The Struggle is Real

This summer our church has been doing a deep dive into the wisdom of Proverbs. Earlier this week some of us gathered to study this passage from Proverbs 30:

“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

When I entered the room, I thought our topic was contentment, or integrity. The more we dialed down, the more uncomfortable I became.

I have a love-hate relationship with money. Mostly hate. I don’t want to be rich. I don’t want a huge house or fancy cars. I just want enough. I want to not want.

I enjoyed a comfortable childhood. We had enough and then some. We had a swimming pool. We attended sleep-away summer camps. We could travel (my dad was a captain with Pan Am). My parents paid for my private college education.

My children don’t experience similar luxury and yet our needs are more than met. We have a comfortable home in a beautiful neighborhood near friends we love. Every time I flip through our photo albums, I feel overwhelming gratitude for God’s good provisions.

Still, money above all is the bugaboo that wakes me in the night, the hardest area of life for me to trust God.

So here’s the story:

The week Teen turned nine years old, our church held its first Mission Market, an opportunity to purchase for your loved ones non-traditional Christmas gifts (for example, socks and underwear for orphans) that benefit our mission partners. Teen wandered in on his own and found a picture of a boy his age who needed support to attend school in the Dominican Republic. Something about this boy’s face stirred Teen’s heart. They both played soccer. He said, “I found my brother.”

At the time, I couldn’t afford to buy a drugstore lipstick. But how could we deny our son a chance to learn the value of giving? He offered to take on extra chores to ‘earn’ the monthly cost of supporting this boy he’d never met. We haven’t missed a month’s support in nine years.

Six years ago we were asked to participate in a Thanksgiving trip to the DR where we could meet this boy. I thought money would be the deal breaker but, through the generosity of others, all four of us participated in a trip that forever changed our family.

This week Guy is leading a group of 20 (mostly teens) on another trip to the DR. I asked him if he’d considered inviting Teen. Both he and ‘his brother’ have now graduated high school; Teen is off to college while his brother has gone to work to support his family. This might be their last opportunity to connect. Guy responded that we didn’t have the money: end of conversation.

Of course we don’t have the money. We will soon take on a lose-my-mind loan to cover out-of-state college tuition. But something in me couldn’t let go of the idea that our kiddo needed to go on this trip. I brought it up again: “Money makes me bananas, so I shouldn’t be the one pushing this, except I can’t not… If we’re already trusting God for this massive college loan, how can we not trust God for the funds for this potentially life-changing experience?”

We asked, and Teen jumped: YES he wanted to go! Some of his best friends are on the trip. He wants to see his brother. And he wants to meet the little guy our family will support now that Teen’s brother has graduated.

We wrote a letter, inviting people to support Teen in prayer and finances. The money came in, in some cases from people we didn’t expect. And before that, in fact, the very week we made the decision in faith to register Teen for the trip, he received a small college scholarship—which felt exactly like confirmation from God that we had listened well.

Who is the Lord? The God who provides.
Lord, help me to trust…

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Do a Good Turn Daily

My friend Tracy works for an in-town start-up company-charity called Sydney Paige. Founder Courtney Brockmeyer left the corporate world to spend more time with her darling daughters, Sydney and Paige, to indulge her passion for education, and to model for her daughters how one person can make a difference.

Sydney Paige is like TOMS shoes: buy one-give one. I buy a pair of TOMS shoes for me, they donate a pair to someone in need. You buy a Sydney Paige backpack for your child, and they donate an identical backpack to a child in need. All good!

Tracy emailed that they needed volunteers to pack backpacks for homeless children in San Francisco. Kids in our area are always adding to their volunteer hours, and parents appreciate opportunities to teach our children solid hands-on lessons about using our time and actions to do good, be better, and love others.

I mentioned it to Tween; he replied, “Yah, maybe…” (he is loving long summer days of video games and bike riding and swimming with friends…). His Scout patrol leader made it a requirement, so we both signed up.

We arrived at Courtney’s garage to walls of boxes and volunteers hiding behind each corner. Our first task: to write notes of encouragement that would be stuffed along with age-appropriate school supplies in each backpack. Tracy explained: “Some of these kids aren’t told they are loved. Some have parents who think school is a waste of time. We get to tell them they can do it, that school is important and so are they.” Tears!

On index cards in brightly colored markers, we wrote encouragement like:
Shoot for the stars
Reach for your dreams
You can do hard things
Keep going!
(Tween wrote our fav): My love for you is bigger than the ocean and stronger than the waves

We opened boxes of backpacks, took them out of the plastic, and unzipped the main pocket. We assembled color-coordinated stacks of school supplies, and then we stuffed. For an hour and a half, we worked diligently until additional volunteers arrived to take our place.

My initially-reluctant Tween hugged Tracy and said, “This was SO great! Call my mom anytime you need help. Seriously. I’ll help anytime.”

In the car he said, “I kinda feel bad about leaving.” I almost turned the car around. Instead we had a heart-moving conversation about volunteering and new opportunities he might pursue this school year.

Two days later we received another plea: 12,000 backpacks were arriving at the warehouse ten days early. Could we help?

We spread the word: Tween had one available friend and Teen had three. Eight of us showed up at the warehouse to rearrange boxes to create space, unpack supplies, and write more notes. We would have given more time, but three of our eight were leaving that afternoon for nine days of work at a Kids Alive International orphanage in the Dominican Republic; their travel schedule made for a narrow window of opportunity.

We volunteered because helping others is the right thing to do. Because we want to teach our kids that a little effort goes a long way in the world. Because our kids brought other kids and the good multiplies. Because our kids are Scouts and, as the Scout slogan says: “Do a good turn daily!” It wasn’t hard, though it wasn’t necessarily convenient, either. Still, it was important.

We helped Sydney Paige and, in turn, Sydney Paige donated 24 backpacks to Kids Alive. This isn’t always the way the world works, but it should be. Good comes from good. Invest your time wisely. Do a good turn daily.

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Advent Week 2 -The Promise of a King

In Luke 1, the angel Gabriel announces the divinely-appointed births of two world-changing babies. First he tells Zechariah that Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist. Next he tells Mary that she will give birth to the King, the long-awaited Messiah.

Zechariah and Mary both respond with a question.

Zechariah: “How can I be sure of this?”
Mary: “How will this be…?”

Similar, but subtly different. Zechariah’s question carries doubt, whereas Mary asks for clarification: This will be, but how?, she might have said.

Too often, my questions sound more like Zechariah’s than Mary’s. Doubt first, trust later.

To both Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid…” That might just mean they had a darned good reason to be afraid! I wish I were more like Mary, meek, humble, accepting. But God made me in a different, fierier furnace and, as much as I love Him, I’m stubborn and seem to need to wrestle with Him first. I’m also a big scaredy cat. Most days I am content to be a spectator, to cheer others on from the sidelines. I don’t crave fast-paced action. I like comfort.

I’m pretty convinced, however, that God doesn’t intend for our lives to be too comfortable. When we’re comfortable, we rely on ourselves; discomfort pushes us into God’s arms. Five years ago God shook up my comfort: He gave our family the opportunity to participate in a Thanksgiving break mission trip to the Dominican Republic.

I love to travel, but travel and mission trips are not synonymous. Previous mission trips had convinced me that some of us get to send money, pray, and cheer others on. I felt fine with that role. Until God called me.

Do not be afraid? Right!

I thought money would be a deal-breaker. God provided.

I like to be well-prepared, but mission trips don’t work that way. “Flexibility” is key. Unfortunately, I rediscovered that when I’m stressed I can be a cranky control freak.

But the overriding fear was: How could I be a participant and a parent? Teen would be fine–he craves adventure–but Tween is a homebody, content in his pj’s and his own company for days on end. At the time he was 7 years old, and he didn’t even like easy vacations.

God and I had an ongoing conversation about all this for months. One early morning, after sleeplessly tossing through the night, I told Guy I couldn’t do it. I had time to go for a walk by myself and started to pray, when God cut me off. He said: “Be strong and courageous…for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (from Joshua 1:9). I don’t typically think in Bible verses, so I recognized this verse in my head as God’s word to me. I could go to the DR because God would be with me.

I told God I wouldn’t be the obstacle, however, I was open to God throwing up obstacles. He leveled them. I thought we might miss the passport deadline. Instead, we got two appointments in one day on the very day we called, early enough that we didn’t need to expedite, and then the passports arrived in one week.

Another time I tried to duck out the back gate of a team work day. I didn’t feel like good company and I didn’t know how to help. But our team leader just happened to be in the driveway, looking for me. I burst into tears. Talk about humiliating, but God turned it into an opportunity to provide the support I needed to once again say yes to the trip and to God.

I pleaded, “Hey, God, you’ve got the wrong person! I have all sorts of excuses why this just won’t work for me. Do you want to think this through and get back to me? I’m sure there’s plenty I can do for you right here…” And still, God was patient. He got me there in the end, with a powerful sense of His presence and encouragement along the way.

John Ortberg wrote, “The antidote to fear is the presence of God. In him we are courageous.”

The evening of our first full day in the DR I jotted some notes in my journal. I started with “Where I’ve seen God so far…” The list isn’t short! It includes things like
*an unexpected nap
*meeting the child we’ve sponsored for years face-to-face in his home
*and one of my all-time favorite worship experiences: Tween’s little body wasn’t feeling great after the long trip, so we sat outside church. The congregation sang in Spanish, “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord.” He recognized the song, so we sang along in English. Those words—open the eyes of my heart, Lord, I want to see you—echoed what I had asked people to pray for me, that I would see God.dr-nikaury

All those prayers worked, because Tween and I had the best trip! Young as he was, he saw himself as an important member of the team. During our meetings we shared SMOGs, “small moments of grace.” God’s grace was everywhere, and we took time to notice and celebrate it together. Tween shared at least one SMOG at every meeting.

Another of my fears: would I be able to do anything worthwhile? To make myself laugh and keep a good attitude, I pretended my tasks were challenges on The Amazing Race. I helped sort the 2,000 pounds of donations our team brought with us; weighed and measured kids at Anija (school); led Christmas craft projects; and peeled countless potatoes and apples for 2 huge Thanksgiving meals.dr-thxgiving

More importantly, I shared coffee and conversation with house mothers at The Ark (orphanage); played and laughed and hugged lots of new friends; and shared conversation and worship with teammates. The goal on The Amazing Race is to be the first team across the finish line and win $1 million dollars. My goal was to see God and serve Him in whatever way He asked. I’m pretty sure I won.

God doesn’t always call you to something you’re good at, but simply to something you can do. I didn’t expect to be good at something, so I simply made myself available. That was enough. We heard repeatedly that God doesn’t care about how much or little you have; He cares about your heart. The Big Question is always the same: Do I trust God?

This trip changed me, and it changed our family. Both kids made friends and did their jobs. They grew in faith and even encouraged each other. We each saw one another with new eyes as we served together. This trip gave us the courage and preparation to spend 10 weeks of Guy’s sabbatical in Costa Rica. We were prepared for crazy motorcycle drivers, humidity and bugs, and having to think so hard to understand the language. We were ready to look for and share SMOGs, to see God everywhere.dr-friends

Do not be afraid… If you believe our good God has set an open door before you, then you should walk through it. Saying yes makes it easier to say yes again. The opposite is also true: saying no makes it easier to say no again—and, honestly, that scares me more than saying yes.

One week five years ago still has significant impact on my willingness to trust God. I may keep arguing with Him along the way, and yet I can’t wait to see what else He has in store!

Week 2 – The Promise of a King
December 4-10

Read and light two candles (purple): The first candle represents the promise of joy. The second candle represents the promise of a King.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Luke 1:26-38

Read: In old age Elizabeth miraculously conceived her promised joy, her son John. The angel Gabriel delivered a similar promise to her young cousin Mary: she, too, will miraculously conceive a baby. But whereas John will prepare the way, Mary’s baby Jesus will be the everlasting King, the Son of God. With Mary, we trust the promise because no word from God will ever fail.

Pray: We are the Lord’s servants. May your word to us be fulfilled. We wait and pray in the name of Jesus our coming King, Amen.

Monday Deuteronomy 31:8 How can God’s presence comfort you in discouragement?
Tuesday Psalm 5:1-3 What difference does it make that your King hears your cries and requests?
Wednesday Matthew 6:9-10 What might God’s kingdom look like on earth today?
Thursday Hebrews 1:1-3 How do you learn to hear the Son’s voice?
Friday 2 Timothy 3:16-17 What has God said to you through His Word recently?
Saturday 1 John 5:20 What does it mean to you to have eternal life with the Son of God?


Creating Opportunity

For years I heard about Leslie. Then I heard from Leslie when she spoke at our church. Finally I had the opportunity to know Leslie when we visited her in the Dominican Republic. Five years ago my family participated in a mission trip from our church to the DR and, despite my quaking anxiety about being a parent and participant, God used that trip to change us, as individuals and as a family. The ministry Leslie and her family lead has created opportunity and hope for countless of Dominicans, and I am thrilled that today YOU get to hear from Leslie. Maybe one day you’ll also have an opportunity to know her.

Create Challenge # 28: Leslie Trautwein

Create? That’s a tricky word.

I am the oldest of three girls. When we were young, my youngest sister excelled in ballet, creating beauty with disciplined and well-practiced movement. She possessed an incredible vocabulary and ability to wield those words with skill. And my other sister created hilarious stories and illustrations of her pet gerbils. Skillfully, she drew horses rippling with muscles which evoked deep emotion and even awe. My horse renderings at that time appeared more like hot dogs on toothpick legs, and I happily quit ballet in exchange for a ball and field. I never viewed myself as creative, but something in me yearned for an outlet.

With some encouragement I eventually learned to enjoy playing with watercolors and returned to the calligraphy I had learned in junior high. My greatest creative outlet, however, I found behind a camera. I followed in my dad’s footsteps and he blessed me with his old Nikon EL, which weighed a ton but faithfully endured many travels and much abuse. I don’t know if I ever became a good photographer, but I am not sure that was my goal. I love capturing moments, natural beauty, expressions, relationships. I don’t create them, I just capture an inadequate image of something awesome that God created.LT girls

When I think of the word “create” and ask myself, What do I create these days?, my thoughts and answers fall far from the artistic definition of the word. It’s easy to conjure up some of the ‘things’ I create, things that at the end of the day I own, by choice or by force. Some of those things are not pretty or inspiring, in fact they are rather embarrassing… like conflict, stress, unrest, and even pain. But that is not the desire of my heart. That is not what I was created for. That is my fallen, selfish self exerting control.

In my heart, I desire to follow the One who made me, in whose image I myself was created. I want to daily be more conformed to the image of Christ, and glorify my Creator in all I do. Sometimes, by God’s grace, I think I manage to stay focused on Him and shut out the lies the world and my own flesh so adamantly want me to embrace. Sometimes, I think I let God use me to create opportunities for people around me to see Him, to know Him, to experience His love.

I find that my soul rests and rejoices in God’s creation, the wilderness… and the wilder the better! God blessed me with a spouse who enjoys the same. When dating we were dubbed “outdoorsy” by dear friends who consider themselves “indoorsy.” Taking others along on our outdoorsy adventures has created the opportunity to introduce others to the awesome Creator. In our eagerness over the years, we have fortunately survived what some might call ‘poor’ judgement, such as miscalculating tidal shifts on kayaking adventures or overestimating our ability to beat the setting sun on back country ski trips (yes, the list is LONG). It is not uncommon for “How the Trautweins Tried to Kill Us in the Wilderness” stories to surface at gatherings. Sharing time outside has afforded great conversations about creation and the Creator.LT more girls

More recently we have created opportunities for kids at risk in the Dominican Republic to get out into God’s creation. Even though there are amazing waterfalls and mountains within minutes of our mountain town, most of these youth would not get to experience such power without an opportunity… transportation is costly, care-givers are tired after a day’s work in the fields. Some of my greatest joys in these past years have been sitting with the teenagers from our orphanage and our own kids around a campfire on backpacking trips up the highest peak in the Caribbean (one access trail is only an hour from our town) talking about God, His power and faithfulness. Leading groups of youth up Pico Duarte creates an environment for great growth. What a privilege I have seeing these young people experience God in the wilderness through pushing their bodies, interacting first-hand with His creation, and hearing about His faithfulness from their peers. Creating opportunity for relationship, horizontal and vertical.

As a missionary involved in developing and running schools and orphanages for kids who likely would not be in school at all and/or be living on the street, I get to be part of creating an opportunity for education and breaking the cycle of poverty. In the seven schools we oversee in the Dominican Republic, over 1800 children are not only given an incredible education, but most graduate from high school (national rate is less than 20%) and are also offered Kids Alive scholarships to go to university (less than 5% of Dominicans graduate from university). These children and young adults receive hardy nutrition, appropriate love, healthy guidance, and a faithful family in these ministries.LT shot

As a pediatrician, I also get to create the opportunity of preventative and urgent health care to these children and families who would otherwise have minimal access to such privileges. What a joy to pass on my education and experience for the well-being of others, from vaccinations to machete wounds. Through creating opportunities for North Americans to come work alongside nationals to help achieve these educational and health goals, many lives of all nationalities and ages have been impacted and changed as language and cultural barriers fade in the overwhelming glow of God’s all-powerful love.

I love creating opportunities for people to meet and know each other, transparently sharing life’s hardships and victories, encouraging each other along the road. With the desire to allow others to own and share their stories, I treasure opportunities to share how God has powerfully and faithfully carried me through challenging places and circumstances, such as miscarriage, raising third culture kids, and breast cancer.

Blessed with deep and growing relationships with both young and old, in Spanish and English, I count the opportunities I have been allowed to help create as a great gift. Years ago a young man from our school gave me the opportunity to be his madrina at his graduation, and several years later he asked my husband stand up as the padrino at his wedding. Recently, as he acknowledged his Heavenly Father, he spoke about being the father to his newborn daughter that his father was unable to be. Stories like his make every moment of ‘creating opportunity’ worth all the work. My hope is that I leave people feeling loved and knowing the love of our Father after having spent time with me.

In the end, I am a small cog in a big wheel. It is an honor to work alongside Dominicans, Haitians, Columbians, Europeans, and fellow North Americans to create such opportunities. I count it a privilege that God can use even me, broken and fallen, to help create opportunities that allowing soulful health and healing. Opportunities to be in right relationship with God’s creation – both the natural world around us as well as people – and with God Himself.

And I will continue my feeble attempt to capture glimpses of God and His creation through my camera lens.

LTrautweinI am a daughter of the Lord Most High, the original Creator, wife of the most amazing and devoted guy I know, mom to four awesome individuals who challenge and stretch me (three of whom have flown the coop!). We just completed 14 years in the DR serving with Kids Alive International, where I work in the aforementioned roles of wife and mom, as well as pediatrician and homeschool teacher. I still LOVE being out in God’s creation, especially in the snow. I praise God for the plans He created for each of us! Jeremiah 29:11