Medical Advances Miraculous

Singing glory hallelujah over here for medical advances! The kind of medical advances that have helped Cindy Cunningham, founder of Village of Hope Uganda, conquer a brain tumor. Within the past week, she had a skull plate installed to replace the one that was dangerously infected after the last surgery. A cocktail of meds and careful vigilance and she’s home tumor free and with a new skull plate.

Or the kind of medical advances that allow a mom to be monitored for days, a mom and her unborn baby, and a team of doctors assessing and watching and deciding the moment when it becomes safer for baby to be delivered than to cook a bit longer inside. And the medical advances that make caesarean birth safe and that quickly assess the status of the baby. And the medical advances that allow surgery on a newborn to correct heart problems and the advances that can help babies born at 32 weeks survive and thrive.

Or advances that diagnose, that can picture and picture and picture the body assessing and determining is that benign? Or do we need to investigate further? Because it may mean the difference between life and death. Medical advances.

And the kind of medical advances, maybe not so cutting edge, that have taken my cold of weeks and finally turned it on its head. Antibiotics… I knew I needed them and as soon as I stepped off the plane I called the doctor. Relief.

Here in this time and this place, we have a strong medical system. We have strong medicine. We have machines and procedures and devices and surgeries and people that can/who can fix, monitor, assess, correct, extract, replace what has gone wrong in our bodies.

Here in this time and this place.

But not there in that place.

CompassioNow is sending a birthing bed to Tanzania Christian Clinic so they can begin to build a labor and delivery wing to their clinic. This bed is the first for the clinic.

CompassioNow, in partnership with Rock of the Foothills Lutheran Church, is sending a 40-foot container of medical supplies to Malawi to outfit a clinic there with enough supplies to presumably last for 4 years. Wound dressings, bandages, basic antibiotics, creams, ointments, over-the-counter meds, eye drops… the kinds of things we can easily obtain in this place.

This year, CompassioNow/Compassion Tea directors made two separate trips to the African continent to deliver these kinds of medical supplies to outlying clinics serving villages and orphanages far from the modernity of the cities.

Because there in that place the kind of medical advances we wax glories on don’t exist. That is a place where medical devices might be donated, like x-ray machines, but finding a skilled technician to work the device is years-in-the-searching difficult. It’s a place where bicycles serve as ambulances, and where solar power and generators provide the necessary lights and electricity, and clean water may have to be carried from the river a football field or two distance away and then treated. It’s a place where people, full of compassion, do the best they can with what they have, and wring their hands and lift their voices in daily supplication because they know the supply is limited, the resources are dwindling, the advances are just not there.

As I pop my antibiotic relief like a New Year’s cocktail, I look toward 2014. Will it be a year forward or like so many before will it be another year that leaves certain parts of Africa regrettably in the dark past of medical advances? We at CompassioNow and Compassion Tea pray that we’ll be able to provide the basics at our clinics, because basics even save lives, and we pray for the miraculous, for a feeding-of-the-5,000 kind of spread. And when you stop and think about it, really, medical advances are miracles. The miraculous.


Christmas time… pregnant with meaning…



There, in the middle of the hymn, out of the corner of my eye, her belly caught my attention. She came up the aisle and slid in the pew behind me, her round belly taut with meaning. Echoes of Sylvia Plath’s poem… a melon walking on tendrils, a riddle in nine, a full house, she’s boarded the train and there’s no getting off. But the beauty of a pregnant belly, the fine roundness, the stretch and pull of possibility, the swelling of potential… it is beauty, startling and suspenseful.

And there was a moment of sadness. My time is up. Those days are past. In some respects, that’s a good thing. But that oneness, that communion of shared fluids, heart beats, growth and stretching, that alien inside kicking and hiccupping and squirming in the tightening space. That was beauty, too. Seeing her brought to mind that I’m older now, that time is passing, stages are crossed, and motherhood in its ever-changing ways has moved on.

And I thought of my friend, admitted into the hospital this week to await the birth of her daughter, and the prayers of her friends that it proves to be a longish stay to give baby girl more time to grow. The joy of that pregnancy, the fulfilled desires, the dreams in that womb ripening, health and glow, amniotic peace… waiting and waiting and praying and waiting. All worth it. All the healing this will bring, all the joy in store, the allness of that baby girl growing in her amniotic bubble. Joy to watch. This is my seat for the show, on the sidelines, not in the center ring, but the anticipation and hope is so palpable I am happy beyond words for her, for them.

“I am your daughter.” These words that stab a new kind of joy, a new sense of possibility. She’s new to our family, our sponsored child in Uganda, rescued from child slavery, from poverty and starvation and threat and brought to an orphanage to learn her worth in the eyes of God so much greater than in the eyes of man. She sent us a Christmas card to thank us for sponsoring her, to share her prayers for our one-day meeting, to express her love of God and His love for her and us. And in the middle of it all, she wrote, “I am your daughter.” Beautiful, heart-wrenching words. Half a world away, she turns to us as family, because family is gone. Orphaned, abandoned, abducted, enslaved… these were her potential titles, her family tree. And my heart opened, bloomed fragrant, radiated in the newness of this form of motherhood. I wear a beaded bracelet made by her fellow orphans in remembrance, in prayer for her, my African daughter, half a world away, newly adopted, new to my heart, but so at home there. My heart has been yearning for her without my even realizing completely how complete the knowledge of her would make me feel.

We start singing another song, a variation of Angels We Have Heard on High, Gloria in Excelsis Deo. The bridge begins, “How could Heaven’s heart not break, on the day, on the day that He came down?” How could God’s heart, so full of love, not crack brittle as glory shrunk, magnificence unrobed, trinity unity broke like waters gushing and godhead became infant born not in palace but in barn. How did Father not weep when Son left on that journey? And Mary, round and taut, stretching and pulling, did her heart break in the delivery of God’s promise? It would later on, doubtless.
A word scratching at my brain, back there, pushing its way forward, rushing out to be born in light, the word birthed… is adopted. And I see. In the heart break, in the trinity break, in Father cracking brittle as Son journeys off, in Son leaving, there is one great adoption of sons and daughters, one monumental, earth-cracking, family-growing welcoming of all in the family. Without glory shrinking, without magnificence unrobed, without trinity unity broken, there is no great orphan rescue. And we are orphans, broken by our graceless, illness-infested, dysfunction, starving for LOVE, insecure, abducted by evil. In need of a sponsor, we got Him. In need of rescue, we got Him. He sent Himself, Prince on the White Horse, blade slashing death and slaying dragons. Glory in the rounded belly, magnificence birthing in a lowly stable to become our Brother Savior.

Paul speaks of it. Ephesians 1: 4-14 “Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.
7-10 Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.
11-12 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.
13-14 It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.” (The Message)

We are the adopted children of God. Initially, God had His holy family, the family of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and his sons, the 12 tribes. But God wasn’t content with that. He wanted more. He wanted the Jews and the non-Jews, the yous and the mes.

Staggering reality. Christmas births new meaning. The sweet story of pregnant Mary riding toward Bethlehem, weighty with the Savior growing in her firming, rounding, stretching belly, the shepherds scared to death by angel wings and angel song and light brighter than the sun, the animals around the manger warming the peaceful babe with their bovine breath, the mysterious star that led strangers across a desert, the fragile and humble, all of the nativity becomes a great rescue operation. Umbilical cord becomes life-line.

And I, like my daughter half a world away, I cry out to my adopted Father. “I am your daughter. Thank you for sponsoring me, for rescuing me.” God loves me and God loves you, enough to split open Heaven, His yearning for us so strong that it took Son on the cross to sign the adoption papers, to clear the court.

This is Christmas, when fullness bursts, ripeness completes, and through the pregnancy the adoption is instigated. Brother, sister, take my hand, gather round bend the knee. He is come.

Watching this video might be the most important thing you do today

When we say that we are saving lives in Africa, we aren’t just talking about saving the physical through medicine. We’re talking about this… that even in the darkest places, in the most hopeless situations, where evil walks the earth in man skin and in want, there is this… this thing called HOPE. It is what Christmas is about. Because of the manger birth, because of the cross made from the manger wood, because of the man grown from the baby who is God in man skin, because of this… we have HOPE.

Watching this video might be the most important thing you do today.

Snarled Habits

I have a bone to pick with Disney. Sure, they have crafted a remarkable movie with their new animated success, Frozen. Sure, the story is complicated in a good way, the characters are captivating, the music is varied and catchy, and the animation is Disney’s usual stellar work. Sure, I laughed and I cried and the kids wanted to stay to watch it again. Sure, when it comes out OnDemand or on DVD we’ll have to watch it again. Sure, it has lasting power. But.

Here’s my problem. The character of Elsa, the older sister, the one with the frozen powers, spends her entire childhood growing fearful of her powers, trying to control them, hide them, contain them. She is taught “not to feel” so that her powers are not released in emotion. Seems natural. When she finally breaks free of this, when she claims her powers and embraces a new life of triumphant aloneness, it is still fear that terrorizes her. She’s afraid she will hurt others, afraid that she might be the monster the townspeople call her. In her case, fear manifests itself in shards of ice and it drives her to do desperate things. How true. Even in her “freedom,” there is fear… until her sister, Anna, does the unthinkable and the main characters realize that “love can thaw a frozen heart.” In a remarkable moment of enlightenment, love turns winter into spring, a frozen, fearful heart into an open and sunny one.

There’s my problem. Because while love does have enormous redemptive power, the habit of fear is very difficult to break.

“Jesus is able to untangle all the snarls in my soul, to banish all my complexes and to transform even my fixed habit patterns.” – Corrie ten Boom

It happened again this morning. Fear, that is. I was helping to present an interpretative nativity during the Sunday morning service at church. My role was to scowl and hold an unapproving pose aimed at poor Mary as she learns from the angel her future and as she bends her will to God’s and celebrates with Elizabeth this miracle. In the middle of that, came fear. The old lies. “You can’t do this. You’re going to faint and make a big spectacle.” My heart could probably be heard in the back pew. My head grew black. I shifted position. And then the words of Mary clarified. Praise and thanks. Praise and thanks. Thank you God. Thank you God. Thank you God. And we were done and I hadn’t fainted and the lies were just that… lies.

Before the second service, I prayed hard. “Father God, you are faithful and good and you saved me before. Jesus, at your name every knee shall bow. In the name of Jesus, my savior, I denounce the lies and the fear. Jesus my savior. Jesus.” Tears like sweat dripped from my face and it was time to pose again. It was over before I realized completely. Did you see the smile on my face as I left? Fear conquered. Fear? What fear?

Like God stepping down from heaven in the skin of a baby, miracles happen. It was as though He said the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary to me, “Greetings favored woman.”

The thing is that fear is a well-ingrained habit, a complex, a major tangle and snarl in my life, as it was in Elsa’s. It has grown roots, planning to stay for a while, for eternity. Shards of glass, harsh words, desperate moves and it grows and grows.

And while love does in fact temper and melt and calm and lighten, it is not an immediate fix. It is the fix, God’s love. Experiencing and claiming and clinging to it is miracle pill. But fear always lurks, hoping to find me unprepared, to find a foothold, a crack in the wall, a sliver of doubt on which to prey.

Pray. In prayer, I come before God, claim my place next to the throne, embrace my role and the words He uses for me, for you… BELOVED. Beloved daughter, beloved son.

It takes discipline to remember, to pray. It isn’t a quick remembrance always.

So, for Elsa. Her transformation? Does she have moments where she forgets? Does fear strike again and again and again? What does she do when bad things happen to shake her? Disney… you wrapped it up too neatly. We humans aren’t like that. We aren’t solved so easily. Our winter habits… like every year… they come back.

Keep taking it to God.

“Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.” – Psalm 37:24

It’s the Most Wonderful (Futile) Time of the Year

“I have a proposition,” I declared last night as I wiped down the counters after the dinner dishes were done. “How about the kids go take their baths now, put on their pjs… (yes the groaning was starting and the Oh MOMS and the scowls and eye rolling)… and grab blankets and get in the car to drive around and look at Christmas lights!” And suddenly I went from Grinch to SuperMom in 3.4 seconds flat. Hooray for MOM!

As we directed the car from bright spot to bright spot there were ooohs and ahhhs and happy conversations. We viewed the house on the hill with the massive trees and presents and more green lights than an airport. Then, it was on to Candy Cane Lane where the entire street is decorated for Christmas. The first house sported a nativity scene and from there we saw Cars, Looney Tunes, polar bears skiing down from the roof, and a miniature ferris wheel filled with stuffed animals. Over to Bob’s now! Bob was out surveying his fantasy kingdom… the fake snow blowing, Santa in the window directing the music, and the dancing bear dressed as Santa in the garage. Well, how can you trump that? Daddy had another house in mind… one where you tune the radio to their special station and the lights… no joke… go on and off in time to the music. Mickey and Minnie are the hosts, singing along and directing the spectacle. Seriously, it was theme park worthy. And it begged the question… who in the world has the time?

I’m not sure if it was the impromptu trip to Ohio or the long-awaited family vacation in Europe, or maybe it is the week shorter build-up or a just general falling behind in everything, but I’ve felt a bit of a Christmas humbug this year. There has been an emptiness, a lack of joy to the decorating and baking and addressing and purchasing and wrapping, like it’s all rote and futile. In a fit of despair, I posted on Facebook on Thursday, “Deep thought for the day: two weeks from today the gifts will all be opened and the trappings will need to come down.”

Just like that, it’s all over.

Except that it’s not supposed to be all over. It is supposed to be just beginning. The days will start getting longer again, a daily reminder that the light, the warmth, the rebirth, the spring is coming. The birth of a baby centuries ago, sought after by shepherds, kings, an entire race long awaiting their Messiah, led to a revolution of thinking about God and God’s own revolution in the world, upending sin and evil, squashing the bitter end and offering instead the bright glory. His story is just beginning over and over and over in our hearts.

Perhaps right now I most relate to the innkeeper Mary and Joseph met in Bethlehem… any one of them really… hustled, frantic, tired… bone weary with no end in sight to the torrent of people, the possibility of profit, the bodies crammed in rooms, demanding food. The innkeeper who can’t see the miracle in the doorway for the crowds of demands. All I’ve got room for, time for, is the stable out back. Take it if you want it Lord Jesus, at least it’s something, not much to offer, but well, that’s all I’ve got. Scraps for the miracle.
Of course, the miracle is that He takes those scraps, is comfortable in those scraps, and like my little boy who can look at a scrap piece of paper and see a million possibilities in its shape, He takes those scraps and origami-style folds them into beauty.

I’d rather be the kings, rushing, curious, ever searching, intent and not distracted, sand-whipped and sun-parched but determined. Because that star means something great and that is a great I need, we need… crave. It lasts longer than the star itself, the greatness. It is brighter than the star that leads and heralds and proclaims. It is joy, rejoicing, daily goodness and radical life. The greatness. Where is it?

I followed the lights last night, through the city, searching for the greatest display. Those weren’t the lasting lights. They’ll come down shortly, get wound around, tangled, crammed in a box, stored in the darkness for another year.

But the greatness, the miracle is the permanent light, the God in baby-shape, in man-shape who offers the gifts of peace and love and joy and forgiveness of sins. Right now, he’s in the stable of my heart, relegated to the straw and the cold, dark recesses.

He waits.

I don’t need to search, sand-whipped and sun-parched.

He is waiting… waiting for me to throw open the doors of my heart, put aside the demands, close my eyes to the glitz, the computer-generated, the futile, for me to turn from all that and say, “I choose you instead.” There is nothing futile about that beginning again.

Tea Infused Vinegar

The tea-infused happiness continues with this really simple and useful staple!

I took 2 1/4 cups of apple cider vinegar and brought it to a boil. I added 4 tsp of our Darjeeling tea and removed the pot from the heat. The tea steeped until the mixture was cool and then I strained the mixture several times through coffee filters, although cheesecloth would work as well. I wanted to make sure the liquid was crystal so that the mixture would last for several months. Tea Magazine recommends using this vinegar for deglazing pans, finishing sauces, or in a vinaigrette dressing. I really like with a bit of olive oil and some bread! It’s definitely strong enough to add to one of my favorite salads… baby greens, apple and pear chunks, blue cheese, and pine nuts.IMG_4111 IMG_4113

Or you can try this recipe from Tea Magazine:

5 cups tea infused vinegar

2 tsp honey

1 tsp minced shallot

1 minced garlic clove

1 tbsp chopped fresh herbs such as thyme, sage, and/or tarragon

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

1 cup vegetable oil

Combine vinegar, honey, shallots, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk. Drizzle in oil while whisking gently. Pour on your salad or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

I’ve poured the vinegar into cute jars and topped with a little Christmas fabric to hand out as gifts to my kitchen-friendly friends this Christmas. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone!IMG_4108 IMG_4150 IMG_4155

Tea Infused Rub

It’s been a month since I came to the keyboard to share tea-inspired musings. I’ve been to Ohio, The Netherlands, and France in the meantime. While in The Netherlands, I was introduced to a delightful new “tea” — mint-infused tea. The Dutch take boiling water and drop several sprigs of mint inside. Viola! They may add a bit of honey or sugar, but to my taste, the mint was sweet enough on its own. Served with a stroopwafel (a caramel filled cookie) or the treat of the season, peppernoten, it is a fabulous mid-morning perk.

All that peppernoten has me feeling spicy! So, today, with Christmas music playing in the background, I come before you with a great recipe from Tea Magazine for a meat rub that uses tea to add depth and dark flavors to its otherwise peppery sweetness. Use it on your chicken, pork loin, shrimp (lightly) for a quick meal or throw some in a soup or chutney (I think apricot would be delicious!). Or why not roll a log of goat cheese in the rub and serve it with dried fruit? Your Christmas festivities never tasted so good! Or, for a delightful gift for a special friend, mix up some of this goodness, find a cute container, and present. Christmas hero!

What you need:

12 tbsp finely ground full-bodied black tea leaves (I used our Ajiri Kenyan black which is already nicely ground and quite full-bodied!)

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1tbsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp curry powder

1 tsp cumin powder

2 tsp coriander seed

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp cayenne

1 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground mace

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until combined. Easy peasy! The rub will last for up to 3 months when stored at room temperature in a tightly sealed container. Enjoy!ImageImageImageImageImageImage