HAS HELPING OTHERS HELPED ME?
Since the New Year, I have become actively involved in a project for Uganda. Our current goal is to secure permanent land for the children of RUHU (Rising Up Hope, Uganda) orphanage so they are never evicted from another home again.
When my friend, Jamie Macari, told me his story about living in Uganda for 9 months where he met Patrick, a local Ugandan who had been rescuing kids from the slums of Kampala since he was 20, I was compelled to become a part of their cause.
If there was one thing that worked well in my marriage, it was this - meeting the needs of others.
The first time I got to hear Patrick's voice was over Skype with Jamie. "Hello, hello, hello!" he answered cheerfully, jubilant children's voices provided sweet background music throughout our conversation. When it was over, tears streamed down my face.
"Are you okay?" Jamie asked.
"I am more than okay. I am really happy right now. I feel whole for the first time in a long time."
This is the kind of initiative where my late-husband, Neil, and I, worked. This is the one area of our relationship where together, we made sense.
Life-giving memories flooded my mind. Memories that weren't just life-giving because other people's lives were changed. No. These were memories that were life-giving also because helping others changed me.
When it came to giving in our family, there was never a question, never an argument. If Neil, or I, had a heart for it, the other would immediately support the cause. We didn't compromise, or struggle, or fight. We engaged. This one area was where we truly thrived. It drew us closer to one another, and it drew us closer to God.
Now that I am a widow, and my daughter is a fatherless child, I not only continue to have this heart, but I realize, I am the cause.
God took the needs of the widows and orphans seriously. In Exodus 22:22-24 He said, "22 You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. 23 If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; 24 and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless." Wow. It's like having the ultimate bouncer on my side.
Isaiah 1: 17 says,
"17 Learn to do good;
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow."
It still surprises me sometimes to read statements like this, and realize they are referring to me and my child. I am the widow. My daughter is the fatherless child. We are also the benefactors of much love and compassion from those who sought to do justice.
Knowing what it now means to be the minority, to be the disadvantaged, and also the beneficiary of those who have put their love into action through practical and compassionate means, helping mend our wounded hearts with threads of care, this cause is no longer about helping "them." I am them. When I help them, I help me.
Has helping others saved me? In a way, it has. Working with A Thing For Another to support the RUHU orphanage, has restored the best piece of my marriage, but through a new kind of partnership. It has given me an opportunity to give back, in honour of those who abundantly gave to me, and to recognize there is only one humanity, and it is labeled "we."
The difference in my life between helping, and being helped, was but a breath of circumstance. The difference between being helped and being able to help again, is as simple as the strength others have built in to me through their support, which now I can pay forward, and continue the pattern of restoring the humanity of "we."
One of my favourite passages in the Bible is Isaiah 58:6-9:
"6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter —
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I."
Nothing has restored my soul after the death of my husband, like the privilege of being involved in a cause like this. It seems to be what I was made for, which I suppose is why when I engage in loving others well, in taking their needs to heart as though they were my own, in advocating for their rights, for their voice, for their humanity to be heard, it also restores me in "we."
Shawna is a writer and public speaker. Email Shawna to invite her to speak at your next event.