Sometimes that sounds like good attributes.
Desire, creative thinking and determination. Other times it looks like wanting my own way, kicking through road blocks God puts up for my protection and stubbornness.
What we’ve learned is this: God does not respond to what we do; we respond to what God does. We’ve finally figured it out. Our lives get in step with God and all others by letting him set the pace, not by proudly or anxiously trying to run the parade. Romans 3:28
Being in step with God sounds carefree. It makes me think of Kaytlynn or Harrison walking between Shane and me, holding tightly to our hands and occasionally swinging their feet up in the air. It is peaceful. No worry about the course or the direction, just holding on tightly. No running ahead or falling behind, just in step, right on time.
Lord, help me to hold onto you tightly, to stay in step with you and to follow your lead and your pace. Amen
Our family has lived in Tualatin, OR for just over 10 years. We have always been passionate about sharing our love, our time and our resources with others who would be blessed by them. This year we have had our heart tugged in a very special way…just in time for Christmas.
I visited Ethiopia in July accompanying a dear friend who adopted a 4 year old boy. I had no idea how this trip would rock my world and drive me beyond where I have ever been with compassion for children, for those who are sick and for the devastated poor. When I returned, I chose not to forget, not to close my eyes, not to justify the extremes in which I had just been exposed to. My husband Shane, my daughter Kaytlynn (11) and my son Harrison (8) supported me and listened to countless stories, watched many videos and stared at the pictures with me. They chose to be moved inside.
We decided to start with what we could control…eliminating expenses and liquidating our treasures. We had a whole house garage sale and sold about 90% of our belongings. We leased our house and moved into a tiny apartment. We used the funds from the sale to buy plane tickets for Ethiopia on December 27th, just two days after Christmas. Since that time we have been making contact with NGO’s and non-profits already in Ethiopia serving the people.
Even without even seeing Ethiopia themselves yet, Kaytlynn and Harrison are volunteering to tell the story anywhere and to whomever will listen. They have been asking their friends to support them by collecting loose change and needed items to take with them on the trip.
Our hope is that we might be able to change the world for one. One child, one family, one community at a time. We hope to keep our eyes wide open and to Embrace Compassion rather than cover our head when the time comes to face the pain and suffering of the extreme poor in Ethiopia. There is one small community where we will spend some of our time, just outside the capitol city of Addis Abba Ethiopia. It is called Korah (Kore). Many of the locals do not even know this forbidden area that was once just for lepers. It now contains three generations, around 100,000 people, including babies and children scavenging for trash to eat. Orphans are overly abundant, unprotected and unseen.
We know that we may be one grain of sand on the beach or one drop of water in the ocean, but we will not use that as an excuse to not give who we are and what we have. As we have shared with our friends, we have found many others sharing the same hope and dreams for Africa. Many are giving in different ways of themselves and of their resources. We are not alone. The connections are deep and meaningful almost instantly as we are all fighting for something much bigger than ourselves. Much more important than a fancy Christmas tree or a big house.
We will be hosting an informational Christmas celebration complete appropriately with Ethiopian food, music and a story from a new Ethiopian friend who has just lived in the US himself for only 8 months. If you would like to know more how you can be involved or if you would like to share in this story unfolding, come see us at the Bridges Financial and Realty office in Sherwood on December 18th, 2010 at 7pm. If you would like a presentation in your classroom or at your office for the opportunity to make an impact for one, please contact Jen@bridgesfinancial.com. www.embracecompassion.blogspot.com as the story unfolds. Please find me on Facebook as Jennifer Bridges or Embrace Compassion.
Today my heart and my mind are full of thankfulness for a beautiful day looking back at this year and years past. I am thankful for my beautiful family. I am always amazed by how much each year looks so incredibly different from the year before.
In the last 12 months, we moved our family which constituted a new lifestyle in many ways, traveled across the world to fall in love with Ethiopia, my daughter started middle school, hired and trained a brand new full time assistant, made many significant new friends, sold 6 million dollars in real estate, began leading a small group bible study, started writing my blog and have become aware of poverty in a new and tangible way. Maybe there are more?
As the day has already closed and I am slow to relinquish it, I begin to think about Christmas. The final crescendo of the year. Only 2 days later we will be leaving for Ethiopia. The discussion this evening began of gifts and planning for Christmas.
Just now I began to think of my own list…if I could truly have whatever I want.
for my friend B. to be able to provide medicine for his blind mother in the leper colony.
clean water for Alex’s mother in her hometown that has never known of a well.
restoration for broken relationship and past hurts.
my friends to be blessed by knowing of the blessing that comes from generosity.
understanding of culture that is so different than mine.
less need to drive the day and more opportunity to allow the day to pass on its own timing.
children to have people who love them and provide for their needs.
hope to be given for those with medical and special needs.
relief from poverty that devastates the very existence of someones soul.
Ultimately, for my “brother” and my “sister” to be given a future and a hope.
I hope you will pray with me that God will hear my request before him for the best Christmas ever. I pray the he will squish hearts that they might overflow with kindness and compassion toward those around them and around the world. I pray that my own heart my be soft enough to embrace my part. My will being surrendered to him and his gifts given to me, in whatever shape and size. I pray that he will do miracles above and beyond what make sense to to us in our human knowledge and that we might be amazed in his greatness despite our own insignifigant persons.
If you have been following my blog, then you already know, after 15 years of marriage and with two awesome kids in tow we have moved into an apartment. We have had tons of questions from our friends and I’m sure some are curious so if you are, read on.
Why move into an Ethiopian Mansion (apartment)?
I guess to start with, we have said, Why Not? Our children have only lived in a primarily all white upper middle class suburbia. We believe that there can be so much gained by living among people who look, smell, think and act differently than we do. We certainly don’t have it all together or know it all and by hanging out with others who think differently than we do, we might learn something valuable or at a minimum learn to appreciate how others are unique. Contrary to what we might have believed coming into this idea, the people who live around us are a lot more like us than we would have guessed. That may or may not be a good thing but it has helped us to break down our own stereotypes.
We were also hoping that we would all gain a new appreciation for what we have by living in a smaller space. We hoped it would draw us closer together as a family as we spend much of our time together in one room rather than spread throughout 3300 square feet.
Finally, if by chance we really might move to Ethiopia, we need to be a little less permanent and ready to go.
What are some of the downsides?
Well, it is probably the practical aspects of the actual apartment that is most irriating. I miss my clean, dry and warm car in the morning. The freezer pops open when you close the refrigerator. The fleas seem to be gone but we have only once lived on used carpet before and it is kind of gross. It never really seems clean. I can’t find my clothes because even with Shane’s fancy organizer system, the closet is just too small. It is kind of stinky and stuffy most of the time, as the air is difficult to circulate in a small space especially when it is cold and we don’t have forced air heat. Hearing the neighbors go potty is a bit awkward. Because of limited space, I can’t stock the pantry so more frequent shopping or simpler meals are needed.
What has been the best of the best?
Clark and James come to fix anything…really anything with just a little comment request filed online. No honey do list for Shane, no yard work. Everything cleans up really quickly…no need for our housekeeper.
The very best treasure about moving into this apartment has been new friends. Three darling girls that took us under their wing when we first moved in and have been so wonderful to befriend us and show us the ropes.
It is so much less expensive in so many ways. Because we have kept our other properties and just leased them out, we aren’t loosing the tax advantage of owning property or the investment value of long term equity growth. I wouldn’t recommend apartment living for the end all with no real estate investment. Apartment living is not an investment strategy. I penciled it out and in our same city a small house with current interest rates would be about the same payment as our apartment including the tax advantage.
How long will we stay?
I don’t know. I hope that will be more clear after we return from our trip in January.
What do I miss?
I miss my gigantic bathtub and the microwave. We just don’t have the counter space for a microwave. I miss my awesome neighbors, the Elders and the Callens. There is nothing that compares with their family friendship close by.
Are we crazy?
Maybe….The benefits have so outweighed the negatives so far. I know we will cherish this experiment forever.
Please consider joining Shane and me this year for our Christmas Charity Dinner. I get so excited to share the evening with some of my favorite people, enjoy fabulous goodies and food and most importantly bubble with excitement over our very favorite charities.
In the spirit of our Ethiopia Trip just 2 days after Christmas, we thought it would be fun to host the evening with some Ethiopian flare…a little food, a little music and some of the best of the best in Addis Abba. We are going to highlight the groups we will be visiting, children you might want to consider sponsoring and a future trip you might like to participate in.
It will be a low pressure evening with the opportunity to give with Christmas in mind. Be prepared to catch the excitement of all that is already happening in Ethiopia. If all goes as planned, our very own “Alex” will be attending and sharing his personal story growing up in the countryside of Ethiopia.
Please do RSVP so we can plan on treats and seats! All are welcome…
15922 SW 2nd Street, Sherwood OR 97140
The lump in my throat wont go away. I walked into Mrs. Shelton’s eager 1st grade classroom today. They remember Kaytlynn and Harrison and me from chapel. They were so curious as to why I was there. We gathered around the rocking chair for circle time and Mrs. Shelton graciously helped me tell the children….
Miftah was probably hungry today. He was probably struggling to live and to stay alive along with his family. He had no idea, across the world in Ethiopia, that this 1st grade classroom came together to sponsor him today. Miftah’s world is about to be changed forever as well as the children in Mrs. Shelton’s class.
The reality for me is overwhelming of how life for this one child will be changed forever.
I thought of the box of cookies I brought for the class…I gave the box to two of the students. They graciously agreed to share with the rest of the class. I believe God has given us in the United States a big box of cookies. Plenty for us and for others around the world. If only we would share our cookies, there would be plenty for everyone.
Would you consider sharing your cookies?
I am receiving special picture portfolios of children from Ethiopia. Would you help Kaytlynn and Harrison sponsor 100 Ethiopian children before we leave?
His response befuddled me. He informed me that he had left the notes at school he was going to follow up with. I had to keep questioning…the notes from his meeting with the principal, Mrs. Smith. Really, I thought? I was becoming a little concerned. That is when he finally told me about making an appointment with the principal during his own time to discuss with her what he thought he and the kids from school could do to make a difference in Ethiopia.
I was shocked. I mean, we talk about making an impact and giving our best encouraging others to come beside, but this was my son taking initiative on his own. Even his older sister Kaytlynn was surprised. I could tell she was a little irritated being the competitive girl that she is, that she hadn’t thought of that idea first!
Harrison put forth his plan of having small banks in every classroom for the kids to contribute their change. He and Mrs. Smith eventually worked out a plan that included he and Kaytlynn speaking to both the middle school and elementary school chapel.
When my mom came back from Ethiopia and told me all about it, I knew I had to help make a difference. I know I can’t do it all by myself. This is why I am asking you! See, my family is going to Ethiopia just after Christmas. I think our school could earn some money for the kids in Ethiopia. This is what I would like to buy or have donated for the kids: small children’s bibles, baby milk, diapers, soccer balls, small toys, pencils, workbooks to practice English and bubble gum. I love bubble gum! Of course money is good because we can buy goats and food for them to eat while we are there. We also can take sick people to the doctor who normally couldn’t’t go because they don’t have money to go.
Please look for the jars coming to your classroom soon!
The students really took the message to heart. Today after school he brought home the jar from his classroom almost completely full. He told us about his teacher whose heart was moved by his idea and brought her “date night” savings from her own savings jar.
Another classroom has agreed to sponsor a child.
My heart is full with anticipation of how God is going to use Kaytlynn and Harrison. I am so humbled and feel so inadequate as their parent to walk through this journey with them. I am thankful God is so much bigger than me. Final talies of gifts will be given at Christmas.
Monday slowly comes. I go back to the clinic. They check for a heart beat first this time. Yes, it is still strong. This time I am again seeing a completely different doctor. For some reason the entire Kaiser system had crashed over the weekend and they had no record of me from the last week nor did they have records of any of my blood work to compare to. I was still having symptoms but there was indeed a heart beat. The word was the same, take it easy. We will check you in a week. There isn’t anything we can do for you accept watch and wait. If this pregnancy fails, it will be a miscarriage. We wont treat you for pre-term labor and delivery until 20 weeks as that is when you will have a viable baby.
I continue to try to wrap my mind around the lack of acknowledgment of the child growing inside me. I am so aware of this precious little boy who I can’t help but be in love with.
This pattern of managing my symptoms and waiting for the 20 week mark continues. People from church are amazing to come by, to bring dinners and to visit with me. Being the active person I am, it was painful to be home in my house and still for days. Kaytlynn was 2.5 years old and not sure what to do with me. We read a lot of books. I read my bible and trusted that God had a plan. I really had peace that it was going to be okay, one way or the other.
At the 20 week mark I finally was sent to St. V’s to the Perinatology dept. I saw a new doctor as I was officially “with child”. The high quality of their ultra sound equipment was finally able to show us what was happening inside. The doctor again did not understand how I had lasted this long. How I remained pregnant. I was bleeding internally above my uterus. The blood was running down through the layers of my uterus and then ultimately dumping in the bottom of my uterus which cause a hematoma. My placenta was also separating, but that was minor in comparison. Sorry about the graphics, not sure how to explain what was going on. The specialist told me there was no way the baby was going to make it with my body actively hemorrhaging. Complete bed rest and come back in a week. This continued week after week. She was always so surprised to see me. Harrison continued to grow. It was as if God was holding him in his hand because my body certainly was not.
I can remember at Christmas time I begged to be able to leave the house. Can I go in a wheelchair? I just wanted Shane to push me through the mall on Saturday and then be able to go to church. How I missed being at church.
He called the doctors office and I received permission, Shane borrowed a wheel chair from my Grandma Almeda and to my delight, our trip was scheduled. I had no idea what anxiety would come for me being wheeled down the busy mall during the very crowded Christmas season. Shane went faster than I was comfortable with, which felt to me like we were nearly bumping into everything and everyone. I got the strangest stairs from people to see this young woman in the chair. No one would smile or talk to me. I might as well have been terribly contagious! They crowed and cut in front of me instead of trying to make room. I really couldn’t take it. After just a short while, I asked to go home. I was frustrated with myself and frustrated with the lack of kindness by the people at the mall. I was tired from holding on for dear life!
Going to church was an entirely different experience. I was so thankful to see my friends. Really my family. To my surprise there was a guest speaker that week. Pastor Glen Cole. No one would have known the significance for me. See, Pastor Cole was the pastor in my home church in Olympia, Washington 30 years earlier. He introduced my parents and my grandparents to Jesus. He mentored them and ultimately I felt my upbringing in the faith was credited to him! What are the odds? Not likely. I hadn’t seen him for 15 to 20 plus years. After the service, Shane wheeled me to the front for him to pray for me. When I reminded him who I was as a child and who my family was, he remembered immediately. He was so kind and encouraging. He reminded me of my spiritual heritage and how much God loved me. He prayed for my little boy and told me it was going to be okay. Wow. That was a moment I will never forget.
Well that was my last trip out of the house. From whomever I had received permission from, my specialist doctor said that I should not have been allowed out and that I was to remain house bound and more completely on bed rest. When I reflected on the chances of that particular Sunday and that particular pastor and him praying for me, I was so very thankful to God for his encouragement to me…his personal encouragement to me, that only I would have known about the significance of this man God sent.
As the weeks went by slowly, my symptoms did not change. The weekly ultrasounds occurred as did my visits with the perinatologist. The only change was their opinion of the baby making it if he was born that week. Each week they told me of the unique birth defects or brain damage he would likely suffer if he was born during that next week.
Finally, at 38 weeks, I went to my regular appointment and my body was completely healed. The doctor was amazed and confused. The active bleed had stopped, the uterus walls appeared to be connected back together and the hematoma was gone. All at once, from the week before.
It was like God was saying, I can protect him despite the storm and I can take the storm away. I Am God and my will be done.
To further make his point, after being treated for pre-term labor and delivery all of these weeks and months, they induced me at 40 weeks. Harrison did turn his head to the side and they ended up delivering him via C-section. He was a perfectly, beautiful healthy baby.
So as for that sweet box of blue baby clothes? Well, they are now all washed up and ready to go to ET. I will remember the grace and the protection that God had for my child when I had no control of my circumstances. When the clothes are given for Ethiopian babies in orphanages or in the dump, I will be comforted by the fact that I still have no control but absolutely God does even through the storm.
So after taking in a fabulous message with Shane at our home church, I venture downtown to find this Ethiopian church. Alex meets me at the bus stop and we ride together to a big beautiful Lutheran one room church building. Questioning eyes meet me as I hop out out my car with Alex. They are asking how he knows me. They look at Alex worried as to what has he gotten himself into. After all, Alex is the newbie. He has only been in Portland about 7 months. Many in the congregation have been attending the church as long as 10 years. One man who received the same lottery visa as Alex looked to me eagerly as his friend began to suggest I hire him.
I love my own home church as the people, friendship and the encouraging words each week are what bring me back. We meet in the church sponsored high school gym. The creativity and leveraging of the space for maximum dual use is extremely resourceful and makes me very happy. However today, walking in the sanctuary with extremely high ceilings, beautiful stained glass windows and traditional bench pews just feel so comforting. The hymnals remind me of being a little girl in the traditional church where I grew up. Alex told me that the Lutheran church uses the building in the morning and that is why they come in at noon afterwards. The men and women are moving about almost dance like, setting up the electric piano, microphones and the PowerPoint with song words in Ethiopian (so many languages and I can’t pronounce the one from today much less spell it here, at least not yet). Yes, this means that none of the service was in English except when the man from the front pointed at me and Alex told me to stand and say my name and where I am from. The rest was me taking in the sing songy voices, different speakers and beautiful music. The electric piano quickly took me back. It was like hearing a full orchestra…the trumpets, flute or sax or something as well as the supporting instruments. One man at the double keyboard was making it all happen. It is hard to describe the traditional ET music sound…I will have to think about it some more and listen again but it is definitely its own flair.
Mesmerized, 2 hours later, we walked down into the basement and I met the 20 some people in the congregation. They were very gracious and kind to me. The black coffee was not exactly like being in Ethiopia but it was delightful. They served homemade bread as well. Not sweet, not salty just fresh handmade bread like my mom used to make and still does for a special occasion.
On my way to take Alex home, he pointed me to the freeway entrance. Being as turned around and directionally challenged as I get, I asked him, are you sure? He said, yes, I am sure, this is the way to your house. Smile. “Okay, we will go to Kaytlynn’s soccer game.”
We caught up with Shane and Harrison and enjoyed Kate’s tournament soccer game. Only one more weekend of games thankfully. I am ready for a break. Alex rode back with Shane and the kids and I fixed dinner in our ET mansion. Alex didn’t blink an eye and loved our beautiful home. Humbled again. My apprehension of everything not being quite nice enough melted in his delight of the pictures on the walls and the conversation with our family. He seemed to savor every moment. While gathered around our small bar and me cooking on our electric stove, he said, “You know, this is my first time in an American home. My first time to have dinner with an American family”. Later I found out that Alex told Shane, the people at church were asking how he met me because many of them had been in the US up to 10 years and did not have an American friend. I am going to have to ask about this some more.
A few blessed or lucky Ethiopians come to the promised land, the land of the free and when they get here, perhaps we offer them a busy schedule, work or don’t eat agenda and no relationship or friendship. Just a thought…not sure yet.
Anyway, I have not yet met his niece(more like a sister) and her husband with two children with whom Alex lives. I am offering restraint! Apparently they have been hear 6 and 10 years respectively.
My mind is struggling to find words…I know that doesn’t happen very often but it is true. The words almost can not describe…. The encounter, the weekend, the time together, the instant connection, the joy, the experience, well maybe I can start with “the dinner” on Saturday night.
Saturday night is date night. One of the very best blessings in my life, though there are many to count, has been given to me as a gift by Shane’s mom. Almost very Saturday with out fail, after the soccer games are over and the activities of the day are settling down, Sheri snatches my two children for a date with grandma and papa D. They veg out watching TV, eating popcorn and having quality time. Kaytlynn and Harrison always look forward to spending time, chasing around Roxy the dog and sleeping over. Every Sunday morning we all catch up at church together. The result of their quality time with grandma has been some fantastic date time for Shane and me. I look forward to those Saturday nights as much as the kids do. It isn’t always a big fancy plan but we usually have a special meal together. Just the quiet time to talk in full sentences or sometimes in Shane’s case, to sit without talking, is great to have once a week.
Well, this Saturday night was no different in that it was date night and we could do anything we pleased. Friday at work days end, Shane had asked Alex if we would like to join us for our date night. I’m sure he didn’t really know what that meant, but he said yes. When I asked for all of the details of the conversation because I just HAD TO KNOW, Shane said, he asked Alex, Alex said yes, Shane said he would call tomorrow and Alex said okay….”it was a man conversation”, Shane said. So Saturday night we ventured to NE Portland to find Alex. The men had agreed to meet at the Queen of Sheba on MLK. It is an Ethiopian restaurant that we had driven by before when I was looking for signs of ET culture in Portland. We had left early as the rain was pouring down and I didn’t want our guest to stand outside long waiting for us. At 6:15 we arrived and saw Alex hurrying down the street to the designated location. We flipped the car around to my excited directions because Shane was just not fast enough for my liking. We pulled up in front of the restaurant and Alex peaked around the corner and I could see his eyes peering from his hood. It was beginning to get dark but as I jumped out of the car he recognized me right away and ran to the car. He gave me a big ET half hug. It is kind of like a handshake but then shoulders and cheeks touch all at the same time. I think there is a light grab to the elbow too. It is a delightful hug, like family you haven’t seen in a long time. I encouraged him to hop in the front seat next to Shane and I slid across the back into the middle so I could hear everything going on. I didn’t want him to get lost in the back with me turned half way around to talk at him.
Clearly, Alex is very excited. He begins to tell us that he can not believe what is happening. He has been praying that he would be able to get a job so that he could be a blessing to his family. His Ethiopian friends in Portland as well as the family is Addis can not believe he has found employment with his minimal Ethiopian education and language abilities. Praying? Really? Oh yes. He begins to tell us that he believes God helped him find us. Maybe God brought him to the United States and from Maryland his original settling place, because he was to be friends with us. God is the way, the truth and the light. Such faith he has. I am humbled. He begins to tell us, “I know that there were many people who want this job, maybe I am not the best person but God gave me this job so I can be with you. You are my new family”. Wow.
Meanwhile, we arrive at Bridgeport and after a leisurely walk around, we come to PF Chang’s where we have reservations. We all can not get out the words fast enough as we find our excitement building over the divine connection God seems to be making with all of us. Alex shares that he wants to go to school, become a nurse and go back to ET to help his people. A clinic has been on my list for the first big project I want to raise funds for. Just interesting. May be no connection. Only a short while later, Emily Cornish joins us. Emily is my sweet friend who already has been to Korah and shares my crazy passion for ET. She is finishing nursing school this year. Her conversation and questions come out as excitedly as Alex’s and more details are pursued. We all decide we will be in ET together next summer. Why not plan on it. Stories and experiences are shared. Shane engages but is in so much shock, he can not hardly believe it.
I ask Alex two questions: what does he want to do for ET? and what can we do for him to help him in this country?
He share’s with us his heart for the people. There is so much that is needed. He wants to help his family and the people and working hard in this new job will help him do that. As far as what we can do for him? This new immigrant with really nothing…what does he ask for?
“I just want to be your family. I am available every Saturday and Sunday. If you need me I am your family and I help you. You can teach me everything”.
To love and be loved. I look at Shane…my sweet conservative husband thinking he is going to play by all of the politically correct rules at work. He melts. When I look at him, he just shakes his head as if to say, “I know what I told you earlier, but I can not tell him no.”
After dinner, Emily parts to go home and we stop by grandma’s house to say Hi to our kids and for the family to meet Alex. On our way back to MLK, Alex invites us to church sometime as it is at noon and expresses his interest to try our American church as well. So, on Sunday, I can’t help but take him up on the offer…