Monday, February 23, 2009

Regresamos Del Acuna

That means, we are back from Acuna. I hope. I had to look it up. Oh how I wish wish wish I knew Spanish!! I would have loved to carry on conversations with all of the people we met in Acuna. My high school Spanish teacher would be so disappointed.

Well, we left Thursday morning at 6am for Acuna Mexico, right on the Texas Mexico border near Del Rio. There were 19 of us all from the Newlywed Sunday School class at First Baptist. We took two 15 passenger vans and a jeep, and made it safely there after a stop at Bucees (love it!), subway, HEB, and a couple bathroom breaks. Here was our home for the next few days. It used to be an old school, but is now used by the missionaries. There are two bunk rooms - guys and girls, bathrooms, a kitchen, and a small house for the full time missionaries.

We arrived at about 2pm Thursday and quickly got settled in. Dana Sweet and his family run a ministry called WIDE - Word in Deed Evangelism. They focus on meeting physical and spiritual needs of the people of Acuna in the name of Jesus Christ. This is an amazing ministry, and there is such a great need in Acuna. Mission teams come there often, and help out in many different ways. Some build casitas (small houses) like we did, others spend time at the orphanage, or do other building projects. The family we were helping, like many, lived in a small "house" that they had made of stones. It has a dirt floor, rain can come right in, and has no insulation to keep them warm. Here is a picture of their home.

There is no door - they either lean wood up against it at night, or have fabric draped across. There are two outhouses in the back. It is a completely different way of life, and is very humbling. It makes me so thankful for everything I have that I take for granted - running water, bathrooms inside my home, a warm bed to sleep in, clean clothes, a kitchen to cook in, and the list goes on and on. It is so dusty out there too, I don't know if anything is ever really clean. The kids were so adorable, just running around wanted to be loved and chased. Though we didn't speak the same language, they were just like any kids, hungry for attention.

Thursday we did some prep work to get ready to build the house. We were on a tight schedule, but ready to work hard. The family got to choose the color of the house. They chose pink for the outside and green for the inside. The missionaries said they families choose pink about 50% of the time! They like fun colors in Acuna. We painted the siding and cut boards for the house. Dana took us to the site where we would be building the home. The concrete foundation had been laid a few days before. We cleared the ground around the house and met the family. We were building the house right behind their current home. It was out in the middle of a dessert like field, with similar homes spread out around there. The roads there are so bumpy. Even in the town, many of the roads are just dirt/gravel roads that are so bumpy they will send you flying in the back seat of the van. There were also dogs everywhere. Seemed like everyone had a dog tied up in front of their homes. That night we cooked spaghetti for dinner, had our evening devotional, and got a good night sleep.

The next day after breakfast and a morning devotional we set out early and started on the house. It was really interesting to watch the whole process of building a house from start to finish. I was a little hesitant at first - not sure how I would be able to help since I know nothing about building houses, but it was neat how there was plenty for everyone to do. Plenty of hammers, gloves, nails, and paintbrushes for everyone. We got the frame up quickly, and put the siding up.

Here is Jared, who lead our team, along with his wife Kristy. Jared had been on a mission trip to Acuna last year, and ever since then had wanted to go back with a team from the newlywed class.

After lunch the girls headed over to the Door of Hope, a Christian ministry and home for teenage mothers. We got a chance to spend time with the girls and their kids. We had fun decorating cookies with them, and playing with the kids in the backyard. The language barrier presented a big challenge, but thankfully we had Molly on our team who knew enough Spanish to carry on a conversation with them. It was so neat to see the different gifts and skills that each person brought to the team. Molly's husband is in the construction business, so he was great at leading the building, and directing everyone to various jobs. Other people were very servant hearted - cooking dinner for the group and cleaning up afterward. Several of the guys including Greg, took turns leading the morning and evening devotionals and did such a good job. It was amazing to see the body of Christ work together.

After the girls got back from the Door of Hope, we continued work on the house for a little while longer, and then headed home. We had hamburgers and hotdogs, and evening devotional, and then enjoyed a good night's rest.

Saturday we started out early again. We painted more boards, put up the drywall, some of the guys worked on the electrical stuff, and we started painting the inside. We repainted the outside, put in the 2 windows, and the door. We packed sandwiches and stayed out there till it got dark, hurrying to get everything done in time.

That evening we did the finishing touches on the inside paint, put up the 2 inside lights, turned on the front porch light, and swept out the inside. It was amazing to see the house, and what God had done through us. That evening we went out to a Mexican restaurant and enjoyed some local food. They had these amazing lemonades, served in these huge glasses, with unlimited refills. We all had delicious fajitas, and enjoyed listening to the mariachi band play La Bamba for us. After our evening devotional, we went to bed.
The next morning, we met the pastor to dedicate the house. We prayed over the house and the family, and presented the keys to them. The preacher read several passages from the bible, and instructed the family to honor God with this house. This was the most special part of the whole trip. It makes me want to cry just thinking about it and looking at the pictures. The woman was crying, and I think the man was tearing up as well. They were overwhelmed and very thankful. You can see if the picture below the man holding up the keys - his face lit up with joy. He kept putting his hand over his heart and looking up as if to say thank you, thank you. They are believers, and it was neat to think about seeing them in Heaven one day. This will be something they can show their friends and family, as a testimony to the good God we serve. As the preacher told this elderly couple - "God has NOT forgotten you."
During one of our devotionals, we talked about the great need this family had. Their need was physical. It was visible. It was undeniable. They needed shelter from the rain. From the cold and heat. The grandkids were running around dirty, in the same clothes everyday. Their need was big. But there are tons of people all over the world with an even bigger need. But you can't see it from the outside. Many people are well-to-do. They have all the luxuries you could want. But if they don't know Jesus as savior, they have the biggest need imaginable. This goes beyond a temporary need in this life. This is dealing with eternity. If their lives are amazing now, what difference does it make if they won't be spending eternity in Heaven? It was a wake-up call to me to see it in this light. A far greater need exists for so many people, but it is not blatantly obvious all the time, and it goes unmet. I need to get on my knees in prayer for how I can look for ways to meet both needs in people. Well, God will be the one meeting the needs, but I need to be available to be used by Him.
I am so thankful for the opportunity we had to serve on this trip. And I am so thankful for people like Dana and his family who dedicate their whole lives to this ministry, and helping people who are in such need. They aim to meet physical and spiritual needs. Praise God for what He is doing throught this ministry in Acuna!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Blog Away From Home

Tomorrow Greg and I leave for Acuna, Mexico, along with 18 others from our Newlywed Sunday School class. We will be building a house (think small....basically like a shed), and spending time with the Door of Hope (a ministry to young mothers).

Our team will be keeping a blog while we are there, so check in for updates. I think that this blog is used by many teams that go to Acuna, so only the posts from tomorrow through Sunday will be from our team.

Ok, gotta go pack!

Monday, February 16, 2009

We Are Normal, I Promise

Well we started out that way anyway....with a nice...normal...valentine's day picture.

And then our true colors came out.

We had a great first Valentine's Day together as a married couple. Greg was so sweet the entire day. He made breakfast in bed for me. Then he brought me home my favorite salad from Corner Bakery for lunch. For dinner we went to our favorite restaurant - Red Onion. We have eaten there 3 times together and all three times we have been seated at the same table! I guess we will just have to continue the tradition.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cake Challenge

This weekend I had my most challenging cake so far. I don't feel like it came out well at all. I was super stressed making it and had nightmares of the top layer falling off all night long. This picture is sort of cheating, because it hides all of the flaws :) I also took it from the cake's "good side" since some of the chocolate was not so pretty. The lighting makes the icing look smooth, when really the top layer was a bit disastrous. Also, the tiers are not perfectly level when you look at it from different sides. I even re-did the top layer after icing it all and doing the chocolate, and it still wasn't much better the second time. I don't think I leveled my cakes far enough down because the sides were not perfectly straight causing the icing to get really weird. Anyway, the lady who ordered it was going to put hot pink roses on it so hopefully that will distract from all the errors. I will not be doing a cake like this again until I get some major practice in though. I felt so bad for the lady who ordered it. Even though she was so sweet and insisted it looked fine, I wasn't happy with it and wished I could have been able to make it prettier for her. I thought this one would be easier and take less time than the shaped cakes, but I was way wrong.

I also had another order for a wedding dress that was picked up on Sunday.

This onsie cake was for a baby shower at work this past Thursday.

The details are done in fondant, which you can see in the picture below. The border and overall icing is buttercream though. I like doing accents in fondant because they look very neat and clean but the cake still tastes good.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Recession: Part 4 & 5

Alright, this is the last of the series on Recession. If you haven't read my previous posts, start on Recession Part 1 to get caught up. These are so good. (Piper's words that is, not mine). Here are purposes #3 and #4 from Piper's sermon written out on his website. I love the list of miracles he lists that God has performed. Such a good reminder that He is a good and faithful God. So here are the last 2 of God's purposes in Recession according to Piper.

4. To Guard His Glory by Advancing His Saving Mission in the World Precisely When Human Resources Are Low

We see this all over the Bible. God does his great advancing work again and again when it looks least possible for us.
  • He promises the heir when Abraham and Sarah are too old to have children.
  • He splits the Red Sea when Israel is hopelessly trapped by Pharaoh’s army.
  • He gives manna when there is no food in the wilderness.
  • He stops the Jordan River when it’s time to take the land.
  • When a city stands in the way, he makes the walls fall down.
  • When the Midianites were as many as the sand of the sea, God whittled Gideon’s army down to 300 so God would get the glory for the victory.
  • When Goliath defies the armies of the Lord, God sends a boy with a sling and five stones.
  • When the Son of God is to come into the world, God calls a virgin to conceive.
  • And when the mighty devil himself is to be defeated, a Lamb goes to the slaughter.

Are you like the Macedonians whose joy—in times of “recession”—was invincible because it was rooted in the grace of God? May God open our eyes to glory of his grace. When he does, the last purpose for the recession that I will mention will come true.

5. To Bring His Church to Care for Her Hurting Members and Grow in Love

Buildings exist for people, not the other way around. May no effort to build ever keep us from caring for Christ’s followers. Acts 4:34 describes the early church: “There was not a needy person among them.” This is what the church does. Every member will have his needs met. God will test us to see if we are a church or a club.

May the Lord grant us “Macedonian grace” to “finish the million” and care for each other.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Recession: Part 3

I am continuing my multi-part posts on God's purposes in recession. This is purpose #3 of 5 from John Piper's sermon. It is about finding our joy in God's Grace, not in the things we own. This is definitely a hard thing for me to do. My joy does tend to get caught up in the things I own. I spend time brainstorming ways I can make extra money one day when I stay home with kids. As if money is life's aim. Why should I be less happy with less money? Should my happiness really be tied to money? If I bought all my clothes at Neiman Marcus would that really make me a happier person than if I bought all my clothes from Walmart? That seems silly when I think about it like that. I am comfortable with the amount of money God has given us at this time, but what if God took away some of it? Or a lot of it? Have I said to God - "This is my minimum comfort level, and I expect to stay at this level or go up"? Honestly, sometimes I think I have. Other times I think, oh I would be ok with less. But if that is really true, then why don't I give away more money now? Anyway, Piper of course says it way better. Below is taken directly out of his sermon (some things left out in order to condense).

3) To relocate the roots of our joy in His Grace rather than our goods

God sends recessions to his people to pull up the roots of our joy from the pleasures of the world and sink those roots into the pleasures of the glory of his grace. Here’s he clearest recessionary text about this in the Bible—2 Corinthians 8:1-2. It describes the roots of the joy of the Macedonian believers in their “recession.”

"We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part."

We want to be a generous people. Generous in every way. Where does it come from? From prosperity? No. Extreme poverty. “Their extreme poverty overflowed in a wealth of liberality.” This is why I call this a recessionary text. Here are people overflowing in generosity when the economic times are very bad.

Where then did this wealth of generosity come form? Paul says it came from joy, abundance of joy. Verse 2: “Their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity.”

Their joy was not rooted in prosperity or popularity. But it was very great. Paul calls it “abundance of joy” in the middle of verse 2. Where did that joy come from?

Our joy is not rooted in circumstances. God has relocated our joy in his grace, not our goods—in his mercy, not our money, in his worth, not our wealth.

If the recession can assist that relocation, it will have done the most important thing possible. Because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

Next post will be #4 and #5 since they are pretty short.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Recession: Part 2

This is the second of Piper's five points on God's purposes for a recession. Start with the previous post if you haven't read #1. It is really good for me to read things like this and it makes me think beyond earthly reasoning to consider what God may have purposed these events for. Of course God's ways and thinking are infinitely higher than mine, and he sees the beginning to the end and everything in between all at once and for all eternity. It is incredible that I would ever question his ways when I have such a small amount of knowledge. He knows every effect and every event in every city, country, every person's heart, and every thought. Below is quoted from Piper's sermon. So good... Oh and just to clarify, Bethlehem is the name of the church where Piper serves as Pastor (he mentions it at the end).

2) To Awaken Us to World Poverty

It’s astonishing how blind prosperity makes us to the miseries of the world. God has some remedies for that kind of indifference. For example, it says in Hebrews 13:3, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”

Recession hurts us. It imprisons us. What is God’s aim? That we would wake up. Does this recession bother us? If it bothers us, we should be bothered by the fact that millions always live in recession. Only live in recession.

One billion people do not have safe water to drink.

Sixteen thousand children die every day from hunger related illnesses.

Almost eighteen million children are orphaned in sub-Saharan Africa.

Our family prays through the Global Prayer Digest each morning. For January 29, 2009, we prayed for the Afar people of Ethiopia:

It’s 3:00 a.m., and the Afar father is still awake. The desert night is cold. He snuggles up to his wife and newborn baby to keep them warm. Their stomachs rumble with hunger. Should he slaughter his scrawny goat to feed his wife, hoping she will produce enough milk for their baby? Or should he beseech the clan elders to move again, in search of weeds for the goat, or maybe even some fresh water?

They are fortunate; both his wife and their baby survived the birth. The Afar people have the highest maternal fatality rate in the world. Women give birth without benefit of sterile conditions, or even clean water. Of the babies born alive one-third die before age five. Afar people roam throughout one of the most desolate places on earth: the Ethiopian desert.

Drought and malnutrition make them vulnerable to diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, conjunctivitis, and other water-borne illnesses. Of 13 million Afar people, three million are infected with HIV/AIDS.

It is good to know these things. And to pray about these things. And to cultivate a radical culture at Bethlehem in which hundreds of people dream of ways that their lives can count creatively and long-term for the relief of suffering. Recession has a way of making us wake up to the endless recession of millions. It has a way of changing our priorities and releasing effort and money for others.

Ok, that is the end of quotes from Piper's sermon... I'll post purpose #3 next: To Relocate the Roots of our Joy in His Grace, Rather than our goods.

PS - In cake news, I have 3 upcoming cakes this week. I will post pictures this weekend.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Recession: Part 1

Today was a really sad day at work. I was completely shocked to find out that many people at our company were laid off this morning. No notice, just gone. Friends that I have worked with for years were told today to pack up and leave, I didn't even get to say goodbye to them. I just kept thinking about how difficult that must be. Especially for people with children, who are providers for their families. We had major restructuring, and my role at work will look different now, although I'm not quite sure exactly what that will look like. I have a new supervisor. There will be lots of changes. Things will be busier as we have the same amount of work to do with fewer people. I still have my job for now and for that I am very thankful. It was a pretty emotional day thinking of all the people who were sitting at home after having just lost their job. It could have been me. I know that lots of companies have already had major layoffs. I know we are in an economic recession, but I guess I hadn't felt the effects of it THAT much, until today.

I was looking on John Piper's website, and saw that he gave a sermon last week on the purposes of the recession. You can listen or read all of his sermons online, so I read through it. I thought it was really good, so I wanted to share it. It is really long, so I am just going to start out with part of it. I will give the intro of his sermon, and the first of five purposes that he expands on. I am still going to condense it a little bit so that if you don't have time to go to his website and read or listen to the whole thing, you will still get a really good summary. The following is directly from Piper...

This is a message about God’s purposes in the recession. By recession I don’t have any sophisticated definition in mind. I just mean various financial setbacks like business slowdown, decreasing profits, massive layoffs and joblessness, the bursting of the housing bubble, thousands of foreclosures, personal and business bankruptcies, bank failures, investment company collapses, the loss of retirement funds, and the social ills and unrest that go with the downturn.

God is sovereign over these things, he foresees them all, he causes or permits them all, and when he causes or permits something, he does so with purpose and design.

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. Proverbs 16:33

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. Proverbs 19:21

The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. Psalms 33:10

[The Lord] declares the end from the beginning . . . saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” Isaiah 46:10

So none of the recessionary events has surprised the Lord. His purposes and designs are being fulfilled according to plan. And what I want to do is draw your attention to some of those purposes.

Now what are some of God’s purposes in this recession? I will mention five:

1) He intends for this recession to expose hidden sin and so bring us to repentance and cleansing.

God brought his own faithful servant Paul to the brink of death so that he might learn more deeply to rely not on himself but on God. If that happened to Paul, we may be sure that God is doing that for us as well in this recession. That we may rely on him and not ourselves.

At the bottom of every Christian heart—no matter how advanced in faith and godliness—there is the sediment of self-reliance. Then God shakes our lives, sometimes to the foundations, to show us our self-reliance and clean it out with a new, deeper reliance on him.

And, of course, the recession is especially good at exposing the sin of wasting other people’s money (or our own), and the sin of selfishness and greed in the mortgage business, and the sin of fear when everything starts coming down, and the sin of grumbling and impatience. And on and on. What a gift the recession is in the exposure of sin. May the Lord give us all the grace to repent and receive the forgiveness that God offers in Jesus Christ.

Purpose #2 will be my next post, and it is - To awaken us to world poverty. This one is really convicting. Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Calling all Cheapies - Free Dinner!

Last night Greg and I had date night, and got a free dinner. My co-worker emailed me this coupon for TGI Fridays for a buy one get one free entree. That's right, one entree FREE. I was a little skeptical at first, but it is legit. What could be better than a free meal? So I wanted to share this great deal with everyone. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

First Official Customers

Well this weekend I had my first official customers! It was very exciting to have my first cake orders. In fact, I had 3 in one weekend!

My first official customer was my friend Elizabeth from church. I made her a onsie for a baby shower. This girl is very crafty and actually makes cakes too...just not the edible kind :). She has adorable diaper and towel cakes here. I had seen diaper cakes before, but never towel cakes - they are so creative!

The next two cakes were for a friend of a friend. This lady was so sweet - she ordered 3 cakes from me all at once! The first two were this past weekend - the boot was for a baby shower, and the wedding dress for a bridal shower. The third one is not for a couple more weeks, but it will be another wedding dress cake.

So as you can imagine, there was a lot of time spent this weekend making cakes. You should see Greg's face when he comes home and I have every inch of counter space covered in cake crumbs, cake pieces, a rainbow of colored icing bags, dirty bowls, and spatulas everywhere. It wasn't a pretty site people. But the good news is we have LOTS of cake pieces left over. I cut the shapes out of regular sheet cakes, so all the edges are saved for eating. You can't tell from the picture, but the dress and the boot are 2 layer, twice as tall as the onsie, so all in all it took 10 cakes to make the 3 cakes below.

Here are the pictures below.