Monday, June 29, 2009

Living Openly and Expansively

Yesterday I took a very spur of the moment road trip to Nashville to hear Katie Davis from Amazima Ministries speak. It was totally worth the 4 1/2 hour drive each way. Katie is from Brentwood, Tennessee, is 20 years old and has lived in Uganda by herself for the past 18 months. She is mommy to 13 beautiful Ugandan girls who God has brought into her life. What started out as her teaching Kindergarten has turned into a ministry that sponsors 400 children so they can eat, get medical care and an education. She recently started a feeding program for an outcast tribe of people and feeds between 600-1000 Karamajong children a day. She is an incredible example of someone who is "spending" themselves according to Isaiah 58. I encourage you to read her blog if you don't already. As I was re-reading part of her blog I came across this post which I know was a hard one for her to write. It spoke to my heart again this morning as I hope it does yours.

"I get caught up sometimes in "I deserve this" moments, moments where I compare myself to some other people I know and trick myself into believing that I am doing pretty good. Moments where I "deserve" a hot shower, or I "deserve" that chocolate bar even though I know it is expensive, moments when I "deserve" a new pair of shoes, because hey, I work hard. TRUTH: this is not at all scriptural. NO WHERE does it say that I am worthy or deserve a reward here on earth. Colossians 3:23 says "Whatever you do work at it with all your heart." It does not end in "and after this hard work you deserve a long hot bath and a chocolate bar." It does end in, "since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward." Oh, doesn't that sound better than all the material rewards you can think of? Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21, and Luke 18:22 all say exactly the same thing, "Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven." I live in a world that tells me that if I sell what I have and give it to the poor, if I leave my rich American life to live in a cockroach infested, cement house in a third world country, I am doing a wonderful and radical thing. TRUTH: I am only doing what I love doing, and what God who gave His life for me asked me to do. Look at Jesus, doing more for the kingdom than any human can ever hope to and taking no pay, no reward, only accusations and eventually death. Ouch, there goes my pride.

I have MORE than enough, and God has spoken that I am ONLY to have enough. Jesus said that the GREATEST commandment besides loving the Lord God with all my heart, mind, and soul is to love my NEIGHBOR as myself. Doesn't that mean, then, that I should be spending as much on my neighbor as I do on myself and my family? Doesn't that mean that I should feed my neighbor as well as I feed myself? It has hit me every hard this week, I DO love my neighbor, but I love myself more. TRUTH: that is not ok. We have been discussing this as a family and, as I family we will be cutting back. I will live in my beautiful cement house, complete with all its critters until God very clearly speaks to me that I am to go elsewhere. I will LOVE my 10 by 15 foot kitchen because it is where I have the privilege of cooking for God's children. As a family, we will use only 3 hours of electricity on days when the power is on and put the money we would have spent on the electric bill into our hospital ministry fund so that we can go more often to the hospital and feed the people there more food. I personally will save my chocolate money and instead buy more biscuits and juice for the street children. We will each keep 4 outfits (this is going to be very difficult for me as I do LOVE clothes.) In most people's standards, my little family does not have much, but we have MORE than enough. And we know in our hearts that really, Christ is ALL we need. "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal FOR WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS THERE YOUR HEART WILL BE ALSO." Matthew 6:19-21

Now that I have shared my embarrassing pride and "flesh" moments and been totally vulnerable with all of you out there in cyber space I feel I can ask you some questions. I want simply to challenge you to push the envelope a little more with your faith. I don't know what this looks like in your life, but there has got to be something. Like I said, it is all to easy for me to fall into the trap of "I am doing good enough." TRUTH: good enough does not exist. We need to do better.

In one of my favorite Bible passages, the prophet Elijah feels God's presence. The scripture says that a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart, but God was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire came a gentle whisper. It was the whisper of God. He is whispering. Are you listening? God is not in the bigger house, or the new shoes, or the self-indulgence. In my opinion, God is not even in the new 7 million dollar church building, or the upgrading of missionary tickets to first class at an exorbitant price, or the super fancy extravagant outfit worn by the Pope (no offense).

Do you love your neighbor as much as you love yourself? Do you love your 147 million orphaned neighbors and your 3.5 homeless in America alone neighbors as much as you love yourself? Do you grieve for them the same way you would grieve if your very own children were hungry and homeless? What would be different if you did?

TRUTH: 53% of the worlds population live on $2.00 a day. If you, like me, live on more than that, you have MORE than enough.

People ask me quite often when I am in the states why in the world THIS is what I have decided to do with my life. 2 answers: 1. Because this is what makes my heart sing. Yes, it really truly is complete selfishness; this is where I am happiest. 2. Because I believe that TODAY is all I am promised. Because I believe that Jesus is coming back, "the day and hour unknown." And THIS is what I want to be doing when Jesus comes.

If this day is all you are promised, what are you doing with it? Right now, today, are you doing what you want to be doing when Christ comes back?"

"Dear, dear Corinthians, I can't tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life.The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren't small, but you're living them in a small way. I'm speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!" -Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:11-13, the Message translation

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On The Move

For Father's Day I bought Ben Bono's book "On The Move". It's a tiny little book with breathtaking photos and a powerful message. The book is simply the text of a speech he gave at the White House a few years back at the National Prayer Breakfast. I find it uncanny and more than a bit unsettling that the Church has to hear the following words from a rock star (granted, an AMAZING rock star):

"God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them."

He then goes on to quote a few verses from Isaiah 58: 9-11..."
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and 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. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail."

What immediately captured my attention was in verse 9 - "If you SPEND yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, THEN your light will rise in the darkness."
Wow. I don't think it could be any clearer. I don't believe that by using the word "spend" God is asking me to simply just write a check each month to help someone in need. I don't think He's asking me to volunteer at the soup kitchen around Christmas time. I don't think He means to drop my quarters in the homeless man's cup. I think He means write a check until it costs me something. I think He means I have a standing date on my weekly calendar that I volunteer at the soup kitchen. I think He means I empty my entire wallet into the homeless man's cup.

I know... crazy talk, right? But...

"Spend" in this case means to empty. "If I EMPTY myself in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed...". God is asking me to spend myself on the hungry and the oppressed. I know for each of us this looks different. But the theme is the same - giving of myself and my resources to help the hungry and the oppressed. God has always called us to sacrifice. Always. Not once has He asked us to consider ourselves. How have I gone so wrong that I almost always consider myself before anyone else?? This message or call to sacrificial living is one that I know I have compartmentalized in my own head. For many years now I have determined what sacrificing means for me, but I think God has had other ideas all along.

I'm finally ready and willing to be honest and listen to what HE has to say about what sacrifice in my life looks like. I'm ready to get the heck out of the way.

The beautiful part of this scripture in Isaiah is that when we spend ourselves...THEN our light shines in the darkness - THEN we are like a well-watered garden. Our light doesn't shine when we play it safe and hoard our resources, our energy and our time. It shines when we spend and empty ourselves on behalf of the hungry and oppressed. So, here I am. Begging to fully embrace spending myself on behalf of people who are in need. Begging for my light to shine in the darkness.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How Feeding The Forgotten Fed My Soul

Many of you may know that in early June Children's Hope Chest held a campaign to raise money to feed people in a district of Uganda where they were literally eating termites and cow dung they were so hungry. The end result was that $20,000 was raised thanks to so many of you who participated and gave generously and sacrificially. At $.14 a meal that's a lot of people who are receiving much needed nourishment! Thank you to everyone who prayed and donated.

For me, this ended up being more than just a campaign to raise money to do something good and help people who needed it. I realized something huge - at least to me it was huge.

I learned the difference between giving out of my abundance and giving sacrificially. I don't think anyone would argue that when we give financially it feels good. I actually think it feels great! But what I realized during "Feed the Forgotten" was that I generally always give out of my abundance. Don't get me wrong - there's nothing wrong with giving out of our abundance! But when I give out of my abundance I generally don't miss out on anything that I have come to rely or count on in my lifestyle. I still have money to buy that something I've been eyeing for a while and I still eat out when I like etc. Realizing that $.14 could feed a person who is literally dying of starvation changed my perspective on things. I began to imagine what it would look like for me to really start sacrificing things in my own life so that others could literally LIVE. It was great that my $10 could provide 71 meals. I could have settled for that and felt really good. But $10 wasn't a sacrifice for me (for some people it is!). I felt compelled to give until I noticed that I was missing something - until it became hard.

So, I thought about trying the idea of swapping something and giving the money I would have spent to "Feed The Forgotten". I went to get my hair cut and instead of getting highlights like usual, I didn't. Um, yeah...I'm embarrassed to admit that the money I saved on my highlights fed 285 people a meal. I'm reminded every morning I do my hair and see my roots growing out that there's absolutely no reason I can't forgo highlights for the rest of my life if it means someone else gets to eat and not suffer. The money we saved on a babysitter fed 214 people meals. The money we saved by not going out to eat for dinner ONCE fed 321 people meals. That just floors me!! Hmm...wonder what might happen if I give up going out to eat more often? I don't say this in a "look what i did" sort of way - I say it in a "Oh my goodness why am I not doing this every month" sort of way.

Had I simply given out of my abundance and not given sacrificially I would have missed out on the reminder that I can make a difference by simply giving up something (in my case they were all small things - nothing huge). I am amazed by how much difference so little can make in someone's life. Honestly, I was already processing through how I spend money, why i spend money etc., but this period of two weeks helped confirm for me what I feel to be true - when I give sacrificially it not only does something good for someone else, but it feeds my soul. It connects me more fully to the God who sacrificed His own Son for me. There is truly a joy that flows out of putting other people's needs before my own. It's the same joy that my little six year old daughter felt when she emptied her piggy bank of her own accord to buy mosquito nets for kids in Africa (her ridiculous mom tried to get her to just keep a little of it for herself rather than giving it all away. When will I learn??). It's the same joy that Jesus must have had when He served "the least of these". Scripture says that for the JOY set before Him, He endured the cross - the ultimate sacrifice.

All I know is that if my heart is broken by the thought of these precious Ugandan children so hungry they don't even have energy to cry, how much more must God's heart be broken. What I saw over the two weeks we did "Feed The Forgotten" was that there are people who are in touch with this part of God's heart. There are people who are willing to give. There are people who are not ignoring the cries of the hungry. There are people SACRIFICING in very real ways so that their brothers and sisters can have something to eat. I am so encouraged. I am changed. And I am so thankful that God chooses to use us, His children to accomplish His purposes in this world. I am looking forward to seeing what God has in store for those of us who will press into giving more like our Savior - completely, with abandon and with great joy.

If you helped "Feed The Forgotten" I would love to hear how it impacted you. Please comment!

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I just finished Tom Davis' new book "Scared". It's his first fiction book and I have to say I was impressed. Tom Davis is the President of Children's Hope Chest, an organization that Ben and I are now volunteering with. They try to engage communities of people here in the States to care for communities of people in Africa and Russia. We are going to Uganda with Children's Hope Chest in September on a trip to visit care points and orphanages in need of support. Our hope is to come back and engage people in the Cincinnati area in caring for these precious people. But, enough background! Back to "Scared"...

Tom wrote the novel based on his very real experiences in Africa. I guess that's why I was moved to tears more than once. He has seen the impact of atrocities up close and personal and it makes his writing authentic and gripping. The way that he depicts the AIDS pandemic in Swaziland and its impact on the families there is heart wrenching. To read of a little girl's rape as she is innocently looking for someone kind to give her some bread for her siblings is enough to make my stomach ache. Reading about how a little girls cares for her siblings after her mother dies of AIDS is unimaginable. What if those were my two little girls left alone with no one to care for them or feed them? The very thought of it kills me.

So, while "Scared" was engaging and beautifully written, it was difficult to read because in reality, this is no novel. It's the life millions of children are living TODAY as I sit in my comfortable chair and type this. How do I come to terms with the fact that anything I want or need is at my disposal even in a suffering economy while children around the world have no guarantee of one meal a day? I'm not sure I can or really ever want to come to terms with it. I need to live in that uncomfortable place because if I get too comfortable I won't do anything. I'll become numb to what is going on. It's only because I was born in the country I was that my children aren't the ones crying from hunger pain or watching their mama die a painful death from HIV/AIDS.

I choose to believe that I was born here in this country for a reason. More and more I'm discovering I was born here so that I can use what I have been so graciously given to give to others and improve their lives in the most basic of ways. This is what Jesus lived out day after Himself to people sacrificially with no thought for Himself. I am SO far from that right now, but I find myself drawn to more sacrificial living every day.

So, I owe Tom a big thank you for writing a book that has broken my heart yet at the same time motivated me to do something about the issues I encountered in "Scared". I know that was his intention all along - to wake us up to what is going on in the world. I'm awake and I will do what I can with what I've been given - loving my neighbor as much as myself.

P.S. We only have $1,600 more to raise for "Feed the Forgotten" in Uganda before we hit the $20,000 mark enabling us to feed 6 villages! Any gift you make is doubled right now. Click here to give - be sure to note "Feed the Forgotten" in the notes section. Talk about relieving the hunger of desperate children! This is your opportunity!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Swap It This Weekend To Feed The Forgotten!

Ok's the weekend! We all know what that means - time for some fun, right? May I ask you to consider doing things a little bit differently this weekend? As you enjoy time with your friends and family please remember that there is an urgent food crisis in Uganda right now and that you can DO something about it this weekend!

This is not meant to be a guilt trip of any kind but an opportunity for us to creatively find ways to give food to these families who are hungry and weak as we begin our weekend full of energy and well-fed. Thanks to Children's Hope Chest we can all take part in bringing meals to people who desperately need them - what a great way to spend a weekend! We get to Feed The Forgotten.

I know...there may be many of you out there like me who have already given financially to this and other projects and are feeling like there might not be much left to give. But since we can provide a meal for only $.14 for someone in Uganda I suggest we swap something we have planned for this weekend in order to feed these precious, hungry people. Are you in? Here are some ideas:

Who has plans to go out for lunch or dinner this weekend? Would you consider swapping your meal to Feed The Forgotten? Get this: The $30 dinner that you swap can provide 214 meals for Ugandans! (When you swap your meal please remember to note "Feed The Forgotten" in the notes section.)

Who is planning on shopping for new summer clothes this weekend? Would you consider swapping one of your items to put food in the bellies of hungry people? Giving up that $25 shirt will provide 179 meals for people in Uganda!

Whose children are anxious to do their first lemonade stand of the year? How about talking to your kids about swapping their profits from the lemonade they sell to Feed The Forgotten? One $.75 lemonade can feed 5 children a meal. What a great way to show your children that they CAN do something too!!

Who is planning on paying a babysitter so you can go out this weekend? How about swapping babysitting services with a friend so that you both can donate the money you saved to Feed The Forgotten? A $40 savings in babysitting can provide 285 meals for Ugandans!!

Who is looking forward to that Saturday morning coffee at the coffee shop? How about swapping your $4.00 coffee drink for 29 meals for hungry people? It doesn't take much!

Who has plans to catch a movie this weekend? How about swapping one movie ticket (about $9.50) for 68 meals?? Hard to believe that sacrificing one movie can give so many people food!

Who is planning a trip to the local ice cream shop? How about swapping your $10 ice cream visit to fill up 71 people with a meal?

We CAN do something and we can do it together this weekend! As you give (being sure to identify "Feed the Forgotten" in the notes section) please pray for these people who are suffering and have such tangible needs. It's humbling that God chooses to use US to be His hands and feet. These people will NOT be forgotten this weekend!!