Thursday, March 2, 2017

Compassion Joys: January and February

Because I'm having a little trouble keeping up with my regularly recurring blog posts, I decided to space them out a little further. So I'm trying to share about my Compassion news every two months instead of every month. Let's see how it goes!


Between January and February, we received 53 letters!! The vast majority of those arrived in February, when we received between 2 and 5 letters most days. We also received some mistake letters, meaning some letters from kids that we lost as correspondents quite a long time ago were mistakenly given to us. It was nice to hear from Sithum, Elifagason, Jemal, and others, even though we weren't supposed to get those letters. :) There were also a few first letters mixed in there, including one from Anahi's brother Isai in Honduras!

Photo Updates!

A couple of our kids had photo updates in the new year, too! We are expecting plenty more as the year goes on, since many of our kids last had a photo update in 2015.





Extra Photos! 

This has been a good month for extra photos! We received a few gift photos from some of our kids, as well as a fun bonus photo or two. :)

Some kids at Milder's project celebrating Sponsor's Day

Gift photos of Carla in Boliva

Gift photo of William in Bolivia

New Kids

It's been exciting to receive a few new correspondents so far in 2017! Here are the new faces who have joined our family recently.

Simon, Bangladesh

Amilcar, Guatemala

Shanta, Bangladesh

Kenia in Nicaragua


We had four graduations in the first two months of this year! Laura in the Dominican Republic actually graduated in November of last year, but because of some software updates going on, she sort of lingered on our account for a couple of months. We are now facebook friends and I'm happy that I get to see more of her life and get to know her better there! Yesenia in Peru also graduated in February. We had only received two letters from her in the time we had her as a correspondent, but I'm glad I was able to send her off with lots of letters! Austin in Kenya and Carlos in Peru also graduated early, which was a big surprise! I heard that Austin moved away to another city and has his own apartment, which is amazing, and he is working to open a garage with his mechanic skills! Carlos is currently working in Lima and is preparing to start some university classes this month! I am now also facebook friends with Carlos, and I am so ridiculously thankful for this opportunity to keep in touch with him. We have even chatted on Messenger a few times! It's awesome!

Prayer Requests

This week, we received a response from an inquiry for Said in Tanzania. I had asked about an inquiry because his information recently updated to say that there was only one child living at home. Said lost one sister a few years ago, but he still had one. I'm glad to learn that Moshi is ok, but sad to hear that they had to send her to another city to live with a relative because it was a financial struggle to keep the family together. I am praying about ways to help reunite the family that would be a long term solution for the family. Please pray that something will come up and Moshi can return to her family soon.

I am also working on putting together some fundraising opportunities to purchase a wheelchair for our Jefferson Joel in Ecuador. Seeing his photo makes me hurt for him, because he is all squished up in the stroller so they can move him around more easily. I have been praying about this since he was added to our account last month, and while we can't get a solid number on what exactly it would cost for him to get this chair at the moment, I do believe that God has given me the figure that I need to try to raise. Please pray that my fundraising efforts will be successful and that we will be able to provide him with this much needed device as soon as possible. And if you have some good fundraising ideas, I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Million Reasons Why

In my experience, people usually have one of two motives when they ask you why you do something. The first is genuine curiosity, usually because they're considering trying something out for themselves. "Why did you pick that particular vacuum cleaner?" "Why do you go to that church?" "Why did you upgrade your phone so soon after getting your last one?" The second reason is usually a questioning of motives. They might be trying to find out what makes you tick, or they might think you have some sort of secret plan in mind. But have you ever noticed that, if you're doing a "good" thing and someone asks you why, it's almost always the second reason?

We don't ask why people apply for promotions when they are happy with their jobs, but we ask why they'd pay for the car behind them in the drive thru lane. We don't ask why a family of three needs a four bedroom, 2,000 square foot house, but we ask why people give up their weekends for community service. We don't question our friends if they share their purchases on social media, like makeup that requires a carefully timed pre-order or a subscription box to have snacks delivered to your door each month; but they will ask you why you're loaning money to a stranger on Kiva or packing a bag with Christmas gifts for a child who "may not really need them."

People ask me why I sponsor so many kids, and why I write to even more. I think that when people ask me why, they're falling into that second category. Not maliciously, but they really don't understand why anyone would do that. They might think it's kind of weird. They remind me I could pay off my bills a lot sooner if I didn't commit so much of my income to sponsorship. They wonder aloud how I have time to take care of my responsibilities AND write a hundred letters every week or so. They ask why I can trust a large charity to use my money wisely when they've been burned by non-profits themselves in the past.

The answer to all of those questions is the same. Why? Because I've seen what Compassion is doing. I saw a glimpse of it in the letters I received prior to March 2014, when I took my first trip with Compassion to Tanzania. But I really, truly saw, with my own eyes, on that trip and the one that followed, in Honduras last October. Why do I give so much of my paycheck to Compassion? Because with my money, they're giving life. They're feeding hungry bellies and hungry souls. My money is buying food, providing medicine, keeping people safe.

Why do I spend so much time each week writing letters? Because the recipients of those letters are living, breathing human beings who deserve to be encouraged, prayed for, and dearly loved.

Why do I write to so many kids? Wouldn't just a few be enough? Because I've held the hands of kids who are living with unimaginable burdens, dealing with things no adult should live with, let alone children. And I've heard them talk about their friends and classmates receiving letters, while they receive none. I've heard the project staff share that some kids pray to God to receive letters, ask why their sponsor doesn't love them, confide that they worry God doesn't care, either, because he doesn't answer those prayers.

Why do I trust Compassion to be good stewards of my money? Because they've been doing this a long time- more than half a century, actually- and they do it well. Because I've seen the facilities and the offices and the homes of the beneficiaries and I know that smart people are using that money in smart ways. I've spent time with the office staff, the project facilitators, and the pastors who are dedicating their lives to eliminating extreme poverty by making life better for these children, making sacrifices of their time, their skill, and often their own money to lift them up.

Why do I do these things? After seeing what I've seen, how can I not? How can I ignore the teenager shoving half eaten pieces of chicken into her bag to take home to her hungry siblings? How can I ignore the little girl giving a tour of her neighborhood, casually pointing out who's been murdered at which home? How can I ignore the young lady who shares that she was used in local witchcraft practices and rituals- some that resulted in death- before the project rescued her and showed her Jesus? How can I ignore the boy who humbly opens his tiny home to visiting sponsors, admitting that he lives there by himself, in the dark, because his family moved on and didn't want him to join them? How can I ignore the family of seven living in the earthen house roughly the size of my kitchen? I can't. Knowing what I know, I can't NOT do anything. My heart, my conscience, my faith won't let me.

I hope that someday all my friends, family, and acquaintances will go from asking me "why" out of incredulity and start asking "why" because they want to get in on this themselves. Maybe it's time I start asking why not? Why don't you carve out a little space in your budget for an embarrassingly affordable commitment? Why don't you take a look at the children waiting for a sponsor sometime, praying over them and keeping your heart open to the possibility that God might want you to welcome one of them into your family? If you're already a sponsor, why not take the time today to write a letter or card, or even send an extra gift to your sponsor child- you'd be amazed at how far even $10 can go! These days you can't even get a fast food meal at some restaurants for that amount of money. Why not skip the carry out or the coffee run, just once, and provide your sponsor child with a new pair of shoes, school fees, or food for their family?

If you have your own "whys," know that you can always share them with me, and I'll do my best to answer them. If I don't know the answer, I'll find someone who will! And in the meantime, indulge me and take a look at these sweet, precious faces of kids who are waiting for their own sponsors. Maybe you're the answer to their own "whys."

Patrick in Rwanda has been waiting 416 days for a sponsor.

Richard in Tanzania has been waiting 365 days for a sponsor. 

Leidy in Colombia has been waiting 307 days for a sponsor.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

"What's-a goin' on." -Bret Michaels

Hello! I know I've posted a few project letters from Compassion recently, but not much else. I ran out of steam with my writing challenge- the prompts were getting weird, like "list ten things you want," as in a shopping list. I didn't like it so I didn't keep up with it or seek out something else to replace it. Sorry to disappoint. I had decided that I would check back in and share about my letters every other month, or maybe quarterly, since January was pretty slow for letters from our Compassion kids. It will be like an extended "Compassion Joys" post! :)

As for the rest of my life, things have been kind of a mess lately. I keep wanting to come back and blog, and then it doesn't happen. I think it's like when you're feeling down and really want to talk to someone but you don't want to burden them or put them in an awkward position. Or, conversely, if you're having a really good time and want to share it with someone but you don't want to sound like you're bragging. Sometimes it's just hard to share what I'm thinking and feeling.

Right now, life is weighing rather heavily on me. We are a bit stalled in the adoption process as we haven't yet been able to work out our schedules to take the parenting classes, which is our next step. I am really hoping we will be able to do this in April, but Brandon says he still doesn't know if he can make that work for his work schedule. I say he probably could, since he's the boss, but what do I know? It's also worth noting that when we do attend those parenting classes, it will be full steam ahead, so to speak, for pushing our paperwork through. That means we'd be looking at a matter of months until we received a referral and got to meet our kids, assuming the social workers found a match for us quickly. Since we stated in our paperwork that we are willing to take 2-3 kids, and up to age 9, we have broadened the field for who we might be matched with, meaning the odds are in our favor to be matched quickly. That is SO exciting but also a little intimidating! That means we have to be as ready as possible by the time we start those classes. And in our case, it means replacing my car. We both drive older cars (1996 and 1999!) that have their own issues, cosmetic and otherwise (pieces are literally falling off of Brandon's) and mine doesn't even have a back seat. I have to have a back seat in order to have kids. And buying a new (or new to us) car is a big financial commitment. We are just now getting used to frequently having enough money to both pay our bills and feed ourselves, and I for one experience quite a bit of anxiety thinking about adding a new bill to pay when we've been working so hard to eliminate bills (paying off student loans and medical bills.) You might be thinking "hey, just wait until you have kids! They're expensive!" And that's kind of the point. I just need to calm down about a lot of it and trust Brandon to take care of us and also be careful about my spending. I'm getting there, but it's still new and I feel shaky with it.

One thing I was really looking forward to this year was getting a new job. I really, really thought I was going to get a new job. A full time position opened up at my branch, and I applied for it and was so close. But another employee in the system who has been in the system longer than me also applied, and my boss gave the job to her. She met with me after she made the decision and told me she really wanted me to have it, but felt this was the most fair thing. I took the news better than I thought I would. I feel frustrated because the last time I was in this position, I had the experience and deserved the job over the person who got it, but I wasn't liked (for reasons beyond my control. Those reasons being that I worked for an incompetent loon and the other person who wanted the job is a she-demon. But I digress.) This time I was liked and appreciated and valued, and.....I lacked the experience? Twelve years in the same job, doing excellent work and being appreciated by my boss doesn't stack up well enough against a mystery person who interviewed well and has more experience. The person who got the job is so sweet and friendly and I really like her as a person. But I wrestle with this sometimes. I'm not mad at her at all. And not mad at my boss, either. Just frustrated that things at some other libraries are bad enough that my coworker felt she had to get out or she was going to die, so she moved over here, knocking me out of that place. I struggle, too, because I have wanted this for over a decade and it would be a life changing opportunity. I would have had all my debt, save my mortgage, paid off in about a year and a half. What would I have been able to do after that? What could I have accomplished? I could sponsor more kids, donate more to my preferred local charities, help family members in need, pursue more adoptions without hesitation. And it drives me a little crazy that this "dream" of mine is something so attainable, by many standards, and it still dangles just outside my reach. It might sound a little dramatic, but over and over in my head, for the past month or so, I just keep hearing "you can't win."

I've been struggling with my depression since I got the news that I am staying in my current position at work. But for whatever reason, it's not because of the job, really. I don't know why, but missing out on this has caused the burden in my heart about being childless to grow exponentially. It HURTS. It's so heavy. And I don't know what to do about it. I am hiding a lot of photos on Facebook right now because I have these moments, or days, when I cannot stand seeing anything about anyone's life. It's not always that way, but it's happening more than I want it to. It's not bitterness, I don't think, because I'm not mad about it, but I am sad about missing out. Like if you had a bunch of friends who were excellent chefs and bakers and they were always posting about what they were cooking and eating, and you had crazy weird food allergies that meant you couldn't have ANY of that right now, and you really loved them before and KNOW what you're missing out on. It's just too much sometimes, and I don't want to see it. "I really thought I'd be having cake for my birthday, and birthday cake has always been my favorite part of those celebrations. But I can't have cake anymore, and everyone around me is posting photos of their cake. It's making me sad so I don't want to see it right now." Only times a thousand, because family is more important than cake. If you have kids and we are friends and you feel bad reading this, please don't. I'm still liking photos (sometimes!) and caring about your life. But at the same time, I am growing really weary of my life not being the way I feel it is supposed to be. It's incredibly irritating that God has placed these desires on my heart and then continually holds the realizations of those desires out of reach.

So my depression is bad right now. Not "I'm not leaving the house" bad, but "I'm super emotional all the time and everything is either irrationally irritating or irrationally heartbreaking at the moment." I keep getting choked up when I think of sad things that have happened to a fandom character or the fact that my dog is getting old. Completely out of the blue. Or I want to tell people off for stupid little things. I'm definitely ready for this cloud hanging over my head to dissipate or move on or even shrink a little bit. I want to feel normal again, whatever normal is. And I want to be content. I worry sometimes that I sound discontent. I'm a little impatient, for sure, but it is really hard feeling stuck in one place when you know- KNOW- that God has something else planned for you. Bigger and better things. And you don't know WHEN they are coming and it feels like it's already been an awfully long time.

So that's my update for now. If you are the praying type, I'd really appreciate your prayers. I feel like I ask for them a lot, and that I ask for the same things over and over again: peace, contentment, happy feelings if things don't work out the way I think they will. I know it's redundant, but I really do want and need that, and I hope you'll keep praying for me while I wait.

Project Letter: GU-996

We recently received a letter from Bauner's project in Guatemala! All the photos are from Compassion's website.

My name is Javier C., pastor of Iglesia Bautista "Palestina," which partners with Compassion to (the project where your sponsored child attends. We are located in the region of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Cordial greetings! I wish you blessings in all that you do.

As a pastor, I thank you for your monthly support to Bauner. He receives it with smiles and even tears in his eyes. All our beneficiaries have their own Holy Bibles, uniforms, school supplies, and delicious food received in their classrooms. We thank God for what you send Bauner.

We live in a region of hot weather. Our population speaks Queqchi and their educational level is sixth grade; just some students reach ninth grade. The main sources of income are corn, achoite (annatto) and chili farming. We count on water, electricity, transportation, and general dwelling. There are asphalted roads where heavy transportation travels. However, we are mainly affected by thefts, family problems, and violence.

My vision for this church is to be a united church, with love to the neighbor, firm in their Christian faith, reaching all families everywhere through Gospel preaching. My vision for this center is to show the way of truth in Jesus, teaching registered boys and girls how to generate income for their families and good health practices.

Compassion's program has impacted our beneficiaries, since they are now responsible, know Jesus, love God, and are respectful wherever they go, different from those children who are not part of the program, who are irreverent, don't know Jesus, and misbehave everywhere. Last year 30 children came to Christ at the center.

Regarding the health area, 27 beneficiaries are recovering from a contagious disease and we are helping them through medical treatment and follow ups, thanks to your help. Another girl had a surgery due to a hernia, and thanks to God all of them are now stronger and healthier. Their parents are also very grateful to God and to sponsors.

We have 273 registered children, and 89 of them are attending regular services at church. 88 beneficiaries have sponsors, and 28 families belong to the Baptist church and are now active members.

Letters between children and sponsors are very useful, since they can be in direct communication with one another. Children are able to thank their sponsors for their monthly contribution, with their own words, and learn about their health, job, etc. Boys and girls become really excited when they receive a letter and are encourage to participate in activities in the center. However, those who don't receive any correspondence feel sad and ask why their sponsors don't write to them. Please make a time to write often to Bauner; just a few lines means so much to them.

I ask your prayers for the provision of the necessary funds to solve the problem of the church's land. Pray for the 27 beneficiaries who were affected by the virus to be strengthened and completely healed. Also pray for jobs to those parents who don't have a job. Thank you very much for your contribution to our children. Thank you also for reading this letter. May God bless your paths and your family.

If you're interested in sponsoring a child from Bauner's project, please consider sweet little Sonia! She has two siblings at home and helps her family take care of their animals! Read more about her here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Project Letter: HO-229

This letter came from our little Sofia's project in Honduras! Instead of pulling photos from Compassion's website, I'm sharing some from my visit to the center. :)

I am Benjamin H. M., pastor of the (church) and the project where we minister to Sofia. I thank you sincerely for sponsoring Sofia and for your noble generosity that supports all the little boys and girls in poverty. The economic, emotional, and spiritual support, and the love and affection for Sofia deserves noble attention.

One of the biggest problems that our community and church faces in insecurity, due to the expansion of groups of gangs, which intimidate the families. However, we trust in the promises from the Lord, which we are in His hands. The brothers and sisters in our church and the children from the center show their constant faith in this hostile environment.

The center has made a large impact on the lives of the children and we see that they improve in their student duties, are aiming to reach their professional goals, are in line with integrity and good harmony with the parents, and also have a firm desire to understand the scriptures and abide by the heavenly plan. The most important thing is that the values have been transformed. The youth also receive courses on crafts like fashion jewelry, music, cooking, beauty, and others, as a way to provide them with the tools to generate income and support themselves.

In addition to the holistic development program of Compassion that we use at the center for the children, as a church we evangelize and serve the community through "Libra de Amor" (A Pound of Love), which means food for the neediest. We put our church and volunteers from the center at the service of the families in need. Also, we organize activities from the community board, family and personal counseling as well as evangelization through groups at home. Currently as an achievement of the church and the center, there are 11 families, 45 sponsored children and youth who are now active members of the different ministries in our congregation.

I would like to encourage you to continue writing to Sofia. It is very important to send letters to the children, since this supports the sponsor-sponsored child coupling. In most cases, children are misunderstood at home and in the community. For them, this friendship developed through sponsorship and letters is necessary to make their hearts joyful. When they do not receive their letter there is a void and the child can lose interest in continuing attending the center that is part of the Compassion program. Once again, I am highly thankful for your help towards Sofia and this program.

If you're interested in sponsoring a little girl in Honduras, please consider sweet Adeline, who has been waiting more than six months for a sponsor! 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?

Today I've been tasked to write about one of my struggles. Since today is a holiday and I sent a few extra hours in bed, I think the appropriate one to talk about would be procrastination.

Ironically, I almost wrote this entry yesterday. And then I decided to put it off.

I don't know why I struggle with it so much. I think part of it is genetic. I know that my parents procrastinate (sorry, mom and dad.) But most of it is on me. Sometimes it's just because I like being comfortable. Say I need to do the dishes. I might plan to do that after breakfast. So I settle into the living room with my coffee and my laptop, catching up on the news, and then the coffee is gone and the news has been read, and I'm not ready to do dishes. Because that's not fun and I'm comfy and I don't want to get up. And I keep finding things to do that do not involve the dishes. And then it's lunch time.

At least that sort of makes sense, though. It makes sense to not want to to do a chore, especially one that is time consuming and a little gross (looking at you, smushy food particles) and honestly, sometimes it hurts my back. But then there are other, stupid little things that I put off and put off and put off for no reason known to myself. Addressing an envelope to put out in the mail. Or filing my kids' letters. I have a HUGE pile of letters to put away. And I have been *thinking* about it for weeks. I even took my file box over to my mom's last week when I went over there for lunch, planning to do it then (or ask her to do it for me, because I have a mental block against it for some reason.) But then it was raining and I didn't want to bring them out of the car! Now here I am, writing a blog post that I put off for 24 hours, because......I was going to file those letters, and I'm putting it off. Again. Good grief.

Every year I hope to be a little more intentional, and I think in some ways it works out. I don't waste as much time as I used to, but I still waste a lot, or put my priorities in a weird order for stupid reasons. I'm not sure that this is one bad habit I'm ever going to completely break. It seems to be part of my DNA.

So PLEASE tell me that you have some weird habit that you struggle with. Something so embarrassingly simple. Like putting off simple tasks because you've developed an irrational aversion to them over time.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Sing Out Loud, Sing Out Strong

My writing assignment for today is to share 10 songs I'm loving right now! I tend to listen to a lot of the same music over and over, and I don't listen to a lot of current stuff. So here are ten songs I really like. I could name a million.

1. "14th Street" by Rufus Wainwright. Rufus is one of my favorite artists. I used to give mix CDs of his music out like gospel tracts in high school, trying to make converts. I love Rufus. I haven't kept up with his music as much in recent years because I didn't enjoy some of his newer albums quite as much as I did the first four or five. He's been doing more live recordings and special events, and tribute work- and that doesn't work for me quite as much. "Poses" is my favorite album of his, and I recommend that everyone give it a listen at least once, but this is the first song that popped into my head when I sat down to write this post. "14th Street" is a fun, catchy song from Rufus' third studio album, Want One. And that's a really good album, too. It's a bit more theatrical than "Poses," which has a simpler sound. There are lots of layers in almost all the songs, with orchestras and banjos and multiple tracks of Rufus harmonizing with himself. It's cool.

2. "Life on Mars?" by David Bowie. Oh, how I love David. My best friend and I went to see an orchestral tribute to his work last weekend, and it was so fun- and sentimental. We miss him a lot. "Life on Mars?" is, I think, my favorite Bowie song, though it is hard to choose because there are many that I love for many, many reasons. Some have emotional ties, some tell interesting stories, some are just fun to dance to. The concert closed with this tune, and it was so fitting. I don't know why, but it just worked. To me, this is the quintessential David Bowie tune.

3. "Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler. This song is so ridiculous, and the video is even crazier. It's beyond over the top. Maybe that's why I like it. I don't go to karaoke bars, but if I did, this would be my go-to song every time. It just feels epic.

4. "Looks Like We Made It" by Barry Manilow. I can't explain my love of Barry Manilow. I have no idea why I love him so much. I have all his albums, most of them on vinyl. I used to buy extra copies at yard sales and flea markets so I could cut up the covers for the artwork. He's just a happy, sparkly dweeb, who has a nice voice and sings cheesy songs that make me feel good. My best friend and I also got to go see him in concert in 2015, and it was AMAZING. He's so old but he puts on such a good show! I love many of his songs, but this one is my favorite. It's just a nice love song. And I love that I got to hear him see it live- I took a video of most of the song!

5. "Mr. Brightside" by The Killers. Holy Crap, Hot Fuss was an incredible album. I've bought it three or four times because I kept losing copies in my car or accidentally scratching them up, carrying them around everywhere. There aren't a lot of albums that I enjoy listening to start to finish, since I have a short attention span and I like skipping tracks. I am so glad this song has become a meme now. Seeing them online makes me so happy! I love the whole album, but I picked this song because it's just quintessential Killers. I think "Somebody Told Me" was their first single from the album, but this is the song everyone remembers. The video helps.

6. "Dance to the Music" by Sly & the Family Stone. I love so many songs, artists, and albums from the 70s. If I had to choose a favorite decade for music, it'd be a really close tie between that and the 80s, just because I love a lot of that pop. This song always makes me feel good and want to dance.

7. "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" by Paul Simon, featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo. "Graceland" is another album that I can listen to all the way through. It had such an innovative sound- Paul Simon almost always has. Well, I say it's innovative, but really it borrows a lot from other genres and cultures, like zydeco and, of course, South African superstars LBM. I love the spirit of the songs on this album, and I think this one is my favorite (though I also really like "Under African Skies.")

8. "Kathy's Song" by Simon & Garfunkel (live version.) Hey, there's Paul Simon again. I love, love, love Simon & Garfunkel. Their original Greatest Hits album is one of my favorites. But this one is at the top for me. It's so pure and sweet. The lyrics are perfect. I remember an assignment from high school where I had to bring in my favorite poem, and I brought the lyrics to this song. It's basically perfect.

9. "Iris" by Goo Goo Dolls. I'm noticing I'm basically just choosing all the same songs I've claimed as my favorites for the last 10-15 years. Well, good stuff doesn't change, I guess. I'm not sure what originally drew me to this song, but it's the first one I learned to play on the guitar!

10. "Your Song" performed by Ewan McGregor, from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. I have always loved Elton John. And I've always loved this song. But seeing Moulin Rouge was such an experience for me! It is one of my all time favorite movies. It has everything that appeals to me: 80s music, singing, lots of glitter and sparkles, forbidden romance, and some tragedy. I loved the soundtrack, especially the tracks sung by Ewan (also known as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Amazing.) I love this song so much, it's what I chose for walking down the aisle in my wedding!

Friday, January 13, 2017


For this writing assignment, I'm supposed to share about five places I'd like to visit. If only there were just five places I'd like to go! I honestly couldn't narrow it down. I want to be able to visit all of the countries where Compassion works, and there are a couple dozen of those. I want to see several countries in Europe and tons of places in my own country. I want to go to Alaska, Seattle, northern California, Chicago, New York (More than just the airport), New Orleans, the Dakotas.....all over. So since I have to pick five, how about I pick five places I want to go back to?

5. Atlanta. It has been a while since I went to Atlanta- probably before I got married. I feel like we used to go all the time when I was a kid, because I have family there. My dad worked for Delta for a while and my uncle used to live there. My aunt still does. The last time that we were there, mom was working a conference and we were heading on to Disney World after that, so we worked a bit and we also did some fun stuff. There's a lot I like about Atlanta. I like the history and the Civil War museums, even though they were on the wrong side. I loved the zoo- I think I was 10 years old the last time I was there! The botanical gardens are absolutely gorgeous (that was the last trip) and there are lots of cool parks and museums, too. There are a lot of things I'm remembering that would be really fun to re-visit, and a lot that Brandon has never seen before that I want to share with him! 

4. Washington, D.C. I think a lot of people visit Washington for 8th grade trips. My school did that. But I was in 8th grade in 2001. And a big thing happened then that made our school administration feel Washington might not be a safe place to visit just then. My family couldn't really afford the trip, anyway, so I probably wasn't going to go. But the summer after I finished 8th grade, my cousin went to a sports camp thing at a school in Washington, and my aunt and grandpa were going to make the trip up with her, and I got invited along. We went to a few of the museums and monuments, and it was cool- but I'd like to see more of it. And as a 14 year old, I didn't really appreciate what I was seeing at the time. My fascination with politics and the presidency didn't really set in until I was in college. I care a lot more about what I'd be seeing now than I did then. I hope that Brandon and I are able to make a trip over there sometime and see everything that I missed the first time, and give a better look to the places I've already visited. 

3. Gatlinburg. My family used to visit Gatlinburg a lot. I think it was every year for the first few years of my life. And then every other year (we'd alternate between Myrtle Beach and Gatlinburg for a while.) I feel really sentimental about that place, and it makes me sad that I haven't been there in so long! Brandon and I have never taken a vacation together (not since our honeymoon, anyway) and since Gatlinburg is only a few hours away, I'm really hoping we can go there sometime in the next two or three years. So much of it is kitschy and touristy, but I still love it. I love the mountains and the little shops, and all the candy stores (a large part of the town smells like sugar.) I like driving through the woods and I like eating at the Pancake Pantry. It just makes me feel happy. 

2. Honduras. I liked being there and the people were really nice, but mostly I just want to hug my kids again. Honduras is really pretty and the people are lovely, but I didn't quite connect with the culture as deeply as I did with the next place. 

1. Tanzania. For over two years, I thought about Tanzania every day. I ached to go back there. I miss the red dirt and the clay homes and the big pots of food that I got really sick of eating. I miss hearing Swahili and sweetly accented English. I miss the radiant joy and open hearts. Since I went to Honduras last October, that ache has subsided just a little. I deeply miss being with my kids in Honduras, and feel like I have to get back there as soon as I can to squeeze them and play with them and hold hands and talk with them. But Honduras is a lot closer and more accessible than Tanzania is. If I got a ticket right now to go anywhere I wanted, it would be Tanzania. If I had to move to another country for some inexplicable reason, it would be Tanzania. If I could recommend a place for someone to visit, for a week or a month, it would be Tanzania. It gets under your skin and sets up permanent residence in your heart. You can't shake it. And I so hope that I get to go back someday. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Good Friends Who Influence People

This is day four of my thirty day writing challenge! I think I'm making pretty good time!

Today I'm supposed to write about someone who inspires me. When I first read that, I felt a little stuck. I know that there are a lot of people I really like and enjoy, people I want to emulate or just love reading about. Jane Goodall, Jim Henson, David Bowie, and Malala Yousafzai all come to mind. But I don't think "inspire" means that you really like someone. Or even that you hope some aspects of their life look like your own. I hope I'm as brave as Malala and Jane (who were brave in different ways.) I hope I'm as creative as Jim and as innovative as David. None of those people have ever stirred me to action, though. I double-checked the dictionary today, to see what the word inspire really means, rather than just working off of what I feel like it means. To inspire is to fill someone with the urge or ability to do something. Synonyms include motivate, encourage, influence, and affect. So let me tell you about someone who really and truly inspires me.

My friend Hannah has had a really big impact on my life, in ways that she probably doesn't understand. I've grown a lot as a person and as a Christian in the past several years, and I owe part of that to Hannah. We have never met in person- our friendship exists because of the internet, and our meeting through the Compassion sponsor community. But that friendship means as much to me as if she'd lived next door to me for ten years. Hannah is a patient, gentle, kind, loving person who has inspired and encouraged me in many ways.

Her patience and gentleness when dealing with difficult people has inspired me to try to extend those same qualities when I am frustrated with someone. She may be angered or irritated by some current event, but instead of voicing those opinions publicly, like I might, she shares them quietly with individuals- which avoids a lot of arguments and maddening discussions with people who feel differently, I'm sure. If someone writes something mean or stupid on one of her posts, she deletes the post instead of contradicting them. She shares a lot of joy with the people around her, working hard to encourage them and lift them up if she's surrounded by people who are feeling down. She's inspired me to think before I post, to reconsider my words and my tone, and to be a better representative of my faith (which is all about love and not about arguing.) The person I was on the internet even three or four years ago is so different than the person I am today, and so much of that is due to Hannah's influence. She inspires me to do better in my interactions with people.

Hannah is a great friend to me and is always available to chat, to be a sounding board, to listen to my problems and offer me encouragement. She's very available to her friends and is thoughtful and loving in her responses. If I ask her to pray, I know she will. If I am feeling burdened by something and tell her about it, I know she shares those burdens, too. Yesterday I was so anxious waiting for something to come to pass, and she messaged me throughout the day, telling me that she was waiting with me. She lives hundreds of miles away and we have never been in each other's presence physically, but her heart was with me as she went about her busy day. She inspires me to be a better friend, both to the people in my every day life and the people that I only know through digital interaction.

And Hannah has inspired me to be a better sponsor! Long ago, I "met" her through the Compassion Bloggers network and an old social network the sponsors used to have. I loved her enthusiasm for her kids and the way she cared about each of them as individuals. I loved her blog posts and her ideas for things to send her sponsor kids. Hannah's enthusiasm for Compassion and for ministering to children through letters had a huge influence on me, and inspired me to pray for and write to our kids faithfully. Her passion for the ministry helped awaken a similar passion in me. I really believe part of the reason God placed her in my life was to inspire me to be the best sponsor I can be, which has led to accepting more financial commitments, more correspondence kids, and saying "yes" to God's prompting to go on TWO overseas trips in less than three years. And because of those things, I've had these amazing experiences, met some beautiful people, and now write to over 100 kids all around the world.

Thank you, Hannah, for being so awesome! I'm grateful for your friendship and for the impact you've had on my life!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

How Rude.

Well, skipping one day of my writing challenge isn't too bad. I've got plenty of time to kill today so I figured I'd stop by and write something.

Today I've been tasked with sharing my top three pet peeves. I feel like I have a lot of "peeves." There are a lot of things that bother me, some of them irrational. I can't stand seeing certain actors in movies (I will boo or throw things in the direction of the television. Or claim to be dying.) I have a weird beef with celery and honeydew melon. Overreacting to things like this is done partly in the name of comedy, but gosh, I really, really do not like some things.

This post feels like complaining. Remember that I was asked to do it.

My biggest pet peeve, I guess, would be when something is happening that's not fair or right. I really can't stand it. When I was a kid, I'd get incredibly stressed if I read a chapter book that had someone being mistreated in it. The same thing would happen with television shows. My brother and I were just talking about this the other day- I got the entire series of Full House on DVD for Christmas, and we were texting about all the crazy things that happened on that goofy show. One episode that always infuriated the both of us was when Michelle, the youngest daughter (do I really have to explain that?) kept getting a free pass for her bad behavior from dad Danny. The older two girls, Stephanie and DJ, would get in trouble for the smallest infractions. Near the end of the episode, spoiled Michelle brings her kiddie pool into the kitchen and fills it with water. Stephanie and DJ call their father into the room, so he can see that Michelle has a problem with feeling entitled and privileged. Danny comes in and immediately blames his older daughters. I don't know why that enrages me so much. It's a TV show! But it's not right.

My moral compass is more like an overbearingly loud weather alert radio. It cannot be ignored. And it's incredibly obnoxious at times, particularly when it's going off because of something inane and not particularly pressing (like when my phone alert goes off just to tell me that there was lightning somewhere seven miles away.) I don't talk about my moral compass to be self righteous or make me sound like I think I'm perfect. I make mistakes all the time. And sometimes those mistakes include reacting when I'm trying to stifle my moral compass! This past year I really struggled with some issues floating around the election. I know that my posts upset some people because they thought I was criticizing them, or because they didn't agree with me. My tone wasn't always as gentle as I hoped it would be (that happens sometimes and I try to self-censor by deleting more combative posts later on.) I'm not going to say that people of one religious persuasion are incapable of voting for a particular party. That's ridiculous. But I could not tolerate some particular statements that those around me made regarding the morality and ethics of their votes. The hypocrisy and, well, unfairness of it all brought me literal, physical pain. I started having high blood pressure around the times of the debates because there were things that were said that were not true (which is something that is wrong, which bothers my moral compass) and there was no accountability for it. Which also bothered my moral compass. I think telling the truth is something that is objectively always "right" and it bugs me that we now live in a world where truth is questioned, or bastardized on the regular. It will be interesting to see what the next few years are like. No matter who had won the election, we'd be in the same place we are now, because of the way our minds have been shaped over the past few years. So I'm not blaming the person who won. I'm blaming everyone. I hope that someday soon we can get back to the point where we don't think a myth-busting website has a dishonest agenda just because they're reporting something that upsets us. If someone debunks a viral news story that was making you feel better about your viewpoint or your personal stance on something, they're not lying. They're telling you a truth you don't want to hear. I didn't want to hear that the viral video about a big hawk picking up a small child was faked, because I thought that was really funny and interesting. But when I found out that it wasn't, I didn't say "oh, no, that's a lie. I know what those birds are capable of. I know they really do that. The pro-bird people just want us to think that they're nicer than that, and that they wouldn't want to do something like that." That's silly. But that's where we are now.

I think I'm going to decline to follow the assignment to the letter today, because listing more pet peeves would just stress me out. My emotions are already running pretty high, and I've got some anxiety issues going on because of something I have to do this afternoon (a skippy heart and butterflies in the tummy. Manageable but not enjoyable.) You can just take my word for it that there are plenty more things out there that annoy me, though none of them are directly linked to the craziness that's going on across the country right now.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Origami Butterflies

I made it! I'm back for the second day of my writing challenge- on time! Woohoo! It helps that it's freezing cold here and I have no motivation to do anything besides sit with my blankets and my laptop, avoiding my responsibilities.

Today I've been tasked with writing about something somebody has told me about myself that I've never forgotten. That opens up some doors to pretty hurtful things. I won't forget the camp counselor who told me I had anxiety because I didn't pray enough. Or the Bible study member who told me that, after talking it over with everyone else in our group, she didn't feel that I was a good enough Christian (and she linked that to my anxiety, too.) I won't forget the time a relative told me I'd have better friends if I dressed differently, or the time another one told me that I should choose a different career path than the one I was interested in at the time, because I "probably wouldn't be that good at it, anyway." But those things aren't really fun to dwell on. Or write about. Since we're at it, though, if you're reading this- your words matter. Some things are hard to forget. And if you think it's ok to gossip in Bible study group, you should spend less time gossiping and more time reading  your Bible. But I digress.

There is one thing someone told me once that is positive (shocker!) that I don't think I'll ever forget. It happened a couple of years ago when I was in Tanzania. I had volunteered before the trip to help put together a craft for the VBS day we'd be hosting. I never meant to be put in charge, especially since I didn't have any spare room in my luggage, but I thought my experience helping to plan programs at the library would be helpful. Our theme was butterflies and how coming to know Jesus is a transformative experience. I thought it would be fun to do thumbprint caterpillars and coffee filter butterflies. The samples we put together after dinner one evening were so cute! It was fun seeing adults of all ages inking their thumbs and making these little caterpillars on construction paper, or getting creative with their coffee filter designs. We were doing the VBS day at a project between Singida, where we spent most of the week, and Arusha, where we started and ended the trip. We loaded up our luggage and checked out of the Singida hotel to head out to the project, which was a few hours away from where we had been staying. As we pulled into the muddy road leading to the project, our trip leader turned to ask me if we had remembered to get the luggage containing the craft supplies from the hotel office. No, we had not. Because we (meaning I) didn't know that it was in the office. I thought that our hosts had it and it had already been on the bus! My mind started racing, thinking of something else we could do with the craft and school supplies we were bringing as part of a project gift. Handprint butterflies were easy enough and could be done with crayons and paper. And, miraculously, one of our travelers was a big fan of origami and had brought a bunch of paper "just in case." And he knew how to make butterflies. When we set up the small classroom for our craft area, he taught a few people how to do the butterflies while I explained the handprints. It was chaotic and passed by way too quickly, but everything turned out fine. All the kids had fun- and some of the grandmotherly lunch ladies and project staff sat in and learned some origami, too!

Two mornings later, when we had finished our game drive (aka safari) and made it to our final hotel, I was joined by our trip leader at breakfast. We made small talk and I told him a little bit about my life back home, and he mentioned how glad he was that everything worked out for our VBS day. I was thrilled at this fun example of God's provision for the trip; "provision" was a word I used over and over to describe my journey and the events leading up to it! And then Sean, the leader, said "I was so impressed with how you handled everything! It was a crazy situation and you brought everything together so well. You must be a really calm, cool headed person." And I nearly spit out my hot chocolate. I burst into laughter, which really confused Sean. I thanked him and explained that those words have never, ever been used to describe me in my life. For all my years leading up to that point, everyone has seen me as an anxious, neurotic, overly emotional mess. I told him about my anxiety disorder and what a miracle it was that I was sitting there in that hotel, in Africa, getting ready to meet my sponsor children. I told him about how God had provided (provision! There's that word again) a calm spirit and a joyful heart, and the encouragement of so many family and friends. I bragged on God, sharing how I had fully expected to have a panic attack every day during the trip, and had made all these plans for how to cope with them and pull myself out of them as quickly as I could- but I really only had issues once! And even then, I was more sick than panicky. If I had felt that way back home, I would have had a full blown anxiety attack and probably had to miss work the next day. But everything worked out fine.

The fact that Sean was under the impression that I was a chill person, and shared that with me, still amuses me to this day. And it means a lot to me. It reminds me of God's faithfulness in a situation I never would have been able to dream of, let alone handle, without Him. It reminds me of the things I can do and have done- now when I'm feeling anxious about something, I tell myself, "girl, you have been to Africa, you can drive two exits down on the freeway. Seriously."  And it reminds me of how far I've come! My anxiety isn't "cured"- the structure of my brain is not such that I will ever just "get over" this condition. But I cope with it so well now. It's not perfect, but it works for me. I lean less heavily on others when I'm experiencing anxiety, and I've learned several tricks for helping me cope with an attack- or warding one off completely. My life looks so much different than it did just a few years ago because I have learned to remind my brain that I'm in charge, and I'm not letting it ruin my fun. And for that, I am so grateful!