As we were planning out Lent this year and deciding on countries, issues, and causes to support for each week, we knew we wanted to shed light on the struggle that single moms face everyday. As I began to research, determined to find a country to highlight, I realized it was almost impossible to choose just one, as single parenting and poverty are a worldwide concern.
A single mom in India, supported by Compassion International

In fact, 16 percent of children worldwide live in a single-parent family. Many areas of the world, including Latin America, South Africa, and North America have high rates of single parents, ranging anywhere from 25 percent all the way up to 50 percent or more in certain countries.

There are many struggles that single parents face. But with most single parent homes being led by a woman (80 percent in the United States and averaging the same in many places around the world), disparity in income and the lack of support received by these women and their children is a common concern throughout the world.

Image via B3e_ on Flickr
Last Wednesday was the day I've been dreading.  While my son and I were going through the checkout lane in the grocery store, my Kindergartner's school was going into "containment" -- one step shy of lock down.

It felt like a perfectly normal, average day as we waited at the bus stop after our stop at the store.  My son and I chatted about his day, sang "What Does the Fox Say" and kept one eye on the road, looking for the bus.

As the minutes continued to pass, I began to get antsy.  Ten minutes isn't necessarily cause to worry, but as time crept on and no bus appeared, I began to wonder. 
On the surface, the figures alone are staggering:
Source: World Vision

  • One out of seven children in Somalia is acutely malnourished.  
  • One in ten children in Somalia die before their first birthday.
  • Over 2.9 million people within Somalia are in need of assistance; 857,000 of those are in a crisis or emergency situation when it comes to meeting their food needs. 

For many of us, our familiarity with Somalia may stem from depictions of Captain Phillips or from or our interactions with folks in the local Somali community. But what may not be immediately obvious to us is the precariousness of a country that continues to experience ongoing famine and hunger.

According to a report published just last month by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid department, a myriad of factors have brought Somalia to its current state:
Two decades of conflict and worsening cycles of drought have left millions of Somalis extremely vulnerable. One failed rainy season or flood can quickly expose thousands to disease, displacement and destitution. At present, 857,000 individuals are in acute crisis and cannot meet their food needs, while 2.05 million are at risk of sliding back into crisis.

Conflict, loss of livelihoods and the threat of forced recruitment into militias have forced civilian populations to flee into displacement camps within and outside the country. There are 1.1 million people internally displaced, while close to 1 million Somalis live as refugees in neighbouring countries. 

In 2013, a new government was in place and efforts at state-building and peace-building have been enshrined in a Transition Compact called the New Deal for Somalia. Significant funding from development donors has been pledged towards this. Nonetheless, deepening violence and conflict caused continued population displacements and insecurity in the South and Central regions.

Abuses of both human rights and international humanitarian law place civilians at risk daily, and sexual violence against women is at worrying levels. The main provider of free healthcare in Somalia, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), pulled out of the country in August 2013 after 22 years citing unacceptable security threats to its staff. Somalia remains one of the most complex environments in which to deliver aid. 
... The situation remains serious ... Acute malnutrition continues to afflict hundreds of thousands of children, especially in the south of the country. 
The report concludes by noting that although the food security outlook has improved marginally compared to September 2013, a significant portion of the population remains at risk. "The nutrition situation for children under five remains very critical, particularly in the southern regions worst hit by famine in 2011," the report notes. The overall conclusion is a worrisome one: "Today’s humanitarian situation is similar to conditions prior to the 2011 famine – numbers are showing slight improvements but resources are dwindling and access remains a challenge." 

So what can we do?

Pray. This week, we will pray for the people of Somalia, as well as children and families throughout the world suffering from humanitarian crises (other African countries like Mali and the South Sudan come to mind, as well as the typhoon-affected Philippines). We will pray for effective interventions to address short-term needs as well as long-term solutions that will alleviate the ongoing threat of hunger and disease, an end to the violence and instability that has led to a deterioration in the population's ability to meet basic needs such as food. 
Fast. This week, we will fast two evenings. We will go without food to remind ourselves of the hunger many around the world face on a daily basis, and tell our children why we are doing so. If your children are older, I encourage you to have them join you this week by eating two meals of just rice and beans, the staple for many poor people who have nothing else to eat. If you have young children, try fasting from something else (sweets, etc.) on those days.
Give. This week we will take the money we would have used for the two meals we fast from and instead give it to those who are hungry around the world. World Vision is one of many wonderful organizations meeting the needs of those who are hungry.
Do something. Did you know that there is actually enough food in the world to feed everyone, including those who are starving? Did you know that each year we waste almost half of the world’s food? Waste. Did you know there are simple things to do to decrease the amount of food we waste each year, including planning out our meals, using what’s in our cupboards and refrigerators, requesting smaller portions and using our freezers more often? For other great food-saving ideas, click here.

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the need, here's another staggering statistic that matters: I’ve heard that if every person gave just $1/week this year, we could end world hunger for the year.  
Our giving, no matter how small, matters. It all makes a difference.
Last month, my husband and I went on our Valentine’s Day date early to avoid the crowds. After dinner we decided to see the movie, The Monuments Men, which is based on a true story of soldiers who were assigned the task of finding and saving famous artwork and sculptures all over Europe during World War II that Hitler had taken for himself.

Afterward, I found myself pondering what life must have been like for those in Europe at the time: those forced to leave their homes, all their possessions taken, as well as those who remained, working in fear of the Nazis, trying to just go through the motions of life and work, hoping to make it through.

Jumana [a Syrian refugee] and her siblings collect waste paper to earn a living.
I was thinking how different my life is from their experience. How easy it is for me to take for granted all of the freedoms I have in this country. How I can get upset about the simplest things—nothing that’s life or death—just daily annoyances.

How my children don’t live in fear of someone taking them from their home, sending them off to an unknown place. There is no fear of being beaten or killed.

Image from UK Department of Int'l Development via Flickr
Syria. When I hear that word, I do not think of politics, military strategy or who is “right” and who is “wrong” in that conflict (all important, different subjects for a different day).  

Instead, I think of think of the over 2 million* children, 40% of that nation’s next generation living interrupted lives with inadequate access to education.**

"When one says that it is the worst place to be as a child, in Syria, for now, I would agree," said Hamida Lasseko, UNICEF's deputy representative in Syria's capital Damascus. "Children are missing from education, they are out of school. Children have the hidden wounds, and these wounds form scars."***
I am thrilled to once again be guest posting over at one of our favorite sites, (in)courage! Today I'm sharing about the process my husband and I have been through this past year, inviting others into our lives and home.

Here's a portion of my post:

He comes to the door, a shy smile on his weathered face, handing me a plastic bag with a lemon meringue pie he picked up at the grocery story.

I welcome him in, offering something to drink.

We’ve known of our elderly neighbor for years, but only in the most casual of ways — a wave across the street, a nod of acknowledgement as we go on our way — always an event or meeting to hurry off to, no time to stop and visit.

And as we sit together on this night for dinner, the first time in all the years we’ve lived here, I think back on how the past year has changed us.

Mark 12:30 says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second command is this, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The verse was quoted late last spring during a Sunday morning message by our pastor. After he mentioned it, he paused.

“And what if God was really serious?” he asked. “What if he actually meant we should love our literal neighbor?”

You can read the rest of the post (and enter their giveaway today!) here.

“I don’t know,” one of the women said, pausing. “So far, I just don’t really relate to this book.”

Nodding, smile frozen, my placid surface agreed. But inside, my heart cried something very different: Really? Because this is pretty much the story of my life. 

My sweet Elise
It was the first week of our Sunday night study, and we were combining three of my favorite things: books, wine, and chocolate. Except for a few friends, the dozen or so women who ringed the edges of my living room in crayon-marked chairs dragged from my dining room were more or less strangers to me. And although I was technically one of the leaders of the group, the idea of revealing my heart on the first night seemed like an impossible, insurmountable leap.

The premise of Emily Freeman’s book, Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life, was simple: A small town girl lived a life that, on the outside, seemed blameless, perfect. She grew up a “good” girl – it was easy and she was praised for it, so she came to rely on her “goodness” rather than on Jesus’s grace. And then she realize that there was a better way – that the extravagance of grace meant that she could stop living a try-hard life. 

In some ways, it could be a script for my own life. 

India is a land of rich history and deep traditions. Many empires have risen and fallen over the centuries, leaving behind historical treasures still sought after today. In fact, Mark Twain once said:

"India is the cradle of human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and most astrictive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only!"

But even with all of its beautiful history, India has become a country ravaged by poverty that has created a host of problems including child labor, abuse, orphan care, sex trafficking and malnutrition. In fact, the World Bank stated that India has one-third of the world's poorest people: 32 percent of the population falls below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day and 68 percent of people live on less than $2.00 a day. 

Due to AIDS, malaria, drought, famine, and poverty in general, more than 9 percent -- or 31 million -- children in India today are orphans. Many live on the streets or in slums and are vulnerable to slavery through child labor or sex trafficking. 

The problems in India seem overwhelming -- possibly even insurmountable -- but there are those who are trying to make a dent, however small, to help these children. Organizations including UNICEF, which works to protect children from abuse and disesases like malaria. The Miracle Foundation that works to support orphans and orphanages in India while also offering child sponsorship. And MercyCorps that works to support the poorest communities in India by providing  education, work and medical care. These are just a few of the many non-profit organizations reaching out to make a difference in India today. 

We've decided that we want to help. But how?

Embracing the silly, crazy, fleeting moments.
It was during the car ride home from school last week that I found myself readjusting my rear view mirror at that perfect angle, so I could meet two sets of little eyes in the back seat  -- while also keeping half an eyeball on the traffic behind us.

Our conversation had suddenly veered into deep theological waters, and I needed to see my children's faces as we talked about Jesus and choices and consequences and being loved absolutely unconditionally.        

And, as quickly as it came, it was over.  The conversation returned to our typical driving home banter about the favorite parts of our days, complaining about the broccoli I had planned to steam for dinner, and trying to decide who is faster -- Jonny or The Flash. 

Last week, we told you about this year's Lent Remixed project: 7 weeks, 7 countries, 7 causes, 7 items fasted. If you missed it, here's the original post. This week, we chose to focus on Ethiopia to emphasize the need for clean drinking water.

According to UNICEF, 768 million people around the world do not have safe, clean water to drink. The human cost is simply staggering: Every day, thousands of children die from diseases directly linked to unsafe water or a lack of basic sanitation facilities.

Ethiopia is a country with a fascinating past -- for most of its history, it was a monarchy, and along with Rome, Persia, China and India, its kingdom was one of the great world powers of the 3rd century. In the 4th century, it was the first major empire in the world to officially adopt Christianity as a state religion. Notably, Ethiopia has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa, and the country’s ancient Ge’ez script (also known as Ethiopic) is one of the oldest alphabets still in use in the world. (source)

But despite being the main source of the Nile, Ethiopia underwent a series of famines in the 1980s, further complicated by civil wars. The country has begun to recover recently, however, many of its residents still desperately lack access to clean drinking water: