It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

Guest post by Ken

“Missing friends is the worst part of moving away.” – Sue Dinkins PinionTomas-Vokoun-213x380

I am not a sentimental person. Our closets are not filled with memorabilia or souvenirs. I have a few, but only a few. (Tomas Vokoun bobblehead doll. 2003 NHL Rookie Draft ID badge that was signed by Wayne Gretzky.) It may be the number of times that we have moved.  More keepsakes means more boxes and longer moving days.

Christmas would be the exception. We intentionally add a new souvenir each year to our “tree of memories”. I like this tradition. It may be in part because Christmas ornaments are small and easy to move.

Whether good or bad, I have always been good at saying good-bye. I think it started back when I was in college. Each summer I worked as a counselor at Camp Sebago, the Salvation Army Camp on Sebago Lake, Maine. The days were long but the summers flew by quickly. And at the end of each week we (the counselors) would say tearful heart-felt goodbyes to our campers. With each week the goodbyes got easier–routine almost.

In ministry Robin and I have had to say more than a few goodbyes as well. Some have been easy and some have been very difficult. Fortunately in college ministry (which is what Robin and I have been doing for the last 15 years) goodbyes are natural as students graduate and move away to conquer the world.

Leaving Wesley Community Church in Pembroke, Ontario was easy for me. I loved the people there and the teens especially. I was grateful for the friendships with Elizabeth Stewart, Mike McConnachie, Darren Somerville, and Morgan MacPherson. But leaving Pembroke was easy because I was moving in order to marry Robin and begin our lives together.

adamWhen Robin and I left Marion, IN it was a particularly hard goodbye for two reasons. The first reason was the circumstances under which we left. We loved Pastor Dave Terhune and felt tremendously blessed to serve with him. He loved Jesus and was an incredibly gifted soul-winner.  The second reason why is was hard to leave Marion was it meant leaving behind a very good friend, Adam Sprinkle. Adam was like the brother I never had. He still makes me laugh like no one else can. Adam was a relatively new believer and so saying goodbye in order to pursue God’s will was still foreign to him. To this day, one of my greatest regrets in ministry was having to say goodbye to Adam.

Now that we are planning to move to Ghana people ask what we are going to miss most. In terms of the “stuff”… nothing. Not really. There will be days in which I just wish I could microwave something, watch hockey on our plasma screen TV or eat a Five Guys cheeseburger, but for the most part it’s all small potatoes.

Robin and I talk–almost daily–about what WILL be hard for us to leave behind: our dogs. We have had Buddy & Holly for over eight years. They are part of our family. It’s on our kid’s minds as well. For Addie & Palmer, the dogs have been two constants in their young lives.puppies_at_beach

What makes saying goodbye to Buddy and Holly particularly difficult for me is that I know they won’t understand. They’re just dogs. But they are our dogs and we love them dearly.

Intellectually we know that we cannot put the love of our dogs before our commitment to do God’s will. But emotionally it is inconceivable that there will come a day when we will have to say goodbye to Buddy & Holly.

 If you’re not a dog person, this may all sound silly to you. That’s okay. But for those of you who have enjoyed the companionship of man’s best friend, you understand the hurt that is a part of our decision to move to Ghana. And we would ask that you pray that God will help us find a loving home for two amazing canine friends entering their golden-years.

Thanks for Nothing

It’s funny how time changes your perspective on people, even after they are gone. My grandmother, Grace Story, was born on the mission field in China. Though she passed away over five years ago, I know that she always had a heart for missionaries, since she had lived on the mission field until she was 12 years old. She spoke 5 different languages growing up. She was disciplined, frugal, and could be stern. But oh could she laugh! And oh how she loved Jesus.

I actually never lived close enough to my grandmother to see her on a regular basis. There were many holidays spent together, and the occasional family reunion, but not the consistent contact that many grandparents have with their grandchildren. I don’t feel like I knew her well, or was very close to her. But I do remember how I felt about her.

I remember as a child being annoyed that my grandparents didn’t shower me with gifts, or cash, or much in the way of tangible items compared to what many of my friends received. I got cards containing sentiments, but not cash. Presents, if any, were simple and wrapped in used paper. Who reuses wrapping paper!? Every penny was counted, none were wasted. There was no cable television at their house. Boring! The air conditioner would not be turned on in the car. Unless I had heat exhaustion and I threw up. Which I did. Even flushes of the toilet were carefully guarded. As odd as it may seem, that is what I remember most about my grandmother as I was growing up. Wishing I could squeeze just a little generosity out of the matriarch of the family.

As an adult, and loving geriatric patients, I now understand a bit more about my grandmother, having gone through the Great Depression in her young adulthood. Being frugal had become a lifestyle that would not be erased over time. Her excruciating frugality was a difficult and chosen lifestyle, which I can now appreciate.

It wasn’t until her funeral that I found that there was even more to Grandma’s frugality. She gave sacrificially to missions, not just financially, but in hours spent at the typewriter writing letters. She took extra jobs cleaning boarding houses or picking berries to earn money for mission pledges. In fact, we found that my grandfather had saved money secretly for retirement, because if she had known about the money, my grandmother would have given it away to missions. What I had perceived as a lack of generosity was actually more generosity than I could imagine — giving away every single spare penny to missions.
Looking back through the lens of time, I realize that the birthday cards that didn’t carry cash, the simple Christmas gifts, the carefully counting of pennies weren’t because of a lack of love. They were because there were people around the world who needed her generosity more than I did, and her few dollars helped to bring the gospel to those who needed to hear. How many souls is she meeting in heaven now because of her frugal generosity? I’m quite certain there is a long line because indeed, Grandma died rather penniless.

Thank you for all the empty cards, the crumpled wrapping paper, and the meager gifts, Grandma. It was money well spent. I hope you know that those gifts of nothingness have inspired me to live out the dream you were never able to as an adult: to go to the mission field.

God’s Purpose in My Imprisonment

photo (19)

Our family with friends and future partners from Ghana.

Everywhere I looked, there was someone from my past. My heart surged with joy with each remembered face, as I recounted the memories we had enjoyed together. A few faces from my childhood, some from my college years, and many from our years in ministry, all together to celebrate what God is doing. While it sounds like a vision of heaven, it was a conference. This week, Ken and I attended The Gathering, the clergy conference for The Wesleyan Church. Eleven years have gone by since we’ve been a part of The Wesleyan Church, but it didn’t seem to matter. We had dozens of meaningful conversations, hugged a hundred shoulders, and laughed about times gone by as if we were never gone.

As we told our friends over and over again how God called us to Ghana, and how we knew we were called, I repeated over and over,

“I knew that if God were to call us to Africa, He would have to heal my lungs. I spent over $50,000 in 2013 trying to get my asthma under control, but what modern medicine did not have the ability to do, God did. I’ve been off of all of my asthma medicines since August. I had previously not been able to go more than 2 days without steroids, now it’s been almost six months.”

Kyle Ray preached a message on the following passage at The Gathering.

Acts 16:23-33

After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.

 

The miracle of the story of God’s deliverance of Paul and Silas and salvation of the jailer starts at a very different place: being flogged with rods for delivering a young girl from demon possession. They weren’t fake rods. It wasn’t an imaginary beating. They had real pain. Real bruises. Real blood drying on their torn skin as they sat with their feet uncomfortably stretched out in front of them and locked in stocks. Between the bruises on their back, the skin tears rubbing in the dirty walls of the prison, and their inability to move their feet, there was no way to get comfortable. There was no way to sleep.

So they might as well sing praises.

The earthquake came. The chains fells off, not only them, but off the other prisoners too. The jailer came to salvation, as well as his whole family.

But the miracle for Paul and all those around him came only after the beating. The chains. The shackles. The skin tears. The bruises.

Would the jailer have come to know Christ if Paul hadn’t sung throughout his misery or stayed in spite of his freedom? If there hadn’t been something radically different about the attitude of Paul and Silas, would the jailer have asked what he needed to do to be saved?

Sometimes God wants to accomplish His purposes through our pain. Sometimes our pain is not about us, but what He wants to do in someone else. Sometimes the purpose of our pain only comes in hindsight.

I think about the last eleven years that I’ve spent struggling to breathe because of my asthma. The massive doses of steroids that I’ve taken. The relentless coughing. The days I spent suffocating, unable to walk even across my living room to get a glass of water. I never stopped to ask God why.

Now that I am breathing freely, and after hearing this Scripture anew, I think I may know why. My asthma wasn’t just about me. The misery I experienced pales in comparison to the joy of talking about His healing. I would not have been able to experience His healing if there was nothing to be healed from. Would our family believe in God’s healing power in the same way if I had never had asthma or been delivered from it myself? Would I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has called us to Ghana if I had never had asthma in the first place?

If my former suffering can bring people to see the power of God to heal, than then every strained breath was absolutely worth it. If my release from the suffocation gives me more enthusiasm to serve Him, the suffocation was worth it. If my eleven year imprisonment to my lungs confirms my calling in its freedom, than the prison sentence was worth it.

Sometimes prison is exactly where God wants us. For now, I’m breathing in the fresh air of freedom.

What I Hope to Take from Africa

My adoration of the people of Africa started over 20 years ago. In my Interpersonal Communications class that I took in the spring of my sophomore year in college, there was always one student I wanted to partner with. Her skin was the deep richness of milk chocolate, she carried herself regally like a gracious but exotic queen, and her deep voice had a crisp and clean accent. Some consonants were accentuated. Others were barely spoken. The beauty of her speech made me want to sit and talk with her whenever I could. Her African accent still wafts through my mind.

 

IMG_1290Nearly four years ago, when we sought after what countries were most in need, and were easiest to process through, we came upon the Democratic Republic of Congo. The richest country in the world in terms of natural resources, but nearly the very poorest in terms of average personal income. The world is enamored with its treasures, but is disrespectful of its people. It’s broad-nosed, full-faced, beautiful people. Our hearts melted for the overwhelming poverty, and its youngest victims, the thousands of orphans within its borders. We brought two of them home to live with us.

 

More recently, my first day on the job at DMHC in December, I walked into the medication room at an assisted living facility, where the staff was hard at work. Three women were busily chattering, but two of them had melodic voices and the same crisp syllables. They were a bit different from each other, but beautiful nonetheless. When there was a break in the conversation, I had to ask, “Excuse me, but may I ask where you are from?” One replied, “I am from Kinshasa in the Congo,” and the other replied, “I am from Accra in Ghana.” I hugged them both. And then I explained why. By the end of the day, they each promised to move to Africa with me.

 

As I was walking down the hallway at work last Saturday, a tech was talking to another. I immediately interrupted and said, “I’m so sorry to interrupt, but where are you from?” She smiled and said, “I’m from Accra, in Ghana.” I squealed and hugged her as I showed her the Ghana map pendant that I was wearing around my neck.

 

When Paul Borthwick, author of Western Christians in Global Missions, was traveling to Nigeria, he met a young man named Robert. He recounts in his book,

 

“Robert, how did you become a Christian?”

 

He replied, “Oh, Brother John over there raised me from the dead.”

 

After recovering from my surprise, I asked him, “Why do my Nigerian friends see more miracles than we do in the United States?”

 

“You have more doctors,” he replied matter-of-factly. “If God doesn’t heal us, we die. You just have more doctors.” Using good theology, he concluded, “God heals you one way, and he heals us another.”

 

The church that is dependent on Jesus sees God’s power in a way that a church that is dependant on itself does not.

I’ve thought of all the things that I want to bring to Africa. I hadn’t given much considered what Africa could give to me. Right now in Africa, people are being miraculously healed, while I depend too much on my diagnostic and prescribing skills. God is calling African people to Jesus through visions and dreams, while I worry about saying just the right thing at just the right time to those around me.  In Africa, people are seeking Jesus by finding a Christian and asking the believer to lead them to Christ, because God Himself has laid the gospel on their hearts — not an television evangelist message, Christian concert altar call, newly constructed building with ample parking, or outreach event with the gospel slipped in between the lines to not be too offensive.

 

The stories we read about with awe in the Book of Acts are still happening in Africa today. No one has told the Christians in Africa that these things just don’t happen anymore.

 

They wouldn’t believe it anyway.

 

I want to experience Christianity unpolluted by time and progress. I want to depend on the Holy Spirit for my work, and for my witness.

 

If current trends continue, Africa will be the most Christian continent by 2025. The average Christian is now no longer a Caucasian of middle class status, but a poor minority woman from the southern hemisphere, most likely from Africa. I am excited to witness first-hand the shift of Christianity to a non-American religion, and help the Africans to lead the way by example.

mission-cemeteryPaul Borthwick also talks about early mission work in Ghana. When he visited the country, he was taken to a missionary cemetery where he saw the graves of many British missionaries who died at the age of 25 or 26. In fact, missionaries just a century ago would pack their belongings in caskets rather than suitcases because they fully expected to die on the mission field. And they did– most of them after only a short time of planting the seeds of the gospel. But the seeds they planted are still growing. I am convinced that their radical sacrifices are still bearing fruit as the gospel continues to spread like Holy Spirit-driven wildfire. I believe God honors our decisions to do hard things, even if we never see the rewards ourselves.

 

My adoration of the people of Africa has blossomed into a desire to serve them, and to learn from them. How fortunate I am that God has called me to be a witness to what He is doing among them!

Why I’m Not Going to Ghana on a Short-Term Medical Mission Trip

The glassed-in room could barely contain the anxiety of the suit-wearing prospective physician assistant student in front of me. Just me and the candidate. I had 7 minutes to size them up.

My question of the candidates was the same for each, as much as it was for me. I asked them a question that was plaguing my own heart. It was a question posed by Palmer,

“Why are there so many doctors in America, and not enough in Africa?”

I honestly didn’t expect the applicants to have a well-thought out answer, but I wanted to listen to them process the disparity. I wanted to hear them wrestle through the thoughts that I was having.

I wondered if this conversation might be a flash forward to one day when I appear before God’s throne, and He asks me the same thing.

“Why were there so many doctors in America, and not enough in Africa?”

The answers from the candidates were varied, but all laid the responsibility at the feet of the Africans.

“The people in Africa just need to pull themselves out of poverty.”

“They just need to get an education and become doctors themselves.”

I reminded the candidates that in Congo, the average income is around $400 per year, and sending a child to school costs more than that. Their annual income couldn’t even meet what is needed for food, clothing, and shelter, much less medical care and education.

Candidates would predictably turn to international aid.

“We should send short-term missionaries to help them for a week or two out of the year, and I plan to do that,” was the near unanimous reply from dozens of applicants.

I would challenge, “What about the other 50 weeks out of the year? Who will care for them then? What if they have an allergic reaction to a medication? What if it doesn’t work or they can’t get more? Who will follow up with them?

The students would then go back to the same struggle.

“Well, maybe you could coordinate teams so that a different team would be there every . . .” Their voices would trail off in realization of the massive logistics.

How would medical language be translated effectively? How would short-termers know the cultural implications of their treatments, or if patients could even afford them? What if the provider wasn’t well-versed in tropical medicine and missed the diagnosis entirely? How would we feel if a Russian doctor flew in for a week, popped up a tent in the parking lot, and started to see patients for free in our local town without knowing language, licensing, culture, or medical logistics here?

My final question was this: Who is responsible for making sure that the underserved around the world get access to quality health care?

Most agreed that someone should go long-term.

Someone.

Most agreed that that someone should be someone besides them.

And then it was time for them to move to the next station. And time for me to interview another candidate.

Only a few weeks later, Ken and I returned from northern Ghana, where the number of medical providers is even fewer than in Congo. As we sat sipping coffee in Charlotte, we asked ourselves: Could we accomplish the same goals by going short-term several times a year? We could keep our house, keep our kids in the nice school they are in, and have minimal disruption to our lives. It would be easier.

How many patients can know the love of Christ if I only see them once? How many health care workers can be trained if I am in and out of the country several times a year? How many new believers can be mentored in their faith? How can we be competent in understanding the culture, Ghanaian medical practice, local language, and have meaningful relationships with just a few trips a year?

My mind flashed back to the struggle in that interview room that every prospective student had, trying to balance the logistics.

Someone needs to go long-term.

Are some called to go short term? Absolutely. But without someone there long-term, there cannot be others going short-term.

Clinic IVIn a year where short term medical mission trips, dollars, and interest are at an all-time high, mission hospitals and clinics around the world are struggling to operate and remain staffed as mission dollars are being spent on short-term trips, rather than long-term investments.

When we were in Ghana, we visited a Wesleyan clinic on the outskirts of the capital of Accra. The clinic staff that we visited had not been paid in weeks, and yet I was trying to convince them to allow short-term students and volunteers to come and “help,” in spite of the fact that they were fully-staffed and open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Clinic staffHad I asked those staff members if they would rather have someone spend $4000 to come on a short-term mission trip or donate $4000 to the operating expenses of their clinic, what would their answer have been? As much as short-term help can be such a boost, it cannot replace those who are there long-term, and in some cases, it can cause the locals to lose their much-needed jobs.

If every dollar spent on short-term medical trips were matched by dollars spent on long-term investments, medical missions could be radically transformed into sustainable ministries with continuity and higher standards of care.

Maybe we should at least give the option to the people in developing countries we are seeking to serve: What would a financial contribution in the amount potentially spent on a short term mission team do for your organization? Which would your organization rather have? It’s not as sexy to send money anonymously as it is to go– there are fewer pictures and safaris and stories to tell, but perhaps the field should be given deference to the work they are already doing, and the needs that only they know about. Maybe missions shouldn’t be as much about our needs as theirs.

As I sat in the room with the PA student candidates, as I asked the unpaid staff in the Wesleyan clinic in Accra to take American volunteers, as I sat in the coffee shop in Charlotte, I realized that I needed to put the needs of the field first. And what Ghana needs is my investment long-term in learning medicine, language, and culture to provide medical care in the name of Jesus to unreached peoples, and to build sustainable medical ministry by training local Wesleyans to provide basic medical care in their own communities.

To do this, someone has to go long-term.

 

And that someone is me.

Being a Child Again

IMG_1277When Addie and Palmer first came home from Africa, we had to teach the kids a “boo-boo” routine. When they got hurt, we had to teach them that they needed to come to us, sit on our lap, let us oooo and ahhh over their injury, no matter how minor, kiss it and let them sit with us until they felt comforted.

We had to teach Addie and Palmer to need us. To seek comfort from us. To ask us for help.

DSCN0022Without such instruction, they were daredevils who felt no pain. They would scale tall structures fearlessly, fall and hit their heads, or ride their bikes into spectacular crashes, and they would merely get back up, go back to what they were doing, and pretend it didn’t hurt. It was particularly frightening watching Addie, who had rickets and osteoporosis, play recklessly. Palmer had even more of a wild streak — taking off his training wheels and jumping his bike over curbs — the very first day he learned to ride.

2012-01-12 13.25.38Because they had been in an orphanage with minimal adult influence, and even less compassion, they had learned to fend for themselves. Even before they were in the orphanage, the kids were remarkably independent. Addie was still young enough to not have achieved premature adulthood in the Congo, but Palmer would go shopping by himself, go to work, and care for younger siblings when he was no more than 6. We tease that he seems like a little old man, because he especially learned independence at a very early age.

2012-01-12 13.33.41We have had to teach Palmer to be a child again. We had to teach him to ask for help.

This Christmas season, God has been teaching me about humility. The most difficult part of the missionary journey for us has not been the thought of giving up our possessions, learning new languages, giving up clean running water, or living at the edge of a desert. It’s not risking our health and security in a more primitive part of the world. It’s not sharing Christ’s love with Muslims, treating AIDS patients, or moving to a brand new field where we will be alone as the first Global Partners missionaries.

The most difficult part of our missionary journey is asking for help.

Ken and I have three master’s degrees between the two of us. We have diversified our skills so we would always be employable. We have lived with no extended family nearby to depend on for our entire marriage. The vast majority of holidays: Just the two, or now four, of us. Our first objection to going to the mission field was that we didn’t want to have to be dependent on others. Yet in The Wesleyan denomination, missionaries raise all of their salaries and living expenses, plus their operating and administrative expenses. If God wasn’t so clear on what He wanted us to do, we wouldn’t have even started the process.

But He is clear. He spoke through our children, He healed my lungs, He showed us first-hand how our skills would meet the needs of the Ghanaian and French-speaking people of Africa.

God is teaching us to be children again. He is teaching us to ask for help.

We are asking for people who will partner with us in prayer by making a prayer commitment here (Yes, we need you to sign up!), and for people who will partner with us financially in faith promises or donations. We cannot go until we are 100% funded and supported in prayer. At this point, we are at less than 10% for each, and have many opportunities for people to invest, not in what we are doing in Ghana, but what God is wanting to do in Ghana through us. Moving to Ghana, ministering to pastors, healing the sick, and teaching others about the good news of Christ is simply too big for only four people to do on their own. What God is doing in Ghana is so amazing, we know that He is calling hundreds of others to be a part of what He is doing there as well. We are called to go, even more are called to send.

This Christmas season, I am putting into practice what God has been teaching me, as I humbly ask you to consider partnering with us to be a part of our sending team, doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves — be one of 400 prayer partners, and be a part of our financial partnership team. We are not asking you to give what you feel what you can afford, but asking you to give what you feel God is asking of you. We’d love to have you on our team!

A Christmas of Questions

I scratched my head in frustration as I tried to make a Christmas list this year. With our upcoming move to Ghana, I’ve realized that tangible gifts are a bit silly. A new sweater? What will we need sweaters for? We’re going to be living at the edge of a desert! New roller blades? There won’t be paved roads to use them on there. A new panini press?  Are we really going to pay to ship a panini press all the way to Ghana? When I’m about to give up the vast majority of our worldly possessions, why buy more?

As I’ve looked for Christmas gifts, or even around the house, I’ve realized that we have a lot of “stuff.” I feel a bit nauseated not only what we have, but how much we have to get rid of in the next year. Knick-knacks, decor, furniture, electronics, books, toys, bicycles, clothing, shoes and on and on.

All these are things we cannot take with us to Africa.

Ultimately, none of us can take tangible things with us into eternity either.

photo (18)How is it that the season of celebrating the Divine descent of humility has ended up a celebration of excess? Spending too much, accumulating things we do not need, trying to find the perfect gift for that someone who has everything. While Christmas certainly celebrates the greatest Gift of all, would not a more appropriate celebration be expressions of humility rather than gifts of extravagance?

In celebration of Christmas this year, I’m reflecting on the humility of Christ by asking these questions:

  1. Do I consider myself better than others?
  2. Am I joyful that all of my possessions, physical health, and vocation belong to Christ and are merely on loan to me?
  3. Do I feel pride when I help someone poorer, less educated, or in a lower socioeconomic status? Do I use the misfortune of others to feel better about myself?
  4. When I have a misunderstanding with another person, do I find it difficult to apologize for my part?
  5. Do I feel annoyed when I do something nice for someone else, and no one notices?
  6. Do I face hardship, failure, and challenges with an attitude of resistance or with  submission?
  7. Am I able to admit to and laugh at my flaws, or do I try to hide them from others?
  8. Am I seeking God’s will earnestly in daily reflection in His Word, or do I find myself too busy for Scripture in order to avoid its challenges to the way I want to live my life?
  9. Do I meet God’s call to be generous to others with hesitancy or with joy?
  10. Do I care more about what others think than what God thinks, especially when He asks me to do things that others would consider foolish?

In Matthew 11: 28-30 NIV, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I’ve never quite understood how being humble of heart would give me rest for my soul until I began to look around at all of the things that I have to rid myself of in order to follow Jesus to Ghana. I’ve heard it in the voices of others around me as well. People say to me every week, “I could never do what you’re doing!” or “Better you than me!”

Why is it so hard for us to follow God’s leading into hard places?

I now realize that the houses, decor, furniture, and knick-knacks we possess often shackle us to our own plans for our own lives. Indeed, I see the truth of the statement that it is easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God. The humility of allowing God to say, “Go,” or “Give,” or “Tell”–without having to worry about the logistics of how to make our lifestyle accommodate what He asks of us — should be liberating. When we love Jesus more than our stuff, the burden of worrying about how we will follow His call is light. Saying yes to His call becomes easy.

The most difficult part of following God’s will is exchanging what we want for what He does. And that is the heart of humility– the obedience exemplified by the Son as He said, “Not my will, but yours.”

May God bless you this Christmas with the feather-light yoke of humility, questions to challenge your heart, and the freedom to say yes to whatever He asks.

Matthew 11:28

A Glimpse of Heaven From a Corduroy Recliner

Celia* cowered in fear in her chair as I walked in the door. She had seen people in white coats with stethoscopes dangling around their necks and she knew what that meant: something was going to hurt.

The tragic irony in seeing Alzheimer’s patients is that the rules are very similar to seeing pediatric patients. Slow. Cautious. Take the focus off of the doctor-patient interaction. Harmless as a dove. Wise as a serpent. The healing serpent that symbolizes the medical profession. The serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness for the healing of God’s people.

I looked around the room that Celia now called home. Pictures of her and her husband and children graced the dresser next to her recliner. Poinsettias for Christmas. A happy birthday balloon hovered over her head.

I sat on the bed on the opposite side of the room and waited to earn trust. I asked about the handsome man in those photos, the man who now came in the evenings to lovingly feed her so that she would continue to eat. Everything is better coming from the hand of someone who loves you.

Celia told me a story about her handsome husband in the photos in what only could be described as word salad– a mixture of intelligible half-words with unintelligible expressions of passion. Though the words were incomprehensible, the sentiment was not. They were still in love after all of these years.

As her eyes and mouth danced through the memories of years gone by, I approached quietly on my knees to the side of her corduroy recliner and sat and listened. I responded as if I understood every word she said, because in a way, I did. The years had been hard, but good. Her husband meant the words of his vows more than 50 years ago, when he promised, “In sickness and in health.” She hated what her body had done to her, but his tender love still carried her through the darkness and confusion.

I took out my forehead thermometer, and showed it to her. I made it dance like a puppet, then touched it to my forehead. The puppet thermometer danced again and touched her forehead.

Beep. No fever.

My O2 saturation monitor was the friendly alligator who danced and hugged my finger. The O2 sat then danced and tried to hug her finger. She pulled back in anger.

I had violated her trust. How could I let an alligator bite her finger? Shame on me.

I recoiled, and sat back down on the floor next to her recliner, knowing how much physical exam I had to do, but also understanding our relationship was still fragile.

“Silent night, holy night” I began to sing. Her eyes darted around her mind. This was familiar. Was it good? Was it bad? What was she feeling?

“All is calm, all is bright . . .” Her darting eyes met mine and locked on. Her mouth made chewing motions but was silent.

“Round yon virgin, mother and child . . .” Her mouth began to form the very words I was singing — the first intelligible words of the visit.

“Holy infant so tender and mild . . . “ Her eyes darted away from me. The vulnerability was too much.

“Sleep in heavenly peace . . .” Her eyes came back to mine. There was something in that phrase she liked.

“Sleep in heavenly peace.” With her eyes still locked on mine, she reached up and caressed my cheek.

“Yeeessssss,” she muttered. Sleep in heavenly peace. Yes, that does sound good, Celia, doesn’t it? Life on earth is hard. Heaven is close, but still just too far away.

I sang Silent Night to her again as my hands examined her. I paused between phrases to listen to the sounds of her heart, lungs, and abdomen. And the friendly alligator stayed on her finger long enough to read her oxygen saturation and pulse. When I sang the final line, “Sleep in heavenly peace” again, she was resting, holding my hand, and looking at me with a tender love that can only come from God. And I loved her right back. Everything is better coming from the hand of someone who loves you.

More than 2000 years after God Almighty wrapped Himself in the flesh a tiny Jewish baby boy, the songs inspired by that night allowed me to share a holy moment with my sweet patient Celia. Thank you Jesus, for connecting our hearts and minds. And thank you Celia for reminding me that even though our earthly bodies may bring us to the brink of hellish suffering, heaven is just a song-glimpse away.

“Dearest Lord, may I see you today and every day in the person of your sick, and, whilst serving them, minister unto you.

Though you hide yourself behind the unattractive disguise of the irritable, the exacting, the unreasonable, may I still recognize you, and say:

“Jesus, my patient, how sweet it is to serve you.”

Lord, give me this seeing faith, then my work will never be monotonous. I will ever find joy in humoring the fancies and gratifying the wishes of all poor sufferers.

O beloved sick, how doubly dear you are to me, when you personify Christ; and what a privilege is mine to be allowed to tend you.

Sweetest Lord, make me appreciative of the dignity of my high vocation, and its many responsibilities. Never permit me to disgrace it by giving way to coldness, unkindness, or impatience.

And O God, while you are Jesus my patient, deign also to be to me a patient Jesus, bearing with my faults, looking only to my intention, which is to love and serve you in the person of each one of your sick.

Lord, increase my faith, bless my efforts and work, now and for evermore, Amen.”

– Mother Teresa

*Name changed to protect her privacy

Shea Butter Story

Much of the shea butter of the world is produced in the region around Tamale, Ghana, where we’ll be moving. I loved this touching video showing how Fair Trade purchasing of shea butter by The Body Shop gives women not only jobs, but it also builds clinics, schools, and wells for the rural communities around Tamale. (And it makes a great Christmas gift!)

I also am falling in love with the faces and voices of the women in northern Ghana. I remember meeting a woman in college who was from Ghana, and falling in love with her accent. I could sit and listen to her for hours, and always wanted to work with her in groups, just so I could hear her speak. I can’t wait to be around Ghanaian English every day!

Indignation at the Incarnation

Last year at this time, I was gathered around with a group of friends at a Christmas party. The fireplace was crackling, coffee was brewing, desserts were digesting, and we were reflecting on how God was speaking to us at Christmas.

For me, it was the Incarnation. Why in the world would an omnipotent God wrap Himself in flesh to be born as a baby in a stable? Imagining the situation anew is almost offensive. Jesus, please, not in a manger, there’s donkey drool in there. Please, Jesus, at least a small palace or the temple, not in a temporary shelter away from the comforts of home– anyone’s home. No Jesus, not born to a poor teenage girl from Nazareth — at least choose a family with some clout or prominence.  Your message is too important, Jesus, to not bring it to a better platform than a poor homeless baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough.

Today, I’ve still more comfortable with a Jesus who is not quite so humble. The Divine nature, I’m satisfied with. Healing disease, casting out demons, walking on water, ascending into Heaven on fluffy white clouds with crowds standing in awe — that’s a Jesus who is easy to get on board with.  It’s the mucking around with fishermen and tax collectors, hiding out as a refugee in a foreign land, starving in the wilderness that doesn’t sit well with me. The Creator of the nighttime stars depending on the kindness of strangers for a place to lay His head at dusk. Letting snotty little kids climb on His divine lap while He tousles and parts their matted hair with the same hands that parted the Red Sea.

It’s just, well, distasteful, Jesus.

While I am comfortable with the divinity of Christ, the indignity of the Incarnation is difficult. Why? Because if the Creator of the Universe is as Humble as He is Divine, there is no room for my own pride. My arrogance stands in stark contrast with a glorious Savior who chose humility when He deserved everything but.

If I am striving to be like Christ, I cannot only be comfortable with the trappings of His blessings, I need to embrace the trappings of His humility as well. I want Jesus to use me to heal and to teach because I love the splendor of His omnipotence. But if there a place I will not live, an indignity I will not endure, an economic status I will not tolerate, or a death I will not die for the sake of His kingdom, my pretense flies in the face of the humility of the Incarnation. After all, Jesus,

“Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!”

Philippians 2:6-8, NIV

Jesus, it would be so much easier if you were born to a wealthy public figure in a sterile maternity ward, lived in a 2500 square foot house with a couple of cars, and never spent a hungry or homeless night!

Two weeks ago, I explained the Incarnation to Addie and Palmer over dinner — how Jesus left the perfection of heaven to come and live on stinky earth. And even though Jesus deserved so much more, sometimes Jesus was hungry. And sometimes Jesus didn’t have a place to sleep at night.

The kids were wide-eyed in awe. “But sometimes in Africa we were really hungry and we didn’t have any food or know where we were going to sleep. Jesus knows what that’s like?”

There was no place He would not live, an indignity He would not endure, an economic status He would not tolerate, or a death He would not die for the sake of His kingdom.

Indeed, I’m blessed to embrace the Divine wrapped in the indignity of the Incarnation.

Nativity with text