Thursday, February 23, 2012


That's how many girls are abducted from Nepal and trafficked to India in the sex trade industry each year.  Some as young as six.


At six, I had a birthday party at McDonald's.  I picked honeysuckle from the fence on the playground at school.  I married Michael Thomas on the see-saw and then tattled on him when he left me to play with the boys.  (I know, I hadn't watched How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days yet.  Sorry, Michael.)  I loved My Little Pony.  I danced to "Beat It" over and over again as it played from my very own Strawberry Shortcake record player.  I made a construction paper crown for my baby brother and dubbed him Prince Ryan.  I had a crown too.  Because I was a princess.

Every six-year-old girl is a princess.

How then, can anyone kidnap these precious little ones from their homes and sell them in a brothel in a foreign land?  How can they hold them in cages and deny them food?  How can they subject them to savage abuse at the hands of up to 40 men a day?  Men who believe that stealing the purity of these little girls will cure their own HIV.  How can they toss them onto the street when they show signs of the diseases that have been given to them by their many abusers?  

How can we stand by in our comfortable lives and turn a deaf ear to their cries? 

I am guilty.

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’...“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail."  ~Isaiah 58: 1-3 and 6-11

"Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed."  ~Psalm 82:3

"Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." ~Proverbs 31:9

Will you defend her?

Picture taken from THI

Find out how at Tiny Hands International.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

When God Speaks

Child of God, you have the attention of Jesus.  He knows everything going on in your life.  He is familiar with your pain.  Jesus' love, compassion, and grace are immensely personal.  He is committed to meeting the deepest needs of your heart in the middle of your struggle.  ~David Platt

My pastor paused in the middle of his sermon on Sunday to speak these words to the church.  I'm sure God led him to say them, and I'm sure there were many in such a large crowd who needed to hear them.  But then God did something for me that I pray I never forget.  He proved them true. 

Without going into any details, the past week has been one that, apart from the tender mercies of God, should have been one of the worst weeks of my life.  I spent a significant portion of Saturday dumping out my anger, hurt, and confusion before Him. He had orchestrated the events of the week and allowed me a front-row seat as He answered so many of my prayers.  But His answers seemed to come at my expense, and the harsh timing left me feeling carelessly used and discarded.  

Ohh, I was mad.  Mostly at Him.  So I told Him.  I sobbed furious tears for quite some time before coming to a place of conceding, I just need to feel You.  I just need to know You care about me too.

The service had just ended on Sunday morning when Anna approached me and said, "I've been praying hard for you this week, Haley.  God really laid you on my heart."  I'm sure the look on my face was one of confusion.  That would have been a perfectly normal thing for a close friend to say after a week like this one.  But I met Anna three weeks ago.  We're in a Bible study together, but we've never had a one-on-one conversation.  She knows very little about me and absolutely nothing about my week.  Certain she just meant she had prayed through the requests I had shared at small group on Tuesday, I asked her to explain.  She said, "No, all week I've been praying for you, and then last night (Saturday), I was in the middle of praying for myself.  God kept interrupting me with Haley...Haley...Haley." 

My jaw dropped. 

He knows.  He hears.  He cares. 

Nothing else matters.

"Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness."  ~Lamentations 3:22-23

Saturday, January 28, 2012

"Can we give up all for the love of God? When the surrender of ourselves seems too much to ask, it is first of all because our thoughts about God Himself are paltry. We have not really seen Him, we have hardly tested Him at all and learned how good He is. In our blindness we approach Him with suspicious reserve. We ask how much of our fun He intends to spoil, how much He will demand from us, how high is the price we must pay before He is placated. If we had the least notion of His lovingkindness and tender mercy, His fatherly care for His poor children, His generosity, His beautiful plans for us; if we knew how patiently He waits for our turning to Him, how gently He means to lead us to green pastures and still waters, how carefully He is preparing a place for us, how ceaselessly He is ordering and ordaining and engineering His Master Plan for our good - if we had any inkling of all this, could we be so reluctant to let go of our smashed dandelions or whatever we clutch so fiercely in our sweaty little hands?"

-Elisabeth Elliot

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Katie's Family Makes National News!

If you read my blog while I was in Africa, you know that I constantly suggested reading posts from Katie's blog.  While I've never met her personally, I am challenged and encouraged every time she writes about what God is doing in her life and the lives of her children.  If you aren't aware, Katie is a 22-year-old from Brentwood, TN, who has become Mommy to 13 orphaned Ugandan girls.  I was so excited to see her story published on NPR.  Read it here, and then check out her blog.  If you feel led to support Katie's ministry financially, click on the "Amazima" link on the right side of my blog.  (Of course, you can find it on her blog as well.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Secret Poverty

"The greatest single hindrance to evangelism today is the secret poverty of our own spiritual experience."  ~John Stott

Talk to any grandparent for five minutes and what's the most likely topic of conversation?  The grandchildren.  Ask any mother how her week has been, and what will her response include?  The daily lives of her children.  Spend significant time with any engaged man or woman, and you will leave knowing all about his or her future spouse.  We all do it.  We all talk about the people we know and love the most.

So what does it mean when our conversations do not naturally lead to Jesus?

I would rather not think about the answer to that question. Because the truth behind it is not something I can acknowledge and then simply continue on my merry way. The truth behind it is this: we do not know Him. Not really. If we really knew Jesus, we wouldn't be able to stop talking about Him. We wouldn't be able to stand the thought of someone else not knowing Him.

Oh, I know Him a little. I've spent time with Him. I've talked with Him. I've asked for His guidance, and I've even followed it many times. I've experienced His presence and power in my life enough to "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8). And I can attest to the fact that those are the times when I can't wait to share what He's done with the first person who will listen. Which is why I can also say with certainty that John Stott is right: if we are experiencing life with Jesus, we are going to be talking about it. If we are not talking about it, the spiritual poverty we try so hard to cover up with pious-sounding words and religious activity is far more tragic than any slum on the other side of the world. I've hidden in that slum more times than I care to admit.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" (Matthew 7:21-22)   You mean it is possible to prophesy and drive out demons and perform miracles in His name without knowing Him?  Jesus seems to think so.  You mean there are people who verbally acknowledge Jesus's lordship but have no real relationship with Him?  That's what it sounds like to me.

I shudder to think of what it would feel like to hear Him say, "I never knew you."

"Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?"  (2 Corinthians 13:5)

My first inclination after typing these verses was to backtrack--give a little disclaimer that I'm not questioning my own salvation or trying to cause others to question theirs.  And then I thought...why do I feel the need to be p.c. and do that?  The Bible commands us to test ourselves!  I'm not doing anybody any favors by sugar-coating that command.  Do you, do I, know Jesus?  I mean really.

If not, He's worth knowing.  Not for blessings on this earth or the promise of eternity in heaven, but simply for Him.  He is life.  He is joy.  He is peace.  Nothing is worth more.

The apostle Paul seemed to have that much figured out when He said, "But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith." (Philippians 3:7-9).

It seems so obvious.  Of course, everything is garbage compared to knowing Christ.  I can say that with no hesitation.  But do I live that way?  If I examine how I spend my time, my thoughts, my money--is knowing Christ truly my priority?  And what does it mean to really know Him?

"I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead."  (Philippians 3:10-11).

To know Christ is to become like Christ.  But wow, participate in His sufferings and become like Him in His death?  I'd like to think I would be willing to suffer and die for Him if it came to that, but to say that I want it?  Do I want to know Him that badly?  It's easy to look at those verses and feel frustrated.  I don't know if I can say that, Lord!  I want to know You, and I know You're worth it, but I'm not there yet!  I'm glad the apostle Paul kept going...

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."  (Philippians 3:12-14)

I'm also glad it's not dependent on my own efforts and motivation. "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose."  (Philippians 2:12-13).

And He can be trusted to finish the work He started.  "Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."  (Philippians 1:6)

Dear Jesus, open our eyes to see our own secret poverty.  Forgive us for placing people and things above our relationship with You.  Enthrall us with Your presence, and draw us to pursue You above all else.  Let us experience You as our life, our joy, and our peace.  Burden us for those who have never known You, and let our words and actions constantly reflect the richness of knowing You.

*If you are not sure what it means to be a follower of Christ and would like to know more, click here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Bachelor: Biblical Reality Television at Its Finest...Well, Sort Of

One dude.  Thirty women.  Let the catfights begin.

I do not watch The Bachelor.  Not usually.  Not on purpose.  At least not unless I just happen to have the tv on as background noise while I'm grading papers.

Ok, so sometimes I watch it.  I probably shouldn't.  Because usually by the time the show ends, my pride is puffed up a little for comparing myself to these girls who are stooping to all kinda crazy to fight over a man who is clearly having his cake and eating it too.  They sob and they rant when he chooses one of the other girls, and I find myself yelling at the television, "Honey, did you not watch the show last season?  You signed up for this!" 

It doesn't take a relationship expert to recognize that any situation involving more than one woman competing for one man is a recipe for jealousy, insecurity and confusion. In a word: DRAMA.  And ABC entertains 15 million viewers with it weekly.

Reality television--clearly more television than reality, right?  But as I watched the season premier of The Bachelor the other night (rationalized by the stack of punctuation tests in front of me), I realized that a similar situation actually was reality almost 2500 years ago.  The bachelor?  King Ahasuerus of Persia.  The unlikely favorite?  A Jewish orphan named Esther.

Esther has been on my mind a lot lately (not at all evidenced by the fact that I am pulling Biblical analogies out of reality tv...ha).  In the summer of 2008, several of my closest friends and I went on a 10-day mission trip to Johannesburg, South Africa.  We had the privilege of serving with Steve and Teresa Kinsley, full-time missionaries and founders of Mission Sebenzela.  Towards the end of our trip, Mrs. Teresa prayed for our group.  As she prayed specifically for the girls, she mentioned that God was "raising up many of these girls to be Esthers."  At that moment, I had chills that literally went from my head to my toes and back again.  It wasn't like the little goose bumps you get when you are touched by a message or a song.  I knew God was telling me to pay attention.

This was a pivotal point in my life because I was just coming out of a period of avoiding God.  No, I wasn't living a lifestyle of flagrant sin.  No one would have known it but me.  I went to church, faithfully attended my small group, and did all the right things--purposefully keeping God at a distance the whole time.  My relationship with Him had become almost non-existent, and I was beginning to think that God had probably given up on me.  Until He called me Esther.

I still don't have much insight into what that means.  At the time, the meaning behind it wasn't nearly as important as the fact that I felt God speak to me.  To say that He wanted me.  To say that even though I had run, He loved me and had a purpose for my life.  That was the only thing that mattered to me in the summer of 2008.  But now, 2 1/2 years later, as I pray towards a possible future in overseas missions, I want to know...what does it mean to be an Esther?

As for the real Esther...
  • She was raised as an orphan by her cousin Mordecai.
  • She was chosen by the king's overseers as one of probably hundreds of beautiful young virgins to compete for the king's affections. 
  • She found favor with Hegai, the king's eunuch, and with all who saw her.
  • When it was her turn to meet with the king, she took only what Hegai advised.
  • She was chosen by King Ahasuerus as queen in place of Vashti.  (Had she not been chosen, she would have spent the rest of her life in the 2nd harem, living a life of virtual widowhood.  How's that for a final rose ceremony?)
  • As the new queen, she risked her life to save her people from genocide.
As I study Esther in the next few months, I'm sure I'll learn more about what it means to be like this brave, godly young woman.  I've already learned a little bit, just reading this verse and a short commentary on it today: "For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Mordecai speaking to Esther in 4:14).  The commentary I read was a reminder that regardless of what position you are in, God has placed you there for a unique purpose.

It reminded me of what my pastor David Platt says is his constant prayer, "God, I pray that today, now, you would lead me to the people, places, and positions where I can most effectively make disciples of all nations."  For me, it is a reminder that no matter how much I may consider a future overseas, today my "positions" in His kingdom are teacher, coach, small group leader, daughter, sister, and friend in Alabama.  God's purposes for salvation will stand with or without me, but it will be my loss if I choose not to be a part of them.  May I not keep silent about the gospel in such a time as this.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Dreaded 3-0

I did everything I could to strike November 14th from the calendar this year, but the 5th anniversary of my 25th birthday came and went without any input from me.  My friends took me out for sushi at Jinsei to mourn (or celebrate...whatever you want to call it). 

Space, Kate, and me

John likes to snap them before we are ready.

me and Hayden

Mel, Crystal, Bryant, and Laurahelen

The icing on the cake was opening my mailbox to find this card from Kelly...
Ha.  30 is the new 20, right?  :)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Strawberry Lemonade

It's been a while since I've blogged, in part because of the busy-ness of school and in part because daily life in Alabama doesn't exactly seem like the stuff headlines are made of.  But God has really been bringing some Scripture to life for me lately, so I thought I'd write a little bit about what He's been teaching me.

We could probably all quote Romans 8:28 "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose."  It's one of those verses that's offered as a lifeline for someone in crisis, so much that it's sadly almost become a Christian cliché--one of those go-to phrases we toss out when we don't know what else to say.  It's also one of those verses that I've known as head knowledge but not as heart knowledge.  I guess God decided that needed to change.

As much as everyone is probably sick of hearing the condo saga, that so-called "investment" has continuously been a source of "life experience" for me.  Despite being the one decision I regret the most, God has used it to teach me so many truths--most of them involving His sovereignty and provision.  October has been no different.

It all started on the first of the month when I picked up my keys to move back in.  Without going into unnecessary details, the past month has offered me a crash course in home repairs and interior decorating.  (I will stick to teaching from now on, thanks.)

One morning I was walking into school, mentally tallying receipts and visualizing my bank account vanishing into a puff of smoke.  For a moment, fear and regret threatened to grip my thoughts.  Why did I ever purchase this stupid condo?  How am I supposed to pay off the loan when I'm having to spend money on home improvements?  Am I going to be stuck in it forever???

Thankfully, those thoughts only lasted a few seconds before I was reminded: my Daddy owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10).  This sum of money that seems so big in my little world is literally nothing to Him.  This condo could be sold tomorrow if He wanted it to be.  So I am not here because of a mortgage.  I am not here because of a bad housing market.  I am not even here because I made a mistake in purchasing the condo.  I am here because this is where God wants me for today.

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts; neither are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9

I'm learning that He sees things we don't.  Maybe He wanted to use this as an opportunity to display His grace and sovereignty to others who witnessed the situation.  Maybe He needed to allow a little adversity in my life because as long as things are trucking along according to plan, I tend to neglect truly seeking Him.  (It's strange how the moments when I'm at the end of my rope are the sweetest because those are the moments I get to experience Him as my comfort and peace.)  I don't know His reasons, but I don't need to. I don't have to question what He's doing or why because I know that He knows what's best much better than I do.  And nothing happens without His permission.  To quote my friend Melissa, "He's got this thing rigged."

It amazes me what peace it brings to know that God is both completely trustworthy and completely in control.  Today a friend texted me and said, "Man, things really aren't going your way lately."  And I realized that while this month seems to have been a series of unfortunate events, God has transformed every frustration into something good.  What started as an unexpected major home repair became a "Designed to Sell" project.  What could have become a seed of bitterness turned into an opportunity to share about God's grace and provision.  And this condo that I've been so desperate to get out of is the soon-to-be location of a weekly Bible study with some precious high school girls.  God handed me some lemons so that I could watch Him make strawberry lemonade.  (He knows that's my favorite.)

Romans 8:28 doesn't feel so cliché any more.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Nothing like a little perspective...

to start off your Saturday morning. 

Where do you stand compared to the world's wealthiest people?  Click here to find out.  Then check out my friend Kelly's insightful post

Thanks for the reminder, Kel.  Miss you, friend.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

I left my heart in Africa.

In more ways than one. 

I had chosen the title of this post before I ever left the ship.  That was two months ago.  I knew I would miss Africa, and I thought that leaving my heart there would make for a dramatic, must-read title. :)  But I never found the words.  I still don't have them.  How do you communicate the mixed emotions of returning home from a place that has been home for the last ten months?  I mean, am I supposed to be happy or sad?  Will I hurt my family's feelings if I tell them I wish I was in Africa?  (Because I often do.)  When I don't wish I was in Africa (like or hate it, America certainly has its perks), should I feel guilty?  Where do I really want to be anyway? 

I left the ship with one goal, two fears, and a prayer in mind.  Goal: pay down the loan on my condo as quickly as possible so that I can sell it and be free to move wherever.  Fears: that I would either (1) become so comfortable in my happy little suburban lifestyle that I'd lose sight of the goal to pay down the condo, or (2) go so far to the opposite extreme that I viewed this time at home as simply a means to an end, rather than a season in which God has a purpose for me HERE.  And the prayer: that God would guard me from those two extremes.

But something worse happened: I left my heart in Africa.  You know, the one I thought had changed while I was there.

Romans 12:2 keeps echoing.  "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world..."


Like a chameleon.

When I was in Africa, I conformed.  Surrounded by "missionaries," I conformed to the mindset that material possessions don't determine worth.  That people will still love you if there's a stain on your shirt, you wear sandals without painting your toenails, and your hair becomes larger than life after a few minutes outside during rainy season.  That there is a world out there with much bigger problems than an outdated cell phone, and there are more important ways to spend your life than sitting by the pool.  That pursuing an intimate relationship with God is more valuable, more life-giving, than anything this world has to offer.

Not bad things to conform to.  But that's not what God asks us to do.  "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:2

I didn't transform, at least not fully.  I mostly conformed.  I know that because I now feel the need to update my wardrobe, and buy new toenail polish, and work on my tan.  And heaven forbid I use a flip phone.  

Before you think I've gone all legalistic on you, I don't think there's anything wrong with toenail polish, or hip cell phones, or cute clothes.  I'm just saying my focus is off.  My pattern is worldly.  It's all about me and my little world.  If I'm honest, the real problem is I haven't prayed, as in really-truly-pursued-Him prayed, since I've been home.  I've spent more time running (in more ways than one).

Ordinarily, I'd wait to post this until I'd come out of it.  Repented.  So that I could write it in past tense.  Because you know, that's not how I am; it's how I was

Since I'm clearly on a roll with the verbs lesson (sorry...English teacher...bear with me), I just noticed something else in that verse.

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will."

"Conform" is active. It's something we do.  "Be transformed," on the other hand, is passive.  It's something we allow to be done to us.  I can't transform myself, but I can be transformed. 

Well, that's a relief.  Because I really don't want to be a conformer, a chameleon.  But I'm stuck.  I guess that's why the Bible calls it the "pattern of this world."  It's a pattern.  And patterns are hard to break. 

What can I do?  How do I stop conforming and be transformed?  I had to back up a verse to find out.

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship." Romans 12:1

Sacrifice.  Me.  Just as I am.  Pink toenails and all. 

Hold me accountable, friends.

*Little morning addition to my late night post: God DID change my heart while I was there.  I know that because while I may still act like a chameleon sometimes, He's taught me to recognize it when I do.  He's taught me that the pattern of this world is empty and lifeless and unfulfilling.   And he's taught me that I don't have to live that way. There IS something better.  It doesn't matter if I'm in Africa or America--true life is found in HIM.  "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I have come that they might have LIFE, and have it abundantly."  John 10:10 

Oh, and Tommy, you're right.  I think maybe God likes pink toenails.  :)

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Day My Babies Came to Visit

This is actually an old post.  I had saved it as a draft on June 7th and forgotten about it.  I decided just to post it as is, rather than try to go back and edit the time frame.  Gosh, I miss this!

Last Wednesday the kids that we tutor from the YWAM house came to visit the ship.  It was so fun to be able to invite our friends to our "home."

waiting for visitor passes

seeing my classroom

YWAM kids with my 4th and 5th grade class

group photo outside the academy

juice and cookies


Claude and Shalom

tour of the bridge

group photo on deck 7

in front of the ship

me with Shalom and Claude, the kids I tutor on Monday nights

A bientot!  See you soon! 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Mooching again...

"Beauty" by Jenn.  You don't want to miss this one.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Should I give up, or should I just keep chasin' pavement...

even if it leads nowhere?

We couldn't stop laughing when "Chasing Pavement" started playing on Kelly's iPod just past the halfway point of our trek across Togo two weeks ago. I'm not sure why we thought it would be a good idea to attempt to walk 35 miles without stopping, but let's be honest, how often do you get to say you walked across an entire country in a day? One group from the ship had already tried and failed, so that made the challenge all the more enticing.

The plan: touch the Ghana border, walk across Togo, touch the Benin border.  We named it the Trans Togo Trek.  (I know, we're dorks.)

leaving the ship at 4:45 a.m.

starting out at the border of Ghana--5:10 a.m.
from left: Estelle, Kelly, me, Jenn, Ben, Liz, and Tim
(Jenn, Liz and Tim just started with us so that we'd have a big group before dawn.  They walked back to the ship shortly after sunrise.)

My friend Murray offered to drive a "support vehicle" alongside us for safety and, of course, water breaks.  He took some really cool photos along the way.

And then there were three...Estelle dropped out just shy of halfway because of blisters. 
the African coast...beautiful, isn't it?

palm trees along the road


Tampico break
We reached the marathon mark!

shirt change--Ben decided to change jerseys as we got closer to each country.  He started wearing a Ghana jersey, changed into a Togo jersey about a third of the way through, and then switched to a Benin jersey for the last leg of the trek.
still in good spirits at this point



Ok, this is about where we renamed the trip the Trans Togo Trudge. Our favorite lines, "How much longer?"  "Um, I think maybe just another hour and a half."  We seemed to say that, oh, about every hour and a half.

some beautiful scenery to brighten up the last 2 miles

Hi from the bridge, just on the outskirts of the border town.  We think we can...we think we can.

almost to Benin!

We made it!!!  We reached the Benin border at 5:30 p.m.

No, that's not a sock tan.  That's the line between our dirty legs and our white feet.  I'm not sure how Kelly's legs were the dirtiest when she was the only one wearing pants.

I've never been one to do stupid things just to say I did, but I think this may be the beginning of a new habit. We had so much fun, and it was a great way to see the countryside.  (I also gained an appreciation for why boys are proud of their "battle scars."  I have a bruise underneath my toenail from our little adventure, and I refuse to paint my toenails so that I can watch it turn colors.  I think I gained cool teacher points from my fifth grade boys for that...ha.)  Besides being one of the stupidest things I've ever done, the Trans Togo Trek will undoubtedly be one of my favorite memories from Togo.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Embarrassing the Brother

Ryan is probably going to kill me for posting this.  He'll just have to get over it.

I missed his college graduation on Saturday, and I got a little teary looking at the pictures. 

Handsome, isn't he?  Yeah, I think so too.

Mom, Ryan, and Dad

Love you, Brother!  Wish I could've been there.  (And War Eagle!)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Long Division and the Gospel

It was a half-hearted prayer.  Words spoken more out of habit and duty than sincerity and love.  To be quite honest, I was perfectly content to continue riding in silence, contemplating my own life in my own little bubble.  But we were on our way to Monday night tutoring.  That meant we were supposed to pray.  So it went something like this:  Lord,  please bless our time with these children tonight.  Please help us be able to help them with their work, despite the language barrier.  Please help them see Your love through us tonight, and help us be able to share Christ with them.  In Jesus' name, Amen. 

By "them," I meant...

And my friends Shalom and Claude...

Every Monday night, I go with three other girls to tutor a group of neighborhood kids through a ministry called YWAM (Youth With A Mission).  The YWAM staff opens their home to these children every night to assist with homework and provide basic tutoring.  Some of the children are orphans; others simply have no one at home who is able or available to help them with their school work.  It has become a highlight of my week, but as you can see from the beginning of this post, my heart isn't always where it needs to be before we arrive. 

But God's always is.

Last night Shalom, Claude, and I were working through their math practice book like we usually do.  It looks like this:

You may not be able to tell from the picture, but it's in French.  Do I speak French?  Not so much.  My conversation in French last night was the equivalent of the following translated into English:  "You eat today?...I eat spaghetti...You favorite?...This Mercy Ship (Shalom was examining my ID badge)...I sleep on the ship.  Ship is my house."  Yeah, I'm almost as fluent as Tarzan. The idea of me tutoring them is comical to say the least.  And last night we conquered long division.  (If you've ever tried to teach long division to any child, you've probably already recognized this as answered prayer number one.)

Then something really cool happened.  I always bring a bag of resources from the ship.  When their homework is complete, Shalom and Claude love to make games out of the flash cards or read one of the books.  Last night, Claude chose a book about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  We started to read, and Claude seemed really interested in the pictures.  I pulled our translator Nestor over to help me have a "real" conversation with Claude, and I asked, "Do you know why Jesus died?"

"No," Claude said.  And then came answered prayer number two.

In simplistic, messily-translated sentences, I was able to share with Claude that we all do wrong things.  Jesus never did anything wrong, but He died to take the punishment for the wrong things we've done.  After He died, He rose again--God brought Him back to life!  Because He died, we are able to ask God to forgive us for the wrong things we've done. 

"Compris?" I asked. (Understand?) 

"Yes," he said.

It wasn't a perfect presentation of the Gospel.  I didn't quote Scripture.  I didn't even begin to explain sin, its consequences, or the gift of eternal life through faith in Christ.  But I don't doubt for a second that if God can use a tired, distracted, self-centered teacher--who didn't feel like praying and who barely speaks a lick of French--to share why Jesus came, He will certainly continue to reveal Himself to this precious little boy.

I'm so thankful for a God who hears and answers our prayers, even the half-hearted ones.  When we least deserve to be used, He proves that it isn't about us being worthy, equipped, or even motivated to be used in the first place.  He had a plan for Claude last night, and He wasn't about to let me get in the way of it.

"I know that You can do all things.  No plan of Yours can be thwarted." ~Job 42:2    

Sunday, April 18, 2010

El Qanna: My Jealous God

He says His name is Jealous. 

"Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." ~Exodus 34:14

God loves me.  Sure, I know that.  I mean I've sung the words since childhood.  Love just has so many different definitions in English.  Although I could've quoted Scriptures to the contrary, for far too long I've pictured God's love as more of a far off compassion--merciful but somewhat detached.  In my better moments, I've understood that He loves like me like a father loves a child.  "As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust."  ~Psalm 103:13-14.  I'm thankful for my sweet daddy.  My relationship with him helps me understand God's fatherly love for me.  

God IS my Father.  But He isn't JUST my Father.  The Bible also says that I am His bride, and He is my Husband.  "For your Maker is your Husband—the LORD Almighty is His name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; He is called the God of all the earth."  ~Isaiah 54:5

Wow. That's a pretty tough concept to grasp, especially considering I've never been married. They say you can't fully understand the sacrifice God made when He allowed Jesus to be crucified until you've been a parent yourself, and I'm sure the same applies to understanding the symbolism of marriage in revealing God's love for us. But even in my limited understanding, this kind of love has stolen my heart in recent days.

He says I am the apple of His eye.  "For this is what the LORD Almighty says: 'After He has honored me and has sent me against the nations that have plundered you—for whoever touches you touches the apple of His eye.'"  ~Zechariah 2:8

He says that He rejoices over me.  "As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you." ~Isaiah 62:5b

He says that even though I have forgotten Him for other lovers, He will pursue me with His love.  "'Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness, and speak kindly to her...and it will come about in that day,' declares the LORD, 'That you will call me Ishi (husband) and will no longer call Me Baali (master)...and I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion, and I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness.  Then you will know the LORD.'" ~Hosea 2: 14, 16, 19-20
Betrothed in righteousness, in justice, in lovingkindness, in compassion, and in faithfulness.  BETROTHED.  I am His.  "I am my beloved's, and His desire is for me."  Song of Solomon 7:10
It's this kind of love that makes Him jealous for my affection.  "This is what the LORD Almighty says: "I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her." ~Zechariah 8:2

He burns with a holy jealousy because of His LOVE for me. "Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame." ~Song of Solomon 8:6

That's why He doesn't want my heartless obedience; He wants my heart. "The LORD says: 'These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.'" ~Isaiah 29:13

His love for me is perfect--unchanging, unending, unfathomable.  How is it possible that I--the one who doesn't even deserve to be acknowledged, much less adored, by this God--am the one who runs from Him?  It seems crazy!  Yet it is the story of my life, and yours.  So what is a Husband to do with His unfaithful bride?  Divorce her?  Disown her? 

No, deliver her. 

Even at the cost of His own life.  "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless."  ~Ephesians 5:25-27

Pretty amazing, isn't it?  The God who made the universe not only knows my name, not only calls me Daughter, He calls me His beloved bride.  The apple of His eye.  The one for whom He gave His life.

Capture my heart with Your love, O God. Make me a woman worthy to be called Your bride. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Last weekend our academy staff flew to Kenya for a teaching conference.  (Now that's something I never thought I'd say!)  We applied for a grant and fundraised the rest of the money to attend the ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International) International Christian Educators Conference in Kijabe, Kenya.  The conference was incredible because it applied what we know to be best practice in education through a Biblical context.  In a sense, it was the missing piece to the "why we do what we do."  Rather than ramble on about that though, as I'm sure most people who read my blog would rather skip on the teacher-talk, I'll just post some of my favorite pictures from the trip.  (Total side note--is it weird that I just looked back on the word "favorite" in that sentence because my mind initially registered it as incorrect?  I'm getting used to seeing it as "favourite."  Ha.)

Here we are waiting for our transport to the airport in Accra, Ghana.  We had just walked with all of our luggage across the border of Togo into Ghana.

Estelle and I (you can barely see us) underneath the "Smile. You're in Kenya." sign at the airport in Nairobi.

an advertisement on the window of our bus from Nairobi to Kijabe

the Rift Valley...breath-taking, isn't it?

I met two girls from Birmingham at the conference!  Allison (beside me) graduated from Vestavia High School with several of my good friends, and Lindsey (right) just graduated from Auburn!  It really is a small world.

our academy staff all dressed up and ready for the closing banquet

Estelle!  (Don't ask.)

Watch out for that mountain lion!

And NEVER let a monkey lick you! 

Do you understand now why I love working for MSA?  We have SO much fun working together...perhaps too much fun at times!  :)

my co-worker, cabin-mate, and good friend Amy

Estelle and I came out matching almost exactly. It was NOT planned. What was even funnier (or perhaps more embarrassing) was that we roomed together on the trip and didn't even notice that we had on matching outfits until everyone started teasing us!

Estelle, Danae, me, and Amy (Estelle changed her scarf so that we didn't look so conspicuous!) 

the leader of the tribe that danced for us at the final worship service

tribal song and dance

Kenya is now one of my favorite African nations.  I hope one day I'll have a chance to go back and see more of this beautiful country!