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Celebrating

I started teaching English at the grade school where the girls attend almost 10 years ago. I taught English in an after school program every day for 4 years. Being educated as a music teacher, education is very dear to my heart. And I love our school because it is one of a kind. It is the only public Christian school in the second largest city in Belgium. Religion is a taught as a requirement in all Belgian schools. Because our school is Christian, Jesus is openly taught and the population of children come from multiple countries and religious backgrounds.

After being a part of the teaching staff, I was able to see how deeply the school was struggling. I even participated in one of the school boards and had a bigger picture of the problems. After 4 years our English program was eliminated and so I felt that my job really needed to be devoted to prayer. 6 years ago I began a moms’ prayer meeting every Wednesday. That first year of prayer we fought battles and prayed for the impossible. In answer to our prayer, the city came in and did an inspection. They forcefully removed some of the biggest problems but even with certain people gone, the school received a terrible inspection and was told we had 4 years to change the situation and then a second inspection would be done.

As a group of praying moms, we saw countless teachers come and go and have worked with 4 directors over the years. We have volunteered in all kinds of roles. We have sold more hotdogs than we could count to raise money. We cleaned out the basement multiple times and painted offices and the entry hall. And all the while we kept on praying that God would bring the right director and the right teachers to our small school. We prayed for the educational level to rise and for the city to recognize the work done.

In September, 2 city inspectors came for 2 days to do a follow up inspection. The expectation on the city’s part was that they were coming to shut down our school. But after seeing the effort of our newest director, teachers and board, the city gave our school the highest approval. They said they had never seen a school do such a drastic turn around in such a short amount of time.

As we continue to pray, we are grateful and mindful that God can do the unimaginable. And we celebrated as moms. And the school celebrated too. They brought an ice cream truck to the street and let every child have a cone and see what a great school they are a part of. We are love when God answers prayer!

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A quiet moment

While on retreat with the church, I was able to take a quiet walk alone. There is certainly refreshing when you are able to walk out in nature. As many wonderful things that are happing around us and how clearly we can see the hand of God on us and with us, we also encounter heartbreaking moments. There are still struggles with the city of Antwerp involving the ministry house. I feel deeply the heaviness of persecution when it comes to the city stopping the housing of newer churches in the city. They have created limitless obstacles to stop any religious activity that they can. I have fought this battle for almost 3 years and it is weighty. And we have people we anticipated doing ministry with for a long time who decided they no longer want to walk in the same direction. Then we feel the pain of division. Life is hard. Grateful as I am that Jesus walks with us all the time, I am also thankful for the moment alone in nature to cry deeply and breathe deeply. He is restoring us.

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Church Retreat

In September, about 70 people from our churches participated in a retreat together. While the adults were worshipping and participating in Bible study, I was leading the 25 children in a Bible study series, concentrating on the fact that Jesus is our true Superhero. We all enjoyed being away from the city for the weekend. We were surrounded by green nature, no cars and quiet nights. Deeper friendships were formed. There was laughter. Everyone pitched in to help cook, prepare the tables, and clean up the lunch room. Everyone agreed that we should do this more often. Some people suggested every 3 months would be great…those of us exhausted with preparations, teaching and cleaning suggested that every 3 months might be too often…ha! But it is good to be together.

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13 Years

Sometimes I can hardly believe how quickly time goes by. In September, Hary and I celebrated 13 years of marriage. So many things have happened in 13 years. He was undocumented when we said “I do.” Finally after 10 years of trying to get documents, he got them when I was about 6 months pregnant with Phoebe. Not long after a war broke out in Syria and over the course of a few years, I had to figure out how to get 22 family members out of the middle of a war. We married in a French speaking area of Brussels and by this time, we had moved to the largest Dutch speaking city, Antwerp. We have planted two churches in Antwerp together and had a hand in planting work in 3 other cities. We have had 2 beautiful little girls and suffered miscarriage loss of 2 others. We learn (every day) how to function with 4 languages. We have taken care of dying loved ones and walked through grief together. We have rejoiced in leading others to Jesus, discipling them and helping them to find freedom. We have traveled the globe together. We preach, teach and counsel others side-by-side. We have seen God do more than we could ask or imagine and also asked questions and wondered what He is in the midst of doing. It has certainly not been a calm 13 years but it has been quite an adventure. The ride isn’t over yet. Here’s to many more years together!

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Kelby

We waited for the doors to open to Europe. Finally this summer my mom was able to come and visit. She didn’t come alone. She brought with her a 4 month old Golden Doodle puppy named Kelby. The girls are delighted with this new addition to our family. Hary is amazed with having a dog in our home. I am getting used to the puppy phase and hoping we quickly arrive to the calm adult dog phase. We got a dog because the girls had asked for so long but more importantly, we saw that Phoebe needed one. She has struggled emotionally in so many ways over the years and is in need of growing in her self confidence. She struggles when people come in and out of her life and things change. She could use a companion that will stick around for a while. And Phoebe has done so well with this new responsibility. I am so proud at the way she takes care of her dog and takes control of teaching her new things. We are still unsure as to how big a “medium” dog will get but I am sure she will continue to bless our girls. For that I am grateful!

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Marriage and Family

Over and over I have talked to the Arabic church about the importance of family. God created marriage in the beginning, not the church. Out of a marriage came children, which became family. Out of the family came the church. If the foundational relationships of the church crumble, so does the church.

Much of the time in our churches, the adults learn about Jesus and expect their children will become these lovely God fearing adults one day, in spite of the fact that no one really told them about Jesus in the home when they were small. They were born in a “christian” family and therefore it is automatic that they would also grow up to be Christian. This thought actually comes from the Muslim neighbors surrounding Christian families in the Middle East. Muslims believe that you are born Muslim. There isn’t such a thing as “becoming” Muslim unless you are converting from a different tradition. And like much of Christian Middle Eastern society, this concept was adopted from Islam.

Covid has also done a number on families. This last year has been hard on marriage and hard on children. The tension has risen and many are coming out on the other side Covid, separated and broken. Hary and I have taught a lot of Bible studies and group counseling sessions about marriage and family.

We are on round 2 of talking about the importance of marriage and giving practical help during difficult seasons. Every Sunday morning Hary translates for me as I teach about 8 Syrian women who are living in Syria, Turkey, the Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium. I have narrowed the teaching down to 15-20 minute bite size sessions. Then these women ask questions. Hard questions. They don’t just contend with Covid, many are living in abusive, unbalanced, broken relationships. Many of them found Jesus long after they married. They are still waiting for their husbands to find Him. They pray, they wait, they struggle.

Last Sunday I taught and the one woman who really needed to be there didn’t show up. So we recorded the session and sent it to her. She has been separated from her husband. I can’t remember how many months they have been apart. But she listened to the recording. Later she left a message to tell Hary that every word I spoke was for her. God was speaking to her directly. That day she went back to her husband to reconcile the relationship she once thought was forever broken.

Even yesterday I was just telling a young woman that God is the God of so many chances. He loves changing things. He is changing families. He’s restoring marriages. The key? Turning our eyes back on Him and letting His will be done in our lives. When we want what He wants for us, we can’t go wrong. And the hope is that for every marriage restored, every family healed, the church will begin to be repaired and grow to look more and more like Jesus.

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1 Year

I was around 12 years old the first time my dad threatened suicide and told me that I would be the cause of his death. It would happen again and again more times than I could count until I was in my 20’s. As it would turn out, that was a textbook symptom of borderline personality disorder.

Understanding his illness helped me to process as an adult who he was but it didn’t take my childhood pain away.

Last year, we found out that he was dying of liver, kidney and heart diseases. After all his threats of killing himself, it turned out he kind of did by his unhealthy lifestyle. He didn’t eat well…that’s just another way of saying he only ate fried foods…even after a heart attack. He never exercised. He didn’t know how to make friends or be a friend. And he slept more than I thought humanly possible. He used sleep as an escape from reality. An escape from pain. An escape from the world as his brain understood it to be, which was a far cry from reality.

After making the decision to go back to the States for his last few weeks on earth, I ended up cleaning out the house and going through all his belongings. He was a hoarder and I found more papers and junk than I thought possible. Among the stuff, I found journals that he wrote years ago. He meant for them to be found after he died. He wanted to let us into his mind after he was gone. But as he lay dying in one room, my mom and I sat on the back deck reading just how he saw life, ours and his. The mental disability was so clear. But it was still painful to see in print.

When he died, I wasn’t sure what I would feel. Relief? Pain? Exhaustion? Truth be told, it was a mix of all of those. But what took me off guard was the loss and grief.

Grief is a natural response to loss…of something or someone. Children who grow up in a similar setting as I did are often surprised by grief. But it’s not just the loss of a person but the final loss of the hope that a person will become the person you need. Grief knows no rules. So it swells and takes ahold of the emotions when you lest expect it or want it.

Last weekend the white of my left eye filled with blood. I was camping and not near my doctor so I took a took a picture to see if it got worse before I returned home. As soon as I saw my red-eyed selfie, I instantly thought of almost the same picture I took of my dad last summer when his eye filled with blood. Grief overwhelmed me.

Most people think I am just fine because my relationship with my dad was so dysfunctional. People assume that my dad’s death was just another day for me and that I should be over the loss.

Arabs stay in mourning for the first year. They mark the first year to the date. 29 July. They go to the cemetery. The grieve openly and freely again.

I will mark the day privately. My family may not even be aware. But I will know. Just like I know that my brokenness has become part of my life that is covered by grace and healing is a process. But the more I talk about it, the more I see that others have been broken and are in a healing process too.

Jesus is our healer. He is our hope. He has brought me far in the first year. Here’s to many more years with the Healer.

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Kelby

Here is just about the best sentence I have read in a long time:

Lifting of travel restrictions : 

From June 21st, US residents are eligible to travel from the US to Belgium.
An Essential Travel Certificate is no longer needed.

This was posted on the Belgian diplomacy website as of July 1, 2021. What does that mean to you? Probably nothing. But to me, that means my mom can travel to Belgium for the first time in a year an a half.

This is the month. On July 9, it would be my dad’s birthday. July 29th marks a year since he died. I am very aware of these dates. So is she. We anticipated her to be with us during the girls’ birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. For obvious reasons that didn’t happen. We have prayed almost daily in our home that the doors of Belgium would open for US travelers. It happened in France and Germany but Belgium decided to be a slow comer to open up the doors. But they have finally opened!

In faith, my sister/friend already booked a ticket when she found a good price online. I am so happy that she will be traveling with my mom. She won’t stay as long, but I will get to hug her neck and my girls will rejoice that Aunt Carrie is here!!

It’s been a hard year for my girls. They were in the house when my dad died. They heard the sounds of death and saw it coming. They grieved. They have questioned all year long what will happen if I die. The subject is on their minds. They want assurance that I can’t give. But I help them to hold on to Jesus.

Yet still Phoebe has struggled the most. Change causes her heart to skip a beat. When I was COVID positive, she declared she didn’t want to be an orphan. Then it was a new room when we got back from the States that sent her over the edge. She cried every night for 3 months after she got what she had always asked for. A new light fixture in the kitchen caused a meltdown on the sidewalk. And I had to prepare her in advance that I was rearranging the living room furniture. Whew.

If that wasn’t enough for her heart, we have 5 missionary families who have left in the last 2 months. Some of them were such close friends. Children that will be missed. Saying goodbye…again. And then a second cousin in the family who is at the same school as the girls and has gone through more emotional abuse than any 9 year old should, declared to the school that she hates Phoebe…just because she hates her. She wishes she wouldn’t even be in the same family. And moment after moment, I saw my precious child’s heart break.

I prayed about a pet. The girls have asked for one for years. I have always said no. I have some allergies. But I almost gave in to a bunny. Yet something in my being said “nooooooo”. Then Phoebe was worried about my allergies and decided she didn’t want a bunny. We have even considered fish. But what fun are fish? You can’t even pet them.

So one day Hary and I met someone in the neighborhood of the school with a Goldendoodle. I asked where they got it because I had already done some research on these loving, intelligent, good-for-people-with-allergies dogs. Of course, the dog came from the States. So I searched all over Europe. No dogs available until 2022 or 2023. And the price was outrageous in Europe.

I started searching in Illinois, Missouri and Indiana. And I found Abundant Faith Farms in Missouri who helped me to get a Goldendoodle. And as the name suggests, they are a family of Christian breeders who were so excited to have their first international dog go to missionaries.

Meet…Kelby.

She will be 16 weeks when she gets on a plane to join us. At the moment she is with my mom…who probably could have used the entertainment. I may not know what I have gotten myself into but we do these things for the best for our children. Kelby is already bringing joy to the girls. Phoebe gets to have some more stability in her home with the unconditional love of her first dog ever. She already said, “Next year in school when they ask who has a pet, I get to be one of those people!”

Kelby means “my dog” in Arabic. But it also means “next to the water” in Celtic. Obviously, she is our dog. And I love to be next to the water. I see Jesus there. And I already feel like Kelby is a gift. I may not feel that way after I have cleaned up puppy pee for the thousandth time, but today I see the new addition to our family as a blessing.

We are so excited to pick up my mom, Carrie and Kelby from the airport in a month! Thank you Jesus for all these wonderfully good things!

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Retreat

The past few days we were able to escape city life and spend some time about an hour away in the Netherlands with 44 other people from our church. It was a wonderful time of worship, rest and outdoor living. More “glamping” than camping. We met in the mornings for breakfasts that included falafels, homemade cheese, and broad beans in tahini sauce. There was a lake and a swimming pool where we splashed around with our kids. There was laughter, music, tears and prayer.

There is a blessing of getting away from the normal. We have had a year of the “new normal” and we desperately needed a break. I felt a bit like an outlaw breathing in the fresh air and walking around in freedom without the coverage of my mask. Even indoors, the Netherlands didn’t require us to be covered. What a change from the southern land of Belgium.

The 4th of July happened to fall on the Sunday that we were there. We know that Egyptians, Syrians and Iraqi might not want to celebrate American independence but nothing stopped them from eating up the BBQ and s’mores (that we happily introduced to the children via my gas stove which proved much more efficient than the actual grill). One of our humorous Egyptian friends declared that God could bless America every day if it meant he could share in grilled meat!

It’s nice to have time to refresh among God’s children. We got home yesterday. I have washed more laundry from the 3 nights than I ever cared to. The children have rejoiced in the return of wifi. A visitor just left my home after talking for 6 hours about Jesus. She left, hugging, with her fill of the One who loves her so much. Hary is sitting down at the table right now with our friend who is a former (possibly current) drug addict. I can overhear their conversation. We do our best to bless his life. We let him know he is always welcome. A sign hangs in my kitchen that says “Because of Christ, All are Welcome at the Table.” So true. We are back to normal. It’s not so bad of a normal after all.

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Shepherding

Sunday we visited a man who was a pastor. Now, more than pastoring people, he is shepherding animals. He has sheep, goats, chickens, bunnies and pigeons. He grows beautiful fruits and vegetables in his beautiful yard (any yard is gorgeous to us because we don’t have one). He looked so calm and rested. I have to be honest and say I was a bit jealous of his tan and his country home. I was a bit jealous that he gets to work with animals more than people.

Shepherding people is hard work. We are all broken and some are more broken than others. In the last month, I have seen human brokenness get so messy that it breaks trust and hurts relationships. And Jesus calls us to forgive. So we do. But we learn that forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting and it doesn’t mean restoring a relationship to the point it was before it was broken. Loving one another doesn’t require trusting one another…fully. So we learn to maneuver in the forgiveness, in the healing. We learn to lean into Jesus more than we thought we could.

The older I get the more I realize that Jesus really is the only one who completely understands. He has been there. He’s been betrayed by the one he called disciple, friend. And so we have a Savior who knows just how difficult, messy and complicated people can be.

Sometimes I find myself, because of my own childhood background, trying to psychoanalysis everyone I meet. I see so much pain. I know as humans, we have all been through so much hurt. No one has lived a perfect life. And some of the hurt is caused by others and some of the hurt we pile on ourselves. And then we require others to suffer with us. But we have a Savior whose burden is light.

As I watched Phoebe and Maria-Grace feed the sheep on Sunday, I learned that sheep were never meant to be animals of burden. They weren’t meant to carry the load. We are the sheep. The Lord is our Shepherd. Jesus even told us that His burden is light. We were designed to give it to Him. Why do we insist on trying to carry it all ourselves?

I am trying to put into practice this direction of giving my burdens over. Laying them down. Leaving them there. It takes work. It requires practice. But I can’t carry it anymore. I have to give it to my Shepherd.

As I near another birthday this summer…another year older, I hope I am getting wiser. I hope I am leaning in and trusting more in the One who called me. I still have a way to go but I have a Shepherd who guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake. So I am going to dwell with Him.