When Love Speaks

IMG_2801A moment frozen in time, an orphan’s hand in mine, as God broke my heart for the forgotten children of India. This beautiful child leapt into my heart in the story I shared here You want me to go where??  This simple photo above started a Facebook conversation…

The post read simply, “Love needs no words, no language, just two hearts meeting in the middle of this great big world. My heart will never be the same…”  A friend remarked that a mutual friend of ours was in the process of adopting a second child from India. I replied, ‘I had no idea, she and I should connect some time.’  It was about midnight, and I had a full day ahead of me. I was exhausted from the impact the day had on my spirit, my heart was both full and empty, and I felt both a sense of hopefulness and despair. These beautiful orphan children, the idea that God put me here for a purpose, the impact of my encounter with sweet Penny, and the exhaustion overwhelmed me.  I turned out the light, and a voice called out, “Reach out to her now.”

I looked around my dark room, and thought, ‘tomorrow.’  I tucked into my pillow and blankets, and again the voice, “contact her now.”  Everything in me wanted to pull the covers over my head and block the words out, but my mind began racing.  I’ve always been skeptical of people who hear the voice of God, but I knew this wasn’t a voice to ignore.  Reaching for my phone, I thought, the time difference, my exhaustion, do I call her or text her? I decided it had been some time since I’d used her number, and I wasn’t even sure if it was the same, so I sent a Facebook message, assuming I’d awaken to a response.  And instantly I got a response to my inquiry, “Yes, we’re waiting for the final word to fly to Hyderabad.”

HYDERABAD?!?!?!  “Do you know what orphanage?” My mind races, India has a population of 1.3 Billion people. While it is difficult to confirm the number of actual orphaned children in the country, several organizations estimate upward of 20 Million children.  My phone pings, and I learn that her sweet toddler lives in the same family of orphanages where I am volunteering. Her soon to be daughter is living in a home I can visit tomorrow! In a country with more orphans than the human heart can comprehend, the girl they are adopting is right here!???

When I awaken, I can barely speak, overwhelmed by the magnitude of what had transpired the night before. It almost seems like a dream.  I make arrangements to be on the team sent to her daughter’s home – once these children join Sarah’s Covenant Homes, they are members of a foster family, and are no longer referred to as orphans.  As my team and I walk into the day room her shy little girl eyes us tentatively.  And seated there in the same room is the girl I fell in love with, the hand in the photo above. Her daughter is a member of the same foster family as the girl who won my heart for India. Statistically speaking, this entire situation is implausible!

As I hold my sweet ‘Penny’, and watch beautiful ‘Mia’, I’m overcome by God’s perfect plan. Here I am in India, a country I never intended to visit, but God knew better.  He knew that as Mia’s family was in the process of finalizing adoption plans – weary with the paperwork, nervous that something would go wrong, overwhelmed with the waiting – that I would be at this place in this moment to send them a message of hope.  He arranged it so through my lens they could hear their toddler laugh, they could see that she was healthy and happy, and they could know God would carry them through this season of uncertainty.

This shy girl, with the sweet little giggle, would soon be arriving in our country, and living a mere 12 minutes from my home. This world seems so big and so small all at once.  “Love needs no words, no language, just two hearts meeting in the middle of this great big world. My heart will never be the same…”

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You want me to go where??

The question was simple, “Would you consider going to India in July to lead a mission trip?”  Wait, India? I said Central or South America would be my preference. July? Hold on, didn’t I say summer was out of the question?  Oh that’s right, God’s plan doesn’t usually mesh with ours, and I’m convinced heaven is filled with laughter and the punch line is “You told them to do what?”

So in July I packed my bags, headed for India, feeling like Jonah:  anywhere but Nineveh! As I was preparing, a friend said, “Wear scarves, spritz them with some perfume, and cover your face – it will keep you from heaving from the smells. Oh, and bring an extra pair of shoes – but don’t wear them. Throw out your old shoes in the airport when you land, because you know about their plumbing, right?”

As I exited the airport, the sounds of honking filled the air, people and cars were everywhere, the oppressive humidity like a thick curtain.  A sign “Ms. Leonard” looked like a beam of light amidst the chaos.  The white knuckled drive to my hotel took 45 minutes.  Traffic signals are nonexistent, portals for u-turns appear out of nowhere, cars careen into your path, and everyone honks their coordinates to one another.  There’s a hypnotic rhythm and order to the chaos, like a language spoken only by the locals.  My heart was racing, but my driver looked bored.

Meeting the bright young women who coordinated our trip, they prayed over my co-leader and I, and both said they felt a special purpose in my presence, that they didn’t know why, but they knew God brought me to India for a specific reason.  The cynic in me couldn’t help but mumble in my brain, “yeah right.”  I was excited about the trip, the purpose of the journey, but aside from wanting to experience India, I doubted any long-term connection to this country. I was eager to meet our team, to learn more about the orphanages, to be a part of the culture for a week – but it was a SHORT term mission.

One afternoon we took the children to a park. 2 big busloads of volunteers, staff and special needs children descended upon the complex. Some of these beautiful children are blind, deaf, and have all manner of physical and emotional disabilities possible. Forgotten children who are so loved and adored by the staff and volunteers of Sarah’s Covenant Homes.  I watched as the complex came alive with laughter and energy.  I noticed a sweet little girl sitting alone, smiling at the activity, and I went to her.

I picked her up, and we looked at one another tentatively. Thinking, “Okay, now what?” as our eyes met, I had the urge to spin, and she began to laugh.  We spun, and giggled, until I could barely stand – drenched in sweat (remember, July in India.)  We sat down, and she looked into my face, her expression pleading, “Now what?”  An instant of panic – now what indeed?  A voice in my heart answered, “Sing.”  Sing – YES, of course, SING!!! As I looked at her, not a single song came to mind. I’ve raised 3 children, taught Sunday school, helped in preschool, had zillions of playdates, music classes, watched Barney for goodness sakes, and not a single song…  Panic began to set in, and the voice in my heart quietly said “Sing.”

And with that “Amazing Grace” poured from my lips, and this sweet child began to grin. Her eyes locked with mine, and I continued singing.  I get to the verse “was blind, but now I see” and begin sobbing.  See, the day before I spent time in the home where the blind children live. The vision therapists that work with these children spend countless hours helping make order out of the chaos in their darkness, and with improved nutrition and vision therapy some regain their sight.

The miracle of this place is revealed through the words of a well-worn hymn.  The sweet girl before me grabs my hand, pleading with her eyes for me to continue our song, and as I do, her grip tightens and she lights up.  My heart is filled to overflow, and tears stream down my cheeks.

As I finish, a staff member walks over and says, “You know Penny is deaf.”  One of our participants overhears and says, “she must feel the vibration from your voice.”  I spot Amy, who has the voice of an angel, and tell her, “Sing to this sweet one, watch how her face lights up!”  Amy captivates me with her voice, yet sweet Penny looks all around as if Amy were invisible…  Penny could hear my voice, though she is deaf.  She was the reason I came to India, to see BEYOND the sounds, and smells, and chaos of the country. To look deep into her dark eyes and know that sometimes it doesn’t take words, or music, or sounds… It simply takes a quiet moment, a spirit of love, and childlike wonder to experience the hand of God.

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You See My Faults, Still You Love Me!

blog cross “You know it all, you see my faults, still you love me; you never leave despite what you see, still you love me, you love me…” Sitting in church, hearing the lyrics, and I’m struck by the irony…

As Christians, we seek to live and serve, knowing that no matter what we do, how awful we can be, that if we ask – we are forgiven. We know God knows our every step, our every fault, and still he loves us.  Do we extend the same grace?  Think about it.  Sure, it’s easy to extend grace to those we are trying to reach, those beyond our family circle.  Anyone who has served on a missions trip knows – in those intense moments we can extend grace, we can have conversations with people in inner cities, in prisons, in the most serious circumstances and model love instead of judgement.  But how do we respond within our own family?

If someone close to you – a brother, a son, a father, a daughter – were to be taken today, would you be left with a sense of “I’m so glad they knew how deep my love for them was” or would you be left with doubts?  So many after a sudden death struggle with thoughts like: “I hope they knew how proud I was of them.”

The most common source of angst is the relationship between Father and Son.  There is such irony in that isn’t there?  The Bible is loaded with stories of the Father’s love for the Son, and yet we falter time and time again.  I’ve seen it countless times, a father dies – even in expected circumstances, and the son left behind wonders, “Did he believe in me, did I disappoint him? Was he proud of me?” Those questions echo into eternity.

“You see it all, but through it all, you love me.”  The reality is, when we see it all – and it’s sunny on the horizon, that’s easy to do.  But given stormy skies, decisions that don’t mesh with our expectations, the judgements, harsh words, slamming doors and anger rule the day. Or even worse – silence. The judgement cloaked in hurried steps, darting eyes, and slamming doors.

The challenge is we judge our success as a parent in the paths of our children.  But this isn’t how it’s meant to be. “You never turn, you never leave; my hopes secure, because you rescue me.”  Do we rescue and love, or do we judge and turn away? “You never leave, despite what you see…” But we respond with anger, harsh tones, and disappointed glances. Much of that is because it was how we were raised, the father who was present in our homes. But our Father in Heaven is always faithful, forever true.

It’s easy to be a great parent in the seasons of smooth sailing. But the biggest lessons in life are learned in our failures, in our poor decisions, in the tough choices. We live in a society where we want the world to see our success; Instagram and Facebook are loaded with smiling happy faces and tales of our latest achievements. But most of our lives look more like a “Pinterest Fail” meme.

We don’t know how to walk gracefully through the muck, and we stumble and fall. Deep ruts create canyons that separate us and lead to a sense of failure, and instead of dealing with them, we bury them inside. They separate us, and we never deal with them, until it’s too late and we’re left at the graveside wondering, “Was he proud of me?”  Or worse, we bury our child, and stand there questioning, “Did he know I still loved him?”

We need to find a way to live so those doubts and fears don’t last for eternity. Love like the father, to love our kids through their darkest hours. Our children need to test those limits; they need to have fears and failures, brokenness deep inside.

We can’t shield them from the growth it provides, but through it all, still we love them. Despite what we see, still we love them, we love them. We never turn, we never leave, their hope secure because we rescue them.  Just like the love of the father.  “Always faithful, forever true…you know it all, you see my faults still you love me.”

 

So much wasted time…

time-blogI have been ruminating about all the time spent on social media, particularly after the recent election. Some friends have taken to posting memes upon memes and article links that support their political assertions to the point of exhaustion.  This is not a political rant, so please, don’t glaze over or allow your blood pressure to rise… It’s the sheer volume of posts, and attention devoted to the moderation of comments – the energy and sanity they are forsaking in the process that gets me. 

My thoughts collided today with a piece of mail I received, an introduction to a young man in Burkina Faso who is the same age as our youngest daughter, 16.  A young man whose life has now become woven into the fiber of our family, our newest Compassion son. At 16 he has entered middle age, as life expectancy in his region is 55.  Had he been born in Botswana, where my daughter spent 3 months, his life expectancy would be 48.  And here we are in the land of life expectancy 79, frittering away our time staring into glowing rectangles – in our palms, on our desktops, in our cars, even in amusement park lines.  My bank recently installed a TV screen behind the tellers – marketing messages intertwined with news updates, stock prices, ticker tape of headlines scrolling away. 

What happened to time spent WITH one another? I am catapulted back to Mamelodi South Africa, where we were hosting a community building event with people living in conditions that skew the life expectancy numbers down to 57 in South Africa.  Running water, electricity – a given for us, but not a necessity in their economy.  Many of the people work on the sanitation crews that collect the trash in the urban areas – while in their communities they pile rubbish outside their village fences and the herds of goats eat what the rotating fires do not destroy.  Yet they are rich in ways we are poor. Neighbors like family, a vibrancy among them that is lacking among us. A chant becomes a song, song becomes laughter, and laughter turns to dancing.  We talk of our neighbors, and from their one room tin homes they cannot comprehend a home with a room we drive into to store our cars so we don’t have to get wet in the rain. And yet, we lack the connections they share.

“What if someone is sick?”  “What if you have a death?”  The fact is, our communities are not where we live, our closest allies would need to drive to reach us, and in some cases perhaps fly to be by our sides.  In our affluence, we have become too insulated – too isolated. Messages appearing in boxes on our screens have replaced handshakes and hugs. Online articles have replaced newspapers and magazines – boiling down complex issues into a series of condensed soundbites.

As our life expectancy increases, the quality of life decreases. Yes, we are physically healthier – but what are we doing with the extra time we are granted? Are we working to impact changes to injustices we rail against in meme, or do we just cultivate words devoid of action? 

So let’s make a pact – in the irony of our connection through a glowing screen. Let’s each take some time, and use some of those additional twenty some years we’ve been granted to do more, to reach more, to make a change in our families, our communities, or the world at large. We can choose to post about injustices – or we can step out and get our hands dirty and live this one life we’ve been granted.  The choice is yours. 

Here’s to hoping our paths cross so we can share some laughter that makes our hearts dance!

 

Tick tock…

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As we prepared to walk across the field for the last home game of our son’s high school career, the gentleman who manages the scoreboard was on the sideline, directing nervous parents and their players across the field. As we stepped into position, he stopped Chris, shook his hand, and began to speak…

His exact words escape me, but he recalled the first time Chris stepped onto the field as a freshman, and shared his enjoyment watching him throughout his four years. He spoke of his leadership, his skill progression, and his concern for his team. He shared that it has been his privilege to watch him grow into the man he is today. What a humble reminder that in the day to day, there are people on the sidelines – watching, taking note, cheering, and learning from the way we live our lives.

As we navigate through our daily to do lists, we may never know how many people watch us silently from the stands of life –they’re not holding banners, or waving flags – but they are present as we roll through the checkout line, walk the halls, answer phones. They are with us as we step onto the field of life, consistently watching, perhaps quietly praying, and wordlessly sharing our journey. What an awesome responsibility, what an incredible honor.

Crossing the field, I was filled with pride – magnified by the kind words of a gentle giant. The perfect way to sum up our son’s soccer career – not only did he develop his skills on the field – but he honed pieces of his character. The way he looks out for his teammates, his classmates – defending and supporting them on the field and off. As we walked down  center line I was thankful for the reminder: we tend to remember the big moments punctuated with cheering, awards, ceremonies – but the real joy is those seemingly small moments in between – little gemstones caught up in the chaos of everyday living. What a perfect irony, the timekeeper, reminding us that it’s the seconds on the clock that have the greatest impact.

 

Pack Your Bags!

“The Certainty of Uncertainty” Our theme, our mantra, our battle cry…blog5

It’s that moment when our oldest daughter announces, “I’m going to spend 9 months doing mission work in some of the most remote areas of the world, and by the way, I’m not going to college.” A year later, our son declares, “I’m not going to play soccer in college. In fact, I want to go to trade school so I can run a plumbing business like Dad.” And our youngest, well, in another year the airbag will likely deploy again as she contemplates her graduation.

Because, let’s be honest. We spend their entire lives watching them, studying them, nurturing their gifts, helping develop their talents. We dream, we imagine, and at the same time we are on parallel tracks working towards the next phase of our own lives. Silly us – we imagine those trains pulling into the station on time. But God has a sense of humor, and our lives are his silver screen. And he likes to remind us, that it’s not Our Plan, it’s not Their Plan; it’s His Plan. And the plan is more entertaining, more captivating, more of a blockbuster when it includes hairpin turns and corkscrew moments. Our daughter continues on her track, our son is stepping into his car, and we’re still trying to find our next station. We thought they were train tracks, but it was a wooden roller coaster the whole time!

So the big question is: how do you pack for a trip when you don’t know the destination? Simply put, it’s by folding one thing at a time. We’ve been helping our kids pack their suitcase for years, filling them with things that work in any climate. Things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. These are the essentials that you can’t pick up in a department store upon arrival. These are the things that keep everything in focus when the world around you seems crazy and uncertain.

Today I begin looking at my own suitcase, and at the moment I’m not sure if I’ll need my stadium seat or not. That “Certainty of Uncertainty.” Our son still has plenty of time to exchange his ticket for a variety of destinations. But I’m definitely bringing my pom-poms, because no matter what he chooses, we’ll be cheering on the sidelines, thankful we taught him how to pack.

You’re a Good, Good Father

blog4Racer Launch, take two…

A year ago my daughter left us to venture around the world on a 9 month missions adventure with World Race. And today I got to volunteer, helping other parents launch their sons and daughters out into the same journey. In that process, I have come full circle – a beginning, an ending, and a beginning – all within my own spirit.

Looking into the fresh faces of the racers preparing to embark, I was catapulted back to a year before, “Did my daughter really look this young? Was she this bold?” Looking into the parent’s eyes I recall the excitement mixed with fear, the torrent of conflicting emotions swirling behind my eyes and within my heart. Pride, terror, excitement, sadness, joy, skepticism – a nervous smile tattooed to my face.

As the worship band began to play “Good, good father” – it was as if Kelly was with me, it had become our anthem of sorts. She claimed it as her own, and we clung to the theme throughout her 9 month journey. Students and parents singing, crying, and embracing the words and each other – tear streaks warmed my skin…

How easy it is to trust in the Father with our children when we’re not present: trusting as she walked away with her 50 pound world strapped to her back, trusting as she navigated her first steps in a foreign land alone, with a 21 year old the closest thing to a parental influence. Trusting he would carry her through the first weeks with its potential ups and downs.

Easy to trust Him as she lay in a hospital bed with pneumonia in Malaysia, knowing that clinging to Him was all we could do beyond the 2 a.m. phone calls with our list of questions. Easy to turn it over when He is the only link in the moments of darkness and silence. Trusting in Him as they entered the Kalahari dessert in Botswana where Wi-Fi was scarce. Knowing the good, good father had them in his secure grip.

But then as they return home, that trusting becomes difficult. As she returned home, we were ready to fill the role we turned over to the Lord for 9 months…we’re back on the job! He held us all for 9 months, but now the journey had ended.

As I listen to the presenters speak, I am reminded – He’s still got this! We may have envisioned a different path, a swifter pace – but He knows each step before we take it. His ways aren’t our ways; her journey isn’t really our journey. As I pray with the racers about God holding them, guiding them, showing them clear paths through the darkness and giving them pause through the light – I realize the same is still true for my daughter. Praying with the mom’s launching their sons and daughters I realize I still share the same worries and fears: what if they come home and have changed too much? What if they find themselves in a situation and I can’t be there to help?

See, whether they‘re in the same house or around the globe – those worries still apply. This journey isn’t our journey, it’s theirs. The road becomes much smoother when we trust in The Good Good Father to see them through. We can’t be there for them – even as we hold their hand, the journey is theirs. We can guide some of their footsteps, but they need to travel their own path, and he’s got all of us covered.

So it’s my turn to launch our grown daughter again, and I again cling to the lyrics through tears, “I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night and you tell me that you’re pleased and I’m never alone. You’re a Good, Good Father, it’s who you are.” Amen

(”Good Good Father” lyrics written by Pat Barrett and Tony Brown)