And then I go to Africa

Compassion Bloggers: Tanzania 2012A little over two years ago I sat in front of my computer screen and cried. Hot tears rolled off my chin and onto the keys. It was the first time I had seen Compassion in action and I was so deeply moved by the stories and images coming out of India.

As I read, and our family began sponsoring a child, something ignited inside of me. I wanted to be a part of this movement of storytelling to change a child’s life. And I began to pray a simple prayer every single day.

Lord, use my gift and passion to Your glory and not to my own.”

I wanted to be a part of something bigger than just myself. I wanted to give back an offering through the words that stir my soul. I wanted to just do something.

It’s no secret that I have the deepest and utmost respect for the ministry of Compassion International. What they do for children around the world inspires and moves me deeply and it’s been an honor to write about them in the past whenever the opportunity arose.

But now…well, honored seems too small a word. I’m humbled. Deeply, deeply humbled to be a part of this ministry in a new and exciting way. For two years I have read the words of bloggers whom I admire as they give the world a glimpse into what Compassion does for children from India to Kenya to the Philippines to Ecuador.

And all the while I’ve prayed for an opportunity to be able to tell stories in a way that honors the One who gave me the words. As I prayed, I knew that I would someday have the chance to do this thing I so desired. I just didn’t know in which capacity it would take shape.

I am thrilled to be a part of the upcoming Compassion Bloggers trip to Tanzania. Thrilled and honored and humbled and a little nervous.

Thrilled because I love a good adventure.

Honored that Shaun had the confidence in me to allow me this opportunity.

Humbled that the Lord would choose to answer my prayer in this way and that He would grant me the opportunity to do what I love with an organization that I am passionate about.

And nervous because Shaun mentioned something about an in country flight and he said it with this sort of half smile on his face like he knew something I didn’t. I’m also nervous because I’m pretty sure I’m going to need a few immunizations and I generally do all I possibly can to avoid needles at all costs.

Including give birth to three children naturally because I FEAR THE NEEDLES. And when I say I fear them, what I mean is I usually faint…and sometimes seize…when I get a shot.

It’s super neat.

I am truly grateful and thankful for this opportunity and I hope that you all will join me on this journey and invite your friends along. We’re all going together to see and hear and experience the ministry of Compassion as they vigilantly work to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name.

Will you come with us?

So dainty and girly and…

The table was set to girly precision. Purples, pinks, greens and blues lit the room and danced around the table.

There is no greater thrill for the six year old girl than glass bowls, wrapped in ribbon and filled with candy.

The guests arrived all dressed to the nines. Skirts, dresses, hair bows and even a bit of glitter.

They smiled shyly as they each took a seat around the frilly table.

And at the head? The Birthday girl in a purple shirt, ribbon pinned proudly to her chest.

Image courtesy of Avodah Images

Cake was served immediately and each girl picked up her fork delicately.

The chatter was quiet and endlessly interrupted by delighted giggles.

And after the cake came the ice cream.

Of course.

You can’t have a decent ice cream party without it.

Image courtesy of Avodah Images

Colorful goblets filled with ice cream and topped with more sugar than should be legally allowed raised the decibel level of the room to a new level. High pitched voices joined in a cacophony of silly laughter and girlish banter.

Image courtesy of Avodah Images

They ate with gusto. Tiny mouths lined in chocolate, fingers sticky, eyes glazed in a sugary daze.

And yet, there they sat so prim, each in her seat with a grin on her face.

When the ice cream was served, the room quieted again as young ones concentrated on eating their delights.

Image couresy of Avodah Images

Then one spoke, breaking the silence.

“I need to go to the bathroom,” she said with a grin. “Or I’m gonna fart.”

Image courtesy of Avodah Images

Cue uncontrollable laughter. Hands clasped over mouths and feet kicking.

And the potty talk commenced as each enjoyed tossing in her own gem of a quote.

Little girls.

They’re so dainty and girly and…

**********************

I only got a few pictures of the awesome and girly ice cream party, but my friend Jenni graciously offered to photograph the whole event for me and she got some amazing shots.

I think you should check them out.

Then check out the rest of her site at Avodah Images because she is a spectacular photographer. I’ve heard her say more than once that when she’s looking through a lens she sees God Himself as the world comes into focus. I love her heart and her pictures.

You’ll love her too.

If you’re ever in Florida and want family pictures made, Jenni is definitely your girl. She knows how to capture that one special moment and forever immortalize it for you. What a gift.

 

Image courtesy of Avodah Images

 


Sneak Peek #3

As promised, today I give you another sneak peek into the book that consumes my thoughts. Of all the characters in the book, this one is the most difficult to write emotionally. I don’t like tapping into his head. It’s ugly there.

This is a young man named Frederick Herrmann. He is a German. He is a Nazi soldier and his deepest desire is simply to be seen as a man by his father, who also happens to be one of Hitler’s confidants. Frederick’s story is sad. It is an inside look at the making of a monster and I have to force my imagination to go to places that are unnatural and dark. It is this character that I fear writing the most.

And so I give you a small snippet of my Antagonist – Frederick Herrmann.

As a boy, I often listened to my father speak with his fellow soldiers about the growing need to create a pure Aryan race. My earliest memories reside in the dusty garden of our home, my mother moving in and out of the house at the bidding of the powerful men. I moved the dirt in circles not because I enjoyed it, but because it gave the appearance of youthful ignorance. My play made me invisible to the men of stature and allowed me to listen and glean.

As I dragged my fingers through Munich’s hallowed Earth, I learned the ways of manhood. I listened closely as my father and the others spoke, their eyes steely blue. Thin lips organizing the mobilization of the masses. As a boy of only four, I knew of the shameful death at Feldherrenhalle that left true German Nationalists martyred at the hands of a misguided Bavarian government. I learned of a man who was to be greater than all others. I heard of his bravery, of the Putsch he ignited against the Beer Hall.

The night after I listened to my father retell the story, my mother forced me to wash the mud, my cloak of invisibility, off of my hands an feet. After the forced cleansing,  I stood before the mirror in my small bedroom imagining what this man they called Hitler must look like. Grabbing the stick I’d brought in from the garden, I marched back and forth, steps of power masked in the body of a child. I was the great, brave Hitler…until my mother came in and ordered me into my bed.

“You must never pretend to be that man again,” my mother hissed, tucking the covers around me so tightly that my chest constricted with each breath. “This game your father is playing is dangerous,” she said, her breath hot on my cheek. “Don’t become like him.”

The last words were a vapor. They wafted from her lips to my ears and locked inside my memory.

That was the night I began to hate my mother.

Two days later, I would see him for the first time. When Hitler entered the room I stopped short. We were inside the house, which left me without the protection of the dusty Earth. The floorboards creaked and the hollow walls reverberated my heartbeat like a warrior’s drum.

After greeting my father formally, Hitler turned and locked eyes with me. I could not hide and so I stood still, awed by his presence. He was not a tall man. My father, in his great stature, dwarfed the mighty Hitler. But the confidence that the future Fuhrer possessed made him a giant to me.

“Hello, boy,” he said. His voice was stiff. It wasn’t warm or friendly. I made him uncomfortable. I knew it and so did my father.

“Leave us, Fredrick,” my father barked and I immediately obeyed. I learned quickly to never disobey my fathers’ command. As I hurried from the room, I heard him speak again. “Train him right, Tomas,” Hitler said evenly. “Train him right and someday he will be a part of history.”

He was right.

It never occurred to me that I might do anything else with my life. I am the son of a German Commander. My father stood in the presence of the Great Furher. Would I be anything but a soldier? Could I be anything else?

©Kelli Stuart, 2012

Like a marathon, only better

About once a month I like to convince myself that I could run a marathon. I read all manner of inspiring stories and for a brief moment of insanity I believe that I too could join the ranks of those who run 26.2 miles.

Then I go out for a run and a quarter mile into the jaunt my body starts hurling four letters words at my ambition.

This usually leads to phase two of my insanity, wherein I lower my expectations and convince myself that I could run a half marathon.

Then I go for a run and a quarter mile into the jaunt my body starts hurling four letter words at my ambition.

At this point I decide to accept my limitations as a runner, which usually lasts me a couple of weeks until I read the inspiring story of someone who’s muscles use to curse at her and she overcame and became an avid marathoner who wakes up every morning and without even thinking she accidentally runs eighteen miles and I think, “Huh. I could do that.”

And thus, the cycle begins again.

So listen, I’m not a runner. Clearly. Somewhere deep down I think I know that, but there’s always the hope of a miracle.

I also hope to meet a unicorn someday…

But there are other goals that loom before me and call to me every single day. Like the ever elusive marathon, though, these goals often feel so…hard.

Writing a book is my own marathon. It is the song that calls me from my bed early in the morning and taunts me in the late hours of the night. This weekend the Blissdom conference brought a bit of a revelation to me as I sat in Jeff Goins‘ session on falling back in love with the craft of writing.

See the thing is, I will probably never run a marathon because I don’t love running. I just don’t. I don’t even like running. I think it’s stupid.

And it hurts.

And it’s stupid.

But writing…I love it. I love writing. I love the sound of the keys tapping a rhythm. I love the hum of the pen moving in fluid loops across a blank page. The sound of a typewriter is so romantic it makes my eyes water. I simply and deeply love writing.

I’ve told you I’m writing a book. I even let you see a little sneak peek. Twice. This book that I’m writing is my race. It is the marathon that I simply must run. It’s the story I must tell. But it’s so very, very hard.

For the last few months, as I’ve tried to work on my book only to be met by a wall of resistance, fear and doubt, I’ve wondered why on Earth I chose such a difficult subject to write about. Like a marathoner in her 19th mile, I’ve begun to wonder…can I really do this?

But the revelation that hit me this weekend was this: I didn’t choose this book. It chose me.

It chose me when I was fifteen and I stood on top of the hill at Babi Yar listening to the story of survival that changed my life and forever altered how I view the world as a whole. In that very moment, more than half my lifetime ago, I knew that I would write this book. I didn’t understand the scope of what it would become or the enormity of the task that loomed before me.

I just knew it was mine to write.

And it scares me. It scares the crap out of me. It’s like running a marathon straight up the slope of a mountain knowing that failure isn’t an option because by God, I trained for this.

Jeff challenged us all to write something dangerous this week and to publish it. So here it is: I am going to finish this book by June 1st.

I have 94 days.

And along the way, I may give you all a few more sneak peeks here and there. Because you guys, you’re a part of this journey with me. You are the cheerleaders on the sideline telling me I can do this and throwing me a beer now and again.

Just kidding. I don’t like beer. Wine would be great though.

Come back tomorrow for the next sneak peek at the novel that chose me. I am going to introduce you to the character that depletes me emotionally each time I sit down to write. I loathe him. And I feel sympathy for him. I’d love for you all to meet him. Tomorrow.

For now, though, I’m going to head out for a run.

Just kidding. I’m going to go pet my unicorn…

Image Credit

Wordless Wednesday – Childhood

Dontcha just love it?!

I’m headed to Blissdom today and am giddy with delight. If you’re going to be there, look for me will you?

I’ll be the minivan mom with the pink hair standing in the corner.

Wanna be friends?


The perfect blendship

It’s amazing what happens when you move away. Friendships change. It’s inevitable, of course. Not seeing someone every day or every week is bound to altar the dynamics of any relationship, but I’ve found in the times I’ve moved that I’m always surprised at the way the meaning of a friendship can change shape.

I’ve also found moving to be an amazing barometer of the significance that friendships play in your life. The people you miss the most are not always the ones you thought you’d miss the most. The people who reach out and make the effort to maintain a relationship take you by surprise because, sometimes, they aren’t the people you thought would reach out.

And then there are times when you have a friendship so deep that you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that that friendship will withstand the miles that grow between you.

I am blessed by such friends. So very, very blessed. And this past weekend we basked in the love of friendships so deep that the momentary pause between our face to face interactions didn’t even cause a hiccup. It was as though we hadn’t been apart. I have precious few friendships like that and I give praise for each one.

(If you’re a Broadway nerd like me, you’re going to want to listen to this song while viewing the following pictures….)

My dear and precious friend.

A weekend of playing with our friends at the beach, the aquarium and even a Russian birthday party solidified in my heart this lasting relationship. How grateful I am for this precious family.

So what about you? Have you hugged a friend today?

 

No substitutes

I have now officially had my first experience of what it’s like to home school when sick.

It ain’t pretty.

While I have spent the morning coughing up my left lung (that’s barely an exaggeration) and blowing my nose, the kids have been curled up in bed with me reading books and going through flash cards.

 

Since Tia thought my voice “sounded weird” Sloan read to us today instead. He did fantastic. Except he kept reading the characters voice with a bizarre British accent, which cracked me up.

A more seasoned home schooler would probably just take the day off, but I have a hard time doing that without feeling anxious. Plus we have friends coming to visit so I don’t plan on doing school tomorrow and I will be out of town Thursday and Friday next week.

So we did school.

Russian flash cards

 

School in bed is fun!

We discussed atoms and how they bond together to form molecules, which join to create materials. The kids wanted to know if my snot was a liquid or a solid. Ah the joys of learning...

Sloan’s writing assignment today was to invent something and convince us to buy it so he wrote a commercial advertising his newest invention, the Robotic Room Cleaner 2000, which will make sure you never have dirty socks or underwear under your bed again, will eat your eggs for you and will watch TV for you when you’re grounded.

Sweet!

So I couldn’t call in a substitute today and it may not have been our most productive day of school ever, but I think we all learned a little something new. I’m going to chalk it up as a win.

What are you doing today?

Forever Crush

“Mom, did you have a crush on someone when you were eight like me?” he asked, his deep blue eyes searching my face as we drove down the road. This question came on the heels of our visit to the store where we gazed at the heart shaped boxes of chocolates and talked about when it’s appropriate to give someone a love card.

“I did,” I answered. “I liked a little boy named Brandon when I was in elementary school.”

“Well, is it okay to have a little crush?” he asked. If I could bottle the innocence that hung between us, I would fill up a thousand jars.

“Sure, it’s okay to have a little crush,” I answered. “But it’s better to just stay friends. You don’t need a girlfriend for a very, very long time.”

He nodded then grinned, the bliss of puppy love washing over his face. I know who he is thinking about. I saw her chasing him on the field while they played capture the flag.

“When did you start to have a boyfriend?” he asked slyly.

“Well, I dated a couple of boys in high school, but it was never too serious. There’s no reason to get serious when you’re young.”

“And then you had crushes in college, too?”

“Yep,” I answered. “I had a couple of crushes and one boyfriend in college before I met your Daddy.”

He was 25. I was 21. *sigh*

“And then HE was your crush, right?” Tia yelled from the backseat.

“He sure was,” I answered, smiling at her big, round eyes through the rear view mirror. “And you know what?” I asked in a hushed voice.

“WHAT?!” three little voices shouted back.

“He’s still my crush today.”

“You mean you’ve never had another crush?” Sloan asked.

“Nope,” I answered. “Your Daddy is my only crush and my only boyfriend forever and ever.”

“And your only husband,” Landon piped from his seat.

“Yep. That, too.”

Always and Forever.

Happy Valentine’s Day.


“Laptop Homicide” – Part Two

We’ve all now had a few days to think about and discuss Tommy Jordan’s public response to his daughter’s Facebook rant. Once again, the internet seems divided to the extreme on an issue, this time the issue being parenting. On one side we have all those who wholeheartedly support Mr. Jordan’s dramatic response. These people hail him as a hero and a role model for excellence in parenting.

On the other side, we have the group that hollers for his Dad card to be revoked. They’re calling social services and the police (who’ve both come out and have applauded him for sticking to his guns…pun intended) and they all apparently have some kind of degree in psychology because they’re positive that his daughter’s rant was a plea for help due to what could only be a lifetime of emotional trauma suffered at the hands of her cowboy dad.

And then there is the group smack dab in the middle who are looking at this thing a bit more pragmatically and, dare I say, sensibly?

I had to laugh out loud at some of the posts railing against this father’s actions. One woman asserted that his daughter clearly felt used and if she didn’t want to make her bed then why make her to do such inexplicable task. Why not just do the chores for her in an effort to salvage the relationship?

Um…really?

Listen, parenting is hard. We all know that. There is no guidebook on how to do it and just when you think you’ve got it figured out, your next child comes along with a completely different personality and throws you a curve ball. Or the child you thought you had nailed grows and develops a little and you’re back at square one with learning how to deal with that particular child.

I have three children, all with completely different personalities. My oldest needs constant reminders and complete consistency in discipline. He needs detailed explanations regarding rules and consequences and usually needs to be explained “why” more than once.

My middle child has to be watched like a hawk because she breaks rules so quietly that half the time we miss it completely. She needs swift consequences but doesn’t want to talk about it. She likes to work things out internally and we have to give her the space to do that.

My youngest child is incredibly soft-hearted and can be broken with just a stare. He needs to be held close when given instruction and consequences have to be given much more gently than with the other two because his heart breaks easily. With just a stare from his daddy, he is prone to crumple in a heap of tears.

They’re all different and I know exactly what each needs in order to effectively learn. Does this mean I always deal with all of them appropriately? No. Sometimes I speak too harshly with my third born, sometimes I talk too much to my second born and sometimes I expect too much of my first born. I don’t parent right all the time, but I know what needs to be done to reach my kids.

I don’t agree with how Tommy Jordan responded to his daughter. I thought it was a bad idea to post something like that on the internet. But here’s the kicker – Tommy Jordan doesn’t agree with his own reaction, either. In hindsight, he wouldn’t do it that way.

Post the video, that is.

I have a feeling he’d still shoot the laptop and I honestly don’t have a problem with that. Could he have donated it? Yes. But I have a feeling that Mr. Jordan knew exactly what his daughter needed to understand how serious he was.

Because I think he knows his daughter better than I do.

I don’t fault Mr. Jordan for wanting to post his feelings about her note publicly. In fact, I think that’s a smart move. I’ve told my children before that if they embarrass me in public they can expect to be embarrassed right back. What I mean when I say this is I will verbally correct them in front of everyone watching if needed. Perhaps Mr. Jordan would have been better served to answer her note a bit more gracefully, but I wouldn’t fault him for posting it in the same medium she did.

That’s effective, if you ask me.  You did ask, right?

In the end, I respect Mr. Jordan in a lot of ways. He made a foolish choice and it will follow him forever. He reacted in anger, which never produces good results and he had to suffer his own consequences for his actions. But, instead of letting his daughter take the blame for what happened, he is taking the heat himself and in so doing, is modeling grace to his daughter.

I also respect the fact that he’s resisting the urge to jump into the mainstream spotlight for the sole reason that he wants to protect his daughter’s privacy. He himself has said that he doesn’t want to profit from the embarrassment this has been for his daughter and I respect him for that. He is handling the fall out from his poor decision wisely and in the end I think his daughter will learn more from that than she will from the consequences he has laid down for her.

I think there are a lot of things that we, as parents, can learn from this video. It opens up a great discussion on parenting with grace while also revealing some gaps in our society. The fact is, many children do feel entitled and they do believe that the world owes them something.

How else do you explain the Occupy Wall Street Movement?

If more parents were willing to stand up and say no, I won’t give you a free pass and yes, despite the fact that it seems inane and unnecessary, you will still make your bed, then maybe more children would leave home ready and prepared for the rigors of adulthood. We live in a society that says if you want it, you can have it (I believe this idea in and of itself to be riddled with faults, FYI). Once upon a time, though, it was understood that you had to work for what you wanted (whatever it was that was desired).

These days, though, there’s a frightening and pervasive thought that if you want it you can have it. Just wait awhile and let it come to you, or see if someone will give it to you.

As parents we cannot do this to our children. Parent with grace. Love your children gently. Teach them right from wrong decisively. And please…don’t judge one another.

Thoughts?

“Laptop Homicide” – A Post on Discipline

There’s a new viral video in town, perhaps you’ve seen it?

In this video, a frustrated and angry father uses tough love to address his daughter’s immature rant against her parents on Facebook. Throughout the reading of her note you can hear his voice quaver and shake, a likely mixture of extreme anger, throbbing hurt and deep disappointment.

His daughter had done this before and had suffered consequences for it, but apparently they didn’t stick. So for all 452 of her friends to see, she essentially called her parents jailors, slave drivers and harsh, unloving lords over what she deemed was an unfair lack of freedom.

At the end of the video, the father stands up and points to his daughter’s laptop sitting in the grass, which, as he had earlier explained, he had just the day before spent $130 cleaning up and loading with new software. He then pulls out a pistol and proceeds to put 9 bullets through her laptop, a definitive sign that when he said the consequences the second time around would be worse, he actually meant it.

Parenting at its best? Or at its worst?

For those who immediately jump to conclusions that this man is obviously disturbed and he has forever and irreparably damaged his relationship with his daughter, just hold onto your judgement for a second and read this from Tommy Jordan, the father in question (this was taken from his Facebook page and is his response to questions from a reporter named Anita Li of the Toronto Star):

Q: Why did you decide to reprimand your daughter over a public medium like YouTube?

A: Well, I actually just had to load the video file itself on YouTube because it’s a better upload process than Facebook, but the intended audience was her Facebook friends and the parents of those friends who saw her post and would naturally assume we let our children get away with something like that. So, to answer “Why did you reprimand her over a public medium like Facebook” my answer is this: Because that’s how I was raised. If I did something embarrassing to my parents in public (such as a grocery store) I got my tail tore up right there in front of God and everyone, right there in the store. I put the reprisal in exactly the same medium she did, in the exact same manner. Her post went out to about 452 people. Mine went out to about 550 people… originally. I had no idea it would become what it did.

Q: How did your daughter respond to the video and to what happened to her laptop?

A: She responded to the video with “I can’t believe you shot my computer!” That was the first thing she said when she found out about it. Then we sat and we talked for quite a long while on the back patio about the things she did, the things I did in response, etc.

Later after she’d had time to process it and I’d had time to process her thoughts on the matters we discussed, we were back to a semi-truce… you know that uncomfortable moment when you’re in the kitchen with your child after an argument and you’re both waiting to see which one’s going to cave in and resume normal conversation first? Yeah, that moment. I told her about the video response and about it going viral and about the consequences it could have on our family for the next couple of days and asked if she wanted to see some of the comments people had made. After the first few hundred comments, she was astounded with the responses.

We agreed we learned two collective lessons from this so far:

First: As her father, I’ll definitely do what I say I will, both positive and negative and she can depend on that. She no longer has any doubt about that.

Second: We have always told her what you put online can affect you forever. Years later a single Facebook/MySpace/Twitter comment can affect her eligibility for a good job and can even get her fired from a job she already has. She’s seen first-hand through this video the worst possible scenario that can happen. One post, made by her Dad, will probably follow him the rest of his life; just like those mean things she said on Facebook will stick with the people her words hurt for a long time to come. Once you put it out there, you can’t take it back, so think carefully before you use the internet to broadcast your thoughts and feelings.

This is only a small piece of his response. The rest is up for you to read if you want and for now I’m going to finish the post with a question.

Update: Tommy Jordan has posted a new note to his Facebook page and I have to say, I like a whole lot of what he says. While this man’s reaction to his daughter’s public temper tantrum is not something I agree with, I have deep respect with the way he is handling the fall out. It says more about him as a father than the short video he posted did. I hope we all won’t be so quick to judge without knowing the full story.

What are your thoughts on this situation?

I will be back next week with my own, but I’d love to hear feedback first.