Monday, September 27, 2010

Compassion Monday...

Yesterday was Compassion Sunday, which I presented (hosted? shared?) at my little church. I want to do a mirror of it here as Compassion Monday (even if I am posting this in the last few minutes of the day).

My friend/pastor's wife and I sang "The Power of Your Name" yesterday, and it's really amazing how the words Lincoln Brewster penned fit the whole theme.

"Surely children weren't made for the streets
And fathers were not made to leave
Surely this isn't how it should be
Let Your kingdom come...

I will live to carry Your compassion
To love a world that's broken
To be Your hands and feet
And I will give this life that I've been given
And go beyond religion
To see the world be changed
By the power of Your name..."

The gospels say that Jesus fed the people because he felt compassion for them. To me, compassion is love in action. It is love strong enough to sacrifice part of me for the benefit of someone else.

There were many times over the years that my husband and I talked about sponsoring a needy child somewhere else in the world. But the years ticked by, and we didn't do it. We talked about it again...and still didn't do it. Finally the day came when he called me from work and said, "We have to do it now. Go find out which program we should do it through, and get it started today." And so I started looking.

I checked out a number of programs, but here is why I felt that Compassion International was the program I wanted us to sponsor a child through:

1) Their fiscal responsibility and ratings. I wanted as much of my sponsorship dollars as possible to go to the children, and I wanted to make sure it wasn't going anywhere questionable. Compassion's ratings are the highest.

Learn more about sponsoring a child.2) There's this little phrase tacked onto Compassion's logo (when it's big enough to squeeze the words in there). The words? "In Jesus' name." You see...The people in Compassion know that money alone isn't enough to set a child free from poverty. Poverty is so much more than a lack of money. It creates hopelessness. It feeds depression and desperation and fear. And money can do nothing to permanently alleviate those.

But Jesus can.

Just as the song says...the world can only be changed through the power of the name of Jesus, because He is the only One who can/has/will conquer everything for which poverty is merely a result. You may disagree with me...but this is what I believe, and tens of thousands of people around the world have one million little reasons to agree with me.

And so Compassion works through local churches, acting as the connection between sponsors in first world countries who have a little (or a lot of) money and a caring heart, and churches in third world countries who have the opportunity and caring heart, but not the money to see to the desperate physical needs surrounding them. Because so often, it is the meeting of a physical need that opens the bruised and wounded heart to the healing Jesus' offers. And as John said, "But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?"

It was about a year and a half ago, I think, that the kids and I sat down in front of the computer and looked at the Compassion website to choose a child. We decided we wanted to sponsor a child in a Spanish-speaking country, so that once they learned Spanish, they could converse in the child's language. We decided to sponsor a boy, because my son does not have a brother. And so we found K-. He is only six days younger than my son, and we pray for him, and write to him, and get excited whenever we receive a letter in return from him.

I was thinking of K- and the many waiting children like him when I signed up to do Compassion Sunday a month or so ago. I was assuming that I'd share a little and...well...what else was I going to say?

I didn't know that I was going to be virtually kidnapped two weeks later and taken along a Compassion Bloggers trip to Guatemala City. You see, Ann Voskamp, who blogs at A Holy Experience (and who started the whole 1000 gifts thing) went on this trip. And she took me along with her. And then I started following the others blogging the trip, until I was virtually kidnapped and couldn't think about much for days other than what they were seeing and experiencing and sharing about in Guatemala City. It made everything so real!

I followed along with them as they visited hillsides that had been swept away by Hurricane Agatha. I rejoiced with them as they heard a mother share how the building materials supplied by Compassion were not her most precious gift. Rather, it was the love given in Jesus' name that helped turn her son from the gangs that were luring him. He was even then away at school, building a future for himself.

I cried with Amanda as she witnessed sights she would gladly have gone without seeing her entire life, and then my heart found joy with hers as she saw the hope offered in the midst of what was more difficult to comprehend just days before.

My heart struggled to comprehend 20,000 families living at the Guatemala City Dump--this place where gangs think they rule, where even rats die from the water, and where children go missing. And yet if the parents manage to find work, then the children must go to the dump alone to scavenge, because just maybe, if they have a good week, they'll find $5 worth of items to sell for food and clean water. Beautiful children like these:

It seems so hopeless.

And yet, there is hope in their lives.

You see... on April 10th, 1986, at 8:30 in the evening, a 21 year old who had been addicted to drugs since he was 13 years old gave his life to God. He got up from the floor where he had lain prostrate, completely free from his addictions. He has since proven that he really did give his life to God. As he said, "He who is loved much, serves much."

Now his church is reaching out to the dump families. 120 people, ministering to 20,000. Their water purification system provides the only clean water in the area. They sell the water for 1/3 of the going price, and with the proceeds, pay for the loan Healing Waters gave them for the system (Compassion paid for half), provide building materials for the dump families, run a food program for them, and host a free weekly meal for any and all who are hungry. They also, with the help of 80 Compassion sponsors, minister to 125 children (45 of them are among the 816 children in Guatemala currently waiting for sponsors). His wife is a doctor, so she provides the medical care for the children...doing her best to make sure that these children aren't among the 24,000 children who die every day of preventable causes.

Ann told of Daniel and Josue and Maynor--three 20-year-olds whose lives have been changed over the course of fourteen years as their sponsors wrote them and encouraged them and prayed for them...and as they were three of the chosen few who were accepted into the Leadership Development Program...and they told of what they are going to college for...and as they shared exactly how much those letters (all of which they kept) meant to them over the years.

I realized in a fresh way just how much God uses the letters and the time spent writing them. For these three young men are living changed lives because of letters. Lisa-Jo told how in these boys' church, there is a little boy right now waiting for his sponsor to write his first letter so he can write one in return. And there's another little boy hoping that his sponsor of five years will write him a third letter. And there's another beautiful little girl named Darling who has never gotten one letter from her sponsor.

And so I wrote K- another letter, and I began thinking about being a correspondent for another child...someone who writes to those children whose sponsors can't. (Or aren't.)

But then I read this article about infanticide in India, and how many families kill their 3rd and 4th baby girls because they feel that to do otherwise is to doom the two they already have to severe poverty...for the cost of having a daughter is much, much higher than I realized.

And a face swam before my eyes. Months and months ago I clicked on that little banner on the left side of this page...the one that says, "Do you share a birthday with a child in poverty?" I found that I did...a teenage girl in India.

I didn't do anything, for was I not already sponsoring one? But her face never left me, and beside her was the smiling face of a dear Indian friend of years ago, whom I've since lost track of. I don't know how to find Lizzy, for I do not remember how to spell her married name. But could I not reach out to a girl from her country? A girl the age that she and I were when we shared our so-different stories of growing up? And could I not sponsor her with the overflow that God has recently blessed me with?

I ran another search...and found that someone else "got" her. But now my heart was hungry to find a young Indian friend again, and I found H-. She is so beautiful. She is also almost 20, and she is being blessed with the only free source of education on her side of people reaching out to the poorest of the poor in Jesus' name and giving them what others say they have no right to. She studying and learning and working on completing 9th grade so that she might rise from the poverty she was born into and realize her potential. Not all Compassion-sponsored children can stay in the program at her age, but she has one year left. And I have one year. One year to love her and pray for her and encourage her to become the woman God created her to be.

Perhaps $38/month sounds like a lot to you. Or perhaps it doesn't. But did you know that if every church-going American gave 1% of their income, we could all sponsor 11 million children? That makes the 1.02 million currently sponsored through Compassion look...well...less impressive than it really is.

Would you like to join us? Are you willing to give 1% so that another brother or sister in Christ can reach out to a child in ways that you cannot? Would you like to know God?

Opportunity is just a click away...

holy experience

This weekend's gifts for Multitude Monday:

482. His blessing on yesterday’s Compassion Sunday and the privilege of connecting:

483. Nataly and her sponsor

484. Dary and his sponsor

485. Kevin and his sponsor, and

486. Snighha and her sponsor.

487. And for the two friends who are waiting…

488. For me to bring the six packets I still have so that they can each sponsor a child

489. And for the hope within me that the four who will be left will also find sponsors, either through me or through someone else. I don’t care which.

They are what matters. And they are my gifts, for they were sent to me for this short season. And so I pray for them, and I rejoiced as God gave me something specific to pray over each of them.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Just in case...

Just in case anyone else is fighting a bad mood this morning...

I am, too. I don't know why, unless it's because I foolishly stayed up too late last night. I've snapped twice this morning already. I even went back to bed, which I almost never do.

I laid there, searching for the answer to what's wrong with me? The answer I found was to a different question. How do I get out of this?



He melts moods like this, when I let Him.

But isn't it strange how sometimes we don't want to be put into a good mood? We want to wallow in it? In fact, the only thing that gave me the strength to actually go put worship music on was the knowledge that if I didn't, then come this evening, I'd be in no position to help lead worship...I'd feel like a hypocrite or a fool, practicing a song with words about reaching out...preparing to conduct our Compassion Sunday. And I would wish I had pushed play.

Although, come to think of it, I suppose this is why my enemy hit me this morning. He'd love to hijack and taint and steal anything he can from what I feel God wants to do this Sunday.

Anyway...I crawled out of bed, since I wasn't sleeping anyway, and a truth I know from the bottom of my heart shot through me.

Choosing obedience to God over what my flesh wants, results in happiness for me.

It's not cliche, and it's not one of those things people just say to get you to do something. This is a truth that I have learned...something I'm not going to try to explain, other than that I know it's as elemental as putting food in my mouth and my stomach getting full as a result.

And He said clean my room. (Okay...I'm laughing, just as I typed that. I sound like a child, don't I?)

So I reached for the stack of clothes that needed to be put away, and the basket of more that needed to be folded.

And I clicked play.

These are the words that washed over me:
A thousand times I fall, still Your mercy remains
And should I stumble again, still I'm caught in Your grace...

And the next song:
Oh Lord, You've searched me
You know my ways
Even when I fail You
I know You love me.

Your holy presence
Surrounding me
In every season
I know You love me
I know You love me

At the cross I bow my knee
Where Your blood was shed for me
There's no greater love than this...
You have overcome the grave
Your glory fills the highest place
What can separate me now?

How glorious it is to know that He gave Himself for me.

Even when I'm like this.

Because I am like this.

And because He loves me anyway.

Here are the songs, for anyone who might need to listen to them as badly as I needed to.

Just in case.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A life poured out...

The concept of living a life poured out has been stirring in my spirit quite a bit lately. What does it mean? Are we really called to do it? Is

First, I'd like to say that this phrase--"a life poured out"--isn't an official something that somebody told me. I'm sure it's been used before, but for me, it's nothing more or less than my best attempt at describing the "picture" of the lifestyle that's dancing in front of me, strangely beckoning me with joy and laughter.

This lifestyle...this way of living, of living a life poured out for full of sacrifice. When needs are thought of, they are always the needs of others. And when a woman living this way is thinking of herself, it is always of thanksgiving and gratitude...never of her own needs and pain and struggles.

Of course, this isn't the first time I (or anyone else) have thought about a life of sacrifice. Most of us have probably learned about a monk or missionary or someone like Mother Theresa or Adoniram Judson who lived a life of extreme hardship in order to to tell others about Jesus or help others. I've occasionally gotten uncomfortable, wondering if we are all supposed to live like that, because most of the time, it sounds down-right miserable! (At least to me, it did.)

Then there are those who can show you in the scriptures where God wants us to live happy, prosperous, joy-filled lives. And they're right! There are thousands of verses that speak of the blessings that fill and surround God's plan for us.

But what if we're still supposed to live a life of sacrifice?

What if both are possible?

What if one is only possible when it accompanies the other?

Over a month ago, I watched/listened to this video testimony of Chad and Sarah Markley. It's an amazing story that a seven-minute video can't possibly do justice to, but at the end, Chad says something remarkable. He had just finished telling why he felt he had no choice but to forgive his wife after her lengthy affair...explaining why it would have been hypocritical of him to do anything else...sharing why hope for his future was found, not in taking advantage of the fact that he had Biblical grounds for divorce, but in taking the harder road instead...and he said this:
The key to it all is that you have to be willing to do what Christ did in going to the cross. Think about what He suffered: embarrassment, shame, pain, death. It comes down to this: what are you willing to give up, in exchange for what He has?
Those words, what are you willing to give up, in exchange for what He has, shot through me. In fact, I think that those words signaled the sprouting of a seed that God planted almost a year ago and that He has been watering and fertilizing all year long. A seed of truth.

The seed was planted when I found another Katie online. That Katie read the parable of the sheep and the goats, left the USA, and went to Uganda for a year to help feed the poor and the needy and the orphans. She was eighteen. God stretched the year, and God stretched her, and when I found her this past January 5th, she was 21 years old, a permanent resident of Uganda, and the legal adopted mother of 14 girls.

She gets tired. She gets overwhelmed. She gets stressed out. But she loves, and she loves, and she loves, and God fills her with joy, and peace, and strength beyond what most of us sheltered Americans can even comprehend. To her, it is simple. We are commanded to love and care for the orphans, and so she is.

Maybe it's just me. Maybe there's something about finding someone with my name, pouring out her life in a way far beyond anything I'd even considered, and finding more joy and fulfillment and purpose than I'd ever dreamed in the process. Maybe that's what jolted me out of so many of my grand and selfish misconceptions. What if I had been born her, and she had been born me? Who would gain the most, and who would lose the most?

I began to realize something somewhat strange about my way of thinking.

When I imagine living like Mother Theresa, Adoniram Judson, and others who have sacrificed much, I've always focused on their sacrifices and how difficult their lives must have been. But when I imagine living like Jesus, I've always found myself thinking about the power, and the joy, and the awesomeness of being able to touch a blind person and heal them.

Why are they separate in my mind?

I'm slowly but surely becoming convinced that this marriage of both...the sacrifice and the blessing...the power amidst the how I (and maybe all of us) am truly called to live.

How did Jesus live? He said He came to be the servant of all. The servant! Yet I want to balk whenever someone treats me like I'm their servant.

1 John 3:16-24 says, "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."

Why do I act as though, because no one is asking me to give my life to save theirs, I am therefore not called to give every part of my life to save many little parts of others' lives? I am ashamed to say that sometimes I decide quite righteously that giving a one-hour part of my life to help someone else is more than I am called to do. After all, I can't stretch myself too thin! And God isn't calling me to do that. (Except I never stopped to ask Him. At least, I didn't ask with a willing, humble, and sacrificial heart.)

How is that Biblical?

There is this philosophy that I've often heard and even shared myself. We have to have boundaries. We have to learn to say, "No."

We say this, of course, because of the worn-out and stressed-out humans around the world who have been going, doing, and helping until they break down from exhaustion. Most of us have experienced some measure of it. And so we reason that it is our going and doing and helping that is the problem.

But what if it's not?

I am now asking myself these questions:

Those times when I have worn myself out helping others...was I also spending time with God, drawing from the well of living water so that as I gave, I was also replenished?

Was I walking so closely to Him that His strength was flowing through me?

Have I believed the lie that His strength and peace and provision have limits? Limits that I've already reached?

Was I giving and going and doing for pride, to soothe guilt, or for some other reason that was anything more or less than love and obedience to God?

, .~*~. , .~*~. , .~*~. ,

These questions lead to many more...and I don't have the answers for many of them. There is also a strong temptation to look for a set of "rules" that will tell me how far is too far, for common sense tells us that we can't meet all of the needs we see.

But that's not what God wants us to do. He said, "Go." He said, "Love." He said, "Give." He said, "Obey." He said, "Freely you have received. Freely also give."

Not once did He say, "Hold back." Never did He say, "Give only until you start to get exhausted, and then stop, because My strength and grace have limits, and you will lose your reward if following Me causes you to die before your time." Nor did He say, "Those who go too far helping others will lose their strength. They will crawl like slugs. They will faint like grass without water." The fact is, we will faint without the living water, no matter how much we do or don't try to do. And if we actually compared some of the statements we make with scripture or with 1 Corinthians 13, we’d discover that they’re just as outlandish as these.

He said, "Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength." I wonder what would happen if every single last one of us did that before we began our day, and then did it again when we started to get tired? I wonder if He'd hold true to His promise. That sounds like a preposterous question to even type...yet I know I act as though I'm not sure I believe that promise.

It starts and ends with the heart. Selfishness, or love. Everything else flows as naturally from the heart as water pours from a spring.

Instead of waiting for God to provide the time and money and provide divine direction with a booming voice from heaven, I think it starts with a change of questions. Instead of asking Him, "Lord, do You want me to do something," it starts with, "Lord, what would you have me do?"

Let me share the rest of the story of how Katie-in-Uganda blessed Katie-in-Ohio.

It took a couple of weeks for my heart to get softened, but finally I humbled myself before God. In the midst my confusion, I offered the willingness I had recently found in my heart to Him, and I cried out, "Father, I want to do more. I want to love people like that. But I'm here in America where our hearts are hard with superiority and material possessions and our eyes are blind to what really matters. It's easier for that Katie to do something to meet the need around her, for those around her know they are dying. I have a husband and children and things I know You have called me to do here...I can't just leave it all and run off to Africa to where the need is easy to identify."

He pointed to the nursing home around the corner.

And over the weeks that followed, I felt that finger in the back of my consciousness, all the time. Pointing, pointing, pointing. There are people who know they are close to death. There are people who are forgotten and abandoned. There are people who need someone to love them.

Finally, I obeyed.

I don't know how much to share or how to share it, for the reality that I'm experiencing is so vastly different than what I expected.

How do I explain how much of a miracle it seems to feel His love flowing through me to the precious people there as I am now experiencing it?

Am I bragging if I try to explain the difficulties in spending an hour playing an old out-of-tune piano and working to make my not-very-powerful singing voice (that's aimed at the wall, no less) be heard in ears that could benefit from hearing aids if they could afford them...all because they want to hear me sing? In some miraculous way, singing for them is loving them. Or perhaps it is no more miraculous than a mother singing a lullaby to her baby because she loves him. And the people there are so easy to love!

My perceptions of what it means to reach out to people have broken down in the face of a reality that is more powerful.

This reality is that I could barely hold back tears of joy last Friday because I could plainly hear a dozen shaky voices behind me singing along: "This is my story, this is my song! Praising my Savior, all the day long..."

We sing, "He walks with me and He talks with me. And He tells me I am His own. And the joy we share, as we tarry there....none other, has ever known." And the reality is that He is there, in that nursing home, and I am experiencing such joy there with Him that I want to tarry. With them.

The reality is that thousands of Christians every Sunday are relieved when their twenty minutes of worship is over and they can sit down...while every Friday, there is a handful of precious people who sing hymns with me for a whole hour, and then are sorry that I don't know any more and that my fingers are tired because they don't want to stop.

The reality is that dear Marie almost gets tears in her eyes because our worship times are the closest thing to church she's had since she became a resident.

The reality is that some of those lost in the confusion and misery of Alzheimer's smile and relax as they sing words they cannot forget.

The reality is that they beg me to come and get them when I visit (if they forget which day it is) because they soak up every bit of love and attention and don't want to miss a chance to praise the One who hasn't left them.

I am richer and my life is fuller because of them.

And instead of being even busier and more stressed and stretched thin, I am busier and less stressed and more productive and more relaxed.

I don't share this because I want people to say what a good job I'm doing, so please don't. I'm sharing what I'm experiencing to proclaim God's goodness to me, and to encourage you to go ahead and make that sacrifice that God has been quietly asking of you. It won't be anywhere near as painful as you think.

I think God redeems the sacrifices He asks of us...redeems and then multiplies that redemption until we are overflowing with more and looking for more ways to pour it out because we've got extra. I think this redemption also heals our own needs and pain and struggles, which is why a woman living that way would be full of praise and thanksgiving.

Am I saying that you should move to Uganda and adopt 14 orphans? No. Am I saying you should go and sing for your local nursing home residents? No.

I am saying that I believe we have missed it. At least I did.

I'm saying that I should have assumed that He had more for me to do and listened for Him to tell me what it was, rather than sitting back hoping that what I was already doing was enough.

Yes, obedience is better than sacrifice...but that doesn't mean that obedience isn't going to involve sacrifice. I'm coming to believe that it always will. But when the sacrifices are redeemed and turned into blessing, it looks nothing like what this Katie once thought it would.

And that makes me eager to let Him turn the little stream I'm dribbling out into a river...a river of living water that can only flow once His grace enables me to truly live a life poured out.

holy experience

More gifts for today's Multitude Monday:

455. The old piano at the nursing home

466. Marie

467. Hank

468. Barb

469. Marjory

470. Trudy

471. Doris

472. Jeanette

473. Pauline

474. Bob

475. Ruth

476. The other residents whose names I still can’t remember.

477. The smiles they give me

478. The staff that doesn’t mind that I sing nothing but hymns

479. The way God has started multiplying my time and productivity

480. The opportunity to touch lives, even here in America

481. And future assignments from Him.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Extravagant wealth, disguised poverty...

I don't do this often, but if you are a person, like me, who desires to know the heart of God...

read this. (Don't worry, this is just the recent personal experiences of a farm wife "nobody.")

Do you find yourself asking what you can really do that matters? That makes a difference?

Well...if you are reading these words now, and possess a keyboard, or a pen and paper and a 44-cent stamp once/month, you can do this.

Join me?

(I'm still counting the gifts...

448. Smiles on children in Guatemala City

449. This man ministering in a shantytown whose life has reached across the Internet to minister to me.

450. More cracks in the hardness of my heart

451. The promise of hope that has been given to me to share

452. Eyes to see true poverty around me, and…

453. Grace that meets it, slowly beginning to flow through me, and…

454. The healing of poverty in my own soul that is happening at the same time. )
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