Learning Compassion

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Ryan with photo of Paula.

As the holidays approach each year, I am often dismayed by my children’s greed. Wish lists and letters to Santa fill up pages with wants and more wants.

At our house, the lists look something like this: video games, iPods, LOTS of Barbies, and on and on and on. Somehow even “gift cards” pops up on those lists, just in case the wants aren’t satisfied.

Even Charlie Brown laments the commercialism that often overshadows Christmas in his famous holiday show.

I’ve noticed this consumerism in the kids doesn’t only manifest at Christmas, though, so this year, I wanted to find a way to chip away at the entitlement that seems to be coursing through the veins of “kids these days.”

I know, I know, every generation’s parents think their kids are spoiled and don’t appreciate what they have, and I’m sure a lot of that goes along with being a child. I’m sure everyone from my generation heard the famous “kids are starving in Africa” line at dinner, just as our parents heard about the kids starving in China.

So like any good parent, I told the “when I was your age” stories and the “walking to school in the snow uphill both ways” tales. But words never seem to bring home the point like actions do.

While I wasn’t willing to send my children on uphill marches through the snow to prove my point that they actually have it pretty good, I was ready to find something that would have more meaning in their lives.

In September, while reading one of my favorite blogs, the writer took a trip to Guatemala with other bloggers. The trip was sponsored by Compassion International, a charity whose motto is “releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name.”

The bloggers spent a few days touring Compassion-run projects around the country and writing about their experiences. I was deeply moved by the stories and photographs that resulted from this trip, so I started researching Compassion. In just a few days, I’d made the decision to sponsor a child.

I couldn’t believe how many children there were on the web site or how specific I could get in my search. I could narrow it down by region, country, age, disability, orphan, HIV/AIDS affected, gender and even birth date.

Finally I chose a 10-year-old boy from Guatemala named Anderson. I showed his photo to my children and explained sponsorship. I wasn’t sure what their interest levels would be, but am happy to report that it went over quite well.

They had all kinds of questions about Anderson: where did he live, what was his house like, what did he eat, what was he like. I read them the brief biography from the web site and told them the only way to find out more was to start writing to him.

Then each of my three oldest boys sat down and wrote a letter to this boy in Guatemala. A boy they’d never met, but had already piqued their interest. My 9-year-old even sent him some baseball cards from his own collection.

We have sponsored a few more children since then, including a 5-year-old girl from Colombia, hand-picked by my own 5-year-old daughter. I was thrilled to witness my daughter’s thoughtfulness when she picked out stickers from her own stash to send to a little girl she has never met.

In three short months, these sponsorships have impacted our family in many small ways. They’ve made us more conscious of how we spend our money and more thankful for our blessings, to put it mildly.

They also have provided many teachable moments, like when my daughter wanted me to make a video of her doing a ballet dance to send to our Colombian girl.

I said, “Honey, she doesn’t have a TV.” That reminded me that what may seem obvious to us adults isn’t always so clear to the kids. Her look was one of disbelief, then horror, as she empathized for a moment with this little girl who lives without a television.

Do I dare tell her this little girl likely lives without a lot more than television? Do I tell her that thanks to our meager contribution, she gets a couple of meals a week, some tutoring, some healthcare and spiritual guidance?

That hardly seems like enough to me, and I’m sure the unfairness of it will be too much for my Kindergartener to grasp. It’s too much for me to grasp.

“She doesn’t have a TV,” I repeated, “so why don’t you draw her a picture of yourself doing ballet instead?”

As she bounced off happily to draw her picture, I thought, there will be plenty of time for her to understand the reality of the situation.

For now, she can do what she can, which is caring about somebody else.

(This story was written by Kerri and posted in December 2010 on another web site, http://www.parentingfortherestofus.com, a blog about parenting with several contributing writers).

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