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Friday, May 15, 2015

.A Spoonful of Honesty.

We are headed into our eighth month living here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We continue to love this city and the people, and to feel as if we are exactly where God wants us to be. We have spent half a year  intentionally leaning into God and His purpose for us here. Some original plans fell through, and God clearly has pointed us in the direction of creating a brand new indigenous NGO for street children. This is way bigger than what we had prepared for, but it is exactly how God loves to display His perfect strength - in our broken weakness. As God’s purpose and plans have been unfolded we continue to solidify our methodology and philosophy for working with children, and at its simple core it comes down to pursuit. For years we have seen how the Gospel, how Jesus, pursues. Jesus doesn’t wait for us to be ready for change or to even have a desire for change. He doesn’t wait until we have cleaned ourselves up, or have outwardly changed our behaviors, so that we look as if we measure up to His standards, because the truth is there is nothing inside of us that can change or even be ready with a desire to change outside of the working, initiation, and pursuit of Jesus Christ. If we are to be imitators of Jesus, then we must pursue, and that pursuit must be relentless and not dependent upon anything that the child/person does. Through much thinking and praying a three part purpose for Mercy Branch Inc. emerged. A purpose that we believe in and see beautifully exemplified in the Gospel. The three parts must coexist but flow from the first one, and are as follows: relentless pursuit of the whole person, radical grace, and reverent mercy. That’s easy to write, and lovely to think about, and I really do believe deep inside that it is the core of the Gospel. But let me tell you, that there are far, far easier philosophies and methodologies out there than this one, and the past few weeks as we cemented God’s plans and purposes and committed to establishing an NGO that echoes the Gospel, the enemy has attacked the very heart of what we want to do. It’s as if God is allowing us to be tested in this very commitment right here in our own family.

Is this what you really believe?

Are you really willing to pursue like I have pursued you? Because it is hard, messy, and it hurts.

I am going to try to be transparent with you, and yet be ambiguous enough to still protect the privacy of my family. Although we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are exactly where we should be, these past few weeks have been very, very hard for our family. Everything kind of crescendoed today when my children found their puppy had died. It’s time for a little honesty and to get our spiritual boxing gloves on, and to gather our people around us in solidarity and prayer. I am sick and tired of the cowardly way that Satan is attacking our family – by targeting our children. It started way back in February, when it was brought to our attention that rumors were flying, and apparently had been for years, about our family. Disgusting, filthy, and grotesque accusations that “Christians” were giving ears to and seemingly perpetuating. We were crushed. It seems so many times when we seek out authentic community with believers, we are instead wounded and betrayed. Sadly these rumors really involved our oldest child. Satan is very crafty, and he knows our weaknesses and insecurities so intimately. He knew these horrible speculations would plant a huge seed of doubt in our child’s, already traumatized heart. He knew the way to do it was to attack family and have adults question his very identity in our family. It literally makes me shake with anger even as I type this. As parents we desire to protect and nurture the hearts of our children and give them security as a member of our family. This is an especially unique challenge when your child has spent years rejected, abandoned, abused, and not part of any family. Unfortunately, Satan used these lies to manipulate, not only the minds of people, but also our child. He used other lies as well, but all of the lies built upon these rumors. These lies culminated in us coming dangerously close to losing our son. I cannot and will not go into specific details – none are needed. It was the most horrifying, terrifying, and painful experience that we have ever had as parents (and we have had our fair share prior to this). This is where the rubber met the road, and we had to put all of our beliefs about the Gospel into practice – we had to pursue and pursue and pursue. Behavior modification and trying to make a child follow rules is so, so much easier than pursuing the heart and the entire child with grace and mercy. Let me tell you that as a family, we all HURT, and although it looks as if we are slowly limping to the other side, it still hurts, and we are still pursuing – all four of our children through this ugly time.

Satan absolutely hates families. We believe that it is inside of a family that healing can take place, and Satan would much rather traumatized children never heal. We believe that street children can best experience true healing and freedom in Jesus inside of a family – a family that pursues at all costs. Our son is NO longer a street child, and we have treated him as nothing less than our beloved son (because that is WHO HE IS), but we have had to and continue to have to pursue him in crazy, intense ways. Knowing so much about us and about families, course Satan is magnificent at attacking and destroying families. BUT HE CAN’T HAVE MINE. We are surrounding ourselves with truth from God’s Word, with the knowledge that Jesus is pursuing each one of us, praise and worship music and very, very tangible reminders that we are a family – family that God miraculously established. We have a team of counselors firmly surrounding us, and we have God for us. To be honest, we still desire to find community here with other Kingdom builders, but sadly we will now proceed more cautiously. God has given us just one precious family to steward, to cherish, to protect, and to build up for His Kingdom. This is our primary role here on earth, at this time, no matter where we live, or what else God has called us to.
Yesterday, Jim got to explicitly share the Gospel with someone whom we love like family.  For almost eight months we have been praying and pursuing this person, and we have gotten the privilege of watching Jesus pursue him. This morning we hung up a gallery wall of family portraits to daily remind us that we are in this together, and that we truly are FAMILY. At nearly the same time that we experienced these glimpses of grace and mercy poured out over us, the childrens’ beloved puppy unexpectedly died. They are grieving and hurting, as she has played a vital role in comforting them here in a strange country so far away from what they are familiar with. This is not just a coincidence. Satan is alive and well, and he is not done with us. He sees something in us that perhaps we cannot yet see. He is forecasting a future for our family here in Ethiopia that terrifies him. I don’t know what he plans to do next or how he will attack, but we are readying ourselves for this battle. Jim and I are praying over our family, our marriage, and our future ministry with children here in Addis, and we humbly ask you to do the same. We are so not special or super-spiritual. We are messy. We are broken. We are normal – just a family who desires to follow Jesus. We know that God wins in the end, but we desperately desire to come to the end unified and together. Our family can’t be a casualty. So I share this to ask you stand beside us in prayer. None of us were meant to do this alone.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

.The Life I was Missing.

Four years.

It has been four years since I first set foot in this country. Four years ago today that I held my youngest child for the first time. Four years ago Monday that my oldest son completely ripped my heart from my chest, and a burning passion was lit inside of me for children who have had their childhood stolen from them. Four years since I left my blonde little babies an ocean away, and in turn radically changed the life they once knew. Four years since this country captured my heart and beckoned me here. Everything changed in those first moments. Little did I know that four years ago 31 year old me was about to have her world completely turned upside down. I didn’t know what I was getting into, and I am glad because I am mostly a coward. God knew that, so He kept me in the dark until I was too far smitten to do anything but follow the wild path He set my feet upon.

Looking back it all started rather simplistically. We wanted another baby, but my pregnancies were rough, so that led to tender hearts toward adoption. Ethiopia had what appeared to be a crisis at the time-  a crisis of orphaned children needing families. We were a family. We wanted another child. It made sense. So we said yes to adoption and to Ethiopia, and then to our special, sweet Jamesy, and then to Habtamu, and all the while our world tilted off axis and lines, that we had once drawn, blurred. And in it all I held my breath waiting for everything to right once again and return to normal. I waited for friends to return, for the American Dream to take hold again, for our family to blend back in, for life to return to the easy pleasantness that it once held, for Jesus to stop asking us to do crazy, wild things. Our yes was over, and it was time to get back to normal.

But normal never showed back up, and a new normal took its place. Sometimes in my most honest moments I grieve the loss of that normal, but mostly I embrace this adventure that my Jesus has so lovingly invited me into. I feel as if I am one of the lucky ones, as I get to look back to a specific moment in time, four years ago exactly, when everything changed.

I now live this one, wild life back in the country where it all began. There are late nights with no power and cold showers and spiders and dust everywhere. And there is laughter and life and love. I cannot walk outside the safety of our gate without being surrounded by children. Some of them are teeny tiny and some are bigger than my own big boy. Some dirty and tattered – so dirty that to touch them makes me stink with them. And some not as much. My hands are always grabbed and smiles are abundant, as are hugs and kisses. My hair is touched, my clothes yanked on, and always a silly grin is plastered across my face in a contented happiness I have never before known.  My heart is continually stretched, and I so desire to pick up the life of Jesus here – to make every person that I encounter feel as if they matter – because they do. I have been making this my goal every time I walk out my gates. It is simple and yet I believe it is exactly what Jesus did. I cannot help everyone who comes to me, there are just too many. How can I pick and choose the countless street children that I encounter? The magnitude of the needs just outside my door are surreal. The number of starving children and half grown men addicted to chat and young mamas begging on the corners overwhelms me. How do I choose who to help? Most days, unless the Spirit clearly prompts me, I can’t choose. But I can look every person in the eye and acknowledge them as another human being. I can love in big ways just by giving a dirty street child a hug and a squeeze – just by noticing them when everyone else hurries on by. I can imitate Jesus just by seeing them. I am learning this and putting it into practice every day, and it is changing everything. It is changing me.

At home my lap is constantly full, sometimes with my blonde babies, sometimes with brown-eyed babies, and even still sometimes with my teenage boy who even after two years of security still questions whether this mama can really love him. Our house is seldom quiet. Languages collide and shouts and giggles echo off the walls. Currently I answer to “Mom” from seven people, and my head swims to keep up with who needs what from me. And every day, although most would see this as mundane, I fall more and more in love with this life. For me this is what my heart has ached, longed and cried out for. Four years ago, the moment my feet hit the dust here in Addis I knew something was missing, but I couldn’t possibly understand what it was that was missing. 

But now I know. It was the African sunrises, and Habesha food, and cold showers, and grubby hands reaching for me, and grown women, who missed out on childhood, calling me mom, and a spunky little two year old who is too precocious for her own good. It is watching my belly babies love in ways I did not know they were capable of, and seeing my brown-eyed boys back in their home country and finally healing from wounds that should have never been. It is catching my husband’s eye across our crowded and crazy living room, as children twirl and dance, and adults laugh and sip buna and nibble popcorn, and in that single glance a thousand words pass between us, all  resting on the knowing that this is what we sacrificed for.  It’s roosters crowing and dogs yapping and the low growl of hyenas. It’s seeing Jesus in the dirty street children or the young man who finally realizes that life is worth living. It’s opening my home to strangers and witnessing the miracle of how quickly love crashes in making us a weird, jumbled-up family. This was all missing in my former life, and while nothing looks the same as it once did, I wouldn’t change this new normal for all the white picket fenced houses in the world.

I know that I am here because God has put me here. In some little way I know that He is using me to change the world. He is using me in simple ways, and I want to give my life away right here. There is no place else I’d rather be than right here. Four years ago I could never have known that this was the life I was missing. Now I know.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

.On Mission.

We are entering our fourth month here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is nothing and everything that I imagined it to be. It’s hard to know what and how to share life here. I want to be authentic and transparent, yet, at times transparency looks dangerously similar to complaining. As a newbie missionary being welcomed into this beautiful foreign country, I am sensitive about complaining about a culture that I am still getting the hang of. In all honesty, we have been welcomed and embraced here better than some foreigners are welcomed into our home country of America. So, I want to be respectful, and this silly, yet profound quote keeps swimming around in my head.

When the bull is in a strange country, it does not bellow. -Old Zulu proverb

At the same time, our life is far from glamorous, and most would be surprised to peek inside it and see how closely our mundane mimics your mundane. We are just doing life, living incarnationally, looking for ways to follow Jesus practically by loving and sharing the Good News with the people He places in our path, but we happen to be doing it across the ocean from many of you. And then there is also this silly myth that swirls around regarding missionaries, especially missionaries who sugar-coat life on the field. The myth that says missionaries are singled-out, special, elite, highly-talented, spiritual giant, super Christians. Well, I am here to blow that myth out of the water, because we are anything but that. Maybe there are missionaries who do fit that description, but we are not them, and most that I have met are not them. There is nothing super about us. We have fears and doubts and anxieties. We argue and bicker and make mistakes and messes. Some days are complete washes and we yell at our kids, worry too much, grumble and complain and wish for different circumstances. We are so very normal (or as normal as we can be). We are messy people who love Jesus just like you.

It is true that not every follower of Jesus is called to move overseas to live, but don’t let Satan fool you into thinking it is only the special ones that are called to be on mission. We are all given a mission field. Having moved here has actually opened my eyes wider to the fact that we had a mission field back home, the same as we have one here. God uses us all exactly where He places us when He places us, and no follower is more special because of what field God has placed him in. Each person is intimately equipped for the very place and time God has placed her in. For some that will be Africa or Asia, and for others it will be rural and suburban USA.

In just a few hours our calendars flip to a brand new year. It’s a fresh start to embrace the mission field that we each have been called to. Some are sent into the corporate business world, some into hospitals and medical clinics, some to villages in Africa, some to rock babies and cook meals and tend homes, some to churches and schools; no matter where you go this new year, you go, not just because it is your job or the rhythm of your life, you go because you are being sent to these very specific places by Jesus. You are being sent for this exact moment in time, and you are irreplaceable. That changes everything doesn’t it? No longer do we need to classify Christians into elitist groups, but rather we are unified as we realize that truly we all have a hand in building the Kingdom exactly where we are sent. The role of a missionary has been assigned to all of us who follow Jesus. So, this year, let’s tear down the silly pedestals and let’s throw ourselves into the field that we are sent to, supporting and encouraging one another, and their unique fields, along the way.

This is the day the Lord has made for me:

 This is the place the Lord has put me in...

 These are the people the Lord has given to me...

 Let me rejoice and be glad in them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

.Confessions of a Rookie Third World Missionary.

My family and I have now lived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a little over a month. It has been everything and nothing like what we have expected, but slowly, surely it is becoming home. Here are a few things that I have experienced, learned, and observed along the way.
  • ·      The weather is absolutely perfect. I have always been one to embrace season changes, and I become as excited as my children over snow days. However, to have this consistent, warm weather every day, to see the sun shining warmly in my bedroom window every morning at 6 AM is amazing. We are experiencing Ethiopia’s summer – their dry season. There has not been a hint of rain since we arrived. Of course I will miss the snow days and the magic they bring to the holidays (Elvis Presley Christmas music playing in my kitchen is helping some), but to be tanned and warm at the end of November is pretty lovely.
  • ·        Nothing is easy here. I prepared for this and expected it, but honestly there is no real preparation for living it. Every menial task takes at least three times as long. Sometimes that is due to power outages or water outages, sometimes it is due to lack of convenience products, appliances, and sometimes I just have no explanation for why everything takes so long and is is so hard. It just is. Traveling is hard. Shopping is hard. Cooking is hard. Cleaning is hard. Communicating is hard. Life really is harder, BUT, even though we are probably still in the honeymoon period, I dare say it really is sweeter. Accomplishing any task is so fulfilling and rewarding. I fall into bed so happy when I know that I have washed, dried, folded and put away a basket of laundry AND cooked a good, safe meal for my family. I am sleeping better than I have in years, because I am so exhausted. Life here is difficult. It is hard. It is rewarding. It is worth it.
  • ·        Now I say nothing is easy here, but to be completely honest, I make things harder on myself (big, fat surprise to those of you who know me – snark, snark). The majority of Americans that we know (missionaries included) have hired domestic staff. There are so many reasons for this; one is respect for the culture and to give back to the culture and economy by hiring Ethiopians. Another reason is because, as I mentioned, everything takes three times as long, and in order for most people to come and do what they are called to do or hired to do, they have to have help with the day-to-day tasks, or else there is just literally not enough hours in the day. But my first priority mission field is my husband, my children, and my home, so right now that is where I pour all of myself into. Because of this. we have not hired a full domestic staff, however, we have hired a part time housekeeper that will help me with some of the cleaning, and we plan to hire a nanny for Jamesy. Once I start homeschooling again (we are still on our summer break) we may have to reevaluate and hire additional staff – specifically a cook. This is hard for me to let go of, though, and I am really praying through what God is asking of me as we live here. And so, right now I do a lot of the stuff that staff would typically do for foreigners living here.
  • ·        The city has really been built up since we were here two years ago.  There are stoplights and traffic signs and things are becoming more modern. Police (or “traffic” as most people here refer to them as) are everywhere. They seem to be quick to {try to} pull people over, but I am learning that most people just duck their head, avoid eye-contact and drive on! It is pretty wild to see. Driving in general is wild and crazy. I am really proud of my husband for getting his license and driving all over the city. I, on the other hand, have no plans {ever} to get my license {shudder}.
  • ·        Produce here is plentiful and cheap. We load up on produce every week and really love the availability of so many fresh fruits and veggies. Being from upstate NY, there are only a few months of the year that we were able to have access to fresh produce. Most of the time, it was shipped in from other climates and sub-par. Most of the produce (save watermelons, but perhaps we got a bad one) taste better here, too. The oranges are actually not orange, but greenish, yellow and they are so sweet and juicy! It is time-consuming, but for our safety, all of our produce has to be very carefully sanitized before consuming or really even handling too much. With the amount of produce we purchase, this is an all-afternoon task for me, but once done, we really enjoy grabbing fruits to snack on, and I love the abundance of veggies to cook with.
  • ·        Hyenas are very, very loud. I never knew the noise that hyenas made, but every night around midnight they travel to our neighborhood and howl and yelp for about an hour. It is quite an experience to hear, and because we live in the mountains, the echoes are eerie. One of these nights, we are going to take a spot light, go onto one of our balconies and try to shine it on the pack of hyenas to see them.
  • ·        Spiders are everywhere. Every. Where. Every night I check my bed for them. They are huge and gross. I have bites all over my body, and I am trying to just pretend they are normal mosquito bites. And I found a HUGE mouse (maybe rat) on my stove burner. Enough said.
  • ·        My children are awesome. I already knew this, but seeing the way they have acclimated to a new culture and to so much change is amazing. They are resilient and strong and encourage me every single day. They are doing so great and loving so big. I am so proud of all of them.
  • ·        We could not just land in Ethiopia and immediately begin our mission work. This has probably been one of the toughest things. However, the government is really cracking down, and we must follow all of the laws, so that we do not ever have to fear being permanently banished from this country. So we plug along, working towards our NGO status, then work and residency permits. Thankfully, we found out today, we are here on the right visas to do this and should not have to leave the country for two years as originally planned. This whole process goes back to what I said about everything takes T-I-M-E. But in the in-between God is already giving us opportunities to build relationships and love big on people – we don’t need a work permit to do that, and I believe that even during this space and time God has plans for our family .So we forge ahead learning how to just live life here and sharing the love and mercy of Jesus with whomever it is that God places in our path on a given day. We are living life on mission, and I could not love that more – every day is truly an adventure!
  • ·        God is here in this city. He is working and moving and His Kingdom is being built. He didn’t need us to move here to accomplish His work, yet He invited us in. I am truly thankful and excited to see what is ahead!

There is so much more that I could write, but for now this will do.

Wifi is pretty sketchy, but I am hoping to get this to publish. Thank you for your continued support, prayer, and encouragement – we feel it!
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