Letters from the Forgotten


A few of the women here at New Vision Community Church minister to female prisoners in Nuevo Laredo, a town in Mexico right across the border from here in Laredo, TX. They go there every Saturday morning to share the gospel and to comfort and bring a little joy to a dark and somber place. And although I am unable to cross the border (didn’t bring my passport), my girls and I were still able to take part in this very important ministry.

My father, the pastor, asked me if I would help respond to letters some of these women had written. I volunteered to do six and in my typical father fashion, he left me eleven to write. As I opened each letter and peeked into each woman’s soul, my heart ached for them. These were all women that had come to accept Jesus Christ in prison. They had experienced liberty in repenting, but they were still bound by their circumstances. They will have to finish their time served before they could be free from their jail cell.

Each woman had a different story to tell. Some just needed to vent, others desperately asked for prayers so that they could return to their families, their children. One insisted she was innocent, others admitted that they were guilty and asked God for help in becoming better people. While being on the outside, it is easy to look at these women and judge. Only God knows if they are truly repentant, but I am convinced that the abuse, the loneliness, the rejection, the extreme poverty many of these women endured played a significant role in propelling them to their current situation.

My girls coloring verse pictures for the prisoners.

Regardless of our feelings about why these women are there, Jesus has instructed us Christians to minister to those in prison (Matthew 25) and I was thankful to be part of it. These are women, that in many ways, have been forgotten by society and even by the church. I have to admit that at first it felt a little overwhelming, especially since I had already committed myself to helping in other ways and I don’t like writing letters by hand. But after reading each of the women’s letter, I felt compelled to respond. And since being here is suppose to help teach our entire family the importance of service, I asked my ten-year-old and five-year-old to help me. I had them color scripture cards to accompany my letters.

The letters and cards were done and we turned them in. A few days later, the woman in charge of the prison ministry thanked me and told me what an amazing blessing it had been to the women. They were overjoyed to have received letters and were able to take them back to their cells. I have to admit that I felt a little guilty that I first saw this important task as just another chore, but I am glad that I followed through with it. I do hope and pray that with God’s help, I was able to write the words that would help them in their spiritual journey.

I may have a chance to write a few more letters with the remaining weeks I have in Laredo and after I leave, I will go back to PA and continue doing the things that I do. However, there will be two women here in Laredo that will diligently make their way across the border every Saturday to minister to new and old souls. I am thankful for their service and their example of Christ’s love.

 

Family Mission

One of the poorest areas in Laredo.

Early this year, my husband and I decided that we needed to do something a bit out of the ordinary for the sake of our girls. Like many American kids in their generation, they carry an entitlement attitude and have the expectation that we exist only to cater to them. This is despite our best efforts to not spoil them, to not buy them too many toys, to often say no, and in many ways to make life a little difficult for them. Honestly, our girls do not truly have a concept of hard work nor do they know what it means to experience need. So we decided to give them an experience that would put both of those things front and center. We decided to spend a month working at my parents’ ministry in Laredo, TX.

Laredo is a not-so-small city right on the border with Mexico. Although you will see some wealth, there is also poverty so extreme, that you wonder whether you are still in the United States, but you are. And my parents’ church has a mission in Laredo to reach out to the poorest of the poor.

Well, today was our first day and we hit the ground running. Our first task was to fill grocery bags of food that will be given to the elderly later in the week. We had to sort through various boxes and make sure each grocery bag had an adequate mix of goods. It was quite the operation, pulling boxes off shelves, taking empty boxes to the recycling, moving filled bags to storage, etc. But the most beautiful part of it all was seeing the determined look on my daughters’ faces as they diligently accomplished each of their tasks. It felt good to do this as a family and know that our efforts would bless the lives of so many people. This took up most off our morning.

After a wonderful lunch of deep-dish pizza, made by my mom in the church kitchen for us and all the volunteers, we went to Ein Gedi Ranch. Ein Gedi is a small working farm owned by the church in the middle of one of the poorest and most forgotten areas of Laredo. It was sad to find out that people will use this community as a dumping ground for their garbage. But this isn’t a land fill. There are families, children that live, work, and play here. And thanks to Ein Gedi, the children have a safe place to come play, to learn, and to eat.

While at Ein Gedi, we distributed shoes to children that had attended Vacation Bible School the week before. Each family waited patiently to receive their shoes while the local school district provided lunch. The church has a working relationship with the school district in their efforts to make sure poor kids are still getting at least one nutritional meal a day during the summer break. Since there were many volunteers helping with the efforts we let our girls play outside. They loved seeing the ducks and chickens and playing with the dogs that live there ignoring the outside temperature of 100 degrees.

After Ein-Gedi, there was still more work to be done. We returned to the main church to sort boxes and boxes of donated goods. Each donated appliance had to be tested to make sure it worked. Other items had to be thoroughly cleaned before going into its respective bins, and some items would just need to be tossed out. My husband pulled the boxes from the truck into the sorting room. My ten-year-old worked with grandma to price items that would be sold in the church store to raise money for their ministry. My five-year-old was the runner. She was sent to deliver things like tape to the church secretary or plastic forks to the church kitchen. I loved how serious to took this important mission taking off in a full sprint every time she was sent out.

We finished our day by making a run to Wal-Mart to buy shoes for the kids who did not get shoes earlier in the day at Ein-Gedi (their shoe-size had not been available). Their shoes will be delivered on Friday.

All in all, by the end of the day we were all exhausted and maybe even a little cranky. We will be sleeping soundly tonight, and hopefully we will be well-rested to start this all over again tomorrow.

 

Five Powerful Prayers for Your Kids

Parenting is hard. My oldest is now in her “tweens” and I am encountering a whole new range of issues to deal with. Honestly, the toddler years were simpler, but that is a topic for a whole other blog. As I go through my ups and downs of parenting, I have come to learn to fall back on what is tried and true, God’s word. I now pray scripture over my children. I cannot say it was my idea, but something I learned from a godly woman much wiser than myself who has already been in my shoes. When you combine God’s word with prayer, you just know it has to have a powerful impact. So here are prayers inspired by scripture that I pray over my own children and hopefully they will inspire you to find verses that you can pray over your own kids.

From I Chronicles 4:10:

“Lord, bless my daughters and enlarge their spiritual territory, and that your hand may be with them, and that you would keep them from harm so that it may not bring them any pain.”

From Psalm 119:133:

“Keep steady my daughters’ steps according to your promise and let no iniquity get dominion over them.”

From Colossians 1:9-13:

“I pray that my daughters might be filled with the knowledge of your will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, that they may walk worthy of you Lord, fully pleasing you, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of you God. May they be strengthened with all might, according to your glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness. May they always give thanks to you Father, who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, who has delivered us from the power of darkness and has translated us into the kingdom of your dear son.”

From Proverbs 4:20-23

“Father I pray that my daughters may be attentive to your words, and may they incline their ears to your saying. May those words never escape from their sight and may they keep them within their heart. For they are life to those who find them and healing to all their flesh. May they keep their heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”

From Ephesians 3:14-19

“Father I pray that you may grant my daughters, according to the riches of your glory, to be strengthened with might through your Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith. I pray also that they, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height, to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, that they may be filled with all the fullness of you Lord.”

If there are prayers from scripture that you pray over your children, feel free to share in the comments below so that we may all benefit from it.

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The Art of Raising Prayer Warriors: Part 1

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

img_7925_fotorI have to admit, I hated praying. For years as a professed Christian, I spent no more than five minutes each night. Every once in a while I might do ten to fifteen minutes, but seriously, looking back at it now I realize how pitiful that was. I was far from fulfilling I Thessalonians 5:17 where it says to “Pray without ceasing.” God was still graceful and answered many of my prayers, but I came to realize that my pathetic prayer life stunted my spiritual growth in multiple ways. I was not receiving the full blessing that comes with being in communion with our heavenly Father. Even though I spent a lot of time studying the Bible, my discernment, my ability to resist temptation, and my ability to fight the spiritual battle were all weakened because I lacked a real prayer life. But through the encouragement of a friend, I have come to enjoy prayer and to seek it in ways that I had never done so before.

Early this year, I started thinking of how I could encourage my children the way my friend had encouraged me to not only pray more but to love it. I don’t want my girls to waste years missing out on something so amazingly powerful like I did. I therefore meditated on it and I discovered that a lot of the same reasons I had disliked praying were the same reasons my children did not enjoy it either. I asked God for wisdom and direction on the things that I could do encourage them to become prayer warriors and now I want to share what I learned with you in a series of blogs. This is the first one.

This first strategy is simple and straight forward. You have probably heard this shared many times, but it works and I have seen the fruit of it this past year with my girls.

Make sure they see AND hear you pray. Children learn best from watching you, especially young children. It may seem that in their multiple distractions, they don’t notice what you are doing, but they do. They don’t miss a beat and if they don’t see you praying, they will wonder why they have to do it. Both my nine-year-old and my four-year-old are quick to point out any inconsistency with the things I say and the things I do. I, therefore, know that I have to model praying behavior for them if I expect them to listen to my encouragements to pray.

Just as important as it is for our kids to see us praying, it is also important for them to hear us praying. We will sometimes seek to pray in a quiet place away from the noise of our children. Or we might be tempted to quit praying when the kids interrupt us. There are certainly good reasons to do that and we do need quiet in our own personal prayer lives. However, I want to encourage you to also pray in spite of your children’s commotion. Even though it is hard for us to concentrate, it does something for them. It really does. Believe or not, they are listening.

A couple of years ago my then two-year-old was role playing with her toys. At one point in her story, one doll started praying for the others. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I was surprised because the words that came out of my child’s mouth were almost verbatim phrases she had heard me pray. Up until that point, I had not even known she had been listening, but she obviously had been.

Now I am getting to enjoy the fruits of modeling prayer for them. My four-year-old sometimes wakes up early and she will find her way to my war room (a.k.a. family room) where I pray in the mornings. She snuggles next to me. We have had enough conversations about what I am doing that she knows to try to be quiet, but many times she is not quiet. Sometimes she is asking me a million questions, but many times she is repeating everything that I say. The latter is music to my ears because I know that she is learning how to pray. And just this morning, I was praying and my older daughter was getting ready for school. She then found her way to the couch on the opposite end of me and bowed her head. There was no nagging on my part. I had not even asked her to come pray with me. She did it all on her own.

BONUS TIP: Form a prayer/play group. Yes it will be loud and yes it may be hard to concentrate but prayer is powerful in numbers. Just as important, your children will  see and hear you pray together. What a wonderful testimony for their young lives and a wonderful way for them to learn about prayer.

 If you think this article would bless someone, you are welcomed to share it!

Thinking Before Speaking

For the summer, I decided to teach my daughters one verse of scripture per week. The idea is to pick verses of things that we as a family need to work on. This week’s verse is Proverbs 29:20:

 “Do you see a man that is hasty in his words? There is more hope in a fool than with him.”

Once I explained what the word “hasty” meant, my nine-year-old daughter nailed it. She said, “It is when you speak without thinking.” How often do we say things without really thinking them through? We speak out of emotion, but do not take the time to consider how hurtful those words could be to the hearer. I hear many adults (myself included) blurt things out, but once something has been said, it is hard to take it back. I realized that thinking before speaking is a habit I can teach my daughters from a young age and that is what I decided to do.

So for this week, my young ones will be focusing on how they speak to each other and how they speak to us as parents. I will be encouraging them to take the time to think things through before proceeding verbally. This is something I also need to work on as a wife and a mother and I let them know that I too needed help in that area. I will be keeping them accountable, and they will be keeping me accountable all while maintaining God’s word at the center of it. It is a beautiful thing.

The results of our first lesson? Surprisingly, my daughters enjoyed our lesson with my older daughter commenting after we finished, “Mom, that was fun.” It certainly was not the reaction I was expecting, but I welcomed it gladly. It was not a long dragged out lesson. It was no more than 15 minutes and everyone was able to participate, even the four-year-old. Throughout the day, we have randomly been reciting the verse to help us memorize it and my oldest daughter is thrilled that she can now recite it on a moment’s notice.

Are there areas in your family dynamic that need improvement? I recommend finding the applicable scripture in the Bible and work on it together as a family. You will be surprised how much the children will actually enjoy it (as I was) because you are spending quality time with them. Also, don’t be afraid to show your vulnerabilities to your children. Just as much as they need to know that they are under your authority and need your guidance, it is helpful for them to see that you are also under authority (Jesus) and you too need His guidance.

Surviving Long Runs with a Toddler

Long Run CoverIf you are like me and like to run, the only way to make that happen is to tow along the baby or toddler. Running when my little girl was a baby was a lot easier because she would sleep most of the time. However, I soon found out that running with a toddler was a whole different story. They don’t sleep and they don’t like to sit still! At least mine doesn’t. It started to become frustrating for her and therefore frustrating for me.

Like most toddlers, mine is full of energy and does not like to be strapped in for extended periods of time. That did not work well when I aimed to run at least six-miles at a time while pushing 40 lbs plus the weight of the jogging stroller, making my run even longer. The temptation was there to just stick an iPad in front of her and let her watch a cartoon or play a game so that I could complete my work-out. Although I did do that once or twice, I cringed because I wanted her to enjoy being outside as much as I do. I finally found techniques that worked. I don’t always use all of them but a combination of a few of these allows both of us to get as much out of this mommy-daughter time.

FullSizeRender1. Stop to Stretch. After the first mile or two, we always stop to stretch. It is so incredibly cute to see her copy me and try to do everything I do.  I also like to add a couple of silly things such as, “Reach your hands all the way up to the sky!” or “Hop on one foot!” or “Do the wiggle!” When we stretch together, it seems as though she sees herself as part of the run and she is more likely to be calm during most of our six-mile loop if she feels that she is part of the process.

2. Have a Conversation. I often find that my little girl will sit and enjoy nature if I talk to her about it. We look for birds, search for crazy looking trees, and point out beautiful flowers. We talk about how God created them and what our favorites are of each kind. It is also a great time to practice basic skills. If I am running near the lake, we’ll identify the colors of the kayaks or count the number of bike riders that pass us by.

I know this means I can’t turn up the volume on my iPod and zone out, but I have found that if we talk for 10 minutes, she will sit on her own and enjoy the view for another 10. Then I can enjoy a song or two. But even if she does not, she get so much out of me engaging her in conversation and if I listen, I get a lot out of it too.

3. Sing Songs. Since I lack any singing genes, this may not be so enjoyable for anyone else that may be sharing the running path with me, but my toddler gets a kick out of it. Usually, she picks the songs and we have a blast with our renditions of “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star,” “Old McDonald Had a Farm,” and “Jesus Loves Me.”

4. Identify Reachable Mile Stones and Let Them Play. I really hated to stop while running mostly because I hated the feeling I got when I started running again after a long break. However, when I was running by the lake, I felt a little selfish strapping my kid in and not letting THEM enjoy being there as well. Now, during our run, we make two stops. One of them is to just throw rocks into the water. The other one is to explore one of their piers. I feel this works because if she has something to look forward to, she will sit and wait. On one occasion, I was feeling very tired and wasn’t planning on doing more than two miles. However, because she insisted on hitting one of our mile stones, I managed to run four-miles instead. My little three year old ended up being a great encouragement and helped me push myself.

If you are really hard core, and don’t want the interruption in the work out. This is a good time to do push ups, squats, or burpees while your little one runs around and burns energy.

5. Have Them Run With You. Little kids are more likely to sit still if they are tired. Sometimes, and if she is up to it, she runs along side of me. Kids are imitators and especially at that age they just want to do everything you do. She enjoys the idea of “running” just like me and I like it because I feel like I am instilling in her a love for running. After a block or two of sprints and stops and pretending that she is just too fast for me she is wore out and will remain in the jogging stroller until the end of our run.

6. Bring 2 or 3 Figurines, Small Dolls, etc. Although I will not bring the iPad, I do keep a few toys handy. It grabs her attention and she will sit in the stroller and put her imagination into high gear. It is another simple way of keeping her entertained and giving me the time to keep on trekking.

7. Bring a Healthy Snack. I tend to run mid-morning which coincides with snack time. To avoid a meltdown, I always make sure to have a good healthy snack on hand for her. It gives her yet another thing to look forward to as we make progress.

Some of you may not like the idea of having interruptions while running and you certainly can ignore that advice. I myself was very hesitant at first and it is what led to my frustrations. However, I found that I get as much of a workout with the interruptions as without them. More importantly, my toddler now looks forward to our runs instead of dreading them, and that just makes life so much easier for the both of us. .

Crystal, China, or Pottery

I am reading a wonderful book by Frank and Ida Mae Hammond called Kingdom Living for the Family. It has helped me reshape how I think about my relationship with my husband and how God created us differently and gave us different functions. However, I was touched by the authors comment on I Peter 3:7 “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”

I am a woman that loves to do Spartan Races,  got her Master’s from the Naval War College,  traveled on her own to some very remote places—so it is difficult for me to look at myself as the “weaker vessel.” However, I think the author explained this verse beautifully but at the same time convicted me that I need to leave behind my secular way of thinking and replace it with Kingdom thinking.  My “accomplishments” as defined in today’s culture matter little in God’s kingdom. Who I am as a wife, a mother, a friend, a neighbor and how I reflect Jesus Christ in my every day living is what really matters. This is what the author said on page 75 and I hope it blesses you like it blessed me.

“This verse about the wife being the “weaker vessel” is another aunthood I had misinterpreted all my life. I thought it meant that the husband was superior to his wife. I thought it said that I was strong and she was weak. The word “weaker” is comparative rather than superlative, meaning the wife is just a little weaker than the husband is weak. It says nothing at all about the husband being strong.

I had also interpreted the word ‘weaker’ to signify that she was inferior; and, therefore, to mean that I was superior. Once again I had read the verse incorrectly. God asked me what kind of vessels we had into our home. I told Him we had pottery, china, and crystal. He asked Me which of these I considered the strongest and which was the weakest. I replied that the pottery was the most durable. We could toss it in the dishwasher with little special care, but the china and crystal required special handling. The Lord wanted to know which of the vessels I considered the best. Well, the china and crystal are the most expensive. The crystal is the best we have in our home. So, the Lord showed me that is the way with my wife. The ‘weaker vessel’ is more easily broken. Ida Mae confesses that she tends to crack easily! But she is also the best I have. She needs and deserves special care.”

I am fine crystal and I am easily broken. And I am thankful for a husband that treats me with special care and a God and Savior that can put all the pieces back together.

Parenting with Grace and Truth

Grace Truth CoverDuring a small group discussion last night, I was reminded how God may at times be displeased with us and will correct us, but his acts of mercy and forgiveness are even more pronounced. This morning as I reflected on that discussion, I remembered a wonderful verse that embodies that sentiment.  John 1:17 says, “But the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”

Jesus Christ gave us truth but also gave us grace. Truth sometimes hurts, especially when it is in the context of our mistakes and failures. But in Christ’s eyes, truth does not come without the grace, the forgiveness, and the love. And that is exactly how Jesus Christ related to people. He gave them truth. He told sinners that they needed to change their ways, but at the same time he gave them grace. He loved them, forgave them, and looked past their sinful nature. Ultimately, he died for them. He died for us.

I realized this morning that that is exactly how I should approach parenting, with truth and with grace. Our children need to be told the truth when their behavior is not up to par and when they have missed the mark. Discipline is an important part of parenting to help correct their incorrect thinking. However, they also need to see grace from us. They need to know that our love is not dependent on their perfection or on how good they are, just the way God’s love is not dependent on how well we behave. It is by grace that we are saved.

I saw this play out in two different ways with my eight-year-old daughter. A few days ago I sat down with her and in my most calm tone told her that her behavior the past week needed improvement. I was actually quite proud of myself for showing extreme self control. I left her room and went downstairs to finish dinner. When my husband called her down to eat, uncharacteristically she did not answer. My husband and I looked at each other and went upstairs to find out what was going on. We found her sobbing in her room, “I am such a bad kid! I cannot do anything right!”  My husband gave me a look of, “What in the world did you tell her?” I swore to him that it wasn’t anything bad other than to point out that she needed to do better in certain areas.

My daughter does tend to be overdramatic, but we could tell that she was genuinely feeling bad about herself. Of course, we hugged her and kissed her and explained to her that it was important that she be corrected, that bad behavior would have consequences, but that by no means meant that we thought she was a bad kid. She calmed down and I believe she understood us and believed us, but it certainly made me reflect on how I could have handled that better. It also made me question whether my daughter is seeing enough grace from us her parents to know that we love her unconditionally and that reminded me of a time when I got it right.

My daughter has a chore chart that tracks her responsibilities throughout the day. One missed chore translates to money deducted from her allowance (meager as it may be). On one particular day, she neglected one of her responsibilities so I deducted a point. By the end of the day, before her daddy came home (he is the one that checks her chart each day) I told her that I was going to re-add the point she had missed. She gave me a funny look and said, “What was that for?”

“Nothing,” I said, “I was just being gracious.” (I believe that response was God inspired.)

“What is gracious?”

“Gracious comes from the word grace. Grace is unmerited favor. That means that you get something even though you did not earn it.”

“Just like Jesus died on the cross for us because he loved us even though we did not deserve it?”

“Exactly! And that is the reason that we now have eternal life.”

She had a huge smile on her face, looked at her chart, hugged me, and ran upstairs. What had once been an abstract concept, became real for her right there and then. She understood grace. She understood love.

Thinking back to the whole “bad kid” episode, I realize that after correcting her, I needed to point out all the things that make her so wonderful. Especially for my very sensitive child. I needed to balance out my chastisement so that she would also feel loved and worthy. She needed to feel grace. And that is what parenting is, a balancing act between grace and truth.

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What does the Bible tell us about vaccines?

Courtesy of the CDC

Courtesy of the CDC

Nothing. I know there are a lot of parents out there that are struggling with this decision. Some of us vaccinate but we may question one or two vaccines. It is not easy being a parent today. We have to constantly make decisions for our kids on what they can watch on TV, on what to eat, and on their health for example. The problem is that we have imperfect information and we do not know what “expert” to trust. For those of us that are Christian, it would be so much easier if there was a verse in the Bible that said, “Though shall vaccinate,” or “Thou shall not vaccinate,” but alas, that is not the case. It appears on the surface that we are left in the dark about this very important decision and we are left wondering who to believe.

Pro-vaccination advocates tell you that you can trust the science and yet some of us have had a few experiences with the medical community that makes you question the “science.” I have gone to the doctor for something simple as backspin, and I have had three different doctors give me three different diagnosis, one of which told me that I had to suffer with this for the rest of my life. He was incorrect by the way. On the vaccine issue, I do remember back when I barely questioned the vaccination process, going to my health center and inquiring about the flu vaccine. My doctor told me something to the effect of, “We are no longer giving the flu shot here because we got a ‘bad batch’ and a lot of the kids here got febrile seizures. We stopped giving it all together until next season. But you can go to CVS and get one there.” Whoa! What? Really? All that kept going through my head was “bad batch” and “febrile seizures.” How does that happen? And so began a very painful journey of research to decide whether to vaccinate my kids, which vaccines to give them, and when I should vaccinate them.

Anti-vaccination advocates will tell you that the flu vaccines have preservatives that are harmful and that there have been countless cases of people having bad and deadly reactions. They will tell you that the testing is done by the pharmaceutical companies themselves instead of third parties and therefore cannot be trusted. I know people personally who have told me that the vaccine caused their child’s condition and I have no reason not to believe them. And yet, it is hard to ignore the amazing transformation of a country like India when they introduced the polio vaccine and how it practically eradicated polio in that country (although anti-vaccine advocates have questioned this success). I also look around here in the US and do not see illnesses that were common when I was a kid like the measles (at least until the recent outbreak) or the chicken pox and I just find it hard to believe that that was not the result of vaccines.

After looking at a number of reports, and studies, and charts, and stats, I became even more confused and I consider myself a fairly intelligent person. Stats provided by anti-vaccination groups certainly support their position. The stats provided by pro-vaccionation advocates supports theirs. This whole issue has forced me to do some inner soul searching and go back to the one that I CAN trust and that is God. The bottom line is that I don’t know what the right answer is and the Bible does not speak to this specific subject. However,  I do know that I can trust my God and the Bible does tell us that when we face difficult times to bring it before Him in prayer. Phillipans 4:6 “Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Therefore, I know that I can lay this problem before Him and tell Him my concerns:

God, I want to do your will. I want to be a good steward of these children that you have given me. I want to love them and protect them as you have required of me to do. Do I protect them by vaccinating them or do I protect them by not vaccinating them?  Part of me is distrustful of the vaccines and pharmaceutical companies. But within each of these companies are good people, smart people, and people that love you so that in my simple mind it cannot be all bad. I know some of these people personally and many are godly people. Part of me also gets fearful when I see these outbreaks and I want to rush my kids to get every vaccine under the sun. But if I do vaccinate, does that mean that I am not trusting you? The other part of me aches for the parents of children with compromised immune systems and I want to do right by them, but  does that mean that I go against my instincts as a mom to protect my own ? Lord, I am conflicted. There is so much information out there and my brain cannot possibly comprehend it all so I put this decision before you. Only you know what the right course of action is and so if I choose wrongly, know my heart and that my intentions where good. Direct my paths. Make everything work for your glory. 

I have made my decision on what to do about these vaccines and I am done worrying about it because I have laid my course before God. I have given it to Him and now my job is twofold. One, is to trust that God will hold true to his promises (Proverbs 16:3 Commit your work to the LORD and your plans will be established.) The second is to be gracious with those that disagree with my decision.

One of the most unfortunate consequences of this measles outbreak (other than kids being sick) is the vileness that has come out from both sides of the fence. Most of us are parents are just trying to do what is right for our kids and yet I have seen some of the meanest and most vile insults directed towards the other side, particularly towards parents that do not vaccinate. There is a lack of compassion and most parents that I know that do not vaccinate are good and intelligent people. Most of them actually decided to take that route because their child had  a bad reaction. It might not have been deadly or life changing, but who am I to tell a mother that heard her child scream inconsolably for more than four hours after a  vaccine that she shouldn’t trust her instincts? Who am I to tell her that she shouldn’t vaccinate?  It is just plain mean spirited and yet we all know that condemnations, insults, and angry words will rarely soften someone’s heart to their point of view. I do not want to be like that. I want to stay true to Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. I want to learn from different points of view and I want to be loving and kind when I discuss these issues because that is what Christ would want me to do.

So in the end, what did I decide to do regarding the vaccines? Only God knows. Just kidding. You are welcome to read an earlier blog that details my decision and how I got there.

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The Bravest Thing I Have Ever Done!

IMG_8522_fotor_fotorI was recently asked, “What is the bravest thing you have ever done?” As I quickly reflected on my life, I knew right away what the answer was. I have done some pretty crazy things. Some of them, in hindsight, I probably should not have done. However, ever since I was a little girl, I wanted an adventurous life. It started with my childhood dream of being the real Wonder Woman. By the time I was 13, my dreams where transformed by the first Gulf War. I was the only kid in the seventh grade glued to CNN and checking out books at the library about Iraq and Saddam Hussein. I knew then that I wanted to work for the government some day and be an expert in international relations.

By the time I was a freshmen in college, I already had my major picked out. I jumped right into my studies and ran through every open door. I interned with the United States Embassy in Nicaragua.  I then studied in Bolivia for four months and I traveled all over that beautiful country by myself for a month. Immediately after, I worked on a research project in Guatemala and interviewed former guerrilla fighters (Yes, the type that fight against established governments). I graduated with honors and I had my eyes on Washington, DC. I sent my résumé to every agency dealing with international affairs and I also applied to become a United States Marine Corps officer. I was medically disqualified for the Marines so I took a job with the Navy instead.

IMG_8538_fotorThe Navy was appealing to me because they offered a lot of travel and they certainly did deliver. I was able to go to Japan, South Korea, Panama, and a lot of places within the United States. I was ambitious and I dove through every open door. I even got to play “marine” and “soldier” for a few weeks and I spent a week on a naval destroyer. I loved my job!

I loved it even more when my boss asked our team if anyone would volunteer to go to Hawaii to support the Navy’s Pacific Fleet for four months. I was only surprised that more hands did not go up but thanks to my seniority, I got the gig. There were definitely some neat work-related assignments, but I mostly enjoyed my time off in Honolulu. I tried my hand at surfing, I hiked Hawaii’s beautiful terrain, and I almost drowned while ocean kayaking. That was the life! However, that would all change upon my return with a little blue line.

I was pregnant. I was excited about the baby, but I also knew that I had to make a choice. I could have still gone full throttle, continued my life of adventure, and continued to travel. After all, I had a trip to China on my radar!  Yet, as I patted my tummy, I got the feeling that China would have to wait. I felt God pulling me in a completely different direction. It is as if He was telling me that my child would only have one mommy and I would only get one chance to raise her. And so I did the second most bravest thing I have ever done. Instead of setting up a meeting with my boss to lay out my future career path, I set up a meeting to see if I could possibly work part-time (that is code for career stopper). I did that for a year and then left that exciting life (with an incredible salary) to become a part-time Realtor for about 3 years. Although not nearly as exciting as what I used to do, it allowed me to mostly work from home.  However, by the time my second child came along, I knew I had to give that up as well. There came a defining moment when I knew, positively knew, God was telling me to just give it all up. That was the bravest thing I have ever done!

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An amazing view during one of my hikes in Hawwaii!

I had done some pretty incredible things in my life and I had some awesome experiences. I had travelled alone in foreign countries, I had repelled off cliffs, I had chased chickens in a dusty third-world country, and I had even rock climbed in complete darkness in an old mine. Yet none of those “dangerous” things compared to the nervousness I felt of leaving the comfort zone of my adventurous life and my financially security.

Adventure was easy because I loved it. However, being a stay-at-home mom scared me to death. I never liked cooking nor cleaning. I needed to be intellectually challenged and singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star over and over is not exactly intellectually stimulating. I felt like I was jumping off a cliff.

That was not the only cliff. Leaving government, and then real estate, would mean that our household income would be cut by half. We would have to live paycheck-to-paycheck, cut cable, start couponing, and shop at thrift stores. I wrestled with it and part of me wondered how we would cover unexpected expenses. Our savings would only carry us for so long. What did I do? I stopped thinking about it and I did what I felt God was telling me to do.

It was not easy. It was a rough time in my life, but it was also one that God used to propel my faith forward. I knew it was Him. And here I am today, a full time stay-at-home mom. I spend my days doing all the things I told my mom I would never do: cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, and now gardening (and blogging). It was a leap of faith. I also remembered the words of a friend who had made the decision before I did, “You just learn to do without.”

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I’ve traded in my hiking pack for a toddler carrier :o)

Financially, I did my part. I cut every unnecessary expenditure. Cable was out, a land line was out, eating out has become a once in a blue moon type of thing. There is no more shopping for me; no new shoes, no new clothes. If we travel, it is usually by car (or through Space-A). We refinanced the house to bring down our mortgage. We reviewed all of our insurance policies. Like my friend said, yes, you do learn to do without, but most importantly, you learn to trust in God.

The one thing about having a very good salary, is that you depend on yourself. You know you are bringing the money in and that you can afford very nice things, and you give lip service to God, but you don’t really trust that He will take care of you. When you live pay-check-to-pay-check, you start to depend on Him and Him alone. Since I left work, we have had to replace our septic tank pump, fix our well, and buy two cars because both our cars went kaput. We had some savings, but clearly not enough to cover all those expenditures. At every problem, He has met our needs and some of it in the most miraculous ways. And if push came to shove, we would give up so much more, move to a smaller house or apartment if need be, just so I could stay home with my girls if that is what God willed us to do. The reality of the matter is that twenty years from now when my girls think back to their happiest times, they will remember the times spent with us, not the things they had or did not have.

What of the cooking and cleaning? I still don’t like cleaning bathrooms, but if that is the worst that I have to do, then I will try to do it with a smile. I have come to really enjoy cooking. It is also so rewarding to see all the achievement that my girls make. I have heard their first words, I have seen their first steps, I have been there at all their important moments of their young lives. Every hug, every tear I wipe, every kiss I give is worth so much more than an amazing career. I would make that choice all over again.

But the real question is, am I happy? You bet. I have never been happier. How can I not be? There is a home-made apple bread in the oven that has now permeated the whole house. I have two happy girls upstairs sleeping after a day full activities with mom and a happy husband. I can get joy from that because God has changed me. Maybe he didn’t change me at all, but just showed me that it was in me all along. I can see the joy in what I do now, and that has made all the difference. I have God right here with me, guiding me at every turn.

God has called us to be different things and I know that right now I am doing what I should be doing. I am not one to say that every mother should be a stay-at-home mom. I look at the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 and I do not just see a traditional homemaker. I also see a savvy business woman. I see a home “manager” who clearly puts the needs of her husband and children before her own. I believe God has instructed us wives to manage our homes in that manner, but that does not necessarily mean that it has to look one particular way (although I have to admit that I have a hard time seeing how you can do that if you are working so much that you hardly ever see your kids or your husband. God created us to be personal beings and we need personal interaction). The most important thing is to ask yourself, are you doing what God wants you to do or what you want to do? I used to say, “I could never stay home all day. I would go crazy and my kids would suffer if I was unfulfilled.” God showed me something different-that I could be home all day and be fulfilled. So as you make a decision on whether to stay home, go back to work, ask God first. You and your family will be better off for it.

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This is the reason I am home now.