From Daily Conversations to Daily Actions

Did you grow up in a family of faithful believers like I did? Regular church attenders? Committed to the essential doctrines?

Even now, my parents, three brothers and I all live out our faith in our various communities.

However, the integration of spiritual conversations into everyday life was not too common when we were growing up. We all went to the same service, heard the same sermons, yet we rarely talked about it. My brother and I attended the same youth group meetings and retreats, but for some reason didn’t openly discuss its impact on our lives with each other.  Maybe it is because my parents themselves did not grow up in families that had deep faith roots.

Thankfully, it’s not completely that way as adults. Yet at times, bringing up spiritual conversations can still induce that feeling you get when you stand in the dressing room, about to try on an outfit you liked on the rack, but aren’t sure how it will feel or look once you have it on.

Despite how I grew up, I knew if God ever blessed me with my own family, I wanted to approach things differently.  It’s my desire to take the strong foundation my parents gave me, and grow even deeper roots in my home.  I want to incorporate Scripture into natural conversation within my home at every chance I could. I don’t mean I intend to cause my children to suffer from spiritual whiplash with references coming at them from every angle. I just mean I want the thread of God’s presence to be as naturally woven into everything as a family as it is for me as an individual.

So now, with two little guys in my house, I try my best. Well, I’m not sure it is my best, but I’m working on it. I believe God has helped me to create an environment within our family to naturally and easily discuss the spiritual aspects of our ordinary lives.

During our before school Bible story and prayer time, I try to grasp what aspects of the story can directly apply to our lives, especially in ways to connect with my kiddos and explore it together. Or at least include it in the prayer.

As soon as we back out of the driveway, the boys close their eyes and individually pray for their day. Just before I park outside their school’s gate, they recite the Bible verses we have been working on.

I’ve only recently begun the work of having my boys memorize Scripture. I guess I’ve neglected it with them before this simply because it is a spiritual discipline I tend to neglect for myself.  Boy, children are a great motivation for living by example, aren’t they? Anyway, I’ve intentionally been choosing verses which practically apply to their young lives.

Do everything without complaining or arguing. Philippians 2:14

Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves, do what it says. James 1:22

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22 & 23

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteous life that God desires. James 1:19 & 20

Going along with the wise words of Deuteronomy 6:9, we write them on the doorframes of [our] houses and on [our] gates.  Well, ok, we write them on construction paper and tape them to the walls of our hallway.

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After mastering the current verses, we carve out time sit at the table with Bibles and markers ready. We diligently copy new verses, then we stick them to the otherwise dingy walls we pass by countless times a day.

But it doesn’t stop there. We talk about those verses all the time.  All. The. Time.

I find discipline becomes so much more meaningful and effective when lined with God’s Word.

When they argue with each other, I point back to the Bible verses they’ve written on their hearts.

Do you remember what Luke 6:31 says? How do you think you should respond to your brother right now?

Our apologies to one another often verbalize what we did or said did not reflect the fruit of the Spirit, who resides within us.

I’m sorry for yelling at you. It was wrong because I was not being patient.

Their simple bedtime prayers commonly contain words and phrases from these Scriptures.

Dear God, help us to have self-control.

Integrating God’s Word into our daily conversations helps us to integrate God’s Word into our daily actions.

I want that for myself and for my family. As the boys grow up (which they keep doing, despite my requests for them to slow down), I want the fusing of God’s Word and its application to grow more and more in our conversations. I figure if we do it together, we will each be more likely to genuinely allow God to permeate each aspect of our individual lives. What I want more than most things is for these twins to grow into men who love and honor God, wherever He takes them. I’m praying He uses my simple attempts at integrating His Word in our lives to be a foundation for the future.

How do you integrate God’s Word and spiritual conversations within your family’s daily life?  What tips can you share with us? What challenges do you face in doing so?

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Contentment In Old Plastic Bottles

I was driving to work and passed by a small crowd of toddlers playing in the dirt in front of some shops.  One little girl caught my attention.

As the snotty faces looked my way with big grins, and hands shot up to wave, I saw one child with a baby tied to her back.  But it was not a real baby.

This young child was imitating her Mama, and basically every other woman she knows.  Most likely she needed to have someone help her tie her sweater around her chest to hold her baby snuggly in place.

But this tiny mama didn’t have a doll.  She was using an old plastic soda bottle as her pretend baby that morning.  I could see her strutting around, proud as could be, among her peers, caring for her baby on her back.

I absolutely loved it.  I almost wanted to turn the van around, jump out, and snap a picture of her.  But I didn’t. I kept driving to work, yet my mind had clearly captured a picture of her.

She was using what she had and was perfectly content with it.  More than content really, but genuinely happy.

Paul told the church in Philippi that he had learned the secret of being content, in any and every situation. (Philippians 4:12)  That secret is in the next verse:  I can do all things through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)

Of course Paul is not implying that we can suddenly do the scientifically impossible because we have Christ as our source of super-human strength.

He’s talking about internal strength.  The mental, emotional, and spiritual strength to be satisfied with Christ in the midst of whatever life throws at us.

Sometimes life feels good with things going our way…yet we are not content with the pleasures we are enjoying, rather we long for even more.

Other times life is downright rotten, and we are begging God to change something, anything, everything.

Good or bad, well-fed or hungry, plenty or in want: with Christ we have the ability to be content.  Happy. Joyful. Hopeful.

For myself, I know what makes the difference is where I allow myself to put my focus.

Unfortunately, too often I am focused on bad, hungry, and being in want.  I am ignoring what is actually good; of course, the best being that I have access to the strength of Christ.

I want eyes to see those beat-up, dirty ol’ used plastic soda bottles with the potential to be a day’s enjoyment, like the little girl I passed by today.

*Take a look at Velvet Ashes for more thoughts on contentment this week.

Daily Interruptions via Velvet Ashes

Hey friends!  Today a blog/website I follow for women serving outside their passport country, called Velvet Ashes, published one of my submissions.

Velvet Ashes always has a weekly theme, and this week is Daily Life.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s piece:

I’m not sure I have a typical day. I mean, some things are pretty predictable: wake up, take the boys to school, eat breakfast, pick the boys up from school, go to sleep.

Everything else generally falls into the to be determined category. Don’t get me wrong—I make plans. I have routines. But if I’ve learned anything by living in Uganda, my daily life is rarely described as predictable.

Click here to read the full post.

Enjoy!

When You Need New Sandals

I can’t find sandals to fit my children’s feet.  You know, like flip-flop style sandals. The cheap-o type they need to wear 90% of the time (except when they go to school) in our African lives.  Most people here buy basic sandals, commonly found in the markets and shops.

But they don’t come in my boys’ size.

I can buy children’s sizes, which are too small.  I can buy men’s sizes, which are too big. I have asked for the size I need: 38 in European sizes.  Vendors them tell me it doesn’t exist.

How is that even possible?  How does a whole size not exist anywhere in the country?  What are the size 38 people doing? Are they wearing sandals with their toes hanging out the front or with extra plastic flapping around in the back?

I don’t understand.

Eventually I found some of the slide type of sandals rather than the thing-between-your-toes type.  The length turned out to be ok, but the width….Their feet can’t manage them. All ten toes completely hang off the front of the sandals because they slide so far forward.

The last time I travelled to America, I bought some good ol’ Old Navy flip-flops to bring back for my kiddos.  But little boys living in Uganda seem to be a set-up for destroying things quickly, so….

At some point, maybe after getting a little tired of their footwear options, I began hearing a repetitive question: can you buy us rugabire?  

Ruga-what?  

Roo-ga-beer-ay.

It’s a local name for a local item.

Rugabire are sandals made from upcycled tires.  That’s right, tires.

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Men will take old tires and cut them into flip-flops.  Yes, as you might envision, some bigger sizes have a slight curve on both ends when they are waiting to be worn.  

As we say here in Uganda, no wastage of resources.

Rugabire are what my children want to wear.

Now, in case you were not sure, let me tell you: Rugabire are not exactly high-class items.

I’m certain most Ugandans are not thinking: man, I wish someone loved me enough to buy me some rugabire.

I’m don’t know which friend sports tires on their feet, but I imagine the twins saw someone they admire wearing these fashionable footwear.

Yet, as you can imagine, ragabire have some genuine durability many imported shoes do not.

So, as a fun little surprise recently, I had the boys hop into the van, without telling them where we were headed.  I turned off the main road and onto a pothole-filled road, around a couple corners, and to the spot a man usually has a tarp lying on the ground covered with the beloved tire sandals.

When I parked the car, with wide eyes and toothy smiles, the boys realized the day and time had finally come:  I had agreed to buy rugabire.

I handed them money to stuff in their pockets as they climbed out of the sliding door, each toe hanging out the front of their sandals.  Immediately the twins surveyed the mobile shoe store to see if the cobbler had two pair of the perfect size. One boy quickly found some he could wear.  Another struggled a bit, only finding a pair just a tad too long.

No problem.  The footwear artist took the sandals, grabbed his knife, cut off about ¾ of an inch from the back of both sandals, and handed them back.  Perfect.

Each pair cost about the equivalent of $1.30.  Pretty comparable to Old Navy’s once-a-year $1 flip-flop sale each June.

Since that day, whenever adults realize the boys have rugabire, and I tell them my children repeatedly asked for them over the course of several weeks before I finally made the purchase, they give me a big jolly smile.

My friends struggle to believe rugabire were asked for and were purchased for my boys.  But I get the sense that they kind of like it.

Most people would expect an American parent in Africa would be able to buy any type of shoes her children want.  (Of course, provided their size exists…) It is often assumed I have an endless supply of financial resources. So, I’m sure this is the source of disbelief.

Handing over the 10,000 Ugandan Shillings ($2.60) and watching the joy on my boys’ faces got me thinking.

I have a heavenly Father who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  He has access to all things, and can create what doesn’t even exist.

When I make requests before Him, does he see me like I saw my boys that day?  Does He hand over the simple little things that, to Him, are worth so little, and watch my face fill with joy?

Does He ever listen to my requests, and shake His head a little with a slight grin?  Wondering why I ask for something so simple, as if I do not know what He is capable of?

For weeks I have had two notions from this event simultaneously rattling around in my head.  They seem to be paradoxical, yet I think they both have truth in them.

First of all, too often I long for what is unnecessary and beyond what I actually need.  Instead of focusing on what I don’t have or what seems to be the perfect solution, I should look more closely around my situation.  I should observe what is right around me and truly more fulfilling than the grandiose idea in my head. Maybe I want impressive and expensive new shoes, when old tires are more efficient in the long run.

On the other hand, sometimes I am too satisfied with the simple, the mundane, the ordinary, the everyday.  Sometimes God calls me to dream for more, to think bigger, to push beyond the typical. Sometimes He wonders why I settle for the simple, the good-enough-for-right-now, when He has the absolute best in store for me.  He asks me why my heart is set on rugabire when He can give me so much more.

All in the same minute, I love the childlike request from my boys to wear tires on their calloused feet, yet I wonder why they didn’t ask for something better.

So here I am, sitting before my Father asking for wisdom to know when I should have childlike satisfaction in the simple answers already available to me, or when I should ask Him for what seems unattainable for me, but is easy for Him to provide.

What about you?  Do you ever find yourself longing for something when all the while something even better is right at your fingertips?  Do you ever find yourself making requests of God that may be too simple?

 

When You Catch A Rat

Well, I can’t walk into my kitchen.  I’m currently trapped in the rest of the house for the next two hours, until I bring the boys home from school.

Can you say you are trapped when you are only restricted from one room?  And when you are self-restricted?

I cannot enter my kitchen because a mouse (aka rat if you are Ugandan, but it is a little one this time, so I call it a mouse) is caught on one of those sticky traps on the floor.

Yesterday I was confronted with the reality behind my.  Behind my container stocked with corn tortillas (by the way, if you ever want to make me really happy, send me corn tortillas I can fry into chips), was a layer of oatmeal mixed with mouse droppings, spread out on the shelf.

So I went rat trap shopping.  The snap and kill ‘em kind are not readily available in Ugandan supermarkets, so I had to go with the sticky traps.

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Ok, who invented these horrific contraptions?  I mean, gross. Ok, I get it.  They take away the need for the varmint to actually be attracted to the bait and whatnot.  All you have to do is put the trap somewhere you know the nasty little thing will likely run.

But then what?  The animal is stuck.  ALIVE! Sometimes they try to move and they are flopping around.  Sometimes you hear their little squeaky voices as they struggle. My shoulders are curling as I type these disgusting descriptions.  Sick.

Here I sit, with my back to the kitchen.  I’m about to turn on some music so I don’t have to hear anything that may or may not be happening behind me.

I certainly can’t do anything about it.  I’m not about to walk into that kitchen, bend down to pick up the sticky trap, and carry the thing somewhere, all while hoping the mouse doesn’t try to move.  Oh my gosh, I can’t even finish describing what I can’t do.

I have to wait.

Once upon a time, when I came home for a break between college semesters, we experienced a mouse problem at my parents’ house.  My closet, in particular, was a favorite residence for the tiny creatures. We set traps with peanut butter as bait. (By the way, peanut butter is way too precious and expensive in my current living circumstances to sacrifice as rat bait these days.)  The traps succeeded in catching (and killing) the little beasts. When I realized the traps did their jobs, I asked my dad to take care of them for me.

He refused.

What are you going to do when you live on your own and you catch a mouse? he asked.

Call a neighbor to save the day, was my obvious reply.

We both stubbornly maintained our positions regarding the situation at hand; meanwhile, my mother—God bless her brave soul—took care of the mouse problem.

Well, every mouse (rat, frog, lizard, etc.) problem I’ve encountered since moving out of my dad’s house (or should I say mom’s?) has indeed led to me calling someone to come rescue me after screaming didn’t seem to resolve anything.

Until two little boys moved into my life and my home, that is.

Now I rarely need to call someone to rescue me.  I just have to wait until the boys get home, or wake up, or whatever.

The first time I had them take care of a rat stuck to a trap while I hid in another room, they were a bit scared too.  I talked them through the process while confining myself to my bedroom, cautiously asking them if they had finished yet.

Yesterday evening, the trap I’d set while they were at school proved to be effective.  By now the twins have saved me so many times, they didn’t think twice about the need to dispose of the intruder while I cowered at the end of the hallway.

After the deed was done, I created a false hope within me and decided I didn’t need to set up either of the two extra traps I’d purchased.  But this morning the boys told me they heard another one in the kitchen while they ate breakfast. I reluctantly set another trap. I mean, I wanted to catch the annoying little thing, but I didn’t want to risk catching it early in the day and having to endure the consequences all day long.

Now here I am, unable to get a snack or fill my water bottle because the last time I attempted such a thing, I caught a glimpse of my latest victim.  I won’t be bringing an afternoon snack in the van with me when I pick up the children today!

I can’t explain why it is so disgusting, exactly.  But it just is. I mean, you get it, right?

As I’m sitting here, completely grossed out, and waiting for my shoulder-high saviors, I began reflecting.  That’s right, a mouse is giving me deep revelations. Good for something…I guess.

I know we generally see fear, being stuck, feeling overwhelmed, etc. as negative things.  Usually we tell people to stand up to those fears. To move forward. To push aside the crippling feelings.

But maybe sometimes we shouldn’t.

Maybe sometimes we should take those moments when the situation seems bigger than we can handle, and just wait.  Wait for our Savior to step in. Or maybe I should say, have patience to see how He is at work. Maybe we need to prayerfully wait to see how God will bring us through the seemingly impossible situation.

Many times our reaction at such times is to do our best to solve the problem.  Then we usually come up defeated when our best efforts come up empty.

Perhaps our reaction shouldn’t be to try all we can, and then turn to God if we are not successful, but rather to wait it out.  Know we cannot handle it on our own, and patiently, prayerfully wait. I don’t mean that we do nothing. I mean on occasion we should recognize our inability and rest in God’s ability.

Waiting to have the boys come home and take care of my little problem is not exactly easy for me right now.  I’m squirming, shuddering even. But I know I have to wait. I am not one of those valiant women who can march in there, pick it up, and throw it out.  Nor do I ever intend on becoming one. And I am totally ok with that. (I mean, aside from my current state of discomfort.)

I wish I was more like that when it comes to the more serious problems in my life.  I wish I was better at waiting. I have two basic extremes most of the time. Either I attack the problem head-on without consultation of people or God, or I become paralyzed and do nothing, foolishly hoping the problem will disappear on its own.  Rarely does either method work out to my advantage. What I need to do is sit down in another room, and wait for God’s intervention. Seek His face through prayer and His Word. I can’t expect Him to always enter in, like a knight in shining armor ready to take the unbearable circumstances out to the trash.  I know sometimes He will require me to be involved in the solution. But I think it would all go better if my first reaction was waiting on Him, calling out for help, and listening for His familiar voice.

God, I know difficult circumstances are going to continue to come up in my life.  Sometimes I can anticipate them, and sometimes they catch me off guard. However they come, however challenging they are, help me to wait on you.  Help me to patiently trust you to intervene. Give me wisdom in what to do or not do, what to say or not say. Help me to rely on your presence in my life.