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God Help Us

The world has changed so quickly.  The last few months have brought tumultuous times.  COVID-19 has literally touched every nation on the planet.  It’s shaken everything we know to be normal and certain.  The unstable foundation opened doors of exposure to the flaws in western society.

God help us all.

This time of separation has let me rediscover the beauty of a child like heart.  For more than 3 months, I spent so much time with my girls as I was both mom and school teacher. My daughters, who are 9 and 5 years old, love unconditionally…both their family and friends.  They search for Jesus in amazingly mature ways.  They are Kingdom kids.

During our quarantine, they have reminded me why we are supposed be changed and come to Jesus like little children. Children are not born with hatred in their hearts.  That is something that is learned and can be passed down generationally.  They are born with a wonderfully beautiful capacity to love just like Jesus.  And when they are Kingdom minded and Kingdom raised inside the culture that Jesus defines, they have the potential to correct the mistakes of generations past.   They are full of hope.

They recently were allowed to go back to school.  They were both so excited to be reunited with their best friends.  They are an eclectic group of little girls from different countries and united by circumstance to become each other’s best support and encouragement.  They live from their hearts.

The Bible says, “As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person” in Proverbs 27:19. It’s not just in what we say but how we live and love that shows our true self. It’s not even in how informed or intellectual we are.  We have to allow God to take everything we know to be true in His word and transform our hearts so that we become more like Jesus in everything we are.

Heaven seems closer when the world we know is shaken, shattered and changed. May God light the path we walk, change our hearts and write our future story.

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Freedom and McDonalds

fullsizeoutput_20d7Here we are in Belgium (like most of Europe) and the restaurants have been closed down for more than a month.  It feels so strange as I read Facebook stuff from America.  People are commenting on their long waits in drive up lines and I just read a post of a cafe menu.

While “stay at home” may be becoming a more normal thing, I have noticed how much “freedom” is woven into the fabric of America. In fact, while cruising the internet one night, I read a post from a famous musician (who I have never heard of). She was taking her son to karate “as normal” and she said “some people value life over freedom and some people value freedom over life!”  Clearly she was advocating for freedom, regardless of the cost.

This is certainly a strange season.  It goes against what we have always known and always believed.  And yet, for Americans I think this season is harder.  Americans haven’t seen war or limitations…at least on our soil in so very long.  Here in Europe, especially as we work with immigrants and refugees coming out of war torn lands, they remember hardships.  They remember limitations and freedom was never something to be taken for granted but a gift…if it was ever offered.

Now, one thing I know is that although the Belgian government (or your government) has limited restaurants…even McDonald’s has assured us that this isn’t good-bye but see you soon…closed church gathers, schools, offices and stores, that no one can truly take my freedom away.  Jesus is the only one who offers me true freedom anyway.  It’s not a thing that governments could ever offer.

And there are plenty of good things to be said about a world staying closer to home.  Families are talking, cooking and playing games together.  You can choose the way the school curriculum is given…our school day starts with a devotion, song and prayer every morning.  The environment has reaped the benefits of less pollution (and if I remember right, taking care of this world is also a pretty Biblical thing…hmmm).

All freedom is precious but no matter what happens in this world, no one can take away what Jesus alone can give.  God is still in control.  So today I choose to trust Him.

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Think on These Things

I don’t know about you, but I have been doing pretty well with being quarantined…until I haven’t.  This emotional roller coaster ride is so unpredictable.  Who knows what will make me cry or drive me crazy.  The same is happening with my girls.

Last week, Maria-Grace started having emotional meltdowns.  She did so well for about 4 weeks and then…tears.  One day, I sent her up to her room to just relax and calm herself. About 10 minutes later, I could still hear the sobbing.  So I went up to her room and found her on her bed, covers up and a pillow on her face.

I calmly crawled in bed next to her and she moved the pillow to look at me.  I asked, “Do you know why you are crying?”  Between sobs, she said, “No! Why AM I crying?!”

That pretty much sums up the way most of us are feeling.  We have no idea why we feel like we are on an emotional roller coaster…could someone please tell us? But one thing I know, it is pretty natural for us to feel so much.  Life has changed.

The biggest battle about staying inside is the emotional one.  We are spending all this time doing video chats and that means that I have to sit and stare at myself for the length of the call.  Looking at myself all that time leads me to point out all my flaws. I recognize the grey hairs that have suddenly appeared in this last month.  I am pretty sure there are extra wrinkles and I know there are extra pounds. Ugh! I have found myself getting offended by little things Hary has said.  I have seen how that one negative thought spirals until I feel on the verge of depression.

So last week, I felt the Lord just impressing on me Philippians 4:8.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

I felt like God was saying…memorize it!  Do it!  I had memorized it a long time ago but that memory is not what it used to be so I had to memorize it…again.  I have been saying it each morning before I even open my eyes.

That first thing…whatever is true…is so crucial.  How often do we let our feelings lead us? We decide that our feelings become truth.  But I cannot even count how many times that my feelings are not at all true.

Example…”I feel alone.” That feeling leads me to thinking that no one cares or no one understands.  But really if I go back and fact check that first statement, I find that it isn’t true at all.  But I have probably already spent a good amount of time thinking about it and found that I have let myself become ruled by it…sad, depressed.  The truth is that I am NOT alone.  Literally, I share a house with 3 other people.  But even more than that, God says He will never leave me.  He understands me and He cares so deeply about me. If I spend time thinking about that truth, I will find myself comforted rather than emotionally exhausted.

It is my daily challenge to think on the truth or find something lovely or worthy of praise.  Today, it was lovely to teach my girls how to cook…knowing one day they will help me…and seeing their joy in making something! My daily truth…God loves me and nothing can separate me from that love (Romans 8:39-39).  Plus He’s working things out for my good (Romans 8:28)…even if I can’t feel it in them moment.

Think on these things!

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A Day in the New Life

 

In our 3 meter (that’s less than 10 feet) wide home with no yard at all, we are being creative with being indoors…at least when I have the energy.  We got a small sports trampoline for the downstairs/garage.  I force my children to go and jump every day.  It gets energy out for them and gives me a few minutes of quiet during the day.  And I force myself to run on it 30 minutes a day.

St. Patrick’s day called for green homemade Mac and cheese…because what else did we have to do!

We tried to build the tallest tower we could out of legos.  Yes, it is topped with a princess spire (if that is what it is called).

Hary is chopping garlic and doing a zoom call at the same time.  What multi-tasking!!

And of course, school work is a normal thing around here.  Our table area has turned into a classroom.  Books are piled all over.  The days of the week in Dutch are plastered to the radiator.  There is glue, scissors, crayons, pencils and erasers everywhere!

The one relief of the house being so crazy is that I don’t have to worry about any surprise visits from anyone.  So we do what we must! We carry on and know that this too shall pass!

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Online

You probably saw this on Facebook, “And just like that, every preacher became a televangelist!”  Ain’t that the truth!!

So we were doing Facebook live for over a year now but obviously the shape changed.  Here in Belgium, the government put a stop to church gatherings about 5 Sundays ago.  We have 3 churches and 2 Bible study groups in our non-profit.  Although we are in 5 different cities, we treat each other like one church.  So we take turns leading church services each week.  Hary and I have led 2 different times.

During the week, Hary is on a zoom Bible study at least once a day.  I try to send out 3 minute weekly encouragement videos to women.  I have to record them in 3 different languages.  We pray for people over WhatsApp too.

On the second Sunday during the lockdown, I felt like we needed to have something special for the children in our Arabic churches.  I am slightly concerned about all the unhealthy screen time kids are having (and how much that happens in Arabic families under normal circumstances).  So Phoebe and I launched our Sunday school sessions on Sundays at 4:00pm.

Phoebe loves sitting down with me and connecting with children.  We sing, read the Bible, do a simple craft and pray for them within a 30-40 minute timespan that lets mom and dad know they are doing something positive.

As we, the global church, turn to technology to continue in fellowship and growth in Christ, I am thankful for all the options like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Zoom that keep us connected.

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The Mask Challenge

So, like a lot of people, I heard about all this pandemic stuff a couple of months ago.  I casually checked on amazon.de (Germany) and looked to see if I could just have some masks on-hand.  They were already sold out and so I didn’t think too much about it.

We started our lockdown 6 weeks ago and I was bored, so I decided to see if I could make a mask.  I am NO sewing expert.  I have a little machine to do simple projects with.  So I looked for fabric scraps.  Most of them were ones my mom had given me from things she or my grandma had done.  So started my first attempt.

I am one of those people that thinks a project is do-able until I get half way through and then realize this will never turn out right.  So, I started sewing and then realized that I didn’t have enough elastic.  So Hary’s mask (which he will probably never wear…because, that’s Hary) has the elastic.  My mask…made with left over Winnie the Pooh fabric from a baby quilt…and it has purple ear straps that are made from the left over straps from Phoebe’s ballet suit.  The girls both have tie straps.

The girls love their masks.  Phoebe is already talking about saving hers so she can fondly remember her coronavirus time.  They wear them a lot when we walk around the block.  I wear mine when they ask me to.

Assuming that there may be a point that we need to wear them more, I decided to try out a no-sew version of a mask from jennifermaker.com.  Obviously, I am suffering from periodic boredom.  So all you have to do is cut, maybe glue and wear. The greatest thing is that I don’t have worry about elastic.  She also gives you an option to slip a coffee filter in for more protection.

Now, I have also seen one made from ankle length socks that doesn’t require me to sew either.  But it would require me to have new socks…which I don’t have.  So that’s not going to happen.

I am not sure how you are filling your time.  Between being a Dutch home school teacher, short order cook, craft teacher, music teacher, minister, Sunday school teacher and whatever…I, for some crazy reason, have decided to fill the gaps with mask experimenting.  We’re in a new world, friends!

 

 

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What to Do?

Let’s be honest, trying to be the presence of Christ while remaining socially distant is not any easy thing.  We are all trying to be creative with ministry.  How do we stay in contact? How do we meet needs of others?

For me, it is always important to make sure the girls feel like serving Jesus is what we all do…not just mama and baba.  So I was so happy when the neighborhood assisted living home stuck red heart papers in our mail slots.  They asked us to make cards for the elderly who can’t have any visitors and then explained how we can put them in their boxes in the building entry hall.

We made as many as the girls could.  I wrote John 3:16 in Dutch on all of them and the girls drew pictures.  They were so excited to put on their homemade masks and deliver their love those at the end of our street.

It is still a challenge to encourage those you can’t touch, but I am so happy that we technology to keep in touch and ways to reach the unreachable.  I hope you are finding ways to read out in your corner of the world!

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Resurrection Day!

Last year, I decided I was anti the word “Easter”.  It’s not really a big deal, but I realized that I speak 2 other languages and both of them use the same word for Passover and Easter.

Why did the English language decide it had to be two words?  More than that, why did we choose the word “easter” after a goddess who was celebrated at the beginning of Spring? Strange, right?

So I decided, at our house, we would put a bit more connection between Jesus and the Passover…since He is the perfect Passover Lamb…that seemed a bit more logical than putting the connection between Jesus, a spring goddess and a chocolate bunny.

Trust me, I didn’t sit down and explain all my thoughts to my kids, but I did just changed what I do with them.  I started making new traditions.  This year, with the quarantine, we had so much more time to invest in our traditions.

For the second year in a row, we made our version of seder meal…remembering the last supper and what Jesus would have been doing during that week.  We made our own unleavened bread too.  We hung red paper over our door to symbolize the Passover and Phoebe wrote “Jesus is the Lamb of God” over the door and Maria-Grace practiced her letters and wrote “Jesus” on the sides.

We also did the traditional egg coloring and we were skimpy on the eggs this year because they are so hard to find in the stores.  White eggs are always harder to find at any time here in Belgium.  Brown eggs obviously don’t color well.  So we colored 6 eggs and then used the rest of our homemade dye to paint.

On Saturday night, we made our resurrection cookies.  We always just look up the recipe online every year.  This is our 3rd year to do them but this time both girls could understand the whole point.  Which is just beautiful.

I know that many people grieved that we were unable to be together for Resurrection day but for me it was special to teach the girls and celebrate with them.  I am almost always busy taking care of the church and cleaning up after people when we eat together that I don’t get that special time to sing and read with the girls.  Being at home didn’t seem that bad at all.  And it is always great to remember that Jesus is still alive, even when we can’t go out of our homes.

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Family Matters

One of the hardest things about following God to another country is the distance it brings  between me and my parents.  I am an only child.  I have their only 2 grandchildren.

I have had 2 babies in Belgium, my mom was here for one of the two births.  I have lost 3 grandparents while living overseas and wasn’t able to be there for any of the funerals.  I have also lost 2 babies and my mom wasn’t here to hold my hand.  The girls have had normal sicknesses and gone through the chickenpox and there was no family to help.  And in these moments the distance grows and often loneliness threatens to set in.

On Sunday, January 12, I woke up to a WhatsApp message from my mom telling me that IMG_7864my dad was in the hospital.  Fluid had been building up in his body and he finally agreed to see a doctor.  He had heart problems years ago, heart attack and open heart surgery.  And my mom and I had been trying to self-diagnosis, through Dr. Google, the fluid build up and decided it was because about 5 years ago the doctors said that he was borderline diabetic.  We were wrong.

He spent about 5 days in the hospital where they ended up taking out 6.5 liters of fluid! They said he has congestive heart failure and probably more importantly, he has non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver…it appears to be shrinking.  Since then, he has had several doctors appointments in several different cities.  And he is currently in the middle of many different kinds of tests after seeing the liver specialist last week.

I am trying to figure out what I need to do from the other side of the ocean.  I hate that my mom has to take care of my dad all by herself…while holding down a full time job.  And of course, when he needed to see one doctor in a different city, their water pump stopped working (because they live in a small town and still have a well).  And then the as the other out of town doctor’s appointment approached, their heaters in the living area went out.  One problem after the other.

IMG_7764I did talk my mom into buying her first GPS to make driving to all the different doctors less stressful.  And I crocheted my first afghan and sent it as a warm hug. I sent my mom a Starbucks e-card so she could take care of herself and have a break when she needed it.  I am thankful to Wal-Mart’s next day delivery that lets me order “low salt” snacks and a warm blanket for my dad.

The problem is that Dr. Google doesn’t have anything good to say about my dad’s health, even though the doctors are being cautious with their words.  But I assume that last November’s trip to Belgium could have been my dad’s last flight overseas.  I have had to talk to the girls about the seriousness of “Paw-Paw’s” health.

Right now I just want to do what I can. I want to know when or if I need to make a trip to the States (and is it even a good idea in the middle of the coronavirus panic).  I want my mom to feel my support and love over our WhatsApp conversations.

It’s not always easy following Jesus.  So I pray for His lead in this moment…in every moment.

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Ministry House

We silently passed the 1 year anniversary since we bought the ministry house here in Antwerp.  Our first service was held on April 7, so I am planning on celebrating that day with the church.

At one point, I thought that once we bought the building, the stress would be over.  But last May, I got in touch with the fire inspectors just to make sure we were all in order.  I want to make sure we have a good standing in the city.  Well, unknown to me, with the fire inspector also comes the building inspector.  On that day in May, we found out that although we passed fire inspection, we had to get a new permit on the building to operate a Christian ministry legally.

I investigated and was told that we could continue with our services without a problem, but the building inspector was obligated to get the police involved and suddenly my name became known.

I enlisted my sweet Belgian friend to help with the process since Dutch is not my first language.  She is literally a God-send.  And together we began to sort through hundreds of pages!!! to fill out the request for a new permit.

In December, I was called into the police via a letter that threatened jail time if I didn’t show up.  After much prayer, that meeting went better than we could have imagined.

However, our biggest obstacle is the permit office in Antwerp.  We have been told by the last church to go through the process that it will take us over 2 years and in the end we will need an architect and a lawyer…and literally a miracle to win.

So again, we pray!  I have asked God to not let it get to the province level.  I don’t want to hire a lawyer.  I have prayed with the faith of a mustard seed that the mountain that stands against churches in the city will be moved from here to there.  And after sending the wrong email to the absolutely wrong person in the city office, I prayed that my mistake will work together for our good from Romans 8:28.

Last Tuesday we had another long awaited meeting with the city official in charge of permits.  The meeting had been postponed because of our kids’ illnesses.  After waiting 3 weeks for a new meeting time,  I woke up on Tuesday morning and realized quickly that Maria-Grace had a fever.  I called my friend walking through this process with me…what should I do? She said her first grade daughter was also sick.

I knew immediately it was spiritual warfare.  And we were still going to that meeting.  We planned on taking the girls with us (even with the coronavirus scare) and a beautiful mom at school volunteered to take them home with her!  So we waited on the bus…and it didn’t come.  So we walked (quickly) for 3.3 kms and checked in for our meeting on time at exactly 10:00 am!!

We were called into the official’s office.  The meeting started off a little tense and by the end of the hour he gave us hope.  He said it would all be okay and that we don’t even need a permit.  We have a couple of hurdles to jump through…(more work). Today, we learned that the office with the photos needed, is closed for the next month because they are moving and the other office needs a ton of paperwork (that hopefully we already have).  And then we need to hire an architect.  But he (the one with the power) promised it would all be okay in the end.  He even said the city needed people like us here! Hallelujah!! But we continue to pray for this last leg of the race!

There is light and we are still learning to breathe and literally cast our cares on God…because that’s what He commands.  We can feel Him working and we are grateful!