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
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.