Thursday, January 12, 2017

It's Like Taking a Walk on the Beach

After my first year in South Africa, I visited my family in Texas. I took a walk… No, a stomp down the beach on Galveston Island, spiritually arrested with the choice God had laid before me. He gave me a “Yes or No only invitation for a very special kind of life and family.
When I ran out of beach to walk, I took a spiritual leap. With sandy feet and a tear-salted heart, I said, “Yes, God. You can write my family story. From this day forward, I will commit to being Lifa’s mom, no matter what happens.”  

There was no paperwork to validate the invisible covenant I had made and things only got harder from there. When I returned to South Africa, I spent countless hours advocating for justice for the invisible children around me, with one especially in mind.
Lifa is a person – real flesh and blood with a beating heart – but there’s not a piece of paper in the world to prove it. Lifa deserves an education, health care, protection, a hope and a future in his nation.
I’ve heard “It’s impossible,” a trajillion times out of every type of social justice officer in South Africa. Everything changed once my feet landed on Yes in the sand that day. Everything became possible. Not easy. Not immediate. But possible.
A few years later, I took another fateful walk down a wedding aisle. We made a covenant to be a family that walks in God’s miraculous love. We knew we were better together and committed to live in a way that shows and requires God's miracle-sized love. 

Some days, that journey is tough.
South Africa started school yesterday, and Lifa had to stay home.

Lifa has never had the right or access to a proper education. I’ve lived in South Africa for seven full years as of yesterday, and I have spent six of them fighting for his rights. My husband’s YES to stand in the gap with us has been a game-changer. We believe in the power of our united prayers- the impossible doesn’t stand a chance when a Miracle Family brings it to the throne.
We brought it. We had an excruciatingly disappointing day while all the other kids went to school, but we know all things are possible with Christ - in Cape Town and to the ends of the earth.
AND GUESS WHAT: Impossible started losing this morning.
The God of all things possible started “The Great Cape Town Takeover." 
Mission: All Things Are Possible. 
Today is the first day of my 8th year in Africa
Today Lifa started his first day of school. 

Legally. Validated. Visible.
Invisible and impossible is broken off forever.
There was just one school in all of Cape Town that did not send us away with an impossible “No.” The principal invited us into his office and said “Yes, if…” If we were able to make the invisible boy visible to the government.
The school’s admissions counselor has not eaten breakfast or had coffee in a week because she’s spent all of her mornings on the phone with me and the education department. She's denied herself push for possible, fighting for the "Yes, if" with us.
Yesterday, I made my way into the big boss’ office in the Department of Education. I went with folder full of paperwork and a boatload of prayer. I sat in the office and watched everything impossible become possible. She made a phone call, sent an email, and IT WAS DONE.
She told me Lifa could go to school the next day. I kept my cool: I burst into tears and asked if I could hug her before I went to cry in the car. I called my husband, and we wept miracle’s tears together. I drove straight to the school to give hugs, flowers and chocolate to the admissions counselor. I went home to hug my guys HARD. And we got to work… there were books to cover, lunches to pack, ties to tie, stuff to do.
EIGHTEEN notebooks covered by the incredible Mr. Ladd.

Getting the tie ready for the first day.
Lifa is also really good at keeping his cool.

This morning, as we headed TO SCHOOL, I looked at Lifa and said, "It's like we're walking through the Red Sea this morning." I asked him if he remembered when everything felt impossible for the slaves who were trying to get to freedom, and then suddenly God made it possible His way - He simply opened up the ocean. Lifa looked at me and said, “I was thinking the same thing, Mom.”

“Lifa, this drive to school is like taking a walk on the beach.”
We’ve faced fears, struggles and a lot of impossibilities, but impossible has parted like the ocean and made way for the possible. It took a lot of work and a lot of people, but we know Who made the sandy way.

Lifa was full of questions about what the day would hold, but not about Who held him. We’ve got a lot to learn here, but we’re going to keep our feet sandy and our hearts set on Yes.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

It's Not What We Expected.

Three sets of folded legs sat in a shaded circle in Cape Town. Three sets of hands plucked blades of grass and doodled with twigs in the dirt, mirroring our internal fidgeting that day. Our family gathered in Chris and Lifa’s favorite Frisbee field to talk to Lifa about what to expect before we took him to visit his biological father.

As Lifa has learned to thrive in Chris’ loving, engaging fatherhood, it became almost unbearable for him to know anything different. As he thought about visiting his biological father, he created a fantasy, hero-dad that takes him shark-diving in the middle of a dry nation. He developed an entire relationship that never existed. Lifa had amped himself up to the point of exhaustion for visiting his hero-dad, and we had to help him put himself together and develop some realistic perspective before we could drop him off.  

He was sure it was going to be different this time.
We all hoped it would be different.
We expected it to be different because we’d made some major investments into some major changes.

While we were moving to Cape Town, we were also moving Lifa’s dad away from the oppressive household he was living in before. Lifa’s father has always lived in other girlfriends’ homes, full of chaos and people. He has little contact with Lifa during Lifa’s visits, and it’s been an increasingly unpleasant experience for Lifa. With the help of a local pastor, we secured and furnished a home for Lifa’s father in a safe community near people we know. We tried to set him up for success, to be the head of his household and have all the physical elements he needed for a good Christmas with his son. It could be his first experience getting to know Lifa.

Lifa was STOKED. He felt so loved that his dad got a new house, that he would have his own bed for the first time, and he would never have to go into the scary house with the mean family he’d visited before. Chris and I were excited to know that Lifa would be safer, closer to us, and great pastors were watching out for him. We knew parenting would be a whole new ball game, so Chris shared some basic principles of how to protect your child with Lifa’s father and taught Lifa how to make his own eggs. I filled a suitcase with enough clothes to never have to do laundry and enough activities to keep him busy.

With Lifa’s nail-biting anxiety in full-form, Chris (also a nail-biter) made a deal that if Lifa’s nails were longer than his when we picked him up, we would go straight to Toys R Us. Lifa could choose any toy in the store he wanted. (Chris the super-dad has a super-soft heart… he basically just agreed to spend our life savings on Lego’s so Lifa would have something to look forward to. That’s my man.)

We want his dad to always have a hero’s place in Lifa’s heart, and we’re committed to doing whatever is within our capacity to help with that.

Lifa has been at his dad’s house for 10 days now.
It’s not been what we expected.

The Ladd Family arrived with Lifa and a truckload of home goods. With the pastor’s translation, we told Lifa’s dad stories of Lifa’s strengths, skills, and Lifa made plans to make placemats for new table we had just delivered.

Although we’ve helped change his physical circumstances, Lifa’s dad is recreating the lifestyle he lived before. Most days, Lifa has slept over at the pastor’s house because his dad invited a new girlfriend and her child to live with him. Lifa doesn’t have enough space to sleep and the girlfriend doesn’t treat him well. Lifa told me on the phone the other day that he worries relentlessly because his dad is not home at night, and he’s afraid he will never come back… but he has not touched his nails. “No way, not even once. How’s dad? What’s he doing? Is he biting his nails?”

Chris and I considered abandoning all plans and going to pick Lifa up. I cried on the phone with the pastor, prayed with Lifa, and pressed deeply into God with my husband. Finally, we had nothing left to do but remember the promises and instructions God had given us before because He is the only One who does not disappoint.

Years ago, when I cried by myself on the road to drop Lifa off with his father, God told me to keep making that drive until He told me to stop. I have no authority to take Lifa’s relationship with his father in my own hands. I don’t have to understand God’s plans for them to be fulfilled. I just have to get in the car. The distance is a lot further, but that word still stands true.

The King of Kings spoke to my husband about one little warrior He is raising up with passion and purpose for the nation of South Africa, and that warrior training was not something we should protect him from. He said to Chris, “It is finished.” His Fatherly seal of guardianship and safety is over Lifa and that would not be compromised. God’s protection, training and purpose fulfillment may not look or feel the way we want it to, but it’s good. It’s better. It’s bigger. It’s everlasting.

It’s Christmas week. It’s not exactly the way we would have planned it, and it’s not the kind of Christmas we expected Lifa to have with his dad.

That puts us in the perfect position to celebrate Christmas for what it really is.
If there’s any holiday built on not being what was expected, it is Christmas.

Can you imagine the potential for devastation of unmarried teenagers on a government-mandated, extraordinarily uncomfortable, 9-month-pregnant road trip on a donkey - only to find out that their baby would be born in a stinky stable?

Can you fathom the disappointment of history itself when a dirty, fatherless baby entered the working class world and called himself the Way to the Father?

That first Christmas might have been the greatest unmet expectation of all time for those who thought they knew what salvation and redemption would look like. Expectations can disappoint us, and they almost always do. But hope… Hope does not disappoint.

Just like in Lifa’s life, the words the Father spoke are still true for all of us. We can try to make life look the way we expected, or we can believe for something bigger than we can fathom. We can celebrate that His Family makes room for the illegitimate, the dirty, the downcast, the ones who don’t know how to live any way than they’ve lived before. We can celebrate the Father who will go the extra mile, even when it looks like suffering, to make sure we’re strong enough for what He has planned.

We can celebrate that Christmas is the miracle of a family that lets go of their dreams of the way it should be for the way it could be.

We could go pick up Lifa right now and have a rockin’ family Christmas filled with Lego’s and pumpkin cake. Everyone would be relieved for the moment. We could undo all our unmet expectations with our own hands and hugs.

But there’s more than that.

My man and I are going to have a two-person, awe-filled, sweaty, summer-in-Swaziland Christmas together. We are going to give deep thanks to the God that has more for us and for Lifa than we could ever dream, think or imagine.

His safety is better than ours.
His purposes are eternal.
His preparations are far better than scrambled eggs and clean laundry.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving is important.

We didn’t have a bustling, people-filled Thanksgiving celebration this year.

We don’t know many people in this city yet, and South Africa doesn’t know Thanksgiving. We are our pinching pennies (or rands), and the table is tiny in our current rental house. And all of my placemats and tablecloths are in a storage unit in Johannesburg until February.  This is not the proper recipe for a Hallmark Thanksgiving special.

I couldn’t contain my cry-voice for a solid three days as I walked around the rental house muttering, “Thanksgiving is important.” It’s an entirely delicious holiday centered on gathering at a table around family, feasting and gratitude. That’s my dream world. Thanksgiving is important.

We came to Cape Town with a plan and a purpose. For me, it seems like all of Cape Town should be at our Thanksgiving dinner table, laughing, loving and learning that pies are sweet and not savory. But we just aren’t there yet, guys.

We moved less than a month ago, and to say we are still learning our way is the understatement of the year. Chris and I entered a foreign mission field one time before and remember the adjustments – driving the wrong way down one-way streets, not understanding anything someone just said even though they were actually speaking English that time, and the enormous amount of extra energy it takes to understand your surroundings and to live, really live there. We are still in the same country but feel like we are doing it all over again.

And then there’s Lifa, who had never even seen a big city before we moved here. We all learned he has a fear of heights after his first experience on a 3-story escalator. He can’t figure out why there are squirrels instead of monkeys in the yard, and he’s been taking 3-hour naps daily because the thinking, feeling, observing and trying to process his new world has exhausted him.

We’ve got a lot going on over here, y’all.

God told us to go to Table Mountain, and that He has prepared that table for us. Yesterday, as we congratulated ourselves for successfully running one errand and meeting with a local pastor, I realized we might not be ready for all of Cape Town to sit down at our dinner table just yet.

I love feeding people and preparing tables. But there is a better feast and a bigger table than what I can imagine, and that’s the one I want to gather at.

Let’s be real, there is no better table presentation than this:

Table Mountain. My man takes beautiful photos.
So what did we do for Thanksgiving? We prepared a beautiful table as a thanksgiving offering to God, proclaiming we are going give our everything no matter how meager.

We made a budget and began preparing the most cost-effective, wonderful Thanksgiving meal in the history of South African Thanksgiving meals. Lifa found security in sitting at a table with me to help trim green beans, tear bread, and sing worship songs. He found a little more of himself when I put him in charge of card-making and table-setting.

I secretly assembled and cooked the dishes during his naps so he could operate within his capacity and still feel like an accomplished Thanksgiving ninja. We picked rosemary and lemons out of the yard to dress the turkey, cut flowers and vines to decorate, and set beautiful tiny tables with borrowed tablecloths.

We gathered our little family at the base of Table Mountain.
God prepared the table. We brought everything we had to it, and we sat down to eat. It was the sweetest, most important kind of Thanksgiving there ever was.

It reminded me of another similar Thanksgiving feast that had a tight budget, tired people and limited capacities. It was a long time ago, and it wasn’t a family of 3 or the city of Cape Town. It was a crowd of 50,000 families sitting hungry on a hill listening to Jesus. They probably came to that hill like we came to Cape Town, with awe, expectation and promise. There was so much to hear, see and learn, they eventually got tired, hungry, and possibly had cry-voices. Jesus’ disciples muttered that there was not food, just like I muttered that there were no people or tablecloths.

And then there was that one kid.

I like to think that kid wore a superhero t-shirt and had a slightly squished packed lunch from his mom. He probably woke up with extra shiny eyes set on adventure that morning. When tired and cranky hit like a hurricane, he took what he had – one little lunch that probably had a note written on the napkin – and he ran with it. He ran it to the front of the mob like it was the most practical, logical thing in the world. If someone’s hungry, you share your lunch.

There’s something powerful about gathering up the meager portion that’s yours and putting it in holy hands.

We’re not sure how to maneuver through Cape Town, find refreshment on sabbatical, or even where we are going to live in December and January while we are in-between rental house leases. But we are sure of one thing: We’re going to run with what we have to the front of the hungry crowd, and put it all in holy hands.

We have a healthy 8-year old, leftovers in the fridge, and a lot to be thankful for. Lifa has been set apart with a special calling for his nation, but right now he just needs extra naps and to practice subtraction and multiplication. So that’s what we’re doing today. While he takes naps, we are also starting a process for his advocacy, justice and future.

Tomorrow we will release a newsletter with a more illuminating account of the realities of education and dire need in South Africa. We can’t stand on top of the mountain and solve all the world's problems on a Tuesday, but we can invite you to gather on the hill and be a part of the miracle with us.

Giving Tuesday is an international campaign for starting the giving season with the kind of giving that leaves a legacy. We will be sharing through a newsletter and social media how you can join us this Giving Tuesday by starting with one little shiny-eyed kid, one future, and one need that just might be a catalyst for a lot of shiny eyes, bright futures and miracles.

What if we become a part of something much greater than lunch on a Tuesday? 
What if we bring what we've got, and end up with a lifetime of leftover miracles?

Eat some leftovers today, and think about it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

15 Sleeps. 262 Steps.

We have slept in Cape Town for 15 sleeps. We have explored the mountain, picnicked on the beach, and perused local markets.

We are doing all the other things you do when you move to a new city as well. I joined a gym, and Chris is mastering the Table Mountain trail system for running. I walk down every aisle of every grocery store, trying to find “the one”, my grocery store soul mate.

We are learning how to get around and how not to. The lady on my phone’s GPS tells me what to do, but was markedly unhelpful yesterday when I got stuck in a parking garage after not accomplishing any of the things on my list.

Days are full of touring schools and filling out paperwork. We are thrilled at the high quality of education here and equally bewildered by the fact that we can’t find a single (affordable) school with an open seat for Lifa – not even in government schools! True story: Two ladies told me this week that they start applying for their kids to get in school while they are still pregnant, and one school told me to fill out an application immediately so Lifa might have a chance of getting in for 8th grade. That’s 5 years from now!

We found a charming house to rent next year and are very excited to settle in with our own furniture and our puppies! We’ve found paths for afternoon walks, have become regulars at Mr. Arthur’s shop, and Lifa and Chris know the perfect park to work on their Frisbee trick shots.

I haven’t written anything since we moved to Cape Town because there’s nothing extraordinarily noteworthy about moving. People move all the time. They find their favorite grocery store, learn parking garage etiquette, and find the nearby shop to buy milk. (We also found out that Mr. Arthur has some jammin’ good croissants to go with that milk on a Saturday morning. Lifa actually had to pause and emotionally pull himself together after the first buttery bite.)

We are enjoying the adventures and misadventures that come with a new city. Everything is a super-exciting first for Lifa. He has become a full-fledged beach lover with a heart set on being able to run in the mountains with Chris one day. We’re timing 5k runs through the neighborhood, and he’s ready to sign up for surf lessons as soon as he overcomes that pesky fear of water.

My husband takes the best pictures.
I think I’m just as awestruck as Lifa by the enormous potential and the waves to overcome. He wants to take on the ocean and the mountains, and I want to sit at every table with every type of person and taste every type of food in this city.

The rest of the neighborhood is waking up for work and school right now, and I’m thinking about how there’s a there’s a lot more waking up still to happen in me, Lifa, our family, and in this city. I’m sipping (possibly chugging) coffee in a picturesque setting. Currently, the clouds are spreading themselves over Table Mountain, tucking it away like a secret. I have re-named my favorite nearby street “Fairy Road” and call the guys’ Frisbee park “Magical Fairyland”. (Super-manly, I know.) But, for real, it is so lovely that it practically sparkles.

Part of my fairy life. This is just a typical afternoon 5k in the neighborhood.

Cape Town: It’s enchanting; it’s amazing; it’s a bucket list city.  We didn’t move for the views, the adventure or the charm. We moved to Cape Town to live in Cape Town because we see something more beautiful here than sparkles and fairydust. Before we tackle the day’s life stuff, all three of us sit down with Life Himself, and we pray for this city. We know that Jesus has a big, abundant plan for this bucket list city.

We hang on to that Truth, and then we take on all that other stuff. Trust me, we are a work in progress over here… Our little future surfer, Frisbee champ, and mountain runner in the making has been bug-eyed with overstimulation for 15 days now. Lifa needs extra naps and can easily get lost in his own thoughts on the afternoons when the backyard starts to feel small and he’s missing school days and soccer practice. I had a mild, internal meltdown when I realized I didn’t have a single name in this city to write as an emergency contact on Lifa’s school applications and when Chris gently and lovingly asked me how I would like to celebrate Thanksgiving.

When life-stuff starts to overwhelm, my pumpkin pie spices are packed too far away, and Lifa’s eyes have turn Texas-sized, we scale life back to what makes us alive. I dig through this rental house's cookware, make one of our favorite meals, and we squeeze into a tiny table in the sunroom for dinner. We hold hands, Lifa prays, and we talk about our highs and lows for the day. Afterward, we clear the table together and laugh at Lifa’s sideways walking and talking because he just can’t handle his new Cape Town late-night hours. (He's been staying up until almost 8pm. He can't even believe how ridiculous his life is.)

Last week, Lifa got stir-crazy and drove me crazy in the process. We decided to take our at-home learning to the streets. We walked outside with a 3-item grocery list for Lifa to predict costs and pay for. And then we counted steps, by ones and then by two’s, to get to Mr. Arthur’s shop and the Magical Fairyland Frisbee park. It’s 103 steps to the park, and 262 steps to Mr. Arthur’s.

I don’t know what or where we’re going to eat Thanksgiving Dinner, and Lifa doesn’t know how to surf – or even swim yet. But we know we are only 103 steps from a Magical Frisbee-throwing Fairyland and 262 steps from heaven-baked croissants. And that’s not a bad start.

People move all the time. People go to work and school and buy milk and do life stuff all the time. But not a lot of people live. Not a lot of people come to the tiny table they have, take an inventory of their blessings, and count their steps. We want to be those people and make life count in Cape Town.

If you and I chose to reel in the unraveled places and gather around the good, whether it’s a tiny dinner table or a phone call with a friend, we could be alive instead of just busy with life stuff. Instead of thinking about not knowing where or how to celebrate Thanksgiving, I can celebrate knowing it only takes 262 steps (counted in giggly-two’s by Lifa) to have a friendly conversation about church with Mr. Arthur and buy milk… or croissants for the guys and dark chocolate for me… whichever.

Let’s make this life count.
Take 262 steps, and be alive today.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The First Day of Sabbatical: PJ Edition

Today I don’t “live” anywhere. Today looks like an Air BnB rental, monkeys on the roof, the Indian Ocean, pajama time, two cups of coffee, and my family.

We just ended our term with the ministry, and we haven’t made it to the city where we will plant the new church yet. We slept as late as we could. (6:30am… learning to rest takes time). We let it sink in that we are here - just us, just here. We poured cups of coffee and opened our Bibles.

This is Day 1 of sabbatical, the 3-month commitment to God, where we intentionally exchange the “what we do’s” for the “who He is and what He will do”. We start with no address and nothing to do except for family (the verb family) and drink coffee. (Lifa drinks milk.) 

This morning I started my sabbatical by looking back and giving thanks. I remembered fifteen years ago, when a college scholarship and great expectation carried me out of Alvin, Texas - the only town I’d ever known. Since then, I’ve had 10 different addresses and have said goodnight in more places than I can count. 

For the past seven years, I have lived in White River, Mpumalanga. (Mpumalanga is pronounced just like it’s spelled and is a province in South Africa.) I was heavy with emotion as we pulled out of that green gate for the last time. I haven’t lived in any town as long as I’ve lived in White River since I was 17-years old. White River is the place where we became a family. 

This morning, God showed me there was a lot more to my heart for family than seven years could hold. While Lifa watched The Jungle Book (the original…it’s a bare necessity) and my husband read the book of Daniel, I thanked God for a family I didn’t deserve. A family that is so for family. For familying together. I asked God how I deserved a family so extraordinary, burgeoning with such a deep love for family that we are begin entrusted with expanding His Family through a church. (Totally don’t deserve it BTW.) He took me on a journey of memories from way back then to right here in my jammies.

I remembered White River, where my heart switched from caring for the orphan, to strengthening the family. If we have families, then we don’t have orphans. 

I thought about how God called me to not think, speak or live in the poverty and sickness around me, but to thrive, live and give away my inheritance and health. I bear within me wealth and health that do not run out. I can give it away without cost. I thought about all the stories that didn’t make sense according to the world, unchartable highs and lows, and something even better than that...

There is unchartable joy in being a family that makes room for people, instead of dwelling on the plight of the orphan. If we are a family, then we do not have orphans after all. 

The God who wrote this story started WAY longer than 7 years ago, way longer than 32 years ago. Today He reminded me of all the ways He held me in his hand and taught me about family, even when I didn’t know I needed to learn it. When my goal was independence, He let me need people and gave me the people I needed. When my mindset was for survival, He personally packed my survival kit with secrets of abundant life tucked inside. When the walls burned down and I didn’t have a place to belong, He brought home after home to give me the place I needed. When I didn’t know I was starving for substance, He placed me at countless family dinner tables. When I tried to take things into my own hands to save the orphaned, He was holding me in His hands, patiently waiting, writing, knowing. When I could not see or understand family the way it was designed, I was surrounded by it like the mountains surround Jerusalem. I was hemmed in when I didn’t know I was fraying. 

So, before I even take off my pajamas on this first day of sabbatical, (it may or may not be noon right now…), I have to say thank you. Before beginning something new, before parking at a new address or opening the next chapter of family, I have to give thanks to the people who held me so I could behold.

I have an incredible family: Rosa lived with limitless sacrifice and Sister Jo gives perfect, sparkly love. And NaNa is perfect. Actual perfect. I have a family that made family fun, always jumped in the river,  and never questioned any of my moves or starting a family on the other side of the world. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

I can’t list you all, but here’s a good start. 

  • Thank you South Park Baptist Church for being a steady, safe house to go to as a child, for Mr. Newton and the others who showed me that loving Jesus makes you look different, and for the man with the moustache that always opened the car door for me.
  • Thank you Mrs. Cavallo and all the other teachers that saw me, shaped me, encouraged me, celebrated me, and stuck with me - even that time I peed my pants in P.E.
  • Thank you Alvin First United Methodist Church for being the place and especially for being the people that showed me how to have a relationship with God, a real relationship with God. For Carla’s mentorship and Cindy’s leadership. For the bus ride to Schlitterbahn that taught me church people are fun and for opening my eyes to missions and a world beyond myself. 
  • Thank you, thank you, thank you to the Dam Fam for making me yours. This whole letter is inspired by the revelation God gave me about His love for me through you and the place you gave me, for a true look at the joyfulness that marks families centered on Christ, and for what it looks like to do church. To be church. There are not enough thank you’s. 
  • Thank you to the Ramirez family and the countless other families, friends and leaders who always had a couch I could fall into and be home. 
  • Thank you Phi Lamb sisters for showing me what it’s like to have Christ-centered, real, deep friendships. For all the prayers, dance parties, and letting me be all the way me.
  • Thank you Sky Ranch Camp for showing me how to give all you’ve got, no matter what it takes, to make sure every kid has a chance to meet Jesus. And for the ginormous tubs of peanut butter we raided from the kitchen. (Sorry about that.)
  • Thank you to my Fuller Seminary professors and Kenichi for accepting me with no credentials and with no idea what I was doing. For patience when I melted down when I got my first “B” because I couldn’t understand any of the -ology words and for Kenichi’s constant encouragement and Truth. Most importantly, for exposing me to the Kingdom of God, making me think, and forcing me to grip onto my faith in a way I never had.
  • Thank you to the ladies of Chang Commons for changing my life with the most profound friendship and community I’ve ever encountered. No words can communicate what the red couch can. 
  • Thank you Christian Assembly Church and Kathy for walking me further into missions and worshiping in community. 
  • Thank you Eve and Lily for letting me be family and for giving so much to come see me when I was far away - in Texas and South Africa.
  • Thank you Dr. Glen Roberts, Lisa, Shakeh and the others who shared wisdom, brought perspective, let me use inflatable microphones and finger paint at work, and  helped me wrestle through advocating for hope and healing when “life” and mental health does what it can do to children, families and people. 
  • Thank you Mona, Galveston, Bolivar Peninsula and all of the people I encountered during my time of working as a Hurricane Ike crisis counselor for showing me what its like to love where you live, and live where you live, no matter what life brings. 
  • Thank you Ten Thousand Homes for welcoming Lifa in with me and being a learning, strengthening and stretching environment for me.
  • Thank you ERC Mbonisweni for calling me a daughter, even when I looked different and spoke a different language than everyone else. You translated for me, taught me, and even let me teach you. You let me break all the norms to do art and throw parties from the pulpit. You showed me the word of God changes people. You showed me that Church works, and that changed the whole direction of my life. 
  • Thank you Citymark Church and Pastor Steven Yoes for your outlandish, ridiculously committed love. For taking me in, trusting I hear God, and helping me do what He says. For being consistent family to me- no matter what you were going through, for coming, and for sticking with me. Thank you for believing in God’s excellence and creating it in worship and for your city. You’re real family, and you look like the Kingdom of God.  
  • Thank you to those who gave to Glory House, for believing in your investment as it became a family and a church more than a building. 
  • Thank you to our support team who sacrifices and gives for something beyond yourself. Every month and every dollar reminds me to believe bigger and to give of myself like you do. It’s mind-blowing. 
  • Thank you Ladd Family for loving me and bejewelling me as your own treasure, even when you hadn’t met me and when I put on turquoise boots for our wedding. 
  • Thank you to my husband for choosing me daily, seeing me for who I am and what I am, and still loving me more today than you did yesterday. Thank you for believing in me and in Christ in me, lovingly leading me, and wanting a lifetime of adventures with me. You’re of a caliber I could never deserve on my own, a daily reminder of God’s perfect and continuous grace. And you are sa-mokin’ hott.

When I didn’t know I was right in the palm of God’s hand, you were the fingers and the thumb that held me right there in place. Today I’m gathering up all of these strengths and truths that were planted in me through you, and I’m cultivating them with gratitude. I’m nurturing and harvesting them with great expectation in my own family and for our church. If we reach even one person in Cape Town, or anywhere to the ends of the earth, you have to know that you are in that touch. You are part of the hand that reaches, and that you matter more than you know. 

Thank you for being part of the hand that holds the whole world. Whether your name was in this list or not, know that you are part of something for someone. That someone at your dinner table, riding next to you in the car, or sitting in your classroom is going to look back and remember one day. They are going to become who they are because of the secrets you plant in them and the words you spoke over them. Know that today you can be a part of changing the future by the way you live and you love.

You have changed my life with your touch, and we’re gonna spread it all around. 
But, right now, we’re going to go to the beach. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

There's Going To Be A Tent

We do our best during dinner table talk to keep Lifa’s father as the hero every dad deserves to be to his son. We do everything we can to stay in close contact, despite the distance, language and culture gaps. Dads are important.
Father's Day Celebration with Lifa's dad.
No pictures of Lifa's did in this blog for his privacy.
Lifa’s father’s story has been a hard one, and the fact that he’s still in Lifa’s story has proved him to be a diamond in the rough. There are many men with children in his culture, but not many who identify themselves as fathers. According to both government and tribal law in South Africa, fathers have virtually no authority as the head of their households or guardians of their children.

When there’s no place for you in a home or in your culture, how could you know where you belong? How could you know you were made with the hero’s role in the story? Why would you choose to live a hero’s life or do anything differently than all the generations before you?

It didn’t take long after Chris and I got married for Lifa to learn about Dad Powers. I watched him learn to thrive one soccer kick at a time. Family dinners and the sound of a father’s voice praying over him every evening became life-sources for the kid (and the mom) learning about how important dads are.

Lifa's adaptation to the added stability of our house made some things at his other dad’s house hard to understand. When Lifa hadn’t known that houses with dads could be anything other than chaotic, crowded and a little lonely, it was ok. But now he knew something different. He knew dads and their houses are important. 

If Lifa’s father had followed suit with the fathers in his story, we would not even know his name. He is unable to provide for his son due to his life’s circumstances, but he does want to be a dad. Lifa’s father often didn’t come ever home when Lifa was staying at his house for school holiday. His shame was too heavy. The home was too chaotic. He just couldn’t bear any of it. It was all part of the blur of living in a house of 16-ish people that you don’t really “belong to” anyway. Until he saw something different. Then it became unbearable. 

Chris and I planned a two-week trip to Cape Town while Lifa stayed with his father for school holiday. Just before we left, Chris spent a Saturday with Lifa’s father. He drove 9 hours that day and brought along a local pastor for translating. The three men spent some quality table-time with plates full of meat and conversations loaded with Truth. 

Chris spent hours at that table explaining to Lifa’s dad how important he is to us. He shared our burdens, convictions and prayers for Lifa and invited him into sharing the vision for his son. Chris talked to Lifa’s dad about how important it is to protect Lifa’s mind, body and spirit. He promised we would always raise him in the church and according to Biblical standards, and we would blaze the trail for him to prosper. Lifa’s dad humbled himself, and, through a translator, told my hero-husband, “I don’t know how Lifa got so lucky. He has two fathers. I am so happy we can work together to make sure he has a good life.”

Tears salted the table as they were all overcome with how families and table talk change people’s stories.

That table talk counted for a lot more than a Saturday.  During his school holiday, Lifa called me a few times from his dad’s. It was always way past bedtime and when he needed the stability of a mom’s voice and nighttime routine. He was pining for my rice and beans and pumpkin cake, and he wasn’t sleeping well. We would play highs and lows, talk about what we ate for dinner, and I would send legions of angels to sing him to sleep and dance in his dreams. Lifa called a few days before the end of holiday and said his low for the day was that we were coming to get him on Saturday instead of Sunday. There was going to be a party at his dad’s house on Saturday, and there was going to be a tent.

Important things happen in tents in South Africa. Tent rentals are big businesses for weddings, funerals and all major events. Tents make things matter here.

Initially, Chris and I were thrilled that Lifa’s low involved leaving his dad’s. We want Dad’s house to be a happy place. Mostly though, we were curious as to what was really going on over there. In my six years of driving to that house, I have never seen a tent. 

When we pulled up on Saturday, the air felt electrified with excitement. There was a newly-purchased cow and goat tied to the fence that we knew wouldn’t be there long. People were hustling and bustling, and there was going to be a tent. 

Lifa’s dad wasn’t home, but one of the women who stayed in the house filled us in on the excitement. One of the family members had been away studying “traditional medicine” and would return that night to a big celebration. They would sacrifice the animals and honor the ancestors for making their sister a healer. She would be famous, and that house would become famous for its power to intervene to the ancestors. I couldn’t have bene more excited to sweep Lifa out of there. We had to get home to beans and rice and pumpkin cake.

One week later, the hero dad of our house made the long trip to meet Lifa’s father again. This time, he was going to tell Lifa’s dad our big news: WE ARE MOVING TO CAPE TOWN NEXT WEEK. (Here’s that story.) We didn’t know how Lifa’s father would respond because now, instead of a 4-hour day drive, it would be a 24-hour, multi-day drive to see his son. Chris communicated specific details for Lifa’s future and education potential, and that we would go the extra miles (lots of miles) to ensure the continuity of Lifa’s relationship with his father. He was almost unfazed. Location was a detail. It was obvious that we were all one family, and we do what was necessary for the good of the family. 

If we are going to Cape Town, then Lifa should obviously go to Cape Town. Lifa’s dad had something else he wanted to talk about. He looked at Chris and told him that, since their last meeting, he couldn’t stop thinking about what Chris had taught him about a father’s role in his family, leading his household, and having vision for his child. Lifa’s father couldn’t shake what he knew now: He had the right, the authority and the expectation to defend his family and to be the hero.

He heard something different, and he couldn’t un-hear that. And that tent was the last straw for him. Lifa’s dad shared the dirty, demonic details of what happened that night in the tent while we were back at our house with our rice and beans and pumpkin cake.

The Truth about dads shook him until his chains fell off.  

Lifa’s father has set his heart and mind on leaving that household so he can establish a home with dignity and safety for Lifa to come visit.

He wants a house that calls on Jesus and not ancestors.
He wants the best for his boy - an education, safety, spiritual guidance and a safe place for him to come rest and enjoy his father’s presence. He has never seen it, never known it, but he heard about it from another dad. And he believes in it because he’s seen the transformation in his own son.

He can no longer travel from tent to tent, circumstance to circumstance. Lifa’s dad heard about what happens in a home, and he experienced transformation at the table. 

They started casting vision and sorting details to help Lifa’s dad step into the authority and design he was made for. He was made for a home, not a tent.

We all were. 
The people who gathered under a tent, afraid not to give their money, bodies and souls to ancestral worship on that Saturday night in Lifa’s dad’s house didn’t know anything other than that tent. They didn’t know about the Father who sent His Son as the sacrifice, who stretched out His skin to tear down the tents and build a house. They didn’t know that Jesus made a place for them at eternity’s table, where the food tastes great and the talk transforms you. 

Lifa’s dad knows now. Because another dad told him. And he has to do something about it. 

Our family and our home has been transformed by table talk and Dad Powers. Stories are forever changed when you are willing to drive the distance and do whatever it takes to meet someone at the table and tell them they don’t have to live in a tent. It happened in our house, and now it’s going to create another safe house with a hero dad taking his place.

Next week, Chris, Lifa and I are each going to pack a bag. We are going to drive really, really far and pull up to a new table. We are moving to the southern suburbs of Cape Town, and pulling in our truck to a rental house at the foot of Table Mountain.

The tents look a lot different in the well-developed region of the city we are relocating to, but the Truth is the same. We were all made with an important place at the table and in the story of the Family of God.

We are going with 8-year old, cheesy-smiled proof that families and tables change things, not tents. 

There are a lot of things that are going to look different in our life, but we are going with the limitless Dad’s powers. We are going to plant and pastor a church in Newlands, Cape Town. The table has been prepared, so we are pulling ourselves up to it.

PS: We just updated our website with the details, how people are participating from around the world, and how you can too. We’re saving you a seat. 


Thursday, October 13, 2016

How to Set the Table for a One-Armed Monkey

Clark Kent's life has a lot of ordinary moments. So do we.
Currently, our ordinary life moments include monkeys in the backyard. 

There are baby monkeys that wrestle and ricochet off each other. And mama monkeys that latch them onto their bellies to calm them down. The most notorious monkey in our backyard crew, however, is the slightly-too-brave one-armed monkey. (We all have our theories on what happened to that arm.) We love watching them fly from treetops to fence tops, stopping only to taunt the neighborhood dogs. Lifa makes up monkey family stories, and has given them their own voices and personalities. 

Lifa watching monkeys take over the playground.
Recently, we were all away from home for two weeks. Lifa was with his biological father for school holiday. Chris and I were in Cape Town. Everything felt right the moment all three of us were back together and monkey escapades began again. We have new monkey babies! Lifa is convinced the one-armed monkey is the mom. He immediately started wondering aloud about how difficult it would be to be a mom if you only had one arm. It got serious. He was getting concerned.

For someone with something super in them, ordinarily life is ok until a struggle surfaces. In that first moment of hardship, however, things have to change.

In a flash, Clark Kent changes into Superman’s costume. 
Lifa outgrew his superhero t-shirts with velcro capes a long time ago. (That was rough.) But in Lifa's turmoil, I realised there was no cape required: This was the real super-deal. 

In a flash, Lifa transformed his worldview from ordinary to super. He had to. He’s got super in him. Lifa couldn’t bear the idea of struggle, even in a monkey family, so he had to look into the pain until he found something great.

“You know, sometimes it’s a lot better to not have what everybody else has because then you get to learn how to do what nobody else can do.” He started to think about how a one-armed monkey might be able to do stuff better and in cooler ways than a two-armed monkey because she would have to try harder.

There was more to this than monkey moms. Lifa needed to rewrite his worldview for a lot of things he had seen during his past two weeks away from our home. He plopped down in the tire swing, kicked up his feet, and asked what kind of job he could get to save kids from houses full of drinking beer and "smoking drunk” (drugs). He didn't want kids to be scared and to know they didn’t have to smoke drunk or drink beer. 

He was showing his cards from the past two weeks.
Even more than that, he was showing his character. 

Clark Kent has two identities: one ordinary and one super. Lifa has been clued in on the secret that he does too. I don’t mean the SiSwati-speaking and the English-speaking families he goes back and forth between. (We do our best to bring those worlds together into one family.) Lifa knows he’s part of a completely untraditional ordinary family - and he’s part of a super family. 

All of us are born into an ordinary family and ordinary life. As with all things ordinary, there are broken, scary, and perhaps one-armed things that happen along the way. But we are destined and designed for a super family. We can get re-born into the family that sees with strength and saves the day. The super family is being a part of the Kingdom of God, and it lasts forever. 

You can tell which identity Clark Kent is operating in based on his outfit. It’s not quite as easy for those of us who have outgrown our capes. But here’s a little secret...
The Ladds have an undercover radar system in our house: Chalkboard Placemats.

It was my dream-come-true DIY project for our wedding anniversary dinner table. (Chalkboards and table settings are two of my favorite things in life.)

Anniversary dinner. THE PLACEMATS.
We take turns writing on them because finding the extra-special place marked for you is the very most fun way to start dinnertime, and sometimes you learn about how the one holding the chalk sees themselves and the others at the table. 

We knew Lifa was doing ok on that very first night he was back in our house after his two weeks away. Check out the placemats he set for us:

Mine: "Love is Forever!!! I miss your cooking."

Chris': "Best Driver Ever. How does it feel to be a champ?"
(His muscles drawn in the background. Obviously.)

Lifa's: "The brave hero comes home."

We don’t get to choose a lot about the circumstances in our lives. We do get to choose which eyes we use to see them with and which words we use to write them with: the ordinary or the super. 

You can even write the words and take the seat before you really feel it. Lifa choked as he shovelled dinner in his mouth that first night, afraid it would all be gone or he would stay hungry again. Then he slept 15 hours straight, saturated in his own pee. His body and mind were obviously not functioning at their prime. But all that anxiety, fear, deep hunger and weariness sat down right where they should: at the brave hero’s place. 

He’s an ordinary 8-year old whose super-heart challenges me to ask a few questions about the way I see the world. 

No matter what the last two weeks were like, what if we just used the one-arm we have to pull our ordinary lives up to an extraordinary table together?

What if we wiped those old placemats clean and pulled out a fresh piece of chalk? What would your place, your super-place, say? And what would you write for the others at the table? 

It matters. It changes things.