Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Words to Go Welcomes Elizabeth White and Her Story of Compassion

I’m so pleased to introduce you to romance author Elizabeth White. Beth’s story of compassion intrigued me so much that I thought about it for days. My hubby and I worked in the inner cities of Baton Rouge, so much of what she says resonates with me. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Beth and her wonderful quill. Welcome, Beth, to Words to Go!

BETH: Thank you, Patty, and hello, new friends.

PATTY: How did you come to teach in an urban setting, Beth?

BETH: Through a long, God-orchestrated series of events, since last September I have found myself teaching chorus and piano at an all-black inner-city high school. Never mind that I have a shiny new masters degree in creative writing and my music certification lapsed fifteen years ago.

PATTY: What I remember is how urban work never ended and every week was a new nuance and a new chapter in the human condition. Have you found that to be true?

BETH: Yes, I've been challenged creatively, intellectually and spiritually every day. I go to school each morning with delight, looking for what God will do in the next eight hours. Sometimes there's great tension, sometimes the adversary snarls and flexes wicked claws. But I've seen that there's supernatural power in even a little bit of faith because "in my weakness HE is made strong."

PATTY: Do you feel this work is tailor made for you?

BETH: Oddly enough, I am not a naturally compassionate person. My spiritual gifts are discernment, prophecy and exhortation (not teaching, as you might think), which makes me fairly impatient when I confront perceived laziness. But in this job for the first time in a long time I've been exposed to material poverty (of course I watch TV and I've been to Mexico, so I know what real poverty looks like). I tend to think, Okay, we're in America. You can be whatever you want to be. Get a job.

PATTY: When a face and a name are attached to it, though, everything changes.

BETH: So true! As a teacher, I began to form relationships with teenagers who have little control over their circumstances and who often make stupid life choices because nobody is showing them an example of anything different. They may know who Jesus is and even have an emotional connection with church, but somehow that fails to translate to interpersonal relationships or moral choices.

PATTY: My hubby and I are now big advocates of character training. We found it to be core, no matter who we’re teaching.Can you give us an example of how your heart began to warm toward your students?

BETH: I remember when a 9th-grade girl in my beginner chorus walked in my office one morning and began to talk to me about the difficulty of living a pure Christian life when pressed on every side by immorality. I knew God was up to something. I told Ketra (not her real name) I would pray for her and began to observe her: a model student, always neatly pressed, diligent to follow rules, clearly determined to "make something of herself" (her words). She wants to become a pediatrician.

PATTY: I remember our “Ketras.” I was so drawn to the ones who were determined to rise above their circumstances.

BETH: About two weeks later, Ketra asked to speak to me again. Clearly distraught, she told me she'd been out all night walking the streets because she was afraid to go home. Then the story came out.. Father deceased, unemployed mother bringing a succession of druggie "boyfriends" into the house, a younger half-brother and -sister innocently involved, power turned off and little food in the house.

PATTY: Yes, it’s an oft-repeated scenario.

BETH: Ketra had been staying with a friend whose brother made her uncomfortable - which was the only reason she finally came to me. So I went to the school counselor, who got DHR involved. Until the paperwork involved in the case could be straightened out, I offered to bring Ketra home with me. I can't explain it, except to say I just felt compelled to act on her behalf.

PATTY: It adds a whole new meaning to bringing your work home.

BETH: For the moment the mother had custody, which meant even though she was negligent and/or abusive, DHR couldn't put Ketra in foster care. And Mom wasn't wild about letting Ketra go home with a white lady.

PATTY: We were once in a similar situation. We ended up with three extra little mouths to feed for five months. What did you do?

BETH: But I prayed. So Ketra spent two nights with me and my husband - who was a prince about the whole thing. I bought her a few items of clothing and supplies (she'd been getting by on one school uniform and one other change of clothes). By the next week, the mother released custody and Ketra was taken in at an Episcopal children's home here in Mobile. She's fully provided for now, at least for basic necessities of life.

PATTY:. What sort of rearranging did you have to do in your life to include this compassionate work? What was the commitment required of you?

RANDY: My husband and I are very careful with our money, though we tithe to our church and support our missions program. We have two children of our own and have, to this point in our marriage, been satisfied with making sure they have everything they need to become productive, responsible young adults. It's hard for me to let go of my money to benefit someone who doesn't belong to me, someone in whom I have little emotional investment. But God has clearly led me to open my heart to this young girl and make sure she has what she needs, the same as I would with my own daughter. Ketra has demonstrated gratitude, humility, and self-motivation, which makes it easy to help her. But even if she hadn't, I would obey.

PATTY: Compassion 201. Personal investment.

BETH: But it's not the financial obligation that’s most difficult for me. As a writer, I can be rather a hermit.

PATTY: Oh, yes!

BETH: Giving up a few hours to take a teenager shopping is, believe it or not, a real sacrifice. But I am finding a subtle, quiet joy in that sacrifice. I'm looking forward to seeing what God is going to do in Ketra. But you know what? My obedience isn't tied to her success or my getting anything back. I'm learning to release the results to God, though I'm fully confident He's got something extraordinary in mind.

PATTY: What has this personal investment in another person’s life taught you?

BETH: I've become more sensitive to other students who might be hiding needs under a facade of bravado or clowning or perfectionism

PATTY: It gives you a whole new radar, doesn’t it?

BETH: I'm changing. My time isn't to be hoarded. It's to be recklessly spent--invested, if you will--in whatever God shows me to do.

PATTY: Like the love God lavishes on us.

BETH: Like making phone calls to colleges on behalf of scholarship candidates (did I mention I hate using the telephone?). Like connecting a wealthy neighbor with a senior needing test fee money. Like taking my planning period to coach vocal solos.

PATTY: Like a drink offering, poured out.

BETH: Trust me, I am no saint. And I have spent a large chunk of my adult life being extremely reluctant to "waste time." I've just found that my concept of "waste" might have been a bit...skewed.

PATTY: There was this time when the disciples thought a woman was being wasteful for pouring a costly alabaster jar of oil over Christ’s feet. This is your act of worship, Beth.

Compassion 301! Do you have a present for us today!

BETH: I do have a book to give away. It's Redeeming Gabriel.

PATTY: Thank you so much for sharing how you’ve made room for compassion, Beth!

Beth’s latest novel is Redeeming Gabriel and a very fortunate blogger will win it Saturday.

BETH: Thanks for this opportunity, Patty!

Please leave your feedback for a chance to win one of many books in Saturday’s Feel the Love Book Give!