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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

.The Importance of a Calling.

I am not a theologian, so I won't pretend to be one. I am simply a Jesus follower, who has the same Holy Spirit living inside of me that a theologian has. That's my only qualification for writing this post; that and my own life experience. As we get closer and closer to our move to Ethiopia, I have been reflecting a lot on our calling. When I say calling, just so that we are all on the same page, as the term tends to be interchangeable and muddy, I am referring to God's intimate, individual invitation to a person, to partner with God in His Kingdom work here on earth, by carrying out a specific task. I don't want to spiritualize the definition or get too churchy, so let's agree on this definition for the sake of this post.

I have shared so many times here about how God drew our family into this specific calling, so I don't want to rehash too many of the details. However, it never gets old for me to look back and see how God has slowly, graciously, and beautifully been whispering His invitation to me as far back as I can remember. When, as a little girl, I sat in AWANA mesmerized by those missionary stories read to me, He was whispering. When a little later I felt my heart race as I listened to missionaries who shared their experiences. Or how on every single spiritual gift assessment test that I have taken in my lifetime, my gift always comes up as "mercy", and how I was born loving the broken, underdogs, and rejected people in this world. More whispers. So many whispers, from being drawn to Africa in college and considering teaching in the Ivory Coast, to finally landing on Ethiopian soil for the first time and feeling a peace in my soul that I had never, ever felt before. In realizing when being in Ethiopia those first ten days, that although I was experiencing the worst pain that I had ever imagined, as my eyes were opened to incredible needs and I entered people's stories, that I was also the most content that I had ever been in my life. And the whisperings continued. There were moments, when I knew that I knew that God was moving us to Ethiopia, and I would have an amazing peace, only to have it quickly snatched away by fear and doubt. This happened over and over for three years after landing in Ethiopia. For three years we found very good, logical reasons to say "no" to God's calling - his invitation to join the work He was doing in Ethiopia with street kids.

Even when we witnessed the miracle of redemption in our home with our son, who was a former street child, and understood that we had discovered a great purpose in discipling him and sharing the love and mercy of Jesus, and what it means to live in a family with him, and how God had uniquely skilled us for that task - even when we let ourselves think about how we might use those very same skills for other children in Ethiopia we said "no". Even though, this very "work" of joining God in the transformation of a street child felt so good and right (even in the hard moments), and without a doubt I now know, this is what we were meant to do; we still said "no". Even though we felt the most purpose in abundant family life, and discipling others to find that same joy was the beat of our heart; we still said "no". I am so thankful for a God Who is so patient with us, and just waited and continued to quietly invite us to say "yes", and I am thankful for the people in our lives who saw the invitation long before we did and upon hearing the news exclaimed, "what took you so long?" Such sweet confirmation. God's calling started years ago, it wasn't something that we suddenly woke up and discovered, it was just something that we finally had eyes to see and recognize.

Some may wonder why a call is so important in the first place. Why does it matter if you know you are called, as long as it is something you have the desire to do? And although desire does have a place in the call, desire will not be what sustains us. It is with certainty that I can write that there will be hard, excruciatingly painful, taxing days, weeks, months to come for our family in Addis Ababa. God doesn't invite people to comfortable; He invites them to share in His suffering. There is nothing easy or comfortable about moving a family to a third world country, and this is not me being a martyr or looking for a pat on the back - this is just plain reality. We are walking in, having counted the cost, with the full understanding that what we were invited into will be hard. However, I have great hope, that on those discouraging days, when we are homesick, when we make mistakes, when we lose a supporter, when nothing is going the way we planned, the certainty of this call on our life will sustain us, and the very One Who called us will walk the hard with us.

Adversity is sure to come, because the adversary does not like Kingdom work. The adversary is a pro at planting seeds of doubt, but remaining confident in the truth that we have been invited into this work will keep us grounded. I love that a call always invites us into what God is already doing. His Kingdom advancement is not dependent on us, yet He invites us and carves out a place where the talents He has gifted us with can be used. One thing that God keeps bringing to mind, through various resources, is that there are people that have gone before us in Addis and will come after us, we have no superman complex, we are simply linking arms with what God is already doing. It is an exciting thing to know that we are being invited into this!

I am really thankful for the peace and confidence that this calling brings to my life. To learn more, click here. The creativity and intimacy that He pours into His calls are inspiring. I love hearing the many, many different ways that He is using all of us to advance His Kingdom. Please feel free to share your calling in the comments below. It's part of your story, and part of the Great story He is weaving together. I can't wait to hear yours.




Tuesday, July 29, 2014

.Waving my White Flag on the Mommy War.

Before becoming a mommy, I dreamed about what it would be like. I envisioned how I would protect my children and their hearts, and I anticipated having to fight for my children at times. But what I didn't anticipate was who it was that I would often fight against.

Other mommies.

 Yup, that's right, I excitedly became a member of the Mommy Club and then soon fell into the Mommy War.






I am ashamed to admit how much I have participated in this. I would love to say that it was naivety in being a new mom that drove me to engage, but truth be told, I just wanted to do this mommy thing right. And when so much is at stake - the very life and development of another human being - we get pretty defensive about what we have decided is right. The defensiveness quickly escalates to criticisms and judgments and then all out war - just to protect that rightness - and to make sure that we feel good about our choices and look good, too. It's a really ugly manifestation of insecurity in our own decisions. I am kind of exhausted of it, though.

Just shy of ten years of being inside this Mommy Club, I have finally come to the place where I understand that what is right for one family, for one child, is not universally right for every family, for every child. It's just not. There's no cookie-cutter method of parenting. 

I am overwhelmed over the lack of grace we women  - mommies - give each other. It's yucky. It's like a grown-up version of junior high, and that gives me the shivers. There is not a topic that is safe, everything is subject to her disapproval.

To breastfeed or bottle feed
To use breast milk or formula
To work or stay home
To eat natural or not
To cloth diaper or disposable diaper
To home school, private school, or public school
To do Santa Claus, Halloween, the Easter bunny or not
To allow screen time or not and how much
To be a helicopter parent or raise free-range children
To spank or not to spank....

The list could go on for days. The battles are endless. The lines are constantly drawn, and engagement in the war is seen everywhere - on TV, on social media, at the park, at church - everywhere - no place is safe.






Why do we feel so entitled to challenge other mommies on the choices her family has made? I dare say that this superiority (for deep down when we look at the ugly underbelly of the war - superiority is at the root - superiority entwined with insecurity) is destroying the beautiful village feel that somewhere inside the heart of all moms, we need and crave. How can we be a village with other women, when we are constantly defending our choices, and in the defending, criticizing hers? To me, having a village of lifetime friendships with other women, regardless of our parenting styles and choices, sounds so much better then feeling right about my choices, and therefore living in isolation, because our parenting choices will never ever perfectly match her parenting choices.

In the past, I have waxed eloquently (errr maybe just waxed) about some of my own decisions in parenting. I specifically remember the topic of home schooling, and how strongly I once felt about that topic. Don't get me wrong, I do love home schooling, and after taking a year off, have once again chosen that as the method of education for my children. But it is not the best choice for every family. It's really, really not. It was not our best choice this past year. So, we didn't do it. We took a much needed break. We chose private school, and we chose it simply because that is where our oldest son had to attend on his student visa, and in an effort to streamline our chaotic life a bit, we sent our oldest daughter to the same private school. But I don't need to defend that choice. It was the best decision for our family for that time. And if public school had been the best decision, we would not have hesitated to choose that. In that moment, of that decision, I found peace, clarity, and grace. I stopped worrying if, because she was still home schooling her children, and I wasn't, she was a better mommy than I was - I stopped wondering if she was enough while I never would be. Because there is really no such thing. None of us are enough, and that's why we need to show our children that Jesus is enough. Honestly, that will probably look quite different for all of us.






So, I am waving my white flag in this Mommy War. Instead of comparing myself to how she mommies, I will, with God's direction, do what is right - right now - for my family. I will choose to stop defending my choices and criticizing hers. The criticism is just insecurity anyway, and my security doesn't need to come from another mom's approval of how I parent. I want to instead be a beautiful member of that Mommy Club, and notice our unique differences, strengths, goals, dreams, passions, etc. I want to take the time to notice the truth that most mommies are doing what is best for their family right now. It's true, all of us moms have short-comings. We will all make mistakes in this journey of parenting, there is no such thing as a perfect mommy, but most likely, we don't need our mistakes pointed out. We will get there and grow in our parenting. And in between all of the gaps and mess-ups, Jesus fills them in, and He can use us to help fill them in, too, when we wave our white flag and offer grace to one another.






I think that we can  really play a part in trying to end these silly Mommy Wars, and link arms and spread grace inside of the Mommy Club. Let's be a different generation. Let's not divide ourselves - the world does a good enough job at that already. Let's be a safe, beautiful place for each of us to be the mommy God created us to be. I don't want to be offended by her, or judge her, or size myself up by her. I just want to be part of a sisterhood that encourages and champions her wherever she is in her journey. We are in this together - we all answer to the same name, Mommy. We are all her.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

.Homestretch.

First we targeted January, and then June to move our family to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. But God still had things for us to learn in the here and now. He was still preparing our family - tweaking us here and there  - and growing us as we realize this too is part of the journey. We continue to push and pray and trust His timing, although it's not always comfortable or easy, and some days we just plain don't like the timeline we are on, and honestly feel as if, at times, we are being yanked around. But in the still quiet moments, when we take the time to really search our hearts, we know that He is here and has allowed us to remain still for a reason and a season - for a purpose. We trust that. And in this moment, we have been present for so much, for our baby girl to attend her first (and perhaps last) ever year in a traditional school, for our oldest son to get to experience another year of soccer here in America and recent surgery to repair a torn ACL and meniscus, for the death and funeral of my grandma, the birth of our niece, the moment we got the call that my sister had suffered several strokes and God had spared her life, for Jamesy to grow and thrive and develop his communication skills in huge ways, for Scotty to participate in soccer for the first time, for moments spent with extended family that otherwise could not have happened, and for all of the in between moments that we will tuck into our hearts and carry across the ocean - moments that will sustain us on those days when we are so homesick and question what we have done - for those are sure to come.

It's been a little over a year now since we said "yes, we will move to Africa, yes, we will sell our belongings, yes, we will leave behind our family and the life we have built here, and yes, we will devote our lives to sharing the mercy of Jesus with children living on the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia."

Sell everything and go.

It sounds so easy and simple, but the actual reality of it is long and arduous and sometimes hard. We are living this right now, and it takes a toll in huge ways. But in it all we continue to see God's hand, His confirmation, and amazing ways in which He is moving in order for us to be able to move.

In the midst of the questions and conversations, we see Him.

We have counted the cost so many times - the physical, relational, and mental costs. We have prayed over the safety of our children and we have mourned all that we leave behind and all that we will miss.

the births
the deaths
the birthdays
the holidays
the phone calls
the drop-ins
the luxuries
the conveniences

And everything in between.

It's a complicated season - a complicated dance - a choice to continue to say yes, to continue to obey and put one step in front of the other, even when those steps seem to still be so far behind the finish line of actually moving. We are fleshing out this call of obedience to the children of Addis - even here in the wait and the pursuit. We are in the reality of the flippantly used phrase "sell everything and go". A phrase that has taken us a year to live out and begin to understand.

And in the hard, there have been tears, frustrations, mourning, questions, restlessness, and uncertainty, but there has also been determination, grace, mercy, peace, laughter, hope, expectation and no turning back.

We're in the homestretch now. We're not the same people that we were a year ago when we set out on this adventure, and a year from now, I hope the same will be true. This all has been part of the beautiful story the Author is writing over our family. His pen is poised over the next chapter, and we are ready for Him to scratch out this next part.

With pounding hearts, a little fear, a lot of hope, and open hands, we are nearing ready.


[To learn more about how we hope to partner with God in building His Kingdom in Addis Ababa, please visit our site here.]


Monday, May 19, 2014

.Connecting the Dots.

Our church is working through a series on justice, and what God has to say about it, and what that means for us as followers of Jesus. Our hearts became open, as a family, to the Spirit's leading and conviction in this area a few years back, but this is the first time that we have been given the privilege of sitting under leadership and wrestling with this subject inside of a faith community. And it's pretty wild. There are well over 2,000 verses in the Bible that touch on justice. In Hebrew the word justice and righteousness are translations of the same word. Somehow many of us have missed that! Justice and righteousness mean "to make right", and we have all been invited to partner with God in this.  So many followers of Jesus squirm at the idea of "social justice" , and it has become a controversial issue inside of Christianity - another issue in which we can separate over and judge one another. I am afraid that we have forgotten or ignored that the gospel of Jesus addresses the whole man - not just the spiritual man. Look at the life and posture of Jesus, He was constantly addressing the needs of the whole person - yes, the heart - the spiritual, but think of how many times he also addressed the physical needs as well. Jesus fed the hungry, He healed the sick, He stood up for the rights of women, He defended the oppressed, He loved the outcasts and the sinners. He engaged the whole person and their needs time after time - the heart, soul, mind, and body. We are supposed to imitate Jesus. That is what we have been called to do. So we are wrestling through this as a faith community, and I am so thankful to be doing so.

Last night our church hosted an opportunity for us to watch the movie Nefarious: Merchant of Souls




This was a documentary that exposed the very real truth about sex trafficking. While slavery is something that Jim and I have had our eyes opened to in the past few years, and have changed some of our purchasing and spending habits, so as not to add to the slavery pandemic, this movie still took my breath away. I don't think I can ever "get used to" this kind of injustice. I pray that I can't.

But it also connected dots.

I was watching the movie last night with tears streaming down my cheeks, thinking that we had to do something and feeling that familiar guilt begin to creep into my heart - because I am such a bleeding heart and cannot ignore this stuff. It changes me and moves me to action, which can be so good, but can also be so exhausting. So, as I was sitting there, with mascara smeared under my eyes, and feeling a bit panicky wondering how we could tackle this issue of sex trafficking, as well as what God has called us to with street boys in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, God sweetly and gently breathed grace over me and connected the dots.

Justice issues are all intertwined. I think I understood that better than ever before after last night. Jim and I, and our non-profit, Mercy Branch Inc., have some big dreams for Ethiopia, and for the street kids there. The dreams are expansive and God-sized, and we are placing all of our confidence in God and partnering with Him in these dreams. Yes, we have been called to street boys - our hearts are for these specific children. We are em-burdened with a passion to see them grow into godly men and leaders and fathers and change their country - bringing justice to it - setting things right. But last night, I realized how our calling to these boys is part of a much bigger, broader story that God is writing - because again - justice issues are all intertwined. Many boys end up on the streets of Addis because they were stolen from the countryside and forced into labor. After years of abuse and labor, many of these boys, eventually find themselves abandoned to the streets. Other boys are forced onto the street for other reasons - sometimes by their families who are trapped in desperate poverty. The family forces the boy onto the street to work and bring back income to the family. Some boys are prostituted (most girls are). Sexual abuse and exploitation of these boys is a growing problem in Addis Ababa, because of their living situation. Street children are the primary victims of sexual assault in Addis Ababa. The magnitude and gravity of sexual assault on boys is increasing in the city at a frightening rate.

Part of Mercy Branch's dreams are to find at-risk families - families that are very close to pushing their children onto the street - and empower them to be able to sustainably meet their needs, disciple them into a relationship with Jesus, and foster a whole, healthy family relationship. This is street child prevention, and it is vital.  Another aspect is discipling street children back into their families, and when that is not possible discipling them into domestic adoption. Our hopes and dreams is that families can be preserved and that men can be discipled into godly leaders, husbands, and daddies who fight for justice - who understand the value of family and seek for wholeness in family. If more godly men stood up for this in Ethiopia, than the number of children in that country that are sex trafficked would drastically decrease, because the number of street children would drastically decrease. A country of godly men, who seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God could radically change a culture. But is starts small -with one generation - with a few families and a few boys. So, that is where we begin, knowing that God is the One Who connects the dots and fills in the gaps - He is the One setting things right, and we are humbled and so thankful to be invited to partner with Him in this.


The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
Luke 4:18-19



To learn more about partnering with Mercy Branch Inc. in bringing justice to Ethiopia, please visit our website here.

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