Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Mother. Myanmar. Teddy Bears.

In recent months, I've seen seen the power that social networks have to bring people together and cause real, positive change.  So please allow me the chance to boost the signal for this very special opportunity in my life.

I love getting the chance to describe my mother to those who have never met her. I usually open with the statement: “If God was going to create a teddy bear, it would be exactly like my mother.” She’s tenderhearted, full of compassion, and there’s nothing quite like her hugs.

She’s been using all of those things in her career as a nurse. In fact, most of the children who grew up with me going to retreats or summer camps in the region simply know her as “Nurse Stephanie.” (This is true of children who grew up after me too. She kept volunteering long after I had grown up.)

Last fall, my mom told me that one of the things on her “bucket list” was going on a mission trip. She told me that it had long been a desire of her heart to use her nursing gifts to help women and children in a third world country. She asked me, “If the opportunity comes, would you go with me?” Without hesitation, my answer was yes.

Long story short: A few months after she shared this with me, she was asked to join a mission trip going to Myanmar in October of this year. The trip has a few components, but the most important one to me is that my mother is going to have the opportunity to serve as a nurse in every city we visit. And I will have the distinct honor to serve alongside her.

This trip itself is an answer to prayer, but I would be so grateful if you partnered with me in prayer for this trip: for the itinerary to run smoothly, for the women and children we are going to serve, for my mother as she journeys to a strange land for the first time, for the two of us to grow through this experience.

And here it is: I’m usually too self-reliant to ask, but would you consider partnering with my mother and me with your finances? The trip costs $3,000 per person and the bulk of the money is due by July 1st. Donations are tax-deductible and can be sent to to WWCM (World Class Cities Ministries) at 6499 Wesley Ln, Elkridge, MD 21075.  Please indicate "Stephanie Leake Mission" on your donation. Any resources that go above and beyond our traveling expenses will go toward supporting the orphanages we will visit while in Myanmar.

The awkward part aside… thank you for reading. I decided to post this on my blog simply because I wanted to share the news. So whether it’s through your thoughts and prayers, or though your finances (or both), thank you for helping me help my mom. I am really looking forward to introducing a whole new set of children to her teddy bear hugs.

Friday, May 18, 2012


I stood there at the counter, watching the consignment store manager.  Because of a postponed yard sale, I had decided to try out the whole consignment process.  But one by one, nearly all of my clothes were relegated to the reject pile.  "Well....if these were a better brand."  "These just aren't in this season."  "Maybe if they were made of better materials..."

Better brand indeed.  Humph.  I smiled, thanked her for her time, and went to a place where I knew my clothes would be welcomed with open arms.

I drove straight to Goodwill.

And in that moment, a still small voice spoke to my heart:  Regardless of how you might label or brand yourself, in those times when you wish you were made of better stuff, when you are judged and placed in the rejection pile... take heart.  You were designed on purpose, and there will always be people who can be blessed by who you are and what you can give.

After all, what did that angel declare on a starry night so long ago?  "Peace on earth, Goodwill toward men."

It may be a silly thought.  But I hope it can be an encouraging one just the same.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. ~ Psalm 139:14

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


The first thing I do when I open my jar of almond butter?  Give it a good stirring.  Because if I don't, there's a nice little layer of oil right at the top.  And I'm not after just the oil, I want a rich and crunchy spoonful of almond butter.

Oil separation is natural in organic butters.  (Peanut butter, almond butter, etc.)  As they sit still in their jars, the nuts naturally settle to the bottom while the oil rises to the top. 

But it got me thinking.

About sitting still, and getting separated.
About the benefits of being stirred up every once in a while.
About the need to have oil blended over, under, around, and through all the parts of my life, and not just sitting on top.

I've always known I'm a bit nutty.
(I'm thankful for a God who stirs.)

"I will show you my faith by what I do." ~ James 2:18

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


I'm a notoriously light packer.  Maybe it's from flying on standby so much.  I never know what flight I'll be on, or what route I'll take, so I pack everything in my trusty duffle bag and backpack.  Perhaps I shouldn't call myself a "light" packer, because I can fit quite a bit in those little bags.  Carrying them through airports (or through cities--true story) can make them heavy indeed.  But I'm stubborn about it.  It's my stuff.  I'll carry it with me.

My stubbornness has come in handy a time or two.  Once, I had to bail on a flight because the pilot abandoned the plane.  He landed it, but then walked away and disappeared without a word, leaving a planeful of anxious travelors who needed to make international connections.  Thanks to my ability to read between the lines of the announcements, and to the kindness of the operations agent, I was able to grab my carry-ons and make a whirlwind drive by taxi to another airport where I caught the last seat on the last plane to my destination.  Whew!  (But that was also the trip where I discovered just how heavy bags can be when you have to carry them across a city.)

On one of my few trips when I knew both my starting point and my end destination, the first flight was too crowded for me to take both my carry-ons.  I was only allowed one personal item.  Everything else was checked through to the final destination.  I was super apprehensive about it.  But I had no choice other than handing over my trusty duffle bag.

Much to my surprise, it was glorious!

For the rest of the trip, I felt so light and carefree!  I had room.  I didn't have to wrestle with the overhead luggage bins.  I didn't have to carry things through airports.  I didn't have to sqeeze myself and all my goodies into tiny European bathrooms.  It was wonderful!  And when I made it home, my stuff was right there waiting for me.

We all have things that we are carrying with us through life -- baggage.  It's not an unfamiliar metaphor.  And we've all been encouraged to unpack our baggage, or to leave things at an altar.  But here's a new picture for you.  What if instead of seeing our stuff as "baggage," we pictured it as "luggage"?  After all, some of my most painful memories (my heaviest bags) seem to stick as close as the overhead bin, and get heavier the further I have to carry them. 

What if I made the choice to check my bags all the way through to their destination?  After all, at the end of this journey, everything I have (the good and the bad) is going to be laid at the feet of my heavenly father. Rather than carry it all the way there, I'll just send it through and leave it at his feet now.   

I guess it's the same principle.  But sometimes the mental picture makes all the difference.  And this one lit up my heart because while I don't know what route my life will take, I do know where I'm from and where I'm going.  I won't be leaving my baggage luggage somewhere for me to go back to. From now on, I'm sending it on ahead.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” ~ Matthew 11:28-30

Friday, May 11, 2012


I was praying and got this beautiful picture in my heart. 

There's something special about light breaking through clouds.  Those beams of light just seem to automatically inspire a sense of triumph, awe, glory...hope. 

Did you know that they have a fancy name?  They're called "crepuscular rays."  In fact, here's the definition:

Crepuscular rays ( /krɨˈpʌskjələr/; also known as God's rays), in atmospheric optics, are rays of sunlight that appear to radiate from a single point in the sky, specifically, where the sun is. These rays, which stream through gaps in clouds or between other objects, are columns of sunlit air separated by darker cloud-shadowed regions. The name comes from their frequent occurrences during crepuscular hours (those around dawn and dusk), when the contrasts between light and dark are the most obvious.

It's totally ok if you skimmed through that.  I just love how they are also known as "God's rays." Because that's usually what I think about:  God's presence breaking through.  An "ahhhh" moment (the kind that requires a triumphant soundtrack).  The rain stops, the clouds part, and....ta-da!  Something glorious.

Here was my thought:  My life is little more than vapor.  A bit of cloud.  And though I want to do so much, or be so much, maybe the best thing I can do is just get out of the way and let God's glory shine all the brighter through my brokenness.  To let the hope I have inside my heart spread like crepuscular rays into the world around me. Cutting through the rain, the despair, the darkness...and pointing right to where the Son is.

"For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away." James 4:14
"He must increase, but I must decrease." John 3:30

Thursday, May 10, 2012


There are messages in my inbox that are plagued by a specific kind of writer's block.  Those emails that I put off writing because I want to so desperately to say the perfect thing. 

Sometimes it's because I was the recipient of an epic update, or a heartfelt message, and I want my reply to do it justice.  I want to give a meaningful response, or share something semi-epic of my own.  But at the moment my brain can only handle "Hi! I exist." So I put it off.  Sometimes it's because I have something I really want to say, but I just can't figure out how to do it.  And it doesn't have to be something complicated.  It's amazing how hard it is to say simple things too.

Then it happens.  If my writer's block delays me long enough for a few other messages to come in, the email I really want to reply to is pushed down the line and disappears behind my preview pane.  From there it's out of sight, out of mind.  It could be days, or weeks, or months, before I stumble upon it again and think "Oh my goodness!  Did I really not reply to that?  I thought I had.  How did I miss it?!"

I could easily lose count if I tried to tally how many times this happens in my life.  Please tell me I'm not alone in this battle. (I'm pretty sure I'm not.)

The thing is, my friends don't care if I say the perfect thing. I don't care if my friends say the perfect thing. Letters don't have to be epic. In fact, simple messages are fantastic. I'm completely happy to receive, "Hi! I exist!" messages from my friends. All this pressure is self-induced.

And then it struck me that I also do that in my prayer life. 
How many times have I delayed talking to God (really talking to him) because all the other noise in my inbox drives his message down below my proverbial preview pane?  I want to say the perfect thing or impress him with an epic update.  Or I can't figure out exactly how to casually say the simple thing.  So I put it off.  Not that I'm not aware that his presence is there, or that his message is there.  But I let writer's block cripple the conversation.

But just when I was gearing up for a self-induced guilt trip, I was also struck by the reassuring thought that even if it takes days, or weeks, or months to get back to it...The simple, glorious truth is that God probably gets just as excited about my simple prayers as I do about those genuine messages. (Even the simple, "I exist" ones). 

I don't know if that all came out right.  But there you have it.  I'm challenging myself to guard my prayer life from becoming a cluttered inbox.