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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Today we move to Africa, for real.

The 365-day countdown has come to an end.  Today is the day we get on a plane and move to Swaziland, Africa.  This year has flown by, but this past week seemed like it took another year.  Transition is hard and I can't say that I have handled it well…there were many tears, too many times snapping at my family, and then more tears.  But today is the day I have longed for since 2003.  It is time to move and serve the Lord whom I love on a continent that I love.

I wondered what to do about the Maxwell's Moving to Africa blog and, while the URL will stay the same, I think I will change the name of it to "Live from Swaziland ... it's Saturday morning" (said in my best "Live from New York... it's Saturday Night" voice).  I will try to blog every second Saturday if I can.  At this point we don’t anticipate having regular internet service, but hopefully it will improve with time.  I am an eternal optimist.

We have been building a house on Project Canaan that won’t be quite ready for us when we arrive, so we will live in the long-term volunteer housing until it is finished.  All our furniture and "stuff" is stuck at the border and they won't release it until we arrive, so it looks like we won't have the soft landing that I had hoped for, but at least it is there.  The water filtration system is in the container as well, so we won’t have drinkable water until the container is released and the filtration system is installed.  The electric fencing is still being installed, and we are not sure about whether we have electricity yet (which is obviously required for the ELECTRIC fencing to work).

Chloe will start school on June 6th - parachuting into the middle of 10th grade (they call it Form 4 there).  The school year runs January to December so she will have some work to do to catch up. She scored really well on the admission testing and she is a straight A student, so we are confident that she will do just fine.

Spencer is coming with us on May 31st and will stay for three weeks to help get us settled.  I am so thankful for that.  We will come back in August to get him settled at Florida State University (and shed another bucket of tears I am sure).

Last week my mom was sent to a hospital in Guelph from the nursing home where she was living. She will be moved to a mental hospital next week where they will try to find a way to stabilize her mentally so that she can return to the nursing home and have them provide proper care (which she has been refusing).

I am hit with waves of emotion that seem to be uncontrollable and at times unbearable.  I long for this time of transition to be over.  While we have worked in Swaziland since 2005 (Spencer calculated that he has been in Africa for 70+ WEEKS since he was ten years old), I am sure there will be things that we are not prepared for. That is okay. We will be home, finally, and for that I am grateful. 

We fly out of Atlanta today, May 31st, and will arrive in Johannesburg on June 1st, where we will be met at the airport by Kaleli Mulli, and my second best friend (next to Ian of course), Ralph Glass, from Canada.  We will drive to Swaziland on Saturday, June 2nd and I will try to give you a report somewhere along the way.

So with that I say thank you to all of you who have followed us on all or part of this 365-day journey.  Thanks for your prayers, your encouragement and your friendship.  You will never know how much you all mean to me.  Thank you Jesus for choosing our family to go and serve and thank you for giving each of us the courage to say “yes”.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My birth mother was 15 years old when I was born.

In 1963 a 14-year-old girl made a poor choice and had sex with her 16 year-old boyfriend.  She was afraid, embarrassed and the family was ashamed.  She was immediately sent 400 miles away to a home for unwed mothers where she had excellent pre-natal care, attended school and then gave birth at the age of 15 years.  The baby was put up for adoption, but kept a secret from the rest of the girl’s family and from the community so that the girl and the family could save face.  To this day, the family and the community do not know about that little baby.  That baby was me.

Last Friday we got a call from the Social Welfare department in Swaziland saying that they had found a baby in a ditch and asked if the baby could be accepted at the El Roi Home for abandoned babies.  They said the baby was 3-5 weeks old and needed immediate care.  Of course we said yes.  The baby was taken to the hospital for the weekend to be cared for while an investigation took place and paper work was completed.  On Monday we learned that the police had found the mother.  She was in the 8th grade (likely 13-14 years old) and knowing what is happening in Swaziland I can assume that she didn’t make the choice to have sex, but was more likely forced to have sex (note – I don’t know the facts of this yet, but believe it is a solid assumption).  

It is illegal to “dump” a baby in Swaziland and so the young girl/mother was arrested and put in jail.  We are told that her parents (also uncertain of this fact) wanted to keep the baby and so the baby was taken to them.

Since I heard this I have been frustrated, sad, concerned and anxious for the next eight days to pass so that we can get on a plane and go to Swaziland.  Yesterday my dear friend Sandra asked me what I would do if I were there now?  My first answer was “advocate”.  This is not just about the abandoned baby, but it is about this young girl and her future.  I will be there soon and hope to get more information about this particular situation.  How did she become pregnant so young?  What state of fear and hopelessness would bring her to a place where she believed that dumping her baby in a ditch was her best or only choice?  How long will she be in jail?  Will she be allowed to move back home?  Is the baby really safe where it is now?  What does the future hold for this next generation? 

When my mother was 15 years old, and pregnant, there was a system in Canada that provided a solution so that I wasn’t aborted or dropped in a ditch and my mother wasn’t put in jail.  I am alive today and my life has a purpose.  But here is the interesting part to me as a follower of Jesus.  Whether we make bad choices or bad things are forced upon us, He can still make things beautiful out of any situation.  I don’t want to see young girls getting pregnant out of wedlock or by force, but I can’t help but be thankful for my mother getting pregnant because I am here today.  Maybe God allowed that to happen SO THAT I would be here today, ready to go and advocate for this young girl and her baby.  I wonder what her baby will grow up to be and what he/she will do?

Psalm 139:13-18 says,

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand —
when I awake, I am still with you.

We get on a plane in eight days and while there are many moving (and complicated) parts in our lives right now, I am thankful that His plans are not our plans and that His plans are perfect. I am thankful that I have been chosen to care for orphans, vulnerable and abandoned children.  I could have been one of them, but instead HE rescued and redeemed me.  Whew!  “Thankful” doesn’t come close to expressing my feelings today.


PS – I have a secret relationship with my birth mother now.  Her husband and children do not know that I exist, but she will read this blog because she follows my life from the shadows.   So I would like to take this public, yet secret, opportunity to say THANK YOU for not aborting me, and for giving me the right to life, even though it came at a great cost to you.  I love you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What if I had said "NO"?

In 16 days our family will be getting on a plane to Africa.  My head moves quickly from having no thoughts to write down to having too many thoughts to write down. Maybe that is an aging thing?  A woman thing?  A mama thing? Or maybe just the reality that we are moving to Africa in 16 days?

Five and a half years ago we moved to Alpharetta, Georgia.  To explain it in "Christian-ese"  I thought I had "given it all up for Him", but down deep I really did love my house, my yard, my neighborhood and my life in Canada.  If I was going to move ANYWHERE I thought it would be to Africa.  Didn't God know that I wanted to move to Africa?  Wasn't I really clear with Him on that in my prayers and daily conversations?  Had He forgotten the children living on the streets that HE introduced me to?  Had He forgotten those that I longed to care for, encourage and love?  Instead, He moved us to a wealthy, (largely white) suburb of Atlanta - this from Toronto, the largest multi-cultural city in the world.  I was not pleased.  We moved into a beautiful house in a beautiful neighborhood, and I was miserable.  I was angry.  Why America (no offense meant to all my American friends), but why not Africa? 

As I look back on the past  5-1/2 years I am in awe of the people whom we have met, the places we have gone and the miracles that we have seen.  If we hadn't moved here, and moved straight to Africa (my plan) we would have missed so much.  I am thankful for North Point Community Church and for Chloe's small group and small group leader (shout out to Alyse!) who have come alongside Chloe to encourage her to be the most amazing young woman she has become.  I am thankful for the theater department at Milton High School where Spencer has been able to thrive, grow, create and learn.  After watching the incredible Cirque Kuwa performance (over and over again) I thought to myself, "what if I had said NO to moving here - Spencer would have missed this opportunity."  You see, our plans, our desires and our obedience have direct implications for everyone around us - especially our immediate family.

If we had not moved I would never have met the amazing Birk family and seen God's glory pour through a family's worst nightmare.  And of course, without that nightmare, we would not have the El Roi Baby home today.  Without the loss of little Jared Birk, our five little babies (Joshua, Esther, Caleb, Levi and Anna) might not be alive today.  Oh, what I would have missed.

So I repent again and give thanks, again, for His plans are not our plans, but they are BETTER than our plans, every time.

I continue to find it interesting how others perceive our move to Swaziland.  We are not moving there to be missionaries just like we didn't move to Georgia to be missionaries.  We are just a family moving to serve in another country at this time.  But this time I feel like I won the lottery.  I get to go and spend time in a beautiful country, serve with people I love and respect and serve people who are in desperate need.  "Religion that God our Father considers pure and faultless is this; to look after the orphan and widow in distress and keep oneself from being polluted by the world."  James 1:27

For the past 5-1/2 years I could look after orphans and widows from Georgia, but it was a daily struggle to keep myself from being polluted by the mall, Starbucks, Macy's one day sales and NCIS marathons on TV.  You know what I mean?

I look forward to long walks around the farm, driving Chloe to her really cool International school, sipping coffee with Ian looking out at our amazing view of the fields, Skyping with Spencer to hear about his life at FSU, having philosophical conversations with Kaleli, rocking babies to sleep with Helen and visiting orphans and widows in distress with Pastor Mike.  I have won the lottery, no doubt in my mind, and I am so VERY thankful that I didn't blow it by saying, "no, I don't want to move to Georgia." 

Is there something that you are doing because you want to, not because you believe God has asked you to?  Are you avoiding doing something that you know you are supposed to do?  A phone call perhaps?  A move?  A job change?  Don't put it aside for another day.  Don't blow it.  His plans are better than our plans, I promise.

Thankful in Georgia.