Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Shots and Toilets as Presents

Just a quick little update on our "giving project" from Christmas (scroll down and read previous post if you're not sure what I'm talking about).
So, it went about like I thought..not much interest in the "giving gifts" on Christmas morning in the midst of the excitement. But yesterday we were able to talk about them more and they were very interested. They haven't picked out the place they want to help provide a well for yet. But they did each pick a gift out of the Compassion Catalog. They were very into it, especially Hannah. She read each description carefully and in the end chose "vaccinations". When I asked why, she said "because it says here kids die from diseases without them". So vaccinations it is. Then it was Sadie's turn. She debated long and hard between a soccer ball and a toilet. She finally chose toilet. (It was actually called "safe and sanitary bathroom" in the catalog. But she prefers to say she's buying a toilet.) When I asked why, her answer was amazingly thought-out, long, serious, and funny all at the same time. Only Sadie. :) She said "well, if a kid doesn't have a toilet, then he has to pee on the ground outside. And then a goat might eat the dirt with pee and get sick. Then the goat will burp in the kid's face and the kid will get a head-ache and then get sick. So a toilet helps kids not get sick." So, there you go..why every kid needs a toilet. :)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Ramblings

This Christmas season my family has done a lot. Just like most other families I know. And quite honestly, everything we've done has been fun. But there's also a little tension - it's like we are living two different lives and celebrating Christmas two different ways. This post doesn't attempt to remove the tension. Rather, it's my attemp to think through some of it, with you along for the ride. :)

There's visiting Santa, and buying gifts, and making wish lists and parades and dance performances and school choir performances. There's dressing up to go see the Nutcracker, and creating Gingerbread houses. There's parties galore. And there's the elf. THE ELF. He has been responsible for much mischief, much clean-up on my part, and much giggles on the girls' part.

Then, there's our advent candles and the Nativity set, and talk of hope, joy, love, and peace. We tell the Christmas story and talk about Jesus' birthday. We look for opportunities to give to to others.

I've always thought the two could co-exist. And maybe they can. But there's still a tension. Even the kids feel it. My girls were both delighted to email Santa their wish lists. They have high hopes for Christmas morning. One moment Hannah will jump up and down with excitement and tell you she hopes that she gets an ipod and "dark grown-up lipstick" for Christmas. Then, when Sadie starts her wish list, Hannah interrupts her and says "But remember. .Christmas isn't about the gifts. It's about Jesus' birthday. Jesus is the most important gift". And while her words are true, the way she says it is the same way a whole group of kids will raise their hands and shout "Jesus!" in answer to any question asked during children's church before they even hear the question! Sadie's the same. One day early in the season I interrupted their talk of possible gifts and said "It's Jesus' birthday. What gifts will you give him?". And Sadie in all her innocent and sweetness said "I know, we'll give him LOVE!". And for those of you who don't know her - Sadie *is* one of the most loving people. She loves people and she loves Jesus. But even for her, it sounded like a cop-out answer. (I didn't tell her that!). But maybe that's because it's a cop-out answer I give too. I teach the kids to give and serve at Christmas. We put toys in the toys-for-tots box. We stick a dollar here and there in the Salvation Army red kettle. And then I have to buy the “real gifts” to see if we have any money leftover to donate to poor people somewhere else. And my girls who are happy to give and serve any other time of the year, want to know why they have to provide toys for other kids at Christmas, because "why can't Santa just bring them toys?". And in all my wisdom I answer in a mumble and change the subject.

But Jesus has interrupted my Christmas this year. It all started with reading a book called Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis. Her book is actually not about Christmas at all. It is about a God who interrupts our comfortable world and calls us to stop and really love the hurting and poor around us. Everywhere I've turned this advent, I've heard the same message. Stop. See the need. Love in real, practical ways.

I was so inspiried by what I was reading and hearing that I wanted Christmas to be a little different this year. I didn't want to just give lip-service to loving others. I didn't want us to just give our left-over change after all the "real gifts" had been bought. We still have the tension described above. But we are slowly making changes. On Christmas morning, my children will find gifts...good gifts that they wanted. They will jump up and down in excitement. But stockings this year will be different. Usually their stockings have an orange, candy, sometimes socks that they needed, and then a bunch of cheap things to take up the space that they don't really need and that they love for all of 5 minutes. But not this year. They will probably still find an orange (because what else do you put in the toe?) And a little candy. And Hannah might find her "grown up lipstick" she wants and Sadie will find something small she'd like too. And then, they will find two other gifts. I'd actually already bought a bunch of little stuff for their stockings at walmart and I actually took them back the other day for a refund. And then I used the money to buy them each a gift card from Living Water. Living Water builds wells and provides clean water to people in developing countries. It's a need my kids are familiar with already through church activities we've done in the past. And it's a critical need. Santa doesn't go around delivering clean water so people can live. Jesus uses us to do that. And they will also find a gift catalog from Compassion International where they can purchase a gift for a family in the developing world. Cool gifts like mosquito nets or soccer balls or a pig or goat.

This is how I predict this to go. They will see their presents and get very excited. Then they will dump their stockings. Sadie will immediately eat a couple pieces of chocolate and Hannah will squeal and put on the lipstick. Then they will briefly look at the catalog and gift card before returning to their other gifts. And that's okay. Because in a few days when the other gifts have lost the "newness" factor, we'll go online and redeem their gift cards. The girls will each get to choose the country and project they want their gift to go towards in providing clean water. Then, they can pick out a gift from the compassion catalog. Maybe they buy a pig for a family in Rwanda (by the way - I learned an average sow can give birth to up to 16 piglets a the gift of a pig could mean a lifetime of income and food for a family). Or maybe mosquito nets for a family in India or a soccer ball for a kid in Uganda. My hope is, that this becomes a tradition and long after they've forgotten what they "got" for Christmas, they remember what they "gave". I'm super excited about this.

But I was kind of feeling off-kilter still with the whole Christmas thing. I mean what could I be missing? We've done everything. Shopping's done. Giving's done (or planned). Tree is decorated. Parades, parties, events..done or almost done. Nothing left to buy. Nothing left to plan. And then I went to church this morning. Towards the end of the music, we started to sing Angels We Have Heard on High. We got to the gloria in excelsis deo part and my heart remembered what was missing. I couldn't put it in words, but I teared up and just knew. Later this afternoon I looked the words to that song up. I needed to know the meaning of those words. Something about glory, I knew. It means "Glory to God in the Highest" - the very words the angels spoke to the shepherds in Luke. And slowly, my mind caught up with my heart. Worship. The gift of Christmas was Jesus, God's son. And the very first response to that gift wasn't another gift..not even to Jesus. The very first reponse to that gift was for the angels to worship and praise and give God glory "in the highest". Doesn't that mean above all else? With all I am? Jesus came and turned the world upside down. He turns our lives upside down. And to whom much is given, much is required. And I have been given much. But regardless of what that looks like at Christmas time or in regular day-to-day life, it starts with stopping, worshipping, and giving God glory and praise with all I have and all I am.

And now, because it's taken me 4 months to update the blog and because I'm quite sure I won't update it again until after Christmas, I will end this long post with a photo. I just love this one with all the missing teeth! Merry Christmas!!

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Race and 7 / 8 Year Olds and Their Parents

Well, this post could very well get me in hot water with some people. But it's been on my heart the last couple days and I'm just going to say it anyway.

Racism exits today. Here, right where you are. And not talking about it doesn't make it go away. And I'm kind of naive I guess, because my kids are still young. So I haven't seen racism in them or their friends. (maybe others have, but I haven't). No, I've seen curiosity about race, and kids trying to understand race. But I haven't seen what I would consider racism. And maybe as a white person that doesn't face racism in my daily life, I'm not qualified to judge what is racism. But I'm just saying..I don't see it in the kids..much. (There was once..but the little girl was young. And even though it sounded mean-spirited, she was lucky to have people who cared about her and others enough to set her straight on some things. And the adults around her used the opportunity to teach respect for all people. And so I choose to believe it was just not knowing and understanding). I do see it in the parents. (Thankfully not in most parents..but in just enough that's it's made me sit up and notice). Let me try to explain, using my own kids, well one of them anyway. I kind of get a weird window into the world..because my kids and I are a different race from each other.

When Hannah was little, she explained race by skin color, but not in the terms we adults use. It was more like "your skin is light brown, well not even brown. My skin is medium brown. My friend so and so's skin is dark brown. It's not black though, even though someone said it was black". See, innocent. One day she came home from after-school care in kindergarten and asked me "mom, what team am I on?". (I said Alabama - roll tide! just kidding!). I asked what she meant. She said "am I on the white team or the black team?". I was a little concerned - and was ready to head down to her school (that I LOVE) and ask why on earth they were dividing kids into teams for games based on race!! But because I know her school and know that would not be tolerated, I figured I must be missing something. So, I asked a few more questions first. (always a wise choice where my kids are involved) And it turns out - there were no teams. Hannah was just trying to figure out where she fit in in a world where it seemed like everyone else was either white or black. There were no organized teams..but she was asking "am I supposed to play with the white kids or the black kids? Where do I belong?". And I've learned that - kids categorize. It's a developmental skill..not meanness. Kids with curly hair / straight hair, boys / girls, 2nd grader / 1st graders, black / white. I asked "are you trying to figure out if you're white or black?". She said yes. So I responded "neither". And then I tried to explain that she was Asian..and that was it's own race and she wasn't white or black and she should play with whoever she wanted or whoever looked like they needed a friend.

It's taken a long time for Hannah to understand there are many races and nationalities and ethnicities in the world. She tried for a while to put everyone into: white, black, asian. (because kids categorize. And honestly, I think a great many kids do this - though most probably leave out the asian. But Hannah's just more verbal about it than most). Well, asian = chinese to her for a while. And slowly, as she occassionally met people that were Korean or Vietnamese or Indian (from India) she began to understand that "Asian" incorporated more than "Chinese". (And the reason we met people who were all these other ethnicities was simply that when Hannah saw someone who looked asian, she marched up and said "hey, are you Chinese?". She still does actually..but now she's starting to say "you look asian..are you Chinese or another kind of asian?".

Another thing Hannah did for a long time is group Hispanic people into the category "Asian". Their skin color was often more similar to hers than it was to a person who was black or white. The earliest I remember this is when Hannah was 4 (before we travelled to get Sadie), a lady who looked hispanic was jogging down our street. Hannah glanced at her and said very matter-of-factly "I think that's my birth mother!". I was pretty much like "um, I'm quite sure it's not. For MULTIPLE reasons". And so we began talking about there were people that were hispanic and that was different from asian, even though skin color could be similar. Now actually, Hannah is learning that not all Hispanic people come from Mexico..but from other places as well. When Hannah plays at the park, she will often walk up to a child there that looks hispanic and say "Hey..I speak Chinese, do you speak Spanish?". Kind of funny in that she actually doesn't speak Chinese (at least not above the level she could learn from watching Nihao Kai-lan cartoon! And she probably knows as many Spanish words as Chinese). But she shows no hesitation in asking about race or ethnicity. She's proud to be Chinese and she figures everyone else should be proud to be whatever they are and be ready to talk about it.

It may seem like we talk about race a lot - and well I guess we do. Not just strictly race..but race, ethnicitity and nationality. Not an everyday conversation..but it comes up. Hannah drives a lot of that..she's interested and has questions. (Sadie on the other hand never brings it up.). I think some of it comes from the fact that Hannah doesn't see her race reflected as the majority hardly ever. And unlike some other minorities, she doesn't even see her race reflected as the majority in her church, or her family. That's not a bad just is. (But it's also why I liked her being a part of Camp China last weekend - scroll down). And Hannah seems comfortable with that..but she's also observant and has questions. Hannah is also old enough that she's studied Martin Luther King, Jr.and a little bit about civil rights in school. She is completely outraged at the idea of segregation. (She also wanted to know if she lived in the United States during segregation where she would go to school.) She thinks Ruby Bridges is very cool (Black child who was the first to integrate her school after Brown vs. Board of Eduation). So, yeah. We talk about race a lot in our family. It's been a learning cuve for both of us in how to do that in ways that are respectful and honoring to everyone.

Contrast that with the way I've heard race talked about among adults in the past and this week. (and this is where I may step on some toes!) Last year Hannah was in a class that included some students who were hispanic. I don't know how many exactly..but more than a couple. And the same is true this year. And there are several classrooms in the school that have a significant number of hispanic children. Beautiful, bright children whose parents want them to learn and grow and develop and have fun and make friends. Kind of like what we all want for our kids. And sadly, I have heard more than one parent "grumble" about their child being placed in a room with those kids. Comments like "Did you see the list of names? I can't pronounce half of them. Great! (sarcastic great!)" or "Who is my child going to be friends with - I mean with the nationality of the other kids?". "There is no one my daughter can be friends with in this class" (based ONLY on the names of the kids. Not meeting them. Not even seeing them!! )Seriously. And I've heard other comments too. A couple comments were said directly to me. Because I was white and the other parent was white so I must agree, right? And actually at least two times that I know of (only once this year) I've said "well, my child is not white either" and the other parent looked at me like "oh, duh! I forgot!". So, okay.. this is not the majority of people I know. It's actually only a couple conversations I've had plus a couple relayed to me. But I've just heard a little "grumbling" on this topic over the years. And I have to think there's more going on..or at least being thought. So, if your child is in a class like's my experience / thoughts for what it's worth:

* Be glad! Your child will be enriched by it.

* The vast vast majority of the kids of other nationalities in our schools speak English. Really, they do. I've sat at the tables with them at lunch. I've visited their class. I've taught them. There may be one who doesn't here and there..but they learn "playground english" fast. (not a real term - my words). The kids who get ESL help especially after kindergarten,(for the most part) need help with academic language..langauge on tests, in textbooks, etc. But your child absolutely can play with them on the playground just fine. And even if there's a child who doesn't speak English - kids figure out how to communicate. Don't worry.

* Your child will not be the "only" white child in his / her class. At least at my school. Actually, far from it.

* Even IF your child were to end up being the only white child in his / her class - it would be fine. There are many children across the world who have survived being the only child of their race / nationality in a class. My child is one of them.

* Your child will learn in this class. The teacher will teach in English and will teach your child the same thing other kids of this age are learning in their classes. Your child's education will not be harmed, but will be enriched. And my secret observation here: In many schools (though not all I concede) the classrooms with kids who may need a little extra help (such as classrooms with kids who have disabilities or classrooms with kids who need ESL support) tend to have some of the strongest teachers. That will be a benefit to your child too.

* You might have to discuss race with your child. It's not so hard. But as kids begin categorizing, observing, and trying to make sense of the world - we definately have to model respect. But sometimes we have to verbalize it as well. For example: Hannah knows what racism is. We've explicity talked about it. It started when she was learning about civil rights at school, but also she had someone who wouldn't let her do something because she wasn't born in America. (but that was the young child mentioned earlier where it was actually used by the adults around as a teaching moment and I believe was handled well). She's young and still working on the understanding, but she can give you a very simple definition. "If someone doesn't want to play with you because you're not playing fair, or because they have someone else they're playing with, or because they want to do something else, or they just want to be alone - that's not racism. They just don't want to play. But if they won't play with you because of what you're skin looks like or where you're from - that's racism". She will also tell you that it's not okay to make fun of what people look like or where they are from, and that it's not okay to sing songs that make places other people are from sound bad because it might hurt someone's feelings.

* Your child's life will be enriched by having friends that are different, whether "different" in your child's case means white, black, hispanic, asian, child with disabilities, or what. One of Hannah's good friends in her class last year was hispanic. And it was that little girl that actually stood by Hannah when someone else wasn't being so nice. Hannah's friends have included kids with disabilities, especially in years she was in an inclusion class. (which is not about race..but it is about respect for everyone).

* Your child is looking and listening to you for help in figuring out this world. And when you are looking at class lists and dropping off school supplies this week, your child might just be noticing any grumbling, sighing, or whispered "do you see these names?" comments. In contrast, your child might also be paying attention to your genuine "wow - looks like a great class. I think you'll have a great year!" And if you teach your child respect for everyone..she might just learn to respect herself and stand up for herself when needed too - because she also is a person of great worth in this world.

I realize my perspective as a white parent with asian daughters may be a little unique. I honestly seek out diversity for her. But I'm thankful for that unique perspective and I *hope* I would feel the same way if my children were white. I honestly believe I would because this gets down to what I believe about my faith as well..belief that each person is a unique and valuable creation of God. You know "Jesus loves the Little Children" and "Love your neighbor as yourself" You can't love people you don't take the time to get to know. And by no means do we do this perfectly. Far from it actually. But what I know is this: For our family, we are enriched by all the people we do know, and particularly all the people my children know. In Hannah's girl scout troop, I think the black girls outnumber the white girls. At Camp China, Hannah gets to be the majority - a group of 17 girls in her age group..all Chinese. At school, probably 1/3 of the class is Hispanic. Her teacher has an Asian painted umbrella in her class, as well as Native American items (which is a culture that is an interest to her teacher). And you know what? It's going to be a great year!!

Monday, August 01, 2011

Camp China!

This past weekend we took a LONG drive to Black Mountain, NC for our first visit to Camp China. Camp China is a weekend family camp for families who have children from China.Those of you who know my children probably know that Hannah particularly is all about everything China. I'm very thankful she is proud to be from China and I want to encourage that in both girls. We hope to return to visit China one day, but in the meantime, we had "Camp China". The girls and I had a blast and hope to be able to go back next year.
We joined about 50+ other girls from China and their families for a fun weekend of games, Chinese dance, Chinese art, swimming, s'mores around a campfire, new friends, and more. Morning activities were split with the kids in their age-group classes with counselors and teachers while parents had workshops and a guest speaker. (And maybe even a nap!). Sunday featured Kay Bratt, author of Silent Tears: a Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage, as the speaker for the adults. She was a great speaker with a very inspiring message. Then, after lunch, families had some free time for swimming, playing in the creek, resting,etc., folowed by family activities. Saturday we went to a cooking class and learned to make a cold noodle dish. Sunday we painted Chinese umbrellas and decorated picture frames. The evenings varied. Friday evening was the welcome campfire, s'mores, and games. Saturday evening was a movie for the kids with crafts for the adults. (Kids had crafts in their morning classes). I tried out calligraphy and Chinese knot tying. Sunday evening was the closing ceremony complete with a talent show, showing off what they learned in Chinese Dance class, and a dragon parade. Both my girls were in the talent show. Hannah did a dance she made it up - it was really beautiful! Sadie told knock-knock jokes. They were hilarious! Not because the jokes were funny, but actually because well, they weren't funny at all but she thought they were. And she was just too dang cute as she boldly marched to the stage, took the microphone, told her jokes, and then laughed at her own made-up jokes. Everyone else couldn't help laughing too. (so of course now she thinks her jokes are the best and she's going to be a comedian - or "joker" as she calls it - when she grows up!) All-in-all a very fun weekend. To me the value of the weekend was not in the kids learning about Chinese culture. The real value was in just hanging out with so many other kids just like them. And also in hanging out with the teenage and young adult counselors and the adult teachers. They were also Asian (mainly Chinese). All the girl counselors were adopted from China as well. (The guy counselors were asian, but not necessarily adopted). The counselors were awesome- even spending time hanging out with the kids during what was supposed to be their free time, giving piggy back rides, and more. It was neat to see how the little girls looked up to them. Sometime Saturday as we were headed to our room, Hannah said "mom, almost everyone here is Chinese! Except the parents!". Here's some pictures from our weekend.

This was a cooking class! The cooking instructor took some time out of teaching us to pose with some of the counselors who walked through after playing a game of counselor paint-tag.

Sadie and a new friend mixing up ink for calligraphy

Hannah painting her umbrella

Hannah dancing for talent show

Sadie takes the microphone for knock-knock jokes

Just hanging out with new friends

Closing Ceremony

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Prison: How to Help

Okay, well, I tried to put this all in one long post and apparently blogger thought I was a bit too long-winded. So here's what I cut out of the previous post. Don't forget to scroll down and read the post before this.

Following is a re-post (slightly edited) that I originally posted last year. But it's time again. So, in case you missed my thoughts on why I go to prison, here they are.Before I get to that though, I will be going to prison again September 8-11, this time for a full Kairos weekend of 3.5 days. This is exciting for us because it's the first time in several years we have been able to do the full weekend there. We will be welcoming 36 residents (what we call the inmates) into the Kairos community. These are ladies who are in prison but who have not yet been involved in any of our weekends or retreats. We will be listening, loving, praying, sharing, singing, worshipping, eating, laughing, and probably crying too together for 3.5 days. And God will do amazing things, I am sure. We'd love to have your help. Contact me if you want more info on how to help. Some of the things we need include:

* Prayers - If you tell me you are praying for us, your name will go on a strip of paper and be added to our prayer chain. Think of the paper chains you might have made as a child. That's what it's like, except every chain link represents one person who is praying. We circle the prison chapel with the prayer chain and it's a very visual representation to the women that they are not forgotten. It's amazing to witness the chain come out and their reactions.

* Donations - Just $5 provides a meal for one of our residents. And $125 sponsors one resident for the entire weekend. (And it's tax deductible). Contact me for more information.

* Placemats - this is a great project for children's sunday school classes. We need sets of 36 placemats decorated by children. Children should put only their first name and age.

* Expressions of love and encouragement - write sets of 36 identical letters of encouragement (they can be addressed to "Dear sister in Christ"). Or provide 36 encouraging bookmarks (identical). Or provide 36 copies of a poem or inspiration thought. No stickers, glue, etc.

*Make a dozen homemade cookies. Or provide a couple bags of "salties" such as potato chips, cheese puffs, pork skins (very loved there!).

Okay - scroll down and read the post below this for why I go. Or click this link.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why I Go to Prison - an updated repost's the original, slightly edited post.

I drive a lot for work. My car and I travel a lot of county roads. Occasionally I pass crews of men or women who are in prison and are out cleaning up the roads. Sometimes they are city or county jail crews – usually given away by the orange jumpsuits. But sometimes I also see white clothing with the familiar black letters on the back (DOC). Department of Corrections. State prisoners. Many years ago, I just drove by them without a 2nd thought. I didn’t actually think badly of them. No, my attitude was almost worse. I simply didn’t think of them at all. They had nothing to do with me or what I was doing or where I was going. They were “other”, not like me and not a part of me.

That all changed in 2001. One Sunday morning I was walking in the door of my church when I was greeted by a friend who said, “Hey! I’m going to lead a Kairos weekend in September and I’d love for you to help. Are you interested?” I said, “Sure, I’d love to!” I then entered the church and thought “Oh crap! What did I just do??? I didn’t mean that!”See, my friend was very involved in prison ministry at our state women’s prison a couple hours away. Kairos was the name of the ministry she was involved in. I’d just told her that I’d love to minister in prison! Um, yeah. That wasn’t really my “thing” back then. I’d never even considered the idea. Up until that point, I’d volunteered with different groups of people. Kids mainly. Kids were my “thing”. I’m a teacher and I love kids. But adults in general weren’t my “thing” and especially adults in prison. I got nervous. What would I say to someone in prison? How could I relate to them? I thought prison ministry was a good thing for someone else to do, but not me! I had actually sent cards to some men in prison as part of a project before. But to talk to them, sit with them, spend a weekend with them? What was I thinking?! Actually I wasn’t thinking. My mouth said yes before my brain could engage in a debate. And while I generally can say “no” pretty well, I’m very thankful that in that instance, I said “yes”. I don’t exactly know why I didn’t ever go back to my friend and say “hey, I made a mistake and I meant no”, except that I started listening to God. And somehow, this started seeming “right”.

It's now 10 years later and I’ve been in that prison numerous times. Maybe 5 times for full Kairos weekend retreats (3.5 days each), 5 times for shorter 2-day follow-up retreats, and more times than I can count for monthly reunions lasting a couple hours. Somewhere between a Thursday night in September and the following Sunday afternoon back in 2001, prison ministry became my “thing”. My fears? Irrelevant in the face of what God was doing. You know what I learned about relating to people in prison? They are people. And just like me and you, those ladies are people of great worth. The woman wearing that white DOC uniform and I are the same in God’s eyes. We have the same fears, hopes, and dreams. We have both made mistakes. We have both sinned. We are both in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. God loves me intensely with an amazing love. God loves her just as intensely with just as much amazing love. True, I have not committed a crime that could end me up in prison. But have I committed crimes in my heart? Have I gone against what God wanted me to do at times? Yes, it’s part of being human. But God’s grace is there for me, and it’s there for the women (and men) in prison as well. And because of that, I can relate to the ladies there as sisters..sisters in Christ. It’s a really, really beautiful thing.

It’s a beautiful thing, but it’s not always easy. Kairos’ mission is to “bring Christ’s love to the incarcerated, their families, and those who work with them”. It’s tough sometimes. Because even though God sees us as his children, equally loved, the world doesn’t always see that way. And the world passes that message on to us, and to them. Sometimes I have to fight through a temptation to think that in some way I’m “better than” my sister wearing white who is sitting across from me. More often, I fight the opposite temptation to think that I’m “not good enough” to make a difference. And sometimes our new friends, they struggle with those things too. They struggle to impress us, make us think they’re “better than”, “tougher than”, etc. Or, they struggle with thinking they’re not good enough, don’t’ deserve God’s love, etc. It’s not just the relationships inside the prison that are tough. Our relationships with other team members aren’t always easy either. We’re a pretty diverse bunch: we are young, older, black, white, from big churches, small churches, and different denominations. We disagree with each other at times. Sometimes we hurt one another’s feelings, even if unintentionally. Sometimes, we just plain irritate and frustrate each other. But God’s grace covers us all and because of that we learn to pray together, listen to each other, forgive, and love. It helps that we also sing together, eat together, and laugh together. God shows up, and lives are transformed right before my eyes, every time. Sometimes, it’s even my life that gets transformed as I learn a little more each time about what God’s heart looks like in the world.

One of my favorite "snapshots" of ministry there is the way we often close reunions or retreats. We all gather in a circle in that small, simple chapel. Nothing fancy - just a cross and a Bible. Very diverse women whose only common denominator is Christ. Women who have shared our lives over the past hours or days. Our team of women in jeans and colorful t-shirts interspersed with women in white uniforms. We all join hands together and sing a song proclaiming that there is only one God, only one King, and only one Body (of Christ) and asking God to bind our hearts together with his love. I’m not a big crier. But that moment gets me every time. I feel a lump in my throat and my eyes tear up as I look around that circle while we all praise the God who unites us. I imagine that feeling of unity and peace and love is just a taste of what heaven feels like. Who knew that when I said yes to prison ministry, I was saying yes to getting a glimpse of heaven?

Now, when I pass work crews with those white uniforms and “DOC” on the back, I notice. They are no longer “other” and their lives matter very much to me. And actually, so do the lives of those in the orange county / city jail uniforms. They matter too. I think about them and about the others those uniforms represent. I slow down just a little and as I pass by, I whisper a prayer of God’s peace, protection, and guidance on their lives. Just maybe, next time you pass one of those crews, you’ll sense a little nudge too…to notice them, to slow down just a little, and to whisper a prayer.

**If you want to be added to our prayer chain, or help in another way, leave a comment, e-mail me, or send me a FB message.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Spring Highlights

So, my sweet friend Laine recently reminded me I haven't updated since March. Well, we've been having lots of fun this summer, but you'll have to wait to read about summer. A brief look back at spring. Or at least the spring happenings (post spring-break) that I have pictures for. Because 1. It's more interesting anyway if there's pictures and 2. How am I supposed to remember what we did back in March - May if I don't have a picture of it. :-) you go..Spring 2011: The Highlights.

Makeup. Sadie has quite the style don't you think?

Teeth. Actually I think Hannah lost one or two more to equal who knows how many (7 she says). Sadie has lost 3. But this was her first.

Easter Egg Hunt and Fun (Sadly, I forgot my camera for Easter Sunday though)

Girl Scout Camp. Hannah went for 2 nights with her troop and had a blast!

Sadie's 3rd Family Forever Day. My how this little girl has grown and changed. She is a joy every day!! These were here "gotcha day" clothes. Which 3 years later actually fit her for the first time instead of swallowing her up.

Tornado Relief Boxes. As everyone in our state knows, our state was ravaged my multiple deadly tornadoes April 27th. It was truly heartbreaking and like most, we just had a need to "do something". We donated supplies. But we needed to participate hands-on. So the girls and I, along with other families from our church, made these "boxes of hope" to be delivered to children all across the state who were effected by the tornadoes. If you don't live in my state you may not realize it, but there's still a lot of devastation and damage and hurting people in places even almost 3 months later. There's rebuilding and hope too..but keep the people who were affected in your prayers - some of them have a very long road to recovery ahead.


Dance Recitals - both girls did a great job in their year-end dance recitals and looked so incredibly cute too!! And Hannah was awarded a dance scholarship for next year to boot. Whoo hoo! Happy News!!

Hannah's 5th Family Forever Day. Hard to believe it's been 5 years since this sweet, spunky girl made me a mom. We couldn't do gotcha day clothes pictures this year - It's the first year she hasn't managed to squeeze into them. But we celebrated by going out for her favorite Chinese noodles. This girl can eat some noodles!

And there you have it..the cliff notes version of Spring. Look for "Summer Happenings" soon. Maybe by Christmas. :-)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lessons from Prison

I went to prison again this weekend. Sweet, blessed time. I love my Kairos sisters - those inside and outside that prison. So many thoughts and images and "snapshots" of the weekend are swirling around in my head. Can't quite process them all yet. But here's a taste of what I experienced.

  • 65 Kairos sisters who praised Jesus, sang together, prayed together, ate together, listened, and loved together. About 54 of them were "sisters in white" who live at Tutwiler and wear standard Dept. of Corrections white uniforms - some for a few years, and a few for a lifetime. The other 11 were our outside team - and we ourselves are pretty diverse bunch! We come from different denominations, different races, different experiences, just different. Yet - the same too. Only God can create that kind of unity.

  • A conversation and prayer time with one of my sisters in white who will live out the rest of her lifetime in that place. And as we shared and prayed, I looked into her eyes and saw sadness and yet joy too. A joy greater than many I know. The sadness came when she talked about life here and now. The joy came when she talked about the life to come and about meeting Jesus face to face. And the joy came too when she talked about all the people she was determined would also come to know Jesus. Her whole face lit up. And I was hit with a sense of divine. And for a moment, I realized we were glimpsing eternity - when she and I and so many others would live and walk side-by-side forever. I don't know how to explain it. It wasn't an emotional moment, or a long moment. Just a brief sense of "yes. this is what it's about". But it was a Holy moment.

  • Another conversation with a woman who has lost her kids. And she tearfully asked me "do you think my baby boy will remember me?". ouch. Because despite everything else. Depsite what they've done, what environment they lived in, everything else, the mothers are still mothers in their hearts. They may not be able to care for their kids now, and some of them may not have been able to care for their children even before they came to prison. But they did (and do!) love them. They never stop loving them.

  • A quote I heard on a break "Our government has a choice to make. If they don't spend more money on schools now, they will just have to spend more money on prisons later". She should know - she's living there now.

  • A discussion after one of our talks. One woman shared her struggle to live a Christian life in that place. She compared her heart to having a robe on and every time she messes up, it leaves a hole in it. So she prays, asks for forgiveness, tries harder, and patches the hole up. And no sooner does she get the hole patched up, then she trips and makes another mistake and gets another hole. She can't keep up. And our table group tells her almost at the same time - quit patching up that robe!! Just exchange it for a brand new one!! That's the promise of Jesus - a new heart!

  • Sunday morning church. I go to a great church - with people I love, great music, great teaching, and great worship! I love my church! But when it comes to the places I've felt the most freedom and pure joy in worship - it comes in 2nd. (or maybe even 3rd - but that might be a story for another day). But first place goes to a very simple chapel in the midst of a place of hurt, shame, and darkness. That little chapel at Tutwiler with very little resources is proclaiming the good news and changing lives. And the worship there is pure, real, free, and joyful! It's awesome!!

  • So much more - some of which are miracles and insights that aren't mine to tell. But now I'm home, and content, and challenged at the same time. Content to be home, happy to be with my family, and really tired. But also challenged to reach out for more ministry, more blessings, more joy, more boldness, more freedom, and more authentic living - to live out in my day-to-day life outside those prison walls the very things that seem to come so easily inside them.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Visit to Ivy Green

We took a mini-vacation for spring break. We started it yesterday and ended it today. Short, but sweet. We drove to Florence yesterday and we got checked in our hotel mid-afternoon. It started raining as soon as we got there and rained all night. Didn't matter. We relaxed and did this:

Swimming in the indoor pool and hanging out at the hot tub

Manicures: (They're supposed to be showing off their nails - not sure what exactly Sadie is doing with that scowl!)

Dinner at a "fancy restaurant" with live music and a visit to the hotel's game room. (no pictures)

A complimentary "cheese and fruit tray" (thanks to friends!) while we watched "The Miracle Worker" movie.

This morning, the girls and I enjoyed room service breakfast, another quick trip to the pool and hot tub, and a little more relaxing. Then we headed out for Tuscumbia to visit Ivy Green, the birth place of Helen Keller. Hannah did a "famous American" project on her when she was in kindergarten and has been interested ever since. I've also loved the stories of her and her teacher Anne Sullivan ever since I was a child. So, Hannah and I were very excited to go. Sadie? The highlight for her was sticking her finger up the nose of a statue of Helen. Seriously - she thought that was hilarious. But anyway, it was a really neat tour. The ladies who ran it and gave the tour were very "child-friendly" in their approach - giving tidbits the kids would especially find interesting along with the parts geared towards adults. And it was short enough to hold Hannah's attention. (Not so much Sadie, but she tried!) Most of the furniture in the house is the original furniture. The floors are original, as well as Helen's clothing we saw and some 100 year old quilts made by her aunt. One interesting thing was the house was not near as big as I thought it would be. It's a nice size for a family, but nothing like the house pictured in the movie. At the end of the tour, we were invited to walk around the house and the grounds. There was also a small museum in one of the rooms that housed many of her braille book collections, gifts given to her by people all over the world, photographs, and one of her old braille writers.

The entrance to Ivy Green

The house where her family lived

Helen and Anne's bedroom. There's a larger bed you can't see.

Some of Helen's and her mother's dresses, hanging in her parents' room

The dining room. These dishes are the original dishes and are what's left of the set. Helen broke most of the dishes in her temper tantrums before she began to learn to communicate. She also not only locked her teacher in her room once (like in the movie), but also locked her mother in the pantry too.

The cottage where Anne took Helen to teach her

One of the girls' highlights - checking out the braille books

One of many garden areas around the house

THE pump - the pump where Helen first understood that words had meaning and could be used to communicate.
This is where she understood that w-a-t-e-r meant water, the wet stuff coming out. Where the light came through the darkness and she understood for the first time. Once she "got it", she really took off. By the end of that day, she had learned the words for 30 things. Amazing! It was my favorite part. For Hannah, it was close between the pump and the braille books. But she reenacted the entire scene at the water pump from the movie. And I'm sorry I don't have a picture of Sadie's favorite part. But I had already asked her to please get her finger out of Helen Keller's nose before I thought to grab my camera. :-)

After we left Ivy Green, we headed right down the road to Spring Park, a really pretty park with waterfalls, ducks, a nice playground, and some cool attractions that weren't open yet this season. But the walk around was nice and the girls enjoyed the ducks.

And then we headed home. I'm thinking we might need to do a few more of these mini-vacations. It was the perfect chance to relax, not spend too much, and not get everyone so tired from a big trip.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Post Where God Meets Me in Piles of Clothes!

I just finished a great book called "One Thousand Gifts". (See The book is incredible, very poetic, and very moving. And I absolutely will not do it justice in this quick-typed post at midnight. So read it for yourself. I downloaded it on the kindle pretty inexpensive. But the author is challenged by a friend to name 1000 gifts from God. She begins keeping a journal and noting the gifts. A grattitude journal, so to speak. But as she does this it takes her deeper into the heart of God than she ever imagined as she learns to see God and see grace in all things. Not just in big things, but small things. Not just in good things, but in suffering and trials and hard things too. Take my word for it - read the book. She has an amazing way with words.

I've starting keeping my own journal of gifts. It's not near as poetic. But, today I added #123: "oodles and oodles of clothes! mounds of clothes! Clothes to fill closets and clothes to give away!" Seems that God has a lesson for me today in clothes. Clothes represent grace to me today. Clothes are grace today. God provides. God blesses. But to receive more blessings, the first blessings must flow through me. I can't keep my hands wrapped tight around them - for if my hands are wrapped tight around my blessings, my hands can not be open to receive more blessings.

What does this have to do with clothes? Glad you asked. :-) Everyone knows that if you have kids, there are just some things you have to do. You have to feed them. You have to clothe them. It just comes with the job description. After almost 5 years with Hannah and almost 3 years with Sadie - I can tell you that I don't have to buy my kids clothes. Hardly ever. (Now grandma buys clothes from time to time. Just because she likes to!) That doesn't mean I don't occassionally buy them something new just because I like it or because they like it. But that's pretty rare. But never fear, they do not feel deprived at all. And they are not. They are blessed. We are blessed. Before I adopted Hannah, I had a few families I know bring me bags and bags of clothes for her. Plus, there were some shower gifts of clothing. Hannah had FULL drawers and a closet before I ever traveled to China. When she outgrew a few things, I passed them on to a friend. But then, I was in another adoption process with Sadie. And so I wondered, maybe I shouldn't pass on so many clothes. What if I need them later for Sadie? So I started keeping them. But when I got Sadie, she was significantly smaller than Hannah had been. I thought I might have to actually buy her some clothes. But instead, we had *more* friends donate clothes in the size we needed. And I kept the clothes Hannah outgrew, and was outgrowing. Because, one day Sadie would be big enough to wear them! Actually, now at 5.5 years old, Sadie is wearing some of the clothes Hannah wore at 3. Finally!
But, long story short, we continually have people bring us clothes. Not continually as in "all the time". But at least 1-2 times a year someone will stop me at church, or at work, and say "hey, I have bag of clothes in the car for you". About twice a year, I go through all the kids clothes. Anything too small for Sadie gets donated to a friend with a smaller child. Anything that fits her - she gets to keep. Anything that's in between Sadie and Hannah's size - I put in a box in Sadie's closet for "later". Anything that fits Hannah - she gets to keep. Anything too big for Hannah - I put in a box in her closet for "later". Well, before I knew it - we were being overrun by clothes! What a great problem to have. But, um, I literally couldn't stuff any more clothes in the drawers. And the boxes in the closet for "later" were stuffed. And I had two HUGE drawers in my room that were stuffed with girls' clothes. And MY closet was slowly being taken over by the dresses that didn't fit the girls now but would later! And the more clothes you have, the more laundry you have. Even if they only wear the same 5 shirts over and over! Because some how other clothes end up in the dirty clothes or stuffed in corner somewhere until you find them and then they are dirty. So as I was going through clothes this time (because we're having an early spring it seems! We needed spring clothes out! yippee!), I was finally like "SAVE ME FROM ALL THESE CLOTHES!! THEY ARE TAKING OVER MY HOUSE!". Hmm. What was meant to be a blessing, and what started out as a blessing, starts to become a burden. It hit me that perhaps I was beeing a bit greedy. I didn't think so at the time. I wasn't buying lots of clothes. In fact, I rationalized, I was saving so much money by not buying clothes that I could then use that money for other things - good things even like how about the fact that we sponsor two children through Compassion International. What could have been our "clothing budget" instead goes to our sponsor children. True. But really, does Hannah need 35 short-sleeve t-shirts? Or how about Sadie's 30 short sleeve t-shirts in each size from now through middle school? I'm exagerating..but only slightly I'm embarrased to say! But really, if God is providing for us now, won't he still be providing in 5 years too? Even if we don't keep it all for now? How about especially if we don't keep it all for now! I mean, if Sadie reaches the age of 10 and all of a sudden there's no box of clothes waiting for her, she'll still have clothes! I can buy clothes. A teacher salary might not be extravagant, but it really is enough to meet basic needs. I just think it's really cool that I haven't *had* to purchase many clothes for the girls. But if I had to, I could. And if I couldn't, wouldn't God provide in some way? So, I decided to stop the insanity of the clothing monstor in our house. We have filled up multiple garbage bags of clothes. Some clothes are going to friends. Others are going to the thrift store. Only a small percentage of the clothing we are donating is things Sadie has outgrown. There's a lot that still fits her that's going. And some that still fits Hannah. And some that's in between their sizes. And some that's too big for Hannah. They no longer have 35 t-shirts! Or too-many dresses, or 15 pairs of leggings. But they have enough. Really, more than enough. We still have the boxes of clothes for them to grow-into. But only a size bigger than what they are now. But they are not overflowing. And their clothes are not taking over the house. And hopefully, those mutiple bags of clothes will bless someone else. And yeah, I'm not just donating *their* clothes. I've started going through mine too. That's not a finished project yet.

If you happen to be one of our sweet friends who donates clothing to us - THANK YOU! Thank you for blessing our family with your gifts! We DO appreciate and love the gifts! And feel free to continue as your children outgrow things. :-) But we will be more selective of what to keep. We won't have 5 years of clothes to grow into waiting. We will pass on to others the blessings. Now that the clothes are bagged up waiting to be delivered, we'll actually have room to receive.

And that's really what this post is about. Not clothes. It's about making room to receive God's grace. It's always there. Always being given to us. But when our hands are closed so tightly around the blessings and we don't want to share, we don't have room to receive more. Love given is multiplied. When we let go, our hands are open to receive the grace God wants to give next. Not 1000 gifts. But unending gifts. Receive. Be blessed. Give. Bless someone else. What a cycle! So today, I thank God for grace through little girls' clothes.

Monday, February 28, 2011

"A Little Child Shall Lead Them"

My kids are both amazing. In so many ways - in sometimes very different ways. Sure, they're also sometimes argumentative, sassy, whiney, etc. But that's not the "real" person. The real, true person in each of them is quite amazing. And resilient. And courageous.

Hannah is 7. She's outgoing, creative, and very social. She also has a beautiful voice and loves to sing. The 2nd grade at her school did a performance recently and she was thrilled to be singing on-stage with her peers. She even had a small speaking part where she read off some facts about the Star-Spangled Banner. She did great, made no mistakes, and I was proud of her. I was especially proud remembering the difficult time she's had with her speech over the years. She's come so far!!

But I was even more proud of her the following Sunday in church. Our church has some pretty great music and Hannah loves to sing and praise. But she also has a perfectionist living inside of her that doesn't want to make a mistake. In anything. Oh - we've had some good discussions in the past few years about how everyone makes mistakes, no one is perfect, etc. etc. But I haven't really seen the fruit of those discussions - if she "messes up" and knows it - she's pretty upset about it usually. So anyway, the praise band was singing a song that wasn't quite as familar to our congregation as some. The words were on the screen and the band was doing a great job. But the response of the congregation was not quite as enthusiastic as normal. (They liked the song - they just weren't singing along with gusto since they didn't know it as well). Except for Hannah. She was singing out and enjoying herself. Until there was a pause in the words and Hannah started back before everyone else with a really loud "OHH..." (That was the next word, she just beat everyone else by a second or two). We've all seen it happen before, and for some of us, we've been the one to do it. People giggled, because it was cute. And it was cute. Except that Hannah didn't think so. She laughed at first, but then when she realized *other* people were laughing, she got embarrassed. She turned her head towards me and hid it from everyone else. And she was wiping tears away. I whispered to her that it was okay, no big deal and that other people had done the same thing. I told her I had done the same thing before. She looked at me and said "but I don't want to mess up - I'm embarrased". I quickly reminded her that everyone messes up sometimes, said it's okay to be embarrased, but then move on. Don't spend the rest of the service worried about it. The next song started and it was another not-quite so familiar song. Hannah sat quietly, not singing. I didn't really blame her. Because if it was me, I'd have done the same thing! I don't like to be embarrased either. And while I do normally participate in the music, if I don't know the song, I'm much more cautious. I guess it made me a little sad that she was learning to be cautious, but I understood it.

And then...she took a deep breath and began singing sweetly and loud enough that her voice could be heard at least around where we were sitting. I looked at her and saw that she was enjoying herself again. No fear. Just praise and songs and smiles. The sermon Sunday was great. But the "sermon" that meant the most to me was watching my sweet daughter. That's what I want to be like! To mess up, to cry about it if you must, and then to move on with trust and not fear! Not in music, but in life.