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“All the Way My Savior Leads Me”: Looking Back at 2013

As the last waves of this year roll up on shore, I steal a few quiet moments to reflect on what has been a uniquely intense season of life. We have all felt it in our own ways- Paul, me and the litter of man-cubs that are growing up in the thick of it. Coming to the end of 2013 marks the end of our first year in Africa; and in so many ways it’s as if a lifetime secretly worked its way into that year, filling it up and making it feel like so much more than simply the next sequence of a dozen months strung together. I think about a lot of things we experienced this year that will forever leave their mark on us:

All The Way blog

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Remembering Home

Approximately eleven months ago, my parents drove us and what was left of our worldly belongings to the airport in Dallas, Texas and watched us fly away to the other side of the world.

We’ve called lots of things “hard” about moving to Africa- from driving, to language learning, from insufficient Mexican food to inconsistent power and water. But I invite you to take your children 8500 miles away from their grandparents to experience a different face of hard.

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All the Things and the One Thing

Some of my favorite things about living in Musanze, lately:
1. Lively conversations with Tate (TAH tay), the umukecuru (old woman), who also lives in our compound. She doesn’t speak English, but she teaches me something everyday and I cook her potatoes to eat and the mutual affection runs deep.
2. Hot showers! Thanks to the handy plumber-type, electrician-ing filmmaker I married.
3. Dark nights spent eating dinner and playing card games by candlelight when the power goes out
4. The soft pattering whispers of the wind blowing through the broad leaves of the banana trees… it’s like music.

On my less-than-favorite things list:
1. The menacing buzz of a mosquito somewhere inside your net- even though you hunted them thoroughly before you got in bed and turned out the lights. Where do they come from???
2. The roosters nearby that are eager to start the day. ‘round 4am.
3. The tragic absence of chips and salsa. In nearly four months I haven’t driven a car, taken a bath nor eaten chips and salsa. Guess which one I miss the most.

Maybe you’re wondering, “So what are you doing with all the time that you’re not eating chips and salsa?” Here’s a little snapshot of daily life in Musanze for the Stehlik crew…

A typical day here begins around 5:00, give or take. We shuffle to the kitchen to boil water and set the coffee to press, first getting a chair and climbing up to jiggle the kitchen light overhead to get it to come on…. because the switch will turn it off but not on for no other reason than to mystify us.

Then after Paul and I have had some time praying and reading the Word, the boys begin to wake. We bust out something like hardboiled eggs or yogurt for breakfast, put our game faces on, and get started with our business:

Paul’s language helper, Theo (TAY-oh) arrives at 8:00. He sits on the front porch with Paul for two hours, teaching and quizzing him in Kinyarwanda while Paul interestingly recalls more Spanish than he ever knew he had. They part ways at 10:00, Theo to go about the rest of his day, and Paul to resist the fetal position and study language… or some workable combination of the two.

Meanwhile the abana (children) and I are also busy come 8:00, me urging them to begin school and them defying all reason with their unbelievable procrastination. But sooner than later I win, and we actually do begin school. We perform a well-organized circus, alternating between one-on-one math lessons, independent assignments and group reading through the fall of the Roman Empire and the function of the human nervous system.

Next thing we know, it’s 12:00, and thank the Lord, that means lunch. Fortunately for us, we have the greatest gal ever in the history of gals helping us in our home- Angelique. And, as if by magic, there will be something ready for us to eat, like beans and rice or cassava.

After lunch comes the great switch whereby Paul takes over the boys for the first half of the afternoon. They have their daily Bible reading together- recently finishing the gospel of John, they are on to Acts now. Pure gold, this time. Then often they do some language work together, find some neighboring children to play soccer with or just go for a walk around the community.

Meanwhile I am doing my Kinyarwanda studies with my language helper, Alice. She will try to help me understand the inexplicable reason why some nouns take an adjective with this prefix instead of that one, and I will amuse her with tidbits of American life- like the concept of a dishwashing machine or a clothes dryer.

Somewhere around 4:00, Paul releases the three musketeers back into my care and turns to media work, home maintenance, adventures to town or solving whatever “how do we do this in Africa” mystery that may arise that week. And the boys and I wrap up the afternoon together, making sure we hit the showers while there’s water and electricity to be had.

Then it’s dinner, family games or read aloud, visiting with neighbors, prepping for the next day’s school and language learning, boiling the milk that gets delivered, filtering a supply of drinking water and so forth.

Go to bed, press repeat.

It is in this manner that the weeks have flown by since we arrived in Musanze almost three months ago. And as anxious as we are to do the work we ultimately came here to do, we see all the time the wisdom in having this season of learning, acclimation and preparation. And we see the Lord at work often with the many who come in and out of our home on a regular basis these months.

And over all the things that need to be done each day, we find life in the one thing…

Nuko rero ukundishe Uwiteka Imana yawe umutima wawe wose, n’ubwugingo bwawe bwose, n’ubwenge bwawe bwose n’imbaraga zawe zose… Mariko 12:30

Therefore, love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength… Mark 12:30

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Two Windows to One Gift

It is my four year old who places a window beautifully in front of me that I might see the very face of God.

In the hustle and business of the morning routine we all scurry and scatter between breakfast and backpacks. Paul walks by the computer, turns on a song. And drum beat sets rhythm to our motion and melody makes its way through our moods. Ben finds me. He knows I know what he wants. He manages to suppress almost all of his delight under a mask of utmost seriousness. Almost. The subtly upturned corners of his mouth betray how much he loves this. He stands his 40 inches as tall as he can in front of me and stretches out his hand, palm open to the sky. He invites me to dance.

I take his hand, knowing that he will spin me til my back breaks from the twisting and angling it requires of me. And I will do it every time he asks. How could I not? This much preciousness? This much pure sweetness? And the only cost is a wrenched back and perhaps a walker at an early age? Done. Not even a tough one.

And it takes my breath away this morning, not only because this preschooler with brilliant brown eyes wearing a belt that missed half the loops melts my heart. It takes my breath away because God chose this for me. This was His gift to me this morning. A boy who invites me out of the ordinary routine into a dance of joy. And it is not just the boy who invites me but God Himself. The One who called me out of darkness into His marvelous light. And as precious and beautiful as the moment is with Ben- to the point of making my heart nearly burst… can I really get my arms around the fact that it pales in comparison to what God invites me into this morning? Can the Creator of the heavens and earth be outdone by a four year old? It is soul-filling to receive the moment from God and live it back to Him with joy.

And then it is my five year old… who also places a window before me that I might see the very face of God.

But he does not ask me to dance. He does not open his arms or invite me into his world. He folds his arms tightly, frustrated at a decision I make. Eyes glare, heart closes. I share the reasoning behind my choice. He resents. I warn of the consequence for an attitude that persists. He remains steadfast. And he is only out the door with dad and brothers for a few moments before his father directs him out of the car and back into the house for discipline. And then he is gone to school. No happy ending or neatly tied-up solution.

This is also God’s gracious gift to me this morning. A window of opportunity for Sam to experience love that is constant and boundaries that are for his good. It is my window to see a child who rejects authority and resists instruction and who is so dearly, dearly loved through every moment of it…and to know that the child is also me. That God has not been outdone by a mother this morning. I would give anything for that boy, and can I, with my selfish tendencies and short temper and myriad of weaknesses and inconsistencies… can I think I have done anything but only begun to grasp the depths of God’s love? And this love holds me. Holds Sam. Inspires trust and fills the soul.

I am so prone to blindness. To miss the things that matter the most in the craze and maze of the day to day. It has been months that I have prayed the verses of 1 Thessalonians 5: Be joyful always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances… We memorized the words last fall, but I cannot live them like I can recite them, so I keep coming back to them over and over. Wrestling with the Lord over them. To find the deeper joy when one child wants to dance. Spill over gratitude when the angry one glares and withdraws. I tell my friend this morning across her kitchen table I do not want better behaved children in those moments of chaos and bickering and madness. I do not want a more effective parenting technique. I want to worship. That’s what I hunger for in those moments. And it is what God has been patiently leading me towards as I follow and stumble and bumble my way a little closer to always joy, always prayer, always thanks. Grateful for every window that points me to the God who is always there and always good.