“Who” Did You Hear?

I once heard Bible study leader extraordinaire, Beth Moore, explain that wealth as judged on a planet-wide scale is determined by this… do you own books and can you read them. That puts our 99% here in the US significantly above the rest of the world in wealth. How many of us own books that we fished out of a Cheerios box? While my own “reading for pleasure” has diminished greatly in recent years, I do spend a fair amount of time reading with the kiddos. There’s nothing quite like snuggling up on the sofa in the evening with a few books and a couple of kiddos (except for those times when I can barely keep my eyes open to read the next word)!
One of our favorite authors is, of course, Dr. Seuss. Can I get an “Amen!”? And one of our favorites of his creations is “Horton Hears a Who.” This is a charming tale of an elephant named Horton who discovers a whole city full of miniscule Who people living on a dust speck. Billed as a lunatic for talking to a dust speck, Horton maintains that he will protect the Who-ville city, and despite the best efforts of the other jungle animals, he does save the dust speck from imminent disaster. Repeatedly, Horton exclaims, “After all, a person’s a person no matter how small!” This idea is reinforced toward the end of the story when the kangaroo and her joey and the Wickersham brothers, uncles, and cousins are about to boil the dust speck in Beezle-Nut oil. Horton implores the mayor of the Who city to make as much noise as possible, to get the whole city shouting and noise-making to impress upon the nay-sayers that there are in fact life forms on the dust speck. Seemingly everyone in the city is yelling and making noise but Horton remains the only jungle being who can hear them. In desperation, the mayor races through the city to find one more voice. The voice he finds is that of a small boy, “A very small, very small shirker named Jo-Jo” who was standing around “bouncing a Yo-Yo!” The “Yopp” of this very small person is just what was needed to make enough noise for the less-than-superior ears of the kangaroo and company to hear the residents of Who-ville. “After all, a person’s a person no matter how small.”
Interestingly, I recently saw a Facebook post circulating alternative titles to Dr. Seuss books, presumably the hidden political message of each of the sage writer’s most famous books. Horton was re-titled as “The Inherent Ethical Issues of Isolationism.” Say what? This must be referencing the kangaroo and her legions of unbelievers, those who refuse to believe in the existence of this other world, these other beings. “If I can’t see them or hear them, they don’t exist,” seems to be the kangaroo’s line of thinking. I suppose one could argue that the kangaroo is acting out of concern for Horton’s well-being. Certainly, it is unusual to start talking to a dust speck, to start hearing voices, and to insist on the existence of something invisible. Horton’s sanity does seem to be in question. Destroying the dust speck will no doubt cure him of his instability. However, the creator of this alternative title is hinting at a much more insidious reason for the kangaroo’s elephant /witch hunt. The kangaroo’s failure to respect other life, to even recognize it as legitimate, is the sinister isolationism that leads to a narrow vision and a frantic need to root out those who might challenge that narrow vision.
In my last blog, I wrote about the definition of compassion as being “hurting so much for another that you will do anything to help them.” Horton certainly feels this kind of compassion. He tracks tirelessly the “black-bottomed eagle named Vlad Vlad-i-koff” day and night and, with amazing endurance and persistence, plucks 3 million flowers to find his friends on the dust speck (just don’t let the Lorax know about his complete destruction of an environmental habitat!). He withstands the threats of the kangaroo and is even roped and caged for his belief in the sanctity of life, for his compassion for the inhabitants of Who-ville. It doesn’t matter to Horton that to his eyes they are invisible, that they are tiny, different, a world away from his experience. Nope. “A person’s a person no matter how small.” And even the smallest, most invisible are worthy of compassion.
Certainly, for those of us at Compassion Tea, this rings true. There are so many “invisible” in Africa. From Waddington, the boy with the broken bone that hadn’t been set at all, to Yohanna, the severely malnourished 3 year old, from Patrick, the abandoned little boy who suffered intense teasing at the hands of his peers, to Anderson, the 17 year old with severe elephantitis whose condition could have been prevented, from Sister Marta, the Polish nun who operates the Chalabessa Mission Hospital many days without water or electricity, to Dawn Faith Leppan whose kitchen feeds over 1500 people a day staving off starvation for many families, I’ve been learning the stories of people reached through the work of the CareNow Foundation, people otherwise far from my radar screen. Their stories have touched my heart. Like Horton, I wish for others to hear these voices. I would love for these faces to no longer be invisible.
Yesterday, I was watching a video of a flash mob dancing in Tbilisi, Georgia (http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=F21MMJNU if you are curious), and was glancing through the comments at the bottom. One lady quoted, “As my pastor Isaac Hunter says, you have never locked eyes with someone who does not matter to Jesus.” Yes, that means you! First of all, you matter to Jesus. You are deeply and passionately loved by Him. Secondly, there isn’t anyone walking this planet who isn’t deeply and passionately loved by Him. No one. Not the invisible, not the miniscule, not those who are off our radar screen, not the “unbecoming” or “unworthy,” certainly not the “unwanted” or the “beyond hope,” not even the isolationists. There is no one who isn’t loved by Jesus. Doesn’t that make it all the more imperative that we love on them too? Doesn’t that make it all the more imperative that we have compassion for “the least of these”?
So, I raise a challenge to us all. How will you show compassion to the “least of these,” the invisible in your world? How will you show compassion to the man who just pushed ahead of you in the line at Subway? How will you show compassion to the “jerk” who tailgated you your entire commute? How will you show compassion to the student who stole your stapler again or to the mom who never sees her kids pushing yours? How will you show compassion to the bully on the playground or in the boardroom? Your voice, even if it feels as small as little Jo-Jo’s with his Yo-Yo, may be the very Yopp that is needed to break through and melt the ice of someone else’s heart. And that icy-hearted person needs your compassion, too.
“After all, a person’s a person… no matter how small.”

May The Force Be With You!

Star Wars… it’s the name of Joseph’s new fish, the kind of valentine cards and decorations we’ve chosen this year, the game we play. Light-sabers, ships, and plots to overthrow the Dark Side abound at our house. We have even taken to referencing each other as “young Jedi” or “master.” We have completely succumbed to the epic battle created by George Lucas… a battle that began when I was a child, that has been waging for decades, that garnered further following in the early 2000’s with the release of the first three movies in the series, and that has now taken over Legos, certain cartoon stations, and is about to be released in 3D. The battle between the use of the Force for good and the Dark Side is archetypal and resonates with our very souls.
A couple of days ago, the kids and I spent the afternoon watching episode three… a.k.a. the one where Anakin Skywalker turns away from his Jedi training, embraces the Dark Side, becomes a Sith Lord, and is henceforth known as Darth Vader. It has been the missing puzzle piece for me… the one movie in the six series extravaganza that I have missed seeing. While watching, I was struck by a conversation between Chancellor Palpatine and Anakin. Anakin describes the Jedi as using the Force for the good of others, selflessly, while the Sith use the Force for their own gain, turning inward and seeking their own expansion of power. The Sith rely on the passions of their emotions to strengthen their powers while the Jedi master their emotions, instead becoming deeply attuned to the Force and those around them. This conversation was precluded by a conversation between Yoda and Anakin. Anakin is distressed about the idea of losing Padme, his wife, and goes to Yoda to discover what, if anything, can be done to prevent her death. Yoda explains to him that one must be careful of one’s emotions, that fear of losing a loved one is a form of ownership, a form of greed, and therefore a slippery slope toward the Dark Side. Yoda instead explains in his backward way that one should rejoice when a loved one passes into oneness with the Force.
I think my ears perked up here because of experiences I’ve had this past week. Last Monday night, I was so moved by a friend’s testimony that I cried the whole way home from church for the pain she had been through and for the release she was finding through Christ. On Saturday, I learned that the 5 year old boy for whom we’d been praying for the past 18 months had succumbed to his battle with cancer. Reading his mother’s blog Sunday morning was emotionally gut-wrenching. Her faith in God, her surety that Logan was healed and in Heaven, her testimony that the Devil had been assaulting Logan for long enough and God had been with them through all of this and had now pulled the final, battle-ending, strategic move left me in awe and in emotional tatters. Throughout my life, I’ve been a crier. As a young child, I couldn’t watch “Little House on the Prairie” without being moved to tears by something in the show. This overactive water works display on my part is a mixture of curse (it’s so embarrassing sometimes) and blessing because I think I get what people feel. My friend and fellow Compassion Tea-er, Wendy Bjurstrom, just shared with me a definition of compassion she learned from Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church. According to this definition, the way I feel for others is compassion. Compassion, so goes the definition, is hurting so much for another that you will do anything to help them.
Compassion is the Jedi way. It’s the ability to look past self at the needs and concerns of another and to act accordingly. There is no “me” in compassion. It makes me think of two women I have yet to meet and yet for whom I have the utmost respect. Sister Marta is a Polish nun who is running the Chalabesa Mission Hospital in Zambia and Dawn Faith Leppan founded the 1000 Hills Community Helpers Clinic in South Africa. Both women work tirelessly to treat the medical and nutritional needs of those around them… often handicapped by a lack of supplies or water or staff or electricity or medicines. The stories they share of treating over 240 patients one day or of orphaned children discovered huddled in a hut without food or blankets or relatives or of rushing to save a life and then lacking the right equipment and medicines to do so are heart-wrenching. But they don’t give up. Dawn faithfully serves over 1500 people a day through her kitchen, operates a day care and school for over 250 children, manages a medical clinic that serves an average of 200 people per day, and provides classes in English, parenting, and even self-esteem. Sister Marta coordinates with Mission Medic Air to provide the medical care for people 10 to 20 kilometers away, often has to organize bucket brigades to supply water to her clinic, and keeps the clinic open even in the dark to help those who have walked a full day to find medical care. Tirelessly, compassionately, selflessly.
I read their emails and newsletters and agonize over the pain hidden inside, over the desperate pleas to not be forgotten and to be aided in any way possible. It makes me yearn to rush to their aid. But you know, for now, God has given me a different purpose. And the best way I can help is to support Compassion Tea. My monthly membership provides, on a monthly basis, medical supplies, medicines, staff support to these women and their operations. Each cup of tea I drink is a medicine for a child striken with malaria or a mother suffering from HIV/AIDS or a father trying to provide even while crippled by a broken bone not set properly. It has taken me several days to write this blog… and consequently I have consumed several pots of tea. Can you imagine the aid I have single-handedly supplied! And because Compassion Tea is so delicious, it feels like a luxury to aid in this way. But the basis behind Compassion Tea is the same as what drives Sister Marta and Ms. Leppan… because the founders of Compassion Tea felt and feel so profoundly the hurt of others they are willing to do anything to help. Tirelessly, compassionately, selflessly.
If only a light-saber would help.

Houston, We Have A Problem!

When my friend, Jessica, got her dog, she announced that she would name him Houston. Why? So that when he went potty in the house or had any other kind of puppy accident, she could yell, “Houston, we’ve got a problem.”
At swimming lessons the other day, I had a lovely chat with a fellow mom who had gone through a house that day, a house that was just coming on the market. The house was in need of updating but was fully habitable, affordably priced, in the right neighborhood for schools, and larger than her current house. The extra square footage, extra sinks in the bathroom, extra room in the garage, larger backyard were all highly attractive. But the remodeling that would need to be done was not. To bite on this or not… that was the question. In a moment of truth, however, my friend commented, “If this is the biggest problem I have to deal with this week, I’ve got nothing to worry about.”
That same day, I read this on Facebook: “Tired tonight very busy clinic and kitchen, last Friday school teachers came to the clinic to ask for ambulance child hit by taxi, Brian was out I raced there with our paramedic, poor darling died the next day, Mother ill with T.B. So we think we have Problems. Take each day as a gift from GOD.” This was posted by Dawn Leppan, founder of the 1000 Hills Community Helpers Clinic in South Africa. Let’s look at the problems listed in this staccato message. Problem 1: There’s a mother with tuberculosis… a disease against which we successfully immunize here in the States, a disease that has all but been eradicated here. Problem 2: Her child gets hit by a taxi. Problem 3: No one has a cell phone to dial 911 immediately. Instead, the teachers of the nearby school run to the clinic asking for help. Time is wasted, in our way of thinking anyway. Problem 4: Low staffing at the clinic. The regular ambulance driver is out. Problem 5: The unknown. How healthy was this child to begin with? What other medical factors were at play here? Possible malnutrition? Malaria? And how equipped was the clinic to handle this sort of emergency? We are talking about rural Africa, here. I don’t mean any disrespect to Ms. Leppan and her amazing staff in asking that question. But I think it is a pertinent question.
Let’s see here. For comparison, my problems for the week thus far are: 1. Finding childcare for one child so I can go work in the other child’s class at school for their Valentine’s Day party. 2. Locating Star Wars valentines for Joseph to take to school. 3. Winston, the dog, has a puppy tooth that has to be extracted so the adult tooth can come in. 4. When in the world am I going to squeeze in a trip to the grocery store to pick up a gallon of milk with all of the places I need to take the kids? 5. Scheduling the summer activities for the kids is starting now. Seriously?
Granted, I’m trivializing things a bit. There are things that I worry about on a daily basis… things like the general health of kids, spouse, and parents, the state of a loved one’s soul, things from the past that rear their heads in ways and places and times I don’t expect. I’ve had problems of magnitude. Praise God that there aren’t any right now. And praise God that when there are bigger ones, I am learning to turn to Him with those problems, learning to let Him handle them.
Really, we’ve all had problems of magnitude. This world is broken. I’m not making some kind of political statement here (although it is tempting at times to point the finger at a politician and blame). The world’s brokenness goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve chose desire over relationship, knowledge over trust, pain and suffering over wholeness. On the surface, we smile, seem cheery, upbeat, optimistic. We’re busy with life, operating at a mind-altering speed sometimes, and often missing the cues around us showing us the brokenness. There goes a man addicted to pain killers. That woman over there was raped as a teenager. The mom behind you in the grocery store line miscarried 3 times before she had that child who is now screaming in the grocery cart. Over there, that man? He just lost his job and can’t figure out how to go home and tell his wife and kids. He’s lucky. The man ordering coffee over there is about to go home to find that his wife has left him for another man. Dear John. Do you get it? So we think we have problems? Of course we do! Everyone has a problem every now and then. Houston, we’ve got a planet full of problems.
The thing that I find distressing, however, is the thought that perhaps somehow that child in South Africa could have been saved, just like his mother could have been inoculated against tuberculosis, had the resources been available. This is the distressing thought that instigated the founding of CareNow. There are big problems in Africa… HIV/AIDS being among the greatest of the medical related ones. Big problems require bold solutions. Meanwhile, while we’re waiting for bold solutions, there are hundreds of little solutions we can be doing right now. CareNow recognizes this. Oh for a box of surgical gloves! Oh for a child-sized blood pressure cuff! Oh for some novocaine! And Compassion Tea Company recognizes this, too. While we’re waiting for the big cures and big answers and bold solutions, we’re selling tea, using the money to buy and ship medical supplies or to support medical staff. We’re doing something NOW.
Yes, Houston, we have a problem. But a little compassion goes a long way… one small solution at a time.

Degrees of Love

“Cheese warmed up on bread, please!” That is Joseph’s favorite food right now. So at dinner tonight, we bargained with him. Eat your steak and potatoes and broccoli and if you are still hungry after that you can have cheese on bread. He made short order of the dinner and I was up from the table making the bread delicacy. Matt commented, “You love your cheese on bread don’t you!” Joseph got a very serious look on his face and said, “I love Mama first. Then Dada second. Then I love Clara.” Well, but what about the cheese on bread? “I like to eat it,” he replied with a smirk.

At four, Joseph has distinguished between kinds of love! Love is how you feel about a person, not how you feel about a food. Profound! And sweet.

Have you seen the email going around? The one about True Love? It looks like this:

For God so loVed the world
That He gAve
His onLy
That whosoever
Believeth In Him
Should Not perish
But have Everlasting life.
John 3:16

The creator of the email is hoping that the message will make it around the world by Valentine’s Day. I guess I better forward that email. Oops.
Ok, so when I first read this email, I thought, “Yep. That’s pretty cool.” I showed it to Clara who has the verse memorized and she began singing the little song that goes with it. Catchy tune and a great memory tool. We know it. But do we KNOW it?

In the study I’m doing at church right now, we’re talking about integration vs. knowledge. What do you know and what have you absorbed or immersed yourself in or integrated into your emotional belief systems. There’s a difference between the scientific knowing of something and the emotional, gut-level embracing of that knowledge. It’s the difference between a cold acknowledgement and a life-altering realization. It’s knowing and acting accordingly versus living in a manner consistent with and flowing out of an emotive response to knowledge. It’s following a to-do list versus living out love, trying to earn God’s love versus expressing God’s love.

My initial response to the email was a scientific knowing. Hey, I recognize that! I believe that is true for me. Do you feel the coldness of that? No, the email is making a profound comment here about the trueness and vastness and completely overcoming enormity of God’s love for you, and you, and you. (Yes, you!) He, God, is the Father who lost His sheep, His coin, His beloved prodigal child (Luke 15). He is the God, Father, who goes in search of the least of these, the insignificant, the shamed, the unworthy. He doesn’t just wait for them to return; He is actively seeking. And He is the God, Father, running out to greet, throwing the impromptu party, celebrating with joy. He is the God of emotion and knowing that He is running after me when I turn my back (just ask me about the dryness of inspiration this week as I’ve fought against writing this!)… I’m speechless. You may have heard before that God would have sent Jesus to die for your sins even if you were the only person here. You may have heard it. But have you really HEARD it?

Valentine’s Day is around the corner. We’ll spend a lot of time talking about love between now and then… picking out cards that adequately spell out our varying degrees of love for those around us. It may be a cheeky conversation heart exchange between school kids or a paper superhero comic card between best friends. It may be a handmade creation perfect for a parent, grandparent, or special teacher. It may be a card or a bouquet of flowers or even a canister of tea (www.compassiontea.com has the best one!) given to your sweetheart of 2 or 25 years. But, none of these Valentine’s matches the one the Father gave when He gave us His Son.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Mark 4: 9