We Were All Born to Ask This Question

It was an early Saturday morning when we loaded up the car and drove an hour to what we’ve been calling The Refugee Project for the past year. It’s really just a government housing apartment complex- one of twenty-two that line both sides of a long street, home to more than 50,000 refugees, relocated to our city.

It’s our Friday place.

But it wasn’t a Friday and we weren’t having class. Our husbands and kids  joined us to clean up the “clubhouse” and paint the place where our class has met the past year. It’s a vacant, musty three bedroom apartment filled with an assortment of books, broken chairs, dirty tables and walls.

prayer

cleaning

We were having a work day and it’s a good thing because there was plenty of work. We sorted and scrubbed and swept. We filled holes in the walls and shelves with books. We taped and painted, mopped and moved piles of trash to the dumpster.

Everyone had a job. The kids wrapped more than 600 crochet bracelets onto cards with the word Thrive. It’s our hope- that these displaced ones will find a place in Christ and thrive.

thrive bracelets @refugeeproject.net

I looked around the apartment and smiled at my husband painting a wall. He hates to paint (at least that’s what he tells me every time I ask).  I found my son wrapping bracelets next to my youngest winding yarn into balls. My teen was in the bathroom painting little faces and there was a long line of kids waiting their turn.

I stood in the center of that room and thought my children haven’t complained once. They haven’t ask for anything. They didn’t think of themselves while they worked hour after hour. They found a need and filled it. And the next thought hit me so hard I had to pretend something besides a tear was in my eye:

My family is at its best-our absolute best- when we are doing something for someone else.

Purpose is deeply satisfying.

When our hands are busy serving others, we aren’t thinking about what we don’t have. Instead, we are reminded about what we do have. We were created for more than filling our time and lives with more stuff and more space. We were created for a purpose to live our lives with purpose.

kids can help too

Do good.

The words are written on the chalkboard in our living room. And friends, even family, have cautioned against a “good works” mentality. I’m not worried. I know there aren’t enough good things for us to do to earn our way into an eternity that’s been freely given to us.

But I hope when you add up my works, the grand total isn’t a list of good deeds–I pray the grand total is love.

“Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.” (‭Romans‬ ‭13‬:‭10‬ MSG)

Because that’s why we go. That’s why we do. Love is a driving force.

working @Therefugeeproject.net

It was after 4pm when we piled back in the car. It was a comfortable kind of quiet as we drove home. Satisfaction was thick in the air.

I asked my kids if they remembered meeting the 16 year old refugee girl who helped us wrap bracelets. They did.

“She asked if she could learn to crochet too, like her sisters and mom and grandmother in our class,” I said.

“Doesn’t she go to school?” My 15 year old asked. I explained that she did, but she wanted the money for something special.

“She plays the cello and is very talented. She earned a scholarship for a music school, but she still needs money to make her dream a reality,” I said.

The car was quiet and I thought maybe my kids were thinking about how much they love music. Or maybe they were thinking about the instruments they own and love or the opportunity to take lessons. Or maybe they were wondering how to help a girl their age do the same.

“Mom,” my 12 year old son broke the silence,  “I loved today.”

His words were thick with emotion.

we were born to answer this question

I think we were all created to answer this question: What can I do that matters?

As a parent, my job is to lead my kids to ask it.

God Can Redeem Anything.

We sat in a circle and we waited.

She cleared her throat and began telling her story, looking over at her husband as he nodded in support.

I was 15 and in high school. I made mistakes. I got pregnant. It was so hard and I felt very alone.

I leaned in because I wanted to hear the whole story.

woman hiding pregnancy test

She told of the absent teen father, how her parents did the hard work of mostly raising her baby so she could finish school.

When her child was 5 years old, she got married.

To the father of her baby.

He cleared his throat, “God redeemed me.”

I looked at this family and all I could see was redemption and restoration as I sat in their beautiful home. I couldn’t see the scars of wrong choices or missteps as clearly as I could the hope. Their son is now a teenager and other children have come and by this point, tears have pooled on the Bible in my lap.

And all I can think about is the young teen moms we seek to help on the other side of the world. Their situations are different, but brokenness is brokenness.

And redemption is redemption.

I tuck my friends’ story in my heart for the rainy days ahead.

A couple of weeks later I’m on the phone with someone I don’t know. She is dreaming of starting something like Mercy House. These calls come more often these days and I can’t help but smile at another audacious yes. But then she said something that made my heart stop,”You’ve made this look so easy and you haven’t had many problems.” And I know right then and there I have failed. I jot down a note to send her my book so she will know some of the unknown.

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I think over the past four years of 19 pregnant teens and 19 babies and there are more problems than I can count. Problems I haven’t shared. Problems that would shock over and over again. Maybe I was trying to protect the moms we help, the babies who shouldn’t have been born or maybe I was just trying to protect myself. Maybe I was trying to keep this yes from looking like a failure.

Maybe I should have told you of the young mom who brought a tangible evil presence with her into the home and left in the middle of the night. Or about the young mom we loved, but after trying everything to ease the post traumatic stress she’d suffered during a gang rape, we had to send her back home because she was violent and continually threatened the safety of everyone in the home. Maybe you should know about the mom we have desperately loved, who was just about finished with the 3 year program in Kenya, the one who made us proud, only to end up pregnant. Again.

I hung up the phone with the lady and I wanted to bury my head on my desk. Because the problems people can’t see are overwhelming.

I thought about the parenting book I’m in the middle of writing and the ugly words one of my kids yelled at me earlier that morning, “I hate my life.” Not exactly what I was planning on calling the next chapter. Nobody likes failure. But that’s exactly what I felt like-a failure, an impostor.

I’ve always believed God uses failure as much as success to reveal Himself and bring redemption. But who wants failure? I don’t want to live it and even more I don’t want you to see it. The unfinished, ugly stories of unbelievable pain are uncomfortable. There isn’t a happy ending to some of our stories  yet and there may never be until Heaven.

A few minutes after that phone call, Maureen, who runs the Kenya-side of things, asked if we could talk. I hold my breath. She doesn’t always bring bad news, but it comes often enough, usually on the heels of a new rescue or new babies or new victory. There’s nothing simple or easy or clean about stepping into the pit of Hell and taking girls from the grips of the enemy.

After some small talk, she started off the conversation with this question, “How do you know if we’ve been successful?”

I give her the same answer I’ve told anyone who has asked the past few years, “That first baby born made us a success. We’ve had 18 more now.” I could tell she was discouraged and so I reminded her,”Maureen, what we are doing is an act of obedience. He asks us to say yes, the results are up to Him.”

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In tears, she says, “I’m glad you said that because I have to tell you something.” And then I learn of a devastating decision by one of our new graduated 18 year old moms. And I can’t see the screen for the tears and my platitudes are empty and I wonder at our audacity and I question our resolve. This is what it must feel like to watch the kids you’ve sacrificed for and loved deeply leave your home and make bad choices and you can do nothing to stop them.

We’ve come to the point in the conversation where there aren’t words to fix the problems and we both know this battle is unseen and we must wage it on our knees.

My husband and I sat on the edge of our bed and cried. “God, why did you ask us to do this? It is too hard. We are too weak.”

I swiped away tears in time to get my kids off the bus until I can find a moment alone and grieve, which happened to be 30 minutes in my car during my daughter’s flute lesson.

The words hammered in my chest: God can redeem anything. God can redeem anything? Can you really, God? Even this? God can redeem anything. He will redeem everything.

We don’t talk about the anything very often. We don’t reveal the depth of our pain, the problems we face, the uncertainty. People think I know what I’m doing because it all looks neat and easy and maybe that’s what I’ve shown them.

I’m letting you into my weakness today because I’m a bigger failure if I don’t.

My daughter returned to the car and asked if I’d been crying. “No,” I whispered as a silent tear fell. She awkwardly patted my back and said, “It will be okay, Mom. It will be okay. We have God.”

That night, I am back in my friends’ living room. Their family picture smiles down at me. And I thank God for their story. For the redemption and restoration in front of me.

Maybe you’re grieving a yes or regretting a no. Maybe you feel hopeless or hopeful. Maybe this feels like the end and you really just want to began again.

I don’t know what mountain you’re facing today.

But I know God can redeem anything.

We might not see it overnight or in our lifetime, but He promises to work it out for His good.

Pregnancy, bankruptcy, rape, marriage, diagnosis, adoption, unemployment, rebellious kids, abortion, a cross-country move, divorce, failure, addiction, mistakes, even death.

He will redeem even this.