How Togo stole my heart and broke it in all the best ways...

In October of 2013 I took a trip that changed me.

The trip was to a small town on the southern coast of Togo, Africa.
It was my first missions trip.
It was the farthest I had ever been away from my family.
It was the longest I had ever been away from my kids.
It was physically challenging.
It was emotionally exhausting.
It was so hard…and so wonderful.
It wore me out.
It opened my eyes.
It emptied me…and yet it filled me to overflowing.
It stuck with me.
It stays with me still.
Togo stole my heart and broke it in all the best ways.

We sat in a simple thatched building with a corrugated metal roof, on handmade wooden benches and sandy dirt floors. This was the church. And it was beautiful. There were no fancy sound systems or video screens or colored lights, no air conditioning or padded seats, and I didn’t understand very much of what was spoken that morning – and yet, I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced a church service that was more alive with the Holy Spirit.

Many of the Togolese people who surrounded us that morning lived in poverty like I had never seen before. But as I sat there and watched them worship Jesus, I realized that I was the one who was poor.  I had a life that was overflowing with comfort and privilege and plenty (we may not seem "rich" by American standards, but when you consider all that we have--a solid roof over our heads and consistent food on our table and running water at our fingertips--we are really quite wealthy and extremely blessed)…and yet, as I sat there in that church service half a world away from my everyday life and over 5,000 miles outside my comfort zone, I realized that I was actually the one living in poverty…in spiritual poverty. I had cushioned myself within my safe and comfortable little bubble, carefully planning and crafting my life into the shape I thought was best (which looked an awful lot like the shape of what our culture says is best): the shape of least risk and most safety, least pain and most comfort, least struggle and most stuff. Oh, Jesus was always a part of it, but He was not really the whole of it. I thought He was. I said He was. But He wasn't really. I thought I was pursuing Jesus, but I was really just pursuing the American Dream with a side of Jesus. My life was not conformed to the shape of the cross...it was conformed to the shape of myself and my own selfish desires. And I didn't even really realize it. I didn’t realize how tight my grip was on my life…I didn’t realize how little faith I really had…I didn’t realize what I was missing.

I went to Togo with this idea that I would somehow help them, but the reality is that they were the ones who helped me.

The Togolese people in the church that morning may not have had much as far as worldly possessions go, but they had Jesus, and He was enough. He was more than enough.

Was Jesus enough for me? Had He ever really been enough for me?

I want to love Jesus every day of my life with the same passion that I witnessed that week in Togo...like He is all that I really need and everything I could ever want.

The people of Togo stole my heart...our missionaries, JJ and Melissa, inspired my heart...and God used Togo to begin breaking my heart in the very best way.

That trip to Togo was the beginning of the soul-shaping process that God used to begin breaking my selfishness, breaking down down my walls, breaking apart the box that I had tucked my faith into. It was the beginning of God prying my hands open…of Him showing me how to let go of my life and live with open hands, trusting Him with whatever He gives, whatever He takes, and whatever He asks me to give away. I’m still loosening my grip…still learning how to let go. Because I forget…oh, how I still forget. 

It has been almost 4 years since my feet were on that African soil. And my heart has been longing to go back ever since I left. But I’ve been learning to let God lead…learning to trust His timing…learning to love where I am, and to see the mission field right here where He has placed me.

I’ve learned that I don’t have to cross the ocean to share the power of the Cross.
I don’t have to speak another language to speak the love of Christ into someone’s life.
I don’t have to look very far or travel great distances to find a mission field.
I don’t have to get on a plane to get my life on mission for Jesus.

But I do have to open my hands.
I need to loosen my grip and not hold so tightly to this life and what I have….it is all a gift. I am blessed to bless…I have been given much so I can give much. 

And I do have to take up my cross and follow Jesus.
Following Jesus always requires sacrifice. My life must take the shape of the cross...arms open in broken surrender to His plan and His purpose.

And I do have to look beyond myself and see the needs of others.
I have to open my eyes....to really see people, see the souls that Jesus loves, see their need, and then do something to meet those needs.

And I do have to be obedient and do what God is calling me to do.
And He calls all of us to share the Good News. As Christians, we are all given a mission to share Jesus as if souls depend on it...because they do. Because a thousand years from now, all that will really matter is a person’s relationship with Jesus. Everything else will fade away, but the Word of God and the Good News of Jesus and the souls of people are eternal. If I really believe that, it will affect how I live my days and how I use my time and how I see every single human being on this big beautiful broken planet.

"And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'”
Matthew 28:18-20 ESV
“Every Christian here is either a missionary or an impostor....It cannot be that there is a high appreciation of Jesus, and a totally silent tongue about him. Of course I do not mean, by that, that those who use the pen for Christ are silent; they are not. And those who help others to use the tongue, or spread that which others have written, are doing their part well; but I mean this,—that man who says, ‘I believe in Jesus,’ but does not think enough of Jesus ever to tell another about him, by mouth, or pen, or tract, is an impostor.”
- C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 54 

Sometimes obeying God may mean getting on a plane and flying halfway around the world.

Sometimes it means getting out of the recliner and taking food to a neighbor.

This October, for me, it will mean returning to Togo with a small group from our local church to serve and work with our missionary partners, JJ and Melissa Alderman. And this time, my husband Mark is going too! (I’m so excited to have him by my side this time!)

I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to return to the place that stole my heart 4 years ago.

The area where we will be serving, on the southern coast of Togo, is dominated by voodoo worship (witch doctors, fetish idol worship, sacrifices, etc). The spiritual darkness there is thick...spiritual warfare is very real…but the light of Christ is so bright, and the power of the Gospel is so strong. The work that the Aldermans are doing there is absolutely incredible, and it is a truly humbling grace to get to serve with them and work with them for a few days.

Here's what we'll be doing:

The Aldermans purchased a large piece of land on which to begin a camp and community outreach program. One of our goals on this trip will be to help with the construction of a building that will serve as a bunk house on their new property. This bunk house will be the first step toward reaching their goal of bringing locals in to share the gospel with them.

We will also be ministering to a few of the local church plants by spending some time with them and praying for their churches as they fight to share the gospel in their local villages. Most church plants there consist of about 90% new Christians – their passion for the Gospel, and the sacrifice many of them have had to make to follow Christ is both humbling and inspiring. We will also spend time with kids, loving on them and having fun with them to help build relationships between them and the Aldermans. 

I am also praying that we will be able to encourage and love on the Aldermans while we are there. Although, if it’s anything like the last time I was there, I’m pretty sure we will leave feeling far more blessed by them…just being around them and hearing their hearts and watching them do the work that God has called them to do, with so much love in their hearts and courage in their spirits…it is truly a gift just to spend time with them. They are the real deal…beautiful people who just love Jesus and want to share His love with the Togolese people and see this country experience the life-changing power of the Gospel. The dream God has given them for Togo is bigger than their lifetime…they know that the work they are doing is only a beginning, that they may never see the full results of their labor in this generation…but that doesn’t stop them from pouring everything they have into doing what God has called them to do. They are faithful to their part of God’s big story…and it is so inspiring and humbling to me just to be around them.

Mark and I are prayerfully preparing for this trip, and we are trusting God to provide all that we need. Our financial goal is, to be honest, a bit overwhelming…we have to raise a total of over $4000 since two of us are going. But nothing is too big for our God, and I am very confident that He will provide everything that we need. 

To help us reach our fundraising goal, I have designed a whole new collection of prints that I’m calling The Mission Collection. This collection includes 10 new designs, and 100% of the proceeds from all purchases will go toward our missions trip to Togo. Each of the quotes and verses I chose for this collection encourage me and remind me of the mission that God has given us. Perhaps one (or more) of them will encourage you, too? :)

Both Printable and Printed options are available. See more details for each design over on the Mission Collection page in the Shop.

If you would like to donate toward our missions trip, but would prefer to make a direct tax-deductible donation instead of purchasing a print, please email me at jennifer@littlehousestudio.net and I’ll send you all the details of how to do that. :)

Thank you in advance for supporting us and praying for us. We covet your prayers as we prepare our hearts for this trip and as we trust God to work out all the details.

And please be praying for JJ and Melissa Alderman and their Togo Palms ministry. God is doing amazing things through them. You can read more about their ministry over on their website: www.TogoPalms.life

 

When a leap of faith feels more like a free fall...

So there's this sign in the front yard of our little house. Guess I can't do this thing quietly and in secret any more ;) ...

So here it goes...I'm finally ready to share with you my big news: I'm officially starting my own little home-based graphic design business. (Or at least, I'm trying to anyway. In our city, in order to get an official business license for any kind of home-based business (even if it's just an online shop), I have to go through a whole application process for approval by the planning and zoning committee...a process which includes them putting a not-so-inconspicuous sign in my front yard telling everyone in the world what I'm doing and that they can come and object to my application at the meeting. For an insecure introvert, it's quite a nerve-racking experience...and more than once it has caused me to doubt this whole thing altogether. ;) But alas, I am setting my fears aside and pushing forward...)

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Twelve years...

Today I am feeling all the feelings. It’s Emma’s birthday today.  She is 12 years old.

I’m not really sure how that happened.  ;)

Sometimes the day this photo was taken – the first day I wore the name “mom” and held this new little soul in my arms – seems like a lifetime ago. But sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday. Time is funny like that. All these moments, one after the other…and before you know it, you’re looking back at a lifetime that feels like just a breath.

Because somehow, it’s been 12 years.

TWELVE.

Twelve years of days lie between those two photos. Twelve years of good days and hard days and days I didn’t think I would make it….days full of joy and laughter, tears and exhaustion, challenges and uncertainty, smiles and adventures…twelve years of days full of moments and memories I honestly wouldn’t trade for anything.

It’s been twelve years full of gifts. Twelve years full of grace.

I haven’t been perfect at this mom thing. Not by a long shot. Motherhood is so much harder, and more wonderful, than I had ever expected it to be. I had no idea what I was getting into when they put her in my arms for the first time. No. Idea. I have fumbled and stumbled my way through this thing…and this “tween” stage is stretching me and challenging me more than ever. There are so many days I feel so inadequate to do this great thing of growing another human, of leading this other soul through this crazy broken world.

Because I’m so broken myself. I’m so banged up and bruised up and messed up.

But I just keep leaning hard into Jesus…I just keep trusting His grace to fill in the gaps.

And somehow we’ve survived twelve years.

And with Jesus, we’ll make it twelve more. (Only by then, she could very well have a little one of her own…but oh my word, I can’t even begin to go there! At this point, we just gotta survive middle school ;) )

But I know that day will be here before I know it…the days seem to be moving faster, the weeks are flying by.  Which is why I am more passionate than ever about making the most of every moment I can…seizing every opportunity to intentionally invest in our family and in our girls.  Because even though one single moment may not seem like much…it all adds up. One little conversation, one little family night, one little prayer before bedtime, one little heart-to-heart talk, one little snuggle or cuddle, one little game, one little devotion, one little act of kindness, one little hug, one little word of encouragement…one little moment by itself may not seem to make much of an impact…but together? Day after day, year after year? Each moment is like a little drop of water. One drop may not make much of a difference…but drop after drop after drop, over time…all together, those drops add up and become a raging river.  All those moments we have with our children have the potential to become a river of influence in their lives.

Even the moments when we mess up. Even the drops that are tainted and colored by our mistakes and our sin…those drops add to the influence too. I don’t know about you, but I am so not perfect. I don’t have it all together. Not every drop of influence I give my children is good. Sometimes they see me mess up, they see me fall apart, they see me fail. But I wonder if these moments - the not-so-pinterest-perfect-moments - may possibly have an even greater impact on them than all the “good” I do...because humbling myself and asking forgiveness, being forgiven and still being secure in God’s love for me, leaning into Him and trusting Him even in my brokenness, and finding joy and comfort in His grace…that’s a powerful thing for my children to see.

Our moments matter. What we do with our moments, what we do with our days...how we forgive and how we love and how we talk and how we act…it all matters…it is all making an impact, it is all adding up. The good, the bad, and the ugly...all weaving together into a beautiful tapestry that tells our children the story of God's love and grace and redemption.

So today, on my “mom-iversary”, as we celebrate this sweet, precious, beautiful soul that is my Emma girl, I am recommitting myself to parent intentionally. Even though the days may be exhausting and the challenges are changing and I still don’t know what I’m doing half the time, now as much as ever my daughters need a mom who is leaning hard into Jesus and who is consistently and intentionally adding drops of influence into their lives, who is modeling for them what it is like to live for Jesus, and who is present with them in this moment (not afraid of the future or regretting the past, but fully here right now), finding joy in the middle of the crazy and grace in the middle of it all.  Because this life? It really is just a breath. A precious, fleeting breath. And I want my breath to breathe life and love and joy and grace into the lives of the people God has given me, for as long as He lets me have them.

morning fog