Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve 2011, And the Year 2012.

Hamilton Wright Mabie made this poetic statement, "New Year's eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted; and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darkness on other nights."

I have always felt this, the last page of a calender year falling as anonymously as every other page, softly floating to the floor. But New Year's eve does have a somber quality, being on the invisible cusp of a new year, with all it heady aspirations and/or anxious inhibitions....New Year's eve is, as the hippies say....heavy.  

This year the heaviness is of a different sort, and though my stomach is in knots like every year, the butterflies are almost all great things. Romance, destiny and colossal change all in a glorious collision in my soul. Of course there is much else on my heart also that makes this much like those other years, many prayers still unanswered, so much exploitation pandemic in this fallen world. But this year, the heaviness is a burden I have longed to carry, a labor of love.

So I will skip the rants this year, you can read the ones from last year, I bet they still painfully apply. This year I want to look back on 2011, on what I am so thankful for, and ahead to 2012, a year of new beginnings. Here goes:

I am thankful for another year full of Grace and Mercy and the Love of a Heavenly Father.

I am thankful for a woman named Narges K. Ashtari and for her beloved Prishan Foundation

Narges and the angelic child that inspired her to start Prishan Foundation!

I am thankful for River Moses, my incredible son.

River...ever pensive, ever speaking his mind! Exploring the base of several pillars at the Windsor Ruins  near Vicksburg, Mississippi.
I am thankful for the 34 permanent residents of Assist Orphange, for those 34 precious orphan girls, for Abraham and Jainy their caretakers and their two biological sons Abbi and Appu.

The girls of Assist home in Rayagada, Orissa India, along with Abbi and Appu!

I am thankful for my Ekklessia family, the community of believers there that have proven their love through humble service.

I am thankful for all of you, the Conspiracy Of Hope, who speak out on behalf of the exploited and give generously of your time and love and resources.

And I am sooooo very thankful for Jan. 11th....the day I leave for India!!!!

So this year, to break with the tradition of all my years, I want to make a New Year's resolution. And if I might be so bold, to ask you to make it with me. Thank you.

This year I resolve to keep the cause of the orphan child daily dearer to my heart. I resolve to be a louder voice for the voiceless children trapped in slavery. I resolve to be recklessly abandoned to their freedom. To give all that I can, all that I am, to that end. I resolve to love the orphan as my own child, to never stop until they are out of harm's way, until they are finally resting in the tender love of their new family.

I'll leave you with this. One of my very favorite authors, G. K. Chesterton proposed that “The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul”. 

So this year rejoice in the opportunity to start again. Receive the mercy and grace to do just that. And like Ghandi exhorted us "Be the change in the world you want to see."

Until Next Year!! I love you all so much!!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Indian Love Story: T-minus 17 Days And Counting.

When I was in India in May of 2010 I felt at peace, a peace that had alluded me for years. It was as if every child that touched my hands, face, hair, skin was taking my world weariness and imparting to me restoration. In exchange for my earthbound ragged-edged, dirty, dingy soul they gave me instead their perfect innocence, celestial and effervescent. To say I am in their debt implies that I might one day be able to repay them for that miracle of transubstantiation. Never gonna happen. Not in a million lifetimes.

So for that, and these two (above), and about a billion other reasons, I fell in love with India, she will always be my mistress. And India has since pulled upon me, with a slow and relentless gravity. The ship of my soul sweetly wooed by her child sirens. And now I am returning. A few months ago I would have thought it mostly a pipe dream to see her and her children again so soon. But somehow, beyond my control, India will be my home. This is how all good stories start, destiny. If you ask me anyway.

So let me make for you a little sketch of what's gotten me to this point and I will also give you a little thumbnail of what the overall plan is for the next few months, and then, on very regular intervals I hope, I will take these rough sketches and fill them in until they make a proper picture of what God has done and will do. A painting of a story. In so many words.

In July of this year my soul was imploding. I had been at Lowes for a year. Exactly one year longer than I had hoped. I was designing kitchens for extravagant homes while my mind and my heart, was ever on the plight of the third world and the exploitation of the children there, on the babies unwittingly borne into that womb of impossible poverty. My one solace was my work with Conspiracy Of Hope. See I had applied for about a trillion jobs with NGO's and international child's rights non-profits. All to no avail. So I started COH to maybe inch toward a life of abolition and child rescue. Ironically, part of what COH became was a vehicle to shed light on some of those same organizations, ones that were on the ground doing the work I wished I was doing. I would interview the founders, presidents or directors of those groups and then try as I might with a small coterie of generous volunteers, raise money and awareness for those groups. It helped to bleed off the internal pressure a bit but by July I was fit to be tied. Then I got a message on Facebook.

Now I get lots of messages on Facebook, some more exotic than others. Many from distant countries, people involved in the anti trafficking movement or people who hope that COH can give resources to them or whatever. Long story longer, one night I got a friend request from a woman with a Middle Eastern last name. Not too out of the ordinary, but when I looked around her profile it was nothing but an incredible collage of Indian children, all tangled in her arms and smiling like every day was Christmas!! Wow. I was, of course, intrigued. I found out she had a foundation, that she was currently living in an orphanage in India, and then from her blog, which I read in it's entirety in one sitting, I found a woman who had a heart that beat soley for the cast-off children of the world. A woman who even did this to raise money for her kids...

I sent her a message that night and asked if she could make time for an interview. She said yes, and seemed genuinely excited at the prospect. I worked hard to get the questions just right because the work she was doing was so important, I wanted to really honor that. Her answers came back so filled with passion and centered around the children and their emotional and physical well being. She was gracious, very thankful, and that was it. From time to time I would re-post her blog or the website because I really believed in her heart and her work for orphans. But there was nothing else, no communication. She was getting back from India and I was leaving for Haiti, to spend a week and a half with the amazing Megan Boudreaux and the staff of Respire Haiti.

Then, maybe a month later, out of nowhere a short message asking more about me. I was floored. And nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rockers. I did my best to be cool and calm and collected and from that day forward, for 3 months now, not a day goes by where the highlight of my day isn't "speaking" to Miss Narges K. Ashtari.

While she was in India, in the 5th of 6 orphanages she lived in, the 40 orphan girls of Assist orphanage were evicted from there rented home. Narges had two days left with them as she scrambled to find lodging for the children and their caretakers and wrap her mind around what could be done. She made a promise to those girls then and there, to go back to Canada and raise the money to build them a permanent home. And that is just what she has done. To the tune of 26 thousand and climbing, to the ultimate goal of the 43 thousand it will take to build those girls their home. The process will take three months give or take and construction begins the first week of January!

I flew to Vancouver on November 30th to meet Miss Ashtari face to face. It was nerve-wracking and wonderful and I very nearly threw up several times from my stomach being in knots for the week leading up to my visit. I spent 11 days sharing my heart and listening to her heart for orphans and justice. It felt like a dream mostly, walking around that opulent city, in the shadow of million dollar penthouses, talking about Rayagada and the girls of Assist. At some point I realized I was going, and then we spoke of it, and now it is happening! This is all very personal for me to share. But I need you to know what type of story you are following. I need you to understand and respect the principal players. So that nothing distracts from these children, sacred as they are lovely, made in the image of the Eternal God. So in case you haven't figured it out, this is the type of story you are reading, a love story, and not just one love story, but three. It is first God's love for orphans, it is my love for India and her children, and it is the story of me and the lovely Narges K. Ashtari. 

Now we are to the present. I leave for India January 11th. I have sold my Jeep and all my other possessions, everything but a few clothes and this old Sony Vaio with its missing keys and cracked case. I am jobless, homeless and again, so at peace. I will be sleeping on concrete and eating with my hands by this time next month. I am already sleeping on the floor every night! And of course I have always eaten with my hands. I am a guy after all. In the months to come I will share what is happening, the journey to India and the lessons learned there. But mostly this will be about the children of India. So I hope you will join us, and I hope you will invite all your friends. It's gonna be a beautiful journey.

The precious girls of Assist Orphanage! I am soooo nervous about meeting them!!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

X-mas 2011.

Americans will spend around 200 billion dollars this year on Christmas. The holiday that celebrates the birth of the Christian savior, the one born in a pig's trough in a 1st century shanty. And of course they will spend it on every sort of nonsense. Just over 50% of the pets in the US of A will receive gifts. At a conservative 40 dollars a pet, with 80 million pets getting gifts, that's a meager 3 billion and change. A far cry from the 41 billion annually that is spent on pets including 900+ dollar testicle implants (240k sold so far) so that your castrated pet will "retain their natural look and self esteem"..... 

There's the throngs of rabid consumers who didn't sleep on November 24. The day meant for giving thanks, a day set aside as a remembrance of the blessings that we already have in great abundance was punctuated with a night (or a week) of anxious waiting in the parking lots of giant retail meccas. Then at some ungodly hour, the veil of sliding glass was rent, the many mouths of strip malls opened wide, and the crowds pushed themselves frenzied and wild eyed into the belly of the beast. They trampled the slow and the timid, they wrenched product from the weak and the amateurish. 

I am so embarrassed to be human. I believe the article of the maniacal obsession was a $2 waffle maker. You'd of thought it was the cure for AIDS or the last cup of water on earth. If that video whets the appetite, here is a collection of some of the most egregious black Friday deaths and injuries ever. Yes. I said deaths. And all as a preamble to a day celebrating the baby Jesus. The one who had no earthly possessions. Who had no home. Who lived a life in humble servitude to the poor and the hurting. 

Yesterday, to prove that people are the worst type of brand-whores and celebrity worshipers, shoppers in North Carolina came to blows over the New Air Jordan tennis shoes. At 180 dollars a pair, a mob ran through the store's doors to be able to say that they have the new Jordans. 

Dear shoppers. Michael Jordan doesn't even play anymore. He's a 48 year old scratch golfer who cannot dunk from the free throw line anymore, not even at Chuck E. Cheeses. He doesn't know you are wearing his shoes. He doesn't even care. Well let's be honest he does care, about 180 dollar's worth, that you buy them. But he will never see you wear them, he will never stop you on the street and say, nice kicks my friend. He never will. Nope. 

How bout 200 billion on orphan relief? Even the 41 billion we spend on pets? Hell even the 3 billion we spend on gifts for our pets? How bout lining up outside of brothels and brick kilns, waiting all night to snatch kids out of the ruthless grips of traffickers and slave masters? How bout the same kinda determination that we use to acquire a 2 dollar waffle maker or even 180 dollar shoes, that kind of passion and resolve??!! If nothing else. Let's just drop the pretense. Take the name of Christ off of it all. Quit trying to add credibility to this season of product lust and tinsel worship. 

This is how I imagine hell. The smell of gingerbread and eggnog and the whole place is decked out in greens and reds and silvers and the tree is lit and there are new presents every morning and all you have to do is think it and there it is, waiting under the tree the next day. And your belly is always full and the music always soothes and the fire roars and crackles the most delightful little hisses and pops and this day repeats every day forever. And you don't have to think about the poor and the enslaved because they are not here in your perpetual X-mas. 

But then neither is Christ.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Politics Schmolitics!

Still a year from the elections and I am already green at the gills running to the hills sick of the rhetoric, the divisiveness and the look at me I am the savior of the status quo while simultaneously the fulfiller of dreams speeches spewing from the mouths of the would be rulers of america. I honestly can't stomach much more of this. Politics for me is love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Easy as pie. 

Mmmmmm pie.....

I was driving back this morning from Jackson, MS, our state capitol and therefore the mecca for all thing tax and title related. I had to get a duplicate title for my jeep because I am selling everything I own and moving to India. But that is a story for another day...

I was lost in a daydream (give you a guess who that might have been about) when a bumper sticker on a truck got my attention. Mostly because of it's sheer size. The megalithic banner proclaimed. "I Miss Reagan". 

Now I am thinking to myself, does this guy really miss Reagan???  Were they like BFF back in primary? Did they share a foxhole in 'Nam?? And I realized what he means is he misses the life he had when Reagan had the wheel of the Executive Branchmobile. Politics has descended far from the days of "Ask not what your country can do for you...." Where is the personal sacrifice, not for the once great future State, but where is the humble service to the poor?? 

So in the spirit of all things political...puke....I asked my friend Michael "Cool Hand-3years in the book of-Luke" Dixon, who is also a fellow blogger and minister of the small community church where I attend, to tell me "theologically speaking" what a country might look like with Jesus at the helm. I have touched on this before here. Be sure to note Mike's sublime sarcasm. He has the gift. But don't let it fool you, he actually believes this stuff. I have heard him in as many words describe this upside down kingdom of Christ in greater detail several times in front of a crowded chapel. Here's his take....

"In a land where Jesus is president. Ironically election is no longer a divisive term politically or theologically. He is in office because he campaigned by giving everything he has away. There are no more citizens. Just sons and daughters. His cabinet is made up entirely of children. There are two laws and it is up to you to obey. 1) Give every part of yourself to God (yes even the gross parts) and 2) Love everyone on earth like they are the God in whose image they are made.

The tax code is simple: If you have more manna than you need give it away to those who are hungry before it stinks up your tent. Foreign relations take place around a large table. Everyone brings their best food and wine, and we tell stories. (I, that is Mike, will be eating with the Thai members of the family, and telling stories with the American southerners). The army trains by running wide armed at stuffed dummy replicas of the "enemy", and then practices throwing themselves at their mannequin feet with a towel and basin. This will take some practice before they can really get between the toes. All zoos have no fences because the snakes don't bite and the lambs use lions as pillows. Oh and we all get to talk face to face with the President anytime and anywhere we want, His schedule is surprisingly open."

I asked Mike to write this mainly to add a bit of spiritual authority and academic credibility to this post which seems only to highlight my increasingly cynical view of the three-ring circus of politics. Let me say I am not immune to how charged certain issues are, how important certain laws can be, but what I am saying, what I am hoping, is that we will all examine our motives for how we vote and ask ourselves, do the most fragile among us end up more broken? Do the weakest among us have their loads lightened? Do the orphans and widows have any representation, any voice at all? 

I will leave you with these two things: The wisest words on practical politics I ever got, 

"Get off your ass and serve somebody!"

......and a short poem I wrote for my son when he was 5 or 6. 

I'm tired of talkin' politics
Let's talk polliwogs instead
Or lollipops or poppycocks
Or the shape of someone's head
We can talk on any subject
From mumbley-pegs to bumble bees
But since were talking politics
I'll vote for you if you vote for me

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Meet My Son...

My son came into this world screaming, purple and pissing on the kindly nurse who just wanted to have the umbilical cord cut and get on with her very long shift. He is 13 now, brilliant as his mum, and not nearly as hard headed as his old man. The moment he came into the world, my life was no longer my own. My life was to protect him, to round the sharp corners of the planet. The day we left the hospital I had such a relentless white-knuckled grip on his baby seat, I swear to you, a regiment of soldiers would have torn my arm straightaway from its socket before i could have let go of my son. What follows is for posterity sake, to quote the venerable mr. cummings "miracles are to come, with you I leave the remembrance of miracles".

e.e. cummings. 
These are the lessons my son taught me. This is the wisdom of childhood, unpolluted by the world-weary cynicism of the adult world, still teeming with a boundless imagination, tireless and sublime. This is the lens he sees the world through, these are the new eyes that he gave me. This is the miracle of being a father, this is the miracle of children.

The first lesson was stark and simple and unutterably profound, I realized the moment he was born that I no longer owned my own heart, it now beat outside my chest, now rested in the infinitely fragile frame of an infant child. As he grows that realization grows with him. As he hurts I hurt more, as he triumphs I am ever rejoicing. And the love I feel for him, transcendent and deeply visceral, was the very thing that broke my heart and compelled me to join the anti-child trafficking movement.

The second lesson was I am a selfish ________. Fill in the blank, you're prolly pretty close. Ask his mum if you need some more colorful words. Nothing like a child's total dependence on you to make you realize you still think of your life as your own. A child's world is as big as his belly. If he is hungry he opens his mouth and there is a very discreet amount of time allotted for it to be filled with food before it is filled with screams. Don't get me wrong, I LOVED feeding him, changing him, but seriously, I mean how much can a child eat??! And does he not realize where it all goes?!! And what is with the not sleeping, the multiple middle of the night feedings??!?? Really?!? But now, oh how I miss those moments, those first everythings, those tiny little hands grasping everything for recognition, those little legs peddling in the air prophesying running, bike rides, and long hot summer swims. Maybe the second lesson should be re-titled to: Don't be a selfish ________, you'll miss some of the best moments of your life. 

The third lesson was never underestimate a child, never give them a pat answer, never, ever ever ever think you are smarter then them. You. Are. Not. From the time my son was 18 months he was dedicated to consuming all knowledge known to man. He was intuitive, uninhibited, relentless in his desire to understand the workings of the world. He would say, "How does a car work?" To which I would answer. "Well son, it has an engine, that runs on gas, a bunch of little explosions of that gas create the energy that moves the car forward." Ignoring my insult to his superior intellect my son would again say "tell me how a car works". Slower this time and with maybe just a hint of condescension. So I would start with decaying plant matter in the ground, the heat and the pressure that turned it to crude, the drilling, the refining, the shipping, the pumping, the internal combustion, the pistons, rods, rocker arms, the tranny, the drive train, the rear differential..... And then when I was done my son would say. Tell me again. So I would, with the help of his corrections if I attempted to give an abbreviated version. After a few run throughs he wouldn't ask again. He had it. 18 months old. By 24 months he had his mind around the applied Physics of fulcrums and levers and pivot points. Now at 13 he speaks freely on every subject from sub-atomic particles to the dark matter hidden in the universe. I no longer require the use of Google. I have my son. 

There are of course a thousand other lessons my son taught me but none hit me with the blunt force of a thousand freight chains like this one: I was not prepared for the love I would feel for him. And then in that single most incredible moment when my heart was exploding I realized I was only feeling one single drop in the ocean of the affection God has for His children. I have never been so humbled, so speechless, so deeply affected by anything else in my life. So many misconceptions about the heavenly Father melted away in that instant when I held my son. So many times since then when my aching for my kid became a revelation of God's infinite love for me, for us, his silly, skint-kneed, snot-sniffing, broken, beautiful children.

I am not the father I had hoped to be, I am still so selfish, still consumed by so many things that probably don't amount to anything. But every time I am with my little man I want to be a better father, and patiently my son teaches me, each time anew, that the most important thing is just to give a child your time and affection. The rest kinda takes care of itself. This post is especially hard for me because I will be away from him for an extended time soon and because I am very private person, and oh so very protective of him. And because he reads my blog I want to say I love you Mosie. I am so proud of you. You are the best thing I ever did. This is the remembrance of the miracle you are to me, the miracle that you are to this world, and the many, many miracles to come.

Meet my son, River Moses.

Spoils of the climb. Riv finds a crocodile skull duck-taped shut at the bottom of Red Bluff.
At the Windsor Ruins in North Mississippi. River, never one to be so very meticulous in minding unnecessary rules, ignores the "Keep Out" warnings and explores the site.

Above, River sends unsuspecting seagulls squawking at the beach in Gulfport, MS. Below, my handsome, incredible, brilliant young man.