Why I won’t be going to Lads to Leaders this year…

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3 year old Abby being held up by Phillip Hines at the Indianapolis 1st year convention. She was too small to see and was getting lost in the crowd. ūüėČ

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Tiny 3 year old Abby with the Hartselle L2L group in Indy. Her dreams started young with L2L. Scott Dukes let her hold a trophy. She was amazed!

For many of you this weekend is not only Easter, but Lads to Leaders weekend. You will load up your church bus/van or personal vehicle with puppet gear, drawings, fancy clothes, and Easter baskets and head off to one of many L2L locations. I can remember my first Lads in 2003 with Hartselle Church of Christ. I was so frustrated at first that I wouldn’t be “home” for Easter. I wanted Abby to parade into the building in all of her Easter dress glory just like all mothers of darling little ones. What I didn’t know is that Lads would become a great part of my life and an even greater part of Abby’s.

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2 year old Abby giving her “speech” (memory verses) at area congregations with Hartselle Church of Christ

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3 year old Abby quoting Psalm 23 in Indianapolis for their first year of convention. (everyone in the room left crying, it was beautiful to hear in such a pure little voice)

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Kindergarten Abby giving her fist K-2 actual speech at Nashville Convention

For years Abby has participated in Lads. Starting at 18 months old she could say 3 memory verses in front of all of the ladies at church. At 3 she quoted the 23 psalm in Indianapolis at their very first convention. I was one proud mama. At 4 she quoted the beattitudes at the Nashville convention. She wanted so badly to give a speech. She couldn’t read yet so she memorized so she could participate. She loved going from congregation to congregation with the girls at Hartselle to give her “speech.” Because she started so young she was not afraid, but loved telling others what the Bible said. Year after year of going to convention and participating in K-2 (way before she was even in k!) she was finally able to compete in 3rd grade speech! In 4th grade she won first place, her dream come true! I was even the trophy handler on stage that night to award her with her first place trophy. Best. night. ever. In 5th grade, I watched her stand on stage as a finalist in speech for Winner’s circle and beamed with pride as she didn’t place, but shook hands and congratulated those that did. So proud of her.

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Abby after she won her 1st place speech trophy!

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Me presenting Abby with her 1st place speech trophy.

 

 

We love Lads to Leaders. We love having a program that teaches our children to participate in Biblical activities year round. Abby has participated in every single aspect of Lads that she has been eligible to. Every year I watch as she fills out her Lads form just checking every box she can find. She loves puppets, (who doesn’t?) song leading, and speech the best. She will also work fervishly to complete her preconvention entries like audio speech, video speech, article/editorial, bulletin board, etc. And, ofcourse we can’t forget the artwork that we so lovingly cart into the hotel. For Abby it has rarely been about the trophies. Like any child, she of course is excited to win. Who isn’t? But she truly loves the activity itself. She loves the company she has when she does puppets. She loves leading singing with confidence and not being afraid to give a speech. She loves the knowledge she has gained through wonderful experiences with members of the church. She loves being in a hotel filled with thousands of christians that all have the same goal: HEAVEN! I have watched with pride as my sweet girl has gained confidence and love for the Lord in this activity. Lads to Leaders is not just a program that rewards you for Christianity. Lads is a program that grows young Christians and molds them using God’s word. It encourages them to use God’s word daily in their lives and in every aspect of their lives.

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4th grade Abby with sweet girls from Lehman Ave. Church of Christ at the Nashville convention (friends and memories!)

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3rd grade Abby at the Memphis Convention (her first year to compete!)

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Abby in Hartselle, AL with the K-2 puppet group I started to teach the children puppeteering skills. So much fun!

This year we will not be at convention. Abby was able to send in many preconvention entries via the internet. She is heartbroken that she will not be there to perform a puppet skit with friends, give a speech, and lead singing. She wishes she could see her current friends and past friends from other congregations. For Abby, Lads and Easter are connected and it just isn’t the same. However, I found it happily ironic that this year’s theme for Lads is “Go into all the world…” Abby is living the theme. She has gone into all the world. While she will not be at convention this year, she is using daily the knowledge and skills that Lads to leaders and God’s word has provided her with. She is not afraid to teach, lead singing, or pray aloud. She is willing to help teach the Tanzanians in any way a 12 year old girl can. She left her comfortable home, best friends, wonderful school, and family behind to save souls in a foreign country. That’s a tough row for anyone to hoe much less a middle schooler. We will miss Lads convention so much this year, but I couldn’t be prouder of my Abby walking the walk. I wish all of you the best of luck at convention. Keep those arms up for puppets, speak loud and clear, perfect your¬†arm movements for song leading, and most of all keep a great attitude. You are learning to go into all the world. You will use these skills to teach others about Christ. You CAN¬†help others go to Heaven, because if you miss Heaven…you miss everything!

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4th grade Abby with her Friday night wins in Nashville

Family Devo: Teaching Them to Know God

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Deuteronomy 6:5-7 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.

Everyday is a blessing with my children. Ages 12, 3, and 1 they are all learning new things daily. It is up to me and Daniel to help control what their eyes see, ears hear, and minds digest. They will learn fastest through what they do and observe you doing. We must choose carefully the words we use, our actions, the media we allow to be seen, and the places we go. One way we can influence them heavily is by bringing God into our homes. We should verbally praise God for the good things in our lives so that they will learn to praise Him too. We should point out the things that “God made” to younger children so they can see His power and glory. We should talk with our older children about God’s plan of salvation and how we can teach others about Him. We can also choose to bring Him into our homes through worship. We should pray, not just at meal times, but often. Thank God for the butterfly you see in the yard. Ask God to be with the homeless man on the street. Talk to God often. Let them hear you.

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Daniel talking to Josiah about the tortoise that God made. Thank you God for tortoises!

Children are never too young to learn to worship. Even young babies can be sung to and listen for a short period of time. We have a devotional in our home each night. It is not always organized. It is not always long. Some nights it has consisted of some songs and a prayer, but it is enough to show our children the importance of praising God each day and making time for Him in their daily lives, no matter how busy.

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As adults we often try to squeeze in Bible reading and prayer then quickly fall away from that habit when things get busy with ball practice, homework, work, housework, after school activities, etc. I have fallen into this trap of “too busy” before. After all, something has to give. There are only 24 hours in a day, right? We start strong reading our Bible then allow it to slip away as other things take it’s place. We replace the Importance of Bible reading with the Urgency of daily tasks. However I have consistently found that my days are always brighter and things flow better when I include God in my daily life with purpose. Our children observe this as well. They will copy our words and actions. You may have to read your Bible with hotwheels driving on the pages, but READ IT!

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My Bible buddy, Levi

So, how can we fix this? Allow your child to see you in Bible study. Pray with your children, aloud. Talk to them about prayer and communicating with God so it is very natural for them. Just today Josiah fell off of a table outside and ran to me saying, “kiss it mommy!” I kissed it. He then said,”Maybe saying a prayer to God will help me feel better.” Already he is associating God with power and feeling good. We want our children to KNOW GOD not just know ABOUT God. If we ever try to “skip” devo after a really long day of travel or for some other reason, Josiah is quick to say sleepily, “but we forgot debo (devo).” They are keenly aware of what is important and what matters most in your eyes by your daily actions.

Now, back to devo. We have a daily devo. We usually do it after bathtime and right before bed. Our devotional is simple for the boys. We sing several children’s Bible songs, i.e. Jesus Loves Me, Fuzzy the Caterpillar, the Wiseman, This little Christian light, the Hippo song, etc. Then we read a Bible story book, flipchart, or use an online Bible story. We talk about the lesson and sing a song that is as close to the lesson as possible. We then say our prayer and it’s off to bed! For Abby, who is 12, we allow her to help with the “little kid” devo then either expound on that lesson with her after their devo is over or do something totally different and challenging for her. We recently studied King Og (check out Deut. 3 if you aren’t sure who he is.) I have to admit, doing 2 devos is challenging timewise, but with our age difference we kind of have to. Sometimes we sing devotional songs with Abby as well and we talk about prayer requests before praying.

There are many books out there that provide daily devotional ideas as well as websites. Apologetics Press has great resources like Discovery Magazine and Digger Doug videos! Kaio Publications also has a great set of family devotional books. We have used Bible Study Guide for All Ages as well and love it’s simplicity, reviews, and charts. Of course the Bible is your best and number one resource. Do some research if you feel you need a secondary guide.

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Daniel singing “Fuzzy” with the children during devo.We are very relaxed for devo.

Having given you the “run down” on how we do devos, let me give you some real life information. It is NEVER perfect. It is RARELY how we picture it. But they ALWAYS take something from it. Many times we spend time consoling an overtired toddler or “listen” a bazillion times. It does take parent effort, but so does cooking, cleaning, bathing, etc. My house is rarely clean when devo starts. We leave toys and dishes as are if necessary to have our devotional. If I waited until everything was finished, we would never begin!

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Reading our Bible story. Levi chose to stand directly in front of the book to listen.

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Another night as I sang a few songs with the kids before Daddy got devo officially started.

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Sweet Abby doing a devo with her brothers ūüôā

Teaching them to know God is THE¬†most important thing you can do for your child. You wouldn’t send them to bed with no food. Please don’t send your child to bed daily without spiritual food as well. It seems so important to take care of their physical needs that we forget the true importance lies with their spiritual needs. Afterall, we will all die someday regardless of the spectacular physical care we give. But, if you nourish your child spiritually they will have the best life possible for ALL ETERNITY! Isn’t that what we want for our children? Beyond education, trophies, and fun. I want my children to live in Heaven with God for all eternity. If your child is only getting spiritual food from Bible class once or twice a week, he/she is starving. Take them to Bible class. Allow them to sit in worship (ours can last 4 hours many times here in Tanzania!) Still, Josiah asks everyday, “Is it church day?” Please show them how to know and love God now so that it is an easy and natural part of their lives.

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Sitting in worship at Ilkurei Kanisa la Kristo with Josiah and Levi. The expression I wear is exhaustion, and one day it will definitely pay off!!

 Matthew 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.

What a Trip! Nashville-Chicago-Istanbul-Kilimanjaro

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I woke up incredibly calm on November 2 at my parents’ house in Bridgeport, AL. It was travel day. I would be moving my family to Tanzania, Africa to participate in mission work for 3 years. I had packed 10 suitcases, 5 carry on bags, and personal items in the days before. Each suitcase could only weigh 50 pounds so I had rearranged and reprioritized so many times. I was pretty sure I would be naked in Africa after taking out most of my clothes so the kids’ toys would fit. ¬†I was physically and emotionally exhausted and the trip hadn’t even began. God had brought me so far in the past year and I couldn’t believe the day had finally arrived. We piled into my mom’s and sister’s cars and began our drive to the airport. I gotta say… I made Daniel stop and let me run in CATO for a last minute panic of “I will never be able to buy cute clothes again!” In my complete and utter panicked state I bought 2 long sleeved cardigans….for Africa…..?! Nevertheless, I felt better!

Upon arrival to the airport more family greeted us to help unload and watch babies as we checked in. (Thank you to the Baskin Family and Jared and Lena) I was pretty shook up by then and things were happening quickly as I felt as if I was walking through mud. I was pretty cool on the outside but screaming on the inside. I struggled to make eye contact with Mama and Bambi. I had no idea how I could live not seeing them for an entire year, much less living 3 years away from them! We had a little hitch getting Daniel’s shotgun checked in but all went pretty smoothly. We stood as a family and said a prayer before saying our goodbyes. When I hugged mama and Bambi I felt 5 years old. I hurt so badly I thought I would suffocate from the pain. I quietly let the tears stream down my face as I tried to comfort Abby. I’m 99% positive she would have stayed with them if she could. Her pain shattered mine and I wrapped my arms around her to keep from crumbling myself. I watched them walk away and we headed for the security checkpoint. I barely remember putting our things in the tubs, shoes off, carrying babies through. I was sobbing so hard by this point the security agent just waved me through without going through the body scanner. I held Abby’s hand in silence as I tried to gather myself.

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Nashville Airport with Bambi and Mama

After getting checked in at the gate I calmed down a little. I was going to be okay. I could do this. We still had several hours to wait before take off, but because it was an international flight we weren’t taking any chances. We settled in at our gate. Quickly I realized that sitting led to thinking and thinking led to more crying so I decided to walk around. By this point the boys were already restless. We looked in a few shops then stumbled upon what could only be described as a gift from God. Lo and behold a toddler safe playground was one gate away from ours. The sun shone down and the acapella chorus sang! I was thrilled! I rushed back to our gate to tell Daniel and we hauled our 5 carry on bags, 2 car seats, double stroller and personal items down to the playground! Aaaaaahhhhh! We said a prayer of thanksgiving that God had provided such a blessing for us!

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At the airport toddler haven! (playground)

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Levi sliding at the airport

When boarding time came we were a little anxious about how the boys would do flying. I had packed electronic games, treats, meds, diapers, wipes, clothes, toys… The hardest part ended up being getting them and our stuff plus 2 carseats into a narrow aisled plane. On the one hand the carseats would keep them from getting up and down but they were so difficult to carry and get situated with a long line behind you! We decided to try to board last from then on. We did finally get the kids all situated and prayed again that the flight would go smoothly. My chest ached as we took off. I’m not afraid to fly, but I knew I wouldn’t be in the south again for a long, long time. I was on pins and needles with worry how the boys would do. There were no tears. They just sat and played and looked out the window. Another blessing, another prayer.

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The haul we had to carry on and off of 3 different flights. Enough to make you wanna spit!

Upon arrival to Chicago we again struggled with all of our “stuff.” We had to find the Turkish Air check in quickly to finalize some details about Daniel’s shotgun. Of course it was on the other end of the airport. We ran from terminal to terminal, rode shuttles, searched for elevators, and finally we found it. I was pooped. We had the boys in the double stroller and had loaded it down with bags. It was heavy and awkward. I had to be sure I could easily reach paci and mok (Jojo’s cup) and watch to be sure they weren’t dropped. Abby was so helpful and willing to do whatever she was asked without complaining. I collapsed into a chair waiting for Daniel to clear the gun with Turkish Air (I was still confused as to why Nashville couldn’t clear it all the way through…) Both boys were tired of sitting from the plane and the stroller and were crying. They were hungry and tired and we hadn’t even boarded the 11 hour flight to Turkey. I got them out and played in the floor while waiting. We ran off some energy.

When we cleared the gun we searched for our gate and then found food nearby. We were anxious to stuff our faces with the last American food we would enjoy for awhile so it was a tough decision. Somehow we ended up with chinese and it was awful and I really seriously thought I would cry. I know, so silly, but I really needed it to be delicious! Before boarding we prayed that God would deliver us safely and thanked him for the safe journey thus far. Josiah was really excited about the big plane. I could feel the tendrils of fear tightening around my chest and throat as I thought about being trapped with the boys for so long in the presence of others who wanted to sleep. Daniel took Levi, I took Josiah, Abby put her headphones on and we were off! I called my family on the tarmac to hear them one last time.

In true unpredictable toddler fashion the boys shocked us and did great! They played awhile, they ate snacks, they slept. They were amazing! No crying, no screaming, nothing. I knew God’s hand was in this for sure. If only He could have enlarged the bathroom when I was changing diapers, lol. We felt truly blessed. I was at the beginning of a great family adventure. I felt fear, sadness, excitement, hope, and exhaustion. I slept very little because I felt I needed to watch and listen for the boys. Turkish Air was great and very kind to our children. They frequently asked if the boys needed anything and would bring Abby something if they ever brought things to the boys. Again, upon landing the worst part was by far toting our stuff. The boys were both soundly sleeping so we had to get all of our bags, electronics (personal items), carseats, stroller, and sleeping babies. This flight parked away from a terminal so we had to walk down a flight of stairs outside into some really frigid weather. We were freezing and loaded down. I held Levi, his carseat, 2 carry-on bags, and personal items while walking down. We then loaded a people mover to go to the terminal. I wish I had pics of these things, but it was way too chaotic!

If you’ve ever been in a foreign airport you know they are so different from home. It was loud, crowded, and full of words both audible and on signs that I didn’t understand. Our first task after arriving in the terminal was to get a Visa then to collect our luggage. Because we were having a 24 hour layover in Istanbul they would not forward our luggage through so we had to pick it up and pay to have it stored at the airport. After a lot of sign language to people trying to tell them what we needed we found the luggage storage. We then began to hunt down our ride to the hotel. We changed some money into Turkish lira at the exchange and began walking when a man and woman came rushing over to us. They had a sign that said Gaines and asked if Daniel was Daniel Gaines. First of all, I was shocked. How on earth did they know that was him? Had they asked everyone? Second, I felt like a movie star. Someone was at the airport holding a sign with my name on it. I was pretty cool. The couple spoke little English but we understood they were there to take us to our hotel.

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Outside the hotel Santa Sophia

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I love the views in a foreign place. It was just dusk and lights were popping on as we drove onto the cobblestone streets of downtown. It was beautiful. I was grateful for the opportunity to see a new place and a different culture. Our hotel was small, old, and dark. It was not the Ritz but it was clean and I was tired. Only 2 of us could fit in the elevator at one time. I felt like I was in an old time Sherlock Holmes movie! We gathered and said a prayer to thank God for our safe arrival then we plopped onto the beds in our room and searched for a wi-fi password to contact family. After we let our family know we were safe we decided to go out and see what the sights were in Istanbul. It was night, but our internal clocks were 8 hours behind. We loaded the stroller and took off!

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Outside the Turkish Delight shop. They had soooo many different flavors!

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Abby chose pistachio Turkish delight ūüôā

We had no clue which way to go. We knew the general direction of where we were going but there were so many cobblestone streets, alleys, and paths! We just walked. Abby found a little shop that had Turkish delight and found a kind she liked. We were together, safe, and happy. We finally turned a corner and saw the beautiful Blue Mosque in front of us. It was lit up for evening. We kept walking and admired several outside shops selling scarves, statues, and other reliques. We came to a huge fountain where many were selling fresh pomegranate juice. We bought some to share. It was delicious! We rounded the corner to see the Hagia Sophia and the spires of the Topkapi Palace. Beautiful.

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Abby in front of the Blue Mosque all lit up at night

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Night time at the Blue Mosque

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Daniel pushing the babies to see the sights!

We walked and took pictures of the beautiful buildings. It was probably around 8:00pm but the city was alive and awake! It was neat to see the historic buildings amidst such modern things as well. Amazing. We walked to the old downtown area in search of a place to eat. On a side note, there were stray cats EVERYWHERE! Of course the food was unfamiliar and a little scary, but we finally decided on a little roadside cafe. We had chips (fries) and some kind of wrap with lamb. I’m not a fan of lamb. But, I was thankful to have food and family. We made our way back to the hotel after eating and bathed babies and crashed.

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Abby and myself in front of the beautiful fountain and Blue Mosque. How is she taller than me?!

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Buying yummy pomegranate juice!

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Pomegranates look so cool!

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Just beautiful!

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Sweet baby boys passed out after a looooong trip!

When we woke up we went downstairs for breakfast. Weird cheeses, meats, fruit, and boiled eggs were on the menu, not to mention tons of different olives. Exactly what I wanted for breakfast. We found some things to eat and headed out to sight see in the daylight. We went back by the Blue Mosque, The Hagia Sophia, The Topkapi Palace and The Basilica Cistern. We also decided to walk to the Grand Bazaar. The streets were more crowded as we neared and absolutely everything smelled of cooking lamb, tobacco smoke, and body odor. I was feeling a little nauseated as we arrived and pretty tired as the walk was exhausting. It was very beautiful, intriguing and crowded. Corridors spread out in every direction with Turkish residents selling their wares; Scarves, jewelry, pottery, spices, shoes, clothes, cookware, everything!! As I felt the walls closing in on me we made our way to the exit where there were street sellers as far as you could see. We got incredibly lost trying to find our way back. After a long hour and a half of walking what should have taken about 20 minutes we found our way back to the hotel. We decided we were too tired to find a restaurant and settled for overpriced chips and juice from a market across the street. We had to be out of our hotel room by 11AM so we gathered our belongings and crashed in the lobby until our shuttle came. We literally slept on their uncomfortable victorian era furniture with mouths open and drool spilling. Good times.

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A cobblestone street outside the hotel

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Daddy with the kids in front of the Hagia Sophia

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Mommy with the kids in front of the Blue Mosque

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Daddy with the kids outside of the Topkapi Palace (sooo many tourists were taking pictures of the boys in the stroller. They would say, “Are they twice?” (twins, lol)

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My babies in front of the Topkapi Palace (Or “My Castle” as Jojo said…)

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My handsome prince

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A typical Istanbul street

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The Grand Bazaar Entrance (soooo crowded!)

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Inside the Bazaar there were mazes of these tunnel like hallways with tons of shops!

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Outisde the Grand Bazaar

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So many street shops!

After checking in at the airport terminal we found some food. I fell asleep at the table and woke up to a crash. Daniel’s chair had collapsed under him. Poor guy. He was startled awake by it too. We were all asleep, again, at the table in the airport. We walked to our gate and waited. I’m pretty sure there are 5 chairs in the airport there. We did not get lucky enough to occupy those but I walked around behind the boys so they could run out energy before one more 9 hour flight to Kilimanjaro. When the time came, we were exhausted trying to carry the carseats, bags, and boys so we checked them with the stroller at the gate. That was a huge relief. We walked the flight of stairs to the last flight. I could see the end in sight!

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All of our STUFF…10 suitcases, 5 carry on bags, 2 carseats, one double stroller and occupants, 1 Abby, and personal items (computers, etc.) At this point I think they could have set fire to all but the kids and I would have been fine.

The boys fell asleep almost instantly. I thanked God in prayer again for blessing us with good traveling toddlers. It could have been sooooo much worse! Abby watched more movies (she didn’t sleep on any of the flights.) I awkwardly leaned over on my chair arm with Josiah in my lap. Daniel laid Levi in the seat beside him and we were off. I was in and out of reality the entire way to Kilimanjaro International Airport. When we landed a whoosh of fear hit that I couldn’t go home for a year. I pushed it to the back of my mind. We still had to clear customs. I struggled to get the boys in the stroller as Daniel ran to get in line at customs. In true African fashion a “mama” met me on the sidewalk and picked Levi up and helped me to the customs line. Abby came toting more bags, and Daniel had several as well. We were a disheveled mess. The boys were so tired and hungry. They had slept through the meals. A kind Tanzanian gentleman came to take me by the hand and led us to the front of the line. I was nervous until I realized what he was doing. He was aware that I had watoto (children) and was kindly helping me out. I was so relieved and grateful! They worked with us on our resident permit easily and we began gathering our luggage. Daniel had to talk to the officers to begin clearance on his shotgun and I stood in a daze.

Cy Stafford and Jimmy Gee met us at the airport (at 4 a.m.) to give us a ride “home.” We would be staying with the Stafford’s until we found a home of our own. Cy had muffins and drinks ready for us in the car. We arrived to their house as the sun was just sneaking over Mt. Meru. We had survived. I was there. We stopped and said a prayer of thanksgiving to our Lord for a safe journey. I had no idea what the next 3 years would hold for me, but God had watched us safely through the journey to Africa and I knew He had great plans!

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This is the Stafford’s beautiful home. Stephanie had flowers, notes, and goodies in our rooms. So nice to arrive to such comfort after a long trip! Blessed!

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Leave and Cleave…My spiritual journey of angst

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Ephesians 5:31 therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

I get it. Leave and cleave. Once I married, I did just that. I left my home of 20 years behind and became Mrs. Daniel Gaines. My home was where he was. We have never lived closer than an hour and a half from either of our parents. I have always missed them. I have always wished we were closer in proximity. I have many times coveted the close mileage that other extended families enjoy. Oh how I would love to have Sunday dinner at Mama’s house each week! So many are blessed to have this opportunity, but our blessings come in other forms.

Leave and cleave was never an issue for me. It was simply a factor in marriage. I never really thought too much about it until the question of moving to Africa came into play. Let me explain. It would be fairly easy to leave and cleave if that only entailed moving from my parent’s house to my own house in the same town. It would be more difficult to leave my parent’s house and town several hours behind. However, I have been able to do it successfully and see them as often as possible. We were together on holidays, birthdays, special occasions, etc. I guess I thought I was pretty good at the whole leave and cleave thing. I mean, I never complained. Surely this meant I was one with my husband and his wishes.

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When Africa did come into play, a roller coaster of emotions came into play as well. I had known for awhile that Daniel wanted to do mission work in Africa. I did not. I also never thought we would actually go. I knew I was marrying a preacher, but a missionary? I don’t remember saying yes to that! I began praying in earnest that God would help me to make the best decision for His Kingdom, for Daniel, and my family. I spent a LOT of time angry with Daniel for “making” me have this emotional dilemma. Of course, in reality he wasn’t making me do anything. He never pushed or tried to influence my decisions with force of words. He was kind and understanding when I voiced my concerns of family, healthcare, and safety. ¬†I know that he, too, was praying. He knew that his abilities would serve well in the mission field and his heart wanted so badly to give soul saving opportunities to the open hearts here. This attitude made me struggle so much. How could I say no? How could I say, “I can’t go because I want to be home for Christmas. Or, I don’t want to be that far from my mama.” Both of those things were very true.

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The Troxell Family Christmas 2012

 

I began weighing my priorities. We always say, when asked, that of course Christ is our first priority. But, can we stand by those words when put to the test? God was giving me an opportunity to leave and cleave. Not just to Daniel, but to Him. He wants us to leave a life of sin and cleave to Him. He wants us to leave an “easy” life and choose a life of actively serving Him. I knew I was comfortable at our home congregation. I had found my church “home.” I love the people there so very much. I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to lose them. It was easy and fun to go to worship there, in English, with people I know and love. It was easy and fun to go to meetings, youth rallies, and lectures. Why did God have to present me with such a stressful opportunity? There are people in need of the gospel in America. Why did I have to go? I wanted God to be my first priority. I did. But when it came to choosing between doing God’s work and my family could I measure up? In Mark 16:15 He tells us to go into all the world to preach the gospel. Did that have to mean me?

Previously my family had undergone a very stressful time in our lives. I had suffered a difficult pregnancy, we had been fired from another congregation and left homeless until we were offered a job at Lehman Avenue Church of Christ in KY. I firmly believe that God sent us there. We don’t always get to choose our paths and it isn’t always easy or pleasant, but I am so thankful today that God sent us to such a Gospel minded, soul saving group of the Lord’s church. After another difficult pregnancy we approached them with the idea of us doing missions in Africa and them being our sponsoring congregation. They were shocked but supportive from the very beginning. They were concerned for our well being and for the children, but were with us on saving souls 100%. From there, the process began.

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The Gaines Family sporting our “I Gave to Save shirts.”

I had kept “tally” for an entire year about whether or not I could move to Africa and not resent Daniel. I wanted so much to be supportive of his dream to save souls here. I wanted to be the Christian that says, “Let’s go!” But I wasn’t. It was hard. Really, really, hard. In the end, the tally said that I couldn’t live with myself if I took his dream. My heart wasn’t in it 100% for the reasons his was, but I felt that honoring him as my husband was a good reason to go even if it wasn’t a “great” one. I suffered many bouts of anger, sadness, resentment, and fear. I wasn’t scared to move to Africa for reasons that many fear a third world country. I was scared that it would ruin our relationship. I was scared that my babies wouldn’t know their grandparents, aunts, and uncles. However, once I told him I would go, things moved in fast motion.

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Troxell Family March 2013 Our last photo all together minus Calvin

We began fundraising. We began selling our things and packing other things. Abby had to say goodbye to her school friends. Throughout all this, I wish I could say that I lovingly said to Daniel, “I’m so glad we are doing this!” But, I didn’t. I was scared. I didn’t want to leave my family, and I let him know it on several occasions. I didn’t want Abby to leave her school and friends. I let him know that as well. I wanted to be home for Christmas, Easter, the 4th of July. I wanted to be able to buy things for the kids that I couldn’t get in Africa. I wanted them to have pretty rooms and clothes. I didn’t want to learn a new language. I didn’t want to spend all day cleaning vegetables, boiling water for use, and cooking. I didn’t know how I would homeschool Abby while caring for 2 babies in Africa. I, I, I….. Then it hit me. I was being entirely selfish. I was a first world brat. Besides missing family and friends everything on my angst list was superficial and selfish. How could I teach my children to be selfless and God serving if I couldn’t let go of the finer things myself? Throughout all this, I prayed. Daniel prayed. I knew I had made a commitment and I would honor it, but what attitude would I have? Would God be pleased if I went but had a bad attitude?

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Container day! We were blessed with so many who helped us pack. Such a crazy few months!

I spent months going from crying to excitement over adventure. I knew this would be wonderful in so many ways, but at the same time I just wanted to scream, “I WANT MY MOMMY!” When travel day came I was very calm. We had gone through so much packing, moving, packing, packing, more packing, that I think I was numb. I rode to the airport with my Mama. She talked to me the entire time. She told me she would miss me and the children and Daniel so very much. She said she was proud of my willingness to serve the Lord and His church in such a difficult way. She was the picture of strength. She was everything I needed in that moment. I held it together. I was leaving, but she was being left behind. The choice was mine as it was when I married Daniel. I chose to leave and cleave to him. I was choosing again to leave and cleave to Daniel and more importantly to God, His word, and His unfailing love and protection. My mother had instilled these values in me long, long ago. She had raised me to put God first. I didn’t participate in team sports or go to events during a time of worship or Bible study. Why? Because she was showing me that even when something is important, there is always the most important, God. I knew that she understood that family is so very important to me, but that God is the most important and if this is the path He has set for me then I would follow with the best attitude I could.

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At the airport in Nashville with Bambi and Mama before boarding.

I wish I had spent that year of transition in joy. I allowed Satan to place fear and anger into my heart through the form of something so precious and innocent. My family. He used them to try preventing me from God’s work. I wanted so badly to fold to that pressure. I was unkind to Daniel so many times when I should have been respectful and loving. Afterall, he was leaving many friends, family members, and Alabama football games ¬†behind too! Satan is ever present. He wants us to stay and play instead of leave and cleave. He wants you to put your family in front of God.

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Daniel and Jared at a Bama game

“And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. ‘And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled’. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;” 1 Peter 3:13-15

After 3 months in Africa I know God has blessed me. He took me from a place of ease in Christianity to a great challenge in my faith. I can see good coming from His hand every single day. There are many challenges. Somedays I just want to go home. My hope in writing this article is that others will see how God is working in their own lives and realize that just because you don’t have a desire to serve God in a particular way doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t be good at it or that He doesn’t want you to. Put God first, not only in word, but in what you do. Put your husband as a close second. God planned it that way and His plans are always perfect. When you allow yourself to be led by Him fully you will reap the blessings. I miss my mama and daddy so very much, but I am ever so thankful that God softened my heart so that many people here will not have to miss Heaven. Because if you miss Heaven…you miss everything!

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Glad Game CHALLENGED!

Well, sooner than I would have liked, my positive attitude challenge was put to the test! Yesterday I worked on making covers for my plain notebooks to “pretty” them up for the ladies in my ladies’ Bible class. I posted this picture to facebook announcing my excitement about teaching class.
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So, I packed up my pretty little notebooks, my Bible, my class book (We are studying Churches in the Shape of Scripture by Dan Chambers. It is a great study and I hope you will look into it!) and a pack of new pens and headed off to Bible study filled with anticipation of how fun Bible class would be and how everyone would love their notebooks.

Upon arrival to Ilkuirei Kanisa la Kristo promptly at 5 minutes til 4:00pm, (services start at 4) my family, the preacher Ayubu, and a 6 year old girl were the only ones there. I kept the hope alive that others were only late having just gotten off of work and walking was taking some time. I hopped out of the car to unload my prized Bible class items. Because we have 2 baby boys we also have a big church bag that we take to help occupy them during tough parts of service. During the ultra bumpy ¬†car ride up to the building that bag had fallen onto my class bag and Levi’s sippy cup had spilled water all over my notebooks. I was immediately frustrated. I searched for someone to blame. (afterall, it wasn’t MY fault so someone had to suffer, right?) I said to Daniel, “Well, they’re ruined. YOU put the diaper bag on my bag and Levi’s cup leaked all over them.” What a shameful attitude to have! My brain was already spinning in realization that this was a bad attitude to have, but for some reason that information hadn’t made it to my mouth yet… He replied while looking at them, “Well, they don’t look too bad. Maybe you can still use some.” Appalled that I would give someone a notebook with a water stained cover I smartly replied, “They’re RUINED. (in slow motion as if he were not understanding the English language) I cannot use them. Forget it. Let’s just go in.” By now, I KNEW my attitude was wrong and I just needed to leave the situation behind and move on. I would suck it up and apologize later.

Behold…the ruined and beloved ladies class notebooks…
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However, the crazy downward spiral was already set in motion. Upon walking into the building I mentally decided that class was a wash and everything was ruined anyway. The flicker of hope was dying. I tried to revive a little by mentally reminding myself to play the glad game and thinking about how sweet it was that Joyce was at Bible class all alone. That is such a testament to her character. I got up and greeted her and handed her a handful of pipi. (Pipi is candy in swahili.) She was grateful and my attitude began to improve. I sat down and waited for more women to arrive, a translator, and class to begin. At 15 minutes after 4 I knew I would not have a translator therefore I would not be having class. That’s okay. I will play the glad game. At least I could be glad that I had class ready for next time and now I have time to make more notebook covers! Everything would be okay.

The next second I realized that if I didn’t have a translator then there may not be one for Ayubu to translate his lesson to English for us. I was unsure if we were having services at all by this time since it was my family, the preacher and one little girl. In the next few minutes a mama and her children and 2 other men came in. I was happy that people were coming to class no matter how late. Then I realized that Daniel would have to teach class because no one could translate for Ayubu but Ayubu could translate for Daniel. I had gone from teaching class to having both boys in class alone. Sigh. That’s okay. I will play the glad game. I am always glad to hear Daniel teach. He is a wonderful student of the word and has much knowledge to impart. It would be a good class and I was sure I would catch a word or two now and then.

Ayubu started worship with singing. I continued a pleasant attitude ¬†being glad that I could hear and participate in the beautiful swahili singing. As Daniel began teaching class, I was holding Levi and Josiah was sitting in a chair beside me coloring. Things were going pretty good for the first 10 minutes or so. I had just decided to be “glad” that they were being so good when Josiah got upset about something (I’m still not sure what happened.) and threw his book, got up and ran to the other side of the building (It’s a very small building but still…) and had his angry face on in full force. Josiah is like his mama. He is sweet and spicy. You never know which you will get and how long it may last. I promptly handed Levi to Abby and walked to pick up Josiah and take him outside to be disciplined. Even now I mentally thought, “I’m glad he didn’t run when I walked to get him.” I was still trying. Upon bringing him back in I struggled with the boys for the rest of class. We made it through and I was glad we had gone.

I have recently been suffering from an amoeba that has laid cysts in me. (oh joy!) I am having a difficult time getting rid of said amoeba and after Bible class I was not feeling well at all. That’s okay, I thought. I’m glad I was feeling well enough to come. We proceeded to drive home so that I could fix supper. I was very proud of myself at this point for having kept a good attitude (with one slip up on poor Daniel) throughout the evening. However, Satan wasn’t through with me yet. He was sure he could break my glad game! As I was boiling the water for the spaghetti I decided to swap eyes (one cooks way better than the rest) and put the boiling water on another eye. I watched in slow motion as the water jumped in a tsunami wave toward my unprotected arm. I dropped the pot and ran toward the sink. As I ran tepid water over my burned arm I thought about how much it would hinder all that I needed to get finished this weekend. As I began to get frustrated I glanced at the sink FULL of dishes and decided to be glad that now I had a valid reason not to wash them!
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So, for now, I have WON Satan! You did not steal my joy today, although you did give me a run for my money! Daniel lovingly wrapped my arm, finished supper, and put the boys in bed. Tomorrow is another day filled with more challenges and more opportunities for me to deny Satan the enjoyment of undue anger in my life. I won’t go so far as to say “bring it on” but I will leave you with the very wise words of James 1:2-4 “Count it all joy, my brothers,¬†when you meet trials¬†of various kinds,for you know that¬†the testing of your faith¬†produces steadfastness.¬†And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be¬†perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Daily Bible Reading

This year we have started a Bible reading program that is a little different than what we’ve ever done. It is designed to cover the Bible in one year by reading a chapter or two from different books of the Bible each day. We are really enjoying how it gives an overall complete feeling to your Bible reading. We are able to make connections through the old and new testaments on a daily basis. Plus, it just feels nice to get in reading in different venues of the Bible each day.

The Bible reading plan we are basing our reading on can be found here¬†http://www.ingodsimage.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Grant-Horner-Daily-Bible-Reading-Plan.pdf As you can see, the Professor has the reading broken up into 10 sections. This was a little overwhelming for me with my other Mommy duties such as homeschool, cleaning, baby care, and preparing Bible class children and women’s classes. So, we used the basic idea and created a 5 List system and are reading those daily. This works out a little more timely for Abby and myself, especially. I will attach the document for my bookmarks below. Daily Bible reading is something we have been told to do since preschool. “Read your Bible pray everyday and you’ll grow, grow, grow!” Reading your Bible everyday will enhance your spiritual life. Reading your Bible everyday will enhance your emotional life. You will grow closer to God. You will crave to learn and grow more. Trust Him. Listen to Him. Allow His words to guide you.

There are so very many things that need doing in a day. We have laundry, cleaning, cooking, work, childcare, shuttling children to and from activities, errands, meetings, exercise and so much more. Reading your Bible will not make those chores go away, but you will be surprised at how much better you will feel at the end of the day when the laundry pile is still there (let’s be honest, it would be with or without reading…) and you have spent time listening to God talk to and encourage you. If you do not read everyday, give it a try. If the list of ten chapters or the list 5 chapters seems too overwhelming for you then try one chapter of one book. You will not regret time you spend with God.

I know it’s difficult. Just yesterday Daniel snapped a picture of me trying to “hide” for some alone time to read my Bible. I would like to tell you that I blissfully read my 5 chapters undisturbed, but my little ducklings hunted me down. They will always find you. But, I did finish my reading. Eventually.

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bible reading list

The Glad Game

Growing up I frequently watched the movie Pollyana. The beautiful story of a young orphan girl who transforms an entire town with her “glad” attitude is inspiring to say the least. Pollyana plays the “glad game.” Even when things were not at their best she would find something good in it. What a beautiful attitude to have!

Living in Tanzania, East Africa, sometimes things are not at their best for me. I miss my family. I miss my friends. I miss American holidays. I miss cheese-its and reese cups. I miss clean feet. The list goes on and on. However, I am so glad to be here where so many are receptive to God’s word. I am glad that my children can be raised the next three years in an environment not clouded by sexuality. I am glad that I can give opportunities to those that are truly poverty stricken and needy. I am glad that I live beside a kahawa (coffee) plantation!

It would be so easy to be consumed with the things I miss and spend my days being sad. However, I will try daily to play the glad game. I will play it myself and encourage my children to play it as well. When life pulls us in so many directions it is easy to get overwhelmed. There is sickness, death, financial problems, spiritual problems, and sometimes just plain evil in our lives daily. Be thankful for what you have. Be content where you are in life. Be glad. And, if you can’t find anything to be glad about, then move over here for a week then move back and count your blessings!

Philippians 4:11 I have learned whatever state I am in to be content.

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Mungu akubariki leo na kila siku

May God Bless you today and Everyday!