Friday, December 17, 2010

A Christmas Miracle Called "Elizabeth"

Elizabeth. What a beautiful name. To most who glance at her pictures, the little girl in purple is just an ordinary girl. A big smile on her face, feeding her baby doll, you might be fooled at first sight. Elizabeth is no ordinary girl; in fact, she is absolutely extraordinary. She is a recipient of one of God's greatest miracles this season! Oh yes, this little one has been chosen to receive a gift from the King of Kings Himself!!!

Elizabeth was born with Down Syndrome and has lived her life in an orphanage. Orphanages are not joyful places, for many reasons, but primarily because "family" is missing from them. Each child is simply a number that needs to be fed each day....and they are not fed a hot meal cooked by a creative mom who wants to warm her child's tummy and nourish a growing body....but a paltry meal served out of basic necessity. Orphan boys who are born with the God-given desire to rough and tumble on the floor in a fun wrestle with dad, never experience the thrill. And as for the forgotten little girls with delicate fingers designed by their Maker to be tucked safely into daddy's strong hand, she never feels the scruffy cheek of her father's face nestled close to hers when being comforted after a frightening nightmare on a blustery winter night. Getting tucked in at night? Hearing a bedtime story? Tickles under the chin? No, those are pleasures orphans know nothing about.

However, life is too seldom measured in absolutes, so on a comparative basis.....when the standard is a mental institution, orphanges would be called the "Taj Mahal". The little girl called Elizabeth wearing purple in the pictures above is in a mental institution this moment....because she has Down Syndrome and because she is seven.

When orphans with special needs turn 5 or 6, they are determined to be unadoptable and are sent to mental institutions with people of all ages (including aging adults). In this place, orphans like Elizabeth witness all kinds of frightening phenomena: persistent screaming, people being tied to beds, abuse of the worst kinds, etc. Because funding is sparse and adequate help is even more sparse, it is not unheard of for children like Elizabeth to be tied down to beds and never held again when they enter a mental institution.
In thinking of Elizabeth today, I was reminded of another one who shares the name which means "My God Is Abundance":

"During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned to service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old." (Luke 1 The Message)

You probably know the story from angel plans a surprise meeting with Zachariah in the temple to tell him some terrific news and scares poor Zachariah into a paralyzed state of shock. I can almost hear his heart thumping through his temple garb when Gabriel began to speak:

"Don't fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John. You're going to leap like a gazelle for joy, and not only you---many will delight in his birth. He'll achieve great stature with God. He'll drink neither wine nor beer. He'll be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment he leaves his mother's womb. He will turn many sons and daughters of Israel back to their God. He will herald God's arrival in the style and strength of Elijah, soften the hearts of parents to children, and kindle devout understanding among hardened skeptics---he'll get the people ready for God!" (Luke 1 The Message)

Zachariah, the highly respected servant of God, we would suspect to be a man of great faith....eager to accept God's Words given to him via the messenger of God. But no, like many who receive a calling from the Almighty, Zachariah doubted.

"But the angel said: I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. But because you won't believe me, you will be unable to say a word until the day of your son's birth. Every word I have spoken to you will come true on time----on God's time."

And every word spoken did come true. John the Baptist was born to the barren Elizabeth and her doting husband, Zachariah. "And in all that Judean hill country, people talked about nothing else." (Luke 1 The Message)

Today, I am just as thrilled as Gabriel must have been when he met Zachariah to announce God's miracle in that ancient temple: Miss Elizabeth has been given the gift of a family! The little forgotten girl wearing purple was never forgotten at all; God never forgets a single one of His children.

When parents are unable to parent, or when they choose not to parent, God intervenes and searches the earth for new ones who will step in their stead. The world is full of wonderfully capable parents who just haven't recognized "God's Message" to them yet (which explains the overloaded orphanages and foster care systems around the globe). Thankfully, Elizabeth's family overcame doubts and fears when the call came halfway across the world to their hearts regarding saving a frightened little girl who is living in a strange new place without the love of a family.

So there we have it: two females who share the name Elizabeth with two great miracle stories: One story encompassing the birth of John the Baptist, the one chosen to spread the news about the Savior of the world to come......The other a perfect picture of the Savior Who has already come and Who will come again.
Stop for a moment and think about it, is there a more accurate picture of what the Messiah did for us than the story of little Elizabeth? Jesus adopted us, we who are handicapped in every way and in desperate need of being saved from certain suffering and the Savior's eyes, we are all like Elizabeth. And just as she is being ransomed, we have been ransomed.

"Oh Israel, the One Who formed you says: Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name, you are Mine." (Isaiah 43:1)

Blessed Be Our God Who Is Abundance!!!
To give to Elizabeth's adoption fund, go to and find her in the "My Family Found Me" section....and please don't forget our family's Christmas Angel: "Cutie-Pie Carlene" who is facing the institution and still in need of a family. To give to Carlene's adoption fund, go to: We have all been called to do something.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

This Is What Christmas Is All About.....

On Friday afternoon around 2pm, I received a call from Lydia and Natalie's school asking that I come retrieve the money that had been raised during the week for our sweet little orphan with Down Syndrome, Carlene, who is living in Russia.

Since Fridays are my cleaning days, I quickly took inventory of my disheveled body and noted I was definitely not prepared to make a run to the school....and then I looked at Hope and Charlie who were still in their jammies....and unfortunately saw they looked more of a mess than me. Since the school is a five minute drive from my house, I had approximately 15 minutes to get the three of us together and out the door before the school closed for the weekend; they were not taking "no" for an answer:

"We do not want to be responsible for all of this cash over the weekend; I am sure you understand. And we feel it would be too dangerous to send this much money home with Lydia and Natalie on the bus," was their final answer. Teachers trump Mom.

Have you ever seen a tornado rip through a town? Well that is sort of what Hope and Charlie saw coming at them when I hung up the phone. I ripped off Charlie's feetie jams and Hope's Elmo P.J.s in one fell swoop before they even had time to process what was happening to them....within seconds they were fully naked and then fully dressed. Equally as fast, I decorated my face, brushed my hair, and made my best attempt to give my hair a "fixed" looked with a few squirts of "White Rain" (every southern girl's secret)......I then tore out the door as M.O.A.M. (Mom on a mission).

Thankfully I arrived with enough time to walk into the school at a leisurely pace, pretending, of course, that I had been relaxing at home when they called....prepared for this visit all day long. When the school administrator left to get the bundled money, a teacher entered the room wearing a "Carly Bell" necklace around her neck.

The "Carly Bell" necklaces have been a successful fundraiser. They are easy and inexpensive to make, and students seem to love them. Lydia and Natalie came up with the idea and wrote the following to their school principal a couple of weeks ago:

Dear Dr. Staggs:

Here is a plan to raise money for Carlene, and we hope you like it. We have made over a hundred jingle bell necklaces. They cost almost $2.00 to make, so we are going to sell them for $3.00 each. We thought we would call this the Carly-Bell Project. Hopefully each time the bell jingles around the kids' necks, they will think of Carlene and be grateful for all the blessings we have been given because we live in the United States of America and hopefully it will make us more mindful of people who are less fortunate. Especially at this time of year. We hope you love this idea.

Lydia and Natalie Hollis

When the teacher entered the office wearing the official "Carly Bell" necklace, I could not help but smile. A little forgotten girl, thousands of miles across the world, was being honored today by this teacher and by a whole school full of fifth and sixth grade students in America.

"I like your necklace," I giggled.

She grabbed the silver bell hanging around her neck: "This has been a wonderful project for our school, and we are all so thankful Lydia and Natalie came up with the idea. All of the students seem very excited about helping an orphan," she replied, "and let me tell you something else......" she paused for a second and took a few steps closer to me to speak quietly as she shared with me one of the most wonderful Christmas stories of this season:

"I have a little girl in my class whose family has nothing; literally, they have nothing. This morning, this little girl came to me with $9.00 to purchase three Carly-Bell necklaces. I was shocked, because $9.00 for her family is alot of needed for essentials like food and heat. She said something about wanting to help the little orphan when she handed me the money, and as I walked to the office to purchase her necklaces, I admit I was confused about why her family would allow her to do this. Throughout the day, I realized Carlene's story has touched this little girl. Perhaps for the first time in her entire life, Carlene has given this little girl an opportunity to reach out and help someone who is even more less fortunate than her. There was such joy on her face as she handed me the money for those bells. It wasn't about the bells for her at all, however, it was about her having the chance to reach out to help another little girl in need." she finished the story and turned to leave with a "Hope you have a Merry Christmas and I hope Carlene finds a family very soon!"

I took the money from the school and added it to our ziploc bag when I returned home. The bag in our house is loaded with $20, $10, $5, and $1 bills. I counted it this morning, and so far it contains nearly $2,000.00 raised for Carlene from bake sales, the Carly-Bell Project, Babysitting, a plea to Chappy's co-workers, etc. As I placed the wad of cash in the bag, I thought of the wealthy folks all around us who could write a check for $20,000.00 and save Carlene's life with the simple stroke of a pen without it impacting their lifestyle at all....I thought of other folks who could agree to forgo eating out for a week and give the $100.00 savings toward saving Carlene....yes, I was reminded, for most of us, giving is not a sacrifice at all. It is a choice.

For this little mystery student at Freedom Intermediate School in the small town of Franklin, TN, however, giving was a sacrifice....the fact is, she gave more than she had to give. And as she walks down the halls with those bells jingling around her neck, I can't help but believe those bells are being heard throughout the heavenlies as a reminder of a heart that truly pleases God. Her gift certainly opened my heart toward God.

"Can I see another's woe; and not be in sorrow too? Can I see another's grief, and not seek for kind relief?" ( poem: "On Another's Sorrow" by William Blake)

Digging deeper than the little girl's gift, interwoven beautifully, is the familiar story of the Widow's Mite (Luke 21:1-6). Most people see the story as a measure of giving and the widow's heart to willingly give all she had; however, the story is actually much deeper in my opinion. The Pharisees of that day (church leaders) were so preoccupied with the beauty of the temple and with religiosity, they were guilty of completely missing God's heart. They had gotten so caught up in mistakenly believing their beautiful temple symbolized success with God, they missed opportunities that were slapping them in the face. If the Pharisees had been busier pouring money lavishly upon the poor and needy instead of their place of worship and all the trappings therein, the widow wouldn't have been so poor and needy. Luke 21:5-6 is very telling: "Some of the disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, "As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down." Jesus' point: These monuments are meaningless to Me! I care about my children!

So I am left with the little mystery girl who gave all she had to give to Carlene. What will I do? That is God's question for me. Will I go about my business telling others about this little girl's wonderful heart and do nothing for her? Will I sit in my heated home with a full refrigerator of food and my knowledge of another in my community who is in need and do nothing?

When God left glory on high to live among us, He literally came alongside us. It was never a "Me" and "Them" scenario to Jesus at all....It was an "Us". And if we seek to honor the Lord and love Him with all of our hearts, souls and minds, then we are to come alongside our neighbors just as Jesus did when He came to earth. God has an unusual way of waking us out of our spiritual slumber when we are simply willing to "see"....the irony of ironies is this: while I was rushing to make myself "presentable" on Friday afternoon, God was more interested in making my heart more presentable for Him. To the Creator of the Universe, my outside appearance is just as valuable as the beautiful stones used to make the temple of old....some day it will all be rubble. God is more interested in things that have eternal significance. Our hearts.

"He doth give His joy to all; He becomes an infant small. He becomes a man of woe; He doth feel the sorrow too." (Blake's Poem: "On Another's Sorrow")

As He did this for us, we are to go and do likewise!!! And that is what Christmas is all about.....

If you would like be a part of giving Carlene a home for Christmas, click on this link to make your tax deductible gift via paypal:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

When God Gives A Gift

"I know this is late notice Ronnie, but we really want to paint Hope and Charlie's room before Christmas; we are having some built-ins brought in for their bedroom in a couple of weeks. Could you make room for us on your schedule?" I asked, secretly hoping he could use some extra Christmas cash.

"I can be there tomorrow if you will call me back with a paint color." was his reply. I could distinctly detect a hint of pep in his voice confirming my suspicions.

Smirking a bit as I hung up the phone I thought: "Yep, tis the season that everyone is looking for a little "moo-lah"; and better yet, another mark off of my "things to do before the end of the year" list."

1:30pm, always on time, Ronnie and one of his helpers show up at my front door ready to paint. I quickly ushered Hope and Charlie into the great room, put a baby gate up to block little fingers from wet paint, and opened a few windows to ventilate the house. Within minutes I could smell the job being done and sniffed in the satisfaction thinking how great the babies' room was going to look.

At 4:30pm, three hours from when he stepped into my front door, Ronnie called for me and told me the job had been completed. I quickly scooted to the baby gate to find him standing on the other side wearing a big ole grin.

Taking a quick peek to view the freshly painted walls, I asked: "How much do I owe you Ronnie?"

"uuuuuuhhhhmmmmm......I'm not going to charge you anything....and let me" he began, but I quickly interrupted: "Oh, no, Ronnie, I am going to pay you for this job...tell me what I owe you."

He answered softly: "Just let me explain."

Folding my arms, I tilted my head to search the eyes of this gentle man before me....crows feet firmly outline years spent in laughter and joy.....and Ronnie has a scruffy gray beard that moves with his mouth as he slowly speaks with a very distinctive country-sounding drawl that will endear you to him immediately. All ears and a bit taken off guard, I listened as he spoke:

"My daughter has M.S. you know, and there was a time when she was on life-support. That was a difficult time for my family, and friends brought over food and money to be a help to us. We didn't need it, so alot of times we would try to turn them away, but pretty soon we realized that people just wanted to bless us with something so we learned to accept it. Alot of those folks who gave us things didn't have as much as we did, Melanie, and that was humbling........And you know, I go to church every Sunday and alot of times the pews aren't filled. A few months ago I got to thinking....just wonderin' why. I believe the reason is because believers just don't show alot of love to one another. Now Melanie, ya'll are going through a tough time right now will all the uncertainty about Hope's little heart, and you know I love that little girl, so I want to show you all love. I don't have alot I can give you, and I know you can pay for this paint job without any problem at all, but I want to give you something I am able to give. This paint job is a gift of love to you and I want you to accept it."

With a baby gate separating us just above the knees, I reached out and grabbed that sweet man's neck and hugged him like he was Jesus Himself. I guess in that moment, He was as near a likeness to Jesus as any I have ever known. I hugged Ronnie tight for a long time while I cried. Still sobbing, I couldn't speak a word as he turned to leave saying: "Merry Christmas to you all."

God touches the world every day when we touch the world......I am thankful God touched my world today through a man named Ronnie Smith. ......"And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is LOVE." (1 Corinthians 13:13)