sonje

Our energetic friend was bouncing around us yelling, “You are here! You are here!” as the tiny muscled arms wrapped tightly around my neck, as if I was going to disappear, while warm, humid air embraced us in a cocoon meant only for our hearts to recognize each other once again as the familiar scent of boy sweat drifted to my nose, it was then that three small words floated to my ear through a breathe of a whisper intended only for me, repeating over and over again…

“Mwen sonje ou.”

“I miss you.”

As if the plane landing in Haiti hadn’t already given me overwhelming realizations that I was home, just a few hours later, I was instantly at home in every aspect of the word.

Oh, my heart, that is so fragile with this small one that holds every corner. I would never be able to put into words how much I miss him. There are not enough variations of “I miss you, too” in Creole to adequately convey them all. I put up a strong front, but when it comes to my buddy…I’m a puddle. I would do anything for him, and it’s reciprocal as evidenced by his blatant defense of my honor in any given situation or misused word sent in my direction. 

My time in Haiti was a plethora of conversations about what I remember, who I miss and will I forget. Although, the second most common conversation was:

“Are you back here to stay?”
“I’m sorry, no.”
“You are not working for Global?”
“No.”
“Are you married?”
“No.”
“Are you engaged?”
“No!” while I completely lost it laughing. 

This was quickly followed by confused looks wondering what the hell I’ve been doing in the States if not remedying that particular situation my Haitian friends have a definite opinion about. Apparently, my friends all thought I was going to the States to gain a significant other, then come back. They will suffer a long wait. 

I digress.

It’s been almost a year since I left Haiti, and it shows in my restlessness Stateside and the insane welcome my friends have given me over my visit in Haiti.  

It was an absolute honor to accompany some friends, who have become extended family over the last three years, from South Carolina to the northern villages partnered with Global Orphan Project in Haiti. While I was back in March, I didn’t have an opportunity to go north, which meant I hadn’t seen my friends up there for an entire year. 

We spent a couple days at one of my favorite places in all of Haiti up in the northern mountains. As we prepared to leave, I had sent our visiting friends on to the bus when a hand caught mine and held me back under the shade of the school porch.

“Èstefani, do not forget us.”

Choking back the multitude of emotions overwhelming me, I replied, “Why do you think I would forget? I remembered your name when I got here and I pray for all of you all of the time. You are Lovely’s brother! I will never forget. I do not forget any of you here.”

The normally stoic, serious, quiet eldest sibling who is constantly taking care of others, ducked his head while allowing the corner of his mouth quirk upwards into a half smile. Which then led to a mass photo of all who had heard my answer and wanted one ‘last’ photo before I left.

As he grabbed the opposite hand of the one his sister clung to while we started toward the bus, he said, “Walk slower.” 

“Walk slower?”

“Yes, we need to walk slower.”

“Okay, we can walk slower. They can wait for us,” I replied, grateful the mirrored aviators were firmly in place as my eyes were tempted to leak. 

I walked incredibly slow, savoring and implanting every step in my memory. Even as I think about it right now, I am right back there with my friends. Lovely on my left and Ronelson on my right as the rest of the kids trailed behind us to the bus. 

The incessant desire to not be forgotten is constant in most of the kids the world calls orphans. Desperately wanting to be known, is a common characteristic that I always tell those partnering and engaging in the orphan window to make a point to speak into each of the kids. Remembering names. Remembering faces. Telling stories of the past visits. Joking about things that were inside jokes from previous years. Remarking on how they look healthy or taller or more beautiful than past visits. Comparing how much they have grown in old photos. Showing the kids you kept something they drew or wrote to you. Maintaining whatever contact you can when you cannot be physically present. It is imperative to speak worth and love while reinforcing memories of time spent together, because there are not a lot of people in their lives that can point that out.

Which also speaks into consistency regarding those God has called you to love. It’s not about hopping around to different places, and taking the photos to show everyone you were outside the States and with orphans. It is about intentionality. It is about sacrifice. It is about consistently being present. It is about building God’s Kingdom through fighting with those the world casts aside. The default of the kids to assume we always forget about them stems from the abandonment and neglect. Yet, at the end of my week, remembering became more than just about my little friends and also about the team I worked with for two and a half years. 

After some rest and time with some friends at the beach, I was sitting next to my friend who came to pick us up in the back seat when the conversation turned comical. I was wearing my “Pose” t-shirt to get across my ‘chill’ vibe, and remarked it was that or “Jwi Lavi” to communicate ‘enjoy life’ as I had to choose when I got dressed that morning. Then I heard my friend say under his breathe “bleu pose.” I laughed and said, “I love that nickname!”

Surprised, he looked up and said, “You remember ‘blue pose?'” Adamantly I said, “Of course!”

Rewarded with his megawatt smile, I was left to ponder why everyone thought I would forget while I am away. 

It continued the morning I left as we journeyed through traffic to the airport, a tap tap, the public transportation, pulled weirdly in front of us on the wrong side of the road. My friend who was driving said nothing. 

I asked, “Why didn’t you call him a ‘monkey?'”

“You remember that?”

“Of course, you always call bad drivers ‘monkeys.'”

Laughter, followed by, “I always do that. You remember me?”

“Always, I always remember.”

I’ve been trying to reconcile why one of the themes of this Haiti visit was remembering and missing each other, and not forgetting. The reality is, I’ve come across it every year in Russia, and have worked years to reassure the kids they are not the only ones that remember. The kids are always surprised when I remember not only things from the year before, but many years past. It is all of the things I listed above that have worked against their human reaction of being forgotten. While that explains my little friends, it doesn’t explain the overall responses I was getting. 

What is it about our humanness that our default belief is that people will forget us and could never miss us as much as we miss them? And where do we step into that tension to create assurances of the opposite?  

How similar is it to our feeling that God forgets about us? We think ourselves small and inconsequential, yet our God says he knew us before we were born. He says, of COURSE I KNOW you, you are not one of billions to me…you are the only one. Somewhere in my brain I hear, “Will you believe me THIS time, you lovely idiot?!?!”

“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.” [Psalm 139:13-16 MSG]

Yet our God also says he knows every hair on our head.

“What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.” [Matthew 10:29-31 MSG]

Our hearts crave to be known. We crave to know we have worth in this world. We can’t stop wanting to hear that from others as we have it consistently from the One who created us. It truly is in our humanness that we fool ourselves into thinking no one cares, people forget and our value is minuscule. None of those thoughts are from God. God loves unconditionally. God loves consistently. His love for us could NEVER run out, and he has created his people to be an extension of his love. 

That is the opportunity we’ve been given to step into the life of another beautifully imagined son or daughter of the Creator.

The real question is more about what is holding us back from loving with the radical, unconditional love we’ve been given freely? That we didn’t even ask for. What are we so afraid of? What is stopping so many from pouring into lives of others? 

Choosing to step in is hard…and painful…and heart wrenching. Especially when the physical distance is massive or circumstances pack a painful punch. Yet…I wouldn’t trade it for the world when it comes to seeing a friend smile, be encouraged and know that they have incredible value and worth. 

Speak love. Speak worth. Never forget. 

And God’s glory will burst out like the sun rays escaping from a ceiling of darkened clouds. 

Sonje. 

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fracture

Life becomes a twisty, twirly, albeit beautiful, mess when the multitude of directions you are pulled in straddle nations, culture, language and lives that have somehow found their way to intersect with your own.

There is a tension within me has continually escalated for many years. I want to be in so many places at once. I feel fractured into pieces that continue to lay divided, always seeking that next opportunity of Kingdom purity that forces them to pull together into a version of whole. Those moments come in conversation, photos, storytelling and being present with those I constantly wish I could be with in person. 

When I take time to stop and slow down…or am stuck on a plane without distraction, because the headphone plug doesn’t work to watch a movie…I am forced into a time of reflection that I, admittedly, tend to avoid. For the last several years, my life has felt like a constant revolving door of relationships. Some for a weekend, and others that will literally be for a lifetime, yet all of them keep entering and exiting on a regular basis. Which is hard when you are someone who values relationship and being present with each other over literally everything else.

From the moment my heart was dramatically busted open by a 9-year-old street kid who was struggling to fit into an orphanage culture of structure, my life has been a constant forward trajectory of obedience, calling and insatiable desire to see the wrongs of this world righted through working to see God’s Kingdom come to restoration.

The plethora of stories, where I have found my story and the story of so many others colliding, are overwhelming. The places I’ve been sent are at times so divinely perfect, that I struggle to catch my breathe.

I have discovered a version of radical love that I never knew existed. All through the relationships God has blessed me with over the last fourteen years of, stubbornly and obstinately, fighting to see children know their worth and empowered to claim their future, while eventually being assaulted by the epidemic of brokenness through poverty, corruption, violence, abuse, neglect and abandonment. It’s strange when a heart that is passionate for orphans rests in the tension of those children actually having families and the realities they face every day to provide water, school, food, safety, etc. Everything seems to morph into an unquenchable desire to see families stay together, despite their situations of social and economic poverty. Resourcing and financial supporting constantly keeps the turnstile of worldwide orphan care rolling, yet with perspective it eventually turns into job creation and higher education that pours dignity and life change into those you love deeply.

There are also the real orphans…the ones who have no where else to go and genuinely consider their caregivers as their family, and will continue to feel that the rest of their lives. Their brothers and sisters are the ones who they have grown up with.  In most cases their parents are no longer living, in some they have chosen not to be a parent, others put in prison resulting in parents rights being terminated and yet still some are encumbered with sickness that keeps them out of the lives of their children. ‘Orphan’ is not a singular term. Over the years I’ve learned so much, but I have so much more to learn and absorb, and will continue to seek justice for each despite any definition. 

Through that journey, God has brought so many people into my life that have taught, listened, corrected and inspired me. All are people who constantly sacrifice to be on the front lines of a Holy and physical war that is raging for God’s Kingdom to be known and perfected. 

Over the last couple of months, I’ve sat with people all significantly and specifically called to be where God has them placed. It is hard, yet that assurance of being exactly where they are supposed to be and doing exactly what God has led them to be continually enforces they keep fighting for what is right. 

I’ve been sitting under the response a pastor gave me when I asked him about struggles in his congregation. A surge of recycling has changed the dynamic of lives in families who used to collect those recyclables and turn them in for money as their families only income. In the shadow of that change are mothers that are taking their daughters to the local prison on the weekend as prostitutes.

Choices for the future are limited in an environment where income to pay for education is the only way to graduate high school. The fear in students who desperately ache to graduate is palpable when they see the short span of time until they age out of the orphanage at age eighteen and have only finished 7th grade. When they leave the security of the orphanage they have grown up in, how do they pay to finish high school?

The hearts of those on the front lines are so humbly determined at times that it manifests as a school principal willing to take on all the responsibility and voice as gangs attempt to extort the community, so the gang members do not come after any of the staff at the school. 

There are literal life and death situations everyday. Yet it is not about getting caught up in the death, and everything about being caught up in REAL life and working to see God’s restoration and redemption. 

My heart aches for the disparity between the majority and the minority of the world. Lately I’ve been thinking frequently about a bright spark of hope and newness of life in the innocence of a small baby, whose life was extinguished way to soon due to lack of medical care in his country. When consistent and quality healthcare is absent in a majority world nation it drives up infant death rates, among other illnesses that lead to death, that punch you in the face while simply looking at photos from three years ago while your friends remark that some of our friends have not survived their illnesses over the years. 

No one can predict how God will change you and how he will lead you. No one can predict how many places God will leave pieces of you until you carry a constant feeing of being fractured. The control we do have is over how we respond. With ignorance, denial or avoidance? Or confidently acknowledging and following the Lord’s leading in presence, support and prayer?

The stories I carry are exactly what leads to that fracturing I feel and the absence of feeling like I belong in only one place. It also drastically changes my definition of ‘home.’ These all fold into how how I hear stories and then it becomes about how I tell stories. It all revolves around relationships. Yet for me, my relationships seem to be separated by extreme distance that is hard to maintain, and then there are those relationships that God has blessed to be easy to maintain and that makes my soul soar with being known, remembered and loved. It can be a gift to embrace so many cultures, languages and people…but it can also be painful to be fractured, so the moments of Kingdom purity become the soothing balm that merges all pieces back together while remain stubborn about why and what we fight for as we yearn for restoration and redemption. 

focus

My focus needs more focus.

I am frustrated with myself, because there are so many Kingdom stories rolling around in my head, yet they are not manifesting as words. The stories are so spectacular that I am legitimately unable to focus on just one, especially after being in Guatemala for two weeks at the end of May where I visited twenty-four different CarePoints (schools, drop-in centers and orphanages) and their directors and/or pastors for Children’s HopeChest. Some of my favorite memories from Haiti come from sitting with pastors and hearing their stories. There is so much to learn when we take the time to be curious, ask questions and listen…always taking a listening posture.

These are the stories we tell to lead others into knowledge and relationship with the One who cleanses, restores and loves unconditionally. We must continually orient everything around and point back to God, or we neglect every opportunity to build into God’s Kingdom.

Every single one of my tried and true processing methods have epically failed in getting me to focus. Twenty-two hours alone in a car driving resulted in no massive revelation. This is my 4th, count it FOURTH, attempt at sitting down and writing. My writing cave protocols of music, coffee, prayer and loads of time for God to speak have not worked. Coffee, even coffee, has failed to draw focus on where God has placed me over the last several months. I’ve had good quality time with people that I constantly process out loud with in my usual extroverted verbal ways, and yet still…I don’t even know where to start in sharing the stories that have permeated my heart and drawn me into a place of deep respect and adoration for Guatemala.

What is the point of this crazy, weird life God has called me with my crazy, weird skill sets if I am unable to pull others into God’s story?

The processing is also about the stories that are meant only for me to grow in my faith and for God to intimately speak his love for me into my heart. As well as which are meant for me to focus more clearly on my calling and which are to draw others into their own. Which are meant to educate others on the realities of the majority world, and which go against the dignity of those lives. Honoring and giving dignity to those that live in a world which is utterly opposite of the States is always a priority for me. Just because those living in the States don’t understand, does not make something wrong, ignorant or disgraceful.

What I want to share are the electric, poignant Holy Spirit moments that had my spirit resonating with God’s presence.

Who I want to give insane amounts of respect to are the incredible Guatemalans I get to work with, and are constantly living in the frontline stories of restoration and joy, yet pain and injustice.

What I want to share is the time spent and stories shared over lunch with a pastor for almost three hours.

What I want to point to are the families that are being impacted by the ministry that God has called his people to at CarePoints around Guatemala.

What I want others to learn from is the commitment, loyalty, community and deep connection to the Holy Spirit a small group of people have had for over 20 years as they lead a school.

What I want people to know is the giddiness, joyful jumping and staccato clapping that occurred as a young girl received a letter from her friend in the States, and how much those words are like a great treasure when delivered. The friendship is so incredibly valued and anything said otherwise is completely of the enemy.

What I want men to hear is how desperately their time is needed around the world as examples to families and children, especially through the story of a CarePoint director who started ministry when his daughter was born. He wanted to make a difference for other children and make his daughter proud of him.

What I want to honor is how we obediently follow God’s calling, as well as the grace, patience and time it takes to revision when God shifts ministry focus after twenty-four years.

What I want people to see when they choose to step into international ministry is that ministry must always orient around relationship, without it, all we do it hurt those that receive resources as only dependency is created.

What I want mothers to visualize are the tears in the eyes of a woman who miscarried her child struggling to walk alongside a thirteen-year-old girl in her school that went through the same thing at the same time.

What I want people to know is that even with the tears, sadness and hard things…there is so much joy and laughter. So. Much. As my mirrored aviators drew the mesmerizing stares that were quickly followed by insanely funny faces, they create the same giggles and comradery as anywhere else in the world.

What I truly want is for people to enter into God’s Kingdom in a way that brings focus to their walk with God, and leads them to fight to right the wrongs in our world, instead of pretending they do not exist. We are not meant for monotony or to be stagnant. While I’ve known my calling into orphan care and prevention for years, I want others to be fighting for the orphan, widow and outcast in whatever context they are called into. The fight is real. It is supernatural. And while it can make many people significantly uncomfortable, God asks us to enter in to that place of surrender, passion and purity with him.

As I continue to pray for focus and how to share with others in ways that merge them into God’s story…know that I am praying for you, too. That God will give you wisdom. God will teach you. God will give you discernment. God will ignite your heart. God will inspire you. And that God will guide you into your calling, because his heart is for each of us to purposefully step into his Kingdom. It isn’t in the past. It isn’t in the future, friends. It is now and it is all around you, when we choose to focus on the things that make a difference in our world.

 

dignity

I once had a friend tell me a story about a pastor he knew in Africa who was explaining to his congregation why my friends’ organization was going to partner with them. The pastor asked his congregation, “Describe to me how we get water.”

“We get our buckets.”

“We walk to the water pump.”

“We put water in our buckets.”

“We lift the water to our heads.”

“We walk it back home.”

“We take it down from our heads without spilling.”

Then the pastor asked, “What is the hardest part out of that for us?”

The congregation replied, “Ugh, lifting the water to our heads. It is very difficult and the water is heavy.”

“That is what our friends will be helping us with. They will be helping us lift the water to our heads, but we are responsible for the rest,” the pastor told them.

The reality is difficult circumstances bring about scenarios that are less than ideal for God’s people who were born into a life meant for dignity, safe from others who – knowingly or unknowingly – rob them of that God-given dignity.

As a body of believers, it is our responsibility to support, empower, encourage…and delve into God-given talents and gifts to discover solutions specific to countries, cultures, communities and individuals. It is complex. Very complex. But that complexity shouldn’t frighten us away from what could restore dignity that has been taken away through varying conditions revolving around the epicenter of poverty.

Be bold. Be stubborn. Fight for Kingdom restoration.

Sustainability is hard to mull over. There is a lot to consider, specifically how it is defined, by who it’s defined by, with what perspective and what it looks like in real situations. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been struck by just how many things I’ve been a part of, what I’ve seen and how God has directed my heart to fight with my friends who I love. God’s heart is for them to consistently feed their families. God’s heart is for them to send their kids to school.

I’ve heard sustainability is educating children so the cycle doesn’t continue with next generation.

I’ve heard sustainability is a ministry paying off debt to free up funds to run the ministry.

I’ve heard sustainability is income generating activities that will bring income into the ministry, so they are not dependent on external funding.

I’ve heard sustainability is a child learning how to make cheese, teaching his family, making it together, then selling it pay for his school fees.

I’ve heard sustainability is job creation so that parents and families do need to seek donations or give their children into the care of a local church housing a children’s home.

Plus a million versions I have not heard.

The reality is not every community or ministry that receives funding from foreign sources wants to maintain that funding until the end of time. Arguably, they do exist and I’ve met some of them who would prefer that route, but that would lead into a wholly different post concerning enabling, bad uses of funds and dependency.

We should want the best for those that we call friends, and anyone else in similar situations, who were not graced with the privilege of growing up where we did. Their political corruption, war, natural disasters, droughts and a myriad of other things are not of their own doing. They did not choose poverty. What we should fight for is dignity restored through their unique and beautiful gifting given by their Creator to use those talents in generating their own income and empowering their community to be a community of people that does not have to rely of foreign funding.

What IF we used the trillions of dollars given in ‘aid’ to actually research what businesses would benefit each community, what is marketable, what could effectively be exported if the market isn’t large enough within the community, build those businesses and create consistent income? What would our world look like if there were consistent jobs in communities that are shackled by poverty? What IF we actually listened to those international communities and supported their OWN vision within their cultural context? What IF we hung up our American perspective at the door and saw with different eyes? What IF we all actually worked together across denomination lines and pooled our resources to accomplish it? What IF it was actually believers supporting believers and we truly looked like a Kingdom community?

It seems unbelievable, but if we don’t work toward it, we’ll never see it happen.

Don’t become paralyzed by the need.

Don’t become paralyzed by the many years it will take to accomplish and the commitment it entails.

Create jobs. Keep families together. Maintain dignity.

And see Kingdom transformation throughout.

The community my friends’ organization was choosing to partner with in Africa did not want magical funding for eternity…they just needed a lift up. Because it was coming in partnership and because it was coming through relationship, the community was able to maintain their pride while they were doing the rest.

Probable solutions would take another million posts and a plethora of knowledge that I don’t have, but wisdom and discernment is everything…what I am currently reading is ‘Poverty of Nations’ by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, who happen to be an economist and theologian who wrote it together. I would highly recommend reading along with me, you can catch up…I’m only on chapter 3 at the moment. I would also suggest finding organizations that speak your same language and fight for the things God has called us to fight for in our world. There are many people out there doing very good things to create jobs, export product and work toward sustainability.

 

normal, pt. 2

Note: This post was mostly created on November 13, 2016 as I was digesting my time in Russia while flying back to Denver.

I love languages, and I really love a familiarity with language that allows my ear to hear a new slang in the languages cultures use. This happened when I got to Russia this year. I would ask people how they were, and the response would be ‘Нормально,’ pronounced ‘normalna’ and translated to ‘normal’ or ‘usual.’

It made me smile every time, because my life hasn’t been normal for a long time, and as my coworkers were praying for me and our trip before I left, one wise, discerning friend prayed that ‘with all of the transition’ I’ve been through in the past couple of months that I would ‘be blessed by being somewhere that is normal’…Russia. Ironic, right?

Her prayer could not have been more on target. I needed some normal, and not for just a weekend. I needed an extended period of time. I needed a place that I was known and engulfed by people where our love for each other travels in a beautiful symbiotic symphony. I needed people who had been a part of my Kingdom story for a long time.

I needed ‘my people’ who know and accept who I am as a follower of Jesus that is abundantly passionate about working toward God’s Kingdom restored by seeing orphans loved and knowing their worth, while stubbornly wanting families preserved and not torn apart by poverty and sin.

So when ‘my people’ started replying with ‘normalna’ when I asked them ‘How are you?’ I felt it was the literal touch of God to me saying, “I know you needed this, because I have made you a part of this community to know and be known.”

And trust me, the irony and hilarity of having to go to Russia to find some normal is not lost on me. It’s actually bat shit crazy. But it’s my crazy normal and at some point, I more than simply embraced it, it became such a deep part of who I am as a believer, as a friend, a fighter, as a daughter of the One who reigns…I literally don’t know how to separate it. And that’s the tension I feel around people who don’t get that part of me is unable to be separated from my calling to champion the orphan and their families. And honestly, for someone to truly understand me, they need to really get that who God has created me to be is found in many places outside these borders. They need to see with me, and humbly seek perspective through the eyes of my friends. I am endlessly grateful for those who have jumped into the journey with me. Who keep jumping into this reality, and stubbornly advocate for the same things. Over the last five years, the women God has merged into our small group, lovingly called Fondue Crew, has jumped in with both feet to advocate for orphans in Russia and/or Haiti. It’s no mistake we’ve all landed in the same holy space each week. We are all the same brand of crazy, and they all not only know me, but encourage me to follow Jesus in crazy obedient ways.

img_8127Because this November as I fly back across an ocean to a life in Colorado I wasn’t anticipating…who I am unashamedly is found in Stas’ small for a 9-year-old body exploding across the foyer running with a massive smile yelling ‘Stevovona!’ and leaping into my arms.

Who I am is found in the midst of giggles and shared memories while quoting of lines with my friends after watching a silly movie in Russian.

Who I am is found in the pride of 16 to 22-year-old students who are doing excellent in living independently outside of the orphanage, going to school, taking care of each other and adopting the Russian hospitality gesture of bringing a guest a gift.

Who I am is found in the gruffness of an orphanage director it has taking 8 years to break through his wall of stereotypical ‘Russian stoic’ demeanor, and reach a level of respect and trust that is found in genuine relationships over Armenian cognac and dark chocolate.

Who I am is found in the blessings received in one culture partnering with a different culture to fill gaps in care provided to orphans by the Russian government that controls orphanage budget and care.

Who I am is found in the stubborn belief that each voice has value and that I am called to champion those voices to find volume and boldness for telling their stories in world that tells them their voice is worthless.

Who I am is found in unexplainably being chosen by a new little girl as her ‘person,’ while her specialization in ‘sneak attack’ hugs consistently startled me and was found so hilarious by my other buddy who then joined in by simultaneously attacking my other side in a mesmerizing show of silent planning.

Who I am is found in the conversations with new kids confused about why Americans show up every year and what that means when we are not there to ‘entertain’ them, but to visit our friends.

Who I am is found within the Russian words that get used to describe me like ‘soomachetya’ which translates to ‘laughing girl.’

Who I am is found in taking the crazy open doors to speak into the lives of those I love when the Holy Spirit opens them despite a culture that values private intimacy with God.

Who I am is found in the giddy joy of being present with my friends every year despite past obstacles of living in Haiti, financial reasons and crazy life drama.

Who I am is found in the sometimes obnoxious, yet passionate, desire for others to step into the orphan window of the world to see what God might have for them to be a part of there.

Who I am is found in calling each of them ‘friend,’ not ‘orphan,’ because there is so much more to who they are as individuals and their potential verses the stereotypes that come with ‘orphan.’

Who I am is found in the deep love and desperate desire to see them have a successful future and stable future family, as well as the opportunity to take care of their parents, siblings and grandparents.

Who I am is found in the Kingdom stories I get to point to and say, “God was present there. It is unexplainable. It is supernatural. It was undoubtedly God.”

img_4359Who I am is found in the countless hours spent with kids who want to see the world through a camera lens and talking about why we see what we see in the world, why we want others to see it and how we tell God’s story through it.

Who I am is found in the conversations around a table with friends I only see once a year that feel like our conversations have simply paused then continue a year later.

Who I am is found in reminding the older kids of the memories I have of them when they were much smaller, they are known and someone remembers.

These massive pieces of who I am are found in a small village that takes 48 hours to travel to from the States, then an hour and half drive to get to my friends. It’s not easy. But the things that God uses to create us, are hardly every easy. Russia is where I started claiming and believing who God said he had created me to be for his Kingdom, and many have tried, yet failed, to detour me from that calling. This is where the roots of my life and calling have deepened, strengthened and allowed branches to flourish. Had I never said ‘yes’ to an adventure I wasn’t sure I really want to go on in 2003, I would never have fully stepped in the life God had for me to vibrantly live…it would never have become my normal.img_8553

normal, pt. 1

On my first Sunday in the States, during prayer I was stunned when I realized my brain was automatically translating the English prayers into Creole. That’s not ‘normal’ in the States, yet my brain was so used to working hard every Sunday to help me understand the Sunday services that there was no hesitation that translating into Creole was the expectation while I was hearing English.

Last week when I was sitting in traffic, my default reaction was park the car and walk to the front to see if the roadblock was getting cleared or if it would be a long time before it was removed. When I realized that was CULTURALLY INAPPROPRIATE FOR COLORADO, my next default was, ‘Ok, wave someone down going the opposite direction to find out what is causing the problem.’ Which was ALSO wildly culturally inappropriate for the States. Though who wouldn’t want to see the crazy redhead waving her arms to get someone to stop, then get arrested and tossed in the psych unit. Again…not ‘normal’ in the States.

As I’ve been driving around Colorado Springs looking for an apartment I had expertly spotted an ‘apartment complex’ in the distance around an area I liked, then threaded my way through the streets to get to it. Only to find…it was a big house. Not an apartment complex. Being startled by moderately sized, yet large, single family homes is not a ‘normal’ thing in the States. Certainly mistaking them for apartment complexes is way outside normal thinking.

I had spent two and a half years training my brain to understand enough Creole to communicate with my friends, instead of using a translator. Imagine the relationship difficulties in having to use a translator every time you want to communicate…not really effective to make real friends for the long-term. That’s a lot of intentional speaking that doesn’t get turned off with the simple flip of a switch, so when I am told, ‘We don’t speak that here,’ it hurts. True confession, of course sometimes I do it to be ornery, so sure, be sarcastically mean back, however there are dozens of times a day I think in Creole first, and sometimes the filter is not excellent, leading to speaking Creole out loud. I do find it ironic that the youngest of my friends finds this the most normal, and actually responds to me in English as he guesses what I am saying in Creole, with no comment like ‘what did you say?’ I am controlling it the best I can, there is no reason to be hateful about it, especially since I am not actually trying to offend by not speaking the ‘normal’ language of the States. My new coworkers could have all the reasons in the world to be annoyed by my Haiti life, yet I am the blessed recipient of laughter, joking and grace.

While I muddle my way through retraining my brain to what is ‘normal’ in the States, there is a lot of freedom I have gained. I love that I don’t have to put toilet paper in the trash instead of the trash can. I love that I can brush my teeth with water from the sink. I love the smell and feel of clothes fresh out of the dryer with fabric softener…instead of hand washed hanging from the line on the roof. I love the plethora of choices in the stores…yet I am also paralyzed by them. I love that I can drive myself…at ANY time of the day and I’m not restricted by a compound wall. Freedom is a word that keeps running through my head constantly quickly followed by thanking God it exists here in the forms it does.

I knew there would be things that caught me off guard as I sunk myself back into the ‘normalcy’ of Stateside culture. I knew there would be things I liked and things I didn’t like. I knew there would be people who would be full of grace and support, and those that wouldn’t understand. I knew that there would be challenges I hadn’t even thought about, and really, only three weeks fresh off the plane, I know there will be many still to come.

Within all of that…I’ve come to hate the word ‘transition,’ and maybe it has to do more with the overuse of the word. I know people genuinely care, and are asking to check in, but to me this isn’t a transition. It is simply a different placement within the same calling and Kingdom lived life. It’s not a different adventure…just a different city. I am in Colorado, because I choose to live as a believer surrendering to the life-giving call of being an advocate for kids around the world that are told they are not worthy, they have no value and lack the steady financial support of family due to a myriad of reasons associated with majority world traumas. They are faces and specific names. They are NOT strangers. They are my friends. Some of those kids love Jesus with all they have in them, and others aren’t freely given that opportunity. I choose to live as a believer that accepts God will send me where he needs to use my voice and stories.

Which makes the most real challenge of all how to maintain the abnormality that God has renewed and created in me while figuring out how to not become captive of the ‘normal,’ but to find the balance, because the most real answer of all is…I am not the same.

The acceptance into another culture. The lack of struggle to navigate unknowns. The things I have seen. The stories I’ve heard. The places God has immersed me. The people I know. The sacrifices made. The pain that has been experienced and observed. The friends I have gained. The respect gained as a woman in patriarchal societies. The arms that have been wrapped around others. The love received and given. The every day reliance on the Holy Spirit. The constant knowledge that Kingdom is real, and it is our responsibility to answer our calling as believers to fight for that restoration.

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My buddy. My heart. He handled my leaving much better than I did.

The ache of leaving and answering ‘why’ a thousand times, while being fractured emotionally over and over, because as much as it would have made leaving much easier, I just can’t stop myself from intentionally pouring into relationships I’ve been given. It is how God has wired me to live.

Each of those has made their mark on my life, and I don’t want that mark to get blurred or erased. God never intends to blur or erase those markings, he intends them to shape our story, and my story is definitely not normal.

adventures

Lovely looked at me with a glimmer in her eye, she had a plan and was not going to be deterred. She grabbed my hand and we rapidly climbed the stairs up to the top of her mountain home in Marmelade, Haiti. As others sent a ‘good morning’ my way, she didn’t even let me stop to properly greet my Haitian friends with a handshake and reply.

We promptly arrived at the cafeteria at the top, a young man and one of the mamas were finishing some rice in a bowl. She didn’t even stop to ask for some…which is incredibly unusual for her, further exhibiting her single-mindedness.

We walked straight through the cafeteria to the other side, and then she walked out the side ‘door.’ It’s only likeness to an understanding of ‘door’ in my context is limited to the shape and openness, because outside the ‘door’ is straight up or straight down.

Yet she walked out.

I stopped at the door and looked up to her, literally five steps outside the door and her head was already above mine displaying the steep incline. This waif of a girl, who is a dear friend, gestures to me, ‘Come on.’

I reassessed.

Straight up. All loose dirt. Corn planted, no trees or rocks to grab onto and pull myself through the loose dirt. I can’t even see how far it is to the top, because all of the corn is so tall. I look at her again, expectant eyes, unwavering smile and holding out her hand.

“Lovely, this is a bad idea.”

No words from her, as she comes back down to the cafeteria level and yells through the window in her high pitched, soft voice.

“Wolking!”

I immediately think, oh, good, he will talk some sense into her.

“Wolking, I need help. I want Èstefani to come to the top.”

Our identical stubborn, obstinate nature collided in that moment, and immediately I found his lack of words disturbing, which was quickly followed by Wolking walking toward me and taking my hand.

“It’s okay,” he whispered.

Taking a deep breath, I leaned down and tightened the straps of my Chacos, all while praying I wouldn’t hurt myself in the middle of nowhere mountainous Haiti, while entrusting my clumsiness to my 8 and 13-year-old friends…and then I took the plunge out the door of the cafeteria embracing the adventurous side of my friend.

Lovely would run ahead and then run back. Her light, tiny body flitting around the mountain side in and out of corn stalks like the energetic sprite she resembles.

Wolking never left my side. I would hesitate, and he would say, “Put your foot there.” The earth would crumble beneath my Chaco clad foot, and he wouldn’t even flinch. Realizing, this is what it would be like all the way to the top, I resigned myself to having a lot of dirt moving in directions I really didn’t want it to move on this journey.

IMG_0490Once we were at the top, I stood there, basking in what I know to be the beauty of Haiti. Palm trees, rocky sides of the mountains and mountains beyond mountains. Wolking posed with the paper and pen he had been carrying on our journey up, then I caught a photo of my friend as he leaned against one of the many palm trees while I took photos of Lovely with the mountains beyond mountains as her background.

When he sat next to me I said, “Do you come here a lot?”

“Yes.”

“Do you like that it is quiet?”

Big grin, ‘Yes.”

“Because this is where you don’t have to be around the other kids and can sit in silence?”

Bigger grin, “Yes.”

“Do you hear the voice of God when you are up here?”

IMG_0494“I see God up here. I hear God up here. This is where I love to be.”

I get it, friend. I really do.

In that moment, there wasn’t any memory of the struggle up to this mountain top. There was only the realization that I’d been invited into their real space. Not their home, per se, but the space they seek and find their Savior. The sacred space of their hearts. And I was speechless.

As we stood up, Lovely started darting back down the mountain, and that was when God put two images of friends from vastly different cultures next to each other.

“Love! Stand still!”

Which made her stop, and look back at me.

I had a massive, excellent camera around my back and in that moment of being simultaneously in two places, I only had the wherewithal to take the image on my iPhone4. I’ve chastised myself multiple times over since that moment. Why didn’t I pull the camera around to the front? Why didn’t I use it?

Adventures in Orphan WindowThe reality was that this camera obsessed, photo nerd was so completely awe struck at the similarity of moments and images nearly a decade a part that I was lost in the moment. I saw Alyosha walking alongside the train tracks on one of our infamously numerous adventures in Kurlovo, Russia, and simultaneously I saw Lovely stop and look back at me as she progressed down the mountain path in an identical photo composition.

It startled me.

It 100% took me off guard.

It is the same image.

They have so many characteristics that are similar that I’d never thought of before. Spunky child in unfortunate circumstances. Living in a group home with other kids with just as unfortunate circumstances. Seeking adventure. Craving friendship. Aching to be known. Wanting to share life with someone who will care and remember.

Nearly an entire decade apart, in two places that couldn’t be more different than the other, with two friends that had I not chosen to be obedient to my calling into the orphan window of this world…moments I never would have shared…friends I never would have met.

This is my life. This is my calling. This is my obedience.

These are my friends.

My life is not about a physical place. It is not about a certain city. A friend had to remind me of that last month.

My life is about serving the one I call Savior, and being obedient to my calling into the orphan window. It is about knowing that God has uniquely gifted me to connect with and love well those the world classifies as orphans. And to draw others into the purity of those moments within the orphan window, to point to God’s presence and stir them to draw others. It is about God inspiring his people to be within his Kingdom through his children. It is about the discipleship that it takes to get to those moments, the growth beyond that submerged time and above all else, knowing some fantastic kids that need friends to be loyal in remembering and encouraging. It is about Kingdom community. We are not divided. We are meant to be one community.

My friends are not sub-humans. These kids are not to be exploited to gain an end goal. They are not lesser.

Quit the opposite, actually, they are more…and I am less than. They are whole. They are loved. They have dignity. They are redeemed.

I will never be able to identify with their pain, abandonment, neglect and memories of death. But God has given me the honor to love them. I do believe God will purify the Stateside church through his children, but does the local church in the States have the ears to hear?

The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”

He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again:

Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing. Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing. The people are blockheads! They stick their fingers in their ears so they won’t have to listen; They screw their eyes shut so they won’t have to look, so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face and let me heal them.

“But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance. [Matthew 13:10-17 MSG]

As I stood on that mountainside, reflecting in the adventures my young friends have taken me on over the last thirteen years, my heart burst with love for my friends, and commitment to know and love them well as they continue to get older.

“She runs very fast,” I said to Wolking as Lovely raced down the mountainside.

“I can’t run that fast,” he replied in awe starring at her.

“I can’t run that fast either,” I told him laughing.

And in ten years, when she is aging out of the home she has grown up in, and is faced with making choices for her future. We will stand on that mountainside and I will remind her that when she was eight, she was so fast Wolking and I couldn’t even keep up with her.