Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Need to Connect

(photo credit: TJ)

"Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.  For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.. Ecc 4:9,10a)
When we first moved to West Africa, I thought, “I can do this. I can make friends.  I feel confident in who I am and what God is doing in me.” Our first week or so, I was more outgoing than usual.  At least more outgoing than I usually am.  I made an effort to connect and get to know people.  Then I got tired of all the new and just wanted to retreat.  Some days it seemed easier to just read a book or fiddle around my kitchen.  It was getting hard.  Thankfully God didn't let me just give up.  He gave me glimpses of hope in invitations for shopping or coffee but also used a book I am reading to remind me of my part in making new relationships.

In her book, Girl Meets Change, Kristen Strong gives some great advice on making friends in the chapter titled Because We All Need Friends in Low Places.

She says “We do three brave things: open up, show up, and lift up.”

1.   OPEN UP

We open up when we let other people into our lives-we invite them into our homes.  I have a friend who now lives in Bangladesh who is a great example of this.  She is always reaching out to others by opening up her home.  It is a vulnerable place to be.  What if they don’t come?  What is the food I am serving doesn’t turn out right?  What if??

We had our first dinner guests last night.  I decided to make pizza.  The only problem is that I really have only one cookie sheet but I needed two pizzas. So I decided to make the first pizza and then slide it off the cookie sheet.  Then I would just put the second pizza on the same sheet.  It worked.  Thankfully, my guests were gracious that both pizzas were not done at once.  Sometimes we think we have to have everything perfect but really it is okay when we don’t.  Most guests are happy to not have to cook and worry about the cleanup.   Waiting on the second pizza gave us a reason to linger over the food and continue getting to know each other.

I need to open up more.  The more I open up, the easier it gets.  For me, it is the asking that is hard.  Once that is over, the rest usually falls into place. 

2.   SHOW UP

We need to show up where other people are.  I am not going to meet and get to know other people if I never leave my house.  For me, it means going to devotions at the office every morning which is helping me get to know the staff better.  Each day more faces look familiar, and I am more comfortable chatting with the person beside me. It also means going to the weekly ladies’ study even when I am feeling unsure if I fit in.  Feelings can be fickle which is why we need to keep showing up even when it gets awkward at times.

This morning, it was just getting out and going for my morning walk.  I was starting my walk at the same time as a lady I have been getting to know, and we ended up running together along the beach road.  It was good to have someone to talk with as we did our morning exercise.

For young moms, it might be showing up at a playground or another place where moms with kids go.  I once had a McDonald’s friend.  One day I just needed to get out of the house so I took W to McDonald’s for lunch and to play on the playground since it was too hot to play outside.  She made friends with another little girl on the playground, and I soon found myself chatting with the other mom.  This became the beginning of our friendship.  You never know what will happen when you show up. 

3.   LIFT UP

We need to lift up our needs including our need for friends to the Giver of all good things.   He knows what kind of friend we need and also who might need us to be her friend.  I remember before going to college how nervous I was about my new roommate.  At two different summer camps, I had bad experiences with roommates.  I remember my family praying that God would give me a good roommate.  I am so thankful that He answered that prayer.  My college roommate and I are still close friends today.  She was an answer to prayer.

But it is also important to note (and Kristen in her book points this out) that sometimes our prayers might not be answered like we think they should.  This could be a season where we need to invest and have time with our family.  Or maybe it is season where we need to be alone with God.  My first year of being a stay at home mom felt like that.  I didn’t have a good network of friends that also stayed at home.  On top of that some of my friends that had been staying home went back to work leaving them less time to get together.  My husband was working long hours, and I found myself alone a lot.  Looking back, it was a season of growth in my walk with God.  Each afternoon, I had appointment with God in my chair when my kids were down for their nap.  Evenings when my husband had to work, I often used that time to journal and spend in God’s word.  It was a hard season but one I look back to with an appreciation for that time with God.

So as I make friends here. I am thankful for the people who have reached out to me.  I am thankful for those I have connected with that I have a feeling will be life- long friends.  But I also know this is just the beginning so I need to keep…

Opening up.  Showing up. And Lifting up.

What about you?  Do you need to open up, show up or lift up? 

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

As We Go Into Year 25...

(photo credit goes to my Prince Charming)

This week my prince charming and I are entering year 25 of our marriage.  I always tell people that being married to my husband is an adventure.  Not that it is always easy and fun but it is an adventure.  This year we celebrated by going for Sunday lunch at a resort near where we live.  Of course, we were going for the seafood buffet that we were told the resort had.   After some confusion and talking with the staff, we did end up with a delicious barbeque fish meal just not a seafood buffet.  It was a treat to dress up and eat at a nice restaurant.   The food was delicious and perfect for an anniversary celebration.  Later that evening a friend brought over dinosaur cupcakes left over from a birthday party to put a sweet end to our day. 

Year 24 was a good year marriage wise.  The rest of our lives seemed to be a roller coaster so it was a blessing to have someone holding my hand as we went on this ride together.

Last August we became empty nesters leaving one child at college and the other at boarding school.   It was strange going back to Central Asia without them but we were doing it together as a team.  Then we moved twice.  One move was to a different city in Central Asia, and the other move was to West Africa a little over a month ago.  But it was an adventure, and we were in it together.  Yes, there were tears as we felt loss but also joy as we went on long walks, read books together and learned how to cook together.   We waited together for permissions that never came.  We prayed and talked as we figured out that it was time to leave Central Asia and go someplace else.   Together is such a beautiful word.

As I look back on the past year, I have been thinking what made this year a good year for our marriage.  There are past years that if we had encountered the roller coaster that we did this year, we would have been at each other’s throats.  What made the difference?  Here are four things that stood out.

1.     We were intentional in spending time together.

Before the kids left, we would always have a date night on the night they had youth group.  We would keep things simple such as spending time talking or listening to music or even watching a movie or TV show together.  On occasion, we went out to eat but that was rare.  This past year, we took at least one long walk on the weekends through the hills and by the creeks of where we lived.  The walk helped us refocus but also gave us time to reflect on the week as well as reconnect. 

It also included being intentional to take time to talk every day.  It is so easy to live with someone but not connect with them.  It shouldn’t be but it is.  Taking time to talk about life and experience it together was a lifeline for us.  Communication takes work but hopefully we are getting better at it.

2.   We were intentional in our relationship with God

In Exodus 33, Israel has sinned and by the grace of God and pleas of Moses, Israel is spared from destruction.  Now God and Moses are discussing what comes next.  Moses says “If Your presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here.”   I have found I don’t want to be anywhere if God is not there with me.  He is my rock and lifeline.  It sounds like a Sunday school answer but it is true. 

Both my husband and I know the truth of this, and so we were intentional in our personal time with God but also in getting together with others for bible study.  A new thing for us this year was reading books together.  These books often encouraged us in our walk with God.   Together we sought God’s guidance on our next steps after Central Asia and thankfully God was leading us both in the same direction.

3.   People were praying for us

When we went back to the states in the spring, we were so blessed by all of the people who told us they had been praying for us.  It humbles me and reminds me that I also need to be praying for those around me-for their families, their marriages, and their work.  I am also blessed to have dear friends who pray for me and hold me accountable. 

4.   We were intentional about serving each other.

When I focus on me and what I am getting out of something, that is  when things start to go downhill.  When I focus on others and how I can serve them, I see things differently.  I find joy.  In marriage, when we serve each other, love grows.   Each marriage is different but for us here are a few things that make us feel loved.  For my husband: Cooking his favorite foods, a foot rub after a long day, or having clean clothes.  For me, breakfast on the weekend, coming home to a clean kitchen, or a dark chocolate bar. 

Our marriage is not perfect but God is good.  I pray that this year, we can continue to do these things and that whatever comes our way, we can go through it together.   What are some things or habits that have helped your marriage?  What makes you or your husband feel loved?  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Two Young Adult Trilogies for Your Summer Reading

Some seasons are great for reading.  Other seasons are not.  For me, this season is great for reading.  Being new to a place, I am slowly making friends but have a relatively free schedule until school starts.  Thus, I am reading.  Not sure what to do.  I read. I can't really work on my house as we are waiting on our shipment.  Then there is the fact that we are probably going to move in August to a different house.  So what do I do?  I read.  

I started out finishing up some non fiction books I had started but then found myself sucked into these two series.  The first series is by Jill Williamson.  In the Fall, I had the privilege of being an advanced reader for her newest fantasy book King's Folly.  I loved it so decided to try out some of her other books.  

1. The Safe Lands Series by Jill Williamson

This three book dystopia series is told from various points of view but centers on three brothers.  When their beloved town is attacked and many are taken captive into the "safe lands", they each have choices to make.  There is Omar, the youngest, who is responsible for the attack and just wants to be accepted and loved for who he is.  He is attracted to all that the Safe Lands has to offer but will it be what he really wants?  Will he choose wisely in the end?  Then there is Mason, the middle brother, who wants to be a doctor when all the other guys would prefer hunting and gathering.  He has a choice to fight the system or try to work in the system but still stay true to who Papa Eli taught him to be.  Lastly, Levi is the oldest and destined to be the elder of their village when he grows up.  He is use to getting his way and has a bit of a temper.  Will he be able to think rationally and not react?  His people now depend on him.  His finance is depending on him to rescue her from the harem.  Does he have what it takes to lead and rescue his people from the Safe Lands.

The plot and characters are well developed as you try to figure out what is liberation and are the "safe lands" really safe.  The characters are forced to choose who they can trust and is this a fight worth fight for.   I am hoping my son will read this series this summer.  It has some great discussion topics such as: is life just for pleasure? and What are the dangers of a culture with no morals?

You are also in luck.  Currently each book is 99 cents.  So if you are looking for a cheap but good summer reads these books might be for you.

2.  The Staff and the Sword Series by Patrick Carr

This fantasy series is set in medieval times features a kingdom on the brink of war.  If they don't find a new king, the barrier that has held back their enemies will be broken.   Into this time, Errol is tasked to deliver a message to a hermit priest that almost gets him killed.  This begins an adventure where Errol has to face his own personal demons plus rise up to the challenges that keep coming his way.  A band of a priest, a reader, a former member of the watch, possible king, and Errol have to figure out what the truth is and who can they trust.   How can this boy Errol who is a drunk be the one who is tasked to help save the kingdom?  Why do the assassins seem to be targeting Errol?  Who will be the next king and will they be able to confirm the king since readers keep ending up dead.  Will they be able to save the kingdom in time or will evil win?   

This series has many redemptive elements which made me pause to think about my faith and what and why I believe what I do.  Along the way, I  also fell in love with the characters as I saw them grow into who God had made them to be.

What have you been reading?  Any suggestions of what I should read next?  Interested in what others are reading?  Check out other book reviews at Modern Ms. Darcy monthly link up.