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!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Day 2: church in Ruiru and baby home

Church in Africa is always a marathon. They make our hour and a half services look like an appetizer and remind me how sometimes boring American church has become in regards to our worship and praise. There it is always full of dancing, smiles, hand grabbing, cheering, performances, etc.
It honestly makes me a little sad about the American church. These people we were worshipping with, in American materialistic eyes, have nothing. They're scraping by. Some have aids. Some are orphans. Some are begging. But they depend on God. They dance in their praise as if their bank accounts just got filled, their kids are no longer sick, they have been healed. And who knows. Maybe some of them have and that's why they're praising God with every ounce of their being. Or maybe they just know God more intimately than we do. Maybe their dependence brings a joy that isn't related to circumstance. All I know is watching them worship Jesus was convicting to our quiet, sometimes boring worship.
A little shy of 3 hours later it was over. We jumped in a served lunch for the 175-200 people there. You've never seen so much rice, stew, and chapati (flour tortilla type bread). Reese jumped in on the action serving plates and scooping rice.

We went from there up into the mountains of Limuru to a baby orphanage. Almost immediately Reese jumped in. We were all holding babies, hearing each child's story of pain and abandonment and giggling as they relished all of the attention. It was so encouraging to see the orphanage mamas love and patience for these babies. This is one of the only homes who accepts kids with special needs and the mamas get trained on how to take care of kids with great needs. They treat these babies with such tenderness and love. They were so excited for the onesies, warm pjs (it gets down in the 40-50s at night there) medicine, vitamins and cloth diapers we brought. 

Meet a few of the kids here: 
This is Natasha. She was found in a ditch on a cold night, by the side of the road, her umbilical cord still attached. She's a survivor.
Meet Ethan (right). His mother was HIV+ and abandoned him at hospital. He was born HIV positive. They took him into the baby home and prayed over him for healing. They began his treatment with ARV drugs and prayed. A few weeks ago he was retested and now HIV negative. He is a miracle.
Holly and Calvin are siblings. Their mom is in jail for abandoning her kids and prostitution. She left the kids with another family nearby until they couldn't care for them anymore and were brought to the orphanage. Holly was attached to John and loved to be tickled, thrown in the air and held. Calvin was so laid back and loved just to be touched. They're still a family.
Meet Jabuli. He was born at 1.1kg premature with Spina bifida and hydrocephalus, abandoned at the hospital. He is also paralyzed from the waist down.  No baby homes accept special needs so this baby home took him in and trained their mamas how to care for his needs. He has had multiple surgeries, a shunt, etc. He rolls all over the place and smiles and lifts his hands to be held. His God is fighting for him. 

Rose.  This is the one who stole Reese's heart. Rose's mother was found pregnant and unconscious in her small apartment by a neighbor. They dropped the mother off at the hospital. Doctors delivered Rose while her mom still unconscious. She weighed just under 4 pounds and her mom died shortly after. She is a precious baby. 
Reese held her, made her giggle, snuggled her close, asked to carry her as we saw their garden and facility so the mamas tied rose to Reese's back in true African fashion. Reese begged the mamas and me to adopt Rose. They were two peas in a pod!
This was one of the highlights of my trip. Seeing my daughter passionate and loving orphans. Hearing their stories and meeting them where they were. Pouring out Gods love and tenderness on these babies. I saw Jesus so clearly. The way he has made and molded her heart to enjoy serving. For it to be delight not duty. The beauty of loving the least.