Adventure Is Out There!

Dear friends,

Instead of apologizing for the long delay in news from me, I’m jumping right away to the exciting part of what I get to say:

God is answering my prayers! He’s bringing me back to the Congo-land we left exactly one year ago yesterday!

Things are crazy busy here, but your prayers are coveted more than ever. You, friends, have shared my journey on Exceeding Imagination and now I, with joy, invite you on another adventure. It will be short (three months). Yet it is the culmination of years of praying and searching God’s will, and hopefully the catalyst into years more of preparation and service in the large, beautiful nation of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Join me?
Right over here:
www.abbasgirlincongo.wordpress.com

Forever His,
Maaike

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When Mirrors Are Windows

She tells me to step up close, lift my chin, and blow. The reflection in the mirror lifts her chin and blows back at me.

“Well, look at that!” She says, watching, “there’s a bump there, in the middle of your embouchure!…who would’ve known?”

I try to see it, the little bit of lip that isn’t supposed to be there. That little something that obstructs my high notes on the flute, making them sound strangled. Air can’t get past it.

She starts asking questions, and concludes our flute lesson, but as I walk out there is turmoil inside of me.

Bewilderment. Fear. I have seen my face from a completely different angle and couldn’t even recognise it as my own face. My lips are fat. I never knew that. And….they have a BUMP?? What? When did THAT happen?

I clutch my books closer and quicken my stride, following the sidewalk pointing straight as an arrow up the hill.

This morning I just couldn’t get a good sound out of my flute, and I wondered what the problem was. Well, the problem is me. My lips. My fat, bumpy lips.

This is when the tears start coming. And the anger. I’ve felt this anger before….when I was twelve years old, in Canada, missing my Africa-home. Angry at God. It’s a self-pitying, helpless rage at something I can’t change.

Why do You DO this? Why?? Why do You give me a dream of music, a flute, a teacher, and the wrong lips? And while we’re on this topic, what happened when You made my fingers? Why didn’t You make my pinky long enough to reach the low C key without the joint popping? Why isn’t it strong enough to play the cello?

As the ugly words keep pouring out, I am suddenly so afraid. This is one dream. What about the others? What will I do the day I am heading towards a Congo-life, loving and discipling girls there, and someone pulls me aside and tells me to step up close to the mirror? What happens when we all see that I am an insecure introvert? Why did God make me THAT way? Why?? And why, if He made me like this, WHY does He give me these huge dreams and passions that require so much more than I have??

What had I read, just this morning…. “What a joy to know that our needs are a window to God and not an obstacle to make Him disgusted with us.”

Stopping to pick wild flowers, then continuing up the sidewalk, I mull over these words. Suddenly I get this image. God is making me, and He’s saying, “Maaike is going to try her hardest to reach me by building as high as she can, and in doing so, she will be farther from me than ever. So instead of equipping her with piles of bricks and wood for her tower of Babel, I am going to make her a house of all windows. Then I will come to her, I will draw near to her, I will reach out to her.”

Gratitude? Can’t describe it. I was blown away! God, I prayed tentatively, is this true? Or my imagination?

As I prayed, things straightened out. This isn’t about me. The goal of being a Christian is not for me to become loving or lovable. It’s that His kingdom comes. His will. Him, the God who hung on a cross. It’s not about me getting the right personality, it’s about HIM getting the glory.

And when I don’t understand what’s happening to ME maybe I need to trust that He is working it out for kingdom good – for His body’s good, and I am just one member.

So I’m opening these windows. Wide. I want every drop of the rain of His gracious promises to come inside. I want to be all His. Every time I step up to the mirror, every time I see the bumpy fat lips and fingers that can’t reach far enough and a heart that can’t love enough, each time I want to see in that mirror a window. And beyond the window? A God who comes for me, comes for me, comes for me……


A Nest and A Kingdom

(Have you checked out the page on this blog called: Who I am + Some Big Dreams”? If you’re one of those wondering what I’m up to, I’ve tried to give some answers there.)

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I found it on the ground.

A nest.

I fingered the rim, the hard caked mud that had dried, holding the grass in place. There is soft grass in the hollowed middle, and rougher grass on the outside.

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A miracle.

Some small bird designed this?? Don’t they call this sort of thing engineering? How do they do it? It is such a big task. I almost ask the cheeky robin who squints up at me from the sidewalk.

They work hard, these birds. All day long they gather one strand at a time, one beakful of mud at a time, and they build. It all adds up, apparently, because in my hands there is a beautiful nest.

I wish….I wish I had that same single-minded vision and focus. I pray that every action, thought, word, deed, every job done and smile shared, everything, would be strands that I’m bringing to God for building His Kingdom. I am a justified sinner in a broken world, and everything can be redeemed by the God who redeemed me. Everything in my life can be holy when it is gratefully received, when I see God’s glory in it. So I pray, and I finger that mud-caked rim, and I see God’s glory….and His kingdom will be built in my life, one straw at a time.


I See Green!

I wrote of death. Quoted words that spoke of hope. Snapped pictures of a plant I thought was gone for sure, streaked with shadow and winter sunlight.

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But just a few days ago, my Grandma called me outside and asked me if I recognised this potted plant. I had no idea. So she told me – it was the few old stalks in dry dirt that I found that day.

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“I didn’t want to tell you that it would come alive again until you could really see it for yourself.”

Wow! What life! Green! And it was there all along, waiting??

I circle back to this blog, trying to remember what I said.

And there is more, these words that make me marvel, that speak life when all I see is death….

“If you knew your sins,

you would lose heart.”

“In that case I will lose heart, Lord,

for I believe in their wickedness on the strength of Your assurance.”

“No, for I who tell you this can heal you, and the fact that I tell you is a sign that I want to heal you…”

(words from the pen of Blaise Pascal, and, I believe, from the heart of God.)

My view is so limited, His is so great. I see death. He knows what is waiting, what He is growing in my heart as I surrender. Isn’t spring amazing?? I love new hearts!

Come heal me, Jesus. Come bring me to life, till no one can recognise me for who I was. Heal me.


Prayer Alert!

One of the Bana Basi ya Kopela girls is in a hospital in Isiro starting Thursday. It seems to be a combination of malaria and typhoid fever. Her name is Exoce (the last ‘e’ sounds like ‘ay’). Her father is on a journey, so her mother is staying with her in the hospital. Please pray for healing and a deeper walk with Jesus.


Raindrops, Tears, and Grace

Heaven leaks today and I am homesick.

For the first time since Rainforest-Life, I see the white skeleton hands of crackling fury scratch dark night sky, creation threatenening thunderously. The house shakes. Curled up on the sofa, I feel it shake. It has been so, so long since I have felt sky-vibrations and memories wake. The agonizing skies drip rain that is both merry and soothing. I hear a sweet jig danced on some tin surface outside.

Oh, it makes me homesick….homesick!

I never realized how much nature affected our Congo-lives till I came back to this land of warm houses and carpeted cars. Each time I am inside and watch out the window the trees shake as the wind blows but hear and feel nothing, something feels like it’s dying inside of me.

See, I come from a land of screens for windows and open doors and days and nights of running inside and out, the two worlds merged into one. It would rain in the dark night, and I would wake to the sound of Dad stumbling around the house, gathering up buckets and pans to place under leaks. (For that matter, I also woke because I would be in my own private mini-shower!) The symphony of rain lashing against our tin roof would merge with the soprano voices of our kitchen pots and pans collecting their first drops.

And when night was still a suggestion but not yet reality, in that tentative dusky gloaming, King Wind would blow furiously, sweeping the atmosphere clean of oppresive humidity, gusting through the whole house. I would drop dishes, drop homework, whatever I was doing, and rush outside to stand, exhilerated in the rush, steadying myself when it seemed that I would be picked right up and fly away.

Yes, I remember this too, that it was inconvenient, at times, to be so affected by nature’s whims. It was disastrous for many of our friends when crops and houses took a battering.

But it was life.

And now that whole life is gone from me.

And God, in His grace, revealed so much to me about Himself through Congo-nature. I counted the rain storms and the glorious, glorious sky among my primary instructors, and I thrilled to their testimony.

Heaven speaks here too, of course, yet I miss the Congo-dialect I grew to love.

And yet, it is so easy to stop remembering what once was so much of my life. It is hard to remember the sky.

But today, an ocean away from the rainforest, I danced in cold Spring rain. Today, I sit inside but the celestial argument still thunders close.

Today, I am homesick.

But as I danced in the rain and walked country roads today, and cried because of homesickness, there was also happy gratitude that my home is nowhere less than IN JESUS! I do belong somewhere – I belong in Him.  So tears of pain for what is gone mingled with tears of joy at being surprised by peace – at-home-ness!

So, dear reader, the word “homesick” could best be read “Congo-sick”.

This is pain: my Congo-world is dead. I will never, never live that life again. I dance now to another tune. There is no going back. So I weep with the rain….

This is grace: I am home already. And you want to hear real, unfathomable grace?

“You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book?” (Psalm 56:8)

Who can forbid the rain to fall? Who can mute thunder? Why have I lived for years thinking that to cry my tears and speak my pain is to be disloyal to God? Why has no one ever told me that God numbers my wanderings, catches my tears, and that even these are precious in the story He writes of my life?

So the God who gives rain gives me tears today, tears for what is no longer mine, tears to heal what is still hurting so bad inside….and all the while I know that everything is mine in Christ.

Is it strange?

Grace can be.


Life, Death, and The Days In Between

Joanna looks up from her school.

“You know, it does sound kind of funny,” she remarks, “I mean, for someone hearing it for the first time. ‘Do you believe in life after death?’”

It sounds strange to this world that celebrates Easter as the time chicks hatch and flowers come back (which, by the way, hasn’t happened yet in this cold country!) that we remember death as we celebrate life.

Why is it so hard to believe?

Spring is coming, and I believe that there will be green grass and that the trees will someday find their coverings again. Someday, there will be dandelions and golden rod. There will be ripe red tomatoes and big juicy watermelons in the garden.

But today, the ground is once more wearing white. White, among the Pygmies in Congo, is the colour of death.

this is a few weeks ago...not quite as much snow today!

this is a few weeks ago…not quite as much snow today!

And in my Grandma’s garage, I find a beauty that breaks something inside me. These used to be flowers, now so dry, so withered! So dead. Yet they still wait by the window, the light filtering in from the outside. Photosynthesis for these plants is a mere memory. The light will never bring life back into the dry stems.

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In my life, too, Jesus is wooing my heart back to Gospel truth. Time and time again I see inside my heart and I see death. I come to the cross with my horribly broken heart, so proud, so self-righteous, and there is only one thing to do: die. And there is only one way forward afterwards: life. Life is in my heart too.

Yes, I’m a new creature in an old skin and yet sometimes I despair at how thick my skin is. Habits die hard. But these words speak promise to me:

“Take comfort; you would not seek Me if you had not found Me.”

There is mystery in those words, and there is unspeakable comfort for me, a sinner hungering after God.

And there is more, these words that make me marvel, that speak life when all I see is death….

 

“If you knew your sins,

you would lose heart.”

“In that case I will lose heart, Lord,

for I believe in their wickedness on the strength of Your assurance.”

 

“No, for I who tell you this can heal you, and the fact that I tell you is a sign that I want to heal you….I love you more ardently than you have loved your foulness.”

(words from the pen of Blaise Pascal, and, I believe, from the heart of God.)

So be comforted, friends. Today let this thought linger….that there is life after death, though it sounds marvellously strange.


We Are The Beloved

– written the day before Easter –

A year ago today, my knees were pressing into Congo-grass as crickets serenaded the bold, full moon.

I tried hard to feel guilty.

That afternoon had been noisy. With a whole room-full of girls we acted out the story of Good Friday. I clutched a butcher knife and my friend Mersi stuck her hand inside a woolly lamb puppet and we tried to explain the blood on the doorposts.

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Whenever the pain of the cross leaves the realm of traditions and stories and becomes something real, heavy, something pointed – it shocks us. It scares us.

Lent one year ago, I felt like the cross was becoming more real for me.

And kneeling in the garden, I felt like I somehow had to apologize to Jesus for being so hurt for me. Like if I was just troubled enough over it, I would deserve justification more.

But it was there, in the shadow of the papaya tree, gazing into the heavenly flood light, that I realized that He never intended for me to bear that burden of guilt for His death. That was the very reason He had died: that I might live free of guilt.

His death was a love-gift.

I am the beloved.

It was my sin He drank from the Father’s hand, and now the sin is mine no longer!

The next morning, Easter morning, found us celebrating all day at church. We danced under the hot sun, laughing together. We squirmed on the hard benches, warm bodies squished up against each other, as the pastor expounded on the first Easter morning. And before sharing the Easter meal, we were invited to Communion.

At that moment, my moonlit experience found meaning in the daytime. Not only did Jesus drink a cup for me, but I drink Him. As the small glass of juice touched my lips, I trembled with the joy – and fear – of being one with Jesus. His righteousness is mine.

His resurrection was a love-gift.

I am the beloved.

And now, a year later, on the other side of the world, I am on a hardwood floor with a computer in my lap. The moon is outside.

I know that not all my new friends share my joy in Easter. There are people who do not know Jesus. For many people in our community, this is simply a long weekend with Easter egg hunts and chocolote bunnies. Monday will bring work again, and they’ll regret all the extra calories they’ve packed and drive to the gym to burn them off.

I have seen confusion in the brown eyes of a Congolese Mama, a refugee just a thirty-minute walk away from our house. She speaks rapidly in a language that makes me think of passion fruit vines and cooking over charcoal and music from a different continent. She describes for me her English class. Her teacher tells the class that Easter is coming. Easter, the time when the world celebrates the fact that birds are returning, chicks are hatching, and trees are budding again.

She stands up in class, politely but firmly correcting the teacher. No, she says, no. Easter is the time when Jesus died and rose again. Do you not know that?

No, they do not know that.

They don’t see the cross.

They don’t see the resurrection.

But what about my life? Is Easter written there? Is Christ in the eyes of all who see me, is Christ in the ears of those who hear me?

Is that just idealism? Or are we really called to live that?

Christ followers.

Because He died and He rose and He gave the gift and He gave life –

and we are the beloved.


Torn?

I apologize beforehand for the use of a not-very-nice metaphor, but…

Does anyone else ever feel like a spider with each leg being pulled in a seperate direction?

As an MK (Missionary Kid), there’s already a resignation to the idea of a scattered life, but this is different.

This is when each foot is on a different skateboard and you’re doing 100 km/hour downhill and the one skateboard starts going to the right and one starts going to the left and –

There are so many passions and dreams and desires cooking away in the cauldron of my heart – good things, sweet things, that I believe God has given me.

I have commitments to my family, my friends, and Congo. I want to study ethnomusicology, to make music! And yet I feel torn….

I love Congo and so I want to pray for Congo and study Congo’s history and prepare for Congo and speak to people about Congo and save money for Congo and plan a trip to Congo in September and…..

I love my family and I want to love them and I want to create memories and I want to forge bonds that will hold into eternity and I want to somehow inspire my little sisters to love the things that capture my heart and….

I love my friends and I want to have more friends and I want to be there for them and I want to spend time making them gifts and cards and going on walks and making music and…..

I love music like crazy and I want to study it well and then go to Congo….but I need to audition, and I need a new flute for that and I want a cello SO bad but both are expensive and how can I spend money that I don’t technically have and I know there are so many other needs? Where will the money come from for university and travels and ?

I love the personality Jesus has given me. I love it that HE loves it when I get excited about His ideas, when His beauty brings me to tears. This mind that wants to know everything yet has a hard time concentrating on anything….! I want to learn life skills and baking and cooking and gardening and I want to play sports and I want to learn to paint with pastels and do calligraphy and to counsel and to listen and a hundred and one other things (like, slowing down would be one of them!).

There are times when I get the feeling that with all these forces tugging at me from different pieces, I’m going to be pulled to bits.

To nothing.

So my prayer for this roller-coaster time of my life is that I will not be pulled to bits by conflicting ambitions and desires. By God’s grace, I want all these pieces of life, all these good and beautiful gifts and passions He has given me, to merge together into a unified life of worship. By God’s grace, I want to find the one who is All in All in everything and everyone and everyplace. I want to dance the steps He’s planned for me, and I want to live for eternity, right where I am today.

So desire and discipline need to meet in my life.

Faith can make me fly and sometimes I wonder why I bother to learn how to walk. But there’s a race to run, and I can’t always blow dandelions and count daisy petals.

So give me faith that moves me to love.

I need stability. I need the Rock. I need my family. There are days I feel like life’s a cage and there are days I feel like life’s an open sky to soar through. Days I feel like I’m getting a taste of hell, and days I feel like I could really be at the end of that elusive rainbow.

Feelings shouldn’t alter faith. Faith needs to keep on leading to love.

So I ask humbly for prayer – that I will be God-led, Christ-filled, motivated by the Spirit, following HIM, not my own deceptive heart. Pray that all in my life can become worship to this one God? Thank you.

Blessings on each of you as you live the resurrected life – live Easter-lives.


His Colour in My Notes

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Breathe.

I was a little girl when I held my flute for the first time. Shiny keys glinted silver in the Ugandan sunlight. Slim neck fitted inside my little sun-browned paws with a cool solidity that gave me shivers. Then – I blew my first note. And somewhere inside me, something happened. I had the closest thing to a vision that I’ve ever had – that somehow music was a beautiful land with sweet-smelling flowers along a winding road. The gate was locked, and it had always been locked to me. But now, in my hands, I held the key that would unlock the gate and let me in.

Now the hands that hold my flute are stronger. Calloused. I’ve entered my enchanted land, but the road is longer than I ever expected and there’s still so far to go.

Somehow, the more I immerse myself in music, the more I learn of the heart of God.

Jack Miller, when writing about the general sense of restlessness and rat-racing among Christians, says this, “I suspect this restlessness has roots in hell. Consider its subtlety. Who can repent when he is going at warp speed? For how can you repent if you do not have time to see where you are going wrong?”

I stand before my flute teacher and she’s giving me my work for the week. My tone is terrible. Tone is supposed to be like colour – rich and vibrant. So she tells me to breathe deep and play a long note – then a second – until I have no air left. And then? I get to repeat it, and do it again, and again, and again!

But.

I like fast songs. I like hurrying things up. Metronomes aggravate me. Slow songs mess me up.

And I have to just stand there and breathe for ten minutes of my day??

But she tells me that as I hold those long notes, it is a time to listen for tone, for colour.

It clicks!

I almost forget that she’s continued speaking, telling me about Loiellet and counting eighth notes instead of quarter notes.

The song of my life, the song of my flute – they both have this problem. Poor tone. No colour. I can do these long, fast runs of notes in my lifesong and impress people, but if I do not take time to be still before God, I will never hear the faulty tone. No time for repentance. No time for renewal. No time for resting in Jesus.

So I go a step further up and further in. This land of music that I entered so many years ago still holds innumerable surprises.

And this heart of mine? It needs to hold the notes of God’s song long. Breathe. I want to hear His colour in my notes.