Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Scotch Tape Fix Its

I'm living in a house that was purchased in 1960 and had one owner.  When we moved in, it was full of a life that was lived.

Since we've moved into it, we have spent hours sorting through vacation souvenirs, family photos, handmade clothes, kitchen supplies, closets full of linens and the likes.

Through this "cleaning" we have noticed how the person who lived here tried her best to keep her home in the best shape possible, even when she wasn't able.  Tonight as we cleaned the master bedroom in preparation to rip the carpet up and paint the walls, we discovered mini-blinds that were taped together with kleenex to block the light out and chipped paint held in place from the places it was falling by scotch tape.  While it is a nuisance to remove from the walls, the scotch tape struck a chord with me and immediately saddened me upon its sight.

Here was a precious woman holding together something she found precious with scotch tape.  It immediately led me to think about how I have done the same thing with my life over the years.  I've looked for the quick fixes, the band-aid healing to keep from experiencing hurt or the unknown.  I've often made hasty decisions because I didn't want to participate in the actual restarting of something.

Or worse yet, I've looked for the scotch tape fixes to help someone else.

It's so much easier to put a bandaid on something for a temporary solution than it is to work for a permanent fix.

Recently, I've pondered how so many times ministry becomes a scotch tape fix it.  Groups of people swoop down on others - homeless people, unwed teen mothers, hungry, impoverished, etc. - and provide a quick fix over a week of service or one day a week.  Instead of providing the hand up to help someone out of the situation, we create a temporary fix it and then we move on to something else. That many times, ministry or missions becomes about how it makes us feel - we lose sight of the why we are there.

Too many times we don't stop to consider what happens when we leave.

Have we taught a man to fish, or did we catch it, clean it up, fry it, and serve it for dinner for him?

Did we serve because we are loving people or did we serve to advertise our church and get people to attend?

This week I have a group of friends visiting Rwanda on a trip sponsored by Noonday Collection and the International Justice Mission in Rwanda.  It is not a mission trip, but a story telling trip.  I've been reading blogs, view photographs, watching videos of the sewing co-op that Noonday helped to start 3 years ago.

In this country 20 years ago, a genocide killed as many as 800,000 Tutsi people - men, women, and children.  Many of the women in the co-op are survivors of this genocide or their family is.  This history is still much a part of their daily existence.

I'm sure there were many groups who came in and offered immediate assistance and that was much needed.  But what I love about Noonday - they came in 3 years ago and taught this group of women a trade.  A trade that would empower them.  A trade that would lead to full-time employment.  A trade that would allow them to have an education, provide for their families. A trade that would restore their lives and rebuild their communities.

It's not a scotch tape fix it.  It's a scrape the old paint, wipe the wall down, prime it to prepare it, and paint anew.

That's the kind of fix it I want in my life.

*All images courtesy of #StyleforJustice and #NoondayCollection*

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Why Noonday?

I've begun a new journey that has the potential to be a life changing event, but not for me.  Over the past year, I've been very convicted about the "stuff" that consumes my daily life - the multiple trips to Target to buy cheap t-shirts and sandals, the weekly jaunts to Belks to purchase work clothes because I'm tired of wearing the ones I already have, the eating out that has become a habit - basically a life of excess.  I live in America and that seems to be the theme of everyone's life - excess. We live in a world of instant gratification, little patience, and an over abundance of stuff.  Even those we deem impoverished have cell phones, new shoes, nice cars, nails done. But, that is how America does it.

I was introduced to Noonday by a very dear friend, Amanda, through school a few years back.  I noticed she always wore fabulous jewelry and even had a pair of sandals that I had my eye on for awhile from Sseko, a company that purchases sandals from Uganda, sells them here and the money helps women build a life for themselves and their families in Uganda.  Noonday worked on the same premise and I was intrigued.  I wanted to know more.  Honestly, I wanted to wear the jewelry, but I never brought myself to purchase it because it was a little out of my price range.

Well, through this conviction of having too much "stuff" I began looking at Noonday differently.  Noonday partners with artisan groups world wide and even in America to change the lives of those who are truly living a life of physical need.  These artisan groups employ men and women to create handmade jewelry, scarves, bags, etc. and sell the product to Noonday to then sell in the US.  These artisans earn fair wages that help them to purchase homes, cars, put food on their table, educate themselves, purchase much needed medicines, and even keep their children instead of putting them up for adoption.  Each purchase of Noonday makes a life changing moment for the artisans that create the jewelry and accessories.  This was empowering for me.

Over the last few months, I've made a few purchases to get my feet wet.  My first purchase was from an artisan group in Ethiopia, the Honeycomb necklace.  Farmers in Ethiopia find artillery shells in their fields and transfer them to an artisan group of women who are HIV+.  This group of women then transforms the artillery shells and metal into beads to create jewelry.  Each time I wear it, I think of the power in the purchase and how some beautiful, sweet lady has another day because of the necklace that I wear.
This purchase changed the way that I look at things.  It led me to questioning why I purchase the things that I do.  I questioned the value I put on material things. I never thought I was materialistic, but when I began looking at the lives people around the globe live and the amount of stuff I have, I really questioned what I valued.  I really wanted to begin making a difference with my purchases.  Over the next few months, I purchased paper beads from Uganda in multiple styles.  Each time I wear the pieces from Noonday, I receive lots of compliments, BUT it's the opportunity I get to share the stories of the artisans that I love more than hearing about the jewelry.

 Each piece has a face and that face has a beautiful story of redemption.

Noonday started as a way for founder, Jessica, to bring a baby home from Rwanda.  She and her husband sold beads to raise money for an adoption.  This lead to a company that supports adoption wholeheartedly and truly makes a difference in the lives of others.

Last month, Cheney and I made a decision to get involved.  No, not through an adoption, ya'll.  But, through my becoming an ambassador.  I am so excited to wear the stories of the people the jewelry represents.  All week, I've immersed my self in the stories of Ethiopia, Uganda, India, and Guatemala. All week, I've told the stories of the artisans who have created the amazing pieces I've come to love in just a few short days.  Each morning it's like Christmas trying to decide which story to tell. Do I wear the paper beads from Uganda and tell the story of the Daniel and Jalia and how they were living hand to mouth, day to day until Noonday founder Jessica discovered their talent and created an artisan group that now impacts thousands of people by providing them with wages that allow for homes, cars, and the ability to keep their children?  Do I wear the artillery jewelry from the artisans of Entoto Mountain who are HIV+ and have been outcast from the city and now have a way to pay for their much needed medicines?  Do I carry the bags of our artisans in Rwanda who escaped genocide to now find a life that allows them to have a job to take pride of their accomplishments?

Join with me to make purchases with power by visiting my ambassador page at 

"and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." Isaiah 58:10

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Watercolor Life

The paintings of Monet have always inspired me - the strokes that appear random upon close inspection of a canvas takes on a different appearance the further away you position yourself from the piece.  Slowly images begin to appear and make sense to the observer.  The strokes that appeared sloppily orchestrated up close or even appeared as possible mistakes, now create the delicate petals of water lilies on the surface of a pond.  Instead of images becoming clearer the closer you step, focus appears as you take in the entire masterpiece.

I've been contemplating the large masterpiece of my life recently.  For so long I've been focused on the individual brushstrokes that don't make sense.  I can't piece them together.  The blues, pinks, and purples that are smeared across the canvas - the heartache, the challenges, the questions, the difficulties - I can't see the entire canvas, yet.  But, I know who does.  The one who knows the very number of the hairs on my head.

6"Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. 7"Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. ~Luke 12: 6-7

By nature, I'm not a trusting person, I'm a skeptic.  I like to be in control and create my own brushstrokes, strokes that make sense to me, that paint a picture that I can see and can navigate the outcome.  The danger in this is the fact that my picture or masterpiece would be in focus only when I am close to it.  When I understand each stroke, my masterpiece would result in a very small creation.

The masterpiece that my Jesus and Savior paints is larger than I can imagine.  He is orchestrating each stroke and can see how each color blends in and connects to other colors and pieces.  He sees how the difficult situation can be used for a greater purpose than my postage sized piece of art, my color by number artwork.  I know where each color goes and what it will look like even before I begin.  

He knows how to minutely add sorrow and pain to create glory and gratefulness; how to mix loss and struggle to create joy and celebration.  He can take my brushstrokes that I controlled and calculated and fought to take the brush from his hand and still use it to create a glorious masterpiece that I may never see in completion, or know what the final image is. But, he knows.  And letting go and trusting him is the only way the pain and hurt can turn into a masterpiece full of beauty and glory.

How humbling to think that the God who created the universe takes care with the brushstrokes of my life.  The blending, smudges, and mistakes are intricately woven into a story that can have impact in my world.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Visits from the Past

This week I spent most of my days at school or in training getting ready for the inevitable start to school - next week!  I would leave early and come home around 3 or 4 to spend a bit of time with Cheney before he had to skedaddle to his class.  Each night this week he has been gone from 5:30-9:00ish taking a required class for a TN hunting license.  That small change to his schedule made a huge difference to mine and to Taku.  Normally, Cheney is always here for conversation.  Since we don't have television/cable the house became very quiet.  There was plenty of time to clean, read, cook, and reflect on the important things in life.  The last time I was here, my grandfather had just recently passed and we were preparing to move so there was no time for thinking to be honest.  Now there is.

When we left SC, we left with a moving van full of stories from Cheney's family.  We were blessed to be gifted furniture that had story from his family.  His grandmother's first dining room set is now in our dining room.  Every time I see it I think about all of the dinners that she hosted with her silver tea/coffee service and wedding china.  We went from having minimal furniture to a house full of it now.  We were blessed to receive a couch that was his great grandparents, 3 chairs that were great grandparents, a kitchen table and chairs from grandparents, a bedroom suit from grandparents, and countless other belongings that meant so much to his family. When my parents came to visit, they brought a truck load of items from grandparents to add to the collection - my grandmother's hopechest, oil lamps that go back 3 generations, cast iron skillets and pots, and a slew of glassware and mason jars that my grandmother used to can her delicious green beans.  This week, I've spent a lot of time thinking about all of the stories that were told in the rooms that held this furniture over time.

Friday night, I was in the kitchen getting things ready for supper and decided to make green beans. We had visited the farmers market and I had a mess of beans that needed snapping.  I pulled out my bowl and began snapping away.  Somewhere in the midst of this, my eye was caught by a napkin holder that had sat on my grandmother's table for as long as I can remember.  A wave of emotions hit me like a ton of bricks.  I felt like I was standing in her kitchen.  The smell was the same, we were snapping beans like we had done so many times before.  I put all of the ingredients in the pot and began cooking them only to discover later that she must have been there with me because my beans tasted exactly like hers.  I've never been able to perfect her beans as many times as I have tried.  And I'm quite positive that I won't be able to do it again.  Thanks for helping out MawMaw Ruth!

Sometimes, its the small things that trigger those memories for me.  I have a picture of my grandfather on my fridge and a stash of old pictures of all of my grandparents that I go through from time to time.  If I could do one thing over in my life, I think it would be to take the value that I have on my grandparents today and return to my teenage years to fully take advantage to having them all alive and in my home town.  There would be more visits, more phone calls, more hugs to give.  More savoring of the moments that are so precious to me now.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Final Farewell

My last post was about my grandfather and the simple fact that I wasn't ready to live in a world where he didn't exist.  Today, I've been living in that world for almost a month.  Time has passed rather quickly since he said his final farewell.

My grandfather was a man to be admired. He lived through the Great Depression, served in World War II, witnessed the television revolution, and was a part of this great technology age.

In his late teens/early 20s, he was one of the thousands of young men drafted to serve his country in World War II.  He was young and somewhat innocent, I suppose.  He boarded a boat to the Philippines and served in the Red Arrow division of the US Army.  This division served 654 consecutive days of combat, more than any other US army division.  He saw many atrocities that most young men hope to never see.  At the end of the war, he became a part of the Occupation Forces in Japan.  He received 2 bronze stars, but never shared his story as to why he received them.  He simply told us, "I was only doing my job."

Upon his return from war, he met my grandmother on a blind date and was instantly smitten with her.  At her death last year, they had been married for 62 years.

Throughout my life, Paw Paw B was always there.  We spent many Sunday afternoons eating dinner with he and Maw Maw, gathered around the table.  His favorite dish was my mother's potato salad.  When my grandmother made it, he always made a comment about how it wasn't as good as my mom's.

Growing up, he was always outside working in the garden or fishing.  There were many trips to the fishing camp or walks around the pond.  I know I put in many hours picking vegetables and strawberries out of the garden with him.  The big green 5 gallon bucket would be overflowing with his Celebrity tomatoes in no time.  He grew the best I've had.

Every time I see a Dixon lawnmower, I think of him.  He taught all of the grandkids to drive it when we were old enough to reach the pedals.  There were many good times had by us all riding around the property.

Paw Paw was generous to anyone who needed help.  Each birthday and Christmas, unbeknownst to the grandkids, he and Maw Maw put money into an account for each grandchild.  When we graduated from high school, he gave us what had accumulated over the years.  He bought cars and even invited grands to live with him when they needed a place.  Out of 6 grands, I'm the only one who hasn't lived on the Kelly compound.

Since moving away, I didn't see him as often as I should.  I'm ridden with guilt from not calling as often as I needed to call.  But, I did talk to him one last time and told him I loved him.

My dad called me on Saturday afternoon to tell me it wouldn't be long.  I had laid down for a nap since I was going to have to stay up late to do lesson plans.  When I hung the phone up and walked in the living room, The Lawerence Welk show was on.  It was only fitting that at that moment that would play since Paw Paw watched it every time it was on.  I sat down and cried a hard cry while it played.

When we arrived in Louisiana, I walked in Paw Paw's house and life was different.  The house was quiet.  No one was sitting on the porch swing.  Life was not the same.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

I'm Not Ready

Spring Break will be a year since my Maw Maw Ruth left this world. I knew that it would be hard on my Paw Paw B because he would be left alone in a house full of her memories. I worried that his health would decline quickly and his life would slowly diminish. Over the past year I've watched from afar as he has slowly declined in health. His kidneys are tested frequently, the circulation in his legs, his mobility has decreased, and things have progressed much quicker than I was prepared to witness. Last week, he fell and was put in the hospital. He has remained there for a week and hasn't shown much improvement. Today, he is being released if hospice care can be arranged for him at home. He has already told my mom and dad that he is ready to go and he wants to do that at home. I'm not ready though. When you live far away from those you love, your time is limited to visits and phone calls. I talked to him today for a few minutes and I heard the tiredness in his voice. I made sure that I told him I loved him and that I am coming to visit at Spring Break. Paw Paw will forever be the master gardener of the family, raising beautiful Celebrity tomatoes. Growing up the garden was a huge part of our summers. There were years when we couldn't eat the bounty fast enough - especially the year of corn. We spent hours shucking corn, shaving the kernels, putting it in the freezer. Green beans were always a speciality - the purple hulled kind. And through the years, I've never been able to find a replacement for those tomatoes. Even when I've grown the same kind. There was something about Paw Paw's tomatoes. He kept us stocked with fresh fish growing up and loved homemade ice cream. There were many spring and summer days spent under the shade of the carport in the porch swing. He would sit in the swing and sing "Swing Low" to us when we were little. I didn't hear him sing other than that. I've always been fascinated by his service in WWII, but I don't know all of his story. I know that he served in the Red Arrow division - one that had special honors for their service in the Pacific. He was the recipient of a Bronze Star and was a part of the Occupation forces in Japan. I'm not ready to say goodbye to him yet. I'm not ready to walk into the house without him sitting in the recliner reading the newspaper and watching Lawerence Welk. I'm not ready to live in a world without him as a part of it.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

No Words

It's been awhile since I've been here.  Labor Day to be exact.  Throughout my life I've used words to express my feelings in times of victory, disappointment, surprise, and the mundane every day life.  But, I often feel more compelled to write when tragedy strikes.  In honor of the recent tragedy in Newton, Connecticut, my teacher blog will be silent for the next few days.  But, I feel like I could not go any longer without putting pen to paper, or fingerstrokes to keys.

I've taught for 13 years now and my job has become increasingly more difficult each year.  The number of tasks that the typical teacher completes in any given day is astounding. From receipting field trip money, recording attendence, cleaning up vomit, calling the nurse, making sure a child has clean clothes, lunch money in a student account, one on one instruction, reteaching simple concepts until you can't teach them any longer, drying the tears of a child who has been physically hurt on the playground, or wrapping your arms around the ones who have been emotionally hurt by those they love.

There are many days where the thought of going to the bathroom doesn't even occur until after school and I sit for the very first time of the day.  Once my children arrive in the morning, it is almost like we have entered a time warp and the outside world disappears.  Our classroom becomes our world. 

Each year, I am BLESSED with a new crop in my classroom.  With that comes a new crop of parents, a new crop of personalities, challenges, victories, and love.   I haven't been blessed with children of my own, but I have been chosen to care for those of others.

Each morning, parents drop their children off at school thinking they are safe and will remain that way until those little faces return to the warmth of the car or the arms of a parent/grandparent/caretaker. Those children are given to me to nurture, care for, love, and educate.  A pretty tall order.

There are days where life isn't easy in our classroom.  Days where we need to a new start.  And then there are days that are beautiful symphonies of learning. 

I spend countless hours planning for learning in my classroom, but more than that, I spend countless hours investing in the future of my students.  I invest in their lives by attending sporting events, sharing their interests, writing them notes - pouring positivity into their little minds in the hopes that when life doesn't work out the way that they had planned in their future, they will remember that there was someone else in their lives who believed in them and LOVED them as if they were her own.

The teachers and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary did the very same thing.

When I stop to think of the innocent children that were hurt yesterday, I cannot help but to think of the 22 beautiful children that I see every day.  The 312 children that I have taught over the last 13 years.  The smiles, the dreams, the excitement of life, the opportunities that are waiting for each of them.  That was all stolen from those at Sandy Hook Elementary. 

I've tried to wrap my mind around what happened in Newton, but it is impossible.  I've experienced lockdown drills and mock shootings to "train" me for a reality that I hope I never face.  I hope I'm never faced with a situation where I am unable to protect the children in my care.  I hope I never have to find hiding places or calm students who are very aware of the nightmarish reality that is occurring. 

But, I would.  If it meant sacrificing my life for those of my students, there would be no decision to make.  I would make that decision for the children who have parents who love me.  I would make it for the children whose parents disagree with me.  I would make it for those children who misbehave and disrespect and love me.  I would make that decision for each child I've had the opportunity to teach this year and every year before - those in my classroom or outside of it.

There were heroes in yesterday's tragedy.  Those heroes were teachers.  The teachers who read Christmas stories to keep their students calm.  The teachers who held each child's hand.  The teachers who muffled the cries of those huddled in their midst.  The teachers who hid students and then lost their own lives. 

When you enter your child's school this week, remember those heroes in each classroom.