Sunday, August 29, 2010

That a Girl!

"Look at me, mommy!"

"Mama, look over here! Watch this!"

"Mommy, watch me jump over this!"

These were the shouts that I heard all morning as the girls played on the jungle gym, jumping from the end of the slide, swinging on the monkey bars, climbing up the chain ladder. I smiled as I took in their joy, heart warmed by their play. I was struck by their desire to be seen, for their achievements to be noticed.

"Mommy, are you watching?"

They would stand at attention at the end of the platform, readied in position to launch themselves into the sand pit, and yet would pose, waiting until eyes were on them before making the move. Then, launch! And then shoot up like an Olympic gymnast, arms like arrows extended in the air, body straight and stiff, awaiting the applause.


"Bravo! Bravo! Well done! So proud of you! That was amazing! I can't believe you jumped so high!"

The look of satisfaction, joy, success. They accomplished, and then they were praised. They smile big with pride, stand taller, and are bold and confident to do more. And me, their mama, the one who carried and bore them, stand tall with pride and joy to see my angels fly, to see my girls learn and grow and accomplish through courage. I am so proud of them.

"That's my girl! Well done!"

They have so much to learn, and everyday is an opportunity for growth. They are learning how to interact with each other, learning how to love selflessly, learning how to forgive and make amends. They are learning what it looks like to love Jesus, and everyday is an opportunity to learn more. And I am more proud of them everyday. Not every moment is perfect, and there is still much to learn, but their journey has begun, and my prayer is that Jesus is more real to them and more alive in their lives than I have ever experienced.

And then I just wonder about our Father, the One who has birthed us all by the workings of His mighty hands and the beauty of His own imagination. And I wonder about the Son and how He came to show us a new way, The Way. His teachings were so against the mainstream, so counter-intuitive. He taught us to turn the other cheek, and it sounds altruistic and beautiful on paper, but living it out makes the flesh cringe. He taught us to forgive quickly, and it sounds noble on paper, but then the heart rages against offense and wants to get even. And He taught us to forsake the things of this world, to be sure that the hungry are fed, and the orphans are cared for, to be sure that the poor are looked after. And then we begin to question and squirm, and look for technicalities, and justify taking care of ourselves first.

He taught us how to fellowship with those who do wrong, those who are immoral, and how to speak life and exhortation into such as those, but our lives are so full and so righteous. He taught us how to live in selfless community, looking for the God-image in all, restoring the Father-dignity that the evil one has stripped, but our to-do list must get done and we just don't have time. And what we have worked for, we have worked very hard for, and I like my privacy and my space, and the simple, counter-intuitive, counter-cultural teachings of Jesus become muddled and grey and watered down till the fire in my heart has been simmered into a slightly smoldering coal with barely an orange tint to it.

But then there are voices crying out in the wilderness, prophets in their own day, those who are speaking the stirrings of their heart, seeking out the voice that will guide them in obedience. There are visionaries who are risking it all, and those who are willing to step out. There is a stirring taking place, and quiet revolution seeking to bring Heaven to this broken pit. I have seen their hearts, those who are no longer content with the status quo of a system set in place by tradition or routines. Those who are no longer willing to do what they do simply because this is what we do. There is a quiet stirring, those who are questioning.

If we are told that the picture of the Church is a community that is willing to sell all their earthly possessions and come together, meeting each others' needs completely, are we as the Church not held to the same standard?

If we are told that the picture of grace is a body of people who have set aside their rights and are willing to put the needs of others before their own, are we not held to the same standard?

I just wonder about the ways of the Father, when we get ahold of a lesson, when we share our food with the hungry, or open our doors to someone in need of a roof over their heads, I just wonder if the Father doesn't smile over us.

"That a girl! Now you've got it."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Story: On Becoming an Empty Shell

**This is the next installment of His Story: My Life. If you have missed the earlier portions of the story, please feel welcome to slip over here to see all that has gone before.**

I feel compelled to add a warning of sorts to this particular part of the story, a preface to what is coming. Let me preface it this way:

In America, 1 in every 6 women has been the victim of rape. 1 in 6. Do you know 6 women? Odds are, you know someone who has suffered through this atrocity.

Currently in the US, every 2 minutes, someone is sexually assaulted. Every. 2. Minutes.

Do these numbers astound you? They should.

And the effects?

Victims of sexual assault are: 3 times more likely to suffer from depression, 6 times more likely to suffer from PTSD, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.

How ‘bout them numbers?
1 in 6.
Every. 2. Minutes.
3. 6. 13. 26. 4.
Times more likely to have a life in ruins. Absolute shambles.

That’s the general reality. Now here was my reality.

I don’t think the reality of that disgusting four-letter word really sunk in until a few days after the event. There was a hollowing numbness that had begun to creep in, almost immediately, a battle between what was reality and what was merely a horrific nightmare, and somehow, in my mind, if I could make it all just a horrific nightmare, then it wasn’t real. It didn’t really happen. And the heart began on a slow journey of death that would leave nothing more than a black lump of coal in my chest. I was working on a new reality.

It started with a really, really, really long, very hot shower. Scrubbing, weeping, scrubbing, red, raw skin, more scrubbing. If I could just get that filthy feeling off, out, away. More soap, more scrubbing, clawing, rubbing, more soap, till all that was left was raw, exposed nerve endings, skin that bled in the heat of the water, and a heart that bore a bruise that would not heal and could not be comforted. The pain and humiliation and shame were all too much to bear.

Whenever I closed my eyes, I saw them. I could smell the cigarette-stained hand that muffled my screams for help and held my head in place. I could feel the death grip on my hands, binding them above my head, out of reach to fight and protect. I could hear the sneers and evil laughter of the ones watching, like a hyena’s cackle. Vile and disgusting, as my strength was not enough to protect myself, and my cries of “NO!” fell on deaf, evil ears. And so he had his own selfish, revolting way with that which did not belong to him.

And my world fell apart.

And when he was done, they threw me in the back of the truck, and drove back into town, even dumped me outside of the front gate of my house, and drove away with their squeals ripping the night air apart.

Tell me it didn’t happen.

No one ever has to know.

What does it really matter, anyway?

A few nights later, I met a “boyfriend” at the pizza joint down the road from my house. I wasn’t straying far, and it was the first that I had gone out since my world was turned upside down. We ate pizza, little conversation, and then we drove me home. As we sat in his truck, just outside of my house, he leaned over and said to me, “I heard about what happened the other night.”

“You heard?”

“Yea, and just so you know: it’s cool if you want to be a slut.”

“what?” It was barely a whisper at first gasp, disbelief knocking the wind out of me. And then picked up force. “What did you just say?”

“I’m just saying, if that’s what you want to do, it’s cool.”

“I said NO! Over and over and over again! I screamed it. I cried it. I said NO!”

“Whatever, slut. Get out of my truck.”

Looking back on that day now, I wonder if it was visible, the walls that went up. I wonder if someone looking at me from the outside could see the hardening process take place, because it was almost instantaneous. Walls, like Fort Briggs, shot up around my hard, creating a shell of the former me. In that moment, I decided I could tell no one, because no one would believe me. I just heard it. He didn’t believe me, that I fought, that I struggled to get free. He didn’t believe me, but blamed me, labeled and insulted me.

And I could not call my family on another continent and tell them what happened. What if they didn’t believe me? What if they blamed me? What if they got angry or called me names? I couldn’t bear it. There was just too much shame, embarrassment, humiliation, and filth. Stripped of dignity, stripped of strength, I vowed to rebuild my strength on absolute protection.

I could tell no one.

But in order to quiet the painful reminders, to shut the heart up in all its brokenness, to silence the hatred of self, it would require outside intervention. And an addiction is ushered in. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

My Story: The Ecuador Year, Part 2

**This is the next installment of His Story:My Life. To catch up on the first portions of the story, feel free to jump over here.**

The Dream to the Nightmare

I lived with 3 different families for that year in Ecuador, and the first two were in the small coastal town of Portoviejo. My first family had a set of twin girls who were around the same age as me. I cried for the whole first month that I lived in Portoviejo, overwhelmed with homesickness and never being able to understand what was being said to me, or about me. I think that sweet little family thought there was something seriously wrong with me, and when they spoke to me, they would raise their voices a few octaves, just short of shouting at me, as if the lack of comprehension was a hearing problem rather than a language problem. I tried to explain, in my broken, broken Spanish, with several pauses for flipping through my dictionary, that I just didn’t understand the vocabulary yet, and so then they began to speak as if in slow motion. I understood and appreciated the intent, but it really didn’t help, as then everything sounded funny and weird and loud.

After a month or so of living with that first family, it was decided that it just wasn’t a very good fit, and I was moved in with a new family, a little more in town and little less loud. This family had only one daughter who was a year younger than me, and turned out to be a lovely host sister. We became friends quite quickly, and she was determined to help me learn to speak. I think she was very excited to have a sister, and she and I got into lots of trouble together.

When school started, I was taken to the seamstress to have my uniform made, which was a humbling experience altogether. I come from German-Scottish roots, which does not produce fragile people, for the most part. And compared to the smaller frames of Ecuadorians, I was quite the giant. So as I am being measured for my skirt, which was like a turquoise checkered picnic blanket, the seamstress mentioned that I was quite the “gringota” and would require much fabric. Sigh. Gringota.

I was learning the intricacies of the Spanish language, and seeing that you could tack an adjective on to the end of end of any word. So I was often referred to as “gringa,” which simply means “white girl,” but by adding “-ota” onto the end of it, I was now “big white girl.” There were three other Americans living in Portoviejo at the time with the same program that I was in. They were small and cute and were lovingly referred to as “gringitas,” the “-ita” making the white girls small. I liked the term gringita. It sounded dainty and sweet. It sounded like something you would say in a high-pitched voice to a baby, or endearingly to a cute little girl, while gringota sounded like a word that would boom out of the mouth of the giant at the top of the bean stalk. The other girls on the team, they were gringitas, but me, I was gringota. And now a gringota with a turquoise checkered picnic blanket wrapped around my waist. Lovely.

So school started, which was quite a shock to the system. It was an all-girls’ school, each one in her turquoise checkered picnic blanket. The classrooms were lined up next to each other, forming a large square of classrooms with a spacious courtyard in the middle of them all. The courtyard has a grassy area on one half and a basketball court on the other with cracked cement, old wooden backboards and rims with no nets. I wondered about the basketball court, given the apparent lack of height to the overwhelming majority of Ecuadorian girls, but maybe it was just something that was a standard part of schools.

My host sister and I would wander into the courtyard in the morning, waiting for the bell to ring signaling the beginning of class. My host sister was more like a rock star in those days, showing off her gringota, and all the little girls of the school would crowd around and press in with too many questions, their long dark hair pulled back so tightly into ponytails that their eyes were lifted up into Asian accents. They would all giggle as I struggled to comprehend what they were saying, pausing them every few words to thumb through my trusty pocket dictionary with frayed edges and tattered corners. I didn’t understand most of what they said in those days, but they quizzed about my old school, and my family and friends in the states, trying to get a picture of what my home was like.

Then the school bell would ring and squeals would fill the courtyard as chaos ensued and girls ran to their classrooms with no windows and no doors. We stayed in the same classroom all morning long, and sometimes a teacher showed and sometimes no one showed up for hours. So the scene from the courtyard would continue in the classroom right up until a teacher showed up and sent everyone to her own seat.

It was interesting taking classes in a Spanish all-girls’ high school, and most of the classes I had already taken in the states and most of the material I already knew because I was a teacher’s pet. But it was fun to learn that organic chemistry is essentially exactly the same in Spanish as it is in English, and that made it fun, assuming organic chemistry can be considered fun.

So we would spend our morning sitting in our one classroom, waiting and wondering if a teacher was going to show up for this hour, and then we were excused for the day at lunchtime. I really loved this part of their culture. The entire family would arrive at home for a massive lunchtime feast, and then lay down for an afternoon siesta before returning to work.

For us, the end of lunch signaled beach time, so we would hop onto a taxi bus, again with no window and no doors, and make our way to the nearby beach, where we would spend the rest of the day playing in the waves and dumping back cervezas at the local bar called Topless. We would show up at the house briefly in the evening for a light dinner with family and then meet friends in town for more frolicking foolishness.

It really was a pretty good gig for a rebellious teenager, where it seemed we could really do whatever we liked. And right up until the heinous happened, I felt like I was living the high-life. But then there was a night that we went out, and I made the grave mistake of staying behind when my girlfriend said it was time to go. I told her I would be fine, as I was there with friends, and I was sure that they would take me home. And I shot back another swig of Cana Manabita which was more like firewater than anything and burned liked flames to old planks of wood as it traveled down my throat. And she kept asking and urging and I kept telling her that I would be fine because I knew all the guys there and I would be leaving shortly anyway, I just wasn’t ready quite yet.

Oh but if I had been ready. If I had gotten up, set the firewater down and slurred out a goodnight to all there. If I had walked away with my girlfriend that night, rather than staying, continuing to throw back shots of firewater, how different my life would have looked. That night changed everything. 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

My Story: Ecuador Year, Part 1

**This is the next installment of His Story:My Life. To catch up on the first portions of the story, feel free to jump over here.**

Just Getting There Was an Adventure

I have avoided writing this chapter. If you could have seen the skillful procrastination techniques that have gone into the avoidance, they might have impressed you, or saddened you. To put into words all that happened in that one pivotal year is, to some degree, to have to walk through it, yet again. It no longer shatters me, as many, many years have passed since this one pivotal year in my life, but to spell it out is vulnerable and slightly scary. I had a counselor, for a short time, who asked me to write about what happened down there in that small South American country. She knew my love of writing and thought that it might be helpful for me to express, through my love of words, what took place. Oh how I hated her for that. She tainted my gift with ugly words, and I hated the words that spilled out, evil that oozed, and I wrote it for her, forming into creation on paper the sin that took place, but then stopped going to sit in her office and allow her to pick open my heart; and then I stopped writing. For years. It was all just too ugly, seemed unredeemable. 

But the year that I lived in Ecuador wasn’t all bad, and it’s important to remember that there were some very beautiful things that happened there, some wonderful friends were made there, who, thanks to the power of facebook, have recently reconnected with. Some very fun times were had while I lived there. I’ll start there.

I spoke a small amount of Spanish, four years worth of Spanish class in junior high and high school, only to realize that I hadn’t the foggiest idea of how to put together a full sentence in Spanish, but could recall a few vocabulary words, which weren’t really that helpful. But when the day arrived to leave, my folks had driven my to New Orleans to pick up the flight, and gave tearful, fearful goodbyes right up until I boarded the plane. We had a layover in San Jose, which turned out to be about 8 hours longer than the scheduled one-hour layover, and I remember sitting on the blue short carpet that was full of dirt and smelled of old cheese. I sat in this small, foreign airport, kicking myself for packing my fat, little pocket dictionary in my suitcase rather than carrying it on with me, searching frantically for a white face, someone who might speak the same language as me and yet have a clue as to what was going on and why we weren’t boarding the plane at the scheduled time.

I found a large group of people who appeared to be waiting for the same flight, and so casually slipped into their group and followed them in line, right up until I realized that they were actually leaving the airport and getting on a bus. Panic ensued and I began barking at anyone I could about whether this was the group waiting for the flight to Guayaquil. Everyone I saw said yes and I was sure that it was a communication error, but was herded onto the tourist bus nonetheless.

To this day, I do not know if the tour was arranged by the airline or airport or the city or who, but the whole lot of us who were waiting for the flight to Ecuador were given a wonderful tour of the exotic city of San Jose, Puerto Rico, winding down narrow streets laced with enchanting flowers the size of my head. We stopped at a hotel where we were served an amazing lunch, and I didn’t understand what was happening or what was being said, but just went with the herd and hoped beyond hope that we would eventually land back at the airport. We did, eventually, land back at the airport and before I knew it, the plane was in the air and we were on our way to Ecuador.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Salt of the Earth

This is a follow-up post (#3) to a series on "Salt." To read the first two passages, feel welcomed to visit here and here. Thank you for stopping by. Karibu tena (Welcome again).

Our mornings in Kenya are ushered in with the giggles of waking girls to brilliantly painted African sunrises and traditional Kenyan tea, the sweet aroma of milk boiling, tagless tea bags steeping on the burner in the old aluminum teapot that spits out drops of tea like a camel spitting at tourists who get too close. The milky brown joy is then poured from the state of bubbling bliss into a deep blue thermos, where it remains piping hot until being poured out like an offering into the waiting altar of mugs. It is the custom of the Kenyan morning. If there is nothing else, there is tea.

I gingerly sip on my second cup for the day, having jaunted to the market in between the first and second. As I am chopping the vegetables that will escort the softening beans for dinner, my teacup sits faithfully next to me on the counter, steam twisting and dancing toward the heavens. I think of worship and being salt and being alive in Christ, reveling in the freedom that only He provides, pondering all that the freedom has done for me, wondering how now I shall live for the freedom, all the while curling the fingers under the bell peppers so as to not chop off the tips.

My hands are stained with the perma-scent of fresh cut purple onion and marvelous cloves of pungent fresh garlic, as that seems to be a staple of most everything that is prepared in this kitchen. Into the pan, chopped pieces of crystal-colored onion with a deep royalty clothing the outside. Bits of garlic cling to it as a true BFF, that they may go through the fire together.

Mark 9:49 says, “Everyone will be salted with fire.”

I ponder this phrase as I light the fire under the vegetables for a quick sauté, the sizzling of the oil and browning of the veggies telling a story of their own.

We will be tested, sprayed and dashed with fire at different points in our walk. If we are to become the salt of the earth, as Matthew 5:13 says, then some refining has to take place so that we are of good flavor to our surroundings, and not spoilers.

Bell pepper, onion, garlic, and a dash of olive oil over the blue-orange flames of the burner create an aroma that is inebriating. The lungs expand fully, taking in the scent of a meal worthy of royalty. After the veggies have reached the perfect shade of golden brown, they are dumped into the pot of half-softened beans, along with diced carrots, a healthy dash or two of cumin, and a generous sprinkling of salt over the top. Tenderly stir it all together to allow the salt to pull out the very best of all that has been thrown together. That is what salt does.

When we enjoy the feast in the evening of all that has simmered throughout the day, it is not the salt that is applauded. Nobody comments on how wonderfully salty the salt is, but rather how delicious the beans are, how the vegetables and spices have combined so beautifully, how the garlic is so rich, how the carrots are so sweet, how the soup is perfectly flavored. Nobody comments on the salt. But if it is missing, it is surely noticed, as one by one, hands reach for the shaker resting in the middle of the table.

Shake, shake, shake, shake….slurp the soup…roll on the tongue….not quite there…shake, shake, shake…tongue dips to soup, roll around….perfect.

The beans are divine!

When the salt is present, when the right amount has been added, the brilliant flavors of others are brought out enhanced. The entire lot shines because the salt has done its job, without reward or mention. Its humble station is to lift others up and make them better.

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

You, dear sister, dear brother, are called to be the salt of this rock; the seasoning that brings out the best in all those around you; the flavor that needs no recognition on its own other than to see all those who know you be built up and blessed to the fullest potential.

It is a humble lot to work for the betterment of others, without craving applause. But we have been called to be the salt. When we are missing, when we have not shown up in the humility and servanthood that was demonstrated for us, it is noticed. It is felt. It might not be verbalized, but the hearts have recognized that the salt is not there.

Shake, shake, shake, shake…toss a warm, friendly smile at a hurting soul…see the eyes lift at the thought of being seen by another….shake, shake, shake, shake…touch the arm of the homeless woman asking you for money…see the hardened shell crack at the power of a gentle human touch…shake, shake, shake…send an encouraging note to sister on your heart...see a heart encouraged to persevere in difficult times...shake, shake, shake...cook dinner for a family experiencing hard times and drop it off anonymously...see a family giving gratitude to the Maker for providing...shake, shake, shake...see your world seasoned with love and kindness.

When the salt is there, in gentleness, in humility, in quiet servitude, not seeking self exaltation, but longing to see the hearts of others lifted, when the salt is there, it may not be called out in recognition or gratitude, but it is noticed. It is felt. And the Father is ever glorified.

You are the salt of the earth.

How are you flavoring your world?

Today I am linked up to wonderful Beth's site, I should be folding laundry, who challenged us this week to capture "in the kitchen" photos. Hop over to check out some really stunning photography. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Bride

Words are too easily spoken, 
in haste, in anger, in foolishness;
creates division and assumptions.
Where words are many,
sin is not far behind.

And there was one 
who sent a message to the groom,
Disparaging the bride.

The audacity, the bold-crass move of
Tearing down the bride
to the covenant bridegroom,
Cutting down perceived faults
Launching arrows of half-truths based on
inadequate knowledge
And perceived judgments.

Going to the groom to tear down the beloved bride.
What sort of evil does this?

But my heart too has unleashed disdain for another’s Bride,
Her brokenness and faults apparent in such human ways.

My heart has criticized her fleshly manners,
and the hurt has welcomed bitterness,
which always leave the door open for resentment.
Unsuspecting expectations sprawl out in disappointment;
The lofty standard of holiness left in unattainable air.

This Bride is fallen and not as perfect as her beautiful Groom,
And so it has been held against her.

Judge not my Bride,
for She is my body.
She is my love,
and the One for whom I have already
spilled my blood.

How His heart must ache when we, His children,
speak ill of His beloved,
speak ill of each other.

And yet the Bride is called to be one,
Christ glorified,
Father magnified,
Prodigals stupefied,
As they gaze in wonder and awe.

What sort of evil tears down the Bride to her Beloved?
The evil lurks in my own heart,
While repentance has served its eviction notice.

This is an early link up to beautiful Emily's blog, in the hush of the moon. Be sure to stop by there Thursdays for some amazing poetry.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Don't Forget the Salt

This is Post #2 in a series on "Salt." Please feel welcome to slip over here and here to read the other posts in this series. Karibu tena (Welcome again).

I walk to the local market, at least a few times a week to get our fresh kill or straight from the garden produce for dinner that night. I buy a bag of dried red beans, a few small purple onions, several  plump garlic cloves, deliciously green cilantro, fist-sized bell peppers and hot, red tomatoes from a lady named Royce at a shanty kiosk that sticks out a bit into the road. Her kiosk is one of many that have been shabbily built up on government land along a road that can barely be called a road. Built of stolen/borrowed planks of battered wood, sheets of tin, and cardboard to fill in the holes, each of the kiosks are illegally occupying the land on which they stand, and so can be bulldozed by the government at any point in time. Everyone knows. But for now, local farmers run their businesses out of these roadside huts, seeing the temporary benefits far outweighing the potential risks. 

Royce teaches me to speak some Kikuyu words as I fumble to buy our goods, her warm smile welcoming us back over and over again. She pulls off a couple of bananas to hand to the girls who are clinging to mama’s side as cars inch behind us on the narrow dirt road. The girls thank her for the bananas and then we all smile and wave at each other, the language barrier preventing much further conversation.

“Roishio!” she yells. Tomorrow, we will see her again and bid goodbye in the language that she taught us. The basket weighs heavy in my hand as we make our way back home along the rough dusty road, just wide enough for two cars to barely fit side by side. The potholes make it a challenge to drive down, so cars weave in and out and around each other to make their way, dodging the many pedestrians bustling up and down the street all the while. The goats lazily scoot off the road as the roar of an engine approaches, and then makes it way back to whatever trash it was consuming. I understand why the ladies opt to carry their baskets on their heads rather than allowing the rough straw handles to cut into the palms. One doesn't have to walk very far before the weight of the fresh produce really settles in. 

As we make our way through the street on the small journey home, we hear the shy whispers of nearby children, “Mzungu! Mzungu!” as they tap their friends on the back to be sure everyone gets a glance at the white women and her somewhat white children. They laugh, gazing in wonder and awe, peeking from behind corners or mothers' skirts.

A woman in brightly colored dress and braided hair stops me as we are walking, basket growing heavier by the moment. “You don’t have a helper in your home to do this shopping for you? It’s unusual to see someone like you here.”

I smile and laugh, not really sure how to respond, other than to assure her that we enjoy getting out and meeting the people in the community.

“Are you sure you don’t want a helper?”

“Asante sana, mum. We are doing ok with it. Tutuanana.” I know we will see her again, as many faces are becoming more familiar as we walk through the community.

“Habari asibuhi, Mama!” We wave to the gentle, old mama at the end of the row. She doesn’t speak a lick of English, but has a smile that could save the world. She is usually hunched over a massive pot of maize boiling over hot coals. 

"Mzuri sana, rafiki! Mzuri sana!" She says she is doing very well, and we buy a large bunch of bananas from her. She bags up some boiled maize to carry home. The men will enjoy the maize. We fumble through the language to agree on payment.

“Bei gani?” How much is it?

She responds in a soft Swahili and I have no idea what she just said, so I hand her a few coins, hoping it will be enough, and she passes a few coins back in change. We laugh and I bid her goodbye for now.

“Asante sana, mama. Tuonane kesho.”

“Karibu tena, na tena!” she responds. Yes, we are welcome again and again.

We stumble over rocks and trash, stepping wide to avoid the holes and divots in the road, passing ladies sitting inside of ruddy kiosks having their hair braided. I see a foot sticking out of another one with the toes being painted, by a man no less. Fresh chapati is being cooked next door and the smell is just downright intoxicating. The air is full of such a potpourri of aromas, from the row of butcheries with fresh goat hanging in the windows, to the leg that is roasting just out front, to the various fruits and vegetables that are expertly lined up out front of each kiosk. This small strip of road is busy, crowded and full of life. 

A small girl with braided pigtails on her head toys with a plastic bag, blowing it up in the air and chasing after it as it floats away. A roar of boys pours down the street, dragging behind them juice boxes that have been cut in half with four wooden circles added all around. A boxcar derby has been created and the boys are racing to the finish to see which juice box is still intact by the end, scattering goats and dogs along the way. For some reason, an old, beat-up bathtub has made its way to the side of the street, sitting just outside of a broken down wooden shanty structure, now being used to hold supplies for the vendor inside. And the street has become a veritable graveyard for broken down buses. Currently there are 5 lines up on either side of the end of the street, just past the end of kiosk row. They are stripped of doors and window, tires long gone, just empty shells of a structure. I have seen them cut down and taken apart, small bit at a time. A plate of steel cut out by one group of men, bumper stripped by another, hood lifted by yet another, until it is cut down to not much of anything. Then a fire is started and an empty space revealed until another bus dies. 

We wave to everyone and greet all those we pass as we finally make it to our gate.

The security guard unlocks the black steel gates and greets us as we pass. “Karibu, mama. Good to see you again.” The girls run ahead and play a bit more carefree now that we are inside the confines of the neighborhood. Once we finally make it back to our house, I reach in to unlock the padlock and we all file through the door.

Time to get to work on dinner. It’s ten o’clock in the morning.

I set the water to boil over our two-range gas burner. Red beans are added to the water, as veggies are being chopped and sautéed.  All is thrown into the pot to simmer for the day. Knife and cutting board are washed by hand in the cold water and set on the rack to dry. I turn to walk out of the kitchen, and pause. I have forgotten something.

The salt.

Without salt, all the fresh deliciousness and amazing flavors that are simmering in that pot for the next several hours will remain unlocked, hidden from the taste buds to enjoy. I walk back to the burner and reach into the cabinet just above it to pull out the small bag of salt. Pour some in my hand and sprinkle it around and around the pot, eyeballing and guestimating the amount that will bring out just the right flavors.

Now we wait until the evening.

Join me over at So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter to hear the stories of other pilgrims and sojourners.

Monday, August 16, 2010

It's Kind of Like That

My youngest daughter is 15 months old. She is chubby, and funny, and beautiful, and precocious, and manipulative, and cuddly, and a monster, and outrageously precious, sometimes all at once. There are days when I just absolutely cannot get enough of her. She is my baby. My last born. I want to eat her up, especially those cheeks, have mercy! She loves my lap, or my hip, or my back. She loves being close and snuggling in. And I, being the mama who adores her girls, would hate to miss an opportunity to snuggle.

These days are passing quickly, as I am acutely aware, and so desire to soak up every last giggle possible. The days and weeks seem to be melting into months and years that are flying by more quickly than my mind can grasp. Everyday, small though it may be now, my precious daughters are inching further and further away from needing a mama like my 15 month old needs her mama now, and the pain and joy of it is almost too much to bear.

But then there are days when she screams if I have the audacity to even consider setting her down. She hits her sisters or pulls their hair. She grabs toys away and then cries that I won't pick her up. There are days when I am quick to roll my eyes because the baby is crying yet again. Days when I pretend to not hear her when she wakes from her nap too early. Days when I absolutely need a break from her. There are days when all three are crying at the same time, or all three are fighting each other for the same toy.

There are days when being a mama is not fun at all. But then, I'll hear a giggle, or I'll hear two fighting girls say sorry to each other and hug. My oldest will flash me a smile, or sing me a song. My middle will make a funny face or do a dance for me. And the youngest will gingerly climb into my lap and make herself at home, directing my hands to wrap around her. My heart turns to mush and my love for these girls is absolutely out of control.

I'll ask my oldest, "Do you know how much I love you?"

And she'll reply, "Yes, mama, I know. To the moon and back again. I know, I know."

But she doesn't. She doesn't understand that this human heart, this once cold rock that beats hard in my chest, this wellspring of life in me is so fully alive in love with her. She just doesn't understand the depth of it all yet.

The girls were watching the Disney cartoon movie of Tarzan this afternoon, and at the very beginning, there is a scene where the mama gorilla is rescuing the baby who will be Tarzan from the leopard. And the mama is relentless in pursuing and protecting the baby. She fights and tumbles and growls, and tucks the baby under her arm in the safety of her warmth and strength. And she fights like only a mama knows how, with every breath in her.

And my oldest says to me, "Mama, I wouldn't mess with that mama gorilla. She is fighting and protecting that baby."

"Yes, baby. That's a mama's heart, to protect her young."

There are days when my girls need to be disciplined, and I hate it. With everything in me, I hate it. As the infraction is going down, I think to myself, "No, please don't do it. Don't take it there. Let's not get it to that point! Please, make a good choice here. Let's not go there!" But they are children and their hearts are rebellious at times, foolish at times, undisciplined. And I hate it. So we discipline, in firmness, in swiftness, and in absolute love. And when it is done, tears flow, and hugs abound as they are reassured that Mama loves them no matter what. And we pray for wisdom to not make the same mistakes again. But they do happen. And it is dealt with in the same manner. And I love them still.

I am learning day in and day out about the love of my Heavenly Father, who, for most of my Christian walk, has been like a disappointed grandfather, sitting high above, removed, arms crossed, looking down his mighty nose while shaking his head in disdain.

"She did it again. Why won't this girl get it right? She messes it up every time. Will she ever get it right?"

That is not only hard to live up to, but it's hard to get close to. If I know that I will only disappoint and let Him down, why invest in trying to get close to Him? I only feel bad about myself when I am around Him. I cry in shame, wishing and wanting to finally get it all together. I hang my head, embarrassed, broken on the floor, knowing that I have no right to stand.

Matthew 7: 9-11
Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?

If I, in my brokenness, in my evil, in my sin, know how to shower unconditional love on my children, recognize when they need discipline for the sake of saving their lives, and live to see them built up and flying, how much more will the Father in heaven dole out love for His children, for me, holding nothing back? Oh. My. Goodness! I can't even wrap my mind around it!

When my children smile, my heart comes alive. How much more the Father! When my children learn a lesson and stand tall because of it, my heart wells up in pride till my chest has doubled in size and my throat is all choked up with emotion. How much more the Father! When my children need discipline, it crushes me to the core. How much more the Father! But when the discipline has been administered, the relationship restored, and laughter has resumed, I feel such a completeness of joy in the growth that has taken place. How much more the Father!!

I would never dream of looking down on my girls, even in my most exasperated state. I would never dream of throwing my hands up in the air and giving up on them, for anything at all. I dream of how they will excel in life. I dream of their potential and all that they will grow into. I revel in how beautiful they are, everyday. I catch myself everyday staring in awe, at each one of them, marveling at their incredible features, these precious creations of the Most High.

Now, if I am capable of such love for these precious children, how much more the Father. He dances over us. We bring joy to Him. He sings over us. When we fly, the heart of the Father is honored. When we fall, the heart of the Father is broken. When we need discipline, the Father rebukes, as one who loves His children. His statutes are not there to suck the life out of us. He doesn't sit on a high removed throne shaking his bony finger at us with all his rules. He is the preserver of life, because He revels in the love of His children.

Being a daddy's girl myself, I get that. Oh, to make my Father proud. His love, my Abba Father, my heavenly Father, is kind of like that, only so, so much more.

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
Psalms 5:11

My newly begun, yet ongoing list of God's goodness

Thank you, Abba Father, for:
#2. Discovering that the love of the Father, my Father, is so deep, so personal, and so amazing.
#3. Blowing raspberries on a round baby belly
#4. Deep belly laughter of three little girls being tickled
#5. Being caught staring at how beautiful my daughter is
#6. The 3-yr old who asks for "pachati" instead of "chapati"
#7. Sunday afternoon alone to shop at the Maasai market

holy experience

Take a peek over at Holy Experience to see what others are thankful for today.

Have you counted your blessings today? What are you thankful for? 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Grime is Washed Away

Another laundry day has come and gone, and I am praising Jesus that my hands are holding up better than they did for the first several weeks that we were here in Kenya. Now I can make it through a washing session without broken skin, raw knuckles, or bleeding wounds. Great rejoicing over this not-so-insignificant fact. But today as I was scrubbing the clothes, somehow a great wave of satisfaction came over me.

While I would not readily choose to do laundry by hand for the rest of my days, I am finding something so very cathartic about sitting out under the sun, scrubbing the clothes for my family. I see the dirt and stains with which the scrubbing begins, and as my hands work the fabric, suds of cleansing water washing the grime away, the sweat of my brow seeing the reward of its effort. As the final product hangs on the line to dry, made new by the grease of my own elbows, restored to what it was made to be, I feel great pride and satisfaction to know what I have done.

I know it may sound simple, but the African dirt has coated these clothes well as my girls run and jump and play with no hindrance at all for the stains that they are setting in. When all the clothes from a bucket have been washed and moved to a bucket of clean water for rinsing, I see the extent of the filth. The water is grey-brown, thick, cloudy, murky. It is full of grime that my hands scrubbed out. As I dump the bucket out, there is great joy in knowing that it has all been washed away, that all that was once covered in filth is now clean and sparkling, like new again. There is such joy in my heart at this simple realization.

And then I begin to wonder if this is just a glimpse at how God feels as He washes us white as snow. He knows our filth. He knows our grime. He knows the deepest, darkest recesses of our hearts, and He does the hard work to wash us clean. He puts in the elbow grease, He wages war on our behalf, and He asks us to trust Him as he twists and scrubs us in His massive, powerful, yet ever-gentle hands. I just wonder if this is just a small peek into how He revels over us.

For much of my life, I struggled with this idea of such hopeless, helpless brokenness. Maybe it was my pride getting in the way of truly understanding, or maybe I had just heard for far too long what a reckless sinner I was. I knew I was a sinner. I knew I was broken. I knew that I was a mess. And my ears heard the Church reminding me of that over and over and over again; until all I could think was, "What's the point, then? If I'm such a horrible human being, I can never live up to be any good for anything, what's the point of doing the "good" thing?"

I would then hear the inevitable follow-up of how God loves me anyway. He loves me anyway. So, I'm not really lovable, not really worthy of love because I am such a reckless sinner. Because I am such a sinner, I don't deserve love, but instead deserve to hang on a cross. I deserve death, but He loves me anyway.

Well isn't that big of Him.


Any sense of dignity has just been beaten down and ripped to shreds, but telling me that He loves me anyway is supposed to pick me back up again. Great.

The problem is that there were some true things that were being said, some true things that my ears were hearing, and some true things that my heart was taking in. But they were not all truth. They were not all Truth.

Yes, I am a sinner. No, I am not unloveable.

Yes, I am broken. No, I am not hopeless.

Yes, I am a mess. No, I am not undeserving of love.

Yes, I do fall short of the glory of God. No, I am not to loathe myself for it.

Many times, my ears would absorb a teaching, receive it as a condemnation, and then continue to condemn self for it. So where I was told that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for some reason that wasn't enough to cover all the other condemning things that had already been taken in. And so they became chains around my ankles, shackles on my wrists, bounding my heart in lies that were set on repeat in my head.

You will never be good enough for love.

You can never live up to this standard, so why bother? Just give up. You're not worth the trouble.

Somehow, the fact that I was a sinner translated into God hating me. But His Word doesn't say that. His Word says this:

The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you.
He will quiet you with his love.
He will rejoice over you with singing.

And again it says:

He will cover you with his feathers 
and under his wings you will find refuge; 
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Those are not the words of an angry father who is counting up how many times he has to bail us out. Those are the words of a lover, of one who rejoices when we are free and joyful, and one who rejoices when we surrender ourselves to Him to be our shield and our rampart.

And so I just wonder, as He dips us into the water and scrubs away the dirt and filth that has built up on our backs, if He doesn't take great joy in the process, knowing how beautiful the end result will be, knowing that even in the midst of the grime and muck, there is already beauty, because He made it so. And though the process might be a bit painful at times, humbling to have this stain scrubbed away, hurting to see Him toil so on our behalf, the process of surrendering to His cleansing ways is so freeing.

And I believe He takes great joy in it all, as he watches the murky, filthy water washed away from that which He created to shine.

I believe He will rejoice over it with singing, because that's what His Word says.

And so I will not hang my head in shame, as there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, but I will rejoice over His love with great singing as I return it back to Him.

Happy Sabbath, friends. Praying for God's peace and grace to fill you to overflowing today.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Taste and See

This is post #1 in a series on "Salt." To read the follow-up posts, please feel welcome to visit here and here. Karibu tena (Welcome again).

Tonight I sit in the dark, an old Coleman lamp providing a small amount of light by which to see, and the glow of the computer screen for as long as the reserve battery will last. No power, distractions removed, all other options turned away. Time for reflection in the quiet of the early night, the hum of electricity silenced.

Soon after we first arrived to Kenya, I remember posting on facebook that I didn’t feel like cooking dinner for the night. The cooking process here is elaborate, time consuming, and in many cases, serious manual labor. I was tired that particular night and just really craving the convenience food of home. But none could be found. Several precious friends responded with quick ideas, none of which I could implement because we lacked the supplies, the spices.

Spices are hard to come by here, as most of the food that is cooked is either fresh kill or straight out of the garden. Great for the body, but not as full of flavor as the seasoned, artificial, preserved, colored, tampered, engineered food that I grew upon. At home in the states, we use lots of seasoning, lots of spices and many different kinds of foods. For instance, think of how many different kinds of cheeses you will use in just one week. Parmesan, cheddar, American, swiss, mozzarella, brie….oh my mouth is watering. Why do I do this to myself? Cheese is not part of the Kenyan diet (though I did discover a place to but some imported Brie, yum!). Fresh kill or straight out of the garden.

Not to say that things are flavorless here, by no means at all. Add a little salt to fresh garlic, bell pepper, and onion, throw that in the mix with some chopped up cabbage and tomatoes, and your mouth will be hopping fresh flavors. Just add a little salt, and it brings out the absolute best.
Isn’t if funny that we have been called to be salt? Throw a few salty people into the natural arena of life, and it should be a very God glorifying situation, where the best of what has been created is brought out, enhanced, magnified. Throw a few salty people into the mix, and all things should be edified, built up, made better.

But we who have been called to be this precious flavor enhancer have to be careful. Too much salt ruins the meal. Not enough salt will go completely unnoticed, leaving the portion bland and undesirable. Too much destroys, not enough blends into the surrounding. We are looking to be just the right amount.
So how do you know? How do you know if you are too much salt, not enough salt, or just the right amount? Well, how do you tell when you are cooking?

Taste and see that it is good.

Taste and see that the Lord is good. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

Pursuit of a New Normal

I see the divine in their eyes, the precious innocence that keeps their wellspring pure,
And I am keenly aware of the pressure to get this right.
And by get it right,
The only possible thing I could refer to is grace,
Becoming a woman who embodies and extends grace,
As there is so very much I have received.

Their normal is one I have never known.
Even I am learning, perceiving, taking in, absorbing.
The baby slept as we prayed over a mad man in the den.
He was clothed in prayer, and then our own rags.
The eldest watched on, unphased by the happenings.
She knew it was time for the divine.

A life undisciplined will not bear the sweetness of vines tended.
But a life of routine risks ruts and roots lacking passion.
Teetering between the two, desperate to stay centered,
That their laughter is ever grounded in the security of the Father.

Steam rises, dances from the tea that sits before me now.
Like a worshipper, dancing around the fire
Lifting holy hands to God, offering whole self as living sacrifice.
The worshippers are gathering at the circle,
Acutely in tune, in sync, in rhythm with the community as it dances together,
And yet all eyes are focused on the Throne alone,
As if there is no one else in the room.

The gaze of the King embraces, warm and focused, yet gentle and cushioned.
Of all the worshippers in the room, the eyes of the Almighty see me.
Emotions balls at the throat, climbing higher.
Breath escapes me, stuttering, stammering
Unsure of whether it is tears or laughter that are soon to belt out,
The body explodes in praise.
And the dance grows wilder and the voice grows louder
Because love has set me free with eyes to see the divine.

Gratitude meets grace
And a new normal defines us all.

Today I am linking up to Imperfect Prose at In the hush of the moon. I'm excited and certainly humbled to join this community. Hop on over to take in some amazing prose and poetry.