Monday, December 26, 2016

A Father for the Fatherless

I'll never forget the look on his face. It is a memory that has come to mind many times since that day over three years ago now. I watched as a man staggered around, finally collapsing to the ground in a heap of drunkeness and I glanced over to see the stare on Rafael's face. It wasn't what you might imagine to see on the face of a ten-year-old boy who just saw his father pass out right in front of the crowd of kids who had gathered together for a friend's birthday party.

It was a sort of blank stare with an odd grin. It wasn't a happy grin, though. (Is there a happy grin to be had when you witness this... again?) It was an embarrassed grin. He continued to watch as Rosa calmly called to her boys to carefully drag him from the road and place him in the grass where at least the risk of getting hit by a mototaxi was lessened.

I pulled Rafael in close and hugged his rigid body tight.

"It's ok. You don't have to be embarassed," I spoke softly. "You didn't choose that life for your father. You can be different."

Tears ran down his cheeks and I held him closely.

We knew his story well enough by now. His mother is a hard-working woman with mental disabilities but a woman who cares for her children with what very little she has. Of the dozens of street kids that used to frequent our living room floor, she's the only one who ever showed up looking for her kids at dinner time. She came with a big sideways grin that will light up a room and all the respect one could have, asking if her kids had been any trouble at all. Even though we'd assure her that hers were indeed some of the politest to grace our home, she once gave us permission to "whip them" if we needed to. She had taught them to have respect and she wouldn't allow any differently.

But there was also the time that Rafael told Richard he was terrified to go home. His dad was drunk and he knew what that meant. The bruises on his older sister and his mom never lied.

Today, Rafael watched his father die in front of him. The details are foggy, but he came home to see him struggle through his last breath. And once again his heart was shattered. Rosa said he and his younger sister, Rafaela, were nearly inconsolable. And in a culture of bold judgements and accusations, Rafael has blamed himself for not being able to save his father in that moment, though everyone knew it was to be the end for his father eventually if no major life change took place.

Devastation. The already fatherless left truly fatherless. And while one could say that at least the abusing will cease, there are still so many scars and pains and confusion because this isn't what it's supposed to be like.

Now that very same grass where Rosa's boys dragged Rafael's father three years ago is the front yard of Grace House. And every day kids come to fill this tiny home up to learn and grow and laugh and play. But many of them go home to these same devastating situations.

There are stories I wish I could un-know. Stories that make me feel physically sick because I know that in these moments, as I type this out, horrific things are happening to many of these kiddos. And it feels like just not enough to run Grace House for these 40-50 kids. To send updates and share photos and relay stories, trusting that the Holy Spirit will move in the hearts of Christ-followers to partner with us prayerfully and financially and maybe even physically to do more because it's a heavy load for the three or four ladies who carry it.

Rosa said she's taking in Rafael and his little sister for a while. Rosa, whose home is already overflowing, housing eleven people, only two of whom are biologically tied to her. The rest Jesus' love knit right into her heart.

And here I sit so far away and I wonder to God, almost daily, why He would move us so far away when He knows that our hearts stayed there. He knows that we long to be present to carry this load and speak Truth and Love. And yet He always reminds me. Today a series of circumstances allowed for our close friend Sam, who is also part of the Amazon Network, to be in Benjamin and he was able to sit with Rafael and speak with him, listen to him, hold him. And my heart fills a little. And the sales from necklaces allow us to give extra this month to cover expenses related to feeding and caring for Rafael's family. And my heart fills a little more. And my own adopted daughter rests peacefully in a safe place tonight because God brought her permanently into our home from that very same street over three years ago now. He's working. The fatherless can know the True Father. There is hope.

Because we are a Body in Christ. And we can't all be the hands. Sometimes we're the elbow. Sometimes we're a knee. But always Christ is the Head of the Body and He is busy at work with our small offerings like a tiny little safe house during the week or an overcrowded home with not much more than eggs and rice or a photo shared on social media to spread the word about what God is doing. Because Rafael is important to Him. He was knit together in the womb. And we get the privilege of investing in his life so that perhaps one day he can know Christ, his Heavenly Father, and grow to have his own family and learn to care for his children and teach them the love of Christ.

And maybe through Christ's incredible power we will see this cycle of abuse and neglect in this tiny jungle town broken, for His glory and the good of His Body.

Pray for Rafael, Carine, Rafaela, and their mom, Carla. Pray for healing. Pray for Christ to make Himself known to them in this dark hour. Pray for Rosa to be filled with faith and love. Pray for Truth to be reveled.

Pray for all the kids of Grace House and our volunteers. Pray for more workers to come alongside this work. Pray for faithful donors. Pray for faithful prayer warriors. Join us in this battle for the lives of the least of these.

(Rafael with some close friends of ours, Steve and Debbie. 
He could hardly leave Steve's side during their time there.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

On Being a Difference Maker

I remember as a kid I used to dream of making a difference in people’s lives. I wanted to go on big adventures and heal wounds and preach truth and love hard.

As I got older that desire only grew more and more as I would read the stories of our missionary forefathers. I craved that same resolve that they had to stand in front of the trials with that unshakable faith and face the enemy with boldness. I was one daydream away from skipping through fields of daisies with my Bible in hand and a whole slew of new converts hot on my heals.


The hard looked so much easier back then when I could close the pages and roll over in my nice warm bed, clinging to the triumphant ending and dismissing the trials that led up to it.

But without a war, there is no victory. And no one gets to choose the parameters of war.

It all looked a lot easier back before we knew so much. Back before we had hurt so deeply. Back before all the dreams that were dreamed were crushed and replaced with the harsh realities of a broken and fallen world in need of True Love, not showcase Christianity.

I had somehow overlooked all the hard in those heroic stories. Because it’s easy to think of Noah standing in the sunshine with doves and rainbows and a big grin on his face like on all those coloring sheets in Sunday School growing up and forget that he listened as all of humanity drowned outside the walls of boat he had built with his own hands. Those were dark days. 

But wasn’t he a difference maker? He probably didn't feel like much of one. 

“I still don’t get it,” I said to him, sitting on the couch. It was getting late but my mind was full from the day and my body felt heavy from the weight of it all. “He is for us, right? He is true to His Word and He is for His name’s sake. He defends the weak and powerless. He stakes claim to the orphan and widow. So why does it always look this way, so difficult and seemingly hopeless? So much evil and resistence?”

It was about this time last year that a whole group of people abandoned us. They disagreed with one thing we did and that was that. Policy took precedent over orphans and the marginalized and any other good because there were rules and we had apparently broken them.

I was informed about the state of my heart by people who don’t even know me and certainly couldn’t tell you a single name of a person we labor with or a child we were fighting for. Things were said about us that had no basis of fact and we became “another lost cause” because of a difference of opinion.

It was another blow on the heels of many trials. Sort of like getting kicked in the teeth when you’re already down. Remember Job’s friends? Kind of like that.

But it took that for me to realize that they had never actually been with us at all. Now hear me out, because I don't blame them. Unknowingly, they, like I was in the beginning, were after the romance of it all. The adventure and incredible stories, but not the real, blood, sweat, and tears day to day battle. Because when it was hard, they weren’t there. When it was devastating, they were nowhere to be found. But when it broke their rules, made them uncomfortable, they were quick to turn away for the sake of their policy. Fair-weather fans. 

And it taught me so much. Because quite honestly had God not divinely orchestrated our lives just as He had, I may very well have abandoned ship, too. I was unwittingly a fair-weather fan, too. I had these ideas of what it was "supposed" to look like and how it was "supposed" to be. And it looked a lot more cut and dry in my finite mind than when it played out in reality.

If He hadn’t made us get down in the mud and muck and see into those eyes and experience this broken, I probably would’ve walked away and washed my hands of it, too. A proverbial “Bye, Felicia!” if you will.

But it’s too late now. I know too much. Those fairy-tale days are long gone.

I know the names of these little kids who have been and are being raped. I know of the beatings and the abuse of children and wives because they were my neighbors and are my friends. I know about the young kids who are exposed to sexually explicit and perverted environments from birth and I’ve literally watched the cycle take place of victim to victimizer because they played in my living room floor.  I see poverty and recognize that it has very little to do with a financial state and so much to do with a vicious cycle that runs generations deep. I’ve seen the men passed out on the roads every morning and the women with their bodies exposed staggering down the street. The depravity of man. The hopeless generations. 

I’ve looked into the empty eyes of an orphan.

And I’ve made one my daughter at the expense of everything I’ve ever dreamed of.

I’ve watched an institution called “church” use the holy name of Jesus Christ for its own gain. I’ve seen them falsely accuse the faithful, humble servants of God. I’ve seen them condemn and vomit hate on the very ones we are called to love. I’ve watched “pastors” build their kingdoms, preach a false gospel of comfort and prosperity, and lead so many down the same path.

I've seen the injustices. But more than that, I've felt it deeply. 

It’s devastating when we step outside of ourselves and our preconceived ideas and our comforts and bend down low and truly see the brokenness of this world and ourselves. 

But it is oh so beautiful, too.

Because I’ve also seen miraculous redemption. I’ve seen kids rescued from hopelessness. I’ve seen bellies filled and arms embrace. I’ve seen souls redeemed and love abound. I’ve seen Truth proclaimed and bonds broken. I’ve seen transformation and confession. I’ve seen unity and freedom.

I’ve watched a Body called Church come together as one in a place of deep darkness, despite differences of language and culture and ethnicity, and rejoice in a Savior who knows and cares and sees us. I’ve seen wounds healed and bodies mended. I’ve wept with the weeping and rejoiced with those who rejoice.  

I’ve seen True Love and it is radical and transforming and very much alive.

“I don’t know why it’s this way, really,” he responded. “But I know that I’d much rather walk these deep valleys now, and suffer with our brothers and sisters now. Because, from my experience, the deeper the valley, the greater the joy and the deeper the relationship with our Father. And that? That's worth every hardship.”

And it occurs to me: this is what it looks like to be a difference maker. In fact, this is what I’ve actually dreamed of my whole life and just didn’t know it. Hard. Overwhelming. Incomprehensible. Debilitating. It’s supposed to leave you on your face in your closet weeping because you feel like you can’t breath under the weight of it all and begging God to draw near, to defend His name, to bring justice and mercy, confessing we need Him. That we can't handle it on our own.

It’s not supposed to be easy, with comfortable buildings and fancy programs and convenient, mediocre commitments to check off a man-made list. It’s not ABC or 123. It's not rules and restrictions. It’s not being passively passionate about the newest bandwagon brigade on social media. It’s not supposed to look like building our kingdom here, fattening our hearts for the day of slaughter as James calls it. 

And it sure as hell isn’t supposed to look like the American dream.

It’s supposed to look like dying. It’s supposed to look like enduring. It’s supposed to look like habitual brokenness for the world around us. It’s supposed to look like sacrifice and surrender. It’s supposed to look like defending the poor and powerless. It’s supposed to look like bringing them into our homes and lives. It's supposed to look like opening our doors and hearts. It's supposed to inconvenience us. It's supposed to look like mercy and grace. Peace and hope. Freedom and forgiveness. 

It's supposed to look like a Body unified. 

It’s supposed to look like the opposite of everything that makes sense to the world and even ourselves.

And I personally have never seen any of these things take place in the midst of the comfort and ease. And I can't seem to find an example of that in Scripture either. It's always in the brokeness and the longing, because that's what drives us to our knees and empties us of ourselves.

I’ve met some real-life difference makers. I call many of them my closest friends. They don’t look much like you might think. They’re simple and weak. Poor and broken. They aren't eloquent and they don't have much materially speaking. They make mistakes and get scared. But they’ve given everything and then some for the sake of the Gospel because they believe in its power that deeply. It’s not quite as pretty as I imagined in the early days. I can't seem to fit it inside of a neat little box, either.

I still want to be a difference maker.  Because they are some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met. 

And that’s because they look a lot like Jesus.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Pray for Grace House

I sat across the living room from her and I felt like with each word coming out of her mouth, someone was placing another brick on my shoulders.

God brought her here and this journey has been devastating to all that I have ever known. For three years now, our life has been turned upside down.

She told the stories and I just kept thinking, “They’re still out there. All of the other littles are still out there.”

And it feels so heavy to walk this path that is our new normal and to carry this weight with our now daughter and navigate these treacherous black waters. But what if we had left her there? I can’t fathom.

But what if I had known that this would be so hard? Would I have said it was worth it? Would I do it again?

All those little faces dance through my mind and I can feel my heart aching under the weight of it all. I know their names. I know their stories. I know their reality.

And what more can we do? We have Grace House and it’s a safe place. But we are new at this whole thing and the growing pains hurt, too. The enemy just wants to destroy and we can’t know what we don’t know.

So we bend our knees and beg God for wisdom and discernment with our daughter and with the children’s home because we know—we KNOW—that His heart is for the orphaned child. He is FOR us in this.

Will you join us? We need prayer for Rosa. We need prayer for Aurilene. We need prayer for the other volunteers. We need prayer for the kids. We need prayer for more volunteers, more people with a heart and passion to teach and love and serve.

We need prayer.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Savage

I remember very vividly the first time I saw him.

Mariclene had been our breakfast visitor for a while and on occassion she would show up with one of her biological siblings so they could also devour eggs and bread, often their only real meal for the day.

He was butt. naked.

Every time he showed up. Naked.

His long, seemingly highlighted, curly hair reached his shoulders and he had this wild-eyed look on his face at all times. He was about two years old at the time and couldn’t say a single word. He always came toting his little broken riding toy. (And if another child tried to take said toy, screaming and grunting quickly ensued!)

He was the cutest thing, though remarkably reminding me of a modern baby tarzan.

Richard and I would joke between the two of us calling him “O selvagem”, meaning “the savage”. Because between the naked buttcheeks and the grunts, well, he seemed pretty savage!

His two big sisters cared for him, but mostly Mariclea, his older sister. She was eight.

She would walk with him down the street and fix him a bowl of “farinha” and water. She brought him “home” and just looked after him in general.

She was EIGHT.

Fast-forward to our first Grace House meeting nearly three years ago. We were discussing everything: who would be in charge of daily decisions, what would a meal plan look like and so on. And then it was brought up, “What do we do when we are at capacity and there is STILL a need?”

We all just sort of sat there. Because you want to say, “We will just take them anyway, of course!” But there is this part of you that says, “What about a place to sleep when the floor is already full? What about food when you are already dividing up the pieces of bread? And, perhaps most of all, what about truly providing love when Rosa is already stretched so incredibly thin?”

We kind of just left it there because who really wants to address that? We’ll just cling to James 1.5 when that moment comes...

So here we are, reading James 1.5 and praying over it, asking God to give that generous dose of wisdom. Because yesterday we got word that little “savage” has been returned to his birth mother. And that’s a really bad situation.

For the past little while, he has been with another woman in Atalaia, a little jungle town about 45 minutes from Benjamin. While we knew that this was also not an ideal situation, we knew that at the very least he was being fed, had a place to sleep, and was going to school regularly. Sometimes, we just have to rest in that and God’s grace to fill in the gaps.

But now, the woman who had taken him in has left her husband for another man and returned the boy to the biological mother as though he were an object that she had just gotten tired of. I wish I could say that this is unusual, but it’s not. These types of situations happen all. the. time. Parents and caregivers are caught up in the poverty cycle and are very detached from their children. So to pass them off to another is often a mindless, heartless action. It’s more like a reflex when times get tough. One less thing to worry about.

So the boy is now with his biological mother and she does not want him. She has made that clear not only through her words, but through her actions. She has already given away Mariclene to us and three of her other biological siblings to Rosa, as well as another fourteen year old boy who lives with another family, (though he mostly roams the streets). She does not have a stable home. She sells herself and her things to feed her drug habits. It’s a terrible situation for a child.

It may seem like the obvious thing to do is to bring him to Grace House. I hear ya. I wish so much that it were that simple. But to say that Rosa is at capacity is an understatement. She currently has 11-12 people living in her 1,000 square foot home with no running water. Most nights there are 2-3 to a bed. The actual home of Grace House cannot yet be used to house the children because God has not sent us house parents yet to be full-time caregivers. This leaves Rosa to continue to manage her own home as well as the 40+ kids that show up Monday-Thursday for the  program. Additionally, she feeds 10-15 kids those days as well. And through various circumstances, all of her full-time volunteer help has had to step down for one reason or another, some health related, some job related. This has left Rosa, her middle son Pepeco, and their neighbor, Eliana, to carry the weight of about 50 kids.

All of this leaves us in a quandry. We know that Jesus’ heart is for the children of this town. We see that throughout scripture. We know that He provides. And yet, we don’t know what to do. Because all of these physical circumstances don’t even touch the issue that children from this background have massive emotional and behavioral needs. Taking in a five year old boy with attachment disorders and survival instincts is a task for a family, not a single lady already at capacity.

So that’s what we are praying for. Against all odds, we are praying for a godly family to take in this boy and truly, deeply love him. He needs that.

My heart aches, y’all. I want to take him in myself. Having passed through that valley within our own family, I recognize the immense struggle a family would be facing to accept him in and the reality is, most aren’t able or willing. But we are praying in faith the God will send one, against all odds.

Please pray for this situation with us. Pray for wisdom, faith, hope, and a family to care for this boy whom we all love dearly.

This is a picture from about two years ago of Mariclene with four of her biological siblings.
 The boy in the front is the boy at risk. The other three already live at Grace House.
He is only about three-years-old in this picture. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Missionary Rehab

I sat alone in our new-to-us car and I banged my hands on the steering wheel and yelled at God that I was angry that this was happening. That I didn’t want this car or these plans or these good-byes.  I let Him know straight up that it was unfair because we had planned our life there in the Amazon. We sold all of our stuff four years ago, REMEMBER?! That was because the jungle was supposed to be our new forever home. Tears flowed to the point that my heart physically ached in my chest and my breath caught in my throat.

It was an ugly cry, y’all. I’m glad no one else was there because you can’t unsee that.

And I want to tell you that after that I was better. I really want to say that one good cry and BAM! the Holy Spirit washed me with a renewed confidence in His goodness and sovereignty and that I was suddenly a well-adapted protégé of our missionary forefathers, full of faith and trust in an all knowing, all sufficient God. {Insert Sunday morning fake smile here.}

Instead I’m in counseling because some days I. just. can’t.

It’s missionary rehab, if you will.

I sat in the parking lot before my first session and almost had a straight up panic attack. I was sniffing essential oils like an addict and texting Richard so that I didn’t talk myself out of it. “What kind of missionary needs counseling?” Right?

My first session was an hour and a half long. About an hour in, I paused after spilling the overview of our life for the last four years all over her in addition to filling a few tissues with snot and tears. I just sort of stared at her.

She calmly listened, handing me a new kleenex as needed. Bless her soul. She’s a good one.

Her words: “I think if I got down one of my books on traumatic life events from my shelf, you would be able to check nearly all of them off the list and then some. It’s a miracle of God that you and your family survived many of those situations independently, much less all of them. Rest in that truth that it’s ok to be in this place of fear, anxiety, and confusion. It’s not the end.”

My instinct was, “Don’t patronize me. You don’t know my life.”


But then I realized she wasn’t. (And I had in fact just shared with her much of my life... soooo she kinda did know my life...) The reason I was sitting in her office was because we’d gone through some legitimately traumatizing things and that was ok. There was healing and hope still.  Breath of fresh air.

I went back the following week and then the following three weeks and it’s been both painful and healing. Because something happens when we are honest about our pain and we talk through the trauma in light of Hope.

After the difficulties of our adoption and the isolation we experienced those first two years among other things, I developed an anxiety disorder that’s only increased in intensity since being Stateside. After all, you don’t get to leave the country for four years and maintain relationships the way they used to be, especially in a region with internet access comprable to that of 1999. Even more so relationships that were severed due to others’ lack of understanding of life there and differences in preference. Now I find myself in the city where I was born and raised with no close friendships.

It’s a very strange place to be.

The abrupt (to us) ending of our time overseas makes me feel much like Moses on the mountain staring at the Promised Land but not actually getting to enter it. We walked some deep, dark valleys and only in the last six months of our time there did we finally begin to see buds of fruit. A community of Believers uniting for the cause of Christ. Incredible, unexplicable things happening. Beautiful.

And then God said, “Move. You can’t stay here.”

And my heart feels the heaviness of leaving all that we have known and loved and pursued and sacrificed for, only to return to a wilderness of reverse culture shock and loneliness and not knowing even where to begin to share the incredible things that God has done and is doing there.

I went a solid two months without makeup because why? Tears are no respecters of mascara.

But there in that small room with the counselor who is an MK (missionary kid) herself, I can work through these emotions and she gives me perspective and hope.

My day to day is still very much a roller coaster of fear and anxiety. A simple decision at the grocery store can send me straight to the Cliff of Internal Meltdown (WHY ARE THERE SO MANY OPTIONS OF KETCHUP?!). Running into someone I knew in what feels like a previous life can make my heart pound so loud I can hear it louder than our conversation (WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO TALK ABOUT?!).

This is all new to me. But turns out that actually, it’s pretty standard if we read—truly read—through Scripture and even biographies of modern missions. Life is a series of planning our ways in faith and then holding them loosely. It’s a story of being human with all its inconsistencies and fears and doubts and short-sightedness and yet still trusting through it. And slowly but surely through each season that ultimately leads to surrender to Him in His perfect ways, we find ourselves more and more in His image. Our faith grows. Our trust in Him grows. We lose more of ourselves.

Elisabeth Elliot put it this way:

“There is no ongoing spiritual life without this process of letting go. At the precise point where we refuse, growth stops. If we hold tightly to anything given to us, unwilling to let it go when the time comes to let it go or unwilling to allow it to be used as the Giver means it to be used, we stunt the growth of the soul. It is easy to make a mistake here, “If God gave it to me,” we say, “its mine. I can do what I want with it.” No. The truth is that it is ours to thank Him for and ours to offer back to Him, ours to relinquish, ours to lose, ours to let go of – if we want to find our true selves, if we want real life, if our hearts are set on glory.”

So I figure if Elisabeth Elliot can say that, and she walked through some high flames, I can buckle down and trust that He really is that good and He is sovereign and I can throw to the wind like chaff from the wheat what others think and what fears may linger in my heart and I can lean hard into Him and trust that He’s never let us down and He sure isn’t going to start now. That His ways are truly higher than ours and I can not only rest in that but rejoice in that wholeheartedly as I look over the last four years and how it’s been proven true time and time again.

This process of letting go is so hard, but it’s also so. incredibly. beautiful.

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