The Day I Became THAT Mom

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Many of my friends are 10 years younger than me with no church background.

I worked with Young Life for five years and these kids now have kids and recently, I piled my boys into a van with a gift bag and handmade cards and we drove two hours to the city for one of the kids’ birthdays.

And it was there, surrounded by toddlers in Toms’ shoes and seven-year-olds in high-tops and low-riding jeans that I realized I’d become one of THOSE moms.

Yup.

I was the mom with the kids who wore matching knitted sweaters that said “Jesus loves (followed by their name).”

Granted, I hadn’t chosen those sweaters for them to wear that day. Goodness, I’d tried to find them the “coolest” second-hand clothes we had but they’d INSISTED on wearing their matching knitted sweaters–to my chagrin. “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” I kept whispering to myself as I begged God not to let my precious boys be beaten up.

Every time I asked Aiden if he was getting too hot and wanted me to take his sweater off, he sweetly said, “No thank you.”

I was also the mom who brought homemade-bread sandwiches and homemade cookies and who listened to Wee Sing Bible songs with the boys in our dented mini-van on the way to the party.

But it was there, in the backyard surrounded by my hip, gangster friends with their brand-name clothes and their top-end phones, that I realized–children equalize us.

Even as I ran with Kasher through the throng of parents claiming he “had to poo and now they were all laughing because they got it. Every kid has to “poo”, and NOW.

We were all cautioning our kids–in their high tops and matching sweaters–not to climb too high on the tree house and not to eat too much sugar and kissing them when they fell down and bumped their heads. We were all groaning as we talked about things like time-outs and punishments and defiance and tattling and by the end of the day, we weren’t different social classes or different religions or different ages. We were all moms and dads trying desperately not to mess up the future generation.

At one point, my friend–the one whose boys I watched for a year while she became strong again, the one whose kid was having a birthday party–she touched my back and looked into my eyes and said, “Thank you–for coming. It means so much to me.”

It’s so easy to get caught up in the appearance of things.

It’s so easy for me to get embarrassed by things like matching knitted sweaters. Yeah, I was the reverend’s daughter who begged God to make me cool. I would douse myself in Exclamation! perfume and spend all of my allowance on Thrifty’s jeans and Roots sweaters.

But then one day I found myself driving a mini-van singing Wee Sing Bible Songs with my four and three year old.

Deep down, I don’t want my kids to ever be cool. I want them to be kind.

I don’t want them to have to have the “new” things. I want them to give their things away.

I don’t want them to EVER stop wearing sweaters that say Jesus loves them… well, okay, I do, because I really don’t want them to be beat up… but I don’t EVER want them to be ashamed of the gospel, because it is the POWER of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.

And I don’t ever want to stop being THAT mom–but the key is? To be THAT mom who goes to THOSE parties. The ones where people who don’t know Jesus are. Because we are lights, friends. And how BRIGHT our light when it shines in the darkness.

Blessings today,

Emily

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photo by Allyn Lyttle of World Help Organization

photo by Allyn Lyttle of World Help Organization

 

by Allyn Lyttle of WHO

by Allyn Lyttle of WHO

by Allyn Lyttle of WHO

by Allyn Lyttle of WHO

by Allyn Lyttle of WHO

by Allyn Lyttle of WHO

by Allyn Lyttle of WHO

by Allyn Lyttle of WHO

 (*Please note, friends: This post is long. But, would you take time read it, for me? For all the precious Ugandan mamas who need your help? And then, would you consider sharing the post so others might help too? Thank you. From the bottom of my heart.)

 

She walked for four hours just to meet me.

Her soles were red from Uganda’s earth and she didn’t break a sweat in the high heat. Her eyes shone but she lowered them, looked at her sandals, even as I reached out a hand to touch her shoulder, and I could feel the strength in this peasant farmer’s arm.

She’d lost her husband just weeks earlier to HIV/Aids, an illness people still talk about in hushed tones because of the shame associated with it.

She’d lost her children long before that to this children’s home I was visiting–because she had a sick husband to care for and a farm that wasn’t bringing in money and no way to feed her sons or daughters.

And here I was, able to pay for her kids’ clothes and education while she wasn’t. And not because I worked harder. No, she worked sun-up to sundown and had callouses across her hands and feet. No, it was because I came from a first class country overflowing with food and privilege while the rest of the world is forced to feed from our trash cans.

I smiled at her, but I felt sick.

I am a mother. Every night I walk into my boys’ room and ache for them lying there in their beds, because they’re tucked deep in my womb. I cannot imagine how humbling, or humiliating, it would be, to have to ask someone else to take care of my children. To not be able to give them food or water, to not be able to keep them under your own roof-and THEN, to walk four hours to meet the woman who can?

Our Father weeps. He anguishes over every single mother–because there are hundreds of thousands of them across Uganda in the same situation–who has to lose her child, who cannot take care of her children.

And He’s asking us to do something about it.

Sponsoring a child is good, don’t get me wrong. I sponsor as many children as I am able.

But standing there with this beautiful woman in her brown hat and her downcast gaze, her son’s eyes shining as he looked at me, I thought, No. Enough. There has to be more.

I want this son to look at his MOTHER with adoration, not me–a stranger.

I want him to look at HER to provide his needs, not me–an outsider who didn’t birth him without an epidural, who didn’t weep and pray over him every night of his childhood, who didn’t spend every minute of every day trying to earn enough money to buy him a bowl of Matoke (cooked banana) so he wouldn’t starve to death.

So, I went home and founded a non-profit called The Lulu Tree. I didn’t intend to found a non-profit. I didn’t–and still don’t–feel qualified to start one, I just wanted to partner with someone who was doing what I wanted to do. But no one was.

Our vision at The Lulu Tree is to work with HIV mothers in the slum of Katwe, Uganda (the worst of Kampala’s eight slums), equipping them to be care for their own kids. Our slogan is “Preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers.” Lofty, I know. But you have to dream big, right? Shoot for the moon and you’ll land somewhere among the stars?

So we’re shooting for the moon.

We’ve hired a beautiful Ugandan social worker named Esther Natakunda Tendo (Esther–is there more anointed a name? She has been called to free her people from captivity). We’ve also hired a national coordinator named Carol Masaba.

Esther Natakunda Tendo, and her son

Esther Natakunda Tendo, and her son

Esther is a 29-year-old married mother of two who has received education in Sex and Gender Based Violence, computer application and project planning and management from the African  Population Management. She has volunteered for years through the children’s home where she was raised, and has extensive work experience both in banking and in communications. Esther speaks several dialects, and is a strong believer in Jesus Christ. Her heart beats passionately for women and children suffering from AIDS,  and it is her heart’s desire to help those who are impoverished find hope. As her name suggests, Esther has responded to the call to set her people free from poverty and despair.

Carol Masaba

Carol Masaba

Carol Masaba is the national coordinator both for The Lulu Tree and for the African Evangelistic Enterprise in Uganda. She partners with churches across the country to bring the hope of Christ to various parts of the nation. Carol has over 20 years experience in integrated community development work, during which she has worked with poor and marginalized communities to improve the well-being of children and youth. She is in charge of hiring and mentoring Lulu staff and volunteers and overseeing the ministry as a whole.

Both Carol and Esther will be working with the mothers in the slum of Katwe. Our goal is to equip them holistically–spiritually, emotionally and physically. This involves connecting them with the local church, providing HIV treatment for the mothers and children, and teaching the mamas a trade–to how to sew, or cook, so that after two years of being sponsored, these mamas will be self-sufficient.

(You can read about how to sponsor a mama HERE).

And … we’ve got some EXCITING NEWS! If you have Christmas shopping to do, and want to help people at the same time, look no further!!

We’re launching THE LULU TREE BOUTIQUE this week, with the ultimate goal of creating a market for these precious mamas to selling their beautiful work through, once they’ve been trained. SHIPPING IS INCLUDED IN THE PRICES. All proceeds go towards The Lulu Tree.

A friend of mine, dear Jodie Vanderzwaag, HAS GIVEN UP her very successful business a few months ago to run this boutique. Pretty amazing.

We are also partnering with The House of Belonging, Funky Fish Designs, Krafty Kash, and Little Dragonfly Boutique, as well as a number of individual artisans who have donated their products to this shop. My dear sister Christy Stewart Halsell of Sandy Feet Media has volunteered long hours to set up this website and boutique (I HIGHLY recommend her web services!), and countless others including photographer Leanne Doell have donated time and energy to Lulu. To see a full list of everyone who’s helping us, please visit HERE.

So, let’s get shopping! We’ve got cozy slipper boots, slouchy beanies for kids and adults, little girl dresses, cowls and jackets, infinity scarves, dolls, darling Lulu headbands and artwork, jewelry, and more. See below for some sneak peeks.
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Would you consider doing some Christmas shopping at our boutique, and helping us help these mamas? We would be so grateful. Click the button below, or just follow this link: http://thelulutree.com/shop/.

lulu tree boutique

On behalf of women like Harima, below, who is our first Lulu Mama–THANK YOU! For helping us bring DIGNITY and LIFE to these dear women!

Harima, Lulu's first Mama

Harima, Lulu’s first Mama

For those who help us share the post or do any of the following, we’d like to give you the chance to win some extraordinary products including:

An infinity scarf made by The Lulu Tree from African cloth

An infinity scarf made by The Lulu Tree from African cloth

A copy of the novella Mom's Night Out, by Tricia Goyer, inspired by the popular movie

A copy of the novella Mom’s Night Out, by Tricia Goyer, inspired by the popular movie

A Lulu Tree headband designed by Little Dragonfly Boutique

A Lulu Tree headband designed by Little Dragonfly Boutique

A beautiful tank from Cross Training ~ Couture http://www.facebook.com/crosstrainingcouture

A beautiful tank from Cross Training Couture http://www.facebook.com/crosstrainingcouture

A DaySpring Scripture Bangle

A DaySpring Scripture Bangle

To win the above products, just follow this link (or copy/paste this link: http://www.emilywierenga.com/can-change-world-one-mother-time/) scroll down and enter the Rafflecopter.

PS. Friends, if any of you wants to get involved with The Lulu Tree, we’d LOVE to work with you. We are a non-profit that exists only due to the generosity and compassion of people like you. Please visit HERE to find out how you might change a life today through Lulu.

Blessings,

Emily Wierenga

How You Can Give a Home to Abandoned Babies

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I’m kneeling on the carpet in front of the wood stove, praying into the wood chips and the ash, like I do many nights now when my family falls asleep.

It’s been a month since I walked the slums of Katwe, Uganda in my pink shirt and blue jeans. The air smelled like despair there– like salt and soil–and I touched every hand possible, picked up every baby, because I couldn’t hold Africa tight enough.

It was a reunion for this girl who lived in the Congo and Nigeria for two years, my Dad a missionary with Christian Blind Mission. In spite of the garbage in the streams, the barefooted babies with malnourished bellies, the aching fatigue of collapsing shacks, I was home.

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And this has made coming back to Canada more than difficult.

We were gone for nine days — four days of travel, three days in Uganda, and two days in Rwanda, and yet it felt like a lifetime.

It’s made me fall on my knees, night after night, weeping for the memory of children without mothers or fathers, without food or water, without clothes. Children who had green snot running down their faces and no doctor to rush them to. I weep over the lethargy and hopelessness of life in the slums — and yet, there was Mama Evah, rescuing babies, taking them with her to her orphanage, Destiny Villages of Hope, and nursing them back to health.

Before I left on this #AFRICAWH bloggers’ trip with World Help, God said, “Your job is not to fix. I could fix the world with one breath. Your job is to love.”

But oh, with every ache of this mother’s breath, I want to end the pain – I want to pack up and move to Uganda and give those babies a home and it’s been the hardest surrender.

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Yet I know a Savior whose flag flies higher. I know a God who claims to do the impossible, and even as I fall on my face in my comfortable house in the snowy north of Alberta, Canada, I can see Jehovah rising furious over the slums of Africa and then gently placing down servants to bring about mercy.

Because when I walked those streets in Kampala, it wasn’t me bending down to hold those children — it was God’s love exploding through my skin. Desperate to let his people know he cares.

He sees those HIV-positive babies lying in the dirt crying for mothers who won’t come because they’re dead. He sees those teenage boys sniffing glue to numb their hunger pains. He sees those grandmothers working 20-hour days to find enough food for their dead daughter’s children who lie on the dirt floor while chickens defecate around them. And the 400 families who lost everything in the fires that recently ripped through northern Uganda? Yeah, he sees them too.

And He weeps.

Because it’s not fair.

So I beat the floor when I cry. And I know I’m not the only one to return from Africa and feel this way. But the question is:

What are we going to do about it?

Because it’s not enough to have a “changed perspective.” That trip was not about me. It was about God inviting me into his heart — and his dreams — for Africa.

So here’s what we as World Help Bloggers were intending to do.

We did rolls and rolls of art with the boys and girls of Destiny (see here), and we planned to auction off those original paintings on canvas, so that Phases 2 and 3 of Mama Evah’s baby rescue homes could be funded.

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And then the art never arrived with us in Rwanda. It was (most likely) stolen. We checked it in Kampala when we should have carried it on board. And the rolls of canvas, along with soccer balls we were bringing for the children of Kigali, went missing.

It was devastating, yes. But, we have a God who is bigger than stolen art. A heavenly father who loves these children more than we ever could, who can redeem any situation.

So here is Plan B to raise money for Mama Evah’s Baby Rescue Homes.

We have raised 25% of the necessary amount for Phase 2 of the building project, but we still need to come up with $26,000 more.

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We want to give you this beautiful printed copy of the original art by Destiny’s children, featuring a hand-print of one of the students (#rescueart).

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• Any gift amount ($2, $5, however much you can give): And you will receive a high-resolution digital print proof of the artwork above.

• A gift of $25+: And you will receive an 8 x 10 print. Frame not included.

• A gift of $50+: And you will receive a 16 x 20 print. Frame not included.

• A gift of $100+: And you will receive a 16 x 20 print matted and set in a 20 x 24 frame.

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Just click HERE to donate now, and you will receive art from our beautiful Ugandan friends saying Thank You

for helping Mama Evah build TWO NEW baby rescue homes.

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And would you help us share about this post?

Here are two tweets we’ve made up for you, so it’s easy to spread the word about #rescueart:

Get free African art when you help Ugandan orphans through #rescueart.

or:

I just got a free African print when I donated to #rescueart!

Thank you, friends.

We cannot fix the world. But we can give these babies a future.

((Love)) e.

 

(This post also appeared over HERE at (in)courage)

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Do I Love My Kids More Than I Love Jesus?

via Worth James Goddard on flickr

via Worth James Goddard on flickr

A tiny casket lowered into the sullen dirt and the sky, swollen with grief.

The parents stood to the side, watching their baby girl being buried in a box and my scarf was soaked with tears. I kept stealing glances at my friend, wondering how she was still standing. Wondering how to comfort her, because there is no comfort any human can offer for the loss of a child.

I still have their daughter’s picture on my fridge and I tear up when I look at her delicate face, this baby born with a rare genetic disease to a couple that tried eight years for a child.

“If it has to be something, give me cancer or let me lose my house but please don’t take my kids,” I pray at night. “Please God, don’t make me go through that–”

Getting pregnant was hard for us too. We were told we would probably never have children because of my anorexia, and then a pastor prayed over us on national television for a son within the year–and we conceived a son within the year. And now we have two boys.

But I’ve also lost two babies, while they were in the womb, and it’s near-wrecked me. Those miscarriages bore stillborn faith and for awhile it was all I could do to just keep going.

I didn’t know, before having kids, the agony of giving birth to your heart and not being able to protect it.

via ILinca Vânău

via ILinca Vânău

The excruciating pain of sending your vulnerable little heart–with his puppy-dog backpack–into a world full of sin.

And the truth is? I don’t know if I love Jesus more than I love my children.

I don’t know if I love Jesus enough to say, “Anything Lord–whatever your plan is, whatever it is you want to use my children for, whatever your will is for this family–please do it.”

I’ve heard of parents giving God the glory when their children die and I want to be that person and yet–I also believe in grief, because what is the resurrection without death? And what is praise without sorrow? Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.

Some things in life are just really, really hard. And we’re not supposed to be able to comprehend the pain of losing our children–it’s supposed to be heart-wrenching, because otherwise God sacrificing his own son wouldn’t mean much.

I recently returned from Uganda and Rwanda, where I met women who’d lost multiple children, and I met children who’d lost their mothers and fathers, and death was a reality for everyone there.

But God was a greater reality.

He rose off the face of every person I met, he rose triumphant and joyful, he rose with the promise of an eternity filled with life.

Jesus says to love him more than we love our sons and daughters.

Jesus says a lot of hard things and I’m a sinner saved by grace and it’s all I can do some days to repent. But I want to want to love him more than anything in this world. I want God to be a greater reality for me than death.

via Irena Selaković

via Irena Selaković

And I know that I don’t serve a heartless savior. When I commit my children to him in prayer while seated at the scratched wooden kitchen table, my sons watching Thomas the Train in the background, I don’t commit them to just anyone. I commit them to their Maker.

And when I pray that Jesus would be glorified both in my family’s living and dying, I know God weeps–not only out of joy for the surrender of our hearts, but out of pain–knowing how hard it is to give up a child.

“I just wish I could be there to show her around heaven,” my friend said to me following the funeral of her baby girl, her eyes blurry with tears. “It’s such a big place–I just worry she’ll get lost.”

Oh friends, these mother hearts–they’re meant to ache with the thought of loss.

But this earth, is but a glance, and then, we have forever to spend with Christ and our children. Hallelujah.

Blessings,

Emily Wierenga

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