Monday, July 22, 2013

sabbath rest

We’ve been in a whirlwind of packing today. Jeremy and I used to pack up for a three week outing and be finished in the course of 15 minutes. Now our “don’t forget” list is three pages long detailing all of Bronwn’s essentials – her baby soap, all of her diapering requirements, options for all weather, etc. etc. etc.

We’re intentionally pulling back from “it all” for a few weeks. We’ve been pressing into life, hard, for 14 months, our last period of rest being when we were back in the states, but lets be real, who calls having a baby restful. Anyway. Several months ago when we thought through this bit of Sabbath we’re about to take, we figured that by now we would be burning the candle at both ends, and indeed we are.

I’ve always struggled with setting “it all” down. My performance mentality has always informed my thoughts on Sabbath and caused me great anxiety at the idea of doing “nothing.” Wayne Muller in his book Sabbath calls it a theology of progress: on the glory road, building for ourselves a product that will one day earn ourselves the right to rest. I hate it when I read ugly things that are true of me. As I think about my state of mind these past few weeks, upping my intensity to balance out the lack of productivity that would result from our being away – storing up my worth and value as a missionary in other people’s eyes in case they thought less of me for taking a break for a time. I read the giving report like a report card – a habit I’ve not been able to shake in seven years, and yet when Jeremy came home this morning and told me that we were three grand short last month, ten grand short this year, the first thought through my mind was what have I done wrong. Is my writing coming up short? Have I not articulated well enough what we are doing? What GOD is doing here?
I love that Jeremy can read my mind, or maybe he saw the tears starting to well and used his super husband sleuth skills, but he answered my question before I asked it. “This has nothing to do with you. We need to trust.”

Trust. Ugh. The bane of my road-to-sanctification-existence. And taking Sabbath at “a time like this” pushes my I-hate-to-trust buttons all the more. Like dear Wayne writes, “Sabbath challenges the theology of progress by reminding us that we are already and always on sacred ground. The gifts of grace and delight are present and abundant; the time to live and love and give thanks and rest and delight is now, this moment, this day. Feel what heaven is like; have a taste of eternity. Rest in the arms of the divine. We do not have miles to go before we sleep. The time to sleep, to rest, is now. We are already home.”

On my weariest days when I can’t figure out how to make everyone happy, when I feel compassion fatigue piling up weights on my shoulders, when the cultural clash foibles my perfect plans, when the two steps forward are  always accompanied with the one step back, I’ve said to Jeremy these words: “I want to go home.” He always hugs me, comforts, prays, but never has he hopped online and started looking for plane tickets. I think he knows as well as I do that home is not so much the Rawson household on Coddington Road so much as it is the gift of grace that Muller writes about; the invitation to give thanks and rest and delight – an invitation which is always there, but that I’m often too anxious to take.

And yet Sabbath forces me to deny my theology of progress and leave every last bit of my best efforts in His hands. The duffels are packed and there’s no sense unloading all of Bronwyn’s stuff now that we’ve finally gotten her life squared away. I guess we really are going… and trusting and hoping and praying that obedience to a simple command like “keep the Sabbath holy” will ultimately bear fruit in our ministry, and in us.

Have a good few weeks, friends. We’ll see you soon.    

the road to home

Sunday, July 21, 2013

making friends

One of the funnest parts of our last two months of visiting under-five clinics is that Bronwyn has had the chance to meet a gazillian new people and make all kinds of friends. She has had the time of her life playing with big kids, little kids, babies, adults – the whole range of people and every game imaginable. I often look at her with great envy at how easily she adjusts to new situations and people and puts herself out there without reservation.

Though on the flip side, it has been sort of funny/tragic in some instances when the little tyke on the receiving end of Bronwyn’s super-friendly advances reels back in sheer terror of the pale toddler hurling herself towards him. The horrified “Mayo mayo mayo…” can roughly be translated,“MOM! The abominable snow lady has offspring!”

I’m super thankful that Bronwyn has not yet figured out that her would-be playmates are crying because of HER. When she is met with emotional melt-down on the part of the little people she was hoping to play with, she always looks back at me as if to say, “Ma, why she crying?” And I tell her the same thing every time: “Its ok baby girl, keep loving her, don’t give up.”

I feel sympathetic to the challenges of making friends when you don’t look like you belong. I’ve walked into a room with all women and hear them all start talking about the mizungu – it doesn’t exactly make me feel welcome. I’ve struck up conversations with people who think its funny to mock my clothes or my accent or my use of Bemba. At the ripe old age of 30, I still get my feelings hurt when someone communicates through word or action that they really don’t want to be my friend.

Right now, Bronwyn doesn’t seem to know that she’s different. She lifts up her little arms to be picked up by black people and white  people without reservation. I wonder how it will make her feel when one day she realizes that that lady is shoving her child towards us to purposefully scare him and get a laugh out of it. I pray she responds gently and is not easily offended. When she realizes that kids are stroking her hair because its so blond and fluffy, I pray that she is feels loved and honored and not like a baby goat in a petting zoo. I pray she learns to have a thick skin when dealing with insensitive actions or even rejection, but always keeps a soft heart when trying to initiate friendship and win over a pal who might be initially timid.

These are the thoughts on my mind and the prayers of my heart.

Baby girl, you have the bluest eyes ever and they absolutely sparkle with life. Anyone who catches your gaze for more than two seconds is enamored. I pray you always remember the power you have to win people over with that love. Love always wins.

After all, "if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another"... 1 Jn 4:11

Saturday, July 20, 2013

hunger pains

I shared a post recently about our nutrition outreach with mothers and children. My point was that nutrition outreach is holy work because children matter to God and good nutrition is so vital to the wellbeing of God’s littlest worshippers.

It has been such a good time for me personally to be able to connect with so many mothers and young children in the past several weeks. There is something unique and wonderful about gathering with a group of women for one expressed purpose: we love our babies! There’s a certain maternal vibe in the air, and I thrive on it.

There are also some challenging aspects to the under-five clinics. The lack of organization makes my type-A personality want to screeaaaaaaaaaaam and start herding everyone into straight lines. I also find it ironic that a program geared towards the health of young children could possibly be so not-kid-friendly. Where are the “be kind to me, I got my booster shot today!” stickers? Not here. And I hate it when mothers try to shove dewormer down their kids throats instead of taking it home and sneakily hiding it in their nshima. These are things I’ve come to expect and (for the most part) accept, and sometimes I even let down my hair and laugh about it.

But there is one thing that really pains my heart and I’ve never gotten over it. The sound of the small child whimpering because she’s hungry is by far the most upsetting sound I’ve ever heard. In these crowds of women with all their little ducklings, many of the kiddos are crying because they are tired or bored or hot or annoyed that someone stole their toy. But in every group, there is one who is too tired, too weak, too dehydrated to cry with gusto – all that is heard is a pitiful moan. The sound from that one child is worth a thousand shouted phrases though not a single word is uttered. Someone feed me, I’m so hungry is what it says. And my heart breaks. Sometimes I can justify not really worrying about all the other kids – they’ll probably be ok. Being small for your age isn’t that bad. Hopefully they’ll catch up in their development once they get to school – these are the things I tell myself. But it’s the one that’s on the brink of ruin that always catches the ear, and by extension, the heart. For you, dear child, I must care. For you, dear child, I must pay attention. For you, dear child, I must do something. And yet, you are not mine. Herein lies the horrible tension I carry around with me at every growth monitoring clinic. Every maternal instinct in my being wants to take that one child and snatch her away when her mother isn’t looking; to feed her with my own milk and prepare for her colorful foods and take off that bonnet that’s making her sweat and dehydrating her further.

Try as I might, I have a hard time stopping myself from thinking thoughts that begin with: “If she were my child…” I cringe a bit to accept that I think this way – thinking that I can do it better than some of my fellow moms at under-five. But, I think, what about my home country of America where parents loose their children for less egregious reasons than what I see here? What about the orphanages we support all across Africa that are full of children whose parents are still alive? These global attitudes towards children and first families confuse my concept of justice and sometimes even seem to support my otherwise arrogant attitude towards mothers whose performance doesn’t stack up.

And yet, as much as I know that the family policy and attitudes of my home country would often have my back when I think and feel like I want to snatch that child and make her mine, there is something else that tells me “this is not God’s best.” These are heavy words and again, I’m blinking away tears as I think about Mable, Maggie, Impundu and Timothy and my heart hurts for them and their tiny frames. But I still believe to my core that they were meant for their own mothers, no one else. There have been so many times that I myself have felt like a horrible mother – like when I found her eating cat poop, or when I failed to shut the door and she fell off the same set of stairs - twice, or when I left the wipes at home on the poopiest day ever, or how about every single time I bang her head into the door frame as we walk outside. More than once I have thought, jeepers, I’m sure someone could raise this girl better than I can. I think about how I have made the “terrible” choice to keep my baby in a Malaria infested country, far from good health care, no where near Grandma, without viable public educational and devoid of any of the familiar features of my own enriched upbringing. I half expect someone to show up at my door one day, succinctly explain that I am not fit to keep this child, and whisk her away to a better life, probably with an upper-middle class family in a pristine neighborhood in a top school district in Connecticut. As I play out the scenario in my mind, I understand the rationale but still hear myself yell in protest, “But she’s mine! God gave her to me! God gave her to ME!”

The thought that Bronwyn girl was designated to me, entrusted to me, commissioned to me and no one else, all with the foreknowledge and intentionality of almighty God gives me great pause when I look at other women. As much as I may want to swoop in and rescue the whimpering little one, I remember, she is being held by a mother who loves her, who was hand picked by God to care for her and be responsible for her. In those instances when both mother and father are totally unable to care for their child, I am thankful that orphanages and international adopters are ready and willing to humbly step into that role of providing familial care. It’s God’s grace to children all over the world that second families are there. But something in my heart tells me that God’s heart is for the first families. 

It’s a necessary good that the systems and structures are in place for rescuing children and placing them with second families when no better option exists, but far be it from me to enable such action before working my tush off to see that the true mother has every opportunity to do right by her child.
Our attempts at nutrition outreach are meant to do just that. Teaching moms to make soy milk and explaining the dietary needs of babies and making home visits to counsel and advise on feeding plans and offering food support to mother’s whose small-for-age children need a serious boost… it all communicates a certain level of respect. I respect the fact that God chose you, not me to raise this child. It is therefore my privilege to walk with you in that journey. There is no shame in imperfection – Lord knows I’m not much better. But perhaps, by God’s grace, we can see these children become all that we dream they will be. Now, who wants to whip up some fishy-vegetable porridge!   


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

nutrition as ministry

This is a repost from our Choshen Farm blog. I'll probably write more about our nutrition outings, so I figured this would provide good background. Enjoy!

Our summer volunteer Kaytlin, (a Nutrition student at Cornell,) and I have been traveling the world over (or so it feels) doing nutrition related outreach at under five clinics, giving health talks and holding workshops. The majority focus has been on children under the age of five. Research has shown that for children in highly impoverished areas, if they reach their fifth birthday, their likelihood of surviving into adulthood goes up dramatically. And so, maternal and child nutrition has been our focus for the past six weeks straight – and we’re not done yet!


Day after day, we’ve been weighing babies and talking to mothers, drawing brightly colored flip charts and putting on cooking demonstrations. We have been busy – that’s for sure – but this is not busy work. According to UNICEF, 45% of all children in Zambia are chronically malnourished to the point of stunting. 28% are underweight. The consequences of such malnutrition are blatantly obvious; and everywhere we go, we are met with the pain behind those cruel statistics.


Malnourishment compromises a child’s immune system making him more susceptible to infectious diseases. Nutrient deficiencies and infection over a period of time result in bone growth retardation and permanent stunting. Twelve year olds look like they are six, six year olds look like they are three. The effects are often quite drastic. The cognitive implications of chronic malnutrition are equally severe. Decreased IQ, memory deficiency, reduced language development and reduced problem-solving abilities are all consequences linked to malnutrition.


It is heartbreaking, to say the least, to put a two year old child in the hanging scale and discover that she weighs the perfect amount… for a six month old baby. What will her life be like? If she hasn’t started walking yet, will she? Will she have enough problem-solving skills to navigate the waters of risky behaviors and keep herself HIV free? Or will her body eventually get tired of fighting and just give up? How can we help?


How can we help. This is the question that MUST be answered. There are moral implications to knowing all that we do about malnutrition and its devastating effects on a child’s life. Knowing that if a child continues down the same path he may never talk, will suffer from disease, will remain vulnerable and may even leave this earth pre-maturely – do we really have the option to just sit by and watch?


It only takes three verses to answer this question:

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." - Matthew 19:14
"If anyone causes one of these little ones--those who believe in me--to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. - Mark 9:42
If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them. - James 4:17

We believe we will be held accountable if we look the other way, if we consider it less missional - “mere humanitarian work” – to ignore the spiritual implications of unhealthy, underdeveloped, oft-neglected children.

The meaning of justice is simply “to make right.” Surely it is only right that mothers be able to feed their babies, that kids grow well as they were designed, that every life reach its full potential, and that all may have the strength of body and clarity of mind to glorify God with all that they are. To seek this end, is this not an acting out of the Micah 6:8 command to seek justice, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?


Certainly, weighing babies is not busy work, its holy work, and we pray for wisdom as we respond to the needs before us, for the good of the people and to the glory of God.