Thursday, June 30, 2011

First World Problems

I'm about to spend the afternoon with our new teachers talking all things smart.  Someone sent me this video.  It made me laugh.  We keep catching ourselves getting irritated that a "blessing" or "privilege" is causing us minor problems.  Like the time one of the kids was irritated that there wasn't any more hot water at shower time.  "You hardly ever had hot water in Haiti.  Remember?"  Oh.  Yeah.  We laugh.  I find myself getting irritated at the piles of laundry, even though it's a million times easier to do it here than in Haiti.  We're so dumb, aren't we?

What's your favorite line?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Giant Puppy Gets a Name

Today we have one main goal:  Name our new puppy.

When we get back to Haiti this little cuddly creature will be adopted into our family.

We've never really done the "pet thing."  When you have a bunch of kids, really close together, the idea of adding a dog into that mixture sounds insane.  "We want a dog.  Can we have a dog?"  Believe me, the kids have asked.  Relentlessly, they have asked.  My answer?  "No.  Unless one of you moves out, we can't have a dog.  We can't have a dog because we already have too many kids."

Anyone who knows me knows this:  I am not a dog person.

Call me crazy but I'm not a fan of things licking me or of exposed private parts.  Dogs have those.  I won't lie.  It makes me cringe to know that dogs put their exposed hiney holes all over the floor.  If someone came over to your house, licked you, opened up their butt cheeks, set their butt hole on your floor...or worse...your couch...and then this person humped your leg, I'm thinking their bizarre behavior would be a show stopper, a story you told over and over, and your guest would never be allowed back at your house.

The rules are obviously different for dogs.

Add two legs, some fur, some slobber, and suddenly this barbaric house guest becomes a beloved pet.

We've also never been a huge fan of dog food bills or paying for dogs to go to the vet.

Can you imagine how much food this dog will eat?  Four boys and a mastiff.  Are we the dumbest people that ever lived?

Dogs in Haiti are not just pets, they are working dogs.  Part pet, part security guard.  I keep telling myself that over and over and over.

The boys are thrilled to have a dog waiting for them when we get back to Haiti.  I'm thrilled to have a puppy who will grow up to be a giant beast of a dog who will be the best protection for my babies money can buy in a country like Haiti.  We could all pull the Jesus card here and say He is our protection.  He is.  I want to believe that, but until I fully do, I will snap back with a snarky, "Jesus created mastiffs.  Maybe that's how He is protecting my children."  You can pray for us.  It's always welcome.

When I'm at Beth's and her lionesque dogs are walking around her house, I'm in awe of these enormous creatures who are insanely loyal and protective while allowing children to sit on top of them.  Gentle giants to those they love.  Fierce warriors whose barks make my blood go cold and my legs feel like jelly when they encounter people who are new or seem the least bit threatening.

Today we had a chaotic family meeting to decide on a name for our newest family member.  Beth is fostering our dog, and being the dog lover she is, I'm sure it is driving her bananas that this dog does not have a name.

Naming things in our house is a big deal.  All our names start with A or H, so we had to decide if the dog's name would start with an A or an H.  Overwhelmingly the kids agreed that must have an A name or an H name.  Since it's a dog, and not a person, we were all okay with it having EITHER an A or an H name, even though in our ridiculous pattern we have going on right now, we are due for an A name (since Hudson is the baby).

We listed adjectives to describe full-grown mastiffs.  With an animal this substantial, it really needs a proper name.  One that means something.

Anson mentioned Hestia, a greek goddess who was the protector of hearth and home.  We all loved Anson's idea, but no one was a huge fan of the name Hestia.  Aaron said it sounded like a disease or a sugar substitute.  As a homeschooling mom, I liked Anson's idea because it caused great pride to well up inside me  that he remembered our mythology unit.  Then Anson told me he read about Hestia in the Percy Jackson books.  Well, fine.  Whatever.

Aaron and the kids started looking into other warriors/goddesses.  Not because we believe in those, but because they are bigger than life and cool.  Just like a mastiff.

We finally found one we liked.

Meet Artemis.
Protector of the Vulnerable

I almost cried (I am all sorts of lame that way) when Aaron and the kids said her name and what it means.  And guess what?  After reading more about Artemis, in the stories, she became a midwife.

Artemis.  Protector of the Vulnerable and the warrior midwife.  She will fit in well around Heartline.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Looking for the Poor

As I mentioned in the previous post on this topic, Aaron and I began doing some research.  How poor are America's poor?  Where do the poor live in our country?  How poor are the rest of the world's poor?  Who are the oppressed?  Who are the helpless?  How do we live out these newly-found convictions we have about loving the poor, the orphan, the helpless, and the oppressed?

So many questions.  We were like a three year old on steroids.

Before I attempt and then fail to answer those questions, is it okay to pause and remind myself and anyone reading the posts in this series that this is our story?  In recounting the tension we live in while desperately seeking wisdom from God about these hard questions, I don't want anyone to feel defensive, as if I'm also trying to write your story or trying to say that your story should read like ours.  We serve a magnificent God.  He's big.  He loves this world.  We're one couple.  One family.  He is leading us, and I trust He is leading you.  I'm also completely comfortable with the fact that He might be leading you in a completely different direction regarding these convictions than He is leading us.

Just this morning I read where Jesus said, "There were many widows, but Elijah only visited one.  There were many lepers, but God only healed Naaman." (Luke 4:25-27, paraphrased)  I'm not saying I'm comfortable with how God rolls, but I think it's clear in the Bible and just by simply looking around for five minutes that there is a lot of need in our world, and yet God only chooses to intervene in some places and in some situations.  We are going to trust that this work in our hearts was inspired by God, and the way He is leading us in regards to living out His Word are God's plan as well.  God eventually broke our hearts for the poor outside of the United States, but perhaps He is breaking your heart for the poor right here in our own country.  Just like God led Elijah to that specific widow, we're trying to trust that God is leading our hearts as we seek out our own "widows" to bring good news and hope.

After reading through several studies (from secular, religious, right-winged, and left winged sources), the census, and lots of news reports, we finally walked away with some sweeping "big picture" ideas.  Here is where we personally landed:

While there is a lot of suffering in the United States, a lot of broken hearted, down-trodden people who need to experience God's love, mercy, and kindness, if we were to rate everyone in the world from wealthiest to poorest (in the desperate, don't have anything, no hope, no way out on their own, do not even have the basics like Jesus is describing when he commands us to care for the poor sort of way) there would be a grand-canyon sized discrepancy between most of the people we consider poor in America and the poor in most places around the world.

That's the difficult conclusion we came to as a couple.

What I just said is not a popular thing to say, and it tends to make people angry.  It would have made me angry a few years ago, but only because I really, really wanted to feel like I was doing what Jesus said and caring for the poor because I was friends with a single mom whose money was tight and so I'd give her hand-me-down baby clothes every once in awhile.  I desperately needed that "single mom" to be the poor, when in fact, she was simply a single mom who I should have loved and befriended because she's made in the image of God.  But if we're talking about what Jesus said about the poor, compared to the rest of the world's poor...this single mom was wealthy.  She was someone who needed love, a listening ear, a friend to cry with, but she was not "the poor."  Since everyone may already be angry, I'll sheepishly go ahead and squeak out one more thing.

There is a reason why you will never be able to convince the people you know who have lived in a third world country that there is just as much need in the United States as there is everywhere else. That reason is this:  to say something like that sounds ridiculous.  A lot of America's poor would be considered well off by the poor living in developing countries.  The conclusion we came to as a couple after reading reports and educating ourselves is that compared to the rest of the world, most Americans are loaded when we consider their access to the gospel.  They are rich in resources, and rolling in the dough when it comes to their human rights.  I'm not trying to discount anyone's suffering in the United States.  There is so much suffering here.  I didn't say no one suffers in America.  This world is broken and is groaning...all creation is groaning, crying out for redemption.  There is pain in America.  The destitute are among us.  There are people who are in bad shape, in terrible places, and are yearning for friendship, love, and connection. There are even people who are hungry and sick.   But when it comes to the idea of poverty we think Jesus was referring to in the Bible...the leper...the lame...the sick...the hungry...the orphan...the oppressed...for the most part, compared to other countries we are unquestionably fortunate in the United States.

We will never go so far as to say that there is not intense poverty and suffering right here within our borders.  The poor do live here.  There are people with sad, horrible stories walking America's streets.  There is need.  There are places to serve, and people doing incredible things to truly love and care for the most down and out in the US.  What we personally had to admit was that we were naive.  We had never really done our homework and looked into the plight of the poor in our own nation and in other nations.  We had no idea how people were living (or maybe dying is a better word) in countries not that far from us.  We were oblivious to the suffering and hopelessness in other countries.

Yes, we found that there are poor people, just like Jesus describes living in the United States.  We simply had to admit that if we stayed in America and "poured our life out" for the poor like Jesus asks for us to do that we would have to be a lot more intentional about finding the poor (as defined by Jesus) than we previously thought.  The poor are among us, but the truly destitute (like the majority of people living in the rest of the world) are a little harder to locate in the United States.

Instead, for the very first time in our lives, our eyes were opened and the plight of other people living in far away countries became our new passion.  We were shocked by the enormous amounts of orphans who will sit in cribs or in crowded, institutionalized care for their entire lives.  Our hearts were broken for the masses and masses of women who have no rights, who are raped, beaten, sold into sexual slavery, and die.  One woman a minute will die today due to preventable complications in pregnancy or delivery.  Why?  Because in many, many countries, women do not matter enough to save their lives.  We were appalled at how many children will never set foot in a school.   Our hearts were torn wide open when we read about child slavery, illiteracy, genocide, and babies dying every day of things like diarrhea.  The injustice of it all kept us up late at night, caused us to get a little sick, but ultimately caused us to agree...This should not be.

Our conversations were a big, soupy mixture of trying to figure out how to live in America, but also care for the poor who lived so far away from us.  Is it possible to live here and advocate for people over there?  Is it possible to live here and live in such a way that cares for the poor instead of oppressing them?

We read about sweat shops.  We read about how our constant need for more cheap junk in the United States creates a huge demand for inexpensive products.  How is Wal-Mart able to sell $5 dresses and plastic plates in every color?  8 plates for a dollar?  We get a bargain, but someone...someone around the world suffers as the market keeps up with this never ceasing American demand for more, more, more.  For the first time, as we'd fill our bright-red basket up with stuff, we started wondering where our stuff was coming from.  Who made this?  Are they treated fairly?  Are they free or are they slaves?  Did a child in a cramped, oppressive work environment make this spiral notebook I picked up "just because" it caught my eye?  Nothing is free.  We save $12.99 at the cash register, and someone, somewhere pays for it.

Those questions lead to more questions.  Isn't it disturbing how few answers we have in comparison to this mountain of questions that sits in our laps?

How can we give more money to ministries who were already on the ground in countries around the world physically living out all the things Jesus spoke so often and passionately about?

How can we advocate, use our voice, use our power to speak up for those without any power?

How can we live out Jesus' commands to care for the poor right here in the comfort of our own country?  How do we live in such a way that we begin pushing back the darkness and bringing hope, God's love, and care to people suffering across the ocean? 

All very hard questions.  We had no idea where to start.  Little did we know that where God always likes to start is in our hearts.  We had no idea that our own greed and our built-in entitlement to have what we wanted when we wanted it would be the first thing God would have to point out while He patiently taught us and is still teaching us to trust Him.  This same battle rages daily inside of us even after living in Haiti and seeing intense poverty with our own eyes.  This battle is fierce and rages while living IN Haiti.

While not easy, seeking out truth, and responding in love towards our neighbors who are destitute will always come down to a question of whether or not our faith is in this earthly kingdom or in God's Kingdom. Decisions we make every day as we live out His commands to care for the poor (here or in Haiti) cause our faith to be boiled down to a few simple questions:  Do we believe Jesus?  Do we believe that this life is temporary, but heaven is forever?  Do we believe that heaven has its own currency and its own economy, and the US dollar, as wonderful as it is, is worth nothing in heaven?

As we all walk through this series together about caring for the poor, no matter how we fail, or how difficult it is to discern exactly what God is wanting us to "do" I think we can all agree that it's exciting to know that this one particular topic will always cause us to come face to face with what we truly believe about Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

Other posts in this series:

Caring for the Poor While Living in the Good ol' U-S of A?

Who Are the Poor?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hotel Rules

I vividly remember
My brother
Two small, panting kids
In a high rise hotel room
wildly jumping from bed to bed

free to bounce
hair reaching for the sky
like hands on a roller coaster

Breathlessly lunging
from one bed to the other
laughing, squealing
getting braver
I imagined with wonder
what it would be like
to jump clear across the bed
right out the wall of a window

Joy rising
permitted to do the forbidden
falling on the rented bed
and in love with this fascinating place
where the rules are tossed on the floor
like the white, giant towels

I vowed right then and there

Hotel beds would always be made for mayhem and jumping.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Never Gonna Be a Big Girl

The original plan:  Me.  Heading out for four days to a practicum for a new curriculum we'll be using next year for the seven school-age kids in Haiti.  Me.  Alone.  In a hotel room.  Driving several hours away.  Alone.  Without cruise control and a deep-down hatred for map reading.  A practicum.  Alone.  Don't I sound independent and intelligent.   Practicum.  Keep saying it.  I'm convinced uttering that word makes my IQ increase.  Practicum.

Here's the sweet, pathetic, lame, sad, heart-warming (you feel free to pick your adjective) truth.  I hate being away from my family.  I have left my kids home to head out on magical getaways with my husband, but I've never really spent much time away from home without this crazy bunch or my handles-every-last-detail husband.

Earlier in the week I was feeling excited.  I'm going to be alone for four days.  Imagine all I can accomplish.  Imagine all the Pinterest I can look at, errands I could run, and reading I can get done.  Just imagine.  It felt so Mary Tyler Moore.  Then as the time got closer I told the kids I would be leaving and Ashton in his sweet Ashton way started blinking back the most giant tears.  He was right on the verge of bawling when I said, "No.  Don't.  Let's forget about it.  No more talking about this.  It's awful."

Last night as I was falling asleep Aaron said, "You do know that you are going to have to be the one who carries your giant quilt through the lobby of the hotel.  And your fan.  I won't be there to do that."

Oh my word.  Aaron is always the one who drags in all my random things I simply must have when we sleep away from home.  The fan.  My quilt (because ew.  gross.  Not using a hotel comforter.  I'm convinced there are boogers on them and other nasty bodily related things.)

Aaron left bright and early this morning to run some errands.  I was home packing.  A thought hit me.  "I don't even know how to set my alarm on my phone.  How am I going to wake up on time for this conference?"  That's when I felt the tears coming.  I am ridiculous.  Aaron is so good to me, down to the fact that he asks me before bed, "What time do you need up in the morning" and then always takes care of the alarm setting.  I never even touch that thing.

I'm supposed to be leaving today but by 10:00 this morning I was texting Aaron.  "Why can't you all just go with me?"  After several texts and a couple phone calls, I excitedly gathered up all the kids and said, "Guess what!  You're all going to Waco with me!"  I've been running around the house like a freak throwing more clothes into the suit case.  We head out in an hour.

I will probably regret my decision 45 minutes into the road trip when the kids are being obnoxious and Hudson is causing a ruckus in the backseat.  The boys think a hotel room is an adventure of its own.  They are thrilled.  We already had the room.  Breakfast is free.  Lunch is packed.  Coupons for dinner are in my hand.  So why not all go?

That's the way I keep trying to spin this to myself.  The real truth is, I got married at 19, adore my husband, he takes care of everything, which leaves me to read billboards, daydream of living in every town we pass, stare at people, and eavesdrop on the conversations of strangers.  It's true.  I fail at being a big girl.  Kirby said this to me today, "If Aaron dies, you'll have to move in with me."  Yep.  It's true.


I may not be Mary Tyler Moore, but after this weekend, I'm going to be wicked smart.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Who Are the Poor?


As I've said, oh...let's see...5,222 times David Platt's book, Radical and all the scriptures in it about the poor, the helpless, the orphan, and the oppressed really stirred something up in our souls last year.  Plain and simply put, although God's Word talks an awful lot about the poor and advocating for people in helpless situations, as a couple we were living lives that rarely, if ever, even considered the poor.  Yes.  Please.  Pass us the awesome award.

One of our favorite minor themes of David Platt's book, Radical is this revolutionary idea that goes a little something like this...

What if we quit over analyzing scripture and explaining away the hard teachings of Jesus?  What if we simply read the difficult things Jesus said and believe that as the author of communication, Jesus may not have a problem saying what He means?  I know.  What a mind boggling concept.

If you're like me, you're tempted to read the seemingly ridiculous things Jesus said, like the passage below and explain these unsettling ideas away.

"Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’  “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:41-46
Is it just me or do you read those words and immediately want to reason away what Jesus is saying?  I know He says, "this" but what He really meant was "this."  The "this" I tried to turn Jesus' words into was always a lot more palatable than His own actual words.

Although Jesus says some crazy things, the first step of this journey as God softened our hearts toward the poor was pretty simple and kind of embarrassing.  Do we believe that Jesus is capable of actually saying what He means?  Can we read scripture and simply absorb the words of Jesus without any "but what He really means is..."?

We nervously decided to give "letting God speak for Himself" a try.  When we did, we found a lot of scriptures we had ignored about the poor, the helpless, the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed in the Bible.  Clear teachings.  Clear instructions.  Clear commands.  Clear warnings.

After taking a few weeks to really read and study the passages in the Bible about the poor, the helpless, the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed we said something like...  "Uh......Hmmm....Well.  It's pretty clear that these things are really big deals to God.  Things God talks about an awful lot are not even things we ever think about.   So maybe we need to ask God to forgive us and then start to figure out how to actually live out God's clear commands."  Not to make God like us.  Or like us more.  Not because God is a butt head who likes to put us in awkward situations, but because God is good and gracious and His Word was sent to heal us.  Learning to care about what God loves ultimately results in a richer understanding of our own sin, the gospel, and God's grace, mercy, and love.

After we got over the shock of how many times passages about the poor are listed in scripture and how many times we had managed to ignore them (as well as the fact that we'd both been raised in church our entire life and never really heard much about the poor in sermons that was not immediately explained away to mean something else) we started asking some hard questions of ourselves.  Not our church.  Not other people.  We can read.  We belong to God.  We were the ones calling the shots with our finances.  We controlled our schedules.  We were ignoring Him.  We wanted to own this sinful oversight and let God work in our lives. Although it's always more fun to point the finger (or give it) and accuse everyone else of not caring or doing anything, we figured that was kind of silly if we ourselves were not doing anything either.

After telling God we were sorry and that we want God to grow our faith (and ultimately our joy) as we learn to understand God's heart towards the poor, the first thing we did was ask some hard questions.

What does the Bible mean when it says "the poor?"  Who is poor?  Who are "the poor?"  I had heard many people (myself included) say things like, "Well...the person down the street from me does not know Jesus. She's not financially poor, but she's spiritually poor. So I'm serving the poor."

I'll be the first to admit that sectioning off our relationship with Christ into something that resembles Richard Simmon's Deal a Meal program creeps me out.  Richard Simmons on his own is creepy enough. But I think it's important that we don't confuse the poor with the lost.  In some ways those areas can overlap.  Some people who are poor know Jesus.  Some poor people are not only financially bankrupt but spiritually bankrupt as well.  We could spend all day coming up with different kinds of "people combos," but that's a little ridiculous.  Where we landed is this:  Yes, we're supposed to be sharing the gospel and the "good news" is the most important thing we could ever offer to another human being, but we simply can't deny that, for some reason, God says to serve the poor in tangible, needs-meeting ways as well.  We were doing neither of those things.

2 Corinthians 8:9 says that for our sakes, Jesus became poor.  Obviously He did not become spiritually poor.  Jesus is God's son.  In some freaky-I-don't-understand-the-Trinity kind of way, Jesus is God.   The same word for poor and poverty used in that passage is used all throughout scripture and the definitions are exactly what any regular ol' Joe would think of when they think of the word, "poor."  Destitute.  Beggar.  Helpless.  Worthless.

Which makes sense when we think of Jesus' words to John the Baptist that I referenced yesterday.  "The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them."

God seems to have a special place in His heart for those who would be completely destitute and helpless unless someone intervened.  The blind.  The lame.  The outcasts.  The sick.  The deaf.  The dead.  Without intervention, these people are doomed.  They can't work their way out of their situation on their own.  A dead person can't come back to life on their own.  A crippled person can't will themselves into walking.  The same goes for the oppressed and the orphan.  On their own, they will forever be stuck in the same sad, oftentimes horrific situation they are in today.

God is asking us to be tender towards people like these.  And how can we not if we have been saved by God's sweet grace?  Is this not who we once were?  Who we still are in a lot of ways?  Helpless.  Unable.  No hope in ourselves.  No boot straps.  Nothing.  We could not save ourselves.  We were oppressed and imprisoned.  Without Jesus intervening on our behalf, we would still be in the same sad place.  Without Jesus intervening today for me, I have found myself in that same sort of spiritual poverty.

Befriending and loving the friend down the street who does not know Jesus is wonderful.  She's made in the image of God.  She may need a friend.  She may in turn be a loyal, loving friend to you.  But let's not jump into this lady's life and claim that we're serving the poor.  This new relationship may honor God, but let's not rewrite or redefine scripture.  This isn't the "poor" Jesus is talking about when he says to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give water to the thirsty.

Aaron and I spent weeks on just this one aspect of trying to figure out how to care for the poor.  No more calling people "poor" who were not "poor" in the way Jesus was describing.  Yes, everyone needs to hear the gospel.  God is clear about that.  But He's also clear that the poor, the helpless, the voiceless, the oppressed, the widow, and the orphan are dear to Him and He desires for believers to pour their lives out for people such as these.

Next we got busy trying to figure out who was poor in the world.  We didn't want to assume we knew, because our record, when it came to the topic of "the poor" was pretty bleak.  So we pulled up Census Reports.  We googled until our eyes felt like they might fall out.  I read charts.  I hate charts.  So really I attempted to read them.  Okay fine, Aaron is the only one who actually read the charts.  He would tell me what they said.  He read reports from respected places like The Heritage Foundation.  Reports like this one.  There are a lot of reports like this one from varying sources, but this one puts together a lot of data from various reports in one document.  We'll let you read it and come to your own conclusions.  Then we'll share ours.

How Poor Are America's Poor?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Caring for the Poor while Living in the Good Ol' U-S of A?

We're finally feeling like we're back in the swing of things in America.  There are times when I think of Haiti, think of people like Ben and Heidi and think that our life in Port-au-Prince almost feels like a strange dream...a terrific novel I once read that wasn't real and yet I can't seem to forget it.  I think of the characters and wonder what they are doing, much like when Gilmore Girls ended and I couldn't help but imagine Rory and Lorelai sitting in their cute little cottage wittily bantering back and forth.   Except some of those characters were us, and we're right here, so far away. 

I find myself in the most random moments stunned that Haiti is real.  Driving home last night in the dark, on smooth, quiet roads lit up like a runway, Haiti memories washed over me.  Haiti is still there.  Even though we're here.  It's real.  Real.  And we're returning.  These thoughts stun me.

Is this how Edmund felt the first time he walked back through that wardrobe...back into what he knew, what was familiar?   Once he was snuggled up tight in his own bed in his own room did Narnia feel like a dream?

Being back, it's been a real struggle to remember how we lived before moving to Haiti.  A full year before we decided to "go" we were on a journey to try and live out our convictions about the poor and the helpless while living right here in the United States.  We had yet to consider leaving the United States to love and care for the poor in a hands-on, kind of way.  But surely there are ways to care for the poor while living right here.  Right?  We were on a mission to figure out how to do that.

How about a collection of posts about that journey?  A short series of posts offering some things to consider if your heart is already broken for the poor, and you know God is gently nudging you to "do" something to live out your faith and the gospel towards the least of these while living in the United States?  I'm sure you all have some beautiful ideas and thoughts to add to the mix as well.

We're here for two more months, and surely we don't have to quit living out our convictions just because of where we live.  We have lots to learn, and want to grow in these areas as well.  So as always, we are thankful so many of you are in this with us.

I'm praying God uses these posts as an encouragement to so many of you who write to us saying you want to "do something".  God has lovingly gripped your heart.  You are ready to put actions to your beliefs, but you know you're not leaving the United States any time soon.  We're no experts, just people who God is gently stretching and teaching.  When John the Baptist sent word asking if Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus sent word back to John saying, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them."

Wouldn't it have been a relief if Jesus had replied, "Well, I'm going around sharing the gospel, teaching people, discipling them, inviting them to church,  so duh."  Maybe those things were important to Jesus too, but they obviously were not the things He used to sum up his ministry or his on-earth mission statement.  Instead, Jesus relayed information to John about how the gospel He was teaching was being lived out among the sick, the poor, and the outcasts.  Giving sight to the blind, mobility to the lame, healing to the sick, hearing to the deaf, life to the dead, and good news to the poor are tangible things, that obviously matter to God.

While we're incredibly jacked up individuals, what our hearts desire (while simultaneously falling short of this) is to be Christ followers whose lives imitate our Savior.  If someone asked us the same question John the Baptist asked Jesus, could we say, "Yes.  We're followers of Christ.  His gospel has so changed us that we can't help but see that same gospel come alive and lived out among people just like us...the broken...the sick...the desperate...the helpless."

We know our best efforts to serve the poor and advocate for the helpless do not earn us right standing before a holy God. Jesus' death alone has done that for us.  We have nothing of worth to offer God, and our best efforts to live out God's heart towards the poor will never gain us right standing before God.  Our works, our "bad" ones, and even our "best ones" are still filthy rags to the Lord.   We don't explore these ideas and make changes in our lives in order to pat ourselves on the back, or because we want God to pat us on the back.  If we belong to God, He has already pat us on the back and called us sons/daughters.  So when we fail to care for the poor our standing is not compromised before God.  When we succeed, our standing before God is not changed either.  As children of God, it truly is "finished", Christ's righteousness is credited to us, and by God's sweet grace we are granted access and accepted by God the Father.

But like every other command in scripture, God's guidance and direction in our lives is always an invitation to know Jesus intimately lean up against the character and nature of God.  A gift.  His commands have a way of pointing our eyes towards heaven and teaching our hearts to long for His Kingdom.   Allowing God to make our hearts tender towards the least of these and teach us how to live out the gospel towards our fellow man will always be an invitation to swim down deep, and cannon-ball ourselves into the rich, abundant life Jesus is forever offering His children.  In that way, learning to care about the things Jesus cares about is always something that should get our hearts pounding...wildly we pray for His will to be done on Earth (through us) as it's done in Heaven.

So how about we all come together through these upcoming posts, pray, think, ask hard questions, and share how we are feeling led to live out our convictions to care for the poor, the orphan, the widow, and be a voice for the voiceless as we live in the United States.  Us...for two more months.  You...for however long God has you here.  Sound like a plan?

This post does not have a picture.  Disturbing.

Friday, June 17, 2011

UnFather's Day and Our Family's First Hip-Hop Video

Silly chicken.  Ran right into the fence.

That man is handsome, but turkeys are ugly.  The end.

Some times I like to sit and watch the mama pigs with their babies.  Mostly I think about things like motherhood, breastfeeding, and how there is this special place in my heart for mamas. Watching a mama with her baby.  Is there anything sweeter?

Sometimes I simply think, "I'm really glad I only have two of those."
 Well, you asked what I was thinking.
Oh?  You didn't?

Do you ever sit and think a thought and that thought starts to pour right into your chest and it feels like your chest might explode because one heart isn't big enough to hold a thought so lovely and grand?
I thought a thought like that the other day watching Aaron working in the hot, hot sun while the boys and I sat on the front porch laughing, eating frozen, refreshing grapesicles.  Husband hot and sweaty, working hard, looking up at the porch-full of laughing lazies and smiling.  Joy in his work.  Joy that we are his and he is ours.  This thought started out as a trickle then turned into a gush that not only felt like it was filling up my lungs but my eyes as well. 

What a gift to live in this country where women and children have rights, have access to health care, are valued, and loved.

What a bigger gift to be married to a man who values what I say, who cares for the deepest parts of me, the dark parts, the nice parts, the quirky parts, and the down-right crazy parts, while affectionately tending to our nest of children right alongside me.  He intimately and tenderly cares for each of us.

That's unheard of in most of the world where honor killings, female circumcision, and sexual crimes against women are considered the norm.  How can God's obvious grace towards me, and what seems like His lack of it towards the majority of women in the world simultaneously fill my heart with tearful thanksgiving and unbearable grief all in the same moment?  These emotions are a mystery to me.

Aaron's love for us is grace.  We won the lottery for husband. We won the lottery for dad.  We won the lottery for our zipcode.  And we didn't even buy the lottery ticket.  That too was given to us. 

This weekend is not Father's Day for Aaron.  Remember how we traded holidays?  But maybe there should be more than one Father's Day because we're more-than-one-day's-worth of thankful for the gift of a dad and husband God has given us.

Want to know Aaron's latest investment of love for our crew?  It started a week ago when I randomly said, "I want to do something fun for the Livesays.  The boys miss them so much.  And so do I." I'm a self-proclaimed dreamer, so thoughts like those usually come out of my mouth and then immediately hit the ground.  I said something like, "Let's write a song and learn a dance for them!"  That would have been the best idea in the world that would have never happened if it was up to me alone.  Thankfully, while I'm busy thinking and dreaming, Aaron is busy doing.  Writing.  Filming.  Editing.  Making us do the "Just Dance" version of this song 32 times in one evening.  All that after a long, hard, hot day of work on the farm.

Check out the Hendrick Family's first (and I'll just say it...hopefully the last) music video over at Tara's blog.  Our boys think they are one step away from being discovered by the Disney Channel.  If the video on Youtube has been watched 40 times, 30 of those were our kids.  Can your biggest fan be yourself?

Happy NonFather's Day to the man who loves us enough to dance with us.  Aaron hates dancing* so It's official.  This house full of lunatics mean the absolute world to him (and I guess the Livesays do too!)

*Not hates it in the Baptist, "I'm against it" kind of way.  Hates it in that he'd like to leave that shakin what your momma made ya stuff to Beyonce.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Caring for the Orphan...

Tara wrote an incredible post that we believe is a must-read for everyone struggling with how to best care for the orphan.  I can't encourage you enough to read it.

A Boat That Needs Rocking. 

Get Your Grapes On!

My friend Shauna posted these grapesicles yesterday on Pinterest.
I saw this idea and declared, "I'm doing this right this very second."
Don't you have things that hit you that way sometimes?
One second you're fine.
The next second you think you might die if you don't make grapesicles.
I'm sure they make medication for this.
I showed the grapesicle picture to the boys and they kindly fed my insanity.
They enable me that way.  I'm thankful.
"Yes! Let's do that mom.  Now!  Yes!"
Aren't they lovely kids?

They got to work stabbing grapes with a sharp object.
Stabbing is a boy's love language.
Then we stuck those grape-loaded spears in the freezer.
After dinner it was still 158 degrees outside, so these frozen fruit sticks were such a treat.

Don't forget to snip the sharp ends off the sticks before giving these grape-kebabs to your babies.  You want them to have a snack, not lose an eye.

This picture has nothing to do with grapesicles, but everything to do with how adorable my hat-wearing, freckled-cheeked child is.  Swoon.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

When a Pin Comes to Life

Once upon a time I lived in this house.  
I had nine brown frames on the wall of my bathroom.
Nine frames of my adorable children in that claw-foot tub you see right there.

Remember my Pinterest inspiration picture for the boy's wall in Haiti?

Today I took those nine brown frames, stared long and hard at my babies in those photos, then lovingly removed those pictures and gently touched their paper-little-kid faces.
I sat and sighed.
Where does the time go?

Oh yes.  This post.  Sorry.

Not everyone wants to sit there for awhile, in that same spot, and sigh again?  And again.
And then maybe go look at those photos one more time?

Well okay.

I took those nine brown frames, painted them gray, then used free vintage nature images from Graphics Fairy (my sister-in-law, Lynsey shared this treasure trove with me) to make the focal point of the boy's room!  I stole the card-stock from that same, kick-butt sister-in-law of mine, and I had to call Kirby in the middle of the magic for a few pointers and opinions.  It takes a village I guess to decorate my house.  Look at me throwing down words like, "focal point" like I know somethin'.

All it cost me was the can of spray paint.
I thought the boys would not care about this art project today.
I was wrong.
They were all up in my business.
They oohed and aahed over every picture.
And we all enjoyed the smell of the spray paint a little too much.
Don't tell anyone.

Nature Room for the Middles

My friend, Kirby sent me this picture when she heard I was going to try and redo the boy's room in Haiti.  My insides clapped.  A wall of vintage entomology prints?  Yes.  This is them.  Our "middles" will share a room.  They are self-declared nature lovers.  Their bedding in their room is already tan.  My plan:  a room full of nature treasures.  Lots of jars displaying their collection of everything weirdly natural.  Maps.  Nets.  Binoculars.  Magnifying glasses. A beekeeper's hat.  Local plants from Haiti.

Below are some of the pictures I've "pinned" on Pinterest to inspire my mind and ignite creativity.  What fun.  I'm going to try to recreate these images in their bedroom by using re-purposed materials, natural elements, and garage sale/thrift store finds.  I'm also going to beg Aaron's mom to help me with some projects when I see her in a few weeks.  She's just now hearing about that right now.  Hi Judy!  I need your artistic skills!

Lots of frog and insect art and entomology note cards hung on inexpensive IKEA "clotheslines."

Surely I can find a giant bee picture at a garage sale.  Surely.  Ever the optimist!


Pillow from this Etsy boutique

Idea from this Etsy Shop.

Don't you wish that "pinning" something to Pinterest made things magically appear?  I'll admit...I stayed up really, really late on Sunday night pinning my life away, then woke up Monday morning feeling like I'd worked incredibly hard the night before.  Whew!  What a night!  Then it hit me.  I still had to actually do something to make the images that inspired me come to life.  Aaahhh.  Dang.
This is all we've done so far in real life.  Locust shells and cow teeth in glass jars.
We'll fill the jars up this summer.  Every morning the boys hunt for discarded locust skins. 
They are searching high and low for an empty bird nest as I write this post.
This is working out nicely for me.  The kids are decorating their own room.  

How fun will it be to have pieces of this farm, our favorite place on earth, in the boy's room in Haiti?

Ew.  This is disgusting.  Which means:  It's perfect for my two nature lovers.

Yesterday I walked outside, saw a butterfly.  A real one.  Flying.  My brain immediately tried to "pin it."  I'm sure that means something awfully weird.  I also saw eye makeup on a girl at a resale shop the other day and mentally "pinned" her face.  While looking at this perfect stranger checking me out at the thrift store I not only pinned her face, I also created a brand new "board"... "Bangin' Lids."  All before she handed me my change.  A tad bit neurotic?  I think so.