Domino-Effect

The Collins English Dictionary defines domino effect as “a series of similar or related events occurring as a direct and inevitable result of one initial event.”

It is my presupposition that a single event can begin a chain reaction causing similar or related events that can bring about change.

I live and breathe old buildings…my entire job is centered around the preservation of historic structures and helping property owners bring their historic buildings back to life.  In the past year an additional responsibility was added to my job scope to include the review of condemned and derelict structures for potential historic significance.  On the surface, this project had the potential to be exciting.  It was a project that would allow me to learn a great deal more about the historic urban neighborhoods in the city of Jacksonville and have a legitimate excuse to research…I LOVE to research.  Then, the addresses started to pour in and with it the realization that the majority of the structures I was reviewing would ultimately face demolition, decimating entire historic neighborhoods in the process.  I began to wonder if there could be another way.  What can be done to remove the blighting issues to these neighborhoods and save the buildings at the same time?  This thought has become my obsession, my passion, my drive, and my vision.  I still don’t have the answer but my thoughts, feelings, and efforts have begun to revolve around one concept, the domino effect.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
– Lao Tzo

One step, one action will lead to a second step, a second action which in turn leads to more.  This is the most basic explanation of the domino theory.  It is my opinion that the most effective method in which to bring about change is one step at a time.  If I want to make an impact on these houses and these neighborhoods and communities, it will be one building/property at a time.  I believe that if a house on a block is being repaired it will inspire a neighbor to do a little bit to fix up their own home or yard which will lead to another, which will lead to another renovation and, in time, an entire area will be turned around both from within and without through the partnership and cooperation of renovators and neighbors.  This will be the first step…in time, more change will come.

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Another Anniversary

Time is a cruel taskmaster.  It continues on in its perpetual, relentless cadence; constantly marching forward, stopping for no one.

It has been four years, 48 months, 209 weeks, 1461 days since God decided in his infinite wisdom that the journey of my youngest sibling, my only sister, was complete.  The cycle of life is not supposed to be this way.  I will never pretend to understand why it was her time, she was only 23 years old.

While we were left behind to grieve, we also have hope.  There is no doubt in where she is now.  When she took her last breath here on earth she stepped immediately into heaven.  There have been few others that I have known that have had a faith in God as deep as hers.

There are many things that I wish I could go back and change, many things that I wish I had an opportunity to do.  I wish we had gotten along better, I wish we had understood each other better, I wish we had had an opportunity to be real friends.  I cannot change what never was but I can make sure her memory lives on and that my children know about their Aunt Sunny and how much she would have loved them.

Living My Life on Mission (What is so Special About Haiti?)

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Anyone who knows me knows that I have had a love affair with the nation of Haiti for a few years now. The most surprising part of my love for this country is the fact that, until this year, I had not yet had an opportunity to actually go to Haiti.

My church has spent the past several years being an active partner and supporter of an orphanage and school in a small village outside of Port-au-Prince. This involvement became even more pronounced when a husband and wife team from our church were called to be the directors of the orphanage and moved there full-time in the summer of 2010 (after the earthquake).

For the past few years, the ministry that runs the orphanage and school has been growing and reorganizing so that it can be more effective to help those who live in this community. In 2012, the child sponsorship program was revamped and relaunched. It is the goal of the organization that every child will have 6 sponsors at $50 a month to fully cover all expenses associated with each child that resides at the orphanage. It was at this time that my husband and I decided that we would like to sponsor one of these amazing kids. There were 10 cards left in the stack the day that we decided we would like to sponsor and child and I wasn’t really sure who was still available for sponsorship and we didn’t really have a preferred age range or gender. I simply took the stack face down and “at random” selected a card. I selected a 10-year-old boy named Kervens.  This is the moment I began to fall in love with Haiti.

The following January, it was time for our church to begin organizing the next team to go down to Haiti.  My husband and I both had an interest in going but I informed my husband that I was going.  A week or so later God informed me that actually, I wasn’t going, my husband was.  I know to some people this may sound like a crazy thought.  How do I know that God was talking to me and why would he tell me something like this?  I still don’t exactly know why He told me this, but I just know that in my heart it was not my time to go and that it was his.  I had to settle to live vicariously through my husband’s experiences for this trip (because I was going to go the next year…or so I thought).

Before he left, I asked my husband to do one thing, find Kervens and spend as much time as possible with him.  Our team left for Haiti in March, at this point we had only been Kervens’ sponsors for about 4-5 months.  He did not have any idea that we were his sponsors.  This was to be our first opportunity to communicate with him and get to know him.  When the truck pulled into the gates of the orphanage and the team started to get out they were immediately surrounded by the kids.  One of the kids that naturally gravitated to my husband was a small 10-year-old boy with a beautiful smile.  My husband found out later, this was Kervens.

My husband is a native French speaker which allows him to more easily communicate in Haiti since the official national language is French (Creole is the more common everyday language used by the population).  Because of his ability to speak French and a natural connection between the two, Kervens and my husband bonded.  When I realized the connection that existed between them, I knew that my “random” selection was not random, but rather, God-inspired.

179078_10152664312625504_1549228020_nI lost my heart to an entire country due to the smile of a small boy on an impoverished island nation and his natural connection to my husband.  I haven’t been the same since.

(The photo to the left is Kervens in 2013.)

Childhood Dreams Taking Flight

0523150921aMy lifelong dream has always been to one day be a pilot. When I was a kid, it was an obsession of mine. In fact, up until I hit middle school, my goal was to be a fighter pilot in the Air Force one day.

I’m not sure at what point in my childhood I became obsessed with airplanes. I never even had an opportunity to fly in a plane until I was 22 years old. When I look back at my childhood the desire to fly has always just been a part of me. I think for this I can blame my dad. I can think of no other reason not to. I remember many conversations through the years about my dad’s escapades as a private pilot in his early adulthood. He apparently obtained his private pilot’s license in his early 20’s and even was co-owner of an airplane at the time I was born. He told me that it wasn’t long after I was born that my parents decided to sell their interest in the airplane due to the costs and their growing family (I was kid number 2). While I never had an opportunity to fly with my dad I guess I decided at some point I wanted to follow in his footsteps, I’ve always been a daddy’s girl.

To be honest, I’m scared of heights and flying does scare me. I always have to push aside the fear of falling out of the sky, especially over water (my fear of heights is only second to my fear of drowning). This fear has never kept me from flying commercially and even preferring a window seat over the aisle. However, I’ve never really pursued trying to learn how to fly. I would still talk about it and say that it is something I wanted to do someday. I’m quickly learning that sometimes we have to do something to make our somedays turn into todays.

A year or so ago, I started seeing occasional Groupon and Living Social deals available locally for an introductory flight lesson and ground training. I’ve mentioned this to my husband a few times that this would be a great gift to get for me. I’m not sure he really understood my long dormant dream of learning to fly until recently. For Christmas, he surprised me with one of these specials. I was finally going to be able to fly!

I’m a busy mom with a full-time job and 3 kids so time has a way of escaping me, frequently. I found the deadline for my Groupon deal quickly approaching and I still had not scheduled a time for my flight. It didn’t help that the few times I did try to contact them I had to leave a voicemail that was never returned. Finally, the last week before the deal expired and we were finally able to get through and get it scheduled.
This past weekend, I finally got to fulfill that childhood dream of mine. I got to fly! The only unfortunate thing about finally getting a taste of that dream of mine is that I want more. I want to do it again! I want to obtain my pilot’s license and be a real pilot. That’s not exactly a cheap undertaking.

There is something special about being able to see the world from the air. It’s an experience that is hard to describe in words. I’m more determined than ever to find a way to make this a reality. It may take me awhile because I am practical enough to know that this is an expensive endeavor but I’m going to find a way to make this dream a permanent reality.

I’ve include a couple of pictures from pre-flight below.  Unfortunately, I was too busy trying to fly to take anything while we were in the air.  I was nowhere near comfortable enough with my skills to try to take mid-flight pictures…maybe next time 🙂

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Here’s the plane that I had the opportunity to fly.

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The wing of the plane

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This is the instrument panel in front of me.

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I’m not terribly in love with this particular photo of me but it’s the best picture I have of me actually sitting in the plane getting ready for take off.

Living My Life on Mission (Family Missions)

19531344-team-of-volunteers-picking-up-litter-in-suburban-streetFor years now I have big proponent for family missions.  I believe that it is a responsibility of the church today to provide opportunities for families to serve God and others as a whole.  Opportunities for mission or ministry outreach should not just be limited to teenagers or adults, it should start from the beginning.  It is our responsibility to bring up the next generation now, from infancy, looking for opportunities to glorify the name of God through service to others.

With that said, I do recognize that the opportunities for mission work with young children are going to be limited, but they do exist.  The attention span of a toddler or preschooler is very limited so the activities do need to fit the demographics of the people involved.  Within my own family, a few years ago (back when we only had one child) we had the opportunity to regularly interact with and provide sandwiches and waters to some of the homeless members of our community downtown.  Our daughter, who was 2 at the time, loved going downtown and passing out water bottles or just entertaining herself with whatever she found nearby.  For a long time she thought going downtown meant helping people.  I don’t want that outlook on the world to change for her or my other children.

Unfortunately, there have not been as many opportunities for regular service as we have added two other children to our family.  My husband and oldest daughter regularly partner with friends from church to go down to the homeless shelter on a monthly basis to serve meals.  When our other children are old enough they will be able to participate as well (and finally I will be able to help on a more regular basis since I’m usually the one keeping them while my husband goes).

I am constantly on the lookout for new opportunities that might arise where we can participate as a family and serve others.  I want my children to understand the importance of helping others from their earliest memories and to also understand Jesus’ commandment to go and serve others:

“Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…”
– Matthew 20:28

My Journey…Redefined (Pt. 2)

In case you missed the first part of my journey, you can read it here.

I spent several months researching what needed to be done to become a home inspector.  I talked with a few people in the field, with my clients, and with anyone else that would listen.  I think I drove my husband nuts with plans but I never got myself organized enough to go take the class I was looking at taking.

I didn’t have any plans to become a full-time home inspector, but rather this would be a means to potentially create an income while I worked towards building a reputation as a historic preservation design consultant.  It was my plan to offer my services to individuals looking to pursue a historically appropriate renovation of their homes or other properties.  I would act on their behalf dealing with the various city agencies, refer them to skilled and qualified contractors specializing in historic renovations.  I was also considering the possibility of acting as a contractor for clients, if requested.  This eventually led me to my next train of thought.

I eventually realized that home inspection was not the avenue that I should pursue.  It was at this time that I decided that my best course of action would be to obtain my contractors license.  While it was not and is still not my intention to be a contractor on renovation projects, it makes sense to obtain my license and the necessary experience that comes with it so that I can, if needed, perform the role of a contractor in a historic renovation project.

Since I have no direct experience in this area, I realized I still needed some form of income if I am to ever leave the realm of a “normal” job.  This is where my childhood dream of being an architect came to mind.  I’ve often said that if I could go back and start college over again I would have gone for it.  I’m still not sure why I didn’t pursue architecture, other than the fact that it wasn’t a degree at my university (I could have transferred).  Unfortunately, the nearest architecture to my current location is a little over an hour away and it is a large university with many highly competitive degree programs (including architecture).  There’s no way I could commute with a full-time job and a family even if I was accepted into the school.  I don’t like to “settle” for anything but I also realize that if I want this dream to be able to happen in any capacity, I will have to change the trajectory of this particular dream.  Instead of becoming a licensed architect, right now I am pursuing training as a draftsman.  I see drafting as a way that I can easily create a secondary income that does not interfere with my regular job and it would be incredibly beneficial to that historic preservation design consultant vision that I have.  I’ve even unofficially secured a potential gig once I know what I’m doing (I’m still not sure of the timeline in this area).  Hopefully, when I’m ready, the opportunity will still be there.

Up until a couple of months ago, this was my vision.  I was going to pursue my contracting license, drafting certificate, and I even added my real estate license.  All of these tools would be used to help me to establish a consulting firm for historic preservation renovations.  My firm would specialize in design consulting, contracting, genealogical research (another passion and another story for another time), personal renovation for sale (not client driven), and permit running.  I see my dream changing, this consulting firm may still happen in some capacity or maybe even as I had visioned it but there will be something else more important.  The second I started to lay out my plans, I believe God has shown me his…and its crazy…

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My Journey…Redefined (Pt. 1)

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“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
― Lao Tzu

I’ve always thought I knew where I was going, at least in general terms. That journey always included a family, a home, and a vision of a career in public service (whatever form that might take over time). Through the years, this is the trajectory I have taken. Despite some bumps and turns in the road, I am currently blessed with an amazing husband, 3 beautiful kids, and a civil service career in a field I didn’t know existed 8 years ago and I do enjoy (most of the time). However, for the last couple of years, I have found myself wondering if there might be something slightly different out there for me.

I have found myself in a quandary as to where to go and even where to start. I am the one in my family with the “traditional” job with benefits which makes jumping off the cliff into the unknown a little more difficult. I have spent countless hours researching, talking, and evaluating different options and possibilities. I have prayed for guidance and change, any kind of change, but have felt little direction.

If I had to pinpoint a moment where I felt the beginning of a shift in my journey I would have to say it probably began in the fall of 2013. My friends were pursuing their own journey redefinition towards fostering and adoption. An opportunity had presented itself for them to be able to move out of their condo and purchase a house. Because of my experience with planning and construction, I was asked if I would be willing to do a home inspection on the house they were considering purchasing. It was a question I had never been asked before and an option I had never really considered. Based on my experience with my own home inspectors, I knew I would not be qualified to give them the type of inspection they needed and I recommended they find a home inspection professional who would be of more help to them (the house they were considering ended up having major issues that I would not have been experienced enough to find but their inspector did and saved them a major headache if they had purchased that house).

While I was not qualified to help them in their situation, an idea was born in me. I decided at that moment that maybe I should become a licensed home inspector and I could use that as an income producing vehicle as I worked on my “other” great idea, to be a historic preservation design consultant…(or so I thought)

Can a Sandwich Hurt?

“I want to help those less fortunate than I am.”

Its a noble thought and a worth while action.  If God has abundantly blessed you it is a natural response to look around you and want to “give back” to others.  We can all think of a million things we can do to “help” the poor.  Our first reaction is to think of some way that we can meet their physical needs.  But what if, by merely meeting their immediate needs, we’re really not helping them at all?  Can a sandwich really hurt someone?  Sadly the answer really is yes…

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Don’t get me wrong.  In order to truly help someone their immediate needs (food, shelter, clothing, etc) must be met as well as their future needs.  But we must learn to balance helping a person help himself (or herself) and meeting their needs.

What first comes to mind is the proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him forever.”

I’m not saying to not to not do something.  People do need help and not every act of service is going to hinder someone in need.  Its just time to stop and think.  How can I both meet their needs and build them up so that they can continue to meet their own needs?

I don’t know the answer to that question yet.  But its an answer that I plan to discover.

A book a highly recommend (that I’m currently reading myself) is When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

My Passion for Family Missions

Proverbs 22:6
“Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it. ”

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How do we teach our children to help others?  How do we create a generation with servants’ hearts?  How do we radicalize the next generation for God now?  The answer is simple, teach them to serve now.

Somewhere along the line in my childhood I learned the Bible verse I quoted above (Proverbs 22:6).  I don’t remember where or why it was taught to me but it definitely has programmed itself into my memory through all of these years.  I’ve always understood the meaning but it never consciously made a significant impact until recently.

In 2010, Thomas and I were involved with a Sunday School class that began a monthly mission in downtown Jacksonville where we gave out sandwiches and waters to the homeless.  Our goal was to not only meet there temporary physical need of hunger (that need is easily met by the homeless shelter that offers lunch just a couple of blocks away) but to also be able to offer a friendly smile, a conversation, and a prayer to people that society often shrugs off, avoids, or simply ignores.  To help them, in a small way, to realize that they matter, that we see them, to simply acknowledge their humanity.  Typically, we would leave our then two year old daughter, Natalie, with a friend.  One Saturday, our babysitter was unavailable so we made the decision to bring her with us.  This was the moment that the concept of family missions was born inside of me.

Natalie was your typical two year old.  I jokingly say that she had the attention span of a goldfish.  She would quickly move from one activity to another, no one thing keeping her attention for more than a few minutes.  We started that day by having her help pass out water and it ended with her playing in the fountain at the park.  I became frustrated at the constant corralling I had to do to keep her out of trouble and near me.  I found that I was unable to help others the way that I wanted.  I was busy chasing my child.  I did notice something that day though, the people that waited in line for water or a sandwich would light up when they saw her.  Many of them stopped to talk to her and to me.  It seemed to make their day that this little child was there interacting with them.  It was that day that we decided to include our toddler in all future PB&J missions (as we called it).  This continued for a little over a year until the program finally ended due to burn out among our group.

For a long time after we started including Natalie in our monthly trips downtown if you asked her what you do when you go downtown her answer was always “help people.”  I knew that I wanted to be able to continue to work with her (and now her little sister) in ministering to others in any capacity that came our way so that she would always want to “help people.”

I have had the burning desire to continue with “family missions” for quite a while but have not yet found a new outlet to pour my family into.  Natalie is now 5 and has a 19 month old little sister, Kristen.  Thomas recently went on a mission trip to Haiti and came back changed.  His experiences have changed me as well.

It was earlier this week that Proverbs 22:6 again came to mind.  This time it was accompanied by the idea that I recently Tweeted.  “How to radically change the next generation for God? Start when they are young and serve along side your children in family missions.”

It doesn’t matter if your child is a toddler or a teenager there are activities that you can be involved in to teach your children to have a servant’s heart.  Activities that will teach them that everyone matters no matter their situation.  The imagination is your limit on what you can do with your children.  I can promise you that it will change them.  It will change them in ways that will never leave them no matter where their lives take them.  We live in a selfish world.  It’s time to reverse that trend and start teaching the next generation to reach out of their comfort zone, out of their bubble and help the one next to them.

Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine’s Day.

I’ve always loved the holiday because it’s an excuse to focus a little more on love than we do on normal days.  I know that it has become way too commercialized and that we should love those around us everyday just the same.  But sometimes it’s nice to just have a little reminder to focus a little on those around us.  My husband and I have never really gone overboard on Valentine’s Day either.  It’s mostly cards and small reminders of our love for each other.  He usually sends flowers like he did today.  What girl doesn’t love receiving flowers?  This year he got a little creative and got me a potted rose plant.  I hope I don’t kill this beautiful gift with my lack of a green thumb and no natural light in my office (can’t take it home the cats would eat it).

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As I was driving today to go pick up his gift (I can’t tell you what I got him yet because he hasn’t received it yet) I heard a very interesting point on K-LOVE.  In order to receive love you have to give love.  I know a lot of people hate Valentine’s Day because they don’t have a special person on that day but the reality of it is that you don’t have to “be in a relationship” to give and receive love on Valentine’s Day.  Take a minute and do something nice for someone else today that may not have a special “Valentine” today or maybe someone who does and you just want to do something special.  It can be a friend, family member, coworker or teacher.  It could be the person in the check out line or your waitress at the restaurant.  The possibilities are endless to show love to someone today (or any day for that matter).  By giving love, you will receive it yourself.  Isn’t that the true meaning of Valentine’s Day anyway; to show others how much we love and appreciate them.

I can now edit this to add that my husband LOVED his chocolate covered strawberries that I got him from an awesome local natural candy shop, Sweet Pete’s.  You would think that after buying them for him each year for the past three years he would expect them but he didn’t 🙂