Monday, January 2, 2012

A step out of celebration...

It's been an unusual Christmas. Sand instead of snow. The sound of the surf, rather than the sound of a silent winter's night. Extended gift giving as travelers arrive to join the family vacation one day after the next. An Alabama Gulf Coast Christmas is very different for this northern girl. And yet, there are elements of Christmas that are clearly and comfortably present .... Loved ones gathered together, good food and an abundance of treats, laughter and merriment among young and old alike, the exchange of treasures, deepening relationships with family members, the warmth of a "home", and the unspoken expectation that, in a year, this comfortable and familiar celebration will unfold yet again.

And yet, as I reach for another chocolate truffle and pour another glass of cheer, the thought suddenly occurs to me...for more children than I can ever imagine or could possibly count, December 25th is filled with none (or very little) of the above. And, for a moment, I need to step out of my celebration and recognize the need for action in this world. For those of us who live in relative abundance and have no doubt to whom we "belong", cannot possibly fathom what it must be like to live each day unsure of what the next will hold or whom to call family. Yet this is the sobering reality of so many children (approximately 50 million) in Africa this Christmas.

There is, however, hope. Across Africa, there are people and organizations dedicated to the lives of children who seem to have no hope. There are people who live each day making sure that children without families are fed, cared for, loved, and, as much as possible, given some sense of family. My middle son, Benjamin, started his life with such people.

It would take me a long time to sufficiently describe TLC, the orphanage in South Africa where Ben spent his early months. TLC (insert link) was started by the Jarvis family who saw the need for the orphaned babies and young children of SA to be cared for with dignity, love, and compassion. Their desire is to see all children become a part of forever that they will never question to whom they belong or what tomorrow will bring. TLC has done remarkably well meeting that goal by matching babies to families from all over the world and caring for them deeply before that match occurs. Yet, it is a sad reality that many babies are seen as "unfavorable" for adoption. They may be older children, be HIV positive, or have other illnesses or circumstances that make them hard to place. When that happens, the Jarvis family often opens their own family and adds one more to their mix. None of this is conventional, practical, or financially sound...but, it meets needs...the deepest of needs of children who deserve forever families and the sense of belonging. We are forever grateful for the unconventional and impractical TLC family and what they gave to us 9 years ago.

There is hope. But it doesn't come without a cost. Jabu Africa is working with frontline agencies like TLC to help spread hope by providing some of the finances that never come easy in this "line of work". By supporting Jabu Africa, individuals have a chance to respond to a need that is not going away any time soon and to impact the lives of children who desperately need and absolutely deserve a place to call home.

I have loved this Alabama Christmas. I have loved taking a spontaneous plunge in the cold Gulf waters and walking for miles on the beach. I have eaten far too much and burned off far too few calories. Yet, the very best thing about this Christmas has been spending time with my husband's family (all 17 of us) and trusting that no matter what comes, we are forever family. And, that secure sense of belonging is something all of us should be able to soak in from time to time.