Weaving Our Pain Together

“Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound to the destiny of others. You must either learn to carry the universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.” – A. Boyd

Have you ever felt the pain of another’s journey etching its way onto your life? The kind where you’ve bared your soul and seen another’s and somehow become intertwined in a way that leaves you hurting and tasting something richly of relationship? I’ve been thinking about that, and some of those personal experiences – and wonder if it isn’t a bit like weaving…

In the traditional Ethiopian process, a weaver begins by painstakingly threading the loom. Threads are stretched and snapped and strained against the metal to fit in the groundwork for what will come. Stories of great pain, loss and tragedy are like that. Left individually, they seem to join the masses of nondescript thread, overwhelming to look at on its own.

Individual threads

But under the weaver’s skilful touch, it can become much more. You see, all along, the weaver has a plan – a beautiful design in mind. The base threads had to individually be in place for the fabric to come together. Eventually, other threads are brought in with different colors and textures, weaving in, crossing, slamming, colliding into a beautiful tapestry. And in the mesmerising rhythm of the loom, something far different than individual threads starts to take place.

Weaving

Weaving

I can get swept away watching a skilled weaver move pieces up and down – all while knowing there’s an end product in mind. And while I’m not very talented at the traditional loom, I am confident in the Master Weaver’s ability to make something beautiful out of our shared pain and victory. Perhaps there’s a richer tapestry in the making each time we sit down around those tables together. 

stepbystep

A “Sun-Scorched Land”

Sometimes words don’t suffice. But what I lack in words, my heart sings with love. This beautiful little family we’re creating is knit together from great pain… and great hope. It is my privilege to journey with them and be a part of their lives today.

Moriya Women Each of these women have a very painful past of sexual exploitation, abuse, deep and the ravaging effects of desperate poverty. But as I see hope weaving a new chapter in their stories, real smiles are breaking forth. Is there anything more rewarding to witness? 

Beautiful colors of culture

Moriya Women with LSM

An Ethiopian friend shared this scripture with me, and I’ve thought of it often over the last few days as I navigate two worlds and think of the immense weight of the work still ahead.

The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. -Isaiah 58.11-12

LSM is helping vulnerable children become all they can be!

I am comforted and challenged by so many believers in Ethiopia (and across the globe) who carry on, often with heavy burdens of their own to overcome. It is humbling and inspiring to be a part of this work with them, and to be invited to share in the struggles.

P1040183

This journey to understand and serve my Master comes with a tension I gladly embrace. And like this friend reminded me, God will always be there to “satisfy our needs in a sun-scorched land.”

stepbystep

PS – If you aren’t familiar with what LSM is doing to combat exploitation in Ethiopia, please learn more here! And if you haven’t checked out the purses these women are creating, you won’t want to miss this! 

The Depth of a Simple Thing

Ethiopians have this beautiful tradition of a coffee ceremony – a ritual woven deep into the culture where neighbours, friends and new acquaintances find a common bond. Already in this trip to Addis, I’ve shared in several ceremonies and fall deeper in love with the people I’m surrounded by in the process.

P1030347

Learning to roast the beans

Learning how to properly roast the beans Habesha (Ethiopian) style.

In the lengthy process of a coffee ceremony, there is an intimate bond of unhurried conversation, meaningful friendships that form and deepen amidst the smoky beans roasting, and the sense of elegant tradition weaving a common thread across cultures. I think Ethiopians have caught on to something important. They know the art of stopping, shedding life’s distractions and being present with those around them. And in the process of learning to properly roasting beans, I feel that deeper lesson sinking into my soul. This is community. 

Coffee ceremony

Community is being present to hear their stories, learn from each other and bridge a gap between cultures, experiences and all ages. It’s the power of shared life.

A traditional Ethiopian jebena is made from black pottery.

A traditional Ethiopian jebena is made from black pottery.

In a full ceremony, you’ll receive three cups of coffee (bunna). The first round is called Abol. Many add two to three small spoonfuls of sugar and powdered milk (making a macchiato that’s to die for) or just drinking with sugar (my favourite). Two more rounds follow, Tona and finally Baraka, which seals a blessing for all present. Learn more about the traditional ceremony here.

Brewing the coffee

Brewing the coffee

Coffee from Ethiopia is the best in the world. (If you don’t believe me, listen to the experts.) But the people that I’m blessed to share those ceremonies with are even better. Over the last few days I have shared many cups of this dark espresso with inspiring individuals who have endured much and overcome through the power of Christ.

Coffee Ceremony with family in Ethiopia

In the simple act of shared coffee, the fragrance I think reaches to the heavens because I believe that “where two or three are gathered in His name, He’s there with us.”

stepbystep

Hope is like a path…

“Hope is like a path in the countryside. Originally, there is nothing – but as people walk this way again and again, a path appears.” —Lu Xun, Chinese essayist, 1921

Today, I leave for Africa. Over the next couple of weeks, I will walk with some beautiful women and hear their stories – stories of extreme poverty, sexual exploitation and desperation. I will also see the incredible value of hope and redemption. And we’ll walk the path together.

Such experiences are both beautiful and painful. It’s a tension I live in, knowing that it produces the richest rewards. And over the next few weeks, I’d like to share some of that with you.

Read more about what I’m doing in Ethiopia with LSM here.

LSM Ethiopian Purse

Buy beautiful handmade Ethiopian purses and help sustain dignified jobs for women here.

And if you’re not familiar with some of the realities that we work with, I’d highly recommend checking out both Half the Sky (book and documentary) and it’s sequel A Path Appears (you can view the first segment now online for free at PBS.)

book-banner-v51

Check out more books and documentaries suggested on LSM’s site and journey with me over the next several days as I explore some of these topics, share stories and talk about Ethiopia.

stepbystep

 

Starting Fresh

“The truth is that a life well lived is always lived on a rising scale of difficulty.” ― N.D. Wilson

I find myself a bit of a contemplative on the cusp of a new year. Do you ever get there too? A whole year ahead holds so much potential, but I confess, looks daunting from here. Things we can’t see clearly always are. 

photo source: DSC_5212-3 by Chalk White Arrow on Flickr

photo source: DSC_5212-3 by Chalk White Arrow on Flickr

I think with each passing year, my desire to live it well causes more contemplation. More anticipation. Perhaps because I’m discovering a little of what ND Wilson writes in Death by Living:

“Lay your life down. Your heartbeats cannot be hoarded. Your reservoir of breaths is draining away. You have hands, blister them while you can. You have bones, make them strain-they can carry nothing in the grave. You have lungs, let them spill with laughter. With an average life expectancy of 78.2 years in the US (subtracting eight hours a day for sleep), I have around 250,00 conscious hours remaining to me in which I could be smiling or scowling, rejoicing in my life, in this race, in this story, or moaning and complaining about my troubles. I can be giving my fingers, my back, my mind, my words, my breaths, to my wife and my children and my neighbors, or I can grasp after the vapor and the vanity for myself, dragging my feet, afraid to die and therefore afraid to live. And, like Adam, I will still die in the end.” 

That inspires me to live well. Courageously. Abundantly. To take life and make the most of it, despite navigating waters I can’t see clearly through.

photo source: wearetherhoads.com via Pinterest

photo source: wearetherhoads.com via Pinterest

So as I dream and wonder and think on this new season, I’ll pass along some things that are helping me form my ideas. And maybe as we take daily, measured steps, small things happen. Things that can change a life.

  • Dream Guide: Jennie Allen – A contemplative look at the year behind and ahead. These are without fail a good tool as we shift gears for a new year.
  • OneWord365 – I love this. Choose a word that you want to empower your next year. Post in on your nightstand, keep it close, and make choices with that word in mind. Check out the website and learn more.

“Despite the oft-repeated claim that awareness does nothing, it almost always does something—something small, perhaps, but something measurable.” – Caitlin Dewey, Washington Post

stepbystep

New

On the peak of earthly glory
I look back in surprise on the path I have taken
which I would never have been able to invent for myself,
an incredible path through hopelessness
from which I was yet able
to send humanity a reflection of Your rays of light
And for as long as it is necessary that I keep reflecting them,
You will let me do so.
And what I do not finish — well then,
You have assigned others the task.
 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

thatkindofwoman.tumblr.com

photo source: thatkindofwoman.tumblr.com

>> When the Straight and Narrow Isn’t by Jonathan Trotter, A Life Overseas Blog

The “plan of God for my life,” the path I was following with full confidence and youthful arrogance, disappeared. Because sometimes the straight and narrow isn’t. God doesn’t always lead in straight lines. He is the God of fractals, making beauty and order out of lines that look like a drunk man was drawing during an earthquake. Left-handed.

>> This Year: A Simple Song by JJ Heller

Happy New Year! May it be rich and rewarding, no matter how crooked the path seems.

stepbystep

A Homemade Christmas

We do homemade Christmases, and the memories and love that have poured into those gifts over the years is heart-warming.

Steffen2014

I love that Christmas becomes more intentional through the hands-on approach to giving. I love that Christmas is more than buying a gift at the store. And I love the special memories gathered around my parent’s table for a decadent Christmas meal. These are moments I will always treasure.

This year, I tried some new gift ideas, including a lot of food options.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here’s a few of the hits:

Spiced Nuts and Sugared Bacon: A winner for the guys. And let me just say up front. Bacon is not my forte. I stink at bacon (and then my whole house stinks with the grease). This was a labor of love. But I think they liked it, even if they are still talking about how spicy it was. Recipe here.

Homemade Coffee Syrups: These are really easy, and the best thing is, you can kind of make it up as you go. The base is 1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar, boiled. Then add whatever kinds of flavoring you’d like. I did peppermint (4 candy canes and some peppermint extract) and Maple-Vanilla-Cinnamon (1/4 c maple syrup (boil with the water and sugar), then cinnamon to taste and vanilla.) There’s tons of great combinations out there… Check out some ideas here.

Gourmet Coffee Set

Hand-designed Mugs: I’ve loved this. Buy a cheap plain coffee mug, take a sharpie to it and have fun! Let it rest 24 hrs, then bake at 425* for 30 minutes. Turn the oven off and let it cool there. Then take out and wallah! You’ve got a homemade gift that’s personalized! I combined this with the homemade syrups, some dipped spoons, and hot chocolate mix for a fun homemade package. Details here.

Mason Jar Ideas: We took Hot Chocolate Jars to our neighbors (finally meeting them) and starting some great conversations. These are cute, and just a fun way to share with those who live right around you!

What other great homemade gift ideas do you have? I’d love to hear from you.

stepbystep