Wednesday, December 4, 2013

7: Failing at Fasting

It's Day 4 and I've already failed on my media fast. 

On Day 1: I plopped down on the couch and turned the tv on.  Second nature.  The kids were in bed and I wanted to relax.  Luckily the satellite receiver was off and I realized what I did.  To solve that problem--the entire entertainment center is now unplugged and the remotes are put away. 

On Day 3: I let my son cheat.  I was busy working in my office and he asked if he could watch The Cat in the Hat on the computer.  Being distracted, I told him I didn't care.  (I know, great parenting.)  Only after the clip was finished did I realize that he's fasting also for Media Month.  His reply about my mistake, "lucky me."

Today:  I was longing for a distraction.  I wanted the escape of reading a blog post or surfing the internet.  Working for several hours on a project that I couldn't get to work made me exhausted.  So when I sat down to eat a late lunch I automatically looked for the tv remote.  Realizing it was put away, I got out my devotional.

My computer and tv are so ingrained in my life that I have to consciously avoid them.  It is so easy for me to fall back into the media trap.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

7: Month 4: Life Without TV

I'm previewing Month 4 a day early because it is Media month.  That's right.  No tv, Facebook, internet (other than work), or gaming systems for an entire month for our whole family.  This is going to be rough!  I use media as a pacifier.  My tv is a companion while I work, a pacesetter in my day, and a mindless distraction at night to relax.  The internet is my primary source of news and silent thief of my time--one blog article here, a few Facebook statuses there.

I'm started a preemptive list of all things I already know that I'll miss next month.
  • Almost the ENTIRE college bowl season!  You need to understand that we will watch No Name School play No Skill School in Nowhere, USA because it's college football!  We will undoubtedly miss the Virginia Tech game because it is highly unlikely they'll make it to a January game.
  • SNL Christmas Special.  I know it is fairly inappropriate but it's almost completely hilarious.
  • My daily blog reading.  There is a list of awesome blogs that I read each day.  I hope they don't write anything awesomely inspiring in the next month because I won't read it until January.
  • The Christmas Story.  Every year Brandon and I sit on Christmas afternoon and watch this movie together.  It's just something we always do together.  He is already singing the Deck the Halls version from the end of the movie and it's November.
But what I might gain:
  • Undistracted time to read.
  • Getting caught up on my scrapbooks.  I'm only 3 years behind.
  • Time to do activities with my kids instead of zoning out.
  • Real peace and quiet.
I will still be writing here next month.  Maybe I'll have time to write some of these thoughts swirling through my head.

7: Nobody Cares What You Wear

After spending the last month rotating through the same 7 clothes, I've come to the conclusion that no one really notices or cares what I wear.  People might admire something I wear but they aren't keeping track.  As one of my coworkers said just the other day, he hadn't really noticed that I was wearing the same thing all month.  Partially because it wasn't worrying me nearly as much as Month 2: Food I'm sure.

What's been surprising is that I haven't really cared that much either.  That's not to say that I haven't missed some of my clothes this month.  There's a couple shirts I'd really like to wear (like the 2 new ones that I ordered on sale) and I miss my shoes.  I've learned that I can use my clothes more wisely if I'm forced to be creative and I need many less options.  As a bonus, I saved a lot of time this past month by not worrying about my outfits.  I didn't get laughed at by Brandon while standing in front of my closet just staring.

Final Thoughts about Clothes:
  • Dirty is relative.  I can wear items several times before I wash them.  
  • Given a few accessories, one shirt can be worn 3 times a week and nobody says anything.
  • Less choices make you more creative about how you wear your clothes.
  • Neither me nor my kids need clothes that we only wear 1 or 2 times.
  • I am blessed because even with only 7 clothes, I was able to wash them whenever I want.
  • Clothes don't make me.  They only provide an outward way for me to define myself. 
To end the month, I cleaned a few more items out of my closet.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Bitterness During the Season of Thanksgiving

I realize this sounds ungrateful less than a week before Thanksgiving but why write if it isn't honest? 

Beyond Ordinary is one couple's story of redemption after years of deception, damage, and mistrust.  I happened upon the book and decided it seemed interesting enough to purchase.  I'm not really sure why I was drawn to this book because I am blessed with a great husband and wonderful marriage.  We're not perfect by any means but we truly enjoy spending our lives together.  A marriage improvement book wasn't exactly what I was searching for.

As the chapters progressed I realized that my truths from this book didn't involve my marriage.  My message affected other relationships in my life.  There are parts of my life where pain has burrowed so deeply that I have put on the armor of bitterness to shield myself from future attacks.

"Forgiveness is a word with a simple definition, yet the concept it represents is so hard to live out... I think that for most of us we associate forgiveness with a wound that has been inflicted on us."

Cuts, scrapes, those little bumps in life all heal quickly and disappear with little trace.  It's the deepest cuts that leave scars.  After time those scars can color our very souls.  You become hardened.  Or at least I did.  Rude comments or judgments from an acquaintance didn't cause the pain.  Honestly, I'm more likely to be annoyed or bad about those.  The damage was caused by those who attacked the core of my soul.  It wasn't a battle, it was a war.  Long, sustaining, staged on multiple fronts.  My beliefs, my integrity, my value as a wife or mother, my very being. 

For years I tried to prove myself worthy but the attacks continued.  Then I tried to confront the issues head on, still no results.  As the arrows continued to fly I finally donned the only armor that truly allowed me to feel safe.  Being on high alert at all times and trying to foresee potential attacks was the only way to feel prepared.  I didn't identify it as bitterness until recently.  It seems so justified.  I was hurt by people who were supposed to be close to me.  They were supposed to be our support.  The wounds are still there and some days they are raw. 

"my anger seemed to subside, but the reality is that my anger had become bitterness, a silent killer."

Bitterness is the slow murderer of my soul.  When confronted by that part of life I change into someone else.  My joy has been stripped by fear and pain.  Even now, I am anxious about the next few months--too many potential events.  What can my excuse be this time?  Can I conveniently be unavailable?  Avoidance seems like the best option.  Will I be able to conceal my hatred?

"Bitterness is like picking up a stone to throw and holding on to it so you'll have ammunition the next time you're wounded."

I know that I can't continue on this path.  The bitterness will slowly seep into the other parts of our lives.  I have to lay this down because it has become a sin in my life.  I am responsible for my response.  I may never receive an acknowledgment or apologies but I have to release that condition of forgiveness.  Trust and the relationships may never be restored but I can't be a hindrance to the process.  If I am harboring bitterness there will never be a chance for restoration.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why You Should Care About Starving Children in Africa

November 3rd was Orphan Sunday.  November is Adoption Month.  I can't decide if it's awesome or sad that we have a specific day and month to focus on these issues.  Are we intentionally acknowledging children, caregivers, birth families, and adoptive families?  Do we simply forget or ignore the needs of these families and children the 335 other days of the year?

Prompted by an e-mail in October, I asked if our church could take a few moments to pray for these children and adults around the world.  The numbers are staggering and it would be so easy to simply become overwhelmed and turn away.  There are an estimated 153 Million orphans worldwide.  Some of these children have lost one parent, some both.  Some of these children have families who are simply struggling to provide for them.  Each situation is different. 

Consider these 4 countries where members of our church have visited.

Democratic Republic of Congo:  5 Million Orphans, 20% will not live past age 5
Guatemala:  370,000 Orphans, 50% of children live in poverty
Uganda:  2.5 Million Orphans, Nearly 1/2 of these children are orphaned due to AIDS
India:  32 Million Orphans, Anemia affects 74% of children under age 3

We have a responsibility to care for these children and families.  It's not a choice.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."  Matthew 25:40

"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."  James 1:27

These literally starving children in Africa, Asia, Central America, around the world and here in the US are beloved children of God.  They are the future of their villages and countries.  They are heirs to same kingdom of God that we wish to inherit.  They could be us given unforeseen circumstances.  If you were starving, alone, or struggling who would help you?

My only task that Sunday morning was to do a short intro to the video but I couldn't even manage to make it through that during the second service without losing my composure.  For anyone that really knows me, you know that I consider crying to be a sign of my own personal weakness and will avoid the acknowledgement of emotion at most any cost.  This issue is bigger than me or my self respect.  If me crying during the intro made you uncomfortable--Good!  (Be glad that you didn't see me bawling during the video.)  If the video made you feel convicted--Even Better! 

This issue is about children, each with a name who wants to be loved. 

For me, this is about Alejandra and Yire.  Our home is waiting for them.  They are part of the group that may never fulfill the dream of family.  Guatemala, along with other countries is not open to international adoptions.  With a relatively low domestic adoption rate, they might grow into adults at the orphanage.  Even if we are never able to adopt them, we will care for and provide for them.

This issue isn't just about adoption.  It's about the best interest of children, whether that means supporting the socioeconomic growth of families in underdeveloped areas, providing improved health and hygiene services, supporting legitimate orphan care ministries who are impacting the daily lives of children around the world, or opening our homes to children.

So I'll quit being embarassed and annoyed about crying in church this one time because we should all be moved by the needs of these children.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

7: Clean is Relative with Clothes This Month

Month 3 of the 7 Fast focuses on clothes.  Remember how many I had in September?  More than 300 in my neatly organized closet.  I managed to rid my closet of about a third of my clothing that month, the vast majority going with us to Guatemala.  Boy have I downsized again--7 articles of clothing and 7 accessories for the entire month of November.

I tried to go multi-purpose as to not have any "eggs" this month.  Clothes--black shirt, white shirt, dark blue dress, black printed tunic, skinny jeans, regular jeans, and black leggings.  Accessories--boots, sneakers, black flats, scarf, magazine bead necklace, and 2 pairs of earrings.  These are some hardworking clothes this month.  And for everyone that's wondering because it is a very common question--underwear and pajamas aren't counting this month.  Those just seem like essentials for modesty.  So if you feel like that's cheating, I'm not sorry.

As I walked into the kitchen on Thursday morning, Aubrey asked me why I was wearing those jeans with that type of shirt (really the blue dress).  Brandon asked her what month it was--"Oh yeah..."  I was proud of my outfit, no matter what the 8 year-old fashionista thought. 

A friend asked me at church on Wednesday if my clothes were clean, knowing which month we were on.  Really, it's all relative this month.  I can promise you that I'm not washing them after every wear, that's unrealistic for me right now.  I'd be in the same position I was on Friday morning more often.  Here's the situation:  Wednesday=tunic, Thursday=dress, and I have to choose my black shirt or my white shirt.  Keep in mind, they've both already been worn to work this week.  I have to go white because I need my black shirt to set up the store on Saturday to hide potential stains.  The problem, my white shirt is apparently in the laundry.  You can already tell where this is headed, can't you?  That's right, into the clothes hamper!  The shirt wasn't really dirty, just worn twice.  It was however wrinkly but that handy blue scarf worked well to distract from the wrinkles.  I guess I'm at the point of wearing a wrinkly shirt instead of repeating twice within 3 days.

The clothes thing hasn't been too bad, not nearly as bad so far as food.  I don't hate any of my choices yet.  I don't have the desire to cheat.  Maybe I'm just prone to be fashionably lazy when it's acceptable.  What I have been thinking, especially after picking a shirt out of the hamper is that it's just another way I'm so lucky.  Last night, I washed that shirt in a washing machine.  I didn't hand wash it in a pila.  I don't live in a home with a dirt floor where it is hard to be clean even when you try. 

I might go through my closet again because I think there's some more I could give away...

Monday, November 4, 2013

7: When Food is More than Nourishment

October was focused on Food.  Chicken, Wheat Bread, Potatoes, Eggs, Apples, Special K, and Chocolate Marshmallow Ice Cream are good foods, just not for a month. 

Other than eggs, which I quickly learned that I don't like as much as I thought, these are foods that taste good and I enjoy eating.  I wasn't hungry during the month because I could get as much of these foods as I wanted at any time.  The real problem was my desire to revert back to my comfy American diet. 

Being limited in my choices was the worst part of the month.  That may seem obvious but it starts to take over your thoughts in short order.  The idea of anyone eating anything made me think about what I couldn't eat.  My general demeanor was grouchy, I can admit it.  Cooking food for other people that I couldn't eat made me jealous.  I wanted what they were having.  I was longing for different foods.  As I cooked, I knew what I was missing because I had experienced it before.  Food is more than just nutrition to me.  Food is enjoyment and freedom.  I like eating different foods, my favorite foods.  Foods hold an emotional meaning in my life.  Pumpkin Cookies are a necessity for Fall but they weren't on my list.

Maybe some of this is what it is like for the children I met at the feeding center.  They watch the world outside and want just a little bit of what other people have.  Due to their circumstances, they don't even really know what they are longing for--something different and better.  Leftover food that isn't rice or beans, Candy, Second hand toys and clothes, it doesn't matter just something different from the norm.  How do we help them rise above the norm?  I don't know the answer to solve all of the problems, I just know my small part. 

One of the most important parts of this journey for me is to keep myself in check as I go through my days.  I am blessed beyond measure.  When I was feeling sorry for myself, I drifted back to the feeding center and thought of the kids.  My limitations ended last Friday, those children live that way every day.  They can't count down the days until they have an unlimited assortment of foods awaiting them. 

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday....Black Beans and Rice.  Until someone gives them something different...

Monday, October 21, 2013

What if God was Busy Like Us?

I rush everywhere I go.  It starts first thing in the morning, after I pry myself from bed.  I speed through my shower, rush to get lunches packed, and try to slip in breakfast before heading to the bus stop with wet hair.  Then it's rush back to the house, finish getting ready and head to work. 

There isn't a chance that I started my morning with devotions.  I obviously have chosen to sleep longer than start my day with devotions.  I used to try to do devotions in the evening after the kids were in bed but then I found myself trying to speed read or multitask read and listen to the tv.  Yet again, I chose to put something else above devotions.  It was so easy for me to go through my day without reading from my bible.  Finally, I've found my best time and place for devotions--the bus stop.  With such a wide swing between the times my girls can get home from the bus, I have quiet time by myself to read and actually contemplate the words. 

Devotions aren't the only area where we can choose to put ourselves above God and his plan for our lives.  How many times do we CHOOSE to ignore our opportunities?  How many times have we seen a note in the bulletin or listened to someone ask for help without considering ourselves as the solution?  We are experts in the area of excuses! 

That is not my gift.
Someone else will do that.
I don't have time.
I don't have money.
I don't want to work with them.
I'm not good enough.
I didn't go to school for that.
My kids have a practice, a game, a bad attitude.

What if we were honest about our excuses?

I don't want to be bothered right now.
I'll just write a check.
I think I can find something more fun to do.
I want to spend money on myself, my fun, my family, me, me, me.
If someone else will do the work I'm not going to worry.
I'm too scared to even try.
My kids, spouse, friends... are more important to me.
I'm not willing to put God above the rest of my life.

WHAT IF God had his own list of excuses and took a break from the job of omnipotent, loving Father?  At those times when we are low and broken, would we appreciate a busy signal or voicemail from God?  What if God just really wanted to drown out our whining by cranking the heavenly chorus?  Can you imagine God blowing off your most important decision because Jesus had a soccer game?  Luckily, God doesn't require all of our minutes, he asks for our willingness to be available when we can make a difference. 

Ephesians 2:10 "For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

I am my own stumbling block! I have to choose every day to set aside time for God.  Praying and bible study don't come natural to me and slip away easily.  Others struggle with prioritizing work and family commitments with church.  Some are just pew jockeys who choose not to engage. 

No matter the struggle, we must choose what we will give up for God--extra sleep, mindless tv, our checkbook, our pride, a child's practice or game, our free time.  If we choose to live for ourselves, we choose to miss the target chosen for us. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

7: 7 Foods are Better than 2

I have to admit, I'm really tired of my 7 food choices already.  There's only so much you can do with chicken to spice it up without adding other real foods.  After only 3 days I realized eggs weren't the best choice for me either but I'm using them as a fill-in every once in a while.  All of this seems like whining though given my recent travels. 

Exactly 2 weeks ago I was sitting on a bus in Guatemala City.  All of our leftovers were neatly packed into ziploc bags.  We stopped along the road outside the Guatemala City dump, opened 2 of the side windows to the bus and watched as a line formed outside. 


Children were literally running to the bus for the chance to get a bag.  They didn't even know what we would give them.  I don't think it mattered.  It was more than they had at the moment.

Even though this was a spur of the moment idea, word spread quickly to the children -- pizza, rice, chicken, and ham for lunch. 

After handing out all of the meals that we had to the children on the street, we were invited into a neighboring feeding center to give out our remaining candy.  What looked like a tiny store opened up to a large room filled with hungry little faces.  I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of children in the room. 

Even in the chaos there was order.  A boy came in with his younger sibling on his shoulders.  After patiently waiting in line for their meals and drinks they joined the other children at the tables. 

Each child received the same meal--black beans and rice. I was selfishly glad that it wasn't my lunch because I don't like black beans. How spoiled am I?! I had been surrounded by poverty all week and I was glad I didn't have to eat black beans.  So many times this month I have thought back to Guatemala.  I wonder how many of those children go hungry except for that one meal each day?  Black beans and rice were their only option that day.  They don't have the privilege of being picky like me, relying only on the food given to them by those sweet ladies. 
So no matter how bored I may get eating my 7 foods this month, I got to choose them myself, it's only for 1 month, and it's still more than a lot of people have! 
I will probably still complain when people suggest ordering Red Lobster for lunch or we receive homemade cookies as a gift and I have to watch everyone else eat them but my perspective has changed.  I know that even today when I didn't eat lunch until 3:20, I wasn't starving.  And even though I wasn't excited about chicken and potatoes, I could get more if I was still hungry.  I could even add an apple or wheat bread if I really wanted it. 
With my 7 foods, I am blessed.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Risks of Repeat Mission Trips

Believe me, I've gotten my fair share of strange looks and weird responses when I tell people about going to Guatemala.  Many cannot understand why I would ever want to go there.  They really got antsy when we decided to take our children (ages 3, 7, and 8).  It seems so reckless to many people.  Sure there are risks going to an underdeveloped country -- theft, kidnapping, assault of many kinds -- but these problems can be found in any major US city as well.  We try to be very vigilant during our travels -- no flashy jewelry, being aware of our surroundings, having someone with us who is knowledgeable.  We can't prevent all harm but we try our best.

The biggest risk for anyone that goes on any international short term mission trip is that You will come back changed and must reconcile your American life with what you experienced elsewhere.

Guatemala has become a place that I love -- the people, the food, the culture.  Since my first trip 2 years ago, our family's life has radically changed.  We are aware of global poverty, hunger, and the orphan crisis and we aren't comfortable ignoring the problems.  Through our trips and our lives we aim to raise awareness of the needs in other places and to be an example of love and change. 

What I didn't foresee as a risk was the attachment that has formed between us and 2 very special children.  I have now been to Dorie's Promise on 3 occasions, with Brandon joining me for 2 trips.  Last summer, Brandon had an immediate bond with a little girl named Alejandra.  Yire's cuteness won me over on our first trip.

As we walked down the street two Saturdays ago to where the little kids were playing Yire ran to me and Alejandra ran to Brandon.  To say that we were both overcome is an understatement.  More than I would have ever imagined, we feel a connection to these children, like they are our own.  My love for these children goes beyond admiration of their cuteness or pity for their circumstances.  We are watching these children grow.  These are children who we imagine in our home as members of our family.  As the week progressed it became clear to us that these children are a part of our family.  The question is how?

International adoptions have been closed in Guatemala since December 31, 2007.  We would have to think outside the box to look for answers.  I contacted friends who may know some answers but nothing looked promising.  I started brainstorming -- private adoption if we could find the birth parents, guardianship, wait for 2 more years and try for a student visa.  Unfortunately, after talking to a friend very knowledgeable about Guatemalan adoptions, none of these options will work.  The loopholes have been closed.  Even if we were able for one of us to move there and seek residency, we would hit yet another snag.  A law exists that states you cannot have a prior relationship with the adopted child.  Basically the government gets to match children with families.  We couldn't specifically request Yire and Alejandra.

Where does that leave us?  Waiting.  Waiting for God to reveal why our connection to these two children is so strong.  Waiting to see if He will open a door for us to bring our children home.  Waiting to see what His plan is for these two beautiful children.  Leaving us to trust that His plan is best, even when we don't understand.  For now, we have to be content to sponsor them and visit when we can.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

7: Month 2 Begins

The 7 Fast has moved from my possessions to my kitchen.  Month 2 focuses on Food.  This month we have 7 foods that we have chosen to make up our complete diet.  To prepare for our new challenge, we did what any food loving Americans would do, we went out to dinner!


That's right folks, I had Honey Barbecue Chicken Flatbread, Smirnoff Ice, and Chocolate Fudge Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream.  This was my last meal without restrictions.  Honestly, I made sure to have lots of my favorite foods on Monday--a Snickers bar, Swiss Cake rolls, and some pizza. 

This is my buffet for October:  Wheat Bread, Chicken, Eggs, Apples, Potatoes, Special K Red Berries, and Chocolate Marshmallow ice cream.  I know myself well enough to know that I had to include something sweet and that I can eat cereal for any meal. As Becky pointed out, I don't have any vegetables but I wasn't willing to give up my ice cream.   I'm trying to give myself a fighting chance.  No pasta, sauce, or cheese is going to require some creativity to make different meals for a whole month. 

This month may choose to be one of the hardest for me.  I tend to snack during the day and I like variety in my diet.  There are temptations everywhere--work, home, church, most places I go.  Now I have to be careful everywhere I go.  I even have a post-it note on my desk at work so I won't forget.  No more church suppers on Wednesday, I'll be packing.  Becky and I will be the only people not eating cake at the wedding in a couple weeks.  Just now I've realized that I'll be packing on Sunday for our Missions Team lunch as well. 

I'm about to be that weird person with strange food issues.  The challenge is to use my own weirdness to grow thankfulness within myself and share the reality of hunger in my area and around the world.  Actually, the biggest challenge will be not to cheat! 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Joy and Thanksgiving

Last Friday we ventured back to Bethania in Zone 7.  This time we delivered 150 food bags to students at a local school.  Class by class, the children came outside and received a bag containing juice, nutritional drinks, snacks and some candy. 

Part way through I decided to stand by the door and just watch the children.  They were so happy to receive these gifts.  From their classrooms you could hear them squealing and cheering.  Even as I watched their joy I was overcome with sadness.  I thought about how sad it is that something as common as food could brighten their day, because they probably don't always get enough food.  My thoughts started drifting to my own children.  When is the last time I saw them be this happy about food?  They enjoy their favorite meal but they also know we always have something to eat, even if it isn't their favorite.  Our blessings allow us to forget how fortunate we really are and just how much we have to be thankful for.

These children remind me how little it takes to brighten some one's day and show them God's love. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Why People Shouldn't Do Missions

I know this sounds like an absurd statement when I just returned yesterday from Guatemala but I believe it's the truth.  People shouldn't "do" missions.  We should all be on mission because we have all been called to a unique mission field if only we are willing to accept the challenge. 

When people "do" mission work, it sounds like something either obligatory or award-worthy.  It makes it seem like something out of the ordinary when we are actually called to spread the hope and saving grace of Jesus with everyone we meet.  If love is our guiding force, we will seek to share with others and work to improve their lives as an outward demonstration of Christ's love.  Feeding children or mixing concrete in Guatemala is just one way that God is allowing me to show people that He sent me to help improve their lives.  He gave me the chance to meet them and pray for them.  Missions is not something that we can only do in a distant city, state, or country.  The most difficult mission field is often your own hometown, or even harder, your own family. 

No matter where we live, there are always people who do not believe in Jesus Christ and his path to salvation.  Someone has to be obedient and reach out to those in every segment of the earth's population--rich or poor, near or far, black or white, mansion or homeless.  We are all given different opportunities and gifts to reach people.  Truthfully at times it will seem that we are ill-equipped for the challenge ahead.  At those times we need to remember that Christ is leading and we need to trust him.  Christ uses us, not the other way around.  He uses us when we're broken, when we've been lost, when we feel inadequate.  He uses our distinct path to lead others to salvation.

Matthew 28:19 says that we are to make disciples of all the nations.  It doesn't say that everyone will travel around the world to complete the task.  We need to plant where we are sent, not hoard our seeds while waiting for a different field.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Beautiful View

Tuesday was my first trip to the Linda Vista community.  This new community was recently built, nestled between a busy 6 lane road and a cliff.  The homes are typical for a Guatemalan ghetto, built from found tin, tree branches, and scavenged materials.

Linda Vista means beautiful view.

Truly these families have a beautiful view.  Their community overlooks a lush forest.  The more beautiful view that I witnessed was their vision for life.  In this community we were greeted by men and women who love Christ and are overtly thankful for all that they have been given. 

These families are thankful for their small homes, built from what we would regard as trash.  They have a love for their community that leads  them to share the water from their water filters with those who do not have one.  Their vision of Christ's love for people shows as they work together to improve their lives, with our help they went from having only one toilet for all 100 families to have 7 to share. 

True vision extends beyond what is in front of your eyes.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Change in the Ghetto

Today was the first time I have been to a community in Guatemala that is being run by strong men. The communities that I've visited before were run by strong, independent women.   We worked in Linda Vista today, delivering water filters, food bags, and bibles while also building 6 bathrooms. 

What was amazing to me was to see an eager group of men who were leading us as we improved their community. 

Even better was when the men specifically asked us to pray for them and their families.  They needed work, rain to fill their water tanks, and peace within their familes.  They truly wanted to be able to support and lead their families.  As we were trying to finish the last bathroom, the rains came.

God is working in the lives of these men to change this community.

Monday, September 23, 2013

How to Stop the Cycle?

Seventeen years old with a 5 day old baby.  Two teens welcomed us into their home this afternoon.  They look like babies, holding a baby.  All I can think about is how are they going to raise this baby?  Innocence radiates from their faces and I worry.  They already live in poverty.  This baby was born into poverty.  How will he provide for a family when they can't afford their own home?  I remember having babies and I know what it is like having children.  It is hard and we don't have the daily strain to survive.  When I lean down to talk to the young mom I realize that what looks like a twin mattress beside a double mattress is really skids with blankets.

She was sitting beside the soccer field intently watching the game.  After a while I decided to go down and talk with her.  As I had guessed she was watching a boy.  There isn't really many other reasons that teenage girls would sit alone and watch so intently.  We exchanged info about ourselves.  She asked me about my family.  What I wasn't expecting was her living situation.  My 14 year old friend told me that she lives with her boyfriend.  She was abused and left her home.  Now two lost children are trying to support each other.  How long until they have a baby?

So many of the young men that were playing soccer looked young and full of opportunity.  I worry about where they will be in 5 years?  There is so much risk that without an education and with young children, they will resort to illegal activities.

How do you stop this cycle?  We began today by praying.  We can't change their situation or give them the will to change.  God must be the force that drives them.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

One Mom's Fight for Her Son

God is so good.  I had an idea of what we would see and do here at Dorie's Promise but God had such better plans.  When we arrived, we met two families that are here to visit their children.  Two families that have been fighting for 6 years to bring their children home.  These are children who they have legally adopted but have been unable to bring home because they hadn't been able to leave the country by December 31, 2007. 

A chance meeting with one mother in the kitchen turne into a deep discussion about the tragedy that is the current state of adoptions.  All of my emotions about adoption are stirred and I can't contain them.  I yearn to walk down to Casa 5, get Alejandra and take her home with us but powers greater than me have decided that can't happen.  Here's where I've landed after talking to Ruth.

1.  Children need loving homes!  First and foremost, all children deserve a loving home.  This is non-negotiable.  Why have governments decided that it is better for children to live in orphanages with varying degrees of care instead of families who yearn to adopt?  I understand that their biological families is the best option but sometimes that isn't possible.  No matter what you want to believe, the truth is that some children really are abandoned.

2. It is our social responsibility to share our resources to provide opportunities for social and economic progress for lesser developed countries!  So many children find their way into orphanages because their families legitimately could not care for them.  Think for a moment about the love and bravery that it takes for a parent to recognize that they cannot afford to care for their child and then to relinquish their rights.  What would happen to that family and community if we invested in housing, business development, and education?  A family that was financially secure would be less likely to abandon their children.

3. Children are not political pawns! We spend ridiculous amounts of money to fund wars in other countries because they hold the key to our oil source.  What would happen if a small amount of our political clout was spent on doing what was right in this world?  Finalize their adoptions.  Now!  It isn't a question.  The adoptions were completed by the law at the time, let the children come home.  Stop making this an immigration issue.  Why is the security of our border more important than a child who is alone, malnourished, and on the brink of death in Africa?  We need government officials who care more about doing what is right for the world than getting reelected.

4. The color of a child's skin doesn't determine their worth!  The honest truth is that some people just don't want more Hispanics or Blacks in America.  Get over it.  Unless you are Native American, you are an immigrant too.  Truthfully, we don't deserve anything more just because we were born in America or White.  I can tell you that I love the little boys from DRC just as much as I love their older siblings, just as much as their sister from Guatemala, as if they are my own.  And God help the first person who ever makes a comment about them in my presence because I have quite the speech already in my head.

5. These families have been through enough, let them be whole! Can you imagine not being able to have your child with you for 6 years.  You can visit occasionally but you always have to leave.  These families have made incredible sacrifices.  They have lost their homes and businesses because of the cost.  They have spent their life's savings.  Some have moved for years to Guatemala until the money ran out, just to be near their children.  The stress has taken their health.  Yet they keep fighting for their children, just like I would for mine and you would for your's.

So as I promised a mother in a kitchen in Guatemala this afternoon, I will share their stories because everyone needs to know and I will continue to pray for their families.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

7: Stored Up Treasures

We are half way through our first month of 7.  Remember our goal:  7 items every day for a month, 210 items total.  Well, this family has completely blown past that goal already. 
After 14 days, we are already at 761 items being removed from our house.  There are clothes, shoes, sheets, books, dishes, toys, furniture, and so much more.  We are meeting needs for the local Boys and Girls Club, a nursery school, migrant orchard workers, and quite a few clothes will go with us to Guatemala.  That isn't going to empty the room either.  There are more people to help.
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."
I want a comfortable, beautiful home but I'm finding that having less is giving us space to use and enjoy what we have.  Being able to give away items is also teaching us the joy in giving and helping others.  

Monday, September 9, 2013

7: My Badge of Excess

Within only one week of beginning my possession purge I am already completely overwhelmed by the process.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not having problems getting rid of my items.  I have to stop myself from just clearing out the whole house in one swoop.

As I look at all the things in our house, I think about if I use it, love it, or if it has special meaning.  There are more items than I wish to confess that we don't use.  I have started to be honest about why I bought some of the items in our home.  Sixteen Spode Christmas plates sit in our cabinet, bought because a friend I admired had those plates.  To emulate one of the most wonderful hostesses I ever met, I have amassed a large collection of various serving dishes.  I do use some of these dishes frequently but I certainly don't need this many. 

For many years, I have tried to create an image of myself, our family and our home that would be worthy of admiration, even jealousy.  I wanted to have a house that people admired.  If I worked hard enough, we could be one of those families that other people idolized.  Yes, I said idolized.  My goals are changing.  I don't want people to be interested in us because we have a nice house full of nice things.  Instead of joy all of my stuff has become my badge of excess.

We are choosing to spend more of our time helping those who don't have access to the excess that we so callously waste.  Our friends in Guatemala don't even have access to clean, running water and I'm worried about a third set of dishes and the color of my sheets.  I do feel guilty about how much we have because I seen real poverty.  I have seen a family who slept under a tarp on a sidewalk.  Everything that they owned could be carried.  I could say that we have worked hard for what we have but that just sounds like an excuse for my spending.  There is a difference between enjoying our life and creating a life just to impress others. 

So the most important part of this month for me is to examine why we have chosen to have these items in our lives.  For those items that we don't use, love, or treasure I need to find someone else who could actually benefit from my items.  I want to change the way that we look at our life.  We want to fill our home with items that we love and tell a story--photos of people we have met, gifts from travels in different countries and Virginia Tech memorabilia to start.  I want to spend more effort enjoying life instead of spending money. 

I want people to admire us for how we are choosing to live and the impact that we are trying to make because of what Christ has done in our lives, not because I chose well when decorating or was able to orchestrate a good show for the outside world.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

7: What's in Your Closet?

When I read in Jen Hatmaker's book that she had 327 articles of clothing in her closet I thought she was ridiculous.  That is an excessive amount of clothing for one woman.  Well, guess what?  This lady counted 332 articles of clothing (including all shoes)!  I guess this makes me 5 articles more ridiculous than Jen Hatmaker.  I was stunned so I added the numbers a couple times.  I mean I only have one closet and 2 small drawers--that can't be right!

How can a closet that is this organized have that much stuff in it?

As much as I love to purge and organize things.  Some of this purge was hard.  I didn't think I'd have a hard time but there were some items I didn't want to give up.  Like my very favorite, 13 year old Virginia Tech sweatshirt.  Brandon has been practically begging me to get rid of it for years because it is literally falling apart.  Now, I couldn't actually give that away because it really was full of holes but I did cut the front off to be included in a t-shirt quilt and throw the rest away, after 10 minutes of contemplation.  I guess I'm more attached to my things than I thought and it's not just the new and shiny items. 

Literally, I sat on my floor for 30 minutes trying to narrow down my shoes into what seemed like the minimum number necessary to compliment my slimmed down wardrobe.  I would have never guessed that I had 37 pairs of shoes.  I will try to make it seem better by telling you that it includes rubber boots, work boots, running shoes, and all other kinds of shoes.  See, doesn't that seem more reasonable now.  There are several pairs that aren't necessary but I just like them so they stayed.  Sorry, I'm not perfect.  One pair that left was a set of brand new, never been worn Asics running shoes.  These aren't cheap shoes people!  But, I really feel like they are for someone else.  Don't believe that I'm too generous here, there are still two pairs of the exact same shoe left, they just aren't brand new.

At the end of several hours spent in my bedroom, I am left with 226 items total, a 32% reduction.  Of that, 83 items will find new owners while 23 found the trash can.  It seems that even I can hold on to some things just because, even if they are full of holes.  It's nice to be able to look in my closet and easily see what's in there. 

Thinking about the cost of everything in that closet that was worn once, twice, a few not at all, tags still attached, is sad.  It was so much money that could have been used better.  The key is to kick the habit and maintain a manageable wardrobe that is useful. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

7: Excess from the Start

We are officially 3 days into our 7 Fast.  This month we are focusing on possessions.  The baseline is to give away 7 items every day.  In this house, that won't be a problem.  It's not because we're extra generous.  It's because we have TOO MUCH STUFF!  I like to believe that I keep a neat house without any infamous junk rooms but the truth is that we have too much stuff neatly stored throughout the entire house.  As I'm finding out, we are deceivingly greedy. 

I am choosing to involve everyone in our family this month because we are all guilty and I'm pretty sure that my list alone is going to top 210 items very soon.  Because I am compulsive, we have a calendar showing what we are focusing on each day.  We are going a little bit heavy in the first 3 weeks because we will be making a trip to Guatemala at the end of the month, a great opportunity to give away a lot of our stuff. 

I have decluttered my sewing room, emptied a hamper that had clothes to be donated from earlier purges this summer, purged my closet, and purged Brandon's closet so far this month.  We already have 236 Items!  It is sickening.  3 days in and we've already met the monthly goal.  The thought of how much money was wasted on items that I never used or barely used in unbearable. 

The giving has started already.  Caroline's teacher needed fabric scraps and yarn for a class project.  Today she receive 3 barely touched large skeins of yarn and a full grocery bag of large scraps handpicked for their kid-friendly colors, textures, and patterns.  That didn't even make a dent in the piles though. 

This is where I will need help.  As you go through your day if you know of a material need that we could help meet, please let me know.  I might add a separate page with a list of items that we would like to give to someone in need.  We can arrange for delivery within Washington County or Rockingham County.  Let's see exactly who God has in mind for our items.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Crazy Likes Company

If 18 year-old me could have seen 32 year-old me, I don't think that she'd believe her eyes.  My path has taken me further into the depths of God's word and opened my eyes and mind to how he views this world and how he wants me to respond.  The deeper I get, the crazier I seem to a lot of people.  There are things that just aren't okay with me anymore--ignoring social issues, making money just to spend it on myself, trying to insulate my family from the realities of this world.  I just can't live that way anymore.  The deepest parts of my soul do somersaults because I can't sit and be oblivious anymore. 

Romans 12:2 "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

When God starts changing your view of the world, a lot people don't understand.  Those who have always known you doubt the changes.  It makes people uncomfortable when my choices are different than their choices.  Some people will pull away. 

This is why "crazy" needs company.  I have been blessed with a crazy friend for more than ten years.  Becky and I are the kind of friends that have shared life's highs/ lows and guard each other's secrets.  We also share an unrest about American excess.  She was with me the first time I went to Guatemala and the first time I went to inner city Philadelphia. 

So when I was telling her about reading Jen Hatmaker's book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess she already knew what I had been thinking--let's do it.  What is it?  It is a 7 month fast against the excess of this comfortable American life.  It is 7 months devoted to becoming more aware of the world outside of ourselves and how we can do more with what we're given--everything we're given.  Each month focuses on a different area of our life --Possessions, Food, Clothes, Media, Spending, Waste, and Stress.

Tomorrow, September 1st, will be our first month and we're doing Possessions.  I'm excited about this month because I love to clean stuff out.  I'm that crazy person who enjoys organizing.  Every member of our family is participating this month because we are greatly blessed with too much!  One of the most important aspects for me this month is that we are going to intentionally find new homes for our items.  Although it would be generous to pack everything up and take it to the Rescue Mission, that seems like an easy way out for me this month.  I want to be intentionally aware of those around me and how I can help them.  My prayer is that God will direct me to those who need our help this month. 

It's going to be a crazy adventure but I'm glad that I have a friend crazy enough to do this with me! 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Running the Race

The beginnings of this post have sat in my drafts since last October, waiting for the right moment.  Today it seems is that moment.

Hebrews 12: 1-3  "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

I had the privilege this morning to participate in the memorial service for Steve Taylor (click here to learn more about him).  Steve had planned the service himself--choosing the praise songs we sang, the message that he wanted conveyed to those in attendance.  His request for those of us in the Praise Team was to cut loose during the service, giving me freedom to truly enjoy the service.  He really wanted people to feel and enjoy the songs and messages.  At one point, I found myself dancing in my chair, humming along to the music as we watched a video from his trips to Coast Hospice in Mimbosa, Kenya. 

Steve is the model of finishing well.  His race was not easy but he focused on the greater purpose.  More than 3 years ago, he returned from Africa, ill.  Doctors originally thought it was Malaria but came to realize it was colon cancer that had spread to his liver.  That diagnosis didn't end Steve's ministry, I think it just might have been a new opportunity.  Steve continued to work at Hospice and with youth at church.  He even returned to Africa to continue working with those who suffer greatly without the luxury of medical interventions.  His race had taken a different course but he still endured in a way that was inspiring to the crowds around him.

I didn't know Steve well but as I conveyed to Susan this morning, watching them from a distance--they are awesome.  I will never forget his final sermon at our church.  Even then the message was more about others than him.  For me, this morning was about choosing to run the race that is designed for us and finishing well.  It was about trusting God when we can't see the path and don't think we can make it any further.

I pray that I can replicate Steve's endurance and faith in my own race.  Sometimes my race seems more like an obstacle course.  Too many times I get distracted by the pain and trials of life and loose focus on God's will.  We are promised that we will endure hardships in our lives but we will never be alone.  How we choose to walk through life, especially the hard times, is a reflection of where our hope is found.  We may stumble and fall along the way but are we willing to keep crawling toward the goal?

Most importantly, as I sat there watching and listening this morning I kept thinking--I hope that when my time on earth ends the focus will be like this, not be on me but instead on how God used me in the lives of other people.  I hope that people will learn about the children of Dorie's Promise, the families we love in San Antonio Aguas Calientes, the kids we met at Urban Hope in inner city Philadelphia, and many more who will intersect our course.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Teaching without a Lesson Plan

Parenthood is not well scripted.  Unless I missed it, the hospital didn't hand out manuals with any of my children.  If they had, we could have dodged some projectile vomit and errant urine on several occasions.  The further we get into parenthood, the more complicated the questions became.  The older our children are, the less they accept vague answers. 

"What does gay mean?" was one of the first big, uncomfortable questions that we faced.  I was so afraid to answer that question.  What is age-appropriate?  How do I answer the question without disrespecting people?  How do I help them to recognize God's plan for marriage and families?  After a good bit of prayer, we started down the path of families--what our family looks like, what the bible says about families--and then to the answer of their question.  I'm not sure what I was afraid of, there was no dramatic moment--just an open, honest discussion about life.  The truth is that life is messy and we all choose how to live.  We are responsible for ourselves, what we teach our children, and if we are willing to live out our faith. 

Deuteronomy 6:7-9 "Impress them [command, decrees, and laws from God] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates."

Faith is not a Sunday morning activity.  It's not sitting in a church.  My children learn a lot more about life by living with me than they do at church (even though they have awesome teachers).  They watch what I do all the time.  Sometimes it's not a good example.  Every moment that I spend with them (or anyone else) is a teaching moment about life, my character, and what my faith means to me. 

How do I speak?  What do I do?  What do I tolerate?  Am I willing to take a stand?

Learning happens by living, not through lecturing.  My daily life should reflect what I believe even without words.  I may not be able to script our lives but I do have an amazing reference to guide me through.

From Live Second Devotional:
Talk with God  Remind me, every moment of every day, to inspire the life of Second.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Big, Fat Lies

On Sunday evening Caroline asked me how much I weigh.  My response:  "None of your business."  Brandon's response:  "Women don't like to talk about their weight."  She was stumped.  Getting bigger is awesome to her.

Her question hit me right in the middle of the perfect storm of self doubt and hatred.  For the last few months I've been struggling with my weight.  (Go ahead and shake your heads, it's fine.)  I gained what is a significant amount of weight for me in what I consider a short amount of time.  There's no logical reason for the change -- I'm eating no better or worse, I am NOT pregnant, for several months I was exercising regularly (fell right back off that wagon), and no medical conditions.  I was concerned enough that I convinced the doctor to do a thyroid test just in case.  I'm just not where I belong in my mind.

During our vacation I donned my bikini a couple times for maximum baking potential.  (We can discuss the modesty issue of bikinis later.)  Sometimes I wear a bikini because I like the attention from my husband.  I'm not interested in others seeing me in my bikini, just him, so these instances are limited.  All was well until Sunday evening when I was downloading pictures off my camera.  I came across a picture that Brandon had taken of me in my bikini. 

Immediately I started to analyze every aspect of the picture -- my stomach looks fat, there's no muscle definition, I think I see a cellulite dimple on my thigh.  I couldn't stand to look at the picture!  All that I saw was a fat woman trying to wear a bikini who really shouldn't be!  Even now I hate the person I saw in the picture.  That isn't what I want to look like.  My husband deserves someone who looks better than that.  As I spiraled out of control Brandon teetered between trying to explain the ridiculousness of my argument, being supportive, and acting as a voice of reason. 

How I see myself affects more than just me.  It affects how I interact with my husband, how I compare myself to other women, and is a terrible example for my daughters.  During a followup discussion about the bikini picture Brandon asked me who's standard I was using to judge myself.  "Mine."  To which he responded, "Do you want your daughters to use the same standard?"  That was a little harsh but I knew that it was true.  I don't want my daughters to have this same struggle. 

I have always struggled to believe that I was beautiful.  Some times I have just masked it better than others.  No matter my size I have always looked at other women and tried to copy them to improve myself.  There always seems to be something better about them.  There are very few pictures of me as an adult because I hate to look at myself.  I feel like I have to work hard to make myself look good and then if I do feel good I feel guilty.  Good christian wives shouldn't try to attract attention to themselves, right?  Is it wrong to enjoy looking good? 

I'm not going to claim to have an answer to my problem but I think that being honest might be a step in the right direction.  I need to stop insisting that my husband is just saying I'm beautiful because he's settling for the wife that he has.  I need to be ok with the body I have or be serious about being healthy -- not just thin.  Maybe I even need to be ok with the idea that I'm not 20 anymore and maintaining that body might not be reasonable.

I need to love the body that God has given me -- big hips, small chest, undefined stomach, so straight it scoffs at being curled hair, and skin that refuses to give up on the occasional pimple. 

Psalm 139: 14 "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made"

For years I have lied to myself over and over again about everything that is so ugly about me.  I keep telling myself that I'm not good enough for my husband.  I feel like I'm not good enough for my "position" in life.  And now, I'm modeling those same lies for my daughters.  I might not be saying those words to them but I'm teaching them to judge themselves and that there is shame in our bodies.  It's ridiculous when my daughter tries to show me her "fat" legs but I know where she learned that. 

My value does not come from my outward appearance, my value is from the outward display of the Holy Spirit's work inside me.  I must teach myself to love who God created and the awesome changes that he has made in me. 

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.

Not even in the spirit of honesty am I going to tell you my weight or post that picture though!  I'm not there yet.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Retreat: Noun or Verb?

As soon as we entered our vacation house we were greeted by the hint of relief.

I had been anxiously awaiting our family vacation -- a couple days away without the stress of work.  We were looking forward to relaxing and enjoying carefree days on the beach.  Reading, writing, napping, and photographing the kids could all be accomplished from the comfort of my beach chair.

That simple pillow stirred questions deeper than what I would do on vacation.  Of course I considered this vacation house on the bay a retreat -- a place affording peace, quiet, privacy, or security.  It afforded us the comforts of home in a beautiful setting.  The bigger question is if I am looking for a retreat or if I am trying to retreat.  The truth lies within both forms.

On a basic level, I am looking for a quiet place away from the chaos of daily life.  Phone calls, texts (even though everyone knows I don't like texting), kids asking a million questions, kids fighting, the radio up way too loud, conference calls, my internal to do list, and that noisy toy dump truck vanquish any hope of quiet during my normal day.  I had billed this trip as a chance for me to find time for myself. 

Even deeper I find my self seeking to retreat from life some times.  When the expectations and challenges that face me seem daunting I start to question why we spend so much effort in our current circumstances.  I dream of selling everything, packing my suitcases, and moving to Guatemala.  There is an appeal to living simply and spending my days helping other people.  The logical part of my mind knows that although I love going to Guatemala, I'm where I am called to be.  Retreating to Guatemala wouldn't remove pressure in my life.  Full-time foreign missionaries don't live glamorous lives.  If they did, the pile of applications would surpass the positions and we would have reached all the nations already.  My full-time mission field is right where God has placed me and the job description includes multi-tasking all these tasks that make my life so taxing in a way that is God-honoring and kingdom building.

A retreat and retreating might both be what is needed at different times in our lives.  A retreat is that safe place that you can go to collect your thoughts, clear your mind, and renew your spirit.  Retreating isn't all bad either.  There are times when it is good to withdraw from things in your life.  I can't run from my responsibilities but I can cull out the stresses that are unnecessary and unhealthy.  I'm not good at letting go but there is only so much that I can realistically do and maintain some level of sanity.

Retreat -- a little more sleep, carefree fun, and the chance to enjoy our family

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Super Woman Needs a Nap

I have created my own nightmare.  The expectations that I have for myself are unrealistic--total care for our children myself, manage our home to my standards, try to be outrageously involved at church, and be awesome at work. 

The problem is that if you run on empty for long enough, everything starts to slip.  That's where we are.  I am tired and catch myself being short with the kids.  A few times we've had to pull clothes out of the dryer to wear to work because I couldn't keep up.  My desk at work looked awful and I can feel myself slipping--just not as sharp as I should be.  There are a few too many Red Bulls needed to make it through the day.

When I expect myself to be Super Woman, I need to also be responsible for taking care of myself.  Instead of feeling like I could collapse at any point in the day, we are taking a break!  No work computer, out of office message posted, family and relaxation time.  We are taking the chance to have fun as a family and catch up on a lot of missed sleep.

Super Woman is no good when she's so tired that she isn't fun to be around or screws up a project at work.  Hard work is necessary and sometimes the hours are long but I can't sacrifice our family and myself.

Friday, August 2, 2013

An Education Wasted?

In the last few months I've read books like Radical by David Platt and 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess and Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker, all of which were wonderful!  These are the kinds of books that Brandon groans about because as I read, I am highlighting, making notes, and generating "crazy" ideas.

Consider these ideas from Jen Hatmaker's books for a minute...

"At some point, the church stopped living the Bible and decided just to study it" 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

"Why did I spend all my time blessing blessed people who should be on the giving side of the equation by now?"  Interrupted

I want to jump up and down and shout to everyone who will listen, "There are souls dying every day and we're either too scared or too selfish to save them!" 

Consumer Christianity, as I like to describe it, has become so fashionable in America.  You go to church to get your weekly religion fix, then go back to your comfy life.  Some churches cater to the lifestyle--come have a nice cup of coffee, listen to a great band, be seen at the right church with the right people, and be sure to give a donation to pay the bills.

What if we go one half step better with a wide array of programs?  We have a class or study for every conceivable age/ gender/ marital status/ topic imaginable.  All of our time is spent feeding our own education.  Over the course of our life we will have studied and restudied all the major figures and books of the bible, along with several doses of life application topics.

Enjoying a church community and service is not wrong.  I will be the first to tell you that a faithful group of friends is one of the best blessings.  Indepth study of the bible is fundamental to our continued spiritual growth.  Our failure begins when we choose to hoard all of the gifts and education we have received instead of blessing those outside the church. 

1 Peter 3:15 "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect..."

Even those persecuted Christians whom Peter was trying to encourage in this reference where advised to always be ready to share about their faith.  They faced torture and death because of their faith but still they were told to continue to do what was right even if they suffered as a result.  Few of us will ever face the same level of persecution that the early church endured but we must be willing to risk intolerance, loss of status, discomfort, and mockery for our beliefs.

If we spend our whole lives studying the bible but never apply it beyond ourselves, what have we gained?  One selfish believer!  What have we lost?  The opportunity to reach countless lives that crossed our path!  I love to see how a van full of kids has changed our little church.  There are people who I would have never guessed volunteering to pick up kids, eat supper with kids, and mentor them in class.  It's a quiet (not really they're pretty loud) revolution towards building a strong church body that purposefully focuses on the world outside it's doors.

From Live Second
Talk with God -- Prepare me to talk with those who you have put in my life about the story you have worked in my life. 

Let me add -- Give me discernment to balance loving like Jesus and sharing biblical truths in a way that will guide people toward Jesus, not away.  Help me to face my fears and selfishness to reach your people.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Making the Most of the Time You Have

During the school year, my small brood of 3 children balloons to 25 on Wednesday nights.  For the last 3 years, I have had the opportunity to help my crazy friends bring in local children to our church's Awana night each Wednesday night. 

If you've ever been there on Wednesday, you know where we are--the table at supper with 25 kids and us hovering to make sure that they're eating, not arguing, and not slipping out to the sanctuary early.  It is tiring but we keep coming back each week.  It is rewarding when they start to learn and understand bible stories.  It's fulfilling when you've made a deep enough connection that you are at trick or treat and one of the kids comes running up to give you a hug.  Did I mention that it can get tiring? 

No matter how tiring it can get during the Awana year, we have a connection to those children.  We have heard stories about what happens in their homes.  We have fed them when we know they haven't eaten that day.  Some of the children have lived in our homes for short periods of time.  They become a part of our families.  That is why it is so hard when they leave.

Last Sunday we found out that one of our most active families had moved.  Without any notice, they moved to Georgia--no chance for goodbyes.  I hope that we were able to make the most of the time we were with the kids.  I have watched Joey mature from obnoxious to helpful, Seth begin to start piecing together the stories, Ashleigh actually wanting to learn, and Victoria love everyone. 

This is the chance we take when we choose to form relationships with these great kids.  They live in unstable families that we can't change or control.  Our own children have learned about jail, eviction, and drugs because we choose to help these families.  Some people think we're crazy because we drive in to Section 8 housing like we belong.

It is worth all the craziness for the chance to love those kids, show them some stability, and teach them about Jesus' love by loving them.  If everyone was afraid to go there, how could any difference be made? 

Think about who is in Your Village.  Make sure you are taking advantage of the time you have!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

When The Word Comes to Life

Two weeks ago Pastor Doug taught about incorporating the scripture into your prayers -- read the scripture back as a prayer, inserting yourself.  Interesting concept but I didn't know if it was something that fit my style.  Then the very next day, my I Am Second devotion brought the scripture to life.

Psalm 116: 1-6

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
  he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,

  I will call on him as long as I live.
The cords of death entangled me,
   the anguish of the grave came over me;
   I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
   Lord, save me!
The Lord is gracious and righteous;
   our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary;
   when I was brought low, he saved me.
Psalm 116: 1-6, The Kelly Version
I love the Lord, because he hears my words and thoughts;
  he hears me when I am alone, depleted, overwhelmed, and exhausted.
Because he chose to pay attention to even me, just 1 in 6 billion people,
  I will seek his guidance for the rest of my life.
The pain and hardships of this life have smothered me,
  My very being was unrecognizable;
  I felt like I couldn't handle anything else.
Then I remembered who was really in control,
  I finally asked God to sustain me.
The Lord is loving and constant;
  He doesn't abandon anyone.
God is with me in every circumstance I face;
  when I was at my lowest, he led me back.
This is the Living Word -- when you read the scripture and it resonates with your inner thoughts and stirs inside you.  It's the Holy Spirit working inside of you to deliver the message you need to hear, whether for comfort, correction, or vision.  It's that invisible force that leaves you feeling uneasy, in a good way. 
Does the Holy Spirit move in you also?  Are you willing to listen?