Full Circle

“Also at that time, people will say, “Look at what’s happened! This is our God! We waited for Him and He showed up and saved us!  This God, the One we waited for!  Let’s celebrate, sing the joys of His salvation.  God’s hand rests on this mountain!”  Isaiah 25:9-10

 

Winter 2013

I’m flying back to Colombia after a beautiful month in Mexico doing exactly what I want to be doing with my life.  I know I am called to Mexico, someday, but God has spoken and said there are things for me to learn in Colombia.  So I obey.  It breaks my heart wide open but I leave my daughters again.  I don’t know how I am going to be able to learn to love a new house full of children when all I want to do is stay with my little girls in Mexico but I fly back to Bogota anyway.

 

It’s evening when my plane lands, I’m not expecting anyone to meet me in the airport but as I wheel my suitcase outside I hear a chorus of applause and whistles that sound like love & friendship, because there they are: my new friends “the crazy girls” as Claire has dubbed them.  We catch a taxi home together and as it’s while I’m squished between two of them in the backseat that I feel it, the reassurance that I am perfectly where I am to be, even though it’s not at all what I want.

 

I think, “This is what it feels like to be exactly in the center of God’s will.”

 

 

Summer 2013

Colombia is harder than I ever imagined it would be.  I have learned enough! I tell God.  Take me back to Mexico!  I beg.  Everyday I climb a mountain to get home to Casa Kiwi.  A mountain.  It so perfectly represents what I feel about my time here: exhausting, difficult, work.  An uphill battle.  There’s a song I often listen to as I carry on up that hill, one foot in front of the other, slow & steady.  I sing along, I pray along:

 

I know that I can trust You.  I know that I can trust You.  I know that I can trust You…
I lean not on my own understanding, my life is in the hands of the Maker of Heaven…
I know that I can trust You, so give me a heart to love You God…
I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open.  I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open.  I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open.  I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open…

 

God has something for me here on this mountain.  Something good & sacred.  I don’t know what it is and I don’t know when I’ll be able to stop climbing, but I know I want whatever it is that God has for me.  So I climb with my hands wide open.  I enter into Kiwi with my hands wide open.  I help my children do their homework with my hands wide open.  I chop garlic & onions with my hands wide open.  I fold tiny blouses & scrub porcelain toilets with my hands wide open.  I sing my Darlings to sleep with my hands wide open.  I struggle to find joy but I chase after it anyway.  I cry out to God, How much longer?!  But even though I am so tired, and it is so painful, I keep my hands wide open to receive the gifts He wants to give me, to learn what She wants to teach me.

 

 

Autumn 2013

One year, it’s been one year since I first began to melt into this ministry, and one year is all I promised.  I want to go, I’ve wanted to go for a long time and my promised year has finished but I know it’s not His time for me to leave.  There are no words of prophecy telling me to stay, no verses in the Bible shouting out to me that it isn’t time to go, but I know the voice of my FatherMother God and She is saying, “I have more for you here, my Darling.

 

I have climbed so far but I know that if I give up now I’ll be missing out on the gift God has for me.  So I stay here and my hands stay open.  I don’t know how much longer I’ll be climbing but I don’t want to step outside of this perfect will of God, no matter how painful His perfect will is.

 

 

Summer 2014

Finally You’ve spoken to me, loud & clear to let me know that I’ve almost made it to the top.  With you I will go, You say to me and I know it’s okay now.  I can go, Your presence will go with me, and You will give me rest.

 

One of the crazy girls wants to take me on an adventure before I leave, so we travel out from the city where the mountains are perfect for climbing.  Rock climbing, with harnesses and carabiners and chalk and special pants.  The air is chilly but the sun is bright, and I am amazed at how cathartic & refreshing it is to climb these mountains.  There are many moments when I don’t think I can keep going, I’m way higher than I’m comfortable with, I can’t see the top, and I can’t see or feel anywhere steady to cling to.  It’s when I’m frozen there, paralyzed and heart beating wildly when Ingie calls up to me, “I’ve got you.”

 

“I’ve got you.”  She’s right, I can feel her holding me there strong & steady.  I can’t see her, all I can see is the rock in front of my face but I know she’s got me.  I might fall a little bit, and it will be painful, but I’ll never fall so far that I won’t be able to pick myself back up again.  It’s her voice calling up to me that gives me the courage to carry on.  I know that I can trust her. 

 

I know that I can trust You… I lean not on my own understanding, my life is in the hands of the Maker of Heaven… so I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open…

 

I make it to the top of that mountain, as Ingie holds me steady from the ground.  It’s when I’m at the top, looking out at the beautiful green grass & the bright blue sky when I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.  I am bruised & a bit bloody but I’ve made it to the top and Oh the view is beautiful.  It’s when I’m at the top that I see what You’ve been trying to show me all along… that it would be worth it.  All I can say is, “Thank You.”  Thank You for believing in me to climb the Kiwi Mountain.  Thank you for holding on tight to me and for being patient with me when I didn’t think I could keep going.  Thank you for whispering to me, “I’ve got you, Beloved.” and giving me this gift of climbing.  The gift of challenges and perseverance and showing me that I can do excruciatingly hard things.  Ingie waits awhile for me to be ready to come down because I am having a Moment with You… yes the countryside is beautiful but I’m seeing the rest of them now too.  My Boy J, Little Miss M, Emy, Baby Boy, Tati… I see the faces of my children and it has been an honor to be a Mother to them in this time.  Thank You.  Thank You Thank You Thank You.  They are worth the climb.

 

Fall 2014

I leave my house keys in Kiwi and I walk out that door for the last time.  When I return I’ll be a visitor, a guest, not a Mother.  I start walking down that mountain and I am crying because this is it, it’s ending.  You my God are belaying me down, the hardest of it is over with.  I did it.  I made it.  All the way to the top.

 

Tonight I am out with the crazy girls, there is dinner and dancing and laughter and treats snuck into the movie theater in our purses before the night is over.  We’re in the taxi now, I’m even squished between two of them again.  I remember that night I felt so perfectly where You wanted me to be and I feel exactly that way again.  This is where I belong, I think, Right here smack dab in the center of Your good & perfect will.  I am so proud of myself for not giving up and taking off all those times when it was all I wanted to do.  I am so proud of myself for staying right where You wanted me.

 

I look down at my hands and they’re full now.  Full of my sweet children & my dear friends, full of two years of memories, full of beauty from brokenness, full of growth from pain, full of wisdom from the challenges I crashed into along the way.
I climbed the mountain with my hands wide open and I’m so thankful that I did.

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so THIS is Love

 “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

“But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

1 John 4:8

Growing up my favorite movie was Cinderella. The year Disney gloriously released it I’d choose it almost every time my Daddy took me with him to the video rental store.  (Remember those?! I miss them!) So that year for Christmas he bought me Cinderella, it was the perfect gift! But I remember driving with him down to Video City not long after that, looking at all of the movie options and then picking Cinderella and taking it up to the register where my Daddy was waiting for me. I remember him looking down at me, confused, and saying, “But you already have this movie.” Ahahaha yes I did but it’s the one I wanted so to me it made perfect sense to pick it, never mind if I had another copy waiting for me at home.

cinderella

Really?!

My favorite part of the movie was, of course, THE BALL!! Cinderella arrives in her sparkling baby blue dress, and the prince immediately leaves his throne to meet her. She curtsies, he kisses her hand, they begin to dance. And as they waltz outside, staring adoringly into one another’s eyes, the song that plays says this: “So this is love… mmmm… so this is love… so this is what makes life divine. I’m all aglow and now I know the key to heaven is mine…”

So I definitely internalized THAT message. Yes, wow. I thought that love meant every sappy thing we’ve been taught it means. Love meant a Prince Charming to sweep me off my feet, love meant breakfast in bed and kisses under the mistletoe and bouquets of daffodils just because. As a Mother love would mean running with my children through the sprinkler and colorful finger paints and bedtime stories and sweet cuddles with sweet kisses.

And yes, absolutely all of that is the red ripe fruit of love… but I had yet to learn that those sweet gestures were certainly not all there was to it, to true love.

When I was 19 I boxed up most of my clothes & books & fiestaware and moved to Mexico for the first time. I was there to do a DTS, and as part of our missionary training we were learning how to do “puppet ministry.” If you just laughed, it’s okay… so did I. I am not really a fan of puppets… but many children are, they LOVE watching stories unfold, being acted out by those little felt friends. I remember being in “puppet class” (don’t worry, I’m still laughing too) sitting in a circle with my classmates, a puppet hanging on each of our arms, and our teacher told us we were going to go around and practice speaking in our “puppet voices.” Oh heck no. Kill. Me. Now. That was the internal reaction going on in me, PUPPET VOICES?! ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! I really didn’t want to have anything to do with those puppets and I was starting to think the whole missions thing wasn’t for me after all. But then… a song started playing in my head. GOD started playing a song in my head, and it went like this:

to be fair, I loved these guys when I was little.

to be fair, I loved these guys when I was little.

“So this is love..mmmm… so this is love….”

Oh. Oooooohhh.

I finally began to understand that love was so much more than a waltz with Prince Charming. It’s been five years of learning that truth now… and this love thing has been HARD WORK.

What I’ve discovered is that true Love is doing something you absolutely don’t want to do… because it will bring joy to another person. Love is saying goodbye when God says “go” even though you want to stay, Love is waking up at every hour of the night, keeping your child’s fever in check. Love is scrubbing a floor that will be filthy again tomorrow, because your babies need a clean place to play, Love is buying a plastic rose that you don’t need or want because you see how hard the man is working who’s selling them on bus after bus of apathetic passengers. Love is explaining for the thousandth time to your boy that he hurts your feelings when he screams at you. Love is rubbing your girls back as she vomits all over that blanket you just washed. Love is letting her have the bigger half of the cookie, even though it’s your favorite kind. Love is giving away the soap who’s sweet fragrance made you cry, because she needs it more than you do. Love is sharing your expensive peanut butter, Love is leaving out the mushrooms even though you like them. Love is holding screaming children & saying “I’m sorry” & accepting apologies & watching his favorite movie again & getting out of bed to get that glass of water for her & staying up way past bedtime to help her with that school project she didn’t bother to tell you about until after dinner & searching high and low for his favorite shoe, even when he has so many others he could wear and we’re already running late & killing that spider even though it’s scaring you just as much as it’s scaring her & letting them help you with dinner even though it’ll take twice as long to make.

Love is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and yes.. the most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced.

That’s why I call this space, “So this is Love.” So THIS is Love… hard, often-seemingly-unimportant, monotonous, beautiful, joyful, heartbreaking, heart-filling, work.

& I’d have it no other way.

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Because sometimes Love looks like complete & utter exhaustion.

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“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4)

“In this Beatitude, Jesus praises the weeping class, those who can enter into solidarity with the pain of the world and not try to extract themselves from it.”
Richard Rohr

 

It’s just so heavy.  The weight of so much tragedy, so much division, so much brokenness.  The past few months have been especially full of it, haven’t they?  Or perhaps I’ve simply had my eyes open wider. 

 

I feel helpless.  I look around the world and I see the gaping wide wounds of injustice all over it.  I see the way people are suffering, the way people are dying, the way people are killing, and I have no idea what to do about it. 

 

Yes I am here, laboring for redemption in my own little corner, with my own little beloveds… but it doesn’t feel like enough.  Surely there is more that I can do.

 

Here I am in my little room, heavy with the weight of it all, heavy with the weight of caring.  I don’t know how to help but I feel the need to simply sit with it, to grieve for what is grieving the heart of God, to mourn with those who mourn.

 

I gather all the candles I can find-there are sixteen of them-and I leave them unlit, cold glass jars on the floor.  I turn off the lights and that’s what sparks the crying: the room is so dark, mirroring what I see in the world.  Oh God this is not how you intended for it to be.

 

The match’s flame slices through the darkness as I light the first candle.  I pray for Gaza, I pray for Israel, and I am weeping as I beg God for redemption and for peace.  I light another candle and wrap my hands around it.  I pray for the immigrant children seeking safety & refuge among us.  I pray for the communities they’ve fled from, communities ravaged by violence.  I hold another candle and pray for Ferguson.  I am crying harder now, my heart is broken open for the Momma’s who’ve lost their babies.  I am lighting candles, praying for chains of injustice to be loosed, praying for the scales to fall off of our eyes.  I light candle after candle after candle, cupping them one by one, praying miracles for women still dying in childbirth, praying healing for those being annihilated by ebola, praying God’s presence for the Christians being killed in Iraq, praying comfort for the loved ones left behind when that plane was shot down, praying freedom & justice for those still trapped in Guantanamo, praying wisdom for our President, praying love for my faraway daughters, and on and on and on and on.  I run out of candles before I run out of reasons to light them.

 

As the light flickers brighter with every candle lit I see hope dancing away the darkness.  I am inviting God into our mess, and I see that God is already here.  Always here.  His is the heart that breaks wide open first.  She is the One inviting me to carry this burden of caring, this burden of Love.

 

I carry on crying, believing that somehow my tears matter just as much as anything else I can do.  I am all out of prayers, and all I hear myself saying now is Jesus Jesus Jesus . . .  You are our only Hope.  Jesus Jesus Jesus . . . You are the Light of the world.  

 

But You say it right back to me… you, Darling, are the light of the world.  And I know You mean it because You’ve already told us so, in Matthew, in Isaiah, in Acts.  You’ve given us Your Light, and oh Jesus I have so much to learn about how to carry it into these ruins of Eden, but maybe this is as good a place as any to start.  Here on the floor, here with these candles, here with a heart grieved for what grieves Yours, here praying for Your Kingdom come.

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The Kiwi Story.

kiwi

I’ve been calling Casa Kiwi my Colombian home for the past nineteen months, but the story started awhile before that. Living here has been.. shall we say.. challenging for me, yet I know that I know that I know that it was God who led me here, and so I’ve stayed. Through fire & waves & valleys of the shadow of death, I’ve stayed in obedience to a God whose Fierce Love has won my heart & my trust. The practice of remembering how God called me here has served as a way for me to remind myself that my presence here is no accident, even when it really feels like a train wreck. Kind of like the Israelites building alters to God in the desert, or celebrating the passover… marking & remembering times when God has been faithful helps to keep on remembering it.

So here we go.

I was twenty years old, it was Springtime 2010 when I first ever saw the words “Casa Kiwi.” I read them on facebook, in something an acquaintance had written. She was a girl I’d met in Mexico who was somewhere in Colombia, and when I saw those words “Casa Kiwi” they STUCK with me. Ever since I was a little girl I’d dreamed of having an orphanage in Mexico, and I’d played around with lots of ideas of what I’d want it to be called. So I remember telling my friend Vince, “Wouldn’t Casa Kiwi be such a good name for an orphanage?!” It was such a fun, silly name, and I so I tucked it into my memory.

It was 2011, a year later, when I attended a YWAM school to be trained in things pertaining to “Children At Risk.” One of our first teachers was a Colombian man, Steve Bartel, who came to share with us about the ministry he was leading in Bogota: Formando Vidas. What stuck with me about the ministry was their vision to restore children back into their First Families, and also the “family style” way of raising the children in their care. The ministry had several houses, which would typically hold between 8-12 kids at a time, in order to give them a family, and not just a place to live where their emotional & spiritual needs would go unnoticed amongst the masses.

Later that year there would be times that were very difficult for me in Mexico, when me & a leader didn’t see some important things in the same way, and those differences were very hard for me to live with. They were deal breakers for me, really. I remember being really upset one day, praying and thinking, “It wouldn’t be like this in Colombia” ( yeah. WOW. ) I wanted to visit Formando Vidas in Colombia, to see & learn how they did things. I was certain it was the *perfect* ministry.

After that, later on in 2011, I was in Chile, doing another YWAM school. On one of the first days after I arrived I was chatting with a Colombian classmate, and she told me that she had grown up in the Formando Vidas ministry. Wow, I thought, that’s such a beautiful coincidence. Soon after that I met a guy who had spent time working in Formando Vidas, who’s sister was a foster Mama in one of the houses there. After all of that I was really sure I wanted to visit Colombia!

While I was in Chile I knew God was asking me to stay in missions, even though I had different plans. It was something I just knew, something I could feel in my spirit. At that point I wasn’t willing to go back to Mexico. I missed my girls so much but I just couldn’t go back to those same deal-breaker issues, I knew I wouldn’t be able to last. So I started researching ministries. I looked into ministries doing aftercare for victims of human trafficking, ministries in Asia, ministries in Africa, ministries in Latin America, but ultimately… ministries doing orphan care. I ended up at the Formando Vidas website, and as I looked deeper there I was shocked when I saw the name of one of their foster homes:

Casa Kiwi.

Whaaa??!!?!! I didn’t see that one coming! I held it prayerfully, in open hands, not knowing where God desired for me to be but being so willing to go anywhere, do anything, for Him. One morning before breakfast I was sitting on a swing, asking God “Is it Formando Vidas??” I went into the dining hall and as I was walking through the maze of tables & chairs & Latinos I heard someone say “…Formando Vidas.” I whirled around, shocked, and there was that guy I’d met who had worked in Formando Vidas. He caught me staring at him, my eyes all wide & scared, and I told him that I’d just been praying about that ministry. Later he found me to give me some more information about Formando Vidas, and one of the things he handed me was his sister’s prayer card. It was a picture of two women & six children on a swing set, and it said:

Casa Kiwi.

You would think it would have been obvious to me by then, but it wasn’t, ahaha. I decided I wasn’t going to think about it anymore, I wasn’t going to look at the website anymore, I was just going to chill out and wait and see if God kept speaking. One day I went to the base’s coffee shop to get online but the internet was being fixed so I sat down at a table to wait. There was a lone magazine laying on the table, so I picked it up and started reading. It was a story about a little girl who lived on the streets of Bogota, Colombia. Interesting, I thought, but it wasn’t until I began reading things that sounded very familiar that I realized the article was all about Formando Vidas.

“Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness.” I was freaking out, but I still thought it could all just be strange coincidences, so I just kept trying to keep calm. But a few days later, I walked into my counseling school classroom to find that same Formando Vidas guy there instead of our teacher. He was there to give a presentation on Formando Vidas. He shared a video of one of the areas of the ministry. There are LOTS of different areas in the ministry, but the video? It was about..

Casa Kiwi.

That’s when I knew. That’s when I knew that Formando Vidas was definitely where God was calling me. That’s when the “Oh my goodness” ‘s started again, along with an out of control heartbeat and some crazy tears. God was speaking, I knew it, so I listened.

A whole year went by before I packed up my things to move to Colombia, and I honestly had no idea where God wanted me to be during my time here. I could have become a teacher in our school, or worked in the more evangelistic areas of the ministry, or work in one of the foster homes. I had no idea. During my first weeks here I decorated my prayer journal, collage style, with a mish-mash of colors I’d been collecting from catalogs. I just wanted it colorful, I didn’t really pay attention to the images I was pasting on. I visited all the areas of the ministry, but not really hearing anything from God about where I was to be working. I had a meeting with the leadership team and told them that I just wanted to work where it would be most helpful for me to be, but they didn’t let me know where that would be. I got on a plane to spend Christmas in Mexico and it was while I was up in the air, flying away from Colombia, that God told me where I was going to be working. He spoke to me through my collage, actually. I looked down at my prayer journal, and for the first time I realized what it was that I had pasted right there on it’s cover:

a kiwi.

And I knew. When I got back to Colombia I never even shared with my leaders what God had spoken to me on that plane, I didn’t need to. They had been praying and they sent me to live in Kiwi House before I even had a chance to tell them that it’s where I was supposed to be.

The past nineteen months have been so painful, so difficult. I’ve been missing my daughters something fierce, that’s been the most of it. But also I’ve learned the hard way that no ministry is perfect. Formando Vidas is beautiful, the ministry seeks to honor God in every decision that is made.. but we are humans, and we make mistakes, and we hurt each other and offend each other and often don’t know how to make things right. It’s just the way it is. There have been no deal-breakers here (& the ones in Mexico have since been resolved) but it’s still been very painful.. Good, but painful. God has refined me, sent me through a blazing hot fire, but I’m so thankful for the ways in which I’ve been changed & strengthened.

Nine days ago I sat down with my beloved Casa Kiwi children to let them know that I will soon be leaving. They were shocked, I just cried and cried and cried because as hard as these years have been and as ready as I am to leave… they are my children, whom I love so much, and whom I will forever carry close to my heart. There is a time for everything, Evi said to them that night. There is a time for everything, and what I find myself saying to God these days is, Thank you God, for this time that has been…

Casa Kiwi.

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worth it.

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It’s just you & me today.

 

You, Little Boy who has dedicated a good chunk of the past year to scream at me, to let me know how much you can’t stand me, to tell me “EVERYTHING WOULD BE BETTER IF YOU DIDN’T EXIST” and “I WISH YOU’D NEVER COME HERE” and “GO BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY” and my personal favorite “YOU’RE SO FAT AND YOUR BREATH STINKS.”

 

You, Little Boy who has pulled out pieces of my hair, bitten me, bruised  me, made me bleed.

 

You’d never guess the truth, My Dear Boy.  I am so patient with you, patient on the outside at least.  But the truth is… a lot of the time I can’t stand being around you.  The truth is… a lot of the time your behavior makes me feel miserable.  The truth is… every single day I make a choice to stay, instead of throwing my things into a suitcase and taking off like I want to.

 

It’s Katy Perry who I feel understands this about me best: “Days like this I want to drive away.  Pack my bags and watch your shadow fade.  You chewed me up and spit me out like I was poison in your mouth.  You took my light, you drained me down…”  I know that sounds dramatic, but that’s how I so often feel.

 

I hate the way you treat me, My Boy.

 

I hate the way your words & actions strike me like shrapnel.  Digging in deep, crippling.

 

I hate how often I struggle to crawl out of bed in the morning, how much I dread discovering what kind of chaos another day with you will contain.

 

But most of all, I hate how life has treated you.  I hate the trauma, the neglect, the abandonment you lived through during those first four years of your life.  I hate how deeply those experiences have wounded you, carved scars into your spirit.

 

“Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks”  God has told us.  So I know.  I know, My Dear, that every nasty word you hurl at me, every violent action you attack me with, is simply the pain inside your own heart.  You are hurting, you are devastated, you are brokenhearted.  I know.

 

Sometimes I slip into your room while you’re sleeping.  I sit down on your Lightning McQueen bed and I listen to you breathe and I watch your little ribcage rise & fall.  It’s when you’re asleep that I remember best the truth that you are just a little boy, whose eight years have held an entire ocean of pain & heartbreak.

 

Still though it’s so easy for me to forget.  I get so sick of the same old same old we repeat each day.  This rhythm of forgiveness.  Over and over and over again.  Loving you has worn me out, My Boy.  I am exhausted. 

 

So it’s just you & me here today.

 

You are riding your bicycle around the park as fast as you can.  I am sitting in the tower, drinking coffee & watching you race around and around and around.  I watch you, and I see you, I really see youI look past the atrocious behavior, I look past the scars you’ve carved into me, I look past all the wretched moments that so often cloud my memory and I see you.  I see my Beautiful Boy.  I see my Silly, Generous, Joyful, Confident, Hilarious, Sensitive, Kind & Brave Son.  My Little George of the Jungle, as you so love to call yourself. = )

 

And I am only thinking one thing, as I sit here and watch you on your bicycle, smiling at me while my tears roll down my face and into my coffee.

 

 

It’s so worth it. 

 

 

Loving you is worth it.  Mothering you is worth it.  Staying is worth it. 

 

 

You are worth it, My Beautiful Boy.

 

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Crazy house, Haven house.

“He said, Come in, you who are blessed by the LORD.  Why are you standing out here?”

Genesis 24:31

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Matthew 25:34-36

 

There’s a house here in Colombia that’s been a Haven for me over the past (almost!) two years, a house that’s been a Haven for many people over the past many years, actually.  It’s a house that’s held over 14 children as they’ve grown from tiny to tall, a house that’s hosted parties & gatherings & get-togethers galore.

I say house but we all know it’s those dear ones within the walls that build it into a Home, a Haven.

Chamos House is currently home to three girls, sisters, and two boys, brothers.  They are fun, fun, fun girls & boys, young ladies & young men.  The youngest boy is 15, and his skateboard is the great love of his life.  Every time we play picture telephone he draws himself on his skateboard.  Every. Single. Time.  Ahahaha.  Always doing different moves, but always on his skateboard.  It is incredibly endearing to me.  I’ve told him that I think Jesus has an awesome skateboard awaiting him in heaven.  = )  The youngest girl is 17, and she’s a silly goose.  Today she had a permanent marker so I asked her to draw a tattoo on my arm.  She drew her name, graffiti style, and a turtle.  Because why not, ahaha.  The “Chamo” of Chamos House is a man who’s intention in coming to Colombia was to stay for 3 months as a volunteer.  But.. after spending time in a slum of Bogota and getting to know some of it’s children… he felt that those children needed a safe place to call home, but he also knew he couldn’t say the ministry needed to do something for them without he himself staying to be a part of it.  So he stayed, taking in 14 little children to Father at the age of 20.  That was 16 years ago.  Beautiful, right?

There have been many days like today that I’ve walked into this Haven of a House to laugh & play & cook, and there have been plenty of other days that I’ve walked in just to lay on the couch all day and hide from the world.  That’s what makes it a Haven, it’s a place where I am welcome, welcome to be myself, welcome to be silly or sad, crazy or quiet, joyful or upset.

The other night I made my way through the chaos of the city to arrive Home there, it was the kind of evening I knew I would be spending laying on the couch, wrapped tight in blankets, hiding.  I tap tap tapped on the door, and as I waited for Chamo to open all I could think of were those words of Jesus, and how strong & beautiful Chamo has lived those words for me the past few years, simply by opening up his home as a place of rest & refuge for me:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

& I am so thankful.

casachamosCelebrating Colombia’s first win in the World Cup this year, Crazy style, Crazy Chamos House style = )

Gelatina

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”

“Shame, for women, is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be.  And it’s a straight-jacket.”

-Brene Brown

 

I was ten years old, MAXIMUM, when I first started feeling ashamed of my body. Maybe it was all the spandex figure-skating dresses that did me in, making it so easy to compare the softness of my own tummy to the firm ones of other girls I skated with. The comparison would have come soon enough though, whether or not I had been wearing those little dresses. We all know how our culture is saturated heavy with images of “perfect” bodies… images that validate some while simultaneously shaming others.

It was my tummy that always got to me, protruding a little bit more than I was sure was acceptable. I was eleven when I discovered the magic of sucking it in. I remember walking through the cafeteria in a striped purple shirt, feeling oh-so-skinny, oh-so-beautiful, sucking in that little bit of belly fat I was so ashamed of.

I remember once during those awkward teen years my Mom telling me a story about how much I loved milkshakes when I was a toddler. She told me that story and I got mad at her. I said, “WHY DID YOU LET ME DRINK MILKSHAKES?!!?!!” I was sure I wouldn’t have become so fat if she hadn’t allowed me to consume so much sugar. “You’re not fat!!” She would reassure me, but the thing is.. the way we perceive our bodies is so often absolutely skewed. While others described my body as slender, I was disgusted by what I saw in the mirror.

Somewhere around the age of 18 I discovered the magic of calorie counting. I know how many calories are in an egg, in a slice of bread, in an apple, an orange, a banana, a carrot, spinach, raisins, a glass of milk, a glass of soy milk, a glass of rice milk, a glass of almond milk. That’s why I used to go with almond: only 60 calories. I know how many in a slice of cheese, oatmeal, popcorn, cashews, ice cream, peanut butter, honey, pasta noodles, pizza sauce, coffee. Pretty much everything I would consume. I learned that the minimum amount of calories our bodies need each day to function properly is 1,200. So I started counting everything I put into my mouth in an attempt to stop each day at that magic number (although 2,000 was a healthy amount for the lifestyle I was living.) The problem is I often failed, consuming as many as 1,500 calories a day and then absolutely LOATHING myself because of it. Every morning was a fresh start, one I would begin with two oranges (good girl!) but inevitably end with a handful of chocolate kisses or a spoonful too many of peanut butter (nasty, disgusting, horrible fat girl!) Lots of people were noticing how I was slimming down, but nobody knew about the battle going on in my head for me to achieve that skinniness.

I had put a quote on my bathroom mirror: “Women are always beautiful.” -Ville Valo. Claire saw it, looked at me skeptically, and asked, “But do you actually believe that??” I didn’t answer her, because no, I didn’t actually believe it at all. At 132 pounds Claire told me I was “scary skinny” but I was intent on lowering those numbers on the scale even more. But then the interruption came. Missions.

There are people who move to other countries and lose all kinds of weight. I started gaining. I no longer had control over what kinds of foods I was consuming and I didn’t know how many calories were in pig skin soup or lentil hot dog soup or cactus salad. More than I estimated, that’s for sure! Over the past 6 years I’ve been dealing with these fickle 30 pounds, on and off and on and off and on, fluctuating depending on where I’m living despite my desperate attempts to control calories.

On one visit to the States I remembering having a sleepover with one of my cousins. I remember we were lying there in the dark and she started telling me about a friend of hers whom she was worried about. She was so concerned about that friend, “She counts the calories of everything she eats and then she hates herself for eating too many. Every. Single. Day. I don’t know how to help her with this eating disorder.”

Wait.

What?!

Did she just say EATING DISORDER?!!?! I was quiet, laying there in the dark, laying there in my shock. My cousin was describing my own behavior, my own ordinary, as an eating disorder.

I went back to Mexico where my weight went down at the orphanage and then I moved to Chile and my weight climbed quickly back up, thank you Chile for your obsession love of bread. I remember having a little breakdown in a bathroom in Pichilemu, after another starchy meal, crying and begging God, “Pleaaaaasseee God, I JUST WANT SOME SPINAAAAAACH!!!”

My calorie controlling and the hatred & shame I felt about my body became CONSUMING. So when I moved to Colombia I knew I had to make a choice. I had to choose to either keep focusing on trying to fit back into my skinny clothes or I had to give it up, and instead focus on caring for the children in front of me. I chose the kids, deciding to put my weight loss desires on the back-burner, to return to later.

 

But then something changed.

 

I stopped hating my body.

 

It is a miracle.

 

It’s a miracle that I know has everything to do with all the talk that’s been going on about body image over the past several years… like this synchroblog of women writing love letters to their bodies, and Taryn Brumfitt’s beautiful before & after pictures, and these other famous before & after pictures, and Dove’s Campaign for ‘Real Beauty‘, and Glennon being honest about recovering from her eating disorder, and Sarah Bessey sharing her scared/sacred, and this Mom writing about “staying in the picture”,  and these beautiful pictures of these Momma’s bodies, and these celebrity quotes on body image, and Kate Winslet getting upset about being photoshopped skinnier, and Brittany Gibbons stripping down to her swimsuit during her Ted Talk, and this Mom in her swimsuit, and Lily Myer’s poem “Shrinking Women”, and even Colbie Caillat taking off her makeup.

It’s like… the shame can only survive in secret. The shame can only thrive in darkness.  But once we let the light in, and start being honest about our insecurities… we realize we’re not alone.  And we realize we don’t have to be ashamed anymore.

That’s why I’m writing this, it’s my “Me too!” to join this tidal wave of women being honest about our struggles with beauty & weight & self-hatred, because it’s a tidal wave with the power to crash down upon all this shame we’ve allowed to become a part of us, and carry it off to sea.

My tummy is still squishy, but I’m not disgusted by it anymore. Baby Boy likes to use my tummy as a pillow, because it’s warm and soft and round. J likes to use my tummy as a race-track for his cars, because it jiggles around like jello.  He actually exclaims “GELATINAAAA!!!” (JELLOOOOO!!!) whenever he wraps his arms around my waist and feels the squishiness.

And I just smile.
& I agree that YES my belly feels like jello,
because I don’t want my children to think my body, their bodies, anyone’s body, is something to be ashamed of.

brita1brita2 
Crazy ( skinny ) dancing in Mexico & Crazy ( squishier ) colors in Colombia.
There’s at least a 20 pound difference there… maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but to me it is… & the fact that I’m okay with it, really is a miracle.

 

[ with or without me ]

It’s been almost six months since that day I read the words I didn’t want to read and fell on the floor, subsequently falling into the deepest valley of grief I’ve ever walked through.  Losing Anahi & Yessenia from my life has hurt like hell.  There’s not a gentler way to say something that’s been so brutal.  Today I was talking to God, and I heard these words from myself, leaving my mouth & reaching to the heavens, breaking through my bitterness.

“Thank you for giving Anahi & Yessenia a family.”

I said those words through tears, and the tears came again when I typed them out.  But I said them, & I meant them.

Then I was flipping through my prayer journal, and I found something I wrote on February 3rd, just a few days before social services took the girls from the orphanage, but this time I could read it without wanting to throw my journal across the room.  The first time I re-read what I had written, months ago, I started crying & begging God to bring the girls back.. saying, “I take it back, I take it back, I don’t want you to raise them without me, I take it back.”  But today I read these words again and I don’t take it back, I still mean them.  So I’m going to share.

 

February 3rd 2014

You are the God  w h o   s e e s   m e .
You are for me.
You know the desires of my heart.
You will never leave me or forsake me.
You are holding my hand, & You will  n e v e r   l e t   g o .
You are good.
You are faithful.
& You LOVE me.
You even like me.
You are working all things together for my good, & for the good of my girls.
You who have begun a good work in me will be faithful to complete it.
You take  d e l i g h t   in me.
You made me, exactly who I am & as I am, fearfully & wonderfully, & I am enough.
You meet me where I am.
You can handle me.  I am not too much for You, even when I scream & swear at You.
You are holy.  And I can’t even begin to fathom what that truly means.  Holy Holy Holy God.
You are worthy.  Worthy of my gratitude.
You are enamorado conmigo.
You are mine & I am Yours, Beloved.
You are my first Love.
You call me Amada. ❤️
You have given me a  n e w   h e a r t , with new & right desires, & You have put a new Spirit in me.
You will do something beautiful with my life.
You ARE doing something beautiful with my life.
You are my Abba.
You have made me a Mother.
You love my daughters even more than I do.
You know what is best for them.
You have plans to give them a future & a hope. [ with OR without me ]
You will be with them  a l w a y s .
You knew them first, loved them first, parented them first.  You are their Papi.
You will heal their broken hearts.
You will show them they are Beloved, unique, precious,  b e a u t i f u l , resilient, strong, & Yours.
You will do  m i r a c l e s  in their lives.
You will bring them Mothers & Fathers to reflect to them your MotherFather heart.
You will comfort them when they cry.
You will pray over their sleeping selves.
You will  r e j o i c e  over them with singing.
You will teach them who You are & who they are in You.
You will never leave them or forsake them.
You will hide them in the shelter of Your wings.  Safe.  Comforted.  Held.
You will be there,  a l w a y s , to turn to.
You can be trusted with their precious lives.
You are to be trusted with their beautiful lives.
You will celebrate their birthdays.
You will teach them proper table manners.
You will set the lonely in  f a m i l i e s .
You are the God who SEES them.
You will lead them to Your heart.
You will paint their fingernails.
You will make them smile and appreciate their laughter & joy.
You will sing to them good morning.
You will pray with them before bed.
You will buy Yessenia braces.
You will send Anahi to college.
You will hug Mina todo el tiempo.
You will soften Chela’s heart.
You will listen to Angela sing.

And all of this, Jesus… all of this Spirit, all of this Father…
You will do
with or without me.

You are their first FatherMother, and You will not forget Your daughters.

So God.  I give them back to you.  I place my girls back into Your hands, again.

I trust You God.
I trust You to care for these  b e a u t i f u l   g i r l s .
Jesus I give You Mina.
Jesus I give You Angela.
Jesus I give You Rosa Isela.
Jesus I give You Anahi.
Jesus I give You Yessenia.

They are Yours.  They have always been Yours, & they will always be Yours.

And they will grow up to be beautiful, strong, capable, authentic, smart & lovely women, as You intend for them to be.

With or without me.

 

DSC00274

Bright Light Girl

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”

-Mother Teresa 

Sometimes I remember how in high school I got to see so many different people who I loved & cared about every single day, how I shared a locker with my marvelous cousin, how I used to ride around in all kinds of cars with all kinds of friends, and I think, “Dang, it would be nice to live that again.” But then I remember the homework and the drama and basically everything else about that time, and I think, “Naaaawww.” ahaha

There was a girl in my high school with bright blonde hair, bright blue eyes, bright light personality, bright brilliant mind… BRIGHT everything, basically. Like a sliver of the freaking sun itself.

It was her brightness that bothered me.

Obviously she was a constant fountain of joy & silliness because life had never been cruel to her. Obviously she didn’t understand that life had not been so gracious to all of us. Obviously I could never relate to her, someone so untouched by sorrow & shame & reality.

We had one thing in common though: a love of the Earth. Environmental Club was where I would see her each week.. glowing with her silliness, bubbling with her joy. Shining bright like that sliver of the sun that she was.

But all I could see in her was someone who didn’t understand what it was to be real.

One morning between classes I was in the girls’ bathroom, and I don’t remember what was going on with me but I know I was feeling horrible. I know this because of my reaction when I accidentally bumped my notebook off the sink and it landed on the floor. Nothing even fell out of my notebook, it had only fallen on the floor, no big deal. But because of how I was feeling it was a major deal, and I remember standing there, taking deep breaths, staring at my notebook on the floor, feeling absolutely defeated, like it was the straw that was going to break this camel’s back.

Then the voice came from beside me, amidst the hum of the hand dryers and the chatter of adolescent girls fixing their makeup in the mirrors. It was the voice of that Bright Light Girl, but that morning her voice didn’t sound naïve to me anymore, her voice only sounded gentle.

“Sometimes I have days like that too.”

Her voice landed on my hurting heart softly, like a balm, working it’s way into the cracking crevices inside me. Her bright blue eyes spoke to me of understanding, of wisdom, of someone who had suffered her share as well yet chosen joy over bitterness.

I didn’t say anything to her but I walked out of that bathroom and I started crying, and even now… all these years later, remembering that moment, remembering her simple, heartfelt words makes me cry still.

I had been so wrong about her.

Her brightness didn’t come from only living happy moments, only experiencing sunny days. Her brightness came from the Light within her, allowing her to sparkle like the sun no matter what she was living through.

Now when I think of Megan I think of Lucia from Max Lucado’s picture book about the Wimmicks. Lucia didn’t let anyone else’s opinions about who she was mark her, she simply trusted in the One who had carved her out of wood. Now when I think of Megan I’m reminded of the fact that we are always surrounded by others whose lives and presence can work like balm seeping into our dry broken places. But unless we look past what we assume separates us… we’ll never experience the beauty of learning how alike we really are. We’ll never hear that soft, gentle, beautiful voice saying, “Me too, Sister. Me too.”

 

lucia
“Everyday I’ve been hoping you’d come.” Eli explained. 
“I came because I met someone who had no marks.”
“I know.  She told me about you.”
“Why don’t the stickers stay on her?”
“The stickers only stay if they matter to you.  The more you trust my Love, the less you care about the stickers.”

Ladybug *

*I have “Cami’s” permission to share this piece of her & K’s story.

“Behold, I make all things new.”  Revelation 21:5

 

Kaiya was just a little Bun In The Oven when I met her, eight months old on the inside. I remember sitting next to her Momma at the dinner table, belly swollen big. Camila was fifteen, only fifteen, and I remember judging her for that. Not in a harsh way, if that’s even possible with judgment, but I judged her just the same… wondering who the boyfriend had been who’d helped her belly swell big.

The first time I saw Little Ladybug outside her Momma’s belly she was six months old, a chubby lil’ thang. I was only visiting for several days but most of my pictures from that visit are of her. Living in a house of thirty other girls, she was everybody’s Little Darling.

ladybug (3)

Kaiya was eight months old the next time I went back to Casa Hogar, but I was there to stay a little while that time. She was standing up by then, and swishing her squishy little body back and forth with any music we’d play. Dancing. = ) I watched her take her first steps, cheering her on, thrilled, before she plopped back down on her diapered bum. She was laughing then, bright bubbly laughter.

During those six weeks one of my jobs was to translate the children’s files into English. That was how I learned many of their stories, and here is something I wrote about that experience, of reading those stories, on October 20th 2010:

“What kind of world have we become that when a woman’s husband is molesting her daughters, she takes them to live in an orphanage instead of calling the police? Where a two year old is witness as their Grandmother kills their baby sister. Where a man kidnaps his wife and murders her, and their sons are taken to an orphanage as their story is told on the news. Where a father ties his little girl to a chair and forces her to watch as he molests her sister. I’m getting SICK of learning these things about every child living here.”

None of the kids were there because they were orphaned, I was learning.  Most of them were there because of abuse, or neglect, or abandonment.

Reading those files is where I learned Camila’s story as well. She shared it with me later, in her own words, once we’d become close, but it was just as devastating to hear the second time. I read Babygirl’s file first:

“Kaiya was conceived as a result of rape, by Camila’s stepfather.”

What?? No. No no no no no. No.

There had never been a boyfriend help make her belly swell big. There was only a stepfather, who raped her over and over again for years. There was another baby before Kaiya, but Camila’s little body miscarried.

Cami is so strong, she is so resilient, and she is so beautiful.

Sometimes the obvious is worth stating.

ladybug (2)

Kaiya was a year and a few months old the next time I found myself Mexico Home, and although she was not my responsibility I often took care of her anyway while her Momma was at school. For five months long Little Ladybug soaked up my love, although she was plenty plenty loved by her Momma. A year later I was back for several weeks to visit, and a year after that I was back for another month. Watching Kaiya grow from that Baby Bump to a walking, talking, sassing little girl has been one of the great privileges of my life.

The last time I was Mexico Home Kaiya wasn’t there. She & Cami had moved out of the orphanage, and although I doubted Kaiya would even remember me I was still missing her. She was four years old then, and had only spent what? eight months of her life with me nearby. But one weekend she came to visit, I saw her from far away and stopped statue still in my tracks. I gasped deep, taking her in, and then she saw me. It had been an entire year, but she saw me and she came RUNNING. She flew into my arms and I remember spinning around, holding her tight, wanting to cry but not wanting her to mistake joyful tears for sad ones. Kaiya spent the entire weekend following me around, declaring things like: “I’m going to sleep with you in your bed, because you love me a lot.” I don’t remember what else she said, but I remember her explaining to me multiple times, “…because you love me a lot.”

She remembered.

Some people say that God orchestrates life so that, “Everything Happens for a Reason.”

I think that sounds kind of nice, but I don’t think it’s true at all.

What I do believe is that God creates beauty out of every kind of messy. Out of every kind of tragedy, every kind of sinful, every kind of awful. We’re the ones who create the mess, it’s our sin blemishing this world with hatred & selfishness & rape & murder. That’s us, people. That is so not God, causing “everything to happen for a reason.” Yet it is God, constantly consistently entering into the most broken places of our hearts and world, to bring healing, to bring beauty, to bring joy.

When I see Kaiya, first I see a beautiful little girl whom I love wild & fierce. I see a joyful heart, a sassy strong-willed character, a bright bubbly laugh, big brown eyes, a mischievous smile.

But sometimes I remember the way her life began, and when I remember that slight sliver of her story what I see is the most shattered, broken, destroyed circumstance… completely taken over, filled, redeemed, by God’s consuming Love.

Nothing is too broken, nothing is too messy, for God to transform, to make new, to reclaim as His own.

ladybug (1)