Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Who cares if we'll ever be right.

Hey all, so unfortunately this needs to be short, as I leave for Livingstone in a few short hours and need to get a few hours of sleep before I go. However, I needed to write.

The moment I stepped onto the Calvin Track and Field Team, I knew that Track was going to be about much more than distances and throwing events. My teammates challenged me, my coaches encouraged me, and to put it bluntly, Norm Zylstra confused the heck out of me. However, over the past few days, one of the things Norm always tried to infuse within us hit home.

In the midst of endless sets of discus throws, Norm used to ask us repeatedly whether we tried to 'be right' or whether we would 'do right'. To be honest, some days I just thought he wanted to start debates (as he IS a gifted debater...). However, I realized this week that I never really understood the question, and if I had I might have benefited much more from his (and others!) coaching. I always tried to respond to the question by saying that we should strive to 'be in the right' as Christians. Seems like a good answer. Heck, seems like a 'right' answer. However, its not a Godly answer.

We are foiled, broken, emotion filled people who will never 'be right'. We can simply try to do right, as dictated by God. Thus, in all honesty, I now realize that it is impossible to 'be in the right.' However, it is possible to 'be in the light'.

So what is all this about? Why talk of Calvin Track from Zambia?

Because, this weekend I tried to 'be right', and this week I learned what it looked like to 'do right'.

This weekend, when I posted my previous post, I think I can say that I was 'right' in saying the things I did. I was hurt by the email that my friends sent. I was justified in my tears, frustrations and anger. I was further vindicated by the many emails of encouragement and love that so many of you sent. But what I did was not right at all. I took a few of the people I love the most, and hung them out in the open for all the world to gawk at; when I knew in my heart of hearts that the things they said were out of love for me and concern (and perhaps a little uniformed confusion) as to what was occurring in my life. However, this was a fact that I could not see Sunday night. I was too concerned with my own rightness.

So what changed?

Monday and Tuesday I completed a two day fast. I do not say this to sound vain. I say it because it changed my life.

For two days I ate nothing. Instead of thinking of food, I prayed. Instead of taking time for meals, I read my Bible. I dwelled for two full days on learning God's heart.

To be honest, I started the fast because I wanted to hear God's guidance on how to respond to the words that my friends had sent me in the previously mentioned email and subsequent emails... but I ended the fast hearing of God's guidance for life.

Stop trying to 'be right' and start 'doing right.'

Who cares that I was justified in what I said? The fact is, in trying to 'be right' this past weekend (and truthfully, in much of my life), I was wrong.

I don't need to be vindicated. My life is not a Dashboard Confessional song. My life is about God. My life is about loving others. My life is about denying myself and taking up my cross. Thus, the things I wrote in frustration and hurt should have never been posted for the world to see. Therefore, I want to issue a public apology to those friends.... Thank you for loving me and forgiving me in spite of everything. We'll figure this out together.

Up until now, I feel like my Christian walk has been a little bipolar. There are days when I feel like a failure of a Christian, and that I could never do what God is asking of me. And then there are days that I feel completely and udder self-righteous about how I handle myself and the things that I am feeling. I am a missionary to AIDS Orphans in Zambia. Even as I speak that sentence these two extremes compete. I am a missionary (self-righteous... cause let's be real: I have the faith to actually be here doing this) to AIDS Orphans in Zambia (oh ya, that... ya, probably going to fail when you put it that way!). So how do I combat those extremes? Where does the truth lie?

It lies in my confidence coming from GOD. It lies in 'doing right' instead of my own feeble abilities to 'be right'. It lies in a complete abandon of myself.

Thus, I ask you to pray for me. Pray that I would develop a confidence that is directly of God, and of nothing of myself; and pray that I would learn to do right.

Thanks everyone. And thanks especially to Norm for trying to teach me the truth behind these words long ago, and to the Zambians for giving me the tool of fasting to actually take the time and focus to discover what God would have had me understand years ago.... if I had only taken the time away from my own fulfillment to notice it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Will we ever get this right?

I don't know anymore how I am even supposed to start this blog.

All too often I can't help but feel that I am a failure. They should have sent someone else.

For literally a month I have worked on this blog entry. Friday night I was getting ready to (FINALLY!) post this, and then I got an email that sent me into a tail spin. When I finally recovered and figured out how to make sense of some of it (at around 5am), the internet cut out. And so, I am currently sitting at a different house... trying desperately to post this. But that just how it it always seems to go. I struggle through life and try to find words to describe it... but as soon as I'm getting ready to post it, something else changes. Or the internet isn't working. Or something with me isn't working.

As I said, Friday night I received an email.... from a few people who I love most in the world. And in not so few words, they let me know very bluntly how badly I have screwed up. These are the friends who I talk with more than anyone else. Who I look forward to being able to share with more than anyone else, and whose support I rely on more than anyone else. And this is what they had to say:

"You haven’t updated your blog in over a month and a half, and people are wondering why and asking questions. Have you forgotten about all those people who have supported you and want to continue to support you? (And that includes us…) I’m not expecting every detail, nor deep dissertations. We’ve tried to tell you that before.... What’s the problem? Do you not want to share things with us? Or are we only allowed to hear about certain things? I don’t understand it."

And so again I tell you, I have failed. And, truthfully, some of that is due to a lack of internet capability, but most of it is due to a lack of my capability.

I’ve had a hard time processing and accepting much of the stuff that has happened lately, never mind trying to find the words to bring everyone else into understanding. Beyond that, I usually have no one to discuss it with, thus... when I do get to be online and a friend signs on and I have the opportunity to actually fellowship with a real, live person who knows me and cares about me... I tend to choose that over writing a blog. If any of you have felt neglected or left out by that, I am sorry... it was never my intention. These past weeks have been the most frustrating, heartbreaking, and humbling weeks I’ve ever known. Tonight was probably the devil's crowning achievement as I sat for at least an hour barely able to breathe... crawling to the toilet to throw up... crying out to God as to why, even when I am giving all I am to try to walk along side Him, I can never seem to do things 'right' by everyone else's standards.

I know I have been neglecting this blog, but not for any reason of carelessness or apathy... just out of a hurting heart. However, I never thought I was neglecting the people that sent me that email, in fact... I felt as if I had been pouring out the hurting pieces of my soul to them, and asking too much of them as I hoped that they would help me put it back together. But apparently they don't see it. And thus, that hurting heart was finally broken in two.

The fact of the matter is, I love Zambia. And I believe in the mission of Every Orphan's Hope. And I have fallen in love with the kids. And have no desire to go home now. Honestly, it's going to be very, very hard to get on a plane in 4 months and go back to America.

But I still get lonely at night, when there's nothing to do and no one to talk to. I get scared when I hear stories of friends of friends being raped in their own beds at night, and having to fly home to the USA for immediate start of HIV meds. I get frustrated when all the native Zambians tease me constantly for not eating as much as they do (which, for the record, are huge proportions... I don't know how they do it), and thus try to live up to their expectations for food consumption and end up sick afterwards. I am disappointing when internet is down for 12 hours at a time... and I FINALLY get to sign on, and the only thing in my inbox is an advertisement for Kohls. I ask God why, even when I'm in the midst of doing the 'hard thing' of being a 'missionary' in a third world country, everything has to happen in the hardest way possible. (For instance, after working for months on my application to Fuller Seminary's School of Psychology... I went to go submit it the day before it was due. However, internet cut out for the next 2 days, and I missed the deadline. God is still working it out, as Fuller has agreed to accept the application considering the circumstances; but why the heart-attack God? Why couldn't internet work just for 10 minutes so I could press submit and have it taken care of 'right' by the world's standards?!)

But most of all, I am beyond myself when confronted daily with desperate situations that I have SOME capacity to change, but not enough.... and when Zambians on the street expect me to solve all their problems because I'm American, but Zambians in our office tell me that American solutions won't work. Even when every step I take is with the Lord, it seems that He refuses to let things work out in a way that I can understand.

So God, what am I really doing here? Why me? Why here? Why now? The only thing that seems to happen on a consistent basis is for me to beg you to make your presence known and felt in my life once again, and for me to desperately grasp at your joy... because my fount for laughter is no where to be found.

However, I suppose that is the real reason why I came to Zambia – to watch God take my heart, crumble it to pieces, and start rebuilding something new. And make no doubt about it, He is rebuilding something new. Even though I get a little anxious sometimes, because I'm not quite sure what that is.

So, here we go again.

I finally give you a post that I started over a month ago. Grab your lunch or a cup of coffee, and come join me in Zambia. For those of you have not read my previous post on rescuing Naomi and Boyd, I ask you to please pause and go read that post first, just so that you can really have a chance at understanding.

Ever since bringing those two beautiful kids to their new homes in the My Father’s Houses, they have had a special place in my heart. Especially Naomi, the beautiful little girl who I fell in love with via a game of ‘bounce the ball’. No words, no knowledge of one another… just smiles, laughter and Jesus staring back at me. Everytime we have visited the Chongwe MFHs since, she has been the one I look for. The one I want to hug. The one who I spend a few extra minutes smiling at and making to feel at ease. I never thought I would become a mama before I got married; but I was wrong…. I now have a little girl.

Make that ‘had’.

On Wednesday, February 3 (exactly a week and a day since we first brought Naomi and Boyd home), we again journeyed out to Chongwe… this time to bring Boyd and Naomi their very own school uniforms, so that they no longer had to share with older siblings (who go to school at a different time than the younger ones). We also were bringing fertilizer to the homes so that we could fertilize the corn fields that we had spent weeding the Saturday before. (These are fields that have been planted in the hopes of making the food source for the MFHs a bit more sustainable.) However, when we arrived, Naomi and Boyd had just gone off to school with the rest of the younger children, so we went with 3 of the 4 house mom’s to go fertilize the field (one stayed to look after all of the children who were home from school), planning on catching up with the children later.

We returned a few hours later covered in mud, but with all of the fields fully fertilized, thus greatly uping the chance of the crop being good. As we sat communing with all of the mothers, a few of the younger children were running about (they had been done with school for a while at that point, as kids go to school here for about 3-4 hour shifts per day). So we asked them to tell Naomi and Boyd to come in to see us. However, the kids looked at us rather dumbfounded. They hadn’t seen either of the children all day – including in class. They thought they had been with us. We then went and checked with the one house mom who had stayed back, and she too realized that she hadn’t seen them come back from school. (Neither Naomi or Boyd live in her house, so she had been doing housework when ‘her’ kids got home from school, and automatically assumed that all the kids came back together—as that is the normal.) It was at this point that we realized that instead of going to school 4 hours earlier, the 2 siblings had simply kept walking through the school yard, and on towards the main road…. That lead them anywhere but here.

At this point, I became frantic. I jumped up from my seat, rushing outside calling their names. I didn’t want to believe that they would really leave. They loved it here! The smiles, the hugs…. Why would they leave?! I ran to check all the places I had ever seen Naomi playing, calling her name. But she was gone.

At this point the 4 house mom’s joined me, and we started walking out to the main road together. As we walked single file in a rather purposeful march I couldn’t help but think of the parable in Matthew 18 where God talks about leaving everything to go find one lost lamb. I have always known the meaning of what Jesus was saying in the passage; about his obvious heart for the lost. Yet, at the same time, I don’t think I ever really UNDERSTOOD Jesus’ heart when he was describing that lost sheep. Until that day.

As I bolted up and down the street, going from vendor to vendor showing them a picture of Naomi and me that I had taken earlier that week, my heart was racing and my mind was filled with questions. Why? Why would they run away? Were they running back to their mother? Why would the want to go back to a life of abuse? Why, when they appeared so happy, would they give it all up? Were they ever really happy, and if not… why the ruse?

A few of the vendors confirmed that they had seen the children walk past hours ago… headed towards the main part of town, which also was headed towards their old home. At this point, it was about 6pm, and so Mama, Humphrey, Mereta and I jumped in the car and started driving in the direction they had pointed. As we passed kid after kid on the road side, my heart would skip beats. But none of the kids were ours. Trying to hold back tears, I wanted to pray… but didn’t even have words to put complete sentences together… all I could think was ‘Oh God… save them.” Instead, I did the only think I could physically do to contribute at that point: I texted my mom in the USA to pray. I guess just as the kids were running to their mom, I was running to mine as well.

As we arrived at the main part of town, which is also the turn off for where the kids would have to take a different road to go back to their old home, we decided we should file a police report before the office closed. So to the police office we went… which was right next to the Social Welfare office where I had been playing with Naomi only a week earlier. Mama and I rushed inside the police station, and the police agreed that a missing person’s report should be filed… but they couldn’t find a pen to write the report. COULDN’T FIND A PEN? Are you even serious?! At this point my temper was rising… I was ready to sound an Amber Alert, send out search parties and drop billboards from the sky with the kids’ photos on them… and the police’s only response was that they didn’t have a pen! In a fashion that might even challenge Coach Diemer’s steeplechase form, I leaped off the porch, over a huge mud puddle and ran to grab my bag out of the truck. Inside again, I handed them an old LaGrave CRC pen… and watched as the information about the kids was handwritten in an old notebook. Meanwhile, behind the police officer at the front desk (who was helping us), all of the young men being held in the cell behind him were calling ‘muzungo’ (white person) and laughing and whistling. My patience was growing even thinner. I needed to get out of there and go DO something, so I excused myself and jogged out to the main street again. People were swarming everywhere through the town market, and I prayed in earnest for a glimpse of the kids. I walked, jogged, sprinted, called their names… but nothing. People probably thought I was crazy. I might have been.

Slowly I trudged back to the police office. The report had been written, and Mama was discussing with them the next course of action. The police explained that they thought it was best to ‘give the kids a few days’ and not go after them right away. The reasoning behind this being that if the kids had indeed returned home, they would probably resist going back right away and/or just try to run away again if we brought them back in the same day. And, if the kids were simply lost, someone in the village would find them and bring them to the police station. Thus, we were told that we were not to come back until Friday. FRIDAY?! I thought they were nuts. It was for their own good that we chase after them now, save them from the mom, bring them to safety… wasn’t it? But my opinion did not matter. Thus, we were back in the car, headed home.

Later that night, back in my secluded bedroom in the office, all I could do was ask God ‘why’. Why would they run? Why would he let them go back to a place like that which they had come from? And slowly, I started hear God asking me the same type of questions.

Here's the thing about my life in Zambia. I knew when I came here that this was going to be a lot less about me, and what I could contribute to Zambia... and a lot more about God and what he had to teach me. And that has certainly been true. As I sat contemplating why these two kids, whom I loved so much, would run away from the good things we had been able to provide for them..... I started hearing God asking me why I run away from the good things He provides for me. And we do run, all the time. Don't we?

I could sit and walk you through all of the great things God has put in front of me that I have run from. Or simply ignored in lieu chasing things that I thought were particularly good or important at that point in my life. But, that would take forever. In fact, that night, as I sat praying for Naomi and Boyd, the list of things that God brought to my attention was so overwhelming that I found myself praying for forgiveness for my own sins instead of for the safety of the children. Why does it take kids running away for us to realize the ways we've run?

However, my prayers for Boyd and Naomi did not cease.

Friday could not come soon enough. However, when it did.... unbeknownst to me at the time, I started to get a picture of what the next month would be like. We had gotten up early in the morning and traveled out to Chongwe to meet with the police and social workers as previously arranged. Upon arrival, we first went to check with the police. They confirmed that the children had not been brought in as 'lost' (as stray children would have been), so they must have found where they were going. Thus, the police wiped their hands of the situation and told us to proceed with the social welfare office for any further investigation.

So off we went to Social Welfare again. When we arrived, the front porch looked rather lonely compared to my last visit there. I wanted the kids back.

Thus, we entered the Social Welfare office and began discussion about the children. One of the children at the MFHs in Chongwe thought he had overheard Boyd saying something about a 'father' (which typically is synonymous for 'uncle' here when the child's real father has died, so we assumed thats what he meant) at a place called 'Green Water'. The welfare agent said she had no idea what in the world 'Green Water' was, but agreed that the children would probably go there. So, it was settled, we were off for 'Green Water'.

However, we didn't know how to get there. So we discussed our options, and agreed that the best bet was to go visit the children's grandmother and see if she knew of the place. I was already in the car, waiting to head to the little hut, when I was told that we would not be going to today, as the grandmother would probably already be working in the fields, and thus we wouldnt have an easy time of finding her anymore that day. Easy time? "Ya," I thought, "Of course its not going to be easy, but lets go.. I'll chase through a dozen cornfields if I have to.... lets find her, find this Green Water place, and get the kids!" But I was in the losing majority, and we were headed home to Lusaka.

The weekend was torturous as I sat and considered the dozens of things that could be happening to the kids. Who knew where they were? Did they have any food? Were they safe? Is this 'uncle' a good guy? What about the people he lives with? Obviously the kids were scared to be in a place they didn't know, so scared that they were willing to run away to find something more familiar... but what would it bring them? Would there be any familiarity? Any safety?

Monday morning we were supposed to leave at 7am to head to Chongwe, grab the welfare agent, and pick the grandmother.... however, as I sat on the front step of the office for over an hour, I was beginning to realize that we would not have anymore luck that day than the previous attempt. But why? Where was Humphrey? Why weren't we leaving?! My frustration was mounting. I found out later that Humphrey was sick with a mild case of malaria, and Mama is not a fan of driving... thus it was decided we wouldn't go. Mama did not have 'talk time' on her phone (all phones are pre-paid here), and thus she did not call me to inform me of the decision not to go. I was upset. If I had known driving was the only thing stopping us, I would have grabbed the car keys and gone to pick up Mama hours ago! I have a driver's license! I explained this to the office staff, and they agreed to let me 'try' driving ...but it was already too late in the day to catch the grandmother before she headed to the fields.

Over the course of the next week similar yet different problems kept creeping up. The social welfare agent wasn't available, we didn't have gas money for a trip to Chongwe.... the 'excuses' felt endless. However, that week we did learn that the children had NOT gone to Green Water as first expected, but had in fact returned home to the grandmother's and mother's place; as apparently the grandmother had come to the Social Welfare office to report the children arriving back.

At receiving that news, I was even more concerned. Back with the abusive mother, whom Social Welfare had BEGGED us to take the kids from. However, now it appeared that Social Welfare could care less that they were back there with her. What changed?

That would be a question that I would ask myself continuously over the next few weeks, after attempt after attempt to get the kids back was shot down. With each delay, I became more and more frustrated. Why didn't anybody care about those kids? I mean, personally, I had quite a bit invested emotionally in Naomi and Boyd, so I was rather eager to see their particular two faces again. However, beyond that, why was the fact that two human beings were being placed in harms way needlessly being ignored?

Finally, during the last week in February, Mama announced once and for all that we were going to stop trying to get Naomi and Boyd back.

My pulse soared. Why?!

And then my education of Zambian thought began.

First of all, I need to clarify that the EOH staff here did in fact do about all we could think of to get the kids back, however... it has been Social Welfare who has continuously avoided us and delayed anything from happening. My American boldness wanted very badly to march into the Welfare office and demand propper service. However, that is not how things are done here. If Social Welfare wanted us to get the kids back, they would help us....if not, there is nothing we could do.

But how could Social Welfare defend their decision (or laziness?!) of not trying to get the kids back??

Mama, Mereta, Esther and Frieda tried to explain. Here, family is foremost. Thus, if a family member is alive (no matter how good or bad that family member is), he or she has the first right over the kids. (And we wonder why there is so much child abuse in Zambia?) Secondly, kids are allowed to make their own decisions. If they WANT to be with the mother, then (it was argued) who are we to take them away.

This is where my American thought, buoyed by my psychology academia again began to kick in...

Who are we to take them away? I couldn't help but ask, who are we NOT to take them away? We were talking about elementary students who have not developed formal operational thinking, and thus are not capable of abstract reasoning. According to the Attachment Theory, to kids of that age, what they know as 'familiar' is going to feel safest to them. Thus, it is almost common sense for one to determine that they do not have the mental ability to realize that the new and strange situation of the MFH homes are indeed safer than staying with their mom. How does the Zambian government expect the kids to choose the strange situation (although safer, and more beneficial in the long run) over the one they know and feel familiar with?

When I tried to explain this line of thinking to the staff, I was told that I simply did not understand how, in Zambia, if a child wants to run away... he will run away and there is nothing we can or should do about it. I coudn't help but feel that I DID in fact understand the concept that they were relating, but simply didn't agree with the philosophy. However, regardless of feelings, the fact remained: there was nothing I could do to help, and no one would ever agree with me. I felt defeated, in every sense of the word.

And in some ways, I still do. I do not know when and if I will ever see Naomi and Boyd again. They are constantly in my prayers; and I cannot help but wonder if they will ever want to go back to that which they gave up. However, at their young age, I think it's a little optimistic to believe that they will 'come to their senses' and come back. Even at 23, there are far too many things in my life that I run back to the familiar in. Thankfully, unlike Zambian Social Welfare, God is still chasing me.

Two weeks ago the office dealt with a similar situation when two boys (who have been in the MFH homes for the past 6 years) stole a few items from the office.... and both boys immediately said that it would probably be better for them both to just move out of the MFH homes than to change their ways. One of them did just that last week.

It broke my heart to see him go. A 16 year old boy, who thinks he knows whats best for his life.... giving up the opportunity to go to school, have 3 meals a day, a bed, and be cared for. But he wants to live HIS life. And so, by Zambian laws and customs, we had no choice but to let him. (As much as I, personally, didn't want to.... and grieved over what teenagers in America, myself included, would be like if our parents, teachers, and mentors had let us make our own decisions no matter what.)

When we visited the police station to get the boy's release forms, the cops informed the boy that he would never be allowed back inside the gates of My Father's House.... and I got a pit the size of a baseball in my stomach. I suppose I was hoping he would become a prodigal, and come back to His Father's home... but instead, he was being told by the law that he wasn't allowed to. For an instant I wanted to tell the cop he was wrong, and tell the boy that he would always be welcomed home... but instead, I sent him away with the biggest piece of pizza I had in my kitchen, a hug, and the simple words of 'remember God.' I pray for him daily too. I just wish I could figure out how to do more.

Praying daily.

Sometimes I feel like that is the only thing I'm left with here. There are so many ways of doing things that I don't understand. So many parts of my education that I value that are ignored. Many more situations that could break you're heart (some of which I'll share in the coming week, promise). The feeling that nothing anyone does (including myself) will ever be 'right' by anyone's standards. And beyond that, a feeling of both being too overwhelmed to relate it all, and incapable of processing it all.... which was also confirmed as a being a hurtful offense to those I love the most just hours after I had finally completed this blog.

And so, once again, I apologize. I love you all, and I thank you for taking the time to read. I am sorry if I have let you down thus far. I wish there were a way for you to just get a clear snapshot of what things are really like here.... and I know that I am the best tool for that... but I am a bent and somewhat broken tool. In the response that I sent to the loved ones who sent that email, I said that sometimes I feel like Moses standing before a thousand Israelite. Except that, for some reason, God choose to send me without an Aaron by my side; which is a little tough to deal with sometimes. In all my readings of the Bible, God always sent out the prophets two by two.... Moses and Aaron, David and Jonathon, James and John, Paul and Silas, Timothy and Barnabas..... but I'm here alone.

However, I don't think God would have it any other way.

What am I doing here? Why me? Why here? Why now? I already know the answer to those questions, though I will admit that there are times that I have to remind myself. Nevertheless, I am pretty sure that to doubt the answer would also put me in that 'runaway' category, as it would be running away from what God had planned for me far too long ago.

And so here I am, in Zambia. Resting in God's peace and joy, despite a hurting heart. Will we ever get 'this' 'right'? Who knows. Who knows what 'this' is, and who knows what 'right' is. As far as I've been able to figure out, the best we can do is love God and love others. And that's what I'm striving to do.

PS: For those of you who don't have facebook, despite not being able to write coherently for the last month, I have been posting pictures. Feel free to check them out through the links below!