Thursday, May 18, 2017

The (begining of a) Story of a Chair

I met Tapiwa in the summer of 2013. Tapiwa is a sweet little girl who lives in Malawi and my friend, Brooke, and I would like to give her a gift this summer... and we need your help. But before we get into that, I think there are a few things I should share with you.

I’ve learned a lot about partnering with organizations who are working towards poverty alleviation in recent years. I’ve learned a lot about ways to support their long-term work and encourage assets already at work in each community. And it’s because of this that I recognize the limitations of material gifts. Material gifts rarely solve problems long-term. Out of the context of relationship, they can even set back efforts that have made strides away from material poverty over long periods of time. So let me start by telling you a little about Tapiwa.
It was late afternoon when I met her. Even in the daze I found myself in after 24+ hours of travel to the country of Malawi, I easily recognized a child with Cerebral Palsy (CP) as she entered the living room of the children’s home that was welcoming us. Tapiwa, or “Tapi” as I would come to know her, sat quietly in her wheelchair as her brothers and sisters ran excitedly around her. I recognized the way she sat, how she placed her hands, the way she held her head- Tapiwa had Spastic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy*.

There was a time where meeting children or adults with special needs like Tapiwa’s intimidated me. How to relate to them didn’t come naturally to me- not knowing what to say or what not to say. There was a time when those four words I now easily associate with Tapiwa were as foreign to me as they may be to you now. However, time and relationships over the years have brought me to a different place entirely.

I was curious about Tapiwa that day-we had come to Malawi to work with special needs children, but I hadn't really know what that would mean in the context of Malawi. Different cultures, I had learned, sometimes define “special needs” in different ways. It was pretty clear in the first few minutes of meeting her that Tapi didn’t walk or speak. I wasn’t sure how much she was even able to interact with the world around her. However, when her brothers and sisters started to sing a song of welcome for us, Tapi lit up! Clearly music was her passion and one of her favorite ways to interact with those around her. She smiled and laughed and bobbed her head to the music.

Though her love for music was clear, I left excited to get to know this little girl more as our time in Malawi continued. I learned that she had been left in COTN’s care many years ago. I learned that she had suffered a traumatic brain injury as a young child which left her with severe developmental delays. And I learned that she had a large support system through COTN. I learned that they did whatever they could to get Tapi what she needed. I learned how much her new family loved her.

Fast forward a few years and I now find myself sponsoring this little girl (not so little anymore as she approaches her 16th birthday). My sponsorship started with the profits from a book some friends and I wrote, illustrated, and published. The Tree Keeper is a story about children with special needs in Africa banding together to use their strengths to encourage each other and accomplish a heroic feat.

After using that book to encourage and educate kids and teachers in Malawi, the team that put the book together sat down to decide upon a use for the profits raised in the U.S. from the books. Sponsoring Tapiwa for a year was an easy choice for the group. Tapiwa lives in one of Children of the Nation’s children’s homes that provides for all of her and her brothers and sisters’ needs through child sponsorship. But, after that year ended, the book’s illustrator (Brooke) and I, decided to continue her sponsorship between the two of us.

Which brings me back to the gift we’re hoping to give as I return to Malawi for the fourth time this summer- a gift that stems from years of getting to know Tapiwa and her caregivers. It comes out of an ongoing relationship with the organization that provides for her. It is based on first-hand knowledge of the challenges specific to where she lives and what she does on a daily basis paired with input from those who care for her.

Based on all of that, we are hoping to bring Tapiwa a new form of transportation this summer. Many in the special needs community in the U.S. will be familiar with special needs strollers. These strollers are used for older children and adults with special needs that limit their ability to walk. They are often used in addition to the use of a wheelchair for a couple of reasons, several of which apply to this specific stroller and a little girl with CP living in urban Sub-Saharan Africa.

  • It is built for rough terrain. The terrain of many villages and building entry ways in Malawi are not suited well for traditional, basic wheelchairs (which Tapiwa already uses). This terrain contributes to faster deterioration of the wheelchairs that Tapiwa has been using over the years.
  • It folds up smaller for easier transport. Tapiwa lives in a Children’s Home that provides her with a large and loving family. This means, however, that space in vehicles is more limited when traveling with her large family. Her caregivers are persistent in figuring out creative ways to transport her wheelchair so that she’s able to come along on outings, but a light-weight, foldable chair will help to make this process easier, faster, and safer for everyone traveling with Tapi.
  • The seat is built for safe and comfortable travel over rough terrain. With a padded and weight distributing seat, the bumps and hills will be easier on her skin integrity. The 5-point harness will keep her safely seated upright despite the challenges her tight muscle tone presents.

So, it’s for these reasons and a handful more that we are asking for help to raise money for a special stroller for Tapiwa. The first $900 will go towards the purchase of the stroller and the last $100 will go towards the extra cost of checking an oversized item on the trip over there.

I recognize that this isn’t going to solve every problem that Tapiwa, her family, and her country face. In fact, it’s only going to solve one. However, Tapiwa has a lot of people in her life who are doing great work with all of the other problems, but for now, this is just one of many that we can take off of her plate.

Would you consider joining me? Any amount chips away just a little more and I have full faith that this $1,000 goal can easily be met. Gifts are tax-deductible and can be made on my trip site, here.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for caring. And thanks for considering.

*Spastic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy sounds complicated and confusing, but it’s meaning can be broken down pretty simply. Cerebral Palsy affects the way the brain communicates with the muscles and thus affects the way a person with CP is able to move. Sometimes, movements are the only thing affected by CP, but cognitive functions can be affected as well. This is why a person with CP can have anywhere from above average intelligence to severe developmental delays. The word “spastic” helps define how the muscles are affected- CP can make them too tight, too loose, a combination of both, or hard to balance with. Spastic means that they are too tight. The final word, “quadriplegic”, just tells you how many of a person’s limbs are affected- it could be just the legs, just one half of the body, or both arms and both legs. Quadriplegic means that all four are affected.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The story of a Friday

I've never cared much about Holy Week. That feels like something you shouldn't really say, right? But, I don't know, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday- they all just seemed so… liturgical (which, in my brain was synonymous with "boring"). And they're all just leading up to the event we all know is coming, the one where Jesus wins in the end- Easter. So why bother with the rest?

To be perfectly honest, over the last several years attending a church that recognized and celebrated all of these days was actually something that I would go as far as to say was mildly irritating to me. But as the years have gone by, I've gotten used to the eventuality of each of these days every year. I've gradually adjusted to and even began to appreciate some liturgy. I've voluntarily attended Ash Wednesday services two years in a row now. And this year, I was actually intrigued enough to plan to attend all the services offered during Holy Week.

I sit here now, on a gorgeous afternoon, the sun on my legs and the wind in my hair, dwelling on one of the most gruesome stories in all of Scripture. And, on this Good Friday, I'm struck by three specific elements of the sometimes all-too-familiar story.

The first was brought to my attention by my minister from stage this morning. It was one of those little details in scripture that you read over, barely noticing, in anticipation of the intense drama that you know is coming. It happened shortly after Jesus was arrested. He was slapped in the face. And there was something about the way my minister said it, "The God of the universe let us slap him in the face." The God of the universe.

I know that it goes on to tell us about how he was also beaten and crucified- acts that are significantly more aggressive and violent. But there is something just so demeaning, so undermining, so personally insulting about a slap in the face. Think about the sting that you feel even with the figurative slap in the face of a cunningly timed insult. The anger, the feelings of injustice, the desire for revenge-  I know that they each well up in me in turn. And Jesus stood there, with all the power in the universe behind him, and let it happen. For some reason, I've never considered the sentence before. But the more I do, the more it impresses upon me what an act of love and sacrifice Jesus was prepared to enter into for us.

The second thing that stood out to me, was the shouts from the crowd. As the "trial" moves forward, again and again, the people, the religious leaders, and the high priests shout that this man is not their king! That, though he has committed no crime under Roman law, his crime against them is unforgivable. They shout that they have no king but Caesar, they shout that they would like a criminal returned to them instead of letting Jesus walk free. Finally, they shout the word "crucify". Crucify. They shout and chant for one of the most painful, long, public, and violent acts of execution.

As much as I would like to say I would not have been like that crowd had I been there, I can't help but wonder if I might have been. Might I too have been disappointed, expecting a king to over-throw the government, and receiving a carpenter steeped in love and patience? Might I have thought that I knew better than God what kind of salvation I needed and convinced myself that something better must be coming? How often do I choose not to follow God because his plan doesn't make sense to me right here and now? I saw myself in that crowd today. As much as it pains me to say it, I saw a lot of all of us and was baffled yet again at how a love for that shouting crowd could possibly exist.

The third part isn't new. It's been my favorite part of the Good Friday story from the day that I finally understood what it meant. Last week, I was picking out some verses about Holy Week for a project at work, and, upon coming across this one, I almost cried right there at my desk. It's the verse that means nothing until it means everything. It's the verse where the temple veil was torn. I'll never forget learning about that veil, about how it separated the most holy place- the place where God would dwell, from everyone else. About how a high priest could enter but once a year and, even then, with a rope tied around his waist in case he hadn't cleansed himself and prepared the sacrifices just right- a rope that would pull his dead body back out if he in fact wasn't prepared to enter God's presence that day. The veil that signified just how far from God our sin had actually set us.

I've always wondered just how many times they've had to use that rope. If the answer's out there, I don't know it. But it makes me think about how I can now approach God- how the lines of communication are never closed for me. It makes me think about how scared that priest must have been each time he made preparations to enter God's presence. It makes me think of how confused everyone must have been the day the earth shook and that veil tore down the middle when Jesus breathed his last. How long did it take them to realize that the days of entering with trembling trepidation were over? How hard was it for them to believe that, after all these years, Jesus had made another way. From a verse that meant nothing until it meant everything comes the story of a veil. It's a veil that meant everything until, suddenly, because of what happened on Good Friday, it meant nothing.

And that is the story of my Good Friday this year. Sure, I also ate some pizza and played with some kids and wrote my brother a funny birthday card. But mostly, I think I've finally come around to Holy Week. Because of that, I think that Easter, the event we all know is coming, will have all the more to give as I take time to really appreciate how we got there. Happy Holy Week, y'all.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The 4th Question

I should be writing other things right now. I should apologize to the people for whom I should be writing those things. I probably won’t.
I scribbled some of this down in my journal the week it happened. It’s been tucked in a bookshelf along with countless other stories in several unfinished journals for years since returning to my continent of residence. I don’t often finish journals. It feels a little like finishing the chapters of my life contained in them, and I never could quite pinpoint the end of chapters in life. But that’s a thought for another time.
I’ve never really gone any significant period of time without thinking, at least briefly, of this story. It wasn’t a big story. It’s not full of action or adventure. It’s a story of quite and tears and hugs and mosquitos. What makes this story important, I think, is that it seems to grow with me. Though the events are forever locked in place, the implications seem to change with each new season.
And so, for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on, tonight I’m writing it, not any of the other things. This one story, for now, is making its way off of a dusty bookshelf and out into a world where anywhere from no one to everyone can see it. Taking its place in type instead of scrawl and bringing up with it the new implications of my life as it is now, from as it was then.

"Fo dem?", Akili chimed, wondering where I was going at this hour of the night. I filled her in that my roommate and I would be heading down the street to use the phone, calling our families back home. We headed out into the night. I barely noticed the shouts floating up the staircase from the small, one room home below. I was more concerned about bats as we passed the tree they had been known to abide in. As we approached the bottom of the staircase and were shooing goats out of the way, a slammed door reminded me of the vague awareness that I’d had of the argument that must have been occurring below.
As we rounded the corner, we saw Juhudi, a wise-mouthed, funny, and beautiful 8-year-old from our compound, throwing herself onto a stone wall, sobbing. We paused for a moment, not knowing what to do. Crying like this was not common here. Sure, a little kid would cry and whine when they fell or didn't get their way, but usually the aim was to get attention. A child, already 8, and a girl especially, was just not found sitting in the dark crying her eyes out by herself. My roommate said the girl's name in a sympathetic sounding voice, not knowing much else in her language that would be appropriate. We walked over slowly, and I sat next to her. I put my arm around Juhudi, and thought about asking her what was wrong. My roommate sat off to the side quietly.
            Juhudi sat, perfectly still except for the sharp rising of her chest as she gasped for breath between the sobs and the tears that streamed down her cheeks. The three of us sat in silence for what seemed like ages. I decided against asking what had happened, realizing that it was likely to only make things worse for her to want to open up and talk, but have to deal with my limited language skills. I finally just leaned over and hugged her. I worried that this intimate hug would be too much, but my fears proved unfounded as the little girl desperately hugged back. I periodically loosened my grip slightly, inviting Juhudi to pull away if she so desired, but she only hugged tighter, her sobs now increasing and her tears flowing freely.
            After the hug had lasted several minutes, I half-wrestled her little arms from around my neck, and pulled her up onto my lap. I started singing. I don’t know why, but softly, and in a language Juhudi couldn't understand, I sang an old hymn. As we rocked gently, Juhudi's sobs subsided, and her tears slowed. I nodded at my roommate’s questioning face, hoping to give her permission to make her way on our errand without me, knowing that the time she has spent sitting humbly off to the side had been filled with hurt and desperation for this broken child.
Juhudi and I sat for what seemed like hours, as I did my best to cover her arms from the mosquitoes that had begun to swarm us. With a tight squeeze, I eventually broke the hug and turned the child around on my lap to face me. I gently pulled her downcast chin up towards my face, and wiped her tears aside with my thumbs.
I had been thinking of several options of what I would say to her. Piecing together what encouraging thoughts I could with my limited vocabulary in her language. I hadn’t consciously settled on any of them when I said, "Juhudi, don't cry.”
A slight nod showed that she followed my attempt at her language. "You are very smart. Do you know that?” I asked her. She looked down and I again pulled her chin up and looked in her eyes as I repeated, “Do you know that?”
She nodded quietly. “You are beautiful. Do you know that?" I continued. With a slight smile she nodded with a quiet “yes” this time.
“You are funny. Do you know that?” I asked yet again.
The answer was faster and more confident this time, “yes” she smiled.
I hesitated now. Not sure if I should ask this but simultaneously knowing that I would anyway. “Jesus loves you…. Do you know that?”
I couldn’t have realistically expected anything else. That name wasn’t well known here. In fact, if she were to repeat this conversation to her mother, we may not be welcome to stay in that compound anymore. My mind knew to be careful with my timing, but I’m not sure exactly sure how much say my mind had in this conversation.
“Who?” was the word that went along with the puzzled look Juhudi gave me. I repeated it once more and was met with a pleasantly confused look paired with a slight head tilt.
The devastation was a bit unwarranted, I’ll admit, given my known location and situation, but I felt it all the same. I felt as though I carried the weight of the entire village that night, the entire country really. All the while knowing that this was just the tip of the iceberg of things that would break my heart in this world. And for just a moment, I had just the tiniest glimpse of the heartbreak that we inflict upon our father with the implementation of the free will that he gave us. Just a fraction of the weight that he carried when we placed that burden upon him. I longed to be able to repair here and now what had taken centuries to break. More than so many other times in my sometimes monotonous life did I desperately want his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
But there I sat, with a confused child on my lap and with a landslide of implications behind the utterance of a single name. I sighed and asked her one last question, “I love you. Do you know that?”
This time she hugged me once more with her “yes” and I hugged back just a little tighter than I had before. 

I think about Juhudi a lot. I wonder if our paths will ever cross again. I wonder if I’ll recognize her if they do. And I think I’ll always wonder if I said the right thing. I think I’ll always wonder if she’s ever been able to answer that 4th question.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Part of the Family

I sat near the front of a crowded bus in Africa about a month ago. Six of us squeezed into a row made for four. A little boy with autism sat next to me, chattering away in a language I knew little of, presumably about the day's adventures. An even smaller girl sat on my lap, snuggled close to my chest and tight in my arms, lulled to sleep by the bounce of the bus.

As my chattering friend leaned on me, his fingers playing with the beads on my skirt as he continued his tale, I wondered if he didn't understand our language barrier, or if he just didn't care. I kept a small smile on my face and my gaze in his direction, hoping to communicate that, though I had no chance of catching it, I was interested in his story. Occasionally, I looked down at the sleeper in my arms, feeling a responsibility to make sure she rested comfortably.

Looking around the bus that afternoon, I couldn't help but marvel at the family that surrounded these two kids. The staff that knew each child by name and story, the older children that looked after the younger, the family members of the children who still had a biological family, walking side by side with the organization set on raising these children to their full potential.

The sweet girl in my arms knew so little about her family that day. She didn't know that these were her brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles. She couldn't anticipate that, somewhere, her mother and father sat, already caring for other little ones in her family. She had no way of understanding, not really understanding the love that surrounded her, because she did not yet have language to tell her so. She hadn't had time to wipe away the abuse and neglect that clouded her vision.

This sweet little girl was born deaf. Raised to be feared, neglected, and hated, she had no chance of even guessing what love could lie before her. She had only come into this family a few short months before we arrived. And, though I knew it would take time, my heart leaps at the idea of her learning, little by little, that she would never again be bound for hours at a time. She would never spend another night in the graveyard she was so often found in. Hunger wouldn't haunt her waking hours. If anyone ever called her cursed or useless again, she could not yet imagine the throngs of family members she now had to defend her as a perfectly created child of the King.

And part of that family... is me. That is an honor that is bestowed upon us when we walk alongside our brothers and sisters that are doing His work. Sure, we may be the relatives that live far away and only get to visit once a year, but on that visit, we are family none the less. Family that brings hugs and games and silly faces and so much love.

On this trip, I was introduced as "Auntie" for the first time. Unless you've been there, I don't know that I can describe to you the joy and weight that that name carries. These kids and the ones that take care of them are my family, not because I've earned it or because I deserve it, but because of the love He has built into us. Because of the way He has knit us together to be a family. This is why I go back, again and again.

We reached our destination that day and I had to hand that beautiful sleeping child over to her teacher. She doesn't know all of these things yet, but as they continue, day in and day out, to give her words while I'm gone, she will hear it and she will feel it and she will love it!

Monday, June 6, 2016

One Drop at a Time

 One drop of calcium carbonate. One drop into a dark, flat, stony expanse. It's just an exceptionally slick puddle. But if you count up all of those drops, into the same slimy puddle, one after another, you'd find something extravagant, something beautiful.

If I were to be honest, I would tell you that life sometime seems like one slimy drop after another. Dreams fade, marriages fall apart, children fight battles they should never have to see. And we walk through it all, one step after another and we wonder; did that step even matter? Did that phone call make a difference? Did it help that all I could do is listen? Why couldn't I fix this? Because, right now, it just feels like a drop. Just one drop into a dark cave that could never be anything more than what it is.

Sometimes, if I were to be honest, I need just a glimpse of what that drop could be. I need to know that someone can make that puddle on the ground into a foundation. That the God of the universe is taking the steady drip of life and building caverns of magnitude and beauty. That, someday, someone will gaze with awe at what was once nothing and fail to comprehend how the drops could ever have felt insignificant.

If I were to really look at life honestly, I do think I would find myself in a puddle sometimes. But, sometimes, if I were to really look, I think I'd find myself mid stalagmite. I think, if I really looked around, I'd see that my view is not so close to the ground as I'd imagined. And then I'd wonder; who's drops formed the puddle beneath me, and who's will continue to reach towards the towering ceilings when I'm gone?

And, though I'd wonder, if I were to be honest, I may never know. But I would know that the only thing to do is to carry on, one drop at a time.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Ireland 2015

Be thou my vision O King of my heart
None other is aught but the King of the seven heavens.
Be thou my meditation by day and night.
May it be thou that I behold even in my sleep.
Be thou my speech, be thou my understanding.
Be thou with me, be I with thee
Be thou my father, be I thy son.
Mayst thou be mine, may I be thine.
Be thou my battle-shield, be thou my sword.
Be thou my dignity, be thou my delight.
Be thou my shelter, be thou my stronghold.
Mayst thou raise me up to the company of the angels.
Be thou every good to my body and soul.
Be thou my kingdom in heaven and on earth.
Be thou solely chief love of my heart.
Let there be none other, O high King of Heaven.
Till I am able to pass into thy hands,
My treasure, my beloved through the greatness of thy love
Be thou alone my noble and wondrous estate.
I seek not men nor lifeless wealth.
Be thou the constant guardian of every possession and every life.
For our corrupt desires are dead at the mere sight of thee.
Thy love in my soul and in my heart --
Grant this to me, O King of the seven heavens.
O King of the seven heavens grant me this --
Thy love to be in my heart and in my soul.
With the King of all, with him after victory won by piety,
May I be in the kingdom of heaven O brightness of the son.
Beloved Father, hear, hear my lamentations.
Timely is the cry of woe of this miserable wretch.
O heart of my heart, whatever befall me,
O ruler of all, be thou my vision.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Let All Things Their Creator Bless

All creatures...


Lift up your voice and with us sing


Thou burning sun with golden beam
Thou silver moon with softer gleam

Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in heav'n along

Giant's Causeway

Northern Ireland

Thou rising moon in praise rejoice
Ye lights of evening find a voice

Northern Ireland

Let all things their creator bless
And worship Him in humbleness


 Praise the Father praise the Son
And praise the Spirit three in one


Praise, praise the Father praise the Son
And praise the Spirit three in one

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

These kids

These kids are His children.

These kids were made for unique and important purposes.

These kids were born into lives with immense challenges that many of us will never encounter.

These kids smile. Everyday. And laugh and dance and sing. Not despite the struggles their stories contain, but in the midst of them.

These kids also cry. Some shout, some act out, some want to give up sometimes.

But, oh these kids... He loves them, I love them, and HE has a plan. He holds each of them. Everyday.

These kids still need sponsors. These kids need access to education, medical care, shoes, soap, food, His story. 

YOU can help these kids. Contact me; facebook, email, text. Let me know if you are able and willing to join these kids in support of their life and their future. I can tell you exactly how it all works, exactly what it entails, where your support goes, and more about the beautiful face and story you pick. A message isn't a commitment; just a desire to know more.

 These kids have captured my heart. The time I spend with my sponsor child in Malawi is priceless. And the faces of the kids when they see your picture and read about the person that sponsors them are priceless; I've seen them. This DOES make a difference.