Tuesday, December 29, 2015

These Last 30 Days...together

It's come to an end.
I sit on his bed typing these words as he sorts through clothes and shoes and memories.
We've agreed this last week (this whole month actually), we will stay close, no phones or emails are allowed to enter in to these last days together. All families have to say goodbye – goodbye is a part of hello – hello can only come after someone has said goodbye --- hellos matter --- but goodbyes do too.
Even when this youngest born son came to my arms those 22 years ago ---- somewhere in my heart i knew --- the Creator had likely hesitated as Heaven whispered goodbye to him. We can't be in Heaven and on earth at the same time.

And with the goodbye looming on our horizon, this Christmas i saw things in a different way.
Always and Forever we rejoice over the birth of the baby Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the One who willingly came to pay for our sins and show us the way of love. Christmas is a joyous time because it applauds the moment the Savior was willing to breathe air beside us.
But this Christmas i allowed my heart to feel the heart of the Father God – the “parent” of the One who would become God wrapped in flesh. For Jesus to be born of a virgin --- He had to step away for the arms of Heaven.
Did our Abba grieve over the step His Son took when earth received a babe born in a manger and the space beside Him in Heaven was silently vacant for the next 33 years?
This Christmas --- i was silent as i allowed myself to love my Father more deeply than ever --- asking Him to allow me to scoot up close beside Him ----- and cry ------ over the space He undoubtedly felt. In the “seeing” what i had not fully opened my eyes to before, something new slid into my heart...
He released His Son on Christmas morning into the hands of the unable and unworthy ----- for one reason alone. HIS LOVE.
He released what was His greatest treasure ----- because of His real love for those He would adopt into His fold.
Christmas is a time we celebrate with colorful lights, evergreen trees, carefully wrapped presents, and tables overflowing.
For me, this year, i allowed myself to weep over The Gift ----- that could only be ours because the Father gave Him up.

Now ---
my dear son is not the Christ child ----- and i am not the Father.
But we are all made in His image, and He feels as we feel.
So this Christmas season, i've learned something new.
Because of love for another ----- we have been taught to release what we love most.
Our Yahweh taught it to us --- He did it for us.
And in the moments when we surrender what we love so dearly ---- our Abba meets us there. He's the perfect fit for the hole left inside. He knows what He is doing --- He knows.

So as i watch him pack, and we talk over the details of the next few days, i write.

And i want to share with you the amazing ways we have chosen to “paint the caboose” of his days beside us here in Kenya.
To tell it rightly, we must go back 12 years.
When Peter was 10 years old, Steve and i made a decision that was perhaps one of our best parenting moves ever. We wanted to give each of our children a special gift that would allow us time to invest in them personally. So as each of our children graduated from high school, we invited them on a “dream trip”. Rather than them heading to the beach with friends, we wanted to personally escort them from their childhood days and into the first steps of their future.
So when Peter was 10 years old, we began saving a small amount each month, preparing for the trip he would receive. We did the same for each of our 3 children.
Our oldest son Michael enjoyed a week in Scotland with his dad for his “senior trip”. Our daughter Maggie and i traveled for two weeks covering 3,000 miles from Yellowstone Park to the Grand Canyon for her “senior trip”.
Peter had always dreamed of going to Australia --- specifically, he wanted to go cage diving with great white sharks. What!!! Yes – that's just what his giddy-up looks like. :)

But when Peter was graduating High School, we were deep in the throws of selling our home and all that we owned, preparing to move to the mission field. We sat with him tearfully during those strained days and asked him to give us time... his father could not step away at that time to enjoy a special trip with him. With much grace (yes, even an 18 year old son can give beautiful grace), he said he completely understood, and that even if he was 30 years old before it happened, he knew, someday it would happen.

Now we sit over three years later and prepare to say goodbye to him. In four short days he will board a plane and fly home to America. We will remain here and continue in the work we are called to.
For all these years, we've held the money we had saved for his “senior trip”, wondering when we could bless him, how it would work.
Well ---- our hearts could not bear to watch him go without somehow showing him our love and gratitude over his willingness to wait ---- and even beyond that ---- his eagerness to support and love us as our calling has changed his world completely. He's not complained the first time --- but instead he's made the most of it. He's grown beautifully in ways that we don't believe he could have grown in our safe little haven on Mockingbird Road. He knows what it is to be the major minority. He knows how it feels to be discriminated against. He also knows what it feels like to know God is near and protecting and guiding and “speaking”. He knows what lonely tastes like, and he knows how God shows up with a feast in those moments. He has grown.
We are so thankful.

After much prayer, and some help from a dear friend --- we decided to surprise Peter and give him his “senior trip” before he returned home.
We couldn't swing Australia (round trip flights from Nairobi to Sydney are a whopping $2000pp), but we could still make shark-cage-diving with great whites become a reality for this last born one who drinks adventure in like it's morning coffee. 

So on December 14th, imagine our JOY as cashed in the “senior trip” savings and boarded a flight to Cape Town, South Africa. It's arguably proclaimed the best place on earth to share smiles with the great whites. For 3 days and nights, the 3 of us celebrated Peter's high school graduation --- 3 years late. But IT HAPPENED!!!

While i perched myself on the top deck of the dive boat, father and son donned their dive suits and entered the cage. It wasn't Australia, someday that might happen, but it was the perfect way to say “Congratulations Peter” for high school graduation, and for working hard to make a success of your years in Kenya. 

God gave us 3 perfect days.
And since He is the One who made the great whites, He proved His authority over them as He brought them to us, and they showed off.
It was a dream trip.
We'll never forget the moments of awe and laughter and even though there was a sprinkling of tears in the ticking away of our minutes together ----- what a gift to share such moments together.

We sat beside each other on the rocky shores of the Cape of Good Hope, we climbed the stairs to the lighthouse on the cliff at the southwestern most shoreline of Africa, 

we looked out at the waves and knew ------ the One who controlled the rolling waters before us was in complete control of our lives, and peace washed over us. 

Flying back to Kenya we couldn't stop smiling. That even though our lives have changed in ways we never could have predicted, we had still been allowed to enjoy a feast of moments with one another and accomplish something we'd dreamed of for over a decade with our last-born-treasure.

But the days of December were not finished with us ---- and we still ached to make the most of every minute of these last few days.

One week later it would be Christmas day. Living in Kenya, we have learned, there are few things we can “buy” and give as gifts. We've been blessed all our lives to have all we need, so for us, Christmas in Kenya is more than ever before a time to look at those around us and g-i-v-e.
Our little 3 foot tall Christmas tree held no gifts underneath, we needed nothing we did not already have, and the day means so much more than ever before. We did finally slide a few sweet presents under our tree – for the children who live two doors down and our dear Eve and her children.
We talked together of Christmas and decided that again this year we would give memories instead of gifts to each other. We have not given Christmas presents to each other since Mockingbird Road.
Being away from “home” at Christmas time is challenging for our hearts. We miss being with family, seeing friends, eating the wonderful foods of the holidays, and counting twinkling Christmas lights as we drive at night. Cold weather with warm scarves and steaming drinks in shivering hands. Christmas music played while cookie smells fill the house...
well... we had it so good for so many years. Memories fill our hearts --- and who wouldn't miss being in those kind of beautiful places. So --- for us --- we've learned, we need to do something “different” at Christmas time, if we don't, we set ourselves up for sadness.

So we packed ourselves up and for 3 days we visited Tsavo National Park on the western side of Nairobi. We've always wanted to visit this special park, where Mzima springs flow and extra big lions with no manes roam. 

We drove our Lori-car the 6 hour drive and spent 3 days looking at what God had made and was now willing to share with us. 

We visited the famous Tsavo bridge that Colonel Patterson built for the British in the late 1800's, where two man-eating lions terrorized his camp of workers and in the end killed over 100 men, reportedly eating over 30 of their victims. 
We stood in front of the cave where those monstrous, mane-less killers stashed the bones of their victims.

Colonel Patterson killed both of the man-eaters who are now stuffed and on display at the Chicago Field Museum. We stood on their still present trails and took pictures at the mouth of their lair. The true story of the man-eating lions of Tsavo was portrayed in the movie, “The Ghost and the Darkness”. It was creepy ----- but also exciting. We love visiting places where history books hold true stories of living --- especially when good won over evil. 

(As i share of our special month of travels ---- please know this, not a dime of ministry money was spent for one minute of either of these special December trips. When so many support our ministry work here, we feel compelled to be sure you know this.)

He's just finished packing his second bag.
It's really happening.
And we will find ourselves living on the other side of the world from each and every treasure of our hearts (except for the gift of each other).

How honored we are to be allowed to serve our Abba and minister to marriages, to pastors, to hurting women, to wounded homes. Each and every day we begin it by asking --- “Use us Lord, we are yours.” We are humbled that He is willing to let His truth and love flow threw us --- cracked vessels that we are. It's proof of His great God-ness --- if He were not GOD, we could do nothing.

And each day we work to remain diligent in our eagerness to obey Him and serve others.
Keeping our chins up and our hearts true (Kweli Moyo) --- we do the best we can to submit and stay.

But there are those moments when our hearts melt ---
and in truth we can only say ----
it is ever-so-hard to say ----
goodbye----NO – not goodbye --- rather --- we say --- see you later son

we will see you soon son ----
we will see you again ----
oh how we do love you ----- 

Monday, December 7, 2015

My wish list for today...

In four short hours she will walk through my gate. Her closely cut hair will bear no braids, her slightly scarred face will frame a shy smile, her dark brown eyes will look down.
...and i...
i will work carefully to give her a map.
My hands will not hold it, my words must.
And those words will need to come ever so gently, but with a sure pressing of the Truth in them.

She is suffering from a “disease” that is perhaps slowly killing more people than we might imagine possible. This 20 year old treasure whose eyes shine with kindness, holds a dark spot in her heart. It's not cancer --- it's worse.
It's not TB – but it is suffocating her.
It's not pneumonia which so often closes in on the last breaths of those suffering from HIV-AIDS (but thankfully she does not suffer from either).
There's no medicine she can take for this sickness that has stolen her peace and brings suffering to her heart.

But there is an antidote available. This morning we will begin administering it.
Forgiveness is the only cure for her.
To forgive another for the wrong they have committed against us ---- it is the only way to detach the chains that silently, but firmly come, when we suffer from the selfish acts of others. Those chains do not disappear on their own. They must be mastered; they must be broken.

When she was a child, only 4 or 5 years old, she had been left in the care of her aunt and uncle while her mother went to work in the fields of Uganda. Family land was producing a good harvest there, and that harvest would feed children and pay school fees. Those two needs are ever on the minds of African mommas here. How to feed and educate their children... they think on it constantly. One speaks of survival, the other of hope.
While her mother worked in the field harvesting, she was to help her auntie gather sugar cane. She would sleep in their hut and work beside her aunt through the day. Her mother would send money from Uganda to help pay for the ugali (food) she would eat. It was a good plan ---- but...
The uncle was a “lion” in his home. It's the way his fellow Kenyans would describe him. Aloof, distant, commanding, and in charge; this man held himself apart from the “underlings” that lived under “his” roof, and when he growled, everyone scattered.
She understood this dynamic. She was not one to rebel or cause trouble.
Obediently she did exactly what she was told to do. Like a furry cub, she hung close to her auntie and did whatever work was asked of her.
But one day as the “lioness and cub” finished their work gathering sugar cane from the field. They carried the load on their backs as they talked and laughed. She remembers her aunt's playful way as they chewed on sugar cane together and walked the dirt path home. It was a treat to chew on small pieces of the sweet cane they had work to gather --- what they carried on their backs would bring a good profit at market the next day.
Chewing on the cane, sucking the sugary juice from the thick fibers, and then spitting the remains out on the roadway, they made their way home in time to prepare ugali before the “lion” returned.
All was right in their world... or so they thought.

As the fire warmed the cooking pot, her uncle returned with a scowl on his face. His words, “Did you harvest the sugar cane today?” Auntie softly spoke, “Yes, and tomorrow we will take it to market.” The growling voice lowered, “But someone robbed us, and even chewed our cane spitting out the remains on our trail.” “No one robbed us husband, we only enjoyed a treat ourselves, rewarding our stomachs from the work of our hands.” The little girl by the fire kept her brown eyes lowered. The “lion” was growling, the “lioness” was there to protect.

Three days later the little girl woke. The pain she felt would not allow her to open her eyes. It felt as if an elephant were sitting on her head, holding it in a painful vice between the ground and the sky. She could move her arms and legs, but the slightest shift of her neck shot agony throughout her little body. Someone spooned water and porridge into her mouth, swallowing was unbearable. For many days she lay this way, unable to see, unable to move. Someone cleaned the ground beneath her grass matt, she was unaware of the excrement her body released, all she knew was a blind splitting pain. She wondered ---- “is this what death feels like?”
Weeks passed by, and in that time, she began to hear voices again. Then slowly-by-slowly she was able to open her eyes. The light shot new surges of pain from her head to her toes. She preferred keeping her eyes closed even though she knew she could still see, for when the sun went down, she opened her eyelids just a sliver to watch the firelight under the ugali pot.
In time, she began to sit up in the dark. It was easier in the darkness.
Her auntie had been caring for her day and night; always caring for her head, feeding her, and cleaning her body tenderly.
Her mother was soon to return. How thankful the little girl was to know that she was not actually dead; she would see her mother again.

When her mother returned, the “lion” was away. Auntie wept as she explained the deep wound that now marred the top of her nieces head. The uncle had become angry when the little girl and her auntie had admitted to chewing on bits of sugar cane after harvesting from the field. He had called them thieves, and had vented his anger on them. For his little niece, he had chosen a large stick out of the firewood, and standing behind her, had swung it like an ax onto the top of her tiny, brown, bowed head. The auntie received her punishment in other painful ways.
No doctor had visited to care for the child, as the “lion” had declared he would not spend a shilling to care for a thief. So the auntie had done the best she could to care for and pray over the wounded little harvester.

The mother was outraged, for her very own brother who had done this to her child.
But not even a lioness can stand against a lion.

She gathered her daughter, prayed with her sister-in-law, and went.

In this culture, there is little recourse for a woman or child who have been wronged by a man. There is even less to be done if you do not have money to hire a lawyer. If she had called the police, (we are told by all here) they would have surely laughed at her. But worse still, since the offender was a family member, it would have been considered shameful to have caused any trouble for the brother. What happens in the family ---- stays in the family... the strong rule, the weak suffer... if the weak do not want to suffer, they better grow strong.
So, nothing was done to hold the brother accountable; nothing could be done.
The little girl was lovingly cared for by her mother. And in time, she recovered fully except for an unending headache, tenderness to her entire scalp (she can not bear for her hair to be braided), and a deep wound in her soul.
She struggles to forget. She wants to forgive. She fears her uncle. She fears all “lions”. She trusts slowly. She feels strangled by the claws of helplessness – she remembers how it feels to be unable to move, to see, to hear, to feel safe.

When she speaks, her voice is soft and gentle.
When i speak to her, my voice is as well.
She exudes kindness.
She compels kindness around her.

Her head never stops hurting. Even all these years later, she carries the physical reminder of her punishment for chewing a few bites of sugar cane walking home from a day of harvesting.

She was wronged. Terribly wronged.

Today she will walk through my gate. We will open The Book together.
I will share Truth with her ------- the only way to be free from the chains of injustice are to clip them with the work of forgiving.
Judges could rule and put all evil-doers in countless prison cells.
But it would not release her mind from the bondage it holds within its wounded self.

Honesty compels me to scream through silent words typed ----- IT --- IS ----- NOT------ FAIR!!!!!
She was wounded. She suffers still. But now today SHE will have to go the extra distance to forgive the one who wronged her --- in order for her to be free.
I lift my “unwounded” head to the One who is over all things ---- and i weep for her. She was a litttttttle girrrrrrrrl attacked by selfish meanness.
Abba ---- help her ---- punish the one who wronged her ---- let her feel your protection today, even though she was not protected then.

Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

It's the weakness she felt as a helpless child that holds her in this place of deep anger and silent suffering. She wakes in the night angry. She sees the face of the lion-uncle. She cringes when she hears his voice on the days the family gathers together and he acts as if the scar she bears is normal. She shrinks from his presence and yet never seems to be free from it.

Her wounds must today be used to remind her of the strength she carries within her. Only the strong can survive such wrongs. Only the able can rise above such offenses. Anger whispers to her to use her strength to hold offenses against her offender. But the Good One tells us to use our strength to rise above the offense, forgive it, hand it to God, and break the chains that hold us down.

It is through our suffering that we can be transformed... if we will allow it to complete its work in us. Strength is needed in these waters.

I sit with Isaiah as the sun rises through these acacia trees.
And the whisper comes strong ----
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me (so there is no value in thinking in my little-person-ways), for the Lord has anointed me (why me, i have no idea, but i know He stirs me and i must follow) to bring good news to the poor (and today, that poor one is the little wounded girl in the young lady's body who will walk through my black gate with an aching heart). He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed (prisoners are not held captive by only bars of steel – more often hearts and minds hold chains around them). He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord's favor has come, and with it, the day of God's anger against their enemies (yes, my Good God is angry over the wrongs done to the innocent). To those who mourn in Zion (the place where Jesus is found), He will give a crown of beauty for ashes (and may that crown completely cover the scar she bears, help me help her see this Lord), a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for His own glory.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins... repair cities destroyed... revive them... (what was ruined can be rebuilt, what was destroyed can be repaired)
Instead of shame and dishonor, you will enjoy a double share of honor... (suffering can bring strength that will be used for good)
For I, the Lord, love justice. I hate robbery and wrongdoing. I will faithfully reward my people for their suffering and make an everlasting covenant with them.” (from Isaiah 61)

Your Words are perfect Lord.
Help me today to help her see how Your Words fit perfectly in her.

There is controversy everywhere Lord. People argue over everything. Everyone seems to have an opinion they are certain is right. But, no one, NO ONE is actually right. There are shootings and bombs from terrorists, there are refugees running for their lives. There are shoppers shopping and Christmas lights twinkling, and wish lists shared, and wallets emptying -------------- this world is madness Lord.
I long for you to take us Home Lord.
My clay-covered self can barely make sense of it all (actually --- i can't).
But for today's portion --- i thank You Lord ---- and i ask You for help ---- as one of Your treasures walks through my gate and sits beside me.
My wish list today Lord -----
please set her free and heal her wounds.