Each evening I sit with Andrew and RJ and I read aloud to them. We have been reading through a wonderful series from Andrew Peterson called “The Wingfeather Saga”, which I highly recommend to everyone regardless of age. I have read it myself three times and still enjoy it each time! And I love seeing the boys’ reactions when we get to the end of a chapter, where the author has very skillfully left you in suspense as to what will happen next! They beg and plead for one more chapter, and I truly believe it’s not just because when we are done reading they will be going to bed! 😉
One night as I was sitting there waiting for them to brush their teeth before we got started reading I looked over and there sat this stuffed dog who (in my mind) is called Ebenezer:
This dog is one of those Ebenezer stones – a stone of help and remembrance. This dog has traveled the world with us. He was given to RJ when, at 6 months old, he went in for open heart surgery to repair two holes in his heart that weren’t repairing themselves. A friend and mentor of ours from the District office where Shawn worked as a pastor met us at 5:30 AM to pray for us, pray over RJ, and sit with us during the surgery. He brought balloons which were attached to this big, silly looking pooch. At the time, I think the dog wasn’t much smaller than our baby who was refusing to eat and grow, so it really made an impression on me. But even more so, I remember the feeling of being loved – of the fact that we were not alone in this. During that time in the hospital we set up a site where we could update people and they could leave comments. I printed off those comments so he could have them later in life, and we had people praying for him from all over the world. It was encouraging and humbling at the same time.
RJ went on to recover completely from surgery with just two scars – one on his chest and one near his stomach. When we left a year and a half later for Malawi his heart specialist told us to “act like nothing ever happened except when he needs dental work – then get antibiotics!” And so we have.
We went to Malawi, fell in love with Africa and her people. We had adventures while camping in the bush and hearing hippos. Got scared of a little black snake that we were sure must be the dangerous Black Mamba we kept hearing about (it wasn’t), moved houses three times, made friends, ate termites, experienced church in a different language, and determined that we would live there forever.
Plans changed and we ended up home in New York again. The dog was one of the few things that made the trip there and back with us, as most things got left. After a few months of living in my in-law’s basement we were offered a church in Troy, NY and moved there wondering what was next. Doggie came along. There we once again fell in love with the people. We pastored two churches that couldn’t have been more different from each other, and reveled in the diversity of God’s people even within a few miles of each other let alone a different country. We laughed and cried. We mourned the loss of my mom and were loved on by people in that grief. We moved 4 times in our 5 years there, and big brown puppy came along for the ride. Each time he would be put on RJ’s bed and I would see it occasionally and smile at the adventures of the dog and how much love we felt from the people who gave him to us.
When we moved to South Sudan we didn’t take the puppy. It was going to be dusty and dry, the land there harsh and somewhat volatile. We knew there was always a chance of evacuation and so because of that we packed most of our keepsakes in different bins in the States and stored them with family. RJ mentioned several times while we were there that he missed his dog. (He is a child of tradition and doesn’t enjoy change much. Poor kid!)
A year and a half later after evacuating South Sudan and moving to Kenya we went back to the States and started going through things because the person storing our stuff was moving. We decided to take things back to Kenya because we want to be here long term and wanted to personalize our lives here. The dog was on the top of RJ’s list, and Andrew even stuffed it in his carry one when we ran out of room in the bins. So now he sits here – reminding us of God’s goodness in our lives.
Just like the situation surrounding the receiving of the dog, much of our life has not been what we planned. We didn’t think we would ever be facing open heart surgery with our baby while he sat in congestive heart failure. We didn’t think we would move so many times – almost every time we went somewhere we talked about settling down and hoped to be there “forever.” We didn’t expect to have to leave Malawi. We were finally on the field and thought that after all that time of preparing we would be there until we retired. We didn’t really expect to evacuate Mundri, despite all the talk of war and go-bags and evacuation plans.
Yet there are so many things we would have missed out on without those unexpected and unplanned detours in life. We wouldn’t have experienced so many of the deep, life-giving, abiding, rich friendships that we have. We would have missed the extra time with people in the seasons of wait. We wouldn’t have experienced the faithfulness and provision of God time and time again.
We hope, desire, yearn to be in Kenya long term. We don’t want to move and have upheaval again. We love our lives here – our friends, our church, our team. And as far as we can see, that’s the plan. But we have come to the place where we realize that we can’t see his plans in the details that we wish we could. Often we can’t even see a blurry view of those plans and we have to go blindly into whatever he pushes us towards. He is doing a work in us. And every time I see the brown stuffed dog I am reminded of His love for us. Isn’t God funny that way – to use a stuffed animal of all things to remind us who he is?!
So, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, [which in this case is a brown, stuffed puppy] hither by Thy help I’ve come; And I hope, by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home. Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.” (Come Thou Fount, hymn by Robert Robinson)