Finish Strong

We made it. We get on the plane in six days, 10.5 months since we left. We are packing, sorting, shopping for gifts, saying goodbye to those who will be hone when we return in July. We are dreaming of reuniting with family and friends and eating cheese and blueberries.

A few times during the last 10 months, I’ve wondered why we are here. I don’t have an answer other than it’s where God led us. But on Sunday, I experienced what suffices as reason enough for me. I attended my friend’s birth on Sunday night. I saw a sweet baby girl be born. I don’t have words to describe the beauty of seeing a loving husband and wife unite together in the task of bringing new life into the world. I feel honored, privileged, spoiled. To hear a newborn’s first cry is to hear God breathe life into another. To see the baby look at the face on the body she so intimately knows is to see the face of God.

Why was I in Rwanda for this? I don’t know. But I am grateful. I am thankful that I met this family and can call them my friends. I am overjoyed to have been present for this little girl’s entry into the world. I don’t know whether we will walk with these friends for a short or long time, but I know that they have forever left their mark on my heart.

See you on the other side!

In His Presence

I’ve been thinking a lot about the presence of God and what that looks like in my life. In my Bible study, we have been studying Exodus 33, where God tells Moses that he will lead them into the promised land and given them milk and honey, but that his presence won’t go with them. Moses says no deal.

Essentially God says that he will give him everything he’s ever wanted except God’s own presence. Of course, knowing myself, I probably would have taken the deal. I really love God’s blessings. But Moses says no because he’s experienced the presence of God and knows that nothing else compares – the temporal joys of the flesh waste away and don’t fulfill.

I have had a few moments of sensing that presence – the calming, peaceful, joyful presence of God. I’ve known that I was held by him and loved by him and that everything else was dust.

Sitting in a hotel room after meeting the birthfamily of the children we were supposed to adopt, we knew it was over. While our hearts were breaking in a million pieces, I still felt joy. I felt joy knowing that my God would supply all my needs and that I had followed him to exactly the place he wanted me – broken, weeping, singing his praises.

When I heard my sweet baby cry for the first time, I finally believed that I was actually having a baby. I didn’t want to let myself believe it was true even as they were wheeling me into the operating room. I was terrified to hope. We were reciting Psalm 27, and then we heard him.

When I was recently at an orphanage in DRC, I was struck by the utter desperation – children left behind, evil men controlling the gate, poor women held captive – it was the closest I’ve ever been to what I imagine hell to be like. Except. There was the presence of God.

Even sitting there being lied to and video recorded by men who are profiting off of the destruction of lives, I could feel God’s calming hand upon me. I had an acute sense that God was watching and taking note of this hell on earth and that his justice would be meted out eventually. In the presence of terrifying circumstances, I felt no fear. I felt that I was exactly where God wanted me to be and therefore was utterly and completely safe.

It’s what spurs me on to keep fighting against this desire for fleshly satisfaction. While my flesh cries for approval, success, comfort, security, my soul cries for more of him. Some days my flesh wins, but sometimes it doesn’t, and on those days, I agree with Moses.

If your presence does not go with us, do not bring us up                from here. (Ex. 33:15)

 

When I was Hungry

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them,‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’  (Matthew 25:35-40)

This was all I could think as I spoon-fed the child who was too old to be in a high chair. I’m feeding Jesus. I’m feeding Jesus. As everything in my body wanted to run. To forget.

Why God? Why do these children live in an orphanage? How can this be?

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:1-3)

Perhaps the works of God were displayed in this boy, Innocent. To feed him, to sing to him, to tell him that Jesus loves him. He ministered to me. Jesus, living in this boy, ministered to me as I fed him. I reject the love of God. I rebel against it. It can’t be that easy. Just believe that God loves me? No. I must do, work, pay. But Innocent? He can’t do anything. He can barely raise his head. And yet the Father loves him.

Will I believe it? Will I stop rebelling? Believe that Innocent will rise up in the last days. That he will put on a new glorious body. So glorious that we will be tempted to worship him. He will dance. He will shout. He will run. He will laugh. He will know a Father’s love for eternity.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

What other option is there? Can anyone else give Innocent and me hope outside of Jesus Christ? If there is no hope in Christ, then find me a tall building from which to jump. Because I can’t live seeing babies lined in cribs with no mother to comfort their cries unless I know without a doubt that the Father will come for them.

This is it. This is where the rubber meets the road. Will I believe? Will I trust? Will I stop trying to figure it out and just rest in His promises? Daddy, don’t forsake them. You promised.

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:51-56)

 

Charge

We had a great weekend in Kigali – finally getting a chance to do something over than survive. On Friday night, we had dinner with some missionaries that have been here over 25 years! They have lots of stories to tell – so many that there’s been a book written about them. (http://www.amazon.com/Faith-Through-Fire-Rwanda-ebook/dp/B008LCP7PM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1374498336&sr=8-1&keywords=faith+through+fire) We enjoyed a delicious meal with them and enjoyed seeing their elaborate garden and farm animals, complete with goats, chickens and pig.

On Saturday, we took the city bus to the big market at Kimironko. Hundreds of stalls with produce, electronics, clothing, fabric, anything you could imagine purchasing. And if you’ve ever wondered where your clothes that Goodwill or Salvation Army can’t use/sell, look no further than the African market. I saw a 2005 Twin Cities marathon t-shirt on sale, and I’m pretty sure that guy’s never been to Africa.

Market

Market2

We get a lot of attention when we are out on the street. Besides our general whiteness that causes us to stand out, Fred usually draws a crowd as well. If BB is wearing Fred, everyone stares – men in Africa do generally wear their babies. Likewise, if I wear him on my front, we also look strange. A number of people at the market kept pulling on Fred’s hat and scolding me in Kinyarwanda. I’m guessing they thought he was suffocating or something. They didn’t like that they couldn’t see his face very well.

Beco

We then walked the 5 km back to our house. So much to see and explore.

walk

Sunday we attended Christian Life Assembly (“CLA”) church in Kigali. We enjoyed a lively service in English with a primarily African congregation. The guest preacher from Uganda convicted me about my need to recharge my battery. These past few months – really ever since Fred was born – have been draining both physically and spiritually. I need to plug back into my power source.

Church 1

Church

One of the main reasons we are in Rwanda is to continue our fast from 2012. The purpose of the fast is to draw closer to God, to increase my dependence. To become obviously weak so that he can make me strong. I’ve been feeling quite weak lately, and I’m ready to recharge from the true power source. I’m finally excited to see where this leads!

Finally, Mama Claudia, our new nanny started today. She has been great with Fred, playing, feeding, rocking. Enjoy a picture of my little African prince!

FredBack

He is Risen.

We are in Cincinnati this weekend enjoying this beautiful weather and time with family. Fred did great on the road trip, and I enjoyed my mandatory Chick Fil A milkshake.

I haven’t had a lot of time or drive to really ponder Holy Week. We missed church last week, but I enjoyed BB’s performance of the St. John Passion.

The passion story always brings me to my knees. It’s the real deal. The most powerful series of events on human history and will only be topped by Christ’s almighty return. His body, broken for us. The fulfillment of 100s of years of prophesy. How do I even comprehend a small part of what this means for me and the world?

And the resurrection. The true hope. Our only hope. The hope for the abandoned child, the homeless alcoholic, the young girl in chains, the murderer in prison, the sin-wrought young(ish) mother in Chicago. If Christ is risen from the dead, there is hope of redemption. If He didn’t, we have nothing.

Father, may I never forget from where I’ve come. Dead. By your sacrifice, raised to new life.

Happy Easter!

Humbled

I had to have a c-section.  We had planned a home birth.  The Lord has his own ways.  Waiting to be taken into the operating room, I was the most scared I think I had ever been.  I wanted to run.  I had a teeny tiny glimpse of the garden prayer – Lord take this cup away from me.  Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will. 

Going into the procedure, I knew that my prayer would be for humility and submission.  Rather than the empowered birth I had planned, I was being called to lie down and submit.  Spread out on the table, arms outstretched and strapped down, numb, tubes, completely out of control.  This was the exact opposite of what we had hoped for and planned.

I was terrified of the birth – not matter how it was to happen.  Everything in the pregnancy had gone well.  Fred was perfect from all we could tell.  The lies kept coming – it was too good to be true.  It would all be taken from me.

Stuck between a truth and a lie.  Truth being that God had not promised me a healthy baby, a complication-free birth, survival for another day.  God is good, but he’s not safe.  He makes promises, but safety, health and security are not included.  How do you go into something so important without any assurance of success?  How do you not fear the worst? How do you trust an unsafe and dangerous God?

I always cringe when people say things like, Jesus is my buddy, my friend, my partner.  While of course there friendly aspects of Jesus, Jesus is not our equal.  If I were to see him face to face, I wouldn’t run up to give him a pat on the back.  I would be on my face begging for my life.  He is Lord of Lord, King of Kings, nothing but complete submission and fear would be appropriate.

He wants me to hold everything with an open hand.  I have no choice but to obey.  The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.  He is wise, and he is good.  How can I not follow him?

Flexibility

Can I just say how great it’s been to be (relatively) media-free for a day and a half?  My brain feels so much calmer than normal.  It’s actually possible to just sit quietly and not stare at my phone.  Who knew?

Yesterday (because I wasn’t sitting in front of the computer all day), I read the book of Mark.  I’ve also been reading Tim Keller’s book King’s Cross, which goes through the book of Mark.  I’m no theologian or expositor on Scripture, so take this with a grain of salt.  

I was struck by the plight of the Pharisees. We know they’re the “bad guys.”  We look at them and scoff at how they were so wrong.  Jesus was constantly rebuking them.  They just. didn’t. get. it.  I was feeling sad about it – I think because I can so often relate.  Here I am in my ivory tower of wisdom, riches, and understanding.  I’ve read the Bible times over, I’ve listened to 100s of sermons, I’ve read 100s more books about the Bible and Jesus.  I meet with friends to discuss the Word.  I can recite the prayers, the hymns, the feast days.  I know the “rules.”  I try to live a moral life.  For all intents and purposes, my life looks a lot more like a Pharisee’s life than it does John the Baptist’s or Jesus.’ 

After all that, I still so often don’t get it.  I still want this Christian life to be predictable.  I want to work hard and get blessings.  I want to follow the rules and get the reward.  I want things to work in a predictable way.  I want God to do what I think he should do.

The Pharisees knew the Scriptures that predicted the coming Messiah by heart.  They were seeking him.  They knew with clarity that they were part of a chosen race and followed the teachings of Scripture better than anyone.  The problem was that they were unflinchingly rigid in what they believed the Messiah to look like, and Jesus didn’t fit that.  There was no flexibility built into their religion.  They had determined a set of characteristics that the Messiah would possess, and they had a limited understanding of the character of God.

Don’t I do that to?  I have my list of things that God could never ask of me because it wouldn’t be fair.  I have my own understanding of right and wrong, and surely God must follow that.  When things are good, it’s God’s blessing, when they are bad, I must have missed the mark.  In my mind, it has to work this way.  There’s no room for flexibility.

God can’t be limited to my rules and my reading of the Bible.  God does not act in ways that are predictable.  As my pastor said today, 10 steps in a straight line with God tells us nothing about the 11th step.  Of course, God always acts consistent with his Word and his character, but my pea brain doesn’t always put that together.

I’m looking for a King on a throne, but he’s a baby in a manger.  I’m cheering for a knight on a white horse, but instead, he’s a lamb led to slaughter.  I’m trusting in my knowledge, but Jesus tells me to be like a child.  I want riches and fame, but God offers me a heavy wooden cross to carry on my back.

Lord, grant me eyes and see and ears to hear.