Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013 in Review

Where to start? It has been a crazy-blessed year! I guess I should start at the beginning.  Although I do realize that I blogged this summer so that will provide some other angles about this beautiful year...

The things that I remember most about the beginning of the year is John and I starting Financial Peace University.  We started in January with about $7,000 in debt (mostly used on a vacation from the previous summer, some final adoption costs, and a few odds and ends).  What was crazy was we had been debt-free before (twice actually).  The problem was is that John and I were on two different wave lengths about money.  We didn't really fight or have problems, but I didn't want to have any debt and for the first time John didn't like the monthly check that we were sending to Mastercard.  Its amazing how defeated we felt every time we sat down to write that check (or pay it online).  Something that was supposed to give us freedom (a line of credit) for whatever (emergency, a great bargain, a spontaneous opportunity) was making us feel more defeated and broken.  So we took the $100 Christmas money that we got from John's mom and bought our package to be a part of this 9 week course.  If we didn't fight about money before.  This class was sure to cause a fight or two.  We were both wrong in how we had handled money and we both had to admit it, work through it, and follow through with a plan.  We did the before mentioned and by mid-April we were debt free! Crazy! I know! Thanks to hard work, cutting our budget to almost nothing (actually we cash flowed a budgeted $1,000 vacay while we were in the states for some training!!!), used John's school stipend (thanks to some of John's military service benefits), sold some stuff, and had a tax refund.  To get through debt (and a small vacay) in almost 3 months was unbelievable and I will say that we totally believe in this radical program!! Not only that but we have been able to cash flow two mission trips this year and we are at 42% of meeting our 3-6 months of emergency savings goal (can you tell who is the nerd in the relationship?)!!!!!!  We are not the same couple a year later.  I have heard it said that this is supposed to be financial training, not marriage counseling, but this program did both!! ;)  We still have a little way to finish our goals, but with the right tools and being on the same page we will get there!  God has been providing for us for so long, but I feel like for the first time we are being such better stewards with the money he gives us and we are able to be even more generous!! WHICH WE LOVE!! :)  Soli Deo Gloria!!!

In February our church sent John and I to a youth pastor and volunteer conference in Indianapolis, Indiana! :) It was a total blessing!  I got to spend a few days before and after with family since we flew in and out of St. Louis!  I got to see my baby sister almost 9 months pregnant (I get to meet my sweet nephew and she is expecting again so whatever her second child is this summer!!).  I was able to spend time with most of my sisters and a brother (and a niece) which was such a sweet blessing since we have little physical time together!!

March. My sister had her baby. I helped host a marriage conference with almost 100 couples which was awesome!  I turned another year older (yay)! And that's about all I remember ;)

April brought about the typical spring break trip for our teens, extra time with all 3 kiddos, and we became debt free! Wahoo!

May. Henry turned 3!  Hannah had a dance recital (I think- laugh. Its the way my brain works these days). John and I celebrated 9 years of marriage! :)  I sure love that man! John's mom came to visit and that is always a treat! I am so blessed to have a great MIL!

June lead us on another trip to the Philippines. This time as a family and we loved it!! Also we had been in Oki for 4 years so we had some of our first students that we saw enter Freshman year here and Graduate as seniors! It was pretty cool! :)

July. Uh. I had a blast with all three kids being out of school and we did all sorts of mischievous things.  The beach, new pools, sleep overs, etc! Hayden did have summer school for a few weeks, but it was still a great summer!!

August was VBS! :) Fun and exhausting! School started back up and I sent two kids off to school!  Ah what a change it has been!  What would Henry and I do all day?  Well.  I started back to school part time and have loved (most of) it!!  Henry and I had some great one on one time!  And the school routine went into full swing.

September was a blur.  I have a feeling that a lot of early mornings and not enough coffee have added to the blur of this time.

October.  Hayden turned 9 (how is that possible?)!  We enjoyed the fall like weather, which we don't have much of, but we did this year!

November I took an impromptu trip to the Philippines to visit friends :)  Came back had Thanksgiving with the family and enjoyed a day of rest!

December was filled with Christmas parties, generosity, and a trip to the Philippines as a family over Christmas!  It was truly memorable :)

2013 was a great year and was a immense blessing, but I expect even greater things from 2014!  God is faithful.  He is just.  He is sovereign.  John and I are starting the adoption process again (this time from the Philippines) and we can't wait to see what God has in store for this step of faith!!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Lola "Grandmother"

What is beauty?  So often the world tries to tell you it is to be young, flawless, thin, but I believe it is different.  To me beauty looks like this.

My beautiful mother :) I hope to have
her gentle spirit and
beautiful white hair one day!

Lola reading through the Bible.  Her hands give us a
glimpse of her life.  The wrinkles that show the toil
and care over so many years!

In these pictures I see beauty and so much history.  These are the type of people I desire to spend my time around, people with a past.  Listening and learning from their life and stories.  Seeing what truly matters.  Faith.  Family.  Simplicity.

Lola was a sweet woman who was in pain and suffering.  At that time they were not sure how long she would live, but with the love, gentleness, and attention of the many caregivers, children, and Ate her life lasted longer than anyone anticipated.  Lola speaks tagalog.  I speak English.  And yet she taught me so much with few words.  She shared her heart for her children (who did not live close)- she was still so selfless and caring in her old age.  When I was visiting I would randomly go in to visit Lola.  Usually by myself, sometimes with an interpreter.  Sometimes I peeked in on her, other times I read or sang to her, and no matter what I did her sweet words always blessed me “thank you, po”, she would say.  It makes me tear up now just thinking about her sweet voice.  She passed away a few weeks ago.  I just found out today.  As easy as it would be to be sad, today I rejoice at the gift of having met Lola.  I am joyful that she is no longer in pain, and I picture her worshipping our Savior with her ukelele.  I am blessed to have met such a wonderful woman. 

   So often when we go to serve or volunteer with a ministry our goal is always to bless them or to help in some manner.  What really happens is the change within ourselves.  Each time.  God uses people and situations to stretch me in ways that I don’t allow in my everyday life.  (I wonder how much I must miss out on?)

The one thing that is a constant challenge in this life is the movement.  People come here. Then they leave.  Opening up my heart time and time again with the realty that they will leave and yet I will still be here.  It is easy for me to want to harden my heart and to begin to shut people out, but God is challenging me not to do that.  If I were to do that I would miss out on the “Lola”s in life and for the many friends and acquaintances that have come through this beautiful island. 

My prayer today is…
   “Lord, your design for relationships is so intricate and deep.  I ask for your forgiveness for the times where I have shut people out, pushed people away, or when my pride has gotten in the way.  Thank you for continuing to show me grace not only through your son, but also through the many people that you have placed in my life.  Also thank you for the opportunity to build relationships with the people of the Philippines.  I ask that you would give me a deep love for people.  Not something that would be of my own doing, but something that can only come through your spirit. I am blessed to have a personal relationship with you! I love you! Amen.”

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Mid Year Update

SO I’ve come to realize that I really suck at this blogging thing, but looking back at my older posts I am so happy I took the time to write down what was going on both in my heart and also in my head :)  It is such a great testimony of God’s faithfulness and provision! I am in awe at His awesomeness!

I am going to attempt to do my best to tell you what has happened since I posted almost a year ago.  John would tell you that there is no such thing as the Reader’s Digest Version when it comes to me, but I am going to do my best to give you a rundown of what has been happening with our family.

Last fall is a bit of a blur, but here is what I remember.  I was blessed to go to the Philippines for almost 3 weeks to help keep an eye on things while the director was in Australia speaking and counseling at an adoption conference.  It was such a blessing, but it was also such a test.  I found myself feeling very lonely and having to lean on God in a very different way.  Here is my journal from that day…

 “Today I was done.  I don’t even know why.  Nothing really changed.  The kids were a bit rough today and that was frustrating, but it was done before that.  For one I think I tried to do too much.  Number two I was trying to do things on my own.  Number three I am losing my love and patience with baby B. 

  I miss Hayden and Hannah and John. 

  I think I would do better with another adult here (not Filipino) because it just isn’t the same.  I think today I realized how lonely I was.  I am not depending on God.  He is here and yet I feel alone.  I need to remember –‘I cannot.  God can. I will let Him.’”

I have been separated from my family many times and I have lived in a whole new place, but here I found myself facing both at the same time.  I was away from John and the two older kids and during the daytime I was the only “white” person around.  I knew that God was with me and I had to lean on him multiple times/days as I had to make decisions and do the best I could.  I felt as if it were one of those moments where I really understood the verse
   But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’  2 Corinthians 12:9

Ate Cher returns home!
I remembered that I didn’t have to be perfect, but to trust God and do my best.  I came to a point where I had to depend on God to get me through that trip.  And He did.  I am thankful for the grace that he showed me in my negative heart towards the staff and culture that I was surrounded with.  I actually grew to develop a beautiful relationship with one of the Ate’s there during that trip.  She was such a gift and I am glad that God helped me to change my heart from selfishness to selflessness. 
One of the most beautiful highlights of that trip was on my first trip I connected with a sibling group of 3 and really felt that God was asking me to pray for these children and their future family.  While I was there I was told that they had been matched.  After 6 years of being patient, God supplied their forever family.  Not only was it a true moment of beauty, but as it turned out, their family lives about 5-6 hours north of where John grew up. 

4 days after returning home from the Philippines John and I were whisked off to Oahu Hawaii to represent our church at the Hawaiian Pacific Baptist Convention.  So we left all 3 kids with wonderful friends and left on a jet plane for 7 days in paradise.  It was such a time of refreshment.  I would love to tell you of all the adventures that we had, but I became sick after arriving in Hawaii and was pretty much laid up for 3 ½ days!  I’m sure it was the rest I needed after the crazy 3 weeks I had had before, but nevertheless it was not how I pictured our trip going.  Thankfully my sweet husband took excellent care of me.  With the little bit of time we had left between meetings, fellowship, and worship we were able to take advantage of some stateside shopping and a couple of excursions.  Either way it was such a blessing to have that time for just John and I especially with all the changes that had taken place in the past 11 months.  It dawned on me that it was the longest period of time that John and I have had alone together since we have been married.  We returned home and I pretty much swore off of leaving the kids for a year.  That didn’t happen though.

Visiting with the fam and
eating at Steak n' Shake!
Our church has invested in us so much. I cannot begin to tell you how incredibly blessed we are.  God has given our church the means to be able to fund trips and training that we would not be able to do on our own.  Those moments of investment have spoken louder than words.  In February John and I were off again for 12 days to the states for a Youth Pastor’s and Worker’s Conference.  It was some of the best training and fun I had had in a LONG time! We flew into St. Louis and spent a few days with our family.  Saw snow.  I believe it is still overrated.  Felt as if I about froze to death.  Okay. Slightly exaggerated.  Then we headed up to Indianapolis, Indiana (that was a first).  It was a great little city packed with 4 days of refreshment that I didn’t even realize I needed.  I found myself sitting in the opening session lead in worship by Shane and Shane and all of a sudden I was overcome by the intense weight over the last year that we had had.  We were so blessed over that last year, but to see how everything had come together in a year was unbelievable by any means other than God.  Nevertheless it was hard and draining.  I am used to serving.

At opening ceremonies :)
Serving is something I love doing almost more than anything else.  But I had given and given and given and didn’t realize how dry I had become.  Instead of feeling like my cup was overflowing I found myself trapped in a barren desert.  And it was in that moment that I let it all go.  The tears. The tough front. The mask.  I didn’t have to keep it all together.  I didn’t have to be “mom”, “Mrs. Gretchen”, “John’s wife”, etc.  I just stood pouring out my heart to God and in those 4 days I was filled in ways that I can’t even fully explain.  I wish I had journaled, because it was truly a gift that I will never forget.  I came back with some great decesions to be better at setting boundries, not letting other’s expectations have to become my expectations, and to do what God called me to do.  It was so good. 

John and I at the closing ceremonies!
We were exhausted! 
I feel the need to add that on our way back to visit family before we flew out, we were blessed with visiting the 3 children that I wrote about above as they had come home to their forever family just about 5-6 weeks before. It was such a beautiful sight to see them! Adoption is truly amazing! A gift! A challenge! And worth every bit of it all!

A blessed forever family!
So we came home.  Had a nice spring.  Finished up the school year and went right into the summer.  Summer has been both a time of relaxing and busyness.  John, the kids (all 3), and I lead a team to the Philippines again.  Each team seems to get better and better.  The stories, the relationships, the growth!  I love it there.  I leave a piece of my heart there every trip.  Sometime I need to spend a whole blogpost about the director.  She is such a gift to me. 

To wrap things up in the last year I have experienced and grown SO much!  Its amazing to look back and see the many wonderful friends that have surrounded us with caring for our kids, being a sounding board, supporting us through our highs/lows, and the countless times they have shown us grace as we continue to learn what it means to be in ministry and to be a part of this great community.  I miss family and friends back home.  Some days are harder than others, but then I take the time to look back and I see how much I could have missed and all I can do is say “thank you”.  Thank you to a loving Heavenly Father who is not some far off father, but one who is ever present with me wherever he sends me.   Thank you to a church family that continues to surround us with support.  Thank you to friends who are faithful and give us a much needed sense of community. Thank you to a family that encourages us and loves us from afar. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Whirlwind Tour '12

So at my last post...we were announcing to our friends and family our decision to get out of the military as we trusted in God to provide for us.  Not long after our decision we were offered a job and over time all of the details fell into place.  Let me give you a brief overview of the past 12 weeks.

1.  We moved into a new house.  This big change happened at the end of April and the amazing movers packed us up and delivered all of our things in 12 hours! Whew...we were exhausted just watching them :)  We spent the following week trying to unpack and say goodbye to dear friends who were preparing to leave the island.
Hayden apparently thought
we were selling our base
house.  This is the sign that
 he wrote on our front porch
telling everyone we could
now have an "open house".

5 men+ 9,000lbs+12 hours = Fully Moved!

Our new house...empty and ready to
become our "home".

2.  At the beginning of May we were blessed with a trip home to the states to visit family and friends, some of whom we haven't seen in 3-4 years!  In 26 days we covered 7,000 miles!  Needless to say it wasn't exactly relaxing, but it sure was a blessing to be able to spend so much time with our family! Especially for our kids:)

One of our many stops on our road trip.
Playing checkers with Nana at
Cracker Barrel.

John and I were blessed with many
hours in the car together.  This was
his job...driving :)
Celebrated John's graduation :) 
Our kids got to spend time with their
cousin Penny for the first time in 6 years.
Oh. The memories they made! :)

We never pass up the opportunity
to see a Cardinals game :)
We were able to treat our Okinawan
family to St. Louis treats...Gus' Pretzels
and Ted Drew's! What a joy it was to
show off our hometown to our dear

John teaching Hayden about fishing.

Hayden was so excited! He's been
looking forward to fishing for a long
time.  Love these boys!

If only this pictured how
much he giggled over my
crazy faces :)
Camping with John's family was
such a blessing.  The kids had a
wonderful time and I survived
"roughing it"!
The kids' pie party! This is something they
will never forget!
Working on the crust with Dude.

Paper dolls with Grammy :)

Our kids had such a wonderful time
with all of their grandparents.  

Don't worry.  I got your back.

3.  We returned to Okinawa to an unsettled house and John officially starting his new job :)  Just like anything else it was a bit overwhelming at first, but I think each week he is learning how to do his job better.

4.  Mid June I took a team of 7 girls (6 teenagers, 1 adult) to the Philippines for a mission trip.  I was so blessed by my husband for encouraging me to go on this trip and that I could rest assured that our kids were doing okay while I was away.  (There were however nights where our children ate FamilyMart for dinner).  It wasn't just my husband, but three friends really surrounded our family with tons of support and babysitting so that John could still get some work done while I was away.  We are beyond blessed by Jenni Rea, Valerie Patmore, and Ann Alexander...each with different gifts, but all with servant's hearts.  My trip to the PI will need its own post :)  Too much to cover in this one :)

5.  Our new Worship Pastor and his family (the Beams) arrived at the beginning of July, so we have been blessed to show them around and try to help them get settled.  We are excited for our church family to grow together in this new season.  Our kids are loving their new friends!!

6.  And then there was our "pounding"...we were thrown a "Welcome Party" from our church family along with the Beams family.  Can I just tell you that the love of Christ is overwhelming!  We were beyond blessed and blown away by how encouraging and supportive our church family has been!

This is just one picture of the many goods that we were blessed with!
7.  John was gone for a good bit of July for a youth camp and not long after he took a team to the Philippines. Although we are used to TDYs, which is what we still call it when he is gone, we never like for him to be gone, so we sure were happy to have him home by the end of the month.  July has come and gone and part of me is looking forward to the school year so that we can have a fairly normal routine again.

This summer has brought us much growth and thankfulness.  We have been challenged in this new season in many ways.  We are used to being the ones taking care of others in need.  Now it is us having to humbly ask for/accept help when we need something; special American treats, someone who can help translate for us, or simply just accept others generosity.  I wouldn't trade this choice that we have made for the world.  When we first told everyone of this decision a friend simply wrote "Jehovah jireh", simply translated "God will provide".  I am so thankful for that simple statement.  God is faithful and he continues to provide for our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs and it has been a true blessing to experience God in this whole new way of life.  It is an adventure.  And I look forward to seeing/understanding more about God as we continue on with life as He stretches us and molds us.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Another Piece to the Puzzle

We have been so blessed by everyone's encouragement through this whole process :)  But more than anything it has been a testament of God's faithfulness and provision. When John and I made the decision to get out of the military we were constantly reassured that God would provide for us, but we are still nowhere close to perfect and we tried to keep some control of our future.  We were already looking for jobs before we had released to everyone what our plans were.  We had found one job that hit almost everything that we knew that God was calling us to do, however there was one part of this job that was not giving us peace.  So we waited and continued to stay in prayer as we sought God's will for our lives.
  For those of you who don't know John and I currently work part time at our church here on island as the Student Ministry Coordinators (technically I am on payroll, but really we do this job together).  It has been a wonderful ministry to be a part of and we have been blessed to work under such wonderful pastors.  This job has brought us growth and an even better understanding of our Savior.
  Anxiously we realized it was time to tell my bosses that we were getting out and that we were considering working with another on-island ministry.  They were very supportive and helpful.  However they asked us why we hadn't considered becoming full time at Koza.  We were taken aback.  The possibility of a full time youth person is something that has come up in the past and hadn't worked out, so we didn't think it possible in the near future.  But God knew.  He was one step ahead.  Our church had already planned on taking an existing position and making it into two positions.  After going through all the proper channels and making sure that the church was on the same page, most of the details have completely fallen into place.  The church will still have to vote on this sometime in March, but God willing John will become full time and he will be able to continue to serve the families/teenagers that we so dearly love.  Once we submitted to Him it was then that he showed us His plans for us.  And since then the pieces to this puzzle continue to fall in to place :)  May God receive all the glory!!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Call Us Crazy...

  SO I think naturally that as you get to be about a year out from your DEROS (Date Eligible to Return from Over Seas), you tend to want to know what is next!  You want to be able to begin to somewhat mentally prepare yourself for what is next.  You want to know where you are going?  When to start planning to move, arrive, say goodbye?  Things to be excited for or look forward to at your next assignment.  Ect, ect, ect.
  However, when we were about a year out from our DEROS (although I wanted to know what was next... ) I really felt like God was calling us to stay in Okinawa.  So we tried just about everything to stay here through the military, but time after time that door was shut.  At the time it seemed like a bad thing, but now I can see that it just made us question God more and to look at what was it that He desired for our future.
  So back in November John and I began to discuss and pray about what God's will was for our future and we kept coming back to that we are to stay on Okinawa.  So then we began to ask, what if that means we are supposed to stay, even if it is not through the military?  (Ummm...that question right there is a scary question.)  People complain about the military, but truth be told we LOVE it.  We always saw ourselves traveling the world, putting in at least 20+ years, retiring with benefits, and then going into ministry full time.  We told ourself "putting in 20+ years will help us not to be a burden on a ministry by having a retirement check and insurance", but now we see that for US this was us living in disobedience to what he was calling us to do NOW.  We are not saying that by staying in the military that you are living in disobedience.  We know the need for men and women to continue to serve and be Godly leaders within the military community, but we are being called to do something different.   So here we are putting it out there in the open, John dropped his paperwork Tuesday (January 17th).  We are not re-enlisting, but instead taking a step of faith.  We will officially be out in May.  As for our future, well...let's just say there are options and we are praying about His direction.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Christmas in the Philippines

 Back in September John and I began reading a book that would challenge us more than we have been challenged in a long time! And boy was it needed.  We had no idea how far we had become sucked into the world.  One of my favorite verses is Romans 12:2 "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is- his good, pleasing and perfect will."  Now, I try very hard to live by that verse, but without knowing it, we began to believe things that we as Christians say are "okay" and "justified", but in all reality it is removing us farther from God and His will.
  In Matthew 16 Jesus talks about denying ourselves and taking up the cross and follow him.  (See Matt 16:24-28) The more and more that we began to study this and take a look at what His disciples went through as they spread the gospel, the more we began to see that our lives were not as focused and centered on Christ as we thought they had been.  So we began to evaluate what were some things that we were being worldly about (not that we have dealt with all of them, but this was definitely the first hurdle that we had to get over), and we began to see that we that we had bought into the commercialism of our culture.  Hayden's birthday was coming up and here we were about to drop some serious $$$ on a party and presents, why? Because that is the norm.  It is almost expected of kids.  It is what many of his friends do, and we felt the pressure to keep up with the Jones'.  So we decided then and there that we would not do birthday's and holiday's the same again.
  We were being blessed continually and we were misusing what God had given us.  From everyday things to splurges.  How were we using what God had given us to help those that needed it?  We weren't.  Yes, we tithed to our local church, but what about beyond that?  Intentionally giving and being obedient to what we are called to do.  There are 6 million children that die from starvation each year, how many of those children were we helping to feed? What about orphans?  There are approximately 163,000,000 orphans in the world, what were we actively doing to help the fatherless?  We began to see a picture that was bigger than us.
  Now why did I give you this whole diatribe?  Because this is how we ended up going on a mission trip for Christmas this year.  We had already considered going to the Philippines over Christmas and had decided against it.  Even though our minds had made a decision our hearts were changed and we knew we had to do something different.  At that time our small group began to talk about doing a mission trip together and we jumped on board.  We decided to head back to the Philippines as families over Christmas.  Eight adults and twelve kids.  What were we thinking?  Nevertheless the tickets were bought and there was no backing out.  Each family made their own decision about how to do Christmas, but for John and I we decided to do Christmas pajamas and stockings.  No presents.  Now we just had to sell it to the kids.
  We told the kids about the trip and they were genuinely excited, and then we told them about the "No presents" and I think they began to second guess the whole idea.  At first you could tell that they sort of felt sorry for themselves for not getting any presents from Mom and Dad.  By the time that it was time to leave God really answered our prayers and helped their hearts to change and see the bigger picture.
  We left on the 18th of December headed for Manila.  Here are a few pictures of our journey to get there.
Hayden and I about to land in Taipei for our layover.

John rocking the front carrier!

Hannah and I being goofy while we wait for our ride :)
  After our long day of traveling we called it a night, ordered pizza, and rested before we headed to the orphanage the next day.  Being that this was John and I's second trip this year, I wasn't quite sure what to expect this time around.  I had a million questions running through my head.  Would the kids remember me?  Would I still have growth and a profound change take place like there was this summer?  How will the our kids handle being a servant instead of being served?  As fast as those questions came into my head...they quickly went out.  I was reassured that God's hand was in every part of this trip.
  Day 1 came and we were off to start this adventure as a family and as a small group.  I was scared for nothing.  The kids remembered me and touched my heart with how genuinely happy they were to have us back.  I was blessed the first day to watch toddler C and Henry get along so well.  I say that because they are so much alike! Both are about the same age and it was rather refreshing to see someone else's child throw a temper tantrum and be reminded that it is only a stage that we have been going through and that before I know will be over.  
These two are double trouble :)  Actually they are quiet cute together.

  The first big difference about this trip for me was having our kids there.  I didn't have the freedom to just go off and hang out with the toddlers, or go play basketball with the monsters.  I had to do the hand off to John if I wanted to be somewhere that wasn't Henry friendly.  This wasn't a bad thing, it was just different. John was great about hanging out with Henry in Ate's apartment or taking him down with him to the toddlers if I wanted/needed to do something.  Hannah and Hayden were like any other kid there.  They kind of did their own thing.  Their job was to play and they did that well.  They made friends fast and they stayed pretty busy with the kids.
  The other big difference was that this Christmas the children were involved in Christmas parties.  As great as that was, it was also a bit too much.  So Ate picked out 5 groups to come and do Christmas parties.  Each one had food (which is very filipino...when it comes to celebrations or is all about the food), some had games, some had presents or gifts, and one even had a clown.  
This group brought in Jollibee.  Also the guy on the right with the yellow cart is serving up ice cream cones!

Fresh fries and fried hot dogs :)

This game had toys on this rack with a rope attached at the top.    Then someone would lower and raise the rack while children would try to grab the toys.  

This clown led the kid in some games.  They really seemed to enjoy this!

Another day a group make these gift bags for each of the kids. 

Another group brought a gift for each specific kid...they also took a picture of the kids.  As you can see Hayden stands out a bit compared to the other kids..but that didn't matter to him or them.  They had a blast together!

John made some friends :)  They sure loved him!

Another game.

 One particular day was their own Christmas Party.  Everyone...and I mean everyone is involved in it.  Each of the different areas had to preform an act, song, or something to share with everyone else.  Some were serious, some were not so serious, but all were entertaining and it was a blessing to be a part of it.  One thing they did this year, is the older kids and staff who wanted to be involved did a Secret Gift Exchange.  It was neat to see how each person really put a lot of thought into the gift they were giving.  But one particular gift brought me to tears.  

Our kids preformed for the Christmas Party.  This was them singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

The older girls dancing :)  

The staff singing a song in tagalog.

This one of the most humble men I have ever met.  He is in his late 30s and was on the verge of death due to TB a few years back.  God healed him and he is still working hard.  One thing he has learned to do is to make some of the most beautiful bracelets.  These bracelets always seem to be a favorite to those of us who come to visit because it is more than a bracelet.  It is a story, it is this man, another man God has healed and is using for His glory.  Something tangible that can be worn to help remind us of God's faithfulness and power.
So this is what brought me to tears.  He makes beautiful bracelets. As a part of the gift exchange the person who had him, took some of his bracelets and had a beautiful picture taken of his art, and then had it framed.  When he saw this picture he was overwhelmed with joy and humble pride.  This picture was beautiful to him, but to me it was he that was beautiful.  

Sorry for the glare...but the other picture that I took did not do it justice.  It is even more beautiful in person.

 Another fun thing that happened on this trip was John along with the other men got to take the monsters to a theme park.  It was quite the action packed day.  Since there was such a large group going they took the Kia and rented a Jeepney.  Personally I love Jeepneys...I think they are pretty cool.  Anyway on this particular day John, two of the other men, and about 13 boys were in a Jeepney headed for Enchanted Kingdom.  However, while driving down the highway and after coming over the top of the hill and coming down their brakes went out and the driver had to purposely crash the Jeepney in order to avoid hurting anyone else or potentially going over the guardrail, which would have surely killed everyone on board.  It was actually quite a miraculous event.  Afterward everyone shoved into the Kia and continued on to the amusement park.  They had a great time and it was definitely a memorable day!

This is a Jeepney :)

This was the damage done to the Jeepney after the crash. 
This gives you an idea of the hill they came down and how the high up their were.  The driver intentionally kept running into the guardrail in order to slow them down and did a great job keeping everyone safe!

Everyone is excited and ready to have fun!

If only you could see some of the Monster's expressions on this ride. It is rather hilarious!

They hadn't left the ground yet :) Shawn is just funny!

18 people calls for 36 burgers, 18 fries, and 18 soft drinks!
I can only imagine the ride home was much quieter than the ride up :) 
So in the Philippines they celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve.  We had our own Christmas celebration with the story of the birth of Jesus, some carols, and FOOD!  It was a nice time together reflecting on Jesus being the reason that we celebrate!  At the end of the night we headed back to the Guest House and prepared for Christmas ourselves :)

Our candlelight ceremony.

Dinner was western style...not typical, but the kids were tired of spaghetti and fried chicken.  I will point out that I don't think there were ANY leftovers :) 

The kids throughly enjoyed this evening and meal together!

The little man on the right brings me joy every time I see him, and I was blessed to meet the young lady on the left on this trip!  It was a blessing to be used on this trip for His glory! 
Christmas morning was not typical for us, and to be quite honest...if I could I would do it every year!  Maybe we will.  It was so not about us this year...and I am amazed at how much it has turned into that through the years past.  This year it was so simple and it helped us to see the things bigger than us.  I can only hope to be serving next year and to never go back to the typical Christmas.  I desire to be Radical!
The kids got Christmas pajamas and stockings from us this year and it was plenty.  
This was Christmas...and it was beautiful. So simple :)

Christmas Day I spent somewhere between 1-2 hours braiding and doing hair for the girls :)  Its a new hobby for me and it was nice to do something special for them.

It is amazing how many children you can fit in your arms, lap, or within reach...I am pretty sure they touch my heart more than I touch theirs.

The last few days in the Philippines seemed to go by pretty quick and we weren't ready for our time there to end.  Anytime you go somewhere like this...I think we have the mindset that we are doing something great for them, but the truth is that most of time God is doing something in us.  My heart was hardening in some ways that I hadn't seen and God took this opportunity to show me that.  His grace, patience, and mercy were shown time and time again this trip, and I was reminded that I needed to be showing that to others, just as Christ shows it to me no matter how many times I mess up.  So simple and yet, something that I forget so quick.   
John helping Ate with a puzzle :)
Ate and John working hard on the puzzle, who says this stuff is fun? J/k.  It was a nice challenge. 
The TV isn't on much, but is sure catches the attention of the kids during this special treat :)
A night out as a family :)  The lights here are so beautiful for Christmas!

This trip was such a blessing and although this Christmas was unconventional, I would do it again in a heartbeat and God willing we will do it again in the future.  Thank you Ate and the Philippines for having us for Christmas.  We love you all and look forward to our next trip!