Hunger Games

Tis the season of the curveball. Okay, not so much for my little guy who is just getting the hang of the whole hitting off of pitches rather than a tee. But baseball is in full swing!

And so are the springtime distractions. There are gardens to till, flowers to plant, vegetables to start, leaves to rake, fertilizer to be spread, and plants to be loved. The activities at school are racheting up as are the after-school activities. Getting ready for concerts, performances, games, the culmination of weeks of practice. Fundraising events, spring parties… it’s like the world is awakening from its winter hibernation and the perennial quest for … what?… has begun.

Heading into this weekend, I was feeling pretty good about life. Like maybe just maybe I’d have some quiet time to pull aspects of life together, get things done, relax and enjoy my family.

Yeah. Not so much.

Clara brought home The Hunger Games (book one) with the intent of reading it over the weekend. I’m enough in the loop to know that this series has caused controversy and many debates over its appropriateness for certain age levels. So red lights started going off all over my body when she presented her plan for the weekend. Nope. Not until I read it first. Which I did. Cover to cover in 24 hours time… in between a ceramics painting party, a work event for hubby, and the required meals of my family. I felt like I’d been hit by a train by the time I was through.

And the verdict was that this weekend was not the right time for my 10 year old to read this book.

The grand debate here is how much do we shield our children from and to how much do we expose them? When is the right time for them to start to learn about lust (because Katniss is developing lustful feelings for Peeta), the political power games people play, the insidiousness of the entertainment industry, the vacuousness of certain people, and the pure evil that the human heart can harbor.

I thought I was being generous by letting her read the Harry Potter series!

But seriously, there is a vivid difference between the Hunger Games and Harry Potter. (Caveat… I haven’t read books 2 and 3 so I’m operating solely on my knowledge of book 1). In Harry Potter, Harry is battling in an epic way the physical manifestation of evil in the person of Voldemort. Harry is a loveable, laughable endearing teenage boy, full of foibles and questions about his past and his future. But even when he goes half-heartedly, he goes out to fight evil marked with the lightning bolt of love and armed with loving friends. Katniss has glimpses of humanity, but for the most part, her actions and emotions are primeval, instinct-driven, and she is motivated not to right the world but to survive by playing the game better than anyone else. She is a product of her society and that is the only reason I can find to feel any sympathy for her. When she flaunts the Gamemasters, she does so not out of any great understanding of the system, but out of a survival instinct and intense hatred for the way the system has robbed her.

Philippians 4:8 kept coming to mind as I read: And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

And my years of teaching English and the debate over what is the purpose of literature reared up. Is literature to hold a mirror up to our faces and show us what we are? Or is it to lift man out of the muck and give him hope for humanity? William Faulkner in his 1949 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech says it this way, “Ladies and gentlemen,
I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work – a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.
I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”

I tend to agree. We need all the props and pillars we can gather to shore us up here in this shaky ground we call life.

Does Hunger Games do this? Not in book one. I walked away disgusted. I wanted open, knowledged rebellion. I got backtracking and backstabbing. Like the Ancient Booer in The Princess Bride, I felt like saying to Katniss, “Your true love lives…. True Love saved her in the Fire Swamp, and she treated it like garbage. And that’s what she is, the Queen of Refuse. So bow down to her if you want, bow to her. Bow to the Queen of Slime, the Queen of Filth, the Queen of Putrescence. Boo. Boo. Rubbish. Filth. Slime. Muck. Boo. Boo. Boo.”

I wanted redemption, a character I could cheer for, the savage from Brave New World, ideas that were lofty and worthy and selfless. What I saw was a character motivated by survival and her burgeoning sensuality. Period.

But I’m having trouble leaving it at that. It’s difficult to walk away and completely dismiss this book, this character.

Because there are so many people in the world like Katniss who have no moral compass, who operate out of the need to survive and the need to meet the ever-increasing demands of their sensuality. Which is probably where Suzanne Collins is going with this.

And there’s this desire to wrap them in loving arms and say to them, “There is healing for this.” It isn’t a skin buff, shower, and manicure. It’s a soul garden replant, weeding and tilling and watering and feeding that looks and feels like redemption.

Sometimes I think I’m getting to be an old fuddy-duddy. But I’m seeing things in new lights these days. I remember a day when I moved in the world much like Katniss, not with 23 other children hunting me down per say, but moving through the world meeting the body’s needs and not much else. I believed in God and claimed to believe in the redeeming power of the cross and of Jesus on that cross. I developed strong head knowledge of parts of the Bible because that is what a good church-goer does. I even supported the missional work of the church, not necessarily because I thought it was a good idea for people in third worlds to know about Christ as much as I thought they needed a good meal or maybe a shot at some medicine or education typically not available to them.

But joy? Me sharing the gospel? Jesus dying on the cross for me personally? Yeah, none of that was mine to claim. Just get through another day.

Heck, I still have days like that. Where busyness crowds out the stillness and communion I need to connect with my God.

But somewhere along the way, God’s knocking finally resonated. And He said to me, “You are my princess. I love you the way you are. I would have died just for you, just like I promised Abraham I wouldn’t destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of 10 righteous.” He released me from the labels of the world, gave me new purpose and direction, and gratitude is becoming a way of life. I’m beginning to understand what it means to crave reading Scripture. This is the healing I needed and the healing that God offers all the children/people of the world. It is a feeding of the hungry soul.

You know, Jesus talked a lot about being the bread of life, the living water that quenches the soul thirst. I used to think that was a clever little metaphor he had going on. We all need bread and water, so of course we all need him.

But it’s more than that. It speaks to our need to find meaning and peace and resolution. The world is constantly offering us ways to fill those needs. If you eat at this restaurant, buy these clothes, use this fabric softener, own this car, view these shows, listen to this music, wear these jewels, shop at this store, if… then… amazing happiness will follow you all the days of your life.

And we “buy” into it only to find that we’re craving more and more of the world’s “food” because what we just bought… the clothes, the food, the car, the house, the floor cleaner… lacks the protein, the sticking power to stay our hunger pangs for very long. Like gluttons, we gorge on more and more of the sugary stuff of life, the fake, processed, unnatural. When what we really need is the word of God. This fills the belly with meaning and purpose, a life driven by gratitude, reacting out of joy, overflowing with generosity. And it lasts.

Wanna talk about Hunger Games? We’re all playing the hunger games… searching for ways to game our hunger. When the food we really need has already been gifted in the silver parachute of Christ on a cross. Eat and be filled.

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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!”

Define Healing

For years, I’ve carried a chip on my shoulder. Because I prayed for what I wanted to happen and it wasn’t granted.

I wanted healing and miracles and for what the doctors said to not be so. But it wasn’t granted… not in the way I envisioned it.

If it had been granted, I’d be the mother of 6. And from this side of things, I think the path that I traveled was probably the best path. Irregardless, I’ve been healed and am being healed daily.

Because daily I find comfort in something… maybe it’s a song on the radio, or watching the wind in the trees, or a whisper in my head that prompts me to act or think or move or be still. Since I started claiming God’s blessings as God’s blessings and not writing them off as happy coincidences, anomalies, and inexplicable events, I see those blessings on so many sides.

And that I count as healing. Because healing isn’t just a clean bill of health from the doctor.

“I’m sick of being sick,” my dad told me that a few days ago. He’s had a rough go, recently. In and out of the hospital, infections, pain, even near-death experiences. It’s been a rough go.

From this distance, I wonder what and why and how and even though God assures me continually that He’s got this covered, worked out, and there is glory in the finish, I doubt. This morning, during prayer time, I became shamefully aware that the word “healing” doesn’t even enter my prayers anymore. I pray for wisdom, patience, peace, strong and right decision-making… but the possibility of healing seems overwhelming. I have my doubts that this side of the heaven there will be healing.

And so it makes perfect sense that this morning, after working in my son’s classroom, as I climbed in my car and thought about my next hour and a half, as I tried to frame my thoughts for the blog I wanted to write this morning, as I turned to a song that was going to pump me up and get me psyched for writing the blog, God had a different idea. He firmly told me to turn to song 9 on the CD, not song 8. And the lyrics brought me to tears. “I hear Your voice it whispers my name/ And all at once You quiet my pain. If Your voice lit the sun and night was overcome, You can speak and light up my world, with just one word.” –Newsboys “One Word”

“If Your voice lit the sun and night was overcome, You can speak and light up my world….”

There are volumes in there… God the eternal, the healer, the creator, the redeemer, sun-lighter, darkness chaser, death overcomer, personal gift of love. But healer…. If God can light the sun, then He can heal.

In her Bible study on the book of Daniel, Beth Moore spent a video session talking about the biblical story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and their fiery session in King Neb’s furnace. The words that stuck the most put their experience in personal terms. Sometimes, Beth explained, God steers us away from the furnace completely. That’s a situation we don’t need. Sometimes, He walks into the furnace with us and walks us out of it, refined and improved, not even smelling like fire or smoke or singe. And sometimes He walks us home through the fire, the ultimate healing. Because in Heaven there are no tears, there is no pain, only the unfailing, unwavering light that is God.

We don’t get to choose which option God chooses. He simply assures us that He will walk with us no matter what.

There’s a buzz at Compassion Tea lately. It stems from our recent visits to the African clinics we support. You see, at Tanzania Christian Clinic, posted at the gate to the clinic is a sign that says, “for healing the whole man (John 7:23).” DSC_0158At Village of Hope, there is a sign that reads, “You will be secure because there is hope in the Lord.” 0-79And at 1000 Hills, the dedication stone reads, “To God be the glory for all His inspiration and guidance.”

Dawn Leppan, founder of 1000 Hills Community Helpers... giving proper credit where credit is due

Dawn Leppan, founder of 1000 Hills Community Helpers… giving proper credit where credit is due

 

We support the delivery of quality medical care in places where there is little. Through our selling of tea, we are able to donate medicines, medical supplies, funding for indigenous staffing and for special projects. We recognize that there is a great need for medical care in rural parts of Africa. And we’re dedicated to that.

But healing doesn’t always end there. In fact, often healing begins somewhere else… in the spiritual realm. Healing isn’t just finding the right antibiotic, it’s finding the Great Healer, He who walks us away from, through, or home through the fires of life.

After 2 miscarriages, and at the beginning of my third pregnancy, the one that would produce my daughter, I found this verse from Psalm 103:
“2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

This became my declaration of hope and I continue to wear it today on a bracelet as a reminder that my sins are forgiven, my doubts, too; that my diseases are healed or healing; that my life is redeemed from the pit; and that I am crowned with love and compassion and renewal.

And this is a hope that needs shared. This is the hope that the staffs at Tanzania Christian Clinic, Village of Hope, and 1000 Hills, to name a few, are sharing.

God lit the sun. He created each of us. Sometimes, He calls us to be His hands and feet… to deliver healing, and above all else, compassion. Now.

Taking It On The Road

“That heart ache is called compassion, and it is God’s signal to you to do something.”

Some day there will not be quiche ground into the carpets. Some day, there won’t be plastic cheese stick wrappers strewn about like so much tinsel. Some day, I won’t move a pile of clothes from the center seat and discover breakfast and last week’s homework. Some day. That day is definitely not today. And yes, I’m describing my car… the mobile city dump that it has become. Hubby keeps telling me I should institute a “no food in the car” policy. After all, it works for him the 2.3 times a week he transports the kids. I keep telling him that is as unrealistic as my asking him to enjoy shopping. Seriously, we live in the car… and I mean LIVE.

(Before you discount me as completely wacky and gross, I do clean the car regularly. Me and the shop vac are tight friends. Should we ever need to replace my car, I think maybe procuring a used mail truck, outfitting it with a microwave and a sink, and a few places to strap children would be ultimately practical and preferable.)

This morning when I woke up, like so many mornings lately, I struggled to discern which day of the week it was. The days all seem to gel like yesterday’s gravy into an amorphous state of repetition.  Yet, what was more important than the day was where I needed to point the car. Because direction is most important and logistics are a close second.

As we get ramped up for school and the daily grind, as we round out the summer with last minute camps and play dates, as we try to wring the last elements of freedom from a jam-packed summer as though once school starts there won’t be time for freedom, I am faced with a realization. My days of stay-at-home mom are essentially over. I am now mobile mama, taking the act on the road. The quiet afternoons at home for nap time, the leisurely time at the park playing, the let’s-stay-home-today kind of days that work for toddlers and preschoolers… they are a thing of the past. My role has morphed into a sort of food truck purveyor/ taxi driver/ U-Haul schleper of gear, snacks, a change of clothes, a kind smile, and a fresh water bottle. I should just hook up the trailer and drive that around town because our lives together are now spent traveling from event to event and my time with my kids is the 15 minutes between when one event ends and the next begins.

That isn’t much time to undo/redo/balance the messages each child receives outside of my influence. And yet, that remains my most important role… to shape my children, with God’s grace and guidance, into children who share His light wherever they go. Filtering and vetting are more important now than ever as I spend less time with them. My role is on the sidelines, backstage, behind the steering wheel. I’m trying to keep pertinent by joining in when I can… hopping on the horse for my own lesson, managing and volunteering. But coaches, teachers, the world outside my walls are the heavy influencers these days. And I must be intentional in what and who I allow to influence.

I must also be intentional in using those precious moments in the mommy mobile to mold and shape my kiddos. Glennon over at Momastery recently shared this letter to her kids, a letter she reads every night before school starts. I think it’s brilliant, intentional, and such a spot-on definition of compassion. Because this is where it counts most.

Dear Chase,
Hey, baby.
Tomorrow is a big day. Third grade – wow.
Chase – When I was in third grade, there was a little boy in my class named Adam.
Adam looked a little different and he wore funny clothes and sometimes he even smelled a little bit. Adam didn’t smile. He hung his head low and he never looked at anyone at all. Adam never did his homework. I don’t think his parents reminded him like yours do. The other kids teased Adam a lot. Whenever they did, his head hung lower and lower and lower. I never teased him, but I never told the other kids to stop, either.
And I never talked to Adam, not once. I never invited him to sit next to me at lunch, or to play with me at recess. Instead, he sat and played by himself. He must have been very lonely.
I still think about Adam every day. I wonder if Adam remembers me? Probably not. I bet if I’d asked him to play, just once, he’d still remember me.
I think that God puts people in our lives as gifts to us. The children in your class this year, they are some of God’s gifts to you.
So please treat each one like a gift from God. Every single one.
Baby, if you see a child being left out, or hurt, or teased, a part of your heart will hurt a little. Your daddy and I want you to trust that heart- ache. Your whole life, we want you to notice and trust your heart-ache. That heart ache is called compassion, and it is God’s signal to you to do something. It is God saying, Chase! Wake up! One of my babies is hurting! Do something to help! Whenever you feel compassion – be thrilled! It means God is speaking to you, and that is magic. It means He trusts you and needs you.
Sometimes the magic of compassion will make you step into the middle of a bad situation right away.
Compassion might lead you to tell a teaser to stop it and then ask the teased kid to play. You might invite a left-out kid to sit next to you at lunch. You might choose a kid for your team first who usually gets chosen last. These things will be hard to do, but you can do hard things.
Sometimes you will feel compassion but you won’t step in right away. That’s okay, too. You might choose instead to tell your teacher and then tell us. We are on your team – we are on your whole class’s team. Asking for help for someone who is hurting is not tattling, it is doing the right thing. If someone in your class needs help, please tell me, baby. We will make a plan to help together.
When God speaks to you by making your heart hurt for another, by giving you compassion, just do something. Please do not ignore God whispering to you. I so wish I had not ignored God when He spoke to me about Adam. I remember Him trying, I remember feeling compassion, but I chose fear over compassion. I wish I hadn’t. Adam could have used a friend and I could have, too.
Chase – We do not care if you are the smartest or fastest or coolest or funniest. There will be lots of contests at school, and we don’t care if you win a single one of them. We don’t care if you get straight As. We don’t care if the girls think you’re cute or whether you’re picked first or last for kickball at recess. We don’t care if you are your teacher’s favorite or not. We don’t care if you have the best clothes or most Pokemon cards or coolest gadgets. We just don’t care.
We don’t send you to school to become the best at anything at all. We already love you as much as we possibly could. You do not have to earn our love or pride and you can’t lose it. That’s done.
We send you to school to practice being brave and kind.
Kind people are brave people. Brave is not a feeling that you should wait for. It is a decision. It is a decision that compassion is more important than fear, than fitting in, than following the crowd.
Trust me, baby, it is. It is more important.
Don’t try to be the best this year, honey.
Just be grateful and kind and brave. That’s all you ever need to be.
Take care of those classmates of yours, and your teacher, too. You Belong to Each Other. You are one lucky boy . . . with all of these new gifts to unwrap this year.
I love you so much that my heart might explode.
Enjoy and cherish your gifts.
And thank you for being my favorite gift of all time.
Love,
Mama

I think I’m going to print this out and mount it to the front of the glove box or hang it from the moon roof. Maybe make stickers out of it to paste on windows. Wonder if I could paint some interior part of the car with chalkboard paint or mount a magnet board somewhere? Intentional. It’s a short period of time, but the world depends on it. I can’t let the days slip by, the world influence in ways I wouldn’t agree to; I can’t let compassion and goodness and kindness and God-centered living go untaught. I’ve got 15 minutes and 15 minutes and 15 minutes. Go!

See How it Grows

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

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

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

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African art and Tanzanian coins… a la Joseph

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

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

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

Until Next Year

Ah, Christmas is over. We’ve cheered in the New Year. And now we take down the greenery, fold away the stockings, roll up the lights, wrap up the Nativity or the Menorah, and breath a deep sigh of relief. We made it through what may in fact be the most difficult time of the year instead of “the most wonderful time of the year.” I’m not talking about the Christmas rush, the hustle of shopping, the agony of late night wrapping sprees, the stress of following tradition to the letter. I’m talking about making it through Christmas dinner without someone spoiling the figgy pudding. Let’s face it, few of us live the Norman Rockwell version of holiday gatherings. In reality, more of us can relate to the Griswold family (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) or the McCallister family (Home Alone). Black sheep, skeletons, wacky family members, difficult personalities, battles never resolved or released, political or religious differences all threaten to rock the boat, dredge up real and perceived hurts, rip off the metaphorical band-aids so carefully applied, shake loose feuds years if not decades old. If we can get through the togetherness of the holidays without further scarring, we count it a blessing. There has to be a Keep Calm and Carry On mentality for the holidays.

I needed some new Christmas music this year. I was feeling a little bored. So, I downloaded Jason Gray’s new Christmas album, Christmas Stories… Repeat the Sounding Joy. Each song on the album corresponds to a character in the Biblical Christmas story. From the song “I Will Find a Way” which ponders God’s view of how to reach his people to the innkeeper’s song “Rest” which speaks loudly to our own need to put aside the busyness of life in order to see what is happening in front of our nose, the album is a collection of thought-provoking songs that retell the Christmas story in a way that is accessible to us today. The song for Joseph has haunted me, however. Titled “Forgiveness Is a Miracle,” the song contemplates Joseph’s reaction and role in the story. Was he bitter, raging over betrayal, or did he cry in disappointment? Was there pain and vengeance at first?

“When love is like an open wound there’s no way to stop the bleeding. Did you lose sleep over what to do? Between what’s just and what brings healing? Pain can be the road to find compassion when we don’t understand and bring a better end. It takes a miracle to show us… forgiveness is a miracle. And a miracle can change your world… The forgiveness that you gave would be given back to you because you carried in your heart what she was holding in her womb. Love was in a crowded barn. There you were beside her kneeling.… You held it in your arms as the miracle started breathing… and the miracle will save the world.
Blessed Joseph, your heart has proven  and through you the kingdom has come. For God delights in a man of mercy and has found an earthly father for his son.”

As a member and volunteer at Compassion Tea now for a year and a half, I’ve found myself asking what does compassion look like off the page. How does that play out in daily life? Is it random acts of kindness, paying it forward, smiling and exhibiting patience in difficult circumstances, not smelling like the world? Is it sending money, shoeboxes, animals, medical supplies to people in far away places? This song suggests that compassion is found in forgiveness. Sounds easy, delightfully so, right!
I find myself telling the kids all the time, “Say you’re sorry.” Whether it is a slight push, a rolling of the eyes, a perceived-to-be-malicious bump, they come screaming to me about how they’ve been wronged. Often times, when we dig through it together it is a miscommunication or misunderstanding. But bending your will and your pride to admit wrongdoing can be excruciating. When Clara was smaller, and she was asked to apologize to someone, she would dissolve into a puddle of tears. She couldn’t bring herself to apologize. She was so ashamed or frightened to admit wrongdoing that she would prefer to ignore it. Facing our own ugliness is not that appealing. And letting go and forgiving? Equally painful.

But “Pain can be the road to find compassion….” croons Gray. Looking deep into the pain can bring us a better understanding of motive, of the woundedness inside the perpetrator. Peeling off layers of onion makes me cry every time. Searching through the pain surrounding a situation can too. It’s the proverbial “walk a mile in a man’s moccasins” kind of thinking. “Put yourself in his shoes.” But how do we get out of our own tightly-tied tennies to try on someone else’s?

I can’t really offer an answer. I struggle with this daily. There are wounds deep and decades long that are dug deeper and longer with each passing day. To forgive for the past is difficult when the present sees the same injuries being perpetrated. Will it ever stop? Will he/she/the situation ever change?

How many times have I told my kids that the only thing they can change about situations is themselves? We can change our outlook, our attitude, our understanding. But we can’t change others, as much as we would like to. So, I suppose compassion looks like changing one’s attitude or understanding to listen and look deep into the pain of another even if that person has hurt us. But don’t stop and grovel. Climbing down into the mire with another gets you both stuck in the mud.

“Forgiveness is a miracle.…” Gray turns the phrase later in the song to “Forgiveness is the miracle.” The simplicity of a changed article! When God sent Jesus in the form of a baby boy on the night we now celebrate as Christmas, He knew in advance what the end outcome would be. He had announced it multiple times to His prophets, He had set the stage with decrees about atonements and sacrifices, He had repeatedly shown mercy and forgiveness to His people even though they consistently turned away from Him to worship the works of their own hands. And as soon as he began preaching, Jesus referenced it as well. His death was the necessary sacrifice to once and for all time wipe away the sins of the world. Through belief in his death and resurrection, the deadness of sin can be thrown off and the life of a forgiven person can be lived.

Yesterday, Joseph asked me what Christmas has to do with Easter. Everything! You can’t have the one without the other. And thank goodness. Because of His example of forgiveness and His promise of forgiveness, we can trust God to work in every situation and every heart. He, the great big creator of the universe and of little bitty me and you, is the only one who can bring about the change that leads to forgiveness and reconciliation. No, don’t climb down into the mire with another who has wronged you. Stop, look, listen, and then offer the hand of God’s grace. Be a man of mercy, prayerfully asking for your own forgiveness and for the reconciliation that only God can bring. He sent us His son, every single one of us; He can drag anyone out of the mire.

With an eye to the new year, I find myself wondering in and through what ways God is going to bring His forgiveness to the world this year and how He will use you and me. Compassion, mercy, forgiveness… what will that look like this time next year? How will that change our 2013 holiday dinners?

Compassion Tea’s Top Ten Holiday Gift Ideas

Holiday Gift Pouch available now at http://www.compassiontea.com/gifts

Holiday Four Tea Gift Box highlights four of our most popular teas.

I barely got the Thanksgiving dishes washed and whamoo Christmas lights were up all over town. One day, the grocery store aisles were designed to steer you toward all you would need for a Thanksgiving Day feast and overnight the stuffing and cranberries disappeared and were replaced with chocolate, peppermint, baking supplies, and holiday cheer. In the blink of an eye it became “the most wonderful time of the year.”

My reaction reminded me of my husband. In the early years of our marriage, I discovered a penchant for moving furniture around, always searching for a better arrangement, more floor space, better TV viewing, something a little more chic. It got really bad in our first apartment in Amsterdam when I had a lot more time on my hands and a lot less furniture. This was difficult for Matt who operated by memory many mornings, stumbling toward the coffee pot with eyes at half-mast. When there was a new piece of furniture in his way, well, he had multiple stubbed toes as a result. He grew to hate change of this nature. I felt the same way about the rush of Christmas this year. I was really enjoying being thankful, quiet, deliberate; with Christmas upon me, I look more like a chicken with its head cut off.

At any rate, the holiday season is here and we will continue to hurdle toward it rapidly. We survived Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday and I just noticed that Green Saturday is coming up. If perchance all of this consumerism hasn’t helped you work your way through your entire holiday shopping list already or if you just discovered a few teachers or colleagues you forgot to add to the list, I proudly present the TOP TEN TEA GIFTS available now at Compassion Tea Company!

1. Holiday Four Tea Gift Box
2. Holiday Pouch
3. Holiday Tea Caddy
4. Gift membership
5. Donate directly to CompassioNow in honor of someone
6. A gift certificate so the person on your list can pick out his or her favorite tea flavors
7. A pouch of tea with a recipe for your favorite cookies, muffins, or marinade
8. A plate of homemade cookies and a pouch of tea
9. 2 cup teapot with a pouch or two of tea
10. Make someone tea, share the afternoon, and send them home with a pouch of the tea you made.

There! Easy peasy lemon squeezey as the kiddos say. You can order all of these gifts at www.compassiontea.com and to donate directly to CompassioNow, go to www.compassionow.org.

Gentle disclaimer:  Purchasing tea gifts from Compassion Tea Company will do untold good for people in rural parts of Africa where medical care is scarce, where medical supplies run out quickly, where people are malnourished, fighting infections without antibiotics, leaving broken bones unset, and living with diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, diabetes and yet don’t have any medical care or have to walk miles to receive care. To learn more about what your gift of tea can do, join our email list (info@compassiontea.com), follow us on Twitter (@CompassionTea) or become a fan on Facebook. We share teas to save lives! So can you!

Happy shopping! May your toes remain unstubbed!

A Wink and a Nod

One day, two clean-cut young men dressed in stark white, freshly pressed shirts and black dress pants rang my doorbell. As I opened the door, they asked if I had received Jesus as my Savior and would I mind if they came in and shared the Gospel according to the Mormon Church with me. People have all kinds of reactions to door-to-door solicitors and preachers, most of which are less than hospitable. Most of the time, my inclination is to get rid of the person as quickly as possible without being outright rude. But these two were a bit interesting. Yes, I have accepted Jesus as my Savior, so really the literature they were holding out should be saved and used perhaps at a house down the way where Jesus is a curse word rather than a name of holy praise. One pushed further. “Do you believe God has sent prophets to our world even today?”

Now that was a great question! There is an overriding sense in Western culture that God is dead. Burning bushes, seas opening up for people to cross over, staffs turning into snakes and back again, flaming altars quenched by rains that appear out of nowhere after a lengthy drought… those are the stories of a time so long ago it almost feels irrelevant. It certainly feels antiquated and archaic. God just doesn’t appear to His people anymore, let alone send people into the world to prophesy.

When these two young men showed up at my door, I was beginning an eye-opening process whereby God was opening my eyes to the ways in which He does work in the world minute-by-minute, second-by-second, behind the scenes, covertly arranging and mystifying the person willing to look. At the beginning of this process, God had introduced me to a woman, a very good friend, who dreamed dreams, saw God in places I would never have thought to look, and who boldly and uncompromisingly preached God’s Gospel. Did I believe at that point that God sends prophets into the world even today? Yes. It was fun to see the faces of those two men when I jumped into my own experience with a prophet of today. Yep. There wasn’t much else they could say or do except invite me to join them at church someday.

Willing to look for God in my world, I am now seeing Him everywhere! One of my favorite places to look is in creation. When the white moon hangs over the brilliantly green ridgeline in the abundantly blue sky, my heart soars in praise of His creativity and goodness. But God is unlimited and even when we try to limit Him because of our own smallness, He shows up in big ways. If you are willing to look.

For example, this blog has been writing itself in my head for the past week. On Friday, Joni Eareckson Tada emailed this as her daily devotional.

“Oh, magnify the Lord with me, And let us exalt His name together. Psalm 34:3 (NKJV)

It’s time for the NBA basketball finals. When Ken and I went to a playoff game in the Los Angeles Staples Center, we sat in the cheap seats-up so high in the stadium we had a difficult time seeing the basketball players on the court. They looked so small. But then I glanced at the towering jumbo screen above the court. What a difference! We could see every player up close. Even facial expressions!

The screen magnified what was already there. The magnification didn’t actually make the players bigger, they just seemed bigger to our eyes. Every aspect of each player could be enjoyed. Here’s my point: When we “magnify” the Lord, we make the God who looks small in the world’s eyes seem…huge! No, we could never change anything about Him. He’s the same “size” He has always been. We can’t make Him any more grand or great or powerful than He already is. We just “enlarge” Him before the world’s eyes so they can see Him up close.

As Christians, our lives are a little like that jumbo screen. Through our actions and attitudes, we enable others to see God better. When we let the Lord showcase His grace and power in our lives, when we display His peace and patience and joy in our daily attitudes and circumstances, then we truly are magnifying Him.

The world has such a diminished impression of God. He appears so insignificant to so many. Most people don’t even take notice of him. This is why the world needs to see the true details about who God actually is. They need to see Jesus, in His love, His strength, His majesty, and His tender care.”

God knew what was on my heart; He probably put it there! Here’s a wink and a nod that I’m on the right track. Because we put limitations on God, have reduced Him to archaic and antiquated, we also don’t look for Him. But believe me, He is still showing up!

The Compassion Tea team believes that God is our CEO. That is one of the founding principles of our company. We invite Him to join every activity we have whether it be our weekly meeting or while we are preparing for a large event. We believe He comes and directs our paths. This week, He has led us down some amazing roads and reminded us of people He has put in our paths before who might be resources of information and aid to us. We only see a few puzzle pieces at the moment, but knowing that God sees the whole completed puzzle before us is enormously calming. He will reveal each piece as it becomes relevant to our road, to our puzzle. And we are so excited by the possibilities for outreach and compassion.

Let me relay one way God showed up for us recently. The first weekend in June was the big World Tea Expo in Las Vegas. If you follow us on Facebook, you know that some of our team attended. Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom had recently been to London for business. While there, they had the opportunity to purchase a special tea produced by the East India Company and picked from a bush HRH Prince Philip planted in 1954 in Sri Lanka. Only 500 caddies of this tea were produced and numbered. Ed and Wendy presented this gift to Anne and Lee Kennedy, Compassion Tea’s dynamic president and spouse who have done so much for the company, while in Las Vegas at the Expo. The number of this particular caddy? 85. Because they are willing to look for God, Ed and Wendy asked if anyone could come up with a special significance to that number. Lee did. “We have 85 memberships as of today!” A wink and a nod from God. When Lee and Anne returned home, membership 86 came in!

I think the world sometimes scoffs at Christians who look for God to show up and who see His influence. Happen stance, coincidence, fortune, magic, science, “miracle of modern medicine,” astrology are all ways the world today explains God showing up. Let’s call it what it is, people. God’s got a wink and a nod for you, too. Will you catch it?

May The Force Be With You!

Star Wars… it’s the name of Joseph’s new fish, the kind of valentine cards and decorations we’ve chosen this year, the game we play. Light-sabers, ships, and plots to overthrow the Dark Side abound at our house. We have even taken to referencing each other as “young Jedi” or “master.” We have completely succumbed to the epic battle created by George Lucas… a battle that began when I was a child, that has been waging for decades, that garnered further following in the early 2000’s with the release of the first three movies in the series, and that has now taken over Legos, certain cartoon stations, and is about to be released in 3D. The battle between the use of the Force for good and the Dark Side is archetypal and resonates with our very souls.
A couple of days ago, the kids and I spent the afternoon watching episode three… a.k.a. the one where Anakin Skywalker turns away from his Jedi training, embraces the Dark Side, becomes a Sith Lord, and is henceforth known as Darth Vader. It has been the missing puzzle piece for me… the one movie in the six series extravaganza that I have missed seeing. While watching, I was struck by a conversation between Chancellor Palpatine and Anakin. Anakin describes the Jedi as using the Force for the good of others, selflessly, while the Sith use the Force for their own gain, turning inward and seeking their own expansion of power. The Sith rely on the passions of their emotions to strengthen their powers while the Jedi master their emotions, instead becoming deeply attuned to the Force and those around them. This conversation was precluded by a conversation between Yoda and Anakin. Anakin is distressed about the idea of losing Padme, his wife, and goes to Yoda to discover what, if anything, can be done to prevent her death. Yoda explains to him that one must be careful of one’s emotions, that fear of losing a loved one is a form of ownership, a form of greed, and therefore a slippery slope toward the Dark Side. Yoda instead explains in his backward way that one should rejoice when a loved one passes into oneness with the Force.
I think my ears perked up here because of experiences I’ve had this past week. Last Monday night, I was so moved by a friend’s testimony that I cried the whole way home from church for the pain she had been through and for the release she was finding through Christ. On Saturday, I learned that the 5 year old boy for whom we’d been praying for the past 18 months had succumbed to his battle with cancer. Reading his mother’s blog Sunday morning was emotionally gut-wrenching. Her faith in God, her surety that Logan was healed and in Heaven, her testimony that the Devil had been assaulting Logan for long enough and God had been with them through all of this and had now pulled the final, battle-ending, strategic move left me in awe and in emotional tatters. Throughout my life, I’ve been a crier. As a young child, I couldn’t watch “Little House on the Prairie” without being moved to tears by something in the show. This overactive water works display on my part is a mixture of curse (it’s so embarrassing sometimes) and blessing because I think I get what people feel. My friend and fellow Compassion Tea-er, Wendy Bjurstrom, just shared with me a definition of compassion she learned from Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church. According to this definition, the way I feel for others is compassion. Compassion, so goes the definition, is hurting so much for another that you will do anything to help them.
Compassion is the Jedi way. It’s the ability to look past self at the needs and concerns of another and to act accordingly. There is no “me” in compassion. It makes me think of two women I have yet to meet and yet for whom I have the utmost respect. Sister Marta is a Polish nun who is running the Chalabesa Mission Hospital in Zambia and Dawn Faith Leppan founded the 1000 Hills Community Helpers Clinic in South Africa. Both women work tirelessly to treat the medical and nutritional needs of those around them… often handicapped by a lack of supplies or water or staff or electricity or medicines. The stories they share of treating over 240 patients one day or of orphaned children discovered huddled in a hut without food or blankets or relatives or of rushing to save a life and then lacking the right equipment and medicines to do so are heart-wrenching. But they don’t give up. Dawn faithfully serves over 1500 people a day through her kitchen, operates a day care and school for over 250 children, manages a medical clinic that serves an average of 200 people per day, and provides classes in English, parenting, and even self-esteem. Sister Marta coordinates with Mission Medic Air to provide the medical care for people 10 to 20 kilometers away, often has to organize bucket brigades to supply water to her clinic, and keeps the clinic open even in the dark to help those who have walked a full day to find medical care. Tirelessly, compassionately, selflessly.
I read their emails and newsletters and agonize over the pain hidden inside, over the desperate pleas to not be forgotten and to be aided in any way possible. It makes me yearn to rush to their aid. But you know, for now, God has given me a different purpose. And the best way I can help is to support Compassion Tea. My monthly membership provides, on a monthly basis, medical supplies, medicines, staff support to these women and their operations. Each cup of tea I drink is a medicine for a child striken with malaria or a mother suffering from HIV/AIDS or a father trying to provide even while crippled by a broken bone not set properly. It has taken me several days to write this blog… and consequently I have consumed several pots of tea. Can you imagine the aid I have single-handedly supplied! And because Compassion Tea is so delicious, it feels like a luxury to aid in this way. But the basis behind Compassion Tea is the same as what drives Sister Marta and Ms. Leppan… because the founders of Compassion Tea felt and feel so profoundly the hurt of others they are willing to do anything to help. Tirelessly, compassionately, selflessly.
If only a light-saber would help.

Degrees of Love

“Cheese warmed up on bread, please!” That is Joseph’s favorite food right now. So at dinner tonight, we bargained with him. Eat your steak and potatoes and broccoli and if you are still hungry after that you can have cheese on bread. He made short order of the dinner and I was up from the table making the bread delicacy. Matt commented, “You love your cheese on bread don’t you!” Joseph got a very serious look on his face and said, “I love Mama first. Then Dada second. Then I love Clara.” Well, but what about the cheese on bread? “I like to eat it,” he replied with a smirk.

At four, Joseph has distinguished between kinds of love! Love is how you feel about a person, not how you feel about a food. Profound! And sweet.

Have you seen the email going around? The one about True Love? It looks like this:

For God so loVed the world
That He gAve
His onLy
BegottEn
SoN
That whosoever
Believeth In Him
Should Not perish
But have Everlasting life.
John 3:16

The creator of the email is hoping that the message will make it around the world by Valentine’s Day. I guess I better forward that email. Oops.
Ok, so when I first read this email, I thought, “Yep. That’s pretty cool.” I showed it to Clara who has the verse memorized and she began singing the little song that goes with it. Catchy tune and a great memory tool. We know it. But do we KNOW it?

In the study I’m doing at church right now, we’re talking about integration vs. knowledge. What do you know and what have you absorbed or immersed yourself in or integrated into your emotional belief systems. There’s a difference between the scientific knowing of something and the emotional, gut-level embracing of that knowledge. It’s the difference between a cold acknowledgement and a life-altering realization. It’s knowing and acting accordingly versus living in a manner consistent with and flowing out of an emotive response to knowledge. It’s following a to-do list versus living out love, trying to earn God’s love versus expressing God’s love.

My initial response to the email was a scientific knowing. Hey, I recognize that! I believe that is true for me. Do you feel the coldness of that? No, the email is making a profound comment here about the trueness and vastness and completely overcoming enormity of God’s love for you, and you, and you. (Yes, you!) He, God, is the Father who lost His sheep, His coin, His beloved prodigal child (Luke 15). He is the God, Father, who goes in search of the least of these, the insignificant, the shamed, the unworthy. He doesn’t just wait for them to return; He is actively seeking. And He is the God, Father, running out to greet, throwing the impromptu party, celebrating with joy. He is the God of emotion and knowing that He is running after me when I turn my back (just ask me about the dryness of inspiration this week as I’ve fought against writing this!)… I’m speechless. You may have heard before that God would have sent Jesus to die for your sins even if you were the only person here. You may have heard it. But have you really HEARD it?

Valentine’s Day is around the corner. We’ll spend a lot of time talking about love between now and then… picking out cards that adequately spell out our varying degrees of love for those around us. It may be a cheeky conversation heart exchange between school kids or a paper superhero comic card between best friends. It may be a handmade creation perfect for a parent, grandparent, or special teacher. It may be a card or a bouquet of flowers or even a canister of tea (www.compassiontea.com has the best one!) given to your sweetheart of 2 or 25 years. But, none of these Valentine’s matches the one the Father gave when He gave us His Son.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Mark 4: 9