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.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Chutes and Ladders and a Trip to Asia

One of the great things about little Emmy being three years old now is how many "family things" she is able to join in on. One of her favorites is family game night, which typically involves Yahtzee, CandyLand, or her favorite, Chutes and Ladders. Remember that game, where you might get lucky and land on the square with the really tall ladder, and you got to climb way up, passing all of the other players with hopes of getting to the finish line first? And then there were the times that you landed at the top of a very long slide and had to go all the way back down to nearly the start square. Even now, I get pretty upset and will mutter an "Oh Shoot!" when I have to slide down -- I seriously think the game should be called "Shoots and Ladders" (but only because "Damn It and Ladders" just doesn't have the same ring and probably isn't age appropriate).  At this age, Emmy isn't concerned about winning, so she doesn't care if she is going up or down. She has a little sound effect for both, and I would guess she thinks chuting is actually more fun than laddering, though up or down, she's having a great time. 
I'm writing this post from a cramped economy seat of a United Airlines flight heading to the first of multiple stops over the next 26 hours. Dallas to Houston to Tokyo to Singapore.  One of my dearest friends-but-more-like-a-sister lives in Singapore, and I can't express how therapeutic, inspiring, grounding, and comforting it is to spend time with her.  It has been 4 years since I've seen her on Asian soil, so Santa was nice enough to gift me with a trip for Christmas. About 36 hours after I arrive in Singapore, we are boarding another flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia to serve at a Center that brings rest, recovery, hope, safety, and dignity to some of the most discarded children in the world.  If you are unfamiliar with the horrific child trafficking issues in Cambodia, I encourage you to do some research. It will unsettle you and make you ask, "What can be done?" and maybe even, "What can I do?"
I'm expecting a lot of Chutes and Ladders on this trip - the downward plunge of seeing the worst of what humanity has to offer, and the elated hope of witnessing how simple acts of love and sacrifice can change someone's outlook on the world and their future.
Albert Einstein wrote, "There are two important days in our lives - the day we are born and the day we realize why." I can't say I've discovered the ultimate reason why, on November 27th, forty-ish years ago, I was brought into the world, but I suspect it was partly to help the world have less Chutes and more Ladders.  The hardest part of that mission is that there are very few hard things in my little world.  My girls' biggest complaints over the last week have been not getting to watch Frozen every single day, feet aching from pointe shoes, getting a boy's toy in the Happy Meal instead of one for girls, kids being rude at school, and having to wash dishes.  As a Mom, I must admit there is a huge part of me that is glad those are the most severe things my girls have to worry about. We could have just as easily been born into the poverty and despair of Cambodia, with the choice of having to sell one of our children haneously into an evil, harmful, and shameful industry or watch our other children starve.  I don't know why I was born into this relatively luxurious life, but I'm starting to understand that it comes with grave responsibility to help those who can't help themselves. When we step back and see all the pain in the world, it can be overwhelming - maybe even stifling- and we don't know where to begin.  I personally don't believe that one person can change the world, but I do believe that one person can change a life. And if we all look for opportunities to change one life, collectively we will end up changing the world, one Ladder at a time.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Follow the Bouncy Ball

Our school district made the decision to issue iPads to all the 7th graders this year to use for school work.  Good-bye “Mom, I left my History book at home!” calls, and Hello “my child is ALWAYS on that iPad.”  I wish I could say that ChellBell only uses the iPad for school-related activities, but looking at her folders, she is getting plenty of use playing all kinds of games. 

One of her favorite games these days is Bouncy Ball, where you bounce the ball certain ways and navigate through a maze and get to the finish line.  I don’t get it – it has no appeal to me – but she is completely absorbed.  Or was completely absorbed, until she got to level 34. 

Up through Level 33, Chell was pretty good at whatever Bouncy Ball techniques were required to nail each level and move on.  She mastered the ball-bouncing-and-maneuvering tricks and quickly moved from level to level. 

But Level 34 seemed to be a different (bouncy) ball of wax.  She struggled to get that ball to bounce high enough at the right time, time after time.  I saw more frustration from her than any school-related assignment has caused her this year, and I swear she would have thrown her iPad across the room last week if I had not intervened.

Being in seventh grade, and seventh grade being, well, the one year most of us would never want to revisit, has challenges of its own.  Chell and I were talking about some of those challenges and frustrations yesterday.  I reminded her that God allows us to have challenges in our lives because that’s how we learn the lessons He needs us to learn.  How He makes us stronger.  How He makes us more like Him.  And then we take those new-found skills and life-lessons  into the next set of challenges we face.

Life is kind of like Bouncy Ball.  Really.  Sometimes we coast, and we master the challenges with ease and think, “Oh, this life thing isn’t so difficult!” And then we hit level 34, or the seventh grade, or a new work situation, or new challenges in our marriage, and every technique we used to get us through before just won’t work.  And we get frustrated and want someone to fix it – or let us skip this level – or whatever we can do to make it end. 

But to get to the next level, we have to master the challenge in front of us, work through the problems to find the solution, evolve, change, grow up  – whatever is needed -- until we “get it”.  Face the challenges head on, learn the lessons, become a stronger person (or a more humble person, or a better friend, or a better communicator) until we master this level. 

So stop seeing your challenge as a frustration or a road block.  See it as a level for you to master, a time to learn more about yourself, who God is, who He wants to be in your life, and what He wants to do through you.  And look forward to mastering this level so you can move on.

One bouncy ball at a time.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Post-Christmas Post

What a great Christmas Day - the girls sleeping in late, watching them open their gifts, especially Emmy, who is just beginning to understand this Santa character and the story of the baby Jesus.  Worshipping with my family and laughing around the dinner table. Stomachs stuffed, hearts full. 

Wrapping up our day with one of the most beautiful and poignant excerpts about the holiday by Max Lucado:

Christmas Night

It’s Christmas night. The house is quiet. Even the crackle is gone from the fireplace. Warm coals issue a lighthouse glow in the darkened den. Stockings hang empty on the mantle. The tree stands naked in the corner. Christmas cards, tinsel, and memories remind Christmas night of Christmas day.

It’s Christmas night. What a day it has been! Spiced tea. Santa Claus. Cranberry sauce. “Thank you, so much.” “You shouldn’t have!” “Grandma is on the phone.” Knee-deep wrapping paper. “It just fits.” Flashing cameras.

It’s Christmas night. The girls are in bed. Jenna dreams of her talking Big Bird and clutches her new purse. Andrea sleeps in her new Santa pajamas. 

It’s Christmas night. The tree that only yesterday grew from soil made of gifts, again grows from the Christmas tree stand. Presents are now possessions. Wrapping paper is bagged and in the dumpsite. The dishes are washed and leftover turkey awaits next week’s sandwiches.

It’s Christmas night. The last of the carolers appeared on the ten o’clock news. The last of the apple pie was eaten by my brother-in-law. And the last of the Christmas albums have been stored away having dutifully performed their annual rendition of chestnuts, white Christmases, and red-nosed reindeer.

It’s Christmas night. The midnight hour has chimed and I should be asleep, but I’m awake. I’m kept awake by one stunning thought. The world was different this week. It was temporarily transformed.

The magical dust of Christmas glittered on the cheeks of humanity ever so briefly, reminding us of what is worth having and what we were intended to be. We forgot our compulsion with winning, wooing, and warring. We put away our ladders and ledgers, we hung up our stop watches and weapons. We stepped off our racetracks and roller coasters and looked outward toward the star of Bethlehem.

It’s the season to be jolly because, more than at any other time, we think of him. More than in any other season, his name is on our lips.

And the result? For a few precious hours our heavenly yearnings intermesh and we become a chorus. A ragtag chorus of longshoremen, Boston lawyers, illegal immigrants, housewives, and a thousand other peculiar persons who are banking that Bethlehem’s mystery is in reality, a reality. “Come and behold him” we sing, stirring even the sleepiest of shepherds and pointing them toward the Christ-child.

For a few precious hours, he is beheld. Christ the Lord. Those who pass the year without seeing him, suddenly see him. People who have been accustomed to using his name in vain, pause to use it in praise. Eyes, now free of the blinders of self, marvel at his majesty. All of a sudden he’s everywhere.

In the grin of the policeman as he drives his paddy wagon full of presents to the orphanage.

In the twinkle in the eyes of the Taiwanese waiter as he tells of his upcoming Christmas trip to see his children.

In the emotion of the father who is too thankful to finish the dinner table prayer.

He’s in the tears of the mother as she welcomes home her son from overseas.

He’s in the heart of the man who spent Christmas morning on skid row giving away cold baloney sandwiches and warm wishes.

And he’s in the solemn silence of the crowd of shopping mall shoppers as the elementary school chorus sings “Away in a Manger.”

Emmanuel. He is with us. God came near.

It’s Christmas night. In a few hours the cleanup will begin—lights will come down, trees will be thrown out. Size 36 will be exchanged for size 40, eggnog will be on sale for half-price. Soon life will be normal again. December’s generosity will become January’s payments and the magic will begin to fade.

But for the moment, the magic is still in the air. Maybe that’s why I’m still awake. I want to savor the spirit just a bit more. I want to pray that those who beheld him today will look for him next August. And I can’t help but linger on one fanciful thought: if he can do so much with such timid prayers lamely offered in December, how much more could he do if we thought of him every day?

It Began in a Manger
© 1995 by Max Lucado