This thanksgiving season I've had refugee stories and image in my head and have been working through the striking difference between all the cushy luxuries and blessings I'm thankful for and the basic needs that millions of the world's population goes without. I've been especially tugged by the plight of the world's refugees, more than half of which are children. What am I doing with my self actualized life? Worrying about what color to paint my bathroom? What stamp to put on my holiday cards? How I can minimize my wrinkles? What can I do here in my suburban existence, sitting plush at the top of Maslow's triangle?
A friend sent me this prayer by Samuel Pugh today and in it's wisdom I found a piece of the answer to these life long questions.
The answer isn't denying all you have, the answer is recognizing it. Me sitting in my warm house feeling spoiled and guilty and sad isn't going to help a child who's parents have been killed by the Taliban. But recognition and gratitude might. Gratitude that drives me to awareness of others, and awareness that then shatters my complacency and bestirs my compassion, that is a powerful and moving force. It's easy to shy away from gratitude the minute it starts to feel a bit uncomfortable. Having your complacency blown away is no picnic. But those heavy hard feelings are important to sit with. I'm trying to welcome them in and sit with them long enough to let them stir me into action.
Recently a friend recommended this book to me, and now I recommend it to you. It is stunning.
It's been sitting on our coffee table for a few weeks, calling to us, still running through our heads when we're not reading it. It's a heavy book, full of unfiltered stories of devastated lives. My kids all have been picking it up, almost daily and reading and takeing in the words and images. They are still and somber as they do. Peter has been especially touched by the stories, reading aloud to me the "saddest" ones. It has given be pause and called me to help them understand this complicated, weighty and compelling feeling of compassion. We've talked about how compassion feels akin to sadness, but somehow, since it's sadness for someone else, it is laced with light. It feels heavy and beautiful all at once. It is a huge driving force to push us into paths of discipleship and ministry. If we listen to it's soft compelling, though sometimes a little bit disturbing, beat we find ourselves with more awareness, a bigger picture, more gratitude and more fire and fuel to lift hands that hang down and strengthen feeble knees.
Compassion has been one of the most beautiful and strong forces in my life, and I want my kids to know how to tune into it.
Right now our focus is on trying to help refugees in Greece. LIsa Campbell, a friend of one of our family friends, is running the Oinofyta Community Center which fills in the huge gaps that the government run camp can't fill in the lives of 600 refugees (more than half of which are children). The work she is doing is critical to these 600 lives. The Center is their only real resource for medical/emotional/nutritional and legal help. Despite the incredible work that this Center is doing it has no sustainable source of funding and need our help.
To that end, my kids have decided to hold their annual Children for Children concert to raise money for the Center.
If you want to do something low effort that can make a big difference this holiday season, please consider donating to the Do Your Part Oinyfyta Community Center. Or have people donate in your honor instead of giving you a gift! Click here for more info.
But, beyond this little event, I'm trying to brainstorm ways our family can open our hearts to compassion and let it change our ways. Should we sit down as a family and figure out where we can save in our budget and who we can give to? Should we mix up our consumer habits to buy less and share more? Should we pledge to raise awareness and funds more often? What should we watch and read and listen to? How can we keep this gratitude and remembrance alive enough that it will keep us from complacency? What can we do right here in our immediate little world? I would love to hear how others have wrestled with this question and what small (or big) things you're doing in your worlds to make a difference to those who "cry out for what we take for granted." I'm hoping to compile some ideas and post them here soon.
We are little. We live on the other side of the world. We can't solve all the problems. And sometimes it's easier to silence the gratitude before it swells enough to 'shatter our complacency." But this season we are trying to sit with this disparity, let it bestir our compassion and see what goodness it will lead us to.