Thursday, February 24, 2011


"Who would ever know the greater graces of comfort and perseverance, mercy and forgiveness, patience and courage, if no shadows fell over a life?" - Ann Voskamp

I'm reading a book right now called "One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voskamp.  Ultimately, it's about how thanksgiving can transform a life.  She talks about how awakening to joy and thanksgiving means awakening to pain.  I know...can we just awaken to joy and fullness of life and skip the pain part, please??

But, aren't we only truly able to enter into a place of deep, authentic gratefulness and joy when we have tasted of pain?  Isn't it our experiences in dark places that compel us to throw open wide our arms and lift our face to the sky and soak up the light?  Isn't it our journeying through the deserts of life that cause us to fall by the pool of water and lap it up, drinking deeply?  If my life was always smooth and easy, would I truly have the ability to appreciate it?

I am so quick to give thanks when life is good, when I am comfortable, when I FEEL blessed.  But what of those times when I am feeling my way in the darkness with no light seemingly in sight?  What then?  Am I just as quick to utter thankfulness in the midst of that circumstance?  No, I'm not.  In fact, during times of struggle words of thanks are hard pressed to make their way through my pursed lips. 

Has God changed?  Do my difficulties and struggles mean that God has changed?  Is He not ALWAYS good?  Do I not ALWAYS have a reason to give thanks? Not just to utter the words aloud, but to have the attitude of my heart be joy and thanksgiving?  Doesn't scripture say that "in EVERYTHING I am to give thanks"?

Ann writes...
"Lord, that I day after day after day greedily take what looks like it's good from Your hand - a child gloating over sweet candy..."  I've been a thief, trying to hoard away all the good. "...but that I'd thrash wild to escape when what You give from Your hand feels bad - like gravel in the mouth.  Oh Father, forgive...Should I accept good from you, and not trouble?" 
I am the greedy too.  I am the eager one that reaches out to take all the good I can get when it appears.  But what of the dark?  Rarely am I ever thankful FOR the dark.  But, can I not reach out in that darkness and be thankful in the midst of it?

She continues...
"I awaken to the strange truth that all new life comes out of the dark places, and hasn't it always been?  Out of darkness, God spoke forth the teeming life.  All new life labors out of the very bowels of darkness.  That fullest life itself dawns from nothing but Calvary darkness and tomb - cave black into the radiance of Easter morning.  Out of the darkness of the cross, the world transfigures into new life...and emptiness itself can birth the fullness of grace because in the emptiness we have the opportunity to turn to God, the only begetter of grace, and there find all the fullness of joy.  Darkness transfigures into light, bad transfigures into good, grief transfigures into grace, empty transfigures into full.  God wastes nothing."
He wastes nothing.  And so even in the midst of pain and suffering I can give thanks and find joy because that pain and suffering will not be wasted. 

I think back to Africa.  To the mother walking barefoot on the hot ground, sweating baby strapped to her back, heavy bundle of provisions on her head, alone because death had come knocking at her doorstep for her husband.  And she smiles so big, all her beautiful white teeth showing, her eyes glowing.  And it must be that her suffering and her pain are the very things that make her grateful for the bundle of love radiating heat on her back, for the weight of the food on her head and for the hot ground beneath her feet.

Oh Jesus.  May the dark places on my journey not keep me from thankfulness.  May I open up my hand for whatever You have for me to receive - WHATEVER.  May my response to You at all times be heartfelt praise.      

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Faces of Love

Love.  What a small, powerful word.  It has the potential to change the world.  To change us.  Most of us seem to excel at self love, but selfless love...that's harder to come by.  And it's that selfless love poured out that makes even the harshest cynic stop and take notice.  I find it noteworthy that the poor and those who suffer know quite a bit about selfless love, because it's what brings meaning and fullness to their lives.  Emptying their lives on behalf of those around them ultimately fulfills them. 

I want to share with you some of the faces of love I have seen up close and personally over the past year or so.  As I took in each one of these faces I was filled with awe and respect, and honestly, a bit of shame as I held my own "selfless love" up to the light.  Yes, my circumstances are different simply because of my geographic location, but at the end of the day aren't we all the same?  We have the same longings and desires.  We have the same blood coursing through our veins.  We all have opportunities to choose learn to live completely in the beauty that is self-sacrifice. 

These beautiful women, most of them lepers, spend all day making cotton into cloth, doing intricate embroidery, dyeing fabric...all so they can afford the tiniest bit of food for their large families.

And they do it these hot, stifling metal boxes in the middle of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 
They do it for LOVE.

Meet my dear friend, Yemamu and his mother.  She works all day embroidering fabric in one of the steamy boxes above, while her husband who is plagued by leprosy, begs in the city.  Yemamu works to support his family as best he can.  His heart is consumed by helping those in Korah, the leper colony he grew up in.

Yemamu introduced us to this woman who hasn't been outside of her home in at least 15 years.  Her hands and feet have been destroyed by leprosy and she lives at the mercy of others who are struggling to survive as well.  But Yemamu visits her and tries to help her as best he can.  He offers her what he can. 
Sometimes it's simply prayers.  He does it because he is compelled by LOVE.

Meet one of the teachers at Kechene School in Ethiopia.  I wish you could have been there to see his energy, his enthusiasm, his eyes sparkle as he talked and sang with the children.  He wrapped his arms around them, he laughed with them, he invested his life in those precious, smiling faces.  Love echoed loud off those walls. 

 These may be some of the most passionate, creative men I've ever met.  They all live in Korah, the leper colony, which is also home to 75,000 of the poorest people in Addis, the capital city of Ethiopia.  Having grown up in Korah, they know how difficult it is for young men to find something good to occupy their time with.  So, they constructed this building and turned it into a gym where young men can come and work out.  The unbelievable thing about this room is that everything you see in here they collected from the garbage dump that Korah sits on.  They even melted down car batteries to turn them into dumbbells! 
They have had their equipment stolen out of the room, yet they keep going back to the dump for more.  
All because they LOVE. 

This is one of the sweetest women I know.  Because of desperate circumstances, her daughter sold her own child (this woman's grandson) to a woman on the street who was looking to earn more money begging in the city.  A woman who begs with a baby on her back is likely to receive more money than a woman who begs alone.  As soon as this grandmother found out about what happened, she went searching for her grandson.  She found him.

She has raised him in the face of tremendous difficulty and illness.  Look at that smile on his face.  It's there because love came for him.  Love sought him out.  Love sacrificed for him. Love knows he is worth it.

Sacrificial love is self-sacrifice with the pure motivation to alleviate the suffering of others. This supreme love is suffering love, love that requires involvement in the knotty problems of the world, love that bears with the failings and weaknesses of others, love that is committed to helping others regardless of the cost.