I’m Not 40 Anymore!

21 09 2013

I turned 41 yesterday, hence the title. I must say, being “over the hill” has been a great ride so far. I am in far better health now than I was 20 years ago. My cholesterol continues to decrease each year and is at an all-time low of 133. I can still do 180° right and left leg splits. My 5K speed continues to get faster. Spiritually, I am more in love with the Bible than ever and find prayer calming and humbling. Professionally, I continue to revise my curriculum every year. I am not content teaching the same stuff just because it’s easier. I just started working on my MBA. In terms of behavior, I am more patient all around and am much calmer in the car. When it comes to my family, I am ridiculously blessed with an amazing husband and two incredible sons.

I am also very goal-oriented, so I decided to take stock of my “40 Things to Do in the Next 40 Years” list that I wrote a year ago. (My updated notes are in parenthesis after each item.)

1. Do 40 military style pushups at one time, no breaks. (Still working on this)
2. Successfully finish a Tough Mudder. (Tough Mudder teased us with a Nashville race in May 2013, then moved it out of state.)
3. Swim freestyle for 50 meters without stopping. (Nope, practicing would help)
4. Run a sub 30-minute 5K in an actual race. (I’ve done several races this year, but not a straightforward 5K, not yet. I have 4 more races before 2013 is over, so I’m really hoping this will happen. I ran a marathon relay not too long ago and PRd with an 8:28 minute mile at one point.)
5. Do ab ripper at least twice each week, preferably three times. (Nope)
6. Bike once each week. (Nope)
7. Run two-three times each week. (Yup! I’m averaging 10 miles per week over 4 runs)
8. Swim once each week. (Nope)
9. Always remember to wear sunscreen. (Almost always)
10. Hike the Appalachain Trail. (Maybe next decade?)
11. Still be able to do 180° right and left leg splits 40 years from now. (Yup!)

12. Eat at least two servings of fruit each day. (Yup! Except on my birthday; then I get all my calories from sugar and lard . . . and maybe some cheese)
13. Eat at least two servings of vegetables each day. (About half the time)
14. Remember to take all my supplements each day—multi vitamin, calcium/Vitamin D, fish oil. (Usually)
15. Cut back to one sweet/dessert item each day (except on birthdays). (I’m down to two per day which is way better than it was a year ago.)
16. Try one new recipe each month. (Yup!)
17. Drink more water. (About the same)

18. Fast 40 hours straight once each week. (I still fast, but not for 40 hours—my body did not take kindly to that. I was getting too dizzy and lightheaded.)
19. Memorize one scripture each week. (Sadly, nope. I do read the Bible every day, and my knowledge of scripture is growing, but I just don’t officially memorize verses.)
20. Give half our income away, probably through Compassion International child sponsorships. (Well on our way!)
21. Teach my children to pray in all circumstances. (Working on it; this will be a lifelong lesson.)
22. Teach my sons the importance of sexual purity and protecting and honoring their bodies and the bodies of any girls/women they have relationships with. (Praying about this regularly and having age-appropriate conversations as they arise.)
23. Watch my sons grow into their own faith in Christ. (Yup! So cool to see my sons coming into their own faith rather than living out simply what we tell them to do and say and believe.)
24. Go on a mission trip. (Yup! Texas in March 2013 and India in June 2013)

25. Get my MBA. (Just started my classes! Graduation = fall 2015)
26. Get my PhD. (Maybe next decade; need to finish the MBA first.)
27. Not go crazy. (Debatable)
28. Read on average one book per week. (Pretty darn close)
29. Become fluent in another language. (If sarcasm counts, I’m fluent.)
30. Learn to play the piano. (Too busy; maybe after my MBA and PhD?)

31. Have a weekly date with my love. (Desperately need to do better!)
32. Play more games with my family. (Same #32)
33. Visit all the Wonders of the World. (Five down, two to go—Petra and Angkor Wat)
34. Travel to a new country each year. (So far, so good)
35. Grow my hair out to my wedding day length. (Almost there!)
36. Join a community choir. (Too busy with #1-35)
37. Watch no more than 1 hour of TV each night, except when Dancing with the Stars goes for two hours. (Yup! I have almost cut out TV completely, probably because I’m reading so much. I honestly don’t miss it . . . except Dancing with the Stars.)
38. Re-invent/re-paint/re-design several rooms in my home. (Consulting a friend who is an interior designer is on my to do list for the summer of 2014.)
39. Build a library with floor to ceiling book shelves in my home and fill it with great literature. (Also on my—as in my husband’s—to do list for the summer of 2014.)

Most Important
40. Remember that each day is a gift and to live a life that reflects how grateful I am to be alive. (I’m better at this than I used to be, but there will always be room for improvement. Can we ever be too grateful?)


Speaking to India’s Future Leaders

5 07 2013

Previous posts on our trip to India:
An Introduction to India
Meeting Sai
Local Celebrities

Friday, June 14
Our room in Bangalore has hot water, a shower with hot water, a clean Western toilet with toilet paper, a TV with an English channel, and laundry service! Exciting stuff, these things. I still wish trash cans were more popular.

a real bathroom!!! with a toilet and toilet paper, and a shower with hot water

a real bathroom!!! with a toilet and toilet paper, and a shower with hot water

Bangalore hotel - simple, but it did the job

Bangalore hotel – simple, but it did the job

Bangalore is much more cosmopolitan than Chennai. The roads are paved and many have sidewalks. It is at a higher altitude and the weather is much cooler, in the 80s, and is apparently always overcast. We passed a McDonalds on our way to the LDP camp, but they do not serve hamburgers. Alan told Matthew he reminded him of Toby on “The Office” and asked if he was related to him.

Toby or Matthew?

Toby or Matthew?

Alan has been educating us on Tamil, Tamil Nadu’s language. It’s one of the oldest in the world, and has a vocabulary three times that of English. One of the most accurate bible translations in the world from the original Greek and Hebrew is in Tamil. In India, all students learn three languages: English, Hindi (spoken across all states), and the state language such as Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, etc.

tamil alphabet

tamil alphabet

The LDP camp we attended is a mandatory camp for all Compassion International LDP students twice a year. The theme of this camp was Dueteronomy 6:5, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength.” Each day they focused on one of those aspects for the sessions and discussions. For example, on the “mind” day, there were talks on loneliness and suicide; one state has students who do very well academically, but has a high rate of suicide.

Compassion's theme for the week in the right banner - the day's specific theme was "church"

Compassion’s theme for the week in the right banner – the day’s specific theme was “church”

LDP students must be at the top of their classes academically and they must boldly proclaim they are followers of Christ. Their is an application process in which they write a statement of faith followed by two interviews, the first conducted by an outside firm and the second conducted by Compassion staff. The 200 student we were going to speak to are bright and ready to change the world. They are not just future leaders in industry, but they are the Church’s future Christian leaders.

It’s always a little surreal when first meeting a sponsored student, but Irene was ready for us. She herself had arrived at the camp just the night before due to exams she had to take so she missed out on the first few days. We sat and chatted for a while, the cursory superficial things, and walked around a bit. We broke through to more personal topics pretty quickly, though Irene was painfully quiet and shy.

with Irene - we've been sponsoring her for only two years, and will continue for two more years until she graduates from college

with Irene – we’ve been sponsoring her for only two years, and will continue for two more years until she graduates from college

We learned Irene is a third-generation Christian which is very rare in India. She grew up in a very conservative family who did not allow TV or movies, but she was happy and well cared for. As Christians, her family was shunned for many years in their small community of 5,000 about 250km outside of Chennai. Her mother invited the neighborhood children to Sunday school classes at their home, and their neighbors slowly warmed to them. Today, Irene told us, there are now two Christian families in her home town.

We talked about arranged marriages as that is what will happen for her. She wants to marry a man who is first and foremost a faithful Christian and secondly who plays the guitar. We talked about our families and jobs. Whenever we meet our Compassion kids, one of the first questions is often, “Where are Caleb and Jason?” We need to start warning them that the boys won’t be with us. We answer: 1) It would be very expensive and difficult for us to bring them. The thought of dealing with them for 20 hours on a plane makes me cringe. Plus, they would hate the food, except for the rice. Caleb and Jason wouldn’t mind a diet of just rice three times a day, but this mama would.

We talked about finding a job you will love, and that money isn’t the most important thing–as is evident by the fact that we are both teachers in private schools making tens of thousands less each year than our public school teacher friends. Each person needs to know what his God-given talents are and then seek to call them out and develop them. When we are doing what God has called us to, we will find joy.

What made me smile most, though, was Irene’s prayer request for this camp. She prayed that she would meet a foreigner. At the time she didn’t know we were coming; she only found that out a few days ahead of time. Little did she know that we were her “foreigners.” God answers our prayers in amazing ways!

We then sat in on a couple of talks about the Church before lunch; church was the theme of the day. The speaker gave an excellent analogy of the work Compassion does with the local church. Compassion is the bridesmaid, helping to prepare the Bride of Christ for her Groom. LDP students are expected to not just become qualified in a vocation, but to become leaders in their local churches.

Before we broke for lunch, we were introduced and they mentioned that Matthew had a Ph.D. in astro-physics and if anyone was interested in talking about faith and science, Matthew would be happy to discuss it (imagine that.) Several students joined us, and the first question was . . . wait for it . . . about the Big Bang Theory. Cue my turn to chat with the students next to me about something else, like dentistry. I love my husband, but my brain is only capable of participating (as in listening but not saying anything) to one in-depth discussion/debate about science and religion once a year. This was number two in less than a week. Big Bang Overload for me. Lunch was excellent–meaning tasty and non-spicy and we had control over how much we ate. No more “love torture” meals, though we do miss Suneetha’s delicious homecooking.

lunch with LDP students - we got our own Western (non-spicy) version of what everyone else was eating

lunch with LDP students – we got our own Western (non-spicy) version of what everyone else was eating

After lunch, the fun began and blew us away. The program began with worship songs, one in English and the other in Tamil. They involved motions and jumping up and down, always favorites of ours, especially for Matthew. We were yet again given flowers and then asked to speak and sing.

worship - in English and Tamil

worship – in English and Tamil

Matthew and me speaking to the LDP students

Matthew and me speaking to the LDP students

Matthew shared about hope, and I was asked to share about giving. From what Alan told us, Americans are considered very generous in their financial support of the poor in India, but Indians, even among the Christians, are quite stingy with their money. “To whom much is given, much is expected.” -Luke 12:48. We take that mandate very seriously. I also shared Proverb 11:25. “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” We have seen this ring true so often. The more we bless others, the more we are blessed. To assume you can’t give generously is to put God in a box.

We the sang “Amazing Grace” (again) and ended with a short Q&A session. We were asked:
-Describe America’s youth.
-Why Compassion?
-What did we think of India?
-About our India travels.

singing "Amazing Grace" (again)

singing “Amazing Grace” (again)

closing prayer before we said our good byes

closing prayer before we said our good byes

Next, a student performed an amazing traditional Andra Pradesh dance in traditional garb. After that we dismissed for afternoon tea, and the paparazzi-like photo op began. The last time we posed for that many photos was at our wedding. My face hurt from smiling so much. A few female students pulled me aside to ask how we met, and how do you know when you have found your helpmate. The next question caught me off guard. “We heard that they are implanting chips into humans in America. Is this true?” Ummmm . . . No. These young women were very worried about this. Apparently what happens in America will happen in India with a few year’s delay.

native dance

native dance

we took more pictures with more people than at our own wedding - my face hurt from smiling

we took more pictures with more people than at our own wedding – my face hurt from smiling

We finally made it to our tea and enjoyed our first authentic Indian samosa. It was delicious, but does EVERYTHING have to be so darn spicy? We looked at some photos we had of Caleb and Jason on my iPad as well as some photos of Caleb as a baby and toddler. There were even a few pictures of my ultrasound with Caleb. Irene had never seen anything like it, and had a hard time understanding how the “scan” could tell you the sex of the baby before it was born. (As delicately as I could, I pointed out the “boy parts” on the ultrasound.)

Before we left, the son of the owner of the camp, the Glorious Promised Land, gave us a tour of the property. It is located in a beautiful area south of Bangalore called Nandi Hills. They have orchards fort heir own fruit, a vineyard, farm animals, dorms, a soccer field, and they are putting in a pool and gym. While this is primarily a camp/retreat center for churches and schools, couples can rent a lovely private bungalow for $50 a night.

His Glorious Promised Land church/retreat center, south of Bangalore

His Glorious Promised Land church/retreat center, south of Bangalore

camp lecture hall/worship center

camp lecture hall/worship center

camp vineyard

camp vineyard

camp sculpture

camp sculpture

camp playground

camp playground

camp administrator's housing

camp administrator’s housing

solar panels at the camp heat the bathroom water

solar panels at the camp heat the bathroom water

camp dining hall

camp dining hall

camp dorms

camp dorms

camp dorms

camp dorms

camp dorms

camp dorms

Irene showing me the girls' dorm

Irene showing me the girls’ dorm

view from the camp

view from the camp

en route to the LDP camp south of Bangalore - His Glorious Promised Land - in Nandi Hills

en route to the LDP camp south of Bangalore – His Glorious Promised Land – in Nandi Hills

It was time to say goodbye. Irene asked us to pray for her spiritual growth as well as for her younger brother, Daniel, who was backsliding in his faith. We prayed together and got in the car. There were no tears this time. Our time was rich and blessed beyond anything. We could have imagined.

We will sponsor Irene for two more years. It is against Compassion’s policies to allow sponsors and students to correspond directly while the student is in the program. I understand this and respect it. Irene really wants to Skype with us, but we will have to wait a little longer. In the meantime, she will remain in our prayers and us in hers. Only through the love of Christ, we will never be that far apart.

On the return trip and at dinner we chatted with Alan about various topics: the state of American morals, is Obama a Christian, India’s attempts at population control, how Indian couples are expected to have a child or at least be pregnant within a year of marriage or there is a negative social stigma placed on the couple as well as the difference between American and Indian children and their knowledge of world events. It was a unanimous decision that Indian children would win that prize.

We also talked about how difficult it is to find Compassion partners/churches in which to host projects. Vinay and Alan spoke at length about Vinay’s starting a project near Naidupet, something he’s very interested in. Alan will help him make contacts with the Chennai office, and then it could take two years to make it happen, if it happens. God willing, we’d like to be the project’s first sponsors.

Our train leaves at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow, and I’m actually really tired. I wanted to go to bed early, but our laundry wasn’t finished till 11:00 p.m. So much for packing and getting a decent night’s sleep. But, we have clean laundry!

Random thoughts for the day:
-There are little PSAs during shows and movies on TV, particularly American ones. For example, during scenes with someone smoking, a little blip will run across the screen explaining how smoking kills. Ditto with alcohol.
-We saw a motorcycle with five people on it (two adults and three children) – a new record!

Saturday, June 15
We had to get up at 4:45 to catch our 6:00 a.m. train back to Chennai. On the ride, Alan asked us if he could interview us for an article in Compassion India’s in-country magazine. We said of course as long as he sent us a copy.

We made it to our hotel which is quite exquisite. We had a delicious and expensive Mediterranean tapas lunch; the nicer the hotel, the more expensive the food. Unfortunately, this area of Chennai isn’t conducive to just walking around outside so we found the movie channel and watched several movies. We originally planned on going to the gym and then for a swim, but we were just too tired (tired = lazy.) We were both asleep by 8:30.

Chennai hotel

Chennai hotel

Chennai hotel

Chennai hotel

view from our Chennai hotel

view from our Chennai hotel

looking down

looking down

looking up

looking up

freaky ad for the hotel's spa inside the elevator

freaky ad for the hotel’s spa inside the elevator

Random thoughts for the day:
-Who knew I liked hummus? Maybe because it wasn’t the cheap stuff people always buy in American grocery stores.
-Always take the free shower caps from hotels. They are great for wrapping things like shoes or stinky clothes in for packing.
-Chennai, from what we have seen, is definitely the armpit of India.

Meeting Sai

29 06 2013

For the first installment of our India Adventures, read An Introduction to India.

Tuesday, June 11
How do you describe a relationship you’ve had with someone for 14 years, but only on paper? We’ve seen Sai grow up. We were there when he decided to follow Christ. We were there when his father, a fisherman in the Bay of Bengal, died in a freak boating accident. But only on paper. The countless words on the paper became a real person today, and my life will forever be changed.

meeting Sai, a student we've sponsored through Compassion International for 14 years

meeting Sai, a student we’ve sponsored through Compassion International for 14 years

meeting Sai, a student we've sponsored through Compassion International for 14 years

more flower garlands and some other gifts

The drive from Ongole to Bapatla was about 45 minutes on the worst roads Vinay has ever driven on. Granted, he’s only been driving for a month, but still. They were bad. We went to the Compassion project first where Sai and the staff were waiting with flower garlands and gifts. Those first few minutes are always awkward for me. I’m usually pretty emotional so I can’t say much for fear of bursting into tears. I just smiled a lot and let Matthew do the talking.

Compassion project Sai attends

Compassion project Sai attends

staff members at the Compassion project

staff members at the Compassion project

We spent about a 1/2 hour at the project talking with the director, Vikram. We have been the second sponsor visit since the project began in 2000. They serve anywhere from 195 (current enrollment) to 300 students each year. I know full well how expensive it is to travel internationally as well as the difficulty in planning and getting time away from work, but it still really saddens me that in 13 years only two couples have visited their sponsored children here. (The other couple was from Wisconsin. There is something special about Cheeseheads.)

Vinay asked us about how much we eat out in America yesterday at lunch. We were eating in a restaurant, a luxury for him. We told him we only eat out about once a month. We said we prefer to save our money so that we can travel. And not just travel, but travel with a purpose: to help, to serve, to bless. Forgoing other luxuries, for that truly is what they are . . . luxuries, is worth the experience of of a lifetime in a land without email, Internet, flush toilets, air conditioning, or electricity. There is absolutely no possible way to compare a year’s worth of eating out each week to being able to impact a life with a 5-hour visit on the other side of the world.

Vikram told us that the local community is still fairly hostile to Christians. He told us that everyone in town, regardless of their religion, must pay fees to the government for the Hindu festivals. If Christians refuse to pay, they will be discriminated against, so even Christians must pay this “Hindu Tax.”


Hindu temple near Sai’s home

another Hindu temple near Sai's home

another Hindu temple near Sai’s home

Normally, communities where Compassion projects are located see a noticeable improvement in economic and social relations, but this community is different. They attribute it to the fact that the local economy is served by fishermen, and as such, they really never want for food or a job. They have a “we don’t need you” attitude.

fishermen on the Bay of Bengal (Indian Ocean) - less than a mile from Sai's house and where his father worked

fishermen on the Bay of Bengal (Indian Ocean) – less than a mile from Sai’s house and where his father worked

Despite these hindrances, the students are thriving. Educationally, they have several top level students heading to college. Athletically, their students win a significant numer of awards and medals in various competitions from dance to karate. Socially, they have recently begun a coffee house one night each week that has been very successful.

coffee house sign

coffee house sign

This project has also implemented a new way to manage the children they serve. Rather than having different staff members responsible for different classes and programs, one staff member now stays with the same 30 student for their duration, overseeing all aspects of program. This, too, has been quite successful and is now being implemented in projects all around the world. Unfortunately, we later learned from Alan that this project was being phased out due administrative issues.

The project director and staff heeped praise after praise on Sai. He won the “Top Student” award this year. He’s won several medals in chess and karate. He is a leader at the project and within the Christian community where he lives. He refuses to deny his faith in the face of persecution and ridicule. Though he is not my birth son, I still felt a great motherly pride for him.

After our time at the project, we walked over to Sai’s home, one block away. His entire family, immediate and extended, were waiting for us. Sai has three sisters, two brothers, his mom, and numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces, and one living grandmother. As with the other places we’ve visited on this trip, we were properly gawked at, being the only white people some of them had ever seen.

Sai's home is just across this field from the Compassion project

Sai’s home is just across this field from the Compassion project

Sai's home

Sai’s home

Sai's home - many people sleep outside during the summer due to the heat

Sai’s home – many people sleep outside during the summer due to the heat

Sai's family

Sai’s family

I like to ask our Compassion host about when they tell our children that we’re visiting. In our first three visits, our children were told the day before. With this visit, they were given more notice, so they were ready. I still get teary-eyed when I think about Sai first learning we were coming to visit him. He, too, got emotional a few times, asking, “Is this a dream?”

We were served fruit and drinks (thank goodness it was healthy stuff this time) and were introduced to each member of his family. I must say, I’m not a fan of mango, but the mango Sai served us was amazing. Mango I’ve had in the States tastes nothing like this stuff.

gifts for Sai - a T-shirt from FRA's Spiritual Emphasis week, a USA flag and map (with Nashville highlighted), school supplies, and a box of Jelly Bellies

gifts for Sai – a T-shirt from FRA’s Spiritual Emphasis week, a USA flag and map (with Nashville highlighted), school supplies, and a box of Jelly Bellies

a feast of fruit - and the best tasting mango I've ever had

a feast of fruit – and the best tasting mango I’ve ever had

Sai's deceased father

Sai’s deceased father

After this, we headed back to Ongole for lunch with him at our hotel, and his younger sister joined us. This is where the conversation went from awkward formalities to authentic. We talked about his schooling–he will take his exit exams in August, and if he does well, he can get a good job teaching math in a government school.

eating together at our hotel's lunch buffet

eating together at our hotel’s lunch buffet

He was very curious about me, asking how I balance work with family and what the classes that I teach are like. He asked me to sing a song for him so he could record it on his phone. It didn’t matter that we were in the middle of a busy restaurant at rush hour lunch. I obliged but made Matthew sing “Amazing Grace” with me. Somehow Sai, Matthew, and Vinay got to discussing the Big Bang Theory and how does it mesh with scripture. I admit I tuned out for a while there.

As it became clear the time to part was near, our talk turned to thanks and blessings. Sai made us promise to continue sponsoring children after he graduated in August. We promised we would. What he said next brought me to tears. “You are my mother and father to me.” As I mentioned earlier, his father died quite few years ago, and his mother and the rest of his family are Hindu. She wasn’t hostile to Christianity, and she actually encouraged him to attend church each week. However, that still left a spiritual void among his family. From half-way around the world, we have been filling that void for him for the past 14 years.

He wiped a tear from my eye, and said, “Auntie, don’t cry. We will meet again. If not here, then in heaven.” He gave Matthew a long hug, we prayed, and said goodbye. For a male Indian to show such physical affection is uncommon in his culture, but we were very, very grateful for it. I wanted to give him a hug, too, but that definitely would have been inappropriate. I did get to hug his sister and the female project staff member with us.

We may live half-a-world apart, but our prayers will forever keep us bound together. He begged us not to forget him. How could we?

As I reflect back on our visit with Sai, I have two final pleas.
1) If you don’t sponsor a child, consider it. I promise you your $38 each month is being well spent and is changing lives, families, and entire communities for the better.
2) If you do sponsor a child, SEND LETTERS and photos of your family. Tell them stories of your life. Share your favorite Bible verses. These little bits of encouragement, even a few times a year, have an incredible impact on these children. Also, research has shown that children who receive at least two letters each year do noticeably better in school and are more socially well adjusted. You can even correspond via email so there is no excuse.

If you would like to sponsor a child, visit Compassion International, and remember,

“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” –Proverbs 11:25

India Itinerary

5 06 2013

When Matthew and I married, we made it a goal to travel internationally once each year, and for 15 years, we’ve been blessed to be able to do this. We’ve been all over Europe, Central and South America, China, New Zealand, and Australia. And now on our 15th anniversary, we embark on possibly our most adventurous trip to date . . . India!

We’ve been planning this trip for several years, saving money and our frequent flyer miles. Thanks to those miles, we got business class seats for free. (Delayed gratification has many benefits!)

When we tell people we’re heading to India, the first question is usually, “Is it a mission trip?” Well, yes. And no. The first half is mission-ish, the second half is purely site seeing, but I certainly pray we will be a blessing to people we come into contact with throughout.



June 5: Begin our flights to Chennai

June 6: Layover in Abu Dhabi, probably the coolest place we’ve ever had a layover

June 7: Arrive in Chennai, travel from Chennai to Naidupet and visit with Vinay and Suneetha K. Vinay is a local pastor we have been supporting for several years. We first met him in 2008 when he came to the States for a world-wide Christian convention. He is going to be our guide for the first half our trip.

June 8: Naidupet, visit with Vinay and Suneetha and tour their area

June 9: Worship with Vinay and Suneetha at the church Vinay pastors

June 10: Travel from Naidupet to Ongole for visit with Singothu in Bapatla (sponsored Compassion child)

June 11: Compassion Visit with Singothu in Bapatla

One of our goals is to visit all the children we sponsor through Compassion International. We’ve visited three so far (Peru, Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua) and will be visiting two more on this trip. That leaves us four more in the coming years.

We can’t really call Singothu a child since he’s near 20. We’ve been sponsoring him for 13 years, and he’s getting ready to graduate from the program.

June 12: Travel by train from Ongole back to Naidupet

June 13: Travel by car from Naidupet to Chennai; Train from Chennai to Bangalore

June 14: Compassion Visit with Irene D. (sponsored child) in Bangalore; Speak with staff and students at the Compassion International Leadership Development Program

Irene is in the Leadership Development Program (LDP), meaning she has graduated from the regular sponsorship program and is now attending university. This is a completely different program from the regular Compassion sponsorship program. Monthly sponsorship is $300 since we are basically paying for Irene to attend college. She attends Anna University in Chennai which is where we were expecting to visit with her, but she is at a special LDP camp that week which she cannot leave. We weren’t originally anticipating visiting Bangalore, but now we are. Since we’re heading to this camp to visit Irene, the Compassion staff has asked us to speak to the rest of the students and staff while we’re there. I’m really excited about this opportunity to speak to future Christian leaders in India. What we’re going to say, I have no idea.

June 15: Train from Bangalore to Chennai

June 16: Fly from Chennai to New Delhi.

There is a Catholic cathedral about 1 mile from our hotel in Chennai, St. George’s Cathedral. I hope we can attend mass there before leaving Chennai.

June 17: New Delhi; we have a day on our own before our guided tour starts tomorrow

June 18: Fly from Delhi to Varanasi (Varanasi is the heart of the Hindu culture—should be interesting.)

June 19: Travel from Varanasi to Khajuraho (Khajuraho is known for its erotic stone carvings in caves and on cliffs—should also be interesting.)

June 20: Travel from Khajuraho to Jhansi

June 21: Train ride to Agra and visit Taj Mahal’s Moonlight Garden at sunset

June 22: Tour Taj Mahal at sunrise; Travel to Jaipur, the “Pink City”

June 23: Tour Jaipur

June 24: Travel from Jaipur to Delhi; Tour Delhi

June 25: Tour Delhi

June 26: Fly home, layover in Amman

We covet your prayers for safe travels, good health, and that we would be a blessing to everyone we meet.

Parents are the Most Important Teachers

1 05 2013

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Knutson,

You are to be congratulated! On the first day of class, I asked my students to name a hero or heroine. Kelly filled in your names on the index card I provided. How thrilled I would be if a son or daughter did this.

She wrote, “Together my parents taught me to be responsible, to be a hard worker, and to have integrity. As a teacher now, I see the incredible influence parents have on their children. I appreciate even more all they’ve done to be a positive influence on me.” I thought you should know that Kelly holds you in such high esteem that she boasts about you to her college professor.

Mr. Knutson, Kelly wrote, “I respect my Dad because he loves my mom and treats her with respect. He taught me to believe in myself and supported me in all my decisions—even my stupid ones.” Mr. Knutson, I am reminded of the Proverb that says, “. . . and the glory of children are their fathers.”

Kelly also stated, “I am grateful for my Mom’s sacrifices for her children. She raised us well. Now, I am grateful for her discipline. I know now that “the Lord (and my Mom) disciplines those whom He/she loves.” Mrs. Knutson, Proverbs 31 says that the children of the virtuous woman rise up and “call her blessed.” That is what Kelly has done.

Kelly describes herself as being a hard worker, respectful, and a perfectionist. These are wonderful qualities for a teacher to have. She also wrote that her greatest desire is to be a Godly woman. What a wonderful influence she will be on the youth of our nation. Thank you for instilling in her such an admirable spirit. With parents on her side whom she admires, I know Kelly will continue to take on difficult tasks and win. She has made two presentations in my class which were carefully prepared and delivered beautifully. She is a gifted teacher. I also appreciate her pleasant disposition and attentive countenance during class. She is a fine teacher and role model for our young people.

If there is some way that you would like for me to personally help or encourage Kelly, I would welcome your suggestions. I am pleased to have the opportunity to work with your daughter. I look forward to meeting you when you are in San Marcos. Please know that I would be delighted to visit with you and your family any time.

Sincerely yours,
Beverly Chiodo, Professor

Dated: December 10, 1998

My mom handed me this letter last week.

Fifteen years ago and unbeknownst to me, this letter was written by a professor and mailed to my parents while I was working on my college requirements for my emergency teaching certification in Texas. I was newly married, and not yet a parent. I had only been teaching for two years and was still very much a rookie in a large inner-city school in a rough area of San Antonio where 95% of the student population was “at risk” and about 20% of my students in any given class were pregnant, had a child, or fathered a child. I had one student who was 22, married, and a mother of two. I was 25.

Fifteen years later, my answer to Dr. Chiodo’s question, “who are your heroes/heroines?” would still be my mom and dad, my first and still most important teachers.

Fifteen years from now, I wonder how my children would answer.

Osdalia & Alberto

2 04 2013
Osdalia & Alberto

Osdalia & Alberto

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.”
-Nehemiah 8:10

I’ve read this scripture and sung it in numerous songs hundreds of, always thinking, well . . . that’s nice. I might have smiled at the sound of it, and then promptly continued reading or singing without giving it much more thought.

Osdalia and Alberto changed that. Until I met them, I didn’t know what those eight, sacred words really meant . . . “the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

On March 3, 2013, their small home in Progreso, Texas was burglarized. The thief stole everything except an Xbox system belonging to Osdalia’s 14-year-old son, Jason. To cover his tracks, the thief burned their home to the ground. People gathered in her small community and stood around and watched, no one offering help or support. Most silently thinking, “Better her home than mine.” One church provided a dumpster for clean up, but no one from the church actually helped to clean up.

reconstructing their house in Progreso, Texas

reconstructing their house in Progreso, Texas

reconstructing their house in Progreso, Texas

reconstructing their house in Progreso, Texas

charred remnants from their house

charred remnants from their house

At the time of the fire, Alberto, Osdalia’s second husband and not yet a legal US citizen, was still living and working in Mexico. Upon hearing the news that the meager 480 sq. ft. home (smaller than the size of my classroom) which took him seven years to build was destroyed, he smuggled himself across the Mexican-American border in a trip that took eight hours of walking and running and dropping to the ground and hiding whenever he heard a car. This “trip” cost a hefty fee of $600 paid to the Mexican drug cartel.

On March 16, I met Osdalia, Alberto, and Jason. I was chaperoning a group of 15 students on a mission trip organized by Mission Discovery to Harlingen, Texas, to help this family rebuild their home. Little did I realize how this family would change my life in our five days together.

Alberto is one the hardest working men I’ve ever encountered. I like to think that I have a strong work ethic. I work hard and I don’t settle for second best. Alberto, put me to shame. Our group of 18 worked tirelessly for about five hours each day with him before heading back to the mission camp that was our temporary home. Alberto and Jason would continue to work until sundown, another five hours, and would accomplish almost as much as we had during the day.

When we first arrived at their home, Alberto had half the external framing and siding completed , a job we thought we were to tackle. By the time we left less than a week later, we helped Alberto expand their home to around 640 sq. ft. and finish 100% of the framing, siding, and roof—including shingles. We also painted their house as well as a neighbor’s home, and with some extra funds we raised, a small group of girls and I went shopping and were able to leave Osdalia and Alberto with some basic home goods like pots and pans, towels, bed sheets, kitchen and dining ware, school supplies, and an air mattress. Osdalia had been sleeping at her neighbor’s, but Alberto and Jason were sleeping in their van behind their house in order to protect the lumber and building materials from being stolen.

Of all the items we purchased for them, the 5×7 group photo we had framed, was Osdalia’s first prized possession. She held it tight to her chest, breaking the embrace periodically to look at it, and then embracing it again. This reminder of the people who came to help her family is what she clung to.

shopping for Osdalia and Alberto

shopping for Osdalia and Alberto



group photo

group photo

FRA Mission Trip group

FRA Mission Trip group

In the short spurts of time I got to spend with Osdalia and Alberto, I came to witness “the joy of the Lord is your strength” in human form as I’ve never witnessed before. I listened in as Osdalia shared with some of us about the fire and how it changed her family. Most people I know, including myself, would be vacillating between anger and grief, bitterness and self-pity. I know I would very easily succumb to the whole “why me?” mentality.

Osdalia radiated Joy. Peace. Strength. Hope.

She explained to me: before the fire, she and Alberto had been struggling in their marriage. This was Osdalia’s second marriage, and her two children were from her first marriage—Jason and a 17-year-old daughter Ashley. Jason and Ashley had also been estranged from one another in recent months and the fire separated the two siblings even more. Osdalia had not seen her daughter in about three weeks.

Despite the drama between her children, Osdalia and Alberto had grown closer since the fire, Osdalia shared. Their marriage was stronger than it had ever been. At the start of the week, Alberto still struggled with anger at the man who did this—turns out it was a neighbor just a few houses down from them on their street—but Osdalia had forgiven this man 100 times over. She said, “If this is what it takes to turn my family around, he can burn my house down next week, and the week after, and the week after that. He can burn my house down 100 times if this will help our relationships to get better.”

Listening to Osdalia share this, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she meant it. Every word. Her conviction in this Truth was unmovable. She. Meant. It.

In another conversation the next day, Osdalia continued, “I have forgiven this man. I have to. I forgive him over and over. I can’t be angry. God is here. He brought you to help us—strangers from Tennessee. We have hope. I tell Alberto, we have hope. God will provide. And He has.”

All of this coming from a woman who was wearing the same clothes she had been wearing for the past three days because everything else she owned was consumed by fire.

Every encounter with Osdalia over the next few days was much the same. She never stopped smiling. She always greeted each member in our group with a hug and a kiss and made sure to say good bye in similar fashion. (Hellos and goodbyes took a while.) She always asked how she could serve us. She even offered the shirt off her back and the shoes off her feet on several occasions, even though she didn’t have another shirt or pair of shoes to change into. She surprised us with Burger King for lunch one day and sodas and ice cream another.

All of this coming from a lady who had NOTHING—no material possessions, anyway.

What Osdalia did have was something quite extraordinary that most people do not have. True peace. True joy. True hope. True forgiveness. Even now as I write this, I find there are no words to do justice to just how exceptional and uncommon is Osdalia’s happiness.

the cross

the cross

Our final gift to Osdalia and Alberto was a wood cross made from scrap pieces of the burned frame of their original home. Nailed together and then painted, the cross displayed the legacy verse chosen by the 2013 senior class, “We love because He first loved us” from 1 John 4:19. The two seniors on the trip presented this to them along with two Bibles and explained the scripture. Osdalia embraced it, too. Only when she turned it over and saw the burned wood on the back—knowing then that it came from their former home—did she break down. The dinner table, with 26 of us, became still and silent. Osdalia buried her head in the cross and wept quietly. Alberto held her tight.

Osdalia and the cross

Osdalia and the cross

Time seemed to stop as the significance of this little cross took hold of all of us. What began as a seed of hatred and bitterness from a neighbor eventually lead to the horrendous crime against Osdalia and her family. What a neighbor meant for destruction, God used to bring forth goodness and life. Relationships were restored. Hope, peace, and joy found a welcome home in the hearts of Osdalia and Alberto.

Back to Alberto for a moment. In the few days we were with him, I witnessed his smile grow wider. I saw him let go of anger and embrace peace. I observed this transformation and was privileged to be there when he shared with our group he had dedicated his life to following Christ.

As for Jason and Ashley, they still have a ways to go in redeeming their relationship, but they actually stood close enough to one another—just Alberto between the two of them—for a family photo while they were praying. After this prayer, Ashley commented that was the first time she had prayed with her eyes closed, meaning she prayed and she meant what she had prayed.

praying together

praying together

This family left a deep imprint on my heart and on my attitude. I witnessed eternity being changed with Alberto’s public declaration to follow Christ, and I saw “the joy of the Lord is your strength” move from the printed pages of scripture to living, breathing entities . . . named Osdalia and Alberto.

The joy of the Lord is OUR strength. This is God’s promise to us. We just need to claim it.

The Big 5

28 03 2013

5th Birthday Present

5th Birthday Present

Dearest Jason,

I can’t believe you’re five today! I believe times passes quicker the older I get. A day in your life can last for 50 hours; in mine, it lasts for only 10.

I love experiencing life through your eyes. Your wonder of rocks and sticks that has led to the growing “rock garden” in my classroom. Your favorite pocket in your winter jacket where you stash your favorite sticks which may really turn out to be light sabers in disguise. Your sadness and tears at having to part with the twelve pounds of rocks your extended care teacher bagged up for you to take home. I smile at it all.

You can make me smile and laugh like no other. Ever since you first tried out, “Mommy, can I have a sucker since you’re so nice and lovely?” you had me.

My favorite memories from this year are many.
•Wanting to be “bathtized” just you could get your own piece of communion bread.
•Your first yearbook picture followed by a retake that lasted for 10 minutes and required multiple bribes and ended with a long line of frustrated students behind you.
•Learning how to draw and write.
•Your numerous and memorable drawings on my classroom whiteboard, my favorite being “Mommy on Fire Flying Up to Heaven.”
•Starting school at FRA and being so upset many days when I came to pick you up because you were having so much fun.
•Your declining fascination with Tomas the Train and growing obsession with Legos and Star Wars.
•Your ability to out-eat me on pancakes any day.
•Your “forever hugs.”
•Teaching the rest of us prayers to “The Addams Family” and “Superman” theme songs. (Thank you, Ms. Karen!)



To my mid-night smuggler, banana thief, pancake maniac, sweet talker, light saber wielding Padawan, stick collector, rock treasurer . . . I pray you will be stubborn for goodness and righteousness. I pray you will always remember to seek God when you feel scared or sad, lost or alone. I pray you will be known as a friend to all, kind and generous, gracious and compassionate. I pray you will always be ready to forgive and equally ready to apologize. I pray you will be as your name: a healer; a healer of hearts and souls.

I love you to the sky and back, but God loves you even more. Never forget that, little one.


“Praise the Lord, O my soul, all my inmost being, praise His holy name.”
-Psalm 103:1

"Mommy on Fire Flying Up to Heaven"

“Mommy on Fire Flying Up to Heaven”