Time Marches On – 2017

Another year is almost in the books and the natural inclination is to look ahead to the new one. I don’t make New Year resolutions. I don’t particularly like setting myself up to fail. But as I’ve considered what I would like my life to look like in the coming months, one word keeps coming to mind: Restoration.

It’s the same word that resonated at the end of 2015 when I was preparing for my previous trip to the Philippines. But it made sense at the time. I was tired and felt burned out and ill equipped for the trip. I spent the few months before departure focusing on rest and restoration.

This time I don’t feel burned out or bone weary tired but I feel this need to pull back and focus on the details of life that matter most. It’s a desire to focus on restoring habits that strengthen my health on all levels: physically, spiritually and mentally. It’s a craving to spend more time in quiet moments and activities like reading and writing and prayer. (Perhaps not coincidentally one of my Christmas gifts was a coloring book and colored pencils. Perfect.) It’s wanting to spend time in the kitchen cooking meals that nourish my family and friends and relying a little less on chicken from the deli or Papa Murphy’s pizza. It’s wanting to sit across from friends, coffee (or tea) in hand for more time than I spend in a gym.  The closest relationships in my life deserve purposeful cultivating instead of just “letting them happen”.  But for when I AM there, it’s a focus on yoga and swimming rather than heavy weights and running shoes.

I don’t know that this is my “Word of the Year” or that it is the theme for the next 365 days. But it’s what I’m starting with and what I’m using as a guide for life and calendar decisions right now.

Looking Back on 2016

I think I’ve said this before but I love fresh starts. I love new notebooks, with crisp empty pages and a new pen. I love Monday mornings. I love the beginning of school years and the new year. It’s odd I’m not a morning person but that’s one fresh start I wish society would agree to begin a little later.

2016 has been a hard year. From terrorist attacks and the groups sponsoring them, refugee crisis, Aleppo, mass shootings, earthquakes and typhoons and hurricanes, Zika and deaths and a contentious election season and tension between police and citizens…and clowns. Of all things. Clowns. There’s a universal cry of “Good riddance 2016″…as if switching the pages of a calendar has any power.

Personally, 2016 has been neither singularly difficult nor easy-breezy. I began it in a slum in the metro area of Manila, Philippines, surrounded by my team playing games, eating balut (other team members, not me), singing worship songs and cringing as the locals set off fireworks that made the area sound like a war zone instead of a celebration. And while that was a hard trip and I missed my family & friends often, as the clock struck midnight there on January 1, 2016, I was exactly where I wanted to be. I came home sick, got better and felt fantastic. I had a LOT of fun learning to play softball and training for a triathlon that I did not intend to do but gave in to peer pressure. Then we found out we had to move and began a frantic house search, while my husband was out of the country. And in the midst of that, I was diagnosed with diabetes started meds and went from feeling great to…not. My parents came to visit, my father had a massive heart attack but was treated quickly by a top notch group and is fine. Our middle son graduated high school. We moved into a house that is more room than we need but allows us to host guests like I’ve always dreamed (and it was an easy EASY move). Our youngest son started 7th grade in a new school…public for the first time. The oldest started a great job with the same organization where Hubby works, moved out and bought a truck (& a cat).  The middle son start college and a job that he loves. I started a new degree path and dropped my classes because I wasn’t physically able to juggle work, family and school. Hubby traveled out of the country again. We watched a LOT of Olympics. Hubby’s Grandma turned 100.  We both turned 40. Close friends moved away. We went to Salt Lake Comic Con (and had a blast). I fully intended to journey back to the Philippines in December but due to my health, that was not the wisest choice. Many tears were shed over that decision even knowing it was the best one. We had a low key, relaxing Thanksgiving (thanks to my sister-in-law hosting), and a wonderful Christmas. It was a whirlwind of a year and I am sure I’m forgetting something. But I’m ready to shut the book on 2016 and move on. Not because I think the stroke of midnight on December 31/Jan 1 holds any magical power in and of itself but because, well, I love fresh starts. Including new years.

 

Ground Zero

I’ve debated writing about this. On one hand, it’s not a big deal. On the other hand, it kinda is.

Earlier this year I felt fantastic. I was playing softball and training for a triathlon. Weight was finally dropping, I was getting faster, my energy levels were great.

Then I had blood work done to check my chronically low Vitamin D levels and was diagnosed as severely diabetic.

This year. It’s been a journey of meds and lifestyle changes. Of feeling terrible to feeling normal to feeling terrible again. Of finding out I could “do everything right” and my body still would not respond.

For the record – it is really difficult to stick with the whole strict lifestyle when you feel worse AND your body doesn’t respond.

My mental/emotional journey has not been linear. I have been mad. I checked all the right boxes and my body betrayed me anyway. I have been ashamed. Obviously I *DIDN’T* take care of myself and made myself sick. I have been discouraged and sad. What I do doesn’t matter; all my goals are out of reach and my life is now defined by this. I have been hyper focused and determined. I can eat perfect and work out harder than before; I can reverse this. It changes from week to week – sometimes from day to day. And I’ve found that how I feel physically greatly impacts my mental state. Since I have spent the past couple of months dealing with fatigue and nausea (yay supplemental meds), the mental battle has been the main one I’ve fought. Discouragement stalks me on a regular basis. I’m not ready to succumb completely.

I spend a lot of time on the couch right now (see above: fatigue). I have been forced to slow down (stop) and re-evaluate. I’m finally accepting that the goals, plans and priorities I had for this year, and the foreseeable future, are irrelevant. That leaves a void. I don’t know that I’ve ever stared in the future with absolutely NO idea of how I was going to proceed, with a complete absence of an objective.

Right now the only thing I am ready to commit to is getting my brain back in this whole fighting for my health thing. I haven’t given up. Not completely. But I haven’t been as focused and strict as I could be. Maybe I’ll up my reading and writing game again too. We’ll see.

Thanksgiving?

I think I’ve mentioned this before but I live a charmed life. Seriously. But I don’t participate in “30 Days of Thanksgiving” or anything like that because history shows, if I commit to do something like that, I am less likely to do anything even slightly resembling my commitment. I will take pictures daily and be aware of beautiful, wonderful moments in my life…but the moment I sign up for “100 Happy Days” or whatever the flip it’s called…pft. Pictures? I have a camera?

I have been slowly becoming more aware of moments of thankfulness and more conscious of actually including God in those moments with quick prayer of thanks instead of fleeting thoughts of contentment. But recently I’ve found this dangerous irritating little voice whispering in the back of my head.

Me: “Gorgeous sunrise. Thank you for a beautiful start to this clear day. I love driving in clear weather.”

Dangerous whisper: “Yeah…but would you still have a thankful heart if there was a foot of snow on the ground and nothing but gray clouds overhead?”

Me: “I love my home so much. Thank you for providing this beautiful shelter and the opportunity to indulge in Thanksgiving cooking!”

Dangerous whisper: “What if you were spending Thanksgiving in a hospital? Or a homeless shelter? What would your attitude be like, your prayers sound like?”

This voice is dangerous because it’s prompting me to start adding a layer to my conversations with God. It’s causing me to start asking, not for more moments of contentment, but a heart and spirit that is prepared to be thankful and content in situations that aren’t beautiful, warm & cozy.

20151124_193906I am still incredibly grateful for the plethora of warm fuzzy moments that I’m experiencing. I mean seriously – this was my view while baking pies this week. A cat napping near a fireplace…it doesn’t get more warm & fuzzy than that. At the same time, I am aware that my comfort isn’t what is important…and it’s definitely not guaranteed. Would I still maintain a grateful heart and deep rooted joy even in the midst of hard times?

18 years ago

This was my life a little less than eighteen years ago.

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I was 20. He was…weeks old.

This was my life four days ago.

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Photo credit to my mother.

And yesterday, was his eighteenth birthday.

He was my “baby bear”* until about kindergarten when he informed me he was no longer a baby. I reluctantly graduated him to “Bear” until about third grade when he explained with a huff that his name was NOT “bear”. And then, ironically, he hit high school and all his friends started calling him “Papa Bear” with absolutely no input from me.

He has spent the past ten years, give or take a few, adopting and looking out for every younger child around him. And he has been attempting to take care of me since he could toddle to the front door and fling himself against it yelling “NO MAMA” because I walked into the living room in just shorts and a sports bra to retrieve my purse but he was concerned I might try to leave the house in an indecent state of dress.  The concern was cute until I tried to get my ears pierced with a second hole when he was about seven and a friend had to remove him the premises because he freaked out so badly.

I have received phone calls from teachers stating that he needs to be reprimanded but “He’s just so sweet I can’t do it…” Then there’s the time he told a teacher that if his eyes wandered during a test it was because he hit his head in P.E. and his eyes wouldn’t stay still…it certainly wouldn’t be because he was cheating. (She moved him into the hallway for the test if I remember correctly) And THEN there’s the time that he irritated a girl so much that she finally tackled him…into a cinder block wall. (And yet she still counted him among some of her best friends)

The character of Dominic Toretto (Fast and Furious franchise) repeats his mantra of “I don’t have friends, I have a family” so often in the movie series that it becomes a bit cheesy – but this kiddo has been living that for years. He is ferociously loyal and once you’re in his inner circle, he will adopt you and everyone you love. It can be a little overwhelming but somehow he always manages to win over….everyone. He has a multitude of “mom”s, all of which have contributed to his growth , and an impressive collection of “little sisters” that he fights with – and for. He has chosen to surround himself with guys that will hike the foothills with him, then spend hours playing video games…but they always hug their mamas before taking off.

He loves to make people smile and laugh and if someone leaves his presence without feeling loved, it’s not because he didn’t try. Young children adore him and he is always willing to give them his time and energy. He loves babies…and he loves the attention he gets from girls when he’s cuddling babies. He shaves his own head now (and let’s people rub it)…but “forgets” to shave his face. Sometimes he doesn’t see that line between funny and annoying until he’s well past it. Sometimes his family is as likely to swat him as they are to hug him. But he makes really good coffee.

There are plenty of stories I could tell many of which I need to write down for future generations but I won’t try to recount here and now. The point is, he’s eighteen. Four years ago, I sobbed as he entered high school because there were only four years left and he was nowhere ready for the world…and the world definitely wasn’t ready for him. Today I can say confidently that I think he’ll be okay. He’ll have some rough patches and he’ll learn some lessons the hard way. Most everyone does. But he’ll be fine in the end.

I’m still not sure the world is ready for him though.

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* I let him preview/approve the pictures used in this post. He scanned part of the text as well and on the way to bed, kissed me on top of my head and said “I’m still your baby bear.” Dawww….

 

Blessing or curse

I’ve read (skimmed if we’re being honest) a couple of different articles lately touching on this idea that we American Christians are “blessed” with our material abundance and/or how easily that phrase rolls off our tongue.

“Oh I’m doing well. God has really blessed us lately with our new car/house/promotion/health/insert latest toy”.

The articles both made me nod emphatically in agreement and squirm uncomfortably in my chair. Because I’ve done that. And I didn’t just do that before I went to the Philippines where, upon arrival, my eyes were opened & all deceptively pretty but false theology was burned away in  a flash of enlightenment. (Where is my sarcasm font?)

It’s easy for me to denounce false theology when it’s being preached by some big shot. Not to pick on the “prosperity gospel” (but to pick on the “prosperity gospel”), I cringe when I hear the idea that financial/material abundance is the will of God, that there is some sort of quid pro quo  between us and God. We have faith & He spoils us with the latest gadgets or more square footage or excellent health insurance.  I denounce it vehemently. God doesn’t promise earthly comfort. He promises a relationship with and transformation through Him. Amen and hallelujah.

And then. Then I sit in my big fluffy ridiculously comfortable chair sipping on my freshly brewed coffee with just the right amount of creamer, wrapped in my warm blanket in the middle of the summer because the central air in my crazy big, clean and sturdy house has made me chilly. I sit there with my cat purring on my lap and I look around and think about my refrigerator full of food and my reliable, emissions tested vehicle full of gas. And I thank God for all the blessings He has bestowed upon me and my family. We serve in our church. We tithe. We pray and attend our Lifegroup. We have checked the boxes of  “good Christians”. And this insidious idea that God is rewarding us for our good deeds slithers in and takes root.

In the Philippines I met a woman who lived under a tarp next to a bridge with her sore covered, naked children. And the next day I watched this woman show up at church, like she does weekly, with her kids in their ill fitting Sunday best….clothes we wouldn’t even donate to Goodwill. She was excited because we were the same age and we were both mothers. We come from polar opposite lives but we could connect. We talked about kids and parenting…and our faith in God. Her relationship is deep and sustaining and vibrant. She is impoverished materially and abundantly rich spiritually. Her very life should be all the proof I need to eliminate that sneaky idea that living comfortably is proof of God’s favor. Why me and not her (or any of the hundreds of thousands around the world like her)? And yet. Just last week I found myself snuggled in my chair thanking God for all His blessings. And perhaps I was a bit smug because OBVIOUSLY we’re doing something right. When suddenly Joseph (yes, of the  techni multicolored coat) came to mind. Specifically him telling his brothers “What you meant evil, God has used for good…”

Okay. So this is a leap but take it with me. I haven’t had anyone plot to murder me lately. (At least I don’t think so.) I haven’t been sold into slavery. Nothing  bad or evil has happened to me in a long time (or arguably…ever). But sitting there I began to wonder…what if all this abundance and comfort isn’t a gift from God. What if it is a distraction from Satan? What if I’m not blessed…but cursed? The idea shook me. What do I DO with that? Because  (again with the honesty) I’m not going to sell my family into poverty. I’m not going to look my children in the eyes and say “I’m sorry but you have to go hungry now. And sleep on the street. Oh…and forget about being clean or having medical care. But you’ll have God!!!” My husband and I DO have the opportunity to provide for our family and I don’t think that’s intrinsically bad. There’s a responsibility that comes with the opportunity though. (With great power comes…oh never mind). And that’s where Joseph comes in. So…maybe Satan IS trying to distract me. Maybe this comfort WAS meant to curse me by weakening my relationship with God. But God can use all….this.  But here’s what I didn’t get from the other articles (see above – skimming said articles) – it doesn’t end with the realization that our American wealth does NOT equate blessing. It doesn’t even end with the idea that the goodies might actually be meant for evil. It all BEGINS with the realization that God can use everything we have for His purposes. “What you meant for evil, God used for good.” But recognition without action is nothing. After all, everyone in the parable of the Good Samaritan RECOGNIZED there was a man lying in the road dying. But they didn’t take action to help. (Well look at me with all my Biblical illustrations tonight. I can check that “good Christian blogger” box now).

I don’t want you to feel guilty for being materially wealthy. I went down that path so you don’t have to.  God doesn’t deal in guilt trips. Guilt immobilizes, it doesn’t result in transformative action. Conviction is more God’s bag.  If guilt immobilizes, conviction motivates. But I wasn’t convicted about my possessions. I was convicted about how I SEE my possessions.

Soooo GREAT. We’re all convicted. Now what.

Well  my action step is daily communication with God. It’s checking in. It’s recognizing, every day, that I am abundantly spoiled. And asking Him what He wants me to do with that. How does He want to use this big house? How does He want to use my physical health, energy and the abilities that provides? Some days – most days – I don’t get a clear answer. Or an answer at all. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it. I just want to live in the awareness that everything I enjoy belongs to God. I don’t want to keep falling into the trap of complacency and believing that I’m “good enough” because I have (more than) enough. And I never EVER want to insult my beautiful brothers and sisters worldwide by uttering the words “I’m blessed because I have….<insert material wealth>” I’m blessed for the same reason they are. I’m blessed because I can have a relationship with Jesus.

No Title Can Convey – Please Read

I received the below letter in my inbox just now. This is from the guy who started “Wipe Every Tear” (the organization I am traveling with to the Philippines this summer).

There are so many worthwhile causes and organizations. I know people get tired of all the cries for help. And there have been enough “sketchy” organizations that I understand how people can become jaded and suspicious. I get it. I know. I’ve been there. But I can’t NOT share this. I’ve sat and talked to the writer of this letter. I know he and his wife sacrifice for this work. I have friends who have been personally and deeply touched by this issue and the people mentioned below. Wipe Every Tear and the little family of girls they are nurturing…they’re close to my heart.

I’ve mentioned this before – thanks to my husband I did not have to fund raise for my trip. I was very convicted about that from the beginning. I would have scraped and saved to go but I was not going to ask my friends and family to pay for it. But this is something I’m willing to go out on a limb for. This is something I’m willing to beg and plead for. These girls need support. Not for the rest of their lives. But until they can finish their education and support themselves. And in some cases…until they can grow up. (Fun side note: Most (all?) the original girls to the Hope House are completing their education with the goal to turn around and use that to help more girls and Wipe Every Tear.)

So please. Read. Don’t just skim. Actually read this. And consider this plea.

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Today was a joyous day.  A kind of day that you hope, pray and dream about, where a beautiful little girl comes into your care.  She was wearing “Hello Kitty” flip-flops had a cute little smile and looked to be a little older than the girls in the photo below.  She made a cute little necklace out of clear beads a couple days before with our good friends, William and Mercy from Navotas, an area of Metro Manila along the bay who took her in temporarily.

She is 1 of 16 siblings. Her mom earns $50-$75 per month as a part time street sweeper, and her father is a “diver” who earns about the same income.  He wades and swims through underground  sewers to remove and clear debris to keep the sewers flowing.  Since the family has no running water, he is unable to take a shower or bath after a day of diving.  The family must buy drinking water from the local store.  They do not have enough money to eat every day.

William and Mercy said to me tonight ‘Coach, she is always hungry”.  At her home, when she does eat, she eats rice and occasionally some fried pork rinds (like the kind you buy in the store in America).

Abalina is a very cute little girl, who has had no choice but to prostitute herself since the age of 12 to buy food for her siblings and parents. Her pimp “takes care of her”.  She earns around $13 per night for 3-4 nights of work between midnight and 4:00 in the morning, and she is the main provider in her family.  She had to quit 6th grade because it was her duty to bring home the bacon. 

Little Abalina is a little older than these girls.
William and Mercy who partner with us said to me: “Coach, our hearts are broken.  We couldn’t believe our eyes… William and Mercy have their own Kingdom journey story: as pastors of a little church in the slums, one day they told me, “Coach we used to see these girls as dirty and sexual… but now Jesus has given us a heart for the poor and broken and the untouchables of our neighborhood… Coach, now we dearly love these girls and see them how God sees them…”.  ”Coach, the men wait in line all night long for their “turn” to be with little Abalina…”
 
After they rescued her and received written documentation from her parents to care for her, Abalina was safe in their home and she was found playing with other girls.  ”Coach, she would color with crayons for hours, and this was her favorite thing to do…” 
 
It’s NOT OK that men wait in line for their “turn”.  TEAM, I AM ASKING YOU TO PRAY FOR ABALINA.  I’m asking you to pray for her and ask God to raise up sponsors for her.  At this time, we don’t have near the number of sponsors for our girls.  Last night, our director Becky said to me “Coach, we don’t have the funds, but how can we say ‘no” to caring for her… do we even have a choice?” 
 

I’m asking you to pray for our girls.  They need so much healing.  And will you do this?:  Would you please pass this on to your friends, family, and maybe your complete contact list?  Would you post this to your Facebook?  We are in great need of finding sponsors for our precious girls and young women.  With confidence, you can tell them that 100% of their $35 monthly sponsorship donation goes directly to the care of our precious girls.  You can direct them here to do so: http://www.wipeeverytear.org/#!donate/covk

Last night, William, Mercy, Becky, and I sat around a table here at the guest house, and we cried out to God with tears in our own eyes for this little one.  We are wrecked and broken, and that’s all I have left in me to write.
Please pray and ask your friends to consider sponsoring one of our girls.
With my love, I thank you.
Kenny
Kenny Sacht
Our short story in video: Wipe Every Tear
To sponsor one of our girls for only $35 per month, click here: Sponsor a Trafficked Girl, then check the box and write “Girl Sponsorship”