Saturday, December 17, 2011

A new family tradition

There are some things we love about Christmas:

Looking at Christmas lights
Homemade gifts
Friends and family

This year we are starting a new tradition. In effort to save time, create great memories and put a focus on sharing with others, we decided to combine all these things we enjoy about Christmas together.

For the last couple weeks, the kids and I have been making small tokens of love and appreciation to our friends here in the cities. We like doing this because it isn't the size or price of the gift, but it is a small piece of our time, effort, and heart.

Yesterday at about 3:30 in the afternoon we loaded up our gifts, packed a snack and set out on our family Christmas adventure.

Here are the warm and fuzzies from yesterday:
* All three of my kids wearing their Nana's homemade knitted owl hats lined up in the back seat like sitting ducks.

* Listening to great Christmas music in the car and hearing the kids sing a long while we drive from house to house.

* Teaching the kids new vocabulary words and hearing them trying to use it in a sentence. "Our house is abturt." I think he meant absurd.

* Singing songs on the steps of our friends houses, of which some we surprised and they didn't know we were coming. Those were the best!

* Visiting with a whole different assortment of friends that warm the heart and remind you that God lives fully in so many people.

* Watching my kids Christmas Carol in their Batman and Iron man costume. I don't know if they are confused about Holidays or just really hate their clothes, but more than one person commented on our parental lack of ability to dress our kids.

* The treat from the advent calendar yesterday was glow sticks, which worked out perfect for our adventure. Once it grew dark outside, we were impressed by the light show outside with Christmas lights, and the lighsaber battles inside the car. I don't know which lighting show won.

* Hearing my kids yell, "This song is my favorite!" to EVERY Christmas song on the radio.

* Holding my husbands hand while our kids laugh, sing, yell, squeal, tell stories three octaves louder than all other normal humans. They get that from me, and Paul doesn't find it endearing.

* While going to deliver presents, we ended up being surprised ourselves with homemade crochet earrings, (seriously amazing and so jealous I didn't think of it first!), Captain America toys, (for the boys, not me), and two heavenly bottles of wine. Who knew we would come home with goodies? That was a super fun surprise.

* My husband and I looking at each other at one point in the evening and without using words, we both understood that this was the best tradition to start and we will be keeping this idea for the future.

These are my reality moments from the evening:

* The fact that my kids have slept and still worn the same costumes for about a week, even under their uniform at school, says something about their general smell when you get close and hug.

* Little having a 101 temp and we still dragged her all around town. That girl had sad, sleepy and sick eyes all at the same time. We should have been reprimanded for taking her out, but somewhere deep down, I think she still liked it.

* Driving around and amongst the Christmas lights, we still live in the ghetto damaged by a tornado, so the boards on houses, the debris, the random crap in people's yards were still very evident. We were going for a hallmark moment/evening with our kids, and I think we got the knockoff version, but we still liked it.

* The fact that my kids had a cup of water and half a piece of squash bread for dinner. Do I need to say more about my lack of attention to my children's welfare? In my defense, they never complained or said they were hungry.

* The boys got two different Captain America toys, and of course, there was one very special coveted CA who both the kids needed to have. Thus, ensuring the constant nagging and debating on who's turn it was to play with it, and the constant reminder to share was on all of our lips for the reminder of the evening.

This evening was really special to us. It was a family adventure sprinkled and scattered with amazing people thrown in. We got to sing carols, (at one point we even did the Jingle Bells, Batman smells. yea I let them do that.) and we are not very good at singing. That became very clear to me, but it was super fun. One time Paul and I tried to throw a cookie exchange/caroling party in our hood, and when we went out to carol, NO ONE came to the door. We even had people turn their lights off and pretend they weren't home. It was really sad, so we hadn't tried since. Going to people's homes you know worked much better. We got to deliver small tokens of love that we made which satisfied our longing to love others and respect our income and means. We made memories as a family. We dreamed about where we could put up lights next year when we have gutters, maybe a tree and a fence or a bush. Right now we got nothing. A whole lot of nothing, but that's OK, we are claiming to be energy efficient. And hopefully somewhere along the way, we brought joy to our friends homes and lives even just for a moment. We shared in love and joy and celebration of Christ's birth and celebrated what the holiday is really about.

It is my new favorite tradition.

Merry Christmas.

Oh, and to those of you whom we love in the cities and didn't get to come visit, I am deeply sorry, we couldn't hit everybody, and I made a promise to stop making presents so I could enjoy the season, so we will have to share the joy sometime soon.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Squash Bread

Rarely can I find a recipe that fits all of our requirements, dietary restrictions and personal taste included, so I often look at something and think, how can I make this that fits our needs? I am also always looking for ways to use up ingredients that I only partially used in another recipe.

On Thanksgiving I made this delicious Gluten-Free Zucchini Bread. We all loved it. Well, I don't have zucchini in my house right now, but I do have half a steamed butternut squash.

Last week we had butternut squash risotto, one of my favorite meals of all time. I only use half the squash to make it last longer, and my kids are more prone to eat it if the ratio is half risotto to half or less squash. Instead of baking the other half of the squash, my really smart friend Kristy Grannis recommended cutting it into bite size pieces, adding just a thin layer of water on the bottom of the sauce pan and steaming the squash. The water in the bottom of the pan can be the liquid to mash the squash and you throw no water away. No vitamins or minerals wasted. How smart is she? I like her. Thank you Kristy.

So I took this great recipe from The Gluten Free Goddess and adapted to my needs and to the ingredients on hand. Here is our recipe:

Squash Bread

Mix dry ingredients together
1 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon unrefined sea salt
2 tablespoons cinnamon (I always increase this in my recipes.)

Add in the following and mix together
3/4 cup honey (or maple syrup or agave)
1/3 cup light olive oil or coconut oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon or lime juice
2 egg whites
1/4 cup rice/almond/coconut/soy milk (I use whatever I have on hand)

1/3 cup walnuts (I like them for their nutritional value) Omit if you can't have them, or add raisns.
small handful of Enjoy Life chocolate chips to sprinkle on top (incentive for my kids to eat it, though they liked the flavor anyway.)

Put in a bread pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes.

Here's our new version of an old favorite that is Gluten/dairy/sugar free. It tastes great and my kids love it. I doubled the recipe to use up all the squash and we are freezing some for after the holidays.

So here is another way to use up your squash from your garden. My kids won't eat squash soup yet, so I'm trying to be creative. Here they get squash and walnuts plus no sugar. Bonus on lots of levels.


I hope your little helper is as cute as this one.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Talking about sex

So I was asked to speak about Self Image and Sex tonight at a church.

Just to let you in a little secret, I don't talk about these things. Not in a "it makes me uncomfortable, and I have 12 year old's sense of humor so I can't talk about it", but in a "I haven't found an appropriate stage for this conversation, so I don't want to talk about it" kind of way.

People joke that as a woman speaker, this is what I should be speaking about, but it's never been my thing. I don't promote this talk in any of my PR, but I also won't say no if someone really wants to me to do it.

Until now. I think I found my limit and I will say no from here on out.

This is what I realized tonight.

The church shouldn't address the issue of sex with a wide audience of students. I just believe that each of those students are coming from such a different place and the topic is so broad that it is impossible to communicate what you want and address the actual topics the students want and need to know about. Then you are left with a broad and general response to something so deeply personal. Thus the church really hasn't addressed any issue.

Students are ranging from not even being interested, to maybe working up the courage to talk to the person they aren't even sure how they are feeling about. You might even have students who have committed their first kiss being on their wedding day. Then you have the students that want to hold hands and sit on each other's lap and they get excited when the person they like is around. Beyond that you have students who are feeling pressured into intimate touching, or oral sex and sex. On the even darker side you have STD's, rape of all kinds, sex parties, abuse, abortion, teen pregnancy, porn, masturbation, and sex trafficking.

That's just the physical stuff. What about guilt, shame, abandonment, low self esteem, excitement, fear, joy, fulfillment, adoration, love, lust... the list goes on.

Now what about the media, social pressure, peer pressure, movies, music, TV, magazines, and all the things they have to say, persuade, or lead you to believe about the issue. Shouldn't we shed some light on those issues?

All these issues are wrapped up on in just one word... sex. I didn't even touch body image.

So how in our right mind can we as adults in the church expect to communicate effectively about this issue to a large audience of students (and maybe their parents) on this very intense, deeply complicated issue?

We do it one on one or in very small groups that are made up of same sex and age or experience, which seems kind of unlikely.

Tonight I tanked as a speaker. I felt all over the board, I felt shallow and surface, two things I HATE being when I am on stage. But I looked out at the audience and saw little boys. Truly, little boys who just want to play cops and robbers, and grown up girls with makeup and pierced ears. I saw parents and little girls who still play with barbie, and the middle school jock who is too cool to care or listen. I looked out and thought, each of you needs something different. Each of you has different experiences and questions, and now I am going to be that chick who says, wait until your married, period without even digging deeper.

I heard that when I was younger, and when the cute boy looked my way, I didn't care what they said in church.

So how do you effectively talk about sex?

I don't know. That's why I'm not going to anymore. I'll leave it to the experts. Unless you want me to come to an intense personal low key weekend retreat where I get small group time with an other adult and students, then I'll do it. We'll get to the real stuff quick and bring Jesus along with us.

Man I really didn't do well tonight and that is hard for me to accept, but I know it's because this issue is too big for one session, and that's all I had.

Now that my rant is done, please understand that anytime we as believers can encourage young people to abstain from sex outside of marriage, I think we should. Do I believe that God works even in my weakness and my perceived failure, absolutely. If these are the only times that churches can orchestrate a time to talk about sex, then take what you can get. But might I suggest, pick one or two of these issues to pin point and dig deep. Group your kids to be with other kids their own age so the topic is relevant to them. Set this time up for success for them.

But why don't we all just embrace the fact that maybe we could talk about it more in our daily life with the young people who trust us. They have to get their information from somewhere. Be their source of information and trust and respect. Hear their issues and lift them up in prayer. Guide and counsel them in the way of the word. And love them even when they make mistakes. Or encourage them in wise choices.

Three days later: Its been interesting to see people's response to this post. Just to clarify, I am fine talking about sex, I just need to know what piece of this huge complicated puzzle you want me to address and to what specific group of people. I am not uncomfortable talking about sex or talking in front of large groups, this evening did reveal to me though how broad and wide the range of this issue is and how we can't communicate all the things the students need to know in one night. I was finally able to put words to my frustrations. I am thankful for that, but wish I had been in a better mental place when presenting and had already sorted all of this out. If you end up talking with students about sex, make sure you know where they are coming from first, and figure out what they are needing to know.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Presents with purpose

This is really funny that I am doing this now, considering my last post, but judge if will.

I had a friend request six of the Haitian bracelet I sell when I go and speak for Christmas gifts for her nieces and nephew's. I thought, what a great idea!

So I wanted to post some pictures and let you all know that if you are looking for a great gift idea for someone you love, someone you just need to buy for, or a white elephant gift, consider purchasing a bracelet from Haiti made by dear friend Tijean.

Tijean and I met when I was 22 years old, and he quickly found his way into my heart. Tijean is a dedicated student, working very hard to complete his education, and is a recent owner of a cyber cafe in Haiti where the money he makes helps support his family.

Here is Tijean this past January when I was in Haiti.

TiJean and I went into business together last year. He and the friends he employs makes bracelets for me by the hundreds, and I sell them wherever I am traveling and speaking. I purchase the bracelets from him a fair rate and split the profit. It has allowed me to participate in a continuing effort to supply income and work to one little family in Haiti.

TiJean is a tremendous young man and disciplined and faithful business partner. It is an honor to work with him, and a joy to call him my friend.

If you are interested in ordering, please go to my website, and email me how many you would like, where to mail them to, and color preference. Each bracelet is $5 and worth every penny.

Sorry they are a little fuzzy but you get the idea. Tijean also employs his friends to hrlp create an income for more families.

If you are looking for a way to give a gift with purpose, that is homemade and benefits the international community, this bracelet is the perfect gift.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Shopping

The last two weekends have been rough and full of cranky kids, cranky husband and cranky me. The last two weekends we have gone Christmas shopping.

One thing our family does is tries to encourage the kids to think about what they want to give for Christmas as well, so that the holiday always serves as a platform for them to think of others. We usually take two weeks out in Dec. to construct and create all of the kids gifts by hand, so we aren't spending more money, but they are still giving and reusing materials. It teaches them it isn't just about receiving, but also giving. And then truly it isn't even really about that is it? Its about remembering a birth. It's about Hope. It's about Love. Its about Immanuel, God with us.

For the last week, my kids have been melting crayons, we have been making T-shirt bags, painting canvases, gluing and writing Christmas cards, baking granola. It's been fun projects to do together and they are proud of the gifts to give, but it's still been all about presents, whether giving or receiving, whether earth friendly or not.

My husband and I, in an effort to actually mail out presents on time this year, (they aren't wrapped or mailed yet so we don't have a lot of hope) have shopped the last two weekends to get everything finished. We have dragged three cranky kids to malls and stores, we have issued threats, had time outs, bought presents we weren't even thrilled about that I know I'll need to return, we missed a meal, we prayed for help, we screamed our head off at the thought of being in a cart again,(no that wasn't me, but I did receive all the dirty looks at my freakshow of a daughter and her ability to hit only Maria Carey notes) and we turned an opportunity for family fun and productivity into a huge cranky mess. The last two Sunday's, we have sat around our table and looked at each other and have said, "Not our best day. What was our problem?" To which one of my kids would reply, "you made me mad today." And I would say, "yea I know. you made me mad today too." "yeah, I know" was the answer I got. We would chuckle a little at our mess of a day and say, "better tomorrow"!

See the stress for my husband and I is that we do one present for each person we buy for including our kids. Our kids get new PJ's on Christmas eve, one present from us and one from Santa, so officially they do get three presents, two being toys. When you limit yourself to only two presents, which I love by the way, it creates a new mental breakdown when you are trying to get something that you know your kid wants, yet, stays in your price range, while also trying to get them something that maybe they didn't know they wanted, but you know they will love. The match between desire, price, and time makes it extra hard to shop. My husband and I HATE spending money on presents, just to have a present, we want it to be a good, thoughtful, useful present. For aunts, uncle's, grandparents and kids, you only get one present so you want to make it count.

We've never had a lot of money, and this year with our new diet restrictions, money is even tighter, which makes Christmas feel extra hard. Our kids are older, and very aware and bright. I just wonder if this is the Christmas they discover, since they can compare notes with other kids at school, how lame their parents really are. That pressure gets to me. I hate that its there, I hate that I can see it and feel it and that I am tempted to buy into it.

This year, so many people helped my little family in such big ways. My heart is still overwhelmed by the generosity of our friends and neighbors and church. I have been trying to make Christmas presents, truly just small tokens of gratitude, to give to people this year for Christmas. I want to, but yet, now there is this pressure to keep crafting and making long into the evening to get it done.

My husband and I pulled out all of our presents tonight to take inventory and see where we were at, and we looked at each other, neither being overly excited about the "system" of presents. Unhappy at our lack of funds, remembering our own childhood and bringing our own expectations to the table, each having our own desire for what we want Christmas to be, and what we teach our children Christmas is. It was confusing and hard, and now I have a bunch of present to wrap. So even though, we made it through the buying and deciding, there is now wrapping.

That's when it creeped up on me. Even in our greatest effort, to reduce the gifts, reuse and make our own gifts, teach about giving to our children, presents have become a huge distraction. We've tried to make the distraction spiritual and holy, but its still a distraction. One that creeps up on you and takes precious time away from focusing on what Christmas really is. Today in the message at church we were looking at the slow and steady decline into sin. The picture of how to boil and cook a frog was used. The song with the line, "people don't crumble in a day" was used. We take baby steps away from God and towards something else, until we suddenly realize we are lost.

I have gotten lost. I have turned my good intention, my desire to thank those who mean so much to me, and my children away from what really matters. I have slipped into the dark side of Christmas. My only moment of peace today was when we were doing our devotion and singing "Away in the Manger" and "Silent Night". It was when we were focused on the sustaining love of God and His immense dedication to help us out of sin and hurt and pain.

So with my new found clarity, I want to spend the rest of my Christmas season focused on one thing. I will wrap the presents I have, and mail, hopefully the ones I have purchased, but the rest will wait till after Christmas.

My husband and I have found that after we do something together, whether it be a holiday, party, get together, or even seasons of our life, we look at one another and say, "OK, how did that go? What went well? What went bad? What won't do again next year?" Last year we stripped a lot out of our schedule with this evaluation process and have been much happier since.

I already know what my answer will be for next Christmas,

No more Christmas letter, but maybe an Easter letter.

Christmas will also not be the time when I thank people and want to give them a token of my love and appreciation. I will be a random day to be celebrated each year where I can take my time creating and crafting my thank you presents. I will have less stress and more time to focus on Christ at Christmas.

Downsize the amount of people we buy presents for.

I have to figure out where crafting with my kids for their presents comes in. Maybe we have have a crafting camp week some time in the summer and do it all then, that way we still have time to keep the focus on what really matters at Christmas.

Christ. Hope. Love. Redemption. Forgiveness.

Man I had lost myself this year. I didn't even realize it until I wrote this. Now all of my confusion and crankiness makes sense. It wasn't obvious to me at first because I thought we were being honorable in how we approached it, dealt with it, and didn't go into debt over it, but IT was still taking all our time, focus, and energy, and thus being our Christmas idol. We say NO MORE.

With clarity, I am now free.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

One of my deepest struggles

You haven't heard from me because the only thing consuming my time is reading the Hunger Games. I don't know what the purpose of the book is. If it was purely a book for pleasure or did the author have a reason for what she wrote about. Did it have to do with how you can't help whom you love, or does it have to do about social justice, government involvement, or moving a generation of younger readers to desire to fight for their own future. I don't know and I haven't spent anytime searching out interviews, because my own reaction is still hard enough to sift through.

If you haven't read the Hunger games, I don't know if I would give anything away really, but you may want to stop reading.

There is an onslaught of emotions in this book and it has stirred up long time feelings in me. I had just come to peace with my life. I had just resolved to be thankful and grateful for this time with my kids when they are young. That although I have a desire to do more, travel and participate in eliminating discrimination, war and hunger with the lack of schools, this is where I need to be right now. My children are only young once and they need our training to be prepared. I could finally accept that raising my children to be aware of these things and to give them a heart for all people is a gift in that fight as well. That in a few short years they will have their own lives to live and my influence and direction only lasts for so long.

As I look at this previous paragraph it makes me chuckle in sarcasm as I think how in the world have I done anything to communicate my heart for less war and selfishness and destruction on our planet. But then I realize it is at the source of why I become unhappy. Because my hidden desire to participate in the fight for the goodness of man is always put away on the back shelf loosing its place in my life to prepare meals, clean up after meals, shop for food for the meals, do laundry, picking up toys, cleaning up spills and trying to raise my kids and see my husband. It makes me feel like a fake saying I care about these things at all because I see no proof of it in my daily life. That statement alone brings me to tears. I feel like a sell out. I feel like a fake. I feel overwhelmed. I wonder where there is time to care about these things when my current life feels overwhelming. Food and the effects of food have overtaken my existence and has left me empty in my desire to help others.

This trilogy brought the injustice of the poor and the downright need to fight against the system slamming into the forefront of my thoughts and my heart. Thoughts I used to have and fights I wanted to fight before that are now covered in dust. It has unsettled me and left me wondering and questioning how I can go forward and which step I take to start participating again in the fight against injustice.

It then becomes my indecision that cripples me from doing anything. I become the thing I speak against and I almost don't know how to fix that. I speak all over the country encouraging students and adults alike to be not be overwhelmed with the whole of the world and its needs, but take it one step at a time, one need at a time, and in that we bring more love into our world truly allowing it to change the hearts of others. Taking my own advice of one small good deed, one need at a time seems small and trite, though I know with my whole soul it is not, I can not fend off the taunting little voice inside me that says I was made to do more.

Maybe it’s a dream or a wish, but I always connect to or want to be the person in the story who was turned into a leader. Who could rally hundreds and thousands of people to the fight against the one who causes the injustice. Or to be the person who could sacrifice everything to stand out and make a difference. I don’t know that I really am that person, but I want to be. I dream I could be. Maybe. Even saying that feels pompous and arrogant, but if I could have a dream, I would want to be the person who inspires others and advocates and fight for a real change that makes the world better for all who live in it.

Some would say it is a question of identity, but I know who I am. It becomes far less about who you are, but it does beg the question, what do I do with who I am? The question plagued Katniss, “What do I do?” How do I respond to all the selfish acts that are destroying people’s lives? Do you sit by or do you act in the rebellion and fight for what is right? How do I help against the systems that destroy people? Systems that keep the poor poor. Take small children and turn them into solders. Take young girls and sell them for sex. Allow women who speak out of turn to be burned as a lesson. Allow poisons to be put in our food and turn us all into cancer patients killing us off slowly. Systems where the rich get richer off the poor mans labor. Where people will lie, steal kill and destroy innocents than to admit they are wrong.

I heard a song yesterday and I just kept singing this one line over and over while I let the tears fall, “Is love alive. Is love alive. Is love. Alive.” Yes I believe that in small ways it is, but what I wept over was truly wondering if love was alive in the government, within the leaders of not only the country but the world. Those making the choices that directly affect us, living under their systems. I believe that answer is no.

My mind has not just been unsettled; it has been at war with itself. My thoughts are consumed around that question, “What do I do?” The hard thing about living in our time of technology is that we are all very well aware of the injustices going on around the world. No you won’t see it on your TV which is overwhelmed with reality television, which is another system I would love to fight, but its there, online, in magazines, and on certain news stations. We can’t claim ignorance anymore.

Can we just sit by or can we do something.

And what is that something.

And can we really pull it off.

I loved the hunger games, but I don’t know what to do with the effects it’s had on me.

DISCLAIMER*** If you know me than you know that I am a big believer in seeing a need and meeting a need and watching how that makes a difference. I support all sorts of local organizations that are feeding the poor, giving clothes to the homeless and counseling and basic needs to VETS, orphans, and single families as well as sick and mistreated people. I support and believe in what meeting people’s immediate needs means to them and to the system. What I want is a bigger fight. I want to see policies change. I want to see government make choices made that are right for people, not for themselves. Not just our country, but each country in his own right. I am coming from a place of being worn down by brokenness. The effects of sin and how it steals life from us has seemed overwhelming as of late.