Tuesday, December 17, 2013

God is close to the brokenhearted

It has been so neat to have such great conversations with Maran over the last 2 months or so. We have seen a sudden shift in her to start talking about and sharing her feelings instead of shutting them out or pretending it doesn't affect her.  Back in October we shared more of her story with her about how she came to be in an orphanage in DR Congo and then in our home.  Our goal from the beginning was always to be as transparent as is appropriate so she feels like we have never hidden anything from her and she can come to us about anything, nothing is taboo or off limits in our family when it comes to her talking about her adoption.  So on that early November night as we shared with her, it was the first time we have seen her weep, grieve, wail over her past.  She healthily grieved and processed what has gone on in her little life and story. She has told me memories about Congo and where she lived before the orphanage. But it was always cold and distant. This brought a new realness to it all, a closeness.  She finally felt safe enough to lean on me for handling it and shared how it hurt and how she missed and how she was sad and even in her own words "my heart is broken". It has opened up doors for conversation about where God is in suffering that I never thought I would be having with my 5 year old who spoke her first english word just over a year and two months ago. It ebbs and flows in and out of daily life as I pick her up from school, we play games, or during our time as a family reading about Jesus. One night was particularly memorable as we had just finished the story about Naaman. I read the final words,
"God healed you. You can't pay," Elisha said. "It's free".
And so it was that a very sick man was healed- all because of a little servant girl who forgave him. God knew sin was like leprosy. It stopped his children's hearts from working properly and in the end it would kill them.  Years later, God was going to forgive as the servant girl did- to forgive all of God's children and heal the terrible sickness in their hearts.
Their hearts were broken.
But God can mend broken hearts"

Now normally during anything that involves being still, Maran is all over the place. Usually not listening attentively but checking out her fingernails, my hair, the Christmas tree lights, etc. But here eyes were peeled as I read the end of that story. She responded.
"Mom, why hasn't God healed my broken heart yet?"

This has been the question she has asked day after day, week after week for over a month now. She came to that conclusion, I never put the thought in her head that her heart was broken and needed fixing. She told her family that her heart is broken. It is in need of a Savior. She didn't ask me to fix it. It's like she knew it was something only he can do. And in faith like a child she looked up and asked why on earth her daddy in heaven hadn't fixed it yet. Tears came to my eyes as I tried to answer that it takes time, but God promises he will heal our hearts. It may not be fixed until heaven or he may fix all of it before then, I don't know, but I know he is mending broken pieces together and writing a new story. That answer seems to appease her until the next time she asks.

So one morning I went in her room and I said "Maran, I have been thinking and praying for your heart and God gave me a verse for you. God is close to the broken hearted". We chatted about if she likes being close to mommy, snuggling and hugging or if she would rather me a long distance away. (My child who can never be close enough to anyone and has no idea of why anyone would want personal space) She replied emphatically that hugging, snuggled, cheek to cheek is best. And I told her, well God sees your broken heart and sad heart and that makes him want to be even closer to you! He promises it! He will be so close all of your life as you go in and out of sadness and on the days when you don't understand how you got here or why this has happened to you. He is close. 

It was like I had just given her christmas gifts to her. Her eyes lit up and she hugged herself and squealed. A few hours later, the interchange wasn't top of mind for me and she came over to me and grabbed my face. "Mom, I want to teach you and everyone in this world my song I made up."

It went something like this,
"God loves you, I love him, even when you have a sad or broken or bad heart he doesn't mind, he is close close close to you. God loves you, I love him, even when my heart is bad I know he loves me too, because he is always close to me."

God promises his word doesn't return void. It was like a balm to hear soul that day and it sunk in deep. 

Our counselor encouraged Maran to share her story with her sister and brother. It is of course hers to share so we hadn't told Reese or Wheeler. We had some one on one time with the girls so I asked Maran if she thought it was a good time to share with reese. She excitedly said yes with only a slight shy hesitation, she grabbed her Congo picture book and we all sat on the couch. Maran shared in broken pieces her story and asked me to fill in in some spots. I watched as my 7 year old started to weep. Heaving weeps for her sister. It was beauty in my children like I rarely see. Reese saw her for who she is, where she has come from, what she has been through. And she met her there. In her sadness and wept for her. Maran was fine this time sharing and didn't get upset. But she was shocked why Reese was crying. "Reese, why are you getting sad, why are you crying? Are you crying for me? Are you sad about me?" Reese couldn't answer. It was the most perfect way I have seen them love each other. Maran's bravery and trust to share it with Reese and Reese meeting her there with a heartfelt response. Later in the day I pulled Reese aside and chatted with her about it as we painted nails. I asked her what she was thinking as she cried. She teared up again and said how sad she was for Maran and how hard that must've been. How she can't imagine losing her family and going to live with a different one. For the first time she understood adoption from both sides. The trauma and the beauty. The loss and the gift. 

It has been a beautiful process as we walk through this together. It is tough and challenging as I navigate uncharted waters. But it is worth it. It is hard work but it is worthy work. I will sit on the sidelines in awe as watch as God works, moves, heals, starts a fresh, teaches, and comes close. 
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Sunday, November 24, 2013

A few of my favorite things....

So this is a first for me! A favorite things list and a giveaway!! Watch out!
Since the holidays are upon us I thought I would do a list of a few of my favorite things in case you are at a loss on your Christmas shopping for a special person in your life... I've got a lot so lets get started...

Family Focused
1. ABC Scripture cards- I love having these up in the kitchen and changing them out each week. It is not only a great memory tool for the kids to learn scripture but good for me too! They're also stylish and fun! Order them here!
2. Melissa and Doug Family Dinner Questions- I got these just a few weeks ago (had to weed through a few that didn't fit with our family) and the kids are loving them! Questions like "what is the best lesson your parents have taught you?" an
d "what is one kind thing a family member has said or done for you this week?". The kids are loving them and we have had some fun new dinner convos lately!
3. Advent Planning Crafts from Lay Baby Lay- we planned it out and are doing these 4 awesome crafts based off of the attributes of Jesus in Isaiah 9:6 (Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace). So pumped to do this this advent as a family.  
4. Light 'em up- we did this two years ago really faithfully and it was amazing. Last year I was just trying to stay above water with 4 kids but this year I am feeling back on track and ready to tackle our community with kindness! It is an awesome way to involve kids ages 2-20 in really living out the meaning of christmas! Check it out!

For the reader
5. Ronnie wilson's gift- my favorite kids book thus far. It really puts living and serving Jesus in a way that kids can understand. 
6. Jesus storybook Bible- if you don't have it yet for your family, grab it! It points every Bible story back to Jesus in such a beautiful way!
7. My favorite book list over the last few years? Interrupted and 7 by Jen Hatmaker, Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis, Radical and Follow me (reading now) by David Platt, Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. For easy reading pick up anything by Charles Martin, about to start his new one Unwritten and I am beyond excited. 

For the music lover
8. Matt Papa- Look and Live album has been on repeat for me all Fall. Love it.
9. For King and Country- love them. Their Christmas album is currently playing on my phone!
10. One Republic Native album- they may be my fave band of all time. I love every song on this album!
11. Mariah Carey Christmas iTunes radio station- Our fam listened to it all weekend.  You're welcome.

12. Krochet Kids- Love their hats, bags and scarves! Handmade and hand signed by the Ugandan women that make them.
13. Noonday- love my necklaces and purse I have from Noonday! Love supporting a company that empowers women in poverty situations! Need to Christmas shop? Just browse the site!
14. Sevenly- love this site. Each week they have a new cause and new shirt designs. The proceeds that week go to the cause, everything from Medical needs/food in Congo to autism to bullying to sex trafficking. I probably have 7-10 shirts in my closet from them! Like them on Facebook and you can keep up with causes and new shirt designs!
15. 31 bits- another awesome jewelry company that empowers women struggling to feed their families! Great prices great looks! http://31bits.com/

For the Giver
16. Samaritan's Purse Gift Catalog- We have never told our kids to make a christmas list of what they want but this is one magazine I let the kids mark up and circle! They are earning extra money this december for helping out around the house and then we are going to let them choose 2 gifts each to buy for someone in need. They are so pumped!
17. Care for Aids- this is the ministry we have visited twice in Kenya (I blogged about it March and Sept/Oct 2013) and are excited to give to this Christmas! If you are looking for a way to give to something this year to support orphan prevention and community empowerment look no farther! I could go on for ever about it so just read here or visit their site here!

Whew. Sorry for the long list! I always love finding new fun products, ideas and sites so I hope I introduced a few new ones to you! I'm giving away the Matt Papa album! Comment with one of your favorite products or sites and we will draw a name just after Thanksgiving! 
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Monday, November 11, 2013

Marriage soapbox pt. 2

So on part 1 I went into a little detail on the struggles of marriage and what has been a good strategy for us to keep up our connection and protect our relationship. Please read that first to get some context/back story for this if you have time!

I've been talking with some other friends on marriage and how God has directed us in certain ways to protect it and fight for it and thought I would follow up here. Again, disclaimer, we do not have the perfect marriage and I am oh so far from a perfect or even great wife. We mess up daily and thus have gotten pretty good at the whole apology and forgiveness thing because we have so many opportunities to practice it! I only hope to refresh for myself and hope to pass along awesome wisdom God, pastors, and other awesome women have given me! (A few great resources are Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs, The meaning of marriage by Tim Keller, Love and War by John eldrege, Guardrails sermon series by Andy Stanley, etc)
One thing we worked on and actually stuck from our pre-marital counseling was setting boundaries for our marriage. This was a crucial step for us and has been something we have used as a line in the sand on certain issues and as continual struggles come up, we can usually identify a boundary that needs to be set there. I like two of the webster definitions on boundary: a point of limit that indicates where two things become different; unofficial rules about what should not be done: a limit that defines acceptable behavior.
Now we didn't want our marriage to get bogged down with silly rules like don't leave the toilet seat down or always put your dish in the dishwasher. These are unrealistic and aren't of the highest priority for us so it didn't make sense to basically dumb down the seriousness of a boundary in our marriage.
We boiled it down to a few areas:
Fighting Fair- we realized we had to set some boundaries there or trust/security in our marriage will crumble really quickly as the gloves come off during a fight. We together sat down and worked on a list of non-negotionables in a fight. As Andy Stanley says, a guardrail on the high way is not something you ride your car up against and get as close to as possible, just the opposite, it is there in sight as a boundary that you want to keep your distance from. So just because we set these boundaries doesn't mean we want to always get as close as possible to them, these are something we have agreed we will not go near, even when joking.
1. Never say/threaten/joke about divorce. It is not an option on the table. Now on the contrary I have learned in the last few years I am not immune to it. The less we connect and the more we cross our boundaries we will be a prime candidate for it and it would be pride to think we are above ever getting to that point. But we have decided in fights it is something we will never threaten, say as a problem solving option, etc. Not even as a joke when we are not in a fight. This creates insecurity in a marriage and leaves it out there as an option on the table.
2. Don't get physical- this includes grabbing, hitting, pushing, slamming doors, etc. This is a non-negotionable for us as well. We both agreed and have full understanding this is something we will stay far away from in our marriage.
Some notes from a sermon at church I jotted down on fighting fair (summitrdu.com):
A. Overlook what you can (Prov 19:11, Prov 12:16) This does not apply to things that do lasting damage (abuse, etc) and Grace filled speech doesn't mean you always keep your mouth shut. Eph 4:25 But always speak when it is in the best interest of the person or your relationship.
B. Examine your own heart- You'll probably find anger, malice, etc. Your reaction in anger can show if Satan has a foothold there. Don't just control your anger, uproot it. It is smoke signals of an idol burning in your heart.
C. Be practical in how you fight- Prov 12:18 Your words should be healing, or for the purpose of moving towards wholeness. Boundarize your fights. Don't fight in the bedroom. Don't fight after 11pm. That is not letting the sun go down on your anger, it is saying we are both tired and nothing kind is coming out of our mouths, lets agree to pause this and punt it to a certain named time tomorrow because we want to finish this well. Sometimes it takes a good 24 hours to separate unrighteous irritation from righteous anger.
D. Be slow to speak and quick to listen- Prov 18:13- The vast majority of communication problems are not expression problems, they're listening problems. Be a servant listener. Seek first to understand and not be understood. Don't interrupt- that is an attitude saying 'my thoughts are more important than yours'. Don't give premature advice, be a companion in pain not a solution to the problem.
E.Seek Resolution not victory- Focus not on self-vindication but on your spouses and your own sanctification. I don't need to defend myself. Jesus has already done that. Let vindication be God's.
F. Believe in God's overriding purposes in your marriage- In seasons of long suffering in marriage remember God has appointed you to be together. God has brought you together to glorify his name and point others to himself. Let that hope pull you through and rest yourself in the promises of God not in the hope that your spouse will change; they may never but He will sustain.
G. Speak Grace Saturated words- No "You" statements, for every negative remark have several positive, no sarcasm or condescending speech, no public confrontations.
H. Truly forgive- Do not get hysterical or historical in an argument. If you are bringing up past arguments that have been resolved it is an indication you didn't truly forgive. You don't have to forget but don't use it as ammunition against your spouse. Forgiveness is never conditional on your spouses repentence. It is between you and God- an overflow of his forgiveness of you.
I. Do all things out of reverence for Christ- This is the only way you will have strength is when the cross gets large in your life. When the cross is small in your life your spouses sins are huge. Do it for Jesus. Maybe this is how God will glorify himself in your marriage. Christ is worthy when your spouse is not. Retribution never changes a heart, only grace. Retribution coerces behavior but grace changes a heart.
**None of this applies to a situation of continual abuse**
Extra-Marital relationships/Friendships- we are all only a few steps away from an affair. I used to say "I would never do that" almost casting judgement on anyone who has. But the more we get into our marriage I realize it isn't something someone sets out to do with full intention. It is a slip here, a slight twist of the truth here and Satan has twisted you into believe this is a better path for you.
1. No alone time with members of opposite sex- this means riding in the car, meeting in a private/date-like place (ie. restaurant, coffee shop etc). With John's work he is around young women a lot. He has made this a line in the sand and it honors me so much and allows me to trust without reservation in this area. His meetings with female managers happen out in the restaurant, he doesn't ride in the car alone with them, nothing happens behind closed doors, etc. This at times has caused awkward situations before and he has had to call me or someone else to ride with him to the airport, meeting etc so that he was not alone in the car with another woman. This allows for no grey areas even if John didn't do anything it allows him to have integrity that no one could even really claim anything happened when it didn't. I heard once that Billy Graham would have someone walk into a hotel room before him to make sure there wasn't a female cleaning person or crazy fan in the room so he didn't have any room for temptation or accusation.
Finances- this is a big area for tension in marriage. It can turn into a blame game really quick here. Finances really points at our heart in a way nothing else does so of course this is an area that a lot of ugliness can come out.
1. No purchases over 500$ without running it by your spouse- you can set the limit for your marriage but this was a good number for us that allowed freedom and not a watchdog mentality on each other but was just a healthy limit for us to include the other person in on bigger decisions. This kept things in the light in this area and allowed us to feel valued and considered in larger financial decisions instead of a fight on the back end.
2. Using "WE" in financial discussions instead of "You"- John laid this one out beautifully. I couldn't have even articulated that this was becoming a problem for us so it was one we added about a year into our marriage. When we were doing budgeting or paying bills or looking at our statement it can be so damaging to hear "you can't spend like this" 'You have got to do better on spending less at the grocery store" etc. John does so well to bring himself into the solution even if it is actually mostly on me. He will say things like "let's try to do better next month on our eat out category" or "can we possibly lower our grocery spending by x amount". Sure I may know that the work is still on my end but it takes the defensiveness out of the argument and is a great reminder that we are on the same team on this and are both here as a support and encouragement for each other in this area.

We have a few other categories and boundaries under them but I hope that it at least gets the discussion started with your spouse of building a hedge of protection around your marriage. We have had to add along the way boundaries when it comes to sex, technology, parenting, etc. Satan wants nothing but to tear our marriages apart. Or even take good things, like kids, jobs, ministry and let them supersede our marriages and subtly let them wither away into a distant connection. We miss the mark a lot. And like I said in part 1 we have even reached out to Christian counselors at certain seasons in our marriage to check-in, get advice, and grow. There is nothing wrong with that and I hate it is a stigma in our culture.
I pray this week you make time to sit down with your spouse and discuss this! We are on our date night coming up this Friday (it is our 10 year anniversary of J asking me to marry him!:). It needs to be a continual check-point for us so we can keep this at the forefront of our relationship! We have to ask Jesus to forgive us daily on the way we mess up and let each other down. I know John cannot fulfill what Jesus is supposed to in my heart. It is usually when those two positions are out of whack when I put unrealistic and stressful expectations on John and our marriage. Leave room for grace. Extend forgiveness. Love out of the overflow of how you have been loved by a big God. And enjoy the ride.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

I get to call Him daddy

We were in a crowded place last weekend touring our old university and showing the kids around. We brought the kids' scooters and they were rarely right beside us but always zipping around in front or behind. One small moment in the day, I didn't think anything of it at the time, revisited me this morning in such a powerful way my words will not do it justice. We were in a crowd. Maran wasn't near either of us. John was 40 feet in front of her and I was about 20 feet behind her. She started calling for daddy to show him something she saw while riding. She started excitedly shouting "daddy!! Daddy!" Everyone was looking around trying to help her, but not seeing a man that matched her skin color.  You could see some panic on a few older women's faces, concern on several others.  I observed all this from a few steps behind. She made her way through a few people still happily shouting "Daddy!!" Finally, John turned around and acknowledged what she saw and excitedly celebrated with her for seeing whatever it was. First on people's face was confusion. That is not who they thought would show up as her daddy. Then it was intrigue. That's her daddy? Surely not. For John, though, it was delight. His daughter wanted to share something she loved with him and he relished in the moment with her.
I thought about that this morning during worship at church. We sang 'O fount of love' and I was wrecked as I sang "Mercy cleansing every stain, now rushing over us like a flood, There the wretch and vilest ones stand adopted through his blood."..."Praise the Lord! The price is paid, the curse defeated by the Lamb, We who once, were slaves by birth, sons and daughters now we stand"
I think what God has done in my own heart through our adoption is show me a different facet of his love. It comes to life in a way where didn't once before. It grabs a hold of my heart in a way I've never felt. As I sang those words back to God, I thought of myself. The wretch and vilest one who now stands adopted through his blood. I get to call him Daddy. I am not his biological daughter. I was born into sin and slavery and bondage. But, I, who was a slave by birth a daughter now I stand.
I thought of this whole interchange as it played out that day with Maran and John. That's her daddy. It may not look like it. They may not "match". But he is no less her daddy than he is Reese's daddy. So yes, it may cause others to stare and think 'That's her daddy?'  Yes. We get to call her daughter.
Maran and Levi's adoption in no way is it a picture of our "perfect and gracious" love coming to rescue and redeem her and drag her out of a pit. More so it is our imperfect love, covered by a big God, who intersected our stories and filled a deep longing in both of our hearts.
My righteousness in the flesh is dirt compared to God's. So you would look at my heart and look at his and think there is no way. That can't be her dad, they don't match, she doesn't measure up. But sure enough, he calls me daughter. That's my daddy. He laid down his life and gave me his righteousness so that I don't have to try to measure up to earn his love. He lavishes love on me freely simply because I am his daughter, adopted and freed, purchased and redeemed, rescued and fought for.

Today is orphan sunday, please take time to pray today about how you can get involved in the orphan crisis. That could be through orphan prevention: sponsoring a child/family, helping a ministry who exists to keep families together, etc. This could be through prayer, supporting financially, exploring adoption, foster care, helping someone who is adopting fundraise, serving on an overseas trip, being a mentor for a child in foster care, etc. There are so many avenues to helping orphans, just take the step God has called you to!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

One year home today....

One year. One year? It can't be. I can't believe it has been only a year since we landed on US soil. Since we left a country I will have an eternal connection to that I cannot explain. Since our lives were changed forever. 
It is hard to wrap my mind around what life was like before adding Maran and Levi to our family and yet it feels like its been a blink since we boarded that flight from Congo and I watched Maran's heart transform. There sadly are only a handful of people who got to witness the supernatural change that happened in Maran. You now, have only seen her this side of Congo. God did something when we boarded that plane. He mended broken pieces, he stitched permanency in a heart, he whispered in her mind more than I could shout to her heart that we are going home, forever home. Before that plane ride one year ago today, she was a different child. And expectedly so, the hurt, the trauma, the confusion, she let it all out on me. Imagine you have never seen a white face before. Your whole world is black. Then you somehow lose your family, get put with a bunch of kids and with temporary "mamas", and then one day get taken to a different place and put in a white woman's arms. Adoption is nothing less than traumatic, scary, confusing in her eyes at that point. Someone told her in Lingala, this is your mama now. How crazy. Now she had to let this white woman wash her, feed her, bathe her. It is the depth of vulnerable we do not know. So for 4 weeks her confusion, manipulation, and survival kicked in. She tested my love, she pushed to see what a boundary was, she tried to make herself unlovable so she wouldn't have to deal with rejection again. And it pushed me to my breaking point, right to the arms of the only one who could handle all of it: Jesus. The statement "God won't give you more than you can handle" couldn't be farther from truth. I believe that is right where God wants us. 
Past the point of what we can handle and only at a spot where the miraculous has the meet up with reality. It did this day. Somehow Maran's heart changed as she silently boarded that plane. These are the last pictures I took in Congo. She was silent as we walked along a path and it was like she knew what was happening. We were leaving her country. 

Some people say "isn't it cruel to take a child from their culture",  I guess in a small way it is. She will not grow up like a Congolese child. She has ties yes, stories yes, but not life experience after the age of 4. Levi will remember nothing from Congo. But if you were given a choice of growing up in a home with 30 kids and 4 rotating workers sprinkled with a little cultural rituals vs. a family that where you were cared for, known and loved and pointed to Jesus, I think I go with the latter. I mourned for her this day though. This is not as it should be. Congo one day, I pray will have structures to support families to raise their kids. I pray businesses grow where people can make an honest living and feed their kids. I pray kids aren't hiding from gunfire, forced into sex slavery, sleeping on the streets, dying of a disease that costs 2$ to treat. The world is not as it should be. And come Jesus quickly because he sees his children suffering. He is the father to the fatherless. He sets the lonely in families. (Psalm 68:6)
We will go back one day. We pray for Congo and talk about it. We sometimes eat Congolese foods and sing Lingala songs. But it is no longer their home. Some of her memories from Congo are hard. Hunger, neglect, hurt, sadness, fear, guns, orphanage life, confusion. But many of her memories are there are good. Somehow God has shielded her heart and allowed her to mention and reflect on the hard memories and still have a love for her home country. What a gift he has given us in that. She asks to go to Africa regularly. And Africa will always have a piece of all of us that calls us back ever so often. 

One year ago today, we landed and walked down the corridor of the airport to friends and family. I have never wanted to explode with emotion like that day. Sheer exhaustion, the deep pain of missing my other kids finally relieved, the excitement to see a support group of believers who had prayed this into being, the reality that we are now a family of 6. It was a glorious day. It was the end of one journey and the beginning of the next.  
Thank you to you all who have supported us, prayed for us, counseled us, sacrificed for us, brought meals, watched children, laughed and cried with us over the last year. It hasn't been easy, but it has been good. I thank God for entrusting me these two treasures that I did not deserve. They are not lucky, they are not the "blessed ones". We are. I am. I am the changed one. I was the orphan. Now I see my home ahead of me and I have hope beyond hope. I will trade this world any day for heaven. Thank you Jesus for this indescribable gift. 
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Thursday, October 10, 2013

One Big truth

I'm so excited to link up over at Lil' light O mine!
So, I started reflecting on what is One Big Truth God has taught me over the last few years and came up with 3. So I boiled 2 of them together and now I guess these are 2 big truths for me.

 I want an easy life.
There, I said it. It has been a running theme in my life since childhood. But only as an adult does it really rear its ugly head. I wrote the longer story of it here, but what it boils down to is, I was building my life around easy. I began expecting it. I planned for it. After all, I know the plans I have for myself. Plans to prosper myself and not to harm myself...right? A pretty house, great marriage, 2 kids and the American dream, sprinkling in some God stuff, was looking pretty nice, until Jesus spoke in my heart..."really? is that all you want? really?" These things aren't inherently bad, but when they are top priorities they cloud out any room for God to ask. When they take root in my heart then I am less likely to say yes when God asks us to obey.  When I really sat down face to face with Jesus and poured out my idol of easy at his feet, my heart began spilling open. I cared about the orphan crisis, I now saw human trafficking, I hurt for the addict, the homeless, the unwed mother. It is easier to live for easy. But it is not full. It is empty, shallow, boring.

I want the life he has for me. 
I finally started to find it. Piece by piece. This was the exciting life, the life that ruffled feathers, the adventurous life, the hard, the messy. After tasting this, even when it is bitter, this is the life I want more than easy. I want all he has for me. I still haven't even given myself over to it completely and he is already blowing me out of the water. When I put down my pen for my story and just let the author write it was far more beautiful. He knows the plans he has for us and I just merely need to listen and hold on for the ride. But truth is, I still desire easy in my flesh. This is a daily, minute by minute battle to sacrifice my wants for his, and continue to pray that our desires line up with His. As Francis Chan says, "Paul said it like this: 'No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since it is his aim to please the one who enlisted him.' Don't most of us do the opposite? We busy ourselves with civilian pursuits and occasionally jump into the battle when we feel compelled. Being entangled in the civilian lifestyle has become the accepted norm. It is even applauded so long as we can point to some occasional Kingdom activity." This is hard, and I still wrestle with how to live fully for Him as a stay at home mom of 4. I am continually asking what it looks like to die to self and live for Him. Beyond the sunday school cliche of it all, I actually want the life he has for me.
We are reading 'Follow me' by David Platt and I am really mulling over and praying through this:
"We literally die to our sin and to ourselves- our self-centeredness, self-consumption, self-righteousness, self-indulgeance, self-effort, self-exaltation... And Christ begins to live in us, everything begins to change. For the first time, we realize who God is, what Jesus has done, and how much we need him. Our desires change. The things of this earth we once loved we now hate, the things of God we once hated we now love. Our wills change. We go wherever Jesus says, we give whatever Jesus commands and we sacrifice whatever it costs to spend our lives in uncompromising obedience to his Word. Posessions and position are no longer our priorities. Comfort and security are no longer our concerns. Safety is no longer our goal because self is no longer our God.The more we glorify him the more we enjoy him."

That is an awful big truth. One too big to take in one sitting. This is years in the making for me and I am no where close to mastering, nor will I ever. But my eyes have been opened. I have seen Him for more of who he is. I can't go back to easy and be content.

Proverbs 24:12 reminds me that  'Once our eyes are opened, we can't pretend we don't know what to do. God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls, knows what we know and holds us responsible to act'.

Which leads me to one big lie and my big truth #2

 I am a pretty "good" person.
Growing up, I sort of did the right things. My mistakes when I compared them to others seemed minor. I wasn't in the party crowd in high school or college. I shared my faith with friends, I didn't drink, smoke, have sex outside of marriage, or for the most part even cuss. I grew up in church when the doors were open- youth group, sunday school, big church, mission trips, choir, beach trips, etc. This only puffed up my pride and as God says so prophetically, Pride comes before a fall.  All of this was a recipe for internal disaster. Disaster because I was being deceived. I "gave my life to Christ" several times, rededicated it on those emotional trips, and did the motions of church. Beyond just motions, I did feel it too. I loved God with all my heart. I just knew very little of him. I had Jesus in my heart, my life just didn't really look different from the world.  I had no concept of the cross because I didn't understand it. How can a person who sees themselves as a 'pretty good person' really understand the depth of my adoption in Jesus? I didn't until Jesus really showed me throughout our adoption of Maran and Levi.

I am the one who deserved the cross. 
He substituted for me.
This has been a new truth sinking into the depths of my heart over the last 2 years. He has taken me to the bottom. I used to always envy the people that had crazy turn around testimonies, drug addicts to Jesus followers at the brink of death saved just in time. But now I realize I wanted that because I hadn't seen the contrast of my death to life experience. My "good girl" persona kept me from seeing the depth of my sin and the fact that my life was in opposition to the king and I deserved death. Even if I had only sinned once in my life (which is far from true), I deserved death. It took me years of walking in faith to understand in my heart there is no measure of sin. And then it took me a year of God forcing me to stare at my depravity in the face to actually believe I am the one who should've been hanging on the cross. Every lash, gash, and nail was for me. But he took it all for me. He absorbed my penalty. The depth of my sinfulness is beyond self-help. I needed a rescue. A savior.

My prayer for you is that you are leaning in and trading the whispers Satan tells you for the Truth Jesus is speaking over you. It is not the easy life, but it is the redeemed one,
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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Day 3 part 2: Care for Aids home visits

This one has been hard for me to write. God used this one afternoon more than any moment in the entire trip to rock me. To challenge me. To call me closer. To ask me to look at my life and see where I am missing out. To let me taste community in a way that I have never experienced.

We met up with a few Kenyan care for Aids staff off a dirt road in a more rural village. We meandered down paths past people drawing water, crowds of kids laughing as they chased us, muddy paths with chickens crossing and people selling vegetables. Home visits are just meant to check in on people in the 9 month program for Care for Aids, encourage them, hear their stories.
Care for Aids is a vision to meet the marginalized, the lepers of our time, to bring healing body and soul.  It is a 9 month program run through the local church in the area that will serve 80 families at a time. Its vision is to equip the church to be more than a place of worship, but a house of healing, a place to receive medical care, spiritual counseling and health counseling on how to thrive with a disease that normally kills. It gives the clients access to ARV medication, health counseling to make good choices, hygiene, diet. It also addresses the spiritual needs, Gospel sharing, affirmation and love despite HIV status that normally ostracizes them from family and community, discipleship, marriage counsel. It also empowers them with self care skills, trade skills such as farming, animal tending, soap, jewelry, wood making to provide sustainable income. It is not only changing these 80 families life in 13 centers a year but also changing the church that would normally shirk its responsibility of loving and serving these "least" and training them how to actually be the hands and feet of Jesus to the sick, the outsiders, the broken.

As we approached the first home, there was something not quite right. I first saw a lady walking away with her 2 year old son, crying, holding her face. The spiritual counselor with us went towards her as we entered the home. We sat down in this 10x10 home and met Amos, who shared with us his story of finding out he was infected, the brokenness that came with that, and how Care for Aids had introduced him to Jesus and he was now living trying to be a child of God. He talked about how things had changed for the better and life was so much better now with Jesus. He had recently lost his job laying tile and talked about the struggles with that. And with piercing truth, as Amos' wife re-entered the home, the Kenyan staff John (pictured above with the kids) looked at Amos and we then witnessed the most beautiful display of truth and grace, a call to honesty and change like nothing I've ever seen.

John said (to the best of my recollection). "Amos, my child, I begot you in the faith just like Paul begot Timothy, You are my son, I want to charge you with this. You are the priest of this home. You are the one calling your family to the feet of Jesus. You have to go to God with your anger. It is not right for you to hurt your family, your wife. Your situation is hard, but Jesus is strong. You can lean on him for control of your emotions, your anger. You are the priest of this home."
Amos began to cry, his wife, Tabitha began to cry, we all teared up. It was a beautiful moment. Kenyans are strong, they see death and poverty every day. Tears are not something to show. You stuff it and only show your strength. So this was a sacred moment and you could feel it in the room. A piercing moment of vulnerability and accountability. I honestly felt like I was intruding on such a beautiful moment, but yet equally so grateful to have witnessed it. It was the most beautiful intervention of grace I have ever seen. It was done with such love and tenderness. It was as if I could see how God speaks to me and sees me in the midst of my sin. He is not a wrath-filled father looking down on my mess thinking "seriously? Again Kylie? I've had it with you!" No, he is a tender father, looking down on his daughter calling me to more, reminding me of who I am in him, my value, and that this is not what I was made for. He sees me right there in my sin and says "you are my daughter, my daughter I have paid for with my son, You are a child of the king, you are the one shining my light on this earth. You have to come to me with this. I don't want you experiencing this pain. Your circumstances may be a lot to bear but I am bigger, I can handle this all, your anger, your emotions, your pain."
Seeing John approach Amos in such truth and grace has changed me. It was the pinnacle of my trip. It allowed me to see the community we were intended for, how the body of Christ can actually function in the way God designed it. It made me desire more of Jesus, it made me want to be closer to my Father who will correct me with such value and love and tenderness.

All this and the day was still not over...
We then hugged and prayed over Amos and Tabitha, and walked on to the next home where we would spend the remainder of the evening. We next met Grace, she had to be a little younger than me, with her 7 year old son Marvin and husband James. Grace is HIV positive and in the program now. Grace opened up her home and we sat in perfect plastic lawn chairs on the dirt floor of her home together and cut vegetables, laughed, sang, and prepared dinner together. Grace taught us how to make chipati, Reese kneaded the dough and we all took turns rolling it out into tortilla shapes as they laughed at our meager attempts and faulty rolling abilities.
 There is something about just being in the home together, sharing stories, learning about their culture, that bridges every gap of difference between Grace and I. Truth is, Grace is HIV+, living in a dirt floor home, desiring desperately to get pregnant again. Here I am, an American, Grace's home was a little bigger than my bathroom, I am healthy, I don't really "want" for anything of value. But in that moment we were the same. Moms of 7 year olds, daughters of God, laughing about the way I cut vegetables and couldn't roll out dough. Listening to her praise as we sang Amazing grace as we rolled out dough and cut carrots. In that moment we were just both daughters of God in need of Him more than anything else. The ground is level at the cross. I don't see myself as better than Grace, or having more than her. If anything, she has more than me. A dependence on God I have not known. An intimacy with him I long for. A hope and a freedom that I want to feel more tangibly.  Those moments are so holy and dear to me. As we prepared dinner, the kids were running off together, at some points I didn't even know where they were. At one point, Reese was teaching Marvin how to take a selfie on my phone, they laughed as she tried to get him to make a silly face or smile for his picture.

Another moment, I found Reese trying successfully to build a fire with some of the boys that lived nearby and climbing piles of rocks and just being kids. Again, level ground at the cross. Community done right is such a picture of Jesus. We dined together and laughed as we sopped up the stew with our imperfect chipati Grace had entrusted to us. There were 10 of us crammed in the room, some standing, some on the floor, all around the bowl of stew and pile of bread. Jesus was palpable in the room. We finished the meal and shared a thank you gift with Grace and her family we had brought for letting us in her home. She pulled the fleece blanket out of the bag and covered her face as she cried. She took out the spatula and ladel with such excitement. She then found the box of dial soap and sniffed it in as if it were the finest perfume with the biggest smile on her face. We told her to look in for the last thing, special scented soap especially for her. In a beautiful tin container was some sort of jasmine soap and you could see the value she felt as she opened it and smelled it. It was not the americans who gave the gift. It was Jesus, reminding her of her beauty, her immense value. Her identity is not a poverty stricken woman with AIDS, she is a daughter of God, a treasure of priceless worth. I pray (and I think) she felt it that moment.
We asked how we could pray for her and she is asking God for a child. She also asked God for chickens. We prayed for her, Marvin and James, her infertility, and her desire to provide for her family, and the night was over.
A beautifully exhausting day seeing the face of Jesus so clearly.

Day 3 part 1: Uhuru school, Uhuru farms, and Jikaze

Monday morning we headed on a journey over the Rift Valley to visit another ministry called Uhuru. 
Through connections at church and friends here in RDU we were made aware of Uhuru Child. Uhuru (which means freedom in Swahili) was developed out of a need seen. From post election violence in 2007 a tribe was burned out of their homes, forced out of their villages. They settled on some land in a place near the Rift Valley called jikaze. I believe it means hard work. These people put up tent villages and were starving and barely surviving. Uhuru came in and set up sustainable businesses for these people to regain dignity and be able to work the land and make money and be able to send their children to school. They put up greenhouses and the people there grow lettuce and tomatoes to sell in the city.
They've seen such growth over the last few years and have since started a girls high school. In Kenya primary schools are funded and provided by the government. There are many. Once the children pass primary options diminish. Government doesn't fund high schools. There are far fewer and all are private with exorbitant fees that the lower class cannot afford. The lettuce sales provide scholarships for girls of jikaze to go to high school as well as quality education that attracts girls from wealthier families in Nairobi to offset the cost for other sponsored students.
The school is run so differently than other high schools. Critical thinking, leadership training, intense spiritual discipleship. These girls are getting the best education and opportunity to make a difference in their community!

We also met a lady, whose name slips my mind, while walking through jikaze. They've now built mud homes and are no longer in tents. But this girl, maybe 19, is paralyzed from being dropped as a child. When the violence broke out in 2007 they had to literally flee running. Her mother had to carry her teenage daughter over her shoulders as they ran from their home and traveled for miles to a safe place. This girl was full of grace and joy. She was a beautiful sight.

We also visited their chicken farm, which was a kid favorite, where the people of Jikaze raise chicks for a Kenyan poultry provider and provide jobs and income for jikaze people. Reese was ready to take a few home.
Another highlight in Jikaze was meeting a shepherd boy named Joseph. We had brought two soccer balls with us and bumped into him in jikaze as he was grazing his fathers goats. We threw him one of the balls and he was so excited. He couldn't have been more than 12 walking miles to graze his families herd through the hills of the Rift Valley. His independence, responsibility, humility, joy and excitement was striking and refreshing.
As we walked off I turned to see Joseph one more time as he walked away and caught this amazing moment. 
Matthew 7:11  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!