Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Card Choices

I'm enjoying the trips to the mailbox this month. Everyday I hope for a card or two or seven.  I love receiving Christmas cards. To help curb my hypocritical nature I send them out. This year I mailed 200. It's excessive and ridiculous I know. Especially with Facebook, this blog, email, etc., people know what we look like, they can find out any ole day what I'm up to. Christmas cards are simply an indulgence.

Indulgence seems to be my Christmas theme. It's pretty pathetic. I've eaten more cookies, fudge, ice cream, and pie in the last 6 weeks than I have in the last 18 months. The seams on my skinny jeans are straining. I can hear my fat cells cheering, "M.E.R.R.Y. Christmas!" I could be really discouraged by my lack of restraint, but the last year has taught me that I can say no. I can choose any day to make healthy choices. Apparently right now I'm choosing sweets over sweat, sugar over sensibility, carbs over cardio. And it the grand scheme of things...I say,"big stinkin' deal." Life is a series of choices. Despite the cravings, the addictions, the habits, and the preferences we do have (for the most part) the ability to choose. When I'm ready to choose health-I will do it.

I want to address the flip side though. There are some things we can not choose. I'm acutely aware that this Christmas isn't easy for some of the people I love most in my life. While I'm here in a sugar haze, many people I love are dealing with devestating circumstances beyond their control.

I have dear friends who will receive my Christmas card full of family photos and happy highlights and they just might want to tear it up or throw it in the garbage. This Christmas they are dealing with divorce, serious addictions, or loneliness due to the death of a loved one. At some level I'm dealing with all of those things too. When you love others - you let the pain come in. And I can tell that I'm using indulgence as a temporary respite from reality.

Cookie comfort. I want more than that. I want to taste, touch, see and feel true hope. I crave the Scripture I chose for the back of our Christmas card:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hope Means Rejecting

I'm stealing the title of this post from the title of Gregg's sermon on December 4. His sermon that day had me nodding my head in agreement so much that the people behind me must of thought I was a bobble head doll. Near the beginning of service, Gregg read from Isaiah 64:1-5 (TNIV) And then he asked this question, "What do you want God to do for you?"

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
   that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
   and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
   and cause the nations to quake before you!
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
   you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Since ancient times no one has heard,
   no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
   who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
   who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
   you were angry.
   How then can we be saved?

I sat there in the silence and the first thing that popped into my head was a request for Alan and Brynn to make it back safely from the Bible Quiz meet at Twin Rocks Friends Camp. That seemed silly. I really had no doubts that I'd see my husband and daughter in a couple of hours, so I thought it strange and almost shallow that I'd be asking for God to bring them home. I scrunched my eyes tight and thought again..., "What do I want, what do I want?" God affirmed my more lofty goal of wanting to live more passionately for Him. Relieved that I had sought out a greater gift than simply the emminate return of my husband and child, I joined the singing of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" with gusto. 

Then what to my wondering eyes should appear? Before the song ended, my husband slid into the pew next to me, whispered hello and let me know Brynn had already stationed herself in the nursery. Alan, here next to me - two hours ahead of schedule. I smiled and thanked God for his immediate and loving answer to the deepest prayer of my heart. He confirmed that it wasn't foolish to want my husband and daughter home. The Holy Spirit spoke intensely to me in that moment. God is so keenly aware of our desires and his joy is to bring us joy. I will live more passionately for God as I continue to know him more, to trust in his goodness, and to witness and share his faithfulness.

Hope means rejecting. Rejecting our doubts:
 I'm not praying correctly. 
 I don't know what I want. 
 I can't ask for that.

Hope means rejecting. Rejecting what is wrong. Rejecting the pain. Rejecting suffering. Rejecting poverty. Rejecting the status quo. Rejecting materialism. Rejecting perfectionism. Rejecting denial.

Hope means rejecting. It means seeing with wide open eyes the places and circumstances in our life and our neighbors lives that aren't right. It means we have a need for hope because we want things to be better. It means we know that each and every person on earth needs a Savior. 

O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Poverty 101

My friend Jennifer, who is a college student at George Fox University, asked me to help her with a feature article for a class on the topic of poverty and the Christian attitude towards poverty. I was more than happy to share my experience and what I've learned in the last couple of years through my advocacy with Compassion International and the movement. I've also been educated by reading "When Helping Hurts" and the ministry of the Dave and Debby Thomas. Below is the   interview questions she asked and my responses.  
1. In your own words, define poverty.
Poverty is not just economic destitution or strife. It can also be a broken spiritual, emotional, or physical relationship. The more I learn about poverty, the more I understand how all of these things are tied together. One of my favorite definitions of poverty is from Wess Stafford, President of Compassion International. He says, "The opposite of poverty is not wealth, it's enough." I think about the song "Your Grace Is Enough" and I hope that when I define eradicating poverty, that I'll base my definition and my measure of success on God's grace…that it is indeed enough. And the amazing thing about grace, is it's richness and abundance!
2. How would you describe the Christian view of poverty? 
This seems like a mighty hard question to answer since I don't feel like I can speak for the whole of Christendom. But I do believe that followers of Christ are beginning to move to a more holistic view of poverty (spiritual, emotional, physical, and financial) than ever before. We are understanding that we must attack poverty from all angles and not just providing short term aid…throwing money at the problem. Unfortunately, I think many Christians still see poverty as something that cannot be overcome. We aren't really willing to do the work that Jesus calls us to in Matthew 25. Overcoming poverty requires that we give up our comforts for the good of others. And most 1st world Christians aren't willing to actually "give till it hurts" in all manner of ways  - not just financially.
3. What has your experience been in working with those in poverty?
When I went to the Philippines and Honduras the first thing I noticed was the financial poverty. For an upper middle class American, the living conditions seemed overwhelmingly challenging. But as I talked to the people and begin to enter into their world, my eyes were opened to see that what mattered most was not the size of their home or their lack of things, but whether or not they were living with broken relationships in terms of spirituality, emotional, and/or physical distress. When an individual possessed a hope in Christ and had experienced God's love (understanding that they had value as a child of God), the financial poverty that they were living in was not as important. This is not to say that financial poverty doesn't matter-because it certainly does. People need to be able to eat, to have a safe living environment, and to have access to healthy care and education. But knowing God provides hope and as it says in Romans 5:5 "Hope does not disappoint."
4. Through your charitable work and experiences, what do you see as being the root causes of poverty?
A lack of hope cause by broken relationships. Greed. Lack of education (scholastically and Biblically). When people do not know what they were intended for, when they have no means in which to pursue their dreams, hope is lost. 
5. How do you see Christians succeeding or falling short in combating global poverty?
We are succeeding by understanding more and more that we can and must do something for those living in poverty. It's not just about "them" it's about "us." Each one of us lives in some sort of poverty. Quite often we, the affluent, live in emotional or spiritual poverty. We cannot ignore or place blame or pretend that poverty is someone else's problem. We must as Christians be the leaders and the initiators in combating poverty on a global scale. We must use a holistic approach. We must raise up a generation of children living in poverty to understand that God does indeed have a hope and a future for them. Organizations such as Compassion do just that. Where we fall short is in accepting the status quo. We take too seriously the thought that "the poor will always be with us" and accept that as an excuse to turn our back or ignore those in extreme poverty. This is an abomination and not what Christ meant. We can see over and over in the Bible that God calls us to love and care for the poor. 
6. What are the next steps the Christian community should take in combating global poverty?
If every Christian made a personal commitment to a child living in poverty, joined in the fight against sex trafficking, donated to organizations that provide safe water and/or contributed to the prevention of AIDS, etc., we would change the world. There are so many ways to say, "I don't believe this is how life should be for the majority of the people living on the planet. I will do something to help eradicate poverty." It's not that we lack organizations already in place to provide help…it's about deciding that changing the world is more important than our own comfort. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Saying YES to Kids

Tomorrow will be a return to my first love...children. Everyday as pastor of children and family ministry at my church I work for children. But it isn't every day that I actually get to work with children. Before I entered into pastoral ministry about three years ago my home was abuzz with anywhere from 2-8 kids on a daily basis. As a stay-at-home mom, our house was the place where friends could call up at a moments notice and drop off their tots while they had anything from a haircut to a marriage counseling appointment. I was also the primary child care provider for two families on a regular basis for over 7 years.  I loved this life. At times it was overwhelming and exhausting. Other times I felt a bit trapped in my own home...but the truth is I did have a lot of freedom. Freedom to wear my jammy pants all day long (showers optional). More importantly I had the freedom to say "yes" to children. "Yes, I like the picture you drew." "Yes, I'll change your diaper...again" "Yes, we can snuggle and read this story before nap time." "Yes, I'll feed you, wash your clothes, dry your tears, wipe your mouth, brush your hair, and help you with your homework." Y E S.

My role as an advocate for children has taken many forms. As a mom who cared for my own young children and those of my friends, I know that my advocacy wasn't far reaching, but it ran deep. I was able to be a consistent and loving presence to the children entrusted to me. Now as a children's pastor, my advocacy looks different. It's more administrative than demonstrative. My voice might carry a little farther, but it rarely has the chance to sink in. Blink and I'm off on the next task, program, event, service, class, camp, etc. As a child advocate and sponsor for Compassion International I have the opportunity to build relationships, speak out for truth, help eliminate poverty, and share hope. This is work that I feel called to do by God, but it doesn't give me a lot of "face time" with kids.

But tomorrow will be different. It's retro Michelle day. It will be a day where the house will be filled with kids. I'll make time to snuggle, play with Legos, cut an apple, open the yogurt, read a book, change a diaper (or 4), laugh at non-sensical phrases and questions, act silly just to get a laugh, and say "yes" to kids as much as possible.

Brynn, Jolee, Abby, Finley, Hudson, Grace, and Jilian - Thank you!

Jolee, Brynn, and Tyler on a good day back in 2005. Feeling Crafty!

Tyler, Austin, and Brynn...Yeah, my childcare skills are amazing. The truth is they put themselves in the dog crate and I had to get a picture. This one is way back in 1999.

Monday, October 31, 2011


I might just be a little obsessed. My teenage daughter says, "it's cute how you love it so much." Yep, I'm head over heels for 58. Isaiah 58, 58: the film, 58 the movement.

Isaiah 58
1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. 
   Raise your voice like a trumpet. 
Declare to my people their rebellion 
   and to the house of Jacob their sins. 
2 For day after day they seek me out; 
   they seem eager to know my ways, 
as if they were a nation that does what is right 
   and has not forsaken the commands of its God. 
They ask me for just decisions 
   and seem eager for God to come near them. 
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, 
   ‘and you have not seen it? 
Why have we humbled ourselves, 
   and you have not noticed?’
   “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
   and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
   and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
   and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
   only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
   and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
   a day acceptable to the LORD?
 6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
   and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
   and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
   and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
   and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
   and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
   you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
   “If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
   with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
   and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you always;
   he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
   and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
   like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
   and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
   Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
 13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
   and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
   and the LORD’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
   and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the LORD,
   and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
   and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
            The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Join me in the thought, the hope, the reality that extreme poverty could be eliminated in the next 25 years. This Friday night we'll be showing 58: the film at Newberg Friends Church, 7pm.

I do love 58. I made little 58: flyers and stapled them to the halloween candy tonight. I had fun greeting the neighborhood kids in my Zumba "costume" and giving them handfuls of candy with the flyers attached. My husband carved an amazing LIVE 58: pumpkin and it made the trick or treaters curious.

I'm not sure that a Reese's peanut butter cup with a 58: flyer attached can change the world. But I wonder what conversations will be sparked when kids go home and sort through their candy.... some will simply throw the flyer away. Maybe a few families will be curious enough to go to the live58 website. Others might actually find their way to the church and see the film. And perhaps even one will be encouraged to find a way they can participate in eliminating poverty.

My prayer is that God will continue to show me his heart, inspire me to share his love, and work through me to live out Isaiah 58.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

13.1 Accomplished.

A week ago I accomplished my goal. Completing a 1/2 marathon. It's finished. But honestly, this is just the beginning. It was so much fun, I'm hooked and after my knee recovers a bit, I'm going to begin training for my next one. I learned so much from this process.

1. If you say you'll do something, don't give up. Just restart and keep going.
2. Running is 1/3 physical and 2/3 mental.
3. It's possible. With God ALL things are possible.
4. Prayer matters. Prayers work.
5. I can run for 13.1 miles without stopping.

My two favorite t-shirt slogans I saw at the Girlfriends Half
1. (the one I was wearing) Start Strong, Finish Stronger
2. (the one the lady in front of me was wearing) Courage to Start, Faith to Finish

Before the race in downtown Vancouver, WA.  Great window sign.

Ok, maybe a little nervous/excited/anxious to get going...

With my buddy Abbie. She made me a necklace that I wore during the race that said:
He energizes the tired and gives fresh strength to the weak.

Starting off with 3199 other women! Working my way through the walkers.

Mile 13. Finishing the .1 with the best smile I could muster.

Focus...what? What focus?

Multiple occasions have come and gone when I should have been blogging lately. Processing through my thoughts through written words help me to clarify what I'm thinking and what I'm doing. Instead I've been spending a lot of my time in the last two months trying to stand facing one direction in the middle of a merry-go-round. If you've ever tried to do this you know it actually takes a lot of work to keep your balance while moving your feet just enough so that while the merry-go-round spins, you stay focused straight ahead. Unfortunately, while you're in the middle of the wheel, exerting all your energy to stay upright, you miss the 360 degree view. You also tend to avoid motion sickness, but that's another story and where my analogy breaks down.

Today I sat down in my pew and began scribbling down the list of questions I was asked and the interactions I was involved in during the 35 minutes of "community time" between services. Here's a glimpse of my life between being a guest presenter in the high school Sunday school class and settling into my pew for worship. In no particular order.
  • Asked to take a picture of the kids playing outside on the church lawn in the fallen leaves.
  • Told that 2/3's of the cotton balls from the resource room are now used up.
  • Checked on the Ladies Tea sales upstairs in the church library and downstairs in the social hall. Made sure we had a volunteer at both stations.
  • Picked up attendance folders from 2 adult and 9 children's Sunday school classrooms. Put in church office.
  • Spoke to a friend about the tears in her eyes.
  • Was asked where my daughter Jolee was.
  • Was "surprised" by my daughter Jolee and her friends. They had been hiding in the library.
  • Sold a tea ticket to my mother, upstairs.
  • Discussed with a PsyD. student about being a floater/volunteer in children's ministry. Sold her a tea ticket downstairs.
  • Tried to sell another tea ticket to a woman I miss seeing regularly. Her family will be out of town next weekend to visit her husband's mother. Had a short conversation about the importance of spending time with family no matter the cost of time and travel.
  • Tried to sell a tea ticket to a college student - a definite No Go.
  • Tried to sell tea tickets to two soccer moms. They are busy next Saturday at 11am.
  • Was asked if I was teaching Sunday school in the 3rd grade class next Sunday. Couldn't remember.
  • Spoke to a family about the fact that three weeks ago they had told me to take them off the church/children's Sunday school roster. For the last two weeks they have been at our church. Found out they are going to make NFC their church home after all. Will happily be reinstating them to all my email groups this afternoon.
  • Checked to make sure the nursery volunteers were in place. One was missing. Went outside and downstairs to find her. Found her. 
  • Cleaned up Ladies Tea ticket supplies. Placed items in my office box.
  • Checked in with a first time volunteer about Children's Care happening during 2nd service and what she could expect.
As usual I missed the welcome and announcements (so I have no idea if K-2 Fun Night got announced). But I was feeling pretty good about making my way in to the sanctuary during the "stand and greet" section of our meeting. I thought, "ahh, now maybe I can settle into worship." 

During the church service I always leave at offering to help Children's Care get settled in. Today took a bit longer since we had a new volunteer and I needed to create "name tags" out of masking tape for the kids. Heading back into the sanctuary I saw a mom and her baby hanging out in the church library. I stopped to check in...who can resist a baby!

I made it back in to service and was enjoying the message when I was tapped on the shoulder and asked to come quickly. A child was bleeding profusely due to an injury caused by a coat hook. I got the little boy cleaned up and bandaged. As I was getting ready to return to service another child needed help. Potty time. Since our new volunteer wasn't quite sure of the protocol for bathroom procedures, I stayed and modeled what to do. Back in my pew I heard the last two minutes of the sermon and enjoyed the closing songs. 

The quick pic I snapped with my iPhone between services.

Church is just a wacky time for me. And honestly this post is NOT a complaint. My Sunday morning was filled with what I love...being a part of community. Certainly I do miss getting to be fully present in worship. But for now I will embrace where God has me. In the middle of the merry-go-round. Working hard to keep my balance and my eyes focused on Him. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fall Beginnings

What a week. My oldest started high school, my youngest began her last year of elementary school. My role as pastor of women's ministries debuted with the beginning of Women's Bible Fellowship. And then today marked the first day of Sunday school. This week also held a lot more stuff than I'm willing to share here. But in all of it - the good, the bad, and the just plain sad - I sensed Christ at work. This is nothing profound or earth-shattering. To many of you, God's presence is a normal everyday thing. You can see, hear, and almost smell the aroma of the Spirit. This sounds very fluffy and pretty. But it's not. At least not this week.

This week it was tired, sweaty, stinky stuff. God didn't anoint me with some rich perfume, he didn't pour my cup to overflowing. Most of the time I felt like I was scratching and crawling my way through. A few moments here and there I caught my breath, looked up and saw beauty. But more often I saw brokenness, a clock ticking way too fast, and a pace that felt more frantic than faithful. Many times I asked God this week, "is there another way? What do you want me to do (aka: how can I get out of this)?" And the answer seemed to be, "I want you right here. To prove it, I'll add a little more. There you go. Feel that? That's where I'm God and you're not."

I know we don't always have to be at the end of ourselves to witness God. I'm grateful that He doesn't make this a requirement. But I do believe we experience God most fully when we lay down our priorities and pick up His. I am better able to notice the Holy Spirit working through me when just at the moment I would say I've got "nothin' left," I'm handed more.  I know Jesus as friend when He clears the room and makes space for me to whine, pout, and even cry....and He doesn't say, "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit."

Sometimes following God means walking in abundance, drawing from a deep well, feeling the richness, and bursting with life. These are days you want to write a song about. Days where you observe God at work and you want to shout from the rooftops, "Hey, Y'all should be a Christian. This Jesus thing is amazing! I've never felt more energetic, more wholly alive." Oh, those are good days. Days of feeling doubly blessed. (My Honduras friends know what I mean.)

Other days you just hope to get through. "Come on God, just help me make it till bedtime. 8pm is late enough, right?" Days where you just hope for hope. Whether or not this week leaves me feeling exhausted or elated, I know God will be there. He always is.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

When In Rome

This week I have the privilege of staying with my friend Villa at her lovely home in Rome. Georgia that is-Rome,GA. Perhaps you don't know but I am officially a Georgia Peach, born in Atlanta. My heart is heavy that tomorrow is my last full day here. But Villa and I have lots of plans for Friday fun. This time with her is precious. In the midst of our laughter and stories we are missing Courtney. His presence fills the house, yet it's empty without him.

I've known two couples in my life that have exemplified the idea of "soul mates." Shannon and Keith and of course, Villa and Courtney. To have lost both Keith and Courtney to brain cancer is still sometimes unbelievable, even when staring straight into the eyes of Shannon or Villa. The grief and the sadness is intense and leaves me without words. Love and pain often go together. I pray for the memories of love to overshadow the pain.

Villa showed me a picture from her wedding album: Two-year-old me wanting to join Villa and Courtney as they leave for their honeymoon. Today this picture represents the absolute love and adoration I've had for Villa and Courtney my entire life.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


This week has been a hard one. And if I want to be really whinny, I'd say this season has been a bit of a bummer. But today I felt God providing me with the gift I've needed all summer - a day for all four of us to be together. No grand vacation, road trip, camping excursion, or party needed.

We began the day with a visit to Olivia and Sam's lemonade stand at Abbie's garage sale adoption fundraiser. Once we were well-hydrated we continued out to Bob's Red Mill. Breakfast at 11:30am at Bob's is wonderful. Their scratch biscuits are heavenly!

After breakfast we purchased our three 25lbs of flour some high fiber pancake mix and headed for Alan's new office in Beaverton. The girls and I hadn't seen Alan's work space since he moved in there a couple of months ago. The Nike building was ok. The best part was the abundance of white boards. So the girls had some fun. Alan, not so much.

Then it was off to purchase Brynn her first cell phone. We ended up at the Tanasbourne Town Center AT&T store. It was actually a really nice experience. The sales associate was very helpful. I felt like a giddy teenager watching Brynn get her phone. Maybe because it means she's growing up. Or maybe because now I can keep track of her and bug Brynn more than ever before.

Right across the parking lot was a Target. So we got school supply shopping done quickly and with no drama. Wow-now that is something to be happy about! Then it was time to head home. Along the way we stopped at Smith Berry Barn, but I couldn't convince the clan to come u-pick some berries with me. So we popped back in the van and arrived home in time for an early evening swim. It was the first time all four of us have been in our backyard pool together. What's wrong with us? Toby even got some attention and love after the swim.

Dinner was a smorgasbord of leftovers from the fridge while we watched Tangled. Oh such a good day. I'd be remiss if I didn't add that I noticed while looking back over our day, that several of the activities included retail sales and the advantage of having a van, money to spend on eating out, purchasing school supplies, and even the luxury of buying a cell phone for a 14-year-old. We have much. I pray that I won't take that for granted (and that my children won't either). But I also pray that when my family remembers today they will simply be thankful for the togetherness. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

4000 Dead Kids

When I feel like writing in response to the message on Sunday, it's indication to me that I'm where God wants me. When I write in response to what I've seen on the Oprah show, I know it can be perceived as simply being sucked in by popular culture.

I don't watch Oprah that often. I admire her work in Africa and I think in general she tries to make this world a better place. I don't always agree with her opinions or methods. Last week I had the opportunity to see an episode in which Oprah interviewed a couple that had suffered the horrific loss of their three children ages 5, 4 and 2 in a traffic accident. I sat there stunned and entered into the pain that this couple felt upon the death of their three precious kids. The camera panned the audience and the tears were flowing from everyone's eyes. I imagined mothers and fathers nationwide viewing the show and also being moved to tears by this tragic situation. I listened to Oprah's guests speak about how devastating it was to "walk through the pain." They praised family and friends for supporting them in the midst of their grief. But they still felt very much alone. Only the afflicted mother and father knew the extent of the sorrow caused by coming home to a house drowning in silence.

Then in typical Michelle fashion my mind strayed to another thought. That morning I had read in my Compassion Advocate's magazine that UNICEF estimates that over 4000 children die everyday from water-borne diseases. 4000 DEAD KIDS. Everyday.

Now I was angry. Why was I crying for three kids when thousands die needlessly everyday? How many parents everyday watch their children die from a preventable cause? How many tears is that? How many people across the world sit and suffer as their children are snatched away by the lack of clean water? Where's the heartbreak for that America? Why don't we fix this? Why don't we really care? We don't care because these children are not at the center of our lives.

If my neighbor's children were dying because their water was shut off and the kids were drinking out of the dirty stream in the park down the road, I would gladly give them my clean water. If my neighbor's child was dying of dehydration and they could not get her to a hospital, I'd drive them in a heartbeat. If my neighbor's child had diarrhea I'd offer medicine and some pedialyte. I'd do something. So would you. But who is my neighbor?

The story of the Good Samaritan was the central theme for the lesson I taught with the Hope Lives curriculum last week and the week before. The children had a pretty good grasp on the fact that Jesus asks us to consider everyone our neighbor. We aren't supposed to walk on by. We are supposed to love our enemies (or those we consider worthless)...even if it costs us something.  Do we consider those 4000+ kids per day worthless? If we include all preventable causes, the number of children dying is a lot higher. The UNICEF website says that 22,000 children die per day from preventable causes. Per day. It's really too much to take in.

We cry over three blond-haired, blue-eyed children. They capture our heart because they are brought to our attention by the Oprah show. We watch the home videos, see the family photos, and imagine that these could have been our kids. We sob and then rejoice as we learn that the grieving parents were given a miracle. Almost exactly one year after the accident, they had triplets.

On Sunday we were challenged to make a meaningful connection with a global ministry partner. Our pastor named that I am a "champion for Compassion International." I have to admit that it feels good to be acknowledged as someone who loves Compassion and what they do to help end poverty in Jesus' name. At the same time I'm convicted that I am still a part of the world's richest 10%. We are the most self-centered people on the planet. We have much and share relatively little. In the USA alone we spend billions on scrapbooking. Every moment of our lives we document, capture, and photoshop, but we really don't think about those millions of parents who have never even had the opportunity to take a picture of their child. Our priorities are out of whack and out of touch with what the majority of the world experiences.

It's not wrong to cry for three children killed in a car crash. But it is wrong to forget about the 4000 children that die from lack of clean water every day. It's wrong to disregard the feelings of those parents who have watched their children lie half-dead on the side of the road beaten up by preventable causes in Africa, Asia, The Middle East, Central America, and South America as we walk on by like a priest or a levite.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Working From Hope

God cracks me up. I was typing the title for this blog post, "working from home." But instead of home, my fingers typed "hope." Sometimes I think God knows what he's doing. Because clearly I don't. That's where I am really going with this post. What am I doing? I am home today answering emails, folding laundry, and ironing. It looks pretty serene from the outside. Inside I'm a wrestling match, a sobbing mess, and a spirit longing to bust out of this daily routine. My goals for today include making sure I spend the hours I need to at the office, finding a book or two for tomorrow's family story time pool party, and ironing. Well, yea for me...ironing done. God is giving me time and space to read, pray, and struggle. Why? Why am I being allowed the freedom study scripture, focus on poverty, reflect on my experiences overseas, watch more documentaries, write to my sponsored kids, read posts and magazines from Compassion, etc. What am I doing?

For the last few months (ok, maybe the last 5) attendance at Family Story Time has been way down. Way down. It's the one time per month where I sit with the kids, read them a story, and engage them with questions about the story from a Biblical perspective. I love doing this. Perhaps I love it but I'm not very good at it. Not many families attend. It's not a snazzy show. Parents have to stay (Sorry, no date night). Just 45 minutes of trying to be real with kids, talking to them about everyday stuff with everyday stories. Don't worry, I know they can't sit still for 45 minutes... the kids have a chance to run around the church or outside on the lawn in the summertime. Last month I even offered free popsicles - only one family came. At the end I gather them close and we pray together. The two times per year where we do have higher attendance are when we show a movie (in December - the last two years we've shown the most recent Christmas Veggie Tale flicks) and the summertime pool party. Tomorrow is the pool party. And at this point, I don't even feel like we'll have a good attendance for that. Yep, I'm a grump these days.

My role at the church also includes parenting and marriage ministries. This summer I tried to get a group together for a parenting study. It went alright for two weeks, then all the families started having sick kids. We had to cancel the next two weeks in a row. Last night only one woman out of the group could attend. What's that about God? Is it as simple as saying the evil one just doesn't want us to focus on being good parents and he'll throw whatever tools he has at us to disable us from gathering? Bad timing?

Our 3M group (Monthly Marriage Maintenance) has also taken a summer break in part due to lack of attendance. A BBQ is planned later this month. Will people come because it's a BBQ (free dinner and a pool for the kids) or because they truly want to connect with other couples and recommit to making strengthening marriage a priority in their life? Or as the grouchy gus in me suspects, we won't have much of a turn out at all.

My frustration is that I want to be a part of ministry that matters. I want to be able to share life with others that have similar priorities and passions. I want to struggle alongside kids, parents, and couples as we wrestle with how we're working from hope. And quite frankly, most of the time I don't feel like I'm really able to do that. At this point it seems like my role is to keep things afloat, not rock the boat, and certainly not to paddle excessively, make waves, or to put up the sail and let the wind take us where it will. People don't really seem to want more. They are full enough. (Insert frustrating commentary about how we're all just too stinkin' busy.)

This summer I also took on women's ministries as a part of my responsibilities. I'm working to make sure that things are lined up for Women's Bible Fellowship this fall. God has put in place an excellent steering team. My hope is that WBF will continue to be a place where women are spiritually and emotionally fed so that they can go out and make a difference in their homes, relationships, and community. My husband's one piece of advice was, "Don't change anything." Thanks honey, yep, just keep it afloat. That's my job.

But I want to work from hope. Hope that what I do matters, hope that's based on what I feel God has called me to do. Hope that is based on a heart that is connected to the Spirit. Hope that is beyond the norms and the everyday. Hope that is full of vision but also applicable to our life right here right now. Elizabeth Sherwood gave an excellent message on Hope last week at church. She shocked me with the statement, "once we get to heaven we won't need hope anymore." WE WON'T NEED HOPE. I had never really thought about living without the need for hope. Until then I have to find a way to work from hope even when I'm just working at home.

Friday, July 29, 2011

In Need of Compassionate Hope for Tomorrow

There was a lot of tension in our home today. Unfortunately it spilled over into the car ride, continued throughout the party, and found it's way home again. Sometimes it seems like it's simply impossible for four people to live harmoniously. Sometime I don't care. Today I did. Today I wished that the kids were listening and obeying, I could answer questions quickly succinctly and to the satisfaction of my family, and that my dear husband could take everything in with a much more peaceful attitude.

My deepest frustration with being frustrated with this lack of harmony is that really in the scheme of things, this is not an issue with which to be frustrated. This is just life. And our life is good. Really good. I'm incredibly blessed with a loving, vibrant, caring family. Somedays aren't all shiny and happy. That's ok.  But perhaps it's human nature to always want more, to want better.

I whined to my friends at the party, "I just want to stay here and talk with you." Yep, I whined like a little girl. Like the little girl in my own family with whom I was frustrated. I wonder where she gets it?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Celebrating Life

This weekend we went to 3 birthday parties. Each one made me pause and remember the sweetness of being "in the moment." They helped me to focus on friendship, family, faith, and in all honesty: fatigue.

Birthday #1:Saturday was spent at the beach with my youngest daughter and her best friend Grace. It was Grace's 10th birthday. The ride to and from the coast was a special treat for me because Grace's mom is  one of my best friends. So the drive allowed for hours of conversation catch-up. While sitting on the sand watching the kids play in the ocean with Grace's dad Jeremy as "lifeguard," I was delighted to see Grace and Jolee run time and time again into the waves, jumping and splashing, daring each other to brave the cold Pacific. They laughed and shivered through a day friendship. How I longed to be 10 again, holding hands with my BFF and facing the dangerous tide relatively unafraid, kept safe by my fearless father, and only worrying about the sand in my swimsuit.

Birthday #2: Sunday afternoon began with an Alice In Wonderland themed very "unBirthday" celebration for my favorite 4-year-old on the planet. Miss Jilian was, as always, a walking talking source of entertainment, amusement, and preciousness. I really wish I had my camera rolling for the entire time I was at the party. Because with Jilian, you never know what's going to pop out of her mouth. The sweetest moments of the party occurred when she opened her birthday cards. Most pre-schoolers would simply glance at a birthday card, discard it and dive into the gift. But not Jilian. Each card was opened with eager anticipation. She would squeal at the pictures, describe the card to us, and then "read" it. Each card she read aloud sounded something like this, "Happy Birthday Jilian. Thank you for being my friend and are at my party. Thank you for the food Amen and Jesus." When I'm around children, I feel like God is giving me a gift. Maybe Jilian was just being silly, perhaps her "reading" comes straight from her heart. But no matter what, being in her presence while she opened her presents, fed my faith.

Birthday #3: We left Jilian's party to go to Keith's. Keith is my friend that died from brain cancer late last year. His birthday is coming up in just a few days. So his widow (ugggh, that's such a sad word) and his son threw a party for friends and family to celebrate Keith's life and to have a chance to get together in his honor. There were many smiles and lots of laughter at the party. But as I spoke with Shannon, I realized how incredibly tiring this last year must have been. Actually that's not true. I have NO IDEA how tiring this last year has been. I am at a complete loss to understand her loss. It breaks my heart all over again. I stand in awe of Shannon and I stand in awe of God. The Holy Spirit has given her strength beyond measure, humor in the midst of pain, the ability to continue on with grace, to make new memories with her son, and to be a witness to the power of living life intentionally. Fatigue. It can rule you or you can choose to continue on. Shannon continues with friendship, family, and faith.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Girls Camp 2011

At this time last week I was doing cabin checks in the trees. Which translated means: I was directing Girls Camp for 4th-6th grade girls out at Twin Rocks Friends Camp. Lights Out is 9pm, so about 9:10pm each night the non-counseling staff makes the rounds to all the different cabins at camp and checks to be sure that the counselors and campers are all settled in for bedtime. My older daughter and I chose to check the "Cabins of the Trees" since my younger daughter was staying in a cabin called "Dogwood." I miss those nightly whispers. I'd knock softly then creak open the door and say, "Everyone ok in here? Ok, Goodnight, see you in the morning."  More often that not the only sound would be a very groggy "yep, we're fine." from a sleepy counselor or sometimes after long exciting day at silence. Silence is a good thing, because Girls Camp is noisy!

Our classes for Outdoor, Crafts, and Recreation went so well. It's been joyful reading the evaluations from the campers and hearing their perceptions of the week. Girls Camp truly offers something for every girl and type of personality. I was completely blessed by the leaders of these rotations. They made camp run smoothly and beautifully for the campers. This is a gift not to be taken lightly.

We continued the new Girls Camp tradition of a Camp Out. This camp within a camp allows the girls to spend one night in a tent, use an outhouse, and cook their breakfast over a fire. The leaders were amazing! For many kids, this was the best night of camp. Next year my goal is to camp out for one night too.

We had 3 baby sheep at camp. What more can I say? How can camp not be fun when you've got live sheep to pet and cuddle? Oh they were cute! This addition to camp was quite a bit of work for our staff shepherdess-but she and her fiance are wonderful people who would do anything for the kids. 

The week went well with only one ER run and a few homesick girls. The nurses were busy with lots of meds and vitamins to distribute everyday, scraped toes, knees, bee stings, and bug bites, but the only camper to throw up waited until the last night of camp. How thoughtful. Honestly, a visit to the infirmary wasn't a bad thing. These women gave so much more than pills and bandaids. They generously doled out compassion, tenderness, and a sense of security to each and every camper and staff person who came through their door. 

I often say, "camp was fun." But camp is so much more than fun. Girls Camp is a place where children, youth, and adults learn about God's deep love. This year our theme was God's Promises. And as expected, Elizabeth Sherwood brought that message to life. I respect and am in awe of Elizabeth and her giftedness. I'm like a crazy groupie... but that's ok because it's truly about recognizing the Holy Spirit working through her. So really I'm a just a God Groupie. 

Three other very special ladies also shine The Light brightly at Girls Camp. They are the real deal. These are the women you go to when you need answers, sound advice, wisdom, and of course a really good laugh. Miriam, Jeanne, and Deann are the dream team. Through music, storytelling, skits, and dining hall therapy sessions, these are the women who make Girls Camp a safe, hilarious, and spirit-led place.

My prayer request going into Girls Camp was for the counseling staff. This year we had an unusually young bunch of women, many of them first time counselors. I knew my job would be to help make orientation as simple and the least overwhelming as possible. The counselors job would be HUGE. They are asked to essentially become instant mothers to six, seven, and in some cases eight 9-12-year-old girls. God not only answered my prayers, but He provided an group of women that excelled at their job! Walking around camp you could feel the love (and the energy) oozing out of the counseling staff. Now my prayer is that they truly see how they started strong but finished stronger.

This year I was blessed with Vicky Scott as assistant director. We made a good team. Vicky is giving, loving, and thoughtful. A week with her by my side provided a sense of peace and delight for me personally. Watching her come alongside others was also a wonderful thing to witness. Her depth of knowledge about camp, counseling, and how to relate to campers is second to none.  

Each year we emphasize that camp is for the campers. They are the reason for 11 months of planning and preparation, weeks of 4-6 hours of sleep per night, and a whole lotta prayer. It's the dedication to these girls that not only drives me to direct but energizes me when it would be so much easier to just lay it down. It's their smiles, high-fives, hugs, wacky hairdos to dinner on Wednesday at camp, silly songs, giggles, shrieks, prayers, courage, and precious tears when they miss home that makes me realize that I am right where I belong. 

A camp wrap up would not be complete without a thank you to the Twin Rocks staff. It is this team of people who surrounds me with the support and expertise that makes my job as director possible. I don't know how they do it day after day, camp after camp. But they do it with grace, love, and incredible integrity.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Beach House by Jolee Akins

At the end of the school year one of my favorite things is going through all the girls' papers from the year. They like to throw most of it out. But sometimes you find a treasure worth keeping. Yesterday Jolee showed me a story she wrote about our trip to the beach with 4 other families last September. I think it's worth sharing.

Beach House by Jolee Akins

On Thursday the 30th of September me and my family went to a beach house. We went to have fun.  We went to the beach house outside of Walport.

First, I had to get packed. Me and my family were going to stay there for three days. I could not wait! I did not go to school on Thursday because we went that day at 1:45pm, but we wished to go on Thursday at 1pm, so we got there a little late.

Now, when packing was done it was time to go to the awesome beach house. I can't remember how long it took us to get there, but what I did know was that we were headed to the beach where the beach house was standing tall. It did take us a long time to get there.

Now after I think 2 and a half or 3 hours, we arrived at the beach house. I was so amazed! I could not believe my eyes. This house was awesome. It had 5 terraces that I could see. The beach was just off the house! You could go down some stairs and walk on a patio and down more stairs and you're on the beach!

Where I slept was on a different part of the house. I was above the garages and which the kids called the play room, because there was a big TV, an Air Hockey game, and a Foosball table.

One day we were on the beach and we were playing circle tag. The game was fun. My dad made the game on the beach. One person was it (it's like tag except it's a circle and you can't go off the lines) and trying to get you, if you get touched you are it.

One day before dinner all the kids went into the hot tub. The hot tub was on a terrace. When the kids (and me) were in the hot tub (parents were out there too) somebody locked us out! But luckily someone was inside! It was a boy (parent). He came and unlocked the door, and we got back in safely. When we were in the hot tub the wave came up far enough, and it washed away the circle tag game!

One night I was scared, because where me and my family slept was in a different part of the beach house. So my mom gave me her iPhone to play with. An iPhone is a phone except it is touch. I played different games, and some more than once. One game is where you have to cut a rope and try to get candy and put in a frogs mouth. This game is called "Cut the Rope."

Once while eating dinner, a wave went so far up! It went all the way up to some rocks. (Which was just a little off the house.) Every kid at the table turned around (if they were facing the wrong way) and stared at the window and out to the wave. Some kids went outside and I did too, but my dad said, "Jolee!  No! Come back inside now!" So I did and had to go back to eat. That wave was the biggest wave I have ever seen!

Now the last thing I want to share with you. One night before dinner we had a dance party night! We also did the limbo. First we did a dance party. There were at least 5 families there, but maybe more. Matt (a kid's dad in one family) danced really weird. He danced crazy, I tried to ignore it but that didn't work! So I just stared at him. Then I started to dance. This is how I danced some times: here Jolee has a picture of herself flopping her arms up and down and jumping. I just kept doing that until I got bored of it. Then we did limbo. The limbo is when 2 people hold up a pole (at least 3 feet long) and people try to go under it without touching the pole. You have to do it like this: You bend back your body, and go under the pole, and try not to touch the pole with any part of your body.

Now all the fun is done and time to leave. We went back to the place where we slept and we got all packed and ready to go. I did not want this time to come, but it had come. Now walking out of the beach house. Got the bags in the trunk. I got to go home with a family that also was at the beach house with us. They are the Brown family. These are their kids and parents names: Jolene (mom), Aaron (dad), Ryan (boy kid), Tyler (boy kid), Aiden (boy baby), Anna (3 year old girl). I got to go home with them because I am FRIENDS with Ryan. We watched a movie on the way home. We watched Ice Age Dawn of the Dinosaurs.

Me and my family went home with a lot of good memories.
Beach House memories with the Cummings, Brown, Moore, Foster, and Akins  Families