December 19, 2011

the 12 deals of christmas

"christmas time means laughter, toboggans in the snow, caroling together with faces aglow." kevin mcallister, "home alone 2: lost in new york"

"first we'll make snow angels for two hours, then we'll go ice skating, then we'll eat a whole roll of tollhouse cookiedough as fast as we can, and then we'll snuggle." buddy the elf, "elf"

christmas truly is my favorite time of the year for so many reasons. i love the time with my family and the countless opportunities to watch every incredible christmas movie in our pajamas. i love making snack mix with my mom and drinking egg nog like it's going out of style. i love caroling with my family at different people's houses and wearing tacky christmas sweaters and jingle bell earrings. i love dressing as a charissamas tree, wrapping my entire body in lights, and plugging into random outlets, with my trusted extension cord on hand.

and while christmas time means all of these wonderful things to me, it also means having a time to refresh and reorganize in order to get motivated for the new year. i love having time to get little things accomplished in order to live simpler and easier after the holiday is over. i love having time to get on pinterest and find fun inventions and ideas for everyday improvements, and with that being said, i have discovered 12 ideas through my perusing that i am implementing during this holiday season in order to live a little easier and cheaper in the upcoming year.

so in honor of the holiday season and for the sweet love of pinterest, i give you the 12 deals of christmas:

1) clean scratched CDs and DVDs with toothpaste. i did this this afternoon, and it worked like a charm! take non-gel toothpaste, put a dot of it on the back of a CD or DVD, rub it horizontally with a washcloth, and rinse with cold water. it removes the scratches and prevents the CD/DVD from skipping.

2) combine used candles into one, large candle. take old, burnt candles and melt them completely with a candle warmer or in a pot of boiling water. get candle wicks from the craft store of your choice and glass jars. place the wick in the jar and pour the melted candles, creating layers of your favorite scents. one trick to make sure that the wick doesn't fall in is to wrap it around a popsicle stick and place the stick across the top of the jar. cut the wick and burn, baby, burn!

3) ice-proof windshields with vinegar. make a concoction of 2/3 vinegar and 1/3 water, spray on car windshields and windows the night before a frost, and watch the ice melt away.

4) clean the iron with dryer sheets. set the iron on low, rub it over a dryer sheet, and watch the residue and gunk disappear into the sheet.

5) clean coffee stains with an orange peel. take mugs or cups with coffee or tea stains, lightly salt an orange peel, and gently rub the peel on the area to remove the stains.

6) remove soap scum with a dryer sheet. take a dryer sheet, sprinkle a few drops of water on it, and remove stubborn soap scum on shower glass by scrubbing.

7) remove stickers with a hair dryer. the next time you find a stubborn price tag on the bottom of your purchase, blow it with hot hair from a hair dryer, and watch it come off with ease.

8) brighten laundry loads with lemon juice. as an alternative to bleach, use either 1/4 or 1/2 cup of lemon juice and add it to the laundry load in order to brighten whites.

9) remove permanent marker with rubbing alcohol. eliminate permanent marker stains by putting rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and rubbing the area. it works especially well on walls and counter tops.

10) freshen the freezer with vanilla.
take a cotton pad, soak it with vanilla extract, and wipe the inside of the freezer for a fresh scent and frostbite elimination.

11) clean the coffeemaker with vinegar. i do this regularly! simply run a cycle with vinegar instead of water, stop midway through the cycle and allow to sit, and then let the cycle finish completely. run two cycles with water afterwards to remove any excess vinegar.

12) clean the dishwasher with lemonade kool-aid. make sure the dishwasher is empty, pour a complete packet of lemonade kool-aid into the detergent cup, and run it normally. watch stains like iron and lime deposits disappear!

December 12, 2011

baby beluga

"we ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. but the ocean would be less because of that missing drop." mother teresa

"you might be a big fish in a little pond, doesn't mean you've won, cause along may come a bigger one." coldplay

"what is your life? for you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." james 4:14

the only way to explain my life for the past few months is that i have just taken a ride on the craziest rollercoaster i have yet experienced in my short, little time here on this earth. at the moment i am currently sitting in the car of the rollercoaster as it is just now starting to slow down and come to a stop. a series of big life changes all decided to take place in the busiest and most challenging semester of my academic career starting from the very first week of classes, and i was forced to hold onto the lap bar and pray and trust that i wouldn't fly out.

and i am extremely pleased to say that i remained securely in my car with minimal whiplash. despite some heartache, serious stress, and borderline serious illness, there was much joy, many improvements, and many excitements in the changes that took place. and while this semester has had its definite struggles, i believe that we are improved through challenge. i have felt my heart and self being refined like silver and chiseled through adversity and trial. i have seen myself grow and learn the true lessons of life and find a new joy and happiness in living that i didn't know before.

and with that being said, i would like to share with you the greatest lesson that i have learned through my endless pursuit of the acquisition of knowledge. it's a dichotomy created by the wisdom of mother teresa, the lyrics of coldplay and raffi, and the book of james, and i believe it is the perfect blend of irony and incongruity as i learn that the more i see, the less i know... because i am a baby beluga swimming in a really deep, blue sea.

while for the past few years i have written this blog affectionately known as "charissa explains it all," i want it to be known that the name is merely the result of a popular tv show and that in reality i don't even know 14.28% of it all. and as i continue studying and eating and sleeping pure knowledge, i continue learning how little i actually, indeed know.

and i write this today because i believe that the greatest struggle of my generation is the fact that we think that we already have all of the answers and believe that we are great white sharks residing in very itsy-bitsy ponds. when we are already assured and secured in ourselves and our "greatness," we close ourselves to knowledge, truth, and ultimately grace.

i read the condescension expressed all over facebook as some young people call out those sinners, unable to recognize and acknowledge our own sin. when we claim to be sinless, we make ourselves into liars and make ourselves useless in the eyes of the sinful. i see the way we exclude ourselves from older generations and isolate ourselves from older people in worship. we question the authority and knowledge of our parents, our professors, and our superiors as we delight in realizing the truth that they obviously are not smart enough to see. and i see the way that we become inflated and buttered up as a result of our ever-increasing knowledge and status as we become known for what we've done and what we do instead of WHOSE we are. and i am here to tell you i have been just as guilty of it as anyone else.

but the greatest gift i could ever receive is the realization that i am a baby beluga in the deep blue sea, and the sea is DEEP. i am a teeny, tiny, baby drop in the ocean, and while i know within my heart that the ocean would be less without that drop, it is nevertheless just a drop. i am a beluga whale in a little pond, but every time i venture off into the larger ocean, i realize just how tiny i am and that much bigger fish exist. ultimately, i am a mist that is here today and then gone. and i am becoming quite content in my tininess, knowing that i may never be able to change the whole world but that i can impact someone's life every day. and i am becoming quite content in my insignificance, knowing that the gifts GOD has given me are here today but won't always remain.

while i write a blog and like to share my thoughts, many of my "wisdoms" are products of my shortcomings and failures. while i may appear to have some things together and to have a sure sense of direction, i can only credit my discoveries to GOD'S direction despite my wandering. and where my pursuit and aim used to be to become a well-renowned speech pathologist known for her writings and expertise, my one pursuit is to grow as a daughter of GOD who knows a thing or two about a mean, ole lateral lisp.

while i hope to accomplish much in my lifetime, i am realizing that i will never stop learning, growing, sinning, and striving. i realize that i will never reach a place where i will sit back and say, "well, i think i've reached a good stopping point." i realize that one day my children will be teaching me truths about life and people that i haven't realized in 40 years of living and that tiny light bulbs will be going on in my head until JESUS returns.

while i hope to be perfect as my FATHER is perfect, i know that it will never be. while i hope to acquire knowledge and become an expert, i know that i will never know enough. while i might hope to be successful or to make a name for myself, i realize that that name will only remain for the length of a mist. and so while realizing and respecting the bigger fish in the pond, i will continue making my little, but not insignificant, mark in the ocean, swimming wild and swimming free as a little white whale on the go.

November 3, 2011

aiming for adequate

"you can explore the universe looking for somebody who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and you will not find that person anywhere." unknown

"the image of myself which i try to create in my own mind in order that i may love myself is very different from the image which i try to create in the minds of others in order that they may love me.” w.h. auden

it has been far too long since i've been able to write due to surviving what has been the most challenging semester of my existence. but despite these challenges, i have learned some life-changing lessons during the past few months that could only be learned as the result of struggle.

i frequently write about the struggles of other people and the ways in which i see them overcoming those obstacles, but i have never had the courage to share and confront my greatest struggle and weakness in the same way. but that, dear friends, is about to change as i share with you the greatest struggle of my heart: accepting my adequacy.

if you know me at all, you know that i am as A type as they come. i believe that i started feeling the need to take control of my life and to become a perfectionist at about the age of 4. since that time, i have been a tiny, feisty firecracker of a person who aims for perfection and likes to have things done my way, and i have known my own mind and spirit for as long as i can remember.

nothing thrills my soul more than when my shoes, my bag, and my jewelry all coordinate. my planner is on my person at all times. my closet is color-coordinated. my counters are regularly lysoled. i only write with sharpie pens. and i make sure that my handwriting is comparative to a font.

pleasing other people and meeting or even outdoing their expectations revs my engine. making decisions that will make others think i'm spiritual, intelligent, wise, cute, funny...perfect is my greatest aim. sometimes i feel like i have created a fictional character out of myself in my attempt to be the leading lady of my life, and it causes me to question whether that character is a real person.

i love any logical and reasonable type of measurement that marks progress and success in my life, and i measure my personal worth based on achievement. if i take a test, i expect an A+, and that A+ can keep me happy for a week. if i tell a joke, i expect it to be hilarious, but if it didn't receive the intended reaction, i begin to question why it didn't. if i go out for something, i expect to get it, and i can get hung up for weeks trying to figure out what prevented me from getting what i wanted. i want to do the best and to be the best in everything that i do without exception.

and the most puzzling part is that i don't impose any of these standards on anyone else but only on myself. i am pretty open-minded and easily forgiving of the imperfections of other people, and accepting any inadequacies that they might possess is an act of love that i perform happily. but with myself, i create an impossible standard and expectation that no one would ever be able to meet and then am disappointed when i prove to be just like everybody else.

i struggle with the concepts of being perfect just like GOD is perfect (matthew 5:48), not even showing a hint of immorality (ephesians 5:3), being holy and blameless (ephesians 1:4), and letting no unwholesome talk come out of my mouth (ephesians 4:29) while accepting my inadequacies and imperfections and realizing that i will never reach the perfection for which i aim. it is a constant battle and war that i fight internally every day, the struggle between striving for perfection and aiming for adequacy.

my greatest critic, judge, enemy, evaluator, antagonist, and myself, but the constant war that i'm fighting is proving to be endless and without a victor. and that is what has made me realize that i have been aiming for the wrong thing. and after a lifetime of striving for perfection, it's time to start aiming for "adequate."

when we aim too hard for perfection, we don't leave any room for grace, and while we should strive to be like CHRIST, nothing we do will ever merit goodness or salvation. when we personally fail, we can't let it be the end of our world, because GOD doesn't make it the end of HIS. HE separates our shortcomings, inadequacies, and imperfections as far as the east is from the west, and we should learn to do the same.

that's not to say that we should only do just enough to get by or that we should try to barely pass instead of fail. but it's only when we start attempting to be adequate that we realize the magnitude of GOD'S gift and perfection. and it's when we take the pressure off and lose the unrealistic expectations that we have set that we accurately see the life that GOD has planned for us, one without fear or question because HIS perfect love drives out the fear.

salvation and redemption are not matters of A+ and A-. eternal life is not earned by a clean record. no record of GOD'S is permanent and unable to be erased. and we must occasionally realize our humanity and issues in order to visualize the true, accurate picture of ourselves and the true, accurate picture of our GOD. and it's only when we truly embrace our adequacy that we can begin to realize our future perfection. therefore, i stand before you, wishing for perfection but aiming for adequate.

October 8, 2011

what's in a tweet?

"words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it." albus dumbledore

a few nights ago i received an excited call from one of my best guy friends. he told me the following story and gave me permission to share it with all of you.

my dear friend has an incredible singing voice. he is known for his perfect pitch and claims that the tone of his shower is an e flat. he is frequently asked to lead singing in chapel here at school, and he was leading singing when an unthinkable and completely modern situation presented itself.

with the invention of the twitter and the hashtag came the invention of the #chapeltweet. a #chapeltweet is meant for students to comment on the chapel presentation that they are experiencing. someone will make a comment on twitter and end the sentence with #chapeltweet, and twitter will keep a running inventory of the discussion at hand. some tend to be very positive and encouraging and comment on how uplifting the presentation or worship is, but sadly on this day that my friend was leading singing, a horrible tweet was shared with the world.

in a moment of thoughtlessness and poor judgment, another young man, who professes on both his facebook page and his twitter account to love GOD with all of his heart and for his life to be all about HIM, wrote a terrible tweet about my friend who was leading singing. he suggested that my friend's "secret sin" was becoming obvious and evident to everyone while he was leading singing by the way that he acted and conducted himself.

at this point during his story, i could not figure out why my friend was excited. by logging into twitter he had uncovered this apparent and awful judgment call yet didn't seem distraught or broken by it. and that's when he told me how he had decided to handle it.

instead of ignoring it or brushing it off. instead of taking it to a counselor. instead of sharing it with 100 of his friends and talking badly about the guy in return, my friend took the matthew 18 approach and found out the guy's name. he then looked up his room number on campus and marched right up to it and knocked on the door. and the guy answered.

i won't sugarcoat the story, my friend told the guy like it was. he confronted him in a spirit of love but told him how much the ignorant and thoughtless tweet had hurt him. he shared with him that it was comments like that that had made him decide to drop out of high school and get his GED. he shared his life story of abuse and foster care that made him the man that he is today. he told him that the term "secret sin" was inappropriate as his struggles were secrets to no one and that he shares his burdens freely. and then he talked with the guy about the guy's own struggles and suggested that we all need encouragement and words that lift us up.

by the time that my friend finished, the guy was weeping like a baby. he opened up about his own struggles and the image of perfection that he tries to create. he apologized for his thoughtlessness and ignorance and couldn't believe what he had done. he told my friend that he was the most encouraging person he had ever met, and they exchanged contact information. and a week later my friend received a text that said, "we had a time of quiet prayer in our bible class today, and i spent it praying for you."

this story brought me to tears and truly impacted my life as i thought of the countless words that i say all of the time without tasting them or giving them thought. just like my friend dumbledore said, words either have the power to inflict injury or remedy it, but we tend to inflict injury carelessly and needlessly without giving thought to the power that we have.

i thought about every word that i speak out of anger. out of selfishness. out of pride. out of thoughtlessness. out of ignorance. out of judgment. out of jealousy. out of sheer stupidity that has the power to injure and destroy, and i asked myself what life would be like if every word in turn was said only to remedy and heal.

to tweet or not to tweet? that is the question. what if every blog post. every facebook status. every little tweet. every conversation. every sentence. every word. every whisper. every secret was only meant to build up and encourage and truly reflected the "about me" section of our lives? how would people respond to compliments and encouragement? to acknowledgment and uplifting? to praise and edification?

it's stories like these that make me realize that we can only begin to change ourselves, each other, and the world when we realize and embrace the power of a tweet.

"if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. if he listens to you, you have gained your brother." matthew 18:15

September 28, 2011

the secret life

"love is not a feeling. it's an ability." marty, "dan in real life"

ever since i was a little girl i have always wanted to be a superhero. while most little girls dreamed of being kimberly, the pink power ranger, i had much bigger aspirations and tried to model my life after raphael, the teenage mutant ninja turtle. and after spending almost every saturday morning with the turtles and captain planet, i truly wanted to make a difference in the world.

as i got older, my interest moved from playing the role of the rescuer to totally owning the role of the rescued. lois lane captivated my complete envy and admiration, and i wanted to be saved by superman with every fiber of my tiny being. so that being said, i would create desperate situations as a 6-year-old, which would result in a heroic rescuing. before i became an effective swimmer, i distinctly remember paddling to the deep end of the pool in a little, inflatable raft and dramatically throwing my body into the water right in front of an older, handsome boy, completely trusting that his dashing good looks and floaties would somehow preserve my life.

but my favorite characteristic of superheroes was the enigmatic mystery of their secret life. i was always amazed at how they were able to keep their identities a conundrum to the common man and that even their best friends were unaware of their incredible abilities. i admired that they chose their actions because they were right even when the choice was difficult or disagreeable. and what i adored the most was that they never sought credit or acted out of selfish ambition but loved in the absence of recognition.

and their secret life makes me think of my own life and makes me question the intentions and motives behind my actions. as human beings, none of us tend to be too qualified in keeping quiet or keeping secrets. when we do good things, it is so easy to try to ensure that others see them and notice them in order to think that we are good people. we want our love to be seen and acknowledged in order to establish our own personal status of holiness. almost every action of our lives is designed for either a facebook album or status, and i wonder how many of our good decisions are inspired by the recognition and attention that they will give us in return.

we are people who seem to no longer pray in secret but want to appear to everyone else that we communicate with GOD every day. we are walking, whitewashed tombs, appearing so flawless and together outwardly but decaying within. we choose to love either those who will love us in return or those whom it will be most beneficial and admirable to love. we have created our own definitions and measures of spirituality based on the deeds that we see, despite our left hand's need to remain in a state of oblivion.

but i wonder what would happen if we began to view love as a super-heroic ability to be done in secret without recognition. what if every action we took was never to be noticed by anyone else? what if we loved without ever disclosing our identities? what if the good things others heard about us were to only come from the lips of other people instead of our own? what if every deed we did was solely to uphold righteousness? what if we prayed in the closet and loved in secret at the risk of being a little less spiritual? what if we truly loved our enemies or those who wouldn't love us in return?

therefore my new ambition starting today is to be the peter parker, the bruce wayne, the clark kent, the steve rogers, the tony stark of love. to treat the act of loving like a super-heroic ability to be done without notice or attachment of my good name. to keep abilities and potential securely fastened underneath an ironed, buttoned-up shirt and to wear a nerdy pair of glasses to throw people off.

to love without agenda and without intent of recognition or praise. to love regardless of feeling and to love everyone with the same amount of significance. to love regardless of what someone has done or hasn't done for me in return. and to love those who will never be able to return it.

to love without expectation and with no hope of reciprocation. to treat everyone the way that i would like to be treated without demanding the same treatment in return. to love righteously. to love equally. to love wholeheartedly.

to be an enigma. to pray in the closet. to love in the dark. to no longer live life as a whitewashed tomb. to act without fear or inhibition. to love regardless of spirituality or feigned holiness.

to live the secret life.

September 17, 2011

the closed door

"when one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us." helen keller

there are many characters from books and movies that i can relate to and identify with, and one of those characters is maria from "the sound of music." i'm pretty sure i have the ability to outpester any pest and to drive a hornet from its nest, and i'm sure that i've been referred to as a flibbertijibbet a time or two, but more than anything, i understand the desire to look for the open window after GOD has closed a door.

i'm a planner. i'm a fixer. i'm a doer. and i like to make things happen, especially in my own life. and so the minute a door closes in my life, i tend to start scanning the room, determined to discover the perfect and suitable window that is even better than the door. but as i'm getting older and as different doors of my life have closed and are closing, i'm learning a profound and different truth:

sometimes GOD's gift is not the next open window; sometimes the gift is the closed door.

i've heard it said that "there are two ways of being unhappy: one is not getting what you want, and the other is getting what you want," and i believe it to be true. as humans, we just can't seem to find a steady state of contentment. sometimes we don't get the very thing we wanted, only to be disappointed and upset. other times we get exactly what we wanted, only for our minds to change as soon as we get it. and sometimes we just simply don't know what we want. but in our constant state of restless wandering, running through all kinds of different doors and windows, GOD does us such a huge favor by closing the doors and providing us some direction.

sometimes the door that we thought would open to a big, bright room of possibility is in reality a door only leading to a closet, going nowhere and ending with a wall. sometimes we realize that the big, strong oak door that we admired for so long from far away is in reality nothing but faux wood after taking a closer look. and sometimes when GOD closes the door, keeping us from what we want, HE is preparing the path that will lead us to what we need.

the truth is that we never know what GOD is actually sparing us by closing the door, and hindsight usually is 20/20. whether it's only a few weeks later or a couple of years, it's usually only a matter of time before we're shouting a "thank YOU, LORD," for protecting us from that! and that's because GOD in his greatness already knows our plans. HE is greater than our hearts. and as much as we might complain and truly hurt over the closing of the door, HE knows that by providing the closure, HE is providing protection from getting trapped in the wrong room.

and even worse than an obviously closed door is a door that leaves us wondering whether it is really closed or if it might still be open. and we wait and wait, hoping that there is some chance that it will still be cracked and might miraculously swing back open instead of finding the bright and apparent window in the middle of the room leading us to our freedom.

but when it comes to finding the open window, reading GOD can be tricky. because the same GOD that led us to the closed door is now leading us to the window that might end up doing the same thing. sometimes the open window seems to become apparent immediately. and other times we have to be careful to make sure that the window is in fact open and not just really, really clean.

but every closed door prepares us for the open window to come. every wrong turn. every broken lock. every funky knob is telling us that that particular door is not our door and to keep searching. whether it be the loss of a job. or the loss of a relationship. whether it be a sudden change in circumstances. or a sudden change of heart. whether it be the rejection of a new future. or the rejection because of a former past. whether it be the betrayal of a friend. or the betrayal of yourself, every closed door, whether it be suddenly slammed or gently shut, is just leading to the right window.

and sometimes instead of immediately looking for the next open window, we need to just take a moment to breathe and to thank GOD for graciously shutting the door. to take a moment of silence. to do a dance of victory. to shout a long hallelujer! to rejoice and be glad because GOD gave us a gift by closing the door. and when we think about the magnitude of GOD knowing us and loving us enough to give us the desires of our hearts and yet to protect them at the same time, we must feel confident in HIS closure.

so today i choose to praise GOD for all of the things that i will never even realize that HE is sparing me from: the heartaches, the struggles, the fears, the anxieties, the troubles, and the problems of choosing the wrong way. and every day when i pray for the clarity to discover the open window, i will try to remember to thank GOD for the closed door.

September 9, 2011

the bite

"no man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true." nathanial hawthorne, the scarlet letter

you are 7 years old, and you just don't know how it happened. you wore long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. you put the netting over your bed. you sprayed yourself with all of the right stuff. but somehow the mosquito still got you.

you didn't notice it at first, but while you were going about your day minding your 1st-grade business, something rubbed up against your arm. and for the first time you began to feel the itch. and as a 7-year-old, you realize that you have a mosquito bite, and you look at your arm in annoyance as you can't figure out how in the world you got that bite when you took every precaution so that you wouldn't.

and now that you've felt the itch, you can't think about anything else. but at this point in your life, your mama has established that you are to never scratch a mosquito bite because it could become infected. and so you try to go about the rest of your day normally, thinking about everything BUT the fact that the only thing you want to do is scratch your arm. but as much as you try to avoid the existence and irritation of your little bite, it's the only thing that you can think about.

you realize, though, that if you scratch it, it will turn red and irritated just like your mama said, and it will then become evident to all your fellow 1st graders that you did in fact get bitten by a mosquito and that you are in fact the proud owner of a bite. and in your 7-year-old mind, the idea of your friends knowing that you got bitten by a tiny, little mosquito would be just plain embarrassing, and the thought of eventually having a giant, red spot on your arm is completely mortifying. so in an effort to hide a potential wound, you decide to keep your mosquito bite a secret.

so you continue through your day, busying yourself with your amelia bedelia book. you pull your sleeves down so that no one will notice your little bump and so that you won't think about it anymore. and hours may pass where you completely forget that the mosquito bite is there. but then, when you least expect it, something rubs up against your arm again, and that quick and brief satisfaction brings about a sweet and sour relief.

and you start thinking about the bite. you look around to make sure nobody else is watching, and you take your hand and gently start to rub it. and you slowly begin to justify your action. rubbing it won't hurt it, right? mom didn't say you couldn't rub it. she said you couldn't scratch it. barely touching it won't break it or infect it. it's safe to make it just a little better.

until rubbing it isn't enough. so then you take your finger and start lightly scratching all around it. but you're not scratching it directly, so it won't hurt anything, right? mom didn't say you couldn't scratch around it. she just said you couldn't scratch it. you can scratch around it for a long time before there's really any problem.

until you soon just can't take it anymore, and in a moment of weakness, you completely succumb to the itch. using all of your fingernails, you scratch and scratch until you feel complete but temporary relief. you smile at the satisfaction until you feel something moving down your arm.

you look down, and you are bleeding. and you look up, and everyone else has realized that you're bleeding, too. little susie faints at the site of the blood. little daniel thinks it's the coolest thing he's ever seen. and soon 19 other 7 year olds plus your teacher are surrounding your arm. the mosquito bite that was once only a tiny bump that you hoped to hide from everyone else is now a red and gross wound that everyone else can't help but notice.

the teacher sends someone to get you a band-aid. someone else runs to get you some neosporin. but the truth is that as much as people offer to help you now, you've already broken the skin and created a wound. and in creating a wound, you've created damage that will be much harder to heal than if you had never scratched. and you've created a cycle of itching and scratching that will continue until you decide to scratch no more.

because the truth that you've just learned about mosquito bites is that once you scratch, it will continue to itch until it heals. and the only way for it to heal is to no longer scratch.

and so it is with our sin. we can't explain why we have the struggles that we do. we may have even taken precautions not to have them. they may all be the results of our circumstances or the choices made by the other people in our lives. but for whatever reason, one day that sensitive spot is rubbed, and they are then brought to our awareness.

and once we feel that itch, we realize that we do in fact have a mosquito bite, and it begins to feel impossible not to scratch. but in our humanity and immaturity, we are so ashamed of our struggles, that we don't want to reveal to anyone else that they exist. in some cases our struggles would be so mortifying and disgusting to others, that we dare not reveal them for fear of losing those relationships. so we roll down our sleeves and pretend that they're not there. and not only do we fool everyone around us, but sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking that they really aren't an issue. that there really isn't problem. that it's already gotten better. or that time and distraction will heal it for us.

but then it happens. something rubs that spot again, bringing the sensation back to our awareness. and while we know we really shouldn't scratch it, the temporary relief just feels so good that we just can't seem to ignore it. and we start making excuses and justifications to let ourselves rub it, scratch around it, and eventually fully give into it.

but when it comes to our sin and our struggles, we make the mistake when we don't let others know about the bite. when we keep our sin and struggles secret, we run the same risk as arthur dimmesdale in the scarlet letter: we allow the sin to eat at us from the inside out, and in carrying the burden of our dirt and filth alone, we fall victim to all of its effects. the faint itch wears on us daily with no one there to help encourage us not to scratch. with no one there to give us a band-aid to cover and protect the bump. with no one there to give us the anti-itch cream to relieve our temptation.

when we face our sins alone, we don't allow our relationships to progress for fear that the secret will be exposed or because our secret holds us back. we are so ashamed of our ugliness and hideousness that we would do just about anything to keep it from becoming exposed. but the truth is that until we expose our mosquito bites, we just create a cycle of itching and scratching that will continue until we decide to scratch no more. because once we scratch the bite, it will continue to itch until it heals. and the only way for it to heal is to no longer scratch.

the truth about our struggles is that we won't overcome them if we succumb to them. and we will succumb to them if we don't allow GOD and one another to help us overcome them. the bites will not heal with time but only by the healing hand of GOD, and we have to be there for each other in order not to scratch until we are healed. because if we are allowed to rub and scratch around our struggles with no one watching, we will never be able to overcome our sin.

the truth is that every one of us has our own mosquito bites (romans 3:23). but our bites were meant to be shared (james 5:16), and we are meant to boast in our weakness (2 corinthians 12:9). we were not meant to live a life of secret struggle and sin because just at the right time, our HEALER came with the anti-itch medication, at the very time we were itching the most (romans 5:6). and we are meant to encourage each other not to scratch until we are healed (hebrews 3:13-14). and by exposing our mosquito bites, one to another, and by sharing our struggles and sufferings, we allow ourselves to become more than conquerors (romans 8:37).

September 3, 2011

the half-full lemonade

confession: i am that person who orders a lemon with my water at every single restaurant and instantly grabs 2 packets of sweet'n low to make free and frugal lemonade. and i am also that person who after drinking half of my creation views the glass as half full instead of half empty.

but recently, life has been handing me lots of lemons but has been forgetting to provide the water and sugar to make the lemonade! and juggling all of these lemons is just not as fun as turning them into something sweet. i am slowly learning that peace is the sweet'n low of life and that having peace turns a lemony glass of water into a glass of contentment. so in my quest for the sweet'n low to make my half-full lemonade, i've found a handful of quotes that are helping to turn my potential bitterness into betterness and to turn my brief period of sour into something truly sweet.

i'm also discovering that the best way to encourage yourself is by encouraging someone else, so in the chance that you need some peace and encouragement, too, i present you with the half-full lemonade:

"peace does not come from finding a lake with no storms. it comes from having JESUS in the boat." john ortberg

"i am only one, but still i am one. i cannot do everything, but still i can do something; and because i cannot do everything, i will not refuse to do something that i can do." helen keller

"each one has to find his peace from within. and peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances." ghandi

"GOD didn't promise days without pain, laughter without sorrow, sun without rain, but HE did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears, and light for the way." unknown

"we ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. but the ocean would be less because of that missing drop." mother teresa

"i believe in pink. i believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. i believe in kissing, kissing a lot. i believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. i believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. i believe that tomorrow is another day. and i believe in miracles." audrey hepburn

"i do not want the peace which passeth understanding, i want the understanding which bringeth peace." helen keller

"GOD cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from HIMSELF, because it is not there. there is no such thing." c.s. lewis

"peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures." john f. kennedy

"GOD grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change; courage to change the things i can; and wisdom to know the difference. living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as HE did, this sinful world as it is, not as i would have it; trusting that HE will make all things right if i surrender to HIS will; that i may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with HIM forever in the next. amen." reinhold niebuhr

August 16, 2011

27 dresses

the process of dating is like shopping for the perfect dress.

you walk into a store with the intent of looking for that potential, little piece of magic that will make you feel like a trillion dollars. it has to make your eyes pop. it has to make you dance in the dressing room. it has to accentuate any possible positives and hide all potential negatives beyond a shadow of a doubt. and let's be honest, it has to make you feel like a natural woman.

and so you set out on your quest. you may not really even be looking, or you may know exactly what you're hoping to find. you may be going dress shopping with a friend only to find the right dress for you that you were never expecting. you may be going with an intent purpose only to leave empty-handed at the end of the search. but the only way of finding that right choice, the one that fits the best, is to begin the process of trying on different types of dresses.

there's the safe dress that could securely lead you through an amish paradise.
the neck envelops you like a turtle. the sleeves cover every extent of the form of your elbow. and the dress flows securely to your ankles. but sometimes that super-safe dress leaves you waddling about in the agony of knowing that you'll always be safe, always be the same, and will never venture beyond that paisley frock.

then there's the dress that you know is too radical. you find yourself immediately having to pull it down or having to pull it up. at first glance you thought it was a shirt. you are still trying to convince yourself that the hanger strings are actually the straps. the hem is just too high. the neck is just too low. and it reveals too much information about your curvature to the public. you model that dress in complete discomfort, knowing that you can never walk confidently across a room as yourself.

there's the dress that you think looks good on you but everyone else knows is completely wrong. from the minute you walk out of the dressing room, terror and dislike appear on everyone's faces. either it's too tight or too loose, or it's just not your color or style, but while you try and try to convince everyone that it's the dress for you, everyone knows immediately it's just not the one.

then there's the dress that everyone else thinks is perfect for you but that you know deep down is just not right. the collar is too frilly. the waste is too high. and you are just not yourself with it. but everyone is so determined that it's the one that you start convincing yourself that it just might be. the truth is, however, that that dress has a hole in the lining that only you can feel and no one else can see, and sometimes it's a hole that just can't be fixed and is beyond repair.

there's the dress that you know deep down won't actually fit, but you decide to suck in every extra pound and give it a try. yes, you know the one, and let's not even pretend we haven't all been guilty of trying it. while holding your breath for a solid minute and contorting your body in every possible shape, you put that little sucker on and start doing the boot scootin' boogie to get everything crammed in there. after some major wiggling and adjusting, you manage to get it all tucked in with only minimal risk of accidental exposure. but you soon realize that if you exhale even a little too strongly the zipper will rip, all buttons will burst, all snaps will break, and your snug, little dress will fall apart.

then there's the dress that looks absolutely perfect but comes in a size that's way too big. you love the color. you love the shape. you love the way the dress makes you feel. but there's just something that will have to be fixed in order for you to actually pull it off. it is possible that you can buy this dress, but in order to wear it, there will have to be some alterations and adjustments, and there is risk even then that it just won't work.

but there are several truths that we tend to ignore when shopping for the dress:

a dress that doesn't fit is a success and not a failure. every dress you try that doesn't fit helps you know what to look for in the one that will. if the dress was too tight, you automatically know to start looking for ones a little looser. maybe you weren't the size 2 you believed and really need a size 6. but you will come out successful if you learn through the process what doesn't work and the qualities of what will.

if there is a dress that doesn't fit, the best choice is to just walk away. there is no need to yell at the dress or call it names. there is no reason to slap the dress. there is no need to attempt to make the dress jealous by showing it what it's missing. there is no reason to go all madea on it and to rip it. the best option is to always just kindly and gently place it back on the rack and to move on.

you can't judge a dress by the hanger. that's not to say that you can't instantly tell what some dresses are all about. if you're wondering if that dress is actually a dress or really a shirt, walk away. if you know that that dress's purpose is to accentuate gappage and crackage, run away. but other than that the only way to tell if the dress might work is to try it on, and it might just be the dress that you thought would never look good on you that makes the perfect, unexpected fit.

there won't only be just one dress that fits. the truth is that there could potentially be several that work, but the search will be narrowed down by the pickiness of your specifics. while you were hoping to find the dress you wanted in pink, it might only come in blue, but blue might match even more perfectly with your eyes. but there is not just one dress in the world that will work for you.

there will always be another dress. maybe it's only hanging on a different rack one row away, or maybe it's in a different store. but it's only a matter of finding it, and it only takes a random minute on a random day to discover that new joy. so no matter how many stores you've searched, there will eventually be a dress in your size that fits just right, and it most likely will be found on the day that you were shopping for pants.

there is no hurry to make a purchase. i repeat, there is no hurry to make a purchase! the ticking clock is only ticking in your head. the pressure you feel is only pressure you create. there is no deadline or agenda when it comes to finding that dress. there is no weekend wedding that you have to buy something to wear to. the worst mistake you could make is to buy a dress for the sole purpose of owning one or because your friends are all buying some. time and pressure will only encourage the selection of the wrong choice.

and finding the dress that finally fits makes you forget every dress that didn't. who cares about any of the dresses that didn't work when you finally discover the dress that makes you have that boom boom pow? when you finally wear the one that makes you feel like a creature unlike any other, that makes you win like charlie sheen, that makes your eyes sparkle and gives you the tingles, that makes you yourself, you forget what any of the other dresses felt like. and whether you chose to discard those other dresses or they nicely let you know they weren't going to fit for you, they get to sit there together on the discarded rack and watch as another brings out your magic.

so whether it just takes 1 dress or 27 dresses, don't give up the search because making just the right purchase will totally be worth the cost.

August 1, 2011

the insignificant others

"she wanted something else, something different, something more. passion and romance, perhaps, or maybe quiet conversations in candlelit rooms, or perhaps something as simple as not being second." nicholas sparks, the notebook

many times we allow the value of our lives to be determined by the existence of significant others. suddenly our lives take on new importance when another person or other people define us as that special someone. and we kindly distribute the significance to those around us in return.

our lives become a constant quest for the significant, and we place far too much value on the important things in our lives. our impressions and appeal start being established by whether we walk into a room accompanied by significant arm candy. our success starts being measured by the number of significants who choose to rally around us. our importance starts being defined by how many significant contributions we are making. and we are in a continual state of wonder and concern about the significance of our personal level of significance.

but when it comes to being truly significant or defining the importance and value in our lives, it's the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary. less really is more. the best things in life really are free. and it's the insignificant that truly determines our significance.

it's waking up to another day. and remembering to thank GOD for it. it's being free of sickness. and able to take on the world. it's dancing in the rain. and laughing at our mistakes. it's celebrating in our triumphs. and standing back up after our failures. it's rejoicing in our humanity. while striving for our holiness.

it's showing up 5 minutes earlier. and staying just 15 more minutes. it's the perfect amount of salt in the food. and the extra chocolate chips in the cookies. it's going all out in celebrating your birthday. and your half birthday, too.

it's a phone call. it's a poem. it's a musical card. it's a post-it note reminding you that despite all of your quirks and flaws, you are loved. it's the surprise visit that came out of nowhere. and the flowers just because. it's turning a trip to walmart into a date. and sitting silently in the same room and being perfectly content.

it's someone telling you that your hair looks good on the day that you're certain it's never looked worse. it's receiving your favorite dessert just because it's your favorite. it's finding the sweet spot in the first row of the parking lot. it's your total at target ending in zeros. it's having just the right amount of change for the tollbooth. and making just the right grade to keep your A in the class.

it's the difference between flats and heels. between jeans and khakis. between fat-free and the real stuff. between margarine and butter. between a size L and a size M. between college-ruled and wide-ruled. between a shower and a bath. between a table and a booth. between a monday and a friday. between sweet-n-low and splenda.

it's the difference between weird and unique. between right and just right. between who and whom. between your and you're. between hours and minutes. between days and weeks. between yesterday and today. between yes and no. between acceptance and rejection. between pass and fail. between friends and just friends. between someone and someone special. between nobody and anybody and somebody and everybody.

and the truth is that the difference makes all the difference and that the insignificant others in our lives is what makes our lives significant. so in your own personal quest for the significant other, determine today to never underestimate the power of the insignificant.

July 6, 2011

letting go

"lead me in YOUR truth, and teach me, for YOU are the GOD of my salvation; for YOU i wait all the day long." psalm 25:5

the lessons of GOD are discovered when we least expect them yet right when we need them. whether it's a random conversation with a friend whom you just happened to run into. whether it's a verse you just stumbled upon when opening your bible. whether it's a billboard on the side of the interstate or a commercial that caught your attention, the subliminal messages of GOD are everywhere we look.

yesterday morning i started summer school, an event in which i was not just terribly excited. i went to class expecting to learn all about approaches to research in order to begin my thesis for my capstone project. there was only one word in my mind to describe the amount of reading, researching, and working in my future...disgusting.

if you know me, you know that i like structure. i like independence and doing things on my own time. i like formulating my own, little plan and executing it perfectly into a great big ball of success. and when things go my perfectly-planned, little way, i like to celebrate by letting out a long, verbal "cha-ching" and doing a short but meaningful dance of victory.

but right as i was anticipating my approach for all of this work in front of me and formulating my excellent plan, a stack of cards was placed in front of me on my desk. my professor told me to pick a card, any card, and so out of the stack i picked one, and this is what it read:

"lead me in YOUR truth, and teach me, for YOU are the GOD of my salvation; for YOU i wait all the day long." psalm 25:5..."i can let go and let GOD."

can anybody say "obvious-apparent-and-needed-wake-up-call-from-the-little-index-card-in-the-middle-of-the-stack?" i was instantly covered with chills, realizing once again that i am never in control. that i am never the director or the play-maker. that the best decision i can ever make is to let go.

to follow GOD is to fall freely. to let go and dangle faithfully, knowing that you are securely attached to HIM. to skydive through the unknown knowing that HE'S got your back. and to take the dimly-lit path one step at a time letting HIM be the light.

GOD is the orchestrator of my life, and HIS plan is the only perfect one. HE is constantly bringing my life together for me, completely without need of my assistance or opinion. HIS ways are higher than mine, and they are good and true. and what HE brings together fits together better than anything i could ever try to build.

and so today i choose to let go and to let GOD, freely falling and patiently waiting on HIM.

July 2, 2011

where YOU lead: no "good" byes

"saying good-bye to the times we've had is the same as saying hello to the times to come." unknown

my final week in africa was definitely not what i expected it to be. after making it through 5 weeks without losing any of our children, i thought that we were certainly home-free and wouldn't suffer any loss. but to lose a child with 2 days left of our journey and to experience an african funeral on our final day in namwianga were 2 events for which i could never prepare.

andrew's funeral was perfect. typically zambian children are not buried in caskets. usually their bodies are placed in bags, and that bag is placed in the grave to be covered by layers of sticks and dirt. but andrew deserved to be buried in a casket, and he was. they placed the casket on a table, and the african people walked around it, chanting and saying their final goodbyes. and we also walked around it, getting to view the sweet face of our little friend one last time.

we then all moved to the graveyard which is several hundred yards behind the haven. the aunties alternated from singing to wailing, and it was unlike any sound i've ever heard. the power of their cries sent shivers down our spines and brought immediate tears to our eyes. but andrew was then buried in the ground, and his grave was covered with the 3 most appropriate items: flowers, his favorite toy, and an extra-large bag of tomato puffs in his honor.

goodbyes are just never easy, whether they are permanent or only temporary. and i thought i had prepared my heart for my goodbyes. i knew i'd be in africa for 6 weeks and then it would be time to come home and return to normal life. i knew we might lose a child and have to say goodbye to him or her forever. and i knew that i might form a great friendship that would have to be temporarily broken and that it might be hard to bear. but i did not realize the extent of the emotions that i would feel.

saying goodbye to andrew was extremely hard, but saying goodbye to my best friend beatrice was just as difficult. as i was packing to leave i removed my favorite skirt (the one with all of the colorful flowers) from my bag to give to her as a gift. when i gave it to her, our eyes met and in the same moment filled with tears. she told me how much she loved me and how much she would miss me, and her final words to me were, "twalumba maningi"..."thank you very much."

walking the final path home from the haven was a challenge. hearing the cries of our babies as we walked out the door not to return again was indescribable. i didn't know that it was possible to love something that wasn't mine at all as if it absolutely were. i held hamilton in my arms for a solid hour with tears rolling down my cheeks. i sang to him. we talked. he played with my hair. i pushed him in the swing. i lifted him in the air. we took a video. we did all of our usual things, but they just weren't enough.

i drank my fill of africa. i soaked up every second. i made the most of every experience. but there are simply no "good" byes. some byes are permanent. some are temporary. some come after a long time. and others after just a short. some byes are quick. and some are never-ending. some seem necessary. others are completely unwanted. but no matter what type of bye it is, no bye is ever good.

but as hard as my goodbye was, i am choosing to view it as the next hello. a hello to the future. to the times to come. to the next adventure. to returning to africa. to more knowledge. to more experience. to being more prepared for the next hello and more prepared for the next goodbye. and thinking of the next hello gives the next bye a little hope of being good.

June 20, 2011

where YOU lead: a much bigger lap

the angels in heaven are eating
tomato-flavored puffs tonight
because of the new, little arrival
that GOD just chose to invite.

the LORD just received a blameless gift,
a perfect person without a hint of sin.
and who could really blame HIM
for wanting a perfect, little person to come on in?

andrew's 3 years of life were harder
than ours might ever be.
and it didn't seem fair that something so perfect
had to suffer from HIV.

from battles with dehydration
to the infection on his skin,
he was born into a battle
that he would never be able to win.

and just a week ago
he sat in our small, little laps,
living his life of tomato puffs,
bath times, and naps.

but he was not meant for this earth,
you could tell by his frown.
and he wasn't going to let anything here
try to keep him down.

he was meant for heaven.
he was meant to fly.
he was meant for perfection.
and so he had to say goodbye.

he was meant to sit
in a much bigger lap
and to be able to play all day
without ever taking a nap.

he was meant for never-ending tomato puffs
and back scratches by the hand of GOD,
so the fact that he had to leave us
isn't really that odd.

and there are no naps in heaven.
there is never ending play
and sitting in a bigger lap
to have your back scratched all day.

there are no feeding tubes in heaven.
there is no such thing as HIV.
nobody needs any oxygen
because being with GOD is how you breathe.

and andrew just needed
a much bigger lap
with infinite tomato puffs
and no need for a nap.

so he went to heaven
desiring to find his need.
and he found the gigantic lap of GOD,
the lap he'll never leave.

and as we cry at our loss,
deep down we all know
that he just went to the bigger lap
where one day we will all go.

and there will be no naps in heaven,
only never ending play
and sitting in a bigger lap
to have our backs scratched all day.

we were meant for heaven.
we were meant to fly.
we were meant for perfection.
we were meant to say goodbye.

June 19, 2011

where YOU lead: my babies

bright is my little, wild man. he lives with the older boys at eric’s house and thinks that he owns the place. whenever he sees me, he runs and jumps into my arms for a gigantic hug. he is my church buddy and sits in my lap or beside me every sunday. he likes to dance to the songs, and it is a miracle if we make it through the service without any disruptions. bright was brought to the haven as an infant, and his only remaining relative was his grandfather. his grandfather said that if bright’s HIV tests came back negative, he would take him back home and raise him. it turned out, however, that when it was proven that bright didn’t have HIV, his grandfather never came back for him.

hamilton is my little boyfriend, and we spend a solid hour together every day. he is the most handsome, little man ever, and i love to give him kisses. we were born just 2 days apart and were basically meant to be best friends. i like to dress him as a baseball player whenever i change his diaper. last summer he had failure to thrive and almost lost his life. last night i got the sad news that hamilton has bilateral cataracts and is losing his vision. i cried for a long time realizing that this tiny, beautiful child who almost lost his life is now losing his sight. he will be having surgery in the upcoming weeks hopefully to fix it, and i would appreciate your prayers. if i could take a child home with me, he would be the one, and i will love him forever no matter what situation he is having to overcome.

maureen is a precious little girl with a twin sister named memory. memory is very expressive and vocal and babbles all of the time, and i believe that since memory does all of the talking, maureen doesn’t feel that she has to. it has been my goal to get maureen to start babbling, and she has gone from being nonverbal to making all kinds of sounds. giving her the attention that memory so often gets has started to bring her out of her little shell, and i’m hoping that from here on out she’ll be giving little memory a good run for her money.

this experience has taught me that i am a huge fan of the underdogs: the weak, the sick, the quiet, the abandoned, the hurting, the broken, the powerless. i am amazed when i realize that we have given the children of zambia a voice. with the production of a sound, there is hope that that sound will turn into a word which will turn into a phrase which will turn into a sentence that might change the world.

one day when i return to zambia, which i will, i hope that when i walk the path to the haven the silence and peacefulness of my walk will be disrupted by the sound of 70 individual little voices breaking out into sounds, words, and songs. the melody of those tiny, little voices would be sweeter than that of any song, and i believe that when i return i will be greeted with the sound of zambia’s voice.

June 15, 2011

where YOU lead: hakuna matata

"it's our problem-free philosophy...hakuna matata." timon & pumbaa

today qualifies as one of the most amazing days of my life. after 4 weeks of hard work, our group has been privileged enough to get to spend 4 days here in livingstone, zambia. and so this morning we set out on an incredible adventure.

we had to shuttle here from namwianga in 2 groups because of our transportation, and i was fortunate enough to make it onto the first shuttle. we left at 9 and arrived at 10:30 to one of the most beautiful hotels at which i've ever stayed. after a short time of settling in, our group followed dr. weaver and started walking through livingstone. she led us to a fabulous italian restaurant called olga's, and by the end of the meal olga the restaurant and i were best friends. her ravioli was out of this world, and it seriously felt like we were eating in italy instead of here in africa. we ate 3 different appetizers, drank coke light, and ate italian food to our hearts' content without having to spend a single penny of our own kwatcha.

as if that weren't enough, we then were taken just a few hours later to the royal livingstone hotel for high tea. as we drove in our land cruiser, which we affectionately call khaki jackie, giraffes were grazing in the front yard and were literally 10 feet away from our vehicle. it was like the jurassic park of africa, and we hummed the theme song as we drove to the parking lot.

we went out on the veranda and got to order any kind of tea that we wanted while eating all the food we wanted from the buffet. a man was playing the piano incredibly well inside and when we went in to watch him we realized that he had no sheet music and was playing completely from memory.

we then went to watch the sun begin to set on the veranda when suddenly we noticed a small animal darting across the grass. soon all kinds of monkeys joined us on the veranda in order to eat our leftovers. they were the cutest and at the same time scariest things i may have ever seen in my life. they would jump on our tables, in people's laps, and wherever they thought the food was. we enjoyed chasing them and playing with them for a really long time.

we then left high tea to finish watching the sun set at one of the 7 wonders of the world: victoria falls. we just stood in silence at first, taking in the majesty of GOD'S creation. then i could not help singing "i stand in awe of YOU," and i later learned that dr. weaver was singing the same song to herself at the same time. we then watched as a lunar rainbow formed over the falls from the reflection of the moon which rarely ever happens. it was one of the most beautiful things i've ever witnessed, and i still have chills from just pure awe.

so after a day of great food, giraffes, high tea, monkeys, the sunset, and 1 of the 7 wonders of the world i can say that i am completely content and amazed at the power of GOD. tomorrow we are going on an all-day safari where we will see lions, hippos, more giraffes, elephants, and more. i wish that every single individual could experience this, so i hope that my writing is giving you a somewhat accurate image of what i'm seeing. thank you for all of your thoughts and prayers during this journey. i love you all!

June 14, 2011

where YOU lead: the delivery

“LORD, take my life. Make it YOUR home. LORD, live through me for i am not my own.”

you know it’s going to be an interesting day when you look out of the window and see the family. there they are sitting on the front porch staring at something tiny in their hands. you wonder what their tiny package wound up in a blanket is until you hear the soft whimpers and the teeny cries. and that’s when you realize that their tiny delivery is their child.

maybe a parent died. or maybe both parents died. or maybe the family simply isn’t financially able to support the child. but for whatever reason, they decide to put this brand new, perfect, little life into your hands. and then they walk away, sometimes grieving from the realization of the gravity of their decision and sometimes relieved from the tiny burden that was just released from their care. but when that tiny and perfect package is delivered, you can’t help but accept the delivery.

on april 25th two little girls were born, one in america and one in africa. the american girl was born into a home with 2, loving parents. the african girl was delivered to the haven’s front door. the american girl was born exactly on time and experienced no problems in her growth or development. the african girl was born premature, weighing under 2 pounds, and when given IVs to preserve her life, all of her veins collapsed. the american girl had her whole life ahead of her. but it appeared that the african girl was about to lose her brand new and perfect, little life.

but the african girl’s life was saved by the help of the hands of the aunties at the haven, megan holly, beckie weaver, and our team here. we decided to fight for her, unwilling to abandon her as her own family had. we took turns feeding her and discovering ways to preserve her tiny and perfect life. and today when she was weighed she went from 2.3 pounds to 3.1.

but the reason that this incredible, little delivery has made such an impact on my heart is because i am the american girl born on april 25th, the day that little baby ellen and i both entered this world. and every time that i see her or hold her i thank GOD for my life and pray for hers.

and as sad as it was to hear the soft whimpers and teeny cries on the day that the tiny package came to the door, i realize that she would not be alive today if she hadn’t been delivered into our greater hands, the hands that knew just what she needed. and it is then that i realize that neither will we live unless we allow our lives to be delivered into the greatest hands, HIS hands that know just what we need.

we were bought at a price, and we were delivered into HIS hands, the only hands big enough to hold us. and then he chose to remove our impurities and imperfections and restore us to our once brand new and perfect lives. HE chose to die in our place so that we might have life and have it fully. and despite our ugliness and imperfection, HE chose to accept the delivery.

June 13, 2011

where YOU lead: the village people

the past few days have been incredible. on friday we finished therapy for the week and celebrated that night with a party thrown for us by the staff here at namwianga. we ate nshima, chicken, and rice and drank bottled cokes. our cook, leonard, has baked us about 10 cakes in the last week, and we have graciously eaten them all.

on saturday i went back to choma with mark and tyler and a couple of the girls, and we filmed part of the documentary there in the market. we bought some more souvenirs, had a picnic lunch, and went back to the museum. when we returned to namwianga, mark and tyler interviewed me for almost an hour and a half and asked me questions about speech pathology and life that i had never thought about before.

whenever i step back and realize what exactly we’re doing here, i am overcome with emotion. the fact that we are learning and growing as clinicians while saving and changing the lives of 70 children is overwhelming. realizing the personal fears and limitations that we have conquered in choosing to live and work here is empowering. and staring into the faces of those little people whose whole worlds we are changing is one of the most unbelievable feelings i’ve ever felt.

sunday brought a whole new meaning to the term “the village people.” we woke up and drove out to a village in the bush called kasibi which can only be found by following the correct land cruiser tracks in the dirt road. we piled into our land cruisers and off-roaded for about an hour in order to get to this tiny church where leonard is an elder.

worship was excellent, and after it was over we were serenaded by 2 groups of kasibi singers. we then sang for the church in tonga and were cheered for like none other. they told us that no group has ever learned and performed songs in tonga for the people here, and they were completely overwhelmed that we would do something like that for them.

but it was after the worship service that the village people truly came to life. we walked up to leonard’s house where he had prepared a meal for the entire church. his house was surrounded by tiny huts which enclosed the animals that he breeds, kills, and prepares for the food that he cooks. and it was after eating the lunch he had prepared that the party started.

leonard’s band set up in the middle of the yard and began to play their music, and soon children, one by one, started coming up and dancing. and before we knew it, there was a whole circle of people rotating around the band, the africans legitimately breaking it down and the americans flailing about in our best attempt. but honestly, my celebration with the village people was one of the happiest experiences of my life, just another lesson proving that true contentment is rooted in simplicity.

today i had to finally say goodbye to my friends from the pharmacy program as they are heading back to america a little earlier than we are. i must say that i have sincerely enjoyed every moment i have had with them and have loved getting to know their hearts. seeing my friend justin’s ability to take things as they come and go with the flow, always with kindness and steadiness really encouraged me to keep calm and enjoy whatever comes. seeing cameron’s passion for what she does and her willingness to be the only girl in a group of guys and go wherever she was needed was always inspiring. and seeing brian’s love for GOD and people, which is so contagious, made me love the people here even more, and i know that this experience would not have been the same without him.

tonight we had share time where we discussed many things as our time here is about to come to a close. it is crazy to look back and realize everything that GOD has done through us, and it’s exciting to know that there is still some time to continue our impact. i am going to be enjoying every second of my final 9 days here. we leave for livingstone on wednesday, return to namwianga on saturday, and leave for america next thursday. i may never realize the difference that my time here has made, but i know that because i knew zambia, i have been changed for good.

June 9, 2011

where YOU lead: GOD'S gift

i shed my first african tears today. honestly, i don’t even know how to begin this story.

every summer the HIZ-path group goes to a huge rock called jordan’s rock for a cookout where they watch the sunset and just enjoy the evening looking up at the stars while eating hotdogs. i have been excited about going to this event for the past year when i first learned what it was.

our cookout on jordan’s rock was tonight, and on top of it, it was the birthday of my dear, little friend ian, one of our professor’s sons. and after a long day of walking 5 miles, missing my pharmacy friends, filming my portion of the documentary, and doing 5 hours of therapy, i absolutely could not wait to have a beautiful evening with our group on the rock.

we were to leave at 4:30, and so as soon as we got home, jill and i immediately went into our little bunkhouse, changed our clothes, and grabbed our flashlights to head out the door. but when we got to the driveway at 4:30, all of the vehicles were gone. we walked all around the houses looking for people, but no one in our group was to be found. it turned out that we had been left at the house by mistake, with our classmates each thinking that we were in another vehicle.

if you know me at all, you know that i have a stubborn and strong will and that i absolutely was not going to be missing this party on the rock. so jill and i started walking, having no idea where jordan’s rock was, and we began asking random zambians in namwianga how to get to the rock. and i just started praying that GOD would keep us safe and help us find our group in the middle of the african bush.

after walking for a mile and a half, we finally ran into my 2 favorite aunties from the haven, beatrice and gertrude, who were on their way home with the other aunties, and we told them our dilemma. they told us that jordan’s rock was about a 20 minute drive through dirt roads and bushes from where we were, and that we would never make it in time by foot. but all of a sudden one auntie went into action and flagged down a truck driven by 2 guys about our age, and we knew if the aunties trusted the guys to take us there that we were in very good hands.

so i can now say that i hitchhiked for the first time in my life in zambia, africa, and GOD could not have taken any better care of us. HE provided us a vehicle out of nowhere driven by 2 guys who knew exactly where this rock was in the middle of african plain. it turned out that these 2 guys taking us were the missionary’s adopted sons and that they drove us completely out of their way so that we could be there. i cried the whole way to the rock, realizing that these young men who had nothing compared to what we have were taking us a total of 40 minutes out of their way just because of the love in their hearts. they were so kind and compassionate towards us and truly sympathized with our situation. and when we got out of the bed of the truck and i asked the driver to tell me his name, the irony blew me away. the name of our driver was gift.

June 8, 2011

where YOU lead: never be the same

it is unreal to realize that i have been living in africa for a month. the time has passed so quickly, and it’s hard to believe that it’s about to come to a close. in the past month i have walked approximately 100 miles. i have lost 10 pounds. i have learned the names and personalities of 70 children. i have completed around 70 hours of therapy. i have partially learned another language. i have made a best friend. i have grown closer to my friends and ultimately closer to my GOD.

after this experience i will never take hot water, clean water, or any water for granted ever again. i will appreciate electricity and internet reliability. i will appreciate clean houses, clean streets, clean stores, and really anything that’s clean. i will appreciate the shoes on my feet, the clothes on my back, and the food on my plate. i will appreciate my health and the fact that i was born into this world free of disease. i will consider it a miracle that i was born into the country, the family, and the circumstances in which i was born. and i will return with a new purpose, knowing that GOD made me to go into the whole world.

this week’s therapy schedule looks like this:

9:30-11:00 i help teach the same toddler language stimulation group that i taught last week. we read stories, sing songs, and engage in various play activities to stimulate the production of language.

11:00-12:30 i work with children ages 9-12 months on language stimulation through interactive play. we work on tummy time for the first half of the session and allow the babies to strengthen their muscles and increase trunk control through time on their tummies on the rug. we then have a similar session as the first hour and a half with them and sing songs and read books.

2:15-3:30 i work with a special needs child named kritz who demonstrates high-functioning autism. his receptive language (understanding) skills are intact, but he is almost completely nonverbal. we play, read books, and sing songs in order to support the production of language. he has completely won me over.

3:30-4:15 i work with the child of my choice and just interact and encourage language production. the child of my choice is a little 13-month-old baby boy named hamilton who is pictured above, strapped on with a chitenge. he almost died last year but survived and is thriving by the grace of GOD. he is a biter and already has a receding hairline and basically has completely stolen my heart.

2 of my good friends from undergrad, mark slagle and tyler jones, are here to film a documentary of our work. tyler and i have been friends since we were 12 and studied in italy for a semester together, and we are beyond excited to have the opportunity to work on this project right now. filming begins in the morning, and i will be leading the guys through my new home here in namwianga. they will be interviewing me, members of my group, and local zambians in order to get a realistic view of this incredible program. i am so excited to be a part of such a ground-breaking experience.

i am just so grateful to GOD for the million life-changing moments HE’S given me in the past month, and i will absolutely never be the same again.

June 5, 2011

where YOU lead: the walmart of zambia

“fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are MINE. when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned; and the flame shall not consume you. for I am the LORD your GOD, the HOLY ONE of israel, you SAVIOR.” isaiah 43:1-3

in zambia there is no walmart. there is the market, and the market is a warzone. our nearest market is in kalomo which is about a 15 minute drive from our house, and we go into town once a week to pick up anything that we might need.

in the walmart of zambia, there are no clean and tidy aisles. the streets are compiled of dirt and garbage and broken plastic and broken glass. the aisles are lined with dried, dead fish staring at you or plastic bottles filled with vegetable oil or bags and bags of rice. the employees in the walmart of zambia are the poor, the hungry, the tired, the starving, the weak, the wretched, and the worn.

in the walmart of zambia, i am called “makua” because i am white and foreign. i hear “makua, i like you” or “marry me, makua” on a regular basis. in the walmart of zambia, i am asked my named, and if i were to give it, it would be passed to every single worker in the market so that they might call it. in the walmart of zambia i am followed by people begging me to buy from them just to give them enough money for their next meal, and children approach me asking for treats or any money or food i might give them.

in the walmart of zambia, i have witnessed unimaginable things. in the market in choma, a little 3 or 4-year-old girl held a pistol in her hand while i bought a chitenge from her father. as i was entering the kalomo market yesterday i noticed the man beside me rolling up a joint of marijuana and offering it for sale. and right after that, another man who was drunk in the mid-morning threw a beer bottle against a rock, and the glass shattered right in front of me, right where i was about to stand. he then threatened the man in front of him with the broken half of glass bottle that remained in his hand.

but in the walmart of zambia, there is hope in the midst of struggle. in the middle of a warzone, in the middle of a battlefield, there is a sense of triumph in the hope that one day things will change for the poor, the hungry, the tired, the starving, the weak, the wretched, and the worn. and as i left the walmart of zambia, the picture above is what i saw.

June 2, 2011

where YOU lead: the mark of friendship

the mark of friendship in this country is when a local zambian comes to you and decides to hold your hand and walk with you. in my time here, i truly hoped a zambian would deem me worthy of that level of friendship and demonstrate it by taking my hand. and yesterday my hand was taken.

beatrice is a 38-year-old zambian woman, a widowed mother of 6, and an auntie in haven 2. she works all day long caring for every need of the toddlers in the second haven. she cooks for them, cleans them, and sings to and plays with them. despite losing her husband 4 years ago, caring for her own 6 children who range in age from 4 to 19, and working countless hours to meet the needs of children who aren’t her own, beatrice is always singing, laughing, and smiling.

beatrice and i were friends at first sight because we both are in love with a man named JESUS CHRIST. we made an instant connection and friendship even though we come from 2 totally different worlds. after learning songs in tonga, her second language besides english, i decided to sing them and see if she knew them. she knew all of them and taught me more, and every day we play with the children on the playground, singing songs to them in tonga.

but it was yesterday that she chose to give me the mark of her friendship. we had just finished singing a song to the children when she grabbed my hand and asked that i help her prepare the children’s lunch of nshima which is ground corn meal with a tomato gravy, the typical meal of every zambian every day because it’s all they can afford.

i helped cook and cut up the nshima and distribute it to the babies, and i have decided that it is a simple task i will complete every day. i can’t describe the extreme honor and excitement that filled my heart when this beautiful, zambian daughter of GOD chose to give me the mark of friendship, but I know that my heart changed when she took my hand.

May 31, 2011

where YOU lead: the gigglers

we worshiped with the church here in namwianga on sunday, and afterward i decided to spend my afternoon flippantly. i rewarded myself for these past weeks’ work by taking my 2nd hot shower of this trip, and i even went as far as to straighten my hair. sheer frivolity.

my schedule for therapy this week includes the following:

9:30-11:00 our group conducts language stimulation therapy with toddlers from havens 2 and 3. we sing songs, read books, and encourage production of language through activities such as playing on the playground or having “tea time” where the toddlers drink warm milk.

11:00-12:30 we engage in one-on-one language stimulation with the older children from haven 1 which range in age from 12 to 18 months. we sing and play, encouraging the production of speech through imitation and repetition.

2:15-3:30 we engage in one-on-one language stimulation with the toddlers from haven 3 through the same previous activities.

3:30-4:15 we work on language production with the child of our choice for the remainder of the day.

i am loving these children, and in the coming days i will be giving you the lowdown on each child and his or her personality. they have stolen my heart and make me smile and laugh on a daily basis.

there are 2 other zambians who have stolen my heart and make me smile and laugh on a daily basis. the first is our neighbor, mrs. mono, who is a seamstress who will sew anything that you want to have made. tonight i went to her house where she had made me a beautiful quilt with chitenges i purchased in the market. she makes bags, wallets, scrubs, placemats, and just about anything you could think of to have made.

the most touching part about mrs. mono is that she put all of her children through college, which is rare for zambians to attend, through her sewing. she will sew all through the night because she loves the people she is sewing for and because she loves her family. whenever you go over there she giggles and hugs you and gets embarrassed when you tell her just how beautiful whatever she made you is. she is just as beautiful as the prettiest quilt she could ever make.

the second is our night watchman webster. for the past two nights he has been teaching us hymns in tonga, the language here, and we will eventually be performing for them for the church here in namwianga and in a town called kasibi. whenever we sing a song well, webster giggles and shouts, "ooooooh, that was niiiiiiiice!" he is the most energetic and smiley man i have met here, and he is one awesome song leader.

webster lives in a one-room house out in kolomo, the town closest to us, and one night last summer he got very sick. dr. weaver and dr. tullos drove him to his house in the middle of the night on the streets here which don’t have any lights, and after they arrived to his house, they realized they wouldn’t be able to find their way back to their houses. webster, while physically very ill, bent down and removed his shoes and placed them on his brother’s feet so that he could guide them home on his bicycle which didn’t have any pedals.

despite poverty and working all night long to protect us, webster is always smiling and laughing and encouraging us. at 29 years old he has dreams of being a preacher and a song leader, and we love being his guinea pigs in his provisional singing class. zambia needed a mrs. mono and a webster, and so did we.

May 28, 2011

where YOU lead: here in this place

we worked intensely this week and completed our first week of therapy, and the children are already making progress in every area. our babies with TB and HIV started gaining more control and strength and started being able to feed without any leaking or spitting up. our toddlers started talking, singing, and following directions. we are all so excited and happy about the improvement they’re making.

today we drove into a town called choma which is approximately 1 hour away. we shopped in a market for chitenges, and kara and i, with the support of brian and justin, had excellent success, paying only 7,000 kwatcha (about $1.50) for each one. we stuck out like sore thumbs as we were the only caucasians to be found. our favorite things said to us today were, “white people, t-shirts!” and “you are american. come here!”

we went to the choma museum where we bought handmade souvenirs including spears, bowls, paintings, animal figurines, and all kinds of other things. on the drive back i was proposed to in the car by a zambian on the side of the road. it was very tempting as our car was temporarily stopped and he took one look at me and yelled, “marry me,” but i decided that wasn’t the best plan of action at this point in my life and had to turn him down. brian was extremely amused.

when we got back to namwianga we attended our first zambian wedding. two members of the church were getting married, and our group was invited. it was one of the most awesome experiences of my life. the bridal party danced down the aisle with various dances in order to start the celebration. the bride and groom wore a matching shirt and dress made of the same patterned and colorful fabric. people kept cheering and dancing in their seats and in the aisle to rejoice for the new couple. and just when you thought the dancing and celebrating was over, it would all start back up again, and a group of us got up and attempted to learn their wedding celebration dances with them, which only made the fact that we are caucasian americans more apparent. we stayed for 2 and a half hours, but the excitement lasted for the rest of the night.

i love embracing this zambian culture. i love the singing. i love the languages. i love the dances. i love the weddings. i love the food. i love the temperature. i love the people. i love the children. and i love discovering GOD here in this place.