Category Archives: Children

Something We Can Agree On: From the Aftermath of The Sandy Hook School Shooting

This goes with a complimentary post:

Art of Advocacy: How the Sandy Hook Shooting Can Awaken Us

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After the horrific Sandy Hook Shooting a week ago, where almost thirty people were brutally murdered, I was sent this post written by fiction novelist and analyst, Joel Rosenberg. It doesn’t take long to infer he is a classic right-winged W.A.S.P.  Actually, I agreed overall with what he had written in his post. But I was irked by it too. It seemed so . . . generic.

Indeed, Americans need to be better, different, remade.

Yes, we need our schools to be great (we just differ on how this looks).

We want our politics to be awesome (again, where we are all but unified).

Indeed, we should stop bad people and keep guns from bad people (yes, that includes both concerned sides of the gun debate).

Then, undoubtedly, we really need our families to improve.

Oh, and maybe we shouldn’t let our eight-year-olds whittle their days away playing Assassins Creed.

We need to stop sinning. Pretty sure that is a given.

(On a quick side-note, no pointing fingers! We are all guilty of sinning, so stop saying it is the people who kill their babies’ fault, or God’s wrath on us because some people sleep with whomever- I’m pretty sure self-righteousness, pride, lying, lusting over porn, etc… all qualify as sins too). 

Lastly, it should be obvious that there is evil in our world, even though there is a lot of good stuff in the world too (Look at my rant on this here if you haven’t yet).

To all of this- No kidding!

Not to be mean to or anything, but thanks for stating the obvious, buddy (Rosenberg)! Even so, maybe sometimes someone does need to state the obvious.

Yes, we need help to be transformed, and I believe we should pray. I believe we can only be remade by seeking out the life Jesus promises (for many reasons, feel free to ask why).

But instead of focusing on guns, politics, prayer, schools, religion mixed with politics, views on abortion, video games, military, etc… all which are not agreed on and are hotly being debated in the wake of Sandy Hook, my question revolves more around how we can be practically proactive on something we can agree on.

In case you haven’t read a version of this blog post yet, this is a must read:

I Am Adam Lanzas Mother

After reading this, and pushing aside our initial “What the ______!” reaction, I have no doubt EVERYONE believes we need to help parents and children like these.

Why are Michael and Adam Lanza the way they are? Are they born with crime in their DNA? Are they products of their environment? Do they just have terrible mental illnesses? Could it be more than that? Do they have demonic influences?

I don’t know and this is where we will start differing in our opinions again.

But what I do know is that even if Americans are remade and there is a “revival” in America, that doesn’t guarantee horrific things like the Sandy Hook Shooting will disappear. I don’t think more people being quick-fixed “saved” will change our world, not they have true life-change. Then, if someone prays over a loudspeaker at school, verses just with their friends around a flagpole- that isn’t going to make a school immune to a violent upheaval either.

Why? Because you need less than .0000001 percent of the population to do terrorist-like activities.

But what we can do, proactively, is look around us and start caring for parents who are readily asking for help, like Michael’s mom. If we had relationships with friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and actually chose to get uncomfortable enough with them to actually talk about more than the weather, then we might be able to support families who need it.

I am part of an experiment called the Art of Neighboring. One of the challenges is to know families around you so well, you actually know the state of their marriages. Or maybe, in this case, the state of their children.

You see, I need people to help me parent.  I know others need that too, and feel honored when people I know are willing to consider things I have learned.  What if we lived life with people so we could be there for them when they have an out-of-control kid? What if we hosted community parenting classes, advocating for parents when they confess their child scares them? They don’t have to agree with everything we say. It requires a certain vulnerability to have conversations like these, a vulnerability we don’t often embrace.

It goes beyond parenting, but about being there for students, about being there for young adults as they find their way in college, in the world.

Am I so naive to believe that if we are attentive to those around us, if we learned how to have healthy conversations with those in our circles, even if challenging, lives could be spared? Am I so naive to believe that living life with people literally changes the world?

Why yes. I think I am.

Then, the other obvious factor is that another scenario needs to be available rather than just throwing thirteen-year-olders with mental illnesses in jail. I am not sure what that looks like, but it looks like something. Who will raise up to the challenge to make that happen? Who already is making that happen? How can we support their work?

Yes, of course I want the people in our country, heck, in our world, to be spiritually transformed. I think we should seek this, pray for this, and ya, ask God to heal our land. But having real relationships with people around us and coming up with immediate solutions to help families like Michael’s is a practical stepping stone that I think we can all agree on. This might be vague, but it is less generic than “God Save America.” It is better than just arguing about what is wrong; who is wrong.

And, now that I have effectively written a whole blog post on the subject, I must humble myself by saying I need to be more aware of those around me. I have had friends talk with me about their children’s mental illnesses, and I was either skeptical or didn’t really know what to say. I didn’t offer to help them or walk through their unique situation with them, and for that I am sorry.

God, please change me to be aware of and compassionate for those around me. When it happens, help me to have a clue on how to be there for a family walking through these types of situations. Please transform us to care for the Adam Lanza’s of the world and know how to fight the “rulers and authorities of darkness” which the Bible’s Ephesians tells us our real battle is against. And as always, thank you for your love and bigness, even in the midst of suffering like this. You are enough. Amen.

Again, the companion post to this one is found at The Average Advocate, where I typically blog. But as this didn’t really fit the theme of that website, I decided to post it here on my personal blog instead. Be sure to check it out and sign up to receive those posts!

From “Internet Minute of Silence Declared for Sandy Hook Victims” Zoe Fox from Mashable.org

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World AIDS Day: Kefilwe’s Story

“My momma’s got AIDS” the little girl whispered. It was one of those whispers that is so quiet that it knocks your breath away, like a sonic boom. Her skin was like copper, hardened, darkened, but smoother than silk. She had a pock-mark on the corner of her forehead, near where her coarse, black hair began to embrace her head. I couldn’t help but think that she looked beautiful. Her dirty “Adiddas” shirt had questionable smears on it, which made my stomach turn. Pathetic and beautiful.

“I’ve never met someone with AIDS until now,” I whispered back. She nodded, knowingly. “Neither did I until my daddy got sick. He’s gone. My momma was mad at him when she found out. She told me that he shouldn’t have done it, that it was wrong for him to do that to her. I don’t know what she meant, but I guessed it meant that if you have AIDS it means you’re a bad person.” I listened to her as we bumped our way over the dry, lumpy grass road.  I glanced around to see if I could find my water bottle. I wasn’t used to the feeling of dust continually clinging to my skin. We were driving to a medical compound, which according to my uneducated guess, must be even closer to the Kalahari Desert than we already were. It seemed surreal. I vaguely tried to connect the string of events that got me here, but I quickly gave up doing so. However I got here, I was here. Just for this week. But I was in a different world.

But Kefilwe, my copper-skinned companion, actually probably had known many people with AIDS before her dad.  At least one-fourth of the people in her little African Village were HIV positive, which is actually normal in Botswana (and much of Southern Africa). I shook my head.  I knew Kefilwe’s mom was dying. Maybe if we could get the drugs to her sooner, but she had an advanced case of Tuberculous, as well. I guessed she had less than a month to live. This poor little girl worked so hard. From sunrise, to sunset she would do what little she could to make her mom’s life less miserable. I marveled that my neighbor’s kid back in the States, the same age as Kefilwe, ate Lucky Charms, went to school, Karate, and then after dinner would watch TV, or maybe go outside to catch fireflies.  All the while this girl would be mushing who-knows-what, and then cooking it over a fire for her and her mom to eat. Or maybe she would be fetching water from that stinky mud-hole three miles away to cool off her mom’s forehead. The only reason I actually believed this nonsense, that Kefilwe’s drastically different life was actually real, was because I had watched her live it for a few days now. And she didn’t complain about it. Which must mean that its normal, because if it was my neighbor kid living Kefilwe’s place, there would be hell to hear.

“Do you think only bad people have AIDS?” she questioned. “I don’t think my momma’s bad. She doesn’t look pretty, but she’s not bad. The witch-doctor said that my momma has an evil spirit. But the church-people say that God is punishing her.” My mind wandered. I knew that in Botswana, although a large portion of its people consider themselves Christian, many practice a traditional African religion as well, referred to here as Badimo. Although I considered witch-doctors something of story books, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were not so different in America, practicing multiple beliefs at the same time while only claiming one.

“Kefilwe, have you gone to school?” I asked. Kefilwe just looked at me confused and then turned back to admiringly study the new stuffed polar bear someone with us had given her. I wondered if she even had a clue of what a polar bear was.  Another passenger took advantage of her distraction, leaned over, and proceeded to explain to me that the small school which had serviced Kefilwe’s village shut down five years ago when both the teachers had passed away because of AIDS. The passenger, who worked for Peace Corps, continued by telling me that if a country who was a major world-player, like India, China, or Russia had the same AIDS infection rate as this area in Africa, their economies would also falter. Yet, because of their global influence, it would create a domino effect in the economies of the world.  I looked at the Peace Corp with skepticism. She explained that a huge portion of Africa’s labor force had already succumbed to AIDS, creating gaps all over society and overwhelming barriers to growth. I knew that India already had a high rate of AIDS infection. I had never considered the effect of such a disease on a whole country before, let alone its effect on a continent, or the world at large.

Kefilwe eventually looked up from her polar bear, picking up our conversation again: “My momma says she won’t come back soon, and it will happen just like when my daddy died. She said she will look even skinner, and not talk much before that happens. She told me I don’t have to cry when she won’t let me feed her.” I smiled sadly. It’s not everyday I hear such a young child talk about sickness and death. She will soon be added to the fourteen million children who have been orphaned in Southern Africa because of AIDS. “My momma says I need to get that medicine for myself so I don’t end up like her and daddy. Momma says you have that medicine. She said you could get it for me. She said that the nice people in your village will hear about how we need their help, and they will bring us back the medicine.” And then she looked up at me with such big eyes full of hope.

Kefilwe wasn’t aware that she was already HIV positive. She never had a choice- she was born with it. A little knowledge, basic medical assistance, and access to antiretroviral drugs could have easily kept her from this fate. Instead Kefilwe is a statistic, one of the 400,000 babies born with HIV yearly. But on a positive note, she had made it this far. Half of the children born with HIV don’t even live past age two. I began to wonder about Kefilwe’s future: “Do you have any brothers or sisters, Kefilwe?” “I have a sister who is almost five, and we had a baby brother. He died last year.” I began to panic. Kefilwe was the oldest of two HIV positive girls. Would Kefilwe have someone to take her in, and regularly give her the antiretroviral drugs? Or would she become the head of her household? I shuttered. Kefilwe was six-and-a-half.

As if she knew what I was thinking, Kefilwe scooted across the ripped-seats, shyly grabbed my arm, and began to sing. Her tiny voice was shaky and off-pitch. But as I smiled down at her, she sang beautifully louder. Soon everyone else riding with us either joined with her song, or was grinning at her. We soon arrived at the clinic, and I begin to help the medical workers process their new clients. Because of the antiretroviral drugs (AVRs) we were able to deliver, these individuals would not only survive, but probably would even thrive for years. At least as long as they had access to them.

After helping distributing the AVRs with me, Kefilwe tugged at my pant leg and asked me for a drink. I stooped to her level, took her little hands, and closed that first forty-cent pill within her fingers. I hoped my family would not mind the ramifications of what I was about to say. I took a deep breath, locked Kefilwe eyes with mine and then promised her that it would all be okay, that I would make sure of it.  Kefilwe glanced down at that life-giving pill and then gazed in wonder back at me. She is my hero, even though she looks at me as if I am hers.

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These are the brutal facts of the AIDS pandemic, the doomsday virus that I sometimes call the greatest humanitarian crisis of all time. But once again I want to stress that there is reason for hope. . . Between 2001 and 2005, prevalence rates fell in Botswana from 38.8 to 24.1 percent . . .” (p.150).

Stearns, Richard. 2010. The Hole in Our Gospel.  World Vision, Inc. Thomas Nelson: Nashville.

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This is a fictitious story based on facts. Kefilwe’s story is meant to give an accurate example of the current situation in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Soundtracks: Changing the World in Humility

Sometimes I am pretty sure the only reason our lives are so dull is because we don’t have the appropriate music playing in the background constantly. I am convinced my life would be amazing as any Oscar-winning movie if some D.J. in the sky always had a perfect soundtrack going for me.

This evening, I was sitting here feeling slightly melancholy. It was one of those rare days when it hit me that my kids are growing up right before my eyes; the moment is precious and yet it will slip away. I know in my mind that these are the moments I want to remember forever. I am often told how cute my kids are. I remember what it was like before I had kids, finding myself momentarily impressed with the beauty, life, and adorableness of a child I would be watching. But I struggle with the infamous disease all parents seem to battle, just knowing this rather than experiencing it. You see, I wish I could typically feel these sweet moments for my own kids. They are like drops of water that I hold on a leaf, but will soon stream off, rushing into the river with countless other drops. Coldplay, Fix You.

I won’t say I was sad tonight. Just pensive and melancholy. And the amazing Pandora has been creating my soundtrack, playing in the background.  All at once I wanted to capture the moment: my children, this night, this day, the urge to read sacred ancient text, wanting to discover who God is. Mainly just for time to be penetrated in the depth of me. So I heavily drank down my coffee just to feel the warmth spreading to the inside of my body, imagining its heat to be the moment becoming unforgettably one with me. The music in the background seemed appropriate, creating the soundtrack I craved. Album Leaf, Red Eye.

I am still young, beautiful and sharp. I am blessed in my marriage and with my children. I am as rich as can be in every way.  I have a wonderful life. And then often I feel pride. I struggle to believe I am not the end-all, as if I matter so much that the world as a whole would be sad without me. All I can see is things through my own perspective. I guess I know that I will die trying to change the world, and so somehow I begin to think that I am important. David Crowder, Alleluia Sing!

I sat in a room today with other people who are also trying to change the world. It was energizing. If you could feel electric without it hurting, that is what this room full of hopeful world-changers felt like. It was that same feeling you might have gotten the first time as a young teenager when someone told you that you mattered to them. Or that you could be anything you wanted to be, back when you might actually believe them. I then glanced over at one woman, and I realized she just might be feeling the same way I often feel- important in her own right. I then remembered the awkward moments I’ve had with so many other people who have my same interests. Maybe its just that we are so used to no one else caring that we think of ourselves as better, or maybe its just too hard to get on the same page as someone else. Regardless, those focused on one cause or another seem to want to find others like-minded, yet when they do it might be hard to practice humility and work as a team. Florence and the Machine, Between Two Lungs.

And then I remembered I am just one person, whom God is called, amongst the millions. It doesn’t mean that I am not important. It just means that I am an essential part something more important. I am part of a group of people who is God’s own, His instrument of change within this world. Citizen Cope, Let the Drummer Kick.

My pastor mentioned The Beatitudes today, in a message focusing on the teaching of Jesus. When was the last time I read those? God is an Astronaut, Fall From Stars.

The Beatitudes

3 “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,[a]
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
4 God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,[b]
for they will be satisfied.
7 God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
9 God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”

Matthew 5:3-10 NLT

I look at that and I think “There I am!” or “That is so not me!” And yet, although I feel like each verse has a right to be given special attention, especially in light of international or social issues, the one that is speaking the purest to me now is that the humble are blessed. They will inherit the earth. Jesus taught about humility while living an example of humility I can’t even begin to comprehend. Mute Math, Break the Same.

I feel like it is wisdom who speaks, reminding us world changers that in the height (or lows) in our hopes of affecting this world for good, we will make no difference and have no lasting change without humility. Yet, when our pride melts away, the promise is that we will inherit the world. How’s that for being a world changer?  The Kooks, Seaside.

If my life had a soundtrack it would have  music with a strong beat to keep me pushing forward, to make a difference. It would have a lot of happy, busy and excited music. And it would also have music to express my roadblocks and sorrow. But my soundtrack would also have a lot of melancholy music, although not in order to depress. Instead its purpose would be to assist me to stop and think. To remind me of what I have been given, and whom I am in debited to for marvelous love. The music might move me to slide off my bed, humbly curl up on my knees besides it, and ponder how life is just so much bigger than me. It turns out am lucky to have a part in it. Feist, The Water.

Conversations with Avi: Delighting, Remembering, Doing Good

Image by Laura Wolfgang

Today, I spent about twenty minutes just listening to Avi talk as she walk around our living room, playing. I was laughing hysterically almost the whole time.

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(Avi walked up to me, pointing at the picture she drew on her doodle pad).

“See it mom? Korean girl.”

(I look at the triangle she drew on the pad, trying to remember if I ever taught her the word ‘Korean.’ And thinking it would be pretty cool if she actually had a clue of what that word means).

Me: “Oh, it’s a Korean girl.”

Avi: “Say it.”

Me: “Say what?”

Avi: “Say Korean girl.”

Me: “Um, okay, Korean girl.”

Avi: “No, say it!”

Me: “Say what?”

Avi: “Say it!”

Me: “Sing it?”

Avi: “Ya, sing it?”

Me: “Sing what?”

Avi: “Sing Korean girl.”

Me: “Um, Korean girl?”

Avi: “Ya. I myself did it.”

Me: “Okay. . . that was weird.”

(While I try to comprehend our conversation, Avi walks back over to baby doll, babbling about drawing a picture of “him” [her] and putting “him” to bed. For the next 15 minutes she alternates between having other typically nonsensical conversations with me, and going “night night” on a chair with her baby doll).

Avi: “Em, gonna give baby the toy”

(She picks up some stacking pegs, then goes about dropping them in specific locations on the floor. This must either be creative art or she is practicing war tactics again. If the latter, these landmine-like devices will cause pain in one foot and hopping up and down on the opposite leg. I choose to presume this is an artistic expression, while make a mental note not to step on them).

Avi: “Here mom.”

Me: “Thanks”

Avi: “Your welcome” “Here, three, six, seben. . . . I’m gonna get em mom on my chair on my my my  head.”

(She goes under a chair, pulls out more pegs, and brings them to me as Josh comes up the stairs).

Avi: “Uh oh, a hurry daddy”

Me: “Where are you hurrying to?”

Avi: “Oh look at her [him], its dan its sue . . . What are you doing dad? What’s your hands doing? I hab Toys. I want to have more grandma.”

(drops pegs on me).

Avi: “Oh, Sorry mom, sorry.”

(I think, “Thanks Avi,” as we move on to the next activity- which would be a zip-line in poison ivy. And, you should know I’m not kidding).

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My daughter is a delight. She makes me crazy, grating on my impatience or shocking me with her callous little girl evil. But, its impossible to not love her. It is thrilling to see her discover everything from gravity, to social graces, to language- her ability to soak up the world around her mesmerizes me.

I love enjoying my daughter. Vaguely, in the back of my mind, I know I am blessed. There are many parents who don’t get to enjoy their children. Some parents die, leaving their children orphaned. Some are separated by war or poverty. Others only have languid children, not happy and experiencing life like my daughter is. Their children are sick, thirsty, and hungry. Some other three-year-old children are hurt by the most gruesome forms of oppression. I encourage you to read this story, which gives a glimpse of other stories kids the same age as Avilynne’s experience.

I know I am being a kill joy, but as the radio sings, “. . . you don’t know what you got ’til its gone . . .”‘ I am reminded to try to be grateful before it is too late. I am sure I just lost some of you; I did not just change subject to trees and parking lots. I am still on the subject of being thankful for my little girl. I guess I just want to be so grateful for what I have been blessed and entrusted with, rather than take it for granted. And I don’t want to forget the truth that there are so many whose children suffer.

In the Old Testament God directed the Israelites to do all sorts of things to remember what He had done for them, bringing them out of oppression as slaves in Egypt.  God prescribed holidays and memorials. He wanted them to sing about it, read about it, slap reminders on their foreheads, door frames, and tell their kids over, and over, and over, and over again of what He had done.  It was like God was putting post-in-notes all over their lives, getting them to see the obvious- He is good! God saved! God heard them! God cared!

I have a few post-in-notes in my life, as well. I am overwhelmingly blessed, and sometimes its good for me to remember that. So, thank you God for Avi, “The Father’s delight!” (as her name means).  Just like the Israelites were directed to do, I want to tell Avi as she grows up of how good God has been, and how she is a reminder to me of that. And every time I tell her this, I hope to be spurred on to remember the other children whose lives are anything but full of hope. I have no doubt God sees them, hearing their cries, just like I hear my daughter’s when she has a nightmare. I wish I could see all the stories of how God has intervened on their behalf already. But even more than that, I hope my thankfulness for God’s goodness in my life, overflows as action to change the lives of these hurting children. After all, I have been blessed to bless others. God might have used Moses, plagues, fiery pillars, and a wall of water to save the Israelites. I am sure He can do so again, if He wanted to. But, I am also pretty sure He can use little me.

“So be careful how you live, not as fools, but as those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do.”

Ephesians 5:15-17 NLT

What is Going in Life of Late

Life has pretty much been the same ol’ same ol’ here in Northern Virginia. Not that I am complaining. As usual, I have an obsession, which of late has been my FADs (Friday Adventure Day). I started a blog about these weekly adventures, adding in traveling tips for moms with little kids at www.adventureday.wordpress.com. So far, I really haven’t gotten too much done. I am learning a lot about official REAL blogging (not like this personal blog here) which is a whole new set of information to me. Web design, themes, and SLO & SEO  was equivalent to SOS in my thinking when I started! Considering it was kinda throwing off my focus, I think God helped remind me that its all cool and I don’t need to be obsessed. And, with that gentle reminder, I am not obsessed! I guess we will see where it ends up now, if anywhere.

Also, as is typical, I am still taking classes. I am so very ready to be done. Which is why it is especially nice that I will be done SOON- three more classes left! I have fun writing papers on poverty, justice issues, international relationships, and interpersonal relationships. I love what I learn, I just hate doing the work to learn it. This coming week I have a huge paper due on intercultural business. Fun, fun, fun! So, if I keep up with my homework after the kids are tucked in to their beds, I should graduate from Ashford University at the beginning of August. Thanks to Josh, the Hills, and Becky for getting me through this! I know I won’t regret it!

And, as usual, I am still involved in my church, facilitating a Bible study, hanging out with the people in my SPHERE (and hopefully making a difference in their lives, as they often make in mine) and helping Jill out with L2F Needs Network. Within this past month I’ve been helping a Pakistani family settle into their new home in America after they fled religious persecution. L2F, other community members, and people in churches have almost entirely provided everything they need. Also, we collected, packed-up, and had a team deliver a bunch of stuff (baby necessities and medicine) to an area in Haiti which was very close to the earthquake epicenter, and is not very reachable to large relief organizations. Here is a cool video about it:

In addition, I have been trying to create a home-garden. Its a fun activity for us to do outside and, yes, it was my obsession just prior to the Adventure Day Blog. I think my obsessions are always semi-creative (music, cooking, blogging, painting, gardening) which might mean I can blame them on my partial artistic personality.  I am even on the map as a Triscuit Home Garden! Wow, how THRILLING! Josh has even been adding to the flowers and vegetables, by practicing his slingshot off the porch, to his targets. Okay, I guess he doesn’t shoot my plants, but its nice to all have something fun to do in the same area together outdoors.

Lastly, and most importantly, I’ve been taking care of the kids. I like them. They are growing up. Maybe in honor of Josiah’s first birthday next month I’ll actually write out his birth story! He still has no teeth, but he is cruising around pretty good. He is a happy baby. Sweet little Avi is a mischievous lover of her brother. I don’t even know how to begin to describe Avilynne these days. Sometimes she makes my heart melt, yet other times I just want to lock her outside of our house. She is trying very hard to speak English, repeating our pronunciation of words over and over. I am terrible at pronunciation, as is she. But, unlike me, she is improving. Here is a link to a Spring 2010 photo album of them.

As always, if you haven’t, please support Thai Song, and what is going on in the makings of this awesome inspired fair-trade organization. Buying a bag, which these sweet women create from nasty trash, helps change lives! Feel free to check out and support the co-director (yes, my cousin’s) blog at: http://brittanyfox.missionsplace.com

So, these are the updates on the Johnston Family of late!