Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tea Time with Annabeth

What is tea time if not a moment to be prim and proper...

To enjoy the finer things in life...

And to revel in our femininity and sophistication?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cue Avril Lavigne - It's Complicated

When you spend the early part of the summer weaning yourself from work and a very strong attachment to the computer so that you can be a better wife and mama, it's complicated coming home from a blogger trip and starting that process all over. The first week after I got home from Guatemala, I could do nothing but sit on my couch and be funky. I had a hard time finding motivation to do the things I needed to do in my home when I'd just spent a week doing things that could result in a measurable difference. I know I'm making a difference in my role as a wife and a mom, but when everything you do has to be done over and over again each day, it's hard to see that. It's very easy for me to gravitate toward things that can be measured now.

At one point I thought I'd made a mistake taking a leave of absence from work. Going back to work in the office full time - which I have not done in six years - was looking pretty good. That wasn't really what I wanted, but my feelings were all mixed up. After spending the entire day on the couch, I finally got up and made the first non-restaurant dinner of the week. Almost immediately, I felt 100 times better and was on my way to getting my groove back. This is the mystery of the crucified life. We naturally think our freedom comes from not spending ourselves on others, when actually our sense of purpose, joy and well being are so tied to it. God, you are faithful.

It's complicated when I think I did a better job promoting Mexican food restaurants in Houston than Compassion. It's complicated when I want to keep talking about the children I met, the poverty I saw, and the hope that Christ is offering through Compassion, but I don't want to wear anybody out. It's complicated when I know I'm the first one to tune out when other bloggers talk about the same thing all the time. It's complicated when I know how often I see something difficult on another blog and say, "I just can't deal with that right now." God, You are faithful.

On another note, it's complicated when you spend four years teaching your kid to behave a certain way and then put him on a soccer field and tell him the rules have changed! God, You are faithful.

The kids before school yesterday. Annabeth has learned to pose with her arm around Jackson. So funny.

We finally got a cool front. Thank God! We've been enjoying some meals and snacks on the back porch.

Complicated life. Faithful God. Thank you, Gregg Matte, for teaching me that.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

When You Have Nothing Else to Say

Talk About Food!

Amanda's List of Houston Mexican Food Favorites

Pappasito's - Truly, this is a no-brainer. Curtis and I had our rehearsal dinner here, so it goes without saying that it's one of our favorites. For dessert, I always dip a plain flour tortilla in the melted garlic butter. Who needs sugar?

Los Tios - Praise the Lord and pass the pecan praline! (That's the little treat they give you with your check.) We ate here so often growing up that one of the waiters recently recognized my mom (and me!) after years of absence. I'm so glad we put this place back on the rotation. The nachos are not to be missed. My personal favorite is the Tex-Mex dinner, which has a taco al carbon with queso on it, a crunchy taco, and a cheese enchilada. In other words, it's the hog's platter.

Berryhill Baja Grill - Oh, fish tacos, it took me a long time to partake of you. Fish in a taco just seemed so wrong. But we both know that when I fell, I fell hard. Now I have graduated from fried unto grilled and it's such a thing of beauty. Thank you, Berryhill, for having live music on weekends.

Alicia's Mexican Grille - Evidence of the glory and goodness of God exists in their flavorful beef fajitas. I'm normally a chicken eater but the beef is not to be missed. The salsa is served warm and the tortillas are excellent.

Lupe Tortilla - Most people love Lupe for the fajitas, but the best kept secret is the chicken soft tacos. They're ridiculous. They're like giant, cheesy chicken enchiladas in flour tortillas with a bit of sauce on top. Please, just get them now.

La Hacienda - Since my WW days, I've been enjoying their chicken fajitas with corn tortillas. Did I really just say that? Yes. Oh my word, I'm growing up. Chalupas Sabrosas (ask for extra cheese) are my old favorite. The cinnamon and sugar tortilla chip on the way out the door is a nice little treat.

Chuy's - Ditto on the chicken fajitas with corn tortillas. Pre WW, I enjoyed the chicken quesadillas, which are made like soft tacos. See how confusing Mexican food can be? Aren't you glad I'm giving you this advice? Whatever you do, do not miss the creamy jalapeno sauce! Ask for it with your chips or you will hate yourself.

Churrasco's and America's - These two have the same owner and basically the same menu, which is South American. My favorite dish is the Pollo Encamisado, which is a chicken breast coated with plantain crumbs and fried. It's served over a layer of black beans. Oh my word, it's good. Instead of tortilla chips you get fried plantains with chimichurri sauce. Also? We had the empanadas as an appetizer recently and I dreamed of them for days. Days, I tell you! The shrimp empanada was the best thing I've eaten in 2010. No lie. May we also revisit the fact that I've not had French fries in nine and a half months? A moment of silence, please. If you love me, order the tres leches cake for dessert.

Mi Cocina - This is a special shout out to my favorite Mexican restaurant in the Dallas area. Ernie's chicken, I miss you with my whole heart. Will someone please go there and think of me while you eat it? You should be warned that there are no free refills. My husband would want you to know. But, sweet, sweet Ernie's chicken...

Now, every Texan knows that you pay a price to eat Mexican food. This is especially true if you or anyone in your party orders fajitas and you are downwind of them. Your clothes and your hair will smell like grilled onions and meat, possibly for the rest of the day. Do you know what I say to that? Vale la pena! It's worth the pain, people. Just order a Shirley Temple (Sprite with cherry juice) and keep the chips and salsa coming.

*PS - I think these restaurants would do well to print out this blog post, highlight their respective parts, and frame them on the wall.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Snapshots From a Camera-less Blogger

One of the best things about the Guatemala bloggers trip was the very talented and hilarious Compassion photographer, Keely Scott. She is a-m-a-z-i-n-g. Not only did she provide professional quality photographs for our blog posts, but she also allowed everyone to put down their cameras and be fully present wherever we were. That was such a gift. I have a great camera but (A) I'm not very good at photography and (B) The thing weighs a ton and (C) I didn't want to worry about losing it.

Keely did a fabulous job capturing the moments with her camera. The day we spent in the dump, she had to hide the thing behind a large bag and I'm pretty sure most of the shots were taken from her hip. She had to beg and plead with our armed guards to even be able to do that. You can find Keely's blog here if you want to keep up with her adventures around the world.

I took a few mental snapshots since my camera didn't make the cut on my packing list.

The Storm

Lisa-Jo and I had eyed the empty row of the airplane's bulkhead and scurried over to it as soon as we knew everyone on the plane had claimed their seats. I felt a tiny ping of guilt about it but remembered that my total hours of travel delay had now reached something like five or six. Guilt be gone! Lisa-Jo is one of the most interesting (and warm and loving) people I've ever met and talking to her made the flight go by quickly.

As we approached Guatemala City, we started seeing flashes of light out the window. We peered out and saw a storm system that was nothing short of massive and terrifying. The cloud mass was enormous. Every other second it was illuminated by lightning. We were above it and to the side, otherwise I would have been curled up in the fetal position and sucking my thumb. We seemed to be a safe distance away, so I just enjoyed the awesome display of God's glory. Above the storm clouds was the wide open night sky, stars twinkling peacefully. The storm system was honestly one of the most powerful and awe-inspiring things I've ever seen. I can't wrap my mind around how mighty our God is if something He created can make me tremble so.

Then I noticed a much smaller storm mass down to my right. The lightning within it was just as frequent as the bigger storm, only the light was red. It was so bizarre. The red storm would have been intimidating if the huge white storm was not also there filling our gaze.

Into the mental file it went. I felt that God wanted to show me that even though the kingdom of darkness is scary and powerful, the kingdom of God is incomparably greater. Every time I was tempted to feel hopeless about the evil and brokenness I saw in Guatemala, I went back to the visual reminder of the storms.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18)

The Song

After the day we spent down in the dump, our team headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up, rest a bit, eat dinner, have a debriefing meeting, and blog our little hearts out. Patricia and I had found our groove in writing as much as we could before dinner so that we wouldn't have that panicky feeling afterward. The night before, I had written about Joy. It was a very fun and pleasant post to write. The post from the dump was the exact opposite. I was getting toward the end of it and was feeling very heavy and exasperated.

Then we heard music. Someone was playing the guitar. And singing! Shaun Groves' room was right across the hall and there was no question that it was him. The presence of his guitar had been a tease all week long. He didn't bring it to play for us, but to have in case the songwriting bug bit him. We were finally hearing him play. In fact, we flung open our door so we could hear him better. The blessing came right on time. It had been a difficult and emotional day. I wish I could truly describe what this moment meant to me. My best attempt is to say it was like aloe-vera on a terrible sunburn.

Here's a video of the song, which, oddly enough, Dustin and Shaun shot in the hotel bathroom! If you expand the description you'll see the lyrics. Shaun also wrote a post about it here. Be blessed.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Soccer and Re-Entry

Jackson's first day of soccer was this week. I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. I never played soccer and I never played any sport until I was older, so it feels a little weird. I'm sure in a few weeks I'll get the hang of being a soccer mom (yikes) and it will be fun. One thing I am very, very sure of is that parenting on the sidelines is going to be a refining experience.

He was do darn cute. But he would not want you to tell him that.

This is my daughter plotting her badness.

This morning I accidentally called his uniform a soccer outfit. Oops.

Annabeth begging for attention.

Forget this! Me and my stroller are out.

Jackson is in the entry level of this soccer league and it only requires one hour a week. They get instruction for the first 30 minutes and then scrimmage for the next 30 minutes. He was thoroughly worn out after practice, which is a hard thing to accomplish with this boy!

Today Annabeth is wearing the dress I bought her at the airport in Guatemala. She was sitting in the toy basket when I took this.

Speaking of Guatemala, I want offer a very heartfelt thank you for your support during our trip. You efforts to pray, encourage, comment, tweet, link, write to your sponsor kids, and sponsor new ones were amazing. It means the world to me and to all of us who were there. I'm confident that your efforts will bear fruit in the lives of many children. May God be glorified!

The night before we came home, Shaun and Patricia gave us some advice for re-entry. Every single thing they said about what it would be like to come home was right. I cried pretty much all day Monday. I was here but my thoughts were elsewhere. My heart hurt so badly. There's also something complicated about having a life-altering experience with people who are not in your everyday life and do not live anywhere close to you. I was feeling very alone. Then my sister called me and we talked for nearly an hour about our trips. That helped a ton. I know that re-acclimating to regular life will take a bit of time, but I don't want my regular life back.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Whole New World

Written on Saturday, September 11, 2010

Yesterday was one of the best days of my life. Spending the day with my new Compassion child, Stefanie, was amazing. I did see some hard things during the day, but I gave myself permission to feel the joy fully because I knew what was coming next on the agenda.

This morning I woke up with a bit of a weak stomach. I knew we were visiting the city dump and the people who lived and worked there. I wanted to see it - well, sort of - but I was very nervous. I had a mental image of myself wandering through the homes in sackcloth and ashes and wailing at the top of my lungs. I wasn’t sure what that was going to do for anyone. I was also a little concerned about losing my breakfast in front of the team. That was a real possibility. My mom and sister have both been down that road before and I didn’t want to complete the humiliation triangle.

Our team got on the bus and immediately started chatting away. Somehow we got on the subject of weird foods and I was repulsed to the point of nausea by something about sheep brains on toast. I could have gone my whole life without hearing that, I thought. Moments later I was asking Shaun Groves to sing along to A Whole New World, which was playing on the radio. (Remember Aladdin and Princess Jasmine?) Shaun still hasn’t blessed us with his vocal talents and we’ve been giving him a hard time.

It wasn’t long before we arrived at the settlement on the dump. Why would anyone want to live on a garbage pile? That was the question on my mind and you’re probably wondering, too. The people who live there don’t pay any kind of rent or taxes on the land. They only pay for power and water. It is very cheap, but they pay a high price in countless ways. The families who live there arrived in desperate situations. Eight years later, they are still living in dwellings made of tin, cardboard, and blankets.

We had a very tough visit with one family and then began walking to another home. On the way, I saw a light-headed girl Annabeth’s age in the alley that we were walking through. She was very dirty and was playing with a filthy plastic doll. She never turned her face to me, so of course I pictured my daughter’s. I could have gone my whole life without seeing that, I thought. Ironically, within those few minutes we heard A Whole New World playing on a radio again.

We went deeper into the dump to see where people sort through garbage to find things that can be sold. The trash went on for two kilometers. I looked up and saw one of the most horrendous things I’ve ever seen. Circling above us in the sky was a whirlwind of vultures. Hundreds of vultures. I could have gone my whole life without seeing that, I thought.

We ended up driving to a cemetery where we could look out over the dump and get a better view of the settlements where 20,000 families dwell. The cemetery itself was fascinating. All of the graves were above ground, so it was just tomb after tomb after tomb. I’d never seen anything like it in person. It was ironic that the dead were housed better than the living people we’d just met.

A short walk took us to a cliff that overlooked a sea of filth. Below us, trucks were driving in and out and men were unloading trash at a frenzied pace.

The tombs were all around us and vultures were resting in groups on top of them. Hundreds more were circling above our heads. I was so thoroughly freaked out that I hid under the overhang of a sarcophagus. I could have gone my whole life without seeing this, I thought. I feel like I’m in hell. Thankfully, because of Jesus, that was the closest I will ever get to it.

I was desperate to get back in the van. I couldn’t take any more. The smell, the horror flick reality, the freaky birds, the desperation, the children living in the dredges of a sinful world. Stick a fork in me, I was done. When we finally returned to the van, I pressed my forehead on the back of Ann Voskamp’s seat and cried.

What if I had gone my whole life without seeing that? What if I anesthetized myself so much with wealth that I was convinced this wasn’t so? It needs to be known.

My original title for this post was “To Hell and Back,” but I didn’t think anyone would stick around to read it. If you’re still here, please stay with me because I want to take you to the “and Back” part.

It was time to visit the Compassion Child Development Center that serves the children who live on the dump. We were put to joyous work right away, serving lunch to the children and workers. The children eagerly approached the serving area where Lindsey and Lisa-Jo filled their bowls with rice and soup and Ann ladled lemonade into their cups. I was in charge of handing out tortillas. Dos o tres tortillas? I asked. The tortillas were very warm and so was the atmosphere. My sadness and hopelessness began to fade as the joy of doing something to help took its place.

Our leader, Patricia, brought bags of shoes to be given to the children in this community. I had brought a few of Annabeth’s shoes from home and stuffed them in the bag with the others.

At one point I heard someone calling my name and motioning for me to come. It was a mother holding her baby girl who was wearing Annabeth’s black mary janes. Oh, thrill of my heart! She was absolutely precious and medicine to a homesick mama’s heart.

We were invited to visit each of the classrooms and interact with the students. There were boys and girls ages 3 to 16 spread throughout the building. As we walked through the halls, it was like a breath of fresh air. The church was clean and spacious. The children had room to play in safety, under the watchful eye of loving adults.

We entered the room with the teenagers. Most of them were boys. I was thankful to see that because boys in these neighborhoods are very likely to join gangs. The child development program is a HUGE deterrent for them. We had met a handful of strong, godly fathers during this trip and seen a big difference in the disposition of their children. I have hope that these boys will grow up to lead their families in strength and godliness.

Before we left, we had the pleasure of hearing the pastor’s testimony. He said he had lost seven years of his life to drugs. When he was 21 years old, he came to faith in Christ. He sought out a church and during the altar call, he laid on the floor and surrendered his life to God. When stood to his feet, the need and desire for drugs had been completely taken away. Now he only needed and desired God. He has been a pastor for ten years. His wife is a doctor. Can you imagine what a great team they are? The pastor has a heart for the people of this community because he knows what it’s like to live in desperation. He knows what it’s like to live in redemption.

God is at work in the desperate situations. Honestly, when we were in the dump today I couldn’t see Him. I was blinded by buzzards as Satan hissed in my ears that God is not powerful enough to deliver these people. That He must not really love them. But when we walked in the doors of the church the lies were dispelled. We saw the salvation of our God.

Did you know that on average, 500 Compassion children around the world give their lives to Christ every single day? Isn’t that mind-boggling? You can be a part of giving spiritual, physical, and emotional hope to a child living in a desperate situation. Please consider supporting a child through Compassion International. If you'd like to change the life of a child from Guatemala, click here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

On the Eve of Going Home

It's our last night here in Guatemala. I've already written a post about our day but we're all saving our final posts for Monday. 'Cause no one really reads blogs on weekends, right? Except for you. Well, I do too and I always wish people would post more on the weekends. Particularly on Saturday nights when I'm usually at home bored and Curtis is studying for his Sunday school lesson.

On this night I'm sitting in a conference room with all the Compassion blogger peeps. It was a pretty tough least for me. We debriefed tonight at dinner and had a sweet time putting blog thoughts aside and talking about how we have been personally impacted this week. All the men except for Daniel had left the room, and some of us decided to perform our various talents for each other. We have one person who can sing with her mouth closed, another who can do ninja moves, one can do a debutante bow, and yours truly who demonstrated a river dance. It was all awesomeness.

A group of sweet ladies from Shoes For Orphan Souls arrived at our hotel tonight. They're in the conference room next to us. They seem like a really neat group and I've had to hold myself back from going in to bother them. I would like to invite them to our talent show but I think they have work to do! Ladies, I hope you have a great week!

Here's my favorite picture from today.

Compassion Guatemala Bloggers 2010

Ann, Lindsey, me, and Lisa-Jo

Friday, September 10, 2010


Joy is stuffing toys, clothes and school supplies in a backpack for a four-year-old girl. Joy is filling a gift bag with household items, toiletries, a Spanish Bible, an Esther book, and a Texas A&M ball cap for her parents. Joy is going to visit my new Compassion sponsor child today.

Joy is being so nervous to meet little Stefanie, but being greeted with big hugs and smiles at the door.

Joy is finding a baby doll at Target that speaks Spanish.

Joy is seeing a little girl so eager to share her new things with her baby sister. Joy is being told that Stefanie is a girly girl who dreams of growing up and wearing beautiful dresses. Joy is telling her that I love beautiful dresses too, and one day we can twirl in them together for Jesus.

Joy is Stefanie's mother asking me to pray for her as she prepares to enter school next year. Joy is telling her that I've been praying the same thing for my son.

Joy is a having
abuelitas who care so much.

Joy is meeting Stefanie's big brother who is dressed up like a cowboy. Joy is telling him that I live in a place known for cowboys and teaching him to say "Howdy, partner!" Joy is showing the kids a picture of an armadillo.

Joy is Stefanie's mother telling me that in our family photo, my son looks just like my husband. Joy is spending the whole day with a little girl who will grow dearer and dearer to me through the years. Joy is seeing that she's a daddy's girl.

Joy is now having family in Guatemala.

Joy is eating Dum-Dums together in the bus. Joy is being given a Guatemalan headband and wearing it right away. Joy is Stefanie's father saying that we are two peas in a pod. Joy is him saying that I look happy.

Joy is Spanish coming back to me after a long time. Joy is feeling like I would take 7 more years of Spanish classes just to get another day like this.

Joy is visiting the student center where Stefanie and her brothers are nurtured by godly men and women.

Joy is drawing pictures of rainbows.

Joy is playing with balloons. Joy is missing my Jackson but having tons of little boys to play with.

Joy is meeting several college students in the
Leadership Development Program who have had the same sponsors since the age of six.

Joy fills my prayers for God to give Stefanie the grace to do well in school and enter the LDP program one day. The ultimate joy would be to continue sponsoring her and attend her college graduation.

Joy is the promise of writing letters. Joy is having to say goodbye to Stefanie, but knowing she will continue to be taken care of in Jesus' name.