“God knows the itch in your shoe…”

Cool water laps over the smooth stones and dances at her feet.
Her fingers grope blindly at the rocks, her eyes lost far beyond the glittering horizon.
She draws back and throws another stone, and it splashes and then is lost in the clear ocean waters.

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These waves seem playful today, but it is these same glittering waters that have claimed the lives of countless people, desperate to survive. No one steps into a rubber dingy because they want to. Absolute desperation presses the throngs to shove children and women on board in hopes of freedom.

Wind rustles the olive trees and the silver underside of the leaves adds color to the brown landscape. A thousand stories are whispered in the wind, too vast to be spoken audibly. Too many lives have passed through here,
too many tired orange life vests to count are piled in a heap,
too many tears to be numbered.

A woman’s eyes stare vacantly into the distance, her runny nosed toddler clambering for attention and pulling on her shawl. Her hand mindlessly grasped his small arm, but her face was frozen, too traumatized to be able to converse with her children.
“She is a good mother,” my sister tells me, “but she is shut down by the horrific things she saw.”
People beheaded by the terrorists, men mowed down, children abused.
Women raped on the shore and then forced into overfilled rafts when they had paid for a ferry. Papers stolen, passports gone.
Education and hard earned livelihoods simply vanished, and now, they are stuck behind chain link fences.
Waiting, waiting, waiting to get out. To get back to real life.
Hoping that tomorrow promised something better.

Every day is the same.
Waiting in line for papers that were promised months ago, but never appear.
Everyone is restless. Going crazy. Desperate.
This could be you.
This could be me.

“I do not think of the war,” Adnan’s words in heavily accented English speak softly.
“It is too much, I… I cannot, or I will…” The words stop, but his fingers trace the worn trail of tears down his young cheeks.
His family gone, his girlfriend murdered.

She came back, this sister of mine, but really she didn’t.
Her eyes carry a touch of that far off look, now.
Her life, too, has been shattered, and her dreams changed.
Refugees are no longer strangers; they are her friends. They have voices and stories and hands that held tightly to hers.
“Take my children to America,” they begged, desperate to give their children something, anything, better than what they are experiencing. It is not crazy parents that push their child into a rubber raft, and stand watching him until he is out of their sight; it is loving, desperate ones that cannot afford the voyage themselves.
They give him hope when they themselves have none.

The image of the small body face down at the water’s edge, someone’s child.
Someone dressed him in that red shirt, someone loved him.
There are so many lives, so many people.

But today even the small huts are no refuge.
A protest broke out yesterday, and fires were lit, quickly spreading to tents and small huts. Thousands were evacuated to the outside, while what little belongings they had burned before their eyes.
When you have lost all, to loose all over again is simply staggering.

Blessing, from Nigeria, messaged my sister, “My clothes… All burnt.”
Her small corner and bedding charred. She has nothing.
Again.

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Gretta had taken Blessing to the ocean, to get out of camp for the day.
And she had grasped the stones and thrown them one by one into the ocean, releasing the pain and bitterness life had handed her. They have tasted so much bitterness.
So much loss.

My heart breaks, and words unspoken press hard. Bitter.
My happy children run and play, carefree and alive.
I wish we could go, and do something, anything.
Take clothes. Hand out food, offer to hold small ones…
What can I give? How can I ease her pain?

Her eyes look into the video camera and she says,
“In my country we have a proverb dat say, ‘God know the itch in ya shoe.” Nobody else can know the itch in ya shoe, but God, he know. He cares about you…”

God cares.

We can all pray. We can all love. We can all offer hope.
Perhaps you can help send someone who can touch in a tangible way, these dear people. Maybe you can give financially.
Or maybe you can go, and touch lives yourself…

But risk your heart to love. Give, for we have received so much.
Join me, and love them.
Perhaps it is for such a time you were created.

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If you feel like you want to go, or help others go, or even support the effort financially,
you can find more information here: http://i58greece.com or http://eurorelief.net/donate/

(photo credits go to Gretta at grettagraphy.com)

Being community

The weekend is over, and my little sister is happily married off and far away in honeymoon land. But last night we filled my house to the brim with happy chattering people who were sweaty and jolly after several great games of ultimate frisbie, or just “ultimate” as it gets called around here. We laughed and talked and sliced into the left over wedding cake and slurped melting ice-cream and sipped Honduran coffee… People were in every corner of the living room and kitchen.

Lots of them. Dishes and popcorn were everywhere.
I couldn’t get through my kitchen without stepping past half a dozen sweaty people. I counted and we had over 30 of them in here. It was messy and loud and happy.

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The wedding went off without a hitch, and countless hands pitched in. Family drove all the way from Texas a week early and made things possible. Babysat for me while I did one last minute run to town to find the much needed black pants for the ring bearer.

Flowers were picked up in DC and brought down, and arranged.
Corsages and bouquets put together, garland and sheers carefully tacked up.
Lights and bunting were hung in the simple pavilion and it was transformed into a lovely, romantic celebration of life and love.

Sometimes we get on each other’s nerves.
We are all human, really.
We talk too loud, or not enough, or don’t understand other’s opinions.
Sometimes we hurt each other. But when it boils down to it all, we need family.
We need people.
I need you.

Community. A village.

I don’t know how people do it, without a community.

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Thank you.
For being there.
For folding laundry.
For cleaning up after the reception in the dark hours of the night.
For doing the lovely jobs or the messy ones.
For making the stunning cake and for helping us eat it.
For washing dishes after the party last night and letting it be clean and fresh for me this morning.

Sometimes I reach out my hand and pull you up, and encourage you.
Sometimes you lend me the strength I need for today.
We need each other.

Take the risk

It’s a hard day today in the camp.
His bright smile, his sunshine and support, his depth and strength through the pain is gone. His papers finally came, after weeks of lines and waiting and uncertainty. His journey finally led him beyond the camp gates.

He wept as he left his close friends behind. He had already lost so much.
His girlfriend tried to protect a family from ISIS’ hand and been ruthlessly slaughtered. Most of his family is on the other side of those beautiful but angry waters, a rubber raft and orange life vest and world separate them now. He will never see many of them again.

Today is a new day for him, full of opportunity and hope.
But it is mingled with pain. With loss. With sacrifice.

Camp life goes on.
My sister reaches for a child and holds her close, watching the mother smile in gratitude. The courage to still smile after having lost all. Giving, giving, giving when you know these faces will leave, and a new wave of stories and souls will arrive tomorrow.
It takes courage to love again, to pour into a bottomless ocean of needs.
It takes courage to give.

“I could never do that.”
Foster. Adopt. Advocate for people. Stand up for the unseen. Speak to a crowd.
The list is endless. Things that the risk of failure is too high.
But in the light of Jesus’ love, His grace that reaches past my inabilities and makes Him tangible.

One friend waits to meet her daughter from China, her heart already burning with mother love for a child she has never met.
Another is in the long process of getting cleared for fostering, for holding close children that come from turbulent waters and broken homes.
New chapters, big risks, everything at stake.
This is our life, if we dare to move past the numbing state of our comfort zone.
That place that feels so safe yet lulls us to sleep and keeps us from really living.
Living on the edge looks so precarious and dangerous, when really it is the only way to really live.

Risk your heart today. Invest, even when you know there will be no return.
Maybe it is pausing at the grocery store and looking into the eyes of the cashier, and seeing the person, not the employee.
Perhaps it will mean pulling your child closer and taking the time to hear their heart, and the words they might not have spoken.
Maybe your hand will be the one to reach through the darkness and bring light to some hopeless soul.

Offer hope.
Extend love.
Take the risk.
Love is worth the sacrifice.
Jesus led the way.

We cannot change the world on our own.
But by taking the risk, we can change this moment.
We can offer hope that is bigger than we could have imagined.

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A small gift of love (chocolate, Olive branch and a note that my sister is giving one of her friends who lives in the camp)

” Alone I can’t change the world, but I can throw a rock in water, which will cause many ripples” – Mother Teresa

The calling in the mundane…

They were just doing what they always did.
Fishing was how they brought bread to the table, how they survived, but Jesus paused and called. Sweat dripping down their backs, they stood and wiped their brow as his voice penetrated their concentration.

It rose above the sound of the waves, above the demands of their day, this voice, this calling.
“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

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He beckoned them from a regular life to follow him in a unique calling.
To something they had never known before. And he saw their potential while they sweated over the fishing nets. I can’t imagine that they were especially poetic or spiritual, but he knew their hearts and abilities.
In fact, I think he had prepared them for this day.

My todo list today is full.
Tomatoes sit in boxes in my kitchen begging to be canned.
My bulging fridge needs to be cleaned.
My four children will need to be held, fed, guided through the day. Squabbles settled, attitudes guided, chores accomplished and stories read.
Cleaning, working, raising hearts. But it is here that he calls me, in my normal day.
To something deeper. More meaningful.
Something eternal.

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Let’s embrace this calling, right in the midst of our messy day.
Let’s live well, with all our hearts.
Such menial, little moments in which eternity is lived.
It is for moments like this that we were created.

Bound, but forgiven

The room was hushed and the framed face of an austere judge stared at us, missing nothing. Up front, attorneys whispered and shuffled through papers. Badges flashed and I wished I could remember where I had seen the female investigator before.
She looked so familiar.
Was it at the crime scene?
Or at the hospital during those first terrible hours?

A door at the front of the room opened and a man in orange, his hands and feet shackled, was escorted in. I recognized him immediately, the subject of many photos and news articles.

Suddenly we were all standing as the judge entered and a court officer droned,
“O yea, o yea…”
We were seated and court was in session.

The prosecuting attorney read page after page of documented facts,
the breaking and entering, the stealing of the weapon, the few words that Marcus spoke before the shooting began and his attempt to escape before he was shot,
the squealing of tires as the burglars left the scene.

I remembered the two weeks we spent waiting at the hospital, the long late hours, the unending prayers, the tears, the hard waiting room chairs. The praying for the impossible, and the day the monitors went silent.

The jurors’ chairs sat empty today.
In fact the court room fairly rattled with emptiness, except for a small crowd on each side of the room and the officials up front.
But this day had been two years in coming.
Two years of tears and grief, two years of remembering that fateful sequence of events.

Two years of his family learning to live without Marcus, of letting go, and choosing to rest in God’s plan for one side of the room. Two years of visitation and court hearings and lawyer appointments for the other. Both men’s children now growing up without their father, the one in the grave, the other behind bars.

All because of a “senseless mistake.”
A trigger pulled, a young life snuffed.
We can go over the details again and again, but nothing can undo what was done.

Death penalty.
Today he was pleading guilty to all charges to settle for life in prison to avoid the jury and possible death penalty.  I stole a glance across the aisle, and wondered who each one was.
I saw their sober faces, carved deep with pain.
It was a heavy day for all of us, but how grim the expressions on the other side of the room…

We’ve been told the defendant has a praying grandmother.
Our prayers have mingled with hers, begging God to soften his heart and bring him to repentance.
That the darkness would give way to light.
That Jesus would shine from eyes now clouded with guilt and sin.
One crime committed on our quiet country road two years ago has impacted so many people. Our sin DOES hurt those around us.  The repercussions of these actions live on.

“You are sentenced to life in prison,” the judge looked down at the shackled man, and gave additional years on top of that for additional counts. Her words were final, the handcuffs were for life. As we were ushered out, a wail rose from the other side of the room. Mother, sisters, relatives wept at the verdict. That sound haunts my soul.

The news lately has been covered in bloodshed and anger and racism. Protests and mobs, and shootings. On every side of the globe, the same story is playing out. This group against that one. This color against that. Jealously, anger, murder. The sin from the garden goes on and on, the first murder of all time duplicates itself today, blood stained hands and a defensive “Am I my brother’s keeper?” rings loud in the courtroom even now.

The color of history glows ugly red with abuse. Slavery and anger. People sold as bodies and possessions.  I’m ashamed that my great grandfather grew up using racially derogatory words freely, not treasuring the value of these precious people. I am horrified that police officers have all been classed as brutes and beasts. I am devastated at the massive divide between people today, all uniquely created in the image of God. White, black, red or yellow – all lives matter, and all are loved by God.

I’ll admit, since that shooting two houses down from mine two years ago, I’ve seen prejudices in my heart that were hidden to me before. Are my children safe around that person? Am I?

But recently I had a conversation with a friend – a friend whose outward color is not like mine – and he reminded me, “It is wrong to judge a whole race by one man’s sin.”
Truth rings loud and clear, dissolving bias and fear.

It boils down to something much deeper than skin color.
Our hearts are all desperately wicked. We all need a Savior.
Yesterday I got to see grace lived out,  and forgiveness chosen in the face of staggering loss.

Marco’s father and mother stood up front in that courtroom and said,
“I forgive you.”
Nothing can bring their son back, and in spite of all the tears, they are choosing life.

12742082_10205997581120471_1378097518164027249_nMaryAnn stood and looked into the eyes of the man who murdered her husband, and said not only
“I forgive you,” but,
“I’m not angry at you.”

He nodded and accepted it. Though his hands are bound, and the rest of his life will be behind bars, he has been released. Forgiven.
And throughout the courtroom tears flowed as we all felt the power of those words.

We can’t always see it down here on earth. Choosing forgiveness isn’t the easy way, but it is the only right way. And someday we will see it as clearly as we saw those handcuffs yesterday.

I wished we would have been allowed to step across the aisle yesterday. To hold tightly those dear, hurting people, who are losing a son or brother to a life of incarceration.

Today we get to all embrace each other, all of us different and yet all of us the same. We are all valuable, all made in God’s image, all desperately needing forgiveness.
Let’s stretch out our hands to extend forgiveness and love.

Light is stronger than darkness.
Sin crumbles to forgiveness.
Love wins over hate.

It is to this we are called…

(Pictured is Maryann and Landon)

 

But God…

He picked blackberries, which gave him an idea.
He got the ice cream out, and scooped it into a small bowl.
He pulled a frozen fruit slush from the freezer.
He mixed “mocha” chocolate milk, and added a straw.
He ran to the yard and pick flowers, and arranged it all so beautifully. 
Then he brought it upstairs where the baby and I were resting and presented his masterpiece…

Later he told me it was a thank you for “all the messes” I clean up.

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Lately motherhood has been hard. The messes have reached into every area of my life. Attitudes and spilled milk, unkind words and childish squabbles. I’ve been broken and needy and ever so aware of my failures. The tears have almost equaled the joys. BUT GOD.

I love how He changes the whole story. Turns right side up what has flipped onto its head. Breathes life into what is old and dry. Brings hope when our failures leave us gasping and shattered.

Motherhood is an invitation to lean hard into God, and find He IS always enough. 

The Guest at Breakfast

He is real. Breathing. Alive.

He has feelings, and he understands ours.
I’m on a quest to invite him to live and breathe with me, in the most normal moments of my day. In the grimy and mundane and the glittering happy moments.
I want Jesus to be included in each moment.

On a whim this morning I set a place for him at the breakfast table.
Breakfast tends to be a place where squabbles break out, messes made and the day rolls out on the wrong side of the bed. I wanted my little people to have a visible reminder that Jesus IS here, listening, loving, waiting to help.

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He isn’t angry, or waiting to condemn. He is just longing to help with each little struggle -mine, and my children’s. Somehow we think that obeying Jesus can be a negative thing. But that is just a lie from the enemy to keep us from expiring the sweetness of fellowship and safe relationship with Jesus.

He didn’t eat any cereal, or leave a mess at his place.
But he WAS there, and my day is already different.