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My Special Ladies

Is there a certain country or a group of people that you find yourself drawn to for some reason? With two friends about to visit the land of my heart, I find myself thinking a lot about Ethiopia. And a very special woman I met. She was standing in the doorway of her tiny residence like many other women that afternoon, waiting for a visitor. As I walked down the paths in front of these doorways - rows and rows of doorways - I looked at numerous faces, waiting for some indication that this was the person I was searching for. Mostly I got blank faces in return, a few smirks and occasionally a point and a laugh. As I came to the last row, I asked my guide to walk through the area with me once more. I knew there was aperson I was supposed to meet. As we made our final trek through the rows of doorways, one woman waved and smiled at me - an open, welcoming smile. I hesitated and then stopped in front of her. I asked through my interpreter if we could sit down and talk, and she warmly invited me into her place, pulling the curtain closed over the doorway. My eyes took in the elements of her one room "home" - a small cabinet for personal items, a bucket for washing tucked under it, a small stool, and a bed that took over most of the space. I sat down on the stool with my interpreter on the floor beside me as she took a seat on the bed. I introduced myself and told her that I was interested in finding out about her life, asking for permission to interview her.
She was from a small village but had been sent to the city to work as a maid. Though the job provided much needed money for her family in the village, the master of the home began to mistreat her. Unable to endure it, she ran away from the house and found the only job available for a young woman with nothing: renting a room to live and work in close to the bustling marketplace. She faithfully sent money back to her parents but could not bring herself to tell them about her new situation. She hated it but knew there wasn't another option. She told me her story without any bitterness for the way things had turned out and treated me like an honored guest in her little abode, concerned for my comfort. Her bright eyes revealed an open heart and a joyful spirit despite her circumstances. Once, when a man came stumbling through her doorway for an "appointment," she jumped up quickly to intercept him and insisted firmly that he return later. The raw reality of her life hit me then so forcefully - to daily wake up in this place and have to go through what she did...
It was time for us to go, and we made plans for another visit. I had to go to my Father to talk about this and find out what He would do for her. I knew that I had connected with the right person and that God had a plan.
A few days later, we met again. She was waiting for me with a friend. After my first visit, many of her neighbors had warned her against me, saying that I was going to deceive her into an even worse fate. To prove them wrong, she invited this friend along to meet me and see for herself that I was sincere. I invited both ladies to lunch, and we walked to a traditional restaurant close by. I was angered by the catcalls and rude comments as we passed by, seriously wanting to thrash the brutes who acted in such a vulgar way.
After lunch, we walked to the church compound where I worked, and I introduced the ladies to the associate pastors when we ran into them. Thankfully, they were received in a respectful, kind manner - I was feeling very protective after what we had already experienced. Plus, I knew that the church generally avoided any contact with ladies who were involved in this kind of work. We ended our visit by having tea together, and I was able to share with my new friend another option for her life. God had opened some doors in that short period of time, and there was a real way out for her if she was ready to take that step. A Christian owner of a beauty salon was willing to take her on as a student and help set her up afterwards with a job fixing hair. The money for the tuition had also been provided, and she was able to start in a short period of time. I shared about God opening this door for her as an answer to prayer and how His love was what compelled us to meet.
There are no words to describe the joy in seeing someone set free, whether it's an emotional or physical prison. Even after I returned to the States, I received word that she was doing really well. God sent us to the one lady with an open, responsive heart and totally transformed her life. He alone is able to do such wonders - nothing is impossible for God, and no one is beyond His care and attention. God cares deeply for each one of us. His love is passionate, fierce, and protective and also tender, gentle and so very kind. That we would love one another, especially the least of these, with the same love as our Father.
I have always had a special place in my heart for ladies of the night. I don't know when it started, but it's been there for as long as I can remember. When Sean and I flew to Amsterdam several years ago, I was seething and ready to pounce on some businessmen on the plane who were flippantly discussing the Red Light District. Even when we walked around Amsterdam, I couldn't setfoot on the path that went through that area - I couldn't bear the thought of appearing like a gawking tourist to the ladies in there. I wanted them to see love and compassion from me but walking by just like the others wouldn't set us apart. So we avoided the area and prayed instead.
My heart was moved deeply when I visited the home and learned about the life of a prostitute in Alaska. She was born in the Midwest to parents who adored her, especially her father. But he died suddenly, and her mother remarried in order to provide for the family. She ran away from home at the age of twelve after suffering severe abuse at the hands of her stepfather. She made her way to Alaska during the Gold Rush, saving enough money to buy a little home to live and work in. She was a working girl way into middle age, passing away in a senior's center in the late 1970's. My heart ached walking through her house - she tried so hard to make her home cozy and pretty, though she had to go through such difficulties to afford everything. She tied ribbons to her shower
curtains and had a floral tea set in her dining room. Her closet was filled with beautiful dresses and feminine accessories. She wanted a normal life with all the comforts of home, something she lost in childhood, and she tried hard to create that for herself.
It's so easy to remove ourselves from someone whose life is so foreign to us. Thank God that our circumstances haven't forced us to turn to such desperate measures, but we are not so different. Basic human longings and needs are the same all over the world. And the ladies we don't think about, avert our eyes from, dismiss and judge are somebody's daughter, sister, mother, friend... They matter to God, and He wants them to know His tender love for them. He alone can heal the deepest parts of a heart and soul and transform a life into something good and pure and wonderful. And He needs us as His hands to reach out with compassion and kindness to others, especially those who are treated so roughly. It's not my intention to sternly preach at you or demand a response. It's just that my heart grieves for those forced into hell on earth as their dignity is stripped from them, young and old, hurt, terrified, and feeling so very, very alone. This is the group God has given me a special love for - is there a group of people that touches your heart?


Happy Birthday To Me...

Yesterday was my birthday; I am thirty-eight years old. Writing it down, it doesn't seem like I am referring to myself. Thirty-eight sounds so serious, so established and set. And I don't see myself in those terms. I don't imagine myself in my twenties either, and I am very glad to have moved beyond that. But thirty-eight? I'm not sure yet what I think about that number. Yes, it is close to forty, but my perspective on turning forty has never been conventional.
I have waited all my life to turn forty. I eagerly anticipate the big 4-0. I have long believed that a woman truly becomes beautiful at forty: there's wisdom in her eyes, a touch of hollowness in her cheeks and at the base of her throat, gentle lines on her face from experiences and living. A forty year old woman knows what she is about, no more trying to figure out what she is supposed to be. A forty year old woman knows her mind, is settled into the unique person she is, and makes no apologies for it. I could go on and on about what I think forty signifies for a woman... I won't wear a diamond until I turn forty (my engagement ring is a tanzanite, which is a rare purplish-blue stone); I feel the need to be more established before I wear such a weighty jewel.
In light of my thoughts on forty, I suppose that thirty-eight and thirty-nine signify the last stages of the metamorphosis period. Even the recent changes in my life reveal this to be true: adapting to a natural program to "shed my old skin." I thank You, Lord, for continually guiding my steps in this journey, for showing me how to let go of the past, giving me deeper understanding, and bringing me this far and beyond. Above all, be glorified in this butterfly!


Time To Emerge From The Cave

I strive for authenticity and transparency with this blog, y'know, and to genuinely be in touch with what is going on within me and all around me. With the Spring thaw starting to happen, many bears are coming out of hibernation grumpy because of hunger. I too am displaying characteristics of the emerging bear, not hungry since I can eat something other than apples, but grumpy for sure. My family was startled on more than one occasion today as I growled at them about leaving things out of place and I'm sure I displayed my teeth. Grrrrrr...
I hate disorder and confusion. Who can really function well in such a state? I can't. I have really strong convictions about my responsibility to manage the things in front of me. How can I expect more from God if I haven't taken good care of what I already have? Not that this conviction automatically signals my success in doing so. That is my struggle and frustration. I want more but am overwhelmed by what I already have and there doesn't ever seem to be quite enough room to contain/time to manage/energy to handle everything!
I'm not ready to make my home in a cave for half the year, though gorging on food and sleeping afterwards for months sounds kind of appealing. Nope. I've never been one to run or hide from a problem; I like solutions and conclusions. And Sean (otherwise know as dear hubby except when I'm hairy, grouchy and growling) came up with a brilliant solution today and set the topsy turvy things in my life back right side up: sort through the things that are overcrowding our living space and pack them up to make more room! Lest you think I am some organizational novice, I'll have you know that "Organizing" is practically my middle name. Yes, indeed. In this case, I have already organized SO MUCH of our belongings - sorted, threw out, gave away or packed them away for the last few months - that I was experiencing organizing burnout. Hence the extreme grouchiness. But I saw the truth in what Sean said and eagerly anticipate another round of gathering containers to sort, keep and give away more of our stuff. Seriously, my grumpiness gave away to bright eyes and an even brighter disposition as I considered the stuff I needed to tackle.
And I discovered a way to summarize our relationship: Sean makes a mess and I organize it; I have a problem and he fixes it. There have been so many circumstances in our 9 years together that this has been true, manifesting itself in various ways.
I am bold, blunt and to the point when it comes to organizing things (items as well as schedules, plans, etc.) But when things don't go quite the way I imagined they must, I can lose my cool. (I didn't say temper! Just my cool - beads of perspiration form on my upper lip, my hands begin to tremble, I quiver inside... what is happening to everything I planned and prepared for so thoroughly???) Don't even think about muttering 'control freak.' (I'll know if you did by the look in your eyes the next time we happen to run into one another - the words will flash across your brain, and I will know you're referencing back to this blog.) My oh-so-cool knight in shining armor rescues me by remaining calm and reasonable. Not too many things phase Sean, not even mixed up piles and messes which drive me bonkers. But in other cases when clarity of thought and the ability to breakdown a situation into digestible bites are required, I shine. I'm analytical by nature; this is my strength. Sean is easygoing, even-tempered and gracious. I'm a Poodle, and he's a Golden Retriever. And together, we are a very cool couple.


You Are What You Eat

In thinking through the detox period and specific food allowances for the next phase, the phrase "you are what you eat" kept coming to me. How many times have I heard that and dismissed it? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I shouldn't eat this but... I'll eat better tomorrow. One won't hurt. Blah, blah, blah. We fool ourselves. Isn't it true that we are affected by the food we eat? Headaches, stomach pains, heartburn, weight gain, allergies - aren't we aware when we shouldn't have indulged but did? Why do we do this, over and over, ignoring the truth of what we have been taught? I write this as one who is utterly perplexed by her stubborn determination to dismiss the warnings and choose poorly. I have lied to myself that a little won't hurt - my body bears evidence that it has affected me terribly.
Even more importantly, aren't we what we eat of God's spiritual food? If we don't partake of God's Word regularly and choose instead "fillers" with no real spiritual nutrition, then we will be affected, not strong and robust as we ought to be. I write this as one who is really experiencing how necessary good food is to robust health. My good intentions have not produced the fruit of faithfully taking in God's Word, and I see the results in my life. As I choose to fill up on healthy foods to restore myself physically, I commit myself even more to partake of the Bible. The result of doing that faithfully will produce eternal fruit that could change the world for the glory of God!

An Apple A Day...

My personal journey towards beautiful, clear skin and a balanced, healthier lifestyle has begun. After three days of a detox diet of apples and water, I will be able to eat a variety of vegetables and fruits tomorrow. Yippee!
The first and last day weren't too bad; the excitement of starting and the relief to be at the end helped me endure. The second day was definitely the most challenging. I was tired of eating apples, though I faithfully chomped on them throughout the day. I had a lingering headache, the effects of the detox as well as frustration from unfinished elements in our new living quarters. So I did what any normal, food deprived, hormonally challenged woman would do - I had a total meltdown. I can't remember the last time I cried and vented like that. My dear hubby sent the children upstairs to color while he listened and consoled me. Sweet man!
I bought myself a ruby red divided tray at Target in order to easily split up the percentages of certain fruits, vegetables and proteins I need to consume on this specialized plan. The average time before many people saw complete clearing of the psoriasis patches was three months; it is important to follow the strict guidelines until I experience total clearing. After that, I can ease up some but have to monitor which foods cause a reaction. I am approaching this as a lifestyle change versus a short-term diet to fix one area. Eating larger quantities of fruits and vegetables and avoiding white products, processed foods, etc. is a great thing and helps keep balance in the body. I am excited that this will improve our family's eating habits - though we've purchased mostly organic foods for several years now, we still need to eat more vegetables and fruits versus pasta, rice and breads.
Part of the plan also emphasizes right thinking and positive attitudes. I do believe that this is the path towards a healthier overall me and that my skin will clear up as part of the process. I believe excess baggage will be shed physically and emotionally as I take better care of myself inside-out. Eating fresh, invigorating foods will give me more energy to be the best me I can be for the glory of God. Thinking right thoughts and facing the world with a positive attitude is right out of God's Word, the source of all that is right and positive. God has a unique purpose for me, designed for me even as he specifically shaped my body, chose my features, and gifted me with certain abilities. I am thrilled that this journey encompasses all of me, not just the physical, and God walks with me through it. He has gently been leading me all along, Faithful Shepherd, and I am so grateful. God is so wonderfully specific in His communion with His beloved. He is intimate and personal with us, loving us so thoroughly. That we would wholeheartedly embrace Him in return, open our hearts in worship, fill our minds with the beauty of His Word, and be all that He has created us to be. Be glorified, God.


A Few of My Favorite Things

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens... Is it just me or does the list from the song "Favorite Things" puzzle you too? I remember singing it for a choral performance in elementary school and thinking how strange some of the choices were. Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings? And what is schnitzel with noodles? Not to offend my Austrian and German friends - I'm sure it's delicious! Now, a steaming bowl of soba (buckwheat) noodles with fishcakes and vegetables, I understand....yummm. It's a cultural thing, and one must adapt the song to your own personal experience and taste. So here is a list of a few of my favorite things:
1. Fluffy, cotton comforters to curl up in on cool evenings
2. Oversized purses and bags
3. A large, steaming cup of strong coffee or latte any time of the day
4. An uninterrupted soak in a hot bath
5. A pile of new books to read from the library
6. Crispy mornings in the Fall and Winter, especially around the holidays
7. Tea parties
8. Poking about a cluttered antique store for unexpected treasures
9. Crunchy Japanese rice crackers
10. Going fruit picking
Certainly there are more, but this was a spontaneous post. And it's late, and one of my favorite things is waiting for me to curl up in it and go to sleep. I bid you adieu, adieu, adieu. Until next time!


A Personal Journey

I am about to embark on a huge personal journey. Like the woman in the Bible with the issue of blood who spent everything she had on doctors but only found her condition worsen, I too have had a health issue for decades that doctors could not help. It started when I was three years old, and my poor mother dragged me to numerous doctors and specialists to find a cure. We tried all the treatments - putting coal tar ointments on my skin, wrapping it in plastic wrap, putting patches of medicinal tape all over - to no avail. I've suffered with psoriasis, a skin condition that results in red, dry, sometimes itchy patches of skin on various parts of the body. It has mainly showed up on my arms and legs, though at times it has appeared on my face and on my scalp.
I grew up with it not bothering me too much or affecting my self esteem, though sometimes people would make ignorant comments about my skin. Having psoriasis has not held me back from many areas of life, and I even did some modeling for a few years during and after high school. But as a Christian who believes in divine healing, it has been in those circles where I have felt the most pressure to "be healed." I've sought God, knew I would see the manifestation of healing and have clear, radiantly beautiful skin and also gain understanding about the underlying causes of this disease as well as gain balance in my life as part of the healing process. I always sensed that healing for psoriasis had to take place from the inside out - something from deep within was causing the patches and itchy skin.
Recently I came across a resource that incorporates faith and natural measures to bring healing for psoriasis, and I am embarking on this journey in a few days. It requires a major commitment on my part to form better lifestyle habits and to take good care of myself. I am so thankful for the Lord leading me to this place in such a gentle manner. My posts will also document the changes, challenges and ongoing journey with God. I want my temple to be the most honoring testimony to the greatness of God, but I continually rejoice that, regardless of anything physical, I am a child of God, made perfect in His image.


Significant Moment #2: God's Love reflected is Beautiful

Mirror, Mirror on the wall... The year after I re-committed my life to Christ, my church sponsored a Women's Conference that significantly impacted my life. The main speaker, Cheryl Prewitt Salem (Miss America 1980), shared a message about God's restoration that captivated my attention. Her testimony of God's faithfulness in the face of numerous obstacles, both physically and emotionally, was amazing - her road to becoming Miss America was truly miraculous, as she suffered from physical challenges including a shortened leg and facial scars. She did not win many pageants but tenaciously hung onto what God had spoken to her. Eventually she made it to the Miss America pageant and won the title, triumphantly proclaiming God's Word in the year of her reign. I was thrilled by the opportunity to visit her ministry headquarters in Tulsa, OK when I moved there to attend Bible School. It was located in a posh shopping center and was also a store selling pageant clothing. I visited several times to purchase books and taped messages. Next door was a beautiful bridal shop. I couldn't resist the urge to step inside one day and marveled at the intimate, elegant room showcasing dreamy dresses and accessories. On the back wall was a large mirror in an elaborate gold frame. As I drew closer to it, I realized that I could not bear to look into it. In this wonderful room with perfect lighting designed to make any woman feel beautiful, I had to turn away from my reflection. I felt too vulnerable and exposed and also feared what would be revealed if I looked too closely into that mirror. I left the store and drove away stunned - I'd never experienced anything like that, obviously looking into mirrors at home daily in order to put on make-up or to fix my hair. I returned to the bridal store whenever I visited Cheryl Prewitt Salem's ministry and always found that I could not look into the mirror. I even brought a friend with me once to visit both places, curious about her response to the mirror. She looked into it with no hesitation and didn't seem to find anything extraordinary about the mirror or her reflection. I took a quick peek at myself from behind her and was immediately filled with remorse and embarrassment. That was the last time I went to that store. Soon after, I graduated and returned home to Virginia. Flash forward several years. During a whirlwind visit to Bulgaria to attend Bible School graduations throughout the country, I walked to a little hut selling convenience items to get a drink. Another American woman travelling with me reacted severely to the vile magazines littering the opening to the hut by the cashier and made no attempt to disguise her impatience with the language barrier or slow manner of the Gypsy lady operating the store. When my turn came, I struggled to get out the few words I'd tried to memorize in the guttural Bulgarian language and apologetically smiled at the Gypsy cashier. She asked me a question, and I turned to our interpreter to find out what she said. During our brief interaction, she said she saw God in me. A moment of kindness versus judgment in the midst of various vices - Thank You, Lord, for Your love that transcends languages and culture and reaches even the hidden corners of Eastern Europe! I had several opportunities on that trip and during my longer stay in Bulgaria to spend time among Gypsies, a displaced, outcast group of fiercely proud and beautiful people. I felt closer to God and the ministry of His Word flowed freely in their simple village churches and humble dwellings. When they worshipped God, it was joyful and heartfelt. After each church service, the old women embraced us as they offered us chocolates. I'll never forget having to use the bathroom and discovering that meant climbing over a fence into a large, muddy pig pen. The wooden shack in the midst of the muck had huge gaps in the crisscrossed boards, barely offering any privacy. Concerned about invading the pig's space as well as getting stuck in the mud, I decided that my bladder would have to wait the hours until I returned to town. I was showered with love and affection - from a Gypsy man operating a roadside stand who sliced open a watermelon with his large knife and gave it freely out of concern for our being out in the heat, to the Bible School students in a remote Gypsy town who locked arms with me as we walked to a nearby home for refreshments. A devoted pastor who worked tirelessly to serve his town and establish the Word of God in those under his care paid me the highest compliment as I chatted and played with his young son. He said he saw God in me. Working out the issues surrounding my own reflection has been an ongoing process, but what matters most is reflecting Jesus. The moon has no light source of its own and reflects the Sun. Jesus is our Light and has declared that we too are lights in this world. The book of John has so many references to this! May we be as faithful as the moon to steadfastly reflect the One who is Light and Love.


Significant Moment #1: God responds to our heart cry

As in many areas of my life, my blog is quite eclectic, a mix of funny parenting moments to spiritual musings to sharing challenging life experiences. I had a moving dream the other night that reminded me of other "significant moments," when I sensed God giving me a message of sorts in order to bring encouragement, healing, understanding and life lessons. A few came in the form of dreams but most were through experiences when I sensed God's Spirit encouraging me to take note and remember the specific lesson. The dream from the other night brought me back to the time I was in Bible School and showed me another perspective on a situation that was quite painful to me. The two years at school were supposed to be some of "the best times" in my life, but they were difficult ones for me. I never felt like I fit in and often felt incredible loneliness. God has used those very things in my life to reach people - I often notice people who hover around the perimeter in groups and my heart goes out to them. I remember speaking at a church in Ethiopia. The majority of the crowd was exuberant during a time of worship, but my attention was drawn to several quiet figures sitting in the back corners. I sensed that God wanted to touch them and called them forward. It was a precious time of ministry, holding their hands and whispering privately to them the message God wanted them to hear. The greatness of our God is in the one on one relationship He yearns to have with each of us. He really knows us and responds to us individually. Back to the dream... In it, I was once again filled with the sense of not belonging and loneliness. A person I admired drew me into the center of a room and sat down with me on a sofa facing many others. I was expecting to be rejected in a nice Christian sort of way, told that I didn't quite belong and encouraged to find another place. Instead, this person sat down with me regardless of the audience to gently affirm and express an interest in me. The surprise in the room was tangible, and my own heart was filled with wonder. This person proceeded to specifically list things that showed me I had been noticed and that the interest was genuine. I woke up with a sweet sensation of having been touched by God. There was healing and peace in a place where sorrow and pain had lingered. That brings to mind another experience that took place in Ethiopia. At the end of a service, several of us visiting from the States were asked to come forward to pray with those responding to the altar call. The crowd was huge, and we moved among the people with our interpreters, laying hands on and praying for different individuals. At the end of that time, as I was making my way back my seat, I passed a cute little boy standing with his mother. I reached out to pat his head affectionately as I walked by him, and immediately his hands shot up as he assumed a position of receiving. He was immediately filled with the Holy Spirit, loudly expressing worship in the most beautiful way. The crowd around him hushed and watched him in amazement. This was a quiet child, maybe around five or six years old. I hadn't touched him with the intention of praying for him, yet his heart was wide open to the Lord, hungry and ready to receive from Him. Many of the adults around him who had answered the altar call were busy trying to receive from God - rather than quietly opening their hearts to receive prayer, they often prayed louder and harder than the person trying to minister to them. In the midst of this chaos, a little child simply reached out to God and received what the others were trying so hard to make manifest. This boy received a touch from heaven. God reached out in the midst of chaos and adults clamoring to get God's attention to respond to the open and humble heart of a little boy. It was a wonderful site to behold and a powerful lesson to me. This experience has stayed with me throughout the years and is one of the key "significant moments" of my life. It is a reminder that God truly sees our hearts no matter what is going on and responds to us in an individual way. Our part is to seek Him with sincerity - He may not respond in the way we anticipated, but He does respond to His children. As a matter of fact, His Word is full of loving responses, if we'll quiet ourselves and seek Him. Selah. I must remember this as well.