Monday, December 17, 2012

Climbing Seven Spots on the Carol Charts is...

So, its no secret that I love Christmas carols. O Come Let Us Adore Him is one of my all time faves. I remember being very young and by some gift of faith and imagination, realizing how awesome it would be to have actually bowed before the Christ child.

Mary, Did You Know is one of my least faves. The church in which I grew up had this tradition of singing this song. A lot. And then some more. There's nothing wrong with the song itself, but it's like paprika. Too much and you ruin it.

I won't go into Christmas Shoes...other than to say it's a blatant ploy to grab all your heartstrings at once and then wrench them from your body.  I resent that kind of emotional violence.

One carol that has always been somewhere north of the middle and south of, "Oh, yes! I love this one!' is Joy to the World.

It has always seemed a good sentiment. A wish for joy unto the world, or even permission for joy to come down on those who would have it, since Christ, the hope of all humanity had at last made his entrance.

Yesterday that changed.  Hearts at church were raw from the grief and devastation of last Friday. For some of us it is just appalling to see such unfettered evil.  For others who have lost children or loved ones or who have experienced intense violence, it resonated those chords of pain again.

And yet, we worshiped. Oh, did we worship.  And the tears didn't sop, but faces lifted, and the Holy Spirit poured in and through and around all the hurting hearts, infusing strength, a solidness, and hope, a brightness. What is that?  What draws us up even in the hurt?


I remember a period of six months where I would have left my circumstances in an instant if I could. I was categorically not happy. But...for the first time, in that vacuum of earthly comfort, familiarity, fun or fulfillment, I was not hollow. I was not hopeless. I Persistent, unquenchable joy. It was the stirring that kept hope aflame. For the first time I recognized that that's what joy does.

Yesterday, while we prayed and praised, I realized that Joy To The World is a declarative. Maybe even an imperative.  There is no wishing for joy because it is already, stubbornly sitting amongst us and will not be moved. It is as true and as solid as the earth itself.  In my head, it became JOY! to the World.

What a lovely, marvelous state, this joy, that relies not on any circumstance of earth, but is integrated into our beings.

Thank you, most holy Lord, for joy. For Jesus. For the way you came and for how intentionally you promised this gift in human form to all people: wealthy and brilliant Eastern scholars, poor and scruffy shepherds...all of us.  All my love. All my heart. Filled with joy.

Monday, December 10, 2012

So so much!

Jetlag is your body's way of protesting world travel.  I woke up feeling like I'd been hit by a Mack truck full of sleeping pills.  When I finally convinced by bones they should go vertical for a while, it was only by promising some pepperminty Christmas coffee.  When I finally trudged to the coffee pot, what should I find but a sparkling carafe!  

Nothing beats coming home to a clean house, except coming home to a house someone else cleaned.  Yep, that's right. The young lady I hired to feed Jellybean and Buckley and keep them from chewing through the door and going feral did some tidying. The first inkling came yesterday when I opened the door to two red roses in a little vase. How thoughtful!

Then, my foggy brain detected surfaces. Clean surfaces.  The miscellany that had found a home on my kitchen table had been arranged in a basket.  So, how awesome is that?

And then I went to bed on crisp, clean sheets. 

It didn't stop there. Today when I started washing the travel off my clothes, I realized the jeans I'd left on the drying rack weren't there. They'd been folded and put on their shelf above all the shoes that, instead of forming a multicolored heap, now sit in neat rows on the shoe rack.

I was so grateful that she'd agreed to care for the boys, I would have been happy just for that. But no, she went above and beyond and did something special that made me feel welcomed home and cozy.

Generosity takes many forms.  Doing favors, giving kind words, offering gifts.  In this Christmas season, I am more aware of that than normal, and it makes me so thankful for a God whose hallmark is generosity.

I think of Mary, a young lady, newly wed and carrying a baby long before prenatal vitamins, ultrasounds, baby bjorns, and little knit caps in pink and blue.  In her day, just delivering a baby and having both mother and child healthy was a huge blessing. God never promised her she would raise the Savior, just that she would carry him.  When they couldn't find a room--which I'm certain she prayed for between contractions, and Joseph between knuckle cracking hand squeezes as he held her steady on the donkey--things probably looked bleak. But they both made it through the experience with no midwife to coach.

And God wasn't done.  He sent angels, a whole heaven's worth, to sing over the countryside the joy and wonder of what had just happened. The Prince of Peace on earth. King of kings, born for mankind. 

And God wasn't done. He sent shepherds, the least likely people ever to revel in a new baby, to slap Joseph's back and gaze in wonder and worship on the tiny boy Mary held close.

And God wasn't done. When they took their little son to the temple to present him to the Lord, Old Man Simeon, who in a time of relative quiet heard from God, lifted their child and praised Him. He saw not just a baby, but a revelation of God for all men. And Mary, as tired and tentative as any new mom, marveled again that, yes, she carried near her heart the Son of God.

And God wasn't done. He made a new star appear. A special, brilliant star. It shone so spectacularly that it fascinated the top scholars--the MIT profs of their day, if MIT were in the far East--so intensely that they left their cushy pagodas and awestruck acolytes to pursue this heavenly being. They knew it meant something profound and unique along the timeline of Earth.  

And when they finally decided they were under it, they were directly above a humble carpenter's home. I bet when his young wife and her toddler answered the door and they told her of their three-year quest they might have felt silly.  They had a quest and the answer...well, it wasn't where they'd expected it.  

But then Mary teared up and lifted her little son, telling them who he was, so glad to finally talk to people who would hear and believe, who she could share her pondered memories with. Keeping the world's biggest must have felt like exhaling after three years under water. And they not only believed her, they offered grand and kingly gifts they'd just known would be a good idea and were worth hauling all the way from home. 

Yes, God is generous. Thank you, Lord, that even when you ask for everything, it is only because my everything is too small and you have a greater definition of that word to show me.  Always, always, always, you are generous. Please never let me, even for one moment, forget that and miss out on your glorious abundance.  All my love.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Why can't Cambodia and Mexico trade places?

I sit here in Cambodia, a mere 12 hours from departure, and all these moments from the week keep wandering through my mind.

Yesterday we took the kids to Angkor Wat. I don't know why in my head they were going to stop and ponder and study and meander the way we grown-ups do.  They are, after all kids. It was actually kind of funny and precious to see the same glance-and-go reaction to monuments as I had as a kid. I kept pointing out features I found really neat, like all the faces sculpted on every surface of the face temple, and Sieng Hai, in his sweet quiet way, gave me that, "Yeah, its another face that looks just like the last one," eyebrow raise.

I think they enjoyed it, they just did it a lot faster than I anticipated. But I'm really glad that they're kids, and they get to be kids.  They are so mature in some ways, so giving, so good (at least while we're here--they are kids after all) that in some ways I forget they're still children. 

The worst part was coming to the end of the third temple. Not because I really wanted more time out in the Cambodian sun, but because I knew we were only one meal away from goodbye. We all felt it. The smiles were still there, but more hands were held, and hugs lasted a bit longer.  

After lunch, it was time. For me it is easier to be left than to leave, so watching Pichhing, Sieng Hai, Mom, Rathanak, Ry, Kim, Davan, Pony and all the others climb up  and wave from the windows wasn't nearly as hard as last time, when it was us driving away from them. Don't get me wrong, I was a teary mess. It's so hard to say goodbye to people you love, especially when you don't really know when you'll see them again. They've grown so much over the last two years, and I pray I can come back, but I don't know that for sure.

What I do know is that I will love them wherever I am, wherever I go.  I will keep writing to Pichhing and Sieng Hai and probably a few more. I will pray for them and feel so lucky to be prayed for by them. I will follow the blogs of other trips to see pictures. I will print my own pictures and make everyone I know look at some of them, at least. I will tuck the little bead bracelets I got into my jewelry shelf and see them and know that the pieces of my heart that are here in Cambodia have blossomed.

That Shakespearean line, "Parting is such sweet sorrow," makes sense right now.  I love them and they love me. I can leave with only the sweetest grief because I know they are loved, by God and Vanak (the orphanage director) and his wife Hanna, by each other, and by so many other brothers and sisters in Christ in the States.  I know they will be okay.  I came to tell them God loves them completely and perfectly, and I got to do that. I came to show them, to be His hands in theirs, His hugs, and His smiles, and I was. And, they were the same to me as well.   Since the kids are so spiritually rich, I might ask them to pray that Cambodia and the US can be closer together so I can see them more often. For them, God just might do it.  For now, I will dwell on some of the bright moments that continue to float in my heart and mind.

Getting to look Rathanak, Samnang big, and the others in their eyes and tell them how much God loves them.

Ry poking me in the arm to wake me up on the 10.5 hour bus trip, so I wouldn't miss anything.

Srey Mom's big smile when I gave her a bead bracelet

Seeing Jim rock out as the chief at the cultural center while our whole team and 30 kids whooped and laughed and applauded.

Pichhing patting and holding the hand I had draped over his shoulder.

Pony, who was timid at first running up for a hug with her shy smile.

Playing who-can-poke-who-in-the-side with Rathanak, a 16 year old boy who is just the definition of sweet with the world's biggest smile (even though he probably wouldn't love hearing that)

Devotional time with my team

Getting to know Kristie, who has moved here, and is the older sister the boys have longed for and now finally have.

Sieng Hai grinning as I took his hand and we walked hand in hand through the ruins. And then telling a tourist, when asked, that no he is not my son, but he is the son of my heart. And knowing it is true.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Busloads of fun!

It takes five hours of bus travel on a pretty even mix of paved roads and bumpy dirt roads to get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Unless your bus hits a ginormous pothole and you get a flat. Then you wait a while, miss your chance to get into town before lunch and have to stop for food, stop again to switch the bald front tire with the less bald back tire, and 10.5 hours later pull into Siem Reap.

I can now say I've had flat tires on four continents.  Thankfully we had a stack of movies to watch. They were all in English but the kids didn't care, and it helped me out. I sat with Ry, a teenage boy who speaks about as much English as I do Khmer.  We pointed at things outside the window, shared snacks and I made him a friendship bracelet.

When we arrived at four, we went straight to the Khmer Cultural Center.  The kids had requested we go and were so excited. I was eager just to see them enjoy the experience. As we started to walk around, we heard loud music and walked up a hill to a little stage nestled in the hill. It was designed to look like a village from some point in Cambodia's past, but again the Khmer language thing got in my way, so I don't know when.  The show was a hoot. They did a dance and pulled a guy up from the audience to take part in a wedding ceremony and dance. The actors hammed it up and made it super fun. The kids loved it and were glued to the performance (or so I hear, I was too.)  We went straight from that show to another one depicting a similar course of events in a different era.  In the third show, which seemed to be the most historical, they picked Jim from our team to be the audience participant and we all cheered. He did great, yelling Cambodian things he didn't understand, wearing a big headdress and sitting in a bamboo throne. It was a great end to the cultural center.

I got to spend a little more time with Sieng Hai and Pichhing, I just love that these 14 year-olds--who wear skinny jeans and style their hair--will hold my hand. It makes me go all gooey. All the teen boys seem to really value attention, which makes total sense since they probably don't get a ton of it. But the sincerity of emotion and the willingness to express affection move me. I love it. As much as it means to me, who is not an orphan and was not raised with 30 other kids, I just am grateful and eager to show that same affection to them. I made a handful of yarn bracelets and gave most to the older boys. Rathanak, one of the older boys, is quiet but has this killer smile. We started goofing off today, and I made him a bracelet too. Srey Mom, a sweet girl, attached to my left hand for most of the day and saved me a spot at dinner, and I hugged on her a lot, I just love her smile.

Tomorrow we will meet the kids and go to Angkor Watt. It is one of the coolest things I've ever seen, and none of them have ever been.  I can't wait to share that with them!  We've divided the group into teams by color and as a proud member of the green team I'm happy to say our group is stacked. We get Pichiing AND Sieng Hai and even Rathanak. It's going to be a fun day.

As enthralling as the cultural center was and Angkor Watt is to me, it's so much greater to these kids whose heritage is represented. They get to see a new part of their own country and some amazing things built by their ancestors. I'm so glad for them to have this experience.  But for me, I'm mostly glad I get an extra day to hug their necks, hold their hands and take a bazillion pictures to hold me over until next time.

OH, I almost forgot. While we were walking through the cultural center to the show, we saw a Cambodian music video being filmed!  HOW COOL IS THAT!

Okay, photos are taking eons to upload, so I'll add some later.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Gifts and Christmas

Christmas came early this year.  At least it did here in Phnom Penh.  

To wrap up the week, my teammate Erin talked about how personal God’s love is for each of us. The kids (and the orphanage director, who is a hoot) decorated foam-framed mirrors, so that when they looked at their image they would remember that God loved them.

Me and Kim Chai being cool reindeer.
We gave them foam cut-outs, stickers, glitter glue, and foam letters and stood back.  I expected to see wads of stuff crammed on every inch of the frames.  I was wrong.  These amazingly talented kids were meticulous. Even the teenage boys were bent over their mirrors, making patterns and spelling out their names. Pichhing wrote “God love u and me. God love we.” In English. The kid is awesome! 

Then we did a spiritual gifts inventory, which our translator had translated into Khmer already. Each kid spent lots of time filling out the 96 questions. When they finished I was helping some of the kids tally their scores to see their gifts.  I expected a mixed bag of leader, intercessor, hospitality, exhortation, and maybe a prophecy. Maybe.

Under the Christmas tree, looking for their pic on a gift.
I was blown away.  That place is awesome, because God has specifically called, endowed, and nurtured each of those children. I know in my head that all things are under his authority, that he actively loves and interferes in the best way possible in the lives of His kiddos. But I was still humbled and awed to realize that most of the people who call New Life home have gifts of intercession, prophecy, miracles.  These are world changers. These are the people I want praying for me. And the awesome thing is, they already are!

I realized again that I come to serve God and serve these children, but I am the one honored to mingle with warriors for Christ, saints.

Pichhing and his dart gun.
After lunch, we read the Christmas story and then had a surprise for them.  The team had put a wrapping paper tree up on the wall and covered it with ornaments and even a star. Their gifts were piled along the base, and their stuffed stockings along the wall.  We opened the door and they buzzed around, eagerly looking for their packages.  Then they all took them back to the main room and opened them.

I guess I should have rotated this before I attached it.
This is Sieng Hai with his new Lego warrior dude.
Christmas is my favorite holiday, and today I was reminded why.  The room was just drenched in the joy of the Lord, the Holy Spirit I think was laughing with delight as the kids carefully opened their gifts, and then sorted their stockings one item at a time to see what they’d gotten. The gifts were nice, but not extravagant. And the best thing was that none of the value or size really mattered. It was that they’d been given something. There was joy and worship and celebration. I loved watching them show their presents, watching the boys draw a target on the white-board and practice shooting their nerf darts, watching the girls practice new jewelry weaves.  I made about six Christmas bead bracelets and gave them out as fast as I could, just to be able to give something else because it was such a joyful day.

Tomorrow we leave here at 6 and will drive 5 hours with the kids to Siem Reap, where we’ll go to a cultural center in the afternoon.  Your prayers would be awesome since it will be a loooong day, and in the back of our heads we’ll know it will be our last, since we say goodbye to them at noon on Friday.

All the kids as they started their careful opening.
For now though, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Big thoughts, eggs, giant shoes, and s'mores

You know how sometimes you get your hopes really high, ask God to do something really big and then hold your breath to see what he does?

Today was that day for me, and he totally blew me away.

It was a big talking day for me. I got to share a devotional with my team and that was special, and then we prayed for the talk I would give to the kiddos.  Our topic is that God is in the small things. I have prayed for months on how to present this, how to communicate to the kids how even when they feel lost, even when they feel invisible, God sees, knows, and LOVES them.  He gave me the words and verses, and I just hoped I wouldn't get in his way.

Even if no one else had been blessed, being reminded of how awesome the love of my God is for me was awesome. I am always stunned when I really, for a moment, get that. I will never get used to it.  I want so badly for these kids who have been abandoned, hurt, or handed over to know that.  To hear and believe that to God, there is no one just like them and he loves them to pieces. I think he told them.

At the end I talked about how we are God's workmanship, or masterpiece.  I pointed at each person in the room, adults and kids, one at a time and told them they were God's masterpiece, and had them stand. To see the shy smiles, the eagerness to be called out as a beloved of the Most High, it was...there aren't good enough words but it was the stuff that joy is built of.

I just continue to praise God for moving in such a big, real, intimate way. Praise Him!

After that we did an Easter Egg hunt so they had to find "small things" and that was a hoot. They loved it as much as I did at that age. And then we took pictures with a backdrop of a giant shoe (so we'd look small) and all these fun props and man, there are oodles of killer photos, some of which I will post when my computer charges (I'm borrowing my roommate's.)

All afternoon was crafts and puzzles and games, and for me an energy drink, and I praise God again for the fact that all of us over 20 managed to stay conscious...well, mostly at least.  Tonight was our late night with the kids and we did s'mores and capture the flag. The rules never really did get sorted out, but we ran around wearing glow sticks and squealing, so it all worked in the end.

Today was one of those days that starts out so high, you're kind of worried it's bound to go down hill at some point. But it never did. We went from glory to glory. I'm a sweaty mess from all the running around, sticky from bug spray, a little tummy-sore from laughing, and I couldn't be happier.

To all of you who have so generously prayed for me and for this trip, I thank you. God has heard you and has moved his big, glorious self in an orphanage in Phnom Penh. He has swamped these kids with his love and I am glad I got caught up in it.

Monday, December 3, 2012

So much to say!

I'm almost out of battery life, so this is going to be short, and then I'll be more detailed later.

Today we talked to the kids about how big God is.  It was awesome to see them crowded around a laptop with a google earth image of their home, pointing out the banana grove and the school building, and then see them awestruck by the size of the sun, the galaxy, the universe.  I myself was awed again and this magnificent, glorious God and how far he's flung his glory through space.

There was an activity with floam that devolved rather quickly into a contest of who could make the biggest ball. It was nuts, but Sieng Hai wanted to sit by me, so I didn't much care.

In the afternoon we went to a water park that would make and American litigation lawyer dance a jig, but thankfully no one was hurt.  I wasn't going to get in, but when I was cooling my feet, some of the older boys started targeting me with their nerf water guns.  I fought back, but there was no contest.  And I couldn't have cared less.  Seeing these boys who have been through so much and are now finding their way into manhood just cut up and goof off was so rewarding. Inside I was whooping, because once again, I see that God has taken the "least of these" in this world and lifted them up. They are not victims, they are not broken, they are just teenage boys.

Picching came and got me to go on a slide together.  We climbed way up and he showed me where to sit on the innertube and where to put my hands, and then we hollered through a long twisty black tunnel. Twice.  It was fun, and it was fun to spend time with my kid. He's a leader.

Okay, almost out of juice, praising God for the laughter and squeals of 33 kids and more than a few grown ups.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Singin' in the Sun

You know its going to be a good day when you start out by singing Christmas carols.  We went to church this morning, and first these adorable kids in great big neck bows sang songs with motions, then the adults came out dressed in matching outfits and sang Hark, The Harold Angels' Sing in Khmer.  

It was strangely exciting. I mean, when you think about it, the angels didn't sing over Jesus in English. If they sang in any language of Earth, it was probably Aramaic, or possibly Greek. But to hear a carol I know and love in a foreign tongue was very unifying.  We sing to the same Christ, born for all of us in a manger in Bethlehem.  It brought to mind what it will be like when we all get to Heaven, and all our voices in a thousand languages will unite and intertwine to form a single grand hymn.

All that was just the warm up, though.  After lunch we went out to the orphanage to play with the kids and, in my case, get my butt handed to me in Connect Four by a number of teens.  We had about an hour of touring the orphanage/hugging/holding hands/learning names, then the kids had church so we went in and sat with them.  They sang a capella, with the orphanage director tapping out the beat with his knuckle on the desk up front.  It was very simple, very routine, and unbelievably beautiful.  Not just because their voices are high and pure. It was the way they sang. They were uninhibited. They sang with all of the breath in their bodies and with a conviction that can best be described as gusto.  

As lovely as their little voices are, that's not what it was about. Not for them, not for us, and not for the God who reveled in their praise.  I just soaked it up, and longed for that kind of abandon in my own worship and in that of my church.  How free and rich and how much more joyous would it be, if we could stop worrying about the poor parishioners who had the bad fortune to be sitting in front of us (or me, at least) as we belt it, and just glorify God?

I love that they have this.  I pray they never lose it.

After church we played games and puzzles, and as I said earlier, lost soundly in Connect Four over and over again.  Picching had no mercy and it was great to see him laugh every time he dropped the fourth disc in place.  Sieng Hai didn't play against me, but I did get some quality hugs in.  I wanted to show how fast they've grown, so here you go. 

These pictures are from May 2010

This is Picching...and me.

This is Sieng Hai

This is from today!!!

Picching, me, and Sieng Hai.  They're so grown up!

I'm thrilled that it's only Sunday and we have so much time still here with the kids.  It's been great to see how quickly the new people have fallen in love and how quickly the kids have loved them too.  While I'll probably never try to sing Hark, The Herald Angels' Sing in Khmer, I will always remember this time when I hear it.