NovelSisters

watching, reading, and writing stories

An Unthankful Thanksgiving

I was perusing through some old short stores I’d written several years ago and I came across one that happened at Thanksgiving. It reminded me that it’s just as easy to find things to be thankful for as it is to find things to complain about. You can ruin your own vacation by complaining or you can find joy even if the midst of hardship by being thankful. Sometimes I wonder how much I would have enjoyed that trip if I’d practiced gratitude. I hope this year you focus on the things you’re grateful for and enjoy the blessings God’s given you and don’t get stuck focusing on what’s wrong or hard.

Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy the story!

Thanksgiving Cruise

I think it’s a bit ironic that the only cruise I’ve ever been on was set during the week of Thanksgiving. However, this is one of the trips that I can remember a lot of unthankfulness. But it did teach me a lesson. And it is one trip I’ll never forget.

We started our cruise from Galveston, TX. We should have been very thankful that we didn’t have to fly all the way to Florida to get on a cruise, but unfortunately, we were late getting to the ship, and this caused some bad attitudes.

“If only we would have left when I said we should,” Dad grumbled as he parked the car.

We hurried to unload our many suitcases and glanced up thankfully at the tall ship. At least we weren’t being left behind… yet.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” my younger sister Alicia said with a whine, “I’ve been holding it for fifteen minutes.”

“Just a little longer,” Mom assured her. “We’ll go sign in and I’m sure they have a bathroom somewhere.”

“Come on already,” my younger brother Jonny said with frustration. “I don’t want the ship to leave without us.”

I agreed with Jonny and started following him towards the wharf, with my wheeled suitcase in tow. We soon found the check-in area, and I was a bit relieved to find out that we weren’t the only family that had gotten there late. But there were some consequences. As Dad signed papers, I stared up at the ship’s deck high above us, and spotted groups of passengers clumped together in formation at the lifeboats. They were undergoing a mandatory safety training, and we were missing it.

“You’ll have to do the late training this evening,” the check in person said.

I shook my head; of course it would be my family that missed the safety training. I was pretty sure we weren’t going to experience a Titanic like adventure, but I still wanted to be prepared in case some kind of emergency happened. Now, while everyone else was having fun, we’d have to stand like a bunch of idiots out on the deck and do our safety training, basically singling ourselves out as the irresponsible ones. But it could be worse, at least we didn’t have to do it alone, there were several other families who were late too.

As our trip got underway, I found myself spending a lot of time in our cabin, a tiny room with two bunk beds, and a TV. We watched a lot of old cartoons that I hadn’t even known had existed. There was Adam Ant, and Mighty Mouse, and the Spiderman movie was played continually on one channel.

“Uh, I wish they played some better cartoons,” I whined. “Like Scooby Doo. There’s nothing good on these channels.”

“I’m bored of TV,” Jonny joined in.

“Yeah, I’m so bored.” I knew complaining about being bored was kind of dumb: I was staying in the room watching the same cartoons over and over instead of getting out on the ship. But I didn’t want to make any effort; I just wanted to be entertained. Thus the unthankfulness epidemic grew. Every little thing there was to complain about somehow got mentioned.

“Uh, I wish that stupid rule about not swimming in the adult pool never existed,” I complained.

“Yeah, that current is so fun to play in, and it’s not as crowded as the kid pool,” Jonny added.

“And we’re all good swimmers, it’s not like we need a life guard or an adult to watch us, we can take care of ourselves,” I added.

“You know what I’m sick of?” Alicia asked.

I turned my head lazily to face her, “What?”

“Those lady fingers that they put in all the desserts, they taste disgusting and I’m so tired of having to pull them out of everything.”

“Speaking of food,” Jonny added. “Did you know they ran out of free ice cream in the lounge today? Talk about disappointing.”

This kind of talk would go on and on, and what did we do; sit and watch more boring TV.

Thankfully, this was not the case every day. On the days we were stopped at an island or foreign country, there were chances to explore, and get off the boat. But complaining fests still crept upon us. The worst stop was in Cozumel, Mexico. For some reason, everyone found something to complain about that day, and even though we were all a part of doing something very enjoyable, we focused in on the parts that didn’t meet our expectations.

I climbed into the taxi after Dad had finally flagged down a taxi van that was big enough for our whole family. It had been a long day. We had split up this time with Mom and me going to a ranch to ride horses, and the Dad taking the other kids to the beach. “So what did y’all do?” I asked Alicia.

“Well the boys went swimming and climbed a big blow up iceberg, but it was too far out for me, so Dad stayed with me on the beach. It’s no fun being small. The iceberg looked like fun.”

“Yeah it was,” Jonny said. “But you got to go on the bounce trampoline and do flips.”

“But you got to do both,” Alicia whined. “I wish I could have gone with you Lydia. I would have rather ridden horses.”

“Well it wasn’t too exciting. I was separated from Mom for most of the ride. My horse wouldn’t go at all, even when I kicked like the guide said, he wouldn’t listen. He just walked when the horses in front of him walked. I really wanted to gallop with the others, but when I tried, the horse was still really slow.”

“So you didn’t have fun?” Alicia asked.

“No, it was fun. There was a cool show they did for us where this rider danced with his horse. And we saw a lot of ruins on the trail ride… they looked fake to me though.

“Well I’m starving,” my older brother Brain said. “I can’t wait to get back to the ship. Dad didn’t want to pay for any of the food at the beach. He said it was too expensive.”

Just then we pulled up to the curb. I glanced out the window at the ocean in the distance; there was our cruise ship, still as a sunken log. “Good timing then,” I said. “Let’s go eat.”

We jumped out of the van, ready to get back to our temporary home aboard the ship, but as we started moving towards the ship, a yell disrupted the evening air.

I turned back to see Dad yelling at our Taxi driver, saying something about the amount was wrong and that it shouldn’t be that expensive to drive three miles. I kept walking, hoping the other vacationers returning to the ship didn’t think we were part of the same family. I hated this day, not only had the horse ride been quite disappointing, but now my Dad was having a breakdown about money for the whole world to see. At that moment, it seemed like I was on the worst vacation ever.

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Great Adventure Week

So this week is my church’s Great Adventure. Since I was in Jr High, this has been a part of my summer plans. So I thought I’d share a taste of what it can be like. This is a short story I wrote about my experiences at the Bible clubs one summer and the lessons I learned. I hope you enjoy!

July 2010 167

Backyard Bible Clubs

It was a hot July morning, the kind of morning that starts out hot and just continues to get worse. The only relief is the sweet air conditioning of a building. I stared at the barren landscape before me. This was my first club as a captain, and it didn’t look pretty. A field of dead grass lay before me, with a small playground in the distance. We were in a park, a park with very little shade. A few scraggly looking trees stood off to our left. Some people were hanging out in the shade there.

“Alright, you ready?” our driver asked as he hopped out of the car.

No one answered him. We had prayed before leaving the church that morning, we had prayed before leaving the car, but I still felt like praying some more, begging God to help me not mess up. I grabbed the bag of supplies from the trunk and headed for the shade.

Our enthusiastic driver bounded over to the play scape to hang out with the kids. He was one of those guys that had graduated and wasn’t on a team anymore, but had run the clubs in the past.

I watched him run and wished that I felt as excited as him, but all I felt was nerves. It seemed like all the pressure was on me; I was the captain after all. But I took a deep breath and checked with my teammates verifying that everyone knew what their roles were for the day.

Soon we had a little game of bounce the beach ball to each other going, and more kids started to arrive. We had to take water breaks between each game because of the heat, but it seemed like the kids were having fun.

I caught Sammy’s eye, “Can you keep the game going?”

She nodded.

I ran to the bag of supplies and pulled out my Bible and the curriculum. I glanced over my story for the hundredth time and prayed again for calm nerves.

Then the kids began to gather on an old blanket.

“Who’s ready for story time?” Jake said excitedly.

The kids yelled back at him, some said “Me!” and others said “No, more games!” But eventually all were corralled onto the blanket.

“Hey boys and girls!” I said as my many times of practice kicked in. “Welcome to Backyard Bible Clubs! My name’s Lydia, and this is Jake, he’s going to hold some pictures for me. And that’s Sammy on the blanket. Today I’m going to tell you a story from God’s Word, the Bible.” I held up the Bible. “See?”

The kids nodded along and listened fairly well as I guided them through the story of Mary.

As I came to the end of the story, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. This wasn’t so hard after all. Most of the kids actually liked the story and listened, not like the teens at camp who had made snarky comments. “Alright kids,” I finished, “Now it’s time for another game!”

* * * * *

The rest of the club went fairly smoothly, we had a few times of uncertainty, and Jake forgot a part during his gospel presentation, but for the most part, it went better than I had feared it would. As we packed up the car to head to the next club I waved at the kids, “Don’t forget to wear your cowboy outfits tomorrow for Tumbleweed Tuesday!”

The later clubs all seemed to get easier and easier. Our team began to flow, we all knew what came next, where to go, what to do, and we started to learn how to keep the kids’ attention better and better. By the evening, I felt like a pro, but I also felt exhausted. We had gotten up at seven in the morning and we didn’t get back to the church till at least nine o’clock.

And it wasn’t over, the next day we had to do it all again. Four clubs, four stories, four gospel presentations, tons of games, and crazy kids all day long. The only break we got was in the middle of the afternoon, in the heat of the day. We would come back to the church office, and relax, or practice the next day’s routine if we thought we weren’t ready. But often times, we would just take a nap, because after all those screaming kids, we needed some shut eye.
One of the best parts about the week was Wednesday. Not only did it mark the middle of the week, so we were given hope of rest and the week being completed, but it was also Water Day. So instead of suffering in the summer heat, we were able to cool off with buckets, splash balls, hoses, and water guns. Usually the club would conclude in an all-out war with every kid and leader trying to get someone else wet. It was great.

In all the commotion of the week; seeing prayers get answered for different teams, keeping up with what day was what, and just trying to remember sixty kids’ names, it was hard for me to remember that I had a birthday coming up. It was on a Friday this year, the day of Summerfest, our end of the week carnival. When my Mom pulled up to the elementary school parking lot, where our church met, we could see booths set up everywhere. It almost felt like a big party just for me. We had hotdogs, cake, and candy, played games with kids from our clubs and even had a live band playing music.

I signed up for the dunking booth so kids that knew me from clubs could have fun dunking me in the water. It was a little scary to sit on the edge of a plastic seat that you knew could go out from under you at any second. But it was also fun to get a good view of all the families walking around, and the water was refreshing when you did fall in.
All in all, that summer taught me some valuable lessons. I leaned not to be so quiet, and that even someone like me could be a leader. I also learned to pray more, as I saw God answer prayers for specific kids to be saved and for my own calmness during a club. I also learned to rely on my teammates and let them use their own gifts and talents. So that was my summer… my Great Adventure.

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The Vacation Syndrome

Family, Pier, Man, Woman, Children, Happy, Holiday

Image Source

As Summer begins and many families head out on their summer vacations, I thought I’d share a short story I wrote and give a brief warning to avoid the ‘vacation syndrome.’ I hope you enjoy and learn something too.

When I was young, we usually took a trip somewhere every summer, and sometimes even in the fall too. When going on a trip, it’s easy to get the ‘vacation syndrome.’ This attitude could be described as one of expecting certain privileges, and feelings. In many cases a person with vacation syndrome expects everything to go smoothly, to be relaxing, and to be just as one wants. I mean this is a vacation right? You worked hard for this, right? So everything should be perfect. Unfortunately this is rarely the case, and often times ‘vacation syndrome’ hinders us from actually having a good time on a trip, and instead makes it more stressful. This short story gives an example of a trip with some obvious ‘vacation syndrome’ going on and I hope it encourages you to stop complaining and instead be thankful for your vacation and enjoy it and the time you get with your family.

Thanksgiving Cruise

I think it’s a bit ironic that the only cruise I’ve ever been on was set during the week of Thanksgiving. However, this is one of the trips that I can remember a lot of unthankfulness and many symptoms of ‘vacation syndrome.’ But it did teach me a lesson. And it is one trip I’ll never forget.

We started our cruise from Galveston, TX. We should have been very thankful that we didn’t have to fly all the way to Florida to get on a cruise, but unfortunately, we were late getting to the ship, and this caused some bad attitudes.

“If only we would have left when I said we should,” Dad grumbled as he parked the car.

We hurried to unload our many suitcases and glanced up thankfully at the tall ship. At least we weren’t being left behind… yet.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Alicia said with a whine, I’ve been holding it for fifteen minutes.”

“Just a little longer,” Mom assured her. “We’ll go sign in and I’m sure they have a bathroom somewhere.”

“Come on already,” Jonny said with frustration. “I don’t want the ship to leave without us.”

I agreed with Jonny and started following him towards the wharf, with my wheeled suitcase in tow. We soon found the check-in area, and I was a bit relieved to find out that we weren’t the only family that had gotten there late. But there were some consequences. As Dad signed papers, I stared up at the ship’s deck high above us, and spotted groups of passengers clumped together in formation at the lifeboats. They were undergoing a mandatory safety training, and we were missing it.

“You’ll have to do the late training this evening,” the check in person said.

I shook my head; of course it would be my family that missed the safety training. I was pretty sure we weren’t going to experience a Titanic like adventure, but I still wanted to be prepared in case some kind of emergency happened. Now, while everyone else was having fun, we’d have to stand like a bunch of idiots out on the deck and do our safety training, basically singling ourselves out as the irresponsible ones. But it could be worse, at least we didn’t have to do it alone, there were several other families who were late too.

* * * * *

As our trip got underway, I found myself spending a lot of time in our cabin, a tiny room with two bunk beds, and a TV. We watched a lot of old cartoons that I hadn’t even known had existed. There was Adam Ant, and Mighty Mouse, and the Spiderman movie was played continually on one channel.

“Uh, I wish they played some better cartoons,” I whined. “Like Scooby Doo. There’s nothing good on these channels.”

“I’m bored of TV,” Jonny joined in.

“Yeah, I’m so bored.” I knew complaining about being bored was kind of dumb: I was staying in the room watching the same cartoons over and over instead of getting out on the ship. But I didn’t want to make any effort; I just wanted to be entertained. Thus the ‘vacation epidemic’ grew. Every little thing there was to complain about somehow got mentioned.

“Uh, I wish that stupid rule about not swimming in the adult pool never existed,” I complained.

“Yeah, that current is so fun to play in, and it’s not as crowded as the kid pool,” Jonny added.

“And we’re all good swimmers, it’s not like we need a life guard or an adult to watch us, we can take care of ourselves,” I added.

“You know what I’m sick of?” Alicia asked.

I turned my head lazily to face her, “What?”

“Those lady fingers that they put in all the desserts, they taste disgusting and I’m so tired of having to pull them out of everything.”

“Speaking of food,” Jonny added. “Did you know they ran out of free ice cream in the lounge today? Talk about disappointing.”

This kind of talk would go on and on, and what did we do; sit and watch more boring TV.

* * * * *

Thankfully, this was not the case every day. On the days we were stopped at an island or foreign country, there were chances to explore, and get off the boat. But complaining fests still crept upon us. The worst stop was in Cozumel, Mexico. For some reason, everyone found something to complain about that day, and even though we were all a part of doing something very enjoyable, we focused in on the parts that didn’t meet our expectations.

I climbed into the taxi after Dad had finally flagged down a taxi van that was big enough for our whole family. It had been a long day. We had split up this time with Mom and me going to a ranch to ride horses, and the Dad taking the other kids to the beach. “So what did y’all do?” I asked Alicia.

“Well the boys went swimming and climbed a big blow up iceberg, but it was too far out for me, so Dad stayed with me on the beach. It’s no fun being small. The iceberg looked like fun.”

“Yeah it was,” Jonny said. “But you got to go on the bounce trampoline and do flips.”

“But you got to do both,” Alicia whined. “I wish I could have gone with you Lydia. I would have rather ridden horses.”

“Well it wasn’t too exciting. I was separated from Mom for most of the ride. My horse wouldn’t go at all, even when I kicked like the guide said, he wouldn’t listen. He just walked when the horses in front of him walked. I really wanted to gallop with the others, but when I tried, the horse was still really slow.”

“So you didn’t have fun?” Alicia asked.

“No, it was fun. There was a cool show they did for us where this rider danced with his horse. And we saw a lot of ruins on the trail ride… they looked fake to me though.”

“Well I’m starving,” Brain said. “I can’t wait to get back to the ship. Dad didn’t want to pay for any of the food at the beach. He said it was too expensive.”

Just then we pulled up to the curb. I glanced out the window at the ocean in the distance; there was our cruise ship, still as a sunken log. “Good timing then,” I said. “Let’s go eat.”

We jumped out of the van, ready to get back to our temporary home aboard the ship, but as we started moving towards the ship, a yell disrupted the evening air.

I turned back to see Dad yelling at our Taxi driver, saying something about the amount was wrong and that it shouldn’t be that expensive to drive three miles. I kept walking, hoping the other vacationers returning to the ship didn’t think we were part of the same family. I hated this day, not only had the horse ride been quite disappointing, but now my Dad was having a breakdown about money for the whole world to see. At that moment, it seemed like I was on the worst vacation ever.

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A Few Short Stories about Faith

Woman, Praying, Illustration, Shadow, Silhouette

Image Source: https://pixabay.com/en/woman-praying-illustration-shadow-825154/

I know I’ve posted on this blog about many Christian topics in the past. But there is something else I would like to share that is a bit more personal. It’s my story of how God saved me. Often called a Testimony, I’ve written it in the form of three short stories. Perhaps it can be encouraging to someone out there. I do want to mention, before you read this, that all of the details in these stories might not be correct. They happened so long ago, I had to improvise on what was actually said and I could be remembering things incorrectly. But the essence of the story is true, and it is my own.

I grew up in a Christian home and from a young age I was introduced to Jesus and chose to believe in Him. As any person can attest, following Jesus is a lifelong journey; starting with life on this planet and then continuing into eternity. So although I chose to follow God at a young age, there were definitely times that I had to grow. My understanding of grace especially took a long time to develop. But God has had a hold on my heart from the beginning.

I remember once when I was very young closing my eyes as tight as I could till I thought I could see stars and thinking what if this was all fake… what if I wasn’t real? What if God didn’t exist? It scared me so bad that I opened my eyes and mentally stepped away from that void. It couldn’t be true. How dark and scary the world would be without a God.

These stories I’d like to share, come from three critical points in my childhood, the first was when I discovered the truth of God’s gospel, and the second was realizing the freedom that God’s grace gave me. And the last one was realizing what my faith was based on. I hope you enjoy.

The Simple Prayer

The old blue minivan with the wood-paneled sides was purring in the driveway. I sat in my booster seat staring out at the front windshield. Mom had run inside to grab her purse and a few other items, now that she had the kids settled in the car. But she had made sure to leave the air conditioning on for us. Even in springtime the heat in Texas could creep up, especially inside a darkly painted car.

Brian was sitting next to me, calmly sitting in the chair, without a booster seat. He turned to me, his eyes full of concern. “Lydia?”

I focused on his face, “Yeah?”

“Do you want to go to Heaven?”

“What’s that?” I tilted my head to the side.

“It’s the place people go when they die, but if you’re bad, you go to Hell instead.”

I thought a moment. “Where are Mommy and Daddy going? I want to go with them.”

“They’re going to Heaven, and so am I.”

“I want to go!” Being separated from my family was the scariest thing imaginable to me; I knew I wanted to be wherever they were.”

“Alright, but the only way to go to Heaven is to believe in Jesus.”

“Okay. How do I do that?”

“Just repeat after me.” Brian closed his eyes and clasped his hands together. “Dear Jesus….” Brain paused and peeked at me, waiting for me to repeat what he was saying.

I tried to mimic his hands then said, “Dear Jesus.”

“I believe in you and what you did for me.”

“I believe in you… and….”

“What you did for me,” Brian whispered.

“Thanks,” I said then closed my eyes again. “And what you did for me.”

“Please come into my heart.”

“Please come into my heart.”

“Amen,” Brian said with a sigh then opened his eyes.

“So I’m going to Heaven now?” I asked.

“Yep,” Brain confirmed.

Just then Mom came back to the car, purse in hand. She pulled the door shut and settled into the seat.

“Guess what Mommy!” I said excitedly.

“What is it sweetie?” Mom asked as she turned back to look at me.

“I’m going to Heaven now! Brian told me how.”

Mom smiled, “Oh that’s great news!”

The Meaning of Grace

Several years had passed and I had gone through the stage that many young converts experience of being unsure of the sincerity of the first prayer. I had often repeated the prayer to God that He would forgive me, and reassuring Him, or really myself, that I truly believed in Him and wanted to go to Heaven. Unfortunately, these prayers were not solving my problem. I was stuck because I couldn’t comprehend God’s love and my mistakes. I knew that if I prayed, God would forgive me and save me. But I wasn’t sure how sincere I had to be, or if I had to pray again if I messed up and sinned. This led to me being very aware of all that I did, or could do wrong. I developed the annoying habit of asking Mom about every possible action I could take and if it was right or wrong. It got so bad, that I was worrying myself into a wreck. Especially on a vacation we took to visit some friends in Colorado.

I bounded down the stairs into the dimly lit basement. The rooms looked cozy with carpeted stairs and floors, and rows of bunk beds lined against the wall. Part of me wanted to explore, but the other part of me was scared to touch anything… what if it was wrong? It was much easier at home. I knew what Mom wanted for us there, I could obey my parents for the most part and ask God for forgiveness if I messed up. But here, the rules were unclear. Were we allowed to jump on the beds? Were we allowed to even run down the stairs? I didn’t want to get in trouble. For some reason the idea of sinning as little as possible seemed like the best goal in life and I was always striving towards that. I waited as the rest of the family came down the staircase.

The kids were soon all downstairs, but Mom and Dad were not too far behind.

“Hey Mom, look!” I said as I jumped onto one of the bunk beds.

“Uh huh,” Mom said.

She hadn’t told me to get off, or to stop, so I judged this action as appropriate. Then I pulled myself up so that I was standing on the lower bunk but holding onto the top bunk, I began bouncing up and down, like I was on the trampoline back home. “Look Mom, look!”

Mom nodded, and then walked past me towards another bigger bed in the corner, it was a full sized bed and would serve as Mom and Dad’s sleeping area.

I thought of one more thing to test with the beds. I jumped to the floor and scurried to the side of the bed, where a ladder led to the top bunk. I climbed up and sat at the top. “Mom! Mom! Mommy!” I called.

Mom was busy unpacking her suitcase, and was ignoring my calls.

“Would you cut it out?” Brian said annoyed. “You don’t need to show Mom everything you’re doing. It’s so annoying.”

I stopped. Was I being annoying? Was I doing something wrong? “I just want to make sure I don’t sin…” I said with a whimper.

“Well that’s not the point,” Brian said. “Jesus died on the cross to forgive us from all of our sins. We don’t have to worry anymore, He took care of it.”

I sat back on the little bunk bed trying to process what my brother had just told me. I didn’t have to follow all the rules? God forgave me even if I forgot to ask Him to? He loved me even if I did something wrong. I was coming face to face with the grace of God and it was beautiful. I didn’t have to earn God’s favor, or keep track of hundreds of rules so I wouldn’t get in trouble. Jesus had forgiven me completely for all I had done and all I would do. I was overwhelmed. I was free.

It took some getting used to, to not stress about all of the rules, but that conversation with my brother began to open my eyes to the beauty of God’s grace. I began to understand that I couldn’t please God with my good works but I didn’t have to, God loved me even when I messed up.

Is My Faith Real?

Alright, one last story about my growing relationship with God. When I was in middle school, I was in a Bible study with several other girls, and I finally made a confession one night at our group.

“My fear is that I don’t believe in Jesus. I’m afraid that it’s not real. How do I know if I really believe?” Tears began streaking down my face as I got the last words out. This had bothered me for months. I wanted to know that I was saved, and I didn’t know how I could be sure.

My youth leader looked at me compassionately and offered me a hug, “Aww Lydia, it’s alright.” She held me for a minute. “You know I asked myself the same thing when I was younger, and the very question itself shows that you are genuine about your faith.”

I nodded.

“One thing that helped me was a verse in Matthew. It said that God’s followers will be known by their fruit. If you can see the fruit of following God in your life, then you know you really believe it and it’s real. And Lydia, I can see the fruit in your life.”

I wiped the tears out of my eyes, “Thanks Stevi. I guess sometimes I just doubt.”

“And that’s normal,” Stevie continued. “We all have doubts sometimes, but we keep coming back to what we know is true.”

That conversation really helped to solidify my faith, I knew it was more than an imaginary belief, but that it was real to me, affected my life, and produced fruit. As I continued to grow, I realized how much faith is really dependent on God and not on me. He is the one who helps me believe, and it is He who I’m believing in. It is not my belief, some kind of feeling of trust that I can muster and strengthen, it’s a willingness to let go and say God I can’t do it, I can’t even believe hard enough. I’m just coming to you to save me. It’s nothing that I do, it’s all You.

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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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What I’m Thankful For #2

Gourds, Fall, Autumn, Orange, Decoration, Halloween

Image Source: https://pixabay.com/en/gourds-fall-autumn-orange-949112/

As you might have seen in a previous post, I am trying to remind myself to be thankful this month. It probably helps that in church yesterday we talked about being grateful and how important it is.

So today I am grateful for my family and friends. I don’t want to sound corny when I say this, I think most people are thankful for the close relationships they enjoy with other people, it’s part of being human. But I really am grateful for the people I’ve gotten to know.

You see, I’ve grown up in the same city, and the only times I moved was when I was 2 years old, and briefly for college. But I came home to visit so often, it was like I never left. So I really feel a deep connection for the people around me because a lot of them I really have known for over a decade.

These lasting relationships are a real blessing to me, it reminds me that just because some people move on, and our friendship only lasts for a couple of months or years, there will always be people that don’t move away, and even the people that do leave can be visited and reconnected with.

I guess the whole reason I’m thinking of this is because my brother just had a couples shower for his wedding in December and seeing all the old and new family friends at the shower brought on a wave of gratitude. There are so many people that love me and my family, and it encourages me to know they’ll be there for us in the happy moments of life, and the hard ones.

And I’m thankful for my family, because man we’ve been through a lot together and we’re still close. We can even fit 11 people in one house (8 of which are sharing 1 bathroom) and we still love each other. That’s a blessing and I’m thankful for it.

So in honor of my family and friends, I will share a short story I wrote about my childhood. Some of the details may be fabricated, but in essence the story is true.

Enjoy!

Barton Creek

“Are y’all ready to go?” Dad called from the front door.

“I’m ready!” I said happily. I had just changed into blue jeans, a red t-shirt with the logo of some obscure camp stitched across it.

Dad looked back into the house, not seeing anyone else yet.

“I think Mom’s in the bathroom.”

Dad nodded and headed inside to see if he could help make the preparation process go faster for anyone.

I sat on the front porch step and watched bees buzzing around our rosebush. It was an early summer afternoon, with large cumulus clouds spread across the vast Texas sky. A blue jay hopped from one branch on our massive ash tree to the next.

My Dad never liked the ash trees in our front yard. He said the neighborhood only planted them so there would be big nice looking trees in a short amount of time, but they didn’t live long, and their roots grew close to the surface, so unless you had covered them while they were young, it looked like an anaconda was living in your lawn.

I stared up at the tree, it might not be the best kind of tree, but I loved the shade it gave in the summertime, its branches spread perfectly, drooping slightly to bring the maximum amount of sun blockage. The only downside in my opinion was the fall, when thousands of pointy seeds fell from its branches along with the leaves. Those pokey seeds got stuck on everything and occasionally would break the skin, if you stepped on them barefoot.

The door opened behind me and I turned to see the rest of the family ready for our outing. Everyone had tennis shoes and long pants for the journey into the woods.

“Alright, let’s go!” Dad said enthusiastically. He had this tendency to get extremely enthusiastic about something in a funny way, like he was trying to entertain us with his zeal.

We all started marching down the sidewalk, till we reached the small street. We turned left and headed towards the dead end, with large reflective signs that stated “Private Property,” and “No Admittance,” and other such statements of discouragement. We ignored the signs as always, I think they had been left up from a time when the land actually belonged to someone. Now it was like a private trail for our neighborhood’s residents.

“Remember when we filmed Fat Man here?” Jonny said excitedly. He was referring to a home movie we had made parodying Batman. Instead we had made the hero Fat Man and had stuffed pillows into our neighbor’s shirt to make him chubbier. One of the scenes in the movie had Fat Man battling a ‘robot’ played by another neighbor, in the woods.

I laughed, “Oh yeah, I remember that. Remember that Drew wasn’t wearing his shoes.”

“Yeah, that was funny,” Jonny said.

We continued on, passing fields of cactus and tall amber grasses. A few yellow flowers poked out of the undergrowth. Then we ventured into shaded areas where the cedar trees grew close together and formed a canopy over the trail. A few side trails appeared, but we continued down the main one headed for the creek, as we had so many times before.

Jonny came across a large stick a few feet off the trail and decided right away that he needed a walking stick. He marched along for several minutes like a he was Louis or Clark on a grand expedition, but he soon got bored with the stick and decided he’d much rather have the use of his hands for climbing. He left it on the side of the trail, for yet another adventurer to find and use.

We stopped for a couple of minutes at a short tree that was perfect for climbing. The two boys scurried up into the branches and Mom took pictures. I picked a few yellow flowers instead and put them in my hair.

“Y’all ready to keep going?” Dad asked a little impatiently. He was ready to see the river, and maybe stick his feet in the cool water.

The boys leapt out of the branches, landing with a thud into the soft earth.

We turned and continued deeper into the woods, finally after several minutes we came to a stop at a crossroads. One trail wove down a gentler slope to the creek bed, the other rose to the crest of a hill and gave a nice view of the sloping landscape before plummeting down a steep drop to the bottom. Both ended in the same place, so either could be taken.

“So which trail do we want to take?” Dad asked.

“Mountain Goat Trail!” Jonny and I shouted together.

As you might have guessed, this was the steeper trail. We swerved to the right and walked up an incline to the lookout point at the top of the hill. The tops of cedar trees could be seen in any direction. The rolling slopes of the Hill Country looked like a giant green ocean that had been frozen in time, in the middle of a heavy storm.

After staring out at the countryside, we continued down the steep drop. It wasn’t so much like a cliff, more like a giant staircase with some steep places where you needed to be a little more careful. The trail disappeared as well, the large rocky “steps” were the only way down, and no matter how far to the right or left you went, as long as you went down, you would eventually end up hitting the other trail.

I hopped down the rocks, pretending I was actually a mountain goat. My shoes gripped the rocks easily and I felt like I belonged here.

Jonny and Alicia joined me in jumping around as we headed down the steep trail.

Mom and Dad took things a little slower, making sure not to fall.

As we gathered on the intersecting trail, we stopped to stare down the steep drop. This drop was more like a cliff and ended in a little gully where water from further up the hill would rush down towards the creek. No one would go down there unless they were crazy.

While I stared down at the deep drop, my ears picked up a faint sound. “Shh, listen,” I commanded.

The family stopped talking and we all stood still. Faintly, through the trees, we heard the soft roar of the creek.

I smiled eagerly, “I can hear it!”

Our steps quickened as we neared the bottom of the hillside. It had rained a week before and the water was going to be high. As we neared the end of the trail, the sound grew to a loud swooshing sound.

Finally I caught a glimpse of the water. It looked grey and murky, clothed with a bubbly white shawl. “There it is! There it is!” I said excitedly.

“Whoa it’s huge!” Jonny said.

We all scampered down for a closer look, dodging the wreckage the waters had left in its rush to the creek: branches, leaves, even an old shoe. All of a sudden we were no longer on a soft dirt trail, but on white rocks, rubbed smooth by the water’s touch. We came to a stop at the water’s edge and stood in awe of the powerful rapids before us.

Water careened over the stones, and bubbled as it collided with trapped logs. The roar wasn’t deafening but if forced us to increase the volume of our voice to be heard.

Alicia grabbed my hand and stared amazedly at the mighty river before her.

Brian picked up a small stone and tried skipping it across the water; it bounced once then disappeared into the current.

Jonny took up the game right away, though his rocks didn’t bounce and instead he began to see how big of a splash he could make.

After several minutes, we decided to follow the creek downstream and do some exploring. There was another pathway along the water’s edge, so we got in a single file line and began hiking once more on a worn dirt path. As we journeyed the creek widened and slowed to a gentler pace. The roar of the rapids died down and was replaced by the sounds of calling birds and insects. We passed a rope swing that could be used to jump into the river and an odd tree with a cactus growing on top of its mossy bark.

Twenty minutes passed before we decided to take a break. We’d never hiked this far before and we were all tired. Fifty feet off the trail we found what looked like a natural Bathtub; the creek emptied into a little inlet that was separated from the rest of the water by a few large rocks.

We took off our shoes and got our feet wet, walking from stone to stone and then splashing into the cold clear water.

Mom took out some snacks and drinks for the family. She was always prepared for hungry kids. I guess with having four kids she learned pretty quick that having food on hand was a necessity.

We sat back with our crackers and Capri Suns and talked about our adventure. It wasn’t long before we decided to head home, it had been a long walk, especially for Alicia who wanted to be carried now, and the sun was getting closer to setting. But it had been a good day, and even though I’ve been on many journeys to Barton Creek since then, I’ll still always remember that special day.

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