Friday, October 15, 2010

What's Really Important in Life?

I know everyone fights the priorities of life as they go through many stages. When I was young, I was certain that every major decision in my life would be settled by the time I was 40 years old. I thought by that time life would be routine. That is what I wanted, anyway. We go through the young married stage, having children, raising children, being empty nesters, facing middle age and then old age. Priorities constantly change. What we think is important at one stage is no longer necessary at a later age.

Of course, when we marry, many decisions are not ours alone. Life is constantly changing with jobs, relocation and circumstances. Ron always wanted to do mission work from our early married days. He decided to do it in 1984. We gave up good-paying jobs because our children were educated and we didn't need that much money any more. We were in our 40's, had little savings because we had spent what we earned owning a house and sending our children to private schools and university. We had no retirement but we were young and healthy and knew we were able to work and care for ourselves, the Lord willing. We went a lot on FAITH. We did not know how anything would work out but we both knew we could still get jobs if we needed to.

Our work took us to the Caribbean for seven years, to Montreal, Quebec for seven years, back to Nashville for seven years and now we have been working in China for eleven years. The small beginning in China has turned into a huge undertaking. With six orphanages open and 650 children to care for, the fund-raising in today's economy has become a major task for Ron.

Our son, Ronald, lost his job about two years ago. He went to work with our orphanges in China one year ago and is doing such an excellent job, Ron does not need to make as many trips to China as before. Ronald was given the responsibility of the maintenance, remodeling and building of orphanages. He is now taking over the supervision of all of the care centers, hiring and training staff. He's written a procedure manual which is very comprehensive and much needed so each care center director and worker knows what is expected of them.

With Ronald in place in China and doing an excellent job, we are now traveling in an RV to raise funds and report to churches that support our work.

This was not one of those things I expected in life. My idea of camping was Holiday Inn when you could not stay at the Hilton. Actually, I don't need an expensive hotel - only cleanliness. But, if you travel all the time, moving your stuff in and out of hotels and having to eat all your meals out, it does get tiresome and boring.

I was not in favor of buying an RV. It seemed to me that we were too old to be taking up this mode of travel. I've been close to a nervous wreck many times, but as Ron gets more efficient with driving and I get less nervous about it, it's not so bad. I have made up my mind that I will enjoy it. I prefer being home. I cannot imagine anyone doing this for fun. I, actually, don't call it an RV any longer because there's no recreation to it. It is a motor home. It is a small home away from home. Yet, I am so very blessed. We have everything we need and much more than we deserve. A friend posted on Facebook that she awoke and started counting her blessings and could have stayed in bed all day. That is so true for all of us. We are so blessed!

I will never forget reading a story about a little lady that was growing old and knew she could no longer drive or care for herself. She made arrangements to move into a nursing home. She got rid of her stuff and turned her house over to a realtor to sell. She packed her bag and called a taxi. She had the taxi driver take her through town, by the first place she and her husband lived, by the church she attended and a few other places that held a lot of significent in her life. When she arrived at the nursing home, they welcomed her and told her they hoped she would be happy there. She said, "Oh, I will." The attendant was a bit shocked because no one wants to go to a nursing home. She questioned the lady saying, "But, you have not even seen your room yet." The lady replied, "It does not matter about the room; I've already made up my mind to be happy."

This story is very true. We can make up our minds to be happy. How many of us actually get everything we want in life? And, those that do get everything are not usually any happier. Happiness is a state of mind and if we do not set our minds on things we can't have, we won't be disappointed.

It has been an uphill battle for me the past several months as I learned we were going to be living in an RV most of the time and traveling from city to city. It's not easy and it's not home. But, I've made up my mind to be happy.

I know that life is constantly changing. None of us know what tomorrow will bring. We could find a millionaire this weekend that would finance our work without us working so hard, but most likely, we will have to do this for several years. If our health permits, we will continue to work for the sake of the little orphans. We will be busy until we are called home or disabled from doing the work working, whichever comes first.

We are so grateful to our workers, our supporters who help with the work but we are also very grateful to our own children that work with us (Ronald and our daughter, Leigh Ann) and allows us to give up our life at home to do this work. They both hold a compassion for the orphan children just as we do.

Whether you live in a million dollar mansion, a one-bedroom apartment or an RV, happiness is in the mind of the beholder. God has blessed us in different ways and with different talents. We will one day account to him as to how we have used those talents and spent our time and money. I hope he will find us faithful in spite of my fear of traveling in an RV and my desire to be at home.

I bought a cookbook yesterday. (I am now doing my shopping at Camping World.) I have three cabinets full of them at home but I'll give them away soon. The one I bought is called, "The Open Road Cookbook" for RVer's boaters and campers. I am learning to cook simple but healthy meals again.

The writer of the cookbook quotes a poem her mother wrote that touched my heart:

The Supreme Architect

It isn't so much the house that counts
as the people who live inside.
For houses can burn and tumble down,
or be swept away with the tide.
The furniture, too, can go out of style
and become shabby-looking over time.
But, the abode shouldn't matter to those in
a house; rather, it's keeping the soul
For, after this life, when we crumble to
dust as time continues to go endlessly by,
The Supreme Architect, who created this world
has a mansion waiting for us in the sky.

-Agnes Carrington McAndrews

We miss our friends and we miss our church family. Whatever is right around the corner will be another surprise and another adjustment in life, one way or another. Nothing ever stays the same; life is always changing. No matter how good it is today or how bad it is, it will not stay the same. Please keep us in your prayers.

Monday, October 11, 2010

What an interesting day!

Early Sunday morning we drove to Marble Falls, TX. It is northwest of Austin and took about 45 minutes. The road was four-lane with rolling hills, and high points where you could see for miles and miles. Many large houses are built on the top of the hills to capture the long distance view. One house had a tower with a room at the top (all glass). Can you imagine having a penthouse apartment in the top of that tower? It was a lovely drive and upon arrival at the church, we had another huge surprise.

The church is new - they moved into the building in February. We parked and walked in and looked around in amazement, wondering if we were in the right church. There were spacious areas with couches and kitchens. I even saw a bathroom with a shower. There were several meeting rooms (did not look like classrooms) and the children's room had trees and painting all over the walls (it is called the "Treehouse).

We were told later that these rooms are used by the community. They are built so the rest of the building can be locked. These rooms are available for AA meetings, teachers' meetings or any community group that needs a place to meet. It was designed to meet the needs of the members and the community in the best way possible.

Although the building is only two stories, there was a beautiful winding stairway (but there is also an elevator for those who can't climb stairs).

Restrooms were beautiful with bronze faucets and holders for paper towels on a marble countertop (might not be real marble but was just as pretty).
Woodwork was dark thoughout the building and very expensive.

We found the preacher in the technical area and he directed us to the large fellowship room right across the foyer from the auditorium. He said worship was first and then there was a 15-20 minute break and everyone went there for coffee and fellowship. He felt our display would get more viewing there than anywhere else.

The auditorium was spacious with cushioned chairs linked together. All funishings throughout the building were new and expensive. None of it looked like stuff we use in most churches. It looked more like a country club or expensive house.

After seeing this lovely building, we didn't know what to expect but it was a delight to meet friendly people and be part of a very uplifting service. The singing was excellent with power point songs and song leader who did not announce numbers but went directly into the next hymn. The minister was dressed causally but delivered one of the best sermons I have ever heard. Two of the elders had scripture readings and a prayer (before the sermon and at the end of the service). Everything was done orderly and according to our beliefs for a New Testament worship. Because of the change of looks in the church building, I was expecting a progressive church that had many practices that we are uncomfortable with coming from a conservative church background.

After the service, we gathered to answer questions about our work and there were many interested. We went back into the auditorium for an excellent Bible class.

A couple somewhat younger than us invited us to lunch. They had taken a tour in China last October and were interested in talking about China. The minister and his wife and two children also went to lunch.

The restaurant was a grille down on the riverbank. It had a tropical atmosphere (we ate outside in a dining area that overlooked the water. The food was excellent and it was so nice to spend time and get to know both of these wonderful families.

We left about 2 p.m. to drive back to Austin. I left thinking, "now that is one place I could live." The area was beautiful with rolling hills, rivers, water falls and state parks nearby. The town was large enough but not so large you have to fight traffic. The church family was great. If anyone is looking for a place to live, check out Marble Falls, Texas! It would be my recommendation for an idea place to live.

Our Sunday night experience was different but equally interesting and good. Ron had set an appointment to meet with the elders of the Southside C of C in Austin at 5:30 p.m. It is located in the heart of the city so we left early and arrived there about 5:10. It is a black church (the secretary is the mother to one of our members at Peachtree City). Unfortunately, we did not get to meet her. We don't know if she was there or not.

Ron noticed that all parking places were numbered. Some were marked "handicap" and one for the preacher. The church is right on the street and there's not much parking space around the building. Ron decided that it could not be a 500 member church like it was stated on the website.

Services were not until 6:30 but people started arriving and all parked along the street. We began to wonder who the numbered spaces were for so when the minister and his wife pulled into their designated space, Ron went over to ask them where we should park.

The minister's wife laughed and said he should move and take #1 space because people would stay until 9 p.m. and he would be blocked in anywhere else he parked because they would park cars all down the center of the parking lot as well.

Ron told her he thought maybe you had to pay to park in the numbered spaces. She laughed and said "That's right and you have to pay double for #1."

No one had a key to the building so we stood outside joking and fellowshipping with the minister and other members. They had gathered early for a special prayer meeting at 5:30 because they have a lot of sick members.

When someone opened the building, the minister showed us where we could put up the display. Elders began arriving and invited Ron into the office. I was going to slip into the prayer meeting and not be part of their meeting but Ron came and got me saying they wanted me in there too.

We told two of the elders about our work and answered their questions and then a third elder arrived. After some time they began asking Ron when he would be back through here so he could tell the congregation about the work.

We were surprised at their interest because they are in the process of building a new building on a large piece of land. They do have 500 members with two services every Sunday. The building was packed that night. I would not be surprised if there were not 300 there. Usually, when a church is in the process of building and encountering a big debt, they have no interest in mission work until they can get that issue taken care of.

Everyone was dressed well (we have grown more casual with church attire) but our black brethren have not. Most men had on suits and ties; women wore nice dresses and heels. I remembered this in the Caribbean islands that they love to dress up to come to church. That is what I was taught as a child. Mother always said "You show respect by wearing your best, not your worse." She said we don't have to worry about having expensive clothes but we should show the same respect to Jesus as we do going to a wedding or funeral. As most of you know, Ron and I dress our best no matter what the trend because our mothers drilled that philosophy into our heads as young children. I know we are sometimes over-dressed but I hardly ever feel we are inappropriately dressed no matter what setting we are in. Over-dressed is usually more acceptable than under-dressed in my opinion.

We attended the worship and enjoyed the singing and sermon. One of the elders led the singing and when we sang "I am a harding fighting soldier in the Lord's army" the roof must have been buckling. I know it was a joyful sound to the Lord. Everyone sang and thoroughly enjoyed it. There was no dragging out the songs or acting like we were at a funeral. There was a little swaying to the sound but no hand clapping or raising of hands in the air. All of the songs were familiar but had such a moving beat the way they sing them, it was a little hard to stand still and not tap your foot or something.

The minister delivered an excellent sermon with some humor mixed in. He was really a nice man and very humorous when we talked with him before and after services. He kept teasing us before service that we wouldn't leave until 9 p.m. Actually, we didn't because there was that many people interested in our work and asking questions.

During the sermon, there were a lot of "Amens, Alright, Yes" and nodding of heads in the affirmative. Our black brethren always do this and I expected it. Everyone was listening. Everyone was interested in what he said. They had about 8 people who went forward asking for prayers and one young man was baptized.

In the midst of the congregation I spotted a little grey-haired white lady about 70 years old. When they had us stand and introduced us to the congregation she smiled at us. Throughout the service, I saw how much she loved where she was. She was smiling and nodding just like the other members.

After services, she came to pick up some newsletters and told us how happy she was to meet us and how excited she was to know of our work in China. Then she told us, "I only became a Christian here in August. I thought the C of C was just another denomination and it was by accident that I found the church." I told her how happy I was for her and congratulated her on have a loving and friendly church family at Southside. She nodded and thanked me.

I was concerned that I might not sleep with the songs running through my mind all night but I had a sound sleep.

We will definitely return to both Marble Falls and Southside if they will let us. Both were uniquely different but equally exciting and uplifting. Sometimes I can't remember a church we visited because everything was just orginary but these congregations were not ordinary. We will remember them.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Blue skies and lots of road ahead

Since I last posted, we left Dallas and drove to Hamilton. On our last Friday in Dallas, the Chinese boy who had surgery was released from the hospital. Hongsheng is the boy with the tesser syndrome palate that went from his mouth all the way to one eye. His first surgery was successful. They made an incision across the top of his head (never even shaving his hair) and pulled the side of his face into place. It was an amazing surgery with only a small scar near his lips where they formed his mouth.

He returned for a check up and they kept him in the hospital for several days because of an infection.

It was about 9 p.m. Friday night when Ron returned to the RV with Judy (our Chinese worker) and Hongsheng. We bedded them down with us in the RV for the night and left about 7 a.m. the next morning for Hamilton.

We parked two nights in the driveway of Hongsheng's host family (Dr. & Mrs. Monte Horne). They treated us to some delicious meals and we enjoyed a meal at a Chinese restaurant to celebrate Hongsheng's 13th birthday.

We drove to Waco and parked at the New Road C of C and went to church there on Sunday night (Ron gave a report about the work in China).

Tuesday morning, we drove to Hamilton to take Judy back to Dallas to catch a flight to Atlanta and picked up Aida (another Chinese worker coming in to care for Hongsheng). We returned again Wednesday morning to take Hongsheng back for another check up. They thought he was doing O.K. but decided to leave the drianage tube in until Monday.

We stopped at Gatesville that Wednesday night. Ron gave a report on the work in China to that congregation and we had a meal with them. Gatesville is a very small town but the youth minister has about 100 children from the community coming for a meal and class every Wednesday night.

We drove back to Hamilton on Monday to take Aida and Hongsheng to Dallas for the boy's check up. He still had infection so they scheduled him for surgery the next day to flush out the wound and restitch the incision. We took Aida and Hongsheng to the Ronald McDonald House since they needed to be back at the hospital early the next morning.

The boy's surgery was not until 7 p.m. the next night because of emergencies. Aida was there for another day without a change of clothing. She didn't take her phone charger or her computer as we had no idea she would have to stay in Dallas.

Rosy Horne, the host Mom, went to get them on Wednesday afternoon. We are all hoping this second time to open up the incision and flush it out will do the trick.

It is a two-hour drive to Dallas from Hamilton. For us to go from Waco to Hamilton and then to Dallas is about a three-hour trip so on the days we helped the Horne family by making these trips, it was an all-day trip.

We parked one night in Temple and had breakfast with two of their elders the next morning before leaving for Austin.

We have been at the Southwest C of C in Austin since we arrived here Tuesday afternoon. We met with one of their elders Wednesday morning and attended class here on Wednesday night.

Ron has been making calls to other congregations to set up future appointments as well as calling churches in the Houston area. We will leave Austin early next week for Houston. We will be there a couple of weeks.

We have cool nights and clear skies during the day with temperatures ranging from the 50's at night to the 80's during the day.