Digging In Common Ground

In the New Testament, as Jesus’ disciples went out to spread the gospel, believers were not left to themselves to live out their new faith in isolation. Churches were planted, and believers lived in community. This way they could encourage each other, support each other, and learn from each other. As Christianity spread around the globe, this continued to be the practice, and how we are the richer for it yet today! It is the case, of course, that churches in various countries, even in different parts of the same country, often look a little – or a lot – different from each other, both inside and out. There truly is immeasurable and invaluable beauty in this diversity. I think though, that the most beautiful thing is what is in common: people all over the world are gathering to worship the Lord, to learn the Scriptures, and to be in fellowship as a body, a community, a family. Christianity was never intended to be a solitary faith and practice.

One of our favorite experiences in Kenya was finding out in real life what it means to be part of a global church. We were able to visit and worship with several different congregations in and around Nairobi, but our home-away-from-home church was St. Matthew’s, a congregation of the Anglican Church of Kenya. There were things we were used to – like being able to walk to church, and things we were not used to – like using a prayer book and following liturgical forms through the whole service. Although the service we went to was mostly in English, some of the songs were in Swahili, which we quite enjoyed, especially as we started to be able to pick up some words and phrases and the lyrics began to make sense to us. At St. Matthew’s, we heard God’s Word preached, celebrated baptisms together, and the Lord’s Supper, prayed together, participated in Sunday School, and enjoyed delicious Kenyan food at a church picnic outside between the buildings and the soccer field, where our boys were often included in after-church matches.  We had chai and mandazi after the service sometimes, and appreciated this at least as much as the coffee and cookies we grew up with. The pastor there is Rev. Redson Komu, known as the Vicar, and he is responsible for 3 congregations, so we didn’t see him every week.  Eventually, we did get to know him a little and we appreciated his love for the community, and for the people in his congregations, which he extended to our family unreservedly. He prayed for us, and for our church here in Pella. His blessing over our family on our last Sunday there remains a treasured memory. We saw God’s gracious provision for all of our needs, including this beloved church home during Ryan’s sabbatical.

So, it is no surprise that we are grateful for the ease of keeping in touch even across an ocean. We do hear from Rev. Komu now and then, and just a couple of days ago were very excited to receive the set of pictures you will find below. When we left Kenya in late November last year, there were several of piles of sand and gravel behind the church building, and some deep trenches dug through in a pattern that appeared to most of the children around to be a type of maze for them to play in.  Today, a building is taking shape; footings are in place, and walls are standing – a primary school is under construction! This school is being built with an eye to making education available to children right in the area of the church who do not currently attend school. It will not be run by the church directly, but St. Matthew’s is supporting its construction as well as providing the site. As far as we know, one potential teacher is also a member of the church.  Since we know that education in its various forms is also a value of our church home here in Pella, we are especially pleased to share this additional area of common ground and to share these photos from Rev. Komu, giving God praise for the progress so far. Please pray for the construction to proceed smoothly and in a timely manner, as this is often a challenge in Nairobi, and that costs would be manageable, so that sound, functional, and useful classrooms can be filled with eager learners very soon!

As we think about being part of the body of Christ, here in Pella, Iowa, and way around in Nairobi, Kenya, and consider things that Christians do differently from each other, as well as things we do that are very similar no matter where we are, we recall these words in Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae:

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:12-17 ESV

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On Being Resource-Full

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Karibu Mgeni = Welcome, Stranger or Guest!

We hope you can pour some coffee and sit down for a few minutes – we have several things to share with you.  Resources – both our abundance of them, and the genuine, widespread need for them – are a big part of why we went to Kenya last year. Many African pastors and teachers that we met expressed their desire for education, training, and encouragement, so it was truly a humbling privilege for Ryan to work towards those needs at Bridgeworld College.  Please do continue to pray for the work there and all those involved in it, including Dr. Lee and his wife Sue, all of the staff who became dear friends to us, and the remaining instructors, including Dr. Choi, whom we also consider a good friend and encouraging colleague. Dr. Choi is a missionary professor from South Korea, and has served at Bridgeworld for several years now.  For him to continue there, with his family, he does also need continued financial support. If this is something you could do, please contact us or visit his support site here: Support Dr. Choi Don’t be scared off by the Korean text 😉 The path to donate is simple, and available in English.  We pray his needs will be met in abundance.

Another resource we are excited about is the Africa Study Bible, a project by Oasis International, who, in recognition of the need for African resources and the inestimable value of African voices in producing these resources, are a ministry devoted to fostering a robust and sustainable pan-African publishing industry.  God’s Word is the foundation for change in people’s hearts and lives, and Oasis is committed to making Scripture available and understandable to Africans.  Please pray for the distribution of the new Study Bibles, and for the power of the gospel to work through these pages.

While we were in Nairobi, we became acquainted with AIM (Africa Inland Mission), several missionaries that serve in Kenya through AIM, such as our dear friends, the Blohm family, and the counseling arm of AIM, Tumaini Counselling Centre. Tumaini is the Swahili word for “hope,” and they seek to bring hope to missionaries on the field through the resources of mental health services and pastoral care.  We personally received hope and care from them in the event of the stillbirth of our son Findley, while we were in Kenya, and we are grateful for their compassion and comfort.  If you would like to find out more about Tumaini, please do visit their website.  Through there, you can also contribute to their ministries, and if you would like to remember our son with a gift, we suggest their current building project to provide affordable housing for their staff.  We think this is one small way God can take the pain of losing a child and work something good.

Finally, a personal resource we would like to share is this 30-day devotional, written by Amy Roberts as she grieved the death of a young daughter several years ago.  Psalms For the Grieving Heart begins with Psalm 31, and works through the passages in a personal and insightful way.  Reading and praying through this devotional was an important part of our early days of grief. God’s Word has power like nothing else, and no-one else. Still today, when memories and tears threaten to overwhelm, we are reminded to turn to the Lord and to Scripture; when people disappoint, He is faithful; when it feels like we are alone, He is present.  We are grateful that Amy was given the courage and grace to share of her journey and of the wisdom God has given her along the way.

We pray today that the resources we have talked about here will be a blessing to you, and further, that you will be able to be a blessing through them.  Thank you for keeping up with us by stopping by our kitchen table.

For from him and through him and to him are all things.

To him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:36

~ Ryan & Jody

March

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You know that saying about March – how if it comes in like a lion, it’ll go out like a lamb, or vice-versa? I often think about that when March begins, but by the end of the month, I usually don’t remember what the weather patterns were like at the beginning, or even think to make a comparison at all. One thing I have noticed over the past several years though, is that all of March’s weather has certainly felt more “lionish” than “lambish,” – but I am not talking about the weather outside.

March has become a long month for us. A sad one, and a hard one, a month that feels full of loss and reminders of losses past. Ironic, isn’t it? March, in this part of the world where we live, is on that see-saw between winter and spring, and while one day might see ice and snow, the next might see the tender yet tough little crocuses pushing their way into the warm sunshine. Lots of shrubs and trees start to prove they aren’t dead, and those tiny buds hold promises of shade, or flowers, or fruit in the weeks and months ahead. While the nights can be dark and cold, the days can be sunny and fresh. March should feel hopeful, optimistic, and full of impending life.

In fact, this March was the first one in a long time that I’d been looking forward to. Last summer, when we learned we were expecting a baby and the due date would fall in March, we thought with hope and anticipation about how precious it would be have this month redeemed and reclaimed. About this new reminder that for us, in the Lord, death cannot and will not win over life forever. We were so excited, and so grateful for this tangible way that God was bringing the beauty of new life up out of the ashes of our grief. Though none of our babies have actually arrived right on their “due date,” it felt like a justified laugh in the face of so many sad March days to note that March 20th would be the 40 week mark this time – March 20th – the first day of spring!

But too long before March 20th, 2017 arrived, October 14th, 2016 arrived, and with it, our beautiful, beloved son Findley. While we held his tiny body, weeping from the bottom of our broken hearts, his true self was already being held in our Father’s loving arms. This was not the springtime promise of new life we so desperately wanted, even needed. I’m not sure there is, nor should be, any way to rank things like grief, pain, and sorrow, but our baby’s death and burial feels burned into our hearts and minds as one of the hardest things in our lives. There are additional layers of … everything, because just a few weeks after Findley was buried in Nairobi, Ryan’s work and our time there was completed. Leaving Kenya felt like leaving home for many reasons, not the least of which was that now, it would forever be precious to us as Findley’s earthly home.

So here we are now, in the midst of March and all that it brings, both inside of our hearts and outside of our windows. It’s beautiful when the sun warms my face and arms as I sit in the already-greening grass, and the call of a mourning dove breaks the quiet stillness of a new day. It’s terrible when my arms wrap around my empty body, longing to hold the baby that grew there and should now be here to greet this springtime with me. The ache of missing Findley is strong and deep, and tears come often and heavily. Sunny and promising as the day itself was this year, March 20th feels like little more than a cruel irony to me. First day of spring, indeed.

But God. I think those two words, which appear throughout Scripture, (here are some) are my favorite words anywhere, ever. But God: God is the strength of this broken heart. But God: God who is rich in mercy. But God: God intends and works for good. But God: God remembers. My son Findley died, But God: God gave us His own Son Jesus, who died, and yet was raised to life everlasting. I feel like spring was snatched away from my heart, But God: God promises that one day He will swallow up death forever, and He will wipe away all these many tears, and redeem all these painful memories and heartbreaks that March holds right now. How I would like that day to come, even to be today, this second day of spring that seems to be trying to go back to winter this morning, with its cold wet snow and bleak gray sky. It is like a see-saw – not just the month of March, but this whole journey of life, isn’t it?

For sitting here on my kitchen counter, are beautiful expressions of remembering from friends and family that know our grief, and choose to bear this grief with us. Roses, lilies, tulips. Love in vases and flower pots. Sitting here on my desk are cards and notes, and in my email inbox, more of the same, from all sorts of people in all sorts of situations. Love in envelopes and words. It’s not always necessary to understand or have personal experience with someone else’s particular loss and pain in order to be able to enter into it and help them bear it, and how thankful I am for the ways this has been proven to me. I cannot exactly say that God took Findley from us, for He is not the author of evil and pain. No, death came into this world through sin. The recent words of another grieving mother ring true to me here: tragedy took my son away. But God: God did not and does not leave us to despair in this. In a way that only God could, He took sin, which had brought death, and conquered them both, with a cross and an empty grave. He alone can take such ruin and work such glory. Although we long for our home in heaven, we are given even now precious glimpses of God’s redemption, sometimes through these very things that are around me now: flowers, cards, shared tears, and silent prayers.

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Yes, it hurts – a lot – that that there aren’t tiny sleepers filling my laundry basket this March 20th, but filling my heart, there is peace, there will be peace, because my only sure and unfailing comfort is in the One who holds today like He holds eternity, and He also holds my son for me. And yet how lovely are the ways He sends this comfort: through the people around us, the songs that we hear and sing, and the words that we read. You might hear grief described as numbing, but I have often felt like grief is rather sharpening my senses. I notice more, hear more, and feel more. Sometimes it’s not fun when everything feels too bright, too loud, or too personal, but sometimes it’s like a lifeline. Sunday night, March 19th, we sang “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less” in church, and the words spoke truth to my heart. “I dare not trust the sweetest frame,” (and not much is sweeter than the frame of a new baby), “but wholly trust in Jesus name,” and “When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.” In the prayer he wrote for March 20th in The Songs of Jesus (devotional on the book of Psalms), Tim Keller quoted George Herbert, and I echo these words:

“Though I fail, I weep:

Though I halt in pace,

          Yet I creep

To the throne of grace.”

(from The Temple, 1633, Discipline)

And even this trust, this faith, this creeping to the throne of grace is not dependent on me. Another song bringing truth to me over the past several months is this, as refreshed by the Gettys, He Will Hold Me Fast. “When I fear my faith may fail, Christ will hold me fast … For my Savior loves me so, He will hold me fast.”

So come and go, March, like a lion, or like a lamb; I know you cannot overwhelm completely. When it’s stormy, I will cling to the Rock that is higher than I (Psalm 61:2). When it’s sunny, I will rest in the ways He quiets me with His love (Zephaniah 3:17). This is My Father’s World, even the weather, and though the wrong feels oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.

 

Below are a few pictures of what March 20th, 2017, looked like for us. They’re not part of the story we were expecting, but they are a good chapter. And, we know our story isn’t finished yet. 

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Loose Ends

IMG_3014.JPGThat’s what I thought about when I saw this skein of yarn on the side table. I guess it’s more of a pile of tangles than of loose ends (here’s hoping there is just that one loose end anyway!) … but it still seems to illustrate what I’ve been thinking about.

Normally, we think of “loose ends” as things that need to be completed or cleaned up – and thus tied up – before we call a project “Done.”  That was kind of the thought that started this post, but as it turns out, we end up looking at the idea a little differently. I am realizing that loose ends are things we have to learn to live with: sometimes parts of life are left untied, and even untidied. Sometimes it’s easy – or even exciting – to have things feel open-ended, but other times, we long for conclusion.

One thing we haven’t done much of here at our virtual kitchen table is talk about financial specifics.  Money can often make conversations turn awkward, and we didn’t want to make things like fundraisers and budgets a major focus. On the other hand, money was one of the very practical ways that God enabled us to be in Kenya for nearly 5 months, and how Ryan was able to serve at Bridgeworld College. We want you know to that God provided for our financial needs through many different people, giving many different amounts, and we are grateful for each one. Thank you for trusting God’s leading in our lives, and responding to His leading in your own lives by partnering with us financially. It was incredible to us to have people ask how they could give, and what they could do, and what did we need – and then to watch our needs being met, abundantly. Praise God for being our Provider, through His people.

We think we have received our final statements from the CRWM’s budget office, and we gratefully report that not only were all of our expenses covered, but there is even a small amount of funds remaining!  What might these be used for? Well, that’s one of the loose ends – we don’t know yet!  CRWM holds those funds in our name for a year, in case something else comes up yet related to our time in Kenya … OR in case a new opportunity to use them comes up for us!  Stay tuned 😉  If we do not end up using them ourselves, they will go towards another need in a similar area or project.  Be assured that your gifts were received with gratefulness and are used with discernment and care.  If you have any questions, please feel free to drop us a note (see above link 🙂 ).

Our support needs were not all financial, of course, and while it may sound cliche to say it, that doesn’t make it less true: we are even more thankful for those who prayed for us. Knowing that through the hard times, the easy times, the moments of confusion or the days of joy and wonder, that there were friends and family all around the world holding us up to our Father in prayer meant more than I know how to express. Thank you for being faithful to remember us, and to tell us that you were praying. Some people even took the time to write out some of their prayers and send a copy to us, which was a gift.

So here’s another end to leave untied – please don’t stop praying for us. The transition back to life in Iowa, and all that entails, is going reasonably well, most of the time … But there is still much to think about and process – and I refer not only to the piles of books and clothes that aren’t *quite* put away yet.  We cannot think of our time in Kenya and specifically at Bridgeworld as merely a good experience which we can now file away as “been there, done that.” Even as we are glad to see friends and family again here in North America, we tearfully miss the ones we left behind in Africa. Even as we are excited about the work here, and the things we will be involved in, we wonder how the work there is going, and we are saddened to be so far away from it now. It’s a tricky thing, to have your heart in different places around this world, and all the while having our longing for heaven intensified by grief. We pray that God will continue to lead us, and to build our love for His church in Kenya, as well as here in Pella, Iowa. We pray that we will be able to use what we have learned (and are still learning!) through our months in Kenya to serve and glorify Him which ever continent we happen to be on.  All of “this whole Kenya thing” has become part of our story, and God is still writing it.

Isn’t this a little bit of what this season in of the Church year called Advent is all about? A story still being written, and loose ends still hanging. We know that God came to us as a baby in Bethlehem to bring us salvation, and yet we are still waiting for Him to come again to bring it in full, aren’t we? And sometimes, the hard things in this world, the Aleppo horrors, the earthquakes in Indonesia, the drought in north-east Africa, illness or even death of our loved ones, the unrest in so many places – including our own hearts – feel like so many really really loose ends we are longing for God to come and tie up once and for all, like only He can do. It’s all too clear to us here and now that life is not all wrapped up, and certainly not with a pretty bow on top. Sometimes everything sad still feels so true. I remarked to my sister the other day that this year especially, the Advent season feels anticlimactic to me, and it is because of this: the ache of “already, but not yet” that we must live through. I need my head to remind my heart that the King is coming. Remembering that God fulfilled His promise to send the Savior once gives hope and faith that He will do it again, and for this we pray. Maranatha; Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth.

What Time Is It, Anyway?

If I had a dime for every time one of us has said those words over the past few days …

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We left our home in Karen, Nairobi, at about 6:30 PM on the 22nd.  Turns out we had just as much luggage as we did when we arrived, even though we are pretty sure our landlord will be discovering Lego pieces in the crevices of the house for some time to come.  He was able to be at the house when we were packing the vehicles, so we could say good-bye and even share a time of prayer with him and our Bridgeworld friends that had come to drive us to the airport.  That was precious to us.  It is hard to express how grateful we are for these friends who truly became family to us over our time in Kenya.

Once we had our baggage checked in, we enjoyed dinner at the airport with the Kims, missionaries to Kenya who were on their way home to California for a couple of months. We had met them a few times, as they have office space on the Bridgeworld campus, and it was a blessing to our family to spend time with them again.  We were all on the same flight for the first leg of the trip, from Nairobi to Heathrow Airport in London, UK.

After no less than 4 trips through various security scanners, we and our carry-on items were stowed and seated on airplane #1, and we are thankful to report that the traveling was smooth and uneventful, the food was pretty good, and the sleeping was about as much as you could hope for.  Transfer in London left enough time for the kids to burn off some energy in the indoor playground area, and offered the parents a couple of good cups of coffee.  Airplane # 2 was boarded, and we were soon over the Atlantic, wondering where on earth the past 5 months had gone. We suppose it is a good sign that time seemed to fly by rather than the opposite, yet we wonder how it is that time can seem both long and short at once.

Clearing customs and immigration in Chicago was uncomplicated, and the kids all did great getting their faces scanned in for the passport checks and whatnot, even Saeryn from her perch in the backpack.  It was great to see Lee and Ken waiting for us as we exited the arrivals gate!  Every piece of luggage was accounted for except for the stroller that we had actually thought about leaving behind in the first place. Hopefully someone can use it where ever it eventually turns up.

Interestingly, it was about 6:30 PM again, now Nov. 23rd, as we arrived home in Pella – albeit Central Standard Time, which was 3:30 AM East Africa Time, Nov. 24th …  But anyway, what a delightful greeting we received as we pulled into the garage!  And it just kept going – right down to a home-cooked meal and table all set for supper, and stocked fridge and pantry shelves.  The baking, the balloons, the treats, notes, and cards … if we felt overwhelmed, it was definitely in a good way.

So what time is it? It was just Thanksgiving Day in the USA, as good a time as any for some of the “Thank Yous” we have to say.  Asante sana to the friends, neighbors, and co-workers we left in Kenya. Thank you to each person that prayed for us, wrote to us, thought of us, and encouraged us.  Thank you to our church family at Faith for loving us so well here, and to our own families, in all their various places, for loving us from afar.  And thank you to our Father in heaven, who holds together time and space around the world, no matter how mixed-up we might be about what the clock says, or what our hearts are feeling about where home is right now. We take comfort in knowing He is the same around the globe, and we praise Him for how He has sustained us and provided for us throughout our journey.

 

Furahia Siku Ya Kuzaliwa, Jody!

For my birthday adventure in Kenya, we spread the fun over a couple of days.  There were a few things I had long been hoping to do in Nairobi, but we hadn’t been able to figure out yet, partly because they are located towards the city center, and our house is not.  Thanks to helpful advice from neighbors, and logistical information and tips from encouraging friends at the college, we have become familiar and comfortable with the buses and matatus here. It has gradually become easier for us to get to places as a family that are beyond walking distance – since the car Ryan uses from Bridgeworld (usually) only holds 5 people – and we were ready to tackle an expedition downtown for “Birthday Eve Day” (day before the birthday: Thursday the 10th, in this case).

p1050542I have always loved libraries and museums, and so I was curious what Nairobi would have to offer in these areas.  Maybe I also thought visiting a library and museum would earn me a little extra homeschooling-mom-cred 😉 right?  We found a few libraries by web searches, and chose to visit McMillan Memorial Library (it doesn’t have an official website, but there’s a brief intro; see also here) for a few reasons.  Opened in 1931, it is probably the oldest conventional library in Kenya; it is a beautiful building on the outside, and it is near the other places we wanted to visit on this day.  We were also intrigued by this library as it is supposed to house some furniture sold by Karen Blixen to Lady McMillan, who had the library built in memory of her husband.  As it turned out, we weren’t able to figure out which pieces these might be.  Unfortunately, the inside of the library, including some artwork, items from the McMillan’s estate and elsewhere, is a bit disorganized and in need of some repair, but we did still enjoy browsing the shelves – some were gorgeous wooden units – and admiring different titles we discovered.

(As always, click any image to open larger slideshow)

 

Next stop was a quick (for me, not so quick to the minds of several of the kids) look at Freeman’s, a yarn and textile shop on Biashara Street.  Most of the shops along here featured fabrics, children’s clothing, and baby items.  I was curious to see what yarns might be available: mostly acrylics imported from the UK it turns out, as well as some other craft and sewing supplies. The shopkeeper was very friendly and didn’t mind my window shopping at all.

From here, we hopped on another matatu (rather: squeezed into it; sorry for bumping your head on the van door, Saeryn), and headed for the National Museum.  You may not take photos in much of the museum, but it was a very rich experience, with extensive displays and collections featuring Kenyan history, wildlife, and cultures.

Included with our museum tickets was a tour of the Snake Park, which also featured turtles, tortoises, fish, crocodiles, and lizards, mostly native to Kenya or other parts of east Africa.  There were a few exceptions, such as an American Alligator, for comparison to the crocodiles, and a milk snake that a hapless Canadian tourist attempted to import was trying to smuggle in as a Valentine’s Day gift a few years ago. You can’t make this stuff up. And, finally, we walked/dodged/darted/scurried through the bustling city center to find the bus home.

On my birthday proper, the 11th, we walked up to the Hardy Shopping Center, which houses a grocery store that we frequent, a pharmacy, and a couple other small shops, as well as a nice restaurant called News Cafe.  We enjoyed the breakfast special there.  Lunch was a party at our house that we will talk more about later as it was combined with a farewell party, but it was a very special time with Bridgeworld College friends!  Friday afternoon, we packed up for “Birthday Boxing Day” (thanks, Marcia, for getting us on board with this!) November 12 was the first day of our vacation on the east coast of Africa! More to come on this, too.

On A Personal Note…

My year through the Psalms with Tim Keller’s The Songs of Jesus continues to be a powerful and precious journey. God’s Word is truly incredible in so many ways. One of the things I find amazing, and even surprising, even though it happens repeatedly (like here), is the capacity it has to speak into so many different circumstances and events, exhibiting relevance and personal connection, though often I feel like all I’m doing is picking up a devotional and reading the next scheduled passage.

The past couple of weeks have been full of contrasts for our family. There have been times of delight and joy as we continue to experience Kenyan culture and life in Nairobi, such as sweet fellowship with other believers and colleagues at church and at Bridgeworld College, as well as fun times with friends at home or visiting “touristy” places together.

There have also been times of deep sorrow and unexpected pain as we continue to mourn as a family for the loss of our son and brother. Findley was due in March 2017, and all of us were excited about this: talking about names, discussing new sleeping arrangements, and the fact that our van was already full so we’d need to replace it with something larger… None of us expected to have to say good-bye to him before we really even got to say hello, but that is what happened; we lost our tiny baby boy at 17 weeks of pregnancy on October 14th. We chose a middle name for him, Salim, which we read is a Swahili name denoting peace and safety. While we cling to that hope and comfort, that he is at peace and safe in Jesus’ arms, our own arms ache to hold him here. We are keenly aware that things here on earth are not the way they’re supposed to be.

So the Psalms. If you have read any of them, you know that grief, pain, loss, and heartache are not shied away from at all. You also know that words of praise and glory to God are everywhere, often side-by-side or intermingled with with the expressions of sorrow, even verse by verse. Such contrasting companions, are they not? And at first glance especially so. But the more I think about it, living in a time and space and country of contrasts myself, the more I believe there is no other way to mourn and to praise, especially while we live here in a world broken by sin and longing for the Saviour to return to make all things new and right again.

The Bible App has a “verse of the day” feature, which was one of the first things I read the morning we lost Findley. I don’t see it every day, and I don’t know exactly how these verses are chosen and sent to my tablet, but I know this: God planned this verse for our family long before we knew we would need it. Psalm 73:26 was October 14’s “verse of the day.” “My flesh and my heart may fail (and oh, how they have,) but God (are there any more powerful words in Scripture? ‘but God!’) is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” My Mom told me that a larger portion of Psalm 73, including this verse, was also part of my Grandma’s funeral texts last month.

And back to Keller: the reading for October 16 starts with Psalm 109:21-29, and studies the phrase “But you, Sovereign Lord.” “Our prayer may rightly begin with our own hurts, sins, enemies, surroundings, troubles. But it is only when you lay these things before God, see them in light of who he is, and say, ‘but You…’ – that release, relief, hope, and strength begin to come.” (Keller, p. 289). I can’t answer my heart’s cries as to why, how, and what now, but I know the One who made my heart does not ignore these cries. Even when I do not know how to pray, He knows; He sees; He even weeps with us. (John 11:35). “God does not stand aloof to the pains of our existence.” October 22nd’s reading is Psalm 114, and looks at how God overcame seemingly absolute barriers to Israel’s escape from Egypt in order to bring them to their promised land: “The Red Sea parted and the mountains shook.” Likewise “to get us to our true country to live with him, [God] will shake and destroy death itself.” (Keller, 295).

Yes, these can seem like far-away and intangible promises sometimes (like now), but they are promises nonetheless, and our God is a keeper of promises. How do I know this? By the Psalms, for one. They speak of faithfulness, of answered prayers, of promises kept even in the midst of grief and inability to understand. The reading for today October 25, has us begin Psalm 116:

“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘Lord, save me!’ The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling…” (Psalm 116:1-8, NIV).

We will trust that just as God did these things for the Psalmist, He will for us. It is in knowing that we cannot answer the questions, or stop the tears, or handle things, that we will find the One who can. October 25 is sometimes a hard day for us, because it marks the due date of the first baby we lost too soon, several years ago at just 8 weeks of pregnancy. Still, October 25 reminds us that we have experienced God’s comfort and healing in the past, and so we rest in knowing He is present, and He is faithful, even (or maybe especially!) in the midst of storms.

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A peaceful evening by all appearances – yet thunder was rolling overhead when this was taken. Contrasts are everywhere.

We pray this prayer, led by Tim Keller: “Lord, when I get into a tight place, my heart instinctively says ‘I can fix this. I can handle this.’ I think about people to call – but it is all futile. I can’t handle life, (or death!), and the sooner I admit this deep in myself, the sooner I’ll know the peace of always calling on You.” (Keller, p. 298).

 

 

 

These passages “coming along at just the right time” are not mere coincidences or random happenings; these are ways that the God who is infinitely greater than we can imagine does not fail to notice and care about the tiniest of babies and the families that love them and mourn for them. So we are encouraged: “Praise God because there is nothing too great for him … but also praise him because there is no one too small for God.” (Keller on Psalm 113:1-9). And further: “God’s greatness is seen in his regard for the ungreat. In Jesus he proved to be great enough to become small himself.” (Keller, p. 294). Sneak peek of tomorrow’s reading explains the full reason Jesus became small – “God saved the psalmist from death because his servants’ deaths are costly and painful to him … God does, of course, allow his people to die, but they are so precious to him,” that he has paid “the ultimate price on the cross.”

“Lord, you died that I (and that our precious Findley) might not die forever, and you rose so I might live forever. For this may I sing your praise!” (Keller, p. 299).

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Chorus for Swahili version of “How Great Thou Art