Blogging tips

Monday, October 5, 2015

.The Tension.

It’s been nearly a year. Nearly a year since we landed in Addis and emptied suitcases and threw ourselves into making this place our home. It has been nearly a year since we have begun the laborious process of establishing an NGO here, so that we can actually DO what we were called to do. It has been a year of God growing us, changing us, and pursuing us in remarkable and extravagant ways. It has not been a year without hardships and tears and questioning, but looking back it has been one of the best years that we have ever experienced. We have seen Jesus like never before. We have seen his transforming power, and we have witnessed the Kingdom break into daily life.

We came here desperate to put off any arrogance that we had in preconceived ideas about this culture and about the “right way to do things”. We prayed that God would humble us and make us learners in this journey. He answered our prayers over and over. We thought that the “right way” to do missions was to do business as missions. It is such a beautiful idea, and one that we felt compelled to flesh out. It also, honestly, sounds so much safer and comfortable to be able to support our mission with a business and not have to rely on churches and individuals to support us. We were eager and sold-out on this model, and prayed up, certain that this is how God was leading us. Only to have God literally slam every single door to every single business opportunity here in Addis in our faces.

Every time a door slammed, we heard His gentle whisper, trust Me.

It soon became evident that our ministry plan for street children was wildly different and wildly counter-culture, and radically going to take all of our efforts, all of our energy and focus in order to be done in a way that will bring glory to God. And the truth is, we came for the boys not a business. The business was an aside – it was just supposed to support us, but God has very clearly let us know that at this time, He wants us to trust Him for the support. So here we sit, fully reliant on people across the globe from us. To be authentic, that is scary, and it gets scarier as Jesus continues to whisper follow Me, trust Me.

I felt confident that In order to keep support and gain support, we need to tell stories. We need to tell you about the lives that Jesus has touched this past year. The sad stories, the sad photographs, they tug at people’s hearts, and they share the real need that is here, and I really, really bought into the necessity of them. But sometime this year in the midst of the stories and photos, the pause button was jammed on, and I started seeing things differently and questioning my motives with throwing up a photo on social media of a person in a horribly sad, vulnerable position – perhaps even a person we were able to help out of that position. Something wasn’t sitting right with me. My heart was beginning to feel uneasy. It started to feel a little bit like exploitation, and even objectification. But I knew that it worked. I knew that people across the ocean would be more likely to make a financial donation if I shared the photos of people suffering and their sad stories. If I shared about the man who tried to hang himself and about literally cutting down the rope and tucking him safely into family, about the teenage girl who came home so drunk every night that she had to be nearly carried up the stairs and undressed and cleaned up and placed into bed, about the hours upon hours spent in a hospital and then the deafening screams that came with AIDS diagnosis, about the baby who died from AIDS because we were just too late, and the father who refuses to have her brother tested, because he just cannot bare to know. About the woman who mourns for her murdered son. About the teenage boy who never knew his mother and endures beatings from his grandmother and meals at our table because at least then he gets fed. And even sharing this is making me want to delete the whole post. Because these are REAL PEOPLE, and their story is not my story to tell. I have no right.

And then in the midst of this wrestling one day, our son came to us with trembling lips and big eyes and said, “please do not post photos of street kids sleeping on the streets. It is wrong.” We were taken aback. Street kids is who God has called us to, telling their hard stories seemed like a great way to raise awareness and honestly, money, in order to be able to serve them. But this son who came to us that day, so visibly distraught had at one time, for several years, been one of those boys. He had had countless foreigners come and take his photo, photos of him when he was most dejected, most vulnerable, and still very, very much a child. He had been enrolled in numerous NGOs and his photos were distributed and used and profited on. And he never benefitted from it, and even years later it still hurts to have been exploited at the most vulnerable and challenging time in his life. We listen to this child when he speaks of this, because he knows. God has used his voice to mold and shape many of our dreams for our future ministry with street children. His voice is the same reason that we cannot do a drop-in center and feed street kids only to turn them back out onto the streets, because this exact kind of thing hurt our child more than it helped. It is why we have to pursue family-based care starting with a small number. It is why we cannot do behavioral modification but rather passionate pursuit of the heart of children. Although, there are good ministries right here in Addis with very different philosophies and practices that do great things, even the potential of us hurting children, hurting vulnerable people – exploiting them -  is just not something we can get comfortable with.

So, we are trying to learn a new way. We are trying to be creative with how we share and what we share. It is why so many of our posts lately just focus on our day-to-day family life here in Ethiopia. It is so NOT because there is nothing to share, or we have not seen Jesus in people’s lives, but rather because we are still trying to figure this out. The use of photos and stories of disadvantaged people and vulnerable children to illustrate what we are doing, and what we need to raise money for risks exploiting humans - humans made in the image of God. For right now, we have decided not to take that risk. This creates quite a tension for us as missionaries. It is important that we share what Jesus is doing. People are supporting us, and they need to know how their support is impacting the Kingdom. But I think that people, whether in poverty, whether vulnerable and in crisis or not, have a right to share or not share their story. It is their choice. It is not mine. It is what we have always clung to with our boys who came to us via adoption. Their story is their story for when and if they are ever ready to share it with the world.

This is an ongoing conversation. We continue to press into Jesus and into the people He brings to us, and we continue this dance of knowing when and how to share with you. I believe that the answer is creating an avenue for their own voices in their own time and of their own free will. How? I don’t know. What does it look like? I have no idea. But there has to be a way, and I am desperate to figure it out. We still have so far to go, and so much to learn, but until then we press on keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus 

Monday, July 27, 2015

.A Better Story.

She bent down curling her small frame around the tiny frame of her daughter. I watched her breathe her in, finger her curls, caress her cheek, and inhale the peace, regarding her daughter's future, that the doctor had just gifted her. My own eyes grew wet and warm, as I watched her eyes spill rivers of salty tears. I recognized the universal language spoken the world over by mothers, as her hands gently moved over her daughter's body seeming to echo the cadence of words spilling from her lips and mingling with the tears dripping from her warm, brown eyes. There was a sacredness that clung to the moment, and I averted my eyes in an effort to not pierce that sacred with the intrusion of my presence. But in a breath she drew me in, and we were all wrapped up together, arms entwined, hearts beating fast, her mama eyes meeting mine, and despite the language barrier our eyes communicated a thousand words stolen directly from the dictionary of motherhood. 

In that very moment I knew that I had to do a better job of telling a better story. A story that included how so many mamas here love their children just like so many mamas there. This mama in front of me, beaming at her daughter, despite being born into poverty in this developing country, and despite neglect and abuse, and abandonment, stretched beyond her circumstances over and over and over again in order to be a good mother to her daughter. She knocked on gates for years to find employment. She offered her daughter the first and best food, even when she too needed the nourishment. When she was shoved out to the streets to make her bed, she wrapped her small body around her infant to protect her and keep her warm. Despite hardships that I cannot even fathom, she raised her daughter on her own for three years, and her daughter was happy, healthy, cherished, and oblivious to the fact that many on the other side of the world would pity her. Her laughter is sure, and she is confident in the simplicity of her life, and the love of her mother. As a mother, as a woman, as a human, when I think of her story, I feel inspired. I don't feel the fatigue that inevitably comes after a hard story. I feel inspired to know and love this woman, and I feel inspired in my own mothering because of her. I have never doubted her love and dedication for her daughter, and I could empathize with the depth of it when her doctor broke some hard, crushing news, and her body shook with sobs, not for herself, but for her child. 

In this journey, I have realized that in an effort to serve here I don't tell the better stories as much as I tell the sad ones. Looking around social media, I realize that I don't hear the better stories either. Better stories like this one, about the mothers here who do not let poverty steal away their child, who know and understand that regardless of the struggle, one of the very best gifts is the gift of being a mother.

For a long time people have used the plot of Africa to tell a sad, heart-breaking story. Anyone who follows the social media sphere of influence of missionaries, non-profits, adoptive families etc. who serve in Africa has no doubt heard these stories. The heart behind the telling of these stories is more often than not genuine in their desire to raise awareness and support for a place and people they love. There is a time and place and a need for these stories to be tenderly told. But for every devastating story told and gut-wrenching photo shared, I want the world to know the whole truth, that there are also better, beautiful stories to be told. Yes, my friends there are sad stories unfolding  in this continent. I have seen things that I will never share because of the horror of them. I have seen what I wish that I could unsee. There are nights when my stomach churns and my heart bleeds because of what lies outside of my gate. These are realities. They are not made up simply to garner compassion and pull on heart strings and purse strings. But if we take a step back, we quickly realize a truth, that there are sad stories to be told in every continent. That is the reality of living in a world that was never meant to hold the weight of sin, and yearns for perfection to return. 

But what I want you to know is that one, sad story cannot contain the narrative of an entire country, much less an entire continent. That's not fair. Just like one sad story cannot define your world. I have seen just as much good as I have seen bad. just as much beautiful as ugly, just as much wealth as poverty, just as much joy as sadness. The story is never just one note. There is always more depth, always more dimensions. It's the same kind of different here that it is there - a world of contrasts, of people with imperfections living inside a broken world. And with that comes stories some sad, some better, both needed. 

Today I am giving my heart a break, and turning my focus to a better story. We don't know what tomorrow holds, but today I chose to pen the beautiful.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

What is Love?

It's been so long since I have written that there are too many thoughts trying to squeeze their way out my fingertips. I fear these fingers cannot dance across the keyboard fast enough to keep time with heart words spilling over. This may not be eloquent as the words just gush out. At first I thought this post would be about grace. God is teaching me so much about what His grace really is, and it seems like the message has been bombarding me for months from all angles. I have had opportunities to see it played out and to put it into practice. I haven't been able to ignore it. I understand now how much I misunderstood His radical grace, but I am not sure if I am confident enough to share all of what I have learned yet. It's still so new, and to be very honest, it is still strange and hard to grasp. The denomination that I grew up in taught grace in words, but the actions of grace - the fleshing out - often fell short, which even now, as an adult, is confusing, but as a child, even more so. I think this is where my misunderstanding began, and I think this is why I am hesitant to share. So then my thoughts turned to love, perhaps because this week marked my thirteenth wedding anniversary, and love has been on my mind. Perhaps because it has been swirling around social media. Perhaps because my teenage son is growing older and daily closer to love and marriage, and I am desperate for him to grasp true love and experience it first here inside of our home, so that he is capable and ready to give it away when the time comes. Perhaps because a friend and I had a mild freak out yesterday realizing that we were raising somebody's husband. {deep breath} That's heavy. As I have walked through these past few days knowing that I would eventually find myself drawn here, locked inside of my room, in front of a laptop, that I had to carve out the time to come here and fill up this space with words, I realized that grace and love are so mingled. The truest version of them is married together. Real grace cannot exist without real love, and true love cannot exist without true grace. When we encounter authentic grace married to authentic love it is one of the most beautiful reflections of the heart of the Father and the gospel of Jesus that we get the privilege to discover here on earth.

There has been a lot of talk about love lately. There are some heated debates swirling around social media. In truth it is rather ugly to witness. It's polarizing. I have remained quiet, because there are humans involved, and i have yet to figure out how to add my voice in a way that does not heap on hurt to one side or the other. So many people on all sides are hurting, and it is so sad. Let's be honest, in the spewing of arguments on social media, especially when they are not cloaked in genuine relationships with one another, nobody wins. In arguing about love; it just looks like hate. In the midst of all of this tension, though, I have personally been reflecting on love - what does real love look like? For several months now, actually since the beginning of this year, I have been meditating on I Corinthians 13; the passage known as "the love passage" in Christian circles. This passage is slapped onto wedding programs and sweetly read over naive wedding couples in numerous churches. It was true for my own wedding. The verses are made out to be cute and pithy and easy as two young people gaze adoringly into each others eyes, dreaming of the life they are starting together. Hollywood has glamorized love in such a way that is is unrecognizable to the real thing, and so many of us have bought into it, and our children are growing up mesmerized by the allure of it. They think that the fake kind of love, the selfishness, the lust, the mushy gushy feel-goodness that masquerades and parades itself as love, that is displayed all over movies and TV and sung about on the radio is attainable and desirable and right. And they think if they don't find that then they are missing out on what everyone else has. As I am writing this post the lyrics of that cheesy eighties song is bouncing around my head, What is love? Baby don't hurt me; don't hurt me, no more. But the truth is that silly song, like so many of us, has missed the mark on real love. Real love does hurt. Love deliberately gets up, goes again toward that person it is aimed at, and it understands that in the process it is choosing to serve someone and put someone's needs ahead of its own in a way that is so vulnerable and so exposed that when you truly love someone, hurt is unavoidable and it will happen again and again and again. 

Love actually does hurt.

Real love entwined with grace is wild and different. It's mature and wise. It's strange and unnatural. It fights against our flesh and our human bent. Just look carefully at I Corinthians 13. It doesn't look very much like the love in the movies. There is so much more to the depth of it. It is the heart beat of our life. It is all that matters. Without love, nothing we do or say even makes a difference - it's all empty. We are given two commands from Jesus to live out our days. The first is to love God with everything inside of us and all that we are, and the second is to love others as much as ourselves. (Matthew 22:37) He promised that if we could love Him and others that everything else would fall under that. Can you imagine what the tapestry of our world could look like if Jesus followers actually practiced these? Almost everyday I hear myself quoting these two commands to my children in hopes that they will comprehend and live out what so many of us have forgotten. But what does this love look like? If it is not the Hollywood love, what is it? The Message version says that we are bankrupt without love, and then in verses 4-7 clearly spells out what love is, what love does. And it is pretty radical.

Love never gives up.
Love cares for others more than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut; doesn't have a swelled head.
[Love] doesn't force itself on others.
[Love] isn't always "me first'.
[Love] doesn't fly off the handle
[Love] doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
[Love] doesn't revel when others grovel.
[Love] takes pleasure in the flowering of truth.
[Love] puts up with anything.
[Love] trusts God always.
[Love] always looks for the best.
[Love] never looks back, but keeps going until the end.
Love never dies.

I Corinthians 13:47 The Message (emphasis mine)

Love shows up and shows out. It is not dependent on the love of the other person. It is active and pursues, and fights again and again and again. Yes, there are all kinds of love, romantic love, friendship love, family love, etc., but all real, genuine love have these same above characteristics at its core. To never give up, to care more about another than oneself, to forget wrongs, to cling to truth, it's all hard, and it all hurts at times. But it is always worth it, and love like this - the real deal kind of love is enduring and the greatest gift we can give to another human. But if love hurts so much, and is so self-sacrificing, and demands so much of us, why would we want it? The truth is love chooses to hurt, because love chooses to love. It sounds cliche' to say love is a choice, but honestly it is. Love is a daily choice. Our perfect example of flawless, true love was Jesus, and He chose you. He chose me. He looked at us in all of our weakness and brokeness and mistakes - past, present and future, and with a love that cannot be comprehended, He tenderly cupped our chin with his scarred, nail-pierced hand, and said, "I want you". We did nothing to deserve His choosing, His love. We could do nothing. We were incapable. His love chased us down, pursued us, and His love sunk into our mirk and sat in the mud with us, embraced us right where we were and accepted us wholly, completely - as is. It's a wild, untamed, alluring kind of love that is not afraid of our filth, and in the filth is where its partner grace enters in, grace goes right into the mess, holding hands with love, and rescues us and carries us out, while we are helpless and unable to rescue ourselves. When Jesus, perfect Love incarnate, allowed Himself to be carried to that cross and murdered, He saw you and He saw me. He saw everything we would ever be and do, and He saw that we were incapable of anything on our own, and He lovingly came anyway to get us. He LOVED us. And now we are compelled to love, because He first loved us with an unfailing, never-giving up love. A love that is yours and mine despite us, a love that we could never sustain, and we don't have to! We cannot make God love us, He already does. I cannot earn His love, and I cannot do anything to deserve it, and wrapped up in that truth rushes in love's mate grace. Authentic grace is cloaked in love and it races in hot pursuit after us and meets us right, exactly where we are, looks us square in the eyes, sees our innermost ugly, and loves us into a beautiful invitation of abundant life. Because love compells it to, grace so gently and tenderly drags us out of the murk and into life.

I am speculating that the way we love others will look a lot more like I Corinthians 13, rather than the phony Hollywood love when we finally recognize the complete way that we are loved and accepted. The way we love must change when we truly understand the outrageousness of the love that was poured over us, while we were so unworthy, love that manifested itself in drops of Jesus' blood, and when we finally get that this perfect love has absolutely nothing to do with us, and the grace that is married to His love crashes over us and transforms and breaks in and heals and changes us. This marriage of love and grace that is ours is explosive, and it it permeates everything about us. Perhaps when we truly grasp how deeply we are loved, we will stop feeling so threatened by the world around us, and instead will see people as people just like us- some still sitting in that murk, not needing our rhetoric and lectures and debates, but needing us to pursue and flesh out the kind of love Jesus has for them. I Corinthians says without love we are nothing. So, perhaps, maybe when put our attention on loving God and loving humans, and just focus on that, maybe then Love really will win.

This knowledge of how much we are loved, changes how we love. Because HE first loved us.

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.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Design by Small Bird Studios | All Rights Reserved