Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Lumberjack Friend

In 2008 when I went on my second trip to Europe I was a part of an international team who hosted a women's leadership conference entitled EMERGE.
It was one of my favorite trips of the eight that I've taken.

Certainly it was humbling and thrilling to be a part of an effective ministry and the women on the team became friends to me in a much needed season of my life and yet none of those reasons are the reason why that trip was my favorite.

That credit is reserved for Gabriela P.

my, Gabi & Anna in 2008
Gabriela was one of the two dozen or so women who sat in on my "Parenting on Purpose" workshop. While public speaking has never been a fear of mine, I know I usually do the best when I have a personal connection with the subject matter.

You see at that time in my life I was a pastor's wife. And like most pastor's wives I was sorta expected to have a ministry niche of my own. Which, I didn't mind that so much, it's just that I wanted to be really, really certain that in whatever way I contributed to the congregation it was because I had something to contribute - not because my husband was the pastor.

So when I was given opportunity to speak to our church, I never pretended and never tried to be impressive with my messages. I knew I couldn't compete with the beloved pastor so I set out to give inspirational messages from my heart. It was important for me to be true to me. I'm no theologian, I didn't attend seminary or ministry school. Heck, the only thing I earned was a PhT
(a certificate stating I had Put Honey Through
- I'm NOT kidding!). 

No, if I was given a chance to share I never pretended or regurgitated a bible study lesson. Instead I opened my heart and searched it for a story to tell.

And that's probably why I can remember almost every message I've ever given.
They were that personal.

That was the case when Gabriela was in my session in the Czech Republic as well. I remember being completely honest with the women in attendance about my struggle to find my place in ministry as a woman, how I searched for the balance to participate, be a present mother and the honest fact that sometimes in my quest to figure it out I often found myself quite lonely and disappointed in my performance.

Throughout that entire workshop Gabriela sat intently listening - literally soaking in every word.

I later invited her to share a cuppa coffee. We shared stories, laughs and even tears as we encouraged one another. I had made a friend. And thanks to the magic of Faceboook we've kept in touch for years.

The following year as I planned to return to the EMERGE conference I hoped to see Gabriela again. But she never registered for the event. Her son had become very sick with cancer and she was holding vigils in the hospital.

My heart broke for her.

Just two weeks ago I was in her country again, this time on a different assignment. I was hesitant to let her know I was traveling for fear it wouldn't be possible to see her again. When I saw that our itinerary had us staying one night in her town I sent her a message, hoping that we would be able to connect.

When I found her she was working in the kitchen at her church preparing cakes and coffee for attendees. I walked towards her to say hello and when she saw me I swear her eyes softened. She moved towards me and when we reached each other she enveloped me in the biggest, warmest hug. It wasn't a gentle embrace. She hugged me with her entire body and I felt happily lost in that split second.

We each stepped back and looked each other over. She looked good. Healthy. Her face was bright with surprise and once again she embraced me before swooping me off to receive a gift. Yes, a gift.

Gabriela started making jewelry while she sat in hospital rooms to pass the time. She was selling some items at the conference and asked me to pick out any piece I wanted.

Later that evening I invited her over to our hotel for a coffee. We began to catch up on each other's lives. Her son is home and  for the time being doing well. She and her husband have bought a fixer-upper in order to accommodate her mother who is expected to move in with her by the end of the year.

I sat and listened amazed. She was so strong despite all the factors in her life.  When she told her stories she told them with hopeful expectation. As if she one hand on the reality of her situation but another firmly grasped on hope. She balanced the tension beautifully as she talked.

I commented as much, I said, "Gaby, you look so good. You really are OK right now aren't you?" 
"Yes," she said, "I have very good therapist."
"Oh, that must be so helpful." I nodded in agreement.
"Yes I am now so much stronger."
"I'm sure, it is helpful to speak with someone. Good for you!"
"No, maybe I am not using the right word - strong. I am strong now from therapy" and she made a flexing motion with her arms.
She meant physical strength.
I was curious if something was getting lost in translation but before I could ask again she said, "Our new home is on much land. We have many trees. I go out and I take an ax and I chop the trees. It is my therapy. I am very strong inside and out now. I take all my anger and chop at the tree and I don't come in until my arms are not working or I feel better. This is my therapy."

I sat amazed.
Here this woman's world has been on the precipice of collapse and instead of putting her head under her blanket she goes out and knocks the hell out of trees.

Not knowing exactly what to say I affirmed my early assessment, "You look really good" I told her.
"Thank you" she answered and I knew, she knew, that she did. It was true, she looked really good. Gone was the broken woman I met years ago who was crumbling under self depreciation and hardships. Her head was higher. Her voice stronger. Her eyes no longer diverting looking around for acceptance.
Chop on, Gabriela! Chop on!

Gabriela is why I go on mission trips. To be a part of some one's story, a story of overcoming and brilliance ... it's amazing.

We talked so long that night that we missed dinner but as Gabriela turned to go she embraced me one last time. She whispered a thanks in my ear. She said something shifted in her the day I shared my story with her. I almost crumbled under the humility of it all. As she turned to go she looked over her shoulder and said, "Stephanie, my friend. If you can you should buy a house in a forest. It is good therapy."

I threw my head back and laughed.
And wondered if we have an axe back home I could use.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cafe Church

to right you see a cafe, to the left kid's play area
Just one week ago I attended church in Havirov, Czech Republic.

The church rents a room they've converted into a cafe-slash-kid play area.

From what I could gather they use the room all week long as a local hangout for the neighborhood and on Sunday mornings hold a service.
Pastor Michal was thrilled to show off the garden, or back yard, of the building as they've cleaned up a very large lot, added a sandbox and tables in effort to gather families and enhance the neighborhood.

It was really cool.

Immediately upon entering the building I felt like I was in my element.
All gathered in one place?
Yeah, I could move my entire office and parent education program right in and feel right at home.
The service was casual. People came dressed in jeans and comfy sweaters wrapped in scarves. Parents brought children. Kids ran in and out. Coffee cups clanged and chairs scraped the floor as people moved about.

It was so irreverent.

Or not.

I loved the experience despite what my Midwestern, American mind tells me is the "correct way" to hold a church service.

Because as a modern day woman who tries her best to be a follower of Jesus, I find that the stories of  Christ find him in similar, informal situations rather than dressed to impress, two hour Sunday morning services with full band worship and neatly packaged sermons with three points and an alter call.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.
I believe believers should gather.
I love music
and I love to be inspired.

These are all good things.
But they are not the only things. With or without music I like. With or without a message in my language. With or without what I think are elements of a "good church service" I should be able to worship.

Because if my relationship with God is ever only based on what happens in a service or my religious traditions I fear I'm missing the point.

It was a joy to witness the Havirov church service.
To be a part of something different.
I stood and worshipped, surrounded by people who spoke another language.

I couldn't have had a conversation with them if I wanted.

But as we stood, together, it was clear we had gathered for the purpose of worshipping.
Every difference fell aside as we brought our attention and voices together
in His name.
I've never been in a more beautiful church service.
Latte and all.

(p.s. check back this week as I'll blog more stories from my trip)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What 'Really' Happens on a Mission Trip

There are many, many benefits of going on a mission trip.
Some obvious, some subtle.

Some of the reasons why you go create feelings of accomplishment and the pleasure of knowing you've done good.

Sometimes the feelings are unpleasant and downright uncomfortable and yet you embrace them because you believe in the work you're doing. You believe the uncomfortabl-ity is a price you're willing to pay.
I mean a mission trip isn't a vacation.
You don't go to relax.

I've just returned from a mission trip. I, and a small team, traveled by van for 5 days to Kojetin, Czech Republic and Cachtice, Slovakia. Armed with markers, balls, books and blocks we were on a mission to educate Roma(ni) Gypsy parents in these communities. Tucked into my Thirty-One backpack were 4 seminars neatly typed out and organized with an introduction, body and proper conclusion.

It was so neatly organized and it was going to be so helpful
and it turns out it was so, so ... Western. (note to self, remember that lesson you learned about expectations and remaining flexible?)

Going there was what I wanted to do. Making a difference and being a part of something larger than myself is what I aimed to do.

However, missing my family, my life, my bed, my food, my friends, soft toilet paper ....
all of those are really sorta the aspects of mission work that I hate.

But every time I go, and I have made a point to go annually for 7 years, a shift happens in me while I'm gone.
A deeper level of appreciation.
That life that I complain about because its too busy and hectic?
Is precious.

My children who demand so much from me that I often wonder if I'm losing myself in them?
Are a gift.

That bed I complained about because its old?
It's more than just fine. It's luxury.

My job?
A privilege.

To be savored.

A gift.

Going away and going without - to any degree -opens your eyes to the fact that what you already have
and what you've already experienced
is a wonderful, wonderful gift.
Being away from my family
and my little life
and the comforts I call home
make my family, my little life and my home a TREASURE.
An absolute treasure.

Going on a mission trip sorta makes the scales you didn't even know you had fall from your eyes.
You get a fresh view of what you have.

And what I have - friends, family ... love - is a treasure.

Back on my home turf I am not just reminded to be thankful for what I've been given in this life,
I am instead completely overwhelmed as the feelings of appreciation and gratitude roll in crashing waves over my soul.

It is the Eve of Thanksgiving. Tomorrow I will sit -like every other American- around my turkey, gravy and table of bounty and reflect. This year, as I adjust to this time zone, I find that I am especially, deeply and profoundly grateful. Because THAT is what happens when you take a mission trip.

Consider finding a mission. A way to give. Be brave and travel. And help. And open yourself to the world and the people in it. For a mission trip is a wonderful opportunity to learn levels of gratitude you've never fathomed existed.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

In Honor of Menu Monday

I had the AH-mazing opportunity to travel to the Czech Republic and Slovakia last week. On the way I met awesome people, saw incredible things, made some unforgettable memories AND ... ate a wide variety of food.

In honor of my regularly posted Menu Monday I submit to you Menu Monday Mission Trip-Style!
Czech it out (get it!)

Sunday breakfast - Plain yogurt with Chocolate granola

Sunday lunch - Beef Tips with Bread Dumplings

Monday breakfast - scrambled eggs, poached potato, mushrooms, sausage & toast

Monday dinner - Margherita (aka cheese) pizza from this stone oven

Tuesday breakfast - a doughnut and latte from Tesco (similar to a Wal-Mart)

Wednesday - traditional Czech breakfast (bread, ham, cheese, scrambled eggs and ham)
I was supposed to get one OR the other but due to some for-real "lost in translation" moments I got a double breakfast portion. p.s. this happened to me more than once on the trip. p.s.s. therefore I did not loose a single pound while traveling.

Wednesday Dinner - a (flexible) chicken steak and mashed potatoes

Thursday breakfast - more ham and eggs for breakfast (looks identical doesn't it?)

Thursday lunch - Kofola (soda) and pasta with chicken
(and what most closely resembles ketchup sauce)

Thursday breakfast - latte at Tesco with chocolate croissant

Thursday dinner - fried cheese and half a cheese pizza

Friday- more lattes and more croissants

Friday dinner at Sonya's house. A buffet of sandwiches, pretzels, cake and chips.

And then later ..... Chicken schnitzel and chips.

Saturday lunch - chicken gnocchi and spinach

Saturday dinner (potluck with the roomie) granola bars, pretzels and trail mix

Sunday - dinner in Prague spinach soup, bruschetta and the star of the show gelato

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

On a Mission

Today's blog comes from the Czech Republic.
My life's goal, To Write a Better Story, is playing out right this minute.
But that's the thing about life. It is moving. It's going. It is playing out and unfolding whether you mean for it to or not.
So shouldn't we be deliberate?
Shouldn't we be purposeful?
Shouldn't we make effort to make our life what we want and hope for?
I've planned for this trip for a very long time.
Over a year ago I learned about the need for parent education in Europe, specifically amongst the Roma(ani) Gypsy people. And here I am.
To say it is surreal is an understatement.
It is fullfilling.
And nervewracking.
And ground breaking.
And uncomfortable.
And memorable.
And important.
And meaningful.
And ...
I don't know what you dream for your life. I only know my own. But I hope you can believe me when I say your dream is worth nurturing.
Your hopes are worth having.
Your plans are worth making.
Take time won't you to dream and imagine? Because if there is one thing I know I know that another 5 minutes just ticked by while you were reading this blog.
Time is moving my friend.
What are you doing with it?
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Peace on Earth Starts with a Good Night's Sleep

If I was in the healthcare business I'd be wealthy. But since I'm not I'll just dedicate this article to my million dollar idea and hope for the sake of motherhood someone takes my plan seriously and uses it for good.

You know how moms are often exhausted? Wait, I mean always. You know how moms, especially new moms, are always exhausted? After giving birth, getting up at obscene hours for middle of the night feedings and all the mental energy that goes into transitioning into this new role in our lives we need rest like never before. And yet the one thing we need, sleep, often alludes us with frustratingly great accuracy.

Well, if it were up to me I'd understand this about motherhood and I'd offer a unique service that will not only equip parents to fulfill their job duties with a greater skill level, I believe my idea has the power to make mothers more happy in general.

Happier women? A. Who wouldn't want that? And B. Yes, sleep is that important!

I would create a new type of healthcare service for mothers. Obstricians help pregnant women. Pediatricians help children. Who is serving the women after they've given birth and are drowning in the trenches of parenthood?

It seems to me that hospitals have space dedicated to critical care patients, long term needs and even physical therapy. I think they are neglecting a huge and potentially lucrative clientele; the exhausted mother. I propose hospitals begin to incorporate a Mother Floor.

Why? Because there was a time in my parenting career that I would have paid big bucks to just get one completely, uninterrupted night's sleep. Big. Bucks.

Perhaps you are thinking that hotels are already in the sleeping business. Indeed they are, but do you know the hassle a mother would get if she told her children she was going to stay in a hotel without them? Children think hotels are for indoor pools, free breakfasts and beds to jump on. No mother would ever escape if her children knew she was going to a hotel. Mention the word hospital however and no child in their right mind would demand to tag along.

No, I don't need any amenities. I just need a good night's sleep.

For the sake of my mental and physical health admit me, give me a bed, turn off the lights and don't check on me until morning. Do not wake me up to take my temperature. Do not come in and check my vitals. Just let me pay you to rest.

If you want to make a package out of the whole experience go ahead. Offer me a hot breakfast and a gourmet cup of coffee. Offer a completely staffed nursery where mothers can even bring their children in the off chance they can't find anyone to stay with the rug rats. Heck, you can even throw in a hot shower and free internet so I can update and tweet about my awesome experience. I'd pay for any and all of it if I could just get a bed.

Don't you think my idea would boost the economy and create hundreds of new jobs? I think nurses everywhere would be clamoring to work on this Mother Floor. No temps to take? No machines to monitor? Sit around and cuddle cute babies that you don't have to keep? Sounds like a dream job, no?

Can you imagine the repercussions of such a service? If mothers everywhere could, on occasion, get a full night's sleep? If we weren't walking zombies living in the land of endless bottles and diapers we could conquer the world! Yes! We could solve the debt crisis and manage our households with extreme precision. Children would do better in school. Husbands would no longer be afraid to come home and the world would experience peace on earth.

I'm certain this idea is Nobel Prize worthy.

Yes, healthcare providers and insurance agents everywhere would be very wise to immediately implement this service to public. Happier women. Pleasant homes. Peace on earth. All accomplishable with one night's sleep. Why? Because I’m the mother and I said so!

(This article appears in The Daily Review Atlas as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting series)

Who What When Where Why Mission Trip

Where I'm Going.

When I'm Going.

What I'm Doing.

Why I'm Going.

Who I'm Going to see.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Menu Monday

Happy Cooking my friends!

Sunday - French Toast Bake with Grandma Betty's Applesauce & Sausage Links (you don't have to use french bread. I've used plain old white bread and it's been fine fine fine!)

Monday - General Tso's Chicken with Rice (I'll admit ... I'm not usually down with a recipe with so many steps BUT this is totally worth it. Plus I have found boneless dark meat at Wal-Mart. Once I tried to cut it off the bones myself but THAT'll never happen again)

Tuesday - Oven Fried Chicken with Crockpot Potatoes, Corn and Corn Bread (these potatoes require no mashing. there are made from red potatoes which is yum AND no clean up. NONE. you line your crockpot with foil. heeeelllll-o! easy peasey!)

Wednesday - Haystacks (what is this? well at our house it's rice and taco meat ((remember to make extra)) piled with whatever you want; lettuce/tomato/salsa/crushed chips/cheese but what ever you do you must top it off with melted nacho cheese! lots and lots of melty cheese)

Thursday - leftovers because BASKETBALLSEASONHASBEGUN

Friday - Chicken Bacon Ranch Sandwiches with Fries (Sweet Potato for me & Crinkles for the kids! and bytheway ... the precooked bacon is NOT bad. Why fry it for sandwiches is what I always say. ok I don't but still.)

Saturday - Taco Soup (my hubby says he likes this more than chili!! we love it with tortilla chips)

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Grandma Betty's Applesauce

Grandma Betty is the sweetest, shortest, most pleasant woman. Once she whipped up at batch of this homemade applesauce in the hills of Missouri and it was so good I demanded she write down the recipe. Boy am I glad she did as it has become a staple in our home each Fall.

5 or 6 medium Golden Delicious Apples, peeled and chopped
1 cup of water

Bring to a boil, cover and boil gently for 10 minutes or until apples are soft.
Remove from heat and mash those apples.
I have used a potato masher for chunky applesauce or put it in my blender for smooth applesauce.
Than add 1/2 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon in the pan, of course.
Stir and stir and stir.
Return to heat and bring to a boil. Stir and then turn off the burner.
Try not to burn yourself because you can't wait until it cools.
p.s. your house will smell awesome!

I've doubled, tripled and even quadrupled this recipe! Yummy.
p.s.s. serve it with dinner and pork chops or serve it at breakfast with french toast and sausage. mmmmm.

Crock Pot Taco Soup

My husband says he likes this better than chili!

Taco Soup

1 lb hamburger
1 sm onion
3 cans pinto beans
1 14 ½ oz can stewed tomatoes
1 10oz can Rotel tomatoes
½ tsp cayenne (red) pepper
1 15oz can Hormel chili, no beans
1 16 oz lite sour cream
1 lb Velveeta, cubed
2 cup water
½ tsp garlic salt.

Brown beef & onion.  Drain.  Put all in crock pot.  Cook over low for 2 hours, stir often.  Do NOT boil.  Serve with tortilla chips  (I use all regular, not lite, but use whatever works for you)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Teacher's Tricks are no Treat!

My little boy in 2005
I wrote this piece 3 years ago as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting column in the local paper. Since Halloween is tomorrow.... enjoy!

As I sit this year surrounded by hoards of candy collected during this past Halloween, my heart is grateful. You see, there was a year when the candy bowl was nearly empty before it even got filled. It was one of the scariest Halloweens ever. 

I’ll never forget the time when my son announced that he was done trick or treating despite the fact we had only gone two blocks from home. He looked at me through his superhero mask and said, "I have enough candy. Can we please go home?"

Like all mothers (and lovers of milk chocolate covered caramel) I encouraged him to press on. The weather that year was pleasant and I was sure that he would have a good time once he got into the holiday spirit.

However, as soon as we knocked on one more door he repeatedly insisted that we head home. Distraught we paused on the sidewalk, the revelers passing us by, and I examined him from head to toe. Was he feeling ok? I placed my hand on his forehead. Did his costume pinch or did his feet hurt? No he assured me, he was quite comfortable. I surmised he must by suffering from a combination of fear and shyness and so I made a deal with him; one more block and if he still wanted to turn back we would.

I had faith that once he saw the candy piling up in his treat bag he would become much more interested and he would press on with enthusiasm. Instead after only a few more tricks or treats he was done. He demanded with fervor to be taken home and refused to collect one more piece of candy.

I was quite disappointed. I looked down into his bag and my heart sank. Oh, not for him. I spied only a handful of my favorite treats and knew I would have great difficulty pilfering any of them from his bag unnoticed.

You see, I believe in a parent’s appreciation tax on Halloween. I bought and/or made that costume he is wearing. I applied the makeup. I endured the two hour walk with misbehaving children doped up on sugar in the bitter cold. Certainly there should be some pay off for me. 

Aren't I the one who makes sure Halloween happens? Shouldn't I be the one who gets a payoff? Lucky for my kids I like chocolate. I can be paid off relatively easily.

So, sadly we returned home. As my son dumped out of his treats on the floor and began to sort through them, I turned on the porch light to accept the lucky devils and witches who were still out on the street trick or treating. Turns out that was a brilliant move as I effectively got rid of all the subpar candy we had collected. I mean one can only eat so many Tootsie Rolls and nobody wants those homemade popcorn balls.

While hoping not to get egged for re-gifting Halloween candy, I turned to notice my little guy sorting and organizing his bounty. Impressed with his initiative and pre-math skills I sat down to join him. And that's when I noticed his piece of paper. He wasn't interested in sorting his candy for the fun of it. He had been given a homework assignment to count his loot.

Instantly I realized why my son cut our trick or treating adventure short. He wasn't sick or scared. He knew the less candy he collected the easier his homework assignment would be.

Which either makes him brilliant or a complete slacker.

All I know is when I look back on that year I shudder remembering how I failed to meet my quota for Reese's Peanut Butter cups, Almond Joys and Carmel Apple Suckers. That self designated appreciation tax I look forward to each year was more like a chocolate famine. And it was a sad time.

Now years later my little guy is a big guy. At six foot three he convinced me he should be
See? He's too big to Trick or Treat! 
allowed one more romp around the neighborhood. This very well may have been his last Halloween. Which is sad when I think that my little boy is growing up. It also grieves my heart to think that the days are coming when if I want candy I'll have to go out and buy it myself. The days of pilfering through my kids' bags for the good stuff are numbered. Isn't that the scariest trick of all?

This article originally appears in The Daily Review Atlas as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting series. Stephanie is a mother to five children and is a Parent Educator for the Monmouth-Roseville School District. She is available for personal consultation or speaking engagements. She can be reached at

Fess up ..... you eat your kid's candy too! Right? I'm not the only one?
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