Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Few Macchiattos a Month

Before I tell this story, I need to give a little background info.  Ethiopia is the home of coffee.  Seriously.  And the coffee we drink here in America...well, it's really not the same beverage.  Maybe it doesn't even deserve to be called coffee.  I don't like coffee...except for those special coffee drinks that come with whipped cream and syrup on top.  When you're in Ethiopia, you're offered a cup everywhere you go.  A coffee ceremony is performed for every occasion, and black coffee is handed around in delicate little cups.  On my first visit to ET I never tasted it, and on this last trip I made it halfway through the week before a friend convinced me to taste hers. Oh. My. Goodness.  Now I know what coffee is supposed to taste like; it was smooth and rich, no bitterness, and it tasted like...well, coffee.  There's a chain of coffee shops in Ethiopia called Kaldis of which Ethiopians are very proud.  Jim and I laughed when we were there; it's been made to look very much like Starbucks, and it was actually a comfort to visit there (even if all I ordered that first time was a Coke; no coffee!) because it felt a bit like home.  At any rate, Kaldis sells their own version of the fancy coffee drinks we buy here at Starbucks, along with desserts (which are not a common part of one's diet in ET).  The most popular coffee beverage seems to be the Macchiatto, which we were offered every time we ate a meal in a restaurant.

Now, having explained about Kaldis, I want to share a story about a man I met in Ethiopia.  He's on the staff of Children's Hope Chest, and spent a lot of time with our team.  On the last day we were there, I had a long conversation with him (our team went out to lunch after church, and he and I sat together and had a very long wait for our pizza).  While we were waiting, Misikir told me about a passion God has given him.  Remember, he is already working for CHC, spending his days helping vulnerable children and their families, and he also has a beautiful wife and precious baby boy at home.  But he loves the Lord, and he has seen a opportunity to serve God and the ones He loves, and he is determined to help.  He talked to me about young Christians in Ethiopia who are struggling because they do not have the resources to be educated.  He described, with enthusiasm, his desire to see young Christians being trained and prepared to assume roles of leadership in bring about change in their country for the glory of God.  He told stories of young people he knew personally, of how he feels concerned about the choices they are making when they don't believe education is attainable to them.  He told me one story about a young woman who had been able to begin studying nursing at a local university, but when she was no longer able to pay the tuition, she considered selling herself as a means of earning the money to continue.  She knew that her future was bleak without an education, and saw no other means of attaining it.  My friend was convicted that he needed to find a way to help his younger brothers and sisters in Christ.  He went home to his wife one day and presented her with his desire to begin helping.  He wanted to begin paying tuition for one young woman out of his own income, and wanted to know if his wife would support this.  She, too, believed that God would ask them to help, and agreed.  This giving was sacrificial for this young family.  And my friend knew that there were many more young men and women who needed help.  So he began to share his passion with his friends, and even began to dream of starting an organization through which Christian young men and women could be assisted financially (toward their education), and also discipled by older Christians who could guide them toward seeking godly vision for their lives.

What does all of this have to do with coffee?  As I listened to this young man's passionate love for God and others, he said something that almost made me laugh out loud.  Actually, it was one of those "don't know whether to laugh or cry" moments.  He was telling me how much money is needed to pay one month's tuition at a local university.  He was saying that when he shares his vision with others, hoping to find support, he will sometimes tell them that the amount needed is "only a few Macchiatos a month." If I understood correctly, the amount was around 600 birr; roughly $30/month.  Just a few Macchiatos.  It was just such a familiar line to me, yet the illustration he had laid out for me was so powerful.  My friend and the other Ethiopians with whom we were eating that day are not living in poverty; they are earning a good income by Ethiopian standards, and providing for their families.  But by American standards...well, I am wealthy in comparison.  And yet this man was challenging himself and others to sacrifice more, perhaps to sacrifice one of a few pleasures that they allow themselves.

The price of a few Kaldis Macchiatos...a few Starbucks Lattes a month...really can change someone's life.  The cost for my friend to support a young college student while pointing him to Christ.  The cost of sponsoring a child...providing food, education, Christian teaching.  It's hard to measure that in terms of coffee.  Or maybe not so hard.    

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The "Star" of the show

Sunday evening was the children's Christmas program at our church.  Three of the "youth" (young adults!) at our church planned and directed the whole thing, and did such a great job.  I was really bummed that I didn't get great pictures (I have a new camera lens, was playing around with my camera set on "manual", and basically got a lot of unfocused pictures.  Sigh.)  Anyway, I couldn't resist posting a couple of the less fuzzy pictures.  E was the star of the show.  Literally.  Not "star" as in the main role, but the actual Bethlehem star.  If I can figure out how to download E's Flipcam, I'll definitely post a bit of video soon.  As soon as he stepped out (onto a ledge above the baptismal pool!), I told myself one thing.  Do. Not. Look at him.  I was laughing so much that I was afraid of snorting.  And the rest of the children were doing such a fabulous job, and the whole thing was so sweet, I just didn't want to miss it.  But the star...well, you kind of had to be there.  Nice job, E.  And for Jo March and her team of directors...fabulous.  Thanks.  :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Happy Birthday, Sweet Girl

(NJ, R, E, and baby A)

December 12, 2011

Sweet A turned 7 yesterday.  I remember crying when she turned four; I felt as though I was losing my baby.  I think I cried when she turned five, too.  Somehow, I finally caught on that she just brings me more joy every year.  How can I not just look up and say, "Thank You" on her birthday?  On all of their birthdays?  Okay, okay, I still might cry...maybe when she turns 16.  But yesterday, and today...I am all full of "Thank You."

The day she was born is vivid in my memory.  She was due on Christmas Eve, which was still two weeks away, she was baby number four, and my babies were always just a little late.  I had been feeling a little funny at church that morning, but had already decided that I was not having a baby on that December afternoon. I didn't even have a bag packed for the hopital.  Hadn't really decided on a name for little girl #3.   At around 2:30pm I changed my mind.  Packed a bag, put the children in the van (R was 6 years old, E was 3, and little NG was not quite 2).  We headed in the opposite direction of the hospital to drop them off with a friend, then turned around and headed back toward town (I'm pretty sure I remember running a red light).  We got to the hospital at 3:05.  The birth was recorded at 3:11.  She has kept life just a little more exciting ever since. (We had been thinking of naming her Natalie Joy, because Natalie means "born at Christmas", and she was due on Christmas Eve.  But she wasn't born on Christmas Eve, and based on some experiences we'd had during the months prior to her birth, we named her Anna Christine. " Follower of Christ.  Full of grace". Those were our dreams for her.)

Dear A, on your 7th birthday,

You are such a gift to me.  You are funny, and smart, and you keep me laughing.  It has been a joy to see you growing in compassion over the past year, and to see your tender heart.  I love watching you care for your baby dolls with gentleness and smiles.  We all know how much you love bears, and everything about bears, and talking about, singing about, and looking at pictures of bears.  But you love your brothers, sisters, and friends even more.  Especially R; you look up to her and would do anything for her.  I know that the two of you will be best friends one day, and she will look back with smiles at all of the ways you loved her.  You also love to pray, and always remind us to pray for any need; if we are driving in our van and hear an ambulance, you are always the one to remember to pray for the one who is sick or hurt.  You have also started singing; you love music and dancing and singing, and it was so much fun to see you sing with the "Kinderchorus" at the Christmas program last week.  I'm guessing that it was the first of many such performances for you.  Your face was glowing while you watched the older girls singing.

As much as you love all of your siblings, I know it wasn't easy to go from being the baby of the family to being the "middle child" on that day (almost two years ago) when we got home from Ethiopia with Y and MJ.  You've told me wistfully, with downcast eyes, that you wish you were "either little or big."  Big enough to ride your bike to the playground without me, stay up late, or just hang out with the "big kids."  Or little enough to be the baby of the family again.  But over the last year you have settled into your new role with grace.  You are a great big sister.  There were many days when it broke my heart to watch you struggle, knowing that your little heart was breaking too...that you were afraid and insecure and feeling that your place in my heart was threatened by your younger siblings.  It never was.  Your very special place in my heart can never be occupied by anyone else but you. And God knew exactly what you needed, just as much as He knew what Y and MJ needed.  Had you stayed the "baby," you would not be the girl you are today.  He has grown you, refined you, and loved you.  Even as He will continue to do for many years and birthdays to come.  I can't wait to watch.  I will always be loving you, praying for you, and delighting in you.  

Love you sweet A.  Happy 7th.

Shall I Play for Him?

I love this video.  Love it. It made me dance in the kitchen this morning.  Made my heart sing.  Couldn't wait to show it to E this morning when he got up; music is his joy.  Maybe I could tolerate drums in the house after all...

Enjoy!   :)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What shall I give Him, poor as I am?

This is a story about a 13 year old girl, a set of earrings, and a mother's heart convicted. (I'm telling it with permission from said "13 year old girl). The story begins with R getting her ears pierced.  She wasn't sure she wanted them pierced, but she knew she would be allowed to do it when she turned 13.  We went away on a special mother/daughter "retreat" to celebrate her birthday, during which we visited Tyson's Corner for shopping and dinner.  While we were there (after much agonizing over the decision), she got her ears pierced.  She was told that she needed to wear the piercing studs (tiny gold balls which were used to pierce her ears) for six weeks, and then she could change them and wear other earrings.  It just happened that the end of the six week time period came just as we were ready to leave for Ethiopia.  A few days before we left, we purchased a little set of 4 pairs of earrings for her.  They weren't anything extravagant, but she picked them out herself with a friend and was excited to wear them.  So she actually packed them to take along to Ethiopia; a bit out of character since she was generally packing sparsely in order to make more room for donations, but those little earrings didn't take up much space.

Fast forward to the middle of our week in Ethiopia.  We had noticed that many of the little girls in the Kind Hearts Carepoint had pierced ears.  They looked as though they had been pierced with tiny slivers of wood, and often appeared to be infected. After having just observed the sterile and relatively painless method by which R's ears had been pierced, I have a hard time imagining the scene in which those little slivers had been forced through tiny earlobes.  Looking back, I'm not sure I actually ever noticed a little girl with earrings; I'm sure there must have been some, but what stuck in my memory was those little ears with the pieces of wood pierced through.  One of the members of our team mentioned that she wished she had a pair of earrings to give to her sponsored child, who was one of the girls with infected ears, but she hadn't brought a pair with her.  I was excited to remember that R had brought her little earring set, and said that I was sure she would be happy to give a pair away.

Later that night, I mentioned the conversation to R.  She didn't say much, but agreed that she would give away one of her pairs of earrings.  She climbed up on the top bunk where she was sleeping, inspected the set, and showed me a pair that she had chosen to give away.  I, not at all sensitive to any trouble brewing yet, pointed out that I thought one of the other pairs was cuter, and might be a better choice. This is when things began to go south.  I hadn't yet realized that those earrings were at the center of a battle going on over R's heart.  I continued the discussion, suggesting that she choose a pair which I didn't know were her favorites, and then wondering why she didn't just give them all away; there were several little girls at Kind Heart to choose from (all with splinters in their ears).

She did not want to give them away.  She particularly didn't want to give away the pairs she liked best.  In retrospect, I can consider that she was separated at that time from everything that feels familiar and comfortable and safe to her.  She was away from her Daddy, who is her compass.      She was exhausted, hungry, and stressed.  They were the first earrings she had ever had; she did not want to part from those earrings.  I, in my typical fashion of processing out loud (when will I learn to be slow to speak?) just burst out my disapproval to her.  I don't remember my exact words, but it was probably something along the lines of this: "Really!?  You seriously don't know whether you want to give away your earrings?  Did you notice that some of those girls don't even have shoes?"  I won't go on (it's too painful to admit any more), but suffice it to say that I stood myself up on a platform of self-righteousness.  And I'll confess that my pride was at work.  She was bursting my bubble.  I wanted her to respond perfectly (every time, of course).  I wanted her to gush lovely, unselfish words about those little girls being so much more important than her earrings.  (I was expecting her to be...better than I am.)  Instead, she was being honest about her feelings.  I'm sure she knew that she should've been happy to give those earrings away, but she just wasn't.  By the end of the evening, I had told her to just give me the earrings; that I would give them away, and replace them for her when we got home.  I was less than compassionate.  (I would love to be able to make excuses for myself now, and say that I  was also tired, hungry, stressed, and away from my safe places, but then again, I am not 13 by a long shot. I knew better.)

Morning came, and with it, of course....His mercies.  R had (figuratively) unclasped her fist from around those earrings.  She really didn't say anything to me other than to tell me that she would give them away. And she did. It wasn't until two weeks later, after we were home, that she told me that she had found joy in giving them away.  That God had changed her heart.  And He changed mine, too.  Because that day was a bit of a turning point for both of us.  When her dad (unaware of this whole ugly story) asked her to share with him one thing God had taught her through this trip, her response was, "I learned not to hold onto my stuff."  That might sound small, but it's not.  It's an area where her heart is vulnerable, and we knew it, and she knew it.  And her Father, out of committed love for her, put her in a painful position in order to expose it to her more fully and start healing her...making her stronger.  And as for me...I will be processing for a long while all of the things God showed me about myself on that trip.  But what I will share now is just what He taught me about my daughter.  That God is using her to make me better.  That her raw honestly, in clinging on to those little pairs of earrings, showed me a reflection of my own heart as I so often cling to things that can never satisfy me, while I miss out on the joy of just laying them down and running to Him.  But since I'm not 13, I have developed the finesse to hide my own selfishness much better than she can hide hers...sometimes I even fool myself.  She is honest.  She is full of sin and struggle and uncertainty about who she is and who God is.  She is beautiful, and showing me that I am beautiful to my Father, even as I fall and get up and fall again.  And since I am an imperfect mom, and so often fail even in helping her as she falls and struggles to get up again, I am so thankful that her Father is there for her.

So this is the verse that came to my heart this morning.  Matthew 13:44:  "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."

I'm so thankful that those earrings are in Ethiopia right now.  And just maybe, they were a down payment on a treasure.  Hidden in a field. 

What can I give Him, poor as I am?  If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;.  If I were a wiseman, I would do my part;  Yet what I can I give Him; give my heart.   
Christina Rosetti

Monday, December 5, 2011

What they don't know won't hurt them

It is Monday morning.

The six of them are sitting around the breakfast table, eating rice pudding.  The announcement of rice pudding for breakfast (instead of oatmeal) was greeted with cheers, and I'm thinking that they may perceive that I am in particularly good spirits to have cooked up this treat for them.  What they don't know is that I'm not.  They don't know that their breakfast banter is grating on me this morning.  They don't know that yesterday was a really hard day for me, and that I woke up still in a bad mood this morning.  I'm irritable.  I. am. not. in. the. mood.  I would rather have pulled the covers over my head than greeted them and fixed breakfast.  And yes, I got up early, opened my Bible, read and prayed (but didn't ever feel like it...even by the end).

But...I know that I can keep fooling them for a little while longer.  If I can just control my tongue...keep saying silly little things to them about St. Nicholas day coming tomorrow, and how if they leave their shoes in the hall tonight we'll put donuts in them.

Keep returning their hugs.  Hugging back hard and never being the first one to let go...even though I have to take a deep breath and force it.  Keep smiling.  Keep the Christmas music playing loud, and stir up the dough for gingerbread men.

Because here's the wonderful truth behind this tiny deceit:  If I can hold on, and put one foot in front of the other in obedience, even if I don't feel like it...I know that soon (very soon), the One who removes my sins as far as the east is from the west will likely make me forget that my heart isn't really in it.  And then my heart really will be in it.  I think I'm starting to feel it already...

He is so good.

(Postscript:  I added this later, because shortly after writing this post, the Casting Crowns CD we were listening to played a song that  Here it is.  Enjoy.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Last Sunday evening was the first Sunday of advent. We have some special traditions for advent that we've  practiced over the last few years, and we really look forward to the beginning of this special season.  We did have a couple of small changes to our routine this year.  First, though we have used an advent wreath for many years, in the past we've generally made it from pine and holly branches.  I admit, I've never really enjoyed making the advent wreath, and I've lived in fear every year that it would eventually catch on fire as it dries out through the weeks of advent!  We've always planned on designing and making a wooden advent "wreath" ourselves, but never got around to it.  Finally last year, during the "after-Christmas" sales, I purchased one.  I had almost forgotten about it, and was happy to find the box in the attic when we pulled out the Christmas decorations.  Every evening during advent, we light the candles and do our advent readings. 
We've used lots of resources for advent reading over the years, usually using a "Jesus Tree" or "Jesse Tree."  Last year I found one that has become our favorite (I didn't even look for something new this year).  This devotional at A Holy Experience captured my heart. (I knew it was the right one when I cried every time I read it.)  Below is our version of a Jesus Tree, with the first few "ornaments" already in place.  There's a reading and an ornament for each night of advent.
The Christmas tree is Jim's department.  In the past, he has never considered a tree to be truly worthy unless  acquiring it involved traipsing through the woods with a handsaw.  We've spent some long, cold afternoons hunting for just the right tree, finishing up with hot chocolate to warm up cold hands.  But for the last two years we've traded all of that in as we've sought to keep the advent season a bit more simple.  The last two trees came from....Lowe's.  Here's the finished product this year: (Jim wants to add that this is squashing his pride).   :)
 This is my favorite part of the Christmas decorating; the nativity.  We bought this one at a craft sale years ago, and it just fits us.  We have a Playmobile nativity that we get out the day after Thanksgiving for the children to play with, but this one plays a central role in our Christmas day routine.  Notice that the baby Jesus is absent...but he'll appear on Christmas morning.  We'll move the nativity from the mantel to a small table in front of the Christmas tree.  It's the first thing the children run to on Christmas morning, with candles all around,  flickering in the darkness of the early morning.  And we'll read the Christmas story from Luke. And sing O Come, All Ye Faithful. And we'll worship. It's the sweetest part of Christmas day. I've kind of always meant to have a collection of nativity scenes (like Noel Piper), but somehow this simple one has sufficed for many years.
 Okay, here's one of our advent traditions that's not very....traditional.  Beans and rice.  Rice and beans.  Every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We eat rice and beans, and we're saving the money we would have spent on more sumptuous that someone else won't be hungry.  We generally keep a strict grocery budget, so it's easy to keep track of how much money we're saving.  On Christmas morning we add it up, along with contributions the children make by earning money for extra chores during advent.  Last year the money went to World Vision, this year it will likely go to Children's Hope Chest.  One pound of black beans costs $.99.  One pound of rice; $.85.  So our family of 8 can spend less than $2.00 for dinner.  Okay, I'll confess; we generally do put a jar of salsa on the table, which makes the beans and rice a bit more palatable for some of the children when the novelty wears off (after about a week).  Still, even with the salsa thrown in, it's pretty effective.  We all get a very concrete picture of our capacity to sacrifice, give, and impact others.  We also have a much better perspective on how much we truly blessed we are.  Having beans and rice every night...a luxury to much of the world.  And we know that Christmas is coming. Both literally and figuratively, we are waiting for a feast.  We want to share it.
 Oh, and one more thing...not exactly a tradition, but certainly a familiar occurrence at our house at Christmas time.  Someone singing, "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth."  When that second top front tooth came out last week (and when A and I were going out to get her the Chick Fil-A peppermint milkshake I promised her if she'd let me pull it out), I was thinking that I'd be sad someday when there aren't any more toothless smiles around Christmas time or any time.  But I'll enjoy it while it lasts.  Gotta love that smile.  :)
A few more of our favorite advent traditions:

  • Visiting Bethlehem (or as close as we're likely to come to the real thing!)
  • Reading lots of Christmas stories, and in particular John Piper's advent stories and poems.  The Innkeeper is one of my favorites, and you can read it or listen to it here, or here (but have a tissue handy if you do).
  • "St. Nicking" our friends (on St. Nicholas Day each member of our family chooses a couple of families to surprise with a plate of cookies.  The children take turns sneaking up to leave the cookies, ringing the doorbell, and running.  This year we even bought a Santa hat).

 So far this advent season, the best part has been...the mornings. I'd been struggling for awhile to get up early enough, and I'd really been feeling it.  The effects of not having enough time alone with Him.  But I've discovered a wonderful benefit of jet lag.  When I got home from Ethiopia, my internal clock was such a mess that I was getting up crazy early (one morning I was up at 2am!).  I've been able to keep it up so far (well, not 2am, but a reasonable 5:30 or 6), and the time...with the One we're celebrating during advent...has been so sweet.  I'm already looking forward to getting up tomorrow...just to be with Him.

Wish I could hear all of your advent traditions...I love, love, love this time of year.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Trees of Glory

Children's Hopechest currently has 20 carepoints in Ethiopia (they are praying and working toward increasing this number greatly over the next few years).  We visited four carepoints last week, but spent most of our time at two of them; Trees of Glory and Kind Hearts.  Each carepoint has its own distinct character, and the character at Trees of Glory seems to be a reflection of this precious lady:
Her name is Simret, and her sweet spirit and love of God permeate Trees of Glory.  She lives here, caring for over 130 children.  Most of the children walk to Trees of Glory from villages nearby, but 13 of them live here with her.  She is not married, and doesn't have children "of her own."  "I am lucky," she will tell you, "that God has given these children to me."  She showed me where the children sleep; girls in one building, boys in another. This is the girls' home: 
Simret was happy to show me the girls' rooms; small concrete floored rooms in a cinder block building, each room sparsely decorated with a cot and a small crate for a table, some draped with colorful cloths.  Each room neat as a pin, and each one conveying cheerfulness. Then she showed me her own room...tiny and with no more elaborate possessions or decorations than those of the little girls.  She showed me an equally tiny, spotless room with a small desk which is her office.  But her face glowed when she showed me another room...this one empty except for a mat on the floor.  This one, she explained, is where she prays.  That one moment, as this amazing woman showed me that room with joy, defined this place for me. 

We arrived and were welcomed by this sight; most of the children had gathered in a play area to sing and greet us:

Can you see the sweet girl in the center of this picture; holding a paper in her hands?  This was our first sight of Meseret, the 14 year old girl we sponsor at Trees of Glory.

Of the roughly 130 children attending Trees of Glory, over 100 of them currently have sponsor families.  Because of this, these children are receiving food, education, and Christian teaching/discipleship.  Without this program, most of these children would be hungry, and they would not receive schooling (they are required to purchase uniforms and books in order to attend school, and most of the families do not have the resources to do so).  But the heart (for me) of the sponsorship program is that these children are hearing the Word of God from the staff and teachers at Trees of Glory each day.  They are hearing that He loves them and has a plan for their lives.  They are receiving His love in tangible ways from the precious servants who work with them at Trees of Glory. They are seeing His heart in the hearts of Simret and others.  At this particular carepoint, many of the children are from Muslim families.  They are taking God's word with them into their homes. Jim and I visited some of the Children's Hopechest carepoints briefly when we were in Addis Ababa almost two years ago, and were excited about the work they were doing.  But this opportunity to look deeper and see the impact on these children has kindled my passion even more.

On the second day of our visit to Trees of Glory, we delivered care packages to the children from their American sponsor families (the team had also put together care packages for those children who don't have a sponsor yet.  Sponsored children received a picture and letter from their sponsor families, along with some small gifts sent to them from their family (toothbrushes, small toys, school supplies, etc.).  Those without a sponsor received a t-shirt and a few small items as well.  But every child received a blanket.  Apryl, one of the members of our team, had coordinated this huge effort to bring around 400 blankets with us.  We all carried some of the blankets with us in our luggage, but they were made by hands (large and small) all over the US.  Many of the children at Trees of Glory sleep on dirt packed floors at night, and the temperature gets quite cool when the sun goes down, so it was moving to see all of the children clasping their blankets close as they walked home that evening.  The blankets are the type made out of two pieces of fleece tied together along the edges with knots, and we did notice once particularly poignant occurance the next time we visited; some of the children had painstakingly untied every knot in their blankets in order to have an extra blanket to share with a sister or brother at home.

Meseret, the girl we sponsor at Trees of Glory, is a very reserved, poised young lady.  She at first was unwilling for us to take a picture of her, even as throngs of little ones all around us were begging us for "photographs." But on the second day of our visit, when we delivered care packages to all of the children,  R and I were able to sit down with Meseret and a translator, and to give her the package we had brought for her.  R had especially wanted to sponsor a girl close to her own age, and had carefully chosen some of the items in our care package, including a pair of jeans, t-shirt, and a necklace. When we went back to Trees of Glory for the last time, almost a week later, Meseret was wearing the necklace, took some pictures with us, and hugged us good-bye.  I really can't describe how special it was to be with her, and I'm praying it won't be the last time.

More soon...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Crying at Kroger and other random thoughts...

I've just come home from Kroger.  (I know, I're expecting a post about having just come home from will come.)

So this was a new experience.  Standing in the parking lot of Kroger and just...weeping.  I felt my stomach turning when I walked in, but I hadn't eaten, plus am having adverse effects from the antibiotic I'm taking for malaria, so I chalked it up to that at first.  But it wasn't the antibiotic, or the empty stomach, it really was my gut response to the culture shock.  So.  Much.  Food.  So much stuff.  So little gratitude, so little turning one's eyes to God in thankfulness, so little consideration of how much has been given to us and how much is expected of us.  And a few minutes later I found myself back in my kitchen, again weeping.  Trying to share my heart with the make them see. (You should have seen their faces; big eyes, alarmed, wondering what's wrong with Mom...poor kids!)   James 1:27...religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this; to look after widows and orphans in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  This is really the bottom line for is just so stinkin' easy to be polluted by the world. But HE knows it.  Our Father knows us, and in mercy He gives us the antidote to the poison the world feeds us.  Look at the widows and orphans.  Look at the ones who are hungry, poor, lonely, distressed.  Look at them and do something about it. Love the things He loves, keep your eyes and heart and hands and feet there.  When we do, we are in His presence.  Because He is there too.  We are intimate with Him...we are washing His feet, clothing Him, feeding Him.  It is an experience that is indescribably sweet, satisfying, leaves us wanting more.  It fills us up and makes the "pollution" of the world detestable to us.  So often, we look at God's exhortations to care for the needy as a burden.  We are likely to act out of duty, or even guilt.  We miss the truth...that He is giving us a privilege...He is inviting us into His presence...He is sharing His heart...He is calling us into a banquet.  He isn't placing a heavy burden on our shoulders...He is taking one off.  He wants to refine our appetites...wants us to taste and see His goodness.  And oh, how good it is; how sweet.

In a few days, or a week or two, I will walk into that same Kroger, and I will not weep.  I'll push my cart, glance at my shopping list, drop the items in without a thought.  I'll talk on my cell phone while I shop, or chat with the kids about our weekend plans.  This is where I live; and truly, I'm not serving anyone by crying at Kroger.  But I can, and I will, keep fighting the pollution.  I will remember how weak I am; how susceptible to the "charms" of the world, and I will keep asking Him to help me.  I will keep asking Him, every morning (and afternoon, and night) to show me where to turn my eyes and put my feet.  To fill me with the sweet satisfaction of His presence...I am hungry for it.  I will keep asking Him for wisdom in how I can whet my children's appetites for what is good and true and right.

I do not have the wisdom to know what this is always supposed to look like.  I don't know how we balance living here in suburban America with dying to ourselves.  I don't think we necessarily have to sell everything we own...but we need to be willing to do so.  I don't think we should be unable to enjoy all of the blessings available to us...but I never want to cease knowing and acknowledging that they are from His hand and they are His.  And I do believe, for my family, that we should be weighing every choice we make...the way that we spend our time, our money, every resource we have...according to His priorities.  Seeking His heart in all of it, and always, always, receiving back far more than we can ever give.

God is good.  We are blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.  In everything give thanks.

Friday, November 11, 2011

One Hour

Leaving in an hour.  Only this thought for the morning:

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in Him, and He will act.  He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.
The steps of a man are established by the Lord, 
When he delights in his way, though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Almost There...

Our flight leaves in about 12 hours.  We'll have to leave here at around 6:30 am for our 11 am flight.  Bags are packed, R is in bed...I hope to be in my bed in a few minutes.

I'm not feeling particularly articulate about the whole thing.  I find myself feeling awed by this opportunity...this gift.  I honestly have an image of myself just taking His hand and heading off, not really knowing where He will take me.  The blessing of having the opportunity to just love the ones He feels overwhelming to me right now.  I can't even imagine what I will have to share on the other side of this trip.

Please pray for R.  My specific prayer for her is that God will use all that she sees and experiences to draw her to Himself.  She's a 13 year old girl with a tender heart, and it will be easy for her to grow in her compassion for those who are "less fortunate" than she.  It's likely that she will experience pain, grief, even guilt, as her eyes are opened to the realities of poverty and need.  But I don't want her heart to be turned to the poor and needy for their sakes alone.  I am longing and praying that she will have her Father's heart.  That she will be driven to trust Him, to turn to Him and long for Him in a way that is new to her.  That she will be able to lay all of the pain and suffering she sees in His hands, right along with her own life.  And that she will see the joy...oh, that she would experience the pure joy.  The mysterious duality that she will be used by Him to serve His little ones, and at the same time have the unspeakable privilege of serving Him...washing His feet.  For whatever you do unto the least of these by brothers, you have done it unto Me.  She knows the words, but now...she might really know. Oh, that she might really experience deep intimacy with Him.  Please pray with me for this.  By the way, when she found out that Meseret (the 14 year old girl that we sponsor) likes blue jeans, and that they are hard to come by, she decided to pack extra clothes and leave them all in Ethiopia.  She's planning to come home with just the clothes on her back.  Oh, and the gifts she buys for her brothers, sisters and friends.  She's been saving her babysitting money for months!

We will be landing in Addis Ababa at 7:45 Saturday morning, check into our Guest House, and head straight for Trees of Glory, one of the two Carepoints at which we'll spend most of our time.  With the exception of Tuesday, we'll be at the Carepoints from morning 'til evening every day, working with the children.

We have four bags packed (plus our carry-ons), and three of them are completely filled with donations and supplies for the Carepoints.  (The fourth is mostly our personal stuff, along with our gifts for our sponsored child, and gifts for an Ethiopian friend we'll be meeting on Monday).  All four bags are very close to the 50 pound limit, so that's at least 150 pounds of donations.  We have been absolutely amazed at God's provision for this trip; for these children.  Thank you so much to all who have donated supplies, or given us money to purchase them.  You are all going into Ethiopia with us!!

Back on November 21st!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Counting Down the Days...and Packing...

Feeling so blessed.  I went to a birthday party yesterday with Y, MJ, and A.  The party was for the most precious little sweetie from our church who was turning 3 years old.  Her parents asked the guests to skip the b-day presents, and instead asked everyone to bring...donations for our trip.  It almost took my breath away when her mom told me about it.  All of the children had a great time at the party, and we came home with a big box of donated school supplies; crayons, markers, glue, scissors, name it.  We also brought home the rest of the items which had been donated by folks from our church, combined it with donated items we already had at home, and today I set out to pack it up.  It looked like so much, and the boxes were so heavy, I really was afraid we wouldn't be able to fit it all.  Here's the picture of the donations before I packed them:

R and I can each bring two bags, weighing no more than 50 pounds each, plus one carry-on.  We've already committed one of our four bags to blankets (the team is aiming to take a blanket for each of the 300 plus children we'll be serving; it's cold at night in Ethiopia, and many of the children don't have a blanket of their own).  We also need to take supplies to do a Bible story and craft with about 400 children.  Then we'll need to take our own personal things (we're trying to limit that as much as possible).  

I was able to fit all of the donated school supplies into one bag, and it weighed almost exactly 50 pounds!  Amazing.  The blankets fill one bag.  The craft supplies only filled about half of a bag, and only weighed about 20 pounds, so I'm excited that we actually have room for a lot more donations.  We can fit at least 25 pounds of donations into the bag with the craft supplies, plus whatever space we have in the bag with our personal stuff (I haven't tried to pack that yet).  If anyone wants to pick up any more school supplies to send along, we have 10 more days to go!  Below are the three bags I've packed so far; the blue one has the craft supplies, and has lots more room to be filled.  The children at the Carepoints DO NOT HAVE access to crayons, markers, glue sticks...etc., etc.  They don't have money. There is no Walmart.  I was really struck, as I looked at the wealth of donations I was packing, at how much I take for granted.  I do feel privileged to be given the opportunity to deliver this wealth of gifts to the children at Kind Hearts and Trees of Glory.  I don't want to have an extra square inch of space, or free ounce of weight, available in those bags when we leave.  Our family will take one last trip to Walmart next weekend to fill any remaining space.  I know that I will be coming home with my heart full...and my bags empty.  Thanks to all who are helping with this.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

Thank you, Daddy.

Jim gets up before anyone else is awake, as he leaves for work quite early.  Usually when I get up later he's in the living room with his coffee and his bible, the house still quite and still.  This morning when I came down, he was sitting in his usual spot, but there was loud music coming from the kitchen.  The kitchen door was closed, and I assumed that E was up doing schoolwork in the kitchen (he gets an early start some days).  But no one else was up.  Jim said that he got up this morning feeling a bit discouraged.  But as he came downstairs, he heard his favorite Third Day song blaring from the dark kitchen.  He went in to find the music coming from my laptop.  Which was closed.  I was using it before going to bed last night, and hadn't shut it down.  But there hadn't been any music playing.  And I had closed it.  Don't know about you, but my laptop doesn't generally start playing music on it's own...after it's been closed, and in the middle of the night.  Jim opened it up and saw that the music was from a playlist on a site with which he wasn't familiar (it was a blog I read sometimes).  He said that when he saw what was going on, he just decided to "go with it," and he worshiped.  He just raised his hands and worshiped.    

Do you think God works that way?  I do.  James 1:17 says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."  

Do you suppose that the "Father of Heavenly Lights" can play music on a laptop? (Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us...).  

Do you imagine that He knows your favorite song? (You perceive my thoughts from afar...You are familiar with all my ways...).

Do you believe that He wants to encourage you?  (Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.)

I am so often inclined to miss His hand upon me.  To evaluate all that happens through the lens of human reason.  How much do we miss when we do that?  When we simply fail to look up?  To remember that every good and perfect gift is from above, and to just bask in His love and goodness?  To say thank you?

When I was in college, just coming to know my Father, I knew a young man who was in love with Him.  When this young man prayed, he called God "Daddy."  It was foreign to me at the time, and even uncomfortable...relating to God that way.  Imagining Him loving me that way.  But now, with so many years to look back on, so many memories of experiencing His loving hand upon me...I get it.  It's no stretch at all for me to imagine my husband turning on some music to encourage one of our sons or daughters.  Knowing that they were needing encouragement, and knowing them well enough to offer it in a way that would bless them.

So thank you, Daddy.  Thanks for the encouragement for Jim, and for me.  And for all of the children, who heard their earthly daddy share this story with them this morning, with tears in his eyes. 

Oh, and by the way, here's the link to the blog with the music: A Place Called Simplicity.  It's a favorite of mine, and well worth reading, but seriously...the play list is fabulous.   :) 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

On My Heart...

Generally when I blog about adoption, I'm telling stories about our family's experiences.  But adoption is on my mind and my heart a lot.  Not just it's impact on our family, but God's heart for adoption, and how that should play out for us as Christians.  When we were in the process of adopting Y and MJ, we connected with a sweet family who were adopting their two girls from the same "care center" (orphanage) where Y and MJ were living at the time.  We were very concerned about Y, and working hard to get help for him due to his extreme malnutrition.  This sweet mom was in Ethiopia while we were waiting to go get Y and MJ, and she took the time to check on our children, love on them, and give us some peace of mind while we waited.  She has since adopted again, and has become an advocate for orphans (through Children's Hope Chest).  She wrote a post today on her blog, Steadfast Minds, about her heart for adoption.  She also included a video I love; the video for the Third Day song Children of God.  Thanks, Jessica.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Friday, October 7, 2011

It's October...

October is upon us.  Do you know what this means?

Pumpkins.  We love them.  Eating them, that is...pies, cakes, pancakes, soup, cookies, roasted pumpkin seeds, etc., etc., etc.  My favorite is pumpkin pie for breakfast (Pumpkin pie is FULL of vegetables and milk.  I even steamed the pumpkin myself, rather than just opening a can.  I think pumpkin pie fits into the category of "super food" right along with chia seeds. Breakfast of champions. Just sayin'.)  Oh, and NG ate FIVE bowls of pumpkin soup at dinner tonight.  Onions and all.
R's birthday.  THIRTEEN!  Coming up in just two days.  Could it be...I'm a mom of a "teenager"?  I'm finding out just how sweet being mom to a "teen-aged" girl can be.  What a precious gift God gives us in having the privilege to not only watch our children grow, but to see His grace growing in them.

Jim's birthday is in October, too.  I won't announce his age, but I love celebrating him.

Fall camping!  Next weekend!  (Oh, how I hope it doesn't rain.  Or dip below 40 degrees at night.)

Apples!  (See pics below).  God is so good.  Okay, you might think I'm a bit overboard here with all of this reveling in the fall stuff, but God is just so can you miss seeing His goodness in apples and pumpkins, and the fall leaves, and in celebrating birthdays, and...well, I digress from the apples. Delight in it! Delight yourself in Him!  DELIGHT!

I can't believe that we're only a few weeks away from going to Ethiopia.  So much to do, so much to process, so much prayer.  Pray with me, please. God is blessing my socks off with His perfect provision and preparation for this trip.  If you're interested in seeing the whole team, plus reading a bit more about the trip, check out this post on the blog Family From Afar.  Karen is the coordinator of this trip, and a huge advocate for the children we'll be serving.

I know I'm horrible about writing here.  I love to write, I love to share what God is doing.  Just working on finding the time.  More soon!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Our Adoption Video

I've been wanting and intending to make this video for the last 18 months. I guess it was just not the right time until now.  I know that my heart, and our family, are not the same.  My perspective, and my view of all that God has done and is doing, are different than they were 18 months ago.  So here's the story...for now.  :)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sometimes you just have to show up

As I mentioned yesterday, Rebekah and I are going to Ethiopia in November.  We're going with a group from Children's Hope Chest, an organization Jim and I hooked up with when we were in Ethiopia to bring Y and MJ home.  We were compelled by the work they were doing to help not only orphans, but families.  Families with children who might otherwise been placed in orphanages had they not received much needed help and support. 
I'll be explaining more about Children's Hope Chest, and about our trip, over the next weeks, but meanwhile we were given a wonderful opportunity yesterday to share our passion and to raise money to help the children we'll be visiting in November.  Our church family has been a tremendous blessing to us over the last year since we joined, and the women's ministry agreed to host a fundraising breakfast for us.  Actually, to say that they agreed is an understatement.  Months ago I e-mailed the two ladies who lead the women's ministry to ask if they might be willing to help, and they enthusiastically RAN with it. I was overwhelmed.  We decided to have a One Purse breakfast, asking each lady who attended to bring a "gently used" purse.  We would eat breakfast,  R and I would share our presentation for Children's Hope Chest, and then everyone could "shop" for a new purse.  The suggested donation to "purchase" a purse was $10.  We expected between 30 and 40 women to attend, so I was hopeful that we might raise $300 or so.  Oh ye of little faith (okay, oh ME of little faith).  Through those ladies, God provided $903 for the children at Trees of Glory and Kind Hearts, the Children's Hope Chest Carepoints we'll be visiting.  I could hardly believe it.  I had to count it three times.

Here's the kicker.  I had been preparing for that presentation for weeks.  Yet I felt completely unprepared.  I like to talk.  I talk too much.  I'm a verbal processer, and I sometimes need to hear myself talk just to complete a thought (I'm not kidding...ask my husband).  I can certainly be eloquent at times, but there are plenty of times when I cannot put two sensible words together.  I'm much the same when I write.  Sometimes my heart just flows out through my words, and I can feel it.  But often when I try to write I just can't get it to flow, and I'm sure I couldn't write a convincing ad for a yard sale.  The night before the breakfast, after weeks of preparing, I was trying to write a final outline for my talk.  I couldn't get it out.  I tried to share with Jim what I planned to share the next morning, and it was awful.  A-W-F-U-L.  I was a bit panicked.  This was really important to me, and I had felt that God was leading me to do this, but I didn't know if I could. 

I'm sure someone out there knows just where I'm going with this.  I was right.  I couldn't do it.  I think that God was just clearing the path.  I got up the next morning (well, I didn't actually sleep, but I'll explain that in a minute), drove to the church with R and NG, went in, and started setting up.  I had no idea what was going to happen, or exactly how I could pull it off.  But I do know that HE wanted me to know that nothing that happened that morning would be because of me.  He wanted me to know that my words were not needed.  That if there was anything that any of those ladies needed to hear about adoption, or orphans, or families in Ethiopia, or about Himself, it would come from Him, not me.  And it did.  I'm thankful, so thankful, that I didn't walk into that church confidant that I had it all together.  Calmly assured that I had a great, convicting speech planned.  I had nothing to offer, and I knew it.  But the girls and I had prayed all the way there that if God had anything to say, He would say it.  That any agenda set forth would be His, not mine.  Truly, He chooses the weak to show Himself strong.  He just wanted me to stand up and open my mouth.  More of You, Lord, and less of me.  I'm crying a bit now as I write this, because as dear as those children and families we'll be serving in Ethiopia are to me, they are infinitely more precious to Him.  And He is teaching me more and more that I am precious to Him, too. 

I have to add that the two weeks prior to the breakfast were horrible.  Every day some new catastrophe seemed to happen.  The dog had a tumor, which required surgery.  MJ broke her collarbone.  My back went out.  A had a fever of almost 105 degrees for three days.  The bathroom flooded, I ran a red light (at an intersection with a red-light camera) rushing home between a myriad of doctor's appointments, and we found out that R needs a root canal.  There was more, but really...need I go on?  Jim was convinced that we were under attack because I was preparing for this presentation at church, but I wasn't so convinced.  I was thinking small.  The night before the breakfast (remember, the night I was flustered because I couldn't even explain to Jim what I would say the next morning), I was up literally all night coughing.  Perfectly healthy all day the day before, no cough at all.  I swigged cough syrup through the night, got up and went to church with no sleep.  (Okay, I admit it...I stopped at Starbucks for a Pumpkin Spice Latte in a moment of exhausted weakness).  I never coughed once during my talk, or felt sick at all.  By the time I got home, I had no voice, and was in bed and miserably sick for the rest of the day.  Here's the thing...I do believe that God preserved my voice and health so that I could go to that breakfast.  So that I could have the chance to see Him show up and show ME that He is all I need and more.  He could've just kept me from getting sick at all.  He could've kept me from coughing all night so I'd have been rested.  He could have kept me from getting sick and losing my voice afterward. But I don't wish He would've done it that way.  I would've missed the chance to see Him prove Himself to me (again).  He doesn't have to...He does it because He knows I'm weak, that my faith is often so small.  And He loves me anyway. 

Anyway, if you prayed for the breakfast, thanks.  And if you were there, well...thanks is a small word.  I was blessed.

Tomorrow I'll try to post the video we made for the breakfast.  :)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pray for us tomorrow...

Oops...I meant to post about this earlier in the week.  The big news is, R and I are going to Ethiopia in November.  We're going with a group from Children's Hope Chest, and I'll explain more about that later.  Meanwhile, we are so blessed that our church is standing alongside of us in our desire to help families in Ethiopia, a passion we've had since we got home with Mihret and Yosi 18 months ago.  Tomorrow morning our church women's ministry is hosting a breakfast to raise funds for the Children's Hope Chest carepoints we'll be visiting in November.  Please pray that God will use us to speak up for these children, and that we'll be able to help provide for some of their many needs.  R and I are really excited. We made a video about our adoption, something I've been wanting to do for a long time, and we'll be able to share it at the breakfast.  I'll post it here after that.  It's really to late to post this asking for prayer for tomorrow morning, but whenever you read this, please pray anyway!    

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Moving forward, Looking back

Is anyone out there?  (I think I heard an echo...)  A friend asked me ...a few weeks ago...why I hadn't posted cute pics of the kids having summer fun, so here they finally are.  I know I haven't posted since Easter, but at least I'm getting to the summer pics before fall officially arrives!  We do have some big events coming up this fall that I want to share about, but first I'll wrap up the summer.  We had a full summer, so here's the first batch, with another post to come.  (Enjoy, Grandma!)

First, a camping trip (the first of the summer)

 For E, it wouldn't be summer if we didn't catch any reptiles or amphibians!

Some of E's friends taught him how to make sushi this summer, and he taught his dad.  We're all fans!

Cow Appreciation Day!  (Free food from Chick-Fil-A for anyone dressed like a cow)

This is how we spent most of our summer (at least 3 hours/day, five days/week): at the pool.  All six children were on the swim team.

The second camping trip of the summer:

I'll finish up the summer on the next post!