One Girl Waking Up
A couple years ago, God began the process of breaking my heart. He brought a crisis into my husband’s life, and in turn, into my life. He orchestrated the move of two of my best friends when I needed them the most during that time. And He withdrew his presence as far as I could tell. I was sad for four hundred and forty one days. The saddest I had ever been. God broke my heart. And I will never forget that pain. But somehow my heart is both stronger and softer at the same time. And now that I am a woman who has experienced true heartbreak, I find that I understand a broken heart, I get the broken heart, I can almost sense it in someone else. And because of the pain and injustice my husband and I went through, I desperately want to reach out and do something about the pain of others, about the injustices in our world.
In August 2006, I was minding my own business, trying to get through a crisis. My heart was being made more impressionable, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was given the opportunity to attend a leadership conference where Bono was interviewed by Willow Creek’s founding pastor, Bill Hybels. What started out as me thinking it was pretty cool to hear Bono at a church conference turned into something that would work its way into my heart and change it, I hope, forever. Bono talked about Africa. He talked about the AIDS pandemic, and what he referred to as ‘stupid poverty’ (poverty that we have the ability to fix). He talked about the millions of people infected with AIDS, how mothers pass the virus onto their babies through pregnancy or nursing without knowing they were, how children are raising children because parents are dying off faster than anyone can count. And he talked about how we could make a difference and how it is our responsibility to reach out to the poor, disenfranchised, the widow, the hungry, the orphan. Bono reminded us 70,000 church leaders that Jesus talked about serving the poor more than anything else. And I don’t know how or why, but it got to me.
Then soon after the Willow conference, I ordered a book entitled Revolution: A Field Manual for Changing the World that spoke to me on twelve pressing issues in our world…issues that I could actually do something about (“anyone who thinks they are too small to make an impact in the world has never been in bed with a mosquito”). God even got me writing to my congressmen. I didn’t even know who my congressmen prior to that (I wish I were kidding).
Here’s something I wrote in my journal right around that time:
You are totally messing with my head on this, Jesus. What are You trying to teach me or lead me to do? I want to do something big for You. I’m open. Make me smarter than I am. Help me leverage my role at church and my increasing passion to do something big and good and lasting…but help me do it wisely…don’t let me procrastinate, though…yet I don’t want to run ahead and handle this sloppily. I want to join what You’re already doing. I want to listen to what You’re doing in me. I want my next year to be marked by outward action.
And Africa wouldn’t leave my mind. I had heard Bill Hybels say once, “Between the time you’re saved by God and the time you die, what are you going to do to help fix this broken world?” At that time, I had written letters to President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Speaker of the House Hastert, and Senators Durbin and Obama. I’d written Letters to the Editors of two local papers and the two Chicago papers. I’d sent some money to an organization that I had come across called Blood:Water Mission (to bring clean water to villages all over Africa), and I had planned to keep that up monthly. And I’d written two of my monthly columns all about this subject and that goes to about fifty websites and over two hundred eighty MOPS’ groups’ newsletters. And yet…I didn’t feel done. I could just tell I wasn’t done. I was like a dog with a bone.
With every new description I read of Africa, every new picture I made myself linger on, I was conjuring up a more vivid image of this place I’ve never been that has captured my heart. I’d been wondering about our sponsored child through Compassion International more. She has lost her mother, father and two siblings in the time we’ve been sponsoring her (about three or four years maybe). She was born on the same day as my daughter, Sara – that’s how I went about ‘choosing’ her. I have no idea what her family members have died from, but the odds are stacked in their favor that it was from something AIDS-related. She may have AIDS for all I know. She might have to be done going to school already, at the age of eleven, to help her grandmother take care of her remaining two siblings. She might go to bed hungry and wake up even hungrier. She might be a few twenty-cent pills away from a much better health existence. She might have to walk a few miles to fetch water that is speeding up her dying process.
My Sara, on the other hand, through no fault or merit of her own, has about fifty outfits to choose from each morning, gets meals provided for her every few hours, attends a brand new school, has a brother and parents who aren’t sick in the least, a home that’s warm, with her own room and her own bed that isn’t a mat on a dirt floor, and all the clean water she could ever want to drink. And I’ve been struck with the thought, How will I ever convey this to her? Or more to the point, how will I fully convey the weight of all that to me?
I’m reminded of something I heard singer/songwriter, Sara Groves, say in an interview a ways back. That she was done shining and polishing her faith like it was a classic car and that she just wanted to drive it. I’ve had twenty plus years to become firm in what I believe and well over a year of refining fire on my life and now, I stand on the other side, and I want to do something big with the rest of my life.
Paraphrased Isaiah 58 from The Message says to do this to the least of these…
Break the chains of injustice
Free the oppressed
Get rid of exploitation
Share your food with the hungry
Invite the homeless into your home
Put clothes on the shivering ill-clad
Get rid of unfair practices
Quit blaming victims
Be generous with the hungry
Give yourself to the down and out
Fix, restore, rebuild, renovate
…then your life will turn around, your prayers will be answered, your life will glow in the darkness, you’ll have a full life in the emptiest of places, you’ll be a well-watered garden, a never-ending well, you’ll be free to enjoy God. I want this kind of life.
Something I’ve been learning is that when you’re open and willing, God will take you on adventures. And they might look nothing like what you’d dream up for yourself. I am a high-maintenance diva, and in the past year, God has orchestrated trips to both Haiti and Sierra Leone, Africa for me. And the both changed my heart and my life.
So let me encourage you, that yes, you can do something about Africa or Haiti or AIDS or poverty (or any place or person who is hurting and who you’re passionate about). I know you’re busy. I get busy.
You may have little kids…all the more reason to care for kids who don’t have their parents anymore because they were stricken with a disease that they didn’t mean to catch.
Perhaps, the majority of us won’t actually ever make it around the world…but you don’t have to go there to find out what’s going on there.
Money’s tight…you have bills to pay let alone the need to start thinking about college for the little ones…I’m right there with you. But no one is asking for thousands of dollars here. One dollar is one year of clean water for one African (www.bloodwatermission.org). Who of us does not have one dollar to spare?
You don’t want to know what’s going on over there — ignorance is bliss and all? It’s only bliss for you. Not knowing doesn’t change the reality of the pain in the world and the reality that we really can do something.
Other people are doing good…they don’t really need my help — yes, there are people already doing good things…but it’s not enough. They need our help…bottom line.
We are all busy. But you are not too busy to, first of all, know what’s going on in the world, and secondly, to make a difference in really meaningful and practical ways. Ways that will change your life. Ways that will shape your kids. Ways that will change the world. Ways that will make God smile.
John Wesley – founder of the Methodist church – had a motto: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.” That pretty much covers it.
Matthew 25:40 says: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it undo Me…” You help someone out, you’re serving Christ himself. Each and every time.
God broke my heart. And I want to spend the rest of my life thanking him for it.
Let me close with a Franciscan Benediction:
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection,
starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.
Now, let’s go change the world.
©Elisabeth K. Corcoran, 2008
Elisabeth Corcoran is the author of In Search of Calm: Renewal for a Mother’s Heart (2005) and Calm in My Chaos: Encouragement for a Mom’s Weary Soul (2001). She is wife to Kevin, and mom to Sara, 11-&-1/2, and Jack, 10. Her passion is encouraging women and the Church, and applying her gifts to eradicating global poverty, as well as local and global AIDS, one small step at a time, which she hopes to fulfill through her writing and speaking, and her connection with Open Door Clinic in the Fox Valley area and her church’s partnership in Bo, Sierra Leone. You can learn more about Elisabeth and her ministry at www.elisabethcorcoran.com.