December 10, 2009

Christmas Reflections

Ralf comes home today. I have several nice surpises for him, like food and picking him up at the airport (which he knows, the surprise part is if I make it there on time without accidentally getting lured onto the sneaky road to Deggendorf).

I also have one or two unpleasant surprises in store, such as that I bought an Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas CD for the kids. I loved A & the C when I was a kid, and how Dave always yells, 'AL-VINNNNNN!' It totally rocks.

Then on the weekend Christmas will officially begin. We will acquire a tree and hang things on it. There will be music - possibly not the Chipmunks, my favorite Christmas music is Nat King Cole. We will get ready for the Christmas party we're having on Sunday. Cookies will be consumed with chai and/or coffee. Frangrant candles will be lit. Stuff like that.

Ralf and I each sponsor two children with the Christian Children's Fund and the SOS Kinderdorf. Well, actually, he sponsors two kids in Sierra Leonne and I sponsor one girl in Bolivia and an SOS Kinderdorf in Germany, where data privacy laws prevent you from sponsoring an individual child. Each sponsorship costs about $30/month and includes food supplements, education and medical attention.

Ralf read somewhere recently that it's good for the soul to give away 10% of your wealth to those in need. That's enough to notice but not enough to diminish your own quality of life. I haven't actually calculated if we actually do 10%, which means we haven't hurt our quality of life, but we definitely notice the money going out the door. So we're probably about right.

My sponsored child's name is Laura. I picked her because she has the same name as me (I'm very vain), lives in a very poor country and looked so sad in her picture. I first had the idea when L was born and I was home watching Roseanne alll day. I couldn't bear the thought of not having food or medicine for my perfect new baby and it actually tortured me to imagine any mother in that situation. So when the CCF commercial came on I picked up the phone. And once it turned out to be legit, Ralf did, too.

One of Ralf's sponsored children is truly poor. Her mother works in a different city, her father has some mysterious health issue and she lives with her grandmother in a small hovel. She once had a goat but it was stolen. Early pictures of her looked like she was jaundiced but since then she makes a healthier impression. One picture showed her at school - standing at her desk because there were no chairs. The other, a boy, lives in a Kinderdorf. His parents are dead. We receive occassional pictures and he looks very well-cared for.

My sponsored child is older (she's 8 now) and her family is less poor. Her father is a carpenter and her older siblings attend some sort of college. Once when I wrote to her and mentioned seeing a Harry Potter movie she wrote back to say she had seen it, too. Still, they are far from wealthy and there's no doubt with four children a bit of extra cash comes in handy.

Earlier this year I had a small crisis of faith about giving away my hard earned money. Last Christmas I sent Laura $50 as a combined birthday and Christmas present. It was a lot but I thought she could put it away for emergencies, higher education, what have you. Instead she bought a new designer bicycle.

This bothered me, which also bothered me, because a gift giver doesn't own the recipient. But my own kids drive used bicycles and their presents added up to about $20.

After thinking it over I decided I wasn't upset with Laura - who could blame her for wanting a flashy new bicycle? - but with the CCF that advises the family. Finally I wrote them a note explaining that they shouldn't assume I'll always have an extra $50 to give away and they should have encouraged the family to save the money. I added that I signed up with the CCF to fight true poverty, not buy luxury items.

They wrote back about how much Laura needed a bicycle and how used bicycles break faster and how excited she was. And there the matter dropped.

I still sponsor Laura, although I rarely hear from her these days. I remind myself that I was a lousy corresponent when I was 8, too, and trust she's enjoying school and life. The money I give to CCF benefits the entire community, not just her, making school and medical attention available to more people. So it's all good.

But this year she gets $20. Same as my kids.


  1. I think it is wonderful what you and your family are doing to help the needy. These children are blessed because of you. I am sure they are very thankful.

  2. In Judiasm, charity (tzedakah), is a religious obligation. The second highest form of tzedakah is anonymous donations to unknown recipients. Since it's viewed as a religious obligation it must be performed by everyone regardless of financial standing. Over the years I've come to realize I prefer the anonymous donations to unknown recipients. I don't have to worry about how the money is being spent.

  3. You guys are real softies at heart!

  4. That's nice that you are sponsoring a child and trying to make her life better. As much as you may think that $50 was too much based on what your own children get, I bet your kids have a quality of life that she can't even imagine. I think that $50 was well spent and I wouldn't give it another thought. Scaling down to $20 is still a wonderful thing to do! If everyone did what you are doing for that lucky little girl, imagine the change that could happen. You are one special link in a very important chain. Well done!

  5. I would have been disappointed about the new bicycle and I think $20 is appropriate for this year. I would also want to hear more about how my money helped the community.

    I love the Chipmunks!

    I think it's great that you sponsor children!

  6. You guys are awesome. I hope Laura always remembers you.

  7. What a great opportunity...I really wish we could do something like that. My dh usually does a mission trip for 2 weeks with our church every year. I want to move to India and work with an orphanage.

    I have the most wonderful story Max Lucado has written in his devotional bible, about blessings and curses. One man's son broke his leg and his neighbours were feeling sorry for him, then the country went to war and all the young men were called to battle, all except the man's son.

    Who knows, maybe the bike will be the only source of joy Laura ever has in her life...or maybe it's what inspire her to dream of a life that otherwise wouldn't be possible. I like to think our gifts keep on giving.

  8. I like that you know to whom your money is going. So many donations are done blindly and you just never know. This is wonderful.

  9. I would only say about the bike that being poor is debilitating and that to get something totally awesome can sometimes have a much bigger impact that food. It expands one's vision. It's not always necessities that make a difference, important as that is. Your kids can ride used bikes because they have all that they need. It's a choice.

  10. I don't think it's vain you picked her because of her name...I would probably do the same thing. I think names play a little part in our personalities, so maybe you were hoping for a glimmer of commonality.

  11. I'm just pleased she didn't spend the money on crack or booze. Maybe the fact that she's eight years old had something to do with it...

  12. I love that you recall/admit being a lousy correspondent when you were eight. I saw youhad 2 blogs and stopped by here first to make sure our feet are not the same as mine are awful and can only be one or two of a kind. or maybe one as they do not even look like each other.
    I hope Ralf will enjoy your surprises for him. I think food and a ride from the airport are not to be taken for granted.
    ok. I could write an entire blog about this blog because there is sooo much to think and laugh about. That would be very comment whorish. One last thing. I think it is unfortunate that Laura was not supported in how to spend "her" money in a way that could have been both fun and smart.

  13. You guys are awesome for sponsoring those kids. And while I think it's awful to inflict Alvin and the Chipmunks on small children, I don't think you're any less awesome for buying that CD.

  14. We always do Sub for Santa for a family in need. I love to include my kids. I hope they see what others don't have and are more grateful for their own blessings.

  15. I think it's great that you guys sponsor kids. I have been thinking about doing the same thing for a while. It might be good for the boys if we sponsored some kids close to their age. I keep trying to tell them that their lives are pretty great compared to most of the world. This could be a more concrete reminder.


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