Normally, when I open the front door in the morning, fierce sunlight streams in, blinding my just-waking-up eyes. But yesterday there was light, but no fierce sun. Clouds hung low, drizzling our dry, dusty ground with a mist so fine you want to stand amongst it, arms out, and let your dry, dusty skin soak it up.

Ahh. The rain has come.

And with it, a need for shelter.

Curled underneath our Toyota, was our landlord’s lone dog, Jasmine. She looks so precious, yet desperate huddled in the dirt under the only shelter she could find, or was allowed to take refuge in.


Jasmine finding refuge from the rain under our truck.

Refuge. The word echoed through my mind as I considered the hurt swirling around my shoulders. Stories that have entered my ears in recent months. Women who are used by men for sex. Men who treat their women cruelly. Children forced to watch cows instead of learn to read. Refuge. People in desperate need of a refuge.

My relationship with Jasmine, this dog, most wonderfully highlights the daring risk of relationships with broken people – ahem – ALL people. 

Jasmine’s name is not Jasmine. In fact, she has no name. I’m not sure if her master even knew she was a her until she delivered 5 puppies on his doorstep. She’s a “Swazi dog”, which is similar to a “Mexico dog” or any mixed-breed mutt that one might find in a developing country. Flea-ridden, tick-laden, unresponsive to human touch (let’s be honest, touching isn’t really an option for her), controlled by her master’s rock-throwing, hardly fed, worm-infested, and sometimes mangy. Her ribs protrude into the brown and black flesh that tries desperately to keep her warm and be called a coat. She’s rough on the outside. When we first met her, her silence bothered us. Never a bark or whine or tail wag. . .

That tail never wagged until she met Thor. And then, throwing it high, she’d put out this guttural half-whine, half-bark, clearly ecstatic expression and they’d romp and play. . . for hours. Our vaccinated, bathed (okay, twice a month he’s bathed), well-fed, cherished, trained to a click or a whistle little Thor and this mangy dog would play for hours.

When I saw the desperate situation she was in, how far from being a domesticated dog she’d fallen, I felt moved to name her. She couldn’t just be “our landlord’s dog”, or “that mutt”, or “oh you know, that dog”, she needed to be Jasmine. Named after that mysterious, beautiful, compassionate, full-of-zest brown-skinned, black-haired disney Princess.

Jasmine, the dog's name-sake

Jasmine, the dog’s name-sake

She needed a name of redemption. Something to call her out of the broken, ugly, far-from-her-calling lot.

The name stuck, and she certainly spent more time around our place. Like anytime you get close to someone or something that’s dirty, broken, and cast out by those who should love it, it gets messy. It’s not all, “love will fix it all” or cupcakes and roses overnight. Brokenness begets brokenness, and if you allow it close to you, stare her in the face, it’s gonna break you too.

Somedays I loathe Jasmine. She kills anything I plant outside the fence garden. Granted, she loves the grass-topped mulch for a comfy, warm, dry place to sleep, but she doesn’t exactly see the lavender transplant under her scrawny bum. She breaks into the chicken’s pen, nightly to steal any eggs we haven’t collected (or are forming into baby chicks). She poops all over our garden beds, nasty-foul specimens. Poop that I have to shovel up, rebury, throw over the fence, and just plain deal with. She jumped into our humanure compost, dug around, and slept there one night before we Jasmine-proofed that. Our habits of living adjusted to make things Jasmine-proof. I may be known to yell “Suka!!! Suka Jasmine!!!” (Get out!) when she steps into our garden. I haven’t tried teaching her to shake because she won’t let us touch her.

But she will let us feed her scraps. She’ll play endlessly with our dog. She’ll greet us when we walk up from the gate, moaning, curling back her lips in greeting (it certainly seems like a smile), and hopping around, encircling us with her greeting and delight. At night, she’s taken to barking ferociously when someone unwelcome (to her) enters the yard. She even will help Thor chase the unwanted goats, dogs, or cows from the yard (our new past time).

Although a delightful transformation has slowly unfolded with Jasmine, there are still ugly moments. And those moments bring out my true heart. The one that really wants her to go away and never come back because I’m just so tired of not eating grass-fed chicken eggs for breakfast. But the bad days with Jasmine are tempered with the good. The moments when I see her curling in, blocking out the hurt, the rain, the cold, those are the days I think anything is possible with her. That redemption will continue to come to her. That one day, she may be the fullest expression of a loved, domesticated dog.

But it’s not really dogs I’m talking about, is it? Jasmine’s story parallels the stories of our neighbors. Parallels the stories of the broken, hurting, shamed, and torn-down folks who come to us with shoulders bent against the crushing blow of husband’s hand, unjust work wages, unpaid school fees, or just plain hard life. Life with them is messy and ugly when I’ve put my heart on the Throne and want all to serve me. It’s messy when I’m 12 hrs into a day, with still a rainy, 45 minute drive home. It’s ugly when upset family members start haggling you with phone calls. It’s messy when you have to deal with people’s shit. It’s ugly when the one you’ve been pouring your heart into is found to abuse his wife. It’s ugly when I want to just throw rocks at them until they leave me in peace. The ugliness of sin is in my heart, in our lives, and trapped amongst us as we crawl towards healing.

But the beauty is there too. It sneaks in as hope creeps across a face. It sneaks in when we hug each other, and cry and say, “This is awful. It should not be this way. This was not God’s design.” It’s beautiful when we reach out beyond our small circle and find a larger, more equipped support team of counseling, and safe houses, police who care, and teachers who try. There’s beauty when we just crawl underneath the Cross, throw our coat across our legs and sleep because rest is a step towards health and regrowth. There’s beauty in lives being remade. There’s beauty in being place of refuge for such brokenness.

All throughout my yesterday, as the rain drizzled and the cold that came with it swept around my legs, one thought returned again and again. Refuge. 

“God is our refuge and strength,

always ready to help in times of trouble.”

“Show me your unfailing love in wonderful ways.

By your mighty power you rescue those who seek refuge from their enemies.”

Psalm 46:1; 17:7

My mind also recalled the Joshua 20 “Cities of Refuge.” Going back to look up the specifics, I was reminded that these Cities of Refuge were originally allotted as well-spread out places in the Promised Land. The intention seemed to be a place when someone who accidentally, innocently murdered someone could flee to to escape the family avenger (angry relative coming to kill the incidental “killer”). In these cities, people could find unbiased judgment, people who would listen to their stories without raising sticks or stones of condemnation.

As a commentator at Enduring points out, the cities of refuge parallel our picture of Jesus. There are several compelling similarities between these cities and Jesus.

  • Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are within easy reach of the needy person; they were of no use unless someone could get to the place of refuge.

  • Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are open to all, not just the Israelite; no one needs to fear that they would be turned away from their place of refuge in their time of need.

  • Both Jesus and the cities of refuge became a place where the one in need would live; you didn’t come to a city of refuge in time of need just to look around.

  • Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are the only alternative for the one in need; without this specific protection, they will be destroyed.

  • Both Jesus and the cities of refuge provide protection only within their boundaries; to go outside means death.

As the hands, feet, hearts, homes, and people that stand as Christ amongst our neighbors, we, too, are Cities of Refuge. WE are to the be the places within reach of the needy people. WE are to be open to all, not just those like us, or those whom we understand. WE are to be a place where one can live, or connect them to a new permanent home. WE can be the only alternative for those in need. WE don’t go out and hunt down the avengers and get ourselves into a fight. Our homes are walls that protect. WE have to be close enough for people to get to us. People have to know someone will meet them at the entrance with no judgement, but one hand held out to them, another hand holding open the door. People have to trust that we’ll be there. That they’ll always be welcome. That they will be safe. And then, they will come.

These concepts rolled over and over my body throughout the day, into the night, and continue undulating over me as I wake.

And when I don’t know how to safely, wisely be a Place of Refuge, I can reach out to the broader community of social workers, abuse hotlines (thank you SWAGAA), safe houses, or others who have dealt with “neighbor’s abandoned dogs.” In that broader community, I find others whose faces and actions look like Christ, and together we seek His example of safety and protection for those who need it. Amen.

Categories: Kingdom Coming Related, Social Justice | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

“Help! I’ve Fallen off the Pedestal and Now it’s Crushing Me!”

Sometimes Usually people say things better than I can. And when they do, I would just like to share!

“… the pedestal is punishing.  It holds you to standards that are not God’s, and it isolates you from those who love you.  Kick it out from under you.  Kick it far, far away.  Missionaries are no more ‘called’ than anyone else who obeys God’s direction for his or her life:  teachers, doctors, steel workers, pastors, truck drivers, baristas, lawyers.  There is no hierarchy in the Kingdom.  There are simply those who obey and those who don’t.

I confess that I’ve felt pretty important because I’m a missionary  I seek genuine faith and honesty and humility, but in my heart I want some glory. Ahhhhh! It is through these glaring weaknesses that I view the cross and remember my own great need to be saved from myself. May we encourage each other on our journey, and may our encouragements be Living Water to our spirits, not blocks for the pedestals we’ll climb upon so others might praise us. 

The Article Well-Said:

“Help! I’ve Fallen off the Pedestal and Now it’s Crushing Me!”.

How have you fallen?

Categories: Kingdom Coming Related, Public Confession | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Not-so-quick Updates

Lately in our Lives:

[If you're a blog-skimmer, just scroll on down to the pictures at the bottom.]

  • My parents visited for 2 weeks. We loved every second of it!
  • Kitchen construction is mostly finished. Sean installed a pantry. I organized the shelves. Sean put in plumbing, I like washing dishes in the new sink. Let’s be honest, Sean did almost ALL the work, but I shared in the enjoying of his hard work.
  • We’ve decided to live in Swaziland at least 4 years! (Just two more, 4 total). We’re adding one extra year to our original 3-year commitment. While we could get really excited thinking about the Post-Swaziland phase of our lives, we realized it’s just not time for that yet. However, with a baby coming in February, we feel comfortable committing to just one year more for now. We’ll re-evaluate as time goes on. Largely, we feel like we’re only getting started in some of the community work, so it’d be leaving too soon if we closed up shop in a year. We’re discussing how having a child will change our focus (obviously) and how it’s likely Nicole will shift her focus from lots of out-of-the-house ministry work, to more ministry with a child in tow, and from the house. We’ll keep you abreast of those shifting tides.
  • Nicole’s going to work on an intern-application process. Like most things we do, we can’t imagine this being like too many other “conventional” internship ideas, and we have no idea if people will come. However, Nicole felt an urge to prepare some in this direction, so that IF and WHEN someone inquires, we’ll be ready. We don’t have much space for lots of people, nor are there lots of “projects” that we need foreign hands to complete, but we DO love sharing our lives, love sharing what we’re learning, and enjoy pouring into the lives of people considering full-time ministry, overseas work, etc.
  • Summer is kicking up with a few days of rain blessing our land. It just makes you want to dance!
  • I, Nicole, am feeling pretty good as I hit the half-way mark in my pregnancy. Taking advantage of second-trimester energy to kick up the exercise, planting, garden labor, and all-things-crafty in my free-time. There’s a lot going on in my heart these days, mostly joy and peace. And no, I probably won’t post belly photos. I’ll spare you that much skin. ;) Clothes-on photos may be found from time to time.
  • After a few weeks off with my parents coming, I was excited to head back to the hospital this week. The newspaper reported some very sad news while I was “off” that a laboring woman was told to leave the labor ward and walk around outside (common practice if she’s not into active labor yet). Apparently something happened, which resulting in her squatting over the tile floor and pushing her child out. Reports declared the child died from head trauma, while nurses didn’t rush to attend to mother or baby. I have no idea IF it’s true, if the mother was still in the labor ward, or was indeed walking outside. The negative publicity certainly affects people’s desires to birth at this specific hospital (yes, the one I volunteer at). The trauma to the mother, and nurses who seem to have neglected her points to a broken, hurting world. My heart aches for more to be done to make sure the safety of these babes and mothers. My heart aches for hospital leadership to lead the staff towards greater compassion, better practices, skill development, and personal & professional times of refreshment (can we say “Overworked?”). I’m thankful I have relationships with the nurses that point me to lean in and ask questions before pointing fingers. I’m thankful I have relationships with a few moms that allow a bit of education and empowerment to color their choices and actions.
  • I keep meeting more and more young, single expecting women. In our little Masini community alone, I met four (three whom I didn’t know about). Oh Lord! Our lives are broken without you. Single mothers are incredible women, yet my heart aches for the hardships facing their young, unemployed persons. Show us ways to educate them, connect them to employers, and draw them to You who gives all love, self-worth, and answers that we often seek through others and ourselves. May I be a bit of the hands and feet to help them on the journey. May I be eager to give many cups of cold water, advise mothers of these young mothers on when to take them to the hospital, and empower them with education, so they might have CHOICE over their ambitious, budding lives and those of their children. Lord, heal our heart and our land from fatherless children and broken-hearted young mothers. There is another way. Let us find it together. 
  • Sean’s organizing some “farm visit” days with a permaculture farm here in Swaziland. I guess we’re first on the list and hope to connect loads of cool people to loads of other great people, so the ideas may flow & creativity blossom along with our crops.
  • Thor keeps chasing goats out of our yard. He joyously watches from under the truck for any unsuspecting goats who venture in our front gate. With a simple, “Yah Thor,” he bolts down the driveway. He has just to butt heads with any horn-bearing mama goats, but Sean did catch his being drug out of the yard by a goat. He says Thor attached himself to the poor goat’s ankles. Serves the pesky, plant-devouring heathens right! We give him lots of treat and take him everywhere dogs are allowed (and some places they’re not).
  • We felt really, really, REALLY loved by family, friends, and some strangers when my parents surprised us with gifts from some youth and adults from Greenford Christian Church (our first care package!), some very crafty friends, a few random friends, and family. People blessed us with encouraging notes, notes of joy and prayers for our pregnancy, and all around LOVE. I think I’ll just read one every day until forever. :D Slowly I’m churning out the thank yous, but if you sent something – thank you!!!


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Categories: aDventures in Doula-ing, In the Garden, just for fun, Swaziland Updates | 5 Comments

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