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Compassion International, Peru 2012

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}

 

Compassion International, Peru 2012, Uncategorized

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



Compassion International, Peru 2012

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

 

 

Compassion International, Peru 2012

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

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All my love and thanks,

Angie