A Bearded Child, A Djembe, and Faith

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

James 1:2

Many of Jesus’ disciples, then as now, would die for their faith. That kind of faith isn’t grown in a week. And, mostly, it’s not grown in warmth and sunshine. Miracles can take it only so far, and after that can actually stunt it. Its hardiest growth, where the roots get deep and tough, happens in darkness.

Mark Buchanan, Spiritual Rhythms

The last two months have squeezed our family like a grape. As the summer sunshine waned, we anticipated the start of the school year. We knew it would be challenging. Genae planned to homeschool kids in three different grades, using a new curriculum to match what our kids will use in Papua New Guinea, all while endlessly juggling nursing twins and reigning in our two-year-old Milo.

Have you ever tried to teach three levels of language arts, and prepare for a science experiment on the water cycle, while holding two voraciously hungry babies, and cleaning up after a toddler who scatters goldfish around the house with greater alacrity than Hansel and Gretel? Or what about trying to prepare lunch, teach long division, do laundry for eight people, perhaps take a shower, and help a five-year-old find a Chaco he lost somewhere outside for the thirteenth time? Meanwhile, while you search for said Chaco, you are carrying twins in each arm, your two-year-old wants more goldfish, and your eight-year-old is more interested in hot gluing together a bottle rocket projectile than finishing his lesson on spelling rules. Also, is there something burning in the house? Yes… someone took the turtle’s heat lamp out of the cage, placed it face down on a dresser, and there is smoke and an acrid burnt paint smell billowing through the bedroom! That could have been bad! And it is still two hours till the twin’s nap time. And its only Monday.

Welcome to an average day in the Morris home! I am truly amazed by the infinite tasks Genae orchestrates in the storm of our lives. She is incredible and resilient. Trust me, the emergency department feels like an all-inclusive Cancun resort compared to our home. She has the difficult job. I often joke that the ER is where I go to relax. Our life may sound humorous, and it often is, but I have left out describing the incessant noise that makes a 747 sound like a purring cat. I haven’t described Genae waking up at 2 AM with a panic attack for the second night of the week – so desperately in need of the sleep that her very stress and exhaustion steals away. I haven’t described the doctors’ visits. I haven’t described the painful arguments Genae and I have had with each other because we are both frayed. I haven’t described how we have yelled at the kids over trivial things because we are so overwhelmed that every additional mess, fight, and act of disobedience feels like the catastrophic straw that shatters the slumping and dejected camel’s back. Welcome to an average day in the Morris home.

Life is filled with contrast and paradox. We are blessed with six kids eight and under; we are reduced and refined under the weight of that blessing. We wouldn’t have it any other way. We follow God’s leading to serve Him overseas as medical missionaries; we struggle with the pain of preparation, transition, and disconnectedness that results from that decision. Nothing is easy. Every vibrant blossom is seemingly upheld by a stem of thorns. Nothing is perfect. Every joy is followed with pain. Every pain is lined with grace. And we rejoice in all of it.

These contrasts have been blazingly apparent to us in this season. Reckoning with these contrasts involves practical wisdom: Do we send the kids to public school? How do we find margin when we feel like we are drowning? How much can we bear with God’s grace, and what would be wise to let go? These are not easy questions. We prayed. We cried. We argued. We tried not to make decisions at peak moments of fear or stress. I thought of a wise piece of advice I once read, “When you don’t know what to do, just take the next logical step by faith.” So, we trudged forward in faith, instead of standing still in fear.

Two weeks ago, Walter, Evie, and Harvey started their first day of public school. The day before, we filled a Target shopping cart full of dinosaur pencil boxes, spiral notebooks, and yellow folders. Genae and I’s hearts were heavy. The twins cried the whole trip. As we stood in the line to checkout, an older woman sidled to wait behind us and our loquacious kids began to chat her up. She was kind and smiled. She saw us try to stack our multitude of supplies on the conveyor belt like it was a Jenga tower, and wisely disappeared into an adjacent line. A few minutes later, as I went to pay for our $250 trip, a Target employee walked up with a credit card and said, “Another customer wants to pay for all your groceries, she insists.” As I looked up in confusion, the employee slid the credit card and walked off, bringing the card back to the woman who had previously been in line behind us. I went over and gave her a hug. She said, “God bless, you have a beautiful family.” That is grace. A whisper from God that He is there even in the storm.

The next morning, we woke the kids up for their first day of public school. The paradoxes were not over. Though we all had some sense of anxiety, we nonetheless started the day with laughter. Milo’s older brothers had played the midnight van Gogh and painted their helpless sleeping sibling with a beard and mustache. Thankfully, the markings were not indelible, and when Genae dropped the kids off at school, much of the damage had been washed off. He still had a six-o’clock shadow.

Milo after going through puberty.

The kids, like their mother, are remarkable. They have enjoyed their first two weeks of public school. Their teachers are excellent, and the kids have made friends. A measure of necessary margin has crept back into our family life. Now, there is just the easy task of infant twins and an investigative toddler. Not everything has been a cakewalk, though. Remember the paradoxes?

Last week, we began to play some spontaneous family worship. I got out the acoustic guitar, Genae strummed the ukulele and sang, Walter kept rhythm by hitting the couch, and Evie brought the djembe up from the basement to dance and drum like we were in a Kenyan village. Everything was going swimmingly for about twenty minutes, until Harvey decided it was a good idea to insert his foot into the djembe. When he told me it was stuck, I laughed and kept playing guitar. I thought, “What a cute, silly kid.” Then I realized it really was stuck. Worship stopped. Harvey began to cry. Pain followed joy.

Well… maybe that wasn’t the best decision.

Ten minutes later, we still had not extracted his leg from the djembe. Sharp, rough, wood fibers on the neck of the djembe cut his skin any time we tried to pull. He cried that he was going to lose his foot. He then said, through his tears, “Wait! I have a good idea! Call a drum maker and have them come take off all the drum strings! A drum maker will know what to do!”

Dad unfortunately does not have any drum makers on speed-dial. So, after some puzzling, some frustration (Dad’s), lots of tears (Harvey’s), I retrieved a knife from the garage, cut off the drum skin (not his foot), slid the smooth drum skin between Harvey’s now visible ankle and the neck of the djembe, and we were able to extract his imperiled appendage.

Yep, its sure stuck.

Life is a mess. Joy and pain. Paradox. Beauty in the collision. These last two months have squeezed our family like a grape – but we are still here. We don’t want the trials, the stress, the panic attacks, and the tears; but God shows up in the midst of brokenness. He stretches us, broadens our shoulders, and helps our roots of faith grow tough in the darkness. Even though we have felt like an over-filled bag ready to burst, I wouldn’t trade these light and momentary afflictions for a life of passivity and ease. We are overwhelmingly grateful for our lives, for our family, and for Jesus.

Challenges and pain are not a symptom of dysfunction in following Jesus, they are a feature. Jesus is no stranger to paradox. Two thousand years ago, He came to earth as a man, lived a spotless life, and died on a cross to bear the punishment for sins He did not commit.

Author G.K. Chesterton once said, “The cross has at its heart a collision and a contradiction. It can extend its four arms forever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its center, it can grow without changing. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers.”

Our lives collide at the crossroads of pain and blessing. But, for those who trust in Jesus, at that intersection stands the One who bore the sharpest pain and granted the most superlative blessing. In Him, the pain and the blessing find meaning. Jesus is the greatest guide for our lives of paradox. Only through Him, does everything hold together.

So do not fear, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

Papua New Guinea Update:

  • All of our paperwork was submitted a couple of months ago! We are waiting approval of Jake’s Work Permit and our family’s Visas. Once approved, we can buy tickets! We’ve been told this process could take 3-6 months. We were hoping for a January departure, but it looks like February or early March is more realistic. Regardless, that is only a few short months away!

2 responses to “A Bearded Child, A Djembe, and Faith”

  1. Jordan Avatar

    This is a great description of the wringing out that has been happening at our house last two weeks also, especially to Jess. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the trees when it’s currently happening and see how it’s refining and testing you to become something stronger.

    1. Jake Avatar

      Thanks, Jordan. Praying for you guys. Hang in there!

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of Samaritan’s Purse or World Medical Mission. Photos from patients are used with their or their parent’s permission. Names are often changed for the sake of privacy.

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