Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Where's The "Radical"?

I read a quote from John Piper this week, one of my favorite authors and teachers.  The quote said:

                            "to prospective missionaries, Jesus says, "i promise to work for and be
                             for you so much that you will not be able to speak of having
                             sacrificed anything." -piper

And I had to "AMEN" out loud, share it on my facebook and do a little research to make sure Dr. Piper actually said it in the first place. 

I have not read anything I've so staunchly agreed with like this, aside from the Bible itself, for a long time.

It made me ask myself "WHERE IS THE RADICAL?".

I remember having a giggly, girly type conversation with my BFF, Thea once. We talked about how "radical" some people think big families are or families who adopt older children.  We agreed together that neither of us - her with her zillion kids and me with my multiple adoptions- felt very "radical". Only blessed and hungry for more.     We thought maybe we weren't doing it right. 

Many of you have read the book to which I am referring.  "Radical" is a Christan best seller in which Dr. David Platt encourages Believers not to buy into the American dream of safety, comfort and material wealth while the rest of the world lives in poverty and often without Christ.   That book was a game changer for my husband and I.   It was the impetus to adopting our then 15 year old son.
 It was the catalyst to us increasing our financial giving, getting out of debt and it's what helped solidify our already wet-cement plans to sell our worldly goods in exchange for a life serving  in The Philippines. God used that book to help us shore up and rebuild some simmering-below-the-surface truth that needed to be turned up to a full boil.

So here I sit, typing away in The Philippines with seven children, a growing ministry to special needs orphans, thousands of miles from my parents, siblings and closest friends  and I ask the question again:


One issue the book did not address and I made some huge assumptions about was the PAIN that would be involved in exchanging our former life for this new one.

I expected it to hurt.  A lot. 

We don't own anything in America anymore. No car. No house. Not even a bicycle or a tent.  I've always enjoyed my "stuff" and I truly expected the selling off part to hurt more.  I had a hard day after the yard sale because reality came full force. It's kind of like that decision to cut your long hair short. After the first big "CHOP", there's a secondary panic.    I had that.  
And then it went away as fast as it came.

The work here is hard.  It's hot. It's paperwork-intensive.  Our finances are dwindling.  I've had intestinal parasites. I don't know how to drive here so I'm utterly dependent on my husband.   We've had many typhoons. The traffic is brutal.
Let's see .  . . any more complaints?    Oh yes, we've had things stolen from us and I never get time alone. The bugs here are huge. The geckos in my house are pink, rubbery and dart out close to you when you least expect it. One of my kids is getting over impetigo even as I type.
I think that's all.
No . .. wait . . . there's no toilet paper in public places here and no rims on the seats. There is no dollar store. No Aldi.
There. That about covers it!  

But even so . . . the JOY of serving the children in our care overrides the BUMMER of the facts I just listed.


I think I had it all wrong.  Radical living doesn't hurt.  It produces abundance, a closer walk with my savior, an inter-dependence on my family and a life filled with purpose and clear direction.  

It has hard parts and draw backs.  It has down sides and "if onlys" .   That's not the same as the  agony I expected. 

This isn't MARTYRDOM,  it's privilege.   A high honor and a GIFT that I don't feel deserving of.

Please don't think for one second my attitude toward this life on the mission field has anything to do with ME.
I am NOT awesome!
I am NOT super patient!
I am NOT  'outdoorsy" or a "risk taker"!

I like to lay in bed with a chocolate bar and a good book just like the next girl.  
I do that here sometimes. The chocolate here is really good.  

But as I ask, actually BEG,  my Heavenly Father to take my heart and mind and place it in submission to Him, things look a lot different.

And I started poking   around in God's word for some information on why I'm not struggling more.   

Of course, I started with Paul.  He really suffered for the sake of the gospel! Beatings, imprisonment, exile, 
abandonment by some who claimed to be for him . . . and here's is what he said:

  11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Philippians 4

And THIS from a man who had issues bigger than bad traffic and rubbery geckos! 

Another lesson learned.  Another misconception righted.

"Radical" is not synonymous with "painful",  "torturous" or "being turned inside out".
THOSE things were at their peak before we ever left US soil.  The prying from our clenched fists has been a lifetime in
the making. One. Finger. At. A. Time.  YEARS.  Refined by adopting.  Polished by hard things. Molded by jumping off the cliff and praying the Catcher really DID say "jump".

In the thesaurus of my ever-learning heart, "Radical" is followed by "rising above", "contentment", "ultimate purpose"
and "unmatched peace".

Maybe in a year, things will be hard and awful.  Maybe I'll get to wear a martyr's crown and can, in complete truth, cry rivers of self pity.  Maybe I'll be packing my family and going back to my first country. 

Whatever He says, I pray I will do.  Wherever He sends, I pray I will go.

There is a RADICAL JOY in RADICAL living!  


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Earthen Vessels

         "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels  to show that this all-surpassing power is from GOD and not from US"  2 Cor. 4:7

 I can't recall a time in my life when I have felt more like an "earthen vessel" or a "jar made of clay" than right now, living in this far-away place and doing work that far exceeds my skill set, miles from my comfort zone and learning the guidelines of a culture, language and geography that have never truly been mine.

More than three months in our new-found  Philippine life brought changes - both welcome and unwelcome - and I want to share them in my pray-for-us,  encourage-us kind of way . . .

My handsome, helpful first-biological child has moved out of our house.  He lives in a shelter for street kids about two hours away.
I miss him very much but I am also bursting with pride that my boy made this choice. It is a life different from his at home.
He uses a bucket for a shower,  he has had to learn new bus and jeep routes to get around a bigger, more dangerous, more crowded city than the one in which we now live.   He has had to overcome his own bit of shyness and jump into the unfamiliar to get involved.
He recently went on a 4-day trip with friends, ate his first balut (duck embryo) and is getting a chance to make friends from walks of life we never knew when we were in the states.  I am honored to watch this son-of-mine becoming the man that he is intended to be.
Yes, he jumped!!!!!!!!

Street Outreach

 My only-daughter is just a few months from high school graduation. She is working on her LAST math course and then she will be a high school graduate. I see her thriving in this new country and am so thankful for the time we have been spending together. She got her first-ever pedicure with me last week and, although she laughed through the whole foot massage portion, seemed to like the results. I know I did! Elliana is having a portfolio done to explore the possibility of doing some modeling here. The "mestiza" (half Filipino/half white) look is super popular here.  Don't believe me? Come walk through the mall with my girl. It honestly feels like going out in public with a rock star.  Groups of giggly teen girls ask if they can take a picture with her. Boys stare with their mouths half open.  Elliana is very good natured and generally just waves and smiles (sending the gawkers into a stunned silence) but every now and then, I do see it taking a toll. She just wants to order her meal or buy a shirt sometimes without the giggles and stares.  This is a "problem" I think most of us wouldn't mind having . . . ha ha ha!  Elliana has been working with a reading group of Bartimaeus Kids on Saturdays and being an all-around great help to me.  I'm proud of her in a million ways!

 For the last two months, we have been getting to know Ariel, our newest family member, in a deeper way.  Ariel is the full biological sibling of our son, Lem.  He is 23. He has a sweet, happy spirit and is truly NEVER in a bad mood. He is happy,  tired, hungry or a combination of the three at all times!  Ariel went from his desperately poor family into institutional care at age 8.  He has traveled many paths from orphanage to adoptive home to disrupted adoption (in The Philippines), back into a shelter, independent living, shelter again and finally, our family.  I'm sure he bears the scars of this kind of life but, to tell you the truth, we don't see scars.   We see optimism and a trust that God is there and always has been.  We see cognitive delays. Early malnutrition is a beast, people!   The things it does to children are truly irreversible without a miracle from God.   This broken world has left Ariel with life long learning challenges that will change his course in dramatic ways.   I spent many years in The States trying to bring Ariel into our family. When we finally got here and were able to commit to him as parents, I  felt that dream realized but, the truth of the matter is, teaching an adult to read, with all of his memory and processing issues is HARD WORK!  It requires that I pray through each school day in a new way, asking the Lord to give Ariel retention,  to make connections, to show him the value of what he's learning.  For myself, the prayer is always patience and compassion no matter how I "feel" that morning or how my night's sleep was.  This young man is counting on me.  God has been so gracious to wrap this difficult teaching challenge in such a sweet, compliant, eager-to-learn package.  I love this young man and that goes a long way at the teaching table.   Yet another chance to remember "it's NOT about me."
Ariel with Ezekiel and Amaris, doing his usual thing - being awesome with the little kids!
Kyle and Ezekiel . . . well . . . what to say about those two? They are my "babies" and they are great friends.  Kyle is showing signs of becoming one of the "big kids" and I don't really like it!  He continues to be so thoughtful, buying candy and gifts for his siblings on a whim, playing games with Ezekiel that he has played a thousand times before - with no complaints.  Kyle is learning by leaps and bounds in school and reading large chapter books of his own accord. He struggles with missing a couple of very special friends from the States.  You know, the kind of friends that just "happen" to you and, before you know it, they are pretty much family.  Kyle had that and he misses it.   I don't blame him.  It takes time and just-right circumstances to find that.
Ezekiel is kind of potty training but, the stubborness innate in his Down Syndrome is making this a cirque du soleil- level challenge for Mama.  I'm kind of up to up, kinda not.
Francis and Lem are doing well, homeschooling, making friends with a group of kids who love basketball and going with the flow as I anticipated they would.  I love my boys. I have been BLESSED that THESE are the ones God gave us!  Perfect? No, not even close but humble of heart, willing to serve and a heck of a lot of fun!  For teen boys, I'd say we have the gold standard.  Maybe that was a bias and completely "obnoxious Mama" thing to say but, it's typed and I don't feel like hitting the "X" key! Plus, I do believe it.

In other news:  I'm working really hard to learn this language and it is NOT easy! The words are so darn long and that "ng" sound is so foreign to my English-speaking mind.  But I NEED to learn.  I know some basic phrases and encouragements that I use when we work with the kids but that isn't enough.  If you don't know what Tagalog sounds like, go to youtube and find a Tagalog song or movie clip.
This language is tonal -changing the emphasis on a syllable changes the word but it is also a language where one word can mean 10 things depending on where you place it in a sentence.  Yeah . . .I  know.   And I laugh when I remember believing the notion that "everyone in The Philippines speaks English."  They don't. And they don't have to.  I'm in their country and I should learn their language. Period.   SOME people here speak excellent English.  Who? Professionals, social workers, etc.  Who DOESN'T? Young children, the poor, anyone who hasn't been to school grade 3 and up. . . most everyone we are ministering to.  I am thankful I have a husband and two sons who are not only bilingual but can translate for me!  I am jealous of them. And prideful.  I don't want a translator, I want to speak for myself.  Humbled again.   Sure I need it.

The Bartimaeus Project:
I have never worked this hard in my life!  Certainly not in the 16 years since quitting my Special Ed job in California and homeschooling my own brood.  Yes, I have worked very very hard as a homeschool mom but this is a whole new kind of tired! Aside from the weekly Bartimaeus Learning Center enrichment classes, we are doing outreach with a local street ministry, mountains of paperwork for our project, visiting orphanages, working on becoming licensed foster parents, and a host of other small tasks that we know God has asked us to do so we do them.  Our original target for ministry here was blind children living in orphanages. We came here with our braille-writer, tons of sensory games and activities for the blind and prepared to self-teach braille immediately.
We arrived to find a few children in orphanages with visual impairments - and we offered our services to them - but, for the most part, kids with visual impairments are not in orphanages. They are turned away because of the high cost of caring for them.   We then broadened our scope to work with children with all types of special needs, still holding out for visually-impaired as our primary focus.
We found that there are so many children in care with special needs. So, so many.  We have had to be particular with who we serve, making the most of our time and resources.  THAT is a foreign concept to me.  I like to throw open the doors and say "everyone, come on in!"  but, realistically, we can't do that.  It would painfully short-change the children we are seeing who have real, genuine needs.
And I am growing to love these kids so much that holding back, for THEIR sakes, is becoming easier.

If you've read this far, you either love our family, really care about orphans in The Philippines or have some extra free time. No matter why, I want to thank you!  I am praying the Lord will prick so many hearts for these kids, and the ones who are to come!
Our goals over here are:
1. To open a full-time Special Education school for orphans with visual impairments and other special needs.
2. To eventually turn that school into an orphanage so we can invest daily, moment-by-moment in the children.
3. To share the awesome, life-changing news of salvation through Jesus with the kids - and live it out FOR REAL.

True fact:  We need a BUNCH more monthly donors.  We have been blessed with awesome one-time gifts. We are so thankful for those.  They got us over here, they help keep us moving forward.  But in order to plan and budget, we so SO desperately need people to pledge monthly.   I'm not going to tell you to give up your Starbuck's for an orphan or to stop eating out after church so one of our BP kids can have lunch and books.  All that stuff stays between you and the Lord.  Adults works that out for themselves.
But I AM going to say, the more monthly giving that comes in, the more we can do over here. It's a simple equation. You give and we work.  We're working already WITHOUT being totally funded (or paid) because God has blessed us personally. But eventually our own resources will run out and we really, really want to be here for the long haul.   I promise I will NOT try to shake you down in every blog post but I have to be true to my pledge to be transparent on this blog.  I think my long-time readers know I share the good, bad and the brutally ugly have been written here over the years.

Anyway, if you feel like God is asking you to support The Bartimaeus Project, you can do it one of two ways:
1. Donate via paypal on the web site (www.bartimaeusproject.org)
2. Send checks offline (the info on how to do that is on the web site, too.

PLEASE pray for our project's big fund raiser!!!! It's happening in Baltimore, Maryland at the Grammercy Mansion on
on Thursday (October 24th) in the evening.  ( For more info, email Emily Russell at emilyrussellphotography@gmail.com).
We are asking God to fully fund our year on that night.  Will you ask, too?  He can do it.

SO, there it is. The mega-update I have been wanting to share for quite awhile and when the internet service and time clock aligned, it was done!

From one Earthen Vessel to another . . .