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.

 

Essential Oil Fit for a King!

I love my essential oils. I am by no means an expert on them, but I use them a lot for medicinal purposes, for repelling unwanted pests, and just because they smell so good!  You can therefore imagine my excitement to find out that the oil Mary of Bethany used to anoint Jesus’ feet was spikenard, an oil you can order right off of Amazon! (Technically, it is not exactly the same, but the raw ingredient is.) More importantly, I enjoyed finding out more about this oil and its significance in the Biblical record.

In all honesty, when I had read this account before, I had not paid much attention to the type of oil, and if I had, I would have been clueless about what it actually was. Most of us have heard of myrrh and frankincense (gifts that the Magi gave to Jesus as a young child), but I don’t really think spikenard has made into our every day language. However, as I was preparing to teach a Bible study to my daughter and her friends regarding this Biblical account, I was compelled to pay attention to every detail. One of those details was the use of spikenard.

As I poured my energy and time into this study, I wanted to find out what spikenard was, how it was used by the ancients, and what its significance was in the anointing of Jesus. Spikenard was a highly expensive oil or ointment (as mentioned in scripture and confirmed by outside sources) derived from a plant that was used not only by the Jews, but many peoples from the Middle East and Asia. It was imported from the areas of present day India, China, and Nepal as the plant is native to the Himalayas. The ancients used it to season food, prepare bodies for burial, medicinal purposes, and as a perfume (See Charles Hatchet, On the Spikenard of the Ancients and Raoul McLaughlin, Rome and the Distant East.)

Jews used it as a component in incense burned at the temple in Jerusalem and apparently to bury their dead. Although I could not find first-hand sources, several online articles mentioned how Jews in Biblical times used it as one of the primary ingredients to prepare bodies for burial along with myrrh. Because nard was produced as an oil and/or ointment, it would allow more powdery substances like myrrh to stick to the body. In the John 12 account of Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus’ feet with this expensive oil, Jesus himself declares in verse 7 that “she has kept it for the day of my burial” (HCSB version).

Regardless of what it was used for, Nard was highly valued and used by upper classes, including kings. For example, Spikenard appears to have be the primary fragrance in a perfume found in King Tut’s tomb. Therefore, it is only fitting that such an oil would be used to anoint the feet of the King of Kings! And if the oil was one of the primary ingredients for preparing bodies for burial, it brings even more significance to the humble act performed by Mary of Bethany. It shows that she knew exactly what she was doing, and was the first of Jesus’ disciple to acknowledge that he was indeed headed to the cross.

There is also an interesting correlation between the cross and how this oil is used today. While in hospice care, it is used to help patients transition from life to death because spikenard has been shown to relieve stress and anxiety, to calm both body and mind (See OilsandPlants.com and this article). When I read this, it brought my thoughts back to Jesus and what he must have been going through in the days prior to the crucifixion. We know from the record in Luke 22, shortly before his arrest, that Jesus was in agony over what was to come, enough so that he was sweating blood. If we backtrack only a few days to when Mary anointed his feet and filled the room with the scent of nard, I can only assume that the weight of what was before him was already weighing heavily on him. And I wonder, could the nard have been a small detail in how our Heavenly Father (through Mary’s loving action), was helping Jesus relieve some of that anxiety? We won’t know for sure on this side of heaven, but I do wonder. But even if the scent of nard was not physically helping to relieve some of his stress, Mary’s willingness to minister to him in that way certainly was.

Today, you can find spikenard as an essential oil. It is most likely not in the same form as it was used back in Biblical times as modern distillation processes were not existent (although Hatchet makes a good case that the Indians had a primitive form of distillation that they used to produce the nard ointment/oil). However, current research, some of which is in line with how the ancients used it for medicinal purposes, shows that nard essential oil can be used for a variety of purposes. Personally, I am just enjoying putting a few drops in my diffuser along with orange essential oil and meditating on the Bible record, but I also wanted to pass along this information for anyone that might need it.

 

Benefits of Using Nard Essential Oil

Fights bacteria and fungus

Antiinflammitory

Relieves anxiety, calming the mind and body

It boosts the immune system

Promotes hair growth

Relieves insomnia

Lessens sensitivity of nerves to pain

Reduces fever

Helps eliminate body odor

Provides relief from cough and other respiratory problems.

See these articles for more information on how to use it. Remember to do your due diligence especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding when using essential oils.

Spikenard Stimulates the Immune System and Relaxes Both Body and Mind

Spikenard Essential Oil, Uses and Side Effects

If you like this article, please be so kind to share!

 

Hope in a Failing Marriage

img_8193I realize that we have the tendency to put our best-foot forward and social media seems to fuel that tendency. We upload our best pictures, our best stories, the best part of our lives, but rarely is anyone’s life that perfect. The honest truth is that my life is nothing close to what you might see from my Facebook timeline or what you might even see from me at church. I don’t have it all together. My life is messy and it is a rollercoaster ride of falling and getting back up and I have quite a few skeletons in my closet. One of those is that my marriage came dangerously close to failing, to being another divorce statistic.

I am writing this because there are many of you who are struggling in your marriages and are suffering in silence. You are afraid of what people might think of you or what the church might think of you. Some of you might even think that divorce is the only way out. And I am here to tell you that that was me and that you are not alone.

My husband and I had a very good marriage for the first nine years. We fought sometimes and got on each other nerves, but it never got so bad that I would have the desire to leave.  We survived living in separate states for several years, the unpredictable nature of the military, his deployment to Afghanistan, a significant reduction in our income when I decided to leave my full-time job. We even survived the fact that we were “unevenly yoked.” I was an evangelical Christian and he was not, but we seemed to make it work.

And then year number ten came and my “wonderful” marriage came crushing down. There were a series of circumstances that were pushing my husband and I farther and farther apart. Before we had a chance to realize what was happening, I found myself in my bedroom with my husband asking me directly, “Do you even love me anymore?” As I sat on our bed, I looked down at my feet and said, “I don’t know.” I wanted to have compassion for this man that was only a few feet away from me, but all I had was disdain. I felt the hypocrisy of my Christianity weighing heavily on me and I felt like I was drowning and that I was slowly losing my faith.

At the time we had bought a house in PA, but I was still living in VA with my daughter at a friend’s house. He was working out of NJ because of the military. He was in the Marines at the time. Initially, we had agreed that I would come up every week for a long weekend while our house was getting renovated. However, as time progressed I found myself wanting to visit PA less and less and I was reluctant to fulfill my husband’s wishes to finally move in permanently.

I justified my actions with a million excuses. “Whenever I am home, he is always mad and upset.” “I don’t know anyone in Pennsylvania and my family and friends are here in VA.” “The students at Sunday school in VA need me and if I leave there is no teacher to replace me.” “He had the choice to stay in VA had he wanted to but because he wanted to go off to war, now he is in NJ and I am paying the price for it.” “My real estate business is thriving in VA and I can’t do it from PA.”

The only thing I did right during that time period is to go see a friend. I needed to unload completely and I knew that she loved God and that she wouldn’t judge me. She listened quietly as I went off on a rant about my husband. After listening for awhile, and maybe even losing patience with me (although she did not show it), she said, “You need to let go of the business, of the church here in VA, and move in with your husband. The Bible is clear, it is God first, then husband, then children, then church, then everything else.” I resented her words, but deep down I knew she was right. A few weeks later, my concerned parents told me the same thing during a trip with them to Puerto Rico (I later found out my husband had reached out to them for help). I still didn’t accept the correction very easily; however, eventually I would take their advice. In my stubbornness, it took several days to tell me husband, but I finally let him know that I was moving to PA and I was going to stay.

I would be lying if I said that the road to restore our marriage was easy after that. It was not. After finally moving, I would spend hours laying on the bench of my dining room table crying while my daughter was at school. I had to force myself to be kind to my husband and to make him his morning coffee. I had to force myself to put my best foot forward for my little girl. I had to force myself to sit down and read the Bible and pray. But looking back now, God rewarded my obedience and he gave me a sign of hope the day after I made the decision to move to PA. I found out I was pregnant.

One of the stresses that had led us to such a broken place was the fact that we had been trying for a few years to have a second child, but to no avail. I had given up hope.  But as I made that first step towards reconciliation and things were still very rocky between my husband and I, seeing that cross on the pregnancy test gave us both something to smile about. I always say, I should have named that child Grace. In that gesture, I felt God saying, “Yes, you sinned and walked away from me, but you have repented and now I am extending my grace towards you.”

Fast forward many years later, I found out the reason behind my husband’s apparent bad moods that had been one of the reasons I had started to pull away from him. During that time period, he had been going through a very difficult time at work. My husband has never liked to talk about his problems nor open up. While he was trying his best not to bring work issues home, his frustrations at work and the effect it was having on him emotionally was causing him to be quieter than usual and it was manifesting itself in grumpiness. I felt like he was rejecting me, but from his point of view, having me there, even though he didn’t feel like doing anything, was comforting. When I started to not want to visit him, it would cause him to fall into an even greater depression that I would interpret as disdain for me. It was a horrible cycle.

By my obedience and moving home, he began to feel comfort from it and he was able to face work head on. And his mood changed for the better. I also changed. All those feelings that had disappeared starting coming back and my love and respect for my husband has grown exponentially. Eventually he also accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior. God pulled us through but it took an act of obedience on my part and my willingness to take the first step.

It was a very difficult time in both of our lives, but good came out of it. We both have learned wisdom in the ways to best guard our marriage and we both have gotten closer to God. I also learned the importance of having good godly friends (and parents) who are willing to provide that gentle but honest correction when you need it most. Reaching out was instrumental. I reached out to my friend and my husband reached out to my parents. We will be forever thankful for their wisdom.

My final words to you is that if you find yourself going through a hard time, find a trustworthy and godly person to talk to and someone that can pray with you. God has given us each other to provide edification and support and to help remind us that no matter how dark it may seem, He is still there.

If you liked this article, please be so kind to share it! Thanks!

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.

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.

Book Recommendation: Never the Bride

I just finished another great book, Never the Bride: A Novel by Cheryl McKay and Rene Gutteridge.  I love it when a story, even though it may be fiction, makes you reflect on your own life.  That is what this book did for me.  It reminded me that even though I want to be in control and I think I know what is best for me, the reality is that God knows better.  Much better. I related to the character of Jessie Stone.  Although many times throughout the book I just wanted to shake her, at the same time, I know that I have been just as stubborn, just as as impatient, and just as dumb because I was trying to “write my own story.”

The book also helped me look at God in a much different way.  Sometimes, when we think of God we think of this awesome being that is somehow too big, too grand to be reachable.  And yet the Bible tells us that we are to “come boldly unto the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16).  He wants us to spend time with Him, regardless of how often we mess things up.  How many times have we sat down and talked to God and just laughed with Him?  I know that for me talking to God sometimes takes a very somber tone.  I read my Bible, as for forgiveness, and go through my prayer list and leave it at that.  But I think He wants us in the good times too.  When I see my little girl sit on her father’s lap and crack herself up even though earlier in the day she was throwing a temper tantrum–that is the kind of relationship I want with my heavenly Father.

Bottom line:  If you want a fun and easy read that will remind you to trust God–even when things do not seem to be going your way, this is it.

To order paper back version click on the title:  Never the Bride: A Novel

To order Kindle version click on this title: Never the Bride: A Novel

If you liked this article, please be so kind to share it! Thanks!

Thankful for Laundry? Yes, Actually, I am.

Image courtesy of John Kasawa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have been doing more laundry than usual and I really do not enjoy it.  Okay, so in reality, my husband does most of our laundry.  Yeah, I am pretty lucky, right? When we were newly married, I would wash and fold both of our clothes, but then he would come home and unfold and refold all of his clothes to fit his military style measurements.  It was driving me crazy so guess who took over the laundry duties?  However, lately he has been working longer hours than usual and to give him a break, I’ve been helping him when I can.  But I really do not like doing  laundry.  It is one of my last favorite chores.

But then today (as if God was reminding me of just how good I actually have it) I remembered when I used to do laundry as a kid.  I was about 8 years old and my brother was 11. We were both responsible for washing our own clothes.  No, we didn’t have to take our basket of dirty clothes down the stairs to the laundry room.  We didn’t have a laundry room.  No, we didn’t carry our clothes to the washer and dryer.  We didn’t have a washer and dryer.  No.  We would put our clothes in a cart and haul it to the laundromat that was several blocks away.  We would sit there for several hours until it was done and then haul it back home.  Sometimes our mom would come with us, but many times we had to go by ourselves.  Yes, we had to cross that large busy street otherwise known as Western Avenue and I believe the laundromat might have been where that tax service is now.


View Larger Map

So as I sit here and stare at the pile of laundry that I have to fold, I will do it with a smile on my face.  At least, I don’t have to put on my boots and coat and brave the Chicago winter.  At least, I do not have to be in a room full of strangers quietly waiting for the buzzer to go off telling me it was time to switch my load.  There were no such things as iPhones, iPods, or iPads back then.  It was just my brother and I keeping each other company wishing we were back home.  No.  Today, I sit in the comfort of my own home, next to the fireplace, with the TV on.  Yes, I will quietly fold the laundry and just be thankful.

If you liked this article, please be so kind to share it! Thanks!