Are you visiting from J.R.’s Love is What You Do? Welcome.
I write about the kingdom of God. About motherhood. About books.
I pray that the kingdom comes down to my own bit of Pennsylvania countryside.
I try to pay attention when it does.
J. R. Goudeau is a PhD candidate in English literature. When I was a PhD candidate in English literature, I used my spare time to lounge senseless on the sofa while my husband bathed and bedtimed our young kids. J.R. also has young kids, but she has used her spare time to found and direct Hill Country Hill Tribers, a nonprofit helping to support the skilled artisans of refugee communities in Austin, Texas.
Yes, she’s amazing. I’m blessed to call her a friend. I’m blessed to be sharing this story at her place today.
Our refrigerator is a typical mess of grocery lists, crayon drawings, and expired coupons. In the middle of the mess is something more precious: the photographed faces of three young children. They are not family, not even friends, exactly. They live on three different continents, and we do not speak their languages. They are our sponsored children.
My daughter is writing a letter to the oldest girl. They share a birthday. This child has written to us that she loves to play ball. Also, the rains have been plentiful.
My daughter stops writing, looks up at me, and I see something like guilt in her eyes. “I’m glad we’re not poor,” she says.
I believe in the work of this sponsorship program. I believe in holding wealth with open hands. I believe in giving it away. But I worry about the unintended message these three photographs may be sending to my children, children who know their own faces appear on no one’s refrigerator but Grandma’s.
I wonder if these images in our kitchen are bridging a wall or building it up.
A wall distinguishing us from the poor.
A wall separating us from the poor.
A wall we only cross with dollars, cents, and the occasional letter.
Because we, thank you Jesus, are not poor.
You can find the rest of my story here.
I’ve always had a tendency to let the mail pile up unopened (which means that we have realized, on more than one occasion, that we’re driving a car that may no longer be insured).
We put systems in place. For instance, a basket for recycling junk mail sits by the front door just beneath a tray for bills. I vow to do a better job, but I never quite keep up with the flurry of paper.
One particular unopened letter had been troubling me for weeks. The return address said Compassion, and “a message from your sponsored child!” was splashed across the envelope. I knew as soon as I pulled it from the mailbox that it was a note from our new Compassion child (I picked him from the lineup because he reminded me of my middle boy). He isn’t the only child we sponsor, so I knew the drill. I would need to write a letter introducing him to our family, and I remembered that it was customary to include a family photo.
It’s the photo’s fault. At least, that’s what I’d like to think.
As soon as I open this letter, I told myself, then I’ll have to add “take and print a family photo” to my to-do list. I felt tired just considering my to-do list, yet my perfectionism wouldn’t let me send a year-old photograph (because our baby boy has changed so much).
And so, I let the letter sit.
I kept spotting it. I noticed it every time I added a few more bills to the now-teetering pile in the tray. The guilt grew with the pile, but I couldn’t get past the need for a photo.
I shook my perfectionist, procrastinating self and opened the letter. Immediately, I noticed a small box with the prompt “Please pray for my family.” Within that square were these dictated words: “Please pray that my father finds a job and stops drinking.”
I was devastated. My chest hurt.
A heart-cry in a handful of words: how could I have let it sit unread?
Adding another Compassion child to our monthly giving was a financial stretch for us. However, I’ve found that opening my eyes just a little bit to the rest of the world makes it much harder to justify the ease with which I buy books. Or new boots for my daughter. Or another weekly dance class.
It’s about money. God has his eye on the poor, and I see them too. We both know that He’s given American Christians more than enough to wipe out mountains of misery, if only we would share what has never been ours to begin with.
Yet, believing it was just about money made it easier to leave that letter lying on the tray. Now I know: it’s about money (I say I care about the poor, so I better put my money where my mouth is), and it’s about so much more.
It’s about a small boy. One precious life. Only five years old, and yet he knows things that my own kids have never even imagined. I’m still trying to figure out how to share this prayer request with them. I don’t think that they have ever even heard the word drunk. Let alone seen it.
But this boy . . . oh how my heart aches when I consider what he has seen. What he is seeing even now as I type.
So, I’ll keep writing the checks. But now my checks go out dripping with prayer. Simple, nearly wordless prayers:
Jesus, Carlos, Jesus, Carlos’s daddy, Jesus, Carlos’s mommy, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.