I’ve been in survival mode for the past week. It has not been pretty. Michael left for his fifth (sixth?) trip to Vietnam, where he saves the world one eyeball at a time. Again.
When he took his first trip, our kids were two, five, and seven – but we were all so proud of him and so energized by knowing God was working, and we had a community of people surrounding us. We all worked as a team – with Michael – to bring the Kingdom to Earth.
The next year, he went back. Our kids were three, six, and eight. Michael thought the beginning of May was a great time to go. It was not. The end of the school year is worse than Christmas, and we grossly underestimated my ability to juggle alone. Also, Nathan split his head open and needed four staples. Michael came home to a hazmat-quarantined house and a catatonic wife.
He decided to schedule future trips during any of the other eleven months of the year.
I’ve greeted each trip with a different reaction. Sometimes I’m energetic and ready to tackle the challenge. Other times I’m in denial or simply resigned. This year, I was irritated and grouchy. Seriously, now? You have to leave this week? When our children are acting like monsters, the calendar reminds me of an overflowing garbage heap, and I bear a striking resemblance to Joan Crawford? Now?
Fortunately – for all of us – our children are now seven, eleven, and thirteen. They bathe themselves. They dress themselves. They pack their own lunches. They pour themselves a bowl of cereal for dinner and put themselves to bed after Mommie Dearest spews a venomous rant about not doing what she tells them to do, then retreats to her bathroom for a long bath and Lost reruns. On the first night. Hypothetically.
Fortunately – for all of us – God and Amazon set a box on my doorstep a few days later, and I started reading this. God reminded me of my purpose, and I was freed from myself. Take a hike, Joan.
Whereas Interrupted kicked me in the teeth, and 7 punched me in the gut, Kisses From Katie has poured lavender-scented bath oil all over my banged up body. Same theology, same ideas, same convictions – but with a hugely inspiring breath of fresh air.
Synopsis: girl graduates from high school, moves to Uganda to work in an orphanage and teach in a primary school. She ends up adopting thirteen girls, healing the sick, feeding the hungry. Then she starts an organization to provide food, medical care, and education for hundreds of children and their families.
I suppose her book smells like lavender because she lives on the other side of the world in the midst of poverty we will likely never see – so I can cheer her on from the comfort of my leather couch and feel better about someone doing something good. But it’s more than that. She states over and over and over that she is not extraordinary. She simply cares for the person in front of her. One at a time. And then she does it again. She recognizes the need, the brokenness. And she does whatever God tells her so the need will be met and the brokenness healed.
You don’t have to live among orphans in Uganda to do that.
“People who make a difference in the world,” says the foreward, “hold the unshakable conviction that individuals are extremely important, that every life matters.” In the slums of Africa. In the slums of Harlem. Street corners, homeless shelters, convenience stores. In the McMansions of Texas. Everyone, every place is broken. And God dwells among them all.
In the heart of my thirteen year old baby girl who cannot see her own beauty. Her brokenness knocks me into spontaneous sobbing in the middle of the gym. I, too, am broken.
Caroline and I drove across town last week to hear Jen Hatmaker speak at a local church. We are squealing, giddy, ridiculous fangirls. Most fangirls work themselves into a lather over fresh-faced boy bands. Thing Two and I soap up over the woman who wrecked us.
Hat (as we call her) spoke for an hour on one chapter from her book 7. The possessions chapter. The one where she decides to free herself and her family from excessive stuff. And she implored us not to be captive to our accumulation of things, but to be set free by using our excess to provide for the needs of others.
“Generosity has the power to heal us,” she said.
The truth of that statement snatched my breath. I have seen it, I have experienced it. I have never felt more alive, more full of purpose than in the last six months. Michael, too. Journeying together for justice and mercy, our twenty-one year relationship has never been stronger. “I feel like I’m falling in love with you all over again,” he told me. That’s the power of generosity. That’s the power of God working through us for His will to be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Are we not our own worst enemy? Do we not all need to be freed from ourselves? To be healed from our own lies, our own brokenness, our own self-absorption? Could it be that in looking beyond ourselves, in being broken and poured out, we find our redemption?
Jesus said yes.
When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.
Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” (Luke 11:37-46)
Then Katie Davis threw her lavender oil all over me. She tells about a worship service she attended with her primary school students, most of them abandoned or orphaned. How they worshipped with lifted hands and full hearts and overwhelming thankfulness. How the presence of God was thick and tangible in that moment.
And how these students have nothing we would desire, yet they have everything.
At first glance, it would be easy to feel sorry for these little boys. Their clothes are tattered; they sleep on old, dirty mattresses; they walk to school barefoot in the rain. They have no electricity, no running water, and it is raining so hard that the whole compound has become a muddy swamp. But I should not pity these children. In fact, I should envy them. At six years old, these children know what it is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. These children know the greatness, the wonder of our God.
I’ve had people ask me why I think Africa is so impoverished, but these children are not poor. I, as a person who grew up wealthy, am. I put value in things. These children, having no things, put value in God. I put my trust in relationships; these children, having already seen relationships fail, put their trust in the Lord. This nation is blessed beyond any place, any people I have ever encountered. God has not forgotten them. In fact, I believe He has loved them just a little bit extra.
We, who have everything, have nothing. We, who consider ourselves so blessed, so advantaged, have much to learn. Our privilege blinds us; we cannot see the need standing before us, inviting us to join Jesus in His fight for the hearts of the broken. We completely miss it. We completely miss Him.
This day, this week, live courageously. Pray humbly. Ask God to give us sight, for the opportunity to obey his command to serve the least. Ask Him for the chance – even in the smallest, most insignificant way – to fulfill His purpose for this world. To bring light and life. To meet tangible needs.
And be free.