Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 - year in review

2013 has been one of the most difficult years of my life, and one with the most change.

In January, we were seriously struggling.  My husband had been out of work for almost 9 months, and the couple of possible jobs he had been offered turned out to be horrible experiences that only destroyed his self-confidence more.  We were relying on my measly teaching salary as our only income, which didn't cover our bills.  We were going deeper into debt and having to rely on our families to help us cover our expenses.  It was devastating to our morale. I would spend hours every day searching for and applying for jobs, for either of us, all to no avail.

By mid-February, I was getting desperate for extra work. I finally convinced my husband to let me email the director of our church's elementary school to ask if she needed substitute teachers.  I had met her while working the sound board for a women's ministry event she spoke at, so I wrote her the email. Later that week, we picked up substitute applications for both of us and kept praying God would open doors for my husband.  A few days later, the director emailed me again asking if I had any desire to interview for a temporary floater position that opened up on the preschool side when one staff member fell and broke her arm. I had never worked in a preschool, but we were desperate, so I said yes. 

I was hired as a temporary full-time employee on February 21st. It was challenging, especially with my working two jobs and my husband still out of work. His depression was pretty deep, and I worried a lot about him.  He was given the opportunity to sub numerous times, which was helpful for us both.  We also realized that the director could be a good reference for future applications, which was a plus, since she thought he was phenomenal.  After about six weeks, I was invited to stay on for the rest of the school year due to some staffing changes.  Near the end of April, Mom fell and broke her leg right below the hip - the exact same spot my grandmother had broken six years ago.  She had successful surgery, but we knew then that the cancer must be spreading again.  We knew things wouldn't probably get any better this time. At the end of May, I was brought in to the joint school office and given a promotion.  So for the summer, I was teaching online and working the closing shift at the school. 

Around the time I transferred into the office, Mom and Dad made the decision to stop treatment and go into hospice care.  The oncologist only kept suggesting aggressive chemo, but there was no real hope that it would prolong her life.  The decision to go into hospice was not unexpected, and Mom was in relatively good spirits. 

In July, I had finally convinced my husband to apply for some teaching jobs outside of our local district, because we were still seriously hurting for money to pay bills.  He eventually was hired to teach high school English at a charter school in a poor part of town.  He was scared and nervous about his ability to do the job well, but we knew we didn't really have any other options.  It took forever for him to get to sign the paperwork - it was almost three weeks from his interview to the time that they asked him to come to the school to fill out hiring paperwork, then he had to apply for a different fingerprint clearance card (they made a special new category for teachers), etc. But he finally started work the last week of July. 

The fall semester has been a busy one, and a challenging one. For the months of August and September, my husband would leave for work around 7 and not get home until around 6 or 6:30 p.m.; I would leave for work around 9:30 a.m. and not get home until around 7 p.m.  And of course, I am still teaching online, so I'd have grading to do in the mornings and/or evenings most days.  Cooking dinner was a serious challenge, as we both would want to rest and head to bed. Near the end of September, we got the call that Dad thought Mom was heading downhill.  I had suspected that the cancer was in her head for a few months, because one of her eyes was not tracking any more; in photos, it looks like she was cross-eyed.  Most likely the cancer was pushing her optical muscles, preventing her from seeing normally. 

A few days after that phone call, in the midst of serious questioning as to whether I could get home in time to see her, I got a message from my brother, asking if I was okay.  I thought that was especially sweet, since we rarely talk at all. While writing him back, I got another message telling me this person was sorry for my loss. My heart stopped when I realized that Mom must have died and no one had told me. A few minutes later, I got the confirmation. The world hasn't been the same since.

The next week was a blur, working, flying home, having Mom's funeral on my birthday, flying standby and having to wait an extra day to get back home. The next weekend, my husband and I had planned to head out of town for a long weekend, and my bosses were nice enough to let me go. The following weekend, we drove to my grandparents' (mom's parents) for their 70th wedding anniversary. October was very busy... In the midst of all of the craziness, my coworker left and I was promoted again; except this time, no one took my place in my old position, and so now I do everything for both positions without any help. It also meant a change in my shift, from closing to opening.  So now I am up at 4:30 a.m. most mornings, at work by 5:30 a.m., and often don't end up being relieved so I can go home until I've worked far more than 8 hours.  When I get home, then it's time to work on my teaching job, trying to stay on top of grading as my students submit their work. Needless to say, I'm pretty exhausted most days.

November was just exhausting for both of us, with work taking up pretty much all of our time. My in-laws came for Thanksgiving, and I was spending a lot of time at choir practice preparing for our cantata.  December brought more work, two Sundays of singing (both at our home church and at the church we partnered with - the church my parents were members of when I was born), lots of time on worship team, and, finally, Christmas.  Dad came out in November and spent some time with us before heading out to my grandmother's.  He came back for the cantata, then headed to my mom's parents' and to see my brother.  He came back again with Grandma for Christmas day, and now is finally on his way home. 

As I sit here tonight, my husband is in the Midwest with his family; he flew out the day after Christmas.  I've learned in the last two days that I can't fall asleep without him here.  It's quiet and lonely here, so I've been trying to stay busy working on a puzzle, reading, playing a video game, etc. Today has been especially hard, with my husband gone, a huge migraine that began by 1 p.m. and hasn't gone away yet, and the fact that today would have been my parents' 40th wedding anniversary.

2013 has been a hard, hard, hard year. I'm grateful for God's provision through all of it. I'm especially grateful that I had six days shy of 32 years with my mom. But I'm ready for a fresh start. I'm ready to say goodbye to this year and start 2014 new.  God says that He is making all things new - I need to embrace the new, find my place again. 

Goodbye, 2013. May 2014 find us healthier, happier, and closer to God.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Gifts

If you are struggling to decide what to do for your loved ones this Christmas, I'd like to propose that you do something for others in their honor in place of traditional gifting of things.  I have three organizations that I love that would truly make a difference in the world.  Each of these organizations has a Christmas Gift Catalog on their website:

1) Compassion International -
Some of my favorite gifts that will go to needy families around the world:

**Safe Water for Life - for $79, give a water filtration system that can provide enough clean water for an entire village for over 60 years.  Yes, you read that right - for over 6 decades, with simple maintenance.

**Care for an infant for one year - for $55, provide medical care for a new child for the first year of life.

**Provide Shelter / Support - for $42, provide shelter, food, and clothing for an orphan or abused or exploited child for one month.

Or, of course, you could sponsor a child for $32 a month and help provide food, education, and love each month.

2) Gospel for Asia -
This was my Mom's favorite charity, and so I just donated in her memory for Christmas. Some of my favorites:

**A pair of Rabbits - for only $11, provide a pair of rabbits that will be a source of income and food for years.

**A pair of Pigs - for $65, provide a pair of pigs that can produce up to 20 piglets a year; each piglet will grow to be over 200 lbs within 5 months, and will be a source of long-term income and food for a family.

**Provide for widows and orphans - for $75, help missionaries provide for widows (who are often blamed for their husbands' deaths in SE Asia) and orphans

**Mosquito nets - for just $10, you can provide netting that will protect a family against mosquitos, helping to prevent malaria and even death.

Or you could sponsor a child for $35 a month, or sponsor a missionary for $30 a month.

3) World Vision -
I received their catalog this last week, and used to sponsor a child with Mom when I was a kid. Some of the more interesting gifts here:

**Drought-resistant seeds - for just $17, you can provide a family with hybrid or drought-resistant seeds to help stave off famine and starvation.

**Multiplying gifts: World Vision partners with companies that agree to multiply your donation by a certain amount.  A couple that I like a lot are:
*****Life-saving Medicines and supplies - you give $60, they multiply it by 10 to provide $600 worth of supplies.
*****Clothing - you give $50, they multiply it by 10 to provide $500 worth of clothes

**Help sexually exploited girls - for $35, help provide food, safe shelter, counseling, medical care, and vocational training to women and girls rescued from human trafficking.

Or you could sponsor a child for around $35 a month.

Mom felt strongly about the importance of blessing others when God has blessed us.  My pastor quoted someone a few weeks ago in his sermon: "Do for one person what you wish you could do for everyone." 

This Christmas, will you join me in doing for at least one family in need what I wish we could do for every family?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Grief is hard

Grief is hard. 

It sneaks up on you when you least expect it, overwhelming you and threatening to bring all else to a standstill.  The things that bring grief to the surface are not always what you'd expect, and some things that you'd think would spark an outpouring leave you nothing but numb.

In the past two months, things that have brought me to me knees with grief have been as varied as the stars, my cell phone, hearing a certain person singing, folding laundry, and discussing Christmas decorations and traditions.  Over Thanksgiving, I started sobbing while folding laundry because it reminded me of my mom laughing every year because her mother always sent her (and Mom's siblings) underwear.  Mom used to laugh and joke about it, because she was over 50 and still getting socks and underwear from her mother.  I was a wreck because I was folding underwear, but Mom wouldn't ever do that again. 

I never know when the grief will strike.

The holiday season is really difficult for me this year.  My in-laws were here for Thanksgiving, and I tried so hard to get into the spirit, since it was always my favorite holiday. But I think I wasn't that great of a host, between work, migraines, and grief.  It just wasn't the same.

I haven't got into the Christmas spirit at all. It just hurts.  Looking at everyone's decorations reminds me of Mom's decorations.  Looking at Christmas lights in the neighborhoods brings back memories of all the years driving around on Christmas Eve because Mom loved it so.

I'm going to be alone for a week right after Christmas, and I'm not looking forward to it. Time alone is time that I normally would have been on the phone talking to Mom. I don't do well alone these days.

I know Mom is perfect and happy. But it hurts so much to have lost my mother and my best friend.

As I said, grief is hard.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


It's been exactly 6 weeks since my mom left this life to be with God.

I wish I could say that it's gotten easier, but it hasn't.  I routinely burst into uncontrollable sobs at the drop of a hat.  I couldn't handle sitting through a church service for pretty much the whole month of October. Today was our first day back in church since October 6th.  (Granted, we were out of town two weekends in row, but still missed church two other weeks.)

I managed to get through church without sobbing, which was excellent, especially considering I was singing in the choir and playing piano for all three services.

I feel like I go from being so wholly overwhelmed by grief to being so busy that I can't think of anything but the task at hand.  Two weeks after I got home from Mom's funeral, my co-worker at the school announced she was leaving for a new job.  I was offered the promotion into the administrative assistant/office manager position, and after talking it over with my husband, accepted it.  That left me with exactly 3.5 days to train before my coworker left.  I've been in the position for exactly two weeks and have been completely exhausted by it.  I hardly ever get to see my husband, since he doesn't get home until 6:30 most days, and I'm brain-dead by that point. We are definitely going through a rough adjustment period. The upside to all of this is that I'm too busy to spend the whole day sobbing.  But I am more than happy to have the day off tomorrow.

We're heading into what is usually my favorite time of year - Thanksgiving.  I confess that I'm having trouble getting excited about the holidays this year.  It just doesn't seem the same without Mom. I don't know what it will be like to not be able to call her and talk about dinner menus and cooking techniques and football and whatever else we'd end up discussing.

I am not looking forward to the holidays without Mom, but I definitely want to honor her this winter.  I just made my Wish List on Compassion International's website.  Every year, they have a gift catalog to help those who are in most need of help.  The last couple of years, my parents and I did not give each other gifts, but chose gifts through Compassion or Gospel for Asia in each other's honor instead.

I'm hoping that anyone who wants to honor my Mom's memory will choose to give instead of receive this year.  Think of all the good we can do, all those we could help if we'd be willing to give up our own gifts and help provide medical care, food, clean water, shelter, education, and disaster relief for the least of these!

If you are interested, please click here:

And hug your loved ones, remember to tell them you love them.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Not really lost

My mom left this world and entered heaven at 8:48 p.m. on Sunday, September 29th.  It was both unbearably expected and yet completely sudden.

I still am struggling to realize that the phone call I made the day before was the last time Mom heard my voice before she left. I told her that we were okay, and that I loved her with all my heart. But I still wish I could have talked to her one more time.

My husband and I flew back East three days later, thanks in no small part to our church family here, which supported us by helping us obtain stand-by tickets for about 1/4 the regular price; one couple taking care of our kitties while we were gone, combining to give us around $300 in cash to help us with "incidentals," and the church offered to pay our mortgage for this month so we could use the money to get home. We were wholly overwhelmed by the generosity of all involved.

Being home was hard. It was hard staying in the house without Mom in it. It was hard seeing all of the things that Mom had bought me over the years - like the stuffed animals she would get me when we went on a trip together or for special occasions, books that we had read together, so many memories filling the entire house.  I tried to do what I could, cooking my best casserole for the entire family for lunch on Thursday.  It was nice to spend time with the extended family, but sad as well.

Thank goodness for baseball.  It served as our escape most days.

The service was on my birthday.  It was an oddly surreal experience.  My brother wasn't able to be there, so I called his conference number at work, put my phone on the podium where the minister would be, and he listened in for the entire service.  I tried not to sob, but I couldn't stop for most of the service.  I had to tell a few of Mom's closest friends things that I thought she would want them to know. I barely got through that.

The world isn't the same.  It's a bit skewed, suddenly. My beloved desert wasn't quite as beautiful. Food just doesn't taste quite as delicious. I find I look at the stars more often, but instead of thinking of the majesty of God's creative work, I wonder what Mom might be doing in heaven.  I find it hard to concentrate on, well, anything.

I know I'll see her again. I know that she is perfect. I know that she is in perfect joy with her Savior. I know where she is.  In that way, she's not truly "lost."  But she's far away.

But I'm selfish, and want to call her and hear her laugh and tell her how much I love her. I miss her every minute. And now I have to figure out how to move forward without her advice and humor and love to guide me.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Nearing the end

Last night, about 30 minutes after I got home, just after my husband and I finished our late dinner, my phone rang.  I knew immediately it wasn't good news, because it was my dad calling.  And considering that it was around 10:30 p.m. Eastern, my heart just sank. 

Dad told me that it looks like my mom's cancer fight is nearing its end. She is rarely awake for more than a few minutes, is barely eating or drinking, and gets very agitated when asleep, crying out for her mom often.  The hospice nurse doesn't expect that Mom will be with us for more than a few weeks.

I had thought that, seeing as how I have been bracing myself for this part of Mom's journey for four years (the four-year mark of hearing the word "cancer" is on Wednesday) that it would be easier, less painful.

I was wrong. The long, slow trudge toward the end is no less painful, no less devastating because I knew it was coming.

Please pray for us.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


"If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." ~James 1:5

Wisdom is one of those things that we desperately need right now.  Everything just seems so uncertain.  The biggest question in my mind right now is: when do I need to go be with Mom?  It's not an easy question to answer.  My brother, grandparents, uncle, as well as another aunt & cousin have all gone to see Mom since she went on hospice care. I'm one of the only ones to not be there at all. 

I live a good 3 days' drive or one long day of at least two flights away. I don't have any vacation time and don't really have any personal time to speak of for job #1/2, and we don't have the ability financially to go anyway.  So the question becomes: do I go now while Mom's still aware and still has time left, or do I have to wait until it's the very end to say goodbye? I have no idea what to do.

From what I have gathered from Dad, Mom is definitely in a decline.  The hospice nurse confirmed that Dad was seeing what he thinks he was seeing.  Obviously no one can say, "that means you have exactly 4 weeks left," but she did confirm that it looked like Mom was starting the stage where patients begin to withdraw and food becomes less important, and the weakness is bad enough that she can't get up and down or walk on her own any more.

This has sent me into a bit of an emotional tailspin.  I read a short booklet (really, a long pamphlet, as it was only about 16 pages long) that called what I'm experiencing "Anticipatory or Expected Grief."  Apparently, it's common for families living with a family member in hospice care.  It's exactly what it sounds like - grieving for the expected loss before it actually occurs.  The pamphlet described it well - rehearsing the death of your loved one in your mind, feeling intense guilt because society expects that you only grieve for a short time after the fact, experiencing all the physical symptoms of grief but feeling a need to hide the pain for fear of others thinking that you somehow want your loved one to be gone already, and questioning how you will move forward after the eventual loss.

The pamphlet didn't really give me any ways to cope with this grief - which I've been dealing with for just under four years now.  (It will be four years since we first heard the diagnosis of "cancer" on October 3rd; it will be four years since the diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer on October 16th.) But at least it made me feel like I'm not completely insane... says the woman who completely broke down within the first five minutes of our church service this morning and spent most of the sermon trying to recover her composure.

Anyway, wisdom is definitely needed these days. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013


So I haven't written in a long time, mainly because life has been really, really stressful, and I figured no one needed to hear about all of it. But since Jayne asked, here is the cliff's notes version.

Work: I'm working two jobs, and am beyond exhausted.  For three months I was an assistant teacher/floater at the preschool our church runs.  I worked 40 hours a week, but it was supposed to be a short-term gig. Ultimately, they asked me to stay on, and three weeks ago they promoted me to one of the two office staff.  So now I work 10-6:30 five days a week, plus I still have my part-time college teaching gig.  I was trying to pull back from my volunteer duties at church, but seem to be pulled back in each week. (And next Sunday begins VBS... which I'm in no way ready for...) My husband is still unemployed, and hasn't had a response in a long time, despite applying to more jobs than we can even count.  I keep praying that God provides something for him soon, because I am so ready to go back to only working one job, and really need my husband to feel good about himself again.  We trust that God is fully in control, but we are so ready to be done with this season in our life.

Family: My parents called in the middle of last week and told me that they have made the decision to place Mom in the care of Hospice.  Essentially, medically there is nothing more to be done.  The oncologist's only suggestion (actually, his only suggestion for at least the last six months) was aggressive chemotherapy.  But considering the progress of Mom's cancer, there wasn't any real promise that chemo would improve her quality of life, and wouldn't necessarily prolong her life much, either. So a hospice/home health nurse has been assigned and is beginning to help Dad with Mom's care at home.

I go back and forth between being at peace and being an emotional wreck. On the one hand, I've been expecting this ever since Mom's diagnosis 4 years ago.  I thought it was going to come that Christmas, when things were going so horribly.  Knowing that Mom's suffering might finally be coming to a close and she'll be able to go home to Jesus is not a scary thought. But on the other hand, I'm in emotional turmoil.

I told my husband the other day that I'm grieving, and have been for 4 years, in a sense.  When Mom first got her diagnosis, I grieved for Mom's pain.  I grieved for the loss of a potential future that I had expected to have with her. I grieved for the spiritual and emotional turmoil my parents were in.

But then things improved, Mom was doing fairly well, and was well enough to help me plan our wedding and was my de facto wedding coordinator.  When things started to get worse earlier this year, I feared that all the progress she had made might be slipping away. Once her leg broke and she needed surgery to repair it, I was sure of it. As things got worse, my grieving changed. It has been mainly about the loss of our relationship as it had been, the loss of my best friend as she was unable to talk with me the way we used to do, and as it got harder for her to be the person I have known for 30 years.

Now, with the decision to go to hospice, I'm grieving again, in a new way. Now, it's grieving the loss of hope - at least for this life.  It's grieving the suffering that I know is here - for Mom, for Dad, for my brother and me, my grandparents, and all those who love my parents.  It's grief for the suffering that I know is still to come as we approach the end. It's grief for knowing with certainty that Mom will never live to be a grandmother, that she won't be there if and when God allows us to become parents.  It's grief for the future that Dad won't have with Mom.

This new grief is more certain, less rooted in my natural pessimism and more in medical fact.  Perhaps that is what makes it so much more gut-wrenching. Before, there was always the hope that we could keep the cancer at bay for a few more years.  There was the hope that I was looking too much at the negative, in the hopes of sparing my heart the trauma of a sudden turn-around.  But now, we know that the medical options are done. It's now solely about trying to get ahead of the pain to help her have a better quality of life for however long she has left.

I don't fear for Mom in death - I have confidence that "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord," as Paul said so beautifully.  But I dread the slow walk to death, for her and for all of us.

So this is where we are. It's been a hard, hard year. But I will still rejoice in the LORD, will praise Him for providing for us.  I know that I know that I know that He is good, and that He loves us, and He is wholly in control, even of Mom's cancer.

I could never do this without Christ, or without the amazing man God gave me to two years ago.  He is my partner and my strength, always ready to hold me and pray for me.  I am so grateful for my husband, for his strength, and his encouragement. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Speak up! Proverbs 31:8

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute." ~Proverbs 31:8

My life is very blessed here in the U.S.  I have always had a roof over my head. I've always had food on the table.  I've always had enough clothing to keep warm in the winter.  And I've known Jesus since I was a child.  My parents carefully taught us about God, about what Jesus did for us, and how much He loved us.  I've had education (too much, perhaps) and have had jobs to earn money by for the past 16 years.

But my heart breaks. It breaks for those who have none of these things.  It breaks for the child whose life has been destroyed by AIDS, or the child who has been sold into slavery by parents desperate to raise enough money for medicine for a sick sibling.  It breaks for those dying from preventable and treatable diseases because they don't live near clean water.

My heart didn't always break.  At least, not this much.

As a child, I wanted my mom to sponsor a child in Ethiopia, and we did so, but I easily went on with my day without thinking of him.  In college, I co-sponsored a little girl in Honduras with a friend, and we enjoyed writing to her and receiving her letters, but my world was not seriously engaged by hers.

But in the past year, my heart is now breaking.  It breaks for the little boy we sponsor in Mexico who cannot attend school because he does not have a birth certificate, and so he still cannot read or write at 7 years old.  It breaks for the little girl we sponsor in Ghana whose mother works as a chop bar attendant and cares for 5 children on her own.  It breaks for the girl for whom I serve as a correspondent sponsor, wondering whether she will be able to make her dreams for the future come true.

The verse that spurs me on, the one that pushes me to write about them and to them every two weeks, and the one that tells me that my heart is breaking for what breaks the heart of God is Proverbs 31:8.

I first noticed it while reading Too Small to Ignore: Why The Least of These Matter Most, by Dr. Wess Stafford (the president of Compassion International).  He mentioned the verse in passing early on in the text, and I immediately wrote it down and decided it was my next scripture memory verse.  Only later in the text did I learn that this is the verse that is inscribed on the walls at Compassion's headquarters in Colorado. 

As soon as I read the words, it was like God whispered to my soul, "See, this is what I want from you.  I've given you so much and blessed you so much, you cannot remain silent when others are desperately in need of me.  Of food. Of shelter.  Of medicine.  Of freedom."

And so, I have decided: I will speak up.  I will not allow the suffering of others simply be an academic consideration.  While I might not be able to travel abroad or work for an organization that specifically meets these needs, I can speak.  God has given me a voice and a platform and a passion.

What about you? Will you speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review of "Too Small To Ignore"

Over the past four days or so, I read Dr. Wess Stafford's book, Too Small To Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most (2007).  Stafford is the current president & CEO of Compassion International.  (Though I believe that he is set to step down soon, after serving as the head of the organization since 1993.)

The goals of this book are three-pronged:
  • To relate the lessons Stafford learned while growing up as a missionary kid in Nielle, Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa in the 1950s/1960s
  • To move the reader to compassion for children - not only children living in extreme poverty, but all children, everywhere
  • To make a systematic case - based both in Scripture and in personal experiences as a child and the head of Compassion - that children are the most important people in the Kingdom of God. 
Stafford seamlessly interweaves stories of his childhood among the Senufo peoples of Cote d'Ivoire with his case for children.  Many of the stories of his childhood are charming and laugh-worthy.  He tells goofy stories, like his people's fear of bottles of Coca-Cola (the first one opened exploded from sitting in the hot sun, and they refused to go near it after that), or a hilarious event that involved the men of the village and frilly nightgowns & negligees from the US.  He reveals his own vulnerabilities when he relates his praying every night as a child that God would "turn him black" so he could look like his best friends in the village, and the disappointment he felt each morning when he checked his arms and saw that he was, sadly, still a little white boy.

Some of the stories are heart-rending.  For nine months of the year, he and his sister and the other missionary children from their mission organization were sent to an English-language boarding school.  There, they were subjected to horrific verbal, physical, and sexual abuse for years.  Stafford describes the spiritual and emotional consequences that he and his classmates suffered from that abuse - many of them, long into their adult lives.  If you can read the two chapters and afterword that recounts this abuse and not have your heart utterly shattered, I'm not sure that anything could reach your heart. 

Throughout the book, Stafford consistently insists that the kingdom of God elevates children to positions of utmost importance and thus, cannot be ignored by the Church.  He also insists that the ultimate, spiritual root of poverty is the belief that you do not matter, have no worth, and have no future.  Stafford - who has ministered everywhere from Cabrini Green in 1970s Chicago to Rwanda after the genocide to the most remote parts of Asia - knows that poverty is an extremely complex issue.  He discusses the multi-pronged factors that contribute to nearly 50% of children around the world living in poverty.  But in the end, Stafford argues convincingly that the first step to changing lives is to show them that they are valuable, loved, and important.  He explains that poverty and abuse both rely on planting the seed that the person is, in the end, worthless. 

This book has the potential to change your life.  At the very least, it should change your heart.  As a child of the Living Christ, you cannot look at children the same way again after reading Stafford's manifesto.  It is nothing less than a call to compassion and love for the least of these - those whom God holds in the highest esteem. 

Get this book. Read it.  Discuss it.  Use the Bible study/Discussion questions at the back of the book. You can start changing the world, one child at a time. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Comfort & Afflict

While reading Wess Stafford's book, Too Small to Ignore: Why the Least of These Matter Most, I came across a phrase that's been on my mind.  On page 30, he wrote this:

"On one side of this international bridge, my role is to minister to the poor, to 'comfort the afflicted.'  And then I cross the bridge, coming back to the Western, more affluent world, where my role is to speak and write to 'afflict the comfortable.'"

I love this sentiment.  It resonated with me, because I feel like this is part of what God's calling me to do as well.  I long to comfort the afflicted - to provide security and love and hope to those who have none of these.  But I also want to afflict the comfortable.  I know I have only a handful of readers (and at least 3 of them are family members!), but my hope with the last few months of posts has been that something I'd write would help prompt those to whom God has given much to see where they can impact another person's life tangibly.  I long to be doing more, and wish I had the gift of writing that moves people emotionally. 

I don't know who said it, but it's true - God never promised that following Him would be easy; He only promised to never leave us to do it alone.  We aren't guaranteed a comfortable life.  We shouldn't be sitting in total comfort and ease when our cousins both here and abroad are suffering. It's not a comfortable life, it's a life of sacrifice and suffering, with joy and love.

I'm praying that God gives me the ability to do both of these things.  For now, let me leave you with a link and an opportunity to give from your heart.  A couple with whom I went to college, Brandy and Sam, have been on a journey to adoption for the past few years.  They are godly, loving people, and today they were informed that they have been matched to adopt a newborn.  The precious little girl's due date is in only 3 weeks!  They have been working for the past year or so to get everything in order, but they suddenly need to raise all of the money for the adoption immediately - as in the next few days!! 

If you want to share the blessings that God has given you to help this wonderful couple provide a loving home, please go to the blog that Brandy and 4 other friends from college manage - Cherokee Chix  - and donate whatever you can via the donation link at the top of the most recent post.  

If you are one of the millions of people who mourned the 40th anniversary of abortion on demand today and wished there was something you could do for Life, I hope you will give abundantly.

Bless the children

I can't sleep tonight.  It's only partly because I seem to have come down with a cold or the flu or something.  I haven't felt awful, just feverish and exhausted.  I wanted to be asleep hours ago. But I can't quite turn my brain off tonight.

I'm struck by two different situations in our world - the overwhelming problem of extreme poverty, and the pain and suffering of abortion.

Forty years ago today, the United States Supreme Court effectively made the killing of children legal - so long as they are still in the womb of their mothers.  Willfully denying the fundamental and simple science that says that a fertilized egg is living (growing, changing, and reproducing) and not dead - leading to the most ridiculous mental gymnastics as people try to figure out what it means to be human and alive if an unborn child is neither - our society has made children literally disposable. Since that day 40 years ago, over 53 MILLION children have been murdered before they ever had the chance to see the outside world. Today, 1 in 4 African American babies are aborted, and almost 1 in every 3 women in the US have had an abortion (around 70% of which identify themselves as Christians in name, at least).

53 million.  Over 3,300 babies are killed per day, legally, right here in the US.

Outside the womb, children around the world are in peril.  Over 9 MILLION children under the age of 5 die each year; and over 2/3 of those deaths are from preventable causes.  
Every day, 1500 women die from preventable complications in pregnancy or childbirth, and every day 10,000 babies die before reaching the end of their first month of life.
25% of children in the developing world are underweight and at risk for long-term complications from malnourishment.  9 million people die from hunger each year.

For those who can't quite get your heads around the enormity of those numbers, think just about the number of children right here at home who do not have permanent families.  According to the US Department of Health & Human Services, in 2011 (the last year for which there are published estimates), the US foster care system served over 646,000 children from September 30, 2010 - September 30, 2011.  401,000 children under the age of 18 were in foster care in the US on September 30th.  Over 250,000 children had entered the system, and around 245,000 had exited the system.  61,000 children had their parents' rights terminated, and over 104,000 children were waiting to be adopted. In my county alone, there are over 6,000 children in foster care.  In my state, there are over 14,000 children in foster care or in emergency shelters waiting for placement in a group home or foster home after being removed from their biological family.

We have a problem in our 21st-century society. At the heart of it is a rejection of the worth and human dignity of a child.  We have somehow decided (in the US, at least), that a child's life is inherently less valuable than an adult's life. We've neglected children both prior to birth and afterwards.  We lament the problem of child abuse and broken homes, but then do nothing about the thousands of children in our town who live in constant fear & flux, with no support system and no security.

One of the criticisms that pro-abortion spokesmen make of those who abhor abortion is, "You care about the child before it's born, but you do nothing for them afterward!"  For many of us, even in the church, we would have to confess that it is a true statement.  We find it sad when we know that children are suffering abuse, forced prostitution, or dying from tainted water supplies or malnourishment, but so long as it doesn't affect our home, our family, then it's not really our problem.

I'm here to tell you: it is your problem.  Our problem.  We talk about children being our future, but there will be no future if we as the body of Christ do not wake up and start really loving people.  Meet their needs. Comfort them. Rejoice, cry, encourage, live fully with them, as part of each other's lives, rather than looking down on them with pity.

In the past three weeks, my church's interim pastor preached on Mark 10:13-16:
People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. 

He talked about how over 3/4 of all Christians accepted God's love and sacrifice as children; very few adults ever turn to Jesus if they haven't done so by age 22.  He made the point that it is vital that we bless children - that we love them, accept them, meet their needs, and show them the love of God.  

I also have started reading Wess Stafford's (the president of Compassion International) book, Too Small to Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most.  And I read Pam Cope's Jantsen's Gift, which I've mentioned before, along with Amy Julia Becker's A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny (about one family's coming to terms with their daughter's Down's Syndrome diagnosis at birth - by the way, it's estimated that almost 90% of babies diagnosed with Down's in the womb are aborted, killed before getting the chance to show the world their worth). While reading all of them, I have been constantly tugged and prodded by the realization that children are suffering all over the world, including in my neighborhood, and I want to do something about it.

I am convinced that we as the body of Christ need to get up off our collective lazy behinds and start loving children.  Remember that DC Talk song from the late 80s or early 90s - "Love is a verb"?  If you can get past the somewhat cheesy rap, pay attention to the message here: 

Pullin' out my big black book
Cause when I need a word defined that's where I look
So I move to the L's quick, fast, in a hurry
Threw on my specs, thought my vision was blurry
I looked again but to my dismay
It was black and white with no room for grey
Ya see, a big "V" stood beyond my word
And yo that's when it hit me, that luv is a verb

Words come easy but don't mean much
When the words they're sayin' we can't put trust in
We're talkin' 'bout love in a different light
And if we all learn to love it would be just right

Hey, tell me haven't ya heard?
Luv, is a serious word
Hey, I think it's time ya learned
I don't care what they say
I don't care care what ya heard
The word luv, luv is a verb

Down with the dc Talk, d- d- down with the dc Talk
Are you down with the dc Talk, d- d- down with the dc Talk

Thinkin' of a way to explain-o
Cause ya' know when I'm flowin' like a bottle of Drain-o
Simple and plain, L-O-V-E
Ain't all that junk that ya see on TV
Put soaps on a rope cause they ain't worth copin' with
It's a myth that there ain't no hope and
Luv is enough if it's unconditionally
Givin' now you're living out the Great Commission

Back in the day there was a man
Who stepped out of Heaven and he walked the land
He delivered to the people an eternal choice
With a heart full of luv and the truth in His voice
Gave up His life so that we may live
How much more luv could the Son of God give?
Here is the example that we oughtta be matchin'
Cause luv is a word that requires some action 

"And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them." Maybe it's time for us, as the hands and feet of the body of Christ, to take the children in our arms, put our hands on them, and bless them.  What do you say?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The least of these

As I said in my previous post, God has been putting on my heart a desire to help the orphan, the abandoned, those least desired or cared for in society.  I'm still not entirely sure how this will play out; I have a few leads, but am waiting to see if any of the doors open wide for me.

In the meantime, I thought I'd do what I could to share some ways you could help the least of these.  All of the opportunities below give you the possibility of helping to rescue a child - from poverty, from human trafficking, and from invisibility.  They are different in nature; some focus on education, others on actual physical rescue, some care for orphans and those abandoned by society, but all of them proclaim the love of Jesus to these precious children.

If you could change one child's life, would you do it?

Prove it. 

Here are just a few opportunities I've found to help you put your money & time where your mouth is.

1) Sponsor a child through Compassion International - I've blogged for Compassion, and so have written about them often.  For $38 a month, you can provide a child with education, medical attention, food assistance, clean water, vocational training for them (and, in many cases, for their parents), and, most importantly, love.  Compassion partners with local churches and helps to empower the local community to support their own. Compassion also offers opportunities to support pregnant mothers and mothers of newborns, disaster relief, and university education & leadership development for young adults.

2) Provide children and young adults in Nicaragua with an education through Educate Nica - a ministry that I learned about from a college friend who lives in Nica as a missionary and has partnered with this organization.  Since education is not free there - students have to pay for tuition, books & supplies, and uniforms - Educate Nica pairs sponsors with children in the elementary/secondary school (for $25 a month), with young adults going to trade school ($70 a month), or with young adults who want to attend university ($100 per month).  100% of donations go directly to the students, and sponsorship also allows the local churches to work to meet the physical needs of the student (medicine, shelter, food) as well.

3) Support Voices 4 the Voiceless - a ministry that cares for orphans around the world.  They specifically are supporting the Sangaalo Baby Cottage in Uganda and other ministries to orphans in Uganda.  This small ministry, run by only 4 women at the moment, is working to love those who have been abandoned and are alone in the world.  One of their small projects right now is making handmade dolls that you can "adopt" and that will be taken to Uganda and given to the girls in the orphanage.  I just "adopted" one - when you do so, you can name the doll, and the child gets a birth certificate with their doll's information. Imagine being all alone in the world with little that is truly yours, being given a special doll made and named just for you. :-)

4) Support Rahab's Rope - a ministry dedicated to the girls and women caught in the sex trade in India.  They go into the brothels and minister to the women there; they have rescued over 1200 women from human trafficking there.  They provide shelter, food, vocational training, and psychological and spiritual nurturing to women who have been abused and rejected as outcasts.  I first learned about this ministry when a friend from college was on the World Race (a 12-country, 11 month mission trip) and she worked with Rahab's Rope while in India.  If you can't go to India and serve alongside these women, you can buy jewelry and other products made by the women who pass through the shelters to help support them financially.

5) Support Touch A Life Foundation - they work to rescue children from human trafficking and modern-day slavery in Ghana, Vietnam, and Cambodia.  They operate shelters, long-term care (in Ghana), and physically work to rescue children who are being exploited, abused, and abandoned. 

6) Sponsor a child through Gospel For Asia's Bridge of Hope Ministry - for only $35 a month, you can help provide a child in Asia with education, a daily meal, medical care, and the opportunity to get to know Jesus and His love for them.  They also send 100% of the donations directly to the local ministry to help that particular child. 

These are just a few, small ways that we can minister to the least of these.  What could you do to change one life?  What would you be willing to sacrifice for the least of these? 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

What has God put on your heart to do?

"Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed." ~Psalm 82:3

Over the past six months or so, my heart has been breaking little by little.  It started in August when my husband and I agreed to sponsor a second child through Compassion International - our beautiful "daughter" Rebecca (from Ghana), along with our handsome "son" Michel (from Mexico) whom I had started sponsoring before we got married.  

When we chose Rebecca, I wanted to learn more about Ghana - its culture, its history, and its problems.  I started trying to do research to find out what I wanted to know.  I came across a blog called Compassion Can {Beyond Measure} and voraciously read every post the owner of the site had written during a trip to visit their sponsored children in Ghana.  It made me long to go visit Rebecca, but, even more so, it made me long to do more for the children there.  Part of what I learned about was the tremendous problem of child slavery there - as many as 27,000 children live in slavery around the region of Lake Volta.  The stories were heart wrenching.

The images and stories have stayed with me, and my desire to do more has only increased.  This weekend, I read Pam Cope's Jantsen's Gift, written by the founder of Touch a Life ministries.  The short story is that her son died unexpectedly at the age of 15, and they raised something like $25,000 after the funeral.  In the midst of their grief, they went to Vietnam and started working with orphanages there that took in the abandoned, the disabled, and those rescued from human trafficking. They went on, over the past ten years, to establish ministries in Southeast Asia and in Ghana. I read the entire book in about 12 hours. I didn't sleep at all that night.  I keep seeing the faces of those children in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Ghana that were rescued and given hope. 

Last summer, I was tormented by the question, "What has God put on your heart to do?"  It haunted me.  I didn't feel like there was anything there, except loving my husband and loving God. I begged God to show me what He has put on my heart to do. 

I think I know, at least a little piece of it, now.  My heart rends for these children - the ones living in abject poverty, dying from simple diseases like diarrhea, the ones being sold by desperate families into slavery (despite international and national laws forbidding it), the ones who have lost their parents and feel abandoned and hopeless.  I want to be part of helping these children.  I was praying and told God that I would love if I could work for an organization that served those children. I wish I could spend the majority of my time serving them in person.  

As of right now, I have no idea how any of that would be possible. Right now, my husband is unemployed and can't find work; I make a pittance and can't cover all of our bills, and can't get anyone to even talk to me about extra work.  While we are still sponsoring Rebecca and Michel, and I am writing them every two weeks, along with another beautiful young woman named Brigida (aged 15 in Bolivia) for whom I am serving as a correspondence sponsor, I want to do so much more.  I don't know how.  But I think I finally know what God is putting on my heart to do.  

If my few readers (I think there are only about 10 of you total) have any additional leads on ministries or agencies that I might be able to serve in - even if only as a volunteer - please let me know. 

"Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. 'Come now, let us reason together,' says the LORD. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.'" ~Isaiah 1:17-18

"For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing."~Deuteronomy 10:17-18

"Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds-- his name is the LORD-- and rejoice before him. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land." ~Psalm 68:4-6