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A typhoon has been battering southern Philippines, close to 200 are dead, I cannot imagine the hundreds of thousands more who have lost everything. I was telling Husband last night how the typhoon experience was a normal part of our lives. We could expect a few to come our way every year and at least a few weeks yearly without power and running water. The worst was two weeks, if I remember correctly. Our basement flooded, and we formed assembly lines to bail out the water and toss it out the back. One year our neighbours and friends who lived in the squatter community next door lost their roofs to a typhoon, and I can’t remember how many of them – over 10 – came to our home and stayed there for a day.

Nothing about these experiences were extraordinary to me. I was a child, and typhoons meant we didn’t have to go to school, lots of family games, water fun in the basement and even more time spent reading. Typhoons were fun. The selfish innocence of a child’s mind.

Typhoons are of course not fun, especially if you have a flimsy roof (or no roof) or walls made out of cardboard, and even those who have solid homes will still be devastatingly affected in times like these. And the consequences extend to ruined crops, livelihoods and businesses, in other words the devastation will be felt for years to come.

Dave from the Philippines was our Advent calendar child to pray for last Sunday. He is from Bicol, another region that gets hit with annual typhoons. We prayed for the Philippines, for its children, for Dave, and we pray still for the comfort and solutions that only the Messiah can bring for the people of Mindanao.

We at this meal on Sunday night, not on purpose, I happened to have all the ingredients on hand and a severe need to eat chicken adobo. Every now and then you need to eat food that reminds you of home, of those difficult days made better by sitting down at the dinner table and eating your mother’s chicken curry or tacos or chicken adobo or really, any dish. My Amma was a great cook, and chicken adobo is one of the dishes I remember with fondness. Unlike some of her other dishes – like chicken curry – adobo is not one I have ever tried to make on my own.

It’s a native Filipino dish – I think, don’t hold me to it – full of the classic Pinoy flavours in food, vinegar, salt and sugar. My dad is not a fan of vinegar, so it was significantly toned down in our food if not non-existent, which is why Amma’s adobo is not the typical adobo. But it is still my favourite. Mine unfortunately did not taste like hers. It had a wonderful flavour, but it wasn’t home. It is an easy, cheap meal and one that I think is quite satisfying.

  • Chicken Adobo  (based on a conversation with a Filipino friend in Geneva, Jamie)   I sliced a few cloves of garlic and tossed them into some hot oil in a deep frying pan (or a pot will do). I added seven chicken legs and let it brown a bit on one side, then I turned it over to brown the other side. Then I cracked salt and pepper over the top and sprinkled 1 tablespoon of granulated brown sugar over everything. I added a 1/2 cup of water and let it cook for a minute or two. Then I added 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (it’s what I had, I think white vinegar would be better) and three tablespoons of soy sauce. I stirred it all together, covered it and set a timer for 10 minutes. Every ten minutes I flipped the legs around just so that both sides got to sit in the sauce. I think I let it cook for around 40 minutes (to let the flavours really fill the chicken) with the final 10 minutes without a cover. We at it with brown rice and steamed green beans.
  • A note about the flavours – the essentials here are garlic, sugar, soy sauce and vinegar, but I would say that the proportions are entirely dependent on how you want your adobo to taste. So the one I grew up with had very little vinegar, maybe even no vinegar, and a lot of sugar. Mine has a low to moderate amount of sugar and a low quantity of vinegar because I too am not a vinegar fan. The amount of water is also up to you. I like having a nice thick sauce for the rice and the chicken, so that’s why I added water. It’s not essential, and you could make a drier version of the dish.

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 Before he told raging waters to be still, before he fed 5,000, before the blind saw and the lame walked, before there were prostitutes, tax collectors and fishermen, before the nails and the whips and the thorns, before all of this, he was a baby, he was a child.

What is he thinking about when he looks at the babies and children of the world today? Does he remember what it was like to be hungry, naked, tired, afraid? 

What would he think of their toys and games, the sleep training books, the swaddling debates and pacifiers? What would he think about their hunger, emaciated limbs and distended bellies? What would he think about their attitudes and tantrums? What would he think about their labor and slavery?

Come to me, all of you, Jesus would say, just as he said 2,000 years ago, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. 

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When fear rises in a little boy’s heart in the DRC as he hears the sounds of death and guns and bombs, Jesus remembers running with his parents to hide for his life.

When there is no food to eat again and tiny tummies quake with hunger in Somalia, Jesus remembers 40 days without food and water.

When a child in Gaza prays in the night for peace, Jesus remembers being far from his true home, alone in a cold, hostile, violent world.

When little girls in Cambodia are beaten and exploited, Jesus remembers the sting of the lash and the nail driven through his wrist and the betrayal of his friends.

He didn’t have evergreens, and there was no bunting of glass balls around the manger. Yes, he knew the safety and security of his mother’s embrace, but he didn’t know – or maybe he did, please no theological debates – that they were in a stable, stinky, dirty, dark and unhygienic in every way. He didn’t know that his parents had very little financial provision, he didn’t know that someone was going to try and end his life before it had barely even begun and that his first two years would be spent on the run.

He was a baby. He was a child. And he knows what it was like to have nothing and to be in danger, and when the chorus of cries from exploited, abused, neglected and unwanted children rise to heaven, he collects them all because he knows.

This Advent season, we are letting our cry from this corner of Switzerland join with theirs. As a family for the next 24 days, we will have a different country to briefly look at daily and take a few minutes each day to pray for the needs of its children. Because he was a baby, too. He was once a child, and this year this is how we prepare our hearts for the coming of the perfect Messiah who remembers all of our weaknesses and knows all of our pain and came to bring life to everyone who would receive him.

Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free. From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. 

I’ve updated this post in December 2013 with details about how I made the Advent Calendar.

Just today Syria went offline completely with the Internet cut off and mobile phones disrupted (you can read here what that means). Heavy fighting today shut down the airport in Damascus. One suggestion here is that this could mean someone somewhere is gearing up to do even more unspeakable things in Syria with the hopes of the news not getting out of the country.

If you are a praying person, could you take a few minutes right now and ask God to intervene in Syria?

Try as I may, I cannot escape the intensity of some of my thoughts in these weeks that lead to the end of the year. I had every intention after last writing about politics to write about food, Thanksgiving, our fabulous turkey (sweet tea brine. best. thing. ever. the end).

That’s not going to happen today because try as I do to escape the things that break my heart, I can only run so far.

Have you been reading the news?

Get into it. There’s a smorgasbord of heartache in the world today.

As you read this, Damascus burns and Bangladesh buries its dead. My head is still full of Goma and Palestine, imagining the dead, the sadness, the impossible trauma of life being on edge again and again and again. Of Palestinian parents and the impossible grief of not being able to protect your child from senseless violence. Of the women raped, children forced into war, and men murdered in the DRC.

These aren’t the thoughts that I want this week, I would prefer to come home on a Tuesday night and have a sweet drink with Husband on the couch rehashing our day. That’s not what happened last night. I came home, he had been reading about street children in the DRC kicked out by their parents because they – the child – was accused of witchcraft. Yes. Witchcraft. A small child. Out of a home. Rejected by parents. Nevermind the other horrors of life for children in the DRC. I spent the evening reading, looking at pictures and weeping because there was no shield that could have kept these sickening truths from breaking my heart.

For a moment I couldn’t look away. For a moment I didn’t look away.

I’m trying to be practical here, and because Advent is coming, here are a few of my thoughts.

Gifts

The last thing I can think about right now are presents. Yes, I love to receive and give gifts, but the magnitude of the human suffering around me suffocates any desire to spend money on people who already have everything they need. Because if you are reading this and have a computer that you own connected to the Internet that you payed for, chances are, you already have everything that you need. And that includes everyone on my gift list.

Husband and I talked last night about different gift ideas, sponsoring a child on behalf of someone else, giving from a gift catalogue and I’m sure there are other great ideas out there.

Here are a few catalogues:

World Vision

Tear Australia

Every Child Ministries (work in Ghana, Uganda and the DRC)

Adoption

A little random, yes, but it is on my mind constantly, and when I think about all the anti-abortion people from the U.S. who are disappointed by what they think the abortion situation is going to look like for the next four years, I have a great idea for you:

  1. Support a couple or family who is adopting – financially, emotionally, practically, spiritually
  2. Adopt – it’s not for everyone, and it should never be done as a political statement or as a cause, but I remain convinced that adoption is singlehandedly one of the greatest gifts we could give ourselves and give the orphans of the world. Kristen Howerton wrote after a trip to Haiti, “The lack of family is the greatest form of poverty.” YES. Every child in the world was created to be in a home where he or she is lovingly cared for.

Let me be perfectly clear – there are a lots of ways people who are anti-abortion can further their cause in a political landscape, but anyone who claims to be against abortion and does nothing toward furthering the cause of adoption is simply a hypocrite. 

Most of you who read this will not be adopting – no problem. But this Christmas consider supporting a family you know who is adopting or an organization who helps families adopt.

Pray

What started Husband on his Internet search for information last night about the DRC was reading from Operation World’s section on it. My parents introduced this book to us as children, and we loved learning about the different countries of the world, the unique cultures represented and the ways we could pray for each place. The book is full of information about organizations that work in each country and the needs that exist (and as an extra bonus, you get a good geography lesson).

Small One will wake soon from his nap, and our afternoon activities will commence after that as I am drawn out of these stories of heartbreak and into the world of books, toys and hide-and-seek, a world I love and thank God daily for its simplicity and purity. No, there isn’t much I can do in the DRC except give and pray. For now though it is enough. Sometimes our greatest limitation is only that we cannot do what we want to do. How much greater our influence would be if we would only realize that we can always do something, it is never too small.

Something is always better than nothing.

There is a good chance that this post is going to offend many of you, perhaps even all who read this, so my humble request is simple: please read, pray, think, pray some more and think some more before you come to any conclusions. The thoughts represented here are from over a decade of thinking about the topic of abortion. For the sake of clarity, I do not like the terms pro-life and pro-choice, so I will be using the terms pro and anti abortion, and in the interest of full disclosure, I am firmly anti-abortion.
Nausea comes before the first kicks, your breasts grow before your belly does, the inconsolable tears will be yours first before it is baby’s, and the incomprehensible exhaustion hits before you ever have a sleepless night with a newborn. Pregnancy is a potent cocktail of physical and emotional insanity, and when you experience it for the first time, you will not ever know what hit you. I certainly did not when the first two lines appeared and whispered Small One was alive inside of me.

What followed were weeks of nap taking, fighting nausea, daily tears that seemed to come out of nowhere, trying to understand how my body was changing and why I felt the way I did, excitement about the future but also crippling fears about whether or not I could parent, how this would affect our marriage, our dreams, our plans, our future. And we wanted children, our wedding vows included a part about them: “I commit my heart and my life to welcoming children into our home, seeing them as welcome gifts from God to be treasured, enjoyed and taught.” I said those words on July 12, 2010, and September 17, 2010 began the testing process of whether or not I would live those words.

Then came the doctor’s appointments, from six weeks to eight to 12 to 16 to 20 and so on. The experience of being examined, ultrasounded, weighed, my body discussed like it was medical matter  was not the supposed sacred experience of carrying a child.

It was my first pregnancy that led me to this truth – pregnancy integrates a woman’s physical body, her emotions and her spirituality, and yes, it is a deeply profound experience, but it is also a tender, fragile, fearful and vulnerable time.

And it was this way for me in a loving, secure marriage where children were desired, we have a secure life in Geneva, and all of our medical care was more than taken care of in the most luxurious way possible.

I cannot imagine the crippling fear that a woman would have when she sees a positive pregnancy test if she did not have a committed partner or does not want a baby. Add to that the way her body is changing and in full pregnancy mode, the emotions involved, and the shattering she must see as she looks into the future. I know because in small measures I felt these things, but I felt it in a safe cocoon of Husband’s love.

It wasn’t until I experienced pregnancy that I realized to be genuinely anti-abortion you need to be more than pro-baby, you have to be pro-woman. This is the problem I have today with the large political operation of the anti-abortion movement. It is full of pro-baby activists, pro-baby arguments, pro-baby policies, but there isn’t a lot for women.

(I’m aware of the work done by thousands of crisis pregnancy centres in the United States and elsewhere with dedicated and compassionate volunteers, so I am not talking about this part of the anti-abortion efforts, I am specifically referring to the political and religious aspect of these conversations.)

1. We need to face abortion’s realities

Abortion legislation is not the problem. Abortion is, and it will not go away with a piece of legislation just like it did not come into play with a piece of legislation.

Roe vs. Wade did not start abortions in the United States; it legalized abortion. The process of terminating pregnancies existed prior to that. As a small personal example, in my History of the Middle Ages class in university, I read a first-person account of life in Rome (a book I cannot remember now), and it included the story of a woman who reportedly had multiple abortions. This was between 500 AD and 1000 AD. My cousin is a doctor who used to work in Sri Lanka, where abortion is illegal and a prosecuted crime, and she told me that in the one ward of the hospital she worked in, every week there was a woman there because of a botched abortion.

I am not saying that legalizing abortion makes it safe for the women who want them – I am not saying that at all. I am only saying that abortion legislation is not enough. If you consider yourself to be anti abortion and think that electing officials to any level of your government is enough to take abortion away from your community, you are completely and totally wrong.

Legal or not abortion is something we will all have to deal with for the rest of our lives.

2. The people who form the anti-abortion message need to change. 

To put it simply and straightforwardly – why is it that Christian men need to be the ones forming the anti-abortion message? The conversation about abortion needs to take place between women. I think that the strong message of “protecting the life of the unborn” comes out of the natural male instinct of protecting their spouses and children even though it is also espoused by women in the anti-abortion movement.

I appreciate and thrive partly because of Husband’s protective nature toward Small One and I, and in the context of our marriage, it’s a wonderful thing.

But when it comes to the broader topic of communicating our perspective on abortion to the world including and most importantly to women who are considering an abortion, our first message needs to be to her. About her. For her. It needs to be crafted with sensitivity to the personal and private experience of pregnancy, to the deep, intimate feelings she is experiencing, ministering to the tragic losses that are ahead of her. Before she can even begin to consider having a child (and/or keeping a child), she needs to be able to come to terms with what she is losing in the process.  

Can I just say it again – I was in the best possible situation to be pregnant, but I had huge concerns and fears about my own life and how it was about to change, concerns that far outweighed my concerns for how our little baby was progressing. If you’re about to write me off as a selfish, uncaring mother, you go right ahead and do that, and if you want to write of women who consider abortions when pregnant as selfish, you go right ahead and do that. While you do that, please keep in mind that you won’t be saving any lives – women’s or baby’s – in the process.

If we ignore the deepest concerns a woman has when she is pregnant and considering an abortion, we will lose our window to speak into her life about the negative impact an abortion can have on her life and her baby’s.

A new message needs to be created by Christian women for all women.

When women talk to women about abortion, it can sound  like this and like this: (from Ann Voskamp)

“I had six children when I sinned.” And I turn, wrap an arm around her shoulder, draw her in.

I had an affair…” Her words snag and tear and I hold on to her as she starts to give way. “I got pregnant. And I couldn’t handle what I had done.”

I try to swallow, all my sins stuck and lodged and burning there in my throat. Oh, sister. The sobs wrack and we are two women caught in the act of living and sinning.

“And the day I was going for the abortion, a friend gave me this.” She nods her head towards that book with the nest on the cover.

“She gave it to me — and she said what I couldn’t handle… was actually a gift.” And I can hardly take this, have to look away, take my shoes off, tear my coat, beat my chest.

“And I read and I agreed with God and he is.”

And there on the screen of her phone –  she offers this picture of a smiling baby boy.”

It is graceful, sensitive, tender, empathetic and compassionate. And this is what women need to hear when it comes to the topic of their body. They do not need to hear that it’s not their body (it is their body). They do not need to hear that it’s not their choice (it is their choice). They do not need to hear that the baby is more important (it’s not).

Can I make a suggestion for the male Christian leaders out there who feel the need to protect the lives of the unborn? Why don’t you talk to the men in your congregations? You don’t think they need the message? Read this and guess again (What every pastor should know about sex and abortion in their church). And let’s not forget men in general, what about them? Why isn’t anyone talking to them? Pregnancy is not a one-woman operation; no woman gets pregnant on her own. For every abortion that the anti abortion movement blames on legislation and women, there’s a man somewhere who is equally culpable.

Yes, it’s unfair that men don’t get a say in a woman’s decision to abort. Yes, I am more than certain that there are hundreds of guys out there who are heartbroken because their partner aborted a baby they wanted to keep and others still who never even knew about the life they fathered.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the abortion message to men from Christian leaders is virtually nonexistent. 

Dear Male Christian leaders and pastors, please devote your passions and energies to communicating to men about the impact of their sexual choices on women, on babies, on culture. Create a message for men about what they can do in the face of an unexpected pregnancy. Counsel them to be supportive fathers, financially and emotionally. Counsel them to stick around if their partner gets pregnant. They don’t need to be told to get married, indeed that could be the worst advice of all, but teach them to take personal responsibility for the children they father whatever their age may be. And tell them that if they’re going to be sexually active, they need to include fatherhood as part of their plans.

Leave the abortion discussion with women to us women.