Sri Lanka Tea

IMG_1972“Good tea is not made in the factory.  Good tea is made in the fields.  If you do not get good leaf you cannot get good tea.” — Lalith, a good friend in the tea business while visiting his homeland of Sri Lanka with Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom of Compassion Tea Company

We love tea. It’s true. Learning about this fabulous drink makes us a little bit giddy. And there are few things in life that bring us more happiness than a tea tasting! (Of course, this is second to serving God and His people in need!) Several members of our team have now been to Sri Lanka to learn about the tea process from plant to your cup. We’d love to share some of our knowledge with you.IMG_1667

The complicated process of making tea is thousands of years old. And among the superior quality teas such as the ones we carry, a vast majority of the process remains done by human hands. Let’s look at the process as it is done in Sri Lanka.

Currently, in the world tea market, there are 70 different tea growing areas around the world.China produces 39% of the world’s tea. India produces 23.5% and Kenya produces 8%. Sri Lanka follows with 6% of the tea market production. Teas from Sri Lanka are called Ceylon teas. About 400 tea plantations operate in Sri Lanka and roughly 20% of the land in Sri Lanka is under tea cultivation. There are about  650 tea factories. About 340 million kilograms of tea are produced in Sri Lanka each year.

Despite the statistics that say tea is one of the fastest growing beverages in the United States, the US imports a modest 2% of Ceylon tea. Turkey and Russia import the majority of the Ceylon tea.

All tea comes from the Camellia Sinensis plant. How the leaves of the plant are processed creates the different types of tea such as black, white, green, and oolong. Herbal teas are a misnomer in that they do not come from the Camellia Sinesis plant but are based on flowers, fruits, the shavings of the rooibos plant, and other leaves.

The Camellia Sinesis plant grows naturally into a tree, but in order to cultivate it effectively, plants are maintained as shrubs. This also makes the harvesting more comfortable for the tea pluckers. Climate, soil, and elevation play an important role in the quality and quantity of the tea produced. The plant grows best in tropical climates that see a lot of rain and at higher elevations.

When the tea is harvested, workers enter the fields to hand-pluck the top youngest leaves and buds. A typical “pluck” is to pull two leaves and a furled bud from the top of the plant. It takes about 4.5 lb. of fresh tea leaves to produce 1 lb. of the tea you brew for your cuppa.

Typically, men oversee the work of the tea pluckers as they are called. The tea pluckers, who are women, begin their days in the fields around 8:30. They have a morning break and a two-hour lunch break. They then pick in the afternoon until about 4:30. The women carry a special basket on their backs. This lightweight basket makes it easier for them to use both hands for plucking. They then toss the leaves in the basket. Measuring sticks keep the plucking to a consistent level. Once an area of the field is plucked, it won’t be picked again until at least 8 days have passed.c84d8bcf-f64a-43e3-8e7d-9cec8b5a23d28617342c-c9b1-4a90-bfe3-af425635f51a

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On the Pedro estate where Ed and Wendy visited this past January, the pluckers make 680 rupees ($4.50) per day minimum and get free housing and medical care, child care and maternity as well as 21 days holiday pay. They are compensated for extra leaves picked and are given free food for their children and free burial. A health care clinic on the plantation provides the majority of their medical needs. The workers are well cared for and make a good living by Sri Lankan standards. Sadly many of the workers who stay on the plantations  for free do not even work on the tea plantations, but prefer to work elsewhere (like farming) where they make more money. But they cannot be kicked off the plantation. Out of the 7,500 people who live on the Pedro tea estate, only 1,500 work in tea plucking or processing, yet all 7,500 get free housing and benefits! This poses a real challenge for the plantation owners and may lead to problems in the future as world demand for Ceylon tea lessens and as costs rise.unnamedunnamed-3unnamed-2

Once the tea is plucked it is carried to be weighed. Because extra bits of leaves and twigs accidentally get in the baskets, the tea pluckers sort through their baskets before they take them for weighing. The tea pluckers are given bonuses for extra tea plucked. Once the tea is sorted and weighed, it is ready to head to the processing plant. Three times a day, trucks carry the tea from the fields to the processing factories. Because Ceylon is a black tea, it will undergo a fair amount of wilting and oxidizing in order to give the tea the rich black taste we know and love.

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Our Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Decaf English Breakfast,  Black Lemon, Cinnamon Orange Spice, and Black Chai teas all contain at least 90% Ceylon tea from Sri Lanka.

Green and white teas are minimally processed from here. Black teas, like the Ceylon in Sri Lanka, undergo 10 steps to provide the proper oxidation of the leaf to achieve the black color and flavor that makes Sri Lankan Ceylon so delicious. Here is a pictorial guide from the Lover’s Leap Tea Factory at the Pedro Estate of Sri Lanka where Ed and Wendy visited last January.

IMG_1683IMG_1716Step 1: Withering Process- Air comes up from the bottom of the withering bins, and the leaves will wither for 12 hours. These leaves begin the withering as soon as they come in from the fields. After withering, the leaves go through a tunnel to the rolling room.

IMG_1708IMG_1714Step 2: Rolling – The leaves are placed in the roller for 20 minutes. Oxidation is taking place. Rolling bruises the leaf and makes the juices come to the surface. Left: The leaves on the left are rolled, and the leaves on the right are withered only.

IMG_1739IMG_1759Step 3 – Rotor Vane – After the tea goes through this “mincemeat grinder” it will be much finer, like wet grass. Tea can go through up to 4 turns on the rotor vane. Above: The leaves on the top are ready to go to dryer, but the leaves on the bottom must go through the rotor vane again.

IMG_1736Step 4: Shaker – The tea leaves that are ready to go to the dryer will fall through while the larger leaves go through another rotor vane.

IMG_1817Step 5: Drying step – The tea will go through a drying oven at 125 F for 21 minutes. A wood fired boiler is used to heat the ovens.

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Step 6: Electrostatic separators are used to pull out fibers and stems from the tea. After separating, it drops into the yellow buckets. At this point the tea is finally stable. You can see that it is really starting to look like black tea by now.

IMG_1832IMG_1834Step 7: Grading – Tea is graded by size using the Chota sifter. There are 4 sizes: 10, 12, 14, 16. Number 16 (BPOF) will be the smallest and the strongest tea.

Step 8: The Color Separator is another way to remove more stems and fibers. It also separates the tea into different grades.

IMG_1870Step 9: Bulking – The tea goes through the hole for the bulking step. This is where they blend several harvests together.

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Step 10: Bagging. The teas are put into bags which each hold 33 kilos. Then, the tea is sent off to the auction house or other tea blenders to make specialty teas. 

This tea factory in Colombo, Sri Lanka, gets tea from the tea estates and makes their own blends for shipping to countries like Japan. Below is a series of photos showing a huge blending machine from top to bottom.

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Many tea factories also make their own tea bags. These teabags are going to New Zealand. Much of the work here is done by hand.

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Here is a worker gluing the tea bag boxes shut.

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This tea factory in Colombo ships 40 foot containers of tea to Japan, England, and the Middle East. The Middle Eastern countries buy much of the Ceylon tea; however, due to conflicts and wars in this region, tea exports were down for Sri Lanka this past year. 056c1a09-f10a-4dcd-bdbf-6c92ea289849

It’s all ready to go somewhere around the world!

Did you know how much time and labor and care went into your cuppa? Enjoy!IMG_1986

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Spring Babies

My house is full of babies. The dear sweet, grow up super fast animal babies. I’m working at the kitchen table, watching the wind whip across the pool outside, writing notes and answering emails, and listening to the cheeping of the two chicks we brought home two weeks ago. Their down is almost completely replaced by baby feathers, but when they get excited and flap or run or hop, little puffs of down blow off… like the dandelion seeds we make our wishes on.unnamed-23unnamed-22

And aside from the wind outside, all is quiet in here. And I stand up. I’m thirsty and hunger is setting in. It is lunchtime. I glance over to the butterfly gardens where 9 chrysallises hang. They’ve been there for nearly a week now and just this morning I begin despairing. Will they break open and release the new, metamorphosised life inside? Did the metamorphosis take place or did something go wrong in that mysterious process… for all 9? But no! Behind my back, silently, these two were born.

unnamed-21Reborn, really. No longer worms, not even worms with wings, but bona fide butterflies… given a new life, a new purpose, a new form of transportation and of feeding. Completely changed.

And I’m reminded of this amazing story coming from Malawi:
“We had reason to celebrate Martin & Mathias’ first birthday recently. When their mother died shortly after giving birth, most people in their village thought one or both of the twins would follow soon after. That’s the way these situations usually play out in the rural villages of Malawi. With no one to nurse them and scant resources to provide formula during these first days and weeks, it’s usually not long before dehydration, hunger or some opportunistic disease claims one or both of their lives; but that’s not their story!2a76ee_0678066f305b4733b66f4292be6eb11b.jpg_srb_p_284_226_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srb

Their story includes grandparents and aunts turning to volunteers from the Passion Center Community Health Network (CHN) for help. Similar to the Passion Center, the CHN’s activities are focused around the following mission; “Joining God in Rescuing, Redeeming & Restoring the vulnerable in their communities.” As we shared this need with the larger Passion Center family, enough money was raised to provide formula, blankets, clothes and medical care for Martin & Mathias.

Today they are healthy, strong and growing. Though their mother was HIV+, they don’t show any signs of being infected nor will we test them until they are 3yrs or older. But whatever their AIDS status – positive or negative – we’re convinced God has an even more promising future than what they’ve experienced so far! We don’t know exactly what their story will be, but we thank God He’s already writing a different one than what relatives and some villagers were bracing for!2a76ee_99a108ac8a9c4b4db73fd1693e1ce035.jpg_srb_p_284_229_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srb

Hope is more than a concept we share, it’s the result of real, sometimes overwhelming, circumstances changing because God is involved. Those circumstances might be physical, emotional, psychological, educational, and spiritual or a combination of some or all of these. Over the past 10 years we’ve seen God’s Hope altering the lives of hundreds of children and dozens of village; Martin & Mathias are two recent examples of this Hope taking root in fertile ground.” To learn more about the Passion Center for Children in Malawi, go here.
How much of life do we spend as worms? Crawling and foraging? And how much of life do we spend in the glorious hope, soaring and sipping?

Martin and Mathias have been given wings. And we at Compassion Tea and CompassioNow are thrilled beyond words to be working with the Community Health Network at the Passion Center for Children in Malawi. These are the kinds of stories that inspire and motivate us! Won’t you join us?!

A Crossing

We lost a tree to the drought — a big granddaddy of a pine. Who knows how long it stood watching as the world changed around it. But I’m watching men carry rounds of it out of my yard and into the chipper and I can’t help but feel sad.

Because.

What popped the seed from the cone, what heat? What soil was there and what rain? Did hands plant the seedling in that spot or did divine hands, like a magician weaving magic, cause the whirl and the settle and the dust and the rain and the firming and rounding and bursting that brought forth the shoot that felt around down and down for its roots and then pushed up and up to find the heat and the sun? What is the story behind this tree that stood guard over the yard, flanked the bench where I like to sit on a summer’s day?

The chain saw stops and I watch men carry stumps. These aren’t going in the chipper. They are too big. What does one do with the sawed up chunks of a large pine tree? There’s a part of me saying, “Save a piece, a momento” but why? I lived near it for 5 years and 5 years in the face of decades is nada. But should there be a memorial, a marker to say here lies the decaying roots of a good tree?

It takes 3 men to pull the trunk to the ground. It takes 2 men to pull a limb that has fallen in the neighbor’s tree.

It took 3 people to fill my son’s cavity this morning. A dentist and a hygienist and a mom holding hands and the TV playing in the background because distraction is a good thing when facing our scary things.

It feels like a passage this morning, another aging step. Little boy getting sealants on his molars, his permanent teeth, because they need to last a lifetime. And a lifetime of reaching branches to the sky is coming down. There should be a marking.

Because I watched tears in my brave boy’s eyes this morning as the first branches of the browning tree were sawed off. And I’m reminded of holding him, sobbing myself, shortly after he was born while the doctor performed a procedure and little boy exercised lungs that a few weeks earlier weren’t strong enough to support his life. It was an agony of waiting for those lungs to develop.

Tears in my boy’s eyes… they never get easier to see. And the mama’s heart says yes, this is good for you but I know it hurts now. And I want to cry out against the hurt, take it on myself. So I hold tighter to the little hand that daily fills my own more and more. It is the last little hand I have to hold? 7 years have passed since that moment and yet where did the time go? Oh the growing since then.

And when the next tree goes, where will we be?

There’s a hole in the skyline now. Perhaps the moon will shine more fully through now. Perhaps the birds will miss it, its branches. And its absence means a break in the sky highway of the squirrels as they jump and play from one tree to the next.1656006_10203514248114950_9002450591513174413_n

So, I’m writing it down because I don’t know when the next tree will die, when the next marking is coming. When the next grown up step is taken and when the next stop in growth will come.

It’s a holy crossing this morning, milestones, growing up and dying. It demands a reverence. Amen. And Amen.1800355_10203006224694682_61845596_n

Compost Tea

Compost tea, according to Ancient Peaks Winery in Paso Robles, CA, “is a liquid extract containing soluble plant nutrients, beneficial plant compounds, and beneficial micro-organisms.”

In short, it is the liquid by-product of the compost pile. Ancient Peaks uses their compost tea to suppress disease, reduce “fungicide and fertilizer requirements,” to cut costs, and to “improve soil structure and overall plant health and vigor” of their vineyards.

I use compost tea, made with fruit and vegetable discards, coffee grounds, tea leaves, ash from the fireplace, and chicken droppings, to boost the nutrients in my garden. And for the indoor plants, I use half-consumed cups of tea for watering. Tea leaves are rich in nutrients and are very beneficial for the soil and plants.

I bring this all up because some of our Compassion Tea staff spent some time at the Ancient Peaks Winery this past weekend and saw their compost tea at work. And it reminded us of some earlier thoughts we had on Sustainability… thoughts that are still pertinent and relevant today.

(And remember, this earlier blog was written before our name change. CareNow Foundation became CompassioNow. To become a Compassion Tea member or to peruse our tea selections, visit http://www.compassiontea.com.)

We Call Them Gifts

What kind of music did the Pilgrims listen to that first Thanksgiving?
Plymouth Rock!

What did one coffin say to the other coffin?
Is that you coughin’?

What did the watermelon say to the honeydew?
NO! We cantelope!

What kind of coffee did they serve on the Titanic?
Sanka!

I was rolling. Absolutely rolling. The barrister at Starbucks wrote my name as “Giggles” on my cup. Peter, the guy behind me in line, was cracking joke after joke and I had but one response… to throw back and laugh. Refreshing and fun and good for the muscles… this was deep laughter. The kind I can’t wait to share with my kids.

“But Mary kept all of these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19

I walked away from this chance encounter and thought of Mary and her pondering. Because I pondered why this morning? Why this man and this laugh and this joke-ful joy? What does it mean and what lies ahead?

Pondering. Thinking about something carefully. Holding it in your hand, like a snow globe, and examining it from every side. What happens when you shake it? What happens when you hold it upside down? Is the beauty still there? Is there detail I missed?

Pondering. Tucking it away, wrapping it in white tissue paper, and then taking it out again to marvel afresh.

There is sacred in the every day. There is every day beauty. There is repeated meaning. But we miss it.

I’ve determined not to miss this gift. Because it was a gift. I had no idea I remembered to laugh so hard. Life is hardly a laughing matter most days. Today’s encounter was a gift, planted and nurtured and plucked like a rose for me to savor, press, store, and take out again to laugh at.

It’s like the morning I went hiking sure I heard His voice urging me on, “I have something to show you!” And there from the underbrush sprang a buck, snuffed out by the dog, crashing and huge on the path in front of me. Artistry and power and beauty in one flash of a glimpse and the words, “If I provide for him, how much more I will provide for you!”

Every day is a gift, several gifts tucked into one rise and fall of the sun.

We can choose to call them gifts. Or coincidences. Or we can even just ignore.

But to laugh, we call them gifts.

Tea Tasting

What is it about tea parties? How do little girls and even little boys know about them? Right? How many of you have sat through a tea party with a collection of dolls and such fine edibles as leaves and sand and rocks pretending all the while that you are at the finest of establishments?

Since my early days of plastic teapots and muddy tea, I’ve taken tea at the Savoy London and at Brown’s Hotel. I graced Betty’s Tea Room once or twice and thought for a while that Darjeeling was my best friend. In short, I love a good tea party.

I can’t claim to organize anything nearly as posh as these establishments. But what fun to taste tea with a group of friends and a wide variety of tea!

Edibles:

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Scone bites
I used the Women’s Bean Project Denver Tea Room Cream Scone Mix from Trade As One to make tiny bite-sized scones, which I placed in a little plastic dish and topped with Strawberry Jam from The Cherry Hut. A dollop of whipped cream on top makes a delightful and light twist on the tea room tradition.

IMG_7145Berries in a tiny cup with a pinch of lemon zest and a taste of mascarpone are super refreshing and a great way to cleanse the palate.

IMG_7149 IMG_7146Melba toast with a spoonful of brie and apricot jam looks like little eggs but packs in the flavor.

I like to taste the gamut of teas when I do a tasting so we all get a sense for the nuances between greens, whites, oolongs, and blacks.

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My recommendations are:
Pai Mu Tan (white), Jade Cloud (green), Formossa Oolong, and Lover’s Leap (black). To round it all out and if there is time, I end with the tea that isn’t tea – our Compassion Spice rooibos. It finishes so well as it is comforting and calming.

With fall here and the holidays creeping up, now is a great time to break out the fancy china and plan a tea tasting with your friends!

Rocked

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.

Drought

There is a dripping sound in our bathroom. It’s been there for months. We thought it was the air conditioning/furnace in the attic above. And it was. Ironic that in this drought, in this period of desert living, we’ve had a hot water leak under the house and an air conditioning leak in the attic. So we had it fixed and stood in the bathroom and marveled because there it was still. The dripping. Hubby has crawled under the house; he has battled the attic; he has searched for any indication whatsoever of wet, dripping something. Nada.

But there’s a crack in the tile of the bathroom floor. IMG_5863It is new in the last months, and it is growing. And my friend has a pool that is sinking on one side, and there are articles that the land is shrinking because of the drought, and so is it possible that our phantom drip is no drip but rather a cracking and shifting?

The drought. There are dire reports that this is just the beginning and California is going to turn into desert, that the lush green and fields and trees and agriculture that feeds our nation are drying up.IMG_5872 IMG_5873

There are talking heads saying this is just the beginning; judgment is upon us. Conversely, there are weather forecasters projecting an El Nino winter full of hearty, drenching, reservoir-filling rain.

The drought. And the moms meet at the poolside and watch the kids splash and they compare their sub-par gardens and their conservation efforts and the dirt of their cars and the grime behind the ears of the kids and the water bills.IMG_5875 IMG_5877

But the kids are in the water; there is water when we turn on the faucet; there is water to wash the scrapes and cuts of summer, to cool a feverish head, to wash away grime and to quench the sandy throats of summer.

Yes, the specter of turning on the faucet and watching the last drip of water eek its way out is there… off in the distance… and we’re praying for God to shelter us from that reality… and we’re saving water with a measured frenzy. And the government agencies are singing their 2-song showers and chanting their 50% reduction slogans, and we hope they’re making plans to be better stewards themselves.

But there is water in this drought.

And now there is water at Chalabesa!

Back in 2011, I wrote about Chalabesa:
The situation at Chalabesa Mission Hospital in Zambia is similar. The clinic is run by a Polish nun, Sister Marta, and is the only one for miles. Sister Marta has been reporting that the solar-powered electrical system hasn’t been working and the water for the clinic comes either from a wind-powered pump that is leaking and that only works when there is wind or from a river 160 yards away. This river is visited by elephants and other animals who not only drink its water but who grossly contaminate it. To compound things, measles, deadly diarrhea, typhoid, and malaria are striking in epidemic proportions due to the drought in that part of the world. In one day alone, with flashlight in hand, Sister Marta took care of over 240 patients who had walked miles and waited hours in the dark, crowded rooms of the clinic. These patients were thirsty, feverish, ill, dehydrated, malnourished, and fearful for their lives. Chalabesa is their only hope.
Currently, the CareNow Foundation is raising funds to supply the Chalabesa Mission Hospital with a “bucket brigade” of relief. They would like to dig two new boreholes, erect two new 2,600 gallon tanks and necessary pipework, and purchase two solar pumps plus associated solar panels and control electronics.

On June 17 of this year, we received confirmation that there is now running water in the hospital! All the necessary pipes and pumps and panels are installed and running!

It has been a long process, one complicated by what we lovingly call “Africa time,” a pace that can seem aggravatingly slow compared to our rush-life. Thanks to our friends at Mission Medic Air for their part in arranging the supplies and the workers and for their aid in accomplishing this monumental task! How thrilled we are that patients at the clinic can now access running water, that treating patients can be both easier and more sanitary, and that precious time helping people can be reclaimed from hauling water from the river. Hooray!

It reminds me of something. Sunday, during church, I watched a dear friend walk up the aisle looking for a place to sit. She saw another sister of the faith and joined her in the pew. But not without the kind of embrace that speaks volumes to the depth of the friendship. Witnessing this, I thought of the struggles that friend has gone through. And I thought of the storms and the deserts she has weathered and traversed. And I thought of the new paths God is showing her. How incrementally He is gracing her with new beginnings, how He has been faithful this whole time to walk with her and to even carry her through those storms and across those deserts. But witnessing it in someone else’s life… oh, the joy!

God has been faithful in bringing water to Chalabesa. He has been faithful in bringing my friend through her drought period. He will be faithful in this drought, too.IMG_5622 IMG_5602

And one day soon, the skies will open and water will fall and we’ll go dance in it, letting the moisture sink in deep, deep into the cracks in our foundations. Because when He is your foundation, the shifting, shrinking earth all around can’t shake you.

Beautiful Things

“I don’t see anyone in here wearing a mini electric chair or needle full of a lethal injection hanging from their neck. That would be the moral equivalent for those of you wearing crosses today,” he said.

Yes, the point was valid. As an instrument of torture, the cross was horrendous, humiliating, inhumane.

Rome had perfected public punishment in this particular instrument.

I fingered the cross hanging from my neck, it’s edges so familiar to my fingers as I traced the heart laid over the top. My cross, marked with Isaiah 40: 31, marking my life as Christ’s, the sign of the mark made on my life when Jesus chose me and I chose back, marking a public declaration of where my true love lies. My cross so beautiful, so much a part of me, so much more than jewelry. I’m not the tattooing type. So I wear the jewelry.

And the message on the back: “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Perfect promise perfectly captured.

No, for me the cross is beautiful and as he talked more about the ugliness of the cross, my heart cried no. Jesus died and made the cross beautiful, elegant, a visible emblem of hard work with enormous pay out, of elemental love and sacrifice, of eternal salvation. I can look on the cross now and see nothing but beauty; I can look beyond the instrument of torture to see the instrument of grace. It isn’t even a stretch.

In fact, the beauty of the gift of salvation so far outweighs the ugly, that I often forget the hideous, humiliating, inhumanity of the thing around my neck.

Not long ago, I paused over my cluttered desk and I looked up into the corner at my wall of love. Drawings my kids have offered as tokens of love array the space. It’s good to look these over sometimes. When offered, I adored them, oohhed and ahhhed over them, complimented the work that went into them and the talent showing through each picture. I hung them on the wall to show my appreciation, but I closed a door inwardly, not accepting the words offered as possibly true for me. As if my kids were actually addressing the mother of their dreams, not the flesh and blood person in front of them. Then, I went to the sink and brushed my teeth, hardly glancing in the mirror, and wondered why I have a difficult time accepting these words from my children.IMG_5673 IMG_5672 IMG_5674 IMG_5671

And as I fingered my cross this morning, these musings came back.

The work on the cross was bloody, ugly, horrendous agony. But the result was beautiful. Salvation, death conquered, law reduced, God lifting the veil that separated Him from us and inviting us directly to come to Him.

Repeatedly scripture tells us that through Christ’s death on the cross we are made new. The prophet Isaiah (43:19) announces God’s will,

 

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”

 

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

 

Romans 6: 3-7 says, “Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
5 Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. 6 We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. 7 For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.”

 

And in Revelation 21, God proclaims, “Look, I am making everything new!”

 

Me and you, made new.

When we come to Christ, it is as if we are taking off the old, ugly, worn-out clothes of our life and putting on a coat of beauty and grace and forgiveness and freedom. Like when I shed the clothes I’ve been painting in, shower and dress for an evening out… that kind of new. Sort of. That changes the external. But Christ’s changes are from the inside out… eventually. Living free… free from the fear of death, free from the ancient’s law of ceremonial clean and unclean, free from eternal judgment.

Gungor sings it this way:

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

And as we sang these words this morning, I thought of the cross, of Christ’s death making it beautiful. Of how His act took the awful and made it artistic, of how His love took the twisted and the maimed and straightened it and healed it, of how gnarled and blood-soaked became lily-fresh.

But me. God tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You too.” Like the cross, Christ takes my life and the ugly and the horrid and the horrendous and the inhumane, all the broken, gnarled, twisted, blood-soaked splinters of my cross-life and turns them toward redemption. He tapped me on the shoulder this morning and said, “I’m doing this to you, too. Taking your dust and growing a garden.”

And I realized that I have to accept that I can be beautiful. That I am already beautiful through Christ. That the words my children picture for me are true. This. Is. Truth. Truth I need to pickle in, not just accept but relish and believe. If Christ can change the most horrific method of torture into a thing of beauty… now worn by millions of people, then what can He do with me?

My dear Prosy, my Ugandan “daughter,” how He has taken the broken bits of that life of horror and redeemed them, saved her, made beauty where there was dust and ash. All the lives now at Village of Hope Uganda… for them all He has made beautiful things.

In the heights of hubris, I’ve closed the doors to this, just as I’ve closed the door to the words of my children, preferring, clinging to, embracing the lies I’ve heard from other parts of the world. As if those lies of “you’re nothing” and “you’re so broken you can’t be fixed” are the final assessment and the final horror of life. If I accept the lies as the final answer, then I am also turning my back on hope, on the greatest gift ever offered.

It’s time to fling wide those doors. Just as Christ flung wide His arms on the cross and took the pain for my gain, it is time to fling wide my arms and embrace His words for me. It’s time for beautiful things.

Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!

Just yesterday I was driving to an event. My heart started racing. As I become more aware of how this kind of thing gets going in my body and may or may not send me into a full on panic attack, I stop to ask myself why. Why, little heart, is the approach of this event, sending you into spasms. The answer? Because I’d rather be at home writing.

“The Introverted are the people who live in the constant tension between the desire to communicate… and the desire to hide.”
This from Ann Voskamp, another “I’d rather stay home and write” kinda gal. So she wrote it out, her story, and it has launched her into comfort zones far beyond staying home. She says, “…well, when you’ve been revived from the dead, you keep mustering the courage up to communicate this story because maybe it will help just even one other person?”

And today Maya Angelou died and I’m thinking about how her voice was my first experience with poetry that licked my heart as it sang to my brain, how her words opened new doors and suggested to me that form in poetry could be more organic, subtle, sensuous, slithering up the backside. Her voice, husky, grandmotherly, wise, pooled around my high school self and flung wide doors of language.

And I think back to three days ago when I was watching my daughter perform with her choir during a church service and how words, lifting in song, touched people. The choir cast the words of The Battle Hymn of the Republic into air, and I watched as the grey haired ladies in their own special pew popped above the surface to nip at them. Joy spread across their faces and their lips moved uncontrollably, lipping the words, eyes bright. I had glimpses of young girls in those wizened faces. Young, smooth skin under the wrinkles, tossing curls under the white and grey. Age remembering youthful prayer meetings and days spent with beaus and a patriotism that is no longer politically correct. And I thought, “Oh how God loves you, ladies.” More than me, they have seen Him marching on.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His day is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free;
[originally …let us die to make men free]
While God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! While God is marching on.

It was here, at this verse, that my own tears started, flowing fast, joy … joy that my daughter was in a choir that was teaching and challenging and training her voice and that that voice was singing one of my favorite hymns… a hymn for crying out loud. On the cusp of Memorial Day, it had meaning.
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free…
There are men and women who stood up, left their comfort zones, their homes, their cozy and with racing hearts faced the enemy, the freedom takers. Their voices, their stories were shortened, heroic, often unsung, unheard. But their acts made differences, changed tides of battles, changed lives. Their passing may have seemed a blip on the map of strategy, but in God’s great economy, not a drop of blood was wasted.

These words of march and fight and triumph are reserved for Memorial Day, for funerals, for times of passing. But we need them every day. Because every day is a battle. We need to know that there is purpose, a strategy, a plan in place, a plan for victory, and an exit plan, even before we move from our beds in the morning. God’s plan, God’s march, God’s victory.

Plan enacted, sweet son sent. Holy oneness broken for a bit so that holy becomes human. Holy takes on skin but not the depravity of human. Holy walks soil, holy sleeps and eats and touches and feeds and speaks words of love and healing and dangerous words that turn thousands of years of “God says” into “but now.” Holy from the beginning, there in the beginning, there in the early sacrifices that will herald and explain and ready hearts.

Yes, oh sinner. God spent those years teaching his children that certain actions are sin, the most offensive of which is turning away from God.

There must be retribution.

Retribution taken by himself on himself for me so that the swift sword loosed is not for me deserving though I be. Oh be swift my soul to answer Him, be jubilant my feet!

It makes me want to stand at attention, eager along the parade route, listening for the trumpet that shall never sound retreat, butterflies in my stomach anticipating the display that is about to pass. Glory, Glory, Hallelujah! Drips from lips like so much honey.

Can I stand at the parade route and stay home and write too? Can they be one and the same? Can my voice raised in writing be loud and cheering? Can yours?

So, I’m writing and I’m crying, my soul purging. And my daughter comes in and says, “Why? Why are you crying?” Crying and writing, writing and crying? Isn’t that normal? Because it is in the writing that I feel the hand of God, like He is pouring His voice into me, filling me. In the preaching gospel to myself, I touch God, spend an hour at His feet, rest in the beauty of the lilies, glory in His glory. Voice my own hallelujah. Cast it out into air. It’s the introvert way, the God way for me. For now.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is wisdom to the mighty, He is honor to the brave;
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of wrong His slave,
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.