Monday, October 29, 2012

My kitchen is painted yellow.

Because yellow is the color of sunshine and of joy and because yellow is my favorite.

It’s never quite as clean as I want it to be in here.

Tonight as I stand in the after-bed-time quiet my eyes follow a trail of red footprints across this floor that is supposed to be white and the tears well. So many memories held here.

This kitchen, this is there I serve. Many days, this kitchen is where I live. These counters, nicked and crumb covered, the sink, one side piled high with drying dishes, they could tell some stories. They’ve seen my joy as I gaze out the window at my laughing brood and raise still-soapy hands high in praise. They’ve seen the tears fall in defeat over the just-peeled carrots and the open pages of Psalms. They’ve heard my tongue snap in exasperation as another child screams through the kitchen and my whispered repentance later as I beg Him to make more of me. These walls have held late night laughter with dear friends and early morning remorse over broken dreams. They’ve held confessions and achievements and words, oh so many sweet words.

The memories flood too quickly to contain them all.

I see the night I came home and walked into this kitchen defeated and without a 4 year old and sweet friends gathered around to make super and their silence meant more than words.

I see our first Thanksgiving here, mom pulling the stuffing out of the oven, kids dancing happy and people – oh so many people – who I love and so much joy spilling out of such a small space.

I see myself standing here in the wee morning hours that shouldn’t even count as morning yet whisking high calorie milk for a child just barely clinging to life and I hear my loud cry for Jesus to save Him.

I hear the pitter-patter of little feet over the bubbling of the coffee pot and the excited voice of my littlest as she announces that the chicks have “popped” in the first light of the morning, and I feel the way His mercy has washed over me in this place.

I see hundreds of cooking lessons, little bodies crowded around a big pot, eager for their chance to measure, to pour, to stir. I see birthday cakes, so so many birthday cakes frosted and decorated with butterflies and flowers. I see whole wheat bread warm and rising in this oven, daily, and marvel at how He has been our daily bread.

I see the day when the full weight of her past threatened to knock the breath right out of me, how I pressed my palms hard into these counter tops and willed myself to keep breathing and questioned everything that I knew to be true.

I see the girls, gathered around the open computer screen and hear the voices of my mother and father and brother streaming across space and time zones and my heart aches with missing them but rejoices for love that bridges even oceans.

I see people. Homeless mothers who have found their way to better life here. Children who have healed and become whole here. Friends who have found rest, family who have so greatly blessed, people I have loved, who have loved me. People who have known the Lord in this place.

I have set foster babies on these counters next to casseroles for neighbors. And right here on these counters I have typed it all out, our lives, the beautiful and the ugly, between the stirring of the pots and the wiping of the noses, and the words turned to pages and the pages into a story.

It’s almost too much this passing of time, the dying of dreams and the budding of new ones, this growing of babies into children and children into women and hearts to maturity. And I cry because I want to hold it all forever, His goodness in this place. I run fingers over knife-worn counters and time runs too fast. And people are sent out from here. People heading home and people heading off to new futures and one day, these girls, too. I serve meals in this kitchen but I want to serve them what counts. I want to offer them the living bread, the only food that truly fills.

I have laughed here, I have wept here, I have created here, oh, I have prayed here. And here in this place, I have known Him more. I haven’t always done it right and some days I feel that I haven’t been enough, but I know that He has. He has. Right above the oven are painted the words of Acts, “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and generous hearts… and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved,” and I know it like I know my own breath and the warmth of the sun on my skin, time passes, and they will go, and only He will remain.

My eyes find the trail of footprints leading to the door, and through bated breath I ask it, beg it, “Lord, if I could have just one thing, could I have served them You?”

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ever wonder what we are up to on a Saturday?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

She clings tightly to the edge of the pool, knuckles while with fear of the unknown. My eyes grow hot but I fight it, surely you can’t cry on the side of the public baby pool in the middle of a perfect Sunday afternoon. I taught her how to swim. But it has been two years this month since she’s lived in my home and longer since she’s been in a pool. The swirl of the cold water and the way it will carry you if you simply relax but pulls you under when you stiffen in panic has become foreign to her.

“Come on!” Patricia pulls at her and it strikes me that she’s just the same age now that Jane was on that day when I packed her backpack and sent her home with her mother and it seems too little. I let the tears fall and ask Him, “What do I do with grief like this on a beautiful, sunny Sunday while kids splash happy all around me?”

“Give it to me,” He whispers.

As the tears clear I see that Patricia has successfully pulled her reluctant friend into the center of the pool. The water reaches only to her chest, but still she is tentative; I know that look in her eyes even as her face tries to smile. Within minutes the reserve melts into relief. The pool! We like the pool! And there she is dancing and splashing and laughing with the rest of them.

The big girls can’t resist all this giggling joy in little sisters and they pull all three over the dividing wall and into the big pool. Again her eyes dart. Is it safe here? She grabs for the edge. But the big girls pull her to the middle to laugh and splash and play and when they don’t let go, she regains her confidence. Soon she’s swimming and splashing and laughing with all her might, fully comfortable with the water all around her, and when it is time to go, she is the hardest to get out.

I wrap her in an enormous soft towel and repent as I pull her close. You would think that I would just be thankful that we still occasionally get these windows of time with her. Who has to give up a child and then still gets to see her sometimes? Not many. I think of all the women I know whose babies have just not woken up in the morning and I know I should be grateful for this gift.

But I’m clinging to the side of the pool. I am clinging to the past and to my what-I-thought-should be instead of to His perfect what-will-be.

I know about the middle of the pool. I know how to swim! I’ve tasted and I have seen that the Lord is good; I have testified with my mouth and known deep in my heart that His will is better than all my plans. I have put together the right words and tied it up in a neat little bow and written it up for the world to see – See! His will is the best! We love it here.

But today a big broken piece of my flesh is clinging to the side, longing for the past and the way I thought I wanted life to be. And the reality is, when I cling here, I don’t have to say a word. My white knuckles and my tense body and the posture of my heart say, “but what if its not? What if His will is just scary cold water and I’ll just stay here on the edge, thanks.” And right there on the side of the pool He uses this little one to bring me to my knees, again.

Who is God when we are clinging to the side? He is the one who comes to right where we are. He is the one who takes our hand and pulls us back to the middle and won’t let go. “Remember, love?” He whispers, “You can swim. I taught you how to swim.” And He doesn’t let go, not ever. Stiffened in panic and doubt, I sink, but relax and lean into Him and the floating comes back easily. The side is not nearly as marvelous as it is out here.

The hope and joy that is found in Jesus Christ, who is working all things for the good of those who love Him, is enough to carry me.

We know this. But the truth is, we all forget. I forget. Life’s hard stings and I question and I wrestle and I believe with all my heart that He will make it all beautiful one day, but can I open my eyes to see that He is making it beautiful now? Right this moment? Because as He pulls me closer to the center of His will, He is only pulling me closer to Him. As I choose to trust Him, again and again and again and again, He promises me that He is transforming me into His likeness. And closer to Him? That is the only place I really want to be.

Stop fighting. Stop holding on so tightly to what you thought you needed for security. Come on out here to the center. He won’t let go. And it’s marvelous here.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Our van pulls into the bumpy dirt space next to her bumpy dirt house and there she stands, her smile like sunshine. It is hot and we are late but her joy reminds me of where I find my Joy. My two youngest see her and their grins match hers as they clap and chant, "Miss Angelina, Miss Angelina!"

Her hug is warm and encouraging like a mother's and I rest there a moment. "Good morning, sweet friend," I say and the word rolls off my tongue and fills up my heart as my children pull on her skirt and crawl up into her arms, because she is. She herds them into her house no bigger than my kitchen and has cups of tea and biscuits waiting for them and I cannot believe how blessed I am. I have to run down and start working, but the girls don't bat an eye. They know they are safe here. "They'll stay here with me," she chuckles, "enjoy your meeting."

I thank her and I whisper more thanks as I walk away and the full weight of it hits me. This woman, she is my friend.

*     *     *

She lets me put my hand on her shoulder and take her baby for her as she bends her head to weep. This baby was named after me shortly after she was born straight into my lap, the same lap that her father died in just minutes ago. I mop her house. What else do you do?

We stand in the rain and we cry. Neighbors come and I feel their reassuring hands on my shoulders and an on-looker might think that I should be afraid here, in the dark, in the rain but I feel only comfort. So many faces press in to the candle light and I marvel at the stark contrast of people who used to spit at me because of the color of my skin to people who now join hands with mine in the night. "Thank you for crying for our pain," she says and words fail me. I remember that Nouwen wrote "Compassion is not a bending toward the underprivileged from a privileged position; it is not reaching out from on high to those who are less fortunate below; it is not a gesture of sympathy or pity for those who fail to make it in the upward pull. On the contrary compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there," and so we sit.

I walk back up the muddy hill and by the dim lantern light from a near-by chapati stand I embrace people that my heart so deeply loves and even on the hardest days I can't help but feel gratitude because I know: These people, they are my friends.

*     *     *

We sit in a circle in my yard and I serve tea and paint their toenails and our laughter is real. We read the word and share prayer requests and praises and not all of them believe yet but they are starting to recognize His answers, to see that our prayers are real, too. We have laughed at our days and cried for our sorrows. We have shared wild stories and we have sat in the silence. And despite a million difference we are really all just the same, and we have forged relationships that will last.

*     *     *

I speak English and Luganda. She speaks Nkarimojong and Swahili.

Her baby is sick, but I can’t figure out how in the world she is going to tell me what is wrong. I try all kids of crazy sign language and she stares at me. I’ve got it! I start making gagging noises as if I am going to vomit. She nods her head enthusiastically. “How many times?” I ask, and even try to sign. She doesn’t get it. I make the vomiting sound once; she shakes her head “no.” I make it twice. I make it three times. On the fourth, she nods her head earnestly again. We stare at each other. And then, we fall to the floor in stitches. We both realize how ridiculous this is.

I hand her some medicine. She smiles, but pulls me back onto the couch as I stand up. “Eklip,” she says, and I know that one. Pray. She wants me to pray for her baby. She doesn’t believe just yet, but still, she wants me to pray. I curl myself back up next to her on the couch and I thank Jesus for Namele and for her baby and for His love. She stays for dinner.

And as she sits at my table and holds my hand as we bow out heads in prayer again, joy floods over me. This woman, she is my friend.

Status, and culture, and language mean nothing in these moments. Race and age and life experiences fade away. Her hand is in mine and we bow to our Creator and we break bread and we laugh, oh we laugh. I hold her baby and she holds mine and we care about each other in a way that is real and deep. She sits on my couch or I sit on her dirt floor and we exchange a few words that we can both understand in broken verb tenses and we love, and it is enough.

I have long put aside my dream that I might change the community of Masese, but this place, these people, they change me. I share with them so little and they share with me wisdom and joy and laugher. They let me sit with them and know Him more. What is success when children still go to bed hungry and husbands still beat up their wives in a drunken stupor and lives are still cut short by terrible illness? Surely only these faces. Surely only love that transcends all cultural barriers, defies language and race and age, destroys stigma. Lord willing, in ten or twenty or thirty years, Masese will look different as the people here are empowered with a love and a hope that can only come from Jesus. Lord willing, in ten or twenty or thirty years, I will look different too, as He continues to shape my idea of ministry into His.  And in the mean time, through the hard, we will hold our heads high and gaze in wonder at the Savior and say with full confidence, "Love has won."

Love has won. And against all the odds, these people, they are my friends.

Incredible photos by the wonderful Jackie Kramlich!