Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in Review and Looking Forward

2009 has been an interesting year. I've grown a lot personally and spiritually. I've seen new places, met new people and experienced things words can't adequately describe.

I made a commitment at the close of 2008 to spend 2009 reading through the entire Bible. As of this morning, I finished. It's been an amazing process to see God's sovereign hand throughout Scripture. From the first of creation to His promised return, He is supreme! It is amazing to see how He brought the Israelites (sometimes kicking and screaming) to the exact place He wanted them to be. Regardless of their disobedience, He never left them without a plan of redemption. I think it is incredibly thought-provoking to see how He still guides us, His fallen people in the same manner. While we don't have the burning bushes of Genesis, He does still provide us with people like the prophets who help guide us back to the path of righteousness when we wander off to try and make it on our own.

God also guided me to my life verses early in 2009. Psalm 62:5-8 speak to me in such a strong, powerful way. "Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge." These verses just speak to me where I am right now. He and He alone is my refuge, I can find rest in Him. What power lies in those verses...He knows the future, He knows where my next job is, He knows the deepest desires of my heart. I don't have to worry or struggle. Not easy by any stretch but powerful nonetheless.
(I also have the benefit that Aaron Keyes put it to music so I can sing my life verses too. :-))

Summer brought probably the biggest stretching experience of my life. I got on a plane and spent 15.5 hours in it flying to South Africa. Me, the person who doesn't like flying and hates not being in control, willingly got on a plane for that long. I had an amazing time seeing God move in powerful ways in the slums of South Africa. I saw poverty like I've never seen before but saw a joy in people's hearts that I haven't experienced often in the US. I actually hope to go back to Africa at some point - there is so much work to be done there and I want to be a part of it at least on a small scale.

God also taught me a lot about His provision. I had numerous monetary needs pop up throughout 2009 from routine bills to trips to medical expenses and through God's sovereign hand, the money was always there. I had tutoring jobs come up, my department "found" money to pay a small stipend through the summer, a training session came up, and a Christmas bonus came along. God is good!!

Looking forward, I am excited about 2010. My church is embarking on the Radical Experiment as a faith family. We will all read through the Bible (chronologically this time), hear David preach through the Bible from start to finish (bonus!!), we will be saving together as a church and as individuals, praying for the whole world and focus on spending at least 2% of our time in another context spreading the Gospel. I can't wait to see who God will change us as individuals and as a faith family. I'm praying revival will break out in Birmingham and around the world as a result of our prayers. May God be glorified in what we do!!

I'm also excited about a few spreadsheets I'm using in 2010. One will simply keep track of my savings when buying groceries, household items, etc. Another will keep track of my spending. This one should help me eliminate wasteful spending. Having to write it all down leads to accountability. Hopefully I can use these two together and at the end of each quarter, can use the savings and cutbacks in spending
to make donations to organizations like Compassion International.

The final spreadsheet will just simply be for my interest and I may use it for blog posts here and there. I've decided to keep track of the books I read this year. I am a voracious reader who usually has two or three books going at a time. Someone once asked me how many books I read in a year and I honestly didn't know. So, for 2010, I'm going to keep track and I'll probably review a few on here every now and then.

Most excitedly for 2010, I am finishing my dissertation. This will hopefully happen in the early part of 2010. Woo-hoo!!!

That's all for now. I'm off to work on that dissertation so I can spend tomorrow watching football!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

What I Want for Christmas

Had one more thought to share...I have an unadopted Compassion child that desperately needs a sponsor family. Her name is Julia; she is 7 and lives in Guatemala. Sponsorship through Compassion costs $38/month and provides life-changing care for Julia and other children like her. We spend more than $38 a month eating out. Compassion makes their money go as far as humanly possible and is completely above-board as charities go.

If you are interested in sponsoring Julia, please let me know and I'll get you her info.

Life Update

It's been a while. Life has been very busy and I haven't had time to do much more than work, work on my dissertation and keep my apartment from becoming a health hazard. There have been several times I've been ready to update and something popped up to prevent it.

I am around 2 months or so from being finished with a seven-year journey. That thought still seems surreal. I have submitted a draft of my dissertation and gotten feedback. Mom read it to in order to check for "what were you thinking" mistakes and I've got hear feedback as well. I'll submit another draft in two weeks and then we'll meet as a committee on 1/5/10 to go over that draft and set a date for the final defense. Wow, can't believe I'm to that point.

It finally feels like Christmas around Birmingham. We even had snow this morning. Now it wasn't anything worth writing home about but it's WAY early in the season for us to have even threats of snow. Hopefully this won't be the last snow appearance of the year.

I spent today cleaning like a mad woman. I have felt for the last few weeks that my apartment was closing in on me. There was so much paper around, I felt like a library threw up. I also wanted to clean out some "stuff" that has just been laying around collecting dust. I'm trying to simplify, thin out my stuff and avoid buying more stuff. I want a cleaner apartment but I also want to respond in obedience to God's call to share with those less fortunate than I am. My stuff could benefit someone else so I'm giving it up. There will be more to come because I didn't finish the kitchen or some of the living room.

My plan for 2010 is to evaluate every purchase except those that are absolute emergencies or are necessary for staying healthy. I've really started trying to remember to ask myself "how many children could this money feed?" Asking that has helped me decide on some nights to come home and have a sandwich instead of taking the easy, eat-out option. David Platt encouraged us all to develop a "Radical Experiment" plan for our lives. This is the first part of mine. I know God is going to do radical things with the money and time Brook Hillians sacrifice for His glory in 2010. Can't wait to see it!!

Off to buy chickens and such for Christmas presents...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Learning To Be Content

I've been ruminating on this post for a few weeks now but I think I have down what I want to say...

I am constantly amazed at the way the Father teaches me and reveals Himself to me. I found a new verse in my quiet time that I'd read probably dozens of times in the past but never really thought about. Look up Phil. 4:11. Now, we're all familiar with Phil. 4:13 but I'd skipped right over verse 11. Paul writes that he's learned to be content in whatever circumstances he's in. Catch that phrasing - LEARNED to be content. It's not something that magically happened, God didn't grant him contentment after he'd been thrown in jail for the upteenth time. Paul learned it. God brought him into circumstances where he had the opportunity to learn to be content. Paul goes on in verse 12 to say he knows how to live in humble means, in prosperity, being filled and going hungry, and in having abundance and suffering need.

I've been thinking about how this applies to me. I can honestly say I've never had to go hungry out of necessity and I've never really been in need. For goodness sake, when picking out shoes today, it was a multiple-choice test. I have more than enough to make ends meet each month. Sure, more would be nice but what would I really do with it? I honestly think God is using this time to show me that He is my provider and I need to be content and trust in His timing. This doesn't mean I can be complacent and not follow His commands but my attitude should be one of thankfulness not worry or complaining. I think back to South Africa and the complete poverty I saw. But I also saw joy and contentment.

I think the concept of learning to be content also applies to my personal life. As a single woman who desires to be a wife and mother, I know discontent. But, Phil. 4:11 doesn't say content whenever you feel like it. It says in whatever circumstances. That means that right now, God has me single for a reason and I need to be content with that. And I think I am. Sure, I have my moments but I'm praying God will bring this verse to mind in those moments and I'll focus on the positives about being single.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Book Review - Kabul 24

Last weekend, I finished reading the book Kabul 24 by Henry O. Arnold and Ben Pearson. This book chronicles the story of the 24 Shelter Now International (SNI) workers kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2001. The story outlined in these pages is nothing short of amazing.

As the book opens, the arrests of the two American workers start the saga. More arrests follow with ultimately 8 SNI workers being taken along with 16 Afghani nationals. Conditions in the prisons were horrible to say the least. Lack of food, lack of adequate toileting facilities, illness and beatings by guards were endured by both male and female prisoners. I was amazed at the love and concern shown by the 8 prisoners the book focuses on. Over and over, the book chronicles how Georg (the SNI leader), Peter and the six women prayed for, conversed with and showed Christ's love to their captors. The authors also spend time detailing the miracles God orchestrated to allow this story to have a successful outcome.

While the storytelling is stilted at times, the book itself is riveting. As you get further into the book, you will get to a point you can't put it down. The authors did an excellent job of portraying why the SNI workers did what they did. You could so see the call of God on their lives. I would recommend this book highly to anyone who asked.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Two Months!

I can't believe I've been back from South Africa for 2 months! It seems like only yesterday I was dreading the long flight(s). It was such an amazing time and God moved on our team in such a mighty way. I think in some ways I am still processing all I saw and experienced there. The poverty we saw was extreme in a way that words cannot fully describe. Yet, the joy we saw in so many lives was greater than the joy I see in many American's eyes on a daily basis. I think we all (me included) take for granted all we are blessed with in this country. We get so caught up in politics, who despises who, how our football team did and when lunch is to realize there are over 30,000 children who will die today from diseases we can prevent or malnutrition. What are we doing about that? I have been convicted lately through a series at Brook Hills on James to really re-evaluate my spending and try and cut out anything that isn't truly needed in order to free up money to send to the nations. We're undertaking a Radical Experiment at Brook Hills to save every penny we can to send it to Compassion International to fund 21 Child Survival Projects in India. It's a partnership designed to save lives both physically and spiritually. Talk about living out the Great Commission and James 2:14-26!

I've also started praying about where God will have me go on mission in 2010. There are numerous opportunities open to me anywhere from Uganda to China to Indonesia to areas I don't even know about. Considering there are over 1.5 billion people who have never heard the Gospel, I want to go where God wants me to go. I know He has the place picked out, I just have to seek and see where that is. There are so many other issues that complicate the selection like dissertation completion, new job, moving, etc.; I'd covet other prayers as I continue down this road.

I'm going to try and be more faithful about blogging, I just don't always feel like I have anything to say. :-)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Africa Day Eight...Animal Park

On Saturday, we awoke to rain. What?! It NEVER rains in South Africa at this time of year. My sources had told me I didn't need to worry about a rain jacket since rain was highly unlikely. I went against my own advice - I usually always take rain gear when travelling. I won't make that mistake again. :-)

Steve told us instead of open-air safari vehicles as planned, we would just go through the park in our vans. It would be much drier and warmer that way. Considering it hailed and sleeted throughout or visit, it was a wise move. The park we went through was nice drive from Alabanza so we were treated to some South African scenery. The rest of the post will be heavy on the pictures. Most of the animals were very accomodating to our visit...except for the zebras. No pics of zebras - we didn't see a one.


Gazelle/Deer? Not sure...


Lions


Close-up of the Lion


Male Lion


Ostrich


Rhinos


Wildebeests


Giraffe


Both Giraffes

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Swine Flu Sheeple

I'll get back to my Africa travels soon but first I have to vent. I am so sick and tired of the stupidity of the American public when it comes to the swine flu. I understand it's a highly contagious illness but seriously, unless you have a pre-existing condition, you have a 99.9999999999% chance of getting better after a few days. People, it is NOT time to panic. If you get sick, keep your butt at home, push the fluids, eat chicken soup and veg for a few days. Unless you are in the high-risk category STAY HOME unless you start having trouble breathing, coughing up blood or spike a fever higher than 103 degrees. Then and ONLY THEN should you worry your doctor. Your doctor's office (and the ER) will be full of other people who are REALLY sick and the Tamiflu you get prescribed (if it's in stock) probably won't do more than cut your symptom by a day or two. Following your mom's age-old advice won't hurt either: cover your mouth when you cough, throw your tissues away and wash your hands (WITH SOAP PEOPLE). It's not rocket science.

This all reminds me of 2000-2001 when West Nile came on the scene. I was in MA working for a public health non-profit and I remember the "sky is falling" scenarios we ran into. The government actually had plans in place to convert hockey rinks to mass morgues. What happened then...ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Several people got sick, a few people died and the world moved on to the next health "crisis." Guess what? Random people die from seemingly new and novel illnesses every day. It's part of the way God designed things.

I think my mom probably has it right...it's all a ploy to make people believe in Obamacare. Rohm Emmanuel has never met a crisis he didn't love. Stupid sheep!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Africa Day Seven...To Market To Market

Today is our last day in Joe Slovo. We started the day by visiting with Christina. No one else in this little row of homes is at home. We think that means mom and kids are at the doc getting the little one's sore looked at (at least we pray that's where they are). I have finagled permission to give Christina some acetaminophen for her arthritis so hopefully she can get some pain relief. We visit for a few minutes and then move on. We head off in a different direction than we've been going and end up in a place called "Black Magic." It appears that this is where Wilma and her baby actually live. It definitely lives up to its name; it is dark and just feels very oppressed. Rachel was praying and speaking the name of Jesus the whole time we were in this little village. I personally was glad to get out of there.

We made our rounds and visited with Susan and her family one last time. Keri was taking pictures and Susan's teenage daughters begged us to give the pictures to Chris Brown. We told them he beats his women and they deserve better. They agreed and asked us to give them to R. Kelly (no comment) or Usher. We didn't disavow them of the idea that we see Usher on a regular basis. The stereotypes that persist amaze me. We also visited with Yvonne and Baby Likey one more time. I would have given anything to bring both of them home to the US with me. As we visited and hugged and shared, my heart was breaking for all that I had to leave behind.

We did get to visit with Elyse at her store while we were eating lunch. She gave us a Fanta out of her store (she refused to let us pay) and when we got back to Refilwe, the three of us split it. Elyse's little store does a booming business in Joe Slovo. It is a prayer request though. She often walks home by herself after dark and sometimes with money. This is a vulnerable situation for a woman. Please pray God's hedge of protection around her. Owning this little store is one step toward a dream she shared with me. Elyse wants to be a first-class store owner one day. I have no doubt she can accomplish that goal.

After our morning in the village was completed, Steve took us to the market. The market is basically set up like a flea market but runs like a flea market on steroids. You walk in and are immediately acosted by salesmen begging you to check out their wares. The first table I spied had the nativity scenes I was looking for. He had the three I wanted but somehow, he wouldn't stop there. I was taken three stalls over and shown coasters, artwork, carvings, the kitchen sink, you name it. I finally walked away with the nativities, coasters, two pieces of art and a "free" carving of Africa. Fortunately, all that only cost me about $100 US. I wandered around a little more and tried earnestly to avoid eye contact. I did make one more purchase on side one of the market; a mother/child statue. I've always wanted one and I got mine for less than $8.00 US. I then happened upon the lone guy on our trip, Bill. He had the same dazed look that I know I had. He and I teamed up to get the heck out of the market. We went across the street and I happened upon to necklace/bracelet combos in perfect color combos for mom and Sarah (blue/gold for mom, multi-colored for Sarah). Score!! I bought those, Bill finished his transaction and we got out of there as soon as we could. There is only one word for the market experience in South Africa, CRAZY. It was an overwhelming array of sound and toward the end, I was willing to pay people to leave me alone.

Here are a few pictures from the market:


Outside of Market


Sign for Market


Another Shot

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Africa Day Six...Sister Jeanne

Thursday dawned a bit warmer for us. I couldn't see my breath when I woke up. That was a great way to start the day. Today was a little different from Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursdays, our healthcare workers have a morning Bible Study, training and then an afternoon of paperwork. So, we went right along with them. We started our day singing with the healthcare workers, them in their language and us in ours. We were both singing praises to our King. What a great picture of Heaven.

Sister Jeanne then took over and began teaching out of Mark 2. It was neat to watch this woman of God interact with the healthcare workers she loves so much. You can so see that she has a desire to see them grow in their faith. We broke into groups with the healthcare workers and began to process through the passage. When the workers got up to answer the questions, Sister Jeanne probed and prodded to get more than the "Sunday School" answer out of her students. I was amazed at way of using simple probing questions to force all of us to think but not allow for discouragement because the "right answer" wasn't given immediately.

After Bible Study ended, we transitioned into a time of study on a particular health issue. Today's was mental health. Jeanne spoke at length about mental health issues and how the healthcare workers could identify them and encourage their clients to protect their mental health. We only think our lives are stressful. We as Americans have no clue the stress it causes to be hungry, have a sick child, an absentee boyfriend/husband, no job prospects, etc. We may deal with one or two of these at a time but most of the families we encountered were dealing with all of them at the same time. Most situations were like giant onions, address one layer and under it there's another layer and another and another. It was so apparent there is a need for Godly men and women rise up and walk alongside these healthcare workers, meeting needs and sharing the Gospel.

After the mental health lesson, we broke for lunch and then reconvened in the afternoon for a time with Sister Jeanne. She told us the amazing story of how Refilwe got started. She began her work out of the trunk of her car, dispensing donated drugs to people in need. (In 17 years, she has never had to pay for medications, God has always provided.) Over the years, God moved in other people to provide land, labor, buildings, and supplies to build Refilwe into a community organization that provides foster care, schooling, skills training, home health care and more. It is simply amazing to see how God has provided in this community. You can check them out at www.refilwe.org.

After Sister Jeanne spoke, we headed back to Alabanza for showers before our dinner engagement. None of us had any clue where we were going for dinner. It was all a big surprise as we piled into the vans and started out. We drove for quite a while and then turned down a bumpy dirt road. I asked Steve is this was the Alabanza hazing ritual. :-) He promised us it was worth the bumps. Boy was he right! We pulled up next to a building with a path leading to the front door. The path was lined with tea light candles and led us into a giant room (pictures below) that had a huge fireplace with fire roaring, a long table set up and new friends waiting to serve us. As we all found seats, Steve explained that the staff of Alabanza was serving us tonight by cooking up some traditional South African dishes for us to enjoy. Talk about wonderful food!! We had a beef soup, cheesy bread, bacon-wrapped cherries (don't knock it til you try it), grilled beef, cauliflower and pumpkin fritters (OMG!). All of this was topped off by one of the top three desserts of all time, malva pudding. Let's just say it was divine!! It was such a pleasure to sit and fellowship with our new friends.

Here are some pictures of the day:


Sister Jeanne


Prepping for Bible Study


Backpackers Lounge


Appetizer


Main Course


Dessert!

More later...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Africa Day Five...The Power of Prayer

Wednesday morning dawns and we're headed back into Joe Slovo. Wonder what today will bring? The three of us on the Joe Slovo team spent time Tuesday evening praying for the people we had encountered and would encounter. We headed back out through the fields and the children were much friendlier today, smiling, waving and saying "hello" as we passed by. Already bodes well for the day.

As we rounded the corner into the first area we visited, we were met with smiles from the kids and families. Christina even managed a small grin. What a difference a day (and lots of prayer) makes. The sweet little boys (see picture) were smiling and played with us. Keri broke out the books and we had fun sitting and reading. While we were doing that, Rachel offered Christina a full bath. We had a brought some warm water from home and Christina was open to the idea. After the bath, we got a big smile from her.


Kids having fun with Latex Gloves


We took books to read with the kids

We did have good news from our first stop. Esther (the community busy-body) told us the little boy we "treated" on Tuesday was running and playing much more than he had before we came by. And darn if his sore didn't look better. I still encouraged a clinic visit and the mom promised a Friday visit. Before we left, we prayed over the families and shared the Gospel. I know seeds were planted in this community.

Our next stop took us back to the nicer part of Joe Slovo. Elyse opened a file on Wilma and Beyonce to start the process to get them help. Wilma listened politely but I think she was overwhelmed. Not sure how much we got through to her. After we finished with Wilma, Elizabeth and Elyse introduced us to Chas. Seems Chas is positive and doesn't want to take ARVs. Elizabeth and Elyse thought maybe we could convince him. We talked to him but he refused to open up about his status or much of his health. Our team encouraged healthy eating, following doctors' advice, etc. but there wasn't much more we could do. Finished again with prayer and Gospel-sharing with Chas.

After we finished here, we walked back to Refilwe and had lunch with Elyse outside her room. It was nice to get to sit and visit with Elizabeth. She is a registered nurse from the Congo and is studying for the registration exams in South Africa. Please pray for her. We finished lunch and meandered back to Joe Slovo to see patients in the afternoon. My favorite was a precious baby girl, Likey and her mom Yvonne. Another teen mom, another positive baby. This sweet one (pictured with Keri below) has been sick since birth and mom won't (probably can't) navigate the system to get the baby the drugs she needs to survive. If I could have put her in my carry-on and taken her home, I would have.



Today was such a different day than Tuesday. The children were so much more interactive and happy to see us. We passed out stickers, took pictures, read and just enjoyed loving on kids. Here are a few pictures from our visit in Joe Slovo:







We closed today out by hearing Steve and Teresa's story about how they came to South Africa. It is much too long to post here but suffice to say, this is a couple touched by God and making a huge impact on the people of South Africa. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to spend a week alongside these two. I did go to bed tonight sad and frustrated I couldn't do more. I also wondered about God blessing me with a birthright in the US as opposed to the continent of Africa. Not sure I've completely answered those questions yet.

More later...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Africa Day Four...Joe Slovo

Today was our first day into the community of Joe Slovo. We left our cameras behind today at the request of our hosts. They wanted us to experience the full effect of the communities without cameras distracting us. Elyse was sick today so it was just Keri, Rachel, me and Elizabeth.

We met up at Refilwe and then began our walk to Joe Slovo (we were the only group within walking distance). We started out walking along a path next to the fields where the schoolkids have recess. We were definitely the novelty item of the day with the kids watching us walk by and a few bravely waved hello. We also dodged a few cows and cow patties. :-) Our first homes were about a five-minute walk from Refilwe. We went around a bend, came through some tall grass and emerged just outside a long concrete looking building divided into four homes. Our first "patient" of the day lived here. Christina is a 79 year-old go-go (grandmother). She was less than thrilled to see us - if we weren't doctors, we weren't useful in her opinion. She suffers from arthritis and the after-effects of an auto accident that left a rod in her leg. Her son rarely visits and her home has no electricity, no stove and very little food. Elizabeth says she has her "moods." We cleaned out her home, swept, mopped and beat the dust out of her piece of carpet. Rachel then volunteered to help her clean herself a little bit. Christina allowed Rachel to wipe her legs down with wet-wipes and then apply lotion to her legs and feet. We also gave her part of one of our sandwiches we had for lunch and an orange. Probably the first food she'd had in a day. After we finished, we got a tiny smile out of Christina.

Another sweet lady who lived in this little area was Esther. She was a sweetheart who seemed to be the community busy-body. She knew EVERYONE'S business and alerted us to a problem with one of the little guys who lived next door. Seems he had a sore on his lower abdomen (near the groin) and she wanted us to look at it. Well, of course, I had to. Didn't know what I could do but I wanted to try. It was one of the worst infections I had seen in a while. There was a small sore that was oozing pus and the whole area was red and inflammed. I felt awful but all I could do was put antibiotic cream on it and encourage the mom to take the little one to the clinic. She was less than committed to the idea.

After we moved on from this little area, we came to the "nice" part of Joe Slovo. These houses are basically the size and shape of American tool-sheds. In fact, the one in my dad's backyard might be a little bigger. They had electricity but no running water. Seems these were built by Gary Player (PGA golfer). I don't remember the whole story but it was a nice gesture on his part. Here we met Francina and Baby Erin. Francina was one of the happiest people I've met in a long time. She was so happy to see us, visit with us and show off her precious Erin. Of course, the three of us passed Erin around and loved on her. Those who know me well know I could do that all day. After Francina, we met Wilma and baby Beyonce. Yes, Beyonce. American influence anyone? Wilma is a teenage mom who seems a bit overwhelmed. We prayed with her and the baby and kept moving. We met Andres and his son Junior next. Andres claimed he was falsely imprisoned for two years and just let out in April. (Steve told me later this story probably isn't 100% true.) Junior was a precious little guy and Andres was very willing to share his story and concerns with us.

We broke for lunch, sharing our lunches with Elizabeth and listening to American music blaring from the stereo next door. After lunch, we headed out of the nicer area of Joe Slovo and into the true community of Joe Slovo. As we crested the hill, we could see the streets of shacks laid out before us. We started down the hill and I felt like I was in a "World Vision" or "Compassion" commercial. There was very little activity, the kids we saw had very flat affects to them. There was very little response, very few smiles and a general questioning of who we were and what we were doing. Keri, Rachel and I did the only thing we knew to do, we prayed over this community. We did meet Susan and her family and Susan was a character. I'm not sure if she is a believer but she was the first person who was openly friendly with us. We were able to coo over her grandkids and admire her garden and then prayed over her family before moving on. The three of us Americans kept commenting on how "dark" the area felt and how we could feel the oppression. We continued to pray as we walked, praying for God's work to be seen in the area, God's power to be displayed, and people to see His love.

We finished our visits for the day and headed back to Refilwe so Elizabeth could complete paperwork with her supervisor. Claire (the head of the home-based program)saw us as we got back and asked about what we had taught that day. What?! I didn't know we were supposed to be teaching people anything. Oh well, miscommunication. We'll do better tomorrow. Claire wanted us to talk about keeping water clean, breast-feeding, safe foods for baby, food gardens and anything else we could think of. She also opened the Refilwe library so we could take books out into the communities the rest of the week and read to kids, model good behavior for parents and our healthcare workers. Sounds like we have our work cut out for us tomorrow.

As the groups started trickling back in, we excitedly told stories about our day and the people we'd met and interacted with. I think the vans probably had constant chatter all the way back to Alabanza. After dinner, we sat around the warm fire and shared about our day. Everyone was so thrilled to share about the day and how we had seen God move. We were also able to share our frustrations that we couldn't "fix" the problems we'd seen. Our American mindsets were still see the problem, find a solution, fix the problem. Issue was, that mindset doesn't work in these communities. We had to settle with making notes of problems, sharing it with Refilwe and letting Refilwe fill the need as they could. That was a tough issue for most of us to face.

The day drew to a close with us praying over our communities and our work the next day. We all went to bed excited to see how God was going to move.

More later...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Africa Day Three...Refilwe

After waking up cold and wondering how to get dressed for the day without getting out of my sleeping bag, I finally got moving. We had plans for an early departure (8:15ish) and with jet lag setting in, none of us were moving very quickly. We were excited though, today was our first "real" day of work on the field!

We all piled into two vans for the roughly 30 minute drive to Refilwe. It was the first chance we'd had to see the landscape of South Africa (it was way dark on our ride in from the airport). I can honestly say I was surprised. I don't really know what I was expecting but other than driving on the other side of the road, South Africa looked just like the US. There are homes off to either side, beautiful mountain views and crazy drivers. I was definitely glad I wasn't driving. Right hand turns are freaky!!

We pulled into Refilwe not really sure what to expect. We all pile out and look to Steve and Teresa for directions. They indicate we should follow them and we head out. Their son Alfie (the cutest kid EVER) was quick to yell "poop!" so we could avoid stepping in chicken poop. Yes, there were chickens roaming (ducks too!). We crossed this beautiful brook

and began to hear singing in African voices. Little did we know the voices were from our healthcare workers that we would be spending the week with. Their voices were lifted in praise to our King! What a way to start the morning. We helped pull chairs out and sat in the sunshine. We made basic introductions and then separated out into groups of three to five. It was here that Keri Mason, Rachel Linderman and I met Elizabeth and Elyse. These are two of the most precious women, they have a love and concern for their families and work in the most primitive of conditions to care for the residents of Joe Slovo. Here is a picture of our two workers:



After we had an hour or so to meet, Steve took us on a tour of Refilwe. I am truly amazed at all this organization accomplishes. In addition to the home healthcare program, they offer schooling, foster care, daycare, skilled work training and more. Here are some pictures from the tour:


Creche at Refilwe


Refilwe headquarters


Children at Refilwe daycare


Skills Development Center

During our tour, Steve explained that the Skills Development Center taught marketable skills for community members so they can obtain employment. He also introduced us to the Refilwe sustainability project, earthworm farming! It appears that earthworms are a relatively cheap source of high-quality compost that can be sold to outside nurseries. Earthworm farms run about $8000 to start and the farm will reproduce itself everyone 48 days, making it a great investment opportunity. What an ingenious way to use God's creation to sustain community work.

The tour ended and as we were headed to lunch, Steve took us past one of the informal settlements (squatter's camps), Malachi. Here is what our first look at the extreme poverty showed:


What struck me so about Malachi is that literally across the street from this no running water, limited electricity, poverty-stricken area there was an airport with flights taking off multiple times daily. This dichotomy struck me over and over throughout the week. How does the government explain it? Why do people agree to it? Where is the Church in South Africa?

As we drove away from Malachi, we headed to lunch at the "chicken pie place." It was not like our chicken pie, it was basically a calzone type outside with chicken and mushrooms inside. I don't really care what they called it, it was wonderful!! We were able to sit and visit as a team and enjoy the scenery outside. We kept commenting that it looked like Ohio or TN outside, not like what we expected South Africa to look. Who knows what our American stereotypical minds thought we would see?!

After lunch, we headed back to Alabanza and separated out for showers, dinner and debriefing. We had a wonderful first day meeting new friends and getting a glimpse of the work we would do. Tomorrow would promise to be interesting as we would be turned out into the informal settlements to work.

More later...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Africa Day Two...Baby It's Cold Outside!

I awoke today colder than I think I've ever been in my life. I woke up about 3 am shivering and looking for more covers. Fortunately, our hosts had left duvet covers on the bed so I snuggled further down in my sleeping bag and under the duvet cover. I got warm enough to fall back asleep for a few more hours. When I woke up, I could see my breath indoors. BRRR!!

We all stumbled to breakfast and then the first week's group left to go to Refilwe for church. Our group stayed behind at Alabanza since there wasn't enough room in the vans for all of us. We worshipped as a group with our hosts and a few new friends from Zimbabwe. It was neat to share worship songs, Scripture and stories with our new friends. God was glorified as we sat outside in His creation and worshipped together.

After the group came back, we had a good hearty cook-out with beef and some sort of sausage. It was neat to visit with the first week's group and hear the stories of what they had seen and experienced. It was truly evident that God had moved in amazing ways during the first week. Our team got excited hearing about what God had done. As we prayed the first team off to the airport, reality began to sink in that we were really in Africa and our plans had COMPLETELY changed, again. We weren't really sure what we had gotten into but God knew and was already preparing our hearts.

We topped off the day by seeing the Milky Way (my second experience with this) and heading to bed to try and warm up. Man, when the sun goes down, the temperature plummets.

More later...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Africa Day One...Travel, Travel, Travel

I am going to take the updating nice and slow, mainly because I'm still jet-lagged and feel pretty lousy.

Day One was mostly travel. We left Bham around 3:00 on the ASA flight to ATL. Our flight attendant yelled at us (yes, yelled at us) to be quiet and listen to her announcements so we could get moving. Seriously, does anyone listen to those safety announcements? Giving her the benefit of the doubt, she was probably on her fourth flight of the day and was tired. We were noisy and excited about leaving. Not a good combo.

After changing concourses in ATL, we sat for a while before boarding. The plane we were travelling on was delayed coming in from China so we started out an hour late. Not cool for my nerves. :-) We all get boarded and go through the motions of leaving. We taxi to the runway and then the pilot comes on and says our radio is broken and we have to go back to the terminal so the mechanics can repair it. Then we'll refuel and be on our way. Refuel? We went all of half a mile. Are you sure this plane will fly 8000 miles without refueling???

So anyway, after the drama, we are finally underway. For the first couple of hours, I'm doing good. Not too crazy, dinner was okay and I tried a movie. Couldn't get into "Confessions of a Shopaholic" but "Beverly Hills Chihauha" was okay. I tried to sleep some with a little success. After 12 hours or so, I was starting to get antsy. Our flight attendants had disappeared and didn't reappear until it was time to serve some sort of nasty pizza around with beverage service. After 15 hours or so, we landed in Jo-burg.

After landing, we had to go through passport control and temperature scan. Everyone is worried about swine flu. We all passed through and made it to baggage control. Thank the Lord and Delta, all our bags made it. :-) Our rag-tag crew made it to the lobby and found Steve and Susie Lawley there waiting. We got everyone in a vehicle and started the journey to our home for the next nine days, Alabanza. We topped our LONG day of travel with a wonderful bowl of warm chili and headed to bed.

More later...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Out to Africa

Well, the time is finally here. I'm off to South Africa tomorrow for a ten-day mission trip. Our plans have changed slightly, we'll be doing more community education than originally planned but it means we will be interacting with more people. God knows exactly what will happen and is already preparing the way for us. We just have to go and trust that He will equip us.

I would appreciate prayers while this white-knuckle flyer spends 15+ hours on a plane tomorrow night/Saturday morning. I'm nervous about the plane, trying not to think about it and trusting God (is that multi-tasking?) to be my strong tower. I would also appreciate prayers for my team as we regroup and alter our plans as we travel. We could also use prayers for the unrest that is apparently going on in South Africa. Pray God's hedge of protection around our team.

Thanks so much for all the prayers already offered up and those that you will continue to offer up on my behalf while I'm gone. I will update when I return...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Points to Ponder

I've been pondering a post for a few days now and just haven't had time to post. I do have a small trip to Africa coming up on Friday and I'm just a little busy. :-)

My quiet time has been in Jeremiah lately and I found a passage a few days ago (13:11) that blew me away. I've read this passage before but never seen it from this perspective. The chapter is labeled "the ruined waistband." It starts by the Lord telling Jeremiah to buy a linen waistband and not put it in water. Then the Lord told him to put it in water, in a crevice. After the waistband was removed, it was ruined. The Lord equates the ruined waistband with the pride of Jerusalem and how He will destroy it. Then it gets really good...here is the text of verse 11:

"For as the waistband clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole household of Israel and the whole household of Judah cling to Me, declares the Lord. 'that they might be for Me a people, for renown, for praise, and for glory;'... He makes it so we would cling to Him like a waistband clings to the waist. Think about that for a minute. Let that soak in. We are supposed to cling to him as tightly as a waistband fits around our waists. He wants us to cling to Him. By clinging to Him, He will be glorified. It actually fits along nicely with a verse my mom pointed out to me last time I was home: II Cor. 12:9 "...I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me." My weaknesses force me to cling to Christ and by clinging to Him, His glory is seen in me. That's just cool beyond words to me.

Prayer and praise report before I sign off:

Praises:
1. All the necessary supplies for my trip have come in and are packed. We even have extra room in most of our suitcases. Thank you Lord.
2. I am finding daily other people who are praying for my trip, people I don't even know. It is so cool seeing how God works in huge ways.

Requests:
1. Diligence as I work on Monday to get a preliminary results section written on my dissertation - I need to get it to my committee before I leave.
2. Flight on Friday 7/24 - I don't like to fly (one of my weaknesses) but this is a stretching trip and flying is part of it.
3. My team as we continue the last-minute preparations - most of us are leaving jobs for 7 working days and that takes some prep. Others are leaving children behind for 10 days and that will be a stretch, for the team member and their families.
4. The people we will encounter - pray that they will see God through us and God will be glorified in all we do. Pray for boldness for the team as we share the Gospel.

Thanks so much for the prayers, words of encouragement, and love you have shown as I have prepared. I will try and post one more time before I leave. I won't have internet access but I'll be keeping a blog journal. I will post day-by-day accounts and pictures when I get back.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Jon & Kate and other marriage thoughts...

I know, I know, I'm not married so my first-hand knowledge on this topic is limited. But, I am a Christ-follower and there are several Biblical points that will follow my opinions.

Unless you've been under a rock for the last six months, you know who Jon and Kate are. Sadly, as of Monday, their 10-year, 8 kid marriage is over. I don't even begin to think I know who is at fault or what the whole story is. But, I know from watching their specials and then "Jon & Kate plus 8" that they are not the same couple who started the specials. It really appears on TV that the money, fame and hassle of TV changed them. It would be so nice if they had told TLC at the very beginning of the trouble that they were taking a break from the show to work out their marriage difficulties. Instead, they let it play out on national TV and the marriage suffered fatally. It's doubly sad because they professed to be Christians and couldn't make it work. It's just so sad.

And then today comes the bombshell that the idiot governor of SC, Mark Sanford, a Republican darling, disappeared to Argentina to consummate an affair with a mistress. Seriously!? What the heck was he thinking? He violated his wife, his children and his mistress. Hopefully the family can work this out and this marriage can be saved.

This all leads to interesting thoughts on marriage. Satan is wily and knows full well how to attack a marriage. What I don't understand is how people can put themselves in situations like the governor of SC did. Isn't marriage sacred? Again, I'm not married so I can't speak fully but I know plenty of men and women who care enough about their marriage that they protect themselves in a variety of ways. They have internet filters to protect against porn,are never alone with a person of the opposite sex, avoid questionable movies/shows, etc. and have open, accountability partners to help keep them in line. Why don't more marriage counselors recommend this sort of thing, especially Christian counselors?

I know there are times when divorce is inevitable but I also know that all too many couples, Christians included, get out of a marriage the minute things get tough. Umm, excuse me, but don't the vows say "for better or for worse?" I lost a friend because I couldn't support her decision to divorce her husband. There was no cheating, no abuse, just a desire on her part to not be married. I just couldn't support that. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to go through but I know it was the right stand to take.

All in all, it's just sad to me that so many couples are struggling with divorce. God hates divorce for a reason. As the whole world is seeing through Jon and Kate, no one "wins" in divorce. I think the best course of action for Christians is to pray for each other, pray for marriages (your own and others) and pray that we as Christians would learn to support those struggling in marriage to help prevent more statistics.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Prayer Requests

I have a couple of prayer requests for the prayer warriors out there:

1. Diligence for completing my dissertation - I am so tired of the project and SO ready to be finished that it is difficult to focus most nights. Please pray that God will give me the clear, focused mind to work diligently each day to complete this process.

2. A new job - please pray God will provide a clear, obvious job in my field for me. I still haven't heard from the reservation (is that an answer in and of itself?) but with the end of school, an additional large bill will start being due each month so I need a job that pays more than I make now. If something doesn't come through, a second job will be necessary.

3. I found out today that I may be maxed out on financial aid so bills could get really tight for fall if a new job doesn't materialize. Please pray that God will provide in some manner only He can.

I know God will provide and has a plan that is more awesome than I can imagine. I have to be diligent to find the position that God has for me to best use the gifts and abilities that He has given me. I want to be in the place where He can best use me for His glory. My human side just wants to know where that is. Now. :-)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Coupons, Coupons, Coupons

I have started trying to save as much money while grocery shopping as humanly possible. With gas prices up (again!) and limited financial resources, saving pennies is a good habit to get into. It also goes back to the concept of "enough." How little can I live on regardless of what my salary is?

That being the case, I have been turned on to a wonderful website: www.southernsavers.com. This is an AWESOME site, even more so if you live in a city with multiple grocery store chains (Publix, Kroger, Bi-Lo, etc.). Even just having Publix, the site is a huge blessing. They have the full Publix ad uploaded fresh each Wednesday and they list the penny item on Sundays. The site also has links to manufacturer's coupons that might or might not have been in the previous Sunday's paper. I spent 15 minutes at the end of the workday today looking at the site, printed a few coupons for stuff I needed and ended up saving $2.50 on items I would have purchased anyway. Since Publix doubles some coupons, I had another manufacturer's coupon and they matched a competitor's coupon I had, I saved $11.00 on my bill. Add in Publix's buy one/get one savings and I saved $16.26 on a total bill of $36.72. That got my pantry restocked on the essentials and saved money to boot.

Just a note: Publix is a GREAT chain when it comes to savings and coupons. They will stack coupons (buy one/get one and a manufacturer's coupon and competitor coupon), offer one of a buy one/get one at half-off, and honor competitor's coupons. It is worth finding their ads each week and utilizing the savings.

The funny thing about this whole concept is that some of my friends are doing this too and it's become a game: see how much you can save by clipping coupons and watching for specials. It changes the way you shop and plan because you end up eating what's on sale and what you have coupons for but it works. I'm not quite to where some of my friends are (one bought $151 worth of groceries for $65!) but I figure every little bit helps. I thought it might be a drag but when you make it a game and see the savings, it's worth the little bit of extra time.

Monday, June 1, 2009

This and That

Just have a stream of random thoughts that I don't have time to elaborate on in a full-on post. If you don't want a bunch of randomness, stop reading now. You've been warned. :-)

*We serve an awesome God! All of my support for my South Africa trip is in! God has provided so many different sources of funding for this trip; it is truly amazing to see God's provision in action. Most of my team has raised all the support they need and we have extra money that has been donated to use for supplies, medications and Bibles. I can't wait to see what God will do on this trip.

*Helped move Sarah over Memorial Day weekend. She has the cutest little house in Macon. I'm jealous of my little sis. She chose great colors for her house and she and my mom did all the painting themselves. It is a great house and she should be very happy.

*Deuteronomy is such an awesome book. It centers around God telling the Israelites "remember, don't forget." There are lots of times that I find myself in the same place the Israelites were, in a condundrum of my own making, having forgotten (again!) that God is the ultimate provider and sustainer. Hopefully while reading this go-around (I'm only on chapter 5), I can put the idea of remember, don't forget on my heart instead of just in my head.

*Still haven't heard from the indian reservation regarding a job. I'm having to trust God big-time on this one. My lease is up in a few months (August 7 to be exact) and I'm planning to extend by a month. There are very few jobs out there right now and I have to be patient and find what God has in store for me. That's the hardest part because you know me, I'd like to have known the answers yesterday.

I think that's all for now. I have another post coming once I figure out exactly what to say and how to nicely say it regarding the killer of the abortion provider.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Movie Review: 17 Again

I just got home from seeing 17 Again with my friend Jane. It's a cute movie overall. Probably not worth $9.25 but it was clean and Zac Efron is easy on the eyes. :-) It's all about how Matthew Perry's character has screwed up his life and gets a chance to have a "do-over." and reconnect with his wife. It was definitely a comedy and very predictable but since it was clean, that makes it a good movie in my book.

It did get me thinking that I would not do high school over again for all the gold in Fort Knox. This movie reminded me of why. High school is a growing experience, sure, but I didn't like my high school years. I was the geek, goody-goody, overweight girl who never got invited to things. Doesn't really bother me now but then it was miserable. All I wanted was to graduate and move on to college. I imagine things are only tougher today. I admire kids, girls especially, who are able to avoid the pitfalls that are high school. So many of the girls I've met lately are comfortable with who they are and whose they are and that's all that matters. Maybe my bad experience with high school is why I have such a burden for discipling girls and young women.

Done with the reliving of high school. Bottom line on the movie, if you want a cute, clean movie, catch this one in a matinee. Hollywood needs more people to support clean movies.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Time to Get Busy!!

We had staff retreat this week and it was a wonderful time of review, prayer, renewal and vision-casting. One of the overwhelming things I came away with was a hurting for the rest of the world.

Jonathan B., our new Pastor of Global Disciple-Making spoke on Friday and gave some amazingly sobering statistics and stories. One of his stories hit me so deeply that I had to share it. He spoke of a trip he took to remote Vietnam several years back. They travelled into areas seldom seen by anyone, missionaries or otherwise. They were doing some ethnographic work and as part of it, were asking one extremely group of extremely remote villagers what they believed...did they believe in spirits in the forest...nope; did they believe in ancestor worship...nope. Then they asked how the crops grew - the villagers responded that the rain made the crops grow. He then asked about the sun coming up. The villagers said they just hoped. Hoped in what they were asked? We don't know they responded, no one has told us that yet. The next day, Jonathan and his team went to a little shack that served as a store that sold soap and other sundries. The first thing they were asked was whether or not they would like a Coke. Yep, in the middle of the remote village, some suits from Atlanta had introduced their product. What an indictment of the western Church! Suits selling sugar water found this remote village but we're too busy arguing about carpet colors, preaching styles, worship styles, etc. to bother sharing the life-saving message of the Gospel with a lost and dying world.

Consider please these facts and see if it doesn't prick your heart and change your perspective:

*There are over 12,000 people groups in the world today. 6,475 of them are unreached (less than 2% evangelical believers). Approximately 5,845 are unreached and unengaged (no one working to reach that people group). That 5,845 represents 1.6 BILLION people.

*Greater than 90% of the personnel and resources (time, people, money) of North American missions agencies goes to ministry among the reached.

*One child dies every SIX seconds from hunger-related causes.

*Almost 1 BILLION people regularly suffer from hunger, most are women and children.

*65% of the world's hungry live in only 7 countries: India, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethopia.

Watch this video (done by Gene Mason from BH) for even more statistics:



Lord, help us, help me remember James 1:27: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep onself from being polluted by the world." Remind me that "stuff" is fleeting and doesn't matter. Give me a desperation for the poor and the lost around the world.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Random Thoughts

Just a few random thoughts for a Monday evening...

I had a wonderful team meeting last night with my AIDS Hospice Team. God has brought together such an interesting mix of people for this team and I absolutely cannot wait to see how He is going to move through these people. We had a great training session with a local infectious disease doc to learn more about HIV/AIDS. What's so neat about this guy is that he is a veteran of medical mission trips and could give more than just AIDS info. He gave some great spiritual prep. information and is more than willing to share his knowledge with anyone that asks. My team is also great about adapting and going with the flow. Delta added a $50 fee for the second bag on international flights (grr!) and that was really putting a crimp in my supplies budget. My team's response? "Why can't we just leave our second bag over there? That cuts the cost in half." That's a servant heart for you. :-)

I also found a great prayer today. It's from a book by Lynn Hybels called "Nice Girls Don't Change the World." (Side note: sounds like my kind of book.) This is such a great prayer and so powerful. Process this prayer, internalize it, act on it.

Dear God,
please make us dangerous women.
May we be women who acknowledge our power
to change and grow, and be radically alive for God.
May we be healers of wounds and righters of wrongs.
May we weep with those who weep and
speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
May we cherish children, embrace the elderly,
and empower the poor.
May we pray deeply and teach wisely.
May we be strong gentle leaders.
May we sing songs of joy and talk down fear.
May we never hesitate to let passion push us,
conviction compel us, and righteous anger energize us.
May we strike fear into all that is unjust
and evil in the world.
May we dismantle abusive systems and silence lies with truth.
May we shine like stars in a darkened generation.
May we overflow with goodness in the name of God
and by the power of Jesus.
And in that name and by that power,
may we change the world.
Dear God, please make us dangerous women.
AMEN.

That's all for now...time for dinner.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu Stupidity

Being in public health, I have an interest in infectious diseases. I love medical thrillers, books like "The Hot Zone" and others that profile scientists that fight the worst of the worst. I imagine the scientists who work on viruses like Ebola, hantavirus and the like have to be so frustrated at the stupidity surrounding swine flu. True it seems to be attacking previously healthy younger people but the overwhelming majority GET WELL.

The all-out hysteria surrounding swine flu would be comical if it weren't so sad. We seem to have become a nation of dorks who can't think for themselves. Come on people, it's swine flu not the plague. If you feel bad, stay home and take care of yourself. Use common freakin' sense and cover your mouth when you cough, throw away your used tissues, and wash your hands. I didn't need a CDC public service announcement to know that, my momma taught me that.

Around here, the powers that be are closing schools, cancelling outdoor athletic events and the like. I can understand closing A school where a confirmed case is for a day (maybe two) to come in and sanitize but to close entire systems is overkill. What do those parents who rely on schools and daycares do? Skip work? Sure, that'll help the economy.

What about all the diseases that contribute to the 30,000 deaths of children under 2that occurred TODAY??? Where's the hysteria for those?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Different Strokes for Different Folks

It's been a long two days in my world. I went to Montgomery last night for visitation for my friend Lisa's mom. My friend Jane drove (thanks so much Jane). Visitation was very nice if you can say that about a visitation. There were a number of people there from Birmingham to support Lisa so that was good. She is handling the whole situation so amazingly well.

I drove down today for the funeral. I know Lisa was glad to have the support. The first part was really neat, hearing stories about Lisa's mom. She sounds like a lady I would like to have known. From the stories the pastor told, she had a great sense of humor and loved her family. After his stories, Lisa read Psalm 116. That Psalm had lots of history for Lisa and she managed to read it without tearing up at all.

After the Scripture reading, the pastor presented his sermon. That's when it got a little weird. He got into pre and post-millenial theology and then talked about the sacraments of salvation. I was kind of shocked that his message got that deep and off topic. I'm not even getting into the theological inaccuracies. I'm going on record right now that when my time comes, I want the Gospel presented in clear and uncompromising language and leave out the 23rd Psalm. It's not my favorite by any stretch and is horribly cliche. But, it might have been a favorite of Mrs. Coker, I don't know.

I did get to hear a hymn I haven't heard in a long time. The singer sang "Because He Lives." It's been one of my favorites since I was little. It is a great hymn and full of such simple truths. Everything we have is because He lives. We can face all of life's uncertainties because He lives. Such a simple yet profound statement.

I'm glad I went down and supported Lisa. I know she appreciated it and was shocked last night when I told her I was coming back for the funeral. I told her that doing life was what a discipling relationship was about. The good and the bad. We've had the good and now we had to deal with the bad. We'll have more to deal with in the weeks and months to come and that's what life is about. I'm thankful God put Lisa in my life and we have developed such a neat relationship.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Third Day Concert

First off I have to say a special Thank You! to my mom. This ticket tonight was part of my birthday present back in January. I have been looking forward to this concert since they announced the tickets on Jan. 11th. It definitely lived up to the expectations! I will post pictures once I get back to my computer.

Revive opened for Brandon Heath who opened for Third Day. They are a new Aussie band that Third Day discovered while they were on tour Down Under. Their lead singer is hot! Too bad he's married. :-) They have a great rock sound and some amazing guitar numbers. They will get real big real quick. Their story is pretty neat too. They stepped out on faith and sold almost everything they owned and moved to the US. They state that their band is God's and they are doing what He commands.

Brandon Heath was Brandon Heath. He's a cutie too and he's single. :-) I love listening to that guy sing. His lyrics are just amazing. So simple yet so profound. I was able to make a recording of "Give Me Your Eyes" on my Blackberry and as soon as I figure out how to get it out of my Blackberry, I'll post it. I can't wait to see how God is going to use Brandon and his lyrics to touch lives.

After an intermission, Third Day came on. They truly know how to put on a show. I can't even remember all the songs they did. They started with some of their older stuff and sprinkled in new songs. In the middle of their set, Mac walked off stage and then reappeared in the middle of the worship room where the concert was held. The rest of the band joined him and they did their request portion from the middle of the room. Really cool!! The eventually "closed" with Revelation. I put closed in quotes because they did four songs as encores. They closed the show with Creed (which I recorded). I love Creed and I love that they still do this song as a tribute to the late great Rich Mullins (man, I miss that guy!).

All in all, it was a WONDERFUL night of "getting my praise on." It is always so neat to see a room full of people praising God together. This is two Friday nights in a row I've been with over 1,500 Christians who are unashamed of their faith and want to be together to praise Him!

Thanks again mom!!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

I am home from a wonderful Easter celebration at Brook Hills. I got my praise on (to quote a friend) a couple of times and heard David's message of the Gospel. As usual, his message was powerful and laid the Gospel out in clear and convincing fashion. Between Friday at Secret Church and today's message, people heard the Gospel. It is my prayer that hearts were opened and responded to make a decision to make Christ Lord and Savior and see their lives transformed.

I also have to take a moment to thank our volunteers. My ministry area has the most awesome volunteers at Brook Hills. We moved over 6800 people in and out of our campus today with very few issues. It took a while to get into the parking lot but our parking team worked with everyone and there were no crashes or major issues. Without our volunteers, our visitors and members would not have had such a wonderful experience. Thank you doesn't seem like enough.

I do plan to enjoy my day off tomorrow. Sleep in and then have lunch with an long-time family friend who has just moved to Bham. After lunch, I'll spend some time with my dissertation research. Perfect plan for a day off.

As we move past Easter, remember the tomb is empty and the throne is occupied!!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Burdened

I have such a heavy feeling tonight for a friend of mine. I got a text message at 2:30 this morning that I somehow slept through and then a phone call this morning a little after 7. My friend Lisa's mother is critically ill in Montgomery and the situation is somewhat bleak. Right here at Easter, this terrible illness called cancer rears up again and complicates life. Lisa is such a wonderful Christ-follower and I am honored to be discipling her. She is comfortable with what God's sovereign will is and I admire her for that. I'm not 100% sure I'd be so comfortable.

I'm a fixer, I admit that freely. I chalk it up to having both the gifts of mercy and exhortation. That's a "dangerous" combo when friends are hurting. I feel so burdened because with her mom in Montgomery, I can't BE there to love on her. Phone calls and text messages seem so impersonal but I know she doesn't see them that way. Prayer is the most important thing I can do, both for Lisa and her family and I know it is important but it still leaves me feeling like I'm not doing enough.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday

We had an amazing worship gathering tonight at the Brook. Before tonight, I had never had the opportunity to participate in a Palm Sunday service. I think pieces of David's sermon were written especially for me. He is such a communicator of God's Word and the strength of today's message was huge. I'm not even sure I can completely do it justice. Just the reminder that the God of the universe gave His Son for my sins and that Jesus can handle any worry, problem, grief, issue etc. that I can throw just blows my mind. In this huge season of uncertainty for me, I know where my assurance lies. Talk about a peaceful thought.

As for the palms, our worship staff ordered thousands of palm branches and we had a time of contemplative prayer and then were asked to get a palm branch of our own. Once everyone had their palm, we sang Chris Tomlin's "Glory in the Highest" and then another one who's name escapes me. We also had a responsive reading from Psalm 118. It was so cool to see people worshipping and praising with palm branches lifted high. It was a small glimpse of what it must have been like 2,000 years ago when Jesus entered the city. Such a cool time of worship!!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Randomness

Had a good day today; busy but good. Got some more stuff done on my data analysis so my good experiences from yesterday are holding. It's nice to have stuff working and my committee member who helps me on my stats said my program looked good.

I am frustrated with the federal government (surprise, surprise). I'm still waiting on word about my extension and they don't seem to give a rip that this is THEIR screw-up, not mine. Now they are claiming they have to examine and approve any incentives over $1000. Um, that's the old budget, not the new one. Stupid government bueurocrats!

And, while the IRS found a mistake in my taxes (in my favor), my sister is fighting silliness with the IRS. This would all go away if we would do the smart thing and institute the Fair Tax. If everyone who is sending red envelopes to the White House protesting abortion would get behind the Fair Tax and would send tea bags to Congress, we might could get somewhere.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Some Success

Okay, so God has showed off big time. I spent part of my quiet time this evening praying about my dissertation and data analysis. I have been struggling mightily with it and wasn't getting anywhere. I gave it up to Him and prayed for diligence in study and work. He answered quickly.

After fighting with a lack of knowledge and a brain that didn't want to recall what it had learned at some point, I broke down this afternoon and searched barnesandnoble.com for a self-help manual. They had one in stock in Hoover so I drove over there after work and picked it up. It has made a tremendous difference! I have a dataset that is read by my analysis program and got two small analysis features run. I still have LOTS to do in this phase but I don't feel so stupid anymore. I will keep plugging away at it and by Monday, should have a program that is well on its way to finishing the simple analysis. Thank you Lord for quickly answered prayers!!!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Long Week and A Busted Bracket

This was an amazingly long week and I don't know why. Weird in a sense. Lots of stuff going on at work - prepping for Easter and all. We need lots of volunteers to make Easter run smoothly and we've changed the way we recruit volunteers. Problem is, we waited too late to make a wholesale change so we're having to play catch-up. I have no doubt we'll have enough volunteers to make it work (we have awesome volunteers) but it'll be a crazy couple of weeks in the meantime. We haven't even begun to think about Secret Church on Good Friday. We're pretending it isn't happening. :-)

Lots of prep work for my Hospice trip has also been going on this week. Lots of reading and getting amazingly frustrated about the lack of action on the problem in so many countries. Not for a lack of a desire to do something - it's a problem created by Western governments and drug companies. Not sure what the answer is, I just know how things are handled right now ain't the answer. I'm also saddened that it's taken the Western Church this long to get mobilized to address HIV/AIDS. For so long we let it be a moral issue and we neglected the parts of Scripture that tell us to serve not judge. I'm convinced that we Christians (me included) in the developed will have to answer before God regarding our inaction in the developing world. We're making progress but things are so bad in so many areas that more effort is needed.

I'm also tired because my data analysis isn't working like I want it to and that frustrates the crap out of me. I can't get past one step and I got help from one of my committee members but it still isn't working. The really frustrating part is that I'm so close and it's one measly step that is holding everything up. I've found some online help so hopefully tomorrow morning when I'm not so tired, I can get over this hump.

As for the busted bracket, I'm referring to mine. I had Memphis winning it all and dang if they didn't go and lose and lose badly last night. It was UGLY. I quit watching. I didn't really like Memphis all that much and now I have even more reason not to like them. I knew I should've gone with a Big East team. Oh well, there's always next year.

Off to make dinner...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ever Have One of "Those" Days?

I had a yucky day at work today. Nothing major happened, I just got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning and the feeling lasted all freakin' day. I was just in a foul mood. Didn't snap at anyone so that's good, I just had no desire to be there, no desire to work and didn't really care. I did get stuff done so that's a plus and tomorrow is a new day so that's another plus.

I did have a great evening. I got to spend it with my best friend (other than Sarah) Wendy. We have been friends since college and have been through thick and thin together. She is a relatively new mom so I got to see her little one too. He's definitely a cutie. It was great to go to dinner and get to visit and catch up. We're also going to get together again on Saturday to spend more time together than we can on a work night. We have so much in common that we can be apart for months and get together and it's like we never separated. It was a nice way to end an otherwise crappy day.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Fun With Government Bueracrats

I can honestly say that I have never had an experience with government ineptness like I'm having right now. I am trying to get a no-cost (key phrase, NO COST) extension on my grant to finish up my project. The original letter was sent to the agency in charge on October 30th by UPS next-day air. We have the proof it was delivered and signed for. There is some evidence a government bueracrat read it and then sat on it. For months. I called in early December and they promised it by Dec. 19th. That day came and went and no approval letter. I then went to the next person on my list. She assured me it was approved and we should be getting the letter soon. Well, still no letter.

Fast forward to last week. We've been assigned to a new government bueracrat and she says "this is a highly irregular request and we'll see." She's also promising a "complete investigation" of what happened. Yeah, right.

We have a full e-mail to send to her tomorrow that has documentation of all our steps and hopefully they will see the light and just freakin' approve the extension. I could understand a little better if we didn't have a good excuse or we had waited until now to request it. But no, this was requested in OCTOBER (original contact was early Sept.). That's five months ago. Only in government could you be so inept at your job and actually get paid for it. What really burns me is that this is my (and your) tax dollars at work.

And this is the group you want managing health care? Seriously!?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Update...

Who knew!? After such a bad day, I went to check my standing in the Yahoo! pool I'm in and I'm in first (thanks to Siena's 2OT win). Of course, it won't last but it is fun while it lasts. :-)

March Madness & Badness

This is one of my favorite times of year but man it can be frustrating. My brackets are a mess after today's sessions. I had a good day yesterday, picking 14 of 16 games right. Today, not so good. I didn't miss a ton more games but the games I did miss have next round and beyond implications. I've already lost two sweet sixteen teams and may lose an elite eight team if FSU manages to lose. It has absolutely no bearing on anything important but I still like to see more green on my bracket than red. Plus, I like beating the guys in my bracket pool on Yahoo! :-)

I love watching basketball and CBS is making life great tonight. They are going back and forth between Siena/OSU and WI/FSU. Both are in OT; Siena/OSU is in double OT. Every time there is a break in one game, CBS switches to the other. Since I don't have a dog in either fight, it's cool as a fan. Almost feels like a sports bar. :-) I remember watching March Madness with friends at a place called PT's in Homewood. It was wonderful; big screens everywhere, friends to enjoy the games with and games from noon to close to midnight. It was worth the lack of sleep. Man, college life was better than the working world in that respect.

I think next year, I'll pick all 12 seeds. I was so happy yesterday to have finally picked a 12/5 upset and darn if the 12 seeds I DIDN'T pick have managed to win today. With FSU losing, three of the four 12 seeds have won. If I'd gone with 12 seeds, I'd only have lost one game rather than three. UGH!

Well, FSU just lost so I've lost three sweet 16's and one elite eight. The only silver lining is that I don't have money riding on my brackets.

Signing off for now to see if Siena can pull it out...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Long Day (Prayer Request)

We had a long day on staff today. One of our children's ministry faith trainers, Chris Greene, died this morning of a massive heart attack. He was only 39 and leaves behind a widow and three young children. While I didn't know Chris personally, I do know the children's ministry staff and tried to be supportive to them today. Needless to say, none of us understand God's timing in this. Chris was a man who loved the Lord, his family and sharing God's Word with children. He will be sorely missed.

Please be in prayer for his family as they adjust to life without him. Please be in prayer for our pastor as he preaches the funeral on Saturday and our children's ministry staff as they tell the children on Sunday and try to answer the unanswerable questions. Many of the children are out of town on Spring Break trips with their families and Sunday will be a long, hard day. Pray that God will be glorified in our response to this situation as a church.

Biloxi '09

I'm back from Biloxi and we had a great time. I'm tired but it's a good tired. We have been blessed with an awesome set of kids in our student ministry. They love the Lord and sharing their faith. They are also incredibly hard workers. I heard no complaining out of this group even though it wasn't the most organized of trips and the Worship was much different than they were used to.

I am thrilled that God has given me the opportunity to work with these kids and see the growth as they mature and continue to give their lives to Christ. As one of our student ministers put it "For our kids, it's not a question of if they'll go or when. For them, it's a question of should I go to Asia or Latin America this summer." Such a different viewpoint from many kids.

I'll put pictures out there when I get them downloaded and then uploaded to the site.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Random Thoughts

A little randomness for your Friday afteroon enjoyment...

I'm off to Biloxi on Sunday for a few days of mission work with our youth. I'm super excited because 1) I love mission work and 2) I have a GREAT group. I'm sure all the groups are awesome but I have a really good group of kids. We should have a fun time in Biloxi. I can give a few status updates because I downloaded the Facebook app on my Blackberry.

This is such a fun time of year for this rabid sports fan. It's championship week on ESPN so it's all basketball almost all the time. SEC tourney, ACC tourney, Pac-10 tourney, Big East tourney, they are ALL playing right now. Then next Thursday starts the absolute best weekend in sports, the opening weekend of March Madness. I remember in college we would go to our earliest classes and then head to PT's sports bar in Homewood to watch the rest of the action, staying until well into the night. I wish I had a group of friends that liked basketball as much as I do. Oh well, I'll enjoy it by myself. :-)

To add to the sports enjoyment, by the time March Madness ends in early April, baseball season will be starting. I doubt the Braves will have a stellar, playoff type year but hey, it's still baseball. Have I mentioned lately I'm a sports nut?

Back to work...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Too Funny Not to Share

I stole this from another blog (www.pulpit-pimps.org). It's just too good not to share:

Heresy Hillbillies
(Sung to the tune of Beverly Hillbillies)

Come and listen to a story ’bout a boy named Joel
Keepin’ sheeple happy was his one and only goal
Didn’t need no trainin’ from no fancy Bible school,
To build a congregation of unScriptural fools
(Sheeple that is, darkened souls, Bible free )

Well the first thing you know old Joel’s a millionaire
With just a winning smile and a crop of wavy hair
Don’t know if a Moslem goes to Heaven or to Hell
But he sure do know his way around shampoo and gel.
(Whitening gels, glistening teeth )

Well now it’s time to say goodbye to Joel’s trophy wife
Time to let them get on back to living their best life,
You’re all invited back again to their locality
To have a heaping helpin’ of their happy heresy
(Heresy Hillbillies, that’s what they call ‘em now, nice folks.)

Y’all come back now, ya hear?


For those who feel like I do, that Joel Osteen is a charlatan who is leading people down a dangerous path, they will see the humor in this. But, we should as Christ-followers, fall to our knees and pray for Joel and those like him who are making the Gospel say what they want it to in order to appeal to a mass audience. It saddens me that the simple concept of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone can be so screwed up by man.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Facebook

Well, I finally broke down and did it...I joined Facebook. Of course it look me lots longer than most people because of my interesting last name. Facebook denied me the first time I tried and when I e-mailed them and asked for permission, I got some long e-mail back asking for every bit of info. under the sun. Well, I don't have time for that. So, I waited for a few months and tried again. Got rejected again but this time got a helpful person who opened the account and sent me a username and password. Now, I'm in the "club."

Of course, I don't promise to be the most avid Facebook person and I'll have to get my 7th grade girls to show me how to best use the stinkin' site but at least I have a spot. I like my blog better but I do think Facebook will help keep me connected if I end up moving in a few months.

On that note, be praying for me. I e-mailed today for more information on two jobs with the TO Nation. As most of you know, I'd move there tomorrow if a job was available. I know that doesn't make everyone happy but God has drawn my heart there and I am praying He leads me out there.

Now I'm off to bed to read because I'm cold and my bed is warm. Of course, I'll have to fight the cat...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

SNOW!!!

It finally snowed in Alabama in amounts that could be measured in inches! It's been ages since we got snow that actually amounted to anything. While I didn't get out and play in it, it was absolutely beautiful. We had to call the kids inside so we could start large group time this morning. They were having a ball throwing snowballs at each other, the windows, brave teachers and anyone else who happened by. It's amazing how snow can make even the most "mature" teachers frolic like little kids. The only thing that would have made the day better is if it had lasted into the evening and we could get a snow day out of it. Oh well, maybe next year...

Here are some of the pictures from today:

Back Patio:


Cars Covered in Snow:


View off Back Patio:


Breezeway View:


Some From Church:








This poor tree must be so confused. Don't know if it shows up but it was fully bloomed...