Friday, April 28, 2017

Edwin

This is Edwin. He is a partial orphan living in Rongo, Kenya. Edwin's dad died several years ago and his mom can't find work, as she is bed-ridden from HIV/AIDS. Edwin has 3 younger siblings. While he lives at the Neema Center under CRF support during the school year, he often visits his biological family to help meet their needs as best as they can.

Last week, Edwin approached his field director, Lawrence, and pulled a brand new school book out of his bag, explaining that he had sold a cockrel this weekend to buy his own book.

From an initial three hens given to him by CRF, Edwin has raised fifteen chickens. He was able to sell one to buy a textbook and this month he also gave three to his widowed mother for food. At twelve years old, Edwin is responsible and innovative. He could have used the cockrel to buy himself a soccer ball or candy, but instead he wanted to pursue his education.

I love this story! When you sponsor a child, you are equipping them to succeed. You are helping refine a child's God-given abilities so they can become providers for their own families one day (or right now, like Edwin is).


Monday, April 24, 2017

Jesus My Redeemer

Rain clattered so loudly onto the tin roof of the church that I couldn't hear myself think.

Two hundred people gathered in a building made of stone. Water pooled at our feet, a cold reminder of what would be drenching us if we were outside. When the rain falls this hard, everyone is welcome to crowd indoors.


The children had prepared songs. They sang and their voices mingled with the falling rain. "Jesus my Redeemer, oh, Jesus my Redeemer, Jesus my Redeemer in my soul..."

Little fingers twisted in my hair, turning my curls into braids. Questions whispered around me. "Who is your president? How many years are you? Do you have a mother, a father? Do you like to sing songs too?"


There seemed to be no end in sight to the rain, so we sang some more, bodies swaying with the rhythm of rainfall and music and worship.

When we had first come to Metkei and seen the churning gray of the storm clouds, we felt frustration. I was here to see a CRF program for the first time, as well as the progress of a new, beautiful school that was under construction. To be confined into a room for the duration of the day seemed an unwanted twist in our plans.

But here we were. A little one named Damaris whose hydrocephalus surgery I had helped coordinate sat in my lap, clapping and smiling. Braids in my hair, a piece of paper in my hands written by a child with the words: "Still keep faith. God wants to see if you can trust Him."


Whether I'm on one side of the world or the other, I like to put my own plans first. I prioritize what I believe is most important. This might be having a formal assembly or touring a new building from top to bottom. I have meetings and plans and training sessions. I want to observe and manage and do my work; and sometimes, God wants me still. Sometimes it takes a rainstorm to get me to that place.

For over an hour we were trapped in this building with rain crashing above us. We couldn't speak in normal voices. We couldn't fully hear the words to the songs the children sang. But we held hands. I cuddled Damaris. We crowded together and we were one people in Christ, despite our colors or languages or social position or nationality. Damaris was a child of God. I was a child of God.

Jesus my Redeemer, oh, Jesus my Redeemer...

That day in the church, brought together by ice-cold African rain in the highest elevation of East Africa, we sang. And amidst the clamor of voices and rain against a tin roof, we were still.

Friday, April 21, 2017

It Means...

What does it mean to be a single foster parent?

It means a lot of people in your life saying, "Are you crazy?" (and even you secretly think you must be).

It means your house might be a little less tidy for a few days after the children leave because you're tired and you're triumphant and you just took care of a little one on your own and you both survived.

It means getting looks at restaurants, groceries stores, and yes, even at church, because people think that you are an unwed parent.

It means braving a lot of "bless your heart"s and "aren't you just the sweetest thing for doing something like this"s and "why don't their parents want them?"s and "I would do what you're doing, but I wouldn't want to get attached, because that would just be too sad, you know?"s.

It means calling your mom and asking, "What do two-year-olds eat?"

It means making your best friends get background checks so they can help babysit or come over and keep you company... and when you get a boyfriend, it means asking, "I know this is weird, but will you fill out this FBI background check, please?"

It means when a little one's voice says, "Mama!" you say, "Yes?" and pretend like it's not a strange feeling at all to answer to that name.

It means your weekends are a whole lot less boring and your house is not so quiet any more.

It means having the advantage of learning parenting tricks that you will most definitely put to use when you have a permanent family.

It means morning snuggles and middle-of-the-night baby feeding smiles and before bedtime songs.

It means you get a reason to re-watch kids movies and read beloved children's books.

It means going to the kids clothes section of Target and actually having a reason to buy something adorable there.

It means people stepping up and saying, "I can't do what you're doing, but let me help you with a need" and blessing you more than they can ever know.

It means fighting tears after the kids left because their stories weigh heavily and you can't share them; all you can do is pray and love and sometimes cry too.

It means learning how to live less selfishly.

It means finding a perfect hand print on a window pane a month after a little one left and wondering when it was put there.

It means sometimes wondering, "What was I thinking when I signed up for this madness?" and other times thinking, "This was the best idea ever!"

It means learning your limits, because you can't do everything by yourself - and so you cannot always answer "yes" when a call comes in.

It means learning more about yourself and who you are in crises and stresses and happinesses and responsibility than you ever knew before.

It means being who you were before, with a little more spontaneity, a little more responsibility, a little more accountability, and a whole lot more adventure.

Monday, April 17, 2017

My Journey Into Foster Care

Foster care tugged on my heart when I was at university. Realistically, I knew I could not foster at that time. I had three roommates and almost no income; I would have been rejected as a foster parent if I had applied. After I graduated, the thought entered my mind again. For a while I lived with my parents, so again foster care was not a viable option. But then I moved into a house with two spare bedrooms. My work schedule was predictable and much more reasonable. I met the income requirements for a foster parent. I was old enough. I had the room in my home. I was a young single woman with the time and energy.

Last January, I interviewed with a couple of agencies and then dropped out of the foster care scene entirely for a few months. I didn't feel like I fit with the three agencies I considered. They wanted me to commit to 3-9 months of keeping a child; however, I travel for work and was more comfortable with short term, emergency placement, and respite. The three interviews left me discouraged and doubtful about what exactly the Lord wanted me to do. I focused instead on preparing to lead a group of twenty people to Kenya in July.

In the summer, the trip came and went, and the yearning filled my heart again. God's soft, persistent voice. Love my children, Emily. Cherish my little ones. Open your heart. 

I did more research and I found an agency in my city that fit me. It was Christian-based; the training was paralleled from the story of Esther in the Bible. They held higher expectations of foster parents, but more resources and 24/7 support. I was actually two years younger than this agency's requirement of foster parents, but they considered me and my lifestyle and accepted me regardless.

It took six months of training and paperwork and background checks and home studies, but at the end if it all, I was licensed to be a mom, to whatever degree that entailed.

I haven't agreed to keep a child for an extended duration of time... and I may not agree to do so for a while yet. But my spare room and my heart are open, so children have come (sometimes carried, sometimes in a full sprint) through these doors. I'm willing to let the Lord use my home, use my time, and use my energy in a way that he sees fit.

I was licensed in February, 2017. In these last two months, five children have come through my home. Five names, five faces, and five stories. Five little ones sitting in my lap. Five voices that deserve to be heard.

I am so new and fresh into this foster care journey. Five children is not yet many and my time with them has been short. My life is not radically different, but my lifestyle is flexible for these children and my heart is open to whoever will be coming through my home. I believe this is exactly where I was called to be.

Friday, April 14, 2017

His Schedule

Every year I lead a team of both first-time and seasoned travelers on a trip to Kenya. Before we go, I give everyone a packet with preparations for the trips: packing lists, tentative itineraries, cultural tips, and more. It can be difficult for a first-time traveler to accept that the daily itinerary is always tentative and it will always look different than what I first planned.

The American culture is one of control. When I look at my upcoming work week on Sunday night, I know what to expect. I'll be working from nine to five, sitting in the same room, in the same chair, at the same desk. On Wednesdays I eat lunch with my grandparents. On Friday evenings, I meet up with my boyfriend. I plan my weekends days in advance. There are certainly unexpected emergencies that might come up, but for the most part, Americans plan things and things go how we plan them.

This is not the case in Africa.

When I make an itinerary for a mission trip to Kenya, it must be flexible. And the happiness of a group depends on the team's own flexibility when things change up to the very last moment.

We might be waiting for our bus driver, who overslept by three hours, and drastically miss our tea-time with a friend in another village.

We might be driving down a dirt road when our matatu gets stuck in the mud and suddenly we are faced with a mile walk... with a blind girl who can't maneuver her way across the uneven roads now carried on my brother's back.

We might have someone ill... or stop to pray for a widowed mother... or take a random trip to a new village where none of us has ever been before, simply because someone we trust asked us to go.

Mission trips aren't predictable. When the schedule suddenly changes, I see two kinds of people on my team. One has accepted the reality of being in another country with a totally different culture (that does not value timeliness in the same way that ours does). When things change, they laugh and see the joy in the spontaneity. The other type of person struggles desperately to maintain the control they thought they had back in the United States. When things change, stress tightens their faces and widens their eyes. Tensely, they examine and re-examine what was changed instead of enjoying what is new and unexpected.

Every year I tell my team to be willing to embrace change or else the third world will be a truly stressful experience.

When I am on the international mission field, my perspective on time and schedules change. Our car breaks down? I laugh and prepare for a hike. We pick up three people to fit in an already over-crowded vehicle? This is Africa. We visit five schools instead of three? The more the merrier.

But in Texas, when my schedule changes very radically, my heart can seize in my chest. The other day, I became lost on the way to visit a new church in a new city where I'll be moving soon. We ended up fifteen minutes late and I hated that. My blood pressure rose, my pulse raced, and my hands shook with nerves as we had to walk into a new building and feel curious eyes on us as we stepped into the building a few minutes after the songs began.

See, as much as I tell my summer teams to focus on the Lord's plans instead of their own plans, I like my control too.

I want my time to be the Lord's time. If I don't allow him to make changes in my carefully organized day-to-day, then I am not leaving room for him to work in my life.

Recently a single mom contacted me and told me how overwhelmed she was feeling. With three kids under the age of four, she was running on almost no sleep and she felt like she couldn't parent in the state she was in. It was a work night for me. The control part of me screamed, "They are her kids, you have work, you need to pack to go to Kenya, you have your own plans," but the Spirit in me whispered, "You have the ability to take some of her hurt and stress and fears. What's holding you back?" That night, I kept the youngest children to give this single mama a break. With two babies crawling around my living room floor, my week looked drastically different than how I had planned on Sunday night. But it was beautiful.

When I let the Lord take control of my schedule, my life is more joyful, more selfless, and more purposeful than what I ever could plan on my own.