Where Would You Like To Go?

August 29, 2014

Five on Friday

1. I've realized that suitcases and boxes can be both exciting & sad at the same time.  We are anxiously awaiting the hugs and hellos in MS but we are also ever aware of leaving our "family" here in SW Mada - it's a hard combination.

2. Lyllian has decided to start crawling, waving bye bye, and saying dada & mama this week.  I think she did it for me so I would be sure to witness the 1sts of everything.  I have a feeling once we get to MS there will be plenty of times when she's with others while I'm at (fill in the blank) .  Oh! And she also has been sitting up in her crib when we go in to get her in the mornings or after nap - such a big girl!
3. It's been my last week with the ESL students - some of my absolute favorite people on this earth.  They are awesome.  I love how much they end up teaching me when I'm there to teach them.
4. Ryleigh is speaking Malagasy better than I ever imagined.  She has amazed us this past week with her understanding and fluency.  We'll have to be sure to keep practicing while we're stateside so she doesn't forget it!

5. Steve preached this past Sunday at our church and I'm not sure I can adequately explain how proud I am of him.  He has worked amazingly hard at the language/dialect and I know how well he speaks - but since I don't get to go to the bush with him, this was the first time I heard him share from God's word in Malagasy.  I'd say all of that hard work has paid off!  Praising the Lord for His faithfulness in Steve!

August 25, 2014

To My Daughters

Sweet girls,
   My heart is full.  There are times when it's hard to believe that this is my life.  Married to your handsome daddy who loves all 3 of us so well, living in a 3rd world country, and being "mommy" to the most beautiful blue eyed girls I know.  Truly living out my dream - it's humbling for sure.  Most spend their time on this earth trying to figure out what their dream is and then chasing after it with all they have. I don't have words to describe how it is to know that I'm 29 and already living mine.  I want you to know that it's not because of anything I have done.  I have done nothing to deserve or earn this life.  My sweet, gracious, & merciful Savior has chosen, for now, to allow me to live this life and I am eternally grateful for every moment He provides.

  I so often have SO much I want to tell you that I have no idea where to start, so instead of it all staying in my head and in my prayers - I want to share some of it with you.  There are things I never want you to question, truths I desire for you to always be confident of.  
Ryleigh & Lyllian - you are LOVED.  You are loved more than you can imagine.  Both of you are uniquely created by the One who controls the storms and calms the seas.  He has an amazing journey planned just for you if you choose to follow Him.  He has entrusted your daddy and me to be your parents here on earth and we are completely honored with the task.  We will make mistakes, sweet girls...at times we will fail at showing you His perfect love but He.will.never.fail.  
  The way your eyes smile and light up when you see me in the mornings - it's incredible enough to make my heart burst.  Your giggles and grins have changed me in a way that's undescribable.  Our days are filled with laughter - have no doubt - but know that there are other moments, ones of tantrums, tears, and discipline...but they all hold a special place in my heart.  It's this whirlwind of ordinary moments that make our life together so extraordinary.  The Lord has used (and continues to use) the two of you to teach me much about His truths, His grace, and His forgiveness.  
  Sometimes the days seem long and we are all (whether you admit it or not) look forward to bedtime.  We're frustrated and in the words of Ryleigh "want to stomp our feet at you".  It's in those moments that I've learned to grab you and pull you in my lap - to hold you until we both start laughing and the tension is gone.  I've learned that Love really does conquer all.  There are times that consequences are needed but Love is always present and I desire to show the two of you that in all that I do.

  Other days the moments fly by.  I blink and it's bedtime.  Those are the nights that our bedtime routine takes a little longer, we rock for a few more minutes, we sing just a couple more songs.  Those nights, you'll look up and find tears in my eyes and I assure you that they are only there because of how happy I am - only there because of how much I love you.  I try to memorize the smell of your hair, the way you hold my hand, the crinkle of your nose, the way you body curls up on mine...it's all going by too fast and I don't want to forget a single second of it.
  This past week, as I was sharing about His love with the ESL class, the realization of each of your salvations weighed heavily on my heart.  The realization that it's truly out of my control - that it's a decision you must make all on your own...it's a hard thing for this momma to accept.  I desire above all else for you to each come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  I pray that the stories, crafts, songs, and prayers lead you towards questions that only He can answer.  I ask Him daily to prepare your hearts to love Him alone.  
 Girls, no matter how much your daddy and me love you - you are loved infinitely more by the God that we serve.  We are proud of who you are and how He already uses you to bring glory to Himself.  No matter how old you are - you will always be our baby girls. 

August 23, 2014

Hide & Seek

"Hey Momma, where should I hide?" "Ummm, I think I will hide in the closet - K momma?  Thats where I hide cause it's a good spot."

Some conversation similar to this happens every time we play hide & seek - which has recently become a favorite game.  Ryleigh always tells us where she'll be hiding and when it's our turn to hide - she wants us to hide in the same place.  I've tried the past few times to explain how talking about our hiding places defeats the purpose of the game - but so far it's been to no avail.

Today, as we had our 483rd conversation about where she was going to hide, I wondered if God ever had those same thoughts about me.  If He ever chuckles or smiles to Himself when I try to hide or cover up something...thinking "Nickolee, I already know - there's no point in playing that game".

Now that I think about it, probably not.  I'm thinking if He smiles, it's a sad smile...the kind of smile that would mean...
You're smarter than this.
Why are you taking this path...again?
Have you already forgotten what I've taught you?

I'm reminded of John 1 where Jesus tells Nathaniel "I saw you before Phillip ever came to you".

"I saw you before"

He sees
He seeks
He finds
He knows

Hiding is a waste of time and energy.  Covering up my sin is useless. 

Confession
Forgiveness
Grace
Mercy
Glorifying Him

What a better use of this life...of His gift...of His love.

August 22, 2014

Things are Changing



Years before we met, God was preparing our hearts for serving Him overseas.  Since 2010, the Lord has led us to have a deep burden for the Mahafaly people of SW Madagascar.  We have learned more than we could ever put into words about Madagascar, the Mahafaly people, and ourselves during the past three years.
IMB Appointment Service - Nov 2010

This past April, the Lord started preparing us for a change.  We weren't sure what that would look like and we each took turns being resistant to the idea of it.  However, when we were approached by leadership to take on another role on the island, we knew that this is what the Lord had been getting us ready for.  When we return in 2015 after our stateside, our new title will be - Engagement Strategist.  Our new home will be back where we did language school in 2011 - in Antsirabe.  Leadership felt that our individual and combined strengths would fit well into this position and we agree.

Our new focus will be on locating, mapping, researching, & assessing the lostness of the unreached people groups that have a population of 100,000 or less.  There are about 25 different groups all over the island.  Steve's main task will involve a good bit of travel to extremely hard to reach areas - after he finds out exactly where some people groups are located.  Once the groups are located, Steve will do research, prioritize, and seek out partners (local churches and/or US churches) to engage these groups.  I will be in charge of contacting & facilitating churches who are wanting to partner in reaching these different groups.  I will also be keeping partner churches up to date and organizing logistics of mission trips.  

We knew from the beginning that reaching the Mahafaly would never be something we would accomplish on our own or even with our teammates - that it would have to be a result of God moving through reproducing churches and nationals reaching nationals.  Just this past year we've watched God burden & move through 3 different church groups to go outside of their comfort zone and share the gospel.  The mindset of knowing that we can not do this on our own does not change going into this new position.  This could easily be a very overwhelming job but we serve a God who does not get overwhelmed.  He knows every person in every group and He desires for each of them to praise His name.  
Roberts Family - our church in Tulear - July 2014
Will you help that vision be a reality?  We will continue to need your prayers and encouragement.  We will need committed long term partnerships from churches & associations.  We will also need you to be faithful in giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.  You, as a part of the body of Christ, play a VITAL role in reaching Madagascar for Christ.

August 20, 2014

The Constant

Ryleigh picked up a horrendous looking pink pillow today at the store.  I think there was a picture of a skull on it.  The box however had a cute little puppy dog and girl on it (because that makes TOTAL sense).  She grabbed it and insisted it was her "favorite ever and mommy can I pretty pretty pretty please have it?" 

Thankfully there was no tantrum (this time) when I said no and she put it back.  She walked back up to me and said "it's okay, I'll find one when we get to Mississippi."  Oh my.  Guess I've used that response one too many times.  She then jumped into her own conversation (with one of her imagination family - that's what she calls them) about the things she'll get once we get to MS.  She talked about going to the mountains, meeting Elsa & Anna, eating grapes, playing ball, blowing bubbles, going swimming, and picking out clothes.  
As I listened, all I could think about is how our life will look really different in another month.  She's honestly not going to know what to do with herself when there are 5 aisles of toys at walmart instead of 3 short shelves of overpriced, random toys.  

*sidebar - our store in town currently has Scrabble the board game- want to take a guess on how much it is?  Go ahead.  Give it a try.  Ummmm close - it's $130, I'm not even kidding. Ok, end sidebar* 

I then started thinking about a conversation Steve and I had recently.  How do you teach a child to not be materialistic when you live in two radically different cultures?  We don't have the answer, by the way, but I think it has something to do with an attitude of entitlement.  This may be hard for a 3 year old to understand but it starts with us, as parents, anyway.  
In Madagascar, the people here live on a poverty level that most can not fathom.  However, most in America can't fathom living how we do as foreigners in a 3rd world country.  We do without here - but we have so much more than the average person here.  We live amongst poverty.  People here live on a little less than $1 a day.  We recieve packages from America filled with goodies that have actually led the customs lady to ask, "do you not eat any food from Madagascar?".  We have air conditioning units in our bedrooms, a hot water heater, a washing machine, electricity, and beds.  Our girls have toys to play with and clothes to play in.  We may do without some "modern conveniences" but otherwise we do just fine.  

When we get to America in a couple of weeks, our girls will probably be overwhelmed with gifts from every family member (and some friends) who see them.  And...as parents it will be fun for us - seeing the excitement on the girls' faces and the joy of the giver for being able to give them something in person instead of via the mail.  It's all well & good and the gift giving will come from a good place.  There will no doubt be indulgences on our behalf as well - fast food, new kitchen items, an updated wardrobe, and a snowcone or three!  
Where's the balance?  How do you teach a child (or ourselves) to be happy with what we have when we only do major shopping once every 3 years?  How do you explain that that is not the norm and should not ever be an expectation?

I'm not sure on the right way but I do know that the Lord has been speaking His wisdom into my heart & mind.  He's reminded me that in the midst of a 3rd world country, in the midst of a 1st world country, and in the midst of everything between - He is constant. 

He is the same.  His desire is for us to bring Him glory.  He deserves our praise, our prayers, and our constant communion with Him. 

So our lives should reflect that.  Whether here or there - We will continue to pray thanking Him for every meal.  We will recognize and act on the need to give out of the abundance we have been given. We will open our eyes to every gift big & small - ordinary & extraordinary - and be grateful.

We will remember that He is the only Constant.

August 18, 2014

Remembering

Having that first indepth conversation with a new friend is always interesting to me.  I try my best to hit the "big" moments to bring them up to date of where we are in life now.  However, there are times that small stories fit in there somehow and while I'm telling them I remember just how big they actually are.  God reminds me of how incredibly faithful He has been for my entire life.

This morning at ESL, someone asked about the word tithe and what it meant.  We read some Scriptures and talked about what God's intentions of tithing are and then we also discussed the word offering and if it was different or the same as tithing.  It was truly a great conversation.  One student asked about what would God say if the amount he needed to tithe was the amount he also needed to pay a bill or buy some food.  Basically asking if tithing should come out at the end of the "paycheck" or at the beginning.

It's times like this when the difference in income between my family and theirs begins to stand out drastically.  It's hard for them to take seriously the things that I'm saying because in their eyes I've never struggled in the way they have financially.  In those few moments, the Lord reminded me of a time that there was a similar struggle.

It was in our first 2 months of moving out to TX for seminary.  We were both searching for jobs, school books needed to be purchased, gas needed to be bought, and bills needed to be paid.  We had always maintained that our tithe was the first thing that came out of our paycheck and then we'd use what we had left to take care of everything else.  Well, the start of that third month with no job hit us harder than we had anticipated.  We realized on a Monday that we literally didn't have any money for groceries.  We had worked so hard to pay off credit card debt our first year of marriage that we cringed at the thought of putting groceries on the card.  We headed out that morning in search of jobs and without reaching a resolution on what to do in regards to groceries. That afternoon we arrived home to a plain, white envelope on our front porch.  Inside was a Wal-Mart gift card that had more than enough to cover our groceries.  The note simply said that it was to help provide.  No signature. No name. No anything.  Just His provision.

Sharing that story this morning, made me thankful all over again.  I remembered how overwhelmed I was at recieving that gift and knowing that we had talked to no one - except the Lord - about our situation.  His provision 6 years ago was a provision again this morning.  He allowed me to connect to the ESL students in a way that I had not been able to previously.  They understood the fact that we had no idea that He would provide in that way when we chose to continue to tithe that month.  We were able to talk about what His provision could look like if He had not delievered groceries to my door.  We talked about how giving cheerfully and faithfully could NEVER be a wrong choice.

Yes, there are still MANY things about that story that don't relate to the 3rd world country we now live in - and I do recognize that even then 6 years ago, going a week without food from the store wouldn't have "hurt" us.  I am in no way trying to compare my situation to that of the Malagasy here. However, I am indeed reflecting on how important it is for us to remember the things He has done for us.  I am saying that no matter our social/financial situation - we should always give testimony to His faithfulness, His goodness, and His provision.

August 15, 2014

5 on Friday

Sadly, Lisa Jo is no longer doing her Five Minute Friday and since I've been a bit absent on the blog this week, I thought I'd catch you up with a quick 5 on Friday.
1. Steve started off the week being diagnosed with Typhoid.  After lots of prayers and some antibiotics, he is recovering but he's still not well.  Please continue to lift up his health as well as for the rest of us to stay healthy!

2. Southbridge has a mission team here this week and we're hosting Nathan & Tessa (former journeyman and ISC here in Tulear).  We are definitely enjoying having them around again!!

3. Ryleigh is such a big helper!  This week she's helped make a cake, English Muffins, and mashed potatoes.  She's also started helping feed Lyllian her solid foods - it's so much fun to have her helping with different things!

4. Lyllian turned 8 months old yesterday - time is flying by! This morning she figured out how to pull herself up in her pack & play and she is loving it!

5. We are figuring out it's pretty difficult to figure out what needs to be in our allotted carry ons for the trip to the US in a few weeks.  It's a little overwhelming thinking about packing for 2 little ones for a new place to be "home" for 6 months...but I'm sure we'll figure it all out!  And anything we forget...well that's what grandparents are for - right?!?!?!

Hope you have a fantastic weekend!!

August 14, 2014

Lyllian Abigail - 8 months

Sweet baby girl,
   You are changing so fast!  Time is flying by and you are looking less and less like a little baby.  You are such a content and happy baby.  You love being with people or playing by yourself.  You have started talking more and I think we can officially say that your first word is "da da da da" - which of course makes your daddy happy!
While you are eating solids 3x a day at mealtimes, your favorite thing is to eat snack puffs.  You've figured out how to grab them and put them in your mouth & you think that's the neatest thing ever.  You'll hit your highchair with both of your hands and "talk" to us when you want some more.  You like the idea of a sippy cup - you've learned to pick it up yourself and chew on the sippy part but you are not a big fan of juice.  For a while you only would eat veggies but this month you have started enjoying apples, banannas, and pears - but you do NOT like peaches!!
You can sit unassisted for a long time - if you start to lose your balance you can "right" yourself again.  You flip over so quickly when you want to get to something, and if you are on your back - your toes go immediately to your mouth.  
 This month you weigh 16 lbs 3 oz (28th percentile) and are 27.5 in long (71st percentile).  You are still wearing 6 month clothes and a few 6-9 months.  We have gotten on a 4 hour schedule during the day and you are sleeping 6pm - 630am every night.  I tried to make your bedtime later but you still woke up at the same time each morning.  I guess you're just not a night owl like your big sister!  
 You have had 2 more teeth start poking through on the top this month and they have given you fits for sure!  Thankfully, you've still been able to sleep well and just wanted a few extra cuddles during the day which we're happy to give!  Anytime someone is around you, they comment about what a happy baby you are.  You give the biggest smiles and giggles all day long.
While you have started crying when I walk out of a room, you reserve your biggest smiles for when you see your daddy and your deepest laughs for Ryleigh.  This month you have really enjoyed playing in your pack and play - you'll sit in there and play with your toys for 30 minutes or so in the mornings.  Your favorites right now are Sophia the giraffee, books, pacifier (to chew on), a colorful rattle, and anything that's Ryleigh's!!
 You love storytime in your rocking chair, playing peek-a-boo with daddy, and standing on your tiptoes.  You have started grasping the top part of your playmat and pulling yourself up to your knees using that or anything else nearby.
 I love you so much Miss Lyllian Abigail and I am so thankful for the past 8 months of joy you have brought!  You are such a gift!!

August 6, 2014

Not Home Yet

I've written about being homesick before and there are times when something specifically makes me long to be with Jesus face to face for eternity.  

But, if I'm completely honest, I don't always feel that way.  The idea of it sounds lovely, but so does going home to see our family, finally achieving fluency in Malagasy, watching our girls grow up, and other things that are only going to happen if we stay on this earth for a while longer.  As I type that, I realize that actually I have no idea if those things will ever happen.  I like to think that they will, but they're just as likely not to.  Which is yet another reason why I should only hope in what I know will not change and that is eternal life with Christ.  Our eternal home is a guarantee.

A friend of mine who has met her prince charming and will be wed later this year challenges me without her even being aware.  She obviously has a great deal to look forward to but even in this season she still had a FB post recently that said "Lord Jesus come soon!" and I know she meant it.  She eagerly looks forward to what the Lord has in store for her here on this earth but her focus is clear - she anticipates the day when she can walk to her Heavenly Groom more than anticipating her wedding day.  As a woman - that's huge to me...it speaks volumes.  

Does my daily life reflect that?  Longing to be home more than I long to be a part of what I consider milestones here on this earth?  I am forever grateful for what the Lord has chosen to give in this life but I desire to value more what He has given me for eternity.  Grateful that this is indeed not where I belong and no matter where I may travel on this globe, I am indeed not home yet!


August 5, 2014

Village Updates

Steve and Grant have been taking trips down all throughout the winter here and often have hit setbacks of villages not being able to meet.  However, we still wanted you to know some big overviews of what's going on and how you can be praying!  Below you will find Grant's latest update on what's been going on in the three villages where there are baptized believers...

Kilimary:  Despite a constant battle with cattle thieves, the believers in this village continue to grow in their faith and spread the Gospel.  They have been consistently leading Bible study in the nearby village of Andohasatra each Saturday, and on Sundays the villagers from Andohasatra have been coming to Kilimary for worship!  Kilimary is excited for the rains to come so they can baptize the new believers!

Besatra:  They continue to struggle with divisions and disagreements within the church.  This is often complicated by the fact that the church leader is also the village leader…making it difficult for the believers to come to an agreement.  After several good Bible studies on church unity this month, we are anxious to see how the believers put what they are learning into practice. 


Andremba:  Andremba has hired military to protect them from the ever-worsening cattle thieves in the region.  Although these guards have given them some relief from this threat, food security is becoming an issue for Andremba because of locust damage and late rains.  The believers continue to meet weekly.  We continue teaching on the importance of evangelism.  They have been sharing their faith in and around the village of Andremba, but are now ready to go to a new village with the Good News.

August 4, 2014

His Story

I've been working on a short video to use while we are on STATS to give everyone a glimpse into our life and ministry here.  As I've been compiling pictures and videos clips - something continually stands out to me.

This has nothing to do with us.
I think I had this image in my head that in essence the Malagasy people would be waiting on us to arrive a little over 3 years ago.  That they would be so thrilled we had come to share with them the good news of Jesus that they would hang onto every word we spoke.

What?
A bit more self absorbed than you thought?
 Guilty.  I know.

The people here have been welcoming for the most part, and they are eager to hear about Jesus...but they weren't waiting on us.  They weren't marking down their calendars for the day that we would arrive in the same way we were counting down the days until we did.  They were living life.  They still are.  They have no idea that something is missing (unless the Lord has moved in their hearts) and are overall content with their ancestor worship and sacrifices.  After all, it's seemed to work for centuries as far as they know.

God is so incredible.
I mean - He just is.  Here's the deal, if they had been waiting on us - they would have thought His salvation was because of us.  Oh my.  It's not.  Not even in the most minuscule way.  The only part we play is in sharing what He has already done and is doing in our lives.

It's His story.  Not ours.

The Bible that we're here to share stories from...it's simply & amazingly intricately just that.  It's other people's stories of how God has moved, how the Savior has changed their lives.

Once again His story.

So, no - there was no parade or crowds of people eagerly awaiting our plane to land because they heard we were bringing the Good News.  But, they have been waiting.  Their spirits yearn to know why they were created.  There are gaps, missing pieces, that they are aware don't quite fit together.  There's the stories that were passed down from generation to generation that just don't seem to make sense.
They aren't waiting for us - but they are waiting on a Savior.  They are eager to learn about the One who created all things and desires to create a new life in them.
And you know something I've learned?  He speaks and moves as He sees fit because...

He is waiting.

Oh, He is waiting with open arms to all who are lost and wandering.  He is awaiting the moment when they step into His marvelous light and declare His name above every other name.

He is waiting to make their story - His story.


August 2, 2014

What If

The planner in me has a tendency to always look forward to the next moment.  The next big thing, the next milestone, the next anything.  Something the Lord has been showing me this year is how important the things are that are happening right now.  

All too often, there's the train of thought that the Lord is using what's around us and what we're currently doing to prepare us for the "next big thing".  It looks different for everyone.  Maybe it's a move, a job promotion, to become parents, a break in your writing/acting/singing career, to get married, etc, etc, etc.  

But what if you are inside of the moments that He has created you for right now?  
Filing those papers, wiping that nose, studying for that test, being single, homeschooling your children, being let go...what if? 
What if each of those things ARE the "next big thing"?  
What if you never see the bigger picture?  
What if you never get the applause or spotlight?
What if things never turn out the way you always imagined they would?

Even if all of those things are true - it doesn't change who He is.

Shouldn't we be living this moment...this one...right now for His glory?  
Isn't that what we were created for?  

Wouldn't that change our outlook on the mundane things that we consider so routine? 
We do not know how He is working, how He is weaving every detail together to make His name famous.  Even if everything appears to be falling apart and is so different from what we imagined.

All things work together for good, for those who are called according to HIS purposes.

If His timing is perfect then that means where we are right now is for a reason.  There should be no regret or longing over what we thought a season should look like in our life.  What if His plans are perfect?  What if His thoughts are higher than our thoughts?  What if He wants you doing what you're doing right now for a purpose?

What if it looks like ______?

Even if.


August 1, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Begin

Everything has one.  A place, a time that is considered the beginning.
Beginnings are
scary and beautiful
routine and abnormal
overwhelming and hopeful

you have to balance the fear of messing up with the awe of getting to start anew
the wonder of what's to come with the opportunity to have the chance
the doubts with the wings that have been given for you to fly

beginnings are a glorious thing
to begin
to start
to write
to love
to give grace
to forgive
to listen
to act
to take off

endings are just as important, they pave the way for something else to begin
smile, embrace it, have joy, get ready, and
BEGIN.

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