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.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Caleb

When I met Caleb, he was thin and quiet. I was visiting the village of Metkei in the Rift Valley of Kenya. Although Caleb was shy, he carried with him an air of determination - and between his explanation and that of the CRF field worker, I heard more of Caleb's story.

Caleb is an orphan. He has been on his own since his early childhood. He was able to find odd jobs to make it through primary school, but high school fees in Kenya are much higher. Caleb passed his high school entrance exam with a high score... but he had to repeat the eighth grade. And he repeated it again.

At the same time, Caleb's nutrition was low. He did not always eat every day, and when he did, he had small portions of sukuma wiki (kale meant to "stretch the week") or rice. He was hungry, malnourished, and he could not complete his education. Caleb was at a loss.

A CRF worker found Caleb making a deal with a local black market doctor. He would sell one of his kidneys in exchange for enough money for some food and his high school tuition.

This doctor was sketchy. Caleb may have died from the incision and the procedure. He may have been swindled out of both kidneys and left to die.

Whatever would have happened, a child like Caleb - 14 years old - did not deserve to sell an organ in exchange for some food and school tuition. Immediately, Caleb was taken into the Christian Relief Fund sponsorship program. He found a sponsor and is now making fantastic grades at the Suzy Peacock High School.

Not long ago, Caleb wrote this letter to his sponsor.

Dear sponsor,

I am Caleb, aged sixteen years. I am saying thanks for helping me so that I can continue with my education. I was about to sell my organ, but God heard my prayer and guided me. He showed me another way by which I can succeed with my education. Thank you so much. Education is the key to my life. I will keep on praying for you always1 I love you. Now I know that my future is bright. I was about to lose my life, but you are a hope in my life. Thanks a lot.

Yours,
Caleb

Sponsor a determined, needy student like Caleb today. www.christianrelieffund.org/sponsor

Monday, April 3, 2017

Cave Walls

We stood at the mouth of the cave and peered into the unknown. Darkness stretched far beyond the weak lights of our candles. In February, I went on a lantern-lit tour through the Left-Hand Tunnel of the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.

Light flickered against the walls as the ranger lifted his lantern and motioned for us to look closer. "Notice there is no wind in these tunnels. Just like the face of the moon still has the footprints of the very first astronauts, anything that you change in these caverns will stay the same for thousands of years to come."

Obvious marks pocked the walls. They had been made by the very first explorers of this tunnel. These early visitors of the cave didn't value preservation in the same way that we do now, so they hacked away at the walls with pick-axes. Certain parts of the walls were completely broken, changing so much of the cave that researchers can no longer study how the tunnel was formed.

A hundred years ago, someone made marks on the face of a cave wall. And a hundred years later, they are still there. White gashes against stone, forever changing the tunnel, forever marring its walls. The ranger's lesson was that we should be careful about the impact we make on nature, as the changes we make might stay there forever.

So many times in my life I have felt like that cave wall, like I have been forever marked - forever scarred by the impact of my own sin.

When I have chosen to put things before the Lord - a gash here. When I have insulted myself, not loved myself, put down one who was made in the image of God - a scar there. Every hurt, every wrong word, every broken mistake; they have all left irreparable lines on the fabric of my heart. And when He sees me, does He see that? Does He see what could have been and is no longer? Does He see what was broken, what will no longer be the same?

Isaiah 64:6 says that all our righteous acts are like filthy rags! In the face of my own sin, my best works are no better than what is torn and undesirable. I have sat and felt the scars brought by my sin like pock-marks on a cave wall, and wondered... how can I still be lovable? How can I ever be what I was or who I'd like to be? 

Each time I have felt undesirable, unforgivable, unredeemed, I have believed a lie. The truth is that when my Father sees me, He does not see the marks of my sin. He does not see what is broken. He sees one who is redeemed. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" I am not what was broken. I am what is new. I am loved and lovable, new and still changing. Sin does not define me any longer and I am not a slave to who I was before.

1 Corinthians 1:30 says that Christ made us right with God. Through faith in Him, we are seen as righteous in the sight of our Creator. Christ bore my iniquities so that I could be healed (Isaiah 53:11, 1 Peter 2:24). There is no condemnation now when I go before the Father (Romans 8:1). Instead, there is an abundance of grace. I am an heir. I am a child of God.

The power of the cross is so much greater than what I have done. Christ has the power to substitute what was old for what is new, for what was unloved with what is cherished. My old self was crucified with him (Romans 6:6) and the marks are gone now. I'm seen as pure and whole and beloved before Christ and this brings so much joy! 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

I am no longer scarred beyond repair. The cave wall is not a reflection of who I am - nor is it a reflection of you.

Isaiah 61:10
I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God!
For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation
and draped me in a robe of righteouness. 
I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding
or a bride with her jewels.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

We Haven't Forgotten

We haven't forgotten
The child with pudgy hands
     and cheeks of rust and dimples,
washed on a beach-
     blue, ashen,
Like the plastic soda rings-
     birds trapped, flailing.

We haven't forgotten
     those who journeyed
over hectic waters -
     tears, seizing heartbeats

We haven't forgotten
     but we pretend
we did not see.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Caroline



Caroline,
Twenty, a mother, provider
     Ravaged by AIDS,
Her daughter beside her.

Caroline,
Bones, skin, and teary eyes,
     Forgotten in silence,
Gifted with virus, stigmatized.

Caroline,
Hope came then, not now.
     So tired - but her child -
How can voiceless scream so loud?

Caroline,
Memory, seen in a younger face,
     Buried, rural ground.
She finally got to leave this place.
     Love for daughter her only sound,
Caroline.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

2016 Yearly Recap

This is late, but since I've done this recap since 2013, I might as well do it again!

1. What did you do in 2016 that you'd never done before? 
I traveled internationally alone. It was a lot less scary and a whole lot easier than I expected - and a lot easier than traveling in a group, I will also admit!

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
My goals for 2016 were to give to a cause every month and read 50 books. I did give monthly to CRF through sponsorship and I also read exactly 50 books! For 2017, I would like to commit to at least 50 more books and I want to write more.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My sweet friend Megan gave birth to twins! Also my friend Stephanie gave birth to a lovely daughter.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
My uncle Greg died on September 27. Also notable - although we weren't close, the mother of my sponsored child died in August, and her life will always leave a mark on my heart.

5. What countries did you visit?  
Kenya (and Qatar and England if you count long airport stays...)

6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?
Last year I wanted to have more community and I wanted to be busy in a good way instead of focusing on me-time. I am thankful for the Bible study began by my friend Krisann and I last January that is still going on! The Lord has been so faithful with community. I'm also learning more about busyness as I step into foster care.

For 2017, I would like to be more intimate in my prayer life. I try to keep conversation casual throughout the day, but I want to step deeper with the Lord this year. During some difficult transitions globally, I should be relying intentionally more on the Lord than I feel like I am now.

7. What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
The day I lost my uncle was one of the most difficult days of my life. I don't know if anything can quite compare with that.

On a happier note, November 14 was the day that Jen and I gave our Kenyan daughter-in-a-way, Eunice, a birthday in honor of her mother, Caroline.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I thought the trip I planned in July to Kenya went very well. As a young person still very much learning about taking groups overseas, I felt like this was an accomplishment for me! Similarly when I traveled alone in September.

9. What was your biggest failure?
My biggest failure was when I accidentally paid $50 instead of $52 to the water company for 3 months and ended up with a $400 late fine for those $6 I missed!

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? 
Other than a month in the winter that I could not seem to get over a cold, I have been healthy!

11. What was the best thing you bought?
I bought a car!

12. Where did most of your money go?
Most of my money went towards bills, that car, and food. I'm adulting now, aren't I?

13. What did you get really excited about?
Obviously I get so excited about CRF's ministry and about my beloved community in Kenya.

14. What song will always remind you of 2016? 
Overwhelmed by Big Daddy Weave.

Yellow Water Jugs



The yellow water jug
holds just a little in its bottom
in the early morning
so I can splash my
dark dark cheeks.
Uniform stretched out on my bed,
I wear a faded dress instead.
I stand up tall - upon my head
is the empty
yellow water jug.

The path is long and stretches far.
One way students walk to class;
this way we walk for water.
Dust is stirred by bare
dark, dark feet
like mine and all the other girls',
careful braids and short-cropped curls
and teeth like baby pearls. 
All carrying, just the same,
yellow water jugs.

The men watch us, 
taking tea with big, rough hands,
winking at us with 
dark, dark thoughts 
but we do not meet their eyes. 
The hairs on my arms rise.
Strength in numbers, walking by sunrise. 
I grow thirsty under the sun
but as barren as the dusty path
is my yellow water jug. 

The thorn bush catches my foot
and like a river, up wells
dark, dark blood
but still I smile because I've arrived 
at the end of the long queue. 
Women young and old and thin 
with weary faces, weathered skin 
stand at this daily chore again,
all carrying empty
yellow water jugs. 

The heat is thick and still I wait, 
jug at my feet, skin damp with sweat.
My head bows, casting
dark, dark shadows. 
When the sun is high it's my turn,
so I pump until my muscles burn 
and my dry, dry throat yearns, 
but others are waiting too, so 
I rush to fill my 
yellow water jug.  

The jug balanced on my head, I hurry. 
I don't want to be trapped in the
dark dark night
with the men who always watch.
I make it home, aching, tired.
Grandmother cooks bent over the fire. 
Brother walks in with stick and tire,
looking so smart in his school uniform.  
Grandmother cooks and empties most of 
the yellow water jug. 

It's hard to see through the
dark, dark smoke
but we eat and tonight there is enough. 
Brother talks about all I missed
in class. I ball my fists,
but through sleepy thoughts I listen. 
No need for tears. When the rains come, 
perhaps I'll go back to class again. 
But tomorrow I'll be walking 
with other girls, barefoot, balancing
our yellow water jugs.