Thursday, August 30, 2012

What "relationship" means...

"Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy He has saved us..." -I Timothy 3:5

"A life is precious for what it is, not just for what it does." --Wess Stafford

I have a lot of acquaintances.

I have a few relationships.

I'm working on that.

Sometimes I say that I know somebody. When I think about that later, I realize that it is really not true. "Knowing" someone is more than knowing things about them, more than seeing them every day, more than carrying on a conversation with them.

As I have learned through sponsoring with Compassion, knowing someone is more than exchanging letters. I tell people often that sponsoring a child is not about money as much as it is about relationship...about pouring your. love, your prayer, your time, into the life of a child. What does that really mean? How can someone a thousand (or many thousand) miles away figure out when they "know" that child, the little person that God saw fit to place in their lives?

All these thoughts came to mind after an event that happened at school today. I got disappointed...hurt, even, by something that some of my students did. They made a big mistake. Am I upset about this? Yes. But at least I now know what my students struggle against, what choices they face. I know how to pray for them. And, in a way, by knowing these things, I know them. I see these kids every day. I know what makes them laugh, what they like (and don't like), I can read their emotions like a book. For some, I know their hopes and dreams. I see their successes and failures. I have a relationship with them.

All this to say that having a relationship with someone involves accepting the good and the bad. It can mean dealing with disappointment. As sponsors with Compassion, we sometimes miss out on that part. We hear the good. Sometimes we hear the heart-wrenching; but most kids won't write to tell us that they cheated on a test, or that they battle with a particular sins. To our sponsored kids, we are superhuman; just as their failings are hidden from us, so our failings are hidden from them. I hope, as a sponsor, that I realize that my sponsored kids are like my own kids or like my school kids. They aren't perfect. They make mistakes. Some of the things they say and do would disappoint us. When we pick up that child packet and see that adorable face, in our minds we may envision a perfect child; however, we do our sponsored kids a disservice when we forget that they are human...and when we don't pray for them, with them, against those human faults and failings. I think we also need to think about sharing some of our life-lessons with them, some of the struggles God has given us victory in. We need to relate (that word "relationship" comes from), relate not only to their suffering, not only to their spiritual experiences, but also to their sin and struggles. We share the good and the bad. Knowing the bad hurts, but if you don't know the struggle, you don't know the person. That's how it works in a relationship.

I'll give an example.

In November 2012, I met my beautiful Dominican son, Jeffry, for the first time. I had known him through letters for six years already, but nothing could compare to holding him in my arms, hearing his voice, learning his personality, all that his letters hinted at. I quickly saw his shy demeanor melt into a quick-witted mischievousness. He was adorable, charming, sassy, and confident. It was a start.

I returned to the DR six months later, this time taking the long road to Barahona to see Jeffry's home. We saw his center, met his class, sat on his front porch, petted his dogs, played ball in the empty lot, hugged his grandmother...we experienced the reality of his life. One thing that stands out to me in perfect clarity is when we were standing in the office of his CDI, looking at Jeffry's file. We gushed over his first picture, reminisced over his first letter, remembered each special moment of our sponsorship. Then came Jeffry's report card. Apparently, Jeffry had been showing more mischievousness at school than he had the quick-witted, natural leadership that I had so clearly observed in him. Straight F's were not what I had been expecting. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. When I looked up into Jeffry's eyes, he read the disappointment. But he also saw my concern for him...and since that time, I have not ceased to pour encouragement into his life. In that moment, we shared something. In that moment, our relationship grew deeper and wider. For the first time, the door was opened and unconditional love walked through. I realized that I wasn't sponsoring Jeffry to see results, to see the "end product" after he graduates from the Compassion program. I sponsor him because of who he is...a unique, priceless, intentional creation of our heavenly Father.

I don't know what Jeffry will become. I am only determined to measure the success of my sponsorship by how much love he felt. I feel like I know him--the good, the bad, the ugly--just like Christ Himself sees me. He didn't pick me because of what I could offer Him; He chose me because of the salvation and new life He could offer me. Christ knows me and loves me--knows my sin, my struggles--and loves me lavishly, pouring encouragement into my life, touched by the feeling of my infirmities. May I offer this kind of grace in the relationships in my life. May I never let a moment of disappointment scare me away from the delight of truly knowing someone.

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