Sunday, June 30, 2013

I Heart Mission Trips.

The summer after I was in 7th grade, my church youth group joined forces with another local church group and made the trip to Mobile, Alabama for what would be my first mission trip.  We stayed in a church activity center building.  The girls slept on the floor of a racquetball court.  There were about 50 girls & women in this room, so every sneeze, every snore and every alarm clock going off in the morning, every whisper & shhhhhhh echoed.  Once the lights were out, it was completely pitch black so getting up to go potty meant navigating your way through a maze of suitcases & bodies and half-inflated air mattresses.  (Remember, this was before the day of portable air compressors, so everyone had to blow them up the old fashioned way on the first night we arrived. It only took about an hour to determine that I was too exhausted to forcefully exhale any longer.)

During the day, we traveled to another church in Mobile to work on the physical building until lunchtime.  There was power washing, painting & cleaning up trash to be done.  But I should be honest.  I didn't do a whole lot of physical labor.  My girlfriends & I went inside the building to an upstairs classroom most of the morning to prep for the afternoon VBS program we would lead at the local Boys & Girls club.  I spent at least a portion of those mornings passed out in the floor because I was sleeping so little in the racquetball room.  In the afternoons, we'd travel over to the Boys & Girls Club across town (read: in the ghetto) to tell the kids about Jesus.  I had learned the lessons & crafts ahead of time, but nothing really prepared me for what I was walking into until the time came.  It was shocking.  Not because the kids looked different from me but because of the difference in their lives.  I came from a home where there was always enough food, I always had clothes to wear, my parents were there for me any time, no one was in & out of jail.  That was not the case for these kids.

The summer after 8th grade, my church youth group went on a different kind of mission trip.  We spent the greater part of 4-5 months perfecting a musical that we traveled across the southern states of the US performing at different places.  (The video above is NOT my group, but the theme song to the same musical we performed.)  We went to Lousiana, Mississippi, Alabama (where we stopped at the previous summer's Boys & Girls club to perform the play!!) and Florida.  We ended the trip at Disneyworld before heading home.  It was a very different sort of mission trip, but a mission just the same.  We saw kids and adults alike come to know the Lord because of our performance.

The summer after 9th grade, I went with a group of girls to Harlem (NYC).  We stayed at the Baptist Association's office in downtown Manhattan, but each day traveled by subway into Harlem to work at the Greater Universal Baptist Church. (You can see this church's current website here: Located in the middle of the toughest part of New York, it was such a cool experience to walk into a part of town that was definitely scary and work with kids who were living some really tough stuff at home.  We used the basement of their building to do a VBS program with the kids.  I still have a big scrapbook of pictures from that trip.  I've often wondered what became of those kids when they grew up.

But then my world got turned upside down.  In a good way.  In a powerful, life changing, mind-boggling, heartbreaking, I-will-never-be-the-same sort of way.

The summers after 10th, 11th and 12th grades, I went to the same place.  Our youth group traveled to Laredo, TX and just across the border into Mexico, to minister to the poorest of the poor.  My life was totally altered on those trips.

We spent the mornings at an orphanage that would give me a heart for the fatherless for life!  The Mexican government does not regulate this orphanage the way orphanages in America would be, so the kids got less than adequate care.  The reality for most of these kids meant growing up (birth through 14 or 15) inside the tall concrete walls of the orphanage.  Then in their mid-teens, they  would open the compound doors & tell them "Good luck, have a nice life." and kick them out.  There were so many orphans coming into the place that they couldn't care for all of the kids and they felt that mid-teens were old enough to go out & make a life on their own.  Many of the boys turned to a life of drugs and girls to prostitution because they didn't know anything else.  Unfortunately, that meant that just a couple of years later, these orphans on the street would have babies of their own that they brought back to the orphanage, continuing the cycle, the same way many of them found their way into the doors of the orphanage as newborns.

The infants there laid in rooms lined with beds that were covered in urine & feces, with diapers that hadn't been changed in days, crying and begging for love.  The toddlers & preschoolers ran around in diapers (or naked from the waist down) and whatever donated clothes that were near their size.  One day, upon walking into the kitchen, I saw a pantry lined with cans & cans & cans of whole kernel corn.  At lunchtime that day I realized that corn is all the kids were eating.  The older kids stayed outside on the back porch or the yard of the building, playing together in the dirt or swinging on the swing set.  It broke my heart to spend my morning holding babies, changing diapers, playing with kids who soaked up the attention like a sponge...and then to have to get in the van & leave in the early afternoon.  One of my last days there, one particular little girl called me "mama".  Oh how I wanted to tuck her into my bag & take her out of that orphanage.  I still wonder where my sweet Lilliana is today.  (Larry & I were already dating by that time.  I called him from Mexico that night & asked if we could hurry up & get married and adopt this little girl.  Like, immediately.)

When we'd leave the orphanage, most of us in tears, we'd make the 20 minute drive to the church where we'd minister in the afternoons.  We held an outdoor VBS program for the neighbhorhood children.  And by neighborhood, I mean a group of houses made from stacked cinderblocks and whatever scrap metal or plywood could be found.  (The picture above is not mine, I found it online but it gives you a vague idea of what we saw.)  No electricity, no bathrooms, just shelter from the sun.  The children showed up in droves, anxious to listen to a story, color a picture, get a hug and maybe leave with a sticker or a sucker at the end of the day.  Watching these children arrive without shoes, with hair so dirty flies were circling their heads, again broke my heart for the lives they lived.

But somehow, for the week I got to be there holding hands, hugging children, speaking to them about the love of Christ in my very broken Spanish, I learned far more than those kids ever learned from me.  You just can't go to a place like that and not be changed from the inside out.  You can't see things like that and not remember it for the rest of your life.

The summer after 12th grade, I also went to Mexico City to stay with a missionary family for 10 days while we ministered to the street children there.  The homes were slightly better than what I had seen in the other part of Mexico, but they were still very, very poor people.  (The picture above was found online, but gives you an idea of the homes in the part of Mexico City where we stayed.)  We welcomed them to the rooftop tent area of the missionaries' home where we served them a traditionally made Mexican snack (made by some wonderful local ladies), told them Bible stories and played games with them before we closed the day with puppet shows.

As an adult, I look back on all those trips with such amazing memories.  Not so much because I went into some poverty-stricken places and did some great thing, but because of the great things God did in me through those poverty-stricken places.

Sure, I learned to tell Bible stories and how to share my faith but I learned so much more.  God taught me so much more on those trips.  He taught me about crossing cultural lines and loving people.  He taught me about serving incredibly poor children and loving them.  He taught me about flexibility and grace in difficult situations.  He taught me to open my eyes and see that the world is much, much bigger than the community where I live---and that He made all of those people in His image.  He taught me how to serve graciously, even in situations where it is very hard and very uncomfortable.  He taught me about selflessness and realizing how much I have to be grateful for.  He taught me about hard, hard work and about catching head lice from children who want nothing more than to brush my hair and touch me.  He taught me about holding hands and snuggling children who look drastically different from me without hesitation or fear.  He taught me about having a heart broken for people whose needs I couldn't possibly fill because they were so great.  He taught me about giving my life to serving Him and, in some tiny way, helping 'the least of these' as often and as fully as possible.  He taught me about love--His love. 

All of this is why I am so excited to get to be a part of a local mission trip this summer.  Our church youth group does an annual 5 day club with Child Evangelism Fellowship at a local park on the "other side of town".  It's a park that my children would probably never otherwise go to.  In our town, there is a program for kids put on by the parks & recreation dept.  Every week day, there are several adults hired by the city to supervise the kids at the parks.  Parents in the area can drop their child off at the park around 8:00 am and leave them for the day.  Some of the kids just wander up from the surrounding neighborhoods.  Unsupervised children as young as 3-4 years old come to the park to spend the day.  While I think the idea is good, the truth is there is no way for the handful of adults to possibly supervise the 50-70 kids who show up to play.  They provide games, crafts and a free lunch for the kids.  The kids run and play and make friends in the park, where they spend most of the days of their summers.

That's where the 5 day club comes in.  Our group goes to the park and spends 1 week getting to know the kids.  We set up some tables with crafts and snacks.  We come alongside the city-hired adults to play with the kids and build relationships with them.  We hang out, we tell them a Bible story & sing some songs with them.  We offer them a chance to learn more about Jesus if they want to and then we eat lunch with them.  I have been going with my kids the last couple of summers to watch the program, help supervise all the kids and play.  I've met children an adults with some handicaps, others who have no father at home (and others with no mother).  I've had my hair done by little girls from the neighborhood.  I've slid down a big slide and pushed kids on swings.

But the best part is watching my children get to experience some of the same things I experienced in Mobile, Harlem, Laredo and in Mexico.  Crossing the cultural boundaries, forming relationships, meeting physical needs of kids, telling a Bible story & talking to kids about Jesus, learning flexibility and grace, learning about selflessness and loving on children who need a hug and a hand to hold.  It almost makes my heart explode just thinking ahead to what we will be doing next month....and to what God will be doing in us!

Gosh I love mission trips!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Random Thoughts with Liz

1.  This past week I gained 3 new students in my preschool classroom.  I have seven kiddos now.  That's a good size for a classroom of 2 1/2 year olds.  On Thursday, one of the teachers was out so I had FIVE extra kids.  Two of my regulars were out for the day, so I "only" had ten kids.  The crazy thing is, although the table was crowded and the room was full to the brim, it wasn't that bad.  The day went by quickly!  Sarah is my helper this summer, so having a second set of hands was great on Thursday!

2.  The locusts are back.  Well, they're not really locusts.  That's just what we call them.  (you know...the plague of locusts from the Bible)  See, every year in late June or early July, the cicadas come out.  Hundreds of them!  From what I understand, they lay eggs in the ground & live there for 17 years at a time.  Every year, we see a million holes about the diameter of a Kindergarten pencil in the ground & that's when we know they're back.  They come out of these holes & go find a safe spot to light where they stay until they molt from their tight skin shell.  They live for about a month & then die.  And I suppose somewhere in that 30 days, they go lay more eggs in the ground because they come back every year.  I guess there is a constant stream of cicada eggs growing underground at any moment in time.

At night, you can hear them flying around & bumping into the walls of the house.  Little thumps & bumps might scare you if you don't know what it is.  Like moths or other bugs, they are attracted to light, so they often thump & bump into the windows until we turn off all the lights.  In fact, I'm sitting next to a window listening to them now!  They make a cool chirping/buzzing sound and for most southerners, they recognize it as a peaceful summer night sound, kind of like crickets chirping in the fall.

If you don't know what a cicada is, let me show you.   This is a live cicada.  They are about 2" long & have a fat, heavy body.  When they first come out of their shells, they are a light green color, but after their wings dry out & they are ready to start flying around & banging on your windows and walls, they turn this color.
You may have seen a cicada shell in your lifetime.  Most people have, but many don't realize what it is.  Around here, we see hundreds of them stuck on EVERYTHING every summer.  The trees, our brick walls of the house, on the grill cover, our tires, the dog house...everywhere!  The shells look like this.

King of freaky looking, huh?

The funniest part of these little bugs is that they FLIP OUT if you try to pick them up.  You can grab onto its wing & it will start having some kind of crazy bug seizure until you turn loose of it.  Our dog is fascinated by them & will eat them if she can get a hold of one on the ground.  Crazy dog!

2.  Tonight, at about 8:20 I left our church to head to the grocery store. was 8:20 pm.  This is what my car thermometer said.  (And the car was parked in a shady spot!)

Seriously.  That is crazy.
I know I should be used to this, but I'm not.  Every year it surprises me to see how hot it is in Texas.  And as if that weren't enough, the humidity level stays at about the 80-90% mark most of the summer.  Fortunately we haven't hit that point yet this year, but I know it's coming.  Ugh!  Most of the year, I loveeee living in Texas.  I'm proud of my state.  But from late May through at least late October, it's just too freakin' hot to move.  Going outside is too miserable, so a lot of our summers are spent indoors, trying to keep from dehydrating on the spot or wrinkling up like a sun dried tomato.

3.  Speaking of summertime things to do, I made a Summer bucket list a few days ago with the kids.  I saw the idea on Pinterest a year or more ago, but like so many of my other pins, I forgot all about it.  Last week, I saw a post on a friend's blog about how she'd made a bucket list last year and I was inspired to make one!  (Sorry, I had to edit the pic a bit for our safety!  No location identifying info!)  You can click on the pic to make it bigger & see what we have planned for the summer!

4.  Tonight we had an evening of worship & scripture at church.  It was awesome.  Just a month or so ago I was asking my local friends on Facebook if they knew of any upcoming worship events.  I was really craving some focused worship time.  And then it happened---a few days later, our worship pastor posted an 'ad' about tonight on the church website.  Savannah was working tonight and the younger 2 kids weren't really interested in going anywhere because they were doing some personal Bible study (just kidding, they were playing video games) so Larry stayed home with them.  I was a little bummed that we weren't all going together, but in the end, I was excited to go alone so that I could really focus.

When I got there, I had to decide whether to go straight up front where I could totally focus & not be distracted by someone around/near me OR if I should sit near the back so that I wouldn't distract anyone else if I moved/stood/raised my hands, etc.  I ended up picking a seat near the back.  Fortunately I picked the side of the building that happened to have several other standers/hand raisers so I didn't feel weird or out of place.

Here's the thing.  I never know how demonstrative people will be in church.  I don't really care what anyone else is doing or what their worship style is.  It's usually based on whatever they grew up doing, what they saw their parents do, what feels comfortable for them.  But the truth is, I always feel more inhibited and reserved if NO ONE ELSE is moving/standing/raising their hands, etc.  I always try to remember to close my eyes & block out what everyone else is doing & only focus on God and respond whatever way the Spirit leads me.  Someone (I can't remember who) once stated that, in a worship service, you're either worshiping or you're watching everyone else worship.  I know that sounds like a "duh" quote, but it's so true.  If I'm not focused on Jesus and participating with my own adoration/confession/prayer, I am watching (read: judging) what everyone else is doing.  And that's not what I'm there for.  Whatever they are doing is between them & God.  That's always stuck with me.  If I get distracted watching others, I might as well be reading a magazine or writing a note to my friend.

The only downside about tonight is that I wish it could've been about 3 hours long, but I guess our worship pastor needs to have a voice left to lead on Sunday morning so I suppose just 1 hour was wise.

5.  Like the past several summers, I am actively looking for a new job.  If you're new here & want the whole story, email me.  Most of you already know why I'm looking.  Join me in praying for the right job.  I am sooo tired of job-hopping.  I want to find the right job & settle in 'til retirement!  The jobs I am MOST hoping work out are a few full time aide/paraprofessional positions in our school district.  For the hours, the schedule, the year-round salary, being able to be off in the summers with our kids and a million other reasons, I would LOVE to be able to stay with the school system.  But if that doesn't work out, I have applied for a few other jobs so I am keeping my fingers crossed.

It's nearly 1:00 am, so I think I'm going to shut this thing down now.  Goodnight friends!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Q & A with Larry and Liz

Inspired by our worship pastor's recent anniversary podcast with his wife, I am going to attempt to pull off a similar fun project for mine and Larry's 19th anniversary, coming up in August.  But I need your help!!!

If I get little (or no) response, I will scrap the idea.  But I'd really like to do this.  I think it would be fun and I hope you will play along.

Here's the deal.  I'm going to do an anniversary Q&A blog post with Larry.  You can be involved by sending in questions for us to answer.  They can be serious.  Or silly.  They can be marriage-focused or parenting-focused or faith-focused....or whatever else you come up with!  Questions can be directed to me, or to Larry, or to both of us.

Get creative!  Have you always wondered something about us?  Time to ask!

Send your questions to me at or if you're a Facebook friend, inbox me there.

Note:  Larry & I will have the final say about which questions we answer.

I will post the blog with our Q&A around our anniversary date: Aug 20th.

Friday, June 7, 2013

She's growing up too fast.

A week ago, Savannah got on a charter bus bound for Washington DC with the high school band.  She's about 2 hours away from returning home tonight.

She's had a great trip with only a few bumps in the road along the way.  I know it's a huge accomplishment and such a great life experience for her.  I know she's had a blast and has learned about our country, herself, her friends.  I am so proud of her and to be called her mother.  God blessed me with her nearly 17 years ago and I grow more proud of her every day.

But for a few seconds, can I just be a sappy mama and point out that seeing her accomplish big things like is so hard?  The first day of Kindergarten was so emotional.  I mean, I wanted her to go and learn and make friends and become more independent.  But at the same time I wanted to keep her little.  And then on the last day of school, I was emotional again because, well... she did it.  By herself.  She accomplished another big thing without any help from mama.  And every year since then has passed more & more quickly, each May reminding me that I'm one step closer to letting her go and giving her wings to take on the world.

This trip is sort of like that.  I am THRILLED that she had the opportunity to go.  I LOVE that she got to see things that she will remember for the rest of her life.  I ADORE the band directors and the band program we have in our school system and the chances it provides so many kids who might never get a chance to see places like this otherwise.

But as the buses pulled away last weekend, I got choked up.  And as they return tonight, I'm sure I will do the same.

I guess it's all just a reminder that she's growing up.  Very soon, she won't need me anymore.  Not in the way she's needed me since birth anyway.  I know that's a good thing.  I realize that our ultimate goal as parents is to raise children who can survive out in the world on their own as productive citizens.  But to watch her drive away, to know that my job is almost done....gosh it's hard.

Fortunately she's a mama's girl and it makes things like this a little easier.  She's not digging in her heels and pushing me away, dying to move out and go far, far from home.  She loves her mama and is a big hugger.  She still looks for security and comes to snuggle on my bed pretty often.  She loves to lay on Larry's pillow and have long talks.  And I am so over the moon elated when she does.  Once in a while, I get to stroke her hair as she dozes off while we talk.  It wasn't that many nights ago when she curled up in her little pink sleeper on my chest, fingers curled around mine as we drifted off to sleep.  I stroked her little bald head back then.

As she's getting older and moving one step closer to adulthood all the time, she's becoming more of a friend and less of a child.  I look forward to the future.  I know she has an amazing life ahead of her.  She will ROCK college.  She will become a terrific teacher or writer or whatever she decides to pursue.  She will make some man very happy one day and she will be a fantastic mom.

But for tonight, I'm looking forward to getting my baby girl home.  To hug her, to hold her tight and know that, at least for a little while longer, she's still my little girl.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Year of Dates: June 2013

Tonight was our date night for our Year of Dates.

I would show you what the card inside said, but it really doesn't matter because we kind of got off track of doing what it said.  So here's what we really did tonight!

First, I got all dolled up for my sweetie & sent him this pic, telling him I was looking forward to our date.

Since he was meeting me there after work, I drove up to our destination & got us a table.

Larry was on the way, so I knew it wouldn't be long til he got there.  We had texted & I knew what road he was crossing when I arrived.  He was only about 2 miles away.  So I sat down at the table with the chips & hot sauce & starting munching while I waited.

I think it's a Texas thing.  I'm a big weenie for spicy stuff, so I put butter into my hot sauce to cool it off.  I took this picture mostly for my BFF Bethany who lives in Missouri & had never heard of people doing this before I told her about it.

After about 20 minutes, I was starting to get worried about Larry since he still had not arrived.  When he finally got there, he told me that he'd witnessed a major wreck about 1/4 mile from the restaurant.  He helped get the lady out of her car and had to stick around to tell the police what happened.  We were supposed to meet at 6:30.  He arrived shortly before 7:00.  And then I'd eaten way too many chips with my buttery hot sauce.  ha ha!

I decided I had better be good so I could at least sort of stick to my low carb diet so I got a "Mexican chicken caesar salad".  We never did figure out why it was called 'mexican'.  It looked just like every other Caesar salad I've ever eaten.  Yum!

Larry enjoyed his Baja Chicken Fajitas as well.

When we got done eating, I told him we needed a date picture.  He kept arguing with me about taking a picture (he hates having his picture taken), so I assured him I would get one somehow!

And I did.  But blogger is warping the pic.  How weird.  This was actually a vertical pic, but it's looking short & square.

Actually, I got 2 pictures of him!  (Don't worry...we were sitting at a red light.)

And voila....our June date night is complete.