A Tempered Faith

After many months, The Missing Persons Project comes to a close with a special report focused on a group we call “The Searchers.” This term applies to those who are seeking faith as well as those who have given up on it and those who are wrestling with doubt. As we went through planning this month, we came to a somewhat surprising “ah ha!” moment (at least for us). In some way, we are all “missing persons.” There are seasons in life where our faith wavers, gets thin, or even abandons us. There are times when it feels like we’re holding on to a gossamer string rather than a secure rope that binds us to eternity.

That’s where this piece comes from—those many moments I felt like I was on a tightrope that was one fragile string away from snapping. I hope that people who read it realize that doubt is not a bad thing because, through doubt, we come to understand what we believe and why. When we ask hard questions of God and honestly seek His face, our faith becomes our own.

This article can be read below or by visiting our super-duper-fancy microsite here. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend you click through. There are many inspiring stories told using text, photos, video, and audio. We’ve completed all the special reports and videos (from soup to nuts as they say), and it’s quite humbling to see it in its final form. Also, if you’d like to give us your thoughts on the project, please drop us a line at missingpersons@intouch.org. We’d love to hear your feedback!

Stories Matter

The author and poet Barry Lopez once said, “Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.” Over the last eight or so months, the staff of In Touch Magazine has been privileged to tell the stories of many wonderful people who God has used in a mighty way. If you haven’t already checked out our special micro-site, click on the image below and read more about them.

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We were also able to work with the amazingly talented team of professionals in our ministry’s broadcast department to produce five videos, one for each month of the project. For the folks who aren’t as into words as we are, we thought these were a great way to experience the stories and hear the hearts of the people we featured. I thought I’d collect them together here as well.

The last month’s special report–The Searcher–will be coming out in September, and with it, the project comes to a close. Looking back over it now, I can see just how much I’ve grown–both as a Christian and as a writer, and I know without doubt that none of this would have been possible if God hadn’t been in it from the start. We all had to decrease so He might increase.

Bret Lott writes in his book Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian, “What I saw in [Carver’s] work was that in my own, I had to be the last one heard from in this pile of words I was arranging, and that humility was the most valuable tool I could have, because the people about whom I wanted to write mattered so very much more than the paltry desires of the writer himself. They mattered so very much more than me. My job was to get out of the way.” Here’s to hoping that with these pieces and others I’ll write, I can somehow manage to do just that—get out of the way.

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Michael and Jessica Beates (June–The Special Needs Community)

Rhonda, Faith, and Hope Slinkosky  (July–The Orphan)

Dot Hutcheson and Howard Webb (June–The Widow and Widower)

James Murray (July–The Prisoner)

Scarlett Rigsby and Truth (August–The Needy)

Decanting the Divine

According to scientists in Sweden, when we sing together, our voices aren’t the only thing that harmonize. Apparently, our heart rates do, too.

According to their research, “as the members sang in unison, their pulses began to speed up and slow down at the same rate.” The reason for this is fairly obvious. Directors will indicate where choir members should breathe as well as how quickly and loudly we should be, and when we do these things in unison, our hearts begin beating at relatively similar rates.

But that’s not the most interesting part.

They also found that “the more structured the work [is], the more the singers’ heart rates increased or decreased together. Slow chants, for example, produced the most synchrony. The researchers also found that choral singing had the overall effect of slowing the heart rate.”

I’ve been a musician (both instrumental and vocal) for a large portion of my life, and I can tell you that I’ve experienced this phenomenon first hand. When everyone is locked in on the conductor, fully focused on making a performance as perfect as it can be, and attentive to details like diction, phrasing, and dynamics, the feeling borders on rapturous.

I feel connected to something larger than myself both physically and emotionally in these moments. I’ve often told people that it’s like catching a wave. As the music develops, it carries me with it from crest to trough as the measures roll blissfully past. There are some pieces I’ve sung (especially in churches built with good natural acoustics) where the last note hangs in the air like a poignant memory. And as we listen to it fade away, I can look around and tell my fellow performers experienced the same thing I did. It’s all silent smiles and faces blushed and beaming. For the briefest of moments, we are transported somewhere else, and I can’t help but think that it’s something approaching heaven.

Image from gracechurchnc.com
Image from gracechurchnc.com

Something similar to it happens in 2 Kings 3, king of Israel, Jehoshaphat, and the king of Edom all approach the prophet Elisha to inquire of the Lord. He tells them, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, surely were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not look at you, nor see you. But now bring me a musician.” The next verse has long fascinated me. It reads, “Then it happened, when the musician played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him.” By listening to music, he is connected to the divine and is given a prophesy by almighty God Himself.

When we worship God with music, I believe we open ourselves up the same way Elisha did. When we are focused on giving Him the praise that is His due, I think we receive something as well, something we define as a “synchrony” though the term hardly does the sensation justice. I believe we are decanting something of the divine, and the joy we feel is just a heady taste of what awaits us in glory.

In Ezekiel 11:19-20, God speaks through His prophet who says, “Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.” As Christians, we have been granted a “heart of flesh” that is sensitive to the still, small voice God uses when He speaks to His children. And worship is one way we can feel the beating of that “one heart,” the one perfectly aligned with His will, and know without doubt who He is and who we are in Him.

In case you’re in the mood to hear something beautiful, I leave you with one of my all-time favorite groups, the Soweto Gospel Choir, singing “Hosanna.”

What do you think about music? Is it something larger than us, something that gives us meaning….or are you of the mind that we give meaning to it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

The Church of Baseball

This weekend, a small kerfuffle commenced over two symbols carved into the dirt on the back of Busch Stadium’s pitching mound. One was the number six, placed there in honor of Stan “The Man” Musial who died on January 19th at the age of 92. The other was a cross. It’s appearance shouldn’t be surprising since the St. Louis Cardinals are one of the most openly Christian teams in all of professional sports. Fifteen or so players as well as head coach Mike Matheny are believers, and their faith was the subject of a new book written just this year.

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However, “One fan, Michael Vines, said he was ‘shocked’ when he saw the ‘inappropriate’ images because he said Busch Stadium is ‘a place of hallowed ground not just for Christians, but for Cardinal fans of all religions, including none at all.'” A series of phone calls followed his complaint, and in the end, the Cardinals’ GM, John Mozeliak, ordered that both symbols be removed. The cross for obvious reasons and the 6 because, according to reports, someone said “it looked suspiciously like a Jesus fish.” Le sigh. And the first day the symbols weren’t there was on Christian Family Day. The irony of it all is positively delightful.

So….wait. A book discussing the team’s faith and an entire day devoted to Christians (one that has been advertised for months beforehand) is kosher. And it’s okey dokey to accept money from believers who attend the game, but the symbols on the back of a mound must be nixed toot sweet? Call me crazy, but that seems a skosh hypocritical. It’s like the scene in Casablanca where Captain Louis Rennalt attempts to appear shocked that gambling is going on at Rick’s Café American….and then collecting his winnings before closing the place down at the Nazi’s behest.

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Bill McClellan, a writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, wrote an op-ed this weekend titled “Uneasy feelings about the cross on Busch Stadium mound” in which he states, “I look at photos of that cross etched on the mound and I get the same sort of uneasy feeling I get when I hear the phrase ‘homeland security.’ It used to be ‘national security.’ Why did ‘national’ morph into ‘homeland’? It happened about the same time politicians started wearing American flag lapel pins.”

Really?!?

He goes on, equating the feeling to the same slick nausea that churns in his gut when he thinks of terrorism, the NSA surveillance program, and George Orwell. And he closes this gem of fallacious writing by saying, “The tribute to Musial seems harmless. Not so the cross. Does religion need to be that prominent in a baseball game? I’m not pretending it’s a big deal. But still, I have an uneasy feeling about a cross etched on the mound.”

So, in his mind, the cross poses the same threat to America’s security as enemies both foreign and domestic. But that’s quite a stretch, especially considering the fact he praised this year’s team by saying they’re, “the nicest Cardinals team I can recall. At least, the players appear nice from a distance.” Also, if he’s so concerned about the dystopian world in Orwell’s 1984, shouldn’t he be defending the placement of the cross on the field (and the freedom that allows it to be there) rather than supporting the “Big Brother” decision to have it removed? I sometimes wonder if the kneejerk reaction to anything that remotely smacks of Christianity doesn’t keep some folks in our country from thinking the matter through clearly.

And let’s be serious here for a moment. Both Mr. Vines and Mr. McClellan are forgetting something true baseball fans understand—If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Cardinals currently have the best record in baseball (53 and 34) and are, as I type this, beating the snot out of the Houston Astros 8-1. The starting rotation is rock solid; the lineup is hitting like gangbusters. Five men were selected to participate in the 2013 All-Star Game, and every player on the team is happy and honored to be a part of an historic and well-respected franchise. In other words, they’re like “Me and Mrs. Jones”—they got a good thing going on. So quit gnashing your teeth and enjoy the second half of the season, dudes.

I am a Christian who also happens to be a St. Louis Cardinals fan. I’m thrilled that I can root for a team of stand-up men who play the game skillfully and serve God both on and off the field. I would love nothing more than a religious symbol on every base and Scripture written on the walls of the dugout. However, even if I only believed in “The Church of Baseball,” I would still support the cross and 6 on the mound. Why? Because they’re Hippocratic; they do no harm. A true fan supports whatever gets the game in the “W” column as opposed to the “L” and worries more about team morale than its iconography.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your reaction to this situation and all the people who have weighed in thus far. Can we even have a legitimate debate about religion again in this country anymore? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

A Weary Pilgrim Headed for the Hollow Square

In Zora Neale Hurtston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie describes the moment she falls out of love with her second husband by saying,

Janie stood where he left her for unmeasured time and thought. She stood there until something fell off the shelf inside her. Then she went inside there to see what it was. It was her image of Jody tumbled down and shattered. But looking at it she saw that it never was the flesh and blood figure of her dreams. Just some thing she had grabbed up to drape her dreams over. In a way she turned her back upon the image where it lay and looked further.

While it’s nothing so dramatic as all that, it is the only way I can think to describe how I feel about church music right now. Corporate worship, as I have always known it, has fallen off a shelf inside me.

I’m not judging, casting blame, or saying one form is superior to another. If you’ve found a way to worship that connects you to God, I applaud you. Keep singing, playing, clapping, or banging a tambourine for all you’re worth. But with regards to the “worship wars,” I can’t muster the strength to choose a side any more. The argument has left me hollowed out and deflated. No matter the packaging or presentation, all worship feels consumption-based to me right now. It’s all well-manicured voices,  sterile words on a screen, and a congregation that just follows along. No matter what church I go to, worship feels too big. Too glossy. Too plastic. To my ears, it’s shiny sound without a soul. I don’t know why.

But it makes me ache.

I’m hungry for something authentic, something real and raw and unmistakable. I want to worship in a way that is focused on devotion, not performance. For too long, I’ve just accepted it. I’ve told myself, “This is just the way it is now.” But still, I find myself longing to lift my voice, my hands, and my eyes to God in the middle of a group–not in front of them or in lockstep behind someone else telling me what to feel.

IMG_1818Maybe that’s why the tradition known as Sacred Harp singing appeals to me so much. It’s certainty different from much of what I’m used to. For one, politics and denomination wars are not allowed inside the house, and part of me rejoices at that.

Another thing I admire is that despite its long tradition, the music remains relatively unchanged. As you can see by the picture I took, it uses shape notes. And what’s even better is that everyone sings. With gusto and in harmony. And while the pitch is relative, it always seems to work out. One doesn’t “lead” per se. The person who directs stands in the “hollow square,” as they call it, keeps the tempo and cues when necessary, and everyone has a chance to lead at least once. Also, this isn’t a service in the traditional sense. There is no preaching like there is on Sunday morning, just music. It’s something many of the participants do in addition to the activities at their church.

I’m still in the first stages of learning about this interesting community of musicians, but after having participated in one singing, I can honestly say that they are passionate, about the music if nothing else. Some of the people I met were lifelong Christians–everything from Primitive Baptists to high church Anglicans. I also shared dinner on the grounds with a woman who openly declared, “I’m not religious.” But there was something she loved about the  music, perhaps the gritty realness of it, that kept her coming to participate. If that diverse a group can get over themselves to sing, there must be something to it. And I intend to find out what it is.

I’ve begun my research into the history of this musical style and it’s people with several resources. The first is a comprehensive historical work called The Makers of the Sacred Harp by David Warren Steel and Richard H. Hulan. Hopefully, it will explain the origins of the songbook, how the music is composed, and all the other technical aspects I want to learn about. And for a more sociological piece exploring the diverse community, I’m diving into I Belong to This Band, Hallelujah!: Community, Spirituality, and Tradition among Sacred Harp Singers by Laura Clawson.

I’ve also procured a copy of a documentary two Sacred Harp singers recently produced titled Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp, which looks to be a treasure trove of stories and sound. And I am the happy, proud owner of a copy of The Sacred Harp hymnal, which I hope to be able to study in detail as I learn about how the songs in it have been composed and their respective histories.

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Part of this exploration is because, well, I’m happiest with my nose in a book. A researcher by nature, I find the answers to a great many questions I have by taking the longitudinal view of things and combing through what has already been said. The answer is usually somewhere in the middle.

The other reason is because I’m hoping to put down roots somewhere. I’m tired of shallow worship and simple faith. I’m desperate for something I can’t yet define. Sacred Harp very well may not be it. I’m well aware of this. I know that no system of worship, no matter how “right” it is, can be a substitute for God and a relationship with Him. But I’ve been stirred. Something in me has been overturned, and my soul is disquieted. It’s time to go wandering, to be a pilgrim again. The answers are somewhere I’m not, so I go to suss them out.

Here’s a brief video I shot on my iPhone at the singing I attended. There are much better ones out there, ones with better video and sound quality, but I wanted to share a little of what I experienced that afternoon.

If you’re interested in Sacred Harp singing, I’d love to hear your thoughts and learn from your research. Maybe we could even meet one day to sing together. I’m also hoping to hear from others on the state of worship in America. Do you think I’m way off base feeling this way? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Please share them in the comments section below!

Hurry, But Don’t Speed

My family has dozens of terms and phrases in our quirky tribal lexicon, words like “whomperjawed,” “gaddrief,” and “joobers.” If someone is attractive, he or she is “plum purdy.” If the opposite is the case, the person is “ugly as a mud fence.”  A negative situation causes us to say, “I don’t like this, not none,” and tasty food “slaps our spot.” There are also endless inside jokes and movie quotes without number. Yes, we have an entire love language built from scraps of memories and chatter. It’s a beautiful, mismatched quilt of words we can wrap ourselves up in, something that makes us feel cozy and safe. One of my favorites is the paradox we utter whenever people are coming home for a visit. We tell them, “Hurry, but don’t speed.” In other words, we want to see them as soon as possible—but not if it means risking life and limb (or getting a speeding ticket) to get there a little earlier than expected. We’re impatient to be reunited with the people who understand us better than anyone. But can the same be said of God?

I know He is perfectly patient. Why shouldn’t He be? For Him,  past, present, and future are all wrapped up together; it’s not strung out like a thread the way it is for us. But there are moments in the Bible that make me wonder, and I can’t help but feel that God is eager to reveal Himself to us. Think about Moses’ request: “Please, show me Your glory” in Exodus 33:12-23. Moses is asking to know God, to experience Him so he can better understand Him. God could have easily told His servant, “No.” He had no reason to reveal Himself to a created thing, but that’s exactly what He did. He hides a man whose heart and soul cannot fathom His radiance in the cleft of a rock and covers him until He passes by. What must that have been like? What awe must Moses felt knowing that God’s hand was quite literally on him, protecting him from everything, including his Maker? God stooped to humanity’s level in that moment and showed a favored servant as much of His glory as He knew could be withstood. That is an action taken by a God who wants to be known, One who is just as excited to be fully comprehended by His children as we are by Him.

Image from summerlight.wordpress.com
Image from summerlight.wordpress.com

The same can be said of Jesus sitting at the well in Samaria in John 4:1-42. It was a place the Bible tells us He “needed” to go through for one woman, a lost and hurting soul whose life would be forever changed by encountering Him. I’m sure Christ sat there calmly, sanguine despite the heat, and watched His beautiful world go by. Maybe He swung one sandaled foot or hummed as He waited. Though Jesus knew exactly when the Samaritan woman would come to the place alone to draw her water, I imagine Him being giddy, looking forward to the moment and eager to interact with her. Did Jesus smile when He saw her coming as she walked with her head down, silently praying that no one would mock her for once? Did He rub His wonderful, soon-to-be-nail-scarred hands together in anticipation of the joy that was soon to come? I think so. He was a Savior who wanted to be found and made sure others could experience Him with their eyes and ears as well as their hearts.

Though the Lord’s timing is impeccable and His plan flawless, I believe He’s like we are in the moments before loved ones come home to find the surprises we have in store for them—a meal lovingly prepared, a gift purchased, and everything made ready for their comfort. He understands the anticipation we feel standing at the windows, our breath fogging the panes, because He feels it, too. Yes, He’s as eager for all of us to get there as we are. “Hurry home,” He whispers to our hearts, “but don’t speed.”

Kermit Gosnell and the Greatness of Grace

It seems like the news has been a veritable cornucopia of awful lately. Everything from the IRS targeting certain groups claiming tax exempt status and spying on reporters to the whomperjawed situation surrounding Benghazi leave me wondering if a move to Bora Bora wouldn’t be advisable. Add the Jodi Arias and Kermit Gosnell trials, and I’m left wondering why God has any patience with us at all.

But it’s the Gosnell verdict—and the reaction to it—that most piques my interest. I am glad he is being brought to justice for his crimes and that another pro-life legal precedent has been added to the books. However, I can’t help but feel that Christians, by and large, missed an opportunity to witness to the world when his guilty verdict was announced.

Image from huffingtonpost.com

I don’t read the comments and discussion threads that follow articles because they’re usually a cesspool of hatred and vitriol. (And yes, the purple prose is merited. Go read a few threads sometime. You’ll see. It makes me lose faith in humanity.)

While I wish I could say believers fare better in this department, when it comes to hot button issues like this, we’re just as bad as non-Christians.

The comments ranged from those who were glad justice had been done to folks who were more than a little happy to “gouge out the other eye” themselves. Comments like, “There’s a special place in hell for this dog of a devil. I hope they vote to send him there soon” and “I hope they snip his spinal cord with scissors” just left me shaking my head.

I’m glad that abortion is being addressed in a new light and that this trial (and the awful details that were revealed during it) made many women considering abortion change their minds. I’m glad a man like Kermit Gosnell is no longer practicing “medicine,” if that term can be applied at all. But the thought that has stuck with me, that has resonated longer than my disgust is this—God’s grace will always be greater than sin. It is great enough to cover this man who has done things most of us find unspeakably horrifying, and if Mr. Gosnell truly accepts Christ as his Savior today, tomorrow, or the day of his death, I will see him in heaven along with my family and friends. He, like the vineyard laborer hired in the eleventh hour, can expect the same rewards I do because God’s grace is His to do with as He sees fit.

The thought humbles me, but apparently, some folks don’t agree. Over dinner a week or so ago, I discussed this revelation with a friend, and she recoiled from me like Kuato had grown out of my abdomen.

“I don’t agree with that at all,” she told me. “I can’t imagine that THAT man can go to heaven the same way I can…especially after all he’s done.”

The debate went back and forth and finally ended with, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this point.” And her refusal, I think, stems from two sources. The first is that she believes, like many people, in hierarchically arranged sins. Some, like little white lies or envy, are minor infractions. After all, don’t we all commit them? So that makes them hardly worth confessing in prayer. Yet the whammer sins—murder, adultery, theft, and the like—are somehow beyond the pale. What we forget oftentimes is that sin is sin is sin.

Image from kseamericanlitblog.wordpress.com

Dante wrote entire books detailing a very elaborate system involving the levels of the inferno, purgatory, and paradise, but none of it is biblical. Truth is, there is no sliding scale, no ranking system, no way for us to justify our judgment of one another. We want to believe that if we only commit minor ones, we’re good on our own and don’t need grace, but that’s not true. James 2:8-10 tells us, “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” Yeah, one sin is just as great as another. And all of them separate us from the Lord.

But that’s where grace comes in.

For those who accept Christ as Savior, there is no reason to worry about the law. Yes, we should always strive to do those things that are pleasing to God and avoid those things He hates. But the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross wiped the record books clean and made it possible for us to be truly free and enjoy a relationship with the only One who is worthy of praise. We had nothing to do with it.

The second reason she couldn’t understand the idea of grace applying to Gosnell is the allure of work-based salvation. She said more than once, “I’m a good person. He is not a good person.” She listed all the right things she had done as well as all the wrong ones she had avoided. In her mind, her faith was more valuable because of what she did (or didn’t) do when the truth is the only reason we have value is because of who Christ is and what He has done. None of us is innocent. None of us can hurl stones at a fellow sinner because, if we’re willing to look closely enough, we’ll see that we’ve done something just as awful as far as God’s law is concerned (John 8:1-11). That’s why we should fall down on our faces before Him and thank Him for the grace and mercy He’s shown us rather than point fingers at one another. He gives us hope and purpose in a world that can offer us neither, and that’s what we should be shouting about.

Image from dailybibleplan.com

Before we parted ways, my friend told me that I was foolish for thinking that a man like Gosnell would ever be saved. He was a murder. He was evil. He had done unspeakable things, and God wouldn’t dare use such a wretched human being to do His work here on earth.

But all I could think about was the apostle Paul—a man who, when he was named Saul, was a persecutor without equal. He went after Christians, be they men, women, or children, “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). He sanctioned (and perhaps even participated in) Stephen’s stoning. But God saw fit to smack him down on the road to Damascus and change him forever (Acts 9:1-31). And what did He use Paul to do? To preach to the Gentiles, to plant churches in cities across Europe and the Middle East, and to write over half of the books in the New Testament.

God took a murderer of Christians and turned him into one of the most powerful and persuasive warriors of the faith. Millions upon millions have come to salvation because of Paul’s writings, and we continue to study and learn from them today. If God can change the world to such a degree with one man, who are we to say he can’t do it again with one who is just as feared, just as reviled, and just as lost in his own incorrect beliefs? That’s the story we should be telling on those message boards. That’s what people need to know about.

I’d be interested on hearing your thoughts on this topic. Do you agree with my friend or me….or have another opinion entirely? Please share your questions and ideas in the comments section below. I always look forward to discussions!

Pure and Undefiled Religion

My article in the June issue of In Touch Magazine is one for the record books. Not only is it a feature, it is also the longest piece I’ve written for the publication to date—a whopping eight pages. It was the first multi-interview piece I’ve ever done (10+), and it also included copious amounts of statistical and personal research. Because of it, I learned better interviewing skills, how to conduct an interview that’s tailored for broadcast, and how a video feature is made. I worked with amazingly talented people ranging from transcriptionists, web designers, and graphic artists to five-person a video crew. Five wonderful people were willing to share their stories with me, and I have no doubt that, through what they shared, lives will be changed. God is going to do something supernatural in the lives of at least one or two people who read this. I know because He did a number on me through the process of constructing it.

I began brainstorming for this piece back in November of 2012, and I have to say that it proved several things to me. One, nothing is impossible for God. There were several times in this process that I nearly threw up my hands and quit, but it was in those moments that God taught me something about reliance and His sufficiency. When I needed the words, they came. And when I trusted Him to provide the resources needed, He never failed to show up.

Two, people matter to God. He wants children to be in families, and He wants us to provide the homes they need. I spoke with brilliant and resilient children who have been hurt more in their short lives than I will ever experience, and I felt my heart growing in response to their stories. Also, I learned that when we grieve, our God grieves with us. I spoke to a widow of 30+ years and a widower who just lost his wife three years ago. The pain was so fresh in his heart that he cried several times during our interview, but he still said without hesitation, “God is good. He keeps providing.” That is the very definition of faith to me.

Third, though I have never wanted children before, God has impressed on my heart that it is time and that adoption is the route my husband and I will take. We’ve made some tentative first steps in that direction, and I firmly believe that I was given this assignment so God could shape and mold my heart to make that choice possible. I guarantee you that there will be MANY blogs posted on this subject in the upcoming year.

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The article has also been posted on our shiny new microsite, which can be seen in all its glory at http://www.intouch.org/missing-persons/widows-and-orphans/. There are some web exclusives there as well as the video and audio/photo slideshow that was produced as a part of the project. It’s a website designed by the wonderful team at Hampton Creative. Go look. Seriously. It looks spectacular.

It will also hit homes this week in print form, which you can read below. If you like this piece and are interested in a free subscription to our publication, please visit our subscription page and give us some info. There are three more months to go in the Missing Persons Project in addition to the two reports that have already been published as well as some exciting interviews and articles coming in the future.

All in all, this has been one of the most challenging, most humbling, and most awe-inspiring things I’ve ever had the honor to experience. God has blessed me in so many ways over the last two years since I started at In Touch Ministries, and words cannot express how I feel right now.

I’d love to hear your feedback about the article, the website, the videos, and whether or not any or all of it changed your thinking on the matter. We love hearing from our readers, so please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

My Compassion Sunday Project

April 21, 2013 is a very special day, and not just because it’s my 35th birthday. 🙂 It’s also Compassion Sunday. On this special day, people in churches around the world share their stories and tell others about the joys that come with sponsoring a child through Compassion International. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to host the event at my home church, but there is something I can do. I can be an advocate.

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How can you resist that face!?

My goal is to find a sponsor for one special little guy from El Salvador. His name is Lisandro, and he’s six years old. You can read all about him, and choose to be his sponsor, by visiting my Compassion Sunday Page.

If I get Lisandro and another child sponsored, I win a $50 gift for one of my own sponsored children. Talk about a win-win-win-win!

El Salvador (which means “Republic of the Savior”), which is roughly the same size as the state of Massachusetts, is both the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America. Approximately 5.75 million people currently call it home. It lies within the Pacific Ring of Fire and is often impacted by earthquakes and volcanic activity, both of which occurred last in 2005.

Severe weather (both droughts and heavy rainstorms) also impact the people and national prosperity. It currently has the third largest economy behind Costa Rica and Panama, but that doesn’t mean everything is perfect. It also has a large crime problem, especially gang-related crimes and juvenile delinquency, and boasts the highest murder rate in the world. However, thanks to some successful initiatives gang-related violence has been down over the last year or so.

According to The Encyclopedia of Nations, “The wealth in El Salvador is held by a small minority of the population who made their money from coffee and sugar and have now diversified into finance and commerce. Land reforms and, property redistribution in the 1980s improved the situation for many small farmers and peasants, but there is still a substantial divide between the rich and the poor. According to a report from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), El Salvador’s per capita income is the fifth lowest in the Western Hemisphere (when adjusted to reflect the cost of living).

The health-care system in El Salvador is in a state of disarray. Medical unions are resisting government moves toward privatization, and as a result strikes by hospital personnel have become common. Supplies of basic drugs and medical equipment are often inadequate. Hospital budgets are used up to pay salaries, with little left over for other costs.

The education system in El Salvador is weak. According to the USAID report published in 1998, less than 50 percent of Salvadorans graduate from the sixth grade, only 1 out of 3 complete the ninth grade, and only 1 out of 5 complete high school. The Ministry of Education has worked to improve the quality of schooling in El Salvador, and some of its efforts have met with success. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) reported in 2000 that programs designed to increase community participation in education at rural schools has increased student enrollment. The school day has been extended as well. Also, in 1995 a program was introduced integrating health care and public works agencies with education initiatives to ensure students had clean water, regular medical examinations, and nutritional monitoring.”

This is where we come in. We can help bridge the gap by sponsoring children in the rural areas of this country—those who qualify as “have nots” in their country. For $38 a month, just a couple of meals out for us here in the United States, someone can sponsor Lisandro and provide both him and his family with access to clean water, food, healthcare, education, and–most importantly–a place where he can learn about Jesus Christ. Compassion International is a top-notch group to work with. You have constant access to your records, and you receive letters from your child regularly. So you know the money you’re giving is doing the greatest good possible. It’s an amazing feeling to know you’re making an impact in a child’s life, even if he or she is halfway around the world. We can do great good as God’s people!

Check out my Compassion Sunday page linked above if you’re interested in getting involved and visit the other Compassion bloggers’ pages to see if the children they’ve selected for this special project speak to your heart.

At Story’s End

As hard as it is to believe, April is almost upon us. That means the new and improved In Touch Magazine has hit homes! We have new departments, a new layout, look, and feel, and have gained eight pages in length. That means there is more room for Bible studies, articles, and photos! If you don’t already receive a free copy from us via mail each month, I encourage you to visit our website and register. If you prefer the electronic version, you can visit our homepage.

This one, I’m not going to lie to you, was downright painful to write. It went through several substantial revisions before arriving in the form you see before you. However, I can say that it was worth all the wailing and gnashing of teeth I had to go through because the version that came out ended up being much better than the first one I submitted. This proves two things to me that I’ve long believed but need to be reminded of time and time again. One, God is in control. It’s His talent I’m using on borrowed time, and if I ever begin to think it’s mine, He reminds me with a challenging piece like this. And two, as wonderful and rewarding as the writing process is, it will always be hard. But then again, if it were easy, I might not love it so much.

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