Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Do they even know?

As I sit here planning all the details for the 2018 mission team to Cambodia, I can't help but wonder if they even have any idea how much work goes into this. I think about the flights and hotels and plans. I think about how to best to serve the children. I think about the packing.

I also think about the future.

Do they have any idea how much this trip is going to change their lives?

I don't think so. I think they know it'll be big. Huge, even. I think they know that it'll be fun and hard and beautiful all at once. I think they know that lives will change.

But I don't think they can even begin to imagine how much things will change.

Cambodia rocked my world. I'd go back and live there forever if the opportunity came up. No doubt. But it didn't end there.

God worked on me every day there. He taught me to see others through His eyes. He taught me love. He taught me sacrifice. He taught me courage and strength.

And my faith grew. I learned to lean on Him in all things. I learned that the people I began to love and care for who were part of a new world and culture to me were created by Him just like I was. They were his children and He loved them more deeply than I ever could.

It helped me love Cambodians more. It helped me love my family more. It helped me see others as His children, deeply loved and cherished. I learned to look for ways I could let that love of Jesus flow out of me and into the world.

I am so excited to see what God does for this mission team. He's already working in ways they never imagined. He's knitting every detail of this trip together to meet the needs we may not even know of yet. He's making marriages stronger and relationships better.

God's using this adventure to change the world one willing person at a time.

I. Can't. Wait.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Change of Address

I shot some cute photos of my little monsters and they were all Fall/Thanksgiving looking, so I thought I'd get out my cards early this year and make them Thanksgiving AND Christmas cards!  I just took the fall photos and added some Christmas lights borders around them. I mean, we moved this summer, so we have a new address, so sending them out early seemed like a great idea.

But of course they arrived the day AFTER Thanksgiving, which was totally MY fault for ordering them late, but alas, now I have a card with a Thanksgiving theme that will go out in December. Oops.

Anyway, as I was sitting and addressing them I was making sure to take note of the "updated on" column of my address book in excel. After all, we have lots of military friends who live all over the place and those little labels change often.

But then I started thinking about the ones that haven't changed. I smiled and thought about the many friends who have been able to use the same address for many years. The homes that are so comfortable and familiar that every nook and cranny could hold memories. I love that!

Honestly, his most recent move has been tough. For a few years in a row, we moved every 1-2 years, and we lived in 6 places by the time our oldest son was 7. Those years it was just natural and easy to pick up and start over again. Well, it wasn't ever EASY, but it wasn't quite so hard.

But then we got "stuck" in a place for over 3 years. It became home to us. We loved it there and we had a million friends and the best neighbors in the world and a church that felt like a home. Getting to share our Cambodia experience with that church is one of my greatest joys.

And... then we were off again. The kids are older now and the roots in our last place were deeper than before, so moving across the country this time was tough. As Mom, I had to make sure the kids were settled and happy and make sure the house was unpacked and comfortable. I had to take care of all the details before I could start to plant new roots. And now as I try to do that I'm finding it much harder than ever before.

Here we are at Thanksgiving and I'm writing "notice address change" on envelopes I'm getting ready to mail while still thinking that next year I'll be moving again and doing this yet again.

It's in the midst of all this - the address change, the long list of friends whose address hasn't changed in years, the season of giving thanks - that I stop and reflect on relationships.

Sometimes we can be surrounded by people and yet still a little lonely. Sometimes we can be far away from a dear friend and yet feel so close by a simple conversation or by sending a letter.

I think I'll take a moment to give someone a call (or a hug!) today and every chance I get. Who knows how many people around me are in need of that this holiday season?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Keep Spreading The Love

I promised I'd explain how great our plan worked so here goes:

We did it. We did what seemed impossible but wasn't because God was with us the whole way.

In February of 2016 we took a team of 11 people to work at The Hard Places Community's (HPC) Boys Center. This was the place I had served at with my little boys when it first opened its doors. On any given week we'd have 2 classes of 8-12 boys there back in 2011. Now they had hundreds of children. It was too incredible for me to try to explain!

Our team raised nearly $25,000 to get to Cambodia and back for a 2 week trip. All sorts of fundraisers helped us reach the goal. We sold drinks at soccer games, passed out empty jars for kids to fill with coins, cooked meals before church services to sell, sent letters to our friends and families, and more. Even the cute little cub scouts offered to help us out and those kids raised $500 for us!  Little by little, the money came in, but still, it seemed like an unreachable goal.

But we got there! And then it just kept coming in!

See, our team didn't commit to raise just enough to go. Our team committed to love on HPC for much longer than that two week trip. We committed to raise $25k as a team in 2016 and then to keep working to raise money through 2017 to send directly to HPC! 

And we did it!

When we were in Cambodia we took our money and purchased souvenirs at the markets to bring home and sell to Americans at a larger price. Then we took 100% of the funds raised and gave it back to Cambodia.

But that wasn't the part that brought in the most money.

Telling our stories inspired others more. We held a couple of events where our team was able to share what we'd seen and heard and experienced there and people were inspired to give! One of our team members, Amber, took beautiful photos that really made the children come alive as we shared about them. Through these events, it took us only a few months to raise $25,000 more to give to Hard Places.

And they have used it wisely and are reaching so many!

They've been able to hire numerous new staff members and interns to help their ministry grow!

HPC now has a girls' center that runs like the boys' center.

They also teach English and computer classes to young adults to help them find new careers.

HPC started a ministry to men working in massage parlors to help them learn skills for a more respectable career. These men are able to be English tour guides, work in beauty salons, drive tuk tuks, and more. They are opening a restaurant now where they can work as cooks or servers and earn a respectable income doing a job they can be proud of.

HPC has clubs in Siam Reap now where they reach over 300 children a week. Add this to the 500+ they now reach in Phnom Penh and its clear that the next generation of Cambodia is truly being changed!

The ministry of HPC is reaching to smaller tourist towns in Cambodia and also starting to use their model in other countries!

God is there!! The gospel is spreading throughout a kingdom that is in great need of Jesus. Children who have been trafficked are finding freedom and restoration. Families are learning how to help their children and protect them from being victimized. Young people who have been part of HPC since the beginning are so dramatically changed that they are now giving back to help their younger siblings and friends find hope as well.

God is big. Our small donations are stretched in a mighty way to provide resources for HPC.

So why wouldn't we keep spreading the love?

We are so blessed here in America and yes, there are many in need right here around us. Our family is at a place in our faith where we are able to say YES to God anytime. We are willing to go anywhere He sends us!  But for now, He is telling us to be here and mobilize others to go, to serve, to help, to give.

So we do. We tell our story and trust God to use it to His glory.

Next February, in 2018, we're taking another team to Cambodia. And after we return, we'll be raising money to give to Hard Places again!  (Want to help us get there??   Give here by designating your amount to the mission team in general at top or even to a specific member)

I can't believe God's blessed me so much to let me return to see these children again and again.

I hope you'll take this journey with me!

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Plan That Worked

Cough, cough, sneeze, sneeze... Here I am dusting off the keyboard to open up this site again and say hello.

You guys, I could make excuses, but seriously, its just life. I found it funny that my last post (2 1/2 years ago... told you, DUSTY keyboard!) was about slowing down.

I did. I tried. I mean, I still am trying. But with 3 kids and my silly hand that keeps raising itself when it hears things like, "Who can help with ________?" I just can't seem to find a free moment anywhere.

Who's with me? Anyone? We moved to Kansas this summer and I got about 95% unpacked, which in itself was astounding, but the rest has just been sitting in my hallway. For months. Honestly, I don't think it'll ever get unpacked at this point. I don't even care. I think if a thief came in the middle of the night and stole those 3 boxes that are still sitting there, I'd hug them and send them away with some cookies or something. I just can't do it.

But I have good reasons! Besides laundry and dishes and all the household chaos, I've been working on something super exciting.

It is, of course, about Cambodia!

That's what started this whole journaling adventure, right? Our family's adventure following God around the world! Well, it has continued in unexpected and amazing ways since I last recorded it here.

In 2016 Stephen and I were able to take 11 people back to Cambodia to meet the staff and kids at Hard Places and work with them there. Lives were changed!  Why didn't we do this sooner?

See, I tell everyone who will listen about these kids. I tell my story and share my heart with people and walk away knowing God will use that to inspire change for them too. They might be inspired or moved by the story but sometimes it takes actually seeing it with their own eyes to really understand. I wanted to take people with me to Cambodia to meet these people I love.


It's expensive to go to Cambodia!  Once in the country, things are quite inexpensive, but that silly plane ticket is a small fortune!  I knew that spending $1500 a person (or more) just to get them to Cambodia wasn't the best use of money. The best way to help would be to just send HPC a check! (Or, technically, cash, because they don't really do "checks" there...) But how do we get people pumped up about sending that much money if they haven't grasped the vision for what God can do with that money?

Alli, my friend who started and runs HPC, came to visit me in North Carolina in 2015 and talked to my church about what Hard Places does. The next morning two of my friends took her to breakfast and the next thing I knew, they were telling me they wanted us to take a mission trip to Cambodia. They had come up with a plan that I jumped on board with immediately and helped to make it happen.

Here was the incredible plan:
Let's raise money to send a team to Cambodia!
THEN... when they get back from their trip, let's have them KEEP raising money and the following year, let's just GIVE THAT MONEY STRAIGHT TO HARD PLACES!

It worked, you guys. It worked so so so well.

I wish I'd journaled about that whole experience. I was kind of busy planning a short term trip to Cambodia for a dozen people and buying plane tickets and managing a range of personalities and telling stories of what to expect and helping people pack and well, too much to remember, so I didn't write about it all. Or, actually, about any of it.

But the plan worked.

And it worked so well that we are doing it again.

I can't wait to tell you more about that.

But for now I have to say goodbye. Life is calling.
I promise I'll be back soon with more details.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Slow down

As I sit here rocking my baby at 6am because he won't go to sleep but doesn't want to get up, I'm reminded that sometimes the Lord gives us these moments as a reminder to slow down. It's Saturday morning. I don't have to be anywhere until 1pm. I had ideas of what I could do today before 1pm but none of them were urgent or, in fact, even important or necessary at all. They were "fun" things I'd concocted to make my kids happy.

I think I spend so much time trying to have fun with my kids and go take them places that I forget to stop and realize that watching cartoons on tv, snuggling with mom, and laughing about Mickey Mouse's laziness (because, as my older son pointed out, Mickey relies way too much on his "handy helpers" and would be better off just doing things himself) might be just what we all need.

The pace is so fast here.  "Here" as in consumer-driven, child-centered U.S. of A.  I'm guilty too. My kids have school, swimming, baseball, music lessons, play dates, drama club, and more things that I'm too tired to think of right now. It's so easy to get caught up in everything that everyone else is doing!

But with summer fast approaching, I'm going to do something different. I'm going to NOT sign up for summer camps and summer swim teams and summer activities. And if my family gets a vacation, it'll be to relax, not to go, go, go. You here that, sweetheart? I know, I'm the one always pushing us to go, go, go, but here's my admission of wrong. I'm going to regret putting that in writing...

A couple days ago I rushed off to grab dinner before baseball practice. We pulled into the drive-thru, ordered, got the window, and I realized I didn't have my wallet. [Where are those pay-it-forward drive thru cars when you need someone to surprise you with free food??]  I had to leave without dinner and take my kids to a practice where they'd be running and playing for an hour and a half without food! Luckily, I scrounged up $1.07 in change from the mini van carpet and, even more luckily, McDonald's had their double cheeseburgers on sale for $1. I had enough to feed the one kid who had to practice and Stephen grabbed the rest of us food, you know, since he had actual money, and brought it to practice a few minutes after we arrived.

And then... right after we got to practice I saw lightening. The mostly clear sky got dark out of nowhere and gray clouds moved in, pouring water all over us. Practice got cancelled and we went back home. I was driving home frustrated about "wasting my whole evening" when I looked up in the sky and saw a rainbow.  A beautiful rainbow.

I pulled into the little beach area of my neighborhood (have I mentioned this neighborhood is amazing?) and jumped out of the car to take a picture with my phone when I noticed the rainbow was actually two rainbows!

We could actually see the colors of light hitting the water. There wasn't a pot of gold, no, but it felt like a smile from God. It felt like a reminder that He's got everything beautifully, perfectly, completely under His control.

I need to slow down.
I need to believe Him, not just believe IN Him.
I need to be still and know He is God.

And I'm so excited to see what God can show me in those quiet moments.

Two hundred and fifty

Two hundred and fifty.
Two hundred and fifty.

That's the number I saw in my dream last night.

See, it's been in my head for a while. My friend Alli came from Cambodia and talked about the work they are doing there. She mentioned that the boys center, which had a regular attendance of less than 20, sometimes a few more and sometimes less, when we lived there, just after they opened their doors has grown. She said they have over 250 boys who they now know. There are more that come, too.

But that's the picture I see in my mind that just doesn't go away. It makes me smile to think of it. I get chills and butterflies in my stomach when I try to picture it in my mind.

I can hear their little feet running up the stairs in the building where the concrete walls amplify every sound. I can hear their laughter from every room as they play games and play with toys. I can imagine them standing outside the doors waiting for it to open each morning and running in, throwing off their shoes, and grinning at each other as they race for the room and hug the staff.

And last night I dreamed I was there with them.

I saw two hundred fifty faces, two hundred fifty smiles, two hundred fifty little hearts thumping with joy, five hundred little hands, and five hundred little feet. I could see it and smell it and hear it and my heart was full of joy.

I was there in my dream. I was right there with them all, laughing. And I woke up from it at 3am with my heart both heavy and joyful at the same time. I began to pray for these little souls. These little boys who have found a safe place to be little boys. A place to play. A place to grow. A place to be loved. A place to learn of Jesus. Of the God who created them and knows their struggles and knows their joy. Of the Jesus who gave his life for their lives and asked for nothing in return.

Somewhere in the depths of my sleepy mind, I saw this as a promise from the Lord that I will see this soon. I'm not ready to talk about that yet since I'm still processing it myself, but I knew at that moment it was true and it brought me incredible joy. I also found an overwhelming desire to pray for them and the leaders there. And I did at that moment. Sometimes it feels like all I can do for them from here. And then I realize that it is no small thing. The God who is here listening to my prayers is also there holding their hands. He loves them and loves for me to pray to him on their behalf.

So of course he loves it when others pray, too. I need you to join me. Pray to the God who sees.  Pray to the God who hears our thoughts even before we pray them. Pray to the God who died for us. For them.

Let's lift up the staff in Cambodia, the financial supporters around the world, and the children who are receiving just a touch of God's love every time they enter this safe place.

There is power in our prayers. Let's pray now and see what mountains He will move in Cambodia.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

My heart is full

As the date that marks 3 years since I returned from Cambodia approaches, I find my heart full to the point of overflowing. My heart is heavy for those in the world who are hurting and joyful for those who've found restoration from dark, horrible places.

What a week I had.

First, I hosted my friend who is the director at Hard Places, Cambodia, where the boys and I would visit each week to play with kids. I can't talk about this without crying and I have to leave in a minute to go to get my kids at school, so I'll save that for later. 

Then it was my birthday, and my boys, who are growing older and wiser and more beautiful every moment, showed much kindness and compassion to me as I had a bit of a rough day. My friends showed up at my door with gifts, one after the other, so I felt a little love throughout my whole day. As I often struggle with the question of why God has me in North Carolina when I say I'm willing to go anywhere, moments like that show me a glimpse of the Father's love for me and remind me of His purpose for me.

Oh. And then we visited the IJM Global Prayer Gathering in Washington, D.C. where we heard stories of injustice all over the world but also stories of rescue, restoration, and redemption. It was such a moving weekend for my little heart that I can't even write about it yet. I wouldn't know where to start, so I'll save that for later, too.

What's on my mind right now, and pretty much every moment of my life lately, is that I want to do more.

I want to use my time more wisely. I want to spend my money more wisely. I want to change the way my kids see the world. I want to celebrate victories against sin and weep with victims. I want to pray fervently and passionately to my God, who I know hears my every word.
I want my eyes to transform into the eyes of Jesus and see others as He sees them.

I want to do more.

And I want others to do more, too.

So, I figure I'll just open up my broken, confused, but joyful heart and share what I learn as I pray Jesus shows me ways to help. Maybe someone will join me. That means I need to get more words on here instead of keeping them all in my brain.

I am working through Bible studies on missions and working with my church to give more to missions, both here in my backyard and around the world. As I learn from this, I feel the Lord telling me to share. To share my weakness, to share my strength, to share my heart.

So here I go.  It's how I'll do more. 
I hope you'll join me.