Thursday, June 30, 2016

When HE Makes Himself Clear

So, Monday I sat down to have my quiet time with the Lord, and I read this verse:

The humble will see their God at work and be glad. Let all who seek God's help be encouraged.

~Psalm 69:32
And encouraged, I was. Because I have been wrestling recently with questions about my calling. Wondering which path I should be walking. And I am begging for answers seeking Him! Thus, when I read that those who seek His help should be encouraged - when I was reminded that He is at work - my heart felt like a weight had been lifted.
I wrote in my journal,
I am forever thankful for my Lord's attention, help, and encouragement. HE knows what I need and HE is faithful.
Yes. HE is always at work. I want to remember that Truth. Oh, I need to trust that God is working things out - even when I can't see the result and am uncomfortable in the not-knowing.

Thank You, Father, for Your work and Your perfect plans. I confess my uneasiness in waiting to see the end, but I will wait. Please help me to wait patiently - full of hope and trust.

An hour later, I was at work and was given the opportunity to read the daily devotional to our residents. But I didn't realize that God was going to use the time to speak directly to me.
This was the devotion for June 27:
Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
~Psalm 25:5

Sometimes you seem silent when I'm begging for answers, Lord. Sometimes your silence seems like absence, but I know you are here. I'll learn to wait patiently and appreciate the peace of your presence, knowing that you hold the past, present, and future in your hands. The truth is that I don't really need answers, Lord. I need you.
Ahhh, there it was. A gentle clear in-your-face reminder that God is sovereign.
That statement: The truth is that I don't really need answers, Lord. I need you. Oh! I'm kinda surprised God didn't divinely insert flashing lights into the book with a sign pointing to those words which read, Karen, read this!!!
I mean, He might as well have done it.
That's how obvious the message was to me.
And so, I'll wait. Patiently. Not knowing the answers to what my future holds. Yet confident that God holds it - and will do what is good. I'll trust Him to teach me, and lead me. And I'll wait.
Even if I have to wait all day long.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Compassion Trip, Report #5

So, Thursday morning we rose and got ready quickly - in anticipation of spending the day with our sponsored kids.
Once again, the organizers of our trip did an amazing job of arranging for a wonderful experience. We all met at a park to play and eat and enjoy our time together. There were a couple of swimming pools, three water slides, swing sets, basketball courts, fields for playing frisbee and soccer, a restaurant, and lots of picnic tables. AND, God arranged for the weather to be perfect.
Noemi, Maria (her mother), Arturo (her brother), Sara (the interpreter), Diane (her tutor from the Compassion center), Sandy (her aunt), Darla (her cousin), and Carlos (Maria's fiancee) were all there - and we had a great day together.

To start off the day, I gave the kids a blow-up globe-ball (Compliments of another sponsor. *smile*) and showed them Michigan. We had fun tracing the path from their home to mine.
And we had even more fun batting the ball around in the air to one another.
We swam in the pools, and Noemi liked to watch me do hand-stands in the water. The water slides were tons of fun, but after a while we were all too cold to stay in any longer.
Warming ourselves in the sun became the activity of choice.
Poor Noemi couldn't seem to fully warm up, so she put on her jacket. And we had fun with the swings.
At the end of the day, it was time to bring out the gifts.
With the help of some suggestions from Compassion, before this trip I had lots of fun choosing gifts to bring for Noemi and her family. But it was even more fun watching them get opened.
First, I presented Arturo with his bag.
Among the other gifts, he loved the frisbee he found inside.
Then it was Maria's turn.
And I had another opportunity to see how God had been in the details. While Compassion made suggestions of things which families would find useful, I thought it was a random selection on my part to include wooden spoons in Maria's bag. Until her eyes lit up, she grinned and spoke to Carlos, and Sara interpreted for me that she'd been asking him to get her new spoons.
And, finally, it was Noemi's turn to open her bag.
She gave me a big ol' hug when she found the drawing pad and colored pencils - which totally warmed my heart. But I think my biggest joy came from her delight in having a picture of my family.
When I signed up for this trip, I never could have fathomed the elation which would overcome me in meeting Noemi. Before, I loved her. I believed she was a real person, loved and known by God.
But now - I know her. I have held her, and loved her in person. I am no longer praying for/writing to a little girl I have only imagined. She has become real to me.

And I think this picture has become my favorite one from the entire trip. It was taken without my knowledge - I think by Sara. Wherever we walked, Noemi either held my hand or had her arm around me.
I am so glad someone caught it on my camera.

*thankful, contented smile*


Monday, June 27, 2016

Compassion Trip, Report #4

Wednesday morning we packed up and left Riobamba to go back to Quito.
And Wednesday evening?
I got to meet Noemi! The little girl I have been sponsoring for the past six years.

I cannot even begin to describe the joy I experienced in having those sweet arms wrapped around me, feeling like they were never going to let go.
Preciousness in its purest form.

The evening when sponsors met their kids was simply wonderful. Every Compassion child was accompanied by a staff member from their Compassion center, an interpreter, and - in many cases - also by a family member. Noemi's mom came with her, and it was a delight to meet her, too.
***Honest moment: In the middle of dinner I decided to give Sara (the interpreter) a break. (Read that: I wanted to show off my Spanish skills.) So I started counting in Spanish. "Uno, dos, tres..." Eventually I went auto-pilot and stopped using my brain, and this happened: "Ventiocho, ventinueve, ventidiez."
As soon as the laughter erupted around me, I realized my error and was sorry for allowing my brain to shut off. But I did enjoy the laugh we all had together. *wink*
For those who don't know Espanol, let me interpret. I was counting, "Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, twenty-ten" I think Noemi's mom was trying to lessen my embarrassment by telling me Arturo (Noemi's eight-yer-old brother) used to do that, too. *face palm*

In addition to dinner, the evening consisted of a comedian/magician and a silly photo booth. And I loved the way it was put together because it made a situation fun and comfortable - which could otherwise have been filled with nerves. It was explained to us that many of the children would probably be quite nervous - and even shy - about meeting a stranger from so far away (And truth be told, many sponsors were feeling the same!) and we should not feel badly if we didn't "hit it off" right away.
But the combination of the entertainer and the photo booth lightened the mood perfectly and set the stage for a wonderful introduction. I remember laughing with Noemi during the magic show and thinking, These folks thought of everything! The people who put this evening - and this whole trip - together have covered every base to make sure it was a success.

And honestly? My expression that night about the dinner and tour perfectly sums up the way I came to feel about Compassion as a whole organization.
I mean, before the tour I thought Compassion was great. I admired the work they do. I wouldn't have been sponsoring children for the past eight or nine years if I didn't believe in what they were doing. But participating in this sponsor tour and seeing all the things I saw - learning so many things I didn't know I didn't know(!) - has increased my esteem for Compassion International a thousand times.
And that's why I'm blogging about my trip. Because I want let other people (you!) know what a great opportunity it is to reach out to "the least of these" by participating in Compassion's sponsorship programs.
I'll share about our "Fun Day" tomorrow, and wrap it up Wednesday with a vlog.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Compassion Trip, Report #3

During our second day in Riobamba, we visited - and learned a lot more about - the Child Development Sponsorship Program (CDSP).
We also learned at the beginning of the trip that Compassion is "big" on acronyms. *wink*
Compassion International partners with local churches around the world who reach out to children in poverty in their communities with practical help and the hope of the gospel. As we met with the pastor of the church which runs the Compassion center in Riobamba, I was overjoyed to hear his commitment to the children AND the gospel. He spoke of their church's mission to reach the families in the community for Christ, by first reaching their children with care.

That is - families in poverty will gladly allow their children to be helped by the church, and the church in turn invites the families to come and hear the good news of Jesus.
And that's why Compassion partners with local churches, instead of running the ministry themselves from afar: because the local church understands the community and its needs.

While we were visiting the CDSP, we were allowed to see the meticulous records (both financial, and personal for each child and his/her progress) which Compassion requires the centers to maintain.
They were impressive. We learned these records are a requirement of Compassion International for the purposes of integrity and plenitude. Testimonies were given of the ways Compassion has worked through the local church to grow children and families, and help them in times of extreme need.
And then, the fun began!
It was our "A Day in the Life" activities day. That is, we divided up in to our family groups and went to spend time with a local family whose children are involved in the CDSP.
My group visited Nancy's home.
Nancy (15) and her sister (9) are both part of their local Compassion center's CDSP, and live in the mountains with their grandparents. We went home with them to help prepare a field for planting potatoes.
Yep. There we are!
Swinging large hoes to till the ground in preparation for potatoes. Grandma (63) and the girls were right there with us working the ground. And let me just say - at 11,800 feet above sea level - one who is not used to such elevation cannot work long without absolutely needing to take a break and catch one's breath. (Not to mention to allow one's heart to begin returning to a reasonable rate.) And it's a bit embarrassing to have 63-year-old Grandma and 15 and 9-year-old girls work along non-stop. *blush*
In addition to the work, we had time just to visit with the family.
And that's when my heart started breaking.
The reason Nancy and her sister live with their grandparents is because their mother died during child-birth with their younger sibling (who also died). Nancy's grandmother told us through tears that she is afraid to die, because she doesn't know who will care for the girls when she and Grandpa are gone.
We were separated by language, but I pray our hugs and presence and prayers were a faithful testimony of God's love. And I pray God will reach into their hearts to assure them that HE will care for those girls for all of eternity.

When the work was over, we went back to the Compassion center for lunch and play time.
And we did lots of both!
However, we'll skip the pictures of lunch and go right to play time.
It was a wonderful day - full of fun, hard work, heart-stretching, and new understandings.
And the best was yet to come.
I'll tell you about it next week. *smile*


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Compassion Trip, Report #2

On Monday of last week, I traveled to Riobamba (That's so fun to say. Really. Try it!) with my 44+ newest friends. And we were warmly greeted by these beautiful women and their children.

This event was our visit to one of Compassion's Child Survival Programs (CSP). The CSP "is an early-childhood intervention program that often starts with prenatal care for expectant mothers." After the baby is born, trainers help the moms learn about nutrition and how to protect their babies from diseases and other health dangers. Medical attention is given as needed, and the moms are also taught skills such as sewing, knitting, and jewelry-making - so they have a source of income to help provide for themselves and their babies. All these things take place between a combination of home-visits and time spent at the Compassion Center.
In addition to learning about the CSP, and shopping (That is, many of us bought some of the items these dear women had made. I got earrings and a bracelet to go with a dress Elizabeth bought me in Mexico, and an adorable little outfit for a toddler. Have no idea to whom I will give it yet, but God knows. And I was happy to contribute to the fundraising efforts of these women. *smile*) we were also able to simply have fun with the moms and their babies.
We smacked pinatas and shared lots of candy.
We played musical chairs (While many of the moms held babies!)
We had a relay race which consisted of carrying an egg on a spoon - that we held in our mouth. And which also appeared to be a much more difficult task for the sponsors than for the moms with babies on their backs.

And we enjoyed a song and dance which the moms performed for us.

After our time at the Compassion Center, we split into smaller groups and visited the homes of some of the CPS moms. My group went to the home of Esther - where she lives with her husband, Clever, and their two children, Jessica and Eric. The home belongs to one of Esther's relatives and consists of brick walls, a cement floor, and two rooms. Esther and Clever were gracious hosts and made us feel so welcome. We learned that Esther had recently been hospitalized with pneumonia (Made possible with Compassion's help.) and she is still waiting for complete healing. Please pray for her restoration to health, and for consistent work for Clever. (He is a construction worker, and does not always have employment.)
In spite of witnessing their struggles, it is a blessing to be a part of Compassion's work and seeing God care for them.

The Child Survival Program has been a tremendous benefit to the families touched by it - as mothers and children through age 5 are cared for with compassion by Compassion's partner churches.
I look forward to sharing more of my trip, and telling you about Compassion's Child Development Sponsorship Program tomorrow.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Compassion Trip, Report #1

Hey there, friends!

I'm back.
I've missed you.
But it was so, SO good to be gone! *read that: I had an incredible time!*
My only concern now is: How am I possibly going to convey to you the amazing experience I had during my trip to Ecuador with Compassion International?
Because, yeah.
It was a thousand times more meaningful than what I had hoped or imagined it would be.
And that figure might be an understatement.

As such, I will do my best to share my excitement and passion with you over the next few days - in a somewhat organized and understandable way. Still, I ask for your patience if I get carried away and start blabbering. Because sometimes when I begin talking about the things we saw and everything I learned?
I just can't help myself! *wink*

I met up with 44 other Compassion sponsors and Compassion staff in Miami, and we flew to Quito, Ecuador. After a late night of getting to the hotel and settling in, we got up and attended a local church Sunday morning. Although the worship was all in Spanish and I didn't know most of the words, the Spirit of God was present and active. And HE is not limited to Ingles.
I saw a man across the aisle from where I was sitting who simply radiated love for God. It encouraged my heart to consider that God has reached all over this world - calling people to Himself and filling them with His love. (This theme recurred throughout my week.) And I wondered, again, why I ever put limits upon what I believe He can do.
I did take out my camera during the service to capture a moment of our worship - because I wanted to bring it home with me. Though I didn't single out the man across the aisle.
*ahem* That would have been rude.

After church we walked to a nearby park and spent time with the children who participate in the Compassion program hosted by that church. Some sponsors were with the younger children, and I got to be in the group with teens. If you ever want to know how to play tug-of-war without a rope, just ask me. Now I know.
Again, our language difference impacted communication, but the love of Jesus was clearly expressed.

Annnnd, before going back to the hotel for dinner and much-needed rest, we took a short drive north to visit the equator.
Yep, that's me - and my new friend, Jordan (who, in my opinion, looks just like Sandi Patty) - smack dab exactly on the equator. On the very middle of the world.
Yes. I know. I'm cool now. *wink*

So, that's a briefing of Day One. I cannot wait to share the rest of my week with you in the coming days.
God is so good. So good!!!


Monday, June 06, 2016

Thursday, June 02, 2016

The Life I Want to Live

We've had two deaths in our family since Sunday.

Brian's uncle. And my grandma.

My friend said to me in a text, "Death has a way of bringing up what's important to us and not."
And, I'm telling you, I couldn't agree more. Because I can't remember the last time I have been so inspired to think about the way I live.
As I was driving home from work Tuesday evening (after just learning about my grandmother's death) I remember thinking to myself, I don't want to be simply taking up space and wasting air.
That is - as long as God gives me breath, and the chance to live another day - I want to be making a positive difference in this world. Although it is far more comfortable for me to be quiet and keep to myself, I want to be attentive to the leading of God's Spirit and go to the places HE would take me.
*I want to speak life and hope, even when it doesn't feel "safe".
*I want to love regardless of the risks.
*I want to invest in the lives of others, despite the amount of time it takes.
*I want to think less - so much less - of me, and more about others.
Oh, but I cannot do any of this kind of living on my own. I'm going to need the power of God to work these changes in me. It is much too easy to fall into familiar patterns. To do what's comfortable, and stick with the status quo.
But that way of life sounds like a lot of taking up space and wasting air.
And that is NOT the lesson I have learned from Uncle Arlan and Grandma Melba.
So I pray with renewed passion today, Father, please order my steps and take me to the places You want me to go. Please work in me that which is pleasing to You!

How about you? What kind of life do you want to live?