Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Shank Family Christmas

We're not conventional on Christmas day.  We don our new Christmas pajamas all day long because we don't plan to go anywhere.  (I didn't even consider changing when I went to shut the fans down at the mill.)  Several years ago, my husband decided that we would start having a family-only Christmas day.  We spend the day at home with our children doing only what we want.  It's the one day each year that we do only what we want as a family--no working, no worries, no stress.  There are 364 other days of the year to deal with work, expectations, and drama. 

Yesterday was great!  We slept in, opened our gifts, ate our favorite breakfast, grazed on snack foods, played games and rode 4-wheelers.


Clue #1 for the big gift search




The dog salon--bows, perfume, even for their brother's dog


Brandon's contribution--a deer bologna angel


Merry Christmas one and all!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Finding Relief

This past week has felt like an avalanche of boulders had fallen directly on top of me.  By Wednesday I was crushed.  I felt anxious, blindsided, bashed, and then betrayed by various situations.  Plus I had to get a root canal.  I just didn't know where to turn or what to do because it was all so overwhelming and the week was only half way through.  I felt the strange urge to fast.

I must admit that several years ago when a friend mentioned fasting, I thought she was crazy--as in over the top strange.  Why would anyone choose not to eat?  As I do when I have questions, I googled "fasting" and found useful Information from a reputable resource.  Not eating wasn't that hard (minus when I mindlessly picked up that popcorn-Alicia).  I purposely tried to be more aware of praying.  I was finally honest about how I was feeling.  "Why is it all so hard?" I just want everything to be stable for a little while.

Being more aware of my need to focus on prayer gave me peace with the possible outcomes.  I could honestly say that even if what I thought was a poor decision couldn't change, I was at peace with the situation.

I don't know if I would call it failure but by mid afternoon today I had to stop fasting to eat.  My headache was rapidly progressing into a migraine and I knew I couldn't take medicine without food.  I actually felt guilty and almost turned around instead of getting food.  My guilt is starting to leave--I had a chocolate chip cookie tonight also.

Here's my thought for tonight.

Deuteronomy 31:6 "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you."

Moses told this to the people as they were preparing to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land with Joshua.  Like my life, their's needed to be a journey walking by faith.  Sometimes rocky, winding, and even confusing--but allowing God to lead.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The New Normal in Schools

My daughters got off the bus this evening with an alarming story.  They had spent part of their afternoon huddled in a classroom bathroom and behind the risers in a music room.

I received a telephone call this afternoon stating that due to police activity in the neighborhood the schools had been placed on modified lockdown this afternoon.  Modified lockdown is common when there is police activity in the area and requires everyone to stay in the school and eliminates visitors. This was more than modified lockdown.  According to my daughter, it was lockdown followed by modified lockdown.

I appreciate the staff's efforts to keep my children safe but I can't help but be sad that not even school is safe anymore.  Beginning this week, classroom doors are always closed and locked now.  The girls told about other children who were crying.  My oldest daughter said that she was shaking.  They were both afraid.

I must admit though that I was proud of my daughter who said that she prayed while crouching behind the risers.  Luckily, it was a false alarm.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Rabbit Hunters

I wish that I had the thoughtfulness to take a picture of the wild rabbit hunting that I witnessed last weekend but unfortunately I did not.  Alas, I will have to attempt to paint the picture for you.  My daughters and their friends watched a wild rabbit running through our corn field Sunday afternoon, I believe the dog was following close behind.  The next thing that I knew, they came into the house scheming about how to catch a wild rabbit and what tools they needed.

After parameters were set as to where their search area could be, armed with a 5-gallon bucket, a sand bucket, and a sand wagon, they set off to search for the wild rabbit.  This rabbit was destined to become our newest pet.  The dog was not invited on the trip but 4 little girls set off on an adventure.  Watching them out the kitchen window, I knew that they had no chance of catching the speedy bunny but I admired their ingenuity and creativity.  I love that they could happily play outside--no tv, no computer, just imagination.

Needless to say, they didn't catch the rabbit but it was a good story.  

I was reading in Genesis about Noah last week and wondered how he was able to gather all the animals.  Catching a rabbit would have been easy compared to Noah's task.  I had always had a vision of Noah somehow herding the animals.  It wasn't until this time that I noticed a very important part.

Genesis 7:8-9 "Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, male and female, CAME to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah."

Noah wasn't out with a bucket collecting the animals.  As only God could orchestrate, the animals came to the ark.  God doesn't call us to an impossible job without equipping us with the tools to succeed.  We need only to believe in his ways and time.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Truth

I'm only on Week 2, Day 2 in Live Second but already I'm being pushed. 

Today's bible passage is Genesis 15:1-3.  In the passage, Abraham questions God about his promise to make Abraham a great nation.  At this point, Abraham is still without a son and he believes that his trusted servant will be his heir.  I completely understand Abraham's impatience.  Too many times to count, I have requested an answer and then complained when it didn't come quick enough.  I'm not sure that I am brave enough to actually question God about the delay like Abraham.  Who am I to question God's timing?

The problem with holding back is that God already knows my thoughts.  I'm lying to God when I stew about questions that I have but am not willing to talk to God.  I would be annoyed if my husband stewed about something instead of talking to me--why do I do it to God?  There has to be a difference between ungratefulness/pride and honesty. 

Reading on, here comes the challenge.

"Talk with God
  God, this is what is going on in my life and this is what I need..."

Try answering that question honestly.  First I have to be honest with myself and then I need to be brave enough to speak the truth. 

What's going on?  I'm still super busy and haven't found a balance between work and family.  I am sold-out to missions work but I don't know how to incorporate that into our lives without sacrificing other responsibilities.  I'm tired--in just about every way. 

What do I need?  To get some projects done to feel relief.  Sleep (seriously).  To force myself to start exercising again.  And that's just the beginning.

Want to do the study for yourself, look for Live Second: 365 Ways to Put Jesus First.  You can view the films at www.iamsecond.com.

3 Books that Everyone Needs

If you ever had a desire to become authentic, I want to suggest three books to help you on your journey.

The first and most important is a Bible.  I won't suggest a version other than to make clear that you need an accurate translation that does not take artistic liberties with the content and context.  Personally, I use an NIV Life Application Study Bible that I find easy to read with useful footnotes.

The next two books are from the I Am Second program. 

I Am Second is full of honest testimonies that provide hope for anyone.  The Seconds featured range from athletes and celebrities to regular people.  Everyone is open about their lives, choices, and struggles.  There is no veil of perfection.  This is a book about life--anyone and everyone's life.  It is also a book about the hope that we can all find when we choose to put God first.

Product Details
Picture from Amazon
Live Second: 365 Ways to Put Jesus First  is the newly-released companion to I Am SecondLive Second is a daily devotional that focuses on being honest about yourself and applying biblical principals to our lives.  Live Second is easy to follow and written in a manner that allows you to decide the depth of your study.  On Day 1 of each week, you will watch a Second film.  The remaining days all follow that week's theme.  As I read the bible passage each day, I find myself finding "new" information and thinking deeper about what the passages really mean and how they apply to my life.  The combination of films and bible passages help me to focus on how to change my life while also appreciating others.

Product Details
Picture from Amazon
Both of these books are written in a way that is easy for anyone to read and appreciate.  As a bonus, if you buy Live Second  by December 15th and e-mail a copy of your receipt to promo@iamsecond.com you will receive free film downloads for use in teaching others.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Created in God's Image

I have started the new devotional book Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First.  Day 1 began with watching Dr. Tony Evans' Second film.  Day 2 focused on Image.  This combination makes me rethink what image really means.

Genesis 1:27 "God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."

Dr. Evans describes the reality of growing up as a black male in Baltimore.  It seemed like his life story had been written at birth.  As a black male, there were places he could not go.  There were people he could not associate with.  His career would be limited to those jobs suitable for a black man.  Those thoughts seem unimaginable to me.  Baltimore is not Montgomery, Alabama.  Maryland was even a border state during the Civil War, land scarred by battles and households divided.  The story of segregation is not told here.  Racism--yes, even now.  Segregation--no.  Just a few weeks ago I was completely floored by a racist comment made by a strong Christian who still clings to past experiences.  How could he judge an entire ethicity by a few people?  There is still an acceptability of racism when touted as humor.  The air of superiority lingers even within the church.

The God of our universe created us, all of us, in his image.  He had every single person in mind on Day 6 of creation when as the passage says he "created mankind in his own image."  Some where along the way I heard the phrase "God doesn't make junk."  It's the truth.  He gave every single person the opportunity to be loved.  This world may not respect every person but God the Father created each individual and more importantly he loves every person. 

If every person we encountered looked just like us, would we be able to degrade them?  If as the homeless person on the street glanced at us we saw our own face, would we care more?  The diversity of God's creation allows everyone to be beautiful and worthy. 

God's image isn't limited to White, Middle to Upper Class Americans.  His image includes those of African, Latino, Hispanic, Eastern European, Native American, and Middle Eastern decent.  His image includes men, women, and children.  His image includes wealthy and poor alike.  God's image transcends the ethnicity and status of our birth or earthly work. 

My thoughts drift back to holding my friends' son yesterday morning--putting stickers on a picture, coloring, playing cars with my son and his friends.  Is he worth less than the other children in that class because he was born in Africa? 

I think NOT!  He is God's son, made in his image.  He is worthy of love and respect, even without the fact that he's cute (and that's not just coming from his "favorite aunt"). 

We are ALL made in God's image.  How do we choose to live?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Are My Purchases Making the Problems Worse?

While hanging up my coat at work today, I noticed that the tag said "Made in Guatemala."  I haven't been exposed to any of the working conditions in factories during either of my trips.  I assume that the conditions are not very sanitary or well paid.

I went to Google to explore a little more about what it is like to work in a factory in Guatemala.  Amazingly enough, there wasn't the endless amount of articles that I expected to find.  What I discovered was a confusing web of international laws and regulations that allow for foreign owners to build factories in third world countries in a manner that allows them to be exempt from local employment laws. 

Prominent American retailers like JC Penney, Kohl's, and the Gap have all used contractors who operate factories in Guatemala.  These factories, called maquilas, only create products for export.  Raw materials are imported, the garments are assembled, and then the finished products are exported to first world consumers.  The factories fall into a no man's land of regulatory compliance.  Foreign companies own and operate the factories with little oversight by the local government. 

Most of the employees in these factories are women, who are happy to find a small bit of financial stability and independence.  Several reports indicate that workers are paid less than $2.00 per hour and forced to work unpaid overtime.  The conditions can be inhumane--as in no breaks, no toilet paper, and a lack of safe drinking water. 

The question remains, how much of my purchase price goes to the workers who made it?  An amazingly small amount I am sure!  The really hard question is whether or not I would be willing to pay more for my clothes if I knew that it would provide better working conditions for the workers who manufacture the garments.  I would like to believe that I would pay more or at least buy from companies who don't exploit workers.  The truth is that I don't even look at the tags when I buy clothes to see where they came from.  I don't even know where to shop to buy clothes that aren't produced in maquilas.  Even if I paid more for my clothes, who will regulate the companies to make sure that the working conditions improve and are maintained?

I have no answers to these questions but I can tell you that just seeing that tag makes me think about the people that make my clothes.  I also wonder in what way I can make a positive impact in their lives.  This situation is a long term problem that I don't know how to fix.  For now, I'll start by being more aware.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Fantasy of Reality TV

During college, the Real World seemed like a guilty pleasure--people my own age indulging in a life of excess and debauchery.  Those earliest seasons of the Real World may just be tame compared to what is scripted as "reality" tv now. 

There seems to be two options in reality tv today--Real/Informative and Dramatized.  The basic tenents of a television show make some scripting necessary.  You will have a shooting schedule and you will edit the tape to make the episode interesting.  I mean, no one wants to watch even 30 minutes of caulking or sod installation.  So even the programs that are real, have been pieced together to accentuate the entertainment value.

And then there are the overly dramatic, not real shows.  If looking at these shows individually, the argument could be made that they are harmless because they are just like scripted dramas or comedies.  The problem is that when anything is presented as reality, it becomes a standard by which we can measure ourselves.  We want more money, more things, better things, a different lifestyle.  We begin to long for the indulgences of others without regard to our own lives.  It's a Cinderella complex--magically we transform ourselves into a made-for-tv lifestyle. 

Why do we need to watch the lives of self-proclaimed desperate housewives, those who may or may not have been Amish but certainly have a closet full of secrets, or best of all a series devoted to a so-called Amish mafia?  We have become a society that seeks to tear down any aspect of our society that may have redeeming qualities.  Every aspect of society has problems but glamorizing them does not help to move our society forward and certainly not closer to God.

These glamorized lives can have devastating consequences. Broken marriages, suicide, criminal charges, emotionally damaged children, lost jobs, and drained finances are just the beginning.  I'm not suggesting that we all watch home improvement and cooking shows only.  Why not start by leaving the drama and scripting to the writers who create real dramas and comedies? 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thankfulness all the Year Through

Unlike retailers would have us believe, Thanksgiving is more than a day to overindulge in food, watch football, and then rush stores in a state of hysteria without regard for decency.  Anymore, it seems like even the notion of truly stopping to acknowledge our blessings is convenient merely as a delay to allow for the end displays, sale signs, and check-out lines to be erected before the Black Friday sales. 

Thanksgiving is treated like a hangover from Halloween with clearance priced costumes and orange-foiled candy wedged tightly against the avalanche of Christmas overindulgence.  I like to treat Thanksgiving as its own day, a day without the shadows of other holidays. 

If we all stopped for just one day to count our blessings and be truly thankful, imagine the difference.  What if that thankfulness seeped into Friday?  Or Saturday?  Or December?  Or the dreary month of March?  Would we all be just a little bit more content?  Would we be more compassionate to those who have less?  Would we be more willing to acknowledge the injustices of this world?

James 1:27 " Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

As Christmas nears, we will see the idyllic manger scenes with the adorable baby.  Although Jesus' birth should be celebrated, his death should be exalted.  The picture of a baby is not offensive but his mere birth did not bring about our greatest blessing.  His torturous death is the greatest blessing he could have given anyone. 

Today, I am thankful that knowing what would occur--the pain and abandonment--Jesus chose to fulfill his role as the Savior. 

Luke 22:42 "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."

He could have saved himself from death but instead chose to endure torture and die the most painful form of death so that he could bear the burden of a world's sins.  Through his death anyone who believes and trusts has the opportunity to be redeemed and find eternal peace in Heaven.

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

I will never be good enough to earn my way into Heaven.  I fail every day.  My thoughts stray to sarcasm and judgment.  Sometimes I yell.  Every once in a while, I give some no-good inanimate object that isn't doing its job a good pitch, usually into the field.  But nonetheless, my eternal home is secure because Christ died for my sins so that I can be forgiven for everything that I've done and all that I do in the future.

This isn't a free pass to sin, it's the promise of redemption for our humanness when we're trying to take the narrow path.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My Life of Excess

I know that we are blessed.  I have never felt the pains of starvation or thirst.  Even that month when we were newlyweds and the checkbook read just $27 at the end of the month, we had our own home, reliable vehicles, a closet full of clothes, and a fridge full of food.  It was a good experience to learn how to survive on one paycheck, paying a mortgage and car payment, all while I was finishing college.

Traveling to Guatemala opened my eyes to true poverty.  I was able to meet families who truly live by faith.  During my days at home, my mind often wanders to the families I met.  I think about how much effort they spend just to exist and then I look around.  My house is full of stuff.  We don't need anything.  The Christmas season actually makes me uncomfortable.  I dread the on slot of things that come.  We long for a balance between the gift giving expression of love and controlling our material possessions.  I won't deny that I want things and enjoy receiving gifts just like everyone else.  Enjoying life must balance with our responsible to those who are less fortunate.

Isaiah 1:17 "Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow."

That very issue sent me into a cleaning spree.  Much to the dismay of those who live in our home, nothing was off limits.  I started with the girls' bedroom.  The closet was updated--small clothes out and bigger clothes in.  Toys they didn't love--out.  Just in time for the clothing drive at school, they each took a bag of clothes every day.  Even after packing a tote of clothes for a friend, we still had two garbage bags of clothes for the rescue mission. 

Onward to the kitchen.  By just cleaning out what I don't use, I amassed a stack that included a waffle iron, several travel mugs, garlic press, pastry blender, checkerboard cake pans, and a whole collection of other items that filled a large tote.



I'm not quite finished the whole house but the stacks are getting larger.  If we aren't using it or don't love it, it's out of here.  So many items on to the rescue mission to find a new home and help further their outreach.  Cleaning out our house makes room for what God has planned for us and all the blessings that we are given.

Matthew 6:19-21 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thankful for 12 Years of Marriage

For the last four days, I have been a deer hunting widow.  Although the rational portion of my mind knows that my husband deeply enjoys time at the cabin with his friends each year, I still hate when he goes.  I know that he needs time away where he can really relax but that doesn't make me miss him any less.  I imagine that some wives may find a week alone to be a gift but I would much rather have him home with us.  I guess I'm just jealous like that. 

These few days every year give me a small glimpse of what a single parent endures.  Meeting every one's needs while maintaining our household and still working makes me appreciate even more the contributions that my husband makes to our family.  Our family operates best when we are all here. 

I know that he is the one that God chose for me.  We often joke that no one else would put up with either of us.  My marriage is the best gift that I have ever received, apart from Christ's gift of salvation.  While we were engaged we made the commitment to each other that divorce was not an option for our marriage.  I realize that seems like a hopeful and naive statement to be made by two young people but it is what we believed then and still stand by today.  The choice to honor our covenant means that we choose every day to live in a way that honors each other.  We make choices that put each other first because we are greater as a couple than as individuals.  Marriage isn't easy, sometimes it's just plan hard but the benefits are exponentially greater than any bad day.

Today and every day I am thankful for a husband who not only leads our family but stands beside me at the same time.  He manages to be my friend, business partner, and the devoted father to our awesome children simultaneously. 

The first 12 years have been an adventure, here's to the next 12!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Making Time for Simple Pleasures

On Monday evening, we tried to have one last s'mores campfire but the wind wouldn't cooperate.  So we set a date for Friday.  All seemed well until the call that the shipment would be here at 8:00 and we needed to come back to receive it.  So many times, work trumps fun in our lives.  This is the second Friday night in a row that we have gone back to work to unload a shipment, the kids are real troopers during the process.


This promise was one that we could not break.  It was too important to everyone.  With a little planning, we managed pizza for supper (Special Treat #1) and a campfire with s'mores (Special Treat #2) all before the call came from the driver.

Bundled up and ready to head outside


Toasted Goodness!
It didn't take much time. We already had all the supplies. We just needed to make the effort. Best of all we made some good memories!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

If I Had a Hobby, it Would Be???

While reading a blog this afternoon, I was intrigued by the author's truthfulness about how she had let her life take over and had lost the time for hobbies.  As she described her life and circumstances, it was as though she had been spying on me.

The ambitious, responsible, serious adult has completely devoured the fun Kelly.  Not that I was the over the top, life of the party in an earlier life, but I faintly remember that we used to have fun.  There was a time when we were able to spend time doing activities that didn't involve working and not feel guilty about the amount of productive time lost. 

When I try to remember what we did to have fun, it is becoming more difficult to remember how to enjoy life.  It's like going over the cliff with no way back.  If you do something for so long, it becomes you.  We have spent so many years focusing on work that we have forgotten how to be carefree and relax. 

If I want to enjoy free time again, I need to deliberately take time to do activities that aren't work-related.  That sounds like an easy task but it will be extremely hard for me.  I will need to find a way to address my guilt for taking time away from my responsibilities.  I will need to allow myself to do something I enjoy.  I will need to accept that everything might not get done.  Maybe most difficult, I will need to find a way to lower my guard. 

So, if I had a hobby, I'm not sure what it would be.  Maybe I'll try to start running again.  I would like to find more time to write.  Maybe I'll just try to do more fun activities with the kids. 

We'll just have to see what happens...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Why Vote?

Our omniscient God already knows what the outcome of this election will be. He will not be waiting up for the news agencies to project the winner. He knew the name of the winner before the first person announced his candidacy.  Even if your chosen candidate doesn't win, we must remember that this is all a part of God's greater plan for all of mankind.

"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established." Romans 13:1

Earlier this afternoon, my son and I headed to a local school and cast our ballot for the General Election.  In recent weeks, I have heard several people say that they weren't going to vote because it didn't matter.  As we were recording my choices and opinions about the future I thought about what voting really means to me.  I don't live in a battleground state, my single vote will not sway a full state's electoral college votes, but my opinions are still important.

If we all chose to forgo voting because our single vote didn't matter, entire segments of the population could be forgotten.  My vote is a public statement about my beliefs, my vision for my county, my state, and my country.  My vote is my chance to take a stand for biblical truths in this world of wavering convictions.  My vote is just one of a segment that needs to be quantifiable so that we are not forgotten and not excluded. 

When the results are tallied, we must remember to first and foremost pray for those who are elected, no matter the party affiliation. 

Thankfulness

"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1Thessalonians 5: 16-18
 
I had the grand illusion of doing one post each day in November centering on thankfulness.  That ship has long since sailed as it is already the 6th but the awareness has not.  Lately, I have been noticing the blessings in my life.


On a recent afternoon, I was sitting at the end of the lane, waiting on the bus, admiring the field of corn blowing in the breeze.  Growing up on a farm, I knew that I wanted to live on a farm.  I wanted the space, the freedom, and the beauty of a farm.  Life has taken over and for the last several years, I just speed in and out of the lane, not slowing down to see the beauty that literally surrounds me.  Friends from the city have come to visit and they are amazed by the tranquility.  I take it for granted.  Some days I couldn't even tell you how tall the corn was and I had just walked right past it to get in my car.  How could I have become so removed from a lifestyle and industry that had been fundamental to my childhood and early career? 


When I slow down I can see the peace and refuge that I have been longing for.  I need to make sure this home and farm is a refuge for our family-- a place to be safe and free away from the world.  Even in the midst of life, God provides for our needs--in all circumstances, there is joy if you look.  Sometimes, it even shows up as a corn field that reminds you of who you really are...




Sunday, October 7, 2012

Who Are the Joneses?

Who are these elusive Joneses that so many of us find ourselves chasing?  So many of our daily decisions are slightly to greatly affected by what the Joneses would do or think.  As our children grow older, it seems that we more frequently face the longing for material goods and activities.  They are falling prey to the world of want this, want that, need this, need that.  Creating an enjoyable environment for them without going broke, without raising ungrateful brats, and while maintaining what little sanity I have left is a full-time job. 

Most importantly, I want to raise children who are living for God, not this world.  I can no longer worry about what the Joneses think about the decisions I make.  We cannot effectively be God's light in this world if we are chasing the crowds, straining to keep up our charade of perfection.

So here's the truth about some choices that I'm making to help us be true to ourselves.

1.  Sometimes, my kids go to bed without a bath.  I have been known to wipe the kids with a wet wipe if they are exhausted and put them in bed.  Some days if they just aren't dirty enough, we skip a daily bath.  When we get home late on Wednesday nights, I think the earlier bedtime is more important than the bath but that's just me.

2.  We aren't involved in an activity every day.  Right now, it's piano lessons and AWANA--two nights a week.  We don't do sports because no one has showed an intense interest yet.  I don't want to railroad them into a sport at young ages, especially those that involve practice several days a week and endless seasons.  I don't want them to feel pressured or burn out just because of a youth sports team. 

3.  The kids wear hand-me-down clothes.  I absolutely love my friends who have given me a constant supply of clothes for my kids!  I don't subscribe to the notion that each child needs a brand new wardrobe each season.  While they do receive new clothes as gifts, most of their clothes and shoes come from a friend or older cousin.  Talk about recycling--first their friend, second my oldest daughter, third my youngest daughter, and if then most school clothes find their fourth home.  That fourth home has been beautiful children on our trips to Guatemala recently. 

4.  We don't subscribe to the concept of egocentric, over-the-top children's birthday parties.  I have been known to have first birthday parties with 50 people but as the children have grown older, we have scaled it back to a smaller number of friends at our home with food and games--smaller, more intimate.  I want the kids to be able to enjoy their parties and the people that are part of their lives.  Oh and by the way, siblings don't get gifts at our house if it's not their birthday.  We celebrate the birthday child!

5.  My husband and I go on vacations, nice ones, by ourselves occasionally.  We really do enjoy each other's company and need to escape to destress occasionally.  I enjoy spending time with my husband and our children enjoy time away as well.  It's a special treat for all of us.

6.  We don't shield our children from the needs of people around us.  Our children have gone with us to Kentucky on two mission trips.  They have been known to pick up nails, week flower beds, and work as helpers on local projects.  We've even tackled discussions about drugs, divorce, and police visits because I'm not afraid for them to be friends with children without perfect families.  Although sometimes I wish we didn't live in a world where all this was so prevalent.  In a few short months, we'll all be working in Guatemala on our first international family mission trip.

In the end, I hope that we are different from the Joneses and I hope that they realize it.  I hope they ponder why we're different and even ask about it. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Why I Work

Several months ago I overheard a discussion about why mothers should not work.  I was astounded by how critical they could be towards another sister who was making a choice for her family.  There are so many reasons why we choose to work and I was shocked and offended by the level of judgement. 

I will admit that for much of this year I have been "overemployed." Our family goal is to reduce the number of hours that I work but my workload can be quite varied.  Setting aside extenuating circumstances, I would still choose to work. 

God has blessed me with a wonderful husband and three beautiful children who are at the heart of the decisions that we make.  To truly embrace who God created me to be, I have to identify all the different parts of me.  One of the strongest parts of me is my drive to achieve and accomplish goals.  I find great satisfaction at work.  Over the course of the last two years, I have regained a small portion of my own self worth by becoming part of a project that has great value for the whole system.  Again I am able to interact with wonderful colleagues who provide me with a variety of opportunities that expand my personal development. 

Working or Staying at Home is a personal family choice.  I don't think there is one right answer for everyone.  Most days I love that I can take my children to work me with.  Some days it is overwhelming to know that I must produce at work while also caring for the kids.  Some days I feel guilty that my children spent their summer at work instead of playing or going to camp.  Today though, my son had a meltdown at work--not because he didn't want to be there, because he couldn't stay longer and ride along on a delivery.  Without work, I wouldn't feel fulfilled.  I am a better wife and mother when I am able to work. 

We have only to look to Proverbs 31 to find that we all have value when we embrace and pursue our God-given gifts and talents. 

Proverbs 31:15 "She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family..."

Proverbs 31:16 "She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard."

Proverbs 31:24 "She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes."

Proverbs 31:27 "She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness."

I will never be able to embody all the attributes of the Proverbs 31 Wife but I know that I have the freedom and responsibility to live in a way that best exemplifies what Christ created me to be--

A Wife, A Mother, A Businesswoman

All the time, a warrior in this world living radically.

Proverbs 31:30-31 "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.  Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities

On a recent morning I was sitting at what should have been an innocuous, routine meeting.  Casual conversation turned to the subject of summer activities.  I mentioned that we had recently traveled to Guatemala. 

Their response was not what I expected.  Quite flippantly, they responded, "how great of you to spend your vacation doing humanitarian work."  Continuing, they mentioned being told by a number of people how their specialty was needed in lesser developed countries.  Unfortunately, "if they're going away, they're going to relax."  I drifted back to my defensiveness and didn't mention anything else about my trip (see previous post The Mission at Home) for the rest of our meeting.  Even though I have known this person for many years, my opinion was shaken because I expected a level of respectfulness and interest. 

Just ten short hours later, I was sitting at dinner in Dallas.  To my left was a gentleman who I would have never expected to be genuinely interested in my trips to Guatemala.  After all, we were there to discuss integrated business systems and tools.  I was able to share about the work that we had done and the great needs that exist.


 
 

For his part, he has just launched a coffee company that purposefully donates 5% of the sales proceeds to charitable organizations.  Patrons are able to choose to support Christian missionaries, a homeless community ministry, or, as the name would suggest, The Red Panda Network.  I would urge you to consider supporting D-Mac on his journey to support those who are making a difference.  How much easier could it be to help a greater cause?  Just sit back and sip a cup of Red Panda Coffee.

One day, two cities, and two completely different reactions but just what I needed to remind me that there are those who need to hear the message and those who are called to serve.

      

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Put First Things First

My daughter's first grade class has been studying Sean Covey's 7 Habits of Happy Kids during their Social Studies time.  I was surprised by the choice because some of the habits seem counter-cultural to a world of entitlement and helicopter parents. 

Today we inadvertently focused on Number 3 "Put First Things First."  Her teacher's description for this lesson is "Work first, then play!"  I imagine there are a large portion of families in the class who think that their children shouldn't have to work. 

One of the best things that my parents did for me was to make me work, starting young.  I can remember standing on the gates when I was little with a hose and spraying the hogs in the summer.  Through 4-H we all learned the responsibility of raising livestock and were at the barn morning and night.  We try to teach our children responsibility even at their young ages.  They all have age-appropriate chores around the house and the older two are currently earning money for a special toy they want by helping outside and in the shop.

Today we all five worked together to seed and straw the field where we removed two barns.  In just under three hours we were able to seed and straw about an acre.  The two year-old picked up rocks, the older two raked and spread straw.  Together, we got the job done.  What a difference it will make when the grass starts coming up and how much easier it was when we all helped.

Amazingly enough, there wasn't even any whining while we were working.  The "High" for both of the girls tonight at supper was going for ice cream as a treat for their hard work this afternoon.

Mamas Especiales

The women who care for the children at Dorie's Promise are called Special Moms.  This team of 32 women serve as the mothers, mentors, and spiritual guides to the children who have been abandoned, abused, or rescued from their families and former home life. 

These wonderful women work twelve-hour shifts every other day, regardless of holiday.  Dorie's Promise provides them with a stable income to help provide for their families.  Even with stable jobs, they are not exempt from the trials and tribulations of life in Guatemala.  They have suffered great loss in their families.  They are struggling as single mothers.  They arrive at work each day after long trips on the "chicken" bus because they cannot afford a vehicle.

Once they are at Dorie's, you only see their heart for the children and love of their job.  I have become especially close with two of the women who work there.  Seeing them again was exciting and I continue to pray for them.  I can't wait to go back in a few months.

Mama Nohemi


Mama Carol

Friday, September 14, 2012

Redeemed Brokeness

In the last few weeks I find myself humming my new favorite song, "Sweetly Broken" by Jeremy Riddle.  One song--a realization, a challenge, and a hope woven together. 

"To the cross I run, To the cross I cling" I wish I could say this was true.  Too many times I insist on being responsible to do everything myself.  I don't want to pass my responsibilities to anyone else.  I certainly cannot be seen as incapable of handling the challenges I am given.  Nobody likes a whiner.

"I'm sweetly broken, wholly surrendered" Getting to the place where I can accept that the obstacles and distractions of this world are turned over to God and my focus is living radically for God without fear of the consequences. 

Broken (excerpted from Webster's Dictionary)
  • Shattered
  • Damaged
  • Interrupted
  • Violated
  • Weakened
  • Crushed
  • Disconnected
I think that this year is really a journey of brokenness that I need to embrace.  When all is stripped away, I'm left here alone, with nowhere to hide, and only one place to go.  It's really about my choices, my reactions, my complete reliance on God's goodness and fulfillment.  The path of brokenness is not fun, I don't recommend seeking it, but maybe it will be life changing. 

What if  rejection, loneliness, exhaustion, disappointment, and attacked could become  Encouraged, Confident, Motivated, and Joyful? 

Redeem (excerpted from Webster's Dictionary)
  • Win back
  • Clear
  • Restore
  • Fulfill
Matthew 11: 28-30 "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Real Church Service

"Church Service" conjures up thoughts of a schedule.  I see my self-assigned seat in the back row--easy to slip back into after the praise songs.  If I allow myself, I can imagine being in the sanctuary listening to a sermon, can see those who surround us each week.

If we stretch a little bit further, we can identify a specific type of service that reflects musical style and preference.  Most would consider it "worship" style and define the style as traditional, contemporary, or mixed.  Whether hymns or praise songs, organ or electric guitar and drums, it doesn't really make the experience.  Worship is really about our personal experience and allowing ourselves to focus on our reverence for an awesome God.

The type of music, dress code, and time of day do not define real church service.  Not diminishing the importance of the gathering of believers to learn, grow, and support each other, I believe that we fail if we focus on those we see each Sunday morning. 

Matthew 9:12 "On hearing this, Jesus said, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick."

Real Church Service begins when we intentionally look beyond ourselves, our friends, and our neighborhoods to serve a loving God.  Too often we become comfortable and complacent in our lives.  I live in a large home.  I have a comfortable balance in my checkbook.  I have a circle of friends who follow the teaching of Jesus Church.  Without much effort, I could relax and become blind to the struggles of other people.  I could become obsessed with the challenges of my privileged American life.  As I have been known to tell my children, this world doesn't revolve around them, nor does it revolve around me. 

In the eyes of God I am no better than someone who sleeps on a park bench, scavenges through a garbage dump, or even works the system to increase their monthly check.  Everyone is loved and we are called to share the message of hope and love where we are sent--near or far.  Until the last few years, I would have never guessed that I would long for trips to Guatemala and dream about one day visiting Africa.

Matthew 28:19-20 "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

The inspiration for this post came from Pastor Bobby, one of the coolest people I have ever met! In a few shorts days I gained so much respect for him and truly appreciated our time together.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Mission at Home

Flying to Guatemala and spending a week was the easy part.  Coming home is the challenge.  The times when I have felt closest to God were when I was able to get away from the chaos of my daily life on mission trips.  Guatemala is a refuge away from the pressure and stress of the everyday.  On this last trip, the cellphone didn't work and I had deactivated the distraction of Facebook.  It was about being where God wanted me to be and doing his work.

Coming home is difficult.  As soon as we landed at DFW airport and my cellphone turned on, the cloud of stress was immediately hovering.  The reality of life was back and already I had an issue to handle immediately.  The freedom of Guatemala was gone, the high of willful obedience crashing down with a few sentences in a text message. 

Challenge #1:  Maintain an obedient spirit while managing the demands of my life.

People ask how our trip went and I don't know how to respond.  I feel myself holding back because I know how powerful the experience was and I hold that close to my heart.  I'm not sure if they are asking to be polite or if they truly have a desire to hear about the beautiful country I love that struggles daily.  Without having traveled, or feeling the call to travel, the details of missions can be cumbersome and the meaning can be lost for many people. I don't want to be a hindrance to them by not sharing and I can't expect everyone to feel as strongly as I do. Some people just are not called to go.

Recently a friend who has also gone on several mission trips gave me an idea.  She suggested 3 versions of reply--30 seconds, 3 minutes, and 30 minutes.  The length of response corresponds to the person's true heart and desire to know about my trip and the reality of life in a lesser developed country. 

Challenge #2:  Find a way to share God's love and my love for the Guatemalan people with everyone.

Visiting with families who are struggling makes me more aware of the excesses of my own life in America.  I am intolerant of Americans who complain about material goods and life's inconveniences.  Sorry, but it's the truth.  Even though we have tried to teach our children about the reality that our friends face in different countries, we still fall into the materialistic trap of our culture.  On a recent school morning I found myself once again relaying, in a not-so-patient manner, how fortunate my daughter was that she had a closet full of clothes and schools.  She didn't have ANY shoes to wear that matched her outfit that day because of the "closed-toe" shoe rule for school. 

Challenge #3:  Be patient with those who have not witnessed extreme poverty and do not judge them.  Instead, help them to see and be the difference.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

No More Lullabies

Thanks to a wonderful friend, my first trip to Guatemala was an insightful experience.  She helped us to truly understand the painful choices that many people make each day and the disparity between the "Haves" and the "Have-Nots."  I was prepared for the government orphanage, the ghetto, and the dump.  I knew what to expect.  Still, towards the end of our walk through the National Cemetery I was overcome once again.



The National Cemetery is full of beautiful crypts, hours could be spent walking through just to admire the detail of their stained-glass and carvings.  Beyond the splendor of those elaborate crypts stands towering rows of mausoleums.  The poor bury their friends and families in the mausoleums, hundreds in each building.  Even in death they are not at peace.  The families pay a rental fee for each space.  If they are unable to make their payment, the space is marked and eventually emptied.  All contents are thrown over the edge, into the dump below. 



I knew about the rental fees.  I knew about the tomb cleanings.  I had even seen the piles of decorations and broken tomb markers during my last visit.  What I wasn't ready for was what I saw this time--caskets that had been emptied and thrown down, bones that had been missed in one tomb, just left there without a second thought. 


The worst of all was this child's casket.  The grief of losing a child is unimaginable to me.  Not only has this family lost a small child, they have endured the grief of laying that child to rest, and now they have struggled and been unable to pay the rental fee, knowing the consequences.  A beautiful child was disregarded in the most demeaning and heartless way. 

How cruel must a place be when not even the dead are at peace?  How haunted must those workers be who must carry out that dark task?  What goes through the mind of those who work in the dump when the the tombs are cleaned, again? 

My greatest hope is that someone can meet all those affected by that world and give them just one piece of hope, one bit of insight into God's love and Jesus' gift of salvation so that they also may be saved.  Even a criminal, hanging on a cross can be saved, no matter the sin because he needed only to believe that Jesus was the savior, sent to redeem us all from our sinful lives.  Everyone who believes--that child who's body was discarded, the worker who emptied the tomb, me as I stared at the casket and wondered "why." We all have the opportunity to be at peace with Jesus, those who have believed before, and that wise criminal who was brave enough to proclaim Christ while hanging on a cross.

Luke 23:43 "Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Beautiful Memories

I absolutely love the people of Guatemala.  As we are readying for our departure in the morning, I wanted to share some pictures of the beautiful people that we met. 










Beauty and worth are not determined by the size of your house, the balance in your checkbook, or your status in society.  Beauty and worth are determined by your willingness to accept Christ's gift of salvation and follow his will for your life.


1 Peter 3: 3-4 "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.  Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight."

Friday, August 17, 2012

More Change Needed

Over the past year, there have been noticeable visible changes at the Guatemala City dump but none improved the conditions for those who work there.  Instead of dumping in the middle, they now dump closer to the edge and loaders push the trash towards the ravine.





Why would a government allow it's water supply to be contaminated by a landfill?  Why is it better to attempt to treat the contaminated water than address the problem?  More importantly, why are there people who rely on recycling trash and sifting through the river for metal to sustain their families? 

I don't have the answers to these questions but these images are always in my mind.  Maybe one day, the economy of Guatemala will sustain opportunities for progress within the lower class workforce.  Until then I will pray for the workers and their families.  Beyond their safety and immediate needs, I pray that they will find salvation through Christ so that their eternal reward is a heavenly home beyond anything they could imagine while living on earth.  How wonderful would it be to watch these families who have struggled just to provide food and shelter enter into heaven, to live without worry for eternity?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Rewarding Shopping Trip

Anymore, I don't really enjoy shopping.  My trips are true, purposeful speed shopping.  I am in and out as quickly as possible.  Today was different.  Today I helped provide the opportunity for others to shop for items they needed.  It wasn't about me at all.

A simple home was transformed into a store where families could come choose from all of the clothing, school, household, and shoe donations for items that they needed.  We sorted the items into departments--boys, girls, shoes, etc. so they could easily choose.  Once everything was arranged throughout the house, it looked like an abundance.  There were easily 100 pairs of shoes in varying styles and sizes, not to mention a full assortment of childrens' clothing.



I was overwhelmed by the thought of managing the people as they came through.  I didn't know how to fairly distribute the items so that as many people as possible would be helped.  Fortunately, the owner of the home took control.  She had a few rules and several friends who helped facilitate the shopping.  Her rules were simple:  1. Everyone got either one outfit or one pair of shoes per child.  2. The children could also have some school supplies, new underwear, or a book bag.  3.  Each child received a new toothbrush, toothpaste, and soap.  4.  Only those who were present could receive items.  They couldn't get items for some cousin, relative, or friend who wasn't there.  5.  The shoes had to fit the children currently, no ideas about reselling them.  6.  If you had helped, you got to go first.  If not, you waited in the line.



This was the remainder of the line when we left.
One outfit or one pair of shoes doesn't seem like much but the line was long and I had to trust that she knew what to do better than me.  For more than two hours, we watched and helped families come in one by one to receive their new items.  In the end, what seemed like an abundance didn't seem like enough.  Sneakers of all sizes were gone first.  Then clothes for the bigger kids.  When we left, there were still people waiting in line for the few remaining items. 

Cute new shoes

We even found baby shoes.
 A new-used pair of shoes or pajamas can change the day for a child.  We can't do everything for everyone but we are all called to do something!  What is the something that you are called to DO?

Matthew 25:40 "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."