Learning to Truly Love Jesus

I used to have a hard time loving Jesus.

Don’t get me wrong, this struggle to love wasn’t an act of rebellion or a side effect of disengagement; I wanted to love Jesus, I really, truly did.

I just didn’t know how.

What I struggled with was the idea of Jesus as fully God and also fully human – it made no sense to me. I understand God – He’s holy and omnicient and perfect. I understand humans – we’re messed up and confused and broken.

What I couldn’t comprehend was how Jesus could be both.

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Dominican Republic, 2007

Because I had no category for Jesus, no precedent, I decided to simply default him into the same category as God. I felt he fit far more appropriately there than in the same category as humans, the same category as me.

The problem with this logic is that, in stripping away Jesus’s humanity, my perception of him became terribly distorted. Once I determined his lack of understanding about what it’s like to really be human, I found it difficult to trust him.

I began to read the stories of his life with cynicism, dismissing his every hardship with the same justification:

How hard could it have been, really? I mean, after all, you were FULLY GOD.

This lack of trust made it impossible for me to truly love him.

But, even as I wrestled, even as I questioned, Jesus drew me to himself relentlessly. Because of my hesitancies, I expected judgment and fury.

He gave me grace.

My heart’s shifting didn’t happen all at once. Over the past several years, I’ve started to notice the acute presence of Jesus in an abundance of moments – every-day, ordinary, human ones:

Sitting on foreign dust with children who can only understand my smile. The fragrance of comfort food steaming from a pot on the stove. My husband’s laughter mixed with my own. New baby snuggles. That song I can’t stop listening to because there’s something deeper there than just the lyrics and the chords. Rain, sunshine, snow.

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Guatemala, 2013

There have been bigger moments too, important moments, if only to me and him:

The painful death of my dreams making way for his. Bare feet on African soil for the very first time. That day in February – the day I knew, once and for all, that he is worthy of all my trust. Healing in the form of an apology I never, ever saw coming.

The more Jesus meets me in my humanity, piling my life with grace and love, the more I know deep within my soul that he must get what this is like, being human. He’s too good at walking this road with me to not understand. He’s too good at knowing what matters.

For the past month I’ve been stuck, coming back again and again to this familiar passage:

 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 
Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Matthew 26:36-39

My fully-God-only version of Jesus doesn’t fit so neatly into his assigned category when I consider the vulnerability of this passage. In this moment, the tables have turned, and all of a sudden I feel beckoned to be the comforter, to comfort him. I know I have nothing to offer, but my heart breaks and I want put my arms around him and tell him that it will all be okay, that the suffering won’t last, that it will all be worth it in the end… the same promises he’s whispered over me time and time again.

This is Jesus: fully human. I’ll never truly grasp it, I’m sure, but when I think of him in the garden – vulnerable, overwhelmed with sorrow, alone and crying out to God – I know it’s true. He was fully God, but, somehow, he was fully human too.

Jesus chose the cross so we could live in freedom. Freedom means it’s okay for me to honestly present him with all of my questions and uncertainties, knowing he’ll gently walk me through them. The same is true for you.

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His whisper, full of grace, says…

I know what it’s like to feel uncertain, for I’ve walked that road before you. But if you’ll say yes when you feel like saying no, if you’ll follow me even when it seems crazy – ESPECIALLY when it seems crazy, if you can trust me just enough to take one step at a time, you’ll be surprised by the unending displays of my love.

 Once he surprises you with his love, it’s impossible not to truly love him back.

 

PS – Here is a beautiful song called “Garden” by Needtobreathe that I’ve listened to an embarrassing amount of times this month. It’s based off of the passage I referenced above.

Nigeria Trip (Part 2): About the West African Leadership Training

So, what did you do in Nigeria?

My recent stay in Nigeria was very different than the trip TJ and I took to Ethiopia last summer. When TJ and I were in Ethiopia, the purpose of the trip was to attend camp. We spent the week loving and serving kids, while also learning more about Sports Friends’ camping ministry and getting to know some of the staff in Ethiopia.

I traveled to Nigeria to attend the West African Leadership Training (WALT). The purpose of this trip was to gather Sports Friends’ leaders from several African countries for leadership development, sharing of best practices, fellowship, prayer, worship, and encouragement. We spent the majority of our two weeks in Nigeria at a guesthouse where we slept, ate, and conducted all of our training sessions.

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Guest House in Abuja

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The room Bryan and I shared

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Eating traditional Nigerian food… WAY too spicy for me! Back to rice and fried plantains for this girl!

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Conference room 

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Behind the guest house where we spent a lot of time reading, journaling, playing cards, and hanging out with giant lizards!

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We had a ton of fun playing cards, particularly spoons! 

I know on paper this may not sound like the most exciting trip, but for me it was very valuable and affirming! Getting to know our staff in West Africa was truly wonderful. I also gained a crucial understanding of exactly how this organization operates on the field and grows from nation to nation.

Throughout the training, one item we discussed is how to reverse the misunderstanding many people have that Sports Friends is primarily a camping ministry. Camp is a valuable part of Sports Friends’ programming in most countries, but it is definitely not the major focus of the ministry.

The major focus of the ministry is training and equipping the local church to use sport as an effective platform for building relationships with youth. Those relationships are built over many months, or even many years, of a coach meeting weekly with his or her team for sport practice.

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Out at a soccer field practicing coaching strategies (Photo by Jenn Brady)

This reminds me of a saying I used to keep in the back of my mind as I was teaching:
Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

Over time, youth grasp the truth that their coaches care about them because the coaches have stuck around and invested in their lives, week in and week out. Once that trust is built, coaches go from being just another voice in the crowd to a voice the youth are actually interested in hearing. Sometimes kids and their coaches have an opportunity to attend a Sports Friends camp together too, but sometimes they don’t.

Another item we discussed in depth at the training is Sports Friends’ ministry model.

As Sports Friends seeks to grow in different nations around the world, the major priority in expansion is utilization of the local church. At its heart, Sports Friends is a training and equipping ministry. The desire of the organization is to give the local church a tool to serve youth, and then to help them self-sufficiently use it.

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The whole WALT gang!

This ministry model is extremely effective from a cultural standpoint – who understands the challenges of the youth in any given country better than those who were once youth in that very place themselves? It also creates long-term employment opportunities, strengthens the local church, and, ultimately, avoids creating dependency by gradually releasing ownership of the ministry over time. I’m really proud to serve with an organization that operates under this model of empowerment.

If I had to use one word to describe my trip to Nigeria, it would definitely be thankful.

When I first sensed God leading me into international ministry a year and a half ago, I had no idea where or how He wanted to use me. Frankly, there were moments when I doubted whether He really had a plan. It seemed ridiculous that He would place a desire for international service in my heart and then close the door to moving overseas.

Well, what can I say?

In Nigeria, all I could say is thank you.

Thank you, God, for proving yourself faithful, for remaining steadfast through my doubt, and for being a lamp to my feet every step of the way. Thank you for choosing to include me in what YOU are doing around the world through Sports Friends – it’s an opportunity I never could have dreamed up myself!

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Final sunset on the way to the airport 

Nigeria Trip (Part 1): A Video

Meet John (left) and Moses.

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These men are my co-workers, and I had the awesome privilege of hanging out with them for two weeks while visiting their home country of Nigeria.

In many ways, John and Moses are pretty similar to me:

Both are married and have hopes and dreams for their families. All three of us share a passion for sports and kids. We enjoy many of the same activities, and for 14 days we had a wonderful time playing games and sharing meals together. Each of us is trying to live a life that honors Christ.

And yet for all of our similarities, one of the more obvious differences between us is that I live in America, and they live in Africa.

More specifically, they live in West Africa, in Nigeria – the 14th most persecuted nation for Christians on the planet. (http://www.worldwatchlist.us/world-watch-list-countries/nigeria/)

You would never guess by spending time with any of the Sports Friends Nigeria staff that they live in a volatile place. While they certainly understand the challenges of violence and religious tension currently troubling their country, they’re not overly discouraged or afraid.

In fact, those challenges are why they do what they do.

During one of the final nights of our trip, my dear friend, Bryan, and I watched a video together. I had seen it before, but watching it in Nigeria with Moses and John just down the hall was like seeing it with a brand new set of eyes.

These aren’t just some random people on the screen, they’re my friends.

This isn’t just some random African village, this is a nation where I left a part of my heart.

This isn’t just a video, this is REAL.

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Bryan and me with other members of the SF Nigeria staff 

Better than I ever could, this video will tell the story of who Sports Friends Nigeria is:

Light in the darkness.

Peace in the destruction.

Unity in the discord.

It’s amazing what God can use a soccer ball to do.

Nigeria, Here We Come!

WALT

In a few short days I will be heading out to Nigeria!

I am so excited to go on my first official trip with the Sports Friends team. Five of us will be traveling over together from the home office here in Charlotte, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know some of my new co-workers better! There will be two of us “newbies” in the group – my friend Bryan and I were together through all of the SIM training from September-November, and she is also in the process of support-raising to join the SF staff.

The purpose of our trip to Nigeria is to conduct a West African Leadership Training. Members of the SF leadership teams from several African countries – Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, Niger, and Kenya – will be there. Although Bryan and I will not be leading any sessions, this will be a great learning opportunity for us. We’ll have a chance to gain some in-depth knowledge about how SF operates and maintains uniformity as an organization across different countries.

I am most excited about meeting my international co-workers. Some are Westerners living abroad and some are natives to their countries. I LOVE that SF is a diverse organization! I really enjoy spending time with people from other parts of the world and hearing their stories.

Speaking of stories, it sounds like we will be doing a little bit of interviewing and videoing on this trip as well. Woo hoo! I expect to have some great pictures and stories to share upon my return, or maybe even throughout the trip if we have reliable Internet access. I’ll try to post some things if I’m able!

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Photo from Pinterest

If you’d like to pray for the team while we’re there, here are some prayer requests:

-Please pray for our flights to be safe, smooth, and on time. We are leaving on the 12th and retuning on the 26th.  Many of you know how much I LOVE flying (sarcasm), so please pray that I would experience peace and rest on the flights.
-Please pray for logistics to go smoothly once we arrive in Nigeria – immigration, accommodations, local transport, meals, etc.
-Please pray for the training to be effective, engaging, and fun – going a long way to build up SF in West Africa.
-Please pray for God’s protection throughout the trip.

A major praise heading into the trip is that my knee is healing really well. I had knee surgery on December 23rd, and since that time I have returned to walking normally and have gained a significant range of motion back! Initially I was a little concerned, but now I think sitting on the plane and getting around should be just fine. Thank you, God!:)

Thanks for your prayers and support! I look forward to sharing some exciting updates when I return!

How I Learned the True Meaning of Advent

Today was supposed to be the day of my knee surgery.

A month and a half ago I dislocated my knee on the dance floor at a dear friend’s wedding, slipping on my long dress and tearing a ligament on the way down. Despite the pain and embarrassment of the ordeal, I take heart in the fact that nobody can say I wasn’t there to celebrate!:)

Surgery to repair the ligament was lined up weeks ago, but on Monday the scheduler called to inform me that the procedure had been moved to December 23rd. Because it’s the end of the year, they’re having a hectic time fitting in all of the surgeries they need to. My procedure is short and simple, so it’s easier to move around than many of the others.

This all makes sense and, really, is not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of life. Still, I swallowed a lump in my throat when I heard the news.

It’s not the occasional pain in my knee, or the inconvenience of not being able to bend my leg. It’s not that it’s the day before Christmas Eve. Those things matter, but they aren’t the real reasons why I felt hot tears threatening to spill over on Monday morning.

It’s the waiting.

Ironically, I feel like this knee surgery story is simply a microcosm of the larger story I have been living all year. The past 12 months of my life have carried a lot of ambiguity, a lot of trust, and, most of all, a lot of waiting.

At times it has felt frustrating, or confusing at best. But as my personal season of waiting has recently collided with Advent, the season of waiting, I’ve become aware of something really beautiful.

For the first time in my entire life, Advent truly means something to me.

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Pinterest

I’ve sung the carols, carried out the traditions, and counted down the days until Christmas every December for the past 25 years. It should be nothing new, right? But in my twenty-sixth Advent season, everything feels different.

Lost on me previously, the significance of Advent feels monumental now. Before this year, I couldn’t really relate to the need, the hope, and the utter reliance that are the hallmarks of the season. Because I’ve experienced more of what true dependence on God is really like this year, I now appreciate Advent in ways I’ve never been able to.

What a blessing.

Also, because I have fully settled into this Advent season, this time of waiting and hoping and praying, I have begun to truly appreciate the Christmas story for its surprise ending.

Thousands of years ago, all who were waiting for the promised messiah probably felt similar to how I’ve felt many times this year – anxious and expectant.

I’m sure they were anxious for his impending arrival. They must have had expectations for the way their king would arrive – obviously he’d be powerful and prominent, bursting onto the scene fully clad in political power, wealth, and status. In what other way could a mighty savior possibly come?

Of course we know now that they could not have been more wrong.

This misunderstanding is the heart of the Christmas story – that God doesn’t work the way we thought He would. That He is trustworthy in ways we never would have guessed, or maybe even wanted, if we’re honest.

I know I am not the only one currently waiting for God to answer the prayers of my heart. Everyone who reads these words is waiting for something – for a boyfriend or a girlfriend, or maybe for a proposal. You might be waiting for a pregnancy, for a new job, or for a promotion. Maybe you’re waiting for a clean bill of health, for your prodigal son or daughter to come home, or for your marriage to improve.

I don’t know all of our stories or just how they will turn out, but here is what I do know: He is good, and He is faithful. Look no further than the story of Christmas.

The weary world – waiting and hoping for their redeeming king – trusted that God would send someone, but what they never considered is that He would offer Himself.

Emmanuel – God WITH us – arriving as a baby in a dirty, forgotten manger.

He is truly a God of surprises, working in ways we never expect. My heart leaps in my chest when I think of the way He came through for His people with the birth of Jesus. Because I can now appreciate the waiting involved, the miracle seems so much sweeter.

“The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.”
-Frederick Buechner

I’ve learned more than I probably ever cared to as I’ve waited on God this year. Together we’ve wrestled through bitterness, anger, fear, loneliness, insecurity, and doubt. Through it all, His grace has sustained me and has carried me to a place of peace.

Advent is extraordinary, because it means we’re giving God the space to show up. And when we finally hand the pen over to Him, He writes better stories than we could ever dream.

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Pinterest

Thanksgiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving! In honor of this holiday dedicated to thankfulness, I would like to offer a book recommendation.

For those of you who don’t know me well, I am a certified bookworm. I’ve been known to sit and read for hours at a time, or maybe even finish an entire book in one day.  My favorite books are non-fiction – true accounts of grace and triumph. Those are the stories that stay with me the longest.

I started Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts this summer in June and finished it in August. Two months is a long time for me to complete a book, especially one I like. But this was a book I had to read slowly.

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I have to tell you up front that Voskamp’s writing style is quite unique. The entire book feels lyrical, almost like reading poetry. It is beautiful, no doubt, but you have to be committed to finishing because at times it’s not easy reading.

However, it is so worth it.

The book begins with an experiment. In the throws of depression, Voskamp decides to keep a thankfulness journal, hoping to combat her despair with the practice of noticing and acknowledging gifts. Her goal was to record 1,000 every-day gifts – simple things. Here are her first three:

1.  Morning shadows across the old floors.
2.  Jam piled high on toast.
3.  Cry of blue jay from high in the spruce.

What started with a journal leads Voskamp into full-blown research on gratitude. She explores the theme of thanksgiving in the Bible and studies the way Jesus modeled gratitude throughout his life. She begins to witness the profound effect that intentional thankfulness has on her own well-being, while simultaneously discovering how her gratitude affects the people around her, primarily her family. I found it fascinating.

When I think of the impact this book had on me, the two words that come to mind are practice and noticing.

It may seem strange to think that it takes practice to be thankful, but for me sometimes it does. I’m not talking about when things are great. I have no problem being thankful during life’s major ups – a wedding, a new baby, holidays spent with family, special gatherings with friends. Those are the times when gratitude comes naturally.

But what about in the every-day moments of life?

What about when you’re cruising down the same aisle in the grocery story for the fourth time because you can’t find what you need? What about when your toddler son is pitching an ugly fit in public? What about when you get an unexpected bill? What about when your co-worker gets credit for something you put together? What is the role of gratitude then?

During the normal, mundane, sometimes annoying or inconvenient moments of life, I do believe having an attitude of gratitude takes discipline… and practice.

Maybe it’s my background as an athlete, but I was exceptionally encouraged by the idea that I can practice living my life from a place of gratitude. I know what it’s like to practice – sometimes you rock it and sometimes you bomb, but every attempt makes you better and better. Practice isn’t an all or nothing moment – it’s a process.

Ever since reading One Thousand Gifts, I’ve been practicing living a grateful life. I don’t always succeed, but I think I’m making progress. And the more I practice, the more natural and easy it becomes.

Noticing is the other key Voskamp found to living a life of thankfulness. It’s what her gratitude journal was all about – taking the time to notice life’s gifts. As I’ve followed suit and tried to practice gratitude, noticing has been crucial for me as well. When I feel myself getting frustrated or bothered, it helps to slow down and notice the gifts and the beauty already around me.

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Noticing beauty on an afternoon walk with TJ and Finley

Today is the only day of the year dedicated completely to gratitude. It’s my favorite holiday for that reason… well, and for the food and football too!

If you’re interested in keeping an attitude of gratitude on the other 364 days of the year as well, I recommend reading One Thousand Gifts for inspiration. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

I hope your Thanksgiving is filled with lots of love, joy, and relaxation!

 

PS – Since I’m on the Ann Voskamp train right now anyway, she has a new book out called The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas. It’s a 25-day devotional starting December 1 and leading up to Christmas day. I haven’t read it yet so I can’t really make a solid recommendation, but I am anticipating good things! Would anyone like to read it with me? If so, let me know and we can share thoughts in-person or by email! I love a good book study.:)

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SIM Training: New Friends, New Community

I am a whole-hearted believer in the power of community.

I don’t mean community in terms of geographic location, like your neighborhood or town. Not to say that sort of community can’t be powerful, because it can be depending on how you interact with those living around you.  However, the type of community I’m referring to is one defined by people. A community defined by people isn’t glued together by mere proximity, but is cemented instead by something a little more meaningful – shared experiences or beliefs.

At the beginning of November I had the delight of joining a new community. For the first two weeks of the month I attended SIM missionary training here in Charlotte, further preparing me for my transition onto the Sports Friends staff.  Accompanying me at training were sixteen other people from around the country, each one also in the process of transitioning into full-time ministry, most planning to live and serve overseas.

The Cliff Notes version of our two weeks together goes like this:

We learned a lot about our organization, cross-cultural service, and support raising. We drank a lot of coffee. And there may or may not have been an epic volleyball match we won played against the SIM staff on the last day.

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Bryan and I sporting some intimidating war paint on the day of the volleyball game. Bryan will also be working with Sports Friends here in Charlotte! She is my new co-worker and office buddy!:)

All of that was important, but here is what I really took away from the time at training: being with people who are traveling the same road I am is not only refreshing, it’s critical.

For most of my life, I’ve found myself surrounded by people similar to me. When I was a swimmer, I was surrounded by other swimmers. When I was a teacher, I was surrounded by other teachers. The commonality present in those previous relationships always encouraged me – I’ve found that shared experiences, especially challenging or emotional ones, have a natural tendency to bond people.

These past six months I haven’t had the luxury of being around many other missionaries, and I’ve sorely missed being in constant community with people who deeply understand my position. While this season has certainly drawn me closer to God, at times it’s also been JUST. PLAIN. HARD. For me, this training could not have come at a better time.

For two glorious weeks the seventeen of us shared laughter and tears. We told each other stories of triumph and disappointment, stories of encouragement and confusion, stories of times when God showed up in ways we never expected. Every day we ate lunch and dinner together, swapping seats for meals like a game of musical chairs. We prayed for each other, for the people we’ve yet to serve, and for the people who have yet to impact us.

During our time together I was reminded that God never intended for us to go through life alone. Community was His original design for humanity, and I believe He’s still in the business of using human relationships as a primary way to display who He is to people.

Psalm 27:27 – As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

My beloved new community has disbanded as of last Friday, each of us returning to our respective homes in different parts of the USA. Within a year or so our physical locations will further separate, the miles stretching longer as members of our gang leave to make new homes in countries like Malawi, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Kenya, Japan, and more.

I’m so thankful that ours is a community founded not on proximity, but on shared experiences and beliefs that can stand the test of any distance.

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All but one member of our group!

Dear God,

 Thank you for Bryan, Michelle, Keesha, Meg, Christina, Dana, Sarah, Shelby, Monte, Andrea, Peter, Ashley, Chris, Holley, Rachel, and Brian. Thank you for two soul-filling weeks of being poured into by our new SIM family. Thank you that you give us one another to reflect your love. Thank you for speaking truth and encouragement into our lives through each other. Thank you for the gift of community.

 For each of my new friends I pray peace on the journey, joy in the serving, comfort in the hardship, and love, brilliant love, every step of the way.

 Amen 

It’s Not About Me

TJ and I are officially a few weeks deep into support raising, and it has been quite a ride. As of today, the commitments and gifts we have received total just under $1,400 per month.

God has absolutely awed us in this process. We are over halfway funded. That $1,400 per month translates to over $16,000 committed and given in a little over three weeks. WHAT?! Even as I type that number it feels like I need to double-check the math. There’s just no way it can be real.

It’s real.

In the midst of all its ups and downs, support raising has reminded me of a valuable lesson about the importance of focus. Over the past month, there have been more moments than I care to admit when I’ve been tempted to believe that this whole support-raising thing is about me – about my fundraising number and my start date and my abilities to raise money.

My, my, my. Ugh, it’s painful just to write that sentence.

Here’s the pattern I’ve noticed: the second I put the focus on myself, I allow frustration and fear to slide into the driver’s seat. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

I was having one of those “me” moments last week when a story that Brian Hall, one of Sports Friends’ missionaries living full-time in Langano, Ethiopia, wrote was posted to the Sports Friends blog:

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Hundreds of kids came through camp this past summer, each with a unique story.  Some come from Orthodox homes, some from other religious backgrounds, some non-believing, and some from no home at all.

It was “family time” after lunch one afternoon during our week of girls camp.  I sat in the circle with my team of girls and listened as each one told about their family, how many brothers and sisters they had, their parents, where they were from, their favorite food and color, and what they wanted to be when they grew up.  It was a time to get to know each other as the girls were all from different areas.  Each one took her turn going through the routine, and then it was time for *Mary to give her story.  “I don’t have any brothers or sisters….” Tears started rolling down her face and she could not finish her story. Yigirem, one of our summer staff employees, comforted her and encouraged her to keep going but she couldn’t.  Later on I asked him her story.

Mary, a 16-year-old girl, is homeless and living on the streets of Addis. She has no family to love her and guide her through her adolescent years, and as a homeless child at the age of 13 she started having sex with men on the streets.  One of our other summer staff employees, Nega, had found her on the streets this year and invited her to join one of his teams.  He has taken her under his wing and is looking after her by finding her a place to live and giving her some money to buy food.

As I listened to her story, I had so many thoughts about this young girl.  “What will she think when she sees the drama on Thursday night, the drama of the adulterous woman who finds forgiveness?  How will she respond to Christ’s forgiveness?”  As I ran through all of these thoughts, for now I was just happy to know that someone within Sports Friends has found her, is taking care of her, showing Christ’s love to her, and now she has had the chance to come to camp. That is such a big part of why we do what we do here – to introduce these hurting youth to a loving God. Hopefully through her camp experience and her connection with Sports Friends in Addis, she will one day decide to give her life to Christ and experience his amazing love, joy, and forgiveness that will change her life. Please pray that Mary and many more youth around the world will find Christ through this ministry, and pray that their coaches will continue to reach out to them and be godly mentors and influencers in their lives.

*Name changed for security reasons

This story served as an inhaler for my panicky soul. It was calming and grounding and brought me back to the simple, beautiful truth – this support-raising journey is not about me. It’s about Mary and every child around the world she represents.

I believe – really, really believe – that God is using Sports Friends to change lives for the better across the globe. The proof is in the stories. When I keep my focus on that, my heart beats fast with excitement and motivation. I feel unstoppable, not because I am, but because I’m partnering with an unstoppable God.

So much of support-raising seems scary, difficult, and frustrating when I’m doing it for myself.

How wonderfully uncomplicated it becomes when I’m doing it for Mary instead.

Is there somewhere in your life you’ve lost focus? What’s distracting you from keeping your attention on what matters?

 

*If you’re interested in learning more about how you can join our support team, visit the “Support Raising” link in the blog header above. I’d love to answer any questions you may have about Sports Friends, support raising, or this adventure we’re on!

On Busyness, Spinning Plates, and Creating Margin from Madness

I recently read something that really got me thinking. The article is short, but powerful. It’s about busyness, a sneaky adversary I know many of us struggle with, and the importance of intentionally leaving some margin in our lives to make space for the unexpected. If it sounds interesting or relevant, I’d recommend checking it out if you have a second. The rest of this post builds on what I read there first.

http://storylineblog.com/2013/10/18/what-i-learned-about-my-busyness-from-a-man-in-a-maroon-honda/

 

My training period for Sports Friends started in early September and will wrap up in about four weeks. Most of this time has been spent completing development activities, along with beginning the vital work of building a financial support team. I’ve also been taking on some substitute teaching.

All of these things are important and some have been stressful at times, but the season I’m in right now definitely doesn’t compare to the consistent busyness of my former professional life as a teacher. Over the past couple of months, more than once I’ve found myself facing days of wide-open space with nothing concrete on my schedule.

Sounds delightful, right?

Interestingly enough, rather than embracing the margin this season has naturally graced me with, I’ve felt ashamed of it.

I, like so many others, have almost always suffered from chronic over-commitment. Instead of viewing margin as valuable and needed, I tend to approach it with caution, wondering if having extra time in my life somehow makes me a slacker or an underachiever. Sadly, because I’ve always equated busyness with capability and success, non-scheduled time often makes me feel nervous and antsy. Isn’t there something I should be doing?

I don’t think I am alone in this. Our society as a whole applauds plate-spinners. The more plates you manage to spin without dropping, the more valuable you become. This faulty logic rears its ugly head in all areas of life – as a student, as a professional, as a parent (or so I hear), etc. The world’s respect typically goes to those who take on the most; bonus points if you can make it look easy.

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The praise you receive as a plate-spinner is, unfortunately, like putting a band-aid on a bullet wound – great for just a second, but then you desperately need more. It won’t sustain you through the madness. I know this from experience, and, honestly, I’m tired of living this way. When I take on a lot, I may look capable or admirable to outsiders, but on the inside I know the truth: I’ve purchased a one-way ticket to Crazy Town. And it’s non-refundable.

Rather than spinning lots of different plates, what I really want is to do just a few things and do them really well, leaving a sizable amount of margin for rest and unexpected opportunities. In order for that to happen, I know I’ll have to make some intentionally difficult and unpopular choices to forgo the things that make me feel accomplished for the things that make me feel full (there’s a difference).

I know everyone has real-world responsibilities. I’m not suggesting that we all quit our jobs and stop making dinner and doing the laundry just so we can have some margin. I’m simply wondering what it might do for our souls, for my soul, if we changed a few of our yes’s to no’s and planned deliberately for margin the way we plan for everything else.

At the end of the article I mentioned above, the writer states “…efficiency is not God’s highest goal for you. Love is.

I know it sounds cliché, but at the end of our lives it really won’t matter how many plates we spun or how many tasks we were able to accomplish on any given day. What will matter is the love we gave.

Heading into the holiday season, my word is margin. Instead of feeling ashamed of the margin already afforded to me in this season of life, I’m ready to embrace it. I won’t make a mockery of it by over-scheduling it or wishing it away. That way, when unexpected opportunities arise, I’ll be ready to love people well instead of grumbling about having to add one more plate.

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An Ethiopian Foot-Washing Ceremony

Sports Friends serves thousands of kids in Ethiopia, but only about 1,000 of them get to come to Camp Langano each summer.

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Dedicated coaches (or Sports Ministers, as SF officially calls them) from around Ethiopia are invited to camp by Sports Friends regional staff, and then those coaches face the task of selecting 5-10 kids to bring with them for the week. I can only imagine the prayer and consideration involved in this process, because the time spent at camp will certainly be life-changing and, clearly, not everyone will have the opportunity to experience it.

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All of the kids and coaches were sorted onto teams shortly after they arrived at Camp. They were not necessarily with their teammates or coaches from home.

While I obviously enjoyed hanging out with the kids, one of my favorite parts about camp this summer was getting to know the coaches. These people are legit about serving the youth in their communities. Their selflessness was so evident, and I sincerely believe that a passionate, bold generation of Ethiopians is being raised up by the people I met.

Some of the stories the coaches (and the staff, for that matter) told about their pasts are truly unbelievable. It’s always convicting for me to hear stories from believers around the world who stand firm for God in places where they could face punishment, disownment, or even death for it. In church on Sundays I’m mostly worried about whether or not the coffee will still be hot by the time I get there or if there will be enough seats in a row for my friends and me to all sit together. Real important stuff, ya know?

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On the left is Dinku, the coach I spent the week with on team Germany. On the right, TJ and Yibe play a game. Yibe is on summer staff at Camp and was on team England with TJ.

On the last night of each week of camp, the Sports Friends staff and the firenjis (white people, for those of you who don’t speak Amharic ;)) have a foot-washing ceremony prepared to honor the coaches. The basis and symbolism of this comes from John 13 when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.

John 13: 14-17: Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

The idea of Jesus, the King and Savior, washing the feet of his disciples, ordinary people like you and me, defies everything our world says about leadership and power. In our culture the lowly serve the elevated, not the other way around. But in the culture of God’s kingdom, everything is upside down. I sincerely love the picture and example of Jesus as a servant-leader.

On the night of the foot-washing ceremony, the coaches sat in front of all the kids and staff. The men in our group and one of the ladies were waiting with basins and towels. The rest of us stood off to the side to sing Amazing Grace while Marisa, our group’s musician, strummed her guitar.

I can’t remember ever being in a room filled with kids that quiet before. I watched them curiously, imagining what they must be thinking.

What are these crazy firenjis doing? Why is my coach sitting up there? What is going on?

The moment our group started the ceremony and we began singing, I was a wreck. I believe I successfully choked out the first few lines of the song, but by about “was blind, but now I see” it was over. I had my face in my hands and was sobbing right along with most of the coaches sitting in the front of the room.

Rarely in my life have I ever felt God’s presence so acutely. Rarely have the words to this timeless hymn ever seemed so real.

Because of His grace thousands of Ethiopian children have Godly, caring adults to look up to and depend on. Because of His grace these kids get to be just kids for a week at camp – safely playing and having fun in a way that many of us who grew up in America likely took for granted. Because of His grace they are exposed to a different way of living, a way filled with the hope and joy of God that this world so desperately needs. And because of His grace TJ and I got to play a tiny, tiny part in all of this.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.

His grace truly is amazing.

Because of the sensitive and emotional nature of the foot-washing ceremony, I didn’t take pictures to share. However, if you’d like a glimpse into it, there is video footage of one in the Camp Langano video I posted in July under “Off to Ethiopia!” It starts at 3:25.