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.

presence

Presence is a powerful thing. Absence is heartbreaking. But in order for the reality of presence to be the most powerful, absence in some form has to be realized.

In mid-March I stepped off of a plane onto foreign soil, and into a new normal full of presence, love and a consistent outpouring of the Holy Spirit that is overwhelming at times. A good overwhelming…one I have been aching for over the past several years.

On my first weekend in Haiti, I got out of the van at Leogane and there was a small fellow that chose me. It is an intense emotion to be chosen, and I’ve been honored to experience it before in other places where I have been stepping into the world of an orphan. The first time was 10 years ago when it changed me, and I thought it would never happen again. It did, and it has again…a few times over.

I wasn’t expecting it so soon. I thought it would take time, since I’ve got nothing but time to invest and love over the next year or so.

But this little guy stood out like God had placed a neon sign over his head…just for me.

We colored, we put stickers on a foam sheet and we were present. He was content to just sit in my lap or climb in my arms, and I was content to let him.

God marked that moment…my first village, my first weekend on the ground, my first experience with Global Orphan Project in Haiti as well as the amazing realization that I get to come back to this place and these kids every other week, if not every week. God marked all of those moments with the presence of Chales.

The next week as I accompanied another team out to Leogane, I didn’t see him and other kids were pulling on me. I had given myself a pep talk that morning, “It’s not about forcing relationships. He might not remember you. This isn’t about me, it about supporting local church who are giving these kids what they need.”

I had no expectations, which meant when I walked out of the bus last Friday at the same village…I had no expectations when Chales was the one who hopped into my arms first.

Honestly, I had the humorous conversation in my head of “Is this is the kid I think it is? I’ve met A LOT of kids…”

IMG_3152Then I pulled out my phone and brought up the photos from the first weekend of the two of us when he was making faces in my mirrored aviators and making himself laugh. Chales looked at the phone, looked at me, looked back at the phone and exclaimed, ‘Me! Me!’ quickly followed by ‘You! You!

He never left my side the whole time our team was there. He wanted to be held. He kept touching my arms to make sure I was still there. He played with the other photos on the phone. He was so excited when he saw himself from 3 weeks earlier and kept wanting to see that first photo. That day was a blessing. A huge blessing…the blessing that is the tangible touch of God on us.

Last Monday found me dropping one team off at the airport, and joining another for their day…to Leogane.

I had one foot on the ground and wasn’t even out of the bus before he was in front of me with his arms up begging to be held. We walked the property with him on my hip, on my back, back on my hip before I was told to ‘Sit down.’ in Creole, at which point he climbed into my lap.

Just to be clear, when the kids want to be held then fall asleep in our arms, it is HOT in Haiti, and the kids start sweating when they sleep. That’s right, go for the mental image of how sweaty we are combined with how sweaty they get…mmhuh…there, you got it.

I am in Haiti, because God’s story intersects with my own. I am here because God’s presence in my life give me opportunities to make choices to obey his calling. God’s story is massive. He is the God who reigns over the entire universe. We get to be present within God’s story and live in God’s truth. My story gets to claim a piece of God’s story, and God grafts it into his overall story. Each person that travels down here gets to claim their part of God’s story in Haiti. These kids transform lives. Haiti transforms lives, and sends teams back to tell the story in their home congregations and groups.

God calls us all to be story tellers wherever he might have us in the world. It is exactly how Jesus sent the disciples out to bear witness to what they had seen. If the disciples had not been story tellers…we would not be believers.

IMG_3392Our world is beautiful, but it is most beautiful in the moments that God graces us with a picture of his Kingdom. His Kingdom was alive and present when my story and the story of an orphan named Chales collided as he fell asleep in my arms in the exact place he was in my arms 4 weeks earlier. And then God brought the revelation that I would be back in that place…soon. It was not a 5 day trip, or a 10 day visit to some amazing kids for me. I get to come back, and that is something I have been felt called to for a long time.

As I was leaving I was thanking the pastor for allowing us to come, when his immediate response was, ‘We wait for you to bring more friends to us!’

Then I asked, ‘Pastor, what is Chales’ story?’

Pastor responded with, “Oh! That boy there? He is from a village far, far away on the coast of Haiti. Water came in, and took his whole family out and he was the only one left. A pastor friend of mine called and said, ‘Can you take this boy?’ and I could not refuse even though it was so far, far away.”

As Chales slept, combining a gargantuan amount of his sweat with my own, he would startle in his sleep and his little hand would tighten around my neck to make sure someone was still there. Holding him that close all day made me very aware of the smell of urine on him. Nightmares? Bullying? Only God knows. I will never forget that tight grip of a boy who saw his family taken away, lost everything he knew and found himself in a place with 80 other kids far away from home.

It is the telling of the moments when our stories collide in this world, when God marks us and allows us to see glimpses of his Kingdom, that further the Kingdom of God more than a sermon (sorry, Shawn!), a worship song (sorry, Jules!) or conference. In the absence of God through our sin, we find the presence of something powerful through story telling that brings us face to face with salvation which always pushes us back to the heart of God and into his presence.

It is in your willingness to be present, and not distracted by the things of this world, when God is showing up that finds your story to colliding with his. It is being obedient to God. It is loving him so much that it physically pains you to be separated from him. It is believing that God shows up in relationships and community.

Be a story teller. Be willing to share yourself with others. Be open to loving unconditionally. Be a risk taker. Be a Kingdom walker. Be present.

barefoot

Ten toes. All breathing. Not constricted by socks or shoes. That’s how my feet like to live. Barefoot. At work, I am known to be without shoes except when it will freak people out. At my desk, those toes are free, breathing and happy.

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When I have to wear shoes…I wait until the temperature dictates my toes will fall off without some warm assistance from boots…until then, I live in my Chaco sandals. No man could ever complain I spend a lot on shoes! I wear them…wash them in the washer, then wear them again looking brand new.

They are glorious. I love them. And this week I wore them in snow. Yep. I did the unthinkable…on accident. I flew into Salt Lake City to visit some college friends and their new kiddo…my newest buddy. We drove up Guardsmans Pass into Park City. And to my delight there was snow at the top of the pass! It was gorgeous! It was freedom!

Barefoot has a completely different connotation in the Bible. It was a sign of mourning, poverty or shame. God actually ordered Isaiah to go barefoot in Isaiah 20:1…

God told Isaiah son of Amoz, “Go, take off your clothes and sandals,” and Isaiah did it, going about naked and barefooted.

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Isaiah did that for THREE years. Talk about a mission from God that makes you faithful. And before anyone comes back thinking, “That’s awesome! Barefoot 3 years!” It wouldn’t have been awesome for Isaiah. As a prophet he had probably already done what prophets did to set themselves apart by wearing rough clothing. Now God is ordering him to not only take off his clothes, but go barefoot too.

What catches my attention is that Isaiah looked different because of the mission and purpose God had given him. People made fun of him and called him a fool for doing it…but he looked different.

I certainly looked different with my Chacos on top of Guardsmans Pass in the snow. A hiker even commented on my bare toes, but in no way shape or form do I really look different based on my calling and mission from God.

The real question is…should we look different? Go ahead…discuss.

far

Mar 29 - far

Hiking in Utah, 2011

The halfway point of hiking a mountain is brutal.

There is the ‘Are you KIDDING me?!?! We aren’t there yet?!?!’ Quickly followed by the defeat of ‘I can’t do this.’ Then followed by ‘Damnit I came here to summit this damn mountain.’

You haven’t realize how far up it is, but there is this inkling of a feeling you have that the view will be worth it. Yet you are only halfway…

You have a choice to make at that point. Continue? Or head back down?

I won’t even go into the false summit words that fall out of a mouth when you’ve pushed through defeat and continued to the ‘summit,’ which is not actually a summit, but just a continuation of the path.

It really sucks that you never realize how far it is up a mountain until you’ve made it halfway. Sure, it looks high…but everyone hikes mountains, it can’t be that hard, right?

Wrong. Then add in an aversion to altitude. Really wrong.

But the view…

Oh, how the view speaks to a soul. Your heart is soaring because you’ve accomplished it. Your spirit is soaking in the quiet of being 12,000 feet above sea level. And the view goes so far in the distance, you lose sight of the ground because of the atmosphere getting in the way. To top it all off, every problem you have is literally the size of an ant. Granted the sun is scorching…not good for a redhead, but there are ways to handle that, if I remember. And to get to the top without injury generally means God has your back, front and all sides. Especially when the path is 2 feet across then a cliff drop off. When God is that active around you…it’s always a good thing.

But there is something that happens to me on top of a mountain that makes me want to stay there forever. Maybe it’s the lack of oxygen getting to my brain. Or maybe I just don’t want to make the effort to go down, even though it’s easier going down than up.

Or maybe I am so free of all distraction, busyness and people wanting something from me that I just relish in the fact it is still…quiet…sweet freedom…

This is not in context at all, but I love this verse in Isaiah:

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’ [Isaiah 52:7]

Good news. Peace. Good tidings. Salvation.

Our God reigns.

If climbing a mountain can give me the clarity and ability to empty my soul of the clutter, then I wish I could do it more often. Because every day I should be bringing good news to those around me. I should be speaking of peace and living it. I should offer good tidings to all I come across. I should rest in my salvation while proclaiming that God reigns.

On this Good Friday night, I pray that we all know that without Good Friday, Easter does not come. You cannot have resurrection without death. The pain, suffering and tears…all lead to life everlasting.

And I pray that we would all proclaim that God reigns, because that is indeed good news that not only crosses cultures, but languages and emotions.

May we all feel as though the summit of the mountain is far away, yet choose to claim it as our own. May we all feel that our sin makes us far away from God, yet choose to claim Christ. And may we all be people who live in the freedom of claiming Christ’s sacrifice while saying, ‘Our God reigns!’

night

image

Night brings quiet.

Night brings peace.

Night has an unmistakable, crisp scent.

Night brings darkness and fear, but night brings stars. A light in the darkness.

Since I was a little girl, as soon as the sun disappeared my lips could not contain the endless flow of words. My best conversations have all taken place in the dark of the night.

Life choices. Friend despair. Kingdom thoughts. Beautiful dreams. Revelations.

All under the cloak of night.

I’m not sure why daylight brings mistrust and suppression of words. You would think it would be the opposite, but not the case for me. Night has brought some of the most profound conversations I’ve ever had.

Under that deep cloak of night where others feel fear and oppression. I feel freedom, clarity and safety.

Deep breathes of night air fill my lungs, and wonderment of what’s beyond stars ignite my imagination. Suddenly the veil between God’s kingdom and earth becomes thinner.

Even phenomenal, spirit saturated worship experiences seem to fill the dark of night. Last summer on a youth trip we were on top of Mt. Evans near Denver…it was one of the most memorable times of worship many had ever experienced. At one point the moon broke through cloud cover, and flooded the mountain top with light. Every person there will tell you they felt the presence of God. A moment marked on each soul blessed to be present.

All under the cloak of night.

thirst

I had never been drinking so much water in my entire life…yet constantly thirsty. We were sweating out liquid faster than we could take it into our bodies.

We were in Haiti…and it was HOT.

We were reliant on water from massive multi gallon jugs, and by the end of the week we were running precariously low. I was on an endless cycle of filling…drinking…filling…drinking…filling my Nalgene bottle. The thirst was unimaginable…the kind where your mouth gets all tacky and your saliva turns as thick as peanut butter. It’s not a pleasant experience, and even though you keep drinking, it keeps happening. The things we do for God. Happily…

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I don’t travel without a Nalgene bottle, anywhere. My favorite one has taken a beating for years…and died an ugly, horrible death this summer. It had run its course, but it was my Duke bottle. Not only could I quench my thirst, but I could also rep my favorite basketball team.

The reason I don’t travel without a water bottle is your body takes an awful turn when you get dehydrated. We need water so badly that when we dehydrate our bodies respond in ways that can end us up in the hospital. I am constantly telling people to drink more water on mission trips.

And that’s when we have it accessible…what about all of the people in the world who don’t have easy access to clean water? Sad, right? If that touches something in you, let’s talk, because there are a myriad of organizations out there that deal with getting clean, reliable water to places that don’t have a good water source.

We thirst for water because we cannot live without it.

Honestly, I think our bodies thirst for God in the same way…we just learn to deny those thirsts in different ways. What if our bodies thirsted for God like we thirst for water? What if there was a significant physical reaction that would land you in the hospital if you went without God? Imagine running a friend to the emergency room, ‘Quick! She didn’t take in enough God today…she’s dying!!!’

The sad part is our souls do wither up when we don’t quench its thirst for God. The horrifying part is a large majority of people don’t care. Do you find yourself in an apathetic camp of “Eh, I don’t’ need God today. I’ve got this.” Well, ya don’t.  You need God for grace, mercy, hope, compassion, love…ALL the fruits of the Spirit. You need His Spirit to fill you to overflowing so you see others as God sees them. You need Jesus. We all need Jesus.

But if we don’t make an effort to quench our thirst with God it’s not going to happen. He does give free fill-ups…but you need to actually care you are getting it. Then…you need to USE it. Kingdom work. Make it happen.

I hope you find yourself caring about how much ‘God’ you take in today to quench your thirst…not just because it’s Sunday, but as if your life depended on it.

spirit

God. Jesus. Holy Spirit.

The Trinity.

I love God. Jesus is my friend. But honestly, Spirit is the one I feel closest to most of the time.

How could you not? Jesus repeatedly said, hey ya’ll I’m leaving…but I’m leaving something behind for you. And it will be something that is so fluid, yet transparent and so powerful.

Comforter. Counselor. Sender. Translator. Truth. Guide.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. [John 16:13]

I will never forget the first time I read Acts. The spirit flowed so freely for them…how could that piece be missing now? In Acts 13, not only do they hear the spirit say to send out Barnabas and Paul…the end of the chapter finds them shaking the dust from their feet while they left in protest, ‘And the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.’

The Spirit still flows just as freely, we just choose to ignore it most of the time. We take those memories of the ‘time that I felt the closest’ to God and convince ourselves that is the way it has to happen to feel that close again. But when that moment happens once a year, or once every 2 years…why on earth would we bind the Spirit from moving in us that way? Stop putting limits on God. God is limitless yet in our humanness we decide how he interacts with us. How completely backwards is that?!?!

How are your instincts…do you truly think they are all yours? Have you ever wondered that there was something else at play? Start an experiment and go with your instinct and see if God has an adventure for you. Pray that the Holy Spirit would guide you. Allow conversations to flow with the breath of a prayer in your head ‘God be in this…give me words…give me wisdom, let them feel you.’

Sure, there are times I’ve felt no presence…but it is wrong to blame God for that feeling. He doesn’t ever leave us, he is always there and always at work. Sometimes our choices and steps move us away from him. So then I correct and find myself where I am supposed to be and we are back on track.

Utah, 2011. Erin and I climbed the mountain in the background  September 2011.

Utah, 2011. Erin and I climbed the mountain in the background September 2011.

Most of those corrections find me at a lake…or mountains…or ironically in the middle of a mission trip that I should have corrected myself before leaving. Sometimes it seems the higher up I get…the closer I feel. This photo is from a hike a few years ago in Utah that kicked my butt. We had hiked the mountain in the background, yet still thought it was a great idea to go some more lower down. But those few days with my friends ‘reset’ me, and I was back where I needed to be.

I cannot truly live without Holy Spirit. I rely on it way too much. I cannot be my calling to God’s mission without Holy Spirit. Living in God’s mission field, the Holy Spirit is the only language I know to truly navigate God’s Kingdom. It is my comforter. It is my counselor. It is my translator. It is my truth. It is my guide. And it is my sender…always, always my sender.