Friday, March 19, 2010
Tonight when I was washing dishes after dinner, I gazed out the window toward the sunset and thought about the women in this picture. It is dusk in Uganda, and these women are carrying water home to their families. They balance yellow jerry cans on their heads to evenly distribute the weight. The journey is on a narrow trail with many obstacles.
I am a princess in my heated, air conditioned home in Birmingham, AL. There is so much convenience at my fingertips. There is so little for me to be physically concerned about.
In the Majority World, fetching water is a task that frequently occupies the lives of women. Without running water in their homes or villages, girls and women are the ones who make the trek to the nearest water source. For some, this can be miles away. As water is needed for drinking, cooking and bathing a female may find herself making many strenuous trips from sunrise to sunset.
Some women will spend hours each day simply fetching water. Some are pregnant. Some will walk with a baby tied to their back. Others will walk without shoes. The water they labor to fetch will probably not be clean.
Women who journey to wells and rivers to fetch water are vulnerable to attack and rape. They use up the precious little calories they consume by carefully balancing for miles five gallons of liquid in a plastic can on their heads. They lose valuable time they could have spent learning, loving and laughing with their children.
I stand in front of my sink, my white hands protected in hot pink rubber gloves. I turn a knob and clean, affordable water streams into my home. This water flows into my washing machine, my dishwasher and my tub.
I do not feel guilty for the privileges and benefits I have. This is where I was born. This is where God chose to place me.
Yet I understand that I am not entitled to these blessings. They are gifts. Even the simplest things are gifts that we need never take for granted. We need to thank God.
I also understand that within my abundance I have choices to make. I realize that while God is glad that I spend my time thanking Him and appreciating His blessings in my life, what would truly make Him glad would be if I work faithfully to extend similar blessings as a gift toward others.
Sometimes when I stand at my sink, my refrigerator or my vacuum cleaner I begin to pray for my sisters in the world whose lives are so void of such helps and conveniences. I begin to pray also that my hands which have been so protected and sheltered by hot pink rubber gloves, will not be idle.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Two years ago I did a presentation at a small church in Chattanooga. At the close an eight year old girl approached me intently and emptied out her pockets. Her donation? Fifty three cents.
There is a precious family of six in Georgia who faithfully save their change throughout the year and donate it to the little ones at Ranch on Jesus. It usually adds up to about 80 dollars.
A dollar sixty. Fifty three cents. Eighty bucks. We get many larger donations, but these are the ones that stand out in my mind.
What is it about children? What makes them so openhearted? So concerned for other? So generous? Sure, fifty three cents won't last long in Uganda, but it was everything that little girl had to give. Imagine a forty year old handing me the entire contents of his wallet!
Needless to say, I find our ministry's interaction and relationships with children to be priceless and refreshing. I am always looking for opportunities to connect with kids. After all, our ministry focuses on aiding vulnerable children in Uganda. There is so much connection to be had!
Back in January I got an unexpected phone call from a woman named Amy. She was the outreach coordinator for an after school Bible Club hosted at a local public elementary school. She was interested in having the children participate in some sort of fundraiser for our ministry over the course of their six week club. I was elated.
I imagined there must be 50 to 100 kids in the club, and thought it sounded like a fun opportunity. Boy, did I underestimate! There were 400...yep...400 K-3rd graders enrolled in the club. My mind started racing. This was going to be very, VERY fun.
My immediate thought was Hey, we also have 400 children in our Ranch on Jesus Primary School. Wouldn't it be fantastic to challenge these 400 Bible Club kids to each help one of our 400 students in Uganda? With a new school year beginning in February, the timing was perfect. The needs at the Ugandan school were enormous and practical. This was a providential opportunity to make an impact!
We challenged each Bible Club child to raise funds for some of the specific school supply needs of one child at the Ranch on Jesus Primary School. We gave every student a "Back to School Bank," one of our blue THINK cups and told them to bring it back in two weeks full of as much change as they could find and earn in that period.
The kids were pumped. When I asked if they were excited, they cheered with unharnessed enthusiasm. (Oh, how I so often wish I could get that kind of reaction when I do presentations at adult Sunday School classes!)
Every Friday when I strolled into the school gymnasium wearing some sort of African garb, I was welcomed with smiles, waves and even hugs. Their attitudes were so encouraging. I heard stories of little ones donating their tooth fairy money. Many emptied out their piggy banks. Others opened a weekend lemonade stand.
These gestures may seem tiny or insignificant by adult standards, but to a child they are enormous. Can you imagine some adult equivalents? I know few of us grownups who strive so hard, sincerely and sacrificially to give to others in need.
Now I realize kids don't have to pay a mortgage, put food on a table or cover the cost of car insurance. I am by no means suggesting you completely clean out the contents of your checking account. Most children are blessed to be a part of a family where a loving parent provides for their needs.
Hmmmmm. Wait a minute. Does that sound familiar? Being part of a family where a parent provides for our needs? This sounds a lot like what it means to be a child of God. We are members of His family and as our Father, He provides for us.
Doesn't that put things more in perspective? Children aren't concerned for their daily welfare because they trust their parent will provide them with everything they need. Isn't that what Jesus was saying when He told us not to worry about what we would eat or drink or wear? That our heavenly Father knows we need all these things? (Matthew 6) Didn't Jesus also say that if anyone wanted to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, he must become like a little child? (Matthew 18)
I keep thinking about these little ones at Bible Club and my little ones in Uganda. So open, so trusting, so free. This is what the Lord wants from me. To have a simple faith in Him so that I can pour out His love and generosity without worry or self interest. I'm His child. He'll take care of me. He will also take care of ALL of His children around the globe. But He makes it very clear in His Word that He wants to use me in His care for others.
whole, though, a spirit of love, generosity and compassion prevailed at Bible Club. It was a blessing to witness.
I am SO proud of them, and I am truly going to miss seeing them each Friday.
To close, though, I will say that while the impulse of a child's heart is so often compassionate and generous, their attention spans are fleeting. They are often distracted or forgetful. We adults do need to be more like them: more open, trusting and giving. However, they need us adults as well to expose them to the needs of others, teach them, focus them, and support them.
I would encourage all of us big folks out there to actively tap into the natural compassion God has instilled by nature in the hearts of the very young. Before they are corrupted, jaded and self absorbed, intervene to show them how they have a special role to play in the Kingdom.
After this experience at Bible Club, I am all the more convinced that I want to keep pursuing these special efforts to partner with children in the States. We're all benefiting. If you also have a desire to connect some children in your life with the needs of children in Uganda contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
It has taken me quite a while to get these photos from Scott's January trip together. He never takes many pictures during his solo excursions. In fact, I think he bothered to take most of these just for my sake :) Like any good mama, I teared up browsing through them. It is amazing how much a child can grow and change in a matter of months! I was also deeply encouraged to see little Matthew Kamara looking so healthy and recovered from his recent illness! Theophilus told Scott that Matthew lost HALF of his body weight due to the infection.
I know you child sponsors will enjoy trying to spot your child amongst the crowd. If you don't see him/her it is likely they were off visiting relatives as school was on holiday.
Hope everyone enjoys!
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
This morning I rolled up Vivian's window shades to behold a dreadful sight: fluffy white snowflakes falling on our patio. You have GOT to be kidding me?!? It is March 2nd. MARCH 2nd in Birmingham, AL!?! Spring break is 10 days away! Hasn't Jack Frost worn out his welcome by now?
This has truly been the coldest winter I've ever experienced in the south. Each year comes with its unusually chilly days, but 2010 has offered us little above 40 degrees. There were entire weeks when the thermometer never eked over 30. You hardened, durable yankees may think I have no business complaining about these temperatures, but down here deep below the Mason-Dixon line, we're used to temperate winters. Summer is our season for enduring the cruelty of the climate.
Needless to say, I have NOT been handling the extreme winter presence with much fortitude. To me, winter is just a depressing hassle. The coats, the gloves, the scarves, the hats, the boots. Sure, it has a few highlights....an occasional snow...some nice holidays....but 85% of it is miserable. Most days I feel my bones are going to splinter from the chill. At one point, I seriously contemplated the purchase of a face mask.
Never have I ached for spring with such deep and fervent longing. Each morning as I gear up for my day, pastel short sleeved blouses taunt me from their hangers in my closet. I grit my teeth and put on the same thick pants and boring turtleneck. (During the winter I find it most advantageous to cover as much of my body in wool as is reasonably possible. Frostbite is a very real thing, people.) Under those mundane layers of fleece and fiber, I am physically pining for green and flowers and sandals and warmth. I feel such a strong desire for it that I imagine I could force a tree to bud just by willing hard enough. But no matter how much I want Spring NOW, I cannot make it happen. In fact, I have been secretly suspecting that this winter is NEVER EVER going to come to an end.
This past week I have been thinking a great deal about longing. My feverish Spring obsession isn't the only longing of my soul these days. The ache goes deeper. As I look outside my window at the empty gray sky and bare branches, I can't help but think that I shudder at the bleakness for more internal reasons. That verse in Romans comes to mind. The one about all creation groaning as in the pains of childbirth. Winter takes place in the physical world, but there is something in it that is loudly spiritual. Springtime will come with its flowers and sunshine, but in an abstract way winter will linger on in the world.
In C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, four siblings stumble into a magical kingdom called Narnia, where the White Witch has taken over the land and made it so that it is "always winter and never Christmas." The Pevencie children are quite alarmed by the cruelty of that condition...as I would be. But at root, Narnia is not so different than our world. We live in a climate that is anything but pleasant. This world we know is so full of evil, fear, suffering and death. Families are ripped apart, jealously corrupts hearts, materialism crowds out compassion, cancer destroys health. Hard Labor. Pain in childbirth. It is as though a spirit of perpetual winter has cut all of creation, all men and women, to the bone.
We who are Christians know that at the fall, the whole created earth was lodged into a state of disharmony. Sin ruined a lot more than human nature. It ruined everything. Communion with God was shattered, relationships with one another broken. Nature became a place of thorns, desserts and cold. After that fruit was tasted, the world was no longer whole, clean or at peace. As the title of one of my favorite books states, life is "Not the Way It's Supposed to Be."
In my field of work, I am acquainted with too many situations that are broken, complex and evil. I serve children who have been abused, abandoned, suffered significant loss and gone hungry. Even here in the States, I feel surrounded by folks who are battling illness, headed for divorce, and facing hosts of other challenges and struggles. So many of us seem to be living in prolonged winters. Over the weekend a very dear friend came to visit my home. This friend is in an unimaginably difficult situation. If any person on the planet knows what it is to long for something, it is this friend. My time with her was sweet, but also keenly painful as I was reminded each time I looked in her face, that this world is simply a pain filled mess.
Do you ever have those days where you get tired of it all? Where you ache so strongly for complete restoration, healing and rightness that your insides seem very heavy? Do you ever feel that just by willing hard enough you'll be able to part the clouds and see the Son of Man descending in glory to end it all and begin it again? I do. But no matter how much I want the new heaven and new earth NOW, I cannot make it happen. In His wisdom, only the Father knows the exact hour. Still I cannot help but long for the place described at the close of Revelation "The river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever."
We're given a glimpse and a promise of the whole and perfect place to come. It sounds amazing. But it isn't yet time. Jesus says, "NOT YET" to Heaven. But at the same time He is also saying "NOW." In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." God's will being done on earth; His world being restored to a more heavenly state is what we are to be striving for.
As the Pevencie children journey deeper into Narnia they begin to hear rumors that the true King of Narnia, a lion named Aslan, has returned to the kingdom. As the children draw closer and closer to Aslan's camp, a miraculous thing begins to happen. They hear the rush of a thawing stream. They see trees begin to blossom. Eventually the siblings drop the heavy fur coats off of their shoulders because the warmth of spring has returned to Narnia. It seems that as the King advances, so does growth. His presence thaws the curse that the kingdom has been locked in, making all things new again. SPRING!
Before King Jesus ascended to Heaven, he said "ALL authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go then and make disciples of all nations." Jesus also said he was going to prepare a wonderful place for us. He didn't say "I go to prepare a place for you...bundle up and hunker down until I return." On the contrary. John's Gospel records, "As the Father sent me, so I send you." WE are his representatives. We've been officially commissioned to extend His Kingdom here in this cold, barren world. We do so with His authority.
In Luke when Jesus opens the scroll in the synagogue to teach he reads the following words from Isaiah:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
If this is what Jesus was sent to do, if this is what the authority was given for, isn't he saying that we are to do likewise? I may not be able to usher in the new heaven and new earth today. It may be years before I ever cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, but I HAVE been given authority to bring a taste of spring into this fallen world. It isn't futile. Through His atoning sacrifice on the cross, Christ has made it possible! And with the grace, mercy and provision of the King Himself, life will begin to grow out of it.
Last week as I was breezing through Target, fully swathed in a very large shawl, it was impossible to overlook the bright displays of yard toys, tank tops and yes-swimsuits-lining the aisles. It was 26 degrees outside, but Target didn't care. Target knew, despite how frigid February had been up to the day, SPRING, in all its color and majesty would be arriving any moment. The exact date of its appearance was not predictable, but its eventual debut was inevitable. Target, just like every other retailer in America, was letting folks know to get ready. It was time to prepare because very soon a new season WILL be upon us!
It seems to me that in some way, Christians are supposed to be like Target. It is 26 degrees outside, but Christians stand in the midst of it with a rack of bathing suits. We know the secret that the King changes the climate. Just as the sunglasses and sunscreen on the shelves at Target, our words, actions and lives are to be a call to repent, a call to new life and a call to be prepared for the season to come. As sure as Spring, it WILL come. He is coming again, and every eye will see Him.
Shouldn't it be that where our hands touch, warmth is felt. That in our homes, birds can be heard chirping. As we move forward in our journey, blossoms begin to bud under our feet because we have been empowered by the King, the King who brings sunshine and spring with His reign. This King is making all things new (Rev 21). We will not embrace this full reality until the new heaven and new earth is revealed. But for now, we get to participate in the preview, the great foretaste of the way things should be, and the way things will be when he restores all things unto Himself. Each marriage healed, each angry heart calmed, each water well drilled and each orphan fed in Jesus' Name is a blade of grass pushed through or a robin's song. In the climate of longing these are the clues to the promise of "no more death or mourning or crying or pain," of His sure return, of the Great Spring which will not end, but continue in the place He has gone to prepare for us. There the winters of this world will be forgotten. "Amen. Come Lord Jesus."
"O then what raptured greetings
On Canaan's happy shore;
What knitting severed friendship up
Where partings are no more!
Then eyes with joy shall sparkle,
That brimmed with tears of late;
Orphans no longer fatherless,
Now widows desolate!"
Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand, Alford