Friday, September 20, 2013

The Simplest & the Best

How important is a washcloth to you?

Recently I met a woman who got to go on an Operation Christmas Child distribution in Ecuador last year...  it was the most incredibly moving experience.  But what really got to her was when she asked one boy what his favorite item was in his box... are you ready for this?!

 It was the washcloth.

Not the toys, school supplies or other items, as wonderful and necessary as they were to him.  But he cherished having his own washcloth. You never know what your simple gifts will mean to the child living in poverty who receives them... you never know when what seems the least important to you is the most important to another.

This short video clip is from one of the distributions in Ecuador last year...

It's time to start packing these simple but life changing gifts.  Come by Family Christian Stores to pick up your free box... or boxes.  :o)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Kingdom Generosity: When Holy Spirit Jumps for Joy

I have a cherished dream that is shared by many sponsors:  to someday meet our sponsored children.  And until we can go ourselves, we long for someone else to meet our child for us.  One of my treasures from this summer was when one new friend, Kim, traveled to Honduras, and met one of my sponsored children, 8 year old Yolani.

This is Yolani.

And this is a blog post about generosity...

First of all is the generosity I received from Kim when she made room in her suitcase for a bag of gifts from me to give to Yolani...  and the generosity also to take lots of pictures for me...  photos are such a treasured gift!!  I fell in love all over again with this precious girl, and am so blessed to see her adorable smile and happy eyes, but most of all her sweet spirit.

Look at these bright eyes and happy smiles in response to the generosity of sponsors who willingly gave of their time and resources to travel to their country, and bless them with help and encouragement.  I treasure each of these priceless photos.

Kim told me that Yolani and her family came to her everyday to say thank you... they had such grateful hearts.  And gratefulness in turn leads to generosity.

Generosity doesn't mean that you have tons to give, and you give of your excess.  Rather it's willingly giving of what you have to bless someone else.  Yolani's family was so grateful, that they generously gave of themselves to bless me back.

See that envelope in her hand?

Kim sent me this photo and said that they came to her on the last day with this special envelope for her to bring back for me. A big sacrifice was inside... and this precious family walked many miles to get it.

Well... I was besides myself with anticipation!

And this is what I received... four wonderful photos that they had taken themselves, and walked down their mountain paths and dirt roads to the nearest town to get these prints developed for me. 

I had to be careful not to get happy tears on this precious gift.

Here Yovani proudly wears and displays some of the little gifts that I had sent to her...


...And here are Yovani and her two brothers standing under the tarp (?) off the side of their adobe mountain home...



...This one just cracks me up!  I love it!  It reminds me of when my boys were young and would hold up their special animals... goats, dogs, ducks, chickens...  but that is one HUGE turkey!

This one of the turkeys and chickens was a bit of a surprise to me at first, until I reflected on what these animals mean to this family.  They are an important resource for them!  And I was so pleased to know that they have this blessing.


And here is the photo that I sent back to Yolani in response to her family's generous gift...

This summer while driving home from another long day at school, I was feeling so incredibly blessed...  open doors, favor, blessing, strength, creativity, productivity, and more were just pouring out all over me, in me and through me.

"Lord!  I'm feeling so blessed!"

"You have 30 children praying for you and blessing you every day," was His reply.

 And I just caught my breath in amazement as I realized the significance of this.

You see, there are a number of things in my life that I'm passionate about.  One of them is graphic design.  For the past 2.5 years, I've been a full-time-back-to-school-empty-nest-mom completing two professional technical degrees in graphic design... I totally love my studies and am in awe of God for new doors of opportunity that He is opening for me.  Another passion in my life is child sponsorship... I am currently writing to 30 children around the world, several of which I financially sponsor.  But the privilege of going to school comes with a hefty tuition price tag,  and paying my tuition while paying the sponsorships of "my kids" were rapidly becoming mutually exclusive.

But there simply was no way that I could or would give up my kids.  When you have a relationship with these children, you will do whatever you need to in order to keep them, if at all possible.  I figured out how many hours I would need to work a week at even a minimum wage job,  and then prayed for a job.

"Where would you like to work?" the Lord asked me.

A Surprise Visit from my Grandbaby
The question surprised me, and after thinking it over, I said that I wanted to work at Family Christian Bookstores in my town.  The doors flew open for me, and I love working at this job.  Not only do I have the blessing of providing for my kids, but I also get to advocate for other children who need sponsors and to educate sponsors... and I get to go on missions trips!  It kind of blows me away, actually, and I was in tears when I realized how God was giving me this desire of my heart.
As I serve customers in the store, one thing in particular has really stood out to me... those whose lives are marked by a generous spirit, and those who aren't.

When I ask the ones with the generous spirit if they would like to donate $1 to orphans and widows, their eyes light up, and as one woman said in reply, "Always."

And my heart jumps for joy.  My heart witnesses the joy that Holy Spirit in me is feeling.

Those who do not demonstrate a generous spirit look annoyed at being asked, avoid looking at me, and give a curt, "Not today."   Or they give a sigh and a grudging, "Well... I guess. Um, fine."

When I ask the ones with a generous spirit if they have ever considered sponsoring a child in poverty, again their eyes light up, and they say, "Yes!  I have one (or 2 or 3...) children in such-and-such country."  Or if they don't already sponsor, they are interested to hear about it, and either sponsor right then, or they take home some information to sincerely consider the opportunity, and sometimes return later to sponsor the child.

And my heart is so happy.  Holy Spirit rejoices.

The ones who are not marked with a generous spirit roll their eyes in exasperation at being asked, and make excuses for why they won't sponsor, or why they won't even consider doing so.  Or maybe they DO sponsor, but they can't tell me the name of their child or what country they are from, and or how old their child is.  All they know is that it's "somewhere in Africa" or wherever.  They don't write to their child, and feel burdened by the "obligation" to do so.  Or maybe they used to sponsor in the past, but clearly show that they are so glad to be "over and done" with it.

And I wonder... Do folks ever really consider how their giving to the poor touches the heart of God?

Generosity is not about the amount of money that you give, but the heart with which you give.

I have friends from around the world who are sponsors, and many of their stories have touched me deeply.  I am constantly amazed and challenged by their generous spirits...

...retired folks who cut back on their expenses to sponsor a dozen or more kids, and when they heard of a child's unsponsored sibling, they made room for one more... and when approached with the needs of an orphan in their sponsored child's project, their answer was "Yes!" to yet another child...

...the woman who gave up having her own car, and instead takes two buses and a train to work, 90 minutes/day both morning and night, and uses that car money to instead sponsor 15 children...

...the young 24 year old girl working daycare, paying her own apartment expenses, and financially sponsoring 9 kids (or more... I'm losing track!), and constantly reworking her budget to see how she can squeeze in one more sponsorship...  and the same is true for several young people that I know...

...the college student who gifted some sponsorships to another sponsor on top of paying for her own sponsorships...

...the teenager in college who works a part-time job to sponsor two other teenagers...

These stories challenge and inspire me!  Each of these friends, and many more, have incredibly generous spirits.  They are seriously looking at their lifestyles, and making both big and little sacrifices for personal needs in how they spend the money God has entrusted to their stewardship.

As Christians, we actually are ambassadors for the Kingdom, doing the King's business here on earth.  I was surprised to discover that the word "generous" comes from the Latin word meaning "of noble birth."  That's who we are... we ARE nobility...  kingdom people.  Later the word did not depend on family history but on whether a person actually possessed the qualities that were supposed to mark one who is of the nobility, traits that were associated with generosity:  gallantry, courage, strength, richness, gentleness, and fairness.

How about if we live knowing our identity as children of the King of Kings, AND demonstrate the character qualities that mark a noble person? 

Generosity means living out the truth that we are nobility... Kingdom people bringing the Kingdom of God here on earth wherever we are and wherever we go.

The root of generous means "kin, clan, race, or stock," and has the meaning "to beget."  I was thinking about that... when we give to those in poverty, what are we begetting?  What are we bringing forth into existence?  The reality is that we are not only helping to bring life, blessing, and wholeness in changing the story for the child in poverty, but we are changing our story as well.  We are reevaluating our priorities, needs and wants, and realizing that each of those are changing to be less about "me"... and the more that we connect with the hearts of these children, the more we want to give away and bless others.  But more than that, the more that we connect with the heart of the Father, the more we want to give away and bless others. 

Why does God love genuine generosity?  Because it is love in action.  And He loves when we love.  Generosity is not merely about giving money.  It's about giving of ourselves in many different ways to show love for others.  We can be generous with our willingness to stop and help someone, giving of our time and energy, instead of spending it only on what we want to do with our schedule.  We can be generous with our words of affirmation and praise, or we can be stingy and withhold blessing the other person.

True generosity is love in action.  That is why God loves generosity, no matter the amount given.

The more that we withhold and care only for our own personal time, space, comfort, money & resources, the more we rob ourselves of the blessings that God has been poised and ready to pour out on us in response.  The Kingdom reality is that more that we give and bless others, the more that we receive in return.

"The generous soul will be made rich,
And he who waters will also be watered himself.
"  Prov. 11:25 NKJV

I didn't sponsor children in order to receive something back, but rather because I simply fell in love with each child.  As Holy Spirit highlighted each one to me, my heart jumped for joy... well, Holy Spirit in me jumped for joy, and "I knew that I knew that I knew" that I would sponsor each one of those particular children.  But now that I am months and years down the road in sponsoring each of these, I've realized that God is blessing me back in ways that I never anticipated.  I've been "watering" each of these sweeties, and in return, God is "watering" me.  I'm just beginning to realize the significance of 30 children blessing me and praying for me everyday... and not only the children, but their families as well.  That's a ripple effect, so that there are well over 100 people blessing me every day!

I'm being abundantly watered.

How about you?

How well are you watering others and being watered in return?  How well do you know the good pleasure and joy of the Holy Spirit in response to your generosity?

In my last post, I  mentioned the special challenges of grandparents living in poverty who are faced with raising their grandchildren... without employment...  without food stamps... without food banks...  without any other support...  and my heart still is moved by their plight.

I found this one child on Compassion's website, Melat, a 10 year old Ethiopian girl who lives with her grandmother and two other children in the home.  Would you consider sponsoring her?  She has been waiting 320 days for her sponsor already.  That is a long wait.

Generosity is not about how much extra you have to give.   It's about embracing a kingdom mindset, and giving sacrificially to bless others in Jesus' name, whether with our time, talents, resources, strength, energy, life-giving words of encouragement and praise, or all of these.  It's being so in love with Jesus that you would rather give generously and bring Him joy than to withhold blessing another. 

And if someone has already sponsored Melat before you read this post, I invite you to let Holy Spirit direct you to another child here.

Blessings to you for an abundant watering!


Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Grandparent's Love

It's Grandparents' Day... I love being a Grammie!  My life has been so blessed these past 17 months by my first grandbaby, Coleson...  there is just nothing in the world quite like the way my grandchild is forever woven into my heart.

I'm grateful that I had the privilege of being at his birth 17 months ago, and grateful that he lives just around the block from me... though I know I don't see him nearly enough!  I'm grateful for Facebook where I can peek in on his daily events while I'm busy studying hard at school...  :o)  Best of all I love when I can spend time together with this precious child, like here...

One of my favorite activities to do with Coleson is to take him on a nature walk...  finding little rocks to throw in the stream and listening to the satisfying plunk sound...  picking up leaves and tossing them off one side of the footbridge, and watching them swirl gently down to the water, then racing to the other side of the bridge to watch for our leaf to continue its journey on the other side...  picking herbs or leaves and crushing them to smell the different fragrances... and of course finding wild edibles like blackberries to eat...  mmm!  Here is Coleson enjoying fresh blackberries for the first time...  and he agrees that they are "Yummy!"

Recently I enjoyed lingering through some of the pages and artwork of a few different editions of my most treasured childhood story, Heidi, by Johanna Spyri.  Maybe because I'm a Grammie now, I was more attune this time to the love and care between Heidi and three different grandparents in her life...  her own grandfather, Peter's granny, and Clara's grandmama... and how each had such a profound influence on the life of Heidi as an orphaned child.

I've been sending a copy of this sweet story to each of my own sponsored children throughout the year... it takes awhile to find copies in their language and buy that many copies!  But I know that this is a story that will resonate with many of my sponsored children in a way that it didn't need to for me as a child, because I was raised in a secure and stable home by both my parents.  Most of my sponsored children do not have that blessing, as most are being raised by a single parent, and several of my kids have even lost both parents and live with a grandparent.

As a parent and grandparent, I want to do everything I can for my children and grandbaby, to bless them and see their life successful and a blessing.  There are many grandparents around the world who have stepped up to be the primary caregiver for their grandchild, either because of the death of the parents, or abandonment. My own dad lost his mom to death when he was just the same age as Coleson is now.  The painful loss was further compounded when he was abandoned by his dad.  I am grateful that my dad's grandparents were there for him to raise him and love him in the face of challenges of the Depression years.  I know that if needed, I would be there for my grandbaby too.

I cannot imagine the difficulty of grandparents in poverty who are valiantly trying to raise their grandchildren without adequate resources for food, clothing, shelter, education or medical care.  This blog post by Compassion arrested my attention and heart to the needs of those grandparents.  Often it is a grandmother who has to do this job alone, such as Carmen who is taking care of her three grandchildren who were abandoned by their parents.  She doesn’t have a job, so she goes out every day to find something to do, such as washing or ironing...
“I do this work because I have my three children and I cannot send them to the street to beg or endanger their lives, and I cannot just sit and wait. I have to look for the everyday bread so, I ask God for His continuous help." 

I started searching for children who are living with grandparents and who are in need of a sponsor...  in a matter of a few minutes, I found these precious children.  Each of these children represents a struggling grandparent, one who has a huge heart for their grandchild and dreams for their future that seem impossible to fulfill. But it's not impossible for us to "lend a friendly helping hand" as described by one of my own sponsored children.

Cindy Yolibeth lives with her grandmother. At home, duties include gathering firewood and running errands. Her grandmother is sometimes employed as a laborer. There are 2 children in the family.

Adolfo Samuel lives with his grandfather and his grandmother. He is responsible for carrying water, running errands and cleaning. His grandfather is sometimes employed as a laborer and his grandmother maintains the home. There are 2 children in the family.

Jacquie lives with her grandfather and her grandmother. At home, duties include washing clothes, helping in the kitchen and cleaning. Her grandfather is sometimes employed and her grandmother is sometimes employed as a seller in the market. There are 4 children in the family.

Would you consider sponsoring one of these precious children, which would also help to lift the difficult load for the grandparents who are struggling to raise them in the midst of poverty?  You will be helping to bless not only their two generations, but to bless their future generations to come.  You can be the answer to a grandparent's prayers today.