This I Know

I walked my daughter to her bus, a big charter, the last of 3, took her picture as she signed in with the teacher, took another as she climbed aboard, thankful for the camera hiding the tears in my eyes.
A myriad of moms laughed. “You’re not crying are you?” Ha ha!
Others assured me that she was going to be fine and that she was going to have a great time. I know that deep, deep down in my toes, because I’ve asked Jesus to stay by her the whole time. And He will be there… this I know. He always is.
She smiled big and blew me a kiss as the bus pulled out of the school parking lot. And my baby girl, my first big blessing, my first shooting star of a promise from God, headed out to be with her 5th grade classmates at Outdoor Ed for the next 3 days.
And there’s a sense that this is a rite of passage, that she’s going to come back a little more grown-up, a little more individual and dare we hope responsible, a little wiser, a little less in need of a good mommy. I think that’s why the tears.
I had a conversation in the grocery store yesterday with a mom also sending off her daughter but simultaneously sending off her 22 year old son… off to live his life on the other side of the country with a girlfriend. And she felt a sadness that all those nights of worry and loving and care… all have paid off and he’s done what he’s supposed to do which is to grow up and be self-sufficient… but where is her mommy role now in his life. Where does she fit in?
And last Friday at the Fall Festival I talked with a mom whose middle school son may or may not be struggling with his grades. Mom is trying to back off and let him do his thing, which is the party line of the middle school faculty anyway. But she’s shrugging her shoulders and sighing and asking, “What’s a mom to do?” And under that sigh she’s really wondering what her role is, what is her sphere of influence, does she even have a sphere of influence with him anymore.
I stepped up on my portable pulpit for a minute and preached it… God blesses us with children, they are truly a gift from Him, and it is our beholden duty as parents to lead these children even in the face of faculty saying they have to do it themselves. Borrowing a line from my husband, “as long as those children are under our roof,” it is imperative that we lead them, guide them, defend them, love them, model in our imperfect way the kind of solidarity God has with us.
So, this comes through from the Rainey’s, on their Moments Together for Couples daily devotional online…
“You will pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me, for You are my strength. PSALM 31:4
Try to picture this scene: With 50,000 men watching intensely, a 15-year-old young man, Trent—blindfolded and barefoot—begins stepping cautiously across an outdoor stage. Before him are a dozen steel animal traps with their jaws wide open. Each is labeled with words like “peer pressure,” “drugs and alcohol,” “sexual immorality,” “rebellion” and “pornography”—the “traps” that can
easily ensnare teenagers today.
Right beside me, on the opposite end of the platform and the traps, stands the boy’s father, Tom, anticipating his son’s every move. After two tentative steps, the boy’s third step places him directly in the path of the biggest snare on the stage—a bear trap powerful enough to absolutely crush his leg. (It had taken three grown men just to set it.)
Before his son can raise another foot, Tom yells into the microphone, “Trent, stop! Don’t take another step!” Circling the traps, he positions himself in between his son and the bear trap. After whispering some instructions, he turns his back to the boy. Trent eagerly places his hands on his father’s shoulders. Then slowly, they begin navigating the trap field together.
When the two finally reached me and we took the blindfold off, father and son hugged each other. Applause at this Promise Keepers event swelled to a thunderous standing ovation across the stadium. Above the roar, I shouted through the sound system, “Men, that’s what God has called us to as fathers—to be there and guide our children through the traps of adolescence!”
For Tom and Trent, the trap demonstration was a setup on a stage. But for you and your teen, the traps of adolescence are all too real and treacherous.
Don’t allow your children to risk the journey on their own. Grab them by the hand, watch your step, and move out together. Let God guide you through.”

This morning! As I’m packing the last of her things! For the next three days, I’m not going to be there to walk in front of her and guide her through the minefield. But that’s okay because Jesus is. This I know, for the Bible tells me so.

And then I see Davion’s impassioned plea for a family. It was on my radar a week or two ago, but it popped up again thanks to Kristen over at Rage Against the Minivan. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, Davion asked his social worker to take him to church one Sunday; he had a message to deliver. The message was that he wanted a permanent family; “I’ll take anyone,” he told the congregation. “Old or young, dad or mom, black, white, purple. I don’t care.” This young man has been in the foster system and he’s tired of not belonging. Just like the 101,000 plus kids waiting for a family in the US right now.

So, I’ve prayed over Clara, who is afraid of bees and bee stings and is apprehensive that she might get stung while she’s at camp and no one will know what to do. I’ve packed a surprise for her… brand new pajamas with the school logo… the ones she has been yearning after. I’ve labeled everything, right down to her socks and unmentionables. It’s all

organized, prayed over, loved on, even those smelly shoes (Heaven help her cabin-mates when the shoes come off).

And it dawns on me.

There are children for whom there is no Outdoor Ed, no mom crying on the sidewalk, no paparazzi photographing every move for posterity sake. There are children for whom no one is praying, for whom there is no soft bed laden with pillows and a mother’s gentle kiss and a father’s blessing. There are children who don’t know the kind of love and joy of a parent who marvels at their accomplishments, who cheers for them, defends them, leads them through the minefield of life.
These are the Davions of our country. And the Scovias of the world around us.

Wendy Bjurstrom of CompassioNow with Scovia

Wendy Bjurstrom of CompassioNow with Scovia

Scovia is a 14 year old girl living in Uganda. Her mother and father were both dead by the time she was 5; her father was killed by the LRA. Scovia now lives with her aunt and her family. They eat one meal a day… posho and beans. And Scovia is hoping to go to high school, if her grades are good and if she has the money, if she has the sponsorship. There are actually several thousand Scovias in Uganda, children who have seen their parents die of disease or be killed by the LRA, who have been rejected by family because they were abducted by the LRA, who run the family of younger siblings despite their own tender age. It’s estimated that 66,000 children were abducted during the 23 year war in Uganda. Millions have been displaced, killed, and maimed. Read the sponsorship page at Village of Hope sometime. Watch this video.

Oh my gosh. The children.

So I sit here on my knees, praying for Jesus to be with them too. Because Jesus loves them, too. This I know. But do they? Do they see that love daily in the face of a mom who would split the waters, race the desert, climb to the heavens if necessary? Do they hear it in the instruction of a fatherly voice? And if not… how do we… teach it, preach it, lead, guide, and defend?

Davion said, “I want someone who will love me until I die.” Don’t we all? Jesus, come and rest by these children.

(For another really good perspective, read Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan’s thoughts on the matter.)

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Village of Hope

The medical hut at Village of Hope

The medical hut at Village of Hope

A number of photos from Village of Hope, Uganda, came in over the weekend and we thought this might be a good way to share them.

Mike and Janelle, on the left, oversee Village of Hope.

Mike and Janelle, on the left, oversee Village of Hope.

Mike and Janelle run Village of Hope. They manage the 200+ children, their homes, and everything else including farming, water, latrines, piggery, corn shucking, tractor driving, mango planting, hosting visitors, Beads of Hope jewelry project, budgeting, and ordering the medicine.

Wendy has really enjoyed meeting the children and learning their stories.

Wendy and Scovia

Wendy and Scovia

This is Scovia. Wrote Wendy, “Scovia is sweet and very smart. Her mother died when she was young and her father was killed by the LRA. We are staying in a hut like the one behind us.”

The children danced a special tribal dance for the Bjurstroms. Here they are doing their Acholi dance.

Children doing the Acholi dance

Children doing the Acholi dance

The Acholi dance

The Acholi dance

Stina has been happily helping Dr. Mac and Nurse Susan in the clinic.

Stina and Nurse Susan hug. That's Dr. Mac in the background.

Stina and Nurse Susan hug. That’s Dr. Mac in the background.

A boy named Fred broke a bone in his elbow. Wendy wrote, “14 year old Fred (with brace on his arm) had broken a bone in his elbow. The girls were very worried about him and came into the clinic to pray for him. The girls prayed and sang and cried for him for 15 minutes. After Dr. Mac put a splint on his arm, his house mom, Beatrice, went with him on the back of a motorcycle (with the driver) to Kiryandongo, about a 40 minute drive on a mostly dirt (bumpy) road, to get an X-ray. He will have to go back to get it in a cast after the swelling goes down.”

CompassioNow and Compassion Tea Company are thrilled to be supporting the work of this clinic!

Fred leaves with Beatrice for the 40 mile ride to the closest x-ray machine.

Fred leaves with Beatrice for the 40 mile ride to the closest x-ray machine.

Fred, in blue, being prayed over by his friends.

Fred, in blue, being prayed over by his friends.

It’s Just Geography

One week nearly down and it feels like we’ve never stopped. It’s all geography, really. A different classroom for one, a different school for the other, but it’s just location. The rest is the same. 5 lunches into the school year and I’m already sapped. 5 morning drop offs and 10 afternoon pick-ups and I’m limp. The drudgery, the 8:45 pm wake-up call from the daughter who suddenly after hours of play realizes that she has something due in the morning and I’m the mom who loses it first. “I asked you about that! You said you had all your homework done!” Exhaustion sweeps through both of us, a dry, hot wind that sucks rather than breaths life. This getting back into the swing of things. This learning the rules again when the rules haven’t changed, just the geography. Strive, achieve, do your best and then some, fit the mold, break the mold, safety first, safety over community, stand here, single file, hands at your sides, lips locked, little soldiers marching through the sacred halls of institution, a place where God is met internally and the kid next to you may be different but we’re a tribe and we respect others and have the right to pass and share each other’s property but you don’t have the right to use that bathroom right now or to talk to that teacher right now or to even leave your seat right now because their rights are more important than yours. No wonder school is so confusing and frustrating for kids. Tall gates keep the creepies out, but the creepies are right there next to you singing some rap song you’ve never heard. Tall gates keep mommy and daddy out, too, but the teachers beg to have open communication lines. And in this strict, safe environment, controlled and controlled and then controlled again, children grow up, explore ideas they hear outside the tall gates, things like, “I’m not playing with you” and “your friendship is oppressive,” and “you just want to be popular but you’ll never be popular.” They mimic what they see outside the safety and security of the tall gates be it gyrating hips and sassy hair flips or confrontations of he who yells loudest wins or she who glares and switches her hips best wins.

It’s just geography with an ounce of maturity added in. The same daughter that curls my toes at 8:45 with her announcement of needing to read for 30 minutes or her need to study for the weekly spelling test (how long have we followed this same routine?) announces too that there are popular kids, these are the things the popular kids do, and she never wants to be popular because she doesn’t want everyone knowing her business. And I breath in and out a quiet hallelujah because more than anything this is the kind of clarity I want for my children, to look at the world and be in the world but to not smell like the world, to love its people with all their faults but to choose a different path. The popular kids are claiming boyfriends and girlfriends, are sitting together at lunch, are refusing to cooperate in PE because it may mean touching someone who isn’t popular, and are well known for being snotty and aloof… and instead of seeing that as desirable my little lady wants to know what is even remotely attractive about that. Keep wondering, girl, because who is popular today will inevitably fall from grace tomorrow or tomorrow or tomorrow. And the rules of engagement will change, just as they ever so imperceptibly are changing now for you, girl.

The rules may change or it may just be geography after all. But one rule don’t ever forget… God loves you, yes you. He created you, formed you, laid out plans for you, makes the best out of the bad for you, listens to you, answers you, adores you.

And there are children on the other side of the world, heck right here on our side of the world, who don’t know this. Children like Cosmos: “Cosmos would often isolate himself when he was first moved to the Village of Hope. Which comes as no surprise when we he told us of the haunting visions that still race through his mind of his father being killed before his eyes.”

And Jennifer: “Jennifer is 18 years old. She was abducted by the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) Rebels and forced to be a ‘wife’ or sex slave. After she escaped from the Rebels, her family and community rejected her because she was now pregnant with a Rebel’s baby. Men took advantage of her because she had already been raped. She was left alone and rejected by everyone she knew. Some would call her an outcast or a ‘throw away’ girl.”

And Vicky: “My father didn’t like me because I was a girl. All I wanted to do was go to school, but he would not allow me. One day the LRA rebels came to our home. They told my father, if he would give them money, they would not take me. My father had the money, but he said, ‘She is worthless to me, take her.’
I spent the next years with the rebels, where they forced me to do many terrible things. (Most girls are used for sex slaves and are forced to be child soldiers within the first 2 weeks of abduction)
Once I was able to escape from the rebel camps, I had nowhere to go and nothing to eat. I didn’t have money to go to school. I was very sad.
Village of Hope began to provide me with food and paid for me to go to school. In 2010 they brought me to the Village to live. They showed me to my new home called ‘Hope’ and to my new room. I had a real bed to sleep in! I also met several other girls my age that lived in Hope. We quickly became sisters. I was able to attend the Village of Hope Primary School. I love school!
Village of Hope staff love me. I feel like I am worth something and for the first time in my life I feel valued for being a girl. My two favorite things are dancing with all of my friends, and leading worship at church on Sunday.”

And Norbert and his siblings: “His parents were always willing to face risks for their family. They went to cultivate some food from their land since the shortage of food was so great at the IDP camp where they were confined. At this time Norbert was only 8 years old. The rebels abducted him, his mother and father, and two of his sisters. They moved very long distances deep into the bush, spent days without food, and were forced to carry very heavy loads. All this took a toll on his health, leaving him weak and sick.
His father was much weaker than he, unable to walk and at the point of death, so the rebels ordered Norbert to kill his own father. He said he tried to resist but the rebels tortured him so severely that he lost consciousness. When he came to, he was given a machete to cut his father to death, and he had no choice but to cut down both his parents. As if that was not enough, they then ordered him to cut up his parentsbodies and cook the remains for their meal. Though beyond our ability to grasp, he continues to say that this also came to pass.
Early one morning they were ambushed, and Norbert was seriously injured with a deep bullet wound to the head. After collapsing unconscious, he was rescued by the government soldiers at the site of the battle. Unfortunately his two sisters were not to survive the battle. After he alone was brought back home, his brothers and sister who had remained home welcomed him with heavy tears, he says, because he was in a such bad shape.
As his eyes refuse to dry, Norbert begins to relate the extreme problems they have had to face since they lost their parents in such a tragic way. Obviously, life could never be the same. He adds that they lack all the basics, from food to medical care to school fees and other basic needs. His remaining sister Florence was only 13 years old when she was forced to take on the responsibility of the care of all her other siblings, including a one year old baby whom their mother left at the time of her death. The baby is now four years old, though sickly. Florence has managed to take very good care of her despite the lack of basic needs in their house. She has sacrificed everything to make sure her siblings are ok, Norbert tells.
He goes on to explain about the extreme risks Florence takes just to make sure that they have some food in the house. He tells how most of the time they go to peoples gardens to dig in exchange for food, but such contracts are few, so they only get to do this once in a while. They also go and fetch water in exchange for food, but these opportunities are rare. For all of them, their school attendance is irregular due to lack of school dues, and they also have to take some days away from school searching for food. Regardless, life has to go on. Having seen the situation at hand, ruthless men started taking advantage of them.
Some nights this household goes without food, he relates, and seeing the young one go hungry hurts Florence so bad that she offers her entire life to make sure that the siblings have something to eat. The men started forcing her to exchange sex for food, and indeed seeing her siblings go hungry, she sacrificed this much, he continues amidst tears. As we speak she is pregnant with the child of a man she doesnt even know. Norbert’s heart is crushed under the weight of her burdens.
Norbert says he respects this sister, his very great hero, for the love, sacrifice and care she is giving them. He says that he is crying out to anybody, to any heart who will have compassion for his sister the way he does, to come to their rescue.”

These are the stories of children who have found help through the Village of Hope in Uganda. What is more, they’ve found that most important rule. God loves you, yes you. He created you, formed you, laid out plans for you, makes the best out of the bad for you, listens to you, answers you, adores you. The God of the universe has cried with these children, has made a way for them, is weaving ways for the rest, is there cherishing them. Through the bodily care and the spiritual care these children are receiving at Village of Hope, the rules of engagement are changing. Caught in deeper problems, in the middle of wars we can’t even fathom, in the middle of crises that make being popular sound like child’s play, the rules are changing. Children who have been taught to believe that they are nothing are something beloved and cherished, who have been used in ways inconceivable to us are finding purpose and joy in who they are as cherished children of God. For these children, a slight geographic adjustment can mean the world.

To read these stories and more or to learn how to help, please visit http://www.villageofhopeuganda.com. To learn how you can help us help them, visit http://www.compassiontea.com or http://www.compassionow.org.

But I Don’t Wanna Go To Bed!

“But I don’t wanna go to bed!” Sound familiar? Irritatingly, we have this conversation nearly every evening. Usually, it revolves around the fact that the kiddos want Mama to read another chapter of the book we’re reading together. Right now, we’re reading The Chronicles of Narnia series, and quite frankly I could stay up all night reading these books. Nevertheless, that is not wise for any of us.

Over the weekend, Clara uttered her little nightly complaint once again and I found myself launching into a mini tirade about the privilege of going to bed. I expounded on the beauty of her warm, soft bed layered with clean sheets and quilts and fluffy pillows, in a dry room, safe and snuggly, loaded with stuffed animals, soft classical music playing in the background. Kind of makes you want to curl up right here, right now, doesn’t it!

Did you see the photo shoot that made the rounds of Facebook and other social media outlets recently? The one focusing on children around the world and their treasured possessions? Many of the children are posing on or near their beds. Take another look! Here’s the link.

Reading through posted comments is one of those vacuum cleaner activities… I hate it but I get sucked in. So, I read through some of the comments. Many were complimentary of the photography; some commented on the similarities between countries while others were shocked/disturbed/amazed at what was considered a treasure. And then there were a few snarky comments regarding the photographer’s choice of subjects… particularly regarding the photos from Malawi and Kenya. Why choose only “the most heart-wrenching” subjects? There are wealthy Malawians and Kenyans. Why choose these subjects? Why choose only a seemingly wealthy child in India? Why not visit the slums of Calcutta? Or the cardboard camps in Honduras? That probably has more to do with access and money more than some grand social engineering on the photographer’s part. But I think the point has been lost. There are children around the world living in grand luxury and children around the world living in abysmal circumstances, children with amazingly comfortable beds and children with a cot or a mud and straw mattress or nothing, children with hundreds of toys and children with 1 or 2.

Then there are the children of Uganda. It is estimated that between 60,000 and 100,000 children have been stolen from their homes in the middle of the night, have been enslaved by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, and have been orphaned by the 20 + year war he perpetrated on the country of Uganda. Do you remember Joseph Kony and the Invisible Children video calling for his arrest that went viral last year? He’s still out there. According to the Invisible Children website, he is moving north toward the Sudan where he is finding more friendly governments, but he remains at large in the Congo. And in his wake, he has left thousands of children. Some children join their parents on a daily hike to the nearest city… sometimes over 10 miles away… so they may sleep in the streets, protected by the largeness of the city, and avoid being abducted. Others have been uprooted from home all together, living in dire refugee camps. Other children have escaped from the LRA but live with the terrors of being abducted in the middle of the night; of being beaten nearly to death; of having to kill brothers, sisters, parents; of being used as sex slaves; of being a tiny soldier. There are children who have returned home to find no parents, who are heading the household at tender ages, responsible for the food and safety of the smaller siblings. I’d like you to watch this video. In it, a boy is crying because he is the head of his household. He went to the well to get water for his siblings. The other children at the well pushed him and he wasn’t able to fetch water for his family. He has a mat and no blankets for his family to sleep on. His 4-year-old sister is lame and requires care for even the simplest of things. The boy is 12. At 12, my daughter hopes to purchase her first phone and get her ears pierced. While she will have responsibilities around the house, she will certainly not be responsible for running the household. This boy’s story breaks my heart. And this is just one story. One horrific, unthinkable, unbelievable, mind-blowingly sad story. (stay tuned)