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.