Our Culture’s Confusing Message About Courage

I was wide awake by 6 AM on Saturday morning.

I made a cup of strong Ethiopian coffee and drank it black, while the rest of the house slept.

Snuggling up on the couch with a cat and a blanket, I opened my Bible and my laptop and I started thinking about the words I planned to share at The Refugee Project fundraiser tea this weekend.

I stared at the blank screen and typed the first word that came to mind:

Courage.

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I wrote down a few thoughts and turned to Google for a familiar quote I couldn’t quite remember.

I was surprised to find Bruce Jenner at the top of my search for the word courage. 

I didn’t watch his interview the night before, but apparently nearly 15 million people did.

But I only feel compassion for a confused man who decides to become a woman. And I believe God loves him either way and will do anything to let him know it.

The two words most associated on social media with the interview were courage and bravery. And that makes me think that maybe our culture has confused courage with compassion?

We ache for miserable and unhappy people and feel compassion towards them when they do something to change their situation, even if we don’t agree with the choice. This is compassion and it’s good.

I may not understand Bruce Jenner’s choices or agree with them, but I don’t have to in order to feel compassion for him.

What is courage? 

Our culture says it’s when someone is brave enough to pursue happiness for themselves at any cost.

But we aren’t promised happiness in this life. Especially if we are following Jesus.

When I think of courage, I don’t think of a confused former Olympian turned-reality-show-star declaring he’s now a woman. No, instead I think of Tee Mo, a precious refugee lady with a tiny voice and a bulging belly, about to deliver her third child.

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Bravery is this woman who lives in a small apartment with more than a dozen other people in heart of Houston and tries to learn and understand her new home. She left the dirt floors of the refugee camp she was born into in Nepal so her children would have opportunity in America.

When I think of courage, I think of her showing up for weekly ESL classes and working her fingers to crochet something she can sell in order buy diapers for her baby.

When I think of courage, I think of her family and friends digging in rubble, searching for life under collapsed buildings in her homeland.

When I think of courage, I think of first responders and soldiers and people who run into danger to help someone they don’t even know.

When I think of courage, I think of the 100 clergy from all denominations linking arms and walking with the protesters against violence in the streets of Baltimore.

Because no matter what our culture says, courage isn’t thinking about ourselves. It’s not choosing a path that makes us happy at any cost. No, bravery is revealed when we lay down our lives to serve someone else.

This is courage.

9 Ways Families Can Impact The World Right Where They Are

It only takes a couple of minutes of watching the nightly news to recognize our world is a scary place.

I was on my way home from Ethiopia with my daughter when 20 Ethiopian men lost their lives on a beach in Libya. Their crime? The same as mine. They were Christians.

I have to point out the elephant in the room and ask: Do we really care?

I loved walking the streets of Ethiopia and visiting groups of women we are partnering with through Fair Trade Friday. It feels safer than Kenya. It’s not as heavy or oppressive, I whispered to my daughter as we stood in a dump as tall as a mountain and held hands with children who were digging for food.

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Now, I’m sitting in my home safe and sound and one country I visited is in mourning and the other one is burying hundreds of college students massacred by terrorists.

And honestly, I don’t ever want to leave home again.

I’m finding my rhythm, catching up on hot baths, laundry and sweet tea. It’s easy to slip back into the comfort of easy living.

I know God is not safe. He asks us to go further than we think we can go and do things we think we cannot and believe in the impossible.

Sometimes following Jesus is scary as hell, even when God asks us to stay right where we are.

I find staying is as hard as going some days. I’m lulled into thinking I’m safe. I’m sucked into the culture of more stuff, bigger and better and I find it’s actually easy to forget how the rest of the world is living.

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Or dying.

And then some days, I’m haunted by the suffering of people around the globe. They aren’t really different from my family. There are moms wondering what’s for dinner. And dads who travel to look for work to take care of their families.  But what can my family really do to help the poor and oppressed, to remember the persecuted church suffering when my own government mostly ignores it?

And how in the world can I raise kids who are grateful for what they have when they don’t even realize the freedom they enjoy?

It’s a question we have to ask ourselves in our entitled culture.

Because while Christians are losing their heads in Libya, it’s too easy to turn off the news and pretend the most important thing on our list is shopping for summer clothes or deciding which Vacation Bible School to attend.

This week, Glen Beck (like him or not), said this and I agree, “So often we cry out for justice. We raise our hands on Sunday. We call for the enemy to be crushed, but then we retreat into our humble abodes, castles by global standards, and go about our daily lives. And we get busy, honestly busy, wrapped up in our own day and our own chaos, honestly busy, and we forget that the second part of justice is mercy and compassion. That’s our job, to show mercy, to have compassion, to kindle it in our heart and the hearts of others…. [Why do we do nothing?] We feel helpless and we don’t know what to do, so we do nothing.”

9 Ways Families Can Impact The World Right Where They Are

Some believers are called to go. Some are called to stay. But we are all called to do something. Nothing is not an option for my family or yours.  And there are many things we can do with our families to actively become a part of this story God is writing in our tumultuous world.

1. We Can Pray For The World :: Prayer is generally first on our list, but last on our lips. When we get up in the morning or lay down at night, when we eat or worship, walk or workout, prayer is the most powerful thing we can do. For years, off and on, this book has educated our family on how to pray for the world.

2. We Can Hang a World Map :: It may sound simplistic, but when my son was a baby, we wallpapered his room with an enormous world map. What started out as decor, turned into a resource. For years, we congregated in his room and searched the life-size map for countries we learned or talked about. And before I traveled across the ocean the first time in 2010, we all put our fingers on the word Kenya and prayed together. I have a globe collection and maps hang all over my house now. Hang a map in a high traffic spot in your house and refer to it. Pick a country and pray for it. You never know where it will lead you (without even leaving your home).

3. We Can Host a Global Party In Our Home :: One of the reasons I love Fair Trade Friday so much is because it is empowering and employing around 1000 women in 16 countries–all in the name of Jesus through on-the-ground faith-based non-profits. And now, Mercy House is expanding our home party line and taking applications to host a free global Fair Trade Friday party in your home, so you can see and touch and buy products made by women all around the world. I hugged and loved on women in two of those countries this week and with tears in their eyes, they thanked me for a job that is providing food and rent. This is a beautiful way to see the world and change it. Learn more about hosting a party today.

4. We Can Talk About World Events :: Our first inclination is to protect our kids from the bad in the world, but this doesn’t always mean we should shield them from current world events, especially if they are old enough to read, overhear the news or attend school. Silence can breed fear and ignorance. Educating them is different than scaring them. When we prayed for Ethiopia last night at dinner, we talked about recent events and cleared up misconceptions. I’d rather my kids hear the truth from me than be afraid of what they overhear from someone else.

5. We Can Eat a Meal to Remember :: Whether it’s rice or beans on Mondays, a visit to a global food market in your town or an attempt at a new recipe for something you can’t pronounce, we can remember the world (and experience it), through food. Last week, my daughter and I sat in homes of women and ate our fill of injera and shiro. Yesterday, we attempted our first coffee ceremony and just the smell of the coffee I brought home, took me back to the small home where I was served with great love. I dare you to expose your kids to the world through their dinner plate.

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6. We Can Complete a Family Service Project :: Last year, Mercy House mailed out 20,000 prayer bracelets as a reminder to pray for the most oppressed people group in the world: women. Your family can do something to support them! Order a kit for $10 today and share the bracelets with your family and friends. 100% of the proceeds go to help us reach women all around the globe.

7. We Can Redeem Consumerism :: Shopping is as much a part of our culture as tea is a part of Kenya. A couple of years ago, I would cringe when people referred to our consumerism.  Just look at the empty Lilly Pulitzer racks at Target. I can’t stop people from buying. I won’t even try. Instead, I want to challenge people to buy something that changes a life. Give a gift twice. Support a woman with a purchase. Teach your children that cheap things aren’t always free.

8. We Can Practice Compassion and Mercy :: When our family prayed for Ethiopian Christians this week, my husband reminded us we should also pray for the Islamic persecutors. We are tempted to ignore or be prejudiced against what we don’t understand. But we can show compassion and mercy to everyone. Especially those who are different than we are. Is there a better way for our family to shine Jesus than this? Child sponsorship is a beautiful place to start.

9. We Can’t Pretend For Another Minute That Our Freedom is Free :: Without a doubt, I believe perspective is the greatest gift we can give our children. If their only view is an entitled world where they get everything they want, we will most likely end up with entitled children. But if we are going to compare ourselves to those around us who have what we want, we also have to balance our view by comparing ourselves to those with less than us. This shift is eye-opening for our families. It’s where gratitude is born.

Do we really care? Can we really do something?

The answer is yes.

The First Yes Is The Deepest

More than eight years ago we sponsored our first child through Compassion International.

We picked Bereket, a 5 year old boy in Ethiopia.

We chose him because we had a new niece from the country and because our son wanted a brother.

It was a big decision for our little family. And it turned out to be the best one.

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We spent most of our time inwardly-focused, trying to create a great childhood for our kids, a happy home and we chased the American Dream like it was our job.  So, sponsoring Bereket, sending money every month for his care and school fees, cracked open the door to compassion for others that would soon overwhelm us.

In so many ways, this was our first yes.

It led to my blogging trip in 2010 with Compassion that led to sponsoring more kids that led to meeting Maureen which led to starting Mercy House.

Yesterday, my daughter and I walked the jagged, dirty path that led to Bereket’s mud-walled home. He’s nearly 13 now, just like my son. I knew when we made our travel plans to visit some Fair Trade Friday partners is bordering Ethiopia, we would have to meet him.

His mother ran to meet us and threw her arms around my neck. Her family stood close by taking it in.

“I knew you would come some day. God told me,” Two minutes in and I was already speechless.

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We sat in their tidy home and the proudly pulled out every letter and picture we’ve sent for the past 8 years. They showed us what they’d bought with the annual family gifts we sent. Bereket’s mother never stopped smiling and his dad listened intently. As I looked at this beautiful family, I felt like I was home. Only God.

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Bereket had many questions about my son while we enjoyed the traditional coffee ceremony. The boys have shared letters for years now. They are the same age, they both love math, football and want to be engineers when they grow up. We gave him a new soccer ball and Legos. Bereket’s family has lived in their home for 15 years and the joy of knowing Jesus was palpable. I have never seen a more affection or tender looks passed between a mother and father and their children.

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(Right after I took this photo of my sponsored child’s mother, I realized I was standing in a mound of black ants. I jumped away and shook my shoes off. But about 3 minutes later, I could feel them under my jeans up and down my legs. I literally had ants in my pants.)

After our visit in their home, my daughter and I took them to their first restaurant. It was such a treat.

The family ordered traditional Ethiopian food (raw oxen and injera). Well, everyone except Bereket. He ordered this:

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They asked many questions about Mercy House and I showed them pictures of the beautiful girls we are trying to help. They promised to pray for us.

As we said our goodbye’s, we took turns speaking from our hearts to each other. (Yes, I cried). They asked me to bring the rest of my family back to their home and they offered the most gracious thank you I’ve ever heard.

As we drove away, my 15 year old girl burst into tears.

We will hold this day in our hearts forever.

This first yes has led to countless others. Including meeting Kalkadon, our newest sponsored child through Caring for Korah (a Fair Trade Friday partner and a ministry very close to our hearts) this week. She pointed out the chairs and double bed, pillows and blankets filling her 8×8 home that our small family gift paid had purchased.

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Sometimes we wonder if the sacrifice is needed. Or appreciated.

We question our decision and our ability.

We try to squeeze a little more money out of our budget to share with others.

And sometimes we wonder if our small yes even matters.

God told me it does.

5 Things My Daughter Is Teaching Me About Changing The World

I emailed the principal at the high school and asked him what he thought about my daughter missing a little more than a week of school to go to Africa with me.

It will be life-changing, he said.

Yeah.

I thought of all the reasons it would change her perspective, remind her what really matters and shift her awareness.

Parenting is funny.

It turns out these are the exact things she is teaching me during this journey. I’ve learned so much about my 15 year old this week and mostly, from her. She’s more compassionate than I thought, more selfless than I imagined, more genuine than I dreamed and she has challenged me to be a better me. She has been to Mercy House many times, but with 6 flights this week to not only visit Mercy House, but also Fair Trade Friday partners in other places, it’s stretched our limits.

It’s like you pour love into your kids their entire childhood and then at the right time and in the right place, they overflow it on others.

Here are 5 things my daughter is teaching me about changing the world:

1. Selfies are okay when they focus on others | I’ve never been a fan of duck lips or selfies. I’ve taught my teen to know there’s a time and place for both. But she chose the right time and the right place because she turned a selfie into something about others and these girls, her peers in so many ways, fell in love with their girlfriend from America. I watched her put them first over and over again and I learned that sometimes selfies aren’t so bad.

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Don’t take yourself too seriously | We have shared a lot this week-a bed and a mosquito net, bottles of water and the same Kleenex a time or two. We’ve traded sweatshirts and soap and a good attitude when things go wrong and a nudge in the side when we needed it. If traveling across the world with your daughter will teach you anything, it’s this: don’t to take yourself too seriously. She reminds me when I’m too proud or frowning. She’s raised her eyebrows at my sighs and impatience. She tells me to smile more and give more. I’ve watched her hold hands and hug dirty children and wipe away a tear or too. She gets it.

Remember to have fun | Sure kids need to be rescued and loved and sponsored, but they also need to have fun.  My daughter is a child-magnet. They flock around her like flies. She’s always ready for a quick game to play. I laughed so hard at the Kenyan chanting slap game the Rehema residents spontaneously played in Kenya.  I stood back and watched, but my daughter jumped right in the middle of a popular game in a different culture and nearly won the bag of Skittles up for grabs.  She’s half little girl and half woman and she’s a constant reminder for me to loosen up and have a little fun.

You’re never too old to try something new | The minute the coffee ceremony started, so did my worry. The black liquid gold filled to the rim and I knew I would need to drink what was offered. My daughter eagerly sipped and nudged me. “But I like tea,” I whispered to her. “Mo-om,” she said. I took a drink and the sweet warm coffee tasted different than I imagined. I took another drink. “I love it,” I whispered. “I told you,” she said. I’ve watched her cross cultural boundaries in fearless abandon. We’ve stepped over rotting oxen heads and legs on dirt roads (the only parts Ethiopians don’t eat), passed out live chickens, and eat a wide variety of different food (turns out lamb is a new favorite for her), but we aren’t big fans of fried termites (yes, we tried them.) I want to be this brave when I grow up.

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Nothing matters more than people | I’m a doer. I’ve always got my nose in a book trying to figure something out or answering an email. More than once my daughter has reminded me to put away my resources and tools and live in the moment. It’s a powerful lesson and she’s a good example.

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Our kids will teach us so much.

If we let them.

 

To The Monica’s of the World: You Are Not Forgotten

 She sat next to me and we munched on Kenyan samosas. Every once in awhile she would peek over her cup and smile when our eyes met.

Monica’s look was expectant and she fidgeted nervous next to me. I could tell she wanted, no needed, to say something. She leaned over and whispered, “Please, may I say something to you.”

I set down my cup and turned to her and said, “Yes.”

Our day at Rehema (Mercy) House had been so full already. We met new faces, rubbed some growing bellies, and listened to baby giggles.

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We shared with these young girls, half mothers, half moms-to-be, about God’s beautiful plan for each of them.

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We talked about thanking him even for our painful past, appreciating our present circumstances and looking forward to our future hope.

The girls listened intently and wrote down gratitude and dreams in their journals.

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During the tea break, Monica sat next to me. Before I knew it, she wrapped her arm around my shoulder and put her warm hand in the center of my chest. She leaned in close, eye to eye.

Her words, thick with emotion, were said slow and heavy, “Thank you. Thank you for saving my life.”

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Immediately, tears threatened and I looked down at her still swollen feet.

Monica moved into Rehema House in Kenya just a month ago. She’s one of more than 20 current residents and graduates that Mercy House supports. Monica is unique though, not because she’s a total orphan or a victim of abuse, not even because she suffers from epilepsy. Monica is the first teen mom at the maternity home, who won’t become a mother.

Her baby died in her womb just as she was moving into the house. She’s a mother without a child.

And just as she was recovering from the loss of her innocence and then the loss of her unborn baby, she suffered unexpected kidney failure and faced a near near-death experience in ICU.

After many days fighting for her life, Mercy House paid her $5000 unplanned medical bill.

Monica hugged me tight, gratitude etched on her face, “Please tell the people who helped me thank you. I owe them my life.”

“I don’t know why God allowed me to suffer at the hands of evil, but maybe it was so I could come here. Because God has not forgotten me,” she whispered.

Her thanksgiving, even in so much loss, was tangible. Breathtaking.

Silent tears slipped down my cheeks and she reached to wipe them away. I continued, “God has a special plan for you, Monica. He sees you. He loves you so much. He chose you. I know it’s hard to be the only girl without a baby and you might feel left out, but God sees you. He will redeem your ashes and trade them for beauty.”

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I couldn’t help but think of the dozens of Monica’s supported by Mercy House and the countless Monica’s around the world today. Oppressed. Impoverished. Feeling forgotten. Yes, some wandering streets in Kenya, looking for hope, but many also in our cities, on our streets.

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Even in the mirror.

We may feel alone. We might feel forgotten. We may suffer physically or spiritually or emotionally. We may wonder where God is in our struggle.

As I looked deep into Monica’s dark eyes, I didn’t see a stranger, I saw myself.

I saw a reminder of God’s great love for her and for me. And for you.

“Please tell the people God has remembered me,” Monica said to me.

A broken girl, with swollen feet, an empty womb and a grateful heart wanted you to know that He remembers you, too.

 

Help us remember the forgotten women of the world by wearing our simple prayer bracelet that falls off. Our new love mercy prayer bracelet is a piece of hemp with 3 simple beads-two silver and one gold. One silver bead represents you, the other a girl who needs prayer and the gold bead represents God in the middle. Our new bracelets are wear one | share one (you get two for the price of one!) After you’ve done your part in prayer, the bracelet will fall off. Order a family service project kit today and help us put bracelets together and sell them. 100% of the proceeds go to support women all around the globe.