Sunday, December 30, 2007

A girl's gotta spa

I savor a "spa day" any time of the year, but after Christmas I'm particularly in the mood to refresh and renew. Maybe its the coming new year that makes me look forward to all things fresh and new. Only I don't have much cash left after Christmas to book a manicure or day spa, so I go the at-home-spa route and I focus on health as much as beauty. If you're longing for a little beauty-time-pampering, maybe you'll get inspired by my basic protocol. Several of my favorite, relatively inexpensive home-spa essentials are hyperlinked below in case you are interested.

First, I fix a really large glass of ice water with lemon slices to sip on while I'm in the tub. Fresh lemon has great detoxing properties (thanks to God).

If I'm not using any scented bath products in the tub, I'll light a scented candle. Otherwise I just turn on some relaxing music. My all-time favorite CD for relaxing is Santorini Splendor by Solitudes. Its an uplifting, vacation-like instrumental with the gentle sounds of the ocean lapping at your door. Ahhhh!

Before filling my bath tub, I use a dry brush on dry skin to do body brushing using a natural bristle body brush. This simulates the lymph and immune system and exfoliates the skin. Supposedly it can help with cellulite also - and who doesn't want a little help with that! Begin by brushing at your feet and slowly work your way up your legs, then your hips, backside and stomach, then your hands and arms to your chest and neck. It is suggested to brush upwards in medium length strokes toward your heart and to brush softly on the areas of your body where your skin is the softest or thinnest. It is also suggested to brush more in a circular motion around the stomach and chest areas. This process doesn't take long - maybe 2-3 minutes - and its invigorating.

Next I take a hot bath with dead sea mineral salts - they're great for your skin and your immune system. (Thanks be to God for the salts too!) I really like the one pictured above by Masada. I get it when it goes on sale in my local grocery or health food store. If you don't have any Dead Sea salts like these, just use Epsom salts , they're really inexpensive and have similar muscle relaxing and detoxing properties. You can add a couple drops of eucalyptus essential oil or peppermint oil to get that refreshing, soothe-your-sinuses scent if you want. I do like my baths really hot, but it need not be hot to dissolve the salts.

The bath is a great time to apply a facial mask. You can use clay or cucumber if you want to go the natural route, or you can purchase a specialty masque to suit your skin's particular needs. But more often than not I choose to just relax bare-faced and let the steam open my pores.

If my hair were dry or damaged, I'd put an intensive conditioner on it while I'm in the bath and wrap my hair with plastic saran wrap and then a towel. I'd use something like Biolage's conditioning balm, but I haven't needed that. After a relaxing soak, I slather on the moisture! My drug store lotion of choice is Curel. Curel recently changed their bottle style and I found 5 of their old bottles on clearance for about $2 each - oh happy day! I buy it on sale because otherwise its like $7 a bottle. I also like Neutrogena's Light Sesame Body Oil , but it will leave skin somewhat greasier than the Curel lotion and it has a definite nutty-sweet scent. Personally, I enjoy its light scent, which lingers for hours on my skin. This bottle of oil will last a long time. With my bath complete, my skin soft, and my favorite robe on, I head to the kitchen and make a cup of decaf green tea to sip during at-home-spa-day-phase-two, which is the nails phase.

In my next post I'll cover my at-home manicures and pedicures. Are your cuticles dry and jagged? Are your heels looking positively prehistoric? I've got some tips coming for you!

Meanwhile, you can get started planning an at-home spa day. You can also post for us any bath, facial or spa products you simply wouldn't want to live without. If you don't have any faves to offer, you can tell us any we should definitely avoid. For instance, when I was a teen I created a home-made hair mask of mayonnaise and oatmeal (whole oats). My shower clogged and it took about 20 minutes of washing to get all that grease out of my hair. I think I smelt like mayo for two days too!

Share your best pampering ideas with us so we can both look and feel mahvolus in 2008!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve reflections

An angel appeared to Mary and told her, "You are blessed, because you believed that the Lord would do what he said." (Luke 1:45)

Mary responded, "Oh, how I praise the Lord. How I rejoice in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and now generation after generation will call me blessed. For he, the Mighty One, is holy, and he has done great things for me. His mercy goes on from generation to generation, to all who fear him. His mighty arm does tremendous things!" (vs. 46-51)

So, believing that the Lord will do what He says He will do is the path to an amazing adventure with God. This is true for anyone in any generation who is willing to follow Him with faith. My response to this truth, like Mary's response was, is to rejoice and thank Him today for who He is, for all He does, and for inviting me along to be part of the story.
Merry Christmas from my heart to yours.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Love is as Love does

I'm back from the greater Baltimore area where I spoke this week and met some new sisters-in-Christ at Mid Atlantic Community Church. The event went quite well and I enjoyed my time with them. My thanks to the women's ministry committee, the audio-video specialists, and most of all to Christ for giving us a reason to gather and celebrate.

I want to share with you a paraphrase of 1st Corinthians that reminds me where to keep my focus as I prepare for the upcoming holidays. Both of my children have birthdays the same week as Christmas, so I can easily get caught up in doing shopping, decorating, wrapping and entertaining. God's word pulls me back to what's real and eternal.

(a paraphrase)

If I decorate my house with poinsettias, bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny ornaments, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing a Christmas ham, arranging beautiful table centerpieces, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another cook.

If I volunteer at the soup kitchen, go caroling at the nursing home, and drop money in the Salvation Army bucket, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

If I set out the nativity, attend a bunch of holiday parties, and sing in the holiday cantata, but do not focus on Christ, I have completely missed the point.

Love stops the cooking, cleaning or wrapping to hug the child.
Love pauses the decorating to kiss the husband.
Love is kind, even when busy or tired.
Love doesn't envy another woman's Christmas china.
Love doesn't yell at the kids to get out of the way, but thanks God for them. Love doesn't give only to those who can return the favor, but rejoices in giving to those who can't.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love always wins.

MP3 players will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust ... but giving the gift of love will endure for all eternity.

In other words, you can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.

I pray today that you and I remember to love amidst all the things we do!

Monday, December 17, 2007

What's that in your hand?

First, let me extend a big southern welcome to gals visiting me from Lysa's blog! I'd pour you a glass of sweet tea but I'm getting ready to board a plane to Baltimore, MD for a Tuesday evening speaking engagement. So I'm guzzling green tea out of a Snapple bottle this morning.

I'm so glad you visited me, and so hoping you'll win today's drawing for the devotional book. Here's the secret deal - if you post a comment here today and you happen to be the winner Lysa draws, I'll throw in a special surprise with your book and Starbucks gift card! Shhh, don't tell, just go post in both places (Lysa's blog and mine).

Now if you haven't seen our devotional book before, it contains 175 of our devotions in a slightly shorter format than our online devotions. I'll give you a little taste of it with an example below.

But first, I'm just going to frankly admit that the holidays can bring chances to come face-to-face with people we may have preferred to avoid. Family gatherings can become prime opportunities for hurt feelings or tempers to flare. We get short-tempered with our spouse, for instance, over little things like which sweater (or t-shirt) he wears for the occasion. Grudges with siblings or cousins are dredged up. Old feelings of competition are sparked. The festivities are dampened, and the light of Christ in us somehow fades. With that in mind, maybe this devotion will be "food for thought" for your next holiday dinner and mine.

*Excerpted from God's Purpose for Every Woman (Harvest House, 2007):

Ice Princess
By Rachel Olsen

People with good sense restrain their anger; they earn esteem by overlooking wrongs. Proverbs 19:11 (NLT)

I gasped as the ice-dancing pair both fell in the final seconds of their routine. They had come out of retirement to skate in the Olympics before their home crowd, and skated well enough in the first round to be in first place heading into the second round of the three-day competition.

Both partners recovered from the fall in time to hit their final pose as the music ended. They headed to center rink where they’re expected to take bows. It was then the real drama began. The woman faced her partner with an intense look. Was she hurt? She stood staring at him for the longest time. The camera angle widened, allowing us to see his face also. At first he looked disappointed, then confused, and then he simply matched her stare.
As the staring contest wore on, the crowd grew quiet and uncomfortable. By this point it was clear she was communicating tremendous disapproval with her icy look. I suspect this man wanted nothing more than to take his partner’s hand, shrug off their shared disappointment, and take their bows – but his manhood was being challenged, in public no less.

Eventually they did bow and head to the “kiss and cry” to await their scores. She still didn’t give it a rest. She was not looking at the scores, crowd, or camera, but mostly glaring over at him in anger. As a skating fan, I’ve seen many drops, mistakes and falls, yet I’ve never seen a partner behave like this afterwards. They dropped from first place to seventh with one round left to skate, and the sun went down on her anger.

The next day the pair entered the arena separately, warmed up separately and didn’t speak a word to each other. You could cut the tension backstage with a knife. This behavior continued until they joined hands on the ice to begin their final routine. Both partners skated beautifully and the world waited to see what her reaction would be. She was pleased, so she dramatically hugged and kissed him. I’ve never seen a clearer picture of performance-based love.

Like this ice princess, I am prone to use the icy silent treatment when I’m mad at my spouse. I can say from experience that it’s not healthy, nor productive. The silent treatment communicates: If you do not please me 100%, you no longer exist in my world. After reading Matthew 5:21-22, I’m guessing Jesus would consider this method of anger-management murderous.

The Bible advises against performance-based love, and advocates grace-based love instead. Proverbs 19:11 explains we should be slow to anger and quick to forgive. The Message puts it this way, “Smart people know how to hold their tongue; their grandeur is to forgive and forget.” We’re also advised to stop mulling over our grievances.

First Corinthians 13 explains that a loving person is not irritable or demanding, and does not carry a grudge (vs. 4-5). After all, it’s hard to be graceful with a grudge in hand. Have you been full of grace lately, or slightly icy?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Crossing the border

Today I'm chewing on the following passage from Mark 12:28-34 in the Message translation:

One of the religion scholars came up. Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question: "Which is most important of all the commandments?"

Jesus said, "The first in importance is, 'Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.' And here is the second: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' There is no other commandment that ranks with these."

The religion scholar said, "A wonderful answer, Teacher! So lucid and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. And loving him with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that's better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!"

When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, "You're almost there, right on the border of God's kingdom."

Why did Jesus consider this man insightful?  Is it because he asked an intelligent question? Nope. It's because when he heard Jesus' answer he recognized that zealously loving God and people is more important in God's eyes than all the money we give, all the church committees we sit on, all the times we fast, or how many verses we can recite by heart.

Not that there is anything wrong with any of those things. They are good in fact. But the single most important trait in God's eyes is being loving. Think for a minute what it means to be a loving person.

What would it look like for you to be a characteristically loving person?

What would it take?  That's what it will take for you to live fully in God's kingdom.

I pray that we will not simply dwell on the border of God's Kingdom - rather we will cross over and enter fully in. Let's jump in feet first without hesitation and live each day within these boundaries God has marked out for us. Let's become great lovers!

Keep your eyes peeled today for opportunities to simply be love to those around you.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Want to Win a free Gift?

Of course you do, who doesn't! My friend Lysa TerKeurst is doing a blog tour giveaway this month called the Cool Christmas Giveaway. Here is how it works: Visit her blog often as she'll be doing new posts daily. Read her (amazing and zany) entries and post a comment. Posting will automatically enroll you for a drawing for that day's cool prize.
Within the next several days I'll be one of the featured sponsors of the tour and I'm giving away a couple of my favorite things. First, a signed copy of the ministry's devotional book God's Purpose for Every Woman, which I know you'll enjoy. One of my great honors is to serve as editor of this book and of our online devotions which touch women's hearts and turn them towards God.

Second, is a Starbucks gift card. Let me just tell you that going to the coffee shop with Lysa is a spiritual exercise. Seriously. As she places her order you have the opportunity to practice the truth of:

Proverbs 29:25, "Fear of man is a dangerous trap, but to trust in God means safety." (TLB)

Lysa's order goes something like this: "I''ll have a White Chocolate Mocha - make it skim, three pumps, no whip, no foam, and extra hot please." You can see the look on the people's face behind the counter and behind us in line. That's when I start to proclaim in faith that I will not fear these people even though they look like they are ready to knock me down as they lunge for Lysa.

I'm a somewhat more simple Starbucks gal ... give me a coffee-frap or a chai tea-frap and I'm a happy girl. If you're not a coffee drinker there's all kinds of yummy non-coffee things in Starbucks. I love the low-fat blueberry coffee cake stuff.

I so hope that you'll win!

I never seem to win anything. My friend P.J., however, seems to win EVERYTHING she ever enters. This woman has even won her pick of a piece of furniture out of a high-end furniture store! Maybe you are like that too. Have you won something really cool - post and tell us about it. If not, don't worry as I decided not to tell P.J. about the Cool Christmas Giveaway - so you'll actually have a chance this time!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

1,582 emails OH MY!!!

See, my computer died back around September and I had to buy a new laptop, with a new operating system and a new email program. I had trouble getting my email address set up on my new computer. Meanwhile, I got another one set up so I could continue to work for the university and P31. Well, today (about 3 months later) I finally got that email address working ... and had 1,582 emails popping in my inbox!! Literally. Gulp!

SO IF YOU EMAILED ME in the last few months and did not get a response, this is why. I wasn't blowing you off - I just never received it until today! I'll work hard to plow through and respond to these this week. And thank you for writing to me because I truly do value that.

Friday, December 7, 2007

More pics from fall cruise event

My girlfriend Gwen and I are both on writing deadlines right now. So we email each other periodically to try to keep each other on track. Other times we email simply to make one another laugh. Gwen and I are on the same wavelength - we crack one another up, pretty much non-stop, with the goofiest stuff only we could appreciate. Its probably a good thing we only get to be roommates at events a couple times a year.

So the other day I'm writing and Gwen sends me an email that simply says "Remember them?" with a picture attached. Gwen is always taking and sending pictures. The picture she sent was of an older couple we saw walking together through the lobby of the Atlantic Hotel in Nassau. They looked a little bit corny, yet so cute and sweet at the same time. We adored them so we took a picture after they passed by. Here they are in all their adorable love and glory:

I told Gwen in 25 years she'll invite Rick and I to visit her and Brad during their annual vacation to the beach, as they have before. And Rick and I will show up in matching Hawaiian shirts. And when Gwen laughs at us I will say in all seriousness, "Whaaat?"

Actually, I truly do hope Rick and I are so in love in 25 years that we'd want to wear matching outfits while on vacation. Really, I'd be more than OK with that. Not now, mind you, but maybe then.
Just don't tell my image consultant friend Shari that I said so!
I hope you have a girlfriend that really makes you laugh. If you struggle with having female friendships, check out my devotion on that issue here.

Here's another cruise pic of me and Gwen with some of the lovely gals from Crossings Community Church:

Sunrise with God

The baking went well. I made two kinds of fudge, two kinds of cookies, and a pan of magic bar cookies. The party also went well yesterday. The Christmas cards, however, I never got around to. I have a million and two things to do today it seems, but chose this morning to spend an extended amount of time connecting with God and writing instead of worrying about that. I know I'll actually be more efficient this way.

Let me tell you about a new thing I've discovered that I love to have on during my morning time with God. Its a TV show called Sunrise Earth. Its one hour of the sun rising in a beautiful location in nature. There is no talking - only soothing and invigorating nature sounds from the location. Often there are wild animals in the camera shots, but there is almost never any humans, buildings or cars. I love it!

I can get it on the Animal Planet station, where unfortunately there are a few commercial breaks (TiVo could fix that). I also get it on the HDTV station, where it is absolutely stunning and commercial free.

If you can't get the program on your TV network, you can buy the DVD set here. It's a bit pricey. Or you can watch some of it for free on your computer - click here if you want to learn about doing that.

Just thought I'd pass along my latest quiet time tip as its really added to the experience for me. I wake up excited to watch the sunrise with God - from the recliner with my mug and Bible in hand. I'm the kind of gal that loves being in nature... as long as its not too cold (or too hot) ... and the mosquitoes aren't biting. OK, maybe I'm not that rugged after all. Therefore, for me, this show is ideal for spending winter mornings with God. Let me know if you try it, or if you already watch it and have a favorite "episode."

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Another pic of the tree

I'm still adding the just-right-thing here and there, but here's a full shot of this year's Christmas tree. Click to enlarge. Not all the lights are turned on. If you've got a picture of yours up on your blog, post your web address so we can all see it!
Today I need to address Christmas cards, run to the post office, run a few other errands, do some baking for tomorrow's Christmas party for my department at the university, and get a lot of writing done. I'm trying out a few cookie recipies I saw on the Food Nework - could be super yummy or turn out disasterous knowing the way I am in the kitchen! Thankfully, chili is already made and in the crock-pot for tonight.
Happy Holidays to you today.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

My Tree is Up

Today was decorating day at my house. That means almost a whole day enjoying some of my favorite things: Christmas carols, the Christmas tree, hot chocolate and time with my family. We put up the tree, set out the nutcrackers, hung the garland, wreath and mistletoe, and arranged the nativity scene.

I say "we" but mostly it was Rick and I doing the work because we also had 5 of the neighborhood kids in and out of our house all day playing with our 2 kids. I should also clarify that further ... the four girls did offer to help me decorate the tree but I just couldn't bear the thought of turning over my breakable ornaments to four giggling pre-teen girls. I also know myself well enough to know that if the lights and ornaments aren't placed on the tree in a somewhat balanced or symmetrical pattern, it will drive me nuts for the next four to five weeks! So the kids have their own mini Christmas trees they can decorate themselves and keep on their desks in their rooms.

Every year I like to do our Christmas tree a little bit differently. This year I've got kind of a theme - "The King's Tree" - going on with various crowns and wise men. What about you? Does your tree have a theme? Are you one of those laid back moms who lets the kids decorate the tree? Are you empty nesting and doing a tree differently than you've ever done before, or not at all? I'd love to hear about your tree, or your decorating traditions!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

One of my devotions ran on Thursday, check it out here if you missed it because you were too busy eating turkey, watching football, or plotting your day-after-Thanksgiving shopping run.

I confess, I was one of those crazy people who went to Kohl's department store at 4:00 am on Friday when they opened! Never done that before, and it was actually a fun experience. I figured I had more time than money on that particular day so off I went with my shopping list. Anyone else out there brave the cold or the crowds for an early bird special? I hit 3 different stores and was back by 7:30 am in time to have breakfast with my family ... and later catch a nap!

Hope your weekend has been a good one, and that you have reflected and thanked Him for your blessings. I'm feeling extremely thankful this year.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fashionista for God

I spent a lovely evening Saturday speaking for the 9th annual Holiday Gala of First Assembly of God in Raleigh, NC. These ladies sure know how to put on a gala! It was decorated to the nines for Christmas, the music was beautiful and the catered food was yummy. The women were just as sweet as the tea and chocolate cake offered for dessert! So let me explain the title of this post...

This formal holiday event had been booked for months and I'd decided what I'd wear. I'd chosen a solid black ensemble with elegant pearl jewelry. In the South you have a handful of appropriate options and colors when going to a formal Christmas event: anything dressy that is red or green, anything black, white, gold or silver that is elegant - and velvet or sequins are always excellent choices.

Then my family experienced two deaths in the two weeks leading up to this event and I just didn't want to wear black again this weekend. So ... knowing this was not in the realm of appropriate holiday gala wear ... despite the fact that I generally don't like to buck fashion expectations and stand out ... and knowing that I was the speaker for Pete's sake ... I chose to wear a full length, leopard-print dress! Let me tell you I stood out out in the sea of black cocktail dresses, red satin gowns, and green crushed velvet for sure!

Early in the program I was introduced and invited to tell about Proverbs 31 Ministries before we began eating. So I went forward to the stage, took the mic and said, "I know what you're thinking...'what part of the words holiday gala says full-length leopard-print dress?!'" And they laughed along with me. Then I added, "Just think of me as representing Christmas in Kenya." And I went on to tell about the ministry.

As it turns out, in this crowd of 300 or so there was not one, not two, or even three but nearly 10 women from Kenya who'd been invited by people in attendance! Many of them came to me during or after the event to tell me how special they felt that I would dress in leopard and mention their homeland. They felt God really was speaking to them. I love when God does stuff like that - has me break a fashion rule that I'm not really comfortable breaking so that someone else can feel God's comforting love.

So, while I'll probably never be the most stylish gal in the room, I've discovered it's worth it to become a "fashionista for God." Can't wait to see what He has me wear to my next holiday booking - look out Baltimore, I just might show up to speak December 18th in a sarong or a kimono!

Friday, November 9, 2007

My Spirit is Soaring ...

... because this morning I discovered a music channel on my digital cable package has begun playing Christmas carols!! You have no idea how happy this makes me. I am a Christmas carol nut... kind of like a chestnut roasting by an open fire. Any time of year Christmas songs have the ability to ring my bell... like the silver bells that declare: soon it will be Christmas day. I just can't help but "hark" and herald with the angels even though Christmas day is over a month away. Truly, these carols draw my spirit so close to God I feel I can nuzzle my forehead beneath his strong chin.

I love all Christmas carols, except the "Grandma got run over by a Reindeer" type which get old quick. So this music channel will play carols in my home approximately 6-7 hours a day from now until January 5th or so. Already this morning I've heard one of my absolute favorites (you'll find I attach that status to about 43 different Christmas carols): The Little Drummer Boy. It makes me cry EVERY time, every since I was a pre-teen girl and we had a 3-foot tall motorized little drummer boy in our entry way at Christmas time. I so identify with that little boy who had nothing of value to offer Jesus except himself in service, so he played for him. And if you know the song, then the little baby Jesus turned his head and smiled in pleasure at the little drummer boy. That just gets me! I've already needed 3 tissues this morning - no lie.

One time I took my family to a live nativity scene. This was no ordinary live nativity, not just a manger scene. No, this was an entire walk with the wise men through the ancient market place, to Herrod's palace and then to the manger scene - with live actors in costumes, elaborate sets and real animals everywhere. It was dramatic and touching and you felt you were there. It was loud and chaotic in the market, it was foreboding and threatening in the room with Herrod, but it was so calm, peaceful and serene when we reached the manger. My whole family lingered there staring at the live baby in the manger in the dark, night air. Then that baby turned its little head and looked at my then-6-year-old daughter and smiled at her. It made such an impact on her little heart - like mother like daughter I guess.

So tell me, what is your favorite Christmas carol?Post it and let's all get in the mood for the advent season!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More Connecting with His Word

Several times a week I wait in line in my car to pick up my kids. Call me a little bit impatient (and you’d be right) or a little bit selfish (and you’d be right again) but it drives me crazy to just sit and wait when there is so much I want or need to get done. So I started keeping a Bible in my car to read during these times.

It didn't work to try to do a page of a Bible study curriculum since I can’t write well on the steering wheel and have to keep scooting the car forward as I make my way up the carpool line. So what I do is choose one verse. Just one. My goal is to read, contemplate, and hopefully memorize that one verse. I read that verse over and over out loud while emphasizing different words in the verse with each reading.

You can emphasize each word individually, which is great, or you can put some together in phrases to emphasize, but if you do phrases be sure to keep them short. It’s also important to do this out loud.

Let me give you an example using Psalm 139:14 from the New Living Translation:

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

After going through it all several times, I simply end by praying the truth of that verse. Emphasizing different words each time you say it out loud will help to draw some of the meaning out of the verse while impressing it into your memory. Now you try it! Use Psalm 37:4, Romans 8:1 or Colossians 4:2 if you want some ideas for where to start.

Anyone try the last exercise I described on paraphrasing a verse? I hope some of these ideas will help you connect with God and His Word in your quiet times, your waiting times, or even your carpool lines!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Connecting with Him

When I'm quiet and settled enough to contemplate the possibility of it, I utterly long for a deep, abiding intimacy with God. When I'm still enough to listen for it, my soul cries out for Him. I've found the best place to look for and find Him is in the Bible.

Here is an exercise to connect us with His Word today: Pray first for God's guidance, then choose a fairly short passage of scripture. Read it several times over, then close your eyes and let the Holy Spirit settle its meaning into your mind. Then take out a pencil and write down your paraphrase of the passage. Put it into your own words, making it personal to you. I often turn it into a prayer or declaration of sorts. I'll do one here so you'll get what I mean.

"Lord God, I clear my mind and my schedule to meet with You right now, heart-to-heart and friend-to-friend. Speak to me, please Lord, through your Word. Let me encounter You there and interpret it rightly. Guide me into understanding and truth. Help me to bite off and chew a portion of your abundant life-giving Word and allow it to go deep down into my soul. For Your glory and in Jesus' Name I pray."

I selected Psalm 138, here it is in the NIV version:

1 I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; before the "gods" I will sing your praise. 2 I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. 3 When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted. 4 May all the kings of the earth praise you, O Lord, when they hear the words of your mouth. 5 May they sing of the ways of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord is great. 6 Though the Lord is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar. 7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me. 8 The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever-- do not abandon the works of your hands.

My journaled paraphrase:

God, you are the Lord of my life and you are wonderful in all Your ways. And I will speak of You to anyone and everyone without shame or fearing what it might cost me. Though I'm a not a very good singer, I won't hesitate to sing out praises to You! I will worship you inside of church and out, because I find You not only real, but truthful, dependable, loving and just. God, You have chosen to infuse Your power into your Name and your Word - that when I pray in your Name and take in Your Word, magnificent things can happen. Thank You! I've prayed to You in the past and seen You answer me! Plus, no matter what I'm going through You give me the faith and the ability to endure until You choose to change my circumstances. God, I want everyone but particularly our leaders to acknowledge You. I want them to listen to You as they lead us, and to give You honor instead of seeking it for themselves. For I understand You don't hang out in a heart that remains proud, but will shine through the heart that remains humble. No matter what my leaders do or what trouble I may encounter, I trust that You will Shepherd me ... guiding me, protecting me, saving and nurturing me all the way through my life. I believe this because I know I am the works of Your hands, made lovingly with holy purpose, and You never abandon Your purposes. You are eternally faithful to Your people, Your purposes, and Your promises - thank you!

Its great to read a Psalm a day, but something about writing it out in my own words helps me process it, internalize it, and pray it. Which means I'm much more likely to remember it and apply it in my life. This writing exercise also brings the text down to that personal, intimate level which is right where God is with us. Give this exercise a try today - I pray that God and His Word becomes alive to you as you do.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

My quiet time spot

I promised I'd post a picture of my "quiet time spot," which I talked about in the "How I spend time with God" posts. Here's my cafe table by the windows. I hope you've got a special spot somewhere that will beckon you to come and spend some time with God.

Speaking Blessings

I've enjoyed hearing from so many of you as I've read your comments. Several of you wanted to know what I meant when I wrote that I speak blessings over my husband in my "Bragging Rights" post. Its pretty simple, really.

Through out the Bible we see this spiritual principal in action. God's first act after creating Adam and Eve was to bless them (Gen.5:2). He also spoke a blessing over Noah and his family after the flood (Gen.9:1), and Abraham (Gen.12:1-3), and Jacob (Gen.32:24-30), and David and his descendants (2 Samuel 7:24-29). Look these scripture references up today for yourself and read them.

There are also examples through out the Bible of people speaking blessings over other people. Genesis 27 tells the story of a father departing a blessing to his son (vs.27-29) - although this particular story involves some trickery and scandal! In Genesis 48:14-20 we have a beautiful picture of how Jacob (Israel) blessed Joseph's sons by placing his hands upon their heads and speaking. Then in Genesis 49:22-28 we read how Jacob also blesses Joseph. In the New Testament in Luke 2:34, Simeon blesses both Mary and Jesus. Hebrews 7:6-7 mentions blessing being departed. Jesus himself even instructed us to "bless those who curse you" (Luke 6:28).

A beautiful traditional blessing can be found in Numbers 6:22-27. Many pastors speak this blessing over their congregations at the conclusion of the weekly worship service.

These blessings I speak aren't prophetic, except perhaps in a vague sense of the word. A prophecy would come from God's Holy Spirit, and be spoken through a person. A blessing comes from a person, and is spoken to God's Holy Spirit, that it might be carried out. It's an active, intentional prayer spoken with confident authority and faith.

So how do I do this? I often lay my hand on my husband and declare in Jesus' Name that he is blessed of God. I don't always touch him, but I always say it out loud - whether Rick can hear me or not (sometimes he is busy working or asleep). I say this confidently but respectfully - knowing that I cannot command God to do anything, yet believing that God has good plans for my husband and desires to bless him (however He defines that or sees fit). I'll do the same for my kids as we say nightly prayers together, or as as I stop into their bedroom at the end of the day to check on them before I head to bed. While they sleep I touch them or call them by name, as I call them blessed in Christ's name. Sometimes I go into more "detail,"other times I simply declare them "blessed."

Bottom line: a blessing is essentially a commanding form of prayer, seen in the Bible performed by God or by children of God. Its part of the way God reigns in and through our lives. So, all you who desire God's blessing and seek His face, today I call YOU blessed in Jesus' Name!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Understanding the Bible

I used to read a lot of Christian books but I rarely read the Bible other than in church. I figured this was fine because the books contained scripture. (True, but that's a little like eating only the grapes that are loose at the bottom of the bag and avoiding the ones that are still on the bunch.)

If you find it hard to understand the Bible, or feel like many sections of it aren't very applicable to your own life, then begin your quiet time by praying and asking God to give you a passion for His Word, and the wisdom to understand and apply it!

"Call to me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know." Jeremiah 33:3

What a sweet promise from our Maker. Have you spent time with Him today?

PS - Those of you who asked about speaking blessings over your loved ones, I will address that in more detail in a post soon!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

How I spend time with God - setting the stage

In my ideal world, I’d have a Starbucks’ frappachino every morning. But that requires that I go to the coffee shop and shell out $4 to buy one. That doesn’t happen often. Sometimes I buy those Starbucks drinks in the small glass bottles from the grocery store and pull one of those from the fridge. Not the same, but still yummy. More often than not, however, I’m drinking tea with God.

I’m weird about drinking hot drinks in the morning – I only like them at night unless I am freezing cold. On the coldest mornings I’ll have hot tea or hot cocoa with God. However, mostly I drink iced green tea or Diet Coke. We usually meet with friends or family over coffee, tea or food, so I figure why not with God!

Besides my liquid of choice, I like to have a scented candle lit to set the stage. It makes me settle down and feel all warm and fuzzy. Something about that flame says to me: this is special time. The lighting and later the blowing out of the candle marks the official beginning and ending of my "quiet time." Of course, I’m never really apart from God:

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height or depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

I’m a scented candle kind of gal. That’s an understatement since from where I sit at the moment I can see 11 different candles across two rooms! But I try to use the same candle during my time with God. That way I have a visual reminder of how often I’m spending time with Him. As the wax level drains I know my spirit is filling up. If I get to the end of a week and that candle jar looks just as full as it did on Sunday, I know I’ve not been making time to connect with Him. Some people might like to check it off a to-do list, or mark an X on the calendar day to indicate they’ve spent some time with Him, but I like watching the scented candle wax disappear into the heavens like a fragrant offering.

A final way that I set the stage for spending some time with God is with music. If I’m trying to read the Bible I usually avoid playing anything with lyrics so I can concentrate. I have several instrumental Christian CDs - try hymns set to a Celtic beat for something different. I also have ambient music CDs like a running stream or birds chirping at dawn.

Occasionally, however, I just feel like "gettin' my praise on" as my worship leader girlfriend Gwen says. So I'll put on an up-beat contemporary praise and worship CD and crank it up loud. I’ve been known to dance and sing. I've also been known to lie on the floor with my eyes closed ... lost in the music and the One it is for ... letting the tears that sometimes come push their way out between my closed lids.

Music can usher us to God’s throne room! If you're trying to connect with God or the Bible and can’t seem to “get into it,” try playing some worship music, closing your eyes and contemplating the lyrics as you listen for awhile.

Other times I enjoy the weight of the silence in the room. Sometimes silence is just what the soul needs. Now, if you’re a mom with little ones I KNOW this feels like a tall order. I have two kids, and once they reached school-age I began home schooling them (in an open floor-plan home no less). So alone time and silence were very hard to come by most days. Hard to come by, but not impossible: I could get up before them, or stay up after them. Or I could adapt to the fact that other things were going on around me, and make the effort to press into God anyway. My friend Marybeth who was also home schooling her brood used to tell me she did her praying in the shower because that was the only place she could find some peace and solitude!

Tea, candles, music - none of this is necessary but it helps me transtion into a place of connection with the Lord. So set the stage in whatever ways you can to help you to come to and connect with God. Don’t set yourself up for failure, however, with expectations about how a quiet time “should” be (or used to be) that your current circumstances can’t match. Just make it a priority and press in, letting God take care of all the rest.

Have you decided yet when you’ll sit down with God tomorrow? Remember it doesn’t need to be long; it just needs to be done!

stay tuned for more to come on this topic

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

How I spend time with God - the place

For me personally, where I sit is important. I can't concentrate well if I'm surrounded by other projects or clutter. Clutter will make me feel too chaotic to get started, and seeing lots of other things I need to get done will make me think I'm too busy to have time for this today.

That's a lie of course, but I know that's how it makes me feel so I avoid facing my desk, which makes me think of the six deadlines I've got. I avoid facing the kitchen sink because it reminds me of the dishes I need to do, or the meals I need to plan. And I wouldn't dream of going near the laundry room because I seem to be forever behind on laundry! But if I wait for my house to be perfectly clean to sit down with God, I'll only spend time with Him maybe 10 days a year!

Instead I sit at my kitchen table which is situated in a nook with a bay window. I face out the windows with my back to the rest of the kitchen. If my kitchen table happens to be cluttered, I clear it first. Else I move to a different location since I'm so easily driven to distraction.

Spot number two is a little cafe table in my family room that is situated in a corner between two windows. I face, you guessed it, out the windows with my back to the rest of the house. I like sitting at tables because it allows me to easily write down thoughts or scriptures or prayers. My little cafe table and 2 chairs tend to stay clean and clear with little effort (unlike my kitchen table) so its almost always available.

Some days, however, the best I can do is collapse in my recliner and read some out of my Bible. Maybe I'm feeling tired, or a little under the weather, or just totally uninspired, but on these occasions I don't try to have a big Bible quiet time "session." I just crawl in the recliner with God. If you have uninspired days too, do what I do and trust in the fact that God said His Word would never return to Him void. If you have times you feel like nothing you are reading is sinking in, pray that Isaiah 55:ll will be true in your life:

"So will my word be which goes out of my mouth: it will not come back to me with nothing done, but it will give effect to my purpose, and do that for which I have sent it." -Isaiah 55:11

But that's more on par with my next post on this topic ... so stay tuned for more. And check back in the coming days and weeks if you want a little accountability on this. Oh, and feel free to leave a comment and tell me where you like to meet with God, I'd really love to hear about it!
I'll try and post a picture of my "quiet spots" tomorrow.

Making the Effort

Below is my devotion that ran on Encouragement for Today, in case you missed it. Itprompted the nextseveral posts on how I spend time with God.

“Be earnest and unwearied in prayer, being on the alert in it and in your giving of thanks.” Colossians 4:2 (WNT)

I was recently interviewed by a Christian radio station; following the release of our devotional book God’s Purpose for Every Woman. The interview began with a brief discussion of the nature of God’s promises and purposes for women. Next, the topic shifted to the daily discipline of spending time with God, communing with Him through the words of the Bible and prayer. Of course I said how important this was for Christian stability and growth. Then the interviewer challenged, “So bring this home. You are a wife, a mother, a university teacher, a writer, and a traveling national speaker. I’m guessing you are pretty busy. Rachel, how do you find time to have a quiet time?”

There was a day when this question would have struck me deaf and dumb because I didn’t know what the answer was. I knew people who would spend an hour alone with God each day, and I wondered what their secret was. What was it that enabled them to do that? What kept them from falling asleep sitting there alone with the Bible? How did they know what to say, read or think about during all those minutes? How did they keep from getting distracted? How did they even manage to find an hour of free time each day? I kept waiting for a season of my life to come during which a block of time would regularly present itself and my spirit would drive me to God like my sweet tooth drives me to the freezer for chocolate ice cream. I wasted a lot of time idly waiting for that to happen.

“Rachel, how do you find time to have a quiet time?” I don’t find the time,” I answered. “I have to make the time. I can’t expect to find time – that’ll never happen. There’s always going to be something needing my attention, calling my name. I have to make the time, and that means sometimes I have to let other things slide. I have to be OK with letting less important things slide,” I confessed.

I’ve come to realize it’s a matter of choice, a matter of discipline… and a matter of active investment. E.M. Bounds wrote, “The lazy man does not, will not, cannot pray, for prayer demands energy.” That is a simple but profound statement. When I don’t pray it’s because I simply don’t want to expend the energy on it. People who do not pray much probably claim to be too busy or too bored with it, but in reality are too lazy to press into God. Wow. Ouch!

We have to be earnest and unwearied in prayer as today’s verse urges. In the words of a little shoe company called Nike; we have to “just do it.” Let’s carve some time in our days to be quiet before the Lord, to read His words and pray. We can trade a small portion of our time and energy for a large portion of His grace and power.

Purpose to stick to it for several weeks until it sinks into your schedule and your soul. If you want some help being accountable on this, visit my blog listed below. I know we’ll find it is more than worth the effort.

Dear Lord, I want to make the effort and time to interact with You. I want to pray and seek your heart. I don’t want to be too lazy to connect to Your love, wisdom, power and grace. Help me in this, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Application Steps:
If you are not in the habit of praying or regularly communing with God, commit to doing so. It doesn’t have to be for an hour - start with 10 minutes. Gather your Bible, some pen and paper and set the timer.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Some pics from the cruise event

I told you there were some beautiful vistas. I love what God made here!

Above is our ship "The Sensation" docked in Nassau.

Below is me and the event coordinator Rita. Our waiter had folded and placed the towel on my head - not sure if its suppose to be a bow or ears. Either way I didn't care because I was in the middle of eating the chocolate melting cake.

Me with worship leader Gwen Smith. Too bad I didn't more of a tan on this cruise!!

Me goofing around at the ornate Atlantic Hotel in Nassau ... I eventually got my sunglasses back!

Below is me with a couple of the Crossings Community gals:

I have a whole slide-show of pictures on my computer from this event that I've been running as my screen saver for the last week, helping me remember the event and to pray for the ladies I met. ;)

Bragging Rights

OK, I have to brag for just a minute on my husband because he totally rocks!

I met him when I was in college. He was teaching there after getting his master's degree. Yes, I married my professor! Shh, don't tell. (To answer your inevitable questions... he is only 6 years older than I, and no we didn't begin dating until a few semesters after I took his class.) So I know from experience that he is a truly gifted teacher - brilliant, energetic and funny in the classroom.

A couple week's ago the secular university we now both teach at confirmed what I had long suspected - that I am married to the best professor there!! Out of 450+ teachers, Rick was nominated and won one of 3 teaching awards the Chancellor bestows on outstanding faculty. Then from that pool of three, Rick was chosen as the top teacher and awarded the highest honor, the Board of Trustee's teaching award. He looked like he'd just won at the Olympics with the two gold medallions hanging around his neck and clinking together as he walked. I am so proud of him!

My prayer for him today is that he will continue to be a man of integrity and excellence, and a reflection of Christ on that campus. I call him blessed in Jesus' name. This nation needs more great teachers, but even more we need more great teachers who are greatly committed to living biblical principals and allowing that to show through in all they do.

I will tell you that 10 years ago I began speaking blessings over my husband regularly and saw God move in his life in mighty ways. Then I had two children and speaking those blessings over him fell a bit to the wayside - along with daily showers, daily bible study, and a tidy house! I got back to showering and bible study shortly thereafter but only recently have returned to physically speaking blessings over Rick and I again see God moving. So the bragging is really on God as my husband's maker, and as the One who bestows all good gifts.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

back on dry land, and back online

Its been a while since I posted... did you miss me? I didn't sail off the edge of the world on that cruise ship, but rather lightening hit my computer and fried my ability to get online! I'm typing now on my new laptop, trying to get used to Windows Vista.

Speaking of vistas, the Caribbean blue view from the cruise ship was beautiful - not that I saw much of it since I was working all weekend as the retreat speaker. But I enjoyed it. I did this event with my worship leader girlfriend Gwen Smith and we had a great time together. I think we got a little too silly at times. However, I know we weren't too silly for this group - they actually did the electric slide to one of Gwen's songs! Now that was a first.

The ladies at this church (Crossings Community in FL) were just terrific. Gwen and I shared a lunch with a group of them one afternoon that was so special. We laughed a lot but we also talked sister-to-sister, soul-to-soul. I loved hearing how some of them came to Christ, the battles others are facing, and most of all to see their trust in God and their love for one another. That's what its all about, right there!

Well, that and the fact that I ordered not one but two desserts every single night I was on the ship. Why not - its free! The chocolate melting cake was a definite hit. I'm thinking I'd better get off here and go get on the elliptical machine now before that melting cake becomes a permanent part of my silhouette!

To the women at Crossings Community Church, I send my love and my prayers for you to continue to live out loud.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Packing my faith and my SPF 50

I'm preparing for a speaking event next week - on the high seas! The retreat is on a Bahamian cruise, so please pray for no storm activity in the Atlantic next weekend! I'm excited about the cruise ship - I understand I'll have a cabin with terrific views. I'm excited about all the delish food that I won't have to cook. Of course, I'm excited about touring the islands and perhaps snorkeling. But I'm most excited about the potential for each of the women - including me - to come home with hearts that are larger than the ones we boarded the ship with.

As I prepare I'm relying on the verses in Exodus 4. In this chapter Moses is pleading with the Lord in verse 10 saying, "O Lord, I'm just not a good speaker. I never have been, and I'm not now, even after you have spoken to me..." Moses is getting exactly how I tend to get during the week leading up to a speaking event - overly focused on himself and his own ability. So God adjusts Moses' viewpoint a little in verses 11-12: "Who makes mouths?" the LORD asked him. "Who makes people so they can speak or not speak, hear or not hear, see or not see?" Is it not I? ...

"Now go, and do as I have told you. I will help you speak well, and I will tell you what to say."

Maybe you sometimes get this way too... trying to accomplish something in your own strength, forgetting who is it that made your strength in the first place. Today I pray: Lord, I release to You all my striving, worrying, and crazy self-effort. In faith I'm simply aligning myself with Your statements to Moses. I'm trusting You to help me speak well, to tell me what to say, and to order my steps on this trip and everyday. In Jesus' Name I pray.

As I posted this entry I noticed my last entry and the words I wrote last week: "making my supposed inability a barrier to obedience is like telling God that He has failed to realize reality correctly. When the correct reality is that I've not yet allowed Jesus to enable me to be obedient in that area." Hum ... I'm sensing a theme here! Today I'm choosing faith and obedience over worry and doubt. Care to join me?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

No Excuses

This morning I was reading the May 5th entry of my Utmost for His Highest during my devotional time. Two parts stood out to me. First was the line that read, "Never sympathize with a soul who finds it difficult to get to God, God is not to blame." I reread that about 3 times. You reread it 3 times and see what comes to you about the way you talk to, and react to, others.

The next part that impacted me read, "If Jesus ever gave us a command He could not enable us to fulfill, He would be a liar; and if we make our inability a barrier to obedience, it means we are telling God there is something He has not taken into account." I could recall various times in my life when I've thought:

I'd read my Bible more if only I could get more out of it.

I don't have time to pray and commune with God at this particular stage in my life.

I'd give, but I don't have a lot of extra money to work with.

So I'm meditating on the fact that making my supposed inability a barrier to obedience is like telling God that He has failed to realize reality correctly. When the correct reality is that I've not yet allowed Jesus to enable me to be obedient in that area. So there's really no excuses for me not maturing in my faith.

If these lines from Oswald Chambers spoke to your heart too, please, don't sympathize with me - get radically obedient with me!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Labor Day

Here's wishing my fellow Americans a joyous day of rest. May our pool water be refreshing, our hot dogs be plump, our watermelon juicy, and our company kind ... most of all, may our hearts be yielded and attentive to His as we rest from our work and our worries today. Actually, may that be true for all God's people across the globe, in Jesus' sweet name.

Happy Summer's End!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Want to meet me?

A question came recently on my "contact me" page that perhaps some of you have wondered as well, so I'm posting my response...

August 21, 2007 11:25 AM, Janet O'Berry wrote:

"Rachel, I've just discovered your blog (love it) and was wondering if the Spiritual Makeover Retreat in April is open to the public. If it is, how can I get more information? What I've read from you, combined with the title of the retreat, sounds like something wonderful to attend."

Most of the events I speak at are open to the public, so if ever you see one happening near you just ask me for details on how to attend. Some events, however, are closed to the public for various reasons, and that decision is made by the event coordinators rather than me. Most events are free to attend. Some require advanced registration and some have a ticket price - typically because food is served, or it's being held at an overnight retreat space. I've known women to travel from hours away to attend an event they heard I or one of my teammates will be at (which is really sweet of them) and I've noticed the event coordinators are usually thrilled to have them! So just contact me and I'll put you in touch with the right people to attend.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ecuador - meet my sponsor child Mauricio

(continued account of my trip)

SATURDAY EVENING - That afternoon, all the kids that P31 gals sponsor through Compassion were bussed in to the project where we were so we could meet them. I was SO excited about this aspect of the trip. I couldn't wait to meet the 6 year old boy our family had chosen! One by one they brought children off the bus and introduced them to their sponsors. It touched me to watch each of my teammates meeting their sponsor child for the first time. My anticipation built and built ... until I could tell there was only one child left, and she was not a boy. Turns out, due to a family emergency, Mauricio's parents weren't able to get him to the bus in time. I tried to be "a big girl" in response to this news, but my heart sank. The dedicated Compassion team quickly assured me they were trying to arrange a visit for later at the hotel.

Emotionally exhausted, we got back to the hotel around 4:00 pm and I was told to rest in my room until they called me. Mauricio was suppose to arrive at 5:00. Five o'clock came and went, as did 5:10, 5:15, 5:20 ... I finally just put the whole thing in God's hands through prayer. At 5:30 the phone rang and down I went to meet him. OM MY GOODNESS this little boy is something else! He's got a great personality, very outgoing, and quite smart too. His parents are young but understand the importance of his education. They have a vision for his life and are doing all they can to help him get farther along than they have. His dad told me, "My father tried to tell me to work hard in school and I didn't listen... now I understand why he always told me that. I'm teaching Mauricio to focus on school."

I think I fell in love with his mother, father and grandfather as much as I did Mauricio!

I'd brought Mauricio some gifts - some clothes, an I SPY book, a soccer ball and some bubbles among other things. He loved the bubbles. I'd blow them and he'd try to pop them or eat them. Bubbles are fun in any language - a universal toy. But we were sloshing bubble juice all over this 5-star hotel lobby so we headed to the indoor pool area. Mauricio was able to change into some shorts I'd brought him and swim in the pool. This was huge for him, he'd only swam in a pool one other time in his life and it was not indoors. But he knew just what to do and set about imitating the motions of free-style swimming. I kept waiting for him to give up on the trying to swim thing and just splash and play in the shallow end. Not Mauricio, he was determined to swim! Later, with a little encouragement from me, he jumped off the side into the pool at the shallow end - his father gasped and grabbed his heart. Smiles. The father was also amazed by the indoor plants and waterfall, I don't think he'd ever seen a fancy hotel like this. Mauricio was too busy trying to swim like a pro to notice.

His grandfather is from the rain forest interior of the country. He'd had a farm there but had to sell all the animals to come to the city to have an abdominal operation. He told me he wants to find work in the city because he knows "the value of work." Mauricio's father (26 yrs old) meanwhile, has found some work cleaning office buildings in the city so he can afford the $100-a-month two-room apartment the family lives in. His mother (a beautiful 22 yr old) sometimes finds work as a maid while Mauricio is in school.

After his swim, Mauricio's mother got him back into dry clothes and we all rode the glass elevator, which overlooks the city, to the top floor. He had not been in a glass elevator before (I don't think any of them had) and he held onto the handrail with white knuckles while grinning from ear to ear. This was like an amusement park to him. When we arrived back at the lobby it was time for tearful goodbyes. His parents wanted to know when would I be back in Ecuador. I figured odds were low that I'd be able to return, but I didn't have the heart to say that. They were wanting to see me again. So I simply said, "I don't know when, but I hope it's soon."

I want to see them again too. I could save up enough money to make a return trip, but I could also take that saved money and donate it to him through Compassion and he'd be better off than if I just flew down there and blew bubbles with him.

Then again, I've come to realize in Ecuador,
relationships mean a lot more to people than money.
After waving them goodbye, I walked back into the lobby full of roses with a heart full of thanksgiving and joy. What a day - thank you, Compassion Int. and thank you, God.

Please pray for "my" Mauricio and his family.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Ecuador - 1st home visit, true hospitality

SATURDAY AFTERNOON: A cool thing about Compassion International is that they partner with local churches in the countries they work in. Every Compassion project is connected to a church and the program is staffed through that church, and supervised by Compassion. All kids in the program are required to attend Sunday church. This project I was visiting the first day was a Salvation Army church. I was so impressed by the young pastor, and his wife who ran the Compassion program. I was equally impressed by the young man who oversaw this project, along with a few other Compassion projects in the area - he had been a Compassion sponsored kid himself!

The next thing we did was join the kids in their classrooms where they were drawing pictures to go with the Bible story they'd just heard. I sat down in the small chairs to talk and color with them. These kids ranged in age from 6-8 and I was immediately impressed with their perfect cursive handwriting. I've homeschooled my children for years and these kids wrote better than my own! The kids and I took turns exchanging names, discussing colors and names of colors in English and Spanish, and writing their names in cursive, print and my speciality: bubble letters. One little girl wrote that she was feeling hungry on her paper and I wondered how much food, if any, she'd had that day. We talked about what kinds of foods we each liked. They'd never heard of pizza, but they did know french fries. Little Maria shook her head no at the mention of french fries, saying that she likes to eat only healthy food. About an hour later I was thrilled to help serve the children a hot nutritious lunch of roasted chicken, rice, and peas and carrots.

While the children were eating in their classrooms, we embarked on home visits to some of the families in the project area. Leann, Carrie and I visited a family with four children. They had one of the larger homes in the area. They'd lived there 22 years and it started out as one room with no electricity, which they added on to. Now it had 4 rooms, cement walls and floors and some exposed electrical wiring. I was surprised by how willingly they gave us a tour when we inquired how many rooms it had. They shooed the chickens out of the kitchen and happily gave us a tour. It had a stove, a kitchen table and chairs, a few extra chairs, a desk and beds. It was humble by our standards, but clean. She did not seem embarrassed at all by her extremely modest home - something I would find echoed by everyone I met that weekend. Over and over again I'd be told, "Whenever you come to Ecuador, my home is your home and you are welcome here." For them hospitality is a state of mind and heart, not a state of home or menu.

Hum... I think of all the times I didn't invite someone over, or offer a tour of my home, because it was messy or I felt my home was lacking in size or presentation.

Two of the family's older children who were Compassion-sponsored showed us their prized possessions: the notebooks they kept ALL the correspondence and pictures they'd ever received from their sponsor families. It still chokes me up thinking about how much they treasured this. I thought, if only the sponsoring families could know how much their letters and photos mean to these kids! They had both created scrap books to display them in.

The boy's sponsors were a family from California who would take pictures of the family for him whenever they went on vacation. So as they saw the world, so to speak, so did he. They also sent pictures of the their pets and wrote him frequent letters. I noticed they had sent him a page of stickers, which remained in tact in his notebook. I wondered if he didn't know they were stickers but he said yes he knew, he just wanted to save them rather than waste them by using them. This was probably a nickel's worth of stickers from Walmart. When asked what he wanted to do when he grows up, he told us he wanted to be an engineer ... while looking through the notebook we learned the father in his sponsor family is an engineer. What an impact.

I prayed over the family before we left. Tears fell continually and uncontrollably from the corners of my closed eyes as I spoke. Visiting them was not at all depressing, though they were economically depressed. My time with them was moving and emotional but not depressing because they were so joyful and loving. I learned the mother had been working in the Compassion project at the church, and she and her family were mentored by the staff there. Perhaps that was the source of their joy - they were nurtured and growing in their relationship with Christ. Their smiles, the inside of their home, and those treasured scrapbooks of sponsor letters are seared in my memory forever.

  • This is the family with us outside their home: the mother and father on the left with Leann, then Carrie and I in the middle, the two Compassion-sponsored children on the right, and the two youngest front and center looking cute as can be.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Me and Johnny

Johnny was the very first boy I met at the first project I visited in Ecuador.
He took my hand and walked me into the church.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ecuador, the first morning

Continuing account of Ecuador trip with Compassion Intl. & P31 Ministries:
(again, sorry for the length of these posts)

SATURDAY MORNING: We woke Saturday at 6:00 am, and the first thing I did was open the curtains to see the city. Off-white, mostly-square-with-flat-roof buildings stretched out and up the mountain side in every direction I could see. The very tops of the mountains, however, were unpopulated and bright green without trees. Morning patches of fog floated about the city, later to burn off. I can tell you that there was not a single place I went in my entire time in Ecuador that didn't have an amazing view. However, most of the buildings wound up looking better from a distance.

The shower had the strongest water pressure of anywhere I've been - loved that. We dressed in layers, packed our tote bags with plenty of hand sanitizer, sunscreen, and some gifts for the kids, and headed to the hotel restaurant for breakfast.

I forgot to mention in my last post that when we arrived at the hotel Friday night, they had a tray of cold juices awaiting us - one red juice and one white. The white one looked like a pina-colada, which intrigued me so I tried it. Yum! It was made from a local fruit that we do not have. Sweet, cool, tropical and refreshing. The next morning at the breakfast buffet I found it again, along with a stunning array of fresh juices: various melon juices, papaya juice, mango juice, pineapple juice, watermelon juice, etc. And just as many selections of fresh fruit. There were lots of other offerings but I made my breakfast most days of yogurt with granola and fresh fruit. Oh and the coffee ("cafe con leche") was delish. There were no Starbucks in Quito, but their local coffees were very good.

With full bellies we boarded the bus to head to Compassion project EC-108 "El Rancho." The bus took us up winding roads into the steep hillside. I talked with Paul, the photographer with the cutest dimples you could imagine, who was sitting across the aisle from me. We had both been to journalism school and he was a freelance photojournalist. He'd been on other mission trips like this one and said Quito looked a lot like Mexico City. We noticed that the wealthier folks live in the valley close to the city center and the less wealthy live on the outskirts up on the hills overlooking the city. I didn't see a single house I would deem a "rich home" the entire time I was there - but surely there are some somewhere.

As we rode, I faced Paul across the aisle from me. My back was to the mountain side. Over his shoulder I could see the city and tell that this winding mountain road we were on ended just a couple feet from the edge of our tires. There were no guard rails either. I'm not afraid of heights and I love roller coasters but honestly I was getting a little nervous and could feel my heart dropping into my stomach. As cute as Paul's dimples were, I had to force myself to look at them and quit looking past his shoulder where certain doom loomed large over the edge of that cliff! After a while, the roads turned from old pavement to dirt, with many potholes. I honestly don't know how they drove this bus through that area. We bumped and bounced in our seats, periodically tossed to one side or the other as we made sharp turns around shabby buildings and finally stopped in front of a cement structure with dozens of smiling children lined up out front to greet us. My heart dropped once again as I stared out at the children and surroundings

As I stepped off the bus a cold wind greeted me, along with the smell of something burning nearby. I'm told they burn the dead grass on the land in hopes of stimulating new growth. I knew the "dead grass" of poverty that I was encountering had the ability to stimulate some new growth in my heart if I'd let it.

A little girl, about 5 years-old, stood holding a rose to give to me. She and another young boy named Johnny took my hands and led me into the church building. Their hands were cold and the brown skin on their faces were chapped, turning their cheeks whitish pink. They were dressed in their finest clothes in preparation for our visit. I was dressed in my jeans in preparation for their dirt and dust, which I was told the night before that we'd encounter.

Inside the modest church building I sat in plastic chairs with the the children. Quickly I realized I should've taken some Spanish classes before this trip. I knew how to ask the children their names in Spanish, how to tell them my name - I was "Raquel" all weekend - how to ask them how old they were, and if they had any brothers and sisters. I knew how to ask "where are you from" but that was not needed as all of them had lived on this hill all their lives - as had many of their parents. I knew how to ask where the bathroom was, that's always a need-to-know phrase. The only other thing I really knew how to say to them was "you are beautiful" and that is a sentence I would utter a 100 times a day to the people in Ecuador. Really it was the sentence I most wanted to tell them, other than "Dios te ama mucho," which is, "God loves you very much."

Inside the room, a big sign on the wall behind the "stage" read "Bendiciones Proverbios 31." They had a vacation-bible-school-like show planned for us with several of the kids singing and dancing. The first dance was to a worship song, in Spanish. The other was a native dance to a Bolivian song, with the kids in traditional costumes. They were precious.

The place was clean - obviously well cared for - and prepared for our arrival. But it was also quite old. They had done a good job keeping it fresh with paint. The windows had black iron bars across them, the floor was covered with reddish brown linoleum tiles. The only furniture was the white plastic tables and chairs - the kind we would buy at Wal-mart to put on our patios. A podium stood up front on the right of the stage, a bucket of roses sat on the left. The walls were a very pale color and the ceiling had some cracks and a few moldy spots. The most striking thing in the room was the children's big brown eyes ... and the atmosphere of excitement and expectation at our presence among them.

All of these kids were very well behaved!

After the show, the pastor and his wife greeted us and dismissed the kids to their classrooms. "My" little girl accidentally ran off with the rose in her hand and I smiled as I watched her out the window because I really wanted her to have it. She stopped when she realized she had the flower, turned and brought it back to me. My eyes welled with tears for about the forth time already that day.

Being early August, school was not in session yet and this is a place they come on school days or Sundays, not on Saturday mornings. Many of them walk quite a distance to come here. But these kids wanted to come on this Saturday to meet us. So the project planned some activities for them to do while we looked over their family, school and medical records Compassion keeps on each child. I could tell the pastor and Compassion staff were eager for us to view these records of their activity with the children, but I had already seen what an impact they were having on these kids. These kids had hope in their eyes, despite their circumstances. One girl I met that morning - Gabriella who was about 10 or 12 years old - had even received heart surgery thanks to Compassion.

These particular kids had hope because they knew someone cares
about them ... someone who actually has the means to help them.

Isn't that the function God has in our lives too?

I wondered how many kids in the nearby neighborhoods feel like there is no hope - no one who cares about them, or at least no one who cares who also has the power to do something for them. Standing in that place that morning a series of questions ran though my mind, thoughts that would reoccur through out my trip:

Who am I ... who am I that they would insist on serving me? I should be serving them. Not once have they asked me for help, yet they are in obvious need. Why was I born into comfortable conditions in the United States, and not into these sweet but very poor families on this mountain side in Ecuador? What responsibility do I have to do something with the "status" and "wealth" I happen to have? What can I do for these children? What can I learn from these people?

How can I honor Christ in them?