Saturday, April 23, 2011

Without Seeing

I love Easter.  It means new life for those of us who believe that Jesus, the Son of God went willingly to the cross to make a way for us to experience life abundantly.  No longer stuck.  No longer shackled.  Free to live in fullness.  Yes, I celebrate this in my own life today.  Somehow, in all my frailty and failings I move His heart.  You and I move the very heart of God.  So much so, that He sent his son to this earth - to shatter our darkness and bring us joy and life.  Is that unbelievable or what??!!

John 10:10 sums up what Jesus came to this world for beautifully.  He says:

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

Jesus rescued us.  And He didn't just die on the cross so that we could go to heaven.  He rescued and paid the price for us so that we can live ABUNDANTLY now.  Today.  This very moment. 

Many of us might just be trying to get through the day.  Life can be hard, there's no doubt about it.  It can feel exhausting and most days we have more questions than answers.  The circumstances of life can lead us to doubt God's intentions toward us.  But they are clear from scripture - He came to give us abundant life.  Abundant means "present in great quantity; more than adequate; oversufficient: well supplied; abounding: richly supplied".  He has made a way for us to live our lives richly supplied - despite our circumstances. 

Remember Thomas in the Bible? Doubting Thomas.  He had been convinced that Jesus was the Messiah - the One that was going to right all the wrongs.  Yet, as Jesus hung on a cross and died a bloody, gruesome death, I imagine his hope drained as Jesus' blood flowed out from His body, and as He took His last breath. 

It's no wonder that when Thomas' friends told him that Jesus was no longer dead and that He had risen from the grave, that Thomas didn't believe them.  Along with the death of Jesus had come the death of his hopes and dreams.  He told his friends "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."  A week later Thomas and his friends are hanging out behind locked doors and suddenly Jesus appears out of nowhere. 

Thomas doesn't believe it's Jesus, but then Jesus says to him "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Ouch.  Don't I want to see?  Don't I want to see with my eyes answers to my prayers?  Don't I want some sort of proof that God is worth it? That He's real and that He's good? I want to see, but Jesus is saying that those who believe without seeing are blessed.

It makes me think about my friend, Elizabeth back in Uganda.  She is around 17 years old and her mother died of AIDS while she was young and so she grew up with an alcoholic father who abused her.  Then the Lord's Resistance Army invaded her village and she was forced to flee from her home.  She and her sister did their best to survive and get by on their own.  She ended up at a school where she lives now, trying to get an education so she has some sort of hope for a future.  Everything in her life has been difficult and unstable.  But look at her.

Those eyes have seen so much in her young life.  Yet she smiles, and believe me, it's not forced.  She smiled almost the whole time I was with her.  You would think someone with her life experiences would be embittered, angry and doubtful of God's intentions towards her.  But, she's not.  She believes without seeing.  I asked her what she wanted more than anything and she responded "to serve the Lord".  She loves God so passionately it just radiates from her.  People would look at her life and hear her story and say that she has no reason to believe in God...there are few external circumstances in her life that point towards a God who loves and cares for her. 

But she knows it.  She believes it deeply.  She believes without seeing.  She believes without doubting, unlike Thomas.  And there's something about her countenance, about her words, about the fervor with which she speaks.  She is living in the blessing Jesus promised those who have not yet seen but believed.

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

I think that like Thomas, Jesus knows that sometimes we need to see Him.  That we need evidence of His presence and movement in our lives.  But, man, I want a heart like Elizabeth's.  I want to be able to know and trust God's love for me in the middle of circumstances that make no sense.  I want the blessing of believing without doubting.

May this Easter be one of choosing to believe even when we don't see.  May we trust in the love that compelled the God of the universe to send His son to earth to die so that we might live richly supplied, abundant lives through our faith in Him.

Remember this: He has been better to you and me than we deserve. We're forgiven and redeemed by the power of God. And even if He never does anything else for us, His single act of love on the cross demonstrated His goodness for all time. - Steven Furtick

Monday, April 11, 2011

Our World is Transformed - Tariku's Gotcha Day

"The moment you have in your heart this extraordinary thing called love and feel the depth, the delight, the ecstasy of it, you will discover that for you the world is transformed."

I honestly don't know how to even write this post.  I have so much emotion today that if you were reading this on a piece of paper the letters would be smeared with my tears.  Words just don't seem adequate.  Any time you bring a child into your family it is a beautiful moment, and that's no less true when you expand your family by adoption.  On April 9, 2010 we weren't thinking about paperwork getting approved, court dates or travel arrangements to Ethiopia.  We weren't waiting anymore.  Our son wasn't waiting anymore.  We were living the moment we'd been dreaming of for two years.  We were laying tear-filled eyes on Tariku for the first time in person.  Bliss!

I remember kneeling down on the classroom floor and him walking into my arms for the first time.  I thought my heart would explode.  This precious little boy who had been mistreated and severely malnourished was throwing his arms around my neck and kissing me on the lips.  And his smile...oh his smile!   He was perfection.  He longed to be loved, and oh my we loved him immediately!  All I could think of was that everything was going to be okay.  We were going to wrap our arms and hearts around him and he was going to experience love like he had never known.  We were going to love him so fiercely that his tender, wounded, little heart was going to heal.  Perhaps what I never saw coming was how much he was going to heal me.

I can't tell you how many times people have told us what a good thing we did when we adopted we rescued and saved him.  I know they are well meaning, but it always makes me cringe.  We didn't do some extraordinarily good thing - we just did what God put it on our hearts to do.   And as for the saving and rescuing...we didn't rescue him.  God saw a little boy in a desperate, lonely situation and chose to put us together as a family.  For those who still would say we rescued him, I would say that he rescued us right back.  

I would say that he has brought a fullness of life to us that we never could have envisioned.  He rescued us from ourselves.  He rescued us from self-centeredness, from fear, from lives we likely would have lived with blinders on.  He has shown us what courage and hope look like.  He has helped us to see what our life's purpose is.  He has shown us again what God does with brokenness and pain - how He rebuilds and restores. How nothing is wasted.  He is a living, breathing masterpiece...a testimony to the faithfulness of God. There is no doubt that as much of an impact as we have had on his life, he has by far impacted and blessed us more.  There's just no two ways about it.  I guess that's how things work in God's economy. How humbling and awesome.  God knew we needed this precious little boy, just as much as he needed us.

And today we celebrate him. We celebrate the moment we became a family.  We celebrate the unbelievable little guy that he is.  But most of all, we celebrate the amazing God that we know and love....the God who took us on a journey halfway around the world to glue all of our broken pieces back together and to unlock in us something deeply profound and beautiful.  We are so incredibly grateful.

Hope you enjoy this sweet video about our journey to Tariku...many thanks to our dear friend, Dan Smoker, for the time, love and energy he put into making it for us.  

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Getting My Feet Dirty

I don't know if you can relate, but isn't it really easy to just talk or write about things without ever really experiencing them?  I think we do that a lot in our culture, and especially as the Church.  Talk, talk, talk with maybe a dash of action thrown in here and there.  How sad.  I'm guilty of it.  That's why today was so good for me.  I actually got my feet dirty. Literally.

It was "One Day Without Shoes" day today.  An opportunity to engage us in actually experiencing a fraction of what millions of people do every day - walking barefoot everywhere.  In my travels in Africa I have seen a lot firsthand, but I realized today that I haven't actually walked in their shoes (or lack thereof).  I find myself really surprised by how I felt today going barefoot everywhere.  I was so aware of the fact that I was uncomfortable.  But, the biggest source of my discomfort really came from the realization of just how hard it must be to go through even just one day in life without shoes for so many in other countries.  And the ground I walked on today couldn't have held a candle to the treacherous conditions people walk on daily.

I rolled out of bed onto my soft carpet, walked out into my garage on the smooth, cold concrete, got in my car to the welcome of soft carpet again on my feet, walked to the mailbox on the mildy annoying textured concrete sidewalk, then back into my house onto the smooth, hard wood floors.

The worst I experienced all day was my friend's gravel driveway.  Ouch.  You should have seen me babying myself with each step on the little rocks.  You would have thought I had a sprained ankle by the way I was walking on the gravel.  But, it was a reality jolt for me.  My mind immediately went back to the Rock Quarry in Uganda where I saw people navigating jagged rocks barefoot, many of them with bleeding feet.  And I was instantly thankful for the opportunity to in some small way identify with the people I had met that day in Uganda.

And then my son, Tariku.  He had never known a pair of shoes on his feet in his four and a half years of life until he got to the orphanage. He'd been barefoot since the day his toes touched the ground in Ethiopia. I asked him about it tonight and he vividly described the first pair of shoes he received at the orphanage - a pair of rubber crocs. Let me tell you...having that pair of shoes was a big deal to him.

Going barefoot today made it more real for me.  Such a small, simple thing to not wear shoes for a day.  My friend Layla didn't have a reason to leave her house today with her kids but they talked about the kids in the world who can't go to school because they have no shoes and the people whose toes and feet are eaten away by infection because they don't have any foot protection.  Then they all walked down their long, gravel driveway barefoot to get the mail.  Just that one simple exercise left a big mark on her kids.  I love that.

It's just so easy to settle in and stay comfortable with the way our lives are here in America. It was so good for me to have a little bit of a reality jolt today.  If you haven't noticed, I tend to talk a lot about poverty and it's impact here on my blog.  I can so easily tire of all the talk, as I'm sure can you, not to mention God.  It felt right today to actually do something to help make the connection between my words and my shake myself out of my frequently self-centered rut.

There is something special about identifying with someone acknowledging their reality. Isn't that what we celebrate this month? God sending His son to identify with us?  God put skin on so that He could feel what we feel and experience our pain and suffering. He is the ultimate example of what it looks like to walk in someone's shoes, or lack thereof. And I'm pretty sure He modeled that because He knew that identifying with one another is where we come alive and fully into who He made us to be.

All that from just one day without shoes. Go figure. Wonder what would happen if I REALLY took a risk identifying with others...

"The way of Jesus is about our descent. Its about our death. It’s our willingness to join the world in its suffering, it’s our participation in the new humanity, it’s our weakness calling out to others in their weakness.”- Rob Bell

Monday, April 4, 2011

One Day Without Shoes what's the weather like where you are?  Is it gonna be hot, cold, rainy, snowy, muddy where you live tomorrow?  Imagine the conversation at the office or school or the grocery when you join me and thousands of others and show up barefoot tomorrow.  Wait.  Why are we going barefoot tomorrow??????? 
MILLIONS of people in the world go barefoot every day and in an effort to raise awareness of that fact, April 5th is the day we go ONE DAY WITHOUT SHOES.  Just one.

Did you know...

Many children in developing countries grow up barefoot. Whether at play, doing chores or going to school, these children are at risk:

•A leading cause of disease in developing countries is soil-transmitted diseases, which can penetrate the skin through bare feet. Wearing shoes can help prevent these diseases, and the long-term physical and cognitive harm they cause.

•Wearing shoes also prevents feet from getting cuts and sores. Not only are these injuries painful, they also are dangerous when wounds become infected.

•Many times children can't attend school barefoot because shoes are a required part of their uniform. If they don't have shoes, they don't go to school. If they don't receive an education, they don't have the opportunity to realize their potential.

When we were in Uganda, we met people whose feet were literally oozing from sores and infection due to the fact they walked barefoot day in and day out.  There are bugs called jiggers that burrow into the skin and cause infection.  Many of the kids we saw in uganda were walking around with feet that looked like this:

Walking in the wrong places without shoes can cause serious health problems which can lead to paralysis.  Can you imagine having to live your life paralyzed simply because you didn't have shoes to wear?? Here in the U.S. we are likely hard pressed to ever think about the fact that people all over the world suffer because they lack one thing that our closets are bursting with - shoes.  All it takes is one pair to do the job. 

Tom's Shoes is a great organization that gives one pair of shoes to someone in need when you purchase one pair.  That's great math.  Get a pair.  Give a pair.  Check them out for an easy way to help put a dent in this crisis. 

Talk to your family and friends about this and consider going without shoes tomorrow.  What a great way to help people learn that there are millions going barefoot every day who have no other choice.  Sometimes, we don't know how good we have it.  So, as you walk on the smooth pavement, on the carpet in your house or on the grass tomorrow barefoot, be thankful.  There are millons of folks walking on hot roads with sharp rocks, glass and metal who don't have the luxury of knowing a day WITH shoes is coming.  But with your help it can. 

Get one.  Give one.  There's no time like the present.

Friday, April 1, 2011


My house is full right now.  Our good friends from Cincinnati are visiting on their spring break and sleeping in Tariku's room, while Tariku is sleeping on my bedroom floor (I had to remove him from my bed due to his excessive snoring and his inclination to make snow angels in his sleep which leads to a very rude awakening in the middle of the night for this mama...but, I digress...), our friend's daughter is sleeping in my girl's room with my two, their two boys are sleeping on an air matress in the play room, and then two more of our friends from Cincinnati came as well and are sleeping in the guest room.  Packed house.  And you know what? I LOVE it!!

We all cooked together, ran to the store for and with each other, walked to get the kids at school together, sat and watched them play together, hiked together, watched Africa videos together, prayed together, laughed together, tried to light a grill together, shared meals together, and even sat on the couch and looked at our iPhones together. :)  And this whole week I've been thinking about what a blessing "together" is.  That "together" is what we are made for.  We are made for community, to "do" life with each other.  Moments spent together are richer and more meaningful.  They are just so GOOD!

I am unbelievabley grateful for my "together".

And this all on the heels of a meeting I sat in on today where we talked about the number of kids who are aging out of the foster care system here in the U.S. with nowhere to go and no hope for their future.  1 in 4 are incarcerated.  They are three times as likely to commit suicide.  They are more prone to trafficking and prostitution.  They are more likely to be homeless.  We talked about young mothers who are pregnant and alone with nowhere to go...the hopelessness they must feel...the loneliness.

Where is their community?  Will they ever know the meaning of "together"? Who is going to cook and laugh alongside them? How are they to get through life without strong relationships?

I have to admit, I spend the majority of my time thinking about what is going on in Africa, a land full of people I dearly love and feel that God has carved a very special place in my heart for. But I feel like God expanded my heart today.  He peeled back another layer and allowed me to see what is right in front of me to do.

There are people all around me who have no community and know no love.  What does it cost me to reach out and mentor a kid who's aging out of the system?  Not much.  What does it look like to befriend a scared, young woman who's going to give birth soon?  How much of my time would it really take to help them know the meaning of "together"?  Not much.

I am excited about what's on the'll be hearing more as things unfold.  But the point for now that God is whispering to my heart is that "together" is a gift He's given us that we in turn are to give to each other. We are meant to live in community and in relationship with one another.  ALL of us. No one should miss out on the awesomeness of "together".