Friday, September 2, 2011

"It's Morning Time, Mommy."

Harrison is growing so fast.  He is my last baby and I wish so much that I could wrap his brown as an Indian, cute-as-a-bug self up in my arms and make time stand still.  I know these moments are fleeting and that the next time I turn around, he will be not so easy to pick up and squeeze like I do now.

He's a very independent li'l guy and wants nothing more than to be just like the big brothers he idolizes.  Unlike the big brothers, though, he usually cries for his daddy at night time.  Doug faithfully goes into their bedroom at bedtime and lays down with him until he falls asleep.

Still, very few nights pass that he doesn't stir in his sleep, wake up, and stumble through the darkness across the hall into our room.  Even then, he is his daddy's boy.  Doug probably has a permanent indention in his arm, where Harrison sleeps night after night for the past four years.

In the early morning as the sun and his daddy rise, he crawls across rumpled sheets to snuggle up tight with his momma.  And it makes my heart smile.  His soft, chubby arms wrap themselves around my neck and he scoots as close as he can get.  He usually puts his little nose right up to mine and sometimes even shares his kisses with me before he rolls over the other direction and wraps my arm around his tummy and holds my hand just where he wants it.

He drifts back to sleep and typically enjoys another hour or so of snoozing soundly before he turns my direction again, flutters his eyes open as he grins and says, "It's morning time, Mommy".  I need to record that voice.  I wish I could record it in that very moment.  It's soft and sweet and just precious.

The next fifteen minutes or so pass with lots of hugs and kissess, "I love you's", and giggles.  We talk about what we'll eat for breakfast, all the fun things we will do today, what daddy might be doing at the office...or anything other little thing that comes to his mind.  These moments, these gifts with him are so special.  I'm not sure when he'll decide that he can sleep all night in his own bed.  And I don't care.  I love these moments...and I don't want them to end.  

My Gifts

Well...the summer has come and gone.  It's flown by at lightening speed!  We've had a great time and a lot has happened since I blogged last.    However, the fact that time is flying past and so much is happening in so many different areas of life is telling me that it's time to slow down.

Several months ago, I heard about a book called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  I still haven't read it, but I know the gist.  Slow down.  Realize the gift of this moment that God has given you.  Take notice.  The moments are what we are going to remember....what my sons will remember.   Be intentional about living.  All these things I've been pondering lately as I've been writing some curriculum for a missions class I am going to teach this year at a homeschool co-op.  Then I went to a parent meeting at that same co-op and this is the video they opened the meeting with....I think God is trying to tell me something. :)

So, I'm going to start writing about my gifts.  The moments of our day that really matter.  The small things that I will forget if I'm not intentional about remembering.  And I'm going to try to get my camera back out and use it more I did before life was so very busy.  The moments that matter to me will probably not mean a hill of beans to anyone else, but that's ok.  They are my gifts.  Gifts He gave to me...because I'm His and He loves me.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Still Here

Hello Blogland!  Just checkin' in to let you know we are still here and doing well.  Much has been happening here at the Widhalm house to keep us busy, as always.  Thought I'd give you just a quick update about a few things around our house.

School - After a short stint in public school for Jackson and Carter, we have learned that homeschooling really serves our children and our family in a way that the school system cannot.  I would never make judgements about what is or isn't right for another family or other children.  Schooling is not a "one size fits all" matter, in my opinion.  In our family, though, we have come to truly appreciate the opportunities and the lifestyle that homeschooling enables us to have.  I'm happy to have all the boys back home with me and looking forward to new studies and activities in the fall.

We will continue in our math, history and literature studies over the summer, which will include various summer reading programs, classic read alouds,  math memory work, history/geography of the middles ages, phonics and copy work.  The boys are doing extremely well with their studies.  I couldn't be happier both with our curriculum plan and their achievement.

Summer Fun! - Summer has officially began and we are enjoying its benefits tremendously!  We paid a visit to Silver Dollar City yesterday and today we hung out with new homeschool friends at a backyard pool party.  On the agenda next week is White Water and initiating the pool in our own backyard.   Having so many fun things to do is a great motivation for getting our schoolwork and chores around the house finished!

Missions/Africa - Africa continues to have its place in our heads and hearts each day.  It is never far from our thoughts.  We are praying daily for our friends and the kids we love so much in Sierra Leone, as well as for God to give us opportunities to serve.  Although we don't have definite plans of traveling back to Sierra Leone soon, we are able to Skype with the children we sponsor as well as another sibling group who is very close to our hearts on a monthly basis.  It's such a joy to see their beautiful smiles in person, but it sure does make us "Africa-sick".

There is a possibility that I have an opportunity to travel to  Guatemala to serve at an orphanage called Shadow of His Wings.  I'm not sure whether or not that will come to fruition, but we are praying about it.  It's not nearly as expensive as a trip to Sierra Leone is, but I love Sierra Leone so much that it's hard to make the choice to spend resources on airfare to someplace else.  I know it would be another wonderful experience, though, so we'll see what God has in store.

I had a wonderful opportunity to serve the people of Joplin, MO, last weekend.  What they have endured is beyond anything I can express in words.  The photos on the internet and the news do not do it justice.  However, even among the tremendous turmoil, God is at work.  It's always amazing to me that when we put ourselves in a position to serve others, we receive such an incredible blessing of our own.

God is continually bringing people across our path who share our passion for orphans and other ministries.  My heart is still being stirred and new thoughts and ideas are never ending.  We continue to wait in prayer and be open to whatever He has for us.

I hope you are all enjoying the blessings of sunshine and summer as much as we are!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Peanut Butter, Bread & Water

Gathering peanut butter jars from anyone who would donate and making trips to several different grocery stores in town to find the best peanut butter deal became an obsession in the weeks before we left.  Tiffany is the "Coupon Queen", but there are not coupons for peanut butter.  Find the deal, collectinhe g donations and mking the purcase was time consuming and sometimes even frustrating.  We were SO blessed, though!  God proved Himself faithful...AGAIN...and provided more than enough!  He even gave us a surprise at the end of the packing by allowing us to check more suitcases for FREE than we expected.  Yea, God!

All the prep work was for the kids and mothers who were waiting for a miracle at Ola During Children's Hospital.

Doug caught a power nap while we waited for the water and bread we needed
Tiffany and I with the nurses in the Nutrition Ward

Ola During Children's Hospital has a special place in my heart.  I suppose because I have had to be in the hospital with my own children, it is just easy for me to have a heart and want to reach out to these moms and their babies.

A severely malnourished baby at Ola During.
The only way I can describe it in words, is to say that many of the children look just like the kids you see on the info-mercials on World Vision.  You know the commercials I'm talking about....the ones that you glance at and then pick up the remote to change the channel because it is too hard to see.  It is hard to see, but it is real.  They are real children with real mothers, just like me.

Tiffany with one of the mom's in the Nutrition Ward
We were so touched by the families in the hospital last May that we wanted to go back to give what we could.  If you've read about it in previous posts, you know that the hospital does not provide food for the patients or for the mothers in the ICU.  Sounds crazy, doesn't it?  Even when I think about it still, I just can't believe it.  In the nutrition ward, they do give the babies Plumpy Nut, a nutrient dense peanut butter-like food.  The mothers, though, have to take care of themselves.

We brought enough gift bags for each family both in the nutrition ward and the ICU to have one.  In fact, we had plenty and even gave a bag to each of the nurses in both wards, too.  Everyone that received one was very thankful to have them.  In conditions like that, a jar of peanut butter and small loaf of bread is a huge blessing.  Each bag had a packet of water, peanut butter, bread and a beanie baby.

There were four families that really stood out to me that day.

The first was a mom with a set of twins in the nutrition ward.  One of them was healthy.  The other was severely malnourished.  The one that was sick was in terrible condition.  She was so tiny and fragile, with no muscle to her little body at all.  Tiffany and I sat with the mom and prayed that God would peace, comfort and healing, and that His will would be done.  The mother seemed very thankful that we had taken time to just sit with her and care about her baby.

The twins. 
Not far from the twins was a beautiful young mother with a sweet baby girl on her lap.  The mom was absolutely beaming as she looked at me with sparkling eyes and a bright smile, holding the gift bag in her hand.  She repeatedly told me, "Thank you" and asked for me to take a picture of her with her little girl.  I wish so much that the language barrier was not quite as great and that I could've gotten to know more about her and her sweet little one.

As we were finishing up in the nutrition ward, I caught the eye of another mama.  She motioned for me to come to her, so I did.  She was trying to talk to me, and I understood the words "other country".  I smiled and said, "Yes, we're from America".   She kept making hand motions and pointing to her little boy, who was obviously not doing well at all.  Finally, I got it.  I said, "You mean you want me to take your baby to another country with me?"  She gave me a big smile, nodded and said "Yes!  Take him.  Please take him."
This mother tried to get me to take her baby with me
I took a deep breath and told her that God had given her this child and that he wasn't mine.  He belonged here with her, and I couldn't take him.  She begged me.  I looked her in the eye and told her that I would get into very big trouble if I took him, and that I was very sorry.  It was heart wrenching.

Now, maybe she could've been thinking I'd pay her a good amount of money for him.  But still.  To be in a situation in life that there would be so much desperation that you would offer your child to a complete stranger, I can't imagine.  What I do know, though, is that only but for the grace of God is it not me in that situation.

I met a young mom in the ICU that had a beautiful boy named Samuel.  Samuel had been in the hospital for two months and was still not well.  When we asked what was wrong with him, she didn't really have an answer...only described a symptom or two.  The interesting thing about Samuel is that he was obviously from a Christian home.  His mother had her Bible laying open in his crib.  Samuel's head was laying on it.  She was very happy to let us pray with her, and was excited to see her with her son on the back of my camera when I took her picture.

Samuel in his crib, laying on his mother's Bible
It was another time of realizing, again, that God has blessed us beyond measure.  I don't know why, but He has and I'm so very thankful.  The people of Sierra Leone endure things on a daily basis that you cannot imagine if you have not seen it for yourself.   It's an amazing experience to be there and be able to give just a little and watch God use it for His glory.   I highly recommend it.  However, be warned:  it's addictive!

On The Street With Pastor Daniel

Monday evening, we met Pastor Daniel and ten of the children from The Covering at 6:00 GMT.*  The ten kids were chosen because of their good behavior.  We were all walking together into the community near the center to meet with people, pray for their needs and to give them a free Bible.

We were blessed to be able to take two cases of Bibles with us.  I wish we could have taken more.  We had a total of 40 to give away that evening.  There were also many copies of the Book of Hope at the guesthouse which were left by some missionaries.  We took everything we could fit in our four backpacks.

I'm sure we were quite a sight as we walked down the hill into the neighborhood nearby....ten local kids all dressed up in their finest and looking cheerful, the pastor, the social worker from the center, and 4 white people who were sweating profusely (definintely not looking my finest) and loaded down with backpacks full of books and magazines.  LOL

It didn't take long for people to figure it out, though.  Pastor Daniel has an amazing gift of being able to just walk right up to a stranger and start talking about Jesus.  The first stop was a beauty "salon".  There were a couple people sitting outside while just inside the little shack there was a lady getting her hair done.  When the group stopped walking right in front of their business and Pastor started talking, everything was quiet and all eyes were fixed on the pastor.

                                               The beauty salon

As he talked, others started to gather round.  He shared the gospel with everyone standing within earshot.  After the short mini-sermon, we asked if there was anything we could pray for on their behalf.  The entire group (kids included) prayed for God's provision and protection on each person and their family.   Pastor Daniel even led everyone who would, in a prayer of salvation!  He was sure to let them all know he would be available to answer any questions they might have and to invite them to Sunday services at the center.  They were all very interested and seemed excited that there was a place nearby they could worship.

                                                Pastor leading a group in a prayer of salvation

When the discussions were over, we broke out the Bibles.  There would be a similar reaction here in the States if you were handing out 100 dollar bills on the street.  They were ELATED!  We were only in that one spot for a few minutes, but it didn't take long to realize that we didn't have enough.  We sent the guys back to restock the backpacks with more magazines.

Pastor Daniel led the kids along with Tiffany and I farther down into the village where we kept praying with people and offering them the Bibles and magazines we had.   The Bibles were gone before we got to the 2nd or 3rd stop.  People were running up to us asking for one and we kept giving until we had no more.  There was an older lady that came back and followed me for a few feet, with a huge smile holding her new Bible next to her chest and just saying, "Thank you, thank you!"  It was really an amazing experience.

                                             The crowd starting to gather

The last stop was at the bottom of the hill in an area that was occupied by several small shacks and many people.  By this time, all we had left were Books of Hope.  Again, Pastor Daniel spoke about Jesus and then we prayed both for salvation and for God's blessing on His people.  Word throughout the area spread quickly and before we knew it, there was a really large crowd gathered.  Most of them were women and many, many children.  After the prayer, we opened up our backpacks and all sorts of chaos broke loose.

                                                         Doug handing out Books of Hope
There were kids jumping and shouting, reaching and just trying to get hold of one of those magazines.  We guessed that there was near 75 to 100 or so kids.  Being the school teacher and having taken a few groups of kids on field trips, I was more than a little nervous about locating the ten kids that belonged to us and keeping an eye on them.  It was extremely loud and people were everywhere.  I tried to get a head count in the madness, but it was impossible.  I think Pastor Daniel thought my preoccupation with the kids' safety was a little comical.  Neither him nor the social worker on staff were in the least bit concerned.

After all the magazines here handed out and there was a huge mass of village kids standing with these books in their hands, looking at pictures of the life of Christ, Pastor told them to shout the name of Jesus on the count of 3.  It was an amazing sound to hear...I hope I don't ever forget it.  The kids were thrilled with their new books and it was a blessing just to see them smiling and so happy.

On our walk back to the center, we passed the beauty salon where we'd first stopped.  Every person there was sitting with their Bibles open on their laps, smiling.  They were looking at these Bibles Doug and I purchased for not more than $1 each like they were the biggest treasure they had.  Just this one evening was worth all the time, planning, inconvenience and expense of our trip.  It was all worth it.  Every single penny...and I'd do it all over again.  In fact, I'm certain that I will do it again.

I'm so glad to know that even though we were only there for a week, we left behind something that will affect their lives and give them hope for an eternity.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Out & About in Freetown

On Monday, we hired a taxi driver to drive us around town for a while to do a little exploring on our own.  Musa is a friend of Osseh's (who is trusted staff at the center) so we knew we'd be in good hands with him.

First stop was the beach at Lumley.   There were fisherman on the beach pulling in their nets.  It's quite a sight to see, so Musa pulled over so that we could get a closer look.  He explained how the boat takes the net out and drops it.  Then, it is pulled in by a team of men.  They pull one side and then the other until the net is close enough to shore to close and bring in the fish.

When we got out, we were approached by one of the men who explained further and invited Rich and Doug to help pull the net in.  The boys ran to help while Tiffany and I got out our cameras.    It was alot of fun watching the guys...pulling those nets is apparently harder than it looks! :)  It didn't take long for the Americans to give out.  I asked Doug if he'd like to give up his job to fish every day, and it didn't take long to get a firm, "No!"

After we'd been there a while, another one of the fisherman came up to me and asked if we were having a good time.  I smiled and said that we were really enjoying ourselves and thanked him.  He was speaking English, but with a heavy accent and doing so rather quickly.  I was having a hard time understanding exactly what he was saying, but it ended up with something about having food and drink together.  I thought he was being really nice and inviting us to eat with them after the catch.

He could tell, though, by the look on my face that I wasn't really "getting it" so he approached Tiffany and started his conversation over.  He wanted us to have food and drinks, all right!  On US!  LOL  He wanted us to pay him and his crew since we got to enjoy ourselves and take pictures.  That might not have been a problem, but there were more than a dozen of them - maybe closer to 20.  Needless to say, we quickly gathered up our husbands and headed back to the taxi.

Next stop was Crown Bakery.  We had eaten there before, so we knew what we were in for, and we were hoping to see chocolate donuts in the display case.  We enjoyed a great lunch chatting with Musa.  Doug and I shared an avocado sandwich and a chicken shawarma.  They were both yummy!  The shawarma is a wrap with chicken and a cucumber sauce.  We were disappointed there were no donuts, though.

On our way back to the center, Musa pointed out the more important landmarks we were passing and drove us through Kroo Bay.  Doug hadn't seen it before.  He didn't get the full experience of actually getting out and walking into the village, but he definitely was able to see the devastating poverty.  Musa also drove us by another slum that was built on a trash dump.  There was no ground to be seen under these living quarters....just trash.   Even though I had been before and knew the extent of the poverty, it was a painful reminder of just how blessed our nation has been.

It was a great day getting to know Musa and learning a little more about Freetown.

By the end of the day, we were anxious to get back to the guesthouse, though.  Our plan was to go with Pastor Daniel and a few chosen kids for the evening into a nearby community to pray with people and give away some Bibles.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday at The Covering

One of the things I was most looking forward to on our trip, was being in church with the kids at The Covering.  Watching them pray and worship is an experience I cannot describe to you in words.  This group of children pray with emotion I've never witnessed and worship their God with abandon.  It's absolutely beautiful..and humbling...and such an incredible example of the way we SHOULD worship.

We were so blessed by the beautiful music (accompanied only by about 3 boys drumming and the entire crowed clapping - no keyboard, strings, horns or choirs needed) and powerful message.  Pastor Daniel is an amazing pastor that I'd be happy to sit under every week.  He's an amazing man of God who does not beat around the bush or make things "pretty" - even for the children.  He tells them straight up the way the Bible lays it out.

Several of them were baptized a few weeks ago.  One of the points he made was that now that they had made a commitment to Christ, it was their responsibility to begin to minister to others.  No excuses.  If you have the luxury of Christ and eternity in heaven - you also have a responsibility.  Period.   Whether you are 9 or 90.  You have Kingdom work to do.

I love that he is not playing games with them or entertaining them.  It would be so easy to do.  In many ways, it's what we do here in America.  He's training them to be soldiers in the army of God.  It's serious business.  He even called one little guy out who was misbehaving and told him that he would not be able to participate in communion because his heart was not in good standing with his brother.  Pastor  Daniel rocks!  He's an amazing vessel being used by God in the lives of many, many people.  I'm so blessed we were able to spend some time with him this week.

The service was extra special Sunday, because the children who were baptized were being served their first communion.   I didn't take pictures, because I didn't want to be disrespectful, but I wish I could show you the two lines of kids lined up holding their bread and "wine".  It was just beautiful.  Being there with them for such a special time in their spiritual lives was such a blessing.

Many, if not most, of these children were living in Muslim homes not much more than a year ago.  The Raining Season has not only rescued them from homes that were not healthy or the lack of a home...but they're being rescued from an eternity without God.   It's just incredible to see God working and how the lives of these children are being transformed.  In fact, it's not only the lives of these children, but also the lives and hearts of many caregivers, staff and even American sponsors and travelers who are being changed from the inside out.  I'm so glad we are part of it!

I didn't take pictures of the service, but I did snap a few shots of the kids before and after.  They were all dressed up and looking pretty.  We tried to look as good as we could...but my hair and makeup wilted before I ever even walked in the door.

Sunday evening we were blessed to be able to go to an international service for people who are serving in various capacities in Sierra Leone.  Some were missionaries and some worked for non-profit organizations.  We met one young lady who is living very near Kroo Bay and working there each day serving that community by administering basic first aid.  Another is working for an organization that sends her out to various places to work doing OT and PT with handicapped children.  It was a great experience to meet different people from all over the world who are giving of themselves and serving in different ways.