Thursday, December 30, 2010

christmas mash-up

I apologize ahead of time for the randomness of this post. It's been a while, and I'm not sure I remember what I'm doing here...

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas! I, for one, spent mine snuggling with my man. I was a vision in stretch pants and hair stuck to the side of my face. He's one lucky, lucky guy. At one point, I felt sorry for him. But it's a holiday tradition of mine to wake up Christmas morning and not look in the mirror all day. And not even he could motivate me to break that tradition.

I did bake him some cinnamon rolls to make up for my dark circles, and it seemed to help.

To class it up, I served them up on paper plates. Who wants to do dishes on Christmas?!

Since we don't have little ones yet, we decided that we needed to stop and really appreciate the fact that this would be one of the very few Christmases we will ever have "just us." People with kiddos may want to skip down a couple paragraphs. We slept late, baked in our pjs and ate sugary delights while watching the only Christmas movie we could find - "Love Actually." Then, we played some Mario Kart. But I don't want to damage the vision you have of our romantic Christmas morning. So forget about the video games. We did take a short break from snuggling and Skyped with my family in California. Skype is a miracle, by the way, and God's gift to people like me who end up half way across the country from their mommas. We exchanged gifts with my family and they got to see our faces and squeals of delight, even from 1,200 miles away. Brilliant.

This was the first time EVER for us to spend Christmas morning on our own, and it was perfect. We can't wait until we're woken up by the squeaks and squeals from little voices while their kneecaps massage our spleens, but ours was a great day.

Ok, parents, you can join me now.

And I have a question for all of you, parents or not. What is your favorite (or maybe you could give me a Top 3 List) Christmas tradition with your spouse and/or family? I want to have some really sweet traditions before and after we have a brood of our own, and I'd like your help.

We have one tradition so far: making sweet treats for about 7 homes in our neighborhood. I'd love to do more than that, but well, I'm not a very good cook, and I can only handle two batches of cookies at a time. Fortunately, this year, I had the help of my 14-yr-old neighbor. She sacrificed two nights of her Christmas vacation to help me bake and decorate the gift boxes. What a champ, right?

And the goodies were goooood.

One tradition that we started this year, and that I want to continue with my family, is spending Christmas Eve serving in the community. R and I were invited to a church in South Dallas to serve a Christmas Eve meal and it was such a great experience. It wasn't an easy one for a lot of reasons, but it was a Christmas Eve I won't forget. People from all over the 'Hood came for a hot, delicious meal, followed by small gifts of socks, gloves and cookies. Many people seemed hopeful in their circumstances. Others were discouraged. Many asked me to pray that they could find a job and a home. Many of those were women toting small children behind them.

One person I can't get out of my head is one I didn't speak to at all. I'm not sure he could have gotten coherent words out anyway, though. Toward the end of the day, a guy, maybe 22, came staggering out of the meal room to where we were handing out the gifts. His drink was poured down the front of his shirt and he was either completely wasted or high as a kite. He mumbled a few things, ran into everyone and then wandered back out on the streets.

What I couldn't stop thinking about as he staggered out the door was that this man, this kid, really, is someone's son. Someone, somewhere, didn't know where their kid was on Christmas Eve. Years ago, he was a child who wanted to crawl up in mom or dad's lap and hear that he is loved. Last week, he was a man living on the street and doing what he could to stay out of his right mind.

I can't help but wonder about his story and what brought him to this point in his life. Did he move to Dallas alone and get involved with the wrong people? Did he lose his job and give up? Did his parents kick him out after his addictions got out of control? Was he abused and taught destructive behaviors? Did he lack a father figure? Does anyone know or care where he is? Have they given up on him?

I don't know his story, but I caught a glimpse into his life, and I can't imagine watching my child walk that road. My first reaction was not compassion. He spilled his drink on me, too. But as I watched him stagger away, I couldn't help but see that he is simply lost. He isn't only an addict or only a belligerent drunk. He is also someone's child. Maybe someone's father or uncle. And he's lost right now. I hope his story will be starkly different in the future. While it comes naturally to do so, I shouldn't define him by what he is right now. His story has led up to this moment and there is a reason for his behavior that I don't understand. All I can do is be part of a positive moment in what is probably one of the darkest times in his life.

Going out into the community and getting a strong dose of reality during a time that I would much rather get completely engrossed in my (relatively) functional family is something I don't ever want to stop doing. For some people, Christmas is just another day without a home or food or security. For many, if not most people, it is a day wrought with the perceived shame of not being able to give their children what they want or need. Our circumstances allowed me and my family to have a great Christmas surrounded by people who love us. I don't ever want to forget that I have been incredibly and overwhelmingly blessed in this life. And I don't ever want to forget that Christmas represents a supreme sacrifice in the release of a Son into a broken world.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

tan and white and orange all over

I have this weird thing. It's something I like to call Restless Life Syndrome. Yes, it is similar to Restless Leg Syndrome, an uncontrollable urge to move your legs - which I also happen to have, and which is currently flaring up at the very mention of it. Restless Life Syndrome is not a result of dissatisfaction or discontent with my life. It is simply a manifestation of my uncontrollable need for change. Like, all the time. I love change. It freaks me out, but I love it. So, about once a month, I need to change something in my life. Sometimes, it's my hair or wardrobe. Most times, it's my hobbies and my home decor. Which means I'm almost always in the middle of a project. And I'm almost always in over my head.

I'm pretty sure my husband adores my Restless Life Syndrome. Or maybe he hates it. I don't know. In more than a few (thousand) instances, I have ditched the tried-and-true and picked up a new 'thing' all willy nilly. Like painting, which is not so much a hobby as it is an artistic beat down for someone like me. Our house is littered with terrible paintings that, if they weren't mounted on my wall, you would probably assume a toddler had created. Or like Yoga, which, I think you may have gathered by now, did NOT work out. In any case, I tend to have a large and wildly-varying array of hobbies that have been explored to death until I completely lose interest in actually practicing them long-term. It's kind of my M.O. It's not something I'm proud of. It's something I've accepted.

Am I the ONLY one who does this? Please, someone tell me you're like me... It would really help me convince my husband I'm not from Crazy Town.

So, true to form, and because I haven't had enough to do... I decided to paint an accent wall in my living room. That was IT. But then I painted three walls. Then I changed the curtains. Then I painted my bathroom. (I'm almost ashamed to admit that I'm now painting it again because I don't like the first color.) Then I painted the other bathroom. Then I redecorated them both. And now I'm exhausted, but also kind of feeling like my kitchen doesn't really "go" with the rest of the house now... Living in my world is difficult some days, even for me.

But, more importantly, what do you think?!


and after!

Bathroom before...

and after!

the other bathroom before...

and after!

This is my husband. He's great. And patient. Especially when my hair-brained decorating idea leads us to find an enormous hole in our wall after peeling back the original bathroom mirror. 

And he has these really great, broad shoulders. See?

I love his face, too. His patient, long-suffering face.

Monday, December 6, 2010

mississippi mud... fail

The reason I don't usually post recipes on my blog is because I don't really... oh, how do you say it?... cook. However, family events like Thanksgiving have a certain tradition. Namely, food. So, I decided to make a Mississippi Mud Cake, for two reasons. 1, because I like to spell "Mississippi," and 2, because the recipe called for a bag of marshmallows. I'm. In.

I decided to do my baking the evening before Thanksgiving - which is a holiday miracle all by itself. I don't cook, so I certainly don't cook in advance. But here I was in all my Betty Crocker glory slaving over a mixing bowl.

And then disaster struck.

Actually, disaster didn't strike as much as I ruined everything. I stopped reading the instructions, like I was some prodigy that would only be hindered by the inferior process of the editors of Southern Living, where I got the recipe. I used the wrong pan to bake the cake, which led to an under-cooked cake and over-cooked marshmallows. The only solution that didn't involved throwing the entire pan into the trash was to scrape the mallows off the top of the cake and shove it back in the oven.

And then we had to eat the marshmallows. Waste not is what I always say.

In my moments of panic about the cake, one thing led to another and I carmelized the sugar and royally mangled my made-from-scratch frosting.

At this point (it was getting heart-breakingly close to midnight), my sweet husband innocently offered to pick up a store-bought dessert on our way to Thanksgiving in the morning, you know, to ease my stress. I very calmly said, "No, sweetie. I think I'd like to give this one more shot." Or maybe I was throwing eye-daggers at him like they were ninja stars. I can't remember. In any case, I sent him to Walmart to get me new ingredients to make the frosting for a second time. My utter failure only made me more determined. And cranky. There may have been a few tears at this point.

Fortunately for my man, my second attempt was a success and, in the end, we had a pretty decent Mississippi Mud Cake to present to the Thanksgiving gods (read: his grandmother, whose street name may actually be Betty Crocker). The only downside was that I may have been dosing off at the table after my baking kept us up into the wee hours of the morning.

Next year, I'm going with cupcakes. Store-bought cupcakes.

Mississippi Mud Cake Recipe (from Southern Living)
Makes 15 servings - Prep: 15 min. - Bake: 40 min.

1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup butter
1 (4-oz.) semisweet chocolate baking bar, chopped
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 (10.5-ounce) bag miniature marshmallows
Chocolate frosting

1. Place pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet.
2. Bake at 350 for 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted.
3. Microwave 1 cup butter and semisweet chocolate in a large microwave-safe glass bowl at HIGH 1 minute or until melted and smooth, stirring every 30 seconds.
4. Whisk sugar and next 5 ingredients into chocolate mixture. Pour batter into a greased 15x10x1-inch jelly-roll pan.
5. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, and sprinkle evenly with miniature marshmallows; bake 8 to 10 more minutes or until golden brown. Drizzle warm cake with Chocolate Frosting (recipe below), and sprinkle evenly with toasted pecans.

Chocolate Frosting
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/3 cup milk
1 (16-oz.) package powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Stir together first 3 ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted. Cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes or until slightly thickened; remove from heat. Beat in powdered sugar and vanilla at medium-high speed with an electric mixer until smooth.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

10 gifts that give and give and give

I have a confession. You are free to judge me as you will. Here it is: I hate decorating for Christmas. Cringe. Or for any holiday or season, for that matter. Shame. I don't have a good reason for this. Part of it is probably because I am firmly anti-trinket. I don't like doodads, baubles or knicknacks.

I really hope we can still be friends.

That said, you will not see a blog post here documenting the transformation of my home into a winter wonderland. I actually very much enjoy seeing those posts on other blogs and love to see the wintry bliss that my friends and family have been gifted to create. I just didn't get that gene. While you won't find nutcrackers and Santas and nativity scenes in my home, I am absolutely a lover of the holiday season. I adore Christmas music and the smell of pine and cookies and fudge and giving gifts and reading the Christmas story. Love it all. So, during the holidays, I bake, shop and buy pine-scented candles. I don't decorate.

Ok, now that I got that off my chest... I have a gift for you. This Christmas season, I have made it my mission to make the gifts I give something that has meaning beyond the item or day. In my search for gifts that keep on giving, I've put together a list of causes that I think will both steal the show at your Secret Santa exchange and may also change the lives of others next door or around the world. Some you've heard of and others you probably haven't, but their stores are full of treasures from shoes to jewelry to livestock!

If you have other ideas that I've missed in my extensive (not really) research, please respond in the comments section so we can all reap the benefits!

1. TOMS Shoes
We've all heard of TOMS Shoes. For that reason, I almost didn't include it on my list, but it's just such a great cause! And every new style they create is cuter than the last. TOMS Shoes was started in 2006 when founder Blake Mycoskie met children in Argentina and saw a major need for shoes to protect their little feet. He created TOMS, which matches every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes given to children in need all over the world.

2. Falling Whistles
This is a cause that has me all shook up. I can't tell their story better than they can, so please take a minute (literally) to watch this video explaining this organization dedicated to advocating for child soldiers in the Congo. Then buy a whistle to protest the cruelty, and 100% of profits will go toward rehabilitating child soldiers.

3. Heifer International
If you and your family would prefer to pass on exchanging gifts, but still want to keep the spirit of giving, Heifer International is a great organization that gives families all over the world a chance to become self-sufficient. They give gifts of livestock (funded by donations from viewers like you...) and training to families in an effort to teach them how to generate income and food with the animals they are given. They are then asked to give one of the animal's offspring to another family in need. You can purchase a heifer, a goat, a flock of chicks or a water buffalo (really.), to name a few.

4. Shop the Rainforest
If saving the planet is your thing, then I have a super easy way to do something NOW. The sponsors of this organization donate money for every click generated on the website's homepage. Just go to the link above and click on the 'Click here to give - It's FREE' button. I just clicked and was told that I have just saved 11.4 sq. ft. of rainforest habitat for wildlife. Bam. If you want to do more, you can purchase jewelry, apparel, accessories and more in the site's store. Some of these items are made by people from places like Haiti and Darfur who are trying to earn a living and break the cycle of poverty.

5. Dancing Deer Baking Co.
Maybe eating sweets is your thing. It is most certainly MY thing. Or perhaps you get your jollies by giving sweets (to people like me?). The Dancing Deer Baking Co. uses all-natural ingredients to bake their tasty made-from-scratch treats. And they deliver said baked goods To. Your. House. As if that weren't enough - they have created The Sweet Home Project aimed at helping battle homelessness through scholarships for those struggling in poverty. They donate 35% of the retail price of goods in their Sweet Home goodies and gifts line to The Sweet Home Project year-round.

6. (Product)RED
This is another one of those that we have probably all heard of, but that I want to tell you about anyway! (RED) partners with huge brands like Gap and Converse and creates some really sweet products that you can shop through on their website. Up to 50% of the profits on these products are given to the Global Fund to support HIV and AIDS programs in Africa.

7. World of Good
If you're looking for some Fair Trade and super cute gifts, you MUST check out this site, which is a partner of eBay. A lot of the products are made by local artisans around the world and your purchases help them make a living and get out of poverty.

Shop with and 20% of your purchase is donated back to the non-profit, school, or private foundation of your choice. They have all kinds of products, from jewelry to home decor.

9. Starfish Project
The Starfish Project is aimed at providing income, education and support to women who have come out of exploitation and abuse. The jewelry listed on the website is hand-crafted by the women in Starfish Project's shelter, who are paid a salary that keeps them off the streets and in healthy community. 100% of the profits on the items go toward supporting the women. This jewelry is really funky and cool, and a lot of it is $20 or less!

10. Apparent Project
The Apparent Project is another jewelry-making project that supports local artisans in Haiti working to beat poverty that is obviously abundant in the still-recovering country. Most use recycled paper, cardboard and beads to create really unique necklaces and bracelets. Right now, you can host jewelry parties to sell the jewelry on behalf of the artisans. Their online store is coming soon!

I hope this makes your Christmas shopping more fun and rewarding this year, friends. I can't wait to hear about your fun buys!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

archive: justice for the congo

It’s a place where justice often takes a backseat to survival; a place wrought with chaos and hurt; a place where rape is commonplace, but often leaves women with broken spirits and bodies permanently damaged. This place is Goma, in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

(Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters) (photo from here)

Goma, along with many other African cities and villages, has seen violence and corruption that has shaken the very foundation of the justice system that was designed to protect it. The conflicts in Congo and nearby African regions are causing a loss of life quickly approaching that of the Holocaust.

There often seems to be no hope for such a war torn country, but hope is very present in a group of American lawyers thousands of miles away from this small African region. Hope that justice would be in the hands of men and women devoted to protecting those left in their care.

(Photo from here)

A group from Watermark Community Church in Dallas was well aware of the injustices in Goma and were looking for ways to help. Van Beckwith, a leader of the Watermark Justice team and the Watermark Operations team, didn’t imagine he would be packing his things and traveling to one of the most dangerous places in the world to buy a group of African lawyers dinner. But in the fall of 2006, he was boarding a plane with a group of Watermark elders with plans to do just that.

In the months before the trip, Van had spoken with a friend about issues of justice and Christianity, and was pointed to a book by Gary Haugen, founder of the International Justice Mission, entitled The Good News About Injustice. IJM’s focus is on working with local governments to seek justice for those who have fallen victim to slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression.

“I started reading about how God is a God of justice, and I immediately began seeing the parallels between that principle and being a lawyer,” he said. “Gary talks about the fact that God doesn’t have another plan other than us being here on this earth. There is no Plan B. We have to be the hands and feet of justice.”

When invited to accompany a group of elders going to Goma, Congo, on an exploratory trip, Van did not accept immediately. The team’s purpose was to see the needs in Goma and to pray about how and if Watermark should be working with the leadership of the country. He didn’t know much about the region, so he did some research.

“It seemed like a very far off, mysterious kind of place,” he said. “I went to the U.N. and State Department websites and found out that Goma was not really a place you should be going. At the time, the largest U.N. peacekeeping force was there. 17,000 of what they call ‘blue helmets.’”

After his research, and despite the danger involved, Van accepted the invitation to travel to Goma – on one condition. He wanted to meet with judges and lawyers there to talk about what they could do to improve the justice system in their country.

“It seemed like a very lawless place,” he said. “And it seemed very logical that if there were Christian lawyers and judges – or even nonbelievers – that would stand up and be about justice, it would make a huge impact. It would perhaps make a bigger impact than anything else.”

With the help of ALARM (African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministry), a group of local lawyers and judges gathered for dinner. Van’s hope was to encourage them to take a stand to right the injustices occurring in their country, and to let them know they were not alone.

He didn’t know what to expect when he walked into a room of about 40 young Africans looking at him with eyes full of discomfort and skepticism.

“They had their arms crossed and were just looking at me like, ‘What’s he trying to sell?’ or ‘What’s he trying to take?’” he said.  “I told them flat out, ‘I don’t have a book. I don’t have a video. I don’t have anything to sell you. I just wanted to buy you dinner.’ And you could see they all started to relax.”

Van and others presented the Gospel to this group of justice professionals. They talked about how God loves justice and how Christians are called to care for orphans and widows.

“In the course of a few hours, we saw these people come alive and realize that they could make a difference in this lawless land,” he said. “These are people who are laying their lives on the line if they’re going to do what we’re asking them to do.”

This was the first time these judges and lawyers had been brought together to talk through some of the issues they faced every day. It was a breakthrough that was needed to spark a conversation about what it means to be a lawyer and a Christian.

When Van arrived back in the states, he approached several other lawyers in the Watermark community, including Rick Howard and Jeff Ward. He spoke with them about his experience and encouraged them to start thinking about going to Africa to build on the progress that was made.

“We needed to get another group of lawyers over there and see if we could build something that will out-sustain us,” he said. “We want Africans to run Africa.”

In the fall of 2007, another group of lawyers traveled to Goma to shepherd the men and women struggling with their faith in a broken system. Jeff Ward, Watermark’s director of external focus, was stirred by Van’s experience and traveled to Goma on a second trip. Jeff practiced law in Dallas for about 14 years before joining the Watermark staff. He was just as passionate about encouraging young African lawyers to be about God’s calling for justice.

(Photo from here)
Jeff met with members of the International Justice Mission’s field office in Kingali, Rwanda, and spent some time with a group of Christian lawyers.

“We talked through some of the things that they struggle with on a daily basis, like bribery,” he said. “They struggle with what it means to be a Christian and a lawyer when your clients expect you to bribe the judges and the judges expect to be bribed. If you’re not part of that practice, you’re practicing law behind the eight ball.”

In response to their questions, Jeff said they told them what they knew was truth.

“We were diving into scripture and what God has to say about justice issues and how we want to be passionate about what God is passionate about,” he said. “We know from Micah 6:8 that there’s a short list of what God wants us to be passionate about, and at the top of that list is to promote justice. That’s something we can do as Christian lawyers, whether we’re in Africa or Dallas.”

After seeing for himself the need for dialog and instruction, Jeff came back to the states and began planning the next trip to Goma. In March 2008, six Dallas lawyers went back to Goma to continue their work with the judges and lawyers in the trenches of a war on the people of Congo.

“The people of Goma inherited a lot of turmoil from the Rwandan genocide,” Jeff said. “They got the refugees and the rebels who perpetrated that genocide, but they don’t have the leadership to resolve the conflict.”

The group assisted with leadership development training and conflict resolution training in an effort to equip African lawyers and judges to maintain and uphold justice in their courtrooms and in their country.

While important work is being done in Goma, Van and Jeff agree that it is Africans that should be leading Africa.

“To me, part of what I want I want to be remembered for is building into men and women who, over there, can be leaders,” Van said. “The reality is that Dallas lawyers – lawyers with Watermark Justice – are too far away to affect daily change over there. But we can build into people’s lives and tell them that their lives matter and that we love them and that we’re going to equip them. And then we have to leave it up to God to do whatever God is going to do.”

Jeff said he sees in these men and women a group who will do what is necessary to right the wrongs in their country.

"It really is a group of highly-passionate, motivated, strong-believing guys and gals over there with a heart to transform their country for Christ," he said.

(Photo from here)

Monday, November 15, 2010

hello, my name is debbie. debbie downer.

I have stories I want to tell you all, but they're not stories that will make you laugh or smile. I like to make people smile. I LOVE it, actually. I sometimes hesitate to share what's on my heart because it won't make you happy. It's not funny, crafty or entertaining. I sometimes see the really fun and hysterical blogs of other women and I just wish I were those things about 1 million times more than I am. I've stared at my computer and tried to think of things to talk about that will make you want to keep coming back for the same reasons I love reading their blogs. But much of what I REALLY want to talk about are things that are really important to me, but that are more somber in nature. I think they're worth sharing, but I just don't want to be dubbed a Debbie Downer.

But here's the deal. (Yes, we are about to have a DTR on my blog.) My calling in this life is very clear to me. I'm not a doctor, a contractor or a wealthy donor. I wish I could build a house or heal a wound, but I don't know how. I don't have a lot of material things to offer the hurting people in this world, although I know God can and will use me beyond my skill set. I can write, though, and I have a non-negotiable need/calling to tell the stories of the oppressed and hurting. I will give a voice, however small, to the voiceless and be an advocate for the forgotten and abused. And sometimes those stories are not easy to hear. Or easy for me to tell. But I'll tell them anyway, because I believe that you want and need to know about the pain of your brothers and sisters in this world. I believe that your heart will respond like mine does to the hurting. I have to believe that because I believe that there is hope and beauty in humanity.

We live in a culture that has done a fairly good job of hiding the oppressed and victimized people of this world in dark corners. My goal/passion/pursuit is to put the world's outcasts right in front of us, under bright, shiny light, so we can see their faces and understand their pain. To me, the most effective way to encourage someone to sacrifice their comfort for the good of another is to get them face-to-face with a hurting person. I believe that, if you let someone stare into the eyes of an orphan, they will respond with compassion, and that introducing them to a trafficking victim or poor single mother will incite generosity and courage.

So that's what I'm going to try to do. I hope you'll be encouraged and challenged, and I know you will encourage and challenge me as well. This will still be a place of joy and hope, but at times will also be a place of pain and hurt. That's what life looks like - brokenness and redemption.

Well, this post was supposed to be about Halloween. But here we are. I'll be posting a few stories I've written in the past few months. But for today, here a few of my favorite blogs - some cheerful and creative, others hard and challenging.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

veterans day

I'm still not ready to talk about my Yoga fail. Don't ask.

I just can't let this day go by without showing some love to soldiers past and present on Veterans Day. I am so incredibly thankful that there are people in this world who would put the greater good above their own. I often doubt my ability to do so.

Many in my family have offered their service to this country, including both my grandfathers and my big brother. While they would have my respect and my love if they were all interior designers (although I'm thankful they're NOT), my heart bursts with greater pride because of their bravery and sacrifice. It has given more meaning to the small freedoms I enjoy every day.

Mom, big bro Matt, Dad
I hope we can all take this day to remember not only the success stories, but the sad ones as well. The reality is that war wreaks havoc on a person, physically and emotionally. And those are not marks that can always be healed quickly or completely. Many men and women are struggling desperately in this life as a direct result of their sacrifice for us. Remember that today and do whatever you can to thank the past and present soldiers in your life. You have no idea what they have experienced, and neither do I.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans has posted these statistics and facts about veterans today. Here are the most staggering to me.

Who are homeless veterans?
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states the nation’s homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly five percent being female. The majority of them are single; come from urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. About one-third of the adult homeless population are veterans.

How many homeless veterans are there?
Although flawless counts are impossible to come by – the transient nature of homeless populations presents a major difficulty – VA estimates that 107,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Over the course of a year, approximately twice that many experience homelessness. Only eight percent of the general population can claim veteran status, but nearly one-fifth of the homeless population are veterans.

Don't forget about this group of men and women. They deserve and need our support!

On a more positive note, you must watch the video below at least 8 times. You might cry. I may have ruined my shirt.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

the unknown

The first time I knew I wanted to adopt, I had just turned 18. I was in Romania, and the team I was with visited a children's hospital in Bucharest. I remember walking into an old, white building near the city center, and was immediately taken by the smell of urine and the lack of light. We walked slowly room-by-room as the nurses spoke broken English and told us about their babies. We ended up in a small room with cribs lined up end-to-end and from wall-to-wall. Most of the babes were asleep, but some squawked their hellos and looked up at us with giant, searching eyes, and I wondered what was going on behind them. Were they afraid? Were they in pain? Would they smile and laugh like so many children I knew? Where are their parents?

In that room with a window to the rest of the city, I met a little boy named Patrica. He sat in his crib, not smiling, but not upset either. I will never forget those big brown eyes that looked like a cave. I was told to hug him and cuddle with him and talk to him. My American mind couldn't understand why they needed us there so desperately, but the nurses told us a story of heartbreak. This hospital was severely understaffed, as are many others in Romania and countries like it. The babies were often left for hours without the love and affection that every child deserves and desperately needs to grow and be happy. There just weren’t enough hands. Even more unfathomable as I looked at the little faces around me, they told us that some parents dropped their children off with minor illnesses and never came back. This hospital was quickly becoming an orphanage.

When I lifted Patrica from his bed, he didn’t fight against a stranger’s squeeze. He looked at me and clung, and I was head over heels. All afternoon, on a blanket in a green courtyard under the trees, we breathed fresh air and held each other. He was quiet, lethargic even, but he sat with his head on my chest and his little arms wrapped around me. My heart was ripped to shreds by this little boy with deep eyes. We laughed and played and I smelled his head (Have. Mercy.), but as the day went on, I was overwhelmed with the reality that, at the end of this day - a beautiful, awful day - I would leave.

I would go back to my comfortable American life, never wanting for love or food or shelter, and I would never see Patrica again. I would never know if he became well, if he would be comforted when he cries, if he had a mama who loves him. This thought nearly broke me. Helpless only begins to describe the feelings my 18-year-old self wrestled with that day. What could I do?

I didn't want him to see me cry, so I began to pray over the little boy in my arms as I paced with him under the trees. I repeated the same words over and over and over as I walked in the small hospital yard with a child I wanted so badly to be okay. "Lord, please bring people into his life who will love him and protect him and teach him to be a man that follows You." It was all I knew to say in a situation I didn’t understand.

I don't know what happened to Patrica. I did leave that day, and I never saw him again. Today, he would be about 7 years old. I don't know if his parents ever came back. I desperately hope they did. But there are plenty of kids in that hospital whose parents never came, and millions more in orphanages all over the world. In reality, Patrica is one child thousands of miles away. But, to me, he is a child I have prayed for and thought about long after the afternoon we sat together on a blanket, and he is also the one I think about when I hear statistics like this:
143 MILLION orphans around the world.
5,760 children become orphans every day.
250,000 children are adopted every year.
But, more than 14 million grow up as orphans and age out of the system without families every year.
These are not just numbers. These are little boys like Patrica, with big brown eyes and hearts that need to be loved.

These are also teenage girls like Lacra, who walked with me arm-in-arm, peppered me with questions about America and who ran to me with a massive smile and a bear hug because we saw each other in our eyes. She aged out of her orphanage in Bucharest shortly after I left. Sometimes, girls like her do well on their own. Other times, they resort to selling themselves because they don't think there is another way. Just like Patrica, I don't know what happened to Lacra after the weeks I spent with her making bracelets and holding hands. I pray that she was one of the lucky ones.

We have to do something. Even knowing what I do and seeing the faces of orphans personally, I have to fight against the complacency that comes with comfort. It’s so tempting to look away because the looking - the active, I-want-to-know looking - is painful. But we have to protect the most vulnerable in our world and do our job as the Church. It's estimated that, in the U.S., there are about 120,000 orphans and 300,000 churches. I won't do the math for you, because I know you get the point. And I'm not going to say that everyone should adopt. There are a lot of reasons why that would be a foolish statement. But there are even more ways that you can care for orphans that are just as effective as adoption. Click here to learn more about what YOU can do, no matter your life-stage or calling. Their lives are at stake. And they are so much more than numbers.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

a Yogi in the making...

Yes, lovelies, you heard right. I'm embarking upon a journey. A journey of Yoga and meditation and hopefully a combination of the two. This is week 1, so my journey involves a lot of falling, twisting, dosing off and saying 'Namaste' awkwardly to myself in my living room. Also, I think I dislocated my baby toe. No pain, no gain.

I have attempted this feat once before, but quit. Immediately. I had been looking for something to bring a little serenity at the end of a stressful day, and what I discovered was this: Yoga is HARD. And it requires coordination and balance. I have neither of those things in large quantities and it seems that I use most of my reserves during the day when I try really hard to not fall down in public. You can imagine what it's like for me to try downward facing dog. There is a LOT of face-planting going on at this point.

Downward Dog. Photo from here.
If you've ever tried Yoga, you know that some of the "poses" go against what a body would EVER want to do if given a choice. I'm hoping that will change though, and that my body will soon crave those bends and twists. But I'm no Yogi. Not yet.

Ultimately, and beyond the physical benefits, I'm hoping that this will help in my prayer life. I have the attention span of that lovable dog in 'UP' and I have a maddeningly hard time shutting my brain off. So my times of meditation (while they are few and far between as it is) tend to sound more like a diary entry than a dialog with God:

Well, God, another day has passed. I can't believe it's October already! I LOVE what you've done with the trees. They look really great in that orangey tint you seem to lean toward this time of year. But anyway, work was hard today. Nothing bad. Just busy, I guess. Don't get me wrong - I'm thankful for my job. Especially in this economy. And, by the way, when do you think You'll be able to get that all sorted out again?

Well, that's all that's going on with me today. I'd love to hear from You if You're not too busy. 

... No? M'kay. Talk soon!

I crave a prayer life with depth. Desperately. I would like to develop the ability to sit silently and quiet my mind long enough to give God a chance to get a word in edgewise. I know I can use the discipline (and flexibility) that this practice will develop in me, and I'm pretty pumped to give it another try. I have a few goals that I would like to meet by December 1.

1. Practice at least once a day, every day
2. Improve flexibility
3. Improve balance
4. Learn how to breathe deeply without getting lightheaded
5. Get some respite from my mind's incessant chatter
6. Learn how to pray deeply and meditate on who God is
7. Learn how to LISTEN to God

Think I can do it? Although, the real question is do you think I can do THIS:

photo by milopeng on flickr

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

confessions of a doubting thomas-devereaux

I nearly fell off the wagon again, folks. I LOVE blogging and sharing my life with all two of you, my readers. But I struggle with consistency in, um, every single area of my life, and this blog is no exception. Apparently. But I'm back. Because I'm determined to overcome my whimsical, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants personality and not quit.

Now, can I be honest with you? (My husband says that this implies I've been lying all along, but I promise that's not true.) The truth is, I've very recently had a crisis of faith. It would have been more transparent of me to come out with that while still in crisis, but I don't know if I'm ready to be that real with you yet. To be honest (hush, Rob), I was a little bit afraid that the journey I found myself on would end badly and that my blog would be a very sad registry of my weak faith and ultimate betrayal of Christ. Can you say DRAMA? But I want to talk about it. Even the parts where I doubted everything. Because I think it's important, and because I know I'm not the only one who had/has doubts about their faith in Christ and what this life is about.

Another thing I also didn't share with many/most people, and something that has a lot to do with my crisis of faith, is that I had two heart procedures over the summer. Sorry for all the secrecy. I don't like to talk when I'm scared. Coping by silent suffering since 1986 - that's me. The short version is that I have a condition called Atrial Tachycardia, which is actually pretty common - although mostly in men over the age of 50, or 87. I don't know. Essentially, certain spots in my heart send out electrical impulses at inappropriate times and cause my heart rate to go through the roof for no apparent reason. It can be dangerous, but it mostly just limits your ability to do a lot of physical activity and, in my case, was just messing with my pure athletic prowess. Unacceptable.

So in June, I had my first catheter ablation procedure, and the next came in July. It's not a major surgery or anything, but I would be put under general anesthesia for 3-6 hours while they threaded an electrode into the veins in my legs and into my heart. They then would burn or freeze the problem areas & create scar tissue on my heart so the electrical misfires would stop. No biggie. I was feeling great about the procedure until the anesthesiologist and cardiologist popped in to mention there was a chance I could DIE that day. (NOTE: They probably didn't say it quite like that, but any time you're in a room with at least six people and you're the ONLY ONE not wearing underwear, things get significantly more dramatic in your mind.) Once they were finished saying whatever they said after "...and in rare cases, death," I had approximately 5 seconds before they gave me a syringe full of happy juice. I was still puckering my lips to kiss my man when everything got a little blurry, so I didn't have a chance to deeply process the fact that I was utterly terrified of death.

*Spoiler*: I didn't die that day - or during the second procedure in July. But the fact that I couldn't say with confidence that I knew what would come with death in my last moments of consciousness was incredibly unnerving and caused me to take a step back and think about what I actually believe. Not what I claim to believe. What I actually believe. It turns out that I wasn't really sure. I began to wonder and let doubts fester in my mind about how the story of Christ came about. Heaven was a great story. Jesus, while perhaps real and historical, was also a convenient protagonist in that story. I wondered if it hadn't all been made up in an effort to help us deal with the fear that comes in moments like mine in the hospital. Had I been a little more confident in the story, it probably would have been very comforting to me.

I wrestled with these thoughts for weeks. My detachment from God became more and more pronounced and the void seemed more and more insurmountable. I wanted desperately to believe in God and to fall in love with Him again, but I needed to believe in something believable. So I started doing some research. I let my mind work out the things that seemed illogical. During the process, I read a book called The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. He was an atheist and an investigative journalist specializing in legal cases, and he set out to disprove Christianity and the man it worships as God. Seems like a great place for a wavering Christian to start, right? It was.

What I learned when I allowed myself to ask hard questions, and what Strobel learned through his journey as well, was that God asks us to believe in not only the believable but the provable as well. I won't go through the OVERWHELMING evidence for Christ and His resurrection here, but I have walked away from what became several weeks of questioning with a confidence in the truth of the Bible. It is not a bedtime story, and it is not a myth that has grown in strength and absurdity for thousands of years. It's an historically accurate book that can be cross-referenced by non-Biblical sources and that has been scrutinized by the sharpest minds and most brutal critics. It's trustworthy. More trustworthy than any other tried and tested religion in existence today. By far.

As I've come out on the other side of this season of doubt, I don't feel 100% closer to God. But that was never the intent in my questioning. I've come out on the other side with complete trust, which is better than feelings. God has shown me that, even in the dry, emotionless times that will inevitably come in my walk with Him, His Word is still Truth. I'm learning to not allow my (wildly varying) emotions rock my core beliefs. The Bible is constant and provable and reliable. That doesn't change. Knowing that has given me the freedom to have dry times without the panic that has traditionally come. I tend to jump from not feeling God to assuming He doesn't exist. (Again with the drama.) But He has proven Himself trustworthy and consistent. My last prayer in my journey through doubt was spent telling God that, no matter where I am and no matter if I feel Him completely or not at all, nothing is going to change between us. My feelings will not control my belief. My feelings will amplify and supplement my belief, but never control it.

I'm not sure what I would feel/think if I were on a hospital bed again today, being told that my future past this moment was unknown. I'd like to think I would be singing Amazing Grace and telling my family that they shouldn't worry, but I don't know that I'm quite there yet. But the reality is that none of our futures are guaranteed past this moment. Does this give you a sense of urgency to figure this out?! Me too. I believe that the Bible is true, and that I can be confident in where my eternal future will play out, so I'm not going to panic. But I am going to work on getting my feelings to line up with my mind so that I can rejoice and not fear.

In the final pages of The Case for Christ, after he has presented his most thought-out and air-tight questions to Christian scholars and students, Strobel writes:

"By November 8, 1981, my legend thesis, to which I had doggedly clung for so many years, had been thoroughly dismantled. What's more, my journalistic skepticism toward the supernatural had melted in light of the breathtaking historical evidence that the resurrection of Jesus was a real, historical event. In fact, my mind could not conjure up a single explanation that fit the evidence of history nearly as well as the conclusion that Jesus was who he claimed to be: the one and only Son of God.

The atheism I had embraced for so long buckled under the weight of historical truth. It was a stunning and radical outcome, certainly not what I had anticipated when I embarked on this investigative process. But it was, in my opinion, a decision compelled by the facts.

All of which led me to the "So what?" question. If this is true, what difference does it make? There were several obvious implications.
  • If Jesus is the Son of God, his teachings are more than just good ideas from a wise teacher; they are divine insights on which I can confidently build my life.
  • If Jesus sets the standard for morality, I can now have an unwavering foundation for my choices and decisions, rather than basing them on the ever-shifting sands of expediency and self-centeredness.
  • If Jesus did rise from the dead, he's still alive today and available for me to encounter on a personal basis.
  • If Jesus conquered death, he can open the door of eternal life for me, too.
  • If Jesus has divine power, he has the supernatural ability to guide me and transform me as I follow him.
  • If Jesus personally knows the pain of loss and suffering, he can comfort and encourage me in the midst of the turbulence that he himself warned is inevitable in a world corrupted by sin.
  • If Jesus loves me as he says, he has my best interests at heart. That means I have nothing to lose and everything to gain by committing myself to him and his purposes.
  • If Jesus is who he claims to be (and remember, no leader of any other major religion has even pretended to be God), as my Creator he rightfully deserves my allegiance, obedience, and worship.
I remember writing out these implications on my legal pad and then leaning back in my chair. I had reached the culmination of my nearly two-year journey. It was finally time to deal with the most pressing question of all: "Now what?""

- Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, pg 266-267

Thursday, August 19, 2010

10 reasons I love living in the 'hood

I grew up in a middle-class subdivision considered to be the "rich" part of town - although, it was in an area of California where I'm not entirely sure there actually was a "rich" part. It was very safe (except that one time...), and we had a very comfortable lifestyle. I didn't buy brand names all the time, but I had most things I wanted - except a cat that wasn't frighteningly agressive toward me.

So when I moved to Texas, went to a snooty private school (sorry about that again, mom & dad..), got married & moved into a lake-view apartment that I loved, I was a happy, comfortable camper. Just like always.

Then we moved to Dallas. God tricked me (no, really, He did.) into moving to the 'hood. I didn't realize it until the papers were signed, our stuff was moved and walls were painted. I just walked outside one day to see that I wasn't in comfy middle-class America anymore, and it was a little frightening. Although, still not as frightening as my cat ambushing me in the hallway. What frightened me wasn't the people or the place - just the major change that I knew it would have to have on me. This place is full of people struggling to make ends meet, school-age kids wandering the neighborhood when they should be in a classroom and parks that were desolate rather than joyful. But these are His people - people that are close to His heart, and those for which He says He is an advocate. I'm not sure I ever want to go back to middle-class America with its green grass, clean parks and shiny cars. Really, I don't. Because I feel like I can see His heart better from here.

There are times that this neighborhood has given me a great big, ugly look at myself and the things I've thought were important. I am SO THANKFUL for this. There is a reason that Jesus talks about it being harder to get to Heaven when you're rich. Money is such a distraction and makes you lose sight of reality. I get to see reality every day, and it is life-changing. It has to be. We are seeing that life-change as we dig in to deep relationships with our neighbors and walk through hard times with them. This is my home and exactly where I'm supposed to be! I didn't (and still don't) always see it that way, and I crave the comfort of smooth sidewalks and pretty things, but I know this is worth it. In the spirit of seeing the positive, which I've struggled with lately, here are a few reasons why I LOVE living here:

1. Living next to a major highway is kind of like having a beach house. The sound of cars zooming past puts me to sleep like nothing else (except Benadryl). Every now and then the driver of a semi truck will honk his horn, but I just pretend it's a sick seagull. The only real difference is that you can't throw on a swimsuit and play in traffic.

2. Walmart is right around the corner, always open and I'm always the fanciest one there. Sometimes, it's comforting to know that, in some places, it's still ok to pick up bread and peanut butter in your jammie pants. And that's really what life's about.

3. I have a pretty promising future in local government. We have attended approximately one local government function, and it happened to take place in a parking lot. However, by the end of the 30 minute session, we were offered two seats on the board of the Parks & Rec Department, by a woman who is running for mayor. We gots connections.

4. Dinner parties usually get planned at someone else's house. It's not that I don't like to host. I really do. It's just that sometimes it's easier to maintain focus at events and Bible studies when people don't jump up and run outside because they just saw a guy on a horse trot past your front door.

5. Everything I could ever need is within walking (or biking) distance. Within 1.5 miles of my house, there is a Walmart, a Sonic, a Blockbuster, a McDonald's (just for the ice cream cones), 14 dentist offices, 7 walk-in medical care offices and a really sketchy convenience store. What else is there?

6. I'm (kind of, and very slowly) overcoming my fear of large bugs. In the beginning, I was catching roaches under cups, putting phone books on top (so they can't escape) and waking up my husband to tell him it will be waiting for him in the morning. Today, I throw the can of Raid at them from a distance and promptly call the authorities (Terminix). Progress.

7. Vacuuming doesn't take very long. It takes about 10 minutes to vacuum my 1,000 square feet of paradise.

8. Walking outside is like cracking open the Urban Dictionary, which makes me impressive among my city friends. I led a pretty sheltered life as a kid, and I'm making up for it now. My 14-year-old neighbor is teaching me so much, including the fact that I'm old and have bad taste in music. Psh. Whatev.

9. I know where to get fresh poultry. And goats. About two blocks from my house, there is a goat farm (or just a family that likes a LOT of goats) and a herd (gaggle? flock? pack?) of chickens. No, I'm not planning to eat them. But I know where I'm going for dinner if the world falls apart and they close Walmart.

10. People are very real. I've never met a group of folks who are as raw as the ones I get to see and talk to every day - whether they're saying "Hello," "Thank you" or "What are you doing here?" I don't ever have to question their sincerity.

I love this place and the people around us. It's taken me a while, but I am thoroughly thankful for the chance to get out of my middle-class state of mind and to dive into a neighborhood that challenges my worldview and simply will not allow me to get swept away in the culture of Dallas.