Sunday, July 26, 2009

Church in a Blueberry Field

Recently, we had our first "foreign" mission experience as a family. Fortunately, we only had to travel 45 minutes to a camp for migrant farm workers in Southern New Jersey. The workers are Haitian, and lead a pretty hard life. The migrant workers have a grueling job in exchange for a small paycheck. They live in bunkhouse camps with little luxuries like indoor toilets, and move often. The owner of the blueberry field was a Korean Christian that converted from Buddhism, and brought the farm because God impressed on him to do so.

Every Sunday night, the Haitians have a church service in their camp. Our church was invited to come and share the service with them. What a vision of Heaven, all the nations joining together, worshiping the Lord. Here we are 3 nationalities (Haitian, Korean, American), with our own languages, connected by our common belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

However, preceding the event, my husband and I were not quite sure this trip would make a great family trip. We knew he would go because he is apart of the worship team that was going to share a few songs. But how would it work out bringing our kids - 8, 5 and 2? Was it safe for them? We learned more details like we would be standing outside despite weather conditions for approximately 3 hours in the middle of a migrant worker's camp in a vast blueberry field. Also, the church sent out an e-mail stating:

"If you are bringing children they will need to be with you at all times. This is not a place where they can run around and play."
Plus there are some people who really feel distracted by children in the service. A lot of the home groups at our church segregate the children for that reason. The e-mail did not forbid children, but I was not sure they wanted children to come and I would understand why. We started to think the kids and I would stay home.

Then, I decided to ask one more source - long time friends of ours who have always taken their children with them on mission trips. They have actual experience with toddlers and "stretching" missions experiences like primitive bathroom facilities. The couple both thought it would be a great idea, and since they were going too, they offered to jump in if I needed extra hands (remember, my husband is playing in the worship band). They also gave me the advice that their children knew ahead of time that they needed to "go with the program," meaning no talking to each other during the service.

We explained to the children in simple terms what was expected from them during the trip. If these guidelines were broken they would receive a warning. If the behavior continued, we would have to leave early and miss out on the dessert our church brought to share with the Haitians. Also, they would not get to go with Daddy on the next mission adventure and continue to do so until they had more self control.

In the end, it worked out great. We were able to teach the kids how important "flexibility" is on a mission trip. We had great weather, and had chairs to sit in. Miss G got more into praise and worship then ever before and she does not even know French.
The other church members I talked were glad to have them there. The kids behaved better then some of the chatty teenagers that were on the trip (I do not blame them - it was a 3 hour long service). Even the dear man that owned the field let us go blueberry picking!

Some helps were bringing new water bottles for the kids, small travel size MagnaDoodles, and a reading book for each child. I wish I brought lolly pops and a flashlight. The next day I treated them to a couple of tacos from Taco Bell and Doritos - events that rarely happen. Also, I took them to Wal-Mart so they could use their spending money.
My children are not exceptionally well behaved by nature and can be quite bouncy, esp. Mr. Z. It was really a stretching experience for them, so I tried to make the next day as fun as possible.

Bringing your children along on a trip like this may seem to be unfair to the children, but children absorb so much just by being at your side. You think they are just looking at their book, and not paying attention at all to what is going on around them, but that is not true - inside them God is placing a valuable deposit.

We are always looking for ways to be a mission minded family. What are your ideas/experiences for missions that include small children?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Too Much Birthday - Part II

"Just your presences is presents enough!"

When I showed my Aunt our playroom, she stated "They have more toys, than Carter had pills." My kids have been wonderfully blessed with some great toys, but a kid can only play with so many toys. Also, we have noticed the constant and steady stream of presents creates a discontentment with what they have. I can see this setting them up for over consumption, a bad American habit. We just love those kids so much, and they are just so cute, it brings us joy to treat them. I have been guilty of that myself. However, the reality is that too many treats hurts a child. Too many gifts does not bring respect, but takes respect away.

So here is what I propose: On their birthday, the child should get a few gifts from their parents and family members. Remember quality over quantity. We love toys like: Playmobil , American Girl, Calico Critters, Melissa and Doug, wooden railroad, wooden blocks, Lego's, and the like. Not that these are the only toys our children own, but they are the best quality, most played with, and educational.

When they have their birthday party with their friends, have a simple (but not boring) party with their closest friends at your home. Don't cave into the pressure to invite their entire Kindergarten class. Play party games and do a homemade craft. But here is the real twist, ask the guests NOT to bring a gift. Instead ask for a donation for a charity your child chooses. For example, my daughter loves animals, especially dogs, so she was thrilled to collect donations to a local animal shelter. It will be a great experience for her to take the items there with me to boot.

Now, don't think my sinless child just jumped at the chance the first time I proposed such an outlandish idea. It took months of "vision casting" on my part before she finally agreed to the plan. Please keep in mind that my daughter was turning eight, which means she developmentally thinks of the world outside her self, unlike a preschooler. In the end it was her choice, I did not force her into my idea.

The vision was cast by conversations with my daughter about how we don't have room for more toys, and we have craft projects that we have not even gotten to yet. I explained that there was not anything she really wanted that was under $15. Pointing out that she has spending money, and can easily save for a $10 toy - not forgetting to mention to her that 25 Webkinzs is more than enough for one little girl. Also, I told her since we were able to spend less on the birthday party, I could buy her a more expensive present. On the side, I made sure to suggest to her aunt and uncle to chip in together to buy her an American Girl doll she really wanted. All the encouragement helped things to run smoothly at her party, and she gave no complaints about presents. For the first time in our birthday party experience, there was no post birthday meltdowns. She loved her party and had a great time with her friends.

My daughter chose a Kit Party, which is a character in the American Girl Series. So I thought of two charity ideas that matched our party theme. One was collecting food for a food bank, since the Kit series takes place during the depression (1934). If we pick this one, I would have contacted a local food bank or the food ministry at our church and find out what they needed and wanted. My second was to collect items for a local animal shelter (Kit gets a dog for her birthday because the owner could not longer afford to feed her). Online I was able to view their wish list and contact them about how to go about dropping off the donation. I proposed both ideas to my daughter and let her pick the charity. Then, I made the party invitations on our computer and typed a polite request for no presents with a list of donations ideas on the opposite page. The day of the party, I left a basket on the front steps for the items, so the giving was between that one guest, the basket and God.

Not having the guests bring presents had a profound affect on what I felt I needed to do for the party. Homemade was good enough, after all it is just a party with friends. Getting together was the main focus. There were no gift bags of tiny treasure, aka cheap junk. Each guest did receive a dog coloring book ($1) and a paper box they made as a craft. And I do not think the guests realized I spent much less this year because I was not just thrifty, but creative too - like Aunt Millie in Happy Birthday Kit.

Please post your birthday ideas that weave Biblical character in your children's lives. Do you have ideas about giving gifts? How do you handle birthday parties?

Here is a list of great birthday idea books, your library should carry them:

*The Penny Whistle Birthday Party Book by Meredith Brokaw & Annie Gilbar
*The Penny Whistle Party Planner by Meredith Brokaw & Annie Gilbar
*Hello, Cupcake by Karen Tack & Alan Richardson (not simple but thrifty, creative & lots of fun - we made the basset hound cupcake like Kit's dog)
The American Girls Party Book (AG)
Snooze-a-Palooza: More Than 100 Slumber Party Ideas (AG)
Super Slumber Parties (AG)
Kit's Friendship Fun (AG)
Kit's Cooking Studio ( AG has them for other historical character too)

*Top 3 are great for boys and girls of all ages.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Too Much Birthday - Part I

How have birthday parties gotten so out of hand?

What ever happen to the simple birthday party? Where just being with your friends and family at your home, playing party games and eating cake and ice cream was more than enough fun?

Then there is the problem of gifts - what to give, what to do with all you've been given, and where in the world are you going to put it.

Don't get me wrong, my daughter and I look forward all year long to planning her birthday party. We also love picking out presents for her friends for their birthday parties. I just think the way children's birthday parties have evolved fosters consumerism and selfishness. I am tired of cheap toys, the Mattel logo makes me shiver. So here are my birthday lessons I have learned, and what I wish I knew back when my 1st was turning one.

It can be a challenge to come up with a good stock of birthday presents, and running out at the last minute just adds so much stress - not to mention keeping with in your means financially, while still giving a gift that will be blessing. Here is a list to simplify gift giving:

  • Get an Amazon Prime membership or ask for one as a gift. It cost about $80 per year and you get free two day shipping on a wide variety of items - including diapers! This way my child can still hand pick her friend's present and there is no hustling out on another errand. Obviously, the membership is for more than just kids birthday presents. Money wise it pays for itself. Believe me, I am a penny pinching, make my own laundry soap kind of mama.

  • Visit your local educational store. Stock up on educational toys from the clearance section. I love Lakeshore, but remember you get what you pay for, and this store is not cheap.

  • Give books, you can never have too many. Amazon and Barnes & Noble usually have free shipping if your order is over a certain amount ($25). Order a few books, and stash them in a closet. Books are great because they don't take up much room. Don't forget audio books too!

  • Go to a local non-chain toy store and support a small business. They might even wrap for free. The Christian bookstore I work part-time at wraps gifts for free. It saves the customer time and money, not to mention you are keeping me employed.

  • Give an experience. Make a ticket or certificate for a special play date. It could be bowling, ice cream and miniature golf, picnic and kite flying, a trip to the zoo or museum. This is not only a green choice, but it fosters community and relationship building. Also, if your family has a membership to a zoo or museum, you often can bring guests for free. You do need to contact the mom ahead of time to work out the details and get her permission, but I think she will love you for it - one less toy to clean up!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


The following prayer is from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. So much of this rich, beautiful prayer touched my heart today. I pray that it will be a blessing to others as well...


Help me never to expect any happiness from the world,
but only in thee.
Let me not think that I shall be more happy by living to myself,
for I can only be happy if employed for thee,
and if I desire to live in this world
only to do and suffer what thou dost allot me.
Teach me
that if I do not live a life that satisfies thee,
I shall not live a life that will satisfy myself.
Help me to desire the spirit and temper of angels
who willingly come down to this lower world
to perform thy will,
though their desires are heavenly,
and not set in the least upon earthly things;
then I shall be of that temper I ought to have.
Help me not to think of living to thee in my own strength,
but always to look to and rely on thee for assistance.
Teach me that there is no greater truth than this,
that I can do nothing of myself.
Lord, this is the life that no unconverted man can live,
yet it is an end that every godly soul presses after;
Let it be then my concern to devote myself and all to thee.
Make me more fruitful and more spiritual,
for barrenness is my daily affliction and load.
How precious is time, and how painful to see it fly
with little done to good purpose!
I need thy help:
O may my soul sensibly depend upon thee
for all sanctification,
and every accomplishment of thy purposes
for me, for the world,
and for thy kingdom.

Catherine with Miss R (then 18 months old).

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Tapestry of Faith

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
- NKJ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

For whatever trials come our way as mothers, God has a master plan of how those threads are going to be woven into our family tapestry. It is easy to lose heart, as it seems all we are accomplishing is going back and forth, as a shuttle on a loom. We run around all day, but what do we have to show for it. This can be hard to see. After all, the picture of a tapestry does not become clear until it reaches its completion.

When our children are young, they are no where near completion, but are just starting out. It is hard to see how those individual threads will turn out, what they will look like when combined with all the others. We are working very hard to build Godly character in our children, but are not yet able to taste the sweet fruit of our labor. Slowly, eventually, we will see buds start to blossom, and we will see the beginning of the fruit they will bear.

God is the master weaver, we are only the shuttle. As God's instrument, we must receive His instruction and the His threads - every little thread, every little deed matters. Our children are watching us, our actions weave their character. It may seem like we are only running back and forth all day, but time passes quickly. Our children's tapestry is being fashioned. So take care of what threads you are weaving today. Abide in God's Word (Holy Bible), pray often, encourage each other - as we weave for the eternal and for His glory.

Thus the name my college friend and I chose for our blog - Tapestry of Faith. God wove us together more than 10 years ago in a secular university in a Christian fellowship. My prayer is that through this blog we will encourage each other and those mothers who read it. Together, we can share practical ways to run this race called motherhood, and find refreshment when we are broken.