to suffer together.

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Sometimes there are no adequate words, no pictures to be painted with stories, nothing that will do heart ache and tragedy justice. There’s a hollow echoing of a broken heart and we are left wondering how life will move on when it all seems so messed up. We are swallowed in darkness as we see the light more further and further away. And if God is good, if God is only good, how can holy feel so far away?

I found a piece of paper crumpled up under my bed the other day, it was my scribbled handwriting. I faintly remember writing down the words before falling asleep one night, but they adequately portray the heart shattering way of African life.

When I dream at night

sometimes it’s of dying babies or friends.

It’s the African way- to die.

To be subject to an unjust life.

They give and they give and they toil in the land

but the land has no sympathy

no forgiveness, no fairness

it’s all and it’s nothing.

sometimes when I dream at night. “

I always heard that “compassion” translated as “to suffer with“, but I never truly understood compassion until this year.  I was scribbling notes before bed, crying during thunderstorms and praying for mercy.  It’s breaking and searching for the glue that will hold us all together through the long nights and the never ceasing tidal waves that threaten us.

To suffer together, to hold and to be held.  In my quest for holy, for a good God, I’ve realized that maybe we have this life all wrong, maybe the American church has it backwards.  Maybe the superficial Sunday greetings and the lukewarm Christianity was never anything but hollow, no depths of the graces of Christ.

Maybe we forgot to talk about suffering together, to feel the breaking constantly and if we are not feeling it maybe we are not bending low enough, reaching out enough. I imagine Jesus with calloused feet and arms that continually welcomed the hurting–He sat and listened, He did not run away from pain, He stayed, He wept with those suffering.

Maybe we were meant to live with broken hearts, ones that beat with compassion; with suffering for one another.

We live in a fallen world and sometimes the hollow beating of our hearts were meant for more; to strive to wash the feet, to kneel before the sinners, to hold the weeping, to break for the ones who are wandering with no place to go, to love the orphan without hesitation. Maybe we were made for compassion.

I found her standing near the door after church– she reached out for a handshake and then wrapped her arms around me in a hug; she’s the sweet girl who was made an total orphan a couple months back. I remember the text message I received and the way my heart stopped for a moment at the news of her mother’s sudden death, the way I stayed up late praying and thinking “this is wrong, oh Jesus, please no.”  I sat beside her as she whispered stories about how angry she was at her mama for leaving her, she cried tears in her own fog of pain and confusion. At the same time she stands in front of the church and praises God for life.  It’s the darkness and the light and the collision of it all.

But now,  as we stand outside the church she tells me with a big smile that she wants me to come visit her at her home and come see her high school.  I told her I would come. If only this precious girl knew how big I dreamed for her.  And I know now, compassion is not the way we feel during a Sarah McLachlan commercial- it’s not a feeling, it’s action. It is a deep and broken echoing of suffering that’s being made into something beautiful again, maybe even something holy.  Her brave beating heart is teaching me all the things I never understood about tragedy and loss, but there is also a steady rhythm of hope.

It’s in the hard and hoped filled places that holy does not seem far away.  It’s an Savior saying “touch the scars in my hands, they are strong enough to hold you, they are making all things beautiful in their time”.  So we hold each other and we wait in expectant hope that heaven is near.

We are better together- in the deepest joy and greatest sadness.

Lord, break me again and again.  Let me suffer with them if it means heaven is reaching down.

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Black Lives and Why They Matter

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Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

[Martin Luther King Jr.]

 I remember when I was young MLK & Rosa Parks were two of my heroes, their fight for justice drove me to search out what justice truly looked like. I dreamed of having a voice like them one day. I dreamed of justice, not something that’s served but something that’s fought for.

I listened to him tell about how some mornings he goes hungry but that “it’s okay because I am used to it.” He begged to stay here, he looked forward to every meal and he saw how my world contrasted his. I suddenly was hit by the injustices that are talked about on the news or read about in some magazines or broadcast by organizations looking for donations. This little love of mine goes hungry some mornings, but it’s okay because he’s used to it. He’s not privileged to wealth that will ensure filled fridges and cupboards and bellies; because he was born here and somehow he tries to make sense of these inequalities.

 I am overwhelmed by the thought that maybe, just maybe if they had been born somewhere else in the world they would have had a better chance.  They might be a small boy band or given a fair education and fed 3 meals a day. Maybe they would not have to fight the demons of having  father who spends his money on alcohol and beats their mother. Maybe he would not act out if he had a father who stuck around to teach him to be a man. If only they were not born here.

I peeked in the dark room and waited for my eyes to adjust to the light.  He was laying on a small mattress and as I listened to his slow responses, I caught a glimpse of his ribs through his shirt and blinked back the tears that wanted to come. I was sure i could have touched death that evening, it was sitting in the corner of the room waiting to claim another Ugandan life due to the corrupt healthcare system.  My knees met the floor that night, I cried myself to sleep believing death would win, that darkness would swallow him and the morning would never come.  He was still breathing the following day and because of donors I have seen a transformation unlike any other.  Just yesterday I watched him laugh until he cried recalling a story of stolen fried chicken and sneaking into the VIP section at a soccer game, and I thought: the world could have lost this, this storyteller and strong-willed soul.

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And these injustices are not just in Africa, but in our own land of freedom. We must acknowledge that children living in America are still discriminated against; they go to sleep hungry and wake up to go to a school that babysits instead of teaches because class rooms are overcrowded and underfunded. It’s knowing that children in the inner cities are still dodging bullets while the privileged shouts “look how many you have killed, Black Lives Matter!” they miss the point. They miss that mothers are still fighting for their children’s rights to survive, to those mothers it’s not black and white; it’s just their babies lives and the lack of resources provided by a land of freedom.  Justice is not walking freely; justice is caged and waiting for people not to be silent.

 

The part that is missing from the media stories is that black lives are the future and we are losing precious souls to malaria and unclean water and unwarranted shootings and gang violence.  They are souls of potential and beauty.  Their bravery and fight and joy flows from broken places to tell a glorious story and it’s not over yet.  Black lives matter and the longer we wait in silence, the more injustice seeps into the fabric of the earth as the norm.  It’s not the norm and we can do better.

I try to make sense of the injustices and where to go from here. We stand and we fight race issues and world issues and the injustices that prevail and we must know it’s true; black lives matter. We have unresolved issues and injustices that are bigger than us and I wonder how we will ever make sense of it all. The world is made of more than inequalities though, it’s filled with warriors and overcomers and peacemakers and we will fight for harmony.

Inequality is a beast that still roams free and if we are silent in our apathy long enough we will eventually hear it’s roar.  Let’s only be silent long enough to hear their stories, then let’s follow after those childhood dreams that justice belongs to everyone.  I have heard the voiceless and I have worked with the voices and I know that there is a better day if we keep fighting in love and hope.

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Hold on loves, Justice is coming.

we are their brave.

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Sometimes, I am not sure if it’s my place to tell their stories.  I’m not sure if I have any right to impose and join their mess called life.  I feel out of place and so inadequate when I look at the depths of their pain.  But some how, some way, for some reason I am here in the middle of it. And some times it is life or death.

I met a man back in November, I assumed he was 40 years old. When I met him he was lying on the grass of a government hospital.  He was frail and very ill. Tuberculosis.  He got his medications and from what I understood was going to get well again.  I only saw him every few weeks.

I saw him again on Tuesday, he was sitting listening to the radio but his eyes seemed to stare into nothingness. I looked at my friend and said “he’s going to die.” So, we talked to him asked him why he had stopped taking his medication and told him if he needed anything we would get it for him, but if he wanted to be well he had to take the medication.  He told us the medication had run out and he needed more, the lady taking care of him told us he had said he just wanted to be left alone to die.

The next morning we went to the government hospital and the doctor gave us his medication for the next 28 days. While in the clinic his medical card had his age on it.  twenty two. I laughed nervously and said “but is he really 22?” Ugandans don’t keep track of their age, surely he was off by several years.

We brought him the medication and some porridge mixed with powdered milk (doctor approved and the only thing he could manage). While standing in his door his neighbor handed me his work badge with his photograph on it, the date stamped was June 2016.  I stared for so long and I didn’t want to give it back.

sometimes life is so unfair.

sometimes it takes and takes and takes but never gives back.

sometimes it’s bound to leave us frail and yearning for death.

twenty two. the young face in the photograph stared back at me, his eyes are so hopeful and his smile so big. how the heck does someone go from being so robust and handsome to this in such a short time? I glanced at him and watched as he slowly breathed, his ribs showing through his shirt. He needed to go to the hospital but we had already convinced him to take the medication and I wasn’t sure he would be convinced to go back to the hospital to be admitted for awhile. So, we asked.

 

He agreed.

 

As long as there were no needles.

I couldn’t promise him that, but we told him we wanted him well again.

In Uganda, taking someone to the hospital means that they have to have a caregiver- nurses don’t assist with going to the toilet or changing clothes or feeding the patient.  We had to find someone to go with him.

We found his father working at a gas station, he’s working 14 hour days and was so confused about what to do next for his son.

I listened as he asked his manager for money to go to the hospital.

I listened as the manager told him no.

I listened as he told us his wife died.

I listened as he said he already lost his other 2 children.

I listened as he said he was the only relative who could stay with the son, but could only probably be there a couple days as his employer wouldn’t allow longer.

We would stay if that’s what it meant.

So, tomorrow we are taking this father and son to the hospital in Kampala. It is a total faith walk because I have no idea who’s going to pay the transportation or for new clothes and bedsheets or the hospital fees or the food. But God. He’s going to make a way because that is who He is.

I hear these stories of brokenness and I cannot imagine the losses that they’ve faced. I cannot imagine fighting death when you’ve seen death take everyone you love. I look at the grief and all I can do is sink to my knees and pray and weep and long for heaven.

But I will be their brave.

I will fight when the doctor tells me that “maybe he’s just going to have to die”.

I will stay when he has nobody else too.

I will love fearlessly even if the ending may be different than what I fight for.

But I will always be their brave. always.

It’s not my story to tell, but somehow He has pulled me into their mess and I believe His redemption and glory is already written all over it.

If you can, please consider donating to pay for the medical needs.  I will head to Kampala in about 12 hours in complete faith but knowing  that He’s not leaving this part of the story unwritten. We are their brave, friends. We are the ones to stand against the immeasurable losses of this father and son.  There is no one else coming, we are it.  You can donate by clicking HERE.

Whatever we do for the least of these, for the ones enduring loss after unbearable loss, we do for His kingdom and His glory.

He’s writing the story, we are just walking in obedience.

THEY DON’T WANT YOUR SPONSORSHIP, THEY JUST WANT THEIR CHILDREN IN SCHOOL

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I ventured out to a part of Uganda that I am convinced might be the most beautiful place on earth last week.  The vibrant green hills and blue skies contrasted the red dirt roads in such beauty.  Honestly, as much as I wanted to just soak it all in, the reason for my journey to that part of Uganda was anything but beautiful. 

Corruption in ministries is something I’ve learned to accept in Uganda, good intentions and ethnocentrism with blurred lines spill over and create one of the most disturbing situations I have experienced.  For a long while I remained silent because I thought, well, surely I’ve misunderstood a story or situation. These people claiming to be Christ followers did not truly steal money, give themselves generous salaries or mistreat staff members, did they?

I sat in a plastic blue chair overlooking those hills and listened to these parents tell me how the sponsorship program they were in was calling for dependency.  The organization created situations intentionally so parents would remember who they were dependent on- foreign non-profits with an ideology of saving the world. But they weren’t. The parents made a statement through their stories- they didn’t want the sponsorships, they just wanted their children in school. 

I remember the times I interviewed parents and asked why child sponsorship was important to their family, between 5 different mothers they all responded the same way “I do not want my child to grow up to be like me.” That response changed me, they did not want dependency, but poverty is a beast and laughed at their failed attempts of escaping his captivity. They wanted their children to escape, to find a life outside of the cage that had been placed around them – and no matter how many tomatoes or onions they sold, no matter how many baskets they made, no matter how many bricks he toiled over in the hot sun and no matter how many loads of laundry she washed by hand – they were not escaping.  Their children were their last hope.

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He could have died.  He was denied for six months the health care he begged for and the proof of a growing tumor did nothing to change this Christian organization’s mind.  What could they do but wait?  So they prayed.  She watched her husband’s condition deteriorate as her children’s sponsors from the western world lovingly put checks in the mail. It made me angry, because it’s insulting you know?  Christians across the oceans believe they are making a difference when really the organizations are letting them go hungry. Letting them sleep on the hard ground. Letting them die.  

They were candid about how the organization withheld the health care programs, feeding program and gift programs that sponsors paid for.  She told me about her husband’s plan to build a shop, one that they could help villagers with repairs, and would generate income and allow them to pay their children’s school fees without dependency.  They were not living off sponsorship, at the same time they weren’t being helped out of poverty.  They were trying to surface while being held under water. Still, she makes her family’s story one of hope, one of God moving mountains so they could meet one person who truly loved them. 

It’s kinda ironic for me to say this, but child sponsorship is a toxic trend that creates a cycle of dependency and hopelessness. The dignity of parents is being removed with a selfless gesture that is supposed to bring hope but instead is a reminder of their poverty. I have always been aware that child sponsorship isn’t the answer to poverty, but a Band-Aid reaction – it will cover the wound but it won’t heal it. We need a salve that will mend these tiresome souls and breath life into their potential.

Honestly, today I watched a video from an organization that made my blood boil, because I know the truth.  I wish I didn’t. I wish I was still a first-timer in Uganda where every ministry is Christ-serving and not self-serving.  I wish I could go back and forget the injustices that I have witnessed.  I wish I didn’t wrestle with “Do I speak out or am I jeopardizing families?”. I wish I didn’t want to go to the highest mountain and scream “Oh church, where has Jesus gone?!”  I want to vomit. I want to find Jesus in those places, but I find a church that is more concerned about building a better structure, than opening their arms to those who truly need it.

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Some days, I want to go home. Because Africa and Uganda do not need me.  I feel like maybe I will only create more mess in this broken and beautiful land.  I press forward because there are stories to be told and songs of victory to be sung.

If you are a sponsor, don’t give up hope yet, please, the children do need you.

First, be wise. pray. seek advice from those who are working on the ground in regards to how to help without hurting or damaging dignity.

Find child sponsorships that involve the entire family unit, empower a family and you empower the generations to come.  Empower a family and you keep “orphans” out of orphanages and with the family they belong to. Don’t let parents live underwater, pull them with a lifesaver and then just wait; they will show the world their beautiful potential.

Find small locally run ministries. Raising Up Hope Uganda is a ministry that I adore, the director is so passionate about the work God has called him to – this child sponsorship is a bit different from most because the children have no families to belong to.  Another ministry, Mission Uganda Ministries, is pouring into the community as a whole and seeing parents thrive through being empowered. They will make a difference and we can be the love.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I” [Isaiah 58:6-9]

Hope is rising.

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It’s Never My Place to Convict.

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There was a time when I thought posting statistics and facts and cliques like “give up a latte a week” would convict people to give. My heart was only filled with compassion for the sweet little ones in my life, but I assumed the responsibility that was never mine.

Conviction comes from the Father, from His heart, from His love and in His scripture. Human to human trying to convict never works and it never will.

I want to share a story, however, because storytelling can change what we know of the world around us. A year and a half ago I wandered into Uganda unsure of what the future held for me, what it would mean to be back after heartaches and brokenness.  Some sweet friends had sent funds and told me to do whatever was best and needed. I considered many options, but then I met two children who were not attending school. These children were precious, full of potential and lacking opportunity.  Their mother was a hard worker, but the school fees just were not coming. So we reenrolled them into school and had enough funds to enroll two other little girls as well.  In 2016 when I returned I came to their community to enroll them in school, instead of just the 4 we enrolled 8. A mere $150 changed the course of a child’s life, whispered to them that they are worth it all and that they will make a difference. I was met with stories of the Lord’s provision of how mothers had been praying for a sponsor and now look what He had done.  I witnessed Jesus at work and answering prayers with the little offering that my friends had sent.

This year has been a little harder though, I have been more involved and that means watching as some children walk to school in uniforms while others stand with jerry cans and garden shovels waiting for their turn. My heart whispers one day your time will come and I want to shout those words, to tell them they are truth, see their deep brown eyes light up with hope and joy.

Oh, the injustices of poverty where children fight hard and parents fight harder. The darkness of the beast threatening families with every sunrise, every school term, and every illness. Poverty is longing to blow out their light, their fight, to suffocate them and whisper lies that there is no hope.

I want to stand on the tallest skyscraper in the western world and yell about where I have been and what I have witnessed. I want to tell them what potential and influential human souls are being crushed by injustices. I would tell the western world to stop seeking wealth and start living in harmony. I would tell them we never chose our corner of the world or who we are born to, that these are unearned and unjustified  inequalities. But I am done wasting my breath on trying to convict because the heart of man is not mine to change or challenge.

Frankly, trying to convict people is exhausting. In place I chose to bring honesty, hope and the realness of these stories.  They are not statistics or just names or hopeless dirty children with sad faces. They are bold and they are brave and they are the future of Uganda. These children possess more hope, love and potential than I can sum up in a few hundred words. They are brave souls waiting for their time to come, and when it does, the world will never be the same.

This year we are choosing to continue our walk alongside our 10 children and we pray that if there are more generous souls yearning to walk alongside these courageous hearts then Jesus will convict you.  Conviction was never mine to use because on my own I am a sinner in need of an almighty Savior and I have no right in pointing fingers, but I do have a voice and I will tell stories of faithfulness and the glory of God in my little corner of the world. I will follow Jesus with my eyes on the miracle of the cross, even in the midst of heartbreak. I only hope that He returns or calls me home when my feet are dirty, hands are calloused and my heart in purely focused on serving those He leads me to.

These beautiful souls are waiting and I truthfully believe that one day their time will come.

When the Mundane is Easier

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Often missionaries are categorized as adventurers, brave, daring, bold, sacrificial. At least that’s always how I’ve believed them to be. I will be the first one to admit that I’m not really any of those, I strive to be, but they did not bring me to Uganda.

I am not in Uganda because I thought it would be adventurous, in fact, last time I was here I woke up jet-lagged in the middle of the night and heard Luganda being spoken outside my hotel door, for a moment I had no idea where I was so I burst into tears. True story.

The months leading up to Uganda were dull, don’t hear me wrong, it was a good life.  I was working 30-40 hours per week and taking full-time classes but it was a weekly cycle of predictability and I yearned for more. When you have learned what living really feels like, you know when life has gotten mundane. Dull and mundane aren’t always bad, sometimes they are the waiting places that grow you until you are able to fully chase the passions Jesus has given to you. However, sometimes the waiting places become more like hiding spots.

I have known that moving back to Uganda would eventually arise and as much as I wanted more, I also didn’t want this either. Uganda is hard, it’s hard in ways that you wouldn’t understand until you’ve walked these roads. The hard is in the cultural difference and the language barriers and the power outages. It’s in the decision making that goes into sponsorships and deciding who is more desperate. It’s in the stories of tragedy and sorrow and wondering why God lets bad things happen to good people. I’ve found the hard in the long nights of missing home and in the walking up thinking about places so far away. It’s facing the spiritual attacks that wait around every corner. I didn’t want Uganda because I’m not brave or equipped or even ready. So here I am, and the mundane would be easier but it wouldn’t be worth it.

I walked past him gardening out in front of his tiny home.  I waved, asked how he was and walked a couple paces before I froze. I had met 11 year old Karoli over a year earlier, he was bright with a vibrant personality and had been attending school. I turned back and yelled “Why are you not at school today?” He shyly smiled, I didn’t know if he had not understood what I said or  was unsure how to answer it.  My friend translated. Karoli fidgeted with the shovel he was holding and answered, “my mother hasn’t gotten the fees yet.”. I nodded, gave him a reassuring smile and we were off to a meeting with a different school. A few moments later I turned and Karoli had followed us with an old tire and stick that he was rolling. He helped us find plates for some of the children in school, assisted at managing some of the children while I took sponsored photos, then told us his mother wanted to speak with us.

His mother welcomed us to her home and told us the story of Karoli; a couple months earlier he had been hit by a car and the driver had just driven off. Karoli school fees were suddenly hospital fees. Now he was going to physical therapy with the little extra funds she made at her produce stand. Neither of them asked for the fees, they simply shared their stories.

I couldn’t forget the image of him standing in the garden.  His ripped shorts, tattered shirt and bare feet. In a moment I had seen his entire future and his extraordinary potential. This sweet boy would be standing in that garden in a few years without education and it would be there that he would be consumed by the monster that poverty is.  But in the same moment I saw that smile, that sassy hand on his hip, that hardworking boy and knew he could become whatever he wanted. I saw hope staring me in the face and I could not turn away.

This was the hard Jesus called us into when He told us to go into all nations, He beckons us into the places where it overwhelms to the point that we surrender all that we are to all the He is. This place is hard, this place is broken, this place is holy.

The next day we took Karoli to school, he sat nervously with his new backpack while we paid fees. He was bewildered when we waved goodbye and whispered “I get to stay now?” my friend answered, “yes, but go get your lunch first”. Even more bewildered because he had never eaten lunch at school- he had run to his mother’s produce stall to eat lunch from there- he now slowly walked to get lunch from the school kitchen. The look on his face was one that reminded me of who I was meant to be, it isn’t a hero or warrior or adventurer, it’s present in the here and now, because that’s where Jesus likes to meet us.

The stories, like Karoli’s, remind me why I never want to go back to easy.  The mundane whispers all that I could be in materialist terms, while hope shouts all that we can be in the hard. And a million times over I would choose hope, I would choose hard, I would choose holy.

 

The ninety-nine

I have always found the story of Jesus praying in Gethsemane uncomfortable.  I always wondered how the disciples could be such fools; falling asleep when the Son of Man had asked them to keep watch. In regards to the gospel I have a tendency to think of myself superior to these disciples and their funny little ways. Why this need for resting on the night Jesus was to be betrayed? Surely they could have done a few jumping jacks, got their blood circulating and then watched and waited.  But instead they slept.

When I look at the direction the church is headed today, I see many resting disciples. Ones who accept grace and love then turn around and live without that conviction. Mediocre. Mundane. Bland.

 I truly believe the greatest stronghold the enemy has on the American church is that we are all numb to the need of salvation. We have walked through no persecution to get us where we are, we allow our bibles to collect dust on the nightstands and we sleep in on Sunday while telling ourselves “I’ll attend church next week”. We do not rejoice in this great freedom we have. For most Christians of the world there may never be a next week- they may be risking it all to read that bible today or fellowship with other believers. I wonder what the enemy would do if American Christians got radical, I’d bet persecution would come to America if only we would wake up and shout at the top of our lungs the goodness God has graced us with.

 Over the past few months as I have watched the news and the happenings around the world, darkness and fear. My social media has become a frenzy of Christians who have all the answers; few of which are biblically sound. Yes, we can protest until we are blue in the face, we can shout for justice until our voices give out, we can shake angry fist at the skies and cuss out the opposite sides, but it changes nothing. It heals nothing. Our broken world isn’t in need of restoration; it was already given restoration at the cross. So what our broken world needs is those who claim to be daughter and sons of an almighty God to rise above the voices, the shouting, the falling apart and scream love. Scream it boldly and love fiercely, because what good is anything without love? Justice is worthless, victories are worthless, peace is worthless.

 He became sin that we may be considered righteous.

 Righteousness does not take anger out on social media, it doesn’t exclude those who don’t agree with your beliefs, it does not look at those less fortunate as if they are the problem, it does not build a wall out of fear and it certainly doesn’t look for a president to heal the brokenness of a nation.

 If Jesus is our example then following Him looks a lot different than we have convinced ourselves it to be.

 If Jesus loved the prostitute, the thief, the beggar, the liar and the adulterer so unconditionally who are we as a church to pick and choose who to love and who to treat as unclean?

 That person you shot a dirty look at when you passed him the other day?

The one who wore the chains and eyeliner and tattoos?

The little girl pregnant and roaming the streets?

The old man with the alcohol problem?

The one who you wrote a comment in regards to his beating because of his sexuality, you quoted scripture and said the young man deserved it?

Those are the very ones that Jesus laid His life down for, when He breathed “It is finished” and paid in full was written in crimson, those are the ones that He spoke of. It was all for them, for us. His death on the cross is meaningless if we believe that truth is for the church to keep and cherish, we will never convince the lost that they are loved if we sit back and judge those who do not even know the truth.

 Oh, my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ love and righteousness.

 He’s not just the God of the ninety-nine, He is also the God of the lost one. Our Father will recklessly pursue that one down the steep side of the mountains and into ravines. As His ninety-nine, we too should spread into the earth in active pursuit of the ones that our Father’s heart is bleeding for. We can cry about the brokenness of the world or we can choose to leave the pasture and face the darkness with the knowledge that everything His made us to be is outside of those walls we’ve built around our faith. We are made for more than the pastures, we were made for freedom, for recklessly laying down our lives.

 I pray that we, as a church, would believe in healings, miracles and a God who is not put in a box for our own comfort. That belief would fill our entire beings resting in the fact that with faith of a mustard seed our God of the impossible will move any mountain in our way. I want to be the one dancing wildly in the street because of the overwhelming joy that God has bestowed upon His children. I want to see the churches skepticism put to shame and wall that divide us as Baptist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, crumble into a mess of togetherness and fellowship. I want us to brave being called radical for the sake of love. To bend low and love one another regardless of race, gender, or religion. If we preach the great commission and being the hands and feet of the gospel, then we will also believe that we were made for nothing less than risks and laying down our lives for our lives for the Kingdom.

 Some days the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life is so real that I understand why David danced unashamed in the streets, oh, that those around me will find that same joy that salvation brings. I imagine that heaven is that on steroids; unashamed, abandoned, and fullest joy.  But I won’t cry for Jesus to return today, I won’t say “Jesus come”, because if He were to return today think of all the broken hearts who have not yet heard of this unexplained joy and this extravagant hope. I want Him to find me with calloused hands and dirty feet because that’s how I imagine Him to be.  We were made to be more than Sunday mornings.

 I’m tired of falling asleep when He has asked me to keep watch and I’ve lost interest in the pasture land.

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 Oh, Jesus, make us brave.

 

28 March 2012

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|Through waters uncharted my soul will embark
I’ll follow Your voice straight into the dark
And if from the course You intend
I depart
Speak to the sails of my wandering heart

Like the wind
You’ll guide
Clear the skies before me
And I’ll glide this open sea|

Captain, Hillsong United

Four years ago today I stepped on a plane to Africa for the very first time. If I had known the adventures and the pain and joys that Uganda would hold for me I don’t know if my seventeen year old brain would have been able to comprehend it all. I witnessed beauty and agonized over death and fought darkness I did not want to be called to fight. Here I am four years later and sometimes I wonder if it was at all worth it. Did I even make a mark in the endless battles of poverty or bring joy to the broken hearted?

I travelled to Uganda over the 2016 new year and I fell deeper in love with the country, but at the same time I began to worry that my worth was not enough. I have always sworn off the “savior complex” that some young missionaries are easier infected with, but this was the complete and utter opposite of that. I questioned what good I was doing, if I was hurting more than helping, if I would be trusting enough to allow God to lead me into muddy waters of these foreign lands. The doubts drowned my joys and danced with my fears; I was not worthy or good enough.

I saw things in Uganda differently… this family who did not have mattresses was like a million other Ugandans who didn’t have any where comfortable to sleep. The grandmother was blessed because she lived near the creek and others had to walk miles to gather water. Those boys were happy even though they didn’t eat today, so why did it matter? Anything I would do for them would only turn into laughing in my heart, mocking me of all the poverty my hands had yet to even touch. Why did I, as a foreigner, need to come help?  They were doing okay with their lives and they knew who Jesus was so surely He would answer their whispered prayers and heal their broken hearts. I was just another white girl who would try to leave a lasting impact and fail miserably.

What happens when you become desensitized to everything you’ve strived to change? 

My heart was changing into a hopeless mess and I wondered why He had called me four years ago to Uganda when He knew how big the mess was and He knew how small I was.  God has been in Africa since the beginning of time, He has seen the unending and countless wars against rebels and slavery and poverty and spirituality.  He has witnessed the millions killed by death and malaria and AIDS. So why, why did anything I tried to cure or better or fix change anything ever? Why has He called me into this storm that is sweeping me into currents that are too strong and waves that will continue to drown me?

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I walked into the poorly lit home of a five-year-old little girl named Joyce.  Couches were crammed wall to wall in their small home and I tried not to slip on the concrete floors they had just mopped. Joyce was one of our new sponsored children and wore a shy little smile as I handed her a new backpack and supplies. Her older sister sat on the couch opposite of me translating what she could in her broken English. Her mother was not shy and spoke quickly to my friend who was acting as my translator.  I nonchalantly wiped sweat that was pouring from my face off as the noonday sun beat down on the home.

The mother told of how a recent boda-boda (motorcycle transportation) accident had taken the life of her husband and she was now the sole provider for five children. She had been praying, begging God to show up with the fees to enroll her children in school. And here I was, sitting on the couch showing Joyce how to use her pencil sharpener and bringing the receipt from the school that said school fees and uniforms and books had all been paid in full. Yet, there I was shying away from God choosing me as a vessel.

What happens when God chooses to use you as an answer to prayer?

Something I learned about God while in Uganda was to never underestimate His plans. Everything good pours from His grace, it spills over and floods these broken lands with hope and beckons us to breathe in the goodness that He is. The very hands that carved the foundations of the earth has also written our stories and continues to lead us into the hard because He knows what we are capable of when His love is being lavished freely over us and within us.

Joyce was one.  She was one face in a sea of hundreds that needed sponsors to care enough about their futures. She was only one and at the same time, she was one.  One child who had the hope of education carrying her from a life of poverty into a life where dreams are allowed.  Joyce can pretend to be a doctor or a nurse or a pilot and know that maybe one day she will succeed in becoming any of those.  Joyce is one of the future leaders of Uganda.  She is just one and at the same time she is the hope of Uganda. The one answered prayer of a mother that somehow drifted across the ocean and touched the heart of a sponsor and God ordained that Joyce was the one.

If I could tell my seventeen year old self anything, it would be all these lessons learned.  That sometimes, when you feel empty, when you feel like you are fighting this battle alone, it’s time to turn to Jesus. Lay these burdens and worries at His feet and watch as His beautifully orchestrated plan unfolds and I am left with a peace that transcends any fear. As the ones that He has called we are nothing, but in His will we are everything beautiful and so much more.

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one.  In a sea of hundreds, I will continue to step out in faith that He has chosen one more face, one more future, one more prayer to answer.  Slowly, one will become two. And in the storm of poverty I will keep my eyes on the One whom the waves and the winds obey, and I will obey the same. All He is asking is to follow Him, my worth is found in the sweetness of His voice calling me unto Himself. Follow Him into the unknown and allow Him to be the One that fights the poverty, because I am only one but I am His.

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. [Isaiah 58:6-9]

 

An Open Letter to the Girl in the Maxi Skirt and Chacos.

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Hey you,

I have seen you in the airport on several occasions.  I watched you pull out your passport with trembling hands as your feet meet foreign land for the first time. I see you lean in to understand the lilting accent of the immigration officer. Maybe we have met eyes and smiled at each other as we walked those red dirt roads. I can see the newness in your heart and the adventure in your eyes, this traveling the world to meet the poverty and the broken is all unfamiliar to you.

But I hope it seeps into your soul and crashes your life like a hurricane leaves debris and the need for a brand new beginning.  My prayer for you is that in this journey, you will never go back to the girl googling photographs of Africa, because you have tasted the bitterness of poverty and all the destruction that surrounds it. The sweetness of adventure giving way into the burden of what your eyes have seen. The gospel you once longed to share is suddenly the last thing your mouth wants to talk about because you have seen the darkness and for a split second you wonder where God is in all of this. And still, the hope shines through and God’s goodness is staring right back at you.

Oh, I hope that you see the dying and the broken and the grieving. Hold hands with the starving child and carry the sick baby in your arms.  Listen as the young boy tells you how his hunger pains are giving way to ulcers and he wishes he could have more meals. I want you to get ring worm because that means you loved without fear. I hope that you experience the reality that most of the world faces, touch the poverty and be wrecked by the injustice.

In all the moments you spend trying to seek Him, you see that He’s already there. In every hope filled glance, in the rusting old church, in the dirty shack where the child you have fallen in love with sleeps on cardboard, in the beggar on the street clinging to grace. Jesus does not need you to rescue and redeem, He’s already done that and He’s making all things new. He just needs you to allow your hands and feet in this broken and exhausting service to Him. There will be days when the beauty is overwhelming and nights when you fall asleep before your head touches the pillow, your heart will be yearning for more and holding onto the glory your eyes have seen.

I hope that you experience the joy that overflows in the poorest places, in those dark alleys of the slums, in the church that in falling into the river. See the faith that exists in the midst of corruption.  The grace that floods into the earth is the same in America, Asia, Africa, Europe, South America and the middle east. Our God is sovereign and is a Father even in the hardships that we want to only shake our fists at. Oh, see His love that He pours out upon those who serve Him.  Just watch as He lavishes mercy so freely and beautifully.

When you return home, I hope that you walk through Walmart or Target or Best Buy and you realize how shallow our society is. I hope that your Amazon wish list shortens and the gratitude in your heart only grows.  Maybe you will sit in the airport (as I have done) and convert USD into that currency of the country your heart beats for, you will ponder over the fact that a latte could cure malaria and a meal could feed a village.  And when this truth flows into your heart you will realize how much you take for granted and how little is poured over in thanksgiving. When you allow water to flow into your cup I hope you remember the frail little girl you saw carrying water in a jug, her bare feet carefully taking one step after another to prevent it from spilling over onto the ground. Do not grow disconnected from where your feet have journeyed, the stories your ears have heard and all that your eyes have seen.

So, sweet girl in the maxi skirt, strap the Chacos on your feet, lather on that sunscreen, and let the malaria preventative course through your blood stream. Open your hands and your heart so you may find the beautiful in the ugly places, go be love and let Love transform you in glorious ways.

Sincerely,

the one who’s walked in your same shoes

P.S. just metaphorically, I don’t own Chacos.

the gospel & orphans.

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I met Patrick on my recent trip to Uganda.  He lead us through the muddy roads and into the slums, children ran to him, grabbed his hand and followed. He shook one sleeping boy awake and told him to follow, the boy rubbed his eyes and stumbled after him.  I have never seen a clearer picture of Jesus, His beauty shone through Patrick.  The boys who had followed him were mostly orphans, they had come to the city as an escape.  Some had parents who had died, some had experienced severe abuse, and some only came in search of better.  But each of them had one thing in common; they all came looking for hope, anything that told them they belonged.

The boys were beautiful, but they were oh-so-broken.  They sang worship songs as they got high, the words of grace and a good God made absolutely no sense to them, but they sang and they clapped and they danced. Patrick provided them a safe haven for those couple hours, he fed them and tended to open wounds.

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I saw myself in those boys. Far from home, searching for anything to fill the loneliness. I have walked the journey of life, stumbling over my own two feet and wondering if I am really enough. I wonder if the void in my heart will ever be filled with joy or if the unworthiness in my soul will pour out and fill the hole like asphalt. Though I know Jesus, I forget that I am known by Him. I have referred back to my orphan self, the one that does not know the graces that flow into the earth and the love that fills the emptiness.

My heart aches for the orphans of the world. Oh, Christians, take up your cross and follow Christ into the messy. Follow Christ into the pain and the joy, where the orphans are waiting. I am convinced that adoption and orphan care reflect the Father in a powerful way, and because of this I am compelled to care for orphans because I yearn for the world to see less of me and more of this extravagant grace-offering Father.

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I have seen mighty works of God through caring for the orphan, I have also seen orphan care start to become a trend.  Recently at a concert an sponsorship organization asked who would like to go to heaven, those who raised their hands should sponsor a child. No, by the redeeming blood of Christ we are welcomed into heaven, not by works.  While we are commanded to care for the orphan, it is not an obligatory task that we are to check off on a to do list. We do not care for orphans to gain our way into heaven, but rather to bring heaven to earth. When we care for orphans because we want into heaven, it becomes empty and selfish.  However, when we care for orphans because we long for the orphan to experience heaven, we become joy-filled and selfless. We should reflect not a Christian trying to get out of hell free, but rather a Father’s love that refused to leave us where we were.

As we left the slums that night my Ugandan friend said to us, “I grew up in the Kampala slums, but never have I seen things that bad and so dangerous.” Oh, but the beauty we had witnessed in that dark and shattered place. These boys who once were strangers to Patrick, now were sons.  I saw grace lavished upon the boys, as they hid drugs that were their only antidote to numb their pain. I watched as food was placed in front of them and hope was offered.  Patrick did not seem to mind who they were, he only saw who they could be.  The gospel of Christ was displayed to me, stooping to the low places to find the lost and the hurting.

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Christians, rise up your battle cries for the orphan. The gospel is painted in glorious ways when we go beyond comfort and we sacrifice self-fulfillness in order to care for those who are really so much like us. Maybe today that means losing yourself, selling your possessions and moving half way around the world to live out the gospel on the ground. Maybe it does not look so extreme, maybe you are called to adopt a child or foster children as they wait for a family. Maybe it means seeking out young pregnant mothers and saying “this is our journey now.” Taking their hand and preventing an adoption from occurring. No matter what, it will be hard, you will face resistance, you will fall short, but the redemption of the cross will remind you of why you are that beautiful broken vessel seeking to run this race well.

I cannot tell you how caring for orphans is supposed to look like in your life, but I can tell you this: as adopted and redeemed children of a all-powerful, all-beautiful, all-loving King, we should be compelled not to turn our backs on opportunities to display the gospel. Instead we should run towards the opportunity even if it is costly and means sacrifice.

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I loved an orphan in Uganda, one who stole my heart and never returned it.  For seven months, I loved this little one, I tried hard to protect both my heart and his heart.  I could have loved him forever. But then all the earth shook and shattered beneath us, and I was left broken.  I walked away in tears and heartache, I blamed myself for months that if I had never allowed myself to love so deeply I never would have been hurt.  I worried that I had given false hope to an orphan by loving him so well during those days together.  I dreamed of him at night and I prayed that his little heart was being mended. He was eventually reunited with relatives and most likely does not remember me any more. But I wondered why I had cared so much for this little one, the one everyone seemed to overlook.  To this day,  I do not understand why. All I know is this:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:18-19

That little one taught me a lot about what it is to love selflessly and without fear.  I learned that in orphan care sometimes you are the one who receive more than you give.  Sometimes the lives you set out to change are the lives that actually change you.  Sometimes orphan care is you pouring yourself out only to come out broken, bruised and empty handed. Sometimes sacrifice will leave you wondering where you went wrong. I am convinced that when heaven and earth meet, it is messy.  There is a battle to fight, but you will solider on because the precious ones in front of you have never experienced love or faithfulness or tasted and seen that the Lord is only good.

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Orphan care is beautiful yet some days it feels like a minefield just trying to find hope, but let us love the orphan because earth is in need of more heaven.