Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Less With the Jaws - More With the Paws

Love God. Love your neighbor.

These are things I try to remember say to myself before I weigh in each time I see a news story or political debate online that gets heated and intense and maybe even slightly angry or passive aggressive.

Whether I agree or disagree with what I'm seeing, it helps me to remember to keep my mouth shut (or fingers still) just a little more often than I otherwise naturally might.  It is not that I don't have the opinions  - of course, we all do! When I am overwhelmed seeing how much disagreement there is and it feels like nobody is listening or trying to step out of their own shoes, this is something tangible I can try to remember (and do).

Love God. Love others.  L. O. V. E.  (some days are easier than others)

I have never mastered those first two directives - therefore I don't need to spend much time on anything else and social media wars about my theological or political leanings - those wars don't seem to change me or anyone.

A less gentle way to say "Love God, love your neighbor",  is "Less with the jaws, more with the paws."

Instead of always saying and sharing and writing our opinions  - we could all (me and especially me included) just DO our opinions.  (Yes, I see the irony in writing this opinion now.)

Instead of simply talking about love, we can DO love.

Instead of talking about the justice we want, we can DO justice.

Instead of just talking about mercy and grace toward the marginalized, outcast, and downtrodden, we can truly offer  - or (DO) mercy and grace.

Instead of saying what we hate about the world or the way our society and our culture is changing and failing and sucking so badly, we can go DO the things that reflect our convictions. We can do them with excellence, commitment, and big/loud/persistent love.

There are well known sayings that remind us to DO (and not simply say)
1. Talk is cheap
2. Actions speak louder than words
3. Love DOES
Let us officially add to the list ...
4. Less with the jaws, more with the paws

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

do it afraid do it afraid do it afraid

If you read THIS STORY more than two years ago, you will want to celebrate today that Moses is on an airplane headed for Wyoming.  He sets the orphan free!   That post was one of the most shared posts ever - so grateful to you all. Most grateful to God for showing us all how valuable Moses is to Him.

This family is an example of courage and love to us all. It is not that they aren't afraid, it is that they showed up anyway.

With his Mom and Dad Sunday ...

With some awesome ladies (taken yesterday) that prayed daily for him at Heartline ...

L to R - Gran Rosemond, Andrema, Moses, Clermita, Lisa Rieb
On an airplane today ... 

AND ...

A series (explanation here) on my friend, Glennon's blog - proving that all of us have fear and insecurity in our lives.  As G. said,
Here is the thing that the two groups have in common:  NO ONE REALLY KNOWS WHAT SHE’S DOING. None of the people in either of the two groups. The people who are running the world and the people who are sitting life out are exactly the same. They are all messy, complicated, confused people who are unsure of what to do next. They all have messy relationships and insecurities and anger and blind spots. They are ALL AFRAID.
Here is the difference between the two groups: The Dream Followers and Servers believe that it’s okay to be messy and complicated and afraid and show up anyway. The second group believes that folks who show up have to be fabulous and perfect. So they’re waiting to get perfect. They are spending their lives IMPROVING instead of just showing up as they are. They are waiting till they’re “ready.” And the thing is that they will be waiting forever and ever, amen. Because all the good and all the beautiful in the world is created by people who show up before they’re ready.

Day One HERE

Day Two HERE

Day Three HERE

Day Four (mine is day four) HERE

Day Five HERE

Thursday, February 20, 2014

destroy the pedestals

I had known her for exactly 7 minutes. She sat in the plastic lawn chair that doubled as an office chair in the room at the far end of the house.

"So, I have not had had relations with my husband in fifteen years", she said.

Uh. Whaaaa?? I turned to glance over my shoulder and see if her best friend was standing directly behind me. Why is she looking at me  - and saying that?

"Hold your face normal, hold your face normal", I screamed at my face.

To this day, I do not know if my face listened.

The story continued and I wondered what I'd done to be given this information.

It turns out that one night she denied him his marital privileges (headache) and after she denied him he never asked her again, for fifteen years.

She sat in front of me in Haiti and told me all of this even though we had never met and she was old enough to be a much older mother than the lovely mother I have.

This was my introduction to how some people view missionaries.  It is frequently (not always, thank goodness!) assumed that missionaries are brilliant psychologists and special holy rollers ready to give advice and wise counsel at the drop of a hat. It is also assumed that we have our shit together and don't have anything left to figure out. We have all the answers and everything has a place and there is a place for everything.  Tidy. Little. Boxed. Up. Life.

This is not so.  

"Missionaries" are an amalgam of everything you find in your day to day life and therefore they struggle with depression, and they sometimes have huge struggles with their faith. Some have affairs, have trauma and unresolved issues, use substances to numb their pain. They work hard to not feel things, run away to not feel things, and are pretty much the same as you and the people you know. The title sometimes offers them unmerited status as a big deal.  I speak for many of us (hopefully most) when I say, we don't want to be uncritically admired. We don't want to be propped up or placed on a pedestal. 

I read these words (entire post is here - please read) written by Tsh Oxenreider recently. 

We are witnessing a powerful cultural trend of celebrity worship—and I’m not referring to the folks adorning the US Weekly covers. As a member of the Christian subset, I’m referring mostly to us in the Body here, and the pedestal-putting of pastors, writers, bloggers, and speakers. 
I’ve had a post rattling in my head for months now, about why this isn’t a good idea, but I felt like I had nothing to say that hadn’t already been said 18,494 times. But then I remembered my own advice that I give people when they tell me they don’t want to blog because everything’s already been said—yes, but we haven’t heard you say it, and if you feel called to write it, the world needs you to have said it (both because you’ll say it differently than what we’ve yet heard, and because it’ll change you for the better). So? Pot, kettle, etc. etc. 
I’ll cut to the chase here—when we worship fellow human beings, no one wins. Neither the worshiper nor the worshiped is put in a good place. Here’s what I mean: The worshiped 
The blogger, pastor, writer, speaker, dog-whisperer, whoever—the one you idolize—does not win when you put them on a pedestal, even if they want to be there. 
If they want to be on a pedestal, you’re only exacerbating the problem in their soul, the lie they believe that says they’re better than those around them, that they’re a Special Snowflake, that because they’re unique, they’re exempt from certain rules of life. And when a colleague of theirs is elevated on an even higher pedestal, jealousy ensues; they can’t congratulate another person’s success. Their soul blackens. 
If they don’t want to be on a pedestal, you’re relegating them to a really lonely place in life. Their successes become a burden (even if they’re gifts from God). They’re in a place where they’re not able to freely share their struggles, lest they sound ungrateful. They start questioning the motive of everybody, feeling like people only want to be their friend because of what they could get out of the relationship. And friends are sometimes reticent to continue approaching them as real friends, because they either feel like they can no longer identify with them, or they grow bitter because they think their once-friend actually wants to be elevated.
 ~          ~           ~
I wrote the following, along those same lines in 2012 ...

Talent is God given. Be humble. 
Fame is man-given. Be grateful. 
Conceit is self-given. Be careful. 
-John Wooden

Internet marketing & social media, they are the way of the world. Ten years ago Facebook hadn't yet been launched and 'tweet' was a sound that birds made outside of our windows. Today Facebook has over one billion active users and Twitter is one of the ten most visited websites on the Internet. Multitudes care a lot about it and pay attention to who is following and who is being followed.

I understand sharing our visions, dreams, day to day lives, and stories of those that need and deserve justice. I do. I love connecting to new like-minded friends via social media. Even so, I question: Where does God fit in to our habits? How much of my trust is placed in His ability to provide for our family and for the work of Heartline and how much of my trust is placed in my ability to promote it. I bristle a bit as I force myself to honestly examine what part of this might be self-promotion. Was I more trusting in His provision before the dawn of social networking? Before all of this became a part of our every day communication, was I more at peace? Can I see and distinguish the line between healthy and unhealthy promotion? Is there one?

This dialogue isn't meant to put anyone on the defensive. Hear this first: It's not about judging anyone but myself. That's what I'm doing here. I don't want to fall into the trap of self importance and loving the idol of self or the idol of social media. Does social media create false gods and false celebrity and are we, as Christians, considering who we want to make famous? Should any one of us be concerned with our "Klout" score. Doesn't that idea smack of something really icky?

Social media has a place and a purpose. I know this. Sharing the work of Heartline has sometimes meant financial support from folks and has meant continued ability to work here. I want to keep the baby from flying across the room as I throw out this bathwater.

I am cognizant that it must be used with caution. For myself, I'd like it to be about bringing honor to the One that gifted us in the first place. I'd like my words to reflectHis love and my respect for the Haitian people and I'd like to keep myself in check. I recognize how much I need to look to Jesus and His example and avoid the easy trap of elevating one another and/or ourselves.

It seems to me like Christian culture just mimics regular culture but re-labels it and calls it holy and acceptable. I expect there is already a  repackaged 'Klout for Jesus' scoring system in development with which to legitimize our narcissism as unto the Lord.

We're all excited about various Christian figures that we admire or respect. In and of itself it's not all bad  -- but we're taking it to new levels. Thanking or recognizing someone for the way God has used them to speak to our hearts and souls is one thing, swooning over someone and deciding they are better, more important, deserving of fame and even glory is quite another. We're labeling people as "A list" Christians and "most influential" and we're categorizing people according to their on-line influence. That makes me uncomfortable. While we are building up the influential, we are trampling on the faceless faithful that daily go about their life and work without pining for recognition. Worse than that though, I feel like we're getting tripped up and sucked in and often times forgetting that Jesus is the Famous One. 

photo credit: dks systems

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

on shame and grace

I don't know what it is in us that makes us want to shame one another. 

Yesterday I was reading comments on a recent blog post I wrote.  Someone said, "Shame on you" at the end of their comment (not directed at me, but still so harsh). 

It strikes me how damaging those three little words are to us all.

I am going to introduce an idea to the "shame on you" crowd ...

In some instances in your life, when you are talking one on one with God, perhaps you feel some shame and you need to come to God with that and work through it. Fine, feel that about yourself in healthy doses. In all other instances, PLEASE, I beg of you, remove "shame on you" from your vernacular. 

In review: 'Shame on ME' is allowed in rare instances for a short period of time (because GRACE and because FORGIVENESS)--- but never never "shame on you".
~          ~            ~ 

I shared a little bit on Glennon's blog last year about the shame in my life during my late teens and twenties. (Read it here.)  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Telling Secrets

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. This post is paid for by the AdCouncil. 

All words and thoughts are my own.

Revealing a pretty enormous secret here today.  Ready for it?

These kids (and their three siblings) do not have anything happening in their life that comes even close to "perfect" parenting or a perfect upbringing.  (So, not really a secret I suppose.)

Their freaky eyes say it all, don't they?

If you have been reading here long, you know that we do not think everyone should adopt. Adoption is not for everyone. I am certain of that.  Having said that, I do think that more people are qualified, able, and really ready for the job of fostering or adopting a child.  

It is not uncommon for people to say, "I could never do it."  Their reasons are not usually given.  On occasion, people hint at not being "good enough" to do it. Recently someone told me they could "never do foster care because the goodbye would be too hard".  

Families that have adopted tend to be friends with families that have adopted. We get to help, encourage, and build one another up; it is a beautiful community.  In 12 years of being adoptive parents Troy and I have yet to meet anyone that is perfect.  None of us were raised by perfect people, and by golly, our kids won't be either. Fear seems to hold people back from really investigating the options.  From the conversations I have had, most of the fears are based on false assumptions.

Kids don't need perfection. Even kids that have lost a lot and have been hurt in their lives. They need stability. They need love. They need some structure and predictability. They need food and a bed. 

Statistically, studies show that imperfect people are parenting the vast majority of the world's children. This is good news. 

I submit to you that pain is a part of life. Goodbyes are a part of life.  Disappointment is a part of life.  Messing up is a part of life. Starting over is a part of life. LOVE and sacrifice are a part of life. They are worth the pain. Love washes over these things, love lights the path when things get dark or scary or very, very sad. Love gives you courage to do hard things.

Unlike many adoptive parents and foster parents I know, I did not grow up hoping to adopt. We ended up adoptive and foster parents without it being part of our personal five or ten year plan. We stumbled into it; I am so grateful.  While it has not always been easy and it certainly has not been painless, it has been worth it and has been so rewarding. The blessings of the children that have come into our lives via adoption and foster care are impossible to quantify. 

Kids don't want perfect parents - they want HUMAN parents. Most of you reading qualify! 

If you've ever wondered about adoption and/or foster care, ever thought about it but became afraid, or ever even considered the possibility, please check out these links:

It is not a secret anymore. You don't have to be perfect to be an adoptive or foster parent - perfect is a lie - kids need families and love - not perfection.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

...On Compassion

This Valentine's Eve I am purposefully focusing on compassion rather than the February 14 hearts and cupids type of romantic love. The dictionary meaning of compassion is a "feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by suffering or misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the pain or remove its cause" - The truth is, we are so inundated by images and stories of devastation and pain that it sometimes causes us to pull our knees to our chest, wrap our arms around our legs, tuck our heads into fetal position, and rock ourselves for comfort. I think we all need to do that sometimes. 

Once we have grieved a little bit, it is time to see again - and to stand shoulder to shoulder with the hurting and say, "your hurt is to be taken seriously" - and that is why we showed up today. 

To each of you practicing this radical form of criticism, Happy Valentine's Day! 

Photo Credit: Esther Havens

Sunday, February 09, 2014

#LocustEffect Giveaway

Because the book sold out quickly, the Matching offer/grand has been extended: Buy the 
‪#‎LocustEffect‬ by 2/15 /2014 & $20 will go to @IJM to fight violence against the poor. 

"Perhaps if the locusts of violence laid waste to everything at once like they did in the Midwest in 1875 it would get the world's attention—but all the daily slavery, rape, extortion, and dispossession gnaws its way through hundreds of millions of poor people one assault at a time, and the cumulative disaster of the locust effect is hard to see. Slowly but surely, however, the experts are starting to add it up, and the price tag is staggering." The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence by Gary Haugen.

Like many of you, I long for a better world, especially for the poor.  It is easy to get overwhelmed by the injustices happening under our noses, and all around the world. When we are overwhelmed we tend to turn away. 

Down the street from us a man rotates through children that live with him and do his housework. In Haiti, they are called resteveks. Young girls are almost always on his arm, all the worst things seem to be going on with him. The system here is broken, there isn't an agency or authority we could tell that would do anything about it. Many have tried. 

A lot of us are waiting for Heaven. We think, at least then it will be all better. We'll just wait it out, lay low. Truth be told, we are all waiting. Some wait with eyes covered, some wait in fear, some wait oblivious and some wait to be resuced from the pit of earthly hell. 
Graciously, there are also those that wait while they go into the dark places carrying a tiny bit of hope and a shining light. 

I am thankful for freedom fighters and justice lovers that refuse to cover their eyes and ears and simply wait for it to end.  I am thankful they don't give up, they haven't given up. 

Gary Haugen's book opens with these words, "It was my first massacre site. Today the skulls are all neatly stacked on shelves, but when I first encountered them, they defintely were not. They were attached to bodies - mostly skeletal remains - in a massive mess of rotting human corpses in a small brick church in Rwanda."

The stories Gary tells are real. They are hard to read about, imagine, believe, or absorb. While their call to action is urgent, the authors of The Locust Effect provide hope and an ambitions way forward.  This book is a wake-up call.  

I am able to give one copy of The Locust Effect away to a reader.  It is an invitation to read a really difficult book, which is maybe not exactly what you came for, but I invite you none the less.  

Leave a comment to enter. Only comments on the blog will be entered, we're not able to track facebook comments. 

We will draw a name Valentine's Day.  
(Nothing says love like a book about Violence and Poverty???)

(Winners need to live in USA or Haiti.  If the winner is in Haiti the book will come March 7th)

Thursday, February 06, 2014

lamp, lifeboat, ladder

The best chance we have at helping someones soul heal, is to choose the discomfort of seeing the truth of their pain and seeing their suffering.

There is no way to be a lamp if we refuse to enter the darkness. Bright, sunny places don't need a lamp.

There is no way to be a lifeboat if we stay dry, safe, and tied up close to the shore. Those standing at the shore, don't need a lifeboat.

There is no way to be a ladder if we're afraid to leave ground. Those standing with two feet planted on solid ground, don't need a ladder.

The work of a shepherd is two-fold.  

A shepherd knows his/her flock. If you know someone, are you not more likely to enter the darkness to help them?  After knowing his flock, a shepherd puts the safety of his flock as first priority. A shepherd provides protection above all. 

Jesus said in John 10, I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary."

Walking out of our homes like a shepherd means knowing those around us (knowing their struggles, their pain, their suffering) and being willing to be uncomfortable and awkward and vulnerable. 

Knowing them eventually leads us into our roles as lamps, lifeboats, and ladders. 

There never seem to be opportunities to be these things to people we haven't ever tried to know.

Rumi isn't my teacher, but Jesus is. I have been learning that Jesus asks us to take our insecurities, our places of weakness and uncertainty (fear) - and risk some things  - in order to be a lamp, or a lifeboat or a ladder. 

Let's do this friends, walk out of your house like a shepherd.

Monday, February 03, 2014

The Locust Effect - Please Share

About two weeks ago a young girl in a school uniform sat on the front porch in Port au Prince, at the Heartline Maternity Center.  She was waiting for a Depo Provera birth control injection. Beth McHoul, our Director, noticed her quickly.  It is unusual for young ladies in school uniforms to be on our front porch.  

The young girl was brought to a private room and asked, "Why do you need birth control? Are you having sex? Are you safe?" 

Her response is one that our orderly western paradigm often fails to understand or accept. She said, "I am living with my Uncle."  
"He is forcing me." 
"I don't want a baby." 
"My mother lives in the United States."  

Even for those of us with many years in Haiti, this reality stuns us.

It is quite easy for us as Americans with some protection and laws and order, to pass judgement on the women of Haiti (and the world).  

We often hear how "pathetic" it is that Haitian women "keep having babies".  The very next thing we sometimes hear is, "Why are you giving unmarried women birth control?" or "Birth control causes abortion, aren't you a Christian organization?"

This is painful. There is so much wrong with these black and white conclusions and so much wrong with quick judgment.  Mercy trumps judgment.  Grace trumps all. Let us be to others a lifeline of mercy and grace and understanding. 

While our minds seek certainty and answers, these women live lives without certainty or easy answers. This requires us to step out of our paradigm

This story is meant to say to you, dear reader, the rules of the world are not the rules of your life and your reality.  The women of resource poor countries do not have protection under the law and they often times have little  (to nothing) they can do to protect themselves from rape, abuse, and horrifying injustice.

That is why I am sharing these videos and this brand new book with you. That is why I shared the Haiti story above. The Locust Effect must find itself on every humanitarian course required reading list. It should be read by those heading into resource poor countries. It should be used as a tool to teach each of us that care to defend the marginalized and uplift the downtrodden. All who wish to see poverty reduced will want to read this book.

I long for His Kingdom Here and Now. Don't you? Let us continue the difficult work of bringing heaven to earth as best we can by standing up, speaking up, informing ourselves and others and ACTING on behalf of those trapped in systems of violence and poverty.

The Locust Effect is an uncomfortable and challenging read but it’s message is too important not to be heard.

The Locust Effect can be purchased in hard copy or in Kindle format at and Barnes and Noble.

If you buy the book THIS WEEK (Feb 2-8) a generous donor will give IJM $20 per book to help fund the fight.*

I am proud to be on the team sharing and promoting Victor Boutros and Gary Haugen's book.  I am even more proud to be on the team at Heartline Ministries, where we meet women in THEIR reality and say to them, "You are loved. You are valuable. We want to listen to you story. We want to sit with you in your grief and trauma. We care." 

Join us! 

“Justice is doing for others what we would want done for us.” 

(*up to $40,000 matching)

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Grace a Dieu

By Troy:

Recently I entered a room where a child had just been delivered and her surprise twin was on her way out. Six women were attending the delivering mother and children, and prayers and supplications filled the space. It felt like the Holy of Holies. A sacred place, one that I had no business being in. I had been summoned to drive an ambulance in case bad went to worse, and by the time I arrived the midwives, doctor, and nurses had realized the complication at hand was a second baby that no one was expecting. She was coming out foot first. I saw the foot and froze. In awe, I did not leave the room as quickly as I am accustomed to. 

That delivery room can be a scary place for a man, albeit beautiful and amazing. It is usually difficult to know where to safely cast my gaze. I typically try to direct my glances at shoulder-height and above. When I did not, I saw that foot. I heard those prayers. I sensed the intensity. I was handed a roll of tape to tear into strips for holding down IV tubes. It was then that I knew I could not escape and would continue to be witness to the miracles happening in our birth center that night.

Once the second baby girl had been delivered, I watched all the women continue to shift from one role to another - duty to another  - to the next move  - and utter the next prayer. It was stunning. I was overcome with emotion and nearly cried. I realized that in this setting, surrounded by women hard at work in the beautiful business of delivering babies, I should probably keep my emotions in check and not be the bawling baby in the room. 

This afternoon I was summoned to drive the ambulance again. This time, no emergency, no new miracles - merely the opportunity to drive Stephanie and her twin baby girls back to their home after a week and a day with us at Heartline for postpartum care. Being the first twins ever delivered at the Maternity Center, the first breech delivery, and having a miraculous birth story made them very popular around our place. Beyond all that, Stephanie is a sweet loving attentive mother and the twins are little beauties. All of the staff were sad to see them go. There were hugs and words of encouragement given as Stephanie left with me. They will be back in two days for a checkup, and then the day after that for child development class, but they will be missed in the meantime. The relationships and community formed at Heartline are real  - and go deep. 

We loaded Mama, Papa, and swaddled twins into the ambulance with their supplies. Babies have so much stuff. The father asked me if I would be their godfather…I awkwardly declined. I immediately regretted that decision but couldn't bring myself to awkwardly recant. Here, that relationship can carry with it a lot of baggage and expectations, and I selfishly said no. I'll never forget them or their birth. I should have said yes.

I drove them down a road in our area that I have passed ten thousand times but never entered. Throngs of homes and people lie down every alley in Port au Prince. A few 'blocks' in, I was told to stop. 'Kanpe la, nou gen tan rive.' I wedged the ambulance along an alley wall trying not to block other passing vehicles or crush the vendors stand beside me. While unloading the family and locking the truck doors, I realized a shoe shine business was nearly crushed by a front tire. The owner of the box and business eyed me warily, then picked up and relocated his business a few feet down the dusty path. 

We never know what to expect when returning mothers and new babies to their homes. Some conditions are pleasantly surprising; others are painfully discouraging. One constant remains, however - the families and neighbors and communities excitedly welcome them home and there we get a glimpse into Haiti's truest beauty. This home consisted of bare cinder blocks stacked into incomplete walls, a business at street level, a story above with unfinished openings for doors and windows, and a lean-to church with half a roof attached to the side. At first I felt a sadness creeping in considering this home for newborn twin girls, my judgement and paradigms taking over. Fortunately, all that was washed away by the hospitality and joy in the home as I met the rest of the family that shares it. I immediately lost track of the familial connections and count of the people in that space.  

I did not lose track or count when I was introduced to the father. The father of the father of the twins. Pastor of the church next door. Patriarch of the household. His eyes beamed as he insisted I stay to receive thanks and prayers of blessing for our ministry and he danced when I told him about being in the room when the girls were born and he laughed with me when I exclaimed how shocked everyone was to discover there was a second baby coming that night. Usually, when I meet a man here who introduces himself to me as a Pastor, I am skeptical at best. I have been taken for enough rides and had pockets emptied too many times to think that word always means what they think it means. This man was different. I sensed the sincerity of his heart and the joy in his spirit as we talked. He blessed me. We prayed together and posed for family pictures in the church and I walked out of that place thankful for this chance to be reminded of all that is right and good in this world, in this country, and in this ministry. 

Bouncing along the road back to the maternity center with a smile on my face, reflecting on this great experience, I looked up and read the words "Grace a Dieu" on the back of the tap-tap in front of me. The grace of God. All is grace. Mesi Bondye.

Troy Livesay, Midhusband