I Have Been Ridiculed and Lied To.

In the event that you are following Melissa’s writing, you will know that Pete had a hard day yesterday. He was having some, ummm, digestive issues and pretty much passed out on one of our home visits. Which would be really sad to me had it not been for the fact that a few nights earlier, he had reveled in the fact that he could pump out a post in approximately two and a half minutes. He spent the remainder of the 5 hours in the conference room mocking me and Melissa for taking so long.

In fact (and feel free to contact him directly if you would like to address this), he told me that if I didn’t “write posts that were 50,000 words long,” it wouldn’t take me so long. I shot him a dirty look and listened to him tap what I refer to as his “Teen Wolf” fingernails on the table while saying, “Seriously. Do y’all think India makes our fingernails grow faster? I mean this is crazy!”

Melissa and I continued to work like good students while Mr. Wilson flashed his dimples and sang “Tally-Ho” for the 400th consecutive time.

Not that insulting me and then getting violently ill were related.

But it is possible.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Shaun Groves had given this whole spiel about how “Compassion is making a difference….” and “Compassion is saving lives…”

He led me to believe that an organization could transform an impoverished community simply by relying on the body of Christ to support the cause. He tricked me into leaving my family, traveling for 20 hours, and riding a rickshaw which will heretofore be referred to as the “deathtrap on wheels.”

Well, today we visited the poorest Compassion project we have been to so far, and I began to realize how ridiculous the whole premise of this trip has been.

It’s absurd, actually.

Because this is where these people live.

We sat in a HOME smaller than a twin sized mattress.

We watched people bathe in the streets, and saw countless prostitutes (some of them were children) as we wandered around the city that Mother Theresa called “hell on earth.”

And Compassion thinks it can come in and make a difference in this? For $32 a month?

And not only are they going to provide an education for these children, but they are going to teach them about Jesus? And bring joy to them by being the hands and feet of the church?

Maybe in some of the other places, but not here.

And as you will see from the following pictures, Compassion isn’t really making that big of an impact.

The kids in the program look just like the others.

They don’t have any sense of hope or purpose.

There isn’t a shred of joy to be found on their faces.

They are starving, suffering, and desperate like the rest of the people they sleep close to on the streets.

You didn’t really think that they would learn about the Lord when you sent that check, did you? I’m afraid I will have to expose the reality to you. To them, He is nothing but a faraway God who has forsaken them.

Not Someone to be trusted.


Not Someone to be worshipped.


In fact, this whole thing is just one big scam.

Although, there was 11 year old boy on crutches who makes his way to the project every day after he has led his Hindu family in Christian prayer. He also hung several pictures of the Lord around their home, right alongside the idols, in order to teach his parents about the God Whom he loves. The same God he prayed to when his brother was ill, and shortly after, had a miraculous healing. His parents now attend church.


And then there was another girl (who lived in the 24 square foot house, and slept on the floor, which we refer to as a sidewalk) who told us that she had joy in her heart because that is what Jesus wants us to have and she desires to be like Him. Then she proudly waved her hand around the tiny space that was barely tall enough for her to stand in and asked, “How do you like my home?” as if she were in a palace. Then, she told us how desperately she wanted a picture of her sponsor so she could show it to all the kids around and tell them who was helping her. She walked with us through filthy streets and held hands with Keely, and at one point she began to cry. When asked what was wrong, she explained that nothing was wrong, she was crying tears of happiness because she was so excited to meet real sponsors.


And I guess it would add to the drama of the tale if we had met the director of the program, who described the unlikely way that the church was established in the first place. He had come to know the Lord through a missionary, was put through school by an anonymous donor, and decided to spend the rest of his life as a pastor in service to the poor. With no money to his name, he made an offer on a property with the prayer, “Lord, if you give me this property, I will put a roof on it and make it a house of God.”

A short time later, the landowner explained that several others had made much better offers-one who wanted to build a cinema and others who had great plans and extensive budgets. To his surprise, the landowner finished by telling him that they had chosen to give it to him instead of the others.

Which would be great if they actually had the money to follow through on their offer. I imagine that at this point in the story, an unknown American missionary could die and donate the money they needed to build the church.

But of course, if that had happened, it probably would have been in newspapers.


And I bet a great screenwriter could introduce a heroine as well. Let’s just say for the sake of argument that the pastor (and now current director) was trying to figure out how in the world he was going to get kids in this place, in a culture where less that 1% of the people are Christians.

I have an idea.

Let’s have Mother Theresa play with kids every day near the church under a massive tree. Then, we’ll let it pour down rain while she searches for a place to provide shelter for them. She will knock on the door of the church and speak to the man we were with today, asking him to help her with the children.

And they stayed.

Now THAT would be a good story.

And it could only be written by one Author.

So before you decide to sponsor a child, think long and hard about where your money is going.


I am in complete awe.

And I have decided that Pete may have a point, and I am a better storyteller because of it.

Words just can’t convey what we are experiencing.

It is with utmost gratitude that I thank those of you who have chosen to make a difference here; it has been one of the most incredible days of my life.

Today I decided that I can’t be afraid to fly any more. I can’t stand the thought of leaving all of this behind forever. Thank you, Compassion. You have helped me see God in ways I never dreamed I would.

And He is worthy of all praise…

Angie

P.S. Pete’s doing much better today. In fact, his self-esteem received a much-needed boost when he came across a door that he had to crouch to enter…. :)

You deserved that, smartypants.

Remember the Part…

About you coming on a ride with us?

I had to post this because there is no other way to get a sense for the feeling of riding down bumpy roads in a rickshaw. We’re about to heard out for the day to the slums of Calcutta, and I will be back to tell you all about it later, but for now, check out Keely’s video from yesterday.

(And ladies, just a heads up. If you ever do this, make sure you have, ahem, proper undergarments:) )

It was crazy!!!!! Enjoy :)

And thanks so much for all of your kind words and encouragement-you have NO idea how much your comments give me strength.

Okay, ready? Jump on board!!!! (thanks for the video, Keely-you are a BRAVE woman!)

See you soon~
Ang

Child Survival Program

Yesterday we went on a home visit and met with the mother of one of the children who is sponsored by Compassion. As we asked her questions about her family life and how they have been impacted by her daughter’s sponsorship, someone asked her how many children she had. She answered gently, and it was a longer answer than it should have been. We looked to the translator and he explained that she had one but that she was expecting. Someone asked when she was due and the translator’s face changed.

“Oh, I am sorry,” he replied. “She isn’t expecting; she said that she had a six month old baby that expired.”

Expired.

I asked the translator to tell her that my daughter died last year, and as he spoke to her, she looked me in the eye and bowed her head briefly. I don’t know Bengali and she doesn’t know English, but there wasn’t a language barrier.

One of the things I love the most about Compassion is their dedication to serving the poorest of the poor from before they are born until adulthood. Today we visited what is called a “Child Survival Program,” and their purpose is to serve babies (starting when the mother is pregnant) up until the age when they are eligible for child sponsorship at age 5 or 6. It was the most amazing thing to meet with the mothers in the program today. Not only are they taught how to take care of themselves while they are pregnant, they are also educated about taking care of their babies, and have “facilitators” that come to their homes several times a month to check in on them. The facilitators weigh the babies and measure them, teach mothers the fundamentals of infant care and nutrition etc. As the babies get a bit older, they teach them how to play and interact with their kids in an age appropriate way, and all of the children’s milestones are recorded at the center.

The mothers told us that they really had no idea how to care for their infants, and repeatedly told us how much they had learned from the program.

Again, every child.

Every kilogram.

Every milestone.

Compassion is based on loving children as individuals, and to get to see that today was incredible.

I looked over several of the wall charts, and as I did, I thought about the way I have doubted organizations like this in the past because how in the world could they keep up with thousands and thousands of children?

And hanging on the wall in impeccable ink handwriting was the undeniable evidence.

It was so beautiful to see the way they care for these babies, and as a result, the way families are impacted.

As part of the Indian culture, women don’t have the rights that we take for granted in the States. They explained that they only eat leftovers after the family has finished a meal, and because they are so insecure about their own identity, they don’t know how to respond when they are spoken to. We asked if their husbands were resistant to them coming to the program, and they explained that they were initially against it, but once they saw the way their wives and children flourished, they gave their blessing.

So, in addition to receiving pregnancy care, the babies receive all of their vaccinations and health care, but that isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. The women are encouraged to find their identity through various trades, such as sewing and making baby formula. I sat in awe as I watched them gather as a community in order to learn how to better care for their families while their fingers were busy with work. Several of them stood and gave their testimonies and it was so powerful to imagine that about a year ago, these women wouldn’t even be able to answer a question asked of them. And the beauty of it is that the women go home and teach their neighbors what they are learning, which opens the door for them to develop a skill.

I had no idea that this program existed until this trip, and I cannot tell you what an honor it was to sit among these precious women and hear their stories. Even before children are able to be sponsored, they are under the wing of Compassion, and to see the joy they radiate is difficult to articulate.

We were out in what looked like a jungle, and it had a really different feeling than that other projects we have visited so far. It was so remote and isolated that we had to drive for about an hour and a half by bus and then take a rickshaw for another half hour to get there. Here are a couple photos to give you an idea of what we saw.

Today was one of my favorite days, and it helped me to appreciate the way Compassion dedicates itself to sharing the love of Christ with babies before their mothers have even met them.

I love this organization, and I am completely humbled to have this opportunity, because I have been able to see it’s extensive reach firsthand, and I have loved on children that may not have survived without the help of Compassion.

Before we left, I gave the director of the center a bag of clothes and shoes that Nicol and Greg gave me before I left. They bought several outfits that they wanted me to share with children who would be close to Audrey and Luke’s age. I couldn’t help but wonder who would be wearing the shoes and dresses in a few days.

There is a brokenness in me that can’t be filled, so I won’t say that handing the bag was the easiest thing I’ve ever done, because it was symbolic of something I don’t have.

I will say though, as much as it hurt, there was a sense of redemption in knowing that my loss was being used in such a tangible way. I saw glimpses of her in the faces of children who have a chance to thrive, and it felt like fresh air.

I needed that today.


There are still plenty of kids left to sponsor here, and I’m praying that if you are one of those that the Lord has urged to do so, you will be inspired by our stories so you know that you are making a difference.

Thanks for taking this ride with us. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds…

Blessings and love,

Angie

Our Boy

I got an email from Todd last night titled “Our boy.” I had asked him to send me the information about our new sponsor child (we are sponsoring a little girl who I am praying I will get to meet on Friday, but right before we left I felt like we needed to sponsor another). I asked Shaun to have them assign me any child, and didn’t give any other specifics. I wanted to Lord to assign whomever He saw fit, and a few days before I left, I got the packet from Compassion. It was so neat to open it up and have no idea what to expect, and as soon as I saw Mohit’s picture I fell in love with his solemn little face and big eyes.

Today we visited our second Compassion Project, and as we watched all of the tiny kids reciting their school lessons and smiling at us, I was scanning the room to see if I could recognize his face from the picture. I didn’t see him, but I did see some of these precious little ones hard at work.

There was a large area where the older kids were broken into groups and doing various crafts, so we wandered in and started to play with them. It is so cool to see the way our team is put together because there is so much giftedness in all kinds of different ways. We all love to jump in, and it was such an amazing thing to scan a room full of faces and see each person connecting with the kids. Shaun and Keely were doing a mini-worship service with one group, Anne was getting artistic with another, Robin and Melissa were playing hand games with giggly little girls, and Pete was making frames with a group of boys.

I saw a little girl and a little boy come in together and as the little girl was introduced to Shaun and his wife Becky, I realized that the little boy behind her must be Mohit. His face was very solemn for such a five year old. Some of the teachers noticed me looking at him and then tapped him on the back and told him to come over to me. He looked up briefly and then began to walk over cautiously with his eyes to the ground. He is new to the program, and I think he wasn’t really sure who I was or why I was meeting him. There was a translator there and I asked her to tell him that I had a family at home in America, and that we would be praying for him and sending letters and drawings to him, and that I was so excited to meet him. He looked up at me again and then back down at the ground. I could sense that he just wasn’t sure what his response should be. He was the most precious child, and within moments, he completely captured me.

I couldn’t believe that I was sitting with a child that I will have the honor of sharing life with and seeing him grow in the coming years through Compassion. I would consider myself a skeptic about the way that “ministry organizations” work, and as dramatic as this will sound, something in me just clicked today. I got down on my knees so that I could be eye to eye with Mohit before I left, and through the help of his teacher, conveyed to him that he was a gift from God and that I was so excited to be a part of his life.

He nodded, eyes to the floor.

I told him that he was a smart boy, and that God was going to use his life in an amazing way.

He nodded again.

His teacher smiled and said several sentences to him, and when she was finished, he looked up at me and his entire countenance changed. He smiled the slightest bit, and maintained eye contact as I asked her what she had said.

“I told him what it really meant that you were here, and that you were going to be another mother to him.”

He got it that time.

And before I could wipe my face clean, I realized I had just found myself in the deep end of the water I have feared facing for so long.

It wasn’t a clever marketing scheme or a catchy slogan.

It didn’t look like a staged commercial asking for money.

It was the Gospel.

And it was sitting in my lap.

Trust me when I say that I could write for hours today about all of the things we saw and experienced. I don’t know that I could do it the kind of justice it deserves, because words fail me.

So I won’t tell you all the stories yet; at least not the way I normally would.

I’m not chasing after the perfect sentence.

I may not check for grammatical errors.

I might be a little bolder than I thought I might be in asking for your help.

Because today, I walked into a house made of woven straw, covered with newspaper. It was roughly the size of the smallest bedroom in my house and five people live in it. When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, the little girl who lived there replied quickly in Bengali, “I want to be a doctor so that I can help the poor and needy.”

I saw stacks of letters sitting on Compassion office desks, waiting to be translated, each one carefully documented. I met the people who spend their time making sure that everything that is sent for a child is given to him or her, and the complete dedication of the people behind the scenes. I was completely in awe of the time it must take to translate all of those letters and the intricate system Compassion has in order to ensure that everything is in order and running smoothly.

I saw what happens when people decide to give, even in spite of the fact that they may never get to touch it in this life.

And it is nothing short of a miracle.

Here is a glimpse into the joy I got to experience, and the great honor of sharing three words with my husband that he has never heard before…

Toddy, guess what?

It’s a boy!!!

Love to you all~
Ang

Name

First of all, if you are one of the people that has been praying for me over the past few days, I want to thank you. You all have walked so far with me in the past year that I feel like I can be honest, and the truth is that about 24 hours into the trip, I decided this was one of the worst choices I had ever made. I sat on a rickety bed in a room with no windows or door keys and I cried my eyes out while Anne told me I was going to be okay.

Somewhere between the 16 hour flight, no sleep, and facing the thought of what I was about to experience, I really felt trapped. My brain just kind of went into survival mode and I couldn’t even think about hearing the kids voices or seeing Todd online because it forced me to remember that I can’t get to them.
Yesterday we went to see Mother Theresa’s home, and the orphanages that still stand in her name. There just isn’t a way to describe looking into her bedroom and imagining her there. It is a sparse, small room, and it is exactly what you would picture. Over her bed hangs a crown of thorns that she made with a picture of Christ above it, and she was said to have been staring at it when she died. Her eyes were fixed on Him and His children in a way that defies comprehension, and as I walked back down the steep staircase, I felt the Lord gently urging me out of my selfishness and reminding me why I was there.
A few minutes later, we walked through the orphanage for babies and children who have special needs. Almost immediately, I saw a tiny, newborn baby girl. I asked the nun beside me how old she was, and she told me they thought she was 2 or 3 weeks old. I asked what her name was, and the nun explained that they didn’t have names because the Lord took so many of them away. I watched her wriggle around for a few minutes, and then when she started to cry, I had to fight every instinct I had to pick her up. I laid my hands on her and they covered her tiny legs. Her crying hushed and she looked around, trying to find the source of comfort. I will never forget that moment, standing with my hands on a baby, asking the Lord to protect her. You know her name, Lord…

That looks good on paper.
But in the moment, looking around at dozens and dozens of eyes, it felt hopeless.
I think I needed to see it that way to deal with something that has been lodged in my brain for years. It’s almost easier to ignore the water than to dip your toe in it.
Because as soon as you do, you become acutely aware of all the eyes that are looking at you, needing help, and it feels impossible. I couldn’t post last night because I was so overwhelmed by it all. This morning Todd and I talked this morning via skype and I was trying to hold it together. I managed for a few minutes because Ellie seemed so happy, but when Abby saw me, her face crumpled up and we both started crying. After we had both gotten a little bit of it out, we started talking and then I made her giggle. It was such a relief, but all I wanted was to be near to her and comfort her. I felt so isolated. She told me that they had been praying for the baby with no name. I didn’t tell her about all of the others.
One was enough.
We went to the first Compassion project today and I can’t begin to tell you how it affected me. I have been mulling this post over, praying, asking the Lord to give me the words I can’t find. There are so many stories I want to share, so many things God allowed me to experience, and it has challenged me in a beautiful way.
It has been really easy for me to stay out of the water in a lot of ways, and my own cynicism has kept me safe there. But today, as we stood in a house made of bamboo and clay bricks and watched a woman tell us how Compassion had changed their lives, something in my soul settled.
As we left the second house, I got a couple pictures of the family and I fought back tears as her father adjusted her name tag to make sure her Compassion information was showing.
She had a name.
Compassion International is more than what I imagined. More than my mind would have let me believe. More than I can express to you in this moment of exhaustion. I can’t wait to share stories of the people we meet and some of the things we have done, but tonight (or, morning? afternoon?), I will leave you with this image of the before and after.
Don’t miss the subtle change.
I won’t.
And neither will they.
Angie

On a Scale of One to Ten…

***updated to send  you all here, to my brother in law Greg’s blog.  I refer to this later in this post as a family prayer request, but wanted to wait until they made an announcement before passing this information along.  Please be in prayer for them..***

What do you all think the chances are that we are raptured before my flight tomorrow?

Yeah.
That’s what I’m thinking too.
I wanted to give you all a quick update before I left so that I could mention some specific prayer requests.  At this moment, I am feeling the most anxious about the flights, which shouldn’t surprise you if you have read my blog in the past.  Our first flight leaves Nashville around 4, and then we will meet up with the rest of the group in Chicago and then I think we leave around 7:30 for New Delhi. We will spend one night there and then take off first thing in the morning for Kolkata (apparently my friend Mr. Red Squiggly does not know that it is not officially “Calcutta” anymore, but rather, “Kolkata.” Why? No clue. But it is a fact).
That flight is (gulp) 15-16 hours long. 
So you may want to pray for those around me as well.
Generally once we get off the ground and are kind of stabilized above the weather, I do okay, but for some reason the thought of the whole trip feels really overwhelming.  I think the Lord has allowed me, to some extent, to focus on these kinds of things instead of really processing what we will be seeing when we get there.  I’m not nervous about being in India-mostly the getting there and getting back part are what has me in a bit of a panic.
I’ve been trying to play it cool with the kids so they won’t worry, but after the past year, they haven’t dealt well with separation.  Abby came to me a few nights with tears in her eyes and told me she had to confess something. She led me into her bedroom, gingerly lifted the ruffle on her bedding and dug deep under her bed to produce what I have been referring to as my “India shoes.” She told me she was pretty sure if I didn’t have them, I couldn’t go. She proceeded to show me other things she had hidden under there that were favorites of mine. Some were there to distract me from going, and others that she planned on holding onto while I was gone. 
I lost it.
I held her and cried and told her that I didn’t want to be away from her but that Jesus wants us to go help the helpless, and mommy needs to be obedient and brave.
Then I took a Xanax.
She was not privy to the latter, in the event that you are wondering.
As I type, Todd is starting schoolwork with the girls and I am sitting at my desk across the kitchen. I am thinking about the fact that I take so much of my beautiful life for granted, and I am humbled by the fact that I am going to come home several days from now a changed woman. That, I am sure of. And I cannot wait to see the faces of the children that Compassion is impacting, and the way that the Lord is using people oceans away to share the love of Christ with them. 
I just have to get on the plane.
And I have to say goodbye to my Toddy and these little faces (they suddenly don’t look so little, do they?)
The past week has been one of the hardest of my life.  Part of that has been that I was taking a pill for malaria that was giving me some very strange side effects, and I wasn’t sleeping very well. I called the clinic and they promptly switched me to another, which I began today, and I am hoping that this one doesn’t mess with my mind so much.  
There have been other developments that we have had to face as an extended family in the last week that I am not at liberty to discuss at this moment, but that have really been difficult.  The Lord will sustain us, but there are moments that feel hopeless, and I feel like the timing of this trip is difficult because I am having to leave a situation where I really want to stay and be available.  I hate to be vague, but when you pray for me and our family, just know that the Lord knows where those prayers are going…thank you in advance for that. 
The other issue we are facing in India is that there are some uncontrollable forces that may prevent me from meeting one of my sponsor children. She is the one who shares Audrey’s Birthday, and I am at peace with that if it is God’s will because the reasoning behind it is good, and above all, we want to try and be as safe as possible ourselves, as well as keeping the safety of our sweet Compassion kids foremost in our minds.  There are conditions where she is that may prevent us from meeting, but above that, I just ask for you to pray for her safety.  More on all that when I have a little more freedom to discuss…again, the Lord will direct your prayers…
Combine that with a major cold and some other weirdo effects of shots, and I guess you could say I feel a little off-kilter, and I so wanted to be in tip-top shape to be able to offer myself up to what the Lord has for us there.
I also have to say that I wanted to hear that Stellan was on his way home, and that all of my other bloggy friends were doing well. It appears that Stellan is going to have a little farther to go before they are able to release him, and I cannot imagine what MckMama is going through as she faces all of this.  Please continue to lift them up as well.
When I left for college, I would call home all the time just to make sure that everyone was okay. My entire life, I have felt the burden of “leaving” and not wanting anyone to need me while I was gone.  I feel that over the past several years, the Lord has shown up in these situations to remind me that He is perfectly capable of continuing to be God without my presence.
In fact, He has a pretty solid history of being God without me being in the picture.  
BUT, there is still that nagging voice…maybe some of you can relate.
This post is jumbled and I had intended to make some kind of coherent list of things to pray for, but I guess my type-A personality will have to rest in knowing that you all have helped pray me through the hardest year of my life, and I trust that the Holy Spirit will prompt those of you who have walked alongside me to offer up whatever you feel led to on my behalf.
The good news is that we will be posting each day from the 26th until the 2nd (I think?) on our blogs, so you can see all of the amazing things that God is doing. I will also be twittering a lot from airports and such, so if you want to follow my tweets, just click on the button on the right side of my blog and come along with us.
I cannot tell you what these prayers mean to me. I feel that this is one of the hardest things that the Lord has ever called me to do…it is a trip that combines all of my greatest fears (flying, being away from my family, the devastation of poverty…), and just on the heels of such great personal tragedy. I know that these are the places where the Lord is the most glorified-in our personal weaknesses, and I want to be a vessel for Him to use mightily.
That is, you know, if He doesn’t come back before then.
Love and gratitude,
Angie

It Was Love…



**Updated with link to the Children’s Bible…***
As you can all imagine, the last week or so has been a tangled mess of emotions, and with the combination of an incredible Good Friday message and a beautiful Easter, I feel more peace than I have in awhile.
The Lord spoke to me the other night as I was reading the girls the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. I talk about this Children’s Bible often because I really think it has impacted them.  They recall the most beautiful stories in scripture effortlessly, and when I read it I understand why.  In fact, part of the way through my reading, I literally stopped mid-sentence and had to compose myself because the words were breathtaking.  Here is an excerpt from the Bible…
They nailed Jesus to the cross.

“Father, forgive them, ” Jesus gasped. “They don’t understand what they are doing.”

“You say you have come to rescue us!” people shouted. “But you can’t even rescue yourself!”

But they were wrong. Jesus could have rescued himself.  A legion of angels would have flown to his side-if he’d called.

“If you were really the Son of God, you could just climb down off that cross!” they said.

And of course they were right.  Jesus could have just climbed down.  Actually, he could have just said a word and made it all stop.  Like when he healed the little girl.  And stilled the storm.  And fed 5000 people.

But Jesus stayed.

You see, they didn’t understand. It wasn’t the nails that kept Jesus there.

It was love.


For some reason, I hadn’t quite thought it through in those terms, and I was rendered speechless by the infinite power that was denied for the sake of love.
It is, for me, one of the simplest and most powerful ways to present the Gospel, even stretching into our lives today.
“Angie, why do you choose to be crucified with Christ? You have the choice to abandon it all…just walk away and say that this whole thing is too hard.  You need a break. You aren’t strong enough to feel the scabs forming over and the taste of blood in your mouth…”

Suddenly it was very clear to me that it has never been the nails that held me here.
It has been love.
Deep, desperate, longing love for the One Who was mocked on my behalf. And worse yet, I have been that voice at times in my life. 
And this year, I realized that since the day I first heard His name, I had two choices.
Be crucified with Him, or climb down.
I have felt the sting of death deeply, for the first time in my life, and there was never the option to walk away. Not because I couldn’t, but rather, because I was blessed in the most unexpected way to invite the nails that held me to Him. 
“Sweet child. The nails are not enough to hold you here. You can only live the life I am calling you to through the love I have given you. The love which now has taken up residence in your very being, and makes the wounds bearable…”

He beckons us to nestle deep into the brokenness and find inexplicable comfort. He woos us to touch His bleeding side so we will know that we are not alone. 
I can tell you that I have done this, and I have been rescued from a pit so deep I could not fathom a way out of it. You may be down there right now, begging for mercy and for relief.  I understand, and I hurt for you, but this year, I have learned about a part of myself I didn’t know existed, and as crazy as it sounds, I want you to think about it and see if it makes any sense to you.
We who are followers of the King must daily wake up and look in the mirror, seeing our reflection with a crown of thorns balanced on our heads. We must feel the burden of the cross at different points in our life, and with the power of Christ Himself, we will look solemnly back at ourselves and say, “I am choosing to bear the crown because I cannot live without the love…”

That’s easy to say, isn’t it?  Will you trust me enough to try it? Tell Him, the One who knows your deepest fears and most secret desperation, that you are choosing the thorns. Everyday.
And one day, not so far from now, I believe we will be made complete, and pain will cease completely.
Oh, Lord, come quickly.
But until then, make your life an offering, and allow the hands of the Father to carry You through what you think is impossible.
I assure you that through it, He will show You His boundless, freeing love, which allows us the strength to make it another day.
And another day.
And then, one glorious day, He will call for us.
I can’t prove it to you, but I know it deep, deep within myself.
The stone has been moved.
He is Risen.
And I love Him, even in the excruciating pain I feel. Honestly, if you are trying to pursue relationship out of forced conviction, you will miss out on the glory of falling in love with the Maker of your soul. There is such a difference between religion and relationship. I could not have survived without the latter, I assure you.
Because, you see, the thing about the nails in this life is that they are temporary. We choose to bear them because we know that we will lay our crowns at His feet in the blink of an eye. We will join Him for eternity, and will worship the One Who was scarred on our behalf.
I am praying for each of you as you arise tomorrow morning. I am praying that you will see the crown of thorns as a promise. Yes, it is painful, and yes, sometimes we struggle under the weight of it, but no, it will not defeat us. 
And that is a promise I needed to remember as I celebrated what would have been Audrey’s First Birthday.  It isn’t something superhuman or overly spiritual, just the daily remembrance of a life lived out off the depths of love.
We praise Your name, Lord. For You are Who You say You are.
And that is enough.













4.7.09

***update*** I am overwhelmed by the response to this post, and the number of children whose lives are about to change because of your generosity. I received all of the emails you all sent, but many do not include specifics about the child sponsored (name, ID number, project location, etc). Apparently when you forward the email that Compassion sends you, it only allows the reader access to the main site and not to the specific child.  Could those of you who sponsored send me all possible information about your child? I am trying to figure out if I will be meeting any of them in person, in which case I would love to give them their gift in person :)  And please pray- I have been told that we are only allowed to mail “flat things,” but I am optimistic that the Lord will find a way around that :) I just need to figure out where all the kiddos are. 
Thank you so, so much.
(original post follows)
It hurts just to write the title.
 Honestly it does.
It’s one of many milestones that you have marked with me.  For some reason, when people have asked me how I feel about this day coming up,  I always tell them that I think January 7th will always be the one that I struggle with the most, because we found out that we weren’t going to get to keep her.  April 7th? 
In some strange way, that was more the day she lived than the day she died
That probably doesn’t make sense to you unless you have been in a similar situation, but to us, that was the day the Lord blessed us with 2 1/2 hours we didn’t expect. We didn’t take them for granted, and they are etched in my mind like an old movie that replays at the most unlikely moments. Bits and pieces come to me, float to me, live with me, remind me.
The other day, I was elbow deep in warm dishwater while the girls played outside and Todd did yard work.  We had just finished dinner and I was straightening up while they were enjoying the last light of day.  I looked out the window above the sink and realized that all three girls were dancing with what appeared to be long branches. 
No.
I don’t think I even turned off the water as I ran out to confirm my suspicion. The blossoms…
No. NO. NO.

They were branches from Audrey’s cherry blossom tree, which had just come into full bloom a few days earlier.
“Where did you get those from? Girls? GIRLS!” They turned and looked at me. The tone of my voice scared them, and they thought they were in trouble. In my head, I knew this was not rational. This isn’t actually my child…it’s a tree.
But it’s her tree. 
I was trying to stay calm, but not having much success.
“Daddy gave them to us, mommy.” Abby said, watching my face to see if my wrath would be redirected. 
I ran out to the deck and asked them to give me the branches, still full of the palest pink blossoms, so delicate I wasn’t sure how to handle them without further damage. I think that’s when I started tearing up, and Kate told me she was sorry. I told her she didn’t need to be sorry, I was just sad about Audrey and I wanted to find a new place for the flowers. She and Abby ran off to play.
Ellie stayed with me, and just like her mother, she is always looking for a way to make things better. If you can find redemption somehow, the sting of loss is lessened.  You don’t feel it has all been for nothing.  This is the same reason I have to go through her pockets when we come home from running errands.  Without fail, I find tiny pieces of trash that she has “collected” throughout the day. She doesn’t see the top of a broken hanger as garbage because it could, with a little imagination, be used again.  I love that about her.  She gathers, she treasures what is seen as nothingness to others, and then she redeems it in her own beautiful way. I learn so much about my Jesus through the children He has given me…thank you, Lord.
“I have a great idea, mommy! Let’s take them inside and put them in a tall vase and they will be so pretty. And I will find a place for them and everyone will see them. I know where the vases are, mommy. They’re under the sink. Let’s go find them.” She tugged on my soapy hand and led me back into the house.  I was clinging to the flowers, and the tears were falling. I just couldn’t hold it in.  She reached far into the back of the cabinet and handed me a tall vase. Silently, we worked to fill it with water and put the branches in it.  
“That looks great! It’s better than when it’s on the tree, even, don’t you think? I do!” She was desperate to make it right.
“It looks wonderful, baby.  Everyone will love it when they come over. Thanks for your help, hon.” I bent down and kissed her flushed cheeks. I told her she was more special than she knew. I told her I loved her. I told her God was going to bless her life the way she blessed others.  She smiled and skipped out of the house.
I fell apart.
When I saw Todd I asked him (in a less than kind way…) exactly what would have possessed him to cut down these huge branches from her tree without telling me.  If I didn’t have mascara running down my face, he probably would have been tempted to mention that I have never really taken an interest in our landscaping before, but he just looked at me. I think I yelled at him for 5 straight minutes without him saying a word. And it was the kind of screaming that was half crying and half madness, the kind where you don’t even know what you’re saying because it hurts too much to try and make it make sense.
Finally I stopped. He took a step forward and reached out to me. At that moment, I didn’t want him. I wanted her. I wanted this to be somebody else’s life, somebody else’s tree…somebody else’s baby.
I wanted a candle, a cake, and that tiny redheaded girl. 
He saw it all in my face, and he looked like he was going to cry. He tried to explain it to me, and I was half listening while I looked at the gap where there had been life on the tree a few moments ago. It was all wrong.
“…honey, I wasn’t cutting it down; I was just pruning it so that it will grow back. That’s what you do to keep it alive…that’s just what you do…I’m so sorry, I didn’t even think…” He trailed off and I looked at him.
“It was beautiful and now it’s empty, Todd. How does that help exactly?” I stared at him, waiting for an answer that would make the world make sense at that moment.
“It’s what you do to make it grow, baby. It will grow back.” He hugged me and I continued to cry.
I wanted to believe him.

The truth is that I am a year past her death and I don’t understand it any better than I ever have. I don’t know if I expected some great wisdom to drop into my lap because of the calendar day, or if I believed that a little perspective would make it all make sense.
There certainly have been moments where I have had more precious communion with the Lord than I have ever had before, and times I felt such peace I didn’t know how to express gratitude.
There have also been moments (many of them) where I shout out to God because I want to know if she would have been walking by now. I want to know if she would be a cuddler or an independent little thing. I want to take her to the beach and show her the great big ocean and tell her about life.  I want to know if she would have married, had her own children, had a passion for her calling in life.
I want her. I just want her.
No beautiful bow on the package today, although I know He will give me the peace to get through the day.
As I was writing this post, I randomly opened one of my favorite books. It’s called Turn My Mourning into Dancing by the brilliant Henri Nouwen. I am sure He is smiling at this moment, because I started skimming through it and landed on a page with these words on it…
“Pruning means cutting, reshaping, removing what diminishes vitality. When we look at a pruned vineyard, we can hardly believe it will bear fruit.  But when the harvest comes, we realize that the pruning allowed the vines to concentrate their energy and produce more grapes. Grateful people learn to celebrate even amid life’s hard and harrowing memories because they know that pruning is no mere punishment, but preparation. 

When our gratitude for the past is only partial, our hope for the future can likewise never be full.  But our submitting to God’s pruning work will not ultimately leave us sad, but hopeful for what can happen in us and through us.  Harvesttime will bring its own blessings…pg19″

Harvesttime. 
That’s what I am waiting on, I guess. The day when all the growth comes and all the sorrow passes.  Most likely, it will not happen fully in this life; a reality which I am daily coming to terms with.
In the meantime, I am putting my full weight into the Lord, because He has told me that there will come a day when I will see her again.  The pruning was with purpose-one that I cannot understand from this vantage point.
That’s what He says.
And I want to believe Him.

In a few short weeks, I will be in India with a group of people who are committed to changing the lives of children living in poverty. I can tell you that I would not have been a part of this opportunity unless I had lost her.  I can also say that I love in a new way, and it makes me want to be braver than I am.  As a sidebar, I am reading this book right now (Thanks, Jess D.) and it is incredible. And, turns out in the 1800′s they took boats to Calcutta. Compassion did not offer me that option, for the record…
I really wanted to try and find some way to “give back” on 4/7, so I was so happy when sweet Tina from Baby Be Blessed contacted me awhile ago and we started talking about how we could do this.  I am so grateful for her heart and her love for the Lord, and so honored that she would allow me to make this offer to you…any Compassion child who is sponsored from my blog on Audrey’s Birthday will have a handmade lamb (with scripture) sent to their sponsored child in honor of my sweet girl.

I know that this is a hard time financially in general, so please don’t feel any pressure. Seek the Holy Spirit and if you feel that this is something you would like to do, just make sure and email me your child’s information (angelac519@gmail.com) so that we can make sure to get them their gifts. Several of you have emailed me a page that must come up after you sponsor, so you can just forward that along.  
We have some things that we will be doing as a family tomorrow to celebrate Audrey’s life, and I ask for your prayers on this day.  I am not sure what to expect, and above all, I want the Lord to be lifted high. I know my baby is safe and sound, and as Abby said to me the other day, “She will probably have a really awesome party this year.”
I bet she’s right.
We miss you, sweet baby girl. 
You are so, so loved.
Mommy

Unredeemed

***Update*** For those of you who were having problems hearing it before with Internet Explorer, you should be able to now!!! Enjoy…the countdown has begun… :)


“Oh that my words were recorded,

that they were written on a scroll,
that they were inscribed with an iron
tool on lead,
or engraved in rock forever!
I KNOW MY REDEEMER LIVES,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth…
Job 19:23-25
It is so hard to believe that nearly a year has passed since we held our Audrey. I have so many thoughts going through my head, and I am praying that God will give me some cohesive way to share them with you all. I have mornings where I can’t get out of bed and then moments that feel normal. Then I have moments that feel normal but then I feel guilty for them. I’m all over the place. If you have lost a child, you probably understand the roller coaster that ensues in the year(s) following.
I was in my car listening to the CD that Selah will be releasing in August, and there is a song that makes me cry every time I hear it. I think it best says what I am feeling deeply and not explaining well, and I want you all to hear it. Unfortunately, playing music from an unreleased CD is apparently a “no-no” in the music business. Who knew? Oh, everyone? Really? Well then.
I talked to Todd about it and I was explaining how much the song ministered to me, and the short version of the story is that some strings were pulled (thank you, Brian Stewart) and Curb is allowing me to have the song on the blog, but just for 3 DAYS!!!!!! So listen to it now, because it will disappear shortly…and no, you can’t download it. But in just a few short months you can get it for 99 cents on ITunes!!! Oh, and I am also supposed to tell you that this is not the finalized version…but I think you’ll get the gist:)
So I hope you all are blessed by it the way I have been, and are brought hope by the meaning of it. But, unfortunamundo (yes red squiggles, I see you, but unfortunamundo SHOULD be a word), I will have to take it down in three days, so listen quickly!
ALSO, if you are thinking of sponsoring a Compassion child through the link on my blog, wait until Tuesday, because thanks to a very special friend, I am ecstatic to be able to offer you something amazing in honor of Audrey’s Birthday. God had allowed some beautiful things to happen because of her, and He is constantly reminding me of a few simple words I need to hear, and I am willing to bet that you do too.
None of this will be left unredeemed.
Not one bit.
(remember to mute the music at the bottom and give this a few seconds to load…)



***
Unredeemed
(Written by Chad Cates, Tony Wood, Brian Petak)
Produced by Bernie Herms
And had the FIRE sung out of it by Amy Perry and my Toddy.

The cruelest words
The coldest heart
The deepest wounds
The endless dark
The lonely ache
The burning tears
The bitter night
The wasted years
Life breaks and falls apart
But we know these are…
Places
Where grace is
Soon to be so amazing
They may unfulfilled
They may unrestored
But when anything that’s shattered
Is laid before the Lord
Just watch and see
It will not be
Unredeemed
For every choice
That led to shame
And all the love
That never came
For every vow
That someone broke
And every life
That gave up hope
We live in the shadow of the fall
But the cross says these are all – just
Places
Where grace is
Soon to be so amazing
They may unfulfilled
They may unrestored
But when anything that’s shattered
Is laid before the Lord
Just watch and see
It will not be
Unredeemed
They may unfulfilled
They may unrestored
You never know the miracles
The father has in store
Just watch and see
It will not be
Unredeemed
***
Keep praying for MckMama; I consider myself blessed to be one of many who is praying for her sweet son…and if she and I don’t talk in some form at least 15 times a day now, I start to twitch. The Lord has provided me with a kindred spirit…love you, friend.
She is going to have a hard time getting rid of me after this whole ordeal.
And trust me, there will be an AFTER. Stellan may have a long journey, but he’s a fighter, and we all continue to believe that it’s just a matter of time until he is well. I am just begging the Lord to make it soon…it is so tiring to be where they are. Let’s continue to rally around them and pray specifically for wisdom, discernment and peace.
I will write again on Tuesday, and do hope you will join me on what would have been Audrey’s first birthday. It is a milestone I didn’t anticipate sneaking up so quickly, and yet the Lord has graced me with assurance that she is celebrating in a way we can’t quite understand yet…

Blessings and love to all of you, and may you be in the constant presence of our Lord this Easter week, as we prepare to celebrate our glorious redemption, bought by a Man Who the tomb could not contain…
Angie