The 5 Things My Dad Did Wrong (and why that makes him the best)

Today is Father’s Day, and too often I think we use days like today to celebrate the things our dads have done right, and totally disregard all of their mistakes. Or, conversely, focus solely on the things our dads have done wrong. This morning, I listened to a sermon about the pressure that dads face, and how we are to respond to both their successes and shortcomings. As I sat down to write something in honor of my dad, I struggled with the inability honestly celebrate my dad while simultaneously taking into account that he is not perfect. My parents started out really young; dad was 22 when I was born and my mom was only 18. My dad has told me time and time again he made mistakes when I was little, and how sorry he is. He did a lot of the things a lot of dads do wrong…but somehow, my dad is still the best. I was trying to figure out how that is, and this is what I came up with.

1. He told me, “No.”

No, you can’t have another cookie. No, you can’t go see that movie. No, you can’t go to that concert. No, your boyfriend can’t come over while you’re home alone. No, you can’t go to that party. No, you can’t quit studying. No, you can’t take the easy way out. Hearing the word no is something I’m used to, and as a kid, it was hard to deal with. It took me a long time to realize it, but each and every one of those no’s was my dad protecting me, teaching me how to make wise decisions, looking out for me…for my health, for my relationship with God, for my earthly relationships, for my education, for my general wellbeing.

No, you can’t go to Africa. My dad and I are a lot alike in many ways, but primarily in that we don’t like being told no. As soon as we hear the word no, a little voice in our heads accepts it as a challenge. This was the hardest no I have ever had to deal with. My Father was telling me to go, but my dad was saying no. My dad’s no forced me onto my knees before my Father, forced me out on a limb to apply for my first trip to Swaziland, forced me to trust my Father to provide. Even if my dad didn’t realize it, he allowed himself to be used as a tool of the Lord to trust my faith, to see how far I was willing to push the envelope on behalf of my calling to Kingdom work. We have both had the chance to grow…in fact, my dad was the one to inform me the Swaziland application was available for my second trip.

2. He didn’t treat me like a girl.

There are 15 years between my brother and I, so growing up, I was the oldest of three girls. Not only that, but growing up, I was a daddy’s girl. Because of that, he didn’t treat me like a girl. Dresses were for church and special occasions only; gym shoes were my go-to shoes. My dad grew up with a brother, and had all sorts of manly information to pass on to someone…me. I know how to change a tire, how to parallel park almost anywhere, how to change the oil in my car, how to strategically pack everything I own into my car, how to shoot a gun, how to defend myself (and someone else) if necessary, how to win almost any argument (except with him, of course), how to lead others and take people by surprise in doing so, how not to take no for an answer. He taught me how a man should treat me, and how to stand up to any man who treated me poorly. He taught me the things that a man should do for me, like opening doors and walking on the outside of the sidewalk, but more importantly, he taught me how not to need a man to do those things for me. He taught me how to be independent and that’s the best gift he could give me.

3. He’s never around. Prior to 9/11 and for a short while afterwards, he worked in the airline industry. During the crash following 9/11, he was unemployed because airlines were laying people off left and right, going bankrupt, and no one was hiring. He started working in other fields because they paid the bills…he sold cars for awhile. Worked at some security/safety consulting agencies. Worked nights and FedEx for a long time because it paid well and provided our family with medical insurance. He taught night classes at a local community college after his day job to bring in extra income to help make ends meet. He joined the Air National Guard shortly after 9/11, and committed to one drill weekend a month to serve our country. He’s missed choir concerts, soccer games, plays, show choir competitions, birthdays…all of those things dads should be there for, he has missed because he was always trying to provide for our family, which is far more important than showing up for a two-hour choir concert.

4. He’s left my family behind.

He has been deployed 3 times and been assigned to more long-term stateside trainings than I can count. There was one time we added up all the months he’s been away from our family, and while I can’t recall the exact amount, it was multiple years of time. He is getting ready to embark on his fourth long term deployment, and will once again be leaving us behind for six to seven months. This is the hardest one to explain to people, and the hardest one for others to understand. It took me years of being an Air Force brat to understand that sometimes, there are people in the world that need my dad to fight for them more than I need my dad here. He taught me how to take care of my car, how to defend myself and my siblings, how to take care of myself and my mom, how to be independent when he can’t be here. There aren’t many things he could teach me than how to be there for myself when he can’t.

5. He told me I wasn’t good enough.

I remember getting B’s in a few English classes in middle school, and my dad lecturing me for it. You speak English. There’s no reason to get a B. That’s not good enough. I distinctly remember the first time I came home with a C+ on a report card. It was the first quarter of the eighth grade, and my 78% C+ was in geometry. I brought it to my parents after dinner, and in return received a lecture on how I wasn’t trying hard enough. I need to apply myself. I need to study harder, talk to the teacher outside of class, ask friends for help. C’s are not good enough. I remember trying to pick classes for my freshman year of high school, and contemplating leaving the honors program I had been part of since the fourth grade. Taking the easy way out is not good enough. As I mentioned before, that little voice in my head hears things like “You can’t do that” or “That’s not good enough” and replies, Challenge accepted. My dad held high expectations over my head so that I might exceed them.

So yeah, my dad isn’t perfect. In fact, he’s not even close. He’s made mistakes. He continues to make mistakes. We hold him accountable, but hold him in grace so he might continue to grow in Christ and as a father. He might be sorry for his mistakes, but I’m certainly not. If it weren’t for my dad, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and where I am going with my life. Thank you, Daddy. Happy Father’s Day.

Love, Pumpkin

Day 1: 4 Hours

I have been counting down to June 7, 2015 for the last 355 days, and it’s finally here.

It’s today. It’s today it’s today it’s today. My heart is nearly beating out of my chest. My bags are packed, I have my passport and my Swazi currency. My guitar is ready for the long journey ahead, so that we might worship with the mountains.
I don’t understand how a person can go to Swaziland and not experience life change, but it happens. I’ve seen it happen with many of my team members–not that it is wrong or bad or anything like that–I guess maybe what I don’t understand is how I have experienced so much life change while walking beside someone on this adventure, experiencing the same things, but walking away with totally different outcomes. There is so much Jesus in absolutely everything we see and do. One such place, and the real landmark that we’ve crossed into Swazi territory, is the mountains.
Let me explain the mountains to you: they are composed of beautiful red rock, and reflect our Lord’s handiwork in a way that is completely indescribable. Mbabane, the capital of Swaziland, is set into a valley of three mountain ranges. I can’t even count the number of pictures I have taken, trying to capture just one that do my mountains justice. Over and over in the bible, both old and new testament, are mountains used in reference to God’s power; we serve a God so great and mighty that even the mountains bow at His name; mountains can move from Point A to Point B without hesitation; a God so great and mighty that His mountains serve as an altar of worship. 
If you know me at all, you know I am NOT an outdoorsy person. I firmly believe that if God intended us to spend all of our time outdoors, He wouldn’t have given us the glorious gift of walls and roofs. These mountains, however, are astounding. You cannot look at the scenery and think that anything but God created this. These mountains make me want to fall on my face in worship and adoration at the foot of the Cross, like so many things about this trip.
Last year, upon my departure, I left these two verses as a reminder of the awesome provision the Lord gives His people:

And I will be to her a wall of fire all around,” declares the Lord, “And I will be the glory in her midst.” Zechariah 2:5
“God is within her, she will not fail.” Psalm 46:5

This is my prayer: Lord, prepare our hearts for any and all experiences we might encounter, and prepare all those we might meet along the way. Soften hearts and open minds, so that we might have the boldness to be brave on your Kingdom’s behalf. Protect us, protect our kids, protect our care pointe, protect our community. We pray for King Mswati, that he might come to know you and treat his people with the same loving kindness, mercy and grace you’ve shown us. We beg that you show up in a mighty way, one that is unmistakable to any and everyone who sees. We love you and we trust you. It is in your awesome and holy name we pray.
It’s today. It’s today it’s today it’s today.

2 Days // I didn’t ask for this.

My trip has been 100% covered in your contributions, and for that I am so, so grateful.

In the interest of transparency: I didn’t ask for this.

Just like the human body, 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 tells us that each part of the body of Christ has its own unique purpose, different gifts and talents and abilities in order to complete the mission for which it has been appointed to do. One body part cannot function without those around it, and without one part, the whole body cannot complete its mission.

There are some days where I look at this earthly body of mine and think to myself, wow. I am uniquely qualified for the assignment I have been given. More often than not, however, I look at this body of mine and think to myself, I did not ask for this body of mine.

I did not ask for a mind that keeps me awake at night, trying to think of ways to logistically house and feed every orphan in Swaziland. (I mean, come on, the military can house and feed hundreds of thousands, why can’t I?)

I did not ask for eyes that are drawn to the outcasts, the lonely, the ones most in need of attention and affection.

I did not ask for eyelids, the inside of which are indelibly inked with the images of painfully beautiful moments with my babies.

I did not ask for ears to which the sound of children is like the most beautiful of songs, ears that hear the cry of one child over the laughs and cheers of others.

I did not ask to find my heart walking around outside my body (click here) so, so far away.; a heart that is broken over watching these sweet babies fend for themselves, and grow up feeling unloved by parents, siblings, their Creator.

I did not ask for an immune system that might kill me in the US, but save me in a third world country.

I did not ask for a voice that does not shake when asked to speak in front of large crowds.

I did not ask for arms that can rock colicky infants to sleep.

I did not ask for hands large enough to hold that of three or four children at once, because there is a shortage of such.

I did not ask for fingers that could pluck guitar strings and teach children to sing of the Happy Day when Christ came alive.

I did not ask for a stomach strong enough to withstand the smell of un-bathed children, urine-soaked clothing, burning trash and feces.

I did not ask for long legs that can play soccer as easily as they can provide seats to two or three children at once.

I did not ask for feet that feel at home wrapped in canvas TOMS, stained red with Swazi soil, impervious to rocks, thorns and sticker plants. Feet that knew I was home the moment they touched Swazi soil.

I am clumsy and uncoordinated with these things that I have been given. Sometimes I get too wrapped up in what’s happening in front of me to see the ones most in need, or enjoy too much the sound of laughter to hear the cry of a child. Sometimes my heart aches more for my own circumstances, those that keep me up at night. Sometimes my immune system knocks me flat on my back (pun intended), and sometimes I can’t use my voice to speak up for my babies. Sometimes, my arms and legs and hands shake so much that I can’t hold a glass of water, let alone hold babies or play guitar. Sometimes, my feet get tired, and the Swazi soil washes away. Sometimes I forget the beauty of the sights, the strength of the smells, the depth of the feels.

It is on days like today that it is the very hardest to cling to the Cross, when I feel weak and powerless, undeserving of the gifts and talents I have been given in order to complete my mission as a part of the body of Christ. As a missionary, I have been warned that the enemy attacks when we are closest to Christ, when there is the most at stake, when we have the most to lose. It is in those moments that the enemy finds us the most vulnerable, because we never see it coming. Today is one of those days. I know the enemy is attacking, but knowing doesn’t make it easier to face. It is days like today that I think that this body of mine is more a burden than a blessing.

And then I remember: this body of mine is not mine.

I may not have asked for these things, but God did. Not only did he ask, he commanded them. He commanded ME. To go, to do, to love. To use this little ol’ speck of his great and mighty body to be a light in the darkness, so that his children might rejoin the Kingdom of Heaven.

On days like today, straight out of Ephesians, this is my prayer: that I might live a life worthy of this calling I have so graciously been given, even when—especially when—I fall short of the glory of God. So here I am. Lord, send me.

2 days, 14 hours, 21 minutes until I go.

Here I am, Lord. Send me.

9 Days // Like No Tomorrow

I leave for Swaziland in 9 days, 6 hours, 59 minutes.

Quiet time with Jesus is always an interesting thing for me because this is what tends to happen:

  1. I start reading a passage of scripture.
  2. Jesus verbally punches me in the face.
  3. I sit there in shock for a few minutes.
  4. I keep reading.
  5. Jesus shows back up and empowers me.

I wrote the other day about how James 4:3 hit me hard and called me out in sin. Today, as I flipped to the bookmarked page in my bible, I returned to continue reading James 4 when I stumbled upon verses 13-17:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and so this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

In my crazy semester at school, I was working in a sushi restaurant. There was one Saturday I worked a painfully long shift—10:30 am to about 12:30 the next morning. Fourteen hours on my feet on the busiest day of the restaurant week, and I was ready to go home. My last table of the night was a group of four gentlemen dressed like serious hoodlums—baggy jeans, South Pole and Baby Phat sweatshirts, flatbills, grills in their teeth—and my programs of study came up in conversation. I was able to explain how much I love Swaziland and my upcoming trips and the overwhelming need that exists. The following conversation went a lot like this:

Guy: Aren’t you scared you’re going to get killed or raped?

Me: No. I could just as easily get killed or raped here in the US, and I wouldn’t be impacting people in the same way on Christ’s behalf.

Guy: What happens if somebody walks in and holds a gun to your head and asks if you’re a Christian?

Me: I’d say yes.

Guy: What if it were right there in front of your thirty kids?

Me: You better believe I’d say yes.

The guys erupt into laughter of shock. “You’re crazy,” says one of them. “You can’t protect your kids or save babies if you’re dead. Why would you do that?”

Me: The best way I can protect anyone, especially my kids, is to shield them with Christ. Philippians 1:20-21 says, ‘I eagerly hope and expect that I will in no way be ashamed, but that Christ would be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death (NIV). Alive, I am Christ’s messenger. Dead, I am his bounty. Life versus more life? I can’t lose (MSG)!’

Guy: But why would you put your kids through watching their mom get shot?

Me: Because there is no greater example to set for my children. My job is to model the best example of Christ that I can for my kids, and really, for anyone I come in contact with. “There is no greater love than he who lays down his life for his friend.” I hope and pray that I was a good enough mother and leader to those kids that they understood that Christ-like love, and that those kids would follow suit and claim their faith in the face of danger.

I heard this somewhere, not sure where, awhile back and it changed my outlook on things:

The Jesus I know wants us to go dangerous places and love dangerous people and live our lives so dangerously for the Kingdom that we become a hazard to everyone around us who is trying to play it safe.

God has called people to dangerous places to do dangerous things almost exclusively throughout history. You have Abraham, who left behind everything and everyone he knew, simply because God asked him to. He was even willing to kill his own son to follow God’s command. There’s Jochebed, a Hebrew woman living in Egypt, who hid her newborn son from guards with orders to kill baby boys before floating him down the Nile in a basket—without her, we wouldn’t have had Moses, who liberated the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. There’s Noah, who built a gigantic ark while being mocked and threatened by his community. There’s Mary, who bore the shame of pregnancy before marriage so that she might bear the Messiah. Paul, who spoke out on behalf of his encounter with God, knowing that he might lose his life. The disciples, who followed Jesus despite his reputation and seemingly heretical teachings. Rahab, who risked her life to harbor Israelite spies. Jonah, who [eventually] went to Ninevah to preach a warning over the people. Lot, who left behind everything he knew, and never looked back. Peter, who built the church despite persecution. There is Jesus, who came to earth knowing he would be mocked, ridiculed, abused, and killed, simply for proclaiming his title of King of king, Lord of lords, the Son of God.

Millions of people all over the world who hide their faith on a daily basis from family, friends, coworkers, neighbors…but would claim Christ, even in the face of danger. Especially in the face of danger.

Some of those millions of people are my brothers and sisters in Ethiopia. About a month ago, 30 of those brothers and sisters were taken from this world at the hands of ISIS, because they refused to deny Christ. They understood that tomorrow is never promised, and so they lived dangerously, by harboring a forbidden faith, a salvation relationship with Jesus so they might live their lives for their Creator in the way they are called.

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

I have not been given long on this earth. None of us has. None of us has even been granted a tomorrow…so why do we waste our today trying to play it safe?

Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and so this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

People ask me why I would go to a closed nation like Ethiopia, where my faith could sign my death sentence. The reason I am going is that I am not promised a tomorrow. I refuse to waste any more time by not doing exactly what God has called me to do. The reason I am going is that Matthew 28:19 calls us to make disciples of ALL nations…not just the easy ones. The reason I am going is the very fact that my faith in the Creator of the universe could sign my death sentence, and that is not okay.

It is the Lord’s will that I go; if I know that I should go to Ethiopia and then I don’t go, it is like telling God my safety is more important than His plan. His divine and perfect plan to save all of mankind—if I have any saving faith at all, how could I refuse to be part of that plan? If it is God’s plan for my life that I die for my faith, I will die for my faith at the appointed time, whether I am in Ethiopia or Swaziland or the US. If I know this to be true, how could I possibly turn God down?

Countdown to Ethiopia: 40 Days, 40 Nights

And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him… And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. (Genesis 7:5, 10-12)

Several months ago, my campus pastor approached me with news of an upcoming trip to Ethiopia and informed me I needed to look into it. By now, I am sure you know that I get a little bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about any and all things African, so I went to the interest meeting. I had a missed call from my dad as I was walking back to my dorm, so I called him back and apologized for being in the meeting, and told him, I think I need to go to Ethiopia this summer. His response: Okay. I think that’s a good idea. 

I wish I could divulge more information prior to the trip. Here is what I can tell you: I am going to a region of Ethiopia that could potentially be extremely hostile, as it is almost entirely 100% Muslim, making it an unreached people group. Just a month ago, 30 Ethiopian Christians were captured and beheaded by ISIS. We were instructed not to mention the name of the villages or even the direction of the region; to scrub our social media accounts of comments or remarks that were blatantly Christian, for fear of not having our visas cleared by the Ethiopian government. We will not be having many spiritual conversations, nor will we be carrying bibles around with us. We are going to build a special needs complex in an area with an unusually high concentration mental, emotional and physical handicaps in need of additional care.

When I was told I can’t talk about the Jesus that I am so madly in love with, my jaw physically dropped. How on earth am I supposed to do that? I think about my Swazi babies and how we tell them over and over,  schleke kuhle, nokwanda Jesu uyaku tsadza kakhulu. Smile, beautiful. Jesus loves you very much. The older kids often ask why we travel so far from home to see them. I tell them that my Jesus loves me so very much that my heart cannot contain his great love, so he sent me to Njojane to share the love with each of them. How do I communicate through not only a language barrier in Ethiopia, but without the mutual understanding that I am here on Christ’s behalf? How else do I explain why on earth I’ve traveled halfway around the world just to love on some kids and build them a building?

Because the Lord commanded me.

My floodwaters have come–I have seen the graphic beheading of my brothers and sisters. I have gone through all my social media accounts, as far back as the sites will allow, and edited the Jesus right out of my life. If it weren’t for the fact that I am taking a team with me, I would not have edited the Jesus out of my life. This makes my heart hurt–I have been given this miraculous, life-giving, life-changing love and grace that goes so far above and beyond what I deserve, and I can’t even shout about it from the mountain tops of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And why?

Because my Lord commanded me.

It is a hard pill to swallow. This whole trip is a lesson in frustration. I have to sleep in a bug-netted hammock to ward of yellow fever and malaria. Because of my health, I cannot get the yellow fever vaccine, because it is a live virus vaccine and would likely hospitalize me. Rumor has it we only get to shower 2-3 times the whole trip, and that our diet will be of the goat and ramen noodle persuasion. It’s going to be a million degrees. And yet, I find myself counting down the days.

Because my Lord commanded me.

40 days, and 40 nights. 40 days, and the floodgates of heaven spring open, and the Living Water will rain down over our nondescript village and deeply thirsting region–the land without Christ. My heart is heavy, but still I rejoice.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-6)

17 Days // at the foot of the Cross

17 days. There are only 17 more days until I leave for Swaziland.

The word ‘transparency’ is a big church buzzword that has a tendency to get thrown around casually in conversation without, unfortunately, always being demonstrated or explained. People like me, meaning those of the Jesus generation who want more on Sunday morning than a mega-church with an awesome light show during worship, tend to shy away from this type of word. It is overused, and thus loses its meaning; however, there is something to be said about transparency in the proper use. When a person is transparent with another, he or she is giving full disclosure, typically about things done wrong, failures, shortcomings, etc., to another for the biblical purpose of confessing one’s sins to another, in order to be held accountable (yet another church buzzword) and continue to grow. In my opinion, it is one of the most crucial responsibilities of anyone who desires to work in ministry, whether voluntarily or vocationally, because it does more than keep us honest–it forces us to deal with our own mistakes and grow through them, while our coworkers do the same, so that we all grow together and there is no comparison of dirty laundry because everyone has it. This being said, I need to be transparent with you, to confess an area in which I fall short.

First, it is important you know that I am struggling to fundraise for my trips this summer. Ethiopia will be paid off after I transfer some money out of my savings account, but I still have a large sum to raise for Swaziland. Even after nearly 150 letters sent out, very little has come in. With only 17 days left until our team departs, I am getting very nervous.

I got up early this morning to take my younger sisters to get donuts before dropping them off at school. Afterwards, I came home and sat down at the kitchen table to work on a blog post for today and hit writer’s block. I decided to skip ahead to my pre-Swaziland mission devotional, a fantastic book by Jack Hempfling called, ‘Before You Go.’ I’ve read the book before, but we read it annually as a team, and today’s devotional hit me right between the eyes: today’s devo was entitled ‘Losing to God Will Help You Win,” paired with a passage from James 4. It is not a long chapter, so I pulled out my bible and read the passage in its full context. By verse 3, I felt as though I’d been slapped in the face.

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Ouch. It stings to hear read such things, especially when you are hopeful of being filled up and encouraged. I read over Hempfling’s devo for the day, and sat back to think. Have I really been asking for financial provision with the right motives? In my heart, I want to answer yes, because the money I have been trying to raise is for a philanthropic purpose. It’s so I can go out into the world, to see my place, my people, my babies in Swaziland. .

Even as I type this now, I flinch. MY place. MY people. MY babies. I know that I am not the most humble person in the world; I think it may be a common misconception that missionaries don’t struggle with the same sins that everyone else deals with. After all, I take pride in the work that I do and the things I am passionate about, because God has gifted me in ways that call me and set me apart, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with taking pride in that. The problem comes when I am prideful in that. I have concentrated my focus far too much on the necessity of ME going to Swaziland, not the gift of GOING to Swaziland. I think back to last year’s trip, and realize that my pride got in the way then too. I was so excited that  got to go back, that I lost a small part of the joy that comes in serving. I took a step back to let others, those who had note been before, serve first, experience first, love first, which I thought was the right thing to do, seeing as how I have had the chance to experience this before; let the newbies do it. If they need help, I can step in like the pro that I am to bridge the gap. Only now am I realizing how wrong this thought process is.

It hurts my heart to think that I missed out on some of the joy, but, as much as it stings, I am glad God has called this to my attention now, rather than a month from now when it is too late. I refuse to let my pride get in the way of the joy God has in store for not only me, but my team as well. Instead, I will cling to the words of Paul, at the start of Ephesians 4.

Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called with all humility and gentleness.

So there you have it. I have removed the plank from my eye, confessed my sinful nature, admitted defeat. I ask for forgiveness from God and from you, for not properly conveying the joy that lies in a cheerful heart with the right motives. I am on my face at the foot of the Cross, praying that Christ might change my heart in order to prepare me for the experiences that lie in wait.

17 days. I go home in 17 days.

Spring 2015: Sacrificial Serving

Hi friends. It’s been quite awhile, and I greatly missed being able to write freely, about things that interest me, things that come easily to me, things that matter. This semester was a difficult one, to say the least…22 credit hours, working full-time, health complications…I read nearly 10,000 pages, wrote more than 50 papers, and spent the semester waiting tables in a sushi restaurant to save up just shy of the cost of going to Ethiopia for two weeks in July. You see, I have been able to raise the funds to go to Swaziland twice before, without ever adding money of my own. Because I am going to both Swaziland and Ethiopia this summer, I decided I would work for the funds to go to Ethiopia.

I worked in a very dark environment, one full of drunkenness, sexual immorality; of cheating, unethical business practices, of foul language and foul treatment of workers. When I applied for the job, the manager took one look at my resume and asked, “Can you start on Monday?” I made nearly $300 per week, waiting tables, and was able to talk about my calling and my sweet babies in Swaziland countless times with countless people. I took it upon myself to be the light in such a dark environment. I began praying over each table of customers while I filled their drink orders; I prayed over the silverware I rolled; I prayed over cucumbers and tomatoes as I chopped them for salad toppings. God opened the door for spiritual conversations with more customers than I can even remember, and blessed me through the generosity of my customers. Many times, I found words of encouragement left on credit card receipts, with more gratuity than I had earned. Coworkers began to notice and ask questions. When they asked, I gave them the straightforward answer: I serve a really big God who makes crazy things happen–I’m called to do all things as if I were doing them for Christ. I pray for all my tables, plain and simple. I talk about my Big Why–the reasons for which I do everything. I talk about my babies and the crazy need there is, and people respond. I have gotten more than my fair share of crude remarks from my coworkers, many of whom work two jobs to make ends meet. I’ve watched coworkers take tables in my section or tips left behind because they felt more deserving; I refused to lash out or complain to management to fulfill our command as Christians to turn the other cheek, and give my enemy the shirt off my back. I would come home, exhausted after an 8 or 10 or 12 or even a 17 hour shift, covered in sake and soy sauce, the bottoms of my feet bruised, my back aching, my joints throbbing. My hair began falling out and my appetite dissipated from the stress; I was having trouble eating, because I just didn’t have the time; I was chronically dehydrated; some of my grades began to slip. I was spiritually, physically, emotionally exhausted. I would get up, go to class, go straight from class to work, put in my hours, read textbooks in between customers, write papers while sitting on the floor of the kitchen. I kept praying, and working, and doing my schoolwork. It is now the end of the semester, and I am home with my family. I have been home for exactly one week, and I am still not entirely recuperated from the semester. My health continues to decline inexplicably, and I am yet again bouncing from doctor to doctor to figure out what is wrong.

I do not say this things to complain, or to demonstrate that my semester was more difficult than yours; rather, I tell you because, despite unfavorable circumstances, there is still joy in my heart. I finished the semester on the Dean’s List. I have found a wonderful man of God who cares deeply for me, and who is accompanying me on this upcoming trip to Swaziland. I get to share stories of Swaziland with new audiences every day. My brother, Jacob, who is only 4 years old, gets Africa. All the time, he asks me questions like, “Joey, when are you going back to Africa? Can I come?” I might be tired and worn, but even still, I am making an impact, no matter how small. Exhausted as I am, it took all of my energy for the week to write, fold, stamp, and address and lick the envelopes of the 100 support letters I sent out. I finally got them in the mail yesterday, and I am hoping and praying that each of the recipients finds it in their hearts to give for such a worthy cause. If you feel so inclined so as to contribute, there is a link to the right of this post that will take you to a secure portal through Connection Pointe Christian Church’s website–just make sure you include my name!

There are only 25 days until I leave for Swaziland. 25 days, no hours, 56 minutes.

An open letter to the world

There are few things I love doing more than reading, writing and receiving letters. I enjoy finding beautiful ways to word simple thoughts and wishes for the people I love. As we come to close on this beautiful holiday season, I have been collecting a list of wishes for the new year. This list started as a list of things for me to work on this year, but these are wishes for you, and for me, and really, for everyone. Let’s get 2015 right. There is something to be said for looking back on the past year. Sure, we made some mistakes, but not only did we survive, we thrived. Let yourself look back on 2014 tonight, reflect, make note of and reminisce over the highlights. Then let go. We are moving forward, onward and upward, as the clock approaches midnight. Here are my wishes for you in the year to come.

  1. I wish you would take more pictures. Pictures of you and of friends, of the food you eat and the places you go and the books you read, of flowers you find because I want you to remember every beautiful thing you see. Each time you see a beautiful thing, remember that this is the only time you see it in this way, from this point of view and that for just one second, everything was right with the world.
  2. I wish you would meet new people. Sit down with a stranger at a coffee shop or restaurant, on a bus or train, at your church. I hope and pray that not only would you meet new people, but that you would leave people in better condition than you found them. Be nurturing and understanding and forgiving and loving, and in return, I wish that people would do the same to you.
  3. I wish you would learn to love yourself. When you learn to love yourself, you learn to love more the people who love you, and the people who don’t. It takes practice. It is extra work, but you have to decide every day to allow the space between who you are right now and who you want to be inspire you, not scare you.
  4. I wish you would have the gumption to press through. I wish that you would not spend so much time treading water that you forget how much you have always loved to swim. There is something to be said for optimism, but we have been promised struggle, and yet commanded to take heart! For Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33b). I think we often spend so much time staring into the darkness that we forget that all that shines above us is also within us. God within us, we shall not fail (Psalm 46:5). There is no need to go searching for the light when you have brought it with you.
  5. I wish you would hold on to your hope. It is in such limited supply these days; hold onto it and be proud that you are the one who does. I do not believe there is a more dangerous and destructive force in the world than hope, nor is there a more necessary one either.
  6. I wish that you would take risks. I firmly believe that your life will unfold in proportion to you courage. We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.
  7. I wish you would make mistakes. If you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing the world. You’re doing things you’ve never done and more importantly, you’re Doing Something. Make new mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.

There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art or love or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, do It. Make your mistakes, this year and forever.

Long Time, No See

Things I have been doing besides blogging:
Recovering from surgery
Eating sushi
Moving back to college
Working in clothing sales
Not sleeping
Being diagnosed with fibromyalgia
Joining a mission team to build a special needs complex in Ethiopia
Exploring the beautiful city of Charleston
Crying a lot, because Swaziland
Lobbying at my school on behalf of Swaziland
Going to classes
Studying and writing papers
Emailing the municipal representatives of Mbabane (and getting replies!)
Accosting state senators in public for Ethiopia funding

Things I should be doing instead of blogging:
Writing a 10-page exegesis of Psalm 23
Writing a 10=page paper on my personal leadership philosophy
Writing a paper comparing a Christian Worldview to that of another religion
Creating a PowerPoint on Satanism for Sociology of Religion
Expanding a Prezi on the urban development currently taking place in Mbabane for my Urban Sociology class, that will also be presented at my school’s Faculty Symposium

But it’s fall break, and this is where I’m at. I have been handed several incredible opportunities to put Swaziland on the map, so to speak: the Board of Visitors meeting, a local church, the Faculty Symposium, to name a few. I am feeling incredibly blessed. The workload this semester has been rough, but in just 57 more days, I will be halfway through my degree. The opportunity to study abroad for a semester after I complete my degree, and after sharing my story with Noel Yeatts, the VP at WorldHelp, I may have a chance to spend that semester in Uganda with Operation Baby Rescue–to spend six months rescuing babies. Best. Semester. Ever.

My mind is blown and my brain is fried from all of the crazy things that are happening. My life is a little bit falling apart but also coming together in a way that is so beautiful and I am in awe of what God is doing in me and through me. It’s humbling to be handpicked by God, and to see the ways He is drawing me into The Plan. It’s awesome and crazy and confusing sometimes, but I’m making it.

Only 236 more days until I get to go back.

Day 10: The End

In the last ten days, I have taken 6 cold showers. I have been rattled around in the back of khombi. I have taken 20 sleeping pills. I have finished somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 bottles of water and no Dr. Pepper. I have slept for a total of 45 hours. I have taken well over a thousand pictures. I have held more hands, given out more hugs and kisses than I can count.

My heart is so heavy.

I am sitting on the floor of the Johannesburg airport in an obscure corner amongst an assortment of refuse left behind by I don’t know who because I found some unsecured wifi. My heart is heavy, and my eyes red and puffy from crying. I did all of my packing last night and skipped breakfast this morning so I could stay in bed and in denial for as long as possible, and even that was not enough. Eventually though, I did have to get out of bed. I had to load my suitcase into a trailer and climb into the backseat of a khombi. A quick pitstop at Ngwenya Glass eased some of the pain—an hour’s delay with our favorite missionary family and the opportunity to drown my sorrow in a chocolate shot, which is exactly as it sounds, a small shot glass of melted chocolate for only 7 rand. My little shopping buddy, Iliea, stuck close by my side with her hand in mine the whole morning. I was really doing okay emotionally, until our final moments. We napped some photos before sweet Iliea presses a note, a coloring book page and a necklace into my hand. I love her heart so much:

Dear Joey,

Thank you so much for letting me be your shopping buddy. I had a really great time. Can you come and live with us in Swaziland? We could use another missionary around here. I’m gonna miss you so much. I love you so much. Make sure you come back to Africa.

Love, Iliea

My eyes watered a little bit, but mostly I smiled and hugged her as tight as I could. A round of prayer left my eyes more wet than normal, but still I was okay. It wasn’t until I had hugged all the children and Stephen and gotten to Krista, her eyes already emptying themselves, that I started to fall apart. She hugged me tight and whispered in my ear, “I know two more years sounds like a long time, but God’s timing is perfect. Two years is exactly what you need to be prepared for Swaziland. It’ll go by faster than you think. We just have to trust his timing.” And I cried. I cried as I hugged her children again. I cried as I climbed onto the khombi. I cried as we pulled away and the kids chased us waving goodbye and blowing kisses. I cried as we crossed the border, and finally, finally, until I ran out of tears. It seems as though I have found some more, because my eyes are leaking now and people are looking at me with quizzical expressions.

Ecclesiastes 3 tells me that there is a time for everything, a season and a purpose under heaven. 10 days ago it was my time to be in Swaziland; in a little more than an hour it will be my time to return to the United States and I’m not a fan of this arrangement, but this is the timeline I have to follow. I have roughly 355 more days until I can come back and I WILL be keeping track. Leaving for the second time will be even harder than the first. Two years is a long time and patience is not one of the virtues God has graced me with. But still I am here, on the airport floor, trusting in God’s perfect timing. If it was just a matter of waiting on God’s timing, I could probably handle this…but there is so much more to it than that:

Who is going to love my sweet babies while I am gone?

Who is going to make sure that Tengetile has shoes that fit and don’t have holes in the toes? Who is going to make sure Khetokuhle is doing well in school? Who is going to make sure they take their vitamins and get enough to eat and drink clean water? Who is going to remind them that I love them, even if I’m ten thousand miles away? And what about the unsponsored kids? Who is going to hug them and hold their hands and remind them they are important, that they matter, that God has a plan for their lives? Who is going to give them sweeties and sing them to sleep and make balloon animals and take their pictures? Who is going to tell my babies that they are kuhle kakhulu, so beautiful?

Who is going to love these kids like they deserve to be loved, in a culture where children are viewed as a burden?

I know God’s plan is perfect, that he loves me and these children as he loved his own son, that he hurts when we hurt and that there is in fact a plan, but I am having trouble trusting today.

There are only 355 days until I come back, and only two years until forever, but this is the end for now.