Sunday, August 23, 2015

When You Scale a Wall

During my time in Okinawa, I decided to face a fear.

I'm not sure how I talked myself into this.

Actually, I don't think there was much talking involved. Somewhere over a bowl of ice-cream and Settlers of Catan, I agreed to this. I blame the Okinawan air.

And then, there I was, harnessed in, helmet on my head, trying to remember the cardinal rule: don't let go of the rope.

I took a deep breath, promising myself I wouldn't look down. I think if I had, then I would have chickened out.

How did I get into this position?

When asked to describe myself, one of the first words I would definitely use is "cautious". I do not like heights, airplanes, free falls, roller coasters, and clowns, and I will go to great lengths to avoid them.

I certainly never imagined myself standing at the top of a 100 foot cliff, ready to repel myself down.

But I took a breath... and I slipped. Awesome.

I let go of the rope and grabbed the cliff (remember the cardinal rule?). Fortunately, I had some pretty amazing guides who talked me through how to keep going... and gently reminded me not to let go of the rope.

A few seconds later, after my not-so-graceful beginning, I kept going.

Right foot, left foot, just keep breathing.

I finally was comfortable enough to jump a little.

I didn't look down, and instead kept listening to my guide on the ground giving advice. After a few seconds, the nerves settled enough that I could enjoy the journey.

And then, at last, my feet touched the rock that had been waiting for me.


I officially felt like jello. After removing the harness and helmet, I stumbled to where friends were waiting so we could watch the rest of our group repel down.

I actually did it! A breathed a sigh of relief and sat down, enjoying the view of the cliff I had just descended.

And then I realized the adventure was only halfway finished. My friends had said we would need to climb our way back up, and it was only now that I fully realized what they meant.

No rope, no harness, just climbing our way through the maze of rock and bush.

When everyone was ready, we began to climb back up. I followed the guy in front of me, watching where he placed his hands and trying to follow.

I expected to be discouraged. I expected to feel overwhelmed and scared as I tried to climb. I expected the familiar feeling of panic.

But I didn't.

As I climbed, I kept thinking of one of my favorite books,  Hind's Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. In this story, a woman named Much Afraid is led on a journey to the High Places by the Shepherd. Meant to be an allegory of following Jesus, Much Afraid's journey is hard. It's painful, and it requires her to make sacrifices. On her way, she must overcome pride, despair, discouragement, anger and fear.

Many times during her journey Much Afraid is given a choice. She can return to the Valley of Humiliation where she had a quiet and somewhat-comfortable life. She had a decent job working for the Shepherd, and she had relatives who were somewhat stressful and not very kind,  but they were relatives.

However, if she wanted more, then she had to follow the Shepherd. Her feet were awkward, and she had little strength, but as she followed, she grew stronger.

And really, when the choice is the High Places or the Valley of Humiliation, is there really a choice at all?

I had made the choice to repel down the cliff, and now I had no choice but to climb back up. I mean, I could have stayed at the bottom and let the tide come in and pull me out to sea. But really, what choice is that?

So we climbed, and eventually, I made it.

It wasn't graceful or beautiful. I am definitely not an expert, and there was nothing that would be inspiring to anyone else about the climb.

But something felt different when I reached the top. And even now, weeks after the event, I feel different.

Maybe it's because I stopped letting fear take hold of my heart.

Maybe because I took a risk.

Maybe because I was forced to let go... let go of my control, my fear, my desire for safety... and I had to trust.

I had to trust the rope, the guy at the bottom who promised to catch me if I fell, the guy in front of me who led the way back up, and myself as I gripped rocks and pulled myself to the top.

And as I worked through this, He assured me all the way. Instead of panic, my heart was filled with peace. I knew this was a moment that, blood, bruises and all, I would get through and be stronger as a result.

My wobbly feet became a little stronger that day. And the crazy thing is... I can't wait to do it again!

My friend Chelsea and I at the bottom of the cliff, ready to climb back up. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

When the Crib is Empty

This isn't right...

I kept repeating these words over and over, these thoughts refusing to leave. Just eight days earlier she was admitted to our center. So tiny and frail with paper thin skin stretched over little bones. She had the smell of the street, a smell I can recognize anywhere.

And her eyes... she watched us with round, dark eyes, too old for her little body. She studied everyone.

Her life has not been fair. Sometimes we don't know any details. A little one is found and rescued, and we nurse him back to life with the little information we are given.

It's easier to imagine the circumstances. Maybe she was a young mother, and she just didn't know or understand. Maybe she was poor or sick, and abandoning the child was her best option.

But sometimes I know too much, and then I struggle. I struggle with the anger, and I am frustrated over a sickness that should not have happened.

She was a fighter. For a few days, we thought she would make it. Her body rebounded with the sudden influx of nourishment and affection. She would blow bubbles and smile up from her crib. She would reach up to touch your face while being fed.

And eight days later, we sat beside her crib, telling her of heaven and all the other little ones she would meet there. And she breathed her last.

Her little body just couldn't do it anymore. And we watched and fought alongside her until the very end.

This isn't right.

I sit at the table and stare across the room at an empty crib.

There will be no viral posts coursing through the internet, no public outcry over her death. No one will launch an investigation, and those responsible for neglecting her will not be punished.

After all, she is one tiny human being in a world where tiny human beings leave every day.

And what is so hard is the knowledge that this will not be the last empty crib. She will not be the last little one we whisper to about heaven, and she is now one of the names we will speak of.

Thank God we have hope. Thank God I can sit here and write this, knowing it breaks His heart even more than mine. Thank God for the peace of knowing there is life beyond the pain.

So we wait... for the next little one, for the empty crib to once again be filled.

And we hope. Maybe next time will be the right time. Maybe next time, the fight will be won.


You are loved, honored, and missed, little one. We are so grateful for the time with you. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

In Honor of Beauty

     What I know about beauty, I have learned from watching her.

      I know her voice better than probably any other sound in the world. I have been called many names, but nothing sounds as sweet as the way "Jahr-dan" sounds when she calls. In a crowded room, I could easily find her with one word.

      I remember her telling me about riding her horse as a little girl from her parents' home to her brother's. She would do tricks on the horse, and I am pretty sure she is partially responsible for my taste for adventure.

      Her home has never been remodeled, and stepping inside is a little bit like stepping into the seventies. That's ok, though. In a world of constant change, she is a constant, and she does not change.

       Rather, she is home base. No matter how many of her chicks have left the nest or how far away we have flown, we always come back. Something about the soft lighting, the shag carpet, and the slightly warm temperature inside reminds me there is a safe place to land, even when the world may seem unsafe.

      When life is unsure, and I know prayer is needed, she is the one I call. There is safety in knowing when your voice is heard, and there is a peace knowing someone cares enough to take your burdens as their own. She is that safety. She is an instrument of peace.

      She is one of those delicate pieces of china, like the gravy dish I was never allowed to touch in the cabinet. You want to preserve and protect her, treat her carefully so nothing will break her, because she is needed. She turns the simple into the magical, creates an added element of something special, and a room without her feels her absence.

      Her tears are legendary. I have always marveled at how easily they could flow, and I have always been a little jealous. But in a time where we fight so hard to keep away from the vulnerable, she remains soft. She allows herself to feel.

      Not that she is emotional and allows those feelings to run wild. On the contrary, she is a mystery. Only those who truly know can sometimes detect her genuine feelings. But when she cares, you know.

      And she cares... for the ones who have lost family members, she makes sure they have meals. When someone is hurting, she sends a card. For the little ones on the other side of the world she has never met, she prays.

       Her beauty could never be bought in a bottle. Oh no, we could never afford it.

       Yet her foundation comes from a lifetime spent pouring into others... her students, her family, her friends.

        Her cheeks blush with laughter, as she is happiest when she is with the ones she loves.

        Her eyes are lined with wisdom, shadowed by the years of experience. Life has been beautiful, painful, sometimes all at once, and she has survived.

       Her lips are colored with prayers, with praises, with words of encouragement, and sometimes a little bit of dry humor.

         Her hands are my favorite... wrinkled from years of soothing tears, holding close, playing piano, folding in prayer, driving to doctor appointments and school functions.

         I don't want to be a part of the world where age is feared and wrinkles are to be smoothed away with knives and poison.

        Rather, I want to be a woman like her. I want to make the room a little brighter, the people around me better.

        I want to love, honor, extend grace, and fight as she has done. I don't want to leave a doubt in anyone's mind... stranger or family, that they are loved and valued.

        And today, on her 88th birthday, I want to honor her. My Grannie. You are loved, and you are blessed.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Wandering through Okinawa

      Koza Baptist Church in Okinawa, Japan, has been an amazing supporter of Gentle Hands.  Every year, they send at least three volunteer teams to serve and spend time with our kids. As a result, I have made some amazing friends and have been blessed (through chocolate and non-obtainable American goodies).

      Every time they have come, I have heard stories of all the wonderful things to do in Okinawa, as well as the amazing places to eat. It finally worked out for me to be able to visit for two weeks in July, and let me tell you, Okinawa did not disappoint!

     Rather than simply tell you with words, here are a few of my wanderings through pixels:

We may or may not have visited Family Mart at least 10 times

Monster snow cones at Motherleaf

A pretty epic slide... Okinawa has many parks with amazing slides like this

Beautiful view from a lighthouse

Exploring this lovely waterfall

This color blue...

Reconnecting with my friend Kristen... from small-town Florida to Japan!

Serene beach... Really Okinawa, you have outdone yourself 

Pedicures at Coco's. For years, I have been admiring the toes of the Koza ladies when they
come to Gentle Hands, and it was finally my turn! Definitely a highlight. My feet have never been this fancy. Ok, I'm done. 

My sweet friend Gretchen who opened up her heart and home to us. She is the big sister I always wanted. And she let me cook in her kitchen, so she's brave. 

My dear friend Chelsea and her husband are stationed here. The last time we saw each other 
was five years ago in India. So glad to have the opportunity to reconnect. 

A few other highlights:

1. Okinawan Salt Cookie Ice Cream... I would eat this every day, all day
2. Popeye's sweet tea... Every time we went to the Air Force Base, I would visit Popeye's, and eventually I ended up just buying the gallon. 
3. Meeting a sweet elderly Japanese man in Starbucks and trying to have a conversation. 
4. The 100  Yen store... the Dollar Store, but better (and I ended up buying an embarrassing amount of bowls). 
5. Settlers of Catan... finally learned how to play, and yes, it is addicting. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Wandering through Pixels

Here is a little taste of life in Manila this week...

One of the "perks" of living at an orphanage is that people love to 
have their birthday parties here. The girls are showcasing their 
amazing and intricate face paint. 

Taking a nap on the beach... or burying himself (I can't figure it out)

(with a little girl just acting casually)

Showering off after a long day of beach fun

I am partial to a Manila sunset

This beauty in red celebrated her 24th birthday this week. Happy Birthday 
Joy-Joy!!! And I am so glad you have hair!

Three weeks is not long enough to spend with this girl. I love being her big sister. 

And finally, this beautiful friend is getting married this weekend!!! I wish with all my heart I could be there, but I am so excited for her. Sometimes you are blessed with amazing people in your life whom you only want the absolute best for. She is one of those girls. And yes, I will be eating cake in her honor.