The Something-Not-Someone

“Are you guys going to get a divorce?” my little girl asked one day. The question took me by surprise because Hubby and I weren’t fighting, there was no particular stress between us. Struggling to understand where the question came from, I hesitantly said, “No. Why?” The question stemmed from things she was hearing in school. Friends, classmates were experiencing rifts in the family, a breakdown of communication, love, joy, safety in the one area of life where there can’t be a breakdown. Not without major complications and ramifications.

“No, “ I plowed on in my answer. “Daddy and I made a promise when we got married. We made the promise to each other and to God that we would stay together. And we intend to keep that promise. God will help us.”

Today, we’re celebrating that promise made 19 years ago. But my heart is heavy for a friend who wrote to me late last night saying, “I need something, not someone, to believe in.” She’s whirling in a divorce vortex currently and is seeking the life-buoy that really saves.

She’s right that one person can’t be the one we place our hopes and dreams in; although, that is the romantic vision of our world. In the first flushes of romance and burgeoning love, we are quick to pin our hopes and dreams on that other person. But as the glow fades and we’re left with the ring-around-the-collar, and the stains, and the habits that grate, and the quirks that we’re pretty sure we’ll never understand, and the ways he/she does that that annoy and astound, disappointment grows.

So you either stop getting annoyed and your lower your expectations, or you go seeking the next best thing.

Or.

Or you look at the promise. You look at the “in sickness and in health” and the “for richer or poorer” and the “to death do us part” and you remember that this is a pledge you made before family and friends and at the feet of God.wedding

Nineteen years ago, I donned the white gown I’d been planning for months. Last minute changes to the veil came to fruition. My girlfriends were there laughing beside me and spirits soared. unnamed-7But one thing… actually two things… we had agreed to before our wedding. 1. There would be no forced kissing. I hate (even to this day) the tradition of hitting a glass with a fork or knife just to make the bride and groom kiss. There would be none of that at MY wedding. And 2. No reading of Ephesians 5: 21-33.

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.
25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.[b] 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body.
31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”[c] 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Nope. I didn’t want this at our wedding.

Silly, naïve me.

Ironically, this has become the backbone of our relationship.
That girl walking down the aisle 19 years ago really hadn’t a clue what this kind of love really looked like. Truth be told, I didn’t understand a God who would send His son to die. How do you do that? How do you love so deeply you are willing to sacrifice a part of yourself? How?

And so consequently, how do you submit? How do you take the screaming parts of yourself, the needy parts, the parts that disagree, rebel, and cringe, how do you take them and then do the opposite of what they are screaming? How do you place the needs of someone else first?

How?

You pray. Not just the “it’s the end of the day and I’m falling asleep so I better shoot something up to heaven” kind of prayer. But the “I’m at my wits end and I’m feeling waves crashing over me and I need to fall on my knees and weep like I’ll never smile again” kind of prayer. Where you lay it all before Jesus.

There were times over the past 19 years where Hubby and I stood near each other, each hurting in really deep and profound ways, hurting so deeply that we couldn’t even reach out to each other. There were no words for the pain. Just ache.

There were times we were tempted to blame, to point fingers, and even to run and hide.

But Hubby told me, in the middle of these deeply painful times, that he was praying for me.
And that was the spark of light and hope I needed. Because I was being lifted to the throne of God, and God was on His throne. He must listen.

And He reached down… He the perfect model of love and sacrifice and submission… and sang over my soul. The singing heals, the weeping washes away the pain… because He weeps with us. And He says over and over in a hundred different ways, “I love you.”

And if He can love me, broken and cracked and flawed, then maybe I can look at Hubby, at the ring-around-the-collar and the OCD about certain things, and love that too. And Hubby can love me despite the dirt on the floor and the pile of dishes in the sink and the bad mood and the way I do that that drives him nuts.

This is a kind of love that also rejoices… in all things.

A few Saturdays ago, I woke up in a foul mood. It just felt like it was going to be a lousy day. But Hubby came into the kitchen where I was making pancakes and with a few wise cracks and silly antics had me laughing. I turned to my little girl and told her, “When you go to find a husband, somewhere long down the road, look for a man who makes you laugh. Because life is hard and you’re going to need someone beside you to make you laugh through it.”unnamed-6

And you’re going to need that something-not-someone in which to believe. When God is in the center of a strong marriage, in the center of a single life, then there is the perfect example of grace and mercy and forgiveness, of submission and healing, and above all love.

At our wedding, I did allow this reading: 1 Corinthians 13
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;[a] but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages[b] and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! 9 Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.
11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.[c] All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

No. The something-not-someone to believe in is the God who is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful or proud or rude, but the God who never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and who endures through every circumstance. He was in the beginning and He is the end. And He is in the middle of it all. Forever. And ever. Amen.

Love Hurts

Sometimes love hurts. It’s a common saying in our house. Like the time I walked the floorboards from 2 to 5 am with her screaming little body heaving in my arms because nothing could cajole her to sleep. And the time after that and after that and after that. Or the time I pinned her body while the ER doctor took his mile long tweezers and extracted the bean she had shoved up her nose. Or the time I left him crying with his teacher after the bee sting, after the threat of allergic reaction was past, because he really would find school better than sobbing on my lap all morning. Or the time I heard him ask another little child, “Wanna be my friend,” and the little punk said, “No.” Sometimes love hurts. Like the times they tackle me, wrestle me, want to be hugged a little tighter and a little longer and my body just can’t hold that position but these are precious moments not to be wasted and so the muscles stretch and strain and with the pain is the gain.IMG_0426IMG_0429IMG_0431IMG_0432

Sometimes love hurts and it looks like rejection. “Go to your room” feels painful but we all need that time out, away from the situation, time for the emotions to flare on their own and then to smolder and eventually snuff out. And it hurts when they say, “Why don’t you love me anymore” and you know that this is grounding and based on love, love that loves so deeply that it wants to shape and mold and instruct and protect and it isn’t at all about not loving but about maintaining relationship and building character and someday they’ll understand.

Little Miss has always been a why person, expecting detailed explanations for everything. As she gets older, the answers are more complicated. Like the time driving home from church and her questions about the puppies in Milo and Otis showed great curiosity and eventually led us down the road to a little tale about the birds and the bees. Why this? Why that? Why can’t I tell my friends all about this, and by the way, how gross. And she’s the one throwing out the “why don’t you love me anymore” – her tweenness becoming more and more apparent by the second. How do I explain? There is nothing she could do, nothing that her brother could do, that would keep me from loving her. I may not always agree with her decisions and while she is under my roof I reserve the right to correct poor decisions in the hopes of avoiding further, more costly (and by costly I am not merely referring to monetary) poor decisions down the road. But no matter what, love is at the base of it. Which reminds us both that we have a heavenly Father who feels exactly the same way about us but more. In the middle of our mess, in the middle of our poor decisions gone hopelessly awry, in the middle of our impatience, anger, frustration, temper tantrums because we should call our forty year old emotional outbursts exactly what they are, in the middle of all that, He loves us. Watching it hurts, disciplining it hurts, paying for it on the cross hurt, waiting until just the right moment to bring it all to completion hurts. Yes, love hurts.

My children don’t know rejection, not well, and I pray with God’s grace they won’t know it intimately, certainly not from me. No, I worked too hard to carry them into this world, to carry them through the night and the morning and the afternoon nap, to bring them into contact with God’s amazing creation and people and experiences. Much has been given up, dreams have faded, desires quelched, because a diaper needs changed or someone needs to spend the afternoon snuggling or right now a knee needs a band-aid or a wounded heart needs to hear that the mean girl doesn’t know what she is talking about and that you are beautiful and fun to be around and said mean girl has no idea what she is missing by running away from you on the playground. I can’t imagine my life in any other way. Because even though love sometimes hurts, it is worth the loving.

But I think about Jennifer who was abducted by men, stolen from her family, her body used and abused and discarded when it carried the results of their abuse. At a very tender age, she became a “wife” to an army, not by any choice, not by any action on her part, but because in Uganda evil walks the ground in human form with a name and a face and an army behind it. And when Jennifer came limping home, pregnant and weary, wary of every moving shadow, skittish at night, afraid of further abuse, she must have placed great hope in returning to love, to family. Instead, she met rejection. “You carry the enemy’s baby,” she heard. “You are not welcome here. Go.” Flat, monotone, the voices of hate and disgust where there should have been love and doting and “Here, love, what have you gone through? Let me wipe your feet, dry your tears, carry some of that burden with you.” Who am I to judge their response, except that as a mother I can’t fathom. She was lost but now she’s found! Why isn’t that good enough?

Jennifer moved on away from family, started her own feeble family of two, and eventually heard the words she so longed to hear… from Him. He led her to Village of Hope Uganda who took her in and began singing His love song in her ear. You are loved, beloved, tender and dear, beautiful and sacred and worth a son, bride of my heart. The people at Village of Hope Uganda invested in Jennifer and her child, taught her a skill, gave her hope and purpose and love. Today, she leads up the bead making enterprise for the orphanage. In this case, out of hurt came love. Because saving lives isn’t just about medicine and medical care. It’s also about saving the broken parts we can’t see, the parts that hurt, ache, scar beneath the surface, the parts that need the healing only a Redeemer, a sacred Lover can offer. He can take the hurt and tear it down, He can replant the soil and start all over, He can bring the garden of love and beauty.jennifer

Or there’s Vicki who grew up knowing that her father valued her very little because she was born that cursed kind of creature, a female. Unable to carry on the family name or lead the family in dad’s old age, she had no value and certainly did not deserve an education. When the soldiers came demanding payment, her father gave Vicki to them rather than pay the money they requested. “Here, take her. I’m not gonna pay you. She is not that valuable to me. But my money is.” Rejected by her father and handed into the arms of evil. Like Jennifer, Vicki’s value lay completely in how men could use her body. We’re spending a lot of time here in the US debating Miley Cyrus’ use of her body recently at the Video Music Awards, bemoaning the lost innocence of Hannah Montana, berating our society for its depravity, rising up in indignation and promising to raise our daughters and sons better than that. At the heart of it, I think we’re all just a little shocked that a woman would make the choices Miley made, would value herself so poorly. When halfway around the world there are much smaller, much more innocent girls with no choice in the matter at all, for whom the lesson learned is that they have no value beyond what their bodies can offer men. Valued as much as we value a tissue… plucked, used, discarded. But Vicki was brought to Village of Hope Uganda after she escaped from the army. She shares a room with a fellow sister retrieved from the evil walking Uganda and together they have found comradery, value, importance… simply because they are beautiful daughters of God. And Vicki is going to school. On the webpage for Village of Hope Uganda, Vicki says, “Village of Hope Uganda staff love me. I feel like I am worth something for the first time in my life I feel valued for being a girl.”

Love hurts because of the value of the beloved. Where there is no value, there is no love. Where there are degrees of value, there are degrees of love. But not with God. All valued, all beloved, all called… can we hear His love song? He sings it over it all. This beautiful ballade born of love, redeemed by love, sanctified by love, bought by love, demands a chorus, amplified by voices angelic and earthly. Yes, love hurts. Not loving hurts more. And even though love sometimes hurts, it is worth the loving.

The Least of These

Have you ever been exhausted and ramped at the same time? I find myself in this dichotomy this morning! What a weekend… my daughter’s 10th birthday complete with a tea party birthday party with friends and a day of fun with family and horses and Japanese chefs throwing eggs into their pockets and hats… the missions conference at our church which meant making 6 batches of baba ghanoush and 18 gallons of iced tea and speaking in front of lots of people. (Exhausting!) But WHAT A WEEKEND! The chances and opportunities! The big ways God showed up and the little reminders that he actually never leaves! The tugging on my heartstrings… my baby girl growing up and hitting double digits when her birth and the events and people surrounding it are so vivid and fresh in my memory… the different ministries represented at the conference which highlighted ways to help the homeless, the children, the troubled, the lost. WOW.

Forgive me for my jumbled thoughts. I feel a little giddy right now! There are a couple of things that I want to highlight and that I think I can speak about coherently.

First, Compassion Tea Company donated the iced tea to the missions conference and we were able to sell our tea at the conference. We were blessed beyond measure by the response and reception we received. It was the kind of event that leaves us at Compassion Tea euphoric because it means that we will be able to support our parent organization, CompassioNow, even more. An event like this is a huge splash in the pond of aiding Africa with wide concentric circles radiating out. It looks like this:
Circle one: Compassion Tea Company — You recall, of course, that 100% of our after-tax profits are given to CompassioNow. None of our directors takes a salary in order to increase our profit margins. Our members’ support allows us to steadily add to the funding CompassioNow receives.

Circle two: CompassioNow — In turn, CompassioNow has seen a growth in donations, which has allowed several new and/or increased ways to save lives in Africa. In April, the board voted to begin supporting the medical clinic at Village of Hope, Uganda, an orphanage for over 200 children abandoned, abducted, enslaved, orphaned, and abused by the 20+ year war waged by Joseph Kony on the Ugandan people. Being able to save more lives is what we are all about!

Circle three: The clinics CompassioNow supports – Also in April, CompassioNow received a report from the medical clinic at 1000 Hills outside Durban, South Africa. When CompassioNow first began supporting Dawn Leppan and her work at 1000 Hills, the medical clinic was a dream and Dawn was serving food to the community in the basement of an abandoned church. According to this report, the medical clinic now treats an average of 180 patients per day and provides roughly 4000 treatments per month. The clinic serves the gogos (grandmothers) who attend twice a week for hypertension and diabetes monitoring, and for treatment for other illnesses. A well-baby clinic held weekly allows babies to be weighed, assessed, and treated if necessary. The HIV/AIDS support group works with 500 members who are weighed, monitored, and educated about living with their disease. The medical clinic at 1000 Hills runs an ambulance service for emergencies and for community members who need urgent transportation to the nearest hospital. And the clinic has also organized a group of volunteers, the Community Health Care Workers, who visit the families, the elderly, and the bedridden who can’t make it to the clinic. They monitor for rape, abuse, and nutritional needs, as well as providing some medical care.

Circle four: the larger community — The report states that “our figures have increased quite a lot since last year… because the community really is not getting the help they need from the local government clinic, so they are coming to us.” To use CompassioNow founder Wendy Bjurstrom’s words, we are “blown away” by the growth of this clinic and its ability to provide quality healthcare to a growing number of people. As CompassioNow is able to fund more staff and supply more pharmaceuticals and medical supplies to our clinics, more people are reached, treated, and saved, which in turn provides a community with a healthier populace better able to care for themselves and each other. And the circles rippling in the pond of providing aid to Africa continue onward and outward.

The second thing that came out of the missions conference that I want to share is the message. Any good missions conference will remind its attendees of their mission… to go out into the world — to the lost, the hurting, the downtrodden and oppressed – and to bring God’s light into the darkest corners. From heart-pumping renditions of sending songs to the examples of others who have gone forth to “bring the light to the nations” this conference didn’t disappoint! And they showed this video. It really struck me. You see, I live a very blessed life (and I imagine that if you stop and think about it, you do too!). I want for little, lack even less, and have around me beauty and freedom and love that leaves me breathless when I take the time to contemplate it. What do I do with those blessings? God gave me these blessings; He gifted me with talents and skills. What do I do with those blessings, talents, skills? What do I do with my bounty, the beauty around me, the love and freedom in my life? It reminded me of a Facebook conversation I recently had with a friend. This friend was distressed over the factory collapse in Bangladesh and was wondering if she should stop supporting clothing stores that provide cheap clothes by sourcing clothing from companies that treat workers inhumanely. How should this friend use her blessings? With her freedom to speak, in this case through her wallet, what and how could she bless someone else? The answers aren’t always easy because the world complicates and confuses, hides and disguises, befuddles and discourages us from serving others.

I go to 1 John chapter 4 from the Bible to help me. John wrote, “19We love because he first loved us.” God’s amazing love for us, and our recognition of that, fills us with the desire to share that love. John also said, “7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

It’s the “which came first, the chicken or the egg” kind of thing. Love isn’t that we take the first step and simply love God. We don’t love God and then He blesses us because of our actions. Love is God sending Jesus to love and heal and preach and redeem the world. In response, we love Him and one another… lost or found, worldly or saved. And in loving one another, we help one another.

There’s a song getting a lot of play on the radio lately. Click here to listen. I love the line, “If not us, who will be like Jesus to the least of these?” Who will be the hands and feet of Jesus if not us?

Let me try to wrap up my thoughts here into a neater package. We at Compassion Tea Company have been blessed, saved, and made free by God and His amazing, startling, overflowing love. His love staggers us. He showed it again so visibly this past weekend. This is the kind of love that can’t just be silently meditated on, held close and secret. No. It is the kind that demands a response. And “when we love the least of these,” we are responding. We are sending God’s love in a bandage, an aspirin tablet, a plaster cast, a round of antibiotics, a pair of eyeglasses, a nebulizer, in a vitamin. When we add a nurse or increase a doctor’s hours through increased funding to a clinic, we are adding and increasing God’s love poured out for “the least served.”

So, thank you family, friends, supporters, members, fans, and followers. Thank you for helping us “love the least of these.” And imagine how many more we can love! Share tea! Save Lives!

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