Monday, June 22, 2009

This One's For My Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Can you imagine a better opportunity:

You are invited into a secular institution in which youth spend a great deal of time. You are not only allowed, but encouraged to interact with these youth. You get to participate in fun, edifying activities and crafts and share the hope of Jesus Christ in ANY way you’d like. You are surrounded by enough volunteers so that the youth to volunteer ratio is nearly 1:1. You get to share a meal that is so rare for the youth that they are excited simply to eat it. It costs you NOTHING but five hours of your time. When you leave, the youth and adult leaders are already asking, “When can you come back?” Would you pass up an opportunity like that?

Saturday I had such an opportunity and am so thankful I didn’t pass it up. I went with the Wings Ministry (click here to see a post I did last December when I went to SCI) to the Scioto Juvenile Facility in Delaware, Ohio. This is the only prison for juvenile (girls 10-21) girls that are felons in Ohio. Currently there are nearly 70 girls here and about 55-60 attended our party on Saturday. Here me now – all of these girls are felons. Can you imagine a group more desperate for the hope and forgiveness of our Savior? They are adolescents – the age group most desperately searching for meaning and significance. And we have the answer! John 4:30 – This is Jesus talking to the disciples (and us), “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” This is so true here!

Family members are invited to Wings parties too and for this particular party (watch for the significance here) about 15-20 of the girls had family members show up. Maybe one-third of these girls had families come to spend three hours with them. Surprised? Me neither. I was taking portraits of the girls and their families or the girls with their Wings volunteers. Usually I would take the pictures home, edit them, print them at Walgreens and return them to the prison to be distributed. But because these are youth, the Department of Youth Services does not allow pictures of the minors to be taken off the premises so my mom (who also helped me) let me borrow her printer and we printed out about 40 pictures. It actually took us an extra two hours after the party was over to finish printing but it was so worth it. My friend Dawn helped out too and she was great with the girls!

Over and over I hear Christians lamenting the fact that prayer and the Bible have been “removed” from the public schools. This is not even close to being true. There are restrictions on how much adults can LEAD such activities but student led groups are actually protected by the Constitution and the Supreme Court has upheld those rights. These groups can even bring in adult speakers (read: Christian youth workers) to speak to the student groups on a regular basis. At the high school where my husband teaches, a group meets twice a week and the student leadership is supported by a group of wonderfully committed ladies that bring fellowship, teaching and cookies to the school each week. Instead of complaining, they are doing something. Many of you are ministering to others in equally exciting and impactful ways. I’d love to hear about them! I’ll figure out a way to put links in here to your site if you let me know!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Huston, we have a problem...

This is roughly one-third of the animal / doll population in our home. If I ever get enough time, I plan to pursue a PhD in the reproduction of stuffed animals. They are absolutely out of control here. Yesterday, I had the oldest two gather every animal and doll in the house and put them on the floor of my bedroom (nicely arranged so that all could be admired, no big piles). They did this while I was giving my final exam (praise God the tests are graded and grades are submitted!!). Then last night, I found about 12 more that they had missed. Then the gruesome task began.

I asked them to join me in my bedroom and asked them to do something akin to "Sophie's Choice". "Please pick your favorite 5 animals." Muffin was immediately overcome with grief. I assured her that we would not tell the other animals that they weren't her favorites. Muffin and Doodle each picked 5 and put them in a laundry basket. And, just for my dad (whose famous line, "Girls are for teasing" was passed on by my brothers but not me!), I said, "OK, the rest are going in the trash.... Just kidding!" Although, between you and I, I was only partly kidding-I was testing the waters here. Anyway, those top five animals went into their beds.

Next came the stuffed animal bin. They each got to put in two at a time until it was almost full. These two exercises accounted for nearly 40 stuffed animals. Then I picked out about 10 of Mator's favorite animals and put them into her bin. Then I said, "Now each of you pick ONE animal to give away. Yes, I am serious." You would not believe the tears that fell, especially from the 8 1/2 year old. I began to realize that the importance of this exercise was not in cleaning out their rooms and getting them organized. Clearly, the giving away of two or three stuffed animals was in no way going to help there. Equally clear was the realization that giving away more than one each was going to be downright traumatizing, at least for Muffin. The lesson here was going to be one of sacrifice. And at least one of us really learned it.

I cannot possibly exaggerate the sobs and tears that Muffin let loose as she was choosing one animal to give away. It's not that I can't relate. Truth be told, five or six of their animals are actually mine from when I was little. I loved my animals like they were my children too. But here's the part I really don't want the kiddos to read until they have children of their own... I actually had to leave the room so that I didn't laugh in front of them. This was the animal Muffin finally chose to give away: This two inch tall bear was almost certainly from Oriental Trading and probably valued at less than a dollar. It was given away at the dentist the last time she visited (by the way, I wish dentists would go back to giving away candy. At least with candy, you eat it and it's gone-no junk piling up around the house!) And, she has two that are exactly the same (except they are tie-dyed). The good byes for this bear lasted about ten minutes during which time I had to "go talk to Daddy for a few minutes".

When I came back, the tears had dried and Muffin and Doodle were hunting through the animals again. "Doodle said she would let me donate Boots (the one Doodle had chosen) and she would choose another one of hers to give away." Wow. Well, the lesson of sacrifice was certainly not lost on the five year old! But it wasn't enough for me to leave it at that. Muffin needed to learn it too. Please note that I am skipping the part where we talked about the fact that some children had ZERO things to cuddle and we would be making someone else very happy and while it was OK to be a little sad and miss the animal, we should focus on the joy we would be giving someone else (BLAH BLAH BLAH).

So sometime next week, we are bagging up three animals/dolls and ceremoniously donating them. And guess who else learned to sacrifice? A certain someone who had hoped to donate a garbage bag full of fiber-filled critters will now be sacrificing valuable basement storage space for a box of animals that were too precious to let go of. I still love being a Mom.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A short story involving chainsaws and taco meat

Two really cool things happened yesterday. One amazing thing happened at Walmart on Saturday but I'm still processing that one and will write about it soon. But yesterday, sweet heaven above, was wonderful!

First, my husband cut down two dead trees. With a chainsaw!! This was a lot of fun for me and the kiddos to watch (from a safe distance) and then Muffin and Doodle helped him load up limbs and take them to the burn pile.
Second, an extremely rare event occurred. So rare, that while my beloved husband objected, I named it the best day of the year. I am quite confident that this has not happened in AT LEAST the last four years. Wait for it...Last night, every member of our family consumed their entire meal with complaint or cajoling. There was not a single utterance of, "How much of this meat do I have to eat?" There were even several, "Can I have more?" I am not exaggerating when I say that this has not happened one time since Doodle was old enough to eat table food. It is some unwritten rule that if Muffin LOVES something (Mac and cheese) then Doodle must dislike it. Similarly, if Doodle loves something (popcorn, pizza) Muffin must therefore intensely dislike the same food. And goodness knows that if Andy and I enjoy a certain meal (anything with garlic or tomato sauce) every small person in our home must loudly object to its presence at the table. So now we have ONE meal that everyone likes. And what is it? I will graciously share the recipe right here so that you may attempt this at home:
Taco Pie:
1 can of crescent rolls (pinch the pieces together so you make two sqaures)
taco seasoned beef
cheddar cheese (shredded)
Directions: Place on square of crescent dough into a greased 8x8 pan. Spread a layer of taco meat. Cover with cheddar cheese. Place second crescent square on top and pinch edges together. Bake according to package directions.

That's it folks. Andy and I used to make it all the time when we were first married. I believe it has Pampered Chef origins. Anyway, I don't know how I've forgotten about it this long but all I can say is that last time I was at the grocery store, it came to me like a vision from God. Now we know why He sent me the Taco Pie. It brought peace to our family and maybe it could do the same for the world. Give it a try and let me know what it does for you and yours!

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Mother's Love

Last Saturday God gave me another opportunity to serve using photography at the Brenden Krannitz Memorial 5k. It was an incredible, beautiful day that I was privileged to be a part of.

Brenden was a student at Fisher Catholic and is the nephew of my friend Kristin. I got to know his family when I took their portrait at their house. Brenden was 15 when he was diagnosed with Melanoma. His family and friends rallied around him and the image above was one that I took to represent their closeness. A few months later, Brenden passed and is greatly missed by many. This race raised money for a scholarship in his honor at Fisher.

Brenden's mother is tireless in her effort to honor Brenden's memory and make some good come from his death. Romans 8:28 says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." Watching her put her energy into her two other children, B and K, as she plans and carries out the activities of race day is inspiring. Her commitment to increasing awareness of the dangers of excessive sun exposure is also changing lives. Seeing Amy in action on race day is one of the reasons I love going.This is Brenden's brother, B, with the beloved Father Franks from St. Mary.

This year Andy raced and despite a somewhat difficult (hilly) course, beat his personal goal! He also got third place in his age group and received a really cool medal! Here he is getting ready for the race and helping me get my settings right for the starting line.As a photographer, I get to observe people in a non-threatening way. Some people are uncomfortable having their picture taken but most people don't notice me or they just accept that I'm doing a job. Plus, it is my responsibility to look for the details of the day to help tell the story. One other "picture story" really touched my heart.

My 8 year old daughter (Muffin) took gymnastics this year and one of the girls from her class, A, was in the race with her mom and brother. I took pictures at the start and then waited at the finish line. I saw A's brother finish but didn't see his mom and sister. I waited a while and then I saw the brother and asked if his mom and sister had finished. He said, "Look, here they come!" Coming around the final bend, they began to pick up speed, as most of the runners do in the final stretch. But look carefully at this sequence of pictures. To me it was the perfect visual reminder of a mother's love:
Notice how Cindy (the mom) is so close she is almost touching her daughter in the first picture. As they near the finish, Cindy begins to slowly distance herself, allowing A to finish the race and bask in the glory of her achievement.

This is something that most moms do without even thinking about it. But it should not be overlooked and was a great encouragement to me, a mom. The joy of seeing your child begin and then accomplish a difficult task is so great that all the sacrifice on the part of the parent are forgotten and deemed completely unimportant. This is what moms do: we sacrifice, encourage, challenge, train, prepare, and then we watch. And every once in awhile, we see them finish the race.