Not Your Ordinary Obligatory End of the Year Blog

The newspaper hadn’t been delivered when I took the dog out at 5 AM this morning, but by the 7 AM walk, it had. Front and center, just as I expected, was a collage of photos expressing in some way the events of the past year. The magazines and tabloids at the grocery store have been displaying such collages for the past week. Yep! It’s time for the obligatory end of the year musing on the past year and sighing after the hopes and dreams of the new year about to dawn. Turn on the TV and watch any number of programs highlighting the cultural events of the past year… flashes of political figures and political changes; pop culture fads that came and went; major cultural events like weddings, deaths, scandals; sporting events; natural disasters; all the things that we presumptively collectively and culturally deem to be major news.
Pick up the Christmas cards you’ve been receiving this December and you’ll see the same on a much more personal level — the events of the past year from the eyes and experiences of friends and family as they ruminate on this thing called life on Earth. My friend Carmen began her letter with a quote from Albert Camus; “In the depths of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.” That quote, completely apropos for the year she has had, also rang true for me, on a variety of levels. The one I’ll explore here with you is, of course, related to Compassion Tea. Shocker, I know!
Motherhood is great, don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoy mothering my family, my children’s friends and their families, just about anyone who seems to need mothering and probably lots of folks who don’t. I’ve got a good thing going here in Pleasanton — great family, great friends, a lovely country home with wonderful neighbors, good schools, hubby’s strong job, relative health, wealth and plenty everywhere I look. Yet, over the past few years, there has been a growing gnawing. As I’ve learned more about God’s fatherhood, His deep compassion and concern for His children, I’ve also felt a general unease, a sense that I haven’t been meeting my end of the bargain. I’ve told myself countless times that raising my kids in a strong Christian household with God at the center is my great vocation. And while that is a comfort and certainly the focus of my day-to-day, there was still a nagging feeling.
This unease came to a head this spring when I attended a Beth Moore conference in Fresno. Beth spoke of dry seasons in our lives whatever they may be and we prayed collectively and individually and fervently through song and prayer for God to end our dry seasons, for Him to send the figurative rain.
In June, He did. Those who know me know that I love to write although it’s a joy I rarely find in the day-to-day. Sure, Facebook is fun because I get to create witty quips. My mom has often encouraged me to write a book, some great novel or children’s book. Heck, Matt tells me I could be the next J.K. Rowling and then he could retire in ease. Yet, writing a book is daunting business and I find personal musings more my style than creating complex plots. So, I’ve often prayed that God would help me find meaning and purpose through my talents, that He would guide me to use my God-given talents for His good purpose.
So, on a June day, I was standing outside surveying the pool, listening to the kiddos run and scream, when Uncle Lee and Aunt Anne called. They laid out an opportunity that sounded exactly like the prayers I had been praying… an opportunity to write, on a somewhat personal level, for an organization that was and is actively seeking to fulfill God’s purpose here on Earth. This was my burning bush… or at least as close as I will probably ever get to one.
Back in June, Compassion Tea was still very much in the planning stages. Founders were meeting, attending tea conferences, discussing suppliers, fine-tuning mission and purpose. They had come a long way since the late February meeting when they all agreed to pursue the idea of Compassion Tea. But they had a long way to go before the actual launch of the website and business. By September, the website was up and running and the first members were signed up. By November, the orders were coming in steadily and the memberships were adding up. In December, the first ever line of holiday gift packs were available. And those of us at Compassion Tea can do nothing but laugh and say, “WOW!” The success of the company in its first year is staggering from our perspective, one of God’s miracles, truly.
So, as I ruminate on the past year, I find an “invincible summer” in the power of prayer, the perfection of God’s timing, the preciousness of doing His work. As I sigh toward 2012, I see the warmth of sharing God’s Son, the blue skies of helping those “least served,” the sunshine of growth – personally and as a part of Compassion Tea, the “invincible summer” of serving God. Good bye 2011. Hello 2012!

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Do They Know It’s Christmas? Bah Humbug!

Golly, I don’t want to think about how old (read young) I was in 1984! That was the year a group of English and Irish recording stars put together the now classic Christmas hit, “Do They Know It’s Christmas” under the name Band Aid. Raise your hand if you remember that! The song has become a quintessential part of all Christmas play lists since then and as I’ve grown and matured (ahem) I have found myself mocking parts of it like the line, “There won’t be any snow in Africa this year.” Duh. It’s Africa! And the whole notion of the African peoples not knowing it is Christmas… do they really need to know that it is Christmas? What right do we have to impose our beliefs on them? And, what a relief… no Christmas cookies to bake, no letters to send, no packages to wrap, no fake merriment when what you really want is to get the heck out of the mall before you get bumped one more time by some frantic person for goodness sake (phew)…. And what about the singers themselves caroling about “saying a prayer,” singers like George Michael? Really? Endless rolling of eyes on my part.
I need to get over myself.
Seriously. I guess my major objection stems from an amazing ability I’ve acquired over the years, the ability to distance myself. Things happen to people on the other side of the world, but hey, they’re on the other side of the world, half a world away from me, and today is incredibly busy already. No time, can’t be bothered, I feel like the rabbit in Alice In Wonderland. I’m late! I’m late! I’m late!
Really, aren’t the musicians just pulling on our heartstrings a little too much? Now don’t get me wrong! I love the sentimental! I’m all for a sappy commercial or animal movie. I can’t make it through most media these days without shedding some number of tears. An acquaintance at church told me the other day that God saves each tear as a precious jewel. I countered that if that was true than I am single-handedly preparing the world for the next flood.
And here we are with Christmas breathing down our necks. Christmas, the single most sentimental holiday of them all. From the Scrooge and Grinch stories where someone’s heart grows 3 sizes in a night to the silent baby in the warm, candle-lit stable as the ultimate in peace and comfort, from paltry Charlie Brown Christmas trees to misfit reindeer and toys… our hearts are pulled in 100 different directions. But there is really nothing sentimental about people starving, here or in Africa. This has been a big lesson for me this year as I have had the privilege of working with Compassion Tea. The stories I have shared and have yet to share happen to real people… people with faces and names and problems that are seemingly insurmountable. All my Compassion Tea compatriots tell me I have to go to Africa, that doing so will change my life. I have no doubt they are correct and I look forward to the time when I can go. However, I already feel changed.
It really has a lot to do with that not so silent night when a teenage mom and her fiancée and a rag tag group of misfit shepherds welcomed a little, helpless baby into the world… a baby who had left God-head behind to take on destructible flesh, to experience as a man the brokenness of worldly existence, and to offer the hope of not mere survival but redemption and reconciliation. As much as we try to sugar-coat Christ’s arrival on earth, it is at best fantastic, even slightly, absurdly illogical. But it is love… sacrificial love in its purest form. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that whosoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
I get glimpses of the reality and strength of this love and when I do it brings me to my knees it is so crippling in its intensity. God took compassion on us. He shared His son with us with the promise of renewing our relationship with our Papa God.
Sharing. That seems to me to be the tag word of the season – sentimental or not. Sharing Christ, sharing compassion, sharing tea, sharing relief. At the heart of the Band Aid song is a compassion for someone else and that is really the point, sharing hope for survival. Amazingly, that’s exactly what God did for us by sending Jesus. So, with half a box of Kleenex by my side, I wish you a very Merry Christmas!

Defying Logic

Every night, my husband or I read a devotional with the kiddos. Tonight’s passage was Hebrews 11: 1 which reads, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The commentary that follows is written in God’s voice and tonight it emphasized talking to God about the things we hope for, sharing those hopes with Him, and working toward those goals knowing that His timing is often different than ours. Clara asked me after I read this, “Does that mean we always get what we want?” Phew. It’s 9:30 and I’m not sure I’m up for a full-on theological discussion. Hmmmm. “Well, sometimes what we want isn’t good for us, isn’t godly, doesn’t fit God’s plan for us. But when our wants and His plan mesh, then together we can make these things happen.” And then something prompted me to add, “And once God makes you a promise, He always keeps it… even if the timing isn’t exactly how you would want it.”
I went on to describe for her a very explicit promise God made to me, how He showed me He was making that promise, and how she and her brother, in God’s good time, were the fulfillment of that promise. Her speckled blue eyes shone. What a joy to be a fulfilled promise and to know that God will also fulfill His promises to her.
And yet, it somehow seems to defy logic, right? I’ve heard very educated Christians talk about how God doesn’t do miracles any more, about how He doesn’t speak to His people directly anymore. Even in church today, our pastor mentioned the complete absurdity of the notion that God would become mortal, human, lowly born, man in an effort to draw us back into a relationship with Him. It defies logic.
As Compassion Tea continues in its quest to provide steady and reliable funding for its charitable sister, the CareNow Foundation, we’ve already seen logic defied. My favorite example to date is from Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom’s trip to Africa in November. They were planning on meeting up with Nel and Geoff from Mission Medic Air in Zambia. Nel was hoping to run a few clinics around the time of their visit, a dental clinic and a clinic with a visiting optician. Before Ed and Wendy arrived, Nel was convinced she would have to cancel both clinics as she only had 4 pairs of reading glasses and not enough lidocaine to treat a single patient. Miraculously, Ed and Wendy arrived days before the clinics with 26 boxes containing 50 lidocaine injections each and 870 pairs of reading glasses!
Now, before you start explaining this away with logic, stop and consider the “gymnastics” of getting those eye glasses and boxes of lidocaine safely to Africa. The boxes of lidocaine were donated by CareNow USA, a completely different entity which sets up clinics in urban centers for Americans without health insurance. CareNow USA happened to be having a clinic in Los Angeles just before Ed and Wendy left for Africa and donated some of their left over medical supplies.
And how does one carry 870 pairs of reading glasses to Africa? In a duffle bag, of course. Ed and Wendy successfully navigated LAX, JFK, Paris, Johannesburg, Ndala, and Killamanjaro airports with 7 suitcases/duffle bags (only one dedicated to personal items, the rest were filled with donated medical supplies), each the limited 50 lbs. That in and of itself defies logic!
Then there were the “gymnastics” of clearing customs in Zambia. Ed and Wendy met a particularly zealous customs official who insisted on inspecting all of their bags, bit by bit. Despite the meticulous preparations on Ed’s part, this official tried every tactic he could think of to stop the “import” of these donated items. Timing, preparation, and a huge helping of God’s grace got them through the inspection intact.
The examples of logic defying moments go on and on. The mere fact that a year ago Compassion Tea was only a thought and is now reality with over 40 memberships and a steady flow of orders seems to defy logic.
Defying logic, however, is God’s speciality! Is this really impossible, improbable, unlikely, outside the realm of logical explanation? To our human minds, yes. And herein is the beauty! In truth, this is more along the lines of God fulfilling His promises… promises to the poor in rural Africa, promises to His people here who have heard His call to be compassionate to those less fortunate, promises made to individuals for His security, aid, and grace along life’s paths. To those who say God doesn’t work miracles any more, I say, “Ask those dental patients and the people who can now see! Ask Nel! Ask Ed and Wendy! Ask me.” Miracles are happening around us every day. That is something we can be sure of.

A Childlike Faith

The other night, we were eating dinner and listening to each other recount the day’s highs and lows in between the wind blasts outside. Suddenly, we were plunged into a shocking darkness; a tree branch down the road had knocked out power to the better part of the neighborhood. What ensued was fit for a TV sitcom. Clara immediately melted down into hysteria that the zombies were attacking our house. Matt set out to discover the extent of this shut down while I scurried through the dark collecting candles with which to light the house so that we could prove that the zombies weren’t attacking. We paused in the bustle to pray to God for the lights to come back on, but even that didn’t settle the hysteria. I was nearing a peak frustration level when I heard Joseph explaining to his sister that she needed to trust in Jesus. It went something like this, “Clara, you need to trust in Jesus. He is your friend and your protector. You just need to trust him. And I am really good at fighting, too.” He even used the special hand motions he learned in preschool to indicate “friend” and “protector.” How can you possibly stay frustrated in the face of that precious shepherding?
It has taken me a few days of processing, but I finally realized this morning that this is the kind of childlike faith Jesus talks about in the Bible, the kind that will get you into the Kingdom of God. Joseph, at 4, hasn’t had the experiences behind him to shatter faith. If the Bible says that God is our Protector, then God is our protector. Period. As we grow, we set ourselves up for disappointment because God doesn’t always answer our prayers… the way we think He should. That last part is the most important of that statement. God DOES always answer our prayers, but it may be in a way that we don’t imagine as the perfect way and it isn’t until days, months, or years later that we recognize the perfection of what really took place, if we ever have the maturity to look for it at all.
Then, there is faith in the face of all that goes wrong. Meet Patrick. Patrick is 10 years old but looks like a 6 year old for a number of reasons. He is HIV positive, has mild cerebral palsy, and is malnourished. Patrick was living in a school for handicapped children in Mambalima, Zambia, where his mother had abandoned him. Because of his “handicaps,” he was denied an education and was teased horrifically by the other children. He slept on a bed of springs with a dirty blanket because the other children had taken his mattress. They often stole or hid his clothes and his shoes. Patrick prayed frequently that God would deliver him from this situation, and, when Geoff and Nel from Mission Medic Air came to take Patrick away from the school and to enroll him in a Christian academy nearby where he would be treated with the love he deserves, he praised God for His faithfulness in answering prayers. Then, Patrick took the dirty blanket he slept with, his only possession, and handed it to another little boy at the school. He instructed the little boy to see it as a reminder that God is faithful and that He will rescue the other little boy just as He had rescued Patrick.
Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom, founders of CareNow and co-founders of Compassion Tea, met Patrick on their recent trip to Africa. They helped him celebrate his birthday and spent the day with him and three other children rescued from similar situations by Geoff and Nel of Mission Medic Air, an organization CareNow supports. Patrick, now catching up on his schooling and learning English, declared to Ed and Wendy that God had opened a door that no man can shut and all four of the children have crossed over from their previous life to a new one!
Faith in the face of all that goes wrong. Abandoned by his mother, teased by his peers, left uneducated and alone, Patrick turned to God, believed God would rescue him, had the faith to pray for it. Unfaltering, unwavering, unstoppable, that is the kind of faith that can move mountains. It’s the kind of faith I want.

Transforming Power!

“Mom! My friend lightning bolt gave me transforming powers so I can run super fast. Do you want to see? I’m really good at fighting the bad guys. And my friend jaguar also gave me transforming powers. I can jump super far.” I have to admit that about this point I start to tune out. I’ve heard about the transforming powers of Joseph’s imaginary friends quite a few times. Perhaps that is why I started paying attention to other mentions of “transforming powers.” Do you ever notice that during a particular season, a certain message keeps repeating, from possibly every angle and source you encounter? First, there’s Joseph. Ahhh, the imagination of a 4 year old!

Then, Sunday’s sermon focused on the daily work of God bringing about the transformation of the world, back to the way He meant it to be, back to a world of peace and relationship, of co-existence and beauty. Based on Romans 8, the sermon highlighted the way in which the earth is groaning under the burden of sin… physically groaning with drought, flood, earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes as well as groaning under the strains of constant decay.   We, too, inwardly groan in expectation and anticipation of God’s transformation of us, making us believers, new and renewed. While we wait, we too can become instruments of transformation.

And here’s where the repetition of this message came full circle for me. Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom, founders of CareNow Foundation and co-founders of Compassion Tea, spent the better part of November in Africa. They arrived back the day before Thanksgiving and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about their travels and adventures. One of the highlights of their trip occurred when they arrived at Mpika in Zambia. They were enroute to Chalabessa Medical Clinic and were traveling with another organization CareNow supports, Mission Medic Air. When they arrived in Mpika a certain young man had come along to help pick them up. His name is Waddington and Ed and Wendy had met him initially back in 2009. At that time, Waddington was 8. He had broken his leg in an accident and for three months the bones had gone without any proper setting or medical attention and a severe infection of the bone had taken hold. Finally, Waddington had been brought to Chalabessa where Sister Marta and the Mission Medic Team acted quickly knowing that if they didn’t Waddington would be severely crippled if he survived at all. They transported him to Lusaka where he was treated for his infection and where his leg was surgically reset. Ed and Wendy met Waddington back at Chalabessa a few months later while he was still on crutches. But this trip, Waddington had no crutches; instead, he helped unload the medical supplies from the plane and stood guard of the plane while Ed and Wendy traveled on to Chalabessa. In Ed’s words, Waddington today “is a happy, active and healthy 10 year old with a bright future.” Talk about transformation!

When you take a pot of hot water and transform it into a delicious tea… maybe Compassion Spice or Monk’s Blend or even a Sencha green tea… you are taking something ordinary and making it extraordinarily delicious. But even more, you are helping to transform the lives of people like Waddington, who, without the care of organizations like Mission Medic Air and the Chalabessa Medical Clinic, would live crippled and in pain for something so “simple” as a broken bone. Now, that’s transforming power!