of rain falling and falling

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The images coming from friends in the States this week are all white. Flocked trees and drifty rooftops, buried driveways, friends’ children with brilliantly red cheeks above their scarves standing with sleds. It’s cold, they say. Events are cancelled. Despite our crazy, adventurous life I have still lived more years in Minnesota than anywhere else and how well I know these scenes. These will not be the memories of my children’s childhood.

The extremes of hot and cold are not Java’s climatic parameters. Around here things are always in terms of wet and dry. Right now, in the heart of the rainy season, we’re talking wet. I’ve been told by many people that this year rainy season is different–it rains nearly every day but apparently still less than normally.

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It still seems plenty rainy to us. Rain visits us often and we see her in all her moods, her cheerful plopping ones, her wispy, misty ones, her raging tantrums. Sometimes it’s not so much rain as a deluge. Water just falls from the sky in sheets. The air seems more water than air and the noise of the water striking the tile and tin roofs and the gushing of the streets is instantly deafening. Rain comes with a literal roar.

The children don’t mind. We’ve had several rain parties, usually on Sunday afternoons. It’s lollipops and raindrops for all and the children dancing wildly around. I have so far had the good sense to confine these parties to the courtyard, so the neighbors receive no additional proof that we are, in fact, crazy.

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When we moved here it seemed strange that most roads are edged with two- or three-foot deep concrete trenches. I wondered why there was a concrete track six inches deep running around the patio in front of our house.

It is because water runs in sheets from the roof and neither the gutters nor the ground can absorb it fast enough. And there are roaring rivers everywhere. Yesterday was one such day. Though most days still dawn sunny and bright and the rains don’t begin until afternoon, yesterday dawned dark grey and by mid-morning the roar of rain was reverberating through the house. We had the day off from language school and a busy week ahead so I spontaneously kept Norah home from school for some needed family time. After lunch the girls and I ventured out with umbrellas to a little restaurant about a half-mile away.

(Mommy: “Norah, if any of your teachers or friends ask you why you weren’t in school Friday, just tell them you had to go out for milkshakes.”
Norah: “Yes. It was an emergency!”)

We were soaked by the time we reached the end of our street. I was astounded to see the trenches on each side of our road full with rushing water and all manner of flotsam and jetsam eddying on the current.

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I love Java like this. I guess I’ve always liked the rain and around here it seems special, refreshing and miraculous in a particular way. Probably because it is. Hot climates really aren’t my valentine and sometimes I have to make a mental rule that I will not think about Oxford until the weather changes. Transitioning to a new climate involves a certain kind of loss–perhaps I knew it was coming but it’s one of those things that’s harder when you’re in it. During autumn I felt the loss of many things, perhaps particularly of cosy. Does Indonesia even do cosy? I did not think so.

But she does. Oh, she does. Yesterday we opened all the windows and doors to the roar of the rain and I turned on lamps and lit candles in the family room.

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I made a big pot of steamy cauliflower soup with parmesan and crusty bread for lunch and ate it in front of the courtyard door, watching the rain.

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Which fell and fell and fell.

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by way of a line in the water

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It’s been more challenging than I expected to start writing about Java. The difficulty is not that I can’t find anything to say. This is a place so wildly different from everywhere I have experienced before. There is so much to notice and so much on my mind all of the time  that finding a place to begin is like choosing where to cast your fishing line in the ocean. I suppose you just cast it out and hope you don’t hook something under the surface that’s too big for you to reel in.

Perhaps a snapshot is a good place to start. Perhaps beginning with a small picture and working my way outward I can find a way to write about this colorful, colorful place.

Last Saturday morning the girls and I rode a public transport van to the city. We needed to buy something small for the house that I heard might be in a little stall shop along the main city street. Norah had been feeling a little unwell but she seemed to have recovered, so it was flip-flops for everyone and we set off. The little van takes you roughly to the area you want but from there you’re on foot so we picked our way amongst the throng of people and motorcycles along the busiest street in town for quite a while before we found the shop we were looking for. The highlight of our walk was when Mommy suddenly remembered where to find the only stall in town that sells fresh cut flowers. We bargained for an armful of gladiolas to bring our new neighbors. I say “bargained” but let’s face it: in the end I probably had to pay at least double for being a foreigner. The low point was passing the fish sellers. It was a hot day. Enough said.

Just after the Fish Area Norah suddenly tugged on my arm. “I don’t feel good,” she said. All the color seemed to have left her face at once. After the hour it took us to get there our visit to the little store lasted three minutes. I grabbed what we needed, paid, and we left again. I didn’t think Norah could manage the walking and waiting involved in riding the transport vans, but there was another way. Our town is one of reportedly few towns in Indonesia that have dokar: horse-drawn carts. We were able to find one quickly and we climbed in, arms full of flowers and me wondering which way to point Norah if she needed to get sick in the English sense.

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You know what? We all enjoyed that ride home, even Norah. We held our flowers and peered out into the sunshine and smiled at all the people staring at us and talked about how colorful Indonesia is. The horse trotted right along with all the motorcycles and carts and trucks and cars and we listened the clip clop of its hooves and watched the feathers waving on its headdress.

 

 

 

Posted in Indonesia, Keep Calm and Carry On | 2 Comments

unflinchingly

No half-heartedness and no worldly fear must turn us aside from following the light unflinchingly.
–J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of The Rings

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We live in a world of explosions. Bombs, guns, and–this week in Jakarta–grenades. Somehow when the smoke clears we can forget how shattered the world is, that the shadow of darkness overhangs all of it: then something like this happens again.

We don’t live near Jakarta, which is on one end of this island. There are more than 300 miles and probably about 90 million people between there and here. But when news of the bombings began an email chimed in from my oldest daughter’s school about measures of heightened security. And I was reminded all over again of the most menacing weapon of the enemy: fear.

The blood-spilling spree going on in our world today is nothing less than the tactic of God’s enemy to paralyze God’s people with fear. What is occurring in Iraq and Syria, in Nigeria and Kenya, in North Africa, in Afghanistan and many other places is terrifying. Terror would want us all to pack up and go home, find a safe place to hide, and leave the field to the bad guys. 

One of my son’s favorite songs goes “I may never march in the infantry, ride in the calvary, shoot the artillery. I may never fly over the enemy but I’m in the Lord’s Army. . . ” We are an army. Thus the enemy’s tactic of fear. An army terrified is an army dismantled, it doesn’t matter how large the force. Consider the deadly panic of the huge forces of Midian in Judges 7–Gideon’s army was only 300 men. But the Midianites thought they were surrounded. (Interestingly, God sent the scared guys home first when he needed to shrink Gideon’s army to prove his mighty name: “Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained . . .” (v. 3).) 

There’s a twitter tag circulating in Indonesia in the aftermath of Thursday. #kamitidaktakut: We are not afraid. Maybe it’s bravado. Maybe it’s true. But it would make a great banner for you and for me in the days ahead. Our church is about to begin a study of the book of Joshua and I was reminded what God says to Joshua before he leads the people into the land of promise: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). With this promise, we the Church can say unflinchingly “kami tidak takut.” As Spurgeon said of God’s promises: “Never let the promise rust. Draw the word of promise out of its scabbard, and use it with holy violence.”

 

Posted in Indonesia, Jesus, Keep Calm and Carry On | 7 Comments

gift kitchens and God’s care, take two

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You’re not going to believe this. I don’t even believe it. People keep giving me kitchens, it’s like a theme. If you’ve been with me for a while, you may remember my precious English friend who showed up with food, hugs, and an adorable little wooden kitchen for the girls when Norah was two, Harriet was zero, and we were all unwell our first winter in England. I had pangs of missing her very badly this week as I re-lived my own history when a wonderful new friend appeared at our door with this gift for my children. I re-lived history–with an Indonesian twist. My friends, this woman brought this to us on a motorcycle. (Have I written about the Motorcycles yet? Oh, right-I haven’t written about anything yet . . . )

As soon as the kids were in bed I cleaned, de-stickered, sanded, painted, and varnished. Yes, I brought acrylic paints and gloss varnish from the States (though I forgot hair products and extra underwear). Doesn’t everybody?

We happened to be in a hardware store-ish place on Tuesday and I found some little cup hooks. Rounding off the expenditure for this remodel at 65 cents.

Within two days we had this. Wally’s been cooking on it all afternoon. (Don’t order the meatballs.)

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You may not understand it, but I just love this. I love Jesus, who sends me messages in the strangest ways.

Soup’s on.

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Posted in Keep House and Carry On, Little Ones, Make Do and Mend | 16 Comments

stacking the walls

Norah: “Let’s sing that stack one, Mommy.”
Me: “I’m not sure I know that one.”
Norah: “Sure you do. ‘Stack the walls with all the holly, fa la la la la la la la la . . .'”
Harriet, joining in: “Oh, I LOVE that song, Norah.”

We’ve been stacking the walls in earnest this month and I am amazed, as I always am, at the difference it makes in our home. Our new house feels rather funny to us still, there are just so many things that are different and all the tile and concrete everywhere can make it feel rather . . . institutional. Then, the first Sunday in Advent, we decorated for Christmas.

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I’ve written before about how, when we were first married, I wanted Christmas decorations. At that time, like most guys, Alex felt these were unnecessary items, perhaps particularly for our adventurous, move-around  life. So I promised him I would always keep the Christmas decor to one box. He looked at the cardboard shoe box I was using to store them at that time and agreed. (O young husband, how much you had to learn!) Over our years together the box slowly grew . . . they make some pretty substantial tupperware boxes, my friends. I always said, when we Go, I’m bringing the Box.

20151205_063312Well, I’ve said a lot of things in my life. Things like what I would and would not do and where I would and would not go and other nonsense like that. In the end, traveling with just luggage meant very severe cuts as to what was Coming and what was Staying. The box stayed. But I snuck in a few favorites–like the Jesse tree ornaments, the tiny wooden manger scene that was once my mother’s, the play mobile nativity so we could do the Advent Readings this year. It’s really the first time for Hugh to remember it and it’s been meaningful for all of us.

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I have always abhorred fake foliage. We will never, I said, never have a plastic tree. To our great delight we managed to buy a fake Christmas tree last month on a brief trip to a bigger city and it now warms up our family room daily. Whenever I find it unplugged I plug it back in.

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When “the weather outside is frightful” for us these days it doesn’t refer to snow, here’s a glimpse from our porch in the afternoons lately:

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When it looks like that outside I sit here:

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Okay, that was complete fiction. I actually don’t sit at all and especially not here. When I sit it’s usually on the kitchen floor and when I get up I find raisins stuck to my jeans. But isn’t this pretty?

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I’ve written some about my philosophy of Christmas decorations. The thing is, it shouldn’t be stressful. It shouldn’t be perfect or expensive or competitive. It’s not the litmus test of how nice a family we are or are not and it’s not the seasonal exam for excellence in motherhood.

It’s to help us create an occasion, to build a sense of anticipation, to highlight aspects of the glorious truths of the believer’s life for our distractable, work-a-day minds that forget to stop and ponder and savor all of the good things that are forever ours in Jesus. 

For that reason I love things that are meaningful, like tin and wooden stars and the nativity matryoshka dolls from Oxford. Thank goodness that meaningful does not equal expensive. My favorite idea this year is made from 12 sheets of red paper on the kitchen wall.

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Wishing you all joy as you stack your walls!

 

Posted in Keep House and Carry On, Make Do and Mend | 9 Comments

of fireworks and my plea for action

In the nation in which I now live, the majority religion is not my own. Several days ago, on the other side of the planet, an American politician released a statement about the people of this religion. The strategically placed sideshow that is Donald Trump just released a new spout of fireworks and the fires lit by the sparks will burn far further than intended.

The intent of Donald Trump’s remarks was to argue for limited access for people of this religion to the United States. The reason he gave was national security and the inference was clear: he believes any person of this religion is suspect in episodes of violence and acts of terror such as those which plague every continent of the world today.

It is impossible to know what the full impact of these prejudiced, damaging, and incendiary remarks will be. I can see only the beginning of their impact on me.

These people are my neighbors. They’re the lady across the street who helped me figure out how trash collection works. They’re the public transport drivers that wait for me when I’m late for school. They’re the gentle teachers at my children’s preschool, who stop to translate their instructions so my kids can keep up and who pray daily for the children to learn and grow in health and peace. They’re the flower seller who grew the roses for our garden.

I must walk down the street today, I must pass them and greet them and look them in the eye and be an American.

I’m ashamed.

As an American, I’m ashamed. The people of this other system of belief are being lumped together, collectively accused, discriminated against, and outlawed for hate crimes with which most of them had nothing to do. . . in America?

This week the remarks of Mr. Trump are on the front page of the Jakarta News and the Jakarta Globe. The story is #1 for most comments in the Jakarta Post. There is the face and the words of the man who is seeking to lead and represent the most free country in the world. Do they know he doesn’t represent me?

Do your neighbors know he doesn’t represent you? 

If you live in the United States 15 million of your neighbors are wondering. If you live in the United Kingdom, it’s at least 5%. We’re talking about millions of people who are as devastated by world events as you are (more so, because can you imagine the questions that arise?).

I’m not best pleased to be an American just now, but I’m thrilled beyond belief to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. O Church, get up! O Church, get up! Now is the time! Go out there armed with only the battle cry of Love and let the first one you meet know that you aren’t coming accusing, you aren’t coming to shun and mistreat and discriminate. Our Leader didn’t come to us that way.

 

 

 

Posted in America | 12 Comments

the proverbs 31 man

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We hear a great deal about the Proverbs 31 woman. She’s become iconic in Christian circles to the point that her familiarity has bred–if not contempt–at least a sarcastic welcome to many conversations. Sadly, because of this her full significance is often missed though I, for one, could never tire of studying her. Much has been said of her many virtues, most of us have made lists of them at one time or another. The Global Study Bible Online calls her “an example of full-scale virtue and wisdom toward which the faithful are willing to be molded.” She’s industrious, kind, faithful, wise, diligent, generous,  thorough, strong, noble, and creative. Perhaps most significantly, she is all of these things because she “fears the Lord” (Proverbs 31:30).

Is there anything else that enables her to be the woman she is? In all the material I have read about her, in all the sermons I have heard and conversations I have had about her, I have never yet heard anyone mention the Proverbs 31 Man: her husband.

You’ve heard “Behind every great man is a great woman.” Isn’t the reverse also true? Get a pen, find Proverbs 31, and take a few minutes to find the man standing behind this woman.

“The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.” (v. 11)
He’s confident in who she is and in her abilities. This isn’t lip-service, either–he believes in her from his heart. He’s looking for (and finding) the best that is in her and emphasizing that.

“She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.” (v.13)
There’s a lot of service involved in what she does, but she’s happy to do it. She doesn’t mind working for him–even working hard. She gets up early, she’s juggling a lot, she’s willing to do it. Apparently, it does not feel like a thankless job. That may tell us more about him than almost anything else.

“She considers a field and buys it . . . ” (v.16)
We see from this and also from the many areas of industry in which this woman is engaged that the Proverbs 31 man is neither a control-freak nor a micromanager. She has the freedom and authority to govern her realm and he doesn’t need to be an armchair captain. She develops creativity and productivity because she is supported in these pursuits.

“She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.” (v. 20)
If I understand this rightly, she’s giving both financial help and personal service here. I know exactly what that tells us about this husband. When I want to give to or serve someone, when I talk with my husband about it, his first response is always, “Of course! I never want to stand in the way of anything God wants you to do.” Can I just tell you how greatly that attitude encourages me? Even if my idea was just an impulse of the moment, with a husband like that you can be sure I’ll follow through.

“She is not afraid of snow for her household . . . her clothing is fine linen and purple.” (v. 21a, 22b)
Her husband is a good provider. She has what she needs to care for the household. We also see that this woman is cherished. She bothers to dress herself well and tend to her appearance and we can infer that this pursuit is encouraged.

“Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land.” (v. 23).
One of only three direct statements about this man, showing us his good reputation and the freedom he has to be about his business outside the home. He seems to be active in local government, serving in the community. He is respected and respectable, he is wise.

Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also and he praises her; ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.'” (v. 29)
There’s nothing sexist about this man–he notices and affirms the gifts and achievements of women, and most particularly of his own remarkable wife. It is interesting that his praise is directly to her, she is the recipient of his encouragement. In order to know the full extent of her excellence it is clear that he notices, acknowledges, and admires all that she is and does. He’s not even afraid to compare her to other women (May we note that the only comparison he makes is in her favor!).

One could say, “Naturally her husband admires her, who doesn’t, she’s accomplishing so much and is so wonderful in every way”–thus making her excellence the cause of his praise. I say this carefully because clearly the main cause is her fear of the Lord, but I’m just asking–could his praise also be a cause of her excellence?

Posted in Marriage | 10 Comments

it’s a little late to be asking, but . . .

. . . do you have plans to help your littlest ones celebrate Advent?

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If not, please consider yourselves warmly invited to make use of our Advent Readings for the Very Young, written by my husband and I for our children in 2011.

We’re using them nightly again this year as our third child recently turned three and is the right age to appreciate bringing out the characters in the Best Story Ever Told day-by-day throughout the month and meditating together on everything we receive when we receive the Lord Jesus. It is, truly, everything!

Although the readings are all separate posts available here, if you are interested please do help yourself to the printable PDF on the Advent Readings main page. Then you will not need your computer when you sit down with your little people.

We pray that all who venture here have a meaningful Advent season as we celebrate our great Savior together–all over the world!

Posted in Advent Readings for the Very Young | 2 Comments

leaves and hope

Transition and settling in (and resettling in) is a sub-theme in my life. Last year I wrote a series called Starting Again: Five Things To Do And One Don’t and I’ve often used this space to ponder what it is that transforms a place into, suddenly, Home. I’ve written about the impact of bubbles and the miracle of growing things. . . 

I celebrated Black Friday this year by turning 35 and thus establishing myself as middle-aged at last after years of practicing. My husband celebrated by giving me flowers–thousands and thousands of them.

Our new home had a huge square garage with a plastic roof when we first saw it. Walking into it the first time I realized it had doors leading from the house in at least two locations, and windows looking upon it from two others. It is like a blank concrete box with a brick floor in the midst of everything and the house sort of wraps around it.

But if we could clear it out and sweep off the paving stones and if we could take the plastic sheets off and open the roof and if we could grow vines over the metal bars where the roof was and if we could fill it with plants and if we could hang a hammock and lots of lanterns . . . this space could be incredibly, restfully beautiful.

But there was a lot of work to do just surviving and setting up these last months. So although we had the roof opened and I swept it out and hung empty jars with candles from the rafters with wire, I wasn’t able to start the garden.

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Until now. For my birthday gift, Alex had a driver take us to a town high in the hills near our city that is known for selling plants and flowers. We wandered the greenhouses and the flower street and bargained and chatted with flower ladies and came home in a drivable jungle.

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The beauty of these greenhouses, perched on terraces full of fantastic, colorful, aromatic living things of all types all growing together, was such as I will never forget. I’ll be returning often, soaking in the loveliness of this new land that we’re making our home.

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We gathered hydrangeas, jasmine trees, bougainvillea, hibiscus, trumpet flowers, petunias, fuschias, roses, and orchids. We brought rosemary and passion fruit vines and a lime tree. Many of the plants are favorites of mine, many are colorful or fantastic or creative in different ways.

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I was so happy.

I just wandered the terraces and exclaimed over the wondrous things and left Alex to do the bargaining for our treasures. In the end the car was full of amazing things for far less than the price of a date to the movies in the States.

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We drove home with the scent of jasmine, covered with leaves and dirt and hope.

Posted in Indonesia, Keep House and Carry On | 17 Comments

thank-full

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We celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday. I mean Thanksgiving was properly and duly celebrated. In the yes-it-was-the-actual-day-and-we-actually-had-a-turkey-and-put-pumpkins-on-the-table-and-filled-our-home-with-friends-and-went-around-and-said-what-we-were-thankful-for kind of way.

I know I haven’t described our life here even a little bit. (Yet.) So it may be difficult to imagine just why celebrating thus is such a triumph. Because Thanksgiving is an American holiday, daily life marches smoothly through it here. Most ex-pats try and have a potluck on the weekend before or after because Thursday is a school day. We decided to stay home from language school and keep the children home for the day, making it possible for everyone to smell the turkey cooking and help set up the tables. Six weeks ago I spontaneously ordered a dear little turkey from a grocery mart that caters to people from other lands. I learned later that this was not an economical decision–that turkey was dear in more ways than one.

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Wednesday morning before language school I thawed the turkey and made sweet potatoes with marshmallows all ready for the oven. Then I made pumpkin pie. This involved roasting pumpkins for fresh puree and concocting several tests to get pastry to work, as the ingredients are different. I am pleased to report it did work. I had no time left for apple pie so I made a huge apple crisp and shoved everything in the fridge. Thursday I made my mother’s stuffing recipe, which instantly made me miss her so badly I had to Skype my parents. Then I stuffed the turkey and roasted it and made mashed potatoes. By one o’clock the aroma in the house reached an intensity that caused Alex to call out from the family room, “What’s burning?”

I was in the shower. When I entered the kitchen the entire room was hazy with smoke and there was a burnt-hair sort of smell throughout. We ran into a glitch finding a roasting pan so I used the broiler pan from the oven–which turned out to be too wide. Thus the lovely turkey juices spread out, dried up, and burnt to a crisp. I am pleased to report the turkey was wonderfully edible. Let’s just say the gravy had a sort of smoky undertone. It was kind of good–in a I-wish-that-hadn’t-happened sort of way.

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Lastly, and best of all, we filled our table with friends. It was a chance to serve a taste-of-home kind of meal (minus the charring) to people who were also missing home this week. We sat with them and rejoiced in what God is doing in this land and that in some small way we get to be a part of it.

I tell you all this because it may be that it will interest you how these things are done far from home. It’s a bit different–it’s funny, and it’s adventurous. But think twice before you start to feel sorry for us! What do we really hope for from the holidays? All we really want is the time to stop and gather together and hold up the things that are most precious in our lives and in our faith and praise our God for them. Right here, right now is the perfect place to be to do that and it has been so meaningful for me.

Tuesday, December 1 marks four months we’ve lived in this country. I would probably not want to live a single day of the last 120 over again, but in all of them I see God’s hand. I say that with a heart overflowing with thankfulness “to him who walks beside” **.

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**from “My Heart is Filled With Thankfulness” by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend.

Posted in Indonesia, Keep Calm and Carry On | 4 Comments