Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Day 1: Let It Be Fresh

It is late. I am functioning (miraculously) on 3 hours and 43 minutes of sleep (Thank you, Fitbit, for keeping a handle on that for me...as if I couldn't tell!). I am also caffeine-deprived, but we're not really talking about that so it won't be a "thing." 

We have had a very full day of activities, and I can hardly believe I'm still going. 

We left the hotel around 8:30 a.m. this morning. I say "around" because well, it is a group of women. We drove through a metropolitan area of Quito that looked similar to the  8-9 a.m. hustle and bustle of many American cities. I was surprised at how clean everything was and how smoothly traffic flowed and honestly, how it felt so much like "home." And by "home" I mean America - not Noxapater. 

We arrived at Casa Victoria - a beautifully restored home in the heart of Old Towne Quito that serves as a community center for 60-70 under privileged children in the neighborhood. It serves as a place of refuge and fun and support for these kids, and they can receive help with homework, are taught life values and skills, and frankly, just loved on. The director is a spunky woman with a heart for her community and most importantly - a heart for The Lord.
"We offer a place of safety, learning and care for children of low income families in the area, supporting them
spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally. We are a faith based
 non-profit organization, founding our beliefs
 and actions on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth." (Casa Victoria, 2015)
Note: I would compare it to many American Boys & Girls Clubs of America centers - just as a frame of referene.

Right now, the kids are on summer vacation so there were only about 30 children participating and there today. We got to divide up and help with the various stations, and I ended up in the beading room where we helped the kids make bracelets. Appropriate for a bunch of Noonday gals, yes? :)

The children were so incredibly well behaved and so kind to one another - and to us. It was so fun to watch them create their little masterpieces and the concentration they put in to making their bracelets. What a fun morning!

We were treated to a special lunch prepared by the Casa Victoria staff - PIZZA! They are getting ready to launch a social enterprise in the basement of the house where they will serve and deliver pizzas! What a great opportunity for the kids to learn important job skills and hopefully, create jobs for them in their neighborhoods! 

It was so amazing to learn about what they are doing here and more about this beautiful city.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the city and seeing the sights. We had tea and coffee in the most amazing hotel, and we ended the night with dinner at a wonderful restaurant with the most breathtaking views. 
Quito, Ecuador at sunset. Our view as dinner started. It was not ugly.

Jessica Honegger (Noonday Collection Founder and Co-CEO) and Emily Maroda (Noonday Collection's Artisan Impact Specialist) have encouraged us to live in this moment in this place. For those who have traveled elsewhere -  for us to put that out of our heads and hearts and just be present here. To just let it be fresh and new this week and in this place with these people. That's not be easy, I'll be honest. But I am definitely trying. I want to experience this week to the fullest and enjoy learning more about this beautiful country and its people.

Taking a break with Malcolm.
I met the sweetest little boy that reminded me so much of my Eli. He was an all-or-nothing kind of boy with an infectious grin and a contagious laugh. He walked into the room, took one look at the beading taking place and quickly found himself something else to do. Bless. So, I began to pitch balls for him to "gently" hit back to me with a badminton racket. Before we were through, he had 12 balls in my lap to be pitched and was not exactly hitting them back gently. We *might* have been a little distraction. Maybe.

Malcolm Bettis, which was how he introduced himself, made my day! 

Tomorrow, we will explore more of Quito, and I believe there is a gondola ride up a volcano on the agenda. What?! How can this possibly be my "job?" 

Stay tuned folks...

Monday, July 20, 2015

I Am Enough

"I am enough."

These words have become a bit of a battle cry for the Noonday Ambassador community after our fearless leader, Jessica Honeggar, encouraged us at our annual conference to run our own race and stop the comparisons. I love it! I love the idea of embracing who I am and the woman God has created ME to be. I love the FREEDOM that could result from doing that! 

Why, then, is that so dang hard?

As I sit in the Jackson, Miss., airport waiting to board a flight to Houston where I will connect with 11 amazing world-changing women and fly on to Quito, Ecuador, for a week...I'll be honest, I don't feel like "enough." I'm filled with doubts and insecurities that I am honestly ashamed to admit...

Am I smart enough? 

Are my clothes stylish enough?

Is my hair going to behave for the bazillions of pictures we are sure to take? Bless.

Will I be liked and accepted by others?

Did I forget anything essential? (Ok, that's not really related, but we're talking about the thoughts in my head, so yeah.)

Am I too "small town" to even hang with this group of ladies? 

Am I skinny enough to fit on the bus seats (The Ecuadorian people are small in stature, y'all. Keepin' it real.)

What if I pick the wrong Noonday for my outfit? For shame.

Ugh. It's just embarrassing, to be honest. I don't like the person in my head right now. She's whiney and obnoxious and makes me want to put my headphones in to drown her out...or really just want to smack her and say, "Get a grip, woman!" 

 And really, if I don't like me, how can I expect others to?

And there it is, friends.

Until I like me, how can I really expect others to? 

We all - no matter how introverted we may be - have a desire for fellowship with others and to be liked, accepted and. It's a basic human need that is just a few rungs up Maslow's ladder from water, food and shelter.

But the thing is, it's not really about what others think or their responses to those questions in my head (which I know, seem pretty silly to all those of you out there who comfortably live in your own skin...hats off and high fives to you, sweet friends!).

I want to be enough IN HIM to be confident in these situations. I want to be enough IN HIM to feel accepted and appreciated. I want to be enough to confidently walk into this week without feeling like an "outsider." I want to be enough IN HIM that I feel pretty - no matter what clothes I have on or how badly my hair may be behaving (Did I mention it's rainy season there? Bless.)

It's only in Jesus Christ that I am "enough." Enough of a wife because He's shown me how to love for better or worse. Enough of a mom because He's given me the ultimate example of sacrificial living for then sake of your children. Enough of a daughter/sister because He's given us us a heart for family. Enough of a friend because He's commanded me to love my neighbor as myself. Enough of a business woman because He's given me the skills and abilities to be successful. Enough of an advocate because He's given me the command and thus the courage and energy to care for the poor, the orphaned, the oppressed, the widowed... 


Probably not the way to kick off a travel blog series for a week-long adventure in Ecuador but it's my heart, y'all. And that's all I know to write here.

I am going to try to blog throughout this week so I can write and share the experience while it's all fresh and on my mind! Stay tuned, sweet friends! I'm about to smack the crazy girl in my head between Jackson and Houston and pull myself together for an adventure of a lifetime! 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

11 Years...and a Lifetime to Go!

Just because you really
need to see this!

Happy Anniversary to us! 

Today is Jeff and my 11th anniversary -- eleven whole (sometimes pretty long feeling) years. Those who have been married for decades may laugh at my "pride" in this accomplishment, but since 40% of marriages in American end divorce after about 8 years, I'll happily take my 11 (Source: Quora).

Last year for our anniversary, I posted my Top 10 favorite moments of our relationship. It hasn't always been rainbows and unicorns for the Waltons, but we've had some pretty fun times, and I'm confident we're just getting started.

And not to be out-done by last year, here are 11 pieces of advice I wish someone had told me about marriage some 11 years ago. You may have heard some of it before, but like most good advice - it's worth repeating. 

11. No matter how much you plead (or nag), boys are not the "neat" (or sometimes even clean) versions of the human race. I live in a house with three. I rest my case. Moving on. 

One of my favorite pics - EVER.
10. Having children changes everything. And let me say it again - EVERYTHING. From the way you spend your time to your priorities with money to the crazy voices that come out of your body when talking to an infant, children are a game changer. But I can honestly say watching Jeff be "Dad" makes me love him more as a husband. The first time I saw him hold the boys and how that big ol' guy melts at some of the sweet things that come out of those two crazies' mouths - well, I melt. He really is the best dad. 

9. Never say "never." There are so many things I said "I'll never..." or "There's no way..." and it seems as though it's those very things that I end up doing. Click here for Exhibit A with regard to marriage. Drop by and see me and the Reverend in Noxapater, y'all! 

8. Couple friends are important. Surrounding yourself with couples who are similar to you in faith and priorities can be a huge encouragement to your marriage. And Christian couple friends are also great sources of wise counsel when troubles come your way. You're probably not going to find a lot of couples that you both want to hang out with but you make the sacrifice for each other. 

7. You aren't marrying his/her family...but really, you are. I can't tell you how many times I heard people tell those soon-to-be-married folks, "You're not marrying his/her family!" But you are. You will spend holidays and all the other important life events together. And let's face - your spouse is largely who he or she is because of his/her FAMILY. So fight that one all you want, you better be darn sure you can look across that table at your in-laws for the rest of your (or their!) life with a smile on your face. Thankfully, this is a non-issue in our house because BOTH our parents are just perfect!

6. Have a life outside your marriage. While I do dearly love Jeff, I do not want to spend every waking moment with him - and I guarantee you, he'd say the same thing about me. We support each other in ministry and in life, but let's keep it real - I need some girl time. He does not care about my latest dilemma over which shoes to wear with what jeans or which Noonday Collection samples to purchase (although he does typically, and with much patience, weigh in when asked on both of these "issues." Bless.). Get out and make friends apart from one another and be involved in things without each other. It'll give you more to talk about over dinner! 

5. Pray for your spouse daily; you'll probably be surprised who changes. One of the most amazing things about praying for your spouse is that we often selfishly go into it praying for him or her to change...but then God does a miracle in our own hearts and we are often the one changed. I remember in the early days of our marriage, I prayed zealously over all "sins" I thought Jeff needed to get rid of that would undoubtedly make our lives better, right? Then God bought me to my knees one day with Matthew 7:5...

"You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, 
and then you will clearly see to remove the speck from your brother's eye." 

Ouch. There it is. 

Who knew "Coach" Walton
would one day be "Reverend"
Walton...I certainly didn't. 
4. Marry the person he/she is - not the person you think you can turn him/her into. Don't marry someone you think will eventually one day down the road once in a blue moon become the man/woman of your dreams. Marry the one who makes you laugh and that if you didn't have in your life, well, it just wouldn't be the same. Because some days are really rotten, and all you have is each other to turn to. Thank you, Jeff Walton, for always making me laugh...even sometimes when I don't want to.

3. Don't keep secrets. Not even about those hot new shoes hiding in the back of your closet waiting to make the perfect appearance a few months after they've been purchased when you can innocently say, "Oh, these old things? I've had them forever." Not even...not that I have ever done that. Bless. 

But seriously, this is a BIG one, friends. Secrets eventually come out and then there's even more issues to deal with. Just be honest - even if it's hard. Once trust has been broken, it's so much harder to gain back. Hurt heals faster with honesty.

2. Pick your battles. There are things worth fighting for and standing your ground about -- and then there are some things that you just have to say, "It is what it is!" And rock on, my friends. If I went to battle over ever little thing that bothered me in our marriage, we'd have a bloody mess around here. And I'm sure Jeff would say the same thing about me because well, let's face it - I'm not easy. 

1. Marriage is NOT a fairytale. Period. End of discussion. Roll those credits, Walt Disney. Love is a CHOICE. A moment by moment choice. It's intentional and takes work. I used to laugh at all those "old people" saying marriage was like a garden and you had to "tend to it" each day...and then I got married. You'll get out of your marriage what you put into, sweet friends. It's not easy. It's hard and messy and difficult and sometimes downright ugly - sometimes it's those things more than the sweet, sappy fairytalesque thing we have in our heads when we walk down the aisle dreaming of our happily ever after. But it's worth it. It's worth it to fight through the ugly and the messy to enjoy those fairytale moments when he surprises you with flowers for no reason, writes a lullaby for your boys, gives you the morning to sleep in or the afternoon to get a pedicure... Ok, maybe that doesn't sound "fairytale-ish" to you, but see #10 for context, friends. EVERYTHING.

We look like babies...
 probably because we were.
So, there you have it. I don't know that I'm very wise or have any of the secrets to a successful marriage, but I'm honest (maybe to a fault?) if nothing else. Looking back on our 11 years of bliss, these are a few of the most important things that have helped make it work at the Walton house. We're not perfect. We get angry and sometimes yell and slam doors (Gasp. It's true, people! Even preachers and preacher's wives argue. You're in on the secret. Use it wisely.). 

Regardless of what a particular day or even a particular moment looks like, we love each other. We made a choice to love each other eleven years ago...from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish. And we meant it. Even if it's hard to do...we do it. We choose to do it. And I'd choose to do it all over again with this guy! 

Happy 11th Anniversary, Jeff Walton! You continue to amaze me, keep me laughing and somehow find it in your heart to love me well. Thank you...I know it's not easy.