Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Disturbed?

I ran across this prayer that Sir Francis Drake wrote...

"Disturb us, Lord, when

We are too pleased with ourselves,

When our dreams have come true

Because we dreamed too little,

When we arrived safely

Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when

With the abundance of things we possess

We have lost our thirst

For the waters of life;

Having fallen in love with life,

We have ceased to dream of eternity

And in our efforts to build a new earth,

We have allowed our vision

Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,

We ask you to push back

The horizons of our hopes;

And to push back the future

In strength, courage, hope, and love.

This we ask in the name of our Captain,

Who is Jesus Christ."

AMEN!!!!  Here are just a few of my thoughts as I digest this...

  • I need to be DISTURBED!!
  • Although I feel like I dream big a lot of the time, I am NOT.  God's capacity and greatness is so far beyond me that my idea of big is a miniscule fleck in the grand scheme of things.  I want to be dreaming things that I could never fulfill on my own - things that God MUST show up to make happen!
  • I often arrive safely and miss out on the majesty of what God wants to show me. Why?  Because I am afraid of what waits for me and how I might have to count the cost.  Ridiculous!! I LONG to journey further out to experience all that God has for me!!
  • I do not want the abundance of my things to keep me from thirsting after God.  I want to cut it all loose and run hard after Him, the Living Water who will always be the  only One who can quench my thirst. 
  • Scripture says "God has set eternity in the hearts of men; yet we cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end". Although God has set eternity in my heart, I admit I often cease to dream of it.  I am so busy with life on this earth, that my vision for heaven does dim.  I choose to focus my eyes in places that hold false peace rather than on the One who is the true giver of peace.
  • Perhaps if I could fathom what God is doing I would indeed dare more boldly.  But when I can't see the big picture and how things fit together, I more often than not hesitate which simply leads to me sitting on my duff doing nothing.  Sometimes it seems my dares are only ever things I suspect I'll be able to work out on my own in the end.  What kind of a dare is that??  Certainly not a bold one and likely not a dare at all.  But doesn't "dare" in it's very meaning imply that we try something when we can't ensure what the outcome will be? Shouldn't that be the very nature of my faith? I'm thinking my view of God needs to be stretched - big time.  I need to more fully recognize the HUGENESS of His nature, His power and His love.  The relentless, consuming love that God has for me should lead me to run full speed ahead into what He has for me because I know that He will be there.  It must kill Him sometimes to look down at me being so afraid and unwilling to step out and actually risk something!!  He is everything I need and I miss out on GOOD things when I don't boldly dare.  
I think my favorite part of this prayer is the following:

To venture on wilder seas

Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

WOW.  The wild seas, the unknown...the storms, the difficult, painful and crazy stuff we go through in this life - those things show His mastery.  It is in those times when we feel least in control and most weak that God shows up.  He comes through.  He carries us.  He brings us out.  He works good out of awful circumstances.  He refines us.  He makes us look more like Him. He reveals His splendor.  Doesn't that sound better than trudging through life in perceived safety, rarely counting on God to show His faithfulness and mastery? 

If I never allow myself to lose sight of land I won't find the stars - at least, not the vast expanse of them in all of their glory.  If I continue to hold on to this earthly life I will miss out on how God wants to use me to bring His kingdom to earth.  But if I can just start paddling out further and further away from the land and the things that are known, the promise of finding God in deeper, more meaningful ways waits for me.  Which causes me to call out from the core of my being...

"Disturb ME, Oh God!"

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Unworthy

Well, it's time again to let my husband take over my blog for this post.  I don't know about you, but I LOVE it when he writes!!  Wish he would do it more often.  So enjoy these words from my sweet husband who I am daily amazed by...


 I am in the process of thinking though all that God has been doing in our lives over the last few days.  As many of you know, I got a call one week ago that changed my life in a moment.  It was the call from our adoption agency telling me the story of a little boy who suffered at the hands of his father.  “He needs a special daddy, one who is good and kind and can be patient with him” she told me.  “We read your file and thought that might be you.  Does that sound right? Can you be that Daddy to him?”   What do you say to that?  Everything in me cried out “I want to be!” but at that same moment all my failings as a dad flashed in my mind.  The times I let my exhaustion result in a sharp tone, the times when I've parented out of my own weakness or insecurity.  All the mistakes and missed opportunities.
 
“He sounds like a really special boy who needs a family to love him.  I will talk to Amy and pray about it.  You will hear from us shortly”.  That was all I could muster.  I sat in my car shell shocked and sobbing.  Sobbing for this boy, my son, and from the weight of the question….Can you be that Daddy?

Let’s leave that question to hang out there for a few minutes.  In the meantime I’ll tell you about one of my Christmas traditions….
Every year I make a Christmas CD.  I know, it seems a bit weird, but it’s just one of those things I fell into over the years.  Amy is to blame.  I could fill a 10 volume book series on the amazing things about my wife.  Chief among her virtues is her kindness.  The way she loves those around her is startling and the most beautiful thing in the world to behold.  That being said, in that 10 volume “Ode to Amy”, you would be hard pressed to find a description of her love for GOOD music.  She does love music, it’s just that a lot of it is, well…. not great to listen to in my opinion.  I’m sure you’re thinking her kindness must be unending to live for so long with a jerk like me…you are correct.  :) If she controlled the play list Christmas music would start around Labor Day and end around the 4th of July.  I decided if I was doomed to 6 months of Christmas music, I would do my best to find some that’s tolerable to listen to.  So that is how 10 years ago, I started making Christmas CD’s. 
 
Now the process of scouring through thousands of Christmas songs is part of my holiday tradition.  No joke, I have well over 600 Christmas songs on my iPod right now.  Ridiculous... I know.  My favorite part of the tradition is that (while listening to Stryper Christmas Reunion Album) I get to refocus my mind on what Christmas is about. 
 
This year, as our adoption is closer than has seemed possible, I reflect on the birth of Christ in a new way.  I can only imagine being in a field in the middle of the night, watching my animals as the most important moment in the history of the world is happening right over the next rise.  It is still now a thought that makes me fall on my knees.  That God would choose a frail and flawed race of people to bear his image.  That he would demonstrate his plan for humanity through a baby born to a young girl and an adoptive father who were in poverty.  You get a glimpse of the Fathers heart. 
I can only scratch the surface of what Joseph must have been feeling.  Is this really God’s baby?  Was that really God’s angel who appeared to me in my dream?  How can I be a father to God’s son? The confusion and fear he must have felt would be paralyzing.  Would he even feel worthy to be Jesus’ father?  

Truly we are not worthy to be God’s hands and feet to those around us.  To those that God has put in our care.  As I again reflect on that question “Can you be that Daddy?” I know that I cannot give my son or my other children the full measure of the love they deserve.  I know that the love I give is filtered through the broken and frail man that I am, BUT I know who can be that Daddy.  And I know that He loves me.  And when I press into His love, it can spill out of me and cover those around me.  It is a privilege that God uses us to share His heart with those around us.  In a new way I learned to say to God… “I will love your kids as best as I can.  Forgive me when I fail.  Thank you for the pleasure of letting me have them for a while.  They are yours to do with as you see fit, because I know you will be a better father than I can ever be.  Help me be more like you, Father.  Then I can be that Daddy.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

God Sets The Lonely In Families

"A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families." - Psalm 68:5-6

I know many of you have likely read that verse many times.  So have I.  But as I sit here tonight it has taken on a new meaning.  These words are alive on the pages of my heart. The last five days have been some of the happiest of my life as I have seen God prove Himself as the Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows and as I have watched Him set the lonely in families - even in MY family!  

Many of you know that after two years of being in the adoption process we received a referral for our son "T" last Thursday.  When we got back from Uganda God began to stir our hearts for the older children we saw there...many of whom were taking care of their younger siblings and some walking many miles on their own to get water.  I can't tell you the countless kids I saw walking along the side of the road dragging heavy water containers with them while the hot sun burned their barefeet.

It was just heart wrenching to watch their forms fade into the distance.  All along we thought we'd wanted an infant boy from Ethiopia but God started to change and move our hearts with what we saw in Uganda.  So much so that I started to check out the Waiting Children's List on our agency's website.  (For those of you new to adoption lingo that just means kids who are waiting for adoption due to older age or medical conditions...as my friend Sarah pointed out - the least of these).  I found a small blurb about a four year old boy who had a sweet disposition but had something wrong with his hand.  They don't give much info or a picture so I requested some more information on him.  However, since we were only approved for an infant they wouldn't allow me to see anything additional.  That started us wondering if we shouldn't just go ahead and pursue changing our age range in case God had other plans for our family than an infant.  So, in November we started the process of changing our age range and last Monday we were officially approved for a little boy up to age 4.  

I was sitting in the pick up line at school last Thursday (yes...just 3 days later) to get Ella when we got THE call.  I was shocked.  I couldn't believe that we would get a referral so soon.  And Ben was on the phone telling me that our case worker called him to ask if we'd be willing to look at a child from the Waiting Children's List to consider for referral.  Ben went on to tell me about little 4 year old "T" who had a problem with his right hand.  And then things began to fall into place in my mind.  This was HIM.  The little boy that touched my heart a few months back from the list.  I drove home and ran down to my computer to see the email from the case worker.  As I opened the email I prayed and asked God to just clearly speak to my heart when I saw him if this was to be my son.  The picture loaded and at first all I saw were pictures of his burned hand.  And then there his face was all of sudden swallowing up my screen.  My heart raced and I sobbed. It took all of one second for me to take him in and KNOW that Little "T" was indeed ours.  He was meant to be in our family.  

About six months ago I was out shopping and ran across a wall decal that said "We took one look at you and our hearts stood still".  I bought it with the intention of hanging it in our baby's nursery, but now I know that for us, our hearts truly did stand still when we soaked in his picture and his story.  Amazing to me to think about how this loooong wait has all been because Little "T" didn't come into care until 3 months ago...about the time my heart was being broken for little ones his age in Uganda.  I've said this so many times in the past few weeks, but it's worth saying again.  God truly does do ALL things well.  Perfectly.  So much better than I ever could on my best day.  His timing is perfect.  His plans stand.  His faithfulness never ends - no matter what or how long it takes.  I am so blown away that our family gets to be a part of Little "T's" story.  We get to see God literally set a lonely little boy in our family, in our hearts and soon - in our arms.  His word is true and His promises are real.  I am seeing it with my own eyes and oh how beautiful the view is!

The day after our referral we hopped on a plane to go to Oklahoma City to see my friend Lindsey's church engage in sponsorship of the community of Ngariam (Uganda) where Ben and I were in September.  Talk about a dream of a weekend.  We folded about 500 profiles of children on Friday night.  Imagine picking up a picture of a child and turning it over to read their insanely sad story.  Child after child after child.  All of us (Vince and Brandi from HopeChest were there too) just sat there with tears flowing down our faces as we put the profiles together and prayed for each child by name one by one.  Lindsey was sitting across the table from me and held up a photo of a boy and commented on his sweet face.  I took the profile and turned it over to read his story.  And guess what?  It was BOSCOE!  Boscoe was the boy who we raised money for about a month ago so he could have his leg amputated and save his life.  And here was his little face showing up in a stack of profiles.  SO cool!

Typically, it's quite a bit to ask a church to sponsor even 200 kids and so the fact that Lindsey had the dream of seeing her church sponsor 600 kids (an entire community of orphans) was honestly a little bit crazy. Turns out we serve a crazy huge God.  Sunday was one of my all-time favorite days.  A lot of sharing and prayer and three services later, 400 children were sponsored.  In ONE Sunday.  HELLO!!  That is just unheard of, really. And yet, God placed each of the orphans in Ngariam on Lindsey's heart without ever having seen them and then He MOVED hearts to reach out and care for the least of these.  It was powerful stuff.

 

A lot of times we read Psalm 68 and focus in on the "father to the fatherless" part.  But this weekend I also got to see God come through on His promise to be a defender of widows.  You may not realize that in Uganda a child who has lost his father but still has his mother is considered an orphan.  This is because men typically hold all the status and when they die or desert their wives the widow is often stripped of her hut, her land, her income and left with nothing but her children.  These women are in dire situations and many of them are watching their children starve to death.  Because people stepped up on Sunday in Oklahoma City to give $34 a month, these women are going to get to KEEP their children and not have to watch them die from hunger or relinquish them to someone else.  God stood up and defended the widows of Ngariam this weekend.  He engaged people with the things that move and break His heart and as a result the entire orphan community of Ngariam will be sponsored.  There are only 80 some profiles left and Lindsey can't keep up with all the phone calls and emails asking for a child to sponsor.

So, this week has been AMAZING.  Our God is great. He sees the entire picture of every life on the planet and moves on behalf of His children both young and old to see that they know of His love.  As the widows are waking up this morning in Ngariam they will soon receive news that God IS their defender.  That they have HOPE as a result of the love of God pouring out on them.  They will not have to give up their children whom they love because they cannot feed them.  God has come to their rescue.  The little ones with no parents won't have to wonder when and where their food will come from.  God is going to feed them - day after day after day. And all those little orphans with no daddies will get to experience the Love of God through their surrogate sponsor fathers who will speak love and care and peace to them.   And my Little T will know very soon that God loves him enough to reach down and swoop him up in His strong and loving arms and set him in our family where he will be lonely no more.

My heart is beyond full tonight.  I can't believe that God allows us to be a part of His plan for the world.  Actually, I can't believe that He allows us to BE His plan for the world.  As my friend Vince said this weekend - God's people are Plan A.  He has no Plan B.  We are His plan to be love.  To sacrifice, to surrender, to live with reckless abandon for the God who relentlessly pursues each of us. 

It's a beautiful thing to witness the love of God like I did this week.  And I do believe there's so much more to be experienced as we open up our lives and hearts to the Father to the fatherless, the defender of widows and the One who sets the lonely in families. Tonight my heart sings -  O come let us adore Him,Christ the Lord!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

We Got A Referral!!

I am soaring right now! We just officially were approved on Monday of this week to adopt an "older" child in Ethiopia - up to age 5. We've been waiting for a year for a referral and we got one today!!! The sweetest little four year old boy - we'll just call him T for now since we can't post pictures or his name until later in the process - will be joining our family in about 4-6 months! THANK YOU GOD!!!!

Ben and I are leaving tonight for Oklahoma City so I have no time to write more at the moment, but I just had to share the amazing news!! More to come soon on this - I promise!

If you think of it, would you please pray this weekend as we are going to OKC to see a church sponsor 600 orphans in Ngariam, where Ben and I visited on our trip to Uganda. You can read more about our time in Ngariam here and here. We are asking God to move in hearts this weekend to see ALL of the children sponsored. Thank you for joining us in prayer!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thankful Much?


This Thanksgiving I feel different. I have noticed something since I've been back from Africa. I am more PROFOUNDLY thankful, more frequently. Of course the response of thankfulness after traveling to a poverty stricken area may seem like a no brainer, but I'm finding that it's not the comforts of home that I'm thankful for. It's the fact that I can't get the people I met in Africa out of my head, although I do admit..I'm not trying very hard. :)

So, this Thanksgiving I am deeply grateful for the people I met in Uganda. God has used them in the past two months to change my life and my relationship with Him. The beauty of their absolute love and trust in God in the middle of despicable circumstances has rattled me to my core and caused me to question several important things in my life.

First of all, if I lost everything I had materially would I still be thankful? Would I still be able to praise God as fervently as the people I met in war torn, poverty stricken Uganda do? Could I give praise to God authentically and not just with my mouth??

Which then leads me to ask "Where do I get my security?" Is it really from my bank account and my job? Those things could be gone in an instant. The people I met in Africa have absolutely NO material security. They don't know where their next meal is coming from, if the water they're drinking to survive is actually going to kill them, if their cattle will be stolen in the night, if their children will ever get to go to school and the list goes on...I'm talking NO SECURITY.

And yet, I am telling you some of them are the most secure people I have ever met in my life. Their confidence is in God. Not people. Not money. Not a job. It's in God. And so even in the midst of dark situations, they are not shaken. And I can't tell you how that has stirred my heart. It has made me want to not just loosen my grip on the things I cling to so fiercely, but to actually let go. As I am learning to let go of the things I have always thought brought me security I am finding myself with open hands to receive the true security and joy that can only come from God.

James 1 says "Every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of Lights who does NOT change like the shifting shadows." The God I know and the God these people in Africa know has never and will never change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. I can trust Him because He is good. In just 9 days in September I have seen Him bring healing to tumors, bring food to those who are hungry, bring comfort to those who weep, bring peace to people in situations where they should have no peace, bring laughter to those who are sad and I have seen light break through the darkness and give hope to people's souls. This is the God I serve and the God I praise this Thanksgiving. And this is the God who deserves my everything.

So while I want to give thanks this week for all the blessings I have, I think God would like more than just my thanks and praise. I believe He wants my heart-all of it. My time. My energy. My resources. My love. My everything. And you know what? At long last, there's nothing I'd rather do than give it ALL to Him.

And to the people in Uganda who have spoken so deeply into my soul, I am thankful for you. I am thankful that you have chosen to trust and believe God to be exactly who He says He is and who He has shown Himself to be again and again. I am thankful that you enjoy a peace that so many do not. I am thankful that you raise your voices loudly and your hands high in worship of the God who created the universe yet knows the number of hairs of your head. I am thankful for your courage, your strength, the beauty of your stories and the beauty of the God who has woven our stories together. Thank you for showing me that true thankfulness comes from firmly knowing and trusting in the steadfast love of the Lord that never ceases.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

URGENT Need - Please read!

Hi all...I was just made aware yesterday of this URGENT need and wanted to share it with you so you could be praying and also consider giving to this. We are hoping to have all the funds needed by the end of the day TODAY. Thanks for taking the time to read this...Ngariam is one of the areas Ben and I visited while in Uganda FYI.

I'm just borrowing my friend Brandi's blog post about this request which came directly from the HopeChest Country Director who I know personally and can absolutely be trusted. Read on...



"Bosco is a born of 1996, from Obule Ajet, Ngariam Sub County, Usuk County, Katakwi District in Eastern Uganda. Bosco is an Orphan with 05 siblings and a mother (Alinga Christine-29 years). He is in Primary/Grade Three in Obule Ajet Primary School . His performance at school is quite satisfactory. Bosco has horrific story, he was picked by his uncle who is a casual worker in one of the sugar estates in Eastern Uganda called Kakira. While with his uncle, Bosco developed wounds on his left leg which the uncle did not give much attention to treat. The condition grew worse and the wounds became septic. Bosco’s uncle decides to bring him back to the village, however, he did not hand him back to his other. Bosco was left with his relatives who later notified the Bosco’s mother to come and pick her son who was ailing. On responding to the call, the mother found Bosco with a very sick left leg with septic wounds.



Bosco was overwhelmed with pain and the mother henceforth decided to seek medical attention from the nearby Health Centres. The condition was advanced so they referred them to Soroti Referral Hospital . On thorough examination, the doctors diagnosed that the condition could not be treated and therefore recommended Bosco’s leg be amputated. Having come up with the cost for the operation, Bosco needs 2,000,000/= Uganda Shillings (excluding upkeep in the hospital and transportation) to have a successful operation/ amputation on his left leg. However, this colossal sum of money is a real nightmare to Bosco’s family. The mother is requesting people of good will and charities to come to her rescue as she cannot meet this cost."




The total comes to $1200 with another $300 needed for his hospital stay and transportation. Joseph asked us to just raise the $1200 and he would cover the rest. Can you believe that? Joseph, my precious African Papa, offering to pay 20% of this need out of his own pocket. Pockets that aren't as deep as many of ours. Pockets that are already covering school fees and needs for more orphans than any of us can get an accurate count on :-) It challenged me and I hope it challenges you to really ask the question: how might God want to use ME in bringing HOPE to Bosco. We'd like to raise the full $1500, allowing Joseph to bless this family or the others he comes across instead. Since we don't get to see all the needs...let US respond to the ones we DO see, am I right?

Go to www.HopeChest.org to give!!!!
In the notes section write: Uganda / Bosco so that it's designated correctly!
I'll update you as funds come in... pray with me for $1500 to meet this precious boy's need.

UPDATE: This morning a bunch of us prayed together for the funds to come in for Bosco's surgery TODAY since time is of the essence, and within about 5-7 hours the whole amount was given and then some! Why am I always so surprised when God provides?! So, Bosco will get the surgery that he desperately needs and possibly even a prosthetic leg. The fact that God cares enough about Bosco to move a group of people here in the States to help him gives me even more assurance of the tenacity with which He loves all of the hurting children in the world. If you still feel moved to give to Bosco and his family, please do! Any extra money will go to provide food for the family and address other needs they have. Wish I could be there when he gets the news that his surgery is going to happen. Thanks to everyone who prayed. God is so faithful!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Who's It All For Anyway?



I confess. I love Christmas. And sometimes not for the right reason. I love the shopping, the Christmas music, the baking, the wrapping, the parties. I don't love the busyness, the long lines, the traffic, the stress of deciding what the "perfect" gift will be for so and so, the over-extending myself, the amount of money I spend on relatively meaningless gifts and the fact that by the time December 26th rolls around I'm exhausted.

So, partially because God has grabbed ahold of our hearts so tightly this year through our adoption and our trip to Africa and partially because I am finally ready to set aside the "Christmas trappings" and focus on the person whose birth we celebrate, we are doing things differently this Christmas. After all, who's this all for anyway?? I imagine if Jesus could choose what kind of birthday party we throw Him, He'd be doing things very differently. Somehow, we've made Christmas all about us. This year, we are attempting to turn that around.

We have trimmed back the list of people that we buy gifts for this year. Let's face it. We all have SO stinking much stuff in our lives and we truly don't NEED more...we may want it, but we don't NEED it. So, in place of giving actual things as gifts this year, we are giving money to organizations we know and trust will do good things to impact the lives of people in the world who truly do NEED it.

I recognize that there will always be gifts that need to be bought for certain people, but there's no reason for us to be buying things from stores that purchase items made from sweatshops or from people in slavery. So, I have listed below some organizations that are selling items that will either benefit the hungry, needy and abused around the world or have actually been made BY those people. I would so much rather give gifts that I know will directly impact the lives of the people who made them!


Tom's Shoes Buy a pair of shoes from Tom's Shoes (they now have children's shoes, people!!) and Tom's will donate a pair of shoes to a person who has none. Buy a pair, give a pair. Love that math.

The Hunger Site Every purchase you make funds food for the world's hungry.

Water For Christmas All proceeds go to provide clean water to people who don't have it! Cute gift ideas (be sure to check out the link at the bottom of the page for their Etsy store). Fact: Just $20 can give one person clean water for 20 years!

Saint's Coffee Know someone who loves coffee? This is GREAT coffee...it's brewing in my coffe pot as I type this. Best thing about it though? If you buy a pound of Fair Trade, Organic Coffee you feed an orphan for a month! A MONTH!!

Shop RED Do you have people on your list who you'll be purchasing iTunes gift cards, GAP t-shirts or Starbucks for? Buy RED and have the proceeds go to help fight poverty around the world.

Rahab Ministries Beautiful jewelry which helps women in Asia who choose to leave prostitution have an alternative means of income.

Emancipation Network The Emancipation Network has a great selection of items for everyone on your list! Each purchase helps survivors of slavery rebuild their lives after rescue from slavery, with sustainable income, education and help reintegrating into society. You could seriously wrap up all your shopping at this site!


For those of you who know people who are interested in learning more about issues around child trafficking, orphan care, micro-loans, hunger...giving a good book this Christmas could go a long way to impacting many lives as the reader's hearts are changed in the process. Here are a few I would recommend:

The Hole In Our Gospel - Richard Stearns, President of World Vision (about how the church is missing the boat in caring for the poor)

Red Letters: Living a Faith that Bleeds - Tom Davis (about the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa and how we can help)

The Poor Will Be Glad - Peter Greer & Phil Smith (about how micro-loans are lifting people out of poverty)

Not For Sale - David Batstone (about Human trafficking and Modern Day Slavery)

If you need some suggestions for organizations to donate to, we know and trust these organizations!

Children's HopeChest
HopeMongers
Charity:Water
World Vision
Hope International

Hope some of this information inspires you to check out doing Christmas differently this year! Let's make this all about the One who gave everything for us and give to Him in ways that move His heart!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Love Like That


I went and saw the Hillsong i-heart film. I'm still processing it all. There was just so much to take in. The realities of what so many people around the world face were once again brought home tonight. Violence, abuse, hunger, disease, slavery, loss, homelessness, death, war, constant danger...to name a few. When I look at the ridiculous scale of all the injustice in the world it makes me want to crawl in a hole and weep because I feel so helpless.

I feel angry too - a broken kind of angry. Where has the Church been while all these atrocities which break the heart of God have been going on day after day and year after year? More importantly, where have I been?

For too long now, the Church has been making big deals about small things and small deals of HUGE things which scream aloud for our attention. It makes me ill because I am guilty of this. There are children being sold into sex slavery, people starving to death, mothers who can't afford HIV/AIDS medicine for their babies, and people drinking filthy water because it's all they have. The least of these are begging for attention and what am I spending my time and energy on?

Where is my heart? Where is my focus? What are the things I am chasing after? Am I all about me? Am I about pleasing other people? Am I chasing after things that are not eternal?

Oh my...I want to be chasing after the One who has pursued me from the moment I took my first breath. The One who loves me fully. The One who longs for my life to collide with His purposes.

Isaiah 42:6 says "I chose you to bring justice, and I am here at your side. I selected and sent you to bring light and my promise of hope to the nations."

But HOW?? The need is so great and I am not!

In the film tonight Joel read the following scripture from Ephesians 5:1-2 in the Message version of the Bible. I love this translation of this particular verse. It says:

"Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that."

Let that soak in for a second. The answer to how we bring justice is to simply love. Not to SAY we love. But to actually love EXTRAVAGANTLY. Hold nothing back. Give all we are. Let go. Love like Jesus loves us - with no caution allowed.

I can catch a glimpse of what the world might look like if all of us who say we follow God would do just that - REALLY follow Him. Into the unknown. Into the pain. Into the Love that brings hope and freedom.

God, help me to love courageously, without regard for myself. Pour out your outrageous love into the lives of other people through me. Empty me of me. Thank you for continuing to pursue me. I love you for never stopping.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

When Orphans Worship


One of my very favorite things in Uganda was hearing the children worship...I'm not talking about singing - I'm talking about WORSHIP. These children have a deep inner sense of WHO they are praising and talking to - it's obvious. It's just them and their Father. I was so touched by watching them sing fervently...these children believe in the words they are speaking and more importantly, WHO they are speaking them to. So, when I ran across the excerpt below from a book called "Wrecked for the Ordinary", I was so excited because it perfectly describes what I saw.

"When orphans worship, their voices are loud, their eyes are closed tightly, and their little hands are gripped together. Your jaw will drop as you watch them physically enter into the presence of a king.

When orphans worship, their voices ache to express their hearts. Their songs are ones of desperation and admiration to a creator who they know holds them in his palm.

When orphans worship, your eyes fill with tears as you feel God all around you. Physically, you are overcome and spiritually you are one with the Lord.

When orphans worship, their last care in the world is what you, I, or their friend thinks of them. They sing loud, undignified, and with passion.

When orphans worship, you begin to wonder if this is what it is supposed to be like for us. You begin to wonder why God’s presence is so strong there, but we struggle to enter into any meaningful worship in our clean, well lit, and finely carpeted buildings.

When orphans worship, you are easily convinced that there is nothing else on their minds. Their deep expressions can tell you a thousand stories about the throne room.

When orphans worship, their instruments are their voices and the clap of their hands, but you’d probably swear you also could hear percussion, guitars, and booming pianos.

When orphans worship, they appear as though they have learned something we haven’t. While you and I find it so hard to believe that we have a God who loves and desires us, they take no interest in such foolishness."

Oh God, may I take no interest in such foolishness! May your abounding love for me move me into deeper relationship with you...may your love leave me with no other response than to love You with my life. Each breath, each word, each action - may they speak to the greatness and grace of God!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mother of Problems


We met one of the most incredible women I have ever had the privilege of knowing in Uganda. Her name was Beatrice and her story will break your heart and fill you with awe at the God who makes beauty from ashes. I think I'll let my husband, Ben tell the story from here...

We sat in a living room in a house in Soroti, Uganda. It was hot and as the fans turned the 15 of us sat in rapt attention listening to Beatrice tell her story.

“After my husband’s death I began to ask, how can I help these widows? They give you a name; of course they now call you a mother of problems. People begin to avoid you and no one wants to associate with you now that you have a lot of problems. And these widows now live a lonely life - a rejected life.”

Beatrice is a young woman, not what you think about when you use the word “widow”. Her husband was a Pastor of their community and one day was traveling by motorcycle to visit another pastor when tragedy struck. Her husband died on that dirt road leaving Beatrice with three children and another on the way. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to lose your spouse. I love my wife with a crazy kind of love. I need her every day. She is the person that I want to share my joy and sorrow with. She is the person that I have shared my deepest laughter with and the person who’s hand I’ve held as I’ve had the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. I can’t begin to know what Beatrice went through in that moment.

A widow in Uganda faces not only the loss of her husband, but often her home and possessions are taken from her. Her land which grows the food that feeds her family is no longer hers. Her friends and family avoid her. She is still responsible to care for her children but with no possessions and virtually no possibility to earn money to feed them. This is why widows are called “mothers of problems”. It is grief heaped on top of grief. It is no wonder that the sorrow of widows in this situation is deep and unending.

Beatrice told us that day in Soroti that after a while she “put away her tears” and began to wonder how she could help widows just like her. Her plan was simple - minister to these widows with God’s word and pray with them. She began telling them of the Hope that can be found in Christ even in the midst of their loss and difficult circumstances. And they listened. As they listened the widows began to see the power of God move in their homes - healing, provision of food, health, hope, and peace filled homes that had not known it for some time. She would meet with these women at least once a month and after a time decided that they needed to have a large meeting; a conference of sorts. She had no idea how many widows would show up or how they would feed them but in faith she pushed forward.

800 widows arrived, many of them days early, for this conference and God provided food for them...bags of food which should have run out never emptied. As they began to meet and pray and hope in Christ for their future, others took note. The President of Uganda recognized the power behind the Widows and gave them a grant that helped them buy goats and some land. As the goats reproduced, the offspring were given to other widows. And with help from The Children of the Nile (TCON)a farm was developed and a conference center constructed so that the widows who Beatrice had organized would have a place to meet. The Teso Widows Organization now has 21,000 widows in the region registered - 21,000!!



With the support and help from others these women are now caring for each other as well as many of the orphans in their villages. As they often watch their friends die from disease, they now have some resources so that they can take in their friend's children. These women, these mothers, these widows are caring for themselves, each other, and the children who have been visited by tragedy. It's amazing, really. Each of them carries a ledger with them - a notebook of sorrow. In this ledger is the name and needs of each orphan in their community. This way, when organizations like Children's Hope Chest come into an area, the widows are instrumental in providing information about how many orphans there are and what the needs are. They have taken on the burden of the forgotten. Though they at one time felt forgotten, they know in deeper ways than I will ever know, that God does not forget them.

Sitting in that room with Beatrice that evening, I knew that we had an audience with one of the Saints. The people had called her “the mother of all problems” but God had another name for her.

THE MOTHER OF PROBLEMS

The path was clear and the road was straight
Your joy in the things that last
But that dirt road devoured your Love
Left alone and great with child

In perfect sorrow you labored
Life in a mixture of blood and water
Unending need and nothing to give
All things now gray and the path obscured

Tears burning like fire stream endlessly
How can you have taken him from me?
Leaving me rejected, forgotten, dependent, alone
You hear them call me “The Mother of Problems”

The questions seem contradictions
And His plans a path of sorrow
But you were known before the dawn of time
And formed with the care of consuming love

You resolve to set aside your weeping
To move into the new path
With joy and sorrow and truth you speak
He provides and they listen

Sorrow is fuel and faith like air
Arriving hungry and expectant, He provides
Unsure and frail, through you He speaks
The wise are fools and the powerful, broken

His plan is proved true and path faithful
The season of hardship yields a bountiful harvest
The fruit is sweet and sustaining
And He has given you a new name:

Healer of wounds
Finder of lost dreams,
Repairer of the broken
Speaker of wisdom
Giver of passion
Visionary for the blind
Power for the weak
Shepherd of the lost
Restorer of dignity
Vigilante of peace
Vessel of compassion
And Mother of Hope.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rock Quarry

Well, you all loved my husband's post last week so I'm sorry to say you're stuck with me again.:) Don't worry...I'll post more from him soon. I don't know if you are sick of hearing my Africa stories and revelations yet but I still have more to share so I'm just going to do it. We saw so much and had so many amazing and heartbreaking encounters that I continue to think of things I want to process here.

We were driving back to the guest house on our last night in Soroti and Joseph, HopeChest's Uganda Country Director, wanted us to pull off on the side of the road so we could see a rock quarry. It was getting close to dusk and every night it was important that we be back at our guest home safe and sound before dark for safety reasons. Because of the late hour Joseph said that we could get off the bus at the quarry for 5 minutes and that was all the time we had because we needed to get back.

We pulled up to the quarry and here's what I saw...











There were children and women all over the place...sitting in the gravel and walking barefoot on the sharp rocks. This was their life every day. Mothers and grandmothers brought their children and grandchildren with them to the quarry so they could break up large pieces of rock to make money. In some of the pictures above you can see yellow buckets with broken up rock in them - it would take a strong, healthy woman all day to fill up one of those buckets. She would in turn sell it for approximately 80 cents to people who want to use the gravel to make the roads in Uganda. 80 CENTS a day for hard, tiring work. Can you imagine??? Can you imagine the desperation of a woman who has to feed her children and this is her only option? The women bring their older children to the quarry to care for the younger kids (like you see in the picture of the girl with the baby on her back). This means that they don't go to school and won't get an education.

I can't really describe the rock quarry to you and the pictures don't capture it all. It was a dark, dirty, hot, depressing sea of gray rock. I couldn't get over the number of little kids that kept popping out from behind rocks. I couldn't believe that this was what they had to look forward to everyday. Some of the older kids (maybe 6 and up) would help their moms by carrying over the larger rocks for her to break up. I just kept thinking...what if this was my six year old hanging out here all day, breathing in the gravel dust? Can I blame these women for bringing their kids there everyday? Absolutely not. If my choice was to break rocks for 80 cents a day so I could purchase a little food for my children or watch them go hungry I'd be breaking rock too. Did you notice in one of those pictures that the woman's feet are red and bloody? Can you imagine walking on those hot, sharp rocks every day? What these women were doing for their children and likely children who were not even their own was amazing. There was no complaining. They just sat there and pounded away with their pitiful little tools trying to break the rock. It made me want to weep. It was heart breaking.

All we had left at this point on the bus were Dum Dum suckers so we pulled them out and gave them to the kids. I wish I had a picture of their faces eating those suckers...they were precious. I later found out from one of the women traveling with us that those suckers were probably the only "sweet treat" they'd ever had in their life. Their faces just lit up. How sad...a Dum Dum sucker that my kids would think was no big deal was probably the highlight of their month.

Five minutes certainly did not feel like adequate time to talk with the women and children but it was all we had. We got back on the bus to head home. My heart was heavy over what I had seen as I sank down into my seat. The bus lurched and then died. It wouldn't start. I wasn't worried at first but then I saw how concerned Joseph was about it and realized that this could be bad. All week Joseph had been so insistent about us being safe and sound at our guest house before dark and here we were with a huge African thunderstorm brewing, out in the middle of nowhere with the sun going down and a bus that was going nowhere.

The children all gathered around the bus once they realized that we weren't leaving after all. We had our windows down and were talking to them and watching them enjoy their suckers while the guys worked on the bus. About five minutes into all this I started to actually get scared. I was picturing us stuck at this rock quarry all night in a storm...totally susceptible to whatever or whoever.

I turned around in my seat to one of the guys traveling with us. Somehow he had managed to have internet on his iphone all week. I asked him if maybe he could ask people to pray for us - that the bus would start and we would be kept safe. I'll never EVER forget what he said so kindly and gently. He looked at me and said "I think I'd rather ask people to pray for the people outside our bus right now who have to come here every day". I said something profound like "good point" and turned back around in my seat.

I felt like I'd been hit in the stomach. Tears stung my eyes. Here I sat in the comfort and relative safety of my bus having just moments ago come face to face with people in extreme poverty and dire circumstances...and my concern was immediately for myself. Immediately.

I'll never forget that moment and the revelation I had that night. How quickly I turn toward myself! What a good reminder of the fickleness of my own heart and my utter need for God to help turn my eyes and heart toward others first. So, tonight as I write this I am praying for these people who are struggling so much right now. I am asking God to provide for them, to give them peace in the midst of incredibly difficult circumstances and to continue to turn my heart of stone into one that loves as He does.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Poverty of My Heart



Guess what? I finally found someone who writes blog posts just as long as mine! And you'll be shocked to know it's my sweet husband, Ben. :) He wrote some of his thoughts down from our trip to Uganda the other night and I thought you all might enjoy them. He is such a blessing to me and there is no one else I would rather be on this journey with. So...enjoy!

How do you begin to make sense of events that brought you sorrow revisited upon sorrow, bonds of friendship that are deep and true, laughter and hope? How do you put those emotionally charged thoughts to paper? Amy and I traveled to Uganda with two of our best friends and a team of other folks to work among orphans. The plan was to visit villages to help create supportive relationships between people here in the States and communities in Uganda. After countless shots and a short anxiety attack we arrived in Uganda.

So as we departed from the airport towards the hotel I was taking in the sights of Entebbe. It was evening and the darkness had set in. It was dark in a way I was not used to. I could smell the spicy sweetness coming from the roadside stands and noticed the men gathered in the dim light at the open markets. For each stand and market that we passed I found myself wondering about the stories behind the people who work and shop there; each story a novel in itself. We arrived at our hotel weary (not to mention what I smelled like) from too many hours of travel. The morning would come soon. This was my first night in Africa. I determined that I would soak in every moment.

I started on this journey for many reasons. I felt that God had brought me to Uganda through many different conversations, relationships, thoughts, prayers and some slight coercion. I knew that I couldn’t escape this trip, and once God had made that part clear to me, I had to decide what I wanted out of it. Simple. I wanted my church to get involved in helping communities of broken and hurting people in Africa. There were three reasons for this.

1) God says clearly to care for the widows, the lonely, the poor and the orphans. In my mind, there was (and is) no disputing that fact. I could spend countless hours talking about why this is, or the theological justifications for it, and the ramifications for not doing that. But that’s not the point…I simply knew that God said to do it and that I wasn’t really caring for the “least of these” in any meaningful way. I knew I had to change that. So that’s reason one… God said to do it.

2) I had some level of awareness of the crisis that much of Africa was currently facing. Just like any mildly disgruntled critic of our culture, I had “taken note” of how life in America is unlike most of the world. I listen to enough U2 to read through the lines and see the disparity between our life and life in other parts of the world. In all sincerity, it was the process of adopting our son from Ethiopia that really took me from a spectator of the crisis in Africa to a soldier in the war to overthrow the oppressive regime of poverty. Though we have yet to meet our son or bring him into our family, I look forward to thanking him for opening my eyes to what is going on in Africa. So reason two… I was aware that this crisis is affecting places like Uganda and if it persists unchecked will wipe out entire populations of countries.

3) I knew that if you were born in America you would have more than most people in Uganda could ever hope for, even if you are considered poor by our standards. If you could look at a map that only showed wealth of people and not land, you would see most of it pooled in North America, and Europe. It is not by chance that resources have pooled into places on the map while others are experiencing a drought of resources. In my mind it was one of two things: One possibility is that our culture (knowingly or unknowingly) in the quest for more, drained resources from other places on the map. If this is the case, it is likely the natural outgrowth of our modern times. The other scenario that seemed possible to me is that God chose in His wisdom (that I very often don’t understand) to bless certain groups of people more than others. In either of these cases, I concluded that we have a responsibility to readjust the scales a bit. Either we drained their resources, and they now do not have enough to survive, or God blessed us. If God blessed us, it was not so that I could hold onto the blessings while others suffered. The intent would have been to bless others. If we unwittingly drained the resources of these countries, then we have a responsibility to make that right as well. As I worked through this problem in my head, I kept hearing that still soft voice say “who is your neighbor?” I knew the answer. They all are. So reason three is my conclusion that we have a responsibility to care for the hurting.

The rationale was simple:

1. God said to do it.
2. There is a great need.
3. I have a responsibility to care for others in need.

It seemed like a great case. I could pitch this to our pastor and how could he not get on board? Well, that was all before I stepped on Ugandan soil. God has a way of taking our plans and shuffling them like a deck of cards. You usually end up with a full house even when in the moment it feels like you have a bad hand.
I heard the stories that confirmed my justifications, BUT I also had moments where the people I came to “help” showed me wisdom and dignity like I’ve not seen before.

I watched as a 10 year old boy protected the 3 year old he was raising. He gave up the opportunity to play with a new beach ball to ensure that the 3 year old could have many turns to kick and throw it. He knew that this was a unique opportunity to have some real fun but he set aside his play for the sake of his sibling.

I watched as children who rarely if ever received candy would return the extra sucker that they had been give to ensure that everyone got one. I listened to a widow tell the story of her own sorrow as it turned from grief to rejoicing. How she had given hope and a place of meaning to people that had been cast aside and rejected. These people didn’t need my help. I needed theirs.

I quickly began to recognize that as we had fed the starving bodies of the people in these communities they had been feeding my starving soul. They were infested with micro-organisms from polluted water. I was suffering a polluted heart from excess and ease of life. They had a lack of knowledge because of limited access to education, I had a lack of wisdom from useless and corrupting information overload. They are often gripped with fear from attack by the LRA or others, and I was ignorant in my lack of real fear of a just God.

I knew that as I participated in the redemption of the people we met, I was redeemed in the process. It was clear to me that the things threatening the people of Uganda can kill and destroy their bodies. Starvation, flood, drought, war, pestilence, rape, disease. The things that I was being freed from were destroying my soul. Matthew 10:28 says “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body”.

To be clear, there are wicked and vile things that are happening in Uganda that serve as evidence that the one who can destroy both body and soul is at work. For instance, there is a real problem with child abduction for sacrifice. Witch doctors tell people that they need to cut the head of a child off and bury it in the wall of their house to protect themselves from evil spirits.

I met boys who had been forced to commit horrid acts of violence against their own families and countless others. Rape is a common tactic of warfare. And even the Ugandans on our trip acknowledge freely that it can be a brutal and unforgiving land.

So where did this leave me? I realize that I will not willingly “settle back into my culture” if I can help it. I also know that I have found a group of people in Kapelabyong Uganda that I want to continue a relationship with. I will advocate for them and attempt to educate people I know about what life is like there. I do this because I know that God is at work there.

I reflect on my “brilliant” 3 reasons for getting my church connected to a community in Uganda. I still know that God demands that we care for the hurting and the broken, the widow and the orphan. If my walk with God does not reflect my care for them than it is not full or genuine. I am more aware of the crisis that the people I met face. It is truly astounding and overwhelming. And I very much still believe that we have a responsibility to help set things right, but those three reasons now have nothing to do with my desire to see our church participate in this work.

I know that I will do this work regardless of what our church decides. I have absolute faith that the needs of Kapelabyong will be met and that I will play a part in that. But now I want the church to participate because I know that as we care for the abandoned and broken, God shows up in a way that we don’t experience anyplace else. I don’t want them to miss out on what He is doing through the very people we come alongside. God has used their poverty to serve as a mirror into my own heart to expose the poverty within me.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

HopeMongers

This post is going to serve two purposes...to tell you about 18 year old Elizabeth who I fell in love with in Otuboi, Uganda...and to tell you about how together with my friend Sam Henry and his organization HopeMongers we can help Elizabeth and other students just like her.

My week in Uganda ended on a high note for sure. Our very last stop was to visit Otuboi Secondary School. We were running a little late and when we got there, about 40 students who live at the school were sitting in the grass waiting for us. After meeting mostly younger kids all week long, this group of older kids was striking. They had a certain strength and beauty about them that I know I won't be able to explain properly. Most of them were boys but there were a few girls too. We shared with them what our hopes were for them in a formal presentation of sorts and got to meet the teachers of this school. Then we had some time to talk to the students and get to know them and the school a bit more. Don't they look joyful?!



Turns out that this school had been closed for periods of time because the Lord's Resistance Army had been active in the area and it wasn't safe for the children to walk to school etc. Due to the instability it was difficult to attract and maintain teachers. Most of the teachers I met weren't getting paid what they were supposed to because the funding isn't there. This leads to a problem of frequent turnover among staff because the pay isn't consistent, if at all. To the 40 or so students I met, this is problematic at many levels. Without teachers they obviously do not receive the education they need but they also lack the nurture, guidance and encouragement that the teachers provide. Almost all of the 40 students I met were orphans with no one else to care for them. The role of the teachers is so important because they really are parental figures. Here's the group of teachers that we met at the school:


They were so sweet and very clearly loved the students. And rightfully so! These kids were phenomenal. They had such good manners and were smiling and laughing - they had joy.

One of the girls caught my attention from the beginning and when I had the opportunity I asked if I could hear her story. She graciously agreed. Her name was Elizabeth. She shared with me that she had lost her mother to AIDS when she was six years old and that her father is no longer in her life because he was an alcoholic and abused her. Her life was very hard when she lost her mother at such a young age with no one to really care for her. It was a dark time for her. I asked her how she survived and made it through that and she said "I know God and I know that He is a Father to orphan and so He has taken care of me". Powerful. She said that she LOVED going to school and that her sister couldn't take care of her but tried to send her money for her school fees so she can continue to get an education.

I asked her what she wanted more than anything and her answer? To serve the Lord and be prayed for. And if she could have anything she would want a Bible to read. WOW!! I tried to encourage her but mostly I felt floored by her faith, her strength and her perspective. I told her that I could at least pray for her, so I wrapped my arm around her and prayed through my tears for sweet Elizabeth. The whole time I prayed she fervently agreed with me in prayer with "Yes, Lord" and "Hallelujah!". I was so moved by Elizabeth who was so firmly rooted in her relationship with God. It wasn't until the next day on the bus that I realized I had a Bible I could have given her. Thankfully, one of the Ugandan widows traveling with us said that she visits the school monthly and would take it to Elizabeth for me. So, I have such joy knowing that a Bible with her name on it and a letter to her is on its way to Elizabeth! Wish I could be there when she receives it!

Here is a picture of Elizabeth in their dark school room - literally the only light they get is the light that comes in the windows and I can tell you it's not much!! She just looks radiant, doesn't she?


So, enter my friend, Sam Henry and his new micro-giving organization, HopeMongers, which is launching today!! Sam traveled with us to find projects in Uganda that people like you might be interested in helping to fund. Great idea, huh? Here's a picture of Sam in the school at Otuboi getting his inspiration for one of those projects!



The cool thing about HopeMongers is that you don't have to just give to a general fund somewhere...you can pick a project that moves your heart, give to it and watch it all unfold. So cool!!! Well, one of the many HopeMongers projects in Uganda is to fund the teachers at Otuboi! Woo-hoo!! I could not be more thrilled with this choice because it will provide stability in so many ways for the children who attend this school which is SO important!! I would ask you to consider giving to this project if your heart is moved. The beautiful thing about Hopemongers is you can give anything from $10 on up - whatever you feel like giving. To give to this project simply click here.

Thanks for helping the children of Otuboi - you really are helping to change their lives!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Father to the Fatherless



My last post included a video from Kapelabyong where we visited on our last Sunday in Uganda. This village holds a special place in my heart as we are trying to find sponsors for the children there. We knew that we would be going there for church on Sunday and Sarah and I were asked to teach the children Sunday School. We were told there may be about 100 children. FUN!! Well, as it turned out there were closer to 300 children. Hello!!

So, we split the kids up into two groups by age. I took the older kids and Sarah took the younger kids. As I was walking up to the group of children I was going to speak to I realized that I hadn't really prepared anything for this age group. Gulp. I asked my translator how long I needed to speak for. He smiled and said "Oh...maybe one hour or one hour and forty minutes". Oh, is that all??

So I had my "O God, O God, O God" moment right there on the spot. As I looked out at the sea of faces sitting quietly and expectantly in front of me I did what anyone would do who's trying to stall for time...I asked them if they had any questions for me. :) And they did...they wanted to know what I ate and if there were any black people where I lived. It was cool to be able to tell them that yes - there were people who looked just like them where I lived. And then they wanted to know why I was there. Um...loaded question. Why was I there?? My answer to them was that I had come to meet them and get to know them and remind them how much God loved them. Clearly there is so much more as to why I was there but I felt like I should just leave it at that.

I asked them to raise their hands if they were an orphan. And oh my. About 80% of the kids raised their hands. Immediately I just wanted to weep. What in the world could I say to all these orphans that could even touch their pain? So I prayed, opened my mouth and just started talking. God just showed up and gave me the words to say. I would a finish a sentence and have no idea what was coming next but suddenly there it was. And it went on like that for about a half hour. I don't remember all of what I said but I do remember being compelled to communicate to them that they were a treasure to God...that although they may be alone God will never leave them...that God has plans for them - to give them a hope and a future...that they should not put their hope in people, but in God...that they need to be compassionate toward each other and help each other.

There were several times where I just started crying as I was speaking. As I was talking about how much they are treasured and loved I just really FELT the truth of that deeply...I glimpsed the Father's heart for them and it was just beautiful and it moved me. And oh did the kids just soak up that truth! They listened so intently...their eyes held my gaze...they smiled huge bright smiles when I asked them if they understood what I was saying to them wasn't just words - but that it was God's truth for them.

I was initially disappointed not to be able to be part of the church experience that was going on inside the hut (how selfish can I be??) but as I stood outside under the sun with these kids I realized there was no other place I would rather be. After I spoke I tore off a piece of notebook paper for each child and handed out a crayon or marker to each one. And oh my gosh...how these kids lit up when they saw a crayon and marker! Understand that most of these kids don't even have a pencil, much less a colorful crayon or marker.

I asked the children to write their names at the top of the paper and to draw a picture or write a note...whatever they felt like doing. I explained that I would collect the papers and take them home to give to my friends. I told them that they would be hung up in our homes (couldn't exactly explain hanging them up with a magnet on our refrigerators!)and that they would be prayed for by name every day - that they would NOT be forgotten, just as God had not forgotten them. They really engaged with the project. I thought they'd enjoy it, but I had no idea how hard their papers would make me cry as I read through them later on the bus. I believe I'll let them speak for themselves.


















There were over one hundred papers all asking for help with their school fees. Then some went on to say that they needed help getting proper sanitation, food, mattresses, sheets, but over and over again school fees were at the top of the list. They recognize that without an education their future is bleak. But most of them are orphans with no one to care for them or provide them with school fees (which range from $65-$300 a year depending on if they are boarding at school). I just kept thinking...how different the lists of our children here in the States would look from these. These kids just need their basic needs met. The most frivolous thing that was mentioned in over a hundred letters was a ball. A ball. Because right now they wrap a wad of garbage with twine and use that for their ball. Can't you see the list from our kids now? A Wii, iPod, cell phone, laptop...oh the difference.

And then there was sweet James' note. "I love Jesus Christ because He died for me on the cross. I am an orphan but the Bible says that God is a father to the fatherless and a mother to the motherless. I trust in Jesus Christ for my needs." Even the difference between his letter and the others was profound. He wasn't asking me for anything. He wasn't listing his needs. He really IS trusting Jesus to meet his needs. I am still humbled by James Ocen every time I look at his paper. And I'm compelled to pray that God will meet this sweet boy and strengthen his faith and meet his needs just as James is trusting Him to do.

If this group of children stirs your heart, just let me know as there are many ways for you to directly impact their little lives and hearts.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Kapelabyong Video

I have another video for you all to enjoy of one of our days in Africa! Our friend Dan Smoker, who traveled with us to Uganda put this together and I LOVE it! I love the message of the song and I LOVE the content!! The pictures and video were taken at Kapelabyong which is an unsponsored site that we are hoping to find sponsors for. It was a powerful day that I still need to write more about...but for now I'll let the video speak for itself!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Satisfied


I'm sure if you read my last post you can tell I have been struggling. Struggling with being back in America while the children I touched in Uganda are living on their own in poverty fending for themselves in a thankless environment. Struggling with why I live here with so much while those kids I held just a few weeks ago live with nothing - hungry and sick. Struggling with what to do with what I saw. Struggling with how to even verbalize what shattered my heart. Struggling with the ease with which I slip back into self focused mode. Struggling with my job and how meaningless it has felt since I've been back. Struggling with what to do with this passion that I know God is stirring in my heart. Struggling with coming to terms with what I feel is my God given dream... ministering to and advocating for the orphans in Africa. Struggling with not knowing what's next. S-T-R-U-G-G-L-I-N-G.

Yesterday I really just gave it all back to God. He knows why I was in Africa and why my heart continues to pound loudly in my chest for these children and their situations. He knows my desires to care for them and see them cared for. He knows my path and my future.

So, tonight I went to church. It was a great message about recognizing that God is King. King of everything - including the kids my heart breaks for, including me. But all through church I just wanted to really connect with God at that deep heart level - to hear from Him. Do you know what I mean? I just needed to be fed by the presence of God. I've sat through many an encouraging church service without really and truly connecting with God in the deepest sense. And at the end of the service tonight I thought maybe I had sat through another one.

But then...

God showed up. I was getting my purse and heading out the door to pick up my daughter from Children's Church when I felt a hand on my arm. I turned around and there was a stranger introducing himself to me saying that he was there from out of town with the guest speaker for the weekend. He said he felt like God had given him a message for me. Um...okay. I was all ears at this point. So my new friend of 30 seconds - Todd, who doesn't know me, has no idea I just got off the plane from Africa a week ago or how I've struggled this week with what God is doing in me, starts to almost cry and says:

"As soon as I saw you walk in the room tonight I felt God tell me you are a person who communicates passion and is on fire with the dream God has given you. I feel like God wants you to know that in the places you go and speak about this passion He will light fires and stir people. God is going to grow this passion in you and accelerate the dream He's given you. I think the key thing God wants you to know tonight is that He's going to accelerate your dream."

And he told me to read Psalm 104 because he thought God might have more to speak to me through it. With that he was gone.

Whoa. Of course I was weeping by the time he got to the "you're a person on fire with the dream God has given you" part. And yes, I realize that was his first sentence. :) I was full on crying. Apparently I was really needing to hear from God. :) I obviously am not sharing this in a "yippee...look what God said about me" kind of way. But to simply say this...

O how He loves us! God loves me enough to send some guy from California to my church tonight to tell me that He knows my heart. God has placed this dream in me. The reason I feel like I'm on fire inside is because I am - and it's a fire God has started in me. HE KNOWS. He is the Initiator of my dream and He will be the Accelerator and Completer of it. It's been His dream from the beginning.

So tonight, I am just in awe of my Savior who loves me so well and so completely. He knew I needed to hear from Him tonight and He came and met me. My hope is renewed and I feel like I've been given strength to stand and look to the future with expectation.

While Todd referenced verse 4 of Psalm 104 which says "He makes winds His messengers and flames of fire His servants" I went on to read the rest of the chapter tonight. Turns out that chapter houses several verses that have been my prayer as I fast and pray on Wednesdays for the hungry people in Africa...

"How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures...These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things."

Wow. How thankful I am that tonight God opened His hand and satisfied me with good things! His love is marvelous and wonderful and I'm in awe that I get to bask in it.

And P.S. - I think tonight happened in great part due to the fact that I have you guys praying for me as I walk this path. Now is certainly no time stop. :) I am SO thankful for you all.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hold On Tight



So hold on tight since I have no idea where I'm headed with this blog post. Bear with me because I've got a lot on my mind and not much ability to process it all right now. I'm finding that it's been relatively easy for me to share stories about my trip to Uganda by blogging but am coming to realize that I just can't put to words what I FEEL inside - partly because I don't know exactly what I feel. They always say re-entry to life as you know it is hard once you've experienced extreme poverty up close and personally. Whoever "they" is would be right. I'm just wading through whether what I feel is just the usual "welcome back to your crazy excessive life" or something else. I rather suspect something else.

For months and months now God has been moving my heart for the people of Africa. I have lost sleep, I have cried countless tears, my thoughts have been consumed by the need, my heart has been broken until finally I went. Now I'm back and not much has changed in that regard...if anything I am now more aware than ever the reality the people face there. I am restless. I am riled up. I am stirred. I saw what I saw and I can't go back to life the way it was. Nor do I want to.

As I sit here typing I recognize fully that God has gifted each of us differently, has different plans for our lives and my journey will not look like some of yours. BUT...

Scripture is crystal clear about the following:

"If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." - Isaiah 58:10

I want my life to be about honoring God and being light to those around me. I want my love for Jesus to be so evident that people would be drawn to know the love of God...I want my light to rise in the darkness. And God says that will happen as I SPEND MYSELF on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed.

Here's the rub...I'm not SPENDING myself on anything but me. Even my involvement in orphan advocacy is all very comfortable for me. I love it...God has given me a heart for it and that's great. BUT...am I SPENDING myself on behalf of the hungry and helping to satisfy the needs of the oppressed? No. I'm not.

Maybe that's what this trip to Uganda was about among other things...for God to show me that He isn't just asking for the parts of my life I am ready and willing to give Him. That He wants me to say from the deepest part of my being that I want what He wants for me. Even if it breaks my heart. Even if it causes me pain. Even if it means I give up things in my life I never thought I'd be asked to give up.

Deep, deep down in my soul I just want to spend myself - I want to be poured out. I want to give until there's nothing left to give and God has to come and fill me back up again. I want to strip myself of those things I rely on. I want to depend on Him wholly.

I want to obey His call to truly spend myself on the people who He cares SO deeply about. The truth is that I have NEVER felt so close to God as I did in Uganda. I believe it's because He is ever present with the hungry, the oppressed, the sick, the broken. Seriously...I just felt like I was breathing God in all around me - right there in the middle of circumstances so unimaginable they would make your stomach hurt. When Jesus said that whatever we do to the least of these we do to Him He wasn't kidding. God was there.

The presence of God was so real, so palpable as I was among the poorest of the poor and the orphans and widows. One young man named James wrote me a letter and said "I love Jesus Christ because He died for me on the cross. I am an orphan but the Bible says that God is the father to the fatherless and the mother to the motherless. I trust in Jesus Christ for my needs." Does that cause you to stop and take stock of your own heart like it did me? I wept on the bus when I read it. Here was this young man barefoot, dirty, hungry and alone telling me He trusted Jesus for his needs while I have the audacity to sit in the comfort of my home with food in my refrigerator, clothes on my back and money in the bank and tell God thanks, but I've got it all in control.

I so do NOT want to be in control anymore. I don't want to chase after my own dreams, I don't want to convince myself I'm living the life God has for me - I actually want to BE living the life God has for me - whatever the cost. And so I'm letting go of my grip that holds so tightly to things that are not important. I am saying to God - WHATEVER You want. WHATEVER. Show me how to spend myself on the hungry as you want me to. Show me what that looks like for me.

If there's one thing I know for sure it's that my life is not my own - it has never been although I certainly have lived for years now as if it was. So I say to God - my life belongs to You. I set my ideas of where I am supposed to be and what I am to do aside and ask You to come and show me the path that I should walk. Where You are is where I want to be.