Thursday, January 26, 2012

Uganda Prep Time

In less than 4 weeks I'll be on a plane... Uganda bound! Woot Woot! The excitement is building and the prep work is under way! This past weekend the entire Uganda team was able to get away for 24 hours for a time of planning and team building.

(Side note: bare with me on this little tangent... ) While some of you might cringe at the thought of "team building" and roll your eyes to cheesy ice breakers, I'll have you know- I LOVE IT and truth be told,  deep down I wish every social situation in life required people to be silly and get uncomfortable for the sake of breaking down the ridiculous walls we have up in our lives! You see, this passion I have for team building is in my blood, it's inevitable when you work at a camp for 5 years! I mean, think about it, day in and day out, I was surrounded with people playing goofy games that had awesome names like "Giants, Dwarfs, and Wizards" and "Mosquito Tag", and "The Borg", along with "Rapid Fire"(my favorite, I might add!), and "Lilly Pad Landing" and the ever so popular "Chubby Bunny"! Oh and don't even get me started about the fun we can have with trust falls, and blind hikes, and the spider web! Makes me smile just thinkin' about it! (Oh how my inner-dork is shining through right now!)

Okay, I'm back! Thanks for sticking with me, back to this weekend! As you might have guessed, my heart was happy because Friday evening consisted of "get to know you" games, and a team building exercise!

We went around the table taking turns reading random and funny facts about one another that each of us had turned in prior to the retreat. We had to guess who said what. I'm always amazed at the things I learn about people and I'm even more amazed at how quirky people are! From one person's favorite childhood food being the school's cafeteria salisbury steak to another person who has a deathly fear of velvet/velour?! Gotta love it!

Team building exercise: We were each given a role to play, and our objective was to get from one house to the other where our "safe zone" was in under 20 minutes. My "role" was that I had no legs, obviously unable to walk, but I couldn't mention that I had no legs to anyone. If any of us mentioned what our role/aliment was, then we had to start all over. The group consisted of someone who was blind, someone with with no arms, someone who had paralyzing panic attacks, someone who was deaf, a nay-sayer, someone who fainted every time the nay-sayer disagreed with the group, an 85 year old who was only able to say "huh, I didn't hear you", and a headstrong leader who told others what to do and thinks they're always right. Well... you can only imagine how difficult communication was given our aliments! Hence me getting dropped by Carrie here because she had to faint while carrying me because Nancy, the nay-sayer, disagreed with our plan of action!

So here I'm rethinking how in the world I'm going to get someone to carry me all the way over to the other house! Notice  Nancy, the nay-sayer yelling, "No! This is not a good idea!" She played the role well! As we started to figure out everyone's roles based on their behavior, we were able to communicate a little better- but it wasn't very pretty, that's for sure!
This is the oh so eloquent "hand off" of legless Hilary... to the blind man, mind you! Yes folks, that's right- after much deliberation it was determined that the only one strong enough that was able to carry me was the BLIND guy! He had to have his eyes closed the entire time and carry me outside, in the dark, along an uneven stone walkway! Talk about nerve racking! Shawn (blind guy), you most definitely got your work out for the night! Sorry I ate so much for dinner, that had to have added a pound or two! (o;

I made sure the others kept Shawn (blind guy) on the path! But quite honestly, I'm not sure the others were of much help considering (Brett, to my right) had no arms and couldn't catch me if I fell, (Bekah to my left) was getting more scared with every step leading to a full blown panic attack, (Nancy, behind me) disagreeing with every word spoken, and (Jeff, behind me) was just busy bossing us all around. I'm glad to announce that we did in fact make it to our "safe zone" all alive and uninjured! And I'm pretty sure we're all closer for it!

Saturday consisted of quality time digging into the material we'll be teaching while in Uganda for the conference that we're hosting for Hessed International's Ugandan pastors and their wives.  The ladies from our team will be teaching on marriage (my section is on Successful Marriage-Building Strategies- Joshua particularly likes the chapter I teach on "Keeping Your Romance Alive"... such a guy!) and we're also teaching on Health and Hygiene (lot's of talk about germs and how they're spread & ways to conserve water). We were able to run through teaching our topic and get feedback from the group, which resulted in the unanimous decision that I talk too fast and need to slow down! (No surprise there!) But it was good to get a feel for how we want to present our lessons and hash through any questions we might have.

My favorite part about Saturday though was when we all shared our life stories with the group. Each of us went around the circle and vulnerably and honestly shared about how God had transformed our lives! There is something incredibly powerful about the testimony of 9 people, all from different walks of life, sharing the common thread of God rescuing us from our sinful self and witnessing the beauty that comes from His redeeming love! I am so honored to be going to Africa with this incredible group of imperfect people, who are desperately seeking God's story for their life! There is no doubt that God has woven this team together for His purposes, all with our different strengths and weaknesses to accomplish His work while we're in Uganda!

I'm so stinking grateful for our team leaders who put their precious time and effort into making this weekend happen.  Thank you for realizing the importance in getting away, even just for 24 hours, to establish team unity! Thank you to the rest of the team for showing up with open hearts and sharing the same passion for loving God and loving others! This trip... it's gonna be good!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Meet Crystal

Meet Crystal. I've been lucky enough to call this gal my friend for the past 9 years! Flash back to the summer of 2003 and Crystal and I both were working at Doe River Gorge on summer staff.  I was the head lifeguard and Crystal helped train the high adventure staff.  What a great summer that was! So many memories were built and so many friendships established that would last a lifetime (I'd like to add, it's also the summer I met the love of my life, "Shua", as the staff referred to him. Uhm yeah, I stick with Joshua, "Shua" sounds like sneeze if you ask me! Don't you agree?! Sorry, never been a fan of this nickname!) Anyway, almost immediately Crys and I hit it off (that line sounds like something cheesy you would say after a first date, but hear me out...). You know what I mean, when you first meet someone and you think to yourself, "Yep, I like this person, they're cool and down to earth, I can totally see us as good friends". Because for goodness sakes, we all know there are those crazy encounters with others where you think to yourself, "Uhm, yeah, not so much! I'm steering clear of this one! CrAzY!". Well, that summer really laid the foundation of Crystal and I's friendship, we both grew spiritually from the work God was doing in hearts and were able to challenge each other as God refined us both in unique ways. 
Summer 2003 (Lauren, Myself, Crystal and Joshua)
Right after the summer of '03, five of us girls from Doe River decided to move into together, and so, the infamous blue house known as the "Girl's House" was established! Our beloved old blue house (that quite honestly was somewhat on a sketch street, with two rundown trailers on either side and a scary basement infested with spider crickets), became the house where treasured conversations, genuine fellowship, honest accountability, and lots of laughter took place! I look at the picture of this house and a flood of amazing memories come back that I will cherish forever! Kinda makes me tear up a bit. (o:
The Girls House
Crazy pajama dance parties were held in this house where I was able to show off my amazing dance skills (it's true). Many a meaningful conversations were had while sitting Indian style on the kitchen counter drinking coffee. A constant parade of fun people came in and out of our front door every day of the week, it was like Grand Central Station. One was never lonely at the girls house, that's for sure! The five of us girls each brought something unique to the table, all with very different personalities, but with the common thread of loving Jesus, and you know what?... Amazingly.... it worked! We all got along great! I could do a post on each one of these gals and how they have impacted my life in a profound way! Truly I cherish my time living with these ladies! Crys, Bug, Hopie, and Lala (Rach too, our honorary "original girls house girl")... I miss you dearly and love you so much!
All of us girls hiking in Gatlinburg (Crys, Myself, Bug, Hopie and Lala)
Crystal and I shared the downstairs master bedroom which lead to many late night chats! I can't tell you how many times a night we would whisper in the dark, "Okay, for real, this time we HAVE to go to sleep!" only to hear two minutes later, "Oh! One more thing, you'll never believe what happened today!....." We'd inevitably get the giggles from being in that crazy tired delirious stage and find ourselves exhausted come morning time! It was worth it! (o;

Joshua and I were dating while I lived at the Girls House so the girls had a front row seat as Joshua and I's relationship unfolded. Crystal was there through it all, providing encouragement, a listening ear, and giddiness when needed! Truly, I think God knew exactly what He was doing by placing me in the center of four other girls who were solid believers while Joshua and I dated. It proved to be an incredible accountability that kept Joshua and I's relationship strong and pure. So it should come as no surprise that all the girls stood by my side as my bridesmaids at our wedding! Best day of my life, hands down!

So grateful to have these girls be in my wedding!
After Joshua and I got married, you'd assume that the dynamics of Crystal and I's friendship changed a bit, just due to me no longer living at the girls house and me navigating my way through being a newlywed, but honestly, it didn't! Regardless of being in different phases of our lives though, she was still my "go to gal" and best friend. Over the years our friendship just continued to grow and an unspoken comfort level between the two of us developed. I never worried that if I hadn't gotten around to calling her in a while that she would be upset, and she didn't worry either- we both understood that life has crazy seasons. But when we would catch up, it was such a refreshing conversation and we'd always pick up exactly where we left off.

Skip forward to 2007... Joshua and I had moved from TN to TX and our little Jude man was 4 months old. Crystal was getting married! There is a long story to how God reunited Crystal and Brandon... that will have to wait until another day- but for now, just know this was a day I didn't want to miss! Many nights at the girls house several years prior were spent talking about Brandon and how he was the "standard" of a quality guy in Crystal's life, and if only she could marry him someday! I have to wonder if God tuned into our little talks and smirked, knowing all too well that in fact one day she would marry this man! I had the honor of standing in her wedding as a bridesmaid as well (great motivation to bust butt and try and loose the baby weight I might add!). 

Crystal's wedding- former girls house girls
Little Jude on my hip
Okay, so I'm going to jump ahead again... Summer of 2010, Brandon and Crystal sold all their belongings, packed up, and faithfully stepped out into uncharted territory, moving to Bangkok, Thailand with a team of others from their church as missionaries. God has used them in mighty ways to accomplish His work in showing Christ's love to the Thai people! Truth be told, it's been bitter sweet for me to have her go. I couldn't be more proud of her for courageously trusting the Lord as they GO and serve! Yet, I miss her dearly! Five months ago they had a precious baby boy, Tobin, and I couldn't play the role of a best friend and be there to meet him right away. There have been numerous times that I've reached for the phone to call her and share something that is heavy on my heart, only to quickly realize it's 1am in Thailand, boo! The hurdles of communication have proved to be tough! Regardless of the challenges that come with being on opposite sides of the world,  we've both earnestly been praying for the work God is doing in both our families lives.
Joshua and I made a trip to TN before Crys and Brandon moved to Thailand and this is me helping her pack her entire life into two duffel bags!

It would be an understatement to say that both our families over the past 2 years have been living quite the adventure! Between them being in Thailand and having a baby to us in the midst of our adoption and trips to Africa, God sure has been writing some fun stories! So you can only imagine what a joy it was to have them come and visit us this past week and soak in their company catching up on all the goodness God has been up to! After all, there's nothing sweeter than spending time with your best friend and snuggling her precious 5 month old baby boy! 
Took this pic of adorable Tobin while they were here. Oh how I miss snuggles with this boy already! I could eat him up!
 Of course my prayer is that one day maybe God's ultimate plan is for both our stories to intersect and we could all be doing ministry together! But for now, God has us in two different places, and I have peace about that. Here's the deal, even if we are always on opposite sides of the world, but we're desperately seeking God's face, and we're serving Him, I am grateful. I am grateful for the fellowship of a sister in Christ, even from afar, that I know "gets me" and shares the same passion I do. I'm grateful too because I know our friendship is a gift from God.

So you get the gist... our friendship has history. Our friendship has shared monumental life moments. Our friendship has vulnerability and honesty. Most importantly, our friendship has Christ at the center and we share the same desire to seek God's story for our lives. Good stuff.

I walked away from our week long visit and couldn't help but think "This is exactly what God means when He talks about the body of Christ!" It's important folks! This journey of being obedient to GO and DO all that God calls us to is tough, and doing it on your own is near impossible! We were created for fellowship, hardwired for community. If you don't have this in your life, might I encourage you to seek it out. Pray for it. I promise God will bless you!

Thanks Crystal for the blessing of your friendship in my life! My prayers are with you, Brandon and Tobin as you head back to Thailand- I know God has BIG things in store for you! I'm so proud of you! 

If you're interested in supporting Brandon and Crystal in Thailand (they raise their monthly support), check out their blog HERE!

Monday, January 2, 2012

2 Night Cabin Getaway = Helping the Uganda Team!

So, here's the scoop... in 20 days just over $3050 towards my Uganda trip was provided in classic God fashion! Crazy goodness, right? Fully funded for the trip, shaking my head in awe, simply amazed kind of goodness! If you recall, on my "why I'm hesitant to go to Uganda" list I had conjured up in my head before committing to go on the trip, I had "FUNDS" smack dab at the top of the list! Oh ye of little faith, don't I just look like a goober now!?! Clearly MY concerns are NOT God's concerns! He has striped away every single hesitation on my list!  (Which just goes to show the importance in bringing your fears, concerns, and burdens to God, laying them at His feet, and then walking away! Invite Him to tackle your fears, after all, He's the giver of peace!)

Several weeks ago, while I was still fundraising for my trip, I was contacted by a friend of mine's sweet parents, Fred and Judy. They generously offered a 2 nights stay at an adorable rental cabin they own in Arkansas for me to auction off as a creative and fun way to help raise funds towards my trip! (Serious side note for a second...I absolutely love how God has used SO MANY people in such unique ways to be a part of the story He is writing in our lives! What a tremendous blessing it is to have people think outside of the box and offer their talents and resources in such generous ways for His purposes! Every single one of you over the past two years of our lives has your name written in RED on our calender! For real, it's the most humbling thing ever to have hundreds of you be a part of spreading the mission of God's love to others!) So.... Here's the really cool thing, once Judy found out that I was fully funded, she emailed me and said that she hoped I would still auction off the cabin and have the proceeds go towards the other Uganda team members who are still raising their support, that she doesn't even know! See now people, this is Jesus' love, and it makes me smile! So that's exactly what I'm doing this week, auctioning off Fred and Judy's beautiful rental cabin, with the highest bidder's winnings being split evenly between my amazing Uganda team members who are still in need of support!  

Here are auction details...

Bidding will be open from Monday, January 2nd, until this Friday, January 6th, at 5pm. To place a bid, simply leave a comment on this post with your bid amount along with your name and email. If you're unable to leave a comment for some reason, you can also email me at leaving the same information and I will add your bid to this post. Minimum bid starts at $50. The highest bidder on Friday at 5pm wins and I'll be in touch with you to get you more details!

2 nights on any available days between now and March 31st (YES, Valentines Day and Spring Break fall during this time, just sayin'!). During that time it is trout fishing season in Arkansas, and the Little Missouri River has lots of rainbow and brown trout in it. The Diamond Mine in Murfreesboro (less than 10 miles away) is always open and is very popular for people with kids. The town of Murfreesboro, which is 4 miles away, is very small, but it has some very interesting shops and several good restaurants. The cabin is a 4-hour drive from the DFW area, mostly on I30.

Some pointers about the cabin:  It has Directv on flat screen TVs in the living room and in both bedrooms, there are 2 DVD players, the cabin has central heat and air, the kitchen is fully equipped with dishes, silverware, pots and pans, a microwave, a coffee maker, a toaster, a blender, an electric can opener, plus a full refrigerator and a stove with a regular and convection oven. There are 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, one has a shower while the other has a tub with a shower; linens are furnished. The downstairs bedroom has a queen bed while the upstairs bedroom has 2 double beds. There is a queen pull-out sofa in the living room. The only negative that I can think of is you must go outside to go upstairs; there is a grate between the two stories for communicating. We have a gate which may be closed on the front porch to keep kids and pets on the porch when needed. There is a porch swing on the back porch overlooking the river as well as a double hammock, a charcoal grill, and a table and 4 chairs. On the front porch which faces the large front yard (nearly 2 acres) are 4 rocking chairs which we use to watch the deer come to the deer feeder. Be sure to check out the cabin website where availability is listed as well! Click HERE! 

Feel free to spread the word and pass along to anyone you think might be interested! It's a win win, you get a fun little getaway AND you help some pretty amazing folks get to Uganda to love on orphans, teach pastors, and visit imprisoned children!  Thanks in advance for joining the Uganda team in prayer and support!