“I’m Helping the World”{my daughter’s 7 Billion Ones story}

For the past year or so, I’ve been involved in a movement born from the vision of a local professional photographer, Randy Bacon.  The movement, “7 Billion Ones” is fondly referred to as the “YOU Matter” movement.  Randy Bacon is the visionary behind it.

7 Billion Ones captures the stories of life and is accompanied by breathtaking portraits of the storytellers.  I shared my own life story for the project and found that not only is Randy an amazing photographer, he is also just an all-around awesome human being who values each and every person he comes in contact with.  I strongly encourage you to check out the 7 Billion Ones website.  It is powerful, humbling, and completely confirms that we are more alike than different.

The week before Christmas, my 8-yr-old daughter came up with one of the most endearing and uplifting ideas she has ever had.  I was moved by it but not completely surprised.  She has always had a generous spirit and a soft spot for homeless people.  I shared her idea with Randy and out of it, came a day that she and I will not forget.

 

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Photo Credit:  Randy Bacon (www.7billionones.org)

 

Here is the link to her story:  I’m Helping the World  Please take a moment to read it.  I’m sure you will be blessed.  I know I was.  Spending the time with my daughter on that special day was simply incredible.

Children have a way of frustrating us at times, but they also have a way of amazing us.  Her act of generosity did just that, and for that, I know full well what a blessing she is in my life and the lives of others.

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” – Charles Dickens

Bikes, Blackbirds, and Corn

photo (80)Last weekend, over 1,000 cyclists converged onto the small farming community of East Prairie, MO (population 3,176) for the annual Tour de Corn cycling event. This was my first time riding in this tour.  I’ve been told that if I wanted to complete a century ride (100 miles in one day), then this was the one to start with.  The landscape is flat and the ride is well supported.

The town of East Prairie is about 4 1/2 hours away from where I live.  My friend and I enjoyed coming up on a bus loaded down with bicycles and cyclists.photo (76)

This group of riders happens to be from where I live.  They travel together, camp out, and ride in the various cycling events.  As you can see from the picture, they appeared to be having a very good time on that bus!

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The night before the ride, it seems all of the townsfolk were celebrating on the main street with food, music, vendor booths, and carnival games for kids.

I don’t live in a small town, and not even sure I would enjoy it all of the time, but there’s something special about these tiny communities. photo (81)Everyone seemed to know each other.  They all were happy, laughing, and socializing.  I could tell how excited they were to have so many riders from various places in their tiny town.  The town water tower was quite a neat site against the backdrop of the setting sun.

One vendor I met takes bicycle chains and makes jewelry out of it.  Her idea came from the Tour de Corn.  She saw a sign stating, “Thank you for the $1,600”.  The sign was being held by a woman alongside the road cheering on the riders.  She stopped and asked the woman about the sign she was holding, and  learned that the $1600 was a portion of the funds raised from the ride, and it helped out children in the community.

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She went home  with the desire to earn money and donate part of her proceeds to promoting healthy living.  She was retired, kids were out of the house, and she had the time and ability to help.  While watching her friend take apart a bicycle chain, she thought, “I could make jewelry out of that!”  Soon after, she created Chainspirations.  The link to her website is www.chainspirations.com   Check it out!

The next morning we got up early, and headed out on the ride.  I started off with a quick pace,and felt really good.  At the first rest stop, there was even fresh corn to eat, and some live music. photo (88)

The terrain is quite different from my usual rides.  I’m used to hills, valleys, and lots of trees.  I enjoy the sights around my area of the state, but I gotta say, this part of Missouri was pretty as well.  I especially enjoyed the corn fields, sunflower fields, and a field with buffalo on it!  photo (82)

those are Buffalo - little hard to see though
those are Buffalo – little hard to see though

The first sixty miles felt great. My pace was faster than usual, and I was staying very well hydrated.  This all changed as I was entering the last forty miles or so of the ride.  The route turned us back towards East Prairie, and straight into a strong headwind.  With the high heat index (I later learned that another rider’s Garmin showed it as 102), and the strong wind, I felt as though I had hit a wall.

It was all I could do to keep pedaling.  It was during this time that I realized my battle to finish was not about the wind, the heat, loss of feeling in toes, and numb hand, but more about the sheer willpower it took for me to stay on the bike.  I’ve never faced that kind of wall before.  I’ve gotten frustrated on the bike, but not to the point of wanting to cry, quit, and get off the bike.

photo (84)During this time, the endless fields of green and yellow that I admired earlier became my annoyance.  All I could see were fields; fields upon fields.  There was no end in sight.  I kept telling myself, “You can do this.  You can do this.”  My legs felt good, but the rest of my body wanted so badly to stop.  Each mile seem to be longer than the one before.  Huge trucks would pass me which created wind gusts full of dust, which would in turn just make me mad.

I felt the emotion of anger while out there.  I had never felt anger to this level while on the bike, and it was hard work to pull myself out of it.  I had to force myself to keep downing the fluids as I knew that at this point in the ride, it was crucial for me to stay hydrated.  To say I was miserable is an understatement.

It was also during this time that I began to think about my kids.  I would not want them to give up something they have worked for; especially right at the finish line, and they would not want me to do the same.  I also thought about Jesus carrying the Cross, and how He did not put it down and walk away.  I thought about His strength and began reciting the following verse:

I can do all things in Christ who gives me strength. Philipians 4:13

Soon after reciting this, I started noticing that on every section of electrical wiring between poles above the road, a single Red-winged Blackbird would land and start calling out.  It felt as if these birds were cheering me on; as if the Lord sent them to meet me at each section of the road.  I thought about how He cares for birds of the air, His eye is on the sparrow, and surely, He cares for His children.

As my friend and I turned the last corner and rode the last few miles into town, my exhaustion and anger dissipated.  We even stopped to take a “corny” picture (no pun intended).  It was the end of a long day in the saddle.  It was the completion of my very first century ride.  It was the finale of what ended up being more about mental endurance than physical endurance.  It was also the recognition of how amazing it is to have spiritual endurance.photo (87)

One hundred miles on a bike in one day is hard, but I did it.  It was a day spent in recognition of how blessed I am to be physically able to complete this task.  It was more than about the corn fields, small towns, miles, bikes, and flat roads.  It was one more day of life that I could lean on my God through prayer, recitation of verses, and His sending of some little Red-winged Blackbirds to cheer me on.

Beauty in the Storms

Sky in Missouri Monday night Photo credit:  Clarissa Weter
Sky in Missouri Monday night
Photo credit: Clarissa Weter

It’s almost embarrassing to admit this, but lately I’ve been in a little bit of a pity-party kind of mood.  That habitual escape of self-loathing has never helped me, and if anything, it tends to create guilt for ever doing it in the first place.  I hurt my leg a few weeks ago and have not been able to run or ride my bike.  My house is always in chaos with three young children.  The necessity for me to show up at work each day with a smile on my face is hard to do.  Finances are tight due to adding another child.  I even feel a slight envy in my heart over the vacation pictures of numerous friends on Facebook.

I went to bed Monday night prepared to be woken up from the stormy night that was expected.  We had our blanket, flashlights, diaper bag, extra shoes, and bike helmets lined up by the nook of a hiding place under our stair well just in case of a tornado. Thankfully, the storms died down before they entered the area that we live.  I woke up in the morning feeling worn down with my leg hurting and thinking about all I needed to accomplish at work that day.

I picked the baby up and shuffled into the living room.  Barely awake, I made a pot of coffee and secured the baby in his high chair for his morning snack.  I could smell the coffee percolating while I sat there and stared at the laundry pile on the chair next to me.  Pretty soon I picked my tired body up and filled my cup of coffee.  It is rare when I get a chance to watch the news in the morning, so I took advantage of the moment.  I flipped to one of the major news networks to watch the coverage of the tornado that struck our neighboring state.  Pretty soon I could taste the salt of my tears that were meandering their way down my face.

During this time, my daughter got up and sat next to me on the couch.  In that moment of quietness with just the faint sound of the news in the background and the taste of my tears, I thought to myself, “What are you doing? What are you thinking even beginning to feel that you are owed something, or that you don’t have enough?”  I felt shame for the pity-party I had been toying around with for the past few days.  I felt guilt for not trusting the Lord with the areas of my life that are causing stress.  I felt disgusted and sickened for taking what I do have for granted, and for desiring more.

The images of the destruction, neighbors and family members searching with desperation for their loved ones, crumpled houses, a flattened school, and the numbers of the victims and injured scrolling at the bottom of the television all stuck to me like glue.  They punched me in the gut.  They shook me up.  They took my breath away.  Truthfully, they should do this.  It is easy to get caught in the trap of gluttony and greed.  It is even easier to allow the blessings of life to turn into things that cause stress.

The heaviness I felt in my heart was soon replaced by the thought of this simple truth:

The love of Christ and redemption found in Him can never be destroyed by the wrath of storms.  The promise of the Lord is the only thing that will never go away.  Our homes may be destroyed, our children may pass away, our jobs may be dissolved, and our health may deteriorate, but the Cross will always stand.  He will always stand.  

After these thoughts bombarded me, I finished my coffee, leaned over and kissed my little girl, and went about getting ready for the rest of my day.  I know I will always need reminders of the promise of salvation.  I also know that I will walk the tightrope of trappings of an Earthly life.  I know there will be days where I just want to pull the covers over my head.  There will be storms that rage in my heart, my mind, and my life.

The pictures in this post are of the sky over Missouri following the tornado in Oklahoma.  It was beautiful to look at.  The sky following the Joplin tornado was eerily beautiful as well.  It makes sense though.photo (63)

 It is in the storms of life that the true beauty of faith in Christ is revealed.  

Eyes of a Child – Quote

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“There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.”  -Walt Streightiff

My daughter’s eyes just always seem to convey emotion in pictures.  Even as an infant, her eyes would pop out in a picture.  She has always been able to use her eyes to express herself in images.  The one above was taken by my husband on his iPhone when she was waiting in the doctor’s office to be seen.

Sometimes her eyes are happy, sometimes they are sad and serious; yet, they are always the focal point in the images we take of her, and one can’t help but be drawn to them.  The quote above is about children seeing wonders in life, but I happen to believe that we can see great wonders in our children’s eyes as well.

Full of wonder…just simply wonderful.

Road Trip!

We took a short road trip on Wednesday to the small town of Jasper, Arkansas (population 458) to visit my husband’s family.  Jasper is tucked in a valley between the mountains of Northwest Arkansas.  I grew up in a small city in the Ozarks (and I still live here), but, places like Jasper and other small towns were just a “stone’s throw away” from where I lived.  Having grown up in the Missouri Ozarks and hearing all the jokes about “hillbillies”,  I used to dream about living in a big city with tall buildings, art galleries, and stores with huge windows filled with lots of man-made desires of the retail kind.

When I sneak off to places like Jasper and take in the scenery, I’m very appreciative of the hidden nuggets of wonder and scenes from a time-gone-by.  The hills become my skyscrapers, old rock and wood architecture becomes my art gallery, and the landscape becomes my window to the beauty of creation.  I guess it’s true….”Tis a pleasure to live in the Ozarks!”

If you enjoy camping, canoeing, hiking, and finding unique little towns, you should travel to Arkansas and Missouri.  Just make sure to bring your motion sickness medication for the curvy and hilly roads!

Here are just a few pics of our road trip.  The pictures were mostly taken from my moving vehicle with an iphone, so please excuse the lighting and any flaws!  Enjoy!

One more shot of the ghost of an old amusement park
One more shot of the ghost of an old amusement park
Remnants of an amusement park called "DogPatch USA".  I remember going as a child.
Remnants of an amusement park called “DogPatch USA”. I remember going as a child.
more images from the abandoned amusement park
more images from the abandoned amusement park
"DogPatch USA"
“DogPatch USA”
Yes, people still lives in log cabins :)
Yes, people still live in log cabins 🙂
Lots of people float the Buffalo during the summer season!
Lots of people float the Buffalo during the summer season!
another image of the square
another image of the square
They call this "Little Switzerland"
They call this “Little Switzerland”
Ozark Cafe - over 100 years old & definitely worth the drive to eat there!  We were sad it was closed yesterday.  You can find out more about it http://www.ozarkcafe.com
Ozark Cafe – over 100 years old & definitely worth the drive to eat there! We were sad it was closed yesterday. You can find out more about it on their website: http://www.ozarkcafe.com
historic landmark
historic landmark
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I wish this little store was open! No telling what kind of gems I could have found in there!

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cute little food truck!

Grace is a Gift

Lost Hill Park

Yesterday, we took the kids out to local park to take some pictures.  I planned their outfits, made sure their faces were clean, and properly instructed them to not wipe anything (crumbs from their snack) on their shirts.  I am not a “photographer” at all, however, have a decent camera and every once in a while, I get lucky and capture a fantastic moment!

As we were walking along the trail and stopping to snap off some pictures, I tried to instruct them to look at me more often, not walk into the tall weeds, or stay on the trail, etc….but I do not think they were paying too much attention.  Their agenda was to have a good time while mine was to get some good photos of them.

We came across a partially dried up creek bed where we stopped to let the kids throw rocks in the water.  I said to them “Do not get in the water. If you step in the water you will fall.”  I took a quick picture of them and was preparing to take some more when my daughter took one step onto the slimy rock and down she goes.

right before the fall

Being the drama queen that she is, she screamed at the top of her lungs while partially soaked in water with the slime of algae on her.  The people walking on the trail were staring at us.  My son just continued to throw rocks into the water as if nothing happened.  My husband was laughing, although he was trying to hide it from me.  I quickly pulled my camera up, took a deep breath, and said “I told you that if you stepped in the water, you will fall down. We have to leave now.”  To be honest, I was fuming inside and did not see any of the humor my husband found in it!

This morning while thinking about our day yesterday, the Lord impressed this upon me.  “Caroline, how many times have I told you to step back from the edge?  How many times have you fallen, and stood up soaking with the slime of sin?” 

Wow – our Lord never fails to turn life into a lesson.  

He is the best example I have of being a parent who finds joy with my children even when things don’t go “my” way.  He is the forgiving parent who does not pack up and walk away.  He is the gracious parent who still wants to capture my moments of beauty despite the fact that I just wallowed in the mud.

Thank you, Lord, for reminding me that grace is truly one of the most important gifts a parent gives a child.