Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Day in the Life...Part 2

The rest of the team that was not working at the hospital compound rode in a van to a village close by to construct a home for a family of AIDS orphans.  I use the term "village" loosely.  What it really felt like was driving down a winding, rough country road, stopping in the middle of a field of corn, and walking through the corn until suddenly there was a cluster of homes--again, "home" is used loosely. The two orphans lost their father already, and their mother is dying of AIDS.  Their grandmother is what we would consider their primary caregiver, and this is where they were living:

As I took pictures of this shack, I realized that I am taller than this "home."  I could see on the top of the roof.  I caught a glimpse of the inside of it, and I don't see how three people could even begin to sleep inside of it because it was so small.  And this is what we saw time and time again, family after family.

We built for them a two-unit home, each unit being 10 feet by 10 feet with a tall ceiling.  We used no power tools at all--simply wood, a few hammers and saws, and nails.  Simple.  Not fancy.  But it worked, and the home was complete in less than four days.  Here's the finished product:


The black is not paint; it's creosote, which is a nasty tar-like substance, but it will keep the home bug-free and termite free for the family.  We were asked to put the date and the names of our churches on the front trim of the house.

No electricity.  No running water.  Cement floor.  No kitchen or bathroom facilities.  In the U.S., the structure would have been a nice-sized tool shed.  To these orphans and their grandmother, it was a mansion--truly "manna from Heaven," as one hospital official called it.

The thankfulness and appreciation of this grandmother when we dedicated her home and gave her the keys was almost indescribable.  In a culture where people are so desperately poor and where there is so much corruption, it is simply unheard of to receive ANYTHING for nothing in return, much less a new home.  She raised her hands in praise to God and sang and danced like you've never seen.  It was very inspiring and very moving. 

To be an instrument of hope to this small family was worth the trip itself.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I promise "Part 2" of the previous post is coming!  It's just that getting back to life, including starting a new year of homeschool and preparing to celebrate Benjamin's 8th birthday this week, is keeping me more than busy!!  But until I have more time to write "Part 2" and others, I have a few quick pictures to post.

Have you ever wondered what it must be like for a momma to come back home to her babies after 12 days?  Well, here's what it looks like:




Sweet, sweet reunion!

**For the record, I missed Mark as much as I missed the kids--I just don't have pictures!  :)

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Day in the Life of our Mission Trip

**NOTE:  If you want to see more detail on the pictures I've included here, just click on them.  They then show up a lot larger.  Just click your back button to return to the post.

The majority of our trip was spent in Maua, Kenya.  Our hotel rooms at the Maua Basin Hotel were small and very modest, but clean and very adequate. 

The mosquito nets took a little getting used to.  They never really bothered me in the night, but it was a bit of a pain to get the net situated all around your bed, making sure it either went all the way to the ground or was tucked under the mattress--only to then realize you still needed to turn off the lights!!  That's when I became very glad that I had a flashlight--I could turn off the lights, get situated, and read by the light of the flashlight, and then switch it off when I was ready to sleep (or attempt to sleep, as was usually the case!).

We began our day with breakfast at our hotel.  The staff at the hotel included about four super sweet ladies who bent over backwards to take care of anything and everything we might need.  By the end of the week, they knew who drank what and how we wanted our eggs cooked!  Our breakfast was very "American"--fruit, juice, eggs cooked to order, choice of meat, and toast.  There was also cereal, but the milk always made me nervous (justified or not, I don't know), so I always stuck with what was cooked.  The first day or two I ate some fruit and drank some juice (hibiscus juice, no less!), but after getting sick, I avoided those both in case they contributed to me being sick.  (I got sick the day after we arrived in Maua.  My sickness wasn't severe and lasted about 24 hours--it was not horrible, but bad enough to keep me from doing what I wanted to do.  Remember the nice ladies who bent over backward to serve us?  One of them brought a tray of food to my room the evening I was sick--room service is NOT the norm for them, but once she heard I was sick, she so wanted to accommodate me.  Enough of that bunny trail...)

After breakfast, we walked 10 or 15 minutes to Maua Methodist Hospital (MMH).  The road we walked on (which was a street to the locals) was very rough--lots of rocks.  The first few days, I really wanted to gawk and look around, but I also didn't want to end up flat on my face due to those rocks.  So I really had to pay attention to my walking!

The street was lined with store-front shops and kiosks where people sold their wares in an attempt to put food on their tables.  Later down the road was a market area where people would come, spread out their tarp, and lay out whatever produce (or chickens!) they had that day to sell.

The market area--Market days were Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, which means the amount of traffic--foot traffic and otherwise--was crazy on those days.
Once we arrived at the hotel, we went to the chapel to start our day with the hospital staff and administration.  Chapel was one of my favorite parts of the day.  Nationality and skin color melted away very quickly as we joined our voices together to sing familiar hymns and to pray to the God of us all.  The last day of chapel found me very teary to be leaving that behind.

After chapel we would break up into teams to work for the day.  We had a "hospital team" and an "house team."  Those who stayed at the hospital either painted or worked on the construction of some staff flats they are building there in the hospital compound.  The painting is not a glamorous job or one that preaches well or inspires much, but it was a vital job to those who worked at the hospital.  We all know how much good a simple coat of paint can do, and if work teams did not come in willing to do that work, then it probably wouldn't get done.  Some of the funding that the hospital receives is based on the quality of their facilities, so the painting is vital in those terms as well.

Much of our painting centered around the X-ray department.  MMH had recently received a new X-ray machine, and they decided if they had a nice, shiny new X-ray machine, then the department needed a new coat of paint to go along with it!  (In case you wonder as you look at these pictures, that "Bermuda blue" as they called it is the official color of the Methodist Church of Kenya.  So the whole hospital is painted cream and trimmed with Smurf Bermuda blue.)

This is me with the two local men in charge of the painting--Messiah and James.
I can't for the life of me get this picture to appear as it is supposed to!!  When I upload it, it is right side up--but then it suddenly appears sideways!!  Sorry for the crick in your neck!
A perk to working at the hospital compound was getting to break at 10am each morning for tea at the home of the missionaries!  I could SO do tea every day!!  The tea we were served is probably considered more of a chai than what we would think of as just hot tea.  To go with the tea was fruit (fruit that was safe to eat--including yummy fresh pineapple and these delicious little baby bananas that are so much sweeter than anything we have here in the US!), cookies, bread, and........drum roll, please.....fresh cut chunks of the most heavenly avocados you could ever hope for!!  Oh. My. Word.  I loved those avocados.  (Hmmmm...that could be the reason the scales showed about five pounds more when I returned home than when I left for Kenya!)  Once during the week, we were also treated to maandazi, which is what I would call a Kenyan doughnut.  (OK, there's another reason...)  It was all quite yummy (in case you haven't picked up on that yet)!


As for the "house team"...that will have to be Part 2 of this post!!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Home From Kenya

I have now been home from my mission trip to Kenya for 72 hours, and the "re-entry" process is much harder than I imagined!  I spent 12 days fully engrossed in all that was involved with the trip--long travel, painting, constructing, worshipping, loving, crying, rejoicing, bonding, and more--and no where in any of that was laundry, child-rearing, bill-paying, grocery shopping, house cleaning and more!  Throw in jet lag on both ends of the trip along with the stark contrast between life in the US and life in Africa, and whew!  No wonder I'm struggling!

There is so much to tell and so much to process that it is hard for me to even know where to begin in the sharing of this trip.  I haven't even gotten half way through all the stories and pictures with Mark and the kids yet!  But I have to begin somewhere, so here are a few generic thoughts to get us started:

  • As heart-wrenching as it was to say goodbye to my family for 12 days, it was that joyous and more to be reunited with them upon returning to Texas.  I could not get off of that plane fast enough!  (Thank you, God, that my seat was at the front of the plane and not the back!)
  • As heart-wrenching as it was to say goodbye to my family for 12 days, God was so merciful and sufficient in making the time apart more than just bearable.  It truly was okay--for all of us.  A miracle in itself.
  • I never realized how much I would miss a hot bath, paved roads, a drink from Sonic with ICE, Mexican food, and falling into bed without having to arrange a mosquito net around me!
  • I never knew how much of a blessing an upgrade to Business Class or First Class could really be!  For this 6' 1" gal with long legs, it's a huge blessing I was able to enjoy TWICE!!  Grace indeed.
These are things I can type without tears running down my face.  I'm not sure I can say that for the rest of what I have to share.  But that will have to wait another day or two--this day has had enough tears already.

I will share a few random pictures with you, though!

For this mom, it took all of half a second for the children of Kenya to steal my heart.

 

Ditto.


Once again.

In all things in life, the good and beautiful can be found even in the midst of heartache.  Kenya was no different.

Stay tuned for more!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

You Just Never Know...

…what God has up His sleeve!  In less than one week’s time, a “double dinner date” with a pastor friend and his wife has turned into an opportunity for me to go to Kenya on a mission trip!!  I have been praying about the possibility of going on some sort of a mission trip for several months now, and God has placed this in my lap, taken care of all the details, resolved a few conflicts, and made it all fall into place in such a short time!!

I will be going with a team from a church near where welive.  We will be gone for almost two weeks.  I have never left my family for that length of time, and I’ve told them that Jesus is the only one who could make me do so!  We will be working with Maua Methodist Hospital and doing some construction projects at the hospital, building a home for a family of AIDS orphans, and conducting a one-day VBS for children in the village.  I know it will be a tremendous opportunity to share the love of Jesus with those who have needs beyond my imagination.  My heart is already broken for the needs that we will see, and I know this is just the beginning.  (I’m prepared to just cry my way through the next 6 weeks!)

Please pray for us as we prepare for what is certain to be a grand adventure!!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Humility

"Mama, are you going to wear your purple pajamas tonight?" she asks me.

"Yes," I reply. "Why?"

"Because I'm going to wear my purple pajamas because I'm a mommy, too," she states, holding her baby doll...


"Mama, where do you keep your purse?" she asks me.

"It's on the counter by the phone," I say.

"Okay," she says as she walks off, butterfly purse in hand, to put hers beside mine...


I stand in front of the ironing board, starching, ironing.

She appears with a tub of baby doll clothes, a princess spray bottle, and her own makeshift iron, to do what I'm doing...

Tears fill my eyes as I am reminded of just how much she watches me.  Every day.  Every move.

Oh, God, I fall so short each and every day.  Through your mercy, may what she sees in me be pleasing to you.  Through your grace, may what she sees in me be a reflection of you.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Blankie, Some Kleenex and a Prayer

I don't think I would be too off track to say that most of us mothers often wonder if what we are trying to teach our kids is really sinking in.  Do they really listen to us?  Do they see what we try to teach them in the living of life each and every day?

Last night, God, in His abundant kindness and grace, chose to give me a little glimpse of what my sweet girl is learning.  After supper, I ended up on the couch with a migraine headache (something I haven't done in YEARS).  Immediately Hannah began "mothering" me in such a thoughtful, kind way.  She first brought me her favorite "blankie" and asked me if I needed anything. 

Next she brought over a box of Kleenex, "just in case you need one."  Pretty soon after that, she's back by my side with a hand-drawn picture of a rainbow that says, "Get better soon, Mom." 

After baths and bedtime snacks were taken care of, Hannah came to me before getting in her bed and said, "Mommy, I'm going to say a prayer with you" and proceeded to ask the God of the Universe to please help her mommy's head to quit hurting.

And here I thought I didn't need the box of Kleenex.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Lessons from the Garden

I spent some time in the flower beds yesterday.  I have little experience with gardening, but I would like to learn more.  We have some beds in our front yard that didn't seem to have had much care before we moved in almost two years ago.  So yesterday I set out to remove a dead bush, pull weeds, and dig out rocks left over from the lava-rock landscaping that had been done several years ago, in anticipation of planting new, brightly-colored flowers and nice, green groundcover. 

As I began the process of digging, pulling, chopping, and sifting, I realized the process was a good stress reliever, though somewhat difficult.  After the past few weeks, a pretty hefty dose of stress relieving was certainly in order, so I set about to get as much done as possible.  I could tell pretty quickly, though, that some soreness was sure to set in come morning.

I had plenty of time to do some reflecting as I worked in the flower beds, and the more work I did, the more I realized an important parallel that could be drawn between the gardening and many situations in our lives.  In order to have the good stuff in our lives--what is good, lovely, admirable--it often takes some cleaning out and sifting first.  The process can be difficult, painful, and not always fun.  But it's necessary in order to make room for what is better.  We can settle for mediocrity and ignore the weeds, rocks and dying plants that are around us.  Or we can strive for what God really wants for us--life that is beautiful and abundant--knowing that while the process may be difficult, hard work and sometimes even painful, in the end, it will be very much worth it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Hole in Our Gospel: Final Thoughts

Life happens sometimes, doesn't it?  That is certainly what happened for me these past few weeks.  I was not able to focus as much on our study for the final two weeks as I did for the first four weeks simply because "life" took precedence.  But we did finish up our 6-week study last Sunday, and I've spent a lot of time this week thinking about what all I learned and what I can do to make sure I don't just put the book back on the shelf and go back to living life as I did before.  Mark and I have talked about efforts we want to make to do our part in meeting the needs that are around us, and here are a few areas we want to focus on:
  • As I've mentioned in previous posts, we sponsor a child through World Vision.  I would like for us to sponsor more children in the years to come.  Wouldn't it be great to be able to add a new child each year?
  • Mark and I are praying about mission trip opportunities.  Neither of us has ever gone on a mission trip outside of the U.S.  With the season of life we are currently in, it doesn't seem like we would be able to take a trip together, but hopefully that can be a prayer for later down the road.  For now, we will be looking out and praying for trips we each can take that can utilize our gifts and passions to make a difference in our world.
  • We also want to be on the lookout for something locally that we as a family can do.  We know there are needs right here in our community that we either aren't aware of or simply haven't opened our eyes to.  We don't know what this will look like, but we want to prayerfully be aware of the needs around us and see how God might be calling our family to meet those needs.
I know as time goes by, God will show us other ways He is calling us to make a difference for His Kingdom.  The bottom line is, my life has been forever changed by all I have learned from "The Hole in Our Gospel" and the blind spots that have been removed as a result of this study.  My prayer is that God will not allow us to go back to "life as usual" but will show us what He desires for us in order that we might be His light in the darkness that exists in this world.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Hole in Our Gospel: Day 31

I am SO excited to share with you what God has done!!  I told you about going through my jewelry and putting three auctions on eBay to raise money to send to World Vision for my sponsored child's birthday.  After reading the initial information from World Vision about the birthday parties they give each year in the communities where they have sponsorships, my goal for the auctions was to get $130.  Honestly, I thought that seemed to be quite an aggressive goal, but I was willing to go out on a limb and trust God to do His thing!

Oh, ye of little faith!!!  When my three auctions closed yesterday, the sales totaled just over $215!!!  Can I even tell you how excited I was??  Is that God doing "exceedingly abundant" works or WHAT??!!  I received payments today and plan to send it on to World Vision tomorrow.  Praise God!!!

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Hole in Our Gospel: Day 26

I have to admit from the start of this post that I am getting a little weary.  We are in Day 26 of this quest through "The Hole in Our Gospel," and I am in week 9 of Beth Moore's "Believing God" Bible study that I am leading on Sunday afternoons.  These could either one be time consuming on their own, so when you add them together...whew!  I've really had to stay on my toes to keep up with them both, but oh, how it has been worth it!!  God has wowed me throughout them both, often intertwining scriptures used and lessons taught so that I get it from both directions!  Only God could take two studies that are so different from each other and orchestrate them to be in my hands at the same time, teaching me similar lessons from two very different angles.  I love it when He does that!  It really makes me perk up my listening ears, too, to get the same message from so many different places!  Yes, God, I AM listening!!

So...I press on, believing that God, in His all-knowing ways, has a plan.  And I don't want to miss it!!

I have to update you on my eBay auctions that are raising money for me to send to Honduras for a birthday party for my World Vision little girl.  The auctions are exactly at the halfway point.  There are three and a half days left in the three auctions, and the bids are currently at exactly half of what my goal is to raise!!  I've done some little happy dances these past few days as I've watched the bids go higher and higher!  I can't wait to see the final bids Monday afternoon!!

Today's focus in our six-week quest is on light--being light in a dark world.  We were challenged to come up with an acronym for LIGHT that describes how God wants us to use our hands, feet, heart and head on behalf of the poor.  Here is what I came up with:
L:  Love them by faith--"The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."  Galatians 5.6 (want to know why that verse was on my mind?  Because it was the key verse for today's lesson in my Beth Moore study!  :o)
I:  Include them in my life.
G:  Give sacrificially to their needs.
H:  Help them with my actions, not just with my money.
T:  Teach them about the love of God.
I have never gone on any kind of mission trip, but that is what was on my mind as I was thinking about this acronym.  I have been thinking and praying about the right opportunity that God might have in store for me.  You can be sure I'll share all about it when that time comes around!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Hole in Our Gospel: Day 24

The quest continues!  The challenge for yesterday was to select one or more items you can easily live without and sell it (or them) on eBay.  Then the money you earn can be sent to a favorite charity.  After a little thought, I ended up at my jewelry box.  If you know me, I have lots of jewelry and LOVE it all!  But after a little pondering, I realized there were many pieces that I have not worn in a really long time--years for some of it.  I went through everything and found about 20 pieces of jewelry that I could stand to part with.  I posted it on eBay, and we'll see what happens from here!

Not coincidentally, in yesterday's mail, I got an envelope from World Vision.  Inside of it was a birthday card for me to sign and return to them so that they could send it to the little girl I sponsor in Honduras (who happens to share my birthday!  :o)  Also included with the card was a note explaining that I could send a designated amount of money along with the card, and they would use that money, combined with contributions from other sponsors, to throw a birthday party for my little girl and the children in her community.  Many children in poverty have never celebrated their birthday.  Can you imagine if you were never able to celebrate the birthday of one of your children??  I can't.  But I can try to imagine how much joy it would bring for my little girl and those in her community to get to experience a real birthday party, complete with goodies and gifts.

So guess where my eBay money is going to go??  I'm praying for big sales!!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Hole in Our Gospel: Day 21

I am playing "catch up" now after being out of town for several days, and I've been reflecting some on what all we've covered and experienced thus far in the first 21 days of our study on "The Hole in Our Gospel."  (I can't believe we are half way through our 42-day study!)  One of the quotes that arrested me--for lack of a better term--from the very beginning of the book is "Are you willing to be open to God's will for your life?"  I immediately wrote that on a notecard and posted it on my bathroom mirror where I see it multiple times each day.  (Some day I'll have to take a picture of my bathroom mirror for you--it's where all the important prayer requests, Bible verses, quotes, etc get posted so that I will see them each day, and it's become quite full!)

"Are you willing to be open to God's will for your life?"  That's a scary question.  At times, it's a no-brainer to me.  Of course I am open to God's will for my life.  I want what He wants for my life.  Why would I want anything else?  At other times, however, that's a question I tend to want to run away from.  But what if His will for me takes me away from the places that I am used to?  What if His will for me is uncomfortable? (chances are, it will be)  What if His will for me is not what I want?  What happens then?

As a preacher's wife, this question brings even more questions to my mind.  When is He going to call us to move on to a new church?  What if it's sooner than what we want?  What if it's not as soon as we want?  What if I'm not ready to start packing boxes again or preparing my kids for that transition?  What if I was ready two years ago to move on?

But at the end of the day, my answer is absolutely, unequivocally Yes, I am open to God's will for my life. Here's what Renee Stearns had to say about this when her husband, who authored "The Hole in Our Gospel", was being called to be the President of World Vision:
"If we turn our backs on God's will for our lives, what makes us think we'll be better off?  Maybe God is saving us from something we can't know--one of our kids getting into trouble, losing your job, a terrible accident, or worse."  --"The Hole in Our Gospel," pg. 89
So maybe we feel like God's will might take us somewhere uncomfortable, even unsafe...what makes us think we will be more comfortable or more safe turning our backs on God's will??

While he was in the belly of the whale, Jonah said in Jonah 2.8:  "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs."  I don't know about you, but comfortable or not, I certainly don't want to miss out on one ounce of grace that God wants to bestow upon my life.

So, YES, God, I am willing to be open to your will for my life.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Hole in Our Gospel: Day 17

I am out of town for a few days, but I wanted to share a quote from today's reading in "The Hole in Our Gospel."  In my mind, it's food for thought and should make us all think about what we should be doing.
The Bible is clear from the Old Testament through the New that God's people always had a responsibility to see that everyone in their society was cared for at a basic-needs level...It is not our fault that people are poor, but it IS our responsibility to do something about it.  God says that we are guilty if we allow people to remain deprived when we have the means to help them.  --Richard Stearns, pg. 123

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Hole in Our Gospel: Day 14

When we started this six-week quest, I wanted to include my children in it as much as possible.  So we talk with them about the topic that is being addressed for a particular day, and when videos are provided for a certain day and are appropriate, we show them those as well.  There are times that we never know whether a lesson we have attempted to teach them has actually stuck or not.  But some of what we are talking about in regards to this six-week quest is, in fact, sticking.

Many, many times since we began talking with Benjamin and Hannah about the fact that many people in the world do not have access to fresh water, they include in their prayers, "Please, God, help those in Africa who don't have clean water."  (Don't you just know God must smile to hear words like that come out of the mouths of His babes??) 

Just last Sunday, as we were getting ready for church, Benjamin came into the bathroom where I was putting on my makeup and asked me why he couldn't take two dollars to church for the offering instead of just one.  If you know me very well at all, you know I am a huge Dave Ramsey fan.  We do his "Financial Peace, Jr." system with the kids, which is basically just a way of teaching them the life lessons of working to earn your money and then taking care of your money wisely.  The way we have our kids set up right now is if they do their designated chores each week (there are five of them that they can earn money for), then they earn five dollars for the week.  Of that five dollars, one dollar must go to their "giving" envelope, and then they typically choose to put one dollar in their "spend" envelope (for gum, piece of candy, etc.) and the other three in their "save" envelope for whatever they are saving up to buy.  So I explained to Benjamin that if he wanted to give two dollars to the church each week, then he would need to choose how to divide up the rest of his money, and that two dollars going to the church would mean one less dollar for him to either spend that week or save.  He barely even missed a beat and said, "Well, Mom, it's more important for me to give to the church than it is to spend money on myself.  So I want two dollars each week to go to the church, and the other three can go into my "save" envelope.  The church needs my money more than I do."  I just melted into a puddle right there.  I'm so grateful that my kids are "getting" it.  God is good.

Shifting gears a bit, I wanted to share this quote with you that I came across this morning as I was preparing my lesson for Sunday School tomorrow:
"The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it."  --Flannery O'Connor

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Hole in Our Gospel: Day 13

After being challenged to read the first two chapters of "Same Kind of Different as Me" yesterday, I finally put the book down a little after midnight.  I was about half finished at the time.  I picked it back up today, along with a box of Kleenex, and finished it just over 24 hours after I began.  Once again, God has removed a blind spot in my life and showed me yet another way He expects me to love on His people.

If you have not read this book, it's another one I would highly encourage you to read.  I don't want to say too much about the book because I would hate to spoil any of it for you.  Just know that you will turn the last page with a different mindset than you had when you opened the first page. 

I had someone say to me that she expects a movie to be made out of this book--I think I agree.  I would be the first in line to see it. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Hole in Our Gospel: Day 12

Our challenge today was to read the first two chapters of the book entitled "Same Kind of Different as Me."  This is a book that someone gave to Mark a few years ago, and I tried to read it then--and didn't get very far.  Honestly, I have no idea how hard I tried to get interested in it.  I just remember picking it up off Mark's desk, skimming a few pages, and then putting it down.  Since I am trying to immerse myself in this study in order to learn as much as possible, I was determined to give it another try today.

Mark brought the book home from his office at lunch, so as soon as the lunch dishes were taken care of, I promptly sat down with a cup of hot tea to try again to get interested in this book.  The first thing I learned right off the bat was that this is a true story--I had no idea of that before today.  I began reading, and before I even realized it, I was on Chapter 4--and our challenge was to read chapters one and two!  I guess you can say I'm hooked.

I'm glad to have been encouraged to read this book because it opens up another area of discussion that we don't always like to consider as being "discussion-worthy"--the homeless.  I don't yet know enough about the book to tell you that I've learned much, but I do know that God loves homeless people just as much as He loves me.  I also know He expects me to reach out to them when He prompts me to do so.

I looked at the website for "Same Kind of Different as Me" and came across a FAQ section.  One of the questions and its answer really stood out to me and answers a question that many of us struggle with.  This is what it said:
Question:  "What do I do when a homeless person asks me for money?"
Answer:  "If God puts it on your heart to respond, then give them money, and don't judge them for what they do with it...that's God's job and you will receive the blessing."  (from www.samekindofdifferentasme.com)
Just as with everything we encounter, I believe our job is to be obedient to God's calling on our life.  The results and whatever follows is God's business, not ours.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Hole in Our Gospel: Day 10

A few quotes from today's reading that might give you some food for thought, as they did me:
"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."  --C.S. Lewis
"Christ is an all-or-nothing proposition, and one way or another, every one of us has already made a choice about Him.  We have either committed our lives to Him whole-heartedly, or we have not...If Christ is Lord, then nothing He asked us to do is optional.  His teachings become the operating system of our lives.  So central was this truth that every action, every decision, every aspect of my life would now have to be defined by Him."  --Richard Stearns, "The Hole in Our Gospel" pg. 83

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Hole in Our Gospel: Day 9

I don't know about you, but I have lived my comfortable life as a middle-class American with many blind spots, especially in regard to my faith and what God expects of me outside of my comfortable little life.  Over the past several months, however, God has been removing these blind spots and showing me both the needs that exist in this world and the responsibility I have in doing something if I want to truly be a follower of Christ.  Many of these blind spots have been removed as a result of reading "The Hole in Our Gospel."

Here are some statistics that we were made aware of today, compliments of World Vision.  Do they bring you to tears like they do me?
  • Out of 1,000 babies born in the United States, 6 will die before their fifth birthday.
  • In Haiti, 80 will die before their fifth birthday.
  • In Myanmar, 104 will die before their fifth birthday.
  • In Afghanistan, 257 will die before their fifth birthday.
  • In Sierra Leone, 270 children will die before their fifth birthday.
If I had been born in Sierra Leone instead of the United States, the chances of me having buried both of my children by now would be pretty substantial.  Benjamin is seven.  Hannah is almost six.  The thought of not having them both with me right now is more than I can stand.

So what does God expect of us?  Something.  Not nothing.  It will look different for all of us, but He expects us to do SOMETHING.

For this precious friend, her family's "something" is adoption.  They are waiting for an orphan from Ethiopia to join their family.

For these sweet friends, their "something" is moving to the mission field in the Philippines so she can be trained in midwifery.

For some, it may be sponsoring a child through an organization like World Vision.  For someone else, it will be another avenue of being the hands and feet of Christ to a hurting world.  Your "something" will look different from my "something."  But we all must figure it out.  The sooner the better.

"This is how we know we are in him:  Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did."   --1 John 2.5-6
**For more statistics like the ones above, go to www.holeinourgospel.com.  Click on "Poverty Statistics" under the "Resources" tab.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Hole in Our Gospel: Day 7

As I have been preparing the lesson for Sunday School tomorrow (also over "The Hole in Our Gospel"), I have also reflected on this first week of our six week quest.  There is a passage of scripture that God has managed to put before my face several times over the past few weeks (always a sure sign that I better sit up and pay close attention!), and it is from Isaiah 58.  The people in this passage had been trying to do what they thought they were supposed to do in order to get right with God.  God, however (as He always does), saw through these people's actions and into their hearts and knew their motives were shallow and insincere.  After telling God all they had been doing for Him, including fasting, here is God's response:
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:  to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?  (vv. 6-7)
Pretty straightforward stuff.  Now hear God's promises that follow that directive:
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.  Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say:  Here am I.  If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.  The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.  (vv 8-11)
As Richard Stearns says, "This is a vision of God's people transforming God's world in God's way."

Whose way have I been following:  mine or God's?

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Hole in Our Gospel: Day 6

Our challenge for today was to skip eating out this week and buy one or more chickens for families in need.  One chicken can provide a family with fresh, nutritious eggs every day, plus extra eggs to sell to others.

We did an altered version of this challenge.  We were going to be spending today two hours away attending a funeral, making a hospital visit, going to a doctor's appointment, and running a few errands.  By the time we did all of this, we ate both lunch and dinner, as well as a snack, away from home.  So Mark suggested that we take the amount that we spent today on food and spend that much on this challenge. 

We are not extravagant in our eating out, but we still spent more in one day than many families in this world spend on food in one month.  So after perusing the World Vision gift catalog, we chose to purchase a goat for a family in need.  According to World Vision, "Goats nourish hungry children and families with healthy milk, cheese, and yogurt. Goats also give a much-needed income boost by providing offspring and extra dairy products for sale at the market.  A healthy dairy goat can give up to 16 cups of milk a day. Goat milk is easier to digest than cow’s milk and is an excellent source of calcium, protein, and other essential nutrients that growing children need. Goats are practical animals — flourishing in harsh climates while producing valuable manure to fertilize crops and vegetable gardens."

From World Vision website
Isn't this boy precious??
"If you can't feed 100 people, then just feed one." --Mother Teresa

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Hole in Our Gospel: Day 5

Focus of the day:  hunger

Personal action suggestion:  Think about a day in your life when you were really, really hungry.

I've thought about this for a few days now (I am so excited about this study that I cannot help but look ahead, so I always know what's coming and have been thinking about it before it gets here!).  I honestly cannot think of many instances where I was really, really hungry.  I remember feeling absolutely famished after delivering both of the kids, but I had probably been without food for, at most, 12 or so hours.  I had a similar feeling after my surgery a few months ago, but again, I had only been without food for 18 hours or so.  I did a three-day fast once, but still drank liquids, so even that does not qualify as extreme hunger.  For whatever reason, I am blessed to have never been in a position that I was truly starving.

According to World Vision, "Every three seconds a child dies because he or she was hungry."

That is almost more than this mommy's heart can take.

We, as wealthy Christians in America, can no longer ignore issues such as these.

"If you can't feed 100 people, then just feed one."  --Mother Teresa

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

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Hole in Our Gospel: Day 4

From the Hole in Our Gospel "Personal Action Journal":
Is there enough money--among the richest people in the world--to eliminate poverty?  Are you rich?  Could you help?
There are websites you can go to that let you enter your annual income and will then tell you where you stand among the world's richest people.

Eye opening.

Our family is a one-income family.  That one income comes from a United Methodist pastor.  We live in a small town in the Panhandle of Texas.

We are among the top 1% of the world's richest people. 

The top 1%.

There is such a disparity between the rich of this world and the poor of this world that it is almost unimaginable.  And we are far from rich.  We are extremely blessed and very well provided for, but we are not rich.

Unless you talk to the family in India that sleeps seven family members in their one-room mud shack that is smaller than my bathroom and attempts to live on less than $2 a day. 

Then yes, we are rich.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Hole in Our Gospel: Day 3

Today our focus is on our possessions and that much of the world's poor can fit all of their belongings into a small suitcase.  Our challenge is to select just FIVE of our possessions and pack them into a small suitcase.

This has taken a lot of thought for me to decide on five items.  I've thought a lot about how many of our possessions are wants, not needs.  There are many, many things in our home that I could certainly live without.  I've thought of the boxes that are stored in the garage, full of things I think I need or might need someday.  There are many, many things I could stand to get rid of.  Simplification is something I've thought about a lot the past several months.  Today's challenge has made me consider it to an even greater degree.  Much of the time, our excess stuff simply weighs us down and actually causes us stress.

After pondering my five items throughout the day, here is what I came up with:

The Bible and the toothbrush were easy and are pretty self-explanatory.  They were followed pretty quickly by the blanket.  Curling up with a blanket is a very comforting thing to me.  It would serve as warmth when necessary and could also serve several other purposes if need be.  It could be a curtain, clothing wrap if need be, or tablecloth. 

The final two items took a lot more thought.  I finally decided on the laptop after Mark suggested it.  With the beauty of today's technology, I could keep in touch with family and friends and do so many other things by having a laptop.  I thought all day and couldn't zero in on the fifth item, so I finally decided I would choose a change of shirt.  (I could have overanalyzed this whole exercise, which would never have resulted in any decisions, but I just had to take it at face value and decide.)

Can you imagine living life with only those five items?  Life would certainly be simpler.  Not easy, but simpler.

What would you pack?

**Nearly 3 billion people (half of the world's population) live on less than $2 a day. (World Book, 2004)

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Hole in Our Gospel: Day 2

Focus of the day: water

Personal action suggestion:  invest 12 hours in experiencing a day without water
  • I started my day with one cup of hot tea and breakfast, then took my vitamins with a glass of water.  Since then, I've been without water for the past 12 hours.  I expected this to be very difficult, as I drink a lot of water and tea throughout the day.  Some of the time I was busy and hardly took notice of my fast.  At other times, it was on my mind almost constantly.  It is nearing the 12-hour mark, and I absolutely cannot wait to get a glass of water to drink.  (It doesn't help that I exacerbated the issue by having some salty chips at dinner--wow, am I thirsty now!)  As Mark mentioned to me, an exercise such as this certainly brings the issue of clean water availability to the forefront of our minds, but never could we truly know the suffering and deadly effects of a lack of clean water without living it daily.
Statistics from today's lesson:
  • one in every six people worldwide do NOT have access to clean water
  • in the Central African Republic, the life expectancy is 39 years
  • 85% of its population is without clean drinking water
  • unsafe water and sanitation causes 80% of all sickness and disease and kills more people than war
  • women and children walk for hours to find water, missing school and work (the water they find is hardly what we would consider drinkable)
  • clean water is available underground--they simply need the resources and training to build and maintain water wells
  • 1 well = water for 400 people lasting 20 years
  • no other humanitarian intervention has more impact than access to clean water
Our workbook includes this startling fact:
A child dies every 21 seconds from a water-related disease.  This amounts to nearly 6,000 deaths, or the equivalent of 20 jumbo jets crashing every day.
And we've been content to turn our backs on situations such as these??  I have been.

Until now. 

http://www.charitywater.org/
http://www.worldvision.org/

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Hole in Our Gospel

Today, our church is embarking on a six-week quest to study "The Hole in Our Gospel" by Richard Stearns, the President of World Vision.  I am so excited about this study and have been praying for weeks for all that God is planning for our church.  It is my prayer that we will all be open to what God wants us to hear during the next six weeks AND that we will be willing to change as a result.

I first read this book after receiving it back in the Fall at a Women of Faith Conference.  I signed up at the conference to sponsor a child through World Vision and was given a copy of this book.  I brought it home, immediately began reading it, and soon my life was changed.  I am so looking forward to reading it again while going through the small group study with my Sunday School class and working my way through the Personal Action Journal that accompanies this church study.

I have decided to share some of my experiences on this journey here on my blog.  Some posts may be on a sentence or two from the book that really spoke to my heart that day.  Or I may share with you about the "Action" suggestion that was given for that particular day (I know for a fact that I will be stretched through those Action suggestions--I've look ahead and read some of them!).  No matter what I feel led to share here about how God is working in my life, I hope and pray that God will use it for His glory, however He sees fit.

I'm putting on my seat belt because I have a feeling I'm in for a wild ride!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Beauty and the Beast" and Homeschool

One of my favorite parts of homeschool is that I can incorporate the happenings of our life into our schoolwork.  For instance, tonight, we are going to see the Broadway production of "Beauty and the Beast" (can I even tell you how excited I am about this?!?!).  So part of our schedule for school today looks something like this:
  • Read aloud "Beauty and the Beast"
  • Watch clips online of what we can expect of the production
  • Research online and learn about theater etiquette
  • Hannah's handwriting practice: write "Beauty and the Beast", "Belle" and "Gaston" while reviewing the use of capital letters in names and titles
  • Benjamin's writing assignment:  write a paragraph about theater etiquette
  • Beauty and the Beast activity sheets and coloring pages (isn't the Internet a wonderful tool?)
I thank God everyday for calling our family to homeschool, and days like today, where we incorporate "life" into our schoolwork make me all the more thankful.  It's so much fun!!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In Control...Or Not

I guess if we let it, life can be an on-going lesson about something, can't it?  I had an interesting learning experience following my appendectomy (see previous post) that was rather revealing to me--about myself.

First of all, the somewhat-emergency appendectomy was the first surgery I've ever had--except for the tonsillectomy I had at age 3, and needless to say, I don't remember much about that experience.  (Though I do have a few very vivd memories that would make a good post for another day...)  Throw in a couple of dental procedures that involved that nasty gas, and that is the sum total of my experience with anesthesia.

After I came home from the hospital and slowly turned back into a person again, I began to realize there were many holes in my memory from the experience that began in the emergency room and ended in the operating room and later, a hospital room.  For beginners, I didn't know what took place in my home not long after the adventure all began.  When I began getting sick that Friday evening, we didn't know how serious an issue we were dealing with, so I started out by going to our after-hours clinic at the hospital.  Mark didn't want me driving myself, so he and the kids dropped me off, and he returned home with the kids--to either await my call to return and pick me up, or make arrangements for someone to stay with the kids so he could join me at the clinic.  One exam led to another, and one test led to another, and following a few text messages and phone conversations, I was moved from the clinic to the ER and then Mark was by my side.  After that, things got a bit crazy as we were told I needed my appendix removed, and we needed to decide what hospital we would go to (our small town hospital doesn't do appendectomies and such), and here, we'll give you some medicine that will make your transport more comfortable, and...what about my kids?  Who will take care of my kids?  (insert dreamy music as my head begins floating through La La Land as the drugs take effect)

As I began replaying all of this in my head while recovering, more holes became apparent.  Did I say goodbye to Mark and my parents as they wheeled me into surgery?  For that matter, when did they even put me to sleep?  I didn't even remember the trip down hall, much less going into surgery.  What did Mark do/think while I was in surgery?  What about after the surgery--when did Mark first get to see me?  Was I in recovery or back in my room?  It began to really bother me when I couldn't remember what had happened or realized that things happened as I was under the influence of anesthesia and other drugs that I was not aware of.  I felt a need to get answers and fill in these holes before I could be at peace with the whole experience.  I needed to get all the pieces to this puzzle in front of me so I could get it all put together and be able to take in the whole experience.

That was such an odd thing for me--to have so many things that were involved with that weekend that I did not remember or know what had gone on.  And that doesn't even take into account the time I was away from my kids and they were in the care of hands besides mine.  What were they thinking during all of this?  Were they ever scared?  (There isn't much that hurts my heart more than to think or know that one of my kids is scared.)  What did they eat?  Who did they play with?

For several days that following week, I was constantly asking Mark and the kids questions so I could get this all figured out.  I finally realized...this is the controlling part of me!  I don't like to admit that!!  But I really like it when I know what is going on now and what is going to go on in the future and how it is going to go on and...I just like to have a sense of control.

I've grown a lot in this area over the past few years, and I really do believe I have a healthy desire for control and order combined with an intense trust in the One who is really in control of it all.  I wasn't frantic about figuring everything out...but I certainly wanted to learn what I didn't remember or know about all that had taken place.

When it was all said and done, I came to terms with the fact that I may not have been prepared for all that went on, and I was in control of very little of what went on.  But NONE of it was out of the control of the One who has EVERYTHING under control, all of the time.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Finding the Good

For someone whose natural inclinations are to be in control, care for her family, and care for her home, the last week has been completely out of my comfort zone.
After being sick for a few hours last Thursday evening, the sickness came back along with a great amount of abdominal pain late Friday evening. I spent several hours in the emergency room having blood work and tests done, which resulted in being told I need to have my appendix removed. I had the surgery Saturday morning and was back at home by noon on Sunday.

Before being discharged Sunday morning, the surgeon came in one last time with instructions and final thoughts on my surgery. His words “you should be back to 100% in 10 days to two weeks” were not what I expected to hear. Now, the only surgery I’ve ever had in my life was a tonsillectomy when I was three years old. I don’t remember much about that recovery except for ice cream and popscicles! I have heard enough stories from others to know, though, that I will need to follow the surgeon’s instructions or else I will be sorry.

As I’ve spent much of my days recovering in the recliner, I have had plenty of time to reflect on the events of the past week and to realize that even in the midst of unexpected adversity, I am truly extremely blessed:

• I have an incredible husband who has done an amazing job of being Dad, Mom, nursemaid and more. He has served me with such a willing servant’s heart, and I am so thankful for all he has done for me.

• I have two sweet, sweet kids who have been so thoughtful and kind to Mommy as I have been unable to do much of anything for them this week. They have helped me when I needed it with a smile on their faces and without complaining.

• I have an enormous and loving support system of friends and church family who have helped us this week by providing abundant meals each evening, helping to care for the kids, and doing anything else for us that might be needed.

• I was very fortunate with my surgery in that my appendix was not burst or perforated, and the surgeon was able to remove it laproscopically. It could have been so much worse and more complicated.

So even though I have not been in a position to do those things that I am normally used to doing and life has felt a little—no, a lot—out of control, God has reminded me Who is truly in control and has blessed my family and me beyond what we could have even asked under the circumstances.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Organizing Christmas

I'm always looking for better ways to be organized and efficient, and I think I've hit the jackpot in organizing my Christmas decorations!!  We store all of our Christmas decorations in plastic totes, and they sit on shelves in our garage.  To give you an idea of how many decorations we have, I'll confess that it takes about twenty plastic totes to store it all!  I have small collections of nativity sets and churches as well as decorations for practically every room in the house.  (I also store much of what we have in its original boxes, so that takes up a bit more space--but it also keeps things packaged safely so that when the time comes for us to move, we don't lose anything due to breakage.) We LOVE Christmas and obviously go all out with our decorating.  It's certainly not Southern Living-worthy by any stretch of the imagination, but we do love spreading holiday cheer all over our home during Christmas!!

With that many decorations, it easy to see how the process of decorating and undecorating could be pretty overwhelming and stressful--especially when you are a recovering perfectionist to boot!  Last year I decided to get really organized with storing my decorations in order to make the process easier and more enjoyable (after all, who wants to be stressed out over decorating for Christmas?).  Here's what I used:
  • plastic totes (Use the normal sized ones and not the extra super large--I learned that lesson the hard way.  The extra super large ones are impossible to carry once filled!!)
  • clear packing tape
  • index cards
  • paper and pen/marker
I began packing up the totes in a room by room or area by area manner, rather than willy-nilly pack-it-however-it-will-fit-in-the-tote, as I had done in years past.  As I packed a tote, I also noted on an index card what all was going into that tote.  Once the tote was packed and everything noted on the card, I labeled the tote and the card.  I used "C-A", "C-B", "C-C", "C-D" etc.--the "C" designating it as Christmas (because this is also how I store other decorations, paper goods, etc, that I don't have room for in the house and therefore must be stored in the garage, and I don't want to get the different totes mixed up), and then the A, B, C just as my method of labeling.  You could also use numbers if you'd rather (I use numbers instead of letters for the boxes of income tax records and other financial records that I have to keep stored.)  In the top right-hand corner of the index card, I would write "C-A", and then on two pieces of paper, I would write "C-A".  The two pieces of paper then would be taped to two sides of the totes--on one end and on one side, so that no matter which way the tote sat on the shelf, I would be able to see the label.  Here's what the finished product looks like:


Tote with labels on side and end, and index card labeled in same manner with contents noted on it.

Close-up of index card

Finished produce on shelves in garage (you can also see the brown u-haul storage box with the "1" on it--that is box #1 containing financial files...which also has an index card in my file that notes exactly what's in there!)  You will notice that the boxes are not placed on the shelves in alphabetical order.  My sweet husband is the lucky one who gets to haul everything to the garage and get it put on the shelves.  I don't stand there demanding that they go in alphabetical order--but you can if you want!  :o)

Once you are finished with the process, you will need a place to keep all of the index cards.  I keep mine in a plain file box along with the index cards for the boxes of financial records I have stored and for the other totes of "stuff" that I have stored.  That way they are all in one place and easy to find.

The process is a bit time-consuming to set up, but it's oh-so-worth-it in the end.  When I was decorating right after Thanksgiving, it was so easy to get out one tote at a time and know exactly what was in it and where I wanted it to go.  For instance, I wanted to start out with the mantel and living room area.  So I pulled out my index cards and flipped through them until I found which totes had those particular decorations.  And since I packed things up last year in order by where those particular decorations go, I was able to bring in one tote that held everything for the mantel.  That was so much better than having to bring in 12 different totes all at once and having to search through them to find what I needed.  It simplified the decorating process by making it less stressful, less messy, and much more efficient.

The putting away process has been much easier this year as well.  I haven't had to guess at what goes in which tote.  I've just pulled out my cards, started with one tote, found everything that belonged in it, packed it up, and then moved on to the next tote.

If you are needing some organization help for your Christmas decorations, I hope you find this beneficial!  And if it's clear as mud and you need some clarification, just leave me a comment and I'll do my best to make it more clear!!