Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving in the Handing Over

Our happiness comes not in the having, but in the handing over. God extravagantly pays back everything we give away and exactly in the currency that is not of this world but the one we yearn for: joy in Him. - Ann Voskamp

Sometimes, words aren't enough.  I look around and wonder how in the world I get to live this life.  I marvel at how my life looks nothing like what I once thought it would.  It's so much better.  Had I held on tightly to what I thought I wanted, I never would have known just how extravagantly God pays back when we surrender to Him...   

The JOY of adoption. My friend Katie said it best - "Adoption is a redemptive response to tragedy that happens in this broken world. And every single day, it is worth it, because adoption is God's heart." And it is SO worth it!


The beauty of living in missional community with people who know this truth...

The way I learn from my children how to love more fully...

Living in such a breath-taking place where I am daily reminded of God's presence...

Being a part of an organization that is transforming the lives of children all over the world and helping them reach their dreams...

Having a whole other family in Ethiopia that teaches me how to give my life away...

Living a life of shared passion with my best friend...

Falling in love with a community of orphans in Ethiopia who fill me up to overflowing... 

Yes,indeed. God always pays back extravagantly.  Always.  May you find joy in the handing over this Thanksgiving.

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”    - Psalm 100:4-5

Sunday, November 20, 2011

All Things New

His face is etched on my heart, this 10 year old boy who lives at the garbage dump in Addis Ababa with his father.  His father, whose wife was murdered leaving him with 6 children he couldn't care for.  His father, who had to send four of his kids to government orphanages.  His father, who loves them all and must weep heavy tears over their separation.  As a parent, I can't imagine what it must take to make those kinds of choices. 

His son, Habtamu has a smile that swallows you up when you're lucky enough to get one. 

He was so shy when we first met at my friend Yemamu's feeding center. I wondered what his life must be like....what it feels like to wake up under a tarp in the city dump and know that this is your life. To watch your father work late into the night scavenging for metals and plastics just so you can have a little food.  He told me how he would walk very far down the road to wait for the garbage truck that was on its way to the dump from the Sheraton Hotel.  He told me how if the driver was nice, he would slow down so that Habtamu and his friends could jump on the back, making them the first ones to have dibs on the freshest garbage...the "best" food. 

I watched the camaraderie between him and his friends from the garbage dump.  I was amazed at his capacity for joy.

One of the board members from the Hands For The Needy center came for a visit one day with his young son.  I watched in fascination two worlds collide.  I watched Habtamu pick up the coveted soccer ball and hand it to this privileged little boy, smiling.

My eyes filled.  This ten year old knows that "happiness is found not in the having, but in the handing over."

And there I sat, learning lessons from a ten year old across the room.  The poor have much to give.  And the rich have much to receive from the poor.  And receive, I did from this little boy over the coming days. 

He was one of the 12 boys we took to buy new clothes and shoes for.  We ended up spending quite a bit of time together in a taxi going from one market to another.  And in that time, we bonded.  He sat beside me holding my arm and tracing the blue of my veins with his finger.  He was fascinated to be able to see what was under my skin. :) I showed him pictures on my iPhone of my family and of snow on the mountains.  I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him close, wondering how long it had been since he had felt a mother's touch. 

We spent a long day together trying to find shoes and clothing for all the boys.  Habtamu laid his head on me and fell asleep for a while.  I just kept thinking how badly he must miss his mother.  I wondered at how easily he let me just love him. 

We took them out to eat a good meal.  On the way home I was sitting behind him in the taxi.  He reached his arm up and pulled my hand over the seat so he could hold it. 

Black and white skin held each other.  I wondered if he knew his veins were blue on the inside too.  I wondered if by now he realized we were far more alike than we were different.  I needed him and he needed me.  He started fingering the diamonds on the wedding ring I had forgotten to leave behind in the States.  I immediately felt ashamed.  I wanted to pry it off my finger and hide the symbol of my wealth.  I thought about how much money I could get if I sold it.  I thought about how little it actually takes to change the trajectory of a little boy's life.  And my tears fell silently as I held his hand.  My heart cried out a repentant prayer. 

By now we were driving in the dark of night.  A garbage truck pulled up in the lane next to us and the boys started yelling out the window at the kids who were riding on top.  It would have been them that night, riding on top of that truck.  The irony was not lost on me.

I smelled the garbage dump before I made it out in the dark.  Habtamu squeezed my hand more tightly.  My heart started to beat a little faster.  Were we really just going to drop these boys off at the garbage dump to go sleep under a tarp?  Everything in me wanted to scream. It wasn't right. The taxi pulled over to the side of the road.  I think I was literally shaking as I stepped out to make way for the boys to exit the taxi.  Habtamu held a bag of left over food to give to his father who was working late into the night.  All twelve beautiful, stinky boys gave me hugs and said thank you.  Habtamu hugged me tightly.  I kissed the top of his head and told him I'd see him tomorrow.  He whispered thank you then wrapped his arm around his friend Zerehun and started walking into the piles of garbage.  I climbed back in the taxi and totally lost it.  Yemamu put his hand on my shoulder and told me they were okay...that they had each other and were happy.  And he was probably right.  But I still couldn't reconcile the fact that we had just dropped kids off to go sleep in the city dump while I went to my nice compound to sleep in my bed.  I wept all the way home. 

The coming days were filled with a lot of activity, but Habtamu and Zerehun started to accompany us wherever we went and just help out.  We took them both to church, which they loved.  I could feel the time ticking quickly away until I had to leave.  On the Sunday we left, we had Habtamu and Zerehun and my friend Lindsey's sponsored child with us at our compound.  Yemamu and Sisay were playing soccer with the boys.  They were running and laughing and tripping over each other.  It felt like a Sunday afternoon at my own house with my kids playing happily.  I smiled as I clicked away with my camera.

That Sunday afternoon was beautiful.  The boys were free to just be boys.  They played, they laughed, they joked around, they let down.  It was a blessing for all of us to just enjoy each other's company and love each other.  Saying good-bye was awful.  But I think all of us learned so much from each other in our two weeks together.  Watching these boys receive love from Yemamu and Sisay filled my heart.  I know that they are looked after and cared for by these two men who are investing their lives in them. 

It was only about one week after I got home from Ethiopia that Yemamu called me and said that Desse, Habtamu's father was gravely ill.  They feared for his life.  He was suffering from severe Hepatitis and had a raging infection that his body was not fighting off.  Yemamu and Sisay had brought him from the garbage dump to the Center and were trying get him medical attention.  Yemamu asked me to pray.  I had an immediate lump in my throat as he told me the news.  All I could think of was this...

I remember literally falling to my knees and begging God to spare this man.  I could not bear the thought of Habtamu losing his father too.  I simply couldn't.  Yemamu sent me this picture of Desse...

I literally asked everyone I knew to join in me in praying for this man.  About a week later, I got a phone call from Yemamu telling me that Desse was completely better.  He was healed. Totally and completely.  I'm pretty sure I was jumping up and down in my bedroom when I got the news. I was reminded of this scripture from Psalm 72:12-13:

For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.

And that's exactly what happened.  Desse says that he was as good as dead, but that God reached down and rescued Him and restored his life.  Desse is now working at the Hands for the Needy Center as the gardener, tending to the crops they are growing.  Yemamu is working to secure a house for Desse and Habtamu close to the Center. 


Friday, November 18, 2011

Another World Is Possible

"Spend the whole of your one wild and beautiful life investing in many lives, and God simply will not be outdone." - Ann Voskamp

I was asked to speak this week to a group of women on the topic of "Gratitude in Serving".  I pretty much cried through the whole thing.  I cried because God's call to serve is so much more than us attending a "serving event", and we're missing it.  It's so much more than we allow it to be.  It's a call to death.  The core of the Gospel is a laying down of our lives for God and others.  When we surrender to that, something beautiful starts to happen inside us.  We die to our our own ideas and embrace the fuller life that God has for us as we live poured out for others.  And that kind of living will bring you to tears...the full, happy, grateful kind.

You know how sometimes someone will say something or you'll read something that puts words to the things in your heart?  I woke up to the following blog post that my friend Jobin wrote from Calcutta where he lives out his days loving and serving a community of orphans there.  I know that he won't mind me sharing it here with you.  Read slowly, friends.  There's a message in here that we need to understand in the fiber of our being.

It always starts with death.

I'm reminded of it in the silence of the streets that sigh with the displaced and the forgotten. In those dark lonely alleys sandwiched between slums. In the ashes of the night that once burned bright. In the wishes of the dying man for a second chance in a second world. In the dreams of the widow with a child in her arms. In the plea of the orphan with a story in her eyes. And even in the pages of the leather-bound Book beside my bed with the red letters.

There's no escape from it. There's no way but through it. There's no life but because of it. Everyday that I am alive, I behold brokenness and death in the dialectic of life. But this death doesn't refer to one that brings you to a box six feet under, rather something with a much deeper sense of the world. And although it's nonsensical to put that word in parameters, I write these words with reticence how it personally feels at a depth of 1200 feet below sea level. At a depth where death has less to do with the physical, but rather a dying which is so real through every breath of the metaphysical. The very eke of my existence is found between the meaning of the word from the pages containing the red letters. How I can only be alive to the orphan, when I die to myself. How I can only share in the suffering of the displaced, when I die to myself. How I can only care for the destitute and the dying, when I die to myself.

In the brokenness I daily behold, there's no denying the asperity and reality of physical death in the stories of the downtrodden, the destitute and the dying. Yet my own story is one that is knitted with death. That as I learn to lay my life down, I find myself standing my ground. As I learn to lose my life, I end up finding it. As I learn to die to myself, I find myself living for love. And to that end, I pray to live and move and have my being in Love.

I know that I'm nothing more than dust held together by water and blood. There's nothing more to these human frames fueled by the rise and fall of the cage within. Like a hero of mine puts it - this skin and bones is a rental, no one makes it out alive. Every breath I take brings me one step closer to the grave. Every tear that is shed brings me closer to a cross. Every day that I wake up, I die a little more. So I die and die again to be reborn for the Kingdom of the Heavens, where I lose my life to find myself. Like a seed that falls to the ground and dies, like a tear that is shed of our eyes, like a candle burning bright, nothing worth living comes any other way. Because it is the loss of a life-less yet life-giving seed that springs something new. It is the heaviness of a teardrop on bended-knee that brings a lightness to the yoke of the cross. It is the pain in feeling when all is melting away like wax on a candle that brings light to these dark lonely alleys. And this death and rebirth brings to a place 1200 feet below sea level, which evidently is the lowest point on the planet. It's where I find myself with nowhere lower to go, and nothing left to let go.

Sometimes I really do feel like someone who has lost it all, but I become reminded again of how much more needs to die in me. When I think of these writings, to be reminded that I'm not the author but a messenger. When I think if I could ever share this life with, to be reminded of the orphan waiting to be held. When the moments move fast from unwavering faith to creeping doubts, narrow roads to unexpected turns, mountain tops to crashing valleys. Like a common friend without any company, like a singer without his song, like a father without a son. I'm still looking for a place to belong, still searching to be found again. There is an ecclesiastical longing through the emptiness to remind me that with nothing left of myself, there is more of grace. That the end of myself, is where it all starts. The beginning is always where my end begins. It always starts with death.

And broken as I am, weak as I am - grace is what I am.

So my tears become words to sing, and I live dying to life, to live for Love. I'm trusting that even in the emptiness of my well, I can draw from a river that doesn't run dry. There is river here somewhere 1200 feet below, and here in this river I'm reminded of a death which is ephemeral but a rebirth which is eternal. That life is but a vapor, and Love is like a river. And I'm just humbled that the Maker of the Heavens would use someone as broken as me, to behold beauty in the brokenness and life in the ashes.

In a world of 3D, 3G and be all you can be, I'm learning what it means to be free. From a world that could never placate to what I'm buying by what it has to sell, but to live in the absolution of another world. I'm done chasing chartered territories and certitudes. I hear another world calling. A world where those who mourn will be comforted, and the last will be first. A world where every tear will be wiped from our eyes, and justice will be our right-side. So I chose to live today for the coming world, as an advocate of the poor and a lover of the least. Yes, it starts with death, but death is only the beginning. Another world is possible. It's in you, it's in me.