Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Riavo: Changing a Community

Riavo is a Kenyan village located 20 minutes outside of the larger city of Kitale. Several hundred people live in Riavo. Many are refugees to Kenya. Several years ago, they crossed the border from Uganda during the Lord's Resistance Army's infiltration of their country. To keep their families safe from murder and becoming child soldiers, these families moved within the border of Kenya and have set up a village here. The village farms a shared piece of land several acres in size. As a community, they farm this land and share the produce.

There is no water well in Riavo. The closest water source is 3km away, so most people have dug shallow wells in their backyard. These holes are nesting grounds for parasites and contamination. The nearest school is 12km away, so no child in this village is receiving an education.

A Kenyan woman named Mama Rose was compelled to help after hearing the stories from Riavo. She moved to this village, built a hut, and painted it pink so her home would be welcoming to small children. She took in 10 orphaned children into her own home. Every night she sets her table onto her sofa and spreads mattresses on the floor so that these ten children have a place to sleep.

Mama Rose was still disturbed by the lack of education available to this community, so she personally hired a preschool teacher and formed a class of 44 preschool children. These are the only children who live in the village of Riavo and get to go to school. They have no shoes, no uniforms, but their teacher is qualified and teaches them well. The older children often sit outside and listen to the lessons.

Currently the school is being held in a small church building. This church is located 1km from Mama Rose's house, so the small children must gather together, take hands, and walk barefoot between Rose's home and the school three times a day. The community has seen the danger this walk poses for the little ones, so they have been saving up what little they have to built a classroom for the children. They have managed to construct two iron sheet rooms and are hoping to hire a second preschool teacher since there are so many children ready to learn.

Mama Rose realized that children were unable to learn when they were malnourished. Most of the preschool children who were attending her classroom had rust-colored hair and were physically stunted due to hunger. She has begun feeding these children twice a day. They receive millet porridge and four slices of bread in the morning, and rice, beans, and kale in the afternoon. Mama Rose spends long hours each day farming an acre of land in her backyard to come up with most of the food that feeds these children. She buys the rest with some support from CRF.

The biggest need of this community is water. I spoke with a little girl named Joy who lives on the outskirts of Riavo, only 8km from the nearest school, so she is able to walk to school sometimes. She says she is out sick from class three days a week due to water-borne illnesses. One water well has been drilled in Riavo in June, but ideally we will drill another a few kilometers away for those who live on the outskirts of the village, like Joy. The cost of a water well is $5,000.


A future need for Riavo is a school. When so few children are attending school in a community, the cycle of poverty has been cemented for the next generation. No one can read. No one is learning trades. Putting children in a school environment would equip them to transform the community themselves in the next several years. A related need is a boarding section for this school that will serve as a respite center for at-risk girls. Many orphaned girls in this area are becoming pregnant due to sexual abuse from their foster fathers. Girls without living relatives would benefit from a location to stay during school holidays. The cost of a school that includes a small boarding center is $70,000.


Another need is uniforms for the children. In Kenya, uniforms determine whether a school is really a school. For shoes, socks, sweaters, shorts, skirts, and jumpers, the cost of a single uniform is $30. With 44 children, the cost of uniforms is in total $1,320.


A final need is more sponsorships in this area. 10 of the 44 children at this preschool are sponsored, and currently their support is stretched to help the others. More sponsorships in Riavo would be a tremendous blessing to this needy community.

You can make a difference in Riavo. www.christianrelieffund.org

Monday, June 5, 2017

Victor

Victor's abdomen was taut and round. I've never met this little one in person, but he is a child who I've been able to help with my career at Christian Relief Fund. A little boy with a tremendously large tumor in his abdomen, causing loss of appetite and excruciating pain. It endangered his life.

Michael sent me Victor's photograph along with a picture of his house - a crumbling mud hut with a grass-thatched roof. "Is there anything we can do for this child?" he asked.

Victor was only six. He didn't have a sponsor, but it was not hard to find him one with a single post on social media. Within two hours, Victor had his very first sponsor and we were planning a route to his medical care.

So many people donated towards Victor's life-saving surgery. Gifts of $50 or even $200 that helped cover an expensive procedure that would have cost several years of Victor's parents' salaries.

Soon I received a photograph of little Victor with a hospital gown. Sleeping in a cot, an IV hanging from his arm. Playing with a toy car for the first time since his major surgery. Wide-eyed and hurting, but eating a mandazi and drinking a cup of milk. And then Victor sitting up for the first time, standing, even walking by himself.

And within a week, Victor was able to walk out of the hospital on his own. His clothes fit him. His incision was well-healed. He smiled from ear to ear. No more pain, no more tumor, no more life-threatening illness. Victor was healed.

Victor is in his very first year of school now and often keeps busy writing his sponsor letters and showing off his skills at drawing and writing the alphabet. His tumor was not cancerous and is not believed to grow back ever again.

Because of generous donors, his sponsor, and Christian Relief Fund, little Victor Kiplangat now has hope for his future.

Sponsor a child like Victor today. www.christianrelieffund.org/sponsor

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Darkest Darkness

In Carlsbad Caverns, a memorable experience of any cave tour is when you have ventured deep within the caverns and it is time to turn out the lights. We were hiking by lantern. When our ranger asked us to blow out each candle that illuminated our path, our pulses sped up.

The flame of my lantern flickered and went out. One after another, our lanterns snuffed into smoke and warm wicks and darkness shut around us.

I've never been in such darkness that I could almost reach out and touch it. This darkness seemed to have a texture. Breathing it in felt thick and shaky. Standing within it was overwhelming.

The most interesting part of standing in total darkness over a thousand feet underground was the human brain's reaction. Although there was truly no source of light in this cavern, my mind played tricks on me.

"Can you see each other's outlines in the dark?" the ranger asked us. "Wave your hand in front of your eyes. Can you see it? The truth is that you can't see your hand. You can't see each other. But your brain is compensating for the total darkness by imagining that it sees these shapes." Stunned, I waved my hand in front of my eyes and felt certain I could see the outline of my fingers.

When the first candle flickered and light slowly made its way back into the depths of our cavern, I realized that the ranger was speaking truth. People weren't standing exactly how I thought I had seen them. I had stood in such overwhelming darkness that my mind had made up light.

Sin is like the true darkness deep inside Carlsbad Caverns. The more immersed you are in the overwhelming darkness of your sin, the more you are blinded to the reality of how lost you are, at how absorbed you are in that darkness.

Justification is one way that we blind ourselves to our sin. "I'm looking at photographs and not videos, so I do not have problems with pornography." "I'll pay her back, so this isn't really stealing." "Stretching the truth isn't lying."

Comparison is another way. "My friend has one night stands all the time; sex with my girlfriend isn't like that." "She is an actual gossip; what I'm doing is really just expressing worry." "I'm barely a bad person compared to him."

Ephesians 5:8-13 and 15 says, "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light... and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness. ...Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity." Even as Christians we will find ourselves blinded (by our own sin and our own decisions, yet blinded all the same). We must intentionally put aside justifications and comparisons until our sin struggles are visible in our own eyes and we can work to make the most of every opportunity to live more like Christ.

The truth of Jesus is like that flickering flame that turned a dark cavern into a warm and visible space. It changed everything about that room - even the structure of how my mind comprehended what was around me. Light changed everything.

1 John 1:6-7 says, "If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."

Do not allow yourself to walk in the darkness of your sin, imagining that you can clearly see the right way to go. What might seem like the faint outline of a road at your feet may very well be your mind playing tricks as you teeter at the edge of a chasm. Ask the Lord to reveal your sins and guide you in wisdom and truth. Let him shine a light into every facet of your life.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Magic

Glow-stick jewelry illuminated the faces of 150 orphans at the Tarakwa Orphanage. Their dark eyes widened at the sight of the glowing bracelets and necklaces. Their faces reminded me of my own reaction the first time I saw glow-stick jewelry. I was the age of many of these little ones.

Passing out glow sticks is like passing out magic.

We danced together that night, dressed in light and color. Our voices raised together to the heavens. Even teachers joined in on the fun and stacked glowing bracelets up their arms like royalty.

When we moved from the auditorium to outside, I saw little girls spinning in circles with ballooning skirts and smiles brighter than their jewelry. Wheels of light stretching around them as they danced, hectic shapes in the darkness. The boys tossed their glowing jewelry like magical frisbees that trailed light and color.

A security guard with a long sword came over and took some glow-sticks for himself. A grin marked by missing teeth, lit by the light of these gifts.

A sleepover at Tarakwa Orphanage turned into a ball. We danced into the night. We were dressed in glowing light. We laughed. We sang. We spun in circles.

And that night, hundreds of glowing bracelets were left dangling on the bedposts of a hundred bunk-beds, illuminating the dreams of children who had finally had an experience of a very normal childhood.

Monday, May 22, 2017

When Foster Care Isn't Needed

Sometimes foster care isn't what is needed.

Don't get me wrong. There is a tremendous lack of foster parents and respite caregivers in the United States. So many children in our country do not have a stable home environment because there aren't enough foster parents willing to take them.

However, sometimes there are children who need a place to stay who aren't in foster care.

In some cities, you can find Safe Families - an organization that contains members who are willing to take children into their homes for limited periods of times as their parents work through homelessness, addiction, or other difficult problems that make raising children almost impossible. Government intervention does not take place. They do not remove the children.

It takes a courageous parent to have the strength and the awareness to say, "I can't do this right now. I need help."

Before a home situation becomes too dangerous or complicated, before CPS becomes involved, and before true foster parents are needed, imagine if biological parents felt like they could ask for help without being judged or criticized or blown off entirely. Imagine if the church had families that would say, "Yes, I will take your child or your children for a short period of time while you adjust your life to fit them back. For a day, for a week, for a month, I am here to support you as a parent." Imagine how foster care would look different. Imagine helping a child to adjust and attach and develop in light of his best interest, on a biological parent's terms.

Safe families aren't present in every city. I wish the organization was established in mine. However, I am asking the Lord to allow me to be a safe family when one is needed, for a few hours or a few days or as long as is needed.

Not long ago, a single mother in my city approached me and confessed just how hard parenting alone has been for her. She was overwhelmed beyond words and had not slept in days. She felt like a terrible mother; but all what needed was rest. An evening, a night, and a morning of crawling babies in my house was a source of joy for me and a much-needed time of sleep and alone time for this brave young mama.

Sometimes being a safe family means spending a little of yourself to refill someone else. Sometimes it means sacrificing time or energy or even some money. But it means making a government issue a church issue and a family issue. It means intervening before anyone else has to intervene. And it means shining Christ to someone who is feeling more overwhelmed than I can imagine.

Will you consider becoming a safe family? You can learn more here.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Most Beautiful Sounds

What are the two most beautiful sounds to wake up to in the morning?

The creaking of a water well pump and the laughter of children. 

I woke bright and early. I had spent the night in a cot at the guestroom of Tarakwa Orphanage, and now sounds echoed all around me, trailing in the room through the my window pane.

A child's shriek was what woke me. It was a shriek of laughter - the pure, uninhibited joy that only children can have. The stomping of footsteps running beneath my window. Shoes against dirt. Giggles. Ever-constant creaking as a water well was pumped again and again. The rush of fresh water against metal dishes and plastic jugs.

Tarakwa Children's Village is a rarity of a CRF program because CRF doesn't really do orphanages. We like to promote and encourage family structures. It is typically healthier for a child to be raised in a family than by an institution, so if there is any living relative or foster family who is willing to take in a child and raise him, we support that environment through sponsorship.

But sometimes there isn't a living relative. Sometimes there isn't a guardian family who is willing to take a child not their own. Sometimes a child is entirely, completely alone. These children go to live at Tarakwa.

The children of Tarakwa have harrowing stories. Jennifer was sold into marriage at age fourteen to get her out of her uncle's care as soon as possible. Susan wandered into a director's home at three in the morning, barefoot, cold, malnourished, and alone in the world. Ronnie and Roonie were found locked in a dark room where they had lived for so long that they had created their own language that only the two of them knew. Fillary has Down Syndrome. Nicholas and Vincent were abandoned and went three weeks without eating anything at all.

The stories are powerful and astonishing. These children are survivors. They've gone from enduring the worst living conditions imaginable to living in an environment that is love-based and Christ-based. They eat three meals a day. They sleep in beds. They have shoes to wear. For the first time, they are drinking clean water instead of roadside water. For the first time, they are running and playing in the morning before school because they have the strength and the freedom to do so.

Staying at Tarakwa, surrounded by children who have been through the worst and now live in beauty, I woke up to the most beautiful sound in the world. I heard sounds that confirmed that those who were forgotten are now known. Those who were unwanted are now chosen and sponsored. Those who were neglected and abused are now nourished and loved.

The creaking of a water well pump and the hysterical laughter of these 120 playing children, right outside my window. There is no sound more beautiful than these.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Lillian

Lillian's story broke me.

At six years old, this child is a total orphan who will never remember her parents. They were slaughtered during the brutal war on Mt. Elgon. Lillian lives with her elderly great-grandmother, a woman in her nineties, and many other small children. The family was starving to death, so a CRF field worker named Peter photographed the children to enter the sponsorship program.

When it was time to take Lillian's photograph, Peter paused. This child was naked from the waist down. Her family could not afford a skirt for her. She could not afford underwear or shorts. She was naked in her poverty.

There is poverty, and then there is total poverty. Lillian fit into the latter. She was desperately malnourished. She was not expected to live past early childhood. No one had bothered to clothe her after all of the years she had wandered around the village, hungry and lonely and so, so young.

To preserve Lillian's dignity, Peter borrowed a neighbor woman's leso cloth and wrapped it around the little girl's waist before he took her sponsorship photograph.

It took less than an hour for someone to choose to sponsor Lillian after I shared her story on Facebook. The support she would receive from sponsorship would provide her with daily food, basic medical care, clothing, and education.

Soon after Lillian was sponsored, I received a new photograph of her. No longer did Lillian stand with sunken eyes and ashen cheeks. She was smiling and already so much healthier than she was before. Best of all, Lillian stood in a crisp school uniform, covered by clothes that proclaimed her modesty and dignity and status as a valuable child, as a loved child, as a nurtured child.

I was so eager to share this photo with Lillian's sponsor, but unfortunately, she had passed away only a week before. This woman felt love and compassion for Lillian, even as she struggled with her own battle of breast cancer. In her last days on earth, Lillian's sponsor lived out Isaiah 58:6-9. She has left a legacy in Lillian, who is now sponsored by this woman's husband.

“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."

Lillian's story broke me, because even with my job as the Kenya Director of a nonprofit, I forget that there are little girls walking around who do not even have a rag to cover themselves. I forget about the forgotten and the voiceless.

Lillian was remembered. She was cherished. And the fasting of Isaiah 58 was carried out in her story.

Friday, May 12, 2017

My Tree

This is my finger-print tree.

When I was at the very end of my process of training to become a foster parent, I knew that I wanted something to help me remember the many faces that would pass through my home. Because I am doing short term foster care and not long term, I was worried that I might forget... and I don't want to forget. I want to remember every face, every story, every name, and I want to pray for them for years to come.

I saw a photograph of someone's wedding guestbook. It was a tree painted against a white canvas. Instead of signing their name on a list, wedding guests put their fingerprints as leaves on the tree.

I'm sure I am not the only one who has thought of a craft like this, but here is my tree with five little fingerprints representing five little children who have passed through my home since January.


My foster care tree hangs proudly on a wall in my house. Its leaves symbolize the children who have passed through, and its branches are bare and waiting for more fingerprints to come.

I refuse to forget a single face or name who comes through my home. Every one of these children is loved and prayed for, however short of a stay they have had.

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Foreigner

Today I'd like to share a quote from the book "The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly" by Stephanie Oakes.

"'Back then, the Parisians allowed smoking in bars. When you walked in, you'd see everything through a blanket of blue smoke. I'd be at a bar stool, alone, and I'd look around and hear all these foreign voices layered over one another and see these people moving around in foreign clothes with foreign faces. And then I'd realize that, actually, I was the foreign one. I was the one who didn't belong. 

There's something about grief that makes you feel like that, like a foreigner. When I lost my son, I became a citizen of a country I never knew existed. And all of the people I ran into on a daily basis were speaking a different language, only they didn't know it. Because I was the one who'd changed. I'd sit around the office and soak in the sounds and realize that I would never be like them again. And you know the strangest part? That idea made me happy. 

I started carrying this picture around, just to remember the feeling. It felt good to be different. It made me feel closer to my son. Closer to my guilt. 

The trouble is, though, when you lift your head back up and look around, everything's different. Things have been moved, people have walked out.' He flicks the photograph back and forth between his fingers. 'The grief world isn't closer to where the dead live. You only trick yourself into believing that. If you stand up and move around and look at the living world, and start participating again, you're closer to them anyway.'"

Grief changes you. The world around you stays the same. People buzz from place to place, unchanged by something that has left you shattered into remnants. 

I think people usually give about three days before their sympathy passes. If you lose someone very close to you, they might even give you a week. But after those three days, there are a lot less gestures of comfort or compassion; there is more frustration when you aren't motivated, when you aren't smiling, when you struggle to keep your head above the water of your sorrow. 

Someone you love is gone. That can't be changed. The world is totally different now. And yet to the world, things feel the same. 

This is a poem I wrote several years ago as I grieved for the loss of a close friend. It's called "Shell."

when you left i stood still
frozen in time.
you became ageless and i tried.
the spinning world was a thorn
as if people did not see
the hole
you left behind.
stepping over the place where you were
they forgot
as i stood still.
in time i knew the taste
of voices and smiles
alive.
i moved, i lived, but
like a creature shedding its skin
i left a shell, a piece
of myself behind
ageless
standing with you.

I am a foreigner in this world, defined not only by my grief but also as a child of God. Sometimes it feels like I am frozen in the loss of my uncle when everyone else is rushing forward. But I am not alone. You are not alone.

God's compassion lasts much longer than three days. He is there for you, even when you are hurting, even when you are trapped or lost in your sorrow.

Isaiah 54:10
Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

Friday, May 5, 2017

In His Memory

On September 27, 2016, my beloved Uncle Greg was found dead in his home. He was in his early fifties and his death came as a big shock to everyone.

Grief without closure comes with a deep ache. The loss of Greg is felt everywhere I look. On Sunday lunches containing one less person, in my now very unfilled voicemail inbox, and in an empty chair at Christmas time.

During the funeral planning stage after Greg's death, my family had to come up with a place to donate in his memory. We decided to drill a water well in his name through Christian Relief Fund. Right now, the drought in the Horn of Africa is worse than it has been since World War II. People are starving to death because of the lack of crops. People are so thirsty.

Losing my uncle Greg was so hard, but his memory is something that will always be with me. And now Uncle Greg has left a legacy in Kenya at the Maeni Girls' Secondary School. Regardless of drought or famine, these students will draw clean water every day from the well drilled in my uncle's memory. 



I wish I could see Uncle Greg's reaction to knowing that there is a water well with his name on it in Africa. I know he would be pleased. "That's neat, sweetie. I like that," he would probably say, wrapping a broad arm around my shoulders. 


These students do not know my uncle, but they love him. They are thankful for him. And their lives are positively impacted by the memory of him. 

If you want to drill a water well in memory of someone, go to www.christianrelieffund.org/water.

What a beautiful way to leave a legacy behind.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Good Gifts

A lot of my job is being a bridge between people and how they can serve in ministry. I don't have the money or the ability to help all of the orphans in Kenya, but if I can bridge the gap between a potential orphan advocate and an orphan, then I do not need to help all of the orphans. There are so many people who can take my place.

CRF children write their sponsors letters at least twice a year, and sometimes children share about struggles and needs in their families that sponsorship can't cover. There are almost 4,000 orphans in my Kenya programs. I cannot personally monitor all of their individualized needs outside of what sponsorship provides, but their sponsors can... and their sponsors do.

So often, a sponsor will call and say, "My child's home is leaking during the rainy season, so I would like to give his family a new roof," or "I want to give my child some more clothes; hers are so ragged," or "My child's family needs extra groceries during the school holidays, so I'm going to give a little more on those months." These orphan advocates step forward and intervene in a needy child's life. They give beds and blankets, medical care when needed, school books, and birthday gifts. And I get to step back and be a simple bridge.

Recently this little love was given a brand new dress for her birthday from her sponsor. Her smile tells the story more than I ever could. This child is an orphan. She never receives new clothes. What she has are hand-me-downs, torn, and ragged... and after sponsorship, she has received a brand new school uniform that she treasures more than anything. But today she receives a dress. A perfect, flawless dress that is almost as spectacular as the smile on this child's face.


Generous sponsors who advocate for their children, whether by simply giving $35 a month, or by going above and beyond when their child has a specific need, remind me of God the Father in Matthew 7:9-12.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

We are loved by a Heavenly Father who delights to give us good things. It is an act of worship to Him when you give a gift to one of these little ones. And when you become His hands and His feet and His heart for these precious, precious children, you will be immeasurably blessed as well. 

Do unto others what you would have them do to you. This is what sums up our faith. This is what sums up our identity in Christ.

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.

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.