Holding On and Letting Go

“It’s come at last”, she thought, “the time when you can no longer stand between your children and heartache.”
Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Ever since my son was small, we’ve had a little bedtime routine. It started out with colorful board books like Goodnight, Moon which I’d read as his little legs flopped over my thighs and his hand reached up to my cheek. As he grew and stretched out, those early books were replaced with Little Bear or Frog and Toad or other favorites. We laughed and read them over and over and capped off our time with prayers and hugs and kisses. Finally, we reached chapter books and read whole book series together, talking about our favorite characters as though they were old friends. Eventually, of course, the reading was left to him and we would end our evenings with a round of Scrabble or a tv show. But through all the small changes, one little thing has always remained the same – the evening always ends with these words:

“Good night, Mom. Love you. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Tonight I sit, grieving at the change that’s coming. Friday morning, I take my son to college and I leave him there. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

How can this be? How can the little boy I fell in love with 18 years ago suddenly be grown up and ready to face the world alone? Every instinct in me is on fire wanting to hold on, to protect him. I’m okay with him going but only if there can be guarantees that he won’t be hurt or overwhelmed or lonely. I feel like I’ve fought for him for so long that I just don’t know how to stop.

And I feel like, in this crazy life I’ve lived, he’s the one person who’s been with me through it all. I’m afraid. I don’t want things to change. I will just flat-out miss him so much.

So tonight, I look for comfort in the Bible and am reminded that my experience isn’t unknown by my heavenly Father. He was so proud of his boy he even introduced Jesus with,“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (Mt 3:17) (Can’t help but wonder what my son would do if I went around campus introducing him like that! 😉 ) And as surely as God experienced pleasure and joy in Jesus, he also knew that his Son had a purpose: “I came that they (we/us!) may have life, and may have it abundantly.” And this purpose was so important that, in spite of their close fellowship, there would come a time where they’d be separated and He…did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all…(Romans 8:32) He let Him go.

There aren’t any guarantees that my dear son won’t be hurt or frustrated or lonely when he leaves home. But he, too, has a God-given purpose to fulfill and he can’t move forward in obedience to what God has shown him to do until I let go. But though I experience sadness in this moment, I’m also so thankful that I can be confident that God is with him and yes, that He’s even with me, too. Isaiah 41:14, reminds me, “I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, “Do not fear. I will help you.”  And I can find peace in knowing that “…the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” (Ps 100:5)

*Hugs and prayers to all who are experiencing the mixed emotions of this exciting time,


Light and Hope

I was thinking about these kids tonight as I tucked my own children underneath their covers, safe and sound. My kids go to sleep each night without fear, in comfort and security. This is a blessing that most nights I forget to even count. It’s the life I was born into and easily take for granted but, as I saw on my World Vision trip to Cambodia, it’s a life that countless children have never known.

These are street kids living in Phnom Penh not far from the red light district. They’re especially vulnerable to trafficking so World Vision provides them with a targeted education on what trafficking is and the recruitment techniques that traffickers may use. I saw this happen firsthand and listened as dedicated staff explained in child-friendly terms how the kids could protect themselves.

I also saw the same children working on a poster together, filling the page with pictures of what they want to be when they grow up. One older boy was holding his kid brother in his arms as he thoughtfully paged through photos featuring adults in their careers. He appeared to be deciding between two for a minute before proudly declaring, “I want to be a teacher!”

IMG_9443Other kids waited their turn to choose a photo and call out their future.

“I want to be a doctor!”

“A policeman!”

“A lawyer!”

It’s poignant thinking how many more challenges they face in order to achieve their dreams but also how important it is for them to have dreams and make plans!

My kids are sleeping right now, cozy and comfortable in their beds and I can’t help but think about these children again. I’m so thankful to World Vision for being a living example of Christ’s love and compassion, reaching out to the most vulnerable children and their families and literally shining a light in a dark world.

Sitting on Boeun’s Porch

IMG_0958I found a few splinters of bamboo in the hem of my long green skirt and for a minute, I wished I could just leave them there as reminders of Boeun.

I met Boeun two weeks ago in Cambodia. She lives down a dirt road past field after field of long, green rice paddies and through a little village filled with children playing and wooden houses poised on stilts. Before the road makes a sharp left, our van stops outside a small circle of homes. Men and women come out, curious about us. Our guides, World Vision staff members familiar to them already, kindly explain who we are and who we’ve come to see.

We’re a group of World Vision Child Ambassadors from all over the United States. We are volunteers who believe in children and the incredible positive impact of child sponsorship through World Vision. And we’re here to meet with Boeun.

We smile and greet them all before going down a narrow dirt path past more houses until we reach the edge of the village. We don’t know too much about Boeun, yet. Only that she’s an enterprising woman with an amazing story – something about making cakes. We don’t know what to expect but it sounds exciting and, I confess, we’re hoping for a little sample! We’re also told that she has a physical disability – a misshapen foot that makes her efforts more of a challenge.

IMG_0907Sarin, our World Vision guide and translator, shows us a long, narrow fire pit. This is where, after cutting the bamboo, she burns the exterior, he explains. She then makes the cakes from rice, beans, coconut milk, and sugar and stuffs the sweet mixture inside the hollowed bamboo. This is followed by cutting and smoothing the bamboo on the outside. All in all, this process takes a full day of creating followed by a full day of selling.

I look around. The landscape is green and lush and stretches on for miles. It’s so quiet here. There are no airplanes roaring by or noisy cars or trucks, just the sound of birds and crickets and the wind in the trees. I notice how clean and neat the yard is and, as we corner the house, we see Boeun. She’s standing in the doorway, dressed in a pretty yellow flowered blouse with a beautiful smile. After greeting us each in turn, we’re welcomed inside her home. Her home, like most of the others, is also on stilts but has a covered porch area where she invites us to sit beside her. For a moment, there seems to be some confusion.

“Boeun, where did this come from?” Sophorn, another of our World Vision guides asks, gesturing to a deck covered with thin bamboo slabs where Boeun is sitting and smiling proudly. Sophorn looks at us, incredulous. “I was here two days ago and this wasn’t here!”

IMG_0915Boeun smiles again, and gestures for us to join her on the deck. She speaks in Khmer and it’s translated, “She made this for you so you could sit with her!”

Our hearts are instantly touched. I can’t imagine the effort involved in making the deck though I relate to the sentiment. A month before I came to Cambodia, I hosted a graduation party for my oldest son at our house. I had been so nervous, wanting everything to look nice and everyone to be comfortable. I sense Boeun and I might have a lot in common!

She began to share her story and her expression changed as she spoke. She looked down, eyes filling with tears as she described how her first husband had beaten her and left her. Her second husband was violently abusive as well. “He hit me for no reason.” Her grief was palpable and her pain in that moment was felt and shared among us. She is now divorced and her ex-husband lives in Thailand.

Boeun has children, some of whom are grown and legally migrated to Thailand for jobs and two who live with Boeun and are in primary school. Her daughter sits beside her. She’s absolutely beautiful, like her mom, and looks protective and uncertain, as I’m sure my kids would be in IMG_0935that setting. Her little boy dances around outside the house, refusing to come in and sit with the foreigners who’ve come to talk. He smiles, though, and I later see through the house to the front door that he’s playing peek-a-boo with his sister.

World Vision has only been located in this community for 18 months. It’s a brand new area development program and child sponsorship is just getting into full swing. When staff first came to know Boeun, she was almost non-responsive. She had experienced so much pain in her life that she wasn’t ready to let anyone in. They began to make regular visits to see her, to listen, to let her know they cared and slowly, Boeun began to smile again.

As they reached out to help her emotionally and spiritually, they also worked with Boeun to IMG_0939meet her physical needs. Boeun loved making bamboo cakes but was struggling to make it to the market. World Vision gave her a bike. They also gave her chickens to supplement her and her children’s diet. We saw fluffy chicks scurrying around the yard and hens happily pecking the ground. Now, Boeun’s business was thriving and she was able to pay for her children’s schooling expenses and even help out neighbors from time to time! Boeun’s brilliant smile returned as she hopped up to show us how she finished the cakes. She jumped down from the deck and started cutting the bamboo’s exterior with a big knife and then smoothed it with a smaller one. She offered a cake to each of us, slitting the bamboo so we could peel it and eat the cake inside with our fingers. It was sweet and satisfying, a great comfort food!

As we enjoyed our cakes, a sudden wind began IMG_0934to blow across the fields and the sky grew dark. Huge drops of rain began to fall, first a few and then a downpour. The chicks scurried under the deck where we, sitting beneath the thatched roof that Boeun and her son made, were comfortable and dry.

IMG_0910It was hard to leave Boeun’s house. In spite of coming from different worlds, she had become a friend and a piece of my heart is still there, sitting beside her on a little porch at the end of a narrow dirt trail. But I take comfort in that World Vision is not done working with Boeun. As she determines what goals she has for the future, they will be there to walk alongside her and help her on the road to self-sufficiency. Her children are available for sponsorship, too! And within this community of kind, hard-working families, there are hundreds of other kids waiting for sponsors, as well.

I learned so much in Cambodia and I heard so many stories – beautiful, heartbreaking, and inspiring. And I saw firsthand that World Vision is bringing hope to families and smiles to the faces of women like Boeun.

The Waiting Room

Isaiah 30:15:18

IMG_20140409_085301“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” 

A few months ago, I was scheduled to take a trip to Bangladesh.

My tickets were reserved, my itinerary printed, my research complete, and my conversational Bengali – well, let’s just say it was as good as it was going to get! The best part of the trip, the real highlight, was that I was going to meet my new World Vision sponsored child, Anjona. She’s pretty extraordinary! In the short time that I’ve known her, she has completely won my heart with her big dreams and lovely drawings of flowers scattered across the page.

But as the weeks passed, the political situation in Bangladesh continued to decline. News reports were filled with petrol bomb attacks on buses, trucks, and cars who refused to adhere to a blockade called by the opposition party. I tried to imagine what life would be like if we experienced that type of violence in the United States. We take so very much for granted. The weeks turned to months and the situation didn’t improve. Finally, about one week before our departure, the trip was called off and the waiting began.

When it comes to decisions in life, I like action and progress. Little boxes I can check off on a “To Do” list. Waiting is hard and awkward and highlights my insecurities and weakness. I feel like, if I have a plan, even a vague framework, then I can prepare for whatever lies ahead. I feel productive and more or less in control.

The Israelites didn’t like waiting, either, only their reasons were a lot bigger than mine – like the whole, brutal Assyrian army marching toward them. Naturally, taking matters into their own hands and coming up with a plan for how to defeat them seemed completely necessary. But rather than give them some plan for how to fight the Assyrians, God told them to wait, to “rest.” I don’t know about you but I think I’d have a tough time resting when there was an angry, violent army outside threatening to kill my family and me. They were afraid, quite frankly, and if I’m honest, I think know I would’ve been afraid, too.

But God wanted to show them something. He wanted to show them that they wouldn’t be saved by brilliant military strategies, a strong army, or fast horses. In fact, they wouldn’t be saved by their own plans at all. The Lord told them he would fight their battle for them. “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” And his words to them are just as important for us today. Our success doesn’t depend on our range of talents, skilled networking, or personal charisma. Our success lies in our ability to humbly repent, rest, and trust regardless of our circumstances.

Whether we’re waiting for details of a journey we’re taking, or waiting for results of an exam, our heart needs to find the place where we can rest in the middle of uncertainty and quietly trust in God’s love for us – and that will be our strength. He will be all the strength we need. “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!”