Thursday, March 22, 2007

God is always working

It's been a couple of weeks of busy, but there have also been a lot of inspiring stories come my way. (FYI...after this post I'm going to go back to reading Grammar for Dummies...not kidding.)

This story hits my heart for several reasons. It's long, but if you ever doubt that God has a plan, even when things seem seriously screwed up, you might change your mind after reading this. My thanks to the author, my nephew Michael, who gave me permission to reprint this in full.

I sent you a letter about a month ago asking for prayers and financial support for the 2007 Juarez mission trip through Faith Lutheran Church. I figured it would be good to drop a letter to thank you for all your support and tell you a little bit about how the trip went.

We left for El Paso on Saturday and had a layover in Chicago. We were on the plane for about an hour when we were told that due to the ice storm we were not going to be able to take off. We ended up having to spend Saturday night sleeping on the airport floor. A news crew came by and intereviewed a few people from our group and the interviews were played on CNN as well as some local news channels. We were looking for a flight to El Paso, but couldn't get on one out until Monday afternoon. We got on the plane Monday afternoon and sat for about 20 minutes when the pilot announced that he had too many hours without any rest, and they had no other crew. We had to get off that plane and find another way to get the 50 people from our group into El Paso. We ended up dividing into three small groups and finally all got to Juarez by Tuesday around 5:00pm. We were planning on getting there on Saturday night, so our time in Juarez got cut in half.

While we were stuck in the airport for three days some people began to become disappointed that we couldn't be working in Juarez yet, but God was still working in Juarez without us. Seven guys went down to Juarez three or four days early so they could have our sites ready to work on as soon as the rest of the group got there. They, along with the help of four or five Mexican men, were able to help get the foundations laid, and keep the construction on schedule. It was disappointing that we couldn't be there the time we planned, but it was a blessing that the men in the community came together to help us get things done. Lisa, Melissa, and Stormy (the women who run the church) were thrilled to have the Mexican men help out. They have been trying for eight years to get the men involved in the church in some way. Men are a big part of the community in Juarez and the boys look up to the men. Since the men aren't involved in the church the boys lose interest when they get older. The men helping lay foundations gave them a way to help the church and community while still being in their comfort zone. Lisa hopes that the men will continue to help out at the church throughout the year and be there next year to help us lay concerete and maybe let us build more houses.

Even though we were only there half of the time, we were still able to have a successful Vacation Bible School program. On our first full day in Juarez we had over 85 people at our first VBS session. Everything went smoothly throughout the week. We did two sessions of VBS each day and provided lunch for the kids in between. Each session of VBS included songs, a drama, a memory verse, a craft, a hygiene lesson, and English as Second Language (ESL) lesson. We tried to keep a theme for each day, it was difficult because of our time constraint, but our themes were "Jesus Gives us Friends", "Jesus is our Friend", and "Jesus Created the World Because He Loves Us". We aim the VBS program at the kindergarten or first grade level. We get kids anywhere from one year old to 15 years old. The hygiene lessons are simply things that we wouldn't dream of having to teach kids in America. We teach things like blowing your nose, brushing your teeth and washing your hands and hair. Everyday we give out things that correspond with the lesson. We gave out Kleenex, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and shampoo and soap. During the ESL lesson we try to teach the kids something positive while teaching them a few English words and phrases. This year all of the ESL lessons had to do with healthy eating.

VBS is the part of the trip that I do (and therefore think is most important), but the main reason we sent 50 people down to Juarez was to build houses. Our group built four houses. The houses are simple; they have three rooms, electrical hookups, but no plumbing. People are so excited to get houses from us. We do a dedication ceremony for each house where the whole team prays over the house ad we give the keys and a Bible to the family getting a house. This is the most moving part of the trip. The families are so happy to get these houses that by American standards would be practically nothing. One of the families who got a house used to live in a tiny camper that would fit in the bed of a normal truck. This wouldn't be that big of a deal except for the fact that this family had eight kids. The family is now finally able to have a decent place to live. The people are so appreciative and feel so blessed to be able to get homes from our group.

This trip included a lot more struggles than last year's trip had. But for every setback we had, particularly the three days in O'Hare Airport, something good came out of it. This trip made me understand the ability of God to turn adversity into blessings, and it gave me a better understanding of how much we need to rely on Him in all situations. Last year I came back from Juarez telling everybody what "we" did in Mexico, but this year "we" did nothing. God built four houses and provided for a VBS program and we were just the tools He used to do it. It took me three days in an airport and a nasty fever our last night in Juarez to finally understand this. The gifts of houses for the people in Juarez did not come from Faith Lutheran Church or any individual. The houses were a gift of love from God, and I feel privleged to be a part of this awesome experience.

I want to thank all of you again for making this trip possible through all your prayers and financial support. Without your support, this trip would not have gone nearly as well as it did. Thank you so much. In Christ's love, Mikey.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

God and butterflies

I've been busy this week making some of my famous painted cookies for the church bake sale. I was painting this batch of butterflies yesterday:

I had done all the section outlines in black the day before and was painting the insides from a variety of colors I had prepared (royal icing, tinted and thinned out). As I was contemplating the color of each section, it occurred to me that God, while designing all the living things on the earth, had to decide on their color and patterns. He must have had a great time with butterflies! Stripe or dot here? Is this too red? How about a splash of gold? What fun it is to imagine God walking around the earth with His palette of infinite colors!

When I hear a person say they are "not creative"...I always disagree. We were all made in the image of God, and look how creative He is! And whenever we practice our creativity, we're using one of the many special gifts He gave each of us. Don't deny you have the gift of creativity because you're scared somebody won't like what you create - be it art, music, food, words, or anything else that can be created. Explore it and enjoy it, no matter what other people say.

How are you using your creative gifts?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Sweet-n-sassy 16!

Happy (belated) birthday to my niece and goddaughter Amanda, who turned 16 yesterday! I wish you were having a party. Instead, let's go bowling! OK!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Treasure each moment

Hopefully you young people out there don't spend a lot of time thinking about death. I sure wasn't about the time this picture was taken:

That is the late great Uncle Dan at a Christmas party in 1978 in his basement...the same basement I would live in for the first year of our marriage (not til 1994). But that's not me he's got his arm around. That's our friend Janet, who passed away this week. She was also our sister-in-law...her sister married his brother.

We all had a lot of fun together in those days. I would try to explain Daniel's headdress, but you really, really had to be there! I'm so glad we took a lot of pictures in those days too, and took care of them enough that I was able to get them into an album just in the last 10 years or so.

None of us knows if this will be our last day here. It is so very important to treasure each moment, make amends for the wrongs we have done, give forgiveness whenever it is requested (and even when it isn't), and tell those we love that we do. That's what life is all about...relationships.

Rest in peace, Janet. You are greatly loved.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Hollywood just doesn't get it

In a post about some ridiculous movies currently in production, the Real Live Preacher gives us some good advice:

Listen, I'm just a guy with a bad haircut from a small church you've never heard of, but I hope you'll listen to me for a moment because I have something important to say. When it comes to God, religion, spirituality, whatever you want to call it, ignore just about everything you see on television or in movies. If you are serious about making a spiritual connection with a power greater than ourselves, try the following suggestions:
  • Let go of big things and embrace little things.
  • Ignore loud things and listen for quiet things.
  • Put aside obvious things and seek out hidden things.
  • Forget easy things and learn hard and ancient things.
  • Stop saving your life and start losing it.
  • Let your thinking and believing become doing and serving.
  • Quit trying to arrive and become at home on the journey.
  • Lose your road maps and find a wise guide to walk with you.

Love the idea of God with all your heart, soul, mind, body, life, work, and strength. And while you're at it, try loving other people as much as you love yourself. You won't be able to do either of these, but trying will be very good for you.

Do these things all of your days and forever. Do these things and live.