Broken. Blessed.

Broken
It’s Friday and I feel broken. Broken by two cars needing towed on the same day… one without brakes, one with a flat tire. Broken by numerous phone calls explaining how and why the work on my car should be done for free… often to ears broken by greed. I feel broken by a system that is shrouded in electrical mystery, a world I don’t understand and therefore which puts me at the disadvantage. I couldn’t look at my radiator and tell you whether or not it is leaking? But that is the claim and the cost to repair it leaves me broken.

Broken hearted too. Broken because in the midst of this mess, hubby is working until midnight every night and leaving at the crack of dawn. Sustainable? No. Broken bits of relationship flaking off like so much ice melting off a polar ice sheet. My rock, my adult time, my friend. I miss him. And the devil wants to plant nasty, even more broken, useless thoughts. Guard my heart Lord.

Broken. My dad’s body. Congestive heart failure, lymphedema, peripheral neuropathy, sleep apnea, pulmonary issues, potentially Parkinson’s disease. How much can one body take? Crushing disease that crushes more than flesh, that crushes ability, freedom, independence, joy, and leads to despair and lengthy phone calls to me, on the other side of the country, where I can pray, wring hands, sulk, stew, and feel broken and useless to help.

Broken kids. They’re healthy enough, have enough, want for nothing… except for grace for each other, contentedness, and the right pair of goggles. Screaming is our method of communicating as if the heat has deadened sound waves and our ears are filled with the cotton of exhaustion. Broken bits of childhood joy lost, dripping down the side of summer. Be careful, the cone bottom is getting soggy. When it lets go, disaster! We teeter on this balance beam of ice cream disaster, one small tilt and I’m convinced the kids will never be the same, even after years of therapy. Don’t cry over spilled milk? What if it is all spilling?

Broken brain, spirit, imagination. Used up Kleenex that I am. Given out. I am the spilled milk all over the floor. Done. Anxious, exhausted, fighting battles that feel futile. Boring, a wash, frumpy, dowdy, spacey, callous, judgmental, a firecracker with the shortest fuse and nothing but smoke and bluster… these are my companion adjectives. Old friends who overstay their welcome, these words smell like days old fish, the kind of smell that won’t leave despite numerous washings and purgings. The kind of smell wafting from the kitchen sink right now. Me…wanting nothing more than a chair on a beach and hours to sit idle, to rekindle joy in the charred house of my heart, to feel loved, appreciated, accepted, good enough. But broken.

It’s Friday, and I feel blessed. Blessed that the brakes went out over night, in the garage, before I left the driveway. Blessed that the flat tire was noticed before hubby hit the highway. Blessed that while car repairs are unforeseen expenses and fancy cars require fancy repairs we’re not broken and destitute. Skimp here, pinch there. We’ll be fine. God will provide.
Blessed by work. Good steady work. “The world will always need accountants.” Work that pays for a comfy lifestyle, provides meaning and satisfaction, offers opportunity and expansion both personal and professional. Blessed by 18 years that have seen harder seasons than this. Blessed that the bedrock of our relationship is not ice, but God. No sinking sand for us. Blessed because God has provided.

Blessed by my dad’s life. During a week where hubby’s friend’s dad died and my friend’s mom died, blessed that he is still a phone call away. Blessed that I can listen, ship food, and pray. Blessed by memory and teachings and example and the handing on of an assurance of heaven reunions no matter what… reunions without brokenness and tears… at the feet of a heavenly king who too knew brokenness, who accepted it, carried it, and squashed it. Oh death where is thy sting? Blessed because God is walking this path, too.

Blessed. Sleeping angels in their beds while I pour out my heart. Blessed rest and the potential for a day of peace. Blessed health, blessed growth, blessed maturation, blessed foundation. Their births were rocky, squeezed in as they were between babies who died and a mommy’s body that didn’t hold pregnancy well. Sleeping angels, guarded by angels, who will cover with kisses, snuggle closer, listen and obey a mommy they love and who does in fact love them back even while disciplining. Blessed children, a gift from God, given hearts that are sensitive, emotional, strong. God will protect.

Blessed. Because. There could have been so many more awful things this week, but God sometimes walked us through the fire, sometimes averted the fire, promises to bring us home someday through the fire. Blessed because I can write this out, sip my cup of tea, stare at the trees, laze about this morning, really not have to worry. Because I am beautiful in God’s eyes, He created me, and He has given me purpose… mother, wife, daughter, friend, and Compassion Tea. Because when I hear the stories from the clinics in Africa my first world problems though large become smaller. Survival, necessity, hunger, cruelty, depravity, disease without medicine… without treatment, these adjectives are not mine but theirs. And I feel blessed that I can in minute ways alleviate these adjectives. Blessed to have a FATHER, an ABBA, who saw yesterday, sees today, and knows tomorrow and who is weaving it all together… me, them, America, Africa, bounty, blessing, beauty… who takes broken and heals it… who takes broken and blesses it. Blessed.

Advertisements

Photographs

0-5“We took about 150 little packets of Compassion Tea to hand out to the people we met in Africa,” Anne explained when she returned from her trip to Tanzania and Kenya. “And we printed special labels to put on the packets. We took a photo of the four of us and put that on the back of the tea packets. The people loved the photo. They were excited to receive the tea, but it was the photo that they really loved. That was what they talked about and cherished.”

A photo of four Americans on the back of a packet of tea. How simple. But of the gifts the group distributed, among the bookmarks, bracelets, and tea, it was the photo that made the lasting impression. More than something to remember the visit by, the photo is a reminder that four people in America, on the other side of the world, think about them, care about them, have a connection with them.

I recently read a blog about writing letters to your sponsored child. I’ll include the link here. And it all reminds me of the joy of receiving mail, reminders, mementos, a Facebook comment from a friend last seen eons ago. We love to feel like people care. It’s a warm fuzzy feeling, a zap of electricity, a jump-start to the heart during the darker days. Cuz it kinda sucks to feel forgotten. In the dark places of our hearts, of our lives, of our world, the shadows hide the people who care. Like racing into a tunnel, the peripheral shrinks and our focus becomes narrower and narrower, seeking the light at the end, but not seeing the hands along the way.

I admit that I’ve had times when I was fairly certain God had stopped caring. The feeling that He had turned His back on me was crushing. Things happened that I couldn’t explain, that didn’t seem to correspond with the image of the meek-eyed, smiling Jesus of the Bible paintings I grew up with. Darkness grew and grew and I felt abandoned. Like the Psalmist, I cried out over and over again, “Where are you? Why have you turned your face from me? This sucks and I hate it.” I was deaf to His answers.

But answer me He did. He’s been reminding me in countless ways who I am. He’s given me snapshots of where He was in the tunnel of my darkness — a ray of light streaming in a window, a whisper of fresh air when the car felt like it was compacting around me, the mere brush of an invisible hand on my shoulder. He’s said to me, “You are my princess.” He didn’t turn away after all. It was I who hid His picture under my pillow and forgot to take it out and look at it. Because in the dark places, yes, God allows the dark places, He is crafting and shaping and sculpting us to be even more His image. I have no idea what I’m going to look like after this is all said and done, but I’m learning to trust that it is going to be beautiful.

The team that recently traveled to Tanzania and Kenya to deliver medical supplies visibly saw God at work. Jamie and Anne both wrote in their blog, “We came to be the hands and feet of Jesus, but His hands and feet were already here.” Thinking they would bring God to the people they met, they discovered that God is actively there. Wrote Anne, “Sometimes you have to leave your comfort zone to see God. This time it was to travel 10,000 miles to east Africa. Here, His presence is evident. He opened our eyes and our hearts through His work here. We experienced His people, their different life styles; His different ways of worshipping, different scenery, His different animal kingdom, and different foods to sustain us. We felt His protection, His love, His provision, at every turn. His comfort, His healing, and we saw His miraculous power at work here 10,000 miles away.”

So many photographs to sort through! Medical supplies being delivered, people visiting the clinics and receiving physical healing and advice and care and love, animals, markets, villages, traditions, customs… lives that are dark and light, dappled in the shadow of a depressed economic situation and the brilliant joy of God at work.

And the team left a lasting photograph for the people they met. “You are precious to me.” We all need to hear it.0-6

Operation Snake Rescue

0-4

Hissy

A rustle in the dry leaves at the upper end of my garden is not unusual. But this rustling went on for a while and so it caught my attention. What I saw was the tail end of a snake. “KIDS! You gotta see this!” I hollered. Very cautiously, I approached close enough to ascertain whether or not this creature was poisonous or not. Looking for the telltale rattle, I inched closer, snapped a photo on my Android, and backed away. It looked docile enough and it must have been afraid of us because it didn’t move for a very long time. I confirmed through the city naturalist that I had a gopher snake on my hands. It was most welcome. The rodents were a worse menace than the snake! Eat all you want, Mr. Gopher Snake!

The next day, I decided to see if Hissy, as the kids had named it, was still in the bushes between our house and the neighbor’s. I could see Hissy coiled up but something wasn’t right. Gasp. There was black netting around his “neck” and face. Concerned that there was now a large dead gopher snake in the bushes decaying I called the neighbors to suggest working together to extract Hissy. They never returned my call. Which brings us to the third day. I came home from a very hot session of horseback riding and figured I better check on the chickens who were panting worse than the dog. And I wandered up toward the top of the garden to see Hissy’s body. Oddly enough, it was now hanging partly under my fence again. That snake was NOT dead… or it was having an extremely long period of dying. In fact, when I brushed its tail with a twig, it shuddered and contracted. Hissy needed help and fast. I grabbed the pruning sheers from the shed and stuck them through the fence hacking away at the netting as best I could. Eventually, I cut away enough of the netting that I could gently pull Hissy’s body through the fence with a long, thick stick. Now that his head was clearly in sight, I saw that he was choked in two places. I put a bucket over him to keep Winston from messing with him and ran into the house for a pair of scissors. This was going to be finer, closer work than pruning sheers would handle. With the scissors in one hand and the large stick in the other, I carefully began cutting the tightest spots. When that last choking chord was sliced, Hissy’s body curled up, contracted, slithered, sighed. Now, there was just a chunk of netting around his face. Again, stick in hand, and with steady scissors, I began cutting away around eyes that were now focusing and alert. As the netting fell away, Hissy grew more and more animated. I never did get the netting completely off his mouth before he high-tailed it deep into the bushes. Perhaps that last bit will keep him from eating; I don’t know. But I did my best.

I’ve given you the photographic version of the story. Add in the emotional. A snake in the garden was in fact nightmarish for me. I can deal with the idea of snakes when a trained professional is explaining and showing them … like recently at my son’s 6th birthday party when Owen brought his boa constrictor, corn snake, California King Snake, and gopher snake to share. But this was remarkably close to home and reinforced that notion that creeps me out… there are things lurking that I can’t see and I don’t know if they are malignant or benign. Shudder. What was even worse was the next day when the snake was still there… seemingly dead. By day two, Hissy had a name and a gender to help him fit into my paradigms. He wasn’t just “a snake.” God has made amazing creatures and populated His world with them. The markings, the beauty, the potential for danger were all, in their own creepy way, attractive. And I was forming an odd little bond with Hissy. I have never been one to see pain in someone’s eyes and not feel a measure of it myself. And I saw, as faintly as it was through the ivy leaves, a measure of pain and voidedness in Hissy’s. By the third day when it was evident that Hissy was clinging to life by threads as fine as those binding him in place, I couldn’t take it. Creepy or not, Hissy deserved a chance. As I worked over his body in the hot sun, I found at one point an incredible desire to touch him. Remembering all the city naturalist’s lessons about how to pet a snake, I reached out and stroked his midsection. Soft, supple, amazing. I am proud of doing what I did for Hissy, concerned about his future, and saddened that I may never see him again. For three days, he was a constant in my life. Loathed and feared at first, he grew to be endearing and action-prompting… not because he changed, but because I changed.

I will be the first to admit that not every human I interact with do I find endearing and action-prompting. Toward many I have a gut-level reaction that is less than generous. It is an intimate and convicting reminder of my own humanity. As much as I seek to model my life after Christ’s, I’m not there yet.

Our team that recently returned from Tanzania and Kenya were met with situations that on occasion left them thoroughly grossed out. At one point, they were taken to a Maasai village… one of the most impoverished places they had seen yet. Here, the houses were built of cow dung and the animals were paddocked “in town” during the night. Consequently, during a demonstration of how to start a cow dung fire, the four team members were covered in flies. Flies thicker than you can possibly imagine. Anne was given a fly swatter made from elephant hairs; according to her it merely shifted the flies from one part of her body to another. That would have totally been outside my comfort zone! It was disgusting.

Later, when the team visited the Tanzania Christian Clinic, they met Sabina, one of the nurses who works there. Her purpose is to attend to the mommies and babies who come to the clinic. While the team was there, a young lady of 21 years came to see Sabina. She brought her child for a check-up. During their conversation, the young lady explained that this was her fourth child; she had given birth to her first-born at the tender age of 10. My daughter just turned 10. If you don’t think this information was a kick in the gut, think again.

My point here is simple. Gross, frightening, loathsome, horrific – choose your adjective – the world is full of it all. Some of it is the way we have grown to perceive things, like flies and snakes, and some of it is because of the way evil has sway. But spending time with it, getting to know it, caring for it, strips away the filth and the fear and reveals both a beauty and a greater need. Underneath every ugly is beauty. Inside every fearsome is a soft spot. Behind every horrific is the redeemable. Whether it is a snake trapped in netting, the people of the Maasai village trapped in abject poverty, or a young lady trapped in a society that embraces polygamy and child brides, we are called to serve and care for everyone.

I’m not sure how Danny and Nancy Smelser of Tanzania Christian Clinic or Dawn Leppan of 1000 Hills or Cindy Cunningham of Village of Hope do it all the time… face the ugly, the hurt, the broken day after day after day searching for the beauty, cutting away the traps and fetters of disease, seeking to heal the whole body spiritually and physically. But they do. I am thrilled that through my support of CompassioNow and Compassion Tea, I am able to provide the tools they need to do so. And I am confident that God gives them the strength they need to carry on.

Just as He used me over the last three days to free a snake. And isn’t it interesting that freeing that snake has given me so much too. Hissy is free… but so am I… free from a fear. That’s one down… oh so many to go!

See How it Grows

“The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service. The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless.” —Billy Graham

My memories of sitting in concrete-blocked rooms watching grainy slide shows of obscure places around the globe are many. Missionaries often came to our church seeking to tell the story of their work in India, Tanzania, Kenya, etc. Often, they came to thank the congregation for its bountiful support of their work and to share the needs of their community. And as a pastor’s kid, I was privy to these stories, enduring hours of them on cold metal folding chairs that gave my bottom pins and needles even as I wanted nothing more than to fall asleep. I guess the descriptions of other worlds were so distant from my own, or perhaps it was that hubris of childhood that refuses to see much beyond the tip of your own nose, I just couldn’t relate, get caught up, feel taken in, or otherwise… well, care. The clothes were pretty… all those bright colors… but the buildings looked so shabby and dirty. Ugh. And yet, I remember being in awe of the missionaries themselves. They often spoke with a lilt so unlike the clip of an American tongue, a gentleness that bespoke a patience and endurance of such monumental proportions one knew it was God-spirited and more than likely unattainable for the rest of us. And the missionaries would come to dinner at our house and talk more, at which point I excused myself to play Legos or Barbies. Enough was enough.

I was reminded of this when Uncle Lee and Aunt Anne arrived at our house last Wednesday… weary, worn, weak from lack of sleep… and yet so full of thoughts and pictures and stories just bubbling from their lips even as their eyes slowly inched toward half-mast. After 40+ hours of wakeful travel, their bodies were confused, cramped, and craving true rest. But their spirits were full, bursting even. One doesn’t spend 18 days in Africa, delivering over 250 lbs. of medicines and medical supplies, visiting villages, schools, and churches, meeting people, making connections, and exploring God’s great creation and not feel a euphoria, a changing, a shifting of internal paradigms. And this time, I was a sponge soaking up every tidbit, reading between the lines, painting pictures in my head like a profile artist listening to a description of a perpetrator and turning it into a comprehensive image. Stay tuned. The stories will come!

0-1

African art and Tanzanian coins… a la Joseph

Then, my son announced that he had set up a store where we could buy “free products.” Wouldn’t we please come? We took a break from the story telling to wander to his store in the back room where he had a number of drawings… some were “American paintings” and some were “African paintings.” We perused the art and made our selections. Uncle Lee offered to pay for his in Tanzanian currency… a couple of pence, a mere fraction of our dollar. And then he sought to share with Clara and Joseph the art of bartering, the traditional method of buying and selling in Tanzania. I was amused by this real life lesson for the kids. Money from another country? Bartering? Foreign ideas for us but the only reality on the other side of the world. A real-life civilizations class. So much more tangible than the slide shows of my youth. Dear Joseph, however, wasn’t having it. “I’m not that kind of storekeeper,” he asserted and left the room. Bartering and Tanzanian coins were not as interesting as a round of Angry Birds, after all.

I don’t recall how old I was when we attended the Global Missions Conference at Wittenberg University in Ohio but it was probably during my later elementary years. For a week, my parents attended seminars and meetings and worship services celebrating the spread of Christianity around the globe to the far reaches and the four corners. We tasted food from other cultures, saw the dress, learned the games, spoke bits and pieces of the languages of peoples around the globe. This was my first lasting glimpse into the fact that the world is more diverse than I can even imagine. And my first substantial realization of my parents’ hearts for the rest of the world. My dad has never traveled to Africa or Asia and yet during his pastoral career he took great pride in leading congregations that gave heavily to missions work in far off places. A couple of months ago, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with him about missions. I shared with him how someone had recently asked me how I felt about the increased emphasis on missions at church. The question stunned me. Mission work is the natural outpouring of joy and the natural response to God’s bounty. Or as a young lady explained in church yesterday, “Mission work isn’t just for the experts. If I know one amazing thing about Jesus, I want to share that. If I know 100 amazing things about Jesus, I want to share that!” So, why would a church’s emphasis on missions be disturbing to me? It kind of all clicked in an instant. The countless hours of watching slide shows, time with visiting missionaries, even my recent study of the book of James… it was all part of God’s amazing foundation laying, prepping me for today, when I find myself writing for a missions group and anticipating the time when I too will go on a mission trip.

At Compassion Tea, we talk about planting seeds. We talk about our tea, we talk about the greater purpose of our tea… to provide medical care to people in Africa who would otherwise not have any. We plant seeds of information, of personal stories. Whether those “seeds” fall on deaf ears, on the rocky soil of good intentions that lacks the substance beneath to follow through, or on the fertile soil of support, we don’t know, can’t see until later. It’s the same with raising children. My parents exposed me, planting the seeds of a love of missions, and even though it took a while, it grew into something. My kids are getting exposed through my writing and through the travels of Uncle Lee and Aunt Anne, through family members who support mission work around the world, through our own purchasing choices. We’ll see how it grows!

Frozen Tea for the Fourth!

IMG_2124 It’s the Fourth of July and time for all kinds of warm weather fun! And here in California, it has been hot, the kind of weather that sends you panting after the air conditioning wherever you can find it! We’ve been staying cool with these creative ways of freezing tea. Our Compassion Tea flavors work well for any of these recipes. Play around and enjoy!

First, brew your chosen tea at double strength by using twice the leaves you’d normally use.  Strain your tea leaves.  Then, add plenty of sweetener! Honey, agave, and regular sugar all work well. Freezing causes the loss of sweetness in the flavor. You can also add flavor by adding in ingredients like lemon juice, mango nectar, finely chopped mint leaves, puréed strawberries or almond paste. Stir it in very well.

For Tea Popsicles: Pour your tea into popsicle molds and place them in the freezer.  To help keep the sweetener and other ingredients from concentrating in the tips of the popsicles, stir the mixture every hour or so until completely frozen. Tea popsicles taste the best when enjoyed within one week of freezing. We recommend brewing our Coconut Oolong and flavoring with a can of pineapple using the juice as a sweetener. You’ll feel like you’re at the beach even if you aren’t!

For Tea Granita: Pour the tea mixture into a shallow, heat- and freezer-safe dish. Place it flat in the freezer.  IMG_2112Once ice crystals begin forming across the top, approximately 45 mintues, scrape a fork through the ice to from fine crystals.  Return to freezer. Repeat this process every 30 minutes, until the mixture is thoroughly frozen, and once again immediately before serving.  Serve your granita in small bowls or wide glasses, and garnish with mint or a slice of fruit for more color. Your tea granita will keep covered in the freezer for about a week. We have used Peach Apricot (black), Black Currant (black), and Provence (Rooibos) for our granitas and have added fresh blueberries, watermelon chunks, and slices of apricot to it before we froze it. The granita is a definite hit after an afternoon in the pool!IMG_2117

Tea Ice Cubes: Tired of that watered down flavor you get when you dilute your iced tea with ice cubes? Why not make your ice cubes from the tea? Simply pour the tea mixture in your ice cube trays! You can also add honey or lemon juice to the ice cubes, making the flavor become more complex as the ice melts. Or when the ice cubes are halfway frozen, drop in a brewed tea leaf, flower, mint leaf, or small piece of fruit. Make several kinds of tea ice cubes and then try different flavors of ice cubes with different flavors of iced tea! Here, we’ve used our Egyptian Camomile tea and added chamomile flowers from the garden for decoration. IMG_2170 IMG_2172(Shhh, this is completely taboo, but we even added our chamomile tea cubes to a glass of sparkling chardonnay that hadn’t been properly chilled yet. Delightful!)

Stay cool and enjoy!