November 23, 2017

The Best Christmas Present Ever


The white lights twinkled on the tree, Christmas carols played softly in the back ground, and my mom bustled in the kitchen pouring eggnog and plating cookies. The stage was set for a most memorable Christmas Eve, and I could hardly contain my excitement as I prepared for this “most special gift” my parents hinted at throughout the day.

My ten year old imagination went wild with anticipation wondering what could be “this good” that it may just possibly be the Christmas present ever.

A family trip? The coveted light up disco ball for which I’d been begging, or maybe even that cool doll that I’d been eying?

Mom came in. It was finally time. The best time. Present Time.

Around the Christmas tree, my parents gathered my four brothers and me, and reverently passed out our most special gift of the year. Over the moon with excitement, I waited with baited breath as they started to explain our present. Finally, I knew I had hit the jackpot, but then I heard something that just could not be right.

Scaling down our Christmas.  Only a few presents this year. Giving a gift greater than any toy.

What? Surely, I heard wrong.This could not be happening.

Internally, my mind started processing what this meant to me, this ten year old, desperate for some good loot and it was not good.

I slipped off the bow from around the package,  tore open the wrapping paper, and hoped beyond hope, I misunderstood.

A picture.  A picture?

I glanced, trying to understand what I held in my hand. A girl around my age stared back at me with her name and the country of Ethiopia stamped on it.

Being only ten, I can’t quote the exact conversation that occurred next, but I know my parents cast a generational vision that went something like this,

“This Christmas, our family is sharing a gift that keeps on giving. Our desire is that each one of you will expand your heart strings and understand that Giving is Living. We have decided to sponsor four children in Africa, one for each of you. By coming alongside these families through monetary support, writing to them as often as you can, and encouraging them, our prayer is that not only will their lives be changed, but your lives will be impacted for generations. Someday, you may do this with your own children. For it is with giving that you receive.”

Never could I have imagined on that life giving Christmas so many years ago, that my parents’ prayer for their children would be given wings in Peru.

To meet our sponsored child today, and see first hand what Compassion does through their child sponsorship program was such a gift. As I wrapped my arms around precious Bridget,  I knew this was a covenant created by Him.

My heart melted with love for this child I knew not,

but then that same heart shattered as I stepped into her home.

Ushered immediately into their one main room, which doubles as the family sleeping area and all purpose room, I was over come with the strong stench of urine.

The odor permeated everything.

How can this be, Lord? How can this precious girl live like this? They have nothing!

Invited to sit down, we began doing Life together.

There are certain things that transcend language barriers and foul odors and homes without floors or roofs.

Children have a way of doing that, don’t they? Of melding hearts from continent to continent?

With the help of the translator, I desired to know more of Bridget’s mother’s story. Tears formed in the momma’s eyes as she whispered, “It’s too hard to talk about. I don’t wish to share about my childhood.”

As the discussion continued, she alluded to childhood abuse. When she was 14, she left the jungle to come to the capital city of Lima, with hopes of a better life. Her promise of employment soon turned into work type slavery. Fast forward years later, four children, a husband who left, no means of financial support, and the eldest son forced to drop out of high school to support his family. His financial assistance barely provides the basics of food, and on top of that, he now has a tumor growing on the back of his neck.  Bridgit’s momma takes in laundry, but as I look around I ponder, “How?”

I’m told later that the towel covered barrel next to the table contained water. Water which allows her to wash clothes for pennies.

By this time, I am an emotional mess. My momma’s heart weighs heavily with the burden she carries, yet I can’t wrap my mind around it. Her heart is for her children, and yet there’s nothing she can do.

Barely holding it together, I could feel the Lord gently whisper, “That’s why you are here. Feel it. Feel her pain. Spend one moment in her shoes.”

“How is that possible, Lord? It’s so raw. Why her? She shouldn’t have to live like this. No one should live like this. I can’t leave them here. What can I do?”

“You’re doing it.”

“It’s not enough.”

“It’s a start.”

Through tears, Bridget’s mother shared that she never had real love from her mother or father.

I mourned towards heaven, Oh Heavenly Father, how that void impacts families all over the world, whether in Peru or the U.S.A,  the enemy is out to steal and destroy the family unit, and we will not let him have his way.

I rubbed my hand on her shoulder, “You can be the difference to Bridget. You can give her the love that you didn’t have. You are raising a precious daughter with a sweet, sensitive heart, and I am honored to walk alongside you through Compassion.”

My oppression so great, I knew it was time to lighten the mood, so I surprised her with the gifts I brought.

Her overwhelming joy at the most simple of presents refreshed my soul.

As I looked around her home, the stark reality was that she had only one toy.

Hello, my five sweet American children, do you hear your momma stating this?

ONE TOY – a filthy doll hanging on the wall.

That’s it. There is nothing else at all in her home

“She takes it everywhere,” her mother claimed.

In the one stuffed gift bag that I gave her, she received more in one day than she has ever even owned in her entire life.

“Some early Christmas presents,” I tell her mother.

I drift back to that Christmas Eve so many years ago, when this 10 year old reluctantly embarked on a journey of child sponsorship.

My parents, they are pretty smart like that. They knew what they were doing.

“For it is with giving that you receive.”

Giving is Living Life to its Fullest, and in my brief hour visit I received so much more than I could ever give.

As I ended our time together, I asked if I could pray over them. I made a commitment to Bridget that I would journey with her and that she could count on my family.

My pledge of $38/month releases Bridget from the bondage of childhood poverty.  Just like her home’s floor, their road runs rocky, but through Compassion, Bridget will no longer have to worry about her next meal, school or medical issues. Compassion will meet her needs physically, cognitively, spiritually and socially, while encouraging Bridget to flourish into her God given potential.

That is the best Christmas present ever.

Won’t you join me in unwrapping this most special gift?

Speaking from experience, your children will never be the same. They may not see or understand it now, but they will. They will.

And in the process, lives are changed for generations because you answered the call to “Just start.”

Release a child from Poverty. Sponsor a Child From Peru1 Writing Life Stories Through the Scars (Peru: Day 1)

To read all my posts from Peru, click here.

For more perspectives on our time in Peru, visit my precious friends, Shaun GrovesAngie Smith and Kevin and Layla Palmer who are all journey this with me, each with their own perspectives on what we are experiencing.

Since  my time with Bridgit and her mother covered so many varying topics, I couldn’t begin to fit them all into this one post. I tried. Trust me, but here are a few more photos of our time together.

Girls will be girls. (I brought some lotion and nail polish so I could give them a manicure.)


  1. Sweet friend, your words are wrecking to a soul. My children and I are watching your instagram feed for the pictures you are able to send out as you travel through this week. They have witnessed what they can here, when we have opened their eyes to the needs around them. This – this family, their home….i watched them crumble at our table yesterday. We live in an affluent area…we are not among those with ‘a lot’ here….but, we have so much more in ‘things’ than the sweet ones you are with. It’s beautiful watching my children begin to grasp, we are all created by the Master of the Universe – it doesn’t matter what we have, but to see their hearts break, shows his work for them. I pray one day, we are able to meet our own child…so they can see the impact they make. Thank you for being open and honest…for sharing so beautifully and travelings this hard road….


    Jen Reply:

    @Rebecca, oh Rebecca – I can’t tell you what that means as I head out for another day. xoxo


  2. Kristie Scott says:

    Oh.My.Goodness, so many tears so early in the morning. Thanks Jen for sharing this story and for being able to display it so beautifully as you always do! Love and Prayers to you and for your journey!


  3. Oh my what a gift. We sponsor two Compassion children and this year my boys have agreed to forgo one of their presents so that we can give gifts to needy families through World Vision. My goal is that this year we sponsor two more children by the end of the year (one for each of our children). I am humbled at our children’s response to giving to others. Thank you for sharing your experience.


  4. Thank you for going and sharing and loving! I am so happy for you that you got to meet your precious Bridget and her mom!


  5. Leslie Starling Moore says:

    Your story is wonderful. I have always planned to share the joy of giving with my son when he is old enough and your story is so inspiring. Thank you for sharing.


  6. Chrissie Tonielli says:

    Jen, I just love your heart! Praying for you and for Bridget and her mom. Thanks for keeping us updated and letting us soak up these moments with you!


  7. Jen…thanks so much for sharing…you don’t know how much it warmed my heart to see those gifts…but at the same time my heart broke to see her living conditions! Praying for you!!


  8. I miss my Peruvian friends. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. I also saw firsthand while there what an immense impact Compassion has in the lives of the children there.


  9. This is beautiful – just beautiful. I saw the photos last night, before any posts were up, and I could not wait to have words and stories put to them.

    My own children, ages 6 and 7, are very involved in our sponsorship. They each have a “birthday buddy” and it has added a whole new dimension to their special day. A couple years ago I refocused my advocacy to encourage families to pursue sponsorship together…not just something mom (or dad) did…but a way to engage in missions as a family.

    I appreciate the message of this post.


  10. Thank you for sharing your soul with us. These stories are alarming and sobering. So happy for an organization that can help!


  11. Jen, That intro story. . . wow!

    “that life giving Christmas so many years ago, that my parents’ prayer for their children would be given wings in Peru.”

    So excited and So blessed reading about your day with Bridget. Beautiful friend!


  12. Oh my, Jen. I have no words. Just beautiful.


  13. Oh Jen… I’m a blubbery mess. Thanks for being there, friend. It means so much.


  14. As a former missionary and now minister, you are an inspiration. I know you are blessing the people you are meeting. Thanks for sharing.


  15. Jen, thank you so much for sharing!! My boys & I are following your trip. Praying for you!!


  16. Jen,

    This is a beautiful, heart-wrenching, soulfully told story of life, generational influence and coming full circle…only to go out again through the lives of YOUR children.

    Your writing has never been lovelier, sharing the lives of those you’re meeting and truly allowing us to see through your eyes. Where poverty meets Hope. Where Jesus is found. Where lives are changed and perspective is proper.

    I love you friend, and I’m continuing to pray for you and this team.



  17. Wow, this is so amazing. I sponsor two children, one in the Dominican Republic and one in Zambia, and would love to visit them someday. It’s easy to forget how little money can make a huge difference in someone’s life.


  18. Kellie Miller says:

    Tears!!! Thanks for sharing…we take so much for granted!


  19. Oh Jen, your heart must be in a thousand pieces.

    Praying for you.
    Praying for Bridget right now.
    God’s arms around you all.


  20. Oh so beautiful and heart wrenching and sweet and precious. I will join you in praying for Bridget and her mother and brothers. Thank you for sharing and encouraging us all.


  21. Daughter dear,

    Praise be to God for His faithfulness and encouragement to us His children! I’m overwhelmed!

    I have shed gobs of tears today as I first read about your two days and then reread them to your Dad. I’m reminded of verses in Scripture wherein He commanded us to teach our children so that the next and the next generations would know. LIFE is a precious gift from our Creator. Thank you, Jen, for your obedience. We’re prayerfully taking this journey with you.

    Love and hugs!!!! Mom


    Jen Reply:


    Oh Mom, love you so much.
    Thank you for continually modeling that elusive Proverbs 31 woman to me. Your devotion and love to us all is never ending.

    P.S. I am so impressed you figured out how to comment. 😉 That was quite impressive! haha


    Amy @ Finer Things Reply:


    I scrolled down, tears in my eyes, searching for a comment from “Mom” and here it is! 🙂 You have a beautiful family, and I’m so thankful to Jen for sharing it with all of us.

    Talk about a “full circle” post. So powerful, Jen!


  22. My heart is full & heavy today.. with love & with compassion.

    I was born right on the Texas/Mexico border and traveled extensively in Mexico until I was 16. I saw the conditions that the vast majority of people live in Mexico, Central & South America and it has always broken my heart that Gods children have to live like this.
    Thankfully, my parents too taught me to be loving and compassionate as they were. I remember many times my parents buying “chicle” (gum) or other goods from the energetic little children on the roadsides or any time they could do a service for our family. I’ve always remembered these times & have done what I can, when I can, to follow suit.

    I give monthly to United Way USA, Red Cross, Compassion International for the Mom & Baby program, & Food For the Poor. I dont sponsor a specific child in any of the programs I give to but ask that my monies be used in the most urgently needed way. With Compassion, my funds are going to Africa & I think Food for the Poor is going to Peru. Or maybe I have it backwards.
    Either way.. my heart feels like its never enough, but today, its what I can do.

    Blessing on your Jen & all in your circle.. here & there for the love you share, the hope you bring, and the peace you give to others.

    Thanks too for sharing your photos.. arent they a beautiful People? ♥


  23. Thank you for this post…it was beautiful!! I am really enjoying seeing Peru through your eyes!


  24. What an Amazing journey! It is helping my kids so much, because they know you personally. It has made it REAL for them. I thank you for that. It will make a difference in others lives since they can see through your example. Love love:)


  25. Jennifer C. says:

    I can barely see through my tears. Your post has touched me and is motivating me to do something to really help others! Thanks for sharing this story!


  26. That is such an amazing story!
    Those photos are heartwarming and so full
    of love and joy.

    Bridget is such a beautiful girl.


  27. Jennifer Davis says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! Thank you!


  28. How touching your story is. I too have a sponsored girl (9) in Peru! I wish I was with you to visit her. I would love to meet her. How rewarding!


  29. karen davis says:

    Your story of this family in poverty is amazing….I have never thought too much of how I could help others so far away….you gave me the desire to do something, and it feels trust worthy, since you are involved, thank you for sharing this story with us. Karen


  30. Jen. This is so beautiful – your parents! Their prayers! Your words are powerful here, friend.


  31. Rebecca Griggs Cowen says:

    Amazing story! (typed with tears in eyes)….


  32. What a blessing your parents gave you when you were a child! And to see the impact now on this trip you are on! You are making a difference, and I pray that many people can see what a difference they can make by sponsoring a child through Compassion. Such a simple thing we can do for an eternal impact.


  33. I can hardly read for the tears streaming down my face, your words make the reality all too real. Bless you for your commitment to this family, I pray that God will show you how you can serve them. I too have a little girl I sponsor in Peru, how I would love to meet her some day like you have met Bridgit. Sponsorship is such an amazing concept, praise God.


  34. Jen, this is one of the most powerful blog posts on a trip ever. Maybe it’s my heart as a parent that has tried to do what your parents did and seeing it come full circle in your story, but this went as deep in my heart as something can go. So very moved by this and so beautifully written.

    And thank you for sharing your words of exhortation to Bridgett’s mother, “You can be the difference to Bridgett…” Thank you for not letting that moment pass you by. What a timely word of encouragement.


  35. Jen my heart has been tugged while sharing in your journey with Compassion. I sponsored a little girl from Peru last night. I’m excited to see what God is going to do!
    Praying for you and the team,


    Jen Reply:

    @Cyndi Spivey, Oh friend – Thank you for sharing! You are a blessing.
    love ya, friend


  36. OH my….. wow… rip my heart open. I have a 10 yr old…. plus several more. I have wondered if they resent that I say we are giving more and getting less. They love their sponsored boy in Bolivia. My 15 yr old wants desperately to go to the Philippines and meet her Jazzy Rain! Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing. OH WOW. So thankful we get to follow along….

    praying for all of you …. every day. You are in my heart and on my mind….


  37. Beautifully said, Jen. No words. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.


  38. Your post brought me to tears. How heartbreaking – their living conditions, their story. And yet look at the smile on that little girl’s face. We sponsor 2 girls and a boy in Peru. I’m sure their stories are so similar…the stories we don’t hear on our child’s description card. 🙁 Thanks for sharing your journey with all of us!!


  39. It was fun to see some of the gifts that you gave Bridgit. Our 15 year old daughter is going to Ecuador in January to meet our two Compassion kids. We’re having so much fun shopping for them and deciding what to send! I’ll definitely add nail polish to the list!


  40. beautiful! it breaks my heart and at the same time is so wonderful to see how your parents really did give you the best Christmas present. thank you for sharing.


  41. Oh Jen, I’m beyond words and fighting big tears, and thanking God for the privilege to sponsor children in His name. And to be mamas who teach our children to love like this…what a gift! I hope to one day meet one of our girls whom we sponsor through Compassion. Thank you for sharing your heart through your lovely words! Just. Beautiful!


  42. Thank you for sharing your amazing and heartwarming story. I hope to one day be able to travel with Compassion to Peru to meet our sponsored child. It would be really awesome if the bloggers could take pics of the sponsored children so that we could see someone interacting with them since so many of us can’t. Maybe one day that will be possible. Thanks for sharing. God Bless you and your family.


  43. Jen, thanks so much for the wonderful stories from peru. My family and I have went thru some life changes in the past few months from relocating for my husbands job to me becoming a stay a home mom after working for over 20 years to my 10 year old daughter and 15 year old son. The kids have started making new friends and slowly adjusting. We are in the middle of selling our house we used to live and renting in our new city so money is tight. But the story of this little girl with only one toy I made my daughter read because even though money is tight right now we are so blessed. As she read it tears come to her eyes as I knew it touch her heart. I told her I wanted her take so time and really think about this. We will continue to pray for this family in peru.


  44. Isabelita Blaza says:

    your story is so inspiring…and gives me more strength to share any blessings under my you said , Giving is really Living…I feel so complete and the happiness I cannot express’s a magical feeling..thanks for all the uplifting stories..we need these to be more compassionate to others..I am really amazed..God bless..


  45. Thank you for sharing such a special time. What a loving heart you have for giving. Our family sponsors Jimi in Indonesia.



  1. Finall says:

    […] ministry. And whether I’ve been reading Angie’s post about Esperanza, the story of Jen meeting her sponsored child (or, for that matter, Kevin and Layla meeting their sponsored child), or Shaun’s […]

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  7. […] Schmidt – Balancing Beauty & Bedlam Writing Life Stories Through the Scars The Best Christmas Present Ever Boys Will Be […]

  8. […] The Lettered Cottage: And be sure to visit the Flickr page for all the photos And go here if you’d like to sponsor a child through Compassion: var dd_offset_from_content = 40;var dd_top_offset_from_content = 0;var dd_override_start_anchor_id = "";var dd_override_top_offset = ""; Filed Under: Uncategorized /* […]

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