A lonely walk

Imagine what it would be like to wake up knowing today is the last day you will see your child. I wonder how carefully you would choose their clothes or the last words to share with them. I wonder how hollow it would feel to stand on the sidewalk as they are driven away.

Imagine returning home without your children in tow. They were with you when you walked out of the neighborhood, but now you walk alone. Your world is upended. You’ve lost the title “mom” or “dad.” To make matters worse everyone is watching you from their front step or window. Secrets don’t keep long where you live—especially secrets like this.

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People know what you’ve done and they don’t restrain themselves from staring. This is a lonely walk back to an empty home.

You can’t believe it got to this point. How could it? You didn’t have children to abandon them. But then he left, and there were no jobs to be found. The life you dreamed of isn’t visible anymore, and you don’t have anywhere to turn. Somehow the best option became giving them away.

Sometimes when I’m speaking to a group a person will ask how our kids end up in the care of the Children’s Shelter of Cebu. I’ll confess that for most of the children a parent is still alive. “How could their parents just abandon them,” they wonder. It’s hard to explain. In our good-Christian mentality, you just don’t ever give up on your kids.

It’s hard to describe the straight jacket that is total poverty and utter hopelessness. It’s hard to explain not being able to protect or provide for your child. I can’t pretend to understand, but I know it’s easier to demonize the mom who couldn’t care for her baby than to put myself in her shoes. She doesn’t deserve to be understood because of what she’s done. Right?

I don’t know. High horses are easy to climb on when you’re propped up in a world of options. Judgment comes easy on this, but judgment has always been easier than understanding, including when a mom concludes her child is better off without her.  Judgment isn’t our job at CSC. Our job is to love that child the best we can. It’s the least we can do for those moms whose seperation is not the mark of selfishness, but of sacrifice.

What if God made you for this?

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I heard my friend Andy talk about “the seminal question” several times in grad school. The first time he said it I was only half sure what he meant, so I just nodded and hoped for the best. Turned out a seminal question or a seminal point is at the crux of something, the thing that really matters and influences everything else.

I’m thinking of a seminal question right now: What if God made you for this?

You. Right now. Meant for whatever it is you’re facing or going through. Is it possible you aren’t just facing these circumstances because of chance, but that you were made for this very thing?

Does that freak you out? Make you angry? Give you hope?

I was having a bad couple of days not long ago. I felt insecure, less impressive than others around me and not up to the task at hand. The next morning I woke up and said my prayers, and told God about it. He hit me with a overwhelming sense of peace and a thought: I made you for this. It struck me so strongly that I wrote the phrase down, put the slip of paper in my pocket and kept it as a reminder.

There are a number of reasons God didn’t make you for this. You don’t believe in God. Right now is too hard. You think you’re above your current job or situation. You don’t believe you’re of value.

But, what if God made you for this? A seminal question. Imagine how your perspective might change if He did.

Navigate the Manila International Airport

Every year we have hundreds of visitors to the Children’s Shelter of Cebu. Many navigate the Manila airports in order to get to Cebu City. If you have a trip through Manila coming up there are some things it will help you to see and know before you go.

Inside Ninoy Aquino International Airport

First stop is immigration. Easy enough. Have your passport ready and the form you should have filled out on the plane. If you didn’t, you have time in line. Make sure you get in the line for visitors, not “balikbayans” (returning overseas workers).

Right after coming out of immigration you should find some carts to your left. Unlike in the States these are free. Here’s the thing, the brake on the wheels disengages when you push in the handle. It’s engaged without it, so you might look a little foolish without the handle squeezed.

One note on bags. I’ve had some unexpected things end up on the oversize bag cart. Before you panic and assume a bag is missing, look there.

Customs is usually straightforward. I’ve only had to pay a fee once, and it was when I was bringing a xylophone. The box was huge and it was hard to ignore. (I claim this is the biggest thing anyone has ever brought on a plane to CSC. Paul Healy, our Field Director, thinks he has me beat with a pottery wheel. Grasping at straws, that guy.) If you are carrying anything over for the Children’s Shelter of Cebu, and you get questioned on what you have, tell them you have items for an NGO (Non-Government Organization) that serves homeless children. I contend you are less likely to be charged.

Right after customs, you will find a couple of currency exchangers. The rates at the airport won’t be as good as other places, but I haven’t found them to be terrible. I wouldn’t go into the city without at least 1500 pesos for taxi and tips.

At some point, it might be good to get your baggage claim ticket out that you got way back at the airport you originated from. They sometimes check for these receipts in Manila, right after coming through customs. This is even more common in Cebu City.

Time to leave the airport!

Whether you are heading to a hotel or have a domestic connecting flight, you need to leave the international airport. Walk out the doors to that tropical air and do one of three things:

1) Have a connecting flight? You need to confirm what terminal it flies out of. Say you’re at home right now before your trip. Look online. Terminal 2 is used for most Philippine Airline flights, Terminal 3 for Cebu Pacific and others. Otherwise ask someone there. Out the front door of the airport you’ll turn right to take a free bus to the appropriate terminal.

2) Heading to a hotel? Option one is to turn left immediately after you get outside. There you will find a metered taxi stand. If you’re just staying in Manila overnight, you probably didn’t book a hotel too far from the airport (I often stay in the City Garden in Makati). So, the cab fare shouldn’t be more than a few hundred pesos.

3) If that stand is backed up, there is another option. Cross the crosswalk to an opening that has ramps to the left and the right (the brakes on that cart will come in handy now). Go to the left and at the bottom you’ll find a coupon taxi stand. This is pretty affordable, and it’s interesting to witness the bustling pickup area for those who have rides.

Dastardly terminal fees

One final word about traveling through Manila. There are terminal fees that you want to set aside money for when you leave the country. As of this writing, it costs 200 pesos to fly out of Cebu City and 550 to fly out of Manila. After paying the fee they’ll attach a receipt to your ticket. Most of the time you fly theses fees are included in your ticket price. For some reason, that isn’t the case in the Philippines. So, hold onto some extra cash for this, either in Philippine pesos or US dollars.

Cebu Terminal Fee

I hope this helps…have a great trip!

Darkness disappears

mle@photofool.com

for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light” Ephesians 5:8 (NASB).

That’s interesting. It’s not just that you were in darkness. You were darkness.

This shouldn’t surprise you. Go out on a pitch black night where nothing is visible. Neither are you. Darkness consumes and drags everything else in with it. Everything except light. Light makes darkness go away. Where there is one, there can’t be the other. Darkness is all-powerful until light shines. Then, darkness is gone. It doesn’t exist anymore.

Are you like me and sometimes fear the darkness is back? Because, as the Apostle Paul put it, “I do what I don’t want to do” and get tripped up in sin? If you have accepted Christ, don’t let yourself get tricked into wondering that.

Now you are “Light in the Lord.” Upper case light, a part of something in and with our great God. There can be no darkness, light has made it disappear. But, we and the Ephesians seem to need the reminder to walk in the light that we are a part of. Wait, but how? Thankfully verse 10 has the answer: by “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” I’m reminded to walk in what has already been given to me.

A call to stand still

Josh Brewster Photography

The business of hearing from God can be tricky. I once wrote that I don’t hear from God audibly. I still get comments about that post, sometimes because readers got the impression I don’t hear from God at all. Whoops.

When I was in Cebu last I shared with some staff about my sense of call to take the President position at CSC. One of them asked later if I would write about it, given the other blog post and my shady background on hearing from God (they didn’t say that last part). I liked the idea of sharing the story.

As I waited and prayed about becoming President at CSC, one morning stands out as the day God made his path clear.

I didn’t set my alarm the night before at the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit. There were prayer groups scheduled for the morning, and to be honest, I was hoping to sleep through them. Crashing for 8 hours sounded like a good plan. I even prayed God would wake me up if He wanted me to go.

Talk about a confession of laziness. And foolishness (don’t pray to God about avoiding prayer!). I woke up at 6:45. Plenty of time to get ready for the day, pack for the flight home and go to prayer groups. My attempt to pull a fast one on God didn’t pan out. And I thank him for that.

While in prayer groups, the facilitator invited us to take five minutes and pray in silence for what God would have us do for the cause of the orphan. I needed that five minutes. The President position was beginning to take shape, with or without me. I was nervous, uncertain and full of questions about what I was supposed to do.

As I prayed that morning, a picture came into my mind. I’d call it a vision, because the sense I got when I pictured this was deep inside. It wasn’t in my heart or mind…I felt it in my gut.

I pictured one of those moving walkways in an airport. They move you towards the gate with almost no effort. I could see as if I was standing on the moving walkway, and a very clear thought came to mind. This wasn’t a premonition of the airport I would be at later that day. This was bigger. I was on a moving walkway in my career. The momentum was so clear that the ground beneath me was guiding me to where I belong. Then I had a deep-down thought, that felt as if it came from somewhere else. “You’re on a moving walkway. I’m bringing you where I want you to be. You don’t even have to step forward, I’ll get you there. But you do have to stop backing up.”

Did I hear God audibly? No. I didn’t need to, He made himself clear without it. God was shaping the path before me and moving the steps beneath me. I don’t know if I’ve been hit by something so clearly since, but something like that reverberates for a long time. The best advice I got were the deep-down words of a call: just stop backing up.

Are you backing up from something in your life? I pray you too will find yourself on a moving walkway.

The mind of man plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

The view from the horizon

I heard my former boss, Larry McKenzie, say many times that he read the obituaries before any other section of the newspaper. It was his daily reminder that each day is a gift. The people in those pages had come to the last page of their story on earth. They had met the fate that awaits all of us.

Maybe his habit sounds morbid, but I came to understand the wisdom in it. Being reminded of death served to motivate him for life, and Larry has a deep appreciation for life.

A friend of mine lost a close friend yesterday. As it turns out, these friendships didn’t overlap. It sounds like the woman who passed away was something special though.

I contacted my friend to let her know I’d be praying for her. I hoped to encourage her in the midst of a difficult situation.

I’m not sure I could have encouraged her more than she did me.

She will be in the midst of loss all week, and of course longer. There is a memorial, a funeral and she is close to the family so there will be numerous calls and gatherings. She is sailing her ship through the wakes of death right now. A sense of despondency would be justified. Instead she quoted something she heard Kay Warren say: “”Life is like railroad tracks; the good and the bad run right alongside each other and we ride the rails. But, if we look far enough toward the horizon, they blend together and become one. There, we will not know one from the other.”

Here in the aftermath of death is a profound view of life. There is a horizon. There, the good and the bad won’t really be distinguishable. They will have lead us to the place we belonged all along.

What a view of death…and life.

What’s after pagpag?

If your image of poverty is what items you have or don’t have, then you’ve probably never lived in poverty. Poverty isn’t about what things you don’t have. Poverty is being out of options. Poverty is taking what you can get.

This week, CNN ran a video about recycled chicken in the Philippines. I’d encourage you to watch it.

If you’ve never wondered where your next meal will come from this video will open your eyes. I look at this mom trying to feed her child and I know she’s embarrassed that the chicken “sometimes” comes from the garbage. I’d be embarrassed too, but how can we judge someone who has no choice? She’s trying to feed her child.

This video could open your eyes to the poverty we see in the Philippines every day. I’d just ask you to make this mental note: the kids that come into our care didn’t even have someone who could provide them with recycled chicken like pagpag. Pagpag isn’t all the way down the food chain. Starving is.

I wish the kids at CSC would have had someone who could provide them with pagpag. I wish they wouldn’t have had to come to us. But, I’m so glad we are here for them. I’m so glad we have an Outreach department that tries to help their family. And I’m so glad we feed them the great food we do. They deserve it. They’ve seen a notch below pagpag on the food chain.

My dreaded prayer request

Joel Reasoner

Tammy and Mitch lead special birthday prayers (J. Reasoner)

I’m feeling the need to change something about myself. It’s one of those “I really ought to be doing more of that” feelings. Which, frankly, I don’t like. It’d be nice if it was enough to feel bad about the things I do wrong. Adding all the things I neglect to do right is just piling on.

Amen?

Fine, nevermind.

I think this all started with a note from a supporter of CSC. He and his family sponsor a child through our Foster Friends program. He lost his job suddenly and the connection we have through CSC prompted him to ask for prayer. I was touched that he did.

His prayer request got me asking: would I do that? The question hung in my mind for a split-second before I knew the answer. I know I wouldn’t have the guts to ask for that prayer. I’d be holed up in a corner not wanting people to know something bad happened.

How about you?

It’s hard to ask for prayer. It can be hard to come up with a personal prayer request when asked. We often have an easier time sharing someone else’s prayer need. It’s easier to ask for prayer for upcoming surgery for an uncle’s dog than to start a sentence with “I could really use prayer for….”

I figure we have some basic reasons for holding back:

  1. We are embarrassed by the need.
  2. We don’t want to be a burden.
  3. We don’t think the issue on our mind is that big of a deal.
  4. We aren’t sure the other party will pray for it.

That sums up my excuses for not asking for prayer. The list seems pretty benign I guess. Except it’s not. It’s a lousy list. Here’s why. I could write it this way instead:

  1. I’m too proud to ask you for prayer.
  2. I don’t want to need you.
  3. I don’t want to bother with God’s clear direction.
  4. I don’t trust you enough to follow through.

We’ve got pride, ignoring community and ignoring God. In the quiet decision not to ask you for prayer I am putting a wedge between me and all kinds of possibilities for humility, trust, faith, community and change. I’m stopping a beautiful process in the confines of my self-reliant heart.

I for one am going to have to get a whole lot better at initiating the dreaded prayer request…my own.

Santa and the job quadrant

I have a simple quadrant system to rank jobs. You know a quadrant. It’s got the x-axis running left to right, and the y-axis running up and down. Four boxes are left to categorize whatever you’re comparing.

Here’s how my job quadrant works. The x-axis is level of professionalism: purpose, responsibility, authority and pay. A low score on professionalism puts a job on the left side, a high score on the right.

Now, here’s the y-axis: Facial hair. Yes, I’m serious. I recognize my system just eliminated more than half of humanity, and I do apologize, but it’s my system. The facial hair axis is simple: yes or no. Can you have a beard or not?

My first job at Hy-Vee Food Stores in Albert Lea, Minnesota did not allow me to have facial hair (which I couldn’t grow anyway) and I wasn’t in a professional position. So, my job was in the lower, left-hand box of the quadrant.

The only jobs I’m interested in from here on in are in the upper, right-hand box. I want to have a good job that has a lot of purpose and responsibility. And when the fancy strikes, I want to grow a beard.

You know who has the ultimate upper, right-hand box job? Santa. Who has more responsibility at work than Santa? Nobody! Not only is he allowed facial hair, but it’s expected. Beyond that, he doesn’t have to bother dying anything with Just for Men and he’s even expected to carry a little too much weight.

“Would you like a salad, Santa?”

“No, better make it a slab of bacon–gotta think of the kids.”

There’s no question, Santa has a great job. But, Santa will also have some work to do in Cebu this year. Our Field Director, Paul, will involve him in something crazy. He’s bound to get lost, arrested or mobbed by elves. I don’t honestly know what Paul has planned, but Santa will have to work to get to our kids.

There are a lot of new children at the Children’s Shelter of Cebu this Christmas. Some will no doubt be horrified when Santa is drug away in handcuffs, but they’ll just have to look to the kids who’ve been around a little longer. They’ll be smiling knowingly…the gifts will come.

Indeed, the gifts will come, and so will the truth: Santa isn’t why we celebrate Christmas at CSC. He’s in a manger, on a cross and at the right hand of our Father. CSC isn’t just about the safe bed, regular meals and loving caregivers. Come live with us, and you’ll be in a place to heal, to laugh at Santa and to learn about your Savior.

And, if you come work for us some day, we’ll even let you grow a beard.

Does God speak to you?

I’ve never heard God.  I’ve never seen him either.  At least not in the way some people have.

Ultimately, I’m okay with that.  I don’t question my salvation or my place in God’s kingdom because clear sights or sounds have never come to me.  Though, there are definitely times I’ve wished God would speak in a voice that I could make out with my ears.

I have had people tell me that they heard God.  Right there in their eardrums were the reverberations of the Most High. Once someone told me that God audibly directed them to take a different path to their car which resulted in them meeting a famous person.  Nothing more came of it so they just assumed God was proving his faithfulness to them.

I have to admit, I can tense up when someone says something like that.  When that person told me their story I kind of wanted to ask if they were sure this was how it all played out.  It’s hard not to proceed with incredible caution when my relationship with God just doesn’t work like that.  Still, if I had questioned the validity of this story it would have been out of arrogance that this can’t be because I haven’t had the same thing happen to me.  I’m not drawing that line in the sand.

I wasn’t filled with theological questions when I heard the story.  You want to know the full selfish truth?  It made me jealous.  I would love to have the same thing happen to me.  Something like a voice in the silence, an angel appearance or a burning bush.

Why?  Because I want to be so sure I’ve heard from God that there is no other explanation for something having happened.  It’s a question of calling.  Calling is about purpose, and for a Christian, being asked to do something by, with and for God.

Calling is an amazing thing.  Calling is God saying “here, your turn.”  If you’re called, you’re being asked to respond, to fill a need that God knows you can.  Calling is a little like faith.  It’s our turn to take what we know and go.  It’s our chance to have a part to play in the history of a world held in the hands of a sovereign God.

It’s occurring to me that being called is probably never easy.  A voice would be nice, so would a burning bush, but calling rarely looks simple however the signal comes.  That burning bush was a clear sign, but one that made for a difficult path.  God was telling Moses to do something that he felt totally unequipped to do.  He believed God had the wrong guy and he was afraid.  Moses wasn’t so different from most of the rest of us.

Being afraid doesn’t mean you’re not called.  In fact, being afraid might be one of the signs you are.  It’s okay to be afraid.  As long as we don’t wait around for the sure sign that someone else got or question our qualifications to the point of doing nothing.  Sure God says “your turn,” but He never asks us to take that turn alone.

So God has never spoken to me the way He has to others.  Maybe He has to you.  Either way, He is speaking.