going there… and beyond

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD
and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.
And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many
on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.
And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
And I answered, “O Lord
GOD, you know.”
Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them,
O dry bones, hear the word of the
LORD.” Ezekiel 37:1-4
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In this morning’s devotional reading from A Slice of Infinity I read,

There are some scenes in life we approach with utter dismay and fear at our ability to make a difference or accomplish the charge before us.”

Definitely.

The curser on this screen seems to taunt and dare me to pick up my cross now and                                                                                                        #GoThere.

going there and beyond

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To speak or not to speak? That’s a real question. I want to speak no, I want to scream at all the violence and injustice in the world.   In my country, In my state, my town— my street.

Heck… in my stinkin’ heart.

In response to a N.Y Times inquiry asking “What’s Wrong With the World?”
G. K. Chesterton said it best:

“Dear Sirs,  I am.”

That’s the way I feel right now. That’s the way I feel even on my best days:
                                                                                  I am what’s wrong with the world.
Some days I feel like there’s nothing I can do about the horrors before me.

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 Experts are assembling on all sides representing schools of thought and opinion on everything from racism and suicide to genocide and biological pandemics. The airwaves aren’t just buzzing, they’re teeming with swarms of angry wanna-be’s dive-bombing issues from every angle and missing the mark almost every time.

 I’ve  hesitated to join them. Because I’m an expert in one thing only: my personal experiences with these subjects as I’ve walked with God. I can’t speak much further than this and yet I’ve been called/invited/dared to share from here.

And people?        I’m scared.

Why?       Did you ask why?      I hope so because that’s another question demanding an answer. Why are we scared to share honestly from our personal experience?

So, before I decided to “go there” I called on a friend who “lives there”. We’ve been doing life together for almost 5 years. We’ve traveled this road before but we never drew any lines.. we’ve simply been trying to live this sometimes difficult and dirty life as cleanly as possible… both of us trying to carry our cross and be a bridge for others to cross over at the same time.

It hasn’t always been pretty but it’s been real and the trust and love we have for one another is rooted in our love for Christ and based on times spent in hard conversation. Real and  hard. This was no exception and as I listened to her heart on the subject of racism together we lamented it’s root cause and existence in so many areas today.  I know it affects her and the people we love and I hate it.

She also listened to my heart as I expressed that I feel like I’ve  been a victim of racism too. Not in the same way no, not at all, but because it exists and is a real problem,  because I have white skin I’ve been treated like I might be guilty of racism until I can show that I’m not.

That hurts too.

It’s hard to be a voice when you are shut out of the conversation because you are considered responsible for the sins of people you never met and somehow must make amends for them. Or please.. just be quiet because you can’t possibly understand.

Can I help that?
Can I try?

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My early years were spent in New Jersey.

I can’t remember any experiences with this kind of racism because it was never spelled out to me that way. I think my parents were fairly grounded in this area but I can’t say for sure because they never talked about it. My neighborhood was predominantly white but I can’t tell you why.  We had a black mailman— Lee, and he was invited in for lunch a lot. We went to his house a few times and played with his kids.  It was normal.

Oh yes, we had our racial lines but they were divided up differently— “Spics”, “Krauts”, “Pollocks”, “Wops” — I heard those words sometimes. Raised in a trailer park, I heard other words too but they were rooted in something much different than nationality.

When I moved South I heard another word and felt another anger I’d never understood before: “Yankee”.  It took me many years to navigate the troubles that  my “sin” of being raised in the North insisted upon my person. Combine that with being poor and from a broken home with a strange accent and it’s a nice, nasty soup.

 Outcast, ostracized  and abused, I was rejected on many different grounds. I don’t talk in these kinds of terms very often because I’m not looking for sympathy. I firmly believe it’s not where you come from, it’s where you are going. I’m not a victim.. or a survivor. No, I am a child of God walking the rough road to glory like so many others.

However my past is a gift because it’s given me the ability to see and feel differently. And I do.  From this perspective I believe that kindness is the cure. I know, it’s naive but it’s exactly what Jesus taught and I guess I’ve been so hungry for kindness myself that I just keep trying even when it’s hard.

Even when it’s not welcome.

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It’s also given me the courage to speak up when I need to  but I’ll confess that this time, I’m trembling over what I’m being asked to speak into.      Terrified.

Terrified of being misunderstood.

Because there is so much at stake and there is so much anger over who really owns and has a right to speak into this issue and who just needs to hush up, listen and “do better”.  Because I really do care about the cause of Christ and ministering hope to my hurting brothers and sisters of every race, creed, color, addiction or lifestyle.

I’m terrified because I’ve been here before.

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It was 28 years ago. (gasp!) I was attending a small but decent private college where my foster mother worked. I didn’t fit into the affluent lifestyle most of the other students lived and considering my “outsider status” I really didn’t have many friends. OK.. so I was also weird! I couldn’t afford the sorority thing so rather than fuss about it, I affected an “I don’t care” attitude and busied myself as a student instead.

At that time there was a small group of black girls who also had a hard time fitting in. Over time and shared classes, I got to know them and they let me hang around. Maybe it helped that I offered to help with papers…or maybe they liked me? I don’t know.

I can’t remember the exact circumstances but one night I stayed on campus to help proofread and type a paper for one of the girls. The mood was heavy and dark and after a while the conversation came around to their bitter disappointment at being rejected by one of the campus sororities. We were pretty sure we knew why and it had nothing to do with money. WE were mad.

Then it happened.

The girl I was typing for suggested they ought to start their own black sorority. Something like that. Y’all. I just felt it deep down… the injustice and the inequality fueling more injustice and inequality and I said something I’ve regretted to this day:

I said, “I don’t think that’s right either because…”

I never got to finish that thought.

The three of them launched into a tirade, shouting hard, loud, angry words at me with such venom and emotion that the girl I was typing for fell out in a full-blown epileptic seizure. She bit her tongue and was bleeding. I felt awful. The other two put me out in the hall and shut the door.

Standing there with her paper in hand, feeling helplessly misunderstood, there was nothing I could say or do. So I went down the hall to the common room and finished correcting and typing her paper.  Later I knocked but nobody opened so I slipped it under the door and went to bed.

They never spoke to me again.

It’s been almost 28 years. I’d like to finish my sentence now.

“I don’t think that’s right either because making a separate sorority won’t bring about true equality. We need to work together to make the change.”

I know. It’s hard and I’m naive but that’s what I believe and have been trying to live.

I’m happy to say that I’ve been back to that campus in the last few years and from what I can see, there is a healthy representation of many cultures. It didn’t happen overnight and I wasn’t there to participate in the change.. or was I? Maybe I was… maybe we all were?

Because those kinds of changes only happen in those daily moment by moment conversations of mutual respect for and in spite of our differences. When we ALL stop blaming and begin reclaiming territory stolen by evil and build upon the foundations of real Gospel love. When we stop just talking and do more daily walking with each other… in the rain, in the sun..doing real life together.

When we recognize the problems—the dry bones in the valley before us— are not simply black and white skin issues but black and white sin issues and there’s violence and thuggin on all sides because of it.

The devotional writer this morning said it so well:

In the valley that tired and overwhelmed him, Ezekiel was questioned by the one who put him there….His answer is both evidence to his wisdom
and perhaps also a glimpse of his skepticism…(and) he offers a reflection on the one who asked: “O Lord God, You know.” Ezekiel gives the task back to God and then proceeds to follow God’s instructions to speak the bones to life.”

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I’ve been a wreck since returning from Africa. I served and I was served. I didn’t go serve a nation of brown skinned people so I could come back home and feel better in my white skin. I went to serve God and served with brothers and sisters who are serving there still. God help me if I’m not back home to do the same.

I’ve been a wreck and it’s been hard for me to pinpoint what happened in my soul this time. Looking down over the valley of all this anguish and pain, I didn’t know how to express it. Then last Sunday a sweet guest minister told us how, after spending hours in the Word day after day, his mentor challenged him with these words:  “Yes, but did you see Jesus?” and pointed him to Matthew 25: 32-40.

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“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me,
I was sick and you visited me,  I was in prison and you came to me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it
to one of the least of these my brothers, 
you did it to me.’
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That’s it!     I’ve seen Jesus!

He was high and lifted up… EXALTED! And I want to continue to see Him here and now. Whatever it takes…I want to see Jesus and show others the way to seeing Him too.

How Love Triumphs

Recognizing that our prayerful obedience to God in these ways and in all these issues before us is God’s “Plan A”… and we as His body and temple manifest here on earth are His “Plan BE”.

In the lives of others struggling with darkness right where we are.
In the places stricken with diseases.
In the war-torn places wherever violence is found.
In the #Fergussons brewing all around us.
In the places where innocence is stolen.
Everywhere and at all times.

It’s a huge valley of dry bones before us. God has lifted us up and has set us down in their midst… asking us to speak His living Word and live it out loud before them. But only He knows how to bring those bones back together and I trust Him to do it.

Because I’m not just a white girl from the North now living in the South willing to “go there”. I’m a sister, a sinner saved by grace willing to go there and beyond… to keep moving and being moved by God because the days are short and there’s much hard work to be done and I want us all to be working together.

So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.” Ezekiel 37:10

No turning back, no turning back,Lorretta signature

burdens worth bearing

The cats are curled up like lazy commas all around the house and  I’m tempted to join them except  it would totally ruin my “recovery from jet lag” plan!

Instead, I find myself sitting here scanning through the nearly three weeks of pictures and the very real memory of it all hits me right between my breastbone and eyeballs: the places I’ve been, the things I’ve seen, the lives that were touched along the way.

The way my life was touched by theirs.

The faces.
The smiles.
The eyes.

Funny School Kids

The naked joy of uniformed school children in all degrees of dress, running, laughing and waving along roadsides strewn with trash.

The constant underlying tension of poverty and despair pulling hard against the unmistakeable beauty of life being lived more simply.

And how that strange medley of sight, sound and smell still gathers around the edges of each photo  taken in that land seemingly fueled by diesel,  dust and dung.

It gets on you. It gets in you.

It changes you.

It really has to and you sorta want it to even though you know… it won’t be temporary.

bearing burdens

I’ve done enough trips like this so that by now I expect and welcome the changes that must come in me as a result.

I’ve also learned not to exploit the situation by getting ridiculously sappy and over emotional (you can thank me later) while expressing what I know God did there– as if He doesn’t do amazing things right here or anywhere else if we only have the eyes to see that it’s not about the location.

I’m not here to say I’m moving to Africa (unless God calls us to) but I confess that I am being moved and I hope to never stop moving.

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Honestly….I’ve found this article exceptionally difficult to write and I’m not totally sure why.

Blame it on the jet lag and the fact that somehow I left the ENTIRE month of July behind me in Africa. No doubt about it:  3 weeks, 5 families, 6 airports, multiple locations , countless faces and 16 hours in an airplane over open water will do something to a girl!  But that’s not totally it either.

It’s different this time.

My mind is heavier.    My footsteps and breathing… my thinking is just…. heavier.

My heart holds a new and permanent weight–not sadness but more like an added mass, depth or dimension.

It’s more like the welcome weight of a new joy and responsibility.

I’m free to feel and acknowledge it now. I’m allowed to inspect it from every angle and feel it’s heft upon my shoulders and  in my hands and heart.

Because now, I’m not standing in the room as one of the few strangers ever to cross their threshold. Not slipping into the scene, half-apologetic with my camera in hand and my heart wholly conscious of the sanctity of this moment…  of how this sudden, unbidden care may be breaking through to the moment of decision and eternal hope.

Now, I can also acknowledge how that high and low blend of those deeply soulful, harmonic choruses winging through those rooms, out the open windows and across the fields of Africa,  have found me here again, winding their way around my heart and giving me a measure of new hope as well.

Even though it was terrible at times.
Terribly ugly, awfully beautiful and totally,   earnestly,   painfully…. real.

Not perfect, but real and moving.

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Then it was Africa. Today it’s America. Tomorrow?

Who knows where, when or how God will move this discussion but that’s not the point of being moved. The point is to keep moving and being moved by Him right where I am.

Most understand even in the physical world, everything is constantly in motion. So while my table and chairs aren’t moving around the room on their own accord, the atoms inside are, even as gravity is pulling them downward and holding it all in place. (There’s your homeschool science lesson for the day!)

This is  what I sense taking place in my soul as well. God has me anchored in Him here and now and yet in constant internal and spiritual motion ready to move in any direction He wills for my life .

Realizing, I didn’t just go on a mission but rather, I am on a mission at all times.

And that weight… that added depth, dimension and responsibility… is to continue to be the vehicle of His story,    my story,   YOUR story… and theirs.

I promised.

Dorcas and her Mom

Standing there thanking each person we met , I  promised to tell their story so that others could be helped by this project as well.

It gave them peace to know they were remembered and prayed for, not dying forgotten and  alone.
It gave them purpose to know that their story could be shared and possibly help another know this peace too.
It gave them hope to know their pain would not be wasted and for some, that their eternity was now secured.

Because that’s the point: stories carry hope and can help to heal the hurts.  Jesus knows about the power of story too… He told plenty of them.

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So the joy of this mission goes on today.

I’ll be telling some of the stories here as time goes on and others will be produced and shared as videos. In the meantime, I want you to consider this project and perhaps find a way to get involved because I’ve witnessed first-hand how this simple act of love is making a difference in the lives of the dying and their caregivers.

The hospice bucket program is a project similar to the Sole Hope project in that “many hands make light work”.  Any group of any size can collect the items needed to pack a bucket. Or raise funds to send to BGR partners who are already packing and shipping buckets today.

Mud Hut African Proverb

So many of you prayed for us along the way and we are grateful beyond our ability to express. Those prayers were most definitely needed, felt and shared with everyone we met.  Thank you!

And now, let’s strive to be one of those “little people” … being moved to do whatever we can to transform the world, on mission, right where we are.

In motion,Lorretta signature

P.S… no, we never came in contact with Ebola but we are praying for those who have.

blooming in Africa

Despite a long period of drought, flowers are everywhere in this part of Africa right now. It’s the season for the winter rains and things once scorched and left thirsting beneath the punishing sun of summer are now relaxing and unfolding under the gentle encouragement of the slightest bits of water.

It doesn’t take much. Just a little bit can bring out the green in anything and the flowers can not resist the urge to seize the moment and burst into bloom while they have the chance.

Not every plant has a flower. Not every tree bears fruit, but those that do seem to know how to respond with the least amounts of nourishment. People can be much the same you know. At least this is what I have learned. Hope is a wonderful, nourishing thing;

the hope of Christ is life changing.

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blooming in Africa

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There’s Rose.

Born with a congenital defect, unmarried and living at home with her child, Rose’s lot in life was bleak at best. Life is hard enough for the able-bodied in this part of the world and for the disabled, the challenges are multiplied exponentially.

 Perhaps it was the stark cruelty around her, or maybe it was the cruelty and rejection of others, the fact is; she was becoming hardened as well.

Closed up tight, reserved and withdrawn, Rose lived with very little hope.

As a young woman, she had been sent through a textile training program, learning to knit sweaters and other clothing items but her disability left her unable to find a paying job in that industry and on the fringes of society.

Eventually, Rose was offered a position as a volunteer teacher in the new government nursery school program, which at least opened the door to the possibility of a paid position in the future.

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When my friend Sandra first met Rose, every bit of her demeanor seemed to match her twisted, four and a half-foot frame. Cold, cruel and demanding, Rose stood at the front of the schoolroom full of 3-5 year old students pounding out the basic recitations with a stick in her hand, ready to strike at the first sign of disobedience.

Not exactly a golden candidate for the teacher’s training Sandra came to offer, but Rose had been chosen to represent her community and despite her unlikely qualifications and disagreeable disposition, she began to train with the others.

It was the first drop of rain.

Little by little, Rose began to respond to the time, training and attention being offered to sharpen what turned out to be her natural skills as a teacher. Slowly her heart began to soften and unfold as she was guided by Sandra through the new curriculum and mentored by their mutual friend, Eunice.

They taught the basics of learning and teaching beyond memorization and recitation.
They shared their time and their testimonies.
They shared their Reason for hope……. and the waters began to flow.

Bible stories were taught as a part of this basic curriculum, each one working it’s way into Rose’s careworn soul where greening was beginning to take place and hope was beginning to take root.

It was this, combined with the patient witness of Eunice, Sandra and her husband Charlie, that eventually found Rose accepting the invitation to church where she, in her words,

“Heard the Word of God and became saved.”
The floodgates were opened.

The hardness of Rose’s guarded and toughened exterior seemed to melt away as the Lord became the guardian of her heart and soul.

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we bloom in giving****************************************

Sandra introduced me to Rose as we walked along the path celebrating the church’s recent baptisms. I can’t say I didn’t notice her deformity but I can honestly say that it wasn’t the first thing I saw. No… it was the light in her eyes that caught my attention as Sandra told me how Rose is one of the area’s best teachers and how her students place at the top when it’s time to move on to primary school.

Rose was positively glowing.

We sat together in the fellowship of the other women, drinking chai from barely washed community cups and watching the children play in the dirt around us waiting for their meal.

Rose stood and taking her English bible, she began to read aloud. Then she testified in praise, how Sandra taught her to be a good teacher and how Charlie told her about the Lord and she became saved and “clever”.  Sandra reminded her that God made her clever.

Agreeing, Rose simply smiled.

Rose

It was the smile of someone who knows truth and love.
It’s the smile of one who knows hope.

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Flowers are blooming everywhere in this part of Africa right now…unfolding and relaxing beneath the nourishment of the winter rains. It doesn’t take much to bring them out of hiding– God knows just what to do.

And it’s the same with people.

God alone knows how to take a sweet “yellow rose” from Texas and bring her alongside a precious sister in Africa to show her the patient love and mercy of the very One she needs.

And only God can cause a rose to…. bloom.

Rose at school

blooming with God in Africa,Lorretta signature