NovelSisters

watching, reading, and writing stories

Flash from the Past

I’m not sure why, but I’ve been feeling sentimental recently and I really just want to look at some old photos. So I thought I’d share from my findings. I hope you enjoy this little glimpse into my life and history and if you think it’s a cool idea, feel free to do your own Flash from the Past on your blog or social media. Enjoy!

2008
I’m starting with this year because it’s when I first got my own digital camera, and digital photos are much easier for me to upload. This was the end of my senior year of high school and also my first semester of college.

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My high school Senior Picture… or one of them at least.

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My Senior Formal (Prom for homeschoolers)

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At my graduation party with one of my best friends Lindsey.

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My 18th Birthday with my family.

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Making new friends in college like Victoria.

2009

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A ski trip to New Mexico that I went on with my Dad.

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Having fun with friends Kari and Amanda at a dance in college.

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I helped paint our house that summer.

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I went on a road trip from Nashvilled, TN to Austin, TX with my brothers.

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My Sophomore dorm room and friend Heather.

2010

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At my cousin’s wedding in Indiana.

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Going to the Rodeo with my sister.

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My 20th Birthday.

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I went to Palmetto State Park with some college friends.

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I got into the Alpha Chi Honor Society that fall.

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We decorated our college apartment for Christmas.

2011

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We had a snow day in February!

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I finally saw the Austin bats with Tracey.

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I went to Germany with some college friends, including my roommate Victoria.

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I helped with my church’s Bible Clubs like I had for the past several summers.

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I went to a UT football game with my cousin Hannah.

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Senior Year Homecoming.

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On the TLU campus.

2012

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Ice skating with my family during winter break.

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One of my paintings for my Senior Art Show.

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Finishing my senior bucket list with my roommate by going up the chapel bell tower.

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College Graduation.

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I went to the Bahamas with my family and we swam with dolphins.

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I kept painting and made this for my friend Lindsey.

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Having Fun with my family for Thanksgiving.

2013

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I tried a Cleanse and ate a lot healthier in the Spring.

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I went to the Austin Kite Festival.

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I painted a cover for my first novel.

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I got the obligatory Bluebonnet picture.

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I donated my hair to Locks of Love with my sister.

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Haiti mission trip.

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I went to see my old roommate Victoria in Philly and we took a day trip to NYC!

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I decorated my first tree on the side of the road for Christmas.

2014

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I made a snowman, or iceman.

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My brother proposed to Ashley and we all went up to Abilene to celebrate.

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Another Bluebonnet pic with my sister.

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I was maid of honor in my friend Lindsey’s wedding.

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I got to be a bridesmaid in my brother’s wedding and I got a new sister!

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I saw Victoria for Christmas in San Antonio.

2015

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Ski trip to New Mexico with our church’s youth group.

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In Florida for my Grandpa’s memorial service.

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We had heavy rains that spring and a lot of flooding.

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Spring Bluebonnets with all my sisters.

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My 25th Birthday.

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My first book fair with my novel.

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Mission trip to Mozambique.

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Going to the Trail of Lights in Austin.

2016

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I went to a Spurs Game with my cousin Hannah.

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My friend Lindsey had Bethany, her first baby.

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I got to meet Marissa Meyer, the Author of the Lunar Chronicles.

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I got to go on a backstage tour of the AT&T Center.

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I went to Kentucky to see the replica of Noah’s Ark.

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I got to see a beautiful sunset in San Diego.

 

Well I’m going to stop there. It was fun to look through old photos and see some of the cool things that have happened in my life. I want to take some time to stop and be grateful for all the places I’ve seen, people I’ve known and ways that God has shaped me and grown me over the past 9 years. I hope you take some time today to do the same.

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Giving Tuesday

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Well today is Giving Tuesday, where lots of nonprofit organizations really push for donations. Several places have matched donations for today only, so if you give, the gift gets doubled. It’s funny to me how so many days surrounding the holiday season have come to have new titles: Black Friday, Cyber Monday and now Giving Tuesday. But of all the days, this one struck me. It might be because I’m currently working on a Lesson about Giving vs Getting for my middle school students, but I thought I’d share my thoughts.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are all about getting your Christmas shopping done early and saving money. It’s a great thing for a lot of people even though some shoppers can go a bit overboard with their enthusiasm. But Giving Tuesday focuses in on giving things that matter. That new TV would be great and whoever you’re buying it for will probably be very happy to receive it, but it isn’t a necessity. Most of the organizations promoting Giving Tuesday are seeking to give people around the world, things they really need: like food, clothes, clean water, education and the list goes on and on.

There are a million things on this planet that you could buy, for yourself or for others, but some things just keep their value longer. And I don’t just mean physical things. When we give to God, our gifts count for eternity and store up treasures in heaven. Treasures that never fade, or rust, or break, or get lost.

But for me, that is not the main reason I want to give to these non-profit organizations. It’s easy to have the mindset of what am I going to get out of this, even when we’re giving. I’ve done this plenty of times, like giving gifts to my siblings so that I could play with the game or take part in the gift myself. It was almost like I was really giving the gift to myself. So I don’t want to give because I’m thinking about a mound of treasure waiting for me in heaven. Especially when I’ve been learning that what God calls treasure or riches usually has to do with people and relationships, not more stuff.

You may have noticed the picture at the top of this post. It’s from a mission trip I took to Haiti about 4 years ago. While I was there, I got to hang out with some kids and I ended up making some little drawings for them of different animals. It wasn’t a huge gift, but they were so excited to get one. Their faces would light up and they’d laugh and dance around. And I got to see a glimpse of the joy of giving.

So, here’s the reason why I’ll be participating in Giving Tuesday:
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:40

When I give to the poor, I’m giving to Jesus. And Jesus is the One who loved me when I was selfish and broken, who took my place on the cross and gave up his life for me. His love is more valuable than anything I own, and He’s given it to me freely. I want to love Him back, to give back to Him, to treat people the way He has treated me and show Him how grateful I am for his gift.

So, if you would like to join me, here’s a couple of the organizations that I’m giving to today:

Austin Disaster Relief Network

Giving Tuesday

 

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The Shirt Off My Back

One of my favorite shirts

One of my favorite shirts I’m wearing while in Mozambique

Have you ever heard the expression of “giving someone the shirt off your back”? I have and I think that when I heard it I smugly thought yeah I’m that kind of nice person, I’d totally give someone my shirt if they needed it. But as I was reminiscing today about a mission trip I took last year at this time, I realized that I have actually had an encounter with just such an opportunity and I haven’t been as generous as I thought I would be. In fact this wasn’t the first time something like this has happened to me. Twice now, both while on a mission trip no less, someone has asked me if they could have my shirt. And it threw me off both times.

The first time I was in Haiti and a little boy with not much as far as possessions go sparked up a conversation with me in Spanish, since I know a lot more Spanish than Creole. And as we were parting, he asked if he could have my shirt. I think he knew that visiting Americans often left their clothes for the village children at the end of the trip. I can’t remember now if I said yes or no or that I was planning on leaving some shirts but not that one in particular. But the short of it is that no, I did not leave my shirt in Haiti for that boy. I kept it. And you know why? Because I was attached. I really like that shirt, it’s soft and reminds me of a lot of cool moments from my childhood. And you know what the ironic thing is? It has a cartoon that explains the gospel on it; how Jesus died for us and gave up everything so we can know Him. And I wasn’t willing to give it up. Yeah… so turns out I can be a hypocrite.

Well fast forward in time to last year and as we were moving through the airport in Johannesburg the lady in the airport security uniform suddenly said she liked my shirt and asked if she could have it. She said I could change into a different shirt from my bag. I was thrown off, partly because I didn’t know where I could change in an airport security line, and also because this lady who obviously had a job and seemed to be able to provide for herself was asking for my shirt. I said I didn’t have another shirt and went on my way. (I meant another of the kind I was wearing, I had plenty of other T-shirts, just not one that looked and felt like the one I was wearing). For again someone had asked me not just for an old shirt I didn’t want anyway, but for one I treasured and valued and didn’t want to give away.

So now I’ve been reading a very compelling, and convicting book called “The Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne. He writes a lot about how Christians give to charity or even go on mission trips to help themselves not feel guilty for not loving the poor. But he says that what’s really needed is for us to know and be friends with poor people. Because then when there is a need, we want to meet it, and we’ll sacrifice to help our hurting brothers and sisters, instead of living for ourselves and our own comfort and merely giving to charity the things we don’t want anyway. One part in particular really hit me, he wrote “I heard that Ghadhi, when people asked him if he was a Christian,would often reply, ‘Ask the poor. They will tell you who the Christians are.'” It struck me that a true follower of Jesus should be known as someone who joyfully gives away what they have.

Through all of this God has been teaching me that He doesn’t want my stuff or my things, He wants me. He wants me to give Him everything: my time, talents, treasures and heart. So I’ve discovered one of my treasures that I tend to value above Jesus and above the people He’s asked me to love, are my clothes. And I don’t want that to stay true of me. So that’s part of why I’m writing this. I want to change, to be okay with giving away things that are precious to me, and to do it joyfully. So hopefully the next time someone asks me for the shirt off my back, I’ll be able to say yes and give it with a smile.

Well there’s my thoughts for the day. I highly encourage you to read Shane’s book too. I haven’t finished it yet but it’s really good.

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Living on Mission

Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Mozambique

So I’ve made up my mind, made my commitment, and now I’m starting to prepare for a mission trip this fall to Mozambique. I’ve never been to any country in Africa before, but I still remember my first mission trip experience. And I think I’ll let you get a glimpse of it from this short story I wrote about the trip. But first I want to write about why I’m excited for this coming mission trip to Mozambique.

One reason I’m really excited to go, is because I’m going with people from my church. There’s nothing wrong with going on a mission trip by yourself, or with people you’ve never met. Those can be eyeopening experiences too. But there’s something about working together with a strong knit community that is energizing and fun. I’m looking forward to growing closer with my team and getting to see what God is going to do together.

And secondly, I’m excited about this trip, because it will remind me to live on mission even now. Whenever there’s a goal in front of me, something to look forward to, it helps give me focus and gives me direction for where I’m at now. Knowing that I’ll be on a mission trip come this October, helps me now to want to live on mission here and prepare for what will happen there. I know as a Christian I should be living on mission no matter where I am. I don’t need to go to Africa to do that. But preparing myself to get out of my comfort zone in Africa, helps me to be okay with getting out of my comfort zone while I’m still in America too.

Anyway, I’ll probably have several more posts about this coming trip. But for now, I hope you enjoy this short story about my very first mission trip to Haiti. And if you’d like to read more stories about my mission trips, check out the Haiti Category in my blogs.

Leaving Home

Finally the day to leave came. I had packed my bags the night before and was all set to go to the airport with Dad. We had to get up super early, like five in the morning. And as I stood by the front door, preparing to take that final step outside, I began to cry. Could I really do this? I was just a kid and this whole being a missionary thing was a big task.

Mom took a picture of me and Dad before we left; my blue shirt was spotted with tear stains. But after than initial breakdown, God gave me strength. I wasn’t going alone after all. Dad was right there with me, and we were with a group too.

As I sat in the airport, waiting with our team for another flight, I took my malaria medicine. I was too small to take the regular pill, so the doctor had little baggies of powder that I had to mix into a drink and chug down. The concoction was always bitter, and to this day Apple Juice has a bit of a bad taste to me. Luckily I had learned from my brother’s mistake the last time, and not put the medicine in Hershey’s chocolate syrup.

As we journeyed from Austin, TX to Port au Prince, Haiti, I began to wonder how I would be used on this trip. In my letters I said I didn’t know how God could use me, but I was willing to be used, whatever it was. But as I stared out at that large Atlantic Ocean, I began to wonder what God would have for me. I wasn’t an adult, I couldn’t speak the language, and let’s face it, I was really shy. Why was God taking me on this trip? I didn’t know, but I looked forward to finding out.

The plane landed on the island of Hispaniola, half of the island belonged to the Dominican Republic and the other half belonged to Haiti. We were landing in the Capital city of Port au Prince. The airport was very small, and we had to walk out on the tarmac to get to the little customs area. I had gotten a passport just for this occasion, and I showed the lady at the desk my papers. It was a little intimidating to stand there and wait for the stamp to be pressed into the thin paper, but finally the lady did it, and I walked towards the exit with my first stamp in my passport.

“Hold onto your bags,” our trip leader directed. “People will want to help you with your luggage, but you need to carry it yourself.”

I grabbed my small bag tightly and stuck close to Dad. As we stepped out into the bright sunlight of a summer in the tropics, noise and smells hit me like a truck. I was surrounded by people, and cluttered streets. My heart started to race, but I followed as the group made their way towards a large open air bus. It was painted bright happy colors, like a mural of saturated hues. I didn’t have much time to study it though, because soon we were climbing aboard.

As I settled into the hard seat, I felt a sense of relief. I was no longer out in a crowd, but snug in my spot on the bus, with Dad right there with me. I glanced out at the crowded street around us. I had a better view from the bus, and now I could see little alleyways and shops, street venders, people on bikes, and women carrying buckets on their heads.

“Welcome to Haiti,” a tall dark man said from the front of the bus. “I will be your driver today. I show you all the sights of the city, then take you to the church.” He sank down into his driver’s seat, and soon the bus was roaring to life.

The bus bounced and swerved, as we wove through traffic. Stop lights and stop signs were not as prevalent here. But every time the bus driver hit the horn I laughed. It was a sound I’d never heard before, like an undulating laugh. It reminded me of something a clown would honk. But it still got people’s attention, and somehow sounded friendlier than the beeps I’d heard in the states.

We passed trash lined sidewalks, and I could smell the filth in the air. I wondered why they didn’t have a trash truck to pick up all the garbage.

Eventually we came to a central plaza, surrounded by the only grass I’d seen, and home to the president’s house, and a big amphitheater.

“That’s where we’ll have the games on Saturday!” the guide yelled out above the traffic noise.

I was used to the AWANA games going on indoors, where there was air conditioning, but I didn’t know if that was something they used here. I began to fan myself with my hand; it sure was hot, out here near the equator.

After out tour, we were dropped off at a hotel. I felt like I was stepping into an oasis. There was a pool, and flowery plants, big shady trees, and when I got in the room I was delighted to feel the cool refreshing air conditioning. Oh yeah, I could sleep in this place. But, I reminded myself, I still couldn’t use the water to brush my teeth, or open my mouth in the shower. That was one thing the meetings had drilled into me: Don’t get sick from the water, it’s not fun.

As I began to explore the hotel, I snapped a few pictures of the interesting artwork on the walls. One painting in particular looked like a face made out of fruit. It made me smile every time I saw it, so I decided to take a picture. I joined the rest of the group out on a covered patio where we would be eating meals, and listened in to their conversation.

Dad was talking to our bus driver, “You know in America, we say ‘You want to see a movie?’ and someone will answer, ‘yeah, why don’t we meet at seven?” He laughed. “It can get confusing with the yeah, and don’t, and it makes it sound like you do not want to see the movie, even though you do.”

The driver laughed, “Yes that has confused me in the past. Americans can talk very strangely.”

The next day was a whirl of activity as we began serving the churches and helping with projects. Everywhere I turned there were people who didn’t look like me and couldn’t speak my language. I was starting to feel very isolated. I didn’t feel super close to any of the adults because they were all older than me, but all the kids in Haiti intimidated me, and I didn’t know how to be their friend if I couldn’t understand a word they said.

Luckily God had a plan. That evening as we were relaxing at the hotel, all of a sudden our Tap Tap pulled up, and a family began to pile out of the vehicle. There was a tall slender man, a plump woman, with beautifully braided hair, and two girls that looked about my age, whose hair jingled with beads.

Dad leaned over to me, “These are the Valcins, the missionary family.”

Gerson, the father, came forward and shook my dad’s hand heartily, “Keith, it is good to see you again.” He looked at me. “This must be your daughter.”

“Hello,” I said quietly as I held out my hand to shake his.

He went on to say hello to the rest of the group, while his wife and daughters came behind him.

“Hi,” one of the girls said. “I’m Deborah, and this is my sister Elizabeth.”

“My name’s Lydia,” I said.

“Nice to meet you Lydia,” said their mother. “My name is Betti.”

After the introductions, we all stood a little awkwardly, like now what are we supposed to do.

Gerson smiled and said warmly, “How would you like to go out for a fancy dinner? It is the 4th of July!”

We all thought it sounded like a good idea, so off we went. The people in Haiti didn’t really celebrate the 4th of July, I mean it’s not their country’s Independence Day, so why would they? But there were some ships out in the harbor that would shoot off fireworks, and from the fancy restaurant’s hilltop view, we could all see the bright explosions.

“I know you are not in America,” Gerson said. “But I am glad we can all celebrate together.” He raised a glass, and smiled, “Cheers!”

I tapped my glass of coke with the adults’ alcoholic beverages, and took a swig, the bubbly carbonated drink felt like a blast of fireworks in my throat. I sat back and watched the fireworks in the distance. I wondered what it was like back in Austin. We’d always go up on the hill and watch the fireworks from Town Lake. Maybe Mom was out there now, with the other kids. I began to feel a little homesick. I did miss the rest of my family.

But I couldn’t feel sad for long, for right at that moment, something unexpected happened. The white plastic chair that had been supporting Betti suddenly snapped and she fell butt first onto the ground.

Everyone burst out laughing, and Betti joined in, we could not believe that the chair had just broken out of nowhere. The surprise of it all and the expression on Betti’s face made everyone crack up. Without knowing it, my homesickness disappeared, and I joined in the joy and hilarity of the moment.

Throughout the week I grew closer and closer to Deborah and Elizabeth. I met other kids, but they didn’t speak English, so I had no idea what they were asking me when they did talk. Plus there was a kind of security with the missionary’s kids. I knew they were Christians too, and it was easier to relate to them than to the adults in our group. I did help with organization, and completing tasks in preparation for the big AWANA Olympic Games on Saturday, but most of what I remember from that trip was the adventures with Deborah and Elizabeth.

One time we hung out in the cool hotel room, and I tried to teach them a card game that my family played at home. At other times we went swimming in the hotel pool and made up pretend adventures while splashing in the cool water. We even acted like we were fountain statues for the pool’s scenery and had their mom take a picture.

One night we went to their relative’s house. It was raining like a hurricane, and on our way there, I saw channels of muddy water pouring down the streets, washing the trash and gunk downhill. But when we arrived, I got to try the best tasting lemonade ever! I could actually taste real lemons, but the sugar was just right so it tasted sweet, not bitter.

Then we began to play ping pong with their cousin. She couldn’t speak any English, but we laughed as the ball went bouncing off in all directions, and we shared the universal language of laughter. Even though we probably didn’t play the game the right way, and we were stuck inside on a rainy day, we enjoyed ourselves. And I learned that even when I couldn’t talk to someone, I could still enjoy being with them.

But the best memory I have of hanging out with Deborah and Elizabeth was the day we all went out for pizza. I had been worried that I wouldn’t eat much on this trip. I mean I wasn’t as picky an eater as Jonny was, but I still liked plain foods, and even though Dad said the rice and beans were delicious, I was excited to hear the word ‘pizza.’ It was like a bit of home had somehow found its way here, just for me.

As I sat chewing my pizza, I was relieved to find that it tasted, for the most part like any other pizza I had back in America. It was just what my hungry stomach needed. I sat across from Deborah and Elizabeth; we had also sat together on the bus too.

“Want to play a game?” Deborah asked.

“Sure, what game?” I replied before taking another bite of the delicious cheesy mess.

“Stare contest!” Deborah said excitedly.

“Okay,” I said with a mouthful of dough and cheese. After swallowing, I blinked my eyes a few times then focused on Deborah’s dark brown eyes.

“Go!” she yelled.

I wasn’t very good at staring contests, my eyes usually hurt after a couple seconds and I felt like I had to blink or I’d get dust in my eye. But the girls I played with were no pros either. We took turns with who we stared at and usually ended by laughing. It quickly became who could keep a straight face the longest, instead of who could keep from blinking.

“Have you ever played thumb war?” I asked after the game had gone on for quite some time.

“No,” Elizabeth said with interest. “What is it?”

“Here give me your hand,” I locked my hand into hers and began tapping my thumb side to side. She started following the rhythm. “One, two, three, four; I declare a thumb war. Five, six, seven, eight; try to keep your thumb straight. Go!” I started trying to catch her thumb in mine and soon had it pressed down against our clenched hands. “I win.”

“Oh I want to try!” Deborah said excitedly. She switched places with her sister and soon we were repeating the little rhyme together. Deborah was older than Elizabeth and her fingers were quicker.

I couldn’t catch hold of her thumb, she would always swing it out of the way, so I let my thumb fall temptingly low, till she lunged for it, then I quickly jerked it out of the way and tried to snag her thumb while it was within reach.

We laughed and giggled as we tried to capture each other’s thumbs, and I’m sure the adults wondered what in the world we were doing. But I didn’t care. We were forming a close knit friendship through those games that I’ll never forget.

Finally the day came for the big Olympic Games. It was a hot day, and I felt like I was sweating bullets in my cotton skirt. I never wore skirts at home, but it was culturally appropriate for girls here, and so I wore one of Mom’s homemade skirts. The sun beat down on my little white hat, and I could feel my skin turning pink. The humidity was almost unbearable and I wondered how the kids here could handle it.

The games began and I found a seat with Dad in the shade. We watched as the kids raced in circles, diving for the pins, or bean bags, and cheering on their teammates. I may not have understood what they were saying, but I knew how the games were played and watched with interest.

Then out of nowhere, a cloud came up and rain started pouring on the event. Kids started screaming and everyone rushed for the pavilion’s protection. One kid tripped and scraped up her knee pretty bad. I was afraid someone would get trampled. In an instant everyone was under the shelter and we watched as the rain fell.

Our team started praying for the rain to stop so we could continue with the games, and then a hole of blue sky appeared in the clouds, and within minutes it stopped raining. Wow, I thought, I just saw God answer a prayer.

The games continued and eventually I went back to the hotel with Deborah and Elizabeth to go swimming.

The week ended with a day of souvenir shopping and saying goodbyes to our new friends. A few of the girls got their hair braided like the Haitian girls, and I played a few last games with Deborah and Elizabeth. The next morning we got on a plane and headed home.

I learned a lot on that trip. Maybe relationships were a lot more important to God than getting an event put together. And if we asked, He would answer our prayers. These two ideas, though not fully formed at the time, I would carry into the mission trips I would take in the future.

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Lessons from Haiti: Coming Home

Well this is the last post about Haiti, or at least the last one planned. I learned so much from the trip that I might end up doing some other little posts about it, however, not for awhile. So here we go!

Day 9: Coming Home

girlsSo Saturday morning we got up super early to catch our plane home. We had some difficulties. One of our team members started feeling really sick, and we thought we might need to call a doctor. But we prayed and God provided strength so that we were able to make it onto the airplane and to Florida.

We decided to get a hotel room for a few hours and just chill till our flight to Texas. It was nice to sit back and eat pizza, play card games, and have a nap. But I did feel a bit of culture shock as we sat in the lobby with the TV on. I suddenly realized I hadn’t watched any shows or commercials for a whole week and I hadn’t missed it at all. It was kind of nice to get away. But now we were back in the States and things were getting back to “normal.” I had to laugh when everyone got on their cell phones once we landed. After being gone for a week, messages had to be answered, Facebook statuses updated, and pictures posted. We had reentered the world of technology.

Despite this bombardment of 21st century, I still had several long plane rides to sit back and digest what I had learned on the trip. I actually enjoyed a really long conversation with one of the girls about what we had learned or heard from God. I also got to journal a lot about all that had happened and what I had seen God do. I think this time to digest what had happened prepared me for coming home, for writing these blog posts, and for sharing what actually happened on this trip and how it had changed me.

As I read through my journal entry for Saturday, I noticed one lesson that I haven’t yet blogged about. I think it came as a result of someone’s testimony. (by the way we did some more of those during our layovers in the airport). Here’s the lesson: Just Love! I was blown away with the testimony of one person who had felt God’s love whenever he was in Christian community and he experienced a deep longing for that love. He was an atheist who could argue about every point of theology and cut to pieces people’s reasoning, but he couldn’t deny love. I guess a lot of times I think people need to understand the gospel, or need to be convinced of it’s truth. But what they really need is to experience God’s love. I guess that’s why Jesus said “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Matthew 13:34-35

So there you go, my last lesson from Haiti was to simply show love. Or maybe it was that if you’re going to learn anything, you need to stop and take time to reflect and digest what has happened. Otherwise everything is just a blur. Either way, I learned something valuable.

Well I hope you enjoyed this blog series as much as I have. Feel free to leave comments or ask questions.

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Lessons from Haiti: Finding the Good

I’m coming down to the end of this blog series. Friday was our last full day in Haiti, so after this post I’ll only have one more! Wow! Well let’s get started.

Day 8: Finding the Good

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This day was very different from any of the other days in Haiti. Our work projects were pretty much over, and there were ideas of doing more vacation-like activities; like climbing the mountain next to the camp, visiting an old fort nearby, or going to the beach again. The night before, several people had planned on getting up super early and climbing the mountain. I was surprised that all of the girls in our cabin wanted to do it. I didn’t feel much like getting up early, and I said I wouldn’t go, but after a short night sleep, I awakened with a strong longing to not miss out. So I got up with everyone else and went to the pavilion to wait for the mountain guide.

We sat, and waited, and sat some more and waited some more. But nothing happened. The sun began to rise, the animals began to make their morning noises, but still no guide came. My excitement dimmed and the thought of returning to bed became more and more attractive. Finally I gave up and said I was going back to sleep. I found out later that only a few people actually went up the mountain, and most just climbed the shorter hill where the cross stood. So I didn’t feel too bad about sleeping a couple more hours, but there was still a small sense of regret that I had missed out. In addition to this regret I started to feel a little sick. It wasn’t horrible, but it was enough to make it hard to enjoy my last day on the island.

And this is where the choice came in. I think everyone has a choice about how they view their situation. A lot of “satisfaction” or “enjoyment” I think, comes not from literal circumstances, but our attitude towards them. Even though I didn’t feel great and I had missed out on something fun, I was still able to “enjoy” the day. I got to spend time with people I cared about. I got to hear more testimonies from our group that gave me a deeper awareness of how much God can change a life. I even got to spend more time with the little girl who had helped me paint during the week. She gave me a small seashell to keep, and because it was from her, I still treasure it.

Because I didn’t focus on the “bad,” the “disappointments,” the “pain,” I was still able to enjoy the day. One of my favorite memories from that day was just sitting on the front porch of our cabins: singing songs, talking, and suggesting good books to read. It was a simple time of community, with no schedule, no work project, and no worries.

God also blessed me by putting people around me that were also looking for the good in each circumstance instead of complaining about each change or disappointment. In fact, the group even prayed for me to start feeling better. Even though I wasn’t instantly healed, I did feel blessed and loved because of their prayers. When we did go to the beach later that afternoon, our plans got changed; instead of going to a secluded island, we ended up staying on a rough and rocky beach. But even though the group could have focused on what we had missed out on, we instead found joy in our current circumstance. A few people started wandering down the beach and ended up finding some awesome shells to keep as souvenirs. And a few people went body-surfing on the strong waves with the kids. I even tried making a sand/rock castle. Oh, and we got to ride a tap tap for the first time! That was fun.

So even though the last day wasn’t exactly what we had planned, and even though I felt sick during parts of it, because God gave me the grace to focus on the good things, I still had a wonderful day.

I’ll leave you with this verse, which has been on my mind the past few days:

“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.” -Philippians 2:14-15 NIV

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Lessons from Haiti: A Day of Blessings

It’s a good thing I’m only a few days away from finishing this series on my mission trip to Haiti. It’s only been a few weeks, but details are starting to disappear from my memory. So let’s go on to the last work day of the trip.

Day 7: A Day of Blessings

cross finished frandy Peter marc
Even though this was the last “work” day, we actually had a lot of time for relationship building and meaningful conversations which resulted in a lot of blessings. In the morning we were able to hear the story of Jacob’s Well camp from the missionary Gerson. We also went hiking up the mountain and saw a nice view of the valley. I know there were a few work projects going on during the day. I was still finishing up the painting of the Ciel FM radio logo. It was quite entertaining to hear the Haitians in the camp say “Ciel FM” every time they walked by. But the one thing I will always remember from this day is our conversations with Frandy, Peter Marc, and Gerson. I’ll start with Frandy.

Frandy was an interpreter for us during the week. He was more involved with the fence project than my painting project, but we had still gotten to know each other fairly well since he is also an artist. In fact, the conversation I’m talking about happened while he was showing off his artwork for us to buy. As people were picking out bracelets and paintings or t-shirts to purchase, Frandy began to tell us how blessed and encouraged he was by our presence. We were surprised and encouraged by his comment and asked if he told every group the same thing. He said no. I was surprised. As we conversed further, we decided that because some of the other groups were quite large, it was harder to build close, encouraging relationships. But it was good to know that our group had not been a burden to our interpreter, but an encouragement. Most of us even friended him on facebook once we got home.

It was such a blessing to me, to know that our group had been a blessing to Frandy and that he wanted us to know that. Our next conversation, that I don’t want to forget, is with Peter Marc.

Throughout the week we had been sharing our testimonies with each other, but on this evening, we invited Peter Mark to join us and share with us his testimony. It was such a blessing for me to hear how God was working in his life and how he had chosen to follow God. He simplified the Christian walk so well, he simply follows God where he leads, whether that’s moving from Porta Prince to Limbe, or telling his congregation about the freedom in Christ. He expressed the gospel so clearly. Peter Marc said people ask him “why are you so happy, and how can I be free from spiritual oppression too?” Peter Marc’s only answer is Jesus.

Peter Marc’s testimony was a real encouragement to me. He reminded me that my life isn’t that complicated. Just like Peter Marc; my purpose, my mission, my meaning in life comes from simply following Jesus.

Lastly, I wanted to share a story that Gerson told our group. Even though this conversation happened in the morning, I wanted to share it last, because it’s my favorite story. This is the story of the cross at Jacob’s Well camp. When Gerson wanted to put a cross on the hill beside the camp, God provided by having the whole community help him take the heavy cross to the top of a hill. And once it was standing up there, people from the community began to ask him, “What does this white cross mean?” or “What does it symbolize?” You see, in the Haiti culture there are a few different crosses: the black voodoo cross, and the Catholic cross with Jesus’s dead body hanging on it. Both of these crosses symbolize oppression and slavery to the people. But Gerson told the people that this simple white cross meant freedom.

In the end, this day was very encouraging to me as a believer. It showed me that there are hidden blessings in everyday conversations and that no matter if I’m in America, Haiti, or somewhere else; the gospel doesn’t change. It is declaring the good news that knowing Jesus brings freedom.

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Lessons from Haiti: Reinforced Lessons and Growing Confidence

So I’m back from my most recent trip and it’s time to finish up my lessons from Haiti blog posts. I hope you’ve enjoyed these as much as I have. I only have a few days left to blog about, so I hope you enjoy them.

Day 6: Reinforced Lessons and Growing Confidence

So this was Wednesday. The week was already half over. This day really just reinforced several things I’d already been learning about prayer, unity, relationship, and Christ’s Church. In the end, these reinforced lessons built my confidence in God.

rocksThis was another work day, and although I thought I was done with the manual labor part of the trip and could just stick to painting, God had other plans. After breakfast the whole team was called together to help haul rocks up the hill. Now these weren’t little pebbles or hand sized stones, these were big, heavy, rocks. We could only fit two, or maybe three in a large bucket to pass down the line. After several buckets, your arms got tired, and your back might get stiff if you happened to be someone on the stairs, or a steeper part of the hill. But it wasn’t tiring work, because we were working as a team. We helped each other and sent messages of encouragement down the line, along with the rocks. Even my little painting helper and her cousins wanted to be part of the work, so they jumped in the line and tried to help carry rocks too. Like I said, the lessons I had learned already were being reinforced. God has placed us in a body, and with everyone working together, a lot can be achieved.

20130807-145519-DSC_6311I was also reminded of the importance of relationship later in the day. After lunch we got to go to the village church for worship, and I decided to bring my little notepad along. I ended up drawing little sketches of animals for all the kids at the church. It was so much fun to see their smiling faces. I was literally surrounded by children who either wanted a drawing, or just wanted to watch the lines connect and become an animal. This was my last interaction with the village kids and it was very precious to me. I know I couldn’t give them much, but what I could give, God used to bring joy. In essence, I relearned that relationships matter a lot, even more than food, or money, or finishing a project.

guitarDuring the worship time at the church we were able to learn a song in Creole and sing it all together. It was so good to actually know what I was singing and what it meant. We even copied down the words and taught the song to our home congregation in Texas when we got home. That song, at least for me, symbolized the unity of Christ’s church and how we can all worship God, no matter what language we speak.

muralI also got to see God answer many more prayers this day. Some of them may seem like little things, but they brought so much encouragement to me and our group, that they were significant. We again prayed for the radio transmitter when it stopped working, and God made it start working again. And when my mom and I were trying to stencil in letters for the radio logo, there was a storm. We had waited all day for it to get dark, so we could actually see the projector’s image, and now it was raining. Our group prayed and then offered to hold a tarp over the projector so we could still do the work that night. God stopped the rain, and brought it down to an occasional drizzle and our team faithfully held the projector in place and covered it with a tarp. God provided the right weather, and when we finished we sat back down, under the pavilion. As we began to share more touching testimonies in the group and continue to grow closer to each other, the rain came again. God had provided.

As I read through my journal entry from that day, I noticed one of my prayers to God was expressing a deeper trust in God. Before this trip I’d been worrying a lot about where my life was headed and what job I was supposed to be pursuing. I had a lot of questions, but on this day, I had a lot of trust. I could see how God had provided over and over again on the trip and I realized that I didn’t have to worry on the trip, or at home. Whether it was equipment not working, or bad weather, God could handle it. And He can also handle my problems at home just as easily.

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Lessons from Haiti: The Importance of Relationship

I hope you’ve enjoyed these lessons from my trip to Haiti. This will actually be my last post for awhile. I’ll be on a trip for a week and won’t have much time for blogging. But when I return, I’ll finish out the Lessons from Haiti series. Thank you for your patience! I feel like I’m leaving out a lot of important details from the week in Haiti, but it’s hard to summarize everything that happened into a short blog post. Maybe I’ll have to do some extra posts later about other things that happened, like climbing the hill next to camp and stargazing.

But enough of that, let’s talk about Tuesday.

Day 5: The Importance of Relationship

20130806-093955-DSC_6061 20130806-110009-DSC_6074 Deborah 2 Deborah

This day taught me over and over how important relationship is, not only with other people, but with God. We’ll just start at the beginning. Tuesday morning I began working on my project (the logo of the radio station) or really just priming the walls for the logo. But as I began to work, a little girl who was staying at the camp with her relatives came to watch. It didn’t take long for her to pick up a brush and start mimicking what we were doing. Now keep in mind that it was hard to communicate. I think I’ve said several times that I know little to no Creole. So all I could do was point, nod and say wi, or shake my head and say no. I wasn’t sure how much help the young girl could be to the project, but as we worked her smile reminded me that the reason we were there was not just to finish some project, but to build relationships. And so, to remind me of how much more important relationships are, God gave me a little girl to paint with for the rest of the week.

And it’s not just people that we need relationships with; God is our heavenly Father and we need to be in a relationship with Him. As more frustrations arose that day and we cried to Him in prayer, I saw God’s loving fatherly response. For example, one of my teammates came up to me and told me that the radio station was not transmitting and they couldn’t figure out what the problem was. So we stopped and prayed that God would fix it. Not five minutes later the radio station was broadcasting! I felt so overwhelmed with God’s love and how He will take care of our needs right away and not delay.

That evening we went to another revival meeting at the village church and God broke down the barriers that had been separating us from the Haitian believers. I saw this most clearly through a young woman sitting a few rows in front of me. She noticed that me and a friend were trying to sing along with the music and she started mouthing the words to us and making little hand motions so we could understand what the song meant.

Then one of our team members got up and shared his testimony with the congregation. He told everyone that he felt like he’s coming home when he goes on mission trips because his ‘family’ is in these small remote churches. The pastor said he was trying to teach his congregation the same thing and God was using us to reinforce the idea that we are a family in Christ.

And lastly, we ended the day by sitting in a circle on the pavilion and listening to more testimonies from the group. It was such a good bonding experience that really forced the relationships within the group to go deeper. And the night ended with one team member praying a prayer of thanksgiving for each team member on the trip. He summarized so perfectly what each person brought to the group and encouraged us all that we were meant to be there and our presence was making a difference.

God was growing relationships within the team, within the community, and with Himself. This day was a beautiful lesson in the value God puts on relationship.

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Lessons from Haiti: The Body of Christ at Work

Hello blog readers, I’m still reviewing my trip to Haiti, and all the lessons God taught me while I was there. We’ve made it through the first few days of the trip and are currently on Monday, the first workday of the trip. Hope you enjoy!

Day 4: The Body of Christ at Work

Haiti Soccer 1150335_10201667348269373_1188384740_n

So far on my journey, I’d felt that I was mostly receiving things. I was given delicious food, time with people, joy, even several valuable lessons from God about prayer and the unity of His church. And, I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but our team had spent the previous afternoon at the beach. But it was a Sunday, a day of rest, and we were recovering from all the traveling. Still it didn’t feel quite right.

Thus Monday morning started with a new kind of energy; finally we would be able to work, to do something productive or beneficial, to give something back. In a sense, this is what you go into a mission trip expecting to do, and it felt odd that it wasn’t until Day 4 of our adventure, that the “real work” was starting.

Eagerly we awoke at 5:30am to begin helping with the soccer ministry in the village. We all carried bags stuffed full of soccer balls, cleats, and uniforms to the wide field outside the church. However, once we had handed out the equipment, most of us ended up standing around with not much to do. I’ve never played soccer, so I felt a bit useless as I watched the training begin. I ended up trying to interact with a few of the children from the village along with a few other girls from our group. We couldn’t say much, but we were still able to laugh with the kids.

Soon the training ended and we packed everything back up and headed back to the camp, which is called Jacob’s Well. (I’m tired of calling it the camp, so we’ll refer to it as Jacob’s Well from now on). We ate some breakfast and then began on a fencing project. I didn’t feel like I was doing a lot of work. I mean I carried a few cement blocks, or passed some buckets full of cement down the line, but mostly I was standing around, not knowing what to do, or taking a water break. The most beneficial thing I did was remind other people to drink water so no one got overheated.

So far I had felt pretty inadequate, like I wasn’t very useful for any of the projects going on in Haiti. But as we took a break for lunch, I looked at what the team as a whole had accomplished and realized just how much God can do with very little. I didn’t feel like I had contributed much to the fence, but there it was getting longer and put together. It was a lesson in God’s provision. Even if I didn’t know the first thing about building a fence, God had provided other team members that did, and he used the whole team’s effort to accomplish something I couldn’t have done alone.

Thankfully after lunch, I was able to start work on a painting project that is more in my field of expertise. But I’ll never forget that God uses a body, of different people, with different skills to accomplish His work. We all have purpose, we all have value, and we all can be used by God.

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