Thursday, October 30, 2014

Look for the Darkness

On one of the nights that I was in Belize, this happened.

Our team of nine frantically broke and shook the dozens of glow sticks we'd brought with us in order to throw the kids a Glow in the Dark Dance Party.  

They laughed and danced and fought over glow sticks.  They enjoyed it and all climbed into bed happily clutching their glow sticks in their hands, once we told them they could not, in fact, wear the necklaces to sleep.

After our team meeting, I took a quick shower and climbed into my bunk, relishing the cool of the air conditioner.  I grabbed my iPad to continue reading Christine Caine's Undaunted before I went to sleep.  

Bloggy friends, this just happened to be where I found myself:

"Once in a Walmart, Nick and I bought Sophia a flashlight of her very own.  Sophia flipped on the one we thought would work best, trying it out.  But none of us could see even a little glow.  The flourescent lights of the store were too bright; the flashlight's meager light was swallowed up.
'Oh Mummy,' Sophia pled, 'can we please go find some darkness?'
Can we please go find some darkeness?
From the mouth of babes comes the wisdom of Christ.
Darkness is everywhere.  We live in a world full of fear and in need of light."

An exclamation point on what had just transpired there in my evening.  Because as we handed the children those glow sticks we had to find some darkness to enjoy what we had planned.

Not to mention the analogy of the bigger picture that I had chosen to leave my life for a few days to try to be a light in the lives of these children. Jumping into that unchartered territory for me had indeed felt like taking a leap of faith into a dark unknown.

God assures us in Matthew 5:14-16 that we are a city on a hill.  We are to let our light shine before others.  He challenges us to wake up and live carefully, making the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 5:14-16).  

In other words, he says let your little light shine every chance you can.

And be willing to go find the darkness.

He assures us that his perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18) and "once fear no longer controls you, and Christ is walking by your side, you are undaunted -- and eager to go find some darkness" (from Undaunted). 

There is extreme, pitch black frightening darkness all around the world.  There's darkness in the jungles of Africa where the school girls remain captive and have not yet been brought back.  There's terrifying darkness in the countries where the Ebola crisis is more than a threat but an actual epidemic.  There's darkness on the border of Cambodia and Thailand where young girls are made into sex slaves.

But we don't have to even go around the world. 

We barely have to leave our homes.

Because our kids are struggling with fears and pressure.  Our husbands are fighting untold battles against the darkness of illicit websites so readily available.  Our neighbors are fighting life threatening diseases.  Our fellow church members are fighting addictions that hold not only them captive, but their entire family.  


Sometimes it's not obvious.  In the light of day, we may hardly notice it.  Because people put on brave faces.  Happy plastic smiles.  Wearing masks to hide the darkness that plagues them.

But still, our call is to go find the darkness.  Ask the Lord to give you eyes to see the darkness that people are battling. To look for it and then summon the courage to be the light there.  To not shy away from it.  To not allow the darkness to snuff out our light, but rather to let Christ shine through us with a hope that dispels the darkness.  

It's not hard or complicated.  It's a smile and a kind word as you engage the exhausted cashier at the store.  It's a choice to show grace when a customer service rep is rude and irritable.  It's a persistence to reach into the lives of those you know are struggling.  We are to bear each other's burdens.  That doesn't mean we attempt to carry them all on our own. But we take them to the Father through prayer.  Regularly.  Consistently.  Persistently.  We share Scripture via texts or phone calls.  We write notes.  We let them know that we can't fix their pain but we will walk the road with them.

Darkness is all consuming.  The dark days of life, whether it be grief or relationship pain or health crisis or financial issues, are suffocating.  And the only thing worse than walking through dark days is doing so alone.

Because sometimes our light fades.  Our hope diminishes.  And the night feels endless.

We need others to enter our darkness and simply let their light shine by staying near.

And we need to daily and continually be looking for the darkness.  Because within us is the light of Christ.

We are wise to use every opportunity to strive to light the way for others in our path.

This little light of mine.  I'm gonna let it shine!    


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mamas--Don't Be So Hard on Yourself

This week, within twelve hours, I heard from two very dear friends (who don't really know each other) via a phone call and an email.

The exact same dilemma. 

Feeling the weight of mommy fails.  Overwhelmed with a sense of not balancing it all well.  The reality of spinning plates that seem to all be crashing down.  Because they don't feel they are managing it all well.  They seem to feel they aren't efficient enough, they don't manage their time well enough, they aren't doing enough for their children.  In other words, I heard a recurring theme of "not enough" that seemed to indicate how they feel about themselves and their own efforts.  

Let me be clear.  These two friends of mine are rock stars.  They are legendary in the way they mother their children.  They both have more than the average 2.5 children.  And they both love their children with an intentionality and a fierceness that is shaping their children every single day.  On top of being incredible moms whom I admire, they are also both pouring themselves out for bigger endeavors.  You know, in all their free time.

And the thought that they are so hard on themselves leaves me baffled and heart sick.  

Because I think that these two incredible women represent a much larger number of women who struggle with the same thing.  I think I see and experience an epidemic among women and mothers.  

An epidemic of inferiority that has neither been earned nor is an accurate representation of the truth.

I don't know if it's some trickle down side effect of the lie that we can have it all and do it all...or if it's the fact that an information saturated age is constantly telling us "Five things every son needs," and setting up plumb lines of Pinterest worthy living. 

But here's the truth.  We all only have 24 hours in a day.  And we have limited energy and resources.  And yes, we can pursue the American dream and be working moms or stay-at-home-moms or corporate leaders or high achievers.  But, the reality is that we can't always be winning at everything we do.  We really can't do it ALL, all the time.

While we have amazing super powers, we are human.

And it disturbs me greatly that two of my dearest friends think they aren't doing it well.  What disturbs me even more is that I think these two are only the tip of the iceberg.  

I want to be clear.  I want to be heard.  I need every tired mama or man or single or married or guy or girl to know something.

Quit being so hard on yourself.  

Quit comparing your efforts to a movie or photoshopped images or pinterest ideals or television standards or even glossy magazine articles.  Quit comparing your home to HGTV and your efforts at work to Fortune 500 success stories and your mothering to Michelle Duggar.  Quit comparing your life to your perceptions of the people around you.  Just quit comparing at all.

Because personally, I feel strongly that in doing so, we are hearing lies from the pit of hell.  We are hearing and BELIEVING deceits about who we should be, what we should be doing, and what we should accomplish.  And in so doing, we are defeating ourselves.  We are cheapening our efforts.  We are blinded to our successes--however small they may be.  And we are missing some joys and moments and tiny wins along the way.  

Mamas, don't be so hard on yourselves. 

We are broken people living in a broken world trying to pour ourselves out for other broken people.

It won't be all sunshine and roses.  

And we will fall short and be self-defeating when we measure our success by results.  

The fact that these friends are concerned about how they are mothering is in and of itself a measure of their "success."  Their heart for doing all this well says all that they need to know.  It says that they treasure their children and want to be good stewards of the responsibilities they are undertaking.

We will miss the freedom of that truth every time we get wound up with wondering if it's all enough.  I guarantee you that our children know when our heart is all about doing it well.  They feel that love and that intention and it offers security and well being.  It sets a pattern of relaying to them that they are important when we strive to give our best to the assigned role.  

What's of vital importance is not that we never mess up and we always do everything perfectly and never stumble.  Not at all.  What's of vital importance is that our kids feel our love because our heart's desire and our efforts are all for doing our job well. And when we do mess up, we teach our children how to ask forgiveness and how to let disappointments or failures be a learning opportunity.  I try to tell my children that no experience is a wasted one if we can learn from it.  

We will miss the encouragement of the big picture when we pick apart the tiny details of the day to day.  When we overanalyze and criticize and critique our every effort we miss the moments of connection with our kids.  We miss that it's actually in these hard moments and even in the failures and the grunt work of pouring ourselves out that we are building a future for our kids.  We can tend to be nearsighted to the million tiny things we do in a day that are actually changing the world.  Because the truth is that children don't generally keep score nearly as much as we do.  

(And good grief, moms of infants and toddlers--don't you know that your children don't have permanent memories yet?  Sure, I know that bonding and attachment and brain development is happening.  But they won't remember some of the missteps as you work to parent well.  I personally believe God gives this gift so we have some time to get our feet under us.)

Let us remember a few important truths of Scripture as we go about our business.  First of all, God is the perfect parent.  And look how his kids turned out.  Adam and Eve falling for the fruit of the tree in disobedience.  Their actions and choices did not define what kind of Father that God is.  They were good people with a good God who made bad choices.  And our children's struggles and pitfalls and rough seasons also do not define our abilities.  But standing with them through it all does.

Please hear me clearly, if your children are hitting rough patches and you love them enough to be working hard to do this thing well, then that in and of itself says all that you need to hear.  

And let's not forget grace.  God's grace is scandalous in breadth and depth and height and length...just as his love is.  It covers over all of our failures.  If we cannot extend grace on ourselves (or others) then we are denying the grace He freely gives.  An inability to extend grace shows a disbelief in the grace he offers.  He paid too high a price for that.

Lastly, every single weary and overwhelmed and worried mama, hear this.  THIS.  Loudly and clearly.

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.  We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. Hebrews 6:10-11

He sees.  He sees your hard work.  Every day.  Every last tantrum you try to navigate with your kids.  Every last angst you have because you want to do your mothering thing well.  Every last effort, despite fatigue and exhaustion.  Every last diaper.  Every last teenage worry and school project and for the love, just trying to get through to bedtime.  

Not only does he see your work, but he doesn't forget it.  He doesn't forget any of it because it is part of how you show him love.  When you help his people.  And continue to help them.  Day after day, dragging yourself out of bed to give it another go. With diligence and care and concern that is sometimes translated as worry and fretting and even feeling overwhelmed.  

Don't be mistaken.  Those treasures in your care are his people.  And when your heart is all about taking care of them well, he is ecstatic.  He is not a results God who keeps score and gives out gold stars only for good outcomes.  He is a God who loves a heart that is bent on doing what you do in such a way that you are doing it well.  He is a Father who remembers and loves a heart that longs to manage well the job you have as a mom. 

The fact that you even think twice about your mothering and keep at it, day after day after every long stinking day, is amazing! 

So give yourself some credit.  Better yet, give yourself some grace. 

Because while you sit there feeling overwhelmed, thinking that you are stumbling and stalling in all that you work to do, I see you running your race with a heart for your kids.  I see you running hard and running fast, with all those hopes to do this mom thing in a good way.  

I'm not the only one.  Rest assured.  Your Heavenly Father is not unjust.  He sees.  He remembers and he loves it!  

In every mundane, exhausting detail that you are worried about...he says he loves it.  Because you are helping and continue to help his people.  

So mama, don't be so hard on yourself!     

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Luxuries We Think are Necessities (Chronicles of Belizean Adventures)

I don't know if you've ever read the blog, We are THAT Family, but I love a term she uses -- perspectables.  She means changing our perspectives by seeing things differently.  Through a different lens.  Through different "spectables." 

Belize has changed my perspectables.  

About so many things.  Much of which I think I will be digesting for months or years on end.  All of which I hope never loses it's potency.  I hope that I'm discovering new perspectables and fresh insight from those six days in Belize for the rest of my life.  And that I can go back to gain even more.  

Today, I shall try to sum up some of these perspectables as I present to you luxuries that we Americans tend to think are necessities.  I've said it before and I'll say it until I'm blue in the face.  We got it going on real cushy over here in 'Merica.  We moan and complain about so many things and live in a culture of discontent.  Driven by media influences and expensive marketing compaigns designed to make us feel unhappy and in need.  So we'll buy what they're selling.

Stop the crazy train, folks.  Consider these things.  

Luxuries we think are necessities.

Air conditioning.  Okay, this may be more of a Southern thing.  Because, news flash, it gets steamy 'round these parts, particularly come August.  Or rather, come May through October, generally speaking.  And we hide in our air conditioned houses and movie theaters and restaurants to escape the heat.  Or we dive into the nearest body of water.  We panic when our A/C goes out.  Desperate for a quick fix.  Believe me, I know.  My A/C once went out completely in midAugust.  The summer of 1999.  When I had a 7 month old baby.  And this mama did not rest until I'd convinced everyone in the entire chain of command at that home warranty place to send someone out ASAP and get the thing replaced.  Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned by a lack of A/C.

But, this is not a necessity.  Air conditioning is a luxury.  It's not the status quo in Belize, as electricity is so expensive.  Even though it's a balmy 80+ degrees with approximately 150% humidity.  It literally felt at times like the sauna at Moose Lake Gospel Camp.  

Yet, you acclimate.  Those kids wore undershirts every day, underneath their heavy polyester school uniforms.  And I can't recall much -- or any?--complaining from a single one about the heat or humidity.  In fact, while I was sweating away in a t-shirt and shorts at bedtime duty in the main house, the kids were climbing into their beds, wrapped under sheets, with their long sleeve pajamas.  Sure, we turned on the air conditioning for sleeping hours.  But, it was not a big deal to them.  They were not eagerly heading to the comfort of A/C like our team was.  And the amazing Rosa cooked for hours in a tiny kitchen over a hot stove with no breeze or air conditioning.  Only a tiny fan to cool her off a tad.  

Being hot and sticky won't kill you.  And amazingly, by our second or third day, it either really did get a bit cooler or we got a little used to it?

For decorative purposes only. It's not that the houses and church and buildings we entered in Belize were completely devoid of decoration.  But there wasn't much.  Simple art hung here or there or perhaps a curtain.  In other words, Belizeans don't spend hours pinning new decorating ideas on Pinterest or time or money or energy considering how to update their look. Function is the name of the game.  Things have purpose.  And guess what?  I personally think that living in that mindset gives people more purpose too.  At least that was my perspectable from being in Belize.  

The people aren't hung up on the fluff and dress-up that we apply to all things, from our clothes to our homes.  The plates and serving dishes and cups may not have come out of a Pottery Barn magazine.  But, I've never appreciated such sincere hospitality.  Knowing the hours that Rosa spent preparing the meals.  The effort it took her husband, Peto, to shop for all those groceries and get them back from the city to Hopewell.  The warmth of the people outshone the decor around them.  And I honestly couldn't have asked for more.

Maximum capacity.  I won't even tell you how many people and kids squeezed in the vans to get to church. Or how few seatbelts were actually used.  Because in Belize, there is no such thing as maximum capacity.  Fifteen passenger van?  Pa-shaw!  Squeeze 'em in till the doors won't close.  How about the idea that you can only have so many people over because that's how much seating you have?  Again, a foreign concept.  There is no such thing as maximum capacity.  That's a luxury--to cap off where people are comfortable.  You just make room.  Which leads to the next one...

...Extra square footage.  Say what?  Rooms you rarely use?  Couches that never get sat on?  One kid per bedroom?  We think these are necessities.  Gotta have that formal living room and formal dining room to use on holidays.  Gotta move because your kids can't share a room (Yes, yes indeed.  That was us...6 years ago).  But, actually, these are luxuries, y'all.  That is why 16 people live in approximately 1800 square feet?  Give or take a bit.  Yes, five boys in one room.  And six girls in the girls' bedroom.  The house parents living in a room, with their three children sleeping in a room connected to theirs.  This is normal.  Actually, from seeing the houses we passed while driving, I think the main house at Hopewell is rather spacious.  Because people live in a one room house.  Actual families live all together, in a simple and functional house.  And they don't kill each other or gripe about it.  It's just the way it is.  Because extra square footage is not a worldwide phenomenon.  It's not even the global norm.

Menu planning.  "Need some new dinner ideas!  Can you share your favorites?"  I have both been asked this and have asked this question.  Listen, the need to mix it up and have a great variety in our menu planning is a luxury.  Big time.  Because lots of cultures have a diet consisting of a few basic foods.  Every day.  Meal after meal.  Because that is what they grow and can obtain easily.  Rice and beans.  Simple breads.  Maybe eggs from chickens they raise?  Or meat from the animals they hunt or raise?  Listen, a variety of fruits and vegetables are a serious luxury.  Because they are expensive and not easy to obtain in much of the world.  

I ate some delicious meals in Belize and there was a good variety.  But the idea of choosing new recipes and then shopping for ingredients for that particular recipe is quite a luxury.  Generally speaking, I think the majority of the world functions on the philosophy of "this is what I have on hand, how else can I fix it?" 

Appearances.  I hate to admit this.  Because it sounds so shallow.  But I really had a hard time in Belize with the fact that due to the heat and the activity, I needed to not bother with my hair and to completely forget make-up.  It's hard for me to just be myself, raw and natural.  I don't know if I'm that vain or just can't shake the Texas girl mentality about never leaving the house without mascara.  But, I found myself so self-conscious about having my picture taken.  

It's not that Belizeans don't care about their appearances by any stretch of the imagination.  But I never saw such natural beauty as I did there.  Where women don't fuss for long hours fixing their hair or doing their make-up.  

And in other parts of the world, where people struggle to survive, appearances are the last of their worries.  


So the amount of effort and time we take to make ourselves look good says a lot about the luxury we enjoy.

Toys, Gadgets, and Entertainment.  Back in my day, we spent hours outside, making up games and running around.  Or, we used our imagination to occupy our time.  I didn't grow up with a variety of electronic gadgets and a ton of toys.  And I certainly don't think that our culture was quite as bent toward entertainment as it is now.  

I realized this in Belize.  Where it felt more like the olden days.  The kids played clapping games and made up other simple games.  Or read books.  Or drew pictures.  They were free of the "entertain me" mentality...they lacked the sense of entitlement that says they have a right to be entertained.  

The idea that one has time and energy to even be entertained is a luxury.  Because that means that the work can stop and the demands have an end.  It means you have dishwashers to handle your dishes and yard guys to do your yard and you can go buy your groceries at the store rather than growing or raising it yourself.  

I cringe when I consider how many electronic devices we have in our home.  For my family of five -- it's more than the 21 people who live at Hopewell.

Opportunities.  "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  That is a question we ask all the time.  Here, in America, we raise our children that they can be anything they want to be.  They can choose from a variety of occupations.  My kids can assume a college education for their future.  They can choose to do something blue collar or white collar.  They can consider a wide variety of opportunities.

This is indeed a luxury.  Because most of the world cannot assume the same variety of choices for their children.  College is a dream and certainly attainable.  But it's not something every child can just assume.  Trades or jobs are not as vast in possibilities.  And professions are not as prolific as here in the States.  

Resources are not as endless as we have, from counseling for the kids who need it, to job training for the parents who struggle.  Orthodontics and specialists for a variety of issues under the sun are not as accessible.  When you live in a rural area and gas is expensive, even the available resources within the cities are not easy to tap into.

We have no concept of the opportunities we enjoy on a daily basis that most of the world can't fathom.  From stores to doctors to programs and services to higher education.

We got it good, folks.  We got it good.

Families.  These are a luxury.  Families where parents can provide for their children and be gainfully employed and seek resources when hard times hit and they need a little extra assistance.  The simple ability to hold your family together is a luxury.  But, unlike the other things I've listed, this one should be available throughout the world.  

Curable diseases should not make orphans and make parents of older siblings.  Poverty should not mean the hard choice to release your child to someone else because your love isn't enough.  Generational cycles of brokenness should not continue to ravage families around the world, lacking the resources to know how to change them.  War should not make soldiers out of children.  Desperation should not make slaves out of people.  And government policies should not hold families hostage to the inability to make the best plans for their children.


There is so very much in a single day that we take for granted.  And this is generally speaking, no fault of our own.  We live where we do and have what we have, and that's just the undeserved privilege we enjoy because we were born where we were born.  

And we don't need to feel guilty about that. We don't need to sell all our worldly goods or feel horrible because we have been given more than we deserve.  But, I think we do have a responsibility to allow our eyes to be open.  To pray for God to break our hearts for what breaks his.  To begin to ask for eyes to see the brokenness in our very own communities for those who don't have the luxuries that we consider necessities.  To have the courage and boldness to consider it all--what we see as the norm and embrace that it's not.

And to be willing to spread the wealth.  To be willing to give of ourselves.  Our time.  And our resources to reach into the lives of others.  

To whom much is given, much is expected.

We might think we are going to teach them and make a difference for them.

But, the beautiful thing is that we are also the ones being taught.  Because they are also the difference makers.  It's all recipocral.  It's the rhythm we can seek.  The give and take.  The ebb and flow.  The blessing and being blessed.  

When luxuries and needs collide.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Things I Cannot Reconcile (Chronicles of Belizean Adventures)

When I had pulled up from the airport to my house at 1 am that Thursday morning, I saw it through new eyes.  Huge.  Palatial.  Fancy.  It felt strange when I stepped inside, seeing it through a fresh perspective.  Imagining how the kids in Belize might see it. 

Everything the same.  Yet everything different.  I was in a very down mood that first day home.  Tired.  And mopey.  Heavy hearted. Sorta struggling to reconcile what I had just experienced in those six days in Belize.  Angry at the injustice the kids had experienced...orphans who aren't orphans.  Frustrated with how I'd never gotten it before.  Because, as a recent David Platt quote says, it's easy to ignore the orphan issue when it doesn't have a name. (Even when you've worked in adoption for twenty years!)

I felt a new thankfulness for all I have and yet felt guilty too.  Very conflicted.  I was glad that my husband had sat the kids down and told them to be gentle and to have grace on me because it may be a tough transition back. He warned them I may be teary or sad or just plain tired. 

Somehow this gave me permission to allow all of the above.

So, I felt rather down that first day home. But somewhere in my funk, it hit me.  

What good does it do for me to wallow in negative feelings?  How is that honoring the Hopewell kids and the work there?  If I am indeed inspired by the kids then I need to choose the contentment that they embody.  So I worked to turn my thoughts and feelings toward the awe of answered prayers throughout the trip and the euphoria of facing fears and slaying some giants personally.  As well as the inexplicable gratitude I felt to be able to know these children.

I want to tell these children's stories.  They deserve for me to make Hopewell an epicenter of hope and education in my life with ripple effects that move people to action.  

In that vein...along those lines...let me express some things that I cannot reconcile after visiting Belize.

My house size.  By American standards, I don't live in a huge house.  In fact, I find it rather average around here, and it is the exact floor plan of many of my neighbors.  Although "around here" is quite relative considering some of the unusual wealth in our general area.  But, after visiting Belize, I see my house as palatial.  In fact, when my best friend texted to check on me that first day home, I told her I feel guilty because "why should I get to live in this palace over here?"  Her response, bless her, was that she loves my palace and how we use it to bless others.  She encouraged me by saying she sees us steward this gift well. But still...I hear the echo of the Hopewell girls' awe and amazement when they asked if my children really each have a room ALL. TO. THEMSELVES.

My wardrobe.  Um, yes.  I walked into my walk-in closet as I unpacked my suitcases and realized that I have more clothes than all six of the girls at Hopewell combined.  These girls have school uniforms, a small section of hanging space on a rod that stretches across their shared bedroom, a small locker, and a two drawer caddy.  To hold all their worldly goods.  Miss Eleanor does their laundry and hang dries it, and these kids couldn't go a week without doing laundry like I can. In fact, I'm not too sure how many days they can go without doing laundry.  And they certainly can't let their laundry baskets sit around for days on end waiting for the Folding Fairy like at my house.  I don't think it would never cross their minds to make a run to the store to purchase a shirt or outfit for one particular occasion.  

My intact family.  I've been married for nearly twenty years and have three healthy children.  We have countless cousins, aunts, uncles and other extended family with whom we enjoy good relationships.  I know that the divorce rates in America are high and many families have had to readjust due to divorce.  That's not what I'm talking about here.  What I'm talking about is the hard reality of children who cannot live with their biological family due to neglect, abuse or poverty.  I'm talking about families that disintegrate because they don't have the resources to break generational cycles.  I'm talking about children who lose all contact with all biological family due to various crises. 

By the way, THAT doesn't just happen in Belize.  It's happening in our own backyard. 

My heart physically hurt as my daughter asked me to climb in her bed the day I got back and tell her all about the children.  Because how many children around the world don't have this?  They don't have an ability to be raised with their biological families and feel loved, safe and secure.  How many mamas or daddies wish they knew how to do differently so they could parent?  Or wish they had the money to care for their children?  How many children will never be adopted and never have the security of forever families? 

Why should I get to tuck my girl in nightly?  Why should I enjoy the health of a family and extended family and all that I consider normal? I've never really stepped into the life of a child who has been denied this.  And it shakes me.  The mere fact that because of where I was born and to whom I was born, I've been able to get an education, build a healthy marriage, and parent my children with opportunities and security so many other kids don't know.

Our excess and waste.  For real.  Ever since I read Jen Hatmaker's book "7," I remember what she said about how American garbage disposals eat better than many children in the world.  Listen, the kids at Hopewell eat well.  They are not going without.  They may not have access 24/7 to snack to their heart's content or be choosy about what they want to eat when they want to eat it.  But, I still saw a reality in Belize. At Hopewell, things do not go to waste.  The farm animals provide food and income.  What they don't eat, they sell to help earn money to keep Hopewell going. The scraps from meals go to the dogs who patrol the perimeters at night, acting as guards against predators of the farm animals.  Clothes are worn until they don't fit and then they are passed down. Or until they are too plain worn out to wear any longer. Donated items for the children are held back until they are absolutely needed. The people at Hopewell, and from all I saw the people in Belize, are extremely good stewards of all that they have and take nothing for granted. 

Meanwhile, we throw out food gone bad, feed our garbage disposals feasts, and turn our nose up to something that doesn't sound good right now to eat or clothes that aren't exactly what we want to wear today.  We have issues with a need to simplify and purge.  Pinterest is full of ideas about how to pare down.  

These are concepts that I think would baffle most of the world.  Simple is all they know.  

Their contentment...and trauma.  This is what blows my mind about the children I got to know in Belize.  I've said it a few times in this blog series, but it bears repeating.  These Belizean beauties and incredible boys are contented, joyful, happy children.  They laugh and play on their little playground, sit on the floor for hours with Legos, play jokes on visiting team members, sing songs (and not just songs, but worship songs), and dance.  You could easily spend several days with them and never clue in to their histories based on what you see.  Oh, sure, there are the fights over toys, and some of these children seem pretty possessive.  

You could chalk that up to being a kid, or remember that they've had so little in their lives before Hopewell that they have a tendency to hoard. You could see one of the girls as moody and short tempered.  Perhaps consider it her nature.  Or, you can watch her at the dance party and know that children that age don't naturally move that way.  And you are heartbroken when it crosses your mind that some predator probably coached those moves.  You can enjoy their easy affection and hugs and how you are quickly embraced.  But, when you know their histories, you know that it is a miracle that some of these children should trust anyone or let anyone in.  Ever again.  You can see that boy's nearly permanent scowl and think he's just got a mean streak.  But then you learn that he was found begging on the streets to try to care for his family.  And he's still in elementary school. And still worried sick about who is caring for his mama. 

It's still hard for me to digest.  That these children, who by the way, cannot access the therapies and resources we so readily enjoy in the States, have survived brokenness and heartache and pain and wounds that thankfully many of us can't fathom. They have been literally rescued from horrendous government orphanages or abusive families or extreme poverty.  

And brought to Hopewell.  Where they heal, by the grace of God.  I'm not saying that all lasting effects are erased by any means.  But they seem to experience a grace and love at Hopewell that allows them to move forward.  That allows them to let in hope. Nothing is as awe inspiring to me than to consider the contentment I saw in these children.  Knowing the trauma in their histories.  All I can say is that I see faith like a child in them.  A faith that they can dare to dream and hope and live each day to the fullest.  

FWP.  First World Problems. If my kids were annoyed by my tendency to account their complaining as first world problems before Belize, they are going to hate this aspect of the trip's after effects.  Seriously.  Listen, America.  We gotta get over ourselves.  Myself at the front of that list.  Because how dare I feel so discontented or annoyed by things such as slow internet speed, a lack of wifi, a long line at Starbucks, traffic on the way to school (in my air conditioned minivan on paved roads), or the fact that nothing in the refrigerator looks appealing to me right now.  I'm sorry to sound harsh, but then again I'm not.  Because I never realized how pampered and wimpy and privileged Americans are until I left America for this trip.  We have opportunities every day that most of the world cannot fathom.  Education, resources, retail, disposable income, entertainment, blah blah blah.  More on this tomorrow.

I've heard it said that America is at the top of the food chain.  Now, I've seen and experienced it.  Just like I tell my kids about the nearby wealthy suburb--THIS AIN'T THE NORM.  All that we look around and see and take for granted AIN'T THE NORM for the majority of the world.  And where I was in Belize, I didn't actually see extreme poverty. There was electricity and running water and sewage systems and even wifi.  What I experienced was a people and a nation rich in culture and strength and resiliency and authentic faith.  

I've been home for two weeks and I'm no closer to being able to reconcile some things in my mind and my heart.  

I think it's supposed to be that way.  

I think I'm supposed to see some things, embrace some revelations and accept that they simply do not make sense.

I think it should never make sense.

And may it all prompt me to action.  To do something with all these gifts of insights that I gained.

So, who wants to go back to Belize with me? 

It will wreck you and move you and change you. 

And you'll never regret it.   

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Even the Skies Cried (Chronicles of Belizean Adventures)

Departure day from Belize.  Funny.  Just a few short days prior, I was counting down to this day, looking forward to it.  But it had all changed.  Now that I was staring it down, it felt daunting.  To say good-bye.  To go back home.  Because I was and still am desperate to hang on to this experience.  To be changed by it.  To allow every nuance of revelation and lessons learned to take their full effect.  I once feared coming here.  As departure day dawned, I feared going home and acting like it had never happened.  

I jumped out of bed that morning, rather frantically getting ready because I did not want to miss any of the kids.  I walked out of our bunk room, and there was the van.  The few kids who are driven to school had already climbed in.  I waved to them, and they waved back.  I was mindful of how I had prayed for every child by name the night before when sleep eluded me.  So, I spoke through the open door to tell the oldest boy, Nathan* that I was so proud of his dreams and I believed he was a talented graphic artist and would be praying for his ability to go to college.  

Suddenly, Keisha*, the one who had whispered "I love you" the night before, was grabbing me from behind, wishing me a good-bye.  She put me through it as I searched and scrambled for words with her, and then she laughed because she knew the joke she'd played on me...she was not leaving yet.  She actually rode the bus.  She just wanted to see what I'd do when I thought the good-bye was imminent.

The van pulled away with the first few kids, and we were surrounded by a sea of children as our team gathered with them.  We were taking photos endlessly and chattering with them.  Rich -- or "Mr. Rich-man" -- was pulled into one last "sass-off," otherwise known as a clapping game with three of the girls. 

We had seen a couple of passing showers during our visit, but had not really experienced the rainy season as I had expected.  But this morning, the moisture was thick in the air with a coming storm.  And the result was a sweltering and sticky heat.  I thought about how the heat and the good-byes were equally insufferable.  While saying good-bye was too much, I was eager to get it over with, like ripping off a band-aid to avoid prolonging the pain of it.

There was Shauna*, the oldest girl, stubbornly announcing that she wouldn't remember us at all.  Because teams come and go all the time.  But we saw it for what it was.  Her bravado.  Her armor and defensive coping skill.  We all said that we would never forget her or any of them, even if they forgot us.  It must have been what she hoped to hear, because she suddenly grabbed her composition book for school and said, "If you all sign my book, then maybe I won't forget you!"

Other kids followed suit, and we found ourselves signing book after book, adding little hearts and hug and kisses signs.  And then, one girl asked us to sign AND write out our favorite verse or song lyrics.  One-upping each other with the best book signatures.  

Anna*, a melancholy little girl, had been intially very happy and affectionate that morning.  But the book signing, a sign of good-byes, pushed her away.  She went and sat with her back to us, refusing to speak to us.  And I was reminded once again of the depths of pain that these kids tend to cover.  

Of all the days to be late, the bus was running about twenty minutes late that day.  So we continued to take pictures, all of our team members desperate to capture every child in a photo.  We laughed and hugged and worked hard to keep it all light.  I think our entire team was trying to soak in these last minutes without adding too much weight to it, for all of our sake.  

Because we cannot post their faces on social media, I had determined I wanted to take this picture before I left Hopewell.

Because I was felt so desperate to share these kids with you.  To be sure that I commemorated and honored these incredible kids in every public venue possible.

Another team member came up with this photo.

That's Shauna with Joana.  They are standing at the entrance to Hopewell. An American mama and a Belizean beauty whose mother can't care for her.  Joined together.  Because that is what these few days in Belize did.  It brought us all together.  Regardless of age or race or socioeconomic class or any other difference.  Hopewell became our common ground.  Where our hearts were knit together.  

When the bus finally rumbled up the gravel road, my stomach churned.  I kept mentally repeating my promise to not cry in front of the kids.  I could not open the flood gates.  

There were last minute hugs and smiles and promises to never forget them and to pray for them.  I was careful to not promise to come back.  Although I have every intention of doing so.  I wanted to be careful to only promise what I was confident I could do for them.  So, I promised to write them and to pray as they walked across the road and climbed up on the bus.  

As the bus pulled away, they were all hanging out the windows, waving frantically as we waved just as frantically back to them.  Until the bus and the children were no longer in sight. 

I bee lined for my bunk room so I could have a moment to cry.  But, I was careful to not give into it completely, lest it overwhelm me.

Over a quick breakfast and team meeting, a team name was announced.  Someone had come up with the name Team Mullet.  Because we were all business in the front and all party in the back.  There could not have been a more fitting name.  We were, as a team, all about getting our business done.  Accomplishing our goals.  Working through our homesickness or discomfort.  Pressing on for the sake of these kids.  Because I think they were always our motivation, and that only intensified once we got to know them.  And indeed, party in the back.  Because we had, as a team of nine people from four states, mostly strangers, formed bonds through laughter and making fun memories.

As we loaded into the van to make the drive back to the airport in Belize City, the skies opened up and a downpour came.  We joked that even the country of Belize was crying about our departure.  

The dreary skies and constant rain reflected my mood.  I was homeward bound.  Praying for wisdom about how to reconcile all my emotions.  How to tackle the re-entry and the next steps.  How to do these kids and this experience justice in relaying its significance.  How to steward this experience well as I moved forward.  

After lunch and waiting with some of the team at the airport, I thought the weight of the emotions had passed and my resolve had kicked in.  So I was surprised to feel intense tears and sadness as I boarded the plane to Miami, along with two of my teammates.  I realized that I felt a finality.  I really was leaving these kids.  Leaving a bit of my heart with them.  The weight of these emotions felt palpable throughout my journey home.  

The only other time that I can recall feeling anything similar to that was when my dad died.  And I went to run errands to make funeral preparations and felt a sense of injustice.  How could the world just go on about their day and not recognize the significance of the moment?  

I sat in the Miami airport on my layover and texted my husband about how overwhelmed I felt.  He sent me an email with an article about coming home after a short term mission trip.  

What a relief to normalize this strange and new experience.  To hear the advice to retreat and reflect initially, and then debrief.  And by debrief, the article advised, to be careful to recognize that when people ask about your trip, they generally want a quick answer.  Not everyone wants all the details that you might be eager to relive. So, be mindful to answer questions and not unload it all on every person that asks.

So, hey--thanks bloggy friends, for letting me completely debrief here!  It's been cathartic beyond words to process it all.  And prayerfully, I have hoped that my posts have had something in them for you, too.

When at long last I got on my last flight, the tears came again.  This was the last step.  I was leaving something behind.  Someones.  So I prayed for them each by name.  For specific things for each child and adult at Hopewell.  From Miss Eleanor, the housekeeper, who lives up the river and daily takes her canoe to get to her bike, which she uses to get to Hopewell.  To the youngest child of the house parents, their one-year-old daughter.  And everyone in between.  I prayed for myself.  That I would be changed and marked and never forget.  That it would somehow all stay fresh and shift and mold me.  That I'd know the next steps.  That I'd know how to re-enter my life and to move forward, integrating the lessons I'd learned by the experience I'd been so privileged to enjoy.

The children.  The ponds.  The jungle.  The animals.  The tasks.  The adventures. The people.

Belize.  So far from home.  A world away.  Yet a place where I am forever connected.  

So I climbed into my own bed in the early morning hours, after a long day of travel.  I knew I had gained far more than I had given, as I drifted to sleep, once again praying for every single blessed Belizean I had come to know.   

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

There's Wifi at the Mayan Ruins (Chronicles of Belizean Adventures)

Our last full day in Belize.  That Tuesday morning, I greeted some of the children as they made their way to the bus stop for school.  And I could hardly believe it was the last full day there.  

Apparently, our team is made up of complete rock stars because we had managed to accomplish the entire project list for our trip, plus some bonus projects:

Construction on fish shack where tilapia will be processed.  CHECK.

New fish pond cleared of brush.  CHECK.

100 pounds of tilapia harvested.  CHECK.

Respite for house parents by caring for kids.  CHECK.

Broken thatched roof on one building, nearly all pulled down.  CHECK.

Bonus projects:  Two new gates built because cows had escaped.  CHECK.

Barbed wire fence repaired where escaping cow got caught.  CHECK.

All escapees (cows and a horse) returned to Hopewell.  CHECK.

In our first four days at Hopewell, we had managed to see howler monkeys, cows, pigs, horses, geese (very mean geese who chase you down...I made the oldest girl Shauna* always stand between me and them, which made her laugh every time), chickens, more mosquitoes than we ever hope to see again, tilapia and more tilapia, and even a rather large tarantula right outside the bunk house.

Listen, while my phone caught this photo, I was otherwise occupied and have no regrets about not witnessing this spider first hand.  And I'm no expert on spiders, but the girls at Hopewell were able to identify it as a "red booty tarantula."  I'm sure they are accurate in their assessment.  For the record, the oldest boy at Hopewell, Nathan*, showed his fearlessness by stomping on this spider in his sandaled feet, thus saving all Americans from sure death.

And so our adventures at Hopewell had been rather full of tasks and projects and fun with the kids that had included school projects, home work, legos, the Lego Movie, a bible study, more legos, some yummy meals together, singing, dancing, a glow stick dance party, crafts, more legos, and sass-offs to end all sass-off because "Mr. Rich-man" beat those girls like he'd been sassing off all his life.  We have video to prove it, but it has yet to be released in order to protect the innocent.

It was thus time for us to venture away from Hopewell.  We had originally planned to take a half-day to sight see, but due to our awesomeness and productivity, we had nearly the whole day.  

Off we went.  Piled into this van.

And driving on roads like this.

Let me offer a side note here on this road.  THIS stretch of road was actually some of the smoothest road on a rarely paved section on the way TO the Mayan Ruins.  However, whilst we traipsed about the ruins, this was happening to the road.  And so, our return trip included this sight--the road being literally torn up as we traveled along.

I think it's fair to say that we were all looking forward to a day to explore and see the area.  We'd all agreed to spend our time going to the "near by" Mayan Ruins (it's all relative) and perhaps a stop at the baboon sanctuary if time allowed.  Because our other main priority for the day was to visit the Prison Gift Shop.  We'd been talking about since we saw it on our way to Hopewell that first day.

And of course, Jonathan, the house dad, knew the warden of the prison.  Have I already mentioned that Jonathan knows everyone and has a story about everything in Belize?  So apparently, this new warden has brought self-sustaining farms to the prison and other such improvements.  And according to Jonathan, people are actually committing petty crimes to get INTO prison because the conditions are reportedly that good.  

Thus the legend of the Prison Gift Shop grew in our minds.  Could we score t-shirts that might read, "I Went to the Belizean Prison...Just visiting?"  Or maybe hats or key chains?  What souvenirs might we score for our children there?  

So our day of sight seeing would thus include the Mayan Ruins and the Prison Gift Shop.  I have to admit that I thought I'd feel a huge relief on this last full day.  A bit of "I did it!  Now, I can go home."  Just 72 hours previously, I thought being home sick was quite reasonable and I just honestly didn't understand when our team leader said that Belize felt like a second home to her.

Really?  The heat and humidity and bugs?  And how rural it is?  A second home?  It all felt so foreign.  I mean, how does one live so far apart from others and from resources?  How, for the love, does one survive without a nearby Starbucks or Target?  I didn't get it.

But, as we passed the lush green jungle and the small square houses, spread quite far apart, I somehow felt right at home.  I cannot even begin to explain what happened during those 72 hours because I honestly don't know myself.  I just know that once I slowed myself down and prayerfully began to seek to embrace the experience, asking God to help me not just get through it but to enjoy it, something changed.  My perspective changed.  Instead of seeing my life as superior, I began to simply see it as different.  I began to see the beauty and allure of the slower pace of life in Belize.  The simplicity there.  The hard work and resiliency in the people.  Freed from the trappings of city life and keeping up with the Joneses and an "entertain me" mentality and the pressure of social media distractions.

There is a strength here that we wimpy Americans lack.  There's a quiet strength and a wisdom in these people.  There's a freedom -- an appreciation for life -- that we are too self-absorbed to gain.  I realized all of this as we drove along.  I realized that I get it.  I get a love for this place.  A joy and contentment in the people that spoiled, entitled, obsessive, distracted Americans lack.  Myself included. 

But I can do without the crazy Belizean roads.

So there I was, lost in thought about the culture and the people and all that I had gained in the last few days.  About how the lightness I thought I'd feel at the end of the trip had turned into a heaviness about how to leave. 

And I was ready to see some ancient Mayan Ruins and be amazed at the primitive culture it represented. 

But I saw this sign when we pulled up.

And I did totally LOL.

Perhaps I do oversimplify and romanticize my impressions of Belize.  There were, after all, a fair share of dish satellites attached to the small, simple houses we'd seen.

After my "yes" day the day before, I felt empowered somehow.  A sense of new freedom and potential.  A sense that I can do things I never thought I could do.  I was beginning to ponder what I am still considering--what might come next for me?  What might this trip be a stepping stone to for the future?

So I climbed to the top of the tallest ruin, ignoring my fear of heights.  I stood at the top and took in the view that I would have otherwise missed.

There I was, a world away from my usual task lists and car pools and the trappings of the tyranny of the urgent that cloud my perspective.  I thought of my family and my life back home.  And I whispered a prayer that I would never forget to push back fears and take the climb to enjoy the view.

That I would not miss such opportunities.

Having conquered the Mayan Ruins, we were off to the Prison Gift Shop.  Once we arrived, we parked next to a car full of men who took a good long stare at us.  I felt a moment of anxiety, wondering about what I was doing stepping into a prison gift shop, but then I remembered.  I'm here to see it all and do it all and take every opportunity.  

So we entered through the fence with barbed wire, passing the Visitor Processing Entrance, complete with elaborately carved wooden doors.  Tucked just to the left of it was the gift shop.  The shop was manned by a very polite young man in an orange shirt and shorts with his number stenciled on the front.  The items, we were told, were all made by the inmates.  Listen, I don't know if that was true--just like I had no idea if the items I purchased at the little market by the ruins were all made by THOSE shop keepers.  

But I loved the idea of it.  These beautifully carved doors like I'd just seen.  The paintings and other items.  All created by inmates whose worth and value can still shine through, despite their choices.

I just loved the idea of it all.  I wanted something for my house to remind me that all people have a creative beauty and worth.  Prison inmates or not.  So I chose two little heart shaped cheese plates that the store clerk so carefully wrapped up for me.  I use them for trivets on my kitchen table every night.  And I love to remember that Belize is simple yet complex.  Beautiful in its hidden treasures.  And people are people...whether sitting in prison or not.  We all have something to contribute.  

Our day of adventure brought us back to Hopewell, just as the kids arrived home from school.  I was tired and groggy from the bouncing car ride in the heat of the afternoon, but the end of our trip loomed ahead of me.  This was my last afternoon to help the kids with homework and spend time with them.  Time to pull it together and push on.  After all, these kids were quick to change out of school uniforms and into play clothes and then rush at us in the dining hall with their back packs to tackle their home work right away. 

I felt the clock ticking all afternoon and evening with a growing sense of dread.  How could I tell them goodbye?  How does one leave a place that they originally feared being and now cannot imagine leaving?  True, I was ready to see my husband and kids.  But I texted my husband this message:

"Parting will be very hard.  Packing tonight so I can get up and see kids off to school in the morning...don't know how to leave these kids...or come back from this experience."

It's still true.  I don't know how to shake the sadness I feel to be separated from the kids who stole my heart.  I'm not even sure how they stole my heart in such a quick time, but they did.  And I think of every one of them many times a day and say endless prayers for them. I don't want to come back and get "back to normal."  Because I want to be changed and different...I want to be impacted by this experience. 

And in this frame of mind, I found myself on bedtime duty with the girls this last night in Belize.  I negotiated a tiff between two girls and continually reminded them to stay on task.  Just like at home.  Except totally different.  Because again, I was reminded of the injustice that these kids have already survived.  

Perhaps sensing the finality of this last bed time, I was inundated with questions by the six girls once they finally climbed into bed.

--"You mean, EACH of your kids has their very own room?"

--"Your shirt says Team Willow...oh, your friends adopted a girl named Willow?  Did she live in an orphanage like us?"

--"How long have you been married?...nearly 20 years?...Even if I do find a husband, I'll end up separated and on government help."

--"What color is your house?  It must be white.  Tell me it's white!"

I sensed that they were indeed stalling their bed time, but also seeking connection.  And I was grieved by what I read between the lines of their questions.  Their pains and perspectives. Then, they asked me to recite every one of their names and the boys' names and everyone at Hopewell.  As if they hoped to sear them all into my memory.

How could I effectively communicate that I would never forget any of them?  How could I possibly express my appreciation and love for them?  My dreams for their future?  My hopes for their well being?  That I was leaving a part of my heart with them?  I felt I needed to keep it light and not add to the weight of this moment for these kids who have already said too many good-byes.

So I prayed a prayer over them all, asking that the Lord help every one of them see his great and powerful love for them.  Asking him to remind them every day of their great worth to him...that he loved them to death by sending his Son.

And then it was time to visit each of them, bending into their beds, as they each called me to them for a hug.

When I reached in to hug Keisha*, she whispered a quick and quiet, "I love you!"  And I whispered it right back to her.

Keisha. Fearless.  Mischievous. A smile to light the room.  In my journal, I have written impressions of each of the kids.  About her, I wrote: "fiesty, firecracker, fearless.  Gives the hardest stares and the hugest laughs and smiles.  Leader.  Survivor.  Strong and brave.  And expressive bundle of energy who can light up a room."

I saw it as no small gift that she, full of vigor and energy, should quietly and shyly whisper her feelings in such a way that she must say it quickly before she backed down.

I turned off the lights, uttered one more good night, and headed to the bunkhouse with a heaviness I still can't explain.  

Because I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was leaving more than a suitcase full of crafts and necessities with these kids.  

I did not know how to do this.  To leave this trip and re-enter a world that was my security when I left but now had a bit of unfamiliarity to me.  Because in these few short days in Belize, I had gained a perspective and an understanding that I seem only able to express in inadequate cliches.

It was a sleepless night for me.  As I tossed and turned and prayed for help and strength for the following day of good-byes.

And the only thing I knew for sure is that I would not cry in front of the kids. I would hold it together for them.    

*names of children changed to protect their identity

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

It's Like I Don't Even Know Myself (Chronicles of Belizean Adventures)

Monday, October 6, 2014.  It was a watershed day for me.  (No pun intended as you read more details).  A day so significant that I am still trying to sort it all out.  Yet, for all that I have yet to discern, I am completely confident that it was a day of great meaning and a point of reference from that day forward in my life.

First, I guess I should set the stage a bit.  In some desperate hope that I can accurately relay the significance of this day...I have to help put it in context.  I was a painfully shy child.  (Don't worry!  You won't be getting the ENTIRE life story).  From my perspective anyway, I was timid and held myself back tremendously, as a result of pretty tenacious bullying throughout elementary school due to a severe speech impediment.  I was slow to open up and terribly girly.  Okay, I was prissy.  My mom insisted on a boy haircut for me and my sister for many years, so I wouldn't be caught dead in anything less than a dress.  Lest my lisping-speech impediment-sorry-shy self ALSO be mistaken for a boy.  Growing up an Army brat, I had to refine my skills at making new friends, but I never felt I belonged. I think I still have a sense of guarding myself to some degree.

In other words, I held back as I wrestled with insecurity and I never liked to play in the mud.  I think I've mentioned on this blog a time or twenty that I lean toward OCD, as well?  Comfort zone is a big thing for me.  I play it safe.  Have never been accused of being a risk taker.

So when our team leader started our morning team meeting and devotion with a question that left that pit in my stomach where I knew I had to speak up...I was totally thinking, "Oh DARN!"  But as I mentioned in yesterday's post, I had ignored that prompting in church the day prior, so I knew I was stuck.  

I tried to summarize what I felt led to say.  But no can do.  I had to go all in and spill my whole story.  I have in the past been able to do so without crying.  But, no such luck on that day.  With 8 of my closest new friends, I laid it ALL out there.  My Beaver Clever church girl childhood as a goody-two-shoes and then my dad's death that left my entire life on shifting sand.  Then, finding that Jesus really was the Rock at rock bottom.  And the gracious gift of a new boyfriend, Chris Enright in the middle of all my ugly.  (Yes, husband to be). My whole faith journey and the latest crazy journey of the last two years.  As God has sought to unwind and unravel my empty and burdensome religion in exchange for staking all my hopes on a faith steeped in grace and firmly footed on His love.  I told my new friends about how coming to Belize was a step WAY OUT of my comfort zone.

So, there you have it.  To say that sharing my story was carthartic would be an understatement.  It was a burden lifted.  It was public declaration that I have chosen to believe that if God were small enough to understand than he wouldn't be big enough to worship.  And I will choose to worship and obey until my dying day.  Maybe not always without grumbling.  Perhaps with great fear and trepidation.  Stumbling and fumbling. But, I will not run from him.  I've learned instead to run to him.

I knew even as we broke for our day's tasks, wholly concentrated on projects that day since the kids were in school, that it was signficant.  To be that vulnerable.  To obey the prompting to share.  To go all in.  To say yes.  Yes, God.  I'm yours.  I'll go where you call.  I'll be available.  And I stepped away to hear my day's assignments feeling energized.  Free.  Light.

I think that Chris, our team leader, maybe saw an opportunity?  Or God prompted him to ask, anyway.  

Was I really going all in?  Did I mean it when I told the Lord I'd try to take the plunge of where he wanted me to go?  That I'd try to choose His power and strength over fear?  

"Hey, Heather," Chris called, "I need help in the pond.  Peto is clearing the brush for the pond that will be stocked next.  Can you help clear it out?"

Um.  Did I just say yes to God?  

For real?  Going into a dirty nasty fish pond?  

"You did say you'd work on saying yes," whispered a voice in my head.  Otherwise known as the Holy Spirit.  

Sorta hard to argue with that logic.
Off I went.  To grab my new red muck boots and to LITERALLY take the plunge.  Because Chris said something about the pond being chest high in some spots and some vague promise of no snakes.  

The team members at the fish shack construction site had a few comments to make.  About all the mosquitoes that were bound to be at the pond.  And how they couldn't really believe I was doing it.  
"This is me.  Convincing myself," I replied.

And so I did.  I tried to convince myself.  I can do hard things.  I can say yes.  I can get out of my comfort zone.  

I thought about how I'd walked the pond's perimeter the day before with three of the girls who live at Hopewell. How they bragged about swimming in the pond and how awesome it was.

I realized something then that I am still pondering now.

Knowing the Hopewell kids has made me brave.  Or braver, anyway.  Because they are so brave.  They have taken the hand that life has dealt them.  And they have pressed on.  They greet the hot, humid days in Belize, devoid of so many conveniences and comforts we enjoy, and they smile.  They march forward.  They find reasons to laugh.  They live in the day--in the present.  Not the past or the future.  They are content.  And joyful.  

So, if they can swim in the pond, then I can jump in to work there.

I can't be outdone by a teenager, after all.

You may look at that picture and think, "Big deal.  A girl in a pond."

But I look at that picture and it's powerful.  It carries great meaning to me.

Because I look at that picture and think, "It's like I don't even know myself."  How funny that God is trying to teach me to face fears and take risks and take a plunge.  And I'm thigh high in pond water. I got into that water--yes, chest high on the sides--and it was a moment of epiphany.  It was a moment of saying that I can't wait for the fear or anxiety or discomfort to pass before I do things. I do things and then the fear and anxiety and discomfort will pass.  And God will never lead me anywhere without him. Because he makes me stronger than I think I am.  He makes me braver than I imagine.

I won't be skydiving anytime soon, mind you.  But, I'm starting a journey.

I'm starting a journey of realizing how God sees me.  Of seeing the walls of old scars and wounds and deceits about myself begin to crack.  I'm praying they will keep crumbling.

Because I don't have to be defined by other's opinions.  I don't have to make choices based on emotion.  I can do things on the power of Christ alone.  I can get muddy and dirty and haul brush.  I can face a day of hard labor with dread and ask God to help me embrace it.

And he will.  About two minutes into this task, I realized the joke was on the rest of the team.  My time in that pond was the coolest I'd been all week, except for the sleeping hours when we had air conditioning.  Not a mosquito in sight.  And if there were snakes, I never saw one.  I'll choose to believe that there weren't any.  I wore my back brace--as you can see in that middle picture above--and this task also proved how far my back has come since my December surgery to repair a ruptured disc.

Seems God was showing me that he is healing more than my back.  He is healing my broken and distorted perspectives.  

Because he doesn't see me as a lisping timid prissy little girl.  He doesn't tolerate me or put up with me.  He doesn't endure me with a roll of his eyes.

No, he took me into that Belizean pond to prove and emphasize that he sees me like an athlete's parent at a big football game.  You know, those parents who wear their son's jersey with his number and a big button on their shirt with his photo.  And you know exactly who their child is because every person in the stands hears the parents cheering every time their son takes the field.  They scream and yell about their boy and what he accomplishes.

And I stood in that pond and I knew.  I knew my Heavenly Father is just like that.  He is wearing a big photo button with my picture, and he was elbowing the angels to say, "THAT is MY girl.  Will you just look at her?"

My word for 2014 is love.  I've spent this year dwelling on sitting at his feet and believing his love for me and praying it will spill over.

And he broke through some old junk to fill me with an assurance of his love when I chose to obey and say yes. I waded back and forth, hauling out brush and had an overwhelming sense of awe at what God was helping me do. 

Hauling out the brush in my heart.  Hauling out the disbelief that constrains me.  Hauling out the actions based on feelings and instead choosing to act on his power.

What more does he have? This is the question I'm still asking. 

That sense of euphoria carried me throughout the rest of the day. In fact, I still feel it when I think on this experience. I can honestly say that I enjoyed grabbing and sorting dozens of flopping slimy fish with my work gloves, as we harvested the first batch of tilapia for Hopewell.  As we were covered in the mud the fish flopped all over us. I laughed and smiled and drank it all in.

That evening passed quickly with the kids, eating dinner and playing games and doing a craft together.  And I felt different somehow.

At our evening team meeting, the leaders joked about it being my yes day.  Because I had said yes to whatever was asked.

Indeed.  October 6, 2014, was my yes day.  Because when I whispered a tenative yes, unsure and apprehensive, my Father shouted a YES, I'll help you.

Listen, I don't know what fish ponds taunt and intimidate you.  I don't know what wounds and past history still haunt you.  I don't know what deceits about yourself won't quit visiting you.

But, if I learned anything that day, I learned this.

When I am willing and weak, He is strong and able.

"For all the promises of God find their YES in Him, Christ Jesus.  That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory."  2 Corinthians 1:20