Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New Blog Site

Since blogger is blocked where I will be serving, a new blogsite is under construction and will be up and running soon. I will post information once it is ready but until then, you're in the right spot. Stay tuned!

Romanticizing the Field

In less than a month, in fact, to be specific, June 26th, I am scheduled to travel halfway around the world with only a few bags, land in Africa, and begin a journey so far out of my comfort zone that a blog post seems comical in expressing it. I will have had almost a year to plan, pray and prepare for what lies ahead. Yet, to be honest with you, I couldn't feel more unprepared. Let me be clear before I proceed, I know God is my strength, my refuge, a very present help, and will never leave nor forsake me. I will not back down, give up, turn back or any other profound phrase I can conjure up. But, I am human. A friend reminded me last night that to not have fear would be supernatural and God uses the natural (that would be me) to do the supernatural.

I am a fixer. Problem equals fix. There's always a solution, right? Perhaps that may be true on some level, whether that be a literal or a spiritual fix. However, it can also be unhealthy and I freely and publicly admit it. Some things don't require fixing, they don't involve quick solutions, they require time spent with God, as well as discipline; disciplines of transforming our minds and hearts from old to new. So, to remove my fear simply by saying, take my fear, and believe it is gone and will not return, is not a real solution. As I was also reminded last night by my gracious friend, we can look at our bag of problems, fears, etc., and say "Jesus, take this," but often He says, no, let's take it together. Could He take it? Absolutely. But the process of refining, taking out our trash, is more important in the long run, and He is far more interested in our holiness than He is our happiness. Some see that as harsh. To be sure, I don't take pleasure in the fiery furnace. However, I know many parents and have listened to them say, time and again, it is better to allow your child to fail and learn from their failures, than to fix it yourself. God is no different. He invented parenting.

With the days winding down, I often hear "I am so excited for you!" "You must be so thrilled!" "It is going to be amazing!" Truth? While I love God with all of my heart and soul, while I love the people of Africa, while my deepest desires surround the Gospel and making a difference in the lives of those in desperate circumstances, I am not excited. Why? Consider a soldier during World War I, II, or any other battle throughout our history. In the days before he was to leave, upon hearing "you must be excited," how do you think he would have responded? No, I am not excited. My heart is heavy, very. My heart is broken, because I know, as much as one can know, there is nothing exciting about a soldier heading out to war and equally there is nothing romantic about the mission field. There is nothing romantic about about seeing children sleep huddled up in the corners and crevices of some of the filthiest and darkest of places. There is nothing exciting about disease, starvation and death that could be alleviated with just a few dollars. There is absolutely nothing beautiful about girls being sold into prostitution and slavery before they can form sentences or even hit puberty. Nothing romantic at all. But, I believe there is hope.

While I don't pretend to understand how soldiers feel having walked in some of the most grueling battlefields of past wars, I believe they saw their purpose, just as I see a purpose in what I am about to do. I am trying as best as any soldier, to prepare for the battle that lies ahead. Where I lack in excitement, I make up in faith, and that is what it is all about for us who Believe, faith. I have faith that we can, by the grace and only by the grace of God, make a difference in this world. I have faith that my God had some reason for choosing someone as unlikely as me, to be a part of what He is doing in Africa. Above all and most importantly, as a woman of faith, I believe that the death of Jesus was and will always be, more than enough reason for me to go. So, with my face planted on the ground, my heart set on things above, I am facing my fears, and trusting that He who has said "go... and I will be with you always and til the end of age (Matthew 28: 19-20, paraphrased) will guide my every step. With that in mind, I can breathe a sigh of relief.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

At The Foot of The Cross

Easter, a time when many are frantically running around purchasing last minute items to throw in their children's Easter basket, assuring the sugar coma goes off without a hitch and families gather together for church and celebration. Don't get me wrong, I'm currently munching on one of the many mini chocolate eggs that were graciously given to me today. But, it's more, it is so much more than chocolate bunnies and cute frilly outfits donned on little girls and giant (and scary I might add) adults dressed in bunny costumes. It's about Christ, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 
Yesterday, as I journeyed through the stations of the cross, a beautiful exhibit at my church, I humbly experienced Jesus in the hours leading up to His death. As I prayed, read scripture, contemplated the immense price that was paid because of my sins, I must admit, I could hardly maintain my composure. With beautiful music exploding in the background, scents of frankincense and myrrh filling my lungs, scripture flashing on the projector screens, the echo of the hammer pounding nails into the cross as people drove their sins, fears and concerns into a cross set up as the last station, I wept. As I knelt at a bench across from the Garden of Gethsemane, it hit me; just how human He really was. Scripture says, He was sorrowful, His soul was sorrowful to the point of death. It also says: "And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." (Matthew 26:39). As I sat on this bench, hearing the echo of the nail driving into the cross behind me, I pictured Jesus on His knees scared and crying out to God to let this cup, this cup being the wrath of God on mans sins, MY SINS, pass if it be so, yet fully willing to take it, I was speechless.

I sat there for what seem like hours but was instead minutes, contemplating the countless times I ask God to let things pass from me. The times of fear and uncertainty at what lies ahead, the times of frustration in waiting, the remembrances of the past and even the guilt of things I obviously had yet to release to the cross and I just thought to myself, none of that compares to the cup that was placed on the back of Jesus that day.. None of them. And while I know that He cares about my hopes, my dreams and relieves my fears and doubts, I was reminded to accept the cup that I have been given, or the cup that has yet to come, in the grace of knowing the one that I will never receive-because it was taken for me.

I don't know about you, but having that reminder gave me an incredible sorrow and yet and astounding peace. Three words changed everything. It is finished. (John 19:30 ESV)
Indeed it is. Thank you Jesus.

 Happy Easter!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Through Their Eyes

In an age where information is literally everywhere, on the internet, Facebook, Twitter, Television, pretty much anywhere you can turn your head, the only privacy one has left is in their own head. Which, if I am being completely honest, is where I like to keep it. I have often heard from people that I don't post enough Blogs, FB status's or tweets about personal things, just scriptures and quotes. What can I say, I'm a words person, it's one of my two love languages. Words, scriptures, quotes, they encourage and inspire me, so I share what touches me; I like sharing them with others, in the hopes (not expectation) they might encourage others. Transparency is important to me, particularly in my walk with God, so there is nothing I won't share if I am asked, but if I am true to myself, I just won't always put it on the internet. 


This post however, is definitely transparent. It has taken months to write and countless conversations from my friends and loved ones.


God placed something on my heart, heavily, on my last mission trip to Africa. At first it was sort of a subtle whisper, in fact I could barely hear it despite my desperation in understanding why I was feeling this deep pull. At first I just began to pray, asking God, "why did you bring me here," and "what could I possibly do to make a difference?" As time passed, this "heavy" feeling kept weighing on me until I couldn't ignore it any longer. Then, God began dropping His mountain-sized hints, in some of the craziest ways. Honestly, I'm not sure how Moses kept his wits about him standing before a burning bush. I, myself, was spectacularly less calm and composed. At first I ignored, then I denied calling it "crazy" and finally, I threw in the towel. He's God. I'm just a girl. He has me beat by a HUGE technicality. So I threw crazy out of my vocabulary, began praying intently, and waited for God to move. Well, He moved.


I have always been drawn to stories, particularly true, real-life stories. Stories of struggle, joy, more so, triumph. In all my experiences, it has always been people's stories that have had the most impact on others.  So, when I looked into the eyes of the children in Africa, when I heard their stories, they impacted me greatly and I wanted to know more, and more importantly I wanted to share them with others. I feel we live in a world numb to statistics. I can tell you that there are 147,000,000 orphans, or that some 27,000 children die every day of starvation, or even 100,000 people live in an area of Eastern Africa where they search through a local trash dump for food and scraps to sell. But, if I show you a picture, tell you one particular child's story, it has a deeper impact; it's personal. I believe that is exactly what God wants, for them to be as personal to us as they are to Him. With that in mind, He has given me the idea to create a ministry called ThroughTheirEyes, with the vision that every face has a name, every name has a story, and every story has an impact. I will start in Ethiopia and perhaps some surrounding East African countries. 


In this new chapter of ministry/life God has called me to, the ministry and vision that God has given me has been adopted by the Board of Directors of a new non-profit missionary sending organization called Project World Mission (their website is under construction). This means I will be employed through Project World Mission and they will send and support me as a missionary to Africa! Project World Mission’s vision is to “Preach the Gospel, Of the Kingdom, To the World (Matthew 24:14).”
The Project World Mission ministry project that will be started in Africa will be the ministry and calling God placed on my life, called ThroughTheirEyes. In keeping with the vision statement of Project World Mission, the ministry project ThroughTheirEyes will seek to first and foremost proclaim the Gospel of Jesus to those in Ethiopia and the surrounding countries. In addition to this primary vision, the 6 to 12 month overseas assignment will also seek to develop other ministry partnerships by working alongside existing churches or orphanages, and/or working with other like-minded Christ-Followers in the area. In short, the focus will be on building relationships and potential future ministry partners, as well as telling the story of the people of Ethiopia/Africa to the body of Christ here in the United States. I trust that this will in turn result in advancing the gospel of God’s love to the Ethiopian people and surrounding areas. With God the possibilities of ministry are endless, and I look forward to what we can and will do with this international assignment.

I feel completely inadequate, but repeat (and quite frequently I might add) the first scripture that came to mind when God put this on my heart: For consider your calling, brothers, not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, 1 Corinthians 1:26-28. 

I'm a little scared too, if I am being honest. It's a faith-journey like none other for me, leaving home, fundraising and trusting every need for this calling will be met, but more important than my fleshly fears, I want to help. I want to make a difference. I want to be challenged and more than this "I " focus, want for THEM to know the love of Christ. I want for others to know the incredible grace that we as believers have been given. I want children who are orphaned to know His love, to have food in His name, to have clothes, medical care, and education, in His name. And this Hope, I deeply desire for everyone to know, has no price tag with which I can put on it. 

I don't have everything figured out, I don't know every step I will take, but this journey is about faith. I don't have to see, I just have to trust. And, God, I trust You.
I simply ask for encouragement and prayers through this journey, as I know this won't be easy. To quote Bethany Hamilton in Soul Surfer, "I don't need easy, I just need possible." There are a lot of unknowns in this, but one incredibly amazing, beautiful, known..with God, all things are possible. Matthew 9:26




Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Will I Be Chosen

"Why are you so passionate about orphans?" This is a question often posed at me, when I partner with others to serve the orphaned in the world. Despite the fact I could simply say it's Biblical and end the conversation there, the truth of the matter is, I do have my own personal reasons.

First, it IS biblical. There are over 2000 commands in the Bible for us as believers to reach out to the poor, the needy, the widowed, the orphaned. The Bible is often read with one intent, what's in it for me. As an example, the number one response to the question "why did Jesus die" is typically "for my sins." While that may be true in part, that is NOT the reason Jesus died on the cross. For theologians, words like 'propitiation, justification, redemption, reconciliation' come to mind. All Biblical words used in explaining the transferral of our sin onto Christ for the purpose of satisfying, justly, the wrath of God on man's sin, and reconciling us back to a restored relationship with God. It was an act of love by an overwhelmingly gracious God, for His glory. If we read and study the Word of God simply for the purpose of "what's in it for me," we will never understand the fullness of Gods plan or our role in it.

Second, I grieve, deeply for the fatherless of the world. I read recently on the Department of Human Services website, that some fourty-three percent of all children born in the US  are born to single mothers. That is almost HALF! That number absolutely astounded me. In addition, there are more than 147,000,000 orphans in the world. I am acutely aware America has its own supply of fatherless and orphaned, as evidenced by a common response often voiced to me "why go so far as Africa when we have people suffering in our own backyards." The problem in hearing that response is that it typically originates from the lips of those who neither work nor pose solutions to rectify that situation in their backyard, much less any other yard. I have learned from my own repeated failures, opinions never outweigh solutions.
But think about those staggering numbers. That is 147,000,000 children, right now, across the globe, who go to bed every night wondering "will I be chosen?" Will I be loved? Will anybody come for me? Or worse, "what is wrong with me?" Even still, of those 147,000,000 orphaned children, a large majority of them do not have food, shelter, clothing, education, access to clean water or medical care. In some cases, in fact many, we are talking babies who take care of babies. Children who head up the family at the age of three or even younger. Hidden within the shelter of a trash dump, a bridge, the cover of a cardboard box or amongst a few sheets of scrap metal, assembled to assume the makings of a home; this is where you can commonly find them. I literally mourn for the children of the world, who will grow up hardened to the idea of love, out of fear of loss. I am brokenhearted for the generations of children who will statistically, without the love of Christ, grow up and repeat the fatherless cycle. 

Third, I get it. I understand in my own way, through my own testimony, the heart of an orphan. At one point, I too asked the question, "will I be chosen?" It was answered in Christ. Oh how beautifully it was answered. A sweet friend recently said, "you have a beautiful story." I can't tell you how much that touched me. What touched me most despite my friends kind words, was the sheer magnitude of Gods grace. The fact that I can smile from ear to ear at my friend and say "I KNOW" and mean it wholeheartedly and with zero anger, bitterness or reservation, is evidence of that grace. I stand on the promises of God, in Christ, because I live daily under the assurance of His mercy in a deep and profound way. I bear the healed scars. I walk in light of where I've been, knowing fully where I am going. But, the truth is, each of us has an incredible story of grace.

Therefore, the why I am so passionate has deep meaning for me. It is a privilege to walk hand in hand through the fields of Cambodia sharing my story with teenaged orphan girls, just to hear the words "sister, your story like me," knowing that in some way it brings her comfort and gives her hope. It is an honor to hold an abandoned infant, praying fervently that somewhere in the world there is a family who will work tirelessly to bring her home. It is a gift to sift through trash, roll through red-dirt, trudge through mud, to bring food, clothing, shoes and the Good News of Christ to those most in need. Not because I need to, not because I even "want" to, but because I HAVE to. I cannot stand at the gates of a hospital as a voluntary physician who possesses a solution, who knows assuredly she has a cure, and yet pretend I don't see? What if that were me? What if that were my child? What if it were me who sat frozen in my crib, silent, because even at the age of one, experience has taught -no one is listening, no one is coming. Would I turn away?

I would like to believe if I profess to be a believer, the answer would be no. Most certainly, no. Call it passion, call it crazy, I prefer to call it love...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Amazing Weekend-Thank You

Last weekend I had the distinct pleasure of a whirlwind weekend in Dallas. The purpose of my trip was to spend time with some of my favorite people in the world and given the sadness I felt driving away, I knew it was indeed a successful time.

My weekend began with a four hour drive from Houston to Dallas. Heading down the highway with the sun peering through my windows, great tunes blaring through my stereo and the biggest smile on my face, I couldn't help but thank God for some alone time to think/pray and just give thanks. It has been a whirlwind eight months since my first return from East Africa and God has been doing things that have  propelled me to the mountaintop and allowed things that have kept me in the valley. Through the vast ocean of uncertainty with where and what He is calling me to do, I have seen and experienced His provision and love in ways that just don't seem measurable when putting to words. Nonetheless, lets just say, He is mighty, He is faithful and when He says move, well, He pretty much means it. More to come on this in the future...

Upon arrival in Dallas, I quickly unloaded my bags at my sweet bestie Rachel's house (sadly Rachel and family were out of town but gifted me with their home for the weekend) and headed to spend quality time with my best friend, her hubby, http://thosecrazypeelers.wordpress.com/ and some of their incredible friends. Kids running in and out of the house, food grilling and laughter flowing, all while relaxing on the porch swing-I'm really not sure what can be better than that. There is so much beauty in the simplicity of life and it is moments like that, looking around at the sheer joy in each others company, which simply take my breath away. I could have sat on that porch swing with her all night long.

The next morning I headed out to Arlington to spend the day with my sister from another mother, her hubby and my favorite Ethiopian princess http://littlehoffman.blogspot.com/.


Little did I know that the gift of spending time with them wasn't the only thing in store for me. In addition, I would be blessed by meeting new friends http://www.teamalexander.blogspot.com/. When you have time, I encourage you to read through some of their journey and the incredible impact both families, through God's grace, are trying to make in the world and Africa.

Again, a day filled with joy, laughter, smiles and celebration of their sweet son Abe's third birthday. To be honest, now that I am home, I miss the chaos of family life. Single-life is highly overrated and the selfishness that often surrounds just worrying about self is nothing compared to the love and joy that encompasses family-life. I would trade places in a heartbeat!

That evening the Hoffmans and I headed out to a mutual friends wedding in Ft Worth. I love weddings. I do. I admit it. I am a sappy, romantic, love celebrations and I do's kind of girl. But this wedding was even more special to me, because it brought together some people that have impacted my life in ways they probably don't even know they have.







All of us that knew each other there have served in Africa together. We have been in the trenches. We have prayed together, wept together, laughed together. We have seen devastation. We have seen beauty. We have bonded for life. Each of them is so precious to me, and so amazing in their own ways. Some of them have the power to encourage just with a smile. Some of them speak words that I believe could bring peace to a restless nation. Some of them have a way of making you laugh so hard your sides ache. Some of them light up a room simply by entering. All of them encourage me. All of them inspire me and make me want to be a better woman. All of them are family.

To best friends who have made my life more rich and with whom my love is endless (even the ones not present that weekend in Dallas), to new friends who encourage me beyond words, to old friends who I love more each day as we journey through life's ups and downs together and to an incredible group of people whose love for others knows no boundary, thank you for simply being who God has created you to be. I can wholeheartedly say, I am a better person simply by knowing you!

I thank my God every time I remember you. Philippians 1:3

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Frank

As my car eased into the parking spot and I placed the gear in park, I glanced up and saw him sitting with his back against the wall, sleeping on the pavement outside of the grocery store. Immediately I knew I was going to go up to him and introduce myself, maybe if I was lucky, I would make a new friend. As I grabbed my purse, stepped out of my car and began walking towards the man, his eyes slowly opened as if he had been expecting me. "Hi" I said. "What is your name?" "Frank," he responded. "Well Frank, my name is Tamara, it is really nice to meet you. Are you going to be here for a few minutes? I'll be right back." "OK," he simply replied.
As I walked through the grocery store thinking about what Frank might like to eat, I shuffled from aisle to aisle thinking, why didn't I just ask him what his favorite foods are? I'm still learning, I guess. I decided a safe bet would be just to get a sandwich with some chips and a cookie. Not the healthiest of options, but arguably the easiest given the circumstances. After getting the things I came for and going through the checkout line, I exited the building, turned the corner, and found Frank pushing the carts to the building. I walked up and said, "Frank, I didn't know what you would like, but here is some dinner." I handed him the bag of food and the few dollars I had in my wallet. He simply said, "thank you." He didn't strike up a conversation, he didn't ogle over the gift God had placed on my heart to give my new friend, and to expect such would be for the wrong reason. "Frank, it was really nice to meet you, I have been in some difficult situations before in my own life; I just wanted to help in any way I could. And I just want you to know that you are loved; God loves you." Again, he said, "thank you." As I started to walk away I said "Frank, you take care of yourself, OK." He just sat back down on the filthy pavement and leaned his tired back against the wall.
It was a quick meeting. It didn't change Frank's life, of that I am certain. But it was what God placed on my heart to do.
As I walked away, all I could think of, were those little moments in life that have the greatest impact. Frank was one of those moments.
It only takes a second to change someones life, and by someone, I mean me.


Through Their Eyes


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