You Are Not a Jar of Nutella

Healthy does not equal perfection.

Healthy means acknowledging what in your life needs to realign with God’s unique plan for you.

Asking for help shows strength, not weakness. Invite others into your journey as long as they aren’t detrimental to your health.

Growth requires pain. If you are covered in more sweat, blood and tears than rainbows and butterflies, you can rest assured that you’re on the right path. Rainbows and butterflies are opaque patches that cover us up. Blood, sweat and tears are transparent and show vulnerability.

Don’t allow the expectations or the pressures from others indicate whether or not you’re striving to be like Christ.

{{Just a few thoughts as we all contemplate the areas we need to grow in the new year.}}

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Let Your No Be Your Yes

Keep Going.

Photo Credit: Visionello, Flickr

Just because you may hear “no” a million times doesn’t mean that the biggest YES–the calling for you to change the world in whatever you way you are meant to change it–diminishes.

The “no” is water thrown next to the fire on the dirt.

It doesn’t touch the flame.

Keep going.

Fighting for Our Men: A Challenge to Any Woman for Any Man

Imagine five women: two married (one with kids), and three single gals. All around thirty, give or take. We’re at the Opryland Hotel, piled on a hotel bed and various spots on the floor, one with legs draped over the side of an ivory recliner. It’s close to midnight. And we’re talking..about guys, of course.

Recently, it’s been encouraging. Instead of hearing the “There are no REAL men to date. Just boys. Boys without jobs. Boys who play too much Call of Duty. Boys with too many other girls who are friends. Boys who live at home. Boys who don’t open doors,” we had a totally different conversation.

“Do you think that sometimes guys feel like they can’t be men because we’re always telling them that they’re boys?” asked my friend sitting next to me on the bed.

Yes, yes, a million times yes.

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It is easy to look around and see a world where men are tethered to their jobs, their phones, their parents…whatever gives them a sense of security and identity. Please don’t misread: women are as equally tethered to the things we find our value in. Somehow, we’ve found away, in spite of our competitive and comparative nature, to still champion one another – or at least help each other know we aren’t alone. From my very limited conversations with men, my husband included (who bleeds the desire to connect and grow with other men), it doesn’t happen so easily for them.

Generally speaking, women wired to nurture. Men are wired to protect. And because so many of us have experienced a man letting us down in our life (a father, a pastor, a priest, a spouse…), we have stepped into the role of protector so that we may feel nurtured. Safe. Free from being let down again.

If you’ve ever taken a sociology or human behaviors class, you know that once a group of people or culture changes a behavior, in time, that change has a profound effect on future human behavior. Just take a look at gender roles and how they shift with each passing decade. When the women of a culture tell men (by showing them) we don’t need them, it’s completely natural for the men to adapt to not being needed.

Instead of thinking the men of whatever generation are not men, maybe we can change our beliefs about them. By changing the way we think, I believe it will have a profound effect on how we act toward them – directly and indirectly. 

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I know in many situations, I’ve not always believed the best about my husband, Tim…even when one of the (many!) reasons he was able to break into my heart and steal it is because of his strong leadership and desire to protect and care for me.

We were one month into our marriage and finalizing details for our move to Nashville. We drove from Iowa to Tennessee and stayed with friends as we looked at renting and buying and where we should live. The cost of living in Nashville is about three times as much as it is in the Quad Cities area, so the sticker shock was a lot to take in.

I really (really, really) wanted to live in one area close to my friends and the community I’m used to living in. We had a little bit of debt to pay off, but we had the money to make the move happen without it stretching us too far financially. I thought it was a done deal until Tim proposed the idea of waiting three more months so that the debt could be paid and we could head into it without the guillotine of interest rates hanging over our heads.

In the living room of our friends’ home, with them present, I started crying/getting angry/being stubborn/wanting my way/and was pretty much on the border of a temper tantrum.

“Why don’t you want me to move back and live with my friends?!”

In one (loving) sentence, he shut my selfishness and my assumptions on his motivation down.

“The reason I want to wait three months is so I can give you this; so we can do this together, easier, and so you can have what your heart desires most.”

I see the power of my words, my passive responses to him, and the false beliefs I project on him and how they tear away at his innate desires to care for me and love me. When I show a lack of respect for him or my unwillingness to believe he has my best interest at heart fires away at him with 45-caliber force, I’m telling him I’m strong enough on my own. I can protect myself.

These things that hurt men, whether we’re married to them or not.

My friend that asked if sometimes men act like boys because of the way culture tells them to wrapped up our estrogen-filled talk time with a generous and love-filled thought:

“Whoever my future husband is, I pray he has women around him who are showing him he’s strong, he’s capable, and who are praying for him and encouraging him along the way, no matter where he is in his journey.”

May we all take on that countenance with the men in our lives: our fathers, our brothers, our husbands, our friends. May our thoughts, words and actions only build them up so they have one less voice telling them they’ll never be man enough.

Wise Enough to Know When to Cry: A Collision of Death, Grief, and Faith

SHEDDING TEARS.

It was the day I stopped crying. What happened in this video is why.

Less than a month after the earthquake happened in Haiti, I went with a team from AIM and unexpectedly met a woman whose story of loss and whose husband’s grief was more than my body could handle. All systems halt.

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Two months after Haiti, I went to Moldova on an undercover trip and saw innocence bought and sold as easy as if it was something you could get off a shelf at a grocer. Walk up to a taxi.

“I want a girl.”

He would take you to where you could find one. Or, you could just have coffee on the streets and watch a girl get sold as you brunched, like we saw.

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Anne Jackson Marie Miller Moldova

I did not shed one tear.

One. Single. Tear.

Have you ever seen the movie The Holiday where Cameron Diaz’s character tries to make herself cry? I did that. For six months I demanded my eyes to water. Nothing. Six months later, whatever was blocking my ability to cry left and the tears came and went appropriately.

Last year, I lost three friends: one very sweet man my age in a hiking accident in Japan, one young mom and wife to aggressive cancer, and my friend Jay, who fell through a roof to his death a year ago on June 30. I cycled across America with him. This year, one of my Compassion International Uganda trip companions, David, passed away after battling a decade-long fight with a brain tumor.

With each death, I cried. I mourned. But deep within, I had a strange peace that also frightened me.

PINK LIPSTICK.

Today, I am in the Philippines for a variety of reasons: one of which is to be an assistant to a small film crew made up of my husband and his cohort Matt. I change out lenses and run audio and take production stills. I make sure nobody steals our gear if the guys step away for a minute (as much as a scrawny Southern girl with zero upper body strength can fight off anyone, anyway).

On our first day of filming, we went to Malabon, one of the most dangerous parts of the city. Don’t believe me? Google “Malabon Crime” and you’ll read about lots of killings and how police turn the other way. Under the protection of both God and the murderer who governs the slum, we made our way to feed children and sing and film.

We were asked to step in a small house – about 6’x6′ – for a wake for a fourteen year old girl who passed away. She used to live in the orphanage for a time and had a variety of health issues, but with help, she got better. She was returned to her family (as without their permission, children can only stay here for so long). Three weeks later, she was dead.

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I ducked into the cinderblock home not realizing the casket was open and the family wanted photographs. I read about her life and saw a picture and then saw her face, her soft features and closed eyes and bright pink lipstick.

And yet I did not cry.

The rest of the day, and even until now, I chastise myself wondering, “At what point is it okay not to cry when you see a girl who shouldn’t be dead; who is dead for reasons that should not even be?” All I remember is her face and her bright pink lipstick. She should be laughing and thinking about cute boys and admiring how sassy she looks in that lipstick. She should not be dead.

LOLA.

Word AssociationOrphanage. I see children. Bunk beds. Teddy bears. White people coming in and out waiting to finally take a child home. Hugs. Toddlers.

My word association and my visual composition have changed, at least here and now, at Gentle Hands in metro Manila. It is a rough part of town but we are safe. A white girl with tattoos makes me an easy target, I’m told. Every time I walk out of the front door, one of the guards keeps a hand close to his hip should anyone so much as looks at me in the wrong way. I walk in between Tim and Matt like a sandwich if we go two blocks to the market.

Yes, there are orphans at the orphanage. It started with seven. Then thirteen. Now there are seventy here, but not all of them without parents or families. Some are here so they can go to school. Some are here so they can get medical attention they can’t find anywhere else. Some are months old. Most are young.

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One is not. Her name is Lola, which is the traditional name for Grandmother here. Nobody knows her real name as there is nobody old enough to have earned the respect to call her by it. She is 96 years old, and she is an orphan.

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Lola is not in any pain. This could possibly be the first time. When she was in her early twenties, her family hid in the caves as the Japanese occupied and took over the government in World War II. She had a husband and seven children. She thought it was silly for her to change her last name when she got married. Her husband was brutally murdered in front of her with a machete. She struggled to provide but did everything she could to take care of her family. As she got older, that family began to abuse her – in what ways, I don’t know. She only talks in generalities and I know better than to ask.

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As Charity, the director of Gentle Hands, was out visiting the children in the communities where they work, she saw Lola sitting in a corner, alone, in her own excrement. When I hear this, I can’t help but to remember the stories in the Bible of those who were considered unclean, untouchable, forgotten…and their faith.

…Your faith has made you well.

Charity saw Lola and knew she deserved more. She deserved dignity. Respect. Love. Safety. Charity picked her up. And that is how Lola came to rest at Gentle Hands.

“We accept people unconditionally,” she tells me.

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The Philippines does not have a system or a desire to care for the elderly. Even as we rode in a van on the way from one place to another, a woman not much younger than Lola sat on the curb in a busy intersection, her arm reaching to the cars and motorcycles and bikes and trikes that pass by. I overhear there is no organization, governmental or otherwise, that looks out for the Lolas and the Lolos, who history tells me have experienced too much pain already. The orphanage is already over capacity. There needs to be more.

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It is unlikely Lola will be alive by the time our team leaves. As I held her hand last night, I thought it would be the last time, but she is alive and awake this morning. Her eyes are gone, however. If you’ve ever held someone close to passing on, you know the slight changes in a face, a chest, the shoulders. She wants to pass in her sleep peacefully. We pray God gives her that grace.

KNOWING WHEN.

I walked around the corner and out of sight from Lola when I left her last night, hiding behind her oxygen tanks and leaning against the doorframe, watching some of the older girls cover her with a blanket and hold her hand and tell her things in Tagalog, the native language.

This should make me cry.

It does not make me cry, but I do sense a sadness. I am sad about the girl with the pink lipstick and I am sad about the pain Lola has walked through in her long life. I am sad each of these women have felt the pain and neglect and abuse and were forgotten.

Charity walks over to me and I tell her I think Lola will pass away soon. She agrees with me. I confess how I didn’t cry when I saw the girl with the pink lipstick or knowing Lola’s time is short. She tells me how her young daughter once lost someone and didn’t cry and when she was asked why she didn’t, she replied,

“I’m wise enough to know when to cry.”

Could that be it?

JOY.

God has everyone’s days numbered, Charity reminds me. The girl with the pink lipstick. Lola. You. Me. And though it was just for a short time for both the young girl and this older woman, we know they both had respite from a life full of pain. We know they both felt love. We know they both encountered God and saw hope. The girl with the pink lipstick sang and danced around the walls of the orphanage before she had to return home. Lola sat in her bed and wove baskets like she did all the days of her life and tells stories and laughs at how different she remembers the Japanese invaders looked compared to her and the Americans she knew in her youth.

And while all of the terrible things exist in the lives of both Lola and the young girl, perhaps it is knowing they found love and joy and God and peace even for a little while is what reminds me of God’s sovereignty and mercy and provision. No, there is no excuse for the brutalities and injustices that happen everyday and all around and we should do everything we can to end them. We should be fueled by a compassion for all and a passion for justice. But we should also stand firm in the same faith that the untouchables had in Christ, the same faith Lola had, and the same faith the girl with the pink lipstick had as we remember nobody is every truly forgotten and there is a love that comforts all.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

~ Psalm 34:18

 

Can You Build Trust After Abuse? A Hopeful Tale.

This is a blog post originally written by Charity Graff, the director of Gentle Hands (where we’re serving) that brought such a smile to my face. After experiencing so much abuse at the hands of those who gave them life, even before they can walk…they can trust.

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They are all tucked in… not in their own little beds but tucked in, none the less. Tummies full, cheeks kissed, belly’s tickled, and each one prayed over.

There are six of them. But it is the one, two and three year old that have captured my heart.

The abuse they have suffered is unfathomable to me. So little and they have known more fear, hunger and pain than I have known in my whole adult life.

They flinch at the slightest raise of the arm. They shriek when they think you are leaving the room. They cry endlessly to be held as if they cannot be held close enough, tight enough, often enough. They eat non-stop, until their bellies might burst and they still want milk. They have been starved. Maybe since they were born. The night is terrifying, with screams and dreams that don’t let them wake up.

They are broken. Their bodies are full of scars and healing wounds. Small ones that look like cigarette burns and fingernails scratches and boils and the worst part, for me, is just not knowing.

Each dirty diaper, they stand still as a statue. Waiting. Silent. Their bodies tensing when I change them. They hold my eyes. Baby powder gets a pat of approval.

Baby lotion gets a smile and sometimes a giggle.

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Their eyes watch every move of every person in the room. When I touch one of them, the others eyes’ follow my hands, intently. They already take care of each other. They protect each other. They have a sense of independence that I have never ever seen in ones so little. They are wiser and more aware than any children I have ever known.

And yet they are resilient. The middle one hugged me and kissed me spontaneously today. I had to blink my tears away.

They are learning to trust. They are learning that when they climb up in the high chair, there will be food. They are seeing when they get hurt, there are prayers, hugs and kisses. They are starting to relax and let me be the “mom” – the one who should take care of them.

They are learning what love is.

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I have rescued many and seen so many children heal over the last 13 years. But these siblings have awakened afresh in my heart the why of what we do.

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And why we take those no one else will take.
And why we love how we love.
And why God sent His son Jesus to die for us.

I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt… there is hope in HIS love.

Video: Philippines Update #4: Joshua & Lola

Another video update sharing a bit about a couple of stories I’m working on and the range of care that happens at Gentle Hands, the orphanage we’re serving at this week. When you think of “orphanage,” you probably think of little kids and adoptions.

Not here. Soon, you’ll meet Lola, a beautiful 96 year old woman who’s lived an incredible life and is spending her final days resting here.

A Few Snapshots from Manila

Hello from Manila! We are starting our fifth day in the Philippines and our third day of work. Tim is working on getting our second video update for you, so in the mean time, I thought I’d share a few pictures I posted up on my Instagram. Apologies for the quick post…I’m using my phone to write it!

An amazing smile from Malabon.

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Chinatown as seen from Fort Santiago.
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Two sweet girls from Malabon.
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Our friend Tracey snuck this photo of Tim and me making a quick video yesterday.
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More soon. So many amazing and hard and lovely and confusing stories to share. Thank you for your love and prayers!

Tim & Anne