Africa (Pt. 2): Kisses from Katie

“…even though I realize I cannot always mend or meet, I can enter in.  I can enter into someone’s pain and sit with them and know. This is Jesus. Not that He apologizes for the hard and the hurt, but that He enters in, He comes with us to the hard places. And so I continue to enter.” —Kisses from Katie, p.23

Katie Davis’ New York Times Best Seller, Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption, was the first book that began to puncture and crack my preconceived notions of Uganda. So many of the powerful words that danced through the dusty red pages of her book captivated my attention–none moreso than the simple excerpt above. And while the beauty and tragedy of her story cause one page to constantly contrast the next, I found that as I read, this contrast became unavoidable. Real. Beautiful.

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When I awoke the first morning of our journey, I was greeted by the first of many  jarring contrasts that served as a mallet to my presumptions–shattering all that I expected to find.  As I slid back the shadowing curtain and twisted open the rusted lock of my balcony door, I found myself face-to-face with a surreal paradise. Katie writes often about the vast contrast between the beauty of the land, and the ugliness of suffering for many people. Her words had painted a picture in my mind, but the sunrise splashed color and life and vibrance into my expectations.  The land of Uganda was lush, tropical, and electric. The vibrant green of the rich foliage splashed itself against a cloudless blue sky.  Tropical trees stretched towards the sun and Lake Victoria shimmered and waved in the distance. The hoots and whistles of birds spun a song of life through the twists of the breeze, and sharp red dirt roads wove themselves like thin veins across the panorama. I was breathless–overwhelmed by the raw beauty of God’s continent.

I continued to marvel and gawk at the land as we drove a few hours to the town of Jinja. The sun seemed to shine brighter on Uganda. The colors seemed to radiate more energy and joy. The now familiar scent of the land seemed to follow me, lead me, and welcome me to each new place. We bounced and bobbed down the streets, often waving down strangers for directions and finding friends in their soft eyes. There were no street signs, no traffic lights, no police wielding radar guns. There was just simplicity. And life. And the milling and stirring of activity abound. Our greatest means of asking for directions was, “We are looking for Auntie Katie.” And in a town of tens of thousands, they knew right where to point us.

AmazimaBoyWe pulled up to Amazima Ministries and parked just within the thin fence that separated the ministry grounds from a local farmers growing garden.  The expanse was easy and inviting–there was a large concrete gazebo with a straw thatched roof neighboring a few one-room buildings. Behind the buildings stretched a huge playground littered with kids.  Just as we climbed out of our vehicle, the echoes of a bell rang through the open, grassy field and kids came running from the playground and out of thick brush surrounding the area. A few children danced in from the same fence opening we had driven through, and all quickly congregated to the gazebo and lined the empty benches. It was time for “chapel”, and you could watch as the kids squirmed and rustled with excitement. They were entering in with open hearts, excited minds, and thirsty souls–they glowed with anticipation of worshipping the King they had come to know. It was time to praise Jesus.

I watched and listened in awe as these thin, dirty children raised their hands and sang and swayed. Some danced, some played, some laughed. They sang and sang and sang. And smiled. It was both enchanting and convicting to see these tiny children worship so freely. Some wore nothing but rags. Hundreds of tiny, shoeless feet dangled from the chapel benches.  Hundreds of dark, bald heads bounced and bobbed, speckled with white worms and fungus. Yet despite their circumstances, despite the unimaginable things they’ve undoubtedly seen and experienced in their short lives, despite the material things and basic necessities they’ve lacked–they praised!

I was spellbound and eager to spend time with the young woman, no older than myself, who had been so daringly obedient to God and who had built this ministry in His name.  To tell Katie’s story would take me far more space than this blog allows, so I urge you to read her book and dig into her captivating website (http://kissesfromkatie.blogspot.com).  At 23 years old, Katie is an adoptive mother to 13 Ugandan daughters. She has built a ministry that provides for hundreds and hundreds of children in the neighborhoods of Jinja–covering their school fee expenses, providing them with nutritious food, addressing their medical needs, and giving them a place to gather on Saturdays and praise the King who lovingly led a faithful servant to enter in to these children’s world. A very hard world. A very real world. A very beautiful world.

Amazima

And while my time spent with Katie was moving, the hours spent with the children were moments I will never forget. From worshipping and singing along with their sweet voices, to climbing through playground tunnels and playing “house” with a dozen sweet girls, I found myself in perfect peace and abundant joy. We danced and laughed. We ate rice, hot beans and chicken with our fingers. We tip-toed barefoot through the grass and spoke for hours through our eye contact, alone.  The language barrier was vast, but the translation of a smile was simple. After hours of tickling and hide-and-seek and silly animal impersonations, we sprawled out on the grass and basked in the sun together. A dozen tiny, dirty legs tangled together with mine in a sweaty pile. Sweet hands pulled and rubbed on my clothes, my face, my arms. Before I knew it I noticed what felt like fifty tiny fingers dancing through my hair.  The girls had sat me up and were busy at work braiding and twisting my “mzungu” hair. They toiled and worked and gossiped together in their native language. Every now and then they would giggle and laugh and swat away any boys who tried to join in the activity. I closed my eyes, breathed in a deep whiff of their sour, sweet smell, and praised God in that perfect moment of peace. This must surely be a taste of heaven. This must surely be a glimpse of Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.

What was unique about Amazima was the beautiful contrast that continued to echo so loudly.  The children who filled the playgrounds, danced in the chapel, and tumbled through the fields were, by America’s standards, filthy. Amazima reaches out to the children in the community with the most need. Many, if not all, come from impoverished homes, heartbreaking conditions, and jaw-dropping hardship. Yet through Amazima, some of their physical needs, and many of their spiritual needs are met. They find friendship, love, and hope. Through the selfless provision by Amazima, they find Jesus. And for these precious children, that is enough. Abundant joy and life flows through them. Smiles never escape their faces. Gladness never evades their hearts. They are so very appreciative, so very polite, and so very eager to share with you the love that has been shared with them. Radical need contrasted by simple provision. Radical hurt contrasted by simple trust. That is what defines their radical faith. Simple love.

I want to be a believer who recognizes that deeply that Jesus is ENOUGH. I want to be that grateful for every day and every blessing. I want to shine light like the Ugandan children. I found myself envying their lives. Envying the simple, unobstructed, fervent love they felt for God.  Envying how clearly God moves there. He is present, He nurtures and kneads their tiny hearts, and He comforts them. He holds them, He laughs with them, and He loves them.  As Katie so eloquently said, He enters in. And He loves fiercely.

I so deeply admire Katie for following in His example and doing the same.

(to be continued…)KatieDavis

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What is Righteousness? (part 2)

So how is it, then, that we can be 100% righteous in our POSITION, but must constantly strive towards righteousness in our CONDITION?  We understand that the Bible is our “How To” guide on EXACTLY what a righteous life looks like, but how can we be both ‘all’ and ‘nothing’ at the same time?

Let’s first understand the righteousness of our POSITION in Christ.  As you saw on the graph, when we open our hearts to the understanding of God’s love and accept Jesus Christ, we are saved. And IMMEDIATELY, our righteousness shoots up to 100% and remains there until we die.  This is because, when we truly believe in the Son of God and believe in the opportunity of salvation, we are FILLED with the Holy Spirit! We spoke about this before–we are emptied of ourselves and we are filled with the Spirit! We are saved and our souls are sealed and protected from that point on. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Wow…WOW. So when this occurs, when we make the conscious choice to believe, we are 100% righteous in God’s eyes. How? Because He no longer sees us. He sees His Son in us. And His Son, Jesus Christ, is completely righteous.  So, in God’s eyes, our souls are 100% righteous and we are instantaneously forgiven. Forgiven for everything…forgiven for our past, forgiven for our present, forgiven for our sins to come.  THAT is the power of Jesus Christ and what His life did for us.  It offers every single person on this earth LIMITLESS forgiveness and grace, if they simply believe.  It offers us a seat next to the CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE for all of eternity.  All it takes is one simple choice on our parts–a simple recognition that our life is far greater than ourselves.  A simple recognition that we are nothing without Him. A simple recognition that His sacrifice was not in vain, but was for the protection and freedom of our souls. With that simple recognition, we are saved. We are made anew and our lives here on earth can’t help but forever be changed.

Now we understand that our POSITION in Christ is unshakable.  We are 100% righteous, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, and we are saved. Every single one of us who chooses to believe. Why then, does the righteousness of our CONDITION seem so volatile and inconsistent?

The answer to that lies in a topic we discussed before–our flesh. We are human. Every single one of us. And, since we are human, we are stuck in a form that is sinful. On top of THAT, we live in a world that is a whirlpool of sin! So we are stuck in a body that loves to sin, living in a world that sin thrives. Crap. We are 0 for 2 right off the bat. (Which should make you even MORE grateful that His forgiveness is offered so unconditionally, because without Him and His grace, we would be screwed from the get-go.) It is literally impossible to live an entire life free of sin.  Jesus Christ was the only man who ever has and ever will be capable of that.  Should that deter us from trying? Absolutely not.  And if you are truly filled with the Holy Spirit, the thought of just throwing in the towel and saying “Oh well, I’m saved anyways. No point in trying to fight these urges to sin…” shouldn’t even cross your mind.  Because, as believers, we must recognize the importance of our role on this earth.

We must live our lives, every minute of every day, working to thin that sinful flesh and grow in our level of righteousness.  We must strive, constantly, to live more and more like Christ. Will we mess up? Yes. Will we be discouraged? Constantly. Will we be criticized and judged and put down? Every single day. Should we allow that to affect us? NO WAY! 🙂 You see, this line of righteousness is so inconsistent because we, as humans, are inconsistent. And we are surrounded by temptation, lust, desire, greed, sin, and everything earthly, impure, and temporary. And, unfortunately, we are surrounded by people who buy into all of that and can’t grasp the concept that it’s all empty.  But should we allow those people, who act in ignorance and unbelief, to affect us?…Or should we take the opportunity to share God’s love and grace and affect THEM? (I choose plan B!)

Lives can be changed and people can be saved if we, as believers, can be brave enough and bold enough in our faith to constantly strive towards righteousness in our condition and let God’s light shine on others. We, as humans, are the primary vessels for God’s light to other humans.  That is the importance of our level of righteousness in our condition.  If we can strive to live more like Christ, then Christ’s light will be able to reflect through us.  Through our actions, through our words, through our relationships, through everything.  And we won’t even always be aware of it! We can affect more people than we will ever know if we simply look in a mirror and work on ourselves.  If we simply open the Bible, understand the words, and work really hard to apply them.

IT’S NOT OUR JOB TO IMPRESS GOD. He already views us as 100% righteous. He recognizes we will mess up. He recognizes we will sin.  He recognizes we can’t do it perfectly. But our seat in heaven is assured.  We don’t have to “prove” anything to Him. It is impossible to “gain favor” with God.  We are already saved and assured salvation when we accept His Son.  IT IS OUR JOB TO BE GRATEFUL FOR THAT UNBELIEVABLE SALVATION AND TO ALLOW HIM TO USE US FOR HIS WILL.  It IS our job to work to thin our flesh.  It IS our job to turn away from the darkness and strive towards the light.  To humble ourselves and recognize we are nothing without Him. It IS our job to set an example for others and to teach as much as we can.  To WALK THE WALK, not just TALK THE TALK.  To grow and to learn and to live for HIM!

The level of our righteousness in our CONDITION is largely determined by us.  And it is completely indicative of the depth of our faith and our commitment to God’s will.  We aren’t trying to impress God, we are trying to show Him to others.  We are His vessels. We are his tools. We are His children.  And it’s our job to take even the slightest bit of the burden Jesus Christ carried and GLORIFY HIM!

So let’s stop making excuses. Let’s strive to thin that flesh. Let’s strive to improve our condition.  Let’s strive to glorify Him and serve Him.  To thank Him for the undeserved, unbelievable grace that He offers us. Let’s strive to live righteous lives!

“His Mosaic”

I fancy myself a mosaic,

a mosaic constructed by God.

Intricately made, passionately displayed,

beautifully humble, yet odd.

 

For I once was I clean sheet of glass,

free from blemish or flaw.

I was polished and buffed, fragile but tough,

pure and simple, yet raw.

 

What you must understand, is a clean pane of glass

reflects light with splendor and awe.

But it lacks dimension, lacks retention

and only shines on an area, small.

 

But God took notice of my flawless pane

and saw potential for greatness and use.

He knew it would sting, He knew I would scream,

but He knew I could withstand abuse.

 

So He sat down, alone, on His sturdy workbench

and slid my heart into a darkened sack.

Though it hurt Him to do, He knew what was True,

so He swung a hammer and felt me crack.

 

The first blow of the hammer, I lost control

and was broken by an evil disease.

It consumed my thoughts, consumed my body,

but His hand still held me with ease.

 

The next blow of the hammer, my father was gone

and the pain split through to my core.

My breaks turned to shatters, my heart was left tattered,

but He knew I could withstand more.

 

The final swing of the hammer and everything stopped,

I stared death in its formidable eyes.

My body was broken, the pain left a token,

but my spirit was ever alive.

 

The King then sat back, with the sack in His hand,

filled with my broken self.

He then gently restored me, gently He poured me

onto a magnificent, heavenly shelf.

 

With much care and patience, God pulled on His gloves

and began to sift through my remains.

He took His sweet time with a vision, divine,

and pulled pieces of virtue and pain.

 

One-by-one He gently placed the fractures He pulled

into an empty and pure frame.

While I struggled and grew, a battle ensued,

and He humbly took all the blame.

 

But He never stopped working, rebuilding my heart,

He toiled throughout many years.

He so often showed grace, loved me through my disgrace,

and in time, He banished my fears.

 

An artist of power and an artist of Truth,

He carefully re-sculpted my heart.

With much concentration and much designation,

the beauty shone through from the start.

 

When His work was complete, He welcomed me back

and led my soul to His humble workbench.

With the pride of a Father in love with His daughter,

He held tight to my hands as they clenched.

 

He pulled back the canvas that shielded His art

and revealed to me His masterpiece.

I was blinded by beauty, in awe of it truly,

and humbly, I fell to His feet.

 

You see His light that shined, through my restructured heart,

shone with glory and refracted abound.

It danced to the ceiling, sparkled with feeling,

and touched all that rested around.

 

Before my adversity, before all the trials,

I was a pane of unweathered glass.

His light could shine through me, but though there was beauty,

it had no opportunity to refract.

 

In breaking me down and building me up,

He had very clever intent.

For now when His light shone with delight,

it was scattered, refracted, and bent.

 

It could reach every corner and touch every heart

that came within its new bounds.

I could now shine His light, with power and might,

to all who yearned to be found.

 

I was humbled in thought that He cared for my heart

with such personal, attentive grace.

It was then that I learned, it was simply my turn,

and that others filled infinite space.

 

You see He works on us all, every single heart,

for we are all His children anew.

He loves us so deeply, and spends time with us neatly,

rebuilding even YOU.

 

I fancy our hearts as mosaics,

mosaics constructed by God.

Intricately made, passionately displayed

Beautifully humble, yet odd.