Seeking Justice

This is a hard post to write. I’m going to (try to) be transparent. I’ve been home for a week from Guatemala and have had some time to reflect. I didn’t go to Guatemala with the intentions of limiting what God would do in me, but some where along the way that happened. I didn’t go with the attitude of humility or excitement of the first trip. Not that I was (intentionally) overly proud, but I think part of me “knew” what to expect in the experience. And so God had this pre-packaged version of the trip that I gave Him.

Fortunately, our God redeems. He takes what we give Him, smiles, and gives us back so much more.

Jami

I wrote about meeting Jami while we were there. I was so completely caught off guard by that moment. Honesty, that moment revealed an ugly truth about my heart: I can be nearly scientific in maintaining emotional distance and not engaging with people’s stories on a vulnerable level. I use the excuse that I’m not a “people” person, but truth be told, I don’t want to be vulnerable myself. By playing a simple game of catch and smiling through my awkward Spanish skills, God opened my heart enough to this experience to break it.

Despite being home for a week, that experience remains fresh, my heart remains broken.

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One thing that struck me on this trip is the scale and complexity of the problem of poverty. I was, in a word, overwhelmed. Our world is so very broken because of sin. Poverty and the inequality of the “system” is a symptom. What is more challenging is that by serving Jami and her family, the story of the poor wasn’t something I was reading in a magazine or on a blog, but something that personally affected me. I looked into her eyes…and I saw a person who by merely being born in Pastores, Guatemala lived in a house made out of particle board with no running water or electricity and who did not go to school. And who didn’t own a toothbrush.

That humility that I didn’t “pack,” showed up in a hurry.

Even though my human heart is overwhelmed by the scale and complexity of the problem of justice, I know that our God doesn’t turn His eyes from the poor. He actively pursues not only justice but honor for the poor.

“He raises the poor from the dust,
He lifts the needy from the ash heap
To make them sit with nobles,
And inherit a seat of honor;
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
And He set the world on them.”

1 Samuel 2:8

Jami now lives in a new house, with a locking door. Her family has a water filtration system that makes even the most polluted river water drinkable. She has a toothbrush, and toothpaste. Because God remembers her. Her name is written on His palm. He has a plan for Jami.

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The experience has circled back to this question for me: What does it mean for me to seek justice? What does seeking justice look like for me (and for our family)? While God doesn’t need me, per se, He wants me to be part of His plan and His work. So what does that look like for me?

I am completely humbled by the fact that God chose to use a little girl in Guatemala to bring me back to my knees. Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible. I am grateful that God used you in this opportunity. Thank you.

 

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“We died before we came here”

I read this story the other day:

When James Calvert went out as a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji Islands, the ship captain tried to turn him back, saying, “You will lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among such savages.” To that, Calvert replied, “We died before we came here.”

And now I’m asking myself, How do I live that way? How do I live with such abandon that the cost doesn’t matter? How can I make that translate to my every day life? I don’t think God has called us to live in another country, but I want that sort of perspective where God has planted me here.

But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.

The Apostle Paul
(Acts 20:24)

Unpacking the Trip

The last couple trips to Africa have left me disoriented when I returned home. Not only did I have to unpack a duffel bag full of laundry, but I had to unpack my experience , which took months. (Thankfully the literal unpacking only took a day…).

However, when I went to get Ephrem from Africa, I didn’t have a chance to unpack what I saw and experienced while we were there. I was doing the up-five-times-a-night thing. And the settle-into-our-new-life thing. And the you-can-do-the-employed-momma thing. I had these memories and experiences that had to be unattended while I gave emotionally to our family. There were no emotions or time to unpack the experience. And I felt okay with that. Becoming a parent through adoption was intense. (I’m sure becoming a parent period is intense…) I needed to focus 100% on our family.

But now we’re settling into a sense of “normal” and I’ve started the task of what all of this meant….or means.

One of the biggest reasons I went to Africa to bring Ephrem home was to capture any little piece of his story I could. So on Saturday after I arrived I found myself in a car, with Ephrem on my lap, traveling to the orphanage the originally cared for him. While I’ve visited a number of orphanages through my mission work so I knew what to expect on some level, I knew it was going to be a different far more personal experience because this place had a part in our son’s history. I would get to see where he slept, to meet the person who cared for him, see the children who lived there with him.

The visit was brief – just long enough for me to meet one of the orphanage workers, take a few photos for Ephrem’s life book, and meet some of the children who were there. But it was long enough to wreck me months later.

Because I am haunted by the children who were left behind that day.

I cannot stop thinking about them recently. I’m haunted by the idea that many or most of them won’t know a family. I’m haunted by the sad eyes of one little girl. I’m haunted by the poverty and vulnerability of the children, who likely only eat once a day if that. I only spent a moment with them, but they left their little fingerprints all over my heart. And I can’t seem to move on. More importantly, I don’t know that I want to.

But it’s left me with questions. Many questions.

When we ask God to break our hearts, and He does, what does that mean for everyday life? What does it look like here, when I can’t be in Africa? What does it mean for me now? How do I do what I can, where I am now, with what I have?

I’m unpacking the trip. And more than ever, I don’t see my world being the same again.

Josh Wilson “I Refuse” from Nathan Corrona on Vimeo.

James 1:27 and the Box

Living James 1:27 out has turned my world upside-down. Even before we adopted, James 1:27 threatened my normal American life. It wasn’t convenient to give up vacation and time with my husband to spend two weeks in Africa visiting and caring for orphans. My friends and family thought I had lost my mind to voluntarily go to Africa. It wasn’t easy to see abject poverty and not be able to change the way the world works so these kids will have a chance. It wasn’t fun to know that many of these children will never have a family. It was intimidating to think about what James 1:27 (or any of the other verses about caring for the widows and orphans) could mean to my nice, clean idea of my faith.

 

But that’s when I engaged my faith in a way that I think made me really “get it.” That’s when I really saw Jesus – in the eyes of beautiful children who happen to be fatherless. That’s when I felt His heartbeat. That’s when I learned that caring for orphans and vulnerable children with a $35 check each month wasn’t enough. That’s when I learned the power of holding hands and giving hugs to children who will not get them otherwise. That’s when faith wasn’t about going to church every week and meeting my “obligations,” but really living the eternal life that Christ died for (because, yes, you don’t have to wait for that to begin when you die…).

And adoption? Adoption has taken my faith to a whole other level. I now see God as a loving Father. I now know mercy and grace in a way I never would have experienced it before. I now look in my son’s dark eyes and see a future and a hope, not fear. I hold my son and know what an amazing miracle was done in his little heart and body for him to be here with us. I believe with all my heart that he would have died without a family who prayed for him for the eight months we waited for him.

So when I hear of someone tell people of his faith tradition not to adopt, to deny what I feel is a key part of our scriptural mandate(yeah, I don’t think it’s an optional part of our faith tradition) to care for the widows and orphans up close and personal and, for some of us, to adopt them to be part of our families, I am angry that people think that this little person represents my faith. I want that person to know that I pity his small version of Jesus. I think that sort of view of Christ cuts out 99% of the Gospels I read. I pity him for not wanting families to be representative of the family of God. I am annoyed at his underlying racism. And I am sad for him because he simply doesn’t “get it.” I am sad that God’s grace is limited to what is convenient to him. His version of God is confined to a nice neat American box.

I don’t think God lives in that box, Mr. Robertson.

(Thanks to my friend Kelly for sharing this video with me!)

Hunger

Like many Americans, I really thought I knew what hunger felt like. I thought I understood that sort of uncomfortable belly and grouchy feeling that you get when you’ve waited too long to eat. I’ve fasted or had to go without eating for a day…or so. I thought I knew it well enough.

That was until I heard my son’s hungry cry for the first time. I know what a hungry baby sounds like. This cry…this cry was so much more intense than that. And this is where words fail me. It was the sort of cry that makes you wish that no one ever has to be hungry ever. I can imagine that the time my son spent in an orphanage was a time when food wasn’t guaranteed or predictable. Formula is expensive in Africa. And orphanages are rarely adequately funded…if funded at all. Although I knew he had access to all the formula he needed, he did not. It was a horrible feeling, as a mother, to hear my son cry so loudly and know that his experiences taught him that food is not always available when he needed. (I did learn to make bottles in record time with a cry like that to motivate me!)

Nearly two months home and Ephrem is doing much better about food. He can now sign when he’s hungry (or at least sign back that he’s hungry :-)) and his cry has gotten to a more annoyed-that-this-is-taken-so-long cry rather than the will-I-ever-eat-again cry. He eats very regularly to comfort him that food is predictable and available.

This is why we believe and support Brighton Their World. If you’ve never heard of this small non-profit based out of Atlanta, you need to read their story here and learn what they’re doing here. They understand that nutrition starts at infancy and that no child should be hungry. Ever. They aren’t looking to solve child hunger, but they are making a big impact where God has led them. God is using them to create beauty from ashes.

But that’s not why I’m writing this post or sharing this part of our story, today.

Today, I’m writing to ask you for $7. I’m asking you for $7 to make a difference for one child.

Brighton Their World launched a campaign to provide meals for 500 kids in three orphanages in Ethiopia for the Ethiopia New Year. These kids get to eat three nutritious meals a year (New Year, Christmas and Easter). Yup, you read that right, A YEAR. Brighton Their World is looking to partner with these three orphanages to ensure that they can feed the kids for one of those meals. The cost to feed these kiddos an awesome, nutritious meal? $7 per child. Yup, you could skip a fancy Starbucks drink and have most of the money it will cost to feed just one child.

It’s not going to solve hunger. It’s not going to change the way the world works.

But it’s going to make sure these 500 kids in Ethiopia eat at least one nutritious meal in September.

We think this is something to be a part of and want to invite you to be a part, too.

http://www.brightontheirworld.org/FeedEm/

A new world

My world used to be so neat and clean. It used to consist of my husband, our little dog, and me. We had a nice little group of friends. We went to church, but didn’t do anything crazy with our faith. We went on vacation and watched TV shows regularly. We had a good little life.

Then, in the summer of 2010, we went to IDEAfarm.

And God turned my nice, clean, neat little world upside-down. Now I navigate this upside-down world as if this is where I really belonged all along.

I’ve been pondering what IDEAfarm really has meant to me over the last few weeks. It’s hard to express in words. But here’s my humble attempt.

I was at an impasse in my faith. I was tired of doing the Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night church thing without it really meaning something. I felt like my life was just on auto-pilot.

And somehow God led us to attend IDEAfarm in the summer of 2010. And, honestly, my life hasn’t been the same. I went for Evan, but it was as if God breathed new life into me through the retreat. It was at Lake Jackson, GA, at this retreat, with 10-ish other crazy passionate people that I discovered what God had purposed for my life (living Isaiah 1:17). Who I was. What my talents and gifts are. How I communicate. How I best do things. And then, how to take all of that and go forward with this dream to serve orphans throughout the world. Before that weekend, I didn’t even know that half of that stuff was inside my heart. Now, I can’t imagine life without the constant thought of the fatherless in my head, or without looking at my son’s beautiful dark eyes.

Since IDEAfarm, I’ve gone on two mission trips to Africa, visiting four countries in Africa (Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya). I’ve helped coordinate a mission trip with my church. We’ve adopted. Simply, my perfect, nice, neat world no longer exists. Life is messy and beautiful.

And I know this didn’t just happen to me. I can tell you about so many others who have experienced this same upside feeling to protect the fatherless, or fight for social justice for the “nameless,” or serve in Haiti. We have friends whose dream is to see the end of human trafficking. We have friends who serve God through creative arts. Their lives are all messy and beautiful.

So here’s the point I’m trying to make, if you are a college-aged person out there, if God has placed dreams in your heart, if you feel like your life needs to mean something, you must apply for IDEAfarm. Maybe God isn’t calling you to serve orphans or fight human trafficking, but whatever is in your heart, whatever passion keeps you awake at night or helps you get up in the morning, God will take that and make it explode. You will never be the same.

Here’s an added bonus for all you college students, aside from gas/airfare to get to Atlanta, GA, it’s free. FREE. It’s literally the best investment you can make over your summer. So, go, apply, and see what God will do to your world.

One for the widow. One for the orphan

To be honest, I thought I knew what James 1:27 meant. I really did. I visited orphans in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya. I mean, I thought I got it.

But then April 28 came. April 28 was our Both Hands project. We had a team of 35 volunteers to help us serve a local widow and fundraise for our adoption. We spent 7 hours working on a yard desperately in need of some TLC and painting a bedroom for a very special woman, still trying to reorient her life after losing her husband of 52 years. On April 28, suddenly, I really “got it.”

Because James 1:27 is about both the widow and the orphan. God’s heart is right there. He is with them, even when the rest of the world has forgotten the widow and the orphan.

But April 28? April 28 was a day that we celebrated and remembered two individuals to whom James 1:27 belongs – Joyce Blizzard and our son.

Even as we drove home, tears filled my eyes. This whole adoption journey has been incredible. Simply amazing. But no part of our son’s story has been quite as beautiful. We get to tell him about this very special woman and 35 amazing volunteers who came together for Both Hands – one for the widow, one for the orphan.

So for those of you who have followed along our adoption journey, we want to share this day with you. Check out the video about our project. Thanks for your support as we live out James 1:27. We hope you will be inspired to make a difference in whatever corner of the world you reside.

 

If you would like to sponsor this project and help us bring our son home, you can find more information about how to donate here: http://bothhandsfoundation.org/evan-and-carla-shows.aspx.

Impact Zambia

Every now and then I get the chance to share about something exciting that’s happening with Lifesong for Orphans. Check out the post below for an AMAZING opportunity to impact Zambia. There are only a few days left to join  – Check it out!

 Join us to IMPACT lives in Zambia...   

“Hi.  My name is Richard.  I am in grade 7.  I stay with my sister, Josephine.  I have three brothers and two sisters.  My other sister attends Lifesong and is in grade 5.  Her name is Emelia.  My mother stays in a village far away.  My father died in 2006.  Thank you for supporting me and may God bless you and add more days to your life.  My favorite subject is art.”

Richard is just ONE of the 253 students that we are blessed to serve at Lifesong Zambia.  He is also one of the students that will be moving on to grade 8 this fall.

Without the construction of new classrooms, Richard may join the 95% of Zambian children that are not able to attend High School.

Will you join us in impacting the lives of children like Richard?

To add to the excitement–thanks to a generous donor, all donations will be matched up to $225,000!!

To join the Impact Zambia 100 team, email info@lifesongfororphans.org!

Just Feed One

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.”

(Mother Theresa)

Photo courtesy of L. Miles, 2012

This quote haunts me. In all reality, you (as one individual) can’t fix the orphan crisis. Or hunger in the world. You can’t solve global poverty for everyone. Or provide a family for every child. So often we use this logic to excuse ourselves from doing anything. As if an inability to solve problems that have plagued the world since sin destroyed Eden means that we should refrain from trying to do something at all. But we can make a difference for at least one person.

We can hug one child who feels like they have been forgotten.

We can visit, come home, and advocate for the vulnerable.

You can sponsor a child to make sure they have access to food, education, and health care.

You can provide formula to an infant, who may otherwise become malnourished in a developing country.

You can adopt one (or two, or three, or more) children to be part of your family.

We do not have an excuse to do nothing because we cannot do everything.

 

So, what are you doing to “feed one”?

 

His Heart for Children

A little one from Haven of Hope in Nakuru, Kenya

Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt. 19:13-14)

I have never been so convinced of God’s heart for orphans and children as I have through this adoption. He sets the lonely in families (Psalm 68), even when there doesn’t appear to be a way. If we would just open our hearts, God can use us as part of His work.

For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
But the LORD will take me up. (Psalm 27:10)