Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Victory for Evie

It is terribly hard to describe the quality of joy which Evangeline's presence infuses into our home. Born with her mother's temperament, Audrey is sensitive, introspective, and sometimes sullen. Evie, on the other hand, takes after her father... She is one great ball of optimism - self-assured, demonstrative (and rather demanding) in her affections, and riotously funny. I am always amazed by the depth of her conviction that she can do things, no matter how impossible they might seem. Change the batteries in her toothbrush? "I wanna do it!" Put on her own bathing suit? "I can do it!" Push her own cart at the grocery store? "Let me do it myself!" Most of the time, she can. Or at least she progresses much further toward completing the task than I give her credit for. I particularly love her persistence in showing affection, convincing Audrey that - really, she is not so sad after all.

Friday, September 16, 2011


We made a mad/magical/marvelous trip to Disneyland last weekend, with Nanny and Ella and Kate, to celebrate their mother's birthday. After the fireworks show, the others went ahead, and it was just Audrey and I, making our way alone through the crowded park. I was still thinking about Cinderella's Castle, which had been resplendent below great popping bursts of pink and blue and white - Tinkerbell and Dumbo each took turns shooting across the sky to songs of dreams come true, sounds of merriment and exclamations of wonder. It was just about the closest thing to heaven I've seen. And watching it with Olivia's mother made me long more than ever to go there.

Audrey walked beside me, her hand in mine, wearing Evangeline's blue satin dress - the one with the full skirt, the sweetheart neckline, and the lovely tulle roses strewn across the bodice. A gift from Uncle Ry and Aunt Carrie. With her little white sweater snug around her shoulders I noticed for the first time that she looked very much like Cinderella.

When I told her so, she said, "That's what I was trying to tell you this morning!" Apparently I hadn't been listening.

"Yes, your blue dress and your white sweater - even your yellow hair - all match Cinderella."

"My yellow hair!" It was a thought that had never occurred to her. Her hand shot up to finger her braid in astonishment and then a smile of wonderment spread out across her face. "I never noticed that before," she said, very slowly and very quietly. A sudden gasp, as though she'd seen a spider. "But! But - our eyes don't match. I have brown eyes and Cinderella's eyes are blue."

"Yes, blue. Like Daddy's."

"Like Daddy's!" Another wonderful, revelatory thought. She touched her cheek. "But our skin is matching."

"Yes, you do have the same color skin."

Audrey looked at me very solemnly. "Me and Cinderella. We really have a lot in common."

"Yes," I went on, smiling, "and do you know what else you have in common?"


"Well, you both love mice and birds. You love to talk with them and play with them."

Audrey started giggling. "Yes, we do! We do!"

"And do you know what else?" I was thinking of the little family slogan that Dutch has begun to teach the girls, reciting it whenever they begin to grouse and shrink from cleaning up one of their messes. "We're Bakers," he says. "We work hard, we work fast, and we don't mess around!" Parroting him really does help to revive their working spirits, so I told Audrey: "Cinderella is just like you because she works hard, she works fast, and whenever her stepmother gives her an order she doesn't mess around!"

More laughter, followed by a sudden seriousness, as though Audrey were considering whether or not this were true. She sighed. "Yes," she conceded, "I am learning about that."

Saturday, September 3, 2011


It is an adage so old, it has become outworn: “'Tis better to give than to receive.” One of those “truths universally acknowledged” that we all know, but – do we really live it? And if so, how? I’ve only begun to learn… and one thing that is helping me is – sponsoring a child through Compassion International.

When, last spring, I approached the Compassion Table in the lobby of our church it was with the conscious intent to sponsor a child – to fulfill my obligation as a follower of Christ, and help provide for the widows and fatherless. What I did not intend – what I could not have imagined – was God’s intent for me...

The children had all been classified in terms of gravity of need, and so it happened that the Compassion Representative slid a crisply laminated piece of paper across the table to me. My eyes flicked past the red sticker labeled “urgent,” and I saw, for the first time, the stalwart face of Omary, an eight-year-old boy from Tanzania. A stab of something like pity pierced my heart: Omary stood on a dirt ground, his arms at his sides, his feet pressed together like a soldier standing in line for a drill. In his over-sized shirt and voluminous jeans, the too-big belt and army boots, he looked so … brave but also so … vulnerable, as though he were making a particular if unconscious effort to look presentable, to look worthy of sponsorship.

Though it’s only been a few months since we’ve begun our correspondence, I’ve already come to learn, in a deeper sense, how fatuous it is to give only money to worthy causes. Financial contributions can be tricky in the sense that they have the potential to subtly affirm our false perception of ourselves as “good people,” people who give… so that poor children in Africa can attend school, and receive basic medical care.

It is much more difficult to engage a child personally, to share myself – writing letters, exchanging pictures and artwork – and not just my resources, with the ultimate hope of encouraging the child toward Christ.

For example, do I really believe, and can I really say, that Christ is all Omary needs? That Christ is big enough to “compensate” for his relative – and by American standards – profound deprivations? Do I believe that if this child has nothing but Christ, he has everything?

Those are awfully presumptuous - even audatious and outrageous - claims to a great majority of people; and it is one thing to try and make this argument abstractly. But I am not writing to “the poor” in an abstract sense … but this person… this boy… this child. Omary. An eight-year-old living in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. A boy who has no father, to speak of. Who likes to play soccer. Who lives with his mother – a woman who is “sometimes employed.”

Is Christ big enough for him?

In my attempt to tell him so, in language that is so feeble and imprecise, I realize in new and deeper ways that if Christ is big enough for Omary, He is big enough for me, too. In the act of reaching out to one poor child I discover my own spiritual poverty - and the wealth which God has made available to me in Jesus Christ so that I can say, with confidence, "my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4.9).

In his first letter to us we learn, through a translator, that Omary likes to play with toy cars “although for now his car is lost.” I am struck by this one word – car – for it reveals the stunning fact that Omary has only one car; and this car is lost. Yet his letter brims with gratitude, generosity, and child-wonder: “He says he is thankful for your sponsorship…” “He is asking how are you?” “He says he is thankful for your love…” “He says he invites you in Bagamoyo…” “He asks you to pray for him to be an obedient child and who respects people…” “He says he will pray for you to be peaceful…”

Omary – thankful? For our love? But what have we given him? Only $25 a month to go to school, and be treated at the local clinic.

I feel ashamed, to be thanked for such a small gift. Humbled, that God would allow me to give what He has freely, and quite undeservedly, given me. Resources, which I can take no credit for (1 Cor. 4.7). Which have been granted to me, in large part, by nature of the fact that I was born in a very particular part of the world, at a very particular time in history. For what was America, but five hundred years ago? Hardly a place on the map…

Civilizations rise and fall and are forgotten. But here I have an opportunity to do something which will last forever – to give to some-one who will last forever. And do I? Will I? Yes, of course I will. Because to sponsor a child is not to give a gift; it is to receive one. In fact, I think if it were up to me I would change the words to that old adage: for giving isn't just better than receiving; giving is receiving. And I cannot but stand in ever-widening circles of awe and wonder that in giving me the gift of Himself, Christ would chisel space enough in my heart, and time enough in my days, for a little boy whose life and love I would otherwise most suredly never have known.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Surf and Sand

My computer has been on the fritz for nearly three months... Many of my photographs from our California Road Trip are trapped on its hard drive but I managed to grab a few - including a few here that feature Morrow Bay and the Getty Villa - before it went back to the repair shop. Few things soothe my soul so much as seeing images of my girls fully engaged in the beauty of God's world...