Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ukraine Part 3 - The Crafts

The American team was in charge of crafts for three days at camp. We brainstormed ideas, provided the supplies and lead the craft. This year we made leather bracelets (with beads to add color), created postcards (decorated with ribbon) and decorated quilt blocks (which we then turned into a quilt in our spare time). The quilt turned out great and was probably one of the best crafts in the history of Camp Loubetine (at least I think so!).

The younger kids (9 and 10 year olds) ended up stringing their beads on leather strips. The older kids made these amazing pieces of leather jewelry (which I didn't goet pictures of). They really amaze me when it comes to art projects. They are so talented. And, the older boys seem to enjoy it almost as much as the girls.

The postcards were a fun project - again the kids' creativity amazed me. The other thing that amazes me is that the kids are so quick to give away their projects to others.

The quilt blocks were my favorite. Kory titled his "White Lightening". His first one was an attempt at an Easter Lily, but everyone thought it was a bull! Joe Gerber's was my personal favorite. He did a two block self-portrait. The glasses were the giveaway. Although by the end of the week, he needed to edit his self-portrait by adding scotch tape. I think on the second day his glasses got busted by a basketball and he had to hold them together with scotch tape the rest of the week (Brett said once he knew Joe was okay, the accident itself was quite funny!).

The finished project!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Ukraine Part 2 - The Games

I remember being so impressed by the games the Ukraine team came up with 3 years ago and this year was the same. They are SO creative! We divided into 4 teams and every morning each team would compete at different stations to earn keys. For example one station involved seeing how many eggs we could hit with a bat; another morning we had to see how many ping pong balls we could transfer through tubes held by all the teammates! At the end of the week we went on a treasure hunt, once the treasure was found each team tried their keys and whoever had the "right" key won the treasure (more on that later!)

They also came up with a lot of games for entertainment purposes. I think part of the idea was to laugh at the Americans (Actually the idea was just to laugh which was another way to connect with the kids, some things are funny whether you are in Ukraine or USA!)

Here is Leah (USA) and Leana (UA) trying to feed each other yogurt, blindfolded!

Kory (USA) and Andrei (UA)- They have nylons on their heads with soft rubber balls on the ends. They are trying to knock each other's "hat" off!

The fourth day of camp we had a big scavenger hunt. The Ukraine team was kind enough to warn us in advance, but this was also the day that each team had to find an American tied to a tree! I believe Joe (whose team came last) ended up being tied to that tree for almost 2 hours! The first hour (before any team came to find them), Misha stood guard over our Americans. They were afraid that if someone from the village found our boys tied to trees they may have tried to steal their shoes or their pants!

The last part of the scavenger hunt each team had to cross a bridge to get to the meadow where a picnic was waiting. Before our team got to the bridge, Dima pulled me aside and (through a translator) explained that as the team crossed the bridge someone was going to jump out and scare them. He asked me to stand back and watch because they didn't want to scare my baby! There was one game during the scavenger hunt they were not going to let me play because they were concerned about my being pregnant. I was able to convince them that I could play - they were very sweet!

The last day of camp was the treasure hunt! We all ended up in an orchard looking for where the treasure was buried. Kory was looking for a place with fresh dirt and found a mound with two little sticks in the shape of a cross on top. He thought for sure it was the treasure. Soon a group of kids was gathered around watching him dig. When they found something, another kid reached down to grab the "treasure" and Kory started to get a bad feeling. All of a sudden I heard kids screaming and running away from Kory - his treasure had been something (we think maybe a dead cat) wrapped up in cloth. Vitalic (one of the Ukraine team) was watching the whole time laughing because he knew where the real treasure was!

Once we had found the real treasure every team got to try their keys - my team actually won! I believe the treasure was candy (to share with everyone) and a trip to McDonalds for the winners!

The games were a blast! The Ukraine team really goes all out to provide a fun experience for the kids. It is also a nice way to bond; to be able to cheer on my team (even if I can't speak the language!)

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Ukraine part 1

We're back from Ukraine! Thank you for your prayers! We had a great trip and I am so glad we were able to go.

There was a much smaller group of kids this year. In years past we've had in the 70-100 range, this year the numbers averaged 20-30. Honestly, we didn't mind. I think everyone on the American team agreed that we were able to develop relationships much easier due to the smaller numbers. The reason for the smaller numbers was the time of year. A lot of the kids were away at other camps.

The first day of camp I was feeling frustrated by the language barrier. It made me feel ineffective. How can we make a difference if we can't even communicate? But somehow, we connected. We had a few translaters who were available. And, some of the older kids could speak enough English that we were able to have very basic conversations. Mostly, we just played games with them (a lot of volleyball with a VERY HARD ball, Uno and basketball), hugged them and were available and somehow that was enough.

I think the American team leaves more blessed than the kids we were there to minister to. It is always hard to leave, but the fact that we can stay in touch with the kids and be involved (through letters and prayers) always helps. I've got lots of stories to share, but they will have to wait til later!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Interview with a Mom - Cassie

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.
I have four children ages 13--Gabe, 10--Tanner, 10--Parker, 7--Macy. Curt and I have been married 17 years. We live in Morton, IL, and Curt is working at State Farm and attending Lincoln Christian Seminary working on a masters in Christian Counseling. I have been a homemaker since Gabe was born until last year when I went back to work as a teacher's aide at the same elementary school as my youngest three. God has blessed us in countless ways, and we feel very thankful, but strive to be even more so.

Why do you love being a mom?
I enjoy spending time with my kids just having fun, seeing their successes, and watching their personalities grow and develop. I'm thankful for the opportunity to raise children to know the Lord and hopefully someday make a difference for Him in the world. Right now I love being a mom because I like the stage of life my kids are at. They can all feed themselves, get into the car themselves, wash and dress themselves, play relatively unsupervised, and yet they're still not to cool to enjoy being with Curt and I.

What has been the most challenging part about being a mom for you?
This is hard to limit to one thing. I have a magnet on my fridge that says "Motherhood is not for wimps." It is very true. In younger years the most challenging part(s) were the nights with little sleep, the constant demand on my time, the job that continually got interrupted, the mental strain of dealing with the demands of needy little people, the consistent discipline that is required to raise little ones, and the lack of time to myself. I came to realize what a selfish person I really was and still am when I had my children.

Now that my children are older, the hardest part(s) are more relational. I don't enjoy helping them learn to deal with disappointment and failure. It's a struggle to be consistent in teaching them how to respond to others socially, how to discipline themselves to get work done, how to do their best at something and still accept the results. The list could go on and on. As the saying goes, "Motherhood is the hardest job you'll ever love."

What advice do you have for moms in the preschool years?
Hang in there. I know you don't want to hear my next sentence, but truth is truth. Those preschool years will be gone in the blink of an eye. I never believed anybody when they told me that, but they were right. Be consistent and loving in discipline, cuddle them while you can, take lots of pictures and videos--I even videoed a night of screaming babies just to remember it all. Enjoy the crazy little things they say and do, and get lots of rest. When you're tired, don't feel like the house is too messy to lay down while the kids nap. You and the kids need the break, or you'll respond to your kids later in ways you wish you had not. For the sake of your children and your husband, take a break while they nap.

Share your favorite bible verse and why it means so much to you.
Again this is hard to say just one because this seems to change with the times in my life. I would say that if I had to pick one that I seem to keep coming back to the most, it would probably be Prov. 3:5-6. Life is full of changes and decisions and fears and concerns, but if I just keep coming back to trust in God and His direction, I can make it through.

How do you keep your husband first in the midst of mothering?
We do date nights here and there. We try to do at least one or two a month, but that doesn't always happen. We take weekend get-a-ways once or twice a year. I think those are huge. We try to talk alone for at least ten minutes a day without kids around. Again that goes in spurts, but it is a good goal to aim for. We go to bed together almost every night, and pray together before bed. Mostly it's the little things. Do the little things for him that he likes, and he'll feel loved and respected.

What is your favorite lunchtime meal?
Pizza rolls, egg rolls, leftovers. Sorry, but I'm not a lunchtime expert. I just feel good when everybody's eaten and the kitchen's cleaned up.

What is your favorite summer activity?
Probably reading or swimming with the kids or playing disc golf as a family.

Name someone who has had a positive influence on you as a mother?
Again, more than one, but I would definitely say my mom was the biggest influence on me. My growing up years were wonderful because she always made me feel loved and secure. Home was a haven after school because I knew Mom would be there when I got home. Parents, and probably even more so moms, are the first examples of God to children, and when moms make children feel safe, secure, and loved, they, in turn, can trust God someday to be that same loving, trustworthy guide in their own lives.

Share one good “mom tip” that you have learned over the years.
It's almost never too early to have them help around the house. They can help clean up toys or whatever as soon as they can figure out where the toy box is and that the toys go in it. It helps a lot when they learn to fend for themselves and help you out whereever possible. Kids and mom will both be happier in the long run.

Do you have any parting advice for young moms?
Love them like crazy because you're going to make lots and lots and lots of mistakes, but love covers a multitude of sins. God bless you all!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Highlights from ICRS

I just got back from a three day trip to Atlanta and ICRS (International Christian Retail Show). For those who don't know, I work at Hearts at Home as the Publishing Director. Jill Savage went to ICRS to promote her newest book, My Hearts at Home, and asked me to come along so I could get to know our Hearts authors better as well as our publisher Harvest House. It was a blast!

ICRS is where book retailers (like Berean) go to purchase their merchandise. As you walk the floor, you see author's signing books everywhere. To get a free book all you have to do is get in line! I was like a kid in a candy store. I brought home around 25 books, so if anyone needs something to read let me know, I'd love to share!

Besides the free books, here are a few of my highlights (in no particular order):

1. We had the opportunity to hear Brennan Manning speak (author of The Ragamuffin Gospel). His talk was packed full of thoughts on the "consistent, overgenerous" love and mercy of God. (If you haven't read the Ragamuffin Gospel, READ IT!)So many good things were shared, and the following quotes do it so little justice, but here are few soundbites!
"Francis of Assisi said of God, 'In loving me, you made me lovable.'"

"God says to us, 'I dare you to trust that I love you as you are and not as you should be because you will never be as you should be.'"

"The courage to accept acceptance is what we call Faith."

"Healing our image of God, heals our image of ourselves. In healing our image of the Father, Jesus heals us of fear of the Father and dislike of ourselves."

2. I met TED DEKKER (and got a signed copy of his next book). He is one of my favorite authors and I must admit, I was a little star struck! I actually called my brother-in-law Clint right after I met him (Clint is also a big fan), I just had to share with someone who would appreciate it!

3. We had lunch with the HAH authors. They are such a special group of ladies. It was an honor to spend some time with them. (Pictured are myself, Pam Farrel, Julie Barnhill, Mary DeMuth, Suzie Eller, Jill Savage, and Jenn Doucette) If you are interested in any of their books let me know!

All in all it was a great trip. I learned a lot and am very thankful for the experience. It ended on a little bit of a downer. Our flight home was delayed 3.5 hours and I didn't get home to my bed until 2 am. I am a little tired this morning, but glad to be home. Gotta go, I have ALOT of reading to do! :)

Wordless Wednesday - Birthday Week at our House last Week!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Varya and Valya

Varya, Me and Valya

Three years ago we went to Ukraine. I met Varya and Valya there. They were the two girls I connected with the most.

When I first met Valya, I wrote her off. She looked hard to me. I didn't think she would want to be friends. But we connected. My most vivid memory of her took place on the second to last day of camp. The kids were going to do a skit for us and she was in it. As we were walking to where they were going to perform, she came running up to me - she wanted to make sure I was going to be there. I assured her I would. When we arrived, they were just getting started. I saw her right away - she was scanning the crowd looking for me. When she saw me, she gave me a big smile.

It was a small moment, but it had a big impact on me. I thought about this girl, growing up without parents. She had no one to advocate for her, to be there just for her. For a small moment, I was a parent to her. I was the one coming to watch her. I was there for her.

Valya's story has a sad ending so far. The last I heard she has become a prostitute. It is the fate of so many of the girls coming from the orphanages in Ukraine. I weep for her. If she had a parent who cared, her life could be so different. I pray for her that she can know her Daddy who cares and who will never let her down. Her Daddy who is ALWAYS there for her.

Varya's story is different. Soon after we left Ukraine, she decided to pursue a relationship with Christ. But, she has been struggling lately and I honestly don't know if she is continuing that pursuit.

I would like to ask for your prayers. Kory and I are going to Ukraine again this summer. We leave on July 17th. I am going for Varya. I don't want her story to be the same as Valya's. I am pretty sure I will see her and maybe God can use me.

I am also going for Valya. I still have hope for Valya, I know Christ can restore her life. I don't know if I will even see her. I don't know if she is still at the orphanage or if she has moved on. I write her, but I never hear anything back.

Please pray for these two girls. Pray that they could know the love of a Father who will never leave them or forsake them. Pray that God would place strong Christians in their lives to mentor them, to advocate for them, to pray for them, to be there for them.

This past year, Mya has performed in her first Sunday School programs. It always reminds me of Valya. When she gets up there she scans the crowd looking for me - she wants to make sure I am watching her. She knows I am there for her.

Heavenly Father, watch over Valya. Make yourself real to her. Pursue her. Show her your love. I pray that she would respond to your love and would allow you to redeem her life. Please watch over Varya as well. Protect her. Surround her with those who love you. Bless our time together this month and renew her desire to pursue You. Amen

Sunday, July 01, 2007

And the winner is....

And the winner of Mary DeMuth's Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God (drumroll please as my beautiful almost 4 yr old assistent draws the name out of the bowl) is...........


Thank you everyone for participating - I have been encouraged by all of your comments. Stay tuned to future giveaways, this will not be the last!
(Taylor - I will mail the book to you as soon as I can make it to the post office!)