Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Wrapping it up

Do you ever get to the end of a season, and find yourself quite glad it's over?  Yeah, me too.  I think I'm feelin' ready for something a little different...
Kenny and the four older kiddos are in Kansas City for a worship conference.  I have been thoroughly enjoying a simpler pace with only my six youngest.  Yes, it really does feel like a very small family right now!!  We made ourselves a New Year's feast fit for a King.  Or maybe not a King. Maybe more like a tired single Mama and her party-ready un-picky children!  We had all kinds of finger foods and some very loud tooters, much to Michael's dismay.  He is catching on as I type, however.  And I think I hear the Spanish radio station blaring  amidst their yells and laughs right now...I suppose our construction workers are leaving more of a mark than I thought!
Throughout the meal tonight, I asked questions about this last year.  What was delightful? What did God teach you? What was exciting?  And what was hard?  Their eyes met mine at that last question, and I reassured them that even the hard seasons are worth living through. The year was full of blessings, no doubt, but they did not stand alone.  They were intermixed with burdens, pressures, grief, uncertainty, weariness, and fear.  'Because He Lives' is a hymn I grew up singing again and again in my Nazarene church.  
Because He lives
I can face tomorrow
Because He lives,
All fear is gone
Because I know
He holds the future
And life is worth the livin'
Just because He lives.
This past year I  have watched my husband take his post in a more intentional way, and I have observed his ways in dealing with new roles in fatherhood.  I have inwardly carried the burdens of my older boys, watching them wrestle with manly things. I have seen their discouraged eyes, listened to their tough questions, and prayed endlessly for Him to cause them to choose Him in their trials. I have spent a number of nights, sitting in the car with my beautiful 14 year-old daughter, listening to her tearfully try to sort out who she is as a Godly woman in light of her fast changing friends and world. I have started to catch the signs of a rapidly changing 12 year old boy, who is quite ready and willing to plunge into manhood.  And I have basked in the innocence and simplicity of my five youngest children.  I watch them play with the same full heart I did their older siblings, but I hold on longer in my mind, because I know this will not always be. 
Last spring, I wore my fingers to the bone packing, cleaning, arranging, fixing, and painting our sweet home in Castle Rock.  I carried the hurts of my children as I watched them say goodbye to much of their childhood at 170 Johnson Place. I forced myself to smile and keep the family going while living with friends, as I attempted to hold up my children who felt lost and couldn't stop the tears. I made a decision, through God's strong leading, to support my husband better and let him lead when I was sure I knew a better way. *Ahem*...And when I thought I was done, finished, completely worn out and could perhaps start to settle and move forward, I fought my husband inwardly but followed him outwardly, and bought tickets to Africa.  It was well worth it, and I am so happy that I went, but it took every. last. ounce. I had!

And yet, at the end of the day (or year, as it may be), what would we have gained had 2013 been a walk in the park? Certainly not the growth that comes from the hot sun calling us upward. Certainly not the closeness that comes from sharing trials. Certainly not this bigger home and acreage and our beautiful views. Certainly not the meetings with Egide and our other Rwandan brothers and sisters!  Certainly not the strength we didn't know we even had, to persevere. Certainly not the outpouring of generosity from our friends and family, as they all helped us to move and settle in. Certainly not a fresh assessment of our marriage, as it lay weather-beaten and needing care. Certainly not the faith to know the Son is still shining when the clouds have covered our vision. And certainly not more hope in Him, as we realize how our struggles can become that extended hand and word of encouragement when others come behind.

I just finished reading Marie Monville's One Light Still Shines.  Marie was the wife of the man who shot the Amish children in their schoolhouse in 2006.  Her writings have inspired me to look for Him in my days more.  To expect Him to speak and provide, because He does.  To not stay but to walk forward with the hope that our God reigns.  

I am thankful for this past year. I am thankful that my children are choosing God. I am thankful that my husband loves me and is always learning and walking. I am thankful that our extended family has supported us and been friends with us. I am thankful for this home and the neighbors we have yet to know and the beauty around us that calls us to see Him. I am thankful I get to homeschool my children. I am thankful that I am not bound by my mistakes. I am thankful for new beginnings.  For my friends who walk next to me and 'get it'. For my husband's employment.  For the One Who is Worthy.

Whatever may come...

He is faithful!!!!!

Happy New Year to all of our wonderful family and friends!  May the Lord richly bless you all as you seek Him.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Late Night Musings and Sugar Cookies

Not quite sure where my head is these days...Still thinking occasionally of our friends in Rwanda, quite glad to be over the strangeness of jet-lag, and now finding myself thrust into the holidays, baking cookies and reading Advent stories with my beautiful children.

My mom flew back home yesterday, after staying with us for a month.  I have a room full of my young adult children tonight; they all want to talk.  About their fantastic night helping out at Operation Christmas Child.  About their job. About college plans.  About how printers are still as lame as they always have been.  The contractors will be here this week, to hopefully start on the drywall.  We have lovely snow outside, and it's been really cold.

Hoping very much for a bit of normalcy in the next season of our lives.   I don't really know what that means, but it just sounds really good to imagine life outside the whirlwind for a bit! No selling houses, no moving, no remodeling, no international trips. Not for a while, anyway.  Please say yes, dear husband?

Here are some pics from our super-fun cookie decorating day.  I remember when my older children were small, and I most assuredly had an infant and another baby on the way. Oh my goodness, I would make a different Christmas goodie with each child.  All in one day.  And then I would leave the dishes in the sink and drag myself up to my room and play dead for a long, long time.
But we learn, don't we? I'm smarter now.  Only one kind of Christmas goodie at a time!
We like our sugar cookies extra soft around here.  I got this recipe from allrecipes.com

My 76 year-old mother, making the 'pretty' cookies that we'll save for later.  We'll eat the 'creative, interesting, and well-intentioned' ones now!

Emma, in the hat she just knit, with the cookie she just decorated but is about to eat.

We felt sorry for these clowns, so we let them in.

Beautiful Hannah got quite creative this year!

Doesn't this picture just take you back to elementary school?

My quiet watcher, Ellie, ready for Mommy to put down the camera so she can eat 'the prettiest one'.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Coming Home

Our last two days in Rwanda were sweet.  Sunday, we were very blessed to attend a church service not only in English, but with a pastor from the states.  That meant a wonderful morning with no interpreter! 
We then had lunch with a new friend of Kenny's, the best man at Egide's wedding.  He had a hard time believing we not only had ten children, but that they were schooled at home.  How did we got the housework done?  How did I teach them all?  Wasn't it hard? I assured him that not only were my children well beyond their years academically, but that my house was always impeccably clean and tidy.  Just kidding.
I learned later that many families, rich or poor, have house-help. Rwanda is big on community, and country and family pride, and you just don't do it alone. Sounds good to me!  Where can I get me some of this house-help?

Monday was our last day in Africa, and it was a very sweet one at that.  We got to meet our 3 sponsored children from Compassion, in the morning.  They each came with an adult, and they brought gifts.  In fact, between the graduation, wedding, and this meeting, we came home with seven wonderful handmade presents to grace our home and remind us of our new friends a half a world away!

We got to take the boys shopping for treats, and then came back to our hotel to visit and have lunch.  The hotel had a big buffet, and these boys really piled it high.  Little Solomon wanted to use two forks to eat, and said if he had another arm, he'd use three!
Seven year-old Solomon clung to Kenny much of the day.  Solomon wants to be a doctor.

Jacques is 18 and left the program recently because of a misunderstanding of his age.  Usually they will stay until 21 or 22. Jacques is very very quiet.  He hopes to finish his studies and go to University.

Our oldest sponsored child is Isaiah.  He is 21 years old, and just about to leave the program.  He hopes to go to University next year. He is very affectionate.

We loved the time we got to spend with these young men.  Kenny had seen the older two about nine years ago, and he was pleased to see how they had grown.  I wanted to stuff them in my suitcase.

Around 3:00, we were all packed up and checked out of the hotel.  Kenny and Egide had made plans to meet in the lobby so we could visit before our shuttle to the airport at 5:00.  We sat and waited.  And waited.  And then around 4:00 we started to pray.  We really didn't want to get on the plane without seeing the new couple once more.  We had only seen them briefly on the wedding day!  By 4:30, we were praying hard.  And God answered our prayers!  At 4:50, we stood up to head out to the shuttle, quite sad, and in walked the newlyweds.  Thank you, God!  We were able to change our shuttle time, and headed out to the restaurant for *just one more warm bottle of Fanta*. This hour of the trip was really the best one. 

Our plane rides home were nice and uneventful until we got to the states.  Our connecting plane had problems and they booted us off.  We weren't able to get onto the last flight out that night from Chicago, so sadly we went down to baggage claim to get our things for the hotel.  Little did we know that back home, the family was praying for us to get home that night.  As the woman down in baggage claim tried to find our bags, she asked why we didn't just get on that last flight out?  We told her it was packed full.  She said no, that there were two seats open.  We just kind of stood there and stared at each other, and then gladly grabbed our boarding passes!  We were home on Colorado soil by 10:00!
This trip really has changed my life in so many ways.  Truth be known, I went almost kicking and screaming. But I knew I would always be sorry if I stayed home. I fell in love with the people of Rwanda. We made some very special friends who love the same God we do! And I got to just relax and travel the world with my very best friend.
BUT, after all of that, I was so very happy to see my pale children and my new home.  We chatted about the hand of God on all of us, and gave gifts and just really enjoyed being back with everyone.
And we dropped off to sleep with no mosquito net.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Rwandan Wedding, Part Three

Our last stop for the day (we opted out of part five and will try to meet once more with the couple tomorrow).  Reception was at yet another building, and started at 5:00 and ended at 8:00.  This is where you will typically have up to 400 or 500 guests.  We were told that although you invite everyone you know to the whole day, people pick and choose what they attend.  And we can see why!  Each ceremony was between two and 3 hours long, with driving and much waiting in between.  This being our first and only African wedding, we soaked up as much as we could.

The stage for the wedding party.  And yes, those are bright white lights.  

We got a bit confused throughout the day as to who was in the wedding party, but we did notice that at each different ceremony, the main people had on different outfits.

Live band, stirring up an occasional spontaneous dance from whoever wanted to come up front and have some fun. There was also an emcee, who really kept things moving.  In the middle of yelling many 'ahh-haa!'s.  Still not sure what that meant, but it was very un-western, very loud, and very fun.

Cutting the cakes.  After the relatives were served (and that included us!), these cakes were cut into small pieces, piled on platters, and handed out row by row during the ceremony.

The most fun part of the reception was the gift-giving.  Groups of people could walk up to the front, grab a mike, and explain what gift they brought and why, and then give a little speech to the bride and groom.  There were co-workers, church members, neighbors, relatives, and my favorite - fellow genocide survivors.

The gifts ranged from baskets of fruit to big boxes.  The fruit was symbolic for either a fruitful life or past fruit in their lives.

When all the gifts had been given, Egide called us up and had our friend Moses explain to the audience that we were his sponsors, and he gave us gifts to take home, expressing his thanks.  I'm not posting the photo with me in it because I look really bad in it- eyes half closed, tired end of the day hair, you know those kind of photos.  So you'll just have to imagine me here smiling beautifully, not one bit tired.
 Kenny gave a little speech along with our gift to Egide and his new wife.  And if you know my husband, you know it was funny.  Even to the Rwandans!

A Rwandan Wedding, Part Two

After Introduction at Cadette's home, we drove across town to 'Chuch'.  And again, we waited about an hour for things to start.  I think the wedding party was out taking their photos for the day.  The wedding ceremony was supposed to start at 2:00, but again, this is not the U.S.!  We waited outside and got a wonderful surprise of a blessing.  The Church building was across the parking lot from Compassion's project buildings.   This is where the children in this area who are sponsored come at least weekly to learn about God, and have a better education, and be fed and medically cared for.  As we waited, a man and woman were introduced to us as Compassion workers, and dozens of beautiful, happy Rwandan children walked past, stared at the 'mizungu's', and ran over for hugs.  We were so very thankful for this gift, to meet some of the workers here, hear their stories, see their smiles, and hug the children.  Kenny has visited Compassion projects in Rwanda and Nicaragua before now, but for me, this was my chance to see Compassion from the inside out.  What a highlight to the day!
Part of the Compassion Rwanda Project

Finally we heard music from inside the Church.  Although most people were still standing outside, we decided to go take our seats.  After a time of African worship (we white people are so stiff!), the wedding ceremony began.  But not without a few surprises to the foreigners...

Best Man, Groom, Bride, Maid of Honor

After Egide and Cadette are seated facing the front, in walks the pastor.  Followed by...

Another wedding couple?  

Not two couples, but three.  Apparently once you reserve the church, you don't get your money back if you change your mind.  Even if someone else is wedding the same day.  In fact, you all wed at the same time, in the same ceremony.  And you don't mind.  Really.

As the rings were given, the bride or groom read their vows from a sheet of paper, after you said 'yes' to the vows from the pastor.  It seems very different, but the service was actually quite nice.  Once Kenny and I got over multiple brides walking down the aisle, we were able to enjoy a wonderful message on marital commitment on earth and our future wedding in Heaven.  Much thanks to Moses, who translated the whole thing to us!
Next stop - Reception!

A Rwandan Wedding, Part One

 It's early Sunday morning (just after midnight), and when we went to bed last night, completely exhausted, I really thought this may be the first night we slept through since we left the states.  But, no.  Continuing jet lag, an over-full mind, and a very (I mean VERY) loud Rwandan night life outside are keeping us from it.  So, we're reading and blogging. And really, who needs sleep, anyway?
Yesterday was the wedding of Egide (eh-zhid) and his bride Cadette.  I really cannot begin to convey all that the day was.  We had had few expectations, only knowing it would be an entire day of ceremonies.  I suppose we pictured a handful of people, tribal dress, and lots of food.  Not exactly.   I will do my best to show the day, but know that it was so very full and there was just so much to take in, that this is just a piece of it.
We began the morning very early, as has been our custom for days since we can't sleep much at night.   I think anxiety for the day before us met with the strange time zone, and got us up around 3:00 am.  We read and got dressed and had a very peaceful buffet breakfast outdoors before our ride came by at 8:30.  And let me just say this- all those stories you've heard about African driving?  They're true. There are almost no rules on the streets.  You head into an intersection/roundabout, nudging and honking amidst dozens and dozens of pedestrians and vehicles.  And then you just gun it and wedge yourself in between the other cars, honking as you go.  But nobody gets mad.  It's just the way you drive.
There were to be five different ceremonies for the wedding, and our first stop was the home of Egide.  Our stomachs were in knots, as we awaited the very first meeting of the young man who had come to call us Dad and Mum.  Both Egide and his bride were left as orphans in the Rwandan genocide, and Compassion International (where my husband works) picked him up as a sponsored child and changed his life forever. As we bumped and bounced up into the unpaved hills toward his home, we anticipated the day.  And when we finally stopped and got out of the car, we had pits in our stomachs as we walked slowly up the stairs, passing many friends and relatives and neighbors, to meet our friend and son in the faith. The front room was small, and completely crowded with well-wishers, eating from plates piled high with delicious African cooking (though we were so nervous, we couldn't even think about putting anything in our mouths).  We looked around the room, for a face that matched the photo that has hung on our wall for so long. And after scanning 20 or 30 unfamiliar faces, there he came.  Words cannot describe.  At our home in Colorado, Egide was a picture hanging, with a name and case number underneath. A young man who was very smart, and wanted to go to 'University' but needed help. Someone we cared for but didn't really take up that much space in my heart.  But today, this young man was real.  He had a real voice and a real home and a real life and really had been left an orphan at age five, unable to speak for a long time from the trauma he lived through.  I loved him from the first glance.

After a very brief visit in this first phase of the day, it was time for the packed little living room to file out and go up to Cadette's home, where there would be 'introduction'. When we arrived outside her employer's home, where she lives, we just sat in the car. The driver, our new friend from Compassion, Moses, and Kenny and I.  We pulled up behind the other cars and just waited.  For almost an hour.  Because the women weren't ready for us yet, and not all the guests had arrived.  You've heard of other cultures shaming stressed out Americans by their relaxed ways?  Yes, it's true!
Finally we left the car, and being rainy season, we carefully ascended the long driveway to take our seats.  And sit we did.  For about two and a half hours.  It was amazing.  And surreal.  So many details, but I'll try to keep it short.  Basically, the bride has a side of guests as does the groom, and they are facing each other in rows.  A spokesman for each side has a microphone, and they spend a very long time talking, bantering, and quipping back and forth, telling a 'story' about a king(Egide) who wants a girl(Cadette).  The wedding party acts out the story as they enter their seating area at the correct time.  And there are rounds and rounds of non-alcoholic drinks served from one side to the other (In Rwanda, when you become a Christian, you don't drink alcohol anymore. Yeah.  My kind of people.) This is known as 'Introduction', because it's kind of like the girl is being introduced to the man's family for the first time.
Entering the grounds of the ceremony
Egide and Best Man in red ties, Groomsmen in yellow

The two
representatives, one for each side of the family.

Egide greeting Cadette's side

Bridesmaids walking in


Herdsmen in costume, singing and dancing and chanting the names of the cows to be given as dowry.  No, I am serious.

Another herdsman

The happy couple. They never really smiled until the end of the day.

Kenny meeting Egide's uncle.  This man raised Egide, and here each one is thanking the other.
The entire day was spoken in Kinyarwanda, the national language. And we were the only ones not from Africa (aka WHITE.) If it hadn't been for some new friends/interpreters from Compassion, and a common bond in the Lord, well these mizungu's (white people) would have been pretty lost.  Next blog post- the wedding at the church (or, 'wedding chuch', as we were told).

Friday, November 15, 2013

Land of a Thousand Hills

After a wonderfully long but relaxing day of flight Thursday, we landed in Kigali, Rwanda Thursday night.  We had been up since 2:00 in the morning, again, but the plane from Brussels to Kigali was huge, and the two of us got four seats to ourselves.  We got some good rest.
As we got off the plane in Rwanda, I kept thinking to myself, 'I am stepping on African soil!'.  The air was warm and humid, and there were just beautiful dark people everywhere.  When we reached our hotel room, we looked around and it was obvious we were 'not in Kansas anymore, Toto'.  A large mosquito net hung over our bed.  The dark bathroom lacked drinkable water. The curtains were red with tribal stripes.  And out the back window there opened up a big, beautiful part of the city of Kigali.  Children splashed in the swimming pool. Palm trees hung over the rolling hills.  Hills and hills and hills.  Kigali is actually called the land of a thousand hills, and now I see why.  

Friday morning, Compassion was celebrating their 2nd graduating class from the Leadership Development Program, which is for children who have graduated from regular sponsorship (because of age) and are moving on to college.  Kenny had been asked to speak, since he just happened to be in the neighborhood for the wedding of our own sponsored LDP student. We were told to meet our driver in the lobby at 8:45 in the morning.  At 7:15, we got a call from said driver, John, letting us know he was here and ready to go.  Um...We looked at each other and moved it into high gear to get ready as fast as we could.  We jumped into the truck, and drove through town, taking in all that we observed.
The graduation was absolutely amazing.  There is such a beautiful bond between believers in Christ, and we most certainly felt that today. These people are so friendly, so hospitable, so relaxed, so humble.  They love God and are so grateful for how He is raising Rwanda out of the ashes after the 1994 genocide.  And He truly is! There are still deep scars, but the president of the country has taken great strides in cleaning it up and pointing it toward God.  It really is a most beautiful redemption story!

John and Kenny

Look at the beautiful colors of the chairs!

Kenny and Eugene, a pastor and employee of Compassion Rwanda

Absolutely delicious!  Lots of meat and veggies.  

I cannot say enough of what I took in today.  Honestly, I am quite overwhelmed in every way.  The strangeness, the beauty, the smells, the sounds, the stress of our calendar while here, the longing to spend more time with the people we've met, the homesickness for my own children, and yes, even this mosquito net distracts me.  This truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity.