Thursday, December 30, 2010

I have Mwangaza ("Shining Light") News!!

(Image from the Mwangaza website)

In my last post I spoke about the Ggaba Church in Kampala, Uganda. Their ministry, Africa Renewal Ministries, have some really awesome things going on--one of which is our babies home from where we will be adopting! :) One thing I mentioned was that they have a traveling Children's Choir and how I hoped to get to see them while on tour here in America. Well...

I am THRILLED to announce that this choir, the Mwangaza Children's Choir is coming HERE to our own Pettisville Missionary Church in Pettisville, Ohio!! Yay!!! On March 13, 2011 our congregation will have the honor of having the children sing and share their testimonies of God's faithfulness to them during our regular morning service!! The children's choir is made up of about 20 children who are 8-11 years old. Many of these children are orphans themselves, who will need to be sponsored so they can attend school. What an enormous blessing having them in our midst will be!

Have you been feeling God pull at your heart to get involved? The children will need host families from Saturday through Tuesday morning of that week in March. The director told me that host family availability goes quickly, so if you want to jump in on this you want to jump quick! Also, since they will be in the area, if you attend another nearby church and would like to schedule a mid week concert, let's talk! We want these children to spread their "light" (Mwangaza means shining light in Swahili) to all in Northwest Ohio!!

Hip hip hooray!!!!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A way to get involved--for you!

I'm home from church with another sick kiddo. I'm pretty tired of the flu, that's for sure! Next year I move that EVERYONE in this family gets a flu shot! As the snow falls out my window, I am moved to tears by a video I've just watched by Africa Renewal Ministries. They operate the orphanage in Uganda from which we will be adopting our children. They are run by a large church that is ministering to their community in ways that we Americans could learn a lot from: schools, medical clinic, orphanage, babies' home, and child sponsoring. They even have a traveling children's choir! And they are coming to the States in 2011!! I want to go see them! :)

I have received many wonderful comments regarding my thoughts that I've blogged. Thank you for making the effort to connect with me either here or on Facebook. I am so grateful to know that people are reading, listening and pondering along with me. I trust that you are wrestling with how to better obey Jesus too. Often I hear people say that they could not take the large steps that we are taking, adopting orphans into our family. And granted, it is indeed a mighty decision that will impact us forever! (We are convinced it will be a great thing for us!) But I wonder if this following video might help you come a step closer to a practical way you can make an important difference in these precious people's lives:

I was even thinking that if this is something you do decide to take part in...we will be going to Uganda for up to 6 weeks when we go to bring our children home...are you thinking what I am?? :) We might be able to meet your little person! What fun!! Or you could come with us! Even MORE fun!!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Camels, Raccoons and Shiny Things

Try as I might, I can't sleep. I can tell already that adoption, radical obedience and blogging are not going to be good for my sleep habits. So, I just decided to give in and get up and write.

Enough people have inquisitively asked me, "what is Christmas unshopping?" casually in conversation and so I instead of telling it all over again, I have been referring them to yesterday's post for the shortcut that it is for me. Plus, I may not do the story justice each time I have to tell it, so it really is better for them too. But I wonder, why do I not hear anything back from these people?

Maybe it's because they have busy lives and they haven't had a chance to read. Certainly that's the case in my world often enough. Maybe they wholeheartedly agree and were going to post and shout an "amen!" but their kid fell down the stairs and they had to rush off to the ER. Suddenly posting a comment on someone's blog would be a forgotten thing. But what tumbles over and again in my mind like a load of laundry in the dryer is, "What if it's because they're thinking, 'Wow, better you than me!!'???" What if they are thinking in their minds that what we have done is ludicrous or even sacrilegious or even evil to our children? Taking back their gifts?! Horrible! Why would parents impose their own convictions on their children's childhood like that?! Perhaps they are thinking that our Christmas unshopping is undermining family tradition and robbing our children of precious Christmas memories? Now not a soul has uttered these words to me, but I just wonder.

How married are we as Americans to our holiday traditions? Are we convinced that celebrating the birth of a Savior has to be done in a particular way? Maybe we'd quickly answer, "Oh, it can look very different from family to family." But do we really think that? Isn't it expected as you drive around at night time in December that each house will have lights up? That you can find a pretty tree glowing through a main window in each house? Afterall, this is how we Americans do things! But what in the world does it have to do with a baby born to impoverished teenagers in a stable? And why do we then surround the bottom of that tree with materialistic wealth when our counterparts on the other side of the planet are worn out from crying from hunger? The pain of a parent's heart bleeds as they wonder "will I be able to find a meal for my children today?" Is this the meaning of Christmas? If we had a tool that could look down into the situation of that mother and she could look back at us, what would she think? Would she wish us a Merry Christmas? What would she say when we pass the potatoes and ham around and toss away the leftovers we couldn't bear have one more bite without loosening up our belts a notch? Does this really make us happy? I fear the answer is no.

What do we ask our friends after Christmas has passed? Why we ask them, "How was your Christmas?" We don't mean, did you celebrate the birth of Christ in a meaningful way--did you find deep and abiding joy in your relationship with Him--were you moved to tears by the things that continue to be on that Savior's, we mean, "Did you have a fun day? Did you get to be surrounded by the people you love most? Was everyone healthy? Did you have fun watching your children open the gifts they wanted? Did you dine on rich foods till you nearly burst? Did you get some good relaxing in?" Just exactly what are we doing in America with Christmas???? I'm not really feeling good about it all.

I join my friend and fellow blogger in asking the question, what are we teaching our children when we give them a morning filled with opening material gifts that cater to their dreams and desires? I don't have an answer, but I join in her question. Our parents' generation did not question these things, they just went with tradition. But is it not time we step up and help our children grasp a WHOLE GOSPEL?

Yes, the book The Hole in Our Gospel is really gripping me. He tells what the whole gospel is...the good news of a Savior who has redeemed us for eternity...and it changes our lives HERE. We live DIFFERENTLY THAN THE WORLD because of our inheritance.

The statistics are out and they are very disconcerting to the church: some 80% (some reports are even higher!) of children leave the church never to come back after age 18. Wow. That's terrible. Seriously awful. As a former Christian Education Director I find this news appalling. What in the world is wrong? Youth group skits no longer out-entertain our high tech kids? No, it's much much deeper than that. I think there is a connection here. We are catering a selfish Christianity to these kids and they don't want it.  They want real, and you know, so do I. And I think God does too. A real faith is going to really impact my daily life, and the way Christianity has been lived out here in commonville America, well, it's not real different from the average non-faithing American. My life as a Christian should look totally weird and completely crazy to the watching unbeliever. But often, the only difference is a toned down vocabulary. Yikes.

What if these children were in families who were radically DOING what Jesus said in the Scriptures? Would they walk away from their faith if they spent their childhood living a selfless life, seeing the joy on the faces of people a world away for whom they had sacrificed their own comfort? Would they want to joyfully seek God's direction in their own lives if they experienced that deep abundant joy that Jesus told us He came to give us while they were still small?

Just this morning my girls and I were reading what Jesus said to the man with all the riches. The guy was young and he was interested in following Jesus. He knew there had to be more, but he didn't know what, so he asked Jesus! But as David Platt points out in his book, Radical, Jesus really did a pretty lousy job of getting Himself another follower! No instead of telling him, "Hey man! Great job on keeping all those commands! You're doing super! Keep up the good work!" Jesus tells him to go and sell all his possessions and give to the poor, then to come and follow Him. Now I love that in the in-between it says that "Jesus loved him." You see, Jesus said quite plainly, "I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly!" (John 10:10) It was our Savior's full plan that those who follow Him would give up rights to their life and pursue the Kingdom at their own skin's expense...but He was going to fill them with such joy and richness that they would live ABUNDANTLY in spite of it. That is not logical, it's Kingdom talk. We shouldn't understand that from an earthly perspective, we were never intended to. But this young rich guy stopped early. He wanted to follow Jesus, or at least he thought he did, but then he looked at his stuff and said, "No, it's too good. I can't possibly give it all up and follow him." The Bible even says the man went away sad! He didn't even get to be happy with his stuff! He went away sad! He chose a lose/lose. Heartbreaking for Jesus, I am sure.

Now I couldn't help interjecting a little lesson with my girls about the way to catch a raccoon. Do you know? They love shiny objects. They see something shiny and they want it. The will reach into (said container/trap) and grab that shiny object and be unable to draw their paw back out. The shiny thing is too big to fit with their paw back through the hole. Now if they were to drop the object of their affection, they could go free, but for the life of them, they will not let go. Do you see? Are we in love with our shiny objects? I think JR Tolkien got this concept and wrote about it in his Lord of the Rings trilogy!

Jesus tells his disciples who watch this whole exchange, "I tell you the truth, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven!" Wow. That's really is a great hyperbole, Jesus: a camel through a needle's eye! But it hyperbole? How many Americans are giving away all their stuff and moving into a small rented space among the poor in a below-par school district? How many people do you know are trying to downsize their vehicles and drive something smaller...not just to save on gas or to help keep the earth green? How many people are seeking out the widows and spending time with them? I know I'm not.

That's where the noise comes in. The texts. The news. The television shows. Tunes! Running our busy lives keeps us safely unable to listen to these verses and ponder what they might really mean if we let them just linger and dwell upon our hearts. Who in the world wants to give away their comfort? Well, I for one surely don't! I think each night as I settle into my special family-made down feather pillow, "ohhhh, Lord, I know my comfort isn't your goal, but I sure do love it!" I remember years ago my mother in law telling me, "Amy, God is not concerned about your comfort." I hated hearing that. But she was right. But what if there is more than just my comfort at stake here?

My comprehension of the gospel is that eternity begins now. We are rescued from sin to have eternal life with the God of the Universe. (That's totally incredible. I doubt I will ever get over that.) Eternity begins now and John 17:3 says so, "And this is the real and eternal life: that they know you, the one and only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You sent." (emphasis mine) So I can have that thrill and joy now, here in this earthly body, still struggling at present with sin among a fallen world. I am to die to myself (see the tab above about "grain of wheat" where God made this pretty personal for me!) and live to serve others and help them know and obey Jesus too. (Matthew 28:18-20) Then, my reward in heaven is going to far surpass anything this world could ever hold. The most luxurious of lives will look like poverty when we are in heaven! So why not give up my comfort now for the comfort I'm going to get later? We are even commanded to keep our eyes on things above, not on earthly things in Colossians 3! (I can see in my mind the people further down the road than I in this journey, smiling and saying, yes! So easy to say, so hard to do...but so worth it!)

My life is unraveling. I love it. I have no idea where it's taking us, or what lies around the next bend. It's scary and completely invigorating all at the same time. I mentioned to my parents as we discussed our adoption of two orphans from Uganda, "What if they are twins and they have a younger sister?" My dad's response was, "Amy, you're not running an orphanage!" And I smiled, "No, not yet!"

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas UNshopping!

Yippie!!! We have done something that will impact us mildly this Christmas and impact certain people on our planet MAJORLY over the next twenty years. That's a pretty lofty thing to claim, so let me unpack it for you.

Brian and I did all of our Christmas shopping for our family back in October. We were feeling mighty fine about that!! DONE! Smiling over a cups of hot coffee at Panera we felt so happy that we had made all our Christmas purchases in one morning and stuck fairly close to something I can loosely refer to as a "budget." And the kicker? The kids will LOVE this big gift and all the trimmings--for sure!

Enter a few chapters from The Hole in Our Gospel sprinkled in with a few podcasts by Erwin MacManus and another chapter or two from a book called Radical. The undoing of our lives had long ago begun, but it was about to unravel a bit more.

I would like to say that we decided to go Christmas unshopping because God had just moved our hearts and we obeyed, but that wouldn't be the whole story, and I feel pretty certain it should be told accurately. We became painfully aware that we really didn't have money for these gifts that we so jubilantly tucked away in their hiding place. Several times over the next weeks Brian suggested we simply take the whole kit and kaboodle back. I wasn't married to the idea of giving it to the kids, but certainly did NOT feel like starting all over again! What would we give the kids in its place??? Brian boldly suggested nothing in it's place. "WHAT!?! We can't do that to our kids!! They wait all year for Christmas!" He suggested maybe we take Christmas morning and serve someplace so we are busy rather than feeling the loss of presents. A good idea that I really liked. We prayed and God indeed did provide the $ to cover the gifts. We had them paid off by the time the credit card bill came due. Hooray! Keep the gifts! But the idea of serving on Christmas morning really appealed to me.

Well, because of this discussion, we realized that perhaps we could go and serve somewhere on Christmas morning and then give our children these gifts in the afternoon (God had provided, after all!) We began to look for places to serve. It wasn't looking good. The kids have to be 14 to serve in a soup kitchen, men are not allowed in the battered women's shelter, the elderly in the nursing home do not wake up early on Christmas (or any) morning and wouldn't be available for a Shaw production until the afternoon. Something wasn't quite right.

I am so blessed to know some really amazing sisters in Christ, one of whom has gone before me in international adoption and is blazing trails left and right. She had just blogged about her own family giving up their Christmas tree and giving the money to purchase a flock of ducks for a needy African family. You can read her inspirational blog post here. That in the back of my mind, I went to pick up my children from the bus stop. We got into a discussion about body fat. "Some people are fat because they eat more food than their bodies need at the time, so their body simply stores it for later. The problem is that when "later" comes they have plenty to eat and so they do. More and more gets stored on their bodies and they become fat." (You didn't expect a Beachbody coach mom to not teach her children this did you?!) "Compare that, " I continued, "with a person living in Africa who only manages to eat one meal a day. Their body, if they had stored extra food for later would have used it up when no food was eaten. They are not fat. In fact, their body is so hungry that it eats away at the muscle and they become very malnourished." From that comment I kid you not, my 10 year old says, "You know what would be great? If people had chickens! They could eat the eggs and also grow some up to be meat chickens!" And *BLING!* an idea suddenly sparked in my mind! I immediately asked them, "Okay, what if we had a dramatically smaller Christmas this year and we gave chickens to families in Africa who really needed them?" I had not even gotten the question out of my mouth before my 8 year old piped up an enthusiastic, "Oh YES!!!" Then two more enthusiastic affirmations followed. (Darrah Kate remains wordless at this point!)

I spoke with Brian on the phone once we got back to the house, "The kids are willingly choosing to have a small Christmas so we can bless people on the other side of the planet!" He too was thrilled. We made plans and the next morning I drove the 45 minutes to the back to the store and returned all but a $20 gift that we'll give to all the kids together. I was Christmas unshopping and it felt SO GOOD!!! We decided later that night to give to a group called Charity:water that is bringing clean water to people who are literally dying for lack of it. Our donation is going to give people clean water for TWENTY YEARS!!! WOW! How is that for an excellent trade? :)

{I am inserting a paragraph to illuminate why we chose to go the water route rather than the chicken route as a family. Feel free to skip over this if you don't need to know every detail!} Incidentally, I came down with the flu while I was out returning the gifts. After I was home, I was lying on the bathroom floor between heaves and thinking, "If I lived in Africa as an impoverished person, I would have no clean toilet, no clean floor and I would feel like this often without much hope for getting better." Later as I thirst for water while I was in bed and some family member graciously delivered to me a whole Nalgene full of clear, filtered water I thought, "Now what if the only thing to slake my thirst while I was this sick was contaminated, dirty water? I would have very little hope of getting well." It was like a very practical, personal wake up call to the need for clean water around the world. This pushed our decision to give to a non-profit to build wells in places that desperately need access to clean, unadulterated water.

Jensi (our 10 year old) has decided to take on the chicken giving project on her own. I'll probably come back and write more about her venture later. We also are still planning to do something on Christmas morning, even if we simply wait until the elderly wake up to bring them some kid-hearted Christmas cheer. For now, I am just feeling so thrilled to have gotten an idea, allowed God to tweak it just right and then to have moved on it!

Jesus said to His disciples, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambitions, shoulder your cross, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life." Matthew 16:24-25

It will be a small Christmas that will be remembered...for many reasons. Hopefully it's just the beginning of us all learning to give our lives away for the sake of obeying Jesus.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Desperate for God's power in my life

Today, as is fitting this time of year, we heard about Mary. Our pastor brought us to consider why God chose her, what attributes marked her character that she would be chosen for such a holy task. I marvel at the amazing woman she was already at age 12 or 14. She was indeed a courageous soul, willing to accept this never-before-been-done job of hosting the Son of God in her womb...and then ALL that would come after. I am marveling over how she didn't give voice to her fears. Now that's where she and I are unalike, I process aloud while Mary "ponders these things in her heart."

I wonder though, did she concern herself with all the "How will I...?" that fill my own heart? As I consider all that must take place to adopt two children into our family I cannot help wonder how it will work. I find myself falling short now and wonder how it is that God has called us to serve the needs of orphans in this all consuming, most permanent way. As is typical for me, I jubilantly jump at the Lord's command--so ready to obey and as I am obeying then I realize all the implications. It's not that I want a way out or to change anything He's asked me to do, but I find myself wondering, "How can I....?" and the blank gets filled in with my shortcomings.

I have always loved Mary's response to the angel after he announces the life altering news that she will become pregnant with God's Son. "I am the Lord's servant, and I am willing to accept whatever He wants. May everything you have said come true." (Luke 1:38, NLT) Wow. Who answers like that? Well, sometimes I do. And then as I'm in the process of that obedience I get overcome by all my insufficiencies.

Here's the thing: we love to hear about miracles. We may or may not think that it's possible to experience today the huge kind of miracles that we read about in Scripture. I think we can. But the kicker is, in order to experience an incredible miracle, we have to be in need of a miracle. And most of us are not willing to go there. Who wants to be in such a desperate situation? Today I find myself there.

I'm reading the book Radical, by David Platt. I highly recommend it to you. He says in it, "This is how God works. He puts His people in positions where they are desperate for His power, and then He shows His provision in ways that display His greatness." Am I feeling desperate for God? Yes. Then I am where I want to be (but it doesn't feel good). Now I just wait for Him to show up.

So l know He'll come through so I do my best in each situation and I wait. But the waiting is hard as the evil one prowls around reminding me of the shortcomings, the desperateness for which I NEED that miracle of God. "Those God calls He equips," one might comfort me. Sure, I know that. Indeed, one of my favorite Scriptures is I Thessalonians 5:24, "He who calls you is faithful and He will do it." We need to be careful though, what will He do? Usually it's not what I'm panicking over! Verse 23 says, "Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until that day when our Lord Jesus Christ comes again." He's going to make me holy in every way???!?! YES! If that weren't enough, He is going to keep my whole self (spirit, soul and body) blameless until the world ends. Wow. That's incredible. In fact, what He's going to do is MORE than what I was worrying over. And isn't that just like Him?

One final quote from Radical, "God delights in using ordinary Christians who come to the end of themselves and choose to trust in His extraordinary provision. He stands ready to allocate His power to all who are radically dependent on Him and radically devoted to making much of Him." So I sit here in my desperate assessment of myself and find myself lacking--and guess what? That's okay! I'm in a great position to host the power of God in my life! And that, my friends, is just what it's going to take!!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Inaugural post

I sit here, in my workout clothes, practically glued to the computer as I try my best to figure out all the settings for another blog. I've not done well blogging for our photography site, so I really shake in my boots at the thought of taking one another. Yet I am compelled. These things that are happening in my heart, in our lives, in our discussions need to be shared. I don't know why. Maybe you will. I hope that my efforts (and less laundry and cleaning done) will benefit someone. I pray that my words will urge you, peak your interest, whet your own appetite for adventurous living with Christ. Can God use an ordinary life? The answer is a resounding YES. The secret is that you don't get to choose what that looks like.

As every high schooler does, I dreamt about what my life might look like ten years down the line. (It's now been 20 years, so I can speak to this with authority!) I filled in my little senior book with my happy picture: I would be a newscaster in Colorado (what could be a prettier location?), have a husband, children, a Rottweiler and a Saab with a white picket fence running around my yard. Life would be so good. I would be thinner, tanner and my hair would be grown out nice and long. It was a dream about one thing: ME.

Fortunately, God grabbed ahold of me while I attended Wheaton College and did not permit me to attempt such a selfish indulgence. I actively searched for my new path in life, officially changing my major 7 times! (It was a true miracle that I graduated in just 4 years.) I couldn't seem to decide. One night as my friends and I attended a campus movie,"The Mission,"  God spoke to my heart. It was so clear, there was no avoiding it. No shushing it. God's voice was clear and succinct: "WILL YOU GO?" The Holy Spirit was speaking and I wondered who else could hear! I looked over at my long line of friends in the seats surrounding me, they were engrossed in the film, seemingly not hearing the words that were now echoing repeatedly in my head. WILL YOU GO? WILL YOU GO? WILL YOU GO? My heart began to beat faster and faster. I suddenly realized I had to leave. I bolted from the chapel and ran back to my dorm room. Every time my feet hit the pavement I could hear the words with each step: WILL--YOU--GO? I flew up the stairs to my floor and went into the laundry room. I shut the door and stood there in the dark amazed that even the washing machines repeated the words of the Lord as they did their scrubbing duty. Tears began to stream down my face and I realized what He was saying to me. My quest for a life goal! Here it was, being given me when I least expected it! I boldly answered my Lord in that laundry room, my back up against the closed door, "Yes, Lord, I don't really know what you mean, but I will go. I WILL GO!"

So began my journey following God's dreams for me. I learned over time that I could never dream bigger or better than He already had. Each time I thought I had it figured out, it would totally change and His way would prevail. But I get ahead of myself. I'll have to post again. For now, I've got a workout to get in!
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