Saturday, July 31, 2010

Haiti Update: Earthquake survivors share stories

Saturday, July 31

This morning we did more filming of life in Haiti and Christian Friendship Ministries. We took Troy, Allison and Paul on a excursion to the local market. On Saturdays, the market and the surrounding streets are teeming with people selling everything imaginable. I have not had a chance to go to this market for a few years. I am used to seeing all the food for sale – avocadoes, mangoes, bananas, cilantro, sugar cane and more. This year, we saw a lot of other products in the market – everything from designer jeans to deodorant to dishes. It’s amazing and overwhelming all at once.

We also had a chance to do some filming in the little health clinic here in Pignon. Pastor Louis and his wife put on their “doctor hats” on Tuesdays and Saturdays. People come from miles around who need help with infections or headaches or rotten teeth. Pastor Louis helps with medicine and bandages. He has been doing this work for decades. The clinic is simple -  few rooms with curtains for doors. If people need surgery or more serious help, they can go to the hospital here in Pignon. However, many people cannot afford the hospital.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the day for me was hearing the stories of some of the earthquake survivors this evening. This little ciy of Pignon was said to have doubled in size after the earthquaake in January. Anyone who had relatives or friends in this area relocated here in search of refuge. Ericlee and I spent many days trying to mobilize funds so Peter and the other leaders here in the ministry could get supplies and food to the people they knew in need.

It was amazing to hear their stories. I met one young woman who is the cousin of our friend Walquis. She was in Port Au Prince when the earthquake hit. Her house collapsed and she fled here to Pignon (80 miles north of PAP) where she knew she had family to live with. She received a share of food and small loan through our ministry's relief efforts and she was so grateful!

The story of another young man broke my heart. He detailed how his home collapsed and his father was inside. He died when no help came. This teenager was clearly still overcome with the grief of losing his father. He came to Pignon to live with his aunt. He, too, received some of the relief food at the Pignon church. Troy and I were able to pray with him.

Hait Update: Creative Play

Friday, July 30

One of my greatest joys this week has been watching our team bond with the kids. It’s amazing to live in this mission house and know that every time you step out the door there are neighborhood kids or the orphans next door at the orphanage waiting to play with us. It’s so different from the kids in America who have lots of toys, video games and television shows to keep themselves busy. These kids are creative with simple things. For example, a sock and some tape becomes a soccer ball. Some cardboard, string and tin foil becomes a car to pull. An old tire and a stick becomes a game of racing down the street. I hope my girls can learn from this creative play.

Our team has learned to be innovative with the supplies we have here at the house. After Paul & Troy finished building a bed yesterday for our orphanage director, they used some extra wood and a cinder block to make a teeter totter for the kids. Allison and I used some extra chalk she found when cleaning out the desk here in the house to teach some of the girls hopscotch.

Ericlee says his favorite pastime in Haiti is playing soccer with the kids. Last year we were so busy hosting teams that he didn’t take time to enjoy this. This week he has carved out some quality time to play a lot of soccer with the orphan and neighborhood boys. They like to take the ball into one of the school classrooms and play a kind of indoor soccer with posts for goals. When he isn't playing soccer, Ericlee has been helping watch our kids so I have time to use my communication gifts. I love the way he involves our girls in play.

Ericlee has also been busy behind the scenes meeting with the leaders here and working on accounting for the ministry. He is getting his feet wet learning how to operate a non-profit and working closely with Peter, the Haitian director of the ministry here. We know we have many challenges ahead as we prepare for our family to move to Haiti to serve for one year.

This evening the rain finally came to Pignon. For days we have seen lightning and heard thunder. Our Haitian friends joke that it never rains in Pignon. Tonight we learned otherwise. The rain watered the ground, the thirsty plants and brought with it a cool breeze. Unfortunately, the Friday evening service at church was canceled. We were all looking forward to hearing Peter preach.

Instead I got my hair braided by Nella, one of the young ladies who helps cook and do our laundry. We all had a big game of Uno. This is one of those universal card games of colors and numbers that Haitians, kids (Meilani!) and adults alike can join in. It’s a game that crosses cultural lines.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Haiti Update: Dinner & a Show

Thursday, July 29

Today Peter returned from Port Au Prince with his truck fixed and the building supplies Paul was waiting on. Yes, Paul Brant was a kid in a candy store with his tools from home and the wood for building. Paul set to work building a bed for our family. (We have been sleeping on cots with springs pushed together. Let's just say it's way too easy to fall through these.) Paul had five Haitian young men working with him as kind of apprentices. We all enjoyed watching them get to work with such passion. Troy even got in on some of the action.

Today was a full day for Troy and Allison for filming and photographing. We had all of our school teachers come here to the mission complex so the Vasquezes could meet them and we could tell some of their stories. We are hoping to garner more sponsors for our Teacher Sponsorship Program. Ericlee and I had the chance to give them a word of encouragement. Some of them told us about their classrooms that are busting at the seams with 50 or more children in them. We served them some American granola bars for a snack and then a Haitian spaghetti lunch of appreciation.

In the afternoon, Paul stayed back to continue building. Peter and Louis took the rest of us to see the sugar cane machine in action. The machine was bought by The Bridge Church as part of the Missions Month 2009 project. We were really excited to see it in action. On a piece of land owned by Louis, the machine sits. They grow sugar cane there and then process it to make a syrup, which is sold at the market. More than 30 jobs have been created as a result of this income-generating project. (Videos coming soon!)

Meilani is becoming quite the little photographer. Allison has been teaching her about good photos and allows her to carefully use her camera. (This is a great way to get Troy and Allison in some candids too!) Meilani is thrilled to death. She runs around and copies every thing Allison is doing with the camera. Not bad for age four!

Tonight we had "dinner and a show" as Troy called it. Perhaps this was a little different than what we would have at home. We made chicken salad sandwiches, turned on the oven here for an hour and made brownies and watched the most magnificent lightning show from the yard.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Haiti Update: Bump-bumping Down the Road in Haiti

Today we took another bumpy truck ride out to one of the smaller churches, which is part of our ministry. This church is called Fontaine and our friend Gerby helps pastor this church along with Brother Calvin. On Wednesday mornings they have a mid-week service and we thought this would be a great opportunity to film and take some photographs of the faithful people who attend the church. I personally love visiting these little churches and hearing the stories of the people there.

After breakfast we all piled in the truck and headed out to the church, which is about 30 minutes away. In typical fashion, we arrived after the service was over but the people were there waiting for us with smiles. We were able to share a word of encouragement with them. Troy filmed the pastor and about five other church members. I was so encouraged to hear their testimonies. They shared about their hardships and yet praised God for the ability to persevere. One woman came to the church because of a visit from Ericlee's grandma, Arshaloos Bell. She was very passionate in sharing about her life and the many times she avoided sickness and death because of her faith.

We also learned that four of the people who attend the Fontaine church are survivors of the earthquake in Port Au Prince. They relocated to this small town and are finding refuge among family and this church congregation.

After we finished some filming, we took a walk on the "backroads" to visit a young girl who lost her leg in an accident. The pastor told me I reminded him of Grandma Bell as I was trudging down the lane wearing my big hat with Meilani, Giada, my camera, and my Bible. We were able to pray with this sweet teenage girl who had lost her leg. She was seated in a little Haitian chair in front of her house. Her sister was helping her along. It broke my heart to see her, but what a smile she wore!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Haiti Update: Illuminating Their Stories

Tuesday, July 27

This morning we set to work playing and interviewing the orphans. Troy is helping put together videos of each orphan so we can share these with their sponsors in the United States. I brought out some jump ropes to play with the girls. We had so much fun letting each girl jump and counting in Kreyol the number of times they could jump without skipping. It became a little competition. Soon they were teaching us Kreyol jump rope games. I think they might have even forgotten about the cameras clicking away, capturing them in “everyday life.”

Troy filmed while I interviewed and Gerby served as our translator. We asked the children simple questions about their new life here in The Bridge Christian Children’s Home. I learned that some came from very hard situations where one or more parent died or was killed. I was especially touched by the story of a little girl named Judeline. She captured me the first day with her smile that spreads from ear to ear. She is also the little girl sponsored by my MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group at church. Today I learned that this precious child has had such a transformation in the months she has been here. She was once living with her parents in Pignon. Her father, who was a witch doctor, was killed a few years ago. She and her mother were left in poverty. Her mother, who attends our Pignon church, brought her daughter to the orphanage for help. Now Judeline is well-fed and learning the Bible. Her spirit overflows with joy. I watched her as a leader among the girls in the orphanage. She has befriended another little girl, Wilnise, who is shy. The two are inseparable. I recognize that these orphans have experienced deep loss in moving here but I also see the rays of hope they have now. What an opportunity we have to encourage them!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Haiti Update: Appreciating the simple things

Monday, July 26

I am grateful for the simple things here in Haiti - an occasional breeze, a plate of rice and beans, a good night sleep and a shower. Our whole team slept hard last night after several days of travel. Although I’m generally a light sleeper and frequently distracted by my children tossing and turning and the noises of the night here in Haiti, I actually slept well last night. Oh the wonder of ear plugs! I should have employed those years ago.

Today was our first real day of ministry here in Haiti. The Haitian ladies prepared us a full-on breakfast buffet, including eggs, French toast, oatmeal, sliced pineapple, coffee and tea. Paul Brant set right to work on the water filtration system he is setting up for us here in the house. We are hoping that by the end of this week we will have filtered water from the well that is safe for mission teams to drink instead of using camping water pumps or buying bottled water.

Troy, Allison and I put together a game plan for our Communications projects for the week. Our goal is to photograph and make videos of the various branches of Christian Friendship Ministries so we can share it with more people back home. Our first project was to start filming the “daily life” of the 15 orphans in The Bridge Christian Children’s Home, which was opened in Fall 2009.

Ericlee, Troy, Allison, Meilani, Giada and I took the orphans down to the local soccer field for a little game. The walk to the field was a reminder of how much I feel at home here in Haiti. Meilani and I both found such great joy walking down the street hand in hand with the eight orphan girls. We laughed and sang together. I love watching Meilani connect with the littlest girls. She links arms with Serline or Astrude like they are sisters.

The boys especially are crazy about soccer. We didn’t really need goals or goalies because it became a big game of chase the soccer ball. Some of the girls decided it was smarter (and cooler!) to congregate under the shade of a tree instead. Troy captured some fun video of the kids playing. In the end Gary, Gerby’s little brother, made a goal and we decided to call it quits and return home before we melted in the afternoon sun. Not to mention everyone was hungry for lunch.

After lunch, Ericlee and the girls settled in for a cabicha aka siesta nap while the rest of us took a hike to the home of Pastor Mioche to use his wireless internet. This was also a chance to show Troy and Allison more of the city of Pignon. Later Troy shared that walking the streets of Pignon was part of his highlight (or perhaps lowlight) of the day. He was overwhelmed by the poverty and the garbage in the streets.

Perhaps Paul’s highlight was spending some time in the afternoon playing with the Haitian kids in the mission front yard. He loves to wrestle them and twirl them around or make them laugh with funny faces and handshakes.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Haiti Update #1: Airport Adventures

Over the next two weeks we will be sharing some of our adventures from a short-term trip to Pignon, Haiti. As part of our non-profit, Christian Friendship Ministries, we are hosting two mission teams from Fresno, California. We are excited to invite many of our friends to experience Haiti. Some are returners and some are venturing into this beautiful country for the first time.

I am writing you from a hotel in the Miami airport. Our first team is settling in for some much-needed rest after a long day and night of travel. It's hard to believe we left Fresno just a day ago and we've already had so much adventure. We drove from Fresno to Los Angeles. Thankfully, that was uneventful. We made it to the airport in plenty of time. We waited in a long line for group check-in. When we got to the front and began the check-in process. A supervisor came over when she spotted our rubber bins of supplies. She said we were not allowed to take these to Haiti because they were not actual suitcases. After about 45 minutes of deliberation we decided to buy duffel bags from American Airlines for $25 a pop and repack everything right there in line. We were most worried about the water filtration system we brought for Paul Brant to install. We packed it in lots of clothes and pillows and prayed for the best. Then we ran down to security where we were detained because of the infrared sensor on the filter system. They finally let us through. We ran to our gate only to discover they had given away our seats just minutes before.

We all waited for the 1 a.m. flight from L.A. to Dallas. The Gilmores and Paul Brant were able to board but Troy and Allison Vasquez ended up having to wait for the next flight to Miami. We all met up here in Miami about 2:30 p.m. There is no chance of getting on any more flights to Port Au Prince today so we checked into a hotel and we are listed for a morning flight. Thankfully, we found all our bags here in Miami except one of the duffel bags. The water filter and all the camera equipment is here with us. We give God the praise and glory for safety of the team and provision thus far.

This afternoon Ericlee and Troy spent some time with a very generous ticket agent who helped change all of our standby tickets to actual seats on the 7 a.m. flight tomorrow from Miami to Port Au Prince. Originally, we were split up into two flights and not sure we would even make it on these flights that are way overbooked. Please continue to pray for us as we travel. Our journey is certainly not over. We believe your prayers on our behalf are very important. We've already missed our missionary flight from PAP to Pignon. We will probably have to drive with our Haitian field director, Peter, when we arrive in Haiti. All of this said, our team is in good spirits. We are grateful for posh, comfortable beds to rest in and a good belly-filling meal. Allison has been doing great (for all those concerned about the pregnant mama in our group) and Meilani and Giada are traveling troopers. Bon Voyage!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

30-Day Trek: Priceless Gifts

“We can do no great things – only small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa

By Ericlee
For my 30th birthday, my wife put together a binder of letters from all my closest friends and family. They wrote words of encouragement, special memories or things they appreciated about me. I read through these on the airplane as we were flying to Spain to visit my cousins who are missionaries. I loved this gift because I felt the love from so many people.

By Dorina
I love giving gifts. There’s something deep inside me that gets joy when sharing a gift with someone I love. I plan weeks ahead of time what I will give for a birthday or Christmas. This year we made a pledge to make as many of our gifts as we can or buy homemade items.  I’ve been knitting/crocheting lots of hats, scarves, flower clippies and flip flops. As I knit, I think about the person and pray for them. Meilani delights in making homemade cards and art projects for her grandparents and friends. We often make homemade baked goods for neighbors or I love to cook meals for new parents or birthday gifts.

I like to shop at a local boutique in Fresno called Twee in the Tower District. This place sells all handmade goods by local artisans. If you’re outside Fresno, you might look for a national store called Ten Thousand Villages, which features fair-trade items made by people all over the world. I’ve scored some beautiful jewelry, wooden toys and other items made in places like South Africa, India and even Haiti.

What was the most meaningful gift you ever received?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

30-Day Trek: Noticing our Impact

“We cannot see the cost of our consumer items by looking out our front window. We must learn to see with new eyes if we are to notice our impact.”

Noticing our impact on the earth is sometimes tough. We are wired to be consumers in our culture. Some people avoid this topic because they don’t want to be seen as “tree huggers” or geo-political. We feel compelled to think about ways to conserve our resources and preserve the earth because it’s a Biblical mandate. In 1 Chronicles 29:11, it says, “Everything in the heavens and earth is yours, Oh Lord, and this is your kingdom….” In other words, we don’t own anything. We have to be good stewards of our resources on earth because God loaned these things to us. When someone loans something, don’t you want to be even more careful with it or show greater responsibility?

We are inspired by our friends Jeremy and Marcy Pusey, who made a goal this year not to buy anything new beyond their food and toiletries. Marcy started a blog and a Facebook group called “Living Hebrews 13:5,” where people in our community of friends can give away items they don’t use, sell items and request items. It’s a great way to “recycle” and feel the joy of helping others. Marcy shops at thrift stores for her kids clothes and finds great deals on Craigslist or Freecycle.

Another friend started a group called “Fresno Garden Sharing” with the idea that people can post online when they have an excess of something in their gardens they would like to trade or give away. Why waste when you could pass it on to someone in need?

I like to read Tracey Bianchi’s blog for ideas of how to share these values with my kids. She wrote a book called, “Green Mama,” and regularly blogs about practical ideas to work on as a family.

We feel like we are only at the start of this journey of “noticing our impact.” We brainstormed a few practical things we want to do more:
-Refill water bottles.
-Avoid excessive use of paper towels and napkins.
-Shop less at the Dollar store and think more creatively about items with a longer life.
-Use less water in our home.
-Share appliances and tools with friends and neighbors.
-Have more potlucks and look for ways to share meals.

What effect does your lifestyle have on the earth?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

30-Day Trek: Revenge of the Gadgets

“Consumer culture actively blurs the line between the first set of things we need to sustain our lives and the second and third set of things that weighs us down and saps our energy.”

When we first read today’s Trek reflection we had a hard time relating because we aren’t really into “gadgets” per se. At second thought, our culture is full of gadgets in a quest for convenience.  It’s easy to see these “gadgets” as necessities to everyday life when they really are not.

For example, we might say we need a computer but many people around the globe survive without one. We use gadgets like a Vitamix blender or our Kitchenaid mixer on a regular basis. If we use a gadget every day, does that justify having it?

We certainly enjoy our gadgets but want to think more carefully about what we buy and when we make the choice to spend time with our gadgets and not with our family and friends. The computer is probably the biggest the “gadget” that consumes our time. Since I’m writer, I could justify computer use for my job. My husband uses the computer to research and grade papers as a teacher. He could justify his computer use too. There are certainly times when we both need to get off Facebook or stop reading the Crossfit web site and actually play with our kids. Maybe the term “gadget” should be widened to make us think about the things that we prioritize above relationships with our community.

During Lent, I did a little experiment. I forced myself to take Sundays off from Facebook. I use Facebook in some very practical ways – to communicate quickly and more frequently with friends, to broadcast to a large group of people at a time, to trade services, etc. I love the way I’ve been able to connect with friends across time zones and continents because of Facebook. I also know that Facebook can dangerously suck away my time with my family if I let it. After taking Sundays off for Lent, I discovered I was able to rest in a different way on those days. Instead of retreating to the computer, I would actually retreat to read a book, take a nap or stroll with my family. Now I take that break every Sunday.

What makes something designed to help me cross the line into weighing me down?

Monday, July 12, 2010

30-Day Trek: Joy is not in things, it is in us

“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” – Isaiah 55:1-5

We do believe relationships are more valuable than things. That is a conviction to spend more time with the people we love and less time focusing on things.

I appreciate the way my husband takes time to develop special traditions and rituals with our girls. We call it “Daddy time.”  I mentioned before that he takes prayer walks with our oldest daughter Meilani almost every morning.  When he changes our Giada’s diaper he always takes time to sing, tickle her and do little leg exercises so she will be strong. In the car, they sing this silly Veggie Tales song called “Water Buffalo” and dance like goons.

One of my goals as a stay-at-home mama is to support my husband in his work and make our kids part of what daddy does. For example, when Ericlee coaches track and field I try to bring the girls along to track meets and make it an exciting family event. Sure, it takes a lot of extra effort to pack lunches and dinners to go, to work around naps and ensure we have all the proper supplies for watching an all-day track meet in the sun. We are always rewarded by the sense of love it brings to daddy and the chance the girls get to interact with the fans, the athletes and their parents.

Ericlee and I brainstormed a list of “relationship-building” activities we want to make more time to do. We’d love to hear your suggestions too.

Here are a few:
-Ride bikes as a family.
-Read books at least 15 minutes a day with our girls.
-Take time to write a letter or actually call a friend to encourage them instead of just relying on e-mail/texting/facebook.
-Get down on the floor and play with the girls. Enter into their world.
-Invite our neighbors to dinner.
-Train for another marathon together.
-Make cooking a family/friend event.

Am I able to spend the time I need to build special relationships with the people I love? What would I need to do to make more time?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

30-Day Trek: Give Us This Day

"If those of us with magnified earning power would learn to be satisfied with enough, we would not only be able to share more...we would be able to live less frantic, stressful lives."

Ericlee and I spent our Saturday with a group of 28 college students who are participating in Fresno Urban Internship (F.U.I.). We were invited to speak as part of a seminar called about "Food & Justice." We were truly humbled to be invited to share at this event. Many of you know we have been on a healthy food journey over the last several years and we have been writing about it on our other blog, Health-full. On Saturday, we were dialoguing about several topics, including how difficult it is for the poor to eat healthy and sometimes even to eat at all because of the way the richest countries use and overuse the world's resources.

I think about California's farmworkers and the poor conditions they are forced to live and work in. As or new friends Rachel and Anthony from Sacramento pointed out, "Food is cheaper here in the U.S. than anywhere in the world. And the ugly truth is that farm workers living in poverty subsidize our cheap food prices. The wages are LOW, the work is hard, and long hours are the norm. Farm workers do not normally receive benefits such as health insurance, pension plans and paid vacation."

Part of what drives this need is Americans hunger for fast food and convenient, processed foods. Let's not even get started on how these things affect our bodies and our health. We make the food cheaply. We sell it cheaply. We eat it often and pay the consequences in doctor bills or worse.

What would happen if we all took more seriously eating food produced locally? How would our world change if we planted a garden? What if we ate produce in season instead of requiring it be shipped from all over the world, which drives down prices in countries that desperately need food the most and taxes our environment in shipping? What would happen if we in America settle for enough instead of indulged in too much? How many more hungry people could we feed in the world?

Ericlee and I can't help thinking about this issue of "Food and Justice" in terms of Haiti where we will be going to serve soon. One of the difficult issues in Haiti, which is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is that so much aid pours into the country but not much of it is sustainable. In fact, much of what Haiti has been given creates a dependency to other countries or large companies. After the recent earthquake in Haiti, one large American company donated seeds to Haiti. Seems like a great act of benevolence until people realized these seeds were hybrid corn seeds heavily treated with pesticides. If Haitians used these seeds, they would be dependent on a new kind of farming and inserting a whole new world of problems into their gardens.

We join our Haitian leadership in trying to create more projects and opportunities to give Haitian young people a skill or trade, rather than simply giving them money or handouts. If they can learn better farming practices or how to become an electrician, plumber or carpenter; If they can gain skills to use and fix computers; If they can learn practical ways to start a small business, they can contribute more to the community and live beyond a handout.

Question to ponder: "Has not God chosen the poor in the be heirs of the Kingdom?" from James 2:1-7.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

30-day Trek: The Terror of Sufficiency

"Things can sustain us, allow us to express our creativity and help strengthen relationships. Things can also distract us from doing what we want with our lives."

On Day 8 of our Trek, we take a look at a new theme: simplicity. Last week we looked at how to find joy in enough. This week we are forced to dig deeper, to tighten our belts and contemplate how to live more simply. Today we have been challenged to think about what gives our life meaning.

I first think about my family - my husband, my two daughters. Spending time building a relationship with them, loving them. The time I spend listening to my husband and anticipating his needs. The time I spend teaching my daughters about God, about the routines of life, about our values as a family. That certainly gives me meaning. I think about activities we do in our intentional community - simple things.

Last week our family went down to the Dakota House, a neighborhood "safe place" where kids from low-income families can hang out. We participated in the S.O.S. (Sharing Our Skills) club. Ericlee shared his skills by giving a talk on nutrition and leading some fitness games for the young people. Several friends from our church and our kids joined us for this "service project." Just hanging out with those kids gave us all a good feeling inside. It wasn't hard. You could see how they needed that love and attention.

Every morning my husband and 4-year-old take a "prayer walk." They walk around our block and pray together. Meilani is usually wearing her PJs and has bed head. If it were me, I would feel this need to pull myself or my daughter together to be presentable. But Ericlee doesn't care about those things. The two of them often visit our neighbor on a different block who is a master gardener. He's often outside tending to some of his plants in the early morning. Roderigo is so friendly and treats us all like family now. I think just taking time to talk to people gives us meaning. There are so many times when it's easy to just pull our cars in our garages and avoid talking to anyone. I know I've done it in my haste to get on to the next task.

When we really think about it we know in our heart of hearts that it's people and relationships that give our life meaning. I don't think we are a family that has lots of "toys." We don't own a lot of fancy electronics or clothes. But we still have a lot to downsize. Our shelves are still teaming with stuff. Our cupboards are overflowing with appliances and things. I am ready to move forward in getting rid of some of this.

But that's just the first layer of stuff. What would happen if someone asked you to sell one of your cars? Or if you were challenged to sell your house to move into a smaller space? The thought just makes most of us nervous. It's inconvenient. We have been challenged to both of these things in the last year. It certainly has been a journey even though we know from our experience that we can still have a fulfilled life with fewer things.

As the opening quote suggests, having "things" like a house or car is not bad. This isn't about making people feel guilty. We have hosted countless gatherings in our home, made it a place where friends and family and visit, rest and hang out. We have an open door policy, which means sharing our space in community. But for this new season of life we feel God calling us to give up some of those things so we would have more resources to share with others. We didn't anticipate how painful that process might be until we were actually in the thick of it.

Why is that thought so daunting? How can we break the strange-hold our things have on us and move toward a lifestyle our beliefs suggest?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

30-Day Trek: One Thing Needed

Today marks the last day of our week focusing on finding joy in "enough." Sally Jacober writes a story for today's Trek about a woman named Dona Josefa who always welcomed people to visit her - anytime and without making plans ahead of time. "She was pleased to lay aside her tasks and focus on what was most important to her - people."

This story made an impact on us personally because we know it is easy to get caught up in our to-do lists and task-oriented ways while neglecting the relationships around us. I can think of times when my frantic dinner preparations or last-minute cleaning distracted me from truly welcoming guests into my home. I'm reminded of the story of Mary and Martha in the Bible. How I long to be a Mary, who sat at Jesus' feet and listened intently, but I'm frequently a Martha, running here and there setting the table, tending to my kids, serving the dinner and dessert and so on.

My goal is to start each day with a simple prayer: Dear God, Show me how to focus on relationships today, not just tasks. Give me eyes to see the person I need to encourage and love. Amen.

What is the finest gift you can offer a visitor who comes into your life?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

30-Day Trek: Freedom from Pretense

"Everyone...had all things in common. They...ate their food with glad and generous hearts." - Acts 2:43-47

The writer of today's Trek reflection ponders how our wealth affects us. Linda Gehman Peachey writes, "While I enjoy the comfort of my home, have I given up the freedom to feel at home with others? While I cherish my independence, have I given up the freedom to admit my needs to others?"

This our important question. We desire to model living in community to our children. This is sometimes hard in the U.S. where kids grow learning "mine-mine" before they learn to share. Is this part of our nature as humans? How can we counter this urge to hog the best things for ourselves.

Our friends the Schultzes, who are also doing this 30-Day Trek with us, just moved into a cohousing community in Fresno. La Querencia is located in northeast Fresno and is an intentional community where people live and share resources. The houses are built with recycle and earth-friendly materials. They use solar panels for energy. They have a community pool, workout room, dining commons, craft area, organic garden and more. All the town houses face each other so the community centers around interaction. There are people of all ages, religious backgrounds, etc. who live together there. We are so excited to see how the Schultzes learn a new way of life living in this intentional community.

We learned the joys and challenges of cohousing when my grandpa lived with us for a year when we first got married. He was to a point where he could not live in his home alone but none of our family was quite ready to have him in a nursing home. Ericlee and I were newly-married but we knew we had the space in our house. Some people thought we were crazy to invite our 90-something grandpa into our personal space. But we have no regrets. We learned so much that year. I learned patience as my slow-moving grandpa went everywhere with us. I also had the joy of hearing lots of stories from his life. I was encouraged by his presence. In a way, that experience of living with grandpa prepared me for parenting.

My parents also lived with us for about a year when they first moved to Fresno and were looking for a house to buy. This was a special time because Meilani was born and developed a special bond with her grandparents during this first year of life. We shared meals and resources and learned a lot about compromise. We wouldn't trade those lessons for the world.

We also have learned about sharing food and resources through our Life Group. We gather with four other couples from our church every other week for a meal and time of prayer. We now have 10 kids in the group plus all the adults. Needless to say, it's chaos, but it sure is fun. We each bring a part of the meal. Through this group we have freely shared items like camping gear, tools, food from our gardens, kids' clothes, kitchen utensils and recipes. There is a deep satisfaction in sharing what we have with each other. More importantly, we encourage each other on the journey of parenting and in our marriages.

Do we use the things we own to build walls or bridges between ourselves and others?

Monday, July 05, 2010

30-Day Trek: Fishy Assumptions

Anthony de Mello, a priest from India, tells this story,

The rich industrialist from the North was horrified to find the Southern fisherman lying leisurely beside his boat.

"Why aren't you fishing?" asked the industrialist.

"Because I have caught enought fish for the day," said the fisherman.

"Why don't you catch some more?"

"What would I do with it?"

"You could earn more money," was the reply. "With that you could fix a motor to your boat, go into deeper waters and catch more fish. Then you would make enough to buy nylon nets. These would bring you more fish and more money. Soon you would have enough money to own two boats...maybe even a fleet of boats. Then you would be a rich man like me."

"What would I do then?"

"Then you could really enjoy life."

"What do you think I am doing right now?"

This fishing story speaks of a profound paradox. We often get so caught up in ways we can make more money so we can get more/buy more/get ahead. In the process, we don't realize we may already have enough. We could have spent more time enjoying life.

Today's Trek poses an important question: Will the amount of things I own continue to grow throughout my life, or will I eventually say, "that's enough"?

It's one of those convicting questions. We know the right answer but it's hard to set a boundary. It's hard to know when enough is enough. It's especially hard in our American culture where very few are ever satisfied with what they have. In fact, sometimes we feel the pressure from friends and family that if we are satisfied we should be apologetic somehow.

I love this quote from G.K. Chesterton: There are two ways to get enough. One is to accumulate more and more. The other is to need less."

Ericlee and I experienced this in a very real way for the three summers we lived in Roanoke, Virginia while I was doing my masters program. We had very little money. We were living with friends or in student housing so our space was limited. We also were traveling by plane all the way from California so we could bring basically our clothes and bare necessities. What we discovered is we didn't really need all the furniture and "stuff" we had back home in our four bedroom/two bath house. Sure, we missed our Kitchenaid and our Vitamix blender. We missed our fat king-sized bed and our bicycles. But we survived. We learned to do without.

Looking back those three summers were packed with memories. We went on excursions through the mountains. We were creative with our food. We lived in community and shared with other students. We had potlucks. We swam in the university pool and participated in free programs at the library. We enjoyed morning runs and evening strolls at sunset. Our list of "needs" was short. Now we look back and long for those summer days and nights when we learned to live simply.

Now as our family looks ahead and prepares to live in Haiti for a year we know we need to take some of these lessons with us. Every time we have gone to Haiti we have seen a glimpses of this "enough principle."

What about you: What are you doing now to enjoy life?

Sunday, July 04, 2010

30-Day Trek: I've Seen the Pygmies Dance...

"It's been said God calls us to that place where our deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

By Ericlee
Has life ever surprised you? It surprised me in December 2008 when I was laid off from a teaching job I loved. What surprised me was how God met all of our needs in the most creative ways from people we least expected. Today I can honestly say I am happy I was laid off. Sure, I had to do some things like substitute teach that were not fun. But along the way I learned to really appreciate time with my family. This break also allowed me to seek out what God really wants for my life.

This question got us all thinking: What experiences give me my deepest joy?

-Spending quality time with my family
-Coaching teens
-Coaching teams
-Teaching physical education
-Exercising/playing with my wife
-The synergy that comes in serving together
-Encouraging others on the journey to be healthy

-Reading books to my children
-Deep conversations with my husband and treasured friends
-Cooking/creating recipes for family & friends
-Listening to my girls pray
-Making/creating with my hands (knitting/croching/other crafts)
-Sunsets over the ocean
-Singing my girls to sleep
-Opportunities to serve the least of these

-Playing with my friends
-Cuzzling with my mama and Daddy
-Art projects with mama
-Playing dress-up with my friends
-Workouts and prayer walks with my Daddy

What are some of the things that bring you the deepest joy?

Saturday, July 03, 2010

30-Day Trek: Taxing Wildflowers

"I will continue to measure my wealth by standards other than adjusted gross income. I am happy to be so richly poor." - Ellen L. Davis-Zehr

Today's Trek reflection asks us to consider the standards we use to evaluate our life choices. We found ourselves asking: Do government standards determine if we are rich or poor? Does the idea of "keeping up with others" set our standard for things we buy or desire? Do we accept the standards modeled in popular culture?

What would happen if we measured our riches not by the economically viable standards but by the the measure of what brings us true joy?

My husband was laid off from his teaching job of 9 years in December of 2008. Over the last year and a half we have been challenged to live more simply on a lower income. For us, that has meant making more foods from scratch, trading goods and services with friends, cutting out our entertainment spending and seeking out more relationship-focused outings. We planted a garden. We stopped looking at newspaper and magazine ads. We spent more time at the library. We made gifts for people or bought handmade items. Our microwave died and we decided to live without it.

Along the way, what we discovered is more joy. Sure, it takes more time to plant a garden and water it but the joy we have felt in harvesting a little of our own is amazing. Our kids delight in hand-watering the plants and watching the sprouts grow tall.

Ericlee started riding his bike to work more often. He began to truly appreciate that he was saving gas, getting exercise and putting less carbon dioxide into the air. It wasn't always easy. It resulted in three flat tires and required more time but it was a lesson in "enough." A few months ago we decided to sell one of our cars (our beloved truck) and just live with our hybrid.

We certainly have a long way to go in living simply and embracing all that entails. After all, we are Americans and we are hard-wired to seek convenience. Right now we are in the process of getting our house ready to sell. We have realized that owning an older 4-bedroom/2 bath house with a pool takes up a lot of extra energy - and money! We spend so much of our time just trying to make the mortgage payments and pay for upkeep when we could be spending those resources on others or even working less and having more time together as a family.

We definitely are not writing this because we have arrived. There are days when all I want to do is stay in my nice house with my nice pool. How I wish we had two cars so arranging schedules would be simpler. There are moments when I look at all the junk in our garage and the idea of downsizing overwhelms me. But then I go back to this key question:

Are my core values reflected in my lifestyle?

Friday, July 02, 2010

30-Day Trek: Missing Almost Everything

"Being willing to miss almost everything enables me to live my unique spiritual calling fully and deeply." - Susan Classen

This quote from today's Trek reading puzzled me at first. I don't like missing out on things. I'm an extrovert or people person by nature. I love opportunities to connect with friends, family and other mamas. I love throwing parties and dinners. I thrive on spending time with people and staying active. Sometimes the idea of "missing out" on something will drive me up the wall. It's this human need to feel included and connected.

What I'm learning as we prepare for our year in Haiti is that I will miss out on a lot of what is happening here at home in Fresno. I will miss time with dear friends. I will miss special events. I know I will miss out on a lot of options and privileges I have here in the United States. But in my spirit I know our family will be gaining a lot more if we focus on our purpose: to serve the Haitians and learn about God's greater world.

In our country we are surrounded by an abundance of choices. We walk into a grocery store and have 135 choices of cereal alone. That typical grocery store has 46,000 products to choose from (Food, Inc.) That's pretty mind-bloggling. Do you ever find yourself staring at grocery shelves wondering what salad dressing to choose? If so, I guess you know what I mean.

The challenge for us is finding our calling and then (as my husband says) focusing like a laser beam on pursuing that calling. It's so easy to get caught up in all the options in our world and then be paralyzed by indecision.

Susan Classen writes, "Keeping my options open is possible only at the expense of long-term commitment and direction for my life."

What Ericlee and I discussed through reading this is that we need to be committed. We need to give ourselves a year in Haiti. We need to recognize we will miss out on a lot of things here at home. We will miss the abundance here in the United States in our blessed Fresno community. It's a mental shift to focus on having enough, not always focusing on more options.

How are you affected by the options that surround you?

30-Day Trek: Venture Into a World of Enough

For the next 30 days, we have committed to reading a reflection/devotional called "Trek" put out by the Mennonite Central Committee. This reflection includes quotes, stories and questions that center on the theme "enough." Our family is preparing for one year of service in the country of Haiti.

After the earthquake on January 12, 2010 we started feeling like this was the time to pursue a calling to serve the people we have come to love in Haiti. At this point, our goal is to leave for Haiti in January 2011. We know that leading up to that departure we need to downsize our belongings and emotionally as well as spiritually prepare for life in a developing country. A friend shared Trek with us and we want to share our thoughts with you. We expect this will be a journey to help us decide what is "enough." We invite you to join us on this venture into "a world of enough."

What is enough?

Now that is a great question. What is enough food? What is enough clothing? What is enough shelter? What is enough time for friends? Enough for God?

A Filipino pastor once observed, "The point of our Christian faith is not that we have less than we need, but that everyone has enough."

Our North American culture screams at us that we need "more." But as we quest for more it is often at the expense of our neighbors, our family, our selves. Do we really need one more car? One more outfit? One more gadget? Do we really need one more minute? One more day? So we can fill that day with more appointments, more obligations, more on our to-do list. When is it ever enough?

Today's Trek Reflection challenged Ericlee and I to think about this question: What was I created to do and be? In other words, where do we want to go with our lives? How can we find our purpose and fulfill it.

In the Bible in John 10:7-18 it says "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." What is abundant life anyway? When I think of abundance I think of words like overflowing, full, plenty. In the United States, it's easy to get caught up in the "abundance" we have. I'll be the first to admit that I long for a little more money, a few more cute outfits, a lot more vacations and boxes of expensive chocolate. But somehow I don't think that's what Jesus was talking about when he said he was bringing abundant life. It's definitely not about a life full of stuff. I'm pretty sure that stuff does not bring fullness and love and peace because there are a lot of people in this country who have an abundance of stuff and are absolutely miserable.

My husband described it well. He said abundant life is when our gifts and passions are perfectly married with our vocation. It's the opportunity to feel fulfilled because we are living out what God intended for us. According to Trek, "We live a fulfilled life when we find out how we personally fit into the larger vision."

What does abundant life mean to you?

Meilani's Travels Around the World for her 4th Birthday

This year we celebrated Meilani's birthday with a World Travel theme. We are blessed to live in a community of friends who appreciate and represent many different cultures around the world - whether through their own heritage, the adoption of children or through experience traveling to exotic places. We thought it would be fun to have a dress-up party (one of Meilani's fave pasttimes) where we all could celebrate the world cultures. We are also in the process of getting ready to go to Haiti and Meilani is fascinated by packing up for trips and traveling.
We made little passports for each kid. Meilani picked out a stamp and ink pad so she could stamp each passport at the door. They each decorated their "baggage" with stickers and paint. Even Mama and Daddy dressed the part. I put on an Indian outfit a friend bought me in India and Ericlee sported the Haitian-Track Coach-Hawaiian look.
The Brant boys went into our dress-up room and came out donning Mexican sombreros.
Ella Vander Meulen showed up in a sweet Dutch girl's hat. How appropriate!
A World Travel party just wouldn't be complete without a pinata. Meilani and Mama actually made this pinata, which was a fun project in itself as we learned to do paper mache. Our pinata was in the shape of a globe. All the kids (28 to be exact!) gathered around and waited their turn to smack the pinata. Here Niana Holman gives it a whirl.
Nana Maria helped with our international menu, which included everything from Filipino Pancit to Armenian Pilaf to Middle Eastern Fatoush Salad to Mini American Hamburgers. Yes, these are a few of Meilani's favorite foods.

We decided to skip the traditional birthday cake and make something more fun this year. We baked a giant chocolate chip cookie and made it into the shape of a globe - complete with blue sprinkles for the water and chocolate-covered sunflower seeds for the land.
Meilani was delighted by so many thoughtful gifts from friends, including books, gift certificates for fun field trips and even a cooking class at Young Chefs Academy!

Meilani was especially blessed to share her birthday weekend with her friends Ella and Delia. My college roommate, Jen, drove down from Escalon, California to share in the festivities. They contributed some Dutch culture to our tour around the world. Meilani and Ella had their own "after-party," which included swimming and lots of dress-up. What a happy birthday for our big four-year-old!