Fortunate

I’ve wanted to sponsor a child for a long time. I made excuses about the money and the timing, and I wondered if my small contributions could even make a dent in such enormous issues as poverty and injustice and limited access to education.

Children of the Nations is a child-sponsorship organization that operates through village partnership programs and children’s homes, and their mission is to raise children who transform nations. Our church partners with them in a variety of ways, one of which is sending an annual “teach team” to Malawi. Traveling with this team was the impetus I needed to finally pull out my wallet and put away my excuses.

Just before we left, I sat down with some of the staff from COTN’s Florida office, and they helped me select a child to sponsor. I narrowed down my search criteria and scrolled through the pages of pictures. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, exactly, but I figured it would be difficult to make a bad choice.

Then, I saw her.

Fotunate.

I wondered about the missing R in her name and how it was pronounced.

I chose her.

Friday was our first full-day in Mgwayi. All day long, a herd of children surrounded us, whispering “uzungu” (the Chichewa word for “white person,”) and asking, “One picture?” I kept scanning the crowd, looking for a face that matched the profile I had seen on-line, but no luck. So, I asked Davey for help.

The kids know him as Uncle Davey. He’s COTN’s Sponsorship Coordinator in Malawi. In that role, he maintains the relationships between children and sponsors, and he coordinates the delivery of services and resources to children in the program.  In Malawi, COTN runs 3 Village Partnership Programs and 2 children’s homes, providing services to several hundred children. If you show Davey a child’s photo, he can easily tell you the child’s name and recount his or her story. His intimate knowledge of the children and their needs is astounding.

Meet Davey!
Meet Davey!

“Davey, right before we left, I sponsored a child. Her name is Fotunate. She lives here in Mgwayi. Can you find her for me?”

“Oh! Fotunate? Oh yes.” He looked at another kid and said something in Chichewa, sending her off on an errand to find Fotunate.

Some time passed. We continued cooking our dinner and spending time with the family we’d been paired with that day, but Fotunate never came, and eventually I started the walk back to where our team was staying.

I was a long way down the path, talking to a new Malawian friend about what he wanted to be when he grew up, when I heard my name being shouted in the distance.

“Lindsey!” someone called. “Fotunate!”

I ran back and sure enough, there was my girl. Fotunate. She was wearing a green dress, slightly worn, and a bad cut was scabbing over near her right eye. Her hair was shaved close, and her smile was faint but sweet.

While Davey acted as translator, she told me about her family, and I shared pictures of mine. She never spoke above a whisper, so I leaned in close. She held my hand and hugged my waste, and the red dust settled at our feet as we talked. Fotunate. There wasn’t much for us to say, culture and language and age getting in the way. “Tionana mawa,” I promised. “See you tomorrow.”

As our time in Malawi wore on, I met so many children. We played silly games and chatted about school. They gave me their best “sakalela” and I took their picture. A few times, I connected with a child strongly, and I wondered, “Should I have waited to choose a child? Maybe I should have waited.”

A boy named Steven told me that he hoped to be an engineer. He prays for a sponsor every day, so that he can be certain his education will be paid for.

A preteen girl named Ivy joked with me, saying “21” when I asked her age. The two of us just collapsed into a fit of giggles.

A four year old name Rashidi sang “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” for me and refused to let go of my hand.

Fotunate barely whispered.

I don’t know her hopes and dreams. I don’t yet have a good sense of her family’s stories. 

But we colored a butterfly picture together, and she repeated my son’s name as she looked at his photo.

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And I chose her.

Evan and I are looking forward to sponsoring her for many, many years, Lord willing. We are praying for her every day.

One day, I hope we’ll go back to Malawi as a family and meet her again. I’ll stand in awe of the woman she’s become and tell her I’ve read every letter she sent. She will still be missing the “r” in her name, but she will not have missed out on a quality education and she will not have missed a meal.

I still have so much to say about Malawi, but here is the most significant thing I learned. Here is the thing I most want you to hear:

God is at work in the developing world, and He is working through child sponsorship.

God is at work in me, and He is working through child sponsorship.

If you do not currently sponsor a child, I’d encourage you to take a look at the children available for sponsorship through COTN by following this link. 

O Captain! My Captain! (On Robin Williams)

Several days have passed, and I’m thinking the window to write relevantly about this has probably passed. Still, as Emily likes to say, I need to write in order to know what I think. And I’m still thinking about Robin Williams.

As a freshman in high school, I sat on my friend Katelyn’s bedroom floor and watched Dead Poet’s Society for the first time. I’m sure it’s cliche, but that movie reached down into my angsty teenage soul and held on tight.  I didn’t identify it at the time but looking back, I see how my desire to teach in a classroom can be traced back, in part, to John Keating: his intellect, his humor, his kindness, his warmth.

A few days ago on NPR, Morning Edition played a clip from that movie (the part when Williams’ character jokes about kids kicking copies of Byron at him). I sat in my car driving to work, and my eyes filled with tears.

I instantly felt guilty.

I’ve heard many stories on NPR lately–Israelis & Palestinians losing their homes and businesses, Iraqi Christian children systematically beheaded, fathers and mothers succumbing to ebola–and I didn’t cry once. It’s not that I cared less, but I somehow felt less.

I am ashamed to admit that, but I suspect I’m not alone. I’m sure some of it stems from our disconnected, entertainment-obsessed American culture, but I think there’s more.

Here at home, I’ve been isolated from war and poverty. I don’t fear terrorists marching through my neighborhood with machetes and IEDs. I don’t know the pain of watching my entire city die of the same disease while the hospital shuts down because no one can help.

But suicide?

Within the past year, two people I worked with took their own lives. They were both parents. They were both wise. They were both teachers, one from a pulpit and one from a classroom. Neither could overcome the darkness that engulfed them.

My sister graduated from high school in May. At the bottom of the program, a small note honored a boy who would have walked across that same stage had he not killed himself a month earlier.

I don’t understand these tragedies at all.

The characters Robin Williams played–John Keating, Patch Adams, Peter Pan, Sean Maguire, the Genie–all epitomized warmth and kindness. I watched them and wished they would jump off the screen and into my own schools, hospitals, and family; I desperately wanted to play those parts myself, in my real, unscripted life.

Robin Williams was really a stranger, but it doesn’t feel that way, because he shared art with us.

When the art someone shares reflects the person I most want to become, and when it lends the world the same laughter and joy and kindness that I too want to give… well, I don’t know. It’s a great loss.

Other people who have said it well:

For When You Feel Like a Spectator to Grief: A Reflection on the Death of Robin Williams by Emily Freeman

Thoughts on depression, suicide, and being a Christian. by Nish Wieseth

Remembering The Big-Hearted Comedy of Robin Williams from Pop Culture Happy Hour (This very brief podcast episode is worth the listen.)

My Friend is Depressed. What Should I Do? by my friend Eddie, for RELEVANT Magazine

Procrastinating

I have always been a procrastinator. 

I think it started in high school. I have very clear memories of sitting in front of the desktop computer in my bedroom, well past midnight, hoping someone else would sign onto AIM so I could further avoid writing my extended essay and lab reports.

Even now, I am writing this blog post because I don’t feel ready to send my weekly volunteer team e-mails. 

I always procrastinate on these e-mails, and I’m not sure why. It is not particularly hard to write them: give some encouragement, share the week’s schedule, attach the curriculum, restate the vision. Still, I let my perfectionism get the best of me, and if I can’t think of the most perfect thing to say, I wait. Wednesday is the deadline to send those e-mails.

As you can imagine, I’m often hitting “send” at 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday.

It’s currently 10:00 a.m. on Thursday. I haven’t sent them.

My perfectionism is tied to my procrastination, and visa versa. They feed on one another, in the worst kind of symbiotic relationship.

I’ve been trying to combat this for years now, but even more so this year as I try to embrace freedom (freedom from perfectionism being the biggest issue). 

Done is better than perfect.

Done is better than perfect.

Done is better than perfect.

Over and over again I chant that mantra, trying to convince myself it’s true. 

There’s this library book that I returned this morning on my way home. It was overdue. WAY overdue. I am embarrassed to admit just how overdue it was. Originally, it was in my work bag and I simply kept forgetting to return it. I would take the wrong route home, or be running late, and I just forgot. 

As time went on and late fees accrued, I began to feel guilty that the book was so late. I was almost embarrassed to return it.

I know. Even as I type it out, my inner monologue says, “But who actually CARES? Why be embarrassed in front of the librarian, for goodness sake?” But it’s true. I messed up, and when I make a mistake, the perfectionist in me often wants to ignore the situation completely. Somehow, to pretend the issue does not exist seems a better alternative to admitting failure (even if only to myself).

It’s strange. And the fact that this manifested itself in the form of a massive late fee is just ridiculous. But true. I haven’t got it quite figured out, but I somehow feel that this library book is tied to my obsessive perfectionist tendencies.

Weird.

I’m going to hit that blue “publish” button right now, and then I’m going to back to Gmail to hit “send.”

Done is better than perfect.

Dreaming of Malawi

Evan and I spent Saturday in Land O’ Lakes with his family, celebrating his grandfather’s 75th birthday. Of course, everyone asked, “How was Africa? How was your trip?” I still haven’t found a concise and coherent way to describe this trip. I tell people, “Oh, it was amazing!” or, “Our seminar went well, and I loved the people I met,” but those answers don’t seem sufficient.

So, instead, I show them my photos, and one by one, I tell the story of the person or place on the screen. It’s the best way I’ve found to give a complete picture of the trip, but, at over 300 photos, it takes a long time and hardly makes for fast and easy conversation.

Saturday night, after the birthday party, I sat down with my father-in-law on the oversized leather couch in the living room, and I showed him every picture. He asked good questions, zoomed in to see the details, and asked to look at some pictures again so he could remember people’s names. I’ve been home for a week, but that was the first time I went through every picture, start to finish.

And that night, I dreamt of Malawi.

When my alarm went off on Sunday morning for work, I woke up confused about where I was. I expected to see a blue mosquito net wrapped around my bed or the faint smell of fire lingering in the air. It took a moment for my brain to catch up.

I was only in Malawi for 9 days.

Still, I can’t shake it. I carry the red dust on the bottom of my shoes and the unresolved stories, percolating in my mind.

Every other Wednesday, some friends and I meet at Panera for what I call Writing Lunch. We each bring a blog post for the others to critique, and we push each other toward more writing and better stories. Last week, I brought an unfinished draft and we discussed how I’ll approach writing about Malawi. My friend Lauren said, “You’ll have to find something better than saying ‘I left my heart in Malawi,’ because everybody says that, and what does that even mean, anyway?”

Truth is, I’m not really sure that I left anything in Malawi besides toiletries and old pairs of shoes.

I brought Malawi home with me.

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Culture Shock

This morning, I woke up early, long before my alarm would go off, my body and mind stuck in the wrong time zone.

I laid there in my bed, eyes and ears open. I expected to hear a chorus of birds chirping, a man sweeping on the cement outside my hut, and the secondary school students in the boys dormitory singing and laughing to start their morning.

My hut at the Children's of the Nations Ministry Center in Njewa, Malawi.
My hut at the Children’s of the Nations Ministry Center in Njewa, Malawi.

Instead, I listened to a box fan whirring, my husband snoring, and a car door slamming in the apartment complex parking lot.

I arrived home from Malawi last night.

The thing about culture shock is this: I don’t feel shocked. No bombs going off, no monsters popping out from under beds, no sobbing in front of my closet or in grocery store aisles. I didn’t feel the least bit guilty when I turned on my hair dryer this morning.

But you know that feeling, when you enter a room and suddenly have no idea why you walked there in the first place?

I feel disoriented, standing around, turning in circles, looking for clues about what I might have been up to just twelve days ago. It’s as if I have stepped off a treadmill, and the sensation under my feet does not match the ground I’m standing on.

 

Saying “Yes” to Malawi

On Tuesday evening, I will board a plane en route to Malawi, in southeast Africa. It will be the first leg of 46 total hours of flight time, and in the seats around me will be 13 women and 1 man, all of us adventuring together.

During our visit, we will lead professional development seminars for the Malawian teachers from 3 villages near Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe.

I’m actually co-leading this team, but that’s a story for a different day. (Hopefully, someday soon.)

But I simply wanted to pop in here to very briefly explain why I’m going to Malawi.

The reasons are many.  They include thoughts, dreams, plans, questions, social justice and education and the local church and using my gifts.

But ultimately?

I said “yes” to Malawi because I didn’t have a good reason to say “no.” For each obstacle my over-thinking brain generated, a clear and simple rebuttal was easy to find.

No, I can’t leave Ian for 2 weeks. Of course I can. Evan is a more than capable parent, we have friends and family around to help, and I’ll enjoy his giggles all the more after missing them.

No, I can’t take 2 weeks off work. Of course I can. I can work hard to get ahead, my coworkers will fill in the gaps, and Jesus is responsible for the ministry, anyway.

No, I might get sick. That’s what doctors and vaccines are for.

And so forth.

Annie Downs has long been one of my favorite bloggers (since way back when she was an elementary school teacher in Georgia), and she released a new book this week. The title?

Let’s All Be Brave.

Yeah.

I’m pretty confident that it’s NOT a coincidence that this book came out right before I head off to traverse hemispheres, so I immediately went to Barnes and Nobel and bought it. It was the first thing I stuffed into my carry-on, and I can’t wait to crack it open as our plane leaves the runway.

I’m looking forward to saying “yes.”

 

Decluttering, Part 1

At the end of 5th grade, I was so sad. My 3 best friends and I made plans to call each other every week, and I breathed a heavy sigh of relief that at least Erin and I would attend the same middle school. And then, there was the box.

I grabbed a big cardboard box and a thick black Sharpie and began writing all over it. In the middle, I scrawled, “The Transition Years,” and around the edges, I write, “5th grade,” “8th grade” and “12th grade.” I filled it with every memento of 5th grade I deemed important: a class photo, a note from a teacher, some stories I journaled, and other stuff I don’t even remember. I tucked it away in my closet, confident that in 3 years, I would dig it back out to fill a bit more with remnants of 8th grade.

I was scared of forgetting, so I held on to the stuff.

Recently, my department at work completed the Strengthfinders assessment together. My second strength is input. When I read that the first time, I responded with a solid, “huh?” But, once I read the description, a lightbulb went off. 

You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information — words, facts, books, and quotations — or you might collect tangible objects such as butterflies, baseball cards, porcelain dolls, or sepia photographs. Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity.

 

It’s so me! So many of my habits–the wide range of interests, the frequently changing hobbies, the books, the scrapbooking–fall under the “input” category so nicely.

I no longer have that box from the 5th grade. But, I do have boxes and boxes of photos, collections of books and baseball cards and candles and mason jars, extra collections of dishes just in case, and a million half-finished projects. 

I used to be good at multi-tasking, and I enjoyed having many balls in the air at once. I didn’t mind floating from one project to the next, coming back around whenever the mood struck.

But lately? I just can’t handle all this information. My mind feels continually overwhelmed, a tangled up ball of yarn, and it might all unravel if you pull too hard at one end. I may have forgotten what it means to focus. 

When I look at Jesus’ life, I can’t help but notice that He was extremely focused. Though He travelled far and had impact more far reaching than I can begin to fathom, so little stuff actually filled His days. He prayed. He ate. He taught. He built relationships, and He met the needs of others. 

Truly, He didn’t do much else! Yet consider the scope of His influence, the lives that were changed in His wake. 

He never strayed from the significant and the meaningful.

I want to do less and be more within each day.

I want to do less and be more with my whole life. 

I want less excess, in every category, so I can have more of what matters. This is the beginning.

Evan and I are embarking on a decluttering challenge and considering what minimalism might look like for us, going forward. I plan on documenting what I’m thinking and learning about it here along the way.