Wednesday, October 19, 2011

GUATEMALA 2011: (27) Trophies Tossed To The Trash (T5)

It was the summer of 1997. Kel and I had been married a year and I had just graduated from Anderson University. I worked for The Center For Mental Health in Anderson Indiana. That summer my employer participated in a Corporate Olympics sponsored by local businesses and the YMCA. I entered into two events, Canoeing, and a 3K.

I was not a runner, and I was not a canoeist (I thought the word would be canoer, but wikipedia advises me that I am incorrect).

Long story short... to my delight, nearly all of the contestants were pot-bellied aged business men and I discovered that I was a rock star. I finished Bronze in the 3K and Silver in the Canoe Race. I have treasured the two respective plaques for the past 14 years.

Yesterday they were picked up in a bag full of trophies by our local trash hauler. At my house, we are experiencing a perspective shift.

We have too many things that clutter our lives and cloud our vision. There are simply too many distractions that stand in the way of who we need to be. If you woke up tomorrow with nothing... would you be able to survive? If your house was on fire in the night, is there anything that you would risk your life to save?

If you are thinking of traveling throughout the world... I must extend to you a word of caution. What you see and who you encounter can change the way you view your own life. And if you are lucky... it may even compel you to change how you live.

Kel and I have stood in the cold concrete hallways of Soviet era buildings in Russia that still whisper of the pains of the past. We have looked into the eyes of hopeless children and held one tightly as she made us parents of a daughter. We have stood in the pounding rain on a mountainside wearing our sturdy leather boots and felt our passport secure in our pocket as we watched barefoot children run through the hail to gather ice.

We have been honored to work beside the strong and the holders of true belief as we help raise the walls of a house for a widow and her children. We have been blessed to return and stand under the roof of new friends to see the beauty of their family under their dry and secure four walls.

We have embraced those who sold all that they had, left the states, and travelled by the faith of their belief to truly live out their professed Christianity. We have felt the significance of ideas turned to conviction that then are given feet that takes the committed steps of action.

And I must tell you... we view what we have with new eyes. Our belongings are now monuments of our misdirected excess. Testaments of our ability to reach out a hand in need as those we can touch slip beyond the grasp of hope. We have mulled these struggles of cognitive dissonance over in the octagon of our thoughts for two years and we are aware of our position.

How can we stand here and see these things and not be moved?

I have heard about the love of God my entire life... but so what? Y'know? So what? Sure, maybe it is all true... but what am I supposed to do?

"If you say,'But we knew nothing about this,' does he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?" -Proverbs 24:12

I have experienced this true love and I can tell you that what you search for can be found. I can tell you that the things you have done, the places you have been, the things you have collected... are nothing compared to the future you can have.

The arresting power of encountering true belief... while not always comfortable or pleasant... is gripping and convincing. When we are encountered with genuine, overwhelming, unexplainable love... everything else pales.

I am thankful. I am here. I am doing all that I know to pass it on. This is real.


Please pray for me and my family as we step into the next year:
(1) Guatemala: that I am able to encounter God and share that experience with those whom I encounter. All our lives to be forever changed.
(2) China: that we are called before Christmas and are able to unite our family.
(3) That Kel and I listen to the voice of God and embrace our belief with action.

Thank you to all of you who pray for us and to those who have given. 

Philippians 3:14

The Message (MSG)
Focused on the Goal
 12-14I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

GUATEMALA 2011: (26) Desperate Beauty of Sisters

Dream Big
And allow your dreams to change you.

These are the six most incredible people I have ever met. Each of them can tell you a story that would absolutely stop your day and add perspective to your life. They are the girls of Mimi's House, a place that they now call home.

From lives that were shattered by tragedy, each one potentially life-ending, they now walk life together, hand-in-hand, sheltered with the strength of the love of family. These six who once had no hope, now embrace fully a life of possibility.

Through Catalyst Resources International these 6 are now sisters who touch the lives of hundreds of people throughout the United States and beyond. Those of us who have met them and shared a few steps of their journey are forever made better by the encounters.

A recent video posted on Youtube shows a snippet of their ongoing walk. The final girl in the video is Julissa, and Kel and I both sat and cried tears of happiness as we held our breath and celebrated with her.

Our hearts continue to celebrate tonight because we have learned some more incredible news, best told by Paula Greene:
Mimi's House just took in 4 new girls. We normally don't take that many at once due to funding. However, they are sisters and how can we say yes to one and not the others. Their mom was desperate for help. The father was murdered 3 years ago and she has been trying to hold the family together. It has come down to not having food or shelter. Please help one of these girls. They all need sponsors to help pay for housing, food and their education. Diana 17, Cesia 15, Cynthya 10, and Alison 5. ...go to our website: CRI | Catalyst Resources International
That's right! 4 new sisters joining the group at Mimi's House. We are so excited. We are taking a fresh look at our own finances to see how we can best help out. A sponsorship for a girl is only a dollar a day. This helps provide an incredible, loving environment along with a Christian atmosphere and love, and education that otherwise simply would never be available.

And it doesn't end there. Relationships and networks are created along the way that will follow each of these girls into their lives as they step into strong roles that will shatter the cycle of poverty for these communities.

This is about the immeasurable love of God, and the transformative power of the actions of the love of his people on real lives.

You are needed. Click on the CRI link above and become a sponsor today. Become a sponsor... and contact me immediately. In two short weeks I will see these girls and I can personally deliver much needed donations as they begin the year that will forever change the outcome of their lives.

Become a sponsor. Your girl will know your name and share your life. You can travel with me and meet her. You can see the immeasurable worth of this investment.

My life is forever changed. I am grateful to the girls of Mimi's House and I look forward to the day that my children will meet and play with them.

This is what my life is changing to be fully about. See if you find yourself thinking of these girls throughout the next several days. If you catch yourself talking about them, or wondering how they are doing... then you know that your heart is captured. 

I would love you to walk beside me so that I can share these moments with you. Try it for a year... if your life isn't immeasurably changed, then I will give you your money back. 

Come and see.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sterling Mei: (4) Breaths Under the Ocean

This razor edge proximity is squeezing the breath out of me. So hard to stay focused. Sixty-two months is an eternity pressed into the weave of my days.We are not the people we were when we began. I have gained wisdom and Ihave accumulated mistakes.

Some goals are worth pursuing even in the face of incredible odds. We find beauty in the gaze of each other's eyes. We have found the promise that is each other. This promise that we made some 16 years ago while I shook in my shiny shoes.

I have a companion who walks beside me. She has held my hand through my few good moments, and also has clung with abandon through my wrestling with God. 

She has shown me truth and belief. I have never seen such strength of conviction, and I have never felt so much love. We have walked this path together... and we have found that what we have at the end of the day...

is about two simple things:
  1. Are we walking towards God?
  2. Do we hold each other's hand?

And now we course through the tide of the days as we wait on this beginning of a new dawning. We are talking to our children now of the practicalities of having an infant again in our home. And we look beyond this miracle as we feel another equally strong pull towards the realities that forever changed our chart by their collision with our belief.

Somewhere in China today, our daughter is a tiny face among billions. Her cries-- no matter how loud, can not be answered by our swift footsteps down the hallway. A simple phone call is a vast canyon that perpetuates the distance.

The prayers of  Caleb and Aleksandra echo the yearning of this family to welcome home our daughter. Each day at dinner I feel the air catch in my throat as they pray for their "baby sister in China to come home soon." We continue to trust in the timing of God. We know that when we began this process she was not yet born. We have no doubt that this child is meant to be here. 

We do not attempt to understand the nature of God... we simply believe that all that we have is this love that we can share.

So we find that the answer is the same no matter what the tense. The difficulties of the past, the struggles of the present, and the anxieties of the future... they are all covered by our faith that God holds us in his hand... no matter what. We are not naive. We understand that struggle and pain will come. We realize that we can not be prepared for it when it knocks the stability from our feet. But still... we pray that we are able to keep our eyes on what matters, our God and each other.

Even so... at this time it is a struggle to maintain my focus on the needs of the days. My mind is reaching out to a near future and beyond. I long to begin taking next steps. And so I find myself having to frequently pause to allow the presence of the day to pour over my mind.

Each day is a gift. Every day has worth for us to cling to. Each day that we walk this path together is truly

...all that is left,
 ...and a time to love.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Secrets Whispered in the Trees

The Result of a Midnight blog idea...

trees don't photograph as well at night, but more importantly,
the neighbors are convinced I have lost my mind.

This is our tree. Our River Birch. We fell in love with it while we travelled through the icy Russian forest. I can still hear the sound of the frozen tires on that hard pavement as we were tossed through endless miles of highway surrounded by magnificent Russian Birch Trees.

They stood tall and beautiful in the landscape of winter blight and harsh Soviet block. They held life in the face of apparent desolation and gave sanctuary to the birds that still soared above us all. Somehow they came to represent for us the spirit of the incredible Russian people we encountered. This people who had withstood the armies of Hitler and stared starvation in the face to preserve their nation. This people who had persevered in the face of an oppressive government and had survived, to now begin rebuilding in the rubble. 

We reflected on the mother that we could never meet who made the choice for life... and the selfless choice of adoption. We saw our own future rising beautiful and strong out of the dust like these mighty trees.

I wanted to carefully unearth one, pack the rootball, and bring it home to rest in our soil. International customs laws prohibited the transfer of living plants without proper documentation and authorization. Although we were approved to bring home a person, we were not approved to transport a sapling tree.

And so... we did the next best thing. 

We made a trip to Lowe's and selected the closest thing we could find. It was a River Birch. The leaves looked similar and the white bark peeled back as it grew. It was perfect. It was our Sasha's tree and we planted it proudly in the front yard.

And a few short months later we sold the house and moved. I dug the tree back up carefully and transplanted it into the soil of our new home. At first the tree seemed a bit shocked by the relocation. The leaves curled under a bit and it just looked tired. I continued to water it and checked on it daily. After a few weeks it recovered and again began to thrive.

The neighbor purchased a new lawn mower. I noticed this as I was eating dinner. It was a beautiful zero turn rider mower. As our family at dinner, I watched him mow his own yard and then he suddenly began to mow ours. This was fine by me... in fact, it was wonderful. I was hoping that he would mow it from that point on.

And then I heard my fork crash against the plate as it slipped from my fingers. He lost control of the mower, and I watched as he slid out of control down the hill and into my daughter's tree.

The tires finally found purchase in the earth and the machine stopped. The tree was pressed down at a painful angle with the mower resting on top. He backed the mower off and the tree was damaged.

To this day it bears a large scar from the event. And I love this tree even more because of the pain that it endured. You see, I love that neighbor as well and I know that his own concern for that tree was as great as my own. Together we propped it up with string and stakes, we wrapped the injury, and we watched as the tree again began to thrive.

Eight years later... the tree is taller than me and wider than I can stretch my arms. Its beauty is surpassed only by the beauty of my daughter. Each morning when she wakes up and looks out her window, the first thing she sees is this healthy, tall white birch tree that shows her how beauty can triumph over hardship and unforeseen adversity.

Each day brings us its share of trouble. We all experience hits and bruises. We bleed. At times we curse. At times we are the cause of our own difficulty, and even the downfall of others. We are human. This does not excuse our shortcomings, but we understand that all this can still be part of our path that takes us to the place where we should end.

Kellie and I filled out mountains of paperwork to travel around the globe to take a child we had no knowledge of... in order to call her our own. And she is perfectly ours.

We made our way to a town in Guatemala (me reluctantly) and found that the people we encountered there had more to teach us about living than we could ever offer in return. Every direction we turn, no matter how far off the frequently travelled path... we find God staring us in the face.

Even now, as we await our call to travel to China to adopt our 3rd child, we know that God is working in our lives. In four short weeks I will be traveling with a few dear friends back to San Cristobal, Guatemala to work with two families as we come alongside them for a few short days. We know that our lives are again about to change.

I am so encouraged as I see how this plan continues to develop. I am amazed by the visible hand of God that is at work shaping the mortar that binds together the pieces of my life. We are more sure now than ever before...

...that God has a plan for where we are to be.

The Russian Birch trees bear witness as we hold Sasha tightly
on the day of the adoption. She is ours and we make our
way home in overwhelming thankfulness.