When Blake presented to me the idea to send Valentines to the orphans, I had mixed emotions. The IDEA of it was fantastic! It is an EASY way for many people to reach out to orphans without having to go through much trouble trying to figure out where to donate money or items, what items are needed or how much money, etc. At the same time, a simple card can lift a sad heart, can heal a wounded soul, can bring hope to a child lost in hopelessness, and a Valentine is a card PACKED with an extra PUNCH of love! Valentines are also traditionally colourful and cheery, as well as "cute"! What better item to send to an orphan (PS, they also are cheapish to mail and easy to pack into a manila envelope! ;)!)
At the same time, I have experimented with collecting items and donations to send, and my experiences have left me jaded. A dark shadow hung over me as I remembered failed fundraisers, and promises to send items that no one ever donated. That leaves me having to tell the orphanage we can't send the needed items, or to just "leave them hanging". This kind of thing can really destroy the trust we try so hard to build with our partner orphanages. Maybe worse than that, however, is the disappointment it leaves in the hearts and minds of the children and workers at the orphanage when they are promised something that never arrives. Since HOPE is what we really are trying to give these people, these situations are very counter-productive and quite harmful to all involved.
So, it was with some trepidation I stepped on board with Operation: Love. Yet, I held on to much hope, and immediately sent out emails to find out how many Valentines were needed at our different orphanages.
From Bethel Foster Home, I heard back IMMEDIATELY! (It helps that I do all of my emailing at night, which means it was daytime in China at Bethel). Mr. Gauvain, who owns and runs Bethel with his wife and their children, was overjoyed and more than a little excited at the idea of the blind children for whom he cares receiving Valentine's Day treats.
The next day, I was in the car when I suddenly thought, "What have I done?! I have promised this man that we would send the precious children for whom he cares Valentines. What if we can't fulfill that promise?! What have I done?!"
What, indeed. For days, we heard nothing. No one donated. No one offered to send any Valentines. I began to despair. I posted on my facebook status's that were nothing short of BEGGING for Valentines. I looked at my own budget and wondered if I would have enough money to buy the required Valentines AND ship them, should NO ONE donate.
Then, someone on facebook said they were making Valentines. Happy Day! A friend of mine from High School was going to make some with her children for the blind orphans at Bethel! She was putting cotton and pon-pons on them so the blind children could enjoy them.
I was lifted by her willingness, and she gave me hope that others might do the same.
I felt so totally alone. People around me started saying that no one was going to donate. The economy was too bad, or most people had already donated to Haiti, or it was too soon after the big spending season of Christmas, or this, or that, or something, or another reason. I, again, began to despair.
Then, Friday, I took Taiger in the kitchen and we made Valentines. Surprisingly, my brother, who was visiting from Idaho, joined us. Making Valentines isn't really his "thing", but he did it because, as he said, he wanted to help. Later, my sister and her fiance sat down and also made some Valentines.
With Taiger and my siblings busily making Valentines, I was again encouraged. Another amazing thing happened. A family who has just suffered the loss of a child, offered to send some Valentines. I wanted to cry when I heard this news. For someone who so deserved to wallow in self-absorbed thoughts and to focus only on themselves to reach out, to reach beyond their pain and suffering to offer love to other orphans was incredible to see. I was inspired by the people around me reaching out to help.
Saturday, I still had only a few offers to send Valentines. The few who had offered, were like angels to me...but still, I knew it was not enough. I had sent out an email to members of my church a few days before and had heard nothing from them. No one had commented on my blogs. No Valentines had arrived in the mail. Nothing. No one else was going to donate, I was certain now.
Saturday, I heard from another of our partner orphanages. They, too, were so excited for Valentines for the children. The children at this orphanage as well as the adults who run it have experienced a trying year, and I know how desperately they need these Valentines! They needed a little piece of paper saying something like, "I Love You" to deliver a tiny bit of hope and love and joy in their corner of the world. How could I tell them that not enough people cared? There would not be enough Valentines? They had been forgotten?
And that is when I (FINALLY!!!!!) prayed. (HELLO?!?!?! It's about time! I know that you are thinking that...to be honest, I really am, too!) I asked Heavenly Father to please let the donations come. Please let there be Valentines for the children.
Today, at church, a woman with whom I have never before talked, a sister whose name I didn't even know, came up to me as I sat in my seat and handed me a zip-lock baggy of Valentines. She said she knew they weren't many, but maybe they would help. I didn't know the words to thank her ENOUGH. I am not sure there ARE words like that. So, I hugged her and told her I had prayed for Valentines. Perhaps she thought I was CRAZY...and I guess, I was. Crazy with gratitude. Crazy with the thought of Heavenly Father saying, "When you ask, I will help."
Tonight, I had two new emails in my inbox. Two more sisters from my church want to donate Valentines.
Again, I didn't know how to thank them. The words, the cold black letters on the white computer screen, were not ENOUGH.
I learned a lesson this week. Actually, I learned several. The first is something I always "knew", but this week I was retaught, or maybe just saw it more clearly. Heavenly Father knows each and every single one of us. He knows the blind children at Bethel. He knows the hurting children in Ghana. He knows the girls at Katie's house in Uganda. He knows the 84 Haitian children at our orphanage there. He knows the people who care for these children. He knows me. He knows you. He knew the trials those children would face. He knew their pain before they did. He knew we would send Valentines. He knew who would donate. He knew the earthquake would hit Haiti. He knew who would die, who would live, who would lose loved ones. He knew their fear before them. He knows all. He knows all of us. We are His children, and He knows each one of us. Heavenly Father loves each one of us. He loves each of the orphans in our partner homes. He loves them enough to send His son to die for them. Can't we love them enough to send a Valentine?
I also learned to be humble. In all things, be humble. In my service, be humble. It may not register in that moment that it is pride, but that is surely what kept me from asking Heavenly Father's help in the first place!! I didn't realize or think about it at the time. I just assumed, I am sure, something like, "Oh, it's okay...I'm good!" as they say. Or, "No big deal! I got it!" But we haven't "got it"...we haven't ANYTHING. ALL things come from God. ALL things. If there is something we need, we must ask for it. Even if it is something we can obtain for ourselves, we must ask for God to help us with our work in getting it for ourselves. This is a hard thing for me...I don't want to "bother" God...I know He MUST be busy. I also know the Lord helps those who help themselves. So, I can just take care of it on my own, right? WRONG. NOTHING is mine by my own hand. Nothing. I need to be better at recognizing that. I need to bring before Heavenly Father ALL of my duties, my obligations, my tasks, by jobs, my responsibilities, and ask for His HELP! Sure, there may be things I really CAN DO by myself, but that doesn't mean I don't need God's hand to guide me, or to strengthen me, or to help me. I need to be humble enough to ask.
I have also learned what Sixteen Small Stones is for me. I may be serving and helping others through Sixteen Small Stones, but really...it is I who is benefiting. Each day, each time I work on something for Sixteen Small Stones, I learn, I grow, and I am taught by Heavenly Father. I am so, so thankful that I have this great work to teach me lessons from Heavenly Father.