Tuesday, September 22, 2009

beginning: elephants and africa

I love elephants! Even though you cannot cuddle with them, play tag with them, or sleep with them—and in spite of the fact that I have never had the opportunity to touch one, ride one, or even give one a peanut--I love them. The reason for this could be the connection they create in me to Africa. I love Africa! This continent amazes me. The stories I have heard—whether from missionaries, the television or the radio—have echoed my heart’s cry. There are certain countries that I would love to go to but have never had the opportunity, and Africa, by far, ranks number one.
In 1991 God called me into full-time Christian service. He used this verse to speak to me:

For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. (Romans 14:7-8)

I just knew one day I would be able to go to Africa, spend my life there, and as I still say today, “die there.” My husband Bill was called into full-time Christian service after we married in 1995. I had my bags packed and ready to go. God, however, had His own plans for our lives already packed up.

I had been working as an artist for several years in Memphis, Tennessee, where I grew up. Working with 30 artists can easily make you seem a little unusual, and my co-workers sometimes referred to me as goofy and a mysterious person. God shook up my world, though, when He revealed to me that my occupation as an artist would be my ministry, my “Africa.” I did not like that very much until three people accepted Christ. I took the opportunity to show the Jesus film, and those around me sensed that I was there not only because of my artistic ability but also because of my relationship with Jesus Christ. We had our first child, Brooke, while I worked there, but I soon realized that I wanted to be home with her. So, I left my job to pursue a full-time career as a mom.

My next “Africa” mission fell quickly in our laps as we became house parents at the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home. Bill and I sold our home and spent the next three years working hands-on with troubled teenage girls. The position was extremely challenging. I began to see the girls at the Children’s Home as another extension of my “Africa” vision. Our second child, Josiah, was born while we were at the Children’s Home. Two children and up to eight girls to feed, nurture, and love...kept us on our toes.

In the middle of our constant busyness, we started noticing some changes in Brooke around the age of two. She began losing her language, and she stopped making eye contact with us.
I remember it like it was yesterday, the day of her diagnosis. The paperwork, penned right there in black and white “mild mental retardation with autistic features.” I was at a complete loss of words. Occupational and speech therapists became regular visitors in our home in an effort to retrain Brooke’s mind. But in my eyes, it just never seemed to happen. Slowly, Brooke became the mysterious one in our family.

In a very real way, she became a reflection of the greater mystery of God. Deut 29.29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord God.…” Brooke, my new “Africa,” had become my greatest fear, and my silent cry. I soon forgot all about the elephants that made me smile.

(taken from my book "Little by Little")

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