A few days ago, I was able to spend some time with a team of college students from my church back in the States. They’re here in Africa for the summer, and as I heard their passion and fervor spill into their speech and prayers that night, I walked away with a deep sense of excitement for the future as well as a nagging sense of nostalgia.
Nostalgia because it was the summer after my junior year in college that I flew off to Kenya, all starry-eyed and ready to save the world. Thankfully, the college students our church sends out today are far better equipped and more realistic than I probably was, but some things don’t change in the decade-and-a-half (ohmygosh) since I was in their shoes. Things like those all-consuming questions that start reverberating throughout the course of a summer like this. Questions to the tune of “But what should I study? Where should I live after graduation? What does God even want me to do with my life?”
Sadly (or, probably, thankfully) I am but a mere mortal and (shocker) do not have all the answers to their deepest questions in life, but it’s also my mere mortal-ness that has allowed me to struggle big and wrestle hard over a lot of these very questions throughout the years. I am intimately acquainted with seasons of grasping, searching, and crying out for purpose and direction. I know what it’s like to feel aimless and out of control. We know- oh man do we know– what it’s like to be in an extended season of waiting. And we have learned a thing or two over time.
So, from one fellow struggler, sojourner, and Jesus-follower to another, I have just a few words of advice for all of you students out there loving and serving the nations this summer and who are trying to discern what’s next:
To those who might feel like God wants you to go into ministry or move overseas, mark it down and tell somebody. So many of you are doing the short-term mission trip thing this summer, and I love that. I, for one, am a product of short-term trips and an example of how God can use these to call people to long-term overseas ministry, and I know some of you are sensing that same call. I ALSO happen to know quite well how tempting it is to stuff that call, pack it away, and think you’ll deal with it another time.
Don’t. Write it down. Tell someone. Because here’s what’s gonna happen: you’re going to go back to your school, and you’re going to get back to your studies and ordinary life, and you’re going to be tempted to forget about all you saw and learned this summer. And when memories resurface and that call you so clearly feel right now creeps into your thoughts, it’s going to be tempting to think, “Naw, that’s crazy, man.” Because here’s what I’ve learned: we humans are forgetful people. We need accountability. We need reminders- both of who we are called to be and who God has already said He is. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to need your people to point your darting eyes back to Truth. Over and over again. Pick those people now.
Going and waiting are not mutually exclusive. A solid fifteen years elapsed between the point Matt and I first felt called to move overseas and us actually going. If you’re wondering, that feels like a REAL LONG TIME PEOPLE. But you want to know what went down in that period of time? A heck of a lot of life. A lot of learning. A lot of preparation. I think it’s awesome when fresh college grads head out on the mission field, and I hope so many more do so. But us? Our hardheads apparently needed some time. And that’s okay.
If you and all of your passion find your best-laid plans of moving overseas coming to a screeching halt, don’t despair. I know that sometimes a “wait” feels a whole lot like a “no,” but hear me on this: when God tells you to wait, it can be one of the greatest acts of mercy you’ll ever experience. Had Matt and I moved to Africa as 22 year old newlyweds, we would’ve sunk. No doubt. We needed to live and learn and prepare. We needed seminary and job experience and life. That long fifteen year season of waiting for us was undeniably God’s kindness to us. So, to those in seasons of preparation, waiting, or maybe even feeling as if you’re “wasting time,” I get it. Persevere. Be faithful to the work He has for you right now. And trust that no one is more invested in His gospel moving forward than God Himself.
Some of you will be called to stay. As you go about your summer in who-knows-where across the globe, some of you- a lot of you even- will feel further affirmed in your calling to stay. Maybe to church plant stateside. Maybe to teach or heal or to kill it in the business sector. Listen: that’s good work too. We Christians have a long history of erecting a false divide between the secular and the sacred, and it’s just straight-up bogus. Don’t buy into the myth that “church work” is somehow elevated above “secular work.” Because anyone who’s going to peddle that lie to you clearly doesn’t understand that we are all called to make much of Jesus wherever we go.
Our pastor often reminds us, “Whatever you are good at, do it well for the glory of God, and do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God.” The nations need more Jesus-followers to bring the message of life and hope, absolutely. But you know where else you might feel called to go that’s also strategic? That public middle school down the street. Or that law firm in the big metropolis. Or maybe that apartment complex on the other side of town. Those of us who go need some of you to stay. But even if you stay, you’re still living a “sent” life. We’re all in this thing together, my friends.
Maybe don’t take yourself so seriously. I used to think that I could completely screw up (or miss altogether) God’s will for my life. Like if I made one wrong decision, all humanity was heading to Hades. In case you’re wondering, that’s kind of a lot of pressure to put on oneself, but I’m fairly certain I’m not alone in this.
You guys, I know we’re raised to believe we’re snowflakes and all, but here’s the thing: we’re not all that important after all. I’ve come to the realization that we don’t actually have the power to ruin God’s will with a single decision. His will is that every nation, tribe, and tongue will gather around the throne, and we already have the sure promise that this indeed will happen. And so, we pray and we seek wise counsel and we go to God’s Word as we make big decisions. And then we decide, resting in the knowledge that God is wiser than our best decisions and powerful enough to redeem our worst decisions. So, exhale and let some of that pressure roll off your back. The salvation of the world does not rest on your shoulders. God is the one who saves; we just get to be part of the story.
Dear college students, sometimes I envy you with all of your zeal and wide open opportunities, but then I reflect and recall that, actually, my college years were also REALLY DANG HARD sometimes. Some of the hardest in my life actually. There are so many expectations. So many decisions that legit decide the course of your future. It can feel crushing at times, I know. I remember. But the Church is rooting for you. We’ve got your backs. And I, for one, am praying for you. But even better? You have the very presence of God going with you. So, whether it’s to Chapel Hill, North Carolina or Lilongwe, Malawi (I MEAN NO PRESSURE), you go and get after it. You are sent.
Nearly six months ago, our exhausted yet wide-eyed family landed in Lilongwe full of anticipation and hesitation and all of the feelings in between. And just about six months in? Yep. Still all the feelings.
At times, I can become swept up and overwhelmed in all that has shifted under our feet in the past year. Our routines and rhythms, our jobs, our level of autonomy, our comfort levels in navigating the city, our personal space. I recognize so little from our former lives that it’s disorienting at times. But then, I find myself glancing around, seeking out those little things that have remained relatively untouched.
We’re still working with the same personalities, fighting the same fights (typically the Brushing Of The Hair battle or the HelpmeJesus Can’t I Go Ten Seconds Without Being Touched battle), and dancing to the same songs in our same almost-nightly dance parties. We’re using that same Target birthday banner we’ve used since our babies were babies, and those very babies are still enamored with the same YouTubers playing the same video game that they could STILL BE PLAYING THEMSELVES. Oh my gosh. As I said, some things just haven’t changed.
It’s this intersection of new and old that we’re feeling our way through right now. The in-between season of having completely uprooted everything and still not feeling firmly planted where we are. I know it will come. It always has. But there’s also an increased awareness of our status of sojourners here on this earth. Sojourners don’t find their identities in their location or the roots they’ve put down. Rather, sojourners have their eyes locked in on their final destination.
And yet, as we sojourn- as we pass through this broken/beautiful life living in this broken/beautiful(!!!) country- we do so with gratitude for all He has done and continues to do.
Like these kids who have pushed through the hard and have embraced their new lives here in Malawi with such bravery and strength that I could just about weep. That said, we’re not all rainbows and unicorns up in here, my friends. There have been plenty of moments of wailing and missing Target and Amazon Prime. There have been Sabbaths that have felt ANYTHING BUT restful and Sabbath-y as we all-but-dragged three children into yet another long Chichewa service. There have been murky waters to wade on the path to new friendships.
But there’s also been such joy. Elizabeth has made seventy thousand friends, showed off her insane speed and athletic prowess at last week’s field day, and has really leaned into and owned her identity as an African since being here. “Mom,” she said the other day. “I know I’m American, but I was BORN in Congo. So, ya know. I think I’m just mostly African mkay?” Alright, Elizabeth! You keep working that out, girl. We’re here for it. As of late, she has also become completely enamored with cooking and has learned how to fry chicken from our sweet house helper. There are some moments in life in which nature beats out nurture. Like riiiiight here. Because her love of cooking (and speed and dance moves) FO SHO didn’t come from me and Matt.
Then, there’s Mary Grace. Anyone who has known her since, oh, infancy knows full-well that this kid holds zero back. We all know exactly where she stands on every issue at every moment, and so it was no surprise to us when she recently mentioned that she was “working through the stages of culture shock” and is “mostly out of the ‘hate it’ phase.” So there’s that. Major bonus points to her teachers at training last year and even more bonus points to our nine year old who is able to (loudly) (very frequently) (with passion and fervor) express her feelings. When she hasn’t been busy navigating the stages of culture shock, Mary Grace has been spending her days playing school soccer, playing school ultimate frisbee, and playing the school recorder (omg). She lives most of her life outside, channeling her inner ninja (again, not everything has changed with the move) and building an elaborate “house” of sticks, stones, and spare tires in our backyard. She killed it academically this year and is the latest Allison to become completely obsessed with all things Harry Potter. Also. She’s come up with nicknames for half a dozen boys in her grade which is mostly endearing and slightly concerning. Because, Mary Grace.
And Carson. A few weeks ago, we sat around the dinner table sharing the highs and lows of the past few months. “SCHOOL!” he yelled. “My definite highlight has been school!” Seriously though. After a super-brief taste of quasi-homeschooling this fall, three cheers from all three kids and a bunch more from me for not having to have ME has a teacher anymore. Moving here, I was all kinds of nervous about coming with a tween-aged kid. Because seriously. Close your eyes and remember your awkward, insecure self in the middle schoolish years. And then? Pick that awkward you up and plop yourself into a new country mid-school-year with different cultures and foods and everything and try to sort THAT out. I KNOW. But sweet goodness, he’s kicked tail with the transition and has grown and matured so much in the recent months. As a true creature of habit and lover of routine and sameness, Carson has had to push himself to attempt the new and to try the foreign, and he HAS. Sometimes, I catch a quick word in Chichewa that he’ll quietly utter to our guard or I’ll watch as he tentatively starts swaying along in our dance-loving church and I’ll smile knowing that these small moments are actually giant for him and that, actually, I think he’ll be just fine after all.
Finally, me and Matt. We’re hitting our stride. Most days at least. We’re finally settling into routines, figuring out how to be together so. dang. much., and learning how this life will possibly carry on without our beloved neighborhood taco truck. We’re still grinding away at language and continue to see slow and steady progress. That said, we still have plenty of ridiculous moments while attempting to make use of our newfound-ish knowledge of Chichewa. Listen, it’s not MY fault that the words for “nurse” and “virgin” sound similar. Suffice it to say, I have misrepresented myself… and my career… on more than one occasion. Whoops.
Our biggest struggles right now? Identity– figuring out what that even looks like in this season and learning to be okay with the aftermath of having so much of our former identities stripped away. Also, friends. We miss them. A lot. We miss feeling known. We miss the ease of friendships that had been forged for a decade. We miss our people and our church something fierce.
But we also hold, in tandem with the pain and the loss, so much good and new. New friends. New work. All slowly developing like a Polaroid picture. Grainy. Shadow-y. But the new reality is slowly peeking through, and it too is good. Different. But good.
And just like that, I will close my six-months-in missionary blog update humming “shake it like a polaroid picture” a la OutKast which confirms what I’ve been trying to say this whole time. You can move us, give us new jobs, and make us drive on the left hand side of the road, but there are just some things- like our good God and good music- that aren’t gonna change. And glory hallelujah for that.
I think it’s time we had a little chat. You’ve been going to church for a while now. Since, well, birth. You’ve heard the gospel clearly articulated. You’ve earned your Awana badges. You’ve sung WAY COOLER songs than the Psalty the Singing Songbook gems I was raised on. You’ve been around the evangelical church block a time or two in your relatively short lives, and I’m grateful.
But as thankful as I am for the solid, Christ-exalting churches that we’ve been a part of over the years, it’s come to my attention that maybe we’re missing the mark in one particular arena. We do a great job teaching you Bible stories. We push hard to get those “memory verses” in you. We talk to you about quiet times. We talk about true love waiting. We talk and we talk and we talk. But as I’ve watched the news and listened to the voices and followed the social media (ohmygosh, the social media) over the past months, I’ve wondered if we’ve actually spent so much time and energy talking and teaching you how to be “good little boys and girls” who don’t wear this and don’t say that and don’t sleep around and don’t don’t don’t that we forgot how we DO treat one another. I think we’ve forgotten to teach you to be brothers and sisters and co-laborers.
So, kids, as we strive to do better and as you grow up and dream of your future, I have some of my own hopes and dreams for you as your mom:
Let’s start with you, girls.
I’m going to waste zero time and cut to the most crucial piece of advice I could possibly offer here and then work back from there. Because I know it may feel out of place, but trust me- you get this one right and so much will follow:
Girls, study God’s word. Read it. Learn it. Historically, so many of the theological heavy lifters have been men, leading countless women to position themselves in the shadows- with a cursory, anemic understanding of Scripture- assuming that they simply couldn’t understand what the seminary trained theologians could. FALSE. If you learn anything from me, it’s that you, my girls, are more than capable of studying Scripture for yourselves. Full stop. This is critical because the way you understand Scripture will completely shape how you view God and, in turn, His redemptive narrative and His creation.
Because you, girls, are a vital part of this narrative. A narrative that all points back to the Creator and King who deserves all of the glory and praise. But sometimes people get this confused. Sometimes people start to get tiny tastes of power and glory, and they become intoxicated. And with that power, they might start to relegate others into boxes that feel comfortable and non-threatening. That’s why you see so many strong, brilliant women within the church stuffing their God-given gifts. Because the message that’s been conveyed to them for years has sounded a lot like, “You know? You’re just a little too much.”
When those moments arise, girls, I need you to keep your eyes and heart locked in on Jesus and His infallible truth. Stay humble. Remain teachable, receiving Godly input well. But. After that. Don’t be afraid to shut the negativity out and run hard in whatever lane God calls you- whether that’s in the home, church, or marketplace- without guilt or condemnation. God gave you those gifts and passions to use for His kingdom and His glory. Get after it.
A final word of warning, girls, and this is important. Protect yourself from becoming jaded. These days, there is a lot of heated dialogue surrounding men versus women in the Church and the world at large, and rightfully so. A lot has happened, and a lot of women have been and continue to be profoundly hurt. Tragically so. But hear me: men are not the enemy. Sin is. Look around you as you grow up and notice the multitudes of men surrounding you, affirming your gifts, having your backs, and cheering you on as you run hard after what God has called you to. See the men who are tirelessly combating the lies the world may be shouting about your worth. See them, girls, because they’re your brothers, and we need them. Let’s do our part to build up this brotherhood and sisterhood within the Church.
Which brings me to a word to my son.
Son, if I could offer up one piece of advice to you, it would be this:
Remember the brotherhood and sisterhood. Remember your family.
No, I’m not talking about your biological family here. I’m talking about all of the people- male and female, black and brown and white- that you’ll come across in work, play, and worship throughout your days. Because the sad truth is that some Jesus-following guys just get… weird… around girls with time. Don’t be the weird guy. Girls don’t have cooties and they certainly don’t need to be feared; it is indeed possible to work alongside them, learn from them, and be led by them without lightning striking you dead.
In all seriousness, I pray that you would have eyes to see the kingdom of God as a family of brothers and sisters rather than temptresses and threats. I pray that you would be able to approach the family of God without prevailing feelings of distrust and suspicion. Oh how I pray that you would unapologetically and without hesitation stand up for those who might not be in power. That you might use your platforms, power, and privilege for good and for God’s glory. You need your sisters in the church, and they need you. Because when we work together, each with our individual gifts and in our given lanes and within the bounds of Scripture, yes- that’s how the Church is supposed to function.
And a final word to all three of you:
God has created men and women with equal value and dignity and worth. In his perfect design, He has created us with different functions and roles, but don’t you dare let anyone try to tell you that different equals inferior. If you settle on an inaccurate view of the worth and value of your brothers and sisters within the church, I fear you’re settling on a woefully incomplete view of God. And for this the Church will indeed suffer.
Because that, you guys, is what this is all about. Not about puffing out our chests with all of the power we can possibly exert. Not about the issues we champion or the camps with which we march. It’s not about our identities as strong women, faithful employees, husbands and fathers, movers/shakers/world-changers but about our identity as beloved children of the God who deserves all of the glory. Our greatest goal, therefore, is not in proving ourselves to the watching world but in professing Christ to a world who desperately needs something greater to watch.
We can do this. Let’s start small, and let’s start with us. And one by one, we can link arms with brothers and sisters ready to get on with this. There’s work to be done, and we’ve wasted enough time bickering, competing, and silencing. Are we a family or what? Okay good, I thought so. Onward.
A few nights ago, as we all gathered around the dinner table after a long day of all. the. things., I started peppering five unassuming Allisons with questions. An almost-three-months-in State of the Union, if you will. “How are you feeling? How are you doing? How are WE doing? Are we okay?”
Because, nearly three months in, I sometimes wonder, “Alright. We’re doing this thing and HOLY MOLY we’re actually okay. I mean, I think we’re okay. Oh shoot. Are we? No really, ARE WE ALRIGHT?” As if I’ve been waiting for the bottom to drop out and am shocked to see us still standing. Still liking each other. Not only surviving but thriving.
So, one by one, we went around and shared the highs and lows and good and bad.
“It’s not that different. Actually, it’s way better than I thought. It hasn’t been that hard at all.”
“I miss toy stores.”
“I love our school.”
“Sometimes church is way too long, and I think they should just speak English.”
“I’m afraid to make best friends here because I still have my best friends in America.”
“I love our yard and our dogs.”
“I miss feeling known.”
“I miss our church.”
“I miss ESPN.”
“I miss easy-to-make foods and wonder if there’s a black market here for prepackaged meals and hearty preservatives and some wholly unhealthy cheap and fast food every now and then thankyouverymuch.”
Because no really. I have flown through more tomatoes and boxes of baking powder and bags of flour (oh my gosh the flour) in the past three months of my life than probably ever. Combined. Times five. Help me Lord Jesus and please rain manna in the form of baking mixes and processed junk food down from the Heavens above AMEN.
Hands down, that’s precisely what I miss the most in living here. Ease. Everything just seems to be more difficult, less intuitive, more time consuming. It’s no one thing that floods us with daily stress but a constant drip coming from countless directions. Power’s out again? Drip. A kid’s puking and you’re not quite sure if it’s malaria or that extra piece of pizza? Drip. It’s dinner time and you just realized your chicken is rancid? Again? Drip. Drip. Drip.
Don’t get me wrong. This hasn’t come as a surprise to us. Nor are we over here languishing in sorrow and tears. No, we are loving Malawi, and the general consensus from the state of our union the other night was overwhelmingly positive. This is not just semantics, nor am I trying to appease worried grandparents. We are truly thriving. We’re thriving AND we sometimes struggle. Both/and. We’re loving life AND we’re being dripped on constantly. The kids have good days, and they have days where they announce to seemingly the entire capital city, “I JUST WANT TO GO BACK TO AMERICA AND WATCH TV AND GO TO TARGETTTTT!”
And so we keep on. We keep on marveling at the beauty of this country. We keep on plowing through language. We keep on with homework and school projects and soccer games. We keep on with the ordinary and with the awe-inspiring. We keep on slipping in the puddles created from the slow, steady drips and then we get the heck back up and go at it again.
So, just like that one kid of ours said, maybe this life here isn’t all that different after all. I think it’s easy to look at pictures of our life here in such a seemingly exotic location and think that we’re living this National Geographic-ish fairy tale of a life. That every moment here feels significant. But if our “state of the union” proved anything, it’s that this life here is just one big mashup of the extraordinary and the mundane.
Three months in. Same but different. Still fighting to remember that, whether I’m scrubbing a sink full of dishes or treating malaria in the bush, it’s all sacred. It’s all worthwhile. It’s all part of my calling. And it’s all good work.
So, keep on, my friends. My friends knee deep in diapers and sleepless nights. My friends who clock in and out of their workplace every day silently wondering, “Am I making any difference here? Does this even matter at all?” My front-and-center friends. My behind-the-scenes friends. My friends who, despite their exotic overseas Instagram pics, question if they’re adding any value at all. And my friends who see these exotic overseas Instagram pics and wonder, “What do I even have to show for my work?”
Solidarity. In the mundane and in the novel and exciting. In the questions, worries, and doubts. May we all keep doing the work that’s in front of us, trusting that any work that has been given by God is good and sacred indeed.
Even when it involves rotten chicken and entirely too much baking powder and nary a frozen meal in sight.
Eight years ago today, you were born to your sweet Congo Mama into a family that loved you more than you’ll probably ever understand.
Seven years ago today, you turned one whole year old with, quite certainly, zero fanfare or acknowledgement of the occasion in your remote Congolese orphanage.
Today, on that same continent- and a mere 1,887 km down the road (Google Maps, girl- it’s a beautiful thing)- you are turning eight. Good gracious, so much has happened. And still, that same sweetness that spilled out of you as a newly home two year old still radiates from you today. You, our girl, are a gift.
This year has held an dizzying amount of change for you. You finished first grade at the North Carolina school we all loved. You said goodbye to your house, your beloved dog, the dance studio that brought you so much joy, your extended family, your best friends, the bulk of your toys, and, essentially, all that was familiar and comfortable. And yet, in the middle of all of these brutally difficult goodbyes, I’ve watched you say hellos to so much as well. You lived your best. life. now. at our organization’s six week training. You started 2nd grade at your new school here in Malawi. You have made a slew of new friends here, AS YOU DO. You- practically dripping with glee- welcomed two new puppies into the fold of our family. And you said “hello again” to your birth continent, something that you had been looking forward to since the day we first mentioned moving here.
And still, with all of the change and tears and ups and downs- your sweet spirit has remained. You, Elizabeth, are kind and deeply compassionate. You make friends easily and love them well. However, I’m not sure anyone can ever dethrone Mary Grace as your best friend. You two are thick as thieves and have your own unique sisterly lingo and culture that no one else can seem to decode. You two could not BE any more different, but I suppose that’s why it works so well. You girls don’t know how lucky you are.
You love to read, play school with your dolls, and chase-and-be-chased by the puppies. And you cartwheel. All day, every day, to the point of nearly driving me mad. You still adore dancing, and we’re praying HARD for God to provide a dance teacher at your school next year so that you can keep it up. And fashion. Holy smokes, do you love clothes and jewelry and all (ALL) things sequin (SO MANY SEQUINS). I say “no” more often than “yes” to the makeup you’re dying to wear, and sorry but I am not even sorry.
I am so proud of you, baby girl. I pray that you would know deep in your marrow that you are loved unconditionally. Not because you’re stinkin smart. (You are.) Not because of your beauty. (Good. Gracious.) Not even because of the kindness and love you show toward others. (Always.) No, sweet girl- the reason we love you forever and always is because you are ours. And, sweet goodness, am I profoundly thankful for that.
Happy eighth birthday, Elizabeth. Dance ’till you drop, baby. And then cartwheel some more after that. Just try to keep that precious, imported Funfetti cake down, mkay?
When we were prepping to move to Malawi, there were several questions and themes that continued to resurface time and time again. “Well, what about the kids? Are they moving with you?” Followed closely by, “But where will you LIVE? Do they have… like, houses… there?”
This blog post is for you. To reassure you that the KIDS ARE OKAY. That, heck, even their parents are okay. And that, yes, there are indeed real and actual houses in Africa, and we just so happen to live in one of them. So, here we go. It’s high time for a family update and, by popular demand, a house tour. So, welcome to a small glimpse of the Allison crazy. Malawi style.
This girl has hit the ground RUNNING. Or dancing, flipping, monkey-bar-ing or you get the point. She’s just kept on keeping on like nothing has changed at all in her life .
Except, of course, her hair. There are some things that we have surrendered in moving to Malawi, and there are some things that have been gained. Ranking high on the list of “things gained” are the abundance of kind and capable women to whom I can outsource hair braiding. Sweet goodness, my fingers are thankful for the break, and REALLY SWEET GOODNESS Elizabeth is thankful for her newfound discovery of the glorious world of hair extensions.
When she’s not whipping her long locks around like she owns this country, Elizabeth can be found bounding across the school playground with a slew of new friends, playing school with Mary Grace or in our yard getting covered in red, impossible-to-remove-from-clothing African dirt with our puppies, Duke and Belle. More on them later.
Or how ’bout right now.
Belle + Duke
Belle (named after Belle Isle, one of our very favorite spots in Richmond) and Duke (seriously now, it’s almost March Madness… this one should be obvious) are the puppies of our teammates’ dogs, and they’re the best and the naughtiest. The Malawians are all terr.i.fied. of them, and the Allisons are all in love with them, and you can just imagine the daily cries that echo throughout our yard. “Let’s go Duke!…. No really. Let’s GO, Duke!” They eat a lot and sneak into our house a lot and are two little bundles of energy and fun.
Yes, Mary Poppins. Allow me to introduce you to our newest family member. Mary Poppins the Turtle, kindly rescued off of the streets of Lilongwe by Mary Grace. She spends her days try to stay hidden from the uber-interested dogs who share her yard, and we spend our days hopeful that she’ll remain successful.
The other Mary of the family. Man, this kid had a ROUGH go with sickness a few weeks ago. After a few clinic days, a couple negative malaria tests, and a few eerily quiet days around here, she finally made a full comeback and is back to her normal, spunky self.
A few highlights in Mary Grace’s world these days? Learning to play the recorder. (ohmygosh whyyyy?) Playing school basketball. And not fighting with me over clothes and hair every single day. School uniforms have changed our lives and revolutionized our relationship PRAISE YE THE LORD HALLELUJAH.
Apparently, double names aren’t a thing here in Malawi, and her classmates just can’t wrap their minds around the possibility that she truly might go by “Mary Grace” rather than simply “Mary.” Finally fed up with it, she announced to her class just last week that she would no longer acknowledge anyone who called her “Mary” and that, if they wished to communicate with her, they better start getting it right. Later that week, she earned a school award for “being principled.” So. There’s that. Keep on at it, kid.
Just yesterday, we were talking, and Carson casually mentioned, “Ya know, my teachers said that moving to a new country would be really, really hard and that it would feel really, really different, but I kind of think it’s not been that different or that hard after all.” Nearly seven weeks into an enormous life change, that’s a pretty crazy statement coming from an eleven year old. But it’s, honestly, been how he has rolled with all of this. Candidly, the ease of Carson’s transition has surprised me perhaps most of all.
Sure, there have been challenges. The kid would do anything for our old, expansive library back “home,” and he misses his friends at home something fierce (don’t we all), but he has been an absolute champ with a new reality (spotty electricity, on-again-off-again internet, NO CHICKFILA ANYWHERE) that would make most American tweens revolt.
He’s making good friends. He’s playing basketball. And he’s jumped headfirst into chess club. The school here has been an absolute God-send for Carson, and we’ve all been reminded why these Allison children need to be IN A SCHOOL BUILDING during the day with real and actual teachers (and no me). Namely, because we’re all better for it. Thank you, real teachers. Thank you, real school. We love you so much.
Me and Matt
I can’t possibly separate us here because we are basically conjoined at the hip these days in ALL of our togetherness. This is sometimes kind of bad… but mostly really good. Basically, this is how it goes:
We wake up way early. The kids go to school way early. And then, we high-tail it to language lessons. Matt and I are in language lessons about five hours a day most days- sometimes more (there is a very legit reason I learned how to say “my head is spinning” in Chichewa today) and sometimes less. We then pick up the kids and do kid things and then study some more and, alas, we crash, realizing that there’s actually quite little that we can catch up on together since we had just experienced every single part of one another’s day. It’s been a bizarre shift in our marriage after these 13 years, but I think we’re catching on and are hitting our stride.
We’ve been meeting tons of great people here and have been welcomed into the fold of local congregations, villages, and expat communities with the warmest hospitality imaginable. It’s humbling and so appreciated. We’re settling into some solid routines and are truly (TRULY!) loving (LOVING!) this city. The weather is just phenomenal, and everything everywhere is just straight up gorgeous. There are for sure some inconveniences and hard days, but the number of “can you even believe we get to live here??”s outweigh them all.
Before I post a video that number of you have requested (a house tour! woohoo!), a few prayer requests:
Pray that we would learn Chichewa well. Pray for good attitudes and that our lessons would continue to be filled with laughter.
Pray for relationships- for all of us. Pray for solid friendships. Pray that we would be faithful to the relationships God has placed right before us in this season.
Pray that we would remember truth. Specifically, pray that we would remember (and believe!) that we are not defined by what we do, what we know, or what we can offer… nor does God love us any more because of anything we can bring to the table. Which is a good thing because we don’t bring a whole lot these days except broken Chichewa. Basically, pray that we would preach the gospel back to ourselves constantly and that we would have people in our lives who would do the same.
Okay, finally: The Grand House Tour. Because, NO PEOPLE. We do not live in a grass hut. (Also, psssst- Africa is not a country. But perhaps that’s a different post for a different day.) So, without further ado, introducing Mary Grace, Elizabeth, a few naughty puppies, a turtle, and the quirky little house that we’re already loving so much…
It’s been five weeks. A whole five weeks since we touched down on Malawian soil, and to mark this occasion, I thought I’d provide a glimpse into all of the good we’ve done and lives we’ve changed in our first weeks on the field:
That was it.
In summary? We’ve done very little “good” here in Lilongwe over the past five weeks. I’ve ticked people off on the roads with my slow, shaky driving. I’ve learned just enough Chichewa to confuse everyone I try to speak with. I’ve often been too exhausted to love Matt well. In short, I’ve spent the bulk of this month just trying to survive.
And maybe that’s okay. Right now at least. Because it’s easy to enter the mission field with grandiose, romanticized notions of hitting the ground running. Of feeding the hungry! Of healing the sick! Of teaching the masses! It’s easy to assume that we, the well-educated + uber-prepared missionaries would just take off running, doling out blessings one by one, adding value by our very presence here in country.
Come to find out, NOPE.
Come to find out, Jesus was and is the only One who will ever pull off that sort of feat.
Come to find out, everyone here was doing just fine without me. In fact, there’s a strong possibility they were doing fine-r without our current state of neediness.
Five weeks in, my expectations have shifted a bit, and likewise, my prayers have followed suit:
God, I pray that I would be with you.
God, I pray that I would be faithful to the task you’ve put before me.
That’s it. I’ve learned in these five weeks that my job is to be with my God and to be faithful to the task He has set before me in that given moment. I have been reminded anew that His love for me is not based on my performance, nor is He sitting enthroned on high assigning grades based on how well I’m nailing this whole living overseas gig. Which is a REALLY GOOD THING because many days? I don’t.
No, I go about my days clothed in the righteousness of the One who actually DID nail this life-on-earth thing. Who DID feed the hungry. Who DID heal the sick. Who taught the masses and loved sacrificially and did all the things I fail to do well on the daily.
As I step into a new week here in Malawi, I do so with the hope that Jesus loved, served, and lived perfectly in my place because I would never be capable of doing so myself. And so, I don’t have to scramble to put on a fake “I’m fine! No really! Look at me look at me!” front for God when I’m anything but. I can limp to his throne in my flustered and worn-out state and know that He’ll look at me with eyes of compassion and love. Like a Father who finds pleasure in simply being with His child.
I can rest in the unshakable, irrevocable acceptance of the holy and righteous God because my acceptance is based entirely on someone else’s record. He looks on me with pleasure because He sees the perfection of Jesus rather than anything I have to offer. And that, my friends, is the beauty of the Gospel. That’s what keeps us going.
It’s with this assurance that we can keep putting one (perpetually-caked-in-red-African-soil) foot in front of the other in steps of obedience, remaining faithful to what He’s called us to.
So when faithfulness looks a whole lot more simplistic than we would like- a whole lot more like mopping dirty floors and caring for feverish children and learning the noun classes of a new language- we can continue on knowing that it’s not about what we do. It’s not about being an expert task-master. It’s not about us swooping in to broken situations to save the world. Rather, it’s about us pointing incessantly, fervently, and with conviction to the One who already has.
Whether we’re in Raleigh, North Carolina or Lilongwe, Malawi, the task before all of us is the same. We point to Him. We remain in Him. And we stay faithful to what’s right before us.
So, let’s get on with it, friends. We don’t got this, but we don’t have to. He does, and He always will.
There’s something comfortably familiar about opening up my laptop to this blog and banging out some words in the dark and quiet of the early morning. Except that, while it may still be dark as I begin this, it’s certainly far from quiet. Come to find out, it never really is here. I joked the other day that, with the number of dog fights I hear throughout the night, it’s a true wonder that any dogs are left in Malawi. And the birds (OHMYGOSH THE BIRDS). They arise entirely too cheery and chirpy at Way Too Early O’Clock in the morning, and with them, I wake as well.
In concert with the birds, we hear the sounds of Indian music from a yard on one side of us coupled with the upbeat rhythm of African gospel radio on the other, and if you close your eyes and listen even harder, you can pick up on some Ed Sheeran just yards down the street from us at a popular hangout spot. We live on a corner lot here, so there are always people passing by our gate, chatting about life. Or death. Or maybe they’re chatting about the new azungus in town but, hey, we wouldn’t even know because we’ve had a whole seven days of language class thus far.
It’s good finally being here in Malawi. Really good. And it’s been hard. Sometimes, really hard. It’s both/and, and sometimes we don’t even know how we’re feeling except just that. We’re good. And it’s hard.
Today marks three weeks since we left US soil, and it’s been a packed out three weeks of transition and settling. Travel here was remarkably smooth and, dare I say, easy. Landing in Lilongwe with my family and 650+ pounds of luggage was one of the more surreal moments of my life, and it was marked by a sweet welcoming by our team here in town. The days that followed were a blur of learning our city and learning how to grocery shop and learning how to work our house. No really. There’s more to learn that one might think.
For instance, if one happens to want to use a standard two-pronged electric mixer in the three-holed kitchen outlet, one must first gather a small stick from the yard to shove in the third hole while you insert the other two prongs of the mixer into holes #1-2 and JUST LIKE THAT voila. A functioning mixer and guilty conscience from breaking every rule my mother ever gave me about electricity. I DON’T EVEN KNOW YOU GUYS. I just do as I’m told.
Just as we begin to find our footing in one area of life here- for instance, aforementioned sticks-in-outlets- even more questions arise. Everything from, “Is it normal for our kitchen faucet to be producing brown, bubbly water?” (Yes.) to “How can I know that the chicken I’m buying in the grocery store is fresh-ish and safe to consume?” (Jury’s still out.) In short, we have a heckofalot to learn.
Like language. Holy moly. This year, Matt and I will be spending 30-40 hours a week learning Chichewa from a language “nurturer.” Together. We sit through lessons together in the morning and study together in the evening and it’s just all merriment and fun and joyous times together from dawn till dusk with our two very different personalities and two very different learning styles and two very competitive spirits. But it’s good and it’s hard and a mere seven days in, we can totally understand the instructions, “Touch the eyelid of the old man with the bald head who has a baby in a kettle behind the house.” Don’t even ask me how I know these things.
Finally, I know what the masses ACTUALLY care about is, “But how are the kids??” I’m guessing you can guess the answer. It’s been good. Really good. But it’s also been hard. To be perfectly honest, they’re thriving better than I had even expected they would at this point. While their first week of school last week wasn’t entirely drama-free (is life ever drama-free around these parts??), they’re all doing well, enjoying school, and making friends. All three kids are playing basketball this quarter, and Carson has joined chess club… which should surprise exactly no one. They’re well aware of what they’ve left behind, but they’re also readily embracing their new lives, new experiences, and God’s new gifts for them here in Malawi. In short, they’re doing really, really well.
The beauty of all of this is that, while our days are often unpredictable and our feelings can vacillate on a moment-by-moment basis, we’re here serving a God who is far less fickle than our feelings. A God with an affection for us that has never once wavered. And so we’ll live and work here in this new (but not-so-new after all) reality of really good + really hard, resting in the character of the One who has gone before us. Y’all, we relocated from America to the beautiful country of Malawi. Jesus came down from the glories of HEAVEN ABOVE to the brokenness of this jacked-up earth for us. Power outages and brown water may cramp our American style from time to time, but I’m not about to hold that up to the cross thankyouverymuch.
That said, we would love prayers. Specifically…
Pray for relationships. It’s hard to be the new kid and to feel “unknown.” Pray for the kids to each make good friends at school and for me and Matt to build relationships quickly.
Pray for language. Sweet goodness, there’s so much to learn. Matt and I are both achievers and put too much entirely too much pressure on ourselves, so pray that, YES, we would have the ability to focus and retain a million nouns, verbs, and prepositions a week, but that we would also give ourselves grace throughout the process.
Pray for church. For at least the first year, we will be attending a Chichewa-speaking church which can be (and has been) hard for the kids. Pray that we would find the right church home for us for this season and that we would all not only persevere through services that can be long and hot and… not in English… but that God would grow us as well.
We love you guys. We miss you guys. And we cannot WAIT to show you guys our new home here in Malawi someday down the road.
So, here we are. Six weeks into our pre-Malawi training with one tiny week remaining. Years of prep- of seminary courses and church planting cohorts and books upon books- are behind us, and in just a matter of weeks, we’ll be standing on African soil. Our family of five. In our new home.
One might think that all of these weeks, months, years of preparation have surely left us feeling well-equipped and fully capable of tackling this task that lies ahead of us. Surely, we’re patting ourselves on the backs with hardy “you got this” words of encouragement.
In fact, all of this training- all of these many, many hours of prep work- have left me all the more confident that I, indeed, am exceedingly incapable of this task that lies before me.
All of this training has squashed any remaining notions of self-sufficiency and has left me praying a pretty simple prayer:
God, I need you. Help me to be okay with needing you. And help me to keep needing you every day.
I breathe these words in and out, day after day. My desperate battlecry against my bent toward self-sufficiency.
God I need you.
My intellect, strength, and abilities can only get me but so far, and as it turns out, “but so far” comes up way short. I could have never breathed life into my own lungs, nor do I have the power to sustain the life He has granted me. I need His strength. His peace. His joy. His righteousness. I can spin my wheels all the livelong day, but at the end (and beginning and middle) of the day, it is God who I need. Not my own abilities.
Help me to be okay with needing you.
It’s one thing to cry out, “Lord I need you,” but it’s a whole ‘nother deal to actually be okay with it. Because real talk? I’m often not. I know I can’t do this life on my own. I know I’m weak and in need of strength. I know I can’t save my own jacked up self. I know these things. But I hate them. So, I buck hard. I resist. I say one thing but believe another. I become my own functional savior.
It’s as instinctual as breathing to me. As if I can’t inhale the prayers of need without exhaling my acknowledgement that “THIS IS SO HARD.” But what if God’s glorified when He meets our every need? What if the Bible’s true and God’s strength actually is magnified in our utter weakness? If God’s glory is our aim, should I not be okay humbling myself in weakness and lack?
And help me to keep needing you every day.
We’re getting a bit crazy on this one. I might as well be asking God, “Make me REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE, Lord. Every. Single. Day.” Actually, it’s just like that.
But if I’ve learned one thing in recent months, it’s this: the more I need God, the more I know Him. And the more I know His character, the more confidence I have in expressing my need. Because, in God’s kindness and faithfulness and justice and goodness, I can trust that He’s going to come through for me. Every time. Maybe not in the way I desire. Maybe the path won’t be the easiest. And there could very well be days marked by more questions than answers.
But this I know for sure: He will draw me in close. He will remind me of who He is. And, because of this- because of who He is- I have everything I could possibly need for life and lasting joy.
So, to the self-sufficient ones… to the ones who want to run the show… the ones who need no one and nothing… the ones who have GOT THIS… join me. Come along as I wave my white flag. Because when we surrender our idol of self and turn instead to the sufficiency of Christ, we never walk away empty handed. He will meet our needs, yes. But better yet? He gives us Himself. And He will never, ever disappoint.
A lot has gone down over the past few months, huh? You packed and repacked bags, crated your bikes and baby dolls, and sold whatever was left. You said goodbye to that backyard fort you worked so hard to construct, to the school that was such a great fit for our family, to a life that seemed to work just fine. You said goodbye to consistency. To “normal.” To dance. To the only church you’ve ever known. To our dog. Oh my word, our dog. You have done some really hard things, kids.
I’m so, so proud of you.
But let me shoot straight with you for a second, okay?
Things are about to get even more crazy.
In just a few months, you’ll board a plane here in America only to land on African soil with all of its foreign smells and language and customs and just about everything. And there you’ll stand, a stranger in a foreign land, expected to assimilate and adjust and find home in all of the strangeness.
In just a few months, junk is about to get real. FAST. And, if I’m straight up with you, I have no clue how all of this is going to go down. How will your first day of school go? How will that first holiday away from cousins and grandparents and normal be? Will we catch on to the language? There’s no telling.
But here’s the thing, you guys. I know life seems to be shifting in seismic ways right now- and I recognize that it can be alarming that your parents don’t have all of the answers (SHOCKING, I know)- but in this season of unknowns and drastic change and more-questions-than-answers, I want to assure you of a few things that I know for sure and forever.
1. You’re not God’s ultimate gift to this world.
People are people. And kids are kids. Sin is sin. And we all need rescuing. Including you.
We do not love others- and we will not serve and love our Malawian neighbors and friends- from a pedestal. We’re not moving halfway across the world to swoop in as Americans who know better. No, guys. We’re going to link arms with our brothers and sisters in Malawi. To learn from them. To be the church. Together.
There is no us versus them. There’s just a we. A “we” who might do things differently at times. Who might speak different dialects and who might prefer varying cuisines. Who might do school and sports and free-time differently. But nonetheless, a humanity-wide “we” navigating this broken world together.
So, open your eyes wide, kids. There’s a beautiful and messy world out there waiting for you. A world filled with people who are more like you than different. So, love big. Serve extravagantly. And as you do so, just remember that you’re not God’s greatest gift to this world. Jesus is.
2. God’s presence will always go with you.
Jen Wilkin aptly says, “When we trust [God] as fully present everywhere, we are finally free to be fully present wherever he has placed us.”
You guys, there will surely be times when life just kind of stinks. You might be lonely. Afraid. Sad. You might feel like throwing a fit and slamming every door and screaming, “How and why did I end up here?”
And that’s okay. You can feel these things and have these days and still know that God is right there with you in the mess. You will never, ever be alone.
You can go in confidence because God himself goes with you. You can do hard things- things like moving and selling and saying endless goodbyes- because God is with you. And when you walk into that new school in a new country for the very first time, you can walk in knowing that he is right there with you. WITHIN you. Comforting you. Guiding you. Strengthening you.
Kids, you have been jostled around enough to make anyone dizzy over the past few months, and honestly? The jostling is only about to pick up more speed. But I pray- man I pray- that God’s constant presence and unshifting goodness can provide the stability that your dad and I can’t promise right now. We can be fully present anywhere he places us because he is always and forever fully present with us.
3. God’s glory is always worth it.
If I sit down and think about it, I could come up with one heck of a laundry list of reasons why we shouldn’t pick up and move to Africa. Kids, I know you could too. I’ve heard plenty of them already anywhere.
But pitted against a thousand and more reasons not to go, declaring and spreading God’s glory is going to win out every. single. time.
If we believe- like REALLY BELIEVE- that “from him and to him and through him are all things. To him be glory forever” (Romans 11:36), we’ve gotta live like it. We have to live like “all things” means all things. And when things that fall under this umbrella of “all things” happen- language faux pas, difficult relationships, lonely holidays- we can remember that he’s in complete control, and his ultimate aim is to be worshipped. For his name to be made great.
Ultimately, he’s going to get his glory, guys. There WILL be a day every nation, tribe, and tongue is around his throne worshipping. The cool thing is that he lets us be part of this. And man is he is worth it.
4. You are not mine.
Alright, you guys. This one is harder for me than you. Here we go:
Carson, Mary Grace, and Elizabeth- ultimately, you are not mine. You’re not mine to have and hold and keep forever. You’re not mine to coddle and place in an iron fortress of protection. You are gifts- some of the greatest, most precious gifts imaginable- given by God above.
A while back, our pastor, JD, got all up in my business when he said, “When God designs a child to be shot out like an arrow—and instead we treat that child like a piece of furniture that we plan to keep in the house—we not only stunt their development, we also discourage them from finding God altogether. In protecting them from all of life’s challenges, we show them a picture of our faith that is dismally boring. And where your depiction of faith is boring, they will drift toward more interesting things.”
You guys, there is nothing- not one single thing- that is more exciting than following God. Hear me, though- exciting does not always mean safe. It certainly doesn’t always translate to comfortable or easy, and as a mama, this is sometimes difficult for me to stomach. But, at the end of the day, God created you for to be shot out as arrows into this broken world. I love you something fierce, but God’s love is unimaginably fiercer. You’re some of my greatest earthly blessings, but earth is not your home. Heaven is.
So, dear kids, this is all exciting and challenging and beyond anything any of us are capable of. YOU DON’T GOT THIS. Nor do I. Be encouraged.