Surprised by Joy

Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;

All the fitness He requireth,
Is to feel your need of Him.

“Come Ye Sinners” is possibly my favorite hymn of all time. My first memory of it is hearing Mom play the epic, Celtic, Michael Card version around the house while she cleaned and even though it’s old English (everyone judges me when I read my Dad’s old KJV), it moves me to tears.

If I could feel my need of Christ more this week, I’m not sure how.

After creating a schedule for the littles (a Jenna word for babies) that includes teaching bible stories three afternoons a week, constant bandaging, hair cutting and bathing once a week and sewing clothes on request, it’s hard not to feel like—nay, to realize—I have no idea what I’m doing.

Everything looks so pretty on paper, but the execution is sometimes (read: often) a struggle. Regardless, I am thankful to have some sort of a structure so I know what I’m working towards with the children each day.

Beyond that, I’ve taken it upon myself to make a file book of sorts to help me keep information about my children, their families, likes, dislikes, tribe, etc. I printed 50 pictures last week and took another 70 this week, and visited nearly 15 homes Friday and Saturday to learn more about my children’s home lives. It was wonderful and very telling to meet my babies families; I could see personality traits and striking physical resemblances and could better contextualize the behaviors I see them exhibit up at the house after understanding their living situations.

Many of the families seemed pleased that I came to learn more about them. I explained that I loved their children and want to know them as well, and mostly it was met with big smiles and warm welcomes. Some didn’t seem to believe me and were confused as to why a funny-looking, white lady wanted to know how old each of their children were and if they went to school or not, and then wrote it all down in a brown notebook. There was the slightest, almost barely noticeable, but clearly present attitude of: It doesn’t matter. They’re just kids.

It seems so harmless, but it does so much damage, and it makes me want to scream and pull my hair out and cry when I heard anyone dismiss the children as somehow being less.

Less impressionable.
Less important.
Less intelligent.
Less in-tune with God.

They’re just kids. 

If I have to spend the rest of my life fighting those three words that dismiss an entire generation of small people who in actuality grow up to be the big people that we somehow value more because of their size, I will.

I hate this lie, because it changes the course of lives if you believe it.

My parents didn’t believe it and I firmly believe that made all the difference in my life and in what I’m doing today.

My dad didn’t believe it when he gave me a little notebook of scriptures he’d written when I was barely five. I still remember Hebrews 13:5 about God never leaving me or forsaking me because of that yellow legal pad I carried everywhere.

My mom didn’t believe it when she offered me prayer multiple times a night while I was having anxiety attacks and was brave enough to tell me that only Jesus could help me get totally better. I still think of that when I have my bouts of anxiety suddenly in the middle of the night.

My dad didn’t believe it when he taught me to ask God to help us to catch a fish and to thank Him when we did, every time, during our evenings fishing down at our canal. I still know that I can pray simply and that God is always to be thanked.

My mom didn’t believe it when she let me help in the kitchen, though I was more hindrance than help, because she knew I needed to spend time close to her. I still am able to spend time doing tasks with others and not feel completely annoying because I know when someone loves you, they love to be with you.

And Jesus didn’t even believe it. When his disciples didn’t want the children to bother him and Jesus simply said, “Let the little children come to me”.

And because He didn’t believe the lie, I won’t.

———–

It’s been difficult to not “of fitness fondly dream” this week. I get tired constantly and by mid afternoon, our house is swarmed with children, I’m struggling to form sentences, my feet are permanently cracked and dirty and I’m sweating like I’m running a marathon. Helping Cara prep dinner (and God bless this beautiful, sweet girl who’s come to live with us and take care of us) in our kitchen, semi-unfortunately positioned right by the path up the mountain for firewood means that I’m always getting laughed at for cutting green peppers to be sautéed. There is only one type of sauce here that every single person prepares, using oil, tomato and onion, so when we make something different, everyone just laughs at us because we “did it wrong”.

There’s always something happening. Our house feels like a circus, especially during cooking time. One evening this week, Mfaume kept begging for the gizzard as Joseph was gutting the chicken, and David kept trying to sneak feathers away from the pile of intestines when my back was turned. Gaspia helped me roast mehindi and good naturedly beat everyone who got too close. Every few minutes I’d get a spray of cold water while I was peeling ginger and I’d look up to see Cassian smiling shyly through his fingers; he loves to play at our faucet more than probably anything. Further up the yard, the older girls, Jacqueline and Seda read to the little ones and Arbati shook a can of milk for Cara to make butter. I smelled bad, I had dirt everywhere and my messy bun was sliding down the side of my head. I ran back and forth from bandaging to washing hands to prepping dinner. The older boys were sassing me and the mamas were laughing at me cooking again. And I sang to them all, over and over again, “I Need Thee Every Hour”.

I ran into the house for a grater or something and I just stopped because I realized my cheeks hurt from smiling. Every single part of who I was was exploding with joy. I was surprised by it, which reminds me of Surprised by Joy, one of the few C.S. Lewis books I haven’t read yet.

Inexplicable joy.

That phrase prayed over me back in August finally arrived and I wept prayers of thanks to Jesus for the overflowing of joy. I felt like my face must have been glowing.

This coupled with the kids learning some praise songs in Swahili with me this week and Arbati appearing on Sunday morning to bathe so he could come to church with us has caused tears and joy to be constantly overflowing out of my heart. To see Arbati come, in the pouring rain, for soap to bathe and then sit beside me in church, to watch him pray when all the other adults prayed, eyes shut and his rough little hands clasped together on top of the goatskin drum…all the time, the love, the “inconveniences” became worth it in that moment. I wept on and off all morning and I’m so thankful to see just one little heart softening and turning towards God, slowly, but surely.

I’m really worried that I won’t want to come home, guys.

———–

It’s an advantage to speak English here, because I get to pray over everyone all the time and they don’t understand me. I’ve started singing to the kids in English too, and I know none of it is wasted because I’m declaring who Jesus is, His Name and His love, whether they understand it or not. And it helps me not lose my mind when they’re naughty or all asking for things all at the same time. My faith really is built on nothing less than Jesus being enough at this point, because I’m so aware of how much I’m grumpy, tired or inadequate in a given day. And oh, the freedom.

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

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5 thoughts on “Surprised by Joy

  1. Well, your tears have spilled over to this side of the world! It is with pure joy that I read your submission. Keep your joy…it’s contagious!

  2. Stephanie what wonderful stories I get to read from you I feel blessed by knowing you. Keep up the wonderful work I look forward to seeing you whenever God decides that you’re ready to come home. As tears run down my face I can only ask why and what I can think of is that it’s beautiful to watch God’s work coming out in you. I can’t wait until I’m able to do the same. But God will give me that time when I am ready. I miss you and love you. Nancy

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