Friday, December 23, 2011

When Christmas Becomes Something Else

Sitting at my desk on Wednesday morning, my cell phone rings. It's my dad calling. He's not one to usually call me, especially when I am at work, but he'd called a couple time in the last few weeks for little things. So I answered it non-chalantly.

Grandpa had a stroke this morning. I'm on my way up there now.

I get what few details my dad has and silently begin praying. Almost more for my grandma than my grandpa. Weren't my dad and I just talking about what would happen to the other once one was gone? Then I went on working for the day, waiting to hear further news.

Later that evening, I spoke with my dad again. Grandpa was doing fairly well. He couldn't speak other than "yep" and movement on his right side was very limited. Plans were being adjusted to take care of my grandparents. But those plans would mean I wouldn't see my dad for Christmas. My sister wasn't coming home anyway. So it looked like it was going to be just my mom and I this year.

The weight of not feeling a part of a family was weighing heavy. No one really seemed to understand that sometimes this is hard for me. I didn't want to be selfish about it, but it didn't change the disappointment.

But God...

He knows. He is the one who created us to be in families, as crazy as they can be at times.

My dad called today and asked if I would come up tomorrow to celebrate Christmas and my sister would come down. We would surprise my grandparents for a short visit, as I need to be back on Christmas day to see my mom. It would be hard to be with my grandma and all the emotions she is going through and seeing my grandpa in a hospital bed - but they would be surrounded by family. They would know they are still loved and not forgotten about just because they are old(er). That's what Christmas is supposed to be about. Gifts and trees and cookies aren't what is important - LOVE IS!


My dad called again. They may be releasing my grandpa from the hospital tomorrow. It has already been decided that he will enter a rehab center downhere so the whole family can be close by for him and my grandma.

So, I don't know yet whether I will be driving up north in the morning or waiting for them to come down here. Either way - Life is here and it travels with Hope and Love.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Being in the Christmas Story

Last night I attended The Story concert. (A brief background if you haven't heard of The Story yet. Max Lucado and Randy Fraize wrote a book. Nicole Nordeman wrote songs for the bible characters highlighted. And many amazing artists lent their voice to each song. I highly recommend this CD. It's one of my favorites of the whole year.)

So then.... last night I was sitting there, transported to another world by the music and multimedia artistry, watching the greatest story unfold once again before me.

My heart found rest in the simplicity amidst the enormity of the story.

Isn't Christmas really that simple. God loved. God sent. God saved. Did we think we could make it better by complicating it?

A few years ago I attended a Christmas Eve service. Typically, these end with a room full of beautiful candlelight and the softly sung Silent Night. It's a skin-tingling, heart filling experience each and every time and one of my favorite things about church at Christmas. But this particular service ended differently. The stage was set with the stable and empty manger. The songs were sung and the message of our gifts had been delivered. The moment came when the Savior, baby yet king, was placed in the manger.

While over 2000 years ago it was smelly shepherds and the wealthy wise who came, aren't we who still seek Him, also wandering shepherds and star gazing dreamers?

Then, just as they were that night and ever since, the invitation came to come to the place where He lay and kneel before him to lay our gifts at His feet. We are invited right into the Christmas story. I slowly walked up to the stage and found myself there on my knees, tears of joy filling my eyes. There was nothing special about the church or the props - but Jesus is special. Stripping away everything except worshiping Him is the peace and joy of Christmas. Feel the weightless wonder of that moment entering history. The rest gets left behind.

Leave the complicated. Leave even the candles and the carols. Come see the baby lying in a manger.

 You are a part of the story.
It is that simple.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Completely Random

I don't really have anything profound to write about tonight, but felt like writing something. So here we go...

I used to love Christmas. I loved finding perfect gifts for those I love (and trying to not go bankrupt in the process). I would do a little decorating and sitting at night with just the colored tree lights would bring a sense of awe and calm. I loved wrapping gifts while favorite Christmas tunes played. It all added to my proverbial Christmas spirit. Lately it's been harder to find that. The family gift giving has become routine - get small lists from family and proceed to get exactly what is on the list with maybe just one small surprise element. It's not a totally bad setup, I do get the shopping done much quicker, but it takes some of the joy and surprise out of it for me. And without my sister home, Christmas is a bit boring. But still, I put up the tree this year and did the shopping (most of it anyway). Tonight I plugged in the tree, had a holiday concert on the TV while I cooked dinner and somehow that spirit found it's way in. Boy am I glad because I really would hate to miss Christmas.

I got to meet my dad's new girlfriend this morning. (How come we don't have a word like womanfriend? It just sounds so much more adultish.) She was very nice and interested in the trip to Ghana. Usually, my dad and I are there about an hour. The first 15-20 minutes we eat and then we chat for a bit. This morning we were there an hour and a half and I still only managed to eat half my breakfast because I was talking so much.

At one point I was rambling on about how I try to be careful with my money, especially in light of what I have experienced overseas. I said, "Do I really need to spend $70 on a pair of jeans or will a pair from the Salvation Army do just fine?" She akwardly chuckled and said, "I think I would have a different answer than you about that... I justify my spending by telling myself I am helping people have a job." To which I responded, "I am helping the people at the Salvation Army keep their jobs too." This brief exchange challenged me a little. For a brief moment, I judged her and her $70 plus jeans and red leather jacket without knowing anything else. She may have other ways in which she strives to make her difference in the world. Perhaps others may look at me and make similar judgements based solely on what they see and their perspective.

It was a good reminder to be a little more mindful that we all are in different places with different perspectives and I'm simply to love them.

Choosing to see (some more):
This past week I have been doing some pretty intense self-examination. Whenever you hold God's mirror up, it can be a little hard to open your eyes and look. It's easier to convince myself to not look because I might not like what I see and changing might not be what I really want. What do we choose when what our hearts want isn't what God wants for our hearts?  Obviously the right answer should be to choose God, but what about if we don't, or didn't? Getting back on God's path is always available, but we might have to hobble along with a limp for a bit until we heal. The narrow way is very narrow at times and squeezing through the really tight spots tends to scrape off a bit more of the world. The good news is that when we open our eyes and look, even if we aren't perfect yet, He is always looking back with eyes of love.

Once Upon a Time:
I love this show. I never watched Lost (maybe 1 episode) but I am hooked on this. Unlike Lost in which there were no boundaries for what could or couldn't happen, whether it was real or imagined, the writers here are bound by the fairytales themselves and yet have creatively reimagined some of the story details as to create a compelling retelling. With the characters trapped in the real world, there are hidden clues and hints in each episode and much still unknown about who and what and why and when that it's like being told a story and trying to figure out a puzzle at the same time. Exactly my kind of show. I will admit that I often get so caught up in the story I forget to pay attention to the details and often rely on what other people saw to clue me in and then I go back and watch the episode again.

Last Thoughts:
I've discovered more and more over the last couple months just how important quiet alone time is for me. Unfortunately, with my 10 hour a day customer service job and several hours of my evenings spent on the phone or computer I am finding it hard to make that time for myself and not feel bad about it when I do. Today, other than breakfast I had the day to myself and it felt restorative.

Hope that the joy of baby Jesus and the Christmas spirit abounds in your heart this December and into the new year.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Quiet Reflections

After returning to work and all the intense processing of last week, I am trying to take some moments for quiet reflection. I want these lessons and images to soak deeply into my heart, not just a quick rain that runs off on a hard surface.

Yesterday, I put up my Christmas tree and nativity. With each ornament I remember who it came from, where I bought it, or what event in my lifetime it signified. Each one means I am loved and have had so many opportunites. But what if each ornament, each light, each branch represented someone who hasn't been loved or doesn't have any opportunity? What if they were welcomed into my home this holiday season? Would Christmas be different?

The baby Jesus I see now in the manager came for them too.

Lord, let me love like you love.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ghana: Back in Accra

Upon returning to Accra we were thankful to once again have running water. Ahhh… showers. We had gotten used to falling asleep with only a fan so we didn’t even use the AC even though it was available. We missed our new family at the Village of Life, but also excited to meet the kids at Teschie House who have also been rescued off the lake. 

We arrived at Teschie just before the kids got home from school. We were able to help sort and put away the gifts we brought before they arrived. As the groups of kids came home, they came and greeted us, shaking our hands or hugging us before heading off to change out of their school uniforms. Once all the kids were there it was announced that we had brought new books for them. Wild celebration erupted as the kids grabbed books to look at or brought to us to read to them. After the new books were poured over they brought us others that were already on the shelf.  One boy brought me a Pokemon paperback(not a book we brought) and asked me what it was. How does a person explain what pokemon are? “They are pocket monsters.” “Pocket monsters?” He stared at me like I had not made any sense. I settled for “made up animals.” When he took the book to JD outside, she read the whole thing to him. By the end, he was asleep on her lap. 

Once the excitement of the books wore off, the Legos came out. A huge bucket of them dumped on the floor. One sweet girl began a ‘Lego store’ at my feet. She would take a handful of carefully selected blocks from the pile and bring them over to me where she proceeded to sort them into piles of like-shaped pieces. This was done meticulously, with the piles being adjusted each time a block was added. As the group of kids became more dispersed some of the boys began to take from the ‘Lego store’ while the little girl was away. Upon her return, she attempted to reclaim and reorganize her stash, but the boys would not leave. This smiley, bubbly little one simply shut down. She folded herself in half, tear-stained face to the floor. I reached down and tried to coax her up into my lap. She wasn’t going to budge. I garnered my strength and lifted her up in that folded position. When she sat up, wiped her tears. I told her I saw what the boys had done and it wasn’t nice of them. I tried to distract her by offering to see her bed and then tickled her. I wondered if things like that bring back memories of life on the islands – where anything that is yours could be taken away in a moment’s notice. 

One particular boy seemed to latch on to me. He had a smile that lights up and eyes full of expectancy. After we had left for the day, I learned that he in particular was often picked on by the other kids for being a bit slower. When we returned to Teschie House again, he took great pride in carrying my camera bag for me and making sure it was protected. He had gotten a pair of sunglasses from somewhere and was hamming it up a bit wearing them. Some of the girls had removed my bandana to play with my hair, so I tied it on his head and told him he was a biker guy. Then I watched that boy literally strut around showing everybody how cool he was. The picked on one stood a little taller that day. 


In our final days we took a little time for ourselves. One afternoon we went to the beach. Joshua made a friend and the two of them jumped in the waves while vendors showed us their artwork. I sat down on the sand and pulled out my guitar for an impromptu worship session. Joseph, a friend of our hosts for the day and worship leader at his church sat down to join me in singing. After finishing Here I Am to Worship, he requested we do that one again because he really liked it. Amazingly, the vendors stayed and listened. They told me how much they really liked it. Sitting on the beach in Africa, singing beautiful harmonies and playing guitar sent my happy meter well over 100.  We followed that up with lunch at a local hotspot – Papaye’s for lemon garlic chicken like I’ve never experienced before. Mmmmm...

Another day we ventured out for some souvenirs. As someone who is not big on bargaining and pressured buying, this wasn’t my favorite experience. There were a few vendors who really stood out and they are the ones we most wanted to bless with our business. I did manage to find a few things for friends and family. It wasn’t until we returned in search of a missing baby Jesus for a nativity set that JD had purchased that I found something unique that summed up the experience for me. 

Our final day, we fittingly started the day at church with friends and fellowship with them after at their house. And then after a farewell dinner with George Sr. and friends we headed to the airport 4 hours before our flight. And we needed most of those 4 hours. First think mosh pit and then a maze where every time you think you finally found the way out you realize you are just at the beginning of another one. Finally, we boarded the plane and easily fell asleep. 

For more photos go here.
Start here to read JD’s account of the trip which includes our shopping adventures.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ghana: Getting in the Boat

When we left the island on Saturday, we were hopeful that when we returned on Monday one of the masters would be true to his word and release two of the children we had met. It is not uncommon to return for the children to find they have "disappeared" and been relocated to a different island.

The boat floated towards the shore where we had arranged to pick up the boy and girl. A man and woman were working nets in a boat, but the children were not there. For a moment, we all wondered if our fears had come true and once again we would head back empty handed. Then, down the path we see the master and the children approaching. Inside the boat we waited. We who know that inside the boat is freedom and hope for a future. Outside the boat they waited… not knowing for sure that inside this boat was any different from any other.


They have known enslavement. Now they have been emancipated.

Treated as slaves. Now they are the saved. 

They did not choose but they have been chosen.

Haven’t I also been chosen by One who saves? Waiting, I wonder… how could I not see that my heart is enslaved? There places where I still stand outside the boat of freedom waiting. Could it be that those kids are freer than I am? Maybe today is emancipation day for me and them.

Meanwhile, information was provided by the master – names, ages, where the kids were from, how much he paid for them, parent’s names – as much as could be remembered.

Then he handed over one shopping bag containing all the possessions of both. It seemed like so little to call your own even for just 7 or 9 years.

 When you are about to start a new life, a better life, why would you want to bring along burdens from the past anyway? 

But we do. Often, we drag our slave chains into the boat of freedom with us and then wonder why the boat seems to be sinking. 

The young boy climbed into the boat, quiet but seemingly calm just the way he was the day we met him working. The girl was lifted up and placed in waiting arms, tears streaming down her face. Many of us have been saved because someone else was willing to lift us up as well. Was she scared? Overwhelmed? Relieved? When was the last time she was held and her tears wiped away?

Small successes in a sea of slavery, but the angels rejoice over just one saved and here were two rescued. Yet, we weren’t leaving without trying again to rescue the boy who stood out

The team went ashore, while I and another stayed behind on the boat with the children. While the others were once again touching and hugging as many kids as possible, I held onto her. I sang over her. I felt her body surrender to love and admit how weary it was.

Both of us, former slaves, quietly embracing salvation together. 

It seemed quite some time passed before the team returned. Despite the entourage of children following them, the boy was not with them. This day would not bring freedom to him. 

Leaving him hurt. Leaving him leaves a hole in me. Leaving him behind forces me to fight for freedom. His face my reminder that every child rescued is him. When the call comes that he has been lifted inside the boat, we the saved, will celebrate.  

Sometimes stories don’t have the ending we hoped for but the ending we need.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ghana: Choosing to See

On our 3rd day in Kete Krachi we awoke early to head out on the lake for our first glimpse of the reality of modern day slavery. I wasn’t sure what to expect or how to feel. On one hand there was a sense of anticipation; this is what we had come to see for ourselves. At the same time, a sense of heaviness was also present.

We boarded the boat and began our journey on Lake Volta.

We had traveled all this way, but yet we still had a choice to make. When we shared with locals what our mission was in Ghana the typical reply was, “There is no slavery in Ghana.” They now have a choice to make.

We could pull up alongside boat and after boat and choose to close our eyes and withhold out of fear, anger, insecurity or denial.


Choose to really look, reach out, and offer love where it is absent and learn how to best make a difference.

We pull up. A boy in yellow shorts who is afraid to talk with us. Afraid of what might happen after we leave. I choose to see. To look into his eyes. I see hopelessness.

We pull up. Another boy in pink fleece pants. His body is rigid and his eyes full of fright. He recoils when a hand reaches out to touch him. How many times has that hand reached out to hurt him that he no longer knows touch can be healing? We give him some candy. Hopefully he did not pay for our kindness.

We came ashore on an island just behind another boat as we watched the children run from the boat and hide. They said they thought we were the police. Mud huts with thatch roofs, corn fields and fish net colored the landscape.

Children outnumbered the adults we saw about 10 to 1. The common lie of the slave masters, “These are my children” held about as much water as the sieve-like-boats they worked in.

Many of the children wore tattered clothes or none at all.


We smiled at the kids. Touched and hugged and held as many as possible. Tried to make them laugh even knowing it was so very fleeting. We handed out new shorts and dresses, praying the masters would let them keep this one thing and not take it from them, returning them to the rags.

 Among a group of boys, one stood out. His skin was dirty, his eyes milky and vacant, and his hair turning color from malnutrition. Besides being clearly ill, it seemed as if he had relinquished his spirit.

To see that haunts you. Even if you choose to close your eyes from this point on, that look is seared to the back of your eyelids.

Justice and salvation doesn’t always happen in our timing and we had to move on, leaving him with a pair of shorts and our prayers for God’s protection. We moved on with the hope that there was still the possibility of rescuing other children who had been negotiated for over the last 6 months.

The boat ride back to Kete Krachi was quiet. We were weak from dehydration and lack of food - an infinitesimal connection to what these children endure daily. Who would dare complain? Yet we forget so fast when it’s no longer right in front of our eyes.

I felt sad. I felt pity. I felt guilty.

These children robbed of their innocence and joy were not just enslaved by men trying to survive by fishing but partly by me. By me… when I consume more than I need. By me… when I refuse to share my excess. By me… who lives in a land that tells the rest of the world they must do all they can to “get ahead” and “get more” for themselves.

But not anymore...

I chose to see.

I choose to change.

What is your choice?