Apr 9, 2019

LIV-ing It Up in Lanseria!

Greetings from beautiful South Africa! We are currently enjoying the very first days of what I would deem “Fall” weather… grey skies, scattered showers and adding blankets to the babies’ cots. Even after living here in Johannesburg for 7+ years my brain still struggles to reconcile this hemisphere’s weather patterns to days on the calendar. This week has felt like Thanksgiving is around the corner rather than Easter! Maybe my brain will reprogram its weather system some day?! 

Baby Girl G on Valentine's Day -- Kisses for Baby Boy A -- Baby Boy N catching up on his reading
It would take ages for me to update you (via this blog) on all that has happened over the last 8 months but I want to take a few moments to try and update you on what is newest and most exciting on the horizon for me and our crew at El Roi. 

In August of last year our parent organization, Refilwe Community Project, decided to merge with a national organization called LIV. LIV is an international family that has several villages here in South Africa and we’ve even just started the process of starting a village in San Antonio, TX! Our merger is a wild and beautiful story and we are still just figuring out what it means to be a part of the greater LIV family but long story short: our hearts are in alignment and we feel like this merger is the best way to expand the Kingdom of God in our community. You can learn more about LIV here!


Each LIV village is serving a different community and while we are unified in core values, mission and vision, each village has its own story, strengths and programs. Currently, our village is the only village that has a specific Baby Home program that focuses on responding to the abandonment crisis in our country by connecting abandoned babies to forever families through the process of adoption. As we’ve been getting to know the LIV family and beginning the process of praying, hoping and planning for what God has for LIV Lanseria we have been dreaming of how we can care for not just dozens of but hundreds of babies through the program that God has created at El Roi. Full disclosure: just typing out that sentence is equal parts thrilling and terrifying.Truth is, the societal problems that lead to baby abandonment in this country are not decreasing, if anything they are on the rise. The need for safe and love homes for orphaned and vulnerable babies is growing and we would like to be a part of the solution. We are asking the Lord to help us purchase land that will let us expand our village to be able to care for more children here in Lanseria. 

Pictures of sweet Baby Girl C, the second baby to come to us through our Baby Safe 
I have spent considerable time in the last few months asking (okay, begging) God for divine wisdom about how to begin moving forward with the ginormous and overwhelming vision of caring for hundreds of babies. I believe that Jesus has created something unique at El Roi and part of my job is trying to discern how we can replicate what we’ve created in a sustainable way. I don’t want to build a huge building to house hundreds of babies but I would love to be able to build a “baby sanctuary” with smaller homes individually managed and settled in beside one another. Our current home is relatively replicable except one key component: I live in the Baby Home! To find managers who are able and willing to live in the Baby Home seems like a stretch but I am confident we could find managers who would be willing to live on the village (with their families). I would like to move out of the Baby Home to see if we can sustain the culture we’ve created without a manager living in the home. That way we know what we want to build when we are given the opportunity to expand onto whatever new land God has planned for LIV Lanseria.

My potential new digs
I am hoping to be able to move out sometime in 2019 but for that to happen there are few ducks we need to get in to a row. Firstly, I need to be able to have somewhere to move out to! We have identified a little one bedroom/one bathroom flat on the other side of the river (where most the village lives) that I can move into once it has been renovated. It has been sitting unoccupied for a few years and needs quite a few things done to make it inhabitable and home. The flat needs new plumbing and electrical systems, new flooring and paint and a kitchen overhaul. I also need to purchase or find donations of the living items I will need for my new place. New kitchen appliances like an oven and a refrigerator, living room items like a couch and curtains as well as little items like a shower curtain or spoons. We’ve had a contractor come and quote for the renovation and I have put together a short list of items that I will need to secure. As it currently sits with the exchange rate I need to raise a total of $12,500 to cover the renovation costs as well as all the other anticipated set up costs. If you would like to join my renovation team you can send your tax-deductible gift to a few different ways through Valley Bible Church by visiting their website here

Baby Boy N with his teddy -- A timely reminder -- One of my DOH babies all grown up and in town for a visit
Secondly, we need to be able to get Board approval to hire another Auntie on to our team so that we can schedule two Aunties to cover each night shift. Right now, one Auntie covers the house at night with me filling in the gaps where needed with new, sick or fussy babies and I won’t feel comfortable moving out of the Baby Home until we are able to schedule two Aunties per night shift. We recently launched a new fundraising campaign called LIV4Babies which invites people to support individual babies at R5,000 per month which we are praying will bring in the extra funds needed to hire a new Auntie. If you would like to join our LIV4Babies support team you can find out more here

Baby Boy K hanging out -- I love these little feet -- Snuggles with Baby Boy B
If you have any questions or want to more specific details about all the new stuff going down, please let me know! Admittedly, I am not very faithful about updating my blog but I do update my Facebook account and the El Roi Facebook account regularly as well as my Instagram. Come find us there for more up-to-date info! I am beyond blessed with my beautiful and encouraging team of supporters. I would not, could not, be here without your faithful love, support and prayers. I love you!


Jul 17, 2018

Belize, Braids and Belief

On an almost daily basis I remind myself of how spoiled I am by the almost always immediate access to limitless bits of information speeding across the internet to my hot little hand via my smartphone. If my cell phone provider is doing what it should I can get answers to even my most random questions any hour of the day or night! Once upon a time there were only a select few who had access to the Bible and now I can type into Google: “Bible verse about floating ax head” and in less than 3 seconds I am directed to page after page about 2 Kings 6 and God being His awesome Self using Elisha to help out a friend. Never has the world’s general population had more access to the Word of God – this is exciting and convicting for me all at once. One of the beautiful benefits of having access to God’s word is that I don’t guess about God feels about me.

There are moments in my everyday life when I struggle to feel loved, valued or appreciated. Some days I don’t even feel seen or harder, seen only by people who need or want things from me. But I know God loves me; His word tells me so. The cross proved it for me. There are days when I don’t think I will be able to do the things God has called me to do; my weaknesses feel overwhelming. But by God’s grace I make it to the end of another hard day accomplishing the tasks that were set before me. Some mornings I stare at my sinful self in the face and struggle to believe that I will ever be free from the habits and thoughts that tie me down. But then new mercies remind me that Jesus is the only perfect person that ever has been and that I can rest in who He is and what He accomplished for me on the cross. Some days I struggle to see anything beyond bags under my eyes, grey hair and a bigger body than I want to have. But then God reminds me of that moment from 2003 on a sunny Belize afternoon when He told me I was beautiful. I am sure God has spoken His affirmation to me many times before (and thankfully, after, that day) but this moment was memorable because it was the first time I chose to believe what He said about me. 

My first visit to the beautiful of Belize was during a Spring Break in 2003 on a short-term mission trip with Valley Bible Church. I was on staff with VBC at the time and it was our very first short term trip to Belize. If I remember correctly (I will happily be fact checked by anyone who was with us) the team was comprised our Student Ministries Pastor, Tim, two young men Dan and Zach, me and a whole gaggle of awesome girls including my sister Melinda and my good friend Melissa. I would have to drag out my journal from the time to remember a ton of specifics but I remember the mosquitoes, the warm people we met like Uncle Clive, handmade three-tiered bunk beds, an Easter sunrise service and the braids. 

A few of the local women had offered to braid each of our girl’s hair into itty-bitty braids which as you can imagine took a ton of time and was pretty low on priority list for the week for us leaders. However, I wanted my hair braided, too, but as time and luck would have it the end of our trip arrived and Melissa and I were the only two ladies not sporting braids as we were headed home. As we gathered to say our goodbyes we gathered in groups to take pictures with our new friends. Someone called out, “Now all the girls with the braids!” so all the braided beauties gathered and pictures are snapped while compliments began to fly. Standing in front of me were Dan and Mel (who were dating at the time and are now happily 13 years married) and Dan puts his arm around Mel’s shoulder and says, “You are beautiful to me” (or something sweet of that sort – well, maybe sweet and snarky which is one of Dan’s specialties). Immediately my insecure, early 20-year-old self looked accusingly inward and notices my lack of braids or boyfriend and this completely petty moment seemingly confirms for me one of my worst fears: I am not beautiful, noticed or wanted. I blinked back tears, taking on the familiar weight of rejection and worthlessness that I had wrestled with often. But suddenly I heard the Lord say to my heart, “I think you are beautiful, Nicole.” Now, I didn’t hear some deep voice from behind or had a dove float down from the sky but I can tell you that even though that thought came to me in my own mind’s voice I can promise you that those were words I never said to myself. Not once. It had to be the Holy Spirit in me. I know that the Lord had attempted to speak His love, His truth over me in many ways throughout my life but what made this time different was this: it was the very first time I believed Him. Instead of excusing or denying His affirmation of His handiwork in me I accepted His words to me and (shocker) my heart was encouraged! We wrapped up our picture snapping session, said our goodbyes and headed to the airport. During that season of life, typically an attack on my identity and contentment like that would have derailed me for hours, if not days or weeks! In choosing to believe what God said about me that sunny afternoon set my feet on a life-long journey of faith that I am still traipsing and skipping along on today. 

I am loving Lauren Dangle’s new song, “You Say” today; the chorus says:

You say I am loved when I can't feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am week
And you say I am helped when I am falling short
And when I don't belong, Lord you say I am yours
And I believe, yes, I believe what you say of me
Oh I believe


I pray that today you will choose to believe what God has said about you. If you don’t know what He says about you, check out the Bible! Use the internet to your benefit and instead of following a Buzzfeed bunny trail that leads you to an article on how which outfit you pick out at Hollister says about your personality (coming clean: that literally happened to me today) and do some research! Find Lauren’s song on YouTube. Find a new worship playlist on Spotify. Type into that snazzy Goggle search bar “Who does the Bible say I am?” and go exploring. There is a lot of goodness to be found therein if you choose to believe it… I pray that you do. 


May 11, 2018

The Journey of Surrender


It is a pretty spectacular thing: watching a family be born right in front of your eyes. To see years of prayers answered in a moment. Hopes fulfilled with sweet recognition, tentative hugs and hellos. It is a sacred moment that is full of all kinds of emotion: joy, grief, fear, peace, anxiety, delight... not to mention what the new family must be feeling :) Every placement is different; depending on the needs of the baby, the new family, the social worker handling each case and other things we have less control over like court dates, magistrate's expectations and busy calendars. We are always working to create the ideal conditions for a placement but there isn't a strategic formula that makes every placement magically peaceful and beautiful. Sometimes things are rocky; sometimes things are funny. Often times I feel a connection with a Forever Family but sometimes I don't. 


Often times during the placement process the Lord allows me to see a glimpse as into why a baby is matched with a particular family. I will recognize a baby's expression in the face of their new mom. I will share a particular habit or idiosyncrasy of a baby with a new family and they laugh because it is so "them". A Bible verse given to a mother as a confirmation was found on her new daughter's name tag, something I make for each of our babies with a verse God has given me for them. A similar spirit, a shared interest, the same eyes, the list goes on and on. But if I am honest there are placements where I don't see it. I don't get the gift of a glimpse or a glimmer of the goodness to come. In those rare moments it is easy to let fear creep in and to begin to doubt the sovereignty of a good Father. 


In an effort to grow as a team and serve our community better, over the last few months the management team here at Refilwe has been going through a bunch of personality tests. Most were familiar to me but one I was not familiar with was the Enneagram Test (you should check it out it is super cool and scary accurate). Turns out I am a typical Type 2 nicknamed "The Helper" which is pretty spot on for the me I understand myself to be. One of the more interesting parts of this particular personality test is that it helps identify where our personality goes when we are feeling stressed or anxious. When that happens to a Type 2 we are pushed into a Type 8 whose vices include seeking control and self-protection. Ding! Ding! Ding! That is exactly where I go when I am feeling out of my depth or insecure. I have to fight these impulses when a placement doesn't "feel" nice and work to remind myself of the truth. That God loves these kiddos more than I do. That He sees the whole of their lives while I am only seeing a small portion of who they are and who they will become. That Jesus will pursue each one with His reckless love no where they go or what they do. 


I know my certain expericnce of motherhood is atypical and fractured but I think am able to identify with some aspects of what being a mom must entail. Sleepless nights with a newborn, gleeful joy celebrating skills accomplished, anxiety in illnesses and the temptation to feel that it is somehow my responsibility to control all the aspects of the lives of these little people I love. Some things I can try and control (and probably should): a room's temperature, how much milk goes into a bottle, when a behavior warrants a time out, when we need to visit a doctor or when to start someone on solid food. Those details fall into my realm of responsibility but the really important things like how many days a baby gets to have or how a baby's story gets written is 100% God's job! My heart handles the grief of goodbye exponentially better when I can remind myself of God's goodness and sovereignty over each babies' life even in the midst of my limited view and uncertainty. 

 

One of my new favorite worship songs is off Hillsong's latest album and it is called "New Wine". The first verse says: 

In the crushing/In the pressing 
You are making new wine
In the soil I now surrender
You are breaking new ground 

So I yield to You and to Your careful hand
When I trust You I don't need to understand 

I am working hard to sit in this soil of uncertainty and trust God's careful hand in this season of life. To trust that in the midst of discomfort I can choose to yield to the careful hand of a good, good Father who loves me and these precious kiddos a billion more times that I can ever imagine. I will delight in each glimpse I am blessed with, each glimmer of goodness to come. I will continue to cling to the promise of eternity with Christ; that one day all things will be made new and what was once was unseen will be seen. I have full confidence that one day I will be able to delight in the whole of each story written for each of these little lives I have had the privilege of loving. I will choose to rejoice in this calling; the best hardest job I have ever been privileged to have!


Thank you for your continued love, prayer and support. I am eternally grateful for those of you who have joined me in this journey. I am praising God and thanking Him for you today!

xoxoxoxoxo

LIV-ing It Up in Lanseria!

Greetings from beautiful South Africa! We are currently enjoying the very first days of what I would deem “Fall” weather… grey skies, scatt...