A BIG Fish Story {and dreaming of home}

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A favorite writer of mine, and I must admit a soul-sister, has just released her memoir called Atlas Girl. It’s about home, and traveling, and ultimately finding the grace to be free wherever she may be. I’m telling a little travel story here, a BIG fish story actually, and linking up to Emily’s book blog. Thanks for reading about travel and home and grace here, friends. And might I nudge you over to Emily’s site? You will not be disappointed.
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Dawn on the Sea of Cortez

In a blink the yellow rim of the sun crested above the gray-indigo waters of the Sea of Cortez. At once, the monochromatic light that washed all things hazy recoiled and the morning dawned brilliant in the sun’s full-color light. It shimmered afire.

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I clicked on my camera’s button over and over, hoping for the perfect shot. Lowering my little point and shoot, I watched Venus hovering over the rising sun, just moments before it’s solitary white light gazed over the eastern horizon, but now her face, a wan reflection of the blazing sun, began its daily retreat into the blue sky and bright sunlight. She would return with the night.

I sat on the upper deck of the 33’ fishing boat, warm winds whipping my hair, and let the captain chase the sunrise and the sea and the big game fish we might catch. Morning broke free: of clouds, of trees or man-made structures blocking its radiant rising. The world awakened all blue and yellow and water and fire. The light dazzled and made the back of my eyes ache; yet I could not take my eyes off of the dawn. My family, all six of us, were on a boat with our captain and his mate, a father and son team named Javier. Yes, they were both Javier. Senior and Junior. Uno and dos. Javier y Javier. They were our seamen and guides for the day. The promise was the hope of reeling in a marlin or a dorado and later that night, a pre-birthday dinner of freshly caught seafood for Angelo’s 50th. Sure, it would be in six months, but we’d be slogging around in post-holiday snow by the time his birthday comes around, so today, June 20, would be his birthday present.

The captain pointed toward what I guessed to be northwest. “See the black on the horizon over there?” “Yes.” “That is the wind. Always over the Pacific. Very rough. We’ll stay here on the Sea of Cortez for awhile; see what we can catch on calmer waters. Who can see the wind? Apparently Javier and I can. I made a mental note that wind makes a sooty smudge on the ocean’s horizon, that there was a metaphor there.

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As the sun ascended, we witnessed sea life rising and cresting and breaching, too. Flying fish zoomed over the whitecaps. Manta Rays flung their triangular wings and performed cartwheels before diving back into the water. A sea turtle’s head bobbed like a bowling ball amidst the waves. The heat intensified and soon we were sailing not in the mild winds of dawn, but the hot, salt-sticky winds of a southern sea. Soon, two of our four kids were limp and noodly and feeling sick. I fought back the creeping nausea that crawled up the back of my neck. Our picnic lunch waited in the cooler in the hold below, but I suspected we’d not be taking luncheon deck-side.

Churning Waves and Hurling Breakfast

The waves grew and the boat lurched and leaped. Sea spray failed to be refreshing; instead I felt soft and sticky like a melting wad of saltwater taffy. I climbed down the stairs to care for the kids and the adventure of a day at sea slipped away. Rummaging for the Dramamine, I broke it in two and prayed for peaceful tummies as I served the caplet to my kids as a priest distributes communion wafers.

After hurling breakfast and last nights’ dinner, my daughter collapsed into sleep and rocked and rolled on her bench. My job now would be to keep the sun from frying her skin. I began to seriously wonder if this fishing adventure was really just a big mistake. I dreamed of the poolside, of people watching and frolicking in the chest-high water. I wanted land beneath my feet and book beside me on the table near a delightfully sweating mango daiquiri. I wanted to be anywhere but on the rollicking vessel that entrapped me. I swigged water from my bottle and closed my eyes.

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Suddenly Javier (junior) came bounding to the lower deck (and impressively quick considering his non-junior size). He attended to every reel, shoved his hand into the bait bucket and hooked a live fish (equal to the size of a nice Rainbow trout) and tossed the line out. Then I saw it. A black dorsal fin. A marlin.

We’d been trolling for what seemed like, well, eternity, and now the fish chased our bait. Like a toddler waiting for a turn to hold the fishing pole, we watched Javier expertly maneuver the gear and waited for our turn at fighting the big fish. No such luck. The marlin lost interest. Our captain listened on the radio for notices of schools and lucky catches of the morning and turned the boat toward another spot. My sick and sleeping daughter rolled over, I sought some shade to protect her, my husband stood on the railing, a huge smile on his face, literally loving every minute of this hellishly hot fishing fail.

My spirits plummeted to the unplumbed depths of the sea. Three times a marlin chased the lures only to turn away, denying us the sport, rejecting the live fish Javier tossed his way. I began to think tragic thoughts, recalling The Life of Pi and The Old Man and the Sea and Castaway.

I sat lolling listlessly. Even the pod of dolphin stopping by for a quick hello did little to raise my spirits. I longed for land, and began to dream not of lunch poolside or the resort, but of home, of my garden and my funky lake cabin, of my dishes and couch and my peonies in bloom. Javier Sr. pressed on toward the southeast and I willed him to turn portside (or whatever) and just get us back to the stinking marina.

I was done. Hot, so hot, and exhausted from trying not to vomit. I swallowed back bile and tears and when he finally turned toward Cabo San Lucas Marina, I nearly sobbed.

Reeling in a Really Big Fish

Just before we entered the no-fishing zone, we hit a school of dorado (mahi-mahi) and my family (except for me and my passed-out daughter) all participated in reeling in the glistening emerald-green fish that would be our dinner. Jazzed with new enthusiasm, and a mildly successful catch, we headed toward land. I climbed back up to my seat near the captain and he became chatty, relieved I think, that the tourists wouldn’t be returning to shore empty-handed.

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This tourist town with its sun and surf and lures of excursions and poolside entertainment was once the town of his youth. Born in Cabo, he fished even as he learned to write his name. He talked of the simple days before Cabo was a spring-break destination and time-share-sales racket. There was the rock diving near Lover’s Beach where the San Andreas fault line creates a deep underwater canyon, swimming at Playa Medano and the loitering at the marina and waiting for the tuna boats to bring the day’s haul to the cannery. He recalled swimming and seeing roosterfish and dorado and even tuna close-in, the sea full fish, the shore dotted with the facades of the tuna industry. Fishing was the livelihood—and the love the home and the heart—of the citizens of Cabo. He grew up on good ceviche and fresh tuna steaks and fish tacos. His face, nut brown and sun-soaked, smiled at the memory. “Now it’s this”, he said as he waved his hand toward the marina growing in our vision. “Not all bad, but not the same.”

Javier stayed in his hometown and raised his son on the open waters of the Sea of Cortez and among the waves of the Pacific,  the hope of a hooking a strong fighting fish, and a cerveza on the shore recounting the day’s adventure with friends. Javier, and his legacy, Javier Jr. Theirs was a life at home on the water, the salty brine crust familiar on their skin and glittering in their dark hair, good stories to tell on the docks and fresh dawn breaking on the sterling sea.

Wanderlust and Home

Home again, and in my garden, I pulled weeds easily from the rain-drenched soil.

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photo, Gemmina Olmstead

 

Swelling clouds had collected over the Pacific Ocean and unending winds gathered them into thunderstorms that beat rhythmically across the coastlands and over to my eastern Washington neighborhood. This morning a mild sun peeked through silvery clouds. I am familiar with this home, and being apart from it has refined my vision of my surroundings. Flying fish may dance across the open ocean, flicking saltwater from their bladelike fins, but my ears are filled with the buzzing of bees and the song of the goldfinch perched in the serviceberry bush, just beyond my reach. A waltzing swallowtail catches my eye and lands on the upper branch of the old-fashioned rose. The droning boat engines are mimicked this morning by the whirring lawnmower’s two-stroke motor. My bare legs brush against the lavender and the scent follows me as I complete my chores in the garden. A slug glistens in the sunshine and the wind is fresh-watered and cool. I am a tourist no more. Later this weekend, I might hook a wriggling worm and cast a line into the predictable waters of Loon Lake. We’ll have plenty of fish that got away, stories of the bass and the now, the marlin, that wouldn’t fall for our crafty plans to lure them from their watery homes.

We’ll have other vacations, sights to see and tourist traps, but I will remember Javier. His home, not his vacation, is Cabo San Lucas. He is as at home on a boat as in his house. He sleeps with the ocean air and open windows. During winter, when Angelo’s real fiftieth birthday comes around, Javier will be taking the tourists out and whales will breach and tourists will gasp. He’ll go home and he and Javier Jr. might recount the day and siesta in the shade of the stuccoed back stoop of his house. They’ll perhaps decide to change up the rigging a bit, and try the green jig tomorrow.

And I wonder if this is the home of my choosing or my making, or if it’s home by habit or accident? I wonder why do we vacation at all when everything I love, everyone I love, is here.

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My husband and kids and my books and my friends.

My chair by the fireplace and my varieties of columbine and campanula and cranesbill geranium.

My sisters and friends and church.

Lazy lake days and baseball games. Snow on Christmas and ringing in the New Year with our dear, old friends.

My morning coffee and cream.

It feels predictable most of the time, but home can be crazy (even miserable), too. We’ve been through enough to know that there are adventures to be had both here and in far-flung parts of the world, and that home is a presence in the heart more than a spot on a map. And that no matter where we are, the sun rises fresh each day blessing us to see by it’s light bits of God’s creation and pieces of home.

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The Secret of Insignificance

The secret of insignificance www.alyssasantos.com

Sometimes my insignificance astounds me. I am not a prodigy, a prophet, a prolific writer, a philosopher or a poet.

I sort the laundry. I plan meals. I run errands and I referee the same fights over and over again. I sigh.

This morning, while I sipped the first of the day’s coffee, I flipped through the anniversary publication we received in the mail from my daughter’s college. On every page appeared a smiling face and a list of accomplishments. One young man who graduated from Whitworth University (where my daughter is studying English Literature) is now on full scholarship at Harvard to pursue his doctorate. He’s investigating the shape of an electron and writing about it in science digests.

My understanding of an electron is and will always be what I learned in elementary school: an electron is the opposite of a proton; part of an atom (?). I had no idea that it’s shape even mattered!

Another young man and his wife started a non-profit to assist refugees. Another couple donated a few million dollars to an educational endowment.

I’m teaching my nine-year old how to play Go Fish.

I am the masses. I am the crowd. I am the drop in the proverbial bucket. And I don’t even have a bucket list.

I love words, but am too clunky, too uneducated, too realistic to consider myself a poet. I cook everyday, but I am no chef. I weed and water and plant flowers but I am no master gardener. I have studied the Bible for years, but I am not a theologian.

Do you have any twos?

Go Fish.

And I hear a silent reminder in my head: Remember yesterday when you shouted praises?

Oh, yes, I literally shouted praises.

My neighbor at the lake, an octogenarian, and I held a shouting conversation. She sat on her deck chair and I stood beside my unfinished in-the-middle-of-construction deck and we exchanged stories of the provision and miracles of God. 

“God is so good!” She yelled.

“Yes, he is.” I offered loudly. “And we notice his mercy when we are at our neediest, don’t we?”

We told stories of surgeries and doctors and medical miracles. We shouted about the amazing grace that brought us to sitting thirty feet apart, within shouting distance. We smiled at one another from our deck-top posts and enjoyed the fact we know the source of all our joy, all our breath, all our purpose.

My breath, my shouts, my praise, my piddle-y life is, in fact a poem, if I take God’s word to be true. I am, by the extension of creation, a part of the plan God has for this world, rubbing shoulders and shouting praises alongside others who use words and smiles and waves to connect across decks, desks, continents and the internet.

Small? Sure, I’m small. Insignificant? Perhaps not a world-changer. But I can choose to be here, really here to play Go Fish, to grasp hearts with another and shout praises to my one constant, God. 

Sometimes God’s significance astounds me.

And I stand in the floodlight of his import and I hear the whispering Spirit say, “I love you, little one”. And I reply, “I know it. I love you back.”

{Ephesians 3:20-21} “Now glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes. May he be given glory forever and ever through endless ages because of his master plan of salvation for the Church through Jesus Christ.”

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The Canoe Thief {Can Joy Be Stolen?}

Photo by Isabella Santos

Photo by Isabella Santos

 

Somehow that evening canoe ride made it all worthwhile.

I stood in the August evening air. It had been a scorcher. Now, as twilight softened everything into watery shades of blue-gray and the forest floor opened up her arms to release the pine-scented shade-cooled air, I stared at the blackening water of the lake and realized this good thing, this Grace, this cottage, this rest, was indeed all gift. And it was good.

I can’t wrap the events of the past few years into a tidy package. Sure, we can simply say that the accident of August 2011 changed everything, that we were struck by a drunk driver leaving this very lake and we are lucky, no, blessed, to be here. We can say that my injuries were life-threatening, that my recovery was long, that the community embraced and supported us, that my kids remarkably walked away from wreckage that could have easily killed them. That all fits into a hundred words or so, a paragraph, a span of thirty seconds.

And unless you see the path of my scars you wouldn’t realize the journey that I’ve made. I am healed.

I sighed. Am I ever really healed? Do I want to be?

During those first weeks at home from the hospital, the pain was acute, the demands on my body and mind unbearable, the swelling and the difficulty made my head throb. But I clung, in fact all six of us clung, to the joy, the hope, the mercies (new every morning, thank God) of our Savior. We were in a sweet-spot of faith, that undeniable place of needing God and knowing it, of walking in a grace that wasn’t about “the church” or denominations or anything human. We walked in faith in a divine way, a holy hush, like breathing pure air.

And now, now that it was all done, this accident, recovery, the ensuing legal implications, the incarceration of our assailant, the lawsuit, the insurance settlements….all behind us. All landmarks along the road we’d travelled. Life was moving on. We were moving on. University awaited our oldest, another of our kids was beginning middle school, another getting a driver’s license. We’d celebrated the first Christmas and birthdays and baseball games since the accident. I walk stairs and rarely limp. I have full use of all my organs, breathe puffy breaths through once-damaged lungs. Life is good and now and time is flying by as it should.

The lake house was Angelo’s idea. Or was it God’s? I’ll never know.

But now we drive regularly past the intersection where our reality, our broken and helpless reality, intersected with God’s power. I will never again read the scripture “God’s power is made perfect in my weakness” in the same old way again. It will always be sharpened by the reality that I was so weak that I was dying right there on that spot: Crawford Road and Highway 395. An intersection so notorious for catastrophe it had been nicknamed “Crawford’s Coffin”.

But Death did not win. Not that day.

And so it came to be that we would own property on the lake that held the final memories of our life “before the accident”. A bit of our history, a parcel of the past, a pile of memorial stones bears the name Grace Cottage. August 2013, I stood in the cooling August night and breathed again “thanks”. My oldest kids, teenagers, were slipping oars into still waters and sliding serpentine through the surface of Loon Lake. They were making new memories, finding the gift of joy after the storm that rocked our world. They were, without knowing it, celebrating life together, cupped in a fiberglass canoe, sung over by heaven’s own angels.

And I knew that the Promised Land is a real thing, the realest thing.

*

Just last week, under the cover of darkness, someone stole our canoe. They untied the knots in the rope and took it.

Who does that? Who steals a used canoe? Who takes what isn’t theirs?

Oh, we know, don’t we? The thief of all our joy.

He prowls about like a lion seeking ways to set in teeth, to wreak destruction, to steal our good gifts.

Yeah, him. Oh, I know it was probably a couple of kids, maybe a dare and certainly a petty theft. But the violation left a greater gap a cavernous rip in the fabric of joy. That was a canoe that held the metaphor. Sure, it can be replaced. It wasn’t expensive. But it was the canoe that held my kids in the dark on the August night I truly understood the power that healed me, sustains me, delights me and gives me new memories, new joy, new life. It was the canoe that gave me courage to embrace the gift of Grace Cottage. And now, the little vessel is gone.

And I ask, can our joy be stolen? Who steals our joy?

The punks that steal small boats or the drunks who carelessly drive headlong into families heading home after a day at the lake? Does the selfish boyfriend or the perverted uncle or the manipulative friend or the angry spouse? Oh, anyone can be the thief. But there is one mind, one thief behind it all, bent on our destruction.

He wants nothing more than for us to wallow, to befuddle us and turn our dreams, our hopes, into murk and mire us with pain and bad memories and bitterness. The unforgivable wounds are intended to take away what doesn’t belong to him: our joy.

But friend, the Joy of the Lord is My Strength. It is my muscle and ligament, my throbbing heart and my contracting diaphragm. The joy (all hope, all purpose, all mercy) is my life, even when I have absolutely no strength of my own. It is the skeleton of my faith and the skin of my hope. It is the realest reality I’ve ever known.

The canoe was metaphor, the cottage a symbol and the lake is an altar – only temporary images of the substance of the faith that enabled us to journey this far and the joy that carried us in powerful arms when we couldn’t walk upright from the wreckage of our lives.

 

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Set-Apart: a Sabbath of Sorts

Balsamroot blooms as far as I can see, a sunny carpet beneath the scraggly bull pines. The well-worn path winds round rocks and under low branches and through the sea of gold.

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I unleash the corgis and they scamper and sniff while I take stock of the northern wildflowers in bloom this mid-May day. The yellow, daisy-like bunches of balsamroot steal the show, but upon closer look, I see the splay-leafed lupine beginning to rise, the feathery-leafed yarrow, and a groundcover of purple phlox peeking beneath the swaying grasses. The purple Grass Widow with her downturned bonnet and the sunny buttercup – our first wildflowers of spring have quietly faded, unseen until next March.

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Just down the street, I tend to my own garden. I plant, spray and dig cultivating my flowerbeds into a three-season bloomfest. But here, where neighborhood meets county land, I am quieted. I feel no urge to transplant or yank weeds or examine for pests. I simply rest in the day’s unique beauty: the dry crunch of pine-needles underfoot, the whir of a nuthatch and the yammering crow combine to my ears like a Benedictine chant. Words I cannot decipher, but know to be holy.

Sabbath, the day we modern Christians usually call “Sunday”, derives from an ancient Hebrew word meaning rest, to cease, to end.

Through the centuries, Jews and Christians have made Sabbath in many ways, making it a law unto itself. No work, no fun, nothing. While there is good in the breaking from the normal toil and patterns of daily life to reflect on the Lord of the Sabbath, a day of rest is also a prophetic lens into the future and a perpetual invitation to set apart time to simply be in the creative, regenerating presence of God.

God blessed the day and made it holy {Genesis 2:3}, thus began the first Sabbath.

He enjoyed all he’d made. He called it good. Later, when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, and God instructed him to lead a people who followed a holy God. They were told to take a Sabbath day each week and a Sabbath year each seventh year {Exodus 34:21, Leviticus 25}. Finally, after seven Sabbath years, they were to observe a year of Jubilee dedicated to study scripture, to restore the land, free slaves and forgive debts. A full year of rest–and restoration– for everyone!

When I walk the path near my house, free of contrived plans or landscaping tools, my soul is rested and I am reminded that there will be a Sabbath, a Jubilee, a brilliant promise of being in the presence of my God. I think of Jesus’ words, “I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” {John 14:}

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Until then, we are invited to take a walk, to break from our daily work and notice the mercy of God, his tender keeping of our souls, his commitment to creation and re-creation. We hear it in the the beauty underfoot and the song overhead:

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God;

for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works,just as God did from his.

Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.” {Hebrews 4:9-11a}

“Make every effort” sounds like work, and indeed it is, but the invitation to enter God’s rest is as irresistible as a path of balsamroot and a sparrow’s call.

But the effort is well-paid, the rest settles in deep, instructs the soul to move to another rhythm, a better rhythm. The Sabbath rest we are invited to enjoy is not a Sunday nap or a list of no-working-rules, rather it’s intentionally looking for the entrance, the door, and rerouting your steps toward being with God. “Rest from your works…follow after God…make every effort to enter that rest.”

Take a walk into rest with me. What satisfaction awaits when you “make every effort to enter that rest”?

 

Linked up with other sabbath stories at The High Calling and at Kelli Woodford’s lovely writing blog.

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African Mother’s Day–Filling Empty Arms With Hope

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I don’t know much about Africa. I was there just two weeks. Hardly long enough to be an expert.

But I landed in Ethiopia with this mission: to keep my eyes open and tell the stories of what I saw.

I took in all of it like a sensory sponge. The sun-warmed, dark and earthy scented skin of the women who received my embraces.

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The cracking of the coffee beans as they roasted in a pan over an open flame, its aroma releasing into the air.

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The peculiar warmth of the burberry spice, the clean wash of Ambo, Ethiopia’s bottled sparkling water. A sun bright and almost within my reach. The shifting gears of our bus, and honking of horns and the squeaking brakes; the padding of running feet chasing us as we came to a stop and the smiling, young faces shouting, “You! you! you!” Pink open palms waiting for a coin or two.

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I still (and will always) tell the stories to anyone who will listen or read my words. I soaked in Africa for two short weeks and I will wring from my memory every story, every impression, every face.

This is the story of the girl who became a mother and the baby who became an orphan. Because all over America, mothers will be honored this Sunday; I am one of them. But she is not. She is not honored anywhere.

She is the face of failure; forgotten and shamed, she is the mother Hallmark writers cannot address with well-crafted sentimental verse. So I will honor her now.

It was a brilliant day in Soddo, Ethiopia.

The sun blazed in a lupine-blue sky. The air fluttered silken and soft. It was November.

We walked the grounds at the Soddo Christian Hospital and were about to take a break for cold, honey-sweetened rooibos tea. Our guide, and then-director of an orphanage, Stephne, received an urgent call.

“There’s a mother,” Stephne announced, “You should come along and see.”

In a matter of minutes, the Land Rover pulled into the orphanage gates. We settled into the low-slung benches (made for the children who stayed in the orphanage and daily took their meals in the courtyard). Across from us sat an Ethiopian social worker and translator and a dark-skinned teenager. Under the portico, just ten yards away, another social worker held a tiny, dirty bundle of rags. And in those rags, a baby boy.

I tried not to stare, but I was staring. This intake process and interview with a defeated, desperate mommy was nothing new to Stephne as she asked questions directly, graciously, persistently; but to me, the scene was surreal. Her story, not uncommon, was laced with the realities of the developing world.

Her breasts were dry, unable to produce milk, but her story was dripping, leaking, with tragedy, inhumanity, shame.

She was a small-town girl and had recently arrived in the city of Soddo in order to find work. Uneducated and under-privileged in every aspect, she took odd jobs, mostly doing unenviable tasks like cleaning public restrooms (which are notoriously disgusting, by the way). One day, while she was cleaning a bathroom, a man’s shadow darkened the doorway. Her time had come. She was raped near the hole in the cement that served as a toilet. She was left behind like so much detritus.

The stranger sauntered off and left her shuddering, bleeding, alone. And pregnant.

She never thrilled at the sound of the fetal heartbeat. She never swallowed a single prenatal vitamin or received a proper doctor’s examination.

She gave birth, alone, on a rainy night.

An older woman, one who was herself raising a toddler she had found on the roadside, tried to take the girl-mama and her baby boy into her home and care for them. Being a single “foster-mom” herself, with little income, knew the hopelessness of the situation; plus, the young mom had become feverish and ill.

The older woman knew of a place. A place of hope, perhaps. A place where people with few options can rap on the gate and find compassion.

Indeed the young mom was ill. I could see it in her eyes, flat and blank, black disks in gaunt sockets. Her emotions cauterized her face and she answered Stephne’s questions simply, nonplussed. No hysteria, no manipulation.

She was fearful, she had said, that her baby would starve to death. Her breasts made no milk and she had no home or money for formula. She held her hand up and demonstrated how she had cupped water into her loose fist and dribbled a small stream into his tiny mouth.

For three days. Her infant boy was born into starvation, only knowing the thin sustenance of water rolling from her palm.

She was ready to give up the boy. To sign away her parental rights, in order that he might eat, live, survive.

Did she dare to hope that he would thrive?

As for her, she had no plans. Resigned to failure. That’s all I could see in her body language, in the pained rigid stance she maintained throughout the interview. Through physical pain and unimaginable shame, her spine was straight with what–dignity? The strong will to survive?

Or the expansive strength of a mother’s love?

Once the papers were signed she didn’t look back again, even to say goodbye, at the infant resting in the orphanage nanny’s arms. She gingerly stepped into the Land Rover and we drove her to the hospital.

I rode beside her in the back seat and not once did I stop praying. The God of all power did not supernaturally give me Amharic words of truth. I could not share the gospel with her. We sat shoulder-to-shoulder, thigh to thigh, and I took my hand in hers and prayed that Hope would find her.

My impotence suffocated me.

Later, after the bleeding, infected mother was admitted to the Soddo Christian Hospital, I held her perfect brown son in my white, American arms. The nurse had examined him and determined him to be healthy. I carried him in his filthy swaddling and picked out a newborn-sized outfit from the donation closet. Bathed and dressed in baby blue, he suckled formula from a bottle like any other baby I’ve held. His eyelids quivered in satisfaction and after the feeding was through, I patted his tiny back until he burped. I counted his fingers and toes, as I had my own children, and marveled at their perfect form, their tiny pink nails and the spiraling ridges of his unique fingerprints.

He was beautiful. He was adoptable. He was hope.

That was in 2009. Perhaps this year he’s scampering off to preschool or learning to hold a pencil. Maybe he kicks around a soccer ball in a grassy suburban backyard. Does he ride on his daddy’s shoulders? Does his curly hair get crazy after naps?

And what of that young mom? Did her womb heal? Will she be loved? Will she know the sweet redemption of watching another child grow and toddle and run? Will she know the hard-won honor of motherhood, the pride of watching her beloved children learn to read, make friends, and dream big dreams?

She was just one of millions. And so am I.

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I long to shout her story and have people hear me and care even a little bit, but God hasn’t given me a large audience.

So I tell my stories of Africa to my own children and hope they see in my misted eyes and hear in my halting words that they, my children, are the Hope, the Plan, the Answer to the suffering.

I tell them again and again and I see in my mind that young mom looking at me, wondering, perhaps, why this fair-skinned, blonde-haired woman held her hand in the back of a car. I reject impotence and repeat my story.

There are millions of stories like hers; I know, unimaginable millions. And I am far, far removed from Africa in my northeast Washington home.

But at Mother’s Day, each year, I think about this mother who gave her child up to frivolous, reckless Hope.

She is me and you, and really, all of us.

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Someday (and this is my Hope) Christ will return and make things right, perfectly right.

Until then, we are God’s only Plan A.

We are the cogs and the gears and the hand and feet and problem-solvers and gospel-givers and hope-holders.

Are we taking hands with one another and leading the lost to the source of hope? Are we holding the weak in our arms and interceding. Are we feeding and sharing and caring?

Here are the people I know who are at the front-lines. They need us. They need me more than I need a Hallmark card or a fancy Mother’s Day brunch. I am a mother after all, and my arms cradled a starving infant and my heart burst with pain as I held the hand of a broken daughter. I cannot unsee what I saw and I will always tell the story.

Tell it with me? Share it? Give? Support? Pray? Mother this hurting world straight into the arms of Jesus with me?

Sharon Abebe

A friend, a woman, an Ethiopian called back to her homeland after living over a decade in Texas, Sharon is committed to utilizing the Community Health Evangelism (CHE) tool to reach her country with transformative and sustainable change. She has developed a ministry particularly for women, the Women’s Cycle of Life, that has reached dozens of communities in Ethiopia. She has been approached by many men in these villages, asking for biblical instruction. Families are changing, one by one, because of Sharon and her team. Read more by my friend, DianeSamson, about Sharon’s ministry and story. Or watch this video:  Sharon Abebe – Women’s Cycle of Life from Life Center on Vimeo.

Sharon Abebe – Women’s Cycle of Life from Life Center on Vimeo.

Chris and Shelly Weiland

My friends, Chris and Shelly Weiland and their family are living in Ethiopia and Chris is teaching at a school in Addis. Shelly, a mom of four biological kids and two Ethiopian children is passionate about serving the mommies-to-be in this ministry as a doula.

New Covenant Foundation

My church, Life Center Spokane, partners with New Covenant Foundation in supporting Sharon Abebe, an amazing church planting partnership, the sending of African missionaries across north Africa teaching the CHE principles, the power of the gospel, discipleship training and women/family/disability ministries. More information and ways to support can be found here and here.

Harry and Stephne Bowers

My friend, Stephne, and her husband Harry, are back in Ethiopia in order to develop an amazing, locally sourced and sustainable, protein supplement and food source for undernourished orphans as well as patients too ill to undergo necessary surgery. Information about their story and how the MITTIN Food Production Center can be found here.

Dominion Trading Coffee

This coffee tastes amazing. It is the for-profit company that directly benefits New Covenant Foundation. We buy it in 5 pound bags, unapologetically! DTC coffee is available green to roasting companies and in hand-roasted blends through their website.

Nurse Sophie, she amazes me. She works in outposts and remote clinics, mostly with the poorest of pregnant mamas.

Soddo Christian Hospital. A teaching hospital committed to caring for physical needs in Jesus’ name as well as teaching Ethiopian doctors and nurses the latest and best medical care techniques.

Please consider sharing this post, through any social media or through email. Print it out. Pray over it. Give, if you can. Let’s take hands.

Linked with Jennifer Lee and Lyli Dunbar and the great writers that meet on their sites each week.

(all photos courtesy of New Covenant Foundation)

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