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Friday, January 23, 2015

Dead Babies and Laser Hair Removal

It happens every time.

I come home from a trip to Swaziland and am greeted enthusiastically with, "Welcome home! How was your trip?" It's called out across the parking lot as I walk my 4 year-old into preschool, said to me across the room full of parents in the parent room at my older kids' elementary school. Well-wishers being friendly, asking about my trip.

But I can't answer. Not honestly anyway.

Because what I want to say is that the child I visited in the overflowing pediatric malnutrition ward died two days later. He was one year old and weighed about 13 pounds. I want to answer that I saw women in labor standing by themselves in the hot sun outside the labor room because you aren't allowed to go in until you are crowning. I want to say that I just spent a week in a country where mothers often drop their newborn babies in pit latrines to die because that is a better option than watching them slowly starve to death. I want to say that I got to spend time with toddlers whose stories include being burned, left to die wrapped in plastic bags, some are HIV positive, others have been severely malnourished. I want to say that I saw overwhelming need and despair alongside hope.

But really, people are expecting me to say, "it was great, thanks!" and keep walking. Because they aren't really asking me to bear my soul in that moment.

I always have a hard time when I come home from Swaziland. I have a hard time reconciling my culture with the culture in developing countries anyway; it's just that much harder when I have just returned home.  And my first morning back I heard a commercial for laser hair removal on my way home from dropping the kids off at school.

I live in a country where we are encouraged to spend money using lasers to remove unwanted hair while babies on the other side of the ocean slowly starve to death.

Something is wrong.

But it doesn't have to be. That's where I see hope. I also know that just in my small circle of friends there are people fighting for justice, pushing against oppression, working to restore dignity and helping people meet their basic needs.  I know that there are big organizations working to make sure that children have access to food, clothing, and medical care. I know that people care.

We have a choice. God is working all around us. I will never understand how God works or why things are they way they are but I do believe this: God wants to use us to redeem the world. He wants to use us to end poverty, to end hunger, to fight addiction and oppression. And what an honor it is to be to be a part of change.

Do you want to be a part of hope in Swaziland? I'm going back in July. Come with me! You will never regret it.

My view from where I stayed on the farm at Project Canaan

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Why I don't want the Easy Life

I'm headed to Swaziland in three days! Last Sunday, a week before my travel date, I knew I was headed into a crazy week. In addition to the normal preparations that go along with leaving the country (packing, figuring out stuff for the kids, etc), the weather forecast was calling for dangerously low temps. Since I help out with our local crisis shelter when the temps drop, I just knew this week would be over-the-top busy.

So Sunday night, I posted this on Facebook, mostly to remind myself:

Life is easier when you don't do things. It's easier not to volunteer, it's easier not to step out of your comfort zone, it's easier just to swim along. It's easier not to try to love the hard people. But you know what? I think there's less joy that way. So for me, I'll choose the harder path, the inconvenient one. Life is amazing and truly think the secret is to serve others. When life isn't all about me, I find joy so much more easily.

Because my life sure would be easier if I didn't do half the stuff I do. Or if I didn't care about half the stuff I care about.  I'm not saying that life would be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy if I didn't spend time volunteering. Let's be honest here: I have three kids. Life is hectic on our best days

But if I didn't volunteer with our homeless folks, if I didn't travel to Swaziland to work with Heart for Africa, if I didn't care about poverty and oppression and social justice issues and giving a voice to the overlooked and if I said NO when opportunities arose to be a part of those things... what would my life look like?

Maybe we'd have more money and could have nicer things. My house would be cleaner, I'm sure of that. 

But I can tell you some things that wouldn't happen:

My oldest child wouldn't have (entirely unprompted) used his own money to buy warm coats for some of the homeless folks we know. My heart about exploded as I watched him at the cash register.

My middle kiddo wouldn't have written an essay for school about patience: about how hard it was for gay couples to be patient while waiting to be treated equally under the law. (and, because she's 6, about how hard it was for HER to be patient when we were standing outside the Register of Deeds waiting for a decision. ha).

I wouldn't have had the opportunity to search through a pile of donated gloves, looking for the warmest, biggest, toughest-looking ones for a homeless man who requested to be woken up this morning before 5 am so that he could get to work on time. He works outside and didn't have a pair of gloves. Talk about a lesson in work ethic.

I wouldn't have had a night filled with hugs, with "thank you ma'am"s, with jokes about air mattresses last night. Let me tell you, I would not have slept as well last night if I wasn't part of the Crisis Shelter team.

I wouldn't have a suitcase packed with clothes and things to bring to kids in Swaziland and a hard-earned plane ticket (many many hours of sewing and crafting bought me that ticket!) and an opportunity to be part of what God is doing in Swaziland.

I wouldn't know some of the most amazing people on this planet. Did you know I have a homeless friend who routinely gives away coats that I give him when he finds someone who has less than he does? And the more I serve, the more I am surrounded by people who blow me away.  Here I am, this mostly-stay-at-home, normal-person mama, surrounded by amazing people. I have a friend moving to Swaziland in two days, walking away from everything comfortable and known because she sees a need and said YES. I have a friend who is an amazingly successful, educated career woman who is changing her trajectory and going back to school again so that she can have the medical expertise she needs to work with the underserved populations in her city because she sees a need and says YES. I get to know people who look at what God is doing around them and jump in with both feet. They inspire me daily.

Friends, life is messy. It's hectic. We have more on our plates sometimes than we think we can handle. But I'll tell you something: adding something to your plate that benefits someone other than you is always a worthwhile addition. I am absolutely convinced that the secret to having an amazing life is find as many ways to serve others as you can. Let's say YES. God is doing big things all around us. Look around out and find out what it is. And jump in.

Love wins. And it flows in both directions. My life is not all sunshine and rainbows. Yesterday was beyond hectic and stressful. But my joy isn't shaken by stress or grief or frustration. The more I love others, the more I am filled up with love. Sappy? Maybe. But it's proving to be true time and time again.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Are you weary?

Y'all, I'm weary. I'm weary of hate-filled internet comments and of having to explain that racism does indeed exist and that gay people can be Christians too.  I'm weary of keeping up with homework and school projects and trying to remember to send in the money for the Christmas gifts. I'm weary of grieving my dad and helping my kids grieve because Grandpa's not with us this Christmas.  I'm weary when I leave work and go home and cry because of all the hurt I've seen that comes from mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction. I'm weary of giant piles of laundry and messy kitchens.

I don't have it together. I rarely do. I'm the mom who reads the email about not sending in the project early just AFTER having sent the project in early. I'm the mom who has twice now shown up an hour early to pick up my child from preschool because I forgot that he had soccer.  I'm the mom who bought all the supplies two months ago to make wonderful homemade vanilla extract for Christmas presents... and still haven't made the vanilla. It takes 8 weeks to make. And I keep forgetting to move our $%& Elf on the Shelf.

In fact, just to keep things real, I posted this picture to FB today. Me, no makeup, displaying my various crafting- and clumsiness-related injuries.

But you know what? That is all okay. I don't have to have it together. Because this is the season that we celebrate redemption.  I don't claim to have all the answers to religion or God or how one "gets to heaven"... but I do believe this: God wants to restore us.  When I read the Bible about heaven, it looks like justice and peace and joy. No more drug addiction, no more hunger, no more homelessness, no more racism or sexism. No more mom-guilt, no more grieving. No more giant piles of laundry or bickering children. No more weariness.

And God uses us to bring that redemption about. We get to be part of ending racism and injustice. We can work to alleviate the pain of poverty and addiction.  This season, we celebrate the birth of a baby who came to restore and redeem, showing us exactly how we can live in ways that bring peace and hope to others. He showed us how to bring restoration to this broken world. And then sacrificed himself to restore all of us back to God, once and for all. What an amazing gift.

So I lay my weariness and all my failures at the feet of the God who created me, thankful that I get to be part of his plan to bring peace and hope. And if you are weary too, I invite you to join me. We don't have to have it all together and we don't have to have all the answers. But we do have the honor of being part of the solution. That alone brings me hope.

May we find real hope and peace in the celebration of the birth of Jesus, in the idea of God's active work to restore brokenness, and may we find rest in the fact that we don't ever need to be perfect. His love covers it all. Always has, always will.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Do You Do Santa? (and other ways we judge each other during the holiday season)

It's such a harmless-sounding question: Do you do Santa? Or "Do you have an Elf on the Shelf?"

But here's the problem. Sometimes there is an implied "correct" reply.  It's the same kind of idea behind "Do you breastfeed?" or even the seemingly-innocuous, "What books is your child reading now?"

I know some families who don't do Santa. They feel it's a distraction from the true meaning of Christmas. That is wonderful! If not doing Santa helps your family focus more on what's important, you should absolutely stick to it!  But we need to remember that all families are different. Families who don't do Santa do not love Jesus any more or less than families who do.  There's no hierarchy here. I would love to declare Christmas a "Judgement-free zone."

Here is my take on this: so many things in my life are a distraction from Jesus this time of year: swim team practice, Tae Kwon Do, homework, crafty projects & sewing, cooking dinner, Santa, Elf on the Shelf.  Every family decides where they want to draw the line.  And sometimes that line is different from year to year (or month to month!!) In our family, we draw the line on the other side of Santa.  He comes on Christmas Eve and drops off a present or two for the kids but he's certainly not the focus of our lives for a month.  And we have an Elf because it's fun.  I do love the magic of Christmas when the kids are little. And those things, for us, don't distract us from Jesus any more or less than the rest of what we do in our lives. So I'm truly not worried about Santa.

Let's put that fat old guy in the corner for a moment, shall we? Here are the ways we make the Christmas season more meaningful:

1. Our "Jesse Tree": A few years ago, my husband came up with a readings for every night of December for the Christmas story and I made advent pocket trees and a little ornament for each reading.

We have a little tabletop tree and every night, we read part of the story of Jesus and the kids take turns taking an ornament out and placing it on the tree. The tree sits as our table centerpiece so we can see all the ornaments and talk about the Christmas story. The kids look forward to it every night!

2. We continue to serve the way we do all year. Honestly, there isn't a whole lot of "extra" serving or giving we do at Christmastime. We really have made it our practice to serve and give all year long. While I think it is wonderful to do extra at Christmas, I have a hard time fitting in too much more. We typically do an Angel Tree gift or a Samaritan's Purse box and we do one extra breakfast for our homeless friends on Christmas morning but we don't do all that much "extra" on top of our regular stuff. Maybe we should do more. And maybe one day we will. But for now, adding more stress (even for good things) actually distracts me from the "reason for the season."  So give yourself a break. It is okay if you don't do (fill-in-the-blank).

3. We spend less! I try to make as many Christmas gifts as I can or give "time together" instead of just "stuff." We spend as little time as possible this season talking about the "stuff." And our church does a big Christmas offering and splits it between local homeless ministry and Heart for Africa. I take the money I saved and we donate it to that! It helps me when I make my purchases: I think, "would I rather my money go to this piece of plastic or to help with our local homeless friends or Heart for Africa?" Makes the decision a lot easier. We don't send Christmas Cards anymore either (oh the hypocrisy... because I LOVE getting them!) and donate what we would have spent on those too.

4. We spend more! You read that right. Sometimes spending more is the way to go. We try to buy fair-trade items as Christmas presents. Typically, I spend way more on stocking stuffers than I used to because I fill our stockings with fair-trade goodies!  It may cost more, but the gift of a sustainable wage is worth every penny! I can love Jesus in the way I spend my money.

Cheers, mamas! Whether you do Santa or not, whether you have a lazy Elf or a crazy-creative one, let's not judge one another! We all want to have meaningful, joyful, peaceful seasons. Let's stand together instead of apart. Love abounds when we do this, especially when we do it over things we do differently.

And instead of focusing on whether or not you "do Santa," I'd love to hear the ways you make this time of year more meaningful for your family!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Support Police or Acknowledge Racial Bias?

It's not a secret that I believe there is racial bias in our police culture.  But I've realized something. People assume that since I acknowledge the problem, I am against the police. Or that I'm talking-down, disrespecting, or generalizing and therefore not being fair to police officers.

And I've seen my Facebook feed start to have hashtags like #supportthepolice. And I don't see them show up next to hashtags like #blacklivesmatter.

Social Media is so divisive. It reduces us from thinking, feeling, nuanced, beautiful human beings to "sides" and "slogans" that don't truly express how we feel about important issues.

Y'all. It does not have to be either or. I support my police! I love them - I am so thankful for them and I want them to feel respected for the important jobs they do.  Acknowledging there is a problem does not mean that I suddenly am a police-hater who wants them all to be fired. Nor does it mean that I believe every individual police officer is a racist who enters the force with the goal to shoot as many black males as possible.  That is ridiculous. And saying that you support the police does not mean that you believe every black male is a criminal and deserves to be shot. That is equally ridiculous.

Yet this is what I am seeing happening. We are forced to either fall into the camp of "black lives matter" OR "I support our police officers".

You know what I say? "Black lives matter AND I support our police officers."

We need a new hashtag. (you are welcome to laugh at me right now considering I'm still not entirely certain how exactly to use hashtags and still feel strongly they should be called pound signs). Something like:
Too long? Thought so.

The best thing we can do right now is to listen to one another.

Are you outraged about all you've been hearing about the shootings of young, unarmed, black males? Good, you should be. Now talk to some police officers. Real ones, in your life. Listen to what they have to say. Find out what it's like to be a police officer. And then learn what kind of training they receive. Be an ally to your police: find out how you can support your local police force to get better. Support them and help them learn how to overcome any racial bias instead of tearing them down.

Are you frustrated that police officers are being given a bad name? Good, you should be. Now go listen to some people of color. Hear their experiences with police. It may not match up with yours. That is okay, they are still valid. Listen to the people who say their voices aren't being heard. Believe them when they say they fear the police won't treat them fairly. And support them: find out how you might be able to bridge the gap between them and the police. Be an ally to the minority population, especially if you have connections in law enforcement.

And pray for each other. Pray for the group you understand the least.  Don't understand why people are angry? Pray for them. Pray for wisdom that you will understand their anger. Don't understand why it is hard for some people to see and acknowledge racial bias? Pray for them and pray for understanding yourself.  Prayer is crazy. I really think when we pray for others, it changes our own hearts and amazing things can happen.

Read the full story behind this hug here:
This sweet 12 year-old spoke to this police officer and shared his fears that he wouldn't be treated fairly by police. The police acknowledged his fears by saying, "I know. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." And the hug happened.


Listen, and then Hug, y'all.

Let's stick together on this. You don't have to choose a side. But you can choose to be part of the solution.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Family Turkey Olympics!

One thing I'm thankful for is being part of an active family. I love that the kids & their cousins spent the week running around, playing football, and riding bikes at their grandparents'. I got to go for a couple of runs on the beach and my older kids came along on their bikes. It was heaven.

For many years, the adults in my family have run the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving day. Last year, my (then 8 year-old) nephew joined us. It was freezing but he did great.  But all the other kids (there are 7 cousins all together) wondered why they couldn't come.

So I thought it would be fun to do our own Family Turkey Trot this year. Luckily for me, my sister-in-law is amazing and she took it a step further... so we planned our own Family Turkey Olympics. And it made for quite possibly the best Thanksgiving ever!

And I could not wait to share it with y'all! We made some amazing memories and the kids (and I) can't wait to do it all again next year! Do this with your family.... you'll be so glad you did!

We started with a quick "Opening Ceremonies" (and even played Olympic music on a cell phone) and handed each athlete his/her Olympic jersey and a race bib.

My poor sweet niece was so sick :( She missed out on most of the events, poor baby.
Our first event was The Marshmallow Wreath Toss. Pretty self-explanatory...
I think my sister-in-law missed her calling as a sports photographer. How cool is this picture?!?!

Next up was Junk in the Trunk. It's a Minute to Win It game. You can find instructions here:  Basically, the kids have to dance around (without touching their Kleenex boxes) and get as many ping pong balls to fall out as they could. We used ribbons instead of belts.

Blurry photos because they were working HARD to get those ping pong balls out!

Our next event was Pantyhose Bowling! Place a tennis ball in one foot of a pair of pantyhouse and put them over your head. Then put your hands behind your back and try to knock over a line of water bottles!  Everyone, even the grandparents, participated in this event. It was hilarious:

Grand and Choo Choo showing their skills
After this we were supposed to do a toilet paper mummy wrap. We forgot. It's on the list for next year's events. 

 Our next event was the Pie Eating Contest. We didn't actually want the kids to consume vast amounts of pumpkin pie, so this idea was perfect. My brother-in-law mixed up the filling for one pumpkin pie and divided it (just the filling, no crust) into seven aluminum pie plates.  After they were cooked, he stuck 5 big chocolate chunks in each pie, then covered them with whipped cream.  The kids had to find the chocolate chunks and spit them out onto the little plate next to the. No hands, of course! Then when it was all over, they could eat their chocolate chunks.

Workin' hard!

My daughter has declared she will NOT be participating in this event next year.... note the absence of pie on her face. Apparently, messy games are not her thing.  My boys, however... different story. ;)

We moved outside to do the Cheese Puff Hat event! Kids were in teams of two, put a shower cap on each child's head, cover with shaving cream and have their partners throw as many cheese puffs as they can and see how many stick! Each partner had a chance to cover their cousin's head with cheese puffs!

Action shot - can you spot the cheese puffs in the air??

Is there anything better than covering your cousins in shaving cream and cheese puffs?

Next up was everyone's favorite event: DIZZY BAT. Grown-ups included. Y'all, I laughed so hard I thought I was going to wet my pants!

My brother-in-law thought this was going to be so easy so he took off running at top-speed... and wound up in the bushes!! I don't remember the last time I laughed so hard.

After this was the "Mom Call." Moms stand in the middle of the yard, blindfolded (or eyes closed - moms don't cheat). Dads position the kids around the yard. The moms have to find their own kids by listening for their call. Kids can only yell, "MOM!"  Both of us found our oldest and middles with no problem but had to think hard to be sure of our youngest ones!

Then the "Dad Carry!" Dads had to carry all their kids to one end of the yard and back. This was where having one sick kid worked out for my brother-in-law. He would have had to carry four!


The kids really liked this and requested an alternate event: The Uncle Carry. So they switched kids and did it again!

And we wrapped it all up with a Family Fun Run. The grandparents were at the finish line with a ribbon for the kids to run through to finish up!

On Your Mark... Get Set...


Finish Line!

We had such a fun day. The kids had a BLAST (grown-ups too). Please copy us one day. You'll be so glad you did. :)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I lied to my child tonight

I just tucked my sweet youngest child into bed. We rehashed the day and he, with his wonderful four year-old sense of self-confidence, informed me that he is fast and smart. Smarter than me. Smarter than his teachers.  So smart, in fact, that he's going to become a policeman one day.  A policeman that helps people get into bed if they are having trouble getting into bed (no clue where that part came from!)

Then he paused to clarify... "do policemen spray out fires?" he asked. I told him that was firefighters.  "Then what do policemen do?"

And I lied.

I said policemen catch the bad guys. They protect you and keep you safe.  "That's okay" he said, "I'll still be one anyway. And help people."

And thank goodness it was dark because I couldn't stop the tears.

I am not trying to offend any policemen. I know some absolutely amazingly wonderful police families.  I know there are good guys out there. I truly believe it's the system that is broken.  I am heartbroken because this was never the way I imagined I would feel about our police system.

But I also know that in a few short years, I will have to have a different conversation with my black child and his white siblings.  I will have to explain to them why he has to be extra careful and polite around police and white grown-ups in general.  I will have to explain why it is not safe for him to do things or be in places after dark when it would be okay for his siblings.  Or even on the playground with a toy gun during the day.  A day will probably come when something goes missing from a place where he's been and he's the first one folks assume has taken it. I will have to explain to my children exactly why this is and how we will handle it together as a family.  I will have to tell him that not all police officers are going to be on his side.

If you are a (not black) mom, can you imagine for a minute what this must be like? How terrifying this is? And how heartbreaking?  I'm not alone. I am one of millions of mamas who will have to have this conversation with our precious children.

I didn't even know about this kind of conversation before we adopted. That's part of my white-privilege, I guess. I learned about it from black friends when they mentioned having it with their kids.  I am going to need help when the time comes because I honestly don't even know how to have the conversation. I grew up knowing the police would help me; that I would be given the benefit of the doubt and second chances.

Now is the time to speak, friends.  If you are an ally, please speak up. When you see racist comments on Facebook or when you hear them in your circles of friends or at work, please speak up.  Consider finding out what kind of training your local police force receives. Find out about body cameras.  Please don't be people who go silent when the news breaks about the next young black male killed. Please, for the sake of mama-solidarity. Stand with us.

When we speak up, racism diminishes.
When we speak up, we fight ignorance.
When we speak up, hope grows.
And maybe, just maybe, my children won't have to have that conversation with their kids.