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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Redirecting Christmas

For Heaven's sake, it's not even Halloween and it's started already. The "Get Ready for Christmas" rush is here.

My mailbox is crammed full of magazines advertising the perfect gift for everyone on my list. The stores already have their isles packed with stockings, trees and ornaments. Today I even saw a giant, candy-cane shapped dog bone at T*rget.

I'm not a Scrooge. I actually happen to love Christmas. I love family traditions and Christmas music and twinkling lights on trees. I love cookie swaps and children's nativity plays and carolers at my front door.

But what I hate is this: the amount of money I feel compelled to spend on Christmas each year. Between the gifts, the decorations, the parties, the party attire, the Christmas cards with the matching outfits, the postage, the Santa breakfasts, the Nutcracker tickets and the travel expenses, Christmas can add up to a pretty obscene amount of money.

According to the Advent Conspiracy, Americans spent $450 billion on Christmas in 2009. That's this number: $450,000,000,000. All spent in the name of a holiday intended to celebrate the birth of Christ. The Prince of Peace, the Wonderful Counselor... the One was was sent "to preach the good news to the poor." That one.

I admit, I've not always been so outraged by a little worldly Christmas cheer. There have been plenty of years that I've succumbed to the pressure. This was our family Christmas card picture from 2006:



I would be truly ashamed to disclose how much those matching, custom outfits cost. But dang, we had a cute Christmas card that year. Surely, Jesus would want that for my family, right?

In 2007, after Dan had received a series of raises and promotions at work, I threw our strict Christmas budget out the window and decided to spend "generously" and with reckless abandon. After all, Christmas only comes once a year. (Nevermind that my self-proclaimed generosity was intended only to bless people who were already blessed).

That year, Dan and I stayed up way too late wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning, we woke up way too early to plow through our massive stack of presents.

And afterwards I felt happy and joyful and completely fulfilled, right? WRONG. Less than half-way through the morning, the kids were bored with opening gifts. I was irritated because I felt that the kids were being ungrateful. Dan was irritated because I'd clearly spent too much money. And all I really ended up with was a big pit in my stomach and a serious case of regret.

(By the way, Madeline's favorite gift from that year was a glass paperweight with a small, pressed flower on the inside. A student in my VBS class had given it to me that summer as a teacher's gift and, at the last second,  dropped it into Madeline's stocking. She loves it to this day.)

Anyways, I know I'm stepping all over toes, but I can't help myself. My husband spends several weeks per year in Africa. I've just returned from Africa myself and I can say this with a high degree of confidence: We don't need anything else.

I was introduced to this short video clip back in 2008 and I've never forgotten it:






 If you're one of the few people who is still reading this post and is not completely offended, perhaps it's because you're tracking with me on this subject. Perhaps you're desiring, like Dan and me, not to rid our lives of Christmas, but to celebrate it differently.

Later this week, we'll be announcing a HUGE project from SixtyFeet. It's something that's been a long time in the making and it's very near and dear to my heart. If you desire for your Christmas to be about something different this year, I pray that you and your family will consider redirecting some of your Christmas funds to this opportunity.

If you're a fellow blogger and would like to partner with me on this project, please email me at shellyowens at gmail dot com for "advance" information. I'd love to have others help spread the word.

This project is major. It's going to take a whole lot of redirected Christmas gifts, a great big God and serious dose of faith to make it happen. But I'm believing we can do it.

The Announcement is coming, later this week. Stay tuned...


Thursday, October 27, 2011

House Rules


It's not just my blog that's crazy. My house is crazy. My calendar is crazy. My life is crazy

Five young children + traveling husband + homeschool + ministry in Africa + life in general = Abundance of craziness.

People ask me sometimes how I manage it all and I usually think... uh, I don't. Have you seen my house/children/life lately?


But I admit, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve.
Some of you might remember that I got a little help from some Rockstar Moms a while back. I'm still so grateful for the guidance, wisdom and ideas from those precious ladies who have blazed the Big Family Trail before me.

We've also established some House Rules around this place. There are only five rules on our list – but they cover a litany of issues and offenses. And these five little rules tend to keep the craziness from turning into utter chaos.
 At the risk of my reputation as a fun, free-thinking, Africa-orphan loving philanthropist, I thought I’d share this list of our house rules with y’all tonight. I'll warn you in advance -- this list might make me sound a bit stick-in-the-mud-ish, but that’s ok. This is what works for our family.

Owens Family House Rules

1.       The way we say something is as important as what we say. We speak with kindness and gentleness. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” – Proverbs 15:1

 
2.       When we’re given instructions, we obey all the way, right away and with joyful hearts. “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” – Colossians 3:20

 
3.       We show honor and respect for adults and for other children. “Show proper respect for everyone.” 1 Peter 2:17

 
4.       We know that contentment is bliss. We give thanks and we have grateful hearts. “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” – 1 Timothy 6:6

 
5.       We value other people, and we value all people, because they are all souls for whom Jesus died. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility, consider others as more important than yourselves.” – Philippians 2:3


Our house rules are based upon scripture – because, in my opinion, those are the only rules worth following. Worldly wisdom is just that – it’s worldly, it’s empty and it’s destined to fail. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.” – 1 Corinthians 1:25


Also, these rules apply to everyone in our home – including our biological children, our adopted children and the adults. The kids even have carte blanch to point out to me when I’m in violation of one of them (which of course never, ever happens…).

There may not be much certainty or any guarantees in this life. But upon God’s Word, we can stand firm and rejoice – for His word will never return to us void.


For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword…”
– Hebrews 4:12
Tuesday, October 25, 2011

This is Too Easy...

Hi friends! If you love me and you love SixtyFeet, can I ask you a small favor? Please, go to Giving of Life and cast a vote for SixtyFeet to win a grant, for up to $50,000. And if you register on their site, you get extra votes.

It just takes a second and it'll cost you nothing... but it could literally make a world of difference to the children SixtyFeet serves in Uganda.

Please go, vote, register, vote again and share the link. The things we could do in Uganda with a $50,000 grant absolutely blow my mind. I'm dreaming big here, people -- come dream with me!
Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ministering in Africa

Here's what I was doing this time last weekend:



That's me, in the royal blue. Just last weekend, Kelsey, Colleen, Kirby and I attended a traditional Ugandan engagement party. And we even wore the traditional, native outfits. It was quite the experience.


Colleen and I pretending to be high fashion models. Posing in the banana leaves. Very classy I think.

We woke up early Saturday morning to travel way, way, way out to the northeastern corner of Uganda. The party took place in a small village nearly 6 hours from the capital city of Kampala.

Along the way we saw monkeys swinging from trees, baboons with their baboon babies and the incredible River Nile.


Colleen's awesome photography capturing God's handiwork.

As we traveled through this remote region, we also saw poverty. Lots of it. Some of the areas we passed through were very, very poor. Poorer than any place I've ever seen before.



This simple structure, and many others similar to it, is home for many people in Uganda. Compared to these people, I'm outrageously wealthy. I'm filthy rich. And so are you.




When I see this kind of poverty, my first inclination is to feel pity. The home in the picture above is so primitive. The lives of these people are so much harder than my own. Surely no one desires to live like this.

And yet, I have no idea if these people would want anything to do with my American way of life. Given the option, I don't know that they'd want to live in my multi-room house with running water and air conditioning and closets full of clothes and shoes and a bunch of stuff I don't really need.

After all, along with my American wealth comes a whole bunch of other problems -- materialism, laziness, isolation and, most importantly, an inability to really, truly understand the concept of God's provision.

We call these people "poor" but in so many ways, they are rich. The Africans that I know cherish community and value their time with friends and family in a way I probably never will. For most of them, stuff is not important -- because they don't have stuff. They joyfully work long, hard hours because hard work is simply a way of life.

And daily, they experience and rejoice over the blessings of the Lord's provision -- for food, water, health, safety and even the air they breathe. He's the provider. They get that in a way we just don't.

It's a privilege to minister in such a place and a piece of my heart will always live in Uganda. The people of that country bless me, challenge me, stretch me, inspire me and pretty often, they put my weak faith to shame.

Dan and I often tell visiting mission teams this: Uganda is not so much a place that we go to tell people about Jesus... as much as it's a place where we go to learn about Jesus.

I'm blessed to know and visit this country and, truly, I thank God for the opportunity.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Are You Cut Out For This?

I’m back from Africa and finally back to blogging. I intended to write more during my time in Uganda but most nights I just couldn’t gather my thoughts. I’ve been to Africa before. My husband travels to Uganda several times a year. At any given time, we have close friends over there. I’ve heard the stories in detail, I’ve seen the pictures, I’ve done it before -- and I thought I was prepared for this trip. But I wasn’t.

Honestly, I still cannot believe some of the things I saw with my own eyes. I am literally in awe of the incredible men and women who live in Uganda and serve in this mission field, day in and day out. It’s a rough gig and not everyone is cut out for this kind of challenging, long term mission work.

Remember Kelsey and Kirby? They’re the SixtyFeet interns living and working in Uganda for the next year. Several months ago, I posted a giveaway on my blog to help them raise the last bit of their financial support.

If you are one of the precious donors who helped close the gap for these girls – who donated your money and made it possible for them to serve in Uganda with SixtyFeet, then I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am blown away by these girls and overwhelmed by their contributions to our ministry. This week, I found myself constantly wondering what we ever did without them.

To demonstrate my point, I could share many stories from my time in Uganda. But this is the one that truly stands out…

On Monday of this week our team served at M1, doing the usual stuff. We lead a worship, prayer and teaching time for the children, our nurses conducted a medical clinic, our counselors talked with the children, Colleen, Kelsey, Kirby and I played beach volleyball, colored pictures, read stories and spent lots of time hugging, cuddling, laughing and just being together.


By mid-afternoon we packed up and were heading to the car, just about to leave. When Brenda, one of the older girls from M, fell into a horrible epileptic seizure. She’d fallen on the dirt road just in front of us and a crowd of children had already gathered around her.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Kelsey and Kirby ran to her. They threw themselves into the dirt and amazingly knew just what to do. As Brenda seized wildly, drooled, vomited and bled from the cuts from her fall, our girls maintained great composure. Kelsey turned her head to the side to keep her from choking on her tongue. Kirby lightly rubbed her back and spoke to her gently. I ran for our nurses, still packing up supplies in the clinic.

Once the seizure had passed, Kelsey, Kirby, and some of the M staffers lifted Brenda and carried her into the clinic. By the way, don’t let the word “clinic” fool you. For most Americans, that word conjures images of a large, cheerfully painted, sanitary facility well staffed with doctors and nurses and stocked with supplies and medications. This was not that kind of clinic. It was hardly a place for a child who had just experienced a serious medical emergency. But it was the best we had available.

The team got Brenda inside and just as they laid her on the bed, another seizure began – this one worse than the last. She was grunting and gagging and gasping for air – and that was pretty much all I could take. Colleen tells me I turned white as a sheet and then positively green. I ran outside to throw up and when Colleen found me five minutes later, I was still hyperventilating in the courtyard. I’ve never fainted in my life. I’ve never had a panic attack or anything similar… but apparently this was too much for me.

Kelsey and Kirby handled it all so beautifully and took everything in stride. They stayed by Brenda’s side until she was seen by the doctor and then rushed with a social worker from M1 to pick up some medicine from the village clinic in the next town over.

This took so much extra time that we had to cancel our evening plans for that night – we’d been invited to visit another ministry, which included a boat ride on Lake Victoria. I know that Kelsey and Kirby were very much looking forward to their evening and time of brief respite, but they didn’t hesitate or complain for a second when their plans had to change.

These ladies know that God already has each day planned out for them and they are determined to live and love according to His plans for the day, and not their own. They’re meeting needs as the Lord presents them and no person is too insignificant to love or unworthy of their time and attention. And I cannot help but imagine how very pleased Jesus must be with these humble servants of His.

If you’re one of the donors who helped get Kelsey and Kirby to Uganda, or a regular donor who helps keep them there, SixtyFeet is truly thankful to you.

Both Kelsey and Kirby have recently started their own blogs. Please pop over here and here -- introduce yourself and follow along with them. You’ll be glad you did.
Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Real Poverty


We made it! Colleen and I arrived in Uganda late Tuesday night. It’s so, so good to be back. We were met at the airport by a very special friend who some of you may remember from past posts...
Mama Catherine and me. Way too late Tuesday night.

 
The last time I was in Uganda, it was to complete the adoption of my children, Hannah and Joseph. This time I’m back simply to serve and love the country that has given our family so much.

Yesterday we visited M1. That’s the facility where two of my children spent years of their lives.  And today we visited M2 and M3.

The children in the remand homes are often hungry. They go without running water for weeks at a time. They lack basic healthcare and hygiene, many need school fees and they all need more love and attention.

Today I walked into M3 carrying a $1 pack of pipe cleaners from Target. Judging by the children’s reactions, you would have thought I was walking in with golden tickets to the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. They were so excited about these “toys” I was nearly mobbed and two team members had to come over and help me distribute them. Pipe cleaners, that's it.

I held a 10 year old girl on my lap like a baby. She could’ve cared less that she was too big for that kind of treatment. She wanted desperately to be loved. I held a toddler while he napped and then had to put him down to finish his nap on the concrete floor when it was time to go. I swatted swarms of flies off of babies and picked a bug off the cheek of a boy while he slept. I complimented a young girl, a resident of M3, for taking such excellent care of the small baby in her charge.

These places were hard to visit. And even harder to leave.

The unbelievable circumstances in these places are not the fault of the people who run them. These are kind, loving people who are doing their absolute best with the very limited resources they have available.

This is also the not the fault of God. Uganda is a tiny country enormously blessed with natural resources. It sits at the mouth of the Nile River and borders Lake Victoria, the largest lake in the world. The ground is abundantly fertile with some of the best growing conditions in the world – indeed, a tree in Uganda can become full-grown in only five years.

And yet, the people of this blessed, well-resourced country are dying of hunger, thirst and easily preventable diseases. Many live in conditions we wouldn’t house our pets in.

The plentiful waters of Lake Victoria and the Nile are utterly filthy and non-drinkable unless thoroughly treated. The fertile land of Uganda is too expensive for the vast majority of the very poor populace to own – and because they don’t own it, they’re unable to farm it.

God has done His part. And now it’s up to us to do ours. As a group, Americans are the wealthiest people on the planet. Even poor Americans are very, very rich by the world’s standards. Friends, we need to share our abundance because this stuff I’m seeing over here – this just isn’t right.


God blesses people not so we can indulge ourselves and live in abundance and excess – but so we can be a blessing to others.


While I've walked around these places this week and seen one heartbreaking sight after another, the words of Mother Teresa keep coming to mind... "It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you can live as you wish."


I'm guilty and you probably are too. We all live with far, far more than we need. And yet we still desire more. And that is the real poverty.
Sunday, October 9, 2011

Schmethics

I'm leaving for Africa in less than 24 hours. I taught Davis's Sunday school class this morning. I planned Madeline's birthday party for the week after I get back. We're having car problems. And I'm not even close to packed.

So I'm not blogging tonight. Instead, I called in reinforcements from one of my favorite bloggers who also happens to be a fellow Uganda Momma.

I asked Esty to write on the Crazy Blog and gave her free reign to write about anything she'd like. And oddly enough, she sent me a blog post on a subject that's been very heavy on my own heart lately. One that I've been wanting to write about anyways.

Adoption and Adoption Ethics.

Sounds innocent enough. Maybe even a little boring. But the deeper I delve into the world of international adoption and the more people I meet, I'm learning that this is a seriously volatile subject. One that almost everyone has a (strong) opinion on.

Recently, an American family adopting from Uganda came under close scrutiny and much attack related to adoption ethics issues. This post is not written about or in defense of that family. I don't personally know them or the details of their situation. I don't read the mom's blog. We're not even Facebook friends (as if that would give me any authority). But, I admit, their situation really got me thinking on this topic.

Oh wait... I forgot I said I'm not blogging tonight. So I'll shut-up now. Take it away Esty girl...



Schmethics...

Adoption ethics are about as exiciting a topic
as colonoscopies.

Also, about as desirable.

We're talking about a legal issue with international ramifications...

which gets to be extremely subjective.

This is especially true when it comes to international adoption

since domestic adoption is often a dialogue of preference between two families

whereas in international cases there are more voices involved

shouting around, between, over and around the process including:

birth family

adoptive parents

agency

attorneys

mediators

judges

2 country's worth of law

US immigration

and every Tom, Dick and Harry who is watching.


This would include, but not be limited to:
other prospective adoptive parents

past adoptive parents

ethics experts

nationals

neighbors

extended family

blog readers and commenters

and

random fellow shoppers in Walmart.


It's tricky. Sticky. And complex.

For example:

Biological parents mentally and verbally CLAIM their child from the moment they connect with him in utero.
Adoptive parents, however do this at any number of different points in the process:

Some say God ordained this adoption before creation, so some parents CLAIM the child immediately upon news of him.

Some say only a sealed court ruling denotes status, so some parents CLAIM the child only after he is legally theirs.

Some say adoption is rescue and only CLAIM connection long after the adoption is final and the family and child are bonded.

It's complex.

Want proof?
Ask the question "When is it YOUR child" on an adoptive parent forum.
Watch the hundreds of answers pour in.

I can almost guarantee the answers will begin in this way:

"I believe..."
or
"I have read..."
or
"In my case..."

See? Subjective.


There's the complicating fact that in domestic adoption, the trend is towards
"open adoption"
meaning that the birth family remains in communication with the adoptive family for
an agreeable length of time, maybe for always.

In international circles however, this is a touchy ethical debate since a birth family's existence may mean the child should not be available for adoption
at all.
Subjective.

There's debate over whether the adoptive family should
name a child
blog about a child
share pictures of a child
and
tell the child's history.

Debate over whether saying things like
"rescue"
"the least of these"
"feed 1"
and
the actual number of worldwide orphans
is accurate or a part of a damaging "Savior-mentality".

Above all, there's the ridiculously confounding element of debate
which comes in when we realize that
even though many Christians consider adoption an absolutely spiritual and personal calling...
many simply want a child
or are being humanitarian
or love adoption but are not Christians.
So, everyone debating?
Not going to agree on much, right off the bat.

And even the Christians who ARE debating one another?
I have seriously seen some of the most indignant, angry blog posts about ethics typed by Christ-followers: those who would emulate Jesus.

Jesus...you know...the One who was about Love? That Jesus.

The One who went through Samaria on purpose because He knew she needed Him.

The One who felt the hem of His garment touched by one woman with crowds pressing all around.

The One who saw Zaccheus in the tree.

The One who refused to cast stones but wrote in the dirt.

The One who opened His Mighty-Creator arms and held them there while He died.

Understanding ethics...debating ethics...trying to convince someone of ethics...
it's like debating Calvinism vs. Armenianism.
Difficult.

It's not a place for anger.
It's not a place for indignation.
It's a place for opening our hands...and leaving them open.
Ethics is a place for
Love.
Education.
Transparancy.
Grace.

Ethics are important.

Laws are objective, as are basic rules of human kindness -

please don't think that I am campaigning for an Adoption Free-For-All.

But if the point of obeying the call to adopt...

the point of adding to a family...

is

LOVE

than this applies to All Persons Involved

...even one another.

Love.


Love other adoptive parents.

Love the law which sets us free.

Love one another.

Love Him who is the Way, Truth, and Life.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What Does God Think About Race?

Whether you have the time or not, I'd urge you to find an extra 19 minutes in your evening to watch this short film, Bloodlines, by John Piper. It is incredible.

This is for anyone who has concerns or fears about interracial marriage or adoption. It's for anyone who wonders what God thinks about the divisive issue of race.

The story Piper tells below hit me hard. In all honesty, it could have been written about me. It is my story in so many ways.

This is the gospel and it's truth. Take the time to watch it tonight:



Sunday, October 2, 2011

Thought for the Week


Several years ago, John Piper asked this question:

If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?”

Or, as Francis Chan puts it more simply, "are we in love with God, or just His stuff?"

Are these questions as convicting to you as they were to me?

Just my thought to start the week...