The Heart of a Parent

Little David, one of the two precious toddlers I’m caring for at the orphanage, really tries my patience sometimes. My biggest struggle with him is during lunch time. For whatever reason, he often does not want to eat at this time. He starts to play with his food, I take it away and ask if he is done, he whines, I give it back and tell him to eat. Then at some point in this little game, he deliberately puts his whole hand into his bowl and grabs his food and tries to fling it on the ground. He knows this is wrong. I’m not proud to say that usually at this point, I completely lose it. I rip his bowl out of his hands, slap his hand, yell “NO!” and then proceed to violently clean the mess and make him sit in his high chair until I am done. Then I feel mad at myself, because I have lost my patience and my temper. I feel like I have failed at my role as his caregiver. But today, I actually won the battle with patience for once. When David shoved his whole hand in the bowl again today, I kept my cool. I took the bowl away, held his hands until he looked at me, and said calmly but firmly, “No. That’s not okay,” and then slapped his hand. It felt so calm and controlled, and I think it was more effective too. He stuck out his bottom lip and was quiet for a minute. He knew he had disobeyed. And I just felt like maybe I am finally starting to learn. Maybe I am finally getting better at this.

For most of the nearly three months I have been here, I have felt so unbelievably inept at this task of caring for children! I have felt like such a failure. I have been impatient, ill-tempered, irritable, tired, and sloppy. I have doubted God’s calling on my life to work with orphans. I have started to wonder if he brought me here to show me that I am not cut out to work with children. But I do not think that is the case at all. I think raising children is one of the hardest tasks on earth, and of course I am going to make mistakes! I am not always going to be that perfectly patient, calm, put-together person. Some days, it is all I can do to get through the day. But I do think God has gifted me in the area of child care. I think maybe I need to be more patient and gracious with myself. Overall, David and the other toddler, Silaa, are very well-behaved for their age. They are definitely very sweet. David likes to give kisses, and it just melts any frustration that was there a moment ago. The house stays pretty clean regardless of my “I just don’t care today” days. So I think I am doing okay. Even so, though I realize these three months are only a very small taste of what it will be like to be a parent, I am more sure than ever before that I am not ready to be a mom.

And through all of this, I am once again reminded of God’s heart towards us. I was reading this blog post from a mom about why parenting is the hardest job in the world. She writes all these reasons of why it is so hard, and the last reason is love. She writes, “Love is what makes you put up with the power struggles, the endless variations of crying and whining, the constant physical and emotional upheaval children bring to your life. . . . That heart-swelling, earth-shattering, all-consuming love for your kids is what creates the challenges of parenting, yet makes them all worthwhile.” How like God to give the majority of people on earth a job that brings them closer to understanding his heart than perhaps anything else. A job that receives no payment and almost no recognition, yet drives you on tirelessly. Just like you cannot force a child to obey you, so God has given us free will. And he is eternally patient with us through all of our tantrums, all of our blame-games, all of our disobedience. He does not lose his temper or have “I just don’t care today” days. There is no level of disobedience that can cut us off from his love. This love parents have for their children drives them to keep caring for them, through every struggle. And this love, I think, that is the closest understanding we can have as humans to the depth of God’s love for us.

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Quote cited from http://www.motherhoodandmore.com/2013/08/9-reasons-why-parenting-is-worlds.html 

Relentless

The rain is pouring like nothing I have ever seen before. When it rains here, you can hear it before it actually starts. It comes like a wave- this distant roaring that grows louder and louder until it is all around you, and the sky is thick with dark clouds, unleashing its pent up fury and pounding the earth like a waterfall.

The hesitation to step outside is rather like the hesitation to jump into a lake. I will have to change clothes…

But the childish glee wins and I’m in the downpour, running barefoot and hardly able to see because the water is streaming down my face. Within seconds, every inch of me is completely drenched. The property might as well be deserted–no one else is foolish enough to be out in the rain. But we do not have rain like this where I am from!

Why does a downpour like that feel so freeing? It feels like God’s power and love is pouring out of the sky, and I want to be in it. I want it to soak into my clothes and my hair and stream down my face. It’s like that song, “He is jealous for me. Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree, bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy…”

Oh, how he loves us!

My time here in Thailand has been hard. I know it is where I am supposed to be, and there have been some really amazing days, but it has been hard. But running out into the storm, letting the water pound into my skin and wash away all the dirt, sweat, and weariness, my heart swells with joy once more. I will sing to the Lord, for he revives my soul! His love is relentless. You cannot stay dry under the torrents of his love.

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A Different Kind of Love

Here I am sitting in the coffee shop by the orphanage in Thailand, writing and enjoying amazing coffee and a brownie, just like I pictured myself while I was at home! It is so crazy when your daydreams come true. I arrived three weeks ago and I will be here for three months, caring for two toddlers in a small orphanage that I visited on my DTS.

I knew my time here would be hard. I don’t think anyone can spend time in an orphanage and not be emotionally and physically challenged. But there are other ways I am being challenged that I could not have foreseen. One of these challenges is in my purpose here.

You may have heard me say “I just want to love people!” And it’s so true, but there is so much depth to that word, “love.” In DTS it was so easy to love people. How do I explain that? We were able to love directly–spending time with people, encouraging them, praying with them. Children starved of attention would light up with joy when we played with them or held them, or even so much as smiled at them in passing. We were able to watch the effects of our love–or rather, God’s love through us–as we saw lives transformed before our eyes.  We never stayed in a place long enough to bear the burdens of long-term love. And love was reciprocated; I was blessed with a team that delighted in affirming one another, and I knew they loved me. Any challenge I faced, my team was right there to encourage me and pray me through it.

But here… it is so much different! My team is scattered around the world, and I am here on my own. I have to build new relationships with people I have trouble communicating with. My days mainly consist of chores, and I feel I have little time to actually spend with people. Now I am learning a more difficult, deeper kind of love through serving. I am learning to love indirectly–for I will not see the effect I have here. The two babies I care for are not going to suddenly blossom before my eyes simply because I clean the house. They are certainly not starved of attention. If I was not here, someone else would care for them. Still, the work I do here needs to be done each day, and this is where God has called me for now.

I barely understand it myself yet, but I think this is part of why God brought me here: to learn a different kind of love. And wow, it is a challenge! If I even for a moment take my eyes off God and look at my life, I become overwhelmed with exhaustion and can barely drag myself through the day.I have to remind myself that I am serving Him even in the mundane, ordinary chores. I am learning that I do not have to do extraordinary things in the darkest parts of human need to serve God. This is where he wants me right now, and so I will serve by working at these simple tasks with a joyful spirit and thankfulness in my heart.

When I consider if there is somewhere I would rather be; if I would rather be at home, the truth is a big, resounding… no. I love my family and friends, but I have no purpose at home. I do not seem to have a comfort zone anymore, because I do not like being comfortable! So I rejoice in the challenges–because as I learn these things, as I become more and more dependent on God, there is an overwhelming joy.

Love Never Fails

Okay, time to unload some memories that I cannot bear to forget. This is the story of Camp Oasis, the camp we put on in Naga, Philippines.

 

When we arrived in Naga, excited to begin our ministry after the small taste of outreach we had had during our four days in Manila, we received the disappointing word from God to “wait.” After two weeks of waiting, intercession and worship, we finally felt God call us to move–to put on a three day camp for the kids of the Philippines. The theme of the camp was understanding our identity in God, which I realized later was probably my personal theme for all of DTS.

Where do I even begin telling about this amazing camp? God worked in so many ways! We were preparing for something like 60-80 kids–we ended up with well over a hundred, ages anywhere from about seven to twenty. We were extremely low on budget–we ran the entire camp with maybe $600. We ate a LOT of rice! The kids came from lots of different places: we had kids from churches, from slum villages, and even from the streets. We piled them up into a jeepney and shuttled them to the camp.

If you are at all familiar with Royal Family Kids Camp (camp in the U.S. for abused children), that is the closest thing I can compare this camp to. The kids are much the same–many have been abused, and all have grown up without the attention, overprotectiveness and commodities that rampage U.S. families. But in RFKC, there was at least one staff person or counselor to each child, all staff were trained months in advance, and we had all the resources we needed. At Camp Oasis, there was about one staff per ten kids, we planned the entire camp in two weeks, and we had almost no resources–AND there was a major language barrier. My team (Golden Cheetahs!) I led with my teammate, Nanna, and we had eleven kids ages 10-14. Half our kids were from a slum village called Azucena, and they spoke barely a word of English. But what kind of setback is that to a God who breathed life in us to begin with?

One of the girls from Azucena, Rachelle, was really on my heart. She was 14 and you could tell that she had to grow up fast. She was tough and motherly at the same time. In RFKC we would have called her a runner; she ran away whenever she got the chance. She would glance back at me because she knew I was watching and then laugh when she caught my eye. She would move around in the crowd of children checking back to see if I was watching, and then before I knew it, she was gone. Of course I went after her every time. I’m so beyond grateful that I had Nanna co-leading with me during those times–she ran so many times that first day! The second day she did not run nearly so much, and the third day she did not run at all.

Rachelle (top) and Joyce

Rachelle (top) and Joyce

Kuya Utol–a street magician/evangelist that worked at the YWAM base we were staying at–had been ministering to a group of street kids for a while and invited them to camp. By some miracle of God, their leader came too! At first he would not really participate or respect the leaders that were placed over him. Instead he led his street kids in rebelling against authority, sneaking off to do drugs in the bathroom and things like that. But the second day, things started to change.

During the second day, Kuya Adel gave his third sermon entirely in Tagalog or Bicol, so I have no idea what the message was about–but when he was finished, all the kids came into the middle of the church, crying and praying for one another and being prayed for. All of us clueless leaders stood around on the sides, praying over them. Oh… how can I possibly describe this moment? It was one of the highlights of all of outreach. I was so overwhelmed by the presence of God in that place. I did not even know what the pastor had said! But Rachelle and the other Azucena girls were crying, and I knew something had finally reached her heart. The street kid leader, Rammel, was up front weeping also, hugging the pastor, and the pastor was weeping in return. Rammel was saved that day! Most of the street kids and many others were saved as well! I just could not believe the things that God was doing right before my eyes. I think I had felt really discouraged the day before. I was exhausted from lack of sleep and watching Rachelle like a hawk and running after her all the time, and I was frustrated because I could not talk to her and reason with her. I knew how to say “I love you” in Tagalog: “Mahal kita!” and I said it often, but that was all I could say! I prayed for her a lot. But in that moment, praying over all those weeping children, I saw the love of God sweep over them and touch their hearts in deeper ways than I ever could have managed on my own. These are the things you pray for but you so rarely witness, and God allowed us to see some of the effects his love can have on people. I guess this camp gave us a purpose for the rest of outreach and maybe even the rest of our lives: that prayer, intercession, and partnering with God in his reckless love can change people’s hearts forever. Because your identity is in God and not in your circumstances. You are loved, you are forgiven, you are precious, you are redeemed.

Praying over our darling campers after Kuya Adel's sermon

Praying over our darling campers after Kuya Adel’s sermon

That night, we had some time with our groups to talk with the help of a translator. I was able to find out why another girl, Maye, was crying. She said she felt so much shame for all the bad things she had done, and I was able to explain to her with the help of the translator how shame is not of God! That Jesus died and took her shame upon the cross and God had already forgiven her when she repented; that he loves her unconditionally. We had posters up that the kids could write on, and she wrote “God love me so much” on all of them, which just melted my heart. How precious are God’s children!

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The last day, worshipping was probably the best worship experience ever. I was overjoyed at the work God had done in the kids and in us over three short days. The songs we sang were songs you had to dance to, and we were all jumping and dancing with huge smiles! Rachelle engaged in the worship, finally, which sent my heart soaring. Later on, we even did the cha-cha slide for fun and let me tell you, that was the most fun I have ever had doing the cha-cha slide. It was especially amusing since many of the kids do not speak English and therefore cannot understand the dance instructions in the song. So they just followed us as best they could or did their own thing and we all laughed the whole way through!

What joy filled my heart that day. I cannot describe it. I woke up burning with fever and aching all over, but I pressed on and joy overtook my sickness until we returned back to base! In the Philippines, it is custom to give “remembrances” when you say goodbye. All of my Azucena girls (including Rachelle) gave me their name-tags! I will keep them forever. All of my campers are so precious to me. I’ve written mostly about the ones from Azucena but the others are so dear to me also! Some of them I am friends with on facebook! So if any of you beautiful children are reading this, know that each and every one of you is and always will be important to me. I love you all. And praise be to God for those three days that he taught me so much about my identity in Him and drew me so much closer to Him. Praise be to God for the love he poured out on all of us.

Me and some of our campers (Rachelle is on the left)

Me and some of our campers (Rachelle is on the left)

Me and Nanna and some of our campers

Me and Nanna and some of our campers

Beyond Understanding

I’m home! Obviously my updates have been horrendously absent. There is SO much more I want to write about from my DTS trip. Hopefully I can get some of those incredible stories written down soon! For now, I just want to share some of my thoughts for the day.

 

I’m glad I can never fully understand God. When you fully understand something, it gives you a certain kind of power over it; you learn how to manipulate it and predict what it will do. But we can never manipulate God; we can never understand his ways because they are different and higher than our own, and he is so much greater than human understanding! How can the pot manipulate or understand its maker? Yes, absolutely God is constant and unchanging, faithful to the end. He always loves and he is always good. But how can we understand what that looks like in our limited perspective? He loves–yet people are not always healed, not always rescued, not always joyous. There is no rhyme or reason. We try to make sense of it by chalking it up to “sin” or “not enough faith.” But God is not limited by the failure of our humanity! He still restores, regardless of our mistakes and spiritual immaturity. Death, sickness, tragedy… none of that was part of God’s original plan. The darkness of sin entered the world when Adam and Eve chose to let it in, because God gave them that choice. But God is gracious and merciful and allows us to see glimpses of heaven by healing and doing miracles on Earth! He has already given us so much more than we deserve! But how can we ever understand why some people receive those blessings and others do not? All we can do is trust the one who made us and cares for us. And there is something comforting about being totally dependent on someone so much greater than ourselves–someone we can never fully understand but who understands everything about us, down to the very depths of our hearts, and loves us unconditionally.

A City that Refuses to be Forgotten

We are in the Philippines! I can still hardly believe it!

 

Our first day, we went for a tour around Smokey Mountain in Manila, the poorest area in all the Philippines. We walked through big concrete housing developments with gaping dark entrances and children waving from the windows, through muddy roads lined with shacks made of tarps and whatever scraps were available, and finally climbed Smokey Mountain, from which you can see all the slums and then the skyscrapers way in the distance, barely visible through the smog. Smokey Mountain is literally a mountain of trash. There is vegetation growing on it, but you can still see the trash poking through. The whole area reeks like nothing else. It feels like the stench just soaks into your clothes and your skin and your hair, like you could catch some disease just breathing. The puddles in the road are cloudy and almost green and there is trash everywhere. Scrawny cats and dogs roam the whole area.

 

How can I even really describe this place? It is by far the filthiest place I have ever been in my life, far worse than I could have imagined. The next two nights I had dreams that I lived in the slums to help people and there was no way out–no coming back to base, rinsing the crap off my shoes and showering. I woke up in my bed feeling dirty and restless. And yet that is what it is like for those people–there is no way out for them. There is already an unusual strength about people that live like that. They are hard-working and resourceful; they dig through the trash and make things out of it, and they find a way to survive. They take something as dead and disgusting as a literal mountain of trash and grow new life from it in gardens. The children are so joyful and so curious about the foreigners walking through their town. Most of the children wave at you, and the brave ones come and take your hand or try to high-five you. Then they look so surprised and pleased when you respond to them!

 

There are several people that I will remember long after I leave this place. As we were coming down Smokey Mountain, a girl with long, black hair that was maybe twelve or fourteen reached out and touched my arm. I turned around and she just looked at me shyly and said hi. That kind of curiosity and hope so intense that she would reach out to me amazed me. Another time, I saw a woman holding a baby on the side of the road, so I smiled at her and she smiled back. There is something so intriguing about looking into a stranger’s eyes… I wonder what her life is like, where she has been, what she thinks about, what else those dark eyes have seen. And then to smile at her and see her face light up is the best feeling! I am inspired by the perseverance of these people. We visited some in their homes and talked with them and it is easy to see that even though they have to fight so hard just to survive day to day, they are so full of hope! After only the first day on outreach, I realize that I cannot just dip my toes into the poverty of a third-world country and run back to the safety of America for the rest of my life… I’m not sure what that means right now but I know that my heart is already too invested to just count this as a good experience and leave it here when I go home!

‘Til the Sun Comes Up

I did something I have never done before–I stayed up all night for the sole purpose of praying. We were reading this book by the YWAM founder, Loren Cunningham, called Is That Really You God? and there was this part where he and some other people hold an all night prayer vigil to hear from God. I have really been struggling trying to hear God’s voice, so I read that and thought if I do an all-night prayer vigil, God has to speak to me. Now… I realize that was not the right thought process. God doesn’t have to do anything. But I hoped that if I really sought after him with all my heart and gave up a night of sleep just to spend hours communing with God, he would speak. Anyways, I mentioned it to a few friends who immediately jumped on board and we had a total of seven people.

The night of the prayer vigil came, and I was nervous. What if God didn’t speak to me? I felt like if he didn’t, I would be so completely exhausted–both physically and spiritually–and so very discouraged. We planned to go from 11 to 6, so before it started, Jenae, another friend, Caroline, and I walked down to the ocean and stocked up on caffeine and chocolate. I was excited but also like I said, nervous! We got back, changed into comfy clothes, and headed to the prayer room, which is open 24/7 for anyone who wants to pray.

We started out praying on our own. Several hours went by and I was feeling pretty discouraged. I felt like God was there, for sure, but I couldn’t hear him. I got up to use the bathroom and stopped outside to look at the stars. It was the middle of the night and the campus was empty and quiet; but the stars were unusually bright, and it was peaceful. I went back in and continued at it.

At some point, things started changing. I was randomly thinking about the word “bride” like the “bride of christ” and it made me think of this verse I really liked in Isaiah. I found it in my Bible and one particular verse (52:10) really stuck out to me so I wrote it down. I shared it later in the night and Jenae ran over to me and hugged me saying, “You know what that was? That was God speaking to you!”

Soon after I found that verse, the girls came over to me and asked if we could pray together. We did that for a while and then we joined with the guys and played a “prayer game” where we focused on one person at a time and everyone prayed and asked God what his original design for that person was–how God sees him/her. It blew me away. People would say one thing, and then someone else would be like “No way, I got this!” For Caroline, one person saw her in a crown, another saw her in a fancy dress, another saw her dancing in a ballroom, and another saw the word “princess.” Pieces would come together to form this beautiful, unique picture of each person.

After that, we had a little more time to pray on our own and then we wrapped up the night in a prayer all together. Each person there was (is) so valuable to me and such a blessing and I have never been so aware of it as I was that night. Altogether, I felt like our prayer vigil sparked something in me–like it ignited a new passion and a new way of talking to and hearing from God, that if further practiced and explored, couldn’t help but grow into a blazing fire.

I can’t even describe the peace that followed in the morning. Feeling sleepy but so encouraged and happy, we walked up to the cafeteria to watch the sunrise. Sam opened up our new study Bible to a random page and read the blue box and it said: “God is a fabulous communicator. He has never been silent. He speaks to us through everything in his creation. . . . He uses the sunrise to declare his faithfulness . . . Psalm 19 says, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God . . . Day after day they pour forth speech.’” I took Jess’ tiger blanket and wrapped it around us and we sang worship songs while we waited for the sun. It seemed to take so very long! And then, finally, the sun came in all its glory–pouring forth golden light over the mountain top.