This week like many of you, I'm thinking much about the possibilities of 2016. What joy might be around the corner? What hope might I need to find? What love is yet to be?

But when I think back over 2015, I have to admit though, it has been a TOTAL surprise! But the best kind.

I started the year as the interim pastor of a congregation in Oklahoma. I loved every minute.

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Then, early in February, Kevin and I had the professional experience of the lifetime getting to attend the National Prayer Breakfast (and heard some prophetic preaching from the President). We also had meetings with Congressional leaders via our work with Feed the Children at the White House. So cool! 

On February 21st, I celebrated my birthday with these dear ones at a quiet party on top of the Devon Tower in OKC. My dear husband made this lovely surprise possible, a colliding of my worlds!

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In March, I enjoyed preaching a Lent series called "First Family" sticking close to the first 5 chapters of Genesis.  The sermon: "We are Clothed" was one of my favorites. Preacher friends: would highly recommend preaching through Genesis during Lent. There's some good stuff there.

Easter was a highlight as well. I led an Easter sunrise service with a fellow female pastor in the middle of Western Oklahoma. (Who would have thought it?) And then a couple hours later I preached one of those Easter sermons when I felt really proud when I was done. I wanted the congregation to know that Easter is a way of life, not just a day and I think they heard me.

2015-04-26 18.14.29April, sadly was a month of treasuring our last days as a resident in Oklahoma in beautiful scenery like this and saying a lot of "thank you's" to God for the gifts of the journey. Most of all, the word, "Beautiful and Terrible Things Happen" was on my mind-- one of my best blog posts of the year, I believe.

May was a month of rest and travel, saying goodbye (at least from our official duties) as President and First Lady of Feed the Children. I preached this sermon at the Dagoretti Children's Center in Nairobi, Kenya with tears in my eyes: "Why are the Hagans Leaving Feed the Children?" Proving yet again that I can't be in Kenya without having wet eyes.IMG_5345

But, as much as I was saying "goodbye" to Oklahoma friends in the move, I quickly found out it was more like "see you later." It's a beautiful thing when God gives you community all over the world!

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Once back in DC, God kept giving me places to preach. One of these places was at my home church, Martin Luther King, Jr. Christian in Reston.

Early in June, it was my beloved Pastor Jean's anniversary Sunday and  I boldly proclaimed, "How long will you grieve?" It was one of those sermons though that made people wonder if I'd lost my mind when I started and my soul sister, Amanda and I still laugh about it. 2015-06-14 13.33.16-2

One of my favorite memories of the summer included being the Baptist House chaplain at The Chautauqua Institute in New York. Not only was it a life changing week with a friend but it was the moment I heard a word of direction about starting something new.

A HUGE NEW PROJECT is in the works and I can't wait to tell you more about it in 2016!

2015 was also the year I got over my fear of riding a bike! Look out world . . .2015-07-03 18.16.45-1

In September, Kevin and I bought a new house and prepared to move across town. After living in two states for three years we were ready to slow down and be in ONE place. Though there were bumps along the way-- the house buying process is never for the faint at heart-- we made it through and soon were settled in (though of course we have tons of work to do in the future!).

I refreshed my commitment to writing in the fall-- trying to only BLOG when I had something really burning to say and re-submitted my book proposal for publication (fingers crossed for 2016!).

And as far as the blog goes, these were three of my most read posts:

"Staying in Your Own Lane"  (jealous anyone?) and  "It Gets Better" (a post about marriage) and "All of Life is a Gift" (after visit to Riverside Church in NYC).

This Advent season I was asked to preach at Springfield Christian Church in Springfield, VA for the whole month. I had fun with it! My favorite service was Christmas Eve-- a service in English and Spanish.  Yakelin, the ordained minister and translator I worked with was so full of the Spirit and made the experience one of my favorite of my life. We were so in sink with each other. It feel like a work of art to go back and forth between Spanish and English. I wanted to cry tears of joy when the sermon was over.

And now, we're celebrating the holidays with a beloved friend of ours from Kenya that we met in Nairobi 4 years ago. Sherlyne has brought our home so much joy and we love her very much.

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If there is anything I've learned in 2015 is to live in the moment, accept what is and cling to the good.

It could be SO easy for me to be anxious on a regular basis because so little about my life or ministry is planned or settled.

But, I hope as this post shows that when you follow God, things happen. Things you can't dream up happen! So it's only our job to hang on for the ride!

A friend of mine recently told me 'I'm his favorite circuit riding preacher." And I liked that. I can't wait to stay on the move in 2016. Coming to a town near you soon!

A Sermon Preached at Farmdale Baptist Church, Sylvania, GA from Acts 2:1-21 with Genesis 11:1-9

Have you ever been in a situation where not everyone spoke English? Where you found yourself unable to understand somebody?

I have more times than I can count.

Over the past three years that Kevin has served as the President of Feed the Children, I think the story of our lives could be summed up in one word. Traveling. I think every time we call Kevin's parents or my parents the first question they ask us is, “Where in the world are you?” (And we often given them a different answer!)

On these trips, experiences no matter where we are in the world are similar. As we have approached a community in need where Feed the Children has a school or a water project or a health clinic, we’ve met with parents and kids. We’ve done what we can to encourage children, parents and staff. It’s all great. But then we’ve usually had this one BIG problem. We speak English. But others don’t.

So when we sit down for lunch, we often don’t know what we’re ordering on a menu (unless we get help). We don’t know what others are saying around the table (we just hope they’re saying something nice). And there have been moments when Kevin and I have found ourselves sitting at a big table full of folks, only talking to each other.

And in moments like this, we’ve relied on smiles, handshakes and hand motions--- all geared toward making a point the best we can with our body language. We’ve hoped to not embarss ourselves too much.

But it is frustrating nonetheless. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to myself: “I wish I knew Spanish. I wish I knew Swahli. I wish I spoke French.”

And though Kevin learned a lot of German in high school it’s never really helped him much out where we’ve visited.

What we just read from Genesis is an experience of completely different proportions than what I just described to you about our traveling. Those gathered on the earth at this time had never experienced such a problem. They all spoke the same language. They gathered together as one. Could you imagine how lovely that was?

But scripture tells us that those gathered became a little too confident in their unified powers. They believed that “they could make a name for themselves” by building a tower high in the sky with bricks and mortar. They wanted to be the ones completely in control of what came next, not God.

From what we know of God, we can imagine how well this went over . . .

In response, the Lord says, “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

You see, God said such pride would not do. Their punishment became separation from their human brothers and sisters. No longer would everyone speak the same language. No longer would the whole earth feel like a great big ole family.

So what came next was: folks began separating themselves, scripture tells us, by language.

Colors and skin tones began to divide from one person from another person.

“Where are you from?” became a question folks asked each other.

The world became full of not only different languages, but also different tones of voice and accents that continues to this day.

Ever gone to Mississippi or Boston or Pennsylvania and have a problem understanding what they’re saying?

I have to say that since joining the Hagan family and spending lots of time in South Georgia there are new words and ways of talking about things that I’ve had to learn. I can remember on one of my first visits here when Kevin and I were dating, Rachel (my mother-in-law) asked me what I wanted for dinner. I wonder why she was so concerned about dinner at 11 am in the morning. But later I got the translation dinner = lunch (as I understood it). Oh, it all became clear!

This one small example shows that even if our official language is English, there are still a thousand ways we can say the same things. It’s so easy for us to not understand one another.

But was this the way that God intended for us to live—not understanding each other and all speaking different languages?

I don’t think it was.

Only a few short weeks ago it was Easter. It was day we celebrated the message of NEWNESS that Christ brings.

Isn’t the message of Easter that we ALL can be included in God’s family? Isn’t the message of Easter that ALL are welcomed? Isn’t the message of Easter that in Christ we are ALL made new through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord?

So if all of this is true, then, Easter, would give us a WHOLE new way of speaking to one another, right? The separation that the Tower of Babel brought us would be no more!

Our New Testament lesson from Acts 2 has a lot to change the tone of the story in wake of all that Easter meant for the world.

And as we just heard read, the day started out pretty normal other than the fact it was a festival on the Jewish calendar and everyone was gathered in Jerusalem for worship and celebration.

It meant the disciples of Jesus, in particular were all together. They were still trying to figure out what to do with their lives, what would be the next steps for them in this post Jesus world. But then, verse 2 of Acts 2 tells us that, “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.”

What could this sound be?

I could imagine the disciples were frightened. For: “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.”

And though we in the church world can easily get caught up in verses like this when we hear that the disciples: “began to speak in other tongues (or languages) as the Spirit enabled them” wondering, “What is tongues?”

The truth is this: the Spirit came and those who received the Spirit understood one another in ways they’d never had before. Suddenly, you see, it became a world where LANGUAGE was no longer a divider-- there was a a way to understood one another!

Through the Spirit people heard one another in ways in which they never had before!

About two years ago, Kevin and I made our first trip to Guatemala with Feed the Children. It was a beautiful country and we loved the all the kids we met. But, as the week came to an end, I was notably aware of the language divide. The official language in Guatemala is Spanish. But not everyone in Guatemala speaks Spanish. And few speak English especially in rural areas where we work.

Many of the communities that we visited were full of residents of Mayan decent (many of whom live on less than $1 US dollar day, by the way and have not completed a grade school education). Thus, at each stop of our trip, the mothers and children spoke a different dialect of a tribal language. Not even the Guatemalan staff could understand what the mothers said.

945094_10151593037224168_1240194976_nTogether we relied on the Mayan children who’d learned Spanish in school to translate their tribal language into Spanish. Then the Feed the Children staff that spoke Spanish and English translated for Kevin and I. While it was good to be among these beautiful and hospitable people, the communication was exhausting. Double translation as you might imagine took a lot of time to just get a simple question answered like, "Where does your family live?"

But, when it came time to say goodbye at the airport to the directors of the program, non-English speakers themselves, but leaders full of kind hearts and deep love for the children of their nation, I found tears rolling down my cheeks.

Though we’d never spoken directly from native language to native language, I knew these the hearts of these two. I knew they loved God and sought to serve the Lord in all they did. They loved and appreciated me and wanted me to know how happy they were to have my visit to their country. I felt the same about them.

Together we stood on holy ground.

And the frustrations of communication that we’d experienced that week seemed to pale in comparison to the hugs we exchanged and the smiles that beamed across all our faces. It has been good to be together in partnership and we all knew it. God had done a work among us—a work that was changing and is changing children’s lives in Guatemala forever!

Such was a moment of the Spirit transcending, resting upon us, and intercessing for us if I’ve ever experienced one.

For while my friends did not suddenly understand English and I did not suddenly understand Spanish, something about our hearts connected in ways that could have only come from God. Something opened that had been previously closed before.

It was a place for me, like the day of Pentecost was for those first disciples where heaven and earth met.

And this, my friends, is what it means to be Easter people who live by the spirit. Together, with Jesus’ help, we are creating a new world where we don’t have to be so separate from other people-- especially people who seem so different from us on the outset.

This new world is a world where the words I speak do not keep me from you, but can join us together . . .

A world where it matters not where you and I came from, but only how open we are to the future God has in store for us . . .

A world where the color of my skin does not make me better than or less than, but merely a beautiful part of God’s brilliant mosaic of lots of colors . . .

Many people called the day of Pentecost the birthday of the church. Or in some churches a good excuse to have a cake and sing happy birthday after worship . . . I like the idea of making a big fuss about a day like today because our birthday is all about this: in the church, we are a different kind of people. We’re not like a flower club or a Rotary meeting or a mom’s play group.

We’re the church because of the Spirit of God has gathered us and lives in us, and helps us. And this changes EVERYTHING about our coming together.

I want to ask you this: when is the last time you sat in a deacon’s meeting or Sunday School class and thought to yourself, how in the world do I go to church with these people? These people.

I bet all of us could relate.

Church, at least how Jesus taught us to do it, is a crazy thing.

People of all kinds of backgrounds and cultures and ages and opinions and education levels and life experiences can gather with one goal. The Spirit keeps us together, even with there are a thousand reasons to tear us a part or to split.

And if you’ve been around church for any length of time, you know what I mean.

Just because we are Christians, it doesn't mean that we are always going to agree.

We’re going to go through seasons when we don’t get along.

We are going to even fight with our words from time to time (and hopefully not with our hands!)

We may want to walk away from church business meetings sometimes and throw up our hands and say, “What’s the point?”

But because we have the gift of the Spirit, all is new. We don’t have to fight or disagree like the world does. We don’t have to be segregated like the world thinks we should. We don’t even have to look like the world thinks we should.

Lauren F. Winner, one of my professors and classmates from seminary said this, “The Spirit is the reason we can build a church and have confidence that we will get it at least a little bit right.”

Because of the Spirit, you see, we can imagine a new world. We can imagine a new community. We can imagine worship in this place going on for generations to come.

Today is the day of new winds of the Spirit. Today is the day of imagining a world where we are all not only welcome at God’s table, but heard and understood.

God has good things and a bright future in store for this church—if only we keep listening to the Spirit of God.

AMEN

Choose Life: Deuteronomy 30:15-31:6

A sermon preached to staff and children at Feed the Children Kenya, May 6, 2015

When we wake up in the morning, no matter who we are or where we come from, we all have choices. For example: we can choose to eat the breakfast put before us or not eat anything at all.

Or, we can choose to put on long trousers if it is cold or a jacket if it is raining.

Or, we can choose say, “Thank you God for this day” with a smile on our face or we can say with a growl, “I want to go back to bed!”

Though every day life gives us a different set of experiences to deal with (that often times we can’t control)—we always have a choice in HOW we deal with them.

In our reading from the book of Deuteronomy, we hear this word about choices. Moses, the great leader of the children of Israel as they are making their great journey out of Egypt into freedom in the Promise Land, says to them this:

See, I have put in front of you today life and what is good, and death and what is bad.

Which is another way of saying, listen up everyone—in this life God has given you, you have choices.

You can choose what is good and enjoy all that life has to give you.

Or you can choose what is bad and not enjoy all life has to give you.

But the interesting part of this story is the context. There was a reason that Moses was giving this speech. And the reason was that Moses knows that his time as leader of the nation of Israel is coming to a close.

The problem was Moses didn't want to leave! He did not intend to step aside as their leader at this point. He believed he would make the entire journey with them into the new land. For many years, this was the goal that Moses and the people were working toward together. Moses had invested so much of his life and his family’s life in the work of helping the people follow after God’s best plans for them.

BUT then a day came when God told Moses that he wouldn't be the leader who saw the journey through. There would be another leader and his name would be Joshua.

If you could put yourself in Moses’ shoes for a moment, think about how you might feel if you got this news. What would you say to God in response?

If I were Moses, I think I might be angry. I might even say to God, “This is so unfair! After all that I have done for this group of people and ALL the dreams we dreamed up together, how come I have to step aside now?”

And all of these thoughts would be valid feelings.

Very few of us set out to commit our whole heart to a task and stop in the middle of it.

But Moses had to learn another way.

He had to be reminded who was in charge most of all.

It was not him. It was God.

And God asked Moses to lay aside his own desires, his own wishes and to choose the plans the he wanted to offer to the nation of Israel.

And in his parting words to them before Joshua takes over, he says just this.

Choose life! Choose God! Know that God is never going to leave you, though my time, as your leader will soon come to a close.

I want to tell you a story to maybe help you understand a bit more what I mean here. It’s a story that comes from one of the other countries where Feed the Children has programs and serves children every day, El Salvador.

Many years ago, in the 1970s a revolution began in this country. An oppressive group of military leaders took over the government, turning this once peaceful land into a state of confusion.

The poor people of El Salvador were afraid the little that they had would be taken away. Church leaders feared the government. And they did nothing to help those in need.

Yet there were some pastors and priests who stuck close to the message God’s love for all people and refused to stop speaking. They chose kindness. They chose compassion. They chose one another. The priest Oscar Romero was one of them.

All his life he had been just a normal priest—going about the daily work of caring for his church. Though he was later being promoted to the position of Archbishop, Oscar continued to preach the gospel each week and serve people communion.

Yet, there came a day when he could be silent. He knew that God had called him to speak out and protect the rights of the needy. He stood up for the poor in his community, even when he was advised not to!

And, Oscar Romero would eventually die for the choices he made. But, even in his death, pointed people to God.

Because Oscar learned, like Moses that the choosing God’s way means that ultimately our lives are not about us.

For no matter what we do and the positions we hold, even the certificates we might receive for the good we do, our lives ARE ALL about GOD.

Hear the words of this prayer inspired by Oscar’s life. I think it sums up well what Moses and Oscar’s life can teach us all:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts;
it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete,
which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. . . .

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.. . .

We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders;
ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future that is not our own.

I have to tell you that this is one of my favorite prayers. And it’s one that Kevin and I have thought a lot about over the past several months as we knew our official time at Feed the Children was coming to an end.

For like Moses at first, we were unhappy, maybe even a little angry, that our time as your leaders would end. For as much as we loved you and felt a part of your family and were so thankful for our shared work—we wanted it to go on and on for several more years.

It’s like that with the good things in life, isn’t it? We want them to go on and on forever!

But last February the pathways of God became very clear to Kevin and me—that the choice God was asking us to make was to step aside. Feed the Children needed a new leader.

And we only had one choice—even as much as we complained and bargained with God and cried a little too— and that choice was to say yes to God’s wishes, not our own.

And like the prayer I just shared with you, this is what Kevin and I most know.

Feed the Children never belonged to us.

It always belonged to God.

For, Kevin and I were just co-workers with you, not your messiahs.

Jesus, my friends, has always been our leader!

And though the work of ensuring that no child goes to bed hungry is incomplete, the mission lives on.

And it lives on in you, until it lives on in somebody else.

For all of us accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the glory that is God’s work.

All our efforts in this life simply are foretelling a future that is not our own—but God’s!

So, when I think of all that is to come in the days for Feed the Children as you continue to do God’s work in this place, I only have two words for you.

Choose Life.

Choose the work that God has entrusted you to do in this place.

Choose to listen to promptings of the Holy Spirit. Do not get beaten down into pettiness or selfishness in this place.

Choose to put the children first in all you do—isn’t that what this beautiful new brand has taught us all?

And choose God, knowing that as you do our Lord will be faithful to lead you all the way.

Know that this is exactly what Kevin and I want most for our lives as we plant them back in our home in Washington DC. We want to choose life too! And like Moses once proclaimed, we declare it to you today as well:

Be strong and bold; have no fear because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.

So, this is not a goodbye, but until we see you again. May God continue to bless us all.

AMEN
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I’ve been a part of all kinds of baptismal services in my life—my own when I was baptized as a child in my father’s church in Tennessee at age 7 . . .

The ones where babies have been brought forth to be claimed in the waters by their parents . . .

And, the ones at the sick beds of those who are dying and ones by faith professing teens and adults who want to claim Jesus for themselves . . .

But I have to say the most memorable baptismal service I’ve ever experienced happened two months ago when Kevin and I were in Nairobi, Kenya.

One of the joys of our work with Feed the Children is that wherever we go, I get to be known as the unofficial pastor of the team.

Sometimes this means staff ask me to pray for them or their families that are sick.

Sometimes this means I get to enter into the deep waters of God related conversations.

And then sometimes I am asked to baptize people—something I never expected would occur.

As our relationship with the children’s orphanage in Kenya has grown, we learned there were several children who never were baptized and wanted to be. But no pastor was around to do it.

These are kids that grow up learning about God and God’s love for them, but don’t have the opportunity to be a part of a church community, where baptism would normally take place.

DSC_0062So on our last trip (and as part of the staff Christmas worship service), four children and one staffer from the US came forward for baptism.

As I thought about all the traditional things that are said at baptismal service about being supported by your family and having your parents by your side at such a momentous occasion, I was sobered in my planning of the day.

For these kids did not have parents. Most of them had no known biological relatives—that is why they were there in the first place.

We even had to make our own certificates because I couldn’t just buy some at Christian bookstore. All of them contained a slot where parents were listed. And of course we didn’t want them to feel isolated or uncared for in any way.

So what did this liturgy I was about to perform mean?

First of all, started with what every other baptism ceremony began with: repentance.

These children know understood who Jesus was and wanted to follow Him in their life. They knew they’d already made choices that were less than God’s best for them in how they treated their peers. They wanted their life to to be about Jesus' teachings. DSC_0076

So in the service, each child declared Jesus to be Lord to the gathered community—even those with learning disabilities.  It was awesome (in the truest sense of the word!) how clearly and passionately they projected their confession.

And then, it continued with the naming as I placed water over their heads and said, I now baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.

Though these were the words that I are ones I say at every baptism and have been said through the centuries by other clergy that have gone before me, I knew in this room with these children it was different.

For in baptizing them in God’s name and reminding them that they were God’s child and their life belonged to God—they were beginning a brand new story.

And not that all of us who are baptized don’t begin this same story but that with them—this newness was all the more profound.

This is why: no longer were these children orphans. They were adopted, adopted by Christ Jesus Himself, the adoption that Paul would later write about in Ephesians, chapter 1:

God predestined us for adoption to sonship (and daughtership) through Jesus Christ . . . 

Can you imagine the scene? Getting to tell a child who was abandoned by their relatives, “You are an orphan no more.” POWERFUL!

And the same is true of us—all of us who have followed the example of Jesus into the waters of baptism—no matter if that day was one we remember or it was a covenant made on behalf of our parents for us as a baby--- we too have been given a new identity.

I'm so glad for the witness of these kids and how they helped me see in this ritual in a whole new way. I, too am, God's child and in my own way-- an orphan no more!

DSC_0097P.S. The reason we all had on Feed the Children shirts that day was for the staff photo afterwards. It wasn't like we were proclaiming the church of Feed the Children or anything 🙂 

Jambo (hello) from Kenya.

IMG_2129For the past two weeks, I've found myself traveling in East Africa to participate in the work of Feed the Children.

I've taken early morning flights. I've brushed my teeth with bottled water. I've visited primary schools. I've watched the sun set over the Indian Ocean. I've taken lots of pictures for FEED's social media. I've helped to cook Thanksgiving dinner for 50 kids. I've sorted Christmas presents. I've eaten more chips (french fries) than I should. I've held babies, lots of them.

In all of these things, I'm learning.

I'm learning about the importance of traveling with lots of vitamin C, good shoes and your own plane blanket.

I'm learning about having throw-up cloths near by at all times when holding babies, and never to underestimate the power of showing a child a picture of his or her face (what joy!).

I'm learning that slowing down is the way of life in Tanzania and good tea is everything you dream it to be and more in Kenya.

It's my 6th trip to the region since 1999. My East African country list includes Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda as well as having flown through Ethiopia on multiple occasions. This region feels more and more part of my life every time I visit. In fact, the Feed the Children staff now greet me when I arrive, "Welcome home!"

I'm learning that when an African says, karibu (welcome) they really do mean it and want you to feel a part of their lives and space. IMG_5454

I'm learning the sweetness of friendship is so very possible here, even if there were so many reasons to be disconnected.

But even more than this, this preacher on the plaza is learning about my faith, the faith that I want to have in Jesus.

Coming to Africa reminds me that the Jesus I think I know isn't wrapped up in my American citizenship. Jesus always crosses racial and language divides. Jesus always leads us to the stories of the most vulnerable and ignored. And  then asks us do something about what we hear!

Most of all I am learning to not be surprised when Africa opens my heart, like no other place on earth can.

To new friends.

To eyes that tell stories.

To shocking possibilities.

To hope.

One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott says this: “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.”

There's so much I'm hoping for here.

For more children to be well-fed.

For nations and their leaders to be at peace.

For my own heart to live into what has eternal value.

Africa: what a classroom!

I'm so glad I'm here.

10712759_10152763079399168_7227613690826189916_nWhen people observe your life from afar, it's real easy to make assumptions. Social media helps us with this. We don't actually have to "know" people in real life to be Facebook friends or to have a Twitter relationship. And we can all comment . . . on everything.

The culture of "Christmas (brag) letters" used to only happen in December. But, now it happens daily. Just open your browser and you'll find somebody's accomplishments to be jealous of--

What you see in public is not always what you get. We all know this. But we all like believing the lie.

I've experienced this first hand as a pastor, but especially since 2012 when Kevin became the President of Feed the Children.

Since this time, more and more people have followed our work online. They've said nice things about our partnership. They've commented about how natural we look with all the children surrounding us. They've told us how jealous they are that we get to travel so frequently.IMG_1013

From the outside all has seemed rosey. Yet, this is the nature of leadership, especially in spotlight. Those who are leading you--  you don't know them, the way you do others beside you in the crowd.

And, yes, there are "rosey" things about our lives. We are thankful for the blessings, but . . .

There were days in the past couple of years, when I didn't know who was going to win: Feed the Children or our marriage.

You haven't seen the sleepless nights. You haven't seen the tears. You haven't borne witness to the "Oh my God!" moments where we couldn't bear to speak to one another a single word.

But as Kevin and I kept fighting for us and remembering to look one another in the eye with affection, the blinding light in this crazy public spotlight got easier to bear. We spoke aloud where our marriage began and Feed the Children ended. We negotiated everything, one moment at a time.

And step by step, we've found our way.

So, as Kevin and I approach our 7th wedding anniversary on October 27th, I am in a celebratory mood for all that has been, all that we've figured out together, and all that we've fought for. (I'm so glad we'll find ourselves together in the same state to mark the occasion).

Most of all, I'm proud of us.

Our union is by no means perfect, but it's solid. It's got a great foundation that has carried us through the dark times.

I admire and respect Kevin. He's the only person I'd willingly wonder aimlessly through the grocery store with (note: I hate wandering aimlessly through anything). I find his presence in my life to be so comforting when I run into something in a parking lot coming home with yet another dent in the car (he never yells at me). For there's no one who can talk me off a ledge like he can. There's nobody I'd rather ask after church today: "What did you think of my sermon?" And I believe in his own words, he'd say the same thing about me.

And for better or worse, our shared calling is to Feed the Children right now. But more than this, our partnership is about something greater and it comes from God.

Happy anniversary, Kevin! I love you. And you're looking younger all the time!

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What does it mean to be in global community?

It's a question I've asked myself a lot lately.

In August, I made my third trip to Africa in the last two years. I will go again by the end of the year. The Addis Abba, Ethiopia airport feels as homey to me as the Chicago or Atlanta one does now.

Over the course of all of the traveling, the people I've met along the way have stayed close to my thoughts long pass my departure time. They've become friends.

I've become vested in their wellbeing and theirs in mine.

I've prayed for those with sick grandmothers. I've celebrated with dear ones over babies born. And I've taken joy in the life updates that come from all of the online programs that help us stay in touch these days. It's the beautiful part of what global community is about. (And I'm so thankful to Feed the Children for giving me this experience!)

And, so lately I've been wondering specifically about the Ebola outbreak. Though it has only affected those who live in the West African region and I frequently travel to the East-- still I've watched the coverage (and lack their of) with vested interest too. I want my friends and friends of friends to be ok too.

Last week, I wrote an op ed that was carried by the Associated Baptist Press. I thought readers here might be interested in it too. Ebola, if we say that we are part of the global family of faith-- we can't ignore it:

Early in August, I traveled with a Feed the Children delegation to Kenya to visit school feeding programs and a Nairobi orphanage, as I now do about twice a year. Part of my morning routine while there and for most Kenyans is reading a national newspaper. The headlines contained a single story: Ebola, the ruthless and deathly virus is infecting thousands in the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

I’m sure such a headline would have not made it into my newsfeed at the time if I had not been in Kenya. Though a contagious disease, it was still an African problem. Why would Americans be asked to care? Read the rest of the article here.

And join me in supporting organizations that are on the ground now doing something about it!

Check out Direct Relief, Doctors without Boarders, and IMA World Health.

IMG_0023My mind has been dragging and my heart has lingered in this week and half that I've been home from Kenya. Thus, the reason the part 2 of this series has taken me so long to write.

When the faces of such precious people are fixated in your mind, like these to the right, you just stay put for a while. The joy washes over you and you don't want to leave the moment. 

What can I say in response to a place that captures my heart so much? How can I adequately describe such an experience? Inadequately of course.

I left Kenya this time, the same way I leave Africa every time: full.

Full of new ways to articulate my own story.

Full of new discipline for my daily routines.

Full of new drive to do everything I can to support the mission of Feed the Children.

And most of all, full of love for the people for whom we serve and serve alongside. God gave so many saints to the ministry of Feed the Children and I couldn't be more grateful to know them.

So what can Americans learn from not being in America?

with member of parlimentHere are just some of my additional thoughts:

I've come home with these convictions on my mind asking might there be a better way to be a citizen of this world?
 
Might there be a way of living, even in the land of plenty, where I do not waste so much food and opportunities for life  enrichment?
 
Might there be a way of living that values relationships over that next overpriced vacation or that new light fixture for the dinning room or that new car that we really don't need?
greeting guestsMight there be a way of living that sees Africans (or insert a cultural group other than my own) as completely equal partners in this work of learning how to be a human being, even with the differences? 
 
I want to find more of this way of living-- the eyes wide open kind-- even as I am at home now. 
 
Knowing that there are prejudices in me still waiting to be uncovered, judgments of my eyes that need to be brought to light and misconceptions I have about other colors of skin that need to be called out. 
 
Being an American has given me (and maybe you too) so many gifts.  Freedom to be is a beautiful part of our citizenship.  
 
But, may we all not forget that we're not the only ones with blessings.We may be materially rich but we are oh so spiritually poor. 
 
Our African, Asian and European brothers and sisters have much to teach us out of their blessings too. 

This week, I'm on travel with Feed the Children. Kevin and I have come to Africa to support the launch of the new Feed the Children brand  and do some other important work as part of moving the mission of this organization forward.

It's been a joy for me to reconnect with the larger FEED family and put my feet on the soil of a nation that I adore! I've tasted again ugali and greens and some of the best tea you can find anywhere on earth. I've hugged some babies who were crawling the last time I saw them, but now are walking! And I've been given the given some amazing gifts of love and acceptance by co-laborers here in our great mission of no child going to bed hungry.  

And as I'm having this fabulous multicultural experience, I've thought much about "What Americans Can Learn About America From Not Being In America." So I want to begin to share this three-part blog series with you: 

Pride in one's country-- no matter where this is-- is something most of us share no matter where we live.

To be formed as a human being by a particular culture, language and cultural stories is simply part of what it means to be alive. We all love what we know.

However, what happens when your particular national story grows to be the ONE acceptable take on history?

What happens when your particular nation becomes the ONE acceptable point of view?

What happens when your traditions and practices become imposed on people of other nations as the ONE way?

While I am an American through and through, traveling always makes me quite aware of how Americans-- sometimes even unconsciously-- enter spaces.

We see the world from our distorted lens.

We think we know best-- in most things.

We are so good at giving advice to solve problems, but not staying around to see things through. (Read American foreign policy for the last 50 years if you don't believe me!)

We think the way we eat and bathe and dress is the only acceptable way to find happiness.

Coke and IHOP pancakes anymore? You, don't have a granite tub? How can you live like that? 

We think we can ignore the pain and suffering, the hardships, and the real stories of what it means to be a human being in a places without running water, refrigeration or two cars parked in a driveway.

Because why? We're American! Things are different in our context. Why must we adapt to anything else?

With living like this, we find ourselves with a spiritual problem: we see the world we want to see. We live in a world of blessings. Yet at the same time we are so poor.

In response, I found myself writing this litany of repentance for my fellow Americans (maybe even some other Westerners too). Maybe you might want to join in with in prayer as you read:

_____________________________________________

One: Lord, we confess to you that we've lost sight of how our world really is: a world where mothers must take 3 buses to find work. A world where children make their own toys with cardboard cut-outs in the street without supervision. A world where even the best education can't lift a man out from the slums.

Many: Lord, in your mercy, forgive us.

One: We confess how quickly we are to judge-- to enter as know-ers, not listen-ers. We talk without taking breaths about our plans, our programs, our successes. We assume that hard work and determination is all that a child needs to rise above their parents without ever meeting a child turned away from learning because her school fees weren't paid.

Many: Lord, in your mercy, forgive us.

One: We confess that we adore our ways of living. We like driving big cars. We like eating at restaurants where too much food is served on one plate. We like wasting toothpaste at the end of the tube. We like shopping in big bulk stores for what we already have.

Many: Lord, in your mercy, forgive us.

One: We confess that we like obsessing about problems like colors of cake frosting, wrinkles on our foreheads and the right kind of beer at baseball games. We consider our appearance and our bodily pleasure above all else.

Many: Lord, in your mercy, forgive us.

One: We confess that we money we spend on Starbucks, fast food and take-out dinners that could be better spent on putting a child with big dreams in Africa through college.

Many: Lord, in your mercy, forgive us.

ALL: We confess, O Lord, that as Americans we have fallen short of your best ways for us. Help us take "I" out of the subject lines of more of our sentences. Help us move our money into different kinds of purchases. Before we speak so much, remind us that we're a part of a global family, in which we are just one part. AMEN

Let's face it. I, like so many of you, am addicted to the Internet.

The first thing I do in the morning is check not only my email but my twitter feed, Facebook and Instagram. I also check Whats App and Viber-- to see who has communicated with me in a different time zone over night. I also go to the same the same feeds of Feed the Children's account-- part of my role as Ambassador of Social Advocacy.

(Insert hundreds of other I-Phone encounters in between).

Then, the last thing I do before I go to bed is check all of these things again.

I feel "naked" with my phone and all it's many connective function. I sometimes (ok most of the time) take my I Phone into the bathroom with me. And I feel sad when I have to turn it into "airplane mode" on a plane.

Please tell me that I'm not the only one. 

I know I've found myself with such an addiction because I love words. I love connecting with friends, no matter where geographically they might life. Most all of all I love the "social" feature of relationship building that the Internet offers us in 2014. I also love being able to help Feed the Children grow its community of supporters in this way.

But the problem comes when I am never unplugged.

I say, "I'm working." (which makes it all ok of course).

I tell myself, Feed the Children needs me to monitor the comment section of their Facebook page more than once a day or even twice.

I think that if I keep hitting the refresh button on my email then my life might be changed by what message might come in. (Whatever that means...)

But when time "off" comes what then? Going on vacation is always such a crossroads moment.

And I just had one. For the last two weeks, Kevin and I were off the grid from Feed the Children.

And as fun it would have been to post a picture of our every adventure, I wanted to take a tech sabbath. I deleted all social apps from my phone. I texted less and did not answer calls unless urgent. I tried to be as present as I could to the moments of rest, breathing deeply and seeing new things that this time away offered.

image 4This is what I learned as I was sitting in these beautiful Utah mountains:

1. Moving forward, not everyone needs to know my every pondering, cute story or interesting life event. Privacy is good. Time for reflection and romance is even better when I'm not being so social . . .

2. The world goes on without me even if I don't stay so connected to it. Sure, I missed stuff, but it is ok. If it is really important, I'm sure you'll catch me up, right?

3. Social media professionals ESPECIALLY need to unplug. We need to remember that our worth is more than the clever post we just penned on our HootSuite account or how many likes or shares we just got!

4. I, Elizabeth Hagan, need more Tech Sabbaths, not just the vacation kind.

5. A clearer and less distracted mind is a beautiful thing!

What about you? Had a tech Sabbath lately? What did you learn?

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For all of you internet/ I Phone addicts like me consider these great resources--

How a Break From Technology Changed My Life-- Christine Organ

How to Turn Off Your Phone . . .  --Ellie Krupnick

The Taskmaster's Command (A Sermon) -- Mary Ann McKibben Dana

How many times have you read or visited a blog only to not ever read it again?  I do it all the time. 

It's a painful confession to make especially for someone like me who is a blogger and wants other people to read my blog.

But with so little time in the day and SO many people and organizations fighting for our attention online, if a blog isn't "good" there's a good chance we won't go back. Right?

Yesterday, as part of the Interaction 2014 Forum, I attended a session called, "Why are so many organization's blogs so bad?" It was led by Jennifer Lentfer and Oscar Perry Abello.

Because I am part of the editorial team of Feed the Children's blog, BEYOND, I wanted to know if we might be on the right track. I hoped our blog won't be among the great offenders in the room (and I don't think it was!)

I enjoyed hearing from colleagues from wide spectrum of organizations about why they think so many non-profit blogs are so bad.

Here's some of what the group came up with. A blog is bad if:

1. Lack of thoughtfulness about audience. (Always ask yourself: who am I writing to?)

2. It has too much technical jargon. (Instead write in language the average person can understand).

3. Not using internet writing style of short sentences and paragraphs. (You aren't writing an English term paper).

4. It tries to do too much. (Think one idea. Say and say it well and be done).

5. Shows fear of what really needs to be said. (The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say. ― Anaïs Nin)

6. Copy is not appropriate length. (Think less 400 words for a quick read or more than 800 words for a longer read).

7. Too many voices. (Group blogs are great but is everyone thinking about the same audience?)

8. And last but not least: Uninteresting topics. (Remember it's not all about you. Go back to #1)

I think it's a great list to consider for churches and pastoral blogs as well. We, like the rest of our non-profit friends  can so easily present bad blogs, even with the best intentions.

So, here's my take away from the session at Interaction. Blogs are great. They can be powerful tools for storytelling and platform building. People are much likely to visit an organization's blog than they are a website. So it's important to have them.

But, think twice about starting a blog if you do. It's like a marriage. You have to be all in. And when you do, beware of laziness allowing your blog to move into the bad blog zone. Learn the ways from the blogger mothers and fathers and keep improving your craft all the time. The future of our great ideas to share depends on it!

On June 4th, Kevin celebrated his second anniversary as President and CEO of Feed the Children. It has been two years (gasp) since our lives as a family have been turned upside down by this opportunity to lead and serve. The people, the staff, the countries that have come into our hearts over the last two years have enriched our lives in ways more than one blog post can describe.

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I've met faces like this from Kenya. Christian and Elizabeth And these in the Philippines. 20121109-172058 And these African babies.

1425738_10152117196929809_1922494367_n And speak to groups of children like this in Hawaii. photo And this girl in Nicaragua. 10369733_10152436891899168_2655202626973822695_n

And been surrounded by children like these in Guatemala.

photo

The children of the world, are beautiful, you know. How can your heart not melt? And overflow with gratitude?

This call came to Kevin but I've gotten to tag along for the journey and do what I can to help.

I've gotten to volunteer my time alongside writers like these to help better tell the Feed the Children story. photo I've been able to host such saints of God-- who lead our international programs like these: image And I'm so thankful for these faces and the beautiful memories that have been a part of these two years.