Friday, February 26, 2010

Mexican Pizza

Shaune and I have been eating vegetarian for Lent this year. It seems to be a popular idea for 2010! We've been eating tons of just beans and rice, but that gets a little boring. Last night I REALLY wanted pizza. And Shaune REALLY wanted Mexican food. So, we struck up a bargain and met half-way.

I wanted to get a picture of this because it looked so fresh and yummy, but we were too hungry to photograph first and there weren't any left-overs. You'll have to trust me that it looked as excellent as it tasted.

Mexican Pizza

Prepare your favorite pizza crust recipe. Once it's stretched to fit the pan, prebake it for 10min give or take.

Start layering on the Mexican goodness:
  • Refried beans come first
  • Salsa to take the place of regular sauce
  • Cheddar or mexican blend cheese
  • Diced onions and already-cooked black beans

Since everything is already cooked, stick it in a 350 oven for just a few minutes to finish toasting the crust and make the cheese a gooey mess. While it cooks, thinly slice up some lettuce. Sprinke this over the top once you pull it out of the oven.

This meal is CHEAP, too. We used half of an $0.80-ish can of refried beans for one pizza; if you have more people to feed, make a second. Everything else we keep in the fridge. The black beans had been cooking (from dried) most of the day since I had planned to serve them with rice for dinner. I can imagine this pizza being the center piece of a themed meal -- time to plan a fiesta!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Women of Prayer

When I was in Liberia, I had the pleasure of working with a fabulous group of women: the Deaconesses of the Liberian Methodist Church. These are super special women in the church. They go through something like a three-year training program to do their job. What is their job?
To Pray.
They wake up at 3am and they pray. They stayed up until midnight or later with us during our ministry to pray. They set up prayer boundaries around us -- physical walls of prayer. They went into the communities where the crusades would be to pray. They are honored in their home churches because they pray -- day in, day out, in constant communion with the Lord. Whoa.

Preparing the water for baptism

I could always tell when there was a deaconess nearby because a peace would settle upon the area. If I felt spiritually vulnerable out in the villages, all I'd have to do was spot a deaconess and be comforted. I tried to keep one of these amazing ladies in my eyesight at all times. They are just filled with the Holy Spirit in a powerful way.

Praying for those who were just baptized

The craziest thing about these ladies is that they wear white from head to toe -- turban to flip-flop -- whenever they are performing their official duties. Let me tell you one thing about Liberia: It is a dirty, dusty country. I wore white one day (and only one day) and was filthy within an hour. God must be protecting their clothing as well as their souls!

Since getting back, I've been curious. What would the Church in America look like if we had a dedicated core of women who consistantly prayed for salvation and protection? Women who gathered together with the firm belief that God is a God who answers prayer? Women who were willing to stand apart from the community and intercess on its behalf? Can you picture it?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Celebrate the Season You're In

I've been in fast-forward mode lately. My life doesn't look the way I thought it would when I was dreaming ahead six months and a year ago. We don't have a child, nor is one on the way. I've finished college but have little desire to find a position and the market is way down right now anyway. I'm getting antsy and uncomfortable -- I'm ready for the next season of life. But that, dear friends, is not under my control.

I came to the realization late last week that I've just got to get over this. All I'm doing is wasting the time I do have, wishing I were able to do something else. This season of life is special and fleeting. For only a short while do I have the freedom to do whatever I want.

This kind of thinking is exciting. It's how I ended up in Sarasota, Florida over my husband's 4 day weekend.
Our adventure was COMPLETELY unplanned. We got up at about 8am on Friday morning and were just going to go to breakfast at the Cracker Barrel. By 9am we were on the road to Florida. We picked up Shaune's best friend on our way through Clarksville, TN, so he could come to. We arrived in Sarasota at 6am and slept in an Office Max parking lot until we could get ahold of Shaune's friends who live in the area.

We drove 21 hours each way to spend about 36 hours laughing and playing on the beach. Our friends took us out in their speedboat -- we got to cruise along the Gulf of Mexico in the beautiful mid-afternoon sun. We saw author Steven King's house and picked shells. I even got to pet a wild dolphin!

I still wish I were in the next season of life. I still desperately want a house full of children. However, I realize now I can't just sit around waiting and miss the life that I already have. I'm in this season for only a short time. I don't know what God's up to, or what comes next. All I have is today.

1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Where've you been, Jen?

I've been learning to keep house, that's where!

I know, I know... I've been married and had a house for a year and a half. I've made bread and sewn aprons and arranged our little duplex to my heart's content. But through all that time (with the brief exception of a few weeks last Christmas season) I've been outside the home in some way: college classes, babysitting, student teaching. All sorts of busyness that made homemaking more of a hobby than a day-in-day-out reality.

I wasn't even sure I'd be home now. Shaune and I had talked about me getting a job after Africa. Nothing serious, just substitute teaching or a part-time secretarial position or something of the like. It was really during our trip that we sat down together to discuss with all seriousness and really pray about what was best for our family situation. This was the result: I'm at home for this season, children or not. I have work enough to do here.

These two weeks at home "for real" have been eye-opening. On holidays before, it was like a game, but this time I know I'd better buckle down into a routine pretty quickly or I'll find myself wasting time. This is hard work! And repetitive -- the same things need done every day. Dishes, laundry, make the bed, wipe the counters, cook. It's mindless... and I LOVE it. With my hands busy, my mind is clear to think about the things that really matter. I'm growing in gratitude every time I put away our clothes and realize that the friends I met in Liberia would find our clothing so extravagant. I am so thankful every time I approach the fridge to cook a meal and find it fully stocked with healthy foods. I have so much to be grateful for.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still wasting a lot of time (there's this one video game I'm SO CLOSE to beating...). But every day, I do a little more work, a little less play, sing a little more joyfully, pray a little more truthfully. I'm getting closer to my dream life day by blessed day.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Liberian "Secret" Handshake

Rev. Mondolo and Dr. Ross performing the Liberian handshake

There's a secret handshake in Liberia and the entire country is in on it.

It's the kind of thing you'd expect to see around a high school -- grab, bump, grab, snap -- but it's grown men and respected women on the community who are doing it. Even children are practicing to get the perfect audible snap.

Whever we arrived somewhere, there would be a line of people waiting to shake our hands. The same line would re-form whenever it was time to leave. The fingers on my right hand started to hurt after not very long at all.

The handshake is so important to the people of Liberia. I've been doing a lot of reading, but all I can find is theories about its history. One of the best is that it comes from the days of the slave trade: traders would break the middle fingers of the men and women they had taken as a symbol of their power and the new slave's submission. The Liberian handshake requires an intact finger; it is a celebration of freedom (as is much of Liberian culture).

Let me tell you a little secret -- even after 2 weeks of practicing, I am completely incapable of making the snap happen. It is much harder than it looks! My dear husband, however, perfected it early on in the trip and won the respect of the local men as a result. He would shake their hands, get the snap to work, and the whole group of men would cheer and slap him on the back. It was funny to watch -- I think my husband may actually be more Liberian than American!

The handshake is just one way that we felt truly honored the whole time we were in the country. At one point, the women I would shake hands with started touching their hearts after we had (tried to) snapped. When I asked one of my Liberian friends what it meant, she said, "They're accepting you into their heart as a friend." My eyes teared up because these people who had never met me before treated me so lovingly. They demonstrated a kind of openness we don't often find in America. Everyone called each other "brother" or "sister." The children called all the women in our group "mama," especially once we started taking them under our wings to sponsor their school fees. In Liberia, there is a feeling of community fellowship that even extends to crazy white people like me.

Handshake carving we brought home

Being treated as a sister and a mama to the Liberians has impacted my heart. It fills me with a passion to do something for them, even with our limited resources. It seems like such a small thing to part with $80 to pay an entire year's worth of education for a child, but those little steps will change the face of the nation. I'm not sure yet why God showed me this nation, but I know beyond a doubt it won't be the last time I make the long trek to Liberia.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Where to start with Liberia?

I've been really struggling with how to describe my trip to you -- and to all the groups at church who've asked me to speak. So many experiences were just beyond words! I'll do the best I can to tie it all together into a story, but if you have specific questions PLEASE let me know so I can target them! Maybe you'll even trigger a memory that will become a whole post!


I guess the best place to start is at the beginning: Why did we go to Africa?

Missions have always been one of our "wouldn't it be nice if..." conversations. The weekend after I met Shaune way back in 2006, I attended a massive missions conference called Urbana, which is sponsored by Intervaristy Christian Fellowship. I came home with a burning passion for the children of Africa. I was ready to sign up and go THEN! Well, God had other plans and I ended up marrying my Shaune instead. Then, missions came up while we were driving home from our honeymoon last Christmas. It turns out he's had a long passion for the disadvantaged, too. After that conversation we went so far as to contact a couple missions companies and discuss signing up for a long term (3-5 year) commitment.

That never panned out. Part of the hesitation on both our side and the side of the organizations is that while we've done a lot of domestic work, we'd never done missions abroad. They told us to hold on and try some short term trips through our church before making such a serious decision, which we did. We decided to join the team from our church going to Guatemala on a medical trip. Then I got pregnant.

As any of you who've been following for a while already know, God's timing didn't line up with our timing, and we lost the baby. The very next weekend, our pastor began talking about the trip to Liberia in January. It covered what was supposed to be the due date for our little one. Almost impulsively, I convinced Shaune that we needed to go. It felt right. That, and I didn't want to be home full of sorrow that week.

So we signed up, wrote a scary large check, and began fundraising for the rest. God provided in miraculous ways that I'm still trying to wrap my mind around. Even up to the very end. Three days before we left, we opened the mailbox to find another check that just covered the last bit of carry-with cash we needed that we were going to have to pull from a savings account.

We went to Africa out of impulse, out of a long desire, and because God paved the way. What we received was blessing imaginable.

Ashley and I, with "our" African twins


There's one other question I think I know the answer to already (tho I may find out I'm wrong): What's the most important thing I walked away from Liberia with?

Liberia left me without a doubt of the power of God, as well as the fact that there is still a spiritual war waging. Before I left, I believed in the Holy Spirit the same way I believe in the stars and distant planets. I know they're there, I've seen pictures from telescopes, I've heard scientists talk about them. I've even taught about them myself! But it's not the same as walking on the surface of Mars. Spiritually, God took me to Mars in Liberia.

For the first time in my life, I knew the Holy Spirit as a separate entity in the Trinity who walks beside us. I saw things with my own eyes that if I had seen in America, I would have cynically believed it was staged. I personally saw the power of prayer, healing people and making them new. I also saw the powers of darkness be conquered by prayer. I will never be able to doubt again.

Prayer walking to claim the ground on Sunday Morning