Working within my role at World Vision means that every day I get to hear uplifting stories about the relationships forged between sponsors and the children they sponsor. As a child sponsor myself, I feel a strong sense of camaraderie with other sponsors. We all have the same heart for vulnerable children. So, when I heard that there was a group sponsor visit to Albania planned, I signed up to go as one of the sponsors.
My husband I each sponsor a child in Albania. As my husband couldn’t be there, I agreed to meet his child Mikeljan on his behalf. A lot of prayer and preparation went into our meeting. Before my trip, my husband told me everything he knew about Mikeljan and especially how much he loves football! Between the two of us, we did some shopping for gifts for Mikeljan and his family. While in Albania, the wonderful World Vision team worked hard planning the sponsor visits and all the itinerary.
The night before I was due to meet him, I stayed in too reflect and pray about our time together. I was nervous about the meeting because Mikeljan is a teenager and I wasn’t sure of the welcome I would receive. Would he think it was ‘uncool’ or ‘lame’ for instance.
We first met at the World Vision office where Mikeljan arrived accompanied by his mother. To my surprise, he spoke very good english! I had brought a letter for Mikeljan from my husband which a staff member translated on paper. Another staff member translated the conversation between Mikeljan’s mother and I. I showed him photos of my husband Jim and talked about him.
We walked by a lake and later had lunch together. His mother spoke to me about her family and her concerns for Mikeljan. I noticed there was free wifi, so I video-phoned Jim so he could speak to Mikejan in person. They each had the biggest grin on their faces as they chatted away about Mikeljan’s biggest passion-football!
I was so impressed with both Mikeljan and his mother. They were such lovely people. Mikeljan is a bright, courageous, sociable and articulate boy. His mother was lovely, warm and gracious. I felt like I had just met family.
The following day, it was time for me to meet my sponsor child Andrea. It was another wonderful meeting but with some differences. Andrea is only 7. He came with his mother, older brother and younger sister. He was very shy at first but soon warmed up. Nobody in the family spoke english but luckily we had someone on hand to translate for us. Andrea thanked me for the hot wheels I sent to him in the post. Unfortunately, he lost the green one which was his favourite. Since I have been home, I have been looking at green hot wheels but they are all so different and I have no idea which one he lost!
I knew ahead of time that we would spend time at a beach. I brought lots of toys to play with. The most popular was a game of velcro mitts and a ball. When we had lunch, I brought out the Jenga which was a big hit as the whole family could play.
After only ever seeing some photos and a couple of videos of Andrea, it was nice to get to know more of his unique personality. He is such a fun, endearing child with a gorgeous, contagious smile. The family were sociable and sweet and we had a wonderful time together.
The trip gave me real insight into the culture and people of Albania. I feel an equal sense of compassion and hope for this country. I am so thankful for the opportunity that sponsorship has given my husband and I to help the communities where Mikeljan and Andrea live.
To sponsor a child through World Vision UK, please go to their website by clicking here.
As a sponsor through World Vision, I was excited to be given an opportunity to visit Albania as part of a group sponsor visit. I saw this as a great way to connect with like-minded people, meet the two boys my husband and I sponsor and to also see first-hand the work that I was helping to support.
I met some of the other sponsors from our group before hand on our training day and some at the airport when we were catching our flight. We were an interesting small group of diverse backgrounds yet all of us were joined by our mutual compassion for vulnerable children.
When we arrived at the airport in Tirana (also known as Mother Teresa Airport), we were met by the lovely World Vision Albania staff who drove us to our hotel. They were even kind enough to phone the hotel in advance and ask them to prepare a meal for us as it was late.
On our trip, we did quite a bit of driving around visiting many of the projects that World Vision was supporting. Because of this, we had the opportunity to see a lot of the countryside in Lezhe and other areas.
Albania is the poorest country in Europe and still a country in transition. Everywhere we looked, we could see a mixture of old abandoned communist buildings, building projects not yet completed, small houses with red roofs and front gardens used to grow fruit and vegetables. Sometimes you would see a goat tied in the small garden.
Yet Albania is also a beautiful country of hills, mountains, lakes and beaches.
On our first full day, we met with the Student Government in a school in Balldre who were eager to tell us about the work they were doing raising awareness on child domestic violence. I noticed that around the classroom where posters about stress. When I asked about it, they explained that this was the psychology classroom. I was also told that children suffer a lot from stress and that violence against children was a major issue. They told us that May was ‘Family month’ and they had planned activities for parents to have fun with their children. It was great to see how the students were being encouraged to stand up for themselves and make positive changes.
The students were very confident and articulate. We asked them to tell us what their dreams were for their future. They all had high aspirations, but I soon saw a pattern. One wanted to be an Architect in Australia; another wanted to be a Judge in Germany. Sadly, no one saw themselves having a future in Albania.
Later we visited the Multidisciplinary Centre in Lezhe. This was once an abandoned building which was repaired thanks in part to the fundraising efforts of the last group visit. The centre helps give children a safe place to go to where they are assessed and helped depending on their needs. Many of the children who go there come from families who are “re-immigrates”. They sold everything to immigrate to another country only to be forced back to Albania years later with nothing left for them. It is also a haven for mothers and children fleeing from domestic violence. The centre also offers after school programs.
We visited the sisters of a Catholic church who run a kindergarten and do all that they can to support the vulnerable in the community. This lovely sister who we met us is from Italy. She told us amazing stories of how the sisters have helped families over the years.
The kindergarten is colourfully decorated and there is a humble playground outside. Unfortunately, the playground area gets badly flooded when it rains. The rain drains into the sewers which then causes sewage to rise out of the gutters over the playground area.
We visited another school of very proud students. It was a new high school where previously there had been none. Before the school was built, many girls did not continue their education as it was too far to travel to the nearest high school. Now they have a local high school which enables them to continue their education and to have higher aspirations for their future.
I found it interesting that every classroom in this new building was heated by one of these stoves.
One of the things I noticed when I visited any of the schools in Albania is that the teachers all seem to love their job. They take such pride in their work and in their students. I saw curtains in the windows and potted plants on the window sills in the classrooms. They may not always have enough money for all the essentials, but they do what they can to make it a welcoming place for students.
If you are interested in supporting Albania or sponsoring a child, please visit World Vision’s website.
For World Vision UK, please click here. Or phone at 0800 085 8188
For World Vision Albania, please click here. Or phone +355 4 2419601
If you are interested in helping the kindergarten by financing the repair of their playground, please contact either World Vision.
I think it is safe to say that time is very precious for most of us. Very few people work 9 to 5 and even fewer have the luxury of doing nothing once they are home. We work long hours and sometimes we work harder still when we are home. We have cars which we make full use of. There is always some place we have to be, something we need to do and someone who needs us. We postpone our relaxation time till we are on vacation because we are just too busy. We either do this by choice or because we feel we have no choice.
Let’s be honest with ourselves for a minute. Do we have the energy to keep this up? Can we take advantage of any possible breathing space that pops up as an unexpected gift? Or are we going to waste that time doing housework or going shopping?
I am not judging. These are just the sort of questions I asked myself this morning, when I received the text from my boss telling me to ‘…stay home. It’s going to be a blizzard and no one is coming in to work’. Mentally, I thought about all the things I could be getting done- things I haven’t had time for, important things. Then I thought, ‘To hell with that!’ and spent the day perusing interior design magazines and websites.
I know that isn’t everybody’s idea of fun but I enjoyed myself. I really want to reach out to anybody out there who is either working too hard or is over-stretched or stress, who has suddenly been gifted with a day off because of the snow. Here are just a few fun ideas of what you can do in case you forgot how to have fun or simply relax. Trust me, spending quality time in bliss is more important than all the work you want to catch up with. When you get a chance to enjoy yourself, you are investing in your well-being, giving you a chance at being a better more refressed you later.
How to make the most of a snow day:
Lastly, if you find you are not enjoying what you are doing because you are worrying too much about making it count or about what you are not doing, then stop and do what you need to relieve your stress and worry.
Oftentimes, when I have learned a powerful lesson, I embrace it but I don’t verbalize it. Other times, I verbalize it but the words fall very short. Today I read the following excerpts from Elizabeth Lesser’s, The Seeker’s Guide. This is what I want to say and often want to explain. I am so grateful to her for putting it so well. I add just this one imput: We cannot love well in our own humaness. We need to tap into the source of love in order to do that. God is that source, for God is love.
‘…Love is the fruit of spiritual labour; it is not a technique you try or a dogma you adopt. Love is the secret you unmask yourself to find; it is the foundation of the spiritual life, the destination where all roads of the journey lead. But it does no one any good to rush the process, nor to enforce loving behaviour. Loving behaviour is unenforceable and herein lies the mystery of the spiritual life and the mistaken role of religions. You cannot legislate forgiveness; you cannot make hate illegal; you cannot require love. Just as you can’t pull a shoot out of the ground and demand that it flower then and there, love cannot be forced. Spiritual work prepares the ground.
Love will blossom when our egos and our wounds and our fears have been worked with, tilled into the soil of our understanding.
When we do the hard work of stilling the mind and opening the heart, we come into love….
You can’t force yourself to love others. If you could, the world wouldn’t be in the mess it is now…’
After a lot of deliberation, discussion and uncertainty, I finally decided to give the new Beauty and the Beast film a try. I had watched the trailers unimpressed and felt quite dubious as to whether Emma Watson could do the role of Belle justice. Yet after hearing lots of good reviews, my husband, daughter Brianna and I went to see it yesterday afternoon.
Despite the fact that we went on a Saturday afternoon during Easter weekend (what was I thinking?!), and despite the children sitting directly behind us banging our chairs occasionally, we absolutely loved it. More than loved it–we were all very emotionally moved.
I hate to admit it but Emma Watson was great as Belle. Emma’s Belle was young, sweet and fearless–a girl with hopes, dreams AND sense. The set, costumes and song numbers were dazzling….sometimes maybe a bit too dazzling. The acting of all the cast was superb. Kevin Kline as Belle’s father was especially endearing. The CGI of the beast’s face and expressions were exceptionally well done.
I don’t want to give too much away, but for me one of the highlights is that it’s mainly a live copy of the original but with added new songs and subtle twists.
This brings me to the one scene I want to share as it is Easter.
::::::::::::::::::Spoiler alert! Stop reading if you haven’t seen the film!:::::::::::::::::::::::
In one scene of the film, Mrs Potts expresses to Belle that in her opinion they are all to blame for the Prince’s downfall. She tells Belle that he had been a small boy when his mother died. His father was not a noble character and he raised the boy to be just like him. Mrs Potts regrets that she and the other servants allowed that to happen. This explains why the Enchantress chose to include them all in the curse.
Later, near the very end of the scene, the beast, having been shot by Gaston lies dying. Unlike the animated version, the last petal falls and turns to ash before Belle declares her love. The inhabitants of the castle: Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs Potts all become inanimate objects. The beast dies. It looks as if Belle has declared her love for the beast too late to save him. However, Agatha (the hag/enchantress) is there looking on and she has overheard Belle. She restores the rose and shows mercy by lifting the curse and restoring everyone to their former (but now redemptive selves) and allowing the beast to live again.
Perhaps the scene was never meant to be an allegorical message of atonement, salvation and unconditional love. It was probably just a coincidence that the movie came out a month before Easter and that the well-known scene had been subtly yet powerfully changed. Although I’d be interested to know why the change was made, at this moment it doesn’t matter. For now, I want to just feel the magic.
On this Easter day, I want to embrace the deeper magic–the message that even onto death, God’s love and mercy is never too late.
In the past, whenever I have contemplated the concept of beginning anew, my thoughts and plans tended to centre on improving upon something. Whether it was the adamant self-declaration that I was finally going to eat healthy or the fierce determination that I would write more, beginning anew meant that something about me or my situation or environment had to change.
The start of a new year usually marks the moment for me (and for many of us) when contemplation and some sort of action finally meet up and a fair attempt to change something begins. This is known popularly as a ‘New Year’s Resolution’ and it is often sparked by some sort of dissatisfaction. We are either dissatisfied with ourselves or our lives or our level of happiness. The sad thing is that we often fail to keep up with our resolutions and then we become disappointed in ourselves.
This year however, I had an inspiring thought. It was one of those wonderfully strange occurrence when a quiet thought appears unsought while I was in busy activity. It entered my heart and began to gently engage me, saying, ‘Look at me!’ The thought was this: Practice being less selfish. Make a difference to the happiness level of others.
To which the conclusion I came to was that even if I become forgetful and manage only to practice non-selfishness sometimes, I would have still done so much good because of those other times. Let’s face it, we sometimes think we know what we want but we often don’t or at least don’t achieve it. If we focus on others, we are at least achieving it for others. Ann Frank wrote, ‘How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.’
Of course, I am not suggesting that we sacrifice ourselves to the detriment of our health and well-being. What I am suggesting is that small sacrifices for others can go a long way to making someone feel valued. To start with:
Turn off the TV to phone a friend or write a letter
Visit someone and surprise them with a service or small gift
Say, ‘Yes’ (when it feels like the right thing)
Listen without interrupting
Write a praise letter to a Manager of someone who gave you great customer service (Inspired by my husband who always does this–Thanks Dearheart)
Organize meals for someone who just had a baby or just came out of hospital
Accept every gift graciously (Inspired by a story author Susun Weed tells about accepting a salami sandwich from a stranger sitting next to her on the plane–even though she was a Vegetarian, she thanked her and ate it!)
Offer a cold drink to your neighbour who is outside doing some DIY on a summer day
Scrape the ice off your spouse’s car for them
Walk your neighbour’s dog when they are ill
Pay genuine honest compliments
My grandmother once saved all the colour by numbers pictures in the Sunday papers so when I visited, she had something for me to do.
My sister-in-law collected story books on CD from newspapers and gave them to my kids as a surprise gift.
These are just a few ideas. If you have any good ideas of your own, please comment below.
Thomas Kempis 1379 – 1471
If we live in peace ourselves, we in turn may bring peace to others. A peaceable man does more good than a learned one.
In the still hours of the morning, I had decided to hope. As I quietly got out of bed, I assured myself that peace can be found. I crept down the stairs with hope in my heart. Stepping over my dog who laid sprawled on the mat, I opened my livingroom door. By simply hoping, I was already beginning to perceive peace.
However, that was not the way my day ended last night. Last night I was worrying. Christmas will soon be here and I still had a lot to do. I had been doing a lot of rushing around. I upset a friend because I hadn’t rung her in two weeks. My husband was sad that I hadn’t spent time with him in awhile. I was conscious that I hadn’t phoned my mother in ages. Even my teenage children commented that I was always disappearing after dinner. I LOVE Christmas but I craved a ‘Silent night, Holy night’ leading up to Christmas. I knew I had to stop and slow down. God knew that too which is probably why he woke me up at 4:30 this morning. I needed time in silence. When all around me is awake, the noise can be quite deafening to my spirit. Where did I go? I lost myself because I lost my way.
In the still hours of the morning, I crept into my living room. Turning on the Christmas tree and lighting a candle, I created the ambience to be a cosy haven. Propped against my cushions and covered in a fleecy throw, my heart was leading me back. I discover that I am still here. My hand is being held in a loving grasp as I begin my day in prayer. All is calm, all is bright.
As I contemplate the quote from Thomas Kempis, one thing comes to mind. In order to ‘live in peace ourselves’, we must persue times of silence. Peace does not materialize out of chaos. Peace is found from that wellspring within.
My husband and I sometimes have discussions about ‘Christmas-time’. We both have our opinions as to when it is. Jim is English and more of a traditionalist. For him, Christmas time begins on the 25th of December and last twelve days. For me, partly because of my American upbringing, Christmas begins the day after Thanksgiving and ends on Christmas day – two days longer than the advent season. He celebrates Christmas when it happens, while I celebrate it as something to look forward to. He enjoys meeting up with family and having the big Christmas feast(s). I enjoy the preparations and evoking the ambiance of Christmas. I love having my tree up, lighting my Christmas-y candles, going shopping and seeing the Christmas decorations and watching Christmas movies.
Of course, there is no right way or wrong way to celebrate Christmas. I know of many different ways people celebrate Christmas. I also know that for some, Christmas is a very difficult time of year. Some choose not to celebrate it at all. Strange as it may seem, I totally get it. The problem is, we put way too much importance on the ‘how’ of Christmas. I mean Christmas has to be wonderful right? We have to make sure everyone is happy. So we negotiate with our spouses as to who we visit and when and who visits us. We try desperately hard to get the right gifts for people otherwise misunderstandings happen. (You thought I was a size 12?!) We bake till our backs break only to find out that Bree won’t eat cookies with oats in it, Jaz won’t eat anything with red food colouring (on the fact that she is a veggie) and Sara’s daughter has a nut allergy. Not to mention all the dieters out there who won’t eat anything at all!
Then there are those who have Christmas memories where things went wrong. A death. A break-up. A vicious argument. Which isn’t fair because like I said, we believe in the importance that Christmas must be wonderful.
We also believe that Christmas is about getting together with family. However, many will be spending Christmas alone. Some will not be doing this by choice. There is a sad growing crisis in the UK of elderly people being abandoned by their family. These people have grown-up children and grand-children who have cut them off. Every Christmas, they sit alone at home; no visit, no phone call, not even a card. As hard as it is to be abandoned, the feeling is compounded at Christmas. They have many memories of Christmases past when they use to spend it with their family. Christmas use to be wonderful. Now they are alone.
Also, that first Christmas after a divorce…dismal! There is a large family get together and everyone is either fussing over you because they feel sorry for you or they are avoiding talking about your ex altogether. Then there is Auntie Jo, who perhaps is going a bit senile in her old age. She keeps asking you where the no-good bum is. Only she says, ‘Where is that lovely husband of yours?’
Christmas after divorce can be harder still if there are children involved. The anger and resentment may still be there. Even if you and your ex have been able to work out Christmas arrangements with the kids amicably, the kids have voices of their own. They may not want to spend it with you and visit Auntie Jo. On the other hand, they may not be putting up a fuss at all, but you have placed all this pressure on yourself to buy them the best gifts and make it the best Christmas ever for them. Why? Because Christmas must be wonderful.
Many people take on a second job over Christmas to afford the gifts they must buy. Many are in jobs which become more stressful around Christmas. If you work for a delivery company or are in a retail related job then that usually means lots of late nights, over-time hours and angry customers. After all, they are paying your wages by buying those special gifts which need to arrive in time otherwise Christmas won’t be wonderful.
Why do we do it? Why do we put all this hard work and pressure on ourselves to make Christmas perfect? Why are the gifts, the food and the festivities so important to get right? Why does it have to be so wonderful?
Every year I find myself speculating on what I will and won’t do during the leading up to Christmas. The truth is, I do want it to be wonderful for everyone. I also want as little stress as possible.
How each of us celebrates Christmas is up to us. However, if you have some concerns as to how Christmas will be this year. If you are too busy and worried about stress or sinking into depression, then it is time to start planning. What will bring you peace this Christmas? I’m not suggesting that you think only of yourself. I am however, giving us all permission to give a bit of love to ourselves as well.
Christmas isn’t about an image. It isn’t about outward perfection. Christmas is the celebration of a mysterious, mystical and wonderful event. As I ponder on that event, the imagery that it evokes isn’t garland, platefuls of food or presents wrapped in metallic paper. There is no imagery but a starlit night which is sensed more than seen.
It is a feeling of profound silence. A silence which grows deep within and warms the heart. A silence which is reflective of that mysterious, mystical moment in history….the birth of Christ. That very first Christmas was wonderful. I suppose every Christmas must be wonderful if we but allow it to reflect that first.
If you are wondering what’s wrong with teenagers, adults, society or the world in general, you are not alone. There are hundreds out there who ask those same questions and hundreds more who claim to know the reasons why. Do some research and you can find all kinds of opinions, statistics and psychological reasons on the internet, tv, newspapers and books. The problem is, the ones who claim to know the reasons why the world is a mess are also a part of …well, the same world. Often when these questions are being asked, there is an added word at the end. The word is ‘today’. So you hear questions like,
“What’s wrong with the youth today?”
“What’s wrong with society today?”
“What’s wrong with the world today?”
Have you noticed the peculiarity? These same questions, with the added word ‘today’, have been asked over and over again over scores of years. Yet, the world has changed. Society has changed in many ways and in many countries as well. This begs the question, ‘What hasn’t changed?’
While there may be several answers to that question, there was one answer in particular that came to me this morning during my quiet time. It is something that is one of the major causes of contention in any given relationship. It is that human beings are not always good givers, receivers or conduits when it comes to communicating. We are all constantly misinterpreting, miscommunicating and misrepresenting one another and what follows is sometimes the laughable statement we sometimes make such as,
“You don’t make any sense!” or “You’re talking in riddles.”
which is often answered in denial.
Jesus is probably one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted individual in history. His words were misunderstood then and they are misunderstood now. I can’t help thinking that perhaps when Jesus spoke plainly, his words led to confusion. Maybe that is why he chose to speak in parables, not to confuse, but to help people to understand the deeper meaning of things. This makes arguing about religion ridiculous. None of us can say we know what Jesus was trying to say about everything. The only clear thing for sure was his love.
I believe that most relationships can be transformed into peaceful, respectful relationships when we truly work hard and patiently at understanding each other. Yes, there are things which can get in the way and reasons why you need to keep your distance from some individuals. However, there are some relationships which are unavoidable such as family members or those you work with. There are other relationships which are worth salvaging because it normally works but something went temporarily awry during a conversation one day. Then there are some relationships which are so great, they are worth nurturing.
In order to improve your relationship with someone, you need to keep the channels of communication open by relinquishing the belief that someone has to be right within a discussion. The truth is, sometimes it is not possible to work out who is right and other times it’s just we’re not clearly understanding what the other person is saying. It is better to honor their beliefs, listen with empathy and to have an open mind (you never know, you might learn something). If it is a case that it is important to get your point across, due so with clarity and respect. Don’t talk over them and give them the chance to respond.
After you have had ample time to practice respectful, open-minded communication, you might find that you have an all new appreciation for people’s uniqueness. You might even find that ‘loving your neighbour’ has become effortless.