Friday, May 01, 2015

Hide and Seek

When my elementary sons came home from their weekend activity last month, their sister, mother, and I had a surprise game waiting for them—pitch black hide and seek. The seeker had a tiny flashlight, but the hiders had an entire house shrouded in darkness in which to disappear. We all took turns hiding and delighted in the few times when a seeker would pass right by a hider, oblivious to a human being cloaked mysteriously right before his or her eyes.

It’s somewhat fitting that “pitch black hide and seek” was the spontaneous game which kept us up long past bedtime on that dark, weekend evening in Kenya. God seems to be doing a lot of hiding from me these days.

The past year had been hard enough, as—on top of our normal school responsibilities at Rift Valley Academy—Heather developed an Advanced Placement history course with two fewer months of instruction time than American teachers possess (due to our year-round schedule) and I added a seminary course to my schedule. Sadly, the first thing to get bumped from our lives was time socializing with any friends and co-workers on campus. On top of that, our best friends with our mission agency have been enduring their own Job-like kind of life. His chronic, debilitating back pain and his wife and kids with one agonizing malady on top of another have been beating them down for almost two years. We spent little time with them the past year or so.

Next, our best friends on campus had to take an emergency trip to the US to attend to some family matters. While there, they found out that the wife has stage 2 breast cancer. Their future at RVA is uncertain as they undergo treatment in the US.

My dad had a major health crisis in December (a nearly total liver failure), only to find out that cancer was the culprit for the ailment. It was touch and go for us around the holidays as to whether I (or all of us) should fly back to the US from Kenya to be with my family. Once that health scare was behind us, we then dealt with the uncertainty of chemotherapy treatments and potential surgery for the next three months.

I lined up this litany of woe to illustrate how God has been hiding. Lots of suffering and lots of loneliness all around us, and not a lot of revelation or obvious purpose.

Our home assignment could not have come at a better time. The steady pressure of “cross-cultural living” isn’t a crushing burden anymore; it’s more of a thumb that just holds us and presses and doesn’t let up. We’re relieved to have that challenge lifted for the next four months. But it still seems like God is hiding.

The thought that keeps nagging me though is “If God is hiding, am I still seeking?” Hide and seek is a wonderful game—it’s exhilarating for the hider to exert the creativity and the stillness which goes with hiding and it’s equally exhilarating for the seeker to explore all the possible secret places and then to uncover the object of the search in victorious unveiling. But without both sides equally challenging the other, the games flops. Is there a worse feeling than to be hiding for minutes on end, only to have the seeker quit, to stop looking for the silent and stealthy object? Who wants to be un-sought?

I hope I can become a steadfast seeker again.

Reading through the Easter story in my Bible study this morning I sped through the Emmaus Road story, where, after spending an encouraging and enlightening few hours with a mysterious stranger, Luke reports in verses 30 and 31, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized [Jesus], and he disappeared from their sight.”

Jesus died. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus hid himself. Jesus reappeared. He’s always with us but rarely visible. Sometimes he surprises us with an undeniable presence; sometimes he is farther than the moon.

Hide and seek. Are you ready to play?

Thursday, October 02, 2014

A man for all seasons

Asher—our middle child—is quite the kid. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy.  He often sees (and says) things with far more clarity and wisdom than his years.

As a mere five year old, Asher declared that he never wanted to get married, instead preferring to be like “Uncle Dan,” our forty-something, bachelor neighbor and co-worker. And that opinion has stuck for the last two years, but as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Asher’s mind is not a little one.

The topic came up again at dinner this week. He said, “The only reason I do want to get married is so that I can have a cute, chubby little girl like Claire.” Even though He and his sister battle pretty vigorously at times (she sees him as the easiest family member to overtake, apparently), his tenderness and protection towards her is a beautiful thing. At just seven years of age, he has so much love in his heart for her that he foresees the joy of a future fatherhood for a little sweetheart like Claire.

But don’t try to pin him down quite yet. He also said, “But I would like to have a big house all by myself, and I can’t have that if I get a family.”

Stay tuned for further developments.

(P.S. Minutes after I wrote this, I had a lunch with Asher where he said, “Daniel is the nicest boy at school because he shares with everyone.” I commented to Asher how wonderful it is that he compliments his friends so frequently. He then told me his philosophy: “Do you know what I tell myself in my head all the time? Only say nice things about other people. Don’t say anything that might be mean.” Oh, that I might be as wise as my seven-year-old!)

Thursday, December 12, 2013


With many uber-powerful men, their devoted and silent partners languish in the shadows, away from the notoriety and celebrity of their uber-powerful spouses. You know how it goes. 

Try to tell me who’s married to Brad Pitt. Probably can’t do it, right? Who’s ever heard of ex-president Bill Clinton’s wife? Or world-famous music producer Ike Turner’s?

And so it is with famous bloggers.

It’s time to change that. My wife has cowered in my enormous shadow long enough. Pretty much everyone in the hemisphere has heard of “Ryan Murphy”; it’s time they knew of Heather.

My wife is pretty awesome. Besides being a great wife to me, she’s an awesome and creative mom. Need photo proof? Here’s one of her protégés in a momentous life event this week—potty training. Heather handcrafted princess stickers and created a castle mural which is populated by a new princess every time our princess pollutes our pot.

Heather’s also doing everything she can to stay connected to our family in the U.S. It’s not easy. Years away at a time make it difficult to stay close, and it’s especially hard to connect our kids (who only have spent a fraction of their lives with relatives and best friends across the ocean).

That said, I downright love this project she created the last few months. It’s a family tree in the stairwell leading up to our bedrooms. On one side of the tags is a picture of our ancestors and relatives. On the other side lie names and dates of birth and deaths. Not only is it visually beyond pleasing, it’s also a great way to keep our family and our heritage in front of us all—literally—as we live out this semi-disconnected life from our roots.

I will admit that she got this idea from Pinterest, which—if you’ve never heard of it—is basically the Internet’s invention to help other wives be as awesome and creative as mine.

I’m glad for them. 

And those other husbands should thank Pinterest for giving them a taste for how fortunate I am naturally.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

The Advent Wreath (A Family Christmas Tradition)

Ever since Heather and I were married in 2001, we plopped an Advent Wreath on the center of our table each year. We searched for Bible verses to read each year, sometimes with success and sometimes without. But by the time the next year rolled around, we’d lose the verses and need to start over. Even searching the Internet proved fruitless. Sometimes we didn’t like the suggested verses, sometimes we just couldn’t find any verses at all, and sometimes different people disagreed about the order and the meaning of the candles.

Nevertheless, we longed for a consistent tradition that would help our family focus on Jesus Christ all during the Christmas season.

So, I finally bit the bullet, and spent a Saturday morning—long before Advent actually rolled around but not before advertisers could start promoting the holiday shopping season—combing through the best of what we and others have done with the Advent Wreath.

Our wreath has four candles around the outside and one tall one in the middle. Heather has written the words hope, peace, joy, and love on the four outside candles, and the word Christ on the center candle. This helps our small children to remember the symbolism of each candle.

We light that week’s candle each time we sit down for a meal together, and we read that week’s verses and Bible story at least once during the week, sometimes multiple times. The kids see the Advent Wreath tradition at church each week, but it’s great for them to see it at home as well. (Plus, they love the fire and smoke. They are boys, after all.) The wreath is also a great way to open up the floor for questions our kids might have about the Christmas story or Jesus Christ.

The First Candle—The Candle of Prophecy/Hope
This candle symbolizes the promises the prophets delivered as messages from God. The birth of the Messiah or Christ would bring hope for the whole world.

Key Verses:
Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

2 Peter 1:20-21 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophets own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Christmas Story Reading:
Luke 1:5-25

The Second Candle—The Candle of Peace
This candle reminds us that Jesus comes to bring peace to both the world and to people’s hearts. Without Christ, there is no peace in this world.

Key Verses:
Isaiah 9:6-7 For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given. And the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Christmas Story Reading:
Luke 1:26-38

The Third Candle—The Candle of Joy
This candle indicates that the only lasting joy to be found in life is through Christ. All other joy is fleeting and does not last.

Key Verses:
Isaiah 9: 2-3 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness,
a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.

Luke 2:8-11 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

Christmas Story Reading:
Luke 1:39-66

The Fourth Candle—The Candle of Love
This candle proclaims that God’s heart is full of love for his sinful creation. His love and desire to share his glory with his creation are the reasons he sent Jesus to earth.

Key Verses:
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Psalm 98:1-3 Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The Lord has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations. He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Christmas Story Reading:
Luke 1:67-80

The Fifth Candle—The Christ Candle
This candle represents Christ himself, who is born to save people from their sins. It is a celebration of the fulfillment of prophecy as represented in Christ’s birth and hope in the final fulfillment when Christ comes again and Christians join him in heaven.

Key Verses:
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Luke 2:13-14 Suddenly a great company of heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising  God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

Christmas Story Reading:
Luke 2:1-20

Other Advent Ideas:
Another tradition that Heather and I started was watching a portion of The Nativity Story movie each week. We broke up the 101 minute movie into four sections and watch some each Sunday night. (You might want to be careful with the scenes centering around Herod’s murder of the babies of Bethlehem with your smaller kids. They are subtly filmed, but still might be frightening.)
Week 1—DVD chapters 1-7
Week 2—ch. 8-11
Week 3—ch. 12-15
Week 4—ch. 16-end

Some other movies you might want to watch for a Christmas family night: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, one of the adaptations of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (the Muppets version for younger kids, Jim Carrey’s action flick for older ones), the Veggie Tales Christmas movies, Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. All of these have great Christmas messages that are friendly for the younger ages. Heather and I make a holiday habit of watching Elf, The Family Man, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Family Stone. They may be less biblical than the ones we watch with the kiddos, but they are entertaining holiday films with solid messages behind them as well.

I hope some of these suggestions help you keep Christ at the center of your families this holiday season. Feel free to comment below with any great traditions you’d like to add.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Problem with Short-term Missionaries (Satire)

Earlier in my development as a career missionary, I had sundry philosophical and sociological objections to the regular practice of short-term missions on the spiritual formation of nascent believers among various unreached or least-reached peoples. Now, my qualms are only two-fold: Short-term missionaries are too skinny and too energetic.

I’ll start with the skinniness.

Short-term missionaries—often young and blessed with higher metabolisms—have time for sunset jogs through the African wilderness and when you combine that fervent exercise with the rampant diarrhea they enjoy in the foreign culture, it’s easy to see how they can keep the pounds off.

As a long-term missionary, I start with good intentions for exercise, but then there is a stack of term papers that keeps me up late or a sick child whose earache causes us to watch the dark hours tick off the clock. Or the local rooster greeting the dawn.. Or the bush baby crying in a tree. Or the hyrax screaming at the wind. And so I live out my career missionary life with a few extra pounds and a couple of inches of squishiness, longing for the luxuries of short-termers.

If short-term missionaries would just be less disciplined and less skinny, I think I’d get along better with them.

Secondly, short-term missionaries have so much energy. It’s annoying. One guy smiled for 43 hours straight once. How do I know this? I glowered at him all night long while I was grading papers and listening to the neighbor’s dog barking. He was so tired from all of his sunset running that he slept right through that, of course.

I had energy once too. That first month on the mission field was awesome. But then the adrenaline wore off, and I had to actually start living with people day in and day out. I had to get beyond theological accuracy and get down to living out Christianity in the applicable sense. It was such a drag.

I had so much energy that I’d even talk about Jesus and faith with every single person I came across. That’s something short-term missionaries are good at, too. Man, that bugs me. Don’t they have more important things to do, like put away laundry and read books to their children and change lightbulbs and write witty blogs?

I just want one—one!—short-term missionary to come in so tired and fat that I look skinny and energetic by comparison. If you think you might fit that description, your welcome to visit our ministry anytime and we’ll be happy to provide you our couch to lounge on. Otherwise, stay away, all you anorexic, Red Bull-drinking youth!

Friday, May 24, 2013

If you can't bleat 'em, join 'em

It's been an eternity since I've blogged, so if you're 1 of the 3 people who actually checks this blog regularly, I apologize to you (and to my mom and my obsessed ex-girlfriend from 2nd grade).

The irony is, I still haven't written anything new. I spoke at chapel today, which took some creative energy, so don't get all over me. I'm not sitting around eating bon-bons over here. But I haven't written anything for the masses (all 3 of you).

However, I do have something special to share with you. It's just the kind of thing I wish I could say I'd written. It's just the kind of story I used to write back when I wrote for this blog every other week. It's just the kind of story I know my adoring fans love.

And I didn't even have to write it.

A few weeks back, a new young missionary lady shared this awesome story that weaves together cross-cultural experiences and humor and the truth of God's loving promises. It's a gem.

Ashley Tierney's "Lessons Learned from a Stuck Baby Goat"

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Twelve Tasks of Hercules (if he flew around the world with small children)

(written Dec. 30, 2012)

Well, we made it back to Kenya, thanks to the grueling necessity of air travel with a baby on our laps (okay, okay, mostly Heather’s lap). We found ourselves repeatedly saying, “We made it!” as our journey progressed through various stages.

Which made me realize—it’s not really one big trip but a series of tiny tasks which can each individually sink you along the way. Hercules probably thought he was a tough guy when he took on his twelve tasks, but that softy didn’t sit in close proximity to his own young ones for 36 hours straight.

Task 1. Packing 50 pound bags. Hercules was probably best suited for this heavyweight task, yet could he have simultaneously entertained his children while packing and weighing and repacking and weighing over a dozen pieces of luggage? The task is no easier as you reach the end, as the children’s toys and books are all zippered away for the journey.

Task 2. Loading the vehicles. Again, I wish I had Herculean strength for this one, but it takes more brain than brawn to stack up bags while leaving room for the little ones and making sure the stack doesn’t collapse and crush anyone essential to the trip.

Task 3. From curbside to Check-in. Not losing track of a bag or a wandering child is an equally taxing job. We’ve never lost anything or anyone during this task, but Heather’s mom once had a camera stolen in the chaos in San Diego.

Task 4. Security checkpoints. Valuable electronics and precious breakables all overload our carry-on luggage and backpacks. Each one must be unpacked for scanning. Coats and shoes must be stripped. Strollers must be broken down. If one escapes further scrutiny, simply repacking four carry-ons and redressing multiple human beings are your next tasks. If one arouses terrorist suspicion with scrapbooking items and baby bottles, the task may be lengthened by twenty minutes for extra dissection and reassembly.

Task 5. Plane boarding. The parade of people and possessions is narrowed to the slim aisles of an airplane. Children are corralled into proper rows. Sufficient bin space is sought and—if found—luggage is hoisted high into the overhead space for precise positioning. If space is not found, valuable breakables are chucked underneath the plane by airplane staff, voiding all earlier hopes and efforts.

Task 6. Sleep/awake cycles. You want babies to sleep. But not too much. You want kids to stay awake. But not the entire time. It’s a delicate balance where no one is completely fried to the point of meltdown but no one arrives to the destination on an entirely different sleep cycle than the rest of the family.

Task 7. Layover endurance factor. We’ve had international layovers as short as 4 hours and as long as 12 hours. Exhaustion has fully set in as you now want to sleep but know you should stretch and walk. It feels like purgatory. At least when you’re on a plane you know you’re moving; terminals are terminally hellacious.

Task 8. Layover city routines. Tasks 4 and 5 repeated. Every European stopover we’ve had has required a second trip through security, and of course another re-loading of the airplane. No easier than the first time.

Task 9. Customs and immigration.  They have you fill in these forms declaring what kind of produce and imports you’re bringing with you, and you probably won’t have a clue what exactly to “claim” and what not to. It’s pretty serious business and probably can land you with heavy fines or jail, I guess. Do your best on the forms. And pray for a fast-moving line and cheerful custom inspector once it’s time to de-plane. Otherwise, you and your small children may spend the night in the clink.

Task 10. Luggage retrieval. One day—I dream—this will be a less difficult experience. I’ll have two strapping sons and an eagle-eyed daughter to locate our bags and haul them to our getaway van/truck. Right now, this is a ridiculously impossible task. Even if all the big luggage fits on two carts, you still have carry-ons that needed wheeling. And—if you recall the fact that you’ve just traveled for 36 hours—it’s likely that your small children, neither strapping nor eagle-eyed, are probably crying passionately in a heap in the center island of the baggage carousel. Did I mention this is all “best case” scenario? Some of your luggage may never even arrive.

Task 11. The final leg. One more time packing up a car, and then unpacking. One more time arranging children in car seats, and then carrying them in the house asleep (or carrying them into McDonald’s asleep where they will then precede to sleep under the table with face on the floor). One more time fighting off sleep to entertain groggy or spastic children. If you’re lucky, it’s a short ride. If you’ve angered the gods during the first ten tasks, you’ll get a ticket for going down a one-way leaving the airport, your church’s old van will break down, or you’ll lose a piece of luggage off your roof. Or all three.

Task 12. Sleeping through for two straight nights. After 36 hours with little to no sleep, you’ll want to sleep for 16 hours the first night. And you will. And after sleeping for 16 hours the previous night, you’ll only want to sleep about 4 hours the second night. And you will. But if you can manage to not oversleep the first night too much and not under-sleep the second night too much, the third night should be a decent night.

And sincere rest is all you’ll beg for after completing your twelve tasks.