Sunday, October 8, 2017

Clinging to the Crutch

Some people say, derisively, that Christianity is a crutch.

And to that I say Amen.  Glory Hallelujah.  Give me that crutch.  Because I am crippled.  More like paralyzed, actually.

William Ernest Henley wrote, I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.  Yet he was a man who grew up in poverty and had a leg amputated as a result of tuberculosis.  Ironically, the poem was also chosen as the last words of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, before he was executed.

I would love to know:  Did they really believe it?  Or just want to?  Did Stephen Paddock believe it as well?  Or any of those he killed?  Or those who died--or lived--in the fury of the hurricane?

Should we believe it?  Is it really a statement of courage?  That those of us who came from dust and will inevitably return to dust actually are masters of anything?

I haven't written in this space for three weeks.  In my ten years of blogging, that's a record for me.  And that's because in these last weeks--months really, but mainly these last weeks--have been spent coming to grips with my dust-likeness.  That I am not the master of my fate.  That I am most certainly not the captain of my soul.

Sixteen years ago, I went through a season of Anxiety.  And I say it with a capital A, because there's no other good word to describe it.  You can say, I'm anxious about that interview.  I'm anxious about the bills.  But that's nothing compared to Anxiety.  It's like equating "feeling down" with Depression.  You just can't compare the two.  Anxiety is all-encompassing, life-consuming, soul-sucking.

That was sixteen years ago, and after two years I had victory.  Then it entered my life again a few months ago, and has sought to control me these last weeks.  My life circumstances, ironically, are going great.  My kids are all thriving.  My husband is incredibly supportive.  I'm doing my dream job.  I'm not over-stressed.  But as anyone who has experienced it knows, it doesn't matter what's really real, Anxiety becomes the center of the universe.

I'm fighting hard, from many different fronts, and I have tremendous support.  I'm also managing to stay functional most of the time, even if "functional" sometimes feels agonizing.

But if there is one thing--one gigantic Truth that has ground me to the dust--it is that I am not in control.  Any sense of being master or captain of myself has dissolved into a blubbering mess on the bed.  I am nothing but a few molecules surrounding a soul.  That flesh has no real power, and that soul has no control over what happens to me.

And when I'm there--here--I have three choices.

1.  Live in denial; convince myself that I am in control even though I never will be.
2.  Live in anger and frustration that there is a God, but he doesn't care.
3.  Trust that there is a God who is there and is not silent.

The last time I went through this, sixteen years ago, led to a Crisis of Faith.  I had been raised to know Christ--and I had personally tasted of his goodness--but my foundation was not strong enough to endure the bottom falling out of my world.  It led to an intensely personal quest for Truth.  True Truth.  Like, historical, scientific, philosophical Truth.  Not just something that made me feel better.

It was excruciating, but I found it.  I found it in the Jesus of the gospels and the words he left behind for us.  The foundation was solid underneath me and my fear slipped away.

So this time around, that foundation has remained secure.  I am not questioning the existence of God and his Truth, as that is settled for me.  But this time, my question has been, Does he care?  I am weak, desperate, helpless.  Will he show up?

Yes.  That is what he has been doing.  Quietly, gently, slowly.  He is asking me to be patient.  But I am tasting the promise of manna.  His daily provision of what I need.  How what I think I need is not necessarily what he knows I need.  How the knowledge of his presence is more important to him than my productivity.

If you had asked me before Anxiety if I believed all of that, I would have assured you that I did.  But really, I've been living my life as my own Captain, a lot of the time.  It feels good to live that way--secure, confident, comfortable.  Sure, God is there, but it's nice to have a contingency plan.

So I've got to tell you--this is scary.  Really, really scary to thrust my trust and my hope and my life into the belief of an invisible God.  Because do I really, really know that he will come through?  That he will deliver me?  That he will never leave me?

I think that's exactly why he has brought me to this place.  Because I have no other place to go.  I have no other options.  I have no other hope.  That's exactly where he plans to show up.  And he is.  Oh, my friends, He is!

I don't like writing this way, from the middle of the hurricane.  It's a lot easier to write from the end and wrap up all the details and praise God for how he brought me through.  But here I am, holding on for dear life, not knowing the ending.  He was there yesterday, so I'm going to cling to that crutch--that blessed, sturdy, life-giving crutch--that he will be there tomorrow.

We attend an all-African church, and the preacher this morning was a friend of ours from Cameroon, who is also the French teacher at HOPAC.  He read aloud these words from Deuteronomy in his rich French accent, and they filled my soul.

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart....And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna....that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you....For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good which you will lack nothing.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Magic Charms and Contingency Plans

A few nights ago, Mama F came to me terrorized, begging and screaming for a certain plant in our backyard. 

I've lived in Tanzania for almost 14 years now, but there are still stories that blow me away.

I have a good friend, Allison (name changed), who has lived here as long as Gil and I have.  I don't get to see her often, as she and her husband live several hours away in a remote village in Tanzania.  We may be living in the same country, but her life is very different from mine.  While visiting us this week, Allison told me this incredible story.

For a long time now, Allison had been sharing the gospel with Mama F, one of her neighbors.  And just a couple weeks ago, Mama F declared faith in Christ and started attending a Bible study led by Allison and her team.  They all praised God for this, not knowing that the story was just beginning....

This is how Allison tells it:

"A few nights ago, Mama F came to me terrorized, begging and screaming for a certain plant in our backyard.  Of course, I let her in to grab the unknown plant she named.  I soon saw that something had taken hold of her precious four-year-old daughter.  She was writhing and gurgling, clenched in her mother’s arms, and foaming at the mouth.  

Hearing Mama F’s cries, other neighbor women were coming to aid and we all followed as she ran back to her house while smearing my basil plant all over little F’s head.  The father had run for the witchdoctor to buy emergency witchcraft to ward off the attack.  Mama F would not accept my westernized offer to take them to the hospital.  

We women entered into her home, trying to be of help in any way we could.  One woman shook and rubbed a live chicken over little F -- spraying who knows what all over her.  Another brought a pouch with herbs to burn and handfuls of a certain type of dirt to make a mud mixture to smear over her disrobed body.  Mama F frantically gulped a liquid from a cup and spewed it onto her daughter.  Then she placed knives under her armpits and behind her neck, wrapped F in banana leaves and tied a new black cloth charm around F’s wrist to join the others that fruitlessly encircled her body already. The ladies began to burn the weeds gathered so that smoke filled the room.  All the while, F was writhing and foaming, enveloped in darkness.

A long time ago, the Lord compelled me into these neighbors' lives and now--as I walked that night with these women I love who were so fear stricken, so desperate to save this child in the only ways they knew of-- I prayed silently and out loud for His Light to shine in the living nightmare.  Then He enabled me to speak simple, childlike words in this dark chaos of fear and despair.  
'God is able to help and heal F.  This witchcraft will not work.  May I pray for her in Jesus’ name?  May I hold her in my arms and pray for God’s healing?  I can ask for help from Almighty, Holy God because I believe Jesus shed his blood to pay for my sin so I am forgiven. Please let me pray for her.'

Miraculously they agreed!

But I knew there was more needing to be said.  'Mama F, because God is holy and only He deserves glory, you have to stop this witchcraft.  He wants you to see it is by His power and grace alone that F is healed. Please remove the knives, the leaves...'

Miraculously they agreed and placed her in my arms!

I squatted down on the dirt floor, holding that precious, terrorized little girl in my arms and I prayed.  As I prayed, I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit that this was not just a physical need for healing, but spiritual.  So, in Jesus name, I prayed against the powers of darkness over this little one.  In Jesus' name, I rebuked satan and told him to leave.  In Jesus' name, I entrusted F into God’s arms of healing and protection.

And God heard and answered!  As I prayed, the convulsions and foaming and gurgling ceased and F laid peacefully in my arms.  I heard the women’s voices declare,  'Wow!  The prayer is working!  God Heals!  Jesus Heals!  God hears the prayers of Christians!  Let’s go find more Christians to pray for her!'  So we returned to my house where my teammates had been waiting and they too surrounded F with prayer and praise to God for her healing.  And with F still in my arms exhausted, but at peace, my teammates and I lingered with our neighbors in our front yard and on our front porch, praising God for His healing in word, prayer, and song."

But the story is still not over. Allison sat in my kitchen Wednesday evening, telling me what had just happened the night before.

She continued:

"Mama F had attended the ladies prayer group in our home again and gave praise to Jesus for his healing in her child.  Then a few days later F came to our home to play, wearing her charm necklace again.  

I spoke to her Mom that God does not share His glory with another and F does not need the charms for her health and protection when we cry out to the one true God through Jesus Christ.  She agreed, but the necklace charm remained.  I also shared that with believing in Jesus Christ as her Savior, she is now a daughter of the King and she herself can ask her Father God for anything in His Name!   There is no need to fear, nor appease the forces of darkness. But the necklace remained.  

Tuesday evening, the terrors came again to F.  Since we were here in Dar when the attack came on, little F's family sought the help of our team (Tanzanian and American) who together prayed and read Scripture over her, but this time she was not responding and they agreed to take her to the clinic in the neighboring village.  

When I received word of this, I asked if she was still wearing any charms.  And she was still wearing her charm necklace.  My husband called Baba F and exhorted him to remove the charms as God will not share His glory with another.  Meanwhile the doctor was not able to help F and so they brought F to our local evangelist where they cut off her charm necklace and began to pray for her again.  She was immediately restored to normal!"

Glory be to God!

It is, indeed, truly a remarkable story--especially for those of us who assume that this kind of thing ended in the New Testament.  But it would be a shame for those of us from westernized cultures, who scoff at magic charms and witchdoctors, to think that God isn't trying to teach us the same lessons that he was teaching little F's family.

He wants the glory alone.  

And his glory is never evident in contingency plans.

I've thought about this constantly since I heard Allison's story.  How often do I have a contingency plan?  How often do I say the words that God is faithful and God is good, but in the back of my mind, have my own little plan of what I'll do if God doesn't show up?

Sure, I say I believe in heaven and that it's forever and that life here is only a shadow of what's to come.  But really, I want to enjoy that shadow with as much comfort as I can muster and as much pleasure as I can hold onto--just in case heaven doesn't come.

Sure, I know that God is the rightful king and sovereign over the universe.  But I'd also really like to be under a government that is just, safe, powerful, and holds to all of my values--and I'm distressed if I don't get that. 

Sure, I believe that God is the source of all peace and healing.  But my first instinct in times of pain or sickness or fear is to turn to doctors and medicine, not to prayer.

Sure, I believe that Scripture tells me that God will provide for all my needs.  But I want that savings account to be steady and that income to be regular, just in case.

I know there's a balance here, because I need to be wise and prudent and God's gifts to me include homes and medicine and savings accounts.  But where is the source of my trust?  Am I really trusting in God, or in my contingency plans?

And sometimes, God might just be waiting for us to cut off the magic charm.  Because He will not share His glory with another.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

I'd Really Just Like to Be in Control

I would really like to be in control of my universe.  It doesn't seem too much to ask, really, because my universe is quite small.  My family, my health, my friends, my stuff, my reputation, my job--that's really all I ask for control over.  God can take care of the rest.  How generous of me.

We humans have a tendency to forget we that we are not God.  We would like to be, of course, starting way back in the Garden.  You will be like God was whispered in that first temptation.  Ironic, since that was the temptation that the Tempter himself had succumbed to: I will make myself like the Most High.

And the rest is history.  The battle continues in the hearts of each of us, wrestling with God for control.

As image-bearers of God, we are indeed powerful.  Capable of creating (and destroying) cities, splitting atoms, rocketing to the moon.  Subduing the earth, making the land bow to our wishes, growing new people inside our own bodies, snuffing the life out of others with one bullet or sometimes even just one word.  

In America, where we celebrate, encourage, and nurture that power, we are given an illusion of control.  We buckle our children into their five-point harness car seats; we buy alarm systems for our homes; we build shiny fire trucks; we put sand under the monkey bars.

Yet we are not God.  And despite billions of minds at work and thousands of years of history, we can't control the hurricane.  Despite $1500 a month in medical insurance, we can't control our health.  Despite years of homeschooling or thousands invested in the best schools, we can't control our children.

We keep grasping for control, and God keeps showing us that we'll never get it.

When God's people were wandering the desert for 40 years, he fed them with manna.  Each day, every day, and only enough for one day, he sent them bread from heaven.  They weren't allowed to store it up.  They just had to trust that tomorrow it would come again.

We have no concept of Give us this day our daily bread, because our pantries could easily feed us for a month.  In fact, we may decide we're not even into bread, and we eat quinoa instead.  But God always gets around whatever system of control we construct.  We try to store up our health by eating well, but we still will eventually get sick, and eventually die.  We try to store up our wealth, but eventually the bubble will burst or the hurricane will come or the car will crash.

Even in--especially in--sleep does God assert his control.  You can't store up sleep; even after a good nine hours' rest, you'll still be tired again another fifteen hours later.  Frustratingly, sleep is one of the few things in life you can't accomplish by trying harder.  Sleep is surrender.  Sleep is trust.  It is the direct antithesis of fear and anxiety.  And it's necessary for life itself.  Did you get that?  God programmed the necessity of surrender and trust into our DNA.  We can fight it, but we won't win.

I am anxious when I am not in control.  Yet I am never in control, I only deceive myself into thinking I am.  Which is probably one of the reasons why God continually puts things into my life to remind myself of this fact.  Like the Israelites in the desert, often I don't trust the manna will come the next day, even after years and years of experiencing it.  Even though he's promised it.  And proven himself trustworthy.

Like millions of Christian, English-speaking children, the NIV version of Proverbs 3:5-6 was embedded on my heart at a young age.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 
in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Last week, I was working on the list of Bible verses that all primary students at HOPAC will learn this year.  When I added Proverbs 3:5-6, I was surprised to see that the new version of the NIV changed one word. all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

I can't read Hebrew, so I don't know why the change was made--especially since just about every other English version uses acknowledge.  But I've found myself reflecting a lot on that word this month:  Submit.  There's something a lot more profound and meaningful about submission versus acknowledgement.  It's what I desire for my life with God.  Because I am not in control.  He is.  And the more I submit to that, the straighter my paths will be.

Submit to him, and gather the manna for just today.  Trust that tomorrow it will come again.

*Many of these reflections, especially about manna, come from my current re-reading of Running Scared:  Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest by Edward Welch.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

This is My Haven of Peace

So I'm the Primary School (Elementary) Principal at Haven of Peace Academy.  I officially started three weeks ago, and school has been open the last two weeks.

I'm still not over the weirdness of saying that.  Yesterday I was at the mall eating lunch with a fellow teacher and my two girls, and I introduced myself to someone as the primary principal at HOPAC.  The words still feel weird coming out of my mouth.

It's interesting how much our work defines us.  I remember when I left full-time teaching to stay home and take care of Grace, and how much of a crisis of identity I went through.  What was I anymore?  How would I define myself?  But time went on and I grew comfortable in that role.  I was a mom, but with a full-time housekeeper, so I had the time to do a lot more.  I volunteered for dozens of endeavors and had the freedom to fill my time as I chose, on my terms.

Most of that volunteering was at HOPAC, since for so long that was Gil's life, and then when he left, it was my kids' life.  So being at HOPAC daily is not strange for me--it feels like home.  For sixteen years, HOPAC has felt like one of my children.  I've seen it grown and stretched and go through really tough times--but I wasn't just an idle spectator, I sweat through it like one of its limbs, often right in the thick of the joy or the pain.

But I always hung around in the background.  And it was comfortable back there, because I could do my work and was under no one's scrutiny.  My responsibility was to myself alone, most of the time.

So this--this new official role--this is different.  Because now I have an office and my name on a cubby hole and I have people looking to me to tell them what to do.  So even though everything about this job feels familiar, the role feels strange, and my internal pressure to do it right has sent me down some anxious nights.  Once again, my identity has changed.  And I don't always do change well.

But God has been good--as he always is--and is teaching me much about my own desire for control and the absolute necessity of trusting him instead.  And when I am in that place of trust, I can't believe the huge privilege I have of getting to do this job.

I love the children.  Anyone who works with elementary school children knows this joy.  Oh Mrs. Medina, I love your skirt.  I love your shirt.  I love you!  The daily waist-high hugs, the light in their eyes, the tiny breakthroughs with the difficult student--ah, there is nothing quite like it.

I love my teachers.  No one goes into teaching for the money, but especially not at HOPAC.  Yet I've seen my teachers work twelve-hour days for three weeks straight--even on weekends, and their utter and complete dedication to these children is truly a sight to behold.  They've shed some tears but mostly their faces are brimming with joy, because they are called to this and they love it so much.  Who wouldn't want to work with people like this?

And then there's the larger staff of HOPAC.  I'm just one small piece in this puzzle--one of three principals--both of whom were already my friends--and under a director who is like a brother.  There's about a hundred staff at HOPAC, if you count the gardeners and the cleaners and the snack bar ladies--and we are family.  Over and over again, that's what I hear people say.  We love to sing together and pray together, and though we come from the full spectrum of the Christian faith and over a dozen nationalities, we are still a community--a family.

There's this sense of the sacred that runs through HOPAC.  Not just because we offer some of the highest-quality education in Tanzania, but because we're unified by Jesus in our diversity.  We all know we're part of something really special.  And it's a little dizzying to remind myself that I get to be a part of it.  To God be the glory.

First day of school for all of us!

Josiah's first day of 4th grade

Lily's first day of 3rd grade

Johnny's first day of kindergarten.  Oh, he was so excited!

Back-to-School Night

The newly renovated Snack Bar had its grand opening at Back-to-School Night.

Families could order a sampling of all that snack bar has to offer!

Those of you who know HOPAC can see in this picture that there's a second-story eating area being added to the (former) kindergarten building.  Exciting times!

Breaking ground for the new Performing Arts Building!

Monday, August 21, 2017

My Cup Overflows

Tomorrow is the first day of school at Haven of Peace Academy, and I get the privilege of being the elementary school principal.  This picture was taken on Thursday, and this is the incredible staff I get to work with this year.  We are from probably over a dozen different countries, and together we get to create an amazing community of learners for almost 400 students.

When I was at my parents' house in July, I was going through old papers and I found this:

The letter is dated April 4, 1999, and it's the original invitation HOPAC sent me to come and teach.  

I didn't make it here until August of 2001, but I eventually did arrive, and I taught this wonderful group of kids for two years.  

In 2005, Gil and I came back to Tanzania, this time with him as chaplain and Bible teacher, and HOPAC became our entire life for 8 years.  We ate, slept, and breathed HOPAC.  If you cut us open, HOPAC blood would have run out.  

Then we left in 2013, and I thought that was the end.  

We would be returning to Tanzania, and our kids would be attending the school, but I knew it wouldn't be our life anymore.  

I joined the board as a parent volunteer.  

Pictures of board meeting aren't very exciting.  The meetings themselves weren't very exciting either, but they sure were interesting.  My devotion to this school just continued to grow.

So when it became apparent that God was leading me back to working at HOPAC, and I applied and was granted the position of primary school (elementary) principal, well, it just seemed to good to be true.  Truly, far more than I imagined.

But it is true. And it's happening, and here I am again, immersing my life into this place which I dearly adore.  My cup overflows.  I can't think of any place I would rather be.  

These last two weeks have been crammed with all the things that are needed to open a school year--orientation sessions, organizing, scheduling, helping new teachers.  And though my first week was rough as I struggled through jetlag and an abundance of nerves, I love this job more and more with each passing day.  Which is pretty cool considering that the school year hasn't even started yet.  

This is a new season for me.  And one thing many friends asked me while I was in the States was, "Are you going to be able to keep blogging?"  I sure hope so.  That's my plan.  But it might be different.  I won't have as much time to write and I won't have as much mental space to think about writing.  There might be a lot more things in my life that I won't be at liberty to share publicly.  But I hope you'll stick with me anyway, because this a journey I will want to share.  

I will sing the Lord's praises, for he has been good to me.
Psalm 13:6

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Four Months in America

Last week, when Johnny arrived in Tanzania and got into the taxi that would take him home, Gil asked him, "Do you know where we are going, Johnny?"

My 5-year-old, jetlagged, very confused son answered, "To Uncle Brandon's house?"

Oh my sweet boy.  We have really messed with your mind.  Uncle Brandon's house is now 10,000 miles away.  You are going home now.

We spent four months in the States.  It was jam-packed with memory-making, especially with family.  My kids spent days....weeks with their cousins, often living in the same house.  Other family members rearranged their lives over and over again so that they could spend more time with us.  Lots of swimming, lots of games of Wiffle Ball, lots of bike riding.

We drove as far north as Concord and as far south as San Diego.  We drove from southern to northern California and back again at least five times.  Gil and I traveled to Austin for a conference and I traveled by myself to Minneapolis for a week.  We hugged so, so many people.  We were listened to.  We were spoiled.  And the ice cream.  Oh, the ice cream.

And the shopping.  Ridiculous amounts of shopping.  Enough to fill up 18 pieces of luggage.  We bought out Amazon and the packages arrived daily on the doorstep of wherever we were staying.  "Wow, you must use a lot of deodorant," the cashier at Target told me as she beeped through 14 canisters.  "Um, yeah, well, we live in tropical Africa," I told her.  And she didn't really know how to respond to that.  People usually don't.

I did get so tired of living like a hobo, organizing my kids' clothes again and again, adjusting to different beds again and again.  The travel and the chaos was often exhausting.  But I am so thankful.  Thankful that my kids had a chance to interweave their lives with their cousins.  Thankful for the reminder of all who hold us up with their prayers and giving.  Thankful that we really do get the best of two worlds.

Thank you, family, friends, American Church.  You are so good to us.

This was June.  I get tired again just looking at it.

Look at that....speaking at Faith Community Church on a missions panel....actual evidence that we did work on this home assignment!  We really did do a whole lot of speaking and presenting and meeting with supporters....we just never took pictures of those events.  

And of course....there's the obligatory medical tests whenever we visit the States.  Medical care is improving in Tanzania (for people who have money), but there are still some things (like allergy testing) that we need to do in America.

My favorite.  Cousin love.

We visited a lot of supporters, but sometimes those visits are just really, really special.  Lois is one of our biggest prayer warriors and one of this blog's biggest fans.  It was a treat to spend time with her.  

Sigh.  We love grandparents so much.

And there's the other ones.  I get a lump in my throat every time I see these pictures.

And Johnny just about sums it up.  

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Medina Life, July 2017

We are all back in Tanzania and new things are happening (more about that later), but first I need to get caught up on July's pictures.  

Appropriately for America, Wiffle ball replaced soccer as my boys' game of choice.  They played almost every single day.

Dodger fever, with their cousin

Celebrating the Fourth with family

My littlest boy's first time watching fireworks

On vacation in San Diego with Gil's family, playing Wiffle ball (of course)

and there's the whole Medina gang

still on vacation


keepin' it kids are modern American kids too

Enjoying friends at Faith Community Church

So the soccer love still came out when Dad and Josiah had a dream fulfilled....watching Manchester United and Real Madrid play live in Santa Clara

San Jose's classic:  Happy Hollow


cousins and Babu (grandpa)

Me and my bro

cousins again

This time at a San Jose Giants game (Triple A), and Grace got to be a junior commentator. My little ham rocked it.