Tuesday, June 3, 2014

New website

I am in the process of creating a new website.  All new posts will be published at kellybeckleyshank.com.  Thanks for visiting.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Rethinking Easter

Last year our family spent Holy Week in Guatemala.  There were no Easter bunnies, baskets, eggs or candy.  It was the best Easter that I've ever experienced.  Every day there were alfombras (sawdust and flower carpets) lovingly crafted in the streets.  In the afternoons and evenings processions would wind through the town to celebrate each day of Holy Week.  We celebrated Jesus, his death, and his resurrection. 

Without the events of Good Friday, there would be no Easter.  Without Jesus' painful death on the cross, there would be no resurrection celebration or assurance of eternal salvation.  Today, we celebrated the gift that we were given when Jesus died for us all on the cross.

"But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed."  Isaiah 53:6

Please enjoy the work of many hands, little and big, in honor of Jesus' death this Good Friday.






















Saturday, April 5, 2014

7: Reflections on Fasting

There have been times over the last 7 months that were hard while others were invigorating.  I have triumphed and failed.  There were even moments when I just wanted to cheat.  I mean who would know?  Brandon won’t really rat me out will he?  (Yes, he would have.)  The greatest benefit over the last 7 months is that I’ve had the time to contemplate our lives.  Many pieces have stuck and we were challenged.  My whole family joined me during several months.

Month 1: Possessions
I felt like a rock star this month.  I love to purge items and clean out.  Clearing out wasn’t so hard, it was actually thinking about how much stuff we had.  I had so many things that I didn’t use.  How much money did they all represent?  I felt so much guilt over the excess that we had.  Truthfully, as I sit here and look around there is more that I’d like to clear out again.  More that we haven’t used.  Keep in mind that we did a second purge recently to cut down on toys following the holidays.  It seems like a never ending battle.  I want our home to reflect pieces that we love and have meaning.  No longer do I care if it looks like a page out of a magazine.  It’s the pages of our life.

Month 2:  Food
This month was torture!  I probably wanted to cheat the most during this month.  My list seemed so well planned but I quickly realized that there just are not 7 foods that I want to eat for an entire month.  I am a spoiled brat.  For me, food is not about nourishment, it’s about enjoyment.  I missed being able to cook the foods that I wanted whenever I wanted.  Even now I think of how spoiled I am.  Just last week, I served black beans, rice, and a tortilla to children.  They didn’t get a choice because the menu doesn’t change.  For some, it was their only meal that day.  I had twice as many options during my month of fasting…

Month 3:  Clothes
Wow do I get ready quicker in the morning when I have so few options!  Don’t get me wrong, I like my full wardrobe but this wasn’t that bad.  As I was packing for Guatemala two weeks ago, I literally reminded myself that I went an entire month with only 7 garments so I needed to pare down to fit more donations.  If I limit my total wardrobe size, I tend to make smarter choices.

Month 4:  Media
I didn’t realize just how much media I consumed until it was gone.  No more Facebook, tv, daily blog reading.  I must admit that I was probably much more productive because I wasn’t take a break to check Facebook or watch just one show in the evening.  Even last week in Guatemala, I didn’t miss the tv.  Cutting down on the electronic influences in our lives is probably a good thing.  I can read more, play games with the kids, and have real quiet time.  But, I’m not giving it up completely because I do enjoy watching certain shows and just relaxing over mindless shows.  I also will not purposely forgo the entire college football post-season anymore.  Missing all of the bowl games was probably one of the things I missed most.

Month 5:  Waste
We were fairly conscious of our wastefulness prior to this month but we did make some changes that stuck.  I’m still toting my own reusable bags to the grocery store.  Honestly, they’re bigger and sturdier than the plastic ones.  Cloth napkins still don our table and lunchboxes because why create more trash?  We don’t use the timers anymore but we’re still trying not to waste water.  We can probably still do better but most of the changes stuck.  I don’t like the idea of having heaping trash cans.

Month 6:  Spending
Cutting down our spending outlets to just 7 places, which included internet banker, was another way to make me think about just how lucky I was.  We actually complained that we couldn’t order pizza.  Really, I know how to make that.  I was annoyed that I hadn’t thought ahead to put money on the girls’ lunch accounts.  In reality, we didn’t even use all 7 of our places.  On the last day of the month we realized that we hadn’t used one, so we order supper from Buffalo Wild Wings.  Even in our fasting, we were still rich in opportunities.  Just goes to prove that we don’t need all the options we have, we just really enjoy them.  It was also nice to have a smaller credit card bill at the end of the month.  That’s one habit that I’d like to keep up.

Month 7:  Stress
I like to do things well if I’m going to try and the last month was the hardest month for me to actually feel like I could conquer.  Maybe that was the point.  I was practicing for an entire month on pausing to be aware and thankful during my day.  I was taking the focus off of myself and putting it onto what God wanted me to acknowledge at that moment.  I was blessed during my trip to Guatemala to experience moments of clarity, only found through the Holy Spirit.  Moments, that only a few years ago, I would have laughed off as absurd. 

We’re still in our oversized house, with our ample possessions and opportunities, but I think we are all more aware of the world around us and our responsibility to do more and do better.  Hopefully we’ll have an exchange student in the fall to help us fill this house a little more…

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Feeding His Sheep

John 21 describes Jesus visiting several disciples as they fished after the resurrection.  Very specifically, he called out Peter.  Three times he asked him, "do you love me?"  Three times, as many as Peter had denied Jesus on the night of his arrest.  Each time, Jesus would reply, "Feed my sheep." 

It was that simple, if you love Jesus then feed his sheep.  Care for his people.  What if we took that call seriously and truly cared for those around us -- the broken, the invisible, the unlovable?

What if Jesus came to you today?  "[Kelly] do you love me?"..."Lord you know all things; you know that I love you"..."Feed my sheep."

Several days this week we took this call literally. We fed children who otherwise would not eat.  In Paraisio we worked at an organization that provides children with lunch everyday and tutoring for those in school.  As I sat with Lourdes and Marlon, I became more aware of just how much they relied on that meal.  We treated them to chicken, French fries, and tortillas.  Many had never had fried chicken before because it is too expensive.  As I sat there eating with them they asked for my unused ketchup packet, so they could eat that as well.  When I was full and still had chicken left, Marlon was more than happy to eat the rest.  Lourdes had half of my tortilla. 



"Feed my sheep."

Friday, we went back to a feeding center right outside the dump.  Every day they feed 260 children whose parents spend their day scavenging through the trash.  Beginning at 12:00, they started filing in for a plate with beans, rice, and a tortilla.  As I filled plates with rice and passed them to Amore for beans, I felt guilty.  I don't like black beans and they looked unappealing but this was the lifeline for these children.  They don't have the choices that I do.  We watched a seven year-old bring his two-year old sibling for lunch, their parents working.  Looking up once, I saw a beautiful, older woman in line.  Children, the homeless, and the elderly rely on this place for their food.  Some days there isn't enough.  I'm afraid yesterday was one of those days.  As we prepared to leave, I  scooped the last of the rice but what if more children came? 



"Feed my sheep."

Friday, March 28, 2014

Life in Donuts

Just inside the security gate of Oakland community sits the Pan Pan Bakery, a brisk ten minute walk from our comfy mission house. 

Yesterday morning we walked to Pan Pan and got donuts for breakfast.  It was a peaceful walk, just the ladies of our team on a beautiful, cool morning.  We chatted and laughed up and back.  All of the guys at the house were happy to see those boxes upon our return.  Just a treat for our team.

36 donuts x Q5 each = Q180

As I lay in bed this morning, I thought again about the donuts.  But this time it was in the context of spending time with my family yesterday.  They are good, hardworking people.  They don't ask for handouts and don't live a life of excess.  They are thankful for all of the blessings around them. 

On the days when the sons worked as construction laborers, they earned Q100 for 8 hours of work.  Laying blocks, digging holes, 8 hours a day for just Q100.  It would cost almost 2 days wages for the donuts that I bought as a treat to our team.  10% of their monthly income would be spent at the bakery. 

I don't know what else to say because that is their reality.  It's the difference between the haves and the have-nots in Guatemala.  The difference between opportunity and survival.  I want to help give more opportunities.

Graduating from Linda Vista

On Tuesday (yes this post is two days late) I traveled back to Linda Vista.  In September we built 2 sets of bathrooms for this community which lies precariously between a major highway and a cliff.  The inhabitants are swatters on the land, having taken up residence due to their sheer need for homes.  At any point the government could decide to reclaim the property and completely demolish all 160 homes there.

In just six short months they have made amazing improvements to their community.  The main path to the lower level is now wide, concrete steps and there is electricity to the homes.  Water lines are being installed and paths are being covered in concrete.  The infrastructure of the community is taking shape.  They are also pursuing ownership of the property.  Prior to September, there was just one toilet for all of the families to share.  The 6 that we installed are so appreciated that everyone must sign up for cleaning detail. 





Our team installed another approximately 50 feet of concrete as sidewalks within a few hours.  Best of all, we worked with the residents to improve their property.  From mixing all the concrete by hand to the bucket line, everyone worked together for a great result.  Such amazing progress has been made because the people there truly want to improve themselves and work to make a difference.  Beyond the physical assistance they have received, they are most appreciative of the visits that we made with them.  We sat with them in their homes and shared the gospel.  We listened to their needs and took the time to pray with them.   Money can fix their house but only Jesus can heal their spirits.




As we were leaving Mario told me that if I come back just one more time, I can graduate from Linda Vista but for now it was just a double thank you. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Reclaiming Childhood

Our first stop this morning was back to the state orphanage.  Once again we spent time with the teen mothers.  This time was both my high and my low of the day.

Again, I was sitting in a room of girls, CHILDREN, who were living in an overcrowded orphanage and were faced with the adult task of raising children.  Not only are these girls facing the pressures and demands of caring for infants and toddlers, but they have all suffered trauma and loss.  No one comes to the state orphanage voluntarily.  They have all been abandoned or rejected in some way.  No one has stepped up to protect and care for them.  Many of the girls have been traumatized by rape, sexual abuse, and physical abuse.  All of them have lost their innocence and childhood. 

Twenty-one girls came through those doors this morning.  Some of them with children in tow, others in various stages of pregnancy.  I wish that my ears and translation had deceived me when I heard one of the last girls tell us her age.  She was only 10 years old.  Please read that again so it sinks in.  She is 10 years old!  This petite little girl is 7 months pregnant.  The atrocity that is her life is completely unfathomable to me.  She is barely old enough to be physically mature enough to become pregnant, no where near emotionally mature enough.  At 10, she isn't even able to make responsible decisions about her own daily care, let alone that of a helpless child.  I don't know her story because I can't handle the details.  My mind simply cannot comprehend the fact that she is pregnant, let alone the circumstances that led to the situation.  Then I think of my own daughter.  Just one year younger, I can't even comprehend how in another year she would be able to be in the same situation.  Those thoughts just don't enter the realm of possibilities for my daughter.  There is no reason to justify what was done to this little girl and to further the abuse, she is now alone at the orphanage, without her family.  But like I said, she was just 1 of 21 girls in that room this morning.

We knew the situations that we would face on our return visit and our mission was to bring hope and joy to those girls for the short amount of time we were there.  Using a Polaroid camera, I was able to take pictures of the girls with their children.  Each girl received a photo and a gift from our team.  Then we took the time to pamper them by painting their fingernails.  They had already spent extra time getting ready that morning because they knew we were coming to take their pictures so the nails just added to their beauty today.  One of the most amazing things that I saw was when the guys on our team joined in.  I'm hoping that their willingness to pamper those girls gives them a new perspective on how men should treat them.  Very few men have shown them compassion during their short lives and they deserve to be loved and respected.







For those short 45 minutes during our return visit, they seemed like children again.  They smiled, laughed, ran around to get pictures with their friends.  They seemed to be happy in a place where joy and hope are so hard to find.  I hope when they see those pictures that they remember today.

Monday, March 24, 2014

How is This Reality?

We spent several hours today at the state orphanage.  After four trips, you'd think that there wouldn't be much new to unnerve me, but that's not my reality. 

As we were walking from the Special Needs girls' exercise class to their dance class I was befriended.  She barely spoke any words but she wanted to hold my hand.  This isn't abnormal with the Special Needs children, they all want to give and receive attention and love.  Standing outside the auditorium, she looked at me and called me "Mama."  I was taken aback.

I've had plenty of children at Dorie's Promise call me "Mama" but never a child at the state orphanage.  It was uncomfortable and I still can't quite process my feelings.  The children at Dorie's have Special Mothers who care for all of their needs.  Some of these children, I truly want to bring home to our family.  I can see myself as their Mama.  But this girl broke my heart when she called me Mama. 

She isn't really a girl.  The one justice that does exist here is that if you are classified as Special Needs, you aren't forced to leave the orphanage at 18.  She is probably close to my age.  Yet, in her mind she is still a child.  In her mind, she needs a Mama.  What breaks my heart is that she needed a Mama a long time ago.  She needed someone to love her, care for her, and give her the opportunities to reach her potential.  If she was loved as a child, maybe she could have developed into a semi-independent adult. 

When I walked out today, who would step in to be her Mama next -- anyone?

After leaving the Special Needs classes we shared with the Teen Moms.  Looking into their eyes I saw hopelessness and pain.  They are girls who have been abused and cast out.  All of the lies that people have told them keep ringing in their minds.  Some are hardened.  Others hurt themselves just for relief from their demons.  For them, there doesn't seem to be a better way or place.  I will never be able to rationalize an 8-month pregnant 13 year old.  Maybe we left them pondering the truth that God loves them, just as they are, and is always there with them.

Who teaches these girls to become mothers in a place where survival is the goal?

And now I must recognize that I can't fix either of these situations but I have a God who is there with them and can help them right where they are.

Child's Play

(Written Sunday evening.)

Since I arrived yesterday, our time has been spent enjoying the children here at Dorie's Promise.  It is so good to reconnect with the people that I love so much. 

I was able to spend most of the afternoon and evening with Yire and Alejandra yesterday.  We enjoyed the beautiful sunshine to color outside, did bath time, and helped with supper.  To my surprise and great excitement, when I went in their room to help with bathes, I found that the bears we sent them are still on their beds.  I was completed prepared for them to be gone through rough housing or clean up.  But no, they are still there and Mama Lucy tells me that they sleep with them every night.  A part of us is here with them all the time.



 
This afternoon we took all of the older kids to the park for a game of soccer and to play.  It is now certified that I am old and out of shape.  My mind still has the speed and moves but my body doesn't agree when competing with teenagers and Guatemalans.  My efforts were rewarded with brush burn from the dirt and peddle field.  Luckily Pablo was right there to spray the antiseptic spray directly onto the cuts in ample quantity when I cleaned my leg up, with a smile on his face.

 
Nonetheless, it was a great day and I'm looking forward to tomorrow.



Sunday, March 23, 2014

Are You Brave Enough to Find Your Place in the World?

My Bucket List isn't like most.  So far -- 1. Visit Cambodia and 2. Visit South Sudan.  Two places with tragic, scarred histories that I want to experience.  I want to walk the path that the Khmer Rouge used to clear the cities during their takeover.  I want to see the people displaced in Sudan and care for them as they continue to struggle. 


Alas, these are places I just want to visit, they aren't my home.  I know where my homes are--with my family in the US and with my family in Guatemala.  (Having two homes just seems so fancy.)  Each of us can understand the need for and comfort of family.  It's the familiarity of the people who love you, the safety and comfort of your home, the support of community.  But what if I asked you to consider another home, away from those comforts?  Without extended family?  Without the comforts of the life that you have built?  Without the security of the known? 


Your second home can be anywhere -- one mile or 5,000 miles away.  There are barriers -- language, financial, cultural, loneliness, fear -- but it's the place where you are called to make a difference.  This is where you go when you choose to be obedient and trust in God's plan instead of our narrow field of vision. 


Yesterday confirmed for me that Guatemala truly is my home.  Out of the airport, Abel found me before I saw him.  My friend was waiting to welcome me.  (and thankfully help me with my 100 pounds of donations and gifts)  Walking into the mission house was like coming home, back to that familiarity of home.  The first trip in that door was different though.  When I came here in 2011 I only knew a couple words in Spanish, I didn't know anyone we would meet here, I didn't even know what Guatemala really looked like.  But, we came because we trusted.


That trust saved and changed me.  My life refocused on more than myself and my family.  I found where I belong.  In this place there are friends who share their life with me, not as an acquaintance but as family.  There is love and excitement.  Confirmation comes in the form of long, tight hugs from the Special Mothers and children.  Joy is found in two bears laying on tiny bunk beds that are treasured gifts for my kids.  Relationship is sharing about my family with them.  Everyone, even the kids, asks for Brandon when I come without him because he is their family too. 


When you find your home, you find love.  That love sets you free to be confident in the passion stirring in your soul.  In 2011 I was uncomfortable with the special needs kids and teen moms at the state orphanage.  This time, I'm planning a special activity with those moms to help them learn to value and love themselves.  Who saw that coming?


These, my friends are the rewards for being just brave enough to trust that nudging that won't go away.  Find the place where you are called and then go back, again and again.  Drive across town, Skype, email, send letters, board a plane.  Build relationships however you are able because that is what sustains long-term change. 


This second home is a better investment than a beach house.  Will you seek yours?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

7: Stress Month & the Stomach Flu

I already fessed up to the fact that this month was going to be hardest for me.  Prayer and daily bible reading just aren't hardwired into me.  If I'm not intentional I just breeze through my day without even realizing that I missed them.  The Outlook tasks are helping.  Both my phone and my computer remind me when I am supposed to pause during the day.  Even if I get behind, I realize that I'm late.




What I didn't see coming was a full-on attack from the stomach flu.  All of us went down--slowly.  First the oldest and youngest kids, then me, then my husband (who was on a business trip), and then the lone holdout.  For four straight days I was home caring for the kids and myself.  All of this--the week I was preparing to leave for this trip. 




As I laid on the couch myself for two days I was going crazy about the amount of tasks that I wasn't accomplishing at home or at work.  My mind was on overload about how I was never going to get everything done.  My daily praises were my grandmother coming to help me or food being dropped off for us, even the end of vomiting.  My work shifted from my office and computer to playing nurse.


All of the chaos taught me something though.  When I thought about my work, I realized that those days my job was to be a mom, not a worker.  I was to be home taking care of my family.  It also taught me that it's okay not to be in motion at all times.  It's also okay to spend some time not working.


Amazingly enough, everything got done before I left--work, clean house, meals prepped, laundry, bills paid--all of it.  I even got to sleep last night.  Normally I stay up all night before these trips working and then sleep on the plane.  But not this time.  It was peaceful (minus the rush to fold a few things so the kids could go to bed) and relaxed (minus having to get 12 pounds out of my bags).


Lesson learned--stuff gets done even when I'm not in crisis mode 24 hours a day.  God used the stomach flu and stress month to teach me a lesson about myself and what is really important.

Friday, March 7, 2014

7: This Praying Thing is Hard


Like I warned you, this is going to be the hardest month for me.  Just last night Becky asked me how my pauses were going—crappy!  I am late for approximately 3 of the 7 pauses each day and the Night Watch is not a guarantee.  I knew that the Night Watch would be hard so I gave myself the grace to pray whenever I was awake at night.  Who knew that 2 of the 6 nights so far this month I wouldn’t wake up until early morning.  That’s completely unheard of for me.

 

What I do know is that I need to focus more on taking the time to pause each day.  I’ve been able to keep up with a short daily devotional but stopping during the day to pray is just hard.  I’m wired to fit as much as possible into each day.  Slowing down and stopping don’t equate to productivity on my to-do list.  But, it certainly can’t hurt to stop and readjust during the day.  As of tonight, I’m adding Outlook reminders.  We’ll see if it helps when it really is on my to-do list…

Monday, March 3, 2014

Meager Portions and Crumbs

In the realm of culinary underestimating, John 6 is the star. 

As they sit on the mountainside with 5000 men and countless woman and children, Jesus and his disciples are faced with the task of feeding the crowd.  For a week in advance, I make menus, grocery lists, and schedules just to feed 16 people for Thanksgiving.  The total spread for 5000+ people—5 small barley loaves and 2 fish given by a boy. 

Imagine one child opening his lunchbox in the cafeteria and trying to feed his whole class.  It didn’t seem like much, but that child gave everything he had.  His gift was so small that it seemed embarrassing in contrast to the need.  His small portion couldn’t really make a difference, right?  I wonder how many times we don’t act because we feel like our contribution is too small and won’t make a difference.  We don’t have the money or the skill to solve the whole problem or meet the whole need.  So, we do nothing.  Have you ever wished that you could do more but you just couldn’t? Sometimes the smallest gestures mean the most.  There have been times when I really wanted to just fix a situation but I couldn’t, so instead, I just listened because that is what I could do at the time.
That boy’s contribution not only fed all of the people, it was more than enough.  Jesus took his meager portions and created a feast for all present.  That’s what he does with us as well.  He takes our small individual gifts and multiples them for the good of many more.  When we faithfully give our little bit, he uses it to do what we could have never dreamed. 

And what about the leftovers?  “When they had all had enough to eat, [Jesus] said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over.  Let nothing be wasted.” John 6:12.  He cared even about the crumbs that were left.  There is no part of us that he wants to be wasted either.  Those parts that we think are insignificant, those mistakes we made, the lessons we learned, are all crumbs that are part of our story.  These are the pieces that he can use to feed others, the parts of our life that can encourage someone else to understand the all-encompassing love and grace that overcomes all.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

7: Month 7: Stress?!

I thought that Food Month was awful, which it was, but this month may actually be the hardest for me.  Month 7 focuses on Stress, that all-consuming cloud that follows my daily movements.  It is one of the most permanent parts of my life, much by my own doing. 

So this month, I will be observing 7 pauses each day to pray.  Prayer, coupled with bible study, is one of the most difficult things for me to do.  I never learned to pray, beyond rote recitations.  Slowly I learned to just talk to God and not worry about the formality of prayer.  Whenever I feel worried or happy or burdened, I just talk.  To this day, I still don't like to pray in front of other people. 

The prayers this month are different though.  They follow and at times lead the rhythm of my day.  
  • Dawn:  The Awakening Hour--Praising and Celebration
  • Mid-morning:  The Blessing Hour--Mindfulness of the Spirit's presence and the sacredness of our work
  • Midday:  The Hour of Illumination--Illuminating your heart
  • Mid afternoon:  The Wisdom Hour--Surrender, Forgiveness, Wisdom and the Impermanence of Life
  • Early Evening:  The Twilight Hour--Gratitude and Serenity
  • Bedtime:  The Great Silence--Awareness of your day, Protection from darkness, stillness and rest
  • Midnight:  The Night Watch--Advocating for those who suffer and live in darkness: the suffering, abandoned, oppressed and lonely
Day 1 already showed just what the stress looks like around here.  I was getting supper ready while also trying to sign assignment books and a bursting graded work folder.  As I was repeating for at least the 3 time to put the folders away, I reminded everyone that was supposed to be praying.  (Great visual isn't it?)  I was late for The Twilight Hour.  You know, the one that helps to transition from work to home and family... So, I left the kitchen and sat down to pray for a couple minutes.  Nothing burned in the meantime and it helped me just to think about all the things that we have to be thankful for, including children who are able to attend school.

I'm hoping that this month helps me redefine the natural flow of my days.

Guatemala March 2014

I am finally organizing our activities for my next trip.  Several people have asked what I need so here is what I think I would like to take along.
  • infant formula, any brand, sample cans are great
  • Dr. Suess books in Spanish (I think Mama Yo is on the job for this) [Received]
  • teenage boys and girls clothes, especially boys
  • sneakers, all sizes
  • instant, polaroid-type camera with lots of extra film [Received]
  • soccer balls, deflated for easier packing with hand pumps
  • small Spanish bibles or tracts, for lesson on love to teenage moms
  • prize size bubbles or similar toys [Received]
  • travel size hygiene items--toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair brushes, combs, soap, etc
If you have a desire to send something else that is not on the list, Please let me know.

Thanks in advance for all of your love, support, and consideration.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Passion In Life

Until I was aware of the Holy Spirit, I never truly understood passion.  Sure I had strong feelings and opinions about varying subjects but I never felt an intense obsession (not in a creepy way) with something beyond myself. 

Even once I knew the Holy Spirit, I still couldn’t explain what it really feels like.  All of the Christianese descriptions are foreign and to some degree ridiculous sounding to most people.  But then I read John 4 and found the perfect description.  Jesus was traveling through Samaria and had the audacity to speak with a Samaritan woman he met while resting at a well.  As if it should be surprising, his own words gave us the perfect description of what it is like to be nourished spiritually.

John 4:14 “Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

That my friends is what the Holy Spirit and passion feel like.  Deep within you feel pressure building.  The more you listen, learn, see, and do, the more the feelings grow.  Eventually, even though fear may still try to restrain you, your passion cannot be contained.  It permeates your life—saturating your thoughts and refocusing how you see the world around you.  Everything changes because just like a river naturally continues to flow, your passion flows and reaches others.

That is why I’m not afraid to fly to Guatemala by myself.  That is why I’ll take my daughters to inner city Philadelphia to feed the homeless.  That is why we take Christmas cookies to our kids who live in government housing. 

My passion is for people who need to know that they are loved, even in difficult circumstances where others would be afraid to go.  The Holy Spirit shows me the path and gives me the boldness to do what I may otherwise miss by being focused on myself.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Not a Valentine's Kind of Love


Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a day to express your love.  But do roses, gifts, and fancy meals really define your love?  I have spent some time this morning making arrangements for my upcoming trip to Guatemala and it made me think about what my love really looks like.

After I put the kids to bed last night, I worked to make small gifts and treats.  I snuck a card and some of Brandon’s favorite candies into his briefcase.  I put little bags at each kids’ place setting with special treats picked just for them.  I cut Aubrey’s brownies into hearts and dipped peanut butter covered pretzels in chocolate and sprinkles as a surprise.  Small, inexpensive gifts to let family know that I was thinking of them. 

 
 

But my love became more real after Brandon finally finished plowing the neighbor’s driveway late last night.  The tractor had started to slide and almost went over the edge.  In that moment I realized that I could have lost him.  On that narrow, steep driveway in the dark, I almost lost my stability and life.  Our love is not that youthful, lustful infatuation.  It is a long-standing trust and commitment.  Our love is knowing that we are living in ways to honor each other.  Losing that would have crushed my soul.  Our love is not a Valentine’s kind of love.

 

God orchestrated a call with a friend in Texas this morning.  She was feeling confused and needed to be encouraged.  I had been bogged down searching for answers within foreign regulations.  She was able to give me a contact that can help answer my questions.  My heart belongs in Guatemala.  We have family in San Antonio Aguas Calientes that we love.  This little bit of information gave me hope that I can help make one of their dreams come true.  We have children in Guatemala City.  They are the reason I need to go back next month.  I miss my kids.  This love isn’t described on a Hallmark card.


 

My love is not cupid’s love.  My love is for my family to know that I am trying every day to honor God and show them his love.  My love goes beyond our home, our family, our friends.  My love crosses borders to children who have suffered great loss, to families who have great love and faith in the face of hardships, to those I have yet to meet.  My love should be on display every day, trying to mimic the greatest love of all.

1 John 4:11-12 “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
1 John 4:19 “We love because he first loved us.”

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I Can't Do It All & That's Ok

During "flu week" at our house I was able to catch Maria Shriver's "Doing It All" series for women on the Today Show.  I'm sure the premise of the series was well-meaning but I believe that the title itself perpetuates long-standing, unrealistic expectations for women. 

I can't speak for anyone else but I know that I CAN'T do it all.  As hard as I may try, I will never be able to do everything.  Believe me, I've tried and every time I end up with the same results--failure and disappointment.  My "Doing It All" looks different that everyone else's but it is unrealistic nonetheless.  I keep setting expectations for myself that are not humanly possible.  Even if they're physically possible, they don't help me maintain my emotional and physical health.

My craziness has snowballed over the years to where I sit now.  As the snowball got bigger, the to-do list got longer and I started to shed activities that I had once enjoyed.  If you look at just a piece at a time, it looks simple but put all the pieces together and it's chaos.   I mean who doesn't agree to buy another business, in another state, the day after you find out you're pregnant with your third child?  I knew that it would mean Brandon would be away for days at a time and my workload would increase dramatically.  Then just one week to the day after that baby was born, I was back to work, with him in tow.  Within 2 months, I was up to 50+ hours a week working.  My work hours have varied, topping 60 at one particularly difficult point, and I can't seem to make the changes that would keep them consistently lower than 40.  I'm supposed to work part-time?!  That hasn't happened in years.

All the while, I have struggled to maintain the other parts of our lives.  The house has to be cleaned consistently, completely.  The laundry needs done because we're not nudists.  Obviously, we need to eat, so I keep cooking.  The kids go here and there.  Homework gets done.  And somewhere in between we try to be involved in projects at church.  It has led to years of short nights and short tempers. 

I'm finally to the point where I can acknowledge that I can't do it all.  I might even stop trying to do it all. There was a time when I cleaned the whole house every Monday to start my week off right.  I'm figuring out that I really like my house to be cleaned but we aren't going to die if it goes longer than a week.  Those nights when I really don't feel like cooking, cereal works just as well and the kids think it's a treat. 

I can remember saying that 2011 was going to be better than 2010, but everything was the same.  The problem is that I wasn't ok with not doing it all.  Instead of looking for the elusive "better" in 2014 I've changed my way of thinking.  Now I'm looking for just one word--Healthy.  Healthy in all ways--more sleep, reduced work hours, less stress, and realistic expectations.  Creating time to do what I really want to do--exercise, learning more Spanish, not being grouchy with my kids, having more fun. 

I know that there will still be times of stress and disappointment but I need to take back my life for myself and my family.  We need a better balance.  Please pray that I can follow through. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

7: Becoming One of Those People

I'm starting to get used to the weird looks from people.  As we move through each month of this fasting experiment, there are little things that change in my life.  Slowly, my life is starting to look different.  We're becoming "those" people.

Our lives are becoming less about things, more about memories and people.  We've cleared out a lot of things from our home and life, leaving room to breath and appreciate what we have.  It's harder than you'd think to maintain space in your life.  Some people just don't understand that we are happier with less things.  Even with our trimmed down home, I still managed to fill a hamper with clothes just today from the kids' closets.  Luckily, I know some children who will love to receive them.

As we ventured into Waste Month, the changes kept coming.  I'm trying to make choices that lessen our impact.  I've joined the ranks of those people who bring their own reusable bags to the grocery store.  You'd be amazed how much they can actually hold.  The clerk didn't know what to think about my bag of loose vegetables last time.  I just didn't think that I needed all of those individual bags anymore.  Why get them just to throw them away?  We're keeping the cloth napkins too.  More than once this month I've picked things out of the trash to put them in the recycling bin.  It's second nature now to look for ways to use less.

I really hope that people see our differences.  I want our family to be a subtle example of awareness for the world outside of America.  I hope that we do a better job of caring about people instead of things and become better stewards of everything we've been given.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Best Vacation Ever!

A week ago I returned from the best vacation ever!  It wasn’t the longest, not the most expensive or exotic, but the best.  After years of failing, Brandon and I finally figured out how to get away and enjoy time to ourselves.  We, just the two of us, spent 4 days in Las Vegas.  It’s probably not many “church” people’s first choice for a restful vacation but it fits us well. 

What was so wonderful about the trip was that we were able to turn off all of our stress and responsibility for a couple days to have fun.  It’s not that we can’t have fun at home, it’s just different.  At home there is always pressure to work on this project, clean that part of the house, make a meal, be on a conference call…  It’s impossible to sit down and not feel guilty about what I should be working on instead of relaxing. 

In Vegas, we were able to do anything we wanted, whenever we wanted.  Watch Nitro Circus Live—sure!  (because if I had no responsibility and was younger I’d want to do FMX)  Go to a movie at 4:00 in the afternoon—why not?   Play cards for a couple hours—any time of the day.  Walk down the block for ice cream at 1:00 am—no reason not to.  It was like being in college again without the barely scraping by checkbook. 

Just like college, Brandon and I were together.  It was and is one of the things that is most attractive to me about my husband—I enjoy being with him.  It hasn’t really mattered what we were doing as long as we were together.  So this trip allowed us to do what we enjoy most. 

Valley of Fire State Park

 
 
It probably sounds selfish but I really just wanted time away.  Away from work.  Away from home.  I love my children dearly but I needed rest.  I needed a little bit of quiet time without being questioned every 3 minutes, with meals where I only cut my food, and where I could sleep whenever I wanted.  I guess that is selfish but it is also self-preservation.  If I continue to do without rest I’ll eventually transform into the overwhelmed, grouchy shell that is just surviving life.  A few days away helped me to feel revived and renewed—able to return and feel excited about normal life again.  Being away helps me remember all the things that I miss about normal life—hugs from the kids, playing board games, riding four wheelers in the mud and snow.

As we travel through parenthood, we need to remember that although our time raising our children may be limited, our marriage is long lasting and can’t take a backseat.  When we have successfully raised independent adults I don’t want to look at Brandon and wonder how we will go on.  I want to high five for a job well done and plan our next adventure. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

7: Month 6: Thou Shalt Not Spend

This month focuses on where we spend our money.  We are supposed to choose only 7 places.  Here are our 7 for this month:  Martin’s, Target, AC&T, Online Banker (because we will teach the children nothing if the mortgage and electricity aren’t paid), school, doctors, and River City for pet food. 

That’s right—no restaurants, no online retailers.  I really wish I had planned a little better.  I should have paid for school yearbooks and lunch accounts last week and sent in the registration for Isaiah for preschool as well but I didn’t.  I’m holding out that Target might have rabbit food but I’m a little doubtful.  Rabbit food at Target would mean that we free up a spot.

This may not sound hard to some people but it really takes away some of our ability to indulge ourselves.  No random lunches just because I didn’t want what I packed.  No really cute shirt from the Sevenly site that was on sale only last week but I didn’t see it until Saturday, February 1st.  No free with purchase of a sandwich pastry from Panera Bread.  No snow tubing or Frozen Sing-along.   

As Brandon said last night, this is all well and good until life happens.  On Saturday, February 1st, my washing machine pump decided to stop working so we’re already making a bill to someone not on the list.  One new pump ordered to be installed next week.  Although the bill is much smaller than the cost of a new washer, which seemed to be the repairman’s suggestion.  I do feel guilty though about how not having one appliance can disrupt my whole life.  As I was whining about hand wringing a load of towels, going to the laundromat, or waiting more than a week to wash clothes again, I thought about Dona Chica washing her clothes in a pila.  

Monday, January 27, 2014

Real Mom Life: When Your No Should Be Yes

You may be familiar with the verse in Matthew 5 that states "Let your 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no' be 'no'."  At the heart of me, all I really have is my word.  If my deeds don't coincide with my words, then those words fall empty. 

But even deeper, if my "yes" is "yes" and my "no" really is "no" I need to be justified in my response.  I find myself in the trap of overwhelmed and frustrated where everything that isn't necessary becomes No.  It's that place where your immediate gut response to anyone asking for anything is No. 

At work:  "Can you do me a favor?"  Response: a sarcastic "No" with a sprinkling of "I'll probably do it but I really hope that this isn't going to take much of my time because I already had ten projects on my list today."   

At home:  "Can I do/ have/ make/ invite...."  Response:  "No" to all the million questions that are thrown at me.   Sometimes I even throw in "because I said No" to add emphasis.

Lately I've been thinking about why I say No to my kids so much.  It is like an involuntary reaction to a lot of questions.  Without even really thinking about what they've just asked me, I answer with No.  Sometimes, the answer really should be No but then there are the times when Yes wouldn't have been bad either.  There are the times when it was No because I didn't want to stop what I was doing to play with them.  Sometimes No means that I don't want to do extra work.  Yet other times there isn't a really good reason at all, it was just No.

While trying to take back control of this whirlpool that has become my existence, I've committed to give real consideration to my kids' questions and try to avoid the No reaction.  That's not to say that the answer might not be No but at least I'll actually consider their questions.  A life lived in the world of No is miserable and too safe.  There need to be times of fun and risk.  So now before I answer I ask myself why I want to say No.  Is it because the request is against the rules, unsafe, or impossible at the moment?  If not, then I need to consider saying Yes.

Yes to taking a break from work to play farm set and legos once in a while.
Yes to going sledding before school when there's a 2-hour delay.  Soon enough the snow will be gone.
Yes to making hot cocoa.
Yes to that outfit that you love.
Yes to a sleepover because friends make memories.

Yes to enjoying life.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Real Mom Life: The Flu

For your Friday fun, here's a real life recap of the craziness of our life this past week.  Those glamorized tv versions of motherhood can't hold a candle to this.  For anyone who has wondered if these things only happened to them, you're finding company here.

Sunday:
  • Awoken around midnight by a sick little boy with a fever of 103.  Let the medicine game begin.
Tuesday:
  • Little boy still sick, fever still high, and working from home for the second day in a row.  Calling customers with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in the background.
  • 10:36:  The school nurse calls.  Daughter is in the office with a bad headache for the second time this morning.  Need to pick her up at school.
  • 10:39:  Realize that I am wearing the same pair of sweatpants for the third straight day and I haven't showered since Sunday.  My daughter is already feeling sick, I can't add complete parental embarrassment today.  Quickly wash and mostly dry hair and put on a better shirt with favorite sweatpants before heading in to school.
  • 8:25:  Proudly put all children to bed on time, with supper cleaned up, dishes finished, and floors and counters cleaned.  Only to realize that I forgot to give the little boy his bath.  Oh well.  He hasn't gone anywhere since Sunday morning.  How dirty can he really be?
Wednesday:
  • I vow to do better this morning and actually shower and get dressed, only to apply deodorant directly to the front of my black shirt.  There's no getting out of this--change clothes again.  So much for doing better.
Thursday:
  • Actually shower, get dressed well, put on makeup and go to work for a full day.  Both daughters go to school.  Success!
  • 11:00:  Finished watching Parenthood (not really happy about that ending either) and head to bed.  Hear the little boy coughing and go check on him only to find vomit on his sheets.  Poor kid.  He's a trooper.  Everything cleaned up and he's right back to sleep.
Friday:
  • I'm not kidding anyone today.  I'm back in sweatpants, working at home.
Through it all I have good "sick kids."  The biggest benefit, I get some cuddle time with my little boy because he's too cool for that most of the time now.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

When the Church Forgets to Love

When asked what the greatest commandment was Jesus answered,

“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22: 37-39
What keeps us, both as individuals and as the church, from really loving each other?  What does it really look like to love each other? 
More and more I have these thoughts swirling through my head.  I think about friends who are struggling in silence.   They feel like if they share their struggles they will be ostracized by the church, left worse than their current pain.  At least now they are welcome to worship, participate, and continue the impersonation of perfection.  The charade continues--Joyful in public, Broken in private.  Don't let people see the truth because you may lose your reputation and ministry if they see you struggle.  We praise ourselves for helping widows and orphans, but what about marriages that are broken, children who rebel, those with mental illnesses, or people who are just overwhelmed with life?  We certainly don't show their pictures on the screen and most of the time we are too ashamed to even ask for prayer.
Then I think about myself.  What have I done—good and bad?  When have I felt loved and when I have I felt forgotten?  There are plenty of times when I have helped someone in need, listened to their stories, and provided comfort.  Unfortunately there are many times when I turned away because it wasn't someone I was close to, I already felt overwhelmed, or I just chose to be oblivious.  Years ago I felt loved, complete, and accepted.  Things were going well and life seemed perfect.  Then the struggles hit.  As life wore me down, I felt more alone.  I tried to hide my struggles and the more I hid the more I felt removed. 
If the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors, shouldn’t the church be the greatest example of love?  We can’t possibly expect to impact the world around us effectively if we don’t feel whole and supported within the church.  We need to stop pretending!  We’re not perfect and we can’t expect other people to be perfect.  When it becomes acceptable to be a sinful human, we need to be willing to stand in the mess of life with people.  Let’s be real, we have all screwed up, some of us are just better at hiding it.  I’m not condoning living a deliberately sinful life.  I’m asking for people to be strong enough to love each other, no matter the issue.  I'm asking that we love each other enough to actually care about their lives and walk with them through life. 
Love doesn't look the same in each situation.  Love might be showing up to clean someone's house because you know they are overwhelmed.  It might be as simple as a phone call just to check in and listen.  Love might take extra effort--learn a different language, figure out a different way to communicate.  Love takes sacrifice, often we must give our most precious possession--our time.  We need to momentarily set aside ourselves for someone else.  Whatever the form, love is an expression of our oneness as a family of believers. 
Often the most difficult form of love requires discipline.  It's those times when we love someone enough to challenge them, to have difficult conversations about poor choices, and to tell them the hard truth.  Sometimes love is not giving them what they want.  "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiples kisses."  Proverbs 27: 6  As a church we must be willing to tell the truth.  When someone is on the path to destruction we must offer sound advice, coupled with consequences when necessary.  If accountability isn't present, are we the friend or the enemy?
"Love your neighbor as yourself."   We, the people of the church, must commit to loving each other better if we ever want to affect our world to the fullest.  The church must be a place of honesty and trust where support is sought and found.  We must be willing to truly share each other's burdens.  That doesn't mean just hearing them and offering them on the prayer request list during Sunday School.  We must be willing to feel the weight on ourselves.  To have their burdens so heavy on our heart that we can do nothing but pray on their behalf and offer our support.  We need to be just as concerned for others as we are for ourselves.
Through His strength we must act and during our weakness we must be open to receive--Love!
 

Friday, January 10, 2014

7: Month 5: Waste Not

Month 5 focuses on reducing waste.  I had a hard time deciding what to do this month because I think we are fairly conscious of this area already.  In the book, Jen Hatmaker chose gardening, composting, buying local, buying secondhand, driving only one car, recycling, and conserving energy and water.  I overseeded my garden with grass last summer so that's out.  We already compost--as in we take our table scraps out to the field. 

We chose to:
  • Use cloth napkins.  The girls seem to really like taking them with their lunches.  They feel "fancy."  Although we lost a cloth napkin the very first school day to a helpful lunch aide.
  • Recycle glass.  We already recycle paper, plastic, and metal but glass can't go to the prison enterprises that handle our company recycling.  So, we now have another trashcan to hold all of our glass.  I've even dug through the trash to retrieve a bottle already.
  • Using only cloth grocery bags.  On my first trip to the store I forgot to take my bags in with me.  Fortunately, the overflowing container of plastic bags to be recycled reminded me before I had a heaping cart.  On an awesome note:  On my first trip to the store with cloth bags I had the world's best bagger.  She opened up several bags at a time and bagged my groceries by type.  I felt like I had gone to heaven.
  • Reduce water usage.  We are officially on water restrictions.  We all enter the shower with timers--max 7 minutes for the kids and less than 12 minutes for me, shaving and all.
  • No extra trips for errands.  Since only using 1 car is almost impossible with us traveling to any of 3 locations on a given day, I've decided to limit my errands.  There will be no extra trips.  All my errands must be run on Monday, Wednesday, or Thursday nights when I'm already at church.  (Unless the destination isn't open during the evening)
  • Reduce our food waste.  We are doing everything we can to avoid wasting any food.  In honor of not wasting we found out that a little bit of sour cream + heavy cream + mayo = a suitable substitute in my recipe for Beef Stroganoff.
  • Reduce our electricity.  No more lights left on, cell phones overcharging, etc.
It may not seem like much but hopefully we are more aware of all the resources that we use after this month.