Monday, February 28, 2011

A language louder than words

I've been meaning to write this for a while but other things came up.  I said that I wanted to write a blog about this black & white photo and now is the time.

July of 2009 was my first trip to Kenya.  After a very long trip of taking the "scenic route" we finally landed in Nairobi.  Our team took taxis to a hotel, we checked in and washed up and rested for a little while.  We had breakfast and our first taste of Kenyan coffee.  I have been hooked since!  After breakfast we visited two slums near Nairobi, Soweto and Kibera.  Soweto was first.  We visited a school there.  We walked the surrounding area and were given a tour of the school.  Then the different grades sang songs and performed dances for us.  After, all of the children gathered outside with our team to play.  I stayed behind to talk with the directors of the school for a few minutes.  

As I walked outside I was overwhelmed by the site of probably a hundred kids.  I saw everyone on my team with a large group gathered around them.  I stood for a moment, unsure of where to even begin.  All of a sudden, there is this tugging on my arm as this little boy (I later found out his name is Boniface) pulled settled near me and hugged me.  He would not let my arms go, and strangely, I felt comforted by this little boy in the slums of Soweto.  Boniface did not say anything, nor did I.  I am unsure of whether or not he spoke English, and I didn't even know how to say hello in Swahili at that point.  I picked Boniface up and held him in my arms.  We smiled and laughed while yet not saying a single word to each other.  

Eventually, it was time for us to leave.  I had to literally pry this little guy's arms off of my neck as I put him down.  As I got into the matatu waiting for us I could see Boniface beginning to cry.  My heart broke.  It broke on a level that I had not experienced before and I couldn't understand why.  As we drove away Daniel (who is the founder of Transformed International and our partner organization in Kenya [and a good friend of mine]) looked at me as I was forcing back the tears.  He just looked at me and said 4 words that I've not forgotten.  Four words that sum up so many of my Kenyan experiences:  "it's okay to cry".  Daniel gave me the permission I was seeking to allow my emotions out and to cry for a moment.

As I think back to the impact that Boniface had on me I see a beautiful language that spoke so much louder than words ever could have.  The language of love.  We didn't speak a single word to each other. But by the time I left we were both in tears.  Why?  Because there was a pure and holy love that was demonstrated.  In those few moments that we had in the slums of Soweto, we loved one another.

This short memory reminds me that we need not speak to one another to show love all the time.  It is in our actions as well.  It can often be something as simple as opening a door for another.  Or sometimes it could be just sitting in awkward silence with someone to let them know you care.

Over the last few days I have seen this again.  My stepmom's (Nancy) funeral was on Saturday.  Afterwards we had a luncheon.  I was in such admiration as I was standing near my Aunt Marilyn and Uncle Mike.  We were about to get in line to get a bite to eat for lunch.  I had decided that I was going to sit at the table with my step sisters and dad.  As Aunt Marilyn and Uncle Mike surveyed the room, Aunt Marilyn spotted a table towards the back of the room with a single couple sitting at it.  She looked at Uncle Mike and said "how about we go sit at that table with the couple sitting alone?"  I do not know what the conversation looked like at that table but I am confident that her act of love to sit with a couple alone brought a comfort.  It sure comforted me.

This morning was another amazing example of this.  I was dreading go back to the office.  I've realized this week that I don't really handle sympathy very well.  I was not looking forward to the questions of "how are you doing?"  It seems like a strange question, doesn't it?  Yet we all ask it during times of loss. As my friend Lori got to work, she put her stuff down at her desk, then walked over to the empty desk next to me, pulled out the chair, sat back and asked how I was.  It wasn't the question that showed the love.  It was the very action of sitting down.  Funny, huh?

These were not the only instances, but two specific actions I wanted to share.  There have been so many others I have experienced in the past week that I could go on for a much longer blog.  I will simply end with this thought:  Are you loving in your actions or just your words?  Because the truth is, that I too often love in only my words.  I need to make a bigger effort to love in my actions as well.  

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Loss: Are we dying or are we living?

I don't even know what to write.  I don't know why I'm writing this right now.  But, I did say that I wanted to share my heart.  I warn you, my heart is in a strange place right now.  My heart currently feels somewhat lost and yet found at the same time.  I can't explain it.

Sunday I woke to an email from my dad that Nancy (my amazing step mom) was in the hospital.  The email did not sound too serious; it sounded as though things would be okay.  In fact, when I called my dad he said that I did not need to come by the hospital.  Something told me that I needed to be there.  While in the hospital Nancy suffered 7 heart attacks.  After about 16 hours and a ton of medicine the doctors were able to stabilize her vitals.  But every hour that passed she got worse as her organs began to give out.  A little before 8PM on Sunday, she passed away.  I will never forget the nurse that walked in and looked at us and said, "It appears that her heart has in fact stopped".

So many thoughts poured through my head all day.  It was a miracle for Nancy to survive 7 heart attacks.  It was a miracle that she was responding to us before she was put into a medical coma.  I stood by her bed begging God for one more miracle.  To wake her up and make her whole.  Eventually, the doctors said that there was nothing left they could do.  The very difficult decision was made to stop the medications.  I continued to pray that as the medicine stopped her body would come around yet this wasn't what happened.

I've prayed with a number of people grieving loss.  I know the "right things to say".  I met with a pastor yesterday and the exact things he was reminding me are the same words that have come out of my mouth to others suffering loss.  Yet, one thought remained.  I've seen people be healed.  I've held children in my arms that shouldn't be alive anymore.  I've seen it.  I know it happens.  So, why not this time?  Why do some get miracles and others do not?  Why did God choose to save the life of Martin and not Nancy?  It hurts.  And as someone told me, "it sucks.  It's supposed to suck right now".

I guess the truth really is that we do not understand death nor can we.  Our brains are capable of so much, yet the one thing that we can never understand on this side of Heaven is death.  I fully believe that we do not understand it because we were not intended to face it.  We were created by God to have life not death.  Death was a result of sin entering the world in Genesis 3.  It was not a part of the intended plan.  So these questions I have...I know I won't be getting the answers.  Or maybe what I just wrote IS the answer.  Maybe those questions just aren't important.  Perhaps what is important is that we cling to God during these times of loss and grief.  Maybe the understanding that it is not a matter of "God is letting this happen to us" but rather that "God is suffering and grieving the loss right along side of us" that will lead us to a deeper understanding of life.  Maybe in these times we should be questioning what true life is rather than questing death?

So, what is life?  Not for me.  For you!  What is your life about?  What makes you tick?  What makes you get out of bed in the morning?  Why are you here?  I think that some of my other posts answer this question for myself.  But what about you?  Are you living a life of death?  Or have you come fully alive?  Nancy was alive.  She traveled and enjoyed it (seriously, she and my dad could probably fill a terabyte hard drive of photos from their travels!).  She loved her work.  She found her soul mate in my dad.  She completed him and he her.  Nancy was not the type to sit around idly and watch life pass her by.

So, as I grieve the loss of a stepmother that I love so dearly, I do my best to focus on her joyous life.  Does it make it any easier?  No.  No, it doesn't.  It still hurts.  It will hurt.  I will miss her so very much.  But I don't want to focus on death any more.  I want to focus on life.  Her life is worthy be focused upon.  But I want to focus on living myself.  Truly living.  Narrowing down my purpose in life and doing it.  And more than that, I want to see others find their purpose too.  I want to see others brought to life!  I want to see others stop dying every day and start living every moment!

So again, what about you?  Are you dying or living?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fears and the "what if" game

I've been meaning to write a new blog for a little while.  I intended to write one explaining the story behind the B&W profile picture on here.  But, that will have to wait a little while.  I decided to write about something else tonight.  But, the other story will come in time.

Before I get to this, i give fair warning.  My thought patterns are all over right now.  This is probable not as well thought out as some other posts.  But it is one of those "Esse Quam Videri" posts; it's my heart where it is at this moment.  Right now.  No sugar coating it at all.  I hope this makes some sense.  

May 31st is getting closer and closer every day!  I keep looking at the calendar and seeing that day highlighted.  It is an important day because in a way, it symbolizes the "point of no return".  May 31st is my last day of work in West Chester.  June 1st I will be starting a summer adventure before my next Kenyan adventure.  If you spend some time with me, I think that it's very obvious that my heart is in Kenya.  It has become like a second home to me in such a short time.

Yet, the more people spend time with me I keep getting all kinds of comments like "wow!  you're doing such a great thing by giving up your job...etc and doing this...".  Or "I wish I had the courage to do what you're doing...".  People have been treating me like some kind of visionary or something; like I'm this fearless Mother Teresa kind of guy going out in faith and doing so fearlessly.  I feel this insane level of respect (or whatever you call it) for going into a very unknown future.  Hear's the honest and simple truth though:  Right now, I'd like to meet that guy that people seem to think I am.  Sometimes I just want to cry when people say these things because that's not me.  I'M SCARED!  I mean, I know that I'm called to do this.  I know that.  I know that with every fiber of my being.  And I know that God is not going to just abandon me.  I will be taken care of.  I know that.  I really do.  Yet, there is this piece of me - this North American piece of me - that tends to freak out a little because I don't have a plan.  I could very easily go to Kenya for a few months, then come back to the States and...and do what?  Start over?  Where?  What will I do?  Where will I live?  All these questions.  What if I stay in Kenya?  What do I do?  Am I really cut out for it?  Do I have what it takes?  Will I find a wife or stay single for the next hundred years?  And here's a huge fear:  "what if I fail and let people down?".  And I'm not the only one asking these questions.  They all, along with others, are asked of me fairly consistently.

I know the right answers.  I know that there is such a great liberation in stepping out of the boat and onto the water.  I know to keep my eyes fixed upward to Heaven and not let these fears push me down.  I know that I need not worry about tomorrow.  I know that if I am called to stay in Kenya, then things will work out.  I have a unique, God-given set of talents and gifts to use and I know that.  I know that if I come back and stay in the US, then doors will open here as well.  And I will have a great ministry opportunity here in the US.  But, still, there is that nagging voice asking these questions.  The "What if" game has started.

So, there it is.  I'm not as courageous as people are treating me.  I'm not some "special kind of person".  What I am, is a man who has found his purpose for the moment.  And I'm going after it.  I'm not letting the fears hold me back.  It's no different that the high school teacher who found a passion to teach and goes after it.  Or for the CEO who found his passion to run after a business and went after it.  I don't mean to turn this into a pity party by any means.  I just really feel the need to lay it all out there.  For one, it's been good for me to write this all out (as well as a good conversation about it earlier this evening).  It's helped me sort it out in my own mind a bit.

And for the record, no.  No, I am not having second thoughts.  There are a lot of things that I will miss in my months away, however short or long those months will be.  I will miss my family very much.  I'll miss my friends.  I'll miss certain fun things around here.  But I know that I'm embarking on an adventure.  One that has had my name on it and been waiting for me for a long time.  I know that this adventure is going to be amazing!  I don't know what the future holds, but I do go into it in obedience to The Father.  Though there is a lingering fear, that fear has no teeth in its bite.  I go anyway.

I think that's all for now.  Again, sorry this was so jumbled.