Wednesday, November 28, 2012


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

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.