Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Mercy House Musings -- and a Giveaway!

See this photo of the beautiful young redhead? Her name is Emily. She's a sophomore here in Salem and just so happens to be our baby-sitter. The boys adore her, and so do we. Emily is bright, kind, hard-working, sweet and destined for greatness. (And maybe I'll even get a free hour of sitting from that last, Emily?).

Emily will most likely go on to college, find a great job and eventually get married and have kids. She can do that because she comes from a wonderful, stable family who believes in her value as a girl and human being. As a middle-class American, her dreams have a fantastic shot at becoming reality.

One reason I like Emily so much is that she reminds me a lot of myself at that age. Both Emily and I, however, live much different lives than girls and women from the Mathare Valley slum in Kenya.

Home to more than one million people, Mathare Valley is no Beverly Hills, especially for girls and women. The stats are grim:

  • Every half hour, a women is raped in Kenya.
  • More than 20,000 children are sex-trafficked into Kenya annually.
  • 21,000 women and girls are hospitalized every year from having an illegal, unsafe abortion in Kenya.
  • 13,000 Kenyan girls are kicked out of school every year for getting pregnant.

    Here's where Mercy House comes in.

Founded in 2010 by one of my favorite bloggers, Mercy House Kenya is a maternity home in Nairobi for pregnant teenagers and young mothers. These girls were hopeless, often homeless and high-risk for unsafe abortions, physical/sexual abuse and a host of other poverty-related dangers.

The story of how it came about is pretty much a miracle. I won't go into all the details, but Kristen Welch is an absolute stud in my book. As "just" a SAHM of 3 with no experience in starting or even working at a non-profit, she almost single-handedly put together an organization across the world that to date has radically changed the lives of 8 young moms and their 8 babies.

Kristen saw a need and did something about it in a GIGANTIC way. Those kinds of guts seriously speak to me (not to mention challenge and convict!).

Another reason I love Mercy House: through regular updates/blogs, you really get to know their girls, their babies and their stories. I dig it.

To support their thriving program of pre/postnatal care, nutrition, counseling, education, medical expenses, job training, life skills, etc., Mercy House has a shop full of cute, practical stuff made by their girls (and sometimes "sister" maternity homes in other countries like India). So when they told me I could do a blog review, I squealed for joy and got right on it.

I already have several items from the Mercy House shop and love them all. The shirts are fitted, feminine, affordable (they have flash sales!) and extremely comfortable -- not stiff T-shirts like most non-profits give out for free from those giant shirt guns at concerts. And some genius (I'm thinking a girl) came up with the idea to put the logo lower on the shirt, ensuring that long hair like mine doesn't cover anything important.

The only slight drawback: the V-necks are a little low for a "modest is hottest" girl like me. But no problem; a cami like the one Emily is modeling solves that issue in a jiffy.

Don't want a shirt? No problem! The Mercy House shop offers lots of other goodies, like this awesome reusable tote.

I'm a big fan of reusable grocery bags, and I have to say, this one is my new favorite! It's waaay sturdier than my other bags -- I'm looking at you, Wal-Mart and Air Force -- and stands up stiffly for the cashier during checkout. While using it at Sunriver a few weeks ago, the clerk even remarked how much she liked it compared to the others she usually packed.

When I told her I was blogging about it, she said, "Make sure you tell your readers that I really liked it." So there you go. Not to mention, it's totally cute and made by former prostitutes in India now on the path to financial and personal freedom.

Simply put, social justice rocks, and sometimes looks good to boot.

Want to win this awesome "Love Mercy" tee or tote? I can help. Here's what to do: "like" Mercy House's Facebook page, then leave a comment either here or on my own Facebook page telling me which item you would like to win (plus your shirt size if you chose that option). Bonus: if you share this blog on your Facebook or Google+ and let me know, you get 2 entries! Make sure to leave your contact info if I don't know you personally.

Contest runs from Wednesday, March 27 to Sunday, March 31.  Winner will be contacted via e-mail or Facebook. All opinions are my own and unpaid.



Thursday, March 21, 2013

It's Me, Jeff Gordon...and Jesus

If you haven't seen last week's video of NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon pranking a car salesman, you really should. (Yes, I am telling you that something NASCAR-associated is worth watching, though I typically agree with the African-American comedian who once said, "If I wanted to watch a bunch of white people go around in circles, I'd go to Wal-Mart on Saturday morning.")

If you don't feel like watching it, here's the gist: Jeff Gordon disguises himself as a suburban dorky dad who pretends to be slightly afraid to drive a powerful Chevy Camaro at a car lot. The salesman "convinces" him to give it a go. Gordon drives terribly at first, playing the part of a mini-van owner who isn't used to all the horsepower.

And then things get really funny.

The salesman attempts to stay polite at first, but as the ride gets crazier and crazier, he begins to lose it. Threats, bleeped-out swear words and pure panic do nothing to slow Gordon down, of course. Only when they get back to the lot and the salesman threatens to call police does the professional driver rip off his mustache and yell, "It's okay! It's okay! I'm Jeff Gordon!" The cameramen emerge from their hiding places and the salesman quickly realizes his life was never in any danger in the first place.

In fact, the man laughs and asks Gordon if they can do it again!

Something about the video stuck in my brain for a few days afterward, and not because I'm a NASCAR -- or Pepsi! -- fan.

Then it hit me: I do the exact same thing on a fairly regular basis.

No, I don't go on secret joy rides with Jeff Gordon (breathe easy, husband). But how often does my life feel out of control, like it's being driven by someone who has no idea what they're doing? How often do I face some unexpected problem and try to threaten, curse, panic or stomp my way out of it?

Similarly, why did the once-panicky salesman change his tune once he learned the identity of his driver? Why was he suddenly eager to go through the exact same wild ride that just minutes before he was swearing about?

The answer: he now knew who the driver was.

Jeff Gordon gets paid to know every square inch of his cars. He knows precisely what they can and can't do. He could fix or tweak any detail on its body or engine in a heartbeat. Not for even one second were they in any danger, even though Gordon was pulling maneuvers that would probably kill the rest of us.

Here's the reality: as a Christian, I handed Jesus the keys to my car around 23 years ago. He -- not me -- has his foot on the gas, brake and steering wheel, controlling exactly where my life goes.

And yet my behavior often reveals the true state of my heart. Despite Jesus knowing every square inch of my personality, fears and capabilities; despite the fact that he created me and loves me more than Jeff Gordon loves his own car; despite the fact that in no time am I ever in any true danger or alone, I more than once have acted just like that salesman.

Once the crazy ride is over and Jesus makes everything clear -- "It's okay! It's okay! It's me, Jesus!" -- do I breathe easy and even ask to do it again. But why do I wait so long? After all, I don't even have the excuse of not knowing who my driver is. And yet I don't trust him sometimes to do exactly what he says he can.

This year, we're facing some big changes. A move across the ocean and a new baby, for starters. And those are just the situations we know about! It already feels slightly overwhelming.

Yet today, I resolve to trust my driver, not waiting until the ride is over to laugh, enjoy and learn.

And now just for fun....if Jesus had a license....

How about you? Who's driving your car?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

When Your 1st Celebrity Crush Gets Old

Just in case it wasn't already apparent, I had a somewhat unusual childhood. For quite a while, our lone TV didn't actually get any channels -- it only played movies. And my parents didn't get satellite until I was already married and gone (and even then, it was only to watch Luke play with the Cavs in Cleveland). We didn't really listen to much secular radio; instead, it was usually Christian with the smattering of country and oldies.

Add to the mix the fact that I was homeschooled for many years, and it really should come as no surprise that I truly believed the lyrics to "Secret Agent Man" were really "Secret Asian Man" until my husband told me otherwise in my early 20s (hey, it made perfect sense to me. "They're giving you a number and taking away your name"? Isn't that what they did in the Communist Chinese labor camps during the time that song was written?).

Hence, my exposure to Hollywood hunks was very limited. Oh yes, I had a major thing going on for Jonathan Taylor Thomas for quite a while. I even requested his poster be allowed to hang in my room (1 guess as to whether my dad said yes or no). And how could I not  mention Michael Landon, a la Little Joe on Bonanza? Ask Nick -- that fire still burns.

But really, my first celebrity crush was Carman. Who's that, you might ask? To a 1990s church girl (and her mother), he was a singing Brad Pitt.

One of my very first concerts (the honor of the first being Trisha Yearwood at the Hult Center) was Carman on Halloween night at the Rose Garden in Portland. I was probably around 8 or 9 and allowed to stay up waaaay past my bedtime. This was a very big deal in my world.

I'll never forget watching this handsome Italian guy take the stage with dozens of breakdancing backup dancers and vocalists, all at the high point of 90s know, one overall buckle undone and neon scrunchies aplenty. They were just so cool. I went home that night after hearing hits like "Satan, Bite the Dust" and "Mission 3:16" dreaming of someday becoming a backup dancer for Carman.

For my next birthday, Mom scored big points when she gave me this:

My very first cassette tape, brand-new, even! (And don't ask if I still know every word. It's not my fault I have an insanely good memory).
If I'm being totally honest, I'd have to say that there's a good possibility I still have some Carman CDs in my music stash. I just can't get rid of them.

So when I saw a headline about Carman this morning, I instinctively clicked. But the news wasn't good: he has cancer, and only a few more years to live unless a miracle happens. And oh yeah, I discovered he's my dad's age.

Wait, he's not in his 30s still? When and how did that happen? His mother is 90? He's dying? HE'S MY DAD'S AGE???

Suddenly, I felt so very, very old. But then I remembered that our 16-year-old Celia has a thing for Tom Cruise, which made me feel immensely better.

I'll be praying for Carman's health. In the meantime, I'm going to proactively petition heaven on behalf of JTT, since Little Joe is already on his own Highway to Heaven.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Our Next Stop

I woke up way too early, hot tears streaming down my face. The dream had been silly, but real. I was at Salem Academy -- Jack's school -- and filling out his withdrawal papers. As we walked out, Jack tugged on my hand, begging to stay. "I love it here," he wailed. "Why do we have to leave?" But my feet and tongue were glued. Somehow, "Because the Air Force says we have to," just didn't seem right, whether awake or in dreamland. 

When the above photo was taken, I felt much differently. It was September 3, 2009, and I couldn't wait to get away from the wind and dust of the Idaho desert. I didn't know much about Salem, other than my brothers and sister-in-law had gone to college there, and it was Oregon's capital. I figured anywhere was better than Mountain Home (sorry, all you Idaho friends reading this. I love you guys, but not where you live.).

By the time we had lived in Salem for six months, I had completely fallen in love.

Yes, Nick and I have family about an hour away both to the north and south. But it's so much more than that. Family is awesome, but when we moved to Salem, I released an inner breath I didn't know I had been holding for more than five years. When I came back to the rains and the green of the Willamette Valley, to the passionate, simple lives of Pacific Northwesterners, my spirit jigsawed into place with everyone and everything around me, and I knew we were home.

Salem might not be Oregon's largest (or even second-largest) city, but it's got everything needed/desired to raise a family: a fantastic library system. Killer children's museum. Dozens of churches to choose from. Enchanted Forest. A hippie-yet-conservative vibe that is exactly me. A thriving downtown (with free garaged parking that always has tons of spaces!). Wonderful private and charter schools, and some pretty good public ones as well. The Kroc Center. A rural, smalltown feel with bigger-city amenities. Awesome parks, complete with summertime water activities.

But more than just things, Salem has offered us a chance to grow our family. First Jude through the normal route, then Celia via international exchange, and now Avinly.

When Celia initially saw that her destination would be Oregon, she immediately asked, "Where's that?" She had never heard of it. Someone said, "It's that state above California." Yes, it is. In more ways than one.

Obviously, as a military wife, I knew our time here wasn't permanent. I knew it was four years, and then on to the next thing. But somehow that knowledge of don't get too attached didn't translate correctly to my heart.

I firmly believe everyone has a place that belongs to them; more importantly, a place they belong to. My cousin recently married a Brit, moved to the UK and couldn't believe how quickly she fit in. "How is it that I've only lived here such a short time," she asked, "and yet I've made more friends and had so many more experiences than all my years in the States?" I totally understood. I enjoyed living in Seattle for college; I liked living in Idaho at MHAFB, but I've sunk roots here in Marion County.

Our church. Our friends. Our memories. Our family. Our growth, pain, tears, smiles. Here.

We've been prepping Jack for a few months now that we aren't going to live here forever. He understands, but not fully. About a month ago, he excitedly chatted away in the car about his 6th birthday theme and how he was going to invite certain kids from his preschool. I quietly reminded him that we wouldn't be here when he turns six.

And he lost it. Giant, genuine crocodile tears rolled down his precious cheeks as his breaking heart cracked through his voice. "But Mom, my friends are all here. I love Mrs. Wallace (his teacher). I love Salem Academy. I love our church. I DON'T WANT TO LEAVE SALEM!"

It was all I could not to pull the van over, grab my boy and cry right along with him. Me either, Jack.

That being said (or sobbed, whatever), I know God has big plans in store. I know there is happiness, growth and laughter in our future. There are fresh experiences and knowledge to be gained.


Yes, starting in November, we're retracing my Grandma Audrey's steps back to England. RAF Mildenhall, to be exact, for four years. I have family three and four hours away and my good friend Debra is about six away in Scotland. And funnily enough, Nick's good friend and current recruiting office partner Jason got orders to RAF Lakenheath -- about 5 minutes away from where we'll be.

So we won't be entirely alone.

Of course, since God -- and not the Air Force -- directs our steps, we never are by ourselves no matter who we do or don't know. My heart may be cracking with sadness over leaving, but it's merely expanding to make room for more life to be lived.

So here's to Salem, the place where we hope to return in about a decade when Nick retires. Here's to the UK, our next stop on our military adventure. Here's to the memories made and the ones yet to be crafted.

Ta-ta for now, Salem. But not for always.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

No Easy Answers

The women all chatted excitedly, gently touching my bulging stomach and firing away questions: How are you feeling? Does she move a lot? Do you think she'll be here early or late? What do Jack and Jude think?

Aunts, cousins, friends, mentors and relatives brought in gift after gift, beautifully wrapped and adorned with words of love and anticipation.

Avinly doesn't know how much she is loved yet, not just by me and Nick, but by an entire community -- or perhaps she does.

That night, I paraded outfit after adorable outfit in front of Nick for his approval. He fingered the foreign and feminine fabrics softly, eyes silently expressing wonder that our first daughter will soon be wearing these, though we cannot see her yet.

The next morning, as per my routine, I checked Colt's profile. Colt is a 5-year-old boy living in a country famous for its orthodox church buildings, nesting dolls, furry ear-flapped hats and vodka. Specifically, he's from an area that's known for its white tigers and harsh prison system.

That in and of itself wouldn't be so bad. But Colt is different than the rest of the little boys and girls his age. He has Down Syndrome. And therefore, he was given up at birth and put into an orphanage. Soon, he will be transferred to an adult mental institution where he most likely will be deposited into a crib and left there until he dies.

Colt had the chance to be adopted by a foreign family. But on January 1, with the stroke of a pen, some political hotshots sealed his fate and thousands of others just like him when they signed an adoption ban by any foreigners.

I know about Colt because of the organization that listed him for adoption:
Reece's Rainbow. I volunteer for them, praying for Colt's rescue every day and advocating for his release from his prison in any way I can.

But now, instead of the usual website statistics about how much money had been raised to pay for his adoption, I saw this message:
** This child is in a country that is currently not accepting new commitments.  We can no longer accept grant donations or inquiries for this child, but we have not given up on any of these children and encourage all of our Prayer Warriors to continue their efforts!  All grant funds shown below are intact and still with this child at this time.   When and if this country program re-opens for adoptions, we will relist this child and begin seeking an adoptive family immediately.**

So that's it. Unless God moves mountains and melts stubborn hearts, Colt will die an orphan -- all because he has an extra chromosome.

After re-reading the paragraph, I glanced over at the mountain of gifts for my Avinly. And it seemed so wrong, wrong, wrong. Not that my sweet girl is being celebrated; that is entirely appropriate. But because a boy who could easily have been my own son (Jack and Colt are the same age) is being denied the basic right of a mommy and daddy over some stupid political mind games. (Google "Magnitsky Act" for more info).

That night, Jack prayed his usual prayers. But this time, without any prompting, he turned to me mid-sentence. "Mom, what if no one comes for Colt? What if no one feeds him? Will he get sick and die if no one adopts him?"

My tongue stuck in my throat. I couldn't tell him about the grim statistics saying that as many as 95% of children with Down Syndrome die within one year of being transferred to the adult mental institutions. That that's precisely where Colt is being moved sometime this year.

That Jack himself will grow up in a world that so often devalues children, especially when they are not "perfect."

I hugged my son and answered as honestly as I could. "I'm not sure," I said. "But we can always pray that God will send someone to take care of him." And in words only an innocent 5-year-old boy can utter, that's exactly what Jack did.

Understatement of eternity: this world is imperfect. There are no easy answers as to why Avinly is lucky enough to be born to a wonderful family with a solid marriage, income, education and values but why Colt wasn't. (And actually, sometimes even that isn't enough. One of my adoptive friends recently welcomed a daughter with DS from Colt's country whose mother is a LAWYER).

As I crawled into bed, both sad and happy, a picture hit me: Nick and I as teenagers. We were 17 and so in love. Every time we parted felt like a dagger to the gut, making us stretch out our goodbyes -- even the ones where we knew we'd see each other the next day -- to ridiculously long amounts of time.

As Nick held me, he'd tip my chin up to look at him. His green eyes shot right through me, and I shivered. My entire soul was laid bare in front of him. It was as if he could see every last bad thing I had done, and he loved me anyways. I had never felt so vulnerable in front of anyone in my life.

Often, that gaze was so pure -- so intense -- that I would have to look away. I just couldn't take the amount of absolute love zinging toward me, linking me to this man-child forever in ways that I still don't understand.

Of course, my life wasn't perfect then, and it's not now. But for a moment, I had been given a glimpse of heaven, where every soul is loved, cared for and whole, free of the wounds of this world.

Yet that love I felt and feel from Nick is nothing compared to what God feels for Colt.

I will never stop fighting the bonds of injustice; it's my calling in life. I will keep praying for a miracle in Eastern Europe, and I hope you will join me. There are no easy answers, and often what mankind does to itself and its smallest members straight-up bites and shreds the hearts to bits.

So until Colt feels that same gaze of pure adoration for simply being who he is  -- whether in this life or the next -- I will rest on the fact that though I may not know the answers, my heart and soul belong to the One who does.

And so do Colt's.