Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My Thrift Shop

Last week I stole every one of my son’s clothes.

Fresh from the dryer, I secreted them away. Folded neatly and stacked in my closet, I hid as much of his wardrobe as I could lay hands on. Then I waited. I waited for the sweet words of “Mom, do you know where all my clothes are?”

You may think this is strange. But frankly, I was tired of it. I was tired of finding laundry mildewing in the washer after five days of forgotten-ness. I knew at almost 12 years old, he is fully capable of putting clothes in the washer, moving them to the dryer and putting them away. Yet it wasn’t happening.

Despite all my training and mentoring, my assistance and guidance, laundry wasn’t getting done. I knew I had to resort to covert operations to make my point.  So when the sweet words came up about missing laundry, I had my reply ready.

“My thrift shop is now open for business in my closet. You can buy back any item you want, $1 each,” I said. “Oh and by the way, anything not purchased by the end of the month is going to support my new project Garage Sale for Orphans to help the poor in Haiti with Help One Now’s organization.”

Cue the raging pre-teen music.

Now rewind the story back to January when I visited orphans in Haiti. Many children were wearing clothes that were two sizes too small, or that were hand-me-downs of hand-me-downs. I saw a boy wearing women’s shoes with his feet hanging off the back.  I knew it was because he had no other choice. Some children simply did not have clothes at all. In Tent City, where 20,000 survivors of the earthquake three years prior still live under tarps, there were kids wearing zero. I witnessed one pre-teen girl lavishly washing her shoes outside of a tent. Good shoes and nice clothes were a prized possession.

So when I saw that our material goods were creating more frustration than joy, I knew it was time for a teachable moment. If he didn’t learn that our things were gifts and that we had to be good stewards of them, he would never get it later in life. As Americans, we do have access to a lot of stuff. But I wanted him to know deeply that things are a privilege and more isn’t always better.

After he calmed down, he realized the Thrift Shop was a good idea. He began getting into the spirit of things by negotiating T-shirts as a two-for-one special. I knew he was starting to get the idea when he said, “Mom, here are some things that I don’t need and think you should sell for the orphans.”

Will my son now do laundry forever and ever? Who knows. But I do know that the Thrift Shop helped my son see that sometimes too much stuff gets in the way. To be reminded that life is about a balance of being good stewards and about caring for others too. Sometimes more joy can be found in giving things away. And sometimes doing your laundry.

If you want to find out how a simple thing like a Garage Sale for Orphans can make a difference -- Meet Naiderson and how generosity changed his life. Or visit

Friday, February 1, 2013

Winter Love

What do you love about winter?” a friend asked me recently.

It was such a simple question, but it truly altered my thinking. People don’t speak of love and winter in the same sentence. This is about the time of year we begin reading articles about beating the winter blahs, losing your winter weight, coping with the missing daylight by taking mass quantities of Vitamin D or planning a trip to Cancun. Nobody asks what you love about it.

With the question, my mind went about searching what there was to love about winter. Like an eccentric and difficult aunt, winter is hard to truly love. Yet, somehow when I was a kid growing up in Michigan, winter was a blast. We would ice skate on the roads (yes the roads!) and every weekend my parents would drop us off at a small skiing hill near our town for the entire day.

When things got too cold, we would take breaks with hot cocoa by the giant fire in the lodge. We would pack huge sandwiches tall with peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, honey and bananas (awesome) and ski literally all day and all night. My parents expected us to find a ride home and we always did. Thinking of that now makes me laugh – how simple and trustworthy life was then.

Now as a grown up, what’s to love about winter? Personally, I love the slower pace of winter. I love the extra time to read and enjoy the comforts of home. I treasure a meal in the slow cooker after a busy day, filled with comfort food of pot roast and slow cooked carrots. For me, winter usually affords an opportunity to “putter” – looking at old photos, journals of days gone by. I love winter’s quiet and wild weather – an excuse to stay inside, take care, be safe. There is a certain nurturing kindness about winter that makes it feel like a comfortable old friend.

Let’s face it – North Carolina has a lot of nice days. Before you know it, winter is a sweet memory. My aim is to look for things to love. Because when you look for things to love, you usually find them.

PS. Here’s a bit of winter love for you -- a fun winter walk activity to do with your kids that shares some “secrets of trees in the winter”…..there, now don’t you feel better about winter?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dreaming of Haiti

Last week I slept in the poorest country in the world.

I’m not sure how best to explain it. Meeting orphans, their small brown hands slowly folding into mine, their eyes looking at me expectantly, longingly, just wanting to be held. Being sung to by 32 parentless girls under the stars, no electricity and in complete darkness – yet experiencing a glow like no other.

Visiting “Tent City” where 20,000 earthquake refugees still live, despite three years after the event. I see a woman walking a cat on a leash – pet or dinner? I see children flying kites made of string and plastic grocery bags. I see sad eyes peering out at me from inside dark huts. I greet them with a “Bonswa” or “good afternoon” and they light up and smile knowing that I see them in friendship.

Later in the week, I slept in a girls’ orphanage high up in the country near the border of the Dominican Republic. I see a girl sleeping on the floor and I am crushed knowing she has given up her bed for me. Girls shift in the night, finishing chores, putting the little ones to bed. They walk quickly by tiny handheld candles and flashlights, making efficient steps of their work. Their glow casts an ethereal quality as it lights up the mosquito nets, shadowy hard walls. I wonder if I am dreaming or awake.

On our last day, we visited a large orphanage and arrive into a cabin to find a huge stainless steel rice bowl covered with a mosquito net. “Were we eating already?” I thought. But inside was tiny “Jeff” – a newborn whose mother died in birth. His father unknown. Starting his life without parents. So much hardship and so soon.

But despite this desperation, Haitian people are filled with a kind of hope that is hard to understand. In the midst of all this, still they are filled with an easy joy and a reliance on God like no other. I am jealous of how rich they are in their tenacity of faith. I see that they have nothing, and yet they have everything.

Coming home filled me with such a mixture of emotions. Why is it that I have so much and yet struggle to feel content? Why do they have so little and yet are joyful anyways?

I return filled with stories that I hope to tell over time. I feel like I have to try my best to explain it, even though it may not be understood. Even though I am now home, Haiti stays with me. It permeates my thoughts and heart. I can never forget those eyes, those hands, that desperation. My dreams are of Haiti and finding a way to help back here in a place that lacks nothing, yet possibly everything.

To learn more about making a difference in Haiti, visit Help One Now at

Friday, January 4, 2013

Going On An Adventure

My son and I went to watch the new “Hobbit” movie this week. After reading the book together this summer, we were thrilled to finally see it on the big screen. In the beginning of the movie, we see the serene, laid-back Bilbo Baggins transform into the racing and frenzied unlikely hero, running through the fields yelling “I’m going on an adventure!”

That is me. Well, sort of. It is true that I am going on an adventure. This time next week I will be in Haiti. Just like Bilbo felt, I too feel unprepared, ordinary, even small when thinking of the giant problems facing one of the poorest countries in the world. But I’m going.

I am travelling with a group called “Help One Now” who are people dedicated to using their gifts, talents and resources to help end extreme poverty, care for orphans, rescue slaves and see communities transformed. They sponsor kids, host garage sales, donate funds, take trips and much more.

Before you think I am Mother Teresa, know that I am not. I am an ordinary Jane. I am not a “super Christian” and I am travelling to a place where I don’t even speak the language. I really don’t have any special gifts, other than the fact that I happen to be a really good listener and I love a great story.

I’m going because I want a bigger tale to tell of my life. I want to put feet to my faith. I want to have adventures. This suburbanite mom wants to one day tell the story to her grandkids what it was like to discover a far away place that needed a good listener. To tell them about holding hands with orphans, hugging widows and providing a comfort to a country that doesn’t have much. Still, I don’t have much to offer, other than an open heart.  My hope is that is enough.

To learn more about Help One Now, visit If you are ordinary like me, check out their website to learn how you can sponsor and orphan or host a fundraiser with your community group.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Secret of Christmas

We all long for home, especially at Christmas.

The home we hope for is the one of our hearts, the very best idea of home. This may not match the picture we had growing up, or the one we see on TV. We long for the home of deep sanctuary, the one that glows from within, casting warm lights on our faces. The home that allows us to set all our troubles down and find the nourishment of loving company, feasting and laughter.

I was lucky enough to have this kind of home growing up. If you were to look at the surface of the circumstances, you would disagree. My mom was divorced with five children and not working, which meant Christmas was always full of guilt. We lived in a broken down Victorian home that never put out enough heat to feel any sort of warmth. We never ever had enough money to get Christmas together in any sort of style – it was always ramshackle, last minute and chaotic.

Despite all those crazy circumstances, I think about those holidays as a kid with wonder. The food, the gifts, the decorations – everything was pretty unremarkable. None of the material things stand out. What fills me with wonder is how we had nothing and yet we had everything. I remember the funny conversations, the times spent together, the laughter, the cooking contests – attending Christmas Eve services and loving the beauty and simplicity of an old church decorated with simple pine boughs. What made those Christmases great was the fact that we enjoyed all we had – each other.

Every holiday as a grown up, I try so hard to re-create that magic. I read magazine after magazine about meaningful Christmas holidays, recipes and activities. But when I think about it, it really is simple. It’s paying attention – to each other, to the moment, to the beauty all around you. It’s quietly letting go of every guilty demand. It sounds simple, and it can be, if we let it. Stop. See. Smell. Treasure.

As part of the holidays, I love to read the Christmas story from the Bible. Many people love the part about the angels belting out praises or the shocked shepherds or the wise men showing up. My favorite part comes at the very end – it almost seems insignificant, but to me, it is everything. In Luke 2:19 (NIV) it says “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Mary could have been thinking about a lot of things. She just gave birth – she could have been thinking “where is my mother-in-law to help out?” or “why couldn’t I be sleeping in a real bed?” But through it all, Mary treasured. Not exactly a magazine-style Christmas. If Mary, despite all these crazy circumstances, could still focus on the joy of it all, what about me?

This is the secret of Christmas. When we want to feel guilt, think of Mary. When we want to be stressed, stop and treasure. When we want to get angry or think it’s about one more thing we have to do, it’s time to stop and adore.

Mary gives us the secret to Christmas.  It is finding true home and to treasure it all up in your heart.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holiday Peace

Lately the words "holiday peace" are feeling like an oxymoron.

If you are like me, things are getting to a fevered pitch as we are working on whipping up the magic and wonder again this year. Holidays had such a different feel when I wasn't the one hosting, grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, wrapping and being the leader of the cheer-making. 

Deep sigh. Yes, indeed I need some holiday peace.

So in an effort to discover more wonder, I began writing down things that made me smile in the chaos. Sort of a gratitude journal at a time when my heart is desperately in need of it.

Here's my things that make me smile this season:

--Filling the bird feeder for the first time this year and watching the birds arrive in festive celebration.

--Hearing someone sneeze in a Christian bookstore, followed by an avalanche of "God Bless Yous."

--The privilege and honor to bless a family of a fallen soldier this Christmas.

--Making toast from the heel of the bread knowing no one likes it, but I secretly love it.

--Having a funny conversation with my doctor about how he has always wanted to enter the Guiness Book of World Records for pogo-stick jumping. 

--Hearing the "Car Wash" song come on the radio when I am in the car wash!

--Helping out my neighbor with her small children and being peppered with funny questions like if I like zebras and what is God's favorite color? (all of them, of course.)

--Finding the rattiest, but most treasured Christmas decoration I made many years ago. It always reminds me of the heart I hope to have this Christmas and here is what it says:

The True Christmas

If, as Herod, we fill our lives with things, and again with things; 
if we consider ourselves so unimportant that we must fill every moment of our lives
with action, when will we have the time to make the long, slow journey across the desert,
as did the Magi? Or sit and watch the stars as did the shepherds?
Or brood over the coming of the child as did Mary? 
For each of us there is a desert to travel. A star to discover.
And a being within ourselves to bring to life. 
--Author Unknown

Wishing you moments of holiday peace that make you smile. As a gift to yourself, take a moment to notice all you have to be grateful for this season. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Child in Charge of Thanksgiving

This morning I woke up my 11 year-old son and told him that he was in charge of Thanksgiving.

"I know you are only a child, but I think it's time," I said. 

He stared up from his covers sleepily and with a blank look on his face.  "I can't tell if you are serious or if you've lost your mind," he said.

I let out a deep laugh and said, "that's what's so great about homeschooling. Sometimes you study math, reading and writing and then sometimes you study Thanksgiving in a hands-on course."

He was scared.

Lately we have been reading a book called "Doing Hard Things  --  teenage rebellion against low expectations" by Alex and Brett Harris. In it they talk about how we don't expect much from our kids and therefore they don't give it.

Looking back over history, there are so many examples of kids who did amazing things. Clara Barton at age 14 nursed her father's hired man back to health from small pox. She then went on to care for her entire village during the outbreak. At 17, she was a schoolteacher for 40 children, some her same age. You know her name probably as the founder of the Red Cross.

Then there's the example of David Farragut. David was 12 years old when during the War of 1812, he was given the assignment to bring a ship captured by the USS Essex safely to port.

Really now, I'm not asking my son to heal the sick or captain a ship or anything. But to cook a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner for 8, why not?

It was a funny prospect. But it also got me thinking why don't I ask more of my son? In a backhanded way, am I saying that I don't think he is capable? It reminds me of that great quote by Goethe which says "Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being."

Maybe he won't have to cook the turkey this year. But he can certainly help unload the groceries, chop things and set the table. Children are capable of amazing things, but we as parents have to believe it first.

P.S. For more resources and great articles on Thanksgiving, check out the seasonal guide from Carolina Parent at: