Monday, July 31, 2006

FIDEL CASTRO, president of Cuba since 1959 has relenquished power and given it to his brother. He underwent surgery for gastrointestinal something and at that point he provisionally handed power of the state over to his brother, but according to MSNBC news, he has now fully relenquished his power as president.
The younger Castro is four years younger than his brother, who turned 80 recently. Once the Castro brothers are out of power, the United States is likely to lift it's trade embargo against Cuba.

I guess we'll see...

Sunday, July 30, 2006

I took a bajillion pictures during our beach trip, but none of them will upload, so I'm going crazy trying to figure out what's wrong. But I'll try to sum up our beach trip without pictures.
We stayed at this condo place that actually reminded me some of the place the mission team stayed at Topsail. It was my mom, my sister, her two friends (Denise and Meghan) and me, which made for an interesting four days, to say the least.

They wanted to hang out-- or rather, lay out-- by the pool and make subtle eye contact with the lifeguards they thought were hot. Was there any flirting or gazing on my part? Sure, I'm eighteen, remember? But I was much more interested in either riding down a pretty cool water slide (though it couldn't compare to Carowinds) or walking on the beach. I have a thing about sitting-- er...lying-- still.

The most interesting day was, without a doubt, Friday, when we were scheduled to go to a reception that my mom's conference was having. We were all hanging around the condo, getting ready and watching TV when the lights, TV, AC and fridge went out. The sun was shining brightly outside. That is to say, there was no storm. Mom was asleep, so the three of them nominated me to go downstairs to the office and complain. Now, I'm a pretty good whiner/complainer, but I hate confrontation and complaining to people I don't know. I did go down, though, but just to ask if it was just our room or if it was the whole complex. It was the whole complex. Good to know we didn't blow a fuse with the three hair straighteners and dryers those girls had going. LOL. So, relieved, we pile into Mom's car and drive to the hotel where the reception is, glad that there'll be AC there. We're driving the five miles down the Island, only to find that the stoplights are out and the stores' lights are all off. the reception gets cancelled because the ENTIRE ISLAND is without power. Apparently the two power companies that provide service got completely overwhelmed and went Capoot on us. Four hours and a trip off the island for dinner later, we were in the pool trying to stay cool when the lights came back on! Cheers went up throughout the complex as TVs, AC and lights came back on. Luckily, we didn't have to spend a night without AC, though after Cali, I think I woulda been just fine. :) It was reminiscent of the night in Durham/C-H when the lights went out-- that was 5 1/2 years ago. If I remember correctly, something at Duke Power exploded and the entire city was in darkness-- I was at a youth group function, making cards and getting ready to go sing at a nursing home. We ended up just eating pizza in one very dark church. Time for Sardines!!!! (it's a better game than it is a pizza topping...)

I took a few walks alone on the beach, thinking and pondering and just enjoying the ocean. I've always loved the ocean, for sure. And it reminded me of the Sunday morning during the mission trip retreat, when Carlye slept in while Eli and I went out on the porch to watch the sun rise. Having a ten-month-old in your arms, while you watch the sun rise over the ocean is one of the most exhilarating experiences I've ever had. Lee Ann Womack sung, "I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean..." and I am always reminded of that song, as well as Pslam 139: 14-18, which was especially moving to me when I was holding the baby that morning.

Here's the passage I'm referring to:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake,
I am still with you.

Anyway, when I figure out about the pictures, there'll be more to post. We also went to play Putt-Putt, to see Fort Macon-- again!, and to the outlet mall in Selma-- quite an interesting story from there. :)

12 Days and Counting! :)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

There's not a whole lot new to post about, but I figured I would write briefly about Carowinds adventures today!
I went to Carowinds with the youth group and a few youth staff members. The car rides were pretty awesome to begin with, but the theme park was even better. So, I went around the park with Emma, Lauren, and the three leaders: Ben, Locoya and Miranda. First they rode Borg, then Top Gun, then Thunder something-or-other. They had it in their heads for a while that I should ride a roller coaster-- yeah, not for me. So, then we decided to go to Boomerang Bay, the waterpark part of Carowinds. But Emma's swimsuit was in the car and Lauren and I hadn't even brought our suits so we bought boys' board shorts at this shop thingy and wore those to ride water rides in-- quite the experience. LOL. First we rode on Crocodile Run, which is basically lazy river, but the lifeguards would only let us go around once since there was such a long line. It was really fun even though I was stupid enough to use my knees for brakes on the bottom of the pool-- yeah, I'm feeling that stupidity now...We also went on Down Under Thunder, the Great Barrier Reef (the wave pool...) and Pipeline Peak, which is a series of four different slides, two with rafts and two without. The two without are probably comparable to Twin Twisters at Emerald Pointe, and I was really excited about going on them until we were almost to the top of the tower where you wait in line. I was getting pretty nervous, and then Emma and I decided to go down on the two separate ones at the same time. We get to the top, a few of our group were down at the bottom, a few were behind us, and then the lifeguard guy showed us how we had to cross our legs and put our hands behind our head. I curiously, but stupidly, asked if it was a big deal if your legs came uncrossed during the ride. The guy goes..."uh, well, you might break your leg," and I look at Emma nervously. She goes, "It's okay, he's just kidding." And the lifeguard guy pipes up that "No, actually, I'm not." Then I was really hesitant. But eventually I did go, and as Ben predicted, I got down to the bottom and wanted to go again, so Lauren and I did. :) (Reminiscent, for those of you who know about or were there, of the Extreme Retreat and repelling that weekend!) I guess that's about it.

NO! Wait! I forgot. So everyone was really convinced that I should go on at least one roller coaster, but for someone who doesn't like them, roller coasters can be pretty freaky. So Ben decides that Carolina Goldrusher is the ride for me. Of course, this is one of those roller coasters that you can't see the whole track like at all, so you have no idea what you're getting yourself into. But Ben assured me--- like a hundred times--- that this was a very low-key, easy ride. I think I was shaking when the ride started, and probably still begging to get off. Okay, turns out, and I admit this fully, that he was right. Goldrusher has a small dip that can't even be considered a drop, and it's top speed is 30mph. But, I was kinda still reeling from the shock and fear of being on a roller coaster at all when the ride ended so my enjoyment of the actualy moment may not have been to the fullest, but after I recuperated, I decided it had been lots of fun. But I want to say, so there is no confusion, Goldrusher isn't really a roller coaster. It's more like a train. But why get caught up in the specifics? I rode a roller coaster, people! :)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Okay, so I have this "brilliant beyond brilliant idea" (that's a quote from the Parent Trap, the one with Lindsay Lohan). No. That actually has nothing to do with my idea/my newest project. I mean, it's unlikely it'll ever come to anything or that I'll ever get around to doing it, but I thought it was a cool idea nonetheless.
So, Indonesia has fallen victim to two tsunamis in less than two years. We all remember well the December 26, 2004 event that ravaged southeast Asia, killing more than 200,000 people. There was another tsunami just days ago that killed more than 500 people, and more than 200 are still missing. Yes, that was a much smaller-scale tsunami, but it still claimed lives and I, for one, believe that those lives could have been saved. reported that "Indonesia has no nationwide tsunami warning system," but a Hawaii-based warning center and another warning center in Japan both issued warnings to Indonesia's government about the possibility of a tsunami, as a result of a magnitude 7.7 earthquake. An interior minister in Indonesia has said that while the government did receive the warnings, it merely text messaged 400 officials, and somewhere along the way, guess what? The message never got to the civilians who were on the 110-mile stretch of beach.

Okay, so now about the project. I was thinking, you know how a lot of beaches have public-notice signs, whether it's about a lifeguard not being on duty, or a "swim at your own risk sign" or whatever? Well, I was thinking that ever 1/2 mile of so on Indonesian beaches, we should just put up signs that list the warning-signs of tsunamis. There are very obvious signs-- like when the ocean recedes 1000 feet, or there's a red glow in the horizon, or the water is hot or bubbly or stings the skin, there is a smell of rotten eggs (hydrogen sulfide) or of petrol or oil, or there is a loud boom heard, or an earthquake is felt. Then, after listing the warning-signs the sign would advice people to head for higher ground immediately if any of these signs are noticed, and not to go into houses because tsunamis are often powerful enough to destroy houses completely.

I don't know. I don't have the money, resources or an Indonesian translator, so this will likely never happen, but I just thought that if the bureaucratic system is going to continue to cost people their lives, maybe we should just educate the public. I mean, it's not like tsunamis just happen. There are obvious warning signs that I think people would actually take notice of. Okay, that's my project. You can all procede to tell me how crazy I am in the comments section. :)

Monday, July 17, 2006

So one of the hardest things in L.A. was figuring out how to make a difference, and even if you could. I think sometimes the problems faced by people there, here, and everywhere seem overwhelming to the point of inaction. Let me try to give an example. One morning, about 3/4 of the way through the trip-- a trip where we were mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted, where we hadn't had air conditioning in 9 days, where we slept on the floor every night, where showers were hurried (my quickest was 1.5 minutes long...) and where we were going hard from about 8am to sometimes midnight-- about half the team got up at 4:30am to go serve at a local soup kitchen. We had gotten home from an exciting pro-soccer game the night before at midnight, so few people had slept more than about four hours, and I personally hadn't fallen asleep at all. But nonetheless, all thirteen of us piled into the van and headed into downtown L.A., before the sun was fully up. We were driving slowly, in that tired-driver, tired-passengers, we-don't-really-know-where-we're-going sort of way. As we drove toward the mission where we were to serve, I saw something that changed how I looked at the trip, my life and the world. Lining practically every square foot of the sidewalks for blocks were sleeping bags, tents, shopping carts, plastic bags, blankets, clothing strewn about. And in those sleeping bags, those tents and those blankets were people, people asleep, whose earthly possessions were packed in around them. There were hundreds of people. And it's not that I didn't know that people were homeless, but there's something overwhelming about seeing them all asleep and realizing, without being able to deny it or ignore it, that this is their life. But how do you help all those people? Can any one person actually make a difference? (I'll get back to that in a minute, first I want to talk about the soup kitchen). I must have thought outloud about what I was seeing, because Ben, one of the leaders said, "makes sleeping on the floor in no A.C. for two weeks seem not so bad, huh?" I responded with "makes everything seem not so bad." And it did. We went to help in the soup kitchen, where we washed and chopped thousands of green onions and layed out 125lbs on bacon on cookie sheets. Some of the members of the team got to make homemade ranch dressing or do other food preparation. I also got the privilege of actually serving the food. It was an amazing experience that really opened my eyes to a reality that many of us don't want to believe exists.

Okay, so can one person really make a difference? I'll admit I've been tempted to think not, in my life. But I heard this story about a man walking along the shoreline on a Mexican beach. Hundreds of thousands of starfish had washed up onto the beach, and so the man was picking them up one by one and throwing them back into the ocean so they wouldn't suffocate. Another man came upon this scene and said to the first man, "Excuse me, sir but what are you doing?" The first man replied, "I'm throwing these starfish back in the ocean, because otherwise they'll suffocate and die." The second man said, "But, sir, there must be hundreds of thousands of them on this beach and this is probably happening on beaches all over Mexico and even more beaches all over the world. Don't you see you can't possibly make a difference?" And the first man stooped down, picked up yet another starfish, threw it back into the ocean and smiled, "Made a difference to that one."

Something to think about.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Me and Elisha

There was a LOT of painting to do!

We got to see a professional soccer game on July 4th

The Chinese restaurant: Emma, Me, Evan, Patty and Elizabeth

This is what it's all about right here. :)

Kindergarten: Michael, Taraji, Joanna, Zoe

I promise there was absolutely NO goofing off on
this trip! :)

Monday, July 10, 2006

I got back from Los Angeles, California two days ago, and I am going to attempt to do justice to the amazing things I got to experience in California on the mission trip. Our group of fourteen teenagers, six leaders and 1 1-year-old, went to help out in any way we could with an urban ministry center called Harambee. Harambee was started more than twenty years ago by a man named John Perkins, who was interested in the ideas of racial reconciliation. Today, Harambee is a preschool, a community center, an elementary school, a summer camp and a testament to God's faithfulness and power in even the most dire situations. The corner where Harambee is located used to be called blood corner and was considered one of the most dangerous places in southern California because of its gang warfare. Even police helicopters wouldn't fly over the area for fear of gunfire. You can read and learn a lot more at their website.
We worked each day with the program, from 8am until 6pm we were helping in some way, whether it was with family time- when all the kids come together for skits, songs and a lesson,- or whether we were painting the playground or a room in the buliding, or whether we were running Vacation Bible School, or just hanging out with the kids. Harambee's current head is Rudy Carasco, a husband, father, leader and dedicated Christian. He emphasizes the importance of meeting people where they are and building on what they have. Those things really stuck with me throughout my time at Harambee and I hope they will continue to impact my interactions with people everywhere. The way you preach the gospel to each individual person has to change depending on their life experiences and where they are right now. For instance, the way I would talk about Jesus with a kid who had grown up in a suburban, midlde class family and been going to church all his life is significantly different from the conversation I would have with a little girl who'd never heard about Jesus, whose father was in prison and whose uncle took most of her family's money in order to buy drugs. That's the kind of stuff you run into daily at Harambee. But there are the triumphs too. I was sick one day, and the next day, a little girl asked me how I felt. I told her I was much better and she said she knew why. "It's because I prayed for you." And that's when the tears come and you are reminded again that God is working in each of these kids' lives constantly.
But Rudy also told us that these kids needed to have expectations set for them-- behaviorally, socially, educationally, etc-- that just because they had experience hard stuff didn't mean that we shouldn't lovingly set expectations for them. It was a difficult balance to find, but we tried. We had some wonderful "fun" days where our team got to go to Six Flags, to the beach, to see a professional soccer game, to China town, to Hollywood. But those things I'll talk about later.
These kids changed my life. They had grown up in a lot of ways long before they should have. They had seen more than is fair. But they weren't caught up in the negativity. They wanted to play knock-out with us. They wanted to hold our hands. They wanted to talk about skateboarding or television. I saw a lot of hope and a lot of love in these kids that I don't experience every day.
The last thing I want to blog about before I call it a post (okay, that was bad...) is my asthma attack. I had sports-induced asthma for awhile a few years back, but I haven't shown symptoms in a while. I don't think I've used my inhaler in years. But as we were walking back to our vans from the soccer stadium, I started feeling weird. As we were on the highway in miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic, I started having an asthma attack. Both vans pulled off the interstate and into the parking lot of a Taco Bell. One of the other team members, my good friend Cameron, had an inhaler that she had almost not brought with her. The nurse on our team okay-ed me using it and eventually my breathing normalized. It wasn't until after Cameron and I talked later that I realized just how much God had his hand in that situation. Cameron hadn't brought her inhaler on any outing the team had had up until that point. And she almost didn't that night. But she kept feeling a nagging need to bring the inhaler. God has been faithful, he will be again, and His ways are mysterious and amazing to me. I don't want to think about what could have happened if Cameron hadn't listened to the Holy Spirit that night...

God showed himself in some amazing ways over the course of the trip. I learned a lot about grace, the power of prayer, love, cooperation and God's faithfulness and power. I will keep blogging as I find the time and the right words to express the amazing experiences I had on this trip.