Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bending Low

"Our only real Home is Christ and Cross, and the cross is endlessly raised where the poor bow. The poor give us this — turn us from the illusion of climbing ladders and never invite us to go higher, but to come lower — to where Christ is — to the lonely, the lost and the least.

It’s our burden of stuff that blinds us and the real danger of wealth is that it causes us to lose our vision — our vision of Christ.
The poor might release the rich and the rich might release the poor and only Christ can release us all from blindness to really see — and it is contemplating the love of Christ that makes us act out the love of Christ."

 - Ann Voskamp

Friday, August 19, 2011

Shedding This Skin

"Some of the impossible things we're believing God for will never happen in our lives if we stand in hope instead of walking in faith." -Steven Furtick

I'm typing these words while I'm smiling and shaking my head at myself.  Why do I doubt God's care and provision?  What is it that sometimes makes me think that His words are for everyone else but me?  1 John 5:14 says "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him."  But, I've got to fess up...I don't live like God has heard me.  Often, I live a "well, wouldn't it be nice if this would actually work out" kind of life...a life of small faith.  My small faith protects me from disappointment when things don't go the way I thought they would or should.  My small faith keeps me from having to face hard questions or do scary things.

How sad.  Because I love and serve a HUMONGOUS God who desires that I have a humongous faith.  And slowly and surely, I think I just might be taking baby steps towards a faith that does more justice to the faithfulness and character of the God I serve.  I think that at the root of my small faith is fear. Big, ugly, nasty fear. Fear that God might not come through and so I don't want to risk anything just in case. My friend, Cozette shared something a few nights ago that struck a huge chord with me. Do I live under an orphan mentality or an adoption mentality? Orphans are alone...they cling to what they have because they don't know if they'll get more. They have no one to trust and no one to care for them. But as an adopted daughter of the ultimate Father, I can trust His love for me. I can know that at His very core he is Daddy...full of love and goodness. I know that He only desires my good. I can trust that if He removes something from my hand, it's only so that He can fill it up with something better. He is not a taker. He is a Giver...every good and perfect gift comes from Him.

We talked at church on Wednesday night about Isaiah 41 where God says that we don't have to fear because He is our God and will strengthen and HELP us.  It seems like a relatively simple truth when you first read it:

God wants to help us.  GOD wants to help us.  God WANTS to help us.  God wants to HELP us.  God wants to help US

Suddenly, what is simple becomes beautiful and somewhat unbelievable!  And yet it is true.  We have nothing to fear because God always gives us what we need.  He always provides.  I have seen it time and time again.

...Growing up my dad was laid off for months and we didn't have money to pay the bills.  So, as a family we  prayed together and asked God to provide for us.  People anonymously sent us money to pay the bills just when we needed them...over and over again until my dad got a job.

...I lost a college scholarship due to funding issues and my tuition was due...I faced having to drop out.  One night while vaccumming at Eddie Bauer where I worked, I found a loose diamond among the dust bunnies on the floor.  I turned it in, but since no one claimed it, it was given to me since I had found it.  I sold it and paid my tuition.

...After being awakened to the orphan crisis in Africa, we felt like we were supposed to go to Uganda to witness it firsthand.  We had no money for the trip but people donated their sky miles to us for free tickets and God provided the rest through amazing people who just gave us the money.

...We knew we were supposed to adopt, but had $1,000 out of the $25,000 needed to start the process.  God said to start anyway.  So we did and little by little money showed up out of nowhere to pay all our expenses. 

...We got to the point in our adoption where it was time to book our tickets to go to Ethiopia to get our son.  It was so expensive!  We booked two roundtrip tickets but only the charge for one ticket showed up in our bank account.  I called the airline to tell them that we weren't charged for the other ticket.  After hours on the phone, the lady said "I don't know what to tell you, ma'am.  Your ticket has been paid for." Well, okay then!

...And then it came time to go to Ethiopia again to work with a feeding program.  Financial hurdle after financial hurdle was thrown at me.  Three weeks ago I had zero dollars for this trip.  Today I am almost fully funded.

...We wanted to take water filter straws to Ethiopia for the 150 kids in the feeding program so that they can stick their staw into any dirty water and have it enter their bodies as clean water.  That's $1500 to raise in the next two weeks.  I got an email last night from someone saying that it was no problem and they'd write a check and fully fund all 150 kids with clean water straws!

...I mentioned the need for used clothing for the kids and it looks like I'll have 4 suitcases worth to take.

...My church just talked about generosity on Wednesday night and challenged us all to choose one thing that is valuable to us and sell it.  The proceeds from these items will be given to me to take to the leper colony when I go for needs that arise on the ground for these people.

Yes, indeed.  "Do not fear, for I am your God....I will strengthen and help you."  And He has.  Over and over again.  He is always moving...always working...always willing to help.  We need but ask.  Asking propels us forward out of our small faith into the realms of possibility that exist with our humongous God. 

Get me out of this skin that keeps God small and me safe! I want to shed it and leave it far behind.  His love is so wide, so high, so deep...no one can fathom how He desires to move on men's behalf!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

An Afternoon Well Spent

Today wasn't unlike any other day off work for me.  I had bills to pay, a grocery run to make, a house to clean, laundry to do, children to spend time with, dinner to get ready, emails to respond to...you get the idea. But for the past few days since writing my last blog post about how compassion is ultimately about relationship, I just haven't been able to shake something. 

Bear with me as I try to put to words what is even difficult for me to identify in my own heart.  I am passionate about orphans and issues of poverty.  My heart is especially drawn to Ethiopia, where my son came from.  I spend a significant amount of time trying to advocate and develop relationships with people in Ethiopia who are doing great work to help those in need.  Sometimes people will tell me how great it is that I'm doing these things.  And it IS great!  But, guess what?  It's easy for me in so many ways.  It's what I'm passionate about...it's where my heart is...it's how I want to be spending my time.  It's not really hard for me to do because I LOVE it!!  Many of these interactions and relationships are with people across an ocean, which is fine, BUT what about the people right here where I live? 

This started me thinking about how God says to "love your neighbor as yourself".  I've done a great deal of soul searching in past years that has lead me to realize that my neighbors are in Africa, but they are also right here.  I feel like sometimes I'm so busy with what I do in Africa that I forget to open my eyes and see what's right in front of my face. And sometimes, to see what is right in front of you, you have to be intentional.  

So, today, the kids and I decided to go downtown to Acacia Park, where many homeless people hang out, and take them lunch.  I was going to just make peanut butter sandwiches and take down bottled water, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I was supposed to do something more.  So, I packed up the kids, hauled them to Subway and bought $50 worth of subs.  I know I'd prefer a Subway sandwich to PB&J any day, and I just felt like I was to sacrifice for the people we met.  On the drive downtown, the kids and I talked for 15 minutes about what we were doing and why.  Really, the only exposure they have had to homelessness in the U.S. was about a month and a half ago when we were eating downtown on the outside patio and a homeless man named Ron came up to us and struck up a conversation for 15 minutes.  We gave him some cash and explained the basics of his situation to the kids afterward.  So, when I started explaining what we might see, Ella said "Oh!  You mean like that man, Ron we met?".  Yep.  

So, we pulled up to the park and I took a few minutes to pray with the kids before we got out of the car.  Tariku prayed and asked God to help us show love to the people we gave food to.  Precious, considering his own personal history with hunger.  We finished praying and I was strangely not nervous at all.  I was excited to see what the afternoon would bring.  So, we got out of the car and started walking down the street. We got to the corner to cross over into the park, and guess who walked around the corner at that very moment? Ron.  I almost started laughing out loud at the opportunity.  I called his name and at first he didn't answer, so I called it louder, realizing it's probably been a very long time since anyone has called him by name.  He looked up and recognized us instantly.  I gave him a hug and told him we were so glad we ran into him.  I asked him how he was and he started telling us how he had gotten jumped a week ago and was in the hospital for four days with broken ribs and other injuries.  The guy who jumped him stole his backpack with all of his belongings so now he is starting over.  We hung out for a while with Ron and gave him a sub and a cold water.  He just kept talking with us.  As our conversation drew to a close, I asked him if it would be okay if we prayed for him.  So, my three little ones and I put our hands on him right there on the corner and prayed for God to provide for him, protect him and help him get back on his feet.  He had a tear in his eye as we all said Amen together.  We all hugged him and told him we'd be praying for him and that we'd look for him again soon.  

How cool is that?!  Not even 60 seconds out of our car and there was Ron.  The kids and I talked immediately about how God answered our prayer to be able to bless someone and how important it was to take time to spend with the people we were bringing food to.  Sweet little Tariku said that what we should have done was take him to buy a new backpack.  DUH!!  How come it can be so obvious to children what needs to be done?!  

Anyway, we spotted an elderly man curled up on the ground in the shade napping with his arms tightly around his pack.  I gently tucked a sandwich bag under his arm and we left.  Tariku said I did a good job not waking him up. :) Then we walked over to a group of guys who were hanging out on some rocks.  I just told them that we had some extra subs if they were interested.  Their faces lit up and of course they said yes. So, we sat down and talked with Sam, from Southern Arizona and Connan from Colorado Springs.  They kept saying how nice it was of us to give them subs.  I told them that as a family we were learning together how to care about the people around us, whether we know them or not and they kindly affirmed that we were doing a good job. :)  We hung out for a little bit while they ate and just talked.  

After that, all 10 subs were gone, so we walked about 100 feet to the fountain and the kids ran into the water to play.  Not long after that, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. I turned around to see Connan.  He was eating the rest of the sub that I had watched him put in his pants pocket for later.  He asked me my name again and I told him.  Then he just said that he couldn't get over what a nice thing we had done for him.  He said we were like angels. :)  I asked him to tell me his story. It was then that he said how rough things were for him.  He showed me the scar on his throat from where he had a tracheotomy.  He said that he was 31 and had had a job before he was diagnosed with a certain disease (I'm blanking on it right now) and had spent an extended period of time hospitalized.  He now is mildly disabled due to his illness.  He told me that life had just been very hard and that he was a hard worker but no one would hire him due to his disability.  I told him that I was sorry he had encountered that kind of hardship in his life, but that I firmly believed God had plans for his life and that he could count on that. I told him that I believed in the love of God and that He hears us when we pray and that I would commit to praying for him.  I gave him a hug and he thanked me again for taking the time to talk with him and feed him.  

And there you have it...he thanked me for taking the time to talk with him.  It's exactly what I was getting at in my blog post a few days ago.  People want our presence.  And today, I took the time to give it.  Why in the world don't I do that more often?!  It was so great to do this with my children and have them be an active part.  I am so thankful that God is showing me it only takes willingness and intention to live compassionately toward the people around me.  I can't wait to do this again and again with my kids and teach them how to look for opportunities wherever they are to stop, listen and give of themselves.  

I'm so glad God puts up with me. I can be so slow to see the obvious.  I'm so thankful for my experience with my kids this afternoon.  Praying that I can see those around me who could use some time and attention.  Praying that I'm willing to give it, no matter how uncomfortable...no matter the cost.  Because it's beautiful.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Just Be

When among the suffering we find that they do not so much need the skills of our hands or the knowledge of our minds as they do the compassion of our hearts. It is as if the suffering person extends an invitation to us saying ‘Before you do anything FOR me, please come alongside me. Enter into communion with me so that you can BE with me in my pain. Walk alongside me as my friend and companion.’ – Trevor Hudson

I love this quote because I think it houses a very important truth for us: Compassion is ultimately about presence. An outflow of compassion can be giving of our finances, resources and skills, but at the end of the day while those things might help display a compassionate heart, compassion is really about relationship. Compassion is about coming alongside someone in the midst of their pain and struggle and just being there. Pain involves discomfort. Entering into someone else’s struggle IS uncomfortable. But, it’s how life is meant to be lived. It’s how we know that love is genuine…we intentionally enter the murkiness of someone’s situation because that’s what love does. It gets dirty. It is willing to suffer with someone.

I don’t know about you, but my instinct is to fix whatever situation is causing pain. And sometimes, we CAN do things that help fix a problem. But I have come to realize that there are just some situations that I can’t fix (yeah, I’m a little slow on the uptake sometimes!). There are many difficult circumstances in which I can’t offer anyone anything but myself. Problems caused by extreme poverty like I’ve witnessed in Africa can send me running to put my head in the sand because they are so overwhelming. But it’s precisely my interactions with people in some of those extremely difficult situations that have helped me to see that Trevor Hudson is right on… People in pain want our presence. They want to know that someone cares. More than they want us to DO something for them, they want us to BE with them.

I saw this played out in Africa so many times. I would visit with people in impossible situations and they wouldn’t ask me for anything. Not a penny, not a drop of water, not a bit of food. Nothing. They would simply thank me for coming and spending time with them. It was so humbling…so astounding to me.

I find myself again about to go back to Africa. A leper colony called Korah in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia has captured my heart and I can’t get back fast enough. Most of the trips I have gone on in the past have rushed me from one community to another, and I’ve tried to take in as much as possible in as little time as possible. These trips have left me with crucial glimpses into the realities others face in the world, but with little time to just “BE” with the people that I met.

So, that is what this upcoming trip is all about. Just being with the people. I have no intention to run from once place to another trying to fit a bunch of stuff in. Aside from providing some clean water filters, doing some fun activities with the kids in the feeding program, and providing some basic medical attention, I don’t really even have big plans to be “doing” things for the people I spend time with. This time around I just want to be present. I want to hear their stories, share meals together, hold their children, laugh with them, cry with them, pray with them. I want them to know they are valuable. I want to KNOW them.

Yemamu and his father
My friend, Yemamu, is Ethiopian and runs a NGO (non-government organization) called Hands for the Needy in Korah. He grew up in Korah with his parents who both have leprosy. His father begs in the city and his mother embroiders trying to make a living. Yemamu has chosen to stay in Korah, despite opportunities he has received to leave it. He wants to help the people in his community. He has just started a feeding program in Korah and so we are going to serve alongside him and get to know the people he is helping in hopes of establishing long term relationships. I hope to come back with some very practical ways that we can help partner with Yemamu in the work that he is doing in Korah. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to spending an extended period of time in one place with one group of people.

So...who, you might ask, am I going to Ethiopia with??  Well, I wish my hubby could go with me this time around, but he'll be getting back from a trip to Swaziland the day before I leave for Ethiopia.  So, not this time. But, I am going with some GREAT people!

Meet Lindsey.  She's a fellow adoptive mama to two precious little Ethiopian angels (and soon to another girl from Thailand!), a children's author, an attorney, a blogger, an orphan advocate, an Africa lover...and I could go on and on.  While all those things are great, I just love her because she knows how to love God, love people.  We are lucky enough to have her fireman hubby, Le, come along with us too! Poor guy...the only male among us crazy women! I am so glad he will be joining us!  Hope he feels the same way by the time it's all said and done!   

Meet Abbey.  She just moved to Colorado Springs about a month ago and she is a nurse who wants to use her skills in Ethiopia with me.  I truly can't tell you what having her along on this trip will mean! Medical help is invaluable!! I met her right after she moved here and asked if she'd be interested in joining us and she willingly jumped right on board! Love that!  I’m not going to go into all the details, but suffice it to say that we both have some unforeseen, crazy, God size financial hurdles to overcome in the next week.  However, this past week I have seen God provide in some really cool ways, which is so encouraging!

My church has set up a way for funds to be donated that are tax deductible that will go directly to my Ethiopia trip. It’s really humbling and frankly more than a little embarrassing to be an adult fundraising for a $2,000 trip to Ethiopia but I feel like I just need to humble myself and put the need out there. These people are worth it!!  If you feel so inclined, you can click HERE and donate online, being certain to note “Amy Savage Ethiopia Trip” in the notes section. If you prefer to mail a check, please indicate “Amy Savage Ethiopia Trip” in the memo section and it can be sent to:

The Movement Church
PO Box 62891
Colorado Springs, CO

Oh, and just in case you come away with the wrong idea…we can practice the gift of presence anytime, anyplace and with anyone. You don’t have to go to Ethiopia to find someone who needs you to come alongside them (although I highly recommend it!).  I’m learning that if we just slow down and take the time to open our eyes, we’ll see that there are lots of people in need of a little presence. They may be in our families, down our streets or through the doors of our workplaces. They are there. And they need compassion in the form of companionship and presence.  I hope we choose to see them.