Tuesday, May 31, 2011

BACK TO THE CREEK


Today we went back to Merit Creek for the first time this year. Sandbank was a good bit higher as was the water, but the splashing fun and crazy screaming was just the same.

Here's some photos from our day ---




Running from the "that stiick is a giant snake".




7 year old Travis jumps off the waterfall all by himself sans floaties.

And the highlight of the day? Getting to spend time with my dear friend Mary Lewis on her 40th birthday.

I am blessed!

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P.S. I would have uploaded more photos but blogger is being wonky. If I can add more later, I will.


Monday, May 30, 2011

WHERE I WAS

I stumbled across this artist today for the first time. Asa is from Nigeria, Africa, so that's what first got my attention. What caught my attention next was her incredible voice. And what held my attention was her song PREACHER MAN. This song speaks to me because just a few years ago, I was relatively unmoved by the plight of the poor and the down trodden. Oh I cared, but mostly in theory only. I didn't know the poor. And I certainly didn't want to know them if it meant my life getting messy.

Praise God that He had mercy on me, opened my eyes to the poverty of my own state, and set my feet on a new path. After revelation came repentance. And after repentance, came a better life.

Messier? Yes.

Requiring sacrifice? Yes.

Heartbreaking at times? Yes.

But oh so worth it.




PREACHER MAN
(Bukola Elemide)
© 2010 na├»ve / Bukola Elemide

PREACHER MAN PLEASE HAVE SOME FAITH
I’VE COME TO YOU COS’ I LOST MY WAY
HERE I AM WITH MY BAG OF SHAME
OH PLEASE DON’T SEND ME AWAY
YESTERDAY LIKE EVERY OTHER DAY
I HAD IT ALL BUT NOW IT’S ALL GONE
WHERE ARE YOU? WHERE CAN I FIND YOU?
OH LORD PLEASE SHOW ME YOUR FACE

I NEED YOU NOW
I NEED YOU HERE
I NEED YOU EVERYDAY
I NEED YOU NOW
I NEED YOU HERE
I NEED YOU EVERYWHERE

OH LORD, I’VE BEEN VERY GREEDY
I WORSHIPED MONEY, AND WOULDN’T HELP THE NEEDY
THEIR PAINS JUST DIDN’T MOVE ME
WHAT AM I AND WHO HAVE I BECOME?
I’M REACHING OUT, I NEED YOU NOW
COME EASE THIS PAIN, I NEED YOU NOW
I’M DOWN ON MY KNEES,
I’M READY TO CHANGE
SAVE ME LORD, I’M FEELING LOW

I NEED YOU NOW
I NEED YOU HERE
I NEED YOU EVERYDAY
I NEED YOU NOW
I NEED YOU HERE
I NEED YOU EVERYWHERE

Sunday, May 29, 2011


ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL


We just found out Saturday that Anna and her team will be going to Phuket, Thailand, to partner with SHE Ministry.


Beautiful, beautiful scenery.


But tragically, there are also thousands and thousands of absolutely beautiful women and girls trapped in the desperately ugly world of prostitution and human trafficking.

On one street alone in the city where Anna will be based, there are one thousand women working in the sex trade. One thousand women trapped in darkness on just one street. And there are many other streets geared toward the sex tourism industry.

Please pray for Anna and her team as they prepare to go next month and take the love and light of Jesus to these women and girls. And pray for those women and girls. Pray that they will have the courage to leave that destructive lifestyle and be set free!



To read more about the ministry Anna will be participating in, visit the SHE THAILAND website: http://www.shethailand.org/

To give financially towards Anna's mission trip, just contact me and I'll tell you how to do that. Thanks. She still needs just under a thousand dollars.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

MAKING IT ENOUGH

A bit ago, I went outside because my 7 year old wanted me to come see how far one of the new kittens had walked out into the yard. I went, I shared in the excitement, and talked to the three little kids a bit as they were swimming IN the canoe. Then the same 7 year old wanted to know if I would let him get out all the kittens. He's not allowed to do this unsupervised because of past too-rowdy-and-rough-and-crazy behavior with said critters. I told him that yes, I'd come out after lunch and sit on the bench and read my book so they could play with the kittens. Then he wanted to know if I'd read HIM books while I sat on the bench and was supervised playing with the kittens.



Sigh....

It isn't that he's asking such a huge thing. But really...isn't that our human nature? We are given something good but it isn't enough. Getting one thing leads us to wanting another and another and another thing til we've totally forgotten to be happy with the first thing.

We get a new couch and then decide we need to get new throw cushions and doesn't that end table now look shabby and what about that paint?

We are single and beg God to send us a mate and He does but then we want that mate to do this and that or change in one way or another and after a while we grow tired with that mate and either just live a life of discontent and nagging and fantasizing or we decide to upgrade to a new mate and then the whole process starts again.

See? We grown ups do it, too. We are given so much but too often, it is never,ever enough.

I've been reading Ann Voskamp's ONE THOUSAND GIFTS and it is really bringing this issue to the surface of my consciousness. I've always been a pretty joyful and positive person. When I returned from Swaziland broken hearted over the disease, death, and extreme poverty I witnessed there, I made a concerted effort to not complain. If the water ran cold in showers, I tried to be grateful that at least I had water. If the restaurant didn't get my order exactly as I requested, I tried to remember to just be glad for food to eat.

And most of the time I succeed, but often I'm not joyful in the circumstances, I'm just not complaining. But the opposite of complaining is rejoicing, not just shutting up the words of grumbling.

I want to truly be content in all circumstances. I want to count my blessings daily, not just some of the time. I want to be thankful and trust God at all times, not just when things go my way or at least don't go too badly. I want to trust Him even when I can't figure out mentally a way to that a bad situation will somehow work out in the light of eternity.

I want to trust that He can and WILL use all things for His glory and my good even when there is no way, no way, no way that I can see it.

But if I'm going to be able to trust Him and give thanks in all circumstances, even the deeply painful, heart breaking, dream shattering times, I've got to learn to be content first with the small things.

As a homeschool mom, I couldn't have expected my kid to read WAR AND PEACE and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE before they'd even conquered EXPLODE THE CODE and the BOB BOOKs.

And I can't expect myself to be content in CHRIST in really dry desert places or floods of sorrow when I can't be content in CHRIST in every day disappointments and temptations.

Because that's what those stirrings of discontentment are...they are temptations to sin. They are temptations to not embrace who He has given me now, what He has given me now, where He has me now. They are temptations to be ungrateful. They are temptations to quit before a task is done or a lesson is learned. They are temptations to unwisely use my money on self instead of on the needs of others. They are temptations to put myself and my wants above the needs of others. They are the tempation to think that I know better than God.

Ouch.

Discontentment is the sin of thinking that I know better than God.

Today I am thankful for...

... blueberries picked from my own bush

... a husband that will arrive home from a 9 hour drive on Friday and on Saturday morning will get up (leaving me sleeping) to take the boys to a scout event

... the announcement that Subway will soon be serving avocados on their sandwiches

... sweet friends who love me

... a young friend who wants me to rant about the wonders of Swaziland as she goes with me to inner-city Jackson for ministry

... a teenager who taught me how to Pandora

... and Ann Voskamp's book ONE THOUSAND GIFTS. Because I need to be reminded.

God truly has blessed me with gifts each and every day. Sometimes I have to force myself to look beyond the pain and the selfishness and the confusion to see them. But they are there.

And I pray that every day, God is helping me to see them, appreciate them, and that I'm letting Him help me make them be "enough".



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Photos taken by my precious gifts also known as my littlest kids.

Friday, May 27, 2011

SHOWING BABIES HOW TO BE HELD

Ruth Williams is a young woman serving short-term in Swaziland as part of Adventure in Missions' WORLD RACE. She'll be spending basically a year of her life going to many different countries serving God, His precious "least of these", and discovering what God has for her life. As my regular readers know, my heart was stolen a long time ago by the children of Africa and one day I'll return to spend my life loving the people of Swaziland. I wanted to share this post written by Ruth. It is a very good description of what is going on there and why God is calling folks to GO!

I have been warned about Africa ever since training camp.... From rats crawling everywhere.... to living in your tent the entire time... to wanting to pack your bags and go home... consider us warned. What I did not prepare myself for was the brokenness I would feel deep in my heart.


The first day we arrived in Swaziland we were dropped off at our house for the month. Yes, a house. Praise Him. We live in a 3 bedroom house with a kitchen and a living room. There's an amazing front porch... that overlooks gorgeous mountains that absolutely take our breath away. Immediately upon arrival I took a deep breath and concluded that Africa wasn't going to be as miserable as I had thought.



We received a schedule for the month and the first day of ministry said, "Hospital visit." Okay, cool we got this. We walk an hour to the hospital and we met up with one of our contacts there. She explained to us that we would be hanging out in the children's ward for the morning... loving on them and handing out beanie babies. Okay, we got this. After talking to the administrator, we headed in. I immediately start bawling uncontrollably. It is one big room. Beds everywhere. Beds closest to the door were the newborns... some all alone. If the child has a parent at the hospital with them, the parent sleeps on the floor or sitting up in a chair. Kids were there for a wide range of things. From a cough, to TB, to a broken arm, to being covered in burns due to being shoved in a fire when results came back HIV positive. There is a specific room off the main room for abandoned children. Most are abandoned due to HIV. Swaziland is estimated to be extinct by 2050 due to the AIDS epidemic. I threw that in in my last blog.... but it was just a statistic in my head. It was not real life to me yet. I hadn't looked in the eye of a kid who had just months to live. Consider me wrecked.


For the past week we have been hitting up carepoints. Carepoints in a nutshell is a big plot of land set up by AIM to provide a place for the kids in the area to come daily and eat a meal. It is crazy how far some of the kids come... for most of the kids it is the only meal they get in a day. At each carepoint there are women called "gogos"--grandmothers-- who cook the food for the kids. Carepoints can have up to 100 kids coming each day. Some gogos have up to 20 kids living in their homes at a time. Crazy ladies. So awesome. I secretly want to be a gogo.




Our main mission this week has been to go to the carepoints and get profiles of the kids. Take pictures of them, get all their information and in the long run get them financially supported back in the States. It's weird to be on this side of things. In the past, I have easily blown off the opportunity to support a kid.... for 30 bucks a month or whatever it is. Anytime that opportunity came up I would easily justify why I didn't have that money. Who am I kidding? Now that I have seen the eyeballs of these precious babies. It's no longer "just a kid in Africa..." It is one of my babies with no shoes walking for miles looking for their next meal.


Today we went to the same carepoint we went to yesterday as well. Yesterday was a bland day due to a hardcore thunderstorm. Today, I woke up not feeling too hot so I had a mediocre attitude upon arrival to the Themali Carepoint. We were told we had 30 minutes until we had to start the logistical work so I immediately head towards the dozen or so preschoolers on the playground.

Sidenote- It's crazy how the five year olds act like parents to the younger ones. Legit they carry them on their backs and make sure they get food... even wipe their noses. Nothing like I have EVER seen in my life. Makes me tear up just thinking about it.

Anyways, I was sitting in the shade with three of the little guys on my lap. One taking my earrings in and out, another touching my "white girl hair" and the other one trying to teach me how to click like they do every other word. I look up and this absolutely flawless little baby--couldn't have been more than 2 years old-- staring at us about 30 feet away. She looks... takes a few steps... She is wearing this adorable little homemade looking dress with big flowers on it... and a little pair of leggings that had holes all in them. No shoes. I watch her for a few seconds then get sidetracked (by my future kids in my lap). A few hours later while overwhelmed with a lot going on, she appears in front of me and gives me this look of "I've been watching you and I trust you now..." and I reach out and pick her up. It broke my heart when I realized she didn't even know how to be held. She was just stiff. I cradled her and just loved on her for the next 30 minutes or so. All I could do was just sit there and pray over her. As much as I joke about putting kids in backpack... I knew I couldn't be the superhero in this situation. I soon found out her name is Amanda (With the African accent I naturally had to get the girl to pronounce it 3 times. ahh-mon-dah). Amanda literally stole my heart. It was her first time at the carepoint. I have no idea how long she walked to get there... what her home looks like... how she knew to come that day. It's beyond me why a 2 year old would be out on the streets of Africa alone. I believe with every ounce of my being that the Lord put her there to solidify my call to the little African babies that will be all up in my future. I thought twice right when I picked Amanda up... I felt like I may have been slacking on my job for the day but the Lord overwhelmed me with his smile of affirmation that I was doing exactly what He would be doing if he was physically with us at the carepoint. He is so good.


My heart behind writing all of this is not to get a pity party going for Swaziland. As sad as it is, the hand of the Lord is all up on this place. It is beautiful. The Lord has given Seth and many others a huge vision for Swazi and has blessed it. All I can do is beg you to pray for these babies though. I have no idea where they go after the carepoints, no idea what they even call home or who has direct contact with them. All I know is that this place has stolen my heart. I know that in 2 weeks when I leave this place it will not be the last time I am here. I pray but I absolutely know that the Lord will call some of you here to show these babies how to be held.


To read more of Ruth's mission adventures, visit her blog: http://ruthwilson.theworldrace.org/

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The photos included in this post, except for Ruth's avatar, are from Swaziland ministry trips my family has gone on over the past few years.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A LITTLE OF THIS, A LOT OF THAT

Just some random bits and pieces thrown into the mix for tonight's blog post here at Graceland.


*I leave for Thailand in one week and half a day to see and get Betsie! To say that I'm excitedhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifis a vast understatement.

*I'm reading Ann Voskamp's ONE THOUSAND GIFTS. I think this is one of those books that has to potential to impact an generation of Christians. I really do. It is that powerful and needful, one that is worthy to become a classic. You can visit her blog to get a glimpse of what I'm talking about: http://www.aholyexperience.com/

*Anna and David leave next month for their mission trips. They're on the home stretch for raising the last chunk. We've still got three auctions up and going if you'd like to bid on them:

http://elysasmusingsfromgraceland.blogspot.com/2011/05/you-just-gotta-have-faith-when-talking.html

http://elysasmusingsfromgraceland.blogspot.com/2011/05/new-places-new-experiences-there-are.html

http://elysasmusingsfromgraceland.blogspot.com/2011/05/offering-poured-out-of-love-someone-in.html


*A friend of ours, Cindy Smith, is holding a rummage sale to raise money for my kids next week. She'll be selling the items we didn't sell at the last sale plus new stuff. Let me know if you have items to donate. We'd especially appreciate big items such as furniture, lawn care equipment, power tools, etc. Those things bring in big bucks.

*I made a new chicken curry recipe for supper tonight. It was really good and most of the kids said it was a "keeper". A couple of them were tactfully, and wisely, silent. Here's the recipe if anyone wants to try it: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Chicken-with-Peanut-Curry-Yogurt-Sauce/Detail.aspx

*Obviously, I'm in a true foodie mood today as reflected by my facebook status updates. I posted 5 food related updates and a few links, too. The only one not food related was about my upcoming trip to Thailand.

*By the way, did I mention that I'm excited about going to Thailand in one week and half a day?

*My 9 year old LG has discovered the wonder of the Laura Ingalls Wilder LITTLE HOUSE books. Almost all her play-time and conversations over the last couple of weeks have centererd around the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. This is especially dear to my heart because the LITTLE HOUSE books were definitely my favorite growing up and I loved all things related. Even named a child after one of the characters. Actually, that child has a double LITTLE HOUSE name. And if I get to adopt in Africa one day, I can just imagine a little Caroline, Charles, and maybe even Almonzo running around.


*Have I mentioned that I leave for Thailand in a week and a half a day?

*In closing, here's a fun quote I found on another blog while I was looking at scrumptious recipes and food fotos ---

“You think I don’t have culture just because I’m from down in Georgia. Believe me, we’ve got culture there. We’ve always had sushi. We just called it bait.”- Ben “Cooter” Jones

Hope your day has been a good one, filled with remembrances of God's grace and lots of good eats! Actually, I think good eats qualify as one of God's best graces.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

FOUND WHAT I'M LOOKING FOR

In less than 9 days, I'll be getting on a big jet plane and heading toward Thailand. I'll get to spend a full week seeing first hand the places that Betsie has been a part of for nearly 2 months and get to know the people that she'll love long, long after her 2 months are up. I'll also get to spend hours talking to her about what God has been showing her and the changes He has brought about in her life.



Here's her latest blog post in which she shares some of what God has already shown her over the last month and a half.


Found What I'm Looking For

In a few weeks, this will all be over. I will be flying above the North Pole--Thailand and everything and everyone that makes it what it is just a speck on the horizon in the rear view window. Thailand behind me, the Lord's daily unfolding purpose and plan before me.



You know, I used to hate the months in between mission trips. I thought of myself as exiled; how ridiculous is that? I would spend the entire year daydreaming and impatiently awaiting those ten days, that one month, two months in the summertime when I would run away with the Lord to read His word on flowery hills during sunrise, to hold and love lonely children. (I have to ask myself, though: How many times when I left was I actually running toward my God, and how many times was I just running?) So many years with three hundred and thirty-four days rushed through and wasted for only thirty-one, fifty-eight, ten days to come. It's funny, but I never noticed before the hills soaked in morning glory outside of my Mississippi bedroom window, or the beautiful children in my own life who ate just as starved for love as the kids I have to hop on a plane to see.

At least, not until now.

I'm not really quite sure what I was expecting, y'know, deep down inside when I put my usual life on hold to come to Thailand for two crazy months. Maybe I was expecting/hoping to learn a little bit about life itself--and me. Maybe I was expecting to come and fall madly in love with the country and just know know know that I would move back someday and live here forever, adopting millions of Thai babies. For years now, I've been searching for where my heart is (or is supposed to be). My mom's is in Swaziland, and my older sister's in seeking justice for those who cannot on their own. But until Thailand, I didn't know where mine was. In Romania, where I spent last summer? In Swaziland, with the children living in the city dump? In Mexico? In inner-city Jackson? In art? In what? Had I already discovered what and where, and just missed it? I guess, really, I was just looking for something I hadn't found yet.

Like U2's beautiful ode to longing, "I have climbed highest mountains/I have run through the fields/Only to be with you/Only to be with you/I have run/I have crawled/I have scaled these city walls, these city walls/Only to be with you/But I still haven't found what I'm looking for."

"...Only to be with You, only to be with You..."

Ah. That's it, isn't it? Four mission trips, one hundred and nine days away from home (one hundred and twenty-one if you count summer camp), and I'm finally beginning to learn. Maybe I don't have to find my heart in jungles of the rain forest or in the [savannahs] of the African plain--maybe it's just enough to find my heart in the open palms of my God. Maybe being in His will and wherever that may lead (China this summer, Russia the next, etc. etc.) is enough.
There's a prayer my family and I say every morning after breakfast and morning devotions. After doing it for so long, we can recite it without looking at the book while we peek at one another and early morning sunshine floods in through the east window.

"May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: wherever he may send you; may he guide you through the wilderness: protect you through the storm; may he bring you home rejoicing: at the wonders he has shown you; may he bring you home rejoicing: once again into our doors."

I will be sad to leave Thailand because I have grown to love it over this past month and a half. But I will leave it because the Lord is calling me away, back home, and I am growing to love Him more than everything else and above all else.




To read more about Betsie's time in Thailand and beyond, visit her blog: http://betsie-daredtomove.blogspot.com/

And to see the pictures in a larger format, just click on them!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

WHAT WAS FOR SUPPER...

..in your corner of the world? We had Breyer's All Natural vanilla icecream, lite fruit cocktail and the little kids and I made cookies.

But not just one kind of home baked cookie, we had two! M&M's cookies and chocolate-peanut-butter-m&m cookies.




And yeah....I made scored major brownie points with the kids for this one.

Or would that be cookie points?


Monday, May 23, 2011

REALLY MISSING BETSIE


My daughter Betsie has been gone to Thailand for over a month now. This whole time, people have been asking if I was missing her. I answered that I was, but I was doing okay. Now I'm not doing okay. I mean, I'm doing okay in the sense that I'm not a walking lump of sobbing and snotting. I'm okay in the sense that I can still manage to put on my big hair nearly every day and force myself to eat my daily allotment of dark chocolate. But now I'm really, really missing her and the empty space just keeps getting bigger and bigger. I'm painfully lonesome for her pure and simple.



I got teary eyed while talking to her via Skype for the first time today.

That place in my heart that can only be filled by her presence is getting achier and achier.

I love all my children. Each one of them is a precious gift to me. Each one is unique. And because of their uniqueness, they each fill a unique place in my life and in my heart. Some are my cuddlers. Some are my responsible helpers. Some are my strong ones. Some are my silly ones who make me laugh. Okay, to be honest, all of my kids make me laugh.

And I'm missing that special part that Betsie plays in our family. I'm missing our long mama-daughter talks late at night. I'm missing how she plays with her little sisters and brother. I'm missing how she helps me and Anna cook at suppertime. And I'm missing how she understands me in a special way because we are so much alike.

Today she poured her heart out to me about an issue she was facing. And I poured my heart out to her about an issue I was facing. She was the only one I've told. I can tell her because we struggle with the same weaknesses, the same sins.

I leave in 10.5 days for Thailand. And while I'm traveling, I'll be counting down the hours and then the minutes til I see my girl, not over Skype, but face-to-face and we hug and laugh and talk about God and clothes and friends and boys and struggles and false eyelashes.

I am going to be so very, very happy to be back with my girl.

But I'm reminded that as time goes on, these separations will become more common and longer. And our reunions and face-to-face talks will become farther and farther apart.

One day I'll be in Africa. I want to be in Africa. I dream of being in Africa. A huge chunk of my heart is in Africa already.

But a big part of my heart will be back in America with Betsie....and Anna...and eventually parts of my heart will be scattered all over the world wherever God takes my David and Patrick and all the rest.

I really wouldn't have it any other way. I want more than them being with me for them to be with the Lord living in His will and for His purposes.

But that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt.

And it doesn't mean that for the rest of my life I won't be looking at maps whenever one catches my eye and searching for the outlines of the places that have grown dear to me simply because those who are dear to me dwell there.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

WHO KNOWS?


“Who knows how the awareness of God’s love first hits -people? Every person has his own tale to tell, including the person who would not believe in God if you paid him. Some moment happens in your life that makes you say Yes right up to the roots of your hair, that makes it worth having been born just to have happen. Laughing with somebody till the tears run down your cheeks. Waking up to the first snow. Being in bed with somebody you love. Whether you thank God for such a moment or thank your lucky stars, it is a moment that is trying to open up your whole life. If you try to turn your back on such a moment and hurry along to Business as Usual, it may lose you the whole ball game. If you throw your arms around such a moment and hug it like crazy, it may save your soul. How about the person you know who as far as you can possibly tell has never had such a moment? Maybe for that person the moment that has to happen is you.”

---Frederick Buechner, 20th Century Christian theologian and writer

Saturday, May 21, 2011

ADORING GOD and WHERE IT LEADS



“Adoration, as it more deeply possesses us, inevitably leads on to self-offering. Charity is the live wire along which the power of God, indwelling our finite spirits, can and does act on other souls and other things, rescuing, healing, giving support and light. Such secret intercessory prayer ought to penetrate and accompany all our active work. It is the supreme expression of the spiritual life on earth. It moves from God to others through us, because we have ceased to be self-centered units, but are woven into the great fabric of praying souls, the ‘mystical body’ through which the work of Christ on earth goes on being done.”

---Evelyn Underhill

Friday, May 20, 2011

THE DREAMS ARE WORTH IT


A little over three years ago, I returned from Swaziland, Africa, heartbroken.


I had lived there nearly two decades before and had never quit loving that country. Returning just stirred back up that love and seeing the harsh things that many were facing due to drought and the HIV/AIDS pandemic had me wanting to not just visit short-term, but to go live there for the rest of my life. I wanted to be there every single day rocking babies, singing Jesus songs with little children, feeding starving orphans, and encouraging those precious mothers, grandmothers, and others struggling to take care of so many in need.


Part of the heart break at the time was because my husband didn't feel that call. He was struggling with his own hard issues and the orphans in Swaziland weren't where his heart was. As he fought depression and darkness, I struggled to be strong for him and full of the love and joy that he needed from me. To say that the time after I returned from Africa was a difficult season is an extreme under statement.

I can remember standing at the kitchen stove one day sobbing and crying to God. As things looked at the time, I didn't even know if I'd ever see Africa again. And God told me that I had to lay it down for that season. I had to pray for Swaziland and love Swaziland but be quiet and focus on loving my husband.

My husband needed to know that he and our marriage was my priority. He needed to know that my life was with him wherever that might be.

And it broke my heart.

But I knew I had to do it.

I knew my husband needed to see how much I valued him. After all, he had told me that sometimes he felt like I loved Swaziland more than I loved him.

He had to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was my beloved for now and for always.

I won't go into a lot of details for now, but suffice it to say, that just a few days after my stoveside sobbing, my darling man came home from work and told me that he had realized he could retire in a few years and we could move anywhere God called us...even Swaziland.


And over the next couple of years, through a series of God-ordained events, we were able to travel to Swaziland together. We prayed before we went that God would make his will very evident to us. Of course, I wanted Jim to love Africa. My heart's desire had only grown. I day dreamed and night dreamed of Swaziland and a life lived there once again.

Within two days of being in Africa, Jim told me that he could definitely see himself living there and after about a week, he said that he knew it was God's will for us to move there.




My dream was coming true.

But in reflection...you know, it wasn't really my dream.

It was the dream GOD gave me as His precious gift.

His precious, precious gift of love.

Growing up, we often have dreams. Some are totally unrealistic...after all, my daughter Laura Grace wanted to be the Queen of England when she was about six. Others are not so crazy but the living out of reality just makes those dreams fade away into nothing but memories of dreams.

But some dreams are different. They are the plans that God has for our lives. They are the good things He has had in mind for us before we were even born. These are the dreams that never completely are forgotten even when they may be pushed aside for a season.


Twenty-one years ago I left Swaziland and said that I hoped I return one day. And then God took me on an amazing journey of grace and faith and marriage and mommyhood and ministry. He let me face trials and struggles and even death. I lost ministries and friends and five babies. I almost even walked away from Him due to the pain and the confusion.

But He was faithful and just and loving. He had plans for me and they did not include me walking away forever.

He had plans for my children to grow up in Him and go out into the world taking his light to the nations.

And He had plans for me to return to Swaziland and love His precious little ones.

But before this dream could come true, I had things to learn and see and discover.

To my puny human eyes, temporary set-backs and losses seemed like death.

But they were just part of the greater, eternal picture to prepare me for the dream come true.

One day I'll be living surrounded by the green mountains of Swaziland and looking down into sweet brown faces knowing that all the pain and waiting was worth it.



My God-given dream is absolutely worth it. And the dreams He has planted in you are worth it, too.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


AN OFFERING POURED OUT OF LOVE

Someone in our church has given us a very meaningful item to auction off to raise money for Anna and David's mission trip. This lovely statue is a visual reminder of what passionate love of the Savior compels us to do...worship Him in adoration and give Him what we have that is costly and precious to us.



This artistic rendition of the woman who washed the feet of Jesus can be used as statue indoor or out and can also be
used as a water fountain. The water streams from the vessel being poured. It would be perfect for a church foyer, living room, prayer garden, women's ministry, or prayer room.

The brand new fountain kit, that retails for $15, comes with the statue. The statue originally retailed for $80. It measures 16.5 X 10 X 12.


The bidding will begin at $20. To leave a bid, click on "comments" below. In the comment field, leave your name, the amount you are bidding, and contact information. If you are unable to bid on this blog, you can bid via facebook or email me at jimelm "at" windstream "dot" net. The auction will end Friday, May 27 at 5:00.


Because this item is so heavy and awkward to ship, the only way I can let someone who is not local buy it is if they are willing to pay for shipping and insurance.

Thank you for reading this post and if you would be willing to pass on the link to this blog via facebook or other online venues, it would be so appreciated. The more people who know about the auctions, the more bids we get and the more money we raise for our kids' mission trips.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

YOU JUST GOTTA HAVE FAITH

When talking with people about our involvement with missions, we often have people tell us that they would love to go on a mission trip but they just don't see how they could afford it. We've learned the truth, as Amy Lancaster of WE WILL GO Ministries often says, that "where God leads, He'll provide".


Sometimes He provides through giving us a job that allows us to earn our own trip funds. Sometimes He provides by just moving on people to give financially. Sometimes He provides by giving inspired ideas for fundraisers and then blesses those efforts. Sometimes He even provides through house fires and insurance policies as we have definitely seen over the last year. And sometimes it is a combination of those things.

Though we don't always know how He will provide the funding, we've decided as a family that we will not allow fear of not having the money stop us from stepping out in faith when He directs us to do something.

Over and over again, we see in the Bible that God told someone to go and do something and then He provided.


He told Moses to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt and travel to the Promised Land where they would build a new nation. God provided abundantly by motivating the Egyptians themselves to provide for the trip and the building with an outpouring of wealth. These were pagan people who were definitely NOT on God's side but God was using them to provide for His people.

He time and time again sent out His disciples to preach the Good News of Jesus and would most often, have them take barely anything with them but to just trust on the generosity and hospitality of others. And because we know that all good things come from God, we know that even that provision was a gift of God.

And then there was Paul. Sometimes he was supported through the generosity of others and thru offerings, but other times he worked as a tent maker to provide for himself on his mission trips.

God told Noah to build and ark and fill it up with animals. God provided all the building supplies and food provisions they would need just through the natural resources He had put into place and through the hard work of Noah and his family.

And there were times of supernatural, miraculous provision....food brought in the beaks of ravens to a prophet, manna from heaven, and gold in the mouth of a fish.

But don't think that God only provided in the Bible but after that folks were left to their own devices. There are more well documented cases throughout the history of Christianity, and even in modern time, of God providing than I could ever even begin to list here.

Read just about any biography of famous Christians --- George Mueller, Amy Carmichael, Brother Yun, Heidi and Roland Baker, Mother Teresa, or Nora Lam, for example --- and you will find story after story of God calling, sending, and providing.

And in our own life, I've seen it.

A stranger giving Betsie a $100 bill at a road block; an alum of my college we've never met paying $2000 towards her Romania trip after she heard about our house fire; and then the unexpected huge amount of fire insurance money that we received that not only paid for Jim and my trip to Swaziland, but also our friend Kelly's.



Maybe we've not pulled a gold coin out of a fish's mouth or seen food fall from Heaven, but I personally know missionaries who have told me stories of supernatural provision. One missionary told us of going to the airport to leave for their mission trip, no money to pay for the airplane ticket, and when they went up to the check-in desk, the agent said a ticket was booked in their name. That same missionary lived in a foreign nation during a famine and the one bag of rice he had never ran out during the famine despite the fact that he was feeding his household and never turned away anyone coming to ask for food.

Whatever God is calling you to do, please don't let fear of not being able to "afford" it stop you from going. In all honesty, you can't "afford" not to obey God. What you will miss out on in the Kingdom of God by not going is a loss you can't even imagine. And what you will gain --- ranging from personal spiritual growth to lives changed and saved for the Kingdom --- can not have a price tag put on it. What you will gain by saying "yes", even when you can't see with your eyes the financial provision, is worth the scariness of stepping out in faith and simply trusting the one who can and does provide.

When God plants HIS dreams in your life, don't let ANYTHING stop you!

That's faith.

And that's what we, as His children are called to walk in.

George Seaton said, “faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to” and in the Bible, Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

We who follow Jesus say that we are part of the Christian Faith. Well, it ain't faith if we could see it all and understand it all. And to be honest, if we could see it all and understand it all, it would have to be pretty small. But God and His ways are so much bigger than us, so much bigger than our brains can wrap around.

He's GOD for goodness sake!

It is really crazy to think that HIS plans are small enough for us to do them all on our own with no amount of stepping out into the unknown and trusting Him to make things happen. I think that part of the reason why we don't see the church making a huge impact on our nation today is because we have made God small and his plans even smaller. We want to do only do for Him what we can figure out on our own. And when common sense or just our own giftings or resources can't make it happen, then we either just don't even try or we say "it must not be God's will for such-and-such to happen".

Wow.

I am so glad that Noah and Moses and Abraham and Daniel and Mary the mother of Jesus didn't have that attitude.

I don't want to have that attitude.

And I don't want you to have that attitude.

What is God leading you to do? Has He put the desire in your heart to go on a missions trip? Has He given you the idea for a ministry that is out of your comfort zone?

Then step out in faith. Head towards what is "unseen" and trust Him to provide the way...whether that is through sacrificing your weekends to put on road blocks and bake sales or whether it is through supernatural provision in the form of miracles, it will all be worth it.

You just gotta have faith.



And speaking of provision and faith, a sweet friend of church has provided a painted cross picture for our ongoing fundraisers. Christy Phillip's blue "faith" cross on a pink background measures 8 X 10. The bidding will begin at $9. To leave a bid, click on "comment" below. In the comment field, leave your name, the amount you are bidding, and contact information. If you are unable to bid on this blog, you can bid via facebook or email me at jimelm "at" windstream "dot" net. The auction will end Friday, May 27 at 5:00.

We also have another painting still up for auction. It was offered last week but due to technical problems with Blogger, people weren't able to post bids on it before the auction ended on Friday evening. The link to that post is: http://elysasmusingsfromgraceland.blogspot.com/2011/05/new-places-new-experiences-there-are.html

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

SOMETIMES THEY HAVE TO GO AWAY...

...to appreciate what they've got.

As most of you know, my 15 year old daughter is in Thailand for two months ministering and teaching English-as-a-second-language. Last summer, she went to Romania and ministered to Gypsy children. Our relationship was very strained and full of drama before she went. God used the month that she was gone to do a lot of spiritual growth in her life and to heal her relationship with her family. She came back truly my Betsie "full of Joy" as her middle name reflects.

Now she's away from us again and blogging extensively about what she is experiencing and what God is doing in her life.

This morning, her 17 year old sister Anna came down and said that I needed to read Betsie's brand new blog post as our morning devotion. So I did. And yes, I got teary eyed. And we spent time together as a family reading Mark 10:29-30. We talked about how when we move to Africa, we will be lonesome at times and will miss people back in the States, but God will reward us and give us an eternal, spiritual family.

But it also dawns on me that sometimes you have to leave your family for the sake of Christ to really GAIN your family...or appreciate them in new ways that makes your family MORE than they ever were before.

I thought some of you might want to read Betsie's blog post and then encourage you all...love them and pray for them and raise them the best you can and then hold on to the assurance that one day they will appreciate what you did for them and what you gave them through their family. Loving families are an amazing gift, despite the arguments and the struggles and the mess-ups and the imperfections.

Here's what Betsie wrote last week:

Blessed be Your name
in the land that is plentiful
Where your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be your name.


I have a beautiful family. Really, I do. And thank God for yearly long mission trips that help me to remember just how blessed I am to have each of them in my life.

Once upon a time, there was a girl that [lived in the] south with her mother, father, and younger brother. Her brother would kidnap her Barbies, and she occasionally bathed in a river. There was a boy, across the country, chasing girls around the school playground, demanding kisses from the poor, terrorized things. They grew twenty-something years, both into beautiful people of the Lord emerging from broken stories. They met in college, but she graduated and chose Africa over him. The Lord led her to Africa for two years as a Journeymen missionary, and then at the end of it, He led her back home and into the young man's awaiting arms. They married.

They're my parents.

My father has always pushed me to be better than my best; and my mom has always been there to let me know that no matter what, I'm good enough for her just the way I am. A Captain Kirk on the schoolyard and a missionary--obviously they were going to have quite the life together. They did, and they gave life. Seven times. That's me and my siblings.

I have this quirky baby sister, who we allow to dress herself so that she can express herself, and be independent. More than a few mornings a week she'll stomp down the stares, modeling her scrunched up freckle smile, motorcycle boots, and black tulle "rock girl" miniskirt. With a kitten t-shirt. (My parents let me express myself in a similar fashion when I was thirteen, through the wonders of violet purple hair.) That same stomping and rocking sweet little sister will spend endless hours in my room with me when the middle students shun her, flipping through TeenVogues and Elles. More than once, I have come home from work or a friend's house absolutely exhausted, to find my bed--which I left in a I-just-rolled-out-of-you-and-left disaster for I had no time to give it any attention--made, compliments of her.

I have a little brother that is a ladies man. He's only seven. (I think...) He always has a grin and less-than genuine compliment (but a compliment all the same, so I'm not complaining!) prepared when I'm grumpy. I don't think anyone thinks I'm more beautiful than him.

I have a brother that puts ketchup on everything, and a sister that hates me, but actually loves me. Even though I pull her hair during meals. I have another brother that I can spend hours wandering through topics of universe-big things, like God and girls (for him) and guys (for me) while perched on the kitchen counters. He's always on my side, unless it's him I have the problem with. Then I'm always wrong, obviously. (Ah, sibling love.)

And then there is my older sister, who is just as quirky as the youngest. She gave me a reason to invent the word "cool-edge", and when Webster's finally recognizes its legit word validity, she will be the definition they put next to it.

cool-edge/ko͞ol-edge/
Adjective:
1. Someone's behavior, way of life, or appearance.
-The girl's wardrobe could only be labeled as cool-edge

That's her. My sister. Anna is Anna is Anna.

I have a life full of Scrabble games and missions, of homeschool curriculum and very Walton memories. I am blessed to be a part of my family, which seems to grow every year, even after my mom was unable to have any more children. Thanks to my parents open arms, I have a wonderful "brother of another colored mother" and two girls that started out as just my friends, but now I count as sisters. But my family also grows outside of the boundaries of our hobby farm--I have boys I have grown up with that I count as my brothers; young girls that I mentor as my older sister mentored me; incredible Godly women that I can spend hours with, cappucinos and simple conversation enough to satisfy us for hours. My family spreads across the plains of Africa, snuggled in the valleys of Romania, the streets of Thailand, all of us joined by hand in our common love for Christ.

Yes. I am blessed.

But that's the thing about Scrabble games and hours perched on the kitchen counters--the kitchen counters won't always be the same over the passing years, and the Scrabble games will be pushed to the back of the closet as there is no time for it anymore. Sisters turn eighteen and move out, and then on to college. Entire families, ketchup eating siblings and all move overseas to Africa as missionaries. Or at least, mine does. Will.

And blessed be Your name
When I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be Your name.


And through it all, these last years of homeschool curriculum before college textbooks; of Scrabble games and scanning TeenVogue issues while my baby sister is still really a baby; of afternoons spent in a cafe, in fellowship with mothers and sisters I've--unfortunately--lived most of my life without, the Lord calls me away. From all of it. Yes, it is only one month, two months at a time, but still. You miss your brother dealing with a crush, your sister getting her first ticket, your ketchup maniac brother looking after a litter of newborn kittens. It's not a lot to some people, I suppose, but it is when you love and cherish all of those people a lot.

For the first time in my life, I, world-traveler-can't-stand-to-stay-in-the-same-place-for-too-long-and-risk-actually-getting-attached-to-someone-to-many-someones me, misses home. Maybe it's because I never really saw how much there was to miss...

But.

You give and take away
You give and take away
God, you give and take away
But my heart will choose to say,
Lord, blessed be Your name!

Just like Abraham once, or Joseph, the Lord calls us away with Him because He has things He wants to show and teach just us, on our own, individually. But in the end, our paths always lead home, whether that is our temporary home, or our heavenly one. And our families are there waiting, with open arms, and we can run into them, bringing with us all the blessings the Lord has bestowed upon us. Our Father's ways are greater than ours, He can see all and He works everything for our good, so obviously His plan is the best. I will strive to learn that being in His will is home enough for Him, being in the palm of His hand is enough. I will choose to love my sisters in Christ in Thailand as much as I the little girl in motorcycle boots, to love my family in Christ here as much as I love the family on the hobby farm. And, through all this, even when He takes away, I will choose to bless His name.




To read more of Betsie's blog posts from Thailand, visit CALLED TO LOVE: http://betsie-daredtomove.blogspot.com/

Monday, May 16, 2011

NOW THAT I HAVE SEEN



I am sitting still
I think of Angelique
her mothers voice over me
And the bullets in the wall where it fell silent
And on a thousandth hill, I think of Albertine
there in her eyes what I don't see with my own
rwanda


Now that I have seen, I am responsible
Faith without deeds is dead
now that I have held you in my own arms, I cannot let go till you are

I am on a plane across a distant sea
But I carry you in me
and the dust on, the dust on, the dust on my feet
Rwanda


I will tell the world, I will tell them where I've been
I will keep my word
I will tell them Albertine


I am on a stage, a thousand eyes on me
I will tell them, Albertine
I will tell them, Albertine

Sunday, May 15, 2011

WHAT GOD IS LOOKING FOR

Will you please remember to pray for Betsie? She is now half-way thru her time in Thailand. She continues to build friendships, teach in English classes, help in the church office, and is drawing portraits of all the girls living at the children's home. She is traveling today to Burma to get her visa renewed. Pray for traveling mercies but more importantly, pray that she'll see all that God has for her during her remaining time of following Him in Asia...at least for now.


"God isn't looking for people of great faith, but for individuals ready to follow Him"
— Hudson Taylor

Saturday, May 14, 2011

CONGRATULATIONS CLASS OF 2011

I want to extend congratulations and blessings to all the 2011 graduates, whether it is from college --- like my Troubadour sisters who walked the Mag Chain at MUW --- or from high school --- like the homeschool seniors who walked down the aisles at First Baptist Jackson today.

Graduation is such an exciting time. For years it is a goal worked toward and dreamed about. I remember being a senior both in high school and college many long years ago and feeling as though I couldn't wait to graduate. And then when the day came, it was such a bittersweet experience. The joy and excitement of reaching the goal was obviously evident, but the sadness of saying goodbye was a palatable seasoning to the event. I remember crying and smiling.

And today, as I watched these graduates, I knew that next year I'll be feeling the same.

This time next year, I'll have two daughters who have reached the goal of graduation. Anna plans on finishing up at the end of this coming fall and Betsie will march with her class next May. And I will cry and smile for them as I did for me. As their mom, I will be so proud of all they have achieved and all the exciting adventures that God will have waiting for them. But as their mom, I will cry knowing that things will never be the same again. That they are moving on...and that moving on means moving away.

Oh yes, they'll always be in my heart. Every single day I'll think of them and love them and miss them. They'll always be my girls and I'll always, always, always be here for them. But I've raised them to let them go....let them go to pursue whatever dreams God puts in their hearts, even if those dreams take them far, far away.

So to the Class of 2011, if your mom holds you just a bit tighter and you find her staring at you just a bit longer than usual, just know it is because she remembers. She remembers leaving her family and friends behind and she remembers saying "hello" to you as a baby and how the years she'd have with you seemed like forever.

But you grew up.

And though we mamas are so happy for you, be patient with us as we mourn the passing of a season and excuse us if we act a little clingy or maudlin.

Love and blessings to you all! Hope you enjoy the photos from today's beautiful celebration.















Friday, May 13, 2011

TOO POOPED TO POST

I have had a good but incredibly busy and long day today. Even though the blog was wonky yesterday due to issues with Blogger, I'm just too pooped to post much tonight.

So...in lieu of a regular post, I'll just share this photo with you:



This is Betsie with two of the English language students she has gotten to be friends with, Feng and Meena, along with the daughter of the missionaries she is staying with and their foster son. Seeing her smiling and surrounded by those she loves and those who love her absolutely blesses this mama's heart.

Can't wait to be with my girl in Thailand. Only 3 weeks and 2 days til I see her!

P.S. I'll post about the winners of the auctions tomorrow or Sunday. This is a very, very busy clump of days.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

NEW PLACES, NEW EXPERIENCES

There are many benefits a person gains from traveling to another country and culture.

When traveling, a person learns of the ways other people live...



...things they've seen before on nature and science shows become real...



...and events they had just read about in history books seem to come alive when the places they occurred are visited.




Traveling to other places opens up a person to new ideas and possibilities. And in the case of mission trips, these trips open up a person to experience and hear from God in ways they normally wouldn't.

Over the last few years, I've seen my children's outlook on life and their walk with the Lord be changed by the time they've spent serving in Swaziland...



...Romania...




...and Mexico.


I've seen them learn to love the Lord more deeply and, as a result, the "least of these" more fully.

I've seen them turn into followers of Jesus with a global heart. When they hear news stories of disasters or wars or injustices occuring in Asia, the Middle East, South of the Border, or Africa, they realize that there are real people behind the names, statistics, and stories. They are burdened to pray and give, and when possible, go.

This spring, Betsie has gone to Thailand.




Next month, David and Anna will go. They will once again learn of a new culture, a new place, a new people. They will hear new stories with an old theme...people with hurts and burdens who need the love of Jesus...people who were in bondage and darkness who were given a new life thru Jesus.


They will have the honor and blessing of becoming a part of those stories. They will have the chance to be a part of God's plan to set the captives free and heal up the broken hearted. They will have the chance to encourage those who are downhearted and support those who are already working diligently for the Kingdom.

David and Anna both are in the process of raising money for their trips. David now needs just under a thousand dollars. Anna still needs a little more than that.

A sweet friend who we know through our homeschool group and used to go to church with us has donated a painting of African animals for us. Now, my kids who've been to Africa know that real giraffes, zebras, lions, and monkeys look just a wee bit different than these adorable critters, but that's okay because they'd look great decorating a church nursery, pediatrician's office, or child's room. And since we're selling them for the kids' mission trips, the money we'll make is okay, too.



This original creation, by Sarah Polson Macoy, measures 8 X 10 and has a dark blue ribbons accenting the painting. It is painted on a flat canvas that can be displayed as is or framed.



The bidding will start at $9. To bid on it, leave a comment with your name, contact information, and amount you are bidding. If you aren't able to leave a message, send me your contact via facebook or thru an email to jimelm "at" windstream "dot" net.
I will be glad to ship this to anyone living in the Continental U.S.A. This auction will end at 5:00 this Friday.
SEE AMENDMENT BELOW.


*****************************

IMPORTANT AMENDMENT: Due to technical issues with Blogger, my blog was not accessible during most of the two days leading up to the end of the original auction. For that reason, this item is back up for auction. The bidding will end on Friday, May 27 at 5:00.


**********************************

By the way, I want to identify a couple of friends in photos featured. The laughing girl with the parrot is the sister of one of Anna's friends. Megan went on the AIM Ambassador trip to Peru this past summer that David is going on this year. The young woman in front of the Sun Pyramid in Mexico is a treasured friend of mine that I know through my college social club, The Troubadours, at MUW. She spent time one summer in Spanish language immersion south of the border.
Thanks for sharing y'all's photos!