Monday, October 27, 2014

{Welcome to Senegal}

Yesterday afternoon our family had the rare privilege of joining our friends, Joel and Andi McMartin and their boys, for an authentic Senegalese meal. We hadn't seen them in three years. The last time we gathered was to say goodbye, to send them off to Africa, and to make sure they knew we would be praying for their transition to a new life.

What a delight it was to see that their transition, while not without its bumpy roads, has been blessed. The Lord has been faithfully, uniquely and beautifully at work in this family who said, "Yes!" to His calling. They have blossomed and thrived in Senegal, from language learning and cultural expectations to school immersion, community fellowship, and meal preparation.

Joel and Andi especially wanted to share the meal preparation with the many families who know and love them on this side of the world. Because isn't gathering for a meal one of the best ways to live and laugh and learn?

Especially a meal which is eaten . . . from one platter . . . with one's hand. The right hand. Only.

We laughed and learned and dribbled and laughed some more, especially when Mom freaked out over accidentally using her left hand to grab the bread. Major faux pas.

The kids were very excited to eat with their paws (did you wash????), and Bethie beamed over being selected as the table mother. (She would assist any child who might need to have a piece of chicken ripped apart. With one hand.) The kids also liked the idea of not needing to be excused from the table. They could leave whenever they wanted to! (Did you wash????)

As we dined and visited, our experience shed much light onto our American ways of life. Such as the assumption that we should always have a large variety of foods from which to choose for each meal of each day. It's pretty common for a Senagalese villager to have the same dinner every day. How much simpler our lives would be if we didn't have SO many choices. Just cook up the chicken, add some potatoes, bread and veggies, and you're (deliciously) good to go!

Yes, it can definitely be a blessing to have variety, and it's fun to experiment with different flavors and menus. But I wonder how often the plenty turns into a distraction. Something I'll be pondering for a while. (Look out, kids. We might be eating lots of oatmeal, beans and rice in the days to come.)

Another cultural expectation is that of being available to linger and visit. If Andi passes a friend in the street, she is expected to stop and visit for a while. It would be very rude to just wave "hello" and zip on by. In order to attempt to get anywhere on time, people leave their homes with plenty of time to spare. You just might meet a friend along the way.

When visiting those friends in their homes, it is also expected that you will stay for a nice long time (join us for lunch . . . now join us for dinner!) and not move toward the door unless the host has given you permission. I have much to learn about lingering and listening.

We lingered and listened for the afternoon (occasionally asking the boys to speak French because how cute is that?!) but we Americans all eventually had to get to our next commitments. We finally said goodbye to our dear friends, realizing that it will likely be another three years before we'd meet again. Calculating how old the kids would be, we lamented and remarked and hugged and finally loaded up.

As we were leaving, Joel shared a final Senagalese sentiment with us. When guests are allowed to take their leave of a home after a nice long visit, the visitors will say something like this: "May we take the road now?" The generous host will say, "Yes! But you may only take half of the road. The other half is for your return."

And so we said goodbye to our friends, thankful for the road that will take them to their ministry and life in Senegal, and even more thankful for the road that will bring us together again one day.  

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

{Three Bags Full}

When the kids were little, they used to watch a video which included a rather strange version of sheep singing "Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full." The animated sheep couldn't handle much choreography with mere hooves, so it looked odd every time they punctuated the "three bags full" line with determined, outstretched haunches.

The phrase and the motions stuck with us (some things just cannot be erased from the memory), and we still find ourselves referring to a full load as "three bags full." Of course we hold our fists out like hooves to do the song justice, our voices and motions as staccato as possible. Yes, sir, yes sir.

The last couple of weeks have been "three bags full" weeks. Full of emotion, full of new experiences, full of life. I've wanted to write about anything and everything but have hardly had a spare minute. Now that I do, I can't seem to corral my thoughts and will probably end up writing about nothing. Or everything. (You've been warned.)

The tears have sprung to my eyes more readily these days, too. I'm not sure if that means I'm getting old or overly tired. Probably both? But I do know the emotions have been many.

Emotions such as pride-fear-incredulity-awe-denial-love, all wrapped into one. Can you even believe this? I've often referred to this year as the Year of Acceleration. Apt, no?

Nostalgia has haunted me something fierce this week, too, as I think back to this time last year. My sister and I had joined Johnny and Brooke in Slovenia and had one of the more incredible experiences of our lives. I do plan to write more about this trip -- I think I left us in Germany (which, if one must be left, is a lovely place to stay). For now, I've been looking back over my travel journal with a beautiful ache in my heart.

Brooke's birthday was this week, so we snuck in a quick Skype visit -- a balm to my spirit. (Not as perfect as birthday milkshakes in an Austrian castle, but I'll take it.)

And the emotions continued. Joy and longing filled my heart as we soaked in as many hours as we could with my Nanee and Grandpa over the last couple of weeks. Joy in the faithful lives they've lived, joy in the fact that they were able to make the trip from California, and a longing for it to keep on going. I loved listening to my grandparents share stories from their past. From dances and movies to boot camp, the war, and coming to know and love Christ, we covered a lot of ground. It was marvelous.

The three bags got even fuller when my friend Jenae sent me a frantic email early in the week. "Any chance we could do the interview tomorrow?!?!"

Back in June, Jenae had asked if I might be interested in our families joining forces to create a video. The goal was to raise awareness and support for International Justice Mission, in general, and child slavery in Ghana, in particular. Jenae wrote about our experience in a blog post here. I've known Jenae since childhood, and it's a joy and delight to pretend like we're all grown up and allowed to do mom things together. I'm so thankful for her tender, compassionate heart and her ability to eloquently share her kingdom-driven vision with adults and children alike. I'm also thankful that she taught me how to make refried beans in the crockpot. She's a remarkable woman.

Well, our little video made its way to International Justice Mission (IJM). In a series of whirlwind texts and emails, Jenae was contacted by one of the IJM directors in the hopes of arranging a Skype interview with the kids. As soon as possible. We whipped our befuddled kids into shape (or something resembling a shape) and gathered around the laptop at the church on Wednesday. You can see the kids' video and part of the interview here and learn more about IJM's work, too. 

It was humbling and amazing to play even a small part in this incredibly vital work.

* * * * *

The week is wrapping up, and my heart and emotions are indeed full to the brim. So is my stomach. You see, there's something about fall that makes me hang out in the kitchen and bake things. Things with butter and sugar and such.

And so I will leave you with four yummies:

Apple Dutch Babies: We make Dutch babies often, but I had never tried it with apple before. This was a fun variation, and if you like apple pie, it will make you extremely happy.

Earl Grey Latte: Until last week, I didn't know such a thing existed! Oh my goodness, this changes my life. I made one this morning (sans lavender), and it was a loverly way to start the day. I like that it's called a London Fog. It makes me want to snuggle up with a blanket and a book near a crackling fire.  

M&M Cookies: My friend Lauren made these yummies a while ago, and Little Miss couldn't get enough. I asked for the recipe and was surprised to see that vanilla pudding powder was one of the ingredients. Another new kitchen tip for me! Last night I made the traditional Nestle chocolate chip cookie recipe to go along with Family Movie Night (The LEGO Movie), but I used mini chocolate chips and I added a few tablespoons of the vanilla pudding powder to the dough. Wow. Everything is awesome. 

Pumpkin Snickerdoodles: Fall perfection. These are so yummy. So soft. So sweet. Everyone in my family loved them, even those who don't like pumpkin. Or snickerdoodles. (I have an odd family, full of diverse culinary preferences.)

Well, that's all. Have a blessed weekend, dear friends. Know that you are loved beyond measure by the One who lavishes good gifts on His children . . . three bags full!  

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