Thursday, April 26, 2012

Guilty Rainbows

Today was a very historic day here in Liberia. I'm not sure how much news coverage the Charles Taylor verdict received in the rest of the world, but that's what today was all about here in Liberia. This morning was amazingly quiet around our neighborhood, and there was hardly any traffic on RIA Highway. The verdict from The Hague was set to be read at 9am Liberia time, so we turned on the radio of one of our pick-ups and sat inside the house to listen to the live coverage. It was after 11am (we ate breakfast, hung out, tried to not fall asleep, watered my plants, and hung out some more) before the verdict was read. Former Liberian President, Taylor, was found guilty of aiding and abetting on all 11 counts of crimes against humanity during the bloody civil-war in neighboring Sierra Leon. That's the interesting thing--Taylor was only being tried for crimes committed in Sierra Leon....there was nothing about the atrocities that happened in Liberia.

As the verdict was read over BBC, they cut to a BBC journalist on the phone in Monrovia. You could hear the crowd yelling and cheering in the background--supposedly people were lined up on Tubman Boulevard with the radios, awaiting the verdict. But the reporter said something about  people reacting to a strange rainbow around the sun. I'm pretty sure we all thought, "yea right," but then Cramer went outside and started yelling at us to grab our sunglasses and come and look. We ran outside in our PJs, and it was true--there was a rainbow ring around the sun. I immediately got chills, and felt like I was in some apocalyptic movie or something. It was beautiful, but strangely eery at the same time.
This afternoon's rainbow around the sun.
I immediately thought about the passage that God had led me to back in January when I was at home. I was sitting in church on Sunday morning, thinking about Liberia, and God said, "Jeremiah 33." I flipped my Bible open, and began reading. Right then and there I felt like God was showing me His promise for Liberia and her people. I marked it, and have frequently re-read it since then.

So when I saw the rainbow around the sun, I could only think about Jeremiah 33, and about God's promises for Liberia. Liberia fell deep into the pit of evil, but she is slowly working her way out. Liberia has come so far, but she still has so much father to go.

Tonight's sliver of a moon.
“Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me. Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it." [Jeremiah 33:6-9]

YES! That's what I'm talking about--abundant peace, security, rebuild, cleanse, forgive, renown, joy, praise, honor, awe, prosperity...

As I sat on my front porch tonight, eating my rice and collard greens, I could only think about God, and how faithful He is! And then I started thinking about all of the possibilities for Liberia's future...and then I was just thankful to God for all of it, and excited for what's to come!

[P.S. Taylor's sentencing is set for sometime in May. There are many people in Liberia who support Taylor and think that he's innocent. Many people were hoping that after a not-guilty verdict, he would return home to Liberia. You can continue to pray that peace would prevail in Liberia!]

Friday, April 13, 2012

Thoughts--Stick With Me Here...

This morning, I feel the urge to write. About what? I’m not really sure. So much has been going through my heart and head these last few weeks. So many different feelings and emotions. So many life lessons, words of wisdom and tasty tidbits. So many things I think I should pass on to others...and then life happens, and I forget, or at least don’t have the time or patience to write things down. 
This is how I operate: I store up and listen and mull over and think and over-think, and eventually I get to a place where I have to write it all down! I have to take the time to write and think about things. I have to process. This morning is one of those times. I feel like I could write pages and pages, but I also don’t know the extent of everything that has been stored up inside. We’ll see where this little writing exercise takes us.
Where to even begin? These last two or three weeks have been brutal. Brutal, mostly in sense that I have been exhausted. Physically, my body has been tired, but it’s been so much more than that. I have been utterly exhausted mentally, emotionally and spiritually...which is always worse. When you’re emotionally and spiritually exhausted, it seeps into your bones and your soul. My soul is weary.
My soul is weary, but my soul is trying to sing. It’s difficult. It wants to sing so badly. But it’s tired, frustrated and just plain wants to give up. 
Jesus, I need you.
That has been the beginning, middle and ending of every morning prayer over the past few weeks. That’s where I stand--desperate. Desperate for Him--His touch, His voice, His comfort, His truth, His peace. I firmly believe that it’s in our desperateness that God works. He ministers to my heart. He changes my heart. He fills my heart. It’s the refining stage--a seemingly constant stage to me. 
Something else. Compassion fatigue. I am beginning to grow tired--no, wait. that’s not true. I AM tired.-- in doing good. Recently, the doing good has been killing me--body, mind and soul. That’s a story for another post. It’s been a challenge and a struggle these past few weeks...knowing when to stop, when to keep going, how much to give, giving until it hurts, giving when there is nothing in return, giving of self and resources and time, knowing when to walk away. Giving is not easy. Giving is not a one-time, fix-all thing. Don’t get me wrong, it can be. And sometimes that’s what is appropriate. But other times, it’s impossible. Giving and walking away is not possible. But I want, so badly, to just walk away!
Jesus, I need you.
God has been teaching me alot (still) about thanksgiving. On Tuesday, I was explaining to six teenager girls about being thankful despite your circumstances. If anybody could grasp that concept, it would be these girls! Six teenage girls, living in an orphanage in a country that has been devastated by war, famine and disease. And I thought my circumstances were bad.
I started reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp (Thank you BP!). I know...I’m alittle behind the rest of the world. But, this morning, as I laid in my bed enjoying the cool breeze, while trying to ignore the rooster’s constant crows, I was gripped by the words I read. I knew, once again, that this book was not given to me by accident. This book hasn’t been sitting on my shelf, unread, for the last three months by accident. It’s not an accident that I am in one of those tired, weary and desperate places. And it is no accident that God is still teaching me about being thankful despite my circumstances. The words cut through the weariness. It was the beginning of me sinking in...sinking in the words, the message and the story. I forgot about the rooster’s obnoxiousness. The world outside my window finally became quiet (which never happens in this country!) for a moment this morning. Quiet enough for me to hear the words clearly. Quiet enough to let them sink deep into my weary bones. Quiet enough to think to myself, ‘Today is the day. I choose to make a change.'

I don’t know how change will be possible. I’m tired, and the thought of tomorrow or next week or next month exhausts me even more. How is it possible to change? To renew and refresh? The only way is to take hold of His hand and cling tightly to His chest.  I need rest; deep and meaningful rest. I don’t know how it’s possible in a place where life never stops. There is always something--an urgent phone call, someone knocking at my gate, two eyeballs peering at me through my window, someone’s sick or their child is sick, someone has died, things don’t go as planned, there are delays and setbacks and lots of waiting. Life is exhausting! The truck needs gas, the generator needs fuel, there’s no more drinking water, the buckets are empty, the shower wasn’t pumped, the battery is dead, there’s no more credit to make a phone call, the internet won’t work, the dog and cat need to be fed, the dirty dishes are piling up, there’s no more bread, the sheets are dirty, and the laundry needs to be put away. And that’s just inside my own home.
I have reached that stage where I wish I lived in a protective bubble--a place I could escape to. Where it’s dead silent, or if I want, I can play the music of my own choosing as loud as I want. A place where people can’t find me, or where they have to knock to enter...and I have to give them permission to come inside. A place where it’s clean and comfortable and peaceful. A place that feels like home. A bubble full of deep joy and gratefulness and laughter and friendship and worship. A place where the phone doesn’t ring, the roosters don’t crow, the neighbors don’t argue loudly, the traffic doesn’t honk, the to-do list doesn’t define and the schedule doesn’t constrict. A place to find rest. A place to be free.
Jesus, I need you.
My heart is heavy. My mind is confused. I am saddened, worried and anxious. God knows all of these things. But I still have made sure to tell Him time and time again. It’s good to be aware of your current state, right? Some days, I catch myself thinking, ‘I am sooo messed up’ or ‘this world is sooo messed up!’ And then other times, I rest comfortably in His peace. I desire joy--deeply rooted joy that can only come from my Father.

Now let’s go back to the words that stirred me this morning. 
“Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped. God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy....How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is joy that saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn’t rescue the suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world. When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows. How can this not be the best thing for the world? For us? The clouds open when we mouth thanks.”
Whoa! Joy equals the fullest life? That’s what I so desperately want! Isn’t that what every single human is looking for--a complete, fulfilling and purposeful life? And, you’re telling me that I can’t call 1800-WhatAshleyWants and order [grasp] some joy? And the secret is that out of my thankfulness blossoms joy?! I want a sprawling garden, lush and colorful, of joy.
Jesus, forgive me for not being thankful. I desperately need Your joy.
Joy is what saves us. Especially in Liberia, even if you can only hold tightly to a sliver of joy, it still manages to slip through your fingers. It only sustains for a moment or an hour or a day. It can’t sustain you day-in and day-out. That sliver, although sweet and precious, simply cannot sustain you for the long-haul. It’s just something I’ve learned. I’ve also learned that what Ann writes is true--if I reject joy so that I can stand with the suffering, it doesn’t rescue the suffering. When I read that statement, it rang true, and reminded me of a bicycle ride from about a month ago.
It had been a long, hot day. My tank was empty, but I jumped on my bike anyway. The place that I typically ride is a campus filled with missionaries, decently paved roads with only a few cars, and I can ride my bike right along the beach. There is also a hospital on the campus. I was biking around, enjoying the sea breeze and the sunset, and honestly trying to escape for awhile. And then I peddled up the hill and cruised past the hospital. I looked at, but also tried to ignore, the people sitting outside of the ER, and the people who gathered in the courtyard and parking areas to wait. As soon as I went by, I said aloud, “I feel bad biking around, laughing and enjoying and going right past this place where people are dying inside.” That was my reality.
I want to stand with those dozens of patients in that hospital--patients that don’t have access to the medical care that they need or deserve, patients who won’t leave that hospital in their physical body, families who grieve in that same courtyard when they lose a loved one, helpless people who just want to live. But, that won’t rescue the suffering. In order to even attempt to help rescue the suffering, which I’m surrounded by every day, I MUST focus on all that is good and beautiful and true...and give thanks for it...but, I must also give thanks for the bad, ugly and painful. That is how I can bring Light to this broken, hurting and dying world. [I realize, I am only His instrument. I am not the rescuer, but He is the ultimate Rescuer.]
Tonight, as I dug trenches in the sand, moved dirt and dropped seeds into holes, I was reminded of what I read yesterday morning. I can’t just put the seeds in the ground and hope that they grow. They have to be watered. It’s time to lay the soil of my own life open to the rains of grace. I have to let joy penetrate the cracked and dry places. Joy must soak deep into my tired bones and weary heart. It is then that life will grow. And when my life grows into a sturdy, deeply rooted plant, the fruit will come. It takes time. There are droughts and heavy rains. There are pests and weeds. But if the Gardner takes time with the plant, taking care and providing what it needs, then fruit will come.
Jesus, I want to be deeply rooted so that the fruit will come.
[I don’t even know how to wrap all of this up. So, I’m just going to stop typing.]

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Lent: Day 46

Maglee, Mercy and Kebbeh doing their Easter craft.
Today is the last day of Lent. Thank you for joining me in the 46 Days of Prayer! Your prayers for the children that I work with on a daily basis are so appreciated! We spent this last week talking about Christ's death and resurrection--and ended the time with celebration! Orphans in the third-world country celebrating Christ's doesn't get much better than that! There was clapping, singing, dancing, drum playing, waving papers and hands, laughter, beating on tables with was quite the celebration! He is alive!

For our last day of prayer, I want you to join me in praying for our three core orphanage homes, along with the orphanage directors. Pray for guidance, provision, wisdom, blessing, endurance, patience, joy, hope, safety--there is so much to pray for! Please join me today in praying for: Danny Feeney Memorial Orphanage Home (Salome), Frances Gaskin Rescue Home (Emmanuel and Evelyn), and Rock of Divine Healing (Fatu and Mr. Smith).

Happy Easter! He is Risen!