Monday, December 31, 2012

See



We are on the cusp of a new year.  What is it about a silly date that can breed feelings of hope and expectation?  I suppose it's the opportunity to lay to rest the failures and disappointments of the year and go to sleep in anticipation of a fresh start - a clean slate. Really, this should be our reality every day of the year.  

I read the story of Saul of Tarsus in the Bible this morning - talk about a guy who needed a clean slate.  He was a man filled with hate who oversaw the murdering of multitudes of people. Worse yet, it seems he didn't even view what he was doing as wrong in the least.   How could this be?  It took God appearing to him on a road and blinding him for three days to get him to really see.  Sound familiar to anyone?  Sometimes, it's in the dark when we can't see anything at all, when we feel most lost and confused, when we have the most questions - it's then God shows up just as He did for Saul, and the scales fall from our eyes.  We get our vision back. We get our very life back.  

I can only imagine what those three days of darkness were like for Saul.  Everything he thought he knew was stripped away.  I'm sure he was terrified.  After all, the people he had been murdering were people who believed in Jesus.  And it was Jesus that appeared to him on the road and took his sight away. Saul must have been thinking that blindness was just the beginning of him getting what he deserved.  But God sends a man named Ananias to find Saul in his darkness. And get what God says to Ananias - "I have chosen him to tell kings and foreigners about me." ?????? Uh... God... you make no sense.  And I love it. Can you even imagine what Ananias must be thinking as he heads to where Saul is staying?? I imagine he was having a Jonah moment where he wanted to completely do the opposite of what God had told him.  But he went and here's what happened in Acts 9:17-18...

Ananias left and went into the house where Saul was staying. Ananias placed his hands on him and said, “Saul, the Lord Jesus has sent me. He is the same one who appeared to you along the road. He wants you to be able to see and to be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Suddenly something like fish scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see.

I read this over and over this morning. He WANTS you to be able to see. He WANTS you to be filled with all the life and fullness that God has for you through His spirit.  The God of the universe wants that for you and for me. And friends, sometimes it takes the darkness to get us to the place where we can see.  We won't always understand, but God will give us what we need to see Him in the middle of whatever situations we find ourselves in.  It's been my experience this past year that we receive very few answers in this life and we understand very little, but when we can see and trust the beauty of God's light and presence in us and with us, and His desire for nothing but our ultimate good, our need for answers disappears,even in the middle of the dark.  

Saul had three days in the dark, and I've had three months. Some of you have had three years.  It doesn't matter the time - dark is dark regardless of whether it stays for days, months or years.  But those words - "He wants you to be able to see"- they should be our mantra for this new year.  They should be the hope that we allow to seep into our hearts.  And the time will come when suddenly the scales will fall from our eyes and we SHALL see.  We shall SEE. Because God desires fullness for our lives.  He wants us to live in joy, and sometimes the way to joy is through the pitch dark.  My eyes are starting to squint open... the scales are starting to fall off...the darkness is being driven away...my vision is returning better than before.  And it's all because God makes us new.

Saul got a new name- Paul.  He got a brand spanking new life.  He got a new heart and a new hope.   God did what He said He would do in Saul's life.  He restored his sight and gave Paul a reason to spread the good news of the gospel throughout the world.  

Maybe you find yourselves sitting in the deep dark today.  I have been there...I am just crawling out myself.  I know the fear and insecurity and desperation it brings.  I know how easily the voice saying "He WANTS you to be able to see" can be swallowed up by all the others.  But hold on. Vision is on its way.  Light is coming. I'm not there yet, but I have a feeling on the other side of this darkness is a whole new way of living.  And I know there will be a day (and soon) when I will say that the ability to see with fresh eyes will be worth every second in the pitch black.  

Psalm 18 says:
He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
18 19 He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me. 
You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning;
   My God turns my darkness into light.

My God turns my darkness into light.  Amen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Light to Drive Back Our Dark


An excerpt from Frederick Beuchner's "Secrets in the Dark"...

"Several winters ago my wife and I and our then twenty-year-old daughter, went to that great tourist extravaganza near Orlando, Florida, called Sea World.  It was a gorgeous day when we were there, with bright Florida sunlight reflected in the shimmering water and a cloudless blue sky over our heads. The bleachers where we sat were packed.  

The way the show began was that at a given signal they released into the tank five or six killer whales, as we call them (it would be interesting to see what they call us), and no creatures under heaven could have looked less killer-like as they went racing around and around in circles.  What with the dazzle of sky and sun, the beautiful young people on the platform, the soft Southern air, and the crowds all around us watching the performance with a delight matched only by what seemed the delight of the performing whales, it was as if the whole creation - men and women and beasts and sun and water and earth and sky and, for all I know, God himself - was caught up in one great, jubilant dance of unimaginable beauty.  And then, right in the midst of it, I was astonished to find that my eyes were filled with tears.  

When the show was over and I turned to my wife and daughter beside me to tell them what had happened, their answer was to say that there had been tears also in their eyes. There is no mystery about why we shed tears.  We shed tears because we had caught a glimpse of the Peaceable Kingdom, and it had almost broken our hearts.  For a few moments we had seen Eden and been part of the great dance that goes on at the heart of creation.  We shed tears because we were given a glimpse of the way life was created to be and is not.  We had seen why it was that "the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy" when the world was first made, as the book of Job describes it.  We had a glimpse of part of what Jesus meant when he said "Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh".  

The world is full of darkness, but what I think we caught sight of in that tourist trap in Orlando, Florida, of all places, was that at the heart of darkness - whoever would have believed it? - there is joy unimaginable.  The world does bad things to us all, and we do bad things to the world and to each other and maybe most of all to ourselves, but in that dazzle of bright water as the glittering whales hurled themselves into the sun, I believe what we saw was that joy is what we belong to.  Joy is home, and I believe the tears that came to our eyes were more than anything else homesick tears.  God created us in joy and created us for joy, and in the long run not all the darkness there is in the world and in ourselves can separate us finally from that joy, because whatever else it means to say that God created us in His image, I think it means that even when we cannot believe in Him, even when we feel most spiritually bankrupt and deserted by Him, His mark is deep within us.  We have God's joy in our blood.  

I believe that joy is what our tears were all about and what our faith is all about too. Not happiness.  Happiness comes when things are going our way, which makes it only a forerunner to the unhappiness that inevitably follows when things stop going our way, as in the end they will stop for all of us.  Joy, on the other hand, does not come because something is happening or not happening, but every once in a while rises up out of simply being alive, of being part of the terror as well as the fathomless richness of the world God has made.  My prayer is that we will all of us find him somewhere  somehow, and that He will give us something of His life to fill our emptiness, something of His light to drive back our dark." 

I was going through some photos today and stumbled across this one of my daughter, Ella, that actually made me catch my breath in light of the recent shootings in Connecticut...



This is MY glimpse of the Peaceable Kingdom.  This is what I wish the world could be like every minute of every day... joy in our hearts, mouths open in wonder, the wind at our backs, the sense of freedom and exhilaration that comes from soaring heavenward.  It makes me homesick.  It makes me realize that God created us to fly barefoot on a swing bound by nothing but joy.  And there will be a day, friends... there will be a day of no more tears.  But for now, we cling white knuckled to the truth that God created us in joy and created us for joy, and in the long run not all the darkness there is in the world and in ourselves can separate us finally from that joy.  

Not all the darkness in the world...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Where A Willing Heart Can Take You

It was only three years ago that we were in the waiting stages of the adoption process and I was spending hours online reading about Africa, the orphan crisis, the water crisis and having my safe little world blown to bits by pictures and stories and statistics.  I felt like my insides were being ripped out.  Not only was I waiting to find out what little boy was going to become mine, but I was learning about the plights of all the kids in the world who would never know what a family was.

I quickly discovered that the whole adoption/orphan advocate world is a small one.  I admit that probably a quarter of my friends on Facebook are people I've never met who are involved in loving orphans in some way, shape or form.  As I was sitting at my computer one night back in June of 2009, a chat message popped up on my screen from Lindsey Andrews...one such stranger/facebook friend. :)  We had never spoken before and as we chatted I found out she was in the process of adopting a sibling pair from Ethiopia and was working with Children's HopeChest to get a community of children in Uganda sponsored through her church in Oklahoma City.

To make an aweseomely long story somewhat short: Lindsey flew to my house and we met face to face and did a fundraiser for Uganda together.  I traveled to Uganda a few months later to the place she had a heart for and soon after, Ben and I flew to Oklahoma city and watched as hundreds of kids were sponsored from the village we had walked in months before.  She got her referral for her two children in Ethiopia  and we received our referral for Tariku a few short weeks after that.  We walked through the turbulent world of the adoption process together.  We celebrated as pictures came through of our kids and we planned our trips to meet our children.  There were a few short days where we actually thought we might get to travel together to bring our kids home, but God had other plans.

When Lindsey was in Ethiopia getting her kids, she also got the opportunity to meet her sponsored child through Children's HopeChest, Kaleab.  I think it's safe to say that Lindsey's life hasn't been the same since.  I mean... look at those eyes!!!


A few weeks later, I met Kaleab for the first time as well and have had the privilege of spending lots of time with him over the past two years as I've traveled to Ethiopia.  He is AMAZING.


This boy lives with his grandma, who works incredibly hard to provide for him.  His mother sold him to a woman who begged on the streets of Addis because she needed the money.  Side note: Women who beg on streets with a baby on their back have a higher likelihood of getting more money...that was the reason this woman bought him.  Bought him...those words alone send shivers down my spine.  But Kaleab's grandma heard what happened and searched the streets until she found him and brought him back home.  She has raised him ever since and loves him fiercely.  When I think about how his story could have ended, it takes my breath away.  But, God has had a beautiful story planned for this little boy all his life and I am so excited to watch it all unfold.  Kaleab has the most beautiful smile and amazing countenance. The only time I've ever seen him without that smile is when Lindsey had to get on an airplane to go back home. He breathes joy and laughter.  There is just something so special about this young man.  This past summer I was in Ethiopia with Ben and we were taking Kaleab out to lunch when he started singing...


Oh. My. Heart. 



Kaleab and my own sponsored child, Mekdes together in September 2011

Lindsey was smitten by him.  She was heart-broken by his story, but inspired by his life. An idea started brewing in her mind about writing a book about Kaleab's walk for water every day.  I remember the day she sent me the Word document with the text she had written and how I smiled as I poured over every word, being able to picture it all.  Not long after that, I had a phone call from her saying she had lunch with an illustrator who was interested in doing the artwork.  The idea behind the book was that the proceeds of each book would be donated to a water project somewhere in the world...the first of which would be in Ethiopia.  She sat on it for a while. It was a big  risk. Then, a few years later after the idea was birthed... this happened...



This book is beautifully illustrated and powerful in its message.  And I suspect it's going to build many many wells over it's lifetime. :) So, if you are looking for a great gift for your kids or would like to donate one to your neighborhood library or school, just go to Lindsey's blog HERE and click on the "buy now" button at the top of the page.  Amazon is sold out just now, but Lindsey has a stash she can ship you directly in time for Christmas! I'm going to read this in a class at my kids' school this week...can't wait!!

The moral of the story is simply this: pay attention to those little nudges in your heart that seem far out and possibly unachievable.  God has always used people who are scared to death to change the world.  Lindsey did this one step at a time and with each step became more scared and yet more full of faith. This life of faith is a wild ride, people and one completely worth jumping on with all you have (which sometimes doesn't feel like much). 

What I also love is that all of this was birthed by Lindsey deciding to sponsor a child.  One seemingly small step has led to a beautiful relationship with a beautiful boy whose story will change the lives of many, many people.  I get choked up just thinking about it.  Maybe God wants to connect your story with the story of a child somewhere in the world...it's not about writing a check every month.  It's about transformation - ours and theirs.  It could be there's a Kaleab out there waiting for you.  

Merry Christmas, friends.  Don't forget to head on over HERE to help change the world. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

JOY

I love Christmas.  I mean LOVE it.  I might be its biggest fan.  So much so, that after an all night 20 hour drive back home from Thanksgiving in Ohio, we pulled in the driveway at 5:45 a.m., took a two hour power nap and then proceeded to decorate the house for Christmas. 

We trimmed the tree...


We set up the Nativity scene...


We hung the stockings above the fireplace and then I noticed...


Yoj?? My "joy" was all backwards from hanging the garland a different way on the fireplace than I did last year.  I started to untie it so I could turn it around but then stopped.  Yoj.  Haven't I had the source of my joy backwards so often?  Haven't I looked for joy in the having and the getting?  The stuff instead of the Savior?  

We so carelessly sing the words to "Joy to the World" without swallowing whole their meaning...
JOY TO THE WORLD!!  THE LORD IS COME!  It was Christ's coming that brought the world into full joy.  It was God's GIVING that brings us a reason to sing.  So, my family is committing itself to no more backwards joy.  We want the real thing...


Mark Twain said "To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with."  And this season, there is a whole community of children in Korah, Ethiopia who we want to share the joy with.  You know how you meet someone and your encounter with them somehow changes forever who you are?  Well, that is what this precious community of kids has done for my family.  It has changed us forever.  They have shared their joy with us and now we get to share with them this Christmas.  Gone are the Christmases  of accumulating things for ourselves.  There's no real life found there.  It's in the giving, plain and simple. It makes me quite giddy, this giving.  

So, we invite you to give right along with us.  Through Children's HopeChest's Change Their Story 2012 Campaign, we are raising $5,000 that will go toward nutrition for the 210 kids at Hands for the Needy care point in Ethiopia.  The funds will go toward providing meat for the children on a consistent basis (right now, they only have meat twice a year on holidays), providing the cooks with electricity and stoves which will improve efficiency and reduce smoke inhalation, and also providing food for families who are in dire circumstances with nothing to eat.  

Let me share this another way...

I had the absolute joy of spending a few hours in a 10x20 corrugated metal building that makes up the kitchen at Hands for the Needy with these women...


 They spent hours hunched over chopping vegetables to prepare the meal for the kids in the feeding program.  


 They tended to two gigantic pots of stew over an open fire, choking on smoke the whole time.  And they did it all with joy in their hearts and smiles on their faces. 



Imagine their smiles if they had improved kitchen facilities and could more easily prepare their 210 meals!!

The children are so grateful for the opportunity to come to the care point and receive a healthy meal.  In July when we were there, we were able to provide a feast with two lambs.  We slaughtered the sheep on site and it was priceless to see their faces because they knew a good meal was coming!




Imagine what it would do for them to have such a great source of protein consistently!

Meet Benalfew.


he is an 8 year old boy who comes to the care point daily.  He lives with his mom in a small 8x10 room.  The way his mother has provided for them is by scavenging for plastics in the dump.  The week we were there, she stepped on a syringe that went into her foot.  Benalfew took us to his home to visit her, as she couldn't get out of bed at all since her foot was immensely swollen with infection.  

8 year old Benalfew, Sisay (staff at Hands for the Needy) and Benalfew's mother.


Benalfew's mother profusely thanked Yemamu and Sisay for taking such good care of him and feeding him daily.  She said that since she hadn't been able to go to the garbage dump because of her injury, there was no food at home.  Sisay and Yemamu had brought a supply of food with them to leave with her and her eyes filled up with tears.  She told them how Benalfew always comes home happy from the care point and how their lives have changed since he's been sponsored.  Now, she can eat sometimes because she doesn't have to worry about feeding Benalfew.  Her relief was palpable.  As we gathered around her to pray a blessing over her, she asked in a hushed whisper if we would please pray that she hadn't contracted HIV from the needle that went into her foot at the dump. Through our tears, we held hands and prayed together, asking God for a miracle. 

As much as we wish Benalfew's mother's story was the exception in Korah, it's not.  Our hope is that the money we raise through the Change Their Story Campaign this December will help provide a fund that can be used for situations such as this one.  

What Ben and I have been able to witness at Hands for the Needy time and time again is hope and transformation.  There is nothing else we would rather shout from the mountaintops this Christmas than "Joy to the world!  The Lord is come!".  He has come to the community of Korah and is changing lives every day.  We encourage you and your loved ones to consider giving to this campaign so that we can share the joy we have so freely been given.  Let's not waste another Christmas confusing the source of our joy.  It is found in giving like we've been given to.  There's just nothing like it. 
You can donate HERE.  We would be honored if you would share this link with your community of friends and family. 

Thank you so very much.   

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Room Called Remember



One way or another, we are always remembering.  There is no escaping it even if we want to, or at least no escaping it for long.  In one sense the past is dead and gone, never to be repeated - over and done with, but in another sense, it is of course not done with at all or at least not done with us.  Every person we have ever known, every place we have ever seen, everything that has ever happened to us – it all lives and breathes deep in us somewhere whether we like it or not, and sometimes it doesn't take much to bring it back to the surface in bits and pieces.  A scrap of some song, a book we read, a stretch of road we used to travel, an old photo or letter… there’s no telling what trivial thing may do it, and then suddenly, there it all is. 

We are all such escape artists, you and I.  We don’t like to get too serious about things, especially about ourselves.  When we are with other people, we are apt to talk about almost anything under the sun except what really matters to us, except our own lives, except what is going on inside our own skins.  We pass the time of day.  We chatter.  We hold each other at bay, keep our distance from each other even when God knows it is precisely each other that we desperately need.
 
We cling to the surface out of fear of what lies beneath it.  And why not, after all?  We get tired.  We get confused.  We need such escape as we can find.  But there is a deeper need I think, to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive to ourselves - to the long journeys of our lives with all their twists and turns and to where our journeys have brought us.  The name of the room is Remember – the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we consciously remember the lives we have lived.
 
So much has happened to us, within us and through us all over the years.  We are to take time to remember what we can about it and what we dare.  That’s what entering the room means, I think.  It means taking time to remember on purpose.  It means not picking up a book for once or turning on the radio, but letting the mind journey gravely, deliberately, back through the years that have gone by but are not gone.  Nobody knows the trouble any of us have seen – the hurt, the sadness, the bad mistakes, the crippling losses – but we know it.  We are to remember it.  
  
We have survived, you and I.  Maybe that is at the heart of our remembering.  We have made it to this year, this day.  We needn’t have made it.  There were times we never thought we would and nearly didn’t.  There were times we almost hoped we wouldn’t, were ready to give the whole thing up.  I can say for myself that I have seen sorrow and pain enough to turn the heart to stone.  Who hasn’t?  Many times I have chosen the wrong road, or the right road for the wrong reason.  Many times I have loved the people I love too much.  I have followed too much the devices and desires of my own heart, yet often when my heart called out to me to be brave, kind, and honest; I have not followed at all.

To remember my life is to remember countless times when I might have given up and gone under, when humanly speaking I might have gotten lost beyond the power of any to find me.  But I didn’t.  I have not given up.  And each of you, with all the memories you have and the tales you could tell, you also have not given up.  You also are survivors and are here.  And what does that tell us, our surviving?  It tells us that weak as we are, a Strength beyond our strength has pulled us through at least this far.  Foolish as we are, a Wisdom beyond our wisdom has flickered up just often enough to light us to the right path.   Faint of heart as we are, a Love beyond our power to love has kept our hearts alive. 

So in the room called Remember, it is possible to find peace that comes from looking back and remembering that though most of the time we failed to see it, we were never really alone.  We could never have made it this far if we had had only each other to depend on, because nobody knows better than we do ourselves the undependability and frailty of even the strongest of us.

King David cried out, “O give thanks to the Lord, make known His deeds among the peoples!  Remember the wonderful works that he has done.”  REMEMBER was the song David sang, and what a life David had to remember!  His failure as a husband and a father, his lust for Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, his crime against Naboth… all his failures, his betrayals, his hypocrisy.  But “Tell of His salvation from day to day”, his song continued nonetheless and continued all his life.  I take him to mean not just that the telling was to take place from day to day, but that salvation itself takes place from day to day.  Every day, as David remembered, he had been somehow saved – saved enough to survive his own darkness and lostness and folly, saved enough to go on through thick and thin to the next day and the next day’s saving and the next. 

It is the Lord, it is God, who has been with us through all our days and years whether we knew it or not, though more often than not we had forgotten his name. 

To remember the past is to see that we are here today by grace, that we have survived as a gift.  “Remember the wonderful works that He has done,” goes David’s song – remember what He has done in the lives of each of us; and beyond that remember what he has done in the life of the world; remember above all what he has done in Christ; remember those moments in our own lives when with only the dullest understanding but with the sharpest longing we have glimpsed that Christ’s kind of life is the only life that matters and that all other kinds of life are riddled with death; remember those moments in our lives when Christ came to us in countless disguises through people who one way or another strengthened us, comforted, healed us by the power of Christ alive within them.  All that is the past and what we remember.  And BECAUSE that is the past, BECAUSE we remember, we have this high and holy hope: that what He has done, He will continue to do, that what He has begun in us and our world, He will in unimaginable ways bring to fullness and fruition. 

“Let the sea roar, and all that fills it, let the field exult, and everything in it!  Then shall the trees of the wood sing for joy,” says David.  And SHALL is the verb of hope.  Then death SHALL be no more, neither SHALL there be mourning or crying.  Then SHALL my eyes behold him and not as a stranger.  Then His kingdom SHALL come at last and his will SHALL be done in us and through us and for us. 

Remember and hope.  Remember and wait.  Wait for Him whose face all of us know because somewhere in the past we have faintly seen it, whose life all of us thirst for because somewhere in the past we have seen it lived or have maybe even had moments of living it ourselves.  Remember him who himself remembers us. To have faith is to remember and wait, and to wait in hope is to have what we hope for already begin to come true in us through our hoping.  Praise Him. 

- Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark

Sunday, November 4, 2012

You Made Me Yours

There is a movement across the United States to make the first Sunday of every November "Orphan Sunday".  Many pastors use the pulpit on this weekend as a platform to raise awareness of the orphan crisis and call a sleepy Church to action.  My husband, Ben is in Seattle this weekend with Tom Davis doing that very thing. I am so thankful that people are recognizing God's heart for the orphan and, more importantly, moving beyond recognition to action that is rooted in love and justice.  

I stumbled upon these two photos tonight from our trip to Ethiopia in June.  Both of these were taken on our last day in Addis after having spent two weeks with both of our sponsored girls through Children's HopeChest. These were the final moments of saying good-bye...

Maezanesh, age 16
Mekdes, age 6


Both these precious girls don't have daddies.  I literally get choked up every time I look at these photos.  Mekdes and Maezanesh look SO happy and content receiving affection from Ben.  I think all three of them could have stayed in these moments forever.  

These girls aren't a statistic to us.  When we hear that there are somewhere around 163 million orphans in the world we think of Maezanesh and Mekdes.  We see THEIR faces.  We know THEIR stories.  We have laughed with them, held their hands, been in their homes and we love them.  We feel the weight of the loss they have known in their lives.  We have been so very blessed by them.

I think the photo of Ben with Maezanesh speaks volumes.  You can look in her eyes and see her literally drinking in the value, love and worth that Ben is speaking into her with just his tear filled eyes, his smile and his outstretched hand on her cheek - no words necessary.  People talk about magic moments.  This is no magic, people - this is what the real love of the Father looks like to an orphan.  This is what the love of the Father looks like to ME.  

We are all orphans at our core... longing for that arm of grace and love to so gently reach out and touch our cheek.  We long to have someone recognize us as valuable and beautiful regardless of our history.  We want to soak up every last drop of affection and love that we can.  But God has not left us as orphans - He has come to us and made us His own.  And we get the immense joy of looking Maezanesh and Mekdes in the eyes and saying to them "You are daughters.  You are loved and valued more than you can possibly imagine.  Pay no attention to the world that says you are worthless, because you are daughters of the King."  

I love these girls... with everything in me, I love them.  And it's not of my own merits that I love them, but simply because as the scripture says "Christ's love compels us". I look at my own broken life and the One who is piecing it all back together and I can't help but want to be a part of that same work of restoration in the lives of orphans who feel forgotten and alone. 

Back in April, I sat in a friend's living room and listened to Tim and Laurie Thornton of The Blackthorn Project sing the following words...

isn't it just like you to invite me into a warm house
isn't it just like you to stroke my hair as I fall asleep
Father you made me yours
found my orphan heart and brought it home
and I'm safe here and I sing
isn't it just like you to make a slave into your daughter
isn't it just like you to make wine out of dirty water

I used to live in chains
my wounds bled to the ground
my bed was out in the rain
my hair in knots and soaked in mud

but you took my hand
and you led me in
and you combed my hair
you kissed my skin
and you gave me food
you made me yours
YOU MADE ME YOURS.

In June I remember watching Mekdes walk through the doorway at the feeding center.  It had been raining and her feet were caked with mud,  her hair was matted and her clothes were soaked and filthy.  She ran right to me and put both hands up in the air signaling she wanted to be picked up.  I scooped her up instantly and smiled as she ran her dirty hands along my hair and face.  We giggled.  She belonged.  I belonged.  We were both daughters living in a moment of joy in the middle of the dirt. There is no describing this feeling to you.  It's like coming home... two orphaned hearts looking into each other's eyes and recognizing the Father.  Powerful stuff, friends.  It IS heaven on earth.  And there's more to be had.  Don't miss out.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Live Loved


My friends, do not grow weary.  And if you have grown weary, take rest in the thought, that all He wants from you is praise, not performance. If we come to Jesus with anything more than nothing, we come with too much.  All we need is need, because He's the one who does the work, and he's reworking all things into good for those who love Him. He's after a grateful people, not a perfect people. He's after a responsive people, not a self-helped one. LIVE LOVED.  That's our call.  That is our job.  Even when we're worn out, worn thin and feel like we've got nothing left to offer Him, all He demands is our nothing.  Like the old hymn says, "All the fitness He requires is to feel your need of Him."  Nothing is all we bring to Him because nothing is the place he can fill. - Mike Donehey

Monday, October 22, 2012

Wilderness



I'm in a season of life where I don't feel like I have words anymore.  Maybe they'll come back sometime, maybe not. But for now they are gone.  Poof.  As in disappeared.  For someone who loves words, that's sort of unfortunate. :)  But I'm learning to listen instead of talk.  I'm learning to be silent and be okay when I don't hear anything back.  I'm learning stillness even when everything in me wants to keep busy.  We get real in the stillness.  If we let ourselves, that is.  Quiet is scary.  Truth lives in the quiet and there's a lot of truth that's hard to face, isn't there? It's hard to bravely enter into that space... the one where there are no distractions, no things we are throwing ourselves into to avoid what we fear might be fighting its way to the surface.  That still place where we turn the mirror around and take a long, hard look inward to whatever is lurking there. 

So, while I spend the next little while stumbling through this wilderness, learning stillness and begging for truth, I'm just going to share things here on my blog that others have written and journeyed through.  It's mostly for me to come back to in those moments where I need a dose of reassurance or encouragement or courage, but maybe you'll find something in here too that feels like it's just for you.  One thing I do know... we all go through a wilderness of sorts. To believe we are the only ones is a lie.  I'm learning not to fight it but to let it happen, because in the wilderness we find ourselves.  There's a tiny verse of scripture in Jeremiah 31:2 that says "The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness."  That is what I'm banking on.  Grace in this wilderness.  And lots of it.  There are times when this business of living brings with it a storm of questions and doubts.  And that's good.  Fyodor Dostoevsky once said “It’s not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ.  My hosanna is born out of a furnace of doubt.” I love that.  I'm praying it's so. 

In the meantime, here's what's been speaking to my soul today...

Maybe only the saints are strong enough to look into the abyss - but it leads something deep in me to call out in Job's words  "Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!" Oh, that we, all of us, knew were we might find the One who beyond any world we can imagine, wipes every tear from our eyes and death from our hearts and creates all things new. Job and Paul both found Him before they were through.  I believe, that what Job was really after was not God's answer, but God's presence.  And of course that was what Job finally found because the way God entered the world without destroying it, was to enter Job's heart even as from the depths of his heart Job cried out to Him.  And that is the way He makes Himself present to all of us.  In the greatest aria that God sings in the entire Bible, he sets forth in gorgeous poetry all the mystery and grandeur of creation as a way of showing Job that the mystery is ultimately unfathomable, and it is then that Job finally says, "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you." And that was what Job needed above all else - not an explanation of suffering, but the revelation that even in the midst of suffering there is a God who is with us and for us and will never let us go. Turn around and believe that the good news that we are loved is gooder than we ever dared hope, and that to believe in that good news, to live out of it and toward it, to be in love with that good news, is of all glad things in this world the gladdest thing of all. Amen and come, Lord Jesus.  - Frederick Buechner

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

His Story


I can remember just like it was yesterday walking into the decorated, empty room we had gotten ready for our soon to be adopted son.  I remember curling up on the bed, hugging the stuffed monkey we’d bought him and wishing that it was my son.  I remember wondering what he was doing at that very moment… wondering if he felt loved and safe.  I thought about all the moments he had lived already that I would never fully know about.  As a mama, to not know all the answers to the questions that I’m sure will be asked some day is heart wrenching.   I remember the ache of just longing for my precious little boy to be with me…wrapped up in my arms.

I remember that time seemed to stand still as we waited for phone calls, paperwork, travel dates.  It felt like all the years of the adoption process and the waiting would never end.
 
Flash forward to a few weeks ago.  I am sitting next to my son in his first grade class listening to him talk about how he used to live in Africa.  He says it’s so sad that so many people have to drink dirty water just like he did.  He tells about how his baby brother died from drinking dirty water.  I fix my eyes on the floor as they well up with tears.  All I can think is that it could have been him.  It would have been him.  My throat is thick as I say how blessed we are to live in a country where we likely don’t have to walk more than 20 feet in our houses to find clean, good drinking water.  I sit and watch my son speak about his past…about HIS story.  We take turns going back and forth talking and trying to help the kids understand what children just like them have to drink every day and what they must do to get it.  I can see him remembering the very things he is speaking of as the words tumble out of his mouth.  I think about how Tariku literally means “his story” and I smile.   Aren't all our lives stories?  Isn't all the pain, the good, the struggle, the hope just begging to be told?



I remember crying many tears in his empty room just over two years ago, longing for my son to be home with me.  And now the tears flow freely as I sit next to him and see how his story has shaped his heart so beautifully.  It really is true - our pain, our mistakes…they don’t define us.  They shape us.  Tariku’s difficult past isn't who he is.  It’s a part of his story.  Just like him being loved and treasured and valued is a part of his story.  He inspires me.  He shows me that we choose how we respond to the good, the bad and the ugly.  He is choosing to take a terrible life circumstance and use it to help others.  He is showing me what healthy vulnerability looks like even at age 7.  No hiding.  No fear.  No shame.  He is who he is.  And that, my friends, is simply beautiful.  

*Tariku is halfway to his goal of raising $5,000 for his clean water project through Charity:Water.  If you’d like to be involved, you can go HERE to donate.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

It's Our Turn


Last night my son, Tariku wrapped his arms around me as we lay cuddled up together in his bed.   He whispered prayers as he does every night for the people he remembers back in Ethiopia.  He asked that his friends back in the orphanage would “get a great family just like he has” and that they would have food to eat and clean water to drink.  Every night he prays this prayer.  I mean every night…without fail.

He says amen and we talk about how it’s his 7th birthday the next day.  I ask him what he wants for his birthday and he says “besides getting the kids in Africa clean water?”  I smile and he tells me he just wants a pocket knife and some Ethiopian food for dinner. Check. Consider it done, buddy.  Then he starts to ask me how many people I think he’ll be able to get clean water for.  “More people than I helped for my 5th birthday?”  I tell him anything’s possible.  Then he starts asking why clean water has to cost money.  “Couldn’t everyone have clean water if it was free?” Yes, son, I suppose they could.  “Mom, when I grow up, I’m going to make sure I have lots and lots of money so that all the kids in Africa can have clean water and go to the doctor and have nice schools and houses.  And I’ll build the biggest house in the world so that all the kids who don’t have families can live with me.  How much money do you think that will take, mom?”

I’m half smiling, half fighting back the tears.  My seven year old is contemplating ending poverty AND the orphan crisis in Africa and apparently he’s going to do it single-handedly. I'm so proud of his compassionate heart.  But there's this part of me that cringes on the inside at the thought of what it will do to him when he starts to realize he can’t do it.  Immediately, I feel ashamed of myself.  Aren't there enough dream squashers out there already?  Maybe what the world needs is more people like my son – people who can recognize a need and just decide to do what they can about it.  Who says he can’t help give clean water to the kids in Africa?  Who says he can’t build a big old house where orphans can have a home? Who says he can’t?
 
For his 5th birthday, he raised $5,000 in one week so that 87 people in Nguerenguer Village in Central African Republic could have clean water.  You can read that story HERE if you missed it to find out exactly why our family is so passionate about clean water. 

This was where the people of Nguerenguer Village used to go for water. 




Then Tariku started his campaign and with the money raised, this is now their new water source:



Amazing, right?!  A five year old boy helped change the lives of 87 people.  87 people like you and me, with families and worries and hopes and dreams.   

I guess the bottom line is that I'm learning not to discount my son's dreams and desires. In fact, isn't it our children who sometimes lead us?  He made a difference for those 87 people in Central African Republic and now he wants to do it again for his 7th birthday in Rwanda.  We were watching the Charity:Water video below about this year's September campaign and I had to keep pausing it because his questions were coming fast and furious. “Mom, how far do those kids have to walk to get that dirty water?”  “Mom, maybe we can make them a path that isn't so long so they don’t have to walk as far.”  "Mom, do those kids really miss school because they have to get water?"  “Mom, that guy said it’s our turn to get to work.  It’s not his turn- it’s MINE.”  

And that about sums it up.  It's Tariku's turn.

Would you consider helping him reach his goal of raising $5,000 for his 7th birthday to help provide the people of Rwanda with clean water?  I just wish I could bottle up his enthusiasm and excitement and send it straight over to you.  If ever I've wanted my son to succeed at something, it is now.  His whole heart is in this and he understands the importance of this issue because he has lived it himself in Ethiopia.  He has suffered the diarrhea that comes from drinking contaminated water.  At a young age, he has followed his step-mother down to the pond to collect drinking water.  He has experienced the loss of his little brother, who succumbed to the effects of their contaminated water.  This is issue is very real for him, as it is for so many in the world today. 

And now it's his turn to do something about it.  We encourage you to join him as he uses his story to help change the lives of people in Rwanda.  

Watch the video below to see where your dollars will go and how they will help.  Then go HERE to make your tax deductible donation to Tariku's campaign.  I can't thank you enough for helping Tariku see that he really can change the world. It's your turn. 



September Campaign 2012 Trailer: Rwanda from charity: water on Vimeo.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Beautiful Scars



"We all have scars, but as we run our fingers along their rough edges may we not have bitterness or self-pity or guilt; may we feel redeemed." - Mike Donehey


Scars.  Nobody seems to like them much because they mean we had a wound and who likes to be wounded??  Who really likes to have their scars show? The one on my back is a raised, red, crinkly one; the lines of which you can even see through my t-shirt.  Sometimes there is just no hiding our scars.  My mind flashes back to my Savior, who willingly held out out His hands and welcomed His beloved to inspect His scars.  

It's by His wounds we are healed. His scars reflect victory.  

If we have scars, it means we have healed from something.  My cancer scar symbolizes that I went from death to life.  It reminds me that for the first time in 12 years I went to the dermatologist for one pesky little mole and he found a spot in a totally different place that would have gone unnoticed and probably taken my life.  My scar has grace and mercy written all over it and because of that I am growing to love it...in fact I am overwhelmingly grateful for it.  

The truth is, we all have scars whether they show or not.  Some of us wear our scars on the inside where past pain and wounds have been inflicted either by others or by ourselves.  It's easy for me to sit here and write about the obvious scar on my back from my cancer, but I know that I have scars deep inside of me that no one sees.  These inward scars can tend to be the ones we despise the most.  When I allow myself to actually touch them I feel pangs of guilt and sometimes bitterness.  But God touches those same scars and as He runs His finger along their rough edges He simply whispers "Redeemed". 

The truth is we struggle to see ourselves the way He sees us.  In a world of plastic surgery, pasted on smiles and counterfeit perfection, we can begin to drown in the reality of our mess.  We feel less than.  But God looks at you and I and He sees all our failures, all our wounds, all our struggles, all our scars and He simply says "Hello, lovely.  Redemption looks good on you".  Jesus came and identified with every wound you and I carry.  But He didn't just come to identify with them - He came to HEAL them.  The wounds that He suffered were so that ours could be restored.  So He looks at us, marred, battered and bruised and His heart leaps because He loves His job...making beautiful things out of our messed up lives. It's His delight to help us know that we are loved regardless of any mark we may carry.   

I can't help but think about Etanaite in Ethiopia as I write this.  Some of you may remember her story from when I first met her in September of 2011.  She was raped, impregnated and outcast as a teenager. She carried such profoundly deep wounds.  I got to spend time with her again in Ethiopia last month and the difference in her was startling.  


  
Her smile lit up the room.  As she went from table to table serving the children in the feeding program, her laughter carried across the room.  The difference in her was night and day.  She hugged me so tightly I could hardly breathe, whereas before, her eyes were cast down on the ground and her arm hung limply around me.  I think this is what happens when our wounds become scars.  There's a joy that comes with our healing.  There's an ability to walk again with a spring in our step as we look at our scars and see their beauty. Etainette's wounds were out to kill and destroy her spirit, but Love so gently stepped in and stitch by stitch sewed her back together. 

I pray today that you would look at your scars and find that they remind you of Hope.  We'll get more gaping, oozing wounds in this life, to be sure.  But they won't stay that way because we have a God who is deeply committed to our healing and wholeness.  Allow Him to bind up your wounds so that when they become scars your only response will be to whisper the word "Redeemed".  Because that is what we are.



Thursday, August 23, 2012

On A Limb

God, You have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.  Augustine
The first time I saw this picture it literally took my breath away.  I saw myself immediately. It was her eyes that caused me to recognize myself.  While her body looks at rest, you can see something in her eyes.  Her crossed legs and folded hands give the illusion of peace, but her eyes and mouth are a dead give away for some level of discomfort...some degree of hesitancy.  Yet there she sits, literally hanging out on a limb.  

And aren't we all just hanging out on a limb in some way? 

What I love about this picture is that although her arms are over the branch, it's the limb that is actually holding her.  Her only task is to lean in and rest.  While I love being able to see her eyes, I almost wish that they were closed.  But I suppose having them open is a better picture of the reality most of us choose every day.  We almost rest.  We come close to almost tuning the noise of the world out.  We almost trust that the limb that is holding our sometimes crushing weight will actually do just that - hold.  But instead, our eyes open and tenuously look about us. Even as we assume a posture of rest, it's feigned.  

Jesus says "Are you tired?  Worn out?  Come to me.  Get away with me and you'll recover your life.  I'll show you how to take a real rest." - Matthew 11:28 (The Message) 

I admit it.  I'm tired.  I'm worn out. Okay, the truth is I'm exhausted and I want a real rest. My burdens seem heavy, my failures seem great and my vision is blurry. Yet I'm not even as smart as the little girl in the picture...I won't even climb up on that limb to give myself an opportunity to rest.  How foolish. The Tree of Life has never stopped calling my name and beckoning me into a real rest. 

It's time to climb up on that limb, throw my arms over the branch, lay my head down and close my eyes.  In rest, the Tree carves truth and identity into me.  The Tree breathes oxygen into my soul, life into my very being. I am a mere shell without it. 

"For I will restore health to you and your wounds I will heal," declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 30:17)  Did you catch that?  There's nothing for us to do except come to the Lord and let HIM restore us. He does the work, because after all, rest that we have to work for is no rest at all.  God desires that we simply receive from Him.  And yet somehow, that makes me skittish.  Simply RECEIVE??? It goes against the grain.  My mind tells me I can both receive AND continue working towards something.  However, I know this one thing deeply - my doing has become my undoing.  And there is Jesus saying just COME. RECEIVE. REST. BE.   

So this squirming little girl is going to climb up on that limb after all.  And she's going to recover her life.