home is where the heart is

Greetings from Grafton, Massachusetts. We are here, in Dave’s home town, enjoying some time with family. We planned this visit to celebrate with Dave’s parents who have been married 50 years this summer.

It has been a time full of the joyful chaos that ensues when large families gather.

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We’ve had scavenger hunts, family photos, lots of food, and slumber parties full of cousins who don’t want to sleep.

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This has sparked some difficult conversations, as it always does, about why we choose to live where we do and what we are accomplishing through our lives and our ministry. It has challenged us to think about the American dream and how we fail to measure up to that kind of success. Here, in the middle of a supportive family, we have asked ourselves if we are crazy for trying to accomplish a seemingly impossible goal. We have struggled with spending money on going out to eat and visits to Legoland and new toys and new clothes and all of this luxury because of the poverty and the life of simplicity that have surrounded us in our “other life.”

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When I look back at this past year, I see the mark of God’s faithfulness all over the story of us. We’ve grown in our language skills and in key relationships, we have found a piece of land where we can get started, we have submitted paper work to the ministry of women and children, and we await the good news that approval has been granted. We have increased our involvement with a local church in Niamey that wants to minister to women and orphans. We have even fostered our own sweet babe and watched in joy as he grew to be a thriving infant.

And yet the enemy waits like a hungry predator to rob us of the joy that comes from Christ. He wants us to believe that we are not prepared, not able, and not doing the right thing. He wants to confuse and discourage, and destroy.

Would you join us this week in a prayer that God would speak truth deep into our hearts?  

We know that God can overcome the battle that rages in our hearts and minds. We know that He is stronger than reverse culture shock and depression. We know that He wants us to leave American feeling refreshed and not stressed. We know that His plans for us are good and that He wants us to effectively minister and accomplish good things for His Kingdom. We want the clarity and peace that comes only through His spirit.

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calzones!

I have been inspired lately by the ladies at sixsistersstuff.com.  This has led to some true adventures in the kitchen.  This week we’ve made bean, beef and cheese burritos (twice), calzones (twice), spring rolls, and baked ziti.  If you’re like me, you make the same ten recipes over and over until everyone is tired of them.  It’s been a pleasure to have some “new” things to eat around here.  The calzones, however, were particularly revolutionary for our kitchen because a sweet friend of mine suggested that I should make my own ricotta.  I don’t know how I missed this!  I’ve been making yogurt, tortillas, wheat bread, and really all kinds of things since I moved to this land without prepackaged American food, but ricotta (until now) was not on that list.  While perusing recipies online, I saw one that described it as “just as easy as brewing a cup of coffee”.  I feel good about making things at home that are cheaper and just maybe more natural than the grocery store version.  So, without further ado, I present to you my calzone process from beginning to end….

First prepare the ricotta.

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I made 4 cups of whole milk from milk powder and poured them into a large pot.  Online, I learned that it is important to use full fat (whole) milk when making ricotta because the fat is needed for the cheese.  If you use skim milk it will yield very little cheese in the end.  I heated the milk just until it was about to boil adding one teaspoon of salt, stirring occasionally.  When it started to really steam, I turned off the heat and added 2 tablespoons of white vinegar.  I gave this a good stir and immediately saw the milk begin to curdle.  After stirring a little to activate the process, I let it sit for about twenty minutes.  Then I poured the milk mixture into a strainer lined with cheese cloth and let the whey run out.  If you add a little cream to your milk mixture before heating it, I think you will have a greater yield of cheese in the end.  I did this the first time I made it, but not the second.  There was no difference in the taste.

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In the mean time, I sifted weevils out of a bunch of flour.  (My favorite job!)  Then I put 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 330 mL of water (about 1 and 1/3 C), 5 cups of flour, 2 table spoons of sugar, 1 tsp of salt, and 2 and 1/4 tsp of yeast into my bread machine and let it do it’s thing.  This is my normal pizza dough recipe that came with my machine.  I love this bread.  It makes my house smell divine.

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After I had the dough going, I started browning half a kilo (one pound) of ground beef with some onions and garlic.  This time, I made the calzones with ground beef.  Not as yummy, but beef is readily available (and relatively cheap) here.  The pepperoni I used the first time was delicious, but we are now out until our next trip to the US.

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Next, I grated about 8 oz of mozzarella.

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Then added the strained ricotta.

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I mixed that with 2 eggs and about 1/2 a cup of chopped, fresh parsley with about 10 leaves of fresh basil.

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After that last photo was taken, I mixed the meat into the cheese mixture.

I also made some marinara.  I used canned tomatoes, garlic, onion, oregano, salt and pepper.  My family loves pasta, and at this point I can make red sauce in my sleep!

Next I rolled out a small ball of pizza dough onto my lightly floured counter top.  I placed two spoons of the cheese/meat mixture and one spoon of the red sauce on the bottom half of the rolled out dough.

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Then I folded it over and rolled up the sides using a fork to pinch them down so the yummy insides wouldn’t leak out while they cooked.

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Next I brushed them all with a little egg.  I didn’t love the shiny egg finish, but Dave did so we went with it.

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I baked them at 350 for 12 minutes and voila!  Everyone was very happy with the result.

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I hope you find this useful and inspiring.  I’ve frozen a bunch of these for the weekend.  I think this will be a new tradition around here.  I’ve included the recipes for you.  Just to clarify, I read that a REAL calzone does not have red sauce inside, but is always dipped into marinara during dinner.  I want to force these boys to eat their tomatoes, so I will always put the red sauce in mine!

 

Ricotta Cheese

4 cups of whole milk

1 tsp salt

2 tablespoons white vinegar

Pour milk into a large pot and add salt.  Bring to steaming.  Remove from heat.  Add vinegar and stir.  Let rest 20 minutes.  Strain for an hour or more through cheese cloth.  Refrigerate after straining.  This can be frozen and used later.

 

Pizza Dough

3 tablespoons of olive oil

330 mL of water (about 1 and 1/3 C)

5 cups of flour

2 table spoons of sugar

1 tsp of salt

2 and 1/4 tsp of yeast

Knead all ingredients for about 5 minutes.  Let rise for 15 minutes and knead again.  Let rise for 30 minutes and roll flat on a floured surface.

 

Calzone

1 pound ground beef

1 Tbs olive oil

1 onion, chopped

3 or 4 cloves of garlic, grated

1 cup marinara

3/4 cup ricotta cheese

8 oz mozzarella cheese

2 eggs

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 C chopped parsley

3 Tbs chopped basil

pizza dough

Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil.  Add ground beef.  Brown.  Set aside.  Grate mozzarella.  Combine with ricotta, eggs, parsley, basil, salt, and pepper.  Add ground beef to this mixture if desired.

Roll small amount of pizza dough flat on a floured surface.  Place two spoons of the cheese/meat mixture on the bottom half of the rolled out dough.  If using pepperoni, add three slices on top of cheese mixture. Then add one spoon of marinara on the bottom half of the rolled out dough.  Now fold dough over and roll up the sides using a fork to pinch them down so they make a good seal. Brush calzones with an egg, if desired.  Bake at 350 for 12 minutes.  Serve with mozzarella for dipping, if desired.

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under the bench we find our riches

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I climbed the stairs to Nata’s class, thankful that I arrived before the bell.  I always want to get those kids and get out of there as soon as possible.  As I reached the classroom door three kids tumbled out, “Nata est faché!”

That sinking feeling covered over me.  Nata has been angry at school before.  It’s never good.  Normally, everyone waits inside the class until the bell, but today Nata’s teacher came out to explain.  At snack (two hours ago) he threw a fit.  Then he got mad and refused to do his work.  And then they all started saying something about a bench, but I didn’t really understand.  And I peered in, searching the benches for my sweet boy.

“Where is he?”

“He is here.  Under the bench.”

I looked down and saw his feet, one shoe untied, protruding from under the red bench.  He faced the wall.

She pulled him out.  Clearly he had been under there for a long time.

And then I had that moment.  As a mother, what should my reaction be?  Am I angry?  Am I sad?  I lifted him into my arms as his tense muscles refused to relax and he hid his face from all the children and adults that gawked at him.

And my heart was filled with empathy for this treasure of a child that I call my own.  You see, I know what this feels like.  The overwhelming anger that sweeps over you.  You follow it into a dark pit and then, when the moment (or in this case hours) pass, you just feel so embarassed that they all see you looking so ugly.  You want them to think you are beautiful, but they see the truth: you’re a mess.  You want to hide and not come out.

And so I carried him over to a bench outside the class facing away from the others, and for the first time that day we looked into each other’s eyes.  Like so many times before.IMG_2102

We talked about who he is.  Who he should honor.  And what he needed to do to make things right.  He said he couldn’t do it on his own.   My heart swelled with love.

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“I’ll go with you,” I said with a smile and extended my hand to him.  The kids and the teacher were surprised to see us walk back in.  We stood at her side, and he looked in her eye and said, “Pardon Maitress.  Pardon.”

She explained to him, then, that he is a champion in her class.  “Champions don’t act like that,” she stated simply.  We all agreed.

As we got into the car and busied ourselves with the business of seat belts and car seats, I asked my little man to sit with me up front (we do these things, here in the wild you see).  And as the car rolled on the story spilled out.  Nata, who is used to finishing first, lost his title of champion to a friend.  Jealousy got a foot hold in his heart when he saw the size of the sticker that Joseph earned.

That’s how it goes with anger and sin.  This is a lesson I’m still learning myself.  It’s the things that are small that we allow to feel big.  They seem to overwhelm us and change our actions and start us down a path until we feel out of control- unable to get back.  The truth is, though, that the little thing never MADE us do anything.  We chose the anger and the sin.  In humility, I have to say that I still have moments like this in my adult life.  When I turn my words against those I love and later I don’t even know why I said those things.  When I allow jealousy (which is always over something completely trivial) to rule my heart.IMG_3824

And so we moved on.  As we have many times before.  And once again I prayed a silent thank you to my father in heaven for all the times he has loved me and shown me grace- that gift that I don’t deserve.

In Ephesians 2 paraphrased by me:

Each of you were stuck in the dark pit of sin because you followed the ugly voice inside your head (which is the devil).  This is the voice the world follows when it disobeys the goodness that comes from God.  All of us have done this, and we are all deserving of punishment.  But- His love came down and rescued us because that’s who God is:  he is so RICH in MERCY!  That’s why God made us alive in Christ even when we were dead down in that pit of sin.  It’s by his grace (a free gift!) that we were saved from the pit of sin.  Not only that, but God raised us up and gave us the seat right next to his son Jesus so that in the future we can better understand the riches of his grace given to us through Jesus.  We are only saved because we believe in our brother Jesus, and not because of anything else that we do.  God gives us this gift so that we can’t brag about how good we are.  We are God’s creation, his design created to do good things that He already prepared for us to do.

And so I pray that little by little my Nata can understand God’s riches.  Little by little I am too.

 

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the three sisters

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Just outside of Niamey there are three rather large mesas that we call The Three Sisters.  For years, we’ve been driving by them. They are on the way to the village where we hope to soon be working, and so lately we’ve been thinking about these sisters more. Dave has always wanted to climb them and this weekend he decided that’s exactly what we would all do.

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“With the kids?”  I asked.  I wasn’t so sure.  Our highs here lately have been right about a hundred.  I pictured whiney kids on a hot rocky climb.

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Dave’s enthusiasm wasn’t squelched by my disbelief in our ability to have fun.  He organized the whole thing: asked some friends who had done it to go with us, talked to the boys about how much fun we would have, filled the water bottles, took a tub down from above the boys’ closet to find Caleb a pair of closed toed shoes.

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I’m so grateful  I married this man of adventure.

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It’s so nice to be up on the mesa looking down at this road instead of the other way around!

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See the camel way down there?

 

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It was amazing.

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Free, fun filled, family work-out in nature.IMG_0862 

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The boys had a total blast and asked to go again soon.  “Don’t worry about that!”  I responded.

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For sure, we will.

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seven reflections and other thoughts

I haven’t made any New Years resolutions in years.  I did write about resolve a few years back.  This year the new year arrived and I hardly blinked.  Then my friend Jess handed me a book.  She passed it off like a relay baton. She said, “I finished this on the car ride to church so that I could give it to you.”  IMG_0350

I just finished 7 by Jen Hatmaker.  Honestly there were moments when I couldn’t put this book down and there were places I skimmed.  I like her dry humor and sarcastic tone.  The “diary style” writing was at first interesting and later got a little old.  It was really interesting and sometimes really frustrating to read about an American pastor’s wife and her self proclaimed experimental mutiny against excess while sitting in the poorest country on earth.  And that whole experience of listening to Jen and how she feels about her life of excess just hammered home the thing that keeps coming back to my mind and my heart- there is no way for us to ever truly understand how much our lives are about excess and stuff and how often we wallow in our self pity.  Even when I think I’m a hero for fasting or simplifying or giving, I’m just chipping a pea sized ice cube from the glacier of blessing that is my life.  And there is nothing I will ever be able to do about it except pray for a humble heart and grace.  I absolutely recommend this book.  Not because it was emotionally inspiring.  Not because it revolutionized who I am or how I think about the world, but because it made me think about faith and my walk with God and how I live my life.  It sharpened my senses to this really important question: “Do I love the Lord my God with all my heart and all my mind and all my soul and all my strength?  And do I love my neighbor as myself?”

My comment on fb was that my life here in Niger is like a fast.  That is sometimes true.  I didn’t feel sorry for Jen when (in her second month of fasting) she wore only seven items of clothing for four weeks.  I know many, MANY people who own seven or less clothing items.  The fact that she and her family gave up TV, Gaming, fb and tweets, iPhone apps, radio, texting, and internet for a month is honorable, but something I’m forced to do this from time to time when our power goes out.  And in the hot season we are thankful when we have electricity at all.  Tonight my seven year old came running out of the house with tears in his eyes to find me.  He cried, “I am so jealous of my cousins because they get to see Grammy and Papa so much.  And they have a huge TV and a Wii.”  I can only hope and pray that some day my son will be thankful for this life and that he will not walk into adulthood harboring resentment because he’s not a normal American kid.  I know people (and I know that there are millions of people all over the world) who have no idea what twitter or Dancing With The Stars or Angry Birds or youTube even are.

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canning tomatoes

In month five Jen and her family begin gardening, composting, conserving energy and water, recycling, shop only thrift and second hand, buy only local, and drive only one car.  We do all of these things except recycling (we can’t here), and once a year we buy clothes new (but I love Goodwill and the used clothing found here in the market), and the imported food we buy from a locally owned grocery store.  But we do know that every single plastic bottle or bit of food or bic pen we throw away gets picked up by the many people who go through our trash to see if there is some way that they can find a use for the things we don’t want anymore.  This is one of the most dramatic ways that my life has changed in the last ten years. Because of poverty or a tight budget here, people in Niger conserve, reuse, wear clothes with stains and holes, and pinch pennies (or in this case francs) any way they can.  I have learned the blessing of home cooking and home making just about everything.  It’s a joy, and I think that’s why this chapter was one of my favorites.  

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my neighbors

 I love Jen’s commentary on the church and their expensive programs and decorated buildings and starving neighbors.  It sounds like the church she and her husband pastor has some really wonderful ideas about loving their neighbors.  This revolution to live the Word is the part of 7 that challenges me the most.  And when I can let go of the details of Jen’s life of excess and look into my own heart and my own attitude, that’s where this book becomes valuable to me.  At the end of most chapters, I really wished to know what happened next. After eating only seven foods for a month, what was the first thing she ate when she broke her fast?  How did it feel to drink that first cup of coffee?  What did she do with those seven items of clothing and did she still want to wear jeans after that?

God is challenging me to take another look at my faith.  I recently found the if:Gathering.  They ask the question, “If God is real then what?”  My answer to that question is: if God is real and his word is true, I need to live every moment for him.  I need to let him shape me even when that’s hard.  I need to never think that because I sold everything I owned and moved across the world, I have it all together or don’t need His grace.  I am so glad that life is a crucible and I’m not finished yet.

In light of all of this and because of this inspiring post, I am working on driving God’s word into my heart.  I believe that He is real and His Word is true.  And I want it to saturate my soul. I want to know His Word so that it will come back to me in those moments when I struggle.  I want what Jesus thinks is important to be the guide for my behavior.  At all cost.  And that’s where Jen Hatmaker and I seem to totally agree.

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