Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Waiting Room

Yesterday, I arrived, checked in, got a wristband, and sat surrounded by people who were inhuman shades - grey, yellow, green.

Every six months, I offer up three vials of my blood and then drive a couple of hours to hear what stories my blood told. I go in hoping for something the people in the waiting room don't hear - good news.

The first question from my younger sister's mouth upon my emergence from the exam room was, "Are you going to die?"

That's sobering because the answer is, yes.

Yes, I am going to die.

And you are too.

My hematologist, however, didn't tell me that.
He gave me the best report to be hoped for - stable, no change.
See you in six months.

What that waiting room reminded me of, though, was this ticking time-bomb we all carry inside us called mortality.

I am going to die.
You are too.

What does my life mean? What unfinished business do I have? What do I want to spend my time doing? I have to remind myself of this limited quantity commodity called time because I so often waste it  -
being offended
being busy doing frivolous things
being hurt
being distracted
being annoyed

    In the same way,it is better to go to a funeral
        than a celebration.
    Why? because death is the end of life’s journey,
        and the living should always take that to heart. (Ecc. 7:2, The Voice)

There's a lot you can learn in a waiting room.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Redemption Stories

I spent the morning with my little sister at physical therapy. Every time I go with her, tears sting my eyes. It's hard to watch someone you love struggle, especially when the reason they struggle is a cause outside of their control and the manifestation of their struggle is very obvious.

When I watch her struggle, I am also struggling...struggling to believe that this, yes this, can be worked together for her good. It's one thing to nod in assent to Romans 8:28 when I'm sitting in my seat at church; it's another to believe it from my seat in the therapy room.

There is much beauty in redemption, but there is also much brokenness. The word "redemption" indicates a rescue, an atonement for something less than desirable. I feel the double edged blessing of redemption - so astonished by the grace that wins it, so grieved by the devastating effects of sin that necessitate it.

That's where I am today, hovering in the darkness that precedes the dawn. I fear that too often I run to the glory of the promises without acknowledging the pain that comes in the waiting for their fulfillment. So I want to say it - for my little sister and for all the others - I'm sorry for the struggle. I see it and I feel it, too. But I still believe that the One who called you is completely dependable. If He said it, He'll do it! (1 Thess. 5:24, MSG).


Friday, February 5, 2016

The Banner of Jesus

We've all got something.

That's my thesis.

I want to walk a tightrope of honesty and grace here...to speak the truth, but to speak it in love.

This week I have been looking back on my trip to Uganda with Compassion.
That trip changed me in a way that is difficult to articulate. Was it because it was my first real trip out of the country? Because it was my first time to be up close and personal with poverty and hunger and AIDS? Because in touching the poor and hungry and sick, I was touching God Himself?

Yes.
Yes.
And yes.

But there was something else that happened to me there, something that I have alluded to, but never clearly verbalized. Before I go there, I want to start here, with this acknowledgement - we've all got something. 

That something is the thing that has rewritten our plans and hijacked our dreams and re-routed our paths. It is the thing that defines us, whether we want it to or not. The thing we wear proudly like a badge of honor or maybe defiantly with an air of bitterness or maybe with deep shame and sadness.

Can you name it, your thing(s)?

Going into Uganda, I had two.

One of my things was my mom's kidney failure which, in one fell swoop, edited my college choice, the degree I pursued, my career path and the decade of my 20's.

While the general trajectory for people in their 20's is to have fun, carefree lives in which they meet people, date people, marry people and then, around 30, settle down and grow up, my life was the exact opposite. In my twenties, I settled down and grew up, and then, when I hit 30 and was able to embrace more of a fun, carefree life, I realized that anyone my age who wasn't already married was looking to meet, date and marry someone...in their twenties.

The second of my things was something that I, for the most part, refused to acknowledge - that I was single. And childless. Being a single woman is not the worst thing that can happen to you. I'm grateful for it. I love where I am. But that doesn't mean it's not hard to attend weddings solo or to get seated at the "kid's table" because the numbers work better that way or to face seeming dismissal from society and even the Church because womanhood has many times been equated with wifedom and motherhood.

Those were my things.
I had made peace with them, even as I didn't like to talk about them, didn't want to be defined by them.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction

When you know God, you trust what He's doing, even when it's not what you wanted or expected. The decade of my twenties had been a rich exercise in discovering who He was and learning to walk in the light of that knowledge. I knew He was good. He was loving. He was involved. He was peace. He was victory. He was compassionate. He listened. He understood.

I had experienced the nearness of the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.
And where had I experienced that? In my affliction. When I felt alone and misunderstood and forgotten and overlooked, He was there.

There is beauty in the brokenness of our things, if we let them lead us to Jesus.

I got all that...but the verses I have quoted above don't end there. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 gives another reason for our things, an answer for our affliction. Lean in close:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.

Our things are to become the platform from which we dispense the care and comfort of Christ.

It took a journey across the world for me to get it.

Revelation started dawning the day I sat listening to dozens of Ugandan women talk about the struggles they faced as moms and caregivers. The air was heavy. The spirits were heavier. I was frozen in horror...these women were pouring out their hearts and then the interpreter swung her gaze towards us, the privileged American sponsors, and asked if we had a word to share with these women. 

I sat there.
I listened as one of our group stood and took the microphone.
I wanted to disappear.
What could I, what could any of us, say that would comfort them?

I looked down at the cuff I wore around my wrist stamped with the words "He sees. He knows. He cares." and I knew. Tears filled my eyes because I realized that I shared something with these women. And I had something to offer these women because of what God had offered me through the years walking with Him through the challenges of child-rearing and the disappointment of life not turning out the way you had imagined and the awful lie the enemy whispers that you don't matter, that your life is a throwaway.

When I stepped forward and took the mic, I felt the redemption of allowing your wounds be part of another's healing and I was able to say, in my spirit and to my Saviour, "It was worth it. Thank You for allowing me to share in this moment."

The other significant event that Uganda held for me was Deborah. Jennie Allen, in Restless, writes, "you can see in others only what you have tasted yourself." Is it any wonder that the girl who was much older than every other child in the sponsorship packets, the one who hadn't been chosen, the one who was waiting to be seen, touched me so deeply?

Uganda made me realize this - our things aren't curses, they're blessings. They aren't things we're saddled with; they're things we're entrusted with. Healed people heal people...but to be healed, you have to acknowledge there are wounds.

I have noticed something about us and our things.
We tend to either deny or define with them.
Infertility, divorce, addiction, failure, a diagnosis, abuse...broken promises, broken hearts, broken plans, broken dreams, broken people.

Some of us define ourselves by these things - they are the banners we wave over our lives, either as a sign of defeat or in a sort of twisted pride. We are obsessed with them (or by them), and rather than being a piece of our story, they become our story.

Some of us deny that we have things. We hide our wounds so they fester and grow and we maintain the facade that we are fine while we are dying inside. The story we live becomes fiction.

I think God wants us to be somewhere in between those two extremes - honestly owning our things, but joyfully walking in the freedom that we are not those things.

"Jesus is enough" becomes a much more compelling message when it is spoken from someone who has been where I am. If you've been entrusted with affliction, with suffering, with disappointment, realize this - it's because God wants to meet you there and then allow you to speak life into another faltering heart.

When the winds of life blow, it might be so that the banner of Jesus waves higher.
When the bitterness of loss is tasted, it might be so that Jesus is savored as sweeter.
When the good dreams you dreamed die, it might be so that a God dream can be born.

Let's start living the stories we've been given, stories that will be marked by some sadness, accented with joy, with confidence that our stories are good because we know the Author.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Deborah

Deborah, pic captured by Sabrina

The two unsponsored girls at Mityana Joy, pic by Mandy

I met her for the first time on January 28, 2015.
She was, at first glance, unremarkable.
Small and quiet, she looked like a wilted flower.

Having been in bathroom (or more aptly, the outhouse), I missed the introductions. 
And then Shelly called my name and asked me to come in closer.
The sponsors were about to pray over two girls holding packets, packets with their pictures and names printed on them.
When the "amen" was spoken, I leaned in and gave the older girl a slight hug and said, "I will pray you find a sponsor," the equivalent of "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled, (James 2:15-16)" thinking this center was a wrap. 


It wasn't until about 30 minutes after our bus pulled away that I really saw her.
She stared up at me from the sponsorship packet I held in my hands, the wilted flower of a girl, no smile on her face, no spark in her eyes, just faded hope in her expression.

Thirteen is a tender age in the best of circumstances.
Thirteen in poverty can be crushing.
I knew, deep down, this girl named Deborah needed to hear a "yes" in her life.

Yes, you are seen.
Yes, you are known.
Yes, you are worth it.
 
And so, in the back of a bus rumbling down the Ugandan countryside, I said it.
Yes.

Deborah wouldn't know who had spoken her "yes" until February 3, 2015, the same day I would discover how much that "yes" meant.


It would not be an overstatement to say that meeting Deborah was one of the most profound moments of my life.




The wilted flower started to come back to life, watered by tears and warmed by love.


Its amazing the difference being chosen can make.
She and I knew it.



The day we spent together was transformative. 
Deborah began to blossom - and everyone saw it.






Thirsty hearts lap up love.
Deborah tucked herself in close and just soaked it all up - every smile, every laugh, every question.
I knew out of my three kids, she needed me the most...maybe because she had had me the least amount of time. 




When our goodbyes were said that day, Deborah's eyes overflowed...with sadness, with love, and with gratitude for the "yes."

I have gotten a couple of letters from Deborah since we met, the first a form letter where she "introduced" herself to me, her new sponsor, although we had already met face-to-face. But it was the second one that I needed. In it she wrote:

I will never forget the day I met you in Kampala. I was so happy. Thank you for all the love and care that you showed me. When I went back home I told all my friends about you and how special and beautiful you are. You are so nice. I love you so much.
Thank you for treating me in a special way and calling me your special girl. The day I met you is one of my best days in my life.

Its hard to put down roots in dry ground.
Its difficult to flourish when you've been crushed.
Its almost impossible to bloom without being tended.

That's why, when  I flipped Deborah's letter over, tears filled my eyes and joy swelled my heart. 



Underneath the line, "Thank you for choosing me to be your sponsored child," was the biggest, brightest flower I have ever had drawn for me.

Does He still make beautiful things from the dust?
His answer is, "Yes."



Thursday, January 28, 2016

Where Love Was Born

I underpacked.

Those words have never come out of my mouth before, but when I arrived in Uganda last year and surveyed the luggage everyone else in the group brought, I knew it was true.


this was all my luggage - which included personal effects, supplies for every Compassion center we visited and two sets of child gifts...speechless.

I packed one dress, two skirts, five t-shirts, one pair of capris, a pair of sandals and a pair of flats.

The trip lasted ten days.

You do the math.





When we boarded the bus and headed out to visit Compassion Center 261, I was already looking rumpled. There are pics to prove this. 

exhibit A, taken by my friend Meagan

Once we arrived, we played in the grass with the kids, we sat inside and listened to them sing and recite for us, we served tea, we walked down the road to the new buildings they were working on, we had time with the moms (I've written about that here), we planted trees and then, we said our goodbyes, gave our hugs, passed out any remaining stickers and loaded back up.






If I started the day looking rumpled, I was now disheveled.
Then, Lillian and Edith, our Compassion Uganda guides, announced that we were going to see the king.


Yes, you read that right.


We would be driving a couple of hours to make it to the kingdom of Tooro where we would seek an audience with King Oyo.


Have you every felt under-prepared, under-dressed, under-equipped? That was me. 


While en route to the palace, Lillian explained to us that, according to tradition, the Tooro kingdom is the birthplace of love. The people of the kingdom are warm and affectionate and they give each other pet names (empaako). It is a sign of honor, affection and endearment to use someone's empaako. "Perhaps," Lillian said with a twinkle in her eye, "you will all receive a pet name from the king."


I was thinking, "I wish I had brought something to freshen up with."


And then, we arrived.


We entered the palace and were shown into a room where biscuits and an array of sodas in glass bottles sat waiting. The biscuits were so delicious that another sponsor (Meagan) and I filled the pockets in my skirt with them. 






Then, we were shown into a living room of sorts where a throne sat at the head of two half circle couches. We were seated and then, the king arrived...wearing a Callaway golf shirt and flip flops. Not what I was expecting. After some remarks and ceremonial greetings from our Ugandan guides, we were each asked to stand and introduce ourselves to the king - our name and where we were from.

pic by Meagan


this pic is by John, another sponsor...this is me trying to look dignified while looking quite bedraggled


Spoken: "Hello, King. My name is Maurie and I am from Texas."

Unspoken: "I am not homeless."

We had a wonderful time at the palace and, just as Lillian predicted, we were given pet names - although not by the king, but rather the prime minister (!). I was given the name "Abwooli" which, according to Lillian, means "pussycat, cheeky, witty." The beautiful people of the Tooro kingdom must have very keen senses of humor.

me with the prime minister, the woman who gave me my empaako



When I reflected on this day in Uganda, it hit me...I have been here before. 

This is the good news of Jesus Christ, the gospel, in my life - 

I arrived thinking I had it all together, 

quickly discovered I was ill prepared and under equipped
and then, 
once emptied, 
I was ushered into the place where love was born, 
taken to meet the King 
and given a new name.

Uganda reminded me (and reminds me) that love sees us, not as we are, but as we could be, what we are going to be. And that we must be emptied before we can truly be filled.


"Only when we stand emptied, stand impoverished before God can we receive what only empty hands can receive. This is the poverty of spirit in which Jesus blesses us (Matt. 5:3)." - Eugene Peterson, Tell It Slant
our group with the king, pic by John

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

In Gratitude

Its been a year - a year since I flew across an ocean and two continents and walked onto Uganda's red soil.

these kids performed at Deborah's center, Mityana Joy


So many stories were born on that soil, over the days I walked and talked and listened and watched there. And more stories have been born in the days and weeks and months that have followed.

I see Victor's mom.
I hear Davis singing.
I feel Deborah's embrace.







But before any of that transpired, there was you.

Before the joy of 2015, there was the uncertainty of 2014.

I remember my mom's transplant.
I hear the doctor's voice on the line telling me they have found something in my bloodwork.
I see the harvested sliver of my hip after my bone marrow biopsy.





You, neighbors and family members, distant acquaintances and long lost Facebook friends, heard my cries.You saw my need.You gave.

Many of you bought key necklaces from me.
Some of you sent in checks.
One of you saw me in Target and tracked me down to re-introduce yourself and hand me money.
Some of you called me over to your house and filled my palms with cash.
We want you to meet your kids. 
One of you wanted to know when the balance was due...and then paid it off.

someone gave me a giftcard to buy supplies for the trip - these items were distributed at Compassion centers all over Uganda.

You banded together and stretched out your arms and bore the weight of my need and carried me all the way to the heart of Africa and into the heart of God.



How can I say thanks?

Its no coincidence that as I am writing these words, I am listening to an Amanda Cook song entitled, "Bitter/Sweet" with the lyrics:

You make all things new
You turn the bitter into sweet
You turn the winter into spring

You are part of that. 

Thank you.

* I am planning to write some posts this week reflecting on my trip and sharing some updates; I just couldn't do it without starting out with gratitude for those who helped make my long-held dream a reality.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Change

O LOVE BEYOND COMPARE,
Thou art good when Thou givest,
                        when Thou takest away,
                        when the sun shines upon me,
                        when night gathers over me...
Thy goodness has been with me during another year,
            leading me through a twisting wilderness,
            in retreat helping me to advance,
            when beaten back making sure headway.
Thy goodness will be with me in the year ahead;
I hoist up sail and draw up anchor,
With Thee as the blessed pilot of my future as of my past.
I bless Thee that Thou has veiled my eyes to the waters ahead...
Only glorify Thyself in me whether in comfort or trial,
            as a chosen vessel always meet for Thy use.
                  - from "Year's End,"  The Valley of Vision



I am discovering some things about myself that I never knew.
Change is not my thing.
mid-roadtrip fun with my youngest sisters

I have always wanted to be an adventurer, someone who travels and meets new people and speaks different languages and embraces the unknown. Instead, I love to stay home, drink tea, craft and read...living on the edge, right?

Here's what I have always known:
Change is hard.
I grasped that because I have lived through sudden, dramatic, life-altering changes. They are the moments you can't plan for, the ones you never saw coming, the ones that rewrite everything you know. 

Here's what I am just starting to grasp:
Good change is hard, too.

Monday we moved my sister Allie to nursing school several hours away. It was bittersweet - sweet to see this new season begin as she pursues her calling, bitter to think of all the ways life will be different. There were many tears. 

Allie & my mom, the goodbye before the goodbye, if you know what I mean.

As I processed the transition, I felt the Lord remind me, "This is a good thing. This is something you've prayed for, she's worked for, you've all dreamed about. Embrace this."

Could it be that I've made comfort such a god that I am unwilling to move out, even into good things?

There's this cute little saying all over Pinterest, "Home is wherever I'm with you," and of course, when you read it, you think of all the people that make home your place....and that's good and right. 
But when I think of Moses praying, "If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here," and it strikes me - home is wherever I'm with Him. 


Gideon & his uncle Rhett at Wal-Mart, stocking up on dorm essentials

2016 is here and it will bring change - some beautiful, some tragic. It's not right to cling to the familiar because it is safe or to rush toward the new because it is exciting. My prayer is that I will, as the Puritan prayer at the beginning said,  "...hoist up sail and draw up anchor/With Thee as the blessed pilot of my future as of my past." I want to fully inhabit every day that He gives me - loving people, embracing opportunities, facing challenges and trusting that wherever this year takes me, He is there, so all is well.

dormroom work crew...spirits fading.

I sent Allie off with a teacup plant...everyone needs one.

There is a strength that rises up in me
To know that You've been here before me
A strength beyond what I can see
Jesus, Your love
Jesus, Your love

So let my heart tell You again
When seasons change and stories end
Your steady love
It will sustain me through it all
Jesus, Your love 

"Jesus, Your Love," Kristene DiMarco