“M” is for…

Mamounata.  And Alex and Amede.

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These three precious children have changed my life. They’ve taken me out of my own self-centeredness by sharing their lives with me.

Mamaounata is 9 years old, from Burkina Faso, and likes dolls and group games; Alex is 14, from Tanzania, and likes soccer and singing; and Amede is 8, from Togo, and likes soccer and group games.

Before I had begun sponsoring these kiddos, I had been praying for some time that God lead me to an area in which He wanted me to serve. A way to serve that would glorify and honor Him in the way that would make the biggest difference to His children.

And He led me to Compassion International, where I looked at these three angels and my heart was so deeply filled with a need to love them, that I knew it was right.

Sponsoring them has been such a gift and a blessing, receiving their letters in my mailbox turning a difficult day to one of gratitude. Hearing that they are praying for me? Wow! Reading that they bought clothes, rice and beans with the birthday money I’ve sent them? Again, Wow!  They tell me their favorite bible verses, what they’re doing in school, who their best friends are, ask me how my family is and that they pray for me, they draw me pictures, and on and on. The blessings are endless.

I have had people ask me why I choose to help children in another country when we have so much need right here in our own. To that I say “Each of us is called to serve in our own unique way.  I was called to this, and it’s not for me to say ‘No.'” As long as each of us is serving in some way, helping in some area of need, the world will be a much better place.

Being of service isn’t time taken from us, it’s life given.  Giving to those in need isn’t giving money away, it’s an investment.  For me, there is no better investment than investing in the life of a child. And I have so much life to live and so much more investing to do.

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Peace.

Electronic Disconnection

Cell Phone

I’ve blogged about this exact thing once before, and as much peace as it brings when I do it, I still don’t seem to practice it nearly enough. Electronics can pull more energy from relationships than they add.

It makes me sad when I see a young child talking to mom or dad who is more connected with their cell phone than with the child.  Does that parent know that they can never get that moment back again?

My heart bleeds when I’m at the coffee shop and see a child with mom or dad, the child a happy chatterbox, full of animation, trying to get the attention of the one they look up to and love so much, but mom or dad is too connected to their open laptop to notice.

Or the couple at the table next to me in a restaurant, no conversation to be seen or heard, while one–or both–of them are texting, surfing the Internet on a cell phone, or watching the game on the TV hanging near their table.

And then there’s the occupants of the car next to me at a stoplight, each texting away on their respective cell phones, frequently even the driver.

And what makes my heart bleed even more is the frequency of which I’ve done those things myself without even realizing it.

It’s easy to see more clearly when we’re disconnected from a situation, so to think how much clearer I could see what’s right in front of my own face when I’m disconnected from electronics seems like it should be a no-brainer.  And yet, how much time has slipped through my fingers like a fist full of sand, as I fall into the habit of blocking out everything but the empty entertainment of the screen in front of me.

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If I could go back and have a “do-over” I would:

Leave the cell phone at home when taking my kids on an outing.  I would watch them take in their surroundings, watching as they see things for the first time, rather than see something on the screen of my cell phone for the umpteenth time.

I would sit on the floor playing with my children, rather than sit there watching a television program while they played around me.

I would read a book to them, engaging them in the story, rather than let them live their story without me present to watch.

I would listen intently to how their day was, their experiences, hopes and dreams, rather than listen to how the world was on the news, letting them know they are my world.

I would let them know that what they said truly mattered, more than anything in the world, as I gave them my undivided attention, listening to what they had to say rather than say “I’m busy. Can we talk later?”  Later may not come.

I would stop cleaning, cooking, playing a game on the computer or watching TV to simply be with them, 100% present.

If the phone was ringing, or beeping with an incoming text message, during a conversation with a loved one, or while spending quiet time together, I would let it ring without answering it, or even a sneak peak at the text message, letting my loved one know their presence is more important to me than the phone.

Rather than run back in the house two seconds after leaving to get the forgotten cell phone, I would run back in to give the forgotten hug or say the forgotten “I Love You” to the loved one remaining behind.

When I’m on a date with my husband, I would leave my phone at home, or tucked away in my purse, letting him know the time I spend with him is valuable to me.

And while I can’t go back and start over, getting back time that has past, it’s never too late to start over.  Right.  Now.   While I can’t start the day over, I can start over anytime during the day.  And that is a blessing I intend to take advantage of, practicing until it becomes more the norm than not.

No electronics

New Month, New Life

July 3rd Fireworks

July 3rd Fireworks (Photo credit: zappowbang)

July is just around the corner, a month that used to be a childhood favorite with 4th of July celebrations of parades lined with colorful floats and marching high school bands, the oohs and ahs while watching amazing firework displays explode and cascade into the brightest colors high in the ink sky, baseball games, watermelon, family fun…everything that is summer.    The past several years, however,  have made me a bit apprehensive as it nears.

Experiences will do that.  Alter the way one sees things.  Kind of the same way an opinion forms around a name because of someone you once knew with that name.

Or the way I can get squeamish in a hospital because of something that is reminiscent of an unpleasant memory.

Too many painful  events began happening each July several years ago, and I realized the approach of the last couple found me holding my breath in fear.

Wishing an entire month quickly away.  Waiting…waiting…until the last day arrived and I could breathe a little bit easier.  Walk a little bit lighter.

This year it occurred to me, whether it was a God moment or spiritual experience is up for interpretation.  Either one is God speaking to me through life experiences.  Using what He knows will get my undivided attention.

That deeply embedded fear is nothing but lack of faith in a God who can orchestrate all aspects from those too small to see to those that can seem larger than life itself.

Rather than wait for the bad to happen, allowing fear and anxiety to entwine its tentacles into every area of my life,  I can give thanks for what I have, placing my focus on good and God.

A Good God.  All powerful God.

If something happens that is unpleasant, I can know and be secure in the knowledge that God can, and will, take me through it if I allow Him.  I can be grateful for the opportunity to practice leaning on Him.  An opportunity to practice perseverance.

When good things happen, which He makes sure does for His children, free of self-involved fear, I can be fully present to be aware of and enjoy it, rather than miss it while in the throes of wishing the month away.

And what an amazing opportunity to get some good quality writing done.  When emotions are raw, whether joy or pain, is when the most poignant writing is created.  The most memorable stories.  Words that flow from a heart that is beating and feeling the pulse of life.

Pen and Paper       This July I will honor the memory, feel the pain, but also celebrate the life of a lost step-child, while hugging my other step-daughter and my sons a little bit closer.

I will likely remember the near-death accident involving my child, but I will celebrate the fact that he is still with me. Whole and healthy.  Because of a loving God who rescued him, knowing his mom had a whole lot of love to lavish on him.

Rather than feel pain at the sight of a dragonfly, a symbol so important to a lost loved one, I can look at it as a sign from a loving God that my loved one is still around me.  Free.

I will strive to help victims of crime, giving them empathy and compassion as only one who has experienced it can.  And I will celebrate the fact that I am a blessed survivor.  Because of a loving God who cares about me so much He saved me from what could have been.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly (Photo credit: Tom Soper Photography)

I will remember a lost family pet, loved as no other pet ever was, and be grateful we found such a wonderful shelter dog to rescue and love.

This July, rather than wait for it to close, the curtains down, I will truly live, love, and experience every moment, every day as a new story to be told and lived.

Grace to You.

It’s About the People

photo (13)When my boys were born, and up until they were twelve years old (it was then my oldest son informed me he was old enough to remember well enough on his own now, thank you very much) I wrote in journals for each of them, so that they, as well as me, could know and always remember how important their lives had been since the day they entered this world.  The impact that they, even as babies, had on the life of another.  Me, as their mother, as well as several others they’ve met along the way.

Those journals are filled with pages upon pages of the fun things we did together, the memorable and cute things they did and said, how much I loved them, life lessons I hoped to teach them, and motherly words of advice and “wisdom.”

I never wanted them to forget their worth in the lives of others.  And my love of words and writing was the best way for me to let them know that.

Several years ago I began another project, which at the time, I hadn’t realized how important it would become.

Again, it involved words, as well as people. photo (11)

So many family moments, conversations, dinners, and relationships happened around what many people see as a kitchen table.  But I saw it as so much more.  That table heard so many stories, happy as well as sad, saw a lot of tears, a lot of laughter and joy, and a lot of prayer.

It also kept my kids from getting into trouble a time or two by allowing them to feed the dog beneath its cover.

This project I began was to add to the beauty of the centerpiece of our kitchen.  A green and white checked table cloth with the names of those who have shared a meal with us at that table.  Those who chose to share their lives with us.  Each such an important part of our lives.

As they chose a place to write their name with a thin black Sharpie pen, I embroidered over their handwriting, securing their place at the table.

Each year earned its own color of embroidery floss, so we could always remember when they were at our house.  My boys wrote their names more than once, making it fun to see how their signature changed from year to year.photo (12)

People who have left us for their eternal home  with God, have left a lasting impression at our table, a place we will always feel closest to them.  My husband’s mother and my step-daughter, Becky, being two of those treasured people.

My life has been so hugely impacted and influenced by the people in my life, and each one has left his/her handprint on my heart.

The next name to be written on that tablecloth is Jesus.  Because He is with us at every meal.  In fact, He will have his name in every color since the birth of the tablecloth. photo (10)

Grace to You.

Reclaiming the Carefree Days of Summer

English: An irrigation sprinkler watering a ga...

Watching two of my young grandchildren play with such complete abandon in the pre-summer afternoon sunshine last Saturday, I longed for the days when summer was unhurried, unstressed, and carefree.  The days when summers weren’t defined by days spent within office walls watching the clock. Or when the most beautiful scenery wasn’t my computer screensaver.

I watched my granddaughter, clad in her little pink and white striped Hello Kitty tankini, her long wavy hair tangled and blowing every which way, smiling from ear to ear as sticky sweet juice from the watermelon she was devouring ran all the way to her elbows.

I watched her little brother, my grandson, so proud of his brand spanking new Spiderman swim trunks his mom brought home for him on her recent trip to Puerto Rico, his bare feet running through the grass, squirting his sister with a squirt gun, laughing.

My husband couldn’t resist the urge to play and began squirting me and his daughter through the open patio door, laughing as we squealed–half from surprise,  half from sheer delight.  Delight at playing.  Something as adults we take too little time to do as we get caught up in what we have allowed to become our life.

It was at that moment I decided to reclaim my summers of the past.  When I took time to play, creating memories that have carried me through too many summers that blurred past in a flurry of “planned” activities and to-do lists.

As the official start of summer arrives this week, I’ve resolved to reclaim my childhood.  I’m going to:

*    Just once–at least–run through a sprinkler.

*    Go on an old-fashioned picnic, complete with blanket, picnic basket, and book, and spend an afternoon by the river.

*    Have a guilt-free entire afternoon reading a good book, lying under a tree–a big oak tree if I can find one.  If for no other reason than the poetic magic of lying under the “big shady oak tree.”

Oak Trees

*    Sit on the porch, awning rolled out, cool glass of lemonade or iced tea by my side, doing absolutely nothing but drink in my  surroundings, whether it be the birds on the feeders, the dog frolicking in the grass, jumping on grasshoppers.Iced tea, popular throughout the U.S.

*    Spend a few evenings reclining on the back patio with a light blanket, a cup of tea, perhaps a candle, and star gaze.

*    Lay on my back in the grass with my grandchildren, using our imaginations to see what shapes we can see in the clouds.

*    At least once a day, practice becoming aware of my thoughts.  Rather than allowing several to tumble around within my head like clothes in a dryer, focus on just one, truly savoring that precise thought at that precise moment.

*    Rather than spend my Saturdays running around, crazy, trying to accomplish everything on my list, only do the things that absolutely have to be done that day and only one other item.  The rest will still be there the next day or the next weekend.  And by then may not even need to be done anymore.

What are some of the things you can do this summer to reclaim, and perhaps even relive,  your childhood summertime memories?  I would love to hear.

Grace to you.