Monday, December 31, 2012


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 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 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'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.