Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Raw truth about living in Chad - Part 3

I wrote this just before leaving Canada to head back to Chad in mid October 2016....I had had 4 months back in my home country to reflect on my first 3 years in Chad and this is the last post in that 3 part series. 
A lot has happened since writing this (the temporary suspension of the flight program in Chad and our family returning to Canada very post to come), challenging the very ideas I wrote about in here...'choosing joy and being thankful in all circumstances'.....Hope this encourages you as it has me. 


This simple 3 letter word isn't so simple. I am and will forever struggle with having 'joy in all things'. Seems impossible to me sometimes. This has been the theme of my third year in Chad...another life lesson that God has been trying to teach me while living in the most difficult place I have ever experienced. But, if I can learn to be joyful here in Chad....well, I think I'm off to a good start! :)

I remember chatting with Phil one night about life and how things were going and we both agreed that finally, we were beginning to feel more settled. Chad, our house and compound and work and church and friends and shopping and food and money and the way we did life here...well, that was starting to feel normal which was a tad shocking as I thought I would never get used to life in N'Djamena.

But, despite the ease at which we maneuvered life here,  there was this constant voice in my head whispering discontentment with the way things were. I felt like I had gotten the short end of the Phil winged his way across Chad, seeing and meeting and experiencing some amazing things and I....well, I was on the compound...again.

I would hear of the various ministries people had here in Chad and how they were making a difference to the Chadian people and I....well, I was on the compound....again.

I would visit facebook and see the amazing experiences kids and families were having back in my home country (libraries, parks, swimming lessons, pinterest worthy parties and home decor etc) and I....well, I was on the compound....again.

Do you get what I was feeling and thinking? I was not happy at all with where I was at...even though I felt like things were more normal, doesn't mean I was exuding joy. Phil was working like mad, flying and away a lot, leaving me on my own, and the phase of life Evie was at was just wearing my down and oh ya....I lived in Chad! So, I went right ahead and launched myself into a pity party. (I don't recommend this)

I had stopped being thankful and was choosing to complain and take the glass-half-empty view to everything that came my way. 


How do I get that? I wanted it so bad. I wanted to stop the negative thoughts, the crippling comparing game, the pity party....I am a missionary for heaven's sakes!! GET IT TOGETHER!!! How do I find joy in the mundane? In the seemingly unimportant?

I read and talked and listened and asked questions and sought advice from wiser wives/moms and I knew what I had to do. I had to ask for joy (from the Lord) and then I had to manifest it through thankfulness instead of complaining.

There was a verse that I had read a zillion times before (well, maybe not that many...but I was super familiar with it) and as I read it yet again, I finally got what it was trying to say. 

"The JOY of the Lord is my STRENGTH" (Nehemiah 8:10c). 

Here I was, struggling to make it through my days, wanting to feel that joy in the ordinary but coming up short so many times and just feeling so done at the end of the day. And then I read this. And I realized that it is the Lord who gives Joy and that when you have that Joy, you have strength to make it through whatever you are going through....whether it is cleaning up a juice spill for the 10th time that morning, or doing the dishes (again) or doing the school run, or welcoming a husband home well beyond dinner time.....there can be joy in those things. Not necessarily a happy, big smile, on top of the world joy....that to me is happiness, which can come and go as quick as the weather, I'm talking about joy, being content in whatever circumstance....and this can often be identified in how much of a thankful person you are. 

Are you quick to complain or be disappointed? Or do you try to find things within the hard times that you can be thankful for? I must admit, my tendency is towards the former but I want to be characterized as the latter. 

Good news: We can change our attitudes by: 

1. Recognizing the negative, complaining thoughts and stopping them dead in their tracks before they take root and poison your vision in the moment. (I literally say to myself...STOP thinking that!)

2. Asking God to help us find something to be thankful for in the moment (your perspective has the power to change a bad situation into a not-as-bad-as-I-thought situation) 

3. Replace the negative, complaining thoughts with thankfulness and asking God to forgive us for our selfish, pity party!

As an example from my life: 

There was a time when Phil was extraordinarily busy with work stuff and I was slogging it in the trenches with my super busy/clingy 18 month old and I remember just thinking random thoughts throughout the day like....'He is NEVER home and I have to deal with this beast of a child all by myself, all the time!!!!", or "If Phil was here....things wouldn't be so bad", or "Phil is gone AGAIN...and I'm stuck with the kids and having to parent them on my own, again!"......

I know the thoughts that were cycling through my head (and many others...too many to mention or remember) were not from God and I was taking those thoughts and chewing on them all day, every day and the root of bitterness, discontentment and ungratefulness were burrowing deep...and I just wasn't joyful. It showed in how I spoke to my husband, or how I talked about things with others and even how I acted and spoke towards my kids....I can just imagine how lovely I was to live with! But God being gracious, confronted this sin of ingratitude in my heart through his Word and when I read that verse...I knew the key to Joy was thankfulness.  I wanted to conduct myself as a wife, mother and friend (three of the main roles which encompassed the ministry that I felt God had called me too) in a manner pleasing to God and encouraging and inspiring to others...and to me, thankfulness and joy are so intertwined and such imperative characteristics to have in this ministry.

There are a lot of 'things' in Chad (and life in general) that can suck that joy and gratitude right out of me....but it is up to me to recognize my deep need for the One who gives Joy freely and ask Him for an attitude of thankfulness so I can live life to the fullest....with his strength. 

I'm still working on day, one moment at a time. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Reflections on the second year of living in Chad

Ok, so here is part 2 of my 'reflections on my time in Chad so far'.....

Evie was 10 weeks old when we hopped on a plane and headed back to Chad (October 2014). It really is a bit of a blur but I do remember enjoying thanksgiving with our families just days before our return flight and thinking....I'm really gonna miss this. Goodbye hugs, tears and 'see you soon's' and then we were off, back to the place that I really didn't like.

I had one major fear as I flew back to Chad: Would it be exactly like the first year? Fraught with health problems?  A daily struggle just to 'be'? Several close friends and family knew this was a major deal to me going back and I knew they had been and would continue to pray for me in this transition...and I had given that fear to God, and replaced it with hope. Hope that things were going to be way different this time around. Hope that my health wouldn't be an issue. Hope that I would be able to speak with more ease in french. Hope that I would thrive and not just survive.

It has been 1.5 years since returning to Chad, and I am happy to report that it WAS different! There were still struggles and frustrations but they didn't play the main role in my daily life anymore. There were more normal times, happy times, contented times than not. I am so thankful for that, and God's blessing in that way. It has made a world of difference here in Chad.

Leaving that difficult year behind me and pressing on into my second year in Chad, God continued to teach me important life lessons. This year, the theme that stuck out quite clearly to me in what I read, talked about, heard from others was the idea of abiding in Him. I began to realize more than ever that anything good that ever comes out of me, is because of God.

We were talking about this topic at our ladies group one day and someone shared her struggle of feeling useless, and lost here in Chad. She began questioning why God had brought her to Chad as she couldn't speak french, she didn't have any kind of ministry herself and she just felt like 'what was the point'? And then the Lord spoke the verse " I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains (abides) in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing."

She then realized that her job was to remain in Him. Abide. That it wasn't about what she could do for God, and that there wasn't this checklist of things that if she did them she would be exactly what God wanted her to be....nope....she just needed to abide. Stay close. Fill herself with Him and his words. He loved her just for who she is. Not what she did or does. So often missionaries get so caught up in this checklist of being a "good missionary"...and they forget to actually abide in Him. Remember that part about 'apart from me, you can do nothing?" yup. Without remaining/abiding close to God, spending time with Him, filling your hearts and minds up with His words.....the 'work' we do is empty and lacking in joy. The deep joy that is not dependent on your situation, but one that remains no matter what happens.

 I really connected with what she was saying and realized that I had been putting these pressures on myself to have a ministry outside the home.  A good thing to strive for but for me, it was leaving me dissatisfied and frustrated as a homemaker. I realized that I had to realign my vision, my purpose, and my daily role to first and foremost, abide in Him. Stop trying to do things on my own and in my own timing and start inviting God into all aspects of my days.

My mindset slowly started to change and instead of focusing on what I wasn't doing (that I thought I should be doing), I started doing what I know God has called me to do at this point in my life (being a mom and wife) and also began to be more intentional about abiding.

What does that look like for me exactly? Well, I didn't all of a sudden become this holier than thou spiritual mother and, it was more in the little things, like being more intentional about reading the Word, posting important verses around the kitchen to be reminded throughout the days and to refocus my mind on the things that really mattered. It meant turning my negative, complainy attitude into thankfulness. It meant asking for and striving for the fruits of the spirit to be evident in the way I interacted with my husband and kids. It meant pouring my heart and soul into the life that God called me to, here in Chad. But not doing it in my own strength, but in God's strength. It meant living my life with God as my number 1. Letting Him into every aspect of my thoughts (that they would be pleasing to Him), my work (that I would serve with joy), my interactions with others (that I would show His love), and my words (that they would build up and not tear down). Staying close to Him in all that I do, say and think, letting Him fill me with Him. That is what abiding has meant to me. 

I still have a looooooong ways to go and God is still teaching me that I need to have Him in all parts of my life and days....some days are great and others a miserable failure. But change doesn't happen overnight right? Let's just say that Chad is literally a 'refining fire' and I'm thankful that 'He who has begun a great work in me will one day bring it to completion'. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Our crazy first year in Chad

If someone would have told me when we first arrived here on May 10, 2013 at 1 pm in the 50 degree heat, that we would be staying here in Chad longer than our first required term (3.5 years), I would have probably slapped them. 

Seriously, when I stepped off the plane and headed into the indescribable heat of Chad and then further into the chaos and insanity of the 'airport'....I thought....oh my word.....just where have we moved to? I wish I could say it got a whole lot better and easier after that....but it didn't. It got worse. Way worse. 

Our first year in Chad would be characterized by health problems, hospital stays, a miscarriage, difficulty with language, ridiculous driving conditions, pregnancy sickness, major struggles with the heat and also feeling lonely to highlight a few. Sounded like fun eh? 

We left after 1 year of living  in Chad to go back to Canada to have Evelinne, and we actually came back to Chad 6 months later. Why you ask? Part of me thinks ya, why did we come back? There was really nothing good (for me at least) to come back my first year had been tainted with such awful experiences. Why in heavens name would I come back to a place that held such suffering and misery for me? 

Well, I didn't want to throw in the towel just yet, and I wanted to see if things were going to be different this time around with my health and if I could overcome the struggles I had with driving, language, loneliness etc. I couldn't quit before I had given it a fair go. Plus, I knew in my heart that this is where God wanted me to be for this time....and I held onto the lessons that He had taught me throughout my struggles in my first year of living on what seemed to me like a different planet.

Looking back on the 3 years we have lived in Chad, I can honestly say that I have learned so much and been challenged spiritually, emotionally and physically 1000 times more than I could have been back in Canada. God knows exactly where we need to be for Him to shape us into who He wants us to be....and for me, that place is Chad. (On a bad day I ask....WHY not a cooler place??? On a good day, I thank Him for not giving up on me and for loving me enough to relocate me halfway around the world to the only place I could have learned these important truths about who He is and who He wants me to be).

Interestingly enough, 3 main words/phrases stood out to me as I was reflecting back on our time here in N'Djamena, each word represented the theme of the lesson God was teaching me in that year and this is something I want to share with you all.

In the first year, the Phrase that stood out to me, that I kept on encountering over and over in my reading, in my praying, in my journalling and in my talking to others and reflecting on my experiences was that 'when everything is taken away from you, God is enough and God is there'.

 I remember several weeks after my miscarriage I ended up back in the bush hospital (no running water, no electricity, no food/water provided, oh and it was 40 plus degrees) with a major skin infection (cellulitis) in my arm and I had had a friend drive me to this hospital as Phil was out flying that day....the Doctor admitted me right away and so there I was, alone, in the this room at the very corner of the hospital, sweating like a beast, waiting for Phil to arrive and bring me some food/water and some sheets and a pillow. It was pitch black by the time he arrived (his flight was delayed and then he had to sort out the kids and pack for sleeping over at the hospital with me) and he found me, laying in the pitch dark, on a vinyl mattress, in the heat, in pain and just at a serious low point and he said he felt like crying for me. 

I remember waiting for Phil to arrive, and just battling with minute I would be so angry with Him and wondering why all this was happening as hadn't we sacrificed enough for Him to come to a very difficult place like Chad and we'd given up being close to our families and friends, given up the comforts of life, given up nice weather, and being able to wear what we wanted, given up speaking English and having modern stores and roads and given up the only way of life I had ever known......and then the next minute I would be thanking God for his provision of good British Doctors at this sketchy hospital and for the people who were stepping up to take care of our kids for us. 

I do remember very clearly as I was laying in my hot bed during my 5 day stay there, as I was complaining to God about all the things we had sacrificed for Him and why was He letting us go through all of this etc....I remember a clear voice saying to me "Haven't I given up everything for you?". Pause. Gulp. Yup. God gave up His ONLY SON for me, so that I could come freely to Him. The ultimate sacrifice. That most definitely trumped my list of sacrifices. That wasn't to downplay the serious struggles we had been through (and would continue to encounter as the year went on) but it just put things into perspective and helped me to focus more on what God was trying to teach me through it all rather than just complain about it. 

I would like to say that this realization after being in Chad for only 4 months at the time of my arm infection, meant that I was good to go for the rest of our time here in Chad, but nope...I guess I am a slow learner. Many more trials and difficulties came our way during that first year and I left Chad on May 1, 2014 to have Evelinne in Canada and I remember having a conversation (more like me bawling my eyes out) with Phil on how much I hated living here. Yup. I said it. Hope you realize now that missionaries are just normal people who struggle with the same stuff you all struggle with. God was faithful to me as he was trying to teach me this lesson that He is enough when everything else is taken away (health, family, comfort, friends, home culture etc). 

Believe you me, by the time I stepped onto that plane to head back to Canada, that lesson had been drilled into my head, an important one to learn early on, as when you think about it, nothing in this life that we have is certain....everything and anything can be taken away or lost at any time....we in Canada have a false sense of security and it took me moving to Chad to figure it out, but the only thing we can be certain about is God. Who He is: unchanging (that means He's the same God in Canada as he is in Chad), that you can count on Him to walk with you through the darkness and give you exactly what you need to make it through. 

No promises it's gonna be easy, in fact, there are more verses in the Bible telling those who believe in God that it's gonna be hard, and that we will suffer but that we can cling to the One who never changes, who is totally in control, who knows the future, who does what is best for us (doesn't mean He does what we think is best for us)....all of which are such important truths for someone who feels like their whole world as they know it is shifting daily as they try to navigate this new life in a new place. 

So, on October 15, 2014, I, Merilee Henderson once again, stepped off the plane in N'Djamena but this time, I knew it was going to be different, and it was. 

Stay tuned for Part 2.....

(This has already become a bit of a novel (congrats to those who read this far down!) so I am going to highlight the 2 other themes of my time here in Chad in another blog post.) 

Thanks for all your prayers, your support, your friendships and encouragement. God is doing a good work here in Chad....not only in me but in many others who are also living, working and learning some crazy God lessons here in Chad!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Ideas from an Ex-pat Kitchen: Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

Before living in Chad, I had never made spaghetti sauce from scratch....I mean...why would I when there are so many choices of bottled sauces for a decent price? Well, now that those bottles of spaghetti sauce cost $5 for half the size.....I was thrown into the deep end of making my spaghetti sauce from scratch. It has been 2 years in the making, and I am happy to say that I think I have a winner! My family can attest to the fact that it has taken me a while, lots of tweaking, adding this and taking out get the flavor we all like. I have used several recipes, mixed them together and added some of my own extras too (the kids had no idea that there was so many vegetables mixed in!!!) for those out there who want to ditch the bottled sauce and go 'natural', or for those other ex-pats who haven't quite found the right combination of ingredients for their sauce.....try this one one.....I hope you like it as much as we do!

 Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

-2 large cans of diced or whole tomatoes
-1 teaspoon each of Oregano and Basil
-1 teaspoon of garlic powder (or 4 cloves crushed)
-1 teaspoon salt
-1 bay leaf
-3-4 Tablespoons sugar
-2 Beef oxo cubes
-1/4 teaspsoon of Pepper
-1 chopped onion (optional)
-1/2 Cup zucchini, peeled and chopped
-1 medium size carrot, peeled and chopped
-1/2 green pepper, chopped
-1/8 C fresh Spinach, chopped (I found if you put too much spinach in, you can taste it!)

1) Throw all ingredients into a medium size cooking pot, bring to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. The sauce is done when the veggies are soft and cooked through.

2) Remove from heat, pick out the Bay leaf, and then use an immersion blender to blend all ingredients together, or if you don't have one, you can use a regular blender to puree the sauce. Add already browned/cooked ground beef if you like or keep it the way it is and have a meatless sauce.

3) Serve or freeze for later. Serves 6-8 adults.

*This is a very easy recipe to play around with....change up the quantity of tomatoes for a larger family, and just add a bit more of each ingredient. The best part of this sauce is how many vegetables are in it, and your kids won't be able to pick them out!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Happy 7th Birthday to my Lily

This year Lily had an extended birthday celebration for various reasons. Lily loved having '3 birthdays!'....and it was fun for us too! Lily's actual birthday was on April 16, so we made some cupcakes and brought them into school to share at break time. Phil even managed to come as well which was a nice surprise for Lily. The whole school sung Happy Birthday to a very shy/embarrassed Lily (whole school being only 18 kids!!) and she handed each classmate a cupcake to enjoy.

(Sidenote: Things were a bit dicey security wise in N'Djamena at this time with the presidential elections the following weekend so we decided to postpone her birthday party with friends until after the uncertainty died down as not many people wanted to be travelling around the city unnecessarily. Also a bunch of her girl friends had left the country just to be safe and weren't due back until a week or two after the elections were over.)

Lily's Birthday cupcakes 
In the meantime, we had a family birthday party (with some families on the MAF compound too) on Saturday where we played some games, ate her tiger cake (her request, and once again, Phil delivered!!) and opened some nice gifts. The adults sat around chatting, eating cake and drinking coffee or coke depending on how hot they were feeling at the time :) and the kids had a blast playing legos and play mobil together. Lily went to bed with a smile on her face and some great memories of her 7th birthday.

So, once Lily's friends arrived back in the country, we invited them to a day at the Hilton pool.....she invited 2 girls and of course Kaitlyn and Evie and Phil and I were there was a glorious day of sun, blue sky, HOT temperatures, 3 amazing pools and some scrumptious pizza eaten poolside. She had a great time and felt loved and special.
In keeping with tradition, here is a little letter to Lily highlighting some of the things that we want to remember about her...

Happy with her Tiger cake design
Oh Lilsky-doodle, you are a beautiful, smiley girl who is always up for any make-believe game involving you being some sort of animal. "Mom, I think I am more comfortable being an animal than a human"'....??? You spend more time on your hands and feet, galloping like a horse or running like a tiger or cheetah, then you do on your two feet! But you have a great ol' time down there! So fun to see your imagination create fun all day long!

You are a reading machine....I literally have to pry the book out of your hand so you can go to bed or eat your it! Funny thing is that when you read, you read outloud so there is a constant hum of noise coming from you when you are reading. We have gotten used to it by now, but it took a bit of time to be able to concentrate on what we were doing when you were reading out loud all the time! You are totally into Cam Jansen mysteries now as well as the Rainbow Fairy book series (thanks to your cousins for sending you those!).

Little Merilee was one of Lily's guests
You still sleep with your blankie and need water beside your bed every night, and you have to hug and kiss me on the lips....sometimes I turn my face for you to kiss my cheek, and then you say....why not on your lips mom? Then we give another goodnight kiss, this time on the lips. Creature of habit Lily is.

You pride yourself in being able to make scrambled eggs by yourself and one of your favorite things to do with me is cook/bake. With you being in school now, that doesn't happen as much as before, but you still get your chance on the weekends.

You lost your first tooth a while ago but haven't lost any your cute Chiclet teeth smile remains. We'll cherish those baby teeth as long as they last...

You have a hard time with disappointment and dashed expectations (don't we all?) and we are working on maintaining self-control when life (or mom and dad) throws you a curve ball. We've talked lots about it, after the tantrums and also in times of peace and I know you know its wrong and you have prayed about it and are really trying to put that kind of reaction far from you. It just takes time and prayer and effort. We love you no matter what Lil.

You have amazing servant heart moments where you'll close the kitchen door and scurry around getting all the dishes ready to set the table and then say " Mom, Don't look!!" while you set the table to surprise me. Or you'll fill the water glasses up for dinner, or tidy your bedroom up and surprise me. I love that in those moments, I see that you just 'get it'....putting others first and doing things for others that aren't necessarily fun for you, but you know it will bless someone else. Love it!

You are an animal lover (understatement!!) and have been blessed with 4 kitties, 2 cats, 2 bunnies, 1 turtle and a chance to hold an owl and a baby bird. No shortage of animals here for your to love and care for....each weekend, one of your jobs it to feed/water the pets.....I'd like to add change the kitty litter to that job description please! :)

You love to swim and be loud and crazy in the pool...."no screaming Lil!!".

Evie loves to play with you, be chased by you, jump on the trampoline with you and just be with you. Several times a day now Evie will ask "Where Lily?"....and I'll say that you are at school bu you are coming home after lunch and Evie will say "Oh" and be happy knowing you are coming back soon. Adorable.

I love how you will often get out of bed, early in the morning to get Evie out of her crib as she is awake and wanting some food. You lovingly take her out of her crib, get a little something for her to eat, play with her and give me a couple more minutes of sleep. I don't know if you realize how huge a thing that is to do for me Lily. Thank you.

You are doing amazingly well at school....Grade 1 seems to be a breeze for you. Your teacher thinks you're a hard worker and a bit of a perfectionist (Phil!) and there isn't much you encounter that you feel like you can't do. Wait to go Lily!! I remember how nervous you were to start school and how you didn't want to go, and here you are, doing great! So proud of you Lily for overcoming your fears and trying something new.

You are counting down the days (Literally) until we are flying back to Canada for the summer....and you keep on asking...."So, is Gramma, Nnana, Grampa, AND Emmy going to pick us up at the airport??". You want everyone there right away so you can see them all. You miss them a lot and I love how you feel so close to them despite the fact we are continents away from each other. That is a huge blessing. I pray that this summer will be so special for you, to reconnect with cousins and friends and discover a little more about Canada and where your from.

Lily, you are so special to our family and we love you so much. You bring joy, laughter, craziness, creativity, fun and love to our family. Happy's to many more....Love ya kiddo.