Take Shelter

Take Shelter.

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Take Shelter

Eggs in an incubator for three weeks. Preschool students making weekly field trips to visit the eggs. And then, on the anticipated day, listen, do you hear it? A chirp! There’s a tapping on that egg! Do you see the crack? Chicks, wet and tiny, start breaking free, triumphing over all the forces against them… being mailed, being jostled by preschool kids, chromosomal mishaps, the threat of unsustainable life, of being incompatible with life. The next round of worries begins for these little lives. The children gathered around, hovering over the incubator, marvel at how that little bird was once scrunched inside the egg. “How did it fit? How did it get there? Can I hold it?” So goes the steady stream of questions surrounding this birth, this new beginning. The marvel of life.

Twice a year, my son’s preschool goes through this ritual. We’re in the farm cycle right now… visiting the pumpkin patch, learning about the things on the farm, and coming to understand that there is a great big God, THE great big God, who loves and protects little old me from the scary things of this world.

Last Wednesday, the first of the eggs hatched… a little black chick lovingly named Blackbird by the Frogs class. Subsequent chicks arrived including a fluffy yellow babe full of promise and dubbed a name of immense proportion… Lightning. My son has been lobbying for weeks that if a fluffy yellow chick should arrive, she should be named after the great symbol of God’s power in the sky. His feelings have been crushed multiple times by his classmates who feel equally strongly about a different name. But in the end, the votes fell Joseph’s way, and Lightning it is… at least for another week before little Lightning heads off to the wide, nameless world of the farm.

On Thursday of last week, eager to see who else had hatched overnight, Joseph and I traipsed up to Ms. Kelly’s office and huddled up to the incubator. One little chick (the aforementioned Lightning) was lively and fluffy and chirping happily. The other, too weak to move, had dried onto the wire mesh of the incubator and was feebly trying to free herself. We worked diligently to loosen her bondage, but even then, her legs were stiff and moving was difficult. That chick’s fate seemed sealed, a fact which thankfully eluded Joseph but which stuck with me all day. On Friday, we brought Blackbird and Lightning home with us for a weekend of babysitting. In texting Ms. Kelly about the dear little chicks, I learned that while another chick made a surprise appearance late Friday, still another had made the effort to emerge and had succumbed to the process. Some live, some die. In solidarity and with a nod to this fact, I sent Ms. Kelly a text from Blackbird and Lightning thanking her for her loving mothering; she was the surrogate mother who cleared away the shells, kept the chicks warm until they were dry, and then carried them safely to their protective plexiglass hutches in the classrooms. Ms. Kelly… a.k.a. Mother Hen.

I saw Ms. Kelly at church on Sunday and shared with her how things were going. I mentioned that I had taken a picture of Winston staring at the chicks, wary and intrigued, eager to sniff, chase, possibly eat whatever they were, those little balls of soft yellow fluff that make that song. Staring them down, barking at them, inviting them to play? That’s my dog. Here’s the picture.

65 lb. beast waiting to snatch up innocent lives.

This morning, Ms. Kelly used the picture in the preschool’s weekly email… “a picture of peace,” she called it. Unbeknownst to the chicks, danger, evil, death lurks beyond the clear, plexiglass walls of their home. Lit by the heat lamp, they are in the light, but out there, who knows what lurks beyond their vision, beyond their sight, beyond their imagination. That plexiglass hutch is like the sheltering arms of the mother hen for these little lives. Impenetrable, strong, an unseen bubble of protection, it is even more than a mother hen. It becomes a metaphor for the way God protects us.

I don’t know where you are in the world right now. Things are seemingly swimming along out here on the west coast, but we are listening with anticipation and dread to the forecasts for the east coast as they prepare for Hurricane Sandy. Friends, family, Compassion Tea members are hunkering down; battening down the hatches; bringing in the toys, garden furniture, and tools; stocking up on water, batteries, food – who knows how long the power will be out. Take shelter, dear ones, take shelter.

It’s not just on the east coast. We hear stories about sex trafficking, about bombings whether they be suicide, drone, or rebel forces, about unrest, high unemployment (think 25% in Spain), about parts of the world where it isn’t safe for children to play, where children can’t play because of ill-health, or because they need to work to support the family, or because they are abused, enslaved, robbed of their independence, safety, and innocence. The world is not safe. Evil lurks just beyond what we can see, danger plays at our shores like the surf before a storm or maybe like the undercurrent we can’t see, the one that wants dearly to pull us under and carry us out to sea.

There’s a verse on my heart today – chick inspired perhaps but nevertheless relevant – a verse I feel compelled to pray over and over today. Matthew 23: 37 “…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings….” God is often portrayed as a mother hen with broad, sheltering wings. The psalmist writes in Psalm 36: 7, “How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” In Psalm 63: 7, he writes, “Because you are my help I sing in the shadow of your wings.” And in Psalm 57: 1, the psalmist cries out, “Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” My own favorite verse, Isaiah 40: 31 speaks of wings; “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Wherever you are in the world, whether you are peacefully oblivious to the perils surrounding you, unaware of the 65 lb. dog of evil and menace lurking beyond the light or whether you are keenly aware that the world as you know it is about to be rocked in profound ways, may you find shelter in the protection God offers, until the disaster has passed. May God gather you in, shelter you, warm you and provide for your needs. How He longs to. Take shelter, dear friends, take shelter.

Friends!

Made by friends. Given to friends. Helping friends.


You may recall that Compassion Tea got started when a group of friends met with the purpose of discussing a better way to raise funds for their work with CompassioNow. This group of 3 couples had been friends from church and already had a long history of connection and community including group trips to Africa where certain members acquired the nickname “Lovey” (these people shall remain anonymous to protect the innocent – HA!) and the rigors of large bugs, shady food, and third world living were shared together. This was a group who was already in prayer for each other. By creating Compassion Tea, Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom, Jack and Chris Faherty, and Lee and Anne Kennedy further ensured their friendship; now, even though they are scattered around California, the meeting schedule, prayer schedule, and work schedule guarantees time together either through amazing modern communication or face-to-face time.

This past weekend was one of those face-to-face times. The kids and I traveled to Clovis via train (which has its own blog topic just waiting) in order to meet, work, and share in the community that is Compassion Tea. The beauty of the weekend was that we were working on assembling our holiday gifts. Boxes needed to be assembled, foam cut, pouches stuffed, tins shrink-wrapped, stickers applied, bows tied. None of this was particularly taxing – except perhaps for the foam cutting which required Ed’s engineering expertise to extract the most foam supports for the gift boxes as possible, and except for the heat of a hand-dryer on a hand while shrink-wrapping. On the contrary, our tasks allowed us to chitchat. As a relative newcomer to the friendship, this was great fun for me! At a certain point in the day, as Chris and I were finishing up a lively discussion about schools and teachers and expectations (oh and yes, we were labeling pouches), Anne and Wendy popped in to say, “Let’s switch partners when we start the next task!” While I worked with Wendy, I had the opportunity to hear about her experiences volunteering at the Care Harbor event recently held in LA. (Another blog in the making!) We finished the day off with a meal and fond reminiscing over our year together.

Oh, I’m sorry. Did I lose you somewhere? Were you distracted by the comments about putting together holiday gifts? Was your holiday shopping radar going off? Would you like to know more? WELLLLLLL! Yes, we’ve got holiday gifts and yes they are on sale and ready to go out. (So, really, now is a great time to order… www.compassiontea.com/gifts.)

The holiday gift boxes are full of great things… a silver teaspoon for measuring the 4 loose teas tucked into reusable tins. The teas included in this gift are Monk’s Blend (flavored black tea), Bourbon Street Vanilla (flavored rooibos), Jade Cloud (green tea extraordinaire), and Iron Goddess Oolong (exceptional oolong). This is the kind of gift the tea-lover in your life would go nuts over!

Back in July, we were trying to discern the best way to package our next gift. It was a several hour conversation that wove its way through our entire meeting that weekend. This past weekend, we saw the fruition of that process! A satin red pouch filled with two round tins of Monk’s Blend and Bourbon Street Vanilla loose teas. There’s just something about those round tins all stacked up and waiting to ship out that is elegant, orderly, and compelling. The two tins collectively hold approximately 50 cups of tea, which makes this a lovely gift for just about anyone! I’m thinking friends, family, co-workers, colleagues, staff, employees, vendors, administrators, teachers, assistants, service providers, my kids (who ask for these two teas by name)….

The other really great gift for the above-mentioned folks is our black teabag caddy filled with pyramid tea bags. You can choose which tea you want in the caddy and the choices are as follows: Green Peach Apricot (flavored green), Caramel Rooibos (flavored rooibos), Egyptian Camomile (herbal), Earl Grey (black tea), and Provence (herbal rooibos).

Of course, we have our gift memberships for the gift that truly keeps on giving. I remember several years ago (like, decades ago) I was struggling with what to get that “someone who has everything” and I discovered a mail-order flower service that would send flowers on a monthly basis. How fun it was for my mother-in-law to receive bulbs and fresh flowers every month! I don’t remember how many months it ran but I loved the concept. This is what our gift memberships do; instead, we send 2 pouches of tea each month. You choose 6 months or 12 months of tea delivery, the variety changes every month, and every month your friend, spouse, family member is reminded of you and your loving gift. Ahhhh! Isn’t that great!

So, I’ve covered the “Made by Friends” part and the “Given to Friends” part. But what about this “Helping Friends” part? I saved the most important part for last. Remember, the mission behind Compassion Tea is to share tea and SAVE LIVES! We do that by donating 100% of our profits to our parent organization, CompassioNow. CompassioNow uses those funds to purchase medical supplies, to ship pharmaceuticals and medical supplies to Africa, to pay staff salaries at some of the clinics in Africa, to support projects such as buying a new engine for an airplane so people in the far away parts of the bush may receive medical care or such as digging a new well and providing the piping to supply a clinic with a fresh supply of water so that people don’t have to walk several hundred yards to a dirty river to procure water for the clinic. Through our sale of tea, we are helping to give grandmothers eyeglasses, which help them to see and better provide for their families. We are helping to provide antibiotics to treat infections that could become life threatening otherwise. We are supplying wound dressings for a man hit by a car and who was turned away from the government–run hospital because he couldn’t pay for his treatment. We are supplying vitamins for children growing up malnourished. We are helping a woman who for 20+ years was considered a drag on the community because she is crippled and we are giving hope to young children with cerebral palsy, HIV/AIDS, orphaned and malnourished.

I know that the economy is a hot topic these days. I’m not sure one can get away from the topic, actually! By most reports, it isn’t where it was four years ago. Could it be worse? Is it not good enough? Those are questions for the politicians to debate, and debate they are! What counts is what is in your pocketbook/budget for this year’s holiday spending. While I want to emphasize that our gifts are reasonably priced, I more so want you to think about the power of your spending. You will buy gifts for certain people, right? And I think we all know at least one consumer of fine tea. You could go to a certain local tea store or a coffee stand that sells tea too. They’re on every corner. You could buy your tea there. You could. OR you could make your purchase matter. Your purchase could make a difference for someone else… a friend in Africa.

What was that website again? www.compassiontea.com/gifts Make your holiday gift-giving count.

To Sugar or Not to Sugar

To Sugar or Not to Sugar.

To Sugar or Not to Sugar

Not long ago, I made the Saturday morning trek to the Farmer’s Market downtown. I love the Farmer’s Market… all the fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, organic breads, and even the balloon man. Usually, I stop to chat with a local olive oil producer whose olive oils are amazing. (Olivina if you are interested!)  This day, I mentioned my work with Compassion Tea to Charles and his ears literally perked up. “I drink way too much soda,” he shared. “I’m looking for a new beverage that doesn’t have as much sugar in it.” Well, you can imagine the next 30 minutes! Duh! ICED TEA!

I’m not sure what sparked Charles’ decision to alter his drinking habits, but it seems to be a trending topic.

You may have noticed on September 14 that New York City’s Board of Health approved Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on 16 oz. soda and/or sweetened drinks. Effective March 12, 2013, this ban will prohibit any beverage with more than 25 calories per eight ounces from being sold in a container larger than 16 ounces. So, basically, in 6 months’ time, when you take in your weekly movie or swing through Jack-in-the-Box in New York City, you won’t be able to buy the mega beverage of your choice. You can, however, drop into the grocery or 7-Eleven and purchase a 2 liter or a Big Gulp. And at the restaurants, you may have as many refills in your smaller cup as the restaurant will allow. The reason behind the ban? According to Mayor Bloomberg, banning these drinks will “curb obesity” and “save lives.” To read more about this, click here and here.

Okay, so don’t travel to NYC if you plan on consuming large amounts of Pepsi. Maybe stay in Trenton instead.

This week, the New York Times ran an article in the opinion section of the paper titled, “Is Alzheimer’s Type 3 Diabetes?” In the article, Mark Bittman explains the scientific advances that are suggesting a link between the body’s reaction to too much sugar over long periods of time, the development of type-2 diabetes, and the similarities between type-2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s. In fact, studies with rats have shown that, when the insulin in the brains of the rats is limited, the brains of the rats “show all the signs of Alzheimer’s.” (Bio refresher: Insulin is released by the pancreas and goes knocking on the doors of cells telling them to open up and grab the glucose, which is what the body turns sugar into, coursing past in the blood. When insulin becomes a constant, persistent, and annoying knocker, which is what happens when we consume large amounts of sugar regularly, the cells become “insulin resistant;” they stop listening and refuse to open the door. This is damaging to blood vessels, the heart, and other organs, and causes the kind of damage to the brain noted in the article.) The article goes on to discuss the implications of this study from a health perspective and from a “cost-to-society” perspective. It also adds the caveat that while sugary drinks and foods are instrumental in increasing the rate of type-2 diabetes in Americans, sugar may not be the only culprit. Heavily processed foods certainly have their place in the decline of American health, too, according to the article.

Interestingly enough, I was recently reading an update from Karero Medical Clinic in Kenya… yes, as in Africa. A team of doctors and dentists from the States had recently visited the clinic and had provided dental services to “dozens of people.” Rev. Jeff Spainhour, from North Carolina, was among the delegation of professionals who traveled to Karero. After watching the extraction of countless teeth among the Kenyans, Rev. Spainhour commented, “It was obvious that sugar has had a great negative impact on the health of the people seen.” Even in Africa, sugar is becoming the boogie man. It starts with the teeth, spreads to diabetes, and may even lead to the most mind-debilitating disease we know.

As our pastor always says, “So what.” As in, “What should we glean from these campaigns, comments, and studies?” I see the answer as very simple. Put down your 16 oz. Coca-Cola and pick up your tea cup! (Or maybe moderation?)

There has been lots of talk throughout time about the medicinal properties and health benefits of tea consumption. Ironically, when you look for conclusive evidence to support tea as the healthier alternative, what you find is lots of “suggestions.” “This study suggests,” “studies on this are not conclusive,” and “not enough research has been done” are the constant caveats. I’ve turned to my favorite stand-by, WebMD, for a little help here. According to a compilation of studies put together by Julie Edgar, here’s “what some studies have found about the potential health benefits of tea:
• Green tea: Made with steamed tea leaves, it has a high concentration of EGCG and has been widely studied. Green tea’s antioxidants may interfere with the growth of bladder, breast, lung, stomach, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers; prevent clogging of the arteries, burn fat, counteract oxidative stress on the brain, reduce risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, reduce risk of stroke, and improve cholesterol levels.
• Black tea: Made with fermented tea leaves, black tea has the highest caffeine content and forms the basis for flavored teas like chai, along with some instant teas. Studies have shown that black tea may protect lungs from damage caused by exposure to cigarette smoke. It also may reduce the risk of stroke.
• White tea: Uncured and unfermented. One study showed that white tea has the most potent anticancer properties compared to more processed teas.
• Oolong tea: In an animal study, those given antioxidants from oolong tea were found to have lower bad cholesterol levels. One variety of oolong, Wuyi, is heavily marketed as a weight loss supplement, but science hasn’t backed the claims.
• Pu-erh tea: Made from fermented and aged leaves. Considered a black tea, its leaves are pressed into cakes. One animal study showed that animals given pu-erh had less weight gain and reduced LDL cholesterol.”

The article has little to say about the health benefits of different herbal, rooibos, and chai teas even though so many claim benefits such as weight loss, digestive aid, cold prevention, and stress reduction. Again, the issue is lack of study. (Click here for the whole article.)

What the article does point out is that bottled iced teas are often laced with sugars and/or artificial sweeteners and should therefore be avoided. Edgars includes a quote from Diane L. McKay, PhD, a Tufts University scientist who studies antioxidants as saying, “You want to incorporate healthy beverages in your diet on a more regular basis to benefit from these health-promoting properties. It’s not just about the foods; it’s about what you drink, as well, that can contribute to your health.”

So what? I realize people like soda. I grew up drinking it and I haven’t grown two heads or sprouted wings or anything too bizarre. But when it comes to health and making healthy choices for me and my family, I’m inclined to avoid things that contribute to obesity (goodness gracious, I have enough trouble keeping off the pounds!), tooth decay, and now possibly Alzheimer’s. Yes, soda offers variety and flavor and caffeine and a cool, refreshing pick-me-up or get-me-going boost. But, I have to argue that tea is even better.

As a Compassion Tea drinker, I find plenty of flavor and variety in our offerings, enough to keep my changing palette intrigued and satisfied. And because of the intense and robust flavors, I don’t need to add sweeteners to the teas to improve flavor. If I want sweet, there’s Provence or Bourbon Street Vanilla or Almond Rocker or Jasmine Vanilla Rooibos or our new flavor Caramel Rooibos in the pyramid bags. If I want fruity, well, that selection is endless. From blueberry to mango, we’ve got fruit! For a spicy mood, there’s West Cape Chai, Cochin Masala Chai, or Spicy Rooibos. If I’m looking for something gentle and delicate, there’s Sencha Cherry Rose or Peony White Needle or Silver Needle or even Coconut Oolong or Jade Cloud. And of course, there’s always the oolong, pu’ erh, and black teas, which offer that robust cup, the get-me-up-and-going cup of tea. Tea is varied and as long as we don’t pour in a pint of sugar it is healthier than soda.

Why not make it your beverage of choice!