Wednesday, February 29, 2012

All This Time

    I don't know what took me so long to become an advocate for children in need of rescue. I've been drumming my fingers on my maple desk to the tune of that question for the past few weeks.
    I'm 42.
    My life is maybe at least half over.
    I could have been making a difference a long time ago.
    I wish it had not taken me this long to find my way. Not that God is done with me, of course, for He has His hands full with the remaining repairs and upgrades that need to be done in my heart. Look out Home Depot.

    But I am finally breathing clean air.

    The velveteen rabbit in me has come to life....a direct result of God's unrelenting and loving pursuit of one broken, hard hearted girl. I can step outside of the fortress I've built, spread a blanket on the green grass and lie down for no other reason than to watch the white clouds drift by. I now say yes to God's love without sounding like a girl trying her best to give the "right" answer. And I am much more willing to trust Him and let Him take my hand and lead the way, instead of always frantically mapping out a "safer" route to where I think He wants me to go.
    I have spent a good bit of time anguishing over the years that were lost. For all the times I held back my tears, or silenced my own prayers. For all the moments I chose to be alone rather than relinquish the keys to my gated heart.                              
    But I find that when God wants to unveil yet another truth into being, He does it just like the dawning of a new day. From utter darkness all the way to a brand-new, bright shining day. Revelation. Understanding. Wow.....      

All this time
 From the first tear cry
To today's sunrise
And every single moment between
You were there
You were always there
It was You and I
You've been walking with me all this time

Ever since that day
it's been clear to me
That no matter what comes
You will never leave
I know You're for me
And You're restoring

Every heartache and failure
Every broken dream
You're the God who sees
The God who rescued me
This is my story
This is my story

I hear these people asking me
How do I know what I believe?
Well I'm not the same me
And I saw the proof I need
I felt Love I felt Your grace
You stole my heart that day

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Compassion To The Rescue

   The fantastic part of being an Advocate for Compassion International is that once I match a waiting child with a new sponsor, I often get the privilege of reading their letters and seeing the pictures and drawings sent by the kids. New sponsors love to show me the latest incoming mail and I enjoy the letters almost as much as the ones from my own sponsored kids!

   This is exactly how I learned of Jeremy's story and I do have permission to share it!

   Jeremy is five years old and lives in the Dominican Republic, a place I have been to on a missions trip back in my college days. (A long time ago. I do not want to put in writing how many years ago that was.) Beautiful country and equally beautiful children.

   Last year, as an Advocate, I had Jeremy's packet in my possession and was looking for a sponsor for him. A woman at my church scooped him up without even a second glance at his information. She had no preferences...boy or girl, any age, any country.

   She's been getting lots of letters from Jeremy, sometimes two a month! His teachers help him to put it all down on paper and he draws animals  and also stick figures of his family.

   A few weeks ago she received a letter and two pictures. Compassion learned that Jeremy has had heart trouble since birth, but the parents did not offer this information when they registered him with CI. Jeremy needed open heart surgery and Compassion connected him with a team of foreign doctors who came to the country to do specialized operations on children who could otherwise not afford it.

   The surgery was a success and he is now back in school, with Compassion supporting the family and paying for Jeremy's medications.

  I love this story because it demonstrates the value of one life and the difference you are making when you come alongside Compassion and sponsor a child. Not all of the stories are this dramatic, but probably many of them are more life-changing than we will ever know. 

   Here's another boy from the Dominican Republic waiting for someone like you. His name is Dino!

Go HERE to read more about him and click "Select This Child" if you would love make him a part of your family!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Fourth Girl...

   I know many of you are waiting for Naomy's story as I left you hanging on my last post. So here goes.....

   It was at the end of an incredibly busy day, Christmas Day in fact, that I sat down at the computer to check my mail and relax a bit. I had only recently decided to travel with Compassion International to Kenya, and so I wandered over to the Compassion website to just look at the Kenyan children up for sponsorship. Knowing that I would soon be setting foot in Africa and running, playing, dancing and singing with those beautiful children in the projects, I simply wanted to see some of their faces. I don't go to this site very often because I am at my personal limit for sponsorship. But I am also an Advocate for Compassion and once in a while I will see a child that I feel compelled to share. Sometimes I share on "Our Compassion", a website for sponsors similar to Facebook, sometimes on Facebook itself and other times directly with a friend who I know might be interested.
   To me, the faces of waiting children are all so precious. Some of them appear shy, or sad and sometimes even angry. Others are beaming, with their white teeth glowing from their dark-skinned faces. All of them are living in poverty and all of them are waiting for someone to choose them.
   I have had the immense privilege of matching close to thirty kids with their new sponsor. God is so generous to allow me to be a part of something so close to my heart. And bringing together a child so far away with their new hero is almost magical. Maybe you can't picture it because it is not your cup of tea. But I'm telling you, for me it is equivalent to finding a hundred dollar bill you thought you lost, or having your favorite team score the winning goal. Or waking up and realizing it's not Monday but Saturday and you have all morning to sleep in! Yesss!
   As I scrolled through the Kenyan children, one little face immobilized me. My heart did a bungee jump and my eyes refused to move forward to the next waiting child.

A six year-old girl named Naomy.

 I can't emphasize enough how quickly and completely I fell in love with this child while at the same time knowing she did not belong to me. There wasn't anything particularly noteworthy about her information: She lived with her mom, had six siblings, she liked to run.  Her face was sad and her belly seemed swollen and she wore a blue dress. No socks. But she did have shoes. I tried to go to the next page of kids but was continually reeled straight back to Naomy.

 I had to share her. There was no way around this one. And I loved her completely. Without reserve. It wasn't even a choice.

I resisted the idea of posting her on Facebook. I mean, after all, it's Christmas DAY and I was sure that no one would be looking for ways to spend even MORE money. But I could not deny the intense prompting to share Naomy. I hoped that if someone did take her, it would be a friend who wouldn't mind sharing her letters and updated photos with me. This is how much this girl meant to me.

As I continued to check on her throughout the evening, Naomy disappeared from the Compassion website. This most likely meant that she was gone...chosen by someone out there in the big wide world. I would never know what happened to her and never see that face again. I eventually went to bed and wrestled all night long with an indescribable burden for this child. I kept seeing her face and her name was being whispered into my thoughts over and over again. What was going on?

The next morning I went straight to the computer to check and see if she was indeed gone. But my screen opened first to Facebook where I had last left it. I had a message. From a friend. She said, "Hi Julie.....God has spoken. I am now Naomy's  sponsor."

It was Arlene. And I immediately knew the perfect match had been made by a God who so obviously had set us all up. This was right and I felt a release in my spirit from that heavy burden. I know Arlene has her own story to tell of how she found Naomy and how sponsorship has changed her life.

I am taking a backpack filled with presents to Naomy from her new sponsor. With Compassion, if you can get the gifts into the country, they will make sure they are delivered to the child. It has been a blast comparing notes with Arlene, shopping for all the things little girls love and packing and repacking our bags. As I was looking at a map of Kenya and trying to see where our team was headed, I was stunned to see that Naomy's village location was just above Nairobi! My mind contemplated the possibilities....would it be possible to make an individual visit to her home and deliver Arlene's gifts in person? Is there time? And would it ruin any already well-laid plans?

With a flurry of phone calls and emails the impossible had happened. In the beginning it was enough just to have found Naomy a sponsor. And then for that sponsor to turn into someone who had a heart like I did for her new little friend. The biggest gift of all was to find out that I could indeed meet this girl face to face, take pictures of her and her family and personally tell her how much she is loved by Arlene. 

But the best part was yet to come. After checking and rechecking times and dates and schedules, we discovered that my visit would fall on a very special day.....Naomy's seventh birthday. I do believe Someone has this kid's number.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Numb With A Purpose

   Preparations for my upcoming adventure to Africa are in full swing and I've already begun packing with almost five weeks left before I will be airborne. This is so far out of my comfort zone and beyond my wildest dreams that I'm pretty much numb. Not paralyzed, mind you. Because my days are filled with phone calls, emails, shopping for supplies, fiddling with my new camera, fund raising, writing thank you's, and packing, weighing and repacking the fifty pound bags I will be taking with me.
   The numbness comes into play when I try to even imagine what it's going to be like to actually fulfill a lifelong dream PLUS come face to face with three African children who have invaded a large part of my heart. This is where I cannot seem to get past the technicalities of a journey of this magnitude and into the heart of why I am going in the first place.
    Like I said....NUMB.
    I imagine this will all change once my husband leaves me at the airport and I'm settled in my assigned seat for 18 hours of nothingness. I foresee plenty of time for it to become real and for my emotions to return to life. Pity my seat mate.
    Having said all that, please allow me to introduce you to the three sponsored girls I am traveling so far to see.
    Mary is nine years old and will turn ten about a week after I meet her. Her mother and father are both deceased and she now lives with her grandparents, along with her 11 year-old brother Isaac and 13 year-old sister Mueni. Her letters to me are always written in English. This is most likely her third language following her tribal tongue and Swahili, the local language. She has a best friend named Lucky and Mary wants to be a teacher when she grows up. I chose Mary from a line-up of children simply because she shares a name with one of my very best friends. And Mary was an orphan, who in her first picture was wearing a rumpled pink dress that was unfastened and stained.

    Elizabeth is eight years old and lives with her parents and six year-old brother, George. She always thanks me for the stickers and photos I send to her and says she is proud to have me as her sponsor. Some children do not get any (or very few) letters from their sponsor and I imagine with what she receives in the mail from me, she must know how much I love her. Elizabeth's best friend is Mercy and she writes that she wants to be a nurse when she is older. I plan to tuck a play medical kit into her bag of gifts to encourage her towards that dream!

   Roseline is ten and lives with her aunt, most likely in Maasailand. Even though they are one of the smaller tribes in Kenya, the Maasai are the most well known, thanks to the tourists who stalk them for photo shots of the men with their spears and the women's beautiful bead work jewellery. Roseline is the only one who has requested that I come see her. I sent her some money for her birthday and she wrote to tell me that she "bought a sheep in hopes that it will give birth to many lambs." She loves "mathematics" and does her homework as soon as school is out for the day. Roseline wishes to be a doctor.

   Compassion will escort the girls to Nairobi where we will have one whole day together. I have a back-pack for each of them filled with the things I most want them to have: toothbrush, soap, dresses, underwear, socks, a bracelet, doll, jump rope, school supplies, blanket, stuffed animal and a photo album.
   I also have a bag of gifts for the family which will include basic food supplies and extras for the siblings.
   Here again I am talking about all of this in terms of who, what, where and when. I cannot seem to begin to put words to what it might be like to hear their accents and laughter, ask them questions about their lives and hold them in my arms.
   A friend of mine, who lives in Kenya three months out of the year teaching English, told me that when the girls return from their visit with me back to their villages, they will be welcomed as celebrities. When your American sponsor travels across the ocean to visit you, well, your status just rose a few notches. My status upon my return to the states will undoubtedly remain UNDISCOVERED. But I am going to come home one very rich girl, having had the privilege of meeting Mary, Elizabeth and Roseline.

  There is another little girl, only six years old, who is unexpectedly and miraculously included in my itinerary for this trip.  Her story is up next!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

This Could Be A Problem


   I have a certain amount of anxiety for the impending yet long-awaited trip to Kenya. Bet you can't guess which aspect of this journey has my stomach churning.

   I had to sign on the dotted line allowing Compassion to negotiate for my release in case of kidnapping.
   I've been warned not to set foot outside after sunset, especially with my glow-in-the-dark-white-woman's-face.
   And the warnings are loud and clear on NOT drinking the water or going barefoot. Parasites and other unidentified creepy-crawlies will take over my digestive system if I get lazy and even brush my teeth in Kenyan tap water.
   You all know I'm completely directionless, so the possibilitiy of me getting on the wrong plane and ending up in Australia isn't as remote as you might think.
   Plus flying OVER the DEEP ocean in the DARK for so many HOURS kinda makes the hair on the back of my neck sizzle.
   And how will I identify what kind of meat is on my plate? I don't mind eating a bit of monkey or zebra butt, but I really don't want to spend the bulk of my trip in the latrine trying to read the Nairobi news in Swahili.(They told me to bring my own roll, and I will, but I'm hoping it will stay in my backpack.)

  So I'll tell you what has me a tad concerned.

It's that small, crowded, confined space I will be stuck in for over 14 hours one way. I don't do crowds very well. And I like a lot of personal space. These are BIG planes made for LOTS of people. You won't hear me complain out loud, but you might see me sweat. On an airplane, there is nowhere to go, and for hours on end this could be a problem for me. I need a way of escape and the only way out is DOWN.

  I'm no wimp, though. My levels for pain and discomfort run pretty high. Come H-E-double toothpick or high water, I'm headed to Africa and no foot worm or robbery at machete point will deter me. As for the trapped feeling on the plane, I plan to knock myself out with some Tylenol PM and hope to be unconscious for the majority of the flight. A window seat doesn't help, either. That only emphasizes that the EXIT sign is completely useless. It's going to be a LONG flight.

   I never SEARCH for kids to point out to you guys. You have to trust me on that one. But I do stumble across ones that I feel the need to publish and set before you with the opportunity for sponsorship. God has done some incredible pairing of children with a new sponsor this way and I am highly honored to have a small part in it.

   So may I introduce you to a little boy in Kenya who was born on October 19 and is four years old. His name is Caleb, which is a pretty awesome name, and he lives in Embu with his mother. Picture this little guy doing his chores, which includes carrying water and gathering firewood.

   Our Compassion Tour will take us directly to Embu where we will stay for four days of ministry and learning. I have in my possesion a Nike soccer ball and air pump which I would love to give to Caleb on your behalf if you choose to sponsor him.

   I'll keep you posted on my pre-flight anxiety and welcome any and all tips on how to keep calm. Thanks for reading!!!!