Did We Lose Our Way? Part 2

Recently, I wrote a guest post on Fr. Anthony Messeh’s blog, entitled “Did We Lose Our Way?” After some serious soul searching, I felt God really opening my eyes to seeing some dark things in my heart. Revealing how I stopped loving others.

Thank God for His Grace to shine His light in my heart to change me.

In God’s great love, He did not stop revealing the things in my heart.

After almost 10 years living in Zambia, I finally renovated my kitchen. If you ever visited me, you know my kitchen only has a table and a small counter with which to prepare our meals. Because there were two cabinets, most of my food, appliances and other things were just on the floor or on the very tops of the cabinets. It was quite a mess. I now have a functional kitchen with lots of cabinets and two huge countertops. This may not sound like a big deal but it makes life a lot easier. I did not want something luxurious – just something practical so we can continue showing hospitality.

But, wait, God revealed something to me. Since renovating my kitchen, I haven’t invited over a single soul! Didn’t I want the kitchen practical and easy to use so that I can invite more people? Serve more? Continue having baking days with the neighborhood children? Invite those that cannot invite me? Reach out to the lost and lonely and make them feel that they have a home? Invite missionaries that have sacrificed a lot of time and money to serve with us? Make smoothies and popsicles with my children?

Thanksgiving came and went and was forgotten in my newly renovated kitchen.

When my kitchen was small and not functional, it functioned perfectly.

What functioned in the past was my heart. Not my kitchen. My heart was ready to reach out to love.

Did we lose our way? I wrote in my guest post that we lost our way in our churches by not loving those that need it the most. But, I think also too our homes are an extension of our churches. When we open our hearts to others, our homes are naturally opened up as well.

This holiday season is just the perfect time to do just that. Open our hearts. Open our homes. We don’t need the perfect house. The perfect kitchen. The perfect children. Just only the perfect God. His perfect heart. His perfect hands and feet.

I once read a blog post that said, “True hospitality is when your guests leave your home feeling better about themselves, not feeling better about you.”

But I would argue a step further that true hospitality is when our guests leave our churches and leave our homes feeling better about God. Wanting to desire Him more.

In Genesis chapter 24, Abraham’s servant searches for a bride for Isaac. When he met Rebekah, she was at the well. Her well was her home. Her church.

She welcomed the stranger. She gave him water to drink. Not only that, she offered of her own free will to draw more water and give his camels to drink as well (verse 19). She not only did it, but she did it quickly (verse 20).

All she had was a bucket.

She did not have a fully renovated kitchen. She did not have a beautiful house.

Only a bucket. And a well.

Her heart was quickly ready to serve her God. To love others. To love strangers. Even his dirty, smelly animals.

And the servant of Abraham concluded from Rebekah’s beautiful hospitality, “Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham” (verse 27).

May others call our Lord blessed when they come to our churches. And our homes.

Let’s Chat: This holiday season, how will you open your heart and home to others?

Amazing Grace

There is a touching scene in the movie, “Amazing Grace,” where William Wilberforce confides in his friend that he can’t sing anymore. Once he lost hope and was filled with discouragement after many failures, he “loses” his singing voice. Later, in the movie, once he finds love and his sense of purpose renewed again, he begins to sing again.

Recently, my 2-year-old daughter became very sick. She literally began to waste away. She stopped growing. Stopped gaining weight. Stopped playing.

She stopped singing.

It is one of the hardest things to watch. Your child. So small. Helpless. Ill. Sad.

And not knowing why.

We were blessed to travel back to the States so that our little angel could get specialized medical treatment. It was definitely a season of an emotional roller coaster. Our happy family was separated by an ocean. Our little one was put through needles after needles. Dealing with health insurance issues. And the list continued.

Through the support of our families, friends, loved ones, and medical staff from all over, including Zambia, Kenya, United Kingdom, and the United States – we truly never felt God leave our side.

My little girl was diagnosed with celiac disease. What a relief to know what was causing my little one to be so ill! Thankfully, the only treatment is a gluten-free diet.

While it has been a tough adjustment (mostly for me), my little grace-filled angel is thriving! She has gained weight. She is energetic and playful.

And she has her singing voice back.

We learned a lot of lessons during this time. Here are just a few I would like to share:

  1. God is with us. 

As you live for God and serve Him fully, it does not mean that challenges will not come. But, it does mean that when the challenges do come, He promises to never leave us.

I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:18

2. God created our little girl “unique.” 

She was born with celiac disease, although we recently discovered it. She will always live with it. But, I promise, I will never teach her to be a victim or sorry for herself because she is “different” from everyone else. She is “unique.” She doesn’t have to be like everyone else. After all, isn’t that what Christianity is about?

She can and will live an amazing life. Nothing can hold her resilient, spirited self               down. Actually, this will help her to be even more accomplished in her life.

And on another note, won’t she learn boundaries – that not everything that is                   available she can have? I think this can be applied spiritually. That our call in life is to     be pure. Holy. Not having everything in our bodies. It’s a healthy lesson in life, both spiritually and physically.

“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” 2 Corinthians 7:1

3. God’s grace is amazing. 

There is no other way to put it. I have felt it. I have lived it. And what is even more amazing is that I see it in my little one. I see His Grace fully alive inside of her!

I expected to hide foods she can’t have. Or for her to have tears for wanting                     something she can’t eat. Instead, I have witnessed a child happy to choose a                   “special alternative for a special girl.” She even now asks me if it is “gluten free” – but       she says it in a very funny way and it sounds like “goofy free”!

What a lesson truly to learn from children. To see His Grace. Working. Living.                 Breathing inside of her. It truly renews my love for Christ and His love for me and us.

“The Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Psalm 84:11

I can’t thank enough those who supported Fr. Abraham and me through this tough time.

Please pray for us as we adjust to a gluten-free life in Africa, which has its own set of challenges.

“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is our victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” 1 John 5:4

Let’s Chat: Any lessons you have learned from a circumstance that has been turned into victory?

Lesson from My Own Mom

My Mother’s Day started off as a normal Sunday morning. My 5-year-old asking “Where is Daddy?” My 2-year-old waking up with a poopy diaper and screaming about wanting something to eat.

We finally make it to Church. We finally make it to the end of Church.

We do end up having a blessed day.

In addition to my family, I was blessed to spend time mothering a group of broken teenager girls who need more positive role models. It was special.

I was also blessed to spend time with other Moms who are serving here in a wonderful Bible Study studying the Song of Songs.

I am surrounded by love.

As I lay my head down on my pillow, feeling full, I remember my own mother. My mother who is many thousands of miles away. Praying for me. Supporting me. Never wavering in her love for me. No matter the distance.

I have many memories of my Mom when I was a child. There is one fond memory I cannot forget. When it is rainy season here in Zambia, I remember it and I laugh.

On one of our many road trips, it was raining hard as we were getting out of the car to eat at our favorite fast-food stop, Wendy’s. She carried all of our jackets. As she was so worried to give us our jackets, she was practically running after us. We ran off. We all left her behind. Carrying everything. She didn’t notice.

She was just concerned for us. Watching us. Her eyes on us.

In the midst of that, she tripped on a sidewalk (Sorry Mom!). She fell hard. She was so busy watching us that she never even saw the sidewalk. She was so busy with concern for us that she never was for a moment concerned for herself.

She truly only cared about us. She only wanted to look out for us. She wanted to serve us. Not to be served.

“just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28

Can I have that same love? I often feel like a failure as a mother. Not good enough. Not gentle enough. Not loving enough.

My mom is so patient. So sacrificial. So gentle. So humble. Everything I desire. Everything I am not.

So this post is for you, Mom. You are truly a wonderful example. And I pray that I can learn the same. With your prayers, I have hope that I can be that way one day.

We are not perfect. Our own mothers were not perfect. But, we do not have to be perfect. We just have to Love. Sacrificially. Through His Grace.

That is a lesson I can learn from my Mother. One of many lessons!

 Let’s Chat: What lesson can you learn about your mother this Mother’s Day season?

 

 

Tough Call by Mama Maggie

I know I am behind in knowing the latest information but I must share how super excited I am that there is a book out about Mama Maggie.

Unlike some of my dear friends that have met her, I have only “met” her through a video-conference. Fortunately, this conference was shown here in Zambia via video back in 2011. This is when I first heard about Mama Maggie. And I can honestly say she touched me so much! Imagine I am from her church and her country and never knew about her!

I am sure many of you have heard her story of how she was teaching top students at the prestigious American University of Cairo. She left it all to follow the tough call Christ called her to. In her own words she describes the call as, “When God wanted to promote me, He said leave the best and go to the poorest of the poor.”

Her words never left me. I found a clip of that video below of that conference.

Sorry that it has subtitles that sometimes get in the way. But please enjoy the clip and prayerfully listen to her message.

She will encourage you on the journey of how to make the tough call for yourself.

 “We don’t choose where we are born, but we do choose to either be sinners or saints. To be a nobody or heroes. If you want to be a hero, do what God wants you to do.” –Mama Maggie

She also goes into detail on how to hear that call. Two things she focuses on in particular: Loving the Word of God & Silence. It is in silence that we Hear God’s Voice.

Her thoughts on Silence: “Silence your body to listen to your words. Silence your tongue to listen to your thoughts. Silence your thoughts to listen to your heart beating. Silence your heart to listen to your spirit. Silence your spirit to listen to His Spirit.”

One last thing I request is that if you are coming to Zambia soon, please bring me a copy of her book! I would love to read more of her beautiful gems. I hope you are reading the book too.

Let’s Chat: What is your tough call? What is holding you back from answering the call?

Why the Children’s Bible is Not Enough

There are some days, I must sadly admit, that the only Bible I have read for the day is my Children’s Bible. Every night before I put my kids to bed, we read the Bible. That is my one “spiritual food” for the day.

I have come to the wise conclusion – the Children’s Bible is not enough for me!

There are days when I don’t recognize the person I have become. I’m frazzled. Angry. Anxious. Fearful. Overwhelmed. Frustrated. Sinking.

In the words of my friend and guide, Fr. Anthony Messeh, who once told me that God doesn’t want me to run around like a chicken with my head cut off.

How do I avoid becoming this person?

By spending time with the one who will transform me back into HIS image. And that transformation comes from Him. To me. From within. Deep within.

I am in desperate need of His healing. His Grace. I need to see His face. Daily. I can’t breathe if I don’t. He is my oxygen. My air. My everything.

That is why I need my own time with Him. Carved out to spend with Him. Alone. If I want my husband, my children, others around me to see Him. His Light. Then I need to be with the Source of Light.

God desires this also! He wants the deep heart of man to know His Presence. To feel His joy. His Peace.

“Be Still and Know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

Where can I find this stillness? When my world around me is so chaotic?!

Some mothers tell me they wake up early before the kids wake up. Others after dropping them to school. In the evening after bedtime.

When I can, I do a variety of these daily. But, one thing, I realized I must do, is to take a longer morning away from it all on retreat with Him. It is never the “right” time. There is always something to do. Every day. Busy.

But, I have to do this. Whatever it takes! Our souls. Our marriages. Our children. Our services. Our neighbors. Depend on it!

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6

There are lots of “refreshing” techniques. Dates with my hubby, a break from the kids, a day off of work, coffee with the ladies, de-cluttering a room, a manicure or pedicure, a spa day. These are all nice. And even important. But, the ultimate way of refreshing myself and my soul is to connect with the One who created my soul. Who desires to fill it. To fuel it. To fulfill it.

It is not too late for me and you to change!

That is why I am excited about Holy Week upcoming. A chance to refresh and store up spiritual food for the year. I am praying for you that you will use this holy time of the year to be refreshed. And to set a plan going forward on how to continue to spend time with the One who is the source of refreshment. Pray for me.

Let’s Chat: How do you find time to spend alone with Christ despite your busy life?

Silence Kills


Like many of you, I have followed closely everyone’s blogs, statuses, pictures and news articles on the 21 Martyrs of Libya. So many wonderful lessons and meditations. All for these brave men that stood firm and refused to deny their faith until the very gruesome end. They have completed the race. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). They are Victorious. Gaining crowns of martyrdom.

While I could not muster enough courage to watch the video, I read many articles. One article describing the video, however, really struck me. It was the mention of the Coptic Orthodox Priest’s wife, Camilia Shehata. In their video, ISIS used her example and others like her. They said they wanted to “avenge” them. I vaguely remembered what happened to Camilia back in 2010 but as I researched more, it appeared to me that it was completely a marital dispute between her and her husband. I do not believe that she was trying to convert to Islam. What started as an ugly dispute between husband and wife ended up being an even uglier sectarian riots and violence between Christians and Muslims in Egypt.

I felt sadness at the stories of marriage problems between this Priest and his wife. So many problems that it was to drive the wife out of their home for many days. So much silence until they couldn’t even stand to be in the same house together. Godly men and women could not keep up the “picture” of a happy home.

Recently, I read a lovely blog on emotional stability and what “appears” to look like a family and a marriage put together. We all carry emotional hurts and baggage into our relationships. However, if we keep quiet and do not seek help and guidance, we will only suffer deeper and deeper. Our significant other, with his or her own limitations, cannot carry our baggage.

My fear is that in our church communities it is very taboo to show that we have any “problems” in our marriages. Especially if you are a servant or even a Priest. We keep silent about our issues. Silence drives us to isolation, resentment, and sadness. Silence kills. Slowly.

In our Orthodox families in Zambia, we are faced with numerous marriage problems. Damages that continue to emotionally and physically harm the younger generations. Recently, for Valentine’s Day weekend, we sponsored a lovely lunch for couples only. We focused our talk on the importance of spending time together with your spouse. No distractions. No children. No business. No running errands. Just enjoying each other. Laugh together. Have fun together.

There are a number of reasons why spending time together is important.

  1. Healthy marriage = Healthy children

We often think when we focus on our children more than our spouses; we will have healthier, less needy and demanding children. However, this is the opposite. When our marriage is healthy, our children feel secure and safe. Even our 5-year-old loves it when my husband gives me a hug. He gets excited and joins in the fun. He feels safe. Daddy loves Mommy. Mommy loves Daddy.

Therefore, when Daddy and Mommy spend time together, this strengthens the marriage.

  1. Spending time together dispels the bad thoughts.

We naturally have bad thoughts. We think the worst in others. We assume the worst. When we spend time together, those thoughts are buried or eliminated. This is important because our bad thoughts are dangerous.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things. Philippians 4:8

  1. Protects against extramarital affairs and divorce.

You may be thinking that this is extreme. And it won’t happen to me. Divorce does not happen overnight. It is a gradual distancing and separation between two people. Even extramarital affairs are not just physical but could be emotional cheating as well. When you compare your spouse to others or admire another husband more than yours (Exodus 20:17).

In Africa here, we are faced with many extramarital affairs from both men and women. There is a lot of research out there that sub-Saharan Africa ranks as one of the highest percentages for extramarital affairs.

For husbands, they feel a lack of respect from the wife, loss of playfulness and lack of flirtation.

For women, they lose the priority, admiration and care from the husband.

So gradually the two drift apart.

When you spend time with your spouse, you give those feelings back to each other that happen when people get too busy or distracted.

  1. Remember our Instructions from the Sacrament of Matrimony?

Here is a quick summary:

Husbands are to do all that is good to your wife; have compassion on her and always do that which will gladden her heart; take care of her as her parents did; look after her – and in doing all this – God will grant you blessed children. You receive blessing when you honor and love your wife.

Wives are to honor and respect him; obeying him because he is responsible for you instead of your parents; receive him with joy and cheer, not frowning in his face – then you will receive blessings.

It is important to spend time together to fulfill the instructions given to us in the Church.

  1. Husbands and Wives are ONE.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24

There is a cultural saying among Africans here that the wife can leave you but your children will never leave you, as they are part of your flesh. They use this saying to justify why your wife does not have to be a priority. However, the Biblical teachings are very different. It says that the two are one.

Therefore, your spouse comes before all other things in your life – before children, work, friends, and service.

What Works for Us

When we were first married, we were advised by our Father of Confession to do this “Quality Time” together once a week. Even after 9 years of marriage, we have continued to keep this tradition alive. We need it.

If you can’t manage, once a week, do it once a month or whatever you can do. (And not just on your wedding anniversaries and birthdays.) Be intentional! It doesn’t just happen. Our lives are busy. Our time is stretched in so many different ways.

Finances a problem? There are 100s of free date ideas. Just Google it! Be creative! Don’t have a babysitter? Find a couple that will be willing to watch the kids. Then when they want to do their date, you can watch their kids.

For us, I make sure the kids are in bed and if we have no babysitter, we have a great “date” just from our living room. Our date usually starts off with a Bible study together and prayer. Then, we have fun, which could be a number of things like popcorn and a movie, board game, read a book together, or chatting with a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows!

The key is to be consistent! We each take turns planning our date and stick to it. Lots of things come up but we protect it. Consistency is key to spending time together. It makes a statement that we matter to each other.

Now, I don’t want you to carry guilt if you are in a season of your marriage where you can’t do this. When we go through those seasons, we even spend 15-20 minutes every evening just chatting together. TV off. No Facebook or email. Kids in bed. And chat.

We never want the other to feel that we are just taking each other for granted.

With the demands of a priest’s schedule, I feel for priest’s wives like Camilia. I pray they are doing fine in their marriage now. And I pray most importantly that we do not keep silent. That we speak to our spouses, our Fathers of Confession, our spiritual mentors. Whoever it may be. But that we do so in Wisdom (James 1:5). And in Truth.

Husbands, put aside your busy lives and make your wife feel like a priority. Precious. Admire her. Love her.

Wives, set aside your children’s wants and meet your husbands needs. Respect him. Care for him. Give to him. Do we desperately want to win the “Mom of the Year” award that we forget to try and win the “Wife of the Year” award?

Pray for my marriage. Your marriage is in my prayers.

Let’s Chat: How do you make spending time with your spouse a priority?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still Friends

My strong-minded 5-year-old likes to have his way. He will stubbornly do what it takes to get it. He will even give others an ultimatum. A threat. Whatever it takes. After all, he is named after a King in the Bible!

Even God is not spared from my son’s “demands.” Recently, in our nightly prayers, Josiah has been giving God an ultimatum. “If you don’t make me sick, I will be Your friend. But, if you make me sick, I won’t be Your friend.”

I explained to my 5-year-old that we should love Jesus no matter what. Whether we get sick or not. Not giving Him conditions. And accept what God gives us.

He said the same prayer for about a week.

Then, one night his prayer was different. He began the same words: “God, if you don’t make me sick, I will be Your friend. But, even if I get sick, I will still be Your friend.” I took a moment and paused as I let his words sink in. I will still be Your friend. Why did his prayer catch me off guard? Didn’t I “teach” him that this was the correct way to pray?

Then I realized as he finished his prayer what made me pause. Because I “understand” what I was teaching my son, but I rarely live it or practice it. I won’t think the words. Or say it. Never pray it.

Even if I get sick, I will still be Your friend.

Isn’t that Faith? Faith like a child.

Didn’t Christ understand this Faith? “But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’” Matthew 19:14

Can I trust God even when things are tough? Can I put Him in full control?

“Nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Even if there is a trial, a sickness, a challenge – I can Trust Him. I will not deny Him. I will still be His friend. Because I know He is in control. He is teaching. Guiding. Growing me.

There are times in my life where I like to sit in the Throne that belongs to Christ Himself. Where I sit and am in control. Where I tell Him, I can handle this issue. I know what is best for my husband. My children. No, thank you. You are not my friend. I do not trust You.

If He allows something in my life, I must admit He is my friend. I put Him back in the Throne. Where He belongs. I tell Him you are my King. My Friend. I trust in You. Even if I should get sick. Even if I don’t “like” that I am sick.

My life, like many of yours, is full of challenges. Trials. Sicknesses. Hardships. “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10) Both are designed for a purpose. Some trials have brought me down on my knees into repentance. Some have renewed my focus on Him. Some have led me to growth in a virtue.  Some have opened my eyes to Truths.

There are certain areas in my life that I have Faith. Other areas I cannot trust Him. My prayer for us all is to examine these areas in our lives. Be it health, parenting, marriage, finances, studies, service. We must Trust in Him in every area. That whatever happens, we trust Him.

Even if I get sick, I will still be Your friend.

Let’s Chat: How have you grown your Trust in Christ?