Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Shameless Plug

Well, today's blog post is going to be a shameless advertisement, I'm afraid... I was inspired by fellow Compassion blogger, Lizzie, to open my own ETSY store selling jewelry to benefit Compassion Child Survivor Programs.

Lizzie is an extraordinary sponsor. Not only is she dedicated to the children she sponsors, and running an online store selling items to donate money to Compassion, but she is doing so at the young age of 14!

Lizzie is the very heart and soul of what Compassion stands for--the knowledge and realization that young people really CAN make a big difference in their communities, and across the globe. I so appreciate young people who are willing to go out on a limb, set aside selfish desires, and embrace a lifestyle that identifies with helping others.

So anyway, I was inspired by her own ETSY store, which led me to begin making some paper bead jewelry. As happens with most hobbies that pass my way, my simple "nothing but paper beads and elastic" bracelets quickly veered off into a thousand other directions, so that now I am making wire crochet and illusion necklaces, as well as earrings and children's identification bracelets.

I opened my new little online store Conspiracy of Love (haha, sound familiar?) yesterday evening with a half dozen listings, and more to add as soon as I get a chance between work and caring for my son. Every dollar goes to Compassion Child Survivor Programs, which help care for mothers and babies who might otherwise suffer from malnutrition or who lack access to pre-and post-natal healthcare.

So far I have been able to donate $63 to the CSP from sales made at a local event last weekend, and I have an additional $20 ready to donate this weekend. I'm very excited, and hope that I will be able to generate a modest amount over time for this important part of Compassion's mission.  Please pass the word along!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Go out Weeping

This weekend was my first self-initiated Compassion International advocacy event. It was actually a crazy weekend, full of dancing and teaching, and I was a bit (okay, a lot) stressed out, but it was fun.

Friday night I performed in a World Dance showcase, and I was able to take some Compassion brochures and a handful of child packets with me. I couldn't stay at the table the whole time, so the child packets were only out during intermission when I could be there, but the brochures were out the entire show. I didn't expect a big response, but I was hoping to raise awareness, so I printed some Compassion posters and hung them along with a generous number of brochures. At the end of the night I think about 10 brochures were gone, and I had one person pledge to go online and make a one-time donation. I was actually really pleased with that, considering I wasn't expecting much attention at the event.

On Saturday morning I taught a liturgical dance workshop at our church's women's ministry retreat, and I was graciously allowed to set up a Compassion table at the event and to speak for a few minutes at the beginning assembly of the day. Now, I had all these grand visions in my mind of standing up and delivering a heart-changing 5-minute presentation, followed by women rushing to the small table I had set up outside the door, fighting to grab up the 10 children I had available. 

Ummm. Yeah. Not so much. Instead of delivering some well-spoken, pithy but gripping message about the plight of children in poverty and how little it takes on our end to make such a big difference on their end, I stood up, started speaking, and just as quickly started crying.

Now, let me just say, I speak in public a lot. Not only that, I perform in public a lot. I get nervous, like anyone does, but I don't normally burst into tears. In this case, however, I was so burdened for these children and so desperately wanted to find them sponsors that I just couldn't help myself. My heart was (is) broken for them.

The women at the retreat were very, very gracious and loving towards me. They are my church family, and I love and appreciate them. Even among them, however, I learned that the hard part about advocating for children in poverty is watching people walk past.

As people passed my table on both Friday and Saturday, my emotions went from eagerness to hopefulness to sadness and finally to anger. I began to feel anger towards those who would smile at me but who looked like they were uncomfortable that the table was there, and who would try to avoid looking at the sweet faces on the table. At the end of both days, I found a sponsor for one child, and had raised $61 (through selling some small pieces of handmade jewelry and some random donations) for Compassion's Child Survival Program. It was a far cry from my dream of finding 10 sponsors.

I was really feeling downcast on Saturday afternoon. I felt a bit like I had let Jesus down, and let Compassion down. I felt like I hadn't done enough, especially after reading about other regional events with 50 or 100 sponsorships. I mentioned my day on the sponsor site, and several sweet women lifted me up in encouragement with some really fitting scripture and some poignant insights.

The reality is, this isn't about me. I was making advocating for these children into a competition of sorts. My advocate trainer, ironically, warned me that it was an easy trap to fall into but I really didn't think much about it until this weekend. I can't convince people to sponsor children. I can't change hearts. Only GOD can do that. And His timing may not match mine.

In fact, the whole weekend brought to mind my own Compassion sponsorship experience. I've been staring at a Compassion child on my mother's refrigerator for 4 or so years now, and until recently I never even asked her about him, much less showed an interest in sponsoring a child myself. I was not in a place mentally to commit to a relationship with a child until now--until I had a child of my own and realized the precious value of these beautiful kids. Until I knew the love of a mother for her sons and daughters and could feel so painfully how difficult it must be to see your children suffer because you can't afford to feed them. God planted the seed of Compassion through my mother, but it was through His cultivation over time that I have reached this point in my relationship with the organization.

Now I understand that I may not have found 10 sponsors this weekend, but I found one. One child will receive a letter soon telling him that after an excruciating 6 month wait he finally has a loving sponsor.  His new sponsor told me that she was introduced to Compassion a year ago or so at a concert, but that the line at the table was too long, and she didn't want to make her friends wait on her while she found a child. She said she felt led to sponsor and was just waiting on an opportunity. God put me in her path on Saturday, in His perfect timing, to give her that opportunity. His seed grew and flowered in His time. One child is worth the effort. Jesus knows that one is always worth any effort it takes, that is why he is willing to leave the whole flock just to find the one lost sheep.

I hope that this weekend I have planted some seeds in the hearts of those who passed my table on Friday and Saturday. Whether it's at our Compassion Sunday event in April, or sometime 4 years from now, I know that the seeds that were planted will flourish and grow according to God's schedule. I know that the harvest will be sweet.

Most importantly, I know that my job is not to change hearts or minds or to be convincing or to be "the best speaker I've ever heard". My job is just to show up. To serve as I've been led to serve. To plant the seeds in the garden. God will do the rest.

"Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.  Those who go out weeping, carrying precious seed to sow, will doubtless return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them."

(Psalm 126 v 5 & 6)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Balancing Act

Yesterday I received my second-ever letter from one of my Compassion Kids, this time our correspondence child Florance, who is from India. I was so excited to read her letter and discover that her favorite colors are pink and black, and that she can read and write in English (wow, that makes corresponding so much easier for me, and opens up worlds of possibilities for sharing with her!)

In the same bunch of mail, I also received information about the country of Togo from the Compassion office in Colorado. I love getting these bulletins because it makes it so easy for me to share with my son how other people live. You may recall in one of my earlier posts when we read the bulletin about Burkina Faso, and Michael was a bit taken aback by the houses they live in.

Well, in this bulletin, Michael was very impressed with the way women and children carry vegetables and other goods to and from market--on their heads! After reading the bulletin, we decided we'd try it out and see if we could "make it" in Togo with our sponsored child, Marcelle. We dug a large plastic mixing bowl out of the cabinet and took turns trying to balance it. Michael was getting discouraged until I showed him a photo from the bulletin of a young child who had his basket on his head, but was using one arm to help balance it.

"It takes a lot of practice to learn to balance produce on your head," I told him (not something I really thought I'd ever be saying to my son...). Well, he really took to it, then, making trips to the "market" in the living room where his play kitchen and vegetables are kept and carrying them on his head back to me to "cook."

When we finished "cooking" our vegetables we looked at the photos of the wells the Togolese people were collecting water from, and Michael asked what they were. I explained that not long ago at all people in the United States were getting most of our water from wells, and it was just fairly recently that we had running water in our homes. In fact, my husband and I had well water at a home we lived at about 7 years ago (though it was pumped to the house, we didn't trek miles with it balanced on our heads).

Michael found that fascinating, and he enjoyed pretending to pull water from the well, balance it in his bowl, and share drinking from the bowl with me.

It's amazing how much a small child can learn from a 4 page bulletin about another country when there is a connection with that country. Knowing that we have a friend in Togo that we pray for nightly by name, and that we talk about during the day makes the world seem accessible and interesting to him.

It makes me think, if my 2.5 year old can feel that way about a child from another country, imagine how my sponsored kids feel about our family. We are a current of information and encouragement to them, and we are making the world an accessible and interesting place for them, just like they are for us! What an amazing reciprocal relationship.

I would encourage any family with children (or without!) to sponsor a child, not just for the sake of lifting up a child in poverty and introducing them to the love of Christ, but also for the sake of sharing the joys and sorrows of other cultures with your own children. There is nothing more satisfying to me as a mother than seeing my own child exhibit compassion towards others. I am grateful to Compassion and to my sponsored children for giving me the opportunity to share this experience with my son and husband!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Where's my Slingshot?

Last night as I was trying to fall asleep, my mind was racing with all the things I need/want to do this week. I work 30 hours a week, and my calendar is really full this time of year with projects that are due soon, travel near and far (including my first trip away from my son, ever, which I am dreading), and various types of training and conference calls. I am also a representative on our Civil Rights committee, and a contributor to our wellness newsletter. So things are starting to heat up at work.

Beyond work, I dance, and this weekend is a crazy one. I perform in a show on Friday night, teach a liturgical dance workshop at our women's ministry event on Saturday (and host a Compassion table there, as well), and I will be performing for a hospital fundraiser on Saturday night.

I'm also a full-time mom to my toddler son, and I'm learning to handcraft beads, which I'm fashioning into necklaces, bracelets, and earrings with the hope of selling them to benefit Compassion in some way. Add to that my commitment to writing my sponsored children bi-weekly, blogging, and advocating for Compassion in my community and, whew! I'm really hitting maximum load on my calendar.

So, I'm sitting in bed thinking about all of these things I've packed onto my plate, and wondering what on earth I am going to blog about today, when I just had this small little voice pipe up in my mind that said "Why are you worried? Just pray."

I'll let you in on a little secret, now. I never know what I'm going to blog about until the last minute. Then, I pray about it and the words just seem to flow. I truly believe God is behind the words in my posts, and that I am just a vessel. If only one person is inspired to sponsor a child as a result of my blog, then it has been successful.

Anyway, I took the advice of the little voice, and began to pray about what I might write today. And the image in my mind was one of David and Goliath. Some days, I really feel like David must have as he stood facing Goliath. I feel like that in myriad ways--how will I work through a difficult project at work; how will I manage my afternoon schedule; how will I find places to share Compassion's message... But every time I feel that way, I know that Jesus has my back. He's there, guiding my slingshot. And if the stone misses its target, Jesus is there to pick me up and dust me off, to encourage me to try again.

Actually, Jesus has already defeated the giant for me, on the cross.

Poverty is very much like Goliath to the children of Compassion. Most of them have never known any other life than one of poverty. What a fierce giant to overcome, when society tells you that you are no good, and when opportunities simply do not present themselves. The thing is, David was a child when Jesus used him to defeat Goliath. He was "just" a child. The beautiful thing about the way Compassion works in poverty-stricken areas is that they use the same method Jesus did! Compassion uses children, like Jesus used David, to defeat the Goliath of poverty by changing children and empowering them to change their communities.

Children are resilient in ways that adults are not. Children can regain hope when it seems all hope is lost. Children can adapt, adjust, learn, and love even when they've been cast aside, if they are given a reason to hope. My Goliath may seem big when I have deadlines to meet and errands to run, but my Goliath is nothing compared to what these small children face every day.

The thing is, I can help be a slingshot for these kids. I can be the slingshot that Jesus uses to help defeat the Goliath of poverty that threatens to crush the hope in the lives of these precious ones. I can tell these children, through letters of encouragement, that Jesus has already defeated the giant and that they can have hope in him. And guess what? So can you! So please, please consider sponsoring a child or sharing the message of Compassion with family and friends. Goliath looks small when he's standing next to the cross.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Made with Love

Yesterday my toddler came tearing into the bedroom early in the morning holding a pair of cojoined wooden hearts decorated with stickers and the word "Mommy" written in glitter glue. As all moms know, these precious homemade crafts are the best gifts in the whole world, hands down. No flowers or chocolates or diamonds can compete with these treasures made with love by tiny hands.

I carried that pair of hearts to my office and proudly hung them on my wall, right in front of my computer, so I can be reminded all day long of the great joy God has given me through the love of this little child.
This pair of hearts reminds me of something else, though. It reminds me that children are made with love, as well. Not just the love of two people coming together to create life, for all too often babies are born outside of the confines of loving partnership. But the spirits of ALL children, regardless of the circumstances of their earthly creation, are made with love by Christ. All children are equally loved and important in the eyes of God.

I think about how Jesus must feel when he looks at these precious spirits, honed in Heaven by the touch of his own hands, made with love to grace our planet with some ordained purpose, and I wonder how he isn't wrenched with despair.

Imagine what might happen if my sweet son handed me his homemade Valentine and I took it and threw it on the floor and stomped on it, crushing it into pieces. Or if I just tossed it aside, on the table or in the trash, without so much as a glance or a murmer. Imagine his heartbreak if I said to him "Why did you make this? We don't have room for any more of this stuff around here. Just throw it away. I don't want it." It makes me sad just to think about how he would feel.

But we do that every day to Jesus' precious gifts, whether intentionally or simply by our lack of notice, lack of time, lack of attention. We ignore the plight of the hungry, the needy, the silent, maybe because there are so many that we are afraid to help one because we can't help them all. It's overwhelming. Jesus didn't say we have to help them all. He knows that HE is the only ONE who can help the whole world. But he has equipped us to help just one. At least one. In some way, however insignificant we may think it is. Whether through sponsorship, one-time donation, or just spreading the word that children need help and that there ARE ways to help.

If Jesus walked up to you on the street today and you recognized him (because I think he DOES walk up to us, frequently, and we don't recognize him), and he handed you a gift with a tag that said "Made with Love by Jesus," would you throw it in the trash? Would it depend on the gift? He has already handed us the gift of the cross, freely, without strings attached. Would you refuse his other gifts?

My prayer today is that if you haven't sponsored a child, you would consider lifting up one of Jesus' precious gifts that has been made by love by the Father himself. If you are a sponsor, my prayer is that you will take a moment to write to your child and let him or her know how carefully they have been crafted by the love of Jesus, and how important they are to his heart. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


I don't have too many heroes outside of my family and Jesus. I have never really been "star struck" by anyone, cared much about celebrities or sports personalities, or given a second thought to what the Princess is wearing across the pond.

My mom and dad are my foremost heroes. My dad for his fair and honest treatment of everyone, without regard for their appearance or social status or financial background. When my dad gave you his word, it was as good as gold. My mom is my hero because of her absolute faith in Jesus. I'm constantly amazed at her walk with the Lord and the example she has set for her children.

But aside from my mom, dad, and Jesus (who, of course, is my absolute hero), there is one other person who I regard as a "hero", and that is Mother Teresa.

If anyone can be said to have truly lived the words of Christ, I believe it was her. She was not a beautiful woman, outwardly. But she absolutely shined like a bright morning star with the beauty of Jesus. Her father died when she was only 8 years old, and she left home at age 18, never to see her mother or sister again. She was truly a child of God and no other. She gave over 45 years of her life to the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying--working hand in hand with people (in her words) "that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone." Oh that we should ALL live out Christ's commands to such fullness!

I'll interrupt here to mention the task given to Compassion bloggers this month, which is to talk about which Bible verse inspires each of us to serve the children in the Compassion program. An odd segue, I know, but stick with me and I'll get back to the point...

The verse that inspires me to serve these precious children who have no voice in society is Matthew 5:14-16: "You are the light of the world--like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father."

Mother Teresa, to me, embodies the meaning of that verse of scripture. She was a light among the darkness, a living legacy of the call of Christ to walk among those in need and lift them up. Despite some criticisms of the ways in which she worked, I can imagine that when Mother Teresa entered heaven she was greeted by a Jesus who knew her well, having been served by her in countless soup kitchen lines, slums, streets, and orphanages. If anyone has stored up riches in heaven, I believe it is her.

Astonishingly enough, Mother Teresa was not without fault or doubt, which makes her even more amazing. She has been criticised with regards to the operation of some of her hospitals and charities (but then, it's easy to criticize someone doing the hard work when you aren't in the thick of things, isn't it?), and she expressed many moments of darkness where she felt alienated from Christ. In my mind, those heart-wrenching confessions of spiritual doubt lend an air of authenticity to her faith, and render her willingness to continue her work for Christ even more awe-inspiring.

In her Nobel Prize speech, Mother Teresa said with regards to poverty, "When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied. I have removed that hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society—that poverty is so hurtable [sic] and so much, and I find that very difficult."

Unwanted. Unloved. Is that the feeling the children of Compassion have before they are comforted by the distant arms of a sponsor? Before their parents enroll them in a Compassion center where they learn the love of a God who created them? That is the true poverty in our world. Christians are to be a light among the darkness. Are we too concerned about petty things happening in our own lives, on TV, in the news, on Facebook to be the light Jesus called us to be?

I fail, daily, to be the woman Jesus calls me to be. My soul cries for me to toss aside conventional society and serve compassionately and passionately for Him. Fear, temptation, pride tie me to my comfortable life, storing aside all my "riches" here on earth. Thank God for the love of Christ despite my failures, and for the honesty, faith, and sacrifices of my heroes to help light my own path through the darkness. My prayer is that others will see my meager light, will pick it up, and will light the path of these precious children as they seek the face of Christ through the dark night of poverty. Please consider sponsoring a child today.


Monday, February 11, 2013

The Face of God

A few years ago I had the pleasure and honor of traveling to Rome, Italy. Rome is an amazing place for anyone with even the slightest interest in history (or architecture, or art), but it's even more amazing and interesting if you are a Christian. Aside from Jerusalem, I can think of few other places so meaningful in Christian church history.

As I walked the streets of Rome and visited various relics and cathedrals, I recall searching earnestly for the face of God--for the presence of Jesus--in the things I saw. Surely, I thought, I should feel a sense of awe or stillness in Mamertine Prison, where St. Peter and Paul are said to have been held before their executions. I gazed at the "footprints of the risen Christ" in the Domine Quo Vadis, strolled the roads of the ancient Roman Forum, and wandered the halls of the amazing Basilica of St. John.

In all of these wanderings I felt amazement at the age and the beauty of the ruins and cathedrals...but I didn't feel changed by them. I didn't feel the sense of presence I expected to feel. Stunning stained glass portraits of the Savior graced heavily ornamented walls; extraordinary artwork and statuary lined the halls of the Vatican Museum---all of it breathtaking...but none of it as revealing of the nature of Christ as I had expected it to be.

We visited the Santa Maria in Trastevere, said to be the site of the first place of Christian worship in Rome, the Santa Maria Maggiore where St. Jerome (author of the Latin translation of the Bible) is buried and where pieces of the "true cross" are contained. And, of course, we visited St. Peter's Basilica with its enormous monuments, alters, and confessionals and the tomb containing the bones of St. Peter. I stood in the Sistine Chapel and gazed at the Last Judgment, the face of God as imagined by Michelangelo.
The Footprints of the Risen Christ

Of all of the places we visited, I expected to be most affected by the Scala Santa, or Holy Staircase. The Holy Staircase is said to be the stairs Jesus ascended to his trial before Pontius Pilate, brought from Jerusalem to Rome in 326. The stairs may only be climbed on your knees, and they purportedly contain blood stains from Christ himself. The stairs are protected by wood that is worn and soft from the millions of knees over hundreds of years that have climbed them. I remember crawling up them slowly behind scores of tourists and nuns who had come to pay their respects. And at the top I saw.... nothing. Nothing but more frescoes and a kind sister helping visitors find their way out.

The Scala Sancta
All of the memorable places I visited in Rome were fascinating, beautiful, historically irreplaceable. But despite the beauty, I did not see the face of God I had been seeking in the halls of the Vatican or the nave of the Maggiore or the tomb of St. Peter.

That isn't to say that God was absent in Rome. Oh, I saw Jesus. I saw Him everywhere. He was in the stooped passage of a beggar asking for alms outside of the Vatican museum. He was in the upturned hand of the dirty, homeless woman in the plaza in front of the Maggiore. He was there, passed by, ignored, while Christians seeking His face snapped photographs of what we would think He should look like.

This was a long story all to get around to saying this: I didn't see Jesus in the glorious artwork and architecture and relics in Rome because Jesus will not be contained in the works of man. Jesus is alive! If you want to see the face of Jesus, open up the search page at and look into the eyes of the children there! THAT is the face of the living Christ. Jesus is not a stained glass window in Rome, or a pile of moldy bones under glass in a church. We've poured billions of dollars into erecting fabulous cathedrals to celebrate a living God, but have neglected to feed and clothe and care for the face of Jesus in our midst! We don't need to climb worn-out stairs on our knees to respect Jesus...we need to come to the cross on our knees by stooping to serve the smallest among us!

Jesus made it very, very clear in Matthew 25 that we can see His face all around us. "Then shall the King say to them on his right hand, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me...Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:34-36;40).

When I look at the pictures of my Compassion Kids hanging on my wall, I see Jesus. Where is Jesus in your life?

Friday, February 8, 2013


Just the word "kickball" is enough to strike fear into the depths of my heart. Ok, maybe not quite that dramatic, but I do still remember the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach in elementary school when the teacher would announce that our activity at recess that day would be the dreaded "K" word.

Kickball, for me, was nothing more than an hour long attempt on my part to do the very best I could to avoid ever having to touch a ball. I would linger at the back of the "kicking" line and let anyone and everyone get in front of me (even if they had already had a turn) until the ball finally turned over. I never had to worry much if our team wasn't kicking, because I was always the daydreamer staring into space over in left field, or else I was relegated to a comfy spot on the bench.

It wasn't that I was lazy, or didn't like to be outside--on the contrary! I actually went on to become, among other things, a professional in the forest, wildlife, and fisheries field and a dancer. So, clearly I enjoy the outdoors and an active lifestyle. I'm also fairly competitive, particularly from an academic standpoint, so it wasn't the competition that turned me off.
This is NOT me playing kickball. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

What drove me away from kickball (and every other team sport I ever tried to play) were the social factors involved in team play. I have never enjoyed being beholden to others, so the thought that I might let my team down by missing a kick, or not running fast enough, or not paying attention to the ball was close to unbearable. Add in the social angst of waiting to be "picked" for a team and it was sheer agony.

It's just a fact of life that some people are better at sports than others. I was not one of those people. I didn't like to run, I wore thick glasses that slid down my face when I got sweaty, my poor vision affected my aim and concentration, and I paid little attention when it came to the rules of the game. So, naturally, I was usually the last to be picked--which, for a kid, is pretty much the equivalent of the end of the world.

I was reminded of my less-than-stellar kickball experiences in elementary school in two different ways recently. First, my husband mentioned offhand that someone (maybe a coworker, I can't really remember) mentioned starting up a kickball team and that it sounded fun. No, thanks. I doubt I've improved on my kickball skills over the last couple decades.

The second was as I was working at a Compassion International event table, and I looked at some of the priority children available for sponsorship on our table. If a child is rated a "priority," it means that child has been waiting for a sponsor for a very long time. Some have been waiting for OVER A YEAR.
She's been waiting 252 days!

Can you imagine the pain of watching children come in the door and start sponsorships, while you are still waiting on a sponsor? Can you imagine the pain of being picked last, when you know that your family is waiting for word that you've been sponsored? No child should have to feel the cruel burden of such a long wait. It was bad enough to be picked last for kickball. That made me feel pretty worthless to my team...imagine if you were waiting to be picked for sponsorship and day after day passed with no word. Would you feel like something was wrong with you? Would you question your self worth, your value to the world and your family and to God?

If you are considering child sponsorship, please think about sponsoring a priority child (you can sort by days waiting). Give one of these children the joy of finally being "picked." Jesus said "So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last." (Matthew 20:16 NLT). That probably doesn't apply to kickball, but I feel pretty certain it will apply to these precious children of God.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

What if...

In the hot summer morning, a newborn baby cries out as her mother gives a final push and cry of delight. As the baby is gently delivered to her arms, the mother smiles into the soft, perfect face of her daughter, tears of joy flowing down her flushed cheeks. The moment is brief, however, as reality thunders down around her and she grasps the magnitude of what this baby's birth means. Another mouth to feed. Another impossibly hungry, grasping mouth to suckle and nourish when she herself barely has enough food to survive. Another pair of grasping arms reaching for love when she has 5 other pairs of arms already seeking her, clinging to her, voraciously pursuing her affection. Another spirit hoping, dreaming, wishing...when she has no hope to give, no dreams to nurture, no wishes to grant.

Tears turned from joy to despair now, the mother hands her daughter to the nearest pair of arms and begins to wash herself. Finally clean, she carries her new daughter to the single-room dwelling her now six-member family calls home. Already waiting are 5 pairs of forlorn eyes, hungry mouths, ragged frames. She has no help. Crushed by the shame of being unable to provide for them, her husband left months ago, and she has not heard from him. Overwhelmed with responsibility, the mother considers ending her precious newborn daughter's life. She knows the hardships a young girl will face in her world. She knows the potential for exploitation, for grasping and eager male hands to reach for her daughter's precious body before it is even fully grown; the likelihood that her daughter's sweet spirit will be crushed by the cruelty of wealth in the hands of evil. It is almost more than she can bear.


Then, in the quiet of that hot summer afternoon, beneath the soft hum of insects, she hears footsteps approaching. She peeks out, exhausted, red-faced, swollen, surrounded by 5 curious faces and one sleeping bundle, and sees someone approaching. It is a man. The pastor from the local mission church. She is fearful at first--what could he possibly want from her?

He introduces himself and peeks in at the sleeping baby. One tiny body slips out of the door and wraps withered arms around his leg. He hugs the little boy gently. He is there to offer help, he, love, health care, food, and vitamins for this baby. It is a program run by people who believe that there is a great God who loves and cares for every person, and they want to help her...HER! for her family. He tells her that he can also help her enroll her other children in a local center that will teach them about how to read and write, and about the God that loves them. And they will be fed three times a day--three times!

Though this is a fiction account, it is reality for millions of women in developing countries across the globe. But we can make a difference for these women and children, and we can do so with so very little sacrifice in our own lives that it seems absurd not to help. Compassion International Child Survival Program provides prenatal care, food and supplements, infant survival training, health care, and support to mothers in developing countries. Please consider making a one-time or recurring donation today. As little as $20 can make a big difference in the life of a precious baby.

And, of course, please consider sponsoring a will bless you more than you can imagine.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Medicine Cabinet

I'm sick today. I went to bed last night with that funny feeling at the back of my throat. You know the one--it's a raw, tired feeling and when you notice it coming on you groan inwardly because you know that next comes the achiness, the cough, the fever, the headache... Darn those viruses, don't they know how busy I am?

The fortunate thing is, I can head downstairs and open up my kitchen cabinet and select from a variety of remedies to ease my symptoms. Headache? Good ole' Advil here I come. Nighttime cough? Thanks, Nyquil! Bye Bye fever, here comes the Tylenol!

Even if my son is ill, I have options. I can offer him a yummy concoction of children's grape flavored advil followed by a spoonful of honey to soothe his cough. I can tuck him into a warm bed. If I become concerned, I'm 10 minutes from an exceptional pediatric hospital where he will have access to any variety of antibiotics, steroids, breathing treatments, etc...

Not so for my sweet Compassion kids and their families. In many cases, they lack access to even the simplest of health remedies--access to clean drinking water! In fact, 425 million children across the globe do not have access to safe drinking water.

Children in developing countries are dying daily from preventable diseases like malaria, hepatitis B, measles, tuberculosis, and even simple dehydration from diarrhea. Additionally, acute respiratory infections---much like the illness I'm currently battling--annually kill an estimated 2 million children under age 5 in developing countries.

Statistics like those humble me. I am so terribly blessed to have access to adequate healthcare, clean water, vaccinations. I do not feel guilty about my opportunities, but I do feel a sense of accountability related to those opportunities. Jesus said in Luke 12:48 "But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." Jesus has provided for me, and I believe that the expectation is that I will wisely use those resources and will help others who can not help themselves. 

I am grateful to programs like Compassion International who provide health care to the children enrolled in their programs. Each child who receives a vaccine against a preventable disease is one fewer mortality statistic. Please, consider sponsoring a child.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Get thee behind me, old sweaters!

Stuff... It's running out my ears, spilling from my dresser drawers, and fighting with itself for space on my closet hangers. I know I don't need much of this "stuff" that occupies so much of my floor space, because much of it has been either shoved under my bed out of sight for the past 3 years, or it's hiding in Rubbermaid containers in the attic, or it's crammed in tight spaces at the backs of drawers with no hope of ever seeing the light of day.

In the closet at our front door, coats compete with lovely dresses from a late aunt, the trim from which I thought I might be able to salvage for dance costumes (note: I can not sew). A punch bowl tray with a diameter of what looks like at least a meter (because I host so many formal punch-worthy events) competes against a 3-drawer organizer for floor space. I haven't looked inside the 3-drawer organizer since we put it in that closet when we moved into the house some 6 years ago, but I suspect it contains remote controls and cords from various electronics we no longer own (or that are lurking with the other moldy oldies in the attic).

On my side of our bedroom closet, clothes from fieldwork I completed 10 years ago while working on my master's degree in wildlife science are shoved (mud stains and all) onto a shelf, next to about a thousand winter scarves, hats, half-pairs of gloves, and a half-dozen ill-fitting zippered sweatsuit jackets. Shoes I never wear share floor space with the pack-n-play we haven't used in 2 years. Ironically, I find I tend to wear the same 4 or 5 pairs of pants and 6 or 7 shirts every week, while the rest sits unworn, waiting on someone to "love" it.

When I think about all this stuff, I feel a mixture of annoyance (at the thought of having to sort through it all), gratefulness (at the ability to have bought the stuff in the first place), and shame (at the utter waste of having so much that is going unused). I am also completely overwhelmed.

A recent article in Compassion International's magazine talked about the American phenomenon of "stuff accumulation" whereby we actually need to spend money on storage units to house all the stuff we never use. Good items that could be making someone else's life easier sit unused, molding, or becoming obsolete all across the United States. Obviously, there are times that storage is necessary--if you are in the military or relocating, for example--but for many, a storage unit is simply a reflection of our culture's fixation on "stuff" and our unwillingness to let go. We might need that broken weed eater one day, right? We simply can't sell that cracked tea cup--it belonged to our third cousin twice removed--it's a family heirloom!

The reality TV show "hoarders" is absolutely fascinating to me for this very reason. We in the west are quite literally drowning in "stuff"! But Jesus commanded his disciples to sell all they owned and give their money to the poor. Jesus knew that there was no freedom in the accumulation of "stuff". Freedom is in Christ, not t-shirts, shoes, worn out toys, or long-forgotten souvenirs. Holding on to items that have run their course in our lives is evidence of fear--fear of letting go, fear of confronting the emotions that will come with acknowledging that things change, people die, priorities shift. But the beauty is, God is constant. Jesus never changes. His priorities remain eternally true and sure.

As I consider my Compassion kids, and how little they have, I am confronting the lazy "stuff-itis" in my own life. As I watch my son play happily with a "soccer ball" made out of wadded up plastic bags held together with twine while he ignores the heavily (and effectively) marketed toys piled in the corner, I am re-thinking what we "need" to be happy.

My hope and prayer is that this year will be the "year of the yard sale" at my house, and that I can take that money and use it to help better the lives of my Compassion families, as Jesus commanded. Won't you join me?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

No mama, that is trash...

We sponsor two kids in Burkina Faso, a small landlocked West African country adjacent to Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. 

A couple of weeks ago, Compassion sent a letter with a brief 4-page newsletter containing pictures and information about life in Burkina Faso.  Since we haven't sponsored for very long, we haven't gotten many letters from our children yet, so this was a piece of mail I could share with my 2.5 year old, Michael, to help him better understand who these strangers are that we pray for at dinner every night and that we talk about at home.

I pulled the newsletter out of the envelope and showed it to my sweet little boy.  "Michael, we got some mail about our African friends, Mohamed and Korotimi...would you like to look at it?" I asked.  He was so very excited as we examined photographs of the capitol, looked at the market and talked about how that was like our farmer's market, and talked about the landscape and how it looked different from ours.
Traditional Burkina Faso Huts from Wikimedia Commons

Then we came to a photograph of Burkinabe houses. Traditional Burkinabe houses reflect, in part, the nomadic history of the people, as well as the materials they have available for building.  Most houses in rural areas are made with mud brick with dirt floors and thatch or corrugated tin roofs. While many Burkinabe houses (though of course quite small) appear to my Western eyes to be lovely, in this particular photograph one of the houses had what looked like a piece of black plastic on top as a rain barrier.

I showed my little boy the houses and explained that our friends Mohamed and Korotimi probably don't have a lot of rooms in their houses; they probably have a one-room house with dirt floors, and that they look a little more like a tent.  I pointed at the photograph and said "here is what their house might look like."

Innocently, Michael looked at the picture, then shook his head, "No, mama, that is not a house. That is trash."

My heart broken, I explained to Michael that not all people have access to the same resources we have in our country. He said, "Well, let's bring them to our house, and we can hug and kiss them."

The love of a child.  The simple, sweet solutions of a 2.5 year old.  In that moment, the heart of a child truly humbled me.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Why Should I?

Why should someone sponsor a child in a third world country?

I recently signed up to become an advocate for Compassion International. As an advocate, I will be encouraging other people to sponsor children, and sharing with others the mission of Compassion International. So, I've had to put a lot of thought into the question above: Exactly WHY should someone send money to support someone else's child in an unfamiliar country? Why is it important? What makes this any more important or valid than any other "cause" cluttering up our mailboxes and inboxes on a regular basis?

I think Wess Stafford, the CEO of Compassion International, offers an amazing argument for the importance of ministering to children at a global scale in his book "Too Small to Ignore." Wess grew up in a family of missionaries, and spent most of his childhood in a small impoverished village in Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast). His idyllic memories of his time with his West African friends and family are interspersed with time spent in a boarding school where he suffered abuse at the hands of the very adults assigned to nurture and protect him.

In his book, Wess makes a very clear case for the importance of children to Jesus Christ, and thus to followers of Jesus. Not only were children used as examples for the disciples to follow (And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:3), but Jesus issues a strict warning to his followers "If anyone causes one of these little ones--those who believe in me--to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." Matthew 18:6.

In a world where more people are victims of slavery than at any other time in history (including the pre-civil war "slave" era), children are at the highest risk of exploitation. Unfortunately, a great number of people exploiting these children are Americans. Even more unfortunately, some of these profess to be followers of Christ. How dare someone take advantage of the most precious gifts given to us by God and then claim to be a follower of that God!

Children everywhere deserve our protection, our encouragement, our love. Many organizations help children here in the United States and abroad. I support Compassion International because I appreciate their stewardship of resources, I appreciate the way they approach poverty (by treating the whole person, not just doling out money), and I appreciate the way they support developing relationships between sponsors and children.

That said, I would never want anyone to sponsor a child out of a feeling of guilt. I believe that "Someone who does not know and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required" (Luke 12:48), but I also believe that Jesus wants us to give out of a desire to bless others, and out of our love and commitment to His word, not because we feel guilty that we were born in an affluent nation with a world of possibilities. We have a lot of money, but we are poor, ourselves, in many ways. My prayer is simply if you feel a tugging in your heart when you see the children featured on, or if you read "Too Small to Ignore," or if you feel that you spend a lot of time and money on things that don't really matter, that you would simply meditate on it for a while. And if you hear Jesus speaking to your heart, please answer that call and develop a relationship with one of these dear, sweet blessings to the kingdom. There truly is no higher calling than to love the little children.