cultivate (kuhl - tuh - veyt)
v. 1) develop 2) nurture

graft (grahft)
n. 1) transplant 2) bud 3) union

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Time To Fight

I don't know about you, but I could care less about the game on Sunday.
I feel good getting that off my chest.
The best thing about the Super Bowl (in my oh so humble opinion) is munching on yummy snacks and chatting with friends. I know for a lot of people, it is a great day to whip up some margaritas, order pizza, and yell at the tv enjoy some time with friends. 

I hate to put a negative spin on such an ideal day, but for too many people Super Bowl Sunday is going to signal the beginning of a hellish existence. But don't take my word for it.


I realize there is some debate regarding how widespread the human trafficking actually is during the Super Bowl. However, if skeptics are mistaken, I would rather have erred on the side of compassion. Click here for more information. Their "Resources" tab is quite extensive. 

As the mama to girls, this topic sits like lead in my belly. Parents, we need to have (age-appropriate) dialogue with our kids (daughters and sons). Teaching them the warning signs of tricky people and raising their awareness can't hurt and it might save their lives. 

I don't know what to do. Preparing our girls strikes at the underbelly of future trafficking, but it does nothing for the women already trapped. I can beseech you to help raise awareness. I can spout off statistics, but that doesn't change the nightmare in which these young women are already ensnared. I can write a check to an organization aimed at fighting this industry. I don't know how much good any of that does. 

What I do know is that each victim is valued by God and He has not forgotten them

Here is the best thing I know to do for these women: I will be fasting and praying on Sunday. It's the most powerful weapon I wield against such evil. Will you consider doing likewise? 

I know, I know. But the margaritas! The pizza! 

Save it for another day. These daughters (and sons) are worth it. 

Praying and Fasting,
Cynthia


Monday, January 28, 2013

Hogwash

Recently on the wonderfully convoluted and dramatic world of Facebook, this quote was pasted onto a photograph:

"The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty."
(Mother Teresa)

The photograph held a sweet lil' pink face, smudged with mud. Doleful eyes stared sadly from behind the bars of a dirty cell. It was just a glimpse into this neglected life.

Oh. Did I mention it was a picture of a pig? As in oink, oink, "th-th-that's all folks" pig.

I know. It was a little mean of me to string you along like that. When I first saw Mother Teresa's words applied to humane treatment of hogs, I felt more than mild annoyance. It cheapens the words of a great woman who (to the best of my knowledge) never lobbied for animal rights. She was a little preoccupied with loving people. Silly nun.

This brought to a rolling boil a topic that has been quietly simmering in the back of my mind. If I drive to the ritzier areas of town, I can literally feel my blood pressure rise. Pet resorts. Pet summer camps. Pet dermatologists. Really? What, will the other mutts make fun of teenage canine acne? Pet bakeries, spas and posh kennels that cost more than my entire home furnishings. And don't get me started on pet strollers.

Disclaimer: When watching a movie, I tend to flinch more when animals get hurt than when their human counterparts get an arrow through the heart.*

There is a disturbing trend in our society to lavish extravagant care on our four-legged creatures (unless it's a canary. then I certainly hope it's only two-legged). Now hear this: I'm all for humane treatment of animals and being kind to our pets. While I don't personally feel that our dogs are part of the family, I can handle people referring to their "furry kids". What I have absolutely zero tolerance for is the over-the-top concern Americans have for animals while humans are languishing in worse conditions than those of the pig I described earlier. The two aren't incompatible. You can save the whales and advocate for orphans. We needn't feel guilty when we buy a bag of dog food, but we had better hope the images of gaunt faces in Africa spur us into action. Perhaps there are still people in the U.S. who are unaware of the living condition of orphans in other corners of the world. I painted a sad little picture of a pig. Now it's time to paint an even sadder picture. Imagine walking onto the grounds of an orphanage. As you walk through the front doors, a faint (and unpleasant) odor wafts through the stale air. The first floor holds babies in cribs. There are soiled sheets, and bottles propped in mouths. Aha. That must be the source of the smell. Only the newbie bothers to cry. The rest of the children have already learned that their tears result in zilch. Climb the dingy stairs to the second floor. Then it hits you. The stench is overwhelming. Choking back bile, you press on and the sight before you nearly makes your knees buckle. Same scene as the first story, but now you are looking into the expressionless faces of toddlers, grade-schoolers and teenagers. They are laying in their own filth, bottles propped against rotting teeth, muscles permanently contracted, their weight flunked out of the percentile charts. These children protest being taken from their cribs, because they hardly know human touch.

Their care is worse than we would find acceptable for our dogs. Light years worse. It is a contradiction to say these are their living conditions; these are truly their dying conditions. This is (at least closer) to what Mother Teresa was talking about.

By the way, the above quote is nestled in a larger quote. Here it is in it's entirety:

There is more hunger in the world for love and appreciation in this world than for bread. We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.


So, take your pooch for a walk (or snuggle your ferret *shudder*) while you seek God's direction for His precious and valued children.

Needing Perspective,
Cynthia

P.S. I will not apologize for thinking of ferrets as hairy snakes with legs.

*The Professor insisted I have a disclaimer. That's why he balances me so well. But seriously. Who else gasps when a horse goes down?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Random Tips That Probably Won't Change Your Life

OK. I think I've made it fairly clear that this is not a house-wifey, homesteading type blog. However, every once and a while I hit on something that makes housey stuff go a little smoother. Here (in no particular order) are a few kick-butt tricks that work for me:

1. Cream of tartar and table salt work well to clean copper-bottomed pans. You know, if you're into shiny pans. 
2. LemiShine works amazingly well on hard water spots on dishes. Buy some and dump it in your dishwasher.
3. Failed Attempt at Home Made Frozen Hash Browns Resulting in Frozen Potato Mush + Waffle Iron = Hash Browns. 'Nuff said. 
4. 2:1 ratio of Hydrogen Peroxide to blue Dawn Dish soap will remove just about any stain in your clothes; even stains from a red shirt bleeding all over a load of clothes which then went straight into the dryer. I'm not bitter. 
5. Eucalyptus oil on the bottom of your feet will help with congestion/drainage issues (especially at night).* It makes me a much more attractive person in the morning.
6. Use your mixer to shred cooked meats. Unless, of course, you're dining on filet mignon and prefer it in one piece...
7. Soaking your fruits and veggies in a bowl of water with a splash of white vinegar will keep them fresh for longer. Just don't forget about them for a couple of hours while you play seven games of Candyland on the floor in the living room. Or so I've heard.

Seven is the number of completion, so I'll stop here and let these random tips complete your day. You're welcome for the cheesy closer.

Trying To Live Smarter-Not Harder,
Cynthia

P.S. All above mentioned brands have no idea I exist and aren't compensating me for my stellar endorsement. Bummer for me. 

*Some people need to dilute it in a carrier oil (olive, jojoba, coconut, whatever). I'm a toughie and slap it on undiluted. Also, I'm no doctor, so no suing me if you burn the soles of your feet clean off. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Four Decades, Dr. Seuss and 50 Million Candles

Forty candles on Roe v. Wade's cake.

50 million candles lit for the death toll, all in the name of personal "rights"; rights which only extend to those who can sign a waiver.

Forty years. Forty.

What bothers me most is that instead of growing stronger in our stance, the Church's position on abortion is waning and becoming wishy-washy. We're succumbing to an evil that should never have been unleashed. We are devising unlikely scenarios to support why abortions should be legal. Let's not kid ourselves. Those scenarios are (in reality) few and far between. We've applied anesthesia to our convictions so much that we can't see the gangrene setting in.

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it. 
~Martin Luther King Jr.


50,000,000

Oh my God. Have mercy! It's death like this that makes me wish we were accustomed to throwing ashes on our heads and beating our chests in agony. Any less of a response seems callous and white-washed.

How is it that the time of death is determined by the moment our heart ceases to beat, and yet we refuse to consider time of life as the moment a heart begins into it's precious cadence? How can we turn a blind eye to LIFE?

It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.
~Mother Teresa

We can busy ourselves with arguments such as, "We don't know who is missing from society. We have lost out on great minds, inventors, presidents, etc." As true as that is, that cannot sidetrack us from the crux of the issue. We are legally supporting the slaughter of millions. Let's call a spade, a spade. It's sin and we stand accused.

And yet, we need to remember above all, to put on love. Yes, a righteous anger is called for, but not a hatred toward fellow man. Years ago, I ran into an old friend. Her eyes seemed dull and her movement mechanical. 

How are you?
Not good.
Why? What's going on?
I just had an abortion.

My heart catapulted into my throat. What could I say? One look at her brokenness told me what not to say. A pro-life lecture would have fallen like so many knives on an already guilt-ridden heart. Shoving an "Abortion stops a beating heart" protest sign in her face would have served ill. I'm sure she would have appreciated joining me on a street corner, and listening to me blare my message through a bullhorn. I used to have a truck held together with bumper stickers, many of them touting catchy pro-life phrases. I wouldn't do it again. You know why? Not once did a frightened, single, pregnant woman motion me to the side of the road to say, "I want to thank you for displaying such a strong message. I hadn't considered what a conflict this was until I saw your multiple bumper stickers. Now that I know you are against abortion, my life is peachy-keen."  

All I did was toss my hard-earned money to a stupid  bumper sticker company. 

It's not enough for us to be pro-life. We must be pro-love. Without compromising Truth, we must love the woman who spits in our face and claims it's a blob of tissue. We must love the doctor who has grown indifferent to his horrific task. We must love the scared teenager (or long-time friend), who has just made the worst decision of her life. Without entering into negotiations, we must love the employees of Planned Parenthood. We must love the woman who is battling post-abortion depression. We must love the woman who comes to us fearful and unsure of her next step. We must love our friends and family members who snicker and roll their eyes at our "backwards, archaic and chauvinistic" thinking. We must love the unborn and advocate tirelessly on their behalf, regardless of their abilities, disabilities, and/or propensities. 

After all, "a person's a person, no matter how small."
~Dr. Seuss 

I Refuse To Become Numb,
Cynthia


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Two Years Down, And A Lifetime To Go!

A legion of butterflies fought for space in my stomach. It is a van ride of which I have tried to commit every turn, every jostle to memory. My eyes took in the long-awaited sign; one we had seen in other meetcha videos and pictures. We pulled up to a tall, metal gate set in a concrete wall. The wall, like many others had broken bottles embedded along the top-poor man's razor wire. The driver honked the horn and a face appeared at the gate. The gatekeeper/guard permitted our entry. 



And we were there. 



All the paperwork, all the months of prayer, all the packing and fundraising was about to take on human form. We could see little faces crowding around a gate toward the back of the property, and little brown noses pressed against a large window set in a nondescript building. It was impossible to tell if Sophia was among the runny noses smearing the glass. Part of me hoped to catch a glimpse of her and part of me didn't want to spoil the moment of meeting her on the steps of the transition home. We were the first family in the line-up. Several families had arrived in the days prior to our arrival and they stood off to the side, preparing to share in the wonder of our moment and identifying with the scope of emotions we were encountering. I felt an unbidden pressure to respond with just the right amount of warmth and love, lest the nannies think I was unfit to become her mama. We were told they were changing her diaper and would bring her out in a minute. I heard her protesting this upset in her day. At the time I swore Ethiopian minutes must be longer than sixty seconds. Just when I felt my nerves would burst, her nanny brought her through the doors and my heart skipped a beat (or three). Pictures had done her little justice. Her solemn expression as they handed her to Timothy held none of the exuberance we see now. Timothy held her for a handful of moments as I gingerly touched her brittle hair. She didn't cry. She seemed resigned to the hand-off. My sweet husband asked if I wanted to hold her. Do I want to hold her? Ummmm...YES! I held it together until she was tucked in my arms. Then I bawled like a baby (much like I'm doing as I type these words). She fit. She was mine and she was precious. 



The most animation from her was when she was facing
away from us, looking into the only home she knew.

Sophia, that was two years ago. We held you, rocked you to sleep, fed you and tried desperately to eek a smile out of you in the short time we were with you on our court trip. We knew you could crawl and walk, but you refused to do anything except dully hold a toy and stare past us. Now not a day goes by that you aren't full of infectious giggles and smiles. You are inquisitive and engage the world around you in a way that is fresh, unique and ALL YOU! You have rocked our world and we are changed forever. Thank you for teaching us to love in another dimension. You opened our eyes to the beautiful tragedy that is adoption. You reached a part of our hearts that was barren before your touch. I love you, my sweet daughter, and I would do it all over again.



To Ethiopia And Back,
Mama

Monday, January 14, 2013

Confessions Of A Crybaby

1. I carry myself like a grocery produce connoisseur when choosing which fruits and veggies go in my basket. I sniff, squeeze and thump my way through the aisles.

I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing. If it's hairy or oozes, I put it back.

2. Facebook peeps already know I was sneaking s'mores last week, in lieu of eating the dinner leftovers I was (coincidentally) forcing the children eat.

No regrets. Why is an explanation necessary? S'mores. For dinner.

Earlier, I shared with you my word for 2013. God cheated and gave me a second word.*

Confession

I like my other word. 

Preparation is exciting and adventurous and elicits responses such as "Oh! WOW! God is going to do something HUGE in your life!" Confession, not so much. Confession is scary and intimidating and garners responses akin to "Oh. Bummer. That sucks. Sorry God's being such a Debbie Downer about your word of the year." Friends want to get involved in preparation. Confession can lead to criticism and alienation exercised by those selfsame friends. 

Raise your hand if you think confession is fun.
*crickets chirping*
Anyone...Anyone...?

Raise your hand if you remember the last time you confessed something to God.
That's not so hard, because I know I'll be forgiven. Plus I can't see the disappointment in my Father's eyes. 

How about to another person?
Starting to squirm.

At a church meeting?
So...uh...heard about Pluto?

It's one thing to confess that which will make readers laugh. It's painless to confess the silly things of which most of us can relate (don't even try to convince me that you know a ripe star fruit when you see one). It's quite another thing to confess wrongdoing and seek forgiveness or to confess a personal struggle. I no longer hold all the cards when I confess. Confession is an act of choosing to involve others in my intimate relationship with Christ. It requires humility (which I lack), vulnerability (which I avoid) and community (which I deflect).**

Pride, resistance and detachment are roadblocks to confession.

We must set aside our pride. It will likely get us in hot water and it oftentimes "goes before the fall". Pride is more than simply saving face; it's pompously claiming, "You are not worthy of me." 
Likewise, resistance builds a parapet around my soul, locking out believers and capturing sin in, with no emergency escape hatch. Confession to God is paramount, but the need to confess to the body of believers is also crucial for a healthy relationship with Christ (and one another). 

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful.
James 5:16


No doubt about it, it is hard work to confess. It's like learning to tie shoelaces. At first my efforts are feeble and awkward. It doesn't pan out how I expected. Things come unraveled and I'm left frustrated with tears blurring my vision of the goal. Seeing as how I no longer struggle to tie my shoes, it's safe to say it gets better.*** I can't point to a day on the calender when tying my shoes was no longer a chore. It happened slowly, over time. Knots became surer with each honest effort. The ends evened and no longer slipped through. It became a fluid motion. This was partially due to my own perseverance and partially due to outside influences (I know this is a lot to require of a shoe-tying analogy, and I've already stretched it pretty thin, but hang in there with me). Surrounding me were some expert shoelace tie-ers. They had the choice to berate and guilt me or gently lead by example and encourage me.****


Our family is blessed to be part of a church fellowship that beautifully models confession. We've witnessed several confessions and each have been met in the same way: The confessor has been enveloped in love, prayer and instruction. This is as it should be. 

I'll admit, confession still causes my stomach to do little flips (mostly because I'm a big crybaby), but I know three things:

1. My home and my church family are both gracious in their responses to confession, of which I must exhibit the same level of graciousness toward them (and others).
2. Little eyes are watching and little lives are being shaped by what they see. I want my children to witness and practice confession.
3. Despite being a crybaby, confession is still scriptural and we are admonished to engage in this practice regularly. 

As regularly as tying our shoes...

Blessings,
Cynthia

P.S. A shout out to Ben Stein and Dulé Hill. Classic lines. Commit them to memory.



*I politely showed Him the rule book, but He insisted on an additional word. He doesn't color inside the lines either.
**See what I did there? "-ity" endings. There will be a test.
***This statement probably doesn't hold much water since I just got done telling ya'll I wear flip-flops
****Side note: Acute, able-bodied adults with velcro shoes concern me. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Kick Off Your Flip-Flops

Dust bunnies. Afghans crumpled on the floor. Smudges on the door jams. Laundry here. Junk mail there. Dishes here and there.*

Holiness. Pure righteousness. Anointed. 

Sacred.

It hardly feels sacred. It feels mundane, ordinary. Stale. 

Remove your shoes. For you are standing on holy ground. 
Amidst toys strewn on the floor and a dog sneaking something from the trash bin? Really?

Too often we equate "holiness" with "exhilaration". Somewhere along the journey, we presupposed that there is always movement to the sacred. 

Be still and know that I AM. 
But there is something sticky on the floor, and what I'm hoping is only peanut butter on the faucet handle.

Are we too busy waiting for sparks and fireworks? Are we straining our eyes to catch sight of a flashing Vegas-style neon sign pointing the way to our personalized burning bush? "Cynthia! Follow the lighted arrows to your very own bush, aflame with God...stuff!"

Baaa! Where the heck did that moronic sheep wander off to this time? Every day is the same hum-drum. Chase that wolf away, lock up the sheep at night, rescue this lamb, clean that off my sandal. 

Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 

This was a personal and intimate moment between God and man. It was sandwiched betwixt the common and garden-variety of Moses' day. There was still a sheep to locate, still messes to clean and still the mundane to live. But everything changes when God touches the expected. There's a new lens through which we view our purpose. 

I still have noses to wipe, meals to prepare, rebukes to dole out, and furniture to dust. In between, and even during, there are countless moments to connect with Holiness. It's a matter of intentionally cultivating a sacred home. Not a Martha Stewart home. A sacred home. Imperfect, but bending before the throne and anticipating His presence.

Even in the mundane. 

Come to think of it, holiness and ordinary-ness seem perfectly suited for one another.


Off To Tackle The Dishes...With My Flip-Flops Off,
Cynthia




*And, wait! What? Is that a booger on the wall?!? 

Monday, January 7, 2013

And The Cornball Quote Award Goes To...

"Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher."
~Oprah Winfrey

This has to be one of the dumbest quotes I've come across lately. I understand the general sentiment; Don't surround yourself with idiots lest you become one. That's just plain common sense and also biblically supported.* Oprah takes it to a whole nother level.  She wrapped her words up in a pretty package, but the heart of her statement is unnerving. Another way to phrase this gem could be "Only befriend people who can benefit you, and forget about the people who need you but have nothing to offer in return." It's not quite as notable, and it won't easily fit on a bumper sticker, but isn't that essentially what has been suggested? 

May I flip this quote on it's tail? Love those who have nothing to offer you, and your true character will shine through. 

It's risky. It most assuredly can get messy and ugly. 

In a beautiful kind of way. 

All day I am surrounded by little urchins who bless me, yes, but cannot give much back to me. I am called to give of myself unreservedly, just as God gives of Himself to His children. Consider the orphan, redeemed into a family from a ghostly existence in a soiled crib. Consider the parents who embrace their special needs son/daughter, and face the stares and whispered comments with each outing. Consider the church with a homeless ministry on Saturdays, watching the same alcoholics take food and shampoo week after week. Consider grown children taking care of their aging parents, attempting to offer dignity till the end. Consider the volunteers in a counseling center or those who mentor foster kids, or lead a prison ministry. According to this quote, we shouldn't consider any of them. I certainly don't see Jesus modeling this self-absorbed formula for success. May I suggest that Jesus wants us to surround ourselves with the so-called loathsome mire of this world? How else can we possibly reach them unless we enter their ugliness? Their pain? I stand to lose myself and gain nothing, which is exactly where God begins to roll up His sleeves and use me in a tangible, life-changing way.

My beef is with four letters in the above quote: O-N-L-Y. There is a balance. Yes, we need people who sharpen us, challenge us, mentor us (which I'm assuming is what's meant by "lift you higher").** Those people, by hanging out with me, are befriending someone who may not be able to offer something in return. I am bettered, but not they. In turn, I need to be that person in the lives of others. This, by the way, is also biblical. ***

I'm sorely out of balance. I confess that and am asking God to pour me out to His people for the sake of His gospel. 

Whether they can offer diddly-squat to me or not.


Considering Much,
Cynthia

P.S. Oprah didn't return my calls to verify her as the source of this quote, neither did she thank me for her Cornball Quote Award. Oprah, if you didn't say this, I apologize and please return the Cornball Trophy. Regardless, someone said it, and whether it was Oprah or Joe the Plumber, my opinion remains unchanged.

* The book of Proverbs is a classic example.
**In other words, offer a general slapping upside the head as needed. 
***That whole Titus-2-older-women-teach-the-younger-women thing. Of which I'm no longer certain if I'm the younger woman or the older. Rats.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Resolutions Are For People Who Don't Have OCD

Seriously, folks. I don't know who decided that New Year's resolutions were a good idea. 

They're bad. Nothing but trouble.

We're three days into this year and I'm already hopelessly behind and disappointed in myself. I didn't even make a formal list. And I like making lists. I purposely avoid making a tangible list of resolutions, because then I can't be held accountable to what I penned in a state of euphoric inspiration. Who's with me?

Here is all I will commit to in writing: Love God and love others. 

It's not new to this year; It's not confined to the little squares on a calendar. I began this blog with love, and God continues to chisel the meaning of those four letters deeper into my soul. 

The new year is laid before us, full of promises, challenges, and memberships to the gym. There is a hopefulness that this is "the year". Perhaps I will accomplish healthier meals on the table, a realistic fitness routine, smiling often, exercising more patience and entertaining friends on a regular basis. But if 2013 ends up being "the year" of nothing else, I pray I have been etched more severely at the hands of Him who knows how firmly to apply pressure. He is The Master Craftsman, and He wields his tools with unmatched expertise. His medium is love; His is not a spineless infatuation. His love can challenge us to the point of despair: Despair that I cannot love enough. That is the beauty of His love. I cannot love completely, but He can love through me. When I feel I cannot possibly love another person or give love to one who seems to gobble it up and demand more, God meets me at that point and infuses me with more of his love. There is nothing more important and more stretching than to love God and love others. Perhaps this is what God is preparing me to do?

So, 2013, my goals for you will wholly falter by February, but I pray we all carry the mantle of God's love into this year with unmatched fervor. And may we find ourselves in December with an unimaginable capacity to love beyond ourselves.

Love,
Cynthia