Monday, August 5, 2013

Communion, Reflection and NKOTB

This week our pastor pitched a couple of questions on facebook for our congregation to chime in on with their insights and experiences. The questions were:

What does communion mean to you?

What was a time when communion was particularly meaningful? Why?

Although I did not contribute to the thread, my responses to these inquiries have been swimming in my head for a few days until I felt my thoughts would require more than a comment box. Enter this blog post.

For me, a meaningful communion is one in which I have had adequate time to reflect on the cross. So what? Doesn't everyone reflect on the cross before communion? Maybe. However, I think it requires a bit of time to bring our heart to a point of true remembrance. Christ said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” I “remember” that Christ died for my sins every day. But, what is different about the remembrance we offer Him during communion? Well, we remember not just that He died on the cross for our sins. I believe it is profoundly more than that. We remember how we were broken the first time we came to the understanding of exactly what happened that good, good Friday. The exercise is painful but it is our defense against desensitization to his sacrifice.

My reflection before communion usually has 4 parts to it. Don't get me wrong, I am not proposing a 4 step, never fail, always have an amazing communion program here. This is just what has been especially helpful for me in my time communion and during any time or worship.

When I was about 12 or 13 years old, I watched a low budget horror flick called The Candyman at a friend's birthday sleepover. One scene almost caused me to upchuck my chocolate cake all over my NKOTB sleeping bag. At that point in my life I decided that me and gory movies don't really get along. So you may be surprised when I tell you that the first thing I envision before communion is Christ's wounds. No doubt the scene was horrific but I allow my mind to look at his pierced brow, bleeding wrist, throbbing feet and the blood poring from his side. It makes me a little queasy to see my savior's body broken this way and yet there is a beauty that I cannot explain.

Second, I think about the sounds. I imagine the cries of pain coming from the lips of my Lord. I hear the mockery going on all around me. Perhaps most heartbreaking, I imagine shouts of betrayal coming from my own mouth as well. At first I think, “I would never say those things to you Lord” but I am quickly reminded of times in my life when my actions have proved otherwise.

The next thing I think about is the hardest to wrap my brain around. I imagine the shame, guilt and despair that sin has caused in my own life then I try to fathom how that was multiplied for every person that has ever lived.... ever..... and laid on Christ at the cross. The emotional pain that Jesus felt that day far surpassed the physical misery he endured.

Lastly, I remember that in the midst of all this ugliness.... He never stopped loving me. It's simple and yet this last part is what brings me back to the way I felt when I first fell in love with my savior. It breaks me again. In the words of Tullian Tchividhian, it “wrecks me afresh.” It evokes a worship from my heart that cultivates an intimacy between me and God that I have longed for in the midst of the mundane. How great is our God!

" Here in Your presence
I am not afraid of brokenness
To wash Your feet with humble tears
I would be poured out till nothing's left

And I just wanna wait on You, my God
I just wanna dwell on who You are

Beautiful, beautiful
Oh, I am lost for more to say
Beautiful, beautiful
Oh Lord You're beautiful to me"

-Beautiful by Kari Jobe

So, how about you? What would your answers to my pastor's questions be?

Monday, July 30, 2012

How I Really Feel About Going Back To Work

James 1:27 - Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world

When I left for Cape Town, South Africa in November of last year, it was my first mission trip.  I had heard many say that it would change my life and I was anxious to see how that would play out for me.  I would soon discover that God would do such an important shift in my thinking that it made life change inevitable.

 Prior to that journey, my definitions for the words “orphan” and “widow” were very traditional ones.  My thoughts were in line with the dictionary definitions which are as follows:

Orphan - child without parents; a child whose parents are both dead

Widow - woman whose husband has died

At first I was confused when the children whom we built beds for in Cape Town did not fall into this traditionally defined Orphan category.  Weren’t we supposed to be caring for orphans?  Most of these kids are cared for by their mother.  What God revealed to me is that these children were orphans and these mothers were widows. 
What was missing in every single case was a father.  Without the loving, supportive role of the male leader of the household , these mothers and these children suffered from the same things that traditionally defined orphans and widows do.  What I walked away with was a priceless gift:  freedom from looking through a telescope to find those that God wants me to look after in their distress.  When I set down the scope, I saw that the broader picture offered many to help.  Overwhelming?  Yes.  Inspiring?  Very.

I remember coming to this poignant realization a couple months after I had returned home.  I was sharing with a congregation that I knew quite well about my recent journey to South Africa.  I was struggling to communicate the way God had changed my heart.  I now know that the reason for my struggle was because I was just discovering that change myself.   I looked out into the crowd and saw a young girl whom I had known for several years, belly swollen with child, abandoned by the baby’s father.  It was in that moment that I realized, it was for her… and the many that are like her that, prior to my trip, I would have never seen as widows... or orphans.

Recently I have gone back to work after almost 5 years of staying home to care for my own children.  It’s a move that was necessary, but I have not felt at peace about the decision since I had hoped to be home until my little Noah went to pre-school.  Last night as I prayed about this, God lifted the veil of my sadness long enough for me to come to a couple of realizations:

1.      I did not seek out this job.  It just kind of fell in my lap.  When stuff like that happens in my life, I can’t help but see God’s divine orchestration of something beautiful in my life.

2.     My job consists in large part of loving on and encouraging mothers and babies, most of which fall into my newly broadened definition of orphans and widows. 

I hear Him saying, “I have prepared you for this, child.  Trust me.”

And peace, like a river, attendeth my soul…

Friday, January 6, 2012

Jesus, Orphans & Masi

I have lagged behind a little in my Sweet Sleep blog post series... mostly because I have had a hard time finding words to do the stories justice.  It's frustrating to have something touch your heart so deeply only to not be able to transfer that feeling to others adequately.  And so, I sit here this morning and pray that the spirit will take over as I write these words.

Masi.... short for Masiphumelele.

To most, this just looks like an African word that is hard to pronounce and has no known meaning.  But to someone who has been to this place, it evokes feelings and images that are overwhelming.  By the way, Masiphumelele is a Xhosa word meaning "We will succeed".

Here is a brief history lesson about Masi as borrowed from a non-profit site:

"Apartheid—meaning separateness in Afrikaans - was a system of legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government in South Africa between 1948 and 1994.

 Apartheid legislation classified inhabitants into racial groups (black, white, coloured, and Indian), and residential areas were segregated by means of forced removals. Blacks were stripped of their citizenship; legally becoming citizens of one of ten tribally based self-governing homelands or Bantustans.  The government segregated education, medical care, and other public services, and provided black people with services inferior to those of whites.

During the Apartheid era blacks were evicted from properties that were in areas designated as "white only" and forced to move into townships.

 In the early 1980's a group of 400-500 people started the first informal settlement close to where Masiphumelele is today.  Under the old Apartheid laws the families were chased away and moved on by force.

 The people were told that they had to live in the poorly set up township of Khayelitsha, on the outskirts of Cape Town, more than 30 kilometres away. For those who had found work in the Fish Hoek area this meant a long journey on bicycle or public transport every day. They tried again and again to move back to where they had first set up camp.

Nearly ten years later, in 1991/92 as Apartheid was ending, they tried again. A group of people from Khayelitsha, joined by a few thousand people from the Eastern Cape who hoped to find work in the area, moved onto what was then known as "Site 5". It was renamed Masiphumelele by the people soon after.

 In the early 1990s about 8000 people built their shacks and simple homes and started to set up their own community. Until 1995 there was not even a building for a school or a clinic. Today more than 38,000 people live in 110 acre Masiphumelele."

During most of our bed builds, we were priveleged to be working with Africans who knew the English language.  However, when we entered Masi we took a translator who spoke Xhosa, the African language known for it's distinctive clicking sounds.  We were briefed before entry, being warned that we were to stay close as a group since Masi was like a maze.  Once inside it would be nearly impossible to find your way back out without the help of a guide.  We each grabbed pieces of the beds and started in, winding our way through corrugated metal shacks.  Although we were there in the middle of the day with the sun shining, the place felt dark and devoid of hope.

When we arrived at the shack, we found a grandmother caring for her 5 grandchildren.  This family ate maybe once a day.  They had recently been through a fire in which they lost everything.  Father was something foreign to these children.  Their mother only came back to drop off another baby, steal money and food and then leave again.

I have tried to put myself in the shoes of these children many times since my return, wondering what it must be like to anxiously await the return of your mother, hoping that this time she would stay and love you the way a child deserves to be loved, only to have her leave again and again.   It is bad enough for a child never to know a mother or a father but to know your mother and be abandoned by her brings a whole new kind of heartache to the table.  No wonder God is so passionate about us defending the cause of the orphans.

As dark as that little shack was, the light of Jesus shone bright that day.  Once there, we realized that the one bunk bed that we had planned for this home was not sufficient, so we returned to the hardware store to buy supplies for another bed.  The need of this family was great.  We left wishing we could do more but were encouraged that the Living Hope ministry had been connected to this family in order to help in other ways as needed.  We expressed through a translator to this grandmother how we wished for her and her grandchildren to know the love of Jesus more through these warm beds.  Although she was a woman of few words, her gratitude was communicated through her tired eyes and tears.

to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.   -Isaiah 61:3

The grandmother with one of her 5 grandchildren

 Loving sisters sitting on their new bed

 Sweet baby

Dedicated to her  grandchildren

Two happy girls

 Old Mattress

 The entrance to Masi

Winding through the maze of shacks

 A sea of corrugated metal

Notice all of the electrical lines for each shack strung to one little box

Here is a video of the trek through Masi

Find out how you can help more children like these precious five.  Sweet Sleep is still in a fund-raising campaign to raise the funds to provide 2500 orphans in Northern Ugandan who suffer from HIV/AIDS with beds.  Please go to to find out how you can help.  $50 provides a bed with bedding.  $10 provides a Bible.  $8 provides a mosquito net.  I have seen the way a child's eyes light up the first time they sit on their very first bed.  Be a part of something amazing!

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Not So "Silent Night"

I'm taking a little break in my Sweet Sleep, South Africa blog series to bring you these hysterical darn right scary pictures of the kids.  A few weeks ago I saw this cute Christmas card picture on pinterest with the caption "Silent Night".

I thought it was so funny, clever and definitely fitting for my wild bunch so I decided to try to emulate this photo with my kids.  Our attempt did not go so well.  I told the kids to look surprised but I got more "serial killer" from Emma.  Jackson and Leah are always hard to get to look at the camera.  And, well, despite my optimistic attitude that maybe Noah would not totally freak out when we tied him up with Christmas lights and taped his mouth shut with festive red duct tape.... he did.

So if we do get Christmas cards out in time for Christmas this year, I think I will spare you from opening up your mailbox to find these fabulous photos (insert sarcasm here) and just go with something a little more traditional......  you're welcome.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Sweet, Sweet Sound

Sweet Sleep, South Africa, Post #3

We had the pleasure of building bunk bed #2 for 5 little ones stair stepping in age. These 5 kids were cared for by an inspiring woman named Sharon. Inspiring because she cares for her own 3 children and 2 abandoned children as a single mom with no income in a tiny 10 X 10 home. Inspiring because never once did I hear her words tend toward fret, worry or complaint in the midst of her circumstances. Only Joy. Inspring because being in need herself and being unemployed did not stop her from volunteering her time to help others in need. She even expressed a desire to help future participants in the Open Door classes. Such a giving spirit is a rare treasure in this world.


I spoke briefly with Sharon outside her home as the bed was being assembled by the men on our team.

You know, because it only makes perfect sense that the men build the beds while us girls do what we do best...

talk until it is time to put the sheets on. Oh, I digress.

Back to Sharon, she told me a small part of her story that reminded me of what I need to be reminded of so often; nothing in our lives is too big,

or too small

for God to provide. She told me that she knew that there was a need in her home of beds for her many children. She said that she made plans in her mind to get beds for her family but she was unsure how she would make it happen since she did not have any income. After praying about this need for some time, Sharon began attending the parenting classes with Open Door, unaware that the graduates of this program would recieve Sweet Sleep beds for the children in their home. She said that when she found out that these strangers from America were coming to build her children beds, she knew that God had

very specifically answered her prayers.

Our team returned that afternoon to re-iterate to the children that when they pull their covers up over themselves at night to think about God giving them a great big hug. We were in store for an amazing blessing as Sharon asked if we would like to hear her children sing a song that she had written. Sharon and her children opened their mouths and a beautiful sound escaped from them. Take a listen for yourself.

It warms my heart that every day about the time that I am preparing to pick up my kids from school, somewhere half way around the world are 5 precious children climbing into their warm beds in a 10 by 10 house, making a sweet, sweet sound unto the Lord with their mama.

the little ones trying out their beds


To help more children like Sharon's little ones, go to and find out more about how you can help.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Many People, One Vision

Sweet Sleep, South Africa, Post #2

It is no doubt that Sweet Sleep has many partners on the ground all over the world that make it possible for a team to come into a country and build beds for a large number of children in just one week. I think of organizations that Sweet Sleep has partnered with but mostly I think of people. There is Lucia in Moldova, Josephine and Sweet Jennifer in Uganda and many more who have let the vision of Sweet Sleep infiltrate their hearts and their lives.

In South Africa we met many people who were a part of the ministry there, but I want to introduce you to this amazing couple that played such an important part...

Cedric & Veronica & Me

Cedric & Veronica live in the township of Oceanview where most of Sweet Sleep's work in Cape Town was done. Cedric prefabricated the 20 beds that we assembled when we got there. He truly worked hard as if "working unto the Lord". You could tell that he had joy in his work and the ability to provide for his family.

Cedric & Jen (founder & president of Sweet Sleep) team up to do some bed assembly

Veronica was a part of the parenting class at Open Door. It is evident that her leadership and spiritual guidance was a true light to the women who were a part of these classes. It was said that the classes were every Monday for 2 hours, but they ended up staying for about 3 hours every week because the support and fellowship was such a needed presence in the lives of these women. When the women expressed their disappointment that the class was ending, Veronica took the initiative to start a bible study with these women so that they could continue to meet together and support eachother. I had the pleasure of talking with Veronica on many occasions throughout the week we were there and I was so uplifted and encouraged by her faith.

Veronica cracked me up when she hopped on this excercise machine just outside someone's house where we were working. She is too funny!

Our team had the opportunity to share dinner and conversation one evening with Cedric and his lovely wife. We listened as they told us their story, about their life, their children and their journey with the Lord. We were amazed at the faith that this couple shared, at the way God strengthened that faith through times of trouble and at the way that God has provided and cared for them. We were happy that they expressed that they wanted to be a part of Sweet Sleep's future work in South Africa.

I was also so touched by the fact that Cedric & Veronica take in a teenage boy every day during the day when he is locked out of his house by his family until his mother returns from work. His name is Cedric also. We took to calling him little Cedric and you will hear much more about him in a future post.

Please pray for Cedric & Veronica as they continue to be a light to their community. Pray for the children that will be impacted by the future work of Sweet Sleep in Oceanview and other areas of Cape Town.

Want to help Sweet Sleep provide beds for the world's orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children? Help us meet our goal to provide 2500 beds to children in Uganda this Christmas. Just $50 provides a child with a bed, bedding, a life-saving mosquito net and a bible in the child's own language. Make a difference this Christmas! Go to to help today.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sweet Rowan

Sweet Sleep, South Africa, Post #1

It has been almost one month since I returned from my mission trip with Sweet Sleep to Cape Town, South Africa to build beds for some of the most vulnerable children there. I feel like I have had some time to process what I experienced and I now feel ready to share it with you. Many of you have been a part of this through giving financially or giving your time in prayer. I can tell you that nothing compares to being on a journey like this and experiencing it with all 5 senses, however I will try my best to take you to the places we went and introduce you to some people who I was fortunate enough to cross paths with. I invite you to come to South Africa with me over the next few blog posts and let yourselves fall in love with the people and the country. It's so easy to do!

Rowan and Me

First, I would like to introduce you to our very first bed recipient in South Africa. His name is Rowan and he kind of stole my heart. This said heart almost broke in two when he asked me and my team members to take him home with us. Rowan is 7 years old. We built a bunk bed in his home for him and his little brother Roland who is 2. When we arrived at this first home we were taken back by the small size and poor condition of the home. However, later, we worked in some other homes that made this one look very nice.

Little Bro, Roland, checking out my camera

Rowan's mother, Nicolette, took part in an 8 week parenting class through an organization called Open Door, which serves Cape Town much like the State Social Services Department does here. Open Door identified those children who were most vulnerable and invited their caregivers to take part in this class. Upon graduation of this program, caregivers were given Sweet Sleep beds for the children in their home. This class is so vital for people living in this area because it provides education to combat child abuse, drug abuse and other problems that plague Cape Town. The best part is, Open Door has already begun another class to help another group of children, Sweet Sleep is committed to providing beds again to the graduates of this program.

Nicolette at her first glimpse of the finished bunk bed for her boys

We built the bed in the morning while Rowan was at school but returned later that afternoon, once he had gotten a chance to see his bed. When we arrived he was sitting in his bed playing & so happy. My friend John got the chance to talk with Rowan a little about Jesus. We learned that sharing the gospel with a 7 year old requires a lot of patience. So. easily. distracted. Check out the video of our chat and pray for Rowan, Roland and Nicolette.

You can help other children like Rowan and Roland. Find out how. Go to Donate online, sign up to make Sweet Sleep your VBS mission focus, hold a youth Lock-in or Lock-out to benefit Sweet Sleep or do some Christmas shopping in the online Sweet Sleep store.