On a Learning Curve

Life may not be easy, but it's always an adventure.

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Make a Difference to a Child

Have you ever watched someone struggle with difficult circumstances and wanted to make a difference? Have you ever struggled with knowing how to help? Here’s one way. Watch this short video from Compassion and consider sponsoring a child.

It’s that easy. Go to Compassion’s site and search for a child by country, gender, or birthdate. I’ve written before about the three little girls that our family sponsors in Rwanda. One of girls has a birthday today. Joselinne (#1, not to be confused with Joselyne #2) is having a birthday today; she’s turning 12, and we’ve had the privilege of being part of her life for the past 7 years.

I guarantee you will be a blessing to your child and his/her family, and I also guarantee that your child will be a blessing to you. Go ahead.  What are you waiting for?

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Word of the Year?

I don’t have one. I’ve been thinking about this for awhile. All sorts of people have chosen their word of the year. But not me. It’s not that I’m rebellious; on the contrary, I’m pretty much a rule-follower. It’s more that I’m indecisive. Do I really need a word of the year?

I’ve done some blogging for Compassion International, and December’s topic was to prayerfully consider a word to focus on during 2014. This isn’t supposed to be a New Year’s resolution; it’s “a challenge to surrender control of our goals and ourselves and let the Lord lead.” Well, January is a third over, and all I’ve accomplished is mulling over several words.

It’s not like I’m trying to wrestle control back from God. Nope, I’ve learned all sorts of lessons over the years about who’s really in control. I’ve had multiple knee surgeries, mourned for my lost babies, struggled with anxiety, and faced a child’s diagnosis of a lifelong disease. None of these were in my plans, and none of these situations were events I could control.

Instead, I’ve been distracted by bad news and hard circumstances all around me. Cancer  relapsing. Chemotherapy not working. Families in crisis. My own husband separated from our family as he prepares to deploy overseas. Children who aren’t thrilled that I’m the solo parent 24/7.

The best word I can find is flexibility. I find myself being pulled in more directions than usual. I’m the mom (and the dad). I’m the teacher, the nurse, the substitute pancreas, and the chauffeur. I’m the cook, the housekeeper, and accountant. I’m not quite ready to be a soccer coach again, and I’m very thankful that I don’t have to teach a co-op class this year. Yes, I am a human Gumby these days.

Maybe I should buy one of these?

But I can be flexible. I mean, I don’t really have a choice, right? Ryan has completely uprooted himself from our family, left his job, and is preparing to live in a foreign country for two months. That’s flexible. A girlfriend was just released from a 2-week hospital stay to prevent preterm delivery. She’s not allowed to get out of bed until her twins are born. I’d say she’s being flexible, too.

There are always two choices in life: Accept change and make the best of the situation, or fight for control and refuse to adjust. One is hard at first, and one is hard forever. I think I prefer the former to the latter.

Flexible. See how it rolls off the tongue? The more I say it, the more it sounds okay to me.


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Cyber Monday Ideas

Today is an important day for online retailers. It’s Cyber Monday. (Doesn’t that sound better than Black Friday?) Maybe you’re finishing your shopping before the kids arrive home from school, or perhaps you have plans to curl up with your laptop after dinner tonight. Or maybe, like me, you’re finishing your Christmas shopping from the comfort of your bathroom floor while your pathetic 9-year old hugs the porcelain.

So what do you give to someone who has everything he needs? For someone who doesn’t want anything but appreciates that you’re thinking of her? Or how about a gift that blesses the recipient and empowers the worker who created it? Here are 3 suggestions for today:

1. Shop with Samaritan’s Purse. This is the organization that flies Christmas shoe boxes around the world to underprivileged children. They also do a pretty amazing job of helping out in times of disaster. Did you know they have a Christmas catalog, too? You can give the gift of domestic animals, emergency relief supplies, clean water, and much more. We ordered chicks one year for each of our nieces. I think their mothers were pleased that we did not actually give the chicks to our nieces.

2. Drink coffee. Do good. If you–or someone you love is a coffee junkie–you know that Rwandan coffee is exceptional. Instead of purchasing beans from your not-so-friendly warehouse store, consider purchasing Land of a Thousand Hills coffee. Shipping is free today! I promise you that this is delicious coffee. There are plenty of bean options available, including Haitian varieties, as well as gift merchandise.

Christmas in a Cup Flavored Coffee Gift Set

3. Don’t forget the Philippines. Donations to disaster relief typically ebb when the disaster is no longer front-page news. Damage from Typhoon Haiyan is going to take many years to repair. Click on the button on the right side of my blog to donate through Compassion International. Compassion International has been working through churches in the Philippines since 1977 and has a vested interest in restoring island communities.

Whatever you choose, don’t forget that the true meaning of Christmas. It’s not about the gifts we give each other. It’s about the greatest gift we’ve be given: a helpless baby who came to earth to be our Savior.

And in case you’re wondering, I’m still in the bathroom. Round 2 seems to be over, and my relief should be home in the next few hours.

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Did you read my blog posts for Compassion during September? I signed up to write because I thought, “Hey, I already write a blog, we already sponsor two Compassion children, and I think rescuing children from poverty is a good thing.” Easy enough. As I encouraged others to think about sponsoring a child, my own husband suggested that we sponsor a third child.

Since Joselinne #1 is the same age as G, and Joselyne #2 is S’s age, we thought we’d let H help us choose another child. H knew exactly what she wanted: a 6-year-old girl who lives in Rwanda. Because it’s heart-breaking to read through all the biographies of the available children, we simply chose the child who has been waiting the longest. And so, 364 days after enrolling in Kigina Student Center, Brenda has a sponsor. While Brenda doesn’t strike me as a typical Rwandan name, we knew we had to choose her. A whole year of waiting?! Welcome to our family, Brenda. (Isn’t she ridiculously cute?!)

Brenda in Rwanda

Now if you want to sponsor a child from Rwanda or another country where Compassion serves through the local churches, this is the thank-you gift that awaits you after you register.

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This is my final post for Compassion International‘s Blog Month. As I posted here and here, the goal is to find sponsors for 3,160 children by the end of this month. Today’s assignment is to ruminate on the following quote.

“The presence of dignity doesn’t mean poverty is absent.”

As I glanced up from my laptop, my eyes locked in on our refrigerator. (Yes, my computer station is in the kitchen; no, I wasn’t looking for a snack.) Like many of you, the kitchen refrigerator in our home doubles as a message board/photo gallery/art display area. An orange laminated chore chart hangs in the middle of a collection of touristy magnets that Ryan brings home from his international trips. A neighbor’s homage to vanilla ice cream sandwiches appears next to S’s National Physical Fitness Award. H’s artwork changes on a daily basis, but today a blue dove flies to a green-leafed tree below a very happy yellow sunshine.

On the front of the freezer door are two clips that hold current photos and letters from our sponsored children, Joselinne and Joselyne. The girls call them #1 and #2 to keep them straight. Joselinne #1 is the same age as G, and we’ve been sponsoring her for almost 6 years. We exchange letters regularly, though her father is most often the letter writer. Joselyne #2 is also from Rwanda, but she–like many African children–lives with her siblings and grandmother. She is the same age as S, and when we saw her folder last year at my parents’ church, I felt a tugging on my heart. (Another Joselyne? In Rwanda? With a birthday a week away from S? Coincidence? No way.) She loves to send us letters and drawings. In fact, her most recent drawings were what drew my eye this morning.

IMG_0001Joselyne #2 usually draws flowers. I think that’s a universal little girl thing to draw, but we never know what else to expect. (Case in point: the semi-nude girl in the bottom lefthand corner.) I’m not sure why she chose to include a cup, but I noticed that the cup is full. The car and the house were also interesting to me. Joselyne’s family does not own a car; she walks to school and church. She walks to fetch water and firewood, and I’m not even sure that she understands that all 4 wheels aren’t supposed to be on one side of the car. Her house, too, isn’t grand, but it has windows and a door. I know that, unlike Joselinne #1, she doesn’t have to worry about finding a solidly-constructed house. In fact, this may be her grandmother’s house.

Joselyne #2 is intimate with poverty in ways that you and I never will be; however, her letters and drawings show me that poverty does not define who she is. As does Joselinne #1, her letters always begin with the same salutation: “I greet you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Always.

Mind-blowing, isn’t it? The average Rwandan, like Joselinne’s parents and Joselyne’s grandmother, lives on less than $2 a day, yet these dear families greet me in Christ and write that they regularly pray for me and my family. That’s dignity staring me in the face. These people know that their worth is in Christ, not in their bank accounts.

This isn’t to say that life is rosy for our Joselinnes. Rwandans face a high HIV infection rate, and their country is still recovering from 1994’s horrific genocide. We don’t discuss these topics in our letters, but I wonder how Joselinne #1’s parents both survived the genocide and why Joselynne #2 isn’t living with her parents. When we send checks for the girls’ birthday and Christmas, we receive thank-you notes telling us about the animals and food they purchased. (And they’re buying milk goats and chickens, not hamsters.)

These two beautiful girls may be the faces of poverty, but their lives are a reflection of dignity, hope, and determination. If you’ve never considered sponsoring a child, consider it today. We’ve chosen to focus on the country of Rwanda, but there are many other countries all over the world where you can make a difference in the life of a child. I promise that it will be a life-changing experience: for a child and for you.


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A Conversation with My Childhood Self

This is my second post for Compassion’s Blog Month. My assignment? Have a conversation with my childhood self. Here’s what I would want my much-younger self to know:

Laura, you’re going to learn a lot of lessons in the coming years. Some of these lessons will come easily, while others will cause you some pain. But take it from your grown-up, almost-40-year-old self, you’re going to learn plenty!

1. Don’t take yourself so seriously. You’ll have plenty more bad haircuts, and there’s no sense in crying over your hair. It will grow out.

3rd grade school picture, c. 1983. Notice my monogrammed sweater and wings.

3rd grade school picture, c. 1983. Notice my monogrammed sweater and wings.

2. Take some art lessons! Don’t quit piano in 9th grade! Your academic aspirations won’t suffer if you foster your creative side.

3. Do some strength training and put some muscle on your upper body. You’re not going to like what’s in store for your knees.

4. Don’t be so shy. Yes, it’s no fun that I’m saying the same thing that your mom tells you, but you’re going to do a whole lot of relocating in your adult life. Force yourself to be more outgoing so that you’ll know how to make friends wherever you live.

5. Don’t get too attached to the thought that you don’t want to move around as an adult or that you’d never marry someone in the military. Hint, hint.

6. Forget about waiting tables over summer break. You’ll never have a career in the restaurant world, but you will spend a ridiculous amount of time teaching and coaching children.

7. Seriously consider writing at least one research paper farther ahead than the night before it’s due. You’re really going to appreciate sleep when you’re older!

8. Continue to memorize Scripture. Powerful verses are going to come to mind exactly when you need comfort and wisdom the most.

9. Learn to trust God completely. Know that He is sovereign. You might think that you’re going to fall apart at times, but He won’t ever leave you to face your struggles alone.

10. Don’t judge others when you don’t know their circumstances. You’ll be amazed at who your true friends are later in life.


Three Things About One Word: Hope

September is half over, but there’s still time to participate in Compassion’s Blog Month. Better late than never, right? Especially when the goal is to release an additional 3,160 children from poverty. That’s why I’ve chosen to write three things about this one word: hope.

Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” True words, aren’t they? In the two years that I couldn’t conceive or carry a healthy baby to term, my heart was often sick. The minute that our first daughter G was born, however, I knew the meaning of the second half of this verse.

The sweetest moment for a mom

A longing fulfilled

The children’s author E.B. White once notably wrote in a letter that “Hope is the one thing that is left to us, in a bad time.” Bad times are all around us. Yesterday an angry man senselessly killed 12 civilians aboard the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. It is an understatement to call yesterday’s violence “a bad time,” and yet we continue to hope for an end to the long line of violent tragedies that have beset our country in recent years.

Joseline #1 is 11 years old.

Joselinne #1 is 11 years old.

And hope is what sustains the families of these two young girls–interestingly enough who both share the name Joselinne–who have enrolled them in two of Compassion’s Child Development Centers in local Rwandan churches. The parents and grandmother of these two Joselinnes hope that their girls will receive the educational, nutritional, health, and spiritual instruction to live productive adult lives free of the grasps of HIV and poverty.

Joselyne #2 is 8 years old.

Joselyne #2 is 8 years old.

What about you? For what do you hope? Is your heart sick with longing, or have you found a tree of life?