One month following the 7.1 earthquake that struck Haiti, an all-star cast of musicians is gathering for Help Haiti Live, a two-city ticketed concert event taking place on February 27th, 2010 to benefit Compassion International’s Haiti disaster relief fund.
Don't live in LA or Nashville? Watch the concerts for free (streaming live) on the 27th at Help Haiti Live website. Go ahead and bring your wallet, though--at the website you'll be given a chance to donate to Compassion's work in Haiti. If you've not already done so, this will be the perfect opportunity.
One hundred percent of on-line donations through HelpHaitiLive.com will go to Compassion International’s Haiti disaster relief fund. One hundred percent of net proceeds from ticket sales will go to the same place.
Some of the artists participating in this concert include Jars of Clay, Amy Grant, and two of my personal favorites: Dave Barnes (*squeal*), and Alison Krauss and Union Station (*double squeal*). This will be a spectacular night of music for a great cause--I'll be watching live. Join me!
"Should we go there?" my eight-year-old son asked me last night as we sat and watched CNN as a family.
No, I explained, we shouldn't--we'd only be in the way.
But I know how he feels. Watching the epic destruction unfold leaves me sitting with a shaking head and a heavy heart, wondering what on earth I can possibly do. Hand-wringing won't help, of course; there is always a course of action, even when the path seems overwhelming.
:: Give. There are people on the ground with access to the tools to help--give to these organizations generously, until you feel the pinch yourself. If you've never been a giver before, let this be a wake-up call and a chance to stretch that part of your heart, and see how your life is changed when you sacrifice for someone else. Compassion has had a strong presence in Haiti for a very long time, and--praise God--their office still stands. You can be sure that your gift will be stretched and used to its very last drop. Here's a great explanation (directly from the Compassion folks) about why their model for disaster relief is so effective:
In this disaster it is crucial that first responders receive support quickly. Because Compassion International ministers through local churches to meet the needs of that church's neighbors, and because these church partners are respected aid workers in their communities, Compassion is uniquely positioned to assess and meet the needs of its sponsored children quickly. This is an advantage of our church-based model in practice for more than 50 years.
:: Talk to your kids. Don't hide tragedy from them. Their world, unfortunately, is a scary place sometimes. Poverty and disaster should be jarring, and seeing it will help them grow into people who want to make things better. Pray together. Brainstorm as a family about things you can give up together to give more generously. Let them feel the pinch, too.
:: Live with intentional thankfulness. When I came home from Africa, I struggled with guilt--why am I comfortable when so many others aren't? I understand a little better now that I can channel those emotions into thankfulness, and I can teach it to my kids. I don't know why my kids are safe and my house is standing and our water is clean. But I will be thankful, and I will take opportunities like this one to re-tune my heart. So many of the things that occupy our minds are fleeting and unimportant. Let Haiti awaken us to a perspective that is laser-focused on what really matters.
A sheepish "thank you" to those of you who have dropped a note to ask if my lack of posting means that something is terribly wrong.
Things are, in fact, terribly right these days--the book is done (DONE, I tell you, DONE!) and it's off to the printer. I'm so giddy with the new-found freedom that I've celebrated by alternately plowing through my reading list and learning to crochet (and by "learning to crochet", of course, I mean "looping a bunch of sloppy knots, but gosh, it's fun.") The kids are out of school and they're helping me with holiday preparations (and by "helping", of course, I mean "not really helping at all, but gosh, they're cute"). We're staring down the barrel of an especially action-packed holiday season this year--details to follow, once all the dust has settled.
In the meantime, as a very tiring 2009 draws to a close, I find myself feeling a little reflective about this silly blog o' mine. It started as a hobby, grew into a "job," and it's mercifully, gently settling back into a hobby again, for which I'm profoundly grateful. I've learned so much about setting limits this year; perhaps I'll write on it once I grab hold of the right words. Thank you for bearing with me during a busy, chaotic year, and for the frequent doses of encouragement and laughter you've sent me at just the right time.
I just yawned, which reminds me that, yet again, I've stayed up too late, cramming in all the last-minute Things Which Must Be Done. The presents are sloppily wrapped, and the kitchen floor is covered with sprinkles from our (highly unsuccessful) foray into holiday baking today. The kids played too many video games, and the 8yo has been throwing up all evening. I sigh to remember how I was crabby when I should've been kind today, how I was rushed when I should've paid attention. I'm beginning to think my decades-long tradition of falling short at Christmas may actually be by design: if I had it all together, I suppose I wouldn't have needed a certain Baby to come and rescue me from my own messes.
So I'll sit here, picking cookie sprinkles off the bottoms of my feet, and I'll think about the manger. I'll say a prayer for peace and rest for those of you who are fighting hard battles right now--I know there are many of you. And I'll think on this, by lovely Madeleine:
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
Be merry, my friends--I'll see you back here in the new year.
Hi, blog friends. I'm back. Or at least back-ish. It's been a long and strange several weeks: the normal madhouse of back-to-school chaos (including our first year of middle school), plus the frantic pace of a book deadline, plus the sudden death of my father-in-law. (And by the way, many thanks to those of you who sent such kind expressions of prayer and sympathy--that meant more than you know.) I'm not sure I've ever been sprinting in so many directions at once.
Case in point: I went to curriculum night at my kids' school a couple last week, dashing out the door after a full day of writing and a thrown-together meal of macaroni and cheese. I talked with all the teachers, and I had a nice chat with the PTA president and principal and several other parents. As I was leaving the school, I looked down to see that the entire evening I'd been wearing a giant, streaky blob of macaroni and cheese stuck to the front of my shirt.
While I'm quick to kick myself for letting things get so chaotic, I don't want to miss the lessons in the mayhem. Times like this have a way of forcing me to focus on what's important: Turn off the computer and enjoy the cool evening. Love my husband. Check my shirt for wayward pasta. Live and learn.
The good news is that the book is going very well. We're almost to the halfway point, and we're so proud of what we've done so far. You TypePad users already know how many changes are taking place as the new version continue to get up and running, and we're writing this book to the new version of TypePad, not the old one. This has meant many, many hours of poking around in my dashboard, learning the new lay of the land (and, by the way, loving it. I don't always love change, but this new TypePad design has really grown on me.) If you're a new TypePad user (or you're an old one who is still getting up to speed on all the changes), I really think this book is going to be a great help. Sit tight--I'll tell you more about it soon.
In the meantime, I'll continue to be in and out here at my blog, until we hit our final deadline later this fall. OH, the irony that spending many hours a day writing a book on blogging doesn't leave any time for...um, blogging. Also, a quick note--I'm using my personal blog as a guinea pig for implementing some of the TypePad features I'm writing about. Hopefully the changes will be (mostly) unnoticeable to you, but if anything seems wonky, now you know why.
Enough about that. What's new with you?
For starters, we saw this:
My oldest son became pensive, remarking that standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon makes you realize how small you are. My youngest son coped with the philosophical enormity of that observation by hocking a loogie over the edge. My four-year-old daughter seemed unable to take it all in (she asked us which of the Disney Princesses we could expect to find there). I think she thought she was looking at a giant painting, a feeling I can certainly understand. I felt as if I stood at a masterpiece in the finest museum, my jaw hanging open at the creativity of an Artist who wields a river as a paintbrush.
We stayed long enough to watch sunset, a spectacle we'd been told we didn't want to miss. Though the crowds had thinned through the late afternoon, a large gathering had assembled at the recommended lookout. Several brave souls sat right at the edge, their hiking shoes dangling over the precipice. There was a rumble of friendly conversation all around us, much of it in French, Japanese, Spanish and German.
The sun began its final disappearing act, lowering to touch the western edge of the canyon. The conversation around us slowly quieted. We all watched the vanishing sun, vaguely recalling our mothers' warnings that we'd burn our eyes, but how could we look away?
The sun turned very quickly into a semi-circle on the horizon. A last, giant burst of orange and purple exploded across the canyon walls to the east. A few people gasped. My sons began a countdown: "eight...seven...six...five..."
"...three...two...one..."And then it was gone. The dusty, sunburned, multi-lingual crowd spontaneously erupted into applause, the sound of our claps disappearing instantly into the depths around us. It was such a small thing to do, to clap for the sun and the Canyon, two giant forces so much bigger than any of us, and entirely out of our control. But we did it anyway. I guess there's just something in us that needs to say thank you.
This post was originally published on July 16, 2008.
Every now and then, motherhood serves you up one of those days. The days that beat you to a pulp--before breakfast. The days that make you wonder if you should be saving for college....or reform school.
It was just a really hard week last week. And I crawled into the weekend, my heart bruised and my spirit a little bloodied. It wasn't pretty. I wept, and I doubted, and I was mad at my little Offender who, so help me, still makes my heart sing with his crooked smile. I lay in my bed and cried, and I begged God for something--anything--to redeem this ugly day we'd had.
1 To you I call, O LORD my Rock;
do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent,
I will be like those who have gone down to the pit.
2 Hear my cry for mercy
as I call to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
toward your Most Holy Place.
4 Repay them for their deeds
and for their evil work;
repay them for what their hands have done
and bring back upon them what they deserve.
6 Praise be to the LORD,
for he has heard my cry for mercy.
7 The LORD is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy
and I will give thanks to him in song.
9 Save your people and bless your inheritance;
be their shepherd and carry them forever.
"The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped." These are just the words of peace I needed to hear.
Also? "Repay them for what their hands have done and bring back upon them what they deserve." If I'm not mistaken, I think that's a Biblical way to say, "I HOPE YOU HAVE A CHILD JUST LIKE YOU SOMEDAY."
Oh, yes. I'm defininitely feeling better now.
I'm thinking these thoughts, laughing through my tears, when The Offender comes into my room and hops up in my bed. He can't sleep. He tells me what's on his mind, and I listen. And at one point in our conversation I tell him, "you know, you just can't always trust girls. Believe me. I used to be one."
Used to be?
The joke hung in the air for just a minute until it washed over us both. We laughed together, and he leaned in to nudge me with his shoulder. I placed my hand on the top of his head. The rumbles of laughter silenced, and we sat there together, a cheeky pre-teen boy and his over-wrought mother. It was a good silence, the kind that patches up the holes we'd left in each other's hearts that day.
Thank God for the sweet mercy of taking things one day at a time.
Robin of Pensieve is my blog-friend-turned-real-life-friend, and she's is a fireball of energy, personality and heart. She is so dear to me, and I have been especially moved, on a very personal level, to watch her passionate participation in Compassion's India blog trip. She has shared words that are profound, gut-wrenching, beautiful and honest. Before she left, I asked her if she'd be willing to guest post here at my blog while she was overseas, and she graciously agreed. Robin's powerful words and photo arrived in my in-box this afternoon, and I can hardly wait for you to read on...
I'm standing in the shower while a perpetual army of water soldiers fights off the day's sweat and filth and emotion when I notice the shelf in front of me. I mentally tick off seven miniature bottles whose purpose is to clean, condition, soften and fragrance the top of my head to the bottom of my feet..when I lose it.
It's the second time today the tear dam burst when I didn't even know there was a crack in the dike.
I hope you've heard about the Compassion bloggers over in India this week. Maybe a little part of you has steered clear of their stories. It's painful to hear about dying orphans and oppressive poverty. It might be a little more pleasant to think of that as a problem that is happening Over There, which is certainly Not Here, and it's awful, truly, but there's nothing I can do.
But here's the thing.
Compassion's story is, ultimately, a story of hope. It's about a problem that is slowly but surely being solved, one child at a time, because people like you opened their eyes to the stories.
So don't fear clicking on these stories. When you take them to heart, when you take the plunge and sponsor a child, you've become part of the solution.
Read on, friends, and do something....
Anne writes about living with less so you can do more.
Robin shows us what real hospitality looks like.
Melissa really delves into what God thinks of the poor.
Pete shares a video that shows you what a Compassion project looks like.
And Angie tells us what it feels like when the Gospel sits in your lap.
This is a big day today for a handful of bloggers. They're headed to India, to the city Calcutta (or Kolkata, as I think we're supposed to call it now, but I'm sorry, the old 5th-grade geography sticks with me). They're going with Compassion International to live-blog what they see. I suspect that they, and those of us following along at home, are about to have our comfy American socks knocked off.
When Shaun was first telling me about this trip several months ago, he mentioned what a challenge it would be for those bloggers who will try to describe it adequately. He explained that the poverty on the streets of Calcutta is like no other poverty in the world, so vast is its scope. Please join in me praying for these bloggers--for their safety, for their families back at home, for their own hearts as they try to tell us some powerful stories.
And please pray, most of all, that their words will resonate with those who have not, perhaps, heard of Compassion's powerful work. If people can see and understand how Compassion is bringing true hope to a dark situation, and if they'll join in the effort, children will be sponsored. Lives will be saved.
So please pray, and follow along with these bloggers as they tell their stories. (Barring any technical or logistical issues, I'm hoping that one of the bloggers, my friend Robin, will be guest-posting here next week.) I shared a couple of days ago my concerns about what is not, perhaps, quite right with the blogosphere, and many of you kindly expressed they were concerns you shared too. But this India trip? This is the power of the blogosphere at its highest and very best.
Be a part of it, and help spread the word.
I've gotten many kind e-mails from people who have wondered why I've not been blogging as much lately. Are you shutting it down? they've asked. Is something wrong?
(By the way, thank you to those of you who have asked. I'm amazed and flattered that anyone would even wonder.)
No, I'm not shutting it down, and no, nothing is wrong. On the contrary, things feel very right right now, as I've wandered through a sweet period of reflecting and wrestling and breathing and re-evaluating what my place should (and shouldn't) be in this curious on-line world.
I've wondered if I should articulate some of things I'm learning and realizing. I have now officially started and then deleted eight posts on the subject. It's the quintessential dilemma for a good Southern girl--balancing one's need to offer an explanation without presuming that anybody really requires one. Not to mention, one of the most convicting realizations I've come to is that blogging may just fuel in us (and by "us", of course, I mean "me") a need to articulate everything. I wonder sometimes if our culture is veering away from the very fine art of simply keeping some things to ourselves. Sometimes the best words are the ones we don't say.
(In other words, I think writing a 47-part blogging series about Why We Probably Shouldn't Be Blogging So Much might be a little disingenous, don't you think?)
In a nutshell, I entered the Lenten season several weeks ago in a state of burn-out and exhaustion--all of it entirely of my own making. The reflectiveness and quiet of Lent helped me get a fresh perspective on a few things--things in both my on-line world and in the real one. I'm coming more and more to the conclusion that we (I) seem to be operating in a fog of sensory overload. We blog and Twitter and Facebook. We have cell phones and multiple e-mail addresses. We're so plugged in we're almost motorized, and it's exhausting.
I have (and please, insert giant flashing lights here, because I want to be sure I make this clear) been able to witness some beautiful, even life-changing things happen as a direct result of blogging. There's plenty of good in it, and I would be remiss not to point that out.
But there is undendiable part of blogging that feeds a part of us (me) that is, perhaps, not the most sensible part: the part that craves to "measure" ourselves, the part that is naturally drawn to a false sense of urgency, the part that needs to be heard even when there's not really anything to say.
In other words, I've spent a little time evaluating (unpleasantly, at times) whether I was not only affected by this problem, but maybe I was also part of it.
Despite a very sweet time of feeling refreshed and reflective, I can't say that I've come to any brilliant conclusions. I do not think that blogging is pure evil and must be avoided or society will surely fail. But I also think that I've probably let myself go a little off-course, when I reflect back to why I started doing this in the first place. I look back and wonder if I've contributed to the "noise level" that seems to be wearing out me and so many of the women I know. I think I have, at times, and I'm sorry.
What I do know is that I want to keep at this, but in a way different than I've done it before. It's almost become something of a personal exercise, seeing if I can navigate this peculiar world in a way that is more balanced. A very dear friend (and brilliant writer) reminded me recently that the best words are the ones that are punctuated with enough silence between them.
As evidenced by the rambly length of this post, I clearly do not have much of a track record with silence.
But I'm working on it, and this, for now, is my little workshop.
:: (For part one, click here) ::
It's a strange thing, jury duty.
One minute, you're snug in your predictable suburban life, driving carpool and paying bills. The next, you're tossed into a group of twelve strangers, sitting a few feet from a man whose entire future rests in your hands. It's surreal (for us), terrifying (for him) and messy (for all of us). It's a system just unnerving enough to make you want to throw out the judicial baby with the judicial bathwater, except that the alternative is no justice at all.
So we did what free and reasonable humans do, I suppose: the best we can. We listened carefully. We held evidence in our hands. We didn't speculate when there were objections or moves to strike or your-Honor-may-I-approach-the-bench? We listened to the instructions, and then we read them, and then we read them again. We handed over our cell phones, for Pete's sake. We argued (a little) and compromised (a lot) until the wee hours. And then, our reasonable doubt easily but sadly put to rest, we did justice.
Guilty, on four counts. Four very serious counts. Even though the judge gave us clearance to discuss the trial in detail, I don't feel quite comfortable with it, and I'm not sure why. Maybe because it doesn't feel, entirely, like my story to tell?
It's probably too easy, I think, to neatly tuck an accused criminal into a safe category of Those People, the ones who walked a path I would surely never walk, who have hurt so many for so long, who must be made to pay. Take a bite out of crime. Only YOU can prevent forest fires. But when you sit a in crowded deliberation room with twelve strangers, when you turn a man's life and future over in your hands like State Exhibit 7, when the defendant's mother makes eye contact with you during closing arguments, the lines feel blurry. The humanity gets a lot more real.
We did the right thing; of that I'm sure. All the facts in the trial were crystal clear; the facts the judge could share only after the trial were even clearer. When compassion bumps up against the law, the law wins, because we shaky humans don't have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to establishing order. When we delivered our verdict and received our instructions for determining the sentence (something Oklahoma criminal juries are uncomfortably required to do), we were given our first access to the defendant's long and overwhelming previous record of convictions. It was long. LONG. As the list was read, I couldn't help but think of the One who listened to my outrageously long list of offenses, signaled the Judge, and said (not being bound, thankfully, by the Great State of Oklahoma), "I've got it covered."
The whole thing lasted until the wee hours of a chilly Friday morning. The judge dismissed us with a twenty-dollar-a-day stipend and, for dramatic effect, an armed escort to our cars. In an strange mix of exhaustion, relief, peace and sadness, I cried all the way home.
It's a strange thing, jury duty.
They're brothers, ages 10 and 7. They share a bedroom, a love for soccer, a penchant for skateboarding, and a tendency toward violence of the brotherly kind. They are mortal enemies and the best of friends, the pendulum often swinging from friend to enemy and back to friend again within 60 seconds.
They're both athletic dynamos. The older of the two is lean, small, and lightning-fast. The younger is tall, thick, and strong as an ox.
Last night, after an especially vigorous session of carpet wrestling, I heard them pause, breathless, to formulate impressive plans. They determined that they would take the professional soccer world by storm someday, two feisty brothers who would team up to strike fear in opponents. The oldest would be the speedy, agile Scorer Of Many Goals. The youngest would be the brick-wall goalie around whom no ball would fly.
Then they went back to the floor for more wrestling, until I went in to interrupt and tell them it was time to head to bed. We sat on the couch, mom in the middle, for bedtime prayers. Their sweaty, smelly heads leaned in on my shoulders. They were still out of breath. It was the first moment of quiet that room had seen in hours.
The oldest said his prayer, and then I said mine. And then the youngest, in a voice thick with sincerity, said softly, "Thank you, God, that my brother and I enjoy each other."
I caught my breath. Yes, thank you, I thought. Then--I couldn't help it--I peeked open my eyes at the two boys, still sitting at my side. Something settled over them.
They were struck by the moment, too.
The oldest looked over at his little brother, affection unmistakably written on his face. He gently, quietly nudged him with his elbow. The youngest returned the glance, and the nudge.
There was a perfect pause.
And then, at exactly the same moment, they erupted into grunts and laughter, diving for each other and heading straight for the carpet. I think the .7 miliseconds of tenderness was all they could bear.
I watched them, smiling, observing to myself that the moment had surely passed.
Or had it? I'm inclined to think--to hope--that a moment like that settles deeply in the hearts of two sweaty boys. It surely settles deeply in the heart of their mother.
Last February, I went to Uganda with Compassion International and a team of amazing bloggers to get an up-close look at Compassion's work. If you'd like to read the whole story, you can click here. But I wanted to re-run this particular post from one year ago. As long as I live, it is hard to imagine I'll ever see anything like what I saw on February 14, 2008:
This morning we visited an HIV/AIDS hospital.
That is not a sentence that I, in my sheltered little life, ever expected to write. Then again, most of my expectations about everything have been blown out of the water these last few days.
We visited Mildmay HIV and AIDS hospital, one of only two hospitals in the entire world devoted entirely to treating HIV and AIDS (the other one is in the UK). Compassion partners with them to obtain treatment for Compassion children. We were greeted by the staff with overwhelming hospitality (upon first meeting you, Ugandans always say “You’re welcome”—this is one of the most endearing things I will remember about them), and they gave us a thorough presentation about the history and funding of their facility.
I’m counting on some of my fellow team members to blog these statistics—they’re interesting and important, but I generally try to steer clear of anything resembling math. Anyway, the statistics aren’t what I’ll remember about today.
For privacy reasons, Mildmay doesn’t allow photographs to be taken on-site, so I once again am going to try to find the words to tell you about this place. It was nothing short of remarkable.
All throughout this city, the poverty is rampant and in your face on every inch of the roads. When I have a faster internet connection, I’ll be able to show you what I mean. But amazingly, we entered the gates of Mildmay to a different world. It’s built into the side of a hill overlooking the rolling hills of Kampala. The grounds are lush and meticulous, and the buildings are spotlessly clean. The facility is actually dozens of smaller red-brick buildings connected by winding covered pathways. Like most Ugandan buildings, they are all open air, but fans blow a gentle breeze through the windows and corridors. The rooms are freshly painted, the grass is inches thick. A deliciously sweet smell—presumably from the lush landscaping—hangs in the air.
It’s a place of gentleness and dignity, and you can almost forget, for a second, how sick the patients are.
We wound through the waiting area—it was a sea of people. Some of the faces looked hopeful, some of them look frightened, many looked terribly empty. The staff hosted us for a proper British tea (this is a former British colony, and there is still a strong British influence in the culture), and then they took us to the “Noah’s Ark”, a center for HIV-positive children who haven’t yet developed full-blown AIDS. The children laughed and played, while a cartoon hummed happily behind us. I knelt down to speak with a little nine-year-old boy named Bosco. An interpreter helped me tell him that I have a nine-year-old son back in America, and Bosco laughed, giving me a big hug. I gave him a sticker.
We headed to a clinic for the HIV-positive children who are beginning to develop some signs of infection. A breeze blew through, and the room smelled clean. A little boy lay groggily on a cot, while his mother sat next to him. I walked over to him and stroked his arm; it was burning up with fever. The mother looked tired.
We continued to wind through the facility, visiting the dentist office and library and other departments, finally coming to the top of the hill to Jajja’s Home. This is the pediatric facility for children that have developed full-blown AIDS. Sophie and I shot each other a look, trying to brace ourselves.
Several of the children were outside under a tent for a special presentation by a well-known local gospel singer. The singer was HIV-positive himself, and our interpreter told us how he was singing about how God had carried him through his illness. The kids danced and sang and jumped and waved their arms—evidently this was quite a special event.
We walked into the sick ward. We weren’t able to approach any of these children—we carry germs that are a risk to them. But we were able to wave and smile—I saw one little boy, about 6 or 7, struggle to raise his arm in a return wave. Before we left, I passed a mother sitting at the side of her baby’s bed. He was probably no more than two years old, and he was motionless, an IV strapped to his arm. The look on the mother’s face will stay with me forever. It looks just like you’d expect the face of a mother to look when she’s watching her child waste away in front of her. I reached out and put my hand on her shoulder. “God bless you,” I whispered to her, and she smiled back at me. In those brief seconds, I think I prayed harder than I’ve ever prayed in my whole life.
Our tour ended in the cheerfully decorated classrooms. Every inch of the walls were covered with bright posters and chalkboards and bookshelves. In a quiet room off to the side were rows of neatly-made mattresses, where the littler ones could nap in the afternoon.
Because I have absolutely no way to wrap a post like this one, I’m going to leave you with the one photo I couldn’t help but snap. This is the prayer painted on the walls over the children’s little sleeping mattresses. This one photo says more than this entire post could: