when a typhoon hits the Philippines

This happens every November. I write for 31 days in October and then November comes and I have nothing to say.

But then a typhoon hit the Philippines and I can’t stop thinking about the people.

I think about walking through the streets of Manilla two springs ago and meeting the children there, one in particular: the child we sponsor through Compassion. Her name is Stacey.

stacey from the philippines

I walked through the zoo on a hot day in May with our team of bloggers, the children we sponsored, and some of their parents. I worked hard to avoid the orangutan dressed in human clothes who was allowed to roam free in the zoo. (A clothed monkey! Not in a cage!) You haven’t lived until you’ve visited a zoo in a third world country.

I met Stacey’s mom that day and she seemed well enough that spring, but in her most recent letters, Stacey asks me to pray for her mom who she says can no longer walk. I’ve asked why not, but with the delay between our letters I’ve yet to get a clear answer from her.

Now, I wonder about Stacey’s mom – if you can’t walk, how do you evacuate when there is a typhoon? I don’t know the answer to that or any of the other thousands of questions that swirl around when something terrible like this happens.


For those living in the Philippines, we pray for rescue. We pray for comfort. We pray for food, for clean water, for provision. We pray for protection – though I admit it feels too late for that, but we pray for it now anyway.

We pray for hope.

When I first heard of this terrible storm, I turned to Compassion International for a glimpse of that hope. They have been keeping sponsors posted on the condition there as best they can at this time, but I still don’t know for sure if Stacey and her family are safe. If you would like to help children and families affected by Typhoon Haiyan, one way you can help is to visit Compassion to donate to the Disaster Relief and Stability Fund today.

a whisper for peru

I’m watching Survivor this season. (Okay, I watch it every season. Leave me alone). But this season, they’re competing in the Philippines. There was a challenge this week where they had to crawl through mud, then a pile of rice, then dig in more mud for balls to shoot into a basket-type thing.

The winning team got to travel to a nearby village and surprise the kids with hula hoops and crayons.

In turn, the families made the contestants a beautiful meal.

It was a sweet picture.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about that rice from the challenge.

There was so much of it.

What will they do with all that rice?

I only spent a week in the Philippines with Compassion last year, but I saw enough to know that rice they rolled around in could feed a lot of people.

the part where I steal this banner from Layla & Kevin’s blog so I can tell you about their trip.

Compassion is on the move.

Sneaking in here for a rare night post to whisper a request that you pray for our friends in Peru?

This week, JenLayla and KevinShaun, and Angie (and her adorable twin girls) are bearing witness and burdens of children and families living in poverty there. They are meeting the kids they sponsor, loving the only way they know how, and telling us all about it.

They bring more than hula hoops and crayons. They even bring more than rice. They get a front row seat to watch how Compassion International carries the Hope of the world into the lives of these children.

And because they have a front row seat, we can too.

You can read all of their posts here.

Third World Symphony with Shaun Groves

Updated :: Giveaway winners will be announced Tuesday September 6. Still time to enter!

Shaun and I followed Kat up the ladder into the dark, one-room house made of cardboard and tin. Shaun was our team leader and he walked these streets and climbed these ladders in India and Guatemala and Kenya. But Manila was my first undoing and the grief came tsunami heavy. We crowded together in that small space, and the first thing I saw when we got there was toddler AJ asleep on the floor. He was so small and so like my son. I tried to hide my face behind the door, behind my camera, beneath my hand. Kat slipped me a tissue and I willed my body to stop shaking.

We stood silent as the Compassion volunteer sat with AJ’s mama and read from the Bible in Tagalog. I tried to distract myself by looking around the little room. That’s when I saw the matchbox car. My son has the same one. But this one here in the Philippines had no wheels. Grief.

Two days later we spent the day with four of the most vibrant, beautiful, confident young women I’ve yet to meet. They lived in poverty but were wealthy with love, grace, and compassion. They reminded me of girls in our youth group in North Carolina. They were lovely. Hope.

We flew home to the other side of the world. I quickly remembered how to walk in my own shoes again though I was sure they wouldn’t fit. I came home to a full freezer. An anxious seven year old. A basket full of matchbox cars. Cancer.

We had a birthday party and two weeks later, a funeral. Hope and then grief. And in the midst of all the brokenness and joy and living, I now stand torn between their world and mine.

It’s all pain, isn’t it? And the pain brought a tightening in my soul this summer, a folding in on myself in protection and a bit of fear. I wasn’t sure how to continue to process this world with that world and all that’s in between us. Then I started listening to Shaun’s new album. These words, they have brought a loosening within me. This music helps me see. This Third World Symphony brings these two worlds together like the wheel-less car on AJ’s table and those in my son’s basket; like the poverty on the streets of Manila and the death in my own family; like the hope of a bright future for young Filipino girls and also the ones in my small group. Shaun has seen things, and so has his music.

The words on this album remind me that Jesus is present when people are broken. And that it isn’t only all pain. It’s all grace. I wrote a book about grace, but still I forget. Have you watched this video of Shaun and Ann talking about his song, All is Grace? These two don’t just say truth, they believe it.

This album is an extension of that belief. And belief is what we are so desperate for, isn’t it? I don’t often recommend things, but might I recommend this? Shaun has found a way to sing theology. Deep truth. Gospel heart. If you want gentle direction on how to reconcile the third world way over there with our first world right here, begin with this. Come see. Want to hear a sample? Listen as Shaun sings the words on these pictures, the lyrics to Come By Here … (there is a video below – if you’re reading elsewhere you may need to click over)

So thankful to Shaun for staying up way too late and singing for us today. What a gift. Come By Here is track 2 on the album and I have it on repeat. And repeat.

Shaun Groves is a singer/songwriter, an artist, father, husband. He is also a friend. He advocates for children living in poverty around the world by traveling with Compassion International. His is a voice reminding all believers to remember that we weren’t just saved from something, but saved for something. His newest album, Third World Symphony, officially released yesterday. This is the second stop on the tour.

Want to win a copy for yourself? (You do. Trust me.) Leave a comment below and we’ll choose five winners to be announced Tuesday September 6.

when you pass through the waters

I wore my water-wading pants today. Not for ocean kind of water. But the ones I wore that hot day in Manilla, when we walked through the deep waters of poverty.

Every time I pull those pants on, I think of that day. I think of how I thought riding through the one foot high water in a pedicab was dangerous, until we got on the styrofoam boat. And I thought riding on a styrofoam boat was bad, until we put on the rubber boots. And it was there, walking through the water with my gray Old Navy pants on when it hit me how awful this broken world can really be.

And so today, I wore those pants again. Our family is walking through a difficult time with one who is close to us quickly moving towards heaven. And all we can do is watch as cancer takes what cancer wants.

The  song has been in my head all day, the one from the verse about passing through the waters. I’ve thought of the heartbreak in Manila and the heartbreak at home and how there often are no easy answers or ribbon-tied endings; just deep waters, feeble faith, and a God who holds all things together even as they fall apart.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

Isaiah 43:2 ESV

she walks in beauty

When I left, my only expectation of myself was this: I will not close my eyes. And so I flew over a days worth away and went with eyes ready to see and hands ready to tell the stories. And knowing how crazy tired we were that week, it was a true miracle that the stories were seen or told at all. There was one night when I couldn’t lift my arms, couldn’t open my left eye. But I still, somehow, managed to write one last post, hit publish at 11 pm, crawl into the hotel bed, and wake up at 4 hours later to get to the airport in time to fly home.

Looking back at it all now, over a week later, I may have been at least seven shades of crazy to go at all. I kid. But we don’t say yes looking back, we only make decisions with eyes faced forward to the future. And looking back, I would still go again with my eyes open just the same.

I’m sure I’m having difficulty adjusting to being back home, but I haven’t the luxury of figuring that out yet. What is happening, it seems to me now, is that even though I had my eyes open while I was in the Philippines, I have had them tightly shut once I’ve arrived home. It is simply too much to bear. It isn’t just in the Philippines; the poverty is everywhere. I know so many of you have seen it in India and Guatemala and Haiti and Peru and the Dominican Republic and Mexico. And it’s also in its various forms in Florida and DC and Seattle and New York. So many of you have seen it so much more than I have. But seeing it once is all you need for a good shake up.

When I got the packet of information about the child I sponsor in the mail weeks before I left for the Philippines, the little paragraph under Stacey’s photograph told me she likes to swim and help her mother in the kitchen. I don’t know what I thought that meant, exactly. I guess I pictured them living in a house kind of like mine, only a lot smaller, of course. Maybe a Little House on the Prarie-like feel of a house; a one room cabin with a loft for the kids and a fireplace.

I know better now, because I have been there. I have walked down the dirty street to Stacey’s front door. Or at least, to her doorway. I don’t remember there being a door. I have passed through the “kitchen where she helps her mother”. As it turns out, Stacey doesn’t have a kitchen. She has some pots and pans, a few utensils, some rags. You can see it there in the photo – the mop is in her doorway and just to the right of it is where they keep their pots.

There isn’t a kitchen, and I can’t say I don’t know. And so since I’ve been back, I’ve read a whole book just for the fun of it. Also, perhaps, for the escape of it because “she helps her mother in the kitchen” is haunting me. Find me a fiction book. Lose me in a make-believe story, because babies are growing up in this world who have so little and I can’t take the knowledge of it. Slowly, I began to realize that Clara Carter, the heroine of my book, was making a discovery of her own, one that was uncomfortably similar to my own.

“And though I had never known this part of the city, I found I knew this place. I knew it from the pages of Mr. Riis book. This was how the other half lived. They lived here in this place that stank of overripe food and overripe flesh.”

-Siri Mitchell, She Walks in Beauty

It seems that God would not have me run too far away. It seems that He has ways of weaving truth and reality into even our most desperate attempts at fiction and pretend and escape. It seems He would not have me forget. And so I finished my book and I sat in the quiet and I realized I haven’t had much quiet since I’ve returned.  The quiet brings memories and memories bring tears. And then I realize all over again Great. I only have melancholy to share with my blog friends. Again.

But I cannot forget the sweet relief and the hope that showed up while I was there, the voice that whispered as I walked through the dirty street to Stacey’s doorway, Come. I want to show you what I’m doing. I want you to see where I’ve been. It was so clear, that voice, that I couldn’t help but smile as I walked. His Spirit brings beautiful into even the darkest places.

He sits with her on that bench while she works her word search filled with the names of the counties in Ohio. He watches her as she chases her dog Aang around on the always-wet pavement. He follows her as she walks into that dark house without a kitchen. He made her and He knows. He knows. She is not forgotten by Him. There is a grace that doesn’t give up and a love that does not turn away.

There is something really familiar about her, the way she is so much like my girls here even though she lives there. I continue to think of her as I peruse this lovely series my friend Amy is doing over at Playing Sublimely called The Mothering Daughters Experience. As I read these posts about what it means to mother daughters, I think of my girls and then I think of Stacey and how, in a very small way, I mother her as well.

because I need to be lighthearted tonight

You’ve heard so much about our trip to the Philippines, and most of it has been so very serious. Here’s a little happy peek into our silliness that I just found on my phone. Our plane had just landed in Japan and we were preparing to get on our long flight back the US. I asked Keely how her flight was and well, she tells me. One of my favorite parts is watching Shaun’s face in the background at the end. Clearly by this point, he is soo over us.

the colorful mess of joy and grief

I’m sure you would expect this post to be coming next. I’m busy doing all the regular things: washing the clothes, planning the meals, counting the days ’til the last day of school. I’m also doing some not-so-regular things: caring for family members who aren’t well, preparing our guest room for a last minute visit, comforting our girl over some unexplained anxiety. All the while, there is a cloud of sadness that I can’t explain, but I understand.

And I’m learning, again, what it means to abide in Christ in the midst of the same and the not-so-same. I’m thinking of them and of us and of all the land and water in between. I’m shocked at my ability to compartmentalize. I grieve it. And yet, I question if that’s what this is. People here need me, and so I carry on. But I do not forget. This foggy sadness tells me so. Music helps a little. Prayer helps more. I wash the dishes and whisper short pleas, small longings, and lots of questions into the silence.

As I continue to process, I’m sharing with you a little piece of happy today. These photos are from the wedding I shot before I left for the Philippines. You know, the I-can’t-hold-it-together-so-I’ll-just-pray-over-the-SD-cards wedding? That one.

I look at her lovely face, at the way the light hits her just so, and I think of new beginnings, of life just starting and keeping on, of a God who offers hope and a future. I think of every good gift coming down from the Father of the Heavenly lights, and how marriage is a good gift.

I think of the posts I’ve written on art, over 40 of them by now, and I consider how pursuing our art in some ways feels extravagant when you consider the mother living from meal to meal in a one room shack.

But we don’t stop living simply because others live hard. Seeing them could shut us down if we let it. Or it could open us up. It is not for us to feel bad about where we live, what we were born into, what we have been given. But it is for us to reconsider the gifts, that perhaps they are just that: gifts. Not entitled, not owed, not earned. But gifts.

They have gifts too, ones called grace and mercy and forgiveness and love. Sometimes those of us who have much have to dig through all our provisions to find peace and contentment sitting small in the bottom of the bucket instead of holding grace with simple hands, embracing the nothing, and feasting on Jesus.

Life keeps right on, and we celebrate because there is much to celebrate. We swallow down joy in big, breathless gulps. We must. And then, we grieve when it all gets to be too much, and that is as it should be.

But if the grieving begins to linger too long, it can be good to circle around to the gifts again; to whisper thanks, to receive the blessing, and to turn ourselves outward. Grief closes us in. Gifts spin us around to thankful, and thankful opens us wide for the giving.

I have to keep coming back to that, the life raft of thankfulness. I have to believe in a God who knows things that I don’t, in a faith that is bigger than the shadows it casts, in the simple beauty of life–even when it’s hard. And I pray with open hands for the Lord to use the art of words and pictures to spin you and I back around to His goodness, ready to give however He may ask.

thankful is the new black

There really is no normal way to transition from there to here. I’m living in the between today, and I’m seeing life through strangers eyes. Oh, it’s summertime now. Oh, I have a dog. Look, I can drink the water. Where did we get all this stuff, anyway? And what’s my name again?

I unpack my suitcase and find leftover pesos in the pocket of my dirtiest pair of pants. At first, I’m bummed that I forgot to exchange it back to US dollars before I left. Then, I realize this money that I hold in my hand could pay the rent and feed a family of four for a month. I close my fist around this pile of useless-to-me money. I’m glad to have it, as it reminds me of … well, it just reminds me. The hydrangeas bloomed while we were gone. So did the gardenias. I breathe in deep standing in our backyard. It smells like thankful.

I think of you as I stand there, of my sister’s words as I called her finally from the airport the first chance I got. I feel like I went with you on this trip, she told me. I feel like we were all there, too. Those words of hers are the best gift, I realize now, standing in the middle of provision and enough. As much as I learned and saw and experienced while in the Philippines, I did not go to simply see it for myself. I went to see it for you, too. 

It seems too small to say thank you, but I have to say it anyway. Thank you for reading our stories last week. Thank you for keeping your eyes open with us. Thank you for sharing our links on Twitter and Facebook. Thank you for releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name. Thank you for praying that I wouldn’t have a panic attack on the airplane. I mostly didn’t.

I’m standing precariously on the fence between thankful and despair. I can’t go back to not knowing and I can’t change the world tonight. So I’m settling on thankful, because that must be where it starts. Until we know what we’ve been given, perhaps we will be unable to give. And there it is again, compassion births compassion. Love begets love. Gifts move us to give. And so we begin with thankful, with breathing in the sweet air of our backyard, with embracing our safe home, with eating the bounty of food that is provided. We eat, we laugh, and then we dig around in the hidden places of our hearts and our budgets and look for ways to give with new eyes. Oh Lord, continue to give us new eyes.

this crazy hope :: day 5

Iwas really kind of terrified to come on this trip. But you already know that. Exactly one week ago, I zipped up my suitcase for the final time, stuck that blue Compassion tag on it, turned around to look at The Man, and burst into tears. Just now, I zipped up my suitcase again, only this time, I’m going home. The tears aren’t bursting like they did before I left; rather, it’s a slow trickle as the Filipino children have crowded their way into my heart, crowding out everything else.

The girl in the blue shirt is Danika–think Filipino Punky Brewster. She walked confidently up to me, all 3 and a half feet of herself, and asked me in her loud, raspy voice, Wha ’tis your name? I told her, and she said Oo. Veddy nice name. What is your age? They all want to know how old we are. And when I told her she had to guess, she paused for a moment. Tirty-four.

Drat. I was hoping for at least in the twenties. Instead, she guessed exactly right. These kids are just … kids. Curious, vibrant, playful kids. And a lot better at guessing age than I am.

Stephanie pulled out an album with photos of her own kids in it and these couldn’t gather around her fast enough. They were fascinated to see pictures of kids just like them. Only not. Somewhere between seeing the poverty where these children live and watching them write love on their hands, the fear fell away.

And I’m left with this crazy hope that doesn’t make sense in the middle of all that we’ve seen.

Yet, there it is.

When you’re standing in a house built on stilts in a marshland, you look for the hope. When you’re walking down the crowded streets with the skinny cats and the barefoot babies, you look for the hope. When you look at the dusty dirt on your feet and then move your gaze up to the cardboard windows two shaky stories high, you look for the hope. You must. And when you find it,
you don’t let it go.

I promised to come to the Philippines and not close my eyes, and I think one reason I was so terrified was because I feared I wouldn’t see the hope. I feared I would see a thousand AJs sleeping on the hard floor, ten thousand Emilys waiting for the next flood to bring down her house, a hundred thousand Rose Anns without food to feed her family. I was afraid I would see them and then, I would leave only broken. But that is not what is happening.

Instead, I am seeing Maann in every child I meet. I see their potential, what they could be. Because Hope has found these children. And He is not letting them go. Because the tagline is right: the only way to be released from poverty is in the name of Jesus. He isn’t going away, running away, or turning away from this need. He is showing up every day in these churches we have visited that are home to the child development centers here.

Friends, there are nearly 6,000 little Maanns running around the Philippines today who are registered with Compassion but currently have no sponsor. They are children who need someone to remind them of the Hope. Could you be that someone or do you know someone who might be? Thank you for prayerfully considering. If you decide you would like to partner with Compassion International in releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name, simply click here to choose from a long list of beautiful Filipino children.

If you want to know more about what it means to sponsor a child with Compassion, Shaun wrote an excellent post that answers the question, so what is Compassion International anyway? He explains things way better than I ever could. And my roommate, Brianne works for Compassion and has been writing the posts for the Compassion blog this week. She’s a tiny, adorable, lovely, newlywed who knows everything a person could ever want to know about Compassion. And if she doesn’t, she can find out quick. So if you wish to learn more, ask Shaun or Brianne. That’s what I do.

how stickers can change the world :: day 4

Some of you have asked the question, Why are you going to the Philippines when so many people in our own country need help? I am attempting to gently walk through the answers over at (in)courage today. And as a bonus at the end of that post, Tsh and I made a little video while on the bus this morning. And I babble and move my head a lot, so that’s fun.

When a friend asked me to get together with her after I got back from the Philippines, I made a joke about not having a concept of “after I get back.” Compassion owns me until June 4th, I said, and anything after that doesn’t exist.

I meant simply that I am at their disposal to keep my eyes open and to write what I see while I’m here. And also that the concept of life when I get back is … fuzzy. But keeping my eyes open is becoming more difficult by the day, and that’s not just because of jet lag. I wrote yesterday’s post with one eye shut, and I don’t mean figuratively. I was so emotionally exhausted from wading through the waters of poverty (and I don’t mean that figuratively either), that I could barely stay awake. I can’t be sure, but I have a feeling you might be feeling a bit of that, too.

I know it is hard to read these posts. It is certainly hard to write them. So let’s just take a collective moment and have a little light and easy cultural lesson, shall we?

Lesson complete.

We had some fun today. I think it’s important for you to see. These kids? Are fun!

We spent some time today with some older students who have graduated from the Child Sponsorship Development program. Now they have applied and been accepted into the Leadership Development Program where they are able to go to college for free.

Maann is 19 years old and is a student enrolled in the Leadership Development Program. She is not only beautiful, she is articulate, funny, and so intelligent. She has dreamed of becoming a directer at one of Compassion’s child development centers. And she will.

But the most beautiful part of that sentence is that she has dreamed.

From the time they are 12, children registered with Compassion begin to build a My Plan for Tomorrow book. Every year, they write what they dream to become and goals on how to get there. Today, I read one that said “I want to have zero waste in river” and another that said, “To have higher height.” It’s small, but it’s a start.

I sat with Maann on the way to lunch today and I asked her if her sponsor ever writes her letters. “Oh yes!” she said, “I have one in my purse!” She had one. In her purse.

She let me read it and I realized as I did I thought, I’m making this letter writing thing too hard. I currently sponsor 2 children with Compassion. Soon, I hope to sponsor more. But I am not so good with the letter writing. I write, but not as often as I want to. And part of that is because I feel like what I have to say is lame. As I read Maann’s letter (from her purse), I realized that the letter was not necessarily special because of what it said. It was special because it was written.

Maann shared her story with us today. She remembered when she was young and she used to ask God, Why do I have to be poor? I sat in that plastic chair and asked the same question with her, Why? Why does she have to be poor? But as her story continued, I kind of forgot about that question. Instead, I was mesmerized by her poise, her ability to stand in front of a group of strangers from the US and encourage, inspire, and tell her story.

Maann currently sponsors a child with three other students in her program. She hopes to sponsor one on her own one day. This is the neighborhood where Maann lives.

Her mother, father, sisters and brother live here together.

That room is the downstairs. Her parents sleep there on the floor near the table. And in back of the room, there is a ladder-like staircase leading to a platform where Maann and her sisters sleep. On that table, she spread out all the letters from her sponsors over the years. She holds their picture in her hands. Here, you can see for yourself.


Compassion International is in the business of releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name. I have wrestled with that tagline while being here in Manila. But they are still in poverty, I say to myself. Meeting Maann changed all that for me. Compassion does not necessarily move children out of poverty. But what God is doing through Compassion is releasing children from poverty. One is a change in circumstance. The other is a change in perspective.

Because of sponsors like you, children who are born into poverty . . .

. . . no longer have to be slave to it.

Maann still lives in poverty. But she does not live impoverished.

She lives full. She lives joyful. She lives. And she lives because someone said it was possible. Someone chose to believe in her, to invest in her, and to send her stickers. And now she wants to do the same for someone else. What about you?