Bolivia #3: Break My Heart

Yesterday we toured an orphanage for kids ages 5 and under. Our plan was to stay for two hours, play with kids, provide a mid-morning snack, and then leave. The front of the orphanage is beautiful, behind walls covered in purple bougainvillea. I stepped into the main building and all was quiet – the children were outside in the back play yard, waiting for us to come in.

As I was at the back of our group, I had a bit more time to look around. The laundry room was filled with baby sleepers, cloth diapers, little boy pants and little girl dresses. Just like all the ones I washed for years as the mother of young children. It was familiar, but overwhelming in the amount of daily wash. The machines never stop running and the clotheslines were full of baby blankets drying in the sun.

I went outside, and immediately a little girl lifted her arms for me to pick her up and claim her. Our team of twenty could not hold all 80 children who were desperate for attention. I could see swarms of children around the guys, begging to play ball, or be picked up, or pushed on the swings. Some children, who were not brash enough or, perhaps, had given up asking, were playing alone on the sidewalk.

One little girl kept taking her ‘tia‘ to chain link fence where a group of toddlers were wandering, contained, safe from the bigger kids.  Her little brother was in that group, and she kept stretching her hand through the fence to hold his hand. All she wanted to do was be with him, and the fence kept them apart.

I played with my little girl, showing her my starfish earrings, lifting her up and down in a game, and laughing with her. Three years old, beautiful, lively and smart. I wondered where her parents were, why she had been abandoned, neglected, a victim of a violent home, or whatever else had led her to be all alone in the world.

After our two hours, we gathered our things, and made our way back to our bus. On the way, I asked to see the baby room. I knew there were babies somewhere at the orphanage, but I hadn’t seen them anywhere. I was taken into a room lined with cribs, where 31 babies are cared for. I was told that the orphanage prepares 1100 bottles every day for infants and bigger babies. I wondered how the staff could hold and feed 31 little ones every day.

Then I learned the hard truth. If one baby is picked up to be comforted or fed, then the baby becomes accustomed to that and will cry if it is not picked up again. And so, no one is allowed to pick up the babies to feed them or to comfort them. They stay in their cribs, and if they cry, they cry. The staff is too small to love on babies, to look into their eyes, to smile at them all day, and respond to their needs beyond basic survival.

I often hear, “Break my heart, God, for what breaks Your’s.”

My heart broke when I saw the baby room. I thought of all the years I held, fed, played, soothed, bounced, comforted and fiercely protected my babies and little ones. It’s what babies need and it’s what adults are supposed to provide. These little ones are now safe from abuse and neglect, they are fed and kept warm. But they are not celebrated, adored, cherished or told they are valued by the actions of a loving caregiver. They won’t learn to attach or to form relationships in healthy ways.

And yet, they are created in the image of God, rescued from horrible situations, and so, there is hope. There is always hope.

I don’t understand the injustices of this big world, why God has not yet rescued us all from the messes we have made. I am helpless to make a difference in the lives of these 31 babies, or the 80 children in the play yard.

Or am I?

I have been given great riches: education, influence, power, voice. I am asking God to give me His eyes and His vision for what I can do.

What breaks your heart? What riches do you have that you can bring to the table to make a difference in this world for the broken and the hurting?

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Bolivia #2: Altitude and Attitude

We flew into La Paz at dawn, the Andes outlined in black, gold and blue. I could see stars through my window – and realized they were stars I had never seen before. The Andes and the southern hemisphere. I felt so small in comparison, deeply aware for a moment of the vastness of this planet I live on and of the greatness of God’ creative heart.

We touched down. As I gathered my belongings I began to feel the effects of landing at 14,000 feet. My breathing changed, my legs began to feel a bit disconnected, and my headache from travel started an uphill climb. I wondered if I would make it through immigration and customs without falling over. I tried the breathing my naturopath had suggested and pushed on.

Once we had purchased our tickets for Cochabamba, we went upstairs to a food court. There we could buy water ‘sin gas‘ (no bubbles), mate de coca, and bread. The coca tea is supposed to help with altitude, and the water is essential for hydration. Several of us headed to the bathroom, reminded that we could no longer drink water from the tap or flush toilet paper. As I sat in the stall, I could smell a certain smell from the bin by the toilet. This was going to be an adventure!

Within one hour, several on our team were feeling the altitude strongly. Nausea, headache, room spinning, and vomiting. It was challenging as a leader to pay attention to my own needs for hydration and sleep, while also needing to pay attention to the kids. We had a five hour lay over – I wondered how bad it would get.

I don’t do well with lack of sleep. I don’t do well with headaches or not being able to breathe well. I had a pulse oximeter with me, and my oxgyen level was in the mid-70’s instead of the upper 90’s where it should be. I just wanted to lie down and not get up for a long time.

Why did I say yes to this mission trip? I keep asking that question. Lord, what is Your purpose for me in being here? All I feel is physically incredibly challenged and very tired. I can’t seem to find any good-time feelings inside of me. And, honestly, I am a little scared – for the kids and for me.

Now is the time when whatever God has grown in me through past challenges is pulled out of my bag and put on the table. Trust – that He has me in the right place, in the right time, for the right reasons. Peace – that I am being held close and that nothing, not even the Andes, can separate me from God or His love. Strength – that I can put myself aside to care for others and can push as hard as I need to in order be present to my team.

My attitude can be anything I want it to be – my choice. Though I can’t breathe well, and I am putting toilet paper in the bin, and I am washing my hands with hand sanitizer, and someone is throwing up – my attitude is my choice. I choose to have a good one!

We boarded the final flight to Cochabamba and any fears I might have had about flying over the Andes were put aside. It’s a 30 minute flight on a shaky airplane over barren terrain. The flight attendants handed out boxes of cookies with the Pope’s picture on it. A double blessings – the Pope and cookies!

We got off the plane at our new altitude of 8200 feet and felt amazed at the difference in our breathing, headaches, nausea. We had survived four flights, over 24 hours of travel, and the challenges of 14,000 feet. We were on our way. I am grateful to God for getting me and the team through. We learned to lean on each other in new ways, and to respect our bodies’ needs. We are ready for the next challenge in our  journey.

Bolivia #1: Packing and Pondering

In roughly 12 hours, my 17-year-old daughter, Kate, and I will board a plane bound for Bolivia. We are part of our church’s high school team that will spend two weeks in Cochabamba working at Ninos Con Valor, a community that cares for orphaned children, infancy to age 18. Our team has planned this trip for over six months, working together to raise money, and participating in events where we learned more about interacting with people experiencing poverty. We are on a great team and will be joined by two families with younger children. It will be an amazing adventure!

Tonight, Kate and I sat at our table, reviewed our packing list, and gathered supplies for the trip. We are allowed a small carry-on suitcase (which will be checked) and one backpack for all our belongings. As a notorious over-packer (ready for everything!) I looked at my half of the pile and decided I needed to play a little solitaire! I am not procrastinating, just “resting” and gathering my energy to begin tossing out all non-essentials.

This is my first big trip overseas. And Kate’s. We’ve made several treks to Canada this year, and I’ve dabbled south of the border in my youth, but nothing of this magnitude. We recently marked the first anniversary of our big move to a new city, new job, new church, new everything. Now it’s time for another adventure – into a land , a people, an experience that is straight from God’s hand into ours.

As the departure draws near, I have been slightly obsessing over two things. Will I get altitude sickness or a parasite, and embarrass myself by passing out, throwing up, getting a migraine, have some sort of horrible lower intestinal experience, or a combination of the above? And, will I fit in as the oldest person on the team? These things have tended to keep me up at night or wake me early in a state of mild panic.

I keep telling God I trust Him, no matter what, and to my chagrin, I am not very trusting when I am panicking! I have done what I can, purchasing things like charcoal pills, gingko biloba, and special tissue for tidying intestinal  grossness. I have a large supply of other essentials, including antibiotics, chap stik, hand sanitizer, and gum. Still, on the eve of leaving on the trip, I am up late and checking my list again. Am I prepared? Am I ready? is there anything else I need to get before we take off?

All this convinces me that I am right where I should be  – once again flinging myself into God’s great, beautiful, loving heart. I am hopelessly, permanently human. As such, I tend to feel small and weak in the face of big decisions and big trips into the unknown. I love simple things – quiet mornings on my balcony talking to God, weekends with nothing to do but read and spend with family, the peacefulness of my office and weekly routine.

What was I thinking saying yes to Bolivia?!?

It is this other side of me, the adventure side, that calls out to me. Be brave! Trust! Step into new experiences with God! There is no way I can be fully prepared for this adventure, and God knows that. He knows that I stagnate without risk, without looking for Him in hard places, broken places – in others and in me. In the quiet mornings on my balcony, God reminds of this. That I am His, that I am beloved, and that He is calling me to know Him more deeply, to love His people, and in it all, to find Him loving me.

I hope to write often in the next two weeks, keeping all who are praying for Kate and me up to date on our adventure in Bolivia. I hope that, in reading these posts, you will join with us in spirit – and will take time to talk with God about your own adventurous heart. Where do you want to go with the Lord’ What are your dreams for travel, adventure and mission?

The Open Door

Jon Foreman, in his song, Love Alone is Worth the Fight, writes:

“And we find what we’re made of,
Through the open door.
Is it fear you’re afraid of?
What are you waiting for?
Love alone is worth the fight.”

I have been singing this song for months, since I first heard it sung in concert in Yakima last fall. As I applied for a new job, and prayed that the door would open only if it was where God wanted me to go, I sang this song. As I interviewed on the phone, and interviewed again in person, I continued to ask God to shut the door if it wasn’t His plan, and I continued to sing.

Would the door open? Would I be given the opportunity to discover more deeply what I’m made of in Christ? What if I was accepted for the job? Would I be too afraid to say “yes,” too afraid to walk through the open door? I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I wanted the job. I wanted the change. I knew that, spiritually, I was fighting; fighting to leave the desert land of my home and the desert land of my soul. I was beat up inside, from hard things and hard times, hard memories and struggles. I knew God was with me in the desert, but I was weary and thirsty for a fresh start. I was fighting to love life again.

When the door did open, I cried and then laughed, and then felt the fear. What was I waiting for? My own perception of the right timing? My own concerns that I was not going to be able to do what the job demanded? My practical sense of all that it would take to move my family, my home, my belongings across the mountains into a new city, a new community, a new home? Really, what was I waiting for?

I just didn’t expect the Lord to open the door so soon. Or in such a place.

Five years ago, I had toured the church where my new job is. I saw an office space and said to the Lord, “Lord, someday I would like to work in a church like this and have an office like this.” I pictured my books and my desk there, and I pictured working with women and being a leader. I was in the middle of a divorce and it was time of deep brokenness. I couldn’t imagine how such a job would come about, so I just left it with the Lord.

Five years later, the door opened wide and my prayer was answered in an amazing way:

My new job is on the same floor as the office I saw on the tour; in fact, it may be the office I looked at, or the one right next to it. How crazy is that? I had forgotten about the prayer until after my in-person interview when my prayer came to mind. I was blown away. Only the Lord could have orchestrated such a serendipitous answer. There was no room for doubt.

As I ready myself for my first day of work, the last stanza of the song fills my heart with joy:

Here we are, here we go
Where the road is our own
Hear it calling you home
Here we are, here we go!

Love alone is worth the fight!

Today I Will Press On

Most days I do really well as a single mom, head of household, full time employee, doctoral student, home owner. I am an optimist by nature and I have a deep faith in God, the sustainer of my life. Today, however, is a not one of those days. I have not felt this way in a long time, that I couldn’t do what is ahead of me to do, even with God as my strength. I find myself wandering around the house and yard, restless and fatigued. Unable to anchor in. Unable to find my way.

I woke up early this morning with the last vestiges of an intestinal bug. Gross. I didn’t eat much yesterday and felt weak. A full day was ahead of me but I crawled under the covers and slept again for a bit. Then I got up and did laundry, turned on the sprinkler, and handed out the day’s chore assignments to my kids. I looked on the rental app site for rentals on the west side and then headed to work.

I couldn’t seem to shake the discouragement, an overwhelming feeling that I am sinking under the waves. I am leaving my job as an Executive Director of a non-profit next month, and there are a myriad of details to attend to in the next few weeks. I arrived at work to find that the remodeled kitchen had another leak in it. With an open house this Friday on the schedule, the repair crew has two days to gut the kitchen, repair the pipe, and make it look like new. All this while we see patients, make the clinic beautiful and prep for visitors.

A bit discouraging to me, but it is doable. So what is going on?

I realized on my drive home that I am utterly overwhelmed with finding a home in a city two hours away. How does one find homes? I can’t find a phone number to call to talk to someone when I find a place I like; the timing of renting a place is tight; and I need to travel over to see a place before I say yes to it. As well, how do I pack up twenty-three years of living in one home? What do I do with pets, with storage, with memories, with all the details of transferring ownership? Do I rent? Do I sell? A realtor is coming over tomorrow to talk through my options. My house is not at its best right now and while I think I care about that, I don’t have the energy to do anything about it.

On top of that, I am just beginning my field research for my doctorate in the town I am moving away from. I am waiting for permission to start the research without which my hands are tied. Do I try to jam all the research interviews into one week? Do I travel back and forth all summer?

And, in the midst of all that, is the truth that I am beginning a new job in a new town. The learning curve will be high. I said yes to a life change that is going to be wonderful. Somewhere inside of me is excitement over this, but it seems to be lost to me today. I am standing at the foot of what feels completely insurmountable.

Sigh.

I think about what I would tell another woman in my situation. First, I would tell her to take a deep breath. Then I would tell her to sit down outside with a soothing beverage and listen to the birds and crickets and remember that she is not alone. She is not alone. Then I would tell her to pour out her heart to God, to cry and to tell Him how small she feels in the face of what is ahead. And then, I would tell her to listen to what God tells her in reply.

I think that God would tell her that He has her back. That she is so precious to Him, so beautiful and good. He would tell her that she is not alone. He would tell her that He knows how hard it is to leave where she has found safety, where she finally learned that God is good. God will tell her that what is ahead of her IS too big for her. But it is not too big for Him.

God would tell her to let it be, the house, the yard, the clutter, the packing, the saying goodbye, the search for a new safe place. Let it be. He would tell her to trust Him for it all. To keep breathing, to keep resting, to take it one day at a time, one moment, one moment at a time. He would promise her that He has a new place for her to live, a shelter and a place to rest in the midst of new learning. He would remind her that He has never left her, never forsaken her, never abandoned her, never failed her. 

Sigh.

Forgive me, Lord, for giving in to discouragement, for thinking I had to do all this on my own. Forgive me for thinking You would not take care of me. Lord, enable me to live today – all of today – close to Your heart, listening for Your voice. Give me the grace to not take myself so seriously, to not doubt Your care. Show me what to do next, and sustain me with a willing heart.

“So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; and He will come to us like the spring rain, like the spring rain watering the earth.” (Hosea 6:3)

Today, by the grace of God, I will press on.

 

 

 

 

 

Water Heaters and Love

Yesterday, in the midst of dealing with my broken car, my water heater died. Again. Every six months it gets so full of calcium deposits that the heating element fries. It doesn’t seem to matter whether or not I have a water softener – this water heater just likes to die. The usual repair takes about a day: draining the tank, wrestling the bottom element out, vacuuming all the deposits, wrestling in the new heating element, and filling the tank again. It is never convenient and it never gives any warning. It just dies.

In the past I have been able to wrap my mind around the work of the repair. But yesterday, I couldn’t. When I felt the ice cold well water coming out of the hot water tap, I told God I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t deal with it. I got angry. I even told God that I refused to deal with it. Which is an unusual response for me. I just felt all the loneliness and aloneness of life ooze out of my heart, expressing something deep within me. The end of me and the end of wanting to do this – whatever this is – anymore.

Last night, as I was draining the water heater because, of course, I was going to deal with it, a friend sent me a Facebook message. “My son-in-law and his family and I are coming to see you tomorrow. We are going to buy you a new water heater and install it.”

Wow. A two and a half hour drive with a preschool child and a newborn on a Sunday to work four hours or more to wrestle out my nasty old water heater and install a new one. Wow.

Today they all showed up; while his daughter and I visited, and I played with the three year old and held the newborn, the guys headed out to buy a new heater. I gave no input into what kind of heater, I didn’t go with them to the store, I didn’t write a check or put money on a credit card. My dear neighbor and her husband came over to visit and complete the picture. I cooked food, the guys came back with the heater and installed it, we ate together, held the baby, drank a little moonshine and talked about all manner of things. Three families combining into a bigger family on a day of rest and work and blessing.

Eventually everyone left and I fell asleep for a bit. When I woke up, I felt again that deep aloneness which is traveling with me these days. And yet, in my aloneness, I know I not alone. These dear friends understand deep level suffering. We have each experienced soul-stealing brokenness and loss, the death of someone dearest to us, moments when we have lost our breath in the shock of agonizing emotional pain. The tenderness of joy, when it shows up, is precious beyond words. The gift of family, as we now define it, is worth jealously guarding.

In my weakness and need, I don’t always know how to ask for help. In fact, I often won’t ask for help. I hear that voice in my head that says, “You chose this life and you need to figure it out on your own.” And then I do just that; I figure out something and soldier on. I keep quiet and believe that this is what my life will be. Me figuring it out and trusting God to help me get it done. It is a lonely way to go but in many ways I am used to it; I seldom consider that there might be an alternative, a different way God might be asking me to go.

Today, God showed up in a way I could not imagine; He met my anger, loneliness and self-determination so unexpectedly. He sent rescue to me in the form of gentle friends who have been in my shoes. Friends who have known me for decades, who don’t care about how self-sufficient I might think I am. Friends who politely push past my lie that I have to do this on my own, and love me in practical and soul-filling ways. Where I have removed myself from community out of feelings of failure, fatigue, shame and self-condemnation, God reminded me that He has provided community for me. Where I was feeling invisible, God allowed me to be seen.

As I write this, the dishwasher is running and one of my kids is taking a hot shower. I am sitting by the fire while my kitty sleeps on the arm of my chair. I can smell dinner cooking and can see the toys on the floor that the little one left. Peace is stealing over me, comfort and quiet.

I don’t have an answer for the aloneness that I feel. I don’t have any idea how to fix it, how to answer the deep and often overwhelming pain in my heart. But I do know that I am loved. And that I am going to make it. Not because of anything I figure out, or my strength, or my smart mind. I am going to make it because I am weak and in my weakness, God loves me and cares for me. I am grateful for God’s Presence in the presence of my friends, priceless gifts from His hand to my heart.

Sundays and Adventure

On the recommendation of my spiritual director I have begun to read Stephen Seamand’s book, “Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service” (InterVarsity Press, 2005). I read it in bits of time, in part because I have a huge load of reading for my doctoral lit review, and in part because it is weighty and I need time to digest what I read.

This morning I had time to sit in the sun on my deck and read Seamand’s introductory section on the Holy Spirit. He quotes Richard Neuhaus, “It is our determination to be independent by being in control that makes us unavailable to God” (2000). Seamand’s follows by stating, “Those who are filled with the Spirit have died to that determination, surrendered their right to be in control, and made themselves radically dependent on and available to the Holy Spirit. They have deliberately abandoned themselves to the Holy Spirit (28).”

I read that and paused – just sat and thought about the past month. Heavy work schedule, a lot going on in my kids’ lives (at home) including finishing up the school year, and in the midst of it a two week trip to Pasadena with my two teenage daughters for my first year intensives in the doctoral program. At the end of my first week back home I was exhausted.

Sitting on my deck in the early morning sunshine, reading those words, I had to ask myself – what was it that I truly wanted? To control my life, to be independent, and as a consequence be unavailable for the Holy Spirit to do God’s work in and through me? Sometimes – maybe lots of times – the answer to that question is ‘yes.’ I want to be in charge, get it right, control the situation, and have everyone like me and approve of me.

This morning, though, I felt as though God might be challenging me. I felt God was asking me, “are you sure that is what you want?” And I thought about my dreams, to write and teach and speak. I thought about my time in Pasadena with global leaders from all over the world who were amazing and who are living adventurous lives. Do I dare to risk telling God I want to jump off the cliff and abandon myself to the Holy Spirit?

Of course, once God gets that gleam in His eye and asks me the question, I know I have to respond. What do I really want? I want to live the adventure, the wild life with God. And so, with Seamand’s words as a guide, I said to God, “I surrender my right to control, and I make myself radically dependent on and available to You. I deliberately abandon myself to You, Holy Spirit. Let’s get wild, let’s go on the adventure together.”

When I said that, not much changed. The sun kept rising, the air got warmer, I eventually went inside to have breakfast and head to church. But inside, where God and I hang out, I think something changed. I think the door opened to the wild.

This morning it was my turn to serve in the nursery at my church. I do this every month, not because I am awesome or because I particularly like babies. Honestly, I do it because I feel I need to help out somewhere and after raising seven kids I can do this in my sleep. And, they don’t make me change diapers.

I was working with a young girl who was in there with her baby brother. She told me that she was with him because when he cries he holds his breath. Together we were in charge of five little ones, all who were mobile and old enough to eat cheerios. They cried, pooped, snotted and drooled; it was a normal day for that crowd. Eventually the sister needed to use the ladies room; I told her to go fast while I kept an eye on the kidlets who seemed content as long as they were sitting on me. No sooner did she run out the door than her little brother began to cry.

I realized when he wasn’t making any sounds that he was holding his breath. In a few more seconds I realized that he was not able to breath. I knew that the cardinal rule of nursery duty is that you never leave the kids alone, but I knew that rule number two was that when a kiddo stops breathing you need to get some help. I picked the little boy up and told all the other little ones that I would be right back. Of course, they couldn’t understand what I meant, and so they started crying. Being abandoned in the nursery is not what they had on their agenda.

While I ran with the baby to find help, I had one of those timeless moments. My body was running, my voice was telling someone I needed help, and somewhere in my mind I was fascinated with watching this little one turn purple and pass out. Not in a sick way, but in a triage way. I thought, “Blow on his face to try to snap him out of it, listen for breath sounds, think about CPR, see if his breathing will kick in when he finally goes fully unconscious.” I was also thinking, “Jesus, heal him, keep him alive, why is my heart pounding?” And I was also thinking, “Lay your hand on his heart, lay your hand on his head, keep listening to him breath, why are his eyes rolling around, Jesus be with him, he’s pinking up again, he is breathing, Jesus be with him, why am I so sweaty?”

Of course, within in a couple of minutes his mom and others were in the room; the little guy was waking up again, and we were talking about what happened. Someone asked me if I was OK, and gave me a hug, and of course, I was OK.

I didn’t want to talk to anyone after that. I cleaned up and left out the side door. I was in a state of semi-shock. Probably some of my PTSD kicked in, as well as an adrenaline rebound, and probably some residual travel exhaustion. It wasn’t until two hours later that I remembered my chat with God this morning about abandoning myself to the Holy Spirit. About being adventurous. About living the wild life with God.

I thought about being in the nursery on a day I am not normally scheduled, about being a person who is calm in a crisis, about having had so many kids that I don’t outwardly panic when crazy stuff happens. I wondered about God trusting me with this little boy, trusting I would know what to do, know what to look for. I wondered if this was part of the wild life, the adventure. I somehow had envisioned the wild life with God was going to be about traveling to exotic places and maybe moving to the beach to become a writer. I certainly didn’t think that abandoning myself to the Holy Spirit might be tested two hours later in the church nursery.

Now I am home, groceries put away, cool fans blowing on a hot day. I am contemplating taking a nap before picking up my book on urban poverty and development and diving into studying. What washes over me is the feeling that God trusted me today with a sweet little life. That God loves me in all the places where I live in my broken humanness and my stumbling around as I seek to be His to the depths of my being. I am thankful for God’s trust and for His love for me. I am determined to stay abandoned to God as best I can, to trust God in the wild adventure of life in the Holy Spirit.