21 July 2010

Book Review: Taking a Slow Walk with Lucille

“I’m a living and breathing testament that life begins and flourishes at whatever age you become comfortable in your own skin and whenever it is that you fall in love with what you see when you look in the mirror each morning.”

I’ve been taking a slow walk through a book. I could have read it quickly - it’s certainly not a complicated novel - but getting to know Lucille O’Neal was something I wanted to savor. In learning about her life, I have learned to happily embrace mine.

In the book, “Walk Like You Have Somewhere to Go,” Lucille shares the story of her challenging childhood, teenage pregnancy, relationship issues, struggles with alcoholism - and overcoming faith in God. Yes, she is the mother of NBA star Shaquille O’Neal, but her book doesn’t rest on his fame as her redemption. Lucille inspires women to look upward and move onward, no matter their circumstances. She shares, “Without a test, there is no testimony.”

Through her words, she has shown the beauty of a life lived fully - and a life that becomes richer after 50. Her book evolves from autobiography to a passionate and convicting challenge - to dream big, step out in faith, and choose to live victoriously in Christ. Taking a slow walk with her through her journey from mental warfare to mental health - and mental wealth - is a good journey indeed.

16 July 2010

The Journey to Home.

I know what it feels like.

Just before dawn this morning, after a very short night with little sleep, I took my sweet friend Emma to the airport for her return flight to Colorado and the family she loves dearly. Her eyes were sparkling with joy as she checked her bag and walked toward the security line. She was going home.

Yesterday, those same eyes were sparkling with tears. As we rode the escalator down to the baggage claim area at Austin Bergstrom, there were cheers from waiting family and friends for the rest of our team. “We’re proud of you!” “We missed you so much!” The voices raised like a symphony.

But the orchestra wasn’t full.

Though every team member hugged Emma, though there was joy in the friendships made - there were voices she missed. Her journey wasn’t complete. She was not home yet.

I returned home and drifted off to sleep, thinking about Guatemala and Emma and the past week. And I dreamt. In that dream, I could hear my mom in the kitchen, making biscuits and gravy (I’ve written a chapter about this comfort food in my “may-never-be-finished” book). Her love was evident as she fluffed the sheets and stroked my forehead. Her voice calmed my soul.

Opening my eyes, for the briefest of moments, I thought I could hear her.

I am blessed to belong to a loving husband, a precious son and beautiful daughter-in-love, and God-crafted family. Yet, in the stillness of that dream, my heart ached to feel the touch of a mom who loved me beyond measure.

We all want to feel “home,” no matter who we are - a 16-year old from Colorado who sees her future ministering to the discarded in Latin America, a 50-year old who finds joy in helping others live transformational lives, one of the 148 million orphans in the world, the 30,000 kids in the Texas foster care system, or the vagabonds I pass every day on my way to more important things in my life.

Yes, I believe fully the journey to “home” continues throughout this life, and I pray whoever reads this has the sweet, humbling confidence of eternity with God All-Mighty. But I believe family isn’t something just to be experienced in Heaven. We are to minister to widows and orphans, we are to care for those passing through, we are to entertain strangers.

We are supposed to love beyond measure. We are to be the orchestra that says “welcome home.”

14 July 2010

The Wonder of Being Truly Alive.

The sun is shining as it rises over the hills and volcanoes. The birds are singing a symphony. The morning is fresh and new, full of sparkling mercy, grace and love - just waiting to be shared and experienced. I wish I could bottle this moment, for it is a perfect reminder of the wonder of our God.

We leave Eagle's Nest today to return to Guatemala City, where we will rest and prepare for our journey home. If all goes well, we will stop in Antigua to see the beautiful monasteries and cobblestone streets of the artisan community. And I will hunger to see the wrinkled faces and hold the withered hands of the elderly at Cabecitas de Algodor (the Little House of Cottontops). They, like the orphans and the poor here, have been discarded. But unlike the children who have found love on top of the mountain at Eagle's Nest, they wait for any familiar face to come. And no one comes. I will see them in October, hold them and call them Abuelita and Abuelo. I, too, know what it feels like to be alone. And I know what it feels like to be embraced by new family.

While here, we've painted classrooms, built a little library, built a bus stop, painted playground equipment, taught swimming lessons, cut hair, played with orphans, laughed with the poor, cleaned and straightened and breathed in every moment. And I've got that feeling that haunts me at the end of every journey like this - the "just one more moment, please" ache. I've come to savor it, embrace it, cherish it. For it reminds me I'm truly alive.

A story was shared with us yesterday. I thought you might like it. It's from Mike Yaconelli, founder of Youth Specialties. He passed away in 2004, but his ministry and legacy live on. I pray the wonder never ends.

It was one of those snowfalls you never forget. Millions of white flakes filled the air, quieting the earth and swallowing the sounds. The resulting silence was thick with a texture you could feel. My nephew stood in the living room at the opening to our deck, a stranger to snow. his two years of life about to be altered irrevocably. His eyes were blank, unaware; his body clueless; his mind about to be overloaded with the electricity of discovery. In the dark, Mother had maneuvered herself onto the deck’s two feet of snow to capture the event on video. Dad manned the sliding door, which had been unlatched for quick opening into the darkness. Uncle’s hands were poised on the switch to light the deck. And Aunt was ready to lift her nephew into the mysterious new world of twinkling ice and frozen softness.

The moment arrived.

In a perfectly timed instant the deck lights went on, the camera started recording, the sliding door swept open, and a two-year old was transported from the world he knew to a world he had never seen.

Wonder filled the air.

His eyes stretched wide with astonishment, as though the only way to apprehend what he was seeing was for his eyes to become big enough to contain it all. He stood motionless, paralyzed. It was too much for a two-year-old, too much for an any-year-old (too often, when a person gets older, the person’s “too-much detector” malfunctions, corroded by busyness and technology). He twitched and jerked each time a snowflake landed on his face, feeling it tingle as it was transformed from hostile cold to friendly warmth, caressing his face with tiny droplets of water. Just behind his large eyes you could see sparks flying from the crosscurrents of millions of electric stimuli overwhelming the circuit breakers of his previously small world. His mind was a confusion of strange, conflicting realities: white, cold, floating, flying, tingling, electric, landing, touching, sparkling, melting - causing an overload so great, so overwhelming, he fell backward - a slow-motion landing in the billowy whiteness, the snow tenderly embracing him. He had given up trying to understand snow and had given in to experiencing snow.

It was a moment of wonder.

The more I think about it, it was a moment of dangerous wonder. My nephew’s awe and wonder caused him to surrender to the snow by falling into it. For a few magical seconds, the danger of snow had given way to the wonder of snow. For a brief moment my nephew came face-to-face with life at its fullest. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, to be afraid or happy. My nephew experienced what it must be have been like that first moment in Eden when Adam and Eve’s eyes could not comprehend the staggering beauty of God’s new creation. He experienced what it must have been like when the scales fell from the blind man’s eyes and the explosion of color and shapes bombarded his mind for the first time; when the leper felt a surge of electricity through his body, his dead and rotting skin suddenly transformed into the fresh skin of a baby; when the bitter, hopeless prostitute looked up fully expecting judgment and death and instead heard the words of forgiveness and life.

What moments? What holy moments! To be in the presence of God, frightened and amazed at the same time! To feel as if you are in the presence of Life itself, yet with your soul shaking in both fear and gratitude.

I want a lifetime of holy moments. Every day I want to be in the dangerous proximity to Jesus. I long for a life that explodes with meaning and is filled with adventure, wonder, risk, and danger. I long for a faith that is gloriously treacherous. I want to be with Jesus, not knowing whether to cry or laugh.

13 July 2010


I walked in the rain and mist today - through cornfields; amidst destitute poverty - to meet a woman named Maria. She makes and sells jewelry to the tourists who visit Lake Atitlan, traveling miles by foot or a fortunate car ride with her cute toddler daughter. Maria lives in the home that once was her mother’s. The clay brick walls and dirt floor of the one-room house blend into a seamless palette of deep terracotta. She is proud of the wood-burning cook stove in the corner - it is a new gift from a team of missionaries. She and her daughter share a twin bed covered with wool blankets, which also serves as her sofa when guests come to visit.

Because there were several in our group, Maria transforms buckets into makeshift chairs. She then reaches behind a clothesline filled with shirts, skirts and pants, and brings out a bag and a baby’s bathtub. The bathtub serve as a display area for her work. She shows us beautiful handiwork

- necklaces and bracelets and earrings, while she shares her story.

Shunned by her family after having a child out of wedlock, Maria feels all alone in her small community. The gentleman next door is abusive, threatening not only his own family but she and her daughter as well. There is no bathroom in her home; her only option is to pay rental for the use of a public bathroom high on a hill. Because she has little money, she opts to bathe in the dark of night in a sink located in the courtyard of her neighborhood. She fears for her safety. Her story is shared in hushed tones so those nearby won’t hear.

Maria has the same dream we all do - she longs to live a life as bright as the beads and stones she uses to create her jewelry.

My heart is pierced as I walk away from Maria’s home, looking across the cornfield at the other clay brick buildings dotting the hilly landscape. The mournful song of someone in the community adds a heart-wrenching soundtrack to the afternoon. The children playing outside in the mud are the same children who laughed and sang with our team as they ate the lunch sponsored by a roofing company in the United States. I’ve been to this country so many times. Yet this time truly is new. Poverty has become personal. It has a face, a name. I have held it, spoken to it, walked alongside it.

Isaiah 1:17 resonates loudly in my soul.

Say no to wrong.
Learn to do good.
Work for justice.
Help the down-and-out.
Stand up for the homeless.
Go to bat for the defenseless.

As I lie here tonight, the ache in my heart so strong, I ask, “What now?” I feel the stirring. I await the whispered answer.

Just Jump.

Jump first. Fear later.

- Mike Yaconelli

For the past two days, I’ve heard the wonder of the whisper of God. It’s been all around me, like the mist that rolls gently over the mountains and into the valleys here in Guatemala. The whisper is pure and simple and dangerous. “Just jump.”

I heard it first in the voice of a missionary while worshiping with the villagers yesterday. She told of her life before packing her suitcases and joining her husband in Quetzaltenango, a life that was rich and rewarding. And she told of her life now - serving indigenous tribes by translating the Bible into little known dialects. “We were 60 when we became missionaries. It’s never too late.” We talked about the children at Cerecaif, a small orphanage outside her city, and about the beauty of brokenness for the poorand discarded. As she hugged me - not an Americanized side-hug, but a full-fledged “I feel like we’ve known each other for years” hug - I heard the whisper. “Just jump.” In that moment, I felt the rush of adventure.

Encouraged by our hosts at Eagle’s Nest to truly sabbath, our team then traveled into the rain forest on the shores of Lake Atitlan. Once there, we were fitted with harnesses, gloves and hard hats, and began our hike up the mountain - sprayed by waterfalls as we crossed swinging bridges, watching spider monkeys and coatis as they curiously watched us, sliding in mud and jumping over boulders on our way to our destination.

I heard the cable before I saw it. The strange sound of metal against metal hummed in the trees. The first zipline stretched 130 above the trees. With trolley connected and gloved hands in “right over left” position, I heard the whisper. “Just jump.” In that moment, I felt the rush of freedom.

This morning, before a day filled with projects began, I wrote, “Make me aware of opportunities to smile and care and risk and love - and abandon fear. It’s never too late.” And I heard the whisper again. The morning was filled with creating a fun library space for the village school, teaching English, and continuing to build a bus stop, and lunch was spent singing with children who come to Eagle’s Nest for free, healthy lunches as part of the Manna program. Painting was on the agenda for the afternoon. Until I heard the whisper again. And the plans changed.

The team painted while my teammate Josephine and I traveled to Solola to purchase groceries - without a translator or guide. I spent the afternoon baking cupcakes for the team and the orphans. And with the help of two fine men, Steve Shaver and John Calaway, a great dinner was prepared and served to our team and our hosts, Claire and Larry. A dinner that allowed our cook, Denise, the opportunity to spend time with the workers and the children at the orphanage she loves so dearly. In that moment, I felt the rush of joy.

I want to jump - out, in, and up. I want to have a faith that is fearless about jumping out into new adventures. I want to have a trust that is fearless about jumping in our God’s amazing provision. I want to have a heart that is fearless about jumping up to serve. Jump first. Fear later.

11 July 2010

Hold One Another.

“Hold one another to the highest.”

As I sit and look out onto the volcanos surrounding the stillness of Lake Atitlan, these words resonate in my heart. While this morning’s devotional was perfect for the view - Psalm 148 seems to have been written for a place such as this - I find myself caught up in a very different beauty, a very different form of praise to the Lord who loves us so much and delights in us so deeply.

“Hold one another to the highest.”

(Those words are a quote from Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India. She shared with friends “missionary life is a chance to die.” She devoted herself to risking reputation, status, and comfort if it meant she could save a child from suffering - going so far as to die her skin with dark coffee to immerse herself more into the culture and people. Reading about her life convicts me to the


Yesterday, as the men in our group painted metal roofing and moved piles of dirt to build a bus stop for the village school being established at Eagle’s Nest, and the women traveled into town to negotiate for produce and meat at the local open air market, eleven little faces watched and waited. Ranging in age from two to ten, the orphans at Eagle’s Nest are hungry - for time. The girls delight in playing “beauty shop” and the boys love loading rocks into the toy dump trucks. Each could spend hours swinging and spinning on the old merry-go-round. But there is something even more important to each of them. Being held. We started and ended our day with them - laughing, playing, hugging.

“Hold one another to the highest.”

Walking along the street near the market in Solola, I saw her. An older woman slowly made her way up the hilly bricked road. Dressed in

traditional garb, she carried her child in a sling on her back. He held tightly to her, his arms around her neck. His little legs were withered, his body contorted. He was her child, but he was not a child. The son she carried was a grown man.

Whether it’s holding a hand, snuggling in close on a lap, or being carried, the orphans, and the mom, understand something I think we easily forget. There is healing power in a hug - for both people. The Lord longs for us to risk our own comfort, our reputation, to care for others. We are to reach out, lift up, hold steady, lift high.

I pray today we each hold one another.

09 July 2010

Wiggling in a Mudslide

Dirt. Diesel. Vans. Mountains. Rain.

And mudslides.

Somethings about this country never change. And some change in an instant. I’m here in Guatemala again. It’s a place that feels strangely like home to me, though I still struggle with the language and have no confidence I could safely drive myself anywhere. The sights are so familiar along the roads - the brightly colored, open-air stores filled with pastries and chips and sodas, the seafood restaurant as the road bends to the left over the patchwork mountainside, the strange looking bazaar that rests below the hills which have been sliced by machinery and storms. It’s at that very spot I met the first smiling faces selling roasted corn and old cassette tapes to frustrated drivers stuck in road construction. There’s the beautiful ivory cathedral on the left side of the road and the ever-faithful Katok restaurant that signals the halfway point between Guatemala City and Xela. The delicate cala lillies in buckets, the gazebos shading local produce. Yes, this place has my heart.

Today’s road is different, however. Traveling with my church to a place called Eagle’s Nest in Solola has “new adventure” written into every word. Eagle’s Nest was at one time a baby home, specializing in caring for infants who would be adopted. When international adoption was closed in early 2008, the owners shifted their attention to education and caring for the poor. They have helped launch several churches in the area, and continue to find ways to remain relevant servants to their community. Being so close to my sweet little friends at Cerecaif and the precious girls at Manchen pulls at my heart, but I know the Lord has me in this place for His glory and for my joy.

The joy has already shown its bright face. Yesterday, it appeared in a smile. Emma was to minister with me in Honduras last year, but our plans were thwarted due to political upheaval in the country. Now, one year later, I am blessed to serve with her. She is sixteen, with a wisdom far beyond her years and a love for orphans that inspires me to love more.

Today, joy wove its way through circumstances that were anything less than joyful. Every suitcase and duffel made its way to GuatemalaCity and into our vans - that is, every suitcase but mine. With bag tags from past mission trips adorning it, my suitcase - filled to the brim with thecomforts of home - jumped on another van with an organization I’ve served with before. We turned left, they turned right. We headed to the mountains, and they stayed in the city. I went from a very self-sufficient, very experienced traveler to a highly-dependent little girl. Knowing my bag was not lost, but in the same area as I was, made the longing to get it even stronger. And placing that longing at the feet of Christ, trusting Him to find the perfect moment for the reunion, was an intentional sacrifice of self-reliance. Though I shed a few tears, I found myself laughing more. There was freedom in utter dependence.

That same freedom - and joy - danced in the streets. Tropical storm Agatha has wreaked havoc on this country, with roads and bridges washed out because of its fury. And the rainy season continues to taunt the already wounded mountainside. At sunset, our van ride was halted by a wall of earth. The mudslide was fast and powerful, and had every intention of making the roads impassable. Our team of 16 made a decisive move - we played Ninja and Bunny Bunny in the rain. If you’re not familiar with the games, I’m not sure any explanation I could offer would begin to paint the right picture if your mind. One involves Ninja moves and hand-slapping, and the other includes rear-wiggling and yelling “cootchy-cootchy-coo.” The large circle of wiggling, slapping, yelling people in the street in the rain made the moment excellent. Then the team made another decisive move. We prayed the mountain would be moved. And it was. Minutes after we said, “amen,” we got word an earth-mover had begun its job. We thanked the men who worked tirelessly in the dark to make a way for us to continue our journey.

I listen to the distant sound of a nightclub in the village below as I slowly drift away, thankful for a friend’s pajamas and toothpaste. As I snuggle into bed, I can’t help but wiggle my hips and smile. His glory. My joy.

04 July 2010

Fireworks are romantic.

I believe fireworks are so romantic. And (true confession) this movie scene is why. Yes, it's from a 1969 made-for-TV movie. It's corny and sappy - and it made me want to travel to New York, work at the UN, and fall in love with a guy named Moondoggie. Sigh. I still get butterflies when I watch it. Maybe it's time for trip to the Big Apple and a walk down 5th Avenue.

Thank you ABC for Gidget Grows Up, and to the person with WAY too much time on their hands for posting the movie as an 8-part series on YouTube.

01 July 2010

Simple Thoughts - Psalm 131-133

Psalm 131
I need to snuggle up in Your arms today, to find my calm in You. I want my restless heart to find its home in You today, for my dreams and desires to find their hiding place in You.

Psalm 132
I want to breathe in the present and not think about all the goals and plans I have made to make Your name famous. I just want to find You dwelling in unexpected places. I want to see You shine in the hearts of the needy, and be the hands and feet that move swiftly to help - without pretense, without hesitation.

Psalm 133
And I want to laugh - loudly laugh - with those who love you. I want You to laugh too.