Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Anniversaries and Applause


The other day I attended a 50th wedding anniversary celebration for our friends, Marty and Alicia. Wow, 50 years! That is a long time to wake up next to the same person every day. Actually, for a long time, Marty got up for work in the wee hours of the morning so there probably hasn’t been a whole lot of waking up next to each other in the last 50 years. Perhaps, that is the key to their lasting relationship. Regardless, it seems in this day and age, that my friends have beaten the odds and that is a great reason to celebrate.

At the party I ran into my friend, Marilyn. Marilyn was the pastor’s wife of the church we attended when we first moved to Minnesota. She was also the church organist, and by far, one of the best accompanists with whom I’ve ever sung. She and her husband are now enjoying retirement but that has not stopped Marilyn from playing the organ. She was telling us about the organ she bought for her house. It seems as though this is a magic organ. It can sound like a church organ, it makes animal sounds (always handy), and it can also sound like other instruments (should you get bored with the organ sound.) But, by far the best thing it does (in my humble opinion) is applause. How cool is that?

Imagine the uses for an applause button. One could certainly see how nice it would be to have an ovation when you finish playing a little Bach toccata or Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, but I can see a multitude of uses that have nothing to do with music. How fun would it be, say, to have applause when you get out of bed in the morning? “YAY, you did it, you got out of bed!” Personally, I could use the encouragement. Then again, maybe that’s too early. I’m not really ready for an audience at the crack of dawn. (Who am I kidding? I’m never up at the crack of dawn.)

There are other times during the day, of course, where applause would be appreciated. Some clapping would certainly be in order when I finish doing the laundry, tidying up the house, or cooking dinner. Just imagine how that would spur me on to do more. Feeling a little down about yourself? Maybe some applause would perk you up? Lost a couple pounds? Congratulate yourself, and have the audience join you.

I don’t play the organ so that investment might be a bit much, you know, just for the applause, but it turns out that you can buy a sound machine that not only applauds but also makes wolf whistle noises. Wouldn’t that be handy when you are trying on new outfits? I think they might be onto something.

I probably won’t go out and buy a machine to applaud for me, but would like to offer a little to Marty and Alicia for their 50 years of marriage. Congratulations my friends, on a promise kept. May you share many more years together.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Story

It's after midnight on Christmas eve, so technically it's already Christmas, and I should be in bed; but, I wanted to share a Christmas greeting with you before the day is out. As you might expect, Christmas doesn't leave one a lot of time for writing a blog so I'm going to share a little story that arrived via email today. Yes, I know, there are plenty of forwarded stories and you may have read this before, but I think it's worth reading again.

The story is called "The Table Cloth." I have no idea if it's true. It doesn't really matter. What does matter is that we should never give up believing that God is a God of miracles. If He weren't, there would be no reason to celebrate today. If you haven't already done so, give Him your life and watch Him do amazing things. He'll walk you through the good times and the bad; love you like you've never been loved; and prepare one incredible home (mortgage free) for you in heaven. Really, it's the only birthday gift He wants from you, today. And the best part? It's the greatest gift you'll ever get, too.

Have a blessed Christmas, my friend, and enjoy the story.


The brand new pastor and his wife, newly assigned to their first ministry, to reopen a church in suburban Brooklyn, arrived in early October excited about their opportunities. When they saw their church, it was very run down and needed much work They set a goal to have everything done in time to have their first service on Christmas Eve.

They worked hard, repairing pews, plastering walls, painting, etc., and on December 18 were ahead of schedule and just about finished.

On December 19 a terrible tempest - a driving rainstorm hit the area and lasted for two days.

On the 21st, the pastor went over to the church.His heart sank when he saw that the roof had leaked, causing a large area of plaster about 20 feet by 8 feet to fall off the front wall of the sanctuary just behind the pulpit, beginning about head high.

The pastor cleaned up the mess on the floor, and not knowing what else to do but postpone the Christmas Eve service, headed home. On the way he noticed that a local business was having a flea market type sale for charity, so he stopped in. One of the items was a beautiful, handmade, ivory colored, crocheted tablecloth with exquisite work, fine colors and a Cross embroidered right in the center. It was just the right size to cover the hole in the front wall. He bought it and headed back to the church.

By this time it had started to snow. An older woman running from the opposite direction was trying to catch the bus. She missed it. The pastor invited her to wait in the warm church for the next bus 45 minutes later.

She sat in a pew and paid no attention to the pastor while he got a ladder, hangers, etc., to put up the tablecloth as a wall tapestry. The pastor could hardly believe how beautiful it looked and it covered up the entire problem area.

Then he noticed the woman walking down the center aisle. Her face was like a sheet. "Pastor," she asked, "where did you get that tablecloth?" The pastor explained. The woman asked him to check the lower right corner to see if the initials, EBG were crocheted into it there. They were. These were the initials of the woman, and she had made this tablecloth 35 years before, in Austria.

The woman could hardly believe it as the pastor told how he had just gotten "The Tablecloth". The woman explained that before the war she and her husband were well-to-do people in Austria.

When the Nazis came, she was forced to leave. Her husband was going to follow her the next week. He was captured, sent to prison and never saw her husband or her home again.

The pastor wanted to give her the tablecloth; but she made the pastor keep it for the church.The pastor insisted on driving her home. That was the least he could do. She lived on the other side of Staten Island and was only in Brooklyn for the day for a housecleaning job.

What a wonderful service they had on Christmas Eve. The church was almost full. The music and the spirit were great. At the end of the service, the pastor and his wife greeted everyone at the door and many said that they would return. One older man, whom the pastor recognized from the neighborhood continued to sit in one of the pews and stare, and the pastor wondered why he wasn't leaving.

The man asked him where he got the tablecloth on the front wall because it was identical to one that his wife had made years ago when they lived in Austria before the war and how could there be two tablecloths so much alike?

He told the pastor how the Nazis came, how he forced his wife to flee for her safety and he was supposed to follow her, but he was arrested and put in a prison. He never saw his wife or his home again all the 35 years between.

The pastor asked him if he would allow him to take him for a little ride. They drove to Staten Island and to the same house where the pastor had taken the woman three days earlier.

He helped the man climb the three flights ofstairs to the woman's apartment, knocked onthe door and he saw the greatest Christmas reunion he could ever imagine.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Traveler's Gift is the Perfect Gift

Fifty-one times! That’s how many times Andy Andrews’ Book, The Traveler’s Gift, was rejected before it finally was published by Thomas Nelson Books. O.K, first off, I didn’t even know there were 51 publishers in the United States and secondly, I have to give some serious kudos to Andy Andrews for being so persistent. I could maybe handle one, two, or even three rejection letters but 51? The therapy bill alone would send us to the poor house.

If you recall from a previous blog, I read Andy Andrews’ book, The Noticer, last summer and loved it. What I didn’t know at the time is that the story of the homeless man, living under a pier in Orange Beach, Alabama, was based on Andy’s own life. I could tell you more, but then again you could also go to his website and read all about Andy’s story. It’s really pretty amazing.

Anyway, back to the book. As mentioned, I read The Noticer last summer and when my friend told me Andy had another book out called The Traveler’s Gift I went home and immediately downloaded it to my Kindle. I read it during our mission trip to Russia and somehow never posted a review of it here on my blog. Let’s blame it on jet-lag.

The Traveler’s Gift is the story of a man, Donald Ponder, who has reached his breaking point. He’s lost his big corporate job, is working at a hardware store trying to make ends meet, and his daughter is in need of surgery which they can’t afford. To top it off it’s winter and, as those of us who live in cold climates know, winter is a bad time to be depressed. While contemplating the situation that is his life, Ponder, driving a little too fast for the icy conditions, slides off the road, to what is surely his demise.

Instead of dying, however, Ponder finds himself traveling back in time to Potsdam, Germany talking with President Harry Truman. It seems that Truman, who is rather busy making decisions about ending World War II, has a message to deliver to Mr. Ponder. At the end of their meeting together Truman hands Ponder a piece of paper with the first of Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success (which also happens to be the subtitle of the book.) When Ponder finishes reading the first “Decision,” he is transported to his next destination in history.

As David Ponder continues his travel through time he’ll meet up with six more historical figures from which he’ll learn another of the seven decisions. What are these decisions, you ask? Well, if I told you that would spoil the book for you. Actually, it probably wouldn’t, but still, it’ll make reading it so much more fun if you discover them for yourself. I found myself excited to get to the next “decision” as I read. If you must know what they are you can find them listed on Andy Andrews’ website. Oh, by the way, when you learn what the seventh decision is, you’ll know why Mr. Andrews did not give up as publisher after publisher rejected a manuscript that would go on to sell over a million copies.

The Traveler’s Gift is more than just a novel. It’s history, inspiration, a challenge, and a whole lot of truth, all rolled into one. Once again, I found myself underlining sections of the book so I could go back and ponder the thoughts. Here’s one of my favorites:

Indecision limits the Almighty and His ability to perform miracles in your life. He has put the vision in you – proceed! To wait, to wonder, to doubt, to be indecisive is to disobey God. Wow! I should have that embroidered on a pillow, or painted on a plaque in my house!

You will never regret the time you spend reading this book. In fact, you might want to read it more than once. And, if you are still looking for just the right gift to give someone for Christmas, the only person I can think of that wouldn’t appreciate The Traveler's Gift is the one who already owns it. (And truthfully, Andy Andrews is not paying me to say this.)

If you are done with your shopping, do what I do, buy The Traveler’s Gift for yourself, put it in your stocking and act surprised on Christmas morning. Consider it my little gift to you.

Monday, December 14, 2009

This Christmas - Focus on the Food

Last month I was honored to be the speaker at a holiday dinner. In preparing for my time with the women I started thinking about my childhood Christmases and our family traditions. I recalled the Advent Calendar (complete with gifts) that my grandma would send; decorating the tree; the way my brothers and I would sort the gifts and count to see who had the most (my mother was particularly fond of this “tradition”); the way my dad would read The Night Before Christmas to us every year, and best of all; the way my whole family was together on Christmas Eve. And by “my whole family” I mean my parents, both sets of grandparents, my brothers and me. Ours is not a large family. We did have an aunt, uncle, and cousins in Oklahoma but we didn’t see them very often.

As it so happened, all of our kids were home to celebrate the November birthdays the night before I was to speak. Since I had a captive audience I decided to ask them what their memories were of Christmas. Paul, our oldest son began with “Well, decorating the tree; hanging our stockings and always getting our picture taken . . . . I’m starting with the things I don’t like.” I knew he didn’t like to decorate the tree – no one in our family really seems to enjoy that – but I was surprised to hear he didn’t enjoy hanging the stockings. He clarified by explaining that he’s happy to hang his stocking, it’s the picture taking he hates. My heart bleeds for him. I mean really, the audacity of me taking a picture right before I stuff it full of goodies for him. What was I thinking?

After we got a good laugh over the photo torture he’d endured, he went on to talk about the rest of the traditions that he remembered. He mentioned how we always read a book before we put the angel on the tree, but then went right into “Christmas eve dinner with the neighbors, and candy cane pie.” And then, “Christmas tree coffee cake on Christmas morning.” Ah, the food!

Next it was Scott’s turn. He’s the youngest. He went straight to the food and listed the entirety of our traditional Christmas Eve meal from meat to potatoes and Jello. After he finished with Christmas Eve dinner his thoughts turned to the Christmas tree coffee cake, which by the way, we purchase from the local bakery every year. Hmm…I’m starting to sense a theme.

Adam (our middle son) wasn’t here for the initial go round of questions but when he arrived I presented him with the same query. He recalled the years I wrapped up a “Jesus present.” For many years I’d buy the kids something to remind them of Christ at Christmas (a novel concept, I know.) It could be a Christian C.D., book, Bible, or anything that would point them of Jesus who was, after all, the star of the show. I always wrapped their "Jesus gift" in plain brown paper with a red bow and had them open it later in the day once everything had calmed down. Adam, at least, remembered that. But then, the next thing he said was “Christmas tree coffee cake.” The way I figure it, our Christmas traditions are toast if the Cannon Falls Bakery ever goes out of business.

So, my advice to young parents is this. If you are trying to start some family traditions of your own, don’t worry about the gifts, the decorations, or the stockings. Focus on the food. It doesn’t have to be much, it just has to be consistent; and, if you can get the bakery to do the work for you, all the better. You’ll appreciate that when you get older.

What traditions are important to you? I’d love to know. Whatever they are, I pray you get to enjoy at least a few of them during this Christmas season. And, if you are looking to start a new one and live near Cannon Falls, MN, I heartily recommend the Christmas tree coffee cake from the Hi-Quality bakery. It’s delish!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas Sanity Plan - Part 11

I know, I know, I said I’d write about what I was doing for Christmas every month this year and nothing went up in November. On November 30, I had a choice; I had enough time to write our Christmas letter OR write a blog post. I chose the letter, because to choose the blog post would have meant that I didn’t get anything done in November; then I would feel like a failure and that just won’t do.

So, yes, the letter is written. I’m still awaiting approval from the kids (I allow them to edit the section that I write about them) and it needs to be formatted for copying. That will happen by tomorrow and if all goes as planned; the letter will be in the mail by the beginning of next week. Well, in all honesty, if it had gone as planned, it would have been ready to mail now. But, considering that my Christmas letter generally doesn’t get mailed until December 23, this is HUGE progress.

My Christmas Sanity Plan also included being done with my shopping by December 1, but that isn’t quite the case. I’m close, but not completely finished. All in all, I’m glad I pursued this sanity plan of mine. I’ll do it again next year (though I won’t bore you every month with all the details.) I must admit though, knowing that I’d promised to write something every month did keep me going when I wanted to quit.

The sweet reward of a year filled with Christmas is actually being able to relax and enjoy time with family and friends. And, most importantly, I won’t feel pressured to skip my quiet time with Jesus every day. Imagine a schedule so crazy that I rarely found the time to spend with the One whose birth we were celebrating. Well, that’s just insane.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Organized Person Inside of Me

I have always felt that there is a very organized person inside of me just dying to get out. When I have the time I love to set up multi-colored file folders in which to store all of my important papers. Nothing like having a place for everything; and it’s a double blessing if everything is actually in its place. I also love to make a plan. The very act of sitting down to either type or write out a plan for an upcoming event just makes me feel all warm and cuddly and like I can actually accomplish whatever the goal may be. Oh, and should I be standing in line at the grocery store, only to spot a magazine on organization, you can be sure it’s going home with me.

The breakdown occurs, it seems, when I forget to read the magazine, or lose the plan, or am just too busy to put away the papers. Recently, I read that clutter causes stress so that if we’re feeling stressed we should clean up our clutter. Honestly, who writes this stuff? I’ll tell you who, the organizers. If I had time to clean up my clutter in the first place, I wouldn’t be stressed! Work with me people!

Imagine my surprise the other day, when I stumbled upon a bit of an organizational plan for Thanksgiving – that I’d created! Awesome, I thought to myself. Not only is there a Thanksgiving menu on my computer, but there is actually a plan for each little job and when it should be done. This is great! I was even more surprised when I opened the menu and found a chart complete with each menu item accompanied by a list of groceries necessary to make that particular selection. Indeed, I was quite organizationally inspired when I created this masterpiece. Too bad I haven't thought to open it ONCE since 2003 when I created it.

There were also a few glitches in my plan. You see, in 2003, we celebrated Thanksgiving with John’s sister. So, next to a number of the items, I simply typed in “Peggy” indicating that Peggy would bring that dish. Peggy was assigned pies and cranberries (chosen because I’m not good at making either one and Peggy makes the best pumpkin pies east of the Mississippi.) This glitch is easily solved with a quick trip to the bakery and the can of cranberries hiding in my cupboard.

So you see, there is indeed an organized person inside of me trying to get out. Apparently, I opened her cage briefly six years ago and now I welcome her back. Oh, how I’ve missed her. On the bright side, I’m pretty much on track according to my “things to do schedule.” I love it when a plan comes together!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On My Next Car . . .

The other night on my way to a meeting I made a mistake. I was driving along Interstate 494 and saw traffic entering the freeway on my right. Trying to be a nice person, and careful driver, I moved into the middle lane to give the oncoming cars room to merge. The problem with moving from the right lane to the middle was that I only had about a half mile to change back before arriving at my exit.

This is when I made my mistake. As I moved back into the right lane I heard a car beeping at me. I really don’t know where it came from. Before making my move, I had turned and looked for oncoming cars AND checked my mirrors. It was, clearly and simply, a mistake; thankfully, not one that caused injury to cars or drivers.

So, here’s what I’d like to have installed on my next car. I want to be able to push a button, or better yet give a voice command, that will activate a sign on the back (or side) of my car which will read, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to do that. Please forgive me.” Oh, that’s probably too many words. It would be like trying to read a billboard that has too much writing on it. I guess I’ll have to settle for a simple “I’m sorry.”

These signs I’m suggesting have the potential to end road rage; perhaps even bring about world peace. At least it might have helped me the other night.

Eventually, I had to pull back into the right lane of 494. I looked ever so thoroughly, noticing that the car I’d almost run into had moved WAY back out of my line of fire, and back into my line of sight. As I carefully pulled my car back into the right lane towards my upcoming off ramp, the annoyed driver took it upon himself to register his disgust by flashing his bright lights at me. Seriously, mister? We all make mistakes. Did you honestly think I purposefully tried to run you off the road, risking both my life and yours? I’m sorry, I am really, really sorry. It scared me, too, but flashing your bright lights at me does nothing to change the situation. Perhaps you could offer me a little grace. And, hopefully, when you do something stupid, the “other guy” will extend that same grace to you. Wouldn’t that be a better solution? Wouldn’t that be the solution that would bring about world peace?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mesmerizing

There is something about the ocean that soothes my soul. It is ever changing regardless of which ocean you happen to be near. It can be turquoise, deep blue, gray, or a combination of all those colors and more. The waves can be loud; crashing one right after the other, or gently rolling towards the shore. But, no matter what it looks like, or how it sounds, if you take a moment and stop to soak it in, the ocean will most always be mesmerizing.

Fortunately for me, my parents live just a couple of miles from one of the most beautiful spots along the California coastline. As I mentioned in my last post, I've been visiting them for the past few days and I've been able to take a few moments and steal away to the shore. On my first visit I was greeted by the fog and clouds rolling in for the night. Yesterday though, the sun won out and provided a completely different view.

I thought I'd share a few of my pictures with those of you who read my blog. If you ever get a chance to visit the Carmel/Pebble Beach/Monterey area, take it. And, while you're here, allow yourself a few minutes to sit by the ocean and be amazed at God's creation.








Friday, November 6, 2009

A Senior Citizen Workout

I am currently out in California visiting my parents. Wednesday, when I arrived, my mother told me that Thursday was the day for her exercise class and wondered if I’d like to join her? One of her friends, whom I love, was planning to meet us, and after the class we’d all go out for breakfast. What could be better?

I never thought to ask where this exercise class took place. I just figured it would be at a local country club where my parents are members. There is equipment there; it was a logical conclusion. It was several hours later when I found out that said exercise class was being held at the senior citizens center. “You mean,” I asked in a rather shocked tone, “that I’m going to be working out with a bunch of seniors?” My mom’s response just about sent me in search of some serious chocolate. “What’s the problem? You qualify as a senior.” Well, now I’m just depressed! Besides, until they start giving me the senior citizen discount at the grocery store, nobody better call me a senior citizen! My mother tried to cheer me up by telling me I’d be the youngest one there. I figured, at the very least, I’d get some fodder for my blog.

So, my first task was to figure out what to wear. I know some people won’t leave home without their workout clothes but I’m not one of those people. I’m just not that dedicated. I chose my most casual pair of pants despite the fact that another pair, while dressier, has more give. Seriously, how much give would I need at the senior center?

At 8:45 Thursday morning we headed out the door ready to work up our appetite for breakfast. We get to the senior center only to find out that the class has been cancelled. It seems the instructor has a dental appointment. I was bummed. Now, what would I have to blog about?

All was not lost, however. Breakfast wasn’t cancelled, just the exercise. Funny, not one of us suggested we go to the club and use the equipment previously mentioned. I guess I’m not the only one who lacks dedication.

After breakfast we did some shopping. If making decisions, handing over your credit card, and carrying packages qualify as exercise, we’re in fine shape.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Christmas Sanity Plan - Part 10

Here I am again, posting my “Christmas Sanity Plan” blog in the last few hours of the month. On the bright side though, I’ve made great strides towards my goal. My biggest accomplishment was ordering our Christmas cards. I seem to have established a reputation for sending my cards out rather late in the season. I think the latest they’ve ever been sent was in January (or did I save them for Easter?) Of course, my letter is yet to be written so even though I’ve got the cards, the envelopes, the stamps and the letterhead, this plan could all go south if I don’t follow through.

I don’t want to send the cards out too early, of course, because that could just send people into shock, or have them running to their calendars to make sure they didn’t sleep through the first three weeks of December. I want to be considerate of my friends’ health, after all. But, I’m still working towards my goal of being done by December 1.

I also made great progress this month in getting some gifts purchased. At this point, my focus is mostly on my immediate family and they seem to be the easiest. A couple of years ago I changed from buying them multiple gifts to getting them just one big thing along with gift cards, or little things for their stockings. While the amount of money I spend is pretty much the same, this plan works well for me because it requires much less time spent wrapping.

The key, I think, to staying sane at Christmas is to figure what works for you. One of my friends loves to wrap gifts. Me? While I don’t detest gift wrapping, it does seem to add stress when I’m already stretched to the limit. That is why my family plan works well for me. Of course, once I have grandchildren, things could change. I have great potential for being an out of control grandmother.

If you’ve not been following along all year in this Christmas sanity scheme of mine, you might want to consider starting in the next few weeks with your Christmas plan. Norman Vincent Peale once said, “plan your work – work your plan.” Good advice.

And, if you’ve never tried it, check out internet shopping. As much as I love email, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, planning trips, and looking up interesting tidbits of information, I would have to say that internet shopping is by far my favorite part of living in an age of technology. Internet shopping has proven to be the biggest stress reducer of the Christmas season for me.

Before I close I would like to bring up something I wrote at the beginning of the year. While I love giving gifts to family and friends, I think the best gift you can give someone is time spent together. Be sure to make include that as part of your Christmas plan.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Father's Heart - Book Review

This blog should have been written long ago. And the book I’m writing about, The Father’s Heart, should have been read long ago; by me, at least. You see, the author, Kristie Kerr, is one of my good friends, and one of the wisest young people I know. She has helped me through plenty of rough patches in life, and hopefully, I’ve helped her through a couple, too. So, when her book was finally published, I bought it right away. I even read the first chapter on my way home in the car. (I wasn’t driving.) But then, as life would go, it got set aside for a bit. I can’t tell you why.

A couple weeks ago I picked up Kristie’s book and determined to finish it within a few days. It isn’t a long book so, even though I am a painfully slow reader, I figured my goal was achievable. And, a funny thing happened. It has happened to me in the past, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but as I read, it became apparent that I was reading The Father’s Heart at exactly the time I needed its message the most.

Through personal stories, scripture and an honest look at God, Kristie keeps her reader laughing, crying and doing some serious thinking throughout the book. She portrays the heart of our Father God in an amazing way. When Kristie was writing her book she told me that she’d always understood how much Jesus loved her, but that if she were honest, she was really just a bit fearful of God. I think the same could be said for many of us; certainly for me. So, she decided to dig deeper in an effort to really understand God’s love for her. And, what she ended up with is a book that will assure anyone who reads it that they are loved beyond measure.

Let’s be honest. We all have times when we doubt if God really, REALLY loves us. We say we know it’s true, but in our hearts, do we really believe it? Kristie has tackled the tough questions that we ask in those times when we are feeling less than loved, or wondering why it might feel that God has abandoned us. (Oh, by the way, He hasn’t.)

I’ll not name names, but there are quite a few people on my Christmas list getting a copy of Kristie’s book. If you’d like your own copy of The Father’s Heart (and you’re fairly certain that you aren’t on my Christmas list) you may get one by contacting Kristie at kristie.kerr@rivervalley.org. It’ll be the best $10 you have ever spent. Buy extras, you’ll want to pass it on.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Keeping up with Technology

Since my last blog was about texting with the T-9 feature, I thought it only fair to let you know that I have moved forward in the world of technology. I recently heard that technology is changing so rapidly that those who don’t keep up with the changes will turn into bitter old people. I can’t let that happen. Quite honestly, I think I could easily be a pretty grumpy old woman if I don’t watch myself. Right now, most people think I’m pretty nice. At least that’s what they are saying to my face. But that’s because at this point in my life I possess a fairly intact brain that allows me to filter the things that come out of my mouth. It seems to me, though, that somewhere along the way, older people lose their filter and who knows what might fly out when that filter fades in my life. And if I become bitter, well, it just might not be pretty.

It seems, too, that I need to stave off bitterness for the entire spousal unit of which I’m but one part. My husband doesn’t seem nearly as concerned about the bitterness factor and is happy to have a cell phone to turn on when he needs to make a call that he, in the past, would otherwise have had to stop and make from a pay phone. I think it’s adorable, and yet a wee bit frustrating, that he’ll call me from the road to tell me his approximate arrival time, then hang up and turn off his phone. I think he’s only actually heard his cell phone ring once or twice in the year he’s had it. Once he arrives home he promptly plugs the phone into the charger to recapture those three minutes of battery time that he has used up.

So, in an effort to lower the future bitterness factor, I made the leap and bought a Blackberry Curve. I have no idea yet, what the Curve is all about, but they told me it was the latest and greatest in Blackberries. (Is Blackberries the plural of Blackberry when you are talking cell phones? I don’t know.) If you are an I-phone user, you might just want to stop reading now because I don’t want snide remarks from you telling me what a poor choice I made. I understand that your I-phone is most likely superior to my Blackberry but I wasn’t ready to change carriers or buy an “unlocked” and thus warranty-less I-phone from E-bay.

For me, the greatest selling feature of the Blackberry was having a full keyboard at my fingertips. Unfortunately, one of my fingertips can simultaneously hit three, and possibly four, keys in one quick touch. In fact, I can almost completely cover the ENTIRE keyboard with my two pudgy little thumbs. This should have been my first clue that there would be a bit of a learning curve on this new phone of mine.

So far, I have learned how to make a phone call, which is after all the primary function of a cell phone. Sadly, that little bit of learning didn’t happen quite as quickly and easily as it probably should have.

I also know how to send a text message, which really, if you’re going to be cool at all, requires knowledge of the secret text message code. For instance, you can save HUGE amounts of time by typing the letter “c” instead of the much longer version of the word “see.” And, my personal favorite secret code word is 2", which works for “I’m going to the store,” “I love you, too,” and “I have two thoughts on that issue.” Please note that all three uses of 2 are only three letters or less, and on my keyboard it requires that I hit both the alt key and then the number 2 key in order to type “2”, so I am saving maybe ½ or even an entire second of time. I’m sure those of you who are texting on those old-fashioned phones using the T-9 feature are becoming more bitter by the minute. Jealousy isn’t pretty, people.

And, my really cool new phone allows me to search the web, update my Facebook and Twitter statuses, and a bunch of other really cool things I’ve yet to figure out. There really should be a community education class for people over 50 learning to use Blackberries. I would sign right up for that.

I think there should be a flip up magnifier on these phones. You see, the number one problem I had with learning how to make a phone call was that, without my reading glasses on, I couldn’t figure out where the numbers were. Someone should tell the Blackberry people that red numbers don’t really contrast well with the black keys. (Maybe I’ll give that job to John. As an eye doctor he might carry more clout, and after all, he needs to do his part here.)

So you see, I’m taking baby steps into the technology arena. Perhaps my next move should be to get some stronger reading glasses. Hey, I know just who to see about that. He may not be good with cell phones, but he does know eyes.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

T-9

I had lunch with a friend today. She told me that she’s been checking my blog everyday to see if I’ve put up a new post. I promised I’d write one tonight and since it’s nearly midnight I’d better get to work. And, since she may be the only one that hasn’t completely given up on me, I figured I’d write about her.

About a year ago we were together with another friend. She (and by “she” I mean today’s lunch friend. I know this is confusing but I think, under the circumstances, her identity should be protected) had never sent a text message before, and the two of us, having had limited success with texting, decided to impart her with our vastly inadequate amount of knowledge. This all happened, by the way, on the way home from the retreat where the little incident between my van and the aggressive fence occurred. We were beyond tired. You know how once you get past a certain stage of tired everything suddenly becomes funny? We were at that point. And seriously, there is nothing better than a little laughter with some girlfriends that just about makes you wet your pants. (Oh please, like it hasn’t happened to you.)

Anyway, as we waited for our food to arrive (did I forget to mention we were in a restaurant?) we were teaching our friend about the T-9 function available on most cell phones. I have no idea why it is called T-9. To be honest, I’m not even sure it is called T-9, but that’s what I’ve been told. It’s the feature that guesses what word you want to type based on the keys you hit. For instance, if you hit the 4 key and then the 3 key, the phone will automatically fill in the word “he.” But, if you really wanted to type the word “if” you just hit another button (depending on your phone) and it’ll change the word for you. It’s like having your own personal mind reader who occasionally gets the wrong answer. Just recently, I figured out that it displays the possible words in alphabetical order. Who knew?

By the way, I realize that 99% of my readers already understand this concept but my mother will appreciate the explanation.

Anyway, at a certain point in the teaching process, my friend decided she was ready to send a text message. She started with a text to her son Daniel. Everything went smoothly and her confidence was high. After her first success, she was ready to send a message to her other son, Bryan. Now, the problem with Bryan (or his name at least) is that my friend had obviously chosen the less frequently used spelling. Cell phones make no accommodations for such life impacting decisions. So, following our instructions, using the T-9 feature, she hit keys, 2..7..9..2..6 and her phone produced the name Aswan. My friend was baffled. Why hadn’t this worked? Truth be told, I was baffled, but only because I’d never see Bryan’s name in print before so I’d assumed the more typical spelling, Brian.

If you’ll recall from the beginning of this story, we were already in the slaphappy mode so this new bit of fodder sent our giggling over the top, producing curious (or were they sympathetic) looks from the other restaurant patrons.

It’s possible that I may never remember Bryan’s real name because we have, since that night, referred to him as Aswan. Poor guy, I don’t think he finds it nearly as amusing as we do.

After our lunch today, Leslie . . . um, I mean my anonymous friend . . ., sent me a text message. “Aswan got the job!” Congratulations, Aswan!

If you are in need of texting lessons, feel free to call; the three of us will get together and teach you. You may not know how to text when you get done, but I guarantee you’ll have fun learning. And, if all goes well, you may even end up with a new name for a special someone in your life.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Christmas Sanity Secrets – Part 9

I’m beginning to see why I get so stressed out at Christmas every year. Even though I’ve been working on this Christmas sanity plan since last January, there still seems to be much to do and quite honestly, I’m kind of a busy person. Plus, I need frequent naps.

Once again, I find myself at the end of the month frantically trying to get at least ONE thing done towards my goal of being sane at Christmas. So, here’s what I did today. For the past few years we’ve gotten the women (we call them “the girls”) that work at John’s office gift certificates for Christmas. Quite honestly, it’s only about a thirty minute job, but hey, it’s one thing off the list. Progress, slow but steady. If you know “the girls,” or perhaps you are one of “the girls,” please keep this a secret. It’s not like it’s a huge surprise, though. We don’t deviate much from the plan. We’re just not that creative.

I also emailed the kids (and by that I mean our grown boys and their wives) to request a list of their desires for Christmas. We give them an opportunity every year to insure we don’t buy them clothes they don’t like or games they won’t play. Of course, at least one of them won’t hesitate to shoot for the moon in his requests. I’ll not name names.

And, I went out on a limb and emailed my sister-in-laws for suggestions for their kids. The entirety of the time I spent was approximately one hour. It wasn’t much, but it was something. I wanted to get some wrapping done, too, but I ran out of steam. Go figure, it’s only September and Christmas is already wearing me out. BUT, come December, I’m sure I’ll have plenty of energy so please don’t forget to invite me to your Christmas gathering. I’ll be done shopping, full of energy and the life of the party, unless of course, I need a nap.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Two People - Fighting the Fight

I have been a bit of a slacker in the blogging department lately. It’s not that I don’t have anything to write about, it’s just that I haven’t had time to sit down and put it into words. But, enough of the excuses, I’m back now, hopefully, without so many lapses between my blog posts.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to volunteer for a few hours answering phones at the local Christian radio station, KTIS, during their annual fundraising “Sharathon.” I’ve been doing this for years and I always meeting interesting people in the process. Yesterday was no exception.

As you might expect, the phones don’t ring constantly throughout the day so there is opportunity to read, or chat with the people around you. Early in the day I spent the time between calls doing some reading. When the phone rang I’d set down my book, moving the “gas receipt bookmark” to my current location. Next thing I know the guy next to me, Dave, mentions that perhaps my bookmark could use an upgrade and hands me a new one that says “Donate Life.” Thus began our conversation on organ donation.

Now, I already have “DONOR” listed on my driver’s license so it’s not like Dave had to convince me, but still, he came up with some pretty interesting stats. Did you know, for instance, that one donor can save ten lives and help improve as many as 50 lives? That’s pretty remarkable. I had a friend tell me once that she didn’t want to be a donor because she wasn’t convinced the doctors would wait until she was REALLY dead to do the transplant. My feeling is that should the doctors goof up, that just gets me to Jesus a little bit sooner, so I really have nothing to fear. But, I digress.

Dave, as it turns out, is waiting for a heart. I can’t remember exactly what is wrong with the one he’s got but I believe it’s some sort of congenital defect. He told me that there is about a four year wait list for a new heart and it’s hard to qualify as a potential transplant patient. I wonder how they figure that out; not the qualifying part, but the wait time. Is it anything like the method they use to determine how long it will be until your table at the restaurant is ready? (We think the people at table 26, 42, and 65 look pretty full, which means you’ve got a 15 – 20 minute wait.)

Many people will die waiting to get their needed organ. If you aren’t already listed as a donor, perhaps you’ll consider it as a possibility.

It seemed to be medical day at KTIS because the woman on the other side of me, Sarah, has late stage Lyme’s Disease. They believe she’s had it for nearly eight or nine years, but she was just diagnosed this past year. The doctors in Minnesota are stymied as to what to do for her. Yes, even the renowned Mayo clinic has suggested that she go somewhere else. When I read Sarah’s Caring Bridge site last night I found out that she has a t-shirt that says “Lyme’s Disease ticks me off.” At least she hasn’t lost her sense of humor.

Sarah is a wife and mother of three kids. She is also a woman of amazing faith who has, by no means, given up. She heard of a doctor in New York who specializes in this particular disease but doesn’t have the means to finance a trip to visit him. Still, she felt that God made it clear to her that she should go; so, in faith, she made her appointment. A few days later someone called her and offered to finance her entire trip! I LOVE THAT! Only God could pull that off!

So, here I am at the end of my blog, wondering if anyone besides me will find all this to be fascinating stuff. I simply admire Sarah and Dave’s spirit and their willingness to continue “fighting the fight.” I am richer for having met them.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A 9/11 Story from Canada

I spent yesterday in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was truly one of the most welcoming cities I’ve ever been to. We are on a cruise and were greeted at the port by a couple of locals, in full Scottish attire, playing a bagpipe and drums. Now, whether or not you like bagpipes, it was still a nice touch. They played again as we left.

As we toured about I heard a story about 9/11/2001 that I’d never heard before. As we all know, every plane in the air on that fateful day was forced to land immediately at the nearest airport. Being as Nova Scotia is one of the first bits of land you get to once crossing the Atlantic, many planes landed in the city of Halifax. Over 8000 people, most of them Americans, got off the planes September 9, 2001 with nowhere to go. So what did the city of Halifax do? They took care of them.

Many of them were housed at a large arena, while others stayed in people’s homes. Some of the Haligonians (that’s what they call themselves) even drove the weary and anxious travelers down to Boston – a 12 hour drive each direction. That is some kind of nice!

But, by far the best story I heard was about a couple that was flying from Great Britain to California to get married. They were staying with a local family and told them the reason for their travel – a wedding that wasn’t going to happen. Once the family heard of the ill-fated wedding, they got into gear and put a wedding on for the couple. They found a dress, a minister, got a cake and had a wedding! I’m sure it wasn’t the wedding they had planned but you can be sure that it was a wedding, filled with kindness they won’t ever forget.

This day will always be remembered with sadness, but today I will also remember the incredible graciousness of a city in Canada. Good job, Haligonians, good job!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Christmas Sanity Plan - just under the wire.

So, here it is, 9:00 on August 31 and I have yet to post anything this month regarding my Christmas Sanity plan. Well, to be honest, nothing was being done, thus nothing to post. But, in an effort to do just one thing for my “Christmas all year” project I reviewed my options.

In assessing the possibilities, my first requirement was that it be easy, as I was indeed running out of time. I thought I could perhaps buy a few gifts, but, truth be told, I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired in that arena. And, a party seemed like a daunting thing to pull together in a couple of days. So, there wasn’t much left to choose from, EXCEPT, the job of addressing the Christmas cards.

In July, I found a great deal on self-seal envelopes so my supplies were ready (at least I thought). I even had the stamps and return address labels. (See February’s post.) All I really needed to do was update my database with address changes and I’d be set to print. For a few short moments I contemplated actually hand addressing my envelopes this year, but the ease of the printer won out again. I’m never really sure why I think this is easier. It rarely works out that way. And sure enough, this year was no exception.

All was going well. I managed to create the mail merge (which I seem to need to re-learn EVERY time I use it), the envelopes were running through the printer nicely and I mistakenly thought to myself, “Hey, I think I’m finally figuring this whole thing out.” I should know better than to get cocky. Two minutes later the printer decided to eat an envelope, requiring me to stand on my head, and fit my fingers into miniscule places to clear the jam. Once that was over, the computer seemed to take on its own personality and just started spitting out blank envelopes. It even told me at one point that the photo paper needed to be turned upside down to complete the print job! (But I’m not printing photos!) Seriously, who do discipline when the printer is talking back to you?

Eventually everything seemed to be back on track. I was just 18 envelopes away from being done with the printing when the warning came up, “You are out of black ink. Please replace your cartridge.” Aargh!!! The printer offered me the option of using the colored ink to complete the print job, which meant, basically, that it would mix all the colors together to create black ink much like a young child does with finger paints. I guess the printer was feeling badly about its earlier behavior and decided to offer some penance.

So, task completed. The envelopes are ready to go, complete with stamps and return address labels affixed. Yes, there was a bit of stress involved, but knowing that I had three and a half months to remedy the situation allowed me to handle the stress without a significant rise in my blood pressure. And that, after all, is the ultimate goal.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Under the Overpass - book review

In May I was in downtown Portland, Oregon. I got out of my car, put money in the meter and headed towards the store I wanted to visit. Just as I turned away from my car, I saw a man look around, reach into the garbage, take the top off of a coffee cup, throw the lid back in the garbage and start drinking the cold, stale, coffee inside. It all happened so quickly, that I couldn’t even think, but my heart still breaks when I think of it. The encounter (or lack thereof) reminded me of a book I’d heard about which had been on my “list of books to read” for awhile - Under the Overpass. It was time to read it.

I read a lot of books. I enjoy lots of different genres but there are three books that have made a significant impact on my life; Safely Home, a novel by Randy Alcorn; Same Kind of Different as Me, a true story by Denver Moore and Ron Hall; and my latest read, Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski.

Under the Overpass is the story of Mike, and his friend, Sam, who decided to enter the world of the homeless in America. They both come from Christian homes, and have attended private Christian colleges. Money wasn’t the reason they chose to be homeless. Mike made this decision one Sunday after hearing a sermon that challenged what his faith really meant to him. Sam felt God’s call to join Mike in his journey.

I knew the premise of the book before I started, of course, but when I came to the section where Mike describes the phone call to his parents, informing them of his plan, I sat up and took notice. As a parent of three boys I can say that none of them have ever come up with any idea as stupid as living on the streets. Thank God! I give Mike’s parents a lot of credit. I might have used handcuffs and brain-washing to change my son’s mind, given the same situation.

To their credit, Mike and Sam did have a plan. They did research, had advisers, and, most importantly, an end date. What they ended up with is one incredible story, and a faith deeper than many of us will ever know. Check out this video to learn more about their story.

Under the Overpass changed the way I think about the homeless. Most of us have heard the advice, “don’t give money to the homeless, it only encourages their drug and/or drinking habit.” And, I think Mike would agree, in general, with that advice. But that doesn’t mean they are to be ignored. I am embarrassed to say that my decision not to hand over cash has turned me into a person who walks past with my head turned the other direction because I don’t want to stare and I don’t know what to say. I remember a few years ago, when we were in Vancouver, WA, I saw a homeless man with a sign that said, “let me tell you my story.” Even though John was with me, the sun was still up, and the street was crowded with people, I still didn’t take the time to stop. That sign, and the vision of the man holding it, still haunts me.

Interestingly enough, Mike says that Christians are the worst offenders when they encounter a homeless person. Isn’t that a sad state of affairs? As a result of Mike’s story, I’ve determined that I can never again look away. (When my mother reads this, she’ll think I’ve gone off the deep end again, but she’s getting used to me doing crazy things.) I’ve purchased some Subway gift certificates, and put together Ziploc bags with water, granola bars, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and shampoo to give to the homeless. In God’s incredible timing, this idea was sent via email from womensministry.net WHILE I was reading Under the Overpass. My mom will be pleased to know that I’m not actually going out searching for homeless people . . . yet . . . though I might should those granola bars near their expiration date. But, should I encounter someone in need, I want to be prepared to offer some food, some clean water, a smile, and a little hope.

Under the Overpass is a life changing book. It will challenge the way you think, the actions you take, and your faith as you know it today.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I Won't Forget

This is my last blog about our mission trip to Russia. Before I said good-bye to the kids and workers I asked the translator to teach me how to say, “I will never forget you” in Russian. If I remember correctly it sounds something like “ya tibea nea zuboodu,” but don’t try that at home without checking it out first. I tried to say it to a few of the orphanage workers before I left but at one point I needed one of the other workers to translate my bad Russian into good Russian. It was pathetic really, but at least I tried, and I meant it. It will be hard to ever forget the amazing people I at Yablonka Orphanage in Kaliningrad, Russia. Here are just a few.

I won’t forget how Visilli greeted us at the van each morning, shook our hands and said hello, in the formal, respectful, Russian version of the word. Such a gentleman.


I won’t forget Tonya, who, after watching me make a feeble attempt at robotic dancing, teased me all week. She’d say “Noncy, Noncy,” smile, and wave her hands in a mocking, but loving, way.

I won’t forget watching John fall in love with Alena. He so wanted to bring her home and I had to remind him that he'd be nearly 70 before she graduates from high school!

I won’t forget Zena, with her infectious smile and beautiful, black, curly hair. I wanted to bring her home, but I’m only a few years younger than John!

I won’t forget Sasha and how he selflessly gave me his treasured Spiderman super-hero card. The kids have so little that is their own, so I felt honored that he’d want to give up something to me. What a sweet boy.

And, of course, I will never forget, Tolvic, the sweet, sad, 13-year old boy who lost his mom, and needs someone to love him in the worst way. Oh, to be able to hug him again.

I can’t possibly forget Marina, the cook whose heart softened right in front of my eyes. What an amazing woman who works tirelessly in an itty bitty kitchen to feed twenty kids week after week.

And, forever etched in my memory will be the last look I had of the orphanage workers and kids. As we drove away they stood on the sidewalk in front of the orphanage, waving good-bye with tear-streaked faces. I didn’t want to take a picture. I just wanted to let the scene sink into my breaking heart. What I said to my friends was true; I will never forget you.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Squeezing It All In – August 10

Our trip home started this afternoon but we still time had time this morning to see a couple more sights. A few of the workers from the orphanage met us at the hotel in the morning and took us to a Cathedral. The Cathedral was built by the Germans when they possessed this part of Russia (formerly Prussia.) It is now a Lutheran church and much of it has been remodeled. We weren’t able to see the inside, which I was disappointed about, but apparently, it’s mostly used now as a concert hall and there was a choir inside practicing.

When we got done at the Cathedral a few of us went to the market place. We’d been told by our interpreter not to talk, but if we saw something we wanted to buy we were to point it out to her and she would negotiate the price for us. She thought we’d get a better price if the merchants didn’t know we were American. We eventually got separated as one team member was doing some serious shoe shopping and needed her more than the rest of us. I was looking for shirts to bring home to my boys. Why I do this, I don’t know. I can’t even buy shirts they like when I shop in the United States! But, I enlisted the help of a younger, cooler team member and he found a shirt that I was certain Scott would like. I bought it and later realized that it was an Arrow shirt, which I probably could have bought at a local department store for half the price. Essentially, I bought an American shirt in Russia and paid to ship it both ways!

On our way out of the market place I pulled out the camera. I figured since I was done buying things I could safely let them know I was a foreigner. As I walked along I took pictures of the different goods and food items being sold. I accidentally bumped a young boy’s arm and in my Minnesota nice way I said “excuse me,” only in Russian. Apparently, my Russian has an American twang to it because he stopped, looked at me and said, “oh, hello!” Busted!

After lunch we headed to the airport (where I kept my camera carefully tucked away lest I get into any more trouble with the Russian officials). I am ready to get home but a part of my heart will always be in Kaliningrad, Russia.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Anniversary in Russia – August 9

Today is our 34th wedding anniversary. When we woke up this morning I asked John if, when we got married 34 years ago, he could possibly have imagined that we’d be spending one of our anniversaries in Russia. Truth be told, if he’d said to me on our wedding day, “In 34 years, I want us to take a mission trip to Russia,” I would have said “see you later, dude! I’ll look for a more sensible man.” It still amazes me how God can move a person’s heart!

This morning we went to church. We were told to expect that the service would last longer than an hour. I have to admit that I was not excited at the prospect of sitting in church, for longer than usual, listening to a service in a language I couldn’t understand. But, the truth is that church was awesome! John and I were both moved to tears more than once. I’m trying to find the words to describe what it felt like to stand there, with people from another country worshipping the same God. Somehow it seemed like a glimpse of people from all nations one day standing and worshipping together before the throne of God. I was shocked to look at the clock at the end of the service and find that over two hours had passed! It probably helped, too, that the interpreter translated the whole sermon for us.

When church was over the women of the church invited us into a room for tea. There really wasn’t time in our schedule but it would have been rude to refuse, so we had tea, AND cookies, AND candy, AND all the makings for sandwiches! Russians know how to do tea!! And from there we went to lunch! The team had been promised pizza and after a week of Russian food, no one wanted to miss that!

We had a little bit of time after lunch to do some souvenir shopping. We found a plain silver ring that has a cross on it and says “save me and protect me” in Russian. I don’t normally wear my wedding ring on mission trips primarily because I don’t want to lose it, but also because when working with impoverished people, you don’t always want to flaunt a diamond in front of them. So, for $11 John bought me the ring for our anniversary. That’s why I love him. He’s so extravagant! Truthfully, it’s perfect for what I need it for and so far, my finger hasn’t turned green. I even made John put the ring on my finger like it was our wedding day. It was oh so romantic right there in the mall with people all around us.

Dinner was at a cafĂ© along the river where, apparently, a lot of families take walks in the evening. I saw more strollers in the short time it took us to have dinner than I’ve seen the entire time we’ve been here. On our way to dinner we walked over a bridge called the “love lock bridge.” When a couple gets married they have a padlock engraved with their names and wedding date on it. They go to the bridge and lock it onto one of the rungs. Then, they throw the key into the river so they are “locked together forever.” How adorable is that?

John and I wished that we had brought a lock with us for our anniversary. I think though, that after 34 years, it’s safe to say that our love is pretty well locked together for this adventure called life, with our without the padlock.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Last Day with the Kids – August 8

Just a few days left of my Russia trip blogs. Thanks for reading.

This was my fourth mission trip and has, undoubtedly been the hardest one I’ve ever been on. Being sick, of course, took its toll. My diet of the past three days has consisted of bananas, rice and chicken broth – oh, and Coke, but that has to remain a secret from the cooks. They think that Coke is bad for an upset stomach, but both my mother and I would disagree. In addition to being sick, I’ve done more physical labor than on other trips (though some of my team members might beg to differ); and when I could eat, the food was most challenging (although tonight at supper I was finally able to eat and it was amazing!) But, all of that said, this trip has also been the one with the greatest rewards.

Today, we went to the Baltic Sea. It was a very long ride, on an incredibly hot bus. We thought it was funny that they passed out motion sickness pills AND plastic bags to all of the kids before we left the orphanage. And, when a couple of the kids did start to feel sick I suggested that perhaps opening the vent a bit more to get air to the kids would help. The teacher told me it would be too cold for them. Apparently, Russians like it HOT!

We made a couple of stops along the way at the “Dancing Forest” (which was beautiful) and a place called the “Sand Tower.” I choose not to make the long walk, with lots of steps to the sand tower so John and I stayed back at a little shopping area while the rest made their way to see the view. At the shopping area we met a woman who was selling hand painted pictures of the sea for 300 rubels, which is essentially $10. It was amazing to me how much we were able to communicate with our limited amount of each other’s language. We ended up buying a couple of her paintings and then took a picture of her. There was a mentally handicapped man at the next booth and he so enjoyed watching us take her picture that I asked him if I could take his picture. He was thrilled! It just warmed my heart to see him so excited when I showed him the picture. Ah, the joy of digital.

Anyway, after what I think was nearly four hours, we finally arrived at the sea. Most of the little ones have no swimsuits so they just stripped down to their underwear and went straight into the water. And still, they were more decent than many of the tourists on the beach! To see the smiles on the kid’s faces, and hear their laughter as they swam and splashed, just made my day. As I stood by the water and saw the footprints left by the kids as they ran along the shoreline, I thought to myself, “I wish I could capture this because these kids are leaving such a huge footprint on my heart.”

The ride back was faster, thankfully, and the kids were exhausted from the fun in the sun so most of the kids, and many of the adults, were fast asleep. My heart melted as I saw one little boy’s head fall onto our team member, Nate’s, shoulder.

As I expected, our good-byes tonight after dinner were filled with tears – on everyone’s part. The kids were crying, the team was crying, and even the orphanage worker’s were crying. Right before we left tonight I played Uno with a few of the kids. One of them, Sasha, is an adorable little boy, about 11 or 12. (He’s the same one who fell asleep with Nate on the bus.) I think he hugged me no less than six times and even climbed into the van to give Nate and I one last hug. Let’s just say there was some serious sobbing going on in the back of the van.

The hardest goodbye for me though, was with Tolvic. He’s the little guy who arrived at the orphanage on our first day here. He’s the one whose mother just died and father is in prison. Though he did not want to cry in front of us, he had tears welling in his eyes as he hugged us good-bye, and then he went inside to be alone. I know that many people would expect me to want to bring home a little girl, since God has already blessed me with three boys, but the truth is, if I could pick one child to bring home Tolvic would win. I hope our time with him eased his entrance into the orphanage system. (Tolvic's picture borrowed from Nate.)

Even though my heart is breaking tonight, I wouldn’t have it any other way. To be able to be used by God, and to see him work in these kid’s and orphanage worker’s lives is amazing. I am humbled to be used in such a way.