Friday, December 26, 2014

On the First Day of Christmas

It's been an amazing day of celebrating with family, opening gifts, eating and then eating some more. It's actually been a pretty amazing month of Christmas-ing for us with shows and shopping and traditions and parties. 

I always get a little sad when December 25th comes to a close. I hate to see it all end. On December 26th, the Christmas songs stop playing. One by one, the homes on our street take down their lights.  Dried-out Christmas trees make their way to the sidewalk for bulk pick-up. We build up so much anticipation for one day. One day to share the celebration of Santa with the celebration of the birth of Christ. 

The reality, though, is that while Santa gets one night, the birth of Christ was just the beginning of the Christmas story. On Christmas Day, Jesus was born. But it took a while for the world to know. We tend to celebrate the birth, the angels, the shepherds and the arrival of the wisemen together, like it all happened on one day. I mean, all of those figures came in my Nativity scene box together, as if they all experienced God coming to be with us at the same time. The truth, though, is that it took a while. Word had to spread. It is believed to have taken the wisemen almost two years to find Jesus!

Not being in a church that emphasizes the Liturgical calendar, it was a complete surprise to me that the 12 Days of Christmas is a real thing, and it starts Christmas Day. It's not a celebration of buying random, expensive leaping lords, geese a-laying, and golden rings for your true love... It's an opportunity for Christians to take 12 days to focus on the rest of the story after the birth of Christ - the angels sharing the good news, the shepherds arriving and then running to tell the world, and then the wisemen following the star to Jesus. It's the story of the world finding out. Hearing the good news. Realizing that Hope had come. That things would be different. That God had, just like he promised, decided to come down in flesh and be with us, be one of us. 

My family is going to try something new this year by celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas. Our house will be the one with the lights on and the trees up until we reach "Epiphany", the 12th Day.  With the hustle and frantic busy-ness of Christmas coming to an end, I'm looking forward to having a chance to breathe and focus on God being with us, and then finding ways between now and January 6 to show how that has made a difference.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Teaching my family the Facts of Life

ChellBell and I took some time last week to volunteer at a local retirement center as part of our service for National Charity League.  They asked us to spend time in Memory Care and ironically asked us to play trivia games with the residents.  The trivia was not going very well until we moved to the section of the game where the residents had to complete phrases.

"A stitch in time saves..."  NINE!  They all knew how to finish that phrase -- even the residents who had been completely silent up to that point shouted out the answer.
"Cleanliness is next to..." GODLINESS!
"Absence makes the heart grow..." FONDER!
"Glass half empty or glass half..." FULL!

I have always been a bit stumped by that last one -- I guess I'm a "glass half full" girl (especially if there is champagne in that glass) and don't understand why anyone would focus on part of the glass being empty, when clearly there is something in there.

Lucky me married a man who has the tendency to be glass-half-empty, which for several years brought an interesting balance to our home.  Then we had our first child, and while she got my hair and skin coloring, she got my husband's outlook on the world.  That means that I am now essentially a hopeless optimist living with 2 very pessimistic people.  It's like 1 + -2, and I am outnumbered.  I am convinced that whatever comes, rain or shine, we will all be fine and happy.  They worry about what could be and fret over what is not.

And it Drives.Me.Crazy.

So the other night, I took advantage of our rare family dinner time to address what I consider to be the Facts of Life and try to talk some pos-i-tiv-i-ty into the way they see their glasses.

Fact of Life Number 1: Life happens regardless of whether you enjoy the journey or not.  Work and school and homework and broccoli are going to be a part of your life.  You can choose to like it or choose to hate it, but it will still be there.  It makes things better for everyone when you decide to like it.

Fact of Life Number 2: Your outlook on life is completely your choice.  You are the only person who can change how you view the world.  You may think that if so-and-so was nicer, or if your boss was a better leader, if there were fewer bills to pay, if Algebra wasn't so hard, or if Texas summers would stop being so hot, you would be a happier person.  But true lasting happiness is not based on other people doing things or things changing around you.  It comes from inside, despite the circumstances around you.

Fact of Life Number 3: Whether you are a positive or negative person, life is hard.  Even being a positive person, I have walked through some hard things.  That's all relative, of course.  There are children in Cambodia being sold, people in the Congo drinking filthy water, and people in downtown Dallas who have nowhere to sleep tonight.  But relative to the life I live, there have been things in my life that have been hard to experience, and they've made me sad.  No one is expected to act like everything is a meadow full of flowers, because the truth is that life has hard parts.  Sometimes they are parts that pass quickly and somewhat painlessly, and sometimes they last a long time.  But just because life is hard doesn't mean that life is bad.

Fact of Life Number 4: There is always something to be grateful for, so don't overlook the opportunity to identify and appreciate those things.  You may have a really awful boss, but aren't you glad you get to go to work every day?  You may not like what I put on your plate for dinner, but aren't you glad you aren't going hungry tonight?  Your feet ache because you've danced all week, but aren't you glad you have gotten to do what you love so much that you're sore from it? Stop and focus on the good things.  You will always be able to find something.  

Fact of Life Number 5: God wants us to be happy.  A lot of people think that if God wants us to be happy, He shouldn't allow anything bad to happen, and question Him when things don't go the way we think they should.  But God wants us to find authentic joy inside us that anchors us and gets us through the hard parts of life as well as the easy parts.  If everything went our way, our happiness and joy would be shallow -- like a tree that has never experienced a storm.  Every morning when we get out of bed, instead of dreading the day ahead, we should think, "I have been given another day - how can I make the most of it?" 

We have been given a lot --  life, breath, family, love, food, shelter, and occasionally a glass half full of champagne. Love these things, focus on these things, and be grateful every day for these things.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Beauty of 156 (and that is not dog years)

Dearest Cella,

When you were younger, and I was an active blogger with much more time on my hands, I would write a post to you on the 4th of every month to celebrate one more month of the world having Cella in it.  Today makes 156 months of having you in our family and also, if you do the math, makes you a teenager. 

Your name “Cella” comes from two words that mean Beautiful – Bella and Calla – and then we threw that "ch" sound in there to throw people off from the fact that we are actually German and make them think we are a fancy Italian family.  Before you were even born, I told your Dad, “I want to make her life Beautiful!” And with that, we knew you would be called Cella.

I took it as my mission to bring beauty to your life – the dresses you wore, the room where you slept, the pictures we took, and the memories we made.  I’ve wanted so much to surround you with all things Beautiful.   So it surprises me to realize that it's actually YOU who has brought Beautiful to my life over and over again during the past thirteen years.  Your name has ended up portraying exactly who you are and how you have impacted our lives so much more than any world I could create for you. 

There is such beauty when you dance and when you sing.  There is beauty in your passion.  There is beauty in your vulnerability and also in your secret strength that continues to surprise me. There is beauty in your determination to be different and silly and march to beat of your own, unique drum.  There is beauty in the way you give love and receive love.

Okay, so there is also a lot of drama, and I find very little beauty in that J, but I stirred up my share of drama during middle school, and thankfully there is an expiration date on drama for most people. And there can actually be beauty in the maturing process.

You are a Beautiful girl, and you make me incredibly proud to be your Mom.  Thank you for making my world Beautiful and for letting me be engaged and present in your life.

I truly love you to the depths of my ability to love.

xoxo Mom

Sunday, May 18, 2014

18 years later...

On this day in history: 
1804 - Napolean Bonaparte was proclaimed Emperor of France
1860 - The Republican Party nominated Abraham Lincoln for President
1927 - The Ritz Hotel opened in Boston
1986 - "Singin' in the Rain" closed at Gershwin Theater NYC after 367 performances
1996 - Chris and I stood before our friends and family and were proclaimed husband and wife.

We both had to do a double-take when we realized that today marks18 years of us being married.  That's a really, really long time.  We've been together longer than it took us to graduate high school.  Longer than we waited to drive. Longer than Judge Judy has been on TV.

I love those couples where it just "works" - those #stillmadlyinlove #moreinloveafteralltheseyears couples, where marriage is effortless and the time flies because they are having so much fun. I am in awe of those couples.  I think we use to be one of those couples, but somewhere along the way marriage got hard.  There have been moments in the past 18 years where we did not like each other and moments where we didn't like ourselves.  There have been disagreements.  There have been nights where we went to bed mad and really just needed a good night of sleep before we could speak to each other.  There have been fights about money and mornings where we woke up on the wrong side of the bed. There have been misunderstandings and there have been mistakes.

It has not been 18 fabulous years of constant bliss or 18 years where I've loved every moment. It's been 18 years of learning to communicate and work together as a unit, raising kids who aren't always easy to raise, and committing to love another person who isn't always easy to love. 

So I don't celebrate our anniversary today because of the fairytale it has been.  I celebrate today because even though it hasn't been easy, we're still together, still committed, and still determined to love each other and figure out what that looks like in this ever-changing world and in our ever-changing lives.  I celebrate because we're still here, when it would have been easier at times to walk away.  I celebrate because it's actually been the storms and the strong winds that have made us grab a hold of this life together and grow our roots stronger.  It has been the hard moments that have made us consciously look at each other and say, "I still choose to love you, and I'm not going anywhere." 

Happy Anniversary, Chris.  18 on the 18th.  Thanks for navigating this life with me -- sometimes knowing where we are going and sometimes just being lost with me.  I'm glad you're here by my side -- I wouldn't want it any other way. 


Thursday, May 15, 2014


Four days back into the normal routine after my trip to Asia, but I keep thinking about these faces...

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Power Lines

I could spend a month taking pictures here in Phnom Penh of the faces and the lives, the buildings, and the markets. One thing that has been particularly fascinating to me are - oddly - the power lines. Quite frankly, they are a mess. Thrown up on a pole with no thought, no organization, no process. It looks like something my three year old would do (if asked to hang power lines, that is...). 
I'm fascinated because they seem to be an unfortunate visual representation of this country. I'm not sure where I was when we studied Cambodia in history class - perhaps I fell asleep that day, or perhaps we never studied it. In preparation for my trip here, I dug into everything I could read about Cambodia and was shocked to learn that the dismantling, breaking, and crippling of this country has happened in my lifetime. The Khmer Rouge, an anti-government gang rose up in power, promising a better life for the common man. They began with a mission to kill the educated, those in favor of the government, and anyone else who was in support of structure and a flourishing nation. We visited The Killing Fields on this trip and witnessed chilling mass graves of people sent to "reeducation" centers who never made it out.  We saw random bones and teeth sitting near the graves - which are really just areas of dirt where bodies were buried - that continue to surface from the ground when it rains. By the end of 4 years in power, the Khmer Rouge was responsible for 2 million deaths, either through torture and execution or due to lack of food and medical care.
The Khmer Rouge left Cambodia with nothing. No schools, no structure, no government, no hope. And the wounds are still fresh. Our tour guide told us that his dad had been killed by the Khmer Rouge when he was a baby. He has never seen a picture of his father and doesn't know what his face looked like. They have tried to rebuild, but unfortunately, corruption has driven much of the reconstruction of the government and educational systems.  They will tell you that the educational system provides free schooling, but the teachers demand pocket money from their students (and more cash means better grades).  So while school is "free", many children cannot afford to go.
The Prime Minister is the ruling authority in Cambodia, an elected official. About 18 months ago, a new Prime Minister was voted in. However, though one person won based on the people's votes, another man was sworn in and is now ruling the country, and the people are up in arms. Even during my visit, the tension is mounting, and the police have been lining the streets and filling the parks with anti-riot gear, ready to fight against any rebellion.
To think about the trafficking here in Cambodia, you have to understand the state of this broken country.  You have to understand the poverty, the lack of control, and the basic need to survive. It's easy to wonder how parents could let this happen to their kids. Kids here are not getting kidnapped like the girls in Nigeria - the parents, in most cases, are offering their children into the industry as a way to make money and pay their rent or feed their families.  There is a strong cultural mindset that the children are responsible for supporting the family by working, and if a child can provide "services" to someone even at the young age of 3 or 4, that just means they are beginning to fulfill their duties at a young age. That mindset and willingness makes it very, very difficult to end the cycle of trafficking.  It has also put Cambodia on the map for every pedafile, and it's chilling to see "foreign" men walking around the riverfront with little Cambodian children.
I have to admit that I came to Cambodia to learn about the issue so I could help make it stop.  That's such an American thing to do - we want to give money and fix everyone's brokenness. The power lines here are really tangled, though, and the issues will not be quickly solved. The Hard Places Community is doing what they can to remove children from situations of trafficking, to equip them with skills like speaking English and using computers, educate them on concepts like good and bad touch and how to respond, and to provide afternoon clubs in the worst areas of the city. They are partnering with the families, where families are involved, to teach parents that if children can come to the Center and learn, they will be able to get better jobs in the future, which will mean better support for the family in the long run. The biggest thing they are doing, though, is teaching the children that they have value for who they are. Children are conditionally valued here, but not taught that they are precious creations, made and loved by God.  It's that teaching that will, more than anything, change who these children are, how they see themselves, and how they will raise their own children some day.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Wheels Are Turning

Arrival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia:
We pulled into the airport and were greeted by stifling heat and a Dairy Queen - two things that make this Texas girl feel at home.  Vans, taxis, several Lexus SUVs and Mercedes sedans pulled up to pick up passengers.  And then our ride arrived. They call it a tuk-tuk, an open-air golf cart type of vehicle, powered by a motorcycle.  The driver greeted us with a smile and polite bow, strapped our suitcases on with a big rope, and we took off into the mad mass of chaotic traffic with the wind and the smell of the city in our face.
Phnom Penh is a strange mix of everything a city should be and everything it shouldn't -
Beautiful government centers and golden clad temples serve as backdrops to begging and prostitution.
Schools full of children in blue and white uniforms sit next to deteriorating shacks where naked children chase roosters on the street.
Monks in bright orange robes go door to door collecting the daily offering from those who have so very little.
Luxury next to filth. Affluence and abundance in the same snapshot as extreme poverty and need. Dirty, colorful buildings. 
My world is so orderly and "zoned" - the haves and the have-nots are kept apart, and we don't enter each others' worlds very often. Commerce - restaurants, shopping, nightclubs - are zoned for specific parts of the city, and homes sit in residential communities where, for the most part, families live life tucked away inside.  Here in Cambodia, it all exists together, and people live life out in the open. The everyday family operates a small stand or shop selling goods, food, clothes, hubcaps - just about anything - in front of their residence.  The streets are lined with shop after shop after shop, and people sit in their chairs outside waiting for business.
Children are everywhere. Many are unclothed or at least without shoes. Many are selling something, some are begging.  Cars are crammed full of kids without car seats or seatbelts.  Most ride on the back of motorcycles, hanging on to an adult for dear life or sandwiched in between other siblings.
From the tuk-tuk bench, I was taking it all in, the wheels turning, my brain trying to process a world so foreign to me. Fusion to the point of confusion.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a little boy sitting on a motorcycle with his dad. He saw me in the tuk-tuk and got a huge smile on his face and started waving, and of course, I waved back.   A sweet reminder that children are children wherever you go.
I can already tell that I love this place - the energy, the movement, the honesty, the resourcefulness.  But I also know there are a lot of dark, deep-rooted issues here, and I feel overly protective of each and every child I pass on the street, knowing that their health, happiness, and future could be at risk because of the extreme poverty and cyclical horrors that continue to be bred from generation to generation.
I'm processing it all - taking it all in - not saying much.   So glad to be traveling with a dear friend who has been here before and has such a passion and desperation for this city that she continues to return and do what she can to encourage the staff at the Center and love on these kids.