Beast of Burden

2016

“Bullet is just eating everything, leaves, trees, ground, person. Eating them. Just making person to bleed everywhere. We are just like wild animals now, with no place to be going. Sun, why are you shining at this world? I am wanting to catch you in my hands, to squeeze you until you can not shine no more. That way, everything is always dark and nobody’s ever having to see all the terrible things that are happening here.”     -Agu, Beasts of No Nation

(Warning, if you haven’t watched Beasts of No Nation and want to without knowing the story, don’t read any further.  There will be spoilers.)

Tonight I watched a movie that just about ripped my heart out.  I had to stop it several times and compose myself.  Beasts of No Nation was filmed in Ghana and is about an unnamed country in Africa.  But honestly, I felt like I was watching a documentary of South Sudan.  It has taken criticism from some, talking about how it makes it seem like all of Africa is one in the same.  To me, it just reminds me that all of the world – all of humanity – is the same.  We are broken.  We are evil at heart.  We are hurting and surviving living a world of people who are hurting and surviving.  There are things out of our control, out of our reach that we feel we cannot do anything about, and so we turn a blind eye and deaf ear.

Until we know the Truth.

I watched in horror as  Agu’s family was killed by rogue, power-hungry government soldiers and he ran.  I watched, sobbing, as he was captured by rebel soldiers and initiated into “manhood.” I covered my face and felt sick to my stomach as he killed his first man – an engineer there to build new roads and not involved in the war at all – with a machete, and then I couldn’t stop looking in shocked horror as he hacked and hacked after that first blow because his little, abused, boy body and mind were so filled with anger and  sorrow and confusion.  I almost gagged as the Commandant, a charismatic sociopath made Agu feel like he was his father, yet brought him into his bed and did unspeakable things to him.

This movie is not for the faint of heart, but I believe you should watch it.  (Not children!  This is not a family movie!)  It will make you react in ways that you should question and process – especially if you have children or if you know anyone who lives in places like this.  It will remind you what so many people are facing and dealing with.  It will be a call to prayer and battle.

My thoughts and heart were giving me whiplash as I went back and forth between remembering the boys in Mundri who could very well be facing these situations in their lives, and my own boys – particularly RJ, who is about the age that Agu is in the movie.

I thought of the boys who made signs for our house when we first moved to Mundri.  We played Uno together to learn Arabic numbers and colors.  My kids baked delicious pumpkin bread with them.  They helped do work around town to earn Futball jerseys, and would work full days to get these precious gifts.  The loved wrestling and John Cena and Futball  (Soccer) and Fanta.  They went to school when it was open and studied hard to pass exams, which were their only hope out.  They climbed mango trees and ate until their bellies were extended during mango season.  They played with my boys – slingshots, fishing, ball, running around and exploring.  These are the kids that the monsters are targeting.  These are the same types of boys that are picking up machine guns and killing whole villages, that are slaughtering with machetes, raping women who could be their mom’s age, and traveling with some of the most dangerous men you could ever meet.  But here’s the kicker for me – these are not just boys on a movie or in a book or the news cast.  I now KNOW these boys.  The have real names, faces, families, dreams.

And RJ…my RJ.  What would he do if I was taken from him, or John, Andrew, and Shawn were killed in front of him.  What if Anna was given, kicking and screaming, to a soldier for his payment that month because there was no more money and the soldiers on both sides were demanding some sort of compensation.  What if he were forced through an initiation like that, where it was kill or be killed?  Is it possible that his extremely sensitive heart and emotions could be hardened and perverted because of pain and trauma?  Of course it is…he is human.

And I can’t get my mind around it all.

Each day I hear news from South Sudan that makes me weep.  I read news about Syria and Brussles and other places and I just want to to turn my head and thank God that it’s not me.  Because he can’t really expect me to carry that pain with me all the time, can he?  What kind of burden can I bear?

“I saw terrible things… and I did terrible things. So if I’m talking to you, it will make me sad and it will make you too sad. In this life… I just want to be happy in this life. If I’m telling this to you… you will think that… I am some sort of beast… or devil. I am all of these things… but I also having mother… father… brother and sister once. They loved me.”  (Agu)

I plead, “Oh God of justice, please act.  Lord of mercy, intervene.  Father of Love, pour down your Spirit on this broken world.”  And he says, “I am here.  I am in you and my church – my bride.  I am present and I will overcome this evil.  But for now I want you to fight.”

Friends, it’s time to wake up and fight.  We cannot turn a blind eye anymore.  We need to remind this world that they do have a Father that loves them.

The One Where I Watched NCIS

Feb. 2016

As we are coming upon a year (!) in Kenya this month, I have been thinking a lot about the last couple of years.  I wrote a blog a few years ago about the true desires of my heart for my kids and I have thought about this blog several times in the last two years.  It was easy to say as I wrote it in the comfort of my comfortable, safe little home at the time.  My kids had seen some sorrow with the death of their grandmother and a drowning of a friend from church.  But for the most part when I wrote that blog, they had not seen a lot of the real world.  Though I knew it was coming, I didn’t really know what was coming.  I didn’t know that when I ripped teenagers away from their familiar world with technology and friends and family and clean drinking water from the tap and fast food and A/C how much anger would come from that.  I didn’t understand that living in a remote, war-torn place could cause such a deep wound on the hearts and the psyche of all of us, and that it would mean that, of course I couldn’t take care of the 6 of us – I couldn’t take care of myself.  It was a daily lesson in survival for emotional and spiritual health.  I knew that war was there – but what did that really mean to me?  I had not lived through gunfire, burnings, and assassination attempts on people I knew before.  I wasn’t prepared for those people to have a real face, a name, a family.  To cry with me about it – or worse yet, to talk about it with a stone-faced look because it has become all too normal.  I had gone through simulations in training on what to do in different crisis situations, but I had never lived with a go-bag packed before so we could take off with a change of clothes, malaria meds, and our important documents in minutes if we needed too.  Growing up in PA I had certainly shot a gun and seen hunters use them – but on animals or tin can targets – not on people. And I had never seen tracer fire or heard AK-47s.  I was not in the military, after all.

When I wrote that blog, I must have been naive, right?

When we left South Sudan and were in a safe place to process the huge amounts of grief and fear we had felt over the past year and I started to see the affects on my kids, I thought yes, I must have been naive.  I was so angry at the woman – the mom – who wrote that stupid blog.  What did she know? I was embarrassed because I knew so many people had read the blog and yet I wasn’t even sure any of it was true anymore.  I was mad that I couldn’t be that woman – that I didn’t even want to be.

It had felt good and empowering (and pretty darn prideful, if I am willing to be honest) to write that the first time and “know” that I must have something in me that many people don’t.  Us missionaries – we can be pretty arrogant in the name of sacrifice and service.

So while we took the last year to heal in many ways and start to really embrace life here I ignored that blog and all it’s implications.  But then tonight I was watching an episode of NCIS  (Isn’t this how all the good spiritual revelations start?)  They were in South Sudan rescuing some military doctors who volunteered their time while off duty.  And from the get-go, I realized it was not just a tv show for me.  Though annoyed at the mispronunciation of “Juba” (really people – it’s four letters long!) I found myself in tears at the first sighting of the makeshift hospital tent where the people were gunned down.  I felt panicked at seeing the gunships come in.  I felt a homesickness for the people and the accents and the Juba Arabic and the landscape.  Because yes, it had been HARD.  But it was also GOOD.  I experienced over and over again the hospitality and love of a people that just wanted to be left alone to live in peace.  I heard stories of loss and survival that ripped my heart in two and put a burning desire to see justice come to light.  I learned anew what hope looked like, even when it made no sense to me.

And my kids experienced all of these things right along with us.  Their hearts and eyes were opened to things that may seem harsh and over the top, but are realities of the majority of people of this world. I have talked with my kids about these things.  Anna said she remembers clearly the day after lockdown when she realized that the Sudanese people have no other choices.  We talked about evacuation and safety and looked at what seemed like limited options – but they were still options.  We had an out, but they didn’t.   She also realized that the Sudanese cared about us enough that they wanted us to have that out and to use it.  It wasn’t fair and it opened her heart up to justice and love and empathy and compassion.  John has talked about how the last year shaped him and that even though it was rough and he was angry most of the time, God has since shown him some things about himself and about this world that he has realized he would never really understand without having South Sudan in his life.  Andrew and RJ have really only good memories of Mundri (other than the latrine)  because yes, we had an amazing team and some really awesome times there.  They are both shaped by the input of a team that poured into them and loved them.  And what young boy doesn’t love the adventure of wide open spaces and bows and arrows?

Would I have liked to have spared them some of the things they have seen and known.  From a certain standpoint, of course!  No mother enjoys watching her children ache and cry and grieve while not knowing how to help them.  Yet I really like who my kids are today.  I love seeing their hearts open to new things and people.  I love seeing the compassion they have and the passions He has put in their hearts.  It has been our prayer for as long as I can remember that our kids would be justice seekers and risk takers in this world and they wouldn’t be content with status quo.

I forgot that for a while.  I got caught up and forgot that God is sovereign. I saw only the “in the moment” and not the molding and shaping that was happening for His good.

My kids are healthy.  They are happy.  And more importantly, they are in love with Jesus.  That looks different for each of them, but it happened in deeper, more profound ways because of this last year.  Grief can draw a sense of purpose out of you in ways that times of ease cannot.

So tonight I stand back alongside that naive woman who wrote the blog a few years ago and the quote from the book I was reading ( and need to reread, apparently) called ‘Parenting Beyond Your Capacity’ that says “The mission of your family is not to ultimately protect your kids but to mobilize them to demonstrate God’s love to a broken world.”  Of course I will continue praying protection over my kids.  But I will also pray for boldness, for compassion, for broken hearts that seek him, for things that bring them repeatedly to the place where they remember he is all they need, and for being justice seekers and grace bringers into this very broken world.

And I will pray for my own heart to be steadfast in this.

“Home” Warsan Shire

This poem has been all over the internet lately, but my sister sent it to me this morning and I find it so tragic and wrenching.  Even as I feel like I am settling into my home, I am aware that so many others are being forced to leave theirs in extreme ways.  My heart breaks for all of those people needing to leave home and yet having no where new to call home.  Running from something so evil that it overtakes everything and causes them to make decisions that would make no sense in any other setting.  I am also brimming with anger at the oppressors and the unjustness  of it all.  And I am so uncomprehending how anyone anywhere could be so cold, calloused, and cruel.  HOW can you look at another human being regardless of race, color, religion, or background and blindly kill with joy?  How can you see families torn apart, women destroyed, children with hollow eyes and swollen bellies and not want to do anything?  Even if you (like myself so often) have no idea what to do and feel overwhelmed by it the vastness of it, how could you still ignore?  But my words are simple and I can’t express it with enough emotion, so I repost this poem.

I would say enjoy, but that doesn’t seem quite right.  Instead, be open to the emotions brought on by Ms. Shire’s raw and powerful words.

“no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here”

Changed

July 2015

 

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As I’ve been in the States traveling around and talking about our past year with people, I have been forced to process through some of the things that we have experienced a little more in depth.  People have been so amazing, and I have discovered as I close each time with a chance to ask questions, I start to be emotional when I am forced to go “off script” and really think about my feelings, hopes, and expectations. For the most part I feel like I cannot answer those questions clearly yet. I am excited to get back to Nairobi and start figuring out life with my family. Yet I’m grieving the loss of the plans and hopes we had as a team and a family in South Sudan. I am so happy to know that we are a part of a church in Nairobi that is truly seeking to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the city, yet it still new and foreign, and I long for it to feel like family.  I am at complete peace with John going to Nyack and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is the right place for him, yet that leaves a big hole in our family.  I hear news from South Sudan and wonder if things will ever change for the happy, easy-going, peace-desiring people I know and love there, and still struggle with the whys that keep coming up in my heart and mind as far as justice and freedom.

So while I have been silent on here for a while, there have been many thoughts and ideas for blogs churning around inside. Here’s the thing, though…I can’t seem to figure out how to put voice to any of them in an accurate, satisfactory way.  In the middle of a sentence I realize I am rambling and have already changed my mind about what I was saying three times.  I’ve written out blog after blog and wadded up the paper and thrown it out just as often.  It’s not writers block so much as emotional constipation. It seems to be building up and wanting to come out, but I can’t quite make it happen. Wow…even that example could go in a really graphic direction that I think I will avoid-ha!

I recently heard the quote again from The Hobbit movie, and I think it sums up a lot of why this is.   Gandalf is telling Bilbo that he should go on this incredible adventure.  Bilbo, being the cautious hobbit that he is says, ” Can you promise I will come back?”  Gandalf responds in his usual honest way by saying, “No.  And if you do, you will not be the same.”

Thats where I feel like I’m at. Back, but not the same. And as I try to talk with people- friends, family, strangers, etc- it’s become clear that there are times even I don’t recognize the things that have changed in me this year.  Most of the time I’m ok with that- I feel a steadiness in me that comes when you are at the point of looking back on something hard and knowing God was in it all. But sometimes, when I’m sitting and wanting to say something to make myself clear, yet I’m not sure what words to say or even how to put words to a thought, I feel lost.  Sometimes I get ready to give the response to a question I would have given a year ago, and I realize that my answer is different.  It’s funny, I remember saying to someone last year when I turned 40 what a good feeling it was to be at a place in life where I knew who I was, and was comfortable in that.  Then God answered all those prayers sung in that beautiful, emotion-stirring song about a trust without borders and keeping my eyes above the waves, and I am caught up in the wave and have not touched bottom since.

It’s hard. And confusing.  And so very right and good- even when I don’t want to admit it.

So I apologize for long periods of silence, and I won’t make any promises of that changing soon.  But then again- how do I know what God has in mind? I do promise to keep it real and honest with you all, and hope you do the same with us.  Thanks for your continued prayers and for your faithfulness.

Valley of Vision Poem

2015

Fellow Serge worker and new friend, George Mixon shared this poem a couple of times over the past month and a half that we have been in Kenya.  I thought I would share it with you, and hope you are blessed.

The Valley of Vision

Lord, High and Holy, Meek and Lowly,
You have brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see you in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold your glory.

Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter your stars shine;

Let me find your light in my darkness,
your life in my death,
your joy in my sorrow,
your grace in my sin,
your riches in my poverty,
your glory in my valley.

Amen

The Promise in a Name

Feb. 2015

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Today I spent several hours with some Cici and Maria and their families here in Mundri.  As I sat in the shade of the huge mango trees, I felt as at home as I ever do in Moruland.  Even more so as a soldier walked by and called me “Kawaja” (White person) and Maria told him I was not a kawaja, I was Moru, this was my home, and I was her sister.  This made sitting in the 108 degree heat worth it. I have been out of sorts since we got back from Uganda last week.  On our last leave I was ready to come home.  I looked forward to being back in our house and seeing familiar faces and jumping back into language.  Not so much this time.  I knew we would be coming into 110 degree heat each day, and nights that could be 90-100.  We live in a place where there is not a lot of control over our environment.  We cannot control the temperature of our house – there are screens and no window panes, so whatever heat is outside is also inside.  We cannot decide to take a cold shower, because we have have no hot or cold controls – it all comes from one big tank sitting in the sun all day.  (Which I am thankful for – don’t get me wrong!  I can’t imagine having to walk to the borehole all the time.)  We have inches of red dust on every space of the house every day and I have given up trying to control it.  We can never know what foods are available in the market, and even if they are there -are they good?  We bought bread that was moldy and eggs that had been fertilized, so there were big red blobs in them.  It was all too much and very overwhelming.  Even visiting friends on Tuesday felt like a disconnect as I couldn’t communicate well, and it all felt so very frustrating. So today, after I got the kids and Shawn off to school (he teaches them on Thursdays – I love this man!) I sat in the quiet house and prayed in tears.  “Lord, please – give me something – anything – to feel connected today.  I need this from you.”  I prayed without a lot of hope that it would happen.  Then I got in the car and left. And I’m so glad I did. After much laughing and a crazy mixed up lesson in English, Arabic, and Moru with Maria where we got off on some crazy tangents that I am not sure how we got to (“How do you say this in English?” she says as she points to her breast) I had lunch, ate tea and Mandazi, tickled the kids, watched Cici do some sewing on my outfit that she is making for me, and got quizzed some more on Moru questions by Cici.  When someone came by and asked my name and mentioned how difficult it was, Cici and Maria finally gave me a Moru name.  (Heather seems to be impossible for people to remember and usually gets changed to Helda!)  So, Ovuru Maro Riya/Heather.  My name is Happy.  Because apparently I laugh a lot. This was a gift I needed today after having a week of very little laughing, except in bitterness.  Moru people give very practical names, so I was expecting something about my height or weight or white skin or something.  There are many people named war because they were born in the war or right after.  Many are named things like the day of the week they were born, etc.  So while Riya is not very rare (there are many Riyas here, or a variety of it) it is a good name that makes me smile.  And I feel like it is a promise. nullI’m thankful today for the gift of happiness, friends, laughter, a name, and a place that just might someday be home.  Even despite the heat.

Miracles in Moru Land

December 2014

Last night this happened:

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This little screaming miracle came into the world after forcing her poor mama to be in painful labor for 24 hours and deciding that she wanted to come butt first.

As I was sitting trying to do office work yesterday Larissa came in and told me her friend, Maria, was in labor with a breech baby and needed to go to the hospital.  She asked if I wanted to go with her, and I said yes, of course.  I have learned quickly that adventures with Larissa are always worth having.  So she left on her bike and said she would call when they were wanting to go.  The problem was that that we had loaned our good vehicle out to another missions agency for the weekend, and White Bull (the truck used mostly for water projects) was in the shop. Larissa called Bishop, who was in a meeting and had only left his phone on accidentally, and he quickly agreed to let us use the CHE vehicle that he had.  Only one problem…the road had a lake on it.  And not having much driving experience with 4WD and mud, I asked if he would drive me across the mud and then I would pay for his boda back to the compound. He agreed, though I think he thought I was overreacting.  Ha!

When we reached the mud, he understood.

Two semi trucks were stuck, both facing us.  He jumped out and let people know how important it was for us to get through, and they went right to work on getting one truck out of the way.  Unfortunately, it was the way that was deeper and muddier than the other one.  But Bishop, being determined, decided to go.  And we almost made it.

Then this happened:

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Yep.  Mud up to the top of the wheel wells.  I am in a high SUV in this picture! We were as stuck as it gets.  No amount of rocking or attempts at gunning it were getting us out.  And there was no way for people to push, because they could never have gotten traction in the water behind us.  It was up to their mid thighs!

Finally Bishop rolled up his good pants to past his knees, took off his shoes, and waded out.  You need to understand…in this culture, Bishop is a “big man.”  That means he has a high status and much respect.  To see him rolling up his pants and wading in the mud because he knew the life of this woman and child were at stake and he valued them was a humbling thing for me.  We are very grateful to have is partnership with the ECS and he and Rina.

After finding a huge UN vehicle to pull us out, he sent a driver to do the driving for him. I sat in the car the whole time texting Shawn and Larissa, keeping them updated on where we were and the progress.  The first time we started to go and then, “snap!”  The rope broke.  There was some debating on whether the car had been in gear (no) and if the e break was on (also no), and then they tried again.  This time I thought we were going to make it, but “snap!”  It broke again. The third time was the charm, and after getting up on dry, solid land we cheered, thanked the men, and then Bishop got in the car with his wet, muddy, bare feet and drove off.

We met Larissa on the compound of the pregnant women, and a bunch of people carried her out.  After finally getting settled in the car with her sister, her oldest daughter and the daughter’s baby, her own two year old, her midwife and her husband, we left. Carefully and slowly, so as not to cause too much pain, Larissa drove.  Let me just say, I think she’s a rock star. We had to stop several times to let Maria reposition herself as the baby was determined to come out.  Larissa and I were very happy that the midwife was along!  We held her as she moaned and cried, barely conscious at times.  I just kept thinking, “Father, help!”  A woman in labor for over 24 hours since her water broke and a breech baby coming more dangerous than you can imagine in a place like South Sudan.

Lui hospital is less than 20 miles away.  But because of the roads, the pace we had to go,  the constant stopping, and the initial mud issue, we took almost two hours to make the trip.  All the way all I could think was that this mother and baby might die simply because the roads are so atrocious.  The maternal mortality rate is among the highest in the world here, and now I know why.  But God was faithful and brought us to the hospital, which is staffed with 6 Italian doctors right now.

Maria was admitted immediately and a surgeon was called to do a c-section.  We were able to sit with her right until they took her to the next room to do the surgery.  Then we waited and talked and prayed.  When the baby was born and we heard the crying Larissa and I both looked at each other with tears in our eyes.  Now we just had to wait to find out about the mom.

In the meantime darkness had come and it was pouring.  We had not planned to stay the night, but it can be dangerous to drive after dark (not to mention there is a curfew.). And with the rain we decided not to chance it.  So we called the local bishop, whom we had just had dinner with the night before.  He set us up with a wonderful place to stay that was clean, bug free, and pleasant.  It turns out it belongs to the Italian doctors, but only a couple were currently staying there.  After we heard that Maria would be ok, we took the midwife and the three of us went to get showers and get some rest.

I woke up at 5 am to hear rain pouring still and the wind howling.  I thought, how are we going to drive home?  But then a peace poured over me as I thanked God for his provisions for just the last few hours.  Where there was no car, he provided.  No driver, he provided. When we got stuck, he brought someone along to pull us out.  He kept Maria from delivering on the road or in Mundri where she surely could have died from such a trauma. He put us just 20 miles from a hospital staffed with good doctors.  He got us to the hospital before darkness and rain hit. He allowed this little one and her mama to live though this experience in a place where the odds are terrible. He gave us shelter- and not just any shelter, but one with a shower, mosquito nets, and an in door toilet.  He gave good rest at night.  So this rain and these muddy roads- they were no match for him.  “Ok, God.  Do your thing.  I trust you.”

We visited the hospital to see Maria and the baby and her family, then we left.  And even though there were a few precarious spots, Larissa drove with confidence and we made it back.  The plan we had worked with bishop was that we would leave his vehicle at the guesthouse of the Catholic Church,which is staffed with three Indian priests.  We had never met them before, and after an adventurous drive up their road we were happy to take a minute to have coffee with them and make plans to have some christmas celebrations together.  Then they walked with us across the huge mud pits so we could meet bishop, who was in our truck on the other side.

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After a brief stop in town for food and a quick breakfast of rolexes ( eggs in chapatis) and a quick hello to Alice, whom I hadn’t yet seen since we got back, we got home.

Home.  There’s that word again.

As we pulled in and I knew our team had been here praying and my shower was waiting for me, I was overwhelmed yet again that this is home.  God has me here for things like mud walking, hospital going, coffee drinking, language learning, baby holding, market shopping, and people loving.

And like I said, adventuring with Larissa is always fun!

 

Where Feet May Fail

(2014)

The other night we went to the ocean. I love being on the beach after the crowds have gone to dinner. Some of my most peaceful and contented times have been sitting in the sand in the evening, watching the waves come in, seeing the amazing sky, feeling the breeze that is always there.  I’m not a beach person so much during the day – too many crowds, too much direct sun. But I love it in the evenings.

That night I decided to join my family as they jumped in waves and tried to stay standing upright. It was COLD! (NJ beaches in August are not like Georgia beaches in August!) but after my feet lost all feeling, it was ok. I enjoyed feeling the power of the waves and the spray, then watching as the water ran back out into the vast ocean attempting to pull my feet with it. I was in shallow enough that I could stay in control.

Then I wandered a little deeper, challenged by the fact that Shawn was out farther than me and I wanted to experience it with him. Suddenly a big one hit me dead on! I fell into the water, which was ok, until another one hit right away and I couldn’t pull myself up. I was not in any real danger – I was already pushed back to shallow water and Shawn immediately grabbed my arm and helped pull me out of the water. But for a brief second I was terrified! I couldn’t right myself, my mind went blank, and I frantically searched to see if Shawn saw me, knowing he would grab me when he saw how scared I was.

Afterwards, a little embarrassed and still slightly panicked, I went and sat on the shore. There I was able to clear my mind and think straight. I realized that the danger had really only been in my mind. (I know that riptides are real, and I was probably thinking of that when I went under – but this was not a danger situation!) Shawn explained that the key was relaxing. I was so busy trying to right myself, or trying to stay in control and standing up, that I made it worse. Had I just relaxed for a few seconds, I would have been fine. Not one to allow my fears to made me helpless anymore, I went back in. After getting hit a few more times, I relaxed, and began to enjoy it.

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Water like that makes me feel helpless and out of control.  I don’t like feeling helpless and out of control.  I know, I know…

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

My life feels like this ocean experience right now. Slowly edging my way out to where the “big stuff” is, getting hit, having everything turn upside down and not being in control or knowing which way is up for a moment, then being pulled out of the water by strong arms. Catching my breath for a few moments on land, then going back in (however cautiously, but still wanting to have the adventure) and doing it all again. And like in the ocean, there no guarantees that the longer I do it, the longer or better I will stand. Sometimes the unknown hits me like a huge wave and knocks me off my feet. Other times I can ride it out, catch a little of the spray and laugh. But then a few minutes later – just when I think I have it figured out – another wave of epic proportions hits.

“You call me out upon the waters. The great unknown where feet may fail. And there I find you in the mystery, in oceans deep my faith will stand. And I will call upon your name, and keep my eyes above the waves. When oceans rise my soul will rest in your embrace, for I am yours, and you are mine.” (Oceans by Hillsong)

Heroes in Grief

(Originally written Nov. 2013)

“Why love, if losing hurts so much? I have no answers anymore: only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I’ve been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”  

C.S. Lewis

My heart has been heavy since leaving MTI yesterday.  I knew I would feel a loss from the community that we have been living in for the last 4 weeks, but I guess I underestimated the intensity of it.  I tried sleeping in the car while traveling yesterday to lessen the blow and not think about it, but I couldn’t.  I wanted to play music and block it out, but the music playing reminded me of worship there.  Finally I gave in to what the Holy Spirit was telling me – to feel it and not fight it.  But it stinks.

I never thought emotions and grief were a problem for me.  I am that mom who cries at Little House on the Prairie, every church service we go to, and YouTube videos of puppies and kittens.  My kids are no strangers to seeing me cry.

So when Robin, one of our trainers this week said, “I want you to be your children’s heroes when it comes to walking through grief and loss” I was surprised at my reaction.  My knee jerk reaction was to think that the best way to help them was to avoid having to go through it.  I have felt like a failure many times as a parent because we are constantly putting them in situations with these things occurring.

A hero?

Apparently a healthy grief, a deep, mournful loss, a guttural prayer and moan, and a tender heart are super hero qualities!  Who knew?

So as we pulled out yesterday, surrounded by new friends – really new brothers and sisters – tears were streaming down our faces and sobs wrenched our hearts as the kids gulped and cried with us.  But we held hands, cried together, acknowledged and affirmed the deep loss we were going through, and eventually everyone settled into a silence that was full of the safe knowledge that we all understood each other.  There were no trite words, empty promises (or even real promises) – there were really no words at all.  Just gentle looks, shared groans, and healing touches.

And we keep processing.

The kids were so happy to get a Facebook hug from Miss Becca last night.  We have been texting and communicating with MTI friends all day.  Pictures are being shared and blogs being read.  And MTI has become the new “favorite place” of our children – sorry, Delta Lake!

Yet my grief just keeps churning.  Sorrow has been coursing through my heart that seems to go beyond the grief of leaving Colorado.  Tears start anew at little, unimportant things and inopportune times.

And I say to Him time and time again, “Father, Help!”  I want to feel it, yet I want to run as fast as I can from it.  I want to dig down deep and see what some of the roots of this sorrow is – yet I want to close my eyes and ignore it just as much.  But he chooses to answer my cry for help, and he starts to peel back the layers that are there.  While the grief from leaving MTI is genuine, deep, and not to be ignored, there has been a prodding into other areas of my life that I have not fully grieved.   When Tim and Robin had us probe into these places I was not only given permission to feel them, I was actually encouraged to look at them closely, to allow those things to kind of float around me for a while and think upon them – to “jump off the high dive” instead of dipping my toes into the water.

And when I started it was like a dam broke.

I grieved the loss of my mom all over again, in deeper ways than I was able to face at the time.  I miss her so much.  I want her to be here – to share in my excitement about going to South Sudan, to see pictures of where we will be living, to make plans to come visit us there, to know her grandchildren and be known by them.  As one friend said this week, I want to have her hug at the airport, but I won’t.

I grieved the end to our time in Malawi.  I gave my heart to that place, that ministry, those people.  And yet we had to leave in a way that I never really got to say good-bye.  I never really got closure.

I grieved over the loss of the church family that had become our life-line in the past few years in New York.  The people who knew us in deep ways – the right and the good and the deep, dark, ugly things.  The people who prayed with us and for us.  The people who have walked through our lives with us for the past five years.

I grieved the loss of time – the fact that another year has ended and we are not in Africa yet.  That our time with John is getting shorter and shorter.  I know His hand is in all these things, but the feelings of grief are real and need to be acknowledged.

I grieved hurts from childhood that have popped up in my adult life time and time again.  The loss of innocence, the things I saw that cannot be taken back, the feelings that were stuffed down and spilled out at the wrong times.

And I grieved loss of home.  That is why it has been so very hard to leave MTI.  It was a safe haven.  It was a place where we did not have to explain our hearts or motives.  Where living out of a van for months doesn’t seem so strange.  And it was a place where people spoke into our lives with wisdom, challenge, and love – from experience.  We were not handled with kid gloves, but given every opportunity to grow and know God more while being prepared for the next part of our lives.  We were loved, and we loved.
Whole-heartedly.  And that’s why it felt like home – not just because that’s where we “hung our hats” for a month.  And leaving that home we are back in a different hotel each night, fast food, and uncertainty about the timing of things.

Sometimes I felt it would be easier to just not let myself love the people there.  To isolate our family and not let the kids get their hearts involved. But the quote at the beginning of this was given to us this month, and I realized that the alternative to no suffering was no real love.  I can’t have that  and I can’t teach that to my kids. It’s time to act like a grown woman instead of a little girl.

So Shawn and I are putting on our super hero capes and wading through this grief.  We are learning to communicate with the kids and each other, and giving grace in these times on loss.  Thanks for your prayers during this time.  It’s not fun, but it’s necessary.  And I do thank my God for it – because I would never have wanted to miss it.

High Enough

(Originally posted 2013)

Today, after a long week at MTI, Shawn and I went for a hike.  It was beautiful, breath-taking, and rejuvenating.  We had heard that the Reservoir Trail was gorgeous, so we decided to set out on it after lunch.  For me, it was a good hike.  We went from 7200 feet to 8200 feet.  My lungs were protesting.

As we rounded each corner, I would look at the seemingly endless path and sigh.  (OK, sigh isn’t quite the right word when you are already huffing and puffing.)  But after my experience with the beehive this summer, I knew I was going to keep going and get to the destination.  We reached a point where there were some big boulders off to the side and rested to take pictures.  Then we reached the first reservoir, and it was beautiful.  The ice was formed on most of it, and we could walk out on to big boulders that made a bridge across.  The rocks were warm from the sun and the it was relaxing.  I could have stayed there and napped, honestly.  And it was so petty, I figured I had seen the best part.

But Shawn wanted to go on to the second on, so we did.  The climb got more steep, and we had to take more breaks.  My heart was pounding, but it felt good to push myself.  There were a couple of times when I thought, “Why do we keep going?  Let’s turn around and head downhill.”  But we made it.  And wow – was it worth it!

The sun was shining across the water, there were woods with a shore lined in pine needles and clear water.  It was quiet.  Peaceful.  Breath-taking.  I was in awe of the beauty that God had made and soaked it in.

As we headed back down, I kept seeing the places that I had wanted to stop at because they were “pretty enough”, “high enough”, just “enough.”  And though they were still pretty, they didn’t compare to the beauty at the top – the place I had to push myself to.  (The place that will make me sore tonight!)

I was thinking about that in my spiritual life.  We have been pushed this month – especially this last week.  We were stretched, pulled, prodded.  One of my friends here said she felt bruised from all the poking.  Yet we all agree that this week has lead us to a place with God and within ourselves that we hadn’t known before – or at least hadn’t been to in a long time.  I want to remember this as we continue.  I want to push ahead when it feels like I can’t go any farther.  And I want to be able to do that because of the times that I have rested and been revived in the journey.  The Sabbaths I take.  The talks with my Father I have.  The times I simply listen as He sings a long song over me and my soul is satisfied.