Friday, January 25, 2013

Our Visit from Natal...and Self-Evaluation

Recently we were blessed with a visit from our friend who lives in Natal, Brazil--that's where we lived when Ben was born. Cris is an American who started out teaching English there with Let's Start Talking (LST) and ended up staying as a full-time missionary. She came through our neck of the woods on furlough. We had lunch and hung out all afternoon talking about life, much like we did in Brazil. 

We learned some things about our time in Natal through our conversation with Cris. For one thing, even though we lived in the same city and went to the same church for eighteen months, she never quite understood what happened with my pregnancy with Ben and why we left Natal. Because that was due in large part to our lack of communication, I'm guessing you don't understand it either, so allow me to put it in a nutshell.

I had a liver condition called cholestasis of pregnancy which caused me to itch until I scratched my skin off in certain places. I was in so much pain physically and emotionally that I wasn't at church much, which may be why nobody knew what I was going through. More importantly, the condition endangered Ben's life to the point that we had to induce labor a couple of weeks early. After he was born, he was severely jaundiced and we had a very tough time getting him the medical attention he needed. Despite the church doing all they knew to help us, I was depressed and went on a prayer campaign asking God to get me out of what felt like a pot of water that was slowly approaching a boil. He did that when we got a phone call two days before we were scheduled to leave for furlough. The call was from a man representing a small Brazilian church plant effort just north of Miami. They were looking for an American missionary in Brazil who might be willing to move to Florida to work with their church. It just so happened we were going to be minutes from them during our first stop on furlough--yes, really. As it turned out, we moved to Florida soon after that furlough and that meeting. It was an answer to my prayers.

Maybe it was short-sighted on my part to pray the way I did. Maybe it was faithless or weak. I'm willing to admit I'm quite imperfect. But I believe God worked it out to his advantage. We went to Florida with every intention of working with an existing Brazilian church but ended up with a house church, all in English. We made lots of mistakes and could have done much better, but we do have six new brothers and sisters in Christ as a result of our time in Florida. Also, being in the States put us in a much better position to come to Texas when my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Cris was happy to report that the church in Natal is doing very well and that part of that success can be directly attributed to some of the people John baptized and the seeds of evangelism that he planted. While I was busy being sick, John was busy teaching people about Jesus. I have a hunch Satan wasn't happy about that and had something to do with my condition and state of mind. So, if you never quite knew the real story behind how we got from Natal to Texas, I hope this helps. Cris said it helped her. Obviously, there's a lot more to it, but I won't bore you with all the details--unless you ask.

Here's a link to the blog Cris writes about her work in Natal: Take a minute to check it out and leave her a comment. Encouragement is a valuable commodity to a missionary.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

More Comic Relief

Well, I must say, I didn't expect the feedback you gave me on the rooster post, so I'm encouraged to share more "comic relief" with you. This one wasn't my idea but my husband and kids'. Every time we drive to the nursing home to see my mom, we pass a dentist's office with this kid's picture on the window. Everyone in the car comments--every time--how much he looks like me. Ben goes so far as to say, "Mom, you look like a little boy." The last time we passed by, John stopped to snap this photo of me with my apparent twin. What do you think?
By-the-way, thank you all for the suggested names for our ball-playing rooster. Unfortunately, the name Lunch won out--and by Lunch I don't mean ours. A pack of dogs broke into our chicken coop and ate him and all his lady friends. We're just glad we have the video as a memory.

Monday, January 14, 2013

What is The Gem?

Many of you have expressed interest in The Gem. That's where we go to church, where we work out, and where our kids play. It's kind of a hybrid between the YMCA and a traditional church. In order to help explain it, I'll tell you their story as I understand it.

Once upon a time there was a church in the city who lost its parking space to development. The leaders of the congregation knew something had to be done so they decided to find another location with more room. The city was out of the question because prices were on the rise. They prayed for God's guidance and He showed them a place for sale out in the country. It was a piece of land on a highway between two small, but developing towns. There were two buildings which included an auditorium, an indoor swimming pool, and a full-sized gymnasium. There was also a neat, old house with lots of windows and hard wood floors. The property offered plenty of space and potential so they sold their building in the city and bought it. The church agreed to make the drive and continue to meet together, which they did in the auditorium. It was a sacrifice but at least they had the space they needed to fellowship and grow.

The leaders went to the chamber of commerce to introduce themselves and to ask about the specific needs of the community. They were told that the property they had purchased used to be a recreational center and it was a great loss to the community when it closed down. Because the church wanted to be of service, they agreed to reopen the rec. center. They connected the old house to the main building by constructing a concourse between the two. The door to that concourse became the main entrance. They converted closets to child care rooms, filled the pool, bought gym equipment, and added air conditioning to the gymnasium. They started selling low-cost memberships and opened their doors to the public, all the while still meeting as a church in the auditorium on Sunday mornings for worship and Wednesday evenings for Bible study.

When John and I moved to town, we heard about the local gym and went in for a tour. We ended up joining for exercise and church. The kids take weekly art classes and they've been in two plays produced by the theater group. Sometimes we get a workout in on a Wednesday evening then head into the auditorium to join the church for a meal. Currently, The Gem is hosting their own version of the Biggest Loser competition. Sunday mornings they have a worship service and Bible study then hundreds of locals stream in for weigh-ins and work-outs related to the competition. At the end of the day, the church and the community are getting to know each other on a relational level. Each week we welcome new faces into the church--faces of people we met in the weight room or at the pool. It's a beautifully organic establishment addressing the question of how to introduce Jesus to a world who has no interest in religion, because it's not religion but relationship.

Last year The Gem baptized twelve people. Those twelve people live within minutes of countless other churches but, because they belonged to that demographic that has no intention of ever going to church, they were falling through the cracks. They came to The Gem for recreation and community and got more than they expected. Even in the Bible belt--or should I say especially in the Bible belt--this type of church is needed. They recognized the need for a place where non-church goers could fellowship with Christians without the pressures of religion. We hope to see more like it in the future.

Friday, January 11, 2013

JAWS Debut

This week was the first official session of the Jewell Athletic Workshop (JAWS). I spent the week painting these t-shirts for our family so folks would know how to identify us. A couple of masterminds from the GEM graciously created the logo for us. I was more than happy to do my part in getting it in print, but if any of my readers have a less time-consuming option for this, I would like to hear it.
John bought equipment for sports like frisbee golf, archery, basketball, soccer and flag football. We had twenty kids show up and participate in rotating stations. We were thrilled with the turnout. As we get more kids, we plan to break the groups down by age. 
A few of the men from the church that meets at the Gem volunteered to coach and assemble equipment.

We ran and played for three hours and pretty much wore everyone out. We saw lots of smiles and made some new friends. Goal accomplished.
Future goals include getting the word out that this is not a highly competitive program, but a place where every kid can play and be encouraged for the wonderful creation he or she is. We hope to provide a place for those individuals who don't fit into league sports and need a community of friends who accept them for who they are not what they can do.
We'll be back for our second session next week and plan to start registration. This is a non-profit organization and, if you're of the mind, you can contribute in many ways to keeping these kids off the couch, away from video games, and off drugs. We need your gently used sports equipment, prizes for games and raffles, cups and healthy snacks for breaks, and most importantly scholarships for low-income families. We've shaved this down to the penny and just $300 can send one kid through for an entire semester. $60 allows one kid to participate for a month. Thanks for tuning in and I hope you're encouraged by our future reports on JAWS.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Our Christmas

I hope you had a good holiday and enjoyed some time with family. Here's what we did for Christmas:
We drove to Colorado to spend time with my in-laws. The last time we did that was in October, and I barely remember the visit because my mom went with us and did not travel well. Now she's in a nursing home for people with Alzheimer's, which is working out to be best for everyone involved. It looks like she's going to stay. 

The boys enjoyed spending time with their cousins.
And playing in the snow.
Christmas morning started out with the adults waking up at 5:30, well before the kids were awake. When we awoke them with our coffee talk, they quickly tore into their stockings.
But these weren't just any stockings. Our very dear friend in Florida hand knit, felted, and monogrammed one for each of us. We cherished them so much that they went with us to Colorado.
Then the kids opened their main gift. Jonah got a skateboard--exactly what he wanted. Don't worry, he also got a helmet and pads.
Ben got a Playmobile farm set. He said, "Hey, look! I got a zoo!."
And Andy got a guinea pig, which you can't really see because he was immediately mobbed with affection. He also got a book about guinea pigs, which taught us they should not be raised individually. So, we promptly went back to the pet store and bought a friend for little Domino. 

When the rest of the family showed up, we did the adult gift exchange. As you can see, it's a good-sized family, so we've started a tradition where the adults draw names instead of buying for each person.

John was happy to get a Nook--something neither of us had heard of. I guess we really don't get out much.

And I guess they felt sorry for us, because they sent us to Estes Park where we visited the Stanley Hotel, where they filmed the Shining.
 But we stayed in a lodge where, to my knowledge, no horror films have ever been shot.

It was already really great, but when this elk paid us a visit on our back porch, it went from great to perfect. We drove through rocky Mountain National Park and saw a couple of hundred more.
I'm happy to be able to share some of our holiday memories with you and would love to hear about yours.