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.

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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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…

 

Sponsor A Child Today  

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.

Esperanza

She is wiping her brow, and her expression tells me our arrival is a surprise.

The door is wide open and she is welcoming us in, but her other arm motions to the ground, points to the pile of trash, and ends up on the unmade bed on the far side of the room.

I know what she is saying. I’ve done it many, many times myself.

Come in, please…come in.

I wish I could have made it more beautiful for you.

I begin to shake my head before the translator gets a word out, and as he confirms my suspicions I smile and nod at her, assure her that her home is beautiful and we are grateful to be in it.

She wipes her hands on her shirt, explaining that she was just about to leave for the market. I wonder if they forgot to tell her we were coming, or maybe, like me, she’s just lost track of time.

In any case, it doesn’t look messy to me. It’s dotted with stray posters advertising popsicles and bargain prices. Most of them are in English, and she explains that she doesn’t know the words but she wanted to have color on the walls.

She strikes a match and lights a stick of incense, and immediately the room fills with a musty, perfumed scent. She waves her hands, willing it closer to us as a smile finally drifts across her face.

Her son Anibal is 12, and he has the kind of grin that will no doubt make girls weak in the knees one day. I can tell he has a little mischief in him, which I love. He is undeniably charming, gentle in his mannerisms, and shy enough to make you work for sustained eye contact. In other words: a challenge I accept.

His mother begins talking about his animals, and I decide I won’t make the same mistake I did yesterday, when I urged my girls to look at the precious guinea pigs caged in the backyard, only to then have to explain that they aren’t so much “pets” as they are “ the main course.”

I ask him about the animals and he explains that he has a quail, a dog, and a duck. His mother, now straightening the bedsheets, tells us that he made her promise that she wouldn’t kill the duck. She shakes her head as if to say “how ridiculous,” but the corners of her mouth tell me she loves his antics. Little did she know at the time that this was a pretty resilient duck, and is now four years old and fit as a fiddle.

As we leave the house to see the backyard area, I catch a glimpse of the duck running and Anibal smiles at my surprise. He points to a small cage housing the quail, and as I get closer he lifts the fabric higher up so I can see in.

“What’s it’s name?” I ask the translator.

He asks Anibal and then tells me that it doesn’t have a name.

I tip my head like I’m giving an exaggerated lecture and tell him that any animal he takes care of should have a proper name. His dimples crease in agreement. We smile at each other for long enough for me to see a glimpse of what he might be, and I fight tears because it’s not a photograph anymore.

 ***

She pushes the window open, and then the door.

She’s still apologizing with her body language, no matter how many times we reassure her. She tells us about her other son, a younger boy, who is also in the Compassion program. He receives special services for what they believe to be severe learning delays, and she tells us she doesn’t know how she would do it without Compassion.

One of the other team members begins to ask about the boy’s sponsors: Where are they from? Do they write? What are their names? Does he save the letters?

She motions to the bunk bed where the three of them sleep. I don’t know how long it has been since their father was there, but years at least. She walks quickly, tapping Anibal on the back and urging him in the direction of the bed.

There are moments where you watch with your eyes and know that later, in the quiet, you will hear with your heart.

Her fingers move swiftly, raise the top mattress, and reach deep underneath. Clenched in her hands come letters, one on top of another, and she smoothes the pile and hands it to her son.

Her words run together and I wait for the translation. There are cabinets in the room, a tiny desk with drawers, a bookshelf…but the letters were here. Why? I wonder.

He tells us what she is saying and I feel my stomach lurch.

“She is saying that their house was robbed awhile ago. The men came and took their precious things, and many of Anibal’s Compassion letters were taken. So now, they keep them hidden here, where they won’t be found.”

I watch as he spreads them out on the bed, tracing the pages and telling us that he used to have a photo album of his sponsor family but it was taken.

I immediately remember the many faces we met working at the Compassion offices yesterday, men and women bright with life and joy. Eight of them, from one small office, had been sponsored children themselves once, and now work there because they want to see other people’s lives transformed the way theirs have been.

And these letters, pen on paper, every curve and dot…they tell a story of hope that Anibal needs to hear.

When the sun falls down and the house grows dark, his head rests on the prayers and promises of a man he will likely never meet.

His mother tells us he wants to be a chef one day.

Then she giggles and shakes her finger at him playfully. The translator explains that she is telling him he needs to cut onions even though they make him cry. He shakes his head, smile wide, and looks away in mock embarrassment, hands still fumbling with his letters.

 ***

The quail has no idea we are discussing his potentially nameless fate, but he stares curiously through the cage bars, twitching his head from side to side.

“Well, I just think he should have one.” I tease.

Anibal smiles in return, eyes lifted from the floor for an instant, and says a few more words.

The translator laughs and tells me that Anibal wants me to name the bird, and he will call it by that name forever.

Hmmm…” I say, finger exaggerating a tapping motion on my chin while my eyes squint with possibility.

“What about Esperanza?” I ask. “Doesn’t that mean hope?”

They chat for a moment and more laughter comes.

“He says that you just tried to give his boy bird a girl’s name.”

Now we’re all laughing.

I hear a rustling noise behind me and turn to see the death-defying duck, poking it’s way across the dirt.

“Ah! Your duck!” I walk closer to it, turning to the translator. “Would you mind asking him to tell me more about the duck? Like, why he wanted it? I want to know the story.”

As he answers, I pick up four or five words that bring me back to ninth grade Spanish, but not nearly enough to piece it together.

“He tells me that one day he was walking and the duck just followed him. Whichever way he turned, the duck turned too. He wanted to keep it because it seemed to want to be with him.” the translator explains.

“And so he kept it.” I look at Anibal while my thoughts chase a story.

For four years he has fed, cared for, and loved an animal that made him feel like he was worth following.

Ink on paper, photos of faraway dreams, hiding under torn sheets and the reality of his life.

They tell him the same.

He trusts me more now, and gestures toward the duck, who clearly does not share his affection for me.

“He is saying that this one is a girl, and he would like to use the name you chose.” The translator’s eyes are dancing as he speaks, and the story pens itself before I answer.

I see a tall chef’s hat, perched on his head while his hands chop and tears pool in his eyes. He remembers his life, years ago, when he didn’t dare cut onions, and now he welcomes the sting because it reminds him he has a gift. Maybe he has children of his own, and a wife who opens the windows, smoothes the bedcovers and loves him enough to follow him whichever way he turns.

It comes to me in a flash, in a moment, in a prayer. I can taste his dreams, breathe them in as deep as incense. He may not see it yet, but God willing, one day he will.

“Well, then…” I whisper, more to myself than anyone in particular. Holy ground has a way of hushing us, doesn’t it?

I touch his shoulder, study his face, and thank the God who let me name her today.

“Esperanza it is.”

 

“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts…” {2 Corinthians 3:3}

 

Love Moves

I would like to say I overslept accidentally, but the reality is I ignored my alarm. I thought about the plane that would take me from my house in a few hours and I hit the snooze button. I stared at the wall, unmoving.

Todd whispered that it was time, and I stood, legs weak and mind racing. I went through the motions of putting on my clothes and makeup, and after a few minutes I heard footsteps coming and tried to pull myself together for them. Look brave. Act like it’s not a big deal that we’re leaving today.

“I’m scared, mommy.” Abby said as soon as she walked in the bathroom.

I turned her to face the mirror and while my hands unconsciously braided her hair, I asked what she was the most concerned about. She snapped the hair tie on her wrist, rocking side to side.

“I don’t want to see the people who live on the street.”

I steadied her head with my hands, straightening her up so I could finish the braid.

Her eyes met mine in the mirror.

“I can understand that. Is there anything else?”

She shook her head, but her shoulders stayed high and locked.

“Maybe there is, but you just don’t know how to say it. You think?”

I reached my hand out and she handed me the rubber band, nodding as tears filled her eyes.

“You’re moving, baby. Stop moving. Mommy’s trying to get it steady.” It was easier to tell her to stop moving than to admit my hands were shaking.

“Just stay still, hon.” I felt the tears, the knot in my stomach; the paralyzation that comes from fear.

I couldn’t move.

But somehow I did. Somehow we did.

All day yesterday I watched that braid as it drifted just ahead of me through airport terminals. I watched as she twisted it in circles, round and round, when we met our Compassion team, and while she slept for a few minutes on our flight, I marveled at how long it had gotten.

When she was 2, I struggled for ponytails. As soon as the sprout of hair poked its way out, I was armed with bobby pins, bows, and a wet comb.

It’s a rite of passage, I suppose.

As we finally settled into our hotel last night, unpacked, talked, and decompressed a little, it was nearly 2 am. I tucked them in with assurances of what the Lord was going to do, and I prayed while they slept. I watched her silhouette rise and fall while cars honked and the television whispered Spanish, her braid lying long across her pillow while she dreamed.

I didn’t know what to expect from today, so all I told them was that we were here to love and the rest would fall into place. Abby asked if she would have to talk to anyone and I told her she wouldn’t. I made a joke about how they wouldn’t understand her anyway and she giggled. But I wanted her to know that there was no pressure on her to have conversations or interactions that she wasn’t comfortable with, and that nobody was expecting anything from her.

She held my hand on the long bus ride over to the first Compassion project and stared out the window.

“There they are, mommy.” She whispered, never turning away from them.

I squeezed her hand.

“We’re just here to love them, babe. We aren’t going to be afraid.”

“I don’t know how to love them.” She replied.

“You will.” I kissed her head and let her watch as I pointed out the hills and the children and the colors that belied crushing circumstances.

When the bus finally stopped, I knew she would be hesitant, so I stood up like it was another day in life and walked off like I had done it a million times.

For the record, it helped me too.

The moving, I mean. 

One foot, then the next. It’s the best I could do.

 

As we walked into the church, we heard loud cheering and saw flags waving while radiant faces welcomed us. We listened to several people speak and watched all of the little ones wander around us. I could tell she was warming up but maybe not quite ready to jump into things. A bit of time passed and a woman asked if she wanted to help hand out food to the kids. She shook her head no and looked at the ground.

Many of you don’t know this about my Abby. She is gregarious, funny, deliciously kind…but as far as anything where she would stand out and be in front of a group, she freezes. In her weekly tutorial class, her stomach stays in knots anticipating “presentation time.”  When her name is called she just says, “I can’t,” and the teacher moves to the next child. I didn’t want her to feel like she had to “perform” in any way on this trip, so I just let her sit and soak it all up.

I let her be still.

She’ll know when to move.

“What do we do after this, mommy?” She asked.

“We are going to go to the home of one of these kids and meet a family.”

“Inside their house?”

“Yes, baby.” I said.

I knew this wasn’t going to be easy for her, and as we filed into the tiny room a few minutes later, I watched her sway from side to side. I tapped a chair on the far side of the room where we could sit together and listen.

While the woman (Lily) explained that her husband had recently been taken by police officers and wrongfully imprisoned, her son played quietly and her infant daughter slept on her lap. The translator winced as she explained that there had been an accident about a month ago, where the the little girl had been left in the care of a relative and had stepped into a pot of boiling water. As Lily peeled the sock back from her daughter’s foot, I saw the scars and tried not to gasp audibly.

Abby stared at her, eyes wide, and I wondered if this had all been a mistake.

Why did we come? We could be home, safe and sound, life humming at its normal pace.

She’s still a little girl with a little braid and a little heart.

And this is a room with a plastic tarp as a ceiling and flies swarming in the dust.

What kind of mother brings her daughter into this?

I wonder if other moms might not say the same-if it seems noble and important and they ignore the nagging sense that this might hurt their children instead of inspire them.

In an instant, I saw Lily’s eyes cloud over she cradled her daughter, and the words looped together in my mind, speaking peace to my mother’s heart.

You love yours the way she loves hers.

Let Me do the rest.

As they led us into open area in the back of the home, I watched as tiny shirts danced from the clothesline and a teacher from the center helped the boy wash his hands.

Despite the fact that my children have rarely seen a sight this desperate, even in movies, I prayed a simple prayer.

Make their eyes blind to anything but love, and make them brave enough to act on it.

Before we left Lily’s home, we took some time to pray for her.

Abby cowered behind me.

Eyes closed, I asked the Lord to intercede for this sweet woman, and to provide for her and remind her that He is present. As the team continued, I opened my eyes just long enough to see that Abby had moved. She was standing, eyes wrinkled shut in prayer, with her hand rubbing Lily’s arm. Incredulous at her courage, I watched her fingers drift up and down, tenderly, honestly…the purity of the moment startled me.

This is how love moves.

It braids, it rocks, it comforts, it mourns, it whispers through prisoner’s bars if need be…

It breathes hope and it braves runways.

It says “we” instead of “they.”

Every step we take in the direction of compassion brings us closer to the the cross, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen the Gospel more clearly illustrated in my life.

Just after the prayer, Abby embraced Lily in a way that makes words choke in insufficiency.

It moves us, this kind of love.

A thousand sermons could never preach what you did today, my Abby-girl.

It isn’t an obligation, but rather a privilege. And at the risk of sounding pushy, I’ll say it anyway.

You have the opportunity to touch a life right this second.

She’s nine years old and she made love move today.

Will you?

Sponsor a child



In the Middle

In less than a week, I’ll be facing the impossible again.

A lot of people ask me how I fly so much now, and my answers are less spiritual than I would like for them to be. Yes, it’s absolutely the grace of God. But I still have some weird controlling issues.

Number one: I can fly as long as there are no storms.

Number two: And I’m by a window.

Number three: And it’s not night time.

Number four: And if I have personally interviewed, fingerprinted, and breathalyzed the pilot(s).

Number five: I have enough Xanax on hand to tranquilize a horse.

I’m kidding.

I’m kind of kidding.

I’m not really kidding.

It’s ridiculous, actually. I know that it doesn’t matter if I’m sitting by a window, staring at the ground and willing the plane to stay airborne. I can’t control it with my mind.

{Insert rude awakening}

A few months ago, Shaun Groves asked me to go on a trip to Peru. For the record, he told me the flight was “like 3 hours.” Shame on me for not fact-checking with the google before I renewed my passport. Because guess what it’s not?

3 HOURS.

It’s actually six and a half and approximately 11 minutes shorter on the way home. Not that I checked the itinerary several times. It’s a wild guess based on intricate knowledge of world maps and such.

This morning, Todd explained the way the plane is laid out. It’s a 2-3-2. I’m taking Abby and Ellie with me, so in order to be together, we would have to be in the middle seats. In case you’re keeping score here, those aren’t the ones by the window.

I do hope they end up with nice seat-mates.

Dangit. Joking. And I do realize that this doesn’t seem like a crisis moment for you all. I mean, you don’t control the plane with your eyeballs so clearly you can’t understand the pressure on me right now.

Come Sunday, I will be sitting in the middle, with two of my life-loves alongside me. In case you’re wondering, the only thing harder than flying for me is flying with people I love. I apologize to the people around me in Starbucks right now, because as I was writing, the song “Broken Hallelujah” came on Pandora and it pushed me right over the edge.

I need you to know that EVERYTHING in me wants to miss my flight, skip my alarm, make up an illness that turns deadly at 30,000 feet.

Don’t think I haven’t considered all of the above. I’m actually very creative with excuses.

The bottom line is this: God has asked me to sit in the middle, and I’m being obedient.

So, Sundays…

Will you join me again? I hope so, because I’m feeling a little needy for community in this right now :)

Here are a few ways you can partner with me, and I want you to know how much I appreciate any and all of the ways you do.

  1. Please pray for our team. For safety, for life-change, and for a lasting impact on the kingdom of God.
  2. Please pray for Abby and Ellie to be impacted in a way that makes them love the Lord more and want to serve Him with their lives. Help them balance the reality of what they see with the reality they have always known, and to feel inspired rather than overwhelmed.
  3. Please read along with us as we share our days.
  4. Please sponsor a child or children with Compassion by clicking HERE. At the very least, allow the Lord to speak to your heart about it, and be tender to the spirit of God whispering to you. Will you at least go take a look at these sweet faces and pray for them? I just did, and MY GOODNESS. They are precious.

I’m certain there will be other prayer requests as we go, and many, many updates. I’ll be using Instagram {angiesmith19} and twitter to keep y’all posted as well.

Despite what it feels like, I’m believing that the safest place to be is within God’s will.

Even when it’s, well…

Smack dab in the middle.

 

Love and gratitude,

Ang

 

 

Peru!

Most of you who read this blog know that I’m a huge supporter of Compassion International. I had the opportunity to travel with them to India a few years ago and see a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff,which made me fall more in love with their heartbeat and mission.

Shaun Groves has asked me to travel a few more times, but it just hasn’t worked out. Recently he let me know there was going to be a trip to Peru in November, but as much as I wanted to do it, it was in between my WOF tour and Todd’s Christmas tour and I didn’t want to be away any more than I needed to. I declined the offer but it nagged at me for the next several days.

Todd and I prayed about it and really both felt like the Lord was clear with what He desired.

So I let Shaun know that I would go, but there was one itsy-bitsy stipulation…

Let’s just say that they made a big exception, and Abby and Ellie are going to have a very hands-on “field trip” this school year :)

It isn’t until November, but I covet your prayers for us. Of course I will keep you all updated as I learn more, but wanted to let you know it was going to happen.

Y’all know I’m not a big fan of flying, being away from home, or much outside of my comfort zone..

But for the kids that could be impacted by this trip? Worth every second.

Thank you in advance for your prayers-not just for my family but for the kiddos whose lives will be changed through the work of Compassion.

Compassion Bloggers Peru Trip 2012

If you want to add the cute button to your site, here’s the code!

<a href=”http://compassionbloggers.com/peru” title=”Compassion Bloggers Peru trip 2012″><img src=”http://compassionbloggers.com/wp-content/uploads/Peru-Trip-Square-Banner.jpg” alt=”Compassion Bloggers Peru Trip 2012″ width=”160″ height=”160″ /></a>

All my love and thanks,

Angie

Equador!

Well, I was supposed to be in Ecuador right now with Compassion International. Can I even relate to you the level of disappointment I have about missing a trip with the following people? Kelly Stamps, Ann Voskamp, Boomama, Bigmama, and Amanda Jones.

Seriously.

And Compassion did the most amazing job of working out flights so that I could fly seamlessly between my speaking dates, but in the end I just hated to be gone that much given the fact that I’m already gone so much this season. But it sure makes me wish I could be in two places at once. Actually, three. Because Charlotte just woke up and I need to get her and finish this post.

I have shared lots in the past about my love for Compassion and what they do for children around the world, and by following along with these bloggers, you’ll get to see it all firsthand. It’s one thing to send off a letter or a check, but it’s entirely different to experience it in person.

A few weeks ago Abby was at a concert with Todd and wandered over to the Compassion table. She fell in love with the sweet face of a toddler and asked Todd if she could sponsor her. Todd explained that she would have to give her allowance and any other money she had, and that we would help her but it would be her responsibility. Moreover, it would be her sacrifice.

It wasn’t just a sweet face, it was a life that was about to be changed.

She consulted Ellie and they decided they would do it together. They have since roped in two friends, and they take it really seriously. Any time they find change, the first thing they say is, “My Compassion girl!”

I talk a big talk with them. Love God, love His people. Give it away for the kingdom. Don’t live without acknowledging how fortunate you are. And don’t think for one second that your contribution doesn’t matter….because the Lord makes miracles out of our offerings and multiplies our efforts in ways we can’t imagine.

But do they see me walk the walk? I would like to think they do. But I also know that I’m as prone to selfishness and apathy as the next person.

I’ll be totally honest with you.

Until my trip to India with Compassion a few years ago, I had all but learned to tune out the sound of anyone asking for money. Not that I didn’t think there were people who needed it, but I had suspicions about organizations. We might not all get to travel and see it firsthand, but for those of us who have, there is a feeling of compulsion to share.

It really is exactly what you would hope it is.

It’s a group of people who believe they can change the face of poverty and are doing the work of the Gospel in some of the hardest places imaginable.

You have the opportunity today to change the life of a little girl or boy, and I promise you this.

It matters.

Not just to that child, but maybe for your own children. Maybe to a watching world who wants to know if Christians really put their money where their mouths are. Would you prayerfully consider whether or not God is asking you to be a part of Compassion’s ministry by sponsoring a child? Click on the little button below to follow along with the bloggers in Ecuador right now. If the first day is any indication, they are in for a life-changing experience.

And for those of us who can’t be there in the flesh, lets be praying for them and for the work the Lord is doing through them. Here is a picture from Melanie’s (Bigmama) blog from today….

I just love her little wave and that giant backpack. Click over to her blog to read the whole story.

I’ll just say that on the latter part of the trip there is a lot of jungle activity coming up. I’m pretty sure none of us want to miss that experience :) So stay tuned online and prayerfully consider the role you could have in a child’s life today.

I clicked on Kelly’s link to these kiddos and melted when I saw how many had been waiting for 6 months or longer for a sponsor. Just click over and see if God stirs your heart for one of them. Or 15 of them. Whatever.

So in the event that you haven’t picked up on it (because subtlety has always been a gift of mine), I would love for you to consider sponsoring one of these little munchkins.

Right now.

This second.

It matters.

 

Compassion Bloggers: Ecuador 2011

 

Third World Symphony

Shaun-Groves-Third-World-Symphony-iTunes-banner-728x90

I love that I’m sandwiched between Jon Acuff and Carlos Whittaker on this blog tour stop, because their wives happen to be two of my favorite ladies in the world. On most days, you’ll find us hanging at the pool together and listening to our children have conversations like this:

“When will we see your kids again?” {Whittaker kids asking}

“Tomorrow.” {Me}

“Good. But I mean how many hours from now?” {Whittaker kids, with lots of Smith and Acuff nodding}

Kelsey has named our group the “Smackwhits,” which I think has potential if we ever decide to go Hollywood with it.

We live a couple houses away from the Acuff’s, but we wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for Shaun Groves. Seriously.

Some of you might remember that I went to India about two years ago with Compassion International. Shaun was our fearless leader on that trip and I honestly have no idea how he could have done a better job. He was knowledgeable, passionate, and invested…which all sound good on paper.

But that wasn’t what made me move to a new house.

It was the conversations we had on a rickety bus (right after he made me ride a freaky “roller-coaster” that more closely approximated a piece of dental floss and some Dixie cups, where I rediscovered my desire to be made right with the Lord) that did me in.

Because it’s one thing to be posed in front of a camera, smiling on a trip to a third world country and trying to stay still enough to hear the snap of the camera. It’s another to be completely transparent, in tears, and desperate to help children when the cameras get tucked away and the long dirt road makes you want to rest instead of inspire.

But I didn’t see him rest on that trip, and if you’ve been keeping up with his life since then, you’ll know he hasn’t rested much since. At least not in the traditional way. He and Becky (whom I flat out ADORE) are smack in the middle of a tricky adoption (please pray it goes through!) and have opened their hearts to what God desires for them.

When Shaun gave me the chance to be a part of this blog tour, I was honored.

But if I didn’t believe in him, and the message he is sharing, I wouldn’t have done it.

And now I’m going to unapologetically give my little sales pitch for the day {I do apologize, however, that this comes on the heels of my book release…I will stop peddling things very shortly :) }.

You will love this CD. And if you buy it, you will be investing more than a couple bucks on something that will bless you.

You’re joining voices with a whole mass of people who believe that we can make a difference one rickety bus at a time.

It’s what you might call a symphony.

And it’s spectacular.

If you don’t believe me, take it from some other bloggers…like, you know….ummmm….what’s her name? Oh wait.

The Pioneer Woman.

And then there’s Ann. Who is blushing already because she would never draw attention to herself. But because of this CD, he flew to her farm, giggled with her children, and held some pigs. And I know her well enough to know that being on video in tantamount to having all of her eyelashes ripped out individually while being dangled over fire.

Know what she does love, though? Enough to do it?

The Conductor.

:) Well done, Ann.

If you want to see the whole Third World Symphony blog tour lineup, click here.

But in the meantime, click here to take a look {and a listen} to Shaun’s new CD.

I think my favorite is “Come Down Here,” but I’m still deciding…

What I do know is this…

Shaun Groves, you and your family?

Are making beautiful music.

I’m proud of you.

And also, still a little annoyed about the roller coaster.

:)

 

Perspective

You want some insight into a blogger’s world? Here, hang on. I’ll grab the door and you add what you want to the coffee i just poured.

I wrote a post that I thought was a funny example of what I saw a mom doing in a shop. Most people got it, and most people know my heart by now. But the word “most” fades pretty quickly when you’re rocking your baby to sleep and wiping your own tears off her head. Why? Because a few others didn’t agree. I’m all about healthy disagreement, but  oh, MY.

If you’re wondering why (and I have several emails piled up from the past few months, so I know a couple of you wonder :) ) I haven’t posted about parenting or any other “personal” stuff, well….it’s because I don’t like to rock my daughter and cry on her.

Know what’s worse? When your eight year old asks you why you were crying and you say, “Because I hurt someone’s feelings.” She hugged me and told me she knew I would never do it on purpose and told me she had a broken heart. I fully expect artwork detailing her disappointment today…:)

But here’s the bottom line. I woke up this morning and I was praying and thinking about my intentions and my heart, and you know what? I’m not a mean person. And if you saw me as judgmental, smug, and spent your time picking me apart for failing to show a stranger the love of Christ, I sincerely apologize that this was what stood out. It was a commentary about our society and about my own weaknesses as a parent. And quite frankly (take a swig of your mocha) this is the reason I sometimes stick to writing about boring stuff. I’m not a shock-seeker. I swing my kids, I make their lunches, and I do my best to show them Jesus.

I’m not crying this morning, by the way. I’m really, really okay, so please don’t see this as a ploy for support :)

Honest to goodness I’m at peace and I know who I am and what I intended. My phone is full of text messages from people who are dear friends and are encouraging me, my precious nanny jumped into the comments to describe what she sees in me (and she, ummm, sees a lot…and it definitely isn’t all good), and my daughters are going to make me art :)

Those who really know me wouldn’t say that was my intention and I don’t think the Lord Himself would. He knew exactly what was in my heart when I was writing, and I need to just remember that when I’m bummed out that I feel like I hurt someone.

All that to say, here’s what I think is really, really sad.

I posted a quick blurb about how there were some unkind comments, and Y’ALL (correct apostrophe placement. Amen.).

I watched my traffic go through the roof.

Not terribly surprising, although it wasn’t my goal at all. I actually despise every moment of what I’m doing right now and would much prefer an unmedicated root canal, but I have a point worth making and I want you to hear it.

There was FAR more outrage over a post about a woman in a children’s store then there was about this.

And guess what?

I’m talking about me.

I didn’t go to bed thinking about this room (it’s the family room, bedroom 1, bedroom 2, kitchen, dining room etc. in case you’re wondering…) but about how I felt beat up and misunderstood.

Am I being judgmental? Absolutely. And I deserve that judgment.

It’s an ugly truth that I am often more concerned about my own immediate needs, desires, and petty “problems” than I am about the fact that some of my friends are halfway around the world trying to help children make it to the dawn of another day.

Lord Jesus, help me get over myself.

I’m not going to assume you see yourself in this criticism, but if you do, will you do me a favor? Please? Just read this blog post and pray about whatever the Lord puts on your heart as far as reaching out and doing something that really matters. And if it means that you don’t (ok, darn it. I don’t) get to go shop for a couple new things, then so be it.

Because if I’m going to be crying on a baby’s head, it should be about something like this.

I stand fully convicted, and I have repented to the Lord of my own sin. I apologize to anyone who inadvertently offended yesterday, but more than that, I apologize to those who don’t feel offended today.

Because if this picture and this post don’t offend you, then we aren’t doing our jobs as people seeking the God Who made Himself small so we could whisper His name.

The level of cuteness right here is out of this world. Would you pray about being a light to one of them?

Skip Gymboree. I’m pretty sure the sale is over anyway.

Go change the world instead.

 

Ang