Thursday, June 18, 2015

Worth the Wait

For the longest time I had no idea why He called me to go.

July 2005
We are flying into Phnom Penh's airport and all I can see is dust and dirt - barely any green, save a few trees here and there. My heart is sinking with the plane. I can already feel the weight of poverty in my soul, and the landscape is only making it worse. When we leave the airport, the city’s heat and noise further crowd in on me and every story ever told about “crowded Asian cities” proves true. I’m trying hard not to think about how I don’t like it and I’m doing my best to not think about how I don’t think I can do this. It’s a little like trying to “not think about a pink elephant”. I’m not doing well.

We’re on our way to the orphanage. Bouncing along in the back of the pick-up truck we pass a large muddy pond with lotus flowers on top and it’s true: “The lotus flower blooms most beautifully from the deepest and thickest mud.” I think, “If I were ever to get a tattoo, it should be of a lotus.” (I don't ever get that tattoo).

We begin work at the orphanage every day as early as possible so that we can stop when the sun is the hottest. It’s hard work - coupled with really gross housing conditions (a brothel! Our team is obviously not using it for that purpose - but there is literally no other place in the village that can house us all.  Three of us girls are crammed into a closet size room. The bed has red-orange stains on it. I sleep on the floor with the bugs. I hate my life.) A couple days in and we start to get daily downpours in the afternoon. Many of my teammates kick off their shoes to go dance in the rain, some break out shampoo to take an honest-to-goodness shower - it’s certainly warm enough! - I watch it all from under the eaves of the orphanage. I know myself - I might enjoy the moment, but I also know it won’t last, and I’ll be making myself more miserable in having to continue work in wet clothes that won’t dry in the humidity. So I opt out but secretly I wonder if I’m not “living enough”.

Morning devotions and a team member gives a revelation, “God knows our needs. If we don’t have fans or AC, it’s not to torment us. It’s because God knows we don’t need it.” I’m oddly comforted by this thought.

Our work is almost done. It’s our second to last day and I’m up in the children’s “bedroom” - a large empty room with a tile floor - and I’m painting the walls. A team member comes to talk with me and I begin to cry. Unlike every other girl on the team who is my age, I can’t wait to get home. I haven’t had an epiphany, or a life-changing moment. I’ve just been working really hard (along with everyone else), and keeping my mouth shut about my selfish annoyances.  It’s not that I haven’t had any moments of joy… I have! I’ve truly enjoyed the children’s laughter, and I’ve whole-heartedly smiled with the widows who run the orphanage at their antics. But it’s not been inspirational enough to alter the course of my life.  I feel so “less than” and more confused.  Why did I think that God called me to this mission trip? I’m doubting now that I truly heard Him.

The last day at the orphanage and we all gather in a circle to pray.  Our interpreters are both praying and translating prayers. I stand next to a woman who may be only a year or so younger than me, but the fact that she is there tells me that she has experienced more heartache and trials in her lifetime than I would ever be able to understand. And as I bow my head to pray, she takes my hand and holds it so tightly - she won’t let go. I’m taken aback at first, but as I hold her hand I pray that our Father would bless her greatly, now and always.

8 years later, I’m sitting in church listening to a missionary share his experience and I’m reminded of my trip to Cambodia.  Despite the good I know we accomplished, I still have never figured out exactly why I believed that God called me to go. It’s a bittersweet feeling and I tell myself that when I see Jesus face to face, I’ll ask him if he really did call me, and if so, why. But just as I’m imagining this heavenly encounter, the missionary says something that wakes me up:

James 1:27 says “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world” Some translations say “look after” instead of “visit” but I like “to visit” better. It reminds me that it’s not enough to throw money at people in need - that’s not true love - true love joins with people in their affliction and says “I’m in this with you.”

And at last the blinders fall from my eyes: it wasn’t about me. At least, not exactly. God called me to be there, because He wanted me to Be. There. With the children. With the women. He wanted me to serve them, and laugh with them and pray with them. Being a missionary to Cambodia wasn’t to be my vocation - but that was never meant to excuse me from “visiting widows and orphans in their affliction”.  After 8 years, my heart was filled with joy to realize that I had indeed heard God correctly. It was worth the wait to receive that confirmation - and it was made all the more sweet to know I had obeyed His call, even when I didn’t know why.

May God open our ears to hear His call and strengthen us to always obey His promptings. May we never make our understanding of His rationale a prerequisite for our obedience. And may God fill our hearts with the joy that a daughter has when she is in her father’s loving presence, now and always. Amen.

Linking up with Blessed is She...

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Being Love: St Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs

The celebration of St Charles Lwanga (and his companions) was set into motion a few weeks ago. I was reading another terrible account of the destruction ISIS has wrought on women and children in Iraq.  On my couch, with my littles napping away, I read stories of 9-year-olds getting sold as sexual slaves; of nursing mothers running for their lives and having to leave a child behind because not everyone could fit in the escape vehicle. How could anyone have to make such a choice? I bawled right there - in a way I don't think I would have been able to prior to having children. All I could see was my children's little faces - how could I possibly choose if I was in such a position? And so I did all that I could think to do in that moment: I prayed and then I gave what I could to help those women help and protect their families.

Then just a couple days later I was catching up on an episode of the Visitation Project - they one where the hosts shared why they close every show with the words "Ya Rabbi Jesu" (episode #3 - check it out) - and again I was reminded of the terror ISIS is trying to spread but how LOVE is countering that terror.

As is always the case, life crept in and these thoughts went to the back burner.. until I started to look at the calendar for June's feast days.  There, on June 3rd, was St Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs. The name was vaguely familiar - and his Ugandan surname certainly stuck out amongst all the European names - so I took a moment to look him up. What a story! Made to march 37 miles to his death by burning at the stake, he is reported to have said, "It is as if you are pouring water on me. Please repent and become a Christian like me.”  How does one say something like that? What love did he know that allowed him to show such an amazing grace to his murderers? After reading his story, I sent off a quick message to my friend Rita in Uganda: "How do you celebrate St Charles Lwanga's day?"  She replied, "By going to mass and lighting a candle."  I figured we could do that - and possibly have a Ugandan-inspired dinner as well. (In retrospect, maybe I should have just stuck with what Rita does and light a candle - but there I go, always having to kick it up a notch!) There was a prayer at the end of the article that I read on St Charles, so I just printed that up without really reading it and focused more on finding recipes to make for dinner.

Rita: wise woman, she is.
Oddly enough - St Charles' day went a lot like St George's: the food got on the table but not without a lot of tears and disciplining of a toddler who felt like it was her duty to annoy every living thing in the house (cat, mom, little brother, grandad...) I was beginning to get so angry and fed up with everything that I seriously debated whether I should continue with the feast day at all. But finally, after a zillion stops and starts and distractions, the Bunyoro stew was done and I figured an extra prayer wouldn't hurt anyone.
"Martyrs of Uganda, pray for the faith where it is danger and for Christians who must suffer because of their faith. Give them the same courage, zeal, and joy you showed. And help those of us who live in places where Christianity is accepted to remain aware of the persecution in other parts of the world. Amen."
With this one little prayer, all the events of the last few weeks got wrapped up and tied together with a beautiful bow. It seems a small thing: a story here, a radio show there, a feast day - except I can't help but see God's fingerprints on them all. And what He touches, in His love, He makes holy. To be clear, I don't believe that God did this just so I could sit back and say "Wow - what a neat coincidence!" I believe that He weaved together these events so that their lesson would be better impressed upon my heart - and the prayer says it all: "help those of us... to remain aware of the persecution in other parts of the world." And of course, awareness requires action. I need to be love: through giving, through learning and through prayer.

Maybe you'd like to join me? I invite you to click over to Preempitve Love Coalition, or to say the prayer above. It isn't St Charles Lwanga's day anymore, but it is a day to be love to our persecuted family in Christ.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Train up a child in the way she should go...

...even when she is old, she will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)

My first teddy bear came from one of the members of the guitar group at church. It was a nice, homey shade of brown and, ever a lover of the cranky cat Garfield, I named it Pooky.  He used to have a Christmas-y plaid ribbon tied around his neck, but somewhere after the hundredth time my mom stole him to give him "a bath" it fell off.

I do that now too. Whenever my little girl isn't looking, I'll steal her "Ninny" from her bed - all stiff and dingy from her sucking - and throw him in the "bath".  She gets quite angry when she sees him hanging on the line to dry afterwards (if indeed she notices) but all is forgiven at nighttime when she sees that he's clean and "there's no dirties on his nose"!


I was 33 years old when I realized why I couldn't stay home from work sick without running either the dishwasher or washing machine.  One would think that on a sick day, I should be excused from doing chores.  But for some reason I couldn't just lie on the couch and rest until some cleaning machine was doing it's thing.  And then it came to me: whenever I stayed home sick as a child, I would lie on the couch in the family room listening to the washing machine as I drifted in and out of sleep.  I needed that comforting noise as an adult, too.  I wonder how many other hold-overs I have from childhood...


It is not lost on me that I'm now returning to the faith that I was brought up in. Sarah Bessey beat me to it when she wrote:
But my roots belong where I was first planted, I've reconciled myself to that now. I used to think I could travel far from where I began, but instead, I traveled only to find myself home again, like Richard Rohr says, as if I am only now seeing it for the first time.
I'm seeing my Catholic faith again, for the first time. There was a lot about the faith that I never knew or practiced growing up, that I'm learning about now (for instance feast days, or on a more bizarre tangent "bathtub Madonnas" - which I may or may not plant in our garden (should we ever get around to planting one...)).  And there's a lot that I knew that I'm examining again (more on that to come).  But each way you look at it, it's a return that I come to with a lot more learning, many more experiences and really, just a lot more life under my belt. It's from this depth of experience that I hope I can share with my children the joys and the beauty of Faith, that when they appropriate it as their own, they'll see that it will last them their lifetime long.