The First Yes Is The Deepest

More than eight years ago we sponsored our first child through Compassion International.

We picked Bereket, a 5 year old boy in Ethiopia.

We chose him because we had a new niece from the country and because our son wanted a brother.

It was a big decision for our little family. And it turned out to be the best one.

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We spent most of our time inwardly-focused, trying to create a great childhood for our kids, a happy home and we chased the American Dream like it was our job.  So, sponsoring Bereket, sending money every month for his care and school fees, cracked open the door to compassion for others that would soon overwhelm us.

In so many ways, this was our first yes.

It led to my blogging trip in 2010 with Compassion that led to sponsoring more kids that led to meeting Maureen which led to starting Mercy House.

Yesterday, my daughter and I walked the jagged, dirty path that led to Bereket’s mud-walled home. He’s nearly 13 now, just like my son. I knew when we made our travel plans to visit some Fair Trade Friday partners is bordering Ethiopia, we would have to meet him.

His mother ran to meet us and threw her arms around my neck. Her family stood close by taking it in.

“I knew you would come some day. God told me,” Two minutes in and I was already speechless.

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We sat in their tidy home and the proudly pulled out every letter and picture we’ve sent for the past 8 years. They showed us what they’d bought with the annual family gifts we sent. Bereket’s mother never stopped smiling and his dad listened intently. As I looked at this beautiful family, I felt like I was home. Only God.

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Bereket had many questions about my son while we enjoyed the traditional coffee ceremony. The boys have shared letters for years now. They are the same age, they both love math, football and want to be engineers when they grow up. We gave him a new soccer ball and Legos. Bereket’s family has lived in their home for 15 years and the joy of knowing Jesus was palpable. I have never seen a more affection or tender looks passed between a mother and father and their children.

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(Right after I took this photo of my sponsored child’s mother, I realized I was standing in a mound of black ants. I jumped away and shook my shoes off. But about 3 minutes later, I could feel them under my jeans up and down my legs. I literally had ants in my pants.)

After our visit in their home, my daughter and I took them to their first restaurant. It was such a treat.

The family ordered traditional Ethiopian food (raw oxen and injera). Well, everyone except Bereket. He ordered this:

IMG_9138He really might be my son’s brother.

They asked many questions about Mercy House and I showed them pictures of the beautiful girls we are trying to help. They promised to pray for us.

As we said our goodbye’s, we took turns speaking from our hearts to each other. (Yes, I cried). They asked me to bring the rest of my family back to their home and they offered the most gracious thank you I’ve ever heard.

As we drove away, my 15 year old girl burst into tears.

We will hold this day in our hearts forever.

This first yes has led to countless others. Including meeting Kalkadon, our newest sponsored child through Caring for Korah (a Fair Trade Friday partner and a ministry very close to our hearts) this week. She pointed out the chairs and double bed, pillows and blankets filling her 8×8 home that our small family gift paid had purchased.

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Sometimes we wonder if the sacrifice is needed. Or appreciated.

We question our decision and our ability.

We try to squeeze a little more money out of our budget to share with others.

And sometimes we wonder if our small yes even matters.

God told me it does.

5 Things My Daughter Is Teaching Me About Changing The World

I emailed the principal at the high school and asked him what he thought about my daughter missing a little more than a week of school to go to Africa with me.

It will be life-changing, he said.

Yeah.

I thought of all the reasons it would change her perspective, remind her what really matters and shift her awareness.

Parenting is funny.

It turns out these are the exact things she is teaching me during this journey. I’ve learned so much about my 15 year old this week and mostly, from her. She’s more compassionate than I thought, more selfless than I imagined, more genuine than I dreamed and she has challenged me to be a better me. She has been to Mercy House many times, but with 6 flights this week to not only visit Mercy House, but also Fair Trade Friday partners in other places, it’s stretched our limits.

It’s like you pour love into your kids their entire childhood and then at the right time and in the right place, they overflow it on others.

Here are 5 things my daughter is teaching me about changing the world:

1. Selfies are okay when they focus on others | I’ve never been a fan of duck lips or selfies. I’ve taught my teen to know there’s a time and place for both. But she chose the right time and the right place because she turned a selfie into something about others and these girls, her peers in so many ways, fell in love with their girlfriend from America. I watched her put them first over and over again and I learned that sometimes selfies aren’t so bad.

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Don’t take yourself too seriously | We have shared a lot this week-a bed and a mosquito net, bottles of water and the same Kleenex a time or two. We’ve traded sweatshirts and soap and a good attitude when things go wrong and a nudge in the side when we needed it. If traveling across the world with your daughter will teach you anything, it’s this: don’t to take yourself too seriously. She reminds me when I’m too proud or frowning. She’s raised her eyebrows at my sighs and impatience. She tells me to smile more and give more. I’ve watched her hold hands and hug dirty children and wipe away a tear or too. She gets it.

Remember to have fun | Sure kids need to be rescued and loved and sponsored, but they also need to have fun.  My daughter is a child-magnet. They flock around her like flies. She’s always ready for a quick game to play. I laughed so hard at the Kenyan chanting slap game the Rehema residents spontaneously played in Kenya.  I stood back and watched, but my daughter jumped right in the middle of a popular game in a different culture and nearly won the bag of Skittles up for grabs.  She’s half little girl and half woman and she’s a constant reminder for me to loosen up and have a little fun.

You’re never too old to try something new | The minute the coffee ceremony started, so did my worry. The black liquid gold filled to the rim and I knew I would need to drink what was offered. My daughter eagerly sipped and nudged me. “But I like tea,” I whispered to her. “Mo-om,” she said. I took a drink and the sweet warm coffee tasted different than I imagined. I took another drink. “I love it,” I whispered. “I told you,” she said. I’ve watched her cross cultural boundaries in fearless abandon. We’ve stepped over rotting oxen heads and legs on dirt roads (the only parts Ethiopians don’t eat), passed out live chickens, and eat a wide variety of different food (turns out lamb is a new favorite for her), but we aren’t big fans of fried termites (yes, we tried them.) I want to be this brave when I grow up.

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Nothing matters more than people | I’m a doer. I’ve always got my nose in a book trying to figure something out or answering an email. More than once my daughter has reminded me to put away my resources and tools and live in the moment. It’s a powerful lesson and she’s a good example.

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Our kids will teach us so much.

If we let them.