Margin

Margin is a hot word in my house these days.

There’s the margin of business, of getting the most buck for your bang. It’s the fine line between squeezing the most money out of clients and the most work out of your employees – without tipping either side of the equation. And big margins are good, sought after, applauded. Margin.

Then there’s the margin of life, the blank space, the whitespace that circles the words of our chaotic lives. Margin is space to breathe, to create, to still and listen, to put down the phone, the TV remote, the computer, the calendar, the to-do list 3 feet long and just… be. Margin is time for the kids to play and be kids. Margin is time for mommy to soak in a tub or for daddy to unwind from the day and connect with someone in his family… or vice versa.

This kind of margin keeps perspective, holds the balance, allows for God to be heard, for healing and health and reconciliation and emotional stability.unnamed-23

unnamed-40But is this margin applauded? Don’t we prefer to applaud the family that can pile the schedule with sports and arts and homework and busyness? Don’t we marvel at the mom juggling all 10 balls marginally well and wonder skeptically at the efficiency of the mom who only juggles 3 very well? Or the husband who works all day, serves on boards, and coaches little league… don’t we marvel at his dedication? But we don’t ask where his margin is, do we?

Is there an assumption that the more margin we have financially, the more margin we’ll have time wise? That the striving and squeezing and pinching stops when the bottom line looks good? Or does the striving and squeezing and pinching just pick up in other areas, cluttering our lives with the trappings of affluence?

And I’m wondering this morning, as I’m flailing in the struggle of creating margin in a world that demands we keep running without margin, what margin looks like in Africa.

Like in Zomba, Malawi, where Passion Center for Children is located. Where is the margin in life when floods have destroyed your house and your crops? Is there rest, blank space, stillness when there aren’t mosquito nets and pots and pans and food and when children are sleeping in the open because there are no beds, no walls, no roof? When there is no monetary margin, no buck for the bang, when life is hand to mouth, where is the margin?10378274_812999028771587_6202102954853020024_n

10923281_812999078771582_747795061580541710_n10917445_812999052104918_3699448331697225328_nOr in Uganda where Village of Hope is located, where 9 new sponsors for children this week is celebrated! And the bottom line says that there are 200 more that need sponsors. And the bottom line reads like this: “Dear friends… this is Cindy. We really need your help. As you know the last couple of years have been hard on me physically. So I have not been able to go out and ‘friend’ raise. Because of that… we are running $20K short each month. We have added a Skill Training Center and another 50 kids to our Villages. Those things add up. So we, our 340 children, need your help. Every dollar helps!”

How do you build margin into your finances, into your life, when there are 340 kiddos who depend on you for life – food, education, healthcare, nurturing, shelter – because the alternative to this is child-run families, sleeping in the open, abuse, days without food, a tentative survival, and no upward mobility. Where is the margin?10299080_10152398008179763_3795027765915466660_n 11015953_10153109834269763_317411810080949687_n 10352939_10152674151649763_6536344923481152464_n

Or in the Valley of 1000 Hills, South Africa, where 1000 Hills Community Helpers is located, where some 5000 people this month will attend a medical clinic of some sort and will be treated effectively and well for the unimaginable cost of $1 per person. Where that same number of people or more will gather for meals, where children will meet daily for schooling and care, where mommies and daddies will learn skills and grannies will meet and sit under the canopy or gather around a table and sew. Where the safe house had to close because there wasn’t funding to keep it open. And where the bottom line says we’re running this amazing operation on nickels and dimes, we are doing great good, but we’ve got no margin and we’re not meeting our financial needs to keep all these balls in the air.1011836_10151711910730854_1547028917_n 10628167_10152865178225854_4632364125688208242_n 1800479_10152895399445854_1985007257085480745_n 10628268_10152895404295854_8499036510535850559_n

Where is the margin when it all sounds so dire?

The margin is in the whitespace. The margin is in being still and listening for God to speak, being still and knowing that He is God, being still and knowing that He is at work, that He has built up these relief centers, that He has begun a good work, and He will fulfill His promises to His people, and He will finish those good works.

And margin is in the whitespace created when we take a moment to savor a cup of tea. Whether we’re members of Compassion Tea and we amble into a pantry well-stocked with a multitude of tea flavors or whether we buy our favorite flavor every other month online or whether we shuffle into our favorite coffee shop, favorite because it carries tea with a cause, how ever we come to our cup of tea and with whomever we share it, when we create this pause in our day, we are creating margin in Africa.IMG_7536

And that’s the bottom line!

1000 Hills

I just got another video from Wendy. In response, I asked her how she was holding up. Were it me, I’d be repeatedly excusing myself to go have a good cry in the loo. This is the week that Wendy and Stina Bjurstrom are spending at 1000 Hill Community Helpers in South Africa. Stina is acting as a nurse and Wendy is proving to be chief photographer, videographer, baby holder, and encourager. I’d like very much to share a few of the photos Wendy has sent on as well as a bit about the clinic.

Dawn Leppan, founder of 1000 Hills Community Helpers... giving proper credit where credit is due

Dawn Leppan, founder of 1000 Hills Community Helpers… giving proper credit where credit is due

From the 1000 Hills website: “The 1000 Hills Community Helpers project was established in 1989 by starting up a community feeding program.

In response to the needs of the community, we constructed our own community care centre in 2008 comprising a health and wellness clinic, children’s infirmary, education and development facility.This centre was named by the local community members as “Ikhaya Lo Thando” (“Home of Love”) that would cater for the needs of Orphaned and Vulnerable Children, supporting them with food and clothing.

Dawn’s eyes were opened to the political strife and devastation of families in the local community of the Valley of 1000 Hills caused by political unrest. In 1989 this heart breaking scenario inspired Alan Paton and herself to start up a community feeding program. This was first held in the open under the trees in the Inchanga area, then moving from there into St. Theresa’s Catholic Church

In 1990 it was realized that community members were in need of medical assistance due to the impact of HIV/Aids related illnesses. It was then decided to start up a basic clinic followed by an infant nutritional program. Medical volunteers were then sourced to assist in carrying this burden. We were blessed with having a Paediatrician join us as well as 5 registered nursing sisters.

Sister Dlimani, Community Caregivers, Dawn's daughter Karin, and Stina take time for tea.

Sister Dlimani, Community Caregivers, Dawn’s daughter Karin, and Stina take time for tea.

From that first project, this vision has grown from strength to strength to provide essential services to the people in the form of health care, education, infant care and HIV/AIDS awareness, henceforth, the 1000 Hills Community Helpers community centre.”

Some of the happy faces coming to day care.

Some of the happy faces coming to day care.

I'm a 1000 HIlls Kid -- it is so good to belong!

I’m a 1000 HIlls Kid — it is so good to belong!

CompassioNow first met Dawn in that abandoned Catholic church when she was feeding people and dreaming about expanding services. To see the amazing growth and outreach of this community since then is inspiring, wordless joy, inexpressible amazement, and something that contracts the heart, rearranges the insides, and yes, sends the likes of me running to the loo for a good cry. Because the work is so far from done.

Wendy explains, "This precious baby boy was brought to Dawn Leppan at Thousand Hills Community Helpers one month ago. The mother put him on Dawn's desk and said, 'You're lucky I didn't chuck him in the toilet. Here's one for you.' So thankful for the life saving work being done here every day!"

Wendy explains, “This precious baby boy was brought to Dawn Leppan at Thousand Hills Community Helpers one month ago. The mother put him on Dawn’s desk and said, ‘You’re lucky I didn’t chuck him in the toilet. Here’s one for you.’ So thankful for the life saving work being done here every day!”

Operation Snake Rescue

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Hissy

A rustle in the dry leaves at the upper end of my garden is not unusual. But this rustling went on for a while and so it caught my attention. What I saw was the tail end of a snake. “KIDS! You gotta see this!” I hollered. Very cautiously, I approached close enough to ascertain whether or not this creature was poisonous or not. Looking for the telltale rattle, I inched closer, snapped a photo on my Android, and backed away. It looked docile enough and it must have been afraid of us because it didn’t move for a very long time. I confirmed through the city naturalist that I had a gopher snake on my hands. It was most welcome. The rodents were a worse menace than the snake! Eat all you want, Mr. Gopher Snake!

The next day, I decided to see if Hissy, as the kids had named it, was still in the bushes between our house and the neighbor’s. I could see Hissy coiled up but something wasn’t right. Gasp. There was black netting around his “neck” and face. Concerned that there was now a large dead gopher snake in the bushes decaying I called the neighbors to suggest working together to extract Hissy. They never returned my call. Which brings us to the third day. I came home from a very hot session of horseback riding and figured I better check on the chickens who were panting worse than the dog. And I wandered up toward the top of the garden to see Hissy’s body. Oddly enough, it was now hanging partly under my fence again. That snake was NOT dead… or it was having an extremely long period of dying. In fact, when I brushed its tail with a twig, it shuddered and contracted. Hissy needed help and fast. I grabbed the pruning sheers from the shed and stuck them through the fence hacking away at the netting as best I could. Eventually, I cut away enough of the netting that I could gently pull Hissy’s body through the fence with a long, thick stick. Now that his head was clearly in sight, I saw that he was choked in two places. I put a bucket over him to keep Winston from messing with him and ran into the house for a pair of scissors. This was going to be finer, closer work than pruning sheers would handle. With the scissors in one hand and the large stick in the other, I carefully began cutting the tightest spots. When that last choking chord was sliced, Hissy’s body curled up, contracted, slithered, sighed. Now, there was just a chunk of netting around his face. Again, stick in hand, and with steady scissors, I began cutting away around eyes that were now focusing and alert. As the netting fell away, Hissy grew more and more animated. I never did get the netting completely off his mouth before he high-tailed it deep into the bushes. Perhaps that last bit will keep him from eating; I don’t know. But I did my best.

I’ve given you the photographic version of the story. Add in the emotional. A snake in the garden was in fact nightmarish for me. I can deal with the idea of snakes when a trained professional is explaining and showing them … like recently at my son’s 6th birthday party when Owen brought his boa constrictor, corn snake, California King Snake, and gopher snake to share. But this was remarkably close to home and reinforced that notion that creeps me out… there are things lurking that I can’t see and I don’t know if they are malignant or benign. Shudder. What was even worse was the next day when the snake was still there… seemingly dead. By day two, Hissy had a name and a gender to help him fit into my paradigms. He wasn’t just “a snake.” God has made amazing creatures and populated His world with them. The markings, the beauty, the potential for danger were all, in their own creepy way, attractive. And I was forming an odd little bond with Hissy. I have never been one to see pain in someone’s eyes and not feel a measure of it myself. And I saw, as faintly as it was through the ivy leaves, a measure of pain and voidedness in Hissy’s. By the third day when it was evident that Hissy was clinging to life by threads as fine as those binding him in place, I couldn’t take it. Creepy or not, Hissy deserved a chance. As I worked over his body in the hot sun, I found at one point an incredible desire to touch him. Remembering all the city naturalist’s lessons about how to pet a snake, I reached out and stroked his midsection. Soft, supple, amazing. I am proud of doing what I did for Hissy, concerned about his future, and saddened that I may never see him again. For three days, he was a constant in my life. Loathed and feared at first, he grew to be endearing and action-prompting… not because he changed, but because I changed.

I will be the first to admit that not every human I interact with do I find endearing and action-prompting. Toward many I have a gut-level reaction that is less than generous. It is an intimate and convicting reminder of my own humanity. As much as I seek to model my life after Christ’s, I’m not there yet.

Our team that recently returned from Tanzania and Kenya were met with situations that on occasion left them thoroughly grossed out. At one point, they were taken to a Maasai village… one of the most impoverished places they had seen yet. Here, the houses were built of cow dung and the animals were paddocked “in town” during the night. Consequently, during a demonstration of how to start a cow dung fire, the four team members were covered in flies. Flies thicker than you can possibly imagine. Anne was given a fly swatter made from elephant hairs; according to her it merely shifted the flies from one part of her body to another. That would have totally been outside my comfort zone! It was disgusting.

Later, when the team visited the Tanzania Christian Clinic, they met Sabina, one of the nurses who works there. Her purpose is to attend to the mommies and babies who come to the clinic. While the team was there, a young lady of 21 years came to see Sabina. She brought her child for a check-up. During their conversation, the young lady explained that this was her fourth child; she had given birth to her first-born at the tender age of 10. My daughter just turned 10. If you don’t think this information was a kick in the gut, think again.

My point here is simple. Gross, frightening, loathsome, horrific – choose your adjective – the world is full of it all. Some of it is the way we have grown to perceive things, like flies and snakes, and some of it is because of the way evil has sway. But spending time with it, getting to know it, caring for it, strips away the filth and the fear and reveals both a beauty and a greater need. Underneath every ugly is beauty. Inside every fearsome is a soft spot. Behind every horrific is the redeemable. Whether it is a snake trapped in netting, the people of the Maasai village trapped in abject poverty, or a young lady trapped in a society that embraces polygamy and child brides, we are called to serve and care for everyone.

I’m not sure how Danny and Nancy Smelser of Tanzania Christian Clinic or Dawn Leppan of 1000 Hills or Cindy Cunningham of Village of Hope do it all the time… face the ugly, the hurt, the broken day after day after day searching for the beauty, cutting away the traps and fetters of disease, seeking to heal the whole body spiritually and physically. But they do. I am thrilled that through my support of CompassioNow and Compassion Tea, I am able to provide the tools they need to do so. And I am confident that God gives them the strength they need to carry on.

Just as He used me over the last three days to free a snake. And isn’t it interesting that freeing that snake has given me so much too. Hissy is free… but so am I… free from a fear. That’s one down… oh so many to go!

The Least of These

Have you ever been exhausted and ramped at the same time? I find myself in this dichotomy this morning! What a weekend… my daughter’s 10th birthday complete with a tea party birthday party with friends and a day of fun with family and horses and Japanese chefs throwing eggs into their pockets and hats… the missions conference at our church which meant making 6 batches of baba ghanoush and 18 gallons of iced tea and speaking in front of lots of people. (Exhausting!) But WHAT A WEEKEND! The chances and opportunities! The big ways God showed up and the little reminders that he actually never leaves! The tugging on my heartstrings… my baby girl growing up and hitting double digits when her birth and the events and people surrounding it are so vivid and fresh in my memory… the different ministries represented at the conference which highlighted ways to help the homeless, the children, the troubled, the lost. WOW.

Forgive me for my jumbled thoughts. I feel a little giddy right now! There are a couple of things that I want to highlight and that I think I can speak about coherently.

First, Compassion Tea Company donated the iced tea to the missions conference and we were able to sell our tea at the conference. We were blessed beyond measure by the response and reception we received. It was the kind of event that leaves us at Compassion Tea euphoric because it means that we will be able to support our parent organization, CompassioNow, even more. An event like this is a huge splash in the pond of aiding Africa with wide concentric circles radiating out. It looks like this:
Circle one: Compassion Tea Company — You recall, of course, that 100% of our after-tax profits are given to CompassioNow. None of our directors takes a salary in order to increase our profit margins. Our members’ support allows us to steadily add to the funding CompassioNow receives.

Circle two: CompassioNow — In turn, CompassioNow has seen a growth in donations, which has allowed several new and/or increased ways to save lives in Africa. In April, the board voted to begin supporting the medical clinic at Village of Hope, Uganda, an orphanage for over 200 children abandoned, abducted, enslaved, orphaned, and abused by the 20+ year war waged by Joseph Kony on the Ugandan people. Being able to save more lives is what we are all about!

Circle three: The clinics CompassioNow supports – Also in April, CompassioNow received a report from the medical clinic at 1000 Hills outside Durban, South Africa. When CompassioNow first began supporting Dawn Leppan and her work at 1000 Hills, the medical clinic was a dream and Dawn was serving food to the community in the basement of an abandoned church. According to this report, the medical clinic now treats an average of 180 patients per day and provides roughly 4000 treatments per month. The clinic serves the gogos (grandmothers) who attend twice a week for hypertension and diabetes monitoring, and for treatment for other illnesses. A well-baby clinic held weekly allows babies to be weighed, assessed, and treated if necessary. The HIV/AIDS support group works with 500 members who are weighed, monitored, and educated about living with their disease. The medical clinic at 1000 Hills runs an ambulance service for emergencies and for community members who need urgent transportation to the nearest hospital. And the clinic has also organized a group of volunteers, the Community Health Care Workers, who visit the families, the elderly, and the bedridden who can’t make it to the clinic. They monitor for rape, abuse, and nutritional needs, as well as providing some medical care.

Circle four: the larger community — The report states that “our figures have increased quite a lot since last year… because the community really is not getting the help they need from the local government clinic, so they are coming to us.” To use CompassioNow founder Wendy Bjurstrom’s words, we are “blown away” by the growth of this clinic and its ability to provide quality healthcare to a growing number of people. As CompassioNow is able to fund more staff and supply more pharmaceuticals and medical supplies to our clinics, more people are reached, treated, and saved, which in turn provides a community with a healthier populace better able to care for themselves and each other. And the circles rippling in the pond of providing aid to Africa continue onward and outward.

The second thing that came out of the missions conference that I want to share is the message. Any good missions conference will remind its attendees of their mission… to go out into the world — to the lost, the hurting, the downtrodden and oppressed – and to bring God’s light into the darkest corners. From heart-pumping renditions of sending songs to the examples of others who have gone forth to “bring the light to the nations” this conference didn’t disappoint! And they showed this video. It really struck me. You see, I live a very blessed life (and I imagine that if you stop and think about it, you do too!). I want for little, lack even less, and have around me beauty and freedom and love that leaves me breathless when I take the time to contemplate it. What do I do with those blessings? God gave me these blessings; He gifted me with talents and skills. What do I do with those blessings, talents, skills? What do I do with my bounty, the beauty around me, the love and freedom in my life? It reminded me of a Facebook conversation I recently had with a friend. This friend was distressed over the factory collapse in Bangladesh and was wondering if she should stop supporting clothing stores that provide cheap clothes by sourcing clothing from companies that treat workers inhumanely. How should this friend use her blessings? With her freedom to speak, in this case through her wallet, what and how could she bless someone else? The answers aren’t always easy because the world complicates and confuses, hides and disguises, befuddles and discourages us from serving others.

I go to 1 John chapter 4 from the Bible to help me. John wrote, “19We love because he first loved us.” God’s amazing love for us, and our recognition of that, fills us with the desire to share that love. John also said, “7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

It’s the “which came first, the chicken or the egg” kind of thing. Love isn’t that we take the first step and simply love God. We don’t love God and then He blesses us because of our actions. Love is God sending Jesus to love and heal and preach and redeem the world. In response, we love Him and one another… lost or found, worldly or saved. And in loving one another, we help one another.

There’s a song getting a lot of play on the radio lately. Click here to listen. I love the line, “If not us, who will be like Jesus to the least of these?” Who will be the hands and feet of Jesus if not us?

Let me try to wrap up my thoughts here into a neater package. We at Compassion Tea Company have been blessed, saved, and made free by God and His amazing, startling, overflowing love. His love staggers us. He showed it again so visibly this past weekend. This is the kind of love that can’t just be silently meditated on, held close and secret. No. It is the kind that demands a response. And “when we love the least of these,” we are responding. We are sending God’s love in a bandage, an aspirin tablet, a plaster cast, a round of antibiotics, a pair of eyeglasses, a nebulizer, in a vitamin. When we add a nurse or increase a doctor’s hours through increased funding to a clinic, we are adding and increasing God’s love poured out for “the least served.”

So, thank you family, friends, supporters, members, fans, and followers. Thank you for helping us “love the least of these.” And imagine how many more we can love! Share tea! Save Lives!

Olympics and the Temporary

Oh Olympic fever is taking hold! The excitement is building! Opening Ceremonies are on today and I’m thinking about how to best view them and what foods to have at the ready. As I’m typing this, I have a window open to USA Today’s online Olympics coverage where a clock is ticking down the time until the Opening Ceremonies. It’s not long now!

Next to the clock is an article about Michael Phelps in relation to his housing in the Olympic Village.  (http://www.usatoday.com/sports/olympics/london/swimming/story/2012-07-25/michael-phelps-ryan-lochte-share-suite-in-village/56485516/1) The Olympic Village is of course the temporary housing for all of the athletes and is meant to be cozy, a good place to relax, and designed to encourage friendly camaraderie with athletes from around the world. According to the article, Phelps has a single room in a four-bedroom suite he shares with six other swimmers including his rival Ryan Lochte. Apparently, the village has no air conditioning (and after having lived in London for a year I question why it would need air conditioning) but “athletes use rotating fans of the kind familiar in college dorms.” And then the article finishes off with: “Phelps said his room ‘is about the size of a closet. … You walk in, and I’m not joking you, my room is probably about that wide.’ And here he spreads his arms and then tucks his elbows in, to indicate his room is not as wide as his famous wingspan. ‘I have, like, a bed, a nightstand, a dresser,’ he said, ‘and that’s about all I got.’”

Doesn’t it just pull on your heart strings? After three very successful Olympics, shouldn’t Mr. Phelps be entitled to something more posh for his fourth and last?

“Temporary” is the key word here. The Olympic Village is home for roughly two weeks. Temporary.

Two of my Compassion Tea friends, Chris and Jack, are currently flying to South Africa where they will be visiting our partner in serving, Dawn Faith Leppan at the 1000 Hills Community Helpers clinic in the Valley of 1000 Hills. While they are visiting, they will be making a trip to Claremont Camp near Inchanga. According to Ms. Leppan, Claremont Camp was created “in 2007 [when] the local municipality identified a squatter camp near Claremont, on the outskirts of Durban, and it was planned that this population would receive government subsidized housing in Inchanga. In the interim they were moved to temporary housing structures adjacent to the land where the subsidized housing would be developed.” That was in 2007. Five years later, the population still lives in the temporary housing, which consists of  “6 rows of pre-fabricated temporary housing units with 60 rooms per row.” The estimated population is 2500 people of all ages. Ms. Leppan has described the camp as a place of high unemployment, high rates of alcohol and substance (mostly marijuana) use, and highly dangerous for several reasons.

1.     There are communal toilets but they are “blocked and littered with excrement.”

2.     The municipality supplies water but the connections are broken creating a “wet area which is a breeding ground for disease as well as wasting valuable water.”

3.     The camp has electricity… in the form of wires snaking across the ground, open connections and uninsulated wires exposed to physical contact. Ms. Leppan writes, “There have been several incidents of children and adults being shocked by electricity.”

4.     There is no safe place for the disposal of garbage so the camp is littered making it dangerous for children and animals and serving as another breeding ground for disease.

5.     HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and tuberculosis rage in this camp where people are over-crowded and there is little privacy.

For more information about the camp, read the blog from 1000 Hills regarding their initial visit to the camp: http://1000hch.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/the-story-of-inchanga-camp/

Ms. Leppan and her staff have set up a weekly mobile clinic at the camp in order to provide much needed medical care on-site including supplying contraception, training on how to live more healthy, and creating support groups for patients with chronic illnesses. They serve 40 to 50 patients a week at the clinic and are securing food for the roughly 200 families in need of food. Currently, they have enough to cover 60 families.

This is a slightly different temporary housing situation than Mr. Phelps’ closet-sized bedroom. And it is much less temporary. Thankfully, Ms. Leppan is making headway in improving conditions. Yet, this gives another insight into why waiting for government organizations to take action is not effective planning. CompassioNow and Compassion Tea both understand the necessity of grassroots efforts of support for organizations already operating in rural Africa. So, what can you do to help?

1.     Donate directly to CompassioNow on their website: www.compassionow.org.

2.     Purchase a tea membership through Compassion Tea (www.compassiontea.com/memberships). 100% of after-tax profits go directly to CompassioNow and on to people like Ms. Leppan.

The situation in Africa is proving to be anything but temporary. Together we can make it more temporary!

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.