Tag Archives: mexico

7 days until Christmas…

I was sad yesterday afternoon as I watched the large group of people leaving for Mexico.  I so very much wanted to go with them.  They are bringing Christmas gifts to the children at Casa Hogar Elim, an annual thing started last year by Jeff Harrell.  We collect shoe boxes, fill them up with small age-appropriate toys and sugar-free candy, then wrap them up.  Now these gifts aren’t just for a boy, age 6, or a girl, age 10, there’s a package for each individual child with their name on it.  We can’t put bows on these boxes, as they would be crushed under the weight of all the supplies in the cars and vans.

There are so many people from our church that want to go to Casa Hogar, they don’t even need to advertise the trips.  If you’ve been there, you’re a walking billboard for CHE.  The Thanksgiving trip even had a waiting list this year.  The ‘regulars’ have gone so many times, they can’t even tell you how many trips they’ve made.  We love these kids, and for those of us whom visit often, these kids are our extended family.

You know the old saying, ‘you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family?’    I beg to differ.  I was thinking last night about family and friends, and all of the funny ways God placed them in my life.  God clearly has a sense of humor!

I moved into my house three years ago, although my kids didn’t start attending the local school until two years ago.  We live at the end of the street, walking distance from the elementary school.  I noticed a house that had some fun yard decor, more specifically, ‘little skeleton girl’.  She was out for Halloween, dressed in her hippie costume, but she stayed out for other holidays.  What!?  Could this be?  Could I really have a soul sister on my street?

I was intrigued.  Why did I think this was my soul sister?  I have a full size mannequin named Darla.  You can learn more about her on Facebook at facebook.com/luvplasticpeople.  Anyway, I wanted to meet little skeleton girl’s mom.  I did, and her name is Patty.

Patty loves to volunteer her time for great causes, so we cross paths quite a bit, not only walking down the street, but many other places.  Patty was at Victoria Gardens with me when I met Flo, the ghost of Christmas future.  I can’t wait to go to Casa Hogar with Patty!  I live in a great neighborhood, as it’s filled with fun, caring people like Patty.

As I said in yesterday’s post, I was an only child until my teen years.  I really don’t remember ever bugging my parents about wanting a baby brother or sister.  I don’t know if that’s because I didn’t want one or because I knew it was a horrible idea for my parents to have anymore children.  I guess God knew I needed some siblings, but decided to bring them in under different circumstances.  At the age of 14, I got a step brother, two step sisters, and soon after, a half brother.

The funny thing about this is my sister Jo.  We are not blood related at all, yet we are just alike.  Our beliefs, our personalities, our creativity… and the list goes on.  The more perplexing thing here is our kids.  My son Joe and her son Isaac, again, no genetic relation, not only look alike, but act alike.  Jo lives in Wisconsin, so we don’t get to see each other too often.  We were on vacation in Florida several years ago, Joe and Isaac both ‘sitting’ on their heads on the sofa watching TV.  Jo says, “Look, Isaac taught Joe to do that.”  I replied, “What?  Joe’s been doing that for months.”  Both kids had been doing this separately for months.  And just for the record, they look alike right-side up too.

This next one isn’t as much humor funny as it is implausible funny.  Let me just start by saying it’s an extremely rare occasion when I can find anything good to say about my ex-husband.  The aftermath of an interaction with him frequently results in misery and relational mass destruction.

Dawn and Genna live near Kansas City, so we don’t get to see them very often.  Genna is my step-daughter and Dawn is her mother.  The boys and I took our family vacation up there this past summer and we had a blast!  Okay, I know what you’re thinking.  You probably think it’s odd that we’re friends, so this next statement will really throw you.  We consider ourselves family.  Yes, family.  You may not be able to choose your genetic family, but through love and friendship, you do choose your ‘preferred’ family.  One of the definitions of family is “a group of people who are generally not blood relations but who share common attitudes, interests, or goals…”   Yes, that’s us.  I’ve realized one thing this Christmas, one very big positive thing to say about the boys dad.  Without him, I would not have my boys, nor would I have Dawn and Genna.  As you can tell by the photo, they are obviously ‘related’, as they are a bunch of little camera junkies!  Genna is a very talented photographer and is doing an internship right now.  The boys like to make funny YouTube videos, a couple that have gone small-time viral.

God has brought many other people into my life in unexpected ways, from church and Facebook to a lady at church who accidentally door dinged my beat-up car.  I’ll take 100 of those kind of door dings!  Oh, wait, I have 100 door dings, but only one has a great story behind it.

So what does all of this have to do with Christmas?  This is the time of year when many people experience strong feelings of loneliness, seemingly endless despair and high levels of stress.  I’m no different, but as these feelings arise, I have this faint awareness of hope.  I appreciate my friends and family, realizing I don’t tell them that nearly enough.  I also appreciate you for taking the time to read my 25 days of Christmas blog.  🙂

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11 days until Christmas…

I can’t believe it’s only eleven more days until Christmas.  There’s still so much to do before then, right?  Where is my Christmas to do list… wait.  I didn’t make one, nor do I really have many Christmas things to do.  Plenty of other busyness, but not as much related to Christmas, with the exception of work.  So someone please tell me why I feel so busy and stressed?  I suppose I do have two things that come to mind that are Christmas related.

I promised Dulce, or as we call her, Candy, a pair of mismatched shoes for Christmas.  Candy is one of the beautiful kids down at Casa Hogar Elim.  Her name fits her well.  Every time I’m down there, Candy has the biggest hugs and the biggest smile, not only for me, but for everyone.  If there’s a poster child for the love we feel from CHE, it’s Candy.  She has always been intriguged by my carefully, deliberately mismatched shoes.  Now Candy speaks about as much English as I do Spanish, so her desire to have a pair of mismatched shoes has been communicated through loving charades.

As much as I am looking forward to selecting this meaningful gift, there is no part of my being that wants to go anywhere near a mall or retail store.  The only stores I have been to over the past month is a few used bookstores and stores with groceries.  Food and books.  Life’s necessities.  Well, we can add mismatched shoes now too.  I will keep you posted on my future shopping adventure.

The other thing I have to do is get passports for my kids.  This is their big gift from me this year, and besides a few small gifts of books and such, that’s it.  We are supporting charities for Christmas this year instead of buying a bunch of stuff we don’t need.  And the beautiful thing about this?  My kids are okay with it.  At 9 or 10 years old, being the spoiled brat I was at that age, I’m not sure I would have accepted this paradigm shift from my parents.

Now one would think getting a passport might be a simple process, but like everything else in our bureaucratic, complex society, it is not.  Their dad had to sign release forms, which also had to be notarized, and luckily he did.  I suppose he didn’t have any desire to spend two hours in line with me any more than I did him.  I took the kids a week ago right after school to get their passports, only to find out they only issue them between the hours of 10 and 3, Monday through Friday.  I guess my choices are to pull my kids out of school or take them downtown and pay the enormous one day rush fees.  I’ve decided.  I’m going to pull the kids out of school one day this week and make a fun day of it.  We’ll go to lunch, get the passports and do some other enjoyable things.  I never thought I would look forward to standing in a line at the post office, but for this, I am.  Maybe they will get creative with the Priority Mail tape like they did several years ago.

I want to teach my kids the right things, unlike what they learn by participating in our culture’s methods.  When I was in Zambia five years ago, I caught a glimpse into a different world.  It was a shocking world, as they had no electricity, no running water and none of the modern conveniences I had and take for granted.  On a two hour bus ride, without my camera, I saw a happiness and contentment in people that I had never seen before.  Had I not had my kids to come home to, I might have jumped off the bus and never been seen again in the US.

I have to say, my first reaction to this scenario was that I wanted to give these people all of the things I had, not just the essential commodities, but the things that make us happy.  Computers, internet, flat screen TV’s, cell phones, cars, kitchen appliances, toys and the list goes on.  Yet something didn’t feel right.  It didn’t take me long to see that these people had something I didn’t, but something I desperately wanted.  Something I still greatly want.  Peace.  Happiness.  Fulfillment.  And most of all, contentment.  I’m not quite sure how or when my thought process changed, but I have no desire to give them a TV anymore, or any of the other things we can’t live without.  I do still want to give them clean, running water and warm shelter though.

I wish I had never been spoiled by all of the materialism and possessions of our American culture, because now I’m addicted.  I need my computer and my iPhone.  I need my nice house and my car.  Could I experience true happiness with out all this stuff?  I feel burdened with my knowledge, shackled with electronics and locked in a cell of selfishness and greed.  I know these people I’m speaking of have a whole different set of struggles in life, but they get it.  They are happy and content.  Why?  Because they don’t have all of the distractions to keep them from having deep relationships with the people around them.  I’ll bet they aren’t looking for the Christmas spirit like I am.  I hope to someday experience just tiny bit of what they do.


15 days until Christmas…

I was listening to talk radio on my way to work yesterday.  It was so incredibly cold I didn’t want to let go of my warm coffee mug to steer the car, much less turn on the radio.  The news guy was reporting on the experiences of the fake mall Santas this year, disclosing the newest Christmas lists they’re receiving.  Many of the kids sitting on Santa’s lap are not asking for the typical toys and electronics, they’re asking for basic necessities.  “Mommy really needs a job” or “Could we just have our house back?”  Some others are asking for food and clothing.  You know the economy is bad when kids are happy to get socks and underwear for Christmas.

Santa Claus.  The historical Saint and the modern day icon of commercialized Christmas.  Who is Santa?  Santa has many roots in history spanning the globe, roots also ranging from Christianity to paganism.  The early Christian Santa was Saint Nicholas.  He was a Saint that gave generous gifts to the poor, especially to daughters of poor parents so they did not have to become prostitutes.  I could go on for days here about the history of Santa, but he did have his start as a good guy that helped people.

 

Honestly, I’ve always struggled with the whole Santa thing.  I did not want my kids believing that some overweight guy in a furry red suit is going to give them anything they want for Christmas.  Their dad said that was wrong and I was awful for even thinking it.  Choose your battles, right?  I chose not to fight this one.

My earliest recollection of Santa is asking my parents if Santa was real.  I was in kindergarten, five or six years old, and already wondering how one guy could go around the planet in one night, bringing lots of stuff to kids.  And don’t get me started on the flying reindeer and sleigh.  I suppose my over-analyzing of everything started at an early age.  My parents told me the truth and quickly proceeded to tell me that my knowledge was a secret.  I wasn’t very good at keeping secrets back then.  Even with my secret knowledge, Santa continued to bring me lots of toys and stuff, and much more than he brought anyone else.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a Scrooge, and if anyone understands fantasy and imagination, it’s me.  Christmas is a magical time for little ones, filled with excitement and fun, that is, in our American culture.  What does the whole idea of Santa say to our children?  We tell our kids at the dinner table that there are starving kids in other countries and they had better eat everything on their plate, and yet if they behave, Santa will bring them everything they want at the end of the year.  I simply can’t feel good about this.  If Santa has enough resources to give us anything we want, then why doesn’t he help out with poverty?

My kids learned the truth very early this year.  Santa is not real, it’s your parents giving you the Christmas stuff.  Now my boys are very close in age, but polar opposites.  Cole sees everything in black and white, whereas Joe’s world is all delightful shades of gray.  When they learned of this news, my youngest Joe, pretended to not listen and carefully responded, not committing to this concept.  Maybe if he doesn’t accept it, then he’ll still get all the presents.  Cole, on the other hand, was extremely upset.  He said, “So, let me get this straight.  You’ve been lying to me this whole time?”  We had at least a half hour talk about why evil parents lie to their children about Santa.

After this very long and depressing conversation, I decided to take this opportunity to teach my kids about Santa.  Not the look-alike mall Santa, but the conceptual Santa.  It’s time to go from believing in Santa to being Santa.  Helping people in need is being Santa.  When my kids see Santa, the look-alikes or the flat wood cutouts in the neighbors yard, I want them to think of doing a random act of kindness or helping impoverished people.

Here’s the daily photo collection, yes, a collection of Santas.  I have to highlight one of these.

I like this one a lot because I took this photograph in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico… in May.  Santa must be hot in his winter clothing, but he still looks happy to be there.  If we think of Santa in a new way, then he is not just a Christmas figure, but a visual representation of goodwill, unity and inspiration.  I think the people in Mexico understand this concept already and we can learn a lot from them, as we always do on our trips to Casa Hogar Elim.

The rest of the photos?  I think they speak for themselves.  Oh, and remember, the ‘dead Santas’ were featured a few days ago.

Okay, I probably shouldn’t include this photo since I was people watching and secretly snapped this, but I just can’t help myself.  What was she thinking when she got dressed this morning?

Merry Christmas and enjoy it with a new vision.  No, I don’t mean this last photograph that is burned into your brain, I mean get outside yourself and your comfort zone.  Help others, not only this Christmas, but all year round.


the storm

There were some really nice thunderstorms rolling into Nuevo
Laredo.  Yep, you guessed it, I had
to break out the camera.  I got
some great lightening shots.  God
put on an amazing show!

 

I had a few people ask, “How do you do that?”  It’s simple, really.  Place your camera on a tripod, place
the shutter in ‘bulb’ mode and be prepared to take a lot of photos.  You have to take into consideration the
light pollution that is in your area.
A one to two minute exposure is all I could do.  Then, just wait for God to shoot a lightening
bolt for you.  J

 

So to get the three photos below, I had to take about 20-25
photos.  The storms were pretty
active so I didn’t have to wait long.


light painting with the kids

I love it when I can share art with kids!  I am in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico at Casa Hogar Elim orphanage.  Last time I was here, we did photography light painting with the kids.  This time, I brought lots of flashlights for the kids to use, and with a supply of color gels to color the flashlights.

Not familiar with light painting?  Simple, and yet most cool process.  If you have an SLR, place it on a tripod and set the shutter on ‘bulb’.  Hold the shutter button down and have people ‘paint’ with the flashlights.  Anything that has light on it will show up in your photo.

The kids down here love to light paint.  When we break out the camera and flashlights, they know exactly what we’re doing.  They get so excited and like to see the photos right after we take them.  With that being said, I have to hold on tight to the camera because the stampede of children will come after every photo.  The excitement on their faces is awesome and it’s wonderful to watch them come up with creative ideas for the next shot.

Enough words.
Photos below.  J



crossing the border

I’m listening to the song Give Me Your Eyes by Brandon Heath
on the radio driving through Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.  That song is so touching and really about what I want to
accomplish in blogging about this trip.

This is my second trip down here, but before my first time,
I had heard so many stories about Casa Hogar Elim.  Anyone that had a story would say. “…you can’t put it into
words, you have to go down there to experience it.”

The best way I know how to communicate what an amazing
experience it is and how blessed I feel by being around these children is to
show photos and write a little bit about each one of them.

We are on our way to Laredo, TX to pick up a few pallets of
food donated to CHE.  They have a
storage facility there to accept and store donations.  It is quite a process to get the food across the border and
to hopefully not get taxed on it.

I’m writing this as we are in a caravan of four vehicles
going to Laredo.  JD just got
pulled over by the local police for speeding.  Anytime we see flashing lights down here, it’s a little
scary.  (that didn’t stop me from
taking a photo… will post as soon as I can download it from my camera)  Looks like it’s just a standard
speeding ticket thing.  The police
were not fans of all of us pulling over, so two vehicles left to cross the
border.  Still waiting to hear from
JD.


JESUS is everywhere

Wow.  I have thousands of stories from just 5 days.  Where to start…

Not only did we spend a lot of time at Casa Hogar Elim, many of us wandered out into the surrounding areas.  We went into “las colonias”, the local neighborhoods surrounding CHE, the middle school, a few stores and into the city.  I noticed a lot of graffiti on walls, but was surprised about the theme of it.  At first I thought it might be a random thing, but as I continued to look around, I saw the name Jesus a lot.  Now my first thought is that some guy named Jesus (he-sus) has way too much spray paint and he gets around.  Also, my lack of Spanish means I’m probably posting photos with no telling what on them, however these people worship Jesus all the time and He is in the forefront of their lives.
And as Sloan said in an earlier post, they love to know our names.  Not only do they want to know our names, but they write them down, like in this photo.  “Jesus te ama” is Jesus loves you.  This is one of many pieces of paper like this.

This other photo is of a chalkboard in one of the classrooms.  The kids love chalk!  Shortly after we arrived, the concrete was covered with chalk art, much of which had crosses, hearts and Jesus.  I haven’t even gotten to those photos yet.  They are absolutely beautiful.

All of this reminds me of a saying that is on my bathroom floor.  (Yes, I’m aware that is not normal and my bathroom floor is a whole other experience, but later…)  It says, “In America you’re seldom in a position where you NEED God.  It’s something that we need to experience – where we’re in a position where we have to actually TRUST God.”
I’ve been back a few days now and it’s difficult not to think about the experience of this trip every single minute.  I went down there to serve them, but that worked the other way around.  I think it was Elizabeth who had a Facebook update of being forever changed.  I don’t see how anyone could go there and not be forever changed.
Jody Wissing

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