When God Hears Prayers in the Kenyan Dust

Loki and Grant Swanepoel were guests at our wedding just days before relocating to Kenya to serve as missionaries there. It has been my great joy to learn from them and support their efforts among the nomadic tribes of Northern Kenya: they are precious friends and faithful workers in the gospel: parents to four kiddos, leaders in their church, and fully committed to encouraging and training local pastors to be better equipped Bible teachers. In the way of missionaries , they have found themselves developing some mad skills: like repairing Land Rovers and water pumps. Also? Grant takes AMAZING photos. I asked Loki if she would write something for us. I’m so glad she did. 
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With President Obama’s recent visit to his ancestral home here in Kenya security measures were at an all-time high. Even the airspace around our Nairobi’s International Airport, Jomo Kenyatta, was closed for 72 hours. Having lived in Kenya now for more than 10 years of our married life, we have experienced our fair share of security concerns and a few narrow escapes. Friends and family of ours have been shot at. Just three months ago we had to be evacuated out of the area where we live and work due to a huge escalation in tribal violence.
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Writing home about these scary events is hard. We cringe especially for our parents,who have to hear about all this from a distance and can ”only pray” about it. Being a Mom of four myself, I can understand how hard it must be for my Mom and Dad to worry and  pray about yet another trip through bandit country. I always think that must have been the reason why God sent us an army once in answer to my parents’ prayers.
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Let me explain. During my parents’ second visit to Kenya , we were driving to Nairobi on the notorious Great North Road, which stretches from  the  Ethiopian border in the North all the way to the South. Sections of it have since been tarmacked, but we used to joke that the only part of the name that was true was ”North”, since it was definitely not great and not much of a road.
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We had been hearing reports of a UN vehicle that had been attacked by bandits on this road a few days before our trip. As we were driving down south to Nairobi, we ran into serious trouble with one of the shocks on our Landy. You guessed it, we broke down right by the place where the attack had taken place just a few days before. The front left shock turret  (a short of tower-like little part on top of the shock for those of us who are laymen) had completely torn off. We were pacing up and down on the side of the road and my Dad came to me to say ” We need to pray to find a piece of wire here next to the road. Maybe we can somehow tie this thing up and make it to the next town”.  I was trying to be calm and cheerful and make the kids comfortable on the kikoy (local wonder blanket/sheet used for everything) I had spread out for them on the desert sand under a thorn tree. I was even busier inside praying and scanning the bushes for possible attackers.
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A few minutes later a British army vehicle appeared on the horizon, followed by another one and another one and another one. In the end, we counted more than 25 vehicles. They were out in Northern Kenya to do maneuvers with the Kenyan Defense Force (they do training here). In the convoy there were two fully kitted out mobile ”garages” with mechanics at the wheel. They had every Landy spare known to mankind in there. Their trained mechanics got out, looked at our car and had it jacked up, new turret mounted and all back on the road again in a matter of minutes. My eyes were brimming with tears. My Dad walked up to me and said ”Here we were praying for a wire, and the Lord sent an army!”
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It was the one and only time that He did this particular thing for us. I think He  was demonstrating to my dear parents  that He is able to do whatever it takes to take care of us.
We live in times of shootings and insecurity on every side. I am not saying that God will, at all times, protect His own. He can, but sometimes He shows His glory in other ways too. For that day though I believe He wanted us all to know what can happen if one ‘just’ prays.
IMGP2659Loki Swanepoel is the wife of her favourite person in the world, and a missionary who is very thankful for the gospel, since she sees her own need for it daily. She is Mommy to a prospective electrical engineer, an aspiring knight, a perpetual sunbeam and a compassionate artist. You can follow their adventures on Facebook at Nomads Pulpit, and check out more of Grant’s incredible photos on Instagram at GrantsMind.
P.S. Note from Bronwyn: All photos in this post are subject to copyright and may not be copied without permission from Grant Swanepoel. You may think no one can see you… but remember, you are seen by the God who sees what happens on deserted roads in Kenya… so act in light of that, mkay?

The invisible hero in your midst

The Invisible Hero In Your Midst

A few years ago, I knew a set of twins—I’ll call them Sarah and Sasha—who were both passionate about missions. They were both profoundly introverted, and yet expended nearly all of their social energy on supporting and promoting global outreach awareness and prayer events at college. They both dreamed and prayed of a life in Kingdom service abroad.

But.

There were two obstacles: one, they had parents who needed increasing help and care as they coped with disability. And second, they had significant student loans. Sarah and Sasha talked and prayed, and after graduating Sarah joined a team serving in Asia. Sasha returned home to be with her parents, and get a job to start tackling those loans.

I’ve received a number of letters from Sarah over the years, with news of how she has come along in learning the language, of significant relationships with coworkers and students where she has opportunities to share Jesus. She has been able to travel and visit many local families, and has had no shortage of opportunities to speak about God and the life He offers.

It has been easy to see, and rejoice, in the significant service Sarah has offered.

Last week I got a letter from Sasha. After eight years at home, she has an opportunity to go and visit Sarah this summer and partner with her on a short-term outreach trip to a neighboring Asian country. Sasha has saved up for many years to pay for this trip, but needed some help to pay for the relief care for her parents, who cannot do without outside physical assistance these days.

It occurred to me how little I had noticed or esteemed Sasha’s service, while it has been no less significant, or costly. 

Sasha has given her twenties to caring for her parents, and working to pay off loans: something very few first world young adults have to do. She has done so prayerfully, willingly, and quietly; offering a support without which her sister could not have gone.

And yet she doesn’t get to introduce herself as being “a missionary”, and she doesn’t have the stamps in her passport (not that I am glamorizing the life of a missionary, but still….)

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The service of those who send and support is no less valuable than those who go. Those who write checks for sponsor children are just as critical as those who distribute the food and teach the lessons on the other side. Those who faithfully pray through the prayer letters in their email folder are just as critical as those who sit cross-legged in small huts, sharing the good news of God.

So much of the world’s critical work is accomplished by people in the quiet of their houses: being faithful to pray and give, even if they never get to go and do.

For every Sarah in the world, there is a network of unsung heroes: quiet Sashas whose faithful service is noticed and rewarded by the Father who sees what is done in secret.

May we be faithful Sarahs and Sashas, wherever God has placed us.

Remembering the Forgotten Children – {guest post by Ingrid Lochamire}

I’m so grateful to have Ingrid Lochamire as a guest today. I’ll let Ingrid introduce herself, and tell you all how we met 🙂

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At a writing conference in Michigan last spring, I met a tall young woman with a captivating smile and a beautiful accent. We ran into each other over and over again during the conference (including in various restrooms) and decided we could be “cyber friends”. Though we live half a continent apart, I’ve enjoyed getting acquainted with Bronwyn Lea over the past several months via her blog and other writings. At her request, I’m honored to share with you, her readers, these words that have had an impact on my life.

Many conversations over the years have given me pause, turned me on my heels, changed my view of things, but few have had the impact of two words spoken from the altar by a woman in the church we began attending six years ago:

“Forgotten children.”

Could there be such a thing? As a mother of four sons that I have guided into adulthood (with more than a little help from their dad), this was a concept I couldn’t accept.

I learned on that Sunday morning that thousands of children live on the streets of Honduras, one of the poorest nations in Central America. Most have been abandoned by family, sent to the streets to beg and fend for themselves. Many are sexually and physically abused. Others become addicted to huffing glue.

Our church worked alongside a missionary in Honduras in 2002 to rescue 10 boys from the streets of Tegucigalpa, and a new ministry was born. By the time I learned of Forgotten Children Ministries, over 70 boys and girls had been rescued and lived in an orphanage in Tegucigalpa and on a farm in Monte Redondo.

Hearing the woman tell of her recent trip to Honduras, and viewing photographs of those beautiful brown-eyed children, I felt God tugging at my heart. I had been on a mission trip to Nicaragua a few years earlier, but our ministry was to families in the hillside city where we stayed in a gated compound. This Honduras mission put volunteers in the orphanages and the countryside so that they could meet face-to-face with the children and with families who are desperate for help.

For the next couple of years, I listened to reports from the mission teams who traveled from Indiana to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, several times a year. Health issues and responsibilities at home had been my excuse for not joining them, but in the spring of 2012, I knew God was telling me to trust Him. My youngest son and I signed on to spend six days in Honduras that summer. It was a decision that changed everything.

Chase, who was 17 at the time, was a little ambivalent about the idea (did I mention he was 17?), but once he found himself surrounded by smiling little boys who loved nothing more than to kick around a soccer ball with an American teenager, he was hooked.

For myself, I ended every day in tears. So much poverty, contrasted with so much joy. I was humbled to see the faith, strength and resilience of the children, and of these broken people who called a 4×4 metal shack “home”.

The week flew by, and in the midst of it, I was smitten. 10-year-old Nayeli, a gap-toothed sprite who giggled at my faltering attempts to speak Spanish, stole my heart. By week’s end, I had signed on as her sponsor and, through tears, I promised I would see her again.

I left Honduras a changed woman, and I think my son grew a foot during his time in Honduras — in body and in spirit. A year later, we both returned to Honduras to love on those “forgotten children”. It was even better the second time around.

I know I’ll find my way back to the orphanage in Honduras where a sassy little brown-eyed girl from the streets is growing into a beautiful young woman with a future. She, and all the others, won’t be “forgotten”.

Ingrid Lochamire is a former newspaper reporter who “retired” to home school her four sons, now ages 19-30. A freelance writer and blogger, she shares “Reflections on the Journey” at ingridlochamire.com. A week’s worth of essays and photographs from Ingrid’s 2013 mission trip to Honduras can be found on her blog under “missions”.

When loving there is easier than loving here

I’m thrilled to have Katie as a guest today! I wrote about Katie long, long ago when she and her husband Kevin were working in Nepal – and her blog Hope Engaged is so full of beautiful words, beautiful grace AND beautiful pictures. But, don’t take my word for it – you can get a sneak peak of her loveliness here….

katie cookHi friends! My name is Katie, and I am so grateful to be posting on Bronwyn’s blog today 🙂 I look further to getting to know you all more!

When Bronwyn first prompted me to think about “words that changed my world”, it only took a hot minute to realize the pinnacle of the sacred words that transformed the trajectory of my journey. And believe me, these words were transformational. Scary, actually, because they challenged the very mindset and behaviors I had lived with for many, many years. And this particular challenge came from the good Lord.

Let’s back up a bit….

You see, my husband and I grew up in sunny California, in a cozy suburb, spending massive amounts of time at the beach, going to Disneyland, eating Mexican food, attending church activities, etc. {ie: a wee bit insulated.}

By the time I had graduated college, I had traveled extensively abroad, and had done quite a bit of service and mission projects with the poor in other countries. But after each trip I returned “home” to the USA and comfortably slipped right back into my cozy suburb.

It was after a stint teaching English in Thailand that I moved back to California. And soon life began to revolve around me, not necessarily consciously, but most definitely by default. And that’s when I hard God’s voice loud and clear. He said to me,

“Katie, how can you love the poor in other countries, but fail to do so in your own country?”

I was rocked. Loud and clear, like a zinger to the heart. It was true. If my “love for the poor” was really love, a zipcode should have nothing to do with my action and lifestyle.

I was wrecked. I began to pray that God would displace me. That he would show me how I could tangibly love the poor in my own community. The problem was, as you can imagine from my upbringing, I didn’t know anyone who really fit that description. And really, you can’t google these things people! I was at an impasse, and I didn’t know which road to take. And thus began 5 months of crying out to Abba in desperation, asking for him to show me how to truly care for his people in my own backyard. {which included lots of ugly cries and confusion, but also great anticipation for God to truly overwhelm me with His divine plan!}

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And then one day I heard of an organization working in an immigrant community a few miles from my house. I filled out an application to volunteer at the after school program. In the back of my mind I was thinking, “maybe if I volunteer for a year or so, they’ll let me possibly move into the neighborhood?” What happened next blew me away…

After my 20-minute interview was finished, a girl on staff with the organization (who I hadn’t even met yet) walked right up to me and asked if I’d like to move into the neighborhood. They had a spot in the girl’s house, and needed another roommate. I was dumbfounded. Literally, I think my tongue fell out of my mouth. I may have drooled. But it was epic.

And so with knees knocking, and all sorts of fear and stereotypes hanging in my mind of what my new home might be like, I moved into the barrio.

And it was wonderful, and hard, but mostly life changing.

My apartment was filled with cockroaches, mold, cracking cabinets, and, OH, did I mention a colony of cockroaches? There was graffiti on our garage door, and a gang that walked the streets.

But more importantly, my heart was filled with community, as I began to know my neighbors and their stories filled me with so much hope and courage. Little by little trust was formed, and histories shared, and laugher was heard, and soon tears on shoulders were had. And soon, best friends were made.

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Allowing God to displace me in this neighborhood was one of the very best things that could have ever happened to me. In the five years we lived in the neighborhood, Kevin and I have opened our home to anyone who needed love. We’ve led workshops at the teen center, hosted Bible Studies, baptized high school students who were once lost in the darkness of drugs and abuse, and are now walking with Christ as their guide.

The bottom line is that the words God spoke to me changed everything. Kevin and I have realized that no matter where we live, or what we do for a living, the mandate to love, befriend, care and build relationship with the poor is Kingdom work that fulfills the deepest part of our souls. And we are so grateful for this lesson.

 

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Katie hails from the sunny state of California, however has lived and traveled all around the world. Most recently Katie and her husband have returned from living in Nepal, where they worked with girls rescued out of sex-trafficking. Now back in their beloved California, she is pursuing her masters in marriage and family therapy, with the hope of going into cross-cultural counseling in the future. Katie is an avid reader and map collector, loves making new friends, and gets excited about how God is moving all around the world. Katie blogs about her life and travels at Hope Engaged.

 

My Passage to India

Please welcome Teri Black to the Words That Changed my World series today!

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I’ve been on lots of short term mission trips. Medical trips to Guatemala, women’s conference trips to Mexico, and some amazing trips to Nicaragua working at a home for women coming out of the sex trade. They’ve had their challenges, I’ve had to do some difficult tasks, and they’ve all taken me away from family and comfort. But really, I have loved every minute and have never really taken any risks I wasn’t immediately comfortable taking. It’s not like I had ever had to lead a trip or anything.

A couple years ago, I was at a reunion dinner for our recent trip to Nicaragua. It had been a great trip. My friend Lesa had led the trip, and we had become good friends through these trips to Nicaragua. The dinner was over and everyone had gone home. I stood lingering in the front yard talking to Lesa.

“I was talking to Scott (our missions pastor),” she said, “about how we need more people to lead mission trips. And your name came up.”

“You could do it,” Lesa said.

I had been feeling restless for a year or so. Like God wanted me to do something, but I didn’t know what. I had already decided to quit leading women’s Bible study after eight years, and to quit working with the youth. And I had no idea why, other than I felt God leading me to. When Lesa uttered these words I knew instantly that this is what God wanted me to do.

My heart fluttered in my chest and my mind raced. Maybe I could do it. Lead or find a new trip for women at our church. It had never even crossed my mind before. And to have my dear friend whom I greatly respected say those words to me…it filled me with such joy and hope and confidence. I will never forget that moment under the yellow street light on that Spring night.

Over the next year I got busy. I had never led a trip before and had no connections. But I found myself emailing missionaries and organizations all over the world, and meeting with several of them. And eighteen months later I found myself on a plane to India.

The trip to India was incredible…other-worldly. And really it is the many months leading up to the trip that have changed me. For the first time in my life, I had had to depend completely on God for strength, guidance and confidence. I had no clue what I was doing and yet He supplied everything I needed every step of the way.

I would have never taken my first step on that amazing path if my dear friend Lesa had not planted the seed. I am so thankful for God’s provision, for my friend, and for her continual encouragement every step of the way.

A note from Teri Black: Hi! I am a 41 year old mother and pharmacist. My kids are 18, 14, and 11 and my husband is a stay-at-home dad. I am also a bit of a travel junkie. I grew up in a non-Christian home. We attend Woodcreek Church, a non-denominational church in Richardson, Texas.

 

Reach

I can’t have been more than 8 years old the first time I heard an appeal to send missionaries out. “To the ends of the earth,” they said. “We have to send people to the ends of the earth before Jesus returns. With your help, we can do this before the end of the twentieth century.”

I marveled as my step-mother wrote an enormously generous check to help fund the messengers, even as I swallowed back doubts at the impossibility of the task.

I imagined little villages of little people, semi-clad with exotic piercings and clickety languages. I wondered what would happen to the villages no-one knew existed, to people groups tucked away in dark corners of closed countries. How would we reach them?

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I smiled at my 8year old self this week as I listened to missionaries of over 30 years share about their experiences. Years and years in a remote location. Years and years of language study. Years and years of patient relationship building and Bible translation – the fruits of which were a copy of the New Testament, Genesis and Exodus in their heart language. With the double zinger challenges of printing difficulties and Bible-possession being illegal – precious few copies were passed out.

The missionary shrugged: “if we gave out 20 copies, it was a lot.” I sighed. Not many reached, I thought.

He continued, “but the internet… well, the internet has changed everything.” They uploaded their years of work onto a website, and marveled at the reaching power which the internet age and smart phones could muster.

He laughed as he told us some of the numbers: to date 23,000 copies of their bible translation have been downloaded digitally. “In the past, showing someone a bible could get you imprisoned. But these days, you can whip out a cellphone in the middle of a market and show a friend what you just read, and no one will bat an eyelid.”

I listened to him speak and I laughed. Laughed at how impossible the task of reaching the ends of the earth had seemed to my eight year old self. Laughed at how God, looking down on little me, must have been thinking “just you wait, little one, wait and see what I have just around the corner.”

I’m convinced that just as God was behind the invention of the printing press – a great technological leap that radically changed the world’s access to bibles – so too God had big plans for the internet.

I know we love to harp about the dangers of the web and addictions to social media, but then again – there never was a good thing which hasn’t been twisted by the tempter. A warped version of a thing should never make us assume that the thing is inherently warped. God creates good things; Satan twists them; God redeems them. It is His way.

And I marvel once again at God who is greater than Google, who is the ultimate web Master. I marvel that 23,000 bibles were safely downloaded in a tucked away corner of the globe. I marvel that this little blog of mine has been viewed in more than 100 countries worldwide in its 10 months of existence. What? Me? Playing a part in the destiny of the nations while wearing my pajamas?

I marvel at His Reach. His arm is not too short to save.

Photo credit: Getty Images
All Scripture links to Biblegateway.com

“Do you have a tent?”

Fresh off the plane from Haiti, Genevieve Pearson called and told me this amazing story, and I wept listening to it. I cried hot, streaming, worshipful tears all over again when I read it again, even though two years have passed since that day. I’m thrilled to have her writing this week for the words that changed my world series of guest posts. G is a precious friend and kindred spirit, and this story is remarkable.

(For the Anxious ones.)

After seeing the Haiti trip mentioned in the church bulletin, I penciled in my initials and a question mark, showing it to my husband, Matthew. My excitement swelled for about ten minutes and then was quickly overtaken by the fears and anxieties that crowd out anything requiring of me risk and a departure from the safe and the familiar. In fact, for years I had been quietly, carefully limiting my experiences (and those of my family) to accommodate the growing fear in me of all things uncertain. The following month was filled with prayer for wisdom: should I go? While praying with my sweet friend and neighbor, Donna, she said that she felt compelled to share an “odd verse” with me, one she’d never thought to offer to someone before:

Isaiah 54:2 “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.” I prayed through this verse, finding in it the injunction to go and to see how my fears and doubts might be met with His grace.

On our first full day in Haiti we met a woman named TiFiyel who was living with several of her children and her four grandchildren in a deplorable sheet dwelling filled with mildew and ants. Her three-month-old granddaughter was born in this dark place that had no ventilation and that leaked terribly every time it rained. Our team set to work pouring a foundation for her new home, knowing it would be months–a long rainy season–before her home would be ready. That night as the team discussed the day and prayed for TiFiyel, I turned to Chris, an American intern working in Haiti, and asked: “When we go back, can’t we just bring TiFiyel a tent to use until her house is built?” With irony and gently exposing my naiveté, she said: “Do you have a tent?”

Ah. In a country with such systemic poverty, one can’t just go buy a tent in town. It doesn’t work that way. I felt a bit foolish for having asked. Nevertheless, while we prayed her question rang in my head over and over–and the voice asking it wasn’t Chris’ voice anymore, it was the Holy Spirit’s voice: Do you have a tent? Yes, Lord, I have a tent. A nine-person tent. It’s in my basement at home… And I have a husband who can drive it to my Pastor who is flying to Haiti in a day and a half!

A flurry of international texts and less than 48 hours later, my Pastor arrived with a tent, a tarp, stakes and cord to erect for TiFiyel and her family a dry place to live through the months of rain. Our team hardly had to lift a finger to pull down the old tent, to make the ground level, and to put up the new tent: the village did that with great joy–one woman cried out in Creole “Halleluiah! Halleluiah! I know God is real! I know He is here! I have prayed for Him to help TiFiyel and her children for so long! Halleluiah!”

"Yes, Lord. I have a tent."

“Yes, Lord. I have a tent.”

Storm clouds rolled in quickly, requiring our team to race against the rain back to paved roads lest our bus get stuck in the mud. Our team leader, Carine, yelled, “get in the tent, Genna!” I stepped inside where it was clean, dark, and dry despite the rain; and I saw only TiFiyel’s silhouette, thin, barely covered by her long nightshirt. Carine said to her, “She brought this tent for your family.” TiFiyel wrapped her arms around me and kissed my face. I wept as she blessed and thanked me. Me! The anxious one, so uncomfortable with the idea that this act would get me credit for generosity and ingenuity, when all along this amazing trip I was painfully aware of how deeply I was hoarding and idolizing safety, health, comfort, and control.

As we drove away from the village, Carine held my hand while I wept and grinned and recalled that verse Donna had given to me many weeks before: “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.” Our sweet Lord gave me a word picture of a tent being erected. I laughed out loud at the beauty and specificity of it. He knew the plans He had for me, for our team, for TiFiyel.

I could leave the story there. It is tidy and beautiful, and it points to God’s tremendous and intricate weaving together of stories and words, just because He can and it brings Him glory. But I wonder if there is more. What does that question, “Do you have a tent?” mean to me today? I wish the answer were as obvious as it was that day in Haiti, when the question was meant to point out the problem and the lack, but prompted creative energy and provision instead. While I sit in my quiet house, kids at school, husband at work, my dissertation languishing unfinished, and my thoughts pleading, “Lord, DO I have a tent? What do I do now with my life? Who needs that thing I happen to have?” Increasingly, I feel as though the only real “tent” I have to give is myself: my anxious, limited, small self who loves a really big God.

I am so afraid to enlarge, to stretch, to lengthen, to strengthen, to NOT HOLD BACK. What if it is scary there? What if I fail? What if I am just too afraid to dare? Those are the questions that keep my tent very small, indeed. And so I remember the stretching times, when God shows up amidst the storm and fills the dark, holy places with tears and embraces and answers to prayers I didn’t even know to pray. And He lets me see how much He loves me.

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Genevieve Pearson is a wife, mom of 2, and a sort-of graduate student working on a PhD in Early Modern British Literature.

(Also, she’s the girl I call when I have a secret or a lament or a silly story to tell. Leave her some comment love, will ya?)

To my picky eater

Darling child,

Tonight I served green eggs and ham for dinner. The irony was completely lost on you.

Green Eggs and Ham

You pushed it away without trying a bite, just as you do with most of the the conventionally colored meals we eat the remainder of the week.

I do not like them Sam-I-am.

You are probably as relieved as I am that we don’t fight about it anymore. The bribes to eat, the threat of punishment, the starving-you-out, the timer… all of those tactics produced zero eating and a multitude of stress.

Not in a car, Not in a tree.
I do not like them, Sam, you see.
Not in a house. Not in a box.
Not with a mouse. Not with a fox.
I will not eat them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere!

I’m glad we’re past that. Now we both know that you eat for YOU, not for me, and we are both the better for it.

But just because we don’t fight about it doesn’t mean I don’t care what you eat, because I care immensely.

You see, there are many different reasons to eat. Most of the world eats because they’re hungry. They eat whatever is put in front of them, because the choice is the little on the plate before them, or hours of painful hunger. Hunger is a great reason to eat.

Those with slightly more resources eat to be healthy. They have a choice, and need to choose a balance of foods to give them energy and nutrients. Food is human-fuel. Energy for living is a great reason to eat.

(As an aside, sweetie, there are many that eat for comfort, hoping that the full feeling in their tummies will somehow make the ache in their soul-hole go away. Your mama is one who too often eats to feed her feelings, and I’m working hard to know when my soul needs Jesus-food rather than ice-cream. Sadness is not a great reason to eat.)

Sweetheart, in this land-of-abundance we call home – we have never gone hungry, and we are spoilt for choice. So you don’t eat meat? That’s okay – there are a dozen other protein choices for you. You don’t like what’s on the menu? That’s okay, another snack or meal will be served within hours. Even as a picky eater, you can still never have to deal with hunger, and you can still find a healthy, balanced diet among these options.

My precious child, I am not worried that you will be hungry, and I am not worried about your health. The thing that concerns me most is not that you are missing out on food. The thing that concerns me is that you are worried out on what food represents: relationships.

Yes, we eat to abate hunger and to fuel our lives, but more than that I want you to know that food is the centerpiece of us living our lives together. We eat for joy. We eat in community. We eat for shared experience and shared conversations. We eat to welcome people into our home, and we show our acceptance of hospitality and welcome in their lives by accepting the cup of tea and plate of food which is passed our way. Meals together are the bedrock of friendships and communities: a shared pot is a shared life.

Dining together celebrates the diversity of cultures and tastes in God’s big world. A bite of a foreign dish is, quite literally, a taste of their world.

So, my beloved one, when Mommy urges you to try a bite, please know that it’s not because I’m afraid you’ll miss out on calories or calcium. It’s because I’m afraid you will miss out on community. I’m concerned your pickiness will, if left unchecked, lead you to say no to tastes and flavors of friendship. I’m afraid it will cause offense among those who might risk opening their lives and homes to you. I don’t want you to miss out on ministry and missions trips and pizza nights with friends because the food-issue causes so much tension.

I could not, would not, on a boat.
I will not, will not, with a goat.
I will not eat them in the rain.
I will not eat them on a train.

I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them ANYWHERE!

Your Daddy and I sometimes joke among ourselves that perhaps, one day, there will be a boy you like, and he will ask you out on a date and will take you somewhere special. We joke that he will order a dinner filled with tastes and textures you have never tried before, and that you – starry eyed and hormonal – will choose to try a hamburger for the first time rather than hurt the feelings of the anxious youth with the cute haircut and nervous smile. We tell ourselves that maybe, on that day, you will – for the sake of nascent love – sink your teeth into something new and say:

Say!
I like green eggs and ham!
I do!! I like them, Sam-I-am!

Because love is a great reason to eat.

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the pair at the door

Last week I had an encounter that just about broke my heart.

It was around dinner-time and the pots were boiling, counters were cluttered, kids were clamoring. You know, the regular 6pm drill. A knock on the door announced the arrival of two fresh-faced Mormon missionaries. (Aside: The older I get the stranger it seems to greet these youngsters as they ask to be called: “Elder Smith” and “Elder Mason”, but anyway….)

So there were two Mormons at the door, wanting to chat.

In years past, I have sent them away: courteous but dismissive (No thanks, I already have faith in Jesus. Good bye)

In years past I have invited them in and been passionate but argumentative (No! That’s not what the Bible says. Where do you find that?)

In years past I have invited them in and tried to be courteous but still landed up feeling argumentative (I’m sorry, that’s not what the Bible says).

In all these interactions, I have always had my ‘defensive guard’ on, seeing myself as defending the gospel that God freely GIVES us His favor through Jesus, contrary to their message that you have to WORK to attain God’s favor.. I have viewed them as Pharisees: self-righteous and preaching a burdensome message that you have to attain your own righteousness before God. And like the Pharisees in the gospels, I have seen them opponents Jesus silenced, rebuked, corrected.

Until last night.

Last night our kids were around and Jeremy was talking with them at the door, and on a whim I invited them to our dinner table. I warned them that there would be no arguing at our dinner table in front of the kids and that they had to “play nice”. And I asked questions: how did you come to be a missionary? where are you from? how long are you into your stint? how long have you been in Davis? How are you doing being so far away from home? And friends, i discovered some heartbreaking things.

These young guys, full of sincerity and zeal, take a 2 year commitment believing they are earning God’s favor by doing so. They are not allowed to call home except on Christmas and Mothers day. But they are allowed to write once a week, they hastily assured me.

I asked the more argumentative of the two about his reasons for deciding to go on a mission. He told us that his parents’ marriage hadn’t been doing well and that he hoped that, by going on the mission, Heavenly Father would bless his family and perhaps spare his parents’ marriage.

Friends, I nearly burst into tears on the spot. For years, I have seen these travelers as young Pharisees. But last week I saw them in a completely new way. I saw the Rich Young Ruler, coming to Jesus full of earnest desire to do right.

“Teacher,” he said, “What must I do to possess eternal life?”

“You know the commandments” said Jesus.

He heard Jesus, but didn’t hear him. “Teacher, all of these I have kept since I was a boy.”

And Mark 10 says that Jesus looked at him and loved him. For all his misguided zeal. For all his sincerity.

Sitting at our dinner table, I looked at these young guys and loved them. How lonely they must be! How hard to be away from your family for 18 months – hoping every day your parents will stay together and finding out 7 months later when you are finally allowed to call that dad has moved to Texas and they split up anyway. How lonely to have no-one call you by your first name for TWO YEARS. I bet no-one has hugged them in as long either.

Our dinner was cut short as they had another appointment to go to. But as they left, the one young ‘Elder’ thanked us warmly. Tearing up, he said that no one had ever invited him in in the 18 months he had been door to door, and we had no idea what this meant to him.

I was so stunned. And so ashamed. After they left I prayed for them and wept for them. I asked God to forgive me for the many, many times I bludgeoned young visitors like them with the Bible instead of loving them as the Lord does. All those years I was hoping I would be able to show them what real Christianity looked like, but I had failed to listen to what Jesus had said: “they will know we are christians by our love.”

I write this as a confession. And I write this because Hebrews says we should consider how we can spur one another on to love and good deeds. Believing friends: next time two young guys knock on your door, invite them in. Love them. They don’t need answers as much as they need grace, and we have access to storehouses of it.