10th Caroline Project – Cambodian Adventure, Helping Build Homes

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We are still continuing to finish out the Caroline Project and wanted to share this one with our followers. For the 10th Caroline Project we decided to give to my (Joel) sister Deb. She has been involved with Habitat for Humanity since her college years and I (we) have always admired her dedication to serve the underserved and provide them with the dignity of a home of their own. Since there was a close relationship with this particular Caroline Project, we had the idea to have her as a guest writer for our blog. We are glad we did as you can read her inspiring and honest words below.

I was honored to be chosen as Joel and Anna’s latest Caroline Project recipient to help send me on my adventure to Cambodia this past November with a team of 20 through Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program.  But, what came next…“Will you consider being a guest blogger?”…well, immediately that put this introvert into panic mode.  Putting my thoughts and reflections into a blog and then sending it out into the cyber world for all to read is not something that this girl dreams about.  But, I’m willing to take the risk…so here goes.

I got involved with Habitat over 18 years ago, and taking a Global Village trip soon became one of my Habitat bucket list items.  For those not familiar with the Global Village (GV) program, it is Habitat for Humanity’s international volunteer program. Teams travel to other countries to work alongside families, build housing solutions, and experience the local culture.   It’s hard to believe that I have been involved with Habitat for that long, and that it finally took celebrating my 10 year work anniversary this past June with my current affiliate to give me the push to finally plan a GV trip.  It had always been a “someday” type of venture.  You know, we all have those “someday” trips, experiences, goals, plans,…we’ll get to it “someday.”   Someday is like tomorrow, it doesn’t become reality until you seize the opportunity and take the first step forward.   So, I was finally on my way to fundraise for my first GV trip…finally on my way to Cambodia!

Although I was super eager to be embarking on this adventure, I was also more and more anxious about what to expect as the time of departure came closer and closer.  It had been a while since I had traveled internationally, so I had so many different types of emotions running through me…excitement, unbelief, anxiety, fear, and great anticipation.

Plus I was dealing with the stress of getting the laundry list of things done both personally and professionally before I could take flight, but I knew once I was en route, the things holding me back would start to melt away and this adventure would change my life in so many different ways—more ways than I could ever imagine.  It was time to let go, and bring on my adventure…

My team was diverse and included members from around the world. I knew only the two trip leaders and looked forward to getting to know the rest as we spent the time building homes for two families, experiencing the Cambodian culture, and bonding over dinners, Cambodian excursions, AcroYoga, and the commonality that every person deserves a decent place to call home.

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In Cambodia, more than 25% live on the equivalent of less of $1.25 a day. In rural areas, many live in inadequate housing, and access to piped water and proper sanitation facilities is extremely low. My team would spend our work week building a home from ground up for So Heng, a widow who sells fish at the market, two of her children, and her grandson.  Part of our team would also assist another family continuing to make progress on his two story home under his skilled leadership.  We all became well-versed in the art of bricklaying, mortar mixing, and rebar tying in the grueling heat and humidity in the Battambang region of northwestern Cambodia.

One of my worries for my trip revolved around food…what would I eat?  For those who know me, it’s a common concern, even at a potluck.  I tend to like things fairly plain and pure, not a lot of sauces, and I just am not very adventurous when it comes to eating, but I also have experienced enough cultures to know you graciously accept whatever is offered.

In Cambodia, at my first dinner with some of my new team members, I chose to embrace opportunity….I volunteered to hold a live tarantula and then ate a fried tarantula, yes, I did just say that I ATE a fried tarantula (at least all 8 legs…now, the body, well, that was a different story!).   After that, throughout the week, more and more, I embraced the food adventures and tried almost all of it.

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Amazingly enough, I liked most of what I tried…even things that I don’t like in the States. The food is grown differently, fresh, in its purest form, not processed.  I loved the Cambodian cuisine.  Actually, I have had the hardest time adjusting back to food in the U.S., and I long to be back in Cambodia eating the fresh fruit and various local dishes our hosts showered us with.  I wish I could find some Cambodian cuisine around Columbus, especially the produce…I haven’t given up just yet, and I am still on the hunt.

In Cambodia, I found rest and restoration.  Although well intended in my day to day life, I rarely take the time God envisioned for us to rest and be restored. I have a wooden saying in my office of Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” to constantly remind me to take time for rest and seek God’s refuge for peace and renewal. Instead of leaning into God and taking a sabbatical from the busyness to refocus and recharge, I tend to overbook and over-stress my life to the point of weariness.

I tend to tell myself, I’ll get to that “rest thing” eventually, but first I need to focus on completing X, Y, and Z.  When I do take the time to rest, I cannot seem to let myself fully be still, to surrender.  All of the daily lists keep running through my head, which then defeats the purpose.  At home, I have a plaque of Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God” to serve as another reminder of stillness, surrender and trust.  Even with multiple reminders, it still is hard to let go of the things life throws at me, and seek refuge to rest and to be rejuvenated in all of the beauty God surrounds us with.

In Cambodia, I was able to step away from the daily distractions of work, technology, self-generated fears, and just life in general and find peace and restoration half way across the world.  Although we worked hard each day in the heat and humidity, my body and soul never grew weary as it easily tends to do back home in my daily routine.  Each morning before starting our brick laying and mortar mixing, our team circled up for a brief 5-10 minutes of stretching, meditating and re-centering ourselves toward the untapped day that lay ahead…letting go of the previous day, and focusing on the potential of that new day.

I found sanctuary in my new surroundings, my team, the beauty created around me, in our hosts and leaders, and in experiencing the Cambodian culture and way of life.  I found inner peace and balance through yoga, solitude, friendship, and the love of humanity.

I found joy in the smiles and laughter of the children we met and played with.  Boy, did I find joy with the children!   I found joy in our wonderful hosts and all the new experiences we had.   I found joy in the beauty of this country and its people and for all the new friends I came away with.

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My time in Cambodia will forever be imprinted on my heart and has been life altering.  It has stirred awake my almost forgotten love of adventure and exploring new places and things.  It has encouraged me to actively seek out new opportunities and experiences.  It has aroused a need for healthy living and adjusting my lifestyle to incorporate more self-care, yoga, rest, stillness, surrender, and balance.

Time seems to fly by faster and faster as we get older and the monotony and the busyness of life seem to just wear us down, to where we constantly say, “tomorrow…” or “someday…” then years later we wonder where the time went.  For now, I am working on ways to seize each day, find the joy, look for beauty, love humanity, filter out the unnecessary noise, take risks, embrace opportunity, and create my own opportunity through becoming a GV trip leader.

I am sure Joel and Anna didn’t realize the full impact that their Caroline Project contribution would make, and I am truly appreciative of their support as well as many others who joined them in supporting me.

I am ready to take on the next adventures God has in store for me…..got my passport, will definitely travel…

9th Caroline Project – Andrew Larson – Reign Ministries

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At work, I share my desk with college students; lots of college students.  And though I tease them for getting their college-student-germs all over my stuff (which they totally do), I adore them.  And they know it.  Consequently they share themselves with me.  Over the few years that I have been at the institution, I have been privy to these student’s dreams, goals, worries, conflicts, secrets, and truths:  basically, their most honest selves.  I am the luckiest.

Knowing these people has made me hopeful for the future.  I believe in them. Sometimes their generation gets a bad rap.  But I just dig them so much.  I see so much in them.  That they are willing to engage in difficult conversations.  They are willing to question subculture norms.  They are justice driven.  They want meaning.  They care about the suffering people in the world. They are the future of the church and that is both exciting and comforting.

Once such person is Andrew Larson.  This young man does love well.  To know him is to know that he loves people for who they are, right where they are.  He values their cultures, their experiences, and what makes them a whole person.  He is genuine and funny.  When you walk away from talking to Andrew, you say to yourself, “there’s just something special about that guy…”

Andrew graduated college last year and promptly started his time as a staff member at Reign Ministries.  Reign Ministries is an umbrella organization that takes youth on mission trips across the globe.  Reign Ministries has two divisions: Royal Servants, which is a summer missions program, and Kairos, a 10 month discipleship school.  I know many that read this blog have had life changing experiences with Reign.

With Andrew’s personality and sense of wanderlust, it just makes sense that he would dedicate his life to an organization that seeks to give people opportunities to really love others how Jesus did.  To see people.  To engage people.  To honor people. This is love.

Joel and I were happy to give a gift to Andrew and his work at Reign Ministries.  I am thankful Reign Ministries exists and that people like Andrew can travel the globe loving people when we cannot.  Andrew works at Reign Ministries full time.  If you would like to support him financially, please do so here.

 

 

 

 

8th Caroline Project: 8 Months of Giving

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Well, the 8th Caroline Project has come and gone. I don’t think I’ve written an entry for a hundred years…because life has been so full of both good and overwhelming things.  (Good:  spring break, preparing for and delivering a talk at a women’s conference, lots of family time as well as time with “our people”.  Overwhelming: my computer crashed and our plumbing backed up.)  Consequently there has been very little time left for things like writing.  Such is live and the beauty of an informal blog – breaks are totally okay.

Here’s the scoop on this month’s Caroline Project:  A friend needed some money for something.  That’s it. There’s really nothing more to it than that.

So instead of any information about an organization, I want to unpack the things we’ve been gleaning from the past 8 months of giving.

It seemed so crazy/weird/dumb in the beginning…what a strange thing we were led to do.  It felt pointless even.  But now…I never want to stop.

You guys, I cannot even tell you how amazing it has been to know that we will be giving; to know that there is money available, set aside already, with only the intent to be given away.  That when we see a need (because they are THERE) we will be able to do something.

I can be so self-focused, you know?  When the crap hit the fan last year, one of my reactions was to hide in my bed with the covers pulled up over my face.  Definitely there have been times where I did that very thing.  But that only works for so long, really.  Five year olds don’t raise themselves.  Life goes on.  And I don’t want to miss out on even one moment of my life because I’m stuck in a place where I’m only able to see how things are not going my way.  The beauty in The Caroline Project is that it is constant.  It’s a way of life, really.  Month after month we are committed to thinking outside of ourselves.  In the beginning, it took that accountability, that promise we made to ourselves to do this, in order for us to give…when all we wanted to do was think about ourselves.

I know that we’re in the category of the wealthiest people in the world.  If you makeover $50,000 a year, that applies to you as well.  That being said,  Joel and I are not wealthy people.  We have jobs.  We get paid.  But we are not rolling in the dough, you know?  So to add a serious financial donation to our budget every single month for a year seemed downright insane.  Like, CRAZY AND DUMB AND COMPLETELY POINTLESS.  

But I have to tell you something about that, the financial piece.  If we were in the same room, I’d make you lean in just a little closer so you were paying attention.  And then I’d lift my hand up to the side of my mouth and I’d whisper:  “Here’s the crazy thing: It’s working.  Like, financially…  It’s working.”  It’s as if God is filling in the gaps or something (duh, I’ve only heard 200 sermons in my life about this very topic ).  For real, our budget is stretching.  Plus, we have had many extra opportunities to earn more money each month.  Yes, there have been months where we have had to go without extra stuff so that we can maintain our promise to The Caroline Project (think:  sorry friends, we can’t go out to eat with you because we have no extra funds after The Caroline Project).  Big whoop.  Shouldn’t it be like that sometimes?!?  But overall, it hasn’t  been like that.  More often than not, we’ve kept up our usual lifestyle.  We’ve never been big spenders and we’re always pretty budget conscious.  But we’ve done things like buy new (new to us) living room furniture and a truck.  We’ve gone on our regular small vacations.  We’ve done things like eat out and go to movies pretty much the same amount as usual.  The point is:  I’m surprised that our lifestyle hasn’t really needed to change that much.  Like, really surprised.  Like, if that’s the case than I ALWAYS want to give more than I think I can give.  Because, apparently I CAN give more than I think I can give…

I’m not so naive that I think our small financial contribution really makes any difference in the bottom lines of the organizations and individuals we’ve given to.  Not really.  No, this is being done for us; to bring us to a different place than when we started.  You see, The Caroline Project has created room.  Room to grieve.  Room to heal.  Through it we have been allowed to pause…to take time.  We’ve been able to somewhat remove the pressure to have it all figured out. And we’ve been allowed to reassess what we thought we needed to be true, that we could make our own plans, that we had control over the details of our lives…

I think part of why it took me so long to write this post is because I didn’t know what words to use to fully express what The Caroline Project has done for us…and I still don’t.  All I can say is…that it’s just really good…

7th Caroline Project: KIVA Loans

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Well, it’s time to write about our most recent Caroline Project donation.  I mean, it’s almost been a month since we’ve done the donation… I’ve been feeling a little guilty about not writing sooner.  I’ve been hesitant about writing anything else until I write about the next Caroline Project, and consequently blog entries are stacking up in my mind.  Writing this post started to become an ominous thing on my to do list- hanging over my head.  But then, last week, I remembered some key things- The Caroline Project is supposed to be something that keeps us accountable on a regular basis, but not something that is intended to be done on a strict time table.  Most importantly:  It’s not something we’re doing so that other people can read about it… the Caroline Project is meant for US.  To change us.

And it IS changing us.  We can see it.  We can FEEL it.  Again and again it is happening…us looking beyond ourselves, beyond our disappointments and even beyond our successes.  The result is this really cool healing.  I cannot wait to tell you more about it.  Here I could easily digress to one of those aforementioned blog entries that are stacking up in my mind.  Focus, Anna, focus:

For Christmas, and for the seventh Caroline Project, Joel and I chose to give each other microloans from Kiva.  In case you are not aware, the very brief explanation of micro loans goes like this:  A person who owns a business, usually in an underprivileged country, applies for a loan with an overhead company.  That person (the borrower) indicates how much money they need, and what they need it for.  Other people can then become lenders and contribute loans to the borrower in $25 increments (by paying the overhead company and choosing which borrower will receive the money).  Those separate $25 increments add up to whatever amount is needed.  The borrower then repays the overhead company.  The idea is that once the loan has been paid back, the lender can put their initial $25 into someone else’s loan.

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There are many different microloan companies.   We picked Kiva based on recommendations from others. Kiva tracks things like the percentage of the total that is already funded, the borrower’s repayment history, etc.  The lender can read a detailed explanation of  the borrowers business.

What I love is that you, the lender, can choose which person you’d like to support.  You can sort by gender, country, specialty, etc.   What I love even more is that $25, the amount of money I can get by cleaning out my car and going through the pockets of our dirty laundry before it goes into the wash, can actually help someone make a different life for themselves and their family.  A hardworking, brave person can maintain and improve his or her business because of a very small sacrifice on my part.

Plus, we had a blast choosing for each other!  For me, Joel chose to loan to Silvia, who is with a group of women in Cuenca, Ecuador.  She applied for a loan to raise money to grow her chicken business (her goal is to have a bigger pen).  I mean, for REAL!  Way to go Joel!  For one- It was important to him that he chose women.  He knows that I firmly believe that the empowerment of women = change for the better.  (I cannot say enough about this, and yet I am finding that I can barely formulate sentences about this conviction…the empowerment of women- from my backyard to the most remote places of the globe…it’s as if for the very first time I’m seeing how urgent this is)  And…I mean, chickens….come ON!  As you may recall, we got chickens last spring and I’m kinda crazy about them.  Additionally, Joel chose this because he was born in Ecuador.  I was going to choose a place in Ecuador for HIM, but he nabbed it first!  (There was only one loan in Ecuador when we sat down to choose.)

For Joel, I chose to loan to Hipolito, a pastor in the Dominican Republic, who runs a water project that provides purified water to the 30,000 people who live in his community. The $9,000 loan helps the company invest in supplies including a truck, five-gallon bottles, sterilization supplies, etc.  I chose this for Joel primarily because it is environmental in nature.  Our bold conviction is that Christians (rather- everyone) need be thinking and taking care of the environment.  40% of people in the world lack basic water sanitation.  Water- something that is NEEDED TO EXIST… a basic human need and right.  We are convinced that, with proper environmental stewardship, this major injustice could be greatly reduced.   If people in all parts of the globe had access to clean water, their lives would be changed forever.

The other day I got an email that Hipolito has made a loan payment of $0.64.  Sixty four cents, you guys…  Consider that 1.2 billion people in the world live on $0.23 a day.  Consider that Hipolito’s payments are being divided between the 227 other people who have also loaned to him.  To me that $0.64 is a MAJOR DEAL.

I’d love to keep highlighting microloans.  If you’d like to share your experience with Kiva or other microloan companies, please leave a comment on this post.

6th Caroline Project: Meals and Cookies

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I’ve talked to you about my church before; tons of times. Because it’s just so very much a part of my life. And I (we) have strong opinions on giving financially to our church-basically that if you can (i.e. you have a job that pays you steady income) you should.  And you should do it regularly (i.e. whatever set amount you decide to give, you should give it each and every time you get a paycheck.)  AND, that your LIFESTYLE SHOULD ADJUST SO THAT YOU CAN DO THIS (as opposed to giving adjusting to meet your lifestyle).  I know there are situations where giving is not so cut and dry- but this ‘system’ is what works for us.

This is never something that is legalistic to us – meaning – never do I think God’s love for me is because we give to our church financially.  Additionally, our giving is not something that is done as a result of any warm and fuzzy feelings brought to us by our pastors, the worship team, or what Jonah learned in Sunday School that day.  It’s just more factual than that.  I love my church.  I believe in what my church is doing.  I give to my church.

Anyway…the point is that since we have been able to give, we have always tried to make a point do so regularly.  And then, when additonal opportunities present themselves, we try to give to those opportunities on top of what we give regularly.  Make sense?

We knew that there would be at least one Caroline Project that would be in conjunction with our church.  We knew it was time in November people started talking about the Christmas meals that our church helps to provide for those in our community who find themselves in need.  This started last year and runs with the local food shelf.   This event spoke to our hearts because we wanted to do something right here in our community.  Plus, it gave us the opportunity to support something financially as well as volunteer.

So, along with many people in our church, we bought a couple of meals. And yesterday we made cookies, dozens and dozens dozens of cookies.  And today, hard working, deserving people came and picked up a meal for their family.  This is a church that I want to be a part of…a church made of normal (i.e. totally screwed up) people- who want to give back to their community-without questions or judgments- but with LOVE.

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Jonah made the Berenstain Bears…we had to keep them because they were too ugly to give away. Also, maybe because he was so proud. But mostly because they were ugly.

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Look at all these beautiful boxes. Not yet filled in this photo- just hundreds of empty boxes.

4th Caroline Project: Planting seeds in hearts and fields

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Environmental Stewardship…Creation Care…Sustainable Agriculture…These words highlight the topic of the fourth Caroline Project and are something our family values very much.  Since I (Joel) have a connection to the individual we’re supporting, I’m excited to share this post with you.

Most of my professional training centers on “Creation Care”; simply defined as taking care of God’s creation because He made it. This was the topic of my master’s thesis, which later got published as a book entitled A Field Guide to Christian Environmental Education.  To me there is a connection between our relationship with God and our relationship with the land. Our family is committed to exploring both of these on a deeper level. We take very seriously the command given in Genesis 2:15 which says: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work and take care of it.” I think it is helpful to look at the Hebrew words for “till” and “keep”. The word for “till” is abad, which means: to care for something in a careful way. It means to take care of something. So we are called to take care of God’s garden. The second word “keep” is shamar i. This means:  to safe keep. It is used elsewhere in the Bible in a popular benediction in Numbers 6:24-26. In this passage it describes how God safe keeps and protects us.  So- we are called to safe keep and protect the garden.

In the classes I teach, I am able to focus on these things. I try to open my students’ eyes to truly see the creation in a way that they maybe haven’t considered before. I try to inspire love for God’s creation; not to replace the focus of God but because they are things He created.

I believe strongly that people cannot separate themselves from the land. If you are curious how intimately we are connected to the land, you can start your search in Romans 8:19-22. Our sin made devastating changes to the natural world. The creation waits in eager expectation for humankind to be transformed so that it can be freed from its bondage. This transformation comes through Christ- His death, resurrection, and second coming.  People, I don’t know how much more of a connection there could be than that. I believe that someday I am going to have to give an account for how well I have managed what God has lovingly provided through his works.

I propose that it is a mistake for organizations whose mission is to care for people who are forgotten, marginalized, and living in poverty but are not including taking care of the land in which these people live as part of their mission.  There are multiple reasons why these people are in the position they are in; many of which are related to the environmental context in which they live. Many are hurting due to the mismanagement of the natural resources that are there to provide for their needs. Unfortunately this tends to funnel into a downward spiral of God’s creation not being able to support the people that it was designed to care for. Again these ideas and concepts are something I work hard at getting my students to think about.

So I have to say, it was neat when a former student of mine emailed me asking if she could sit down with our family and discuss her ministry with World Venture; an organization that teaches sustainable agricultural to people living in poverty in order to teach them about Christ. I remember having Hannia in my Environmental Science class; a science course that is designed for “non-sciency” people. I remember that the principles from the course really connected with her; specifically how much people are connected to and dependent on the land. She took the interest that started in class and pursued learning how to teach people to be better stewards of the land in regards to farming so that the Creation could do what it was designed to do. Through other formative experiences Hannia discovered that God was calling her to do this work fulltime in the Philippines. She is currently raising support to start as a full time missionary by this spring.

When our family met with Hannia, she explained that farming is a pivotal to someone living on the island of Mindanao.  It is central to their way of life.  She will be teaching people how to farm sustainably and effectively in hopes that relationships will be made and she can share the Gospel of Christ. Hannia is focusing on the physical needs first then working on the spiritual needs, knowing that the creation is one of the stronger witnesses of God in any language (Romans 1:20). I love the title line for her ministry: planting seeds in hearts and fields.

Hannia is currently building her support and is especially looking for people to be committed to pray for her and to partner with her financially in this ministry.  For more information about Hannia and how to get involved, please go here.  worldventure.com/hfreeman

Ezekiel 34: 18-19 “Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?”

It is time to stop trampling. It is time to stop muddying. It is time for those who are on the outside, who are unseen and unheard, to be given good pasture and clean water. It is time to allow the creation to do what it was designed to do: provide and sustain.

 

3rd Caroline Project: Part Two

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Well, we did it!  We made the care bags.  We passed out the care bags.

It was…amazing.  On so many levels it was amazing.  I’m still processing it, and probably will be for a while.  So these highlights are simply me wanting to answer the “how did it go” questions I’ve been receiving.  This may just be the most jumbled reading you’ve done in a long time!

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When we were in the store, there was something really special about filling our cart on behalf of someone else.  We enjoyed talking about what we should put in.  Even Jonah gave ideas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was at dinner with my girlfriends when Joel texted me this photo:

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Bottled WaterThe items we chose for our bags were:

A toothbrush and toothpaste
deodorant
a bar of soap
a comb
chapstick
a first aid kit
a washcloth
a pair of socks
a bottle of water
a can of juice
granola bars
crackers
a packet of tuna
some mints and lifesavers

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bagWe spent about $10 per bag.  After how awesome today was, I will always carry a couple of these bags in our cars.  We determined that in the future, we could make them a little bit different.  We think we could easily make bags for around $6-7.

For the most part, we drove around the cities, giving the care bags to people on the side of the road who were holding out signs.  For us newbies, it was just easier…there were a couple of situations where we walked around, but we didn’t know if the people near us were homeless or simply enjoying the lovely Minnesota Sunday afternoon outside.  Man we didn’t want to assume that people were homeless because we were out looking for homeless people, you know?

Just off the top of my head, here are a couple of things that stood out as the most beautiful moments of the day:

First, I was touched by the sincere gratitude of people when we gave them a bag.  I loved watching them look at the bag once we handed it to them.  There was one man who was sitting on the side of the road.   I handed him a bag.  He looked at it, then looked at me.  “God bless you” he said, as he looked me straight in the eye.   “You too” I said.  While I was waiting to cross the street to give a bag to the person in the median, I watched this man as he sat.   I watched him look at contents of the bag.  By the time I crossed the street again to head to the car, he had the bag of crackers out and almost finished.  Oh how I wished that that bag was filled with more food.

My other favorite moment happened when we passed by a park.  There were things on a park bench, sleeping bags, a backpack, but no people.  Joel pulled the car over.  Jonah and I got out of the car, each with a bag in hand.  We walked up to that bench and put the care bags down by the items.  After that, Jonah and I got distracted because there was a wedding party getting their pictures taken at the park (and I LOVE looking at wedding parties). When we got back to the car, Joel said “did you see that??”  “What”, I said, “the bride?  Yes I did.  She was lovely!”  “No.  The guy.”  Apparently, shortly after we left, the man returned to the bench. He picked up the care bag, studied it.  Then he called over the woman that was with him and handed her the other bag.  Joel watched as they opened the bag and took out the contents.  As he was describing what he saw, I just knew:  WE were blessed.

So this day was good.  Really, really good.

3rd Caroline Project: Part one

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I feel there is much to say, and yet, in reality, there is very little to be said. Few people know that we had been conversing with a lawyer to determine if there was any action that we needed to take in regards to outcome of Joel’s surgery. Obviously, that was not something I could blog about. Yesterday it was confirmed that there is not enough evidence to pursue a malpractice suit. I had, to a certain degree, always known this was what the lawyer would tell us. I’ve just known all along that THIS is the journey we’re supposed to be on. For whatever reason, we’re supposed to have a permanent and disappointing diagnosis, and not be able to say why. (I can get more into theology later…I but the gist is that I have never once believed that “God DID this to us”…On the flip side, I have always known that God sees us in this place. He allowed this to happen He very easily could have stopped this from happening, but for some reason, He didn’t. All I am supposed to do is stand here, loving Him in the midst of my pain, and move in the direction He says, when He says.)

Yesterday was a hard day. Just having someone confirm that we will not ever be able to find out why and when this happened was harder than I thought. I have not been used to having hard days since we’ve gotten Joel’s official diagnosis. They used to come so regularly, but have been few and far between since May. But, ugh, you guys…there is such pain in permanent…I don’t know how to describe it. Though there are good things about the black and whiteness of it all I mean, we KNOW, for a FACT, that Joel will never be able to conceive a child (unless, of course we do one of these). This is not a low sperm count thing…this is a no sperm count thing…so, in a way, I’m glad it’s so black and white…One of the hard things for so many people experiencing infertility, is that there is hope that they could get pregnant. Month after month…and the hope gets smaller with each month that goes by. We’re not like that. And parts of me are thankful. But other parts of me know that what happened is so pointless, and so crazy. And it’s hard to know how to proceed.

Luckily I have dear friends who remind me that it is okay, even right, that we just stand here…when there’s so much pressure put on us to move in certain directions, we have people say “no- just be…right where you are.” These people bring forth words from places like Habakkuk 3:18 – 19: “YET I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet as surefooted as a deer and will bring me safely over the mountain.” So to you who support us in these ways, who are not afraid to enter into the mess with us – thank you.

Caroline Project: I do not think it is a coincidence that we found out this hard-to-take news when we did. I LOVE that we heard it on Friday and the following Saturday and Sunday is the date we have chosen to do our biggest, look ‘em in the eye Caroline Project yet. Here’s the scoop: July was a HUGE month of money spent on Jonah. It was his birthday month as well as 2 different family vacations. So, as you can imagine, it added up! We have the biggest amount to put towards the Caroline Project we’ve ever had. You know I don’t usually talk about how much money we donate, but this month’s astronomical amount just has to be shared: $250. I mean WOWZA! That is a HUGE amount of money, at least for this family. We wanted to do something HUGE- And we wanted to do it…to be the ones putting foot to pavement. So, in two hours we’re going into town, and getting the supplies for care bags (for an example, click here):

And then… (holy crap) tomorrow, we’re going to give them away to homeless people. We don’t even have any real plans aside from drive into the city, park somewhere, walk around and give away stuff. I am equally terrified and excited.

I get so tempted to think of myself and this overwhelming, crappy thing that happened to us. The structure of the Caroline Project forces me to look outside of myself. Honestly, if I wasn’t blogging about it, I think I’d quit. I mean, do I WANT to give my money away all the time? Heck no. Believe me- we’ve got financial goals we are striving to meet. There are things we want to buy. We could (and maybe should) be taking our money and saving up for reparative surgery, or IVF, or adoption… But I know that the reason we are doing this right now is because otherwise we’d be so focused on our circumstances that our circumstances would swallow us up. I am seeing that this blog, though in part is meant to inspire us all, is actually meant to serve as something to keep Joel and I accountable to giving when we want to be taking, to be looking at others when all that is within us wants to be looking at ourselves. I so appreciate you, reader, for taking the time out of your day to read my words. But I know that, today especially, I write for me.

The four “P”s of The Caroline Project

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jonah paddling

Since we are on our third month of the Caroline Project, I thought it would be good to share what the Caroline Project means to me as a father. First: let me say that the Caroline Project was Anna’s idea. Anna is definitely the idea person in our family. She runs our household well. It was not a surprise that she came up with an action step in order to express our pain in a positive way. She came to me one day and pointed out that since we would have made room in our budget for another child, why shouldn’t we still do this; only give that money away to organizations that are working for social justice. I thought it was a great idea but wondered what it would look like to give so much money away rather than using it to meet our immediate financial goals.

When one person in the family has an idea, the others have two options when carrying out this idea. They can come along with the person supporting them from behind, participating but not necessarily fully engaged. Or they can join the person in the idea; actually taking full ownership with them as a team. There have been times when Anna has an idea and I have done the former. I thought I would be doing the same thing this time- with all three of her current ideas (The Caroline Project, the blog in general, and her new furniture refinishing business.) As you can tell, God had different plans.  I have joined her in the blog, in re-purposing old, beat up furniture, and yes, in the Caroline Project.

So in joining her with the Caroline Project, I have had to process what is it about this journey that is inspiring me to fully engage in this sacrifice. I believe I have discovered a couple of things which makes the Caroline Project special for me. I have discovered why it connects so deeply with my pain and why it can be part of the expression of healing the Holy Spirit is doing for my broken heart. This is what I would like to share with you.

Being a dad has been one of the most wonderful and challenging things I have ever experienced in my life. I work really hard to be the best dad that I can be. Most of my studying of how to be a dad comes from how we are fathered by God. Through experiencing God’s fathering, I have come to realize that there are four major actions that are a part of fathering. First of all, let me state that there are many more than four actions that are a part of fathering but I have found that these are the four that speak to me the most right now. Secondly, let me state that there are times when women also can carry out these actions. Thirdly, you don’t have to be a father or a mother to do these actions for others.  These are some of the things that God does for us and so we are called to bear his image anyone and need to emulate these things for others. In fact, there are many children, as well as adults, who could use people acting in these ways in their lives. I wish we all did it for each other so much more than we do.

I know what you are saying: “Joel, just tell us what the four actions are already.” Ok. Ok. The four major actions that are apart of fathering are: Provide, Protect, Promote, and Praise.

Fathers, these are the things we should be doing for our kids. I will explain what these look like a little later, but first let me say this: each of these fall under the bigger action of Presence. The main action we can give to others is the gift of our presence. I am not just talking about being with someone; I am talking about being fully engaged in their lives. I am talking about joining them.  Not for our benefit or for selfish reasons but because of deep love and respect for them. I am sorry to say that this gift of presence is pretty rare. It is not easy, it takes a lot of intentionality, it is messy, and it requires more from us than we want to give. However, it is the gift that God gives us every moment of every day whether we choose to receive it from Him or not.

One of the deep pains I have for my lost children is that I didn’t get to be present to them. Anna got to at least carry them in her womb for a time, but I didn’t get any time with them. Because of this pain, I suck the life out of every moment with Jonah, but also this is what I miss when I think of not having any more kids. I want to give this gift to my children. I want to be present to them by fulfilling the loving actions of Provide, Protect, Promote, and Praise. I can’t do that for our unborn and it hurts. The Caroline Project means a great deal to me because I can do this for other kids even if they are not my own. Let me explain how I see these actions manifested in the giving of financial support to the Caroline Project organizations.

First: to provide. By giving of our financial resources we provide for the needs of those that need it. Just as I meet Jonah’s needs through my salary, I can meet the needs of others who are marginalized and forgotten. They need someone to provide for them just as much as Jonah needs me to provide for him. But just like with Jonah, this is not just a pay check that I provide. Anna and I take what we are given and we manage it wisely. In this way Jonah gets the best provision he can get. I am not talking about giving him whatever he wants, but more so saying that we are intentional about how his needs are met. In the same way, I could give the money directly to the child in need, but I don’t. I give it to organizations I feel are managing their resources wisely and are intentional about how to meet the needs of the “least of these”. By being present to support these various organizations through provision I ensure that those that are voiceless gain a voice.

Second: to protect. Just today Jonah and I went kayaking. Some people might think I am nuts for doing this because he is 6 and he goes in his own kayak. On the other hand, I have been a canoe and kayak instructor for over ten years. You better believe that when we are on the water he has his PFD (lifejacket) on and secure. His boat is tethered to mine until he learns to control it himself.  His boat is a “sit on top” which is one of the safest kayaks on the market. He told me today that “he knows all the rules of kayaking.” This is because I remind him of them every time we go out. Why do I do all of this? Because I am his daddy. I am here to protect him. How does the Caroline Project do this? Again it is because we support organizations that are providing protection for those who are vulnerable. When we give to these organizations I know that those that need of protection are being protected. I can’t physically protect these vulnerable people just like I couldn’t physically protect my lost babies. However I can petition those that can physically protect the marginalized through prayer and through financial provision.

Third:  to promote. One of the main actions we can do when fathering is to promote our children. This may seem an odd way to say it.  Here’s what I mean:  We can find out what our children are good at and what they are interested in and we can promote those things in their lives. We can be present when they need our support so that they can become who God intended them to become. I wonder sometimes what our other children would have been like. But I trust that they are exactly who they are supposed to be. The people we are supporting in The Caroline Project may not have someone in their lives promoting them. Those in their lives either can’t or are absent all together. By giving of the wealth that I have, I am ensuring that someone is there to promote those who may have become invisible. We can promote by sharing that organization with others. We lift up these organizations so that others will know of their work. You can promote the organization by telling other people about it, sharing it on Facebook, retweeting our blog entry…  By promoting the organizations who are the hands and feet on the ground, these children, these PEOPLE can know what it is like to be promoted.

Fourth: to praise. One of the things that Jonah is desperate for is my approval. He desires for his Daddy to love him for him. He desires his Daddy to enjoy him and to give him words of affirmation. I have been trying to do this more in his life. I don’t ever want him to doubt that he matters to me. I don’t ever want him to doubt that he is cherished. He needs to know that I believe he has what it takes. It may be that many of the people we are supporting in the Caroline Project are missing praise. Sadly, some may have never received praise. That breaks my heart to the core. I want those who are fringes of society to know that they matter. That someone cares for them, even cherishes them. Again by joining with Anna on this journey I hope I have been able to give praise to others. I hope I have shown them love and care through our sacrifice.

One thing that has happened through this project and through our pain is that my heart has grown bigger.  Each time we had the promise of new life (a baby) my heart grew. But then there was a loss of the object of my affection (miscarriage). So God has put other people in that place.  I have a deep love for others that wasn’t there before. I honestly care about the people we are helping. I am seeing people and their needs for the very first time. My eyes have been opened. My heart breaks more easily now and when it breaks loves pours out. That love is helping me to provide, protect, promote, and praise others. It is helping me to be a father to more than just those in my household. Isn’t that what God has done for us? He has adopted us into his household. By allowing the Spirit to work in my life I have been able to expand the territory of my household to include those that are without one. I never knew my household could grow so big.

Matthew 25:40 “…whatever you did to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it too Me.”

The Jonah Project

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Driving home from the movies last night, we were listening to the radio- the radio host was talking about an upcoming event; packaging up food for children who did not have the resources for getting food on their own. From the backseat I hear Jonah’s brain…you know, sometimes you can hear a child’s brain going because they are thinking it and speaking it at the same time. The profound words I hear him say next left me weeping:

“I’m going to save up all my money and use it to by toys for kids who can’t buy their own toys…and I’m going to call it The Jonah Project.”

Now, I do not believe that when it comes right down to it, he IS going to take ALL the money he has and spend it on others. Likely what will happen is that he will spend the bulk on himself, and, because of the prompting of his parents, he might purchase one small thing to give to someone else. But…there is something here…something is happening; in his life, in this family. An awareness of others.

The Jonah Project? Yes. Indeed. The Joel Project and The Anna Project as well. Beautiful.