Go Together

Last week I saw the story of teenage hikers stranded out on the rocks on the Oregon Coast.

The rising tide had cut off their path back and high surf had cut out their options.  Three decided to try and swim back but friends looking on from the shore decided to join them in a human chain to rescue the ones on the rocks.

It is an accurate depiction of life. We really aren’t meant to go it alone. Unexpected dangers can leave us stranded. Without the help and encouragement of others we can lose our hope or lose our lives.

We have a number of friends in imminent danger. Multiple myeloma, cancer, heart problems and acute leukemia are just some of the rising tides threatening their lives. Talk to each one of them and they will tell you that the outpouring of love, prayers, well wishes, and extensions of friendship are what has gotten them through the darkest of days.

Most of us have been left stranded at some point in our lives by depression, overwhelming financial needs, or loss and abandonment on a variety of  levels. Discouragement, lack of hope, illness or weariness can catch up with us and isolate us, laying us flat upon the rocks.

Those of us fortunate enough to have family, and/or friends to come alongside and form that human chain of hope and encouragement, and ultimately the link to safety, know how valuable it is.

“The Good Lie” is a profound movie giving an account of “The Lost Boys” of Sudan during their civil war  in the 1980’s. It depicts their journey on foot of over a thousand miles through treacherous terrain to end up in a refugee camp, in hopes of being airlifted out. The movie follows one family, as they eventually make it to the United States.

At the end of that movie, this African Proverb appears on the screen:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

We don’t get far on our own. It is imperative that we go together. Through life’s hardships, through the rough waters, through seemingly devastating and impossible situations. If you are relatively safe on the shore right now, I encourage you to jump in and extend your hand as a lifeline to someone who may feel like they are drowning. If your needs seem overwhelming, I encourage you to look up- away from the swirling tide and reach out. Grab on to the offer of help to get you to a safer place.

Ultimately, we have the promise of a Faithful and Mighty God to not only save us, but to never leave us or forsake us. He has promised that He is with us – always. With Him, we are never stranded.

Abundance is… Traveling Together With Him,

DebbieSignature

 

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Do the Cartwheel!

When it comes to evening television, there’s only one thing I make an appointment to watch: The Voice.  However, since it does not begin until next week, my daughter and I sat down to watch the season premiere of Dancing With the Stars on Monday night. I do not know half of the “stars” but still found it entertaining. What surprised me most was the moment of inspiration I experienced while watching!

Betsy Johnson, a 72 year old fashion designer, is one of the “stars.” I think we would all give her credit just for saying ‘Yes!’ and being out there at the age of 72. Her routine went terribly awry towards the end. The props became tangled and their dancing came to a halt. Before they could recover, the music ended. Instead of melting into a pile of tears or frustration, she did a cartwheel and went right into the splits! The audience was delighted and she was rewarded with enthusiastic applause, even though she eventually received the lowest score of the evening.

Lolo Jones is a 32 year old Olympic athlete. She was also one of the “stars.” A smaller glitch at the beginning of her routine, threw her off mentally and she was never quite able to recover. She was voted off the show after only one appearance.  In an interview today, she said she tries to learn the lessons that life serves her through her experiences. She explained that she was very angry and frustrated with herself. She went backstage, and spent the rest of the program trying not to cry and rehearsing in her mind what went wrong. She didn’t see any of the other couples perform. The lesson she took away? She missed it. It would be her only night to be on Dancing With the Stars and she missed being a part of the joy and the camaraderie because she  couldn’t stop sulking.

I have actually given a lot of thought to Betsy’s cartwheel/split combination and Lolo’s confession. I don’t want to miss the joy around me because I am recounting past failures, big or small, in my mind. The truth is, this may be our only day. None of us are promised another. I have a feeling Betsy understands that. It may be why she went right ahead on with the cartwheel and the splits. It is what she is {amazingly} able to do. It is what she had planned on doing. She was determined to do the one thing she KNEW she could do, with or without the music.

Each of us have different expectations for our own lives. The ‘dance’ may not go quite as we had planned. It is easy to compare ourselves or our lives to others. The truth is, as Ann Voskamp so beautifully writes, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Each of us must live this one life as best we can. Can you give of your time? Share your food? Give someone a ride? Leave someone with a word of encouragement? Write the check? Share the smile? Offer the help? Can you lend your faith or hope or love or joy to a situation? We may think our contributions are insignificant. We may never know how much difference even the smallest kindness may have made in someone’s life. Whatever is in our means to do, is our ‘cartwheel!’ Let’s add it to our dance, share the joy and rest knowing  we did all we could in that moment.

Learning to Do Cartwheels With You,

DebbieSignature

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Musical Money

There is no question that there are a multitude of needs in this world.  I have tried narrowing my attention to the one small town I live in and it still can be a bit overwhelming at times.

I get requests weekly for things small and large. Some I can meet from my own cupboards or closets.  Others I must present to what my husband calls my  “posse” of friends and acquaintances who have said they are willing to help.  I am continually amazed and humbled that these people always come through.

The last couple weeks it seems we have been playing “Musical Money.”  Money for needs is coming from a variety of places for a variety of needs.  It briefly passes through my hands or my home, on its way straight to where it is needed.  All we’re really doing is redistributing the finances.

Recently there was a need brought to my attention that required approximately $400. Honestly, I do not have an extra $400 and I don’t know anybody that I can ask for such a  large sum of money.  I got to thinking though… I think I know 20 people who would be willing to give $20 for this need. I am so blessed to be surrounded by people who are willing to give, not just monetarily but with their time, talents and their very lives. I also have wonderful friends who truly cannot afford to give $20. Recently, my heart was pierced when one such friend got resourceful with what she does have. We were talking over lunch about this challenge to find 20 people that could help meet the need in a timely manner.

She began to brainstorm how she could help.  She told me of a shed full of aluminum cans that she had been saving for nearly two years.  She explained that though it wouldn’t bring a lot of money, she had used it as a safety net in case things ever got really desperate for her.  She went on to explain that now that she had found a church home and friends in Salina, she knew she would never need to use the cans. She offered them to me to help meet this need. I hardly knew what to say.  Then she told me about a butter knife that she had also set aside ‘just in case.’ When I took her home that day, she did not let me leave without that knife.

My amateur photography skills could not get a good picture of  it.  Inscribed on the knife, is “H, S, B & Co. – Our Very Best – Pure Silver Metal.”

photo

 

My friend is thinking it may be worth something if it is all silver.  It may be.

I am thinking that the lesson to  me is worth far more than silver or gold. I may be wrong, but I am thinking I can not pawn that knife. I need to carry it with me or have it on display in my home.  I need the constant reminder that I am blessed, not only with friends who can write out a check for $20, $50 or $100, but with friends that will give all their cans and a single valuable, entrusting it to me, full of faith and anxious to live their life to pay it forward. I stand in awe at the nearly $400 that was given to me in less than three days for a person none of them know. However, I am humbled by this friend’s individual gift. When I look at that butter knife, I could just cry.

Recently, Isaiah 58:10-12 has taken on new life for me, especially when read from The Message (thank you Jen Hatmaker for bringing it to my attention in this version)…

“If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. I will always show you where to go. I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places- firm muscles, strong bones. You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.”

When we are generous – no matter what that means to each one of us individually; when we start giving of ourselves to those with less, God assures us that our lives will begin to glow in the darkness and will be bathed in sunlight! The end result of what He will do in and through us is that our communities will be made livable again!  I am seeing this process up close and personal  and I can tell you… it is incredible!  This sharing of our money and our resources is indeed, music to His ears!

Giving Together With You,

DebbieSignature

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The Congo Connnection

Who knew that our way to the Congo would be through Kirksville?  Only God.

The way each detail was orchestrated through so many people to end in those moments on July 19 were absolutely incredible.  Bear with me – though this story is long, it is also deep.  To appreciate the final moments, it helps to understand the weeks leading up to it.

Andres and his wife, Esther, are from the Congo. They won a  “lottery,” (scam) that got them to the United States. Once here, they were subject to the demands of the person who had provided the “lottery.” They lived with him, obtained jobs and were forced to give all their money to him. If they did not do so, this man threatened to harm their three children.

One day, Andres was at Walmart when a woman, who he now calls their angel,  (Jan) spotted him. She sensed that she was to help him, but wasn’t sure what he needed or how she could possibly help. It was raining, so she approached him to see what he needed. He responded, “Parlez vous franca is?” The incredible thing… Yes! She does indeed, speak French! (Is it any wonder they call her their angel?)

Thus began the relationship that became a sweet friendship. Over the next days and weeks, Jan gradually learned of the conditions that brought them to the U.S. and the complications of their circumstances. She immediately moved them out from where they were staying, and in with her. She worked tirelessly on their behalf, filling out necessary forms, interpreting and eventually finding them a small duplex that they could rent and some furniture to make it home.

Over two months ago, my friend, Dorothea and I began communicating about when Steve  and I could go to Kirksville to visit her and her husband, Paul. We have known them for nearly 20 years, and though we don’t talk often, and see each other even less often, we consider them dear friends. We decided on the weekend of July 19 and 20.

Meanwhile, back in Salina,  I had begun a journey to get rid of excess in a variety of areas of my life.  My last blog talked a bit about the week that I limited my diet to 7 foods. As  a result, Dorothea messaged me and asked me if there is anything she should cook or not cook while we were there.  I explained to her that the food week was over but that while I was at their house on that Sunday, I would begin the week where I was to give 7 items away per day.  I asked her if they needed anything or if she knew of anyone who did. Her response?  Yes!

She told me a little bit about a family from the Congo who had begun attending their church. Dorothea sent a list to me that the church had emailed concerning their immediate needs.

Part of the list of requested items included: shampoo, bath mat, tp, bar soap, toilet bowl cleaner and brush, paper towels, hot pads, pots and pans, a set of drinking glasses, mixing bowls, mixer, utensils, salt and pepper shakers, canister set, 50 hangers, cleaning supplies and two sets of full size bed sheets.

I got so excited about the opportunity, I told the other 5 gals that are on this “7” journey with me. They asked if they could contribute items for us to take as well.  In the meantime, we found out the ages and gender of their children and Esther’s clothing size. That was on Wednesday. I told them to have everything to me by Thursday, as we were leaving Friday at noon. All this (and more) was at my house Wednesday night!

Personal Hygiene

Kitchen

ToysTowels

One other thing we found out was that Esther’s favorite color was blue. These two dresses were also part of our offering.

Dress 2

Dress 1

When we pulled out of the driveway on Friday, the entire back of our car was filled.

Car loadWe were not able to provide everything on their list, but we were amazed that between 7 of us (my daughter contributed a 20 pack of toilet paper and a set of full size sheets!) we were able to provide most of it from what we already had in our homes! None of us bought anything. We gave out of the abundance with which God has blessed us.

On Saturday, we had the privilege of visiting and meeting Andres and Esther and their 3 children! Once we unloaded the car we gathered in their living room, trying to explain through an interpreter, what could only have been arranged by God. We showed them where Kansas was on a map of the United States and for just a moment felt like missionaries to the Congo via Missouri. The children quickly spotted the box of toys and ran off to the bedroom to play. A few minutes later they returned.  When they did, we all joined hands to pray.

Andres lifted his voice and began to sing strong and slow, “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” We joined our voices with his in worship. Eyes closed and tears fell.  Voices around the circle waned as the emotion nearly stole our strength to sing. He continued leading us in a second verse in English… “Thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus.” He ended with a flood of prayer, all in French. Throughout it all, I kept hearing, “Merci, Papa”, what we knew to be “thank you Father!” Though we couldn’t understand most of the words he was saying, we fully understood his heart and spirit. It was strong in gratitude, full of adoration to the Father, and humble in spirit. Clearly, it was heartfelt thanks for Jehovah Jireh – the God who sees and makes provision, not just for the things that were provided.

Even as I write this, my words fall short in describing such beauty and I regret that there are so many pictures of the stuff. The stuff was simply the vehicle God used to allow us the absolute privilege of getting to meet this  family. We would have certainly been allowed entry without it, but it was also incredibly fulfilling to get to be a tiny part of God’s plan in providing for them. The time that we spent with them was so pure, so holy and so beautiful that I could not bring myself to pull out a camera to try to capture in a photo what my heart will never forget. At the end of our time together, we took this photo.

photo

After the worship had ended and they began to look through their things, Andres told Jan that it was Esther’s birthday. Jan communicated the message to the rest of us and we quickly looked through the bag to find the dresses that were given specifically for her. She held one of them close to her with both arms wrapped around it. She needed no words. Then we pulled out the second blue dress. As we held it up, she gasped and said, “I like!” A third dress also brought a tear-filled smile to her face.

I will not quickly forget that Saturday in Kirksville.  I stood in awe of God’s plan. I was humbled that we got to be a part of it. I was reminded that although we think we make our plans, God always has a much bigger picture and purpose. This one had been in the works for two months.  If Jan had not been obedient to that still, small voice on that one rainy day. If Dorothea had not thought of them when I asked who may need some things. If we had started our Bible study one week earlier or one week later… none of this would ever have happened. Dorothea and I thought we were planning what was most convenient for us as we compared our calendars. Only God knew that we would choose Esther’s birthday as the weekend to be there.

We returned twice to their home that day. Once to take medicine for their son, Israel and a birthday cake and roses for Esther, and the second to return Israel’s bike that Paul had taken home to fix for him. The next day when we saw them again at church we hugged one another as if we were longtime friends.

“It’s the joy of the small that can make life large and all wonder and worship can only grow out of small and humble things.” Ann Voskamp

I can’t say it any better than that, Ann!

Abundantly Blessed by His Goodness,

DebbieSignature

 

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Getting Uncomfortable

I have recently begun a journey with a few of my friends. We just finished our first week of a real-life experiment. We are choosing to be uncomfortable.  By the time the nine weeks are over, we will have attempted to grow outside of our comfort zones and have a better understanding of the world around us in a variety of areas.

The first area we tackled was food.  For a week we chose to eat only 7 foods.

Before I began the week, I said to myself, “I can do anything for a week.”  You may remember my last post – yes anything when it’s my choice and on my schedule. Sure, I’ll sacrifice when it’s on my terms.

So I chose 7 foods that I would eat for the week: chicken, eggs, rice, beans, brocolli, apples and bananas. It wasn’t real well balanced. There really weren’t any super foods involved.  I just knew it would be doable.

As the week went on, my mantra changed. Though this was a sacrifice of sorts, it wasn’t really. I had the privilege of being able to eat 3 meals a day, a couple even in restaurants and snacks (an apple or banana) if I wanted.  I still live a life of privilege and abundant choices. I drank lots of clean water. As each day went on, I was more and more mindful of all the people who do not have the choice of whether to eat or not. I thought of all the other people who do not have a choice in what they will eat.  I have many more choices than so many, based solely on where and to whom I was born. I was not about to complain. I stopped saying, “I can do anything for a week” because it sounded kind of pouty and far from humble.

The results from the week were varied.  Most of the week I didn’t feel well, even though I got to eat.  The departure from the standard sugars, caffeine and whatever else my body was used to but wasn’t getting , gave me headaches, and various other aches and pains. On the other hand my spirit was more sensitive and my emotions were raw. I cried easier (could that even be possible?), and thought of others more. Not just far-away ‘others’ in distant lands who are starving to death. Others in Salina who are going without. In Salina alone, 61% of our children qualify for free or reduced lunches. There are those in our town who are living in poverty, families one day from homelessness living in local hotels on a week to week basis. Others that I know personally are living dangerously close to the edge of hopelessness.

So, my little experiment was barely a drop in the bucket. I got to say when it started and ended. I got to choose what I wanted to eat for a week. In comparison to others, mine was a wimpy attempt at understanding. For those  Americans who are like me, however, who walk into our kitchens and declare there is nothing to eat, when our cupboards and refrigerators are full, it was a good lesson. I counted the food items in my kitchen. Not counting spices and beverages, I had 244 items.

This is just the beginning of a journey that I am sensing will last more than 9 weeks. It is one I am glad I am taking. There is nothing like doing things differently, upsetting our routines, not getting what we want when we want, to help us see things differently.

“God can give us eyes to see and ears to hear; He can gift us with perspective and wisdom, discernment and mercy. These are His to disperse, and they change everything. In His care, luxuries can become disposable and resources dispensable.”  Jen Hatmaker  – Author of “7” (the book we are basing this journey on).

Now THAT is worth getting uncomfortable for.  Let it be so, Lord!

Abundance is… the many different choices we get to make in the course of a day.

DebbieSignature

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When All Seems Broken

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about simplifying my life – it seems to be getting more complex.  I have been contemplating selling things for money to meet other people’s needs or giving  my stuff personally, if I have what they need.  I have been happy- even excited to do these things. Recently, however, I’ve realized I’m only really excited when it’s on my own terms. When I plan “to do without” or sacrifice for a purpose, it’s no problem!

The last six months have shown me that I’m not so excited, when it’s not my idea.

In addition to the ups and downs of life, we have had a variety of things “break.”

We were without a home computer for  five months.  Depending on how much you use the computer that may or may not be a big deal.  For us, it has been a big deal.

At work, we were without our printer for over two weeks.  Again, in the big picture of life, it is not such a big deal. But in the daily demands of the job, it was challenging not to really be able to complete anything. I got further and further behind as the days passed. I grew more and more stressed as the time for our tour departures approached.

The air conditioning unit in our home went out. Completely. There was no small part to replace. No minor adjustment or repair.  The whole unit. Major expense. It’s amazing how quickly we become uncomfortable and inconvenienced with no air conditioning when so many others never have that luxury to begin with.

Our dryer quit working. Completely. As we thought back, we realized we had it over 20 years. It served us well. We had no reason to complain. There are Laundromats. Still, we felt inconvenienced.

I was referred to a dermatologist to take a closer look at some suspicious moles. Before the month was over I had four biopsies, each with scars, slowly healing. Broken skin, but thankfully, no skin cancer.

Our daughter announced an unplanned pregnancy. We are confident that what began with despair will end in delight, but there are still broken pieces along the way. Our other daughter also finds herself  “broke” and broken from various choices and circumstances. Though none of it was in our plan, I have learned that none of it takes God by surprise. That is tremendous comfort to me in even the most difficult times.

I understand that so much of what I’ve just mentioned are “first world” problems. We are beyond blessed to have air conditioning, computers, health care, insurance  and a multitude of tools and appliances to make our lives easier. We are privileged to have jobs to pay bills and rich to be able to set aside a bit each month to save for something we want or need.

Nevertheless, I still have had moments filled with tears, fears and doubts. When things don’t happen on my terms, it is easy for me to lose sight of the big picture.

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

I am reminded that my life, my heart, my circumstances will always be cracked; they will always be flawed.  I am taking some practical steps to let more of God’s light in to my life. I am understanding that the brokenness I have experienced can be a source of light – the very thing that knits my heart together with others and breathes hope into our circumstances.

I am recognizing how rich I really am and how little the ‘stuff’ contributes to my happiness. I am becoming more willing to do without some things that I used to think I needed.  I am certain that the abundant life Jesus talks about has nothing to do with possessions. On the other hand, I’m also learning more about how selfish I really am. How I really do want things done in a way I am comfortable with- on my terms and in my time.

I ask for your patience with me as I  write more about this in the coming weeks.  I’m learning.  I’m a work in progress to be sure. I’m only now in the process of being willing to be uncomfortable.  I am almost scared to say it out loud, lest God hear and make me really uncomfortable.  See what I mean? Like he doesn’t already know my every thought and the motives of my heart.

In these last six months much has seemed broken. In these next six months I will be looking for the Light to shine through.  Maybe you’d like to join me in doing the same in your own life.

Abundant Blessings,

DebbieSignature

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Salina Shares

Yesterday, I got a message from my friend saying that her mom had found clothing on clearance at a local store for $1.00 each.  I decided to check another location and found that they had even more left!  I started filling my cart. With each item that I placed in the cart, I thought about the number of people we will bless this Christmas.

I remembered the money that had recently been given to me for the Easter Party we did in a local park. Everything I had needed had been donated so I set the money aside, and wondered what needs would arise that the money had been supplied for. When I found this clothing, I knew I had the freedom to use the donated money to purchase the clothing. What a blessing that was!

As I was ready to check out, I sent out a Facebook message.  I mentioned the great deal, said I had reached my financial limit, and welcomed any help.  Last night two women got in touch with me offering to contribute money toward more clothing.  Reinforced with that provision, I went back to the store this morning.  I loaded another cart and got to talking with the manager. She told me she actually has a lot more men’s clothing that needs to be put out but that there had been no room.  I joked with her about how helpful I had been by clearing her racks.  She loved what I was doing, took my phone number and told me she would give me a call when she had things to donate. {BONUS!}

One of those who had offered to contribute last night, brought a check by the office where I work.  When I told my boss what was going on, he contributed money too! So today at lunch I ventured out to the 3rd of 4 locations.  They had moved all of their $1.00 clothing outside so I started sifting through for children’s clothing first. As I was looking, a friend of mine walked by with her granddaughter. She had seen my facebook post the night before. She asked me (in essence) how I  budget for these things.  I told her I have just learned that God provides.  She handed me $20.00!

I decided I would restrain myself and just get 25 more items.  I had a coupon for $5.00 off a $25.00 purchase {yes, really!} and  paid with her $20.00.  As I was checking out, the clerk told me that a lady had been in just before me and bought “like 80 items!”  Not five minutes later I got a message from my friend that she had been at that same location and purchased 79 more items! We just had to laugh!

Between the 2 days,  3 of us shopping, and a multitude of givers, we probably have between 350 and 400 items!  I took a couple quick pictures of things that I sorted last night. {Now I just need to figure out where to put it all!}

PileBoysGirlsHats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am continually amazed at how quickly and easily God provides at times like this.  I am inspired by the plan that is bigger than we are – the perfect timing and divine appointments. I am always touched by how many people are willing to give to be the blessing.

For months I have been thinking about all this.  I have wanted a way to answer people when they ask who we are with when we embark on these joy-filled adventures.  I have come up with this answer…

Salina Shares 

I have found this to be true.  It is at the heart of what we do. I am blessed to have a variety of people in my life willing to share their time, their hearts, their resources, their paychecks – their lives with those throughout the community of Salina. We understand that we are all neighbors and our lives are enriched by spending time with one another.  In the meantime, if our excess can help meet another’s need, then that is all the sweeter!

Salina has a number of organizations that come alongside to help those in need. We also have wonderful churches that are active in our community and who share in different ways.

So with that in mind, I am in the process of setting up a separate Facebook page for Salina Shares.  I have taken the plunge into Twitter land @SalinaShares to help get information out that way as well.  I haven’t started using either one, but the goal is May 1.

These last two days have been the perfect illustration of what can happen when people come together with like vision, ready to do their part. To all of you who have contributed to this adventure and all the ones we’ve embarked on up to this point, thank you so much!

I Am Abundantly Grateful,

DebbieSignature

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