One Word: 2016

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For the past three years, our family has been spending our New Year’s Eve a different way than most.
We don’t go to a party.
We don’t have a party.
We even stopped going to church.
It isn’t that we don’t realize the importance of beginning our new year with fellow believers.
We do.
We have just decided to “do” church differently that night.
We pull out our Bibles.
We locate the concordance.
We dig out the thesaurus’.
We find the dictionaries.
We gather the markers and other art supplies.
And we talk.
We talk about what God has been speaking to our hearts lately.
We talk about what He might want to work INTO our hearts and lives in the new year.
Each of us comes up with ONE WORD.
Then we thumb through all of our books on the table and we create.
With definitions. Synonyms. Bible verses. Foreign translations.
We let God speak to us through all of our searching and create a poster or canvas that will be displayed in a prominent place to remind us of what God wants to instill in us in the coming year.
This tradition has become better than any party or other activity we have ever done on New Year’s Eve. It brings us together and encourages us to remember each others’ struggles throughout the year. It gives us accountability with those who live closest to us. It joins our hearts with God’s. It gives our holiday meaning and purpose.

In 2013, my word was PEACE.
In 2014, my word was ASPIRE.
In 2015, my word was DISCIPLINE.
In 2016, my word will be RENEW.

I’m so excited about my new word. For you to fully understand why, I think you need to hear a little bit about 2015.

My life became one big roller coaster ride in 2015. I don’t like roller coasters. As often as I told God that, He would just quietly say to me, “I’m right here with you.” Apparently, I wasn’t getting off!

Things started off pretty good in January. Nothing really out of the ordinary. A typical winter month in Wisconsin.
Then February.
In February, my husband was offered a new job. After praying and seeking counsel, he decided to accept. This was an exciting thing in many ways, but it was also something that would drastically change life as we had known it for the past 18 years. For 18 years, we had lived rent and mortgage free in homes supplied to us by Greg’s employers. At 50+ years of age, we were about to become homeowners again. Though we had talked about this necessity at some point in our future, we suddenly realized that it wasn’t just “talk” anymore. We were being thrust into the joys of home ownership. Ready or not!
We needed to vacate our current home by the end of March. We talked about our possibilities, and decided that we would rent until we found a house to buy. Our oldest son, a home owner himself, said, “No. You will come to stay with me. It won’t be that long anyway.”
So, we packed our belongings and moved into our son’s house. He took his parents, little brother , our dog and our cat, and welcomed us into his home. Some of our things went into a couple of storage units. The rest went into his basement. “It won’t be that long anyway.”
So, here we were, with all of our “stuff” packed away. Living with only our bare necessities. It’s interesting as you decide what’s necessary and what is not. And yet, there are SO many boxes and bins!
My husband was leaving for a new job every morning.
I was driving our youngest son to school every morning and then to work myself.
Our youngest was walking home to an empty house every afternoon. This was a big change for him. Big change.
In the turmoil of all of this change, we were diligently house hunting. Diligently. I was looking at houses on my lunch hour. We were making appointments for after school and work. We toured so many houses, that I literally lost count. We put offers on houses, only to be rejected. Month after month. “It won’t be that long anyway” turned into 4 months. This feels like a lifetime when you are living in someone else’s place. With someone else’s stuff. With a roller coaster of emotions because of all of the changes in your life.
My husband questioned if he had made the right decision.
Our son didn’t like coming home to an empty house.
We didn’t like him coming home to an empty house.
Our oldest didn’t think he’d have “company” for so long.
Our “dream houses” were pulled from us from rejected offers.
It seemed nothing was falling into place.
Our daughter who had been doing in internship in Texas decided she was staying on full time. Indefinitely. We missed her.
Up and down the roller coaster went. Up and down. Swerving around corners. Never stopping.
God’s still, small voice: “I am with you.”
Without that promise, I don’t think we would have held on.
And, through it all, my word was “DISCIPLINE”. I’m sorry, but, “Yeah, right!” Our posters had been packed away with all of our other stuff. However, my word was never far from my mind. It just felt impossible. How could I get a disciplined routine when my roller coaster wouldn’t stop?
I’m sorry to say, but I gave up.
In June, when we finally moved into our new home, I unpacked the box that our posters were in. I looked at mine and said, “Yeah, right.”
I felt like a failure, and, I’m not proud to say, I tucked those posters away. I couldn’t look at mine.
In the midst of our closing on our new home, my dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. 6 months. What? Okay. Breathe.
Painting. Cleaning. Moving. Time with parents. Emotions running high and low. Up and down. How am I supposed to feel right now? Every moment becomes a treasure. Because we have no idea what the next one brings.
But my mind feels like it can’t rest. It feels like it is constantly on the go. It can’t relax. And the roller coaster continues. Doubts. Questions. Fears. Joys.
In the midst of all of it, there are little things thrown into the mix that make the roller coaster dip and turn.
When do I get to get off?
Then, I start thinking about my new ONE WORD.
I think about how I’ve failed at DISCIPLINE.
I tell God, “I guess I’ll have to do that one over, huh?”
His still, small voice: “RENEW. Breathe.”
Seriously? I get to RENEW my spirit? I get to refresh my mind? I get to restore my soul? I get to regain and reclaim myself?
And He says, “Yes.”
He understands how hard this year has been. It didn’t take Him by surprise. And He just asks me to RENEW.
So, whatever that looks like, I will. As I’ve been looking through my thesaurus, I realize that there may actually be some DISCIPLINE that I gain as I RENEW my mind, heart, spirit and soul.
I’m okay with that.

Is God speaking ONE WORD to you? If so, join me on this journey and share your word with me. I’d love to hear about what God wants to do in your life in 2016.

He Knows My Name and Fills My Aching Heart

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In 2010, I took my first trip to Ecuador with Compassion. I went to visit our Kassandra, who, at the time was our only sponsored child. That trip changed my life. Literally. My heart and mind were transformed in ways that turned my life upside down. I was hooked. And I knew that this trip would not be my last.

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On this trip, we went to a CSP where we had the opportunity to see the work Compassion does with pregnant mothers and their babies up until the age of 3. It was at this project where I met two sweet littles named Jennyfer and Julio. There was something special about these two children. Their presence was a bright spot in my day. Without much talking, we had a connection that couldn’t be denied. Jennyfer and I were pretty much joined at the hip for the day,

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while Julio was a ball of energy and a photo-bomber like none other!266(Julio is in the white)

Leaving them that day was hard. I checked into the need for either of them to have a correspondent sponsor, to no avail. It was then that I knew that my relationship with them was a one-day deal that would lead to adding them onto my Compassion kids prayer list, as if they were mine.
When I returned from this trip, my heart yearned to do more with the ministry of Compassion. I had seen firsthand the benefits of child sponsorship and the realities of the lives of those living in poverty. I became a volunteer Child Advocate for Compassion, and we added another sweet Ecuadorian child to our Compassion family, along with two correspondent children. Within a few weeks, we added two more correspondent children! It was crazy…the passion that was born in my heart from one “simple” trip. As I spoke about my trip, I had so many stories of my time with Kassandra and her family. I spoke about all of the children I had met, but especially about Jennyfer and Julio. They were part of my heart.
The new boy we had added as a sponsored child after that trip was chosen by our son, Noah. Noah would be Ismael’s sponsor, which included regular letter-writing. In 2012, Noah & I had the opportunity to travel to Ecuador again, to meet his Ismael, and to see our Kassandra . The trip was scheduled for February of 2012. We were so excited as we prepared for it. Noah was only 12 at the time, so it was a pretty big deal for him to be going out of the country for a trip like this. In November of 2011, we received news that Kassandra’s mother had pulled her from the program. I was devastated. The connection we had formed over the last 7 years, including meeting face-to-face, was pulled out from under me. I felt like I had lost a loved one. I even considered pulling out of the trip. But then I remembered that Noah had the opportunity to meet Ismael. Did I want to pull that away from him? Absolutely not.

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I must confess though, my heart was strained and hurting going into this trip now. I felt it was not going to be the same. I realized how selfish those feelings were, and really tried to pull up my big-girl pants, and do this for Noah. I reasoned that it would be easier for him if I wasn’t preoccupied with Kassandra. I would be able to help him connect better. This trip became about him. About him having me “all there” to help him understand how God had broken and filled my heart the first time around.
Another confession: deep down, I was feeling the pain of the loss of not seeing Kassandra. I was feeling like there was nothing in this trip for me. I was sinking into a silent self-pity because my heart was not being filled the same way it had on my first trip.
We went through each day of the trip with the usual activities. And I seriously did enjoy each one of them. My time with Noah was wonderful. Meeting Ismael and his family was a blessing. So many good things. But silently my heart ached.
On the last day of the trip, we pulled up to a project. The last one for this trip. And suddenly, my eyes were opened. I knew this place! I had been here before! Could this be? YES! It was the same project Jennyfer and Julio attended! I could barely contain my excitement! Again, we went inside and listened to the CSP mothers’ program that they had prepared for us. And I enjoyed it…but my eyes kept searching the building for those two familiar faces. Then it was time for our home visit. That home was such a blessing to visit. The mother and her children were so beautiful in so many ways. On that visit, we had the privilege (or was it God’s design???) of having the project director with us. At one moment, I had the opportunity to ask him the question that was on my mind for the last 2 or 3 hours!
“I was here in 2010. I met a little girl named Jennyfer and a little boy named Julio. Do you know if they are still at this project?”
The director thought for a moment, and said, “How old are they?”
I said, “Maybe 6 or 7? I’m not really sure.” (I had never asked!)
He answered, “Yes. I will find them for you.”
I could hardly believe my ears! But inside, me of little faith was thinking, “Yeah right! How many Jennyfers and Julios could there be in this place? After all, this man is responsible for over 430 children. There is no way he will find those two for me!” However, my outward response was, “Oh thank you!”
So, we finished our visit and began the walk back to the project. I was busy talking with my friends, when suddenly, we stopped in the middle of the road. I asked what was happening, and the translator said that this was Jennyfer’s house and the director was heading up the stairs to see if she was home. In a minute or so, this sweet little girl came tentatively around the gate and looked at all of the sponsors standing there. When her eyes met mine, there was this sweet recognition! She remembered me! And I had no doubt in my mind that this was my sweet angel from the first trip!DSCF2236

After a glorious reunion, and many hugs , we walked hand-in-hand back to the project.

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As we stood there holding hands, I told the story to those who were not in the same group as me. They were blessed and amazed. Then the director came with a little boy by his side, tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the little boy with the question, “Julio?” My eyes met with Julio’s and it was another sweet reunion! We had some time to talk about his life a little bit, and then it was time to say good-bye. As we pulled away, I realized, my heart was full. God had blessed me for giving Noah the opportunity to really experience this trip, but He felt the ache of my heart and filled it with hugs and kisses from these two precious children.

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One of the things that really amazes me about this story is that the director KNEW those children well enough to know exactly who I was talking about. It made me see the truth, once again, of how Compassion works. The children registered with Compassion are not a “number” they are a name. They are known personally and cared for deeply. And isn’t this what we all want? To be known and cared for? For someone to know our name? For our aching hearts to be filled just because He loves us?
He knows my name. He knows your name. He knows each name of every person on earth. Wrap your head around that truth!

Giving HOPE in Felix

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dscf9142.jpgThe day began like any other first day on a Compassion Sponsor Tour. I was excited to wake up after a long day of travel and a short night of sleep. I couldn’t wait to get started meeting some beautiful Nicaraguan children and loving on them. It didn’t take long before my heart began to take a different direction. I didn’t sign up for this.
We were on the bus heading to our first project: NI155 in Felix, a community near Leon. It was on the bus that our leader spoke some words that I wasn’t expecting to hear: “We just received word that the baby of one of the mothers at the CSP (Child Survival Program) we are visiting has died. We just want you all to be aware and sensitive to the situation as we don’t know what type of mood we will encounter when we get there.”
I was appalled. I was disgusted. I was even a bit angry.
I asked God, “How can this be? This baby was part of a Child “SURVIVAL” Program. How could he die? Why did he die? This is not right.” All of my indignation and frustration was a good indication of an “American attitude” in my heart. An attitude that God was preparing to deal with that day. An attitude that, I admit, I didn’t think I was carrying. In all it’s ugliness, it was rearing its head. Ready to strike.
So, I tried to wrap my head around a beautiful young mother living in extreme poverty, whose heart was no doubt reeling from the devastating news of the death of her baby boy. Did she have the same questions as me? Did she doubt the word “survival” like me?
We arrived at the church and were met by the pastor and staff of the project. This place was incredible. In all of my travels, I had never met a pastor like this one. His love and compassion for his people and their children was astounding. Don’t get me wrong, the other pastors I have met have been wonderful, caring and compassionate people, but THIS one surpassed them all. I found myself so thankful that the beautiful people of Felix had a man like him to serve them and teach them and lead them. I hope they know how blessed they are.
So many things happened that day. My heart was on a roller coaster. I still can’t wrap my head around the conditions I saw in that little community. Remember, I have seen poverty on other trips. I just wasn’t prepared for Felix. In this community, I saw homes made of three walls…read that again: THREE walls. That means a large opening in the front. Some of these walls were made of plastic sheeting, bedsheets, tin, wood…whatever the family found available. The heat was sweltering that day, as I would suppose it is most days. I am sure it was close to 100 degrees that day. It was probably good that I didn’t have access to the weather channel, because not knowing seems to make it easier for me to handle when it comes to temperature. It is what it is. Deal with it. This neighborhood, for all of it’s lack, was definitely NOT lacking natural beauty. The shade from the full trees was refreshing. The vibrant colors from the flowering bushes were breathtaking. The joy on the faces of God’s people was contagious. And then it happened.
We were preparing to make our way to the homes that we were visiting that day. My leader says to me, “One of our home visits is to the mother whose baby died last night. She had signed up for a home visit before er baby died and didn’t want to back out of the opportunity. We think it would be best for your group to go there. Try to make it not awkward, and just show her love.” Ummmmm…..okay? Help me, God. How am I going to do this?
So, I prepare my family group, telling them whose house we are going to. And encouraging them to “not make it awkward”. Right. Help us, God.
When we got to her house, we walked inside and on my left was a little wooden casket. Open. With a sweet baby boy lying in it. Deep breath. Don’t overreact. It’s going to be okay. Nobody else saw it except for our translator. And that was good. So, we are standing there in this grieving mother’s home. Her mother was standing by her side. And they greet us. Thanked us for coming. Now it is our turn to talk. we are all tongue-tied. This is so different than any other home visit I had ever done. Our translator suggested we pray. Good idea. When that was done, again, tongue-tied. I suggested songs…let’s sing some peace into this wounded soul. So we sang. After that, it was as natural as could be to give hugs. So, I approached the grieving mother and her mother and embraced them as we wept for the sorrow of losing their precious baby boy. With the temperature well over 100 inside their home, we had sweat rolling off of us even while we were standing still. And as we embraced and cried, the baby boy’s mother passed out. Panic set in as many moved around trying to find the best way to help her. Leaves were picked from a plant outside to rub under her nose. My friend was waving her fan frantically to get some air flowing toward the mother. Silent prayers were being said. And she came to. A few seconds later, she passed out again. This time we left the house to allow more air inside. We stood outside and prayed as her friends, neighbors and family members watched. Later they said she passed out one more time before she was brought outside to get some fresh air. They set her down on a rocking chair. As she was recovering, I was turning the bracelet I had made before my trip around on my wrist. This bracelet said one word: HOPE. I liked this bracelet as the beads I used held a very special meaning for me. And that’s when my ugly heart began rearing it’s head. God said to me, “Give her the bracelet.” I couldn’t believe my ears. “My bracelet? I made this for myself. I like my bracelet. I really want to keep it.” “Give her the bracelet.” “Umm. I really don’t want to.” “Give it to her.” So, I did what any selfish American would do…I asked the translator if it would be “offensive” to give it to her, because surely the translator would know much better than God!
Oh, how it turns my stomach to tell this part of the story. That ugliness. Was I really that selfish? It was a bracelet. A simple bracelet. A bracelet that could easily be replaced. But my heart wanted to hang on to it because it was mine. Did I really care about the pain this beautiful young mother was experiencing? Was I really wrestling over something so trivial? Yes. I was.
So, when the translator said it would be a beautiful gesture, I moved forward immediately to present the bracelet to the grieving mother. I slipped it off my wrist, knelt in the sand in front of her and slipped it onto hers. I pointed to the word and said, “Hope. Esperanza.” And her face broke into a smile. A smile of thanksgiving for the gift of “Hope.” And her mother looked at me and smiled and thanked me. And we hugged again.
And I saw why God wanted me to give that bracelet up. I saw that that bracelet was never for me, as I originally thought. And yet, in a way, it was. Because God showed me how He can make beautiful things out of ugliness if we allow Him. He showed me that to follow Him, I need to give up my right to my “self” and my “stuff”. He showed me that “giving HOPE” sometimes is a very tangible thing. He showed me that, as much as I thought I hadn’t signed up for this experience, HE had signed me up for it. He had His reasons for taking me to that young mother’s house. Along with her, I also found healing that day.
Not a bad thing to sign up for.

Closed Doors and Open Windows

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Our children had the blessing of attending a Christian school.  One of them from 5th-12th grade.  One of them from 2nd-12th grade.  One of them from Kindergarten-2nd grade.  This school was very small.  It was a school where our children were nurtured in the Word and ways of the Lord.  It was a family.  It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was perfect for us during that stage of our lives.  Our daughter was a member of the last graduating class in 2008.  Closed doors.

My husband was a member of the Board of Directors for this school.  Making the decision to close the school was not easy, but it was wise.  The economy in our area just didn’t support a school such as ours.  For a few years, a local preschool program rented the building from the Board which brought in some income as the Board was trying to decide what the future held for a Christian school such as our humble little one.  In 2013, the preschool organization decided they wanted to buy the building.  Open windows.

The bylaws which the Board of Directors needed to abide by stated that any money left in the account when they disbanded was to be given to Christian organizations that had something to do with education.  Each member of the Board was allocated a certain amount and given the freedom to choose the organization that they wanted their portion given to.  My husband chose Compassion International.

Compassion International’s Leadership Development Program (LDP) to be exact.  Compassion’s LDP is an amazing program!  I had personally met some LDP students while on sponsor tours and at the Advocate conferences I attended.  I desperately wanted to have the chance to pour into the lives of these dynamic young adults as they studied in University to become all that God intended them to be.  But I needed a major act of God.

And God did it.

My husband was given a check with a sizeable amount written on it.  All we had to do was choose our students.  It was fun to read through so many biographies of so many deserving students.  To pray and ask God which students He wanted us to have in our lives.  We knew we were going to Colombia that year, so we chose Reyner from Cartagena.  Ecuador also held a deep place n my heart, so we chose Marco from Machala.  We were able to help these two fine men through their entire college career.  And we still had money left over!  So, we chose Elkana from Kenya, who only had a little over a year left.  And we still had money left.  So each of them got money to use for a laptop computer or another necessity for their classes.

Recently, Reyner made the choice to leave the LDP.  It was his choice.  We were disappointed.  Closed door for him.  We hope he remains in school to finish out his dream, but that is a decision he will have to make.  We know that we poured ourselves into him through a visit with him and many letters.  We showed him Jesus every chance we could.  We love him still.  That will never change.  But we had some funds left over from his account that needed to be allocated somewhere else.  Open windows.

Again we looked through biographies and asked God who He wanted in our lives.  That is when we chose Rebecca and John, both students in Uganda.  They both only had a few months left.  Then another open window.

We learned that Marco, our student in Ecuador, would be finishing his studies MUCH earlier than anticipated.  Open window.

Back to the website to look at more students.  It was then that I saw Pablo from Nicaragua.  I could hardly believe my eyes!  Just a few months before seeing his picture on the website, I had met this young man.  I was on a sponsor tour in Nicaragua, and Pablo was one of the students who addressed our group.  To say he was a dynamic speaker would be an understatement.  I knew that we had to use the extra funds we had to sponsor Pablo.  So we did.

Never in my wildest Compassion dreams, did I ever expect to be able to have even ONE LDP student in our Compassion family!  But God, in His Ephesians 3:20 way, saw fit to add SIX of them to our hearts!

Sometimes closed doors can be really hard.  Even heart-wrenching.  I am so thankful that God opens windows to soothe the pain and heart-ache.

DSCF7234ReynerEC9800345-Fullshot-200w MarcoKE9800402-Fullshot-200wElkanaJohn-LDP Uganda 2015John Rebecca-LDP Uganda 2015RebeccaDSCF9312Pablo (in white shirt)

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than we could ever ask for or imagine…to Him be the glory, both now and forevermore.”  Ephesians 3:20

Finding Wilson

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The original bathroom is the white plastic sheeting in the background.

The original bathroom is the white plastic sheeting in the background.

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Wilson standing outside of his home. Notice the spaces between the slats on his door.

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This is the area where Rosa had her “outdoor kitchen”, which was basically an area surrounded by plastic sheeting. Not safe.

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Wilson with all of the things his family gift was able to buy. So happy God took our gift and made it go above and beyond all that we thought or imagined!

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Let the construction begin. Notice Wilson on the scaffolding ready to help!

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This photo is a little blurry, but it is the finished kitchen area.

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Wilson and Rosa standing in the doorway of their beautiful new bathroom area…complete with toilet, sink, shower and tile on the floor!

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Wilson and Rosa in front of their home with the new doors hung and much more able to keep them safe and warm.

In February of 2012, my son, Noah, and I had the wonderful privilege of traveling to Ecuador with Compassion to meet Noah’s sponsored child, Ismael.  During that trip, we experienced a day which the Compassion staff called “A Day in the Life”.  On that day we were split up into small family units and were given the opportunity to spend the day with an Ecuadorian Compassion family.  We were to work alongside them doing whatever jobs they asked of us.  Noah and I, along with our family group, went to Rosa’s house.

Rosa is a widow.  She has three sons that we met, along with a daughter and another son.  The three boys that we met were Bryan, Edison and Wilson.  Bryan and Edison were both sponsored children through Compassion.  Wilson was in school but was not a part of Compassion’s ministry directly.  We had a wonderful day with Rosa and her sons.  She asked us to help her pick grass to feed her guinea pigs which she was beginning to raise in order to sell at the market.  We also were asked to help weed her cornfield which sat on the side of the mountain that her home was built upon.  The view from Rosa’s house was breathtaking , but it was her sweet, gentle spirit and her generous hospitality that affected our family group the most.  This was a woman with close to nothing, by our faulty American standards, yet she was willing to share from her heart the food picked from her fields.  She inspired all of us.

It wasn’t only Rosa, but also her sons that inspired us to follow God’s plan and call for our lives.  Each one of them had a dream.  Each one of them loved the Lord their God.  When asked what they do in their spare time, these boys looked at us and said, “We pray.”  The one thing these boys lacked was a good relationship with their sponsors.  When they asked us why their sponsors don’t write letters to them, we felt at a loss for words.  We encouraged them the best way we could.  That was the first moment that God spoke to my heart about continuing a relationship with this family somehow.

While we were there, I had to use the bathroom.  Rosa’s bathroom was a concrete slab with a large hole cut out in the middle of it.  This slab was surrounded by 4 wooden stakes that were holding up a piece of ripped plastic sheeting for privacy.  I was not appalled or offended at all about using Rosa’s bathroom.  More than anything, I was concerned for her and her family’s safety.

When we returned home, I immediately contacted Compassion to find out if Bryan or Edison were available for the Correspondence program.  This was one way I could keep in contact with this beautiful family.  To my dismay, the answer was “no”.  I was so disappointed, but decided that the best thing I could do for them was to pray for them.  So I added them into our list of Compassion children and included them in my prayers as if they were ours.  It was during one of these prayer times that God spoke clearly to me about what He wanted me to do for Rosa and her family.

While I was praying for them, I had what I can only describe as panic attack.  It was a feeling of fear and dread for the safety of this family while they were using the bathroom.  All I could picture was one of them falling into the hole.  This was God’s way of telling me that I had to “Do Something.”  I came home and told my family about this experience and said that we had to do something for Rosa.  We had to build her a bathroom.  We would raise money somehow and we would get her a safe bathroom.  My family was on board with this plan.  My next step was to contact the other members of our “family unit” (Barbara & BJ Elkins and Sam & Grace Fillingane) from the trip and see if they would also help us.  Because of the impact that Rosa and her sons had on us while in Ecuador, their answer was a pretty quick, “YES!”

I contacted Compassion to find out how much this project would take.  They went through the process they had to in order to find out and eventually the answer came back.  Let me say that the amount we were told was not small, but it also didn’t seem insurmountable.  With God’s help we could do this.

So in the late spring of 2012, we all began the process of raising money for Rosa.  It was a slow process, one that wasn’t actually completed until June of 2013!  People were very generous and willing to help with such a worthy endeavor.  We were blessed.  Barbara suggested that I contact Compassion once more in order to find out if the cost had gone up since the first estimate, because it seemed that costs were rising everywhere.   So I did.  And when the answer came back it was a higher estimate.  We had a couple more hundred dollars to raise.  Disappointing, frustrating, but not impossible.  We were now well into August and wanted this project taken care of SOON!!  By mid-September, we were  done!

I was attending an Advocate Conference at the end of September, so I decided to hand-deliver the checks to Diana Torgerson so I could explain the situation and she could get the checks into the right hands.  When I shared the story with both her and Rick Schluep, they looked at me, and Diana said, “I don’t think this is going to work.”  I could hardly believe my ears!  She explained that only a person who has a sponsorship connection with a child can give a financial gift to the family.  Though this made sense, I was disappointed!  She said she would check into it to make sure, but that she was pretty sure that this was the policy.  I left dejected.  Had all of this time and effort been spent for nothing?  I was frustrated.  Why had I been led to believe, from the person who checked into the quote for me, that this was going to work?  I felt like a liar and a cheat.  Like someone who had raised money by using a “sad story”…for nothing.

After the conference, Diana checked into the policy regarding gifts, and she was correct in the information she told me.  Now there was a decision to make.  Did we want to give the money to Compassion as a general gift, or perhaps to the WaSH Fund?  I knew that I would not be able to keep that money that was raised.  It HAD to be used for something related to Compassion and bathrooms!  I contacted Barbara and Grace, our family unit friends.  What did they want to do with the share of money they had contributed?  One of them chose to let me make the decision as to where her share went, while the other one decided to have her share returned so she could use it for her other Compassion children.  Thus began the process of returning and redirecting funds.  Also, this is where God began to move!  He had been moving all along, but I just hadn’t seen His hand because of my frustration.

Toward the end of October, my husband, Greg, and I volunteered to work at the Compassion table at a Matthew West concert in Appleton, Wisconsin.  There were two tables set up at this concert.  My husband and I went to the “table less traveled” (at the time this was to my dismay…I wanted to be where all the action would be!!).  As is the custom for me, because I have traveled to Ecuador twice, I looked at the packets of children from Ecuador, just to see if perhaps I had visited their CDC.  I picked up a packet with a cute little boy on it and said, “Oh, he’s cute.  Wilson.  I wonder where…WILSON???!!!”  I turned the packet over to find out which project he was from and I could hardly believe my eyes!  THIS WAS WILSON!  THIS WAS ROSA’S SON!  I quickly opened the packet to read his “story” and everything that was written completely lined up with the home that we visited!  Seriously, God??!!  There was no doubt in my mind that this little boy had just found his sponsor! Not so fast, Teri…

My husband was very excited that I had found Wilson, and could hardly believe it himself, but he was not so sure that we had the means to sponsor him at that time.  Decisions like this are always made together in our family.  This was going to be a tough one because we both felt strongly about our respective “sides”.  How would God work this one out without one of us being disappointed or upset?  Greg agreed to let me take the packet home with us, but under the guidelines that I would find a sponsor for Wilson…one other than us.  I am not proud to say that I agreed, but all along knew, and planned, that, one way or another, Wilson would be a part of OUR Compassion family.

When we got home, I immediately checked out the project number with all of the emails I had been sending regarding the bathroom.  Check.  I went through all of the pictures of the time we had spent at Wilson’s house to verify that this was indeed Wilson.  Check.  He was even wearing the same sweater that he was that day when he returned home from school!  Noah came home and found the packet on the table and said, “Hey, this is Wilson!”  Check.  Though I was sure that I was holding Rosa’s son’s packet in my hand, I had to be completely positive.  I sent an email to Diana and asked her to do a check into the family of the boy in this packet, to see if they were indeed brothers.  It was at this time, that Diana had the wisdom to hold all of the checks that had been sent to Compassion, because she just knew that God was up to something big!  Though the one check had already been returned to one of my friends, the other ones were now on hold from being given to the WaSH Fund.

The verification came back.  Indeed, I had found Wilson!  And I had found him just in time!  I had found him when there was a sizeable gift waiting to be given to his family because of a prayer and a panic attack that had happened over a year before!  I had found him when my mother had just “lost” her Compassion child and was looking for another one to sponsor…but she really didn’t want to write letters!  (So, she is his financial sponsor, and I am his correspondent sponsor and both Greg and I are happy with this arrangement!)  I had found him just when my friend who had asked for her portion of the money to be returned informed me that she decided to destroy that check and the funds were still in my account!    I had found him just when God wanted me to!

I had worked many events in that time period between my second trip to Ecuador and the Matthew West concert.  I had seen many child packets and looked at every Ecuador packet I had come across.  But it was at just the right time that God placed Wilson’s packet into my hands.  How many people had looked at his packet and placed it back on the table?  I will never know.   All I know is that finding Wilson was one of the biggest faith builders I had ever experienced up until that point.  God knows exactly what He’s doing.

In hindsight:  if I had been told right from the start that giving a gift to a child that was not connected to me through sponsorship was against policy, none of this would have ever happened.  I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God wanted my family to be connected with Rosa’s family from the day Noah & I spent with them until eternity.  Why?  I don’t know…but God does!  And, I’m okay with that!

As Child Advocates, we are never sure what God is going to ask us to do.  I can’t say I have always been the most obedient when He speaks to me.  But I am glad I listened this time!  Finding Wilson…what a good and perfect gift from above!

4-18-14

It is now October of 2014…almost one year from the date I first found Wilson on that Compassion table in Appleton.  The funds have been given to his family, and we have received photos back of the finished project!  This is truly an Ephesians 3:20 project!  “Now unto Him who is able to do IMMEASURABLY MORE than we would even dare to ask or imagine, to Him be the glory both now and forevermore.”  Wilson’s family was not only able to build a safe bathroom, complete with toilet, sink, shower and tile floor, but also a safe kitchen!  Their original kitchen was also surrounded by plastic sheeting, and Rosa cooked over an open fire!  They were also able to get new doors for their home…doors that are solid and able to keep them safe from predators and warmer at night.  They were able to get a few groceries and clothing and shoes for the entire family.  And, from the pictures, it is evident that Wilson was helping in the process of the building project…what a great learning experience for him!

This story has almost gone full-circle.  The best part will be when I am able to travel back there, hopefully with Barbara, BJ, Sam and Grace, and see firsthand the fruits of our labor of love.  I am not sure when that will happen, but God knows.  And I am content to wait for His timing.  He has proven to me that He has the market on “perfect timing”!

Teri Gerdes

 

 

Letter to God

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Father God,

How can I say “thanks” for all that you have done for me and given to me?  You have redeemed my past into something beautiful, though I am definitely still a work in progress!  Thank You for your patience with me and for the promise that you won’t give up on me.  You will be faithful to complete all You have started in me.  You have always known what I would be when I grew up, You have always known my heart and my passions.  I remember as a child always looking out for the underdog, or those who seemed forgotten or lonely.  And I never really thought much of that until now.  You were showing me Your heart for those same people, even before I knew You…how cool is that?!  And, now, You have given me a heart of passion for the ministry of Compassion…a ministry whose heart beats with Yours.  I have always loved children, and always tried to see the best in them, especially those from tough circumstances in life.  So, besides the three beautiful children you gave me by birth, the nieces and nephews, and all of the children who You gave me to teach at church or help at school, You also have seen fit to bless me and my family with 11 Compassion children.  You knew how my heart broke when we lost two of them, and You allowed for two more to help fill the void, though they never could be replaced.  I can’t get over how You have entrusted these young people to me and my family.  You have given us such great responsibility to nurture them in the ways of the Lord, to encourage them to keep going when all the odds seem stacked against them, to pray for them as f they are our own.  An extended family that spans the world!  I like that!  Thank You so much for giving us that gift.  I pray, Lord, that we will also be faithful to complete the work You have given to us.  May we never grow tired or weary, and may we always have room for more as You lead.  And as I pray this prayer, I also pray that You will lead others to this ministry, so that they, too can be blessed by all that You do through it.  This is what I was made for…and I know that there are more people You have made for this special purpose as well.  Open their hearts, Lord, and help them to know that this is what You have made them for, too!  And when my time here on earth is done, I pray that I will hear those beautiful words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  Thank You, Jesus!  I love You!  Amen.

http://www.compassion.com/sponsor_a_child/default.htm