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!

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Building an Ark

“It took Noah 120 years to build the ark.” Wait. What? My understanding of Noah and his cruise through the floodwaters of the world has been shaped significantly by the cartoonish tellings of children’s Bibles with the sweet pictures of animals snuggly resting and the rhyming words that gloss over the reality of what was under the water. My understanding looks something like this: Noah gets a word from God to build a boat. God gives him very specific instructions about size and shape and cargo. Noah gets busy and finishes just in time to load the animals before the deluge hits, killing all life except what is on that boat. I remember studying the flood in college. There, we read a number of flood stories from a number of different religions. Based on the prolific motif of a flood destroying the earth found throughout early literature, we can safely assume that such a thing happened, so concluded that professor.

Well, it appears to be Noah week in the drama of my life. On Tuesday, we studied the life of Noah in Bible Study. My son Joseph is learning about Noah in preschool. In fact, he wore a green shirt and brought two stuffed animals to school today so that his class could form a rainbow (based on shirt color) and an ark-like zoo (hence, the stuffed animals). And last night, the Bible story I blindly pulled off the shelf to read to my kids was… yep, Noah.

So, Noah. The Bible tells us specifically that he was 500 years old when he had his first son and he was 600 when the flood started. He was 601 when he finally left the ark. He was a righteous man who walked with God and did exactly what God told him to do. And my Bible study commentary says that it took Noah 120 years to build the ark. Curious, I looked at Genesis 5-9, the story of Noah, over and over again in a number of translations. All I could see there was in Genesis 6:3 where God makes a promise that in 120 years He is going to wipe out the earth. Fed up with the evil, sad that He had created His creation, God says “Enough.” 120 years and the game’s up. But because Noah is righteous, God will save him and his family and seven pairs of every animal, bird, insect. (I feel like singing… “The Lord said to Noah, ‘There’s gonna be a floody floody.’ Lord said to Noah, ‘There’s gonna be a floody floody. Get those animals out of the muddy muddy. Children of the Lord.’”) So, I turned to the internet. Turns out there is a lot of discussion about how long it took Noah to build the ark. Hypotheses range from 50 to 75 to 120 years based on God’s promise of destruction and salvation, when Noah had his sons, when they were old enough to have wives, etc.

I felt discouraged. Noah taking 120 years to build the ark seemed so dramatic and cool. 50 years? Not so much. But, really, that’s ridiculous on my part. Can you imagine the situation? You’re far away from the sea. You are a farmer. You start building a large boat in your backyard. Why? Because God told you to. It doesn’t really matter how long it took. If it took 120 years, wow, that’s a long time to believe, follow through, and obey. If it took 75 years, wow, that’s a long time to believe, follow through, and obey. If it took 50 years, wow, you get the picture. Perseverance. Noah stuck it out.
One has to believe that he took some grief for his grand boat project. “Crazy old Noah! Always good for a laugh!” must have been the taunting around the neighborhood. After all, the Bible tells us that Noah was the only righteous man to be found. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that no one else knew God and/or if they had heard of Him they certainly didn’t believe, follow, or obey. Yes, Noah must have been the subject of many jokes. But he persevered.

With the jokes, were there other nuisances? Or even threats? If Noah knew that God was about to destroy the world and if he was telling the naysayers why he was doing what he was doing, which the Bible tells us he knew and he did, don’t you think there might have been some who were angered by the message? Who thought Noah was too proud and needed to come down a peg? Who might have tried to sabotage his work? Or who mocked Noah at every turn? “Where’s the rain, Noah? Where’s the flood? You’ve been working on this for 50 (or 75 or 120) years. Do you really believe this God is going to do what He says? Don’t you think maybe you just made this up in your mind?” But Noah persevered.

Do you know any Noahs today? People who buck convention, stick it out, persevere through thick and thin? People who seek to follow God’s ways, obey His commands, walk with Him even when the rest of the world is laughing?

A couple of our Compassion Tea directors are currently preparing for a trip to Africa this summer. While there, they will be distributing supplies, visiting clinics, taking notes about what is needed at the clinics, and well, frankly, risking their safety and certainly their comfort. Facing this huge trip must feel daunting, something like building an ark. How much and what is needed for the trip? How to collect medical supplies? How to carry those supplies to Africa? Once there, they will run across lots of other Noahs who are building arks in the shape of medical clinics and churches, who are tending to the most basic needs of their fellow man in places where voodoo is still the preferred method of medical treatment and where supplies for treating even the most basic illnesses are scarce. One of the clinics they will be visiting has a recently donated x-ray machine. This is new technology for the clinic. The machine is all set up and ready! But there is no one trained in how to use it. So it sits unused. Another clinic has patiently been waiting for its running water to be restored. They’ve been waiting for 2 years. The funding is there, but getting anything done in Africa is kind of like building an ark in the middle of a desert. It takes a whole lot of perseverance. The kind of perseverance that has led one of the missionaries with whom CompassioNow works to return to Africa after medical time off in the States. This missionary has celiac disease and has to eat gluten-free. Rural Africa doesn’t understand gluten-free. But for the sake of fulfilling God’s calling on her life, this missionary is stocking up on gluten-free food and heading back.

Fulfilling God’s calling is rarely easy. Whether it is building an ark in the desert or running a tea company or traveling to Africa to bring supplies and comfort, it takes a special brand of perseverance. I am pretty sure that when Noah heard God shut the door behind him and saw the waters pour forth from heaven and earth, he was infinitely glad he had listened and obeyed. Once the first x-ray is taken, once the first drops of water flow into the clinic, once the missionary sees the smiling face of a goo-goo (grandma in Africa), there will be much joy and relief. When our Compassion Tea directors deliver duffle bags of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies to clinics in Africa, there will be much joy and relief. When the directors return from Africa, there will be much joy and relief, too. But it will take continued perseverance for all of these things to happen… and a lot of tea!

That’s where you can step in! By drinking tea, by joining our membership, you can help the directors collect medical supplies to take to Africa. By drinking tea, by joining our membership, you can help CompassioNow send medical supplies to the clinics in other parts of Africa. By drinking tea, by joining our membership, you can provide funding for staff and water projects and other projects. We would love to welcome you aboard our ark!

Tis the Season… to Donate?

A friend of mine from high school recently lamented on Facebook that everywhere she turns she is hounded by someone expecting her to make a donation. Would you like to add $1 to your purchase to help XYZ charity? Put money in my kettle! Hi, I’m calling from XYZ to ask for your support this holiday season. I’m a hired telemarketer but can you please help XYZ with a financial contribution of just $25. The cacophony of pleas for help is overwhelming. I was amazed recently when the audience at The Lion King in San Francisco was asked to sit after the curtain call and an actor (ironically, you might say, the one playing Pumba, the smelly warthog) asked the audience to support a charity through monetary donations as they left the theater.

Yet, as someone who works with a non-profit, I felt torn by my friend’s post. I’ve been mulling it over for weeks actually, praying for clarity. But this is a muddy pool, people, and anyone willing to consider it ends up smelling like something. On the one hand, I completely understand my friend’s complaint. The telemarketer phone calls are so inconvenient and pushy. Are you like me? Do you only answer your cell phone these days because it isn’t “safe” to answer the landline? Odds are it is someone selling something or asking for a donation. At least the political phone calls have ceased for now! Sometimes the group or individual asking for the donation does not take no gracefully. Leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Oh, and, one simply can’t give to every organization out there. The need is great and there are so many organizations out there asking for and seeking help. Intended or not, guilt often comes creeping along after one of these encounters. Enough already!

Ahhhh, but the need is great. Full stop. And if we’re living, breathing, compassionate beings, we do feel called to help somewhere, somehow. In an effort to set a good example for the kids and to show the kids another side of life so very different from their enchanted existence, together we’ve supported several families through the Giving Tree, donated coats to One Warm Coat, donated food to food pantries, filled shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child, and purchased holiday gifts through Compassion Tea.

Each time we do one of these things, one of the kids asks why. Why are we doing this? And the answer is always because we have plenty and because the Bible calls us to love our neighbor. We love through helping; we help through loving.

And then they go back to dictating their list to Santa. For Joseph, this is all-consuming. It’s part of childhood, right?

I’ve had another dilemma this Christmas season. The kids, early on, made a plan. For their Christmas presents to each other this year, I would drive them to the pet store and they would buy (meaning put it on Mama’s credit card) rabbits and the accompanying gear for each other. The rabbits would live on the floor of the playroom, near the already abandoned hamsters, and yours truly would have another dependent or two. You can imagine that I was not keen on this idea. With the chickens, the dog, the fish, and the hamsters, I feel quite sure we don’t need rabbits. However, I didn’t want to set the kids loose in a toy store either. Then I read this blog.
The Grateful Christmas Project: 7 Ways to have more Grateful Kids this Christmas
And I praised God for His amazing inspiration. On the way to horseback riding yesterday, the topic came up again. Can’t we PLEASE get rabbits? Why won’t you let us get rabbits? (Because, surely, I’m the meanest mom on the planet?) I offered a quick prayer silently that my words would come out correctly and they would fall on receptive ears. “We don’t need rabbits. We have enough pets to love and take care of. We don’t really need any more toys either. In fact, you kids have toys you never play with. I have a suggestion and you have a choice. Instead of exchanging toys or rabbits this year, let’s do one of these two things. 1. I would drive you to a pet store and we would load up on pet food… dog food, cat food, kitty litter, the works, and then we would take it to the local animal shelter and donate it OR you could buy each other an animal through the Heifer Project.” After a little more discussion and web-based research, the verdict was that Clara was buying Joseph a goat and Joseph was buying Clara a trio of rabbits. And the beauty is that these animals are not coming to my house to live but are being given to families in poorer parts of the world where the animals can provide sustenance (goat’s milk, cheese, yogurt) and fertilizer. The joy on the faces of the kids as they picked out their animal was miraculous. Truly. Better than opening a toy? Maybe not. But much better than I expected. It opened the door to a long conversation about our responsibility and joy as Christians, as blessed Americans, to reach out to God’s people (because we are ALL God’s people even if we don’t recognize Him as sovereign Lord). I am so excited for my kids. As they get older and as toys become more electronic and expensive and worldly, this is a gift I would like to make a tradition. When I’m old and grayer than I am now, I hope my kids buy me goats and rabbits. Or pouches of Compassion Tea!

Compassion Tea is running a campaign right now called our 30 Days of Giving campaign. You see, on top of selling high-quality tea, we are giving our profits to CompassioNow and that non-profit is using the money to help people in Africa. Each day for 30 days we are highlighting a way in which the money from the sale of tea is providing life-saving medical care to someone or someones in Africa. It looks something like this:
Day 1: Your gift of tea will help stock the shelves of Tanzania Christian Clinic with crucial meds for treating malaria, giardia, and infection.Day12Meds.162535
Day 2: Your gift of tea will provide funding to Chalabesa Mission Hospital for a new well so that workers at the clinic will have fresh, clean water with which to treat and refresh patients. (“Cold Shower Water”)

Day 3: Your gift of tea will provide grandmothers with eyeglasses to see and take care of their orphaned grandchildren.

Day 4: Your gift of a Holiday Tea Caddy will cover the cost of a clinical visit, evaluation and any medicines needed for a mother and a child at any of our clinics.Day7nurseJoyceatKareroclinin.160848

Day 5: Your purchase of Ajiri Kenyan Black Tea will provide a child in western Kenya with much needed school supplies.

Day 6: Your gift of tea will help fuel the plane for Mission Medic Air to serve those in remote areas in Zambia.Day6MMAplanewithgreeters.104954

Day 7: Your purchase of a Holiday Four Tea Gift Box will help fund our clinic in Karero, Kenya. Located in a remote area near the southern border with Tanzania, the clinic is staffed by three healthcare professionals, a Nurse, a Lab Technician, and a Receptionist. Your gift will help fund the entire operation of this clinic for a day.

Day 8: Your purchase of Berry Berry tea will add merriness to your holiday and will help the children of Lily of the Valley orphanage and clinic in South Africa, a part of the world where AIDS is rampant.

Day 9: Our Tanzania clinic is located in the northern part of the country near Mt. Kilimanjaro and primarily serves the nomadic Maasi people of that region. Due to poor nutritional practices and large families, this clinic frequently treats malnourished children. Your purchase of a Holiday Gift Pouch will provide nutritional support for one child.

Day 10: Your purchase of tea will provide malaria meds to children like this one. (“Every 6 Seconds”)Day9634Yohanna.111858

30 days just barely scratches the surface of what a small purchase can translate into for a person in rural Africa. (Join our email list or become a Facebook fan or Twitter follower to hear the rest of the 30 days.) We are blessed in this country. And we can use our purchasing power to make a difference. I come from the belief (Puritanical perhaps) that abundance is God’s blessing. And what a joy to share that with others!

So what. Remember that muddy pool I was talking about? The pushy people asking for donations? Yes, they can be obnoxious. I suppose we all can be obnoxious about something we feel passionately about. Whether it’s our grandkids or our hobby or our political party, we can drive people crazy talking about it. For people in the not-for-profit/charity world, their charity is what they feel passionately about and they are willing to run the risk of being obnoxious to get the word out. Grant us a measure of grace, be amused by us, or better yet, find out more about what we are so almighty strung up about. It might turn out to be a great cause you are actually happy to support.

I think my new standard reply to the clerks at the grocery asking for a donation or the telemarketers on the phone will be something like, “Hey, thanks for the offer. Currently, I am supporting other charities that do similar work. But I will look into this one and see if I can help another way or another time.” We all walk away a little less smelly.