Thursday, June 30, 2011

Well, wouldya look at that... the world goes on without me.

Roughly 10 years ago, my friend Beth spoke words into my life that would stick with me forever.  We worked together at the church and she would often listen to me lament about not having enough volunteers/chaperones/whatever for one of my three areas of ministry.  One day as I was whining about not having someone to ___ (I have no idea what the issue of the moment was) and saying I would just go ahead and do it myself, she challenged me and said, "Becky, if you continue to jump in and do everything yourself, you're limiting God.  Do you really think that He won't send someone else to serve?  If you're doing it all the time, they are never going to step up."

Ouch.... but a good ouch.

I have continued to think of that wise counsel multiple times over the years.  No one will step up as our new Bunko Queen?  No one to answer the question in Small Group?  No one to take care of a minor detail that I am certain only I can do?  Hmmm... maybe I should step back long enough to allow someone else the chance- the blessing- of doing the thing I'm so eager just to "do" and get done with.

Along came VBS at our church.

Now, those of you who knew me back when I was a Children's Minister can attest to the fact that, well, I kinda sucked at it.  It was not in my gifting... and it wasn't done with excellence.  The one thing in that area that I did "well" was Vacation Bible School.  That, my friends, was a party.  I can do parties.  So for a few years in Chapel Hill, we knocked out some good VBSes.  We moved here in 2002 and the church where we landed didn't do a VBS.  Fine.  But I told each of the 3 people responsible for the Children's Ministry over the next 6 years that if they ever decided to do one, I was their girl.  I can do VBS.

2008 rolled around and we were given the go-ahead to put on a VBS at our church.  Unbeknown to me, my friend, Laurie (also a former Children's Minsiter) had been saying the same thing- if we ever did a VBS, she'd be "in", too.  So three of us (the current Children's Minister, Tiffany, at this point was "just" a friend... yet now is a sister) sat down together and talked about what VBS would look like in a church our size.  We prayed about how many volunteers we would need to execute such an event.  We prayed about how we would use our space.  We prayed about who would be our teachers, who would lead games, who would run... well... everything else.

June 2008- Power Lab Summer BLOCK Party happened.  (Vacation Bible School... with a twist!- became our tag line.  We didn't want to be just another VBS- our town has tons of good VBS programs, so we wanted to fill the niche of a "true" Block Party and invite our nearby neighbors to join us.)  It was a glorious, stressful 4 days.  And the idea of SBP caught in the hearts of those at our church.

Of course, the next year I was "back" to do SBP one more time.  June 2009- Crocodile Swamp.  We already had the basic tools and model to be able to execute another super SBP.  This thing was now something that not only our kids, but our volunteers looked forward to.

June 2010- High Seas Expedition.  By this year, we'd increased the number of directors from 3 the first year, 5 the second, to now 8 the third.  We'd realized that over the years we needed more hands on deck to implement the curriculum  for a church our size.  By 2010, our numbers were around 450 volunteers and 500+ kids participating.  By the end of the week we all pried our shoes off, sat down to rest, and enjoyed the favor of God and man at a job well done.

Planning for an event like this doesn't just happen a month before the week of SBP.  The previous year's experience gets debriefed, at least once, shortly after the event.  We try to learn from our mistakes and make note of our strengths.  Still fresh from the exhaustion, we spit out all we can call to mind from the week.  And we begin planning for the next one.  Then, around January, the new team is formed.  We begin meeting every other week for a while, then closer to the event we meet weekly.  This says nothing of the individual meetings a director would have with anyone in their areas of leadership.

So this January when it was time to tell Tiffany if I was going to serve again, I said "no".


My standard line to anyone who asked was, "Three years is plenty!  It's time for a break."  But deep down, I knew that the words of Beth were alive and well in my mind.  If I continued to do this job- even though I could, even though I loved it, even though- by then- I was "good at it"... was that limiting someone else from stepping up?  Was God nudging someone else to be a director who might not do it if I always did?  Was it time for a change from the way I did things?  With all of these things in mind, I told Tiffany I would gladly serve how she needed me, but I wasn't going to be a director.  The beauty of how SBP had been run is that we'd created some fairly good self-sustaining systems and formats that would be easy for someone else to step in and run.

Last night, we ended our fourth year of SBP.  We had a record number of kids.  We had loads of them accept Christ, desire to be baptized, and hear of the love of Jesus in a new way.  I was still able to be a part- I got to hang out with the people who led in the sanctuary.  And, I got to help out with the bullhorn- my favorite part.  There were moments that would have looked different if I'd been a director.  Not better, not worse, just different.  My mark would have felt more like me... and I wonder if that would have gotten in the way.  One tiny example of this was on the workday- there was a great sign up telling everyone what time their groups would be meeting.  Beautifully laid out- beautiful penmanship.  For years, I'd been asked to do the (handwritten) signs because I have neat handwriting.  Funny, though, when I wasn't there to do it, someone else who had great handwriting (but never trusted themselves with it!) was able to make a perfect sign... without my help.

Whaddaya know... the world goes on without me.

It's an arrogant place to live when we think that we have to do something or it won't happen.  That doesn't mean that we're all supposed to just sit back and wait for someone else to do things.  When you are clearly called to serve somewhere, do it.  But, it's a beautiful- FREEING- place to be when you can step back, watch the systems you helped create, the people that you love, and the event that you have passion for run all on its own... and you just get to experience it.  None of us are so important that the world will stop turning if we sit back.  In fact, the view is often much better there.

Friday, June 17, 2011

What the What

A friend at E's preschool asked me this week if I was "Back to normal" after my trip to Africa.  I laughed, then said, "Yes.... normal, but not calm."

I tend to wait for things to slow down in my our world... and they tend to never do just that.

I have finally just embraced the madness... and now I roll with it.

3 days after getting home from Africa, I got the update that the people who were graciously giving us some furniture for our soon-to-be-Foster-kids-room needed us to get it out of their house quickly.  So, not yet used to Eastern Standard Time, I hauled my self to Home Depot and bought a beautiful gallon of "Celery Ice."  I/we painted the room last week and finished the tree (cute room theme, yay!) this past weekend.  On Wednesday night with the help of some college student friends, we moved in furniture that will provide safety and security in our home for the kids God plans to send our way.

And I was thrilled with all of it.

Then I saw the crib coming up the steps.




We have told the agency that we could take any age under 5.  That clearly means that one of those ages could be a crib-needing one.  We knew this, made arrangements, got a crib, and started figuring out where everything will go.  All of this made logical sense in my head.  Even while I was in Africa, I started praying that God would, indeed, bring us a baby.  I got to watch my new friends, the Rutledges, take care of Baby Hope and it reignited a flame in me to care for a wee one. 

In my mind, I knew we could likely "get" a baby.

Then, in my heart, I watched that crib get brought into my house.

Holy conflicting thoughts, Batman.

Instantly I remembered the pain of longing for children and not being able to conceive.  And in the same moment I instantly felt peace that we will provide a safe place for a child we have not conceived.  My heart was both thrilled and hurting in the same moment.

Seriously... a crib... in my house.  Do y'all understand how bizarre that is?!?!?

Just an update because many of you guys have asked our time table: we begin our MAPP classes in July.  We will finish those in the beginning of August (on Dan's birthday!)  We will wait, then, to go through the motions of the agency/State to see who will be joining or "normal" life here.  And, those of you who have asked for pictures of the new room... I will post them when I find the perfect pillow for the bed and feel like the room is "done."  Ha!

I have no idea what the next season of life for us will look like.  I do know this- it will be as normal as it's ever been... we're not normal, we don't claim to be... we just roll with it. 

A crib... in my house... what the what....

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Wrecking My Life, Part Three

(If you haven't read Part One or Part Two, go ahead and do that now...)

So, it was clear to me that God wanted me to love these women.  And it was abundantly clear that their crafts were not only for them, but for "me", too.  I've mentioned before that those of you who know me know how much I love pens.  Seriously, it's unhealthy.  In fact, when Dan was moving boxes of pens during our last move into this house he commented, "If you had saved every dollar you spent on these pens we could have paid for a house in full years ago."  The moment Fidele mentioned a "Pen Ministry" and asked if I wanted to be involved, I almost looked around for cameras to see if I was being Punk'd.

On that Wednesday, we ran by his church for something and he asked me to come look at the pens.  I completely lost it.  They reminded me, instantly, of this:

Mary, my stepmother, made these "prayer purses" for her family and friends.  Inside the purse, she had small pieces of paper you could write your prayers on and then wear them around your neck.  For many months she wore the prayer asking God to give us a baby.  That was the same time she made my purse for me.  While Mary's beading was more intricate, it immediately came to mind when I saw the beautiful pens of these women.

Beginning the night that Fidele spoke beautiful words over my life, I began praying for what exactly I was to do with this ministry.  That Sunday in church, it got taken out of my hands.  (A story for another day?  I'll tell you about when Laurie and I had our own personal translator for church... and got called out in front of the whole congregation.  Nothing like going to Africa to get called out in church with your best friend.)  At the end of the service, the man translating for me said, "Now we are to the point in the service where he is giving announcements.  (Pause.)  He is saying that there is a group of people meeting here Tuesday for prayer.  (Pause.)  Now he is asking for all of the women with AIDS to stand up.  (Pause... and this one was awkward because as I looked around I thought 'we would NEVER do this in America!')  Now he is saying something about... you?  Is this right?  He is asking for you to stand up?  And he is saying that you are now in charge of their ministry?  What?  Am I hearing right?  He wants them to meet with you after the service?"

Yes, Mr. Translator, it's confusing to me, too.

Two things I'd like to point out here:  1. If you are a Pastor, this is a surefire way to get people to volunteer for something.  Call them out from the pulpit and for sure they will serve.  Or hate you, depending on if God has confirmed this for them.  (I'm the "serve" kind, btw.)  2. At the end of the service, this church of Rwandan people prayed for the visitors.  They asked for us all to come on stage and they prayed- all at once- for each of us.  I have NO idea what they said.  But I felt it... and it felt good.

After church I sat over where a few of the women were already seated.  Slowly, several more (that had already been singled out) came to join us.  While we waited for a translator, I didn't know what to do (since none of us could communicate with each other!), so I did what felt natural... I asked if I could take some pictures of them.

Eventually, the head of their group, Zilpa, and our translator, John, both arrived.  Zilpa spoke (through John) beautiful words about these ladies to me:

We are all Mamas.  We are all Sisters.  Yet some of us have a terrible affliction...

She continued to tell me about their cause, their pens, and their lives.  They each went around and told me their names and told me how many kids they had.  The woman with nine kids giggled.  The woman who had 6, but 5 had died in the genocide, made me nearly choke on my own breath.  Some of the women looked healthy, some did not.  Yet they all were sick, whether or not their bodies showed it.

They began to get excited about my partnership with them.  Just as Fidele had mentioned earlier, Zilpa reiterated that they had prayed for someone to partner with them to help them sell their goods.  When I told them I would sell whatever they had, they talked excitedly about everything they could make: baskets, magazine bead necklaces... so many more items.

For now, I came home with 3 things (but 2 of them have already been sold or claimed).  I asked them how long it took to make each item, and how much they wanted for it.  They sent me with one drum- it took them ONE WEEK to make it... they are asking $15.  I had 2 crocheted purses- it took them three DAYS to make them... they are asking $10.  And the pens... the beautiful pens....

These pens take them one whole day to make.  One day.  And they are asking FIVE DOLLARS for them.  For an entire day's work, they want FIVE DOLLARS.  That money will pay for their supplies, put food on their tables, pay for their children's school fees, and give them the medication they need.  All for five dollars.

It was like a punch in my gut when I realized how far $5 could get them.

I don't bat an eye when my Starbucks order is that much... or my daughter's Happy Meal... or a magazine... or a movie ticket (I actually get excited when it's that cheap!)... I drop $5 here and there with barely a thought... and it's enough to pay for an entire day's work for women who need it far more than I.

I packed up all the things I would be bringing home and embraced these women.  Earlier as we spoke, John referred to them as "Hopeless."  (Again, something we wouldn't do in America...)  But seeing their smiles at the thought of people in America buying their pens (etc.), I felt like they had a little bit of hope.

I'm in the beginning stages of figuring out my partnership with these women... the women of Kwishima (Rejoice).  I'm working on setting up webpages, accounts, etc.  But for now, I have some cool pens for $5 if you are interested.  You can message me, or you can "like" the Kwishima page on Facebook.  As I get more items from them, I'll post about having them available.  Start planning now on doing all of your holiday shopping through me!  I promise not to give you guilt trips while we are together about "Are you sure you want that Frappacino?  Do you realize that could help a woman in Kigali?"... because that's not what this is about for you- or me.  But I do promise to remind you of these women occasionally... together, we are a force for good.

We can give them more than our money, we can give them hope.

 Zilpa, far left, with me and some of the 37 women who make up Kwishima

For though I am far from you, my heart is with you.
And I rejoice that you are living as you should and that your faith in Christ is strong.
Colossians 2:5

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Wrecking my Life, Part Two

Sometime around 2005, Dan and I watched "Hotel Rwanda".  I sat on our couch and viewed a lot of the scenes through my fingers- I would alternate covering my eyes and having to watch.  I was horrified by the genocide that occurred while I was living it up my senior year in high school.  And I had no idea.  Granted, some part of being a self-centered high school senior is to be expected... but come on, people... we were riveted to the TV to see what was going on with OJ Simpson... and we missed a mass murder of over 800,000 people.  Disgusting.

In this film, Don Cheadle does an excellent job of putting you right in the middle of the horror.  The same horror came back to me as took at tour of the Genocide Memorial in Kigali.

I was familiar with "the feeling"... I'd had a similar experience in 1988 when I toured the concentration camp at Dachau.  I had a repeat of that feeling when I went with Dan to the Holocaust Museum in DC.  Just this sick, disgusted, heart hurting feeling of "how in the world did we let this happen"... something my brain cannot reconcile.

If you are not familiar with the Rwandan Genocide, I am not well equipped to share that story with you.  I recommend that you read one of the many books about it, or at least begin by watching the movie.  But I will tell you this: people were murdered in ways that were horrific.  Those who weren't murdered on this spot were "injured" by watching their friends and family killed... or even were required to do the killing themselves.

And some women were raped by soldiers who were HIV positive in the hopes that AIDS would kill them, and would be passed on to the next generation, as well.

Just... sick.

While we were in Rwanda, we had been told very specifically that we were not to speak of the genocide.  If someone brought it up to us, we could only ask about their experience- nothing about the genocide itself.  In fact, at one point someone referred to it as "the war"... so amazing to think of the freedom of speech we in America have versus the control others still experience.  (Side note: I talked at length with an American living in Rwanda about that very topic.  He told me that if anyone spoke of their government or president like so many of us do- flippantly, disparagingly, whatever- they would "disappear" and never be heard of again.  Don't joke around with our freedoms, people.)

I had a chance to meet some Genocide Survivors... in the form of some women at Fidele's church. 

The widows.

Who make the pens.

That Tuesday night at dinner, when Fidele asked if I liked pens, he explained that there is a group of women at his church who have just began meeting together to make handicrafts to support their families.  Primarily, they make beaded pens on lanyards, but they also make beaded drums, crocheted bags, baskets, and magazine bead necklaces.  They have been praying about someone being able to help sell them... the amount they are charging for these items will help provide food and clothing for their families, school fees for their kids, and medicine for them... because they all are HIV positive.  He asked if we would like to see the pens, then followed up later by asking if I would meet the women on Sunday morning at church.

I cannot yet put words around those moments.  The first moment when he spoke words of prophecy into my life.  The second moment when he asked if I would be interested in helping a ministry of PENS. (Seriously, as someone who has a way unhealthy addiction to office supplies, it's a bit ironic that God would use that for His good in Africa.)  The third moment when he explained their situation... then when I saw the pens... then when I met the women... y'all, it was a glorious, heart wrenching, life changing deal.

"The Rwandan Genocide" was not just a movie on Netflix, or a book from the library, or a memorial museum... it was now in the faces of Beatrice, and Ann Marie, and even baby Mary.

Life. Changing.

(Part Three- and a chance for you to buy some pens- coming soon)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Wrecking my Life, Part One

Not quite 2 years ago, Dan and I got our lives wrecked by the "idea" that we weren't following Scripture.  I know, I know... we were 'good' Christians, but we often overlooked a rather "big" concept in the Bible- taking care the least of these.  Now, don't get me wrong... we are also good, liberal, love the unlovable, pay for the unpayable Democrats, too, so sometimes it was easy to justify our non-involvement by looking at all the causes we support and feeling like we were helping that way.  And, for what it's worth, Dan has made his career around caring for the least of these medically.  So on one hand, we were doing well.  But when the least of these is referred to in Scripture, it often accompanies the ORPHANS and the WIDOWS.

Um, crap.

We got nothin' there.

Well, again, in his defense, Dan takes care of lots of them medically, so we're good, right?  Whew.  (That was close.  It was almost like I was gonna have to change my comfortable life of something!)

Gradually as the people I was living life with started finding where they were supposed to be serving, I started feeling antsy.  I shared recently at our church a journal entry where I hashed this out in January of this year.  I was journaling that I was jealous the people around me had found their calling- to adopt, to move to Africa, to serve at the Food Pantry, to serve at the Street School... where was my mission, God?  I mean, come on... I am certain I am one of your favorites down here, so why hadn't You given me some radical way to live?

Watch out now, people... prayers like those come back with mighty answers.

Most of you have heard how I got over myself to come to terms with the fact that, yes, it's our turn to do Foster Care.  I have ignored it as long as I can... now it's time to get in the trenches and love on those children.  A friend of mine and I have talked about the struggle to figure out of foster kids should be lumped in with "orphans"... technically, they are not.  We have come to understand that we are doing our part to keep those kids from becoming orphans.  In fact, my friend James (who we ran into on the flight to Ethiopia!) said that foster care is like the "Navy Seals of orphan care".  I dig it.

So, again, whew.  Glad to know that we can check "The Least of These" off our list.  (sidenote: this is said with all sarcasm... I am in no way making light of the journey we are getting ready to undertake.  I am prayerfully both excited and massively overwhelmed with what we'll encounter a month from now!)

That leaves the whole concept of widows.  Hmmm.  Dern.  We don't know too many of those.  Well, we did begin work on getting our downstairs room ready for visitors- short term or long term.  Maybe my Dad would qualify as a widow-er if he were to come stay with us?  That would be taking care of him, right?

Sit back, y'all....

On our 3rd day in Rwanda, we met up for dinner with Fidele, the attorney in Kigali who took care of my friends' adoptions and serves as a full-time minister as well.  He is one of FOUR people in Rwanda with his PhD in Law.  Four.  4.  Seriously.  We enjoyed hearing him tell us a bit about his life, tell us about his day where he'd successfully gotten "us" to pass court, and hearing him talk about his ministry at his church.

 The "Bio Kids" I got to spend lots of time with:
Aubrey, Carter, and Amelia
Dinner at Sole Luna
 The "small serving" of wine we ordered.  Whoops.
 The view from Sole Luna- Kigali at night
Some of the best pizza I've ever eaten!

During dinner, Fidele asked John to give a greeting at his church on Sunday.  I, too, offered my services (because I am fuuunnnny!) and after the second offer, Fidele turned to me and spoke words which would change my life.   After telling me what he believed God had told him about me (which was dead on, and I'm happy to share with you in a more "private" setting than on my blog) he asked if I could help him with a new ministry.

Involving pens.


That were "made" by women who are HIV positive.

And are widows.

Check, please.
(Part two, coming soon.)

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Ah, sweet readers and friends... here we go... my first blog post (on this blog, anyway) in almost a month.  Before my trip, I attempted to document my days with posts containing Barenaked Ladies songs.  Sadly, Blogger was down a couple of those days, and all you got was one post.  I'm sure you BNL fans mourned.

So, now I'm back... and whirling in my brain are about 6 different blog posts.  Rather than trying to get them all out now, let me tell you what you'll see in the days to come.  (God willing, the creek don't rise, and no-Blogger crashes.)

I ventured to Africa under the premise of helping my friends.  That was the plan.  Then something else happened... God moved in my life.  (I know, we're all shocked by this... right?)  In the days to come I will show you some of the sights that I enjoyed from this angle:

Seeing the world from behind a camera lens is the perfect way to take in all of God's beauty.  I saw colors so deep and people so lovely I could weep just thinking of them.  I met people who spoke truth into my life and those who just made me laugh.  I left the land of Rwanda changed and thankful for it.  I entered the land of Ethiopia anxious and anticipating the "what's next" of life.  And I returned to the land of America ready to take it on.

I encountered a new adventure in Rwanda involving... what else... but pens.  Yep.  PENS.  Yep.  The things that make my heart skip a beat every time I walk down the office supply aisle... handed to me in Africa... in the form of loving people.  And that experience will be shared with you- beginning tomorrow- so tune in.

I fell in love with a family from Tennessee with accents reminiscent of my mountains.  I left them at the airport with tears streaming down my face because God had knit them to my heart in 19 days.  My first thought was "And this is why I said I could never do Foster Care... the letting go sucks."  My second thought was "But this is exactly why we must do Foster Care... because I can't imagine my life without them in it.  And I can't stinkin' wait to see who God will place into our home in a few short months.

I tried new foods.  I learned new phrases.  I worshiped in a new way.  I enjoyed life in a new way.  And I have come home changed.  I am sorry that I'm unable to share it all with you yet.  In fact, I tried to "quickly" tell a friend about my trip today at lunch... two hours later, I looked at my watch, stunned, and realized that life may be a lot like this in the days to come.  So those of you who will have to listen to all my stories, I apologize in advance for the amount I will talk, and yes, it's okay if you shut me up.  And those of you who read this blog, feel free to walk away from your computer at any point to get a cup of coffee... I've got lots to talk about.

For now, I'll leave you with this:  I had the front row seat to God making a family complete.  I watched two children walk straight in to the arms of their forever family.  (Actually, more than 2 if you include the other families, but more about them later...)  I saw those kids go from timid to content.  I heard them say phrases with their beautiful accents- both gentle "Be-kay" and loud "BEN-JA-MIIIN!".  I watched them laugh and cry with their parents and their sister.  I saw both of them swim for the first time.  I saw them ride on a plane for the first time.  Shoot, I saw them use toilet paper for the first time.  (When I first handed some to Marie, she said "Sank you, Be-kay", bent over, and used the toilet paper to wipe off her shoes before putting it in the toilet.)  I saw them have joyful moments and I saw them have painful moments.  I saw their parents high on life and equally as exhausted.  And you know what I saw most?  Peace.  Peace because my friends had done what God had asked them to do... they responded to His call to care for orphans.  In their family, He specifically told them to bring home 2 children from Africa.  I had a front row seat to this joyous event... and a front row seat to seeing people be obedient.

There is more to come, friends... so much more.  But for now I'll tell you the 3 things I've most enjoyed today about being back home:  1. My family.  2. Catching up with friends.  3. The allure of my bed waiting for my jet-lagged self.  And, I'll tell you the 1 thing I most enjoyed about Africa:  1. Africa.  The people, the place, the beauty.  Gonna take some time to do the things we never have....