Feed My Lambs

We all know that on the night Jesus was arrested, Peter denied knowing Him, three times. But thankfully, Peter’s story does not end there.

In John 21, following His resurrection, Jesus asked Peter, three times, “Do you love me?” And each time Peter responded, Jesus called him to ministry: “Feed my sheep.”

Like Peter, I have been broken by sin, I am being healed by grace, and I am called to feed Christ’s lambs. Those of us who sponsor children know that Compassion’s whole ministry is about “feeding” Christ’s sheep.

I have heard numerous times that each child is said to have a sphere of influence of about 30 people, and I love knowing that every time a child is sponsored, perhaps 30 people’s lives will be impacted for Jesus Christ!

Compassion International as a Part of God’s Plan for My Life

The first time I heard another Compassion volunteer say, “God knew I needed this ministry,” my heart said, “Yes. Me, too!” I had no idea how badly I needed it.

When God called me six and a half years ago not only to sponsor children, but to child advocacy, I knew He was answering my prayer for direction into something of eternal value.

I am still enormously grateful to Him for blessing me with this ministry. But a few weeks ago, a drama sketch in church showed me that He had far more in mind: I now recognize that call as a profound expression of His grace to me.

Follow me back in time, more than 50 years. I was 10 years old, in the fifth grade, and trading off weeks with my best friend in an after-school job at a neighborhood residential daycare.

I cannot imagine a worse job for me. I was living in a rigid, highly dysfunctional home. My parents had divorced, brought on largely by my dad’s mental illness, which sometimes put us all in danger. But the rigidity did not stop with my family.

The children in the daycare were mostly — if not all — preschoolers, but this was simply a place for parents to leave their children while they went to work.

“Mama W.” and her husband owned the home. Mama W. kept to her bedroom most of the time, as she was chronically ill. She operated the daycare mostly through her sister, “Aunt M.,” who made sure the children ate, slept, played, pottied and watched TV on a strict schedule.

I was there to assist in feeding, stay with the kids during TV and play times, and generally keep them out of Aunt M.’s way. Except that I was to call her if anyone misbehaved, especially in the cramped TV room where “misbehaving” included talking to or touching each other, as children do. File Aunt M.’s rules under unrealistic expectations.

In that TV room I witnessed a method of punishment that I now consider abusive; in fact, I was appalled and frightened when I first witnessed it.

Whenever one or more children created any disturbance, Aunt M. picked up both wrists of the offending child and slapped the child’s hands together, hard and fast, until the child cried. Try it with your own hands; you won’t do it more than once.

I have said that I lived in a rigid, dysfunctional home. Abuse in our home was mostly spiritual and emotional, although what my dad called “discipline” was purely punitive and sometimes physically abusive.

Most of the time, in most places, I was a compliant child and unassertive. However, because I was an easy target for bullies (and a molester), I became aggressive with other children: bossy, and a tattle-tale. If I lived by the rules, other kids should too.

Consequently, in my job, I initially let Aunt M. know when the noise and activity level in the TV room began to rise. But eventually, with no authority whatever, I simply meted out her brand of punishment myself rather than call her. I knew I was crossing the line.

The day came when a mother arrived in the afternoon to pick up her two children, a girl and a boy. I was in the kitchen with Aunt M. and only vaguely aware that the mother was talking with Mama W. until she called me into the room. There, I learned that these children had told their mom that I was doling out punishment. Mama W. then asked me, “Is this true?” (It gets worse.)

If I admitted the truth, not only would I lose my job, I would have to tell my mother why. Sooner or later, our entire extended family would know. Then, too, I needed the money for a week at church camp in the summer, the cost of a new coat, and my spending money. That job was my only hope, at my age, as my mom could not afford the costs.

I lied and kept my job.

Please understand: I was not a cruel child. I was badly damaged and totally unsuited for my job. To this day, whenever this memory comes up, the faces of three children haunt me: the two children who told their mom, and Danny.

Danny was five years old, half my age, and a very active little boy. Think “Calvin.” Danny so desperately needed to be loved, and I treated him as if he were a thoroughly bad child.

What I did to those kids breaks my heart and makes getting past this so difficult. You have no idea how many times I have asked God to bring them — all grown, now — across my path so I can tell them how very sorry I am and ask them to forgive me. This is where God’s grace comes in.

As I struggled to compose myself in church, mental pictures of sponsored children flashed across my mind. It seemed to me that God was saying, “Yes, but now you work for Me!”

I have been broken by sin, I am being healed by grace, and I am called to feed Christ’s lambs.

10 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Mark May 15, 2009

    Dear Vicki I finally got to read your post…glad I did! Just got back from Ecuador and I’m heading to the DR to show Compassion to Willow Creek pastors…and am squeezing in a quick trip to Honolulu this weekend. Now I know the reasons/history behind why your heart is so yielded and soft to God’s calling. Blessed by you friend!

  2. Shelly May 1, 2009

    Thank you so much for sharing!

    I too have had a hard time dealing with some memories of my childhood. I was a very hurt, angry, and confused child and I took that out on those weaker or smaller than I. Now that I am an adult I recognize this and can stop the cycle of violence. BUT I still feel badly for the little souls I damaged in my sin. I know I am forgiven, but I pray that God will heal the wounds I inflicted on others.

  3. Vicki Small April 30, 2009

    @Britt – Britt, please check the Comments on my blog, after your posting.

  4. Vicki Small April 30, 2009

    Thank you all for your comments. It really is true that “confession is good for the soul”! God definitely covered this memory with His grace, but not until I had written the post was I really able to internalize it. If I were to rewrite one sentence, now, I would write: “I have been broken by sin, I am healed by grace. . . .” Britt, please let the grace in . . . and if we ever do meet, you’re on for that hug!

    In a word, this memory no longer has any power to hurt me or induce guilt. It is a healed memory, by God’s purely awesome, totally incredible grace!

  5. Mike Stephens April 30, 2009

    “Those of us who sponsor children know that Compassion’s whole ministry is about “feeding” Christ’s sheep.” Yes Vicki Compassion really does feed Christ’s sheep as you already well know. But I got to help serve the food to Christ’s sheep in Nicaragua and ate some of it myself!!! So now when I hear things I can say yes that is true!!! I tried hitting my wrists together and it wasn’t too bad!!! 😉 But I guess I wasn’t doing it hard enough. Vicki I am not trying to simplify the situation but I have started to get into the habit of reading the Lord’s Prayer out loud before I go on a bike ride just to get me in the proper frame of mind and I must forgive b/c I want/need forgiveness. My hope was that that would speak to you and encourage you to know that you are forgiven!!!

  6. Britt April 30, 2009

    Oh Vicki! How I wish we were in the same room right now so I could hug you!

    My past has had some “issues” and even after I became a Christ-follower, I felt the guilt. I apologized over and over again hoping that “it” count this time. Now I realize that Satan was the one behind those feelings…he has a way of making us feel guilty…not worthy of God’s grace.

    I love you comment: “Yes, but now you work for Me!”

    That hits home 🙂

    Thank you so much for sharing…you have no idea how much this has helped!!!

  7. Kim Edge April 30, 2009

    Dearest Vicky,

    May God heal you from the hurts of a lifetime… And may the Spirit of God incline all those who are lost toward him, that they may know our dear Savior and find forgiveness in Him…that in the last judgment those lost souls who taught you cruelty not find that millstone around their necks… 🙁 How thankful I am that God forgives us all our sins for the sake of Jesus and leads us to this new life…Amen

  8. Kristen April 30, 2009

    Thank you for sharing this. Isn’t always harder to forgive ourselves? Even after Christ has so thoroughly forgiven us.

  9. Lindy April 30, 2009

    Wow, Vicki, your post touches my heart, and I appreciate your willingness to share your life with people you don’t even know! May God’s grace continue to bring you peace!!!

  10. Compassiondave April 30, 2009

    “The first time I heard another Compassion Advocate say, “God knew I needed this ministry,” my heart said, “Yes. Me, too!” I had no idea how badly I needed it.

    Thank you Vicki for sharing a piece of your heart and soul with us.

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