Friday, July 13, 2012

We're not wasting change, even when it feels like we are.

In our years of church life, my husband and I encountered a fairly steady stream of troubled kids.  Often they would come to church activities and programs with their wounds emotionally oozing all over us.  Whether it was sassiness, obstinacy, compete lack of social skills, or intense neediness and a relentless pursuit of our attention, it was easy to diagnose the deep, open hole in their soul, that no one in their life was filling.  After hearing a heartbreaking back story on one of these kids, my husband was discouraged, wondering what the point was in submitting ourselves to so much bad behavior; as if our meager kindness could somehow make a difference in lives that were so steeped in brokenness.

Trying to encourage him, and myself, I suggested the metaphor of a well.  Every kid has a well where they store up the love and care they’ve been given.  Some get their well filled at home, and they go out into the world whole and confident, needing only a little top-off now and then.  Others have an open, empty well, and we are trying to fill it up with one little penny at a time.  Every little thing you do for them, from a warm smile, to a pat on the shoulder, to a cupcake snack or a firm redirection, is a penny tossed into their well.  You pray you’re not the only one tossing in pennies, because it may never be enough.  But if enough of us are tossing pennies into these empty wells, we can hope and pray that it will eventually make a difference for a kid who never otherwise had a chance.

Once in a while, you actually get to hear a penny strike the bottom, like when a kid, half a dozen years later, quoted a lesson back to me about how I’d once challenged her to open her Bible to any page and she could find something encouraging about God’s love or power.  She said she’d tried it over and over again – and never failed to find a message of God’s love.  Those moments give you the encouragement to keep tossing pennies, don’t they?

If you’ve been tossing pennies into empty wells, I have another story of encouragement for you.  It involves my sister.  She is in Africa right now, about a day’s hike away from the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.  Lots of people will be impressed when she comes home and tells us the adventurous story of her summit attempt, but that’s just another feat on a long list of her accomplishments.

My sister was once one of those kids with the empty well.  She was sassy and rebellious.  She dated older boys, dropped out of school, moved out of my parents’ house, and added a tattoo to her piercings.  Not to hate on tattoos, but she went and got the biggest one she could afford.  She wandered a while looking for her calling, first in one state, then another, until she ran out of steam and money in Colorado.  My sister was never a bad person, she never pillaged or stole, got in trouble with the law, or hurt others, but she was definitely the so-tough-on-the-outside, you’d never guess she’s soft-on-the-inside young person, that others find difficult to love and even harder to help.  She also had a huge educational deficit.  She was bragging one time about how she couldn’t wait to get to college, because high school was so lame.  When I mentioned that someone who was flunking high school should hardly expect that college was going to be a breeze, it was not our friendliest conversation.

Fast forward fifteen years: my sister has a Masters Degree in Education and Curriculum Development.  She is bilingual in English and Spanish.  She’s studied and taught in Mexico and Spain.  She was accepted to a highly competitive Denver Scholars program that only takes 1% of its applicants.  She has three years of teaching under her belt, all in bilingual classrooms of the Denver Public Schools systems, at schools with free lunch rates over 75%.  There is no scheme those kids can pull on her that she didn’t once use herself.  She’s done all this with a G.E.D. and a well-full of pennies, tossed in by teachers, friends, aunts, grandparents, mentors and others.  I am so grateful to the people who invested their loose change in my siblings and me.  We’d never have become who we are without you.
Here she is at the top of a peak in Colorado. 
She's been blogging her preparations at:

My sister applied for the program to go to Africa, knowing it was an incredible opportunity and willing to work for it.  She thought she might be able to get a half-scholarship.  Imagine her excitement when they offered her a full scholarship to come participate.  After she summits the mountain, she’ll spend two more weeks in Africa, experiencing as much as the continent has to offer and gaining a thousand moments of inspiration that she will bring back to her classroom this fall.  She got a new job this coming year – same district, but teaching Spanish and Art.  Where she will go on tossing pennies down wells – and now and then hearing a gratifying clink when they hit the bottom.

I think she’s pretty incredible.

 Don’t get tired of helping others. You will be rewarded when the time is right, if you don’t give up. Galatians 6:9


  1. She is more than incredible, she is wonderful, as are you...She always was, she was just afraid to show it!! Proud to call you nieces and family, (and your brother, nephew and family also)

  2. I just got word od Erin's summitting. Remember that she comes from generations of overcomers -- her grandpa was a sixth grade dropout who also attained great heights in other fields. As long as we draw breath, there is hope for a different path and improved life.

  3. We're all pretty lucky to have each other. :)

  4. You all are making me blush. Don't worry. I'm not going to rest on my laurels, or start kicking old ladies.