I've shared two "Memorial Box Mondays" in the past (you can read here), but this story is a bit different from the others because instead of God answering the prayer directly, He answered this prayer through the help of others.
This story takes place in November of 2008. We were nearing a year and a half into our adoption of Daniel and I was days away from visiting him at his orphanage in Guatemala. Brad and I visited as often as we could so he would know we hadn't forgotten about him.
Well, with all those visits, not only had I grown very attached to my sweet son, we had also grown to love many children from his orphanage. So when my friend Anna (who adopted 2 children from the same children's home) organized a mission trip to do an "extreme dorm makeover" for a dorm housing 27 girls ages 8 to 10, I wanted to be Ty Pennington, umm, without the facial hair.
Well, two days before leaving for this trip I got an e-mail from a friend already down there. She wrote, "Kathie, it's cold and the kids don't have coats." (Although Guatemala is in Central America, the orphanage is in the mountains and it can get quite cold especially at night.) After finally surrendering that there was no way to fit 450 coats in my two suitcases for all the kids at the orphanage (much less pay for them), I bought coats for Daniel and the two girls we sponsor. But oh how I wished I could do more.
It was the girls in "V's" dorm (the older girl that we sponsor) that I ached the most for. They were the same ages as my girls and were so appreciative of anything we gave them. I would be around these precious girls all week painting in their dorm and I so badly wished I could give them each something to keep them warm. (And I was leaving in two days so there was no time to ask for donations.)
I had my kiddos with me at Wal-Mart helping me buy stuff for my trip. We walked past the fabric department and they had hanging on display a poncho made from fleece. My girls thought it was beautiful and the lightbulbs went off at the same time, "We'll make 27 ponchos for the girls in V's dorm!!!"
But if you've ever stood at a craft store checkout, heard that your grand total was something close to the national debt, and screamed "but all I bought was scrapbook paper and pipecleaners", you'll understand that I wanted to be careful not to spend more than it would have cost to just buy jackets. So I prayed that if God wanted us to do this, that He would provide affordable fleece.
A sweet lady overheard our plan and with a wink wink directed me to some bolts on sale and some that were low enough in yardage that she could price as remnants. We also went to Hobby Lobby and Jo-Ann's and with some carefully used coupons soon had enough fleece in all kinds of colors and patterns to make about 30 ponchos.
The girls stayed up late with me the night before my trip to help make the ponchos. And we had just enough time to make (drumroll please) . . . three. Hmmm. This quick, no-sew craft took a bit longer than we had thought. So I put the fleece in those vacuum storage bags and loaded them into my suitcases. I figured I'd have plenty of time to work on them once I got there. (I'm hearing chuckles from everyone who has gone on a mission trip.)
But as soon as I arrived, my time evaporated as quickly as my energy. We spent most of our time cleaning and painting the girls' dorm. I would spend much of the day loving on Daniel and worked into the night on the dorm with the other women on our mission team. (I got the fun job of painting flowers and butterflies in the girls' bathroom.)
Although it looks like I'm leaning over with the girls (the one we sponsor is in the pink leopard print--another thing my girls picked out from Wal-mart), at this point I'm not able to stand upright.
Unfortunately, all the time I thought I would have to do the ponchos just wasn't there. The other women were just as tired as I was and I didn't want to ask for help since this had been my crazy idea.
I worked on them a bit at a time, but in my four days there I had only completed three more for a grand total of six. I had one full day left and would be leaving the next morning . . . returning home with about 50 yards of fleece and leaving behind girls who were shivering.
I had accepted that the ponchos just weren't going to happen and was just focusing on finishing my painting in the bathroom. My friend Judy was done with her project so she brought one to work on in the dorm while the rest of us painted. One of the girls spotted the poncho in progress and said, "It's so beautiful!!" Ugh! My heart ached that I wasn't going to be able to give them all one.
Although I had about finished my painting, I was feeling all kinds of defeat because of those silly ponchos. I should be accustomed to craft projects gone awry--like the time I Bedazzled the front and back of a shirt together. Or the Christmas of 1998 when I thought I'd save money replicating an expensive wreath that I saw in a magazine only to drop enough dough on the bowmaker, ribbon, and supplies to have decorated the tree at Rockefeller Center. Yep, there have been enough crafting fiascos that Brad has come home from work and said, "Put down the glue gun and nobody will get hurt."
But this time was different. It wasn't about fleece. It was about my girls at home starting this project with me and who were so excited to hear how it ended. It was about God providing an abundance of beautiful fabric at an amazing price. It was about me wanting to leave something with each girl before I had to hug them good-bye. It was about 27 girls with so little having a little something that says "you matter."
I finally left the dorm about 1:00 a.m. with two friends who stayed late with me to finish up. My feet, shoulders and hands ached like never before after 5 days of painting. But I told Kim and Anna that I was going to stay up and try to do as many ponchos as I could before my flight. (Yes, they know that I'm quite the assortment of nuts.) My plan was to work till 9:00 a.m. leaving some time to say my good-byes before leaving for the airport at 10:30 a.m. They wished they could stay up with me but they were just so exhausted.
Well, we opened the door to the mission house, not wanting to wake anyone from the other mission teams who had been working hard on their own projects. There was little light, but as we walked in, I could see my fleece in neat piles on one of the dining tables. I thought, "How sweet that someone has helped gather it up for me to pack." But as we stepped closer, I saw that these were not piles of fleece, these were piles of ponchos!!! I cried and laughed and cried some more.
It was like the elves and the shoemaker story. I wanted so badly to know who had done them, but knew I'd have to wait till morning for the full story.
It turns out that two women from our team in Georgia--Judy and Lynn, decided that they would make as many ponchos as they could. Then some women from teams from Arkansas and Alabama pitched in and soon they had an assembly line of poncho makers. (Oh, forgive me for not sharing everyone's name. I would try to list everyone but know I would certainly leave someone out.)
The next morning as I was saying my good-byes, I was able to not only give V a gift, but she was able to help distribute a gift to every girl in her dorm.
One by one, each little girl just giggled in picking out her poncho.
I wish I had more pics of the girls and the precious poncho makers. Angels on earth, all of them!
Everyone seemed to get their first choice and we had some left over to share with some teens who help care for the girls. When my husband visited 2 months later, he reported that the girls were still wearing their ponchos proudly.
I have a little square of fleece in my Memorial Box.
It's a beautiful reminder of how God provides through the love of others--from the lady in the fabric department at Wal-Mart, to my daughters who came up with the idea, to a precious group of women who were such an answer to prayer.
It's also a good lesson for me to remember to accept the help of others (I struggle with this one). By trying to do this alone, I was depriving them of the joy of being part of this gift.
I think when we are blessed by the care of human hands, we often forget the One from whom these blessings flow. But sometimes God wows us through the work of His hands and other times He wows us through the work of other's hands. So today, I want to not only give thanks for God's blessings, but also give thanks for the dear people He places in my life who have blessed me.
More Than Lots,