Legacy of a Letter

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. Fear the Lord your God and serve him. ~ Deuteronomy 10:17-20

I received a letter in the mail a couple of months ago.  A letter that hasn’t left my mind ever since its words lifted from the page and inscribed themselves on my heart.  We have a sponsored daughter through Compassion International.  The letter we received from them announced her impending graduation from the program.

I knew this day would come, but I didn’t want to think about it.  For her, this is incredible news!  This means she made it! She has survived severely impoverished, third-world conditions and is now skilled in a job that will serve her for the rest of her life.

For me, however, it means letting her go.  As I’ve written before, I have a hard time with change, and this year has seen a lot of it.  My father died nine months ago.  Our senior pastor, who is my mentor and friend and someone I highly admire and respect, retired after twenty-one years of faithful service to our congregation.  My husband’s aunt died suddenly, and her memorial service marked a new chapter in our family’s history.  I closed a three-year chapter of homeschooling two of our children, and find myself missing my lunch buddies, their jokes, camaraderie and company in my days now.  We finally sold my husband’s car – a 1997 Honda Odyssey.  It was good to us, crossing 300,000 miles on the odometer, but it was time to acquire something that meets our current needs.  Our eBay car purchase served us well for six years. Silly, I know.  It’s just a car – especially for people who don’t place an unhealthy value on “things.”  But, it was familiar.

Perhaps that’s what’s hard about change for me…losing the familiar.

Compassion’s letter to our family was a request to write our Compassion daughter one…last…time. Ug.  My heart sank.  I kept that request on my desk for four months.  I simply couldn’t bring myself to write it.  This is the last communication I will have with her this side of heaven.  What do I say?

Compassion suggested we write words of wisdom, encouragement and Scripture.  These are the last words our beautiful daughter will carry from us for the rest of her life.  No pressure.  She who can’t ever stop talking sat speechless at my computer with our daughter’s picture smiling at me while the curser impatiently blinked on the blank page.

Dear God, I don’t know what to say.  Where do I begin?  How do I end?  Please help me give her the words You want her to hear.

As I began the letter, my mind flashed back over the 14 years she has been with us.  I remember the night we found her.  My husband and I were at a Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant Christmas concert in 1998.  During intermission, we strolled through the arena, curious as to what this Compassion thing that Amy Grant spoke of on stage was all about.  We came to a table and spread out on it were many children’s profiles.  My eyes scanned their sweet faces; many of them revealing a deep hopelessness in their expressions and thin bodies clothed in rags.

My eyes wandered to a beautiful girl.  Seven years old.  Across the sea from us in a land filled with conflict – dangerous for any female.  I picked up her card and read her story.  Her mother dead, her father removed, she lives with her grandmother and brother.  My breath caught in my chest and eyes stung with salty tears.  This was my story – this side of the ocean.  Replace the brother with a sister and she is me.  Captivated, I held her card close to my chest and knew she was meant to be a part of our family.  I wanted to offer her a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11) that God gave me in my darkest hours of trauma and loss as a child.

Through Compassion, we could pay for her medical needs, clothes, food and education.  Christian education.  If she couldn’t live with us, this was the next best thing.  We signed up immediately, knowing that we were committed to this for the long haul.

Over the years, we loved receiving her letters.  We learned about her culture and landscape, farming and weather seasons.  We learned about her life.  We prayed her through the dry seasons and rainy seasons.  We prayed every time her brother became ill and when she had trouble in math.  She wrote her favorite Scriptures to us and told us about her friends.

Each Christmas and birthday, we were given the opportunity to send her a monetary gift.  By American standards it wasn’t much at all, but it is reasonable for their economic geography.  Every time we sent a gift, she wrote us and enthusiastically told us what she bought with it.  It was always the same.  She bought: a new dress for herself, a goat for the family and sweets for her friends.

Her purchases sparked great conversation in our family throughout the years about giving and receiving, thankfulness and kindness.  The fact that she always shared her gifts with her family and friends touched our hearts in inexpressible ways.  She was thankful.  Can we say the same?

We told her about where we live, too.  We shared favorite school subjects, hobbies, pets and what we do in a regular day.  We shared our prayer requests with her, too.  Having a pen pal across the world was priceless to my children.

One day, when she was about 15 years old, she wrote and told us that a preacher was visiting their village to evangelize in their community.  She was asked to go along with him to preach the Gospel.  I will never forget how I felt reading her words.  Choking back happy tears, I said to myself, She’s got it.  She has her own faith and is now able to share it with others.  She’s going to be okay.

This news gave me so much joy and peace!  Despite her bleak circumstances, she accepted Christ as her Savior and knows there is an eternal home waiting for her.

When Compassion expanded its ministry to include online writing, versus handwriting, I was so excited!  Handwritten letters are always best, but not as practical as writing something online that could be sent immediately for translation.  I remember writing to her telling her this news of online writing.  I will never, ever forget her response.  I was excited that this would be quick and easy, no need to hunt for a stamp and was technologically up with the times.  Her response?

I thank our God that He has provided you a job so you can have the money to buy a computer to write me.

Talk about perspective!!!  Think about her response for a moment.  Deeply ponder it.  Without knowing it, she continually taught us so much about life, love, thankfulness, contentment and commitment.

When my husband lost his job in 2001, a week before 9/11 and in the middle of the .com crash (of which his job was directly affected), we had no idea how we were going to feed our babies 1, 3, and 5 years old.  We had no health insurance, no gas money, no savings.  We had nothing but our vehicles and our house – that we feared we could lose in a heartbeat.  We never once considered stopping our sponsorship of our Compassion daughter.  This is no kudos to us.  Through sponsoring her, we learned even more what commitment looked like and what trust in God felt like.  We could no more stop feeding and clothing her than we could our own children, because like our own children, if we didn’t meet her basic needs – who would?  We totally relied on God to provide for us, and for her, and He did.  She never knew any of this.  Her life is one of great struggle and hardship, and even in our most dire straight, we were still wealthy beyond measure simply because of the longitude and latitude in which we live.

In her last years with us, she wrote about graduating high school.  This was quite an accomplishment!  The letter came announcing she was accepted into nursing school.  Nursing school!  I remember jumping up and down and cheering with my children.

This meant, not only will she have a job she can be proud of, but she will be able to financially support herself and her family, AND it saves her from a dangerous and demoralizing future so many young women face trying to earn money to survive.  Wow!  Her future has never looked brighter.

She is truly a part of our family, and this final letter literally pained my heart to write.  How do I tell her words of wisdom as a mother, when my own mother never had a chance to speak them over me?  I feel like the blind leading the blind.  I don’t know where to go with this.

As I struggled with my letter, my heart brought to mind a very special book* by Susan Polis Schultz. This book has priceless value to me.  It is a book written by a mother to her daughter.  It is full of letters, encouragement, love and advice.  This is the last gift given to me by my mother.  She gave it to me on Valentine’s Day, 1987, three months before she died of breast cancer when I was sixteen.

She wrote on the inside cover that she had a hard time putting into her own words what she wanted me to know, so she used this book to say it for her.  In it, she starred, underlined – double underlined – words and phrases.  These are what matter most to me.  These are her words to me.  However, I have only read this book a few times in 26 years.

I am unable to express my hesitation in words.  It hurts to go back to the most painful time of my life.  It hurts to hear her speak to me through writing, because once I finish reading it, I am again left with an emptiness that she is no longer here.  The process of reading her words is emotionally draining, yet healing at the same time.  That’s the best I can do to explain my feelings.

While writing to my Compassion daughter, my mind drifted to this precious book and with my mom’s inspiration I began to write.  Space online is limited.  It took me three letters to get it all in.  Oh, I could have written more, but knew at some point, the end of the letter was inevitable – as hard as it was to admit.

I wrote how beautiful she is, and to never neglect herself as she cares for her patients.  To love deeply, laugh a lot, and stay close to God.  I quoted my favorite Scriptures and spoke blessings over her.  I gave her practical advice and (hopefully) words of wisdom.  I promised that, just as we have done for 14 years, we will continue to pray for her every day for the rest of our lives.

Wrapping up the third letter in the series, I told her:

I don’t like goodbyes.  I won’t say it to you.  Although we may never see each other on this earth, we are both Christians and will have eternity to spend with each other.  Life on this earth is very short.  So, instead of goodbye, I will say I’ll see you soon.  Whoever makes it to heaven first, wait for the other at the gate. 

I paused writing and broke down and cried.  I cried happy tears for all she has accomplished and overcome, and sad tears because the season of her life entwining with ours has come to a close.  However, Christians have a unique relationship.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ, because we are related by blood not of this world.  Christ’s sacrificial blood pumps through our spirit, and this bond is something no one can take away.  We are family indeed, and no amount of time or circumstance can separate us from one another – even if we are physically apart.

My children are still in my nest.  She is the first one to launch into the world and follow her dreams and the destiny that God has prepared for her.  I’m new at this launching thing.  I have no idea what to say.  I told her how much we love her and how incredibly proud we are of her.

It seemed that telling her how proud I am of her was a repetitive theme.  Perhaps it’s something I long to hear myself.  Both of my parents are gone and my biological father was only in my life for the past 8 short years.  Maybe I spoke to her some of the words I have been starving to hear.

Upon finishing her letter, my heart was nudged to pull my mom’s book off of the shelf.  I sat down and gazed at the simple artwork on the cover.  I gently turned the yellowed pages and read every word she marked for me.

I have felt a little lost with my writing lately.  Perhaps recovering from surgery has dimmed my creative juices, and I am physically more tired as I heal.  Ironically, my eyes fixed on one particular passage she underlined…

“Write your feelings down.  Create something based on your feelings, but do not keep them inside.”*

I soaked in her encouragement and let it penetrate my soul.  Her words were perfect timing for my life.

Through committing to child sponsorship, I thought we were rescuing a child and offering her opportunities to realize her dreams.  I hope we did just that, but I can tell you that this journey has rescued me and sparked hope for my dreams.  Even down to the last letter, when I was drawn to the words my mom left for me so many years ago for a time today when I really needed to hear her voice.

My mom left a legacy of a letter in the book she gave me.  We left a legacy to our Compassion daughter through the letters we wrote to her.  She left a legacy to us in her letters.  Her perseverance and hard work inspired us to continue with Compassion.

In her honor, we now have two more sponsored children each in a different part of the world.  They are young, sweet children who have their whole lives ahead of them.  I close my eyes and imagine the years of letters we will, Lord-willing, have to share with each other.  I look forward to expanding our family across the seas and investing spiritually, financially and emotionally into these two lives.  I smile with anticipation of all we will share.

It is easy to be discouraged from sponsoring a child because the financial commitment seems scary in this economy or we believe one person can’t make a lasting difference.  However, I know firsthand that our family can’t afford not to.  I am hopeful we made a difference in her life – but I am absolutely certain she made the world of difference in ours.  We are changed by her selflessness, love and tender spirit.  We are challenged by her resolve, strength, optimism and determination.  We will champion these same qualities in our new Compassion son and daughter.

If our paths do not cross in this lifetime and I reach heaven first, I will eagerly wait at the gate for my Compassion daughter.  I have a big hug I’ve been saving up a lifetime to give her.

One thought on “Legacy of a Letter

  1. What is touching my heart right now is imagining Alice smiling or jumping up and down saying,”you go, girl.” You are following her suggestion of “write your feelings down.” She has to be so proud of you as you bless others by sharing ….I know I am!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s