Friday, December 26, 2014

And He whispered... Immanuel

You know that excitement that starts to build in a child once the tinsel hits the nearest store, or when the first advertisement of the greatest toy shows, or the first hint that Christmas is near?  We all know a little about that excitement... well... not ALL of us... but the ones lucky enough to have been born into a privileged lifestyle.  (never mind me seeing 2 boys i love dearly planting their garden on Christmas... just another day)
Its so easy for me to have certain expectations of Christmas... even in the middle of Africa.  I know what I want it to be like for my kids, how I want the house to smell... the things I want to bake, the gifts I want to give... the anticipated laughter.  
But, yesterday was Christmas... and it couldn't have been further from my childhood memories... or my expectations.  I found myself spinning in pain, high fevers, and difficulty even staying "present" (no pun intended) So I said "Shane we have to let the kids open presents so I can go to the hospital."  Because of course I didn't want to miss the joy on their faces.  Half way through, I couldn't do it anymore and a sweet friend, Kristie drove me to the hospital (at 9 am) while Shane tried to make Christmas as wonderful as possible for the kids.  (and you were awesome as usual)
After getting there and settled, it was decided that I would be admitted.  On Christmas Day.  sigh.  AFter an amazing show of affection from my friend, I sent her home... after all, who in the world wants to be in a hospital on Christmas? 
I laid there drifting in and out of sleep... there wasn't a sound but the creaking ceiling fan. (because of course there is no AC) I started to let my mind wonder "What are the kids doing right now?"  "Are they going to be sad I'm not there?"  "How is Shane going to cook dinner?" "I wish I was home (like home home... you know where I could dig into some Christmas goodness with my mom, grandmother, aunt, and 2 something like sisters)" and I really wanted to cry.  I glanced over and stared at the empty chair near my bed... and this is what happened:  HE WHISPERED "IMMANUEL...I AM with YOU."  Then I felt like the grinch's heart growing and growing.  Christmas isn't found around a table full of food, or a tree full of presents... or all the many other things we want to make it.  Christmas is about ONE THING:  God becoming our Immanuel. 
Because of Christmas, I can be in a hospital half way around the world on the best holiday ever... away from ALL my family... and still have Christmas.  Because He is with me.  He is with you.  He is ours.  And what else could I ever want?  
So then... I began to cry... not out of sadness, but out of gratefulness that my present came from HIM yesterday... He spoke to me... the most comforting words "I'm with you" and just the right time... and just the right place.  So, despite the fact that I type this with an IV remaining in my hand and my fever starting to spike once again... it's ok, because of Immanuel.  Oh how HE LOVES ME.  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Trading dreams...

One of the things I love about Zambia is the spontaneousness in life... and the unpredictability... We usually say that one thing is predictable... and that is unpredictability. :)

This morning I woke up and had one of team mates came in and said "the little boys are outside"... my first statement was "I told them yesterday no playing until Monday, because today is the party!"  
He followed that by... "well, they say their sister is missing. "  My response: "oh!  let me get my shoes!"  

After much search and effort... police reports, tears, and a Lifesong mini search party... She was found!  The things that go through your mind when one of your grade 2 students are missing can down right scare a person!  

I quickly had to move on to decorating and final details of our Grade 7 and 9 party... as well as send my hubs off to the Dr. as he isn't feeling well, possibly malaria.  

The party begins... music... dancing... food... and slide shows... 

I speak.  God's handprint on all of our lives is evident.  

When I first landed in this great place... they were small... dirty... rough.  What I see now isn't that.  They are clean... smart... amazing. 

 I didn't do that... God did that... through Lifesong... through teachers... through our staff families who are willing to do the hard things:  
did you know that At least 4 of our Zambian staff families are fostering kids from our school?  

That this morning it wasn't the police, but classmates who found the girl. 

 It wasn't the student's father who comforted and counseled her, but her teacher and our maintenance man?  

Did you know that we had to TURN AWAY some of our staff from being houseparents in our new boarding program because we don't have enough homes built yet?

Do you know how awesome THAT is?  

Godly Zambian adults pouring their lives into vulnerable Zambian children.  

Today the grade 9s wrote and recited a poem.  
One of the lines said "you are sacrificing your dreams to make ours come true." 

 It's true... our staff could make more money elsewhere... so could our family.  

"you are sacrificing your dreams to make ours come true. " 

Trading our dreams for God's never leaves us with regret... this is worth it.  

It's worth it to witness transformation before your eyes.  

It's worth it to hear the laughs from a classroom.  

It's worth it to be a parent in their lives.  

It is worth. it.  

They are worth. it.  

Jesus is worth. it. 


Monday, November 10, 2014

When the Tooth Fairy doesn't come...

I'm sad,  mommy"... were the words I woke up to this morning.  "Why?" I asked in a foggy daze at 5:15 a m.  "Because the tooth fairy didn't come."  

Heart sinks.

Epic Fail. 

Chalk another one up for me and it's only 5:15 am. 

"How did I forget?"  

"What kind of mother am I?"

"My parents never forgot."

And the guilt cycle begins before the rooster crows and the day begins.  If you're a mom, you know the cycle... that deeply felt searing guilt.  right?  

For me, as any mom, the guilts and failure stack pretty high.  

I've robbed the kids from their grandparents

They are missing out on so many traditional "American" things

My light skinned blondies are going to get skin cancer in this African Sun

I never got around to.... doing that craft... giving out the ice cream.... reading that book (the list is endless)

They have to share me with so many other kids

I couldn't cut it homeschooling and doing ministry


What's next?  "The Christmas Santa forgot?"

As moms, we all beat ourselves up over so many things.  I only listed about 1/1000 of the guilts and failures I have... pertaining to 3/5 of my kids.  2/5 have a list all to themselves which is probably much longer and more complicated... 

So often times I just think... "Why me?"  Why did God choose me for this job?  Why did He plop me in the middle of Africa when I was already in over my head as a mom in my own culture, with things I was comfortable and familiar with?  Then... HOW am I going to do this well?  How do I erase the memory "the tooth fairy forgot me" ... and all the other times I fail.  

So, it's true... in our weakness HE is made perfect.  In every failure, there is an opportunity to point to one who never fails.  In our second guessing, we can cling to his sovereignty.  

So, today... it's 6:15 am... and I will get up... "shake it off" in the wise words of Taylor Swift... fill myself with his TRUTHS... and pray for the ability to SEE opportunities to love my kids well and let God's grace cover all the past failures... and many failures to come.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What it feels like...

What does it feel like to sentence someone to death?  While I'm certainly not 100% certain... I feel like today, I did just that.  Not necessarily a literal death, but hope died today in my office for one young man.  

  He's one of the most intelligent, charismatic, beautiful young men that has ever set foot on our campus.  This young man... I've been walking with him for 3 years. We've walked through major abuse, removal, reunification, pornography, lying, stealing, and now even more difficult things that not only effect him, but innocent people, too.  We've done counseling... time away... controlled environment... mercy... discipline... only to find a heart that has hardened by life's hurts.  

What I wouldn't give to go back 10 years... hold him when he was young... feed him when his mother was too sick to do it... nurture him when his father died.  correct him when he came home late, or was choosing bad friends... sing over him songs of love... tell him that Jesus loves him... and that he is certainly special because he was GOOD.  

His burdens of life have become too much.  Addictions in place of self control, deception in place of honesty... but even now... I'm still holding on to the truth that Jesus can.  

Jesus can change a man.  I need a Saul to Paul experience with this one.  

While it looks as if I have given up, be assured, I have not.  It is sometimes in life's greatest disappointments, trials, or disciplines that true change can occur.  It isn't one I like to hand out, but when all other options have been through... again and again and again... one has to stop sewing seed on the rock. 

As I saw him walk out of our office... I could barely stand it.  I felt like the father to the prodigal son... no... the mother.  Painful.  Hoping one day, we will see him again in a better condition.  The reality is, however, unless something changes... he is walking out to a very long road... where education will be difficult to find, jobs impossible, food will be rare.  

I can't stand it.  I feel like I have sentenced him to a hopeless life.  I held his mother's hand... and we cried together... recounting how many times we've begged him to do the right things... no remorse... no promise of change. Hope died for her today.  Hopes she had for her son's life.  No one wants to be the mother to Saul... Judas... Samson... but the truth is... it could be any one of us.  

So today is a sad day for me.  One of our firstborn children has left our program heading into a life that isn't promising of hope apart from Jesus.  I can't stand it.  I also can't rescue him. I've tried. I've failed. But Jesus... 

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with CHRIST..." Eph 2: 4-5

Sunday, August 3, 2014

What love looks like...

Home again... the early morning chatter on the farm before harvest, the smell of laundry from outside, the dust settling on every square inch of me, and oh the children.  Yesterday someone said "the mother of the village must be home because there were very few children here and now, they are everywhere."  Mother of the Village.  I'm not sure about that title... but I certainly know it takes a village.  

While all these things are the beauty that settle around me... nothing compares to yesterday.  One of my bigs has proven to have such deep love for his birth family.  We always know it is there. We encourage it, and quite frankly, love them a lot as well. (seriously, his grandmother is one of my favorite people I've met here) 

Unprompted, on our time away, he thoughtfully gathered gifts for each one of his family members, especially the children.  "will this fit?" He would ask.  Thought.  Time.  His own money.  

Yesterday was the delivery.  He has never forgotten them.  He carries his birth family with him through life. I can see this.  He carefully bagged each bag for each family member. I could see the anticipation and excitement building.  

He was gone for maybe 2 hours.  Upon his return, he had some cousins with him, which he had never invited over.  We welcomed them, and said they were welcome in.  He showed them his home... taught them how to play games, and laughed and laughed.  They are the ones he grew up with.  The ones before us.  They are his family. 

Afterwards, he and I were able to talk a bit about his visit.  I could see that the burden of their need weighs so heavily upon him. There were things that were unsettling to him, where he coached even older family members to be more responsible and mature.  He said "how can you not help?"  That is love.  That's the love that makes someone come outside of themselves... their own selfishness... and give.  "You can give without love, but cannot love without giving" a pastor recently told me.  

To see my son, who once felt he had nothing to give... give in such a generous way... without being prompted or guided... is amazing.  

It's what love looks like... 


Saturday, August 2, 2014


I believe that so  many people have been reading about the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, and the sadness of lives taken from this disease.  My heart is breaking for so many... especially fellow missionaries who are serving in Sierra Leone that we know and love so much, along with Lifesong Liberia.  They are currently packing up and evacuating their home and ministry until it is safe for them to return.  I can't imagine what they are going through and the thoughts and emotions they are experiencing.  To have the luxury of leaving alone... can make you feel guilt ridden and broken.  To be uncertain of if the faces and people you have served with... cried with... laughed with... will be there upon your return... unimaginable.  The children...the widows...the ministry leaders... 
The love that Christ gives them to love is truly unconditional, deep, and real.  
Please pray for the people of West Africa, and for the health care workers who are literally putting their lives at risk each day... some even loosing their lives to save others. 
The suffering is real... the people are real... this is impacting people we love dearly.  Please pray with us.  Pray for a SUPERNATURAL healing and eradication of this disease.  Pray God sized stories are formed and that HE alone would be glorified even in suffering.  
I can't imagine leaving the children I LOVE like my own under these circumstances.  Pray for Tom and Becky who serve and are sent from our church body.  Pray for Lifesong Liberia and the children there that we serve.  
p.s.  People have asked about us and Ebola.  There are no reported cases in our area of Africa.  We are literally 3,000 miles from this disease... that's the distance from New York to California.  

Please Stop and Pray. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

the greatest of these... LOVE

Sitting and listening to sounds that only the country can bring, I'm reflecting on all that I have experienced and had to journey through during this break away from Zambia.  While the world has been spinning around me... appointments, activities, family fun (you know, the stuff you see on Facebook)... inside myself has been another story.  One that's still "in process."  My mind and body had to begin processing all that the last 3 years has brought us: joy,  pain, fear, accomplishment, grief, exhaustion, spiritual depletion, deep relationships, loss... And the conflicts begin to stir around.  2 worlds begin to collide.  I belong to both, or do I belong to either?  I shut down inside. 
The reality of what I am doing sits in.  Fear comes to live. 
I beg at the feet of Jesus to settle my mind and heart (and maybe my hormones)... to help me see things the way HE does.  It was so dark... but now I'm starting to see light... What is bringing the light?   LOVE. 
As I was driving down the road, a phrase of a song sticks to me "it wasn't nails that held you to the cross, it was love."  Love is a powerful thing.  Christ's love is even more powerful.  And as I sit shortly distanced from a dark place, it is love that drives me forward.  His love can heal me.  His love will direct me in the days ahead.  I know this because He is near to the broken hearted. And, that's me. (so there. a moment of confession) 
As empty as I have found myself... I have never been empty of love. I deeply love my family, now more than ever.  I deeply love all the people, in both my worlds, and that will NEVER change. Despite the hard, I will peel my heart off of this place, my family, my deep friends, my familiar... and I will place it back onto those God has blessed me with in Zambia.  Just to think about both is equally painful and joyful.  (the roller coaster is making me nauseous) But, those who do not love... do not hurt.  And those that love deeply, hurt deeply.  

Unfortunately, fortunately... I love so deeply. 
And so... I spend my last 5 days in this peaceful place grieving those I will say goodbye to... the life I thought I would have... AND EQUALLY daydreaming about hugging and laughing with those I left in a place so dear to my heart... and where our life is now. 

Thank you Lord, that you said the greatest of these is LOVE.  Thank you for giving me the capacity to experience it... and to give it away.