On Dignity and Poverty

It is fitting that this post is my 250th! Its fitting because it is something I deeply care about.

When Alex and I decided to obey and move our family to El Salvador, it was not about doing a good deed. We aren’t leaving a comfy corporate job and salary because we are exceptionally good people. Alex and I aren’t so naïve to think this is going to be easy.

What we do know, is that the benefit far outweighs the sacrifice.

The men and women that we will get to spend our days and lives with are people that we can learn much from. They are people with so much dignity and grace that it puts many people in this country to shame. 

It is a person with exceeding amounts of dignity that can live in a dirt floor shack and be thankful. To wonder how you will feed your children that day, and yet wake with a smile.  To welcome a stranger into your home, that comes from the “land of plenty” and give up your seat. To give that stranger your meager rations of plantains, her only source of income, and insist that it is a gift.  This is dignity.

Dignity is not reserved for the wealthy.  Dignity is not based upon whether or not you have indoor plumbing.  It isn’t even an issue of whether or not you are fully clothed (in El Salvador). Its in the heart and soul.  It is found in abundance in the depths of their deep dark eyes. 

The women I will be living amongst have little to no material goods.  But what they do have is beauty, grace and their dignity.  I know women who have endured horrific circumstances.  Things many of the people I know in Ohio would never even fathom.  But through it all, the majority of the women I’ve spent time with in La Libertad remain strong.  They press on.

{That pack n’ play in the background is one you helped provide!}

I made it a point this last trip to not just be a visitor who was sad for their circumstances.  I didn’t want to merely give a meal to someone who might not have otherwise eaten that day.  I didn’t want to simply look at their bare feet and provide them a pair.  It was not about looking upon their poverty.  I wanted to know them.  So I spoke to them about cooking, about their beautiful flowers, their children.
Because women are women, no matter if they live in a 3000 sq. foot home in suburban United States, or if they live in a 16×20 dirt floor shack.  We all want to have some beauty in our lives and be complimented.  To be known for more than our circumstances.

“The presence of dignity doesn’t mean poverty is absent.”- anonymous
 
Likewise the presence of poverty does not mean dignity is absent.
 
There are ways in which we the elite Americans can help. Trust me, if you have a roof over your head, a bed to lie in and food in your fridge, you are the elite.
 
A very simple, oh so easy way to help is by sponsoring a child through Compassion International.  It is only $38 a month.  $38 feeds, clothes, pays school fees, provides medical care and teaches a child about Jesus Christ.  Compassion has gone above and beyond to make it as simple as possible for people to sponsor a child. You can have the money come out automatically.  You can fill in pre-made templates to write letters to your child. You can even pick the age, the country and date of birth if you so choose!
 
Please sponsor a child, or a second or third if you are able.  The entire family of sponsored children are affected by your small monthly gift.  It is truly life changing and they will think of you as family.
 


The Day We Walked Away From Our American Dream

Let me preface this post by telling you that Alex and I are normal, ordinary, run of the mill, human beings. We pay our taxes, and tickle our children.  We fight, we make up, and we love hamburgers.  We drive a mini-van, and mow the lawn.  Plain, ordinary people that are in no way perfect.  Normal, average people who work hard, love our kids, have great friendships and also have relationships that need work. I love Broadway musicals, Alex loves football season.  Our daughters love American Girl books and dolls.  My son daily pretends he is Iron Man..  This is our story, not a judgment on anyone else.  We are Regular people.

For 11 years of marriage now, Alex and I have been pursuing a stereotypical American Dream. Heck, its a life that a lot of the world also dreams of!  We struggled a lot in the early years of our marriage.  So we made dreams, and went after them.  An idea formed in those early years, a career and a salary that Alex pursued.  This dream in our heads consumed our thinking and time.  We wanted certain financial goals, certain cars, activities and lessons for our children, Disney vacations, beautiful designer home…. you name it, we wanted it.  And we went after it with every bit of energy we had.

Halfway through last Spring, as Alex and I were passing each other in the night again, trading off children and running to the next activity, something started to break down in me.  All the time and energy we were putting into doing what we were “supposed” to be doing, I discovered that no one was happy.  Every mom I spoke to at dance practice, was STRESSED.  No one was even content.  All I heard was complaining about having to run everywhere constantly and being exhausted.  And sadly I was feeling the same way.  A question began to surface in me… “Why am I doing this?  Why are we all doing this?”  This family that I love so desperately, and I never get to actually BE with them. It was in those moments that the Holy Spirit really started to work in me.

We weren’t happy because we weren’t pursuing what mattered. A life designed around entertaining ourselves didn’t bring anything but momentary, short lived happiness.  Certainly not joy.  Joy we find in our kids smiles, and in our marriage.  We could easily find joy when we were worshipping our Savior on Sunday mornings.  This realization, started bringing about changes in the way that we live our lives.  Everything started to change.  Obsessively going after a gorgeous brand new 4 or 5 bedroom house became a distant memory.

And then I read “Kisses From Katie,” by Katie Davis.  She so perfectly wrote, exactly what I had been feeling:

“You see, Jesus wrecked my life. For as long as I could remember, I had everything this world says is important.  In high school I was class president, homecoming queen, top of my class. I dated cute boys and wore cute shoes and drove a cute sports car.  I had wonderful supportive parents who so desired my success that hey would have paid for me to go to college anywhere my heart desired. 
But I loved Jesus.
And the fact that I loved Jesus was beginning to interfere with the plans I once had for my life and certainly with the plans others had for me.  My heart had been apprehended by a great love, a love that compelled me to live differently.  I had grown up in a Christian home, gone to church, and learned about Jesus all my life.  Around the age of 12 or 13, I began to delve into the truths of Scripture.  As I read and learned more and more of what Jesus said, I liked the lifestyle I saw around me less and less.  I began to realize that God wanted more from me, and I wanted more of Him.”
 
I new exactly why I was feeling this way too.  Four years prior, my heart had been wrecked for a little Central American country.  I had seen extreme poverty and disease.  I had met beautiful, kind, hard working people, who this world has essentially forgotten and left to starve.  El Salvador became a precious place to Alex and I. We love our friends there.  Spending a week there serving, means waking up every single morning, and letting God lead our steps.  It means being utterly powerless, so that anything we accomplish is done solely with credit and glory given to God.
 
We came home from this Summer’s trip to La Libertad 100% done with living our lives the way we had been.  We had just spent 7 solid days, fully intoxicated with joy.  Oh if I could only describe to you that kind of peace!! While in El Salvador we had seen real, live miracles happen.  God had taken a group of people with no training, no experience, no special qualifications and HE USED US!  God can do whatever He wants.  Whenever He wants.  But he chose us.  He chose us to be in those moments, at that time, at that place.  He chose to be at work, through us.  Do you have any idea how humbling that is!!!
 
Alex and I believe in a God that transcends space and time.  We believe that when Jesus was saying his last words to his disciples, the people he was sending out in His place, that the message was not just for them.  {Matthew 28}  We believe that as he spoke to them on that hill top, that we might as well have been kneeling in front of him too.  Its become abundantly clear that our entire lives, Alex and mine, have been building to this point, and this time.  We have both been through stuff.  We’ve both met and connected with people.  Seriously its a wonder that I ever wound up in Ohio, from being born in Oregon, to meet Alex in a brief year of my parents living here!  Our struggles, triumphs, joys, and heartbreak, have all been building to this moment in time.  He wrecked us in El Salvador, we were brought to our knees at His visible power.
 
It is with this knowledge, that we will be moving our family to El Salvador.  We aren’t special.  We didn’t have a mystical moment where God sent an angel to give us a special “calling.”  He did however put a very clear directive and command into both of our hearts and minds.  And that was to go.  We haven’t been “called.”  We have been asked to obey.  Our only option is to say yes. Its the only way.  That life, filled with peace and joy that we’ve been after for 11 years?  We found it, while living and giving our days to God in El Salvador.  We want more of that.  Much, much more. Now our dream is that when we stand before God some day, when he asks us if we honored Him with our lives, we will be able to say yes.
 
Does going into full time mission work make us someone special? No.  Do we mess up and need to ask forgiveness of people?  We absolutely do. Are we better Jesus followers than anyone else?  Oh good gracious NO!  A million times No.  Our goal is never to be “perfect Christians.” Because oh how we will fail and fail and fail at that! It simply means that we want to wake up every single morning, breathe in new grace for our failures and go out to work at what God puts in front of us, one person at a time. Because allowing God to work through us, and to give him Glory, for choosing to use us, is the new dream of this American family.