Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The French Were Wrong

Two blonde veterinarian students review for a large exam at the coffee table to my left. Tucking their hair into long pony tails, they discuss bovine disorders and throw out rhino-something terms that leave me in the dust.

Nestled into a corner beside me, a slender woman with short silver hair and a teal parka rustles papers about World War II nurse rosters, and I glimpse attendance sheets and columns of names. My curiosity mounts and I try to restrain myself.

In the hair salon yesterday, I sat under a black plastic shawl as the stylist cut my hair. The beautiful Lebanese-American with a striking nose and tempestuous black curls tied behind a yellow bow told me stories of a five-year old her, moving into a step-mom's home who "never wanted kids."

I blinked back tears, too embarrassed to cry at Great Clips, while my stylist matter-of-factly said, "I just tried to be gone a lot. I watched the people at my friends' houses to see how relationships should be."

I bit down tears, and opened up too, saying how thankful I am for God's gentle love for us and work on me. We talked of our families and hopes and I remarked on her compassion and involvement in her sisters' lives.

A day later, and she still comes to mind. I smile and think of her resilience, and pray for her.

Growing up as a young American in West Africa and France, I soaked up those cultures. Returning to the United States twenty years ago, I still find myself a product of those rich cultures and experiences. One French social law that slips into my actions some days says to not engage in extended conversations with strangers, since it may trivialize or cheapen the concept of friendship. (Can you see why the French are mistakenly perceived as aloof or cold sometimes to foreigners?) The French themselves don't mind breaking this rule now, though, and I remind myself to also.

Stop and see the people around you today, friend. The coffee barista with the Austrian accent, the college students with their upcoming exams, the tired mom in the checkout lane who may visibly relax at the comment of how cute her toddler is, and your lovely hair stylist with untamed curls.

Stop. See them. Smile into their eyes, and receive the gift of meeting them. 

Linking with Ann, I count gifts of people today at A Holy Experience

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

To All Of Us With Rings

Photo credit to K. Overson
There's something about watching wedding vows from shiny wooden benches in the sunlight. Grey storm clouds that hung ominously overhead all afternoon, suddenly slipped away, and family and friends straightened in the unexpected heat. The bride, with a cut-out lacy back repeated her "I do" vows in giddy joy, and I watched her fair skin pinken in the hot September sun. The groom in swirled dark hair stared steady at his bride, proud wonder and amazement seeping from him.

A violinist, guitarist and pianist joined several vocalists in the golden grass to our left, and music floated under blue skies. Bride and groom spoke promises to each other, and I leaned into my husband's side, tracing his gold ring on his tanned finger. He turned and glanced at me, smiling softly, brown hair streaked with slight silver now. We kissed gently, and turned back to watch the vows.

There's something about watching wedding vows from shiny wooden benches in the sunlight that raises in me joy, nostalgia, and gratitude, and yet an awareness this weekend of my own brokenness and flaws. The pastor spoke of sacrificial love that was willing to die for a spouse, and yet often our hardest sacrificial choices are the day-to-day smaller ones. I sat in sunlight, a light flashed onto my own discrepancies.

We huddled close that afternoon as twilight fell, the sunlight disappeared, and grey clouds rushed in. Over wedding toasts, bride and groom games, and guest laughter and conversations, the cold crept in. We dug out fleeces and blankets, sharing between friends, and draping ourselves in overly-large jackets to stay warm. Sipping caramel coffee creations and Indian spiced chai's, my man and I sat close, laughing with others, and exchanging glances through the night.

On the car ride home that night, we talked quietly, affirming love for each other, apologizing for our brokenness some days, and leaning in close. "God is bigger than all this, Jen," Mark said, picturing my struggles, his struggles, and everyone's struggles. "He is patient and good."

This morning, he melts chocolate chips into our home-made hot chocolates, and we hug and pray together before I head out the door. We text a few times, intentional and kind, building each other up, and speaking truth into our relationship.

God is bigger than any of our sins or bad habits or attitudes. He is patient with us, forgiving, and good. He is fighting for us, friend. And marriages are worth it.

Linking with Ann at A Holy Experience

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Of Brothels and Cameras

He sits there playing Lego Lord of the Rings, on an office chair that's three times his size. Small shoulders, sun-kissed blonde hair that's too long and falls into his eyes, and a serious profile on my tiny five-year old man. I see him across the room from me, and everything in me aches and hurts, and I feel like throwing up.

In the comments of an internet post I've been reading on the horrors of human trafficking, a man shares the terrible truth of a tiny four-year old boy who's a victim of multiple adult men. It enrages me, pulling a fierceness from deep inside me that I don't often see. Across the living room, my five-year old sits, oblivious to his tearful mom, and I push quiet sobs down, and race to get a grip on my nausea.

Sometimes it's too much, huh? We read of atrocities in Asia, in Eastern Europe, and in our own state, and it wearies the soul. And yet, to turn away is to become party to it. 

Jamie Wright at Jamie the Very Worst Missionary recently wrote about an undercover trip she and her husband participated in to discover the complex issues of human trafficking around the world, and to see what organizations were doing about it. She writes of seeing a 13-year old girl "pressed up against [her] hulking husband." Jamie said: "Everything in me wanted to jump up and scream, 'This is totally a victim of human trafficking. Quick, let's grab her!'" Jamie and her missions pastor husband had to instead restrain themselves and continue to play the (innocent) role of partying tourists, while undercover investigators gathered evidence to rescue underage and trafficked women.

In her post "On Sending My Husband Into Brothels," Laura Parker describes what it's like for the undercover investigators and their families who battle human trafficking around the world. Laura and her husband helped found an organization called The Exodus Road, which is a network of surveillance teams and individuals committed to fighting trafficking. A collection of former police investigators, ex-military, local government and police, legal teams, and brave volunteers collect data, present it, and have rescued 189 victims since July 2012!

I've discovered that fighting human trafficking overseas can be as simple as helping equip an undercover team. They need surveillance equipment, funds for particular operations, and training resources. Want to help? Want to rescue girls, boys, men and women stuck in sexual slavery? Simply contact The Exodus Road and donate towards a camera. Who knew that one way of helping could be so easy.

(I am not an affiliate or or being reimbursed by The Exodus Road in any way, just glad for one way to help.)

International Justice Mission, Compassion International, The Emancipation Network, and many more organizations fight human trafficking either directly or indirectly.  

What are some organizations you've heard about that fight international human trafficking?

Photo credits to Microsoft clip art. 

(Thankful too for men and women who put their lives in danger to rescue the survivors and to prosecute the perpetrators, I link with Ann to count gifts, and Emily at Imperfect Prose.)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sneaking Away with Him

 My moments with him look different each time, it seems.

Sometimes we sneak away, balancing books and journals across a wobbly coffee-shop table. In summer, I'm sipping a cold iced coffee or a bubbly tea, but usually it's just a hot black dark roast coffee, with a tiny room for cream. I slide hair behind my ear pensively, and pull his words close. With Bible and journal wide, I listen, read, and scrawl back in response. He speaks gentle reminders or dictates in full-on learning mode.

Other days, I clear away last night's plates and dewy breakfast milk cups from the table, move kindergarten apple slice Art to the edge, and rinse clean the old cherry-wood table. As the wood dries, I light a nearby candle and turn on soft music, pulling my Bible and journal close. We meet again there, as teens grab snacks behind me and my youngest plays lego battles nearby.

Yesterday, in weary movements, I plopped bowls and pots into frothing steaming water, and mentally scanned my cupboards and fridge for supper ideas. The first week back to school had been fun, exhilarating and exhausting.

"Pray for me to have energy and strength this afternoon, will you?" I typed to a friend who had asked how to pray.

I knew what I needed, knew who I needed to see, but time seemed cramped and short. In an hour and a half, I needed to wash dishes, put supper on the table, and have the family ready to leave for youth group, all without killing anyone. I was uptight, picking fights, complaintful, and embarrassed by my behavior.

Knowing the solution, I stopped, apologized to my family, and asked God for help. Finding an online audio Bible, I plugged in the ipad near the kitchen sink, clicked play and resumed dishes. Words of hope, truth, and perseverance flowed from the ancient Persian story of Nehemiah. Hot water rose high on my wrists as I swabbed and splashed, and this time in God's word spoke healing to my soul.

What about you? What helps you spend time in God's word? What are fun ways you like to do that? I know a friend who likes to run while listening to the Bible on mp3.

On a tiny yellow post-it note that marks my page in the Bible, I have written out excerpts from Psalm 119 ...teach me your decrees. ... I will not neglect your word...Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law (vs. 12, 16, 18). This is my prayer-- for me, and for you today, friend.

Linking with Emily at Imperfect Prose.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Confessions of a HomeSchooling Mom

It didn't seem fair to wake them up early for school on Labor Day, after a late night, so I poured myself another cup of coffee, and relaxed my expectations for the day. This was really more of a school introduction today.

As a homeschooling mom to a ninth grader and a kindergartener, with my eldest off in his first year of college, school looks different this year. It is splashy cellophane-wrapped kindergarten kits of calenders and continents, with colorful alphabet banners, twenty-four-piece People Color crayons, and beautiful multicultural faces from around the world. Kindergarten still sits wrapped in cellophane on the table, though, while my ninth grader and I read Physical Science about atoms and molecules, and my kindergartener plays Wii games downstairs.

Confession 1.) Some days, school doesn't start at 9 am. And I haven't taken a shower yet.
Confession 2.) I am as excited as the students are -- often more so-- at the prospect of new books to read and things to learn.

As more people stream in and out of the kitchen and living room where we are reading, Morgan and I sneak away to a quiet bedroom to continue our science.

Confession 3.) I don't always have all items on hand to do the experiments before we read about it.

"Okay, I'm going to need to find two copper wires for this experiment," I admit sheepishly to my Morgan. "Let's read about it now, and then we'll do it later, okay?... Wow, look! We're actually ripping water molecules apart here! That's cool."

Confession 4.) I love learning along with them.

Lunch comes and goes, with family members fending for themselves in between subjects. The scent of grilling cheese and turkey simmer out from the panini-maker, and chunky apple wedges dot the table. Strawberries and chips are a mid-morning snack.

Dirty dishes line one side of my sink, while clean dishes from last night fill two counters to the left of the sink.

Mammoth zucchini boats were shredded down to towering wet mounds of grated green-striped pulp, and folded into muffins last night. The last of those sweet muffins was gobbled up this morning by the earliest risers.

School supplies adorn my kitchen table in glory, while photographic books of India, China, Mongolia and Japan stack in glossy piles according to country on my floor. Legos and plastic army warriors huddle as toys from the night before, scattered between school piles, and I still haven't started kindergarten yet. I think it will be afternoons, three times a week.

Daughter disappears downstairs, clicking into her internet links on Chinese History and Culture, and writing summaries about Chinese school systems, pagodas, the Hidden City, and more.

My husband and college-age son are out playing tennis today on their day off, while I introduce high school and kindergarten to the ones at home. I text both men, asking them to stop and pick up bread, ice cream and maybe some snacks on the way home.

Confession 5.) We're out of "good" food, my kids say, and lunch requires their creativity, or heating up leftovers.

Silence descends on my home as brains are being stretched and used. And that sound of learning? It's beautiful!

Excuse me as I grab some books, open some cellophaned maps and start kindergarten. I can't wait...

Linking with Ann at A Holy Experience.