Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Pigs in a Blanket with Gram

It’s no secret that we like to do a lot of cooking in our house.  What can I say, we like to eat!  One thing that I am a little sad about is that I have not been very good about keeping the girls in the kitchen with me lately.  We get so busy, and I get in such a rush, that it is just easier to not have them underfoot.  Or, it’s the rare time when Brenda and I are able to talk undisturbed for a few minutes while we are working on making dinner.  I really need to figure out a way to strike that balance better. 

While Grace and I were away for the weekend on our Father Daughter Camp Out, Gram gave Brenda a wonderful gift by keeping Hailey overnight on Friday.  This gave Brenda a blissful, kid-free night on Friday and a Saturday morning to sleep in and do whatever her heart desired.  I was so pleased that Gram shared these pictures with me, because it really did make me proud to see Hailey (at the ripe old age of 3) helping Gram make pigs in a blanket. 

For those who may be unfamiliar with pigs in a blanket (oh, how I pity you), these are the Hillshire Farm “Lit’l Smokies” sausages enveloped by a potato bread dough.  We love to keep these stashed away in the freezer and make an awesome breakfast when we are camping.  During the fall and winter, we typically keep the dough starter going in our fridge and Brenda will make these by the dozens several times throughout the season. 

I am most proud that in our family, learning in the kitchen frequently means really getting your hands dirty.  It isn’t a “sit here and just watch me” scenario.  To me, there is no better way to learn than to jump right in.  You can see from the pictures that Hailey was heavily involved in the process and made her own pan full of pigs.  From rolling out the dough, to forming the pigs, to getting them into and out of the oven and of course the all important taste test, she really did it all!  She was very proud of her pigs and shared them with mommy when she got home. 

Thanks, Gram for sharing the pictures and for encouraging Hailey in what I consider to be one of my family’s greatest gifts and calling.  I know that Hailey will think back to days like this and will have many, many smiles and stories to share because she got spend this time with you. 


Monday, November 5, 2012

Daddy and Daughter Stuff that Mom Wouldn’t Approve Of

This past weekend, the Men’s Ministry from our church, Hill Country Bible Church – Austin, sponsored the first of 2 weekends that make up the annual Father Daughter Camp Out.  I have been looking forward to Grace reaching the right age for this opportunity and we were both really excited to go this year.  Camp Peniel, in nearby Marble Falls was our host as somewhere around 230-250 men and daughters descended on camp for a fantastic weekend.  We could not have been more blessed.  Everything from the weather to the campsites to the food to the activities were all beyond our expectations. 

Our family took a weekend camping trip last weekend, and with a favorable weather forecast for our father daughter campout, I had decided to break out the tent and forego the travel trailer.  Since the camp was providing the food, and it was going to be just Grace and I, I just couldn’t justify all the work of packing, hauling and setting up the trailer.  I am so glad we took our tent, the nights were nice and cool and it was a brand new experience for Grace. 

Our weekend was themed around a bible verse, Galatians 2:2o, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Grace and I were challenged to memorize this verse.  Once we had it memorized, we were to find one of a handful of father/daughter teams to recite the verse to, in order to earn our camp bracelets.  Grace has done quite a bit of scripture memory with her Awanas club at church, but the verses haven’t typically been this long and complex.  I was hoping we would be able to earn our bracelets before camp ended, and I was thrilled when we were able to check this off our list almost first thing on Saturday morning.  This was just the first of many things that Grace did that surprised, delighted and amazed me over the course of the weekend.

Camp Peniel has so much to offer, but I was a little worried that most of the activities would be a bit over Grace’s head.  Some of the activities, like trail riding were limited to the bigger kids.  But most of the activities didn’t have an age restriction on them, but seemed daunting to girls that haven’t tried them before, like the rock wall, for example.  Grace had done a smaller, mobile rock wall last year, but nothing like the one that scaled the walls of the gymnasium at Camp Peniel.  When her foot slipped on an early attempt at the wall, she got scared and abandoned her climb.  I was afraid she was going to give up before even trying some of the bigger activities that were ahead of us.  At lunch, we talked about how her foot slipped and it scared her, but she didn’t really fall, because the spotter was there to keep her safe.  We talked about how, in this environment, she was safe to take some chances, knowing that the spotter (and her Daddy) would never let her fall.  So after lunch, she mustered up courage and returned to the gym to give that rock wall another try.  This time, when her foot slipped, she didn’t panic.  She listened to the spotter who was coaching her on which hand-hold to grab next, or where to put her feet.  It wasn’t long before she was up to the rafters and ringing the cowbell.  I was SO proud of her for controlling her fear and for listening to the guidance that was provided for her. 

The rock wall gave her the courage try all sorts of new things.  She got to go on a pony ride with Peanut, which she had never done before and next we found ourselves at the rifle range watching other girls and their dads shooting paper targets.  I almost couldn’t believe it when I found myself loading the small bullets into the bolt-action rifle, and showing her how to look down the sights to her target.  I managed to get a picture of her when she was getting ready to shoot, but was so excited watching her squeeze the trigger that I completely forgot to get another picture.

Next, was the zip line.   Now, this isn’t some rinky-dink, kid’s version of a zip line.  This zip line was awesome, as it dropped 40-50 feet from the side of a cliff, over a small lake and into a meadow below.  I am guessing it must have been 100 yards long.  I got a video of it on my phone but it came out very blurry.  Here, the staff secures your harness and gives you some basic instructions, then they have you sit on the platform.  The staff yells down to the end of the line to let them know that the rider is harnessed and then tells the rider that they can go whenever they are ready.  I would not have been the least bit surprised or disappointed if sitting on the platform, dangling over a ledge, if Grace would have said “No thanks” and gotten up.  Instead, she leaped off that platform before the spotter could finish her last sentence.  Afterwards she said she was never afraid.

By the time the day was over, she was a filthy mess from head to toe.  She had conquered a rock wall, ridden a pony, decorated a rocket we made, fired a rifle, braved a zip line, launched her rocket, drank orange soda before dinner, ate Halloween candy for a late night snack and went to bed at 11 o’clock, without brushing her teeth.  It was an experience she will never forget, I am sure.  I also learned a lot over the weekend as well.  Sometimes I hold on too tight, and forget to let her do some big kid “stuff”.  I have to learn to loosen the grip around her, especially on occasions like this where she can have the freedom to fail in a controlled environment.  To be clear, when we told Mommy about all the fun we had, she was proud of Grace too.  I didn’t get lectured about pushing her too far either.  But deep down inside, we knew that a lot of that day would not have been on the Mommy-Approved list of activities.  And we can’t wait to go back next year!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Off to School!

We had a busy summer and are settling back into the routine of school.  Grace started back to school as a first grader this week, and Hailey started at Round Rock Christian Academy in their 3 day per week preschool.  The last couple of weeks have been all about meeting teachers, getting the first day outfits ready, getting school supplies labeled and coordinating backpacks and lunchboxes.  We did sneak in one last weekend camping trip before school started, and we will wrap up the summer this weekend celebrating Grace’s 6th birthday! 

As has become customary in our family, our summer was filled with Shamu and his SeaWorld friends, and a 4th of July of fireworks and blueberries at Gramma and Grampa’s.  The girls spent their days at Gram and Granddad’s, at various Vacation Bible Schools, Backyard Bible Clubs and swim lessons.  Both girls were enthralled with the Olympics in London, especially swimming, gymnastics and women’s beach volleyball.  By watching the games, Grace learned how to swim freestyle and Hailey mustered the courage to don goggles and venture beneath the surface of our pool “sans floaties”.   Along the way, Grace lost her first tooth, followed quickly by her second. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Birthday Bug

She is her daddy’s Sweet Pea, her Gram and Momma’s Lady Bug, and her Grandma’s littlest Dolly. 

She is our girlie girl, with eyes for sparkly shoes, jeweled sunglasses and bright colored earrings. 

She is up for playing in the sandbox, as long as she can wear her party dress and a tiara. 

She loves Elmo, the Little People and all things Minnie Mouse.

She is anxious to start school, and loves riding her bike.

And she chose salad as her meal to celebrate her big day.

Tonight at the Y, she makes her big move.  No more babies and toddlers, it’s to the Kid’s Zone for her!

Evidently all your dreams come true when you turn 3!  Happy Birthday, Hailey!

2011-10-29 13.33.16

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

On Mission in Haiti–Catching a Vision

To be able to glimpse into the future envisioned by Mission of Hope, you have to start by understanding the vision, resolutions and principle tenets that they have adopted.  I am going to paraphrase it here for the purpose of context for my trip to Haiti, but if you would like to read more about MOH and their vision, you can see it here: Mission of Hope Haiti - Vision and Resolution

Their vision statement is relatively simple, “As an organization following Jesus Christ, we exist to bring life transformation to every man, woman, and child in Haiti.”  Mission of Hope was established in 1998 as a small mission, reaching into the surrounding community. What became most evident at the start was the need for better education for the children in Haiti.  In 2010, the literacy rate in Haiti was 45%.  This is a tragically low percentage especially if you consider the fact that Haiti has a relatively young population.  Sadly, only 50% of kids from rural villages, like those around Mission of Hope, will attend school.  With unemployment somewhere between 85 – 90%, and 80% of the population living in abject poverty, it is clear that educating a new generation is vital to the nation’s survival. 

Within a few days of starting the school at MOH, it became clear that nutrition was going to be key to success.  Children were coming into class with red tinged hair and bloated bellies, both indications of malnutrition.  They were having difficulty focusing in class, or would become ill, to the point of passing out.  So in order for Mission of Hope to provide good education, by necessity, they also needed to address nutrition.  Mission of Hope purchased a peanut grinder and hired a Haitian woman to churn out peanut butter that was put on bread for the children to have a good lunch.  Within days, children were able to focus more.  Over time, the bloated bellies and red hair subsided, and the overall health of the children was beginning to be restored. 

But bringing kids into a school and providing at least one good meal wasn’t going to be enough if they were sending these kids home everyday, back into homes that were breeding grounds for disease and infection.  Educating communities on personal hygiene, and providing basic medical care was also needed.  So the mission grew to include a clinic and a community program that now includes a mobile clinic and education.  The clinic at MOH was invaluable after the earthquake, and was the site of the first sterile operating rooms in Haiti after the quake.  The medical missions to Haiti following the earthquake was also the beginning of a fantastic relationship between Mission of Hope and Hill Country Bible Church Northwest. 

The earthquake happened just before 5pm local time, and the epicenter of the 7.0 magnitude quake was about 15 miles southwest of Port Au Prince.  Keeping in mind that this was the strongest earthquake in the region since 1770, and that almost all of the permanent structures in PAP are made of concrete and cinderblock, paired with the timing of the quake while most people in the city were at work, the amount of falling concrete debris must have been astonishing.  We aren’t talking about steel girded structures tested to withstand earthquakes like we would see in the US, these are structures designed to withstand the occasional hurricane and rainy season with high winds.  The government in Haiti estimated that 3 million people needed immediate medical attention after the quake.  They also estimated that 200,000 people died, though I have seen estimates far greater online from other sources. 

It’s not surprising that in the days and weeks following this tragedy, amputations were required to save the lives of many, many people.  Faced with losing a limb, or losing a life, the choice seems simple enough.  Here is where it is important to remember that this isn’t a wealthy nation, with a high availability of quality medical care, and long term disability support.  The disabled in this country are seen as being worse than useless.  Disabled people are a drain on the resources of their families and there are no sterile facilities to which they can be shipped off to be cared for by someone else.  It is likely that if you become disabled in Haiti, not only will you not be welcomed home by people eager to take care of you, but you are likely to become an easy target for crime.  Finding work as an able-bodied, young, strong individual is difficult, for a disabled person, it is almost impossible.  This is a very scary reality for many Haitians.  Following the earthquake, MOH was able to set up a Prosthetics Lab within their clinic.  They also have an extraordinary prosthetist that is leading this laboratory, Naoki Yao.  Naoki was practicing in the Dominican Republic when the earthquake struck and was eager to help where he could. 

In the lab with Naoki is a Haitian apprentice, David.  Like every other facet of the vision at MOH, a principle resolution is for indigenous mobilization.  In other words, how can we create a job that a Haitian can do, or how can we create a ministry that can be led by a Haitian?  It is difficult to imagine another circumstance that would allow a man like David the opportunity to learn under a leader of his profession like Naoki.  The benefit that a prosthetic leg offers a man, woman or child is immeasurable.  Imagine being a man with a family who has lost a leg.  Not only are you dealing with the physical loss of a limb, you are also dealing with the emotional toll of not being able to support your family, the financial reality of your circumstance, the fear of a grim future, on and on.  Now imagine what happens when that man is fitted for a prosthetic leg; this man has not only regained mobility, but his soul is put at ease, his burden is lifted and his family now has a future he can be proud to work towards.

Mission of Hope has also expanded its vision to include orphan care.  It is hard for me to fathom, but there are currently 400,000 Haitian children who are living without parents today.  MOH established the Village of Hope which provides a family environment, spiritual guidance, education, and healthcare for 60 children ranging in age from infants to young adult.  While it is so encouraging to see the smiling faces playing on the playground or eating in Maggie’s Kitchen at MOH, it is equally daunting to consider how much greater the need is.  The kids who call Village of Hope home have bright eyes, warm hearts and big dreams. 

After the earthquake, the Haitians were blessed with many NGOs that came into Haiti to help provide temporary housing while the nation rebuilds.  Two years later, the blue tarps are beginning to fade and are becoming tattered.  Many people are still clinging to what they have, but the move to build affordable and permanent housing has been difficult.  Mission of Hope launched the MOH 500, a drive to fund and build 500 permanent homes by the end of 2012.  Calling on the resolution to be an indigenous movement, Haitian labor is being used to build these homes, and the families that are placed in these homes are investing into their communities.  In exchange for their investment, in 5 years they will receive the title to their properties.  And it isn’t just a house with 4 walls, but land for a garden and an assortment of fruit trees like mango and plantains.  The goal is to provide families with healthy food, as well provide a revenue stream by growing crops that can be sold in the market. 

I would like to invite you to check out the Mission of Hope website, Mission of Hope website.  There is a ton of really great information on what they are currently involved in, and what they have in the plans for the future.  Their work in creating micro-businesses with women through 3 Chords, future expansion onto a land provided by the government of Haiti that will be used for Pastoral Retreat and Conference Center, trade schools and agriculture education and an expansion of their nutrition program through One Haiti is awe inspiring.  Make sure you check out the vision videos as well, Mission of Hope Videos

In my next blog entry I will dive more into the projects we worked on, and the tours we went on.  Still lots of information to process through and share.  Here is a link to a photo album I have on Facebook,  and you don’t need a Facebook account to see the album. 2012 Haiti Mission Trip Photo Album

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Haiti Mission Trip – Travel and Arrival at Mission of Hope

I had the chance to join 7 other men from my church on a mission trip Haiti.  Our church has a fantastic relationship with Mission of Hope, an organization that has been doing some amazing work in Haiti for many, many years.  Since the earthquake in January of 2010, the vision for Mission of Hope has expanded greatly, and the answer from the executive team down to the hard working volunteers on the ground has been enormous.  Teams of students from high school and the college level, along with professionals with a heart for missions have joined the locals in villages around Mission of Hope to provide for the educational, clinical, nutritional, and spiritual needs of the people.

I experienced so much in the time I spent in Haiti.  It’s too much to try to convey in a single blog post, so I will start with our travel day and arrival at MOH.  Over the next several days, as I get back into my routine at work, I will post more about the things I saw, the projects we took part in, and the takeaways I came home with. 

We left Austin very early on Saturday morning.  Our travel plans had us flying American Airlines from Austin to Dallas to Fort Lauderdale to Port Au Prince.  Brenda insisted on driving me to the airport, even though it meant getting the girls up for a 5AM drive to the airport.  One more chance to kiss and hug my girls, even that early, made for a great sendoff for me.  When I traveled for business in my previous jobs, I would have avoided a flight plan like the one we had like the plague.  Stopovers in Dallas and Fort Lauderdale can be a recipe for disaster, depending on the weather.  Our flights were problem-free and we had ample time between legs. 

Unlike any trip I ever had when I traveled for work though, we got insanely lucky when it came to which gates we arrived and departed from.  When we got to DFW, our next flight departed at almost adjacent to the gate we arrived at, and we had a good 45 minutes to get there, plenty of time for a stop at Starbucks!  When we arrived in Fort Lauderdale, we departed for PAP from the same gate we arrived in.  What?  No marathon sprint across 3 terminals, racing up escalators and praying for favor at the tram stops?  This was unheard of! 

I did have a price to pay on this journey though, I missed Grace’s first T-ball game.  She was very understanding, and my brother-in-law was kind enough to record it for me.  Thanks, Bryan!  She hit the ball well, and ran the bases pretty well, except for almost missing home plate.  Something for us to work on for our next game.  We grabbed some lunch at a Cuban food stand in the airport before boarding our plane for Port Au Prince.  Jeff, one of our team members who had made this trip before, made an observation that I should have heeded after he returned to our seats aboard the plane from the restroom.  “Better go now, that’s the nicest bathroom we will see for the next week.”

Flying in low over the coast, you get a taste of what will overwhelm you once on the ground.  The shoreline is littered with trash and debris.  Tons of Styrofoam continues to wash ashore and most of the beaches are filled with broken bottles, torn fishing nets and half-sunken boats.  Another sign of the size of this airport, the largest in Haiti, was when we landed, taxied to the end of the runway and made a U-turn to taxi to the gate.  We were taken by bus from the terminal gate to a warehouse that now serves as the baggage claim area.  Much of the airport is still in visible ruin.  It’s clear that while the people of Haiti are busy trying to rebuild, resources are scarce and priority is function over beauty.  Clearing customs in Haiti is a unique experience, to say the least. 

Once all of our team had secured our luggage, we gathered together for what can be a pretty intimidating and chaotic walk from the terminals to the busses waiting in the parking lot.  Dozens of valets in red shirt begin vying for your business as soon as you clear the door, wanting to help you with you bags along the short walk.  They are everywhere and will quite literally try to take your bags from your hand.  The going rate for this service is 1 US dollar.  It’s a small price to pay, but it somehow feels more like a ransom than a tip for service rendered.  The currency exchange in Haiti is about 8 to 1, Haitian to US.  The average working Haitian will labor all day for approximately 5 US dollars.

In the parking lot, we were greeted by Bobby, the driver from Mission of Hope.  He helped us clear the valets away from our team, get our luggage loaded into a truck and then get our team into a separate van.  Several of the people on our team had made this trip before.  Some have made several trips over the last couple of years and they began to notice immediately the marked improvements along the way.  This trip was a first for only 3 of the 8 guys on our team.  Gone from the airport grounds, just within the last several weeks was a large tent city.  In it’s place was broken concrete parking lots, sidewalks and steady stream of trash.  Previously, it was a sea of blue tarp tents and shanties, homes to people who had lost all else. 

The roads in Port Au Prince are drivable, but full of potholes.  Lanes are a mere suggestion as you follow the taillights of the vehicle in front of you.  The public transportation of choice by most of the locals are the tap-taps, converted mini-trucks or flatbeds that carry passengers along fixed routes.  Rides are about 75 cents one-way.  Many people from the surrounding villages rely on these to get into the city or to markets.  Vehicles in Haiti are generally pushed to their limits, mechanically and in their capacity.  A dozen or more people will cram into the converted beds of a small truck, including standing on the bumpers or sitting on top of the makeshift covers over the bed.  Broken down vehicles is a common scene in Haiti, and we saw several as we drove through town.  Suspension and good tires are luxuries in this country, so too are alignments.  One thing that I was surprised to see few of were bicycles.  I am not sure I ever saw a single bike anywhere on the entire trip.  But a motorcycle or scooter may be used to carry a family of 4, plus whatever they picked up from the market.

It takes us about an hour to navigate our way to Mission of Hope, which sits in the village of Titanyen.  We arrive at MOH just before dinner time.  Before we departed Austin, as as team, we divvied up a list of supplies that we were responsible for bringing.  Each team that goes to MOH, based on the size of their team brings all sorts of food items, work gear and necessities.  These supplies are combined with the items everyone else has brought to provide the meals that all of us enjoyed.  It is not a stretch to say that MOH literally runs on carbs.  Because of their relative ease to pack and travel with, and the short burst of energy they provide, it is a logical choice.  This being said, I don’t think I want to see another Pringle or Rice Krispie Treat for awhile. 

I look forward to sharing more about our trip and some pictures as well.  If you are at all interested in learning more about how you can help in Haiti, or if you think you would like to look into taking a team down to Mission of Hope, I am happy to connect you to the right people.  Everyone I met, from the volunteers, to the staff to villagers and kids in the orphanage were wonderful people. 

voodoo team closeup

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Going on Mission in Haiti March 31st–April 5th

On January 12, 2010 an earthquake literally shook an entire nation to pieces.  The outpour of support, aid and assistance from all over the world has been awe-inspiring, but 2 years later, the Haitian people are still rebuilding.  While buildings and man-made creations remain scarred and damaged, the true foundation, the spirit of the Haitians is stronger today than ever.  Over the last 2 years, my church community at Hill Country Bible Church has forged an amazing relationship with Mission of Hope, partnering to provide medical services and orphan care.  As time has carried us further from the disaster of 2010, we now have the opportunity to move beyond crisis care, and into a place where we can help Mission of Hope expand their services, and to provide more fully for the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of an entire generation of Haitians. 

I am excited to join in this mission as well.  On March 31st, 2012, I will join a team from our Men’s Ministry (www.hcbc.com) for a short-term mission trip to Haiti.  We will be working with Mission of Hope (www.mohhaiti.org) for several days, serving through constructing homes, ministering to orphans, and working alongside the Haitian people. We will also help a missional business launched by some guys from Austin with some work they need done as well (www.toplinematerials.com).  

Would you please consider supporting me on this mission?  There are several ways you can participate.  First, your prayers are vital to the success of this trip.  Not only prayers to cover our journey, our work and our time, but also prayers to cover and bless our families as we are away.  Second, we are looking for financial support.  The cost of this trip will be approximately $1500 per person.  It is my firm belief that God blesses the gift and the giver, so if you are in a position to support us through a one-time donation – and every gift is valuable and appreciated, I am confident God has a blessing for that!  If you can provide financially, Hill Country Bible Church has made it as convenient as possible to receive your gift.  You can use this link to either provide payment by check, debit or credit card http://global.hcbc.com/give-online.  On the website, you will see a dropdown of all the upcoming mission trips planned at HCBC, please select “Haiti Men’s Construction and BAM”.  You can also stop by the church and drop off a check there if you would like.  If you write a check to mail or drop by the church, please indicate in the Memo line that your check is for the Haiti Mission Trip and the name of who you are supporting. 

Please let me know if there are questions I can help answer for you.  Upon returning, I will be happy to provide an update on our trip and share with you what we were able to accomplish.  Thank you for your prayers and support!