May 19, 2011

This time last year...

For the past two weekends I have been in Toronto again, reminiscing as I visit the friends, community, and places of a season ago with the same thought to open my memories... "This time last year..."

This time last year I was living with one of my dearest friends and her generous-hearted family. Sitting around their dinner table again it is easy to remember when I was just like family, but this time from the new vantage point of guest.

This time last year I could walk into church and ask "how was your week?" Now the question must broaden to cover the months that I haven't been a physical part of their lives.

This time last year I was busy getting ready to leave for Guatemala to do short-term missions work, having opened my heart up more to the idea that it doesn't matter where we serve, but that we serve. I thought that God may use my time there as a stepping stone for bringing a music program there in the future. Now I'm on tour again because of my time in Guatemala. Sometimes our prayers of "God how do you want to use me after this?" have the most unexpected answers.

But the biggest difference between now and last year is the place my heart is in. Last year, through all my time in Pickering I was restless. Restless to be working differently. Unsure of how to live with purpose, and what my purpose was. Longing to be overseas. Afraid of settling. Now I have better learned that missions is a state of the heart, not your state of living. There is great value in community that shouldn't be taken for granted once you've found that you are surrounded by relationships that have taken time to form, and taken time to care for you while you are gone. Serving is made easy when it is the nature of our daily jobs. A servant's heart though is what truly makes us servants no matter where we live or what we do.

As I learn, as my heart is redirected, I can better see all the opportunities with great purpose that are inbedded in being settled in a community. I think of being back to "where I was last year" when I think of "this time next year" and I am newly and perfectly content.

April 12, 2011

Humbling the "I" factor

God always gives us what we need- a place to encourage others and a place where we are rested and encouraged. I don't always need what I think I do. Have you ever thought that someone else might need that more? I hadn't really thought of it that way. I have expectations like anyone else when I am a guest- I am here so that I am taken care of, I am fed, I am made comfortable, and all my needs are met.
...And there begins the self-entitled attitude. It always starts with "I".
For example, I want a real bed not an airbed when I am travelling. I want wireless so I can communicate. I want to seek solace in a quiet evening to give thought and rest to a hard day. I want cleanliness. I am in a difficult place and I am tired., therefore I want to be met in a place where I am encouraged and someone takes the time to pour into me- scratching far beneath the surface of introductions to where I am tired, empty, or lonely for more personal connection.
And then you know what often happens next in those times? I get just the opposite of what I think I need. I stay somewhere in my travels with the choir where I have little privacy and my host is eager to talk when I am ready for my alone time. But then I learn from being squished into the living room where I am right in the middle of household community that my host has not had anyone to carry on a meaningful conversation with for months. Or maybe she is divorced. Maybe lonely. Down, even depressed from the relationship he or she wishes they had with her sons and daughters but doesn't...
And then humility hits me and I learn to see that I am staying with normal people with their own sets of needs, and that sometimes they need the care more than I do. God always provides me with what I need, and when I don't receive the kind of place I think I wanted I get what I really need- a place to encourage someone else.

February 21, 2011

It's that simple.

I love the picture a dinner with a host family makes on tour. Different backgrounds. Different cultures, colours, design. Different viewpoints. And through fellowship more similarities, more connection, and less differences as a family knitted together around one table.
Last weekend the snapshot of our families looked like this: One little Chineese girl, one boy from Guatemala, two girls from Uganda, two natives from Oklahoma, and myself from Canada. Around the table space is left waiting for several Etheopian siblings. My host was in the process of adopting a sibling set- "anywhere from 2 to six siblings orphaned in Etheopia" is what she told me she was praying for. They didn't care how many would one day join them around the table and extend their family, just that one day these siblings would. Both parents feel the burden of orphaned siblings and faithfully wait on God's timing in receiving them as their own.
I asked them later if adoption is something that has always been on their hearts. This was their reply:
"God tells us in the Bible to be a father to the fatherless. This is our way of doing that."
No paragraph of reasoning needed.
No more verses quoted.
No processing of the heart that needed explanation.
This is their way of doing what Jesus asks of us.It will not be everyone's way of comapssion, but everyone is called to act.

It was that simple.
...It IS that simple.

January 20, 2011

The need to articulate.

Joshua always asks me the same question: "Auntie, who is your best friend in all the children?" With the fair heart of a parent I tell him that I don't have favourites, but unsatisfied he begs me to pick just one. I tell him that I love each child the same even though I love them all for different reasons. Reasons that make them each unique. He looked thoughtful over that explanation for a long time and then with the upmost sincerity looked up at me and asks "Then Auntie Laura, what is it about me that makes you love me?"

..."Why do you love me?"...

I let the question hang in the space between us for only a moment- we must be quick to answer such a question because if we are quick to respond it affirms that we know why we love. How often do we point that out to people? Let me answer that- Not as often as I think we ought to. It makes my mind wander...does my friend know why they are one of my best friends? Does my family know why I love them as people, or do we take that love too easily for granted since we have the easy bond of mother to daughter...sister to sister? I ask myself as Joshua asks me, have I really made it evident to him why I love him- his character, his talents, his growing heart? I answer quickly because I don't want him to think that I just love him because he is in the choir and I am his Auntie. I don't want him to believe that love is simply created by circumstance.

And so over dinner I talk to him about how I love the way he values people, and I want to give him an example so that he knows what I see in him is real. I remind him of all the times he has greeted me and never missed saying hello to people in a church, or his Aunties and Uncles when they come in from a day off. I tell him I believe he has a God-given talent for drumming, and that teaching him in music I have seen him improve in not just playing but playing musically. He has a way of making people feel loved, and the list of things that make him special go on...

When I am done he turns to me without missing a beat and says "Auntie Laura, let me tell you why I love you okay? I love you because you are beautiful. I love you because you have a beautiful voice when you sing." The flattery is sweet and I smile, but then the real reasons come: "I love you because you make time to play with me and you play with me properly. You are not mean and we can just have fun. And I love you because you correct me when I do something wrong, even when I am frustrated and don't want to hear it you don't let me carry on doing the wrong thing."

How often I have underestimated a child's ability to verbalize what they feel. Often the hours spent on drawing their best picture for you speaks greater volumes of love than the note they write you on the back of the picture. I can tell they love me by the way they hug me, greet me, look at me captivated by my teaching, or ask me to stay up and talk with them at night. But it touched my heart especially to hear the reasons articulated, and it reminds me to articulate the reasons we love someone much more often than we do so that they never ask "why?".

December 2, 2010

Church, Faith and Coffee beans

One of the ways I believe I have grown as a parent is learning that relationship is the foundation to discipling, discipline, and mentoring. Feel the strength in the hug of child the morning after you took the time to get to know their heart and hear their stories the night before. See how eager they are to spend time with you after you have spent a simple half hour of your day reading them stories and asking about their family. Always care to know how they are and see how quickly they soon care to ask "how are you?" in return. With relationship they will want to listen to you because you have taken the time to listen to them. You know them. They will then desire your wisdom and advice and even your correcting.
This tour I have been more intentional about being relational. I have started writing down everything I am learning about each child in a little notebook much sooner than the idea came to me last time. I feel like getting to know them has just been accelerated. That is the best part of being here, and in my opinion the very heart of parenthood. A wise friend, Vic, came back to church one morning to tell me about the great male bonding time he'd had that night with the boys. I asked him what he meant, and he told me that on some of our early nights to bed he stays up an extra half hour with the children and gives them the time to just talk with him- to be candid, ask all the questions that wonder themselves away in their mind, the silly ideas that make their dimples show when they laugh, the chance at the end of a busy school day to just be silly together, or sometimes allow the conversation to turn into a deeper theological discussion.
Learning our children's hearts... I want to do that more too. Those kinds of things don't just simply fit into this schedule, I need to allow myself to be available for that to happen.
So for the past two nights when the hosts have said their goodnights and we have prayed together, I have stayed behind the extra half hour to talk to the girls. I have learned about their journey to faith, what their families believe, the siblings they have lost, their thoughts on worship music in churches...and tonight I was asked to tell them stories about my Grandmother. Tomorrow we have another half hour or so date on the bus to look at the pictures that illustrate my favourtie memories of her that I shared. We laughed as I told them of the time when I was little and stuffed coffee beans up my nose and then had to be dragged to the hospital to have them removed- only to laugh harder when Deborah said she did the same thing as a child, and so did Victo's sister. I don't know what it is that prompts children from no matter where in the world to do such a thing as shove beans up their noses! But we laughed together, and in just two nights we are closer.
"Auntie Laura you are like Jesus! You come in, spend time with us, care about us, talk with us, and then pray with us and bless us! It is like Jesus is lying in my bed beside me!" (Deborah)
That is the highest compliment I could ever be paid I think.
Tonight two little girls grabbed my hands and quickly shut the door behind them and begged for the chance to talk again.
Tomorrow they will hang off me and tell me they love me, tomorrow I will feel the love in their hug, tomorrow we will share more stores and pictures. Tomorrow will bear the fruit of today's strengthened relationships.

November 20, 2010

The "how could I not?" attitude

Before hosting us my last host had never met anyone from Uganda, let alone been to Uganda. But her heart was broken for babies of that country. After hearing that the greatest killer of infants in a hopsital outside Kampala was hypothermia, her garage was packed full of blankets and her husband was working overtime to make enough money to ship off all the blankets to North Carolina where they would be taken with another passionate hearted woman to Uganda. The whole community of Gilette WY knew about the simple, basic need for blankets, the family that was willing and driven, and the garage that was kicking out its space for cars and tools in effort for these newborns. I told my host that it was great that she saw the need and let it burden her so she acted on it. "Well of course" she announced matter of factly. "I felt so badly for those little babies, that they were dying from something that could so easily be prevented. Once I knew that how could I not?"

What a great attitude. Those things that burden us (and I do believe they are different for everyone) - what if dared to let ourselves act on them? What if you, me, the world just looked past all the excuses and worries that stop us? Let go of all the excuses of money, time, wories of our own image, and the fear that we will fail and just focused on the burden that wants to fuel our heart?

Look at what breaks you. I remember coming home from a weekend retreat in grade 9 having seen a video on child soldiers. It was the first time I had heard of children being forced to murder their own parents, and I came home and wept. Not just cried at the thought of it, but I remember being so disturbed that I threw myself on my bed and wept. Just months ago I had to write a paper on child soldiers in Uganda- writing it, I cried over chapters at the thought that the children in the books could have been the child that I hugged today. The first time I was in the Ukraine at the end of highschool was the first time I saw 2000 people share one watering tap, and people who were so rejected from society that they had no hope and would break the limbs of their own babies to earn a cent because it was the only thing that would make people see them. Hearing that there are as many orphans in India as there are people in the entire United States makes me want to be sick.

You and me- we cannot save the world. We cannot help every child that makes up one of those statistics. But somewhere outside Kampala there are hundreds of babies who are not dying before they even get the chance to live because they are too cold, and all becuase of one person. Sometimes, I think it is the attitude of our hearts that needs saving before the world needs saving or can be saved.

What burderns you... could you not?

October 19, 2010

Blessing: The act of...

Today is a Panera and pandora day, with nothing else open except for my journal. I have hit one of those points where I need to sit down and be with my thoughts, relive the last week, and gather up all the experiences the week has held, look at them on paper and conciously seek out how it is that I am being challenged, what it is that I am learning, and more than anything how all the love I see and the love I am shown should change me.
I look back on several hosts and pray hard that at the end of my stay with them that I may never become complacent towards generosity. Two weeks ago my host took Chelsea and I to Bloomington Indiana to see all the landmark places of one of our favourite book series by Karen Kingsbury. Giving up her day to drive the hour and a half to Bloomington, she called up her son who lived there to tour us around. He met us with a list of places he thought we'd want to see with directions on getting everywhere we would want to go that day. Neither of them had heard of the series before, but just because we were giddishly happy over exploring the town they were eagerly excited to share in all of it with us. They went out of their way for us that day, not because they had to, but because they desired to. "I know we just met" they said "but we already don't want you to go. You're already a friend." Meet people where they're at, get in on what excites them, enjoy whatever that may be- sightseeing Bloomington, doing coffee, hiking, dancing...and you'll connect quickly, even though travels always move you onward.

Yes, blessing is proactive. It is seeking out how you can meet someone where they're at, and beyond that learn what is special to them. Bill, a member of a church near Hershey PA lived like that. From the moment he called us on tour to firm up details he asked how he could especially bless the chapersones and children. He arranged for us to take the children for their first swim, and then the next day to Chocolate world in Hershey, PA. Swimming with the children is the best- it is hysterically fun.

Chocolate world was truly something else- driving around in a chocolate car ride we toured the factory and looked at how chocolate was made while driving through vats and molds. When Bill found out that it was Thanksgiving in Canada that weekend he sought out the nearest grocery store to buy us pumpkin pie, and then excitedly thought a pumpkin latte would be perfect for Thanksgiving too- and in the same trip for the pie returned with pumpkin lattes.

I want to learn more to meet people where they're at and be excited and involved with what excites them. I look at how these people receive me and hope that I am as warm hearted in being a guest in their home as they are in hosting me.