Have Heart, Will Travel

Life lessons

Wanting to Help Others Well

Life lessonsNancy1 Comment

holding up the world

So many people I know want to genuinely help others who, in some way, may be less privileged than themselves. Wanting to help others is a good thing!  Unfortunately, many people think it should be as simple as giving things or money to others, but it's actually complicated to help well.

The desire to love and help others should come easily. The actions taken should be done carefully.

I have begun to read some articles from others who are taking on this subject and encouraging others to help thoughtfully, while others reply "It's the thought that counts." or "At least we're doing something."  Tragically, giving without thoughtful consideration of the following points can be very damaging, not merely unhelpful.

  • Our instinct is to give material possessions. Here are a few problems with that:
    • The underprivileged actually describe their lack in non-material terms. They want a chance to improve themselves, a say in their future, and a sense of hope.
    • Sometimes there are material needs, but have we asked what they are before we give things?  There may be a real need. Let's ask first.
    • Unfortunately, giving can endanger a recipient.  In cases where there is desperate poverty, people are willing to hurt others over a possession that many of us would consider a trifle.  I am sorry to say I know this personally from some of our overseas partners.
  • We cast ourselves in the role of giver.
    • When we go as the deliverer of goods, we are automatically setting up a transactional relationship, in which someone is the giver (us) and the materially under-resourced is the receiver.  That one way relationship can be damaging to the self-worth of both sides.  Instead, let's approach others with a desire to get to know them and learn from them.
    • I have learned deep life lessons on joy, perseverance, forgiveness and faith from people who have much less stuff than I.  This attitude creates a transformational relationship, in which both sides can learn, grow and benefit from the other.  And, yes, that may include giving materially at some point.  It is easier to do that well once you've gotten to know someone.
  • What do we do when we want to help, but we aren't in a place to build relationships?
    • You may be saying, "This sounds great, but I am not going to .... where I can get to know someone personally."  That's ok! Many people will not. I suggest you give to an organization that is about building healthy, two-way, transformational relationships with those they seek to serve.  For many of you, this could be your church.  Are they building relationships with those they are reaching in your community and around the world? Support those efforts.
    • Do you have a particular cause that makes your heart beat or keeps you up at night in anger over injustice?  Find a non-profit that deals in that area, then find out how they treat those they aim to serve. Once you've found a ministry or NGO that is dignity-giving to the people with whom they work, support them.  There are so many good organizations, but I'm going to share one because you can see from their stories how this attitude I write about is put into practice.  Meet Blood:Water Mission. I have followed their story and been a supporter for many years and am so proud of what they do.

Many of these concepts are based on invaluable lessons I learned from the book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  I highly recommend that anyone involved in compassion, who cares about the poor, who is involved in ministry, and especially anyone who travels for a short-term ministry trip, read this book.

I plan to keep writing--and keep learning--about this subject.  Please feel free to share thoughts and/or questions in the comments.  Loving others well is one of my favorite topics!


Memory Monday: Courageous

Life lessons, UgandaNancy1 Comment

ImageSometimes it's not about how far we've traveled, but what we had to overcome to get where we are.

When I think of courage, I think of Petunia.  While this is posted, she is wrapping up her first week ever in Africa and I'm sure has been both delighted and heartbroken in ways like she never has before. We realize in making this journey as a family, there is no going back. She has seen what she has seen and now knows what she knows.  May her tender heart, sharp mind and courageous spirit, all gifts from a God who created her perfectly, help guide her along with her loving and proud Mama and Daddy in whatever lies ahead.

"Yes, for vacation..."

Life lessons, UgandaNancy3 Comments

That is an answer I find myself giving a lot these days when telling people that we are going to Uganda.  I don't blame them. It's kind of weird 'round these parts to go to East Africa for vacation.  The nurse giving Ainsley one of her shots was reading my paperwork back to me as if I'd filled it out incorrectly. "You said here you're going for vacation, but you mean mission trip, right?"  She is a travel nurse who gives vaccines all day long and we were strange even to her.

At the bank I requested newer, clean bills because the country we were going to, I explained, "...is very picky about bills they will exchange." She was curious where, so I told her. She thought a minute and asked, "Are you going for {pause while she thought of a possible reason someone would go} business?"

But when you're going with your family to have fun and visit friends, without a set agenda...that's a vacation, right?

I will grant that there will be a ministry visit or two involved. Because that's where our friends are.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, we will be spending most of our time with my friend Renee, the founder and international director of Serving His Children, an organization dedicated to "breaking the cycle of malnutrition one life at a time."

Uganda_July2011 188

Brenda Moses Nancy














Malnutrition sometimes looks very different than we would expect in Uganda.  There are the babies that just don't get enough food at all and have super skinny limbs and a distended belly, but there are other babies who just do not get the right types of food and it takes longer to tell that they are sick.  Recently a wonderfully talented friend of Renee's spent a good time at Serving His Children and was able to capture this story of Blessing.  I hope it blesses you and helps you see the dear people with whom we're going to get to spend some time.


[vimeo 94221354 w=500 h=281]


So, yes, maybe I should acknowledge this isn't vacation like, "Hey, kids, we're going to Disneyworld!"  (For the record, I love Disneyworld!)  I know it will be different.  I know it will shake up Petunia's world.  I know we will learn things as adults as we look at this new world through our daughter's eyes.  I know our family will grow closer over shared heartbreak, adventure and gratitude.

That's why I want to go.

Setting out to Sea

Life lessonsNancyComment

In a few days, we'll be leaving on a jet plane.  I will get to return to the beautiful pearl of Africa for an unbelievable (to me) seventh time and Mark will be going for his third.  However, this time we're taking along someone who will be going for her first visit. (Of how many, I wonder?)  You guessed it... Petunia is going to Uganda with us!

Ainsley and binoculars

She has wanted to go for a long time, enduring many departures and homecomings of her parents while waiting her turn.  I have known for a long time I've wanted to take her, but we were waiting for her to reach a certain age before we brought her along.

For one thing, we know we are going to be around some difficult things on this trip and we wanted her to be old enough to begin to understand the complexity of, for example, spending time visiting a clinic that serves severely malnourished babies where death is, unfortunately, a possibility.  Gratefully, most of the mamas or caregivers who do come to Serving His Children, leave with much fatter, much healthier babies and more knowledge about how to care for them.  It has blessed my life to cross paths with that organization and I am thrilled that I will have days to spend being with them, attempting to help if I can, but mostly learn from and encourage my friend Renee who founded it.

Another reason we waited is the several vaccines that Petunia had to take in order to go safely on the trip.  She has been blessed with pretty amazing health and we hated the thought of filling her small, young body with lots of medicines at once.  Just as we suspected, despite taking the shots and pills like a champ, she did suffer some fever and ill-feeling.

Of course, there are other concerns, too. Will she drink the water and get sick? Will we be able to keep her safe? How will she endure the 16 hour flight?

These concerns are valid and we could have decided to let them keep us at home.

But this is where our family philosophy meets the fork in the road and makes a definite, intentional choice.  What we want for Petunia are the same things we want for ourselves: to be brave, to make friends all over the world, to constantly challenge herself to learn new things and to have the confidence to march to the beat of her own drum, which we pray will always be kept in tune to the Spirit's leading.

If those are the aspirations we really hold for all of us, and they're not merely words that look good doodled in a dream book, then our decisions are going to sometimes be difficult, costly, and scary to us and dramatic, odd and maybe even dumb to others.

If you are wrestling with such a decision and wondering if it's safe enough or smart enough to make, try this little trick that I sometimes use: imagine yourself in your real life sometime in the future...the bigger the decision, the farther in the future I go. Fairly significant?  Try 5 years from now. Picture you and your family at that stage. Are you there? Ok. Looking back, what decision will the future you wished the current you would have made?

Sometimes there's a reason to play it safe, but remember...

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for.”

--William Shedd

On fear: Lessons from the dentist chair

Life lessonsNancyComment

I wrote recently about fear.  Fear can be a useful tool, keeping us alert to things that could be extremely detrimental to our very lives, but I think it's much more common that fear holds us back from living our lives. Some of my favorite experiences ever came from things that scared me a little at first. Other things aren't my favorite, but still need to be done.  Take, for example, a visit to your dentist.

photo credit

Because of some traumatic earlier experiences with an orthodontist as a child, it has always been difficult for me to visit a dentist. (Side note: Sorry, dentists, that you have to share blame for that, but it's all the same to my subconscious.)  Due to the fear I had built up around lying vulnerably while other people got to put metal tools in my mouth, I had let the following happen in between my last dentist visit and the one I finally just had this month:

  • gave birth to a child
  • sold a house and moved cross country
  • started a new career
  • flew to Africa and back half a dozen times and
  • celebrated a decade...yes, a decade, of birthdays


The point is, I knew it way beyond time to go to the dentist. Hello, Captain Obvious.  But I'm not good at scheduling any medical appointments for myself, much less this one.  Mark, who has a vested interest in my long-term health, brought up the subject a month ago as his own scheduled check up was approaching.  We'd had the conversation before. I should go, too. I knew it all along, and yet this time it was different.  How can I keep encouraging others--especially Petunia--to be brave if I wouldn't do this one simple thing?


I made a deal with Mark.  I asked him if he would make my appointment for me when he went, to which he said yes. Then I upped the stakes and made him promise to arrange that I could have the drowsy gas so I wouldn't feel things or the deal was off.  After verifying that I was, in fact, serious about that, he accepted the job.  And my fate was sealed.  And my appointment was made.

Being brave does not mean that you had no fear. Being brave means that you had fear and acted anyway.

I went to my appointment, and everyone was so nice. They were expecting me at reception and, because they knew of my concerns, gave me extra time at my appointment. I got to speak to someone in an office first, then had plenty of time with a very nice hygienist who validated my fears and explained everything to me. Even the dentist was patient and kind. And the results of my check up?  Amazingly good considering the gap of years, according to everyone. There are a couple areas to follow up on, but luckily my love of brushing my teeth had served me well.


So, why do I think you may care about any of this?  As I was laying back, finally in the chair and waiting for the gas to kick in, it occurred to me that there were some lessons from the dentist chair that I would do well to remember.  I thought I would share them in case any of you needed to hear them too.

1. When facing fear, it's okay to enlist a friend for help.  If Mark wasn't willing to make the appointment for me, even sharing my insistence upon nitrous gas, we might have been here watching more years go by. Do you need a friend to hold you accountable? Go somewhere with you? Pray you through a difficult meeting or conversation?  Physically hold your hand or sit with you while you do something?  It's ok.  Having received help from a friend doesn't take anything away from the fact that YOU had to go through with the action.

2. When facing fear, it's acceptable to use aids as available. In my case, it was gas to take the edge off what I would feel. This could be virtually anything for you, depending on what it is you're facing. Do you have to listen to a certain song to motivate you to face something tough? Promise yourself a reward of a pedicure, dessert or a movie after you climb your obstacle?  Whatever works for you to get done what is most important should be considered fair play.

3. When facing fear, it's a good thing to be honest about your concerns with others. Yes, I could have walked into the office like I wasn't scared and put on a pretty good show.  But I wanted people to understand why I may jerk their hand out of my mouth and I wanted to have time for re-dos.  Because my vulnerability was shared, they made allowances for that and it served all of us well.

4. When facing fear, it's key to remember that other people want you to succeed. My husband and everyone I came in contact with on that dental staff were rooting for me.  Rooting!  Ha!  Ahem...anyway.  No one was laughing that I was scared. They wanted to make it as pleasant as possible so that I could get through the appointment and so that I would continue to come in.  Sometimes we are ashamed of our fears, but the truth is that the people around you in life generally want you to win. If they don't, that's another problem. Most people will be your cheerleaders!  If you need another one, contact me. I love encouraging others to face their fears and win!

5. Finally, when facing fear, realize that the anticipation of what we fear is always worse than the event itself. Why is this? As we pre-live things in our head, we act out every scenario where all the bad things can gang up and magically happen all at once and life is not like that.  The event you have to hunker through may not be pleasant or even easy--I know there are many legitimately difficult things we all face in life--but let's just live them the one time.  Do not let a dozen worrisome scenarios rent space in your head.


Keeping all this in mind, I plan to get back into the dentist to start my follow ups this summer. Anyone willing to call for me, though?