Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A perfect holiday card?

So, I had a devo prepared.
It was Christmas-season related, on Zachariah and Elizabeth.
But it was preachy. And while I can be hard on myself, its not a great read for others.
Let me suffice to say; I love our God. He uses the most unexpected people and the most interesting ways to show himself.

Today I'm thinking about Mary, the mother of Jesus.

I don't get why I'm in Arusha, Tanzania doing an internship for monitoring programs for protecting abused children.

I wish God would show me His blue-print; how this fits into the bigger map of my life.
Yes, I have always wanted to learn Swahili. Yes,this is making me grow as a personal and will probably benefit me career-wise. Yes, I get to skip a coooooold winter in Canada.
I love Arusha! And I'm having a great time.

And while I'm not complaining, I just don't understand. In Canada I was praying about adopting children and asking God to prepare me to be a mother.
In my mind, that meant a steady full-time job, and a house. Maybe a spouse (that would be nice).

But God gave me an amazing opportunity to learn about behind-the-scenes of NGO's, working for the protection of children. While I'm not loving it, I am learning and it is good- which as I've discussed before, being good is so much better than my own personal enjoyment.

However, I don't understand how this fits in with God's plan. How this isn't a hiccup in my life, but actually part of His master collaboration to form me into the person whom he wants me to be, use my life according to His outline.

Now look at Mary. Who 2014 or so years ago was pregnant right now. (maybe, depending on the time of Jesus's birth).
She had plans to have a family, too. She was engaged. She probably imagined starting her marriage and family in a completely different way. But God had other plans- seemingly absurd plans at the time. God's plans were beyond different- they were scandalous!

Mary didn't even get to give birth to Jesus indoors. He was born in a stable. And here I am, wondering how I'm gonna have a house to adopt kids in the future. Not an obstacle (or maybe even a priority) to God.

Mary wasn't married when she became pregnant. It was her obedience God wanted; being a single woman wasn't an issue or obstacle for God to bring His Son to this earth. And still I think I'm supposed to be married before I adopt.

Mary wasn't in her home town, among her family when she had Jesus- she was with Joseph in Bethlehem, with his family. Not long after Jesus was born they fled as refugees to Egypt.
Why do I think I need to be 'established' somewhere, or with my career?

What God required of Mary and of Joseph was obedience.
That took faith, because they couldn't see how God was moving. They didn't understand His plan.
And that was on a much larger scale than my life right now.

So what if I don't understand why God brought me to Arusha to do this internship? So what if I don't see the picture?
I am still required to be obedient and faithful. I still follow God.

It's very Christmas-y, don't you think?
Blind obedience, trusting when you don't understand.
Put that on your next holiday card.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Update: For a Hug

Approximately 6 weeks ago I wrote a post on going to Uganda.
I was going to visit a little boy. I couldn't explain it well, only that I thought and (usually worried) daily about Sammy.
Would it make sense to fly across the world to hug him, and then simply leave?
And did it even matter if it made sense?

Believing God was instructing me to go, even if I didn't understand, I went. I was reminded numerous times that this was about faithfulness, not success.
At the first internet cafe I went to in Arua, the screen of the computer was this image and text:

There is a type of freedom in that. Motivation, not outcomes, become important. I will be evaluated on my obedience, not my achievement.

I did not love Arua. It was a difficult place for me to stay, and the month there was hard, even if I had not had typhoid. I loved seeing so many stars at night, and it was nice that the family I stayed with used solar power, as those connected to the town power suffered without electricity about 80% of the time.
People often asked me if I was having a good time. Sometimes I wanted to respond with NO! But it was not (and is not) about my personal enjoyment. A better question would be: Is being in Arua good? Yes! So good. There was nowhere else I would rather be, nothing else I would rather do at that time than be in Arua.

I happened to read John Piper's book, Desiring God on Christian Hedonism my second week in Arua.
I didn't even finish it. I am definitely NOT a Christian Hedonist. Try reading that book while staying with refugees in a border town beside two of the most dangerous countries in Africa. Forces in Congo, Uganda and South Sudan are guilty of using child soldiers in the last decade. Land mines are still concerns and rape was and continues to be used as a weapon of war in the neighboring nations.

The people I volunteered with are amazing; they have been working in this community and area for years. Some focus on restoring communities ravaged by war. Be it the LRA in Northern Uganda, the South Sudanese conflicts, or in DRC. They go into the refugee camps and minister to the people there, staying on-location for months at a time. They hike into the mountains to reach small villages ravaged by the LRA, to tribes considered unreached people groups to bring them the Gospel. They go to small villages and inform the women on their rights, advocate against girls being married off when they are still children. They hold the hands of the dying, offering any comfort they can.
I met someone who has HIV and saw a woman who was dying from full-blow AIDS.
I learned that more children die each year from preventable illness and disease linked to dirty water than die from every form of violence combined. In Tanzania, many parents do not even name their children until the second year of their life because so many die before reaching their second birthday. In Uganda, the statistics often talked about the milestone of living past age 5.

Do not talk to me about Christianity being Man's ultimate pleasure.
Yes, our ultimate purpose IS to know God and enjoy Him forever. Our purpose is about God, not about us.  But Christian Hedonism seems to ignore the suffering and real life in between; suffering our Savior experienced to save us, to allow us to know God, to let us enter into Forever. You cannot put rape, child abduction and landmines in a logical sentence with Christian Hedonism. But, you can put them in a sentence with missionaries, the Kingdom of God and the love of Jesus Christ. 
These people didn't give up an easy life with electricity and running water and profitable jobs to minister to the poor in war zones because they think it will result in their own pleasure. They did it for Jesus, to fulfill the Great Commission and to uphold the Kingdom of Heaven.

It is about obedience, not success. It is about the Kingdom of God, not pleasure.

Did I enjoy Arua?
But it was never about my enjoyment, my pleasure.

Arua was good.

I have not yet expanded on how this connects to Sammy, specifically.
When I arrived in Arua, I began to have a heavy heart, especially for Sammy. I also wondered what else God wanted me to do. After getting typhoid I was often at home, not volunteering as much as I had hoped and I felt pretty useless.
One Sunday I returned from Church and locked myself in my little bedroom and prayed and prayed. I asked God for direction on how to bless this community, on how I could do something to impact the people around me, despite of the communication barriers, the limited time.
I got up, unsure of a clear answer and sighed heavily.
I walked out of the house and took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the sunny compound.

The compound was filled with children.

They were all huddled around the picture Bible I had given to Sammy. The older ones, who could read and speak English were reading out loud.

There was my answer.

Every Sunday following, and multiple times throughout the week, Sammy would run to me with the picture Bible, and the other neighborhood children would circle around and I would read them stories, create object lessons and talk about my faith in Jesus.

Sammy got daily stories, just me and him. We read in the shade on sunny afternoons, with mugs of hot chocolate on the couch, or by flashlight at night. He sat on my lap and helped identify the characters.
On my final day in Arua, Sammy said he believed that Jesus is still alive, even though there is a picture of Jesus dying in his Bible, it is not the last picture. He said he believes Jesus came back to life, can hear him at the bottom of the ocean, inside of a fish's belly, like Jonah, or even here in Arua. Because if Jesus is in heaven, he can hear him and help him from anywhere.

I came to Arua to give a little boy a hug. But this was so, so, so much better.

Going to Arua was good. So good.
Even if it was not enjoyable.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Something on hope and hospitals

A few months ago, back in Canada I was praying for my little friend Sammy and thought about his dad. You see, Sammy's father has a terminal illness. There is no cure for his disease. He is guaranteed to die. The question isn't if; but 'When?'.

But I very suddenly, quite heavily, realized that's not only true for Sammy's dad.
It's true for everyone.

We are all going to die. It's not 'if', it's 'when'. None of us get away from it, whether we are diagnosed with a terminal illness or old age.

And that should make all of us live differently.

Yes, I am guaranteed forever, but not forever on this earth.

My friend Ella at YWAM Arua heads up a hospital ministry where twice a week she goes to the tuberculosis ward of the hospital, to visit the patients and provide some food. (Ugandan hospitals do not give patients food, family is expected to provide that. Actually, they don't even give treatment or medicine unless you can pay). Some of the patients in the TB ward have tuberculosis, but are not receiving any treatment, they are just isolated from spreading this air-borne contagion.
They enter the hospital, climb on a bed and have a shelter to keep the rain off, a blanket to stay warm. But not necessarily medical treatment, food or drinkable water.

Ella's heart is for people with HIV and tuberculosis because she sees that so many have lost hope, that they feel they have been sentenced to die. Many have been abandoned by their families and friends and are very literally waiting to die. Ella told me this is especially true of tuberculosis victims, because of the nature of the spreading of the disease, families often don't come to visit and completely abandon their sick relatives. Abandoned to hospitals without food or medical treatment – you see where this is leading?

These people will die.

But so will you and I.

And many of those in the TB ward of Arua Hospital do die, every week, every month.

I wouldn't have joined the hospital ministry if I knew that it was ministering to dying people. I was always afraid of hospice ministry. That is, until I saw Ella in action. It's not about the whole picture, the huge scope of one's life. It's about this moment, this minute in time together with another person. It's not about finding a cure, or giving an answer to important questions, Ella focuses on being completely present with the person she is talking to.
Not looking away from tear-filled eyes, but giving full attention.
Not avoiding the wide-eyed gaze of an emaciated woman who has been given a few days to live by doctors, but knowing how precious every second is.
While I had previously assumed that it would be an emotionally-draining, incredibly depressing ministry focused on dying (and it does have those elements) I had no idea how full of hope it would be. How much hospice care celebrates life. That my talents and abilities are reduced down to one of the more under-utilized gifts I can give, I can give to anyone- any human can give to another human; the gift of physical presence.
This ministry is not about death; it is about hope. Even a spark of hope in a black night, but how worth it is that tiny, flickering spark!

And that is why my friend Ella visits people every week. Her ministry brings food, sometimes the only source of food these individuals have. But just as important, she prays with them, learns their name and spends time talking to them. For people who have been abandoned by their family, or perhaps have no remaining family alive, this is spiritual and emotional food.
She brings hope to people who often feel completely alone, waiting to die. Some of the people she prays with ask her “which God are you praying to?” And then she has the wonderful opportunity to share about her hope, Jesus.

Jesus is the real hope. Jesus is eternal.
Everything else is temporary.

Friday, October 31, 2014


Around this time last week, I lacked energy. I felt constantly drained and couldn't take a morning jog. Headaches I chalked up to dehydration bothered me mid-afternoon. I wanted to sleep and you couldn't have tempted me with any food; I simply had no appetite.

After seeing the horrible conditions at the hospital I was adamant that I go to a private clinic. Tested positive for one of the most common conditions in Uganda, typhoid.
I had the typhoid vaccine booster about two or three years ago, hence the mildness of my symptoms. But the vaccine is not 100% preventative. I must have been in the first stage of typhoid, because I wasn't yet running a high fever or feeling some of the more extreme, scary-sounding symptoms of 2nd and 3rd stage.
The doctor explained to me (and then I googled some more) about typhoid. I knew I needed to drink boiled water, which I had been doing. But I was reminded about the role of everything related to consumption: the hands that made my food, my own hands that fed myself. The containers that transported and stored water. The methods of washing dishes; these all came into play.
His advice? Vigilance.

Typhoid is a type of salmonella that only affects humans and is transferred person-to-person through contact with and consumption of... feces. Ew. I know!
This means that I ate some particle of poop from another person who had typhoid, and now I have typhoid (and if any body eats my poop; or the drainage of the outhouse runs into someone's water supply and they don't properly boil their water; or I don't properly wash my hands after using the toilet; or a fly flies on my poop and then lands on someone's food; then they will get typhoid from me).

It's about pure, clean water and vigilance is the only defense. And it also means that ultimately, I'm responsible for if I get typhoid or not.

The treatment for typhoid is not fun. While I ingested the typhoid bacteria, it didn't just remain in my digestive system; it went everywhere quickly. And treatment likewise must go through my whole body through infusion or a drip. A 2 inch tube was inserted in my hand and twice a day I was connected to an IV supplying me with medicine, slowly running it through my bloodstream.
Let me tell you; this hurt. Twice I cried, once I screamed so loud and all the children started screaming for a doctor saying “Mzungu! Mzungu!” Or “the white lady!”. On this last occasion I sat in the treatment room alone, but most days there were four or five others receiving the same intravenous treatment for typhoid.

Now I'm on two weeks (give or take a day) of pills and the instruction to drink a lot of sugary drinks. For a person who usually takes tea without sugar and drinks only water, the last of the instructions has been hard to keep. I'm doing my best to drink a lot of juice everyday, but it's a concerted effort.

There's a devotional in there about purity, but it seems pretty obvious: don't eat poop; wash your hands and make sure that whatever you're putting in your body has been sufficiently boiled. If not, it's going to take more than a pill and two days to get healthy; you need treatment that courses through your veins and gets into all the major organs. Just a tiny particle of contaminated poop can be destructive, even fatal.

"24 million people don't have access to adequate sanitation in Uganda, almost two thirds of the population."

And to some, it is a fatal illness. Either they already were weak (old age, young children), or the sickness wasn't caught in time. Sadly sometimes, it is simply because they cannot afford treatment.

"SNV is implementing a community empowerment programme in partnership with five district local governments (including Arua, Uganda), UNICEF and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands. The programme aims at improving the health and livelihoods of 172,000 primary school going children in 268 schools and 36,400 households through interventions in water, sanitation and hygiene. Our focus is in ensuring equity of WASH services and sustainability of infrastructure and accelerating progress at scale in sanitation."

My treatment (at a nice, probably expensive clinic) included my initial blood test, 6 intravenous treatments, a supply of painkillers, vitamin tablets and over two weeks worth of oral medication. It cost less than $22.00 US.

Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war.  Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies aren't strong enough to fight diarrhea, dysentery and other illnesses. 

90% of the 30,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are in children under five years old.  The WHO reports that over 3.6% of the global disease burden can be prevented simply by improving water supply, sanitation, and hygiene. 

Prevention is clean water, as sadly there are not enough wells and bore-holes in this community or throughout Uganda. Having the resources to boil water are another need. Having education about proper sanitation and hygiene are further imperative.

I knew all these things, and still I got typhoid.

But for $22.00 for treatment, it's a tragedy anyone would die for lack of funds to pay.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Something Clarified

I recall a conversation I had with a woman from my Church a few months back.
She had mentioned visiting Uganda and I happily added I had been there, also.

She made a comment about food and I responded that Ugandan staples were not my favorite. It wasn't a complaint, just my personal preference. She seemed surprised and talked about the wonderful fruit she ate every night. When I mentioned ugali or posho, she had never heard of it, let alone tasted it.

See, while we have both been to Uganda, we have had very different experiences.
She visited Central Uganda, I've only been in Kampala and the North.
She went in June, I've only visited in October and February.

Uganda is a small country, but very diverse. There are 64 different languages, 30 states and many ethnic groups (not to mention, I'm not staying with a Ugandan family).

As you read my blog, please do not take my own, unique and limited experience to be normal for Uganda. It's too diverse to be limited to my own, small experience.

Another thing I wanted to add is that I don't remember I'm a white visitor and how some of what I say might be misconstrued. I adjust quickly to new environments, new experiences are interesting and invigorating to me, but maybe either I don't present such clearly, or it's easily read negatively.
I do see life out of my perspective shaped by my culture, my life. It's a culture of a rural American-urban Canadian, and a view of someone who wanted to learn Swahili since she was 12, had a 6 year relationship (including marriage) to an Ethiopian, a soccer-player who is more familiar with playing the sport with men than with women. Someone who grew up milking a pygmy goat (and drinking goat's milk) and who would prefer to bike to work than drive a car. My comfort food is rice and beans and Pupusas. My view of what is 'normal' doesn't match that of anyone I know.

One of the things I love about traveling is that it opens up my eyes because different cultures make me see myself, humanity, life and especially my faith differently. The differences in culture are not bad, they are just different.

And what I notice most of all is how people are more alike than they are different. Don't put people in Uganda, or East Africa in a an extreme category. First and foremost we are all people, and that immediately makes us more alike than different.
Some things about Uganda I love, some I don't like. That's okay, it's my experience, its my view. I'm learning as I go and want to share what I'm learning with my family and friends.

But don't let that shape your view, your perception - take it all with a grain of salt, please!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Something That Needs Improvement

Sammy's mom came to visit yesterday.

This thing called grace that I love to talk about? I suck at it.

I can edit and re-write to my hearts content to make my words sweet, neutral and without the initial biting edge that I wrote them with. As the author of this blog, that is my privilege. But it's also a disguise that allows me to hide my very real anger, spite and judgmental nature. So here goes me being honest, with few edits:

Sammy came to live with Wendy and her husband around a year ago. When his mother re-married, the man began abusing Sammy (step-children are often not well-cared for in this culture; think Cinderella). After some time and abuse, his mother brought him to Wendy and left him there, returning to her new husband. Wendy staunchly says, “if my husband beat my child I wouldn't leave my child! I would get a job and leave the husband!” And I nod in my agreement.
Sammy's mom hasn't come to visit in months. Wendy sums it up as a year, but I know that's an exaggeration.
Wendy told me a few months back, maybe in May or June, how she had come to visit. After seeing how well Sammy was doing; in school, equipped with school supplies, a few new clothes and plenty to eat, she boldy asked if the family could also share some extra money with her? Now, Baba is polite and grandfatherly, but he immediately told her to leave.
I was enraged as I heard, too: you abandon your child, haven't inquired or checked up on his welfare in months, given nothing to help pay for his care, and on the rare occasion you visit you immediately ask for money!

She came with a friend, greeted Wendy. She then came to me and I shook her hand, greeted her in Arabic and smiled.

It was only after I had greeted her that Wendy told me who the visitor was: Sammy's mother.

My first response was judgment.

And I tried to hold on to that, imagining myself as better or higher than she. Judgment is pride. Judgment looks at someone else's sin as worse than my own, as the other person as inferior to me. I cannot truly have grace and judgment unless I am perfect. And I am not perfect, so my judgment is prideful and is absent of grace.
I looked at this tall, well-dressed woman with eyeliner and lipstick and thought that somehow I was better than her because she sent her child to live with another family to remain with an abusive husband. But I am not better than her. I'm in need of the same grace, forgiveness and restoration that she is. I'm on the same plane, sitting in the same dust.

For all I know, she borrowed a dress and used friend's make-up to come and visit. For all I know she has nothing at all.

Before leaving she gave Sammy 100 shillings; around 3.7 cents US. 100 shillings is less money than it costs to use a public toilet – very literally, 100 shillings isn't enough to take a piss.

For all I know, 100 shillings was all she had to give him.

Because I do not know her at all.

I shifted from judgment to avoidance. I could easily stay away from the visitors; I didn't speak the language. I checked on my drying laundry, I organized my electronics charging on the solar panel, I added airtime to my phone.

And then the Holy Spirit started to convict me again, using words from my own mouth, of blessing and peace. Did I really mean it? Then I needed to act like it. And if I didn't really mean it, too bad, I had said it.

If I had greeted with an English “hello” I could have gotten around it; 'hello' is just a word in greeting, it means nothing. But I had greeted her in Arabic: Salam Halikum. Oh... I said “Peace be upon you.” I had blessed her. I had offered peace to her. And now I was held accountable.

I took a deep breath and walked over to the group at the corner of the compound and sat down. Because you need to show respect to visitors and offer your presence, even if you cannot follow the conversation. And when I moved, sat in her proximity, politely smiled back at her, I observed something that changed my heart.

The three boys, cousins, were sent for a bath. Amy scrubbed them and I went over to help dry them off, put lotion on their elbows and knees.

I realized that she was missing out on giving her son a bath. And she had missed out on hundreds of baths.

She had come in and greeted Wendy and picked up the baby. An hour before I had returned from town and the boys came running at me with hugs (possibly for the cookies in my bag, but none the less, hugs).

She was missing out on hundreds of hugs.

Not that I should transfer my judgment to patronizing pity, but that in a very real sense she was the one losing in this circumstance.

A fresh, clean Sammy took a seat and looked over at his mom. He sat awkwardly far away, three walking strides away. I was sitting closer to his mother than he. Wendy told me later he was a little scared of her because she visits so rarely.
Sammy readily climbs up on my lap, book in hand, for stories.

She was missing out on her son, his affection, his bright smiles and his childhood.

She had come with photos, mostly of Sammy as a baby, but also two photos of herself from this last major holiday. She offered me one.
I politely accepted, intending to give it to Wendy or Sammy afterwards. What do I want with a photo of a woman I don't like? A woman who gave up her son to instead have a relationship with a violent man?

Around two hours later, without much ado, she departed. I realized I hadn't even asked her name.
I went into my room and saw her photo lying on my bed. And then, suddenly, I knew I couldn't discard that photo. I needed the reminder, I needed to pray for her. Because I still need to learn grace.

Matthew 18 hit hard today. The parable of the unforgiving servant:
He owed the master 100,000 talents. The equivalent of 150,000 years of work – an amount he could not possibly pay!!!
And he was completely forgiven. No remaining balance, nothing owing, nothing ever to bind him again. I have been forgiven like that.

And then I turn around and act like the evil servant who shook down his fellow (fellow or peer, meaning the same) slave who owed him the equivalent of 100 days of labor. 150,000 years forgiven, and yet held against another debtor 100 days, just over 3 months of work.

That something that needs improvement? It is me.

Something Different

I grew up in the Bible-belt of America, and attended a conservative Christian university. Like many of my fellow students, we had guidelines to adhere to for how a good Christian was to conduct his or herself. The lists usually looked something like this:

  • Abstain from alcohol/drugs/tobacco
  • Be honest
  • Pray and attend services regularly
  • Read the Word
  • Believe that abortion and same-sex marriage are wrong
  • Abstain from sex until marriage
  • Women, dress modestly so as not to lead men into sin

While this list is not bad, it is almost identical for how a good Muslim should conduct his or herself.
Go back through this list and consider how it can apply to a Muslim, both conservative or liberal.

I have had to remind myself that not everyone views Muslims with the affection I do. I realize that ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups have tainted the reputation of Islam, especially for North Americans. My friends who are Muslim have all condemned the acts of terrorism, violence and war that these groups have perpetrated. When I think of Muslims, I think of my friends who are respectful of my faith, while still holding on to their beliefs. I think of my friends in Canada who have opened their home to me when I was in need, people who have cheered me up when I was discouraged, children who call me “Auntie!” and shower me with hugs. People I've celebrated with until 6 in the morning, or brothers who took me dancing when I could only walk on one leg. I think simply of people who share a different faith than I do, just as my Agnostic, Buddhist or Atheist friends. Please, get any idea about terrorist groups out of your head for the duration of this post. I'm not defending, addressing or talking about that at all. Got it? Good. We may proceed.

For four weeks I will be living with a Sudanese family here in Arua. They are from Khartoum, meaning they have more conservative values; such as men and women do not eat together and to go into town women wear long skirts and cover their heads. They are incredibly generous and regularly share food with the poor. They are hard working and pray 3-5 times a day, completing the ceremonial washing every time before. The men attend Mosque regularly on Fridays and I see Baba reading the Koran nearly every day.

So, what makes Christianity so very different from Islam if all our “lists” of good conduct are nearly interchangeable?

Last night I was doing my best to read Bible stories to three little boys. A very bright 8 year old was helping me translate. The Lost Sheep, or Mia Kondo (100 Sheep) and The Good Samaritan. I was moved as I read these simple parables of Jesus. Jesus was not merely a good teacher, but God in the flesh, and he shows us the character of God profoundly through these parables.
The Shepherd leaves his 99 sheep to go after the one which ran away. Think of that. The other sheep were all good followers, they were all obedient. But the Shepherd is not satisfied until he has all his sheep, especially the one that ran away. The Pharisees must have been pissed at this! They were the good followers, and they spent their time and attention on the other good Jews, who would waste time on the fence-sitters, the outsiders, the corrupt, the sinners? God, that's who.

Sitting with refugees, hours away from the border of Sudan, beside the very road leading to a refugee camp, I was moved as I spoke about the Good Samaritan. It didn't require much to explain to these children that the Samaritans where guys from the 'other town' and they were considered enemies. That is an easy concept for children living in a border town, beside a place of unrest, of a people fleeing war.
But the religious people, the ones who knew all the rules, the ones who had good conduct; they were the ones who did not help their brother. They ignored him, they walked around him.
And when evening came, it was the Samaritan, the expected enemy who came and helped, who paid for all his medical care, food and housing in an inn.

As I read these classic Bible stories I was astounded at Jesus. I know Jesus is God, but what these stories tell me anew about God is what makes Christianity such a unique religion: God has grace. God loves the sinner. God moves to help the marginalized, not only the astute follower.

Most religions uphold that the god or gods reward those who follow them, that god/gods will hear when someone offers a sacrifice, a prayer after having observed the rules of good conduct. Islam holds this, too. Christianity says that God offers eternal life to anyone who believes- even if their conduct is bad, even if they are the worst of sinners. Christianity speaks of grace, not conduct. A God who actively seeks out the lost, instead of dwelling only on the observant. A God who makes outsiders heroes and incompassionate priests villains.

And yet, I'm astounded, often how my own focus and perception of life resorts back to conduct so easily. Views on abortion, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, lying, deceit, laziness, greed and gluttony often become twisted with my own opinions backed by one or two verses in the Bible, instead of the heart of the Gospel shaping my view. Because the heart of the Gospel says that there is grace for all, and that our conduct cannot ever make us right with God; but only the blood of Jesus can. My views, and my behaviors, including my conduct, need to reflect first the grace of Jesus because that is what makes Christianity unique.

I read recently that many non-Christians know what it takes to act like a Christian and they could feign Christianity to fool masses; even people who they attend Church with. And yet, knowing what rules to follow hasn't driven these people to actually embrace Christianity as a religion.
The Church, me included, must be doing something wrong!

Similarly, the family I am living with know how to act; they already do the things on the above list. But knowing do's and don'ts will not influence them. Even seeing me flesh out modesty and chastity won't sway them, they would merely conclude I am a good Muslim!

So what will influence them? What will make a lasting impact?
What is so different about Christianity?


Because of the grace of God it's not about my conduct. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus, it's not about what I do or don't do. And that message of grace needs to be preached louder than any list of good conduct, because that is what is truly different about Christianity and the amazing God we serve.

Something On Dining

One of the things I have noted is the way in which people eat meals. Not how they eat food, but rather, who they eat it with.
Children eat together, separately from adults. Women generally eat separately from men, however there are exceptions. Husbands and wives eat together, and smaller family groups eat together, but the larger the group, the more segregated the eating.
I, as a guest am served first and with a very large portion. I had to put a stop to this, because I wasn't able to even dent the huge amount of rice piled on my plate. I also get my own dish and a spoon. Baba and his guest, a friend visiting from Kenya, are served right away and they share a platter with three times as much rice as I have, and they always manage to finish it. We are all served in the living room and eat at short tables, seated on chairs.

Wendy and her husband share a platter together in the kitchen. At the back of the kitchen Amy eats, and sometimes she eats with the family in the kitchen, too.

All the lines or 'who's who' are determined for eating. You know your social standing based on when and where you are served food.

However, as I further contemplated this hierarchy of dining, I was stunned by the person of Jesus.
Jesus ate with anyone and everyone:
Tax Collectors
Simple village friends

Here in Uganda, you are the people you eat with. The honored, or the servants. The distinguished or riff-raff. Jesus ate with both. He had ample opportunities to pick one side and stick with it. But he ate with all, and told us to, too.

Coming from a completely different culture, there are some subtleties I miss in the Bible because I read it out of context.
After eating breakfast alone (the children eating together, Wendy and Amy eating together in the kitchen, Baba and his guest eating in the living room), I open my Bible to do devotions and am absolutely stunned.

It's not one particular verse, but rather Jesus as a person. Jesus eating with anyone without regard to gender, social status, employment or religion is a radical thing. But if you really want a verse, here are two:

Luke 14:7-24 (Don't be lazy now! Go read it!)

Matthew 9:11 "When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, 'why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?'"

Jesus ate with anyone, which means he associated with anyone, had an impact on anyone. If he had such 'low' standards, shouldn't we, too?

(I was asked about this post and decided to do a little follow-up. This 'hierarchy' of eating is present in probably all cultures. In my home, growing up, my father, the 'head of the family' was routinely seated at the 'head of the table. However, because that is familiar to me, I never noticed the significance. This separated eating isn't bad, just different.)

Something Silly

I saw a woman in a coonskin cap today.

Often, people here think if something is from America it must be cool and fashionable. She was walking so proudly in her purple dress, dangling earrings and similarly dangling fake coon tail, I just smiled and looked away to keep my composure.

Often, people who have so little hold on to useless garbage.
This is true for the poor in Canada, stuffing rubbish in stolen shopping carts, as for refugees in Uganda who want to take broken television sets or radios without batteries with them to their new lives. Because they have so little, they hold on to whatever objects they can, as useless as they may be.

But I think this is probably true for all of us.

We ultimately have nothing. Even what we think we have is really just garbage, when compared to the riches we are offered by God. And yet, I and myself still holding on to useless objects. Very silly things, even absurd things (like coonskin caps in a place where no raccoons exist). And yet, if we were to release these things, surrender them completely, our hands, our hearts would be open to accept richer, better, eternal things. But our legless chairs, broken toys, torn plastic bags, ripped clothing and battery-less electronics hold us back.

If you're fleeing your old life, leave behind the crap. It's not worth the weight, and there are so many better things ahead.

Monday, October 06, 2014

For a Hug

Things have been mulling since July when I abruptly quit my only job.

I had no responsibilities tying me to this city; a combination of fear and freedom had me thinking about bold choices- which for me often include travel.
As readers will know; I've been thinking a lot about children and how I can prepare to adopt, as well as bless children now. So that was blended into my day-dreams.

I have also been reading a lot about how trauma, abuse and neglect affect the development of infants and children. If babies are simply not held enough or looked in the eyes, or observe a human face with it's intricate expressions, the little one will not develop properly, despite necessary food and warmth. Imagine exacerbating this by lack of food, diapers that go unchanged for hours and regular abuse. If children survive that is a victory, but they will be miles behind children who have been tucked into bed at night, hugged daily.

A few weekends ago, visiting my family in Indiana I got to cuddle my nephews, and rock my niece. Tickle my nephews, who appropriately giggle and wiggle because their nerves understand human touch. I smile at my niece and she gives back a gap-toothed grin because human faces are familiar and friendly to her.

A little boy has been on my heart for many months now, and was always in my mind as I said good-night to my nephews, tucked in bed with warm pajamas and a story. This little boy, far away in Uganda has suffered abused, neglect and abandonment. And now he is safe and cared for by my friends, I know.
But the more I read about all the physical acts of love and affection that children need to grow up 'normal' the more I want to take more, better action. It's not just enough that he is fed, that he has a bed and a mosquito net; he has to have regular hugs and kisses. He has to be taken for walks to see his neighborhood, the hills around his house. He needs to hear he is loved, he is special.

The opportunity came for me to visit Uganda again, to see this little boy. So, considering that my contracted position was not going to be renewed, I bought plane tickets.

In my excitement I had forgotten about an opportunity I had applied for just after quitting my job in July.
Two weeks before I was to leave for Uganda I received an email announcing an interview for an internship position in Tanzania for 6 months. After the Skype interview, I was full of anticipation and encouragement; I could travel directly from Uganda to Tanzania. I could visit Sammy and my friends, stay with them for 6 weeks and then go to Arusha, Tanzania to intern about helping defend the rights of children, especially abused children.

My 6 week trip quickly became a 7 and a half month adventure focusing on children.

Which is exciting, and clearly matches with my heart for working for children, especially in East Africa.

But, at the same time, I also know that this isn't the most responsible decision. I'm not in college or grad school- why am I doing an internship? I'm not going to make an income for around 8 months. I am subletting my apartment, but considering the lengthy time I will be gone; I might be giving up my housing, too.

I sounded a little crazy telling people I was subletting my apartment, flying across the ocean to hug and read stories to a little boy. It almost sounded better to say "There is this boy I love..." And let them assume it's a ridiculous romantic fling.

My plans of wanting to have a stable full-time job, a house or an apartment so that I will be ready to adopt a child seem further away than ever. On paper, I look like a mess: 3 cities in 5 years. 5 jobs, all in my career field, but nothing lengthy enough that shows consistency for my life. I have a room and housemates; nothing that I can really lay claim to; I share everything.

I'm excited right now, but I wonder how I will feel in 8 or 9 months when I return to Canada. Probably without a job, maybe without a permanent place to stay. Helping kids is good, and it is what I want to do, but it is not going to lead me to what my culture defines as success: good job, house, car, picket fence, dog.
But I'm not called to success, I'm called to faithfulness.
Although I might not 'feel' like that in 9 months, I'm writing it now as a reminder. I know God has been calling me to help children and I've asked Him to prepare me to adopt children. I know that I could probably stay in Canada, survive the winter and save up money to get my own place to live. I could get started on that 'consistent job' today, without this bump in my journey.
But those would be my plans, mapping my life out the way I think it should look. And God hasn't often followed my plans in my life; he completely disrupts them and takes me a whole different way.

I'm not going to strive after money, or personal success, however well-meaning my reasons for such might be. I'm not trying to be successful, I'm trying to be faithful.

After all, my aim in life is not to adopt children or have a family. My aim is not to have a successful, thriving career in criminal justice. My aim is to please God and use all of who I am and what I have to glorify Him. Sometimes that looks irresponsible.

But at the end, God doesn't say "Nice job! You were successful with little!" No, no. He says "Well-done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in little, now I will give you more responsibility."
Matthew 25.

You have permission to remind me of this when I return to Canada and feel discouraged about not having a home or a job.

I leave tomorrow afternoon and return in late May.

Faithfulness, not success.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Around the age of 15 I 'moved up' from the basement to a larger bedroom. One of the first things I did was begin writing on the walls with washable marker and taping things to the ceiling.
I would lay in bed and look up at the inspirational quotes, magazine clippings or photos above me. I guess it was meditation.

One of the first things I put up there was a paper on which I wrote in green and blue: "I don't ever want to be satisfied".

This was not in regards to being thankful, or in being discontent with my life. It was a desire to never be satisfied with stuff; objects never satisfy. It was a desire to never let things or status symbols fill up my life or my identity.
Mostly, it was a desire to never be satisfied with my relationship with God; but to always strive for more.

And the prayer I prayed as a highschooler has followed me into adulthood, and I remain, both blessedly and irritatingly UNSATISFIED.

I began a new job a few weeks ago.
I love what the job does. I work directly with people charged for low-level offenses doing restorative justice and direct accountability programs. It's work with adults, and as I am supervising and completing the assessments, there are little to no bad attitudes I come across. Clients say "thank you" to me daily! People are polite, and although I continue to work with people with mental health problems, it is from a different approach. Working out of an office instead of a residence is wonderful.

However... (and it's a BIG HOWEVER)...
I am so unsatisfied with this job for 2 reasons:
1) There is little for me to do. It's barely a job for 1 person to complete, let alone two as I enter the third week of training where I am actually completing paperwork and doing things. There is a lot of wasted time just sitting around, and I can't stand that.
I guess working in a court house with a job contracted through the government, common sense should have told me it would be diddling my thumbs, but I am too much of an idealist to consider that all those jokes about government positions doing no work could actually be founded in truth.

2) I was shocked by the office atmosphere. I've only worked in one other "office job", I am not used to the office culture, and more than once I have wanted to go home and shower, wash my clothes, to remove any lingering greed and spite from being in that atmosphere.
I never realized how petty people really can be. How much they envy others and live their lives in comparison to those around them.
The gossip, blatant gossip; defamatory conversations and whispers of "you didn't hear it from me" that constantly flowed shocked me. I feel like a naive little girl as the infidelity, betrayal, affairs, excused violence and corruption go on around me in these halls of justice.

I am astounded at the greed, the focus of owning this or that object. For 2 days my co-worker questioned, investigated and mulled over buying a pair of exercise pants from a well-known brand. It was the focus of her day for two days! She asked my opinion, she made a pro-and-con list, she debated to purchase now, or wait.
All along I wanted to scream "I DON'T CARE!!!! I DOESN'T MATTER!" while, somehow, still being polite.

Then, there is the constant flow of people past the office who poke their head in, share some gossip and then wave the new object they bought, brag about their new furniture, discuss the salary of the man and pectoral muscles they have been on one date with, and the possibility of their year-end-bonus and the vehicle to follow. The 50-year-old women who use Tinder like school girls and shatter my belief that we mature with age and look at people's character and personality instead of looks and income.
Again, I want to pull out my hair and tell them that it doesn't matter- none of these ridiculous physical objects matter. A man's salary doesn't prove his character and a car will get destroyed quickly in an accident.

And the idealist in me that wants to see the benefit of restorative justice returns from work frustrated and disheartened with a culture that looks everywhere to satisfaction except the eternal God.

It is a one-month contract, with the possibility of renewal. And I am not sure that I want it to be renewed.

I love Toronto. 
This city is amazing. The diversity of people. The whole world is in Toronto!
There are so many opportunities, so many resources, so many amazing projects.
Anything you could ask for, it is here.
This weekend alone there is a free, 3-day Christian event including concerts, the Toronto International Film Festival, and Cirque du Soliel as the major events. There is a ping-pong bar and a board-game cafe, salsa and bachata dance halls for those who want to dance without the night-club atmosphere. 5 indoor climbing gyms, and 2 bouldering gyms. 2 circus gyms to learn how to do ribbons, silks, trapeze and other intense exercise-arts. 2 indoor trampoline parks to jump for hours and hours. A museum dedicated to shoes. A restaurant dedicated to deaf persons, where you order in sign language, and a restaurant completely dark with blind waiters.

The highest amount of concentrated debt is also in Toronto; in the renown Yorkville area where people try to impress their neighbors with their fancy cars, designer clothes and upscale condos. I remember walking in that area and seeing the driver of a Ferrari arguing with a city parking patrol who had written him a ticket. He could "afford" a Ferrari but wanted to argue over a $50 parking ticket.

Last week I met a friend after work at her job in the huge Eaton Center mall and followed her as she returned and exchanged items at various stores throughout the mall. Most of the clothes looked the same from store to store. The advertising was sometimes blatantly discriminatory (one store had only blonde-haired, white models and mannequins), but always manipulating. Malls use similar tactics to casinos to encourage people to buy!buy!buy!.
I left nearly exhausted from the advertising and coercion.

Maybe it all is culture shock. While I love Toronto, I feel a huge abyss between what I value and what my co-workers and neighbors prioritize and this new position working in an office highlighted that for me.
And more and more I feel pulled to a simpler way of life, to something that directly helps people and communities.

Maybe it is because I serve a God who had no where to rest his head, a God who purposely chose poverty instead of wealth, a God who promises that he will clothe me better than the lilies of the field; only I must stop worrying so much about what I wear. My God who says "store up for yourselves treasures in heaven".

I am so unsatisfied.

I am unsatisfied with this shallowness and materialism.
I want more! I want to help more, to do better than I do now. I want deeper relationships and a more influential life and job.
I want so much more.

Maybe I should put it on my ceiling.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Rescued

On this dreary Saturday I slept in.
Wading in that half-awake state of bliss; relaxation and a mind moving slowly, like a stroll in a park. Aware, but not alert, not worried for the day or for life, just present in time. And in this semi-consciousness, I thought about children.
(Look at my last three blogs- of course I was thinking about children!)

God put these clear commands to care for widows and orphans, to not oppress the poor, and to welcome the alien. Its from Old Testament to New- part of God's character and regulations for religion for the conservative, the practical acts of living out a faith-relationship for the liberal. No one gets to back out, no one gets exempted from these commands.

In my dream-state I thought of what this world would look like if we all (and I mean all Christians, not all countries, not all governments, not all communities: just Christian people) did this well.

What would that do to gangs?
What would that do to pimps?
What would that do to drug dealers?
What would that do to human trafficking rings?
What would that do to child-abductors?

What if there were no lonely, hurting children? What if there were no homeless youth, and emotional traumas were being healed well with love and community? What if the vulnerable were protected? What if those with mental health problems found help early on, and a supportive community in their neighborhood? What if the abused were advocated for? What if the broken-hearted were bound-up? What if children without good parental figures found them in the Church? Found a family within the Church? What if? What if?

What if the Church was a physical expression of Christ's love? What if Christians lived out grace, forgiveness, acceptance and adoption?
What if?

Well, then the world would change. Entire communities would transform. Children would grow up with love, support and help. And those children would become teenagers who reject violence, and abuse of substances. Then those youth wouldn't have negative peer groups because they found positive ones. Youth into adults.
We all grow up.

The senseless war in Northern Uganda has now migrated into DRC, it began nearly two decades ago, but the timing of the start of the war and the kidnapping of children has never been agreed upon. For those abducted as children, they are now grown. Having been kidnapped in childhood and tortured, manipulated and forced for around 20 years, you would see the face and size of an adult. They are now the oppressors, perpetrating what they were raised in upon others. Reinforcing violence, terror and war for a reason they don't know and can't fathom; it is just their life now. If you were to see them now, armed, in fatigues, and ready to kill you would attack back. But if you saw them at age 6 or 7, you would have pity. You would want to rescue them. They all used to be children.

The people you see in your own community, those people who scare you, anger you, make your blood pressure rise and give your heart some exercise- they used to be children, too. What horror were they raised in? What have they struggled with all their lives? What monsters have they come up against?
I was awed as I read Romeo Dallaire's writing on child soldiers throughout the world. The tactics used by war lards, militia commanders and abductors is the same process most gangs use to induct new members.

The tactics used to brain-wash child soldiers to become killing machines are the same principles that gang leaders utilize to secure new gang members.

Means of terror, manipulation and coercion are how pimps and drug lords keep people oppressed, too. What is happening in the jungles of Congo and Cambodia occur in North American cities daily. And it is happening to children, or to those who didn't have good supports at children; making them vulnerable and susceptible.

It all starts with children. Defending, helping, supporting, loving and advocating for children.

The first time I journeyed to North Uganda I interviewed former child soldiers. I distinctly remember a beautiful, strong girl who had been abducted at the age of 9. 
At 9 years old she had lived through war: that is third grade in North America.

But, she escaped!
She was alive because she escaped.
She is not now a killing machine, brain-washed body because she escaped. She doesn't inflict terror on others because she managed to leave. She wasn't aiding in abducting more children because she had managed to get out.

How can the Church help more children escape?

Grace Hope. That was the girl's name, the girl who escaped the LRA and Joseph Kony. And she smiled at me when we talked, told me of her hopes for her future, how well she is doing in school and pointed to the boy she has a crush on. Not just alive, but with a future, with dreams. Because she escaped.

And Grace and Hope are the response to rescue children in any community where violence, poverty, neglect and abuse threaten them and their future. By grace, and by hope. If it's the same principles used to control, to indoctrinate, then the same response is required, no matter what country.
Forgiveness, love, family - these all require Grace. Hope is the only answer I know to mental illness, to war, to atrocities. And what hope do we have? The same that raises people back from the dead and can transform a killer into an advocate: Jesus Christ.
This is why it is the Church that must reach out to the vulnerable; to orphans, because only the Church has grace and hope.

Let us help rescue children.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Little Ones

I've wanted to adopt for as long as I can remember.

My siblings can probably remember a lengthy list of over 100 names that I had picked out for all my future kids; and even at that age of writing in crayon, I was adamant about adoption. This was before awareness of the process of pregnancy and the fears of childbirth; at eight years old knowing that some children didn't have a family compelled me to divert from biology.
More recently, I've been thinking more seriously about not only adoption and foster care, but children in general.

This, I know is all complied over the years with God's directing hand.  Years of volunteering at an organized Christian camp, to crazy camps for inner-city kids with recreational events at gravel pits, to hiking in California with even wilder youth; I started at age 13- that's more than half my life helping at camps! Being a youth worker with neglected and/or abused children, and working with young offenders. A nanny on two different occasions. Protecting children from abduction in Thailand, to advocating for the plight of child soldiers in Uganda. Volunteering at orphanages or with former street children. Sports programs for kids, a mentor and youth leader. And the wonderful nieces and nephews who have adopted me as an aunt.

I've loved kids and worked with them in some fashion ever since I was one!

And now I'm 27, living with other single adults, and I recently quit my position working with teens.  My volunteer role with a youth soccer program is on hold for the summer months. At my age, stage of life and peer group, I could easily have no contact with children at all. Instead, I have children weighing more heavily on my heart than ever.

What is the first passage that jumps to mind when I mention Jesus and children? We see Jesus interacting with children frequently; the boy and his lunch at the miracle of feeding the masses, healing them of demons and raising them back to life. But I'm going to guess that what first came to your mind is of Jesus blessing the little children; that's what I first think of. But, as I opened my Bible for devotions this morning, the pages fell to the beginning of Luke.

"The birth of Jesus."
Jesus was a child.

If you want to be convinced that Jesus values and cares for children, just consider that Jesus became one.
His ministry didn't start until his 30s. Why be a child? Why not just descend, appear at age 29 and get to business? Why live through infancy, childhood, and awkward puberty?

*before you jump at me and say that it was because of the prophecies, remember that God made those prophecies because it was His plan for Jesus to be born, not that the prophecies were made and God had to 'obey' Himself- He is outside of time

Jesus became a child. The first few months of his life were marked by violence and mass-murder at the hands of a corrupt government. He was born a minority- a people conquered, discriminated and oppressed. His family fled to Egypt and he grew up as a refugee. If it were today, Jesus would have been one of the children aided by UNICEF, living in a refugee camp. Jesus didn't just patronizingly pat children on the head and bless them; he valued them so much he lived as one.

Thousands Of Syrian Refugees Seek Shelter In Makeshift Camps In Jordan

Jesus was adopted.

Joseph wasn't going to accept him, remember? (Matthew 1). He was going to break off the engagement with Mary and go about his life. God sent an angel in a dream to persuade him.
We don't hear much about Joseph in the rest of the Bible. He is not a main character- Jesus is. The adopted son, God himself who came as an infant and grew up is the focus.
But we see later on that Joseph took Jesus as his son and raised him as his own child. When the crowds question Jesus's power and miracles, they say "Isn't this the son of Joseph, the carpenter?"
They believed him to be Joseph's son, no questions. Because he had been adopted, placed in a family, put with a father and a mother.

Do we all need to have such dreams in order to adopt? Adoption doesn't have to be formal; it can be mentoring, being an aunt or uncle to children without strong family ties. It can be opening your home for a time, without government papers and processes. Or, it can be formal and permanent.

We have all been given this example, and the many verses telling us to love others, to love our neighbors, to look after orphans and widows. We have been told, I've been told. The question isn't "who?" but instead, "how?". We have been commanded and we need to obey. Ask God how He wants you to obey.

God loves children so much He became one. And He loves adoption so much He lived it.

"True religion is caring for orphans and widows in their distress, and refusing to be corrupted by the world." James 1: 27

Monday, July 14, 2014

Handcuffs and Bail Hearings: Lessons in Grace

Oh the spaces between my blog posts!
The wide times of silence, evidence of a full calendar, busy weeks and a happy life. Toronto is a city so bustling with activity, entertainment and opportunity I have to discipline myself to say no more often and ensure I sleep adequately.

Without recounting all the days past, I will sum up my recent times of silence as learning about parenting.
I was asked to return to my nanny position briefly, and was happy to spend time caring for a charming, talkative two-year-old. I also returned to my part-time job of working with young offenders. But, more than caring for the dependent toddler, for whom I needed to prepare all food, change his diapers and carry the 40-some-pound child most places, I have learned about how to parent from the teens.
This is because I see the youth at their worst and I glimpse their interaction with their families at one of the more trying times of their relationship.
I overhear conversations with parents, or witness visits between youth and their foster families, single parents (either fathers or mothers), or their biological parents. I hear the support, the encouragement, the love expressed. I also see the disappointment, I hear the reprimands, see the wagging fingers and observe the "I told you so..." from mothers and fathers. I see a variety of family demographics, completely unique youth and an array of parenting styles.

Some context in my interest, as a single person, in parenting is that I unequivocally want to adopt in the future. How far in the future, I do not know. While I am still single or wait until I maybe get re-married? Also something I don't know. I've just been trying to spend my present time preparing, learning and gleaning wisdom from wherever I can. As it turns out, my job is an ideal place.

An example from a few weeks ago: one of the youth had an upsetting phone call with her family. She had court the next day. She had had court two days ago, waited for hours in a cell until called before the judge. While she could have received bail and been released, none of her family was present at court to post bail or refuse to post, so the court was put over for another two days. The youth was pleading with her family to please attend court. She was not even requesting that they pay bail, just please come to court. Then she wouldn't have to keep doing this same procedure again and again. My heart ached as she pleaded with tears individually to mother, brother, father, to please just be there for her.
She wasn't requesting that anyone defend her, support her actions or condone her offense. She was only asking that they be physically present for her. The person, not the actions. The human, not outward behavior.

Isn't this what Christ did for us?
He didn't condone our sin. He never, ever said it was okay. But he showed up. And he didn't just pay our bail - he served our entire sentence.

I'm not a parent, and I am not suggesting that it would be good parenting to simply pay your child's bail. But I have been learning, through watching youth and their families, about the importance of grace and unconditional love.

You see, the kids who come to my program are not charged for what would be a misdemeanor or 2-years or less jail time, or "small offenses". The list of charges that get youth sent to our program are the "big" things: the ones that get adults get lengthy prison sentences. I've seen every charge you can thing of (except terrorism and espionage). But a person is not a charge, it is not all of who they are. Behind a charge is a youth with a personality, talents, and a family.

And that family makes a huge difference in that youth's life. When I think of the unconditional love of a mother and father, I think of the parents who come to my program and hug their child and tell them "you are mine and I love you no matter what." And then, they make it clear that they despise, even hate, the actions of their child. If the youth returns home, the rules are going to change. Not because the love changed, but because they deeply love them, life will shift to attend to this issue.
But their love? Their love hasn't moved.

That is the love I know from God. That no matter where I run to, how bad I intentionally sin, His love doesn't decrease; instead, His grace abounds.

Some parents want to dole out punishments, thinking being arrested, in custody and held at a location other than their home is too small for the wickedness of their child's deeds. But if they come in with that, if that is the first thing the youth hears; then often, that becomes the only thing the youth hears. Even if more punishment is warranted to address the broken trust, the direct disobedience; the direct violence - if punishment is where the conversation starts, the youth won't be able to hear forgiveness or continued love.

A youth recently came to our program directly from the police station, his charge was assault on his grandmother, who was also his guardian. To come in this situation with grace is no easy task. I don't know how the grandmother would address this; but I know it would not be healthy or beneficial to ignore the violence against her, the threat to herself. As someone who has been assaulted by my ex-spouse, I know from experience how dangerous, difficult and heart-wrenching this type of situation is; I am not saying to ever ignore the offense.
Remember, too, I am considering this from a parenting standpoint, where one is an adult, the other a child. One has authority, certain duties and the other has dependence and necessities. Getting married to a person requires two adult individuals making promises to one another. In parenting, the parent alone makes a covenant and commitment with the child.

I don't know how the grandmother responded to this youth. I never spoke with her or saw her. What I do know was that the youth's first words in our program was "I want to call my grandma."
The youth had such a relationship with his guardian that it was his desire to talk, to have communication. Whatever fears he had about her anger, about her exacting revenge or doling punishment was inferior to his desire to talk to her. He knew that her love for him was bigger than his fears of her anger.

Grace does not ignore the harm, the sin.
But it doesn't start there or keep the focus there.

Graces starts with love.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.
Whoever puts his trust in God’s Son will not be lost but will have life that lasts forever.
For God did not send His Son into the world to say it is guilty.
He sent His Son so the world might be saved from the punishment of sin by Him."
John 3:16

God doesn't ignore our sin. Sin is the entire reason we need saving. But He also didn't send his Son to punish us, or to condemn as a judge, although He could do so. Our sins deserve that. We would have no one to pay our bail, to stand as our defense or speak on our behalf. We are all guilty, deserve whatever our consequences.

But He came to save, not to condemn. He started with love, not with punishment.

So, over my past few months of silence, I've been busy learning about being a parent. How to show grace when I want to immediately punish. How to reinforce unconditional love without approving of one's actions.
Because that is what God has done for me; God, who is the best and perfect example of a parent.
After all, He is our Heavenly Father.

*some details of stories have been changed for confidentiality purposes.