They have a piece of my heart

I’ve written lots about the children in the Dominican Republic who stole bits of my heart. But I haven’t adequately explained my feelings for the people I traveled with. (Warning: Mush ahead).

I had vague impressions about several of the people before I left home. I felt like I was already friends with Shaun- among other things we’d already talked about our 3 year olds both of whom prance around in swimsuits and heels, Miss America-style. I guessed by their blogs that Melanie and Jennifer would be people I would enjoy. But the rest of the crew was a mystery to me.

That first afternoon in the Miami airport, as we gradually assembled, I had the chance to chat with various people as they arrived.

Jennifer was warm and down to earth. There was something familiar about both her manner and her face– I never figured out what it was, but I suspected all week she might be some long-lost relative.

Melanie has a deadpan rapier wit that had the whole group dissolving into laughter even in the first few minutes we were together. She continued to make us laugh all week.

When Tim and Nick showed up, I greeted the adorable Nick (it was so nice to have kids in the group) and then immediately assaulted Tim with questions about “Pagan Christianity” a book I’d been reading and wondered if he read. Thankfully he had no qualms about discussing theology with someone he’d known for exactly two minutes. But he’s a blogger after all– we bloggers are used to shooting off opinions to strangers.

Marlboro Man (husband to Pioneer Woman) and I found common ground immediately: horses and homeschooling and our stance on kids and chores. (It’s good for ’em, in case you’re wondering.) His girls’ escapades on the escalator made me giggle and grab my camera– and miss my own kids a little more.

Shaun jumped in immediately with teasing– it wasn’t til later that I read his blog post speculating whether I was “a little nuts or highly medicated. I got even by running over his feet multiple times with my wheeled carry-on.

Brian (or ’86’, as we called him later in the week) immediately got me yakking about Ethiopian adoption, which is a sure way to make me feel comfortable. Turns out he’s in the middle of the adoption process himself.

Keely had returned from a trip to Peru the previous day, but was spunky and ready to go again. Her phenomenal pictures added so very much to my blog posts during the week.

Steve (once he had wolfed his pizza!) greeted me with that genuine smile of his that made me feel like he was truly glad I was there. And his actions during the week made his warm heart even more obvious. (See, Steve, if you had a blog I’d link to you here, not myself!)

The week gave much more opportunity to get to know each other. The daily bus rides to the various projects. Mealtimes at the hotel and at the various Compassion projects. Then of course there were the evenings, sitting around that horseshoe table in the conference room, yakking about everything under the sun as we tried to get meaningful words out onto our computer screens.

By the end of the week there was such a sense of camaraderie, of rich and honest friendship. We shared so many experiences that it felt like our friendships had been put on fast-forward.

We watched each other reach out to the kids, striving to interact with them in a way that would be bigger and longer-lasting than the short amount of time we had with them. We read each other’s thoughts about the day in blog posts, and in the process saw viewpoints on the day that we missed. We saw each other’s eyes mist up, awash in similar feelings for the kids, sad over the struggles these kids faced, but joyful at the hope that Compassion has brought to their lives. It was tremendously invigorating to me to be in the company of people so like-minded, so passionate about the welfare of children.

When I broke down on Thursday evening, JoAnn, another of the Compassion staff, was there to talk with me, and give me tissues and hugs. “I’m not going to tell you it’s going to get easier because it won’t,” she said. “Actually, the more you see [of children in poverty] the harder it gets.” Not easy words, but ones that resonated. It should not ever be easy to see children in need. Her understanding of my wildly flailing emotions was a comfort to me, even though my hurt was not something she could truly fix.

We asked about each other’s family and looked at each other’s family pictures. Shaun said even hi to my family via Skype. And of course we teased each other mercilessly. Actually, listening to the talk bouncing around that table as we blogged in the evenings, it was a wonder that we got anything of substance written. Most of us walked across two freeways to see the ocean up close and some of the crazier ones of us even did a little cliff-jumping.

Keely cliff-jumping

Keely cliff-jumping

When it came time to say goodbye to the group in the Miami airport, I was full of regret. It felt like we’d known each other six months, not six days.

Maybe we’ll meet again in this life. I hope so. But whether we do or not, my life is greatly enriched by these new friendships. The chance to see Compassion at work was wonderful. But I count these new friends as some of the best gifts from this trip.

Thanks, y’all. The trip would not have been the same without each and every one of you.

You saw me when nobody saw me

One of the things that I feared as I prepared for this Compassion trip is that my previous exposure to poverty in Ethiopia would make me feel less for the children in the Dominican Republic. I was afraid I would be jaded. If you’ve seen one tin shack, you’ve seen them all, right? I mentioned this to my cousin Dave, a thoughtful man, and he said, “Well, maybe you’ll be less overwhelmed than some people. Maybe that will let you write better.”

I was encouraged by that viewpoint, but there was still a part of me that was afraid. I prayed that I would be able to write well, to describe what I saw in a way that would bring you there with me. But still I was afraid.

All week long, as we bloggers sat together at that horseshoe of tables in our hotel, talking and laughing and pounding out posts, I was always one of the last bloggers to finish writing. I delayed starting to write, toying with various approaches, wondering which stories would do the best job of helping you feel what I’ve felt this week. I hashed over words and erased paragraphs and resisted the urge to beat my head on the table.

At one point Steve looked across the table at me and said, “Do you feel pressured, knowing we’re all sitting here, waiting to read each other’s posts?”

I told him that wasn’t it. Instead it was that I felt such a sense of privilege, such a weight of responsibility on this trip. Compassion had chosen me to advocate on behalf of children living in poverty, to speak for those who have no voices.

At one of the Compassion projects this week, the kids sang a song that contained the line, “you saw me when nobody saw me”.

That is the job that Compassion entrusted to us this week. To help our readers be the lucky people who have eyes to see what is out there in the world, to see what is beyond the scope of our everyday lives. Yes, seeing the reality hurts. But it’s better to hurt than to never see.

I wanted to do the best job possible at bringing that world to you. No– let me rephrase. I wanted to do the best writing I’d ever done in my life. I wanted every word to be perfect. All week long I struggled under that burden, that longing to be wonderful for the children. I must say here that the burden I felt was entirely self-imposed; no one in the Compassion group was anything but encouraging to me, and certainly I know that it is God who does miracles, not me.

But still, I went the whole week wondering if my writing was doing the work I wanted it to…was it good enough? Compelling enough? Detailed enough? I spent the week vaguely unhappy with myself, wishing always that I could tell the story of these children a little bit better.

Last evening at dinner as we were getting ready to wrap up the trip, we did some talking about what we had seen, and how we felt about it, and I realized that one of my fears was that not enough would change from this trip, from my effort. That too many children would still be in need a week from now and a month from now and a year from now.

At the conclusion of our discussion Shaun read these words from 1 John 3:16-20

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

And I found myself weeping in the middle of this room full of new friends. God knows my heart. He knows my hopes and dreams and intentions. He knows my abilities and weaknesses. It is silly, perhaps downright arrogant to hope for great sweeping changes in this world because I hopped on a plane and wrote a few well-intentioned blog posts. But silly as it is, in my heart of hearts that is what I long for. Because the children of the world deserve nothing less.

I know that there are lots of ways to help out in the world. But if making a difference in the life of a child is something that interests you, I hope you’ll visit Compassion International and become a child sponsor. And don’t forget to read the stories of the other bloggers who also want to make a difference for children. The need is enormous. The scope of the work can be intimidating. But together we can make a difference.

Looking for someone

Me, Angelica(center) and Claudia

Angelica and her aunt Claudia

In four days of Spanish class, otherwise known as the Compassion blog trip, I’ve managed to learn a few key phrases. I can ask children their names and ages. I can say, “How are you?” and “Which sport do you like?” I can say hello, goodbye, beautiful, and smile. If someone asks if I know Spanish, I can say ‘a little’. Not a huge vocabulary, granted, but more than I’ve possessed up til this point in my life, a fact which pleases me ridiculously.

Today I learned another key question: “Do you have a sponsor?”

I used that question on dozens of kids at the Compassion project we visited today. The majority of the kids did have sponsors. (Compassion statistics show that in the average Compassion project 90% of the kids do.)

But a few children I met today did not have sponsors yet. And one of those children latched onto my arm and then hopped into my heart. Her name is Angelina and she is ten years old. She answered me shyly when I asked her questions, but soon grew confident enough to sit next to me, and ended up spending much of the project visit right by my side. She snuggled against me. She smiled every time I looked at her. She picked a flower and put it in my hair. She asked me when I was coming back. And she won my heart.

I asked her questions about her life. I hugged her a dozen times. I told her that I would pray that she would get a sponsor soon. I told her I hoped to visit her again someday. I resolved to send her pictures from my visit. And I left the project wanting to do everything in my power to make sure that she does get a sponsor.

Soon.

Because every kid deserves to have someone to cheer them on.

When I got back to my hotel, the first thing I did was sit my sweat-laden self down at the computer, open the sponsor page, and click on the Dominican Republic. I didn’t find Angelica, which may mean she has a sponsor and doesn’t know it yet, or that her packet is out at a concert (like the Bebo Norman concert this evening).

But as I clicked from page to page looking at child after beautiful child, I recognized familiar faces. I saw familiar names. I’ve been in and among these children this week and let me tell you, they are wonderful. They deserve every bit of goodness that there is in life. They deserve good food and good medicine and a good education and faith that there is goodness in their future. They deserve to have a connection with someone who cheers them on and makes it possible for them to walk this world with hope in their eyes.

You.

You can be that person, if only you are willing.

Wherever your heart stands at this moment, will you do me a favor? Go click on the pictures of all those precious children. Look at their faces.

Then pray about it. Think about it. If you aren’t sure about finances right now, ask God to point out some area of your life where you might be able to find a few extra dollars in your budget.

He can do it.

He can make it possible for you to do it.

You will be glad you took that step of faith.

And the child you sponsor will be forever grateful.

The other awesome bloggers on this trip

Melanie
Tim and his son Nick
Marlboro Man and his daughters
Jennifer
Brian Seay
Shaun Groves
Keely Scott, our photographer

A Room Full of Hope

This morning as I walked up an uneven set of stairs and stepped into the hubbub of my third Compassion project of the week, I didn’t know that this was the project that would touch me to the core.

Kids jostled in rows of white plastic seats, expectantly facing the front of the room. As we walked in, workers scurried for more chairs and kids stared, some frankly curious, some chattering with friends. Most were willing to smile if you smiled at them.

The kids did a presentation and sang songs before heading off to individual classes. Today’s group of kids was older than yesterday’s batay group. Apparently there are so many kids in some projects that the various classes have to use the facility on alternate days of the week, or at different times of the day.

We spoke with the supervisors of the project. They offered expense ledgers and child records for us to examine and answered all our questions about the way the project was being run. When someone referred to the pastor as the leader of the project, he shook his head modestly and gestured toward the sky.

No, it is God.

I am so impressed with the pastors of these Compassion projects. They have so much humility and so much love for the people they serve.

After talking with the pastor and the staff, we were sent to visit some of the classes. Then it happened. Three or four of us peeked into a classroom filled with teenagers. A few more chairs were squeezed in, and we settled in and looked around at a ring of bright expectant faces. We introduced ourselves and I asked the kids to tell us what they want to be when they grow up.

Hands went up immediately, and teen after teen told us their dreams for the future. Architect. Doctor. Accountant. Electrical engineer. And on and on.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, for the first time this trip, my eyes were overflowing. Because what I saw bouncing around this room as child after child spoke was the brilliant shimmer of hope.

They believed that they could do these things.

And, looking into their eyes and seeing the way they spoke and the way they carried themselves and the way they smiled shyly but proudly into my eyes, I believed it too.

That’s what Compassion has given these kids. Plans for the future. Not just fairy-tale dreams. But real plan. This Compassion project with its cattle-stall bathroom door latch and its rickety wrought-iron stair rail and its wonderful grace-filled pastor has equipped these children with the tools that they will need to go on and make something of their lives.

Their dreams may change. They still have some things to learn. Opportunities may lead these kids in ways that they do not now envision. But this Compassion project has given these kids the precious gift of hope.

I prayed over those kids before we left their class. I prayed that they would have wisdom and health and good decision-making skills and most of all an all-encompassing love for God. I prayed them everything good– all the best stuff that I hope and pray for my own children.

And here’s the really amazing thing. Because of what they’re gaining from Compassion, they have a shot at it all.

I know that skeptics are reading about this trip, wondering if we bloggers are being allowed enough access to truly get a feel for the project. Of course Compassion would want to show us its best side, give us access to only the prettiest stories. I know that some fluffing and primping has happened. As a mother of ten, I know it is not natural for a room full of preschoolers to all be wearing clean shirts at the same time. Nor would it happen by chance that nearly every little girl in the project would have a fresh hairdo on the same day. (I am a mom of 4 African daughters and I know a fresh hairdo when I see one!)

But here’s what else I know. In the last three days I have interacted with dozens of Compassion staff and dozens more children. We have toured three projects along with visiting the main Compassion office. At each stop there was a palpable concern for the well-being of the children. A genuine delight over children who have succeeded. A pride at the importance of the work that these people do.

One person may be able to fake that level of caring. Maybe even five could be convincing. But every person in the organization? I don’t think so.

I have been a Compassion sponsor for ten years. Sometimes as sponsors writing that Compassion check each month, we are too far removed from the actual work to be 100% sure of its efficacy. The best we can do at times is to pray that the money is being well spent.

I’ll be honest: I came to the Dominican Republic expecting to be happy about the work I saw being done here. But I tell you now that Compassion has far exceeded my best expectations.

The work being done here is exciting. It is effective. It is liberating children from poverty in the name of Jesus Christ.

If you will partner with Compassion by sponsoring a child, you will be allowing more children to grow up with that precious life-giving gleam of hope in their eyes.

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More stories at Compassionbloggers.com

Meeting Maicol

In ten years of sponsoring Compassion kids and writing letters and sending pictures and praying for them, I’ve never actually met my child. Until today. Today we drove to a small village on a sugar cane plantation an hour or so from Santa Domingo.

The homes were ramshackle and small, with peeling paint, patchwork boards, and rusty metal. The project was mostly quiet– we were arriving during school time. But here and there people sat in white plastic chairs under palm trees, staring at us as we drove up.

First on the agenda we visited the children in their classes. The preschool class was just adorable. Just look at these little faces!

We had fun asking the kids questions about their school, listening as they sang to us (at eardrum-popping levels), singing ‘Deep and Wide’ with them, and even doing the chicken dance.  (OK, must confess —  I am not so much in love with the chicken dance.  But Melanie and the kids had a blast at it.) In another room we sang the ABC song in English, and the kids countered with a cute  A-E-I-O-U song in Spanish.  When class visits were done, Steve, Melanie, Jennifer and I grabbed our gift bags out of the van and then headed to meet our kids.

My little Maicol (pronounced Michael) is eight years old and is just learning how to read.  One of the first things I showed him was a letter that my 10 year old son had written him.   He listened as the translator read the letter to him.  Then, utterly engrossed, he painstakingly sounded out the letter for himself.

Eventually we looked at the pictures, and his new soccer ball, and his new shirt.  But I think that the two biggest treasures to him in that backpack were the letter from my son, and the handful of suckers that I had tossed in at the last minute.

After the initial meeting we headed for my little guy’s home to visit with his grandmother.  She was an exuberant elderly Haitian lady, pouring sweat on this brilliantly hot day, and exclaiming to me excitedly in Creole. Thankfully our wonderful translator Augustin turned out to know a little French along with his English and Spanish, and we limped through our meeting with at least some level of understanding.  Amazingly enough, this woman is the mother of 10 children.  What are the chances that the guardian of my sponsored child would be a mother of ten, just like me?

When the grandmother was asked what she hoped for her grandson, she pulled him over to her and asked him to answer the question.  To be a baseball player was his answer. Proudly displayed on the wall of her house were high school diplomas from two of her children.  I hope that with his strong interest in reading that little Maicol will do well in school and be able to graduate from high school as well.

During the rest of the day, as we visited other areas of the little village, ate lunch, attended a school presentation, and took pictures of the children, my little Maicol bopped back and forth between me and his playmates.  He’d run off to play for a few minutes, then come back to check and see if I was still there.

He sat on my lap or next to me during the school presentation, wore my watch for several hours, and talked me out of my camera at least five different times.  By the time I left, he knew how to zoom in and out, turn off and on the camera, and toggle back and forth from picture mode to view mode.  Smart kid.

It was really hard for me to say goodbye to him, not knowing if I’d see him again in person.   One thing that visiting my child did, though, was to make me resolve to write him often.  He’s old enough to remember my visit.  But that is not the only impression I want to make on his life.

——————–

–If you would like to sponsor a child, click on the Compassion graphic in my sidebar or visit the child sponsorship page

–If you’d like to see more wonderful pictures from the trip (most from Keely), check out Compassion’s Flickr stream and click on the Dominican trip link.

— If you’d like to read more stories from the other bloggers, read Compassionbloggers.com

Sarah

On Monday we were invited to lunch at the Compassion project, where we had the chance to chat with the pastor of the church. This pastor was a precious example of a servant pastor in action. This man led the mother’s devotions. He showed people around. He was even seen helping to set the table for our lunch. He did whatever needed doing.

Every Compassion project in every country is sponsored by a local church. Sponsorship money from sponsored children goes to support the children in each project. But the church is also asked to foot a small portion of the expense of running the project in their neighborhood. Compassion feels that churches work more responsibly with Compassion when they are themselves invested in the work to a certain level.

It was obvious that this pastor was indeed fully invested in the work of Compassion. After lunch we lingered around the table as he took the time to answer all the questions we had about the work being done in his community. When the questions began to wind down, Steve asked the pastor to share some of the success stories.

The pastor, who seems like a very serious fellow, told some details about several different children whose lives had been changed by Compassion. But then, just as it seemed he was winding down, his face lit up and he said he had one more story for us. He called a little girl to his side, the one you see in the picture above with Steve. She must have been 10 or 12 years old. We’d seen her hanging around, peeking in the windows while we ate. She came obediently and stood close to the pastor while he told her story via a translator.

Sarah is one of several children in a family who several years ago made the difficult decision that they could no longer care for their children. They left Sarah with one of the pastors in their community where she lived for awhile. During that time, she developed problems with her left eye. The family brought her to the Compassion project, and Compassion arranged for her to be examined by an eye specialist. The doctor did a biopsy and discovered a mass growing behind her eye.

The mass was benign, but it was causing her eye not to function well. She had two surgeries that supposedly got rid of the mass.

But after two years it came back.

Through Compassion’s medical fund, the pastor was able to arrange for another, better specialist to look at her eye. This eye doctor plans in the course of two surgeries to remove the new mass and repair her eye.

All this story was told with a translator in a herky-lerky sort of way, as it goes with all translation, with Sarah standing soberly next to the pastor. I wondered how she felt hearing her story being told to a roomful of strangers, and felt a little sorry for her.

But when the pastor got to the part about her upcoming eye surgery, there came to be a lightness about her face. There were murmurs around the room as people listening were quietly rejoicing on her behalf, rejoicing that Compassion was giving her a chance.

And then Steve spoke.

“Sarah,” he said, smiling with infinite warmth in his voice. “What an amazing story God has given you!”

He paused as the translator spoke the words in Spanish. The translator was smiling as he passed those words along, and Sarah’s face lit up with a million candlepower smile in response.

Steve went on, deliberately, warmly. “God must have amazing things for you to do, Sarah, to have given you such an amazing story. He doesn’t give people a story like that for no reason. God must really love you! Do you know God loves you?”

Sarah’s smile grew even more brilliant and she nodded steadily. “Si.”

I pray that Sarah will remember Steve’s words for the rest of her life, and I thank God for the work of Compassion in her life.

I wonder what Sarah will do with her amazing story. And her beautiful smile.

———–

Sarah already has a sponsor, a woman in Australia. But there are many, many other children who don’t yet have sponsors, children who would like nothing more than to know that there is a plan for their future and that someone cares. If you would like to make a difference for a child like Sarah, click on the Compassion logo in my sidebar or visit the child sponsorship page.

Compassion. Sharing God’s love one child at a time.

That they may live

I got a good solid four hours of sleep last night and was up and ready to get moving by 7. Beats me how. Must be all y’all praying back home. After a buffet style breakfast, where I had a cheese omelet and a pancake (and looked cross-eyed at the juice and the fruit — no tummy troubles, please!) we all piled onto the bus and took off.

The air was humid and the sky overcast, with water in puddles on the ground from last night’s rain. The hotel overlooks the ocean. You can smell it. You can see it. But you can’t get to it. At least not easily– you’d have to cross three highways to reach the beach from the hotel. Needless to say, I have not attempted it. Steve promises that Nick and I will get to beach this week– probably on a bus instead of on foot. But I’ll take the ocean however I can get it.

The main road goes for miles with palm trees and blue ocean on one side, and city on the other. Buildings vary wildly in design, from mini-marts with barred windows, to American-style Texaco stations, to stucco arch-windowed hotels, to sheet metal shacks, to ancient fortifications built by Christopher Columbus (designed to stave off the original pirates of the Caribbean).

People swarm everywhere, walking, biking, motorcycling. Whole families ride on tiny motorbikes with babies sandwiched between dad and mom, all placid faced and comfortable. Tiny pickups zoom by, their beds loaded with bananas and eggs and people.

The first Compassion project was supposedly half an hour away, but ended up feeling further because of stopping along the way to pick up various Compassion workers who would help us with translation. As we approached the project, houses got smaller and sidewalks disappeared. We parked next to a playground fenced with barbed wire and rough poles. Inside the enclosure kids played on a rusty swing set and bounced a basketball into a wobbly basketball hoop.

Across the muddy road stood a little church. We were ushered inside just in time for a nutrition presentation by health ‘implementers’, Compassion volunteers who worked for this project. The presentation was put together for the 52 mother/child groups in Compassion’s child survival program. All these women were either pregnant or had babies under the age of 3, and had been chosen because of their need. The goal of this program is to keep moms healthy during pregnancy and to help them keep their kids healthy during their first three years of life.

The air was warm and wet and full of the smells of cooking and of people and exhaust from passing vehicles. Everywhere I looked there were gorgeous babies and toddlers. Babies squalled. Toddlers made cautious forays into stranger’s space, then ran bashfully back to their mothers. A mother pulled her baby from her breast, but replaced him with a smile when he gave a displeased squall.

The nutrition program began with the reading of the first 3 verses of Psalm 40, and some great singing that made me very much wish I knew the words. Instead I had to content myself with humming and hand-clapping — not terribly satisfactory.

The actual nutrition part of the program gave the mothers useful information, but also had its share of humorous moments. Check out Melanie’s blog for a rundown on the best moments. I found out later that about half of these women were single mothers, and almost half of them were under the age of 18. Compassion moms benefit from the program in many ways. But mothers that I talked to said that the best thing is the access to good medical care for their children.

After the program we were able to visit with the mothers involved in the project, as well as go on a couple of home visits with the health care implementers. There the workers checked the baby’s growth, talked to mothers about ways to keep their children healthy and safe, and read the Bible and said a prayer with the mothers. I was honored to be part of the group praying for these women who obviously cared so deeply for the well-being of their children. And I was deeply impressed by the scope of the work that Compassion is doing on behalf of some of the most vulnerable little ones in the world.

Click on the link on the left side of my page if you would like to sponsor a Compassion child in the Dominican Republic. Click here here if you’d specifically like to give assistance to the child survival program. Your help can mean life for precious little ones like the ones I saw today.

Most of these picture were taken by Keely, our trip photographer. Doesn’t she do awesome work?

Go here for links to the other bloggers on this trip or visit the child sponsorship page.

This group

We’ve made it to the Dominican Republic. It was a good flight- I got to sit next to Pioneer Woman’s daughters. In Santa Domingo so far I’ve seen palm trees and rain clouds and one roach. (Jennifer screamed– then I screamed– and she killed it. Bless the woman. She and I are roomies this week.) We have a lovely hotel with decent internet.

Skype was choppy tonight and I only stayed on a few minutes. But it was nice to see my family for a few minutes. It is rumored that we bloggers will have our own dedicated internet connection in a conference room tomorrow, and we’ll end each day with a group blog-party. Should be great fun.

I’ll have to tell you about the country tomorrow, since I’ve not seen much. But I’ve got a small feel for my travel group. They’re smart and funny and thoughtful — and glad to be here. As am I. I feel fortunate — and energized — to be in the midst of people interested in making life better for kids, people who’ve committed time and talents to a cause so central in my heart.

Brian said this evening that we were all ordained by God to be here. I am full of the awareness of that and so grateful for it. That knowledge was a comfort on Saturday when my husband and I said our goodbyes to each other. And it is an exciting challenge now as I look forward to this week.

I must sleep, as it is 2 AM here, and breakfast is at 7:30. But as God’s plan for the week unfolds I’ll be sharing what I learn with you.

————
My Group

The Bloggers
Melanie
Tim and his son Nick
Marlboro Man and his daughters
Jennifer

The Compassion Workers
Brian Seay
Shaun Groves
Steve Jones
Keely Scott, our photographer

From Miami

I always imagine getting lots of actual writing done on an airplane. In reality the closeness and the noise and the early rising tends towards an inertia that makes it seem much easier to thumb through a magazine.

My first flight was at 9 AM — not too early. But I didn’t want to cut it too close, so I was up by 6:15. Our two 10 year old sons were the only ones awake to wave John and me off, and I’d purposely said goodbye to all the kids at bedtime, which made it a little bit easier to leave in the morning. Still, it was tough to say goodbye to John. Once I was checked in, we spent half an hour sitting on a bench just outside of the security check-in, chatting, putting off the goodbyes.

But then finally it was time. The first hop was to Denver, just a couple of hours from home, and it went smoothly. I had an hour to make the next plane, which I didn’t think would be any trouble in the lovely Denver airport. But when I located my correct departure gate I was concerned. I could tell by the numbers of people around the gate that something was not quite normal.

I’d grabbed a Pizza Hut mini-pizza on the way to my gate, and wanting to eat it while it was hot, I planted myself on the floor in the hall, hoping to make some sense of the chaos as I ate. Announcements over the loudspeaker periodically called individuals up to the ticket counter, where people were already lined out into the main hallway. Then the announcer asked for people who were willing to give up their seats for this flight, offering them a flight leaving half an hour later instead. The free round trip ticket they were offering as a perk sounded good to me. But I was already working with a very brief 45 minute layover in Washington DC, which had me concerned. No way could I afford to arrive half an hour later.

Then the ‘delayed’ sign flashed up on the screen. I groaned inwardly. People were called back and forth to the check-in counter. Another ticket agent again pleaded for volunteers to take the later flight. I began wondering just how far they’d overbooked.

Finally the delayed sign went away, and 10 minutes before the planned departure time, they began boarding people. I was in the last group getting on the plane. By the time I got on, it was packed. On the plane they discovered they still had two extra people, and once again they asked for volunteers to take the later flight. Two more people volunteered to get off the airplane and wait for the later flight. And finally everyone had a seat and we finally took off.

The couple who ended up sitting next to me clued me in on the chaos. Apparently they were in a church group of 37 people traveling together to Rome. Their first flight of the day had been canceled, which forced United to squeeze all 37 of them onto this plane. If they didn’t make this flight, they’d miss their flight to Rome, which took off a scant hour after this flight would get them to DC. Except due to all the confusion, our flight took off 10 minutes late. Now the big question in many people’s minds was if United could get us all to DC in time to make our various connections.

(I’m so tired now that I’m cross-eyed and my contacts are doing strange things. I’ll tell the rest of this story in the morning. But the title of this post should tell you that the day ended well.)

The worst part of traveling

It’s Friday, family movie night. I’m snuggled into the loveseat next to my husband, with my head on his chest and his arm curved around me. The living room looks like a mosh pit, with kids everywhere on chairs and beanbags and sprawled out on the floor. The closing credits are rolling for tonight’s movie, Meet the Robinsons, a movie that manages the right mix of humor and action to be pleasing to the majority of us.

For much of the movie, my 3 year old curled her sweet self into me, contentedly gobbling Halloween candy. Now, as the music plays, suffused with sugar, she is moved to dance in the small popcorn-strewn space that is empty in the center of the room.

“This is how [10 yr old sister] dances!” she calls out while pumping her arms forward and back in a hip-hop style, imitating her sister convincingly enough that there is recognition and laughter around the room.

“How does [20 yr old] dance?” I call out.

The three year old obligingly does graceful ballerina spins around the room, wrists tilted exactly right.

“How about [10 year old brother]?” someone else calls.

The three year old hesitates, but the 6 year old jumps in with a convincing marionette-like dance that sends laughter rustling around the room again. My 13 year old daughter catches my eye and grins, then says something in a voice that sounds suddenly to me like an older girl’s. Growing up, she is.

Our 16 year old son asks his dad a question. John’s voice rumbles under my ear, and I snuggle in deeper. The day is almost done and morning is coming fast. But I want to reside here in this evening a little longer, surrounded by my loved ones.

In the morning come goodbyes.

In the morning I leave for the Dominican Republic.

Our conference call briefing on Thursday left me jazzed, ready. My fellow travelers seem friendly and fun, and the Compassion staff is impressively organized. Our only job there is to experience the work they do and write about it. Compassion takes care of every other detail, right down to bottled water and first aid kits.

I want to go, really I do. I love to travel. I am so eager to see Compassion’s work first hand. I want to experience the country and hug the kids and meet the folks who care for them.

But leaving my family stinks, plain and simple. And tonight that thought is heavy on my heart.

So I’ll sit here a little longer, savoring the feel of my family around me. And I’ll hope that the week goes quickly and smoothly for them, and I’ll pray for safety for all of us. And I’ll pray for the purpose of this trip: to shine a light on the needs of children in the Dominican Republic, and to encourage people to step out on faith and be a part of the solution for kids who need nothing more than a chance.

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My travel buddies:
Melanie
Tim
Marlboro Man
Jennifer
Brian
Shaun

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Thanks for your prayers and good wishes and for your willingness to spread the word about this trip on your blog. We appreciate your partnership.