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compassion

Speaking

2017

January 20-21: Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Marietta, GA
January 27-28: Bridgepoint Fellowship, Bridge City, TX
February 3-4: IF:Gathering, Austin, TX
February 19: Long Hollow Baptist Church, Hendersonville, TN
March 11-18: Sandi Patty Cruise, Caribbean
April 1: Beautifully Designed, Maryville, TN
April 7: Women of Joy, Branson, MO
April 28: Women of Joy, Pigeon Forge, TN
May 5-6: London Bridge Baptist Church, Virginia Beach, VA
September 8: Hope Community Church, Raleigh, NC
September 22: Women of Joy, San Antonio, TX
October 6-7: eWomen, Roanoke, VA
October 13-14: eWomen, Southaven, MS
October 17: LifeWay ETCH Conference, Nashville, TN
November 11: Awaken Women’s ConferenceCincinnati, OH

 

2018

January 12-13: WOCC Women, White Oak, TX
February 3: Outrageous & Contagious 7, Tifton, GA
February 9-10: IF:Gathering, Austin, TX
February 15: Samford University Legacy League, Birmingham, AL
March 10: It’s Your Day Women’s Conference, Savannah, GA

 

Please connect with us here to inquire about Angie speaking at your event.

Compassion International, Peru 2012

Love Like This

Todd will be the first to tell you I’m a terrible unpacker.

I traveled a lot this Fall, and more often than not, my suitcase sat by my bed untouched until I was preparing to leave again. I would take out a few things and put a few more in, but the suitcase was never empty in between.

As a child I used to watch my father fold his business clothes neatly, one shirt on another, breathing in the smell of his aftershave as the zipper wound around the edges. While I hated the fact that he was leaving, I loved the way it was packed. It was so organized and simple. It narrowed a complicated life into sections and pockets, and it was so manageable that way.

There’s something to be said about a freshly packed suitcase.

But there’s always the mess of coming home. Trying to make your life fit back on the hangers and realizing it isn’t as easy as reaching in and tucking away. There’s washing and ironing and folding to be done, and the closet already seems full. It’s so much work to make it all right again, and it makes me imagine life looking like it did a few days ago.

It’ll never be the same, I think.

I’m tempted to leave it alone and let the memories steep a little longer.

***

I didn’t know how I reached for her until I saw the photographs, and my heart crumpled at the shape of my hand on her head. I’m cupping her face as I would any of my own children, but I’ve only known her for an instant.

Who can explain a love like this?

I hold a backpack we brought for her, and tell her I can’t wait to spend time with her. We spend hours at her school and I follow the backpack left and right, down the corridors and stairs that know her fingers and feet.

We learn that we will get to see her house today, and I feel every shade of emotion possible. My family sponsors many children through Compassion, but I have never seen their beds and their tables. While I am aware that it will affect me emotionally, I can’t prepare myself for the moment she points and smiles, saying “Here it is!” while Abby and Ellie follow her in.

I watch the backpack in the doorway and I take a minute to breathe before I go in.

I finally do, and find a place on a couch in the main room, smiling as she plays with the girls and soaking in the reality of her world. Before I can take it all in, she sits beside me and takes the backpack off. She points to the zipper and I remember that we told her we would open it when we got to her house.

I nod and we all watch as she pulls out the crayons, the coloring books, the slinky, and all the other art supplies and fun things we packed away late one night in Nashville. Her face lights up as she spots the nail polish and before I know it, the three girls have settled at the table and are giggling and painting like it’s any other day with any other friend.

Then the coloring comes out and they relocate to just outside the front door as I learn from her brothers what life looks like here. It’s hard to hear the details, but I am grateful to know what she’s up against. Eventually it is time for us to leave and the girls come back in so we can say goodbye to her family. Fernanda sits on my lap and I reach to zip her backpack, fighting tears as I realize she has put all of the cellophane, empty boxes, and meaningless tags inside with the rest of it.

Then again, who am I to presume I know trash from treasure? 

I tell her I am afraid to fly. I tell her that I do it because I know God has a plan for my life and I want to be obedient to His calling. I tell her that He has a plan for her life too, and I don’t want her to be afraid. My fingers unclasp a necklace Todd gave me to encourage me in a difficult season, and I slip the chain around her neck. I tell her what it says (“I am not afraid…I was born to do this” {Joan of Arc}), and I see her expression change for a moment before she buries her head in my chest and hugs me. It’s the first unprompted hug we’ve shared, and I get lost in it.

It’s real.” She whispers, and the translator gives me her words.

She tucks it under her shirt and I pray over her.

We will be taking her to the zoo the following day, so we know it’s a short goodbye. Still, as we board the bus and look out the windows, she is watching us intently. As the motor starts, the girls wave and we see her reach in her jacket as we pull away.

She pulls out the necklace, holds it up like an unspoken promise, and then hides it deep again while we drift out of eyesight.

Although I may never find the words to describe this moment (I can’t imagine I will), something in me shifted.

Try as I might to empty this suitcase, I know one thing for certain.

It will never be the same.

***

She wears her backpack to the zoo the following day, and I smile as she sorts through it all. She has obviously taken everything out and played with it, but has taken care to put every last bit back inside.

An airplane flies over and she points to it. I tell her that I will be riding on one that night and her face drops. She asks if I can stay for one more day and I tell her I wish I could. I tell her I will write and pray and God willing, I will see her again. She smiles at that and asks “How?” I tell her God can do anything, and she nods like she believes me.

When it’s time to say goodbye, I try not to cry. I do pretty well until I tell her not to forget to write us and she lifts her pinky in the air, smiling. I had taught her about “pinky promises” during lunch and apparently she wanted me to know she took it seriously.

We must have hugged and said goodbye twenty times or more, until finally her backpack was so far in the distance that it was just a speck of pink to my eye.

It was so arranged when we came, I think. So orderly and neat.

It’s better this way, though…

As the days pass, I think of Fernanda and her fingers smoothing her sweater over her new necklace while she grinned like a sweet little Cheshire cat.

She loved the necklace, but not because it was something she could show off.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

Oftentimes we share what should be sacred, and shout what was more beautiful in the silence.

The deepest, most valuable moments of this life are not given to us to be given away again.

We tell our stories, we share our hearts, we live passionately and openly with the community the Lord gives us-absolutely.

But every now and then, we recognize that He has given us a moment, a word, a glimpse of Himself, an unspoken promise that is far too wonderful to try and explain.

So we smile, smooth our sweaters, and honor Him, fingers tracing the outline of grace.

***

His fingers are delicate and swift, clasping the ends together while I read the words through tears.

Don’t be afraid, love. You were born to do this…

“It’s real,” I whisper, pressing into Him with gratitude.

It will never be the same.

He knows I don’t feel worthy of the gift, and He reminds me gently that I am no position to recognize trash from treasure.

His fingers cup around my face, and I feel deeply known despite every reason I shouldn’t.

It’s home, this place so far away…

Who can explain a love like this?

Sponsor a child today.

Compassion International, Peru 2012, Uncategorized

Woven

I swing the curtains wide open and pull the most annoying stunt known to children.

“WAKE UP! IT’S GOING TO BE AN AMAZING DAY!”

They are less than thrilled.

A few minutes later we stand in a row, all watching our toothbrushes move in the mirror.

“Where are we going today?” Abby asks.

“Today is the day we get to meet Fernanda!” I’m substantially over-emoting, but we’re a little road-weary and I think if I act as tired as I feel we might be in trouble.

Ellie spits out her toothpaste, wipes her mouth, and leaves the bathroom without saying a word.

A few minutes later I ask her what’s going on and she tells me she doesn’t really want to meet Fernanda.” I can tell she’s nervous.

“You know, I think you’re going to have a really special connection with her.” I say, rubbing her back while she stares at her hands.

“Well, then you’re going to be disappointed.” She answers.

Both of my girls have this part of their personality, where they will do almost anything socially unless they sense its forced. I don’t blame them, honestly. I knew without her explaining that she had a couple different fears going on. On top of the basic, “We don’t share a language or basically anything else” thing, she doesn’t do well in situations where there is an expectation she feels like she won’t be able to meet.

She doesn’t do the whole “connect because I think you should” thing. If she’s not ready, she isn’t budging.

So the fact that she knew this “meeting” was a big deal was starting to shut her down emotionally. I remind her that there is nothing expected of her, and she should act however feels comfortable. She nods, worry still clouding her eyes.

As we arrive, our trip guide steps off the bus and calls out Fernanda’s name. I’m walking in her direction as a teacher leads her to the front of the children and encourages her to come to us. I see the teacher’s arms push her in our direction, and then she claps and celebrates in spite of the fact that Fernanda has clearly been more “propelled” than she was “actively choosing direction.”

She tucks her head and hugs me, but as the cameras flash and people cheer, the irony doesn’t escape me.

We are strangers.

She is a nine year old girl whose teachers are urging her (lovingly, of course) to hug me and speak to me. She does as she is told, but she’s scared, and I know it.

She’s digging her feet in the dirt the same way Ellie is.

“It’s okay, it’s okay!” I say, waving my hand and smiling at her teachers. “This is so weird for her…don’t worry!” I shake my head at her as if to say, “No problem!” and she smiles a little.

I point to the twins, telling Fernanda their names and she smiles a tiny bit more. Her teachers both speak at the same time, no doubt telling her to greet Abby and Ellie  properly out of respect.

All three move toward each other, not out of love, but rather obedience. They embrace tentatively, unsure of what happens next.

A voice tells us to come inside the church, and we settle in the sanctuary as the toddlers perform routines and the Pastor welcomes us.

I am sitting by Fernanda, but Abby and Ellie have chosen the other side of the church, and I wave to let them know they are free to stay there and don’t need to feel bad. It’s okay, I say with my eyes.

Fernanda’s teachers sit nearby, and they explain that she is very, very timid. She was transferred from another program in August so she’s relatively new to this one. She is sweet, they say, but she doesn’t express emotion.  Fernanda’s eyes study the floor and her feet swing back and forth from the pew while she listens.

I watch her shoes move while her teacher talks, and I am suddenly struck by the deep affection I have for her.

It’s beautiful to just be in her world, and I want to see what she sees, take in the spaces that make up her days. I feel a protectiveness over her, an affinity that makes me feel inexplicably knitted to her. I expect nothing in return, and mentally acknowledge that I will likely not win her over today. It doesn’t matter…I’ve fallen for her.

As we stand to leave the church, I giggle and call the girls over so we can get a picture. I tell Fernanda that we bought these shoes for the trip, and she tells us that she got hers three days ago.

They’re just laces, but they bring me a smile as I imagine each of the girls here pulling their new shoes onto little feet this morning, looping them one lace over another, until they’re woven tight, tied, and ready to meet a stranger.

They don’t share a language, a country, or a worldview, but in this moment they share shoes.

We follow Fernanda as she disappears down corridors that would have made my kids cringe a few weeks ago. In her classroom, Fernanda’s teacher is holding her recent artwork up for us to see and I tell her she’s a very good artist. Ellie tells her she wishes she could draw that well and Fernanda appreciates the compliment. She speaks quietly to her teacher and her hand points to a table behind us.

“She would like to show you her chair.” The teacher explains.

She walks in the direction of her seat and I look at Abby and Ellie to see if they are going to move. They take a few steps closer to her, but stop short of her chair.

They show her that they are paying attention, but they aren’t ready to sit where she sits.

It’s no problem, my hands translate. Go as far as you feel you can.

We’ll get there, loves.

I’m busy making sure Fernanda has a toothbrush in the cabinet, scouting the walls for her projects, and wondering where she hangs her coat when she gets to the center. Clearly I have some control issues. Noted.

After a few minutes, Ellie starts asking questions about her school and the translator works her way back and forth for a few minutes, both girls now openly smiling at each other and making eye contact. They are learning each other’s ways, and for a moment I forget we don’t understand her words. Suddenly one of my girls jumps in the air and says, “Jump! Jump!” and Fernanda giggles tentatively. They point to her and repeat the jumping.

In an empty classroom. in a desperate corner of Peru, a little girl begins to trust us.

They’re all legs and gasping giggles and I watch it like I’m watching a favorite movie.

Moments later, a woman peeks in to tell us we need to move into the next area together, and Fernanda makes a beeline for the door. She stops abruptly as she gets there and turns her head to Abby and Ellie. Her teacher listens and then translates what she says to them.

“She wants to know if she may take your hand.” She says.

Fernanda looks shyly, hopefully at Ellie.

Ellie nods and I watch tiny brown and white fingers intertwine as they leave the room.

I can only see the backs of their heads as they walk, but I believe they’re smiling as they  go. I take a few photos because it strikes me as a significant moment, only to realize my eyes have teared up and I can’t see them through the lens.

We end up in the area where moms and teenage girls are completing training in cosmetology, and they are mesmerized by the intricate braids they are able to do. One of the women asks Abby if she would like her hair braided and she nods yes while Ellie shouts, “ME TOO!” While the girls do a dance of excitement over their soon-to-be hairstyles, Fernanda laughs and laughs. I see a dimple in her right cheek for the first time and I celebrate another milestone. We all squeeze in the tiny room and watch as a woman creates the most intricate, beautiful braid I have ever seen. I ask the translator to tell her I want to learn, so she instructs me as she goes.

“This one to this side, but not too much…” Im watching her fingers and I know mine will never be able to recreate it. “And then this one over, then this one, then this…”

The teachers are whispering and pointing to me and the kids, so I ask the translator what she is saying.

“They are saying they have never seen Fernanda show this side, and they believe that you all have brought out a special kind of affection. They are saying they are so happy to see her laugh and smile.”

I turn, tears stinging, and watch as the hairdresser holds three separate lengths of hair and then begins to braid them together. The symbolism makes my knees weak, and I thank him in advance for what He is making one.

I don’t want to push you while your feet dig into the dirt, and I promise you I have no intention of making this choice sound like a “photo-op” for your faith.

I’ve seen enough in one day to pen volumes about what love really looks like when it bends toward another.

 

It loops, one lace over another, until what was once foreign feels familiar.

It intertwines heart and hand, and what seemed an impossible path simply becomes the only way.

It weaves our very lives, and what was separate is more beautiful whole.

 

It blurs the line between grace and glory, and it lives only to bring life.

Risk is relative when the hours are this short…

We can continue as we have been-that’s always an option I suppose.

Or, we can jump in an empty room, knot our lives with the lives of others, and finally understand the power of being woven by the hand of the Lord.

I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 

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Compassion International, Peru 2012, Uncategorized

Open

I’m too exhausted to think of anything but settling the girls and falling into bed.

I wash hair, find jammies, and tuck them in.

They’re asleep in an instant, faces still flushed from the second wind they got around 11:30 p.m. {Awesome}

I let the warm, damp towel linger on my face, staring into the mirror at my tired eyes.

I don’t even look like myself.

I’m empty, drained to the bone of any strength I brought with me.

If I had the capacity, I would let myself cry, but I can only think of making my way to bed and letting the dark hide me for a few hours.

I should read. I think. I need His words.I reach my Bible, thumbing for a few seconds and then letting it rest on my lap.

I wake a few hours later with my glasses still on and the pages of 2 Corinthians open wide. I set it next to me without closing it, because it comforts me this way. It feels like home, I guess.

I close my eyes, thoughts like anchors in search of ground, spirit parched desert-dry.

***

We’re up early, hustling to match shoes and comb hair.

The girls have been bickering and I know they’re tired. I’m tired too, but as any mama knows, that’s irrelevant.

We arrive on time, board the bus for an hour-long drive, and let the bumpy roads lull us into a dreamlike state. What seemed like insurmountable fatigue transforms itself to a rush of excitement as we finally pull up to a crowd of children waving wildly. They’re all light and color and the goodness of God, and as our team settles in, I get lost staring out the stained glass windows. I can see the homes, seemingly glued to the side of a cliff-like mountain, and it occurs to me for the thousandth time that I am far from home.

The wooden pews squeak with our weight, and the director begins a slideshow presentation. She explains that there are several children in the Compassion program that are considered “highly vulnerable” due to extreme life circumstances (condition of home, abusive relationship, sex trafficking, child labor etc). While they receive their monthly sponsor amounts, there is an urgent need that warrants additional support, and Compassion has a fund specifically for cases like these.

I spend the next hour or so sharing life with the children, watching them work and (my personal favorite) enjoying the laughter that comes as a result of my butchered Spanish.

Soon after, we pack up and head out to see some of the children’s homes.

I follow the group and as we arrive I am struck by what incredible condition the house is in. Christina, the homeowner, welcomes us in and points to several chairs she has lined against the wall.

I realize this is one of the houses we saw in the slideshow, and it is much more impressive in person. Lace curtains float in the breeze while we marvel at the structure.

Christina tells us about the way her life has been changed, but it is far more factual than emotional. She speaks kindly, directly, but with no extra words or expressions. It almost sounds like she’s telling someone else’s story. I hear someone ask her how it felt the first time she ever walked in her new home.

She thinks for a moment and then says quietly, “I felt like I was living in someone else’s house. How could all of this be for me?”

Listen, Angie. I’m speaking. You aren’t here because of the house. You’re here because of her heart. 

I keep silent, trying to understand the urging I feel from the Lord. I wish He would be more specific sometimes.

“Angie?” Shaun asks.

“Hmm?” My eyes jerk to his, trying to focus.

“I’m going to pray for Richard, and then you can pray for Christina, okay?” I nod.

When he finishes praying, I begin. I don’t remember what I said, but when my eyes open, she has tears slipping down her face. I’m shocked at the emotion because we haven’t seen it from her so far. I ask her why she is crying. She tells me she feels a different peace, and I smile.

As I had prayed for her, even though I didn’t express it in words, I saw visions of chains breaking. I sensed warfare, generations deep, and it startled me.

“Christina,” I start timidly, unsure of what her response might be.

“Do you attend church?”

She explains through the translator that she goes when her son wants to go. It was the church we had been in that afternoon, and because he knew it as his Compassion program, he often wanted to be there on Sundays as well.

His favorite part of the Compassion program is his “God homework.”

“Could you ask her if she knows the Lord?”

I wait for the expression on her face as the translator asks.

She nods affirmatively, explaining that her son’s teacher had come to visit her and had walked through a prayer of salvation.

“It felt like I was in someone else’s home…” I remember her words and I smile.

She needs to be reminded that she’s worthy. Not just of this home, but also of Mine.

I tell the translator that I want to share something with her that I had felt while I prayed, and Christina turns her attention fully to me, eyes searching mine for the first time since we arrived. “I want her to know that the Lord showed me that she is in a battle. It is a battle within her family, and it has continued for generations. She is the one God is using to win this fight. Her children will reap the benefits of her warring on their behalf, and they will know a different life because of her faithfulness.”

She explains it to her and Christina bows her head, her emotion raw and beautiful.

Her face softens and she stands tall. Stronger than concrete, more delicate than lace.

Compassion built the house, yes, but now it’s up to her to make it a home.

“Does she have a Bible?” I ask. The translator says she does, and explains that her pointing motion was indicating it was in her bedroom. “She says yes, she has one. She leaves it open by her bed.”

I smile, and in my mind’s eye I see a bed an hour’s drive from here with an open Bible.

It’s the battle we have to enter to win, and I sense a day of pages turned.

I touch the walls of her home and pray she will know her own strength.

I ask the Lord to remind her daily that her sacrificial love for her children will outlive even this structure.

And more than anything, I pray she knows she isn’t a stranger in this place…

 

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There were a lot of questions about how Abby and Ellie were doing during the Twitter chat the other night, so I thought this fun video might give you some, umm…insights? {They’re doing great :)}

peru2 from angie smith on Vimeo.