Monday, July 29, 2013

Packed & Ready To Go

Tomorrow morning, Ashlee and I will leave the comforts of our home in North Carolina and will travel for 21 hours on a plane bound for Chennai, India.  We spent the weekend in Knoxville with our family, and we left Emilee there to spend this week with Mimi & Papa - and then Daddy will bring her back home this weekend.  It was incredibly hard to say goodbye knowing that I won't see her again for 17 days! 

Panic, nervousness, anxiety, fear, etc., are all starting to set in as I start to think of all the things that could happen while we're there.  So much anxiety that I can't sleep.  What if I forget to pack something, what if we lose our passports, what if our money gets stolen, what if our team's plans don't work how we expect them to, what if Emilee gets sick while I'm on the other side of the world, what if Ashlee gets some kind of foreign illness, what if Scott needs me while I'm gone, what if something happens to one of our parents and I can't get home fast enough, what if...?  There are a million "what ifs" that are going through my mind, and they all have to do with things that are totally out of my control, and I don't like to be out of control. 

The simple fact of the matter is that I'm a planner.  I need a plan.  I want to know when, where, why, what, who, and how.  I'm a pretty easy going, go-with-the-flow kind of person... as long as the "flow" follows my plan.  When it doesn't, I don't do so well.  This is definitely something God is trying to teach me... that there is a plan, BUT it is His plan... not mine. And as long as I follow His plan, His will for my life, it's all going to turn out to be amazing.  I realize that doesn't mean there won't be bumps along the way, but I have to turn those bumps over to Him, which is so much easier said than done.  A definite work in progress!

I told a friend of mine that I was starting to freak out a bit about the trip.  Her response was, "Good! That's exactly where you need to be to be totally dependent on God."  Never thought about it like that before, but it makes complete and total sense.  So I will spend the next two weeks with Ashlee doing my best to put all my focus on what God has in store for us in India... not because of my plan, but because of HIS!  Thank you, Donna!  And thank you, God, that I can be totally dependent on you and that you're not just okay with it, but that you expect it! 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Preparing to Lead

Part of the amazing opportunity we will have when we get to India is to be able to go into several of the schools there and, through a 30-minute student program, share the gospel with the students.  Our team of nine will be doing a skit for the kids, and then one of the team leaders will share the gospel, which will lead into a worship time, and then we'll end the program with a rap routine.  And just in case you're horrified at this moment, no, I am not part of the rap routine!  The rap routine will be put on by Rich, Anita and Jainy.  I'm hoping to be mostly the set up and clean up crew, which I happen to be really good at all that behind-the-scenes stuff.  I will be part of the game show skit along with Gilbert, Heather, Jacob, and Anita but, fortunately, I don't have to speak or else I would vomit!  Severe stage fright here!  Ashlee and I do get to throw shaving cream pies in the faces of the contestants who answer the questions wrong during the skit... and I get to make the pies.  I think I can handle that!

Ashlee, however, gets to lead worship!  Since she can play the piano, the team leader, Ben, asked her to learn a couple of praise songs and be prepared to segue from when he presents the message into a time of worship.  She will then sing and, hopefully, get the students to sing along.  The two songs she'll be playing are "How He Loves" and "I Exalt Thee."  Ben suggested that it would be great if we could get the chorus of "How He Loves" translated into Tamil (language in South India) so maybe we could get the students to sing along.  So what did we do?  We emailed Prabu who, of course, said he'd be glad to help.  He has been part of several mission group teams in the past and has led worship, so he offered to give Ashlee some tips as well as translate the chorus for us.  So I invited Prabu and his wife over for pizza and dessert so Prabu and Ashlee could work on the music here.

When they arrived, we ate dinner, did lots of talking, got lots more helpful tips for our trip, and then Ashlee and Prabu got to work.  We all wanted to watch and listen in, so I think we probably made them both a nervous wreck when we parked ourselves on the sofa by the piano!  Prabu had brought his guitar along, so it was great getting to watch the process of him singing, playing and translating.  By the end of their "session," Ashlee played the song from beginning to end and ended the song by singing the chorus in Tamil.  I could have cried, I was so proud!  And, of course, the praise from Prabu and Wendy went a long way toward boosting Ashlee's confidence.  Prabu also suggested she end with singing the chorus acapella, so she and Prabu tried that, and it was beautiful!

Of course I had to capture the moment on film, so here ya go.

I can't wait to see it all come together when we get there.  It may not all come together as perfect as I imagine it in my mind at this moment, but it will be perfect exactly how it turns out.  We're praying that along the way many seeds will be planted for Christ.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Meeting the Gupta Family

A week after meeting Daniel's son, Prabu, we got an email from him.  He said he had gotten a call from his dad the night before, and his dad told him that they were coming to NC to visit.  Prabu wanted to know if we would be interested in meeting them.  Seriously?  The family we would be staying with in India is coming to NC, and we get to meet them before we go?  You've got to be kidding!  YEAH, I think we're definitely interested!  Prabu said they'd be in town the week of Mother's Day, so I got out my calendar and marked off the whole week to make sure we would be available to meet them any time that week.  :-)

I was already a bit nervous to be traveling to India with a group of people I hadn't met, but then to be staying in the home of people I hadn't met made me more nervous.  So to get the opportunity to meet them before we went was amazing to me.  And for Scott to also get to meet them was an added bonus!  Scott wasn't real fond of two of his girls traveling alone to India, so to get to meet the people that would be our hosts while we were there would hopefully help put his mind at ease.

Prabu emailed me and we worked out a day to meet, and I invited them to our house for coffee & dessert.  I thought it would be easier and more comfortable to chat at our house than at a restaurant.  Then I started panicking about what to make for dessert.  What would they like?  I could make my specialty, Banana Pudding.  But what if they didn't like pudding desserts?  I could make something chocolate, but what if they didn't like chocolate?  I could make an Almond Streusel Pound Cake.  But what if they didn't like cake or were allergic to nuts?  So, just in case, I decided to make all of the above - Banana Pudding, Chocolate Éclair Dessert, and Almond Streusel Pound Cake.  Then I started thinking about the coffee.  They would be here in the evening, so I couldn't serve coffee with caffeine.  Easy solution... decaf coffee.  What if they didn't like it black?  Well... get creamer!  But what flavor would they like?  Okay... buy three different kinds.  So I came home with French Vanilla, Cinnabon, and Bailey's Brown Butter Pecan.  Problem solved!  I was ready and couldn't wait to meet them.

Just before they arrived, I got so nervous.  I felt like I was getting ready to meet the Queen.  Well, actually, that wouldn't make me nervous.  But what if I said something stupid?  I kept thinking I don't know much about their culture, so what if I say something offensive.  Then Scott opened the fridge and saw all the creamer and said, "What's this Bailey's stuff?  Isn't Bailey's an alcohol brand?"  I said, "Are you serious?  Is it really?  It's coffee creamer... do you think there's alcohol in it?  There can't be alcohol in coffee creamer.  Right?  Quick, read the ingredients.  Actually, better yet, put it in the garage fridge!"  Yes, I panicked!  We don't drink, so I didn't want them to think we did, so I hid it.  I went back into the house and started trying to relax.  And then the conversation went something like this:

                        Scott:  What if I don't like them?  Will you not go?
                        Me:  You think you won't like them?
                        Scott:  I don't know, but what if I don't?  Will you not go?
                        Me:  You will like them.
                        Scott:  But what if I don't?
                        Me:  Why do you think you won't like them?
                        Scott:  I don't think that.  I'm just saying what if I don't?
                        Me:  You will.
                        Scott:  But what if I don't?  Will you not go?
                        Me:  Okay!  If you don't like them, we won't go!
                        Scott:  Yeah, right!
                        Me:  UGH!

And now he's laughing at me because I'm so nervous!  But I need not have worried.  When they arrived, it didn't take very long to see that Scott was going to like them.  They were so down to earth, so kind, and so full of information and ready to answer any questions we had... which I had a million of but should have written them down cause in all my excitement I had a hard time remembering what they were!  I just kept having a hard time believing that the Guptas were actually sitting in our living room.  That God would care so much about us, to know how much it would ease Scott's mind to know who his girls would be staying with while on the other side of the world, to know how much it would ease my mind to have already met them before we went to live with them for two weeks, it was just amazing to me.  And for Ashlee to get to meet their 16-year-old daughter, Madhu, was icing on the cake.  She told Ashlee that her sisters were going to love her.  She said that usually the missionaries who came were older, so to have someone their own age would be fun for them.  Ashlee just beamed! 

Before they left, I really wanted to get a picture.  I was hesitant to ask, didn't know if they'd think I was crazy, but I knew if I didn't get one I'd be disappointed.  So I asked and, of course, they were as gracious as ever.  So glad I asked!

Daniel, Viji, Madhu, Prabu and Wendy Gupta
standing in our living room!!!!

Emilee, Me, Ashlee, Daniel, Viji, Madhu,
Prabu & Wendy

After we said bye, Emilee said, "I want to go too!"  Of course, we had already told her she could go, but the only unfortunate thing about this whole trip is that the dates overlap Emilee's first day of high school by one day.  They also overlap Ashlee's first day, but she's okay with it.  Her teachers are excited for her, and the principal said they'd catch her up when she got back.  Emilee, however, is just one year into a new school and, to top that off, it will be her first day of high school, so it's a bit of the unexpected so she doesn't want to go in late.  And she also wasn't sure she could stand to be on a plane for 21 hours, so we'll have to work on that.  Anyway, I have never not been there for a first day of school, so that's a bit of an issue as well.  I will not be here to take her to school that morning, but our flight will arrive in time for me to pick her up that afternoon.  She's a bit bummed about it, although not as much as I am, but she said she thought it was more important to do what we'll be doing in India.  And hopefully, if we get to go back, she will get to go too... if she can tolerate the flight.  :-)

How grateful I am to Prabu and Wendy for sharing with us their limited time with their family.  It was amazing to have the opportunity to meet them all, and I can't wait to see them again in a couple of months and to be standing in their living room!

So Proud

Guess who received the Christian Citizenship Award for her grade at school?  EMILEE!  Scott and I are so proud.  After being at the same school since 4-year preschool, we moved Emilee to a new school this year for 8th grade.  It was an incredibly hard move for me, but not for Emilee.  From her first day of school there back in August, 2012, she found her place and fit right in.  She has blossomed into such a beautiful young lady, both on the inside and outside.  I have watched her grow so much in the past nine months!

During the first few weeks at her new school, they held a school-wide spiritual emphasis program for three days.  Emilee came home during that time and shared so many things that she had learned every day.  A few months later she shared with me that at the beginning of the school year she had prayed and asked God to use her for Him.  Yes, I cried! 

It has been such a great year for her there.  Over the past month, Scott and I have been to the school twice to watch her be inducted into the National Junior Beta Club and the National Junior Honor Society. 

National Junior Beta Club

National Junior Honor Society
A couple of weeks ago I emailed Emilee's teacher to ask about the upper school award ceremony.  I saw it announced in the newsletter and wanted to know if it included 8th grade and, in other words, did we need to be there.  She said it did include 8th grade and said we should plan to be there.  So we put it on our calendar. 

The night before the award ceremony, Emilee said she wasn't feeling well.  It seems she had caught a bug, and she ended up with a fever and getting sick a few times during the night.  She wasn't able to be at school for the awards ceremony, and she ended up sleeping almost the entire day. 

I emailed her teachers to see if I could pick up her missed work that afternoon.  When I went to the office to pick it up, there was a framed certificate with her work.  Inside the frame was the award for the Christian Citizenship.  We had no idea she was getting this award... neither did she.  I was so bummed that she was sick and missed being surprised at the ceremony.  She had also received the award for her Literature.  When I got home, I called Scott out to show him both of the certificates before showing Emilee, and then we "presented" the Literature certificate to her.  She grinned from ear to ear!  Once she had some time to revel in that award, we presented the Christian Citizenship plaque to her.  She beamed!  We are so incredibly proud of her and are looking forward to see what God has in store for her life over the next few years!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Called To Serve - The Rest of the Story

There's something to be said about being content while waiting on God to put you where He wants you.  Just when you least expect something to happen, when you take the focus off of your own plan and ask Him to put you in his perfect will for your life, He sneaks up on you and gives you the desires of your heart!

After Ashlee's letter to us about feeling like God was calling her to serve in India, we prayed, and we researched, and we prayed some more, and we researched some more.   It had already been determined that Ashlee wasn't going to India alone, so if she was to go, I would be going with her.  Over the past 2 1/2 weeks, I had pursued a few different opportunities, all of which ended in closed doors.  Our biggest fear was getting involved with a group that was a scam.  All I could think about was sending all that money to go on a mission trip and the group running off with the money, which would destroy Ashlee.  So I was researching everything I could get my hands on looking for info on mission trip scams, etc. 

Then one evening, during one of my many "google" searches, I actually went to the second page of my search, which I don't remember ever doing before.  It was there that I came across an organization based in Dallas, Texas called Live in Love.  Their website listed a few different mission trip opportunities, one of which was to India, and it looked like the dates would work, so I filled out the inquiry form asking for more details... and then we waited... and we prayed together as a family.  This was on Monday evening.
I was out all day the next day, but when I got home that night, I had received an email from Live in Love with a very detailed packet of info attached.  I also had a voicemail message from the team leader, Ben Stokes.  I emailed him back, and we set up a time to talk on Wednesday afternoon, at which time he filled me in on the trip.  He told me to find him on FB and that he would add me to the India mission trip group that he had started there.  He mentioned that the group would actually be staying in an orphanage that is run by Daniel Gupta and his wife, Viji, who had taken 15 girls off the streets and had taken them in as their own.  Ben said they were having the first informational conference call about the trip the next evening and that I could find the call info on the group's FB page. 
When I got home from picking Emilee up from school, I filled Scott in on the information from the call with Ben and how the team would be staying in an orphanage with a family by the name of Gupta.  I also mentioned that there was a teacher named Mr. Gupta at Emilee's school.  Scott said, "Gupta is like the most common name in India, like Smith is in the U.S., so do me a favor and please don't go ask the man if he's related to them. You'll embarrass yourself!"  So I said, "I would never do that [cough, cough]!"  :-)

Later on that night I jumped on FB to find the India mission group page.  I found the team leader's FB page, and I saw the orphanage leader's name, Daniel Gupta, so I clicked on his FB page.  Across the top of Daniel's home page was a picture of him and his wife standing beside a bride and groom.  I turned the computer around to show Emilee, and she said, "Hey, that's Mr. Gupta and his wife, Wendy!"   The teacher at Emilee's school was the groom, and the groom was standing beside Daniel and Viji Gupta and their daughter, Madhu.  At this point I ran through the house with my computer to find Scott and shoved the computer in his face and yelled, "This is Daniel Gupa, the man who runs the orphanage, and this is the teacher at Emilee's school, the school we just moved Emilee to in August!  No stinkin' way!" Scott just looked at it and said, "Looks like you guys are going to India."  Again, no stinkin' way!
The wedding photo from Daniel's FB page
(Wendy, Prabu, Daniel, Viji and Madhu)
I had to know more information, had to find out the connection, so I called the team leader back and asked him if the man who ran the orphanage was related to Prabu Gupta, and he said, "Prabu is Daniel's son; I've known Prabu for years."  Seriously?  What are the chances?  Unbelievable... details that only our God could put into place.
We didn't want to put the cart before the horse, so we decided we'd wait until the conference call before we made any definite decisions.  So the next night we dialed in, introduced ourselves along with a few others, and we listened to the details of the trip.  Part of what the team will be doing is they have been given approval from some of the schools there to go in and present a program to share the gospel with the students.  By the time the team is done, they will have shared the gospel with over 30,000 students.  The team will also do some medical care and some evangelizing in the neighborhoods.  Another part of the trip includes going into orphanages, aside from the home they're staying in, and just loving on and playing with the kids.
Ashlee's eyes lit up more and more as the call went on, but I could tell she was still guarded, not wanting to get her hopes up too high just yet.  After the call, we talked about it, and daddy gave Ashlee the official "yes, you can go," although we think at that point God had already given his seal of approval.  Having the security of knowing that we were not getting involved with a scam made it all so much easier, so we started the paperwork process the very next morning.  One more fun part of the story... the day's verse on my phone's Bible app was Psalm 37:4 - "Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart."  One more teachable moment to share with my girl!
The next morning, I emailed Prabu Gupta to see if I could chat with him after school.  I told him it looked like Ashlee and I would be going to India this summer and would be staying with his family."  I had not actually met Prabu before, had just seen him in passing when helping with things at the school, so I'm sure he was a bit surprised when some stranger emailed him with that information.  He emailed me back and said he'd love to talk to us and could meet us that afternoon.  Unfortunately, Ashlee had drama practice and wasn't able to meet him with us.  When I picked Emilee up from school we went to his classroom and officially met him. I think he was almost more excited than I was that we were going to India to stay with his family.  He filled us in on a ton of information, told us about all of his sisters, told us how great his dad was at what he did and how he took care of the missionaries that came to them, talked about what a great cook his mom was and how well fed we'd be.  I think he got a bit choked up at this point, said he really missed his family as he hadn't seen them since his wedding last year.  We finished chatting, and Emilee and I headed home to share the information with Ashlee and daddy. 
It is unbelievable to me how God cares so much about our desires.  He took the desire in Ashlee's heart to serve Him in India, a desire that began five years ago, a fire that was sparked once again through a game show less than three weeks ago, and He put the details together in such a way that would leave no doubt in our little human minds that this is what we are supposed to do, where we are supposed to go.  Although I began this journey as a tagalong because we weren't about to let Ashlee travel to India alone, I am realizing that this has become a journey for me as well... an opportunity to share my Jesus with others, an opportunity to do whatever I can to serve others, to be His hands and feet.  And in the process, I can't wait to see what God has in store for us, what He will teach us along the way.  So stay tuned... this is just the beginning of this next journey.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Called To Serve - Part I

On January 12th, Ashlee gave her dad and me a letter ... the gist of it went something like this:
"...I have an amazing family, awesome friends, I go to a Christian school, and I live in a country where (for now) I can publicly proclaim my faith in Christ without being persecuted. Honestly, I am incredibly lucky! Right now, I am sitting in a chair, watching football on a TV, typing this email on my MacBook Pro, all warm and cozy in my pajamas and sweatshirt. And these kids have absolutely nothing. Nothing!"
What prompted this?  I could say it started with an episode of a game show called "Minute To Win It" that our family was watching one evening a couple of nights ago.  It's a game show in which contestants have to complete a task (for example, bounce 10 pencils into a cup) within 60 seconds to win a specific amount of money.  With each task you complete, you make it to the next level of money.  On this particular episode, there was a team of two girls.  One of them had founded an organization after she had gone on a mission trip to India, an organization that builds homes for children to keep them from having to live/survive on the streets of India.  She was on the show to win money for her organization to be able to build more homes for children in India.  I could see Ashlee's eyes light up every time they showed a snippet about the organization during the game show.

In reality, what really prompted this letter all began with a book report Ashlee had to do in 5th grade.  The assignment: choose a country, read a book about it, and write a report on the country's culture.  Ashlee chose India.  The report detailed the country's caste system, how each person belonged in a different social class.  And for their entire life, their chance of making it to the next level of society (in their "next life") was all dependent on how well they performed at their job or how good they were during their current life.  This book report sparked a little fire in Ashlee for the people of India, a fire for them to know her God. 

Fast forward a few years.  My in-laws were part of a mission team that traveled to India.  Seeing their pictures and hearing their stories about the incredible poverty they witnessed there just added more kindling to Ashlee's little fire.  Her desire to go on a mission trip was getting stronger... but not just any mission trip would do.  She wanted to serve in India, and she wanted to work with orphans there. 

Fast forward a couple more years and a possible opportunity to go to Haiti presented itself.  However, after much research, phone calls to people who had gone to Haiti, and a meeting with our mission's pastor, we decided that this wasn't the trip.  The mission's pastor felt like her first mission trip should be a good experience, one that would make her want to go on another one.  While I agreed, Ashlee just wanted to work, to serve.  He told us he'd put us on his list and would contact us when a good opportunity came up.  Time went by, and we never heard back from him.  However, Ashlee would hear story after story from other teens who were going on mission trips to other countries through the church and just couldn't understand why she wasn't getting the same opportunity.  A closed door?  Maybe at that time.  Nonetheless, she became discouraged.

Fast forward to January of 2013 and her letter to us expressing how she felt God was calling her to go to India.  She ended her letter with, "I will trust God's plan, His will, and His timing."  How do you argue with a 16-year-old who tells you she feels that God is calling her to serve Him?  What more could a parent want?  Well, as her mommy, I would love to have a 16-year-old who tells you she feels that God is calling her to serve Him a little closer to home than India... like maybe in our community, in our city, someplace where it's safe, someplace that's not on the other side of the world!  That's what my heart was saying.  But God was saying something different.

More information from Ashlee's letter detailed the organization the game show contestant had founded.  Seems like Ashlee had done some research of her own and discovered that this organization was planning a trip to India in May, and they were inviting teenagers to go along to work and serve with them, and she wanted to go.  She asked us to pray about it and keep an open mind.  We promised her we would pray about it.  As far as keeping an open mind, mine was open... well, maybe barely cracked.  However, daddy and I decided to do some research as well.  We realized that we needed to embrace Ashlee's heart to serve.  Besides, I feel very strongly that if God calls you to do something, He would remove any obstacle that stands in the way of that calling, and I did not want to be removed! 

So I emailed the organization for more information about the May mission trip.  Unfortunately, two weeks passed with no response.  Another closed door.  During this time I pursued two other opportunities, both of which also turned into closed doors.  Another organization I looked into had several mission trips on the horizon... one of which was to India; however, the dates overlapped Ashlee's youth choir's summer mission trip, so this wasn't an option.  There was another option with this organization... a trip to Guatemala.  The dates worked well, and the cost was less than going to India.

We talked about this option, but she just didn't get the same spark in her eyes as when she talked about India.  So she decided we would just keep researching, just keep praying.  She was content to wait on His perfect timing, and she was content to pray for God's perfect plan.  So that's what we all did... we waited and we prayed.