And that she did.
A curly-haired girl sitting in the second row pew, who had been asking her parents for a year if she could become a sponsor, was now suddenly determined.
It was my youngest child.
As soon as the service was over, my 5 year old daughter raced to the back of the church where photographs of available children lined the table. By the time I reached the display, my daughter held the image of a petite boy named Marco with tousled hair and a reluctant smile.
I knew what was coming.
“I want to sponsor this one, Mama. He is the same age as me.”
I found myself struggling to say the phrase I said last time and the time before that when she asked to “adopt” a child.
“Honey, your sister didn’t sponsor a child until she was seven. It is a big responsibility. You have to remember to write to your child often. You are still too young, sweetie.”
Five hundred miles away, a silver haired woman, whose hard-earned wrinkles beautify an oval-shaped face, learned about Compassion International through my older daughter’s heart-stirring speech. She, too, was inspired to sponsor a child.
It was my mom.
Over the phone, we discussed her desire to educate a child through Compassion International, yet she struggled with the issue of her age. Since the sponsorship was expected to last until the child’s 18th birthday, my mother was hesitant. Realistically she thought she and my dad would be able to participate for only five years. With regret, my mother came to the conclusion that she was “too old” and should perhaps find a different cause to support.
A few months passed, yet my youngest daughter’s determination to be a sponsor did not subside. She and her sister would often visit the Compassion International website and read the heart-wrenching stories of available children.
I later found out that my mother had been doing something similar; she was not quite ready to give up on the fact there was a child out there who needed her financial and emotional support—even if it was only for five years.
So when my parents visited our home in May, it was only natural that the 72 year old and the 5 year old would devise a plan. They would sponsor a child together. As a team, they could compensate for the drawbacks of being “too young” and “too old” to begin such a lengthy and serious commitment.
Since my parents served in the Peace Corp, teaching English in Tanzania, Africa, my mother wished to sponsor a child from that region. Together, my daughter and mother perused the website hoping to find an older female—around the age of 10 years—to sponsor in Tanzania.
Unfortunately, on the day of their online search, there were no older girls available in that area. My daughter settled on a young boy with an expression that told of hardship, devastation, and hunger. His name was Leni. However, when my mother returned home to complete the registration, Leni had already been sponsored.
To be honest, I was secretly relieved. Selfishly I thought the correspondences from my daughter to her sponsored child would essentially fall on my shoulders. In light of Leni’s unavailability, I figured I could put off my child’s quest until next summer. By then, she would be almost seven and could carry out the communication expectations independently.
As expected, my daughter was devastated to learn about Leni—but only for a moment. You see, giving up was not an option for my child. She immediately brightened and suggested we look at the website again because “new children are added all the time,” she argued.
Whoa. It was becoming clear that nothing would avert this child’s from the intense calling on her heart.
We sat down at the computer and selected “Tanzania” and “female” to narrow our search.
Instantly, the faces of approximately 20 girls popped up.
Giving the page a quick scan, I noticed one child immediately stood out.
As if she could read my mind, my daughter’s small finger reached up and touched the screen precisely where my eyes were drawn.
She pointed directly to the girl with the radiant smile, much like her own, wearing an unusually crisp white dress. Despite the dismal circumstances of her life, she had a regal air about her, as if she was born to do something amazing in life—if given a fighting chance.
“That’s her,” my daughter said with conviction.
When I read the nine-letter name listed beneath her picture, I knew this child was destined to be sponsored by a 5 year old girl and a 72 year old woman.
“Her name is Lightness,” I whispered, my voice cracking with emotion.
Oh yes, among a page of Rosemarys, Mariams, Sesilias, and Leahs, there she was … 12 year old Lightness.
And my how she shined.
But the beauty of the moment was not over.
“Let’s write to Lightness right now,” my daughter declared.
Not waiting for a response, she went to retrieve paper and crayons. I finally accepted the fact that I would have to assist my child with the mailings to Lightness for the next year. I was convinced a 5 year old would not know what to say to a child living in poverty in Africa.
But again, I was wrong.
As if waiting her whole life to speak to Lightness, my child articulated the most beautiful message as I typed her words.
I am five years old. My grandma is 72. We are going to sponsor you together. You will get letters from me and my MeMe.
I play the ukulele. It is like a small guitar. I love to sing and play my ukulele. Do you like music? I love Taylor Swift. She has a beautiful voice.
I also like to play outside. I love to swing high and go down the slides at the park. What do you like to do?
I like to eat sushi. It is fish on the inside with rice on the outside. What do you like to eat?
I have curly hair. Sometimes I want it to be straight, other times I like it to be curly. I have freckles on my nose like my mom. The sun here gives me a sunburn, so I wear sunscreen.
We pray for you every day. When I pray, I say, “Please let Lightness be healthy. Let her be happy.”
These are pictures my daughter drew to accompany the letter.
Within days, my mother also wrote to Lightness. She explained that she and my dad lived in Tabora, Tanzania for two years in 1963 while teaching school to children in the village. She also explained to Lightness that she would have two sponsors. My mom thought Lightness might find this confusing to receive correspondences from two different people, but my daughter thought she would find it “special.”
As I thought about Lightness holding a photo of her two sponsors and reading their letters, I couldn’t help but agree with my insightful child—this experience would undoubtedly be “special” for Lightness.
One sponsor, a 72 year old woman with lovely white hair and deep laugh lines … a woman who had walked on her soil, who has seen her plight with her own two eyes … a woman who would choose her words carefully in order to extend support and encouragement like she did when she raised her two daughters.
And the other sponsor, a small child with a soft, round face and smiling eyes … a child who could only imagine this foreign place called “Africa” and would have no limit on her wishes and hopes for her far-away friend.
I imagined Lightness clutching that photo as she fell asleep, somehow feeling as if she were in the center of that embrace. As her eyelids grew heavy, she would feel great hope. After all, she was chosen from over 500 available children by people she did not know—two people who loved her so much that they wished to pay for her education and give her a chance at a happy life.
And back here in America, there’s a little girl who at least once a week calls out, “Remember Lightness!”
Sometimes she says it while riding in the car. Other times she says it when she bows her head at mealtime or when she spies an unusually puffy, white cloud.
At first, I couldn’t figure out if she was talking to me or perhaps reminding herself to write a letter—but now I know.
This loving child is simply putting this beautiful message out into the world so it might catch upon a breeze and fall directly on someone’s heart.
She might be sitting in your child’s classroom with a growling stomach.
He might be sitting on the corner of Delaware and 16th with despair in his eyes.
She might be waiting in line behind you at Wal-Mart wondering if $10 will cover the diapers and milk.
He might be recovering in a hospital bed, unable to forget the sound of gunfire and mass mayhem in a crowded movie theater.
She might be one of the faces on this page.
Lightness is waiting for your hand.
And whether it is wrinkled, or smooth, or somewhere in between, it does not matter.
Love and compassion have no age restriction.
You’re never too young or too old to bring Lightness out of darkness.
Author Amanda Morgan of “Not Just Cute” recently posted one of Fred Rogers’ most profound parenting statements in response to the tragic events in Aurora, Colorado last week.
Isn’t it the helpers of the world who bring lightness out of darkness?
I think so.
In honor of the victims, their loved ones, and all touched by the Colorado tragedy, may we set aside our daily distractions today and go “Hands Free.” Act as “helpers” right where you in any way that you can.
I cannot think of a better way to grasp what really matters.