Every once in awhile there is something that shakes me to the core.  Something that leaves me reeling, a moment where my eyes are opened and I gain new understand.  I had one of those moments this week.  I finished reading Passport Through Darkness, a gripping story of Kimberly's journey into the war-torn country of Sudan.  She eloquently tell the story of not only her mission field, but also how the five years spent in Sudan affected her marriage and her life when she returned home.

Her experiences are heart-strings pulling and unfathomable to me as I sit in my first world, protected, comfortable home.  The stories Kimberly shares are about women banding together sharing what precious little they have, one pair of shoes or a one room hut, in order to survive the slavery and rape that is always lurking in their paths.   Children disappear over night because they fall asleep in trees to avoid the hungry animals, but fall out of the trees while asleep and the animals get them anyway.   Young girls, pregnant with babies too big for their bodies to deliver, sick with meningitis and young boys standing by the road, bellies swollen with malnutrition become part of her day to day life.  My mind cannot even comprehend the situations she writes about in this book.  

Part of her time at home was to raise money for the orphanage she wanted to build in Sudan.   A place to protect and educate the children who had no hope for a future on their own.  She writes about one experience where she was scheduled to speak at a church for a few weeks in a row to educate the congregation on her mission and also to raise funds.   After the first visit with the congregation, a member of the church approached her and asked her not to return to finish her scheduled presentations because the content was too upsetting and to offensive to some people in the church.

When I read this I was greatly saddened.   My heart, as you know, aches for the children who live in poverty.   I could not imagine how I would feel or what I would say or do in her position.  

And yet.....

This week while I was scanning my Facebook feed, one of the organizations that Mark and I follow was posting the pictures of the cause they are supporting this week.   I saw the first picture and I quickly scrolled on because I didn't want to "see" the picture.

That is right, I didn't want to "see" the picture.  

The picture showed a young child with white worms crawling out of his nose.   My response to the picture was exactly the same as the church members that so greatly saddened me.

I went back to the pictures, the pictures that I didn't want to see and I looked at them.  I made sure that I noticed them, that they were seen. 

I am thankful for the people around the world who are making a difference in people's lives.  I do not believe that anyone deserves to be treated differently just because of where they live and what is going on in their country.  I just hope that as I can respond properly and not cringe at the picture as too horrific just because it it not something that happens near my home. 

I am posting the pictures below.   There is no pressure for you to look at them, this is part of my journey, not necessarily yours.  

Sevenly is the charity that provided the pictures below.   Their mission is to take one cause a week from ending the seven diseases to finding a cure for autism.  This weeks cause, END 7 diseases by 2020 can be found here


An Apology To My Children

This week we, again, are attempting to to incorporate some healthy habits into our lifestyle.   So easily the quick, processed foods, or the high-sugar sweets slip into our routines.   Rather than the special treats that they are intended to be, they become the norm.   We are on day three of no sugar, no pop, and no processed foods.   Instead we are eating "clean" foods.  Foods that our bodies know how to process.   I feel better already.  Perhaps is it just the thought of better foods for our bodies, but I tend to think that already the clean food is making a difference.  

And this is where I find myself needing to apologize to my children:  We are in the middle of this current journey not because of you, but because of me.   It wasn't that I was not equipped with the tools and the information, rather, it is just one of my many weaknesses.   I am not alone in this weakness, but you and I both are paying for this.   I won't do it perfectly this time, much like the last, there will be failure.  I know that right now it feels like I am forcing you to eat foods you do not like.   I am.  But it is because I love you and I want the best for you.   It does not mean that the treats are gone forever, but my hope is that they will become just that, treats.  My hope is that every time we try, we get a little further and have just a little more success.  You are of age now where you need the tools and so my job is to step it up and provide those tools for you, and here we go.


Monday Morning Reflections

Monday morning. The start of another very busy week, but I am taking a few minutes to reflect on the good and absorb the quiet. The laundry can wait and the to-do list will still be there, always waiting. For a couple of minutes I am going to enjoy the kids, rubbing sleep from their eyes, as they settle in chairs next to me. I want to savor the first hugs of the day and mumbled good mornings as they slowly wake up. I am putting off tasks - perhaps it is procrastinating - but in the mean time, I am soaking up the good around me.


Content in the Snow?

May second. Time for blue skies, green grass, tulips, and daffodils.

May second.  I look out the window this morning at the absence of color as the newly green grass is covered in a thick, fluffy, white blanket of snow. The sky is a cloudy grey, the world white, even the brown of the tress is mostly covered in almost eight inches of snow.

The rumors of this storm at the beginning of the week threatened to pull me into a mood as grey as the sky. We had spent the weekend on the deck getting the gardens ready, all of us getting a little red on our cheeks and noses. The windows were open and fresh air was filling the house after a long hard winter. Another storm seemed unbearable.

I opened the door to our deck to snap the traditional "look at the snow" picture that so many are putting on Facebook today, and I was caught.

Caught by the beauty.

Caught by the peace.

Caught by the quiet.

Quickly I closed the door to shut out the cold, ready to get on with my day inside. Easier said than done. Something kept drawing me to the picturesque scene. It wasn't enough to observe the scene from my living room. I just stood in the driveway absorbing the quiet. It was early, the snow blowers were not yet in use. A chickadee flits from tree branch to growing and back again. The snow falling in snow globe fashion. Down the street, a tree branch cracks and falls to the ground.

I found every reason to be outside today, whether it was shoveling back-breaking heavy snow or shaking snow from tree limbs and branches. I couldn't come inside. The anticipated disgruntled feelings are replaced by a surprising calm and peace.

Yes, it is May.

Yes, I am more than ready for the gardens to come out of their slumber. Ready for the colorless landscape to be painted with brilliant colors.

However, for one more day, I am content.

I am at peace in the tranquil morning.

And it is good.


Change A Life

Photo by Nate Dietzman

This year's theme for Compassion Sunday is Change A Life. Change the life of a young person in poverty, and give them the chance to peruse their dreams.
This weekend we had Compassion Weekend at our church. I know these days are very important for the children still waiting for sponsors. Without someone sharing their stories and their needs, they remain hidden in a corner of the world, struggling with poverty, wondering if anyone cares. I am so excited and praising God for the 15 children who now have sponsors as a result of this weekend!  Change A Life. 

Little did I know when we began our partnership with Compassion four years ago how much my life would change as well. I still remember scanning each and every picture until "the right ones" were found, then anxiously awaiting the first letters to arrive.

Four years and seven Compassion children later, I am still in awe at how much these children whom I have come to know through letter and love so dearly are still changing my life. I see the diligence to learn and love no matter what the circumstances. I know they lift our family up in prayer and there are days I feel that prayer and know that it is their prayers that made the difference. Their stories and their lives help my children to expand their worldview from our home and our backyard, to the world.

Sunday morning I woke up a little down, feeling a case of the "end of vacation blahs" setting in.  As we headed into church to set up our table and get ready for the morning, the stories that I love to hear began before the service even started.  Connections being made, stories told, children receiving sponsors, as with other events, my heart is singing a song of thanksgiving to God.  This brings us to another way these children have changed my life. I never would have thought that giving up an evening or a morning to stand behind a table and help children would be something I would enjoy and yet, participating in these events encourages and energizes me.  

A changed life. Theirs and mine.


Fourth and Final?

Yesterday we woke up to our fourth snow day of the season. It certainly has been a year for snow days, more than in years past it seems. While waking up to a winter wonderland is beautiful and the idea of a day at home with no school exciting, I find myself hoping that this is the last big storm before spring comes and the gardens can finally wake from their long slumber.
The longing for spring does not put a damper on the day, however. We have made the most of it. Chores and "to do" lists were finished in record speed because the seven inch thick, white blanket was calling. Snow ball makers were rediscovered from last winter, the deck became a platform for snow dives and jumps, and the kids buried each other in snow. Pix even joined in the fun rather than sulking by the door preferring his warm window seat to observe the snow.

The push and pull of screen time, reading time, and chores was absent. In its place, laughter and excited barking filled the air as, all in agreement, we were where we needed to be. Enjoying the outdoors, filling our lungs with fresh air, and stretching getting out the cooped up feeling that comes at winter's end.


Adding to the Family

We knew it could happen when we took them on as correspondent sponsors. After four years perhaps I began to think it wouldn't happen to us. One of them is graduating next summer, but that is the natural way to lose them, right? We are already seeing it in her letters, the processing of the end of the relationship. She has told us that she is thankful for our support and love as she looks forward to college. I am so happy and excited for her, and yet, I know that we have a short time to have discussions about her friends or her love for the younger children she teaches Sunday school to.

I was unprepared when the call came informing me that his financial sponsors had ended their sponsorship and we could no longer correspond with him. My heart began to fill with sadness as I asked "Is there nothing we can do?" Our option, to begin financially sponsoring him ourselves. I asked the representative on the phone if I could talk to my husband, and how long we had to decide.

I love my husband for many reasons. He is a really great guy. One of those many reasons that I love him is his caring and compassionate heart. When I told him of the call and what our choice was, he looked me in the eye and said, "You told them of course, right?" (Isn't he great!) 

I couldn't bear to say good-bye to this young man that we have come to know and love over the past four years. The very first picture we received of him showed a young smiling boy giving a thumbs up. I imagine the spunk and personality this young man has.

I called Compassion as soon as I could the following Monday to add him to our account. One week later it is official, our Compassion family has grown by one!  Maybe a better way to say it is, our little family is saved from shrinking by another one.

God's timing is written all over this story, because had we received the call from Compassion even a few months ago, it would have been a much harder decision financially to sponsor him.  God knew that and his timing is good, and for that I am thankful.   As we pulled out of the garage to go to the  Tenth Avenue North concert,  I asked Mark "What if there is another child that needs a family tonight?" Little did I know it would not be one of the child packets on the table that night that would need us, rather one of our own who needed us most. God is so good.


Afternoon at the Ballet

An afternoon at a ballet is the perfect way to spend some quality mother/daughter time with some friends. We were able to see Alice in Wonderland. The young people dancing on the stage today were absolutely amazing. I was completely taken with their skills, not only in dancing, but also in their acting and telling a story. The costumes were beautiful from flowers to flamingos, caterpillars to the Cheshire Cat, and aces to Alice. The ages ranged from a toddler to high school and yet, the dancers blended well. Even Addy commented on how well the older and young dancers mixed.





Sixty. It is the biggest number we have seen. Forty-eight. The number of hours that have passed, and still my heart is flying high!

Friday night we were able to help at a Compassion International event where sixty children were fortunate enough to receive sponsors. Now, forty-eight hours later, I am still very excited for these children. No longer will they have to go without food, education, and medical assistance. No longer will their picture on a table, or their name be on a waiting list.

Now these children will receive news that they have been chosen to be sponsored. Hopefully, now they will be prayed for, loved, encouraged, and written to.

It was so wonderful to see the lines of people pressing in, trying to get closer to the table. People whose hearts had been touched, people who wanted to make a difference in the life of someone so young. And yet, I know that these children can make a difference in their sponsor's life too. This is why I continue to volunteer at these events. They are life changing for so many people.


Book Review: The Heavy

In The Heavy, Dara-Lynn Weiss begins the book with her struggles of food, diets, and accepting herself.   These words, although her own, mirror so much of my life from the Weight Watchers diet in high school to the way she felt about herself to the weight put on and remaining after having children, I related on many levels.  She shares these struggles not because the book is about her, but because it is no surprise to her when one of her children ends up struggling with food. 

While my children are not obese, I sympathized with her struggles to try and maintain a healthy diet for her daughter because I know how hard it is for me as an adult to try and control food intake.  As they navigate through meals at restaurants, birthday parties and celebrations, school lunches, and summer camps there are many challenges for one who is wanting to be calorie conscious.  Especially a seven year old little girl who does not want to be different from her friends.  

There has been a lot of controversy over whether Dara-Lynn was right to put her daughter on a diet, or whether this was for herself rather than her daughter.   Readers are asking if she embarrassed her daughter or was too strict.  I did not read the book to judge her way of parenting.    Having not walked the road she has walked, I don't know how I would react.   I do agree with her that when your child has special needs, whether those be food related, academic related, or something else, as a parent, you want to provide for your child and assist them with those needs.    I cannot fault her, and I actually applaud her, for stepping up to the plate and helping her daughter.

Admittedly, this book covers topics that I feel strongly about.   Struggling myself with food issues, it breaks my heart to see young children yolked with the burden of obesity and the diseases that come along with it.  I wonder why people are criticizing Dara-Lynn for teaching her daughter how to moderate her food intake which in turn brings down her weight, lowers her cholesterol and  BMI.   How can we help our children wade through the many food options put in front of them daily if we cannot talk about food, diets, and choices?  Is that a responsible choice as parents, especially if our children happen to be prone to carrying weight like Dara-Lynn's? 

Growing up, my parents often talked about a toolbox that we grow up with.  From early stages we learn different "tools" to put into our toolbox that will assist and at times guide us in life.    Many times I have reached into my toolbox, at times dusting off the tools, as I enter different situations.  Considering this toolbox, I think it wrong to not provide the tools of nutrition to children, which is what we deny them if we cannot have the conversations with them about food choices.  

Perhaps the controversy comes around the word "diet."   She mentions in her book and in interviews that her definition of diet is a food plan that one is habitually on.  Perhaps this makes sense to me, one who is on a Gluten-Free diet, but really we use the word diet when talking about the food consumption of animals as well.   "The diet of (animal) consists of (food)."

As a memoir, this book does an excellent job of showing the courage of a mother to undertake the challenge of helping her daughter to become a healthy weight while preserving her daughter's integrity, self esteem, and their relationship based on the information shared in the book.  



Stepping It Up

 With pedometer attached, I walked.  The goal, to get as many steps in during the month of January as I could.   I am fortunate that my job allows me to get up and walk.   And walk I did!  167.145 miles or 381,600 steps.  I climbed over 500 floors, which I found out is about the altitude that a helicopter flies at.   Whew! 

This year the Dan Abrahms Healthy Living Center is giving one habit a month to focus on to improve our healthy living.  The focus this month, physical activity.   The goal, to increase physical activity in some way.  This could be starting a new workout routine, adding a new activity, increasing intensity of workouts, anything that changes and/or adds to what you are already doing.  Luckily the focus corresponded with a walking challenge at work.   I joined other colleagues in wearing pedometers this month to track how many steps we could take through the entire month of January.  

The  steps were just part of the journey for physical activity, as I am also trying to incorporate some variety into my workout times.  Cardio exercises are my fall back, the ones I do most often.   I am working on incorporating some strength exercises into my routine as well. 


Letters Have Arrived

For awhile it seemed like the letters were lost.   No, I cannot greet the postal carrier at the door each day looking for those special cream colored envelopes, but the urgency to open the mail box each day looking, searching, and yearning for communication, has not disappeared.  

The silence seemed so long, and I know with seven children, I get more letters than others, so I try not to complain.   For two months not a letter was to be found.   Then, all of a sudden, in a matter of eight days, the flood gates have been opened and we had five letters pouring in from our family around the world.  

As I sit down tonight to write letters to them, sending them pictures of the kids sledding, I am thankful for these little lives that have touched mine in such a deep way.   One wants to know when we are coming to the Philippines to visit her.  We were trying to decide where to go on vacation this summer, but that one may have to wait a year or two!   Three have received gifts, thanking us for thinking of them, supporting them, loving them.  I think they deserve the thanks as they bring so much love and joy into our home.  Our studious one writes about his studies and asks, again, for continued prayers for his studies.     

Today's sermon was about being involved, using your gifts and resources for the kingdom of God.  There are still some areas we are trying to figure out as to what that means for each of us in this family, but one thing I do know for sure, this is what we are supposed to be doing.   This is where we are being called to serve.  To love these young people who are around the world, to pray for them, to support them through letters of encouragement.   Hopefully His plans include a visit, but if not, I know that in heaven we will be together.  

As I send off seven letters of love tonight, I am thankful for the gifts and resources that God has given so that we have the opportunity to make an impact in their lives.   They have given us so much, I hope that in return, they are gaining as well. 


Man of the Year

Time Magazine named President Obama.

People Magazine claimed it is Channing Tatum (Their claim, he is the sexiest man alive right now.)

I am sure there are many choices and many votes cast for each of these men, and probably for good reasons.

However, I have to disagree with with both magazines, at least partially. There is one in my book that rates a little higher in both categories. This man goes above and beyond the call of duty for his role in life. If one were to ask him how high to jump, he would be in the air before asking how high. He puts others before himself every day. He is supportive and encouraging. He loves like no other can. He knows what is needed and is there before the question can even be asked.

It is probably no surprise to you who my choice for Man of the Year is. He has been my best friend for seventeen years now. He is my husband, and the father of our two wonderful children.

I was telling the kids this morning as we were all getting shoes on to head out the door that they were so lucky to have such a great dad for Man of the Year. I couldn't help but brag about how I was so fortunate to catch the Man of the Year as a life partner.

And he continues to prove why he deserves this title. On my break at work, I receive a text asking me on a date on March 23rd to a meet and greet with David Crowder! My husband is so amazing!! I am excited beyond words!

Last March I had the opportunity to meet one musician who has greatly touched my life. The concert with Shaun Groves was truly a gift, and something I will never forget. Just one year later I am going to a meet and greet with another musician who has had a huge impact in my life.

What a gift Mark has given me today.

 Time Magazine and People's Magazine, while I respect your choices, I have to disagree with you to some degree as in my opinion, the Man of the Year is living in my house, doing life with me day in and day out. He is my husband.


Books Read in 2012

Top five favorite books read this year (in no particular order): 

Life of Pi
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Night Circus 
Eat Pray Love
The Other Wes Moore

The five that made the most impact on my life this year (again, in no particular order): 

Not for Sale 
Gifts of Imperfection
Neither Wolf Nor Dog
Love Does
Love is an Orientation

The entire list of books read this year:

Akata Witch -- Nnedi Okorafor 
Life of Pi --Yann Martel  
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time -- Mark Haddon 
Finding Fish: A memoir -- Antwone Quenton Fisher
The Night Circus -- Erin Morgenstern
Made to Crave -- Lysa TerKeurst
Kisses from Katie -- Katie Davis 
Have A Little Faith -- Mitch Albom
Not For Sale -- David Batstone 
All There Is- Love Stories from Storycorps -- Dave Isay 

Fortune’s Magic Farm -- Suzanne Selfors
Same Kind of Different As Me -- Ron Hall & Denver Moore
The Flight of Gemma Hardy -- Margot Livesey
A Farewell to Arms -- Ernest Hemingway 
The Lost Wife -- Alyson Richman
Eat Pray Love-- Elizabeth Gilbert
The Mysterious Benedict Society -- Trenton Lee Stewart
Catching Fire -- Suzanne Collins
Mocking Jay -- Suzanne Collins
Vintage -- Maxine Linnell

If I Live to Be 100:  Lessons from the Centenarians -- Neenah Ellis 
Best I Can Be: Living With Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Effects -- Liz Kukp 
The Thief Lord -- Cornelia Funke
Neither Wolf Nor Dog -- Kent Nerburn
Glass Castle -- Jeannette Walls
The Bluest Eye -- Toni Morrison
The Gifts of Imperfection -- Brene Brown
Interpreter of Maladies -- Jhumpa Lahiri 
The Namesake -- Jhumpa Lahiri 
Love Does -- Bob Goff

The Dark Hills Divide -- Patrick Carman
Love Is an Orientation -- Andrew Marin
Orange is the New Black -- Piper Kerman
Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit -- Jeanette Winterson
Indescribable -- Louie Giglio, Matt Redman
The Grimm Legacy -- Polly Shulman
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks -- Rebecca Skloot
Aleph -- Paulo Coelho
Great Gatsby -- F. Scott Fitzgerald 
The Time Keeper -- Mitch Albom

Unbroken -- Laura Hillenbrand

Holes -- Louis Sachar
The Light Between Oceans -- M.L. Stedman
It’s Always Personal -- Anne Kreamer
Escape from the Land of Snows -- Stephan Talty 
Zeina -- Nawal El Saadawi
My Husband and My Wives: A Gay Man’s Odyssey -- Charles Rowan Beye
The Other Wes Moore -- Wes Moore
The Wednesday Wars -- Gary D. Schmidt
Out of My Mind -- Sharon M. Draper

Touching Wonder -- John Blase
Blue Umbrella -- Mike Mason
Marcelo in the Real World -- Francisco X. Stork

It is kind of fun for me to read through this list again as I pull this post together.   There are quite a few books in here that bring back good memories and the stories come alive just in reading the titles.   I have to admit there was one where I had to ask Mark what the book was about, obviously that one left a big impact on me!   Of course there are the few on this list that without the goal, I would never have finished them, so for that reason, I am glad I had the goal in place.  


The First Time in 2013

It has become tradition in our house that on January first, any activity that is done is accompanied by the statement, "This is the first time in (insert year here) that we have (insert activity here)." In sticking with that tradition, today was the first time in 2013 that an alarm was set to wake us up for work an school ending a wonderful eleven day stretch of family time. The morning time was cut back, lunches were packed, back packs loaded, and travel coffee mugs replaced the Fiesta mugs. At the appointed time, all four of us walked out the door for the first time in 2013.

Our eleven days together as a family were just what we needed to recover from the frantic pace that life brought in December. We are rested, relaxed, and ready to face the world again. I accomplished my goal for 2012 by reading a total of 53 books this past year. It feels good. (For those interested, the list is coming in a following post.) Despite the busy schedules and starting work full-time, I was able to keep on track and get it done. When asked whether I would do it again, I would say yes and no. Yes, because I loved the stories and the different genres I exposed myself to this year. Yes, because reading takes me to different worlds which is a much needed escape at times. Yes, because reading keeps my mind open to new thoughts and ideas. However, I hesitate to put this kind of goal in place right away because upon completing the goal, there was a sigh of relief. Not every open minute has to be spent with a book open now. I have missed blogging, writing, and creating and while I was hoping that perhaps my books would give me more to write about, the deadline of my goal got in the way more than it helped.

I have bounced a few ideas around about my resolution for 2013, however, I am unsure of what I want to settle on. Perhaps there won't be anything concrete or perhaps something will come to mind. I would like to get back to blogging and getting my thoughts down if for no other reason then having a record of them for me to refer back to.

With all of that said, for the first time in 2013, I am sitting at my computer writing a blog post, and it feels really good. It is a new beginning, something I needed to have before I could sit down and write again.