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Saturday, December 15, 2012

REPOST: Why

I wrote this post back in 2010 after a friend of mine took his own life and I was really struggling with why things like that happen.

In light of what happened in CT yesterday, I am again struggling with why. Here's what I had to say about it almost three years ago:


Why

As a mom of a three & a half year old, I am faced with the "why" question all the time - approximately 42 million times a day actually. And I can usually answer Riley's "why?" with some kind of halfway-sensible answer. When he "whys" me into a corner, I just tell him "because God made it that way" and he's usually satisfied.

But I'm struggling with some whys today that I just can't answer. I lost a friend this week. He was struggling with depression and had gone missing and last night I got the call to tell me that they had found him. And he's gone.  I don't have words to express the sadness and grief I feel for his mom, his girlfriend, and their families. I don't have an answer to this "why."  All I can do is pray.  In church this morning we sang,  "I called. You answered. And you came to my rescue. And I wanna be where You are."  I couldn't keep it together to sing along.  Why did my friend have to lose his battle with depression? Where was his rescue? Why is the world this way? My standard "because God made it that way" answer just doesn't seem to apply here.

I don't really have an answer why.  I never will.  But I know that God has a better plan for all of us. Some may say that this was somehow God's will, but I don't believe that. I don't believe God wants us to suffer.  I believe He can redeem the worst situation and turn it around for good but I just can't believe that God's will was for my friend to lose hope the way he did. Likewise, I don't believe it is God's will for children to be abused, to be born into disease or poverty or for women to be raped. All of that is a result of this sinful, messed up, broken world we live in.  I thank God that He is there to help us pick up the pieces, heal us, and show us a much better way. And I am praying hard for His peace for my friend's family. I pray God shows up for them in an undeniable way.

The past year I've been praying the Lord's Prayer more intentionally - focusing on what it's really saying and the most powerful part for me is "thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven." Jesus tells us to pray that God's will WILL be done here... just as it IS done in heaven. And I'm trying so hard to do my part to make this world a place where what God wants to happen is what actually does happen. That's part of why we are adopting.

We're adopting because there's a child who needs a family but in all honesty, I'm adopting a child whose birth mother I wish I had been able to keep alive or who had been able to keep him.  We will always continue to work with Heart for Africa to try to change the trajectory of Swaziland so that fewer children there are orphaned. I would love to live in a world where adoption doesn't happen because there are no struggles with AIDS, infertility, poverty, or rape. The reality may be that we won't experience this until we are in heaven but I'm certainly going to work hard to get us as close as we can.

I'm not trying to make some random connection between my friend & our adoption just so I can write about it on this blog. Those are the two "why" questions I struggle with right now.  I failed my friend somehow - our society failed my friend.  Society has already failed my future child because he's going to (or already has) lost his birth mother. I grieve this and I know God grieves this.  And I don't know why it is the way it is.  But I do know there is hope. There's so much hope and I pray that everyone who is suffering today can find it.

"Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best thing. And no good thing ever dies." This was the quote on my friend's facebook page.  I think the best way to honor his memory is to hold on to hope. And I plan to do just that. This was a tough week for me between bad days, news about my friend, and news about our adoption but there is no giving up.  "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  For me, it's more like, "I can't do anything without Christ, who strengthens me."

My prayer for my three little ones today is that they will never lose hope, no matter the struggle. That's my prayer for the world, actually. Please hold on to your hope. Please.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas will be a little less sweet this year...

I meant to blog about this before Halloween.  But, you know, I have three kids. That's my excuse anyway.

I'm a Chocoholic. I mean really. I've been known to pour a handful of chocolate chips into my hand as a snack. Um, or several handfuls. If we have chocolate candy in the house it does not last long. I just love chocolate. And my oldest is the same way. We have bona-fide sweet tooths (teeth?). Let's be honest: I used M&Ms to bribe encourage my children during potty training.

But last year I learned something about chocolate: most of it is produced by slaves. CHILD slaves.  The major chocolate companies in my country (Mars, Hershey, Kraft, Nestle, to name just a few) are getting their cocoa beans from farms on the Ivory Coast and West Africa where children (children!) have to work in terrible conditions for no pay. Some have been trafficked there to work on the farms. They do not get to go to school. They live in poverty. They have bodies that are developmentally in disarray from all the hard labor they've had to do while still growing.

All that so I can have my chocolate fix. Somehow, that brings an awfully bitter taste to my beloved Kit-Kats.

Here's why I'm mad: The chocolate companies know about this. After stories about child slave-labor on cocoa plantations came out in 2000, here's what happened:

"Shortly thereafter, in 2001, Congress passed H.Amdt. 142 to P.L. 107-76, FY2002 Agriculture, Rural Development and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Appropriations, which would have provided $250,000 to the Food and Drug Administration, to be used to develop a label for chocolate products indicating that no child slave labor had been used in the growing and harvesting of cocoa in a product so labeled.  A Senate companion bill was never introduced, in part because after House passage of the bill, representatives of the cocoa industry, the International Labor Organization (ILO), several private labor rights groups, and Members of Congress, negotiated “a comprehensive, six-point problem-solving” protocol aimed at ending the “use of abusive child labor in cocoa growing.”"
(from CRS Report for Congress, July 13, 2005).

In normal person language, that means our government was going to develop a label (and a law) so that chocolate companies could let us know, clearly, that they were not using child slave labor to make their products.  Instead of agreeing and taking immediate action to stop child slavery, the chocolate companies lobbied hard. They made sure no such law was passed and came up with a voluntary agreement that they signed saying, "oh we'll work on solving the problems and try to fix it." It's been almost 11 years. And very little has changed. The date that the companies agreed to stop using "child labor" (which is really child slavery but they conveniently use different wording), keeps getting pushed back. They say it's just too hard to reach all those cocoa plantations to make a difference.  I'm sorry...chocolate is a major industry. They have the resources to reach those plantations; they are choosing not to use the necessary resources to make the changes. CNN went to do a story there and found child slave-labor farms the FIRST day they were there. Wow- must have been really hard to find them.  Grrrrr.

This means if you buy chocolate this Christmas from one of our major chocolate companies, you are supporting child slavery. I usually buy Hershey kisses or those Dove chocolate squares and pour them into everyone's stockings. I LOVE those chocolate oranges. You know, the ones that look like real oranges and you smack 'em to get them to break open into lovely orange-flavored chocolate slices. It tastes like heaven, I tell you. It's tradition every year and I look forward to seeing it in my stocking because I know Rob's going to make sure it's in there. And I totally would NOT share it with my kids. No way.

Not this year. Yes, I love chocolate. But you know what? I hate the idea of children working as slaves even more. I will gladly give up my heaven-in-the-shape-of-an-orange. Gladly. When I get to heaven, I have a feeling my orange chocolate will be there and it won't have been made by child slaves. I'm happy to wait till then.

Please consider joining me. This year, my family will get one fair-trade chocolate bar in their stocking. It's easy to see the fair-trade label on chocolate bars and you can KNOW that no children were harmed in the making of that product.  Buying organic is 2nd best. Organic farms don't use child slave labor but most of them aren't on the Ivory Coast, so it isn't helping the problem as much.

And if you are an info-seeker, here are some great resources:
CNN did an entire story on this last January through their Freedom Project:
http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/16/chocolate-explainer/
There is a whole series you can read through including stories about specific children and reactions from chocolate companies. It's worth clicking through and reading.

This blog lists places where you can find fair-trade chocolate:
http://joannacastlemiller.com/human-rights/chocolate/
She has this guide from 2010 as well: http://themarginalized.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/chocolate-and-child-slavery-an-abolitionists-guide1.pdf

Here's how you can learn more about how to be more involved:
http://www.stopthetraffik.org/campaign/chocolate

Let's have a not-so-sweet Christmas this year!  Chocolate isn't good for us anyway. It's a luxury. I will gladly pay more and only eat one chocolate bar instead of heaping on the cheaper chocolate made by child slaves. Wouldn't you? And, you know, maybe we won't gain so much holiday weight. It's a win-win, really.

I'd love it if you'd leave a comment letting me know if you're going to go fair-trade for Christmas chocolate this year! Let's see if we can make an impact! Share this info with your friends. I'm betting most folks have no idea. Americans like to say this is one of the greatest nations in the world. I don't think it's great that our major chocolate companies are using child slave labor. That is embarrassing.  Let's step up and be a part of what's right.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Halfway...

I'm sort of funny when it comes to milestones.  I always celebrated when my kids hit 9 months-old because it meant they had been "on the outside" as long as they were in.  I already know that when I turn 36 (a really reallllllly long time from now. Or 2 years. You can choose), I'll have lived in the South as long as I ever lived in New England.  I know that when I turn 48, I'll have been a Cassell as long as I was a Johnson.

Next month, Amani will have been home 15 months. He'll have been home as long as he was ever away from us.

And last night, I got to see this picture (thanks to an amazing FB group for folks who have adopted from ET through our agency):

Amani was almost nine months old when we got our referral. We've never seen any earlier pictures of him. He is seven months old in this picture!  HALFWAY to when he'd come home. So fitting for my weird obsession with halfway points.

This was such a gift! When you don't adopt at birth, you always wonder about those days before you became a family.  My heart still yearns for the baby I never got to cuddle. He never knew me in the days when he needed so much care. I never got to be his main mode of transportation before he could walk. I missed all of the middle of the night feedings and snuggles.

I have no newborn pictures. No "the first time you stood up" or "the first time you ate solid food" pictures. I don't have a picture of the first time he clapped his hands or rolled over.

But now we have this one. He's so tiny! My heart hurts because I missed out on being mama to this tiny sweet babe, but this picture brings me so much joy!

Being a part of the adoption community is amazing. It's like having more family (the good kind... ha!). The mama who sent this picture out didn't know he was mine. She just knew she had a picture of a cute kiddo whose mama would probably LOVE to see a picture. And she took the time to post it on the chance I might be out there somewhere.  Actually, another adoptive mama-friend of mine saw it and alerted me.  I'm telling you, these adoptive mamas are awesome.

And she made my day!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Forgotten and discarded

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: 
to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27 (ESV)

I'm not really one for picking a "life's verse" but if I had to, this would be one of them. I serve the God of the broken, of the forgotten, of the discarded.  He loves the unlovable; forgives the unforgivable; comforts the miserable.  And at many times in my life, I've felt like I was broken, forgotten, discarded. There are certainly days when I feel unlovable, unforgivable, and miserable.  I am so thankful for the grace and peace I've been given. I can't even begin to explain it.

Because of what I've been given, I can't help but want to live out that verse up there. I don't want to "visit orphans and widows" because I have to... I want to because I can't imagine life any other way. Because God has shown me how to find joy... and I pursue it all the time!  I've never found it in material things... instead I find it in homeless tent cities, in African villages, and in teaching my children about the Jesus I love.

If you have ever walked into an orphanage, you have seen things you wish you hadn't. It would be nice to bury my head in the sand and pretend there aren't children living in terrible conditions, with no moms or dads to love them. No one to kiss boo boos, no one to rock them to sleep, to sing silly songs, or look them in their eyes and tell them they are precious.  I've experienced the joy and heartache that comes from hugging orphans in the Republic of Georgia, in Ethiopia, and in Swaziland.  I have experienced the joy and the heartache that comes from adopting. It is such an honor to adopt a child who needs a family. Our family is so blessed.

My husband and I, together and individually, have been traveling to Swaziland to work with Heart for Africa since 2008. We aren't ready to adopt again right now (my sanity hasn't quite been restored -- but I'm workin' on it! ha!) but our commitment to orphans remains.

I do not want Swaziland to be forgotten and discarded. It is a tiny, beautiful country. Full of beautiful, wonderful people and gut-wrenching, soul-tearing poverty.  So many orphan-headed households. One of the highest (if not THE highest) HIV rates.  Children abandoned in pit latrines (how my heart aches for the mother who feels this is the best option for her child!), older children raising baby siblings. Not enough food.

Big, huge, sigh.

I know, however, that God has NOT forgotten the Swazis. He loves them. And I can't believe I get the honor, but I get to be a part of sharing that love - it's my turn!! I get to go to Swaziland this summer! My husband went a few months ago and I am already registered to go in July!! I get to go "visit orphans and widows in their affliction." I'm excited to go, but I mourn the fact that it's even necessary.

But it's expensive. Swaziland is crazy far away. I mean really. 18 hour flight from DC to Johannesburg, then a 5 hour bus ride into Swaziland. It's expensive to get there.  I need to do some fundraising.

So here we go! I'm going to sell a bunch of my crafty-things! I've been doing this for the past several years every Christmas. I'm a terrible business-person and don't want to start a business, but when I have a good cause, I'm happy to sell the things I make! :) I'll probably do this every Christmas for the rest of my life, honestly!

I have some great stocking-stuffer and teacher gifts this year!  Email me at yklj AT triad DOT rr DOT com if you'd like to order something. If you aren't local, I'll just charge actual shipping.

Click on "The Store" for a complete list of everything, but here are some pics to get you thinking! There's even more in the store! All kinds of custom gifts for the holidays!!!


Heroes on the half shell... custom bag tags for kids and grown-ups!

DIY Personalized canvases. My kids had a BLAST making them and they look awesome in our playroom

Personalized Christmas Ornaments

Perfect teacher gifts - personalized acrylic straw tumblers!



Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Gays vs. Christians Debate.

I think I've accepted the fact that this is not purely an adoption blog. I'm kinda all over the place and I know I'm not even really a "real" blogger, but I like writing and I think sometimes people read it. But I'm a little scared to write this post. You'll see why.

Have I ever mentioned how obsessed I am with reading? It is ridiculous. I have to have a book to read at all times. I cannot go to bed at night without reading first. And if I don't have a new book, I'll just re-read one of my old ones. I've probably read each of my books at least 5 times, some many more.

I'm such a nerd.

Last May, when NC was voting about adding Amendment One to our constitution (banning any union other than a marriage between a man and a woman), I somehow came across a blog: Crumbs from the Communion Table.  This guy is a Christian. And he's gay. And his name is Justin. His words during that emotionally-charged time were full of grace.  He posted a response after the Amendment passed (here's the link) that I wanted to send to everyone I know.  I'm pretty sure I excitedly told my husband all about him and said something to the effect of "I guess you never expected me to come to you and tell you how much I love a gay man." Bless his heart. Or mine, I don't know.  And Justin was writing a book and you could pre-order it. Remember that book addiction I  have? Oh yeah, I ordered his book back in May.  And it came about two weeks ago. And it's great.

Justin's book is TORN: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays versus Christians Debate.  It's his story: how he discovered he is gay and how he has struggled to reconcile this with the fact that he also loves Jesus and wants nothing but God's will for his life.  It is beautifully written and his only agenda is that we need to listen to one another in love; and disagree with one another in love.  And today I'm joining in his Synchroblog for Sanity: a call for more reasonable, respectful dialogue about this issue.

In this culture, especially in the South where I live, it is pretty obvious that we have a battle going on: Gays vs. Christians.

And that is so sad.

So I'm going to be honest, publicly, about how I feel about the issue. It breaks my heart that people who say they love Jesus are so outwardly hateful towards gay people.  It breaks my heart when I hear the rhetoric that Christians often use to talk about gay people and how very unwelcome gay people feel when they come to church. Especially when we turn a blind eye to about a bazillion "internal" sins.  The whole sex thing kills me: our churches are FILLED with straight unmarried couples having sex and straight married men who watch pornography. I'm fairly certain those behaviors aren't healthy for marriage and families but I don't see Christians leading any crusades against them under the banner of protecting marriage and families or trying to create policies and laws to stop them.  And I don't know anyone who thinks setting them up to be the enemy would be the Christ-like way to deal with their behavior. Why is it that Christians act as if gay people are the main problem undermining the fabric of society and harming families? I'm sorry, but I do not believe there is a gay agenda.

And all of the anti-gay actions done in the name of Jesus are not causing gay people to decide "wow - I really love that Jesus guy. I want to be one of his followers."

I very openly identify myself as a Christian but when it comes to the issue of sexual orientation, I am often ashamed to claim that name. As a Christian, I want to apologize for hateful behavior, for anything that has been said or done that did the opposite of showing the love of Christ. I promise not all Christians hate gay people.

I say this a lot, but I don't think the purpose of the Bible is to find all the rules we're supposed to follow. It is the story of God and his revelation to us about who he is and what he has done.  As we seek to be more like him, he works to change our hearts. What he is working on in my heart right now might not be the same thing he's working on in yours. And it is not up to me to tell you what he should be changing in your heart. Most importantly, you don't need to change ANYTHING for his love. Not a single thing.

Yes, God doesn't like sin. Sin is anything that moves me away from the heart of God. It's also something I do every single day no matter how hard I try. Thankfully, Jesus died a long time ago and paid that price - no matter how much I fail.  And not all Christians agree on exactly what qualifies as a sin. Alcohol is an example. I think it's okay to have a drink now & again. Some Christians believe we should never have a drink. We need to have grace with each other and understand that sometimes we are going to see things differently.

There are people who believe in what the Bible says and are earnestly seeking after the heart of God who think that having a same-sex relationship is a sin AND there are people who believe in what the Bible says and who are earnestly seeking after the heart of God who think that it is not.

It is okay that we disagree. Unity doesn't mean agreeing on every single issue. There is room for all of us at the foot of the cross. What we must agree on is that the grace and peace of Christ is enough for all of us.

So here's the deal. Regardless of whether you believe gay sex is a sin, Jesus loves people who are gay.  And some people who love Jesus are gay. Gay people can be Christians. And right now, the church is missing out on showing the love of Christ to an entire section of our population. Our actions are pushing them away. Away from Jesus. They think we hate them. And some of "them" are some of "us" and they're getting that message too.  That all makes me want to cry.

We still don't know what causes sexual orientation, but an overwhelming number of people who are gay say they were born that way. And a good deal of research is pointing to genetic or hormonal influence. What is becoming very clear is that people are not choosing to be gay.  I am not going to judge someone for a choice they did not make.

As part of the Synchroblog for Sanity, I'm asking for a kinder debate on this subject. Leave a comment today and I will post it (as long as it is not hateful) regardless of whether you agree or disagree with me.  If you know me in real life, talk to me about it.  We need thoughtful, grace-filled dialogue on this issue.  And if nothing else, I hope you will consider reading Justin's book. It is thought-provoking, kind, and graceful. Unless you actually hate gay people and want to stay that way. In that case, you probably won't like it. Everyone else on all ends of the spectrum of thought on this issue: read it please!

And just to make it easy for you to get the book, here it is.
Click to buy it on amazon.



Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My next four years will be full of JOY

The election is over. I'm writing this on election day and I wonder how long I stayed up last night waiting to hear who is to be our President for the next four years.

I'll stay up to find out who it is, but I honestly don't believe it will change my life very much.

You see, my next four years are going to look much like my last four: full of joy. I'm fairly confident of that.

What's my plan for the next four years?  Easy:  Love.

I don't mean this in a cheesy way. I mean it in the messy, be-there-for-others-put-myself-last kind of way. For me, the joy I will find in the next four years will come from serving others, from serving Jesus. That's how I found joy these last four years. I'm gonna stick with what works, folks.

The Bible isn't my rulebook for life. It's not a moral manual telling me how to live.  I have fallen in love with my God, with the Savior who died because of ME, because of my failures and how I fall short of perfection every day.  The only response I know to that is to love others, to pass on what was so freely given to me.

When I say "As a Christian, I know how I am to live," it has nothing to do with any rules I'm supposed to follow.  What I mean is that I have been shown crazy grace and love and when that happens to you, you can't imagine living a life filled with anything less.

You know when you eat something really good and you have to turn to the person next to you and say "ohmygosh.... TRY this!" as you shove your fork in their face?  I feel that way about Mellow Mushroom pretzels and pretty much all the food at Ghassans. Because I love it, I want to tell all my friends and family, take them there, and eat together.

That's how I feel about my joy, about my Jesus.  My life is crazy-amazing because of Him, and I want to share it.  I want others to feel it too. I do NOT want to force them to change; to make them follow certain rules. That has nothing to do with it. If you have ever thought that being a Christian meant following the right rules or acting the "right" way, I apologize. Sadly, that message is out there. Sadly, I think a lot of Christians think that IS the message.

Anyway, my next four years will be full of joy. That doesn't mean I wont have struggles, heartbreaks, or difficulties. I fully expect those things to happen in the next four years too. But the cool thing about this joy is that it perseveres in the face of those hard times. Trust me, that whole adoption thing is the biggest tangle of joy and heartbreak I've ever experienced.

So I'm excited today. When this posts, we'll know who the President is. But I'm writing election-day morning and I have no idea.  And I'm very much looking FORWARD to the next four years.  In these next four years I get to:

* continue the honor of serving my homeless friends; they teach me so much about bravery, selflessness, and friendship
* travel to Swaziland! Oh I can't wait for my feet to walk in that beautiful country, bringing words of encouragement, hugs, and letting the Swazis put my hands to work for them
* continue to walk on the journey that is our little church plant, Missio Dei. It is seriously like refreshing, cooling water to my soul to do church with those folks.
* keep on raising those crazy kiddos of mine. Motherhood is an adventure every day.
* stand by my dad and pray for him as he continues to battle cancer (again... ugh)
* adopt again (!). Okay, that's not for certain in the next four years, but it's a likely possibility. I certainly hope it's in our future.
* be a good friend, a good neighbor. These next four years, I really want to be there for my friends. God put people in my life for a reason and I want nothing more than to be a blessing to those who know me.


And all of those things will be messy. I guarantee you I will cry. I bet we'll have less money four years from now than we do now (especially if we adopt again). I am not living the American dream.

But I have a joy that surpasses all else. And I'm not gonna let that go.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Election Day Prayers

I took my kids to vote this week. I really appreciate that they do the kids vote thing. It definitely gave me the opportunity to have some great conversations with my kids.

Sadly, it was an important conversation to me because I fear what they'll learn about politics outside of our home. Politics has become a culture war.

I told them they do not have to vote the same way as Mommy and Daddy and that we don't even always vote for all the same people.  Each person needs to vote for the people they like best and it is okay for that to be different.  Just because we both love God doesn't  mean we'll be in agreement with political stuff. There is no perfect candidate.  Jesus doesn't make endorsements.

We talked about respect and how important it is to respect the person who holds the office of President and to respect the person who challenges the office.  And we talked about how that respect is seriously missing in how people talk about the election today.

The last is a message I've been saying a lot lately. Partly because I believe it, but also because I need to really live it: It doesn't matter who wins this next Presidential election. Not in the grand scheme of things. Our hope lies in Jesus. The Bible makes no mention of any kind of savior coming from the American government. I don't believe that America is the world's best hope. The world has a best hope, but he doesn't live in a white house.

That doesn't mean we can't try to pick the best person for the job. I do have a candidate that I like better.  But I am not praying he'll win. Instead I'm praying for my heart. I'm praying that I won't be disappointed on election day if he loses and that I won't really celebrate if he wins.  Because I will pray for my President on November 7th and I will pray for my President on January 20th whether those are two different people or the same man.

And I don't expect him to be able to fix all our country's problems.

As a Christian, I know how I am to live. More importantly, I know who I am to love.  The Bible says to carry the message and to love others and that God will change hearts. There's no moral policing in my job description.

But I'm in danger of getting sucked in... there really is a candidate I like better and my heart feels pulled in one direction.  So I'm praying for my heart. I pray I remember what really matters.

No matter who wins on Nov 7th, how I am to live doesn't change. I serve a God of grace and love who is not limited by men who sit in authority.

Thank goodness!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Outraged


Have you ever seen this bumper sticker? I'm not really sure what the original creator of this was thinking when he/she made it - it probably has some political implication that I don't even agree with - but for some reason this particular bumper sticker resonates with me.

Usually bumper stickers make me roll my eyes. It's silly to think putting an idea on a piece of sticky paper on the back of a car might make someone decide to think like I do. 

But this one makes sense to me.  I spent an hour at a meeting this week for folks who are interested in traveling to Swaziland with Heart for Africa next summer. That means I got to spend an hour talking about (and listening to others talk about) how much we love that country and the Swazi people.  And I was reminded of how much they are suffering; how much tragedy and poverty has been heaped upon a tiny country the size of New Jersey.

And in the midst of my general frustration that comes from election years, I came home pretty outraged.  Mothers in Swaziland are jailed for stealing food because they can't feed their children. Their children who are under three get to live with their mothers in prison (did I just say get? yes, those are the lucky children) but their other children are left to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, Americans are squabbling over which presidential candidate's policies are going to make sure they have more money in their pockets at the end of the day.

I'm a mom. I can't even leave my children for a couple of days without missing them. I had a big ole' meltdown the last time I was in Swaziland because I was so far away from my children and I CHOSE to go on that short trip.  There are mothers in Swaziland who are having to watch their little ones grow up in prison while their hearts ache for the children they've left behind at home, not knowing if those children even have enough to eat, much less any adult supervision. 

I keep hearing the amounts of money that the candidates have raised for their campaigns. I keep seeing facebook posts about how what matters most is electing the person who will make sure Americans keep getting richer.

And I'm outraged.

Why aren't people as willing to fund restorative programs as they are negative campaign ads? Why aren't we posting on facebook about the women whose children are going to suffer and die because they died of AIDS in an age when HIV is no longer a  death sentence?  Why are we not outraged that there are mothers who walk this same planet who feel that the best option for their newborn babies is to drop them down a pit latrine and hope for a quick death? This is reality in Swaziland.

My outrage isn't directed at those suffering. It's directed at me, at my culture, at my society.  That we are letting this happen.  My heart can't even imagine how the mothers of Swaziland are suffering, how they hurt.

I don't want to ignore this. I'm paying attention. I've seen poverty both here in my city and a country an 18-hour-plane-ride plus 5-hour-bus-ride away.  And I want to be outraged. I do. I don't want to stick my head in the sand and live my life as if I don't know.

I can't solve all the problems. But Jesus has made it pretty clear what role I am to have.  And I've hugged my brothers and sisters in Swaziland. They're trying so hard to heal their country. And a visit from someone from so far away brings them hope and encouragement.  I've held children who have no parents; who are raising themselves.  And a hug and a listening ear can bring an afternoon of healing to a child or a mother or father who has been struggling.  Helping a community plant a garden can provide food for the next several months.  And I've hugged the homeless men and women who live 10 minutes from my house, assuring them that, while they are in my presence, I will listen to them and give them grace and dignity, not judgment. I don't have to solve the problems - but I do have to love others as Christ does. And loving means doing, going, walking, planting, hugging. And it means sacrificing so that others may have when I have abundance.

So that's why I'll be returning to Swaziland next summer. Because I'm paying attention. And because the same God the Swazis are crying out to for help is telling me to go.  If it were me crying out for help, I would pray someone would be willing to go. If they weren't, it would be an outrage... wouldn't it?



Friday, October 5, 2012

Gold medals, tent cities, and kisses

Yesterday was an eventful day for Amani and me. Joey Cheek, US Gold medalist for speed skating, was in town to do some fundraising for the IRC, the day resource center that serves our homeless population here in Greensboro. He wanted to see where some of our homeless folks are living and so the IRC asked StreetWatch to bring him out to one of the tent cities.

SIDE NOTE: Have I mentioned that Amani has "third child syndrome?" ha! He does seem to get dragged along to a lot of events. He's such a great sport about it. Amazing kiddo. I totally would have left him home if Rob's schedule had been free.

So StreetWatch arranged for us to have a little breakfast party at the tent city. Biscuitville, Krispy Kreme, and Harris Teeter donated food and we bought some coffee. And my homeless friends got to meet Joey Cheek and his girlfriend, Margaux Isaksen, who is an Olympic pentathlete (yeah, I had to google that one).



And I stood back and watched. The news crew wasn't there about StreetWatch, plus Michele knows infinitely more about homelessness than I do, and I was very happy to stay away from cameras and reporters.  And my heart filled with joy as I watched an Olympic Gold medalist make his way around the camp, sitting down to talk with my friends, LISTENING to them. Allowing them to have a voice for the morning. I'd check in with them from time to time to ask what they were thinking and they all talked about how great it was, how much fun they were having, what a blessing it was.

I do realize a two-year old in a tent city is not what you'd expect to find. Plus, we are that "visible family" after all, so I got a couple of questions about Amani and adoption.  And Margaux loves children, so she was all about talking to Amani. She asked to hold him and I am proud to announce that Amani has had his first crush: on an Olympic athlete, no less! :)  She really is super-sweet and she was so kind to him all morning. You know how that makes a mama's heart happy.  And it kept him so content that I didn't even have to bribe him with the 2nd half of his Krispy Kreme doughnut (now THAT's an an achievement!)

So here's the funny part. When it was time for them to leave, Amani went to give her a hug goodbye... and planted a kiss right on her lips!! She was really gracious and sweet about it and everyone started joking to Joey that he was losing his girl. He said something like, "I was always afraid that would happen, but I never thought I'd lose her to a two year old."

Thanks Michele for getting a picture of this! :)
Big day for Amani: first crush, first kiss. Leave it to my child to pick an Olympic pentathlete!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The best worst year of my life.

A year ago today, I stepped off a plane with my third child in my arms, finally home forever. It was almost two years after starting the adoption process. Two years of waiting, paperwork, praying, waiting, praying. I thought those years were hard. I had no idea.

I will never forget coming down the escalator at the Charlotte airport with Amani in my sling after over 30 hours of traveling and seeing my husband, seeing my two older kids running to me, seeing so many of our friends there to greet us. It was amazing. My only regret is that we didn't get a picture with everyone there.


Allyn's first Big Sister kiss



Our first family picture (remember, 30+ hours of traveling - I am looking rough!)


And then we drove home from Charlotte to find this in our driveway:

That day was crazy. Amani and I were exhausted and dirty. He was so sick (we had no idea he'd be having surgery 8 days later).  And our friends and family surrounded us with so much love and support. I get teary thinking about that day and how much we love the folks who shared it with us.

And that was a year ago today. Three hundred and sixty five days.

Those have been the hardest three hundred and sixty five days of my life. And the best. And the most stressful. And the most amazing.

Adoption is not for wimps.

Looking back on this past year, I am so glad to be moving forward.  And I cannot get over how different our family is from a year ago.

If you haven't seen it yet, there's a blog post from Jen Hatmaker (have I ever mentioned how much I love her? oh, I have? a million times? right, sorry) and it sums up the first year home with adopted kiddos:

In the past year I have cried tears of joy and tears of despair. I have wanted to shout from the rooftops and praise God and I have wanted to throw myself down a flight of stairs.  Seriously.

But today I look at my little brown boy who runs to me when I walk in the door yelling "Mommy Hoooome!" and I want to cry tears of pure joy. I know what his life would have looked like if he weren't here. I know the struggles he's been through over the past year. He's my fighter, my survivor, and he is, quite possibly, the sweetest of my three children.

And as hard as it has been, I'd do it again. I'd do it all again to have him be my son; I hope to get to do it again for another child someday.

But for now, I am really looking forward to year two with our amazing Ethiopian son. He is truly a blessing to our family, temper tantrums and all! :)

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Visible Family

My family used to be invisible: Mom, Dad, two kids. One boy, one girl. ho hum. la dee dah.

We didn't stand out anywhere we went. I shop at the same grocery stores, same fabric store, same Target, but there wasn't much to make us different from all the rest of the folks. Often, I was recognized by my bright, multicolored, striped sling, but if I didn't happen to have a baby in a sling, I passed through my days pretty much unnoticed. It was nice. More than nice. I didn't realize how wonderful it was.

That all changes when you become a trans-racial family.

We've been at the same preschool for four years now. And I know a lot of the moms through our kids having classes together, playing on the playground after school, etc.  You know, the normal ways.  But now I find myself being known.  What I mean is, people know I exist because I'm the white lady with the black child. They may not know my name, but I find myself being introduced to people and they say, "yeah - I know you!"  This never happened before.

We've bought our milk at Earth Fare for the past 6 years. {SIDE NOTE: I love Earth Fare. I love that it appears to be a requirement that you have some hippie quality in order to work there, usually in the form of hair. I'm a closet hippie so I feel this little love for the Earth Fare employees.}  The same guy at Earth Fare has been ringing up my milk for six years. Now he talks to me. When I come in with Amani, he says "I know you!" This never happened before.

We go places and I get comments and questions. This used to happen a little before, but only when I had a child in a sling. I'd get sling questions. Now I get questions about whether I am babysitting, adoption questions, or plain ole stares. This never happened before.

I don't mean any of this in the negative sense, but it can be hard for me to stand out sometimes. I don't think of us as A Trans-Racial Family. I think of us as a family, and it sometimes takes me a second to figure out why I'm being looked at, noticed, or known. Or why the person I'm talking to hasn't quite figured out if Amani is my son or not.  I suppose I will get used to it. Eventually.

And let me tell you something: racism makes you paranoid.  Well, it makes ME paranoid. The fact is, racism exists. It's also a fact that it doesn't exist in every situation. But that doesn't matter.  After every encounter in which we are noticed, stared at, or commented upon, I wonder about it.  When we are first noticed, stared at, or commented upon, my guard goes up; mama bear readies herself, just in case. I don't believe I'll ever get used to that.

There are some positives to being The Visible Family. We get to have sweet conversations about adoption with both kids and adults. We have seen racist or negative attitudes around us change. We get to challenge the traditional notion of family and make a statement about racism without saying a word. That can be awesome.

But do me a favor... if you are an invisible family like we used to be; one who blends seamlessly into the fabric of your culture, talk to your kids. Let them know about the visible families. Teach them that we are families too. Teach them that there might be times when someone might not act like that's the case.  Or that someone might not be nice to someone else because of how they look or how their family is made up.  It will be hard on my kids to carry that message alone, but they don't have a choice: it's written on our family. Visible. And there will be times when my kids need some allies.  Because being a family can be a hard thing to be sometimes; it takes a lot of work, no matter what your family looks like. And I want my kids to have your kids' backs. And vice versa.

'Cause that, my friends, is a little glimpse of heaven.


Our first day...

So I wanted to post this earlier but I got hit by some kind of crazy stomach bug. And now I'm not sure which is worse: having a 12 hour stomach bug, or the impending doom you feel when you fear your husband and/or kids are going to get it?

But anyway... I've been a little nostalgic and emotional the past few days as I think about where I was a year ago. Have I ever explained how crazily my life became entwined with my friend Kim? Let me tell y'all... this is a God thing - there is no other explanation.

When you are an adoptive mama, you read blogs. Not casually. You READ them. And somehow connect with the mamas who are writing them from across the country. So after we traveled for our first court date, I somehow made the connection that the other Gladney mama who got a referral the same day we did was adopting a child in the SAME room as Amani.  Out of the six rooms in each of the four houses, our children were in the same place.

We got our referrals the same day, traveled for court within a week of each other and got to talking. We both felt like we needed to get our behinds over to Ethiopia and not wait for Embassy clearance like you're supposed to. I think we set a tentative date to travel before we'd even been submitted to Embassy. When we both got news on THE SAME DAY that our cases had been submitted to Embassy, we booked plane tickets and traveled halfway across the world with no clue when we'd be returning home.

It might have been the biggest leap of faith I've ever taken: leaving my first two children and my husband behind, not knowing when I'd be back.  And God knew I couldn't do it alone: so he worked it out for another mama and her sweet daughter to be there with me.  A year ago today, we were in Ethiopia with our new sons, trying to manage their fears along with Embassy requests while not being allowed to leave the guest house. I thank God all the time for Kim and her daughter - it's quite possible I would have completely lost my mind without them! We fought together at the Embassy and they ended up treating our boys' cases like one case. Halfway through we just started sending them one email from the both of us, since they'd already figured out we were together.  We cleared Embassy the same day and our embassy ticket even had our names written on it together. And, all together, we flew back to NC (oh wait - did I not mention that part? We live about an hour and a half apart).

Go ahead and try to tell me that's all just happy coincidence.  Oh wait... one MORE thing: they are both from Gondar and were at the same orphanage there. Seriously. I couldn't make this stuff up.

And... in case you missed it a year ago. Here's the letter I wrote to Amani after our first day together. I can barely believe that is the same child. What a difference a year makes!!!


Dear Amani,

We’ve almost been together for 24 hours now. I’ll never be able to tell you what you first day of life was like, but I can certainly tell you about our first day together.

I went to visit you at the orphanage yesterday as soon as you were up from your nap. We played for a long time.  Word got around that you were leaving that evening and your caregivers came by to say goodbye. They obviously love you very much.  Senet and Sarah are your “special mothers” and they are wonderful. We’ll see them again next week to say goodbye for real at the coffee ceremony.

I fed you dinner there and we played a little while longer. And then when I left, I didn’t have to leave you behind!!  You came right along with me!  Samuel Reisen was with us too because his mom and sister are here doing the same thing we are: Waiting for Embassy clearance.  You must have been some kind of favorite at the orphanage because we were stopped several times on our way out so that women could say goodbye.

Usually you would be brought to me at the guesthouse and that was our original plan but when the visit was going so well, Kim and I figured it would be so much easier on you and Reisen if you came with us while you were having a good time with us.  There were no tears. You didn’t try to reach for anyone at the orphanage instead of me.  I think it was way better than having someone from the orphanage bring you to me in the morning.  You didn’t really enjoy the car ride. It seemed to freak you out… you just sat very quietly on my lap with a slight look of alarm on your face.

We came back to the guest house and played a little longer. I changed you into pjs, and gave you one last nightly bottle.  Your schedule says you take one at 10 pm but I figured if I gave you one at 8 right at bedtime that you’d do just fine all night.  I was right – you slept all through the night until about 6!
I woke up because I heard a loud CRASH! You had woken up, stood up in your crib and grabbed the ring stacker I’d accidentally left on the bureau next to your crib. Oops.  You wake up so quietly… I wonder how I’ll know you’re up tomorrow morning.

You are a great eater! You had an entire banana, a bowl of rice cereal, and a bottle for breakfast!! And you played happily until about 9 when you decided you were going to take a nap. The orphanage said you only nap once a day but maybe moving was tiring so you needed a little rest.

You slept about 45 minutes and when you woke up, I gave you a bath. I think up until now you’ve only had sponge baths.  You did NOT like the regular bath. Not at all. I washed you up quickly and didn’t do your hair since you were so miserable.  And then after that you really weren’t yourself.  You only wanted me to hold you. You cried if I even sat down and cried harder if I sat you on the floor to play.  Most of the morning you were pretty out of sorts.

It was hard to watch you suffering like that.  I’m sure you are confused about where you are, about where your friends and caregivers are.  I don’t know your routine. I don’t know how you like to be held. I can’t speak the language that can calm you.  This morning was hard.  And it made me a little mad. I know the adoption would have been easier on you if we could have gotten to you earlier.  But now you are 13 months old. I’ve known about you since you were 8 months old. All those 5 months I wish we could have been together.  But things are not that way so we’ll have to get through.  A part of me is glad to see you grieving. I know it’s a healthy reaction.  It would not be a good sign if you just attached immediately to me as if nothing ever happened.

We ate Ethiopian food for lunch. You’ve never had real solid foods and you’ve never fed yourself before. I put you in our little highchair and gave you some tiny pieces of injera, gomen (collard greens) and a little meat. You ate like a champ!  You still prefer me to put pieces of food in your mouth but you ate a lot by yourself. And after lunch you had an entire bottle! I don’t know where you put it all!
After that you were back to yourself. Smiling, laughing! You’re walking now and you like to toddle over to Jaeden or Miss Kim and then turn around and toddle back to me. You’re so funny. You make some awesome faces. And you babble quite a bit but I don’t think you’re saying anything in Amharic. I know it’s not English J

I’m learning some Amharic to make life easier for us. More, all done, water, milk… I’m trying to learn the basic words we’ll need to get by for the first couple months.

You know what? I was nervous about coming to get you. I didn’t know how it would go between us. I wasn’t sure how I would feel. I remember feeling so strongly that you are mine when I came to visit you in July for court, but I was a little scared about how it would go when we were actually living together.  But you are my child.  I don’t feel like I’m babysitting. I don’t  feel like I’m having to try hard to feel motherly towards you. I love you. I love getting to know you. And I love knowing that we are finally together.  Only one hurdle remains and that’s getting you home to the rest of the family.  But it’s in the works and our adoption agency staff have been really encouraging.

I’m going to nap a little while you’re napping.

Love,
   Mama

Friday, September 14, 2012

SEPTEMBER 14

Six years ago today, a tiny baby entered my life and rocked my world

How could something so tiny bring such a GIANT change to my life? Babies are funny that way. And as far as I can tell, it doesn't matter how many more you add after that, that first one changes EVERYTHING.
Thank you, sweet Riley, for being the boy to make me a mama. You are funny, smart, silly, and your imagination is beyond my wildest dreams. You are the best big brother your little sibs could ask for. Thank you for sharing your day with your little brother.


One year ago today, this bigger baby entered my life and rocked my world:

That's right. Somehow it just so happened that I walked out of the orphanage with Amani in my arms on Riley's birthday!!! And Riley didn't say a word about his mama not being there the day he turned five. He knew I was away working hard to bring home his baby brother.
Amani, you are my survivor, my toughest cookie. This year has probably been the hardest for you in your short life, and the best. You are silly, sweet, and the best little mimic I've ever met. Through all your tough times this year: leaving Ethiopia, two surgeries, finding your niche in our family, you find joy and a reason to smile every day.  You are amazing, my love, and we are so honored that we get to be yours!


And now, these three rock my world on a daily basis. And I wouldn't have it any other way.









Thursday, September 13, 2012

An excess confession

I haven't blogged about the 7 month fast in awhile. It's still going strong! We have just finished up the possessions month - the plan was to give away the equivalent of 7 items a day for a month - 196 items. We really wanted to find a good place for all of our possessions to go.  Our church hopped on board and now we have a free yard sale planned for some folks in our refugee community here and we're collecting donations to add to our stash! I'm excited.

But that's not why I'm blogging. I have to confess to the ridiculous amount of excess I have in my life.  We have an older home, which means smaller bedrooms and even smaller closets. My husband & I have a closet, a wardrobe and two dressers in our bedroom just to fit all of our clothes.  Plus I put my summer stuff in the attic for the winter and vice versa every season.  After this month, we have downsized to a MUCH smaller wardrobe (that still isn't full), I don't have to move my clothes around with the seasons, and Rob has an entire empty drawer in his dresser!  We had that many extra clothes.

It gets worse. As I went through each room, I wasn't just de-cluttering. I was honestly looking for things that I felt we needed to give away. I had twenty almost brand-new wooden puzzles in the cabinet in the family room; a few that I don't think my kids ever put together even once. I found a tabletop grill we haven't used since we moved here seven years ago.

And it wasn't just like-new stuff we've been hanging on to. I found the food processor we got for our wedding NINE years ago still in the box (um, thanks Auntie Karen! She reads this blog, so this is super-embarrassing to admit!). At the time we got married we were living in a little apartment so I had gotten a smaller one but held on to the big one for when we bought a house. Well, we've been in this house almost seven years and it still hasn't made it out of the box. Actually, knowing Auntie, she'll be happy to know it will find a new home in with a refugee family.  AND I found a dehumidifier I bought when I was pregnant with my SIX YEAR OLD because Babies R Us told me I had to have a dehumidifier.  Still in the box. With the receipt taped to the side, no less.

I do street outreach with the homeless every week, sometimes more. My homeless friends have nothing; no house, only the possessions they can carry with them or fit inside their leaky tents. My youngest son is from a country where people are starving.  Yet it was easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy for me to find way more than 196 items in my house that we did not need. It's an outrage that I am hoarding things in my house when my brothers and sisters have nothing.

Something is wrong here.

It's easy to blame this on our materialistic, "take care of #1" society. But I would have told you I don't subscribe to that. I would have told you I'm not really into clothes, that I don't amass "stuff." I would have told you how I don't have an iPhone or an iPod; that I can't remember the last time I bought new clothes that weren't from a crazy sale from Old Navy or Target. I would have told you that I am trying to live a life that doesn't put me and my family first.

I'm failing more than I realized.

This seven month fast isn't a lesson in how well I can follow rules. It is my attempt to draw closer to Jesus, to give Him more attention and let Him shine light on seven different areas of my life: food, clothing, possessions, how I use media, waste, spending, and stress.  The lessons are painful; it's like I'm hanging my pride, my vanity, my selfishness, my insecurity out on my clothesline. But the result is beautiful. I'm not happy that my house is less-cluttered. I'm happy that God's has brought my attention to how I am storing up stuff.

Because Jesus loved me before I took stock of how selfish I've been. He loves me now that I've realized it. Following Him is not about doing things to gain His approval. His approval is free; I don't have to earn it. But my joy comes from following him; from shaping my life to encompass more of his grace. What an honor that is.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Guest Post: TOMS Miracle

My husband, two of our closest friends, and one of our amazing youth all traveled to Swaziland this past summer to work with Heart for Africa.  And the trip was even more exciting this year because TOMS shoes has partnered with Heart for Africa and they go to do a shoe distribution day.  When I skyped with Rob that night, my eyes filled with tears as he told me what happened that day.  Since I wasn't there, I asked my friend Amber to write a blog post for me about it. Prepare to be amazed, my friends!

Here you go:

So my friend Kirstin asked me to guest blog and tell a little about my recent trip to Africa. My first thought was, "I'm not a writer, I can't do this", but then I realized, why did I go if not to give my testimony about how God is an amazing and loving God.

My husband and I went to Swaziland, Africa over the summer. We went with a Christian organization called Heart for Africa to love on and encourage the people of Swaziland. This summer Heart for Africa partnered with TOMS shoes. One of our objectives while we were there was to shoe the children of Swaziland. Towards the end of our trip we got to spend three days at a school called Ebholi.  About 300 children attend this school from grade k-7th.

The first day there we played with the kids, sized them for the shoes they would be getting the next day and helped with planting a garden. It was an amazing time and it made me miss my three children back home.

The next day we set up shop in one of the classrooms. As we were bringing in the 14 boxes of shoes we became a little nervous that we had three boxes of size 219 shoes, knowing we had not ordered that many of that size.

One by one the children came in to receive their new shoes. We began with the biggest sizes. We were on a roll. Shoes were fitting, children were smiling and we were incredibly humbled- being on your hands and knees putting shoes on those less fortunate than you will immediately change your perspective on life. And then it happened- our fear- we were running out of the sizes we needed. We still had children that needed size 240, 236, 228 and so on and we didn't have anymore, all we had to fit those children were the three boxes of 219. And so we prayed- we prayed hard!

You know how you hear people say 'It was a God thing'? Well we were standing in the presence of "a God thing"! Those three boxes of size 219 fit children who the day before had been sized for a bigger size or a smaller size. It was a miracle and the looks on our faces said it all as the children were walking out with these miracle shoes. How were they fitting?, and not ill-fitting either, they were fitting perfectly!

It seems that people claim 'it was a God thing' after the fact; we knew we were standing in the presence of God working. It was happening right before our eyes.

That trip changed our lives and we can't wait to get back. To serve the least of these is what our Savior Jesus Christ has commanded us to do and so we will.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My not-political political post.

Politics are messy. I understand that our country is set up to run a certain way and that we have procedures in place to make sure laws are passed and that politicians are put in position to run the country. I get that. But I still think most political stuff out there does more harm than good.

Election years are my LEAST favorite years. I just heard how much money Obama and Romney have raised for their campaigns and it makes me want to throw up.  If we put that much energy and resources towards making sure everyone had access to clean drinking water we could vastly improve that problem before we land another President in office (and simultaneously improve international relations).  Or, you know, we could implement family preservation so that children aren't orphaned world-wide at alarming rates (including here in the US).  Or provide consistent medical treatment for curable illnesses that are killing our brothers and sisters just a plane-ride away. Or if that money must stay state-side: create supportive rehabilitation centers where people suffering from life-threatening addictions can actually go to get well and return to society as productive citizens.  You know, so we can save money on prisons. Those are just a few things I think might be better than paying for negative campaign ads. But who am I do say?

I usually refrain from putting anything political on facebook or on this blog. Or even talking much about my thoughts around anyone except for those whom I truly trust.  Because I have learned the hard way that putting a political idea out there outside of real conversation does not cause anyone to change their mind about the issue at hand; it causes people to change their minds about me.  Many of you have already tried to guess at which party I'm in based on the above paragraph.  It's only 150 words, but in our society that is more than enough to make a broad judgement about someone and what we think they think. But guess what, I could write another 150 words and then you'd think something completely different.

I see facebook posts on all sides of every issue but there is no way to have an intimate conversation on facebook. It's more like standing on a street corner yelling at cars or holding a sign. It sends more of a message about the yeller than it does about the issue. If you put up a post on facebook about a political leaning, people make a judgement about you based on how you are saying what you're saying. It does little to change minds about the issue you are talking about.  I will be honest: if there's hatred or racism or classism or if the message is just plain mean, I make a judgement about YOU, not the candidate you are championing.  Maybe that's not nice to say... but it's the truth.

You see, we treat politics like sports in this country. You are either for the Good Guys or you are for the Bad Guys.  There's no gray area.  And in order to win elections, each side has to paint the other in the bleakest light possible.  So the Bad Guys lie (because there's no way the Good Guys would do that).  And, because this is our own human nature, we all decide only to listen to the Good Guys and decry anything the Bad Guys might say or do.

I grew up in New England, where it is legally required that you be a Red Sox fan.  And that you hate Yankees fans. I'm only half-kidding.  Honestly, if I had discovered Rob was a Yankees fan while we were dating, that would have been the end of our relationship (trust me, we barely made it through my realization that he's a Mets fan).  I honestly grew up believing that the Yankees were the Bad Guys.  It took me until my adulthood to even understand how a decent human being could honestly like the Yankees. I'm not exaggerating.  You'll be glad to know I've come a long way... I have a very dear friend who is a Yankees fan and I love her anyway (I'm secretly convinced she knows the error of her ways in her heart).

But that's how we are about politics. Instead of loving each other and working together, as the Bible clearly tell us to do (love your enemies? pray for those who persecute you?), we set up firm lines in the sand. We declare "US vs THEM!" and that any leaning toward the middle-ground is treasonous.  We look first to see if someone has an (R) or a (D) next to their name before determining if we like what they have to say. We determine the value and worth of another human being based upon whether they root for the Good Guys or the Bad Guys.

What does this say about us as a nation? More importantly, what does that say about us as Christians? Are we so ignorant as to think that our government is full of Jedis and Sith Lords (sorry, Riley's really into Star Wars and I'm kind of proud that I actually know what those are) -  only Good Guys or Bad Guys?  Are we sending people into the arms of Jesus by dehumanizing the Bad Guys?  Does this show the love of Christ?

I don't care what party you're in. I really don't.  I'm not going to tell you what party I'm in. Because it really doesn't matter. My hope is not in government.  What matters is how I love you; how I treat those who are "the least of these." I've said this before, but when we stand in front of Jesus to give an account for our lives, he's not going to ask, "what laws did you lobby for?" or "What politicians' names were on your bumper stickers?"  He's going to ask, "where are my people?  Where are the ones that you were supposed to love, the ones you were supposed serve and help follow me?"

I pray we re-focus our energies. In my humble opinion, we can bring a lot more glory to God by bringing a cup of coffee to a homeless person on a chilly morning than we can by exerting our energy bashing groups of people who disagree with us.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Greensboro does NOT need another church

There are a bazillion churches in my city. In fact, on the street where our current (until tomorrow) church is now has probably 14.  Greensboro was actually voted one of the most "religious" cities by some magazine a few years back.

So why in the world would we want to plant a new church HERE?

It is hard to answer that question without sounding like I am bashing traditional church. I have written and rewritten this post a million times trying not to sound bash-y. So let me just start by saying I am NOT bashing traditional church.  We've spent the last seven years in a traditional church and I have seen God at work there.  I think traditional church is reaching people, just not all people. So just kinda remember I'm not doing any bashing. 'Kay, great. Read on:

There is a way to reach people that looks a lot more like how Jesus did it than by the way we've been "doing church."  I think part of what the church is missing out on is engaging with people who don't know Jesus, getting to know them, entangling our lives together so that they can see who Jesus is.  We need to get rid of this "us vs them" mentality. God made it clear: there is no us and them. It's just us.

God has called us to do a heck of a lot more than sit in a circle in a pretty church building once or twice a week and discuss how the Bible applies to our lives. He has called us to much more important things than political standoffs. We are to be more than a great music service.  I fear that many Christians are so involved in "doing church" that they don't actually have time to go reach folks who are hurting and need Jesus. If all of our time is spent inside church walls, who is being the hands & feet of Christ in the city?

Think of it this way. When a missionary is going to go live in another country, he/she studies the culture, learns how the people there think and how they live.  And then that missionary explains Jesus in the context of that culture. The message never changes, but the presentation does.  Bringing "Western Christianity" into parts of rural Africa would be (and has been) a complete disaster. Right?

Well, culture here is changing. It's not the same as it was fifty years ago, or even twenty years ago. Yet we haven't really changed the way we "do church."  I fear that because of this, the way we share the message of Jesus is becoming irrelevant in our culture.  And I know a lot of people who are very turned off by "organized religion" and by church in general.  I have some friends who would definitely not step foot in a church mainly because it's just that: a church.

Our culture is increasingly post-modern and post-Christian. It boils down to this: when I was growing up, our culture was about increasing our knowledge. The thought was: know enough, find enough answers, and you'll be satisifed. For Christianity it meant learn your religion, know your stuff. Give lots of info to folks and they'll get to know Jesus. There's nothing wrong with any of that.

The problem is that post-modern culture isn't so concerned with how much you know. In fact, value is now placed on there being no "absolute truth;" how much you know is now not as important as what you do.  I think a lot of folks are looking at churches wondering why they aren't DOING anything (other than increasing knowledge).  Our youth told us years ago that they don't think Sunday School is an effective way for them to learn about Jesus. They wanted to do things like MSG (Mission to Serve Greensboro) instead - an opportunity they thought up themselves where they went out once a week to serve (dinners for the homeless, bingo at a nursing home, etc).  People want to DO, rather than learn the facts. I think lots of people in today's culture are going to learn more about Jesus by doing something (serving with us, doing regular life things with us) than by going to a church building and learning about Him.

I see this in my own children. They spent HOURS at church every week: Sunday School, AWANA, children's choir.  They have wonderful Sunday School teachers and they've learned some great Bible stories in that setting. But our family adopting Amani and the kids seeing what adoption looks like; and the kids coming along with me to the tent city; hearing me talk regularly about my homeless friends, investing in those relationships - those things have taught them more about what it means to live for Jesus than what they have learned within the church walls. That's not to say we shouldn't read our Bibles - it's just that my kids are hearing the Bible stories AND living it out at the same time.  That's how I want them to learn about Jesus.

And God has been tearing our hearts up about how American Christianity is missing the mark: focusing on ourselves, being a country full of rich people praying to get richer, trying to win "converts" by arguing with people over their lifestyles, focusing on politics over the grace and peace of Christ.  He's torn our hearts up so much that we can no longer serve him within the context of traditional church. We want to make disciples, not converts.  We want only to show the love of Christ to our city by serving them and let those folks know He loves them.  He can do the rest.  He's calling us to reach out to that group that traditional church isn't reaching: folks who NEVER want to set foot in a church. Because they've been hurt by the church, because they think it's full of a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites, whatever the reason.

So here we go. Tomorrow's our last day at the church where we've served for seven years. And we're starting something new.  Missio Dei is our new community of faith; where the "program" we focus on the least will be Sunday morning services and what we focus on the most is living out the gospel by serving the city. We want to be there for our neighbors, we want to love "the least of these," we want to live out what it means to follow Jesus, instead of "going to church." It's not that we have all the answers or that we think we've figured out the "right" way to follow Jesus. It's just the calling God has placed upon our hearts and the hearts of those who are joining this journey with us.

Greensboro doesn't need another church that's just like all the ones we have here. We have a bazillion churches but still have homelessness, still have racism, still have hatred, still have over 250,000 folks in the county with no faith affiliation.  I do think there's a place for Missio Dei and I'm honored and excited and humbled to get to be a part of what God's doing in Greensboro.