Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Value of Marriage

Over the last few weeks different ideas about marriage have been swirling around my world and it's hard to reconcile them all. 

Let me give you some background.  My wonderful husband was gone for 13 LONG days on business, leaving me manage to 3 kids and work.  I've also been more keenly aware of how so many other people around me choose to either value or devalue their spouses lately.  Yet another group of people seem to view marriage as archaic and unnecessary.  All of the attacks on marriage just make me sad.  There isn't really a better word for it.  Sad because my marriage is one the most treasured relationships that I have and I wish other people would pursue God's marital path.

Genesis 2:18 "The Lord God said, " It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him."

God didn't set out to create a servant for Adam.  He created a helper.  We are called to work together but it's not just about working.  We can hire people to complete any job in our lives but there is a strength in pursuing life with someone.  As I worked through our daily lives the last two weeks I missed the times when Brandon is just home doing life with us--mowing the grass, helping me clean up after supper, sitting on the floor at night with the kids saying prayers, taking care of his normal duties at work--the things that are mundane normally but add stability to our family.

Genesis 2:22 "Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and brought her to the man.  The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man."

Eve was created as an intimate compliment to Adam.  God didn't just form another human from the dust of the earth as he did to create Adam.  Eve was a part of Adam in a way that wasn't duplicated in any other creature that God created.  That difference is significant.  The intimacy of marriage is significant.  Brandon is my best friend who shares my life goals.  He is the one who is always here to support me when life is overwhelming, in a way that no one is capable.  My bond is different with Brandon than with my other closest friends, just as it should be. 

Ecclesiastes 4: 9-11 "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!"

This pretty much sums up my marriage.  We are working together in all that we do--our marriage, our family, our home, our business, our work in Guatemala--because the two of us are better than one.

This isn't meant to be a fairy tale depiction of marriage.  Marriage is hard work if you want to be successful.  We don't always agree, nor do I think that we should.  Some of our best decisions are made when we combine our differing opinions.  Life has presented very difficult situations that tested our resolve and we perservered.  But, there is no one else that I can imagine spending my life with

I have watched friends struggle with the grief of divorce, seeing their desire to restore a marriage with a spouse who was uninterested.  My short recent stint by myself gave me just a glimpse of their lives as single mothers.  I have so much more respect for the patience and strength that they must channel every day. 

In the end I am thankful for my husband and our commitment.  Each day presents different challenges but the rewards are endless when we set out to make a life that is better for each other first. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sweet Summer Treat

I meant to publish this post a few weeks ago but life happened...

Over the last few years so many of the staples of my kinda stay-at-home mom life have slipped away as I have morphed into the working-at-the-office mom.  Even though I covered my garden with grass seed this year and never got a chance to plant new strawberry plants to replace the old ones that stopped producing, some things must remain. 

In our house--that one thing is homemade Strawberry Jam!  My family acts like the world is coming to a screeching halt if we run out of strawberry jam and gasp! they have to eat store-bought.  I have been making "Aunt Esther's" strawberry jam for at least as long as we've had children.  The recipe originates from Mennonite Country-Style Recipes and Kitchen Secrets by Esther Shank, Brandon's aunt.  I want to share the recipe as an easy and delicious treat.

Cap and Rinse Strawberries (about 1 quart per batch).  I make double batches.

Crush Strawberries into a Puree

Combine 2 cups of Crushed Strawberries with 4 cups of Sugar until completely combined.  Let stand for 10 minutes.

While the Strawberries stand, mix 1 box of regular Sure Jell with 3/4 cup of water in a small saucepan.  Heat the mixture to boiling.  Let boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  

Remove from heat and combine with strawberry mixture.  Stir constantly for 3 minutes.  Then ladle into jars or freezer containers, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.

Let the jam sit at room temperature for 24 hours and then freeze.  Makes approximately 4 3/4 cups.
That was our Friday fun a few weeks ago.  10 batches later, we are stocked for another year.  

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Childhood Unplugged

So what could 4 children be doing with a plastic tub of water in the yard?

Last Saturday morning, I looked out my window and this is what I saw-- four kids, carrying a tub of water to the barn.  What in the world are they up to?  As they rounded the corner, I lost track of their plot.  There had been talk about hunting for turtles. 

Saturday was a great day.  By 8:30, all of the kids had eaten and were outside playing.  No computer, no tv, just their imaginations and space.  It's amazing what they come up with when they are free to just create and imagine.  The morning flew by as the worked on their project.  Around 11, we were invited to watch their play.  Complete with multiple roles and many props, they had recreated our Vacation Bible School drama.  The water was a bathtub, which our son happily jumped in.

I just love when the kids feel free to be creative!  Some times, it's a play, other times it is a science scavenger hunt, it's different each day-- whatever they dream up.

Monday, June 17, 2013

My Husband, the Father

Words cannot truly convey how much I love my husband.  On Father's Day, I just want to say thanks for being a great father and leader.  We need more men who are willing to take a stand for what is right, even when it's hard.  The kids will be better people because they are watching you.

Thank you for teaching them to serve others, especially the least of these!

Thank you for teaching them valuable skills for the future!

Thank you for teaching them to let loose and have fun!

Thanks for...
  • The Sunday mornings that you gather the herd by yourself so that I can go to Praise Band
  • Being the eye injury expert of our house
  • Having the patience to teach the kids to ride a 2 wheeled bike
  • All the times you played "baby" with your daughters because that's what they wanted to do
  • Helping me understand what little boys are like
  • Everything you do for us!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Give Girls an Opportunity

Just last night a group ladies at our church was having a discussion on whether or not we should expect our daughters to go to college.  We are lucky becaise we can have the debate!  In many places, this wouldn't even be a thought. 

On our last trip to Guatemala, we met a family whose children didn't attend school because the single mother couldn't afford their supplies.  Public education exists in Guatemala but they are required to purchase their school supplies and uniforms.  If girls aren't fortunate enough to go to school their best hope is to find a husband who can support them.  Many women don't find that supportive husband or if they do the marriages do not last.  In the community we visited there were countless single mothers who were barely able to provide shelter or food for their families.  This is one cause of the orphan crisis -- poverty-stricken single mothers who simply cannot raise a child.  Without an education, the cycle of poverty continues.

While browsing the news I saw a preview of the CNN movie "Girl Rising."  The show airs on Sunday, June 16th at 9:00 and follows the amazing journeys of girls around the world whose lives were changed by the opportunity for an education.  The profile I watched showed 2 sisters from Cambodia who worked at the dump to collect recyclables.  Those girls were sponsored by a couple and are now enrolled in college in Chicago.

What about Sadye?  She is lucky enough to have a family complete with both parents and her siblings.  Her father works hard and her mother weaves beautiful tapestries but it still isn't easy for them.  Because we love her so much, we want to give her the chance to achieve her dreams.  We have promised to make sure she will always be able to go to school. 

But there are many more girls and boys who need the same opportunity.  If you would like to sponsor a child's education, help Education Plus Development change lives one child at a time.  The school year in Guatemala runs from January through October, let's help more girls go to school next year!  We will be seeking more sponsors before the new school year begins!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Guilt of Success

The church still doesn't know how to handle successful (by the American standard) people.  If we are successful and dare enjoy anything minutely frivolous we are greedy and self-centered.  If we lack success we are lazy. 

True Christianity isn't one size fits all.  Not everyone will have the same income, lifestyle, family, opportunities, or hardships.  Each of us will walk a different path and somehow the church needs to embrace everyone independently.  We try to sit as the Judge and Jury for how everyone else lives their lives and spends their money.  In the name of accountability and concern we seek to make sure that everyone else is living their lives the way we think they should and that's just not right!

I struggle with reconciling being successful, living in America, and the extreme poverty and needs that I have seen in Guatemala.  Without the help of anyone else I feel guilt about the size of our house, even though it has issues and happened to be what was on the land we wanted, or even ordering pizza because I was busy making 10 batches of jelly and didn't want to stop to make supper.  What would that $20 do for someone else if we hadn't just consumed it?  Why do we have 2 empty bedrooms?  It is a struggle to know what is frivolous when you know families that struggle to eat one meal a day.  On the other hand, my purchase is providing someone else an income and opportunity as well.

There is an undercurrent in the church that you can't live in a home that's too nice, drive a car that's too big, fast, or expensive, or vacation somewhere too exotic.  "Good Christians" are to deprive themselves all extravagances and give everything beyond the necessities to others.  The problem is that I truly believe that God does give us some gifts to enjoy.  He wants us to be joyful and enjoy this world that he created.  What we enjoy will be very personal.  I would love to have a fast car one day because I just love to drive fast and the Suburban can barely get out of its own way.  Some people love to go camping.  (I don't understand it but they really like it.)  What if you like to stay at home and enjoy your patio and pool?  (Please invite us over!)  If we deny ourselves joy just to present ourselves as sacrificial are we really being ingrateful for our gifts?  A gift must be received and should be done with a grateful heart. 

Luke 12:48 "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

My point is that I truly believe we are way too hard on what other people have and spend.  We need to be more focused on ourselves!  What are we doing with the resources that are entrusted to us?  Are we answering the call that God has for our lives?  When we truly feel God calling to us address a need, are we willing to adjust our own spending?  Would we sacrifice for others?  I am responsible for my family budget and doing the best with those resources.  We will answer for how we have used our time, money, and talents to meet the needs of the world and further the kingdom.  In the end I want to hear...

"Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!" Matthew 25:21

Success or even wealth aren't the sins that we must avoid.  We must avoid the love of money, pride, self-centeredness, jealousy, and all the other distractions that keep us from our full potential.  I need to keep myself in check.  It doesn't matter what someone else drives what "toys" they buy.  The real question is Where is their Heart?  Where is their PASSION and how can I support that?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Obedience can be a Struggle

This morning's devotion was Matthew 25: 13-40.  I've read the story many times before but this morning it seems to have a whole different meaning.  It's the familiar story about the master who entrusted his three servants with his money while he was on a journey.  Two of the servants increased their money while one dug a hole and hid his talent for safe keeping.

Each servant was given talents according to his ability and had the opportunity to use them to the best of his ability.  Compare the servant with 10 talents and the servant with 4 talents.  The master uses the exact same phrase to praise them both.  He doesn't love one more because he has more.  He loves them both because they invested their talents wisely.  The servant with 1 talent is called "wicked" and "lazy" because he let his own fear keep him from making wise decisions and increasing his investment.  He wasn't willing to risk what he had for the greater reward.

"You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master's happiness!"

What about me?  My Type A personality has a plan for how my life should go.  What happens when my idea about my talents is different from where God is leading me?  For years, I have longed to adopt a child.  I have spent hours scouring the internet about different countries, requirements, and options.  I have read the stories of those who have adopted and dreamed about how that would work for our family.   I have imagined children who I have met and how they could become my own.  But even as that desire stirs in my heart, I am being led elsewhere.

God called us to Guatemala.  We have family there whom we love.  Guatemala is home to more than 370,000 orphans.  I have seen their faces and know their names--Alejandra, Mauricio, Alex, and Mirna, just to start. 

I have seen with my own eyes, smelled with my own nose, and felt with my own hands what their lives are like--the good of private orphanages like Dorie's Promise and the heartbreak of the crowded government orphanages.  I have played in the room with 40 cribs of babies who only had a dirty yellow mattress and 4 toys to share.  I just want to rescue these children.  I want to bring them home and show them love because they long for affection.  Four workers can't take care of 40 babies.  They can barely keep them fed and changed.  Alas, Guatemala is not open to international adoptions and there isn't hope that it will be again any time soon.

Why would God call me to a place where my heart is broken and my deepest desire cannot be fulfilled?  I have to believe that God is using me and changing me to do his will.  God has known all along about my desire to adopt but he has different plans.  If I hadn't gone to Guatemala that first time I wouldn't have met my dear friend and I won't be involved in the mission work that I am now.  

Because I know and have seen the needs of orphans, I have a desire to help prevent more children from becoming orphans.  70% of Guatemalans live in poverty.  What if God is using me to help those families who would choose to abandon their children?  Can I work to help make a difference one family at a time? 

God opened the door for me to work with Desi Stephens.  I am now on the Board of Directors for Education Plus Development.  EPD's mission is to educate and empower families in underdeveloped areas to become self-sufficient while sharing the message of salvation.  I will share more in the next few months about EPD as we are ready to launch our website and capital campaign.

Even as I struggle with what feels like a loss I have to trust that if I am only willing to obey, God will allow me to use my talents to invest in his kingdom greatly.  It just might look different than I had planned and it might hurt to let go.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

75 Days Left Until School

Today was the first full day of summer vacation.  While I have been awaiting warm weather and the advent of summer, I am also anxious about the end of school. The end of school means that my daughters will be home all day, every day. 

I know that sounds terrible but it's the truth.  There is a part of me that dreads summer vacation.  Don't take that wrong -- I love my children.  The dread comes from the knowledge that I need to find new and creative ways to keep my kids entertained to minimize fighting while keeping up my normal duties and maintaining my sanity.  Instead of 1 assistant, I will now have 3 each day at work.  The combination of a 3 year old who thinks he rules the world at work with his 2 older sisters who think they rule him is toxic some days.  Summer vacation turns his world upside down. 

Here's my plan of attack for Summer Sanity:

1.  Scheduled Separation:  Each of the girls chose one week of day camp.  Aubrey will get to spend a week at volleyball camp in June while Caroline goes to College for Kids in July.  There's 10 days right off the bat where they get to be away from each other.

2.  A Bucket of Fun (I hope!):  I read on another blog about a mom who had a box full of new toys and games saved up for her children's summer vacation.  I stole the idea.  A $5 tub from Target offered the perfect solution for summer activities at work.  A trip to the Dollar Store, Michaels, and Target, along with a walk around our house filled the tub with more than 20 different activities.  New soccer balls, marshmallows and toothpicks to build houses, and water balloons were a start.  I found an unopened croquet set, new paper airplanes, and a paper doll set at our house amongst other stowed away treasures.

Today they spent several hours making plastic bead creations.

3.  An honest talk with God this morning:  As I was reading my devotion this morning it occurred to me that I just needed to ask for help.  I needed to ask for patience and wisdom to help me manage my responsibilities and my reactions.  I need his support to help me better guide my children during the summer and set a more relaxed tone during summer vacation.  I struggle to balance being productive at work, maintaining our house to my standard, and caring for the children, without slipping in my stressed-out, short-tempered, snippy alter ego. 

James 1:5 "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you."

My goal is to keep working to find the balance between responsibility and enjoyment.