Make Me a Bird

tumblr_mt5b1cmH0q1rbv0tfo1_500“Dear God, Make me a bird so I can fly far, far away from here.” It’s my favorite part of the movie Forrest Gump. A young Jenny is hiding in a cornfield and she draws Forrest down onto his knees next to her and these are the words that frame the movie, these words and that feather floating in the bluest of skies. It resonates with me… the hiding in a cornfield. Been there, done that. Indiana has lots of cornfields and the one next to the house is just as good as any for getting lost in, for hiding in, for dreaming in. Because sometimes you just need to get away. And kneel. And dream that the tassels whispering in the wind are the soul-quenching love notes of a God who knows you and feels along with you the pain in your heart.


My kids have an unquenchable desire to fly. Little Miss is outgrowing her desire somewhat as age and experience jade her sense of limitless possibilities. But she spent a year or more in fairy wings and ballet tutus ever sure that one of these days those wings would find the magic necessary to lift her off the ground. And Camo Kid, well, he’s still in dragon wings and may never outgrow his desire. When asked what he wants to be when he grows up he says, “A fighter pilot.” Daily, he concocts plans for jet packs and flying ships and personal wings. And when Little Miss steps in with her “reality check,” I shush because really, who wants to live in a world where flight isn’t possible.


Maybe these kids inherited it from me. When they ask to add to our menagerie a pet bird, I am offended. Clip the wings? Cage the bird? Stop the flight? How inhumane. How anti-nature. Let the birds soar. Let the birds be free.


Hiking this morning, I was startled as I came around a bend in the path by a flock of pigeons rising out of an oak tree. The rising sun painted their breasts a peachy-pink and the blue morning sky accentuated their soaring outlines. I startled them. They startled me. And in that moment of watching their freedom, I uttered a prayer like Jenny’s. Dear God, make me fear-free like the birds. Help me to soar on wings like they do, above the fray, in the blue, with the rising sun touching wing-tip.unnamed-29 unnamed-27 unnamed-26 unnamed-31 unnamed-33 unnamed-30


And Jesus’ words in Matthew flashed across my mind: Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matthew 6:26)


On the dawn of this new year, I look forward knowing that a year from now I won’t be the same person, living the same life. Things are going to happen. People, places, circumstances are going to change. And that knowledge brings with it fears. I don’t like the unknown anymore than the next guy… maybe even less.


And I touch my cross, the one that hangs from my neck, the one with these words: But those who wait on the Lord
 Shall renew their strength;
 They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
 They shall run and not be weary, 
They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

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These life words. These words of prayer… Lord, make it so. Because I’m the man in Mark 9:24 crying out, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” I want to believe that I am of more value than the birds in God’s economy. I want to believe that my running will be swift and stron, and that despite the pounding in my heart and brain, I will not faint.


I don’t need to fly far, far away. But I do need to fall on my knees and pray. Over and over again. Because in the praying that it be so, I will find my wings. Lord, let it be so. Help my unbelief.

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There. I’ve Owned It.

Last night, I was driving home from a meeting and my car struck a deer. There. I’ve owned it. I was at this meeting and off-handedly said as I walked out the door, “I hope I don’t hit a deer on the way home.” Everyone chuckled because it is fall and the deer are down out of the ridgeline looking for water in the arroyo and they are constantly crossing our yards and streets. It is what it is. And with this thought forefront in my mind, I headed for home.

It was over before it happened. And I have been oddly peaceful about it. Oddly in that I haven’t cried or dreamed or fretted. I feel bad, yes. So, please don’t go throwing bricks through my windows for being a careless vehicular operator. I feel bad, but not broken.

So, here’s the throwback. About 15 years ago, I was driving home in the dark on a road I didn’t normally travel. I hit an opossum. It nearly broke me. I cried the entire way home and well into the night. The next day, when I went to school to teach, I was still shaken. A mentor friend of mine who is well-versed in Native American mythology and spirituality tried to comfort me with the Native American belief that often animals will sacrifice themselves for a human in order to impart a particular characteristic of theirs to the human. She suggested many noble characteristics that the opossum might have imparted, but the one that sticks out after all these years is “what does an opossum do when it is afraid?” It plays dead. Fear and playing dead.

There has been a lot of fear these past 15 years. Fear that has grown cold and immoveable, dead weight. Fear that has robbed joy, that has bound and stifled life. Fear that has taken me down to the core at times.

So, I’ve been mulling last night’s events in light of my earlier experience. If it is possible that the opossum imparted some of its characteristics to me 15 years ago, than what did the deer impart last night?

Beauty? Strength? A wild freedom? Graceful gentleness?

Maybe this marks a new start? Maybe this is the breakthrough I’ve been awaiting? Maybe this is symbolic of a restart? I can throw off the opossum, stop playing dead, and can wow, run and leap and flash great big doe eyes and stop hearts with the beauty and grace my heart now possesses. Can it be?

I’m thinking about the moment, about how one moment there was an open road ahead of me and in the blink of an eye there was a deer. Was it a sacrifice? I can’t really wrap my head around that notion. It seems a little too egocentric. And not for a second would I believe that God placed that deer at that exact moment for that exact purpose. No. I can believe that He is able to redeem the situation, make good come out of it, but it is a broken world and sometimes animals do jump in front of our cars.

There’s something about that word – sacrifice. I’m trying to see around it. Sacrifice. A giving up of something, a replacing of something in order to save it, blood and pain. And there it is. Sacrifice. I don’t need the deer to sacrifice for me. I don’t need the sacrifice, because a sacrifice has already been made.

When Jesus died on the cross, he was the sacrifice.

And what did he impart through his sacrifice? I am made new. He washed me clean, sainted me with righteousness, set me free from the law, and established residency in my heart.

Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we can take off the old, ragged, dirty clothes of our sin. We are wrapped in a beautiful cloak of strength and righteousness. Language is a struggle here. How do words express the transfer? How do words hold the magnitude of meaning?

I’m asking if this is a new start, if this is a throwing off of the dead opossum act and putting on the wild freedom, grace and beauty of the deer. But that is a moot question. Because I am already wildly free from shame and guilt and the past and from the labels of old. I have already been made beautiful.

I emailed the friend I spoke my hope to last night and shared with him how indeed my words had come true. He queried, “Does this fall under the name it and claim it category?”

I don’t know. But I do know that I can name my salvation. My salvation comes from the Lord (Jonah 2:9). And I can claim it. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to save us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Because God so loved the world that He gave His only son so that whoever believes in him might have life eternal (John 3:16). There. I’ve owned it.


I hiked up the ridge today like my life depended on it.

And maybe it did.

Like pounding up that path would shake out the clutter of my brain, like I could physically purge in all that huffing and puffing the stuff I’m carrying around like so many suitcases.

It worked for Abraham; he found a ram there. It worked for Moses; he saw God face to face. It worked for Elijah; he heard God’s plan for protection. So, maybe God is at the top of the mountain. Because sometimes resting in God means pounding hard the things that aren’t Him.

Because it’s been a rough week. Rough in a dying to self kind of way. And I have to pause and ask myself what I even mean by that. What am I even talking about?

In the first flushes of accepting what I believed was God’s call on my life to act as the head of our Women’s Ministry team, I quickly came to the conclusion that this was way bigger than me, than anything I could manage to pull off. This remains my operating platform. And therefore I have to leave ego at the door and leave things open for God to work.

Things have been working in only the ways that God can make them work. People have stepped forward and volunteered at the last moment. Ruffled feathers have smoothed over without much more than solid prayer. Our groups are full to bursting and the continual feedback is that we’re tackling some really good stuff in our groups. And each time someone compliments me on writing our study of Jonah, there is a moment when I want to take credit. But I can’t. That wouldn’t be right.

So that’s what I mean. Acknowledging over and over again God’s complete control over this is breaking me down. The fact that He is blessing this so richly right now suggests to me that yes, this is His work and that for this season I get to be one of His instruments. And if that doesn’t rock your world, I don’t know what will. That the great big God of the universe might say, “Hey, gorgeous! I created you for this season, for this time, and this place.” Excuse me. I need to take off my shoes because this is holy ground I’m standing on.

But what happens when the wheels fall off the bus? Because they will. Because this is a broken, messed up world. Because we are human and we like falling down rabbit holes, especially ones we dig up for ourselves. And because on every front I’ve got front row seats to her cancer story and his business going under and her messy divorce and his infidelity and her long battle with mental illness and his greed and these are the things that crush and hurt and muddle. How do you say to someone looking down the hallway of a life of pain or rejection or anger that God isn’t sending this as punishment but that yes He is allowing it so that He might be glorified through it all? How do you take someone’s hand, hand them a Kleenex, and pray over them with bold claims for healing, knowing that sometimes… often… the healing doesn’t look like our idea of healing. How are these not just empty words?

It was this that sent me fleeing up the ridge today. Fear. Fear that this is all going to come crashing down around me in a colossal earthquake of failure. What, God, what will I do when You turn your face from me?

Because in the past, it has felt like you have. After the first miscarriage, I was rocked. After the second, mad and determined. After the third? That completely shook my faith. I had no ground on which to stand. Why would the great big God of the universe, the benevolent savior-sender, sin-forgiver, ABBA father do THAT? How could He rob a mother of not just one but another and another and still another child? Where could there possibly be glory in that?

And do you know what He keeps saying? “I didn’t hide my face from you. I have always been there. And we’re dancing together right now; so enjoy the dance.”

And the glory? Where is the glory?

It’s in the ego checked at the door. It’s in the leaving room for God to work. It’s in the full dependency, in the complete breaking apart of self and ego and independence. There on the tear-stained floor, in the fleeing from fear, in the running because it can’t be fixed by my efforts… there is the glory that is the moment of complete surrender.

When you leave the door open for God to work, He does.

And it becomes another step up the mountain of unshakeable faith.

Psalm 27

4 The one thing I ask of the Lord—
the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
delighting in the Lord’s perfections
and meditating in his Temple.
5 For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
he will hide me in his sanctuary.
He will place me out of reach on a high rock.
6 Then I will hold my head high
above my enemies who surround me.
At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
singing and praising the Lord with music.
7 Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
Be merciful and answer me!
8 My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
9 Do not turn your back on me.
Do not reject your servant in anger.
You have always been my helper.
Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,
O God of my salvation!
10 Even if my father and mother abandon me,
the Lord will hold me close.
11 Teach me how to live, O Lord.
Lead me along the right path,
for my enemies are waiting for me.
12 Do not let me fall into their hands.
For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
with every breath they threaten me with violence.
13 Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
while I am here in the land of the living.
14 Wait patiently for the Lord.
Be brave and courageous.
Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you catch that? People liked what they saw!

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

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

The Constant

Moon resting on the shoulder of the ridge, street lamp underneath copying the light, poor substitute, mocker. And yet there’s something delightful in the pairing – God’s creation, Man’s attempt to light the night, imperfect and yet brilliant.

Frost on the rooftops, sweat on my brow. This early morning walk to clear the gullet, the sinuses, the brain before today’s demands awake.

The first bird of the morning flits from under a bush and makes a peep, tentative. “Is it time to get up?” it seems to query.

Across the valley, the sky is yellowing. The blue over the ridge is washing out, too. The moon still hangs, awaiting the arrival of the sun, wanting to greet the maker of its light. How lovely to be here for the passing of the giants.

Clara saw it in reverse the other night while riding the horse. Sun set across the valley, slipping down the ridge into the bay, while moon arose, full and orange, larger than life in the tricks of the atmosphere, triumphant in its artificial light. It spoke to her as this morning speaks to me.

Since the beginning of creation, there has been this moon and this sun and how many mornings and how many evenings have they passed in the sky, nodding to each other, tilting their hats in polite recognition. “Good morning, Sun.” “Why, a good morning to you too, Moon.”

It is the continuity that startles me today. While the things of life seem ever changing, ever awash, while I balance precariously on the tightrope of life, while the storms of life strike again and again at me and certainly at those around me… this is unchanging.

My unstated resolution for the year… to reread the Bible cover to cover. I bought a chronological Bible divided for just such a goal as this. I’m reading the stories of Jacob and Joseph, captivating stories, coming to life again in the holy words. Jacob, in his wrestling with God, saw this same sun. Joseph, from his cell in prison, must have marveled at the moon through the window. The same sun shone on Dinah and Rebekah and Rachel and Sarah too. And they marked their days by the stages of the moon.

The sun, it shines on little Prosy in Africa today, in Uganda, and South Africa and on the people seeking healthcare and the people serving them.

It will shine on tea drinkers, opening the morning paper, reading today’s Facebook posts from friends, heading to work, or settling into the sofa still in jammies for a morning of leisure.

It will be there later today when I drive a road that requires extra prayer. Constant, like its creator. And in that constancy I can relax; I find assurance, hope and faith are built.

Even in the parts of the world where cloud covers the sky, rise up above, soar through the clouds, and there on the other side is the sun. It didn’t disappear. It didn’t go whizzing off into space in a frightful blaze. No, it’s glory is there, behind the clouds, waiting to be revealed.

And tonight, somewhere in the sky, Moon and Sun will tip their hats in polite greeting. “Well done, friend Sun.” “Why thank you, friend Moon. Carry on!”

Finding the Joy in the Mess

Took the dog for a walk yesterday.

It’s been a while. He’s had to settle for chasing balls and frisbees in the front yard… what with the flu striking the house and now the water issues. Poor dear.

We circled the block near the school and ended at the park where he could go off-leash. The boy went nuts! He was free and literally jumping… every step had a bounce. And he stopped and turned and looked at me and there was a smile on that dog’s face. Joy, covered in shag. It was uninhibited freedom and joy with a big black nose and floppy ears.IMG_20130208_115154_813 IMG_20130823_105449_287 IMG_20131019_165045_397

And I thought there’s a story here, a message. Because that is the kind of joy I seek. Right here, in the middle of the mess, joy. Over the sound of the blowers and the air scrubber… joy.

There was joy beyond compare yesterday and today, too, for my son who found a pile of gravel left over at the park. Some really big sticks and rocks and this pile of gravel and he could play for hours. Imagination working overtime, joy in the physical labor of digging a cave, body heat and the sun’s warmth pinking his cheeks. The stick is a sword, a gun, a laser beam, a shovel, a tool depending on the moment. Sand in the shoes and the pockets, grime on the hands, grit in the hair… is there anything that announces the joy of a boy so loudly?IMG_20140110_143815_362 IMG_20140109_133617_039

I delight in their joy. It brings a smile to my face and lifts my spirits. But where do I find that same kind of joy? I’m envious of the freedom dog and boy have to feel intense joy. (And maybe non-dog lovers are tilting their heads asking do dogs really feel intense emotion. I have to argue that yes joy is in their sensory data.) Where do I go for that same kind of kick-in-the-pants frolic?

Really been feeling kind of blue today. I blame it on the sound of jet engines in my kitchen, the slow drying out of my house, the tedious calls with insurance, the waiting. Waiting is my personal pariah. Not good at it. Horrible actually. Just ask my husband about the time I couldn’t wait for him to help me paint the back door, or the time I enlisted the help of the children to help me move the sofa instead of waiting for him to return home. I want action, decision, answers, progress.

And yet, funny thing. God hasn’t been content with my moping. “Look for the blessings! At least this isn’t happening over Christmas,” quips a friend this morning. Another friend texts me Psalm 16:11, “You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” During some quiet time this morning, my Bible study takes me to James 1: 2-4, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing…” and to Philippians 3:20, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ….”
He’s got my attention. I’m listening. And I’m asking. Is this wet kitchen a trial, a challenge that ranks with the biblical challenges faced by the heroes of the Bible? There seem to be categories of challenges… something like this… challenges to one’s ministry, challenges to one’s safety and security, challenges to one’s beliefs about self and/or standing in society, challenges to one’s health and comfort. There must be some variation in the intensity of the challenge too. Right? And don’t challenges to one’s ministry rank higher in biblical implications than say challenges to one’s comfort?

I’m confused. We are to count each challenge as joy. I can understand how the apostles felt joyful over a flogging because they felt like they were experiencing what Christ had suffered and there was testimony in coming through it well. Not that I personally want to experience this particular challenge. But I’m having trouble finding joy in the mess that is my kitchen. And I just can’t reconcile my challenge as necessarily bringing God glory. How? No, it just seems like a major inconvenience, a distraction sent to derail me… like the plethora of distractions this fall. Kind of sick of the derailments.

The Bible study went on to talk about how we are not citizens of this world, this is not our home, we are mere travelers, nomads on earth. This is Christianese, church talk. I like it, I get it. There was that time I heard Beth Moore talk about going out to a Mexican restaurant and ordering fajitas. After the meal, she smelled like fajitas. She equated it to our lives here on earth. We are to eat the fajitas but not smell like the fajitas, be a part of the earthly world, but not act like it, smell like it, or cling to it.

And really it’s not the kitchen itself that has me upset. I know that it will all get sorted and a kitchen is just a kitchen after all and at least I have a kitchen and hot water and electricity and food to prepare. So I don’t think I’m clinging to the world; I don’t think that is really creating the funk.

Really, I’m just not sure where to find the joy and … big AND… can I come through this without smelling like the world? Can I deal with the inconvenience and the disruption to plans and the kids telling me I’m not fair because I have to choose being home to meet a plumber over going to the park and claims agents who may or may not have our best interests at heart? How do I live in the world, because this is where God put me, for just such a time as this, how do I live in this with a soggy kitchen when I’m really seeking Heaven? I have to deal with the here and now. And do soggy kitchens really have eternal implications?

Is there a 12 step program out there on how to live in the world and not smell like it?

The answer is right in front of me… in the words of my friends, in Scripture. Count the blessings. Look for them, seek them out, open the eyes. Dig in the dirt to find them. Take off the leash and jump. Count God’s gifts. Because in God’s presence is fullness of joy… not in the kitchens or the other things of this world… in God’s presence.

So, counting the blessings of today:
1. Sunshine and a dirt pile
2. Making a new friend
3. A tree full of birds
4. 3 multi-colored chicken eggs in a freshly cleaned roosting box
5. Following 3 police cars rather than being followed by 3 police cars
6. A surprise gift arriving
7. Lemons hanging on a tree
8. The beauty of sharing faith with a friend
9. Quiet time… despite the fans
10. A dog’s nose resting on my arm in companionship

And each of these is a gift of God, a little treasure He tucked into my day, moments to stop and feel His presence.

Reveling in those moments, counting them, listing them, publicly announcing them for what they are, that is how one doesn’t smell like the world. It derails the funk, turns living into thanksgiving, ushers us into God’s presence, and makes us look different, smell different, less worldly. We can rejoice in our challenges, whatever they may be, when we count the blessings.

Of Leaking Pipes and Moping Children

“Well, that just shows that you never have time for us.” These are the words out of my son’s mouth.

Him, the little one who is always first in line for a kiss, who hugs bear style, trying to wrestle you to the ground with the fierceness of his affection, him with the bright blue eyes that speak of summer skies and flying, of crystal waters and deep swimming, of adventures and calm juxtaposed in limitless blue, he who utters “love you mama” at the slightest offense on his part, the one I can always count on to take my side, have my back.

And I’m standing in the mud next to a lake in the shadows of dusk, fishing tackle in one hand, dog leash in the other. We’ve spent an hour trying to catch fish, throwing sticks into the water for the dog, exploring the reeds, and just breathing in the chill as evening settles in. We have to go home. It will be dark by the time we get home and the plumber will be waiting. Turns out we have a hot water pipe leaking under the kitchen. Mold and mildew in the cupboards tipped us off something is amiss. I don’t want to miss the plumber.

Yet, this. These words of frustration or trial or just plain mean-hearted sass. I’m blind-sided. Not fair. I want to turn hard, to force recognition of injustice, to call this one out. I want to whine like they do. Not fair.

2:37 AM. I knew I’d be awake. I had fallen asleep readily, but the idea of leaky pipes, mold, sopping insulation, changing a day’s plans, remodeling, no hot water for how long… I knew in advance that at some point these monsters of supposition, of inference, of imagination, of unknown commodities would rear up and strike at my rest. Am I doing enough, disinfecting everything in sight? Are we all going to fall violently ill? How long are we going to be inconvenienced? Who will I have to inconvenience along with me?

I can feel the knots forming around my body. In the shoulders, in the stomach. I’m hot and restless and hubby’s heavy breathing grates. This is not how to spend the night.

Ann’s book comes to mind. Find the gift, because “before the miracle comes the eucharisteo.” 1000 Gifts. Count them.

First thoughts are hard. I want to moan and complain. Maybe a little self-pity here is appropriate. Not unlike my son and his scathing, scarring words, I feel a little put out. If everything that befalls passes through His hands first, has to be approved by Him, then why. Why can’t I be left to do my work, to do my writing, my child-rearing, my wifely duties, my duties as a daughter and as a community member. Why thwart, inconvenience, alter plans?

Petulant, pouting child that I am.

But then the conversation starts. Father God. Please send us a plumber. Please protect us from the mold. The broken record of my mind skips and replays these requests.

Peace like a river? More like a slow warming, like snuggling up in a blanket by a warm fire, bit-by-bit the body responds to the warming trend, to the peace-giving. Remember that time when God gave this? Remember how He is working in that life, in that situation, look back and see the times He showed up. In looking back, I see the promise fulfilled, the peace given, the miracle delivered. Which is why we read the Bible I’m told. To remember. Through the Word, we see the promise fulfilled, the peace given, the miracle delivered… to others, yes, but to us by association, by adoption, by grace. Their stories are our stories. How many times did God’s people say, “Well, this just proves you never have time for us” when in fact the time has been taken, the way paved, the fire quenched, the lion’s mouth closed, the enemy defeated.

With the remembering and the counting comes sleep, peaceful sleep.

And in the morning as I pray again, “Father God, please send us a plumber,” the phone rings. Who calls at 6:45? It’s the plumber. And he’s coming. And no one is inconvenienced.

This will be another gift to remember, to count. With time, I hope, there will be less of the drama and more of the peace, less of the accusation and moping, and more of the rejoicing.

Building an Ark

“It took Noah 120 years to build the ark.” Wait. What? My understanding of Noah and his cruise through the floodwaters of the world has been shaped significantly by the cartoonish tellings of children’s Bibles with the sweet pictures of animals snuggly resting and the rhyming words that gloss over the reality of what was under the water. My understanding looks something like this: Noah gets a word from God to build a boat. God gives him very specific instructions about size and shape and cargo. Noah gets busy and finishes just in time to load the animals before the deluge hits, killing all life except what is on that boat. I remember studying the flood in college. There, we read a number of flood stories from a number of different religions. Based on the prolific motif of a flood destroying the earth found throughout early literature, we can safely assume that such a thing happened, so concluded that professor.

Well, it appears to be Noah week in the drama of my life. On Tuesday, we studied the life of Noah in Bible Study. My son Joseph is learning about Noah in preschool. In fact, he wore a green shirt and brought two stuffed animals to school today so that his class could form a rainbow (based on shirt color) and an ark-like zoo (hence, the stuffed animals). And last night, the Bible story I blindly pulled off the shelf to read to my kids was… yep, Noah.

So, Noah. The Bible tells us specifically that he was 500 years old when he had his first son and he was 600 when the flood started. He was 601 when he finally left the ark. He was a righteous man who walked with God and did exactly what God told him to do. And my Bible study commentary says that it took Noah 120 years to build the ark. Curious, I looked at Genesis 5-9, the story of Noah, over and over again in a number of translations. All I could see there was in Genesis 6:3 where God makes a promise that in 120 years He is going to wipe out the earth. Fed up with the evil, sad that He had created His creation, God says “Enough.” 120 years and the game’s up. But because Noah is righteous, God will save him and his family and seven pairs of every animal, bird, insect. (I feel like singing… “The Lord said to Noah, ‘There’s gonna be a floody floody.’ Lord said to Noah, ‘There’s gonna be a floody floody. Get those animals out of the muddy muddy. Children of the Lord.’”) So, I turned to the internet. Turns out there is a lot of discussion about how long it took Noah to build the ark. Hypotheses range from 50 to 75 to 120 years based on God’s promise of destruction and salvation, when Noah had his sons, when they were old enough to have wives, etc.

I felt discouraged. Noah taking 120 years to build the ark seemed so dramatic and cool. 50 years? Not so much. But, really, that’s ridiculous on my part. Can you imagine the situation? You’re far away from the sea. You are a farmer. You start building a large boat in your backyard. Why? Because God told you to. It doesn’t really matter how long it took. If it took 120 years, wow, that’s a long time to believe, follow through, and obey. If it took 75 years, wow, that’s a long time to believe, follow through, and obey. If it took 50 years, wow, you get the picture. Perseverance. Noah stuck it out.
One has to believe that he took some grief for his grand boat project. “Crazy old Noah! Always good for a laugh!” must have been the taunting around the neighborhood. After all, the Bible tells us that Noah was the only righteous man to be found. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that no one else knew God and/or if they had heard of Him they certainly didn’t believe, follow, or obey. Yes, Noah must have been the subject of many jokes. But he persevered.

With the jokes, were there other nuisances? Or even threats? If Noah knew that God was about to destroy the world and if he was telling the naysayers why he was doing what he was doing, which the Bible tells us he knew and he did, don’t you think there might have been some who were angered by the message? Who thought Noah was too proud and needed to come down a peg? Who might have tried to sabotage his work? Or who mocked Noah at every turn? “Where’s the rain, Noah? Where’s the flood? You’ve been working on this for 50 (or 75 or 120) years. Do you really believe this God is going to do what He says? Don’t you think maybe you just made this up in your mind?” But Noah persevered.

Do you know any Noahs today? People who buck convention, stick it out, persevere through thick and thin? People who seek to follow God’s ways, obey His commands, walk with Him even when the rest of the world is laughing?

A couple of our Compassion Tea directors are currently preparing for a trip to Africa this summer. While there, they will be distributing supplies, visiting clinics, taking notes about what is needed at the clinics, and well, frankly, risking their safety and certainly their comfort. Facing this huge trip must feel daunting, something like building an ark. How much and what is needed for the trip? How to collect medical supplies? How to carry those supplies to Africa? Once there, they will run across lots of other Noahs who are building arks in the shape of medical clinics and churches, who are tending to the most basic needs of their fellow man in places where voodoo is still the preferred method of medical treatment and where supplies for treating even the most basic illnesses are scarce. One of the clinics they will be visiting has a recently donated x-ray machine. This is new technology for the clinic. The machine is all set up and ready! But there is no one trained in how to use it. So it sits unused. Another clinic has patiently been waiting for its running water to be restored. They’ve been waiting for 2 years. The funding is there, but getting anything done in Africa is kind of like building an ark in the middle of a desert. It takes a whole lot of perseverance. The kind of perseverance that has led one of the missionaries with whom CompassioNow works to return to Africa after medical time off in the States. This missionary has celiac disease and has to eat gluten-free. Rural Africa doesn’t understand gluten-free. But for the sake of fulfilling God’s calling on her life, this missionary is stocking up on gluten-free food and heading back.

Fulfilling God’s calling is rarely easy. Whether it is building an ark in the desert or running a tea company or traveling to Africa to bring supplies and comfort, it takes a special brand of perseverance. I am pretty sure that when Noah heard God shut the door behind him and saw the waters pour forth from heaven and earth, he was infinitely glad he had listened and obeyed. Once the first x-ray is taken, once the first drops of water flow into the clinic, once the missionary sees the smiling face of a goo-goo (grandma in Africa), there will be much joy and relief. When our Compassion Tea directors deliver duffle bags of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies to clinics in Africa, there will be much joy and relief. When the directors return from Africa, there will be much joy and relief, too. But it will take continued perseverance for all of these things to happen… and a lot of tea!

That’s where you can step in! By drinking tea, by joining our membership, you can help the directors collect medical supplies to take to Africa. By drinking tea, by joining our membership, you can help CompassioNow send medical supplies to the clinics in other parts of Africa. By drinking tea, by joining our membership, you can provide funding for staff and water projects and other projects. We would love to welcome you aboard our ark!

Talk About Weather

I should be a Midwestern girl at heart, and I probably would still be if it weren’t for the weather. I grew up in eastern Indiana and moved to northeastern Ohio when I was heading into high school. I don’t recall ever feeling like the weather was oppressive, although, I do recall staring out across the cornfields at ominous dark clouds watching for a funnel, anticipating the storm’s power. Snow came and went, sometimes with fierceness and malice, sometimes gently and quietly. There were the years growing up when the blizzards hit and the snow draping down off the nearby church roof met with the drifted snow climbing the church wall and we had to cover the doors to the house with blankets to keep the snow and cold from drifting in. And, invariably, June and July would roll around and every single day we had swim lessons or the opportunity to board the bus for a nearby pool grey clouds would settle in and the wind would rise. The pool water was frigid and the air wasn’t much better. The next day, the sun would bake the land around us and send us panting to the shade of a large tree. But I moved in and through the weather, sometimes getting a late-sleep because of a fog delay or a free day off school because the roads had drifted shut with snow. I viewed these days like gifts from the weather gods. Weather was what happened around me and nothing more than that.

When we moved to Amsterdam, The Netherlands, I heard expats who had moved there from sunnier climates complaining about the weather. “Why doesn’t the sun ever shine here?” seemed to be their refrain. For me, the fast-moving clouds, the sporadic showers, the breaking sun through enormous puffy orange clouds was heavenly… so much better than the nebulous grey murk of home where horizons don’t exist, where sky and snow-covered landscape blend together in an endless greyness. And then, I moved to California where for several months each year there is no rain. At first, the incessant sun seemed to scorch my soul. I felt dry and thirsty… partly for rain and partly for companionship. I still embrace the first rain of the winter with open arms, but I quickly bid it good-bye. Hasta la vista, baby. Bring back the sun! I have become a sun-bunny and the dark, dreary rain storms that pass through don’t just happen around me, they happen in me too. Headaches, sadness, fears sit like a proverbial cloud over my head; it is a heavy cloud.

I’m talking about the weather here because one of my devotionals today describes depression in the way I would describe a winter’s day in northeastern Ohio – interminable darkness. Please read:

Coming Out of the Dark — 
Mary Southerland

I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD (Psalm 40:1-3, NIV).

Florida is famous for its sinkholes. I personally find them fascinating since I grew up in Texas where most holes are made intentionally. As I studied these overnight wonders, an interesting explanation emerged. Scientists assert that sinkholes occur when the underground resources gradually dry up, causing the surface soil to lose its underlying support. Everything simply caves in – forming an ugly pit.Depression and sinkholes have a lot in common. Depression seems to overwhelm with a vicious suddenness when it is actually the result of a malignant and constant process. Inner resources are slowly depleted until one day there is nothing left. The world caves in and darkness reigns.Depression is America’s number one health problem. Someone once called it “a dark tunnel without a ray of light” while some cartoonists often describe depression as a “little black cloud hovering overhead.” I have a friend who says, “Some days you’re the bnd
Florida is famous for its sinkholes. I personally find them fascinating since I grew up in Texas where most holes are made intentionally. As I studied these overnight wonders, an interesting explanation emerged. Scientists assert that sinkholes occur when the underground resources gradually dry up, causing the surface soil to lose its underlying support. Everything simply caves in – forming an ugly pit.
Depression and sinkholes have a lot in common. Depression seems to overwhelm with a vicious suddenness when it is actually the result of a malignant and constant process. Inner resources are slowly depleted until one day there is nothing left. The world caves in and darkness reigns.
Depression is America’s number one health problem. Someone once called it “a dark tunnel without a ray of light” while some cartoonists often describe depression as a “little black cloud hovering overhead.” I have a friend who says, “Some days you’re the bug. Some days you’re the windshield.” Many believe depression is simply a spiritual problem while others insist it is an emotional and physical disorder. I think they are all right. Studies indicate that over half of all women and one out of three men struggle with depression on a regular basis. Because no one is immune to the darkness, we must learn to face it honestly, with emotional integrity.
That moment came for me in the spring of 1995 when I realized that something was drastically wrong. I was empty and completely exhausted. It seemed as if I had been living in the fast and furious lane forever. Overwhelmed, I mentally listed the demands on my life:
• Serving as pastor’s wife in a large and fast-growing church
• Raising two young children
• Maintaining a hectic speaking schedule
• Directing the Women’s Ministry of our church
• Teaching a weekly and monthly Bible study
• Counseling women in crisis
• Playing the piano for three worship services
• Teaching twenty piano and voice students
No wonder I was struggling. I was just plain tired. Being a perfectionist, I had always been very strong, driven to excel with little sympathy for weak people. Now I, the strong one, couldn’t get out of bed. Getting dressed by the time my children returned from school meant it was a good day. The simplest decisions sent me into a panic and the thought of facing crowds was overwhelming. Many times, I walked to the front door of our church building but couldn’t go in. I felt guilty missing services but couldn’t handle the sympathetic looks and questioning stares as I stood, weeping uncontrollably. I was paralyzed, imprisoned in a bottomless pit where loneliness and despair reigned, wreaking emotional havoc from their throne of darkness. I had no idea how I had gotten there and what was even more frightening was the fact that I had no idea how to escape. I did the only thing I could do. I cried out to God.
“I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” (Psalm 40:1-2, NIV)
With that single heart cry, my journey from darkness into light began. The first step was to recognize the factors that can trigger depression; a lack of replenishing relationships, various chemical imbalances, and a poor self-image, just to name a few. One of the most common and deadly factors is failure to deal with the past. The “mire” mentioned in Psalm 40:2 means “sediment at the bottom.” When our children were small, we frequented the beach. Wading out into the ocean, they took turns pushing a beach ball under the water and counting to see who could hold the ball down for the longest time. Eventually their arms would tire, or the ball would escape their control, popping to the surface. The “mire” in our lives is like that beach ball. The “sediment” or “junk” that we have never dealt with settles at the bottom of our souls, randomly popping up until we run out of energy to keep it submerged. Eventually, this mire works its way to the surface, spilling ugliness and darkness into every part of life.
“Mire” comes in all shapes and sizes — buried pain, unresolved anger, hidden sin or a devastating loss. I had never really dealt with my mother’s death or faced some very painful parts of my past. As I looked back over my life, a startling realization came — I had painted a picture in my heart and mind of how I wanted my childhood to be, not how it really was. I had spent my whole life running from the past by filling the present with frenzied activity. In the following weeks and months, the Lord and I sifted through the enormous pile of “mire” that had settled into my spirit and life. Together we faced experiences that I had carefully locked away until they slammed into my heart and mind with breathtaking force and fresh pain; an alcoholic father, the trusted family doctor who molested me, times of loneliness and rejection, haunting failures, unreasonable fears that were never spoken. It seemed as if the flood of polluted memories would never end!
But God is good — providing a defense mechanism for those experiences that are beyond our ability to face. He gently tucks them away until we are ready. When we bury pain alive, it keeps popping up at unexpected moments. Pain must be dealt with and buried … dead! Freedom from the pit of darkness demands a confrontation of our past, straining every experience through the truth that “all” things work together for our good. The will of God admits no defeat and penalizes no one. We can allow our past to defeat us or empower us. Harnessing the power of the past is a compelling weapon in the war against darkness.

I’m pretty sure I fall into the 50% of women who have experienced depression. It’s such an ugly, lonely, dark place. My heart has cried out over and over again, “Lord, please take this.” Do I successfully hand it over to Him? Or do I keep grabbing it back? What about the times I think I’m doing great and then something happens to me? Someone says something that hits a nerve, or resurrects the head of the multi-headed serpent of self-doubt and self-recrimination and self-loathing, or throttles me squarely into the middle of a battle I didn’t start and want nothing to do with. These are my beach balls I suppose, the mire-covered buoyant issues that eternally pop up and try as I might to drown them again and again and again I can’t. I would like very much for the beach balls, with their mire-covered relentlessness, to go away. I would like to wash my hands of them, watch them drift ever further out to sea, ultimately to sink from view. But wouldn’t you know, to carry the metaphor a bit further, here comes a dolphin balancing the balls on its nose, tossing them back at me. Here, catch! You’re not done yet. WHY NOT! WHY CAN’T I BE DONE?

Because my work here on earth isn’t done yet. Seriously, I’ve got babies to raise, people to shepherd, tea to sell and lives to change, a husband to love, and parents to help. I’ve got rainbows to see, new foods to taste, faces and people to delight in, and a lot of growing in Christ. God’s not finished with me yet; in fact, He’s not finished with this whole experiment He’s got going on, this thing called “life on earth.” Yesterday, I took a walk and as I walked I marveled at the blue sky peeking through the grey clouds with tinges of pink outlining it all. And I prayed, “Lord, I can’t wait to see Jesus come riding through those clouds with thousands of angels blowing their heavenly trumpets. Because when that happens I will know I’m going home and all the pain of this life is behind me, a flash in the pan, a momentary blip, the bitter pill swallowed and ultimate healing complete. No, God didn’t send His Son back to fetch us all, not yet, although He promises to do so.

In the meantime, we work and serve.

Recently, I had a conversation with someone who has been facing a number of health issues. The health issues are limiting, and after a lifetime of servitude, this person was beginning to feel sort of put out to pasture, like there wasn’t much left to do. Oh, but there is still so much to be done! One of the things that I keep learning over and over is that we all face hardships and problems. Tragedy, illness, death, financially difficult times, scary times… we are exempt from none of it. It is the definitive in the world… not if, but when. We have two choices when we reduce it down. Choice A is to turn inward and ask things like, “Why is this happening to me? What did I ever do to deserve this?” and crawl into the proverbial bed, pulling the covers over our heads, and shutting out the world. Choice B is to take the necessary time to grieve and adjust and then to say, “God, how are you going to use this? Show me the way for this to become your glory revealed. What role do you have planned for me? How can I serve still?”

We shouldn’t turn each other out to pasture. Our elders are wise and offer a contemplative view of the world. Our youth are full of vigor and passion, which can be harnessed into productive servitude. I think of Dawn Leppan at 1000 Hills clinic in South Africa, who, despite her own health problems, continues to serve roughly 1500 people a day through her feeding center, her nursery school, her jobs programs, and her medical clinic. I think of two of the founders of Compassion Tea who have traded an easy retirement for the rigors of running a tea business, while the other founders squeeze Compassion Tea into already filled days. I think of our members who understand that they are serving others by simply drinking a cup of tea. Or I think of Betty who called the CompassioNow office recently and said she was sending a check to CompassioNow for $9.00. For years, she and her husband Bari have kept an annual jar where they collect money that they find on the street or that falls on the floor. At the end of the year, they take whatever is in the jar and send it where the Lord directs. Recently, Betty read about how patients in Tanzania pay 60 cents for their healthcare costs, a cost that seems miniscule to us but which is actually prohibitive for Tanzanians. Betty said she felt the Lord directing her to “the jar.” She had $8.72 in the jar. She figured by rounding up to $9.00 she could help cover the patient portion costs for 15 patients at Tanzania Christian Clinic.

There is a service yet that you can provide. There are mentors needed, Bible studies to be led, communities to be built, lives to be saved, lives to be drawn out of the dark.


I love to read vanity plates. I think it is the puzzle behind it. I see a group of letters and numbers and wonder what they can mean. Sometimes the jumble never does make sense. Other times, discovering the meaning is easy. I consider it a small personal triumph when I figure out the difficult ones. Vanity plates cover all kinds of ideas and purposes. For example, my parents have special dates, my in-laws use their initials, and my neighbor uses his hobby — WINEMKR. My other neighbor tips her hat to her kids and to her British background with the use of MUM on her plate. Businesses use vanity plates to advertise, and sports fans use them to promote their team. Can you guess which football team is represented by R8DERS? There’s a local PT Cruiser owner who seems to love Pleasanton; PTOWN PT is that car’s plate. And then there are the people who want you to know something about them, like HOTROD and DZNYFAN. I thought this statement on life was great: ITLE DU. Some plates require a fair amount of decoding such as 2MCHCO2 spotted on a Prius recently. RX4GAS was proudly sported by a Lexus hybrid. Or then there was the Hummer I saw with the plate that says, “<3S GAS” (and for those of you not completely hip on text talk, the ❤ symbol is for a heart as in “loves”). Then there was the car with the plate 2ME4ME – not gonna touch that one with a 10 foot pole! If I were ever to wander down the vanity plate path, I would choose META4 after my favorite literary device. Such fun! Maybe we should hold a contest to see who can come up with the best vanity plate rendition of Compassion Tea! Would it be CMPSHN T or CMPASONT or maybe, like our phone number, SHR TEAS!

We actually all have vanity plates, though, don’t we? I live in a part of the world where the tags on your jeans still say a lot about who you are – at least from an income-based, where you shop, how you spend your money perspective. The labels in my community range from how you feed your family (organic farm fresh or fast food), to where you vacation (Tahoe or Disneyland), from sports teams your kids play on (recreational or competitive), to the coffee shop you frequent (Starbucks or Peets).

A funny thing happened the other day. As a room mom, I am part of a team collecting money to provide gifts to our teacher throughout the year. A fellow mom saw me the other morning and said, “Money! I’ve got to get you money for the teacher gifts!” I assured her that she still had time and then she said, “When I saw you I thought ‘Money’!” What she meant to say was that the sight of me reminded her that she could donate to the class fund. What I heard was that the sight of me looked like money. It was particularly thought-provoking for me because I had on my (drastically reduced but still über-cool) new 7 for all Mankind black jeans and a matching top and was feeling good that I was actually “dressed up” and not in the “I just rolled out of bed and need to go work-out after this” uniform of my daily life. Is that what people see when they see me? Money?

The way we act, the things we say, our attitudes and responses are like license plates of identity. I don’t want people to look at me and see money. When I affirmed my faith in Jesus Christ as my personal savior, my dad and pastor gave me the Bible verse Matthew 5:16 – “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.” With God’s help, I’ve been striving, sometimes successfully, more often not so much, to live up to that verse. Yesterday, in church, the message was about what that looks like. In the New Testament, there are 27 one anothers… things we as Christians are to do to show God’s love in the world. I’ve attached the complete list so you can see the challenges this call presents.

All 27 of the one anothers found in the New Testament

Mandates like “Have equal concern for one another” and “Submit to one another,” like “Do not grumble against one another” and “Clothe yourself in humility toward one another” are not easy to follow through on, particularly after the election cycle we all just suffered through. But these are the tags, labels, vanity plates we should present to the world.

One label I am proud to carry with me is on my Compassion Tea tumbler. Whenever I hand out my card, wear my Compassion Tea shirt, brew a pot for a friend, or show up to an event with hot tea in hand, I am proud to tell people about what we are doing for the one anothers in Africa. I love that we’ve provided eyeglasses to grandmothers, sterile wound dressings to people with infected wounds that will require surgery once the infection is healed, ibuprofen and aspirin to people with fevers, antibiotics to people with infections, care to people deemed a drain on society, clean water and new sources of electricity, nurses to care, doctors who won’t accept the local government-run hospital’s assessment that a patient isn’t worth treating, and removal from enslavement, disease, and dismay through the work of CompassioNow and the clinics with which that organization partners. While the people in Africa are doing the serving, the carrying of one another’s burdens, their work would be impossible to complete without the support of those of us who make wise decisions about how we spend our money and who choose to buy with our consciences.

Compared to the rest of the world, we as Americans do look like “money” – even our poor look wealthy to a majority of the rest of the world. But if we used that label, that vanity plate, for the betterment of humanity… well, as I recently heard, that is the power of loving well.

I run the risk of sounding cliché in asking this, but I can’t stop myself. What does your vanity plate say about you?