Part 6: Talking to strangers

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

The plan for Saturday was first to  visit Julianna’s family, and then to do a little investigating to see if we could find anything at all about Emily’s family. Since all we knew about her was the police station where she’d been relinquished, that was a very big question indeed. We’d sent a searcher out a few weeks earlier to that town. He had spoken with a government official who had asked for $200 in exchange for information about the father, who he claimed to know.

Now, in Ethiopia small bribes are not uncommon at all. In fact, police pull drivers over regularly asking for money. But $200 is a very big bribe around here. And Sophie and John and I didn’t like the fact that the only information he had was about the father. Right or wrong, our instinct was that a man might claim to know something in exchange for money,  whereas a woman might be more motivated by the heart. What we were most hoping for was information about Emily’s mom.
So on that Saturday afternoon after leaving Julianna’s joyful family reunion, we were willing and eager to hunt for Emily’s family. But we all, including Emily, understood that the chances of finding good information were slim. Our searcher had been able to get the phone number of the man who claimed to be Emily’s father, which would enable us to talk to him without the government official’s involvement. But our searcher himself was not available that afternoon to talk with the supposed father.
Oh, we didn’t know what to do. But we had to leave Soddo in 36 hours, and we had come such a long way. I couldn’t stand leaving without trying for something at least. We decided to have our trusty driver Dawit call the man, and ask if we could visit him in the village where Emily had been relinquished. So on our way back to Soddo from Julianna’s village Dawit did so.
So there we were in the van, pulled over at the side of the road next to Sophie’s favorite hamburger place in Soddo, listening in on Dawit’s conversation with a stranger who might be Emily’s dad, but probably wasn’t. When asked if we could go to his village, the man said he was actually in Soddo working today, at the bus station. The same bus station that was just a few blocks from our location now. He could meet us there, he said.

At the bus station
A nervous conversation ensued between Sophie and me. We so much wanted to ensure we were getting reliable information for Emily. We didn’t like the idea of meeting this stranger at a bus station—we couldn’t quite even figure out why he was there since supposedly he lived out in the country. But maybe if we talked to him awhile, and everything seemed ok, he could take us to his village to meet more family? We were so uncertain. But what else could we do?
We drove to the bus station and then our driver Dawit called him again to tell him we were there. This time the man told Dawit that he was very close, that he was taking a bajaj to the bus station and would be there very soon. Again we were uncertain. First he’d said he was at the bus station and then he wasn’t. As we waited for him to show up, we realized we didn’t know his name, or anything really about him.
After a few nervous minutes of waiting, a young man appeared at the driver’s window. So young. Sophie and Lidya and I all guessed he was maybe 25. After a quick hi at the window, he appeared to reconsider, and stepped away from the van to use his phone. In seconds Dawit’s phone rang and we all laughed, even the young man. Apparently before talking with us, he had wanted to be sure he was approaching the right people.

Dawit opened the passenger front door and invited the young man into the van to talk with us. He pulled out the paper and the pictures that our searcher had shared with him.

We had decided before he even got into the van that we would not identify Emily to him unless we came to be reasonably sure that there might be a valid reason to believe he was a relative. And we were so eager to know the truth that thinking back I’m not sure we even introduced ourselves properly but just began asking him questions. What do you know about this baby? Why do you think you are the father? Tell us the story as you know it.

We were wanting to know if his story would match what we knew, and as he spoke, all of our intuition was on high alert, trying to judge if he seemed trustworthy and was telling the truth.  Above all, we wanted our precious girl not to be hurt. You can bet we were praying hard for all the wisdom and guidance that God could give us.

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Joy, joy, joy

I haven’t done a Sunday song in a long time, but when I heard this one the other day, I knew I needed to share it. Enjoy!
Joy, joy, joy

Because He lives

How sweet to hold a newborn baby
And feel the pride and joy He gives
But greater still the calm assurance
This child can face uncertain days, because He lives

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living, just because He lives

Saffron Merry

Today we  joyfully welcome a precious new granddaughter, born yesterday, and rejoice in the risen Saviour from Whom all hope comes.

Caroline Ingalls and me

Funny how a character from a book can grab you in childhood and never ever leave you.  I found myself thinking again about the Laura Ingalls books the other day, and wondered what had so captivated me about those books.  First I thought maybe it was Laura.  Definitely there were times in my early life where I felt like I fit awkwardly into my world, which was also a common feeling of Laura’s.

Charles and Caroline Ingalls

But thinking deeper, I realized that it was actually Caroline Ingalls who made the biggest impact on my adult life.  She was always making the best of her circumstances, adding beauty to her home in all sorts of ways, and encouraging her family to learn and to be graceful and courageous in the midst of challenge.

One of the stories that comes back to me often is the way she used carrot juice to color winter-pale butter.  She got the juice by grating a carrot over an old tin pan pierced with nails, and then wrapping the carrot bits in cloth and squeezing the juice out.  She wanted her butter to be pretty even in the winter time.

There are stories of her making over dresses, and telling her girls stories from her childhood, and putting colored ribbons in her girls’ hair, and teaching them to read from the two books that they owned.  She treasured a little china doll that she kept on a pretty shelf, and was dismayed at first by living in the sod house built into a hill on the banks of Plum Creek.  Then, just like always, she squared her shoulders and made the best of it.

The book most memorable to me and my very favorite was ‘The Long Winter”.  Caroline had to call on every skill to help her family through that terrible winter. They ground wheat in a coffee grinder, and burned hay in the wood stove when the firewood was gone, and barely, barely lived through those long cold days.

It was not til adulthood that I understood another, equally powerful strength that Caroline possessed.  She was able to love her husband well, and support and treasure him even as he carried his family hither and yon to all the different places they lived during Laura’s childhood.  Charles was a dreamer, a restless soul, and (I think) not always a good decision-maker.  Very often he asked his family to move right as life was getting easier for Caroline– when the garden was getting productive and the children were enjoying school and the well had been dug and the house was cozy and warm.

How hard it must have been for Caroline to acquiesce to each move gracefully, to trust her husband’s judgement though she knew his decisions often brought her family great challenge.  Of course it was a different time, one where men were expected to lead and women just followed.  And Laura probably omitted some of the hard moments and hard conversations that his decisions sparked.

But what I read in those books, even now as an adult, is strength and grace and a powerfully honoring way about her.  I think it was she who helped him be the best man that he could be.

In my mind, she’s the real heroine in the Laura Ingalls books, possessing both skills that I’ve worked to cultivate and others that I don’t remotely yet have a grasp on.  I’m glad to have had such a strong woman to inhabit my mind, both in my childhood and even now that I’m all grown up.

What about you?  Do characters in childhood books still live in your mind?


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Sunday music

I haven’t done Sunday music on my blog for awhile, but I had to share this song by I am They that I heard at the Rock and Worship Roadshow this weekend.

The Roadshow still has a few West Coast dates if you want to hear some great music from I Am They and many others.

When you’re suffering


I’ve been thinking lately about the hard in life, how it lambasts you sometimes amid a stretch of tranquil days, surprising you with that ‘oh, it’s you again’ familiar misery.  How lying in the dark some nights the heart aches so hard it’s a struggle even to breathe.  There are moments you’re wild to talk it through with someone, someone who will understand the pain of it all, someone who will lift just a few ounces of the stifling load off your chest.  Someone who can sit with you and encourage you to keep breathing, keep trusting, keep stepping forward.

But who can we truly trust?  Who will not betray us?  Oh, it is scary to be transparent, to honestly unveil the shape of the ‘hard’ that is rocking your particular bit of the world on any given day.  The reasons not to speak are so many.

When it’s a loved one whose pain is savaging your heart, even in the middle of that pain you often still want to protect them from the uncharitable thoughts of others.

Or maybe it’s pity you want to avoid.  Who wants everyone feeling sorry for you, or wincing at just how un-together your life is some days?

Or maybe it’s judgment that you fear.  Always it seems there are people judging you for not getting this thing or that thing under control.  Judging you for not preventing this pain in the first place.  Not being wise enough, kind enough, dedicated enough, maybe even ruthless enough.

There’s also the problem of scale. Maybe despite the very real misery in your own heart, you know that others have it so much worse.  There are friends mourning lost children, loved ones coping with their cancer or their child’s cancer, friends facing financial ruin or relational ruin or spiritual ruin.  And all over the world, for the love of all that’s good, there are mothers whose dearest wish is simply to be able to feed their children.  So. much. hard.

How dare I complain?

And yet.  The heart aches.  Quietly breaks sometimes under the weight of the struggle just to keep breathing in and out.  What then?

The longer I live, the more I realize that pain is a familiar stalker of us all.  Some more than others, perhaps.  Each of us experience it in different ways, and some hide it deeper than others.  But oh, we all know hurt.  Don’t we, friends?

Our first and best and brightest hope in all of this pain-filled world is Jesus.  He remembers our weakness.  Sees every tear we shed.  Feels every ache. He promises to someday wipe all tears from our eyes.  He promises that His plan for us is good, that it is intended to give us hope and a future.  He promises that He will carry His good work on in each of us to completion.  He went to the cross and died to ensure that bright and complete and perfect future for us.

On those promises we can depend.

But when we find ourselves adrift in the abyss of suffering, I think most of us also long for the kind of friend willing to be ‘Jesus with skin on’ to us. The kind quick to offer solace and forgiveness and encouragement,  and glacier-slow to offer judgement.  We also need friends willing to share their own moments of struggle and pain.

Some of us have hurts deep and raw and evident, and we need no invitation to share.  It just bubbles out. But others of us are all too quick to paste on a smile and to say, ‘Oh, I have it so much better than so many…’ when really what we need most is a safe place to share honestly, to unburden those covered-up hearts. And for some of us that courage only comes when someone else is brave and honest and vulnerable and transparent, first.  Leading the way.

Oh, to have friends like that.  Oh, to be that kind of friend. It truly is one way to see Jesus at work in this hard and hurting world. We all know pain and suffering.  Let’s lift each other up whenever we can.

Flowers in the redwoods


Greater is the One living inside of me than he who is living in the world.

one word

On suicide


In light of the tragic death of Robin Williams, so many people are writing on the topic of suicide, some with compassion and some with judgement.  Here are two excellent reads from friends of minds that illuminate the suffering soul and offer encouragement along that hard path.  Please, let’s be light-bearers, reminding each other of the only true hope that exists in this hard and painful world.

Where Are the Ravens?

Up From the Suicidal Abyss


Everyday Your Love Is New

Flowers in the redwoods