July 26, 2011

Hasta Luego!

It's almost time to say goodbye. Our three weeks with our Spanish student is coming to a close. In three hours we'll be heading to the airport for our final farewells. Right now our kids are enjoying one last American outing bowling and clinging to our last moments together.

It has been a wonderful experience in every sense. Norma, our student, was a lovely guest. Everything we could have hoped for. She and my daughter bonded immediately. And my son, initially shy, opened up and was teasing his new "sister" in short order -- the international boy language of acceptance. 

Since two of our neighbors also hosted students we've all spent lots of time together. There's been dinner at a local Spanish restaurant, a camp out, game nights, cookouts, Hershey Park, bowling and just hanging out. My daughter has been able to joion the students on some of their trips and she's really gotten close with the group. 

Last night was the goodbye dinner. Spanish dishes were shared, stories told and hugs shared. Being together and seeing the emotions all the families and students shared really consolidated the amazing experience this was for everyone involved. 

I am so thankful we took a chance to do this, not really knowing what it would be like. Our entire family has been tremendously blessed by meeting Norma, making her part of our family and sharing rich experiences together. While our final goodbyes will surely be tear-filled, we have expanded our hearts and opened our lives to new Spanish friends. Ones we will hopefully visit our Spanish friends in the future. And maybe this will be the start of a summer tradition.  

Hasta luego. Dios te bendiga!

Enjoying a day at the beach and learning to boogie board

Hermanos y hermanas

American and Spanish hermanas

Escaping the heat at the Trenton Thunder baseball game

Making an authentic Spanish dish

Tortilla Espanola and Empanda. Delicioso!
All the students at the goodbye party.

July 21, 2011

Give Me Some Relief!

So many thoughts. So little time. I have many half-written ideas sailing about in my head, looking for a place to harbor to rest and unload. But in the storm that summer brings, they're finding none and drifting out to the far reaches of my consciousness, hoping to set anchor another day.

Right now the number one topic of conversation is the heat. Here in the Philadelphia area it is 98 right now. Tomorrow is supposed to be hotter. Much of the country is under a sweltering blanket of blistering misery during the nation's worst heat wave in years.

I write this from the luxury of my air conditioned home and savor the respite we have from the stifling heat. But, if you're 40 or older, chances are you didn't grow up with air-conditioning. You lived with fans and shade trees and swimming pools and cold glasses of lemonade. Life was sweaty and uncomfortable, but it went on. (I didn't live in an air-conditioned house until 13 years ago!)

As I read the paper this morning I couldn't help think that when it comes to the heat, we've become a bunch of crybabies. Somehow since the beginning of time, societies survived and even thrived without air conditioning, yet now we view this modern luxury at the top of Maslov's Hierarchy of Needs along with food and water.

The issue specifically in my cross-hairs is that in order to save a substantial amount of money, Bucks County (where I live)  has decided to turn off the A/C in county buildings for three hours (from 3 to 6pm) on the hottest days of the summer. The County Commissioners call it, "a shared sacrifice." The temps inside county buildings, including the prisons, are rising to about 84 degrees. (My daily thermostat is set at 80.) Complaints are coming in saying this is akin to abuse. That it's intolerable, punishing and inhumane. They say people are getting sick and fainting. 

Seriously?! Three hours without air-conditioning is abusive? Have you been to Haiti or Somalia . . . or even your own inner city? A/C schmacy. The world is filled with people living without homes and food and clean water. And three hours without cooled air is insufferable? Imagine our soldiers in Afghanistan wearing full body armor in 140 degree heat, weighed down by an automatic weapon, ammo and gear. That, is a sacrifice!

In our quest for lives lived in climate-controlled comfort I fear we lose sight of the bigger picture. Of the better things. Of the truly important and valuable.

As followers of Jesus, we're supposed to live life differently. If you and I can't survive trial by summer heat, how will we survive the trials by fire? God says, "See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction." (Isaiah 48:10) Heat burns. And refines. And makes pure and precious.

Heat is a necessary part of the process: "These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."  (1 Peter 1:6-7)

And in this life it's a given: "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Will we accept the refining by fire . . . or will we hunker down in air-conditioned comfort to escape the heat?

ETA 7/26/11: Last Friday was 102 degrees . . . plus humidity. It was horribly hot and I spent the day inside the air-conditioning crying like a baby!

July 12, 2011

Not Good . . . but Better!

It’s no secret I have a yen for home improvements but with bathrooms and front doors finished, and no plans for the near future, I've been getting a little antsy. So I set my sights on improving the space right here...my blog. Welcome to my spruced up corner of the blogosphere.

I’ve been writing here for more than three years—sporadically more than anything, but pressing on nonetheless. It's been a place I've pondered and processed and grew and shared. As I reflect on these last years—almost 300 posts and tens of thousands of words written—I see that while I've changed the look of my blog, God has changed me.

When I started writing here I was playing lots of tennis and having a great time with it. Much of my days were filled with tennis matches and drills and lunches with friends. Life was good and full and carefree. But tennis had become more than a hobby; it was more like a part time job (that I paid for). And something inside told me that God hadn’t put me on this earth to spend my days that way—that He had more planned for me.

I pulled back from tennis a bit, but continued to play competitively. And then in a match almost exactly three years ago from today, I went for a shot and hurt my elbow badly. The diagnosis? Tennis elbow. What should have gone away in 12 weeks lingered for months. I saw many doctors and therapists, and tried all sorts of treatments. Nothing worked. “Give it time,” most of the specialists said.

The fall tennis season started without me and I mourned the loss of a big part of my life. I looked for ways to fill my surplus of free time and started to write more. I started to focus less on myself and more on others. I discovered gifts I didn’t know I had. And my relationship with God became more intimate and personal.

When I look the last three post-tennis years, I am amazed at the places God has led me. How He’s changed my outlook and centered my thoughts on His work. His children. His purpose for my life.
Since I set down my tennis racket, I’ve:
  • Been to writers’ conferences
  • Joined a writers’ group.
  • Had stories and articles published (and actually got paid!)
  • Been on—not just one—but four mission trips. And have plans for more in the near future.
  • Developed a deep love for missions and Haiti in particular.
  • Joined the prison ministry.
  • Backpacked the Grand Canyon.
  • Confronted (although not conquered) my fear of public speaking. 
  •  Made close friends who have a heart for writing, for missions and especially for the Lord.

I don’t know why I hurt my elbow…or why it refuses to get better. Was it bad luck? An accident? Divine intervention? Perhaps. I do know that when one door closed, a wonderful path came into view. One I started on reluctantly, but now travel enthusiastically. On the road I’ve experienced God in rich and powerful ways. He’s opened my eyes and broken my heart to love His children. And He’s awakened a sense of adventure that is such a part of who I am now.

With the improvements God’s done in me, it’s fitting my blog reflects that change. I no longer see myself as primarily a thinker. A ponderer. An observer. Now I’m a do-er. A risk taker. An adventurer.

And with our awesome God as my guide I’m discovering I’m not so ordinary after all.

We may be happy and comfortable in our lives, but our plans are not always God’s plans, and the good things we do are not always the best He has in store.

Where is God be leading you from "good" to "best" ... from thinking to doing?

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2)
Haiti and Me . . . March 2010

July 6, 2011

And the Summer Adventures Begin

Wow! Where has the time gone? Summer officially started here when the kids got off school 20 days ago and it’s been a blur. A good blur, but a blur nonetheless.

We started off our summer preparing for our church's annual Dominican Republic mission trip. This year just my husband and kids were going. The team of 23 men, women and children met in our church parking lot on June 22nd at 3:30am and set off to Santo Domingo for ten days.

It was a fabulous trip for everyone! Each day they made tremendous progress on the worksite (a school/church/medical clinic/water treatment facility)—the same project we’ve been working on for the past three years.

The “old-timers” on the team (including my family) were thrilled to reunite with their Dominican friends and the newbies were old-timers in no time at all. As has come to be the norm for these trips, language and cultural differences didn’t stop Dominicans and Americans from becoming one happy family.

Dan kept us all posted with a blog he wrote—as the internet connection allowed. If you haven’t read it yet and want a look at a wonderful short-term mission experience, check it out (www.woodsidemissionaries.blogspot.com).

God was so evidently at work in it all—the friendships, the work, the worship, the fellowship. As has come to be expected on these trips, God knit together the hearts of His children and used the many experiences to touch so many so deeply. Lives will be forever changed.

During the final night’s worship/goodbye service American and Dominicans joined as family for one last time—until next year. Members from the team were invited to share their testimony and I’ve been told by many who were there that my daughter shared a testimony that was eloquent, emotional and had everyone in the place crying.

To see both of my children blossom and bloom on this trip made my mama heart grow ten sizes. I thank God for His goodness and for answered prayers.

Since the ten days that my family was away was a bit too many days to be home alone, I headed to Florida to visit my sister for a week.What a treat to enjoy so much one-on-one time together. We rested, we played, we talked, we worked a little and boy oh boy did we eat! And then I came home and spent three glorious days (literally the weather was spectacular) home alone.

As I read each update from the DR I questioned my decision to stay behind. But as the days of the trip progressed I felt that God had us all right where He wanted us.

The missionaries returned to a heroes’ welcome--happy and full of stories (and dirty laundry)—softly landing into life with a picnic at our house. What a blessing it was to be with them all and share in the glow of their experience!

While life has been full lately, I sadly haven’t written anything at all! I have, however, been observing, processing and storing up bits for later. We’ll see what comes out the other side.

For now it’s on to our next adventure—hosting an exchange student from Spain who arrived this afternoon. She’s with a group of students from Spain who are here to immerse themselves in English and visit the local sights. Dan and I immediately declared her delightful, and the kids are already planning to visit her at her home in Valencia! Despite it being 1:00am Spain time, and she’s likely weary from traveling, she happily agreed to go with my daughter to a youth group Bible study this evening.

I am excited for this experience—for what we might learn from our guest and for what we might teach her. While much of her time is scheduled, I imagine we’ll show her sights in the area and experience things we’ve always wanted to do and never have. If you’re from the Philadelphia area, do you have any suggestions?

What adventures do you have planned for the summer?