Nothing Wasted

On the way to school this morning, Jason Gray’s song “Nothing is Wasted” came on the radio. I happen to adore this song for it’s lyrical sounds. The cadences of the song remind me of ocean waves… the repetitive lull of the ebb and flow of water over sand… tumbling, crashing, raking, and sieving. And the words… “in the hands of our Redeemer, nothing is wasted”… strike a resounding chord in my heart. Heartache, pain, disappointment, and the bleeding for others’ pain and heartache that I experience even in the midst of my extremely blessed life… none of that goes unnoticed and unredeemed in my Father’s hands. Consequently, great joy awaits!

Well, I was enjoying this gentle reminder this morning … a welcome reminder as the kids and I are struggling through colds, my dad is in the hospital with heart troubles, people in Oklahoma are walking around in a tornado-induced nightmare of loss and pain, daily news reports shake loose any remaining confidence in our government, and the good people of Africa, especially in the rural parts, remain without so much. We need this reminder!

And then, my daughter says, “Mom! This is the perfect song for my field trip today!” Her class is heading to a recycling center to see how it operates. And yes, she is absolutely correct! Through recycling, we can prevent the waste of precious resources, turning yesterday’s garbage into tomorrow’s containers, energy, products, even art. Nothing is wasted!

Which reminded me of a project I did recently. My daughter recently celebrated her birthday. I have to laugh because we’ve run the gamut of birthday parties… everything from Gymboree parties to hired character parties in the backyard, from pool parties and gymnastics parties to slumber parties and Barbie parties. This year marks her maturing… her party request was for a tea party at the local tea room with a few of her bestest friends. Hey, I can do TEA! But what should the favors be? I’m tired of cheap party favors and goody bags that overflow… especially for her age group. After perusing Etsy and Pinterest, I decided teacup candles would be perfect. I posted on Facebook, “Does anyone know where I can find used, old-fashioned tea cups?” And I received a number of replies directing me to American Cancer Society shops and thrift stores. So, the next day, I headed to the Discovery Shop in town (ACS). I was thrilled and amazed to find a set of 6 matching teacups and saucers… demitasse sized with sweet little pink flowers. PERFECT!Image

Making the candles was easy. I tied the wicks to bamboo skewers balanced across the tops of the cups. IMG_1388Then, in a pan I have just for wax, I melted some old candles. The house smelled beautifully! I poured the wax into the cups, making sure to keep the wicks centered and upright. When the wax had hardened, I untied the wicks and hot-glued the cups to the saucers. I thought they turned out brilliantly.IMG_1392

I recycled teacups and candles! Nothing was wasted! And a pretty little reminder of my daughter went home with her growing-up friends. I wonder where those candles will go in the years ahead!IMG_1401

Until Next Year

Ah, Christmas is over. We’ve cheered in the New Year. And now we take down the greenery, fold away the stockings, roll up the lights, wrap up the Nativity or the Menorah, and breath a deep sigh of relief. We made it through what may in fact be the most difficult time of the year instead of “the most wonderful time of the year.” I’m not talking about the Christmas rush, the hustle of shopping, the agony of late night wrapping sprees, the stress of following tradition to the letter. I’m talking about making it through Christmas dinner without someone spoiling the figgy pudding. Let’s face it, few of us live the Norman Rockwell version of holiday gatherings. In reality, more of us can relate to the Griswold family (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) or the McCallister family (Home Alone). Black sheep, skeletons, wacky family members, difficult personalities, battles never resolved or released, political or religious differences all threaten to rock the boat, dredge up real and perceived hurts, rip off the metaphorical band-aids so carefully applied, shake loose feuds years if not decades old. If we can get through the togetherness of the holidays without further scarring, we count it a blessing. There has to be a Keep Calm and Carry On mentality for the holidays.

I needed some new Christmas music this year. I was feeling a little bored. So, I downloaded Jason Gray’s new Christmas album, Christmas Stories… Repeat the Sounding Joy. Each song on the album corresponds to a character in the Biblical Christmas story. From the song “I Will Find a Way” which ponders God’s view of how to reach his people to the innkeeper’s song “Rest” which speaks loudly to our own need to put aside the busyness of life in order to see what is happening in front of our nose, the album is a collection of thought-provoking songs that retell the Christmas story in a way that is accessible to us today. The song for Joseph has haunted me, however. Titled “Forgiveness Is a Miracle,” the song contemplates Joseph’s reaction and role in the story. Was he bitter, raging over betrayal, or did he cry in disappointment? Was there pain and vengeance at first?

“When love is like an open wound there’s no way to stop the bleeding. Did you lose sleep over what to do? Between what’s just and what brings healing? Pain can be the road to find compassion when we don’t understand and bring a better end. It takes a miracle to show us… forgiveness is a miracle. And a miracle can change your world… The forgiveness that you gave would be given back to you because you carried in your heart what she was holding in her womb. Love was in a crowded barn. There you were beside her kneeling.… You held it in your arms as the miracle started breathing… and the miracle will save the world.
Blessed Joseph, your heart has proven  and through you the kingdom has come. For God delights in a man of mercy and has found an earthly father for his son.”

As a member and volunteer at Compassion Tea now for a year and a half, I’ve found myself asking what does compassion look like off the page. How does that play out in daily life? Is it random acts of kindness, paying it forward, smiling and exhibiting patience in difficult circumstances, not smelling like the world? Is it sending money, shoeboxes, animals, medical supplies to people in far away places? This song suggests that compassion is found in forgiveness. Sounds easy, delightfully so, right!
I find myself telling the kids all the time, “Say you’re sorry.” Whether it is a slight push, a rolling of the eyes, a perceived-to-be-malicious bump, they come screaming to me about how they’ve been wronged. Often times, when we dig through it together it is a miscommunication or misunderstanding. But bending your will and your pride to admit wrongdoing can be excruciating. When Clara was smaller, and she was asked to apologize to someone, she would dissolve into a puddle of tears. She couldn’t bring herself to apologize. She was so ashamed or frightened to admit wrongdoing that she would prefer to ignore it. Facing our own ugliness is not that appealing. And letting go and forgiving? Equally painful.

But “Pain can be the road to find compassion….” croons Gray. Looking deep into the pain can bring us a better understanding of motive, of the woundedness inside the perpetrator. Peeling off layers of onion makes me cry every time. Searching through the pain surrounding a situation can too. It’s the proverbial “walk a mile in a man’s moccasins” kind of thinking. “Put yourself in his shoes.” But how do we get out of our own tightly-tied tennies to try on someone else’s?

I can’t really offer an answer. I struggle with this daily. There are wounds deep and decades long that are dug deeper and longer with each passing day. To forgive for the past is difficult when the present sees the same injuries being perpetrated. Will it ever stop? Will he/she/the situation ever change?

How many times have I told my kids that the only thing they can change about situations is themselves? We can change our outlook, our attitude, our understanding. But we can’t change others, as much as we would like to. So, I suppose compassion looks like changing one’s attitude or understanding to listen and look deep into the pain of another even if that person has hurt us. But don’t stop and grovel. Climbing down into the mire with another gets you both stuck in the mud.

“Forgiveness is a miracle.…” Gray turns the phrase later in the song to “Forgiveness is the miracle.” The simplicity of a changed article! When God sent Jesus in the form of a baby boy on the night we now celebrate as Christmas, He knew in advance what the end outcome would be. He had announced it multiple times to His prophets, He had set the stage with decrees about atonements and sacrifices, He had repeatedly shown mercy and forgiveness to His people even though they consistently turned away from Him to worship the works of their own hands. And as soon as he began preaching, Jesus referenced it as well. His death was the necessary sacrifice to once and for all time wipe away the sins of the world. Through belief in his death and resurrection, the deadness of sin can be thrown off and the life of a forgiven person can be lived.

Yesterday, Joseph asked me what Christmas has to do with Easter. Everything! You can’t have the one without the other. And thank goodness. Because of His example of forgiveness and His promise of forgiveness, we can trust God to work in every situation and every heart. He, the great big creator of the universe and of little bitty me and you, is the only one who can bring about the change that leads to forgiveness and reconciliation. No, don’t climb down into the mire with another who has wronged you. Stop, look, listen, and then offer the hand of God’s grace. Be a man of mercy, prayerfully asking for your own forgiveness and for the reconciliation that only God can bring. He sent us His son, every single one of us; He can drag anyone out of the mire.

With an eye to the new year, I find myself wondering in and through what ways God is going to bring His forgiveness to the world this year and how He will use you and me. Compassion, mercy, forgiveness… what will that look like this time next year? How will that change our 2013 holiday dinners?

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.

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.