I’ve Been Preparing For The Jungle For Years

A few nights ago I was on the phone with my friend Daphne, and she mentioned that when she spent some time with our friend Elizabeth a couple of weeks ago, they would pretty much laugh their heads off when my trip to the Amazon would come up in conversation. Both Daph and Liz have known me for most of my life, so they are well-familiar with my very consistent pattern of Avoiding All The Nature.

Suffice it to say that the irony of this trip to Ecuador – well, it isn’t lost on them for one second.

Anyway, Daphne and I talked for ten or fifteen minutes about some trip-related stuff, and in the middle of our conversation I remembered a critical detail I hadn’t yet shared with her.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Have I told you about the canoe ride?”

“What canoe ride?” she asked.

“The 40-minute canoe ride we have to take in order to get to one of the Compassion projects we’re visiting.”

“YOU’RE riding in a canoe? YOU’RE RIDING IN A CANOE?”

And y’all, I couldn’t even answer her, because my sweet friend Daphne must have laughed for the next five minutes. Cackled, in fact.

Honestly, I don’t know when I’ve heard her sound so delighted. Except for maybe the third quarter of the State / Ole Miss game in 2009. Now that I think about it, that may in fact be the most delighted that any one human has ever been in the history of all time ever.

I finished telling Daphne about the canoe, and we laughed some more, and at some point I said, “You know, by the time I put on all my Amazon clothes – my shirt with SPF built into it and my collapsible hat with a brim all the way around it and my cargo pants and my hiking boots – I’m pretty much going to look like I’m dressed up to go to some sort of costume party. Like when we were at State and had that swap with the Sig Eps.”

“I REMEMBER THAT!” Daphne said. “It was a jungle-themed swap! You’re going to look like you’re going to a jungle swap!”

And then she laughed some more. With me, of course. Not at me. With me.

I hadn’t thought about it in years, but as soon as Daph and I started talking about the jungle swap, the memories came flooding back. I wore some sah-weet khakis from Banana Republic (back in the day when Banana Republic had a big Jeep parked in the middle of the store), plus some faux-hiking boots that were really just flannel-lined booties but nonetheless lent a air of realism to my outfit. And since I apparently felt like any time spent in the jungle would result in contact with a lot of foliage, I somehow attached a large branch of magnolia leaves to the back of my head.

Because, yes. Magnolia trees. You’ll find them all over the Amazonian terrain. Of course you will.

Daphne and I eventually wrapped up our conversation, hung up the phone – and about ten minutes later, she sent me an email. With a picture attached.

For the record, the picture made me clap my hands.

First of all, WAY TO GO WITH THE PERMS, GIRLS.

Nicely done.

Second of all, if you look closely you can see two large magnolia leaves behind me. They were a part of the aforementioned branch. It’s a look I’m praying that I don’t replicate in the Amazon, because if I wind up with a branch in the back of my head in the Amazon, it will most certainly be the result of an unanticipated run-in with a tree and not because I PINNED A BRANCH TO MY HEAD FOR A PARTY.

Third of all, the guy in the middle is my husband’s best friend, Todd, and I have to say that when I saw this picture a few days ago, my very first reaction was “OH MY WORD HE’S A CHILD. WHAT IS HE DOING AT COLLEGE?”

Now he’s all grown up, though. Happily married father of two. Which is no small feat considering that his parents clearly sent him off to college when he was nine.

Tonight I remembered a picture of Emma Kate and me from that same swap, and I’m so tickled that I found it because, well, just look.

That’s a whole lot of leaves on my head. And do you know what I love the most? The fact that Emma Kate opted to wear a big white bow in the jungle.

Also: PLEASE TO LOOK AT OUR BANGS.

So tomorrow I leave for Ecuador. And I keep thinking that if anyone had told the 19 year-old (with the bad perm) in those pictures up there that she was gonna find herself on a real-live airplane to South America in 2011, she probably would’ve rolled her eyes and said, “Do they, like, have When Harry Met Sally in the movie theaters there? Because I really, like, need to have access to When Harry Met Sally at, like, ALL POSSIBLE TIMES.”

Oh, I was a real ray of sunshine, I was.

I’ll be updating here as much as I can while we’re gone, and you can follow our group on Twitter, too. There’s also a Compassion Bloggers page that’s a hub for everybody’s posts, so if you like a one-stop shop, it might be a good option for you.

I’m so grateful for each one of you and appreciate your prayers for our group more than I can ever say.

I’m also so grateful that the Lord has delivered me from my poor hair-related choices in the late 80s. I was foolish, but He is faithful.

Vamanos, y’all.

Vamanos

I have been trying to write this post for, let’s see, ABOUT THREE DAYS. I can’t seem to make it past the first paragraph because for whatever reason, I struggle when there’s actual news to share. But if I’m writing about, oh, CRACKERS, I can hammer out 1,000 words in record time. In medical circles I believe this condition is known as AN ABNORMAL PREOCCUPATION WITH THE CHEEZ-IT.

It’s AAPWTCI for short. We have group meetings and stuff. You’re welcome to join us.

As you can imagine, our snacks are delicious.

So here’s the deal: in about three and a half weeks I’m going to Ecuador with Compassion International. I couldn’t be more excited and terrified and thrilled and anxious. From what I understand there is A LOT of nature in Ecuador, and I also understand that said nature contains a lot of very active animals. So as you can see, Ecuador and I already have a problem.

Oh, I’m kidding. After all, back in 2008 I traveled to Uganda with the inventor of The Original Monkey AlarmTM. I AM SO PREPARED, Y’ALL.

I was thinking yesterday that before the Uganda trip, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I’d never been face-to-face with third-world poverty before, and I couldn’t fathom how I would react to it. My reaction wasn’t always, you know, composed, but what I realized pretty quickly is that as difficult as it is to see all that hurt and brokenness, the ministry of Compassion shines light into dark places. So in the midst of all that hurt and brokenness, there is hope. There is Hope. That Hope changes everything in the lives of countless children.

And you know what’s even better? That Hope is is there for the long-haul. Because that Hope, by God’s grace, transforms the hearts and minds of those sweet children – and, in many cases, their families – and changes their lives for eternity.

I mean, come on. That’s the greatest good there is. I’m so grateful that Compassion gives all of us the opportunity to partner with them through local churches in third-world countries all over the world.

By the way, when Shaun first started putting this trip together, he sort of off-handedly mentioned that there will be a portion of the trip where we have to travel by canoe. You have never in your life seen two people EMAIL EACH OTHER IMMEDIATELY like Melanie and I did in that moment. And over the last couple of months, THE CANOE has come up in conversation over and over again. How will we get in the canoe? How long will be be in the canoe? Where will we go in the canoe? Will snakes be interested in the canoe? How does one fend off snakes while in a canoe? Can snakes drop out of trees and into a canoe? Should a snake land in a canoe, would it be advisable to then jump out of the canoe and into the Amazon and then be, alas, canoe-less?

Listen. I have full confidence that the canoe is going to be a source of some memories.

So there you have it. Ecuador it is. November 8-12. With Kelly, Ann, Amanda, Melanie, Keely, Patricia and Shaun.

And with every single one of you, too.

Third World Symphony

So here’s the thing that I’m a little bit embarrassed to tell you: for the longest time – for most of my life, really – I would see pictures and videos of people living in extreme poverty in this country and in other parts of the world, and my first reaction would be to fight my inclination to care. Honestly, I was scared to care. I was scared of how caring would change me, of how it would wreck my priorities, of how it would take everything that I’d always thought I’d wanted and render that stuff absolutely meaningless. So I would look at the pictures and watch the videos and nod my head and occasionally feel a tug at my heart, but that was as far as it went with me. It wasn’t that I was callous, but on some level I was pretty dadgum obstinate about not wanting to get pulled outside of my comfort zone. Sometimes it’s just easier to stay insulated in our shiny happy suburbias, you know?

But.

In the spring of 2006 our pastor invited a group of men from the Sudan to speak at our church. And that Sunday, as I listened to the stories of how the people in their village had been persecuted for their faith, how they’d risked their lives so that they could worship together, how they’d suffered in ways that I could not fathom, some of my resistance and reluctance started to give way. In fact, as a result of that particular Sunday, my prayers eventually started to change. And by the beginning of 2007, I had stopped saying “God, am I supposed to go?” – and started saying “God, show me where to go. Show me how to go.”

And get a load of this craziness: in August of 2007 I got an email from someone at Compassion International who wanted to know if I’d be interested in going on a blogging trip (OF ALL THINGS) to Uganda. It was an invitation that seemed to come straight out of nowhere – probably one of the most surprising things that’s ever happened to me in my life – but at the same time I instantly knew that it was something I was supposed to do. Sometimes God whispers, and sometimes He screams – and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was pretty much screaming, “HEY! YOU! REMEMBER THOSE PRAYERS? WELL, HERE’S YOUR ANSWER.”

And yes, in case you’re wondering, I do believe that God occasionally enjoys the use of ALL CAPS for emphasis.

The trip to Uganda was life-changing for hundreds of different reasons. It was every bit as difficult as I expected that it would be, mainly because the depth of poverty was shocking to me. It was profound. But I have to tell you: in the midst of those heart-breaking circumstances, I saw so much hope. I saw the beauty that happens when Light shines on dark places. And I was reminded that Joy – deep, lasting, eternal Joy – doesn’t necessarily shine brighter in poverty-stricken areas, but it’s definitely more noticeable when it’s not surrounded by all the junk and the stuff and the things that I tend to cling to in my safe little day-to-day life.

I believe that’s what you call a lasting life lesson, my friends.

On our last day in Uganda the people in our group shared communion on the banks of the Nile River. And as we stood in a circle and prayed together, a guy named Shaun Groves – the guy who dreamed up the whole crazy notion of taking a bunch of bloggers to Uganda and then setting them free to blog about what they saw and experienced – began to sing a song called “Kingdom Coming.” Well, “Kingdom Coming” is one of the songs on Shaun’s new CD, Third World Symphony, and I asked him if he’d do me a big ole favor and sing it for y’all. It never fails to encourage me and remind me of the grace of the Gospel. I hope it does the same for you.

Kingdom Coming for Sophie at BooMama.net from Shaun Groves on Vimeo.

It’s overwhelming sometimes to look around the world and see the extent of people’s spiritual and physical needs. In fact, it’s easy to feel discouraged and think that there’s absolutely no way that we can make a difference. I know that most of us are trying our best to serve our families as much as we can and as well as we can, so it’s not always possible to spend big chunks of time serving people outside of our homes, whether those people are in our own cities or across the ocean in a third-world country.

But what we can do – what is oh-so-possible and oh-so-practical – is to support people like Shaun. His CD sales make it possible for him to continue to get in front of large groups of people and tell them about the work Compassion is doing. And when he tells an audience about Compassion, many of those people will respond by sponsoring a child who’s living in poverty. That sponsorship ensures that the child will have all the medicine they need, all the clothing they need, all the school fees they need. And most importantly, that sponsorship ensures that the child will be involved with a local church where they’ll hear the truth and the hope of the Gospel over and over again. It’s life-changing. It’s life-giving.

And if you ask me, that’s a mighty good return on a a $9.90 investment. Oh yes ma’am it is.

If you’d like more information about Shaun and his ministry, be sure to check out his blog. And if you’d like to buy your very own copy of the (most excellent) Third World Symphony, you can do that on iTunes or on Shaun’s website.

Thanks, Shaun, for doing what you do.

And thanks, bloggy people, for being so willing to help him.

First Things First

I have loads of boring information to share about our weekend, including but not limited to when I cleaned out my closet and discovered a pair of long-forgotten tapered-leg khaki pants that screamed 1994 so loudly that I almost put on a Blues Traveler CD while I watched the DVDs from the first season of “Friends.”

But.

I would be completely remiss if I didn’t point you to some posts that have just blown me away over the last few days. All of these posts have come from the Compassion bloggers in Guatemala, and I really hope you’ll read them.

Ann’s post about meeting her sponsored child is one of the best things I’ve ever read. In any medium. Period.

– Shaun writes (and sings) about When God Comes By.

This post of Amanda’s is pure joy.

– Lisa-Jo wondered if writing letters to her Compassion kids really mattered – and she found the answer in Guatemala.

– Lindsey met Jenser. He’s four. And I’m pretty sure that he’s changed her life forever.

On a related note, this past Saturday morning my sister-in-law Janie and my older nephew left for Uganda. They’re safely in their hotel now – the same hotel where I stayed two and a half years ago – and over the next few days they’re going to meet the children they sponsor through Compassion.

I’ll be sharing some of their stories once they get home, and in the meantime, my family and I would be ever-so-grateful if you’d keep them in your prayers.

Happy Monday, y’all!

Friday Night Update

I know. I KNOW. “The Office” was new last night. But I haven’t watched it yet. It is, however, first on my must-see-TV agenda. And I’m a little embarrassed to tell you why I missed “The Office,” so just let me whisper “it rhymes with Teal Mousefives” and then cover my eyes and shield myself from your scorn.

I’m sorry. I’M SORRY.

(But did anybody see it when Ramona said “she’s making a mountain out of a hole”? It was right up there with last season’s “kudooz.” MADE ME SO HAPPY.)

Anyway, I just wanted to take a break from my trivial goings-on and make sure to remind y’all about the Compassion bloggers in Kenya. I’ve read some beautiful posts over the last couple of days, and right now I’m taking in Ryan’s beautiful photographs. We all have such an incredible opportunity to make a difference through a one-to-one relationship with a child.

Hope y’all have a wonderful weekend – and if I watch “The Office” later tonight, I’ll be back.

(I just said that like the Terminator.)

(It made me laugh.)

(I’m so mature.)

Help Haiti Live – Tonight!

When I first found out about the Help Haiti Live concert, I took one look at the Nashville line-up and thought, “Ooooh – I want to go to there.” But then I realized that the date actually conflicted with some plans that have been on my calendar for awhile, and I cried.

Okay. So maybe I didn’t cry actual tears. But I was bummed nonetheless.

Anyway, I am SO TICKLED that I’ll still be able to watch the concert live online tonight. Some of my very favorite artists in the whole wide world are performing (you may have heard me mention how much I love Dave Barnes’ music once or sixty times), and they’re performing to raise money for Compassion International. Compassion has been working in Haiti for longer than I’ve been alive, and the money raised through tonight’s concert will “lay bricks, feed, educate, clothe, heal and rebuild Haiti in Jesus’ name for many months to come.”

Now come on. That’s a mighty fine thing indeed.

You can still buy tickets for the show in Nashville, or you can watch online at 7:30pm central. I cannot wait.

See y’all there!

Help Haiti February 27th – HelpHaitiLive.com from Compassion International on Vimeo.