January 29, 2013

God is all over the Dominican Republic!

So, I have to admit that I was somewhat trying to keep our trip to the DR for our 10th anniversary a secret....not really because I didn't want anyone else knowing our business, but mainly because I felt guilty. We don't really take a lot of non-business or non-going-to-see-family trips, so it seemed so extravagent for us to do something like this, especially since we are doing our best to cut down living expenses and wasteful things in our home in order to give to others. I just felt guilty that we were spending money on ourselves and didn't want others to think we were hypocrites for saying we want to live with less in order to give to thers, then we head out on this trip. But, three wise friends reminded me that, as parents and marriage partners, we must also put time and effort into building our marriage, or the family will fall apart. It's good for us to get out once in awhile and spend time just us. Those words were very calming to me.

So, last Thursday we boarded a plan headed to the DR...of course...it wasn't quite that easy, but we have seen God's hand every step of the way and I want to share the praise of His mighty hand with you:

-When we finally decided where we wanted to go (which was after about a month of Kevin working with a travel agent to look up the best deals, etc), I called the travel agent back and got everything set up. One of the things I purchased, that Kevin would not have, was the full trip insurance. When Kevin got home we talked about it and he decided to call her back and tell her to take off the insurance. Well, she didn't answer and the next day she purchased the trip without ever calling us back. So, the insurance was on the trip. I felt releived, Kevin felt frustrated! Turns out, that was God's hand of provision because the Friday before we were supposed to leave my grandmother passed away. The visitation was set for the day we were supposed to leave. But, because we had the insurance, we were able to call the travel agent and move the trip back a week with no problems! God is so good!

-Don't get me wrong, we miss our kids. Everywhere we look and everything we do we keep saying, "Man, Sophie would love this!" or "Ethan would get such a kick out of this!" But, having a whole week just the two of us has been so good! It's been relaxing and enjoyable and fun and just good for us!

-The first excursion we took was probably my favorite. We got to head out into the countryside and see more of the "real" DR. Now, we were never more than an hour from Punta Cana, so it wasn't as country as most of the island, but it was still really neat. It was sad to see the children along the street who just follow the buses yelling, "Give me money! Give me money!" because they genuinely just need the money. There are no refrigerators in their homes because the electricity is so unreliable. They have to go to the store everyday to get what they need for that day because there is no way to keep food cold. The water does not run all day, either (though it's so dirty they can't drink it anyway), so each house has a huge black container on the roof to catch the rainwater so they can have water as a back up. We were able to see a school (though it was a Sat. so we didn't get to see the students) that the money from the trip we took goes to help fund. It was such a small building and we saw so many children in that area, I can't even imagine how large the classes must be! We also then got to tour a sugar cane "factory" (it was very small, run probably by just one famiy and mainly for tourists). It's sad to note that the two things they are famous for are rum (vitamin R as they call it) and cigars, two things that destroy lives and families. My favorite part of the tour was visiting Maria's house. She has opened her country home for tours like this to come see how they truly live. This house was so small...and at one time she had 6 or 7 children living there! The living room was about the size of our bathroom (which we think is just too tiny!) and there were two small bedrooms and a tiny kitchen. Maria also showed us how she harvests and makes coffee and cocoa. Isn't it amazing that, though this country is so poor, God has given them a means, in their own backyard, to provide food and an income? We were able to buy some of her coffee and cocoa and sugar...can't wait to get home and have a nice cup of DR hot chocolate with the kiddos!

-This is one beautiful country! Not sure why, but it seems that the poorest of countries is usually the most beautiful. The ocean is magnificent and the mountains are unbelievable! Everywhere you look there are traces of God's amazing, creative hand. The peacocks wandering the resort are so full of color. The people are just as diverse looking and sounding as anywhere else I have been. The weather is amazing! God has even provided them with a tree (I can't remember the name) that they are able to use as fencing. You just break off a branch, plant it along your fenceline, it needs little to no water, and the branch will continue to grow taller and to grow leaves. So, they have their area fenced off and when the rainy season is over, their livestock still have leaves to eat off of those branches that need so little water to survive. How good is God that He looks after us, even in such small ways!

-Something I am amazed and mystified by is that all of the Dominicans I have met are genuinly happy, jovial people. I mean, I know most of them are working for the resort or trying to get our money in some way, but those smiles aren't plastered on or fake, like you would see in America. They are always laughing and joking and smiling. I think I would always be crying! Most of the people who work for the hotel work 12-14 hour days, work either 22 days on and 6 off or 12 days on and 3 off, live so far from the hotel that they have to stay in rooms provided here and not see their families for the whole time they are working (and some live far enough away that there is not time to go see their families even on their days off), and the most they make is $200-$400 a month. And gas is $6.00/gallon (US)! So it's not cheap to live here! Yet, they seem so happy. Not sure if it's all the rum, or just perhaps learning to be content knowing that the land is able to provide much of what they need. Not sure where most of the stand, spiritually, but I pray they will see that it is God's hand providing all they need!

-Lord, open my heart to these people and this country. Show me how to be Your hands and feet, even after we return to our comfortable home. Lord, open doors for us to come back as a family and minister to these people. Show us how we can be sharing Your love and Truth all around the world, as individuals, and as a family. Give our family a love for You and a love for Your people. Fill Kevin and I with the desire to share You at all costs, and let that be evident to our children!

January 22, 2013

Comparison is the thief of joy!

Oh, how this is so true...especially for women.  I have no idea why that little junior high girl in all of us never truly dies.  It seems no matter how hard I try, I just can't kill her!  I find myself constantly feeling left out, not having as many friends or invites as others, and just wanting what everyone but me seems to have (even when I can't put my finger on just what it is I think they have that I don't!)  And man, does Satan use that to destroy women.  Facebook, twitter, pinterest, and instagram have made many women instant enemies, without ever meeting or saying a word to one another, simply by seeing the life someone else seems to have and yours looking bad in comparison.  Why do we do this?!?!?!  And I am just as bad as the next person.

I think one of the biggest lies Satan has sold Christian women is that there is a battle between stay-at-home moms and working moms or between homeschooling moms and public school moms.  But you know what?  The only battle there is the one Satan created.  Something God has really burdened me about is trying to find a way to cross that line that seems to have been drawn in the sand between these groups.  God has really laid on my heart that it's not always the amount of time you spend with your husband and children, but what you choose to do with that time.  Even though I am with my kids 24/7, this is still so convicting to me.  Many times I get to the end of the day, look back over all we've done, and realize I wasted pretty much every teachable moment I was given.  I brushed aside many chances to just love on my kids and enjoy their laughter and smiles.  I missed precious moments to spend time in the word with my kids, not because those moments weren't there, but because I chose not to use them.

Homeschool or public school?  You know what, that is your choice and something you will have to pray about for your family.  It was a very tough decision for us, but the path the Lord was asking us to take was very clear.  To choose to send our children to the public school would have been disobedience and we all would have been miserable.  However, I know many amazing families who had the same struggle, but God called them to go to public school, and to choose homeschooling would have been disobedience and they all would have been miserable!  When it comes to this, for some reason, very heated topic, let me encourage you: seek the Lord and follow Him in obedience.  Don't compare.  Don't worry what others will think.  Obey.  You, and those around you, will see the fruit of your obedience.

When it comes to the other heated topic among Christian women/families, staying at home or working, I can only give the same advice.  Pray and obey!  There is no "one right answer" for every family.  And I can't tell you how many times I have just wanted to go back to work where I could feel useful and much less chaotic.  But, for me, our whole family was miserable while I was working (and only part-time at that) because I just can't walk away and leave work at work and focus on my family when I am at home.  Not taking care of my family is blatant disobedience to God's word (don't even have to pray about that one!), so I knew something had to go.  It was either the job or the family...so of course, the job had to go!  But, that's me and that's my family.  That may not be what God has for you.

I truly hope that I have never made anyone feel bad or wrong for their decision, one way or the other, on homeschooling/or staying at home.  That was honestly never my intention.  I am just trying to share our journey as honestly as I can so that it might encourage someone else (not really because what I do is so great, but because it's just an honest family doing their best to obey God in all things).  I know that I am encouraged by both those who have made the same decisions as us and those who haven't, when I see the great times they have with their family and the creative ways they share their faith and the Gospel with their children. 

Lord, give each of us a clear direction as to where you would have our families go.  And don't allow us to compare or "be that girl" when it comes to seeing others in their walk of obedience.  Help us to love each other and be great sources of love and encouragement to one another!

January 21, 2013

Highlights

So, I just discovered the "Your Highlights" tab on amazon for all the things I've been marking in the books I am reading on my kindle app.  Just thought I would share some of the things that I have been reading lately....that have, in turn, had my heart and soul stirring for incredible life change!


From Interrupted:An Adventure in Relearning the Essentials of Faith by Jen Hatmaker: (www.jenhatmaker.com)

"There is much value in the struggle."

"Jesus didn’t just host and serve the meal; He became the meal."

"Mercy has a cost: Someone must be broken for someone else to be fed."

"This is what God taught me through Judas at Jesus’ table, eating the broken bread that was His body: We don’t get to opt out of living on mission because we might not be appreciated."

"We’re not allowed to neglect the oppressed because we have reservations about their discernment. We cannot deny love because it might be despised or misunderstood. We can’t withhold social relief because we’re not convinced it will be perfectly managed. Must we be wise? Absolutely. But doing nothing is a blatant sin of omission."

"Jesus came to the foulest, filthiest place possible (Earth), full of ungrateful, self-destructive people who would betray Him far more than they’d love Him (a whole planet of Judases). He broke His body for rich people who would curse Him the second their prosperity was endangered."

"He poured His blood out for those who would take His Word and use it as a bludgeoning tool. He became the offering for people who would slander His name with ferocity, yet His grace was theirs for the asking until they drew their last breaths, even if all they could offer Him was a lifetime of hatred and one moment of repentance."

"There was one Judas, but eleven disciples who were forever transformed by Jesus’ broken body. The risk of encountering a few weeds is not sufficient reason to avoid the whole field of human suffering."


"I dream of a church that is once again called great, even by our skeptics, because our works of mercy cannot be denied. I want no part in a movement that is deemed great because we’ve adopted some exceptional qualities admired by the top."
 
"We have the privilege of serving Jesus Himself every time we feed a hungry belly, each moment we give dignity to someone who has none left, when we acknowledge the value of a convict because he is a human being, when we share our extreme excess with those who have nothing, when we love theforsaken and remember the forgotten. Jesus is there."
 

“We cannot think our way into a new kind of living. We must live our way into a new kind of thinking.”
 
"We’re all poor; I just have more stuff"
 
"Miraculously, there will come a day when we stand before God Almighty with nothing but this human life standing up on our behalf, full of failure and omissions. And just when all hope is lost, when we have nothing left to hold out, nothing to show God, no more to demonstrate our worthiness with, the Son will step in, in all His glory and righteousness, and say to the Father, “Whatever you do to the least of these, these brothers and sisters of mine, you do unto me.”
 
"It’s not about your church and how it is thrilling or failing you. Rather, what kind of bride are you helping to prepare?"
 
"We can continue to invite unbelievers to church, but we must first invite them into our lives. Have them over, go to dinner, welcome them in. Create a safe placefor them to belong without agenda; they needn’t worry about following our Christian rules yet (or pretending to in front of us)."
 
"How would our communities be transformed if our churches became servants to our cities? If at every turn believers labored for others as if they were our masters, we could not be ignored for long."
 

"It requires the patience of Job and the maturity of Paul to execute the mission of Jesus."



January 14, 2013

Praise and Sadness

This time last week Kevin and I were anxiously awaiting our trip this week to celebrate our 10th anniversary.  I was mentally making a check list of all I needed to pack, checking again to be sure we both had our passports, sunscreen, and trying to decide which suitcases to take.  I was planning getting the kids to my mom's and then my mom getting the kids back to Kevin's mom here in town.  It was a flurry of excitement!

By the end of the week, the focus had completely shifted.  I got a call early (well, OK, it was after 8, so it wasn't that early) Fri. morning that my grandmother had passed away.  All plans were changing.  The excitement and laughter was succumbing to tears and trying to recall every memory possible of this sweet woman.  I am amazed at all the praise that has flowed from my lips in the last 4 days, as a result of this sad time.  God is good!

--Grandma passed away on grandpa's birthday (he's been gone about 13 years).  What a great day to go meet her Heavenly Father, huh?  God is so good.
--I spent the day listening to the song 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman.  How can you not praise God when you hear that song? And, as my Aunt Sandra said so beautifully, the day came when Grandma Olyta's strength was failing, but her faith never did!
--We quickly had to start talking with the travel agent to postpone the trip.  This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Kevin has had several things come up with work that really needed to be taken care of and if we had left this week for the trip, it wouldn't have been finished!  Today I got a call from the agent and it cost us half the amount to change than we had originally thought!  Hallelujah!  (Of course, just the fact that we even had the insurance to be able to change the trip was the hand of God!)
-And, of course, there are all the fond memories of Grandma Olyta:
-------Playing in the potato bin in the basement with the plethora of cousins.
-------Making "medicine"from the mortar between the bricks in the basement walls. (It's amazing the walls are even still standing!)
-------Playing in the foam closet. (That sounds worse than it is....Grandma reupholstered furniture, so she had a whole closet full of foam pieces.  It was like our own little playground...even though we weren't supposed to be playing in there!)
-------The two big chalkboards Grandma had, one in her upholstery room and one on the back porch.  No matter what we wrote on there, she never erased it.
-------Sitting at her counter and eating brown sugar by the spoonful.
-------We actually lived with them for several months when we moved back to IL.  She was always ready and willing to cook a meal, a snack, do laundry, whatever we needed to feel welcome and at home.
-------For the longest time she made us each a pair of pajamas for Christmas every year.
-------We got quilts for graduation and the birth of most (if not all) of our children until she just couldn't do it any longer. 
I am sure there are many more fun things to remember that just aren't coming to mind right now.  Though it's going to be a sad time with lots of tears (yep, we all inherited that Quarton gene from Grandma!), I am looking forward to seeing the 40+ cousins, great grandchildren, aunts, uncles, etc. as we  gather to celebrate her life and home-going.

Lord, help me to always see that You are in control and You work all things for the good of those who love You and are called according to Your purpose.  Lord, help me to see that there's always reason for praise, even in the midst of pain! 

I'll leave you with a link to Dessert Song, a great song for this season in our family!

January 10, 2013

One Week Down....

Well, I am one week into being more intentional with my life and there have already been many ups and downs.  I wouldn't say I've totally failed, but it wasn't a complete success, either!

--One goal is to be more intentional about a consistent time in the word and prayer.  While I have been having this time, it still has not been consistent.  Being sick has really made it difficult to stick to that plan, but I will do better next week!!!

--It has been a successful week of being more intentional with school.  One way I've done that is working harder to have a "schedule" (and I use that term loosely!) that is more flexible and built more around what really works best for my kids.  Sophie is soooooooo not a morning person, so rushing her around and being rigid with an early morning start time (because I am pretty much useless past 1!) only resulted in both of us being grumpy and frustrated for the rest of the day.  So, we switched things around and we start school with Ethan first (who is a pretty happy guy in the mornings) and start a little later with Sophie.  It's also been a great week for being more intentional with pointing them to God more in every subject area.  Of course, science lends itself best to this, especially since we are studying the human body this semester.  I mean, really, when you look at the body's intricacies and all that has to work just right at just the right time, how can you not believe in the Creator!  Math is a stretch...but hey...there is a whole book of the Bible devoted to it, right?  So it must be important!  ;)  We've had a fun school week!

--One of my biggest goals is to be more intentional with our finances.  We've already taken a few steps to make this happen.  Our first step, which we started at the end of 2012, was to reduce our monthly grocery budget.  Over the last two months we have reduced that portion of the budget by $100.  It has been amazing to see that, even with that much less money every month, God has still provided and we've never gone hungry.  We have eaten a few things we probably wouldn't normally eat because we are trying to be sure to eat what is already in the house whenever possible.  The next step was to cut the "childcare" portion out of the budget completely.  This is really only possible because Kevin's mom is now in town and God has provided a very sweet couple in our church who is willing to watch the kids for date nights without pay.  God is good!  We also came to a very difficult decision for this year, which is to no longer eat the meals at church on Wed. nights.  We still go, we just take our own food.  It would cost us $52/month and our kids don't eat the food that is served, so we felt we would be better stewards if we just took our own meals and then used that money each month toward missions or to help those in need around us.  This has just started, so not sure how it will go, but it hasn't been that much of a hassle so far, and that's what I was really worried about. 

--The hardest one for me is being more intentional in building relationships with those in our neighborhood.  This goes way beyond my comfort zone and I feel far more comfortable making excuses not to do anything (I mean, really, we were all sick to varying degrees this week and we wouldn't want to pass it on to anyone, you know?) than just sucking it up and doing.  I am praying that God will constantly remind me that not reaching out is disobedience and if I choose to disobey, then what else can I expect my children to do but to choose the same thing.  They will live out what they see me doing (though I know there are exceptions), so if I want them to be obedient, then I must be, as well.

I am looking forward to meeting up with the friend who read the book 7 with me so we can discuss how we can make these ideas a reality for our lives.  Neither one of us wants to just go crazy, but we know there are many excesses in our lives that keep us from focusing on Christ and what He asks us to do, and we need to remove those!  I'll keep you updated with posts on things like: choosing 7 countries and eating only the foods that the poorest in those countries eat, recycling, pausing at 7 different times in the day to pray and seek the Lord.

The Lord has also really convicted me with the words of Isaiah 58 and what the Lord says here to His people about the kind of fast that He accepts.  Still not sure what all that means and how it needs to change my heart and life, but there will probably be a post soon, so keep your eyes open (because I know you are just dying to hear deep, spiritual things from this silly, little girl!)  ;)

Lord, continue to lead and guide our family so that we can be more intentional for You.