Sunday, March 29, 2015


I am so excited to have permission to share this with y'all. Lately, I've been feeling a little down... really just kinda bogged down thinking about all the things wrong with the world. I've been thinking about all the things we need to change, all the ways we can do more and just feeling kinda... down.

But this morning I got this email. Perfect timing. My wonderful friend Chris Cheek is in Swaziland right now, serving a 2 year commitment to live on Project Canaan, be a grandmother (Gogo) to the children living in the toddler home and a mentor to the Aunties. She is one of the most amazing, fabulous, incredible people I have ever met. You need to know her. Seriously. And she gave me permission to share this week's email update!

So here you go:

Greetings from Project Canaan!

First the most important news - we had the arrival of the 6th baby since I arrived in Swaziland.  It is so hard to wrap my arms around the fact that in my 11 weeks in Africa we have become home to 6 more abandoned babies. 

There are days that I feel like I must be on a movie set & someone is going to yell "cut." We are on 2500 acres of some of the most beautiful mountain views & farm land I've ever seen.  I begin my mornings to the voices of the most angelic sounds of little ones singing "building up the Temple of the Lord, the Itsy Bitsy Spider, ABC, Jesus Loves the Little Children" echoing down the hallway into my room. Soon the songs are followed by the patter of little feet heading to the bathroom. 

Each day I learn & see more and more of their unique personalities just blossoming. Lucy shaking her finger back & forth as she tells you something, Joshua calling me Gogo Cheap, Elisha's mischievous laughter, Esther showing her latest booboo, Rose's twinkle in her eyes, John saying, "you be nice" Gabriel saying "Gogo sit here,". Leah & Rachel just being sassy to our very own Project Princess Deborah. 

Shapes, letters, numbers and colors are being learned from Kindergarten down to preschool. Afternoon playtime on the playground, adventure walks around the farm, fun in the pools, bubbles, toy dump trucks, wagon rides, baby dolls, sandbox, slides & swings, soccer balls & books. All the fun things you would imagine for a child.

Healthy meals, snacks, fresh milk, fruits & clean water.  Clean clothes & shoes. Warm fuzzy pjs for winter & cool cotton ones for hot summer nights. 

Laughter & giggles, tears & runny noses and shoes on the wrong feet.  Sunglasses upside down, chicken feathers in hair & rocks in pockets. All the things that goes with being 2, 3, & 4. 

Then I remember these babies were left to die; abandoned in lonely dangerous forests, pit latrines, plastic bags, in rivers along side the road. Parents without jobs, no hope, no way to provide, sick & broken. So deep in the darkness they can not find their way out, let alone see any light. 

When will someone yell "cut?"  

I have to be on a movie set. This can't be real. It is 2015 and a country is dying, the average age is about 18, 40% of the population is under the age of 15, the average life expectancy is between 29 & 33, there are orphaned children everywhere, there are GoGos taking care of their children's children, their nieces & nephews children and maybe a few of their neighbors. They are tired & exhausted. They walk 30 minutes for dirty water out of the river. No electricity, living In a round hut made of sticks & stones. Praying for rain to water the fields so the maze will grow so they eat for the upcoming year, praying that the rains aren't so strong that their hut washes away & they have to start a new. 

When will someone yell "cut?"

This can't be real, it has to be a movie - a fictional place made up in the mind of a master writer. Please yell "cut."  

Ohhh my friends it is all so real & their is no "cut."  It is all real, the days are long, the reality is heart breaking.  But there is is happening at Project Canaan.  I get to see it & live it every day.  The HOPE lies in the future of all the little ones that come through that front gate .... For their lives will be the ones that will make the difference. So Lucy keep shaking your finger, Leah & Rachel keep being sassy, John keep saying "you be nice" and Deborah you keep on being out Princess.  Let the songs ring out in the morning, the laughter echo down the hall, dancing in the yard & hugs through out the day. The HOPE of Swaziland lives at Project Canaan!  

This journey continues....


Monday, March 23, 2015

Responsible TO, not Responsible FOR

I'm one of the "Moral Focus Coaches" at my older kids' school. It's just a volunteer thing - parents teach a little lesson on the monthly character trait once a week. I love it. I love teaching the lessons, being with the kids, and I love that the whole school does the same trait at the same time.

So this month, the word is "Responsibility." Sounds great. Maybe this will be the month my 2nd grader remembers that it's his responsibility to bring home his homework folder every day. (seriously - the child forgets it at least twice a week! Lord help us). I love Responsibility! We use Love & Logic a lot at home and the main idea behind L&L is raising responsible kids. 

But as I read the official definition of the word, I felt like something was missing.

Sure. Being responsible means I take care of my own stuff; I do what I'm supposed to do; I admit to my own mistakes and try to fix them. All of that is true.

But on some level, aren't we responsible TO each other? Maybe I'm not responsible FOR you - I can't make your choices, force you to do or not do something. I can't rescue you from the consequences of your actions.  But doesn't responsibility also connect me to someone else? The definition above seems to start and end with me. But I think we have a responsibility TO our community, TO the people with whom we share our world. Don't we?

I fear that Responsibility as an American value has become an individualized trait. I am responsible FOR me. Period. End of Story. While this is true in many ways (I can't control a single person other than myself), I fear what happens when "Being Responsible" is all about me.

I can do my own thing, take care of me and mine, focus on what I need to do. And life, for me and my family, would probably be okay. 

But what about my community, my world? The world I'm leaving for my kids, grandkids, and their children? Am I not responsible to the lives I touch? If I don't take responsibility to leave this world a better place, who will?

I think about the folks who are homeless that I see every week when I volunteer at our local day shelter. Am I not responsible TO them somehow? I am a person of means, with access to resources. While I can't make their choices for them, I can be responsible for treating them with compassion. I can't rescue them from the consequences of their actions, but I can be there when they need to talk, help them find the open doors to services, volunteer to make sure no one freezes outside on a cold night because there was nowhere else for them to go. I don't want to live in a compassionless community. Aren't we responsible for that? 

I think about the children in Swaziland. Are we not responsible TO our brothers & sisters across the planet? People, fellow human beings, are starving. They don't have access to medical care. Yet I have enough to eat; I can go to the doctor anytime I want. Emergency rooms can't turn me away.  I suppose I could say, "that's not my problem." But why would we do that? I don't want to be that kind of person. 

I think about women and children being trafficked in the sex trade. If we know it's happening, aren't we responsible to act? Because if we don't... who will? Do we want to live in a world where we know this is happening, yet don't care enough to do something about it? If the answer is no, then aren't we responsible TO act on their behalf?

And what about our fellow humans being forced to work in slave conditions in factories world-wide. We are the consumers of the products made by their hands. Doesn't this give us some responsibility? I eat chocolate; my money pays the chocolate companies. Aren't I responsible, at least a little, for making sure I don't purchase chocolate that was harvested by children who were trafficked into slavery? And my clothing? I buy & wear clothes... doesn't that link me to the hands that made my clothing? If I'm not responsible TO them somehow, then I guess it doesn't matter if I buy clothing made by slaves. But that's just not okay with me.

Right here, in my own community, people are being mistreated. We hear stories of racism every day. I don't want to raise my children in a racist society. But is it enough just for ME not to be racist? What about working towards equality? Aren't I responsible TO my fellow humans who say they've been oppressed? If I say I'm against oppression, there must be a responsibility that follows... right?

I would love to live in a community where being responsible TO each other is highly valued. I would love to see this become an American value: having compassion for one another, caring for one another to the extent that we feel responsible TO one another.. To be a truly great nation, we need to see and hear our most oppressed groups and take on the responsibility of solving the problems. Individualism isn't bad... but I think we can do something greater.

There's a big difference between being Responsible FOR and Responsible TO. And maybe I'm not responsible FOR anyone other than myself and my family. That's okay. But friends... let's be responsible TO each other. What a wonderful world that would be.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The missing piece of #RaceTogether

There's this crazy idea... I actually got it from Jesus: it's called Relationships.

It means investing in people, making sure they know you care about them no matter what before making any kind of commentary on their life choices, before talking with them about important, difficult, or controversial issues. (interesting side note: once you actually do care about someone, you may be surprised to find that you no longer feel a desire to comment on their life choices)

And it can look like this: I have a friend I can call when I need someone to tell me the truth. I hope y'all all have this friend. Mine's name is Amber. I call Amber after an argument with my husband and instead of joining me in husband-bashing she tells me, "Yeah, you definitely need to apologize."  Or I can call her after a mom-fail and Amber will acknowledge, "Yup. Total mom-fail. It sucks, doesn't it?"  Yet I never feel beat-down after talking with her. You know why? We've been friends a long time. I know she loves me. She has helped me out with my kids, has listened to me cry when I was losing my dad. She has put in the hard work. She earned the place in my life to tell me hard things, the things I don't always want to hear.  We don't have to agree all the time (and often we don't, especially about the controversial, difficult topics) but she can tell me hard things because we've earned the right to speak truth into each other's lives. We have a real relationship.

This week, Starbucks launched an interesting campaign, encouraging their Baristas to talk about race issues with customers and write #RaceTogether on coffee cups. I applaud them as a company for being willing to go there, for trying to be part of starting some hard conversations.  But here's what's missing from that equation: relationships. I don't know my Starbucks Baristas and the role they play in my life doesn't fall into that inner-circle of people with whom I can wrestle with the hard issues.

But this raises a good point: who are those folks for you? If not with your Barista, who can you have the hard conversations about race with? And... most importantly.... do those people all look like you? If the only people with whom I can have conversations about race are all white, there's a problem.

I wasn't planning on writing about this yet, but now feels like the time to share my latest "crazy idea" (I have some friends who probably cringe every time I send them an email with this in the subject line). I've just started meeting with a group to talk intentionally about race. We are a group of women of different races, different faiths, different backgrounds. And we meet once a month for two purposes: 1. to build relationships, 2. to talk about race issues.  No hidden agenda - just a place where we can come and talk honestly and openly about our experiences with race and invest in each other's lives.

You know why? Because talking about race outside of relationships tends to be counter-productive. Talking about any controversial or difficult subject outside of relationships doesn't quite help as much. It's like that old adage "They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

Who could you #RaceTogether with? Is it time to reach out? Maybe not to ask a stranger weird, intrusive questions about race... but to build a relationship?  Is your circle all the same color? Or the same faith? Imagine if it were different? You can change that!  Invite someone to coffee or a meal. Invest in a relationship.

And this can be awkward. I get it. Let me tell you - it was humbling to ask some of my acquaintances to be part of my Women's Group. I had to approach some women that I don't know all that well and say, "I'm doing this thing... and I don't know much about your culture but I really would like to. Would you be interested in coming?"  It was scary and I feared being misunderstood, or mocked, or just outright rejected.  But guess what? I wasn't. So far, no one has called me an idiot. At least not to my face.

We can do hard things. Relationships are hard. If you are married, you already know this. But they are also worth the investment.  It's hard to reach out and start a relationship with someone different from you. Harder even than asking a stranger random questions about race.  But when we invest in each other, we earn the privilege to have those conversations about hard things. And when we invest in people who are different from us, be it race, faith, socio-economic status, we grow. Usually into better humans. We understand more when we can learn to see life through our friends' eyes.

So thank you, Starbucks, for the willingness to try to start the hard conversations. It may be easy to mock (oh Twitter...) but I think we can still learn something important here and this could spark something good.

Listen to the Voices

"Where people of goodwill get together and transcend their differences for the common good, peaceful and just solutions can be found even for those problems which seem most intractable." 
Nelson Mandela

Last week, I had a pretty amazing experience. I was invited to a meeting/rally/discussion about minimum wage.  Specifically, a community push to raise minimum wage to $15/hour.

I remember hearing about the fast food workers' strikes. They've been going on since 2012. And to be honest, while I have never believed that minimum wage was a livable wage, I haven't put a whole lot of thought into it. I am a social worker, I fully understand how ludicrous and unrealistic our "poverty line" is and I know that no one can actually live with just one minimum wage job... yet I haven't given it that much space in my head. At least not much about my responsibility in relation to the problem.

So that night, I went to listen. I'm not well-versed on the subject. In the past, I've read some studies saying that a $15 minimum wage would be feasible in our economy; I've also read some that say it would cause job loss and could ultimately harm those it should help. I'm not an economist, I hadn't done a lot of research. But one thing I can do: I can listen.

And that night, I heard the voices. There was a panel of people involved in the movement. A dad of a sweet boy still in diapers, struggling to provide for his son, sharing the indignity of having a strong work ethic, yet being paid little and treated even worse in a minimum wage job.  A recent college grad sharing that he was the first in his family to graduate from college, his family feeling like finally a college education was accessible to people of color... and then realizing that soon he has to start paying back that $25,000 student debt, and can't find a job that will pay him enough to manage his debt and support himself.  I heard from an in-home healthcare worker who has to work 80-120 hours a week just to support her family. There was a teacher there, describing the struggle of teacher's assistants and the effects on the children of the low-wage families she teaches. These are good people, people who are taking time out of their busy lives to make a difference... all while struggling to provide for their families because their jobs don't provide livable wages.

And then I was shocked. Y'all... I have been a social worker for almost 14 years. I do not get shocked. Nothing surprises me anymore. But I learned last night that our community has adjunct professors at our universities that are struggling to make it. We have PROFESSORS who can't pay their bills, Masters and PhD professors who are forced to teach 10 classes a semester at more than one university just to make ends meet.  And they are afraid to talk about it. A statement was read from one such professor. She didn't attend the rally because she feared she'd lose her job if her university knew she was speaking out.

The meeting started in the most beautiful way. It was a call and response chant: "I love my brothers, I love my sisters, I love my kindred."  If you've never attended a community action event, go do it. Even if you aren't sure you support the cause. Put faces to the people who are struggling. Hear the voices of the people asking to be heard. No matter what we believe or think, we can always listen.

And I have Privilege - I can walk away from this gathering and do nothing. I could go back to my every-day life. But just like I believe it takes a village to raise a good child, I believe it takes a village to create a good community. So now I've accepted part of the burden. I want to carry the message, carry their voices. I want y'all to know.

Here's my concern: $7.25 an hour is not nearly enough for someone to support themselves, much less a family. Clearly we need livable wages. If our economy can't handle paying folks $15 for minimum wage... what is wrong with our system? Something is seriously wrong if we have an economic system that can't handle paying, at minimum, a livable wage. These are the tough questions. The wealth gaps in our country are ever-widening. Our rich are getting richer and our poor are getting poorer. This scares me.

When someone says something and it doesn't line up with my own experiences, it's easy to discount it. I see this happen all the time.  But what if we listened? What if we believed people when they told us their stories, their struggles? When I hear you, I become part of your story and we can share our burdens. We can walk together.

I had the beautiful honor to listen last week.  And if you are so inclined, you can learn more about the Raise Up for 15 movement here:

There's probably not a simple solution. But no matter where you stand on the matter of minimum wage.... I want to remind you that we can always listen. It may be more powerful than you think.

Want some more resources? I found these helpful in understanding minimum-wage, livable or "Living Wage" 
This article is long, but great. If you are short on time, read the first two pages:

This one is from back in 2013, but still has some good info on minimum wage:

And just a fun-fact.. minimum wage hasn't been adjusted for inflation in a looooong time. If it had been, it would already be over $10/hour. Yikes.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Truth About You...

It's really important to me to speak Truth to people. Not "tell the truth," although that's important too. I mean speak Truth. This is how Jesus spoke to others and I want to do the same.

It usually looks like this: I validate, encourage, normalize. I think the human experience has way more commonalities than it does differences. All moms are doing their best. All of us want the best for our kids. Sometimes those details look different, but at the end of the day we are all on the same team.  And all of us want meaningful lives. The details of what makes life meaningful may differ, but at the end of the day, we want to feel we've made a difference somehow. We all want to succeed. And when I talk to people in my life, whether it is personally or professionally, I try to speak in ways that communicate Truth to them. I'm on their team, no matter what that team is. We all are.

So yesterday, when the sermon at church was about some things that are true about us NO MATTER WHAT, I was pretty excited.

We're studying 1 John and it's been fun to watch my husband (who is the pastor of our church) get all excited about it. He says he has so much to say about it he could preach on it for a year (don't worry, missio, he won't). He says he may start a blog (two bloggers in one house? uh oh...)

Anyway, there are five things that the Bible says about us in 1 John that are true no matter what. No matter what we think, no matter what we believe, no matter what we have experienced. That's pretty amazing.

Here they are:
1. Your sins are sent away (like far, far away). Side note: sin is anything that separates you from God. So this means that whatever separates us from God was taken care of when Jesus died. I don't need to get all hung up on all my mistakes, all the ways I've failed. There's no point to that. Wow.

2. You know God - listen to that still voice, look at the beauty of nature, think of the good you see in yourself and in others... you've seen God!

3. You are strong. Yup. I have seen strength in people who thought they were weak. I've seen friends handle circumstances beyond their control. I wasn't sure I was ever going to get out of the depression I sank into after Amani came home and I started living the reasons why adoption is so tough... but I did. I didn't think I could make it through losing my dad but here I am. I'm still kickin', even on the tough days.

4. The word of God lives in you - this doesn't mean the Bible necessarily. When the Bible talks about the "Word of God" it describes how God became a living, breathing, alive being. That was Jesus and he lives on in the Holy Spirit in all of us. All the crazy details aside, God is in you. This is why I love the greeting "Namaste" - the divine in me salutes the divine in you. That is so incredibly beautiful it kinda makes me cry. I can see the face of God whenever I look at my friends. Amazing.

5. You have overcome the evil one. I love shared victories. Last year, I ran the Rugged Maniac with a group of seriously kick-ass women and we decided we would run as a team. Some of us (ahem, not me) were in much better physical condition and could have left the rest of us in the dust, but we worked as a team to get to the finish line. It was one of my most favorite days. The Bible says we get to share Jesus' victory. He died and came back to life to bring us back to God, to defeat evil. He won. But he did it for us. We won. What what? That's crazy.

This is the kind of Truth I want to speak into everyone I know. I'm not really comfortable speaking "Christian-ese" - that language we often use when talking about Jesus. But in regular words, I imagine it sounds like this: "God loves you, he is on your side, I can see God in you, you can do this."

So, my crazy crew of readers: what if we lived like these things were true? What if we lived like we knew God was FOR us and that we already have what it takes to be amazing? What kinds of things would we do if we stopped being afraid, stopped feeling insecure? What if we remembered that God is already with us?

Those things are true, friends, no matter what. Wow. So go ahead, be amazing. You already are.

Just for fun: here's how the some of the missio kids taught us the Greek words for those five things yesterday. I love how they are cracking up!  I seriously love my church! Can you see who was the "evil one" HA!

Jonas threw a ball as far as he could to show us that our sins were FAR AWAY
Caleb looked inside the bag to KNOW there was a car in it (versus believing when someone told him there was a car)
Noah got a medal for being STRONG and VICTORIOUS
Riley's all packed up to ABIDE with you (Rob may have made this a serious offer during the sermon. ha!)
Allyn - the DARK SIDE. Enough said. ;)