Looking for Courage

Courage- I want it more than money, success, or possessions. I see it in others and I beg God to give me an extra dose of it. In decades past, courage was the most honorable quality in anyone….Harriet Tubman. Martin Luther King. Rosa Parks. Abraham Lincoln. Mother Theresa. They were long ago heroes. Headliners. Respected for their bravery, stand for justice, and unbridled courage.

Are these qualities revered today? Honorable at all? Who are our headliners? Kim Kardashian? I might have spelled her name wrong but I refuse to waste my time and google it. Housewives of…..fill in the blank? They are not heroes in any way yet they make the “news” constantly- magazines, tv news shows, radio, etc. Seriously….make money and people talk. A LOT.

I try my hardest to tune out what the world values and sees as significant because it only makes my heart hurt. Like cry my eyes out and struggle with anxiety that I am raising my kids in such a counterfeit world where the heroic are boring and outdated and the explicit and provocative are glamourized and emulated.

So as I peer over the cliff of despair getting ready to jump,  I stop. I breathe a long, yoga type push of air and I ponder. I have a choice- be undone by what I see or pursue hope and not allow myself to give up on anyone, anything, or any place. I choose the latter but I do it grudgingly because being angry and self righteous feels good and powerful. Ouch. How do I see and feel and not judge? I think we find another way and we pursue that with everything we have. So my solution is to look for heroes of courage every day. I live for it. I breathe it, digest it, and crave it.

Hearing people’s stories is the most powerful experience there is. Getting to know them- not their masks and what they present to society, but where they have traveled and how it has made them who they are. Now THAT is powerful.

I think I make it a point to look for courage in others because I find it so lacking in me. When I garden, I ponder, think, and pray….. my hands in the dirt and all alone in my own head. In these moments, I often ask myself:

Do I love comfort?  Yes
Do I crave security? Absolutely
Do I want to protect myself from people hurting me? All the time
Do I want to change? Most definitely

And that is where my prayer begins. God, help me. Show me your ways. Continue to show me courage through other people. And then the slide show of heroes starts to click through my mind.

My heroes….
Nancy, who goes back to Kenya year after year to work on the school she started even if it compromises her finances, her safety, and her comfort.

Veronica, who left a lifestyle that was destructive to pursue a new way of living and standing strong even when money is tight and the bills seem like they will never get paid.

Shannon, who met me one time over coffee, and has responded to every one of my Facebook posts of people needing help and gotten in the car and put her love into action for complete strangers.

Jamie, who started to attend a Wednesday night meeting and allowed herself to be honest about the challenges of mothering young children and shed the image of being the perfect mom.

Nicole, who I have watched face her fears and walk through them like a soldier going into battle.

Lynn, who has learned to grieve the loss of her daughter in a healthy way without falling into the pit of despair.

Kobe, my son, who has worked hard to overcome his life of abandonment and neglect and has made me a proud mom of a United States soldier.

Amber, who has learned to stand on her own and make a life for her and her daughter.

And there I find encouragement and hope and true joy….in the stories of my friends. Those I respect, love and believe in. I won’t be jumping off that cliff of despair because the world cannot win this one. I will spend my life fighting the lie the world sells to us and our children- that money, materialism and explicit and raunchy behavior are the goal. I will continue to fight to recognize the badge of courage in those around me and share it with anyone who will listen.

I want to be brave…..

Whirlwind of emotions. That is what the past three hours have
been. My iPhone calendar told me it was a day void of appointments,
distractions, or to-dos (except for buying Jordan almonds and crackers for an
upcoming trip). Sounded simple to me.
Backing up a bit…..I spent the day yesterday with my
adorable 14 year old eating wings (blek!), shopping for socks, and getting him a
much needed haircut. Before we hit the mall, I ran into the Christian bookstore
to find a good book for my trip. I, of course, got sucked into the rows of
catchy titles and tag lines that hook me at first breath. Should I go with a
light fiction, an old favorite? Then I saw it….the title the hardest peace by Kara
Tippetts. It was the one- never heard of her or seen the book but the back
described a mom battling cancer. Since I lost a close friend to cancer 2 1/2
years ago, I always seek out reading more about walking through cancer with
other people I know who are sick. I picked it up and walked out, joined my son
who was sitting in my running car blaring the air conditioner and classical
guitar. We were off on the sock hunt.
I did not think much about the book- the afternoon got busy
and there were 20 inch trout to be seen in the cooler after a boy’s fishing
excursion that day and later to be enjoyed at the dinner table. There were
friends to come by bearing gifts for my precious children in Haiti, and
just-like-daughters to be hugged and encouraged. Just a normal Sunday
afternoon.
After everyone went to bed and the house was eerily still, I
picked up the book to look it over. I was ready to dig in and hear how she had
kicked cancer’s butt and was now encouraging everyone around her to fight the
good fight. That was the story line that fit in my little, limited box of
perfect reading. The box- tied with a big burlap bow and a little vintage bird
ornament attached. That was my box. And God and this book and the rest of my
life needed to all fit in that well adorned package. Period. 
After about 10 minutes of skimming, I put down the book and
suddenly out of what seemed to be NOWHERE, this burning, yet cold sensation
spread all over my body and I started to panic- I am going to die one day. And worse, my kids are
going to die. I birthed
them for LIFE and one day they will die. I prayed I was never around to see
them leave this earth. Then I was enveloped in another round of gut-wrenching
fear…I thought if my husband died, I would be ALONE, missing the absolute
love of my life, getting parenting all wrong, and not even know where he kept
my passport or how to book tickets to go to Haiti. OK- THAT did not fit into my
box. YUCK. SUPER YUCK.
As the panic subsided, I drifted off to sleep. Then this
morning I awoke, listened to the same fish stories again that never get old,
and sat with my cup of coffee and the local news show. Last night’s experience
was not fresh in my mind because I was only on coffee cup #1 1/2 and no clear
thoughts come until after coffee cup #2 is indulged. I then open my Facebook
and there in front of me is: HOMECOMING…Kara Tippets dies on March 22, 2015.
WHAT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?? The day I buy the book, skim it, have this extreme
fear of dying experience? I am undone. The story was not supposed to end like
this. I am crushed to lose someone I only “knew” for 12 hours.
So I spent part of the morning chatting on the couch with a
sweet friend, Lynn, and told her about buying the book, seeing the post, etc.
She started reading the blog aloud- I had only made it past the fact that she
had died. One excerpt said:
“As the cancer spread, Kara courageously embraced
her situation, trusting in a Sovereign God. She believed that cancer was not
the point, but Jesus was; how she responded and trusted Christ in the midst of
this hard was where she would find Grace.”
She sounded just like
my friend, Kristen, who lost her fight to cancer- courageous and brave. Lynn,
Kristen’s mom,and I had a moment of silence, reminded that we miss
Kristen, who lived courageously and died courageously. Then Lynn left so I could get
at least a few clothes put away and bags packed. I plugged in my new speaker
and hooked up my iPhone. I started to play my new playlist and the first song is
“You Make Me Brave.” I was busying myself with the laundry and the
morning’s sticky counters and I suddenly just fell into a heap on my bed…..again undone.
The fear of dying episode from last night finally came flooding back to me.  I screamed in my head, “GOD!
I am not brave! I am not brave like Kara or Kristen! I am scared and frail and
a big mess!” I weeped and cried for a few minutes. I then picked up my limp body with red, blotchy eyes and smudged glasses, and walked to my computer with a mission and started writing this
blog. I like to write before I have a clue what something means. It helps me and I hope it helps you know you are not alone with the world of ANSWER VOID…..and still with no answers. 
I love Jesus…..like REALLY love Him. I pray. I
read. I serve. I love (the best I know how). And I am still not brave. WHY?
What is wrong with me? I love life- I don’t want to leave. 
I know that eternity
is perfect, beautiful and forever. But what about….and I start listing off
all the names of people who I am convinced NEED me. 
So what do I do now?
Pray Scripture to wipe away the fear? Done that. I feel like crap that somehow Scripture did not fix me. What does that say about my faith? Self condemnation starts to heap itself on my shoulders. I am a Jesus following failure. Everyone else gets it but me. Shame. Guilt. I try to put the brakes on that train that is headed nowhere very quickly. I decide 3 things that are all I know right now:
God will honor
honesty- we fear talking about death and we fear worse that we are Christians who fear death in the first place.
God will grow me- and
if I stay connected to Him I will get a little braver as time goes on.
God will love me through my
brokenness- He loves when we are desperate and we will turn to Him instead of hiding in distractions. Busyness is the biggest killer of maintaining relationships,
dreaming big dreams, and creating a life of purpose. 
There is no cool
ending to this blog. Nothing in a cute little box with a burlap bow and vintage
bird ornament on top. But I know that I WANT to be brave….and I think that is
a great place to start.

Letter from The Ponytail

Dear People,

So, it is our turn to talk. Yes, this is The Ponytail here dictating this story. Jennie, whose head we are attached to, has a…..well, sometimes-less-than positive attitude about us. Let’s just put it all out there. She talks about how we are too thin, too curly, too unmanageable, and on and on. She tells people that WE, her ponytail, are not her best quality. This does NOTHING for our sense of worthiness- let me tell you.

When Jennie was little, we were golden blonde, straight, and glistening! People would ask her in college where she got us colored but we were actually just naturally that color. When she married Kenny we were on display and we were ROCKIN’ IT. Well, then came the time she dyed us brown- not a good choice, and then dyed us back to blonde or something along those lines. Over the next few years, we started to get darker on our own and maybe a little less attractive to her so she started getting us highlighted…. and then came the babies. Before baby #1 she got us all chopped off and we got darker and curlier and that is where the real problems began. She started complaining about us to her hairdresser and all she wanted to do was tie us up and get us out of sight. We were not a fan of that. We wanted to be seen! But she would have no part of it. We actually heard her friend Joni, who does her hair, tell her that she spends the least amount of time on us than any of her other clients! We knew we were being neglected but that was ridiculous!

Jennie always said she would only grow us long if she could donate us. We got our hopes up!  We thought it would be so amazing to be given to a child who needs a wig because of cancer or other diseases. We waited and waited but all the organizations said we could not be dyed. And then she found out that some organizations make the children pay for the wigs. NO WAY!

Then a few months ago, she found this group called Children with Hair Loss. They take dyed hair!  We were in!! And then 18 of her friends said they also wanted to donate their ponytails! We finally had a purpose. That is what we were looking for all along. Jennie says she has better ways to spend her time instead of drying us, straightening us, and all that. We get it- but we just want to be appreciated! And now with all the other ponytails we get to make a trip to Michigan to the headquarters for Children with Hair Loss!

We know we will not be the thickest, most shiny ponytail in the group (even though Jennie is now taking vitamins to make us grow, slathering all kinds of cremes in us to keep us silky smooth, and brushing us gently and carefully as to not lose any of us). But we are ok with that! We might be small, dyed, thin, and not as beautiful as Nicole or Natalie’s ponytails but we have something to offer! Every ponytail does!

We wish more people would give up their hair for children who really need it. No ponytail is too small, but it must be at least 8 inches which is not that hard to do. If Jennie can do it, anyone can!

So here is our plea to all the other Jennies out there…will you join our ponytail party and donate?  Please? We need more friends to make the trip to Michigan with us. You have time- we will not be long enough until summer!  You can give your ponytail to Jennie and she will mail it with the rest of us or you can send it straight to CWHL. Either way, you will make a little boy or girl very happy and your ponytail will feel needed and important…..and if your ponytail is too shy or too short right now, you can give a donation to CWHL to help them make all the beautiful wigs.

Sincerely,
The Ponytail

Confessions from an American to the Third World

As I was working out at the gym today, I thought how absurd it would be to tell someone in a third world country that I pay money to sit on a bike in an air conditioned room (after I explained what A/C is) and pedal to nowhere because I am trying to lose weight. That would be confusing on so many levels! So I then began to think of some of the other ways I live my life  that I would be ashamed to admit to someone living in third world poverty.  Here are my confessions…..

When I get up in the morning, I flip on a light, flush the toilet, turn on a coffee maker, watch the news on my big TV, take clothes out of the dryer, and start my dishwasher.

I know you get up in the dark, go to the bathroom in the woods, make coffee by hand over an open fire, walk 2 hours to get 5 gallons of water and wash clothes in the same stream (which will take all day) and come home to cook for 4-5 hours and wash the dishes in the little bit of the 5 gallons you got early this morning. What took me 10 minutes will take you 10 hours. I get that.

Making coffee

Getting water from the water source

Washing dishes
Washing clothes

I drive my kids to school (we live about 2 miles from their schools) and pick them up in the afternoons.

I know you send your kids walking to school usually around sunrise and they might walk 2-3 hours. I get that.

 

Walking to school

My kids get a hot lunch in the school cafeteria every day and have many choices of different fresh fruits and vegetables. They also get real milk every single day.

I know your kids are fed beans and rice almost every day in school, except for those days when the school cannot afford to feed them. I get that.

Eating lunch
Cooking for the 300 students in a Haitian school

When my kids don’t like what is on their plate for dinner we usually throw it away. America wastes 34.7 million tons of food a year.

I know you waste nothing. You probably have never thrown food away. I get that.

Eating every last bite
Americans spend an average of $765 a year at Christmas, which is about what my family spent this year. Christmas is that holiday that you only know as a celebration of Jesus’ birth, but we go blow a bunch of money on people who don’t usually NEED anything. 

I know you have never been able to buy your child a toy.  I get that.

                Toy made by a child              Playing with blocks
With my husband’s job, I have something we call health insurance which helps pay for me to go to the doctor. If people in America have an emergency and do not have insurance they can go the hospital and the doctor will see them.
I know that before you are seen by a doctor, you pay first. If you cannot pay they turn you away at most hospitals and clinics. I get that.
Thyroid condition gone untreated
 If you had a condition that needed treatment like orthopedics, burn care, spinal cord injury, or cleft palate in the US, we have organizations like the Shriners who see you, regardless of your ability to pay.
I know that both of you just recently saw a doctor for the first time and have lived with your conditions, wondering why you were different from everyone else you knew. I get that.
Jean Marc, 22 years old                  Saintelise, 14 years old

In America, 27.7% of the people are obese, which means very fat. The weight loss industry is worth 20 billion dollars and we are still fat. Me included.

I know your biggest concern is being malnourished and underweight. I get that.

Food scarcity
In America, we have laws that require children to get schooling and prohibits them from working until they are a certain age.

 

Working to help the family
I know that your children learn to work at a very young age in order to survive and sometimes they don’t go to school because your spouse died and you cannot feed the family on your own. I get that.
And why do I say all this? To make Americans feel bad for all they have and to make the third world feel that they have been given a bad deal in life? Not at all.
What I do want to say to America is….you need to know how the rest of the world lives. Period. You need to see it, experience the joys and the pain of it and then let God do the work in you. I have no idea what that will be for your life but once you have witnessed it, you will be different. I am suggesting that you consider making your world bigger……that you increase the borders of your life. Maybe you have reduced your world to just your family, or just your city or country. There is room in your life for the rest of the world too. I promise. God will not call you to everyone all over the world but I am confident he will call you SOMEWHERE. The confessions in this blog are about my own life- not yours. So don’t get all hot and bothered that I made you feel bad. I was only stating the truth and hopefully that got you thinking. That is my only hope for writing to you.
What I want to say to the third world is….you need to know that we are really working hard here in America to be more compassionate and less judgmental of your circumstances. We say things like “We take care of our own” and that is pure ignorance but we are asking God to give us new eyes to see beyond ourselves. Please be patient with us.  Also, when we see you work tirelessly to survive we don’t really understand how hard it is but we are trying to “walk a mile in your shoes.”  I know this sounds crazy, but we are actually very jealous of the simplicity of your lives and the character that you exhibit. Because we don’t have to overcome as many obstacles, we don’t learn lessons about perseverance, dependence on God for everything, and sacrifice the way you do. We want kids who are hard workers, not entitled, and dedicated the way yours are but the bottom line is that most of our kids are nowhere close to that. We try so hard to teach these lessons but we get caught up in making our kids “happy” and not “holy” so we miss the mark. Please pray for us and our children. Finally, the the most important point I want to make is this….YOU make me brave. You teach me every time I see you and I strive to be more courageous because I know you. Thank you for that gift.

Unexpected Lessons from Raising Teeanage Boys

I knew having teenaged boys would mean constantly filling the pantry with a never ending snack stash, picking up sweaty sports socks (wrestling ones were the worst), and lots of sitting on the sidelines cheering them on.  There was one experience I had not prepared for- seeing myself in the girls who my boys bring to the house…we have only had a few but enough to make me realize a lot about my past.

As a teenaged girl, I thought if a guy liked me he would want to spend as much time as possible with me either hanging out or talking on the phone- in the days before text messaging, snap chat, instagram, and Facebook. Well, as I watch my boys, I see that is really not true. They still want to play sports, hang out with friends, and do boy stuff often. Without a girl…..and that is healthy! It does not mean he does not like her- he just needs space or he gets way too stressed out! And he likes a girl who has her own hobbies, interests, and friend group. He does not want the pressure to be everything to her.

I was needy the way a lot of girls are now. Dreaming of Prince Charming and watching sunsets at the beach together clouded my brain a LOT. It is funny- I told Kenny, my husband of 20 years, that I really don’t like sunsets and I wonder if it is tied to all those crazy daydreams. I wanted attention and someone to make a big deal over me. I wanted to have somewhere to go so I felt important. I wanted to be pursued so I felt I was worthy. Looking back now, it makes me very, very sad. I want to say I was a confident, balanced teenager pursuing God and His purpose but instead I was scared, lonely, and clingy.

As a teenaged girl, I thought that meeting a boy’s parents was terrifying on so many levels. I wanted to be perfect so they would like me- say all the right things, be who they wanted me to be, and fit right in from the first encounter.  If I wasn’t the type they were looking for, I was sure I could become “that girl” eventually. I see the ashen looks I get when a girl comes to our house for the first time and I get it…..but I want to scream, “I PROMISE I AM NOT SCARY!” but it would not do any good. I see the fear in their eyes as they sit down to dinner with us- a table full of boys and me- and I know it is overwhelming. I wish they could be themselves and enjoy our family from the beginning but I know they are too worried about what we think of them.

I did not grow up with a stable father figure in my life so I was especially skeptical of the dads. Were they going to be unpredictable and angry? Was I an inconvenience? Then I look at my husband now and am full of peace knowing he would only show love and kindness to a girl who walked through our door. That is one of the greatest joys I can have since I underrstand the insecurities of a teenaged girl.

I am surrounded constantly with boys and very few teenaged girls have entered my life since I have been an adult. I think I have never really dealt with my own issues from when I was that age (this blog makes that pretty obvious) and so I never felt like I had much to offer a teenaged girl….so I have kept my distance. But now periodically one comes over and I want so much to overcome that fear of not being enough that I talk too much. I want to jump in and talk about everything but I know I can be intimidating so I try to save SOME questions for the next time. It is hard for me to not know her story day one but I know that glazed over look teenagers can get and I know to reign in the interrogation. I guess I want to be validated now for time lost then. It is a strange paradox. I am still sorting it all out.

This has been a huge awakening for me! I am overcome with emotion- sadness for time lost trying to find acceptance, a little bit of fear as to how this will all play out with my boys, and also anticipation for the future, and thanksgiving that my husband and I have a home where we can invite others and they can hopefully find love and acceptance.

Haiti…..a journey through time

We came to Chauffard, Haiti in 2009- one year before the earthquake.

When we arrived, this was their “school.”  It held 40 students and 2 teachers in this one small building. It is hard for us as Americans to comprehend that this could be a school but it was.

.
Within a few months, our team in Haiti was able to build this structure and we were thrilled with it! They cleared a corn field and got to work. We had limited funds so the walls stopped when the money ran out. At this time we started our stateside nonprofit organization, CPI Haiti.
Because the climate is very rainy and the tarp was so small, our school could not really grow. The tents in the picture are where our team stayed when were there.
 We then were able to purchase a larger tarp but not one with a long life expectancy….it was thin and began ripping but the Haitians continued to patch it and care for it.  
This is when we were ready to take it down and put up our new tent….
Even though we felt like we were in a circus arena, the school was thrilled with a thicker, more durable tarp. They met under here for about a year.

And then we had a financial gift that allowed us to erect a REAL building!
Meanwhile, the school moved up the mountain and met in this small space for most of the school year in 2011. 

As our space grew we were able to accomodate more students and needed a way to financially support more teachers, supplies, etc.so we started a sponsorship program. We came back and asked everyone we knew to invest in the future of the school.
Then the first floor building was finished and there were a lot of ecstatic teachers and students!

We hoped for classrooms but we did not have the funds at the time to continue building. By July 2012 we had raised the money to build a second story to have a library and 6 classrooms.

The students could then enjoy having their own learning space for the first time. 


We even gave the rooms makeovers in November 2014! 
In August 2014, we had our first ever graduation ceremony for the 12 out of 13 6th graders in our school who graduated!
Our sponsorship program has continued to grow and to date we have 150 students sponsored….but the work is not finished.
The needs are great…..
We are not able to feed our school everyday. When we cannot afford to feed them lunch, they don’t eat. The students pick up firewood on their way to school each day but sometimes we don’t have the beans and rice to make a meal. Those days they go without.
The roads are difficult and hard to travel. We spent a lot of money on renting vehicles over the first few years.

Several years ago we were able to buy a truck and ship it to Haiti. The truck is used to transport teachers, food, and groups. It is constantly needing new tires and other repairs.

 We desperately need a medical clinic. People in Chauffard die from preventable diseases all the time. Here are a few who died in the past year from common, curable illnesses. 
We need to increase our number of sponsors so we can provide students like Julien a secondary education. He was the #1 student in the entire region on the state exam in 6th grade but has had to drop out of school because he cannot afford secondary school in the city, which includes tuition, books, housing, and food. It is tragic for an eager, bright student not to make it past 6th grade due to finances. If we had the funding we would start a secondary school in our village so our students who graduate would not need to live away from home and pay for an education that is not feasible for most.
You can learn more about our organization at cpihaiti.org.