Masterpiece

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

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

And then the mirror comes out.

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

One gets it. “God’s masterpiece.”

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

God’s masterpiece.

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

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

Visiting the doctor in all her finery at Tanzania Christian Clinic

Visiting the doctor in all her finery at Tanzania Christian Clinic

Clinical officer David at Tanzania Christian Clinic

Clinical officer David at Tanzania Christian Clinic

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

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

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

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

Dawn at 1000 Hills Community Helpers holding two new masterpieces

Dawn at 1000 Hills Community Helpers holding two new masterpieces

A masterpiece with ice cream at 1000 Hills Community Helpers

A masterpiece with ice cream at 1000 Hills Community Helpers

Wendy Bjurstrom of CompassioNow with Scovia

Wendy Bjurstrom of CompassioNow with Scovia

Blowing bubbles at 1000 Hills Community Helpers

Blowing bubbles at 1000 Hills Community Helpers

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

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

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

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Running

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

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

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

Until a few weeks ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Bad Rap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glennon over at Momastery had this to say this week:

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

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

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

It’s timely and costly to go further.

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

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

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

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

But Now

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

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

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

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

But now.

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

But now.

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

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

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

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

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

And it’s there for you too.

There’s This

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

Radical. Grace. Abundance. And when you see what you have in comparison to what they have…well. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, perusing bits of past blogs to see where and why and who… and you in it all!

First, there’s this:
The CareNow Foundation was created after Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom visited several countries in Southern Africa in 2002 and again in 2004. Aghast at the enormity of the AIDS crisis, Ed and Wendy saw that solving the AIDS crisis was an incredibly daunting task but that other aid could be offered immediately. Ed commented the other day that while one could sit around and discuss plans for solving the problem, that wasn’t caring now and caring NOW was what he and Wendy wanted to do, to find ways to help immediately. That people were dying due to the lack of a medicine that cost 25 cents, Ed added, seemed ludicrous and unconscionable to him. Hence, CareNow was created…. (Please remember that CompassioNow was originally called CareNow Foundation.) Lee Kennedy, another founder and Matt’s uncle, explained to me, “Seeing first hand, looking into the eyes of people and realizing how much I have, how much even the poor of this country have, by comparison, changed me. Bill Hybels (Founder and Senior Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago) once stated that when he went to Africa and saw it, something changed and relocated in his gut and it never returned to where it had been. I understand that. Scriptures often talk about how Jesus looked at individuals, the leper, the prostitute, the down and out, and saw them, not their titles, illnesses, occupations. There is something about really looking into the eyes and seeing that changes you. I went through life looking at pictures and news and not really seeing. Once I saw, I had to do something.”

And of course, this:
Jack and Chris Faherty, Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom, and Lee and Anne Kennedy met that weekend in February in Palm Springs as friends whose life experiences had scattered them around California. They left Palm Springs as the founders of a new business… Compassion Tea Company. (**Later, life-long tea drinker, friend, and relative of the Kennedys, Donna Cribbs was asked to join the core group of founders. Together, the board has built this very exciting new company!)
Jack explained to me that all three couples have been actively involved in the CareNow Foundation. Ed and Wendy founded it while Anne and Chris have served on its board and made trips to Africa taking wheelchairs, other medical equipment, and medicines to clinics supported by CareNow. All three couples are intimately involved in the fundraising efforts of CareNow as a result. But Jack wasn’t satisfied with the results. Surely, he thought, there must be a better, more sustainable way to raise funds and awareness.
After looking at the business models of several charitable organizations and after much prayer and research, Jack and Chris felt the answer was tea. Tea, they learned, is the number one beverage consumed worldwide after water. In 2009, Americans alone consumed over 60 billion servings of tea. Improved health is often attributed to drinking tea. Because tea is often produced in poorer, more rural areas of the world, places like those CareNow seeks to help, it seemed like a natural product for increasing awareness of those places. And finally, tea tastes great, encourages relaxation and conversation, and is the perfect event through which to spread compassion.
I remember Aunt Anne excitedly telling me shortly after this February meeting in Palm Springs, “God is our CEO!” The company has chosen this Bible verse as their standard: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble” 1 Peter 3:8. It is this awareness, awakeness to use a theme from previous blogs, that started Compassion Tea, and it has been God’s hand that has driven its creation process. We, at Compassion Tea, are all ecstatic about the future… especially since the first shipments of tea have already gone out to eager customers. We have already begun to “Share Tea, Save Lives!” What can we order for you?

And because of all that, there’s this:
Nellie Chitambo, a worker at Mission Medic Air in Zambia, recently wrote the following report: “The airplane is under maintenance so this trip was made using our land vehicle. It started as a normal trip when we left Ndola… Thursday morning. Unfortunately, the vehicle broke down partway to our destination. We had to rebuild the diesel pump and filter which delayed our arrival at the mission hospital significantly. We finally arrived in the early morning hours on Friday….
After resting, the medical team was allocated rooms to operate from and the team got their bags to the rooms to begin their work. There were so many patients that the Optician missed lunch in order to clear the long line of patients.
Medical side was also busy with the group having to take turns to have their lunch. On Saturday after finishing the clinic, the following numbers were treated:
-Medical 251 patients
-Optical 120 patients
15 patients booked for surgery
-Dental 44 patients
TOTAL 415 patients in all” (Read the full report at www.compassionow.org.)
415 people served during a two day clinic in the bush! CompassioNow has in the past provided funding for that airplane which has carried more than one person to hospital in the larger cities to get treatment he or she couldn’t possibly receive in the bush. Back in November, CompassioNow team members carried over suitcases full of eyeglasses and shots of Novocaine which would have been used by the optician and the dentist during this clinic.
We could stop here and pat ourselves on the back. Hey, great job, Compassion Tea/CompassioNow! But that would be all wrong. It feels great to know that what we are doing has dramatic impact on our neighbors in Africa, don’t get me wrong. But we love because God first loved us. And that love aches for those who haven’t been served, it rejoices for those who have, and it hopes for a future wherein we can love on even more people. Love is why.

Radical

We’re celebrating this week! Three years ago, Compassion Tea was born. It came out of a radical desire to make a difference now for people in Africa who have very little or no access to quality health care. As if written for just this purpose, Ann Voskamp wrote about radical grace and how it is the game changer in a life. Gratitude is the fire in the belly that says that and that are unjust. Read here.

More later about the radical people behind Compassion Tea and the radical grace that put the fire in their bellies to make a change.

Napkins

My last pregnancy was really messy. I was pregnant, but I kept losing pregnancies so we had to watch the first weeks carefully. Then we found out the hormone levels were doubling and tripling what they would for a normal pregnancy… that seemed great, except I felt like I was swimming in a sea of off-balance, out-of-body nausea that wouldn’t quit and I didn’t want it to. Then there two babies to rejoice over and plan for and there’s our nearly 4 year old to take care of. Plans came to a halt because there was only one baby now, and deep, deep ugly mourning. And that one night when I rocked my babies, one alive and kicking and one dead. And God spoke clearly to me that my baby angel had done his purpose, had accompanied Joseph through those difficult first stages and was now living in Heaven… twins separated before birth. The prolapsed cervix that followed had me struggling to move. Afternoons of Angelina Ballerina on the sofa trying not to vomit, to mother my out of the womb child and my in the womb child simultaneously when all my energy seemed to be going to growing that baby and there wasn’t anything left over for me or her, my already been born baby. There are videos, songs, books, and smells that have such strong nausea associations with them that I can’t look, watch, read, or sniff without a physical and emotional reaction. There was bleeding and pre-labor and a shot to speed up the lung development and then swollen ankles and fingers and pain in every ligament as the stretching stretched me taut. It could have been a lot worse, but it certainly wasn’t a beautiful thing to watch… not in the way that some women carry babies like a fanny pack. Into that mess stepped a few women who agreed to bring meals to help us out. Women from church, who were living chaotic lives raising children of their own, swung by every other day with a meal, a moment of explanation of what needed to be done to finish it off, a smile and an encouraging word. Then they were out the door easy breezy and I felt like the Holy Spirit had just swept through. Because I was hungry for sisterhood, for someone to come alongside me and wrap her arms around me and tell me that this is what women do for their families. And it would be okay in the end. One poor woman arrived with a meal, harried, rushed, and I needed to talk about the news I had just received that my cervix was prolapsed and I would really need to be careful and I was kind of at the end of my wits. And she was too. I felt it in her presence and I saw it in her face as my need to gush overpowered her need to get out the door. Shock, unpreparedness, discomfort all played like banners across her face. She wanted to scream, “TMI!” And I wanted her, anyone, someone, to sit and listen and grab a Kleenex for me. I bring this up because something is trying to break through in my mind. Women’s Ministry has often been about cute little tea parties and happy little socials where women dress up, show off their new hat, gush a bit over each other, and then fold the napkin prim and proper and leave. That’s been my impression. But, I’m starting to see that the napkin isn’t to be folded. It’s to be used as a tourniquet to stem the bleeding, or as a handkerchief soggy and slimy, to wipe away the stains, to give the other a soft lovey, to sponge up the mess. Ministry of all kinds is more like walking into triage than through a flower garden. Because it’s messy out there. The word in Christian circles has been about glorifying God in the little things, in everything we do from changing the diapers, sweeping up Cheerios, carpooling, folding laundry, photocopying at work, grocery shopping. Ann Voskamp is writing about doing what He tells you to do, even if you’re limping along. Stephen Curtis Chapman is singing about it. So is Josh Wilson. And I try. I try to say as I’m folding Mt. Laundry that this has a very important role in my family life and I’m doing a great service of love for my family. I try to look at the grocery store and the playground and the baseball field as my mission field. And I see the women around me and I know they are coming from seminary and life-experience and while I can’t hold a candle to their Biblical knowledge I can see their scars and their wounds and their pain. Because it is my pain and my scars and my wounds. Sometimes we call it spiritual warfare, sometimes we call it out as Satan attacking, and sometimes we just need to go in a room and cry. Someone pass that napkin, we’ve got an ugly cry in room 3. Cancer strikes. Death leaves a void. People betray trust. Sanctity is destroyed. Families are tearing each other apart. It’s messy out there. I have times when I think, “My goodness, I should be traveling to Africa. I need to go and see for myself. I need to take a greater stand, do more, be more… for Africa.” Because I’m certain that God called me to be a part of Compassion Tea and CompassioNow. He gave me an interest in writing. He gave me modest talents in that vein. He gave me a heart that weeps and weeps and weeps for those less cared for. But the door to Africa is shut for now. Instead, He points me to a friend, a neighbor, a fellow mother and says, “Get busy.” The problem is that I’m feeling a lot like I did in those pregnancy days, a bit consumed with what is going on in my immediate vicinity. Whether it’s a secret room under the house still full of wet insulation or a daughter who’s trying out this new attitude and persona or a son who feels left behind because sister doesn’t have time for him anymore, it is consuming me and when another hurting being comes close I want to gush my woes more than listen to her. I mean, what would have happened if I had stopped my gush and asked my meal-bearer for her story. What kind of meeting would there have been? Or it is okay for a season to be the gusher? Can we even glorify God in the gushing? Can the exposure of our wounds to full view be a blessing to someone else? Put out the napkins. It’s messy out there.

Heart Pumping

“The heart is a muscle. It requires exercise. It needs to thump hard regularly to build itself up again.”

This from a cardiologist. Does your heart need a good exercise? Does it need to go thumping hard? Here are few things coming in from the clinics we support that might help exercise that heart of yours.

From Tanzania Christian Clinic
“Besides being refreshed by the lovely weather, we have felt even more renewal through the coming of Jo Jo Elliot, Harding grad (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) and Vanderbilt RN straight from the CV Surgery ICU. Reviving us with her gentle ways, up-to-date knowledge and skills, and spiritual perspective, Jo Jo is fun to be around. She will be working at TCC for several months; how thankful we are that the Lord sent her to us!

In addition, along with Mary we are finding joy in “the Mighty One who has done great things for us” (Luke 1: 49). Just this morning Danny received the long-awaited and prayed-for news that the local government officials will provide our NGO, Tanzania Christian Services, a prime piece of property on which to build a Christian Secondary School in Monduli! Enjoying great road frontage, this piece of land also has electricity and water hook-ups nearby. Though we do not yet have the agreement in writing, the Monduli District Commissioner has given verbal approval and construction will begin as soon as documents are in hand. Our unending thanks go out to each of you who have earnestly prayed for God to bring this decision to fruition. What a mighty God we serve!”

From Village of Hope Uganda

“I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you.”  –John 14:18

It’s hard to look into the eyes of a child, who has no shoes, torn clothes and a bloated belly, without it grabbing your heart. In 2006, during a brief time spent in Northern Uganda, that grab turned into action.

We took action when we built our first village and moved 200 orphan children living in horrific conditions to a brand new home. Philippians 4:19 says, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” The Village of Hope Uganda is a living testimony to the richness of Paul’s words in Philippians 4:19 which says, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” because the Lord has abundantly provided. Now we are taking action again by opening Bobi Village, our second community of homes for orphan children. On February 2, 2014, 96 more children will be taken to a community where they will be loved on by the village moms, given medical care, educated at the village school, and fed nourishment to both the body and soul.

I cannot say thank you enough for the many people who have supported Bobi Village. Because of your efforts, Bobi has received the funds needed for full sustainability. One person didn’t make this happen. Sure, God spoke to my heart back in 2006 to “do something” but without the support, help, prayers, donations from people all across this country, that child would still be living with no shoes, torn clothes, a bloated belly, and NO HOPE for his future.

Thank YOU for moving from compassion to ACTION!

Join us in celebrating the Grand Opening of the Bobi Village on February 2, 2014! You may not be able to fly all the way to Uganda, but you can celebrate right where you are!

Love and Blessings,

Cindy Cunningham”

Lily of the Valley is getting ready to celebrate 20 years of helping orphaned children in South Africa!

From 1000 Hills Community Helpers

Little ones eating ice cream for the first time, quilts hung by the lunch area, grannies sewing, and a coat of paint and some fun stickers turn a portable storage unit into a classroom!

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A Love Song

Every now and then, I pause and hover. Before the lights go up, before the moaning and the groaning start in, before we begin our daily journey, our ripping and shredding of hearts, our growing and pruning, our banter and loving so strong it hurts, before all that I have to pause. Over eyelids and lips pursed in a sleep kiss, over hair fanning across the pillow, and stillness that takes my breath away. It’s because for a second I am transported back to early days when your little bird eyes searched my face, rolled back in your heads as the milk came in and you drank with lavish pleasure. It’s because the sleep face is the baby face of yesterday before the grown-up, growing up. It’s the face of contentment and innocence before the hurts and comparisons and strivings to be accepted settle in. I need to see what you were, sometimes, to better see where we’re going on this quest for adulthood, independence, whateverness, and to ground me again in motherhood.

I paused this morning over you, my son, taken aback for second as I waited to see you breath. And your body shook when I brushed the quilt from your face and you sighed and my heart flipflopped. Pounding out a love song to my waking boy.

The heart flipflop. You brought it again as you climbed out of the car to walk to school. You, my oldest, my mini-woman, my little girl going through the Rites of Passage… braces, the popular crowd stuff… who doesn’t want to play with little brother anymore, who doesn’t know what she wants half the time, you say, “I wish I lived in Africa so I wouldn’t have to go to school.”

Child, I don’t think you know what you are saying. And I’m sure you are speaking for effect, not out of any great desire to see it come to fruition. But I’ve read Beatrice’s Goat with you about the dear Ugandan girl who wants so desperately to go to school but her family doesn’t have the funds for the uniform or the books… at least until they receive a Heifer International goat and that changes everything. You have read the letters from Prossy in Uganda, our sponsored child, your African sister, and you’ve seen her joy at learning. And goodness knows I’ve talked your ear off about “those less fortunate.” Maybe my words have just become gibberish in your ears.

Is it typical tween behavior… this incessant focus on “me?” Or have I somehow fostered it, an unwanted consequence of the life of privilege your father and I have provided? Am I even being fair? Because it may be that your heart beats stronger for others than your peers. I can’t tell.

But privilege you have. That is true. And blessing and we can hardly compare ourselves with others, and yet, the comparisons are there, constantly. The “why can’t I have” and “why can’t I do” comparisons that point out where someone has it better than you, despite your 100 other ways of having it better than them in the first place.

It breaks my heart, this discontent.

You, son, get in the car after school and run through your laundry list of people you want to play with this afternoon and when I say no because we have homework and people working in the kitchen, you slump ugly and accuse me of never letting you have a play date and of always letting sister have sleep overs. I hit the brakes. “Always” is a lie here. And if sister were here she would complain that you always get play dates and she never does. This discontent, it is the work of the Devil.

There is clearly evil walking Africa. War lords, poverty, tribal unrest, insufficient supplies, food, work, housing, peace. My newsfeeds daily point to the want, to the poorest parts of Africa, to stories of children left behind because of AIDS, war, poverty, handicaps, because it is just too much to feed another mouth.

There is evil walking America too. It’s in the discontent. It’s looking over the fence and saying, “Things are better there.” It’s refusing to see what you have and seeking something more instead. It’s bitter complaint rather than lavish praise and gratitude.

And here, my dear children, Mommy bows down too. I’m just as guilty as you. I understand your wanting. Something “new” will certainly “fill the void.” But there is no void, not really. All we really need we have.

The other day, your uncle prayed for our comfort to be restored, for our kitchen to be restored to its previous state. It curled my toenails a little. Discomfort is God’s pruning. And perhaps it is necessary to shape us better, cleaner, brighter and for that we should be thankful.

Of course, you’re going to have to come to this realization on your own. Mommy’s preaching will only reach so far; experience will be the better teacher.

But I look back at where we were… at sleeping in bliss, milk coma rapture, joy at every flower, butterfly, goose, doggie, book… contentment found in a clean diaper, a full belly, a warm hug… and I am grateful for those memories. There were times of contentment, there will be times again. I love you deeply and will walk this road with you, will weather the pruning beside you, and will cheer you on toward the goal. Find the things to relish, children. The world is full of them!