Running for Her Freedom

On Saturday, my family participated in a 5K race here in Fort Collins, Colorado–all 4 of us. Mike and the boys ran; I volunteered to pass out cups of water to the runners and walkers.

Here we are, after the race, and after Garfield received the trophy for finishing 1st in his age division with a time of 23:57. {I wore leggings with my shorts because it was 64 degrees when we left our apartment a little after 6 AM.}

aruna 5k
Aruna 5K, July, Fort Collins.

Garfield also ran a 5K on Father’s Day this summer (which you can tell if you look closely at the shirt he’s wearing in this photo). This kid blows me away! He genuinely loves to run. He’s found something at which he excels, and I want to keep providing him opportunities to pursue it. We’ve discussed having him join a kids’ running club when we get home to Orlando. I want to take care, though, that we don’t inadvertently squelch the fun in the name of competition.

I ran for a few years back in my 20’s (plus that 5K I did on Easter weekend with the boys this year–only so I could give Garfield the chance to run. He’d asked to run a race, and I didn’t think he should do it by himself, at least not on his first try). I ran multiple 5K races, plus two 10Ks as well back in the day. But my best time for a 5K was 27:29, a far cry from Garfield’s best time (so far) of under 24 minutes.

run for the angels 5K
5K with the boys, April in Orlando. Yes, it’s that same one-leg-behind-the-other pose. And I promise I’m not grimacing, although it appears that way. Garfield (he’s the younger brother) ran this one in 27:04; his Father’s Day 5K time was 25:58. 

Back in the peak of my running days, I lost a toenail and also learned at a doctor’s appointment that my pulse had gotten down to only 49 beats per minute. I ran for discipline, exercise, and to enjoy pursuing–and reaching–a fitness goal. I liked what it did for me, but I did not particularly enjoy the act of running.

Garfield, however, does. He runs for delight. He finished the race this weekend and told me he was going to get back to training on Monday. And even though Woodrow does a fine job himself–his race time today was just a hair over 30 minutes; plus he beat Mike by a few seconds, which had been his goal at the outset, to “whoop” his father, as he put it–nobody in our family has a hope of keeping up with the littlest member of our family.

This makes me so happy for my child, I almost cry thinking about it. It makes me so proud of him, but more so, it thrills me to see Garfield developing into his own unique person.

And this particular race gave us more than an opportunity to get up early and run. The Aruna 5K races take place to raise funds in order to help free women from human trafficking in India through the Aruna Project. Aruna 5K events take place all over the country–and you can even organize one yourself.

The Aruna race here in Fort Collins this weekend was led by a Cru staff couple who wanted to open this opportunity up to Cru folks while out here for our U.S. staff conference. Hundreds and hundreds of Cru staff and their families ran or walked in this race, living out our faith:  All people are created as valuable, made in the image of God, and therefore caring for them (and their freedom) is vital.

Asian little girl happy with water bubble

Helping free women from sex slavery, having an outdoor experience as a family, and seeing my boys run their best:  All this fits into the dreams I had for our family before our sons were even born. Serving together, exercising together (I didn’t run today–but we’ve taken lots of bike rides and hikes this summer, too), being out in nature together…it does this mama’s heart good.

 

Happy Half-Birthday to Me

Today, July 10, is my half birthday:  halfway between age 43 and 44. Sometimes I still pause and catch myself thinking, “Oh, yeah. That’s right–I’m 43!” I see some wrinkles around my eyes and then remind myself, “It’s OK–I AM 43, after all.”

I don’t actually celebrate half birthdays, but I did get some cheerful news this past weekend that almost seemed like a half-birthday present.

easter egg candy in dish

Several years ago, when the boys and I attended a weekly afternoon program with our home-school co-op, I coached a few P.E. classes. For my work, I got paid a modest amount. During the last semester of P.E. coaching, I actually took on a total of 3 (instead of one or 2) P.E. classes, since the other home-school mom serving as a coach was experiencing difficulties with her pregnancy.

During that semester, I made extra–more than I had anticipated. Which was a thrill, because I’d been saving those funds–one dollar per student per week–for a special need. With the unexpected extra money from taking on Hannah’s P.E. classes added to what I earned from my regular classes, I was able to reach a goal sooner:  that of funding an orphan’s release from institutional living in Moldova.

lock on bridge

Moldova, listed as the poorest nation in eastern Europe, sits next door to Romania, where I lived for a year after college. Romanian is also one of Moldova’s national languages. Since Moldova abuts the eastern border of Romania, and I lived all the way across the country, I never visited Moldova. But in the past few years, I’ve read much about this small, formerly Communist nation. When I volunteered for a season with the ministry Samaritan Village (helping in a resale boutique called Transitions that supports the ministry), we watched a documentary as part of our training. From this film, called Nefarious:  Merchant of Souls, we learned that Moldova is sometimes referred to as the “engine of the sex slave trade.” Teenagers aging out of the orphan system have often been prey to those who would buy and sell them.

bike and rider

In the midst of this, a ministry called Sweet Sleep aimed to serve orphans–being part of God’s work to place the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6). They worked with churches in Moldova to train believers in foster care and facilitate the transition of these orphans from institutions to families, whether as adopted children or as foster children (Many children relegated to life in Moldovan orphanages have a living parent. The reasons for this are complex and complicated and far beyond what I could describe here). Sweet Sleep’s focus on partnering with Moldovans who already love and follow Christ appealed to me. Plus, I felt the urgency inherent in orphan care in Moldova, as the country made plans to close most of their orphanages.

Here’s where the good news comes in:  I received a newsletter from Sweet Sleep this past weekend, detailing how–after 14 years of serving in Moldova–they’ve reached their goal there. Most of Moldova’s orphanages have closed, the focus in Moldova for orphan care has shifted to indigenous adoption and foster care (instead of orphanages), and the program developed by their partners (Baptist Union of Moldova and church partners in the U.S) is up and running. I explained to my sons that missionaries seek to work themselves out of a job, and that’s what’s happened here. Moldovan families are caring for needy Moldovan children; more children are growing up in families instead of in state-run institutions. And I got to play a part in that. 

love boards

One of my dreams is to polish up my Romanian skills and go visit Moldova–experiencing its culture, history, people, and beauty for myself one day. No matter a country’s woes, there’s always something magnificent to enjoy in each and every place. But even if my visit to Moldova never materializes, the good news from Sweet Sleep was still a great half-birthday gift.

 

 

Something New Saturday: Chocolate Sourdough Bread

I first discovered chocolate sourdough bread (also known as sourdough noir) in a novel my friend Meg gave me for my birthday this past January. I’d never heard of it until I read about it in the pages of Stones for BreadAnd I determined that I would bake it.

As the name implies, it’s bread (not cake) so it’s not as sweet as a typical dessert. The recipe included in the novel (and one that I found online) called for dried fruits as well as chocolate and baking cocoa, along with sugar. I used mixed dried berries for our loaf.

I’ve made sourdough bread for years–just the plain kind which I bake from scratch using a homemade sourdough starter. We use this bread for sandwiches, French toast, and everything in between. Even homemade croutons. I also brought my big jar of starter out here to Colorado with us–which took some amount of care, let me tell you. Sourdough noir, however, is anything but plain. It’s also a good deal more complicated in how it’s made, as compared to the regular sourdough bread that I bake by rote at this point.

sour dough noir
Finished product:  chocolate sourdough bread.

I liked the results, and the boys really enjoyed it, too–we toasted slices of it for breakfast and snacks. Smeared with some Kerrygold butter, it tasted delectable. I do plan to make it again. Next time, I’ll use semi-sweet chocolate chips, instead of a bar of dark chocolate broken into bits.

chocolate sourdough with butter

Since we’ve been in Colorado, I’ve even used my sourdough starter to make pizza dough. It was moderately successful, but I’m keen to try again–just as I am with the sourdough noir. 

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”
James Beard

Something New Saturday: Homemade Dog Chew Toys

Back during Advent, when our family sought to give a gift a day, we tried a new project with old t-shirts:  dog chew toys. We gave the toys to friends with pets and also took several on our Christmas travels to share with family members who are dog owners.

The process was one that we did as a family–but the boys learned to create these on their own, as well. In fact, in a knapsack back in their closet at home, they have fabric pieces awaiting transformation into more dog chew toys. Both boys envision making a little side business out of these efforts.

five dog chew toys
Our first batch of chew toys last December:  blue, gray, and white t-shirts knotted and braided together.

Besides t-shirts, the only other tool needed to make these is a pair of scissors. We cut off the shirt sleeves and then cut the shirts into strips. We knotted together 9 strips at one end–three sections of 3 fabric strips each–and then proceeded to braid the sections. (Tip:  The tighter you make the braid, the better.) It helps if one person holds down the knot while another person does the braiding. Then knot the ends, and you have a toy. We also snipped off sections that hung longer than the other strips once we had a finished product.

Here’s a link to instructions for the DIY dog chew toy (slightly different than the ones we used). Besides presenting these as gifts to pet-owning friends and family or selling them, these toys might make great donations to animal shelters–as a project for your family, church group, Scout troop, etc.

The act of creating is always a joy. From my family to yours, may you have tons o’ fun with whatever you create this summer.

 

My Selling Experience with thredUP Online Consignment

For nearly a year, my women’s group (formerly called Women of Vision) has raised funds to support gospel-centered humanitarian work around the world. Our upcoming project stays closer to home, though–we’re raising money to purchase disposable diapers for the families who receive services at the Orlando Union Rescue Mission.

One way we’ve earned cash for these giving projects is by selling clothing–mostly at brick-and-mortar consignment stores. But at the end of last year–New Year’s Eve, to be exact–I filled a bag near to bursting and mailed it to thredUP, a consignment shop selling items online.

After taking armloads of clothing, shoes, and accessories to Style Encore (a national consignment store chain with 2 locations in Orlando) in December, I took what remained and re-sorted it to determine what I might ship to thredUP. Good:  They accept clothes that are older than what Style Encore will buy. Also good:  ThredUP lists all the brands they accept (such as J Crew, Gap, Express, much more), so I could check on their website before I included a certain item in the bag.

It took over an hour to check each item against their list of accepted brands, but I was willing to invest the time–especially since this fundraising effort cost us nothing. After sorting and organizing, I filled the bag I’d requested from them. Good:  ThredUP sends the shipping bag to you for free, and then you get to ship it back to them for free. I got that bag slap full, in hopes of making more money for our group’s efforts.

thred-up-bag
Full thredUP bag ready for shipping. Cute polka dots, no?

Within a few days, I received an email message confirming that my bag had been delivered. In a few weeks, I got a message with the results of the processing they did of the bag’s contents.  Several items they accepted upfront and offered an amount for those (buying those items from me outright in order to sell them on their site). Fourteen more items they agreed to consign–meaning they would sell the items on their site on my behalf. They would make a profit, and I would receive a portion of the sale, too.

As items sold, I received a message informing me of each sale. (Another good.) With each sale, though, there was a waiting period before I could cash out (not so good). And they set a time limit on how long my items would remain for sale on their site, which is typical for any company or store that agrees to consign items on a seller’s behalf.

When the time began to run out on my consignment items, I logged in and lowered the prices–they give that option (good). I currently have $29.85 in my account–which could be used to purchase pieces on their site. I’m choosing to cash out {obviously}, which means I request the money be sent to me rather than spending it at thredUP. Two options for this:  Have the funds sent to a PayPal account, which charges 2% in fees. OR have it transferred to a Visa gift card, which carries no fees. I chose that option.

toilet planter
Something good where you least expect it…

Now, if you’ve been following the time line, you’ll notice that, from start to finish, this process spanned about 4 and 1/2 months. If you need to raise some fast cash and have some nicer, newer clothes to sell, this is probably not the method for you. I do believe it’s worth it for what we’re trying to accomplish, but this procedure does require some patience. If you are willing to wait, however, you might find this a pleasantly surprising way to turn some unwanted pieces into a bit of mad money. ThredUP also sells children’s clothing, so you might go that route, as well.

You have the option to request your items be returned to you if they are not bought, but that will cost you. Otherwise–and this is good–the unwanted pieces are donated.

By selling clothes and other items that dropped in my lap free of charge–from friends and family–our group will pocket over $29 to assist in our diaper-buying efforts. All it cost me was time. This selling option gave us money that we wouldn’t otherwise have raised. For that, I’m thankful, and I’d be willing to do it again.

 

 

Comfort. Food.

When my grandfather died earlier this year, so many people loved on our family by showing up with food. By the time my little family and I got back to Mississippi the day after he passed, neighbors and friends and church family had stopped by my grandmother’s and my parents’ homes to bring trays of meat and cheese, homemade soup and biscuits, jams and jellies, chocolate pie, homegrown honey…Sometimes showing up to serve is best done with food.

So when I find myself on a list of people asked to help a family with a newborn or facing a medical issue or dealing with a loss by providing a meal, far more often than not, I sign up. {You don’t always have to “sign up,” though. Sometimes just dropping by with a pan of brownies lets a family who’s lost a loved one know you care.}

Over the years, I varied what I cooked for people in these situations. And I still do if there are particular food sensitivities or issues to consider. But for the past few years, I’ve settled on a go-to meal for these serving opportunities:  Spaghetti pie.

I first discovered this recipe when I moved from Starkville, Mississippi, to Orlando, to serve with Cru at the offices of our world headquarters. I took part in a one-year program but decided early in the year to stay after my allotted year had finished. At the end of our year, a few women in the group decided to put together a cookbook, asking all of us in the year-long program to contribute. Before this cookbook was compiled, I’d never even heard of spaghetti pie.

Now, almost 15 years later, I still use this cookbook and this particular recipe. I think the cookbook is missing its cover, and one page is burned where I accidentally set it on a hot eye on the stove. It has splatters and smears, but that wear and tear just shows how great this cookbook really is. Kind of like the worn and shabby toys in The Velveteen Rabbit, the ones who become real. Incidentally, I adore the story of The Velveteen Rabbit. It reminds me so much of God’s redemptive and transforming work in my life.

jars of colored water
I had no food picture to share, so this is supposed to represent “transformation”–yellow + blue = green.

I found this recipe on AllRecipes.com and think it’s the same one I use (or almost identical). I typically leave out the peppers and onions; I figure people recovering from surgery and/or nursing a newborn may prefer to avoid those particular vegetables. I usually make 2 batches at a time:  one for the receiving family, one for my own little tribe. The boys love it. Spaghetti pie, garlic bread (store bought), salad, dessert (usually cookies, usually store bought), and that’s what we bring. Comfort food.

But if you can’t make a meal or don’t have time to fix a dish from scratch, a pizza will do nicely. When my youngest niece was born last September, we sent them (my brother, sister-in-law, daughters) a Papa John’s pizza and cinnamon pull-apart bread. They live in another state, so making and delivering a meal wasn’t really feasible. They were grateful, and so were we. We got the opportunity to serve family even hundreds of miles away.

Never underestimate the value of showing up with food. 

The Adventurous Life of a Boring Mom

When I was 8 or 9, my family and I visited some extended family members in a small town near Vicksburg, Mississippi. While there, my distant cousin, Dru, who was the same age I was, had a soccer game. Her step-mom invited me to go along, so I went, happy to be included.

I’d never been to a soccer game before, ever. At that time, the sport of soccer had not made its way to my rural hometown. I had to sit alone during her game, since her step-mom had to work the concession stand or keep score or some other job.

The weather was hot, and I got bored. So, near the end of the game, I occupied myself by turning cartwheels on the sidelines. Over and over and over. I kept myself busy by moving–and moving a lot–but always coming back to the exact same spot.

primary colors plate

Last school year, I read a book aloud to the boys:  Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. I did a fair amount of research before reading that to Woodrow and Garfield, because I couldn’t figure out how to pronounce the name “Bowditch.” I finally discovered it’s pronounced like “bough,” as in “take a bow.”

The story centers around travels on a ship, so the pronunciation makes sense:  like the bow of a ship. Some of the phrases, particular to those seafaring men, connected with me. When a sailing vessel has insufficient wind to move it along, that ship is said to be “becalmed.” Another phrase that struck me:  Swallowing the anchor. Which refers to the time when a sailor retires from sea-going life and settles down.

There are times, whole seasons, in life when I feel this so acutely. When I feel that I’m where I’m supposed to be, but I’m just cartwheeling myself along the sidelines until the game finishes. When I feel I’ve lived with steps of faith and taking risks that led to adventure, but that those days, whole seasons, are passed–and that I must swallow the anchor and settle down to life ashore. These feelings ebb and flow with the natural push and pull within my own soul.

A genuine contentment {most of the time} at being at home:  home school mother, stay-at-home mom for right at 11 years now. My life truly revolves around our home–parenting, teaching, hours of reading aloud and playing games and listening to countless stories about Garfield’s favorite Hot Wheels and Woodrow’s ideas for new inventions. And all the serving that goes with this life-orbiting-around-the-home–from giving haircuts to piggy back rides to birthday parties. This is what I want.

Henry Ford drawing by Calvin
Garfield’s recent portrait drawing. My boy is a Ford truck man.

A genuine restlessness {once in a while} at being at home:  My husband travels to New York for a week, serving others in his ministry role, while I stay back and home school and take the boys to Scouts and fix meals. He eats at fancy restaurants and sees a Broadway musical, and I think to myself–pettily, I know–But I loved New York first! I lived there for a summer during college, serving with Cru on an inner-city mission project. I went back for a week during my time serving with Cru at Mississippi State, leading a group of college students to serve in and learn from inner-city ministry during spring break. Then I also spent a few days there right after 9/11, involved with Cru service there. Mike thinks he doesn’t travel much for work (and compared to others, he really doesn’t), but he gets on a plane numerous times a year. I haven’t flown since 2012.

Before we had children, I discussed with my then-team leader our plans to go to New Zealand for a year and join a team ministering to college students there. I pondered that, if we were going to do this, it might be better to go before we had babies. His response:  “You better get while the getting’s good.” It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that his comment terrified me. What did that mean for my life one day as a mother?

butterfly drawing

I have ten years left–only ten!--to finish laying a foundation in my children’s lives, before they are (more or less) launched into the world. I will not wish away a single moment. I will continue to stop what I’m doing and make eye contact with the child who has another question, another story. I will sacrifice the travel and give up the adventure for time–lots and lots and lots of time, for there simply is no substitute for it–with my children.

Yesterday, we spent a half hour finishing an elaborate game of Memory that Woodrow had made up. Before bedtime, we spent almost half an hour reading, even though I’d already read a chapter from that book in the morning, too. If time is money, I’m investing it in these boys.

When my sons and I spend a morning packing homeless care bags together, or shopping together for socks and underwear and t-shirts to send to a ministry to men engaged in survival prostitution, or cleaning together at a friend’s condo as she prepares it for a new tenant, my eyes of faith crack open a bit wider, and I can see more clearly:  This IS the adventure.