If I Close My Eyes…

If I close my eyes, I can see it.

Joseph dancing in the back aisle, joy moving his limbs in awkward cadences to the words … Our God, you reign forever. Our Hope, our strong deliverer….

His feet dangling out the back of the pew after he crawled under it…

The way he draped over me, head hanging down to the ground, and then curled up all fetal like knees to nose head on my lap…

The thumbs up he gave after taking communion for the first time…

Clara sketching next to us, flowers, girls, the chalice and the bread and the words of command and institution…

Her glances to check in… is Mama crying… again… in church…

The mom in front of us with 3 children wrapped around her…

The flickering candles on the wall…

If I close my eyes, I can see it.

In the moment, it seemed embarrassing and funny and soul-crumbling all at once. Me, a piece of fabric, wadded in a ball, stomped on by two beautiful angels bent on sabotaging a moment in time and in space. Joseph kicks as he squirms down to the ground, he butts his head against his sister who complains like a squeaky door. He is heavy, this growing boy who can’t for the ever-living life of him sit still. Ever. Even in sleep….

But I don’t want to take that joy from him. I don’t want church to be all rules and sitting up straight and not making a noise because that is not how God meets us, in the straight and narrow, in the clean and pure and well-manicured.

But when Joseph asked me, “Can I take the bread and the wine?” I hesitated and reviewed the rules. Rules I wasn’t sure about for our current church. Rules.

Well, why? I struggled to understand why he was interested.

And out of the mouth of my babe came, “Because it is Jesus’ body and blood. He told his friends to eat it to remember him.” If my growing, squirmy man-child knows this, then there are no rules to follow.

Because God doesn’t meet us in the rule-following, but in the heart-calling.

The heart-calling.
“Let’s imagine Jesus washing our feet.” This is the call from the front.

If I close my eyes, I can see it.

A basin. A towel. The base of the cross in the background. A hand. Water. Dropping, dribbling, gentle and cleansing. This God, my God, tenderly caressing my weary soul. In the middle of the mess, in the middle of the chaos, this water becomes stillness and peace and the holy.

It’s today now. Another day of it. The mess and the chaos and the meeting God in the middle of it. And it’s Good Friday and we remember the mess and the chaos and the seeming end of it. Jesus on the cross. Blood, vinegar, final words, nails, ripping curtains, ripping hands and feet, dark skies, dark hearts, and the exclamations of “Surely, this was the son of God” and I wonder if there was a heart-cry that followed, “We killed him… the son of God.” The despair.

Joseph is sitting in the chair behind me kicking me and complaining that I won’t add a new app to the iPad and I want to curse the iPad and send it screaming out of my family forever for the ways it tries to seduce and steal my family, my boy who knows that the bread and the wine are for Jesus, that life is for Jesus.

It’s going to be a messy, chaotic day.

But if I close my eyes, I can see it. The Easter sunrise, the Easter sonrise, on the other side. And there can be joy behind my closed eyes that will sustain. My God, My Hope, My Strong Deliverer….

Asking For A Favor

I don’t know. Being 40 something is an interesting period of life. It’s kinda a mid-way up the mountain, mid-way down the mountain kinda thing. Like, if I look down, over that edge over there, I see the news that another peer/friend/colleague has lost a parent, a spouse, possibly even a child. On that side, there’s a soul harvest going on. And then, overwhelmed by it all, I spin halfway and face the uphill side of the mountain and there along the path to the sun I see the photos of new babies, newlyweds, my former students hitting that “prime-of-life” period of finding a spouse, starting a family, growing a family, becoming the worlds’ busy and crazy, the standard bearers of culture and civilization marching to the front. And I’m just slouching through another day. Someone cue Casting Crowns Thrive right about now!

But if I reach way back into the recesses of my brain, I do remember planning my wedding. I may be whacky, but I remember thinking that I wanted our guests to walk away with something that was unique and different, not just a cup of nuts and candies or a small bottle of bubble solution, but something that might grow and mature into its own constant reminder. We gave out packets of pine tree seeds. You know, grow your own pine tree by which to remember our marriage. Here, my memory is foggy. Did I try to grow a tree from one of those packets? Or did I simply dream it? I’m pretty sure I still have a few packets in a box somewhere. Any bets as to whether or not 19-year-old seeds still have life in them?

IMG_4937 IMG_4938 IMG_4933I think Mike and Alisa are on to something here, however! Mike is wrapping up his MDIV and Alisa is finishing her medical schools studies at UCSD. She will start her residency in July in Santa Rosa. Alisa donated her otoscope to Village of Hope Uganda this summer and she has a big heart for medicine in the least served parts of the world. They will both graduate this summer and then get married and start life together from there. They wanted something unique to give their wedding guests, something that gives immediate pleasure, that is an enjoyable reminder of the day, and that also gives something bigger… in this case, hope for the world’s least served.

We at Compassion Tea are so excited to help Mike and Alisa celebrate their special day. And we’re so grateful to them for trying out our new favor-sized pouches. With our special printer, we can personalize the pouch, and with our over 100 flavors of high-quality tea, we can guarantee a flawless cup of tea. The favor pouches are $2.50 per pouch and they hold 3 tea bags of one flavor. (To place an order, email us at info@compassiontea.com)

How adorable would these be for a baby shower! Or add a photo of a grad and hand them out at graduation parties! They are perfect for bridal showers and wedding favors, as a special thank-you to employees, co-workers, teachers, or anyone whose work or volunteering you wish to recognize. Tis the season of banquets and good-byes and starts to new lives… why not mark it with a gift that gives back, too!

I-See in Uganda

My parents have no recollection of this. But I will probably never forget the day they came home from a parent/teacher conference and accused me of pretending to need glasses. I was in fifth grade and my teacher, Mr. Roth, noticed that I was squinting and having trouble seeing the board. Because I was so fashion-forward in those days (my, how motherhood has changed me), and because so many of my friends were getting glasses, Mr. Roth thought that I was putting on a show of not being able to see in an effort to get glasses. Of all the ludicrous ideas. I couldn’t see and frankly I didn’t know I couldn’t see. Up until that moment of accusation, I didn’t think anything of my squinting and blurry vision. With all of the other changes in my body at that time, this was the least of my worries!

But when I put the glasses on for the first time and I could see individual leaves on the trees and the softball flying toward my nose and the notes I had to copy from the overhead, I realized what I had been missing.

For Steve Saint, the experience was similar. Saint is the founder of I-Tec, an organization that looks at common medical procedures and figures out how to carry those procedures into parts of the world where electricity, clean water, and regular sanitation are considered luxuries. This is his story:

“Oh, I see” my Mom used to say. That is exactly what I thought when I was told that a visiting optometrist from Rockford, Illinois was going to check my eyes along with most of the rest of the missionaries and missionary kids like me. “Oh I see all right” I told my Mom. “I donʼt need to have my eyes checked.”
I always played pick-up basketball after school. If I wasnʼt there when sides were chosen cause I was off having my eyes checked, I would have to sit on the side lines all afternoon. I figured I could see as well as the next kid. But Mom said “You are going to have your eyes checked”. Her tone of voice was clear, “We can do this the easy way or the hard way…”
So Dr. Daniels checked my eyes. Then came the stunning news. I was going to have to wear glasses… all the time; probably for the rest of my life. I was shocked.
A couple of months later the glasses arrived. I tentatively put the awkward contraptions on. They pulled my already sticky out ears even further into lifeʼs slipstream as they slid down my ski-jump nose.
I thought I would just wear these “eye-braces” until Dr. Daniels went back to the States and my Mom forgot I had them. But something happened when I put those lenses in front of my eyes. The world changed. The trees had individual leaves. All I could see before was a green blur. The Andes Mountains had ridges and valleys. The whole world suddenly had texture and I could see it clearly for the first time.
The morning after getting my first glasses I realized why I had to work harder than my friends to shoot baskets. For the first time in my life I could actually see the rim I was shooting at. “Big fat cheaters”, I thought. Anyone can shoot baskets when you can clearly see what you are shooting at. And, I could actually read what the teacher was writing on the black board. Now I could sit in the back of the class without staying after the others left to copy what the teacher had been writing down for us.
Almost half a century later the last thing I do at night is take my glasses off. And one of the first things I do in the morning is put those lenses back on again. These “Eye Sight Enhancers” changed my life.”

One of the I-Tec programs near and dear to Saint’s heart is his I-See kit, which is a portable eye care kit. The kit comes with 200 pairs of eye glasses in common prescriptions, 2 lens ladders for determining lens prescription, eye charts, glasses repair kits, and even a tape measure to make sure that whoever is using the kit is following proper protocol. It also includes a non-verbal teaching DVD so that anyone can learn how to perform a quality eye exam.

i-see 200

Saint describes his vision for the program in this way: “Churches and individuals who are motivated by a desire to care for vision handicapped people with both their sight and heart (spiritual) problems can buy the ʻLevel One Kitʼ for $995 dollars. The level two – ʻthere are a pile of people out where Iʼm going so give me more glassesʼ Level Two kit will include all the tools and eye charts and yes, a tape measure, and will include two dozen, dozen pairs (288) of glasses for $1495. And the ʻI want a pile of glasses at the very best priceʼ – Level Three kit will include everything and the tape measure and three and a half dozen pairs of glasses (504) for $1995.
Here is what makes the I-See program so visionary. You donʼt just go to some far off land and fit a bunch of glasses and leave. No, the idea is that we will not only teach you how to determine who needs glasses – people who will otherwise go on struggling with bad eyes – but we will also teach you to teach a local God Follower who lives where you are going, to continue doing what you started – after you leave. Sustainability is the key here.
We teach you the I-See program and then you teach an Indigenous God Follower to do it (See one, Do one, Teach one). You (or your church or group) buy the kit. You take it with you on that short term missions trip you were going to go on (weʼll lead you through the planning and preparations) and you help needy people while you disciple a local believer to take over from you when you return home. You leave the glasses you have not used from your kit with the local ʻVision Enhancement Technicianʼ.
This is a very, very easy and straightforward plan. In most places your biggest problem is going to be to pick your successor. Lots of people will want to take your place, but you donʼt know who will faithfully carry on what you have started. That is why we will recommend that you work through an indigenous church. They know who is faithful and
who is capable of keeping the I-See program going and who will use it as a door opener for sharing the Gospel and starting or building up a local church.
Best of all, in many places the person that takes over from you will be able to support themselves by offering the ʻSight Enhancementʼ services you taught them. This is how that could work.
You turn the I-See kit over to them when you leave, at no cost. But you ask them and the local church to set a fee that the local population can afford – five to eight dollars per pair of glasses or so. The I-See technician agrees to set two dollars per pair of glasses aside to buy new inventory. The rest of the proceeds form a sustaining salary that allows him or her to spend full time distributing glasses and the Gospel Good News.
We will work with you to replace their inventory at the lowest possible cost by buying in bulk, and then assembling the specific inventory each I-See technician needs to fill the vision needs in their particular area. If they set two dollars (this amount will probably increase slowly over time but will remain affordable) aside from each pair of glasses distributed. That should be enough to replace their inventory (they will only rarely need to replace pliers, charts etc.)
In as little as one week and for as little as one to two thousand dollars we can make it possible for Indigenous God Followers to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of people who canʼt meet this need for themselves.”

And the why? Saint says, “Jesus told us that if we see someone in need who isnʼt in that need because they choose to be or are too lazy to get out, then we should help them. And He said that when we help people that canʼt help themselves, He would consider it as though we had done it to Him. I can tell you what now, Jesus needs lots and lots of teeth fixed and he needs lots of Cloroquin to relieve the aches and fever of malaria this year (believe it or not, one million people will die of malaria this year. Most of them and the forty nine million other people who will suffer but survive could be cured with about a dollar of medicine). And Jesus needs childbirth help and wounds closed and He needs lots of antibiotics. And He needs glasses just like I once did.”

When Wendy Bjurstrom visited Village of Hope, Uganda back in August, Dr. Mac and Nurse Susan commented on the number of kiddos at the orphanage who were having trouble seeing. Through donations, CompassioNow was able to purchase one of these I-See kits and Village of Hope founder Cindy Cunningham took the kit with her this week when she went to visit the villages.

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I am so excited to see the photos of the kids with their new glasses and their new eyesight! What will they see? How will this sight change their vision and their world? Pause for a moment and think about the layers of meaning in those words!

Five Minute Friday: Writer

My mom once told me that her aspiration for me was to write a book. I cower under that prediction most days, wondering how in the world I could ever craft a J.K. Rowling-esque manifesto of intricate plot and characterization. When a friend told me that I should write more I snarked, “With what time?” And then I made the announcement that I was going to write curriculum and I’m staring at that announcement like I’m having an out-of-body experience wondering who was it that uttered that insanity and how in the world can I go back and undo her blathering. But writing is me. And it may just be a 2 sentence Facebook post or it may be a poem composed while running or it may be a full on blog. But I do write words. And I write lives.
I’m in the business of creating character, in creating life-giving relationship and navigational skills in two little dear ones that God has placed in my current care. And of course the clock is ticking on that one and the world is growing louder in the ears of my kiddos. Calls to look and listen and do what is so enticing and shiny and fun but what leads straight down paths that are dark and defeating. My story is their story, at least the first part of it.
And I wonder what part of my story writing goes along with my letter writing to a little dear one in Uganda. As my letters wing their way halfway around the world, what are they taking with them and what will be sent back this way? It hurt my hand yesterday to write those words, to actually have pen in hand rather than a keyboard under anxious fingers. But it was so much more real, too. The movement of the pen, an extension of the soul. How will this plot develop? What characterization is forming? Is there resolution?
Writing is action that wells up from the soul. Living is the same. Writing and living, living and writing. And with 5 minutes rounding this out, I now have Francesca Battastelli’s Write Your Story on My Heart stuck in my head!

Ajiri Tea Report Card

This in from one of the cooperatives we support… our Ajiri Tea
is making a huge difference! Visit us at www.compassiontea.com to learn more!

Joyce and her three cousins/siblings are being tutored weekly by former Ajiri student, Winstone. Joyce is first in her class!

Joyce and her three cousins/siblings are being tutored weekly by former Ajiri student, Winstone. Joyce is first in her class!

IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD AND
A CHILD TO RAISE A VILLAGE

Spring is the season of growth. And here at Ajiri Tea we are growing. Our tea is now sold in over 500 stores and the Ajiri Foundation is now sponsoring 29 orphans in school. But it takes more than sales and more than school fees to make a business and foundation actually work. It takes caffeine, drive, and a quick reminder of why we do what we do . . .

Winstone just graduated from high school in Eldoret, Kenya, after being sponsored by the Ajiri Foundation for the past four years. In March, Winstone received his national exam results: a B+ average. This score will qualify him for admittance into a top university.

My late father said, ‘Always seek out the seed of triumph in every adversity and nothing is impossible since the world itself says, I’m possible.’ – Winstone

Winstone knows his good success is well-earned, but he also recognizes that he couldn’t have done it without some help. Ajiri Tea is trying to raise not only academically successful children but emotionally successful and perceptive young adults. Winstone is both. After graduation in November, he offered to accompany the younger students to school. He helped them buy their school supplies and spoke to all of the Ajiri students and their guardians. While he waits to be admitted into University, Winston has been tutoring four younger Ajiri-sponsored children, going to their small house every weekend. He is just as invested in their success as we are in his.

Winstone (center) with his mother and brother

Winstone (center) with his mother and brother

Winstone is the “cool older brother” figure who plays the roles of teacher and mentor. He explains his own trials to these children: His father died ten years ago, leaving his mother and three sons. His mother was not well, and before being employed by Ajiri Tea to make labels, struggled to find enough money to pay for food and medication. And being at school wasn’t exactly easy for him. He missed home, feeling obliged to help and worried about his family. He struggled to focus on his studies.

He found support within the Ajiri community and as he explains, found an immense reserve of strength within himself. He introduces himself to others by saying that his name “Winstone” means he is able to “win” at things that are hard like a “stone.”

It takes more than paying for school fees and more than selling boxes of tea and coffee to create success. It takes investment, and we don’t mean money. We mean real emotional investment that transcends to others. As customers, your investment and enthusiasm is felt beyond the box of tea you purchase–it is felt all the way in Kenya by students like Winstone. And in Kenya, Winstone’s energy and commitment is felt far beyond himself.

We are constantly amazed. Amazed by the generosity of our customers who continue to support us. Amazed by the generosity of the aunts and uncles and grandparents and neighbors and teachers who care for so many of our students. And amazed by students like Winstone, who has received an education and immediately turned it into an opportunity to give. We give our thanks to you, our customers, who make this cycle of opportunity a reality.

Asante sana!

Kate and Sara

Hunger Games

Tis the season of the curveball. Okay, not so much for my little guy who is just getting the hang of the whole hitting off of pitches rather than a tee. But baseball is in full swing!

And so are the springtime distractions. There are gardens to till, flowers to plant, vegetables to start, leaves to rake, fertilizer to be spread, and plants to be loved. The activities at school are racheting up as are the after-school activities. Getting ready for concerts, performances, games, the culmination of weeks of practice. Fundraising events, spring parties… it’s like the world is awakening from its winter hibernation and the perennial quest for … what?… has begun.

Heading into this weekend, I was feeling pretty good about life. Like maybe just maybe I’d have some quiet time to pull aspects of life together, get things done, relax and enjoy my family.

Yeah. Not so much.

Clara brought home The Hunger Games (book one) with the intent of reading it over the weekend. I’m enough in the loop to know that this series has caused controversy and many debates over its appropriateness for certain age levels. So red lights started going off all over my body when she presented her plan for the weekend. Nope. Not until I read it first. Which I did. Cover to cover in 24 hours time… in between a ceramics painting party, a work event for hubby, and the required meals of my family. I felt like I’d been hit by a train by the time I was through.

And the verdict was that this weekend was not the right time for my 10 year old to read this book.

The grand debate here is how much do we shield our children from and to how much do we expose them? When is the right time for them to start to learn about lust (because Katniss is developing lustful feelings for Peeta), the political power games people play, the insidiousness of the entertainment industry, the vacuousness of certain people, and the pure evil that the human heart can harbor.

I thought I was being generous by letting her read the Harry Potter series!

But seriously, there is a vivid difference between the Hunger Games and Harry Potter. (Caveat… I haven’t read books 2 and 3 so I’m operating solely on my knowledge of book 1). In Harry Potter, Harry is battling in an epic way the physical manifestation of evil in the person of Voldemort. Harry is a loveable, laughable endearing teenage boy, full of foibles and questions about his past and his future. But even when he goes half-heartedly, he goes out to fight evil marked with the lightning bolt of love and armed with loving friends. Katniss has glimpses of humanity, but for the most part, her actions and emotions are primeval, instinct-driven, and she is motivated not to right the world but to survive by playing the game better than anyone else. She is a product of her society and that is the only reason I can find to feel any sympathy for her. When she flaunts the Gamemasters, she does so not out of any great understanding of the system, but out of a survival instinct and intense hatred for the way the system has robbed her.

Philippians 4:8 kept coming to mind as I read: And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

And my years of teaching English and the debate over what is the purpose of literature reared up. Is literature to hold a mirror up to our faces and show us what we are? Or is it to lift man out of the muck and give him hope for humanity? William Faulkner in his 1949 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech says it this way, “Ladies and gentlemen,
I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work – a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.
I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”

I tend to agree. We need all the props and pillars we can gather to shore us up here in this shaky ground we call life.

Does Hunger Games do this? Not in book one. I walked away disgusted. I wanted open, knowledged rebellion. I got backtracking and backstabbing. Like the Ancient Booer in The Princess Bride, I felt like saying to Katniss, “Your true love lives…. True Love saved her in the Fire Swamp, and she treated it like garbage. And that’s what she is, the Queen of Refuse. So bow down to her if you want, bow to her. Bow to the Queen of Slime, the Queen of Filth, the Queen of Putrescence. Boo. Boo. Rubbish. Filth. Slime. Muck. Boo. Boo. Boo.”

I wanted redemption, a character I could cheer for, the savage from Brave New World, ideas that were lofty and worthy and selfless. What I saw was a character motivated by survival and her burgeoning sensuality. Period.

But I’m having trouble leaving it at that. It’s difficult to walk away and completely dismiss this book, this character.

Because there are so many people in the world like Katniss who have no moral compass, who operate out of the need to survive and the need to meet the ever-increasing demands of their sensuality. Which is probably where Suzanne Collins is going with this.

And there’s this desire to wrap them in loving arms and say to them, “There is healing for this.” It isn’t a skin buff, shower, and manicure. It’s a soul garden replant, weeding and tilling and watering and feeding that looks and feels like redemption.

Sometimes I think I’m getting to be an old fuddy-duddy. But I’m seeing things in new lights these days. I remember a day when I moved in the world much like Katniss, not with 23 other children hunting me down per say, but moving through the world meeting the body’s needs and not much else. I believed in God and claimed to believe in the redeeming power of the cross and of Jesus on that cross. I developed strong head knowledge of parts of the Bible because that is what a good church-goer does. I even supported the missional work of the church, not necessarily because I thought it was a good idea for people in third worlds to know about Christ as much as I thought they needed a good meal or maybe a shot at some medicine or education typically not available to them.

But joy? Me sharing the gospel? Jesus dying on the cross for me personally? Yeah, none of that was mine to claim. Just get through another day.

Heck, I still have days like that. Where busyness crowds out the stillness and communion I need to connect with my God.

But somewhere along the way, God’s knocking finally resonated. And He said to me, “You are my princess. I love you the way you are. I would have died just for you, just like I promised Abraham I wouldn’t destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of 10 righteous.” He released me from the labels of the world, gave me new purpose and direction, and gratitude is becoming a way of life. I’m beginning to understand what it means to crave reading Scripture. This is the healing I needed and the healing that God offers all the children/people of the world. It is a feeding of the hungry soul.

You know, Jesus talked a lot about being the bread of life, the living water that quenches the soul thirst. I used to think that was a clever little metaphor he had going on. We all need bread and water, so of course we all need him.

But it’s more than that. It speaks to our need to find meaning and peace and resolution. The world is constantly offering us ways to fill those needs. If you eat at this restaurant, buy these clothes, use this fabric softener, own this car, view these shows, listen to this music, wear these jewels, shop at this store, if… then… amazing happiness will follow you all the days of your life.

And we “buy” into it only to find that we’re craving more and more of the world’s “food” because what we just bought… the clothes, the food, the car, the house, the floor cleaner… lacks the protein, the sticking power to stay our hunger pangs for very long. Like gluttons, we gorge on more and more of the sugary stuff of life, the fake, processed, unnatural. When what we really need is the word of God. This fills the belly with meaning and purpose, a life driven by gratitude, reacting out of joy, overflowing with generosity. And it lasts.

Wanna talk about Hunger Games? We’re all playing the hunger games… searching for ways to game our hunger. When the food we really need has already been gifted in the silver parachute of Christ on a cross. Eat and be filled.

Masterpiece

I have so much else to do, but there’s a refrain playing in my heart and if I truly believe God is a God of abundance and generosity, He will take the time and bend it and shape it and time warps are possible. And so I believe He, who spoke this refrain, will sanctify the time I spend mulling His words in it.

Masterpiece. I showed the ladies a copy of the Sistine Chapel. “They should have clothes on.” I showed the Mona Lisa, the façade of Notre Dame, Paris. I handed out copies of War and Peace, Hamlet, Moby Dick. I passed around Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet and Handel’s Royal Fireworks music. What do they all have in common? Masterpieces. Someone’s hard work, opus magnum, life’s blood spilling in artistic fervor, passion in word or paint, creative genius, something that had never been before.

And then the mirror comes out.

What do you see? “A wreck.” “Oh dear.” That one actually turns the mirror and won’t look. “My rosacea.”

One gets it. “God’s masterpiece.”

God says, “We are God’s masterpiece, created anew in Christ Jesus to do the good things He planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10

God’s masterpiece.

Compassion Tea's Anne and Chris learning about the first pluck in Sri Lanka.

Compassion Tea’s Anne and Chris learning about the first pluck in Sri Lanka.

Visiting the doctor in all her finery at Tanzania Christian Clinic

Visiting the doctor in all her finery at Tanzania Christian Clinic

Clinical officer David at Tanzania Christian Clinic

Clinical officer David at Tanzania Christian Clinic

One of the "mommies" caring for the orphans at Village of Hope Uganda

One of the “mommies” caring for the orphans at Village of Hope Uganda

Celebrating at the watering hole… masterpieces at Village of Hope Uganda

Celebrating at the watering hole… masterpieces at Village of Hope Uganda

Dawn at 1000 Hills Community Helpers holding two new masterpieces

Dawn at 1000 Hills Community Helpers holding two new masterpieces

A masterpiece with ice cream at 1000 Hills Community Helpers

A masterpiece with ice cream at 1000 Hills Community Helpers

Wendy Bjurstrom of CompassioNow with Scovia

Wendy Bjurstrom of CompassioNow with Scovia

Blowing bubbles at 1000 Hills Community Helpers

Blowing bubbles at 1000 Hills Community Helpers

I’m preaching this to everyone who will listen. To my daughter who thinks holding her nose when a certain boy walks by is okay. To my friend who has a “thang.” To my husband who needs to be reminded as he walks through the lonely halls of business. To myself because the accuser and the world conspire to whisper the opposite. Why do I even give them audience?

I’ve been putting off reading this blog. But this morning, reciting “We are God’s masterpiece created anew in Christ Jesus to do the good things He planned for us long ago,” for the 10th time today, I click on the link. And I find that God is preaching this message through others too.

God’s masterpiece. Creative genius. Passion in flesh and blood. Unique and never been before. His blood spilling in artistic fervor. That’s you.

Running

I am about to say something shocking. I enjoy running. There, I said it. This has not always been true. In fact, I have shunned running most of my life. Blame it on shin splints that spring I tried to run track in junior high. Hours of soaking in a hot bath did little to relieve that pain. Or maybe it was that the friends I tried running with in college had been running for months, even years, and I was new to it and trying to keep up was, well, agonizing. Better to just quit.

Team sports in general… not such a joy for me. I tried softball but I couldn’t see the ball. Really, I needed glasses. Volleyball I gave up even before try-outs. My wrists were sore. Soccer wasn’t an option back then and I didn’t’ have the coordination for basketball. Which is odd because I had the coordination to throw a baton in the air and catch it while spinning in circles and I had the coordination to march around a field waving a flag and contorting my body. Odd how coordination manifests itself in different ways.

Swimming , hiking, and weight-lifting and the occasional aerobics or yoga stint have been my go-to exercise choices.

Until a few weeks ago.

I was walking down the driveway one morning in the dark to get the newspaper when this inner voice (the one I’m beginning to call God’s Holy Spirit, not the other ones that are echoes of the world) said, “Run.” A couple of days went by with this repeating. So, I thought, “Ok.” I got up at the crack of dawn the next day, dressed, harnessed the dog, and left the house not really sure how this was going to go.

Oh, and Ann Voskamp published this. So for my first run, I kept telling myself, “Run to the light. Run through the darkness to the light. Run.” And I did and it didn’t kill me.

It has been freeing, this running. I have my dog and my God and the three of us are enjoying the time together. It’s good thinking time, good praying time. There was the one morning when I could almost see sandals slapping in the puddles next to me… Jesus feet. Or the times the moon has greeted the morning sun, each taking their places in the sky in their holy order and timing. Or the song of the birds, or the morning star that I thought was an airplane but it didn’t move and it didn’t move and finally I realized that God doesn’t move, He is unshakable, and He is there. Or the strength that I thought was gone, the lungs getting bigger, the legs that can do it and the Bible verses that help me get to the end.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

…and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us… Hebrews 12:1

That second verse comes to mind more and more often. So, I’ve signed up for a 5K. My first race. I don’t know about this. I’m fairly awed that I am signed up, that I signed up, that I even entertained the notion.

But what the heck. I’m running a road in the dark, and I can’t see the end, but I know there is light there because He is there, and He’s got this road, this journey, for me and I had better run with perseverance. Won’t it be fun to find out where it all goes!

And we’re back to my shocking statement. I can’t say “love” and “running” in the same sentence (except in the way that I just did). But there is joy in this running. And it looks a lot like this… IMG_20140214_115651_451 IMG_20140214_120344_481 IMG_20140214_120636_641 IMG_20140214_120346_630 IMG_20140214_115658_282puppy joy, tail wagging, tongue-hanging-out, panting joy.

Because God’s kinda put me in the harness and said, “Let’s run for a bit.” And then, we run, and He shows me the trees, and the sky, and I get to smell and feel, and expend and exert along the path as He shows me His world. It’s gorgeous out there. Mist and sun, rain and frost, moonlight, sunlight, trees silhouetted against the mist, against the dawn, against the moon. Hallelujah. My tail is wagging.

A Bad Rap

The Pharisees kinda got a bad rap in the New Testament. I’m just beginning to see this. Jesus really took them to task for their lifestyle.

Think about his parable about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37). In the story, a man walking down a road gets attacked by robbers. He is striped of everything and left bleeding on the ground. Two Jewish religious leaders walk past and don’t bother to do anything. A third man, a Samaritan, a person of a lower social order, shunned and not one of God’s elite, is the one who bends down, lends aid, soothes the wounds, and provides for the injured man’s health and safety. At the end of his parable, Jesus asks who was the neighbor to the man in need.

Oh, oh! I know, I know! The man, the Samaritan, who came to the aid. Those other guys… what a bunch of dirt bags. I can’t believe they didn’t stop.

But I’m reading Leviticus right now and I think I get it. This book in the Old Testament outlines all the rules for living holy and lives set apart, lives worthy of the sovereign God who has chosen the Israel nation to be his people. As his people, as God’s chosen, there are rules to follow. We know the 10 Commandments and those are lovely. But Leviticus gets into the nitty-gritty with rules on all kinds of stuff from sexual practices (18: 1-30) to mold removal (14:33-57) to skin disease (14: 1-32) to a total listing of what sacrifice to make and when and how (Chapters 1-8). There’s a huge emphasis on what is clean and what is unclean and actually not knowing what is unclean is not an excuse. But it is costly. Goats and bulls and rams and birds (in varying combinations) must be sacrificed in order to be made clean again.

To the listeners surrounding Jesus as he told his parable, the acts and attitudes of the priests and religious leaders who didn’t stop seemed perfectly natural. The beaten and robbed man, bathed in his own blood, was unclean. Touching him would have made them unclean. Sacrifices would have to be made, things and bodies would need to be washed. It wasn’t as if the Pharisees didn’t see the beaten man. No, they saw him and knew the cost to themselves. Offering help would be timely and costly.

But getting into someone else’s mess is always timely and costly. And that is Jesus getting radical.

Right? The Jews who heard this thought, “Hey! I’m following the rules God laid out. God gave these rules to Moses. Aaron lost two sons because they burned the wrong fire (Leviticus 10:1-7) and for crying out loud I don’t want that to happen to me!” Justified to walk past the mess, justified by the law. And here comes this guy claiming to have the inside scoop from God himself? And he’s saying that everyone is my neighbor and he’s working on Sunday and he’s eating with sinners and he’s saying that that whole unclean business is …well… wrong?

I get why Jesus was a threat. Because maybe the law had become the religion, not the worship of God, not the seeking of God. And maybe the law was getting in the way of people being people together.

Jesus was in the messy. Remember the story of the woman who had been bleeding for years? (Mark 5: 25-33) Here’s a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years. As if the inconvenience of it wasn’t enough, the pain wasn’t acute enough, she was also considered ceremonially unclean. Anyone who touched her was made unclean. She couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without making people unclean, according to the laws laid out in Leviticus. But she reaches out to touch Jesus, to grab his robe, because if she could just get a finger on him…. He knew her mess. But she believed and reached and having faith in him healed her. Clean again.

Jesus was in the mess. And what a wide wonderful mess it is.

Glennon over at Momastery had this to say this week:

Listen. During the past two years, I’ve met a lot of people who ARE following their dreams and serving and a lot of people who are NOT – because they are waiting till things get better or different first.
Here is the thing that the two groups have in common: NO ONE REALLY KNOWS WHAT SHE’S DOING. None of the people in either of the two groups. The people who are running the world and the people who are sitting life out are exactly the same. They are all messy, complicated, confused people who are unsure of what to do next. They all have messy relationships and insecurities and anger and blind spots. They are ALL AFRAID.
Here is the difference between the two groups: The Dream Followers and Servers believe that it’s okay to be messy and complicated and afraid and show up anyway. The second group believes that folks who show up have to be fabulous and perfect. So they’re waiting to get perfect. They are spending their lives IMPROVING instead of just showing up as they are. They are waiting till they’re “ready.” And the thing is that they will be waiting forever and ever, amen. Because all the good and all the beautiful in the world is created by people who show up before they’re ready.

And I wonder which category I fit under here. Am I really not that far off from the Pharisees because it is just easier, less timely and less costly, to cross to the other side of the road, to avoid other people’s messes? Goodness knows I have enough of my own mess right now.

Wanna see my mess? It looks like boxes stacked to the ceiling, meals prepared in a trailer out back, snotty noses and fevers, workmen trying to break through an old foundation under the house, piles, and I mean mountainous piles, of laundry wait for my attention, a daughter who is struggling with what it means to be popular and is she popular and does it really matter if she is and darn her braces hurt too. Wanna see more? Didn’t think so.

It’s timely and costly to go further.

But Jesus threw down the gauntlet. He applauded the man who got down in the mess, who put aside his own mess, his own plans, his own timing, and said, “Here, let me help you in your mess.”

That’s radical living. That’s abundant living. That’s taking God’s grace and sharing it.

A friend came over last night with his three sons to work on their Pinewood Derby cars. He wasn’t aware of our mess until he saw me flapping floor mats out the door of the trailer like a scene from Beverly Hillbillies. As we chatted about it all, I heard myself say, “Yah, it’s a mess in there. But the world is messy, so whatcha gonna do?”

Whatcha gonna do? Wait for the mess to clear? Preaching to myself here. Preaching to myself.

But Now

We’re taking a stroll down memory lane. Looking back at where we’ve been. How we’ve built a radical new company out of the desire to make money, not for ourselves but for the people in Africa who don’t have quality health care. Who does that? And why?
Why? Because we are privileged!
Remember this?

Talk about privilege. A friend of mine just posted a “notable and quotable” on her Facebook page. It reads:
“If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of the world. If you have money in the bank, your wallet, and some spare change, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy. If you woke up this morning with more health than illness you are more blessed than the million people who will not survive this week. If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the agony of imprisonment or torture, or the horrible pangs of starvation, you are luckier than 500 million people alive and suffering. If you can read this message, you are more fortunate than 3 billion people in the world who cannot read it at all.” I have seen statistics like this before. It always shocks me. Understatement.
Our good friend Dawn Faith Leppan at 1000 Hills Clinic in South Africa recently posted on Facebook the following:
“If you think you are feeling the cold dear friends, snuggled in your warm home, think of those who have a stone floor to sleep on with a thread bare blanket. Lousy, I would say. What do you say?”
This week, our church held their annual missions conference. Missionary, after speaker, after business leader brought to our attention the plight of people in far away places, places where women are sold into heinous slavery and prostitution, where people are desperate for dignified employment, clean water, medicines, where a home is a mud covered hut on stilts or a mat on the street, where children play in sewage, where the same water hole serves as laundromat, bathtub, and drinking fountain. I was particularly moved by this video.  Sany makes a comment in the middle of the video, “but the important thing is when I was young, I was sold.” Can you see the pain in her face? Can you hear the pain in her voice? Another video shown over the weekend showed another woman in Cambodia. Her comment was that she lives her life feeling like someone is constantly watching her. Paranoia like that isn’t without warrant; it is a form of survival. And it has haunted me all day today.
Yes, we are privileged here in the US. I’m watching my kids swimming in the pool as I write this. 50,000 gallons of clean water, just for the kids to splash around in. They are cannon-balling into the water, their cries of joy echoing. The dog is barking on the edge, weighing his desire to get his floating chew toys versus having to swim to get them. Privilege.
One of the weekend’s speakers, Nathan George, founder of a company called Trade As One, talked about this privilege. He suggested that God doesn’t just care about the tithes we give in the church offering plate once a week or once a month. God cares about the other 90 or so % of our wealth. What do we do with that privilege? How do we spend our wealth? George suggested that if we use our purchasing power with taking care of others in mind, we can do amazing things. His company sells fair trade products… high quality products produced in places where a dignified job can mean the difference between poverty, slavery, and disease and a life of hope. Similarly, we at Compassion Tea believe that by selling high quality tea we can provide amazing hope and health to people in parts of Africa where hope and health are rarely felt. We believe our purchasing practices can provide compassion NOW. And quite frankly, I think it a privilege to do so.

Yes, we are privileged, each of us enjoying earthly blessings – family, financial stability, relative health, needs and wants met practically on demand. But wait! There’s more. There’s this.

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of[g] your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— Colossians 1: 21-22

But now.

When you are radically grateful, you live out of a place of radical abundance — there’s always more space for more to share the grace.
And don’t confuse the idea of personal pride with radical gratitude. You aren’t actually thankful for something if you think you actually earned it. That’s pride, not gratitude.
You are only actually grateful for something if you see it as actually a gift -– as an unearned gift that was bestowed unexpectedly upon you. — Ann Voskamp

But now.

Because Jesus Christ, God’s own Son came to earth and offered himself up as the ultimate blood sacrifice for the redemption of sins and for the extraction of guilt, because He did this not because of what we do or did but because of who He is, was, and will be forever, because of this, we are grateful.

There is deep mystery here. The why and really of it gets muddled and messy, because we are trying to humanize God, make Him think and act like we would.

Take it at face value. The but now means He has and that is all that matters.
All that matters is that we’ve been given this free gift with His purchase. Without merit, without right or entitlement, without even a proper sense of the scope, we receive this gift.

When you are radically grateful for what you have, you will go to radical lengths to share it. When you are radically grateful for being blessed — you are radically generous to the oppressed. — Ann Voskamp

So, why do we do what we do? Why do we explore the best teas to bring to you? Why do we care so much about people we may in fact never meet? Why do we travel to regions of the world deemed unsafe carrying duffel bag after duffel bag full of medical supplies? Why do we take this all so seriously? Why?
Because He first loved us, gave us a gift… the best gift. That’s radical and requires radical gratitude, which begets radical generosity.

And it’s there for you too.

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