2017 June

Book Review: At Home in the World

Posted by | Book reviews, community, Culture, family life, field trips, friendship, Identity, outreach, serve, Stories, Uncategorized, world travel | No Comments

My first real venture out of the United States was a study abroad program in Central America during my senior year of college. Our home base was San Jose, Costa Rica, but we also spent time sojourning through Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

I still remember that moment.

I was sitting around a rugged wooden table with a diverse group of Guatemalans and a group of college students from across the United States. The table was spread with billowy, soft bread, crema for dipping, sliced avocadoes, juicy steaks, rice and beans, and a pitcher of some kind of icy, hand-squeezed citrus refresco. We bowed our heads to pray before our meal, and my heart swelled a bit.

I was home.

Mind you, I don’t have any Central American blood. I had never traveled to Guatemala before. But something deep inside me felt at home. The warmth of the people, the bright colors of their woven clothing and wall hangings, the rich flavors of the food, the passion of their praise and worship, the abundant affection of the children – all of it felt like home to me.

In fact, I felt more at home there than I had ever felt back home in the U.S.

Less than three years later I found myself surrounded by hundreds of Haitian children in the middle of a soccer field in the Northern mountains of Haiti. I was there with a group of young career singles from my church in California to put on a Track and Field camp. In the sweltering July tropical heat, we marked off the field like a circular track and we watched these kids race joyfully around it in bare feet. Somehow by the end of that week, I had learned enough Kreyol and cross-cultural sign language to communicate with these kids.

I felt it again. I was home. I was far from home, yet I was very much at home.

When I opened Tsh Oxenreider’s recently-released travel memoir, I knew I had found a kindred spirit. Tsh understands what it is like to feel At Home in the World. She, too, is a mama fueled by wanderlust but also longing for a sense of rootedness, a sense of community, a sense of home.

This book is unique because it takes readers on an adventure with Tsh’s family across four continents in nine months. She and her husband are not your typical world travelers. They are not trying to escape responsibility or drop out of college or avoid a withering relationship. They are happily married and have three kids in tow. They limit themselves to one backpack each and endeavor to stay in neighborhoods and homes where real people live across the globe.

This is not a fancy vacation. This is “worldschooling” at its best.

I was immediately captivated and intrigued by Tsh’s storytelling and reflections. This book whispers, “Come along” without pomp or pretense. We adventure with this family through the bustle of traffic in Beijing. We join them to snorkel the magnificent Great Barrier Reef. We linger with them over Thai food in Chiang Mai. We celebrate a summertime Christmas with them in Queensland.  We join them for a coffee ceremony in Ethiopia and mint tea at the market in Morocco. We coast the Nile River with them in Uganda and stand in awe before Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. We buy bacon together at the boucherie in France and sample gelato more than once a day in Italy.

I love Tsh’s reflections on home throughout the book. She challenges me with this: “Travel has taught me the blessing of ordinariness, of rootedness and stability. It’s courageous to walk out the front door and embrace earth’s great adventures, but the real act of courage is to return to that door, turn the knob, walk through, unpack the bags, and start the kettle for a cup of tea.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book purely for fun. I savored every chapter of At Home in the World. I tucked it in my tote and took it with me to the beach in Malibu, a café in Fresno, and on a camping trip to Soledad Canyon with all my people. I devoured every delicious word. And when I got to the last page I was faced with the dilemma of either starting the book again or booking tickets for my own family of five to somewhere new.

**If you are an avid reader, I encourage you to check out some of my other book reviews. These books have carried me through seasons of tragedy and triumph.

I often serve on book launch teams as a way to get to know authors and their message better. I had the privilege of being part of Tsh Oxenreider’s team for At Home in the World.

Up next: I’ll be reviewing Remarkable Faith: When Jesus Marveled at the Faith of Unremarkable People by my friend Shauna Letellier for July. Pre-order it today!

What are your favorite summer reads for kids or adults? Comment below and let me know what you’re reading! Also, I send out a weekly Glorygram with stories, reading and podcast recommendations, and my recipes. I’d love to deliver it to your inbox. Opt in here.

Journey of the heart: Haiti is calling me home

Posted by | community, Compassion, Culture, friendship, gifts, Grief, Hope, outreach, Sharing faith, Social Justice, Stories | 6 Comments

 

It’s been more than two years since I’ve tasted Haitian fried chicken with plantains cooked over a charcoal burner.

It’s been more than two years since I’ve hugged the necks of the children in the orphanage who are now careening into their teen years.

It’s been more than two years since we have seen those goats on spindly legs grazing in the fields and stood at the edge of the muddy-red river.

It’s been more than two years since I have cupped the faces of my Haitian sisters and shared stories of God’s amazing grace.

This summer I’m going back.

I’m returning to Haiti to speak at the Esther Women’s conference at the end of July. I’m delighted to be taking my family, my daughter’s best friend, and my dear friend Rici Skei, who is also a pastor and dynamic worship leader from Fresno. This will be my third time teaching God’s word for this conference, which draws women of from four churches in the Northern Mountains of Haiti as part of Christian Friendship Ministries.

I can’t wait.

My first trip to Haiti was in the summer of 2001. That trip was led by my first husband Ericlee. In those 10 days, I absolutely fell in love with the Haitian people. I still remember looking out from the little prop plane as we departed the mountain town of Pignon. I gazed over the undulating hills and sapphire sky, and I knew deep inside my heart this was not my last trip to Haiti.

Haiti was home.

As many of you know, that was just the beginning of my relationship with Haiti. After quitting my job as a newspaper reporter for The Fresno Bee, I returned to the Northern mountains of Haiti the following January to teach English to some of the leaders I had met the summer before. Living there full-time was far different from a week-long mission trip but I was hooked.

I honed my language skills, wrote letters home to my friend Ericlee, and learned to embrace the solitude that is implicit when living in a country where so few people speak your native language.

The following summer of 2002 I helped lead another short-term trip to Haiti with Ericlee. As God would have it, Ericlee proposed to me at the top of one of the nation’s most well-known landmarks, the Citadel. This country that he visited every year since he was a child had brought us together. We started planning our wedding. Little did we know that God would call us to invest full-time in serving the Haitian people just a few years later when a devastating earthquake hit. We sunk in roots and cultivated long-term relationships.

My passport is full of stamps from this Caribbean island now.  For much of our marriage, we took one or two trips a year – sometimes staying for as long as three months as Ericlee served as the Director and I focused on Communications/Marketing for the non-profit we helped start. My girls have Haiti embedded deep in their hearts. They have grown up with the kids in the orphanage next to our house. They learned to jump rope, braid hair, and suck on chicken bones from their Haitian friends.

Our last trip to Haiti was in spring of 2015 with my Haitian-born mother-in-law who grew up on the mission field. This was a very different kind of trip. After burying my Ericlee that September before, this was an extension of his memorial. We returned to mourn with our friends and family. I discovered on that trip that cancer may have snuffed out Ericlee’s life but it could never steal his legacy of faith. The Haitians honored him and loved on me, encouraged me and prayed over my future.

After leaving Haiti in 2015, I felt very clearly that God was calling me to step away from my work with the non-profit. I was entering a new season, living in Fresno, California, and raising my three daughters as widow. I needed my family and community in Fresno.

I needed time to grieve and heal.

Although I was confident in my decision, I didn’t anticipate the secondary loss I would experience leaving the ministry and my people in Haiti. I sat in the brokenness for months – grieving the loss of purpose, the death of dreams, the separation from community Ericlee and I had cultivated there.

These past two years, God has been stitching back together the wounds of my heart. He’s been growing in me a new sense of purpose. He’s given me permission to rest and dream again. He’s brought beauty from our ashes.

I’m also returning to Haiti because I have a story of restoration that I must tell. I know God is calling me to walk those dusty streets, to drink in the memories and to declare to the women of Northern Haiti that these dry bones have life again. I long to be an encouragement to them as they have been to me.

Now is an important time to return to take my daughters back to the community they so dearly love and to experience the legacy of their daddy anew. My oldest, Meilani, is excited about bringing her friend Tessa Schultz to experience Haiti with us. I also need to introduce my Haitian friends to my new husband, Shawn.

I actually began my friendship with Shawn back in 2001 in Haiti. He was part of that same mission team from our church that was led by Ericlee. Shawn and Ericlee were friends from high school. They were both runners and crossed paths many times through the years. On that trip, Shawn was assigned to be my prayer and coaching partner. We taught the Haitian kids how to jump hurdles and run sprints for the track & field camp.

Of course, I had no idea how God would thread together our lives all these years later and bring him as a kinsman-redeemer to our family. It is our joy to return to Haiti together as a family July 22-30.

Haiti is calling me. She’s calling me home.

 

There are three ways you can partner with us this summer:

  • Join our prayer team. Simply comment below or send us a private message and we will keep you posted on specific prayer needs along the way. Your prayers are vital to us.
  • Give a financial donation. This year’s plane tickets cost $1,200 per person so you can do the math and figure out the cost for a team of seven of us traveling to Haiti. It’s not cheap. Your tax-deductible donation is an investment not just in us but also in the people of Haiti. Whatever we raise beyond our travel needs will go to the women’s conference.
  • Collect toiletries. Each year the women who attend the Esther women’s conferences look forward to the little “goodie bag” they will receive at the conference. This year, I’m collecting travel-sized toiletries to share with the women. If you’re at a hotel, save what you don’t use. You can also buy the travel sizes at your local drug store, Target, etc.

Follow our journey on Instagram! And please attend our community night to hear more about our trip. Details below!

In the Shadow of the Giant: How to be a Glory Chaser

Posted by | Behold, community, courage, fierce flourishing, finishing well, laughter, running, self-care, Stories, Struggle/Hardship | 6 Comments

 

There is no gun to signal the start of this race. Just a voice bellowing “Go!” that echoes throughout the forest. I start up the trail. When I say up, I mean straight up. My trail shoes hit the rocky path, and I feel the strain. I lift my knees and pump my arms. My lungs burn for the first few miles because of the elevation, which soars above 5,000 feet.

I run today with a band of 10 mama runners (with 30 kids among us), who have become my tribe this year. We all run at different paces but we cheer for each other along the way. I’m not sure how it happened exactly. A few of us said we were going to try a trail race. Then several more signed up. And a few more stragglers registered at the last minute. And the rest is history. They remind me that I can do hard things in community.

This race is called the Shadow of the Giants, started in the 1990s by a notorious trail runner known as Big Baz. We’ve been told the now-75-year-old likes to harass runners out on the course.

This is my first trail 20k. I’ve run marathons and half marathons but this is the longest distance I’ve tackled on the trail. I’m a road runner. I grew up in the city racing 5ks and 10ks with my daddy and then eventually joining the high school track team when my soccer coach told me it would be good cross training.

The trail is different.

It taunts and charms me at the same time. The trail requires embracing the unknown. The trail experience is less about pace and mileage, and checking my Garmin watch, and more about lifting my eyes to drink in God’s glory around every curve.

I once heard a preacher talk about how we are called to be “glory chasers.” Pastor Mitchel Lee’s phrase sparked something deep inside me. He argued that we humans were put on this earth to discover God’s glory and reflect it back to God and those around us.

We have permission for ambition but not for personal glory. We are to live and work and run for God’s glory.

I pray for God to show me ways I can be a “glory chaser.”

I started this back in 2014 when I chose the word glory as my theme word. I had to train myself to notice His glory around me through the tragedy and the triumph. That was the year my husband was diagnosed with stage four cancer. That was the year I experienced God’s glory in sunsets and along the coast. That was the year He showed up for us through our community, who served us, fed us, collected money for medical bills, and lifted us. That was the year my lover leaped into Heaven – the ultimate Glory – leaving me a widow with three children.

Now three years later, I’m still a glory chaser. I’m still looking for God in my every day. I’m tracing his faithfulness through every piece of my past. I’m leading others up the trail to unearth His glory for themselves.

This trail through the famous Nelder Grove not far from Yosemite National Park is the perfect teacher. The first four miles of our race is uphill. The battle on the trail is always against the mind.

My mind zigs and zags as I fix my eyes on my feet. So many rocks and rivets to navigate. Can I do this? Will my knees hold up? Do I have enough water? Will they leave me behind? How will I finish?

I start to lift my head when I hear my running buddy say, “We need to remember to lift our eyes up from the trail.” She, too, is driven to see the glory.

My eyes can’t help chasing up the trunks of the majestic sequoia trees – each one pointing toward Heaven. I am reminded of a Creator God who took time to plant every tree in this grove and design every bird and beast and flower that call this place home.

A glory chaser lifts her eyes to see God’s glory even when the trail is uphill.

I am overwhelmed by the beauty of this view – miles upon miles of trees and sapphire sky. My soul is calmed by the sound of water dancing down little waterfalls below us. We are in the shadow of the Giants and the shadow of the Most High God.

My friend just read Psalm 91 to me. I meditate on these words as I run: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” I whisper a prayer of thanks.

Thank you, Lord, for the shade provided by these trees shielding us from the heat of the sun and strengthening us on this uphill track. Thank you for lungs that can breathe and legs that run. Help me not to take these for granted but to see them as part of your glory too. Amen.

Before long, we have been running 7 miles. We hear water rushing below us and we know the river crossing is near. This is the X-factor, the uncertain part of the trail I have been most anticipating. After a heavy rain fall this past winter, I have heard this crossing could be as high as my waist. I debated for days what to wear and how to carry my gear.

When we arrive at water’s edge, I look at my friend. “Well, here we go.”

A glory chaser runs through the water instead of around it.

I think about Moses in Exodus 15 and how he followed God’s command. He led the Israelites straight to the roaring Red Sea. They ran for the water and the rapids parted.

A voice sings through my ear buds: “Your grace abounds in deepest waters.”

I step into the ice cold and begin to blaze a trail. I am filled with laughter as the water rushes over my legs and splashes my arms. I anticipated this as a difficult obstacle to cross but it proves a refreshing and memorable part of the race. Baz is on the other side of the shore with his white beard and broad smile.

“You made it, darling,” he says, warmly. “What did you think of it?”

“It was glorious,” is all I can say.

My friend Amber is behind me. She catches up and we continue on the trail. We feel a rush of excitement that we have survived the river and we are almost finished with our 20k.

We can breathe again without burning lungs. We chat about books we’ve read and travels we hope to take one day with our families. The trail offers a mix of companionship and solitude. I am grateful for my friend on these long miles to keep me going.

Her knee starts to hurt. We walk a while. I try to encourage her. We give ourselves no pressure to make time goals like I might in a road race. We want to savor every step. The sun crosses our path in patches but just when I put on my sunglasses we have ducked back into the shade. The temperature is perfect – another glimpse of God’s glory today.

My watch tells me we have finished 12 miles. Amber urges me that I must go ahead. She wants to walk and insists I run to the finish. I concede. The solitude will serve us both well, I know.

A glory chaser always runs with the finish in mind.

The trail turns from a wide road big enough for a fire truck to a single track of switchbacks headed downhill. I can’t help it. My feet take me faster and faster. I jump over logs and duck under tree branches. I am chasing the finish line now. I don’t know where it is exactly, but I trust my legs and my God to show me the course step by step.

This is a lesson I have learned these past three years. If God had revealed the whole course – all the details of my husband’s cancer journey, his death and our grief, and even the redemptive pieces of my story like getting remarried to one of his best friends, I am not sure I would have survived. I would have been overwhelmed by His full glory. He ran just ahead of me and paced me with His presence. I always ran in the protective shadow of the Giant.

My sprinter’s heart is pounding. I want to finish well. I want to run for His Glory. I want to cross the line like my husband did with arms outstretched and hear Him say those long-anticipated words, “Well done.”

 

**Are you interested in hearing more about how to be a glory chaser? Join here for updates on my Glory Chaser book and bible study project! And please share ways God has shown His glory to you in the comments below!

Building community in the kitchen: The secret is in the sauce (and three recipes!)

Posted by | cooking, creativity, Culture, end-of-school year, family life, food stories, kids, laughter, Main Dish, Recipes, Uncategorized | No Comments

Cooking has always been a place of creativity, community and comfort for me. I grew up in the kitchen stirring sauces with my mama, kneading dough with my Italian Nana, and rolling lumpia egg rolls with my Filipino grandma.

As an adult, I have gathered many friends and family members in my kitchen to cook together. When I was a young married girl, I hosted a Cooking Club in my home for almost eight years. It all started because one of my friends told me she didn’t know how to boil water. Another friend loved to cook and asked if we could swap recipes. I looked around me and realized there were a host of women longing to learn and get in the kitchen together.

Our Cooking Club was born. We would meet monthly. I would choose a theme and some core recipes. People would bring ingredients. The ladies would cook and the guys would clean. We tackled time-intensive projects like homemade gnocci and and rosemary focaccia bread. We discovered new ethnic cuisines like Ethiopian key wot and Hawaiian sweet potato casserole. We created Pumpkin Party soup using farmer’s market abundance.

Through the years, we all started having babies and the Cooking Club grew to well over 40 people coming each month. We finally took a break when my husband and I took an assignment working full-time for a non-profit organization in Haiti. I still look back on those gatherings with fond memories. Maybe one day we will revive Cooking Club when all our kiddos are in high school.

I believe there’s so much to learn when we gather together to get our hands messy, employ our creativity, and share stories around food.

This school year I had the opportunity to teach a series of cooking classes for my daughter’s fifth grade class. My daughters attend Kepler Neighborhood School, a local charter that focuses on project-based learning. I started by sharing the children’s book I wrote. Cora Cooks Pancit tells the story of a girl named Cora who is the youngest in her family. She ventures into the kitchen one day with her mama and learns to make a Filipino signature dish called pancit. In the process of cooking together, Cora learns about some family history and history of the Filipinos in California. The book concludes with the recipe for pancit.

When I visit classrooms to share my book, I often teach the kids to make pancit. They help me wash and chop the vegetables and add the noodles to the pan. I am always surprised at the number of kids who taste the dish at the end even though it’s full of vegetables and new flavors for them. I think they feel ownership because they were involved in the process of creating the pancit.

I taught five cooking classes for my daughter’s fifth grade class this school year. One of my favorite classes was teaching the kids the secret in the sauce. I have three go-to sauces in my Italian cooking repertoire. These sauces celebrate my Southern Italian roots and my own creativity.

I invited the kids to re-create two of the sauces – pesto and a sausage ragu. We talked about tips on combining ingredients. For example, a little sugar is added to tomato-based sauces to reduce the acidic.

Then I set the kids free to create their own recipes. I told them the ingredients in each sauce but I didn’t tell them the quantities or the process of making it. They had to be creative, think critically, measure, taste test and write their own recipes. Their teacher and I also made this into a math lesson so the students were practicing multiplying fractions.

 

I loved seeing the teamwork that happened naturally as the kids created their recipes. Some wanted to get their hands dirty and add ingredients. Others engaged their senses smelling the spices and tasting the sauces. A few dove right into the math problem, writing down the recipes. I thought back to my cooking club and how over the years each of those friends discovered their tastes and their gifts in the kitchen.

Each of these sauces are pretty simple to make. They do not require a lot of time or a long list of ingredients. They do require attention and love. The kids gained some practical skills in cooking but they also learned to engage their creativity in community.

I hope this summer you will take some time to gather some friends or your own children in the kitchen. You might choose a favorite family recipe or try one of these sauce recipes. If you want to get adventurous, you can cover up the quantities of each ingredient and let your kids explore and combine on their own. You might take advantage of this time together in the kitchen to tell stories about your grandpa or great-aunt who made a special recipe.

**I’d love to hear how it goes. Please come back and COMMENT below about your experiences. Did you find any creative uses for these sauces? Which was your favorite?

 

 

Pesto Sauce

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh basil leaves

½ cup walnuts or pine nuts

½ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup parmesan cheese

 

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor except cheese. Pulse or process until sauce has a course spreadable, texture.
  2. Stir in cheese at the end.
  3. A few options:

-Brush on pesto sauce top of chicken and grill or bake the chicken (30 minutes at 350 degrees).

-Mix in with cooked, hot pasta of your choice and serve.

-Spread pesto sauce on top of toast or pita bread for an appetizer.

 

 

 Italian Sausage Ragu Sauce

-2 tablespoons olive oil

-1 onion, chopped

-1 (28-ounce can) crushed tomatoes

-1 (15-ounce can) can tomato sauce

-1 tablespoon dried oregano

-1 tablespoon fennel seed

-1 tablespoon basil

-1 tsp salt

-2 cloves garlic, minced

-1 teaspoon organic sugar

-1/2 cup parmesan cheese

-1 package uncooked Italian sausage (I love Trader Joe’s sweet Italian sausage.)

 

Directions:

  1. Heat saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil.
  2. Meanwhile, chop 1 onion.
  3. If sausage is inside casings, squeeze out into a bowl. When oil is heated, add sausage to the oil. Use a potato smasher or a fork to break it up.
  4. Once the sausage is lightly browned, add onion and cook until clear/translucent.
  5. Add the spices: oregano, fennel seed, basil, salt, sugar.
  6. Chop two cloves garlic or mince in garlic press.
  7. Add sugar, parmesan cheese and mix together.
  8. Pour in cans of marinara sauce and tomato sauce. Simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. (Meanwhile, prep your favorite pasta/noodles.)
  9. Add to cooked pasta and garnish with more parmesan cheese.

 

 

Alfredo Sauce

 -1 cup of butter

-1 cup heavy cream

-1/2 cup parmesan cheese

-1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or light sprinkle)

-1/4 teaspoon dried basil

 

Directions:

  1. Combine butter and cream in a skillet or shallow frying pan.
  2. Heat to medium and let slowly simmer. Turn down heat once bubbles start. As bubbles form, sauce will thicken. Whisk frequently and be patient.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare your pasta as desired.
  4. Add salt and basil to sauce.
  5. Stir in parmesan cheese.
  6. Pour over pasta and serve.

 

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