Remain…

I asked my daughter yesterday on the way home from school if her friend had been there in school. Yes, why? Well, I had seen her friend’s beautiful face posted on Facebook with a lanyard and Katy Perry ticket dangling from her neck. Sweet little 11 year old so excited to go to her first concert. It would have been a late night for a school night, but if it’s important, than it’s important.

I had asked the question innocently enough but I’m glad I asked it because the yearning that came through my daughter’s next comment blind-sided me. “Lucky!” she muttered.

We don’t listen to Katy Perry. I can’t even name any of her songs, so this isn’t about Katy Perry.

Yes, we choose differently what we fill our ears and hearts with musically. We can sing the lyrics to nearly every Newsboy song and we even play name that artist around the dinner table sometimes, but our artists of choice are people like Laura Story, Jeremy Camp, Casting Crowns, Natalie Grant. Because singing scripture, singing praise, singing our prayers grafts us ever more strongly onto the one and only true vine.

So, this is more about this… “My daughter is choosing the ways of the world over godly ways lately,” a mom told me just the other day. And after little miss’s “lucky” comment, I wonder if I need to be nodding in agreement.

This is a tension I knew would get stronger before it gets weaker. The flash and pomp and allure of the world is going to look ever more appealing… perhaps. And that’s a bad thing? The world? Yes. Because the world says God is dead, that the soul is the omnipotent, that the individual is god, that all is chance and you only live once so you better make the most of it by having as much fun as possible. Are these the voices by which we want to make decisions?

As my conversation continued with my daughter, I shared with her a time in my middle school days when Amy Grant came in concert to a nearby city and I wanted desperately to go. I was too young and therefore I wasn’t allowed. It didn’t leave that big of a scar; it’s just a story to share to suggest that I’m not the only “mean mom” out there. Then, Little Miss asked, “Are you going to be like that? Are you never going to let me go to a concert?”

Never is not a word I use lightly. So, no. Not never. But the conditions and circumstances have to be right. We’ll cross that bridge when the time is right.

On my hike this morning, I went further than normal and ended up at a bench overlooking the valley from a new perspective. Looking down, I saw an old bridge. It took me several seconds to discern that that was the very bridge I cross daily. It looked so old and out-of-place surrounded by our growing city and the modern amenities sprouting all around it. And then I wondered if our way of life, our focus on God looks like that sturdy but old-fashioned steel bridge. Unlike the soaring bridges that span the bay, their masses of concrete seemingly suspended in thin air, this bridge is set, its steel arms surrounding the car. You almost feel like ducking as you go across.

I like that old bridge. It feels stable and secure, like if an earthquake should hit, this one will stand. I don’t have the same faith in the flying concrete that marks so much of the Bay Area highways and byways.

But do my kids? Do they like the less-glitzy, the more stable, the “no” when it comes to things Mom and Dad view as tempting and tantalizing and off God’s path? I think I’m asking the wrong question!

On the one hand, I ask, “How can I make sure my kids aren’t complete outcasts because we shelter them so much?” and on the other I ask, “How can I make sure that my kids make wise decisions as they grow up?”

It’s really simple actually. Pray this verse over them!

John 15: 5-8 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Asking God to hold my children so that they continue to abide in Him? If we can weigh every decision against that framework, we probably won’t go terribly awry!

And then I’m looking at this problem with eyes from Africa and thinking what a first world problem this is. Worrying about my kids living for the world… for Katy Perry and Minecraft and Disney and “your way right away” and “make it a great day or not the CHOICE is yours”… those are worries that are indicative of the first world.

Because there are kids in other parts of the world who are worried about where they are going to find the day’s food and water, who will go to bed tonight on the ground, with an empty belly, and with wailing younger siblings who depend on them. There are child-headed households throughout the world where there is no adult to direct and provide and sustain and hold. The full brunt of holding the family together falls on 11 year old shoulders. There are children around the world for whom the dark isn’t just scary because of a movie they saw or because their imaginations are playing with them. No, these kids have seen with their own eyes things unspeakable, horrors one can’t even imagine. Like the kiddos at Village of Hope, Uganda. For them, the world has proven itself to be the dark mirage that it really is. For them, turning to God feels like living in light. The old bridge is comfort.

Because when we see enough of the world, we recognize that it is all cotton candy… sugary lightness that promises much but that melts and hardens and crusts and doesn’t fulfill.

So, I shared these thoughts with a mommy friend after school and found myself saying., “You know, as they get older, the friends have more influence than Mommy and Daddy.” My friend nearly choked. I nearly sat down and wept. But I’ll keep praying that Little Miss abides in Jesus and He in her.

And when Little Man is scared of the dark and afraid to move into a room by himself and when I’m tired and frustrated and just want to go to bed and to stop singing him to sleep… well. There’s a voice that says someday soon he’s not going to need me for any of this and the bedtime cuddles and the squirming on the lap and the sloppy whispers of “I love you” in my ear… it’s all going to stop.

We spend so much time hurrying our kids toward independence and big-people things. And then they grow up and do what we’ve taught them to do… be independent and self-reliant.

“Remain in me”… just keep praying that the old comfortable bridge will serve them well and that they’ll remember to come back to it when they need it. It’s a much better crutch than anything the world can offer.

Addressing the Fair Trade Question

Inevitably, the question arises. “Which of your teas are Fair Trade?” It’s a valid question because we want to support fair trade practices, protect workers, and pursue sustainable and ethical methods of production. But it is a question that actually is a bit dodgy for the tea industry.

Fair Trade blankets many industries and its guidelines for membership are not industry specific. And because so much tea is sold to places like Russia and Turkey, where an emphasis on equality and fairness in the workplace is much less than it is in the US, it is not economically prudent for most tea companies to pursue Fair Trade status.

However, in 1997, a number of large tea companies decided “to work together to monitor and assure their own supply chains.” They formed the Tea Sourcing Partnership, which would evolve into the Ethical Tea Partnership in 2004. Its vision is to promote a “thriving tea industry that is socially just and environmentally sustainable both now and in the future.”

Specific to the tea industry, the Ethical Tea Partnership monitors tea estates “to help protect the environment as well as [provide] social and labor provisions.” Among the programs the Ethical Tea Partnership overseas are training and support programs “that make workplaces better, fairer and safer” and that “reduce poverty and improve progress… in tea communities.”

According to the Ethical Tea Partnership, ”The organization is run and regulated by member companies and bolstered by regular external audits by Price Waterhouse Cooper. The goal of the organization is to provide consumers with a complete understanding of where tea is grown and manufactured. Everything from fair compensation to health coverage, housing and childcare comes under close scrutiny. The ETP is similar to the Fair Trade organization, but has a much broader scope for tea consumers since its focus is on tea only. Because tea is not a publicly traded commodity like coffee, Fair Trade is unable to penetrate many of the nuances and regional peculiarities of the tea trade.” (Visit http://www.ethicalteapartnership.org for more information.)

The majority of our tea is sourced from members of the Ethical Tea Partnership.

Back in January, several of our board members traveled to Sri Lanka and met with one of our biggest sources of tea. They were impressed with the provisions made for tea plantation workers, provisions such as quality housing, educational opportunities, and healthcare. And they commented on the tender care taken of the tea plants and their environment. Many of the tea bushes are hundreds of years old. Their health and well-being are critical to the quality of the tea they are producing. Therefore, they are treated with care and reverence.

We also carry two teas from Africa, Ajiri tea from Kenya and Igara tea from Uganda. Both of these teas are produced on co-ops where the profits from the sale of the tea are used directly to fund educational opportunities and healthcare for the workers.

Ajiri tea from Kenya

Ajiri tea from Kenya

Igara tea from Uganda

Igara tea from Uganda

If you still desire Fair Trade tea, we recommend you try our Jade Cloud green tea or our West Cape Chai, both of which are certified as Fair Trade.

Our Jade Cloud is Fair Trade, but most of our teas are ETP.

Our Jade Cloud is Fair Trade, but most of our teas are ETP.

West Cape Chai is also Fair Trade certified.

West Cape Chai is also Fair Trade certified.

Something Monumental

I love magic shows. I love to try to catch the magician in the middle of his illusion, making the “magic” happen with a slight-of-hand or distraction or other trick. And don’t you love it when you go to a kid’s birthday party and the magician is in the middle of his act and the kids are all cocky and trying to reveal his secrets and then the magician does something that completely defies all the rules of the world as we know them!

I took my little guy last night to see Danny Ray; he did not disappoint! I’ve never seen tricks and illusions so complicated and mind-blowing as those he did last night. I’d love to tell you that we spent the entire car ride home talking about what we had seen. But the reality is that we were stumped into silence. We couldn’t verbalize a favorite trick or moment; they were all so GOOD!Danny-Ray images

So, Danny began explaining magic last night. He called it a plan. Really, all it is is a plan carried out to perfection. The magician says, “My plan is for you to see this and this instead of this and this happening over here.” Or we might see a fraction of the plan, but we didn’t see the set up beforehand or the practice of the implementation or the hours of planning. Magic is a plan.

I mention this because there’s something monumental going on right now. I’m seeing bits and pieces of it, like puzzle pieces being revealed slowly and one or two at a time. There’s no picture on the box, however. I just have to trust that in the end the pieces will make a picture.

One of the pieces is this. I’ve been a mom now for 11 years. It’s difficult for me to remember life before motherhood except in the kind of fuzzy, glorified way we sometimes view the past… you know, like fantasizing about going to the bathroom alone or moving at a pace slightly above that of a snail and less than full sprint to avoid disaster. But the day to day of holding a job or doing something other than cooking, cleaning, shuttling, and bandaging knees… it’s all rather fuzzy. In fact, I guess I had pretty much shelved that part of myself. It was a necessary shelving and one that benefits my children. People ask if I ever think about returning to teaching and my standard answer has been, “Yes, I’ve thought about it but no I won’t.” And then I’d launch into a million reasons why teaching was no longer my gig.

But I came home yesterday from a full day of meetings at church, running our Tuesday morning Bible Study, leading a small group through the study of Jonah I wrote this summer, and a quick trip to the grocery store and I thought, “Wow. I think there’s a part of me that just came back.” Like God had taken me down off the shelf, dusted me off, polished the tarnished spots, retooled some design flaws, and set this old/new part of me in a new place of prominence.

This floored me because on the way to the day’s events I had been in tears. Which actually is a beautiful place to be. I was in tears that I wouldn’t be able to accomplish everything that needed accomplished. And in that state of distress, I asked God to pick it all up. AND BOY DID HE EVER!

And there’s this matter of a drought. Several times this week, I’ve been reminded to pray in anticipation. One friend reminded me of Elijah standing on the mountain in front of King Ahab and the prophets of Baal and praying for rain. He prayed and then sent his helper to watch the skies. After a cycle of seven prayers and sky-watching, Elijah called out to Ahab ‘Climb into your chariot and go back home. If you don’t hurry, the rain will stop you!’” (1 Kings 18: 41-46). By the time Ahab got underway, the sky was pouring buckets of rain down upon the drought-ridden land. And the Jewish tradition tells of Honi who drew a circle in the dirt and told God faithfully, “I’ll not leave this circle until you send the rain.” Honi’s faithfulness impressed God and He sent the rain to end the drought.

These are small pictures of a greater puzzle, and perhaps calls to a new kind of faithfulness… one of expectancy. (Perhaps we should all start carrying umbrellas and wearing rain boots!)

There are things happening at Compassion Tea and CompassioNow right now that are monumental, but we’re still only seeing bits of the puzzle. You better believe we’re expectantly anxious to tell you about them, however!

But there’s a plan behind it all. There is a picture to this puzzle and we will some day see the box top, the completed vision, the unveiling of the magic behind the “trick.”

And so I’m thinking about the plan behind it all, and Ann Voskamp puts this in my Facebook feed:

“We want clarity — and God gives a call. We want a road map — and God gives a relationship. We want answers — and God gives His hand.
The whole room, it’s still quiet and holy full and God singularly calls you and a call from God is about relationship and a call is something one keeps listening for — come this way, come to the land I will show you.
God didn’t give Abraham a map — He gave Abraham a relationship. He doesn’t want you to lean on a guidebook. God wants you to lean on the Guide — who speaks to you through His Book. Why would God give a map — when He wants to give you Himself?
We need the person of God more than we need the plan for our life.”10593126_869168973095278_6479032667097960325_n

You just don’t always need to see the way the trick is done or the way the puzzle looks. Sometimes, you just have to watch and accept, walk step by step in faith that it’s going to turn out. Not the plan… but the Planner.

Danny Ray also did a trick last night that centered around this Bible verse: John 15:5
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Here’s the clincher. Elijah didn’t bring the rain. God did. Honi didn’t bring the rain. God did. I didn’t accomplish my morning of meetings and leadership roles. God did. We didn’t create a non-profit that would successfully provide healthcare to the world’s least served. God did. We didn’t create an online tea company that would help provide healthcare to the world’s least served. God did.

And the promise is that if we remain in him, in Christ, actively seeking and praying and learning and imploring, then we will bear much fruit. Apart from God, we can do nothing.

I’m not sure how to say this last part in a clear way. But for me, being apart from God has no magic. Random events remain simply that… random. Things begin to look like failed magic tricks. But with God, random events become puzzle pieces, the steps to the completed picture, the successful “trick.” And for me, this gives life a meaning that goes so far beyond “the seen,” the daily grind, the ordinary. It gives life an expectancy and beauty and thrill that I love. Like watching how those overturned cards are going to reappear and the coins are going to fly and the lime ends up in the Coca-Cola can thrilling. Only better. That’s a magical I can’t live without.

Proclamation

I don’t usually consider the hair salon to be optimal thinking grounds. I suppose it is the mix of stewing chemicals in my hair (because, yes, I do pay to have highlights like my kids) and the eardrum crushing sounds of blowdryers, 80s music, and girl talk that I find so mind-numbing. But today I took my computer with me so that I could presumably work. Instead, I surfed Facebook and came across a blog written by one of the pastors at church. In the blog, which tackled many things, I read something so profound I had to share it. The one sentence… “The gospel is not presented; the gospel is proclaimed…” reverberated inside my head like gongs in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

YES! Here’s the deal. We can show people charts and Evangicubes and we can draw diagrams and bridges, but these are all human attempts at explaining something that really in essence doesn’t need explaining because explanation demands reason and reason, human reason, is insufficient here.

Here it is in a nutshell.
There is something called sin in the world. It’s the bad things we do. No one is exempt, even the people who believe that everything they do is right because they choose to do it. Step one? Recognizing that that lie told, that bad name called, that false information shared, that deed left undone, that sneer or eye rolled or unkind thought… those are all sins and really because you are murdering a reputation or a relationship they are just as bad as the deadly ones. Sin.

But that is not the end. There’s this wild thing called grace and grace is forgiveness and not just a pat-on-the-head kind of forgiveness but really deep internal forgiveness. We can try to offer ourselves this kind of grace but we end up in quagmires of sin as we justify our actions, forgive ourselves, and turn around and do it again.

Or.

THE OR.

You see. There was this guy. His name was Jesus. He actually had a whole bunch of names. But he was born to a woman named Mary. He walked the area of modern day Israel some 2000 years ago. He was also God’s son. This guy, Jesus, lived for roughly 30 years and then for reasons really hard to fathom, he was nailed to a cross where he died. Three days later, his friends went to his tomb and his body wasn’t there. Angels proclaimed that this Jesus guy was alive. And then, one by one and group by group, people began seeing this guy around town. He ate with them. Some of them touched him. He had substance, he had scars, and he had news for them. And his news would change everything.

His news was that while on that cross, God had piled the sins of the world on his shoulders. His groans on the cross were not just the groans of pain from the nails and the spear and the crown of thorns and the beatings. They were groans from the weightiness of gazillions of sins. He carried these sins, crucified them, buried them, exhausted all punishment for them.

And because of that, that one man on a cross, we are forgiven. He chose to do this and he chose to do this for all the people of the world. Not just for the holy few. Not just for those who choose to choose him. For all people.

And here’s the critical. Jesus didn’t just say, “Hey, Linda, thanks for choosing to believe in me. Because you chose me, I’m going to hop up on that cross and take your sins for you! How does that sound? Buddy?!?!?! Fist bump!” No, he went to the cross even for the people who are downright evil, for the people who mock him, for the people who deny him, for the people who worship their own works and their bodies and the earth and the things of the world. Can you even wrap your head around that?

Try. Try to wrap your head around it. It doesn’t make an ounce of sense from human terms.

Because we have a hard time loving anything but ourselves quite that much.

The proclamation is this. Because God so loved the world. SO LOVED THE WORLD. Love is proclamation. Reason is presentation.

Sure, we can choose to follow Christ. In fact, we’re encouraged to do that. But truly following Christ comes when we open our eyes to the LOVE that is God, that God showers on us, that takes on incredible burdens, like all the sin of the world.

It already happened, radical grace. Our choice really is whether to accept it or to continue to throw our hands up in defense and say, “NOPE. Got this on my own. I think. I mean. Sort of.”

I couldn’t proclaim this until I felt it. But once I felt it, this radical grace that swept through my physical house of a body like a mighty wind, rattling the windows and knocking down the ceramic idols I’d placed on the mantelpieces of my soul, not until then was I able to proclaim and not just present. I was okay at presenting. I knew the facts at least. And facts are good. But there is very little passion in a fact.

When we look at descriptions of the early church in the Bible, the picture they paint is one of passion. Never does it say, “They invited each other over for coffee and presented the bridge diagram of the pathway to salvation.” Oh my gracious, NO!

It actually says this: Acts 2: 42 ”They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.
43-45 Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.
46-47 They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.”

Did you catch that? People liked what they saw!

Here. Let’s try this. I was out at coffee with a friend the other day. We noticed a lady with a service dog who seemed to be loudly having difficulty. I asked if she needed help. She really just needed some ears to listen to her. Her monologue was full of bitterness and broken relationships and innuendo and even the occasional low-blow. As I listened to her, I thought, “This is the kind of person Jesus would cry over. She needs prayer.” And then she apologized for taking up our time. I explained that we were preparing for Bible Study and that it was no problem. When she heard we were Christians, she proceeded to tell us about how she was saved and about how she prays. I was floored momentarily. I had been 95% convinced the woman knew Jesus only as a curse word. I guess I was wrong! But her time with me was a stark reminder that as a passionate follower, my life is either a presentation or a proclamation. Do people like what they see? Is my proclamation accurate and appropriately representing Jesus? Does it offer more than facts?

Because there’s this wild, crazy God who sends me daily reminders that He loves me. He tucks encouraging Bible verses in my newsfeed, and spurs friends to send texts. He delights me with a whisper of wind or of butterfly wing or just the right song on the radio to remind me, “Now is as good a time as any to praise me.” His love is so abundant. Shouldn’t I let it spill over all around me? And isn’t that a more powerful proclamation than anything?

It Breaks My Heart

I’m on the brink of tears this morning. Which on one hand is not that surprising. But it is only 7:30 AM.

I just got off the Compassion Tea prayer call and as always it was powerful. When God shows up and listens in on our petitions, the silent partner on the call, His presence speaks loud. And this morning as we lifted up our Compassion Tea members and the people serving in Africa and the dark places of the world and the lost and the fallen and the scared and the hurting, He seemed to say in the silence, “I know. Just watch and see.”

We also lifted up the children of the world. Like my Ugandan daughter, who has gone home to her village for the winter holiday. She is on winter holiday and we’re wrapping up summer holiday! But going on holiday for the children from Village of Hope is very different from going on holiday for my kiddos. Going on holiday for Prosy means leaving the stability of Village of Hope and returning to a place of instability. There may or may not be food. There may or may not be shelter. There may or may not be safety and love. At Village of Hope, there is all of this. In the home village, among family and friends, there may not.

It breaks my heart.

And it breaks my heart that summer is coming to a close for us, too. Despite the continual nagging and bickering (yes, I now lovingly refer to my kids as The Bickeringtons), we’ve had a good time together. It has been peaceful and rejuvenating for me at least to step off the hamster wheel and to stop going 75 miles per hour. To just hang out with the kids, to watch them play or to join them, to take time to introduce them to something or teach them something, to mother them and not to turn it over to the world to do… that has been special. Vacationing together hasn’t been that rough to take either!IMG_6656 IMG_5931

IMG_6115 IMG_6120I don’t want school to start. I may be the only mom in the tri-valley area to say that, but I actually doubt it. So, I’ll say it again. I don’t want school to start.

I don’t want to ship my kids off to the world for the world to raise. And I really don’t want to jump back on the hamster wheel of soccer practices and early mornings and lots of homework and balancing work and rest and play and schedules. The schedules. It makes me sick just thinking about it.

But more than that, I feel an impending robbery. The schedules, the hamster wheel, the longer hours in school for each of my kids this year… it is all a robbery of my time with my kids, of my time to mother. I’ll try not to be bitter and I’ll try to make the most of my time and I’ll pray that God strengthen us in our limited time and that He’ll put in their paths people who will help shape them into pots pleasing to God.546943_10151851929456697_287942213_n

Yes, I will have more time to “think my own thoughts,” to actually “hear my thoughts again” as Jen Hatmaker writes. That will be delightful. But it may also be deafening in the silence.
And while I’m crying for the end of summer, I know there are children right here in our backyard who, like Prosy in Uganda, see going back to school as a blessing, as a time of stability and structure and safety. Going back to school will mean a break from the dysfunction, safety and sustenance where there hasn’t been much, and respite from home life.

It breaks my heart.

And it also makes me yearn even more for my children, for the blessings they are. Because not all children are viewed as blessings.

Will you join with me today and pray for the children? For the innocent in war, in disease, in the race for life, in the dark pits the world creates to hide its shame, for the exploited and the little ones shouldering burdens much too big for their shoulders… for their safety and for their shelter and for their relief and for their renewal.

It’s time to dry the tears and turn the eyes to watching God work. May you see Him working today in your life.

Look Up

There are plenty of reasons to look down. It’s treacherous where you put your feet, how you can lose your footing.unnamed-20unnamed-14

 

There are rewards for looking down. There is beauty in the patterns, in the dirt, in the dry cracking, hard pounded, rock solid or gravely looseness of where we put our feet. There are treasures waiting for the eyes cast down.

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We have glory glimpses even when our eyes are focused, intense, calculating the paths.

And the paths! They are winding and each twist brings a new challenge. But the path is your path and staying on it is advisable.

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Stay on the path, brother and sister.

 

But lift your eyes! Because there is so much more to see!

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Look up!

 

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There’s so much more to see!

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Expansive treasures. Sights that elevate.

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Psalm 121

I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber….

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

 

So look up! And partake! unnamed-13

 

Drought

There is a dripping sound in our bathroom. It’s been there for months. We thought it was the air conditioning/furnace in the attic above. And it was. Ironic that in this drought, in this period of desert living, we’ve had a hot water leak under the house and an air conditioning leak in the attic. So we had it fixed and stood in the bathroom and marveled because there it was still. The dripping. Hubby has crawled under the house; he has battled the attic; he has searched for any indication whatsoever of wet, dripping something. Nada.

But there’s a crack in the tile of the bathroom floor. IMG_5863It is new in the last months, and it is growing. And my friend has a pool that is sinking on one side, and there are articles that the land is shrinking because of the drought, and so is it possible that our phantom drip is no drip but rather a cracking and shifting?

The drought. There are dire reports that this is just the beginning and California is going to turn into desert, that the lush green and fields and trees and agriculture that feeds our nation are drying up.IMG_5872 IMG_5873

There are talking heads saying this is just the beginning; judgment is upon us. Conversely, there are weather forecasters projecting an El Nino winter full of hearty, drenching, reservoir-filling rain.

The drought. And the moms meet at the poolside and watch the kids splash and they compare their sub-par gardens and their conservation efforts and the dirt of their cars and the grime behind the ears of the kids and the water bills.IMG_5875 IMG_5877

But the kids are in the water; there is water when we turn on the faucet; there is water to wash the scrapes and cuts of summer, to cool a feverish head, to wash away grime and to quench the sandy throats of summer.

Yes, the specter of turning on the faucet and watching the last drip of water eek its way out is there… off in the distance… and we’re praying for God to shelter us from that reality… and we’re saving water with a measured frenzy. And the government agencies are singing their 2-song showers and chanting their 50% reduction slogans, and we hope they’re making plans to be better stewards themselves.

But there is water in this drought.

And now there is water at Chalabesa!

Back in 2011, I wrote about Chalabesa:
The situation at Chalabesa Mission Hospital in Zambia is similar. The clinic is run by a Polish nun, Sister Marta, and is the only one for miles. Sister Marta has been reporting that the solar-powered electrical system hasn’t been working and the water for the clinic comes either from a wind-powered pump that is leaking and that only works when there is wind or from a river 160 yards away. This river is visited by elephants and other animals who not only drink its water but who grossly contaminate it. To compound things, measles, deadly diarrhea, typhoid, and malaria are striking in epidemic proportions due to the drought in that part of the world. In one day alone, with flashlight in hand, Sister Marta took care of over 240 patients who had walked miles and waited hours in the dark, crowded rooms of the clinic. These patients were thirsty, feverish, ill, dehydrated, malnourished, and fearful for their lives. Chalabesa is their only hope.
Currently, the CareNow Foundation is raising funds to supply the Chalabesa Mission Hospital with a “bucket brigade” of relief. They would like to dig two new boreholes, erect two new 2,600 gallon tanks and necessary pipework, and purchase two solar pumps plus associated solar panels and control electronics.

On June 17 of this year, we received confirmation that there is now running water in the hospital! All the necessary pipes and pumps and panels are installed and running!

It has been a long process, one complicated by what we lovingly call “Africa time,” a pace that can seem aggravatingly slow compared to our rush-life. Thanks to our friends at Mission Medic Air for their part in arranging the supplies and the workers and for their aid in accomplishing this monumental task! How thrilled we are that patients at the clinic can now access running water, that treating patients can be both easier and more sanitary, and that precious time helping people can be reclaimed from hauling water from the river. Hooray!

It reminds me of something. Sunday, during church, I watched a dear friend walk up the aisle looking for a place to sit. She saw another sister of the faith and joined her in the pew. But not without the kind of embrace that speaks volumes to the depth of the friendship. Witnessing this, I thought of the struggles that friend has gone through. And I thought of the storms and the deserts she has weathered and traversed. And I thought of the new paths God is showing her. How incrementally He is gracing her with new beginnings, how He has been faithful this whole time to walk with her and to even carry her through those storms and across those deserts. But witnessing it in someone else’s life… oh, the joy!

God has been faithful in bringing water to Chalabesa. He has been faithful in bringing my friend through her drought period. He will be faithful in this drought, too.IMG_5622 IMG_5602

And one day soon, the skies will open and water will fall and we’ll go dance in it, letting the moisture sink in deep, deep into the cracks in our foundations. Because when He is your foundation, the shifting, shrinking earth all around can’t shake you.

The Something-Not-Someone

“Are you guys going to get a divorce?” my little girl asked one day. The question took me by surprise because Hubby and I weren’t fighting, there was no particular stress between us. Struggling to understand where the question came from, I hesitantly said, “No. Why?” The question stemmed from things she was hearing in school. Friends, classmates were experiencing rifts in the family, a breakdown of communication, love, joy, safety in the one area of life where there can’t be a breakdown. Not without major complications and ramifications.

“No, “ I plowed on in my answer. “Daddy and I made a promise when we got married. We made the promise to each other and to God that we would stay together. And we intend to keep that promise. God will help us.”

Today, we’re celebrating that promise made 19 years ago. But my heart is heavy for a friend who wrote to me late last night saying, “I need something, not someone, to believe in.” She’s whirling in a divorce vortex currently and is seeking the life-buoy that really saves.

She’s right that one person can’t be the one we place our hopes and dreams in; although, that is the romantic vision of our world. In the first flushes of romance and burgeoning love, we are quick to pin our hopes and dreams on that other person. But as the glow fades and we’re left with the ring-around-the-collar, and the stains, and the habits that grate, and the quirks that we’re pretty sure we’ll never understand, and the ways he/she does that that annoy and astound, disappointment grows.

So you either stop getting annoyed and your lower your expectations, or you go seeking the next best thing.

Or.

Or you look at the promise. You look at the “in sickness and in health” and the “for richer or poorer” and the “to death do us part” and you remember that this is a pledge you made before family and friends and at the feet of God.wedding

Nineteen years ago, I donned the white gown I’d been planning for months. Last minute changes to the veil came to fruition. My girlfriends were there laughing beside me and spirits soared. unnamed-7But one thing… actually two things… we had agreed to before our wedding. 1. There would be no forced kissing. I hate (even to this day) the tradition of hitting a glass with a fork or knife just to make the bride and groom kiss. There would be none of that at MY wedding. And 2. No reading of Ephesians 5: 21-33.

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.
25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.[b] 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body.
31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”[c] 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Nope. I didn’t want this at our wedding.

Silly, naïve me.

Ironically, this has become the backbone of our relationship.
That girl walking down the aisle 19 years ago really hadn’t a clue what this kind of love really looked like. Truth be told, I didn’t understand a God who would send His son to die. How do you do that? How do you love so deeply you are willing to sacrifice a part of yourself? How?

And so consequently, how do you submit? How do you take the screaming parts of yourself, the needy parts, the parts that disagree, rebel, and cringe, how do you take them and then do the opposite of what they are screaming? How do you place the needs of someone else first?

How?

You pray. Not just the “it’s the end of the day and I’m falling asleep so I better shoot something up to heaven” kind of prayer. But the “I’m at my wits end and I’m feeling waves crashing over me and I need to fall on my knees and weep like I’ll never smile again” kind of prayer. Where you lay it all before Jesus.

There were times over the past 19 years where Hubby and I stood near each other, each hurting in really deep and profound ways, hurting so deeply that we couldn’t even reach out to each other. There were no words for the pain. Just ache.

There were times we were tempted to blame, to point fingers, and even to run and hide.

But Hubby told me, in the middle of these deeply painful times, that he was praying for me.
And that was the spark of light and hope I needed. Because I was being lifted to the throne of God, and God was on His throne. He must listen.

And He reached down… He the perfect model of love and sacrifice and submission… and sang over my soul. The singing heals, the weeping washes away the pain… because He weeps with us. And He says over and over in a hundred different ways, “I love you.”

And if He can love me, broken and cracked and flawed, then maybe I can look at Hubby, at the ring-around-the-collar and the OCD about certain things, and love that too. And Hubby can love me despite the dirt on the floor and the pile of dishes in the sink and the bad mood and the way I do that that drives him nuts.

This is a kind of love that also rejoices… in all things.

A few Saturdays ago, I woke up in a foul mood. It just felt like it was going to be a lousy day. But Hubby came into the kitchen where I was making pancakes and with a few wise cracks and silly antics had me laughing. I turned to my little girl and told her, “When you go to find a husband, somewhere long down the road, look for a man who makes you laugh. Because life is hard and you’re going to need someone beside you to make you laugh through it.”unnamed-6

And you’re going to need that something-not-someone in which to believe. When God is in the center of a strong marriage, in the center of a single life, then there is the perfect example of grace and mercy and forgiveness, of submission and healing, and above all love.

At our wedding, I did allow this reading: 1 Corinthians 13
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;[a] but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages[b] and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! 9 Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.
11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.[c] All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

No. The something-not-someone to believe in is the God who is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful or proud or rude, but the God who never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and who endures through every circumstance. He was in the beginning and He is the end. And He is in the middle of it all. Forever. And ever. Amen.

More Lessons from the Ball Game

Apparently, I have lost my sense of humor. Apparently, it is okay… and not just okay but perfectly acceptable… to repeatedly tell a player how badly he “sucks.” My ninth grade science teacher would have been appalled at the flagrant use of the word “suck.” Mr. Bedillion, rest his soul, always took issue with his students saying so-and-so sucked. “Sucked what?” he would ask with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. But I digress.

The day started out lovely. The temperature was nearly perfect and the cottony clouds in the sky above made delicate patterns through the brilliant blue sky. I actually listened with interest to the starting line-up and felt a bit a part of the camaraderie in the stadium. Then, the fans around me started booing a player on the opposite team. Like whole stadium booing. I asked hubby what was the offense. Manny Machado apparently took issue a few games back with a play made by the Oakland A’s Josh Donaldson. Machado was thrown out of the game and even had to sit out a number of following games for his poor behavioral performance.

And the fans at the Oakland stadium decided not to let him live it down. Repeatedly, and by repeatedly I mean every five minutes, they started a chant that was some variant of “Machado, you suck.” Yes, they took down his grandmother verbally and booed everything he did.

It was disgusting. Especially because it grew louder and louder each time. And the kids around us were asking, “Why, why are they being so mean?” Leave it to the kids to get it.

Because booing another person is just mean. I don’t care what they’ve done.

We live in a society ever-ready to point out the bully. And often, rightly so. But in a sports stadium, bullying is acceptable. There’s power in the mob and the mob bully is the most powerful bully there is. That still doesn’t exonerate the bully’s behavior.

The mob. It sickened me to watch the first hecklers, for sure, but then to see other people, turning, laughing and joining in, even egging on the original instigators. For me, it was like being in a jeering fun house where all the mirrors reflect back the same evil joker’s face. Ugly en masse.

My kids could see I was getting really upset with the heckling. And trying to set a positive example, each time the chant got going, I countered with a more positive, “Let’s go A’s.” Because that is why we came to the stadium, today, right? To cheer on our team, to encourage them toward victory, to enjoy ourselves? Or did we come to tear down another person? That is not good sportsmanship.

As if us fans have never made a mistake, have never done something we regretted later. As if any one of us was on the field the day of the offense. What right do we have, ever, to ridicule another because they made a mistake?

There was a woman once, in a very dry, dusty place. She was caught in the act of adultery. She lived in a place and a time where and when the law said that she should be stoned to death for this. The mob followed the leaders and led her to the local temple where a wise teacher sat. “Our law says to stone her,” the mob cried. “What do you say?”

The teacher knelt down and began drawing in the dust with his finger. Stalling, perhaps, taking the air out of the mob, probably, weighing his words, reading the heart of the woman, quietly communing with God, definitely.

Finally, he raised his head and gave the ok with one stipulation. Only a man who had never sinned could throw the first stone.

Anxious looks are followed by heads bowing, chins resting on chests, sighs, eyes lost in memories of the past. “There was that time when…” and “I know I shouldn’t have done that…” and “I hope no one ever finds out about that…” and the incriminating past was howling in everyone’s ears. And they dropped their stones and shuffled away while the teacher continued his drawing in the dirt.

When he finally looked up, only the adulterous woman remained. “Where have they gone?” he asked her. “Where are your accusers? Didn’t anyone throw a stone?”

Alone, and yet now surrounded by the realization that she is not alone in her sin, she shook her head. They took their pointing fingers and went home. They took their boos and their heckles, and shamed by them, they went home.

The teacher, standing and dusting off his knees, touched the woman’s shoulder, looked her in the eye, and he who could have thrown the first stone, he who really was sinless, said, “Then I don’t condemn you either” (John 8).

At the beginning of the game, we went through the tradition of singing the National Anthem. I love the words of the song, the imagery it paints, and I remarked today as I often do that the crowd goes wild when the phrase “land of the free” is sung. Why does the crowd rally to that? We love our freedom! We’re a nation of people who believe in freedom… and our rights and our entitlements. But today it struck me that no one really cheered for the following phrase “And the home of the brave.” As I surveyed the faces around me, I was struck by how quickly everyone went back to gorging on hot dogs and popcorn and peanuts and nachos filling an entire helmet. And I wondered if we are really a brave people any more.

When the heckling started, bravery seemed lost. True bravery is forgiving. True bravery is welcoming a brother, loving another, embracing instead of condemning. I can safely and bravely say that from this side of the computer screen. I realize that is a tempered bravery, a less-than-bold bravery. Ugh.

I started crying on the way home from the game. “Why, Mama? Why are you crying? Are you so mad?” the kids asked. “No.” I answered. “I’m heartbroken.” Heartbroken that I still live in a world that is broken, where the mob rules, where people can’t be decent to each other, where booing and heckling a brother is “just part of the game.” I’m heartbroken that this is the world for my kids. And if nothing else, I’m going to be brave enough to teach my kids that this is not how Christ would have it.

You know, for years, I wondered why people made posters with John 3:16 printed on them and took them to ball games. For the first time, I realize that a sports stadium is actually the best possible place for such a message. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that he who believes may have eternal life.” And with that kind of assurance, one can be brave enough to look in the mirror and drop the stone in hand.

Play Ball

It was the head-bangers that boggled my mind first. Every time Shawn Doolittle came out to pitch, his trademark heavy metal song was piped through the stadium and a large section of fans stood, waved flags, and head-banged until my head was pounding. Then there was Mr. A’s himself, in his white linen sport coat and white jeans and his green or gold shirt underneath working the crowd as if he was in his living room. And the cow-bells and brooms and drums and yes, even the skulls on a stick that serve as rattles… looking around me I was pretty sure I had traveled well beyond my comfort zone.

And then there was the jumbo-tron demanding the attending fans “make noise,” be “louder,” clap their hands and jeer at the opposing team’s pitcher as he and his coach held a meeting on the mound. Or the incessant rounds of “Let’s go A’s” circling the stadium. Really? I found myself thinking. Really? Do I have to follow what you are telling me to do? Can’t I just cheer at my own level and in my own way?

As a family, we’ve loosely followed Oakland A’s baseball for the last 9 years. The stadium is easy to get to, many of the local teachers are huge fans and share that love with the kiddos at school, and the A’s do a lot in the community to raise reading interest among other things. But this year, we’re sharing season tickets with another family so we’ve spent many weekend afternoon and evenings at the ballpark. Sure, we’ve had a lot of fun as a family and have learned a lot.

For example, the only way, seemingly, to get our little boy to sit still long enough is to repeatedly feed him. Corn dogs longer than his arm and a bowl of nachos usually tame that beast.unnamed-5

We have grown to look for certain personalities … like the guy who pedals pizza. His voice and method of calling are so unique that he is a crowd favorite eliciting many “echoes” as he climbs the aisles. And that one time he lost his voice, the crowd called for him!

We enjoy the traditions… the long-standing tradition of singing of the National Anthem at the beginning of the game and the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the traditional 7th inning stretch as well as the larger than life hall of fame “bobbleheads” who race, hand out beads and t-shirts, and who are slightly cool and borderline creepy. Of course, we love Stomper the elephant.unnamed-3

Our section, along the third base line, is relatively fluid and mild-mannered. There are some familiar faces now after half the season, but overall we’re surrounded by new faces each game. And yet, when the homeruns are hit, everyone becomes best buddies cheering and high-fiving and toasting with a beer or when the A’s forget to bring their game those best buddies still develop as conversation grows around who should be brought in and traded and what strategy should be followed. The camaraderie grows… maybe because we’re all crammed in like sardines, or maybe because we can make assumptions about people. Like, “You’re here, you’re routing for the A’s; therefore, you must be alright. I can talk to you.”10306089_10204098901730925_2200846511345265592_n
During commercial breaks for the at-home crowd, the A’s run a series of give-aways and challenges and games. When these involve real people attending the game and not just some animated, computer generated gizmo on the jumbo-tron, the question always comes up, “Share with us a favorite memory from an A’s game.” Repeatedly, the answer has something to do with how the fan grew up watching A’s baseball with grandpa or dad or some other figure and how A’s baseball has been a part of life for as long as memory stretches. Many fans connect with this comment as attested by their apparel and tattoos. Yes, there is a family feel to the ball game and yes that makes it a beautiful way to spend time together as a family. And now, about halfway through the season I hear my kids asking questions about the game and the players and the rules. They are starting to feel the tug as well. This is true Americana! Maybe, soon, we won’t need the corn dog to pass the time!

Nevertheless, baseball, as is true with all professional sport, remains entertainment. And yet, there are people who come to the games always wearing the same thing, who go through certain motions while at the game, who have their own personal traditions… as if they are as important to the game as the players on the field. As if they the fans can somehow influence the outcome of the game. Like, if I don’t don my green full-body bodysuit and walk around with my friend in his green and gold Darth Vader helmet every single game there is no way the A’s can pull off the win. Or if I don’t stand and head-bang for 5+ minutes, there is no way Shawn Doolittle can pitch a no-hit inning.

Between the booing of players and this… I’m not sure which makes me most uncomfortable.

The front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning brought it to my attention again. There’s a man in Cleveland holding a sign that shows LeBron James arms outstretched and chin tilted high. Above James are the words, “The King has returned.” Click here to see.

Am I the only wacko out there who sees in this all kinds of religious imagery?

James, arms outstretched, like Jesus on the cross? The words King… king of basketball, king of the Jews… has returned. James is back in Cleveland, his more-or-less birthplace, the much-anticipated return of Jesus. In both, there is hope. James will bring a championship ring to the Cavaliers and to a fandom that is parched for success. The return of Jesus will bring the final days, the judgment and making right of all things, the wiping away of tears and the donning of robes of pure white and an eternity of living back in the Garden, at the feet of a God of light and good and mercy.

Baseball, professional sport in general, is a religion. A worshiping of false idols.

Several weeks ago, we were watching an A’s game on TV at home. We had a better view of home plate and could see the advertisement there for the next big promotional… a Coco Crisp garden gnome. Oh we laughed long and hard over that! Yes, let’s decorate the garden with Coco Crisp! Turns out we had tickets to that game and as the date approached we strategized our game plan for early arrival so as to be within the first 20,000 people at the game. We were by no means the first in line. Clearly other people had the same idea. As we got closer to the gate, my son began to fret. “What if they run out before we get there?” Like the world would stop if we didn’t get a plastic, poorly made and poor representation of an A’s player who is good now but who will quickly fade into oblivion in 50 to 100 years. Right. The gnome was procured and peace was restored. Pictures were taken.unnamed-2

Inside the stadium, Coco Crisp came near the wall in front of us to sign autographs. One young lady came back to her seat beaming as if she had just had a religious experience. Her backpack was covered in autographs, but she explained repeatedly, “I said Coco, you’re the only one I don’t got.” As if having this last signature will complete her life.

It leaves me a little heart-broken. And maybe you’ll say I’m reading too much into things. But looking at the fans around me, at this culture that pays sports figures millions of dollars to play ball, at this culture that elevates the news of where James is going to play basketball over the news of what is happening along our borders or around the world in places like Israel and the Middle East where rockets are firing and it seems like any sort of relative peace is completely imploding, at people who pin their hopes and their identities on the teams they follow… yes, it leaves me a little heart-broken.

And it challenges me. Because if there are people who spend their paycheck to take their son to see a game or to buy a fan jacket or to tattoo “Athletics forever” on their arm… they may have a passion I don’t have. While they put their hope in that new pitcher or the third baseman or in a season (this is our year baby!), I put my hope in a man who died over 2000 years ago, who died on a cross, one of the worst, most humiliating forms of death man has ever created. He lived a humble, itinerant life, teaching, healing, instructing, loving. His greatest accomplishment seemed to be irritating the religious leaders of his day… and raising people from the dead and healing them from life-long illnesses. He was viewed as wacky by the people in power with his claims to be God’s son and his way of overturning their cozy little powerplays. Oh, and yes. He died. But three days later he began to appear, first to his scraggly band of followers and then to larger swaths of the population. Men wrote about him hundreds of years before he was born. Men wrote about him after he died. He continues to visit people, to touch hearts, to lead lives, and to influence culture. This is who I put my hope in.

I spent several years in Cleveland. I know first hand the thrill of a winning team in town. I remember the days when the Browns were something special, when the Indians had a run at a World Series. And I learned quickly that players and teams have slumps. Players get injured, get traded, move away. Teams move too. Putting our hope in a player or a team is a transient kind of hope, dependent on the location, the season, the strength of the athlete(s). Putting our hope in Jesus is eternal. There are love songs that he sings through my life, ways he blesses me and encourages me and strengthens me that I could never find in a person, or a team, or in anything earthly.

But do I have the passion to follow him as fully as a “true fan?” Do I make enough noise? Does my life show him to the world? Does the way I dress, do the things I say, and does the example of my life clearly tell the world where my hope lies? And do I live as if God’s plan can’t win if I don’t play my part? Do I faithfully take up my part? And when the going gets tough, do I continue to cheer in full faith and hope? Maybe I have more to learn from these fans about living loud and fully committed. Because in the end, the game of life is the one that truly counts. And I better play my part well.10402577_10203940894980855_4703814435724589571_n

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