Rend Your Heart: 5 tips for a #holyfast

The first time I ever fasted I had no clue what I was doing. All I knew was that my family was in crisis, my heart was broken, and I was desperate, DESPERATE for God’s mercy rain.

{Mercy; love, compassion, a feeling that prompts action – an action that is undeserved by the one who benefits from it} 

So, I got behind the idea of fasting to forego food for one day. The idea was to deny all else but God. I told no one. What I received in exchange for this simplistic act was the gift of knowing. Assurance. A vision of hope. Heaven and Earth did not literally break ground that day but, eventually the breakthrough I prayed and fasted for came to pass. 

Fasting. It’s a simple, sacred act that very few Christians are choosing to partake in. Why? Have we forgotten that our destiny resides in self denial? Perhaps we are afraid – there is a certain trepidation when we lay ourselves bare before God. But, when the fear of doing NOTHING becomes greater than our TROUBLES we should fast.

When the fear of…

Our world falling apart.

Our church falling apart. 

Our relationships falling apart.

Our bodies falling apart. 

Our broken selves falling apart.

… we rend our heart.  

{Rend; to tear, rip apart, or split in two} 

These calamities, they rend our heart and we ache for the mend. These 5 things have helped to make a deep and lasting connection with God during my fast experiences.
  1. Declare it. Take possession of the burden. Allow yourself to hold it {not carry} for the moment. Gather the assembly. Who shares in your sorrow? Invite them to join. When Esther commissioned the fast for all the Jews in Susa she declared it! {Esther 4: 15-17} 
  2. Repent. Ask for forgiveness. This will cleanse you of all unrighteousness. Basically, make sure that you’ve checked your heart and cleaned up your inner sanctuary. 
  3. Create space. Life is busy and on days of fasting it can feel almost impossible to “stop” life from happening. Especially if you have little ones who will still feel the need to eat and drink. Creating space amounts to being creative. Get up before everyone else. Create a worship playlist that you can listen to periodically in the day. Close your bedroom door for 5 minutes and get on your knees. Keep a journal and write words, verses, phrases that the Spirit is speaking to you. Open your eyes to the world around you. Nature has a way of speaking to the heart when we choose to go looking for it. Go where the wind blows. If the Lord is leading you don’t be afraid to go through the doors He is opening before you. 
  4. Frame it.  The things revealed to you during this sacred act should be mounted in your heart. I write everything down and keep it as a way of remembering. Because God delights in His sons and daughters He gives those who fear Him the desires of their heart. Your sacrifice will not go unnoticed. It’s only a matter of time, dear friend. Hold fast to the gift exchange in this process.
  5. Believe. Stop doubting. There is nothing left to prove because the proof died on the cross. We now can pray and fast with confidence that He will fight for us. 

{Restore; to bring back to a state of health, soundness, or vigor. To reconstruct}

Last week I shared my heart for Sierra Leone and the horrible Ebola disease that is attacking the countries in West Africa. Doing so, I declared a #holyfast for Monday, August 18th. Would you be willing to join us? If you’ve already said, yes, then LET US gather back here to encourage, edify, and share the awesome things that God will do through this day. Leave a comment or send me a message. 
Love to you all.

The Lights Just Went Out: Ebola, Sierra Leone,& my Heart. #holyfast

I’ve been pretty quiet about this whole Ebola thing. I mean, what can be said that hasn’t already been said. Like you, I’m sad and have felt helpless. When reports first began to surface perhaps I was a little naive. It seemed isolated. It seemed that this West African outbreak with fingers barely scrawled across the border of Sierra Leone would keep it’s distance from my heart.

But it has not. 

First, I’ve been pretty quiet about this guy. This little love that stole my heart 16 months ago. Ibrahim. Remember how I shared with you our first encounter. It’s still so sacred to me.

A lot has transpired since then. Last October I received word that another family had stepped forward to begin the process of adopting Ibrahim and his two older sisters. I need to be real here and tell you that this was very painful. It felt like a miscarriage to me. A baby I believed was destined to be my son.

I had to let go.

I had to trust that my prayer for God’s sovereign will over this boy would be made whole. And so, I mourned the loss of my hope and in time was able to celebrate for him. In the process, I’ve made a new and lasting friendship with a dear family.

Meet my friends Amber and Tyler. Together with their four kids they are currently fighting to adopt Ibrahim and his sisters.

The initial purpose of this update was to rally adoption support. But, as we all know there is this diseased cloud looming over the nation of Sierra Leone and it needs to move on, dissolve, and disperse itself into the abyss. Oh Lord, we pray.

On Tuesday the orphanage announced that they are going into a state of lock-down due to the Ebola virus. What does this mean? It means minimizing the staff to slow down the volume of traffic in and out of the center, stockpiling food and supplies for a period of 6 to 9 months, no outside schooling, church will be closed to the public, and monthly Skype calls have been suspended.

Communication has been halted. It feels like the lights just went out.

So what can we do while we wait? I have an idea.

“Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly.” – Joel 1:14

This is a summon to all who abide in the house of God. A gathering of His people to cry out in one accord, on one single day, for one single purpose.  A holy fast. A time of public abstinence from food or drink. A demonstration of sorrow, a plea for God to breathe His breath across the West African plains and spare the nations.

“…Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?” – Joel 2:17 

Let us gather together on MONDAY, AUGUST 18TH for a #holyfast. The day may seem dark but, He is the hope of the future. The God of light. What can we do? Join me as I…

Pray for Ibrahim.
Pray for the orphanage.

Pray for the city of Freetown.

Pray for the World Vision villages in Bo. 

These are the people we are fighting for. Let us take up the torch. We are the ambassadors.

Who’s with me?

And then this happened…

I’ve saved the best for last. One final story from my journey to Africa. It happens to be the hardest one to tell. The one I’ve held so closely to my chest, sucked tightly to my cheeks, and rocked to endless sleep every night since my return.

In a single word: Ibrahim.

A fragile, two year old little boy that I encountered three whole days after arriving at The Covering, the orphanage I stayed at in Sierra Leone. 
It’s a moment I will never forget. The hot, sweltering afternoon that I entered the babies apartment looking for…well, I’m still not sure how I ended up there. Admittedly, I knew it was a place my heart should probably avoid, but with so many children I wanted to help. The room seemed emptied. Other babies had been taken outside by aunties and I noticed a few caregivers cleaning in the rear of the apartment. In the stillness of the room one noise screamed out. Baby Ibrahim. He was crying from his crib in the far back bedroom. As I slowly rounded the corner I discovered him all alone. At first glance, I felt nervous. Something was wrong with this child and I was unsure…
“No one just straight up tells you that the things you’ve seen — become what you see. That you’ll close your eyes a thousand nights from now and it will all be real again — where you were and what they wore, that one look, that one moment, that one frame.” -Anne VosKamp

I moved towards Ibrahim and when he noticed me he covered his eyes with his fist. He was scared but I gently spoke over him anyways. I felt scared too. As I reached in and lifted him from his crib I became shockingly aware of his frailty. I pulled his sweating body close to mine and walked him outside allowing the breeze and sunshine to change the circumstance around us. 
All afternoon we sat together and I held him tightly. He felt like a puzzle to me. A mystery. Easily distressed by particular people or movements, he is a worried little boy. Continually, he tries to hide himself by covering his eyes or shelter himself from noises by covering his ears. 
When I learn of his tragedy, a small piece of understanding is connected. Ibrahim was brought to the center by his father who could not provide for him. A few months prior his 24 year old mother had become pregnant. This would be her fourth child, another child that she could not care for, so she decided to drink a concoction that would terminate the pregnancy. It violently killed her too. 
My heart is pierced by his affliction.
Have you ever dreamed you were falling? In agonizing slow motion you feel your body spinning out of control, you recklessly grasp for something to hold onto, to save you from the plummet. You gasp, attempting to catch your breath. 
I laid in bed that night free falling.
In the days that followed I told God that this, this burden to bear was too much. I begged Him to stop the crushing. I believed He had it wrong, for I did not come to this place for this purpose. This was simply too much.
But it didn’t stop and it continues today…67 days since I last held Ibrahim. 
There is hope in carrying a divine burden. I do not trust in myself for any answer or conclusion. For how does one know how to care for such and enormous weight pressing onto the heart? I am learning to replace my fear of the unknowns with gratitude. When the emotion of all that I saw, all that I dream about, all that I hope will one day transpire comes rushing in like a raging river…I choose to let thankfulness spill over. 

“I’m so grateful…because to feel this vulnerable means I am alive.” Brene Brown.

A single mother, singled out because of kid

Three years ago World Vision introduced the livestock livelihood project to Sierra Leone communities. During my visit, I learned that the criteria for a family to become a recipient of an animal came down to one word; vulnerability. If a certain family was exposed, proving to be susceptible to injury or attack they would qualify to receive the gift of a bleating kid. A goat. 

This is Jenneh, a 35 year old single mother raising 5 boys.

Jenneh and her son Abu

A while back her husband left their village to find work, but he never returned. The financial hardship this created kept her middle child, 13 year old Abu, from going to school. World Vision took action and provided Jenneh and her boys with goats and chickens. Each livestock animal served a different purpose. Unlike other regions where goats are used for their milk, in Sierra Leone more often they are used as a means of currency. For Jenneah, once the pair of goats reproduced (this takes about 6 months) she was able to sell one so that Abu could finally enroll in school.

“For the children to live well in the house, we need chickens and eggs.” says Jenneh. In Sierra Leone most families survive off of rice, groundnuts, cassava, or yams. The protein rich eggs give the children and additional advantage with their health.

Abu is a big help to his mother and takes care of the goats by feeding them and making sure they are kept out of other peoples yards. Abu tells us with that infectious smile that one day he would like to become a carpenter.

Abu caring for his family’s goat

Later, we asked Rosa the community manager if Jenneh was looked down upon in her village because her husband left her. “Oh no! She is very respected!” Rosa implied.

Many times when weakness or hardship exposes us we find ourselves wanting to run and hide from others. For Jenneh, it was her community that took notice, singled her out, and then stepped in to help turn her circumstances around. In the same way, celebrating and participating in the World Vision sponsored Livestock Music Festival can help to have the same effect on countless others in vulnerable situations worldwide. We all need community- together we have the power to come alongside those in need, giving of our resources, a small token of love and respect.

Jill and I at the Lugabo village

Five Minutes with Margaret

The day I met Margaret was like none other.

Me and Margaret

Margaret is a widow who is caring for 24 orphaned children. Her husband died during the Sierra Leonean war that ended about a decade ago. Because of this tragedy, and the amount of loss that her community suffered, she knew that God was asking her to do something. So she began caring for a few orphaned children in her village.

The staff at The Raining Season had learned that Margaret was in need so they arranged for us to deliver rice and palm oil as a gift for her and the children. As we ventured out that morning, I had expected our excursion to take only a few hours. Instead, it took us the entire day to navigate through the congested city in 100 degree heat, intoxicating diesel fumes, and burning garbage wafting through the air. By the time we arrived we were wiped out.

Except…one look upon those children’s faces changed everything. Pulling into her drive, the children ran up to our poda (van) and greeted us with handshakes and bright smiles. Two of the children had special needs. We unloaded the gift of food and presented them to Margaret who was so filled with gratitude and giving God all the glory for her life.

Presenting the gift of rice and palm oil

After our brief welcome, 17 year old Yema pulled me aside. I could see the excitement in her eyes as she asked me question after question about America. Finally she asked, “I hear you wash in hot. Is this true?” We all laughed over the notion that as an American I enjoy a good, hot bath. Yema and her best friend proudly showed me their bedrooms.

Yema (on left) and her best friend

And after only 5 minutes, our team packed up and made the long trek back to the center. We all agreed that the journey was harsh but we wouldn’t have traded those precious minutes for anything.

It’s true, we don’t have to travel to Africa to make a difference in the life of someone else. As in the story of Margaret, sometimes the path to helping someone or being a difference maker can be long and grueling. My encouragement is to see the journey through. You may soon discover that the reward is just a bit farther down the beaten road!