Wednesday, February 18, 2015

these ones: they matter

In October I began going to the large orphanage here in town.  It is an institution orphanage and is partly government funded.  A few years ago, Mali closed all adoptions and because of this, this orphanage is bursting at the seems with children.

My first time going to the orphanage I was taken from room to room to visit all the children and nannies. Room after room I was met with cribs full of babies and only one or two women to care for them. Although my heart broke that there were so many little ones here and not with their families [where ever they are] I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of this orphanage.

Then the last room we visited, of course it was the last one, was the room that houses the children with disabilities. It only took seconds for me to!!!!!!!!  

From then on I started going weekly to hang out with these little special needs lovies. Oh you guys! They are so darn precious. 

But their realities break my heart. These children have been abandoned by their families [I'm sure for many reasons] and placed in an institution. I am thankful that this orphanage does take in these children - because of this fact these children are alive! However, due to cultural beliefs, lack of resources & training, and not knowing Jesus' heart, these children are mostly ignored. They spend most of their days laying in their crib. Minimal interaction. No snuggles. 

Oh Jesus.

For me though, I have resolved in my heart that these ones, they MATTER! They matter to Jesus and they matter to me. I love them. He loves them. They might not be perfect in words standards but they are just that - Perfect! 

Last week after meal time was finished the nannies and I took the kids from the meal room back to their cribs.  One of the little girls and I have formed a bit of a bond and on that morning she did NOT want me to put her down. As soon as I put her on the mattress she began to wail. I had never heard her cry this loudly and it torn me to pieces. I quickly finished my task and ran back to the room. As soon as she saw me walk into the room she held out her arms to me! I thought I might burst into tears. 

I scooped her up and snuggled her close! She immediately stopped crying and rested so peacefully in my arms. Held tight, loved deeply. She felt it. I cried.

As I stood in the middle of the room, swaying side to side with her in my arms, I looked around the room to the other little loves lying in their cribs. All I could think was - I wish my arms were big enough to hold each and everyone of them. Mine aren't but I know someone whose arms are the perfect size... Jesus.

I started praying out loud over the kiddos. Pouring my heart out to the Father on behalf of these beautiful little ones. They all stopped what they were doing and watched me. When I would make eye contact with them they would smile. I prayed. They received. It was beautiful. 

I want to share with you some pictures of these cuties :-) Please, please, please pray for them!!!
The name of the child and gender is below their picture :-)

Wa - girl

Do - girl
Naba - girl
Ma - girl 
Nana - girl

Oumou - girl 
Adama - boy

Malik - boy

Kadia - girl 
Alfouseyni - boy

Sogona - girl 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

these days...

These days leading up to the 20th are feeling a bit eery.  I've been thinking back over all that has happened, all that has changed in this past year.  There are moments in my days where I feel as though I am walking through quick sand... feeling a bit stuck.

I have found myself remembering small things, small moments, small memories, that have made my mouth curl up in a small smile. 

Even though it's been a year I can close my eyes and can almost relive the entire week of Mom's death.  Although her body failed almost instantly, her death came over days.  Days that allowed me the closure that I would need in the days and years to come. 

Those days allowed me to cling to Jesus like I never had before.  Those days allowed me to put my life, my utter dependence in the hands of Jesus and the people He put in my path to help me.  Those days allowed me and others to say things we needed to say to Mom and to others around us.

Those days allowed me to see that in the darkest, painful valley God was continuing to build my story.  A story that would now include a rip that only He could mend.  And only in His timing.

Over the past year I have found myself curled up on the bathroom floor when a sudden bout of grief has overtaken me.  A small memory has had its way of leaving me in a puddle of tears as I try to go to sleep at night.  Or as recently, a small magnet that used to adorn my parent's fridge, found it's way into a care package and left me a tearful mess for days.  

Suddenly. Sharp as a knife. Deep as the ocean. Grief lingers. The whole this woman left when she left is far bigger than I ever thought imaginable.

And yet that very reality causes me to thank God. 

There was a time in my life when Mom's death might not have left me as it has now. It's only because of God that Mom's death has ripped my heart open and caused pain deeper than I knew possible.  It's only because of God that her death has left me wounded.  It's only because of God's loving kindness that I am hurting...

God restored what satan tried so hard to destroy... a loving relationship between a mother and her daughter.  It's because of God's love for me and my Mom that He choose to take the time to mend what I once thought was too broken.

It's only because of God that the day my Momma died, I was by her side, holding her hand, and so deeply in love with her that her last breath took a piece of my heart with it.  Because of God, the day my Mom died, I was in so much pain because of how deeply I loved her.

I recently watched a movie that helped put clarity to my grief.  It helped me process some heart stuff like I hadn't been able to up till now.  One line in particular gave me words...

I am honored to be hurt by Mom's death.  The hurt proves how much I loved her and how much I felt loved by her.

There are holy, sacred moments that I hold very close to my heart from those few days.  Moments I will never forget.  And there are moments that planted themselves so deep that they will forever be a mark that changed me. 

Grace and bitterness entangled themselves together during that week.  Love pushed through disagreements.  Forgiveness was planted like a tiny seedling.  And even in the mess of it all, there was so much beauty.

One beautiful moment for me was as my Dad, my sister and I stood at the front of the church and spoke to the people who had gathered to say goodbye.  We each shared.  And I will never forget the messy, beautiful moment when my sister took the mic and cussed in her speech.  What I loved in that moment was that I felt grace oozing and a heart breaking and through it all she knew she could be honest.  I will treasure that moment ~ the moment my heart broke open with the understanding that the church should be a place for the broken and sometimes that means four letter words are spoken from the front of the church. 

In Psalm 27:13 David writes, "I believe I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!"  In the land of the living?  I've come to understand that the land of the living is also full of death.  It is out of death that life is really seen.  David is pleading for God to save him from death, from the enemies surrounding him that want to kill him.  In death we see life.  

And even in these revelations I still find myself angry, sad, lost.  I many find myself feeling this way for a while.  But through these revelations I'm beginning to understand that it's ok. As the movie said, "Pain demands to be felt."  My pain demands that I feel it.  Feel it and then move through it. Grief like anything in life is a process.  It demands time.

During this process of grief I have found myself stewing over a statement I have heard so many times.  In the days, weeks and even months following Mom's death I heard from many people, "I'm sorry I couldn't come to the funeral. It was just too hard. I really want to remember Julie the way she was, in a good way."  Like a good girl I would nod and say I understood and tell them it was ok.  Well I'm calling bull on my own response... It's not ok!

It was too hard for you?!?!?!?!?!?!?  Guess what, IT WAS TOO HARD FOR ME!  You want to remember her the way she was?  Yeah, so do I!  So do my Dad and my sister.  

Another quote from the movie (actually a common life quote), "Funerals are for the living not for the dead."  I look back now to Mom's funeral and I love it.  I love the love I felt that day.  I love the people I saw and hugged that day.  I love the stories people told.  I love the truth of my Mom's life.  I love what she left behind. 

It was the second hardest day of my life.  It was and end and it was a beginning.  It was...    

***movie quotes from, The Fault in Our Stars*** 
**picture found on pinterest**   

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

a whiny post - you've been warned

I don't know what to say.  What not to say.  How to say what I would like to say.

Story of my life.

To me, there is not much to write about.  To everyone else not living my current life, there is a crap ton to say.  I think people look at my pictures or think about my life and think, "Wow! What a great adventure!"  Me?  What do I think?  Well, to put it nicely, I don't think "adventure".

For the most part, my life is currently pretty boring.  Yes, there are moments where crazy things happen, cool things happen, odd things happen.  But the majority of the time, my life is just full of the mundane.  Or at least my new mundane.

There are still moments where I get taken off guard by my life.  It's still an odd feeling that I live in West Africa.  I still have moments where I have to remind myself that this is not a trip.  Like for real. I have a house and bills and a car.  I have a dresser not a suitcase where I store my clothes.

My street isn't paved.  There are donkeys in the streets.  I see kids going to the bathroom and bathing on the side of the road, daily.

I can't find everything at an inside grocery store so I get my fruits and vegetables in a market and a broom and bucket on the side of the road.

It sounds adventurous, I know.

Reality?  On Saturday I wanted to go to the BIG {I have NO idea what to call it} store [think Dollar Store meets Pier One] to get a few household items.  My teammate and I get in the car and head to the store. No biggie, right?!  After sitting through 3 lights, it is finally our turn to turn right at the light and be on our way.  But no. Oh no.  The loud, annoying whistle of the policeman sounds and the finger point comes our way.  Yep, I got pulled over by the police.  Why?  No clue.  He never said.  Oh wait, maybe he did, I just didn't understand his French.

We made it through that just fine, no bribe necessary.  We inch our way and finally make it to the store, about 35 minutes after leaving the house. Whoopie!

We finish at the store and find ourselves super hungry.  Great.  Let's stop by a restaurant on the way home.  We make it to the restaurant, order, WAIT, eat.  All the while, I am starring out the window at my car, on the verge of tears because I don't know if I can muster up enough strength to get back in the car and drive the rest of the way home.  My nerves are shot.  My mind is foggy.  Why?  Dodging cars driving in the middle of the road, motos ALL over the place (on my left, on my right), stop lights that don't work, horns honking constantly, and oh yeah, the small thing about I'm still figuring out how to drive a stick-shift and not stall in the middle of an intersection.

Adventure?  Sorry, but adventure is not a word to use around me. Adventure is a short thing.  A temporary time frame.

This?  This is my life.

Cry me a river.  Yes, I know you are thinking it, so just say it.  I know, I picked it.  I know, I wanted it. I'm living an adventure seekers dream life!  Too bad I tend to avoid adventure like the plague....      

Monday, July 28, 2014

unicorn poop

*Disclaimer: You have been warned. This post is full of me. If you know me, you will then understand this disclaimer.*

I have not seen one unicorn poop rainbows and butterflies.  Not one!  I'm a bit peeved by this.  Surly there must be some magical unicorn poop around here somewhere...

I am a closet dreamer.  In the fact that I have stacks and stacks of dreams nicely stored in my closet and sometimes when I open the door a few of them slip out and people hear about or see them.  Otherwise they are nicely stored behind a closed door.

Can I just be honest?  I feel a bit uneasy and naive admitting this but it's gotta get out of me!  Moving to Africa was dream numero uno for me.  Like seriously, my biggest dream.  The kind of dream that keeps you up at night making up scenarios and imaginary houses and pretend people who all live in this fairy-tale dream life.  I imagined a big white unicorn galloping around my yard leaving behind nice, neat piles of rainbows and butterflies as it relieved itself.

Ok, the unicorn never actually made its way into my imaginary daydream sessions however the ideal of perfection, larger than life excitement, and joy unspeakable did.  I might as well have been imagining make-believe furry creatures.

What I am trying to say is... Life here is much different than I thought it was going to be.

A dear friend and mentor recently spoke some truth into my life.  She has a way of saying the hard things to me and yet I leave the conversation still feeling loved.  I love her for that.  I want more of that. She listened to me ramble about the mess my heart has been in lately.  She listened and then promptly combated the lies of the enemy with truth.  One thing I said to her was, "It's hard living in Mali. It's always going to be hard to live here. I just need to get over that."

If she would have dropped of few expletives I would not have blamed her.  She's really good at the whole truth in love thing.  I need to take more notes...

Stop speaking curses over yourself! Saying, it will always be hard to live in Mali, will make it hard to live in Mali. The things is... you can have JOY anywhere you live, even in the hard places! If you are seriously connected to Jesus, loving Him, listening to Him, He will make joy overflow in you!

Arrow to the heart. I knew instantly that she was right. I wanted to cower in the corner for a bit and continue the pity party I had been throwing. But I knew what she was saying to me was truth.

I want joy in my life. I want to love it here. I want my life here to be full of joy within and all around me. Despite the realities of life here. I want it.

Wanting something doesn't make it happen.  Sometimes you have to get off your butt and pursue it. Sometimes you have to sew your mouth shut so that your words don't curse yourself and others. Sometimes you have to unstitch those lips and speak out what is true... even when you don't actually believe the truth... yet.

Sometimes you have to sweep up the imaginary unicorn poop and open the gate to let said unicorn run free.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


***I started this post about a week ago but couldn't finish it. I finally did. I didn't know if it would post it but I think I will...

This past week I spent time in my ethnic country of origin, Germany.  Apparently for me, going back to my ethnic roots brought out a completely different set of roots.

This past week I found myself surrounded by many other missionaries who serve in European countries with Avant.  Singles, couples, families.  Missionaries on the field and missionaries who serve at the home office.  I was completely surrounded by others who have heard the same call as me, to go into the nations and tell people about Jesus.  I was surrounded and found myself nearly crippled at times by how overwhelmed I felt.

I have changed.  In like big ways.  BIG ways.

I'm different.

It has nothing to do with my occupation.  In the past year I have changed as a person.  I had noticed some small changes but this past week the many big changes appeared like a Las Vegas billboard!

Africa has changed me.  I have become much more introverted than I ever though humanly possible.  Where the old me would have craved talking late into the night and going on every outing offered, I willingly sought out time to be alone and smaller groups of people to be around.  Large groups didn't use to bother me.  Now, well now they just annoy me.

I also nearly cried at the sight of cherries, pears, and oranges that were actually orange.  I also nearly had a panic attack standing in line for lunch, discovering I was going to have many options of what to eat and they all had cheese.  This once upon a time super decision maker is no more.  

Among the changes I discovered I also allowed a reality to sink into my soul.  Losing my Mom has changed me.  I knew it but now I really know it.  When Mom died I lost a part of my heart.  In this realization, I allowed my heart to go deeper into another layer of the pain.  I desperately miss my Mom and I desperately want her back.  A fierce love for my Mom was unearthed in my heart and I uncovered a longing to have the opportunity to love her again here on earth.

One afternoon I decided to go for a walk.  The sky threatened rain but I didn't care, I just wanted out.  As I began to walk I felt my heart begin shifting within me.  I could feel the emotions beginning to well up and I knew I had some stuff I needed to get out.  So I walked and I talked, out loud.  I began to let words form and be spoken aloud.  I finally felt the freedom to say things I had felt for many months but was afraid to say.  I finally spoke out what was eating away at me.  I told God how I felt.

I told Him how I felt about Mom dying, about my move to Africa, about my fears and my dreams and how they are getting all tangled up and threatening to strangle me.

I spoke out loud what God already knew was in my heart.

As I walked on the path, I could not see where it was heading.  I was not certain of where it was taking me or what was waiting for me that the end.  Believe me, the symbolism was not lost on me.  My current walking path through the trees very closely resembled the current state of my heart and life.  Walking but having no idea where I am going.

As I approached the end of the trees, through blurry tear filled eyes I saw this...  

This sight nearly brought me to my knees.  The tears became a river instead of a stream.  In this moment I knew God was listening to me.

My Mom would have loved this sight.  She loved these kinds of windmills.  She thought they were cool and creepy si-fi all at the same time.  In this moment I felt her memory wrapped around my heart and God whisper into my soul that her knew how much it hurts that she's gone. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

rejecting an orphan spirit

When God was creating me in the inmost parts of my Mother's beautiful womb, He had a plan.  He knew exactly what my face would look like.  He knew exactly what my personality would be like.  He knew the things that would make my lips curl into a smile and what would bring me to my knees in tears.  He knew every aspect of the plan and set out to create me.

I imagine Him sitting at a potters wheel with a lump of hot pink clay, a smile on His face, and a cup of coffee sitting within arms reach.  When God formed me, He did it intentionally, not accidentally.

God is a Father.  It is at the very core of who He is.  And really that truth is also at the very core of who WE are.  Who I am.  Our Papa God is a loving parent who knows how to perfectly love, nurture, discipline and guide each of His children.  When God was forming me, I think He spent a little more time on my heart then any other part of me.  He had a specific goal in mind when He was forming my heart (physically, emotionally, spiritually).

I believe we are all created to need God.  I also believe that we are all created with a part of God's heart within our own.  The two are not separate.  They can't be. 

For me, God created me with an unfathomable love for children.  I know lots of people say they love children but for me, it is as if my world does not make sense unless I have little ones in my life.  As I got older God started to mature this love and has allowed me to go deeper into His heart.  God has given me a heart that like His, breaks over the realities that children in our world face.  Realities like poverty, single & double parent orphans, abuse, neglect, slavery, oppression....

Seven months ago Papa God allowed me to be taken into yet another level of His heart.  God allowed me to be able to understand and relate in a new and deeper way to the children He put on my heart.  God allowed me to become [by definition] a single parent orphan.  When Mom died, I was left Motherless.  I remember in the moments of holding Mom's hand as she died the magnitude of what was happening nearly took my own breath away.

In the months after Mom's death that orphan spirit tried very hard to attach itself to me.  What do I mean by that?  I was bombarded by thoughts and feelings of abandonment, fear, anger, confusion, hopelessness, and helplessness.  The battle between what God says is true and the lies Satan was throwing at me was [and at times still is] raging on inside me. 

People would talk about their Moms and I would get angry.  They would talk about their future plans with their Moms and my air-way would constrict as the feelings of abandonment and sadness washed over me.  I knew Moms helping their daughter prepare for their weddings and welcome grand-babies.  Jealousy, anger, sadness would rise up within me and I couldn't see straight.  

Sometimes I wonder if God cried as He formed this part of my life.  I wonder if He sat a little longer and molded a bit more gently as He carved into my being this part of my story.  I think He did because there have been times of completely unexplainable peace, comfort, and love that fill my spirit when grief threatens to become too much. 

Papa God knew the whole story before He ever started forming it and in His loving wisdom He carefully formed every part.  He took every inch of that hot pink clay and intentionally made every crease, every bump, every smooth part, every flaw and every perfection.  God knew that He was going to first give me a heart for children.  Then He would take me deeper into His love for them and allow me to have a heart that breaks for orphans.  And at age 27, He would allow me to enter into an understanding of how it feels to become motherless.
I know God's heart.  He put parts of His in mine.  That is why I can reject an orphan spirit and embrace His spirit! 

Romans 8:15-17, 23-28
15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him...23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.     


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Papa God's hand in disguise

No matter who you are or where you live, there are days when from the time you get out of bed nothing seems to go as planned.  Yes, that might happen here in Africa a bit more often but I think it is a common thread of humanity. 

Being a morning person is not a part of my DNA, it's just not.  Apparently my chromosomes include a strand of my-body-likes-the-wee-hours-of-night.  However, living in Mali has forced me to detach one set of DNA and pick up a new one called get-your-butt-out-of-bed-early!  Or in easier to understand language - I have been trying to get up early when it is still cool.  This way I'm not trying read my Bible while attempting to keep the sweat pouring off me from staining the pages.

The alarm sounded before the sun came up and I just rolled over.  The nights sleep had not been deep and my body longed for more rest.  But the air was cool and I wanted to at least have a few moments sweat free.  But the morning just didn't cooperate.  My mind drifted as I read the Word.  My heart was just disconnected.  The events of the day before lingered in the back of my mind and the frustrations that had plagued me were still holding on. 

The morning went on and I suddenly found myself rushing to try to get ready to leave for language class.  As one thing after the other, nothing of importance or great value, piled themselves on my shoulders I was just done.  Frustrated, sweaty, and in a royally bad mood I slammed the door behind me and set out to find a taxi.

As I walked out of my yard gate and into reality I put my head down and trudged to the street.  Being careful not to step in a puddle or on the unknown substance of trash that cover the reddish dirt I could feel my heart getting a little harder with each step.  If there would have been a mirror in front of me, my mouth would have been a tight, emotionless line. 

It was in this attitude, in this mind set that Papa God reached down His big hand and embraced mine. Only the hand that held mine was not an engulfing fleshed covered hand of the Creator God... it was a tiny brown hand of a child, gently tucked into mine.

I had never seen her before.  She did not say a word.  This tiny, precious little girl simply ran to meet me half way between my gate and the road, she looked up into my eyes and took my hand.  No one prompted her.  She didn't come running at me yelling the typically "white person, white person" greeting of a child.  The combination of her silence and her intentionality hit me in my core.

She walked with me, hand in hand, almost to the street and then she let go and walked the other way.  I didn't turn around in fear that she may never have been there in the first place.  I hailed a taxi and drove off to school, my heart softening with every turn of the tires.

In the moments of quite yet deeply rooted fear and frustrations, God has a way of getting my attention.  That morning, He used a little one to remind me that... He is near, He hears me, He sees me, He loves me, He has a plan for me and His plan includes little ones like her because HE loves the littles ones more than I ever could.