege that are likened to the white privilege I bore at home. (Pause for a conversation on intersectionality....) In my Rwandaful world, there is a community of ex-pats that is the most dangerous size: small enough to know everyone in it and large enough to adequately meet my social needs (taking away the need to burst the bubble and interact with people who come from a background significantly different than my own).

My point is, there or here, living a life that reflects and encourages diversity requires intentionality.

So, this church, East End Fellowship in Richmond Virginia, has a rule:
When we gather together to worship on Sundays, everyone should be happy with no more than 75% of what is happening during the worship service. Why such a strange rule? Because we realize that in our culturally diverse congregation, if you are happy and comfortable with more than 75% of what is going on, it most likely means that your personal cultural preferences are being dominantly expressed. So we’ve decided that no one cultural form will be dominant and everyone will be equally unhappy with the worship!
What if I approached my conference planning with that goal in mind? What if I scanned the post-event evaluations with an eye toward holding myself accountable to that? What if our emcee informed the group at each session that each person in the room would only be happy with 75% of the night - in deference to another?

In church. What if I ran away from a church that scored an A+ on my comfortability scale? What if I sought out a church that made me roll my eyes a minimum of five times a service or squirm in my seat - but where I looked around and my brother and sisters had their hands raised in Allelujahs?
What kind of bravery would it take to intentionally fall short of people's expectations - a whole 25% of the time?

More importantly, what if I trusted Jesus to transform my rolling eyes into thank offerings and my squirms into dancing?

My Jesus calls me to a life of self-sacrifice, and I willingly offer that to him in so many areas, but I cling to my preference on worship. Hymns! I demand. With their original melody! Stop changing the tunes! If you don't know what the words mean, google them, don't change them! How can you sing Glory Hallelujah with your hands in your lap? Why the repetition? I cry out, like it's for justice instead of vain preference.

What if I made a decision to be "equally unhappy" for the sake of another - and it led to us both being more deeply satisfied? What if I applied that "rule" - 25% of mine for more of yours - to my finances, my time, my marriage, my parenting?

Happy Sunday from Team Thomas!