If you click on the link right above this sentence you will go to an article a friend wrote about us. Good stuff.
Sticks and stones will break my bones
But words will never harm me.
Remember that from way back when you were still a kid? I grew up as a fat kid, which means bullying was an everyday affair in elementary school. While I can't specifically remember throwing this phrase at a bully, I for sure thought it in his/her general direction. Thing is it's not true, the phrase that is.
Words mean a great deal to me, and others. Taunting, name calling, and verbal barrages do more damage to me than sticks or stones could ever. I am not sure if I am too sensitive, or have simply read too many words. However I became how I am, I am how I am now. Words hurt.
I am sure one of the reasons I sympathise with the homosexual community is that I have heard a lot of bad words thrown at them. When Kate and I argue over parenting issues, words are generally at the core. Funny thing is I don't really use many words myself. Not talkative, describes me fairly well. I am not shy, and can speak at length (just come hear one of my sermons.) I just like to preserve my words. Not that I always think before I speak. Kate can attest to that flaw in my life.
Not sure why I am writing this, but words do mean something. Labels we put on ourselves or others can either be freeing or restricting. On the other side of the coin some people do not put such value on words. Words do not harm them as much, and often they fail to see the impact their words have on others. I try to keep in mind that just because someone speaks something negative doesn't mean that that negativity is in their heart.
That big word that divides children from adults. The word that either excites or fills one with a sense of dread.
Parents at some point in a child's development start to try and instill a sense of responsibility in that tyke. Usually starts with picking up after yourself, or something like that. Works for most people. We learn how to be and that it is good to be responsible.
So who is responsible for problems like orphaned children? Sure we could draw a chart and place blame on that child's family, government, church, or community. Responsibility is easy to assign to someone else. Unfortunately at some point after we grow up some of us learn to shirk our responsibilities.
Justification is a terrible trait we humans possess. We can justify our bad behavior. Excuses can be found for not helping a child. Not helping a helpless child. Yes we can explain why they are not our problem. We are good at pointing fingers.
Really? Is evolution going backwards? If we can find any, any, excuse to not stop and pick up a hurting child, then we are no better than the lion who eats the orphaned cubs of the pride he just conquered.
The time has come for us to recoginize our responsibility. We, you and me, are responsible for each other. Which means we are responsible for the orphaned children of our world. No matter who actually made them orphans. We must understand that the excuses we give for not helping are moments where we deny our humanity and devolve into animals.
Not all of us can come to Africa and rescue nine girls, but all of us can do something somewhere.
Step number one: No more excuses.
Step number two: Be responsible.
When I started this journey I never imagined it would bring me to rural Kenya. My thoughts tended to sway towards me teaching the masses theology and preaching inspiring sermons which brought people to change. Building a hip, relevant, and smooth running church seemed like a grand place for my life to end up. Digging in the dirt, not what I had in mind. Living with fourteen children certainly had not occurred as a logical path for Johnny's life.
I made a mistake one day. I chose to believe Matthew 25:45 as true.
45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’
Since this story conveyed truth to me then the pursuit of religion and my dreams of teaching and inspiring crowds of people were no longer relevant for my life.
Upto that moment I had belonged to a religion, Christianity, that had a vague resemblance to Jesus. From time to time my Christianity and Jesus walked the same road.
From time to time was not enough anymore. If I was to follow Jesus, I had to forsake all. Sounds easy, but the path has not always been so smooth.
Now, today, I have no religious practice as part of my faith. My faith is not orgainized around a meeting on Sunday, nor a man standing behind a lectern with a tiny mic stuck to the side of his face, nor a holy book. If you examine my life you will find no regularly scheduled prayers, rites, nor any other religious practice. Instead I am walking with Him. Trying to keep it fresh each and every day. I walked out of the building and into a slum. Out of the Book and onto a farm.
I am trying to follow Jesus. Feels good right now, tomorrow might be more of a struggle. I have committed to myself to keep walking.
This can look different for all of us. You might thrive with Him in a religious setting. Cool. Just do not spend too much time sitting in a pew. I did.
Thinking about Jesus this Easter holiday. Which does make sense, seeing as to how it is about Him and all. Easter is my favorite holiday. It is the only holiday I celebrate that remains strictly about Jesus, and for us it lasts three days starting with Good Friday.
When I think about the cross one passage from the Bible usually comes to mind:
23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. Luke 9
That is how I think about the cross, it's daily impact on my life.
I was converted to Christianity at a young age, but it was not until about 12 or so years ago that I thought about what it really means to follow Jesus. I quickly realized that taking up my cross would lead me to uncomfortable, even painful places. When you are in a Good Friday, it is anything but good feeling.
Taking up my cross has meant different things to me at different times in my life. Sometimes the meaning can change day by day. Currently this season of my life finds my cross as primarily defined as noise from children, and fund raising.
Noise wears me down, bit by bit by bit. I become grumpy and snap quickly at the children. In fact `Eowyn was just in here trying to turn on some of Kate's showtunes at maximum volume. I snapped at her. Thankfully she gave up and left. In fact it has been days, weeks, years since I last had a moment of silence during the day. I know, doesn't sound like a heavy cross, but for me it is one of the hardest to bear.
The other one is fund raising. We need financial help to do our work. In fact the more work we do the less money we have available. Funny. Asking for help is not easy, but it is necessary. In fact I believe that needing help is spiritual. It is a way that God can teach me to rely on others and not go it alone. The other side is just as spiritual as well, giving. We have given our lives to save these children, and we are the ones who have been blessed the most.
There is a passage in the Bible that says this; "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Familar phrase from the book of Acts, but one that I abused myself with time and time again in my past.
Back when I still followed a religion instead of Jesus I used this passage to remind myself that I had to give. My interpretation was that if it was a blessing to give than certainly the reverse was true as well. If I failed to give God would curse me, or at least remove his protection from my life. I still did not understand that He loved me and would never reject me. Especially not for financial reasons.
Once I was free of the obligation to give I actually read the rest of the context. The writer talks of not coveting or lusting after silver and gold, and working with his hands to feed himself. He also admonished the reader to labor and support the weak.
This is what we are trying to do. Day in and day out we labor amongst the children. Working towards giving them hopeful futures. I am guilty of wanting a few new shiny tools. Like a newer car, computer, phone, etc. Yet we have managed to change our lifestyles sufficently enough to live without all the latest greatest and fashionable trends, and still be happy.
Beyond that I have learned the truth of "It is more blessed to give than to receive." My life has been transformed, no saved, because we have rescued these children. Without them I am not sure I could have continued on. I have been blessed.
Blessed with love.
Blessed with relationships.
Blessed with fullfillment.
Blessed with hope.
Giving is no longer an obligation for me, but instead has become a way of life. As I continue to follow and attempt to emulate Jesus, I find that giving of myself is more and more the spiritual path. These children do not live with us because we feel that we owe God. They are with us because we love and want to love more.
A few days back I had my fortieth birthday. I am a few days into my new decade, and I have to say so far it is not so much different than the last decade.
Aging has never been a fear of mine. Instead of worrying about the decay of my virility I worry more about missing opportunities to accomplish something grand and meaningful with my life. Personally I do not measure success using a bottom line, the amount of goods acquired or consumed, or the number of people following me. I do not have a problem with those as measures of success, because frankly I need people who are successful in those areas to help me be successful. I try to measure success in my life by the people I encounter. If both of us can walk away from that meeting different, better, and just a bit closer to Jesus, then I count that as successful.
Am I there? Nope. Still working on it. Which is why I do worry about it from time to time. There is a passage in the Bible that comes to mind, and after a quick search on Bible Gateway, I can actually quote it:
And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Galatians 6:9
That is me today. Trying to not grow weary while doing good. That is where I find myself at forty.
Love is one of those things that religion, philosophy, and music have tangled and complicated almost beyond recognition.
I learned that the Bible has several different words for love:
There could be more, but that alone is enough to make muddy what should be crystal clear. I know if I love you or if I don't love you. Greek words are not needed, nor is a classification of that love. All love is the same. Love is love. Love is sacrifice. If I love you I will give up a part of myself for you. Simple.
The hard part is learning to love someone who does not love you back, or whom it is not natural for you to love.
When the girls first moved into our home it was simple enough to love them. I mean they were cute little kids who needed us, easy receptacles for love. It became more difficult when the love was not reciprocated. Downright near impossible when they started demanded our self sacrifice. That was a game changer. I had to learn to grow in love towards the children, who because of the trauma they had experienced, found it hard to love in return.
I do not have any big fancy Greek words to describe what happened. The love was strong enough to weather that storm. In fact I grew to love them more, because they were pushing so hard against us. In my mind it was the same sacrifice that Jesus made for me. He loved me before I knew him, before I could reciprocate that love. He sacrificed himself so that I could know love. That is how I have grown in love. We sacrifice now for these children, so that one day they can love as well.
Not that I have learned all there is to know about love, but for sure I know that I love these children.
Once upon a time when I was attending a semi-fundamentalist charismatic church there was much empathis on giving, giving money that is. When I was in Bible school there was a lot of talk about living by faith, meaning that if you gave all (money again) then God would provide for your needs. I tried it out, and found it lacking. Our former church even had a guarantee, or at least spoke of one, for paying tithes. If you paid your tithes for 6 months and you were not blessed then they would refund that money. Of course typical white middle class folks, which is what the church was made up of, will have good things happen to them within six months. That's if you pay a tithe or not. I did put it to the test, though being the rebellious sort I am I did the opposite. I stopped paying tithes for 6 months. What I discovered was life changing. I actually had more money in those 6 months, because I was not giving it to the church. Nothing bad happened. God did not strike me down for robbing him. I survived.
It occurs to me that this might not be the right track for a fund raising post....
Living by faith is not giving everything away and hoping that motivates God to love you enough to give you stuff. Living by faith is listening for that "still small voice" and attempting to obey. Taking that step to love someone whom it is not normal for you to love. Loving that someone who seems to be doing everything possible to make it as difficult as possible for you to love them. That is living by faith. Sure sometimes it involves money, and even sacrificial giving. But that giving must come from the heart, from loving, not from a desire to acquire more and more wealth.
Kate and I do live by faith. We have faith that readers of this blog, followers on social media, friends, family, and organizations will believe in what we are doing enough to part with some of their hard earned money. We live in faith that there are people who are willing to make sacrifical gifts to help us care for abandoned and orphaned children here in Nakuru, Kenya.
That is how we live by faith.