Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Something to Hold Onto & Something to Run Towards

As my time in South Africa was winding down, I was feeling less wanting to leave. I was afraid of coming home to a sense of “nothing.” I wanted to come home to “something.” Something of meaning to get me out of bed each day; something that builds into others and not just builds into me; something that doesn't feel like the same dreary circle month after month.

Sometimes seasons of nothing are needed. I needed to once again be stripped of everything I depended on to be reminded that only One is always dependable. But, it’s just a season and as our seasons change, so should we. I had gotten comfortable with nothing, when my Father is the God of everything. The wall of my Jericho didn't fall after the first few times around and like the spoiled child I am all too often, I plopped myself down and prided myself on defeat.

I specifically asked God to give me something sustaining to hold onto when I got home.

Later it was prayed over me that I wouldn't try to hold onto anything, but keep my hands open. I admit my heart got a little defensive. “Of course I’ll keep my hands open to you God… as long as you put something in them. I've learned how to let things go that you want to remove haven’t I?”  The problem wasn't in what I was asking, but the reason. The past (in this case what I’d lost) should never be a motive for a present or future blessing.

The following morning my new family prayed again before we said our final goodbyes. The words that stood out were that God would provide something to run towards. This time my heart replied, “Yes! Yes! That is what I am longing for.” I am ready to run (in a similar love/hate way I feel about real running) toward the best things - though the final destination is still being unraveled.  

This past weekend, I spent some time reflecting. There were places in my life I saw tremendous growth; amazed by the person I've become. I also recognized areas that are still a struggle. There were times I stepped out in faith and times I've let fear win. I doubt myself and then turn around and trip over my pride. I thought about old dreams I've buried and I’m finally starting to see new shoots emerging.

Somewhere in there, it hit me…

While the dreams hover on the horizon, God has also given me something to hold onto (with open hands of course) – each day’s gift. Like manna it falls fresh daily. Yesterday’s gift won’t be of any use today. Some days might be as simple as knowing He is for me.    

Whatever the route ahead brings, it will be hard and discouraging at times. I will need my friends and family to push me forward when I want to quit. There will also be times of celebration and great joy (maybe even dancing!) Jericho’s wall is going to fall. Time to claim some new land. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hard Days and Happy Meters

Six of us umlungus (white people) walked into the children’s ward of a state hospital in the afternoon. Four of us entered somewhat hesitantly as we had no framework of experience to know what to be prepared for. The other two, staff of Ten Thousand Homes, didn’t know yet how we would fare. Up the stairs past the drab colored walls that made it look even dirtier than it likely really was and through the door. The hall had the same dingy hue as if the light was somehow being pulled back outside instead of streaming in.

While the nurses and staff went about their work and a few children met my gaze with uncertain eyes, I ghosted my way past each room holding my breath as if my exhale might somehow disrupt the eerie quiet. At the end of the hall, a young girl sat in a chair. With a shy smile and a gentle touch, we found the doorway between our two worlds; no longer suffocated by the lonely ward, but breathing laughter and love. And other curious faces migrated over. 

Before arriving we learned that the hospital was designed to work on a sliding scale, but most of the families can’t afford to pay and therefore most of the patients receive free care. Visiting hours are short and strict, leaving some children alone for the duration of care as the parents are unable to take time off or get to the hospital during the day. In addition to visiting with the kids, it was equally important for us to encourage and appreciate the staff. Thankless jobs are often hard to do well. Since TTH has been visiting and thanking the staff, they have seen an improvement in the care provided.

 It was still emotionally taxing. In each moment, I focused on connecting, touching, loving, and praying over these small ones. The processing came later, and is still working from my heart out onto the page.

I stepped inside a room of boys. An external fixator and badly wounded leg was in juxtaposition of the smiling face looking back at me. He had a bunch of playing cards all over his bed. I remembered I knew the word for ‘king’ and picked up the card and said, “kosi.” A bigger smile. I gathered the cards (only about half a deck) and began to teach them the game of War. When the nurse came in to administer medication, I slipped out of her way. 

 A little thing in a crib, clutching a small stuffed elephant sat expressionless. Nothing engaged her. Nothing changed the indifference on her face. I picked the wounded bird up (it made no difference to her). Her gown, robe and bed were drenched in urine. My own shirt was getting damp, such a small inconvenience. Then a woman stood in the doorway and the little bird’s spirit came to life. Reaching out her arms to the woman, finally a smiling light in her eyes… “Mama!”

Two times burned with scalding water, another baby slept in bandages and charred skin. In yet another room, a young boy slept, body contorted in obvious pain. How does one pray? What words can one use other than a deep groan? In a quiet moment alone standing bed side, a collision of horrific love and beautiful sorrow threatened to overwhelm. I sank to my knees on the holy ground of the hospital floor.

A good party always attracts a crowd. By the time we left, us four umlungus had congregated in one room along with the children that could get out of bed. There was jumping and hand-clapping, Eskimo kisses and chipmunk noises. Best of all squeals of delight and laughter.

A hard day for my heart, but awed by love. Not understanding, yet knowing God is still good. We didn’t change the world that afternoon, but the value of every smile (ours included) is priceless. As we walked out the door, the hall behind us felt brighter with the light of just a bit of joy.

Some days came heavy, but others were lighthearted. Life balances both everywhere.

While I enjoyed our day in Krueger Park, the following day was even better. Brett and Wendy (staff at TTH and now precious friends) took Kevin and me out for the day to some of their favorite spots. The beauty of the relationships was just as spectacular as the views.

The day kicked off officially with breakfast at the infamous Harrie’s for pancakes. These are not your ordinary pancakes. We each ordered a ‘meal’ pancake (mine, sticky pork with peaches and spring onions) and a dessert one (dark chocolate mousse). I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted something so good.  When Kevin asked Wendy what her milk tart custard was, I naturally reached over and took a forkful off her plate for him to taste and smiling at her said, “It’s okay, we’re family.” Then I took another bite for myself.

We had become family, offering our real selves to each other, quirks and all. My heart felt safe, alive and at home. We weren’t a “team” being entertained, we belonged.

God’s Window looked out over a vast expanse all the way to Mozambique, so they say but I couldn’t see the welcome sign. In the rain forest, we pretended to be wild animals we didn’t see in Krueger and we cheered on the people huffing their way up the path. While Kevin and I practiced our bargaining skills to acquire souvenirs, Brett appreciated the classic cars and Wendy… well… A bus load of African woman was having a party in the parking lot. When Y-tjukutja started blasting from the bus, like a moth to a flame Wendy was drawn in. The white woman started busting loose right in their midst. They hooted and hollered, took photos and video, shook and gyrated right beside her. Like I said, a good party always attracts a crowd. Kevin and I watched in amazement and laughed our a**es off. 

We had just enough time to squeeze in one more waterfall. I had just enough time left to free fall over the edge of my own fears. Truth took it's brave dive. I spoke, she listened. The words fell and then disappeared into surrounding moments like ripples. There was nothing to mark the moment as significant, but I believe heaven was applauding for us both. The words continue to humble me, the transparency encourages me and the freedom inspires me.

I used to say that my happy meter was broken; it hardly ever went above 80%. It was hard to truly let go and embrace experiences instead of waiting for disappointment to follow. That has been changing. Headed back towards home as the African sun sank towards the horizon, my joy could not be contained. Surrounded by beauty both in landscape and company, my happy meter hit 100% and busted for good.

God had more. Perhaps 100% was a limit too low for such a great God.

I went to dinner with Kacy (another TTH staffer) anticipating conversation to be about singleness and love of children as our most obvious connection. I spared her my harder questions and simply asked her story. She shared the basics of her life journey like a well-rehearsed script. When asked to reciprocate, for a moment I felt my story wasn’t important enough to tell. My life came out in spits and starts it seemed. Little steps of faith soon became dares to take bigger leaps. Doesn't God know I'm afraid of heights? Dreams once again pressed against the dam of my heart to be loosed. I wasn’t sure I was making any sense, but the walls were down, left open from earlier in the day. Once again my ashes brought something and someone beautiful into my life. A silent barrier dissipated into a knowing that someone else understands. 

Basking in exquisite grace, we arrived back at base and the joy I felt was more than my body seemed able to contain. I think if I had tried, I would have been able to fly…

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Rebuilding Broken Hope

There is so much I could share about my time in South Africa. I am treasuring so many moments in my heart that it’s bursting in overwhelmed amazement and gratitude. In the brilliant words of Kevin, I can honestly say:

I am thankful for blessings disguised as hardships.

Recently my life felt like a desert journey. Day in and day out, trudging through barren wasteland looking for hope on the horizon. When I left for Romania last fall, I was anticipating something great to happen… that God was leading me there for something new. I went and came back, and nothing appeared to have changed. 

HOPE was disappointed and broken.
Photo Credit: Kevin Kollar
But God…

In Romania, I met a South African couple who recommended Ten Thousand Homes (TTH) ministry for Kevin and I to serve with. Are you catching this? God put South Africans in Romania, and sent me to Romania in order to send Kevin and I to South Africa, where God was waiting with eager anticipation to pour out His love on us and through us. 

HOPE was dawning on the horizon.

We had many opportunities to experience what TTH does to lay foundations of hope in the communities surrounding it. After school programs allow the children a chance to just play, get a meal and most importantly to be known and loved. Relationships are built with and between parents and volunteers breaking down the walls of independence and mistrust. 

Building a community of HOPE.

We saw the desert soul first hand when meeting a woman whose dream was for someone else to raise her children. Two of her babies were sick and appeared as if she had just been crying. The youngest, just shy of a year old was the size of 5 month old. After an emotionally hard home visit, with hurting heart Kacy said about her friend, “She’s so broken.” 

Holding onto HOPE for the weary.

I stood on a hillside by a waterfall and let the dry cracked ground of my own heart be watered. I sat across the table as transparency overcame acceptability. Sharing how my broken was being rebuilt, God gave me a front row seat to watch truth bring light to some dark corners in the lives of my beautiful new sisters.

Carrying HOPE to the kingdom.

I am so thankful that we serve a God who loves to rebuild the broken, whether in Mbonsweni or Michigan. Perhaps I am drawn to Africa, because they too are a people on a desert journey. Yet, oases of dreams are being discovered. Love is coming up out of the dry ground.

The beauty of hope is no more vibrant 
than when it blooms in barrenness.