Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent and the Cross

Advent is a time of preparation. It’s a time in which we prepare our hearts and our minds to remember and receive the greatest gift of all-the gift of hope found in a baby lying in a manger. It’s a time in which we recall the story of His birth and the importance of His coming. And you cannot separate the two as the gift of hope is really the gift of freedom-the gift of salvation. Advent and the Cross are linked and they are linked by the one they have in common-Jesus, our Savior.
Sadly, Advent and Christmas have been hijacked by distractions of the world. You know, the ones that present great opportunities in the form of sales-whether it’s buy one, get one half off, or the deep discounts of 50%-60% off everything in the store. Like that huge flat screen tv you’ve been eyeing…these are the “joyous” distractions that keep our focus and energy on others.  
To be clear, thinking about others isn’t a bad thing, but it has the potential in this frame of mind or focus to distract us from what Advent is really about. Too often this time of year is spent on stressing about that perfect gift for that special someone or family member-a focus on gifts and more stuff. Again, thinking about others and purchasing gifts are inherently bad, but it is when you find yourself wracked with stress or guilt that we know we have lost our way. What’s worse…is that it has become the norm.
Christmas for many begins just before Thanksgiving-there are plans to camp out at the store that meets the greatest needs for all on the list,  that also minimize the financial impact on the future. It’s the “joyous” participation of saving money all in the guise of the Christmas spirit. Sure, Mary and Joseph encountered some bumps along the road-no room in the inn and staying in a stable full of animals, but their purpose was to prepare for the child that was to be born…I wonder, what does the stress of shopping prepare us for?
Friends, I challenge you to prayerfully consider this Advent the real “reason for the season”-especially if you haven’t begun or finished your shopping. As it isn’t found in the stress, but in the peace, hope, and joy that comes from a heart that is prepared for the coming of the Lord. It’s in the time that is spent in all the right places at all the right times among those who matter most in your life. It’s not found in the gifts under the tree and whether or not it will be good enough, it’s found in the presence of being present.
May you come to lay down your stress this Advent and open your heart and your mind to the joy of the season…to let God be at work in and through you in all that you say and in all that you do in His name.


Amen and Merry Christmas!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

BRINGING THEM HOME

Friends,
I have some wonderful and exciting news! My parents are coming back to the US. While many have wanted them to come home soon after the disaster, as they had lost everything, they are now making plans to return. According to my mom, they're heading here later this month. Now, I know that they had asked me NOT to ask for help, but I must as they have little to no funds. They depleted their funds to get tickets and won't have much at all once they're here-they're in need of money for the rest of the month.
According to their itinerary, they will be here next week...sooner than I had anticipated, but it will be great to see them again. While they won't need money for plane tickets, they will need help getting established and my hope is that you might be able, once again, to help. Every little bit helps. Below you will find a link to donate via PayPal. If you would rather, you may send it via snail mail:
PO Box 6
Plankinton, SD 57368









Thank you all so much for your thoughts and prayers-during our time of uncertainty and even today. I know I've been in touch with some via e-mail, but know that I am appreciative of the support you've shown and given to myself and my family. We are grateful for the love and compassion.

Monday, December 23, 2013

LEAVING THE PHILIPPINES

As our time nears to a close in the Philippines, I cannot minimize the heaviness in my heart. Nor can I ignore the heaviness upon the hearts of my family-both here and back in the United States. As I was thinking about our situation, what happened to the people of the Philippines, my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins...I came up with a phrase-I know it's not original, but "the plight of a people", or more specific, the "plight of a family".
We heard my folks retell the story of that dark, wet, and terrifying day-how there was no indication that this weather was going to be of any consequence, significance, or magnitude. To this day I am still amazed at the fact that they had no idea, how no one knew, what was going to hit them. We now know of the situation for many though, those who took the opportunity to get on planes or helicopters and fled their region for the safety of Manila are now stranded. This story isn't isolated to a few, it included family members as well. While many, like my folks, have relocated to other areas near Manila, as they were able, many are still trying to find ways to get back home. Some of my aunts and uncles-along with cousins, need money to return to Tacloban, Samar, or Guiuan as the Philippine Government has said there is aide money to help them rebuild. While there has been that declaration by the government, there hasn't been any specifics-on how much will be offered to each family. In spite of that news my folks are hoping that someone will purchase the land. They plan to stay in Laguna and restart their lives. There has even been discussion between my mom and her younger sister about renting the apartment behind them so that they can live together/near each other.
The plan so far, for my family here in the Philippines is to gather in Laguna for a Christmas meal at my parent's apartment. Our plan, once we are in the U.S., December 25th, is to drive to Pocahontas, IA for Christmas with her family. I have no idea how much jet-lag will factor into our plans either as I know how wiped we were when we got here to the Philippines, but I am grateful for our time here.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

SM AND CR

Just a short blurb...
Today we spent our day doing a little shopping at the Mall of Asia. Most of the shopping was for family as we hope to be back in the United States on Christmas Eve-if all goes well. The jet lag will likely keep us out of commission until Christmas Day, sometime late afternoon is my guess and our hope is to leave Christmas Day, if possible, for Pocahontas, IA. 
Now, in the title of this post you notice SM and CR. Here in the Philippines SM stands for SuperMarket and it's the place to purchase everything, it's the mall, the grocery store, and so much more. I chuckled once we got here because everyone told me we had to go to the "Super Market" to get the things we needed and I agreed not knowing they were literal-in location and the name of the place had to shop. If you clicked on the link for the Mall of Asia above, you will note the SM logo-that is it, the Super Market. To be clear, that's not just in Manila, it's also in Laguna, where my folks now live. 
And CR stands for "comfort room" and yet, whenever you're in the mall or super market the signs all say restroom. It's interesting yet, you learn to ask where the CR is as no one here understands restrooms. 
I know these tidbits haven't been as often as I had hoped, but I hope to have more tomorrow. 
Thanks everyone and Merry Christmas! 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

BIGAY (BIG-EYE)

Bigay, pronounced like big-eye, means share and I definitely have something to share with you. We spent a few days in Manila and went to the Mall of Asia-which is huge by the way, and even ordered in some KFC and Papa John's Pizza. We enjoyed the air-conditioned room and transportation and missed it as we transitioned from Manila to Laguna.
On our way to Laguna, where my parents live, she found out that her apartment doors had been changed without her knowledge. As mentioned awhile back, before we left, family was living with them and it turns out that when my parents left to pick us up from the Manila Airport, management changed the door knobs and keys so my mom's sisters couldn't gain access to it. The interesting thing is, mom had informed them they would be gone for a few days as they were picking us up and had plans to bring us to stay with them-they were told it was okay, yet while they were gone, they showed otherwise.
So a wrinkle was thrown into our plans as we neared Laguna without a place to stay. Enroute, my mother was busy making phone calls to family members who could help-one of them is Lezil, who is actually an agent, and she found a nearly new unit (remodeled). Once we go there, we found a single bedroom apartment, perfect for my folks, but not so great for everyone, it was a tight fit. *I hope to show some pictures of the living arrangements later.
The only issue with the apartment was that there was no air-conditioning and that became a problem for Noah. He wouldn't nap, wouldn't eat, and became quite irritable-we have since found a hotel with air-conditioning and all is well as his appetite has returned and he slept very well last night.
A couple of things I'd like to share in addition to the update (nutshell) above:
Here in the Philippines KFC, Burger King, and McDonald's all deliver meals-what would that look like in America? We already knew most pizza joints delivered, but we're talking fast food here. It's truly interesting and they also offer different items not found in the United States-for example: chicken and rice (native meal) along with other variations. You also get rice with your meals at all the above mentioned.
Air-conditioned vehicles are something you pay a premium for. One of the modes of transportation is a jeepney jeep but that leaves you open to elements, exhaust, and on a hot day...the heat. In Manila, most vehicles for hire are taxis that advertise, painted on their vehicle, whether they have "air con". Now, in Laguna, there aren't many taxis at all, but there are a lot of motorcycles with side carts and jeepney jeeps.
A final note, Holly and I are constantly amazed at the fact that there aren't more accidents. While there are lines drawn on the roads and lights to govern traffic, they are merely guidelines and rendered useless as all drivers, public or personal drive as they wish-especially those who haver personal motorcycles (they weave in and out of traffic and in between vehicles).
So we ask for continued prayers as venture out more and more with family to see some places and do some shopping. Thanks again for all your support.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

THE UPDATE

The Nutshell: We arrived at the Manila Airport among chaos and confusion. The lines were long through customs for both visitors and natives (Filipinos and non-Filippinos). We had a 2 year old with us and he was champ throughout the process-flying and customs. He was tired and hot, but he didn't complain much at all. All of us were tired but we managed to survive the worst of it. 
Once we got our bags we spent a while trying to locate my folks. Turns out, we were on two different levels-the confusion got sorted out and we went down the ramp and found them through the crowds. There were hugs and tears in the reunion and thankfully, they had brought some help from the hotel and they helped load up the van. The welcomed relief actually came once we got into the vehicle though-as it had air conditioning. In the short time we were outside we had already broken a sweat-as it was over 90 degrees plus humidity (we had four large and heavy bags along with smaller bags and two backpacks). Once we got to the hotel, we had some munchies, chatted some, and then we all went to bed. We all slept in and then enjoyed a late breakfast (10:30am). Our first day here we went to the Mall of Asia-it is huge! We did some shopping-we purchased a transformer (to convert their 220-240 to 110 for our equipment-cellphones, laptop, camera, and leap pad). Once we got back, I decided to read the plugs and found out that we have dual voltage chargers-that can handle 110-240. So I felt silly, but soon realized that Noah's leap pad isn't able to be charged on anything over 110. So all is not lost as we still have a need for it. 
Finally, we are grateful for everyone who helped get us there-through donations, thoughts, and prayers. On behalf of my parents and my family...thank you all! So far in our reunion we have had conversations about the future and my parents have a couple of options. We hope to help them solidify their decision/next step in the coming days. We were also made aware that many people are stuck here in Manila with no way to get home-as they don't have any money to return home (whether it be Cebu, Tacloban, Samar, or Guiian). Some of those folks are actually family members and we're currently trying to  figure out and coordinate how to get them back home to rebuild (many of them are here as they took safety to escape the destruction). 
There is still a lot of work to be done here-everywhere you go, there are folks asking for money (some on behalf of organizations like the Red Cross and others as individuals). Continue to pray for the people of the Philippines as they have a long road ahead of them-some more than others, especially those who aren't from Manila or any of it's suburbs. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

FRUSTRATED AND WAITING

I won't lie...I am frustrated. The passports we had hoped would be here on Wednesday or Thursday haven't come. I plan to make a phone call to the passport agency to ask, again, what the hold up is. Last we knew it was court documents-official documents to be specific and now that those have been sent, priority mail, to the passport agency...we haven't heard boo. Which begs the question-why did we pay the extra money to expedite our passports when we wouldn't really receive any benefit from it? 
I know the postal service has had issues, particularly in smaller, more rural areas, for whatever reason and I'm sure the nasty weather hasn't helped any, but I can't shake this ugly feeling that I'm not going to like what I hear tomorrow when I call or like what I see when I check the mail. As time passes, ticket prices jump and our chances of returning on Christmas gets slimmer and slimmer. 
As we wait and send our prayers to God, we ask that you continue to join us in prayer-prayers of strength, sanity, and patience. Thank you to everyone who has prayed and continues to pray, not just for safe travels, or for my family, but for prayers for the people of the Philippines who lost more than a home. There will be those who will be celebrating Christmas without family members this year, another painful reminder of loss and of perspective. I often hear it called "first world problems" and I think it's time that we refocus our sights on that which we are blessed with-healthy, family, and a roof over our heads-especially in light of those who go without that and so much more on a day to day basis...here and abroad. 
I am anxious to see my parents and reunite with family abroad and my hope is that as we gather, you might gather with those you hold dear and remember what's important this Christmas-the love of family and the love of God in Christ.