Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Wooden Heart

One of my favorite Elvis Presley songs is a lesser-known one, called Wooden Heart. The songwriter says it would be easy to break his heart, because his heart is not wooden.

Can't you see I love you

Please don't break my heart in two

That's not hard to do

'Cause I don't have a wooden heart

The insinuation, therefore, is that if your heart is made of wood, it's very difficult to break.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but I'm a rather emotional guy. And many things break my heart. Most of my career has been spent looking at the terrible things that are wrong with this world. I spent 16 years in television news telling viewers about all the horrible crimes and catastrophes that have damaged and destroyed lives. Now, I work for an organization that's all about doing something about those horrible things. Still, by the very nature that Compassion International is here to help release children from poverty and all of its trappings--child prostitution, slavery, abuse, neglect, hunger, disease--I am still exposed to all of the ills of the world.

I've often wondered why God would constantly and consistently put me in a position where I have to be exposed to such things. Perhaps He knows me too well. Perhaps He knows that if I lose sight of those things, my heart will turn to wood. Nothing will move me. Nothing will break me. Then, what good am I to Him?

There's another great old song that speaks to this, by Petra:

Don't let your heart be hardened.

May you always know the cure.

Keep it broken before Jesus.

Keep it thankful, meek and pure.

I pray that God keeps my heart from turning to wood. If you're already there, I pray He softens yours. Let something break your heart today.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Well, I'm back from the Philippines, but I wish I could say I came back with as much as I took. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Upon my return home, I found that someone had gone through my luggage and stolen my Sony Handycam. It was a small hand-held video camera that was really easy to use. It was a Christmas gift from my wife's parents last December. I was hoping I could get away with packing it in my checked-in luggage if I did a good job of hiding it in the middle of a pair of jeans, wrapped up, stuffed in the midst of all my dirty clothes. I was wrong. Yeah, it bothers me that the camera is missing, but more importantly, what was on it. All the video of me meeting my sponsored child is gone. I'll never have that now. And it absolutely breaks my heart. This was my once in a lifetime chance to meet Jen Rina, the little girl I sponsor through Compassion International. I had video of her singing a worship song for of us hugging and playing. Video of her mother and baby brother showing me their home. My wife will never get to see it. I'll never be able to share it with you. We won't get to show the video to family members at Christmastime. I'm just sick about it. Also, I shot several clips of me walking through a Compassion project and talking to the camera. I was going to produce my own Compassion video for my website, where I talked about the work Compassion is doing...and it would include me meeting my sponsored child. It's all gone. I feel so violated. It's just stuff, I know...but it's sentimental stuff. It's important stuff. It's stuff that I'll never have the chance to replace. To the person who stole my camera: You stole more than a piece of equipment. You stole memories. You robbed me and my family of a special keepsake. I hope you are able to sell it to someone who gets good use out of it. And uses it for good.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Meeting Jen Rina

On day three of my Compassion International trip to The Philippines, I had the honor of meeting Jen Rina, the girl my wife and I have sponsored for nearly six years. I have to admit, I was anxious--though I felt like I had a pretty good grasp on what to expect. This is my seventh trip with Compassion. I have seen sponsors visit their children in Thailand, Kenya, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala and Bolivia. I know how emotional it can be. Still, I wasn't ready for this.

It was a 45 minute drive into into the outskirts of Manila, down the crowded, busy streets filled with "tricycle" drivers and other smog-producing vehicles. Street vendors hawking their goods to the passersby can barely be heard over the noisy engines. As we drove farther away from Manila's skyscrapers, it became clearly evident that we were getting into one of the poorest parts of the city. Closer to Jen Rina's home.

Just beyond a canal that moved sewage and dirty water through the area like a slow-flowing, stenchy river, we stopped in front of a building that looked like a typical home in this part of Manila...made of cinder blocks, with a tin roof.

"Not bad" I thought. I have seen worse houses in other countries...the mud/dung huts of Kisumu Kenya, the scrap houses in Guatemala City and outside of Lima, Peru. No, this house didn't seem that bad. But it wasn't Jen Rina's house. My guide, a Compassion staff member named Nonoy, led me out of the car and beyond the curbside home. We made our way down a garbage-lined alleyway, to an open area behind that house. Nonoy stopped at the highest point in the alley and pointed to a small shack at the bottom of the hill.

"There it is."

My jaw dropped. I fought back the tears. No...this can't be it. No way my sponsored child lives like this. If I didn't know any better, I would guess that some young boys gathered scraps of wood, tin and cardboard to put together a makeshift clubhouse. The entire home is smaller than my master bedroom. It's built up against a cement building, just so the family could have one solid wall in their home.

I walked through the doorway and stepped into the dirt floor home. Inside, with a huge smile on her face, was the little girl I've been corresponding with for nearly six years now. She's adorable. Shy. Soft-spoken. So much hope in a face that lies down on a moldy mattress every night. I wrapped my arms around her and just held her for a few seconds. Her mother was there, along with her baby brother and one of her older brothers. Daddy was out working at a construction site, trying to earn his 250 pesos per day...about $5.68. Less than six bucks a day to feed his family of seven. Oh yeah, and pay the rent each month too.

I don't know why, but I always had it in my head that Jen Rina didn't live like this. Her letters spoke of the chores she's responsible for around the house: cleaning the kitchen, occasionally cooking, helping with the baby. Little did I know that the kitchen was actually a pot, where the family lights firewood to cook each night. For all the preparation I had done for this meeting, I wasn't ready to see this. Nonoy told me that her family doesn't even own this shack, they rent it. They can't afford their own home. This is one provided to them for $15 a month. And they still struggle to make the rent. My heart was breaking. Somehow, I felt like a bad sponsor. If I were only doing more, perhaps she wouldn't live this way.

I held this precious small-framed 11-year old in my arms and told her how beautiful she is. How proud I am of her for the good marks she's getting in school. Her latest report card says she "exhibits leadership qualities."

My heart wanted to say "Come with me. Come back to the states. I can give you so much more." How American of me. "I can fix your problems because I have more money." Truth is, Jen Rina is happy. She knows her Lord and Savior. She even sang a worship song and read a letter for me while I sat in her tiny home.

And that's what my $32 a month is for. My sponsorship through Compassion International makes sure that Jen Rina's basic needs are taken care of. She gets after-school tutoring, help buying her clothes for school, hygiene education, a hot meal...and she hears about her Savior, Jesus. This is who Jesus was talking about, when He said the last would be first. I'm so glad she knows Christ.

We have so much in this country. And perhaps it takes seeing something like Jen Rina's home to put things into perspective. One of the folks on this trip said, "We are the ones Jesus was talking about, when He said it would be easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle. We are the rich man."

Yes we are. And it is our duty...our mandate from God Himself to use our excess to help those who have little.

I'm so glad I got to finally meet Jen Rina. I will never forget it. And I hope that the little bit that I give can someday help her break the cycle of poverty in her her children will never know what it's like to live in a rented shack made of scraps.

Living Amongst the Dead

“How long have you lived here?” I asked the young Filipino girl standing before me with a baby on her hip.
She smiled, exposing her decaying teeth. “All my life.”

All her life. Here, in one of the most despicable, degrading places for a family to raise a child. A cemetery. But not the type you and I are used to. There’s no neatly mowed lawn, lined with perfectly symmetrical rows of headstones.

There are no flowers gently placed at the head of each gravesite. In fact, it’s hard to tell where one grave ends and the other begins. To say this cemetery is in disrepair is a gross understatement. Garbage lines the muddy streets. Broken headstones and cracked open tombs slant along the moldy, muddy slopes that have been beaten down by far more rain than they can handle. Small stone statuettes are scattered throughout—cement angels kneeling—not out of reverence, but rather a sort of submission to the macabre of it all.

A 20-foot tall wall lines the cemetery. Upon closer inspection, you find that the wall is made up entirely of tombs…stacked one on top of the other. The wall of the dead.

Amidst the crow of a rooster and the bark of a stray dog, you hear the giggle of a child. Little boys and girls skip along the gravesites, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the entire site is covered in death. This is their home.

Hidden along the massive wall are openings the size of small doorways…perfect for a Filipino. An average American might have to duck to enter. Beyond these doorways, are homes—more like shacks made of scraps of wood and tin. It’s not unusual for a family of six or seven to call one of these shacks home. It’s where the young Filipino girl was raised…and where she will raise her baby. It’s beyond heartbreaking. No child should be raised here. No baby should have to breathe this moldy air…walk barefoot through this garbage. No child’s bed should be just on the other side of a wall from a corpse.

Compassion International is here to bring life to the cemetery. By teaching these children about their Heavenly Father, Compassion is giving Filipino boys and girls a chance at new life. It’s the very heart of the Great Commission. Because of Compassion’s ministry, some of these children will not spend their entire lives hidden within the wall of the dead. Nor will their children. This is truly light in the darkest of places.

We all live in cemeteries, I suppose. We are all skipping among the dead through this world of broken homes and hearts. The question is: what are we doing to bring life to the cemetery?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The 5 Worst Drivers

I hate to drive. Which is sad, because driving should be an enjoyable experience. And it is…when I’m the only one on the road. It’s the other drivers that drive me nuts! Here are the top 5 types of drivers that really get under my skin. Can you relate? Or are you on this list? “Life in the fast lane.” Okay, newsflash people: THE LEFT LANE IS THE FAST LANE! If you are driving in the left lane and people are passing you on the right…you’re holding up traffic. If you want to drive in the fast lane, fine…but you have an obligation to keep from holding up traffic. And don't give me this bull about "But I'm driving the speed limit!" I DON'T CARE! If you're holding up're holding up traffic. You can drive the speed limit in the right lane...or the "granny lane" as I like to call it. If only grannies knew to use it. Here’s another news flash: There will ALWAYS be someone who wants to drive faster than you. When that person comes up behind you, get over. Let them pass. Then you can get back into the fast lane. “Go ahead…you can cut.” One thing that ticks me off more than anything is the driver in front of me, who no doubt is holding up traffic in the fast lane, decides to let someone else cut in front of them from the right lane. It amazes me how much people will complain if a person tries to cut in line in front of them to get a burger at the Tastee Freeze, but they have no problem letting a total stranger cut in front of them on the road. Hey…I’m behind you! I don’t want more people in front of me! You didn’t ask my permission to let someone cut! What’s worse is when the driver in front of me lets someone else cut in front of them…then I get stuck at the next light. “Braker Braker” Your car has two pedals…three if it’s a stick. The one on the right makes it go. You should try using it every once in awhile. Why is it so many people insist on riding their brake the entire time they drive? I swear, Colorado drivers have found a way to brake uphill! The worst are those who ride their brake through a green light….just in case it turns yellow! Ugh! Give me a break. “Oh, it’s green?” I don’t care what you do in your car while you’re sitting at a red light. Put on your lipstick, shave, discipline your unruly children…whatever. But pay attention to the light! Green means go! And if you’re the first car in line at a light, it’s your responsibility to pay attention. Don’t make me honk behind you. It's so selfish for you to take your time going through a green light. Think about it. Someone about 10 cars behind you wants to make that light too. Your dawdling will mean they have to sit through another one. “But it’s a sport version!” One of the worst cars to get close to in traffic is a mini-van. Not just because of distracted moms—but the dads. I can accept that moms can’t always haul through traffic at the speed limit while three kids scream in the back seat, but get out of the fast lane for crying out loud! But by far the worse mini-van drivers are dads. I get it…you gave up your sports car for a mini-van. Good for you for putting family first. But why do men who drive mini-vans insist on racing? I don’t care if it’s the “sport version”…it’s a mini-van. Give it up.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Rude in New York

I'm at a conference in upstate New York right now. And I'm miserable. I'm way too far away from my wife and son. The "conference" is being held at a YMCA campground...which is beautiful and all, but there's no cell phone service here. (I can't believe there are still places in this country where you can't get cell service.) The wireless service goes in and out. It will likely take me over an hour to write this post, with the service going down and such. Oh, and let me not forget to mention that it's in the 90's here, ridiculously humid and the rooms don't have air conditioning.

This is 2007.

Who holds a conference in a place with no cell service, poor wireless service and no air conditioning!? Ugh. That's not a conference...that's camping! And remember the "forced socialization" I wrote about earlier? Yeah, there's been a lot of that throughout this "conference" too. Ugh. I am so out of my element. I just want to be home. I just want to hear my son's coo...hold him in my arms. I want to be back in my comfort zone.

When I get uncomfortable, I retreat into myself. There's been a lot of retreating these past couple of days, let me tell ya. Trust me, it's better for everyone if I just disappear by myself and stay away from people when I'm this uncomfortable. For example:

Last night, at dinner in the dining hall here at the, I mean "conference", I was sitting in the farthest table away in the back corner. Two ladies and two kids came up to the edge of the table and one of the ladies asked:

"Are you expecting more people at this table?"

"No. I was trying to be unsociable." I answered, without even looking up.

"Oh." She paused for a moment, not sure what to do with that answer.

"Well, if we promise not to talk to you, can we sit here?" she asked.

"Sure. That sounds like a plan."

It was rude, I know. Like I said, it's better for everyone if I can just disappear away from people.

Myers Briggs says an introvert is a person who does not get their energy from other fact, may even find other people draining. They focus on their "inner world" rather than the outer world. That's definitely me. Given the choice between solitude and mingling with other people, I choose solitude 10 times out of 10.

Because we prefer solitude over crowds, we introverts rarely have a long list of close friends. For me, the list is very small and I'm okay with that. But I would say that none of my friends really "knows" me. I guess I'm a secretive introvert. Or perhaps we all are, I don't know.

I am an introvert. And though I sometimes feel compelled to apologize for that, I won't. It's who I am. I know I do owe that lady at dinner an apology.

Go figure. I came to New York...and *I* was rude!

Someday, I'm going to hold a conference for introverts. It will have 300 attendees...and will be held in 300 different locations at the same time. But there will be wireless, cell service...and yes, even air conditioning.