A Journal of My First Short-Term Mission Trip

This journal is published in its entirety in pdf over here – these reflections come from my first mission trip to Dominican Republic in April 2011 – 4 years ago. We spent 7 days working in a medical clinic and visiting a couple of villages. I’m reposting the words without the pictures today, just remembering, just trying to put it all together. I’ll highlight more recent trips in upcoming blog posts.

Day 1—Introduction to the Medical Clinic

We arrived late the night before. Our Tuesday flight came in about 8:30pm, we checked in to the hotel about 9:30, and we met with our host and his adopted son. We chatted about the week, about what to expect, and about our options for outreach and work projects. Then we called it a night. It had been a long day of travelling and switching gears. Wednesday was our first day with ―boots on the ground.

Our host picked us up with an open-air truck, we piled onto the benches in the back and settled in for the half-hour drive to the medical clinic. Driving in Dominican is shocking to polite North American standards! Speeds, passing restrictions and most of our rules literally fly out the window on the roads of Dominican! We pulled up to the rented villa that serves as the clinic. Our host gets a super-discounted rate for this place that many children call home, some call hospital, some call work, and some call ministry post. It’s a beautiful refuge for orphans, sick children, and moms of sick children.

Bags and bags of donated medicines were piled on a big table and the sorting began. Smiles from our host, the doctor and the nurses as we handed them equipment, prescriptions, and supplies to make diagnoses and treatment much easier for this sanctuary in the Dominican. Children at the clinic played with members of our team in the sandbox, on the veranda, and in the hospital. Some of the women from our team jumped right in with holding babies to relieve tired moms, feeding children to relieve busy nurses, and rocking tired children to relieve the sanity of the staff! Other members of the team planned work projects or sorted medicines. Camaraderie began instantly. After a long, hot, wonderful day at the clinic, we returned to the hotel for a late dinner and some rest.

Day 2—Love Comes in Many Shapes and Sizes

After our daily breakfast and devotions with Pastor Josh we climbed back into the open-air truck and headed to the clinic. There were so many new sights to see on the drive out of town. The clinic offered our team many different options for caring for little ones who rely on its resources. Whether it was pouring energy into playing, rocking or building, our team put all they had into each task before them.

One of the first things we were taught about the children at the clinic was their health status. If the children wore a green anklet they were clear for HIV & Hepatitis. If the children wore a red anklet they tested positive for HIV or Hepatitis. If a child with a red anklet needed medical attention, we were to grab a nurse. Other than that, we could love them and play with them all we wanted! And we did!

Some of the building projects we worked on were:

  • Safety gate for the veranda so no more escapees!
  • Bus shelter for patients waiting to enter the clinic.
  • Reception/pharmacy desk for the clinic.
  • 24 bunk beds made safe for nurses and children.

The safety gate was almost finished today. We worked hard on this project and painted the large gate white when the building was done. After a long day in the heat, we headed back to the hotel for a quick swim, a late dinner and some rest.

Day 3—Feeding Program & Mobile Clinic at Ascension

On Friday we travelled to Ascension. On Friday our eyes were opened in so many ways. The face of poverty, oppression and desperation was seen on the young and the old. We also saw much hope and love for a people who must usually feel so forgotten and alone.

The truck that had been our ride for two days was gone and rented vehicles took their place. Most of us were glad for the change, though the truck was fun for the time we had it!

Our caravan drove through back streets and unfamiliar territory to a small shanty town near Ascension. Our host and the doctor were with us and they led us through the dirt streets. Crowds gathered as we pulled up. People were treated for illness right out of the back of the vehicle. A major goal is to equip a mobile medical clinic that can be brought into these small towns. Children grabbed our hands as soon as our feet touched the ground outside the vehicles. They smiled at us, pulled us through the streets, and asked us to come see their homes.

One young girl sang to a lady on our team— an English chorus she learned in school. The lucky ones attend school. The ones with parents who register them and care enough to make sure they go every day. The ones who receive sponsorship from people like our host. They taught me that hospitality is not a spotless house or the finest décor, but rather the attitude with which we welcome others into our homes. They taught me to welcome in strangers as well as friends and family, and treat everyone with love and respect. (Hebrews 13:2 & Matthew 25:35)

We show them pictures of our own children back home— they seem a million miles away right now. I thank God for their health and safety and wonder how these children can experience that as well? I have no answers on this street in the middle of the Dominican.

We look across the road and notice the vast fields of sugar cane—some overrun with garbage and horses. Why all the sugar cane? Companies came to plant, hired many workers, and these shanty towns grew. Then the companies realized cheaper methods for producing sugar—in other places, using other workers. And the people remain, lost and forgotten, along with the cane that once was their livelihood.

We say goodbye to the children, climb back into the vehicles and make our way down the bumpy, bumpy road to Ascension. A sense of dread and destiny awaits. There is a reason we’re here, though we may not realize it for some time.

As I write about Ascension, I need to focus on the hope I saw instead of the hopelessness. Make no mistake, the people of this tiny town are in dire straits. The whole place is unsustainable on its own. They rely on the generosity of others for their survival. Let me give you a glimpse of some of that generosity. Our host and the doctor from the medical clinic visit this town regularly and offer help to the people. Line-ups are always long. Wonderful people come in to offer a feeding program three times a week. Those who are under 12 and over 50 are fed on a regular basis. There is not enough resources available to feed everyone regularly, so they focus on the most needy in town. It is not a perfect system, but many more are surviving because of their efforts.

Clothing, diapers and shoes are donated and provided to the people of Ascension. We brought bags and bags from the generous people of our home town. Teams have come into Ascension in the past and built a church, a library/community centre, a fairtrade store, cement houses and stores, a school, a playground, and a workshop.

Fresh fruit and vegetables sit in a store window— proof that there is access to food for the people. Now how do they pay for the food? Ascension has a laundry facility for its citizens. Clothes hang to dry from fences, rooftops, and trees. The people make the most of the resources available to them. There is hope for sustainability—farming is possible in the fields surrounding Ascension and livestock is available.

Most of the people are friendly and full of smiles. They taught me that contentment is possible in any situation and happiness comes from within. (Philippians 4:11-12) They live out the gospel for me as I try to live it out for them.

Now I’ll give you a glimpse of the realities—just to provide awareness, not promote hopelessness. Many of the children try to sell us items or ask for pesos. Some tell us they are hungry, or fake a cough and tell us they are sick. They have been trained very well and know the tricks.

One boy grabs my hand and grabs my friend’s hand and pulls us toward the clinic. He is not wearing any clothes, neither were his brothers at the house. I wonder why they are naked when so many clothes are available. We arrive at the clinic and he lets go of our hands. Later we take him and his two brothers to the medical clinic we are working on this week, along with a young woman who is very pregnant with twins. They want to perform a c-section so there is less chance of her passing along HIV to her unborn twins.

We learn the boys came with us because their mother has left. She took money given to her for a doctor and left. She has many clothes for the boys but chooses not to clothe them. The boy knew exactly what he was doing when he took our hands and pulled us to the clinic. Even at 9 years old he knows where to go for help and how to get there.

The abundant sugar cane is a problem— diabetes is rampant among the people who often don’t have anything else to eat. We saw many children chewing on cane. Roots run deep for sugar cane and it’s hard to get out of the ground once it’s planted. This produces a stumbling block to farming other crops in the land surrounding Ascension.

It’s hard to wrap this day up. I think the whole team will be wrapping it up for the rest of their lives, each in their own different ways. Days like Friday change your world. They change your life. They change everything. Maybe not right away, but they spill over into every nook and cranny, and rightly so. Would we want it any other way? Would we wish the experience of Friday away? No, I’m sure none of us would. Even though we are left with more questions than answers. Even though we are left looking on it in our mind’s eye– replaying the scenes over and over.

It reminds me of Easter. There was a Good Friday before there was an Easter Sunday. There was a death before there was new life. Maybe we felt a death of some of our innocence that Friday. There are many things that could take its place. I pray we all opt for hope, faith, and action in whatever form we can take action. Whether it’s in our families, our neighbourhoods, our work places, whether it’s in our home towns or on the other side of the world. I pray we let the death of innocence that Friday lead us on to Sunday. Sunday’s coming. New life, new hope—Sunday. May the whole world feel it!

Day 4—Work in the Morning, Play in the Afternoon

We head over to the medical clinic right after breakfast and get to work for a few hours. We push lunch back a bit and work through until about 2:30. The bus shelter is taking shape, we have about 6 more bunk beds to finish, the safety gate is complete and the reception/ pharmacy desk is coming together beautifully. The team has pulled together in amazing ways these past 4 days in spite of the heat and humidity. We didn’t let the frustrations of illness or sharing construction tools and materials stand in the way of getting the jobs done. All of us tried our hand at a new skill or two. We learned so much so far and we still have 3 days to go!

One of the orphans who lives at the clinic is blind and deaf and howled with laughter when someone was working with the saw close to him. He could feel the vibrations of the machine and he loved it!

Time for a much-needed rest and some down-time at the hotel this afternoon. Some members of our team enjoyed their first time in the ocean. The waves crashed over them as the tide brought the pounding water to shore. They were not afraid in the least—they were thrilled to enjoy the fun of the ocean waves! Their laughter was heard all the way down the beach. Others sauntered through the Dominican streets and bought souvenirs for loved ones from the local vendors.

Day 5—Reverend Josh Preaches & Visiting Puerto Plata

We walked to church on Sunday morning. There are a few North Americans who formed a group that meets every Sunday at a local resort. The resort allows them to use a space overlooking the ocean for a weekly outdoor service. What an amazing experience to have church outside, looking out over the blue of the Caribbean ocean! Many of the people who attend the church are also helping in the Dominican.

Josh was invited to preach that morning and he didn’t mind filling pulpit at all, especially in such a beautiful place! Our team also led some worship. After church one of our team members was baptized in the hotel pool. It was an honour to be present for that event.

Sunday afternoon provided some time for the team to experience a couple of the local attractions. We opted for a stroll on the boardwalk in Puerto Plata. The scenery was breathtaking and we enjoyed watching the sights of the ocean as we walked and talked. We stopped at an historic fort and leisurely took part in a tour. We learned much about the history of the Dominican from the tour of the fort, and got a glimpse of yesteryear on the island. Sunday night we visited one of the restaurants at the hotel and enjoyed the company of those on our team.

Day 6—Back to Work!

This was our last full day at the medical clinic. There was much work to finish, much cleaning to do, and many children to hold and play with! Our team worked hard and had many creative ideas to get the bus shelter up and functional. Work on the bunk beds was really a team effort and everyone pitched in with these in some way. A couple of the clinic staff (and children) were happy to work with us on the projects and learned some valuable skills along the way.

A walk-in clinic was offered almost every morning during the week we were there. After a time of rain, the clinic is usually much more busy. People suffer from cholera from the drinking water. There are also many upper respiratory tract infections from the damp and mould during this time of year.

After a full day’s work at the clinic, we enjoyed a quick swim and an earlier dinner at the hotel. After dinner we gathered at the beach for our regular evening devotions. Sometimes we would sing, and sometimes we would chat about God and the work we were doing in the Dominican. It was wonderful to hear the waves behind us as we connected about our days as a group. There was a certain security guard who had to monitor the beaches at night, and he was witness to each of our nightly devotion times.

On Monday night we changed things up a bit and had a time of encouragement and communion among the group. We took turns telling each other encouraging words from what we’d seen that week in each person. Then we ended our time with communion. The security guard actually sat right in on our group that night. Even though he refused the communion, we did get to share with him who we were and what we were doing every night on the ocean beach. He was interested in what we had to say, and it was a wonderful way to share the gospel with someone at the hotel. The rest of the evening was relaxing and some of us even took in an hour of karaoke! Some of our team members had no problem getting up on stage and giving the crowd a serenade.

Day 7—Finish Up and Fly Home

We knew this day would come. Time to say goodbye to the clinic and Dominican Republic. Time to rejoin our lives back home. We worked at the clinic for the morning and finished up the last of the work projects. Our team finished up the reception/ pharmacy counter and painted it white. The bus shelter got a tin roof and concrete footings. The bunk beds were completed and ladders installed for extra safety. Clean up didn’t take very long, and then it was time to adios. There were a few tears from our team and from the Dominican team as we said our goodbyes and loaded into the vehicles one more time.

We spent the rest of the day packing up our things, enjoying one more dip in the ocean and doing some last-minute souvenir shopping for the folks back home. A special decision was made by a member of our team – he wanted to get baptized in the ocean on our last day in the Dominican. Josh was happy to oblige and we all witnessed this memorable event.

At 7 pm we piled into the bus that took us to the airport and boarded a plane that took us back to Canada. After a few glitches with getting our vehicles, we started the long drive home at about 2am. Not the greatest idea, but hindsight is 20/20!

We meandered our way north and caught the mist and the pinks of the sunrise on the way home. We pulled into the church parking lot just after 7 am and said our groggy goodbyes before heading home.

Forever bonded and forever changed by our Dominican Republic missions trip, so ends the adventure of 2011.

Faith in the Family – Memorizing Scripture

faith family

I never really made scripture memorization a part of my life, even though I’ve been in church attendance for the better part of my 41 years. I was one of those babies who was born on a Wednesday and in church on Sunday. I couldn’t even begin to count how many times I’ve been told about the importance of memorizing Bible verses.  My response usually includes my eyes glossing over and my mind wandering.

Why?

I’ve memorized so much information in my lifetime – studying for school exams, remembering patient’s names at my chiropractic reception job, my first phone number and almost all the addresses I’ve ever called home are tucked away in the recesses of my mind. Why not scripture?

The only answer I have is that I’m not very good at following through with things just because someone tells me to do them. Usually there has to be a reason for me, I have to understand why and make it real.

I already know of a couple of fantastic reasons for memorizing scripture. I know it is “a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105) and that it helps “that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11). This means I can gain guidance and purity – that is great news! I also realize I inadvertently have many verses tucked away in my head just from years of church attendance, personal devotions, small groups, Bible studies, and growing up in Sunday school.

Then as I researched more Bible verses with “word” in them I came across so many reasons to memorize scripture and hide it in my heart and the young hearts of my boys. There is one major reason that sums it all up in such a simple and fascinating way, and it is revealed in the scripture I hope to start memorizing.

John 1:1 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And then Revelation 19:13 says “And He [was] clothed in a vesture dipped in blood: and His name is called the Word of God.”

You see, Jesus is the living and active (Hebrews 4:12) Word of God. He is the Bible made into human form. It’s pure magic.

The more we know scripture, the more we know Jesus.

Memorizing Bible verses and hiding them in our hearts means having more of Jesus in our lives. And that gives me more than enough reason to memorize God’s words to grow in my own faith, and help my sons to grow in theirs.

Family Prayer

Lord, thank You for Your Word. Help us to hide it in our hearts so that we may know You more. May we constantly find ways to memorize the words in Your book, have fun with the memorizing, and discover the power that Your Word can have in our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Idea for the Parents: A quick Google search of “encouraging” or “simple” Bible verses will reveal many ideas you can write down or print out to memorize. If you attend church there may be a verse highlighted in the Sunday bulletin. There are even apps that send you a Bible verse every day. Start with one verse every month or every week. Use the verse as a bookmark, tape it to your bathroom mirror or fridge, sticky note it to your computer desktop – anywhere you might glance at it a few times a day.

Preschool Idea:

There are some really cute board books and songs out there for little ones to learn the Bible. Your preschooler can memorize Bible verses even at such a young age if you work at it with them.

Elementary-Age Idea:

Pick out your verses and write them on your bathroom mirror with erasable marker. Recite them together and quiz each other before or after your daily hygiene routine!

Teen Idea:

Ask your teen to be your accountability partner in this endeavour – I bet they’d love that! And how about a celebration of memorization milestones for sticking with it for a week, a month or a year?

Simple Life – A Personal Plan for This Year

simple life

I love to make plans, lists, map out details, organize, administrate, put the pieces into place, see how things work together, catch a glimpse of the path ahead. Rarely do these lists and details go according to plan, rarely does everything fall into place exactly how I imagine. That’s the fun part, I suppose, if I choose to look at it that way. If I let go of trying to control. If I stop trying to be God and let God do His thing as only He can. Not easy sometimes, especially when I think my plans are just fantastic.

It’s not the plans that block the path ahead, it’s trying to control the way the path will meander as I walk through this life.

The vision for the journey doesn’t change, it’s the details of how it all works out that might just look a little different by the time we get to the end of the path we’re on.

So… we’ll see what happens this year as I journey toward Simple.

And… I do have a plan.

Of course.

I have a plan for blog posts I’d love to write this year, and I have a plan for my personal journey this year.

I have some deadlines for sorting things out in my personal life, and some goals for the months ahead of me. The plan includes physical, emotional, and spiritual goals.

Here it goes…

When? What? How?
April 6, 2015 Introduction
April 20, 2015 More Water 1 before breakfast, 1 smoothie, 1 mid-morning, 1 at lunch, 1 mid-afternoon, 1 at dinner, 1 herbal tea before bed, eat foods with water in them (eg salad, fruit)
May 4, 2015 More Whole Grains oatmeal at breakfast, rice/quinoa at lunch, piece of bread at dinner
May 18, 2015 More Lean Protein avocado in smoothie, oatmeal at breakfast, beans or hummus at lunch, fist-sized lean beef/chicken/pork at dinner or piece of fish
June 1, 2015 More Fruit & Veg smoothie at breakfast, mushrooms or raw veg at lunch, veg or salad at dinner, afternoon or after-dinner snack is fruit
June 15, 2015 More Exercise 1/2 hour per day – walking, biking
July 6, 2015 More Sleep Unwind for 1 hour with tea before bed, 7-8 hours of sleep
July 27, 2015 More Relaxation Read, weave, sew, garden, build – something every day
September 7, 2015 More Purpose Visions for all areas of life – write it out and keep decluttering
September 21, 2015 More Time Rest every day for 1 hour & small breaks, 1 day/week is Sabbath
October 12, 2015 More Faith Daily devos, kids
October 26, 2015 More Giving % of income? $10/month club?
November 9, 2015 More Serving once/week help out somewhere/someone
November 23, 2015 Conclusions

This is very rough sketch, but it gives me something to strive toward over the next few months, and that is something I seem to need to get me moving on any journey in life.

I’m starting very simple, very basic – drink more water. Water is life-giving stuff. The body that carries me around every day on this journey is made mostly of water. The world we journey on is covered mostly by water. Some is for drinking, and some is not. Some kinds of water I should leave alone, there is no life in them for me, they are not the fresh-water sort.

Water that is mixed with salt or sugar or caffeine have proven to be detrimental to me.  Too much salt just dries me up, too much sugar just fills me up (in the wrong places!), and too much caffeine just keeps me up.

I’m on the look out for natural water flavourings this week, both the cold and hot varieties, and I’ll share my findings with you next time we meet on this journey to a Simple Life.

It’s like when you’re on a plane and the flight attendant tells you to put your oxygen mask on first before attempting to help anyone else. It’s like how Jesus would sometimes wander off to be alone for a while, to fill up in the Father’s presence before heading back to the disciples and the crowds. Caring for the physical and the spiritual are crucial if we are to have anything to give to others.

I’m starting with the physical life-giving stuff of water. But I’m also making sure to start with the spiritual Water of Life as well. Spending time with God, talking with Him about it all, asking Him for guidance and direction, trusting Him to keep the vision intact and change the plans however He sees fit for the journey.

Can’t wait to keep sharing with you in the coming months!

Faith in the Family – The Shema?

faith family

My Faith in the Family journey started many years ago. I would read Bible stories to my sons – mostly at bedtime, I would pray with them – mostly at mealtimes, and I would teach them about God – mostly when they asked me questions.

Things changed in 2008. My oldest son was now 6 and we had covered all the Bible stories, watched all the Veggie Tales videos, attended church regularly, and were plugged into a wonderful christian community. We were doing our best to do everything “right”. Then I came across the Shema – the words of scripture found in Deuteronomy 6:5-9.

Verse 5 says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” I knew almost instantly that I’d just been going through the “faith” motions with my sons. Did I really love the Lord with all my heart, soul and strength? And how was I living that out in front of my children? My Faith in the Family journey suddenly took a sharp turn.

I’m sure there are a few more sharp turns coming as I continue to answer the same question over and over in all areas of my life: What does it look like to love God with all my heart, soul and strength? What does it look like in my marriage, my parenting, my health, my finances, and my community?

The next few verses – Deuteronomy 6:6-9 create an image of families growing in faith together – reading and memorizing the Bible, teaching children about God, talking about faith anytime and anywhere, and living out that faith in our families and in our world. I’m sure prayer was a big part of this image.

I WANT this for my own family – doing all these wonderful things together. When I look back at the years spent raising my children, I want my fondest memories to include learning from the Bible and living for Christ.

It all starts with a bit of a tough question for you – I’ve had to honestly answer this question in my own life many times through the years of raising my children. Here goes…

How’s your faith doing?

The hard truth is that our children learn from our example. Don’t let that discourage you, instead let it encourage you to grow in your faith. This verse says we are to love God with ALL we are – that’s huge! Loving someone that intensely requires that you really know them. How can you get to know God?

  • By reading His Word – even one verse a day is better than nothing! Just watch how God blesses your efforts and how the Bible proves itself to be the “living and active” Word of God (Hebrews 4:12).
  • By spending time with Him – pray, listen, open up the lines of communication. He’s there just waiting to meet with you, and you can talk to Him about ANYTHING!
  • By getting to know His people – pray that God will direct you to the friends He has waiting just for you.

If you haven’t already started to set a solid foundation for your own faith, now is a great time to start. My hope is to encourage you and your family in living out faith in your family and in your world.

Over the next little while this Faith in the Family blog series will focus on the Shema and how to live that out through family devotions, scripture memorization and prayer in the family.

For now, shall we pray together before embarking on this journey together? This prayer comes from a friend of mine who is on her own Faith in the Family journey…

Praying the Shema for Your Family: Based on Deuteronomy 6:5-9

Let these commandments be on the hearts of our family. Impress them on our children. May we talk about them when we sit at home and when we walk along the road, when we sit at home and when we are out in the world. Teach us to tie them as symbols on our hands and bind them on our foreheads. Help us to write them on the doorframes of our houses and on our gates. Fill us with a desire to grow spiritually and impress Your word into the lives of our children. I give our family to You believe that Your plans are far beyond what I could ever hope for. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

And I have a few ideas to share with you along the way – practical ways to get started on Faith in the Family (if you haven’t started already or just need some help to get the ball rolling).

Preschool Ideas:

  1. Ask your child(ren) to draw a picture of your family. Share with them how Jesus is a part of your family, and that He loves everyone in your family. Then add Him to the drawing.
  2. Let your little one(s) make hearts to give to each family member and also make one for God. As you pass out the hearts, tell your family you love them and you love God!

Elementary-Age Ideas:

  1. Check in with your children about their faith. Ask them what they know about Jesus and if they have any questions about God or the Bible.
  2. Read through the Shema with your child(ren). Ask them for ideas about being a family of faith and what it means to them. Try out a couple of their ideas!

Teen Ideas:

  1. Prepare yourself to have an open discussion with your teen! Let them know you want to be a good role model for them in faith matters. Ask them how you’re doing so far and appreciate their honesty!
  2. Is your teen plugged into a good youth group? Get a feel for what they’re doing and learning in the group. How can you can get involved? Would your teen be open to this? Youth group is fun for both young and old!

Fuelling The Simple Life

simple life

A few months ago I looked through all my food storage cupboards and freezers with a fresh perspective. No longer was it about the quickest, easiest, and cheapest ways to feed my family of four. It wasn’t about stocking the house full of the best deals from the grocery stores (on sale, with coupons, and sometimes even for free!). Neither was it about complete deprivation of foods we love, or scaling back to the extreme regarding all things sweet and fatty. I was learning to look at food and drink much differently than I had in the past.

Food is neither my friend nor my enemy. Sometimes it is simply fuel for the machine, and sometimes it serves to bring family together. There can be feasts and there can be fasts. Guilt and food don’t mix together well, and it’s best to keep temptation out of the house. Obsessing over calories gets me nowhere, and that goes for constantly thinking about food as well. It can easily become an idol in my life, and I’d like to put it back in its place.

I’ve made it simple. Through the years I’ve developed menu plans that seem to work (all the while allowing for “life” to happen), and recently I’ve compiled a monthly grocery list of staple items for our household. Matching up the items with typical lowest prices allows me to keep the grocery budget intact. This area of our family’s life can run on “autopilot” pretty well these days.

It’s been a long process, let me tell you. Sifting through emotional eating issues, and the constant onslaught of healthy food media, and the recommendations for counting fat and calories and sugar and salt and carbs… the list goes on and on. So much to sort through, so I simply listened for the tried and true, the basics that have always been there, those quiet voices that speak of an easy, healthy, fun way of looking at food.

Back to basics – in so many ways. That describes our family’s eating journey the last few months. We still enjoy our treats, but not as often, and we are a work in progress. The guilt is easing up, and we see encouraging views of long, healthy life on the horizon. Enjoying time around the table, nourishing our bodies and our souls, laughter shared over a good meal – sometimes just the four of us, sometimes with friends and family. It’s coming, slowly but surely.

What have we changed since the start of the journey to simple health? It started with that fresh perspective as I looked into the food cupboards and freezers.

  • The not-so-healthy items were separated out, and we quickly ate through those, knowing they would most likely never make it back into the house again.
  • We started separating processed from natural – anything in a container with added preservatives, anything made on a factory line, anything that wasn’t really “food” (no nutrients).
  • Which foods were in their natural state? Fruits, vegetables, grains, meats – even if they were frozen, as long as there wasn’t a long list of chemical preservatives involved we were happy.
  • What about baking ingredients? Could some of these be healthier than others? We learned about healthier sweeteners like maple syrup and honey, applesauce instead of oil, oatmeal instead of more flour, healthier fat instead of less fat, and putting more focus on fruit-based desserts. We still love our treats in our family!

That’s where we’re at right now – with most likely a long way to go. But what we’ve discovered so far has been encouraging. There is more confidence as we learn more about what our family needs for a healthy life. And knowing it’s affordable has made all the difference in moving forward. What are our next steps?

  • Buying only what is needed for the menu and not picking up extras.
  • Continuing to search for affordable local-grown food, moving ahead with weekly Food Boxes from the local farmers.
  • Trying to grow some of our own vegetables.
  • Finding a plan that works, then simply working the plan.
  • Focus on other things that bring health and life to our family, and getting food off the pedestal.

I’ll be sharing much more in the coming weeks about our current plan for healthy eating in our family. As I’ve been mapping it out the last few months, I have been encouraged by how much good food we are already putting into our bodies, how much beneficial fuel we’re already adding to our lives.

We try and spend less than $450 per month for food, and eating out is also not included. We may grab burgers (the healthiest we can find – either A&W or Wendy’s) a couple of nights of the month that are busy, but we’ve cut way back on getting fries and pop to go with them. We’re making progress, and it feels real good.

And I’ll share my own journey to simple health over the coming months as I challenge you to embark on your own journey. We’re in this together people!

I encourage you to follow along through the milestones to a simple life – starting with simple health – fuelling the journey.

What sort of simple steps have you taken in your own life when it comes to food?

Last-Minute Easter Basket Idea – Give $10 to Those Jesus Asked Us to Help

On this Easter Sunday, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and new life for all, I wanted to share a new kind of idea for filling the Easter basket. I have a few things picked out for my boys to give them this morning, but I’d also like to add something a little different.

During the three years of Jesus’ life when he did the majority of his travelling and teaching around the Holy Land, he spoke many times about helping others. Research tells us there were about 15 specific people groups that He asked us to reach out to in love.

The Hungry, the Thirsty, the Strangers

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in  - Matthew 25:35

Those without clothes, the Sick, the Prisoners

I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.  - Matthew 25:36

Orphans and Widows

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  - James 1:27

The Lost

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. – Luke 19:10

The Poor, the Blind, the Oppressed

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free  – Luke 4:18

The Crippled, the Lame

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind – Luke 14:13

The Lepers, the Deaf

The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. – Matthew 11:5

The Poor, the Oppressed, and the Lost fit into all the other people groups, so I decided to focus mainly on 12 groups. I’ll be sharing more about ways to help those groups in the months to come.

For now, how about some ideas for helping today? How about giving the kids a choice as to which idea to fulfill?

12 Meaningful Easter Basket Ideas for $10 or Less Each

1. Thirsty Clean Water for Families in Rwanda

2. HungryFood for Children in Ontario

3. SickWorld Wish Day is April 29, and there is an Outreach Office in Northern Ontario

christian blind mission | together we can do more | Breaking the cycle of poverty and disability

4. Blind – Sight-Saving Antibiotics for 10 Children

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5. Lepers – Help Transform Lives

Sole Hope

6. Those Without ClothesHand-Made Shoes for Children or Sole Hope Amazon Wish List

7. StrangersDonate to Syrian Refugees

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8. Crippled/Lame – Help Persons with Walking Disabilities – Under the “Designate your gift” drop down menu – Select “Care for Chidren and Adults with Disabilities”

9. PrisonersHelp Reach Out to Prisoners Across Canada

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10. DeafUnder the “Program Designation” drop down menu – Select “Deaf Ministry”

SOS Children's Villages Canada

11. OrphansHelp Provide a Loving Home for Every Child

Advice for Families, Friends, & Churches

12. WidowsCare Package Ideas or Invite to Easter Dinner!

HAVE A BLESSED AND HAPPY EASTER – HE IS RISEN!

Neighbourhood Easter Egg Treasure Hunt – $30 and 5 Easy Steps

 

 

 

Have you ever thought about hosting a neighbourhood Easter Egg Treasure Hunt?

The task can seem a bit overwhelming – maybe you’re not sure where to start?

I’m here to let you know it can be done in a few easy steps – with minimal effort and expense. This is especially true if you pick up some of the items needed on clearance the year before!

Let’s get to it – planning a Neighbourhood Easter Egg Treasure Hunt! This won’t be like a typical hunt where eggs are simply strewn about and children randomly pick them up. This hunt will involve clues that lead children around your neighbourhood to a few specific spots, finding eggs and further clues along the way.

1. Send Out Invites to Families

Google Easter Egg Hunt Invitations Free and see the MANY options available for printing and distributing to your neighbours. Make sure to include the date, time, location, and RSVP information. Invite the whole family, so that little ones can hunt with their parents if needed. Or invite adults to share some tea, coffee, and good conversation while they are waiting for the children to complete the Egg Hunt.

The hunt could take place on Easter weekend, or during the week leading up to Easter. Usually family celebrations happen on Easter Sunday or Monday, so Saturdays are great days for families to participate in an egg hunt for an hour or two.

2. Gather Supplies

If you know your neighbours well, you can plan the hunt together, and share in gathering the necessary supplies. If not, the initial expense and effort will be minimal for you, and then you will be equipped to host the event annually if you choose. Here’s what you will need:

Plastic eggs

easter eggsPick up one colour for each child participating (or you will have to mark the eggs in different ways if you have more children than egg colours! Use stickers, write names with a Sharpie, or have a colour for each family instead of each child.). The dollar store will have a wide selection of plastic eggs, the thrift store may have some available, or you can pick them up even cheaper on clearance at any store after Easter (if you are planning ahead!).

*We found packages of 8 different plastic egg colours at Dollarama for $2 each, we needed 6 packages for our 6 clues = $12 for eggs.*

Baskets or Bags

easter basketPick up one basket or bag for each child participating. Make sure the basket is large enough to hold the amount and size of plastic eggs you will be hiding for each child. You can find baskets lying around your house, at the dollar store, or the thrift store. Again, you can pick them up very cheap on clearance after Easter.

*We found packages of 2 green gift bags at Dollarama for $1 each, we needed 8 bags for the 8 kids we are inviting = $4 for hunt bags.*

3. Purchase Items for the Easter Egg Treasure Hunt

easter chocolate eggs easter jelly beansYou can find a great selection of inexpensive candy or small Easter items at the stores. Pick up items that are individually wrapped for safety and hygiene reasons. Ideas for candy include packages with multiples (to keep costs down) – lollipops, candy powder in plastic shapes, fruit-filled hard candies, Jolly Rancher candies, small chewy taffy candies,and cream eggs or mini eggs. Try to have a variety of 5 or 6 different items. Each child will not need an abundance of candy since much of the fun of this hunt comes in having to look for the items around the neighbourhood. Be sure to pick up small packages of Smarties to go with a special Easter message for your last clue of the hunt!                                                  Smarties poem *We found most of our candy at the dollar store, and were able to pick it up for less than $10. We splurged on some mini wrapped cream eggs at Walmart that cost $3.50.*

4. Write the Clues

Choose a few familiar spots the children visit often around the neighbourhood. You could ask other families if you could use their yards or porches for a designated hunt spot, or draw maps for the children to follow. We have a tiny forest space, a tobogganing hill, a newpaper box, and an outdoor toy box on our front yard that all the neighbourhood kids use – familiar locations like that. Then, you could either send the kids out to look for eggs at locations marked on a neighbourhood map, or you could leave clues at each spot for them to find the next location. At the final location, be sure to include a special Easter message in the plastic egg with the candy. Or consider handing out something special as the children are arriving or leaving.

*We have 6 sites scoped out around the neighbourhood, and Josh loves to write up clues, so we’ll go that route. We’ll start the kids off with an initial clue that will lead them to the first location. There they will find one of their designated eggs (they’ll each be given a specific colour egg to search for). Their egg will contain a candy and a clue to search for the next location. We’ll be using large plastic containers with lids to hold the eggs at each location, since there may still be snow on the ground where we live!*

5. Start the Children on the Easter Egg Treasure Hunt!

easter hunt

Give the children a bag or basket and their first clue to lead them to the first location on the hunt. Parents can accompany little ones if needed, or older kids can be paired up with younger kids. You could have teams if you have many children in your neighbourhood. Another idea is having more candy hiding in random places at the final location of your hunt (for example – your yard house or one of the neighbour’s yards or houses, depending on the weather!).

And there you have it – a Neighbourhood Easter Egg Treasure Hunt for 8 Children – $30 and 5 easy steps!

Do you have any simple ideas for a crowd for Easter?

Four Trips and A Fresh Perspective

 

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I sat in a hotel room in the Dominican Republic, wondering how to put it all together. This was my fourth time in this country, and I thought back to each visit, each brief connection with the people and the culture of this place.

The first time I came to Dominican Republic I was blissfully ignorant about the poverty that existed just a few minutes outside the resort where we were staying. Our family of 4 was on an all-inclusive vacation and we had a blast – swimming in the ocean, playing on the beach, and feasting on buffets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I really had no clue about the living conditions of the people outside the resort.

I remember riding the coach bus from the airport to the resort, exhausted from lack of sleep the night before. Our flight had been delayed by 4 hours, and we didn’t board until 2:30 a.m. And our trip involved a connecting flight to Dominican. Our boys were 7 and 3 then, and they had made it through a sleep-less night much better than their mother! As we rode the bus, the sun rose on a foreign country, a foreign culture, and a foreign people. The view out my window revealed palm trees, colourful yet small houses, many more resorts, streets packed with scooters carrying up to 5 people at once, dogs running rampant, quaint towns, and sparkling ocean waters. The complete lack of snow was a welcome sight for my Northern Ontario self. And then we were at the resort, and the only other time we left its walls was to wander down the street one day to the convenience store for some needed supplies.

Another memory I have of that first trip was watching as a girl who worked at the hotel hop on the back of a motorcycle after her shift, and I wondered what she was going home to that day. Where was home? What was home? Was she the only one working in the household? I had heard the statistics and some of the stories, and now I was starting to put faces to the information.

The first visit didn’t impact my life very much, except to make me curious, and leave me wanting more. Since then I have travelled to Dominican Republic three more times, all for ministry purposes, trying to make a difference somehow. Since then I have put many faces of all ages behind the statistics and the stories. Since then I have been changed from the inside out. I am so grateful for all that God has taught me these last few years, and for all the people I’ve met. I’ve met those that are helping and those that are being helped. I’ve seen both successful sustainable development techniques and the kind of aid that only enables cycles of poverty and doesn’t equip anyone for a better future.

I’ve met with Jesus in a child’s hand reaching out to mine and in my hand clutching back. I’ve seen Jesus in the toothless smile of a mother of seven as she proudly welcomed me into her one-room home, and in the smile I returned to her as I stepped through her doorway. I’ve talked with Jesus as different ministries shared their visions with me, and I’ve been His voice in saying Well done.

For me, the hardest parts of my visits are the entrance and the exit. The leaving my home and the coming back to my home. It is hard for me to leave those I love the most and it is hard to come back to them a different person each time.

You see, each visit changes me completely. Every trip rearranges so many places in me that it is hard to keep up.

An over-simplified recap of the ministry trips would go something like this…

The first trip opened up my eyes and my heart to the issues of poverty in a big way.

The second trip was a time of travel and research as we met with six different groups and hoped to find a partner in ministry for our church. I was on information overload for a long while after my return.

And my third ministry trip had the makings of a partnership. Working alongside the people, getting to know them more, seeing sustainable development at work where it is so desperately needed.

Here’s the thing… this place, these people… it is starting to feel like home, they are becoming my neighbours. On that last trip, when we pulled up to the same place our ministry teams have stayed each time, I breathed this huge sigh of relief. Like when I pull up on my driveway after a few days or weeks away. Like when I get that first glimpse of my parent’s house or my sister’s house or my mother-in-law’s apartment – they all live hours away from me. My heart was saying It’s good to be home. 

And that’s when I knew these recent adventures had taken root in the deepest places of me. It was all settling in for the long haul, in good ways, and I was looking forward to whatever God was bringing through these trips. I was glad to have these neighbours in my life, glad that my world had expanded this far, glad to have a part of me that had made the move enough from my head to my heart to call this place home.

You see, at the start of this, years ago on that first trip to Dominican – I just didn’t know. I thought I knew, I thought I had it worked out – my place in the global scene. But the unseen journey I made from my head to my heart during these last few years has been messy, confusing, and scary. My ideas of roles in this world have been radically shifted. Ignorance is no longer an excuse or an option. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I’d love to walk through the trips with you a little more in the coming weeks, and give you glimpses of the amazing adventures we’ve had with our neighbours in Dominican Republic.

Stay tuned…

Simple Life – Minimalist Menu

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Could a family menu plan really be basic, simple, and easy?

Without alot of food waste, or complaints from the eaters, or numerous trips to the grocery store?

I believe it just might be possible to meet the requirements of health, taste, and variety for my family.

And in a minimalist sort of way.

In a bare bones, back to basics, this-is-actually-quite-easy kind of method.

Let’s get started, shall we?

1. First things first – take a look at the food you’ve already got in your house.

It’s not about What do we want to eat? It’s about What have we got in the house? Here’s an example of a list I made a while back – this gives a snapshot of what was in our freezer and pantry. I also had things like cheese, milk, eggs, bread, etc. in the fridge. And there was a bag of chicken bones as well.

FREEZER MEAT FR. VEGGIES PANTRY
2 sm Zip cooked red beans 1 sm bag ch. tomatoes 1 jug maple syrup
1 Trout 11 sm bags cooked squash 10 – 500 ml applesauce
1 Pork Chops 3 sm bags kale 2 spaghetti noodles
17 – 1 lb. Ground Beef 1 chopped leek rice, quinoa, potatoes
7 – 4 Tilapia fillets 5 sm bag cooked sw. pot. LOTS of granola bars
1 Large bag Sausage
3 Roast Beef
2 Tenderloin Steak FR. FRUIT OTHER VEGGIES
4 Inside Round Steak 10 bananas 2 large onion
4 Striploin Steak 2 sm bags cooked pumpkin 1 sm onion
4 Sirloin Steak 1 large bag blueberries 1- 2lb bag sm carrots
4 Prime Rib Steak 7 large bag peaches 1 rhutabaga
1 Chicken Breast 1 large bag rhubarb 2 garlic bulbs
1 Large Chicken Leg 2 sm bag apples
1 lb. Ground Turkey 6 large bag strawberries
1 Meat Pie 2 bags apples

Just by looking at this list, I can see that I’ve got AT LEAST 47 meals worth of meat products if I use the roast for 2-3 meals (one as a crock pot dinner, then shredded beef sandwiches for leftovers, or soup, or spooned over baked potatoes, etc).

The frozen fruit can mainly be used for smoothies in the mornings or fruit-based desserts.

And I’ve got a bunch of small Ziploc bags of pureed squash, sweet potato, and pumpkin that I can add to muffins, soups, stews, or mashed potatoes.

I have rice, quinoa, and pasta to use as well.

So much food to eat up in our house.

I need a plan for eating our way through our stockpile of food.

2. Think of possible uses for the food already in the house.

I know I will use most of the frozen fruit in smoothies and/or desserts, the frozen veggies as sides for dinners, or in soups & stews, or the pureed veggies will be great in baking recipes if not used as a side.

If I switch up rice, quinoa, pasta, bread, and potatoes throughout a typical week, that’s a great variety for my family.

3. Start committing the food to a plan.

Start with the meat portions. Don’t be afraid to delegate specific foods for specific days of the week.

For example – our menu will look something like this for the near future:

Monday – Soup & Biscuits (use any chicken bones I have in the freezer to make broth – use about 1-2 cups broth for soup, portion and freeze the rest in small Ziplocs, lay flat in piles in freezer – make sure they are sealed WELL!)

Tuesday – Beef

Wednesday – Chicken

Thursday – Fish or Pork or Meatless

Friday – “Pub” food – burgers, wings, chicken strips, etc. (The Oldest got a deep fryer for Christmas, and he’s making up some delicious eats with it – we got one with spin technology that helps decrease the grease)

Saturday – Pizza and movie night (we do one pepperoni and one BBQ chicken/red onion – the leftovers become one school lunch and one quick meal on Sunday – either a grab lunch after church or relaxed dinner with other leftovers)

Sunday – Potluck or crock pot or leftovers (depends what our social plans are for that day)

4. Add in veggies and starches to your plan.

I’m pretty relaxed with this, and lately I’ve enjoyed a little more freedom from a plan when it comes to the side dishes. As long as I’ve got the main dish, or main meat idea on the plan, I like to look up which of my on-hand veggies I could use with it. I’ve been just typing ingredients into a search engine, and seeing which recipes come up. This has done wonders for getting me back into the kitchen with energy and enthusiasm after a long period of not even wanting to set foot in that room of my house! Do you ever get burned out or bored like that with your kitchen?

5. Follow the plan (to an extent).

Now it’s time to put the plan into action. Even if you’ve only got a dinner plan. Even if you feel overwhelmed by looking at all those meals you have to make. Recruit family members to help – get them washing the lettuce, or peeling the carrots, or chopping the veggies (if they’re older), or turning on the oven, or setting the table – ANYTHING that can lighten the load even a little and create this amazing flow to your family life. Helping in the kitchen is much better than TV and video games – guaranteed! It’s way more fun to hang out and chat and laugh and spill things and clean messes and make mistakes – TOGETHER. Plus, the more everyone else pitches in making meals, the less you’ll have to cook in the long run – you’ll be training younger chefs in your home without even knowing it – just by inviting them into the kitchen, into the plan, and into your space.

6. Let go of the plan (when life happens).

Plans are amazing – I love mapping things out, making lists, checking things off – this is joy for me. But life definitely has a way of changing everything up in a moment’s notice. When this happens, it’s time to let go of the plan. Maybe you will need a simpler meal that night, or even a meal out of the house – and it’s OK. If you find that cooking dinner EVERY night is exhausting, try making double batches and freezing the second portion for later. This has worked wonders for our family through the years. I’ve never mastered once-a-month cooking, but I hear that works great too.

Yes, a menu can be quite simple, easy, quick, and minimal. You can serve the same sort of meat on the same night, week after week after week. Changing up the veggies would help, or cycling through a few different “chicken” or “beef” or “fish” recipes is a wonderful idea too. If you can find just 2 recipes of each type of meat (or other protein) that your family enjoys, and cycle through those every other week, you are on your way to a very simple menu plan. There are many people out there who literally eat through the same menu plan every week, and they are perfectly fine with that, no problems. Now THAT’S minimalist. My family is not quite there yet.

I’m quickly realizing that variety is not necessarily key, that I don’t need to try every new superfood out there, that many people in the world live absolutely happy lives by eating whatever is available to them locally, and that feeding my family doesn’t have to be so hard.

I love to cook and bake, but I often get overwhelmed by all the choices out there when it comes to food. Sometimes I envy those around the world who live with a few simple recipes made from whatever grows in their village or town. This would be so easy and so affordable.

So, what’s on the menu for your family today?

*Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net*