This is what the Lord says –
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
"I am the Lord your God,
"I am the Lord your God,
who teaches you what is best for you,
who directs you in the way you should go."
~ Isaiah 48:17
A beautiful and encouraging verse stared me in the face and I was able to apply it right then and there with the 4- and 5-year olds sitting around our dining room table. It's the kind of verse that should be framed or cross-stitched on a pillow. I even made it the memory verse of the week for our boys. I felt proud as I faithfully spent the week reinforcing the notion to our kids that God is a teacher, and He teaches us what is best for us – "What's best for us, you guys? To love God and love each other, yadda yadda yadda..." It wasn't until several days later that I bothered to read the verse in its context, and my heart sank. If only quick concordance checks would clue us in to the context of Bible verses!
Isaiah 48 begins like this: "Listen to this, O House of Jacob, you who are called by the name of Israel and come from the line of Judah..." Jacob, Israel, Judah. There is no mistaking who God is speaking to: His chosen people. Then God proceeds to call out the character qualities of Israel at that time. They are a people marked by a lack of righteousness, a history of stubbornness, an inability to hear and understand, and are full of treachery and rebellion. God even says they "were called a rebel from birth" (vs. 8). Ouch. He is not going easy on the nation of Israel.
After God makes it clear who Israel is, He then makes it clear who He is: He is the One who delays His wrath for His own name's sake, He is the One who refines and tests His people, and He is the creator and commander of the heavens and the earth. To put it simply, God says, "I am he; I am the first and I am the last" (v. 12b).
It is only after all this that God says, "I am the Lord you God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go" (vs. 17). Why does God say this incredibly beautiful and encouraging thing at such a discouraging point in Scripture? Because Israel was so screwed up that they needed to be reminded that they were nothing but lost and wayward students who could never make it anywhere in this world without the Teacher. The reality is that verse 17 only feels like butterflies and sunshine when it's read in isolation. When read in context, it feels like ugh and flat-on-my-face humility and repentance for being a rebel from birth! That is not something I want cross-stitched on a pillow.
To make matters worse, directly after verse 17 comes verse 18, which begins like this: "If only you had paid attention to my commands..." This is past tense. Israel had already failed. They had failed to pay attention to the Lord's commands and therefore they missed out on what was best for them. The English translation of "what is best for you" comes from the Hebrew word יָעַל (pronounced ya`al) and is properly translated as "to ascend." God is essentially saying to Israel, "I want to teach you how to ascend! Get out of that pit you're in and pay attention!" Oh, how much we need to be reminded of that lesson.
Life on the mission field is busy. We may not be driving our kids to school and back every day or to sports practice or much else that consumes so much time in America, but we are still very busy over here. We are homeschooling and going to Bible Studies and attending birthday parties and checking emails and answering pages and talking with people at our door about a dozen times a day. In the midst of all this, it's difficult to pull back and learn something from what's happening around us. Being so consumed with this and that and everything in between leaves little time and wherewithal to be taught. This reality is especially ironic for me as I fill the role of teacher for my own kids and some other MKs and have realized how much I want these kids to learn whatever it is I'm teaching, and to be eager about it too! Whenever we have a bad homeschooling day, I feel defeated. Sometimes I want to bang my head against the wall and give up altogether. I want to scream, "I don't have to do this! I don't have to teach you how to read! I don't have to teach you how to count and add and care about numbers! I could be doing about a million other things right now that could fill me up instead of deplete me and leave me feeling steamrolled by a 4-and 5-year old!" But those days give me a glimpse into how God must feel most days with us. He wants to teach us, He wants us to be excited to learn from Him, and He wants us to pay attention and go in the way He directs for us. God wants us to be teachable. When we stare out the window, when we wiggle and giggle and don't hear a thing the teacher says, when we tell God we're tired and want to be done, when we make it clear that we'd rather be doing anything else but learning at His feet...well, that's a disappointment if not an affront to God. And I know His Teacher heart aches.
But when we learn something! When we pay attention and ascend out of the pit! Oh, what glorious days! What delight the Teacher takes in us! What joy and hope and blessing there is!
So this is our task: pay attention and learn something!
In brief, here is what I've been learning lately: that to be a missionary and live in community and live cross-culturally, grace is required – for yourself and everyone around you. Grace, grace, grace. Lots and lots of grace! Also, that people tend to care a lot more about how you make them feel than what words come out of your mouth. Also, that I'm (still) quick to judge and that's not a good thing. Also, that God is truly creative in how He calls people to missions and how He grows/challenges us all in our various points of the journey. Also, that I really love and cherish the wisdom and perspective of missionaries who've been here a long time!
The more I reflect on it, Isaiah 48:17 feels like an all-encompassing verse that describes our relationship with God. We are the stubborn, treacherous, rebellious students of the patient, refining God who is the first and the last and who desires what is best for us despite ourselves and who is willing to direct us in the way we should go to achieve that. We are lowlifes and He is offering us LIFE. That is what Isaiah 48:17 is capturing at its core. And that is worth framing or cross-stitching on a pillow!
Along with the theme of teaching and learning, here are some snapshots of what Caleb and Kai are doing for school this year. It's an interesting and rewarding experience to figure out homeschooling on the mission field!
Caleb's Science Class
Another mom is teaching a Kindergarten science class once/week, which Caleb is a part of. He loves it! They've learned about animal habitats and fossils and, most recently, how to make a volcano erupt! He was super excited about it. I made the dough for the experiment, then he shaped it and added his own decor, and then learned how to make it explode. Man, he was pumped! This science class has been so much fun for him and I'm so thankful to the other mom who's teaching it because I wouldn't be doing any of that on my own right now. I'm so thankful for the cooperation between parents here to teach each other's kids.
Caleb's Social Studies Class
I'm teaching a Kindergarten Social Studies curriculum a couple times a week too, so Caleb has a couple classes with other kids in addition to homeschooling with me. The curriculum focuses on learning about people in our communities (pastors, doctors, dentists, firefighters, etc) which has been fun and interesting to talk about in our Kenyan context. For example, these kids know a lot about doctors and sick people given that every one of them has a parent who's a doctor and we literally live on a hospital compound. When we learned about firefighters I had to explain that there isn't a fire station anywhere around here, so people have to grab buckets of water and get to work. Last week they learned about the postal system and I had each of them write a letter and/or color a picture to send to someone, then we went on a field trip to the post office in Bomet to learn about the postal system and put those letters in the mail. One letter went to a friend in Kenya and a couple others went to people in America, and the postman was kind and let the kids see all the different stamps and showed them where to deposit the letters for themselves. Now we're waiting to see how long it takes for those letters to reach the recipients!
Kai has preschool twice a week and loves it! Another mom has graciously taken on the role of preschool teacher this fall and is doing such a fabulous job. She's an actual teacher and is a cut above the rest of us who are figuring it out as we go. Kai loves picking out clothes that match the color of the week, and picking out a show-and-tell item that goes with the letter of the week. He is thriving in this group and my Mama heart is so happy that he has this chance to go to preschool! Recently he was Student of the Week and got to tell everyone about himself and show off his favorite toy: a dump truck, of course. Also, a few weeks ago the letter of the week was D, and Eli was asked to be a special guest at preschool (because D is for Doctor). We combined the preschoolers and Kindergartners for that day, and it was neat for Eli to talk about being a doctor and do things like show the kids how to use a stethoscope and read an x-ray. I was having flashbacks and remembering when my dad came to my class in second grade and talked about being a doctor (and even put a cast on my arm!) and I was so glad my boys could have that experience too.
So our boys are truly blessed with how their school year is going so far. There is a great group of kids here that make great friends and classmates for our kids, and homeschooling with me at home is actually going quite well. We definitely don't homeschool every day (in part because Asa makes it really difficult, in part because I think preschoolers and Kindergartners still need a lot of time to play, and in part because these boys are also learning a lot of life just by virtue of living here and are growing and learning in ways their American counterparts are not). So our homeschooled Missionary Kids are doing well and making us proud!