Thursday, January 24, 2013

In You

In my failings, You are stronger.
You are bigger than my fears.
When I stumble, You still catch me,
Gently speaking through my tears.

I may wander. Yes, I fail You.
I do the things that break Your heart.
Through it all, You love unceasing.
You forgave me from the start.

I am small, young, and timid,
But Your love has made me strong.
You give me confidence and beauty.
In You, I'm found and I belong.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Letters for Lavin: January

Yesterday I talked about one of my goals for 2013.  This is the first letter of the year I've written for my sponsored daughter, Lavin.  The last letter I received from her was a little before Christmas.

I try to find cards that have a decent amount of writing space inside, but are also bright and colorful for the child to enjoy.

One thing I would like to clarify is that my daughter, Lavin, is fifteen years old.  She reads and writes English fairly well.  She can comprehend a lot of subjects now that she would not have understood when I first began to sponsor her.  If your child is new to English or very young, I would encourage you to write much more simply than I write to Lavin.  With that in mind, here are the contents of my first letter to Lavin:

Click for full size image
Be sure to remind your child that you are praying for him.  Quoting Scripture over him is such a powerful way to share the Gospel and offer discipleship.  The things you say are powerful to your sponsored child.  You are an adopted parent to him; he admires you so much and will listen eagerly to what you have to say.

Telling your child that you love her and are proud of her is important.  You may be the first in her life to speak those words, which can change everything for her confidence and self-esteem.  I once had a conversation with a sponsored child who told me, "I did not always work hard in school because I did not realize it was important, but when my sponsor mentored me and told me that it was important I worked hard and that he believed I could succeed, my grades improved so much that I rose to the top of my class."  Your encouragement is so important to your child's development!

I sent Lavin a few gifts in my letter, including:
  • A bookmark with the books of the Bible
  • A hologram sticker of a Panda
  • Glittery flower stickers on a sheet
  • Five pictures: one of my family (with names of everyone written on the back), one of me and my dad, one of only me, and two of me and my best friend/adopted sister.
Sending photographs of your family is a great way for your child to feel like he knows about your life and belongs with you.

Notice that everything I'm sending Lavin fits neatly into the envelope.

I hope this was helpful in your letter-writing to your sponsored child.  Remember also that you can send letters electronically to your child on the Christian Relief Fund website!

If you decide to join with me and commit to writing one letter per year to your child, let me know in the comments.  If you do not sponsor a child but would like to do so, check out  Also feel free to ask questions about letter-writing or child sponsorship in the comments.  I am passionate about child sponsorship and would love to answer any questions you have. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Letters for Lavin: My Goal for 2013

One of my small goals for myself for 2013 is to write more often to my sponsored daughter, Lavin.  I sponsor Lavin through Christian Relief Fund, which is an amazing organization that fights for the rights of orphans and spreads the love of Christ throughout the world.

Lavin holding two letters from me!
If you do not sponsor a child and would like to do so, I encourage you to check out CRF and consider sponsoring a child through them.  As an intern at CRF, I have seen the sincerity and passion in the hearts of the people who work there.  Traveling to Kenya with CRF allowed me to see the impact sponsorship had on the lives of the children in that program.

Another thing I saw while in Kenya was the remarkable impact letters from sponsors had on the children as well.  We were able to pass out some letters we brought from American sponsors while we were visiting one of the schools.  The children flooded to the scene, hoping their sponsors took the time to write them a letter.  The ones who received letters were delighted.  Photographs and stickers and bookmarks passed rapidly through the hands of all of the shrieking, excited children.  They were so eager to write letters back to their sponsors and spent a long time carefully writing each word with their very best handwriting. 

It was touching to see how much of an effect the sponsor letters had on these kids.  In a place where the children are rarely told "I love you," in a place where they live in neglect and abuse and poverty, a letter from someone who says, "I love you.  Jesus loves you.  You can do great things with your future," means the whole world to them.  After visiting Kenya, I was determined to write my sponsored child so much more often than a couple of times per year.

This year, I have resolved to write Lavin one letter per month. 

My post called "Things to Send to Your Sponsored Child" is one of the top five most read posts on my blog of all time.  I have received so many comments and emails and tweets about how people glad that I shared a list of potential things to send a sponsored child.  Writing to a child whose life is completely different from your own can be difficult.  Because of the continued questions about this topic, I decided that I would share with you the letters I send to Lavin this year.  Perhaps my letters will give you ideas of conversation topics and little gifts to send to your sponsored child.

Be sure to check with your organization about what you're allowed and not allowed to send to your sponsored child.  Some organizations are strict about the weight of each envelope. 

Tomorrow I will share with you my first letter of the year to my sponsored child. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Only Rags

How can I ever be anything less than awed by You?
How can I lose sight of the only thing to see?
I chose ashes over splendor, over everything of worth,
And through it all, You chose to treasure me.

No distraction should be great enough to hold me.
No earthly thing compares, and yet I wander still.
In my every weakness, my falterings, all my shame,
You lift me up; every empty space with love You fill.

I could fling myself into the waters and You'd reach me.
I could run, but Your grace would catch me there.
Your love is never-failing. I will ever be amazed.
The smallest glimpse of You is too beautiful to bear.

You love relentlessly. I am a bride clothed in wonder.
My words are filthy rags, but Your voice I know.
So I stumble from the darkness with Your hand in mine,
And You whisper songs of love and never let me go.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Two Emilys

In my Bible I keep a photograph of a little girl who shares my name.  We've never met.  I know a little bit about her, but not much.  Her name is Emily.  She lives in the slums of Kenya, Africa.  She is two years old and hungry.  Her father abandoned her.  Her home is a single room made of mud and grass with eight people living inside.  Emily has most likely never owned a pair of shoes or a single toy.  She doesn't know if she'll ever get to go to school.

The first time I saw Emily's photo, a toddler dressed in ragged clothes with a face drawn from hunger and the burdens of poverty, what came to my mind's eye was an image of myself at her age.

At two years old, I knew nothing of fear, of starvation, of death, of poverty.  All I knew was the love of my family and the security of my own home.  Growing up, I was told daily that I was loved.  I was given three meals a day, unless I was ill or naughty and had to miss supper.  I owned multiple dresses, a warm bed, toys to spare, and was blessed to have both parents alive and happily married.

As I look at little Emily's picture, I cannot help but shake my head and think, "Why was that not me?"  What kept us from switching places before we were ever born?  How is it that I am the Emily who was given a life of plenty and she is the Emily who struggles to survive in absolute poverty?

Psalm 139 talks about the Lord placing children onto this earth with love and purpose.  "You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb.  Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!  Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.  ...How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.  They cannot be numbered!  I can't even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!  And when I wake up, you are still with me!"

When God hears little Emily cry at night because she is so hungry, when He watches her suffer from neglect, when He sees her wait for help that has not come, how His heart must break for her.  Little Emily is treasured by the Lord as much as I am.  She was created with value, purpose, and unfaltering love.  

So why am I here?

What comes to mind immediately is Jeremiah 1.  In this chapter, the prophet Jeremiah has been given a purpose and a mission, but he is afraid.  The Lord speaks to him and says, "'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart.'...  'Alas, Sovereign Lord,' I said, 'I do not know how to speak; I am too young.'  But the Lord said to me, 'Do not say, "I am too young."  You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.'"

I have been put into a place of blessing and security.  I have a family, an education, and a fair amount of financial prosperity compared to the majority of the world.  What responsibility has this given me?  Little Emily cannot stand up and speak for herself.  Without an advocate, she will die in silence, quickly forgotten among other little girls and boys who live in utter poverty.  

The Bible is clear about our responsibilities concerning the poor.  Proverbs 31:8 says, "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute."  Proverbs 14:31 says, "Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God."  

If you have been blessed with prosperity compared to the thousands who are starving and hurting around the world, then you have been given a responsibility to give to those who have nothing, to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, to shine the light of Christ's love to the world, and to proclaim freedom to all who are held captive. 

Why was little Emily born into a world of suffering and poverty?  Only the Lord knows the answer to that question.  But I do know that He identifies with her and every child like her.  His compassion is great.  2 Corinthians 8:9 says, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich."

Little Emily is one of the many unsponsored children waiting for someone to shine the love of Jesus Christ on her life through sponsorship, with the help of Christian Relief Fund.  If you would like to sponsor a child or make a donation through CRF, check out their website here.  

Take the time to thank the Lord for the blessings you have been given.  Ask Him to make clear your purpose here.  Where have you been called to serve? 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Anonymous:  I've read your testimony- I've always found giving yourself to God so much harder than you describe. For me, it's scary, out of control, and I don't believe it will work. How do you let go, and let God, if you feel disgusting? I can't imagine any father figure would want me now, I'm scared to trust God because I don't want to face anger and hatred, and I don't think I'm strong enough to stop this sin. Would God be there? Would He still love me? And is it better than self injury- is it worth it?

First of all, thank you so much for being as open and vulnerable as you are with these questions.  I'm going to try to answer them as best and honestly as I can.

Giving my life and heart to the Lord was the most burden-lifting, precious decision I ever made.  The process of daily giving myself to God has been harder.  There have definitely been times I've been angry with God, times my shame has kept me from giving myself fully to him, times my pride has kept me distant.  Each day is a new battle between making the selfish, sinful me an idol and allowing Christ to mold my life to look like his.

When I was suicidal and felt like my life was worth nothing on its own, I had a single decision to make and both options involved ending my life.  One option was to end my own life by way of physical death because I couldn't do it on my own anymore.  The other was to end my life by dying to self and giving my heart to the Lord.  So in that way, I had a single decision to make.  In some ways, there is a constant fight for the entirety of me.

You're right; there is a scary, out-of-control feeling about giving your life to God.  It's terrifying to open yourself up to complete vulnerability, to admit out loud that you are rags at the feet of a holy God, that there is absolutely no reason he should ever extend a hand of love to you.  It's frightening to trust that his purpose truly is right.

Jesus brought grace.  In order to give your life to God, you must accept that you are already accepted by him, just the way you are now, every single flaw, every painful secret, every awful mistake you've ever made.  You are loved despite your brokenness.  One thing that took me a while to realize, but ultimately ended up being wrapped up in a mess of pride and shame, was my determination that I was too repulsive for God to love.  I was so deceived.  Christ came to save the lost and mend the broken.  He came to set the captives free, not to scoff at them as they crawled under the heavy chains of their sins and addictions.

One of my favorite quotes is by Louie Giglio.  He said, "There's no doubt we were unworthy, but we were never worthless.  Big difference." 

Where there is betrayal and brokenness and hurt in a father's human love, there is holiness and compassion and faithfulness in the love the Lord has for you.  He has called you his treasure.  This is the beauty of grace.

Self injury is such a difficult thing to overcome.  Believe me, I know.  I've been there.  Breaking the chains of the addiction is impossible in your own strength.  You will fail every time.  But Christ has offered redemption and freedom.  You no longer have to be a slave to what you've done.  I love Galatians 5:1, which says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."  When you give your life to the Lord, you are no longer a slave to sin.  You may mess up because you are still on this broken earth, but you are made free through Christ's unending grace.  

As I live, I still go through temptations and fall into mistakes that leave me broken and ashamed, but Jesus continues to whisper a love song into my heart: "I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness.  You are my beloved."

In Christ, you are more than a broken piece of clay.  You are more than your mistakes.  You are loved unconditionally.  The Lord wants to be your father.  It's your decision to make.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Why can I not follow You now?

Anonymous: What's God been doing in your life lately? :)

God has definitely been working! Little things He does make me stand in awe of who He is and the wonderful plan that He has for my life.

For example: Yesterday I went back to work at a humanitarian organization where I intern for the first time since the summer, and being back made me want to be finished with school and ready to start my career serving the least and fighting for the rights of orphans.

As much as I love college, sometimes it feels like I’m standing by, studying for things that don’t matter as much as the professors pretend they do, and having a lot of fun until I graduate.  When I’m out of school, I will be able to focus completely and put my all into fulfilling James 1:27. So yesterday, for a little while, I was wishing I could just graduate early, leave my ministry behind at my university for others to continue, and pursue fully the mission for which I have the biggest passion: humanitarian work.

I’ve been reading “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers each day, and here is a quote from yesterday’s passage:
“Why can I not follow You now?”
Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You now?” (John 13:37).
There are times when you can’t understand why you cannot do what you want to do.  When God brings a time of waiting, and appears to be unresponsive, don’t fill it with busyness, just wait.  The time of waiting may come to teach you the meaning of sanctification-to be set apart from sin and made holy-or it may come after the process of sanctification has begun to teach you what service means.  Never run before God gives you His direction.
Isn’t that amazing?  Exactly what I needed to read.

God is definitely teaching me and growing in me whether I’m in my hometown doing what I want to do with my life someday or if I’m in my university serving freshmen and loving on fellow college students.  Sometimes I just need to be reminded to be patient.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Poverty and Perspectives

Lakeside Orphanage (where George lived)
George and I met for the first time in Kenya, Africa more than three years ago, in the small orphanage where he lived and attended secondary school.  This month, George is spending time with his American family in Texas, a family close in friendship to my own.  George grew up as an orphan living in utter poverty, but with support from Christian Relief Fund and his sponsor family, he is now a law student with a bright future ahead of him.

It is easy to become friends with George.  Articulate and friendly, he is eager to learn everything he can about the world.  His dream is to become successful so that he may turn and help raise his country out of poverty while extending support and encouragement to the many neglected orphans and widows in Kenya.

During my time with George over my own school holiday, I've been inspired by his story (which I will hopefully be able to share with you at a later date) and by his perspectives on our excessive American culture.

George has been asking if I could take him to see the poorest neighborhoods in our city.  He wanted to see how they compared with the conditions of the impoverished villages of Kenya.  I agreed to take him, knowing uncomfortably that he would be taken by surprise.  Having been to Africa as well as served within the inner city of my own town, I have seen the vast differences in our definitions of poverty.  I tried to explain this to George and he was quick to agree with me, saying that he understood that the poorest areas of America were relative poverty and the poorest regions of Africa were absolute poverty.

With that in mind, we went out yesterday to drive through some of the worst neighborhoods in my city.  Despite my warnings, George was shocked.  "This is what we consider to be middle class in Kenya," he said as we passed the rundown homes with board-covered windows, patchy roofs, and crumbling porches.  The more we drove, the more George began to shake his head, amazed at what we considered to be relative poverty.

George asked if there were hungry children in America, so I explained that they were hungry because their parents were on drugs and often would forget to feed them, and he exclaimed, "They have parents?"  He was astonished that the poorest children in our city still had guardians to take care of them and give them shelter.  

We also went to visit Cadillac Ranch, a tourist attraction that George has been eager to see.  If you haven't heard of Cadillac Ranch, it's a big attraction in the Texas Panhandle, consisting of ten Cadillacs buried halfway into the ground.  Again, George was amazed.  He was not angry or disgusted at the waste of wealth, only astonished and excited to have seen such a funny place.  He made sure we took pictures, explaining that his African friends would never otherwise believe him that Americans are so wealthy that we place such nice cars into the ground for fun.  Again, I was ashamed.

In December, we celebrated George's birthday for the first time in his life.  For the first time, he blew out the candles on his cake.  For the first time, he tore open wrapping paper to receive birthday gifts.  For the first time, the Birthday Song was sung to him.

He also celebrated an American Christmas.  We attended the candlelight service at our church on Christmas Eve.  It was beautiful.  My mom said, "George, are there candlelight services in Kenya?"

He smiled.  "No, if we bought candles, there would be nothing left to buy food."

Little things have been a delight to George, like having dogs as house pets (there isn't any such thing where he comes from), most American food (he tried his first pizza, Mexican food, hamburgers, and lemonade on this trip), YouTube, and the funny-looking exercise equipment in our barn.  Other things have been disliked, like skiing (and snow in general), crab (and the live lobsters in the tank at Red Lobster), and ice in drinks.  The American experience is such an adventure, and it has been a source of enjoyment to watch someone take it all in with as much joy as George has.

Although I have seen Africa myself, watching a Kenyan orphan embrace America with astonishment and wide eyes has been such a reminder of how blessed we truly are.  This month, I have gone back and forth between feeling great shame and great thankfulness.  No matter what trials we have, no matter what crises come our way, we are so very blessed.  It is so important to thank God for what He has given us. 

Last night, George explained to my family, "What is the difference between you and a young girl in Somalia?  The Lord is the only thing that has allowed you to be born where you are.  You are blessed.  Remember He has placed you here for a reason.  You must help those who have not been as blessed as you." 

I am thankful that George has had the opportunity to spend a month of adventure in the United States, for his sake and for ours.  He inspires every American that he meets. 

Although I am an American college student who has never wanted for anything and cannot ever truly grasp what it means to live in poverty, over the last few years I have been able to catch glimpses of what poverty is and it has shattered both my heart and my perspectives on life and priorities.  I asked the Lord to break my heart for what breaks His and He has done just that.  I am certain I want to spend my life fighting poverty and fulfilling James 1:27, which states that pure and faultless religion is to help orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Today, take a moment to thank God for the blessings in your life.  Also be sure to sit back and evaluate what you are doing to help the hungry in this world.  Ask Christ to break your heart for what breaks His.  It will rock your world.