enough

  • Vote
  • Open a checking account
  • Enlist in the military
  • Change your name
  • Get married or divorced
  • Sign legal documents and contracts
  • Buy insurance
  • Apply for a credit card

Weighty privileges accompany 18th birthdays in the United States. On Saturday, our sponsored son in Tanzania celebrates his 18th birthday. How will Bilali spend his special day?

Since the loss of his father, he and his mother shoulder the weight of caring for 5 additional family members. Bilali’s struggles are daily and real. Yet, he writes of hope and thankfulness.

Hope-filled news.

  • My family and I are fine. 
  • I am doing well with my studies. 
  • I am also doing well with my Center studies: spiritual, social, and learning how to keep chickens. 

Thankfulness, too.

  • I thank God because He helps me. 
  • I trust you are praying for me that is why I am succeeding. 

From this soon-to-be-18-year-old, I hear education, health, income-generation, thankfulness, and spiritual maturity. I hear hope.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)

Bilali’s words and life resonate of perseverance, character, and hope. The kind of hope built by the sweat of perseverance and character-building choices from life within a still-developing country. Hope produced from need and sacrifice, not abundance. To claim hope in a world of need is where true hope lives.

I am humbled yet joyful to read of Bilali’s hopefulness in good health, positive grades, God’s faithfulness, and chickens.

On his 18th birthday, Bilali won’t open a checking account, buy insurance, or apply for a credit card. He won’t enjoy a cake piled high with gooey icing with 18 glowing candles. But I believe Bilali will spend his special day tending his chickens under the watchful eye of a faithful Father. Thankful and hopeful.

And with God, hope is enough.

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:5 (NIV)

Happy 18th Birthday, Bilali.

 

nine

They are packed and awaiting their long international trip. Some will travel many miles by rafts, canoes, helicopters, bikes, wagons, and feet. Others on camels, oxen, horses, and elephants. Stretched rubber bands contain bulging treasures. Nine red and green boxes ready for smiles and giggles.

Nine boxes for nine little girls.

Nine lives changed through Operation Christmas Child.

Nine stuffed animals (bears and bunnies) for empty arms and snuggles. Nine glittery play necklaces to adorn nine petite necks. Nine notepads for scribbled hopes, dreams, and fears. Nine toy flutes to compose joyful noise.

  Why all girls? 

 Words from the Director at a Compassion Center in Kenya remind me. In this 21st century, he battles the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation. Girls begin life, disadvantaged, simply for being whom God created them to be. They are forgotten, unwanted, and too often abused.

Nine boxes for nine little girls.

Nine paint sets to paint brighter futures where they discover value and worth. Nine inflatable globes to encourage big dreams. Nine foam crosses to point them to their loving Heavenly Father.

Nine toothbrushes to brighten smiles. Nine packs of crayons, markers, colored pencils to create beauty.  Nine wash cloths to scrub away dirt and reveal their loveliness.

Nine boxes for nine little girls.

Inside, heart-felt words for 9 precious little girls…

You are loved.

 

 

Children are a gift from God; they are his reward.  Psalm 127:3 (TLB)

(Top Photo:  Courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse)

 

 

$15.95

It dangled from a peg with the displayed Christmas ornaments. The miniature, rainbow-colored xylophone with its tiny mallet caught my eye. I smiled as I pictured my eight-month old grandson, Cam, banging on his toy xylophone. He creates music only a grandparent can love. 

This Christmas, I decided to continue a tradition my mother began 30 years ago. Each year, she chose and dated an ornament for my daughters. When we decorated our tree, we unwrapped the ornaments and remembered. Seventeen years ago, my mother entered her Heavenly home. Now, the box of ornaments represents precious memories of her and Christmases together.

In Lima, Peru, 3,600 miles away, a nine-year old boy creates music with his xylophone. My husband and I sponsor Israel through Compassion International. Israel’s recent letter shared the news of his musical adventure with a xylophone. I smiled. There is something special about boys and xylophones.

I held the mini xylophone ornament in my hand and considered my choices. For $15.95, it could adorn my grandson’s first Christmas tree. But images of Israel and other children in need around the world came to mind.

The choice became clear; a new tradition born.

My husband and I explored Compassion’s Christmas gift catalog. For less than $15.95, a baby and mother can eat for a month, a child can be protected from parasites, or receive an age-appropriate Bible. All life-giving. All giving back gifts.

On the tree this year, amongst the cherished ornaments, will be one representing the choice to bless others. A dated note to Cam explaining his first ornament: a mother and her baby ate for a month.

Our tradition will remind Cam Christmas is about giving back not getting more. As he gets older, he will choose how to bless others.

There will be no mini xylophone on Cam’s tree this year. One day, we will share with Cam the $15.95 difference he made. A giving-back tradition.

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:40 (NIV)

 

lines

The handwriting on the wall means the grandchildren found the crayons. ~Author Unknown

Periwinkle, aquamarine, bittersweet, sepia, and cornflower. As a child, I discovered  new and exotic names in my box of 64 crayons. The mixture of colors invited me to create, design, and break from typical color-choice rules. Carnation pink elephants drank from mahogany water beneath burnt orange clouds. 

But one rule I refused to break: coloring outside the lines. To produce the picture I desired, I always colored within the lines. I respected the lines; they were necessary to create my finished product. I enjoyed freedom within the lines as I mixed and matched my 64 choices.

Last week, I encountered a blank canvas in Walmart’s parking lot. Recently paved,     but missing white lines. The black sea of asphalt without lines caused confusion. Some vehicles explored their line-less freedom and parked willy nilly. I circled several times. Where should I park? How close do I park beside someone? Is it even safe to park here? No lines; no order. I missed my lines.

God knew life without lines would be confusing and hard.

So He wrote love-lines in His Holy Word. Lines and boundaries written from God’s great Love to us. Love-lines to help us live the  life He intended: freedom within His lines and boundaries.

Life is hard. I want lines; I want to know where to park. I need lines. Lines guide me; they keep me safe. Life within lines provides me the freedom to color my world in goldenrod, orchid, or raw sienna.

Several days later, I pulled my car between two white lines in Walmart’s parking lot and rejoiced in the freedom I found there.

God’s boundary lines show us where it’s safe to go and set our hearts free. ~ Renee Swope

fumble recovery

The 1938 Chicago Bears earned an unwanted place in the NFL record books. They fumbled the football more times in one season than any other team. A whopping 56 fumbles. But the 1938 Bears also hold the record for recovering more of their own fumbles than any other team. Of those 56 fumbles, the Bears recovered the football 37 times.

Thirty-seven times, the Bears held the ball, lost it, but recovered it. Delight to despair, and back to delight. Such a roller coaster ride of emotions! The lost, now found.

I know the joy of a fumble recovery; his name is Bilali.

In 2014, my husband and I decided to sponsor another child while in Tanzania with Compassion International. If a child needed a sponsor, we would open our hearts.

At a Center in Singida, Bilali walked up the hill and into our hearts. He needed hope, love, and a sponsor. We were ready and eager to provide all three.

In our first group hug, we felt instant love for our new son. We cherished our time with Bilali at his Center and on sponsor day. Two days to hold him and love him. We thanked God for bringing this precious young man into our lives and family.

Four months later, what we once held, slipped away. We struggled to comprehend the words spoken by the Compassion representative on the phone. Bilali was no longer in the program. We mourned our loss.

Our delight slipped into disappointment and despair.

As the months passed, Bilali’s memory faded. At first, we prayed for him and his family. Eventually, we took his picture down. We filed it in a drawer along with his letters and pictures of our time together. Unanswered questions filled the silence. Why did God bring him into our lives, only to take him away? Why did we hold him, only to lose him?

With Tanzania never far from our hearts and minds, we explored Compassion’s website of unsponsored children on June 21, 2016. There, a very familiar face stared back at us. A little bit older, but a face we knew and loved. The face of a young man we once held in our arms on a hillside of Singida. Our son, Bilali. On June 21, 2016, we welcomed him back into our hearts and family.

We never understood why he left and we don’t know why he returned. The young man we lost, now recovered. Our disappointment shifted to delight and gladness. The lost, now found.

Jesus spoke a lot about the lost. In Luke 15, He told stories of a lost coin, sheep,  and a son. Important lessons to remind us to always search for the lost and rejoice jubilantly when they return.

Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep. Luke 15:6b (NIV)

Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin. Luke 15:9b (NIV)

Bilali’s picture is displayed in our kitchen; our lost son returned. He is our recovered fumble. We loved, we lost, and now we love again. Time to celebrate and rejoice!

But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Luke 15: 32 (NIV)

don’t blink

I vacationed with Kenny Chesney. My sisters and I opened our umbrellas and chairs without realizing a mega-country music star sat a few sand dunes away. Kenny appeared relaxed in a ball cap and blue swim trunks. No shoes, no shirt, no problem.

He cast two fishing lines into the Atlantic Ocean and settled in to enjoy the beautiful sunny day. My sisters and I stared unapologetically. Kenny Chesney, really? Here in North Carolina? We wanted to be sure so we devised a test.

With a few clicks on her phone, my sister found, There Goes my Life, and cranked the volume. We hoped the familiar words would garner a reaction from our beach buddy celebrity.

There goes my future, my everything
Might as well kiss it all good-bye
There goes my life

As the song finished, Kenny’s lack of enthusiasm for his number one hit disappointed us. If we approached him, we would be labeled silly, elderly groupies. Kenny coveted privacy since he vacationed without his entourage.

As the sun sank lower, panic set in when he got up and walked toward us. Oh, no. Somebody say something.

Kenny offered his phone and asked if we would take a picture for his wife.

Truth revealed. Not Kenny. Bummer.

With wannabe Kenny so close to us, the truth became obvious. We were not vacationing with Kenny  Chesney; not his voice, not his face. Blame the heat, salty air, or aging eyesight. But we missed the truth.

This case of mistaken identity reminded me how important it is to keep God close. I need to keep Him in my personal space so I won’t be fooled by imitations.

He promises to draw near when I draw near. Closeness eliminates mistakes, confusion, and stalking unsuspecting men on the beach.

Come near to God and he will come near to you. James 4:8a (NIV)

Nearness breeds familiarity. I will know Him; He will know me. Truth becomes obvious when I keep God close. Then this sheep will know my Shepherd’s voice.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me. John 10: 14 (NIV)

Don’t blink. I don’t want to miss the real Shepherd. 
I was glued to my TV when it looked like he looked at me and said “Best start putting first things first”
Cause when your hourglass runs out of sand
You can’t flip it over and start again
Take every breathe God gives you for what it’s worth
Don’t blink
(Kenny Chesney)

Batman and Jesus

Mother Teresa. Corrie ten Boom. Eric Liddell.

Parents, first responders, Sunday School teachers.

These names come to mind when I consider the question,“Who is your hero?

When my sponsored child from Mexico responded to the same question, I couldn’t help but smile. Angel’s response? Batman and Jesus. What a great answer! I love the honesty of this precious 8-year-old boy.

Batman and Jesus are the ultimate dynamic duo. I understand the connection in Angel’s mind. Both are good guys; both battle evil.

When I was 8-years-old, Batman and Robin were my heroes. I grew up watching the original Batman TV series that debuted in 1966. My still-treasured Robin mug is evidence of a slight crush on Batman’s sidekick. Together they battled crime and defended Gotham City from the villains. Good always prevailed over evil in each weekly episode.

I discovered the other half of this dynamic duo on my knees in a college dorm room. I recognized my need to be rescued by the True and Holy Hero.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight. Psalm 51; 3, 4 (NIV)

Today’s headlines cause me to believe evil is winning the battle. But in His Word, I am reminded my Hero holds evil’s short leash.

It is written: As surely as I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God. Romans 14:11 (NIV)

In the end, Good wins. My Hero, Jesus, says so. Every knee will bow, every tongue will confess.

In January, I travel to meet Angel in Mexico. I’ll kneel beside his wheelchair and surprise him with a Batman t-shirt and a Spanish Bible. Gifts to honor his heroes: Batman and Jesus.

Much of what happens in our world is evil and bad, but God specializes in bringing good out of it. ~Rick Warren

Jesus in a box

Maria and Carlos and their two children live on a hillside outside Santiago, Dominican Republic. Their home is pieced together with thin boards. Wide gaps allow sunbeams as well as thunderstorms to enter. This family of four share a bed under a simple tin roof.

Samuel lives with his sick grandmother in a Maasai village near Arusha, Tanzania. My eyes worked to adjust to the darkness inside their hut. The guide asked if I would pray for this woman as we knelt beside her bed. How soon would Samuel be alone in this world?

Home visits are the heartbeat of Compassion trips. Stepping into homes, shrinks my world and humbles my soul. I observe the challenging living conditions of children and I am forever changed.

At the end of each home visit, a box is presented to the family containing staples such as rice, beans, and cooking oil. Items to fill their shelves and their stomachs.

Following a home visit in Tanzania, I walked to the bus with Pastor Joseph. I chattered about the box and how it blessed the family. He responded it wasn’t about the contents of the box, but the love behind the box. The box reminds the family they are loved. The box is a love gift: Jesus in a box.

Jesus visited people’s homes. He sat, ate, and loved people in their familiar surroundings. The Christ-centeredness of Compassion is demonstrated with every box presented. Jesus in a box exemplifies Compassion’s mission: Food to fill their stomach given with love in Jesus’ Name provides hope for their soul.

When they unwrap Jesus in cardboard, families experience love and blessings. They see Jesus. I witnessed this Spirit-fueled phenomena with Maria and Carlos. In the presence of their two children, they prayed to receive Jesus into their hearts.

Jesus came out of the box and entered their hearts.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)

 

it is well

Surrounded by wheelchairs and walkers, my dark-hair head bobbed with gray-hair, white-hair, and no hair heads. We tapped our feet; we clapped our hands. Putting aside aches, pains, and memory lapses, we sang together. We lifted our voices for an audience of One.

I accompanied my 89-year-old Aunt Dot to a gospel sing-along at her assisted living facility. One elderly couple held hands while another lady dozed off. Charlotte elevated her wrapped foot. Susie sang even when unsure of the words.

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

With their worn and broken bodies, their forgetful and confused minds, they sang. It is well, it is well, with my soul. I believed they meant every word. Their pure worship honored God.  Blemished but beautiful.

The presenters offered the salvation message; straight and to the point. Have you asked Jesus into your heart? Raise your hand and we will pray with you. Wynita, who is 99-years old, raised her hand. With child-like faith, she accepted Christ as her Savior.

For there’s a new name written down in glory,
And it’s mine, O yes, it’s mine!
With my sins forgiven I am bound for Heaven, Never more to roam.
The heavenly choir sang through their ailments and loneliness. Every stanza gave  God the glory. Surrounded by wheelchairs and walkers, I discovered Holy ground and it was well with my soul.

white flag

Come get lost in the stalks. 

A local corn maze close to my house invites the brave to enter. Corn mazes frustrate me. I get lost on highways, why do I want to be lost in a corn field?

Yet, when my daughters were younger,  we decided to get lost in the stalks.  My husband led the charge, my daughters followed, and I carried the rescue flag. A white flag is issued just in case assistance is needed along the way.

In my opinion, one step into the maze  signaled surrender time. Up and down the rows , around and around we went. The deeper we went, the more lost we became much to the delight of my family.

My daughters didn’t complain, like me. They enjoyed the checkpoints and stamping stations along the way. My husband, savoring the challenge, continued marching deeper into the bowels of the never-ending rows.

Didn’t we just go down this row? Why does all the corn look the same? 

I gripped the white flag tighter. I knew I held the only lifeline for exiting this nightmare. I couldn’t see my rescuer but deep in the maze on a raised platform, he awaited. He scanned the acreage, waiting for a white flag to surface.  Then he radioed for a runner to rescue the lost.

Looking back on my time spent wandering amongst the stalks, I realize the maze mirrored my life. Sometimes I go the right direction, other times I head the wrong way. I spend a lot of time turning around and back tracking. I fail and fall. Frustration enters when I can’t get my bearings in this maze of life.

But I always have a faithful Rescuer. At anytime, I can raise my white flag and receive my Father’s help. A  loud cry or a soft whisper; He’s always listening. My Rescuer scans His Creation for white flags of His Beloved.

Gently and lovingly, He redirects me.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21 (NIV) 

Getting lost in the stalks doesn’t sound so bad after all. I can step into this maze called life with my Rescuer always close by. No white flag is needed. 

 

 

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