When You Think You’ve Been Forgotten–But You Really Haven’t

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The envelope was thicker than usual this time. I took that as a good sign.

Once the dust of bookbag, lunchbox, shoes, purse, key detritus had settled on the living room floor, I ripped the envelope open. On top was a letter from sweet Paul telling me of planting and helping mom in the field, asking for prayer for good health and underneath his letter was a packet, yes, five pages stapled together of responses to each letter that I had written to Martin last year. Thanking me for pictures, and for the encouragement of the verses I had sent. He asked about Allister often, told me how much his family missed me and wished us well.

When I hadn’t heard from him in close to a year, I wasn’t worried that he was in danger, I knew I would hear something from Children’s HopeChest if anything had happened. But I was worried that he was outgrowing me, becoming too cool/too busy/too distracted to respond. Because that is what kids do, right?  I was concerned that he had grown up and away, that he didn’t need my silly words with terrible drawings of the mountains I had climbed or the ocean I had seen, or the race I had run. But, I continued to write and then to pray for him every day knowing, that this, at least, brought us together.

I thought of these letters as our prayers, prayers that stack up, that seem to go unheard, unanswered, until finally you think, “Did I stop praying for that?”– as if they got caught up in the mail for lack of a zip code and unfortunately returned to sender. But there comes a day, when the phone rings, the e-mail slides into your in-box, the car pulls into the driveway…

My mom, on more than one occasion told me that she prayed this prayer when my sister, then 19, had run away from home, left a note explaining why and went to live life the way she saw fit. She returned broken with a little baby, my now 24-year-old niece, in her belly. My mother would pray: “Lord Jesus, let this be the day that she comes back home and if today is not the day, give me the strength to wait until the next.”

Distractions and disappointments abound, we feel as if the prayers are ignored, and so we might protect ourselves with an excuse or push it down.

Richard Foster speaks of radical prayer as a kind of act of spiritual defiance and quotes Walter Wink, “Biblical prayer is impertinent, persistent, shameless, indecorous. It is more like haggling in an outdoor bazaar than the polite monologues of the churches.”* We do not relent. I thought of Elijah this morning, and looked up these words in I Kings 18:24  “Then you will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire–he is god.”

The god who answers by fire–he is god.

 There is a God who answers and consumes us. He consumes our longings, our desires, our strivings because he is good. He consumes our efforts and our posturing because He is good. He consumes our sacrifice because He is good. He consumes everything else so his purposes will be accomplished in our lives: the doors shut–firmly. We cannot push or struggle, oh, maybe we can, but it will be no use. We can slash our wrists and dance and cry out as the false prophets did, but it will be no use. Until the God of fire decides to act, it will be no use.

What was going through his mind as they poured four large jars of water over the bull and the wood underneath, not once but four times? This precious commodity over a land that not seen rain for three years, what was this to accomplish?

And so Elijah prayed he prayed to the God of Abraham, Isaac and—do you see that? Israel–the one who struggled, who wrestled so hard with the angel of the Lord that we was renamed from Jacob to Israel:

“Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again. ” I Kings 18:37

And he did, “Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. You will see them, I assure you, big or little you will see the requests answered one by one by one like stacked up letters waiting for a response. When the God of Abrahm, Isaac and Israel, the God of fire responds, there will be no more questions.

*Foster, Richard J. (1992). Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. New York, NY. HarperCollins Publishers

Our Sisters in Africa

Take a hop, skip and a jump over a few continents and you find a tiny transformed village.  By plane, by bus and lastly by foot, we reached Adacar this past July and oh, what an amazing sight it was.  Our time there was short, relatively speaking, five full days and when I say “full” I mean it.  One of the most special times there was the visit to our sponsor children’s homes. I could go on and on, but I want to share this story about one of my sponsor children’s (Martin’s) mom, this lady is pretty amazing and after my visit to Adacar this summer, I find myself praying for her almost every single day because she’s got a huge job ahead of her…

As far as I can tell, Martin has four brothers and sisters and at least three of these, besides Martin are sponsored through Children’s HopeChest.  Martin looks just like his mother, ebony skin, high cheekbones, searching eyes, distinct nose, but I noticed that his other brothers and sisters didn’t resemble the two of them too much.  Slightly peculiar, but I know families there can be just as blended as ones here. The children adapt and life goes on, right?  Sorta. 
Martin has a slightly younger sister (15 or 16) named Betty.  Betty is beautiful, sweet, kind, lights up a hut.  Her and Martin seem to be very close, then comes Nicholas, talk about all smiles…an amazing kid and then the littlest (can we say cutie-cakes?) is Lucy and, as far as I can tell, they have one more brother.
As Martin led us to his hut, he signed something to our team member, Maddie.  She translated, “Martin apologizes for the appearance of his home.”  What?  I thought.  A hut is a hut. We got there, waited a while for his mom, hung out with the neighbors and their children–and waited a little more, finally Betty piped up and said (in Ateso), “Mom went to get the water jug fixed.”  Their only source of “running” water had sprung and leak and mom was out trying to get it repaired.  I don’t know where or exactly how, as it’s not like Target is just a mile down the road, but about 10 minutes after that, I hear, “Yiyiyiyiyiyiyi!!!!!” –a customary joyful expression of the women in Adacar–getting closer through the bush.  Music to my ears.  Martin’s mom comes running through the tall grass with the water jug on her head and embraces me.  It was a pretty cool moment.  We chatted a little while through the interpreter, she showed me around their homestead, a large dirt circle about 15 feet in diameter with three sturdy huts around it and one hut (possibly used for food/grain storage) in need of repair.  For the middle of nowhere, I have to say it was pretty beautiful.  Simple. We were taken to Martin’s hut, yes, it appears that the oldest child gets their own hut–a cool custom.  We chatted some more and I gave her the few gifts I got from the small town store for her.
This year’s visit to Adacar and seeing Martin’s whole family set things in a tailspin because their story is deeper and more complicated than I initially thought, in a story recounted by Betty to one of my teammates (cutie-pie Lucy’s sponsor): Martin’s biological mom and dad married and had two children.  At some point Martin’s father left Martin’s mother and married another woman, and had three children with her.  This woman died, and now Martin’s mom has taken charge of ALL the children. The father is nowhere in the picture. It appears, though, that his dad is still alive, because Martin gave me his cell phone number…
Wow.  Here is a woman, day after day, cooking, cleaning clothes, providing food and water and caring for three children that aren’t even her own ON HER OWN.  I’m astounded and challenged by her strength, love and her selflessness. 
I know this isn’t an isolated case, though, there are woman all over the CarePoint who are loving and providing for children who aren’t biologically theirs because one or both of their parents have died, either from HIV, or malaria and may have just left.  The enormity of their generosity puts me to shame and at the same time energizes and pushes me forward because I can see the supernatural strength that God has given to these women–and how their Maker, their Husband is providing for their children.  It sends chills down my spine to see the gospel in action: the Father of the fatherless, the Defender of widows setting the lonely in families, it makes me want to send up a couple of my own “Yiyiyiyiyiyis.” 

This got me to thinking, when do I feel the most secure, the least worried, and close to zero on the tense meter?  When I know my child is being provided for, mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally, when I don’t have to struggle to get these needs met. 
There is something tangible that you can do to give our sisters hope: support their children.  Imagine living in a world with no government subsidies, no free education and your food source heavily dependent on the weather and what you’ve been able to grow with your own hands.  The odds seem overwhelming.  But here is what HopeChest, through sponsorship, does in lightening that burden in very tangible ways, by providing:
-school fees and money for their uniforms
-regular Christian discipleship
-each sponsored child yearly physical exams and helps pay for medical emergencies
-one hot meal a day, sometimes, the only meal they get
-each child in the program also gets a goat, which can be used for trading in the market place
I know I’ve written sponsorship posts before, so maybe I’m a broken record. 
Over and over again, we are admonished in Scripture to put feet to our faith:
“What is it my brothers if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds, can such a faith save him?” James 2:14
“…and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” Isaiah 58:10
I’m going to be honest here: I tout Children’s HopeChestbecause I have SEEN the results with my own eyes: I have seen the hope, the life, the change it has brought about in these children’s lives and in their parent’s lives.  I have seen the TRANSFORMATION of an entire community in just a four years and I have seen what hours of prayers and commitment and love and traveling just once a year to say “hello” will do, and this verse in Isaiah LIVED OUT.  It is amazing and indescribable and just. Wow. God.

So yes, I want you to sponsor a child, but I also want you to accept them into your heart and into your life, into your family’s lives.  I have two sons: Martin and Paul who are growing into men who will one day be husbands and fathers and have important jobs to go to every day whether that is in the field or in the classroom or in an office somewhere in a big city. 
We all share a very important job, let’s roll our sleeves up and get to it.

You Give Them Something to Eat

There is something simple and unassuming about Luke’s account of the feeding of the 5,000.  To me, the whole story begins with Jesus’ words:
You give them something to eat.
Here we are waiting for a miracle, for the earth to split open for it to swallow all the bad people whole, to rescue the abused, the fatherless, to make sense of all of this nonsense, when the answer lies in us:
You give them something to eat.
We wait for our friend to accept Christ, for the marriage to repair itself, for the child in the wheelchair to start walking, but we miss the real miracle of this friend watching you live out a real faith that is genuine and steady and faithful–Godgives the increase. 
There is the marriage that may never be glued back together, but the family whose Maker and Husband is the same.
There is the testimony of the father who tirelessly wheels his son up to the preschool teacher’s door Sunday after Sunday as it opens to give God’s gift of love hidden under the over sized cardboard blocks and between the plastic foods circa 1982.

You wait for the miracle as you drive past women who wait strategically next to budget hotels, abandoned gas stations and sex shops, some so frozen by what they have done time and time again, that they don’t look at a new morning with the hope that others have.

You give them something to eat.
You, yes you, the person who sees and feels their limitations day after day, their lack of pedigree, education or experience, the one who could use a little self-esteem boost.
You give themsomething to eat.
Finally, we can give and give until our well runs dry, until we have to stand back and ask the question: Who am I doing this for?  Me? Them? God?
You give them somethingto eat.
Something that will not bring riches as we know it, fame or recognition, but the bread, the bread of life–John 5:35: I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never go hungry…

Sometimes You Have to Go to Africa to Get Your Healing

The circumstances surrounding my separation and divorce were devastating and I think one of the biggest things that compounded the pain of it all was that my ex-husband now lives about a mile down the road.  It is actually a pretty good thing when in comes to co-parenting, but really, the pain of that daily reality dredge up some feelings that are incredibly hard.
All that to say, when I took my second journey to Uganda this summer, I really had no idea what awaited me.  Who am I?  A single mom, living in ATL, trying to figure out the trajectory of my life with a passion for the orphaned.  (Sound a little Moses-like?) But really, why was God sending me back?
I had no idea the healing that awaited me, but I as sat under that spreading tree with Martin that afternoon, and the tears just flowed out of me like water out of a sieve, I didn’t know it at the time, but God was putting the final piece of that healing puzzle in place.
Back at home, it took me a few weeks to fully grasp what had happened that day, but I sit back now in awe of how God works, that when we are transparent and willing and say “yes” to Him, then a transformation like no other happens.
So…
When God is asking you to go places, just do it.
When God is asking you make that call, just pick up the phone.
When God is asking you to be brave and do that task one more time, send the e-mail, show up, because you have no idea what’s in store for you.
It will be amazing.
As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.  Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.  Be strong and very courageous.  Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or the let, that you may be successful wherever you go.  Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night , so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1: 5b-9

Debriefing Uganda, OR God’s Got This

Decompressing, catching up on sleep, the digestive system I think (I hope) returning to normal and finally some time to reflect on what just happened in Adacar.  If I had to some it up in just one word, I’d pick hope.
Hope in the smiles of the boys and girls who are growing, getting stronger, bigger, smarter, sweeter with each passing day.
Hope in the caretakers and cooks who have jobs, are seeing more of their own children being sponsored, who now have money to take home.
Hope in the community with more and more adults showing up, saying “thank you,” making plans for future improvements around the Carepoint.
Hope in the faces of the teenage girls and boys that know they can keep going if they work hard enough.
And one of the biggest, hopeful-est things is that God’s got this, it is all completely in his hands, including Martin.  He’s a young man now, he’s got opinions and expressed them about lots of stuff,  including the pictures we took with the Polaroid of the kids at the Carepoint (he somehow ended  up with two for himself), like any teenager, he misses his family while he’s away, he get annoyed at kids staring at him while he’s signing, he wanted a sweatshirt and looked super cool in the black one that Scott on our team gave him.
He’s 17 now.  He’s growing up.  I believe he has a prayer life with God that goes way deeper than I’ve ever known because they have their own language, the two of them–and one of these days, I’ll know better how to communicate when we meet again, notice I said, “when” not “if.” Why?  Because God’s got this.
My sister is getting ready to move from PA to NY, her life has been in flux over the last few years, but being in a new location for about two years, she was able to form this really amazingly close God-centered relationship with this woman and disciple her.  This friend just recently told my sister that she wanted to rededicate her life to Christ.  It’s moments like these that we sit back in awe and realize just how BIG God is and how perfect his plans are and that it’s true, we don’t know how the kingdom of God grows, only He does–and it does, it’s like how the planets keep revolving around the sun, or how we always have enough food to eat. 
We can’t figure it out, but we just sit back and we are thankful. 

To Adacar Day 5

It’s been three years and it seems like I’m meeting him for the first time. We hugged and I showed him the picture album I had prepared and he signed his way through it. My team member, Maddie knows sign language. The three of us sat down together and he read my letter. Word by word, sentence by sentence he signed his thoughts as he read.
He said:
You are a strong woman for traveling all this way.
You are a great mom.
I’ve missed you and couldn’t wait to see you.
I love my school and even though it is a deaf school it is a normal school.
You are like a mother to me.

And as we sat under the spreading tree out of the sun I cried and cried and cried.

This boy has my heart.

To Adacar Day Two

Spent all day traveling to Soroti giving us an expansive view of lush green countryside outside the window. This was our chance to catch up on some sleep and for newcomers to adjust.
We arrived on Soroti around 7 last night at a new team house.
Above is our African sunset.

To Adacar Day One

We arrived in the Entebbe Airport late last night and settled into our hotel. Joseph Olutu was here to greet us. We ate a full meal around midnight.
According to Joseph the are 15 Carpoints now in Uganda.
It is indescribably good to be back.
God has been impressing these verses the last few days:
Romans 8:15, 16: For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit half testifies with our spirit that we are Gods children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God…