©2014 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe
Monday, June 23, 2014
The children all stared as I pulled into the school-yard. They always do. Running about in their tattered blue and white school uniforms, they looked at me as if someone famous had arrived. If only they knew, in my eyes they are famous. They endure what i've never been asked to face. And they smile... still.
But I noticed, with a tremble that went clear to my core, they were gathering long sticks. Sticks about ½ to 1 inch thick. Not the kind of sticks I see gathered here for firewood. These sticks looked unkind. But I responded to their friendly, timid waves with a smile that tried to speak through the space between us. Trying to silently say, “You are seen and precious and oh He cares for you”. But the space between us was not just measured in feet... it was much bigger.
Stopping our Lori-car at the main staff offices, I grabbed the bag of fruit and locked the gearshift and the doors. Everything here must be locked. It's the home of the hungry. Hungry people steal. It's the way it is.
The bag of tree tomato fruits were the result of the promise to little Charles. He's seven and sick... with HIV. He doesn't exactly know what is wrong with him, but he wonders at the specs of white that cover his face and the growth that comes and goes on his neck. When you are born sick, the normal measurements of feeling healthy are all skewed.
Two weeks ago we took little Charles to the hospital at the request of kind Mrs. N-----.
I had first visited this school at the edge of the slum to try and help determine if a child had a learning disability. Another child. Not Charles. But that initial visit turned into paying for lunch for 3 children and buying school uniforms for them as well. Children wearing clothes that I would toss out of my dogs sleeping bed... too torn... too tattered. But oh God, these children wear them, and they smile. Mrs. N----- had explained that the “first” step to helping little Robinson with his possible learning problems would be to make sure he had food in his stomach and better clothes on his back. She said, “Perhaps he can not learn because he is hungry and suffers from such a low esteem of himself.” I could see I would only gain the privilege of trying to help him learn to read (at age 12) if I was willing to “own” some of his more immediate problems. Lord...? And so lunches for the term were now covered and new, clean, proper clothes were provided. Thank you God for the shillings in my pocket. Help me use them well.
But on that day, Mrs. N----- said, “If you are willing there is one boy here who no one cares for and he breaks all our hearts. He has a skin condition that is concerning. Can I bring him to meet you?” It's in moments like these when the word “no” is impossible for me. I nodded, she smiled and quickly left the room. Moments later she returns with little, smiling, Charles tucked behind her. He looks at me timidly, but with an awe that is undeserved. Oh God... He is perfectly beautiful. Everything about him draws my heart right out of my chest. And then I see the greyish-white specs covering his forehead. A Kenyan friend had joined me on that initial visit and she shared with me in English that she knew well what the specs meant. “What?” I whispered. “This child is 'positive' and the specs are a sign of his bodies inability to fight off a fungus that a healthy immune system would easily defeat”, my friend M----- softly shared. Mrs. N----- looked down and quietly said, “It is what I wondered might be true. You see, his mother is dead, she died just after he was born. His father left, and has never once returned. The boy lives with his old sho-sho (grandmother) who does not harm to him but she is a drunkard and as such is unable to care for him. In a world full of people, this boy is alone.” We spoke in English, Charles understood not a word of it. He just stood there smiling at me in a shy, I'm-so-happy-you-asked-to-see me sort of way. His life had just been fileted before me ----- and he stood there “alone” smiling. Black shoes far too big, from the second hand market, covered his feet. Blue shorts torn on one side with zipper broken and pooched open sat below his torn white-ish shirt with several buttons missing and one ripped sleeve. But... he smiled straight into my heart.She said, “Can you do something to help him please?”
My heart and mind joined forces and screamed at a volume that deafened my ears ----- “i can't, this little man needs so much more than I could ever begin to do. I've been called here to this place to... not to... but someone should... oh GOD...” Still over the roar in my ears that screamed of my inability, I said, “How do you propose we begin?”
“He must go to the hospital to be tested. But it costs money. Then we can begin to know how to treat the specs on his face and the swelling on his neck. But it will all cost many shillings. Are you willing?” My mind settled into one clear thought... “so this is what the shillings in my pocket are for today...”
I explained to Mrs. N----- that I would need to speak with my husband first, we would pray, and then I would call her. “But, for today, I will pay for school lunches for the three children we've spoken of, and I will go to town to purchase uniforms for these same three.”
In 3 split seconds, my mind traveled back to my elementary school days, where no uniforms had been required, but each child wore their own chosen clothing. Her name was Rita, and she was woefully poor. Her hair always looked like spiders lived in its many wads of tangled mess. And her clothes were not only torn and dirty, but oh how they smelled of wet dog and outhouse. But in those days I watched her from a safe/clean/i'm-better-than-you distance and I laughed at her along with the others. Oh how painful dear Rita's world must have been. But I had done nothing, nothing, NOTHING to soften it. I could have given her my extra clothes... I could have invited her over to my house for a long bubble bath and warm dinner... I could have invited her to sit beside me on our bus... but those thoughts were as foreign to my young mind as the idea that fish could read or cows could climb ladders.
Rita sat beside my heart as I looked at this little boy, and inside I whispered, “Rita, I didn't help you, but I will help this little one ---- you taught my heart lessons Rita ---- i'm sorry your suffering was used to teach me.”
So on that rainy afternoon, M---- and I went to town and purchased the needed uniforms and shiny new black leather school shoes and backpacks. Sort of like all those years of back-to-school shopping for my own sweet children... but different... oh so different. The rains gushed on us as we dodged street-boys high on glue and raced back to the car. My mind lying to me... “don't worry donna, none of this is really real...”
Wheels sliding on buttery mud, we finally made it back to M-----'s house/hut. She would deliver 2 uniforms and I would deliver Charles' the next day.
My dear Steve and I prayed when I returned home as i shared all with him. He could see the ache inside me, he gently said, we will do all God lets us do for little Charles. A phone call to Mrs. N---- had us scheduled to pick she and Charles up the next day... to go to the hospital... and begin unraveling the tangles holding him.
At 1PM sharp we pulled into the school. Mrs. N---- called for Charles and helped him put on his new shiny shoes and clean, new uniform. Oh the smile.
We headed to the hospital and sat before the doctor. He explained that bloodwork would have to be drawn and then we would know. Charles screamed as they brought out the needle. Little explanation was given to him, just big hands and a needle. Things are done so differently here.
As we waited for the results, Steve and Charles began a playful interaction that warmed my heart so deeply. If I had not already loved this man beside me, I would have fallen in love with him then and there. The gap between English and Swahili was closed with playful gestures and funny faces. If every man living loved so well... well, there would be no sick little boys in torn clothes.
Called back into the Dr.s office he quietly spoke in English, Charles understood not a word. “The tests show the boy is 'positive' and the fungus on his face and swelling of his neck are signs of his bodies inability to defend itself.” period... Charles looked up at Steve and … smiled. He did not know what had just filled the air around him. He only knew that this kind mzungu man was safe.
Prescriptions were written, pharmacies visited, and a plan was formed for the days to come.
Mrs. N---- would give him his meds at school, since the sho-sho could not be depended upon for this. She also said, she would be sure Charles had a good meal each morning so he could begin taking the needed ARVs. My friend M----- would begin working with the grandmother to provide one meal at night so meds could be taken then as well. I agreed to bring a back of fruit every Friday to the school so Charles could be sure to receive the needed Vitamin C --- which is vital for his health when taking ARVs and fighting illnesses.
But we wanted Charles to have an active part in taking care of himself as well. He can be taught “how to fish” or we can ruin him for good and just give him fish everyday.
So I made a deal with Charles. I would trade him a bag of fruit every Friday for a story. He would need to write a story for me every week, about whatever he wanted to say, and I would “purchase” his stories with a bag of fruit. He smiled at the idea and we shook hands. Oh Lord...
Now two weeks later, i'm delivering my tree-tomatoes; payment for a story.
Last Friday, a bag of oranges purchased this “story”: (remember I told him he could write whatever he wanted)
“My name is Charles Wafula Maiya. (and 9 numbered sentences followed)
1- I don't have enough food.
2- I need medicine.
3- I have no fruits to eat.
4- I need pencil, rubber, exercise books.
5- I have no clean water.
6- I have no home clothes.
7- I have no flask for keeping porridge.
8- I need tea leaves and milk.
9- I need sugar for porridge and tea.
Need and lack --- it's what he wrote of ---
And my shoulders slumped. But God whispered to my soul, “dear donna, isn't this often how your list looks before me... be patient with him... he is just sharing with you what sits first in his mind...”
I had dreamed of imaginative, creative, tap-into-his-deep-well stories. Stories that would speak loudly, move hearts, and astound the literary world ----- all written by a little boy in the slum.
But real life isn't like movies... real life is -------------hard.
As I arrived this second week with my fruit in hand, there is no Mrs. N----- to be found. But instead, as I walk into the office, I find a fat man sitting at the head of a table. The table is receiving donations of sticks... sticks being gathered by children who now stand along the walls of the shadowy room. The man looks at me --- hard. I walk on to Mrs. N-----'s office to leave the fruit. Another teacher assures me my bag of Vitamin C will reach Mrs. N----- and Charles, she knows of our “deal”.
Everything around me plays out in slow motion now. I can feel darkness coming hard. It's 3 in the afternoon, but it may as well be midnight. I pass back through the ugly room holding timid children, sticks for caning, and a fat man. I look at the children... they smile shyly with heads down. I look at the sticks... and stop. I look at the man... and feel his challenge. And darkness swirls strong.
I am defeated.
Walking to my car, I get inside and sit long. Tears come hard. What do I do?
There is nothing I can do. there-is-nothing-i-can-do
I drive slowly out the gate and scream inside my safe Lori-car. It's not the first time she's heard me scream in this way --- in this country ---- so far from home.
I drive slowly home --- just 4 blocks away over muddy, bumpy roads.
And the darkness keeps swirling --- strong --- heavy --- hard-to-breathe- heavy.
That night there are nightmares.
The next day I fight with my dear husband. It's not his fault. It's not even mine. But we fight. (If you think because we minister to marriages that ours is immune to attack --- then, well, you're wrong.)
The next night, more nightmares. And I wake up with a very clear thought ----- as if it has been whispered to me with a nudge to awaken.
The thought... with an ugly whisper that chilled my bones... “you know you can't do this, you know you are beaten, you know you're wasting your time, you know you are a disappointment to yourself, to Steve, and even to the One you call Abba. See, I win here, and you know it. So, get up out of this bed, and open the bottle of ibuprofen, swallow them all down, and put us all out of our misery...” !!!!!
and I weakly began saying, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty... I will say of the Lord, HE IS MY REFUGE, my FORTRESS, my GOD IN WHOM I TRUST... Surely, oh Lord, surely YOU will save me from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence. You will cover me with your feathers, and under YOUR wing I will find my refuge...”... and I kept on reciting the whole chapter over and over and over again.
Then morning came. The rooster crowed, the birds began their singing, and Steve woke to begin his morning time with God.
I lay frozen to the bed. Knowing full well the attack I had weathered in the night. Still shaken, but breathing.
Steve brings coffee to me, he is a kind man. I rise an open my devotional for the morning and here's how my Abba strengthens His girl,
from Matthew 14:29,30 – and “Streams in the Desert” by Mrs. Cowman
“When Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me...”
“Peter had a little faith in the midst of his doubts, says Bunyan; and so with crying and coming he was brought to Christ.
But here you see that sight was a hindrance; the waves were none of his business when once he had set out; all Peter had any concern with was the pathway of light that came gleaming across the darkness from where Christ stood. If it was tenfold Egypt beyond that, Peter had no call to look and see.
When the Lord shall call to you over the waters, 'Come,' step gladly forth. Look not for a moment away from Him.
Not by measuring the waves can you prevail; not by gauging the wind will you grow strong; to scan the danger may be to fall before it; to pause at the difficulties is to have them break above your head. Lift up your eyes unto the hills, and go forward ------ there is no other way.”
oh donna ---- “Look not for a moment away from Him.” Even if it's sticks on a table and a fat, mean men before you, don't pause at the difficulties or measure the waves or gauge the strength of the wind or scan the danger before you ---- but lift up your eyes donna, keep them set on the hills, that's where your strength comes from, from the One over all ----- there is no-----other------way.
God sees the fat man and the sticks and the children and Charles. Don't measure the strength of the darkness in the room ------- focus on the LIGHT you bring with you. And move forward... with the Light.
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
©2014 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe
©2014 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe
Monday, June 2, 2014
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance... Ecclesiastes 3:4
While little Grace was still in her mother's womb, Jesus moved in beside her, into her mother's soul. Just as if He wanted to be sure she felt Him near...
Abandoned by her earthly father, her mother wept over how she would ever be able to feed four little mouths on her own. Life for a single mother in Africa is like paddling upriver e-v-e-r-yday. There's the stigma of society that silently taunts “why” do your children not have a father; there's the struggle of putting a roof over their heads and food in their ever aching stomachs. Never-mind that the mother has remained faithful and had no power to hold the father to the place he should have stayed. So many things ache here. Mosquitos bring malaria. Bad water brings typhoid. Even the dirt here holds hidden parasites and jumping jiggers. But on that dirt dances a little girl who has mesmerized this writer with her worship.
Grace. She sparkles in a unassuming, silent way. She looks no different than all the others around her. Just one in a million of close shaved heads bouncing down a dirt road. But she is.
Her mother, Eve, shared with me once that she wondered at why God would choose to place one like Grace under her care. “What do you mean, Eve?”, I asked. “It's just that Grace teaches me, but she has no idea all I learn from her.” And Eve began to share the holy-beauty of this little snaggle-toothed treasure. She said...
“When Grace talks to God she holds nothing back. She wails and cries knowing she is in a crowd of many, but calling out to have God's eyes come upon her alone. She neither notices nor ponders what another might think, for she is most interested in calling on the One who made her. She knows He loves her, hears her, cares for her. She knows. Not because she's been told it is so, but because she … well, she just knows it to be true.”
Once while at their church and when Grace was just old enough to go to school, she asked her mother why her friends were beginning school the next day, but she was not. With gentle words, Eve explained, “Grace, I have no money to send you to school. But when God gives us the money, you will go to school.” Grace smiled. Looking down she walked slowly away, crossing the church to the far distant corner where no one was sitting. It was not a Sunday, so few were there. But Eve and her children often went to the church during the week. They sometimes even slept there. When life is hard at home, church becomes a refuge. Eve sat with a friend who had taught her much as a young Christian mother, little Grace sought the solitude of the corner.
Minutes later, cries were heard coming from Grace's corner. Eve froze and strained to hear what was wrong. Faintly at first, but then growing in strength, little Grace's words came, “God, I cry on you! Really, God, I cry on you for help. You see, you know, you know what is needed. You know my mother needs money to send me to school. You know my brother needs to go with me. You know.. God... GOD... OH GOD... you are the One to take care of us. My mother will send us to school if you send her the money. But GOD, you must make a way... I cry on you GOD”
"Nakulilia Mungu wangu" (swahili for "i cry on you my God" )
All this gushed out in high pitched wails.
Not in subtle, soft, polite, proper whispers. No this little one was “calling” to God and crying on Him. Eve began to move to stop Grace from disturbing the others. Eve was concerned with the volume of her daughter's words, she didn't want her child distracting others from their grown-up-things. And Eve was herself, just learning the ways of God. As she began to move towards Grace, the lady beside stayed her with these words, “Eve, we grown-ups need to learn from your Grace, she is wiser than we. You told her what was needed, she is asking. We sit and talk about our problems, she takes them straight to the One who can do something about them. She cares little for how she looks, she wants to see God. Grace is right. She is talking to God --- and now we pray and ask, 'God will you please hear the prayer of little Grace.'”
The wailing prayers rolled into asking forgiveness for the wrongs of anyone in her house. Asking for God's help to show them all the way He wants them to live. “Help us Lord, forgive us, show us, forgive us...” The cries were high pitched and melodic. The kind that hold air still.
After about 20 minutes of this (yes, twenty minutes of prayer from a 6 year old wee-warrior), Grace got up, wiped off her clothes, and walked home.
That night there came a call on Eve's phone.
A neighbor was asking for Grace and Peter to be up early in the morning, prepared to go with her to school. Eve asked, “How can you take them to school, for I have not school fees to send with them?”
The neighbor said, “Never you mind, just have them ready early.”
Then early in the morning Eve went to the church to pray as usual.
As the sun rose Eve returned home and awakened the children, with instructions to get dressed and be ready for the neighbor's arrival. She spoke not of what the neighbor had said, the children were just to go with her. Eve held it in her heart, had God heard Grace's prayers?
Hours passed until evening, and finally Grace and Peter returned, with a full year's school fees paid and sporting new school uniforms. And Grace... well she danced and danced twirling herself about and moving every inch of her tiny frame, shouting in a sing-song way, “God you love me, really you love me. You have taken me to school and given what I asked. Oh God I thank you, God I thank you, really, GOD it is YOU who has done this. God surely you love me...”
Eve was learning from her 6 year old prayer-child. God had moved the heart of a missionary just the day before when Grace was praying. The missionary gave funds to cover school fees for 20 children and had asked the neighbor to find the best candidates. By nightfall, 18 children had been found, but 2 were still needed. As the neighbor had prayed for two more children, Grace and Peter had come to her mind. … " Nakulilia Mungu wangu" ---“God, I cry on you! Really, God, I cry on you for help.”...
Tiny Grace has four pairs of shoes in this world. School shoes, church shoes, rain-boots, and rubber shoes. She dances in those shoes.
How many pairs of shoes do I have? How many of them have danced for joy over the goodness of God?
Oh God... i am learning.
This year... the anonymous missionary was no longer able to pay for the children's school fees. But, another has done so and has paid all that is needed for the next 2 years. A little girl's prayers in the corner of a church moved Heaven. And perhaps the Father loves to see His little Grace dance!
One night at dinner time Grace sat back in her seat and said, “We always have vegetables, but never any meat. Mom I want cow-meat to eat. Can we have some cow-meat?” Eve explained that cow-meat was costly and they were blessed to have vegetables. Grace threw back her tiny head and says, “Lord (in a perfectly wonderful high-pitched tone), we thank you for the vegetables, they are good and we are glad for them. But would you please send us some cow-meat to eat? It would be so good to eat ...”. Finishing her food she settled in to sleep. Eve smiled.
The next day Eve came to work and no sooner had she arrived but I called her into the kitchen and said, “Eve, yesterday I bought two packets of meat at the market. It is good beef, but I cooked one last night and it is just too tough for us. Would you be willing to take this one home with you and cook it long so it will be tender with your vegetables tonight?” Eve looked at me with a most curious look, but replied with a quiet, “Yes mom, I will cook it tonight.” I was concerned that my gift of 'tough' meat might have offended. So I purposed in my heart to be more careful the next time.
The following day Eve shared with me how God had worked through Grace's prayers and how I, completely unaware of Grace's request to God, had handed her a packet of cow-meat the very next morning. Eve's curious look had only been an expression of shock at God's quick provision after Grace's prayer just the night before.
Most beautiful was Eve's telling of how Grace had danced
when Eve had arrived home the evening before with a packet of cow-meat for their dinner.
She danced... and twirled... and thanked God loudly... singing, “God you love me, really you love me!”
And i'm learning.
How long has it been since I DANCED for joy over the goodness of God?
David even danced naked... (that's not happening!!)
But ---- HE DANCED for joy.
“Let them praise his name in the dance...” Psalm 149:3
Have I held myself too carefully? Do I worry too much over what “they” might think? Is it the eyes around me or the eyes above me that matter most?
In my inner most being --- I know GOD loves for little Grace to dance.
… I close my eyes and worship Abba as the music plays and praise spills from my lips... I close my eyes and reach with my hands... I feel His robes brush my fingers...and i'm twirling at His feet. He's High and Holy and God-of-All --- i'm His little girl twirling and dancing around his great mighty feet. His white robes gently whisk round me, no one sees me, no one knows – One sees me, One knows. I'm His tiny dancing daughter, He's my Holy-Daddy-God. He covers me and loves me and I dance... and dance... and dance...
… I close my eyes and worship Abba... and dance around His robes.
…[Christians] believe that the living, dynamic activity of love has been going on in God for ever and has created everything else. And that, by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not a static thing–not even a person–but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, Christianity is to be a kind of dance…And now, what does it all matter? It matters more than anything else in the world. The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made.”
–from C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
©2014 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe