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


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'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
i moved, i lived, but
like a creature shedding its skin
i left a shell, a piece
of myself behind
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

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.