Number Our Days

So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12


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No Confidence in the Flesh

Aaahhh…for time and space to simply write…I have SO much to say, and yet the necessities of my season of life require that I either be doing or planning to do something otherwise with my every waking hour. Part of me is fighting guilt, too, as I never want to be one of “those” people who have a blog site, and yet never seem to actually blog. Isn’t that disappointing? When you take a minute to check a friend’s blog and it has not been updated in months…just seems to zap the momentum, you know?

Moving on.

In the weeks since my last post, we arrived safely to our earthly home on the far side of the sea. We are thrilled to be back! It’s such a testimony of His faithfulness to our family that we are able to be here. Since Nate’s diagnosis of kidney disease nearly 4 years ago, we know that every day in this place is a gift. Nothing is guaranteed as far as our future, and in this lies great freedom to just enjoy His call on our family and be obedient to stay where He has us. It also helps that we love it here – the food, the people, the culture – all so beautiful and so different from us. We are content.

The biggest thing that has been on my heart in these weeks is the idea of having “no confidence in the flesh.” It’s no coincidence that as I’m memorizing Philippians this year, this phrase from the third chapter continues to come to mind. Paul talks at length about all of his qualifications as a Jewish man, essentially building a resume that would impress anyone in that day. However, his ultimate warning to us is not to place our confidence in any of these earthly things – success, accomplishment, perceived wisdom – but rather in Christ. If anyone had a reason to boast of his qualifications before the Lord, it was Paul. And yet, Paul says that he counts these things as rubbish in order to know Christ and be found in Him.

As I’ve moved through the past three weeks back in this foreign land that we call home, I have been reminded over and over of how little I am able to do here. Most days you will find me half-way through any number of well-intended projects: painting our homeschool room, teaching Elijah how to use a thesaurus, folding laundry, spraying down a closet full of mold, finding the one lady at the wet market who can grind the beef I just bought, meeting neighbors, encouraging friends,etc. I feel like an adult with ADD, never really finishing anything because three other needs interrupted me and then I forget altogether the thing I originally started to do!

Left to myself, it would be easy to beat myself up and end each day feeling completely worthless. Believe me, there have been moments when I have given in to this. However, based on past history, pity parties are no fun for anyone, least of all the one who is throwing it. By God’s grace, I am seeing these days as opportunities to claim “no confidence in the flesh,” and rather, lean on Christ and His sufficiency. All of my best deeds are as rags to Him. He wants my heart. I am asking for grace to maintain heart that is pure toward Him – that all would be worship because of who He is – rather than my proving my worth through the things I accomplish.

“…for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ, and put no confidence in the flesh…”  Philippians 3:3

maintain a pure heart toward Him – that all would be worship because of who He is!


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Homesick for Heaven

The last fourteen weeks have been amazing. We have seen faces and places all over the east coast (and a pit stop in OK!), creating memories that we will treasure for a lifetime.
Though I wouldn’t trade this time for anything, I have to admit that I have felt more like a nomad than a permanent resident. Living out of suitcases, staying in other peoples’ homes, never quite knowing where things are located, trying to hold onto some semblance of routine and order. I have cried out to God many times in moments of feeling like a complete wanderer, one who is in-between worlds, not really at home anywhere.

As I have met Him in the Word each day over this matter, I am realizing that this is exactly how I am supposed to feel. The fact that I don’t feel this way more often is just an indicator of the depth of my sinful heart. This world is not my home. I should be uncomfortable here. A huge part of walking by faith in this life is knowing that what my eyes can see is only temporary. I am a fool to store up treasure on earth, which is not my permanent home.

Knowing that our human tendency is to value what we can see over what we cannot, our Lord warns about these very things. We are not to put our hope in earthly treasure, which will ultimately rot and come to nothing. Rather, we are to treasure eternal things, which will last forever (Matthew 6:19-21).

The writer of Hebrews holds up Abraham as a model of this kind of faith. Abraham knew that he was a “stranger and exile on the earth (11:13),” and that the city that he was seeking was one whose “designer and builder is God (11:10). I want to be like Abraham – one who “desires a better country, that is, a heavenly one (11:16).”

If I fully believe these things (and I DO!), then why is this so difficult to live out? It’s not as simple as saying “Eternal things are more important than earthly things; therefore, I should value eternal things.” It’s fairly simple and straightforward to not acquire unnecessary things, and I feel like I am fairly alert toward paying attention to what is a want and a need. But it is also true that there are earthly things that are necessary during my time here on earth – a home, clothing, etc. It’s when I start sorting through the things that would be considered necessary that I run into trouble. Slowly, my claim on these things begins to be strengthened. My grip becomes tighter. My sense of entitlement becomes more pronounced. Before I know it, what was once a gift from His hand becomes something that I own and have a need to control. Oh, how deceptive is this heart of mine!

How do I find the balance? How do I hold loosely to the necessary things of the world? For me, the solution is gratitude. If my view is such that ALL things come from His merciful hand – gifts from the Giver to this one in need – then I won’t dare begin to presume that I am entitled to or in control of what has been freely given to me. I am praying that He will give me grace to hold loosely to what He has given, since it is not ultimately mine in the end. All that I have is His, and in the end, my prize will be HIM!

During our time here in the US, lots of folks have greeted us with a cheerful “Welcome Home!” Within a few seconds, though, they almost always stop and question us about whether we consider the US to be our home. From an earthly perspective, our house is in East Asia. This is the place that is most familiar to us, where my kids have grown up, where we do daily life. I like it there. I miss it when we are on this side of the ocean. Still, my longing for that place is really just a misplaced longing for my true home in heaven. Like the apostle Paul who realized that his citizenship is of heaven, let my longings for an earthly home cause me to be fixed on my heavenly home.

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Psalm 73:25-26


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In With the New

Sadly, after nearly six years of telling our story here, I’ve moved our family blog to a new address that will allow me to continue uploading pictures. The memory at this site is maxed out, so it’s out with the old and in with the new! I do hope you’ll continue to follow our story over at theduerfamily.wordpress.com. See you there!


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My Anchor

It’s been 12 days since we crossed the Pacific and arrived on U.S. soil. We are recovered from jet lag and finding ourselves getting into a kind of rhythm…bouncing around from place to place hugging the necks of the ones we love and trying to catch up on all that has happened in the last three years. We haven’t slept in any one place for long, and it’s looking like this is going to be the “new normal” for the next three months. Despite my efforts towards creating routine and predictability, there are far too many fun things to do and people to see in such a short period of time for me to get stressed out about structure (or the lack thereof). I am thankful that my last ten years in Asia have taught me to be much more flexible than I am naturally inclined to be. This doesn’t mean that my feathers never get ruffled, it’s just to say that there is progress being made. I am grateful.

A few of my favorite things as we start off our time here in the Carolinas:

the beach
cheese!!
green grass and swings for the kids to play on in the yard
the smiling faces of strangers who hold the door open for you in public places
public water fountains
the public library!!

spending time with people who love us and want to know about our lives in East Asia

As we plow headlong into a packed and busy schedule, I have been reminded of some advice I recently gave a friend who is living across the ocean. She and her husband just found out that they are expecting their first baby, while at the same time learning that they need to move to a new location and find a new job. “Everything is shifting all at the same time!” she told me. I assured her that, yes, it does appear that way. However, our Captain and anchor remains the same, and it is during times of constant change and shifting that we come to rely even more on the One who never shifts or changes (James 1:17).

Our lives, too, have shifted a great deal in the last two weeks. We are strangers in this place; largely unfamiliar with the world in which we find ourselves. I needed a lesson on how to use the washing machine that is in the house where we are staying!! These daily, small occurrences remind me that this world is not my home. True rest and contentment come from relying on Him, the Faithful and True.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. Hebrews 6:19


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The Why Behind the Workout

When we first arrived overseas, I was desperate for a means of managing my stress level. Words are hardly adequate to describe how much my world had changed. Outside of having my husband and child with me (Elijah was 5 months old), everything around me was completely different from what I had ever known. Immersed in a strange, new culture, eating strange, new food, and trying to learn a strange, new language was only the tip of the iceberg. I had SO many questions, but could hardly communicate at all.

More than anything else, I needed personal space – someplace that belonged only to me. In Asia, the idea of personal space is non-existent. Crowds of people are everywhere. In our small one-stoplight town, people pointed at, crowded around, and laughed at us everywhere we went. Even our small on-campus apartment was no reprieve – our househelper lived with us, our neighbors were always coming over, even our shower was crowded with lizards seeking a mosquito snack. …. As a means of survival, I began to get up early to go for a run several mornings each week. We were living in a stifling, hot, tropical climate, so leaving later than 7 am meant sure misery. Going out early meant that the streets were much less crowded, allowing me to move comfortably and without being noticed. I am not a fast runner, but I was usually well past the people before they could identify me as a foreigner and make a scene. I would pound the pavement in those early morning hours, blasting praise music and asking Father to give me a heart for these people.

At that point, my focus was not so much on the exercise, but rather on its “side effects.” Yes, the exercise was good for me, but what I NEEDED was time and space to myself. With no gym or otherwise quiet spot to go to, running became my rest. As long as I kept moving, I could remove myself from the culture that overwhelmed me. As the years passed and our location changed, this routine held. Getting up early and pushing myself through another run set me up for a much more productive day than I would have otherwise had. The time alone was precious. As our family grew and the demands of motherhood with it, I looked forward to time away to feed myself on sermons or music or praying. I would return home before the kids awoke, ready to face the day.
I began to notice that I really LIKED exercise at times when I couldn’t do it. At times we would travel for weeks at a stretch, and being in a new city or a tropical climate where the heat and humidity were enough to send you into heat stroke, I would not be able to exercise as I was used to doing. On those mornings, my legs would ache to get moving, yet I was forced to wait until we were back home to do what I was learning to like. Not only was my body restless, but I found that my moods were more unpredictable than normal and I felt sluggish and lazy. Beginning each day with exercise started things off in a way that it made me much more likely to be disciplined in other areas of my life, too.
About this time, there was tons of research coming out about the value of endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals that are released into our blood after a hard bout of exercise. I remember reading those articles and thinking to myself, “Yes, that is true! That is how I feel after I exercise, too!” The effect of endorphins is powerful. As one who has struggled since high school with periods of depression, even being on medicine at one time, the idea of an “exercise high” that is long-lasting, free, and helps boost my metabolism sounds like a win/win/win to me! This strengthened my resolve to continue getting up and getting out in the mornings.
There was a time when Nate and Noah were both little that I was struggling with getting enough rest at night and also spending time with Jesus in the mornings. Rather than getting up early to have my quiet time and exercise, I switched my workout time to the afternoons when the boys were napping. This freed up my mornings for quality time with Him, but two or three o’clock in the afternoon is the body’s natural down time, so I found myself always fighting against my natural tendency to rest or be quiet. On most days I could push myself, but it was much less enjoyable. I also found myself getting frustrated when I had to take two showers a day. I am a shower-first-thing-in-the-morning kinda girl and also a shower-right-after-I-workout kinda girl, too! This seemed like a colossal waste of time and hot water, not to mention the time it took to get dressed and do my hair and make-up AGAIN. Fed up with feeling like I was never fitting in everything that I needed to do in a day, I committed to going to bed early and getting up early so I could fit in both QT and exercise without short-changing myself or my family.
This has been the best decision I ever made! It has been much easier than I ever expected. Part of this, I think, is because I am naturally not a night owl. I like to sleep, and I NEED consistent, quality sleep. Since I was very young, I have enjoyed being up early in the morning, sipping on coffee, reading, and preparing for my day. Even in college, I never stayed up past 11 because I always had to get up early to teach an aerobics class before heading off to my academic classes. When my boys were much younger I would stay up late telling myself that this was finally “my time.” On close examination, I found that though I was attempting to get meaningful things done, the truth was my brain and body were tired, and I would be much wiser to go to bed and then get up earlier in the mornings to do those things. It took a while to get my body completely transitioned, but it has been SO worth it. During the week I go to bed between 10 and 10:30 and get up about 5. This allows me at least two hours of quiet in the mornings before anyone is allowed to be up with me. I can fit in two cups of coffee, a thorough quiet time, and an un-hurried workout before I hear the sound of little feet:)


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My Confession

I like to exercise.

There, I said it.

What’s the big deal, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. Actually, I didn’t even know it was a big deal until a few months ago when a friend caught me off guard with a question that seemed simple enough.

“What do you like to do in your spare time?”

My initial response was a chuckle, followed by a question back at her.

“What spare time?”

My friend, another homeschooling Mom of three who lives overseas, knew exactly what I meant. This season of life means that our time is spent before we even wake up. Our days are full. “I mean, IF you had spare time, how would yo spend it? What would be enjoyable for you?”

Hmmm…

I thought for a few moments before replying. I like to read. I like to write. I like to cook. I like to travel. I like to take pictures. And I like to exercise. But, I felt a slight hesitation in my spirit before I was willing to say the last one out loud.

Why? Why would I be embarrassed to say that I like to exercise? I was asking myself this same question even as I was trying to reply to my friend. Thus began my self-examination, after which I came up with a few answers.

For starters, when you say that you like to exercise, I think people generally assume that your body will look like the body of one who says they love to exercise. I know, I know. It shouldn’t matter what you look like, right? But, can’t we all agree that this fits in the same category of being a skinny cook or a poor banker? In saying that we enjoy doing something, it naturally follows that our appearance will verify that we are telling the truth. I think I have hesitated to say I enjoy exercising because people may look at my body and (rightly?) assess that I don’t really look like I exercise.

Secondly, it doesn’t sound very spiritual to say you love to exercise. Paul tells Timothy, his son in the faith,”For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Tim 4:8) I completely agree with the Apostle Paul’s point. Body building doesn’t make any man fit for heaven. Salvation is through faith in Christ alone. My body is wasting away. Only what is eternal will last. I have lived in fear of saying I like to exercise because I don’t want people to misunderstand the priority that I give to exercising my body. In American culture, we tend to operate out of extremes, as if those who love Jesus could not possible find it worthwhile to spend time maintaining their physical bodies, or, the opposite, that those who spend time and energy maintaining their physical bodies must be shallow, vain, and lack a clear view of what the Word has to say about such things. It would sound so much more spiritual to say I like to pray or fast or worship in my free time, don’t you think?

Lastly, most people do not like to exercise. At least women, anyway. Rare is the woman who says she loves to exert herself and work up a good sweat. I’ve never heard another woman confess that she loves to lift heavy weights. In saying that I enjoy these things, I put myself in a category of people who are strange or different – even weird. My insecurity has kept me from being honest. It’s far more socially acceptable for a woman to say she likes to shop or catch up on email or do crafts. So, in the past, I would probably have answered in one of these ways rather than enthusiastically saying, “I get up early so I have plenty of time for a good, hard workout!”

I have lots more to say on this, so a few more posts will follow along these same lines. Now that I have dealt with my own issues, I look forward to sharing some of the reasons why I exercise. Dare I even say, some of the reasons I LIKE to exercise??


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Part III – The Camping Trip

Nate has been asking to go camping for a while now. Andy took all the boys camping one night last fall while I was out of town, and I think it was the highlight of the whole year for them. There are so many things for the boys to do, and they are at a great age to get things together and go and help and enjoy the whole process. One key part of Nate’s request was that I also go (I camped some as a child – though my idea of a good time is camping all day and sleeping in my bed at night). With all the busyness of moving and getting re-situated in our new city, we had not committed to camping until a few weeks ago – right about the time Nate’s birthday rolled around. We invited some friends to join us and set out to find the perfect camping spot.

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It was mid-afternoon when we found a good “base camp” location – about 20 minutes from our house and right in the middle of a huge wheat field with a little pond. Nate had gotten an inflatable boat for his birthday, and the boys were eager to try it out. This was the perfect set-up for their novice boat skills.

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We enjoyed a full afternoon of camping fun – gathering branches for the fire, getting tents set up, rock climbing, gathering clams from the pond. The weather was pleasant and cooperative. We got the fire started and heated some water to pour over our Ramen Noodle supper. I also brought along a bag of marshmallows, and we roasted them over the fire.

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As dark settled in, we all retired to our tents. A light rain began to fall, but we didn’t think much of it, and I remember thinking that the sound of the rain on the tent made a sweet lullaby as I drifted off. Around midnight I awoke to lightning and thunder and the feeling of wet on my feet…you know the feeling? It was so loud that Andy and I could hardly hear each other talk. We decided to try and stay put till the morning, especially since the boys were sleeping right through it all!

We did stay until the morning, but were shocked when we unzipped our tents to find that the temps had dropped to the 50’s and everything was wet and soggy. All of our shoes had been left out along with our hoodies and food. We needed to get home quickly before everyone got sick! It took a while to get everything taken down, but we got home by mid-morning and enjoyed hot showers and hot chocolate. We were so thankful to be warm and counted it a treat to have gone camping, at least for a little while.