Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Dresses, yoga, elves and the bible?

So today is December first. 

And I think I'm crazy. 

I have committed to participating in 4 different things EACH DAY during the month of December. 


December is a month that already fights for your time with Christmas festivities, parties, and family time. But I want to make sure I am taking time to improve myself too. 

I hope that I can eventually get to the point where I do the following four things every day: 

1) do something to improve myself spiritually. 
2) do something to improve myself physically. 
3)do something to help someone else. 
4) do something to foster joy in my life. 

Since making a change like this can be difficult, I think the 4 challenges I am doing this month will help me to get more comfortable with these 4 things. And the accountability of having to post each day on social media is a perfect built in accountability partner. 

So here are the 4 challenges I am doing: 

1) do something to improve myself spiritually.  Each day I have a bible verse that I need to write down in my journal. At the very least I am exposed to God's word each day, which in and of itself has great power. But, more than that, once I have my bible open and my journal and my pen out, I usually have wonderful conversations with God. I am hoping that challenging myself to do this everyday will bring about spiritual fruit in my life. 
2) do something to improve myself physically. #Beginneryoga2015 challenge. On Instagram  there is a  monthly challenge, where you have to post a picture of yourself doing a different yoga pose each day.  I have to say, the positive peer pressure caused by posting a picture on Instagram is tremendously motivating for me. I think part of it is my age, and growing up in an age where a woman is defined by how many followers she has and how many likes on her photos has something to do with it. But I hope, in this case, the social media pressure will bring about good things- like forcing me to get on my mat each day. I just have to watch myself on this one. I don't want to give the devil a foothold, and a place to bring down my self esteem. I need to not compare myself to others- but constantly strive to better myself. 

3)do something to help someone else.  I have committed to participate in #dressember2015. This is a campaign where you commit to wearing a dress every day in December to raise awareness for modern day slavery and human trafficking. I figure, I hate dresses, but being uncomfortable for a month, because of what I am wearing, is nothing compared to what millions of people go through everyday, enslaved, and forced to work against their will. If wearing a dress can bring awareness and funds to this huge issue on our planet today- then, by golly, why not!?

4) do something to foster joy in my life. Besides God, the greatest source of joy in my life is my husband. And we do many things for each other, but one of them is a Christmas tradition of the elf on the shelf. We know this is  usually done for children, and we have none- but we like to do it for each other. It is an encouragement that we show each other we are thinking of each other, and love each other, by moving a stupid elf around the house, and surprising each other each day. I know it must sound weird, but knowing I have a teammate in life, a partner that aims to encourage and delight me, that gives me joy. Plus, the laughter caused by what #Hermiethelf2015 does I'm sure will bring joy too. :-) 

So there you have it. Go ahead and say it, I'm crazy. 

But I'm ok with that. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Mission Lower Ninth: Thanksgiving 2015

Wow. Today was not a "normal" Thanksgiving by any means. One crew of people woke early to head to Miss Kim's home to start work right away. The rest of us got to sleep in a little bit before breakfast. Then we all met up at Church at Next Generation of the Original Morning Star Full Gospel Church in Nee Orleans. Pastor Tyrone Smith delivers a message about "its all GOOD in the hood". We praised Jesus for all the work he has done in our lives and thanked him for what he has given us- most importantly, our salvation. Someithing that can never be taken from us. 

After church we headed right back to the worksite to continue working! 

We had a crew working on trimming doors and windows, the toilets got installed, and we did a ton of sanding! 

We also had a crew go through the entire house and texturizing all the ceilings! They got a little messy but we're working extremely hard! 

We also had multiple crews working in flooring. We completed the flooring in the back bedroom, the kitchen and the master bedroom. 

The moms and daughters worked on building and painting a bed for Miss Kim out of pallets! 

At the end of a long, hard work day we returned to the mission house to have our thanksgiving meal. We had 43 people at the Mission house! We cooked two turkeys and talked about the blessing this trip has been on all of us! We are so thankful for the family we have become this week! It makes being away from our families a little easier. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Mission Lower Ninth: Let the Adventure Begin

As I sit in seat 21D, I stare out the porthole window at the snow-covered grass, which is lit by blue runway lights. My heart flutters as the engines rev and we lurch forward. I feel my stomach sink as the wheels stop rumbling and we leave the ground. The goldenrod confetti lights of the Grand Rapids grid lines fade from view as puffs of clouds surround the small EMB-145. The wing cuts through the clouds like a silver spoon slicing through a new tub of cool whip. 

Suddenly the clouds break and I can see for miles. My eyes begin to water as I soak up God's beautiful faithfulness. The dark navy sky slowly fades into the orange horizon. A dark peach-red forms where the sky meets the puffy cream floor of the clouds. I take in a deep breath as a tear rolls down my cheek. This must be what it feels like, to have your dreams and God's calling for your life be so aligned you can no longer tell the difference between the two. They fade from navy to orange to red so smoothly that they become one. No longer separable. My heart is flying above the clouds both physically and emotionally. 

The tears continue to fall as I think back to how I got to this point. I was so scared when God first told me that we were going to rebuild Miss Kim's home. I did not think that we were the right people for the job. Now I understand that I was right. We weren't the right people for the job, but God was the right leader. All we had to do was follow him. And we did- and He has brought us here, to this beautiful moment in time. I am flying down to New Orleans to join a team of over 50 others to rebuild Miss Kim's home in under two and a half weeks. We are using money from the over $28,000 that was donated to the Mission: Lower Ninth campaign. GOD IS FAITHFUL. 

I laugh as I wipe the tears from my face. I have experienced joy in my life before- but not like this. Not at a level this deep in my heart. And then it hits me... This is not the last time I am going to feel like this. God tells me there's more, there's more to come! And it's gonna be great! 

I don't know what is going to happen next. I don't know what the next adventure will be. I don't even know how this Mission: Lower Ninth adventure will end. But I do know this: God is faithful, and he will do what he says. If I follow him, there will be joy. 

I start to imagine what could be next. I see a grin in the window as my reflection stares back at me. Where will we soar to next? I pray that I will follow him again.  
Let the adventure begin now. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

NOLA 2015: Thursday!

Today we took the day off from working with lowernine.org, and experienced NOLA at it's finest.  We started the day with biscuits and gravy and then did some work around the Mission House. For lunch we had some delicious Mac n Cheese and then we packed in our vans to head downtown. 

On our way we got stopped at the canal, waiting for the bridge for 20-25 minutes. #NOLAstyle 

After finally crossing the bridge we made our way downtown to the French quarter. 

We had to visit the French Market:

And of course stop by Cafe du Monde:

And try some delicious beignets! 

We stopped by the aquarium too:

And walked down the park by the river:

When we came back to the mission house we had a huge shrimp boil with all the neighbors. 

We hung out with our NOLA neighbors

And we also celebrated 5 birthdays! One on Wednesday, 3 on Thursday and one on Friday. 

It was a great day!! 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

NOLA 2015: **Guest Post** by Sally Stockdale

Temperatures near 100 with humidity you could cut with a knife, giant spidersno plumbing (aka no toilet!), dirt, grime and sweat.  These are a few things the students and leaders in my group have endured the past three days.  And we wouldn’t have it any other way.  


We have been working on the house owned by a wonderful, resilient lady named Miss Kim.  

Miss Kim’s house, which has been in her family for generations, was completely submerged after Katrina.  She has been trying to restore her modest home since 2011 but many obstacles have hindered this process.  She lost $90,000 to an unscrupulous contractor who took her money and either didn’t complete, or did shoddy work that wasn’t up to code.  Copper wiring was stolen from her home. A gang was using her house tosell drugs while she was away in North Carolina trying to earn enough money to finish her home.


Her determination and thankfulness through this process, however, has been inspiring.  She has loved on our kids and vice versa, even promising to serve us up peach cobbler on our last day!   

The work has been physically and emotionally hard.  Some of the jobs our students completed so far include jacking up the house to replace rotten, termite infested wood (check that off my bucket list), Measuring, Cutting and hanging concrete siding, demolishing two floors down to the studs and replacing them with safe, non termite infested flooring.  

And there is so, so much work left to be done!  I guess I was quite oblivious to the continued need for help in the poorest communities of New Orleans, 10 years post Katrina. Miss Kim’s story is similar to hundreds, if not thousands of other people in this area!


Please pray for Miss Kim and the wonderful people of NOLA.   You can also be very proud of the hard working, determined youth of RRC for the difference they are making this week!   

-Sally Stockdale


NOLA 2015: Senses

We saw:

X's still on the fronts of houses from when they were searched after Katrina. 

The hundreds of lots that used to be filled with houses, but now stand empty , over grown by weeds. 

The tears running down Harold Bailey's face when he thanked us for volunteering. 

The brown water rolling towards the drain as the shower washed away the dirt and sawdust from the worksite. 

The bright orange on the throat of the little green lizards. 

We heard:

The scrape of the trowel against the concrete board, as is pulls the mortar across the floor.  

The slap of Levi's back hitting the top of the pool water. 

The pounding of hammers against the Sheetrock as we were doing demo. 

"Rebuilding NOLA has only been possible because of all the volunteers."

The 22 songs on our Popcorn Panda mixtape CD over, and over, and OVER again. 

The harmonies of "it is well" bouncing off the ceilings in the main room during worship time. 

We said:

"Shut up and pass the cheese!" -PJ

"Sallay!!" -Darren

"Witchcraft" -Cole

"Brrr."  Jon

"One plus one equals Jesus"

"Oh! You're a hot little boy!" -Koriel 

We smelled:

The chicken poop from the next door neighbor permiating the humid air. 

Burning plastic electrical chord melted from the rented belt sander. 

Lavender body wash in the boys bathroom. 

Sweaty, dirty teenagers. 

Insence and bath salts in the French Market. 

We tasted:

The warm, powder sugar beignets at Cafe du Monde. 

The pepper speckled through the gravy on my biscuits at breakfast. 

The spice of the sausage in the gumbo we ate at Cliff and Rachel's house. 

Voodoo flavored potato chips. 

The sweet crumbles of Miss Kim's peach cobbler. 

We felt:

The burning on our lips after eating the corn on the cob from the shrimp boil. 

Chunks of tile hitting my skin, and water spraying my face as I used the tile saw.
The bumps on a bearded dragon's dry skin. 

The sting of sweat in our eyes as it dripped down our faces. 

The humidity so thick you could cut it with a knife. 

The wrench on our heart when walking through Miss Kim's home, knowing we need to do something about it. Feeling God's leading to act, to serve, to love. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

NOLA 2015: **Guest Post** from Pastor Jon

I am part of a group of six who have been assigned to work on the house of a retired barber named George. My partners are: Lauren, Natalie, Samantha, Levi, and fellow leader Charlene.
George's house sits on pylons with a crawlspace underneath. It is not presently occupied. But they hope to have occupancy by this August, the 10 year anniversary of hurricane Katrina. Our main project is sanding and finishing George's wooden floors. In one room, a squatter had built a fire which got out of control and which damaged the floor. We are trying to sand it down so that it is finish-able. Things are going slow but steady. We hope to get all of the floors nicely finished.

This is George's family home. When you talk to him, you realize that it just doesn't make any sense to him to live somewhere else. This is home. 

The organization we have been working with, lowernine.org, helps people restore their houses in the lower ninth Ward. 
The person from lowernine who is leading our team is from the Netherlands. His name is Kevin. He describes himself as an agnostic and we have had some enjoyable conversations. Perhaps you could pray for him.


NOLA 2015: Monday

We had our first day of work on Monday. We woke up and had breakfast and devotions, and were out the door by 8am. We drove the 15 minute drive out of Chalmette into the lower ninth ward and met at lowernine.org headquarters. 

There we joined with another team from Texas for an orientation meeting. The staff there explained a little bit about the lower 9th ward and what happened in Katrina. Then they split us up into crews of about 5-8 people. 
Our team was split into three different crews. Each crew was paired with a lowernine leader and went to a different house site. 
This is one of our crews at George's house! They are working on sanding and refinishing wood floors. 

Another one of our crews, in Miss Baryl's home, worked on installing an attic ladder and mudding and sanding drywall. 

We look forward to completing a lot more work in the coming days! 
Keep checking in to see more of what we are doing! 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

NOLA 2015: Sunday

We woke this morning to the smell of blueberry pancakes being cooked in the kitchen. We enjoyed a slower morning of eating breakfast and getting ready for Church. We loading into our vans and drove to Next Generation Church. This mostly African American church is full of people who love The Lord. There were hands lifted high, voices shouting out "Amen", hips swaying, and feet tapping out gospel steps. We loved being a part of glorifying God with this church family. 

After church we brought the group to the lower ninth ward. This is one part of New Orleans where the levees broke after hurricane Katrina, and a large barge plowed down many of homes. The majority of the ninth ward, which once was full of homes, churches, and community buildings, stacked together side by side, is now just open fields. There are some cement slabs or porch steps that leave hints of the lives that used to fill this place. But most, even 10 years later, have become over grown, forgotten, abandoned by those that lost their lives, don't have the means to come back and rebuild, or hurt to much to return.  

After driving way too slow, trying to take it in, we parked our vans next to the Mississippi River. The kids made sandwiches, and we sat on the earthen levee overlooking the river and ate lunch. The river was high, but it was still impossible to imagine the more than 10 feet of water that covered this area almost 10 years ago. 
We could see the downtown skyline in the distance. I couldn't help but think; This city is resilient. It has character that began in it's culturally rich roots, and rose out of the mud and ruble to rebuild. It has had to endure every knock down possible while trying to find the strength to hold on. Moldy FEMA trailers, insurance evaders, vandalism, contractor fraud, Chinese drywall.... And still, the city isn't defined by it's buildings or homes. This city is it's people, and it's people are proud, loving, united. I can't wait for the students to meet this city- to talk with the people here and be welcomed into this community.