Great Read: The Underground Girls of Kabul

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan written by: Jenny Nordberg

I’ve been reading a variety of books lately both fiction and non-fiction. I picked The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg because I’ve been wanting to learn more about cultures in the middle east as well as issues they may be facing. I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this book, in fact, I think I was thinking it was going to be similar to Reading Lolita in Tehran – women helping other women in an underground type movement, but it was nothing like I expected.
It was incredible to see the lengths families would go to protect their reputation, and within that, how culture and society roll with the choices that are made, just acknowledging that these decisions have to be made for the sake of the family, whatever may happen.

There was a lot of discussion last year on what defines gender. Is it parts you are born with or how society defines boy vs. girl? I found it comical as my son was in his toddler/early elementary years because he was drawn to the most random things – favorite color? Pink for a good while. Favorite toys? We had a My Little Pony phase. I’d raise my eyebrows, but roll with it. We saw McD’s one too many times to get those My Little Ponies…and who can blame him, really? I LOVED them as a kid…It even gave me a chance to pull some of MY old toys out of the attic. Everything was a phase. I’ve always felt that if my kid was concerned about his sexuality in elementary school, then I had a problem. Kids are kids…or they should be to me.

But then I read this book…It didn’t change my feelings on how I’ve been handling favorite colors, tv shows, toys, etc. but it did make me wonder how gender as a whole works. I do believe that we are made with certain qualities that tend to “group” us into one category or another – women may be more nurturing…boys more destructible. (That being said, please note that I am fully aware that there are lots of destructible girls and nurturing boys)…but I’ve had my fill of stitches and broken bones that my friends with girls just have not had to deal with! I believe that God intended men to be one way and women to be another so that we could support and care for each other perfectly…and then there was sin which totally jacked up that situation.
In The Underground Girls of Kabul parents in some cases choose their children’s gender based on societal pressure. To have not had a boy by the third or fourth child, a family could be pitied or cursed. It tarnishes reputations, in some cases, leading to job loss.

So, they make their girl a boy.

Let that sink in.

At birth a female child will be born and the parents will say “It’s a boy!” Doctors will nod and go with it. Or at five, the parents will see that issues are piling up as they have not had a girl yet (or perhaps can’t get pregnant again)…so they will call in their daughter, and discuss transitioning them into a boy.
Then wrestle with the fact that one day the girl, who has been made into a boy by cutting their hair short, allowing them to wear pants and run around with other boys, will one day have to turn back into a girl (around puberty) so they can resume another societal norm.

This is an amazing read. Regardless of where you fall on ideas around gender, this book will definitely enlighten on multiple levels and reveal layers of questions with which to wrestle. What would I choose? What if I was the girl having to be a boy? So many questions, but not many answers…amazing that today these are issues that families have to deal with in Afghanistan. Granted it may not be everywhere or commonplace, but I would be intrigued to see the actual numbers if families could admit it without retribution.
If you choose to read this, let me know your thoughts – what did you wrestle with (or did you)? I’m appreciative of Jenny Nordberg for boldly asking questions that are difficult to answer – and seeking the stories from those willing to share them with us.

Put Down the Patron!

First off, let me just say that I have friends that work for Patron and I care about them. A lot. However, when my parents and I go to their local Mexican restaurant they are CONSTANTLY ordering Patron margaritas. All. The. Time.

A few weeks ago I looked at my mom and said, “I love you, but you are sending my friends’ kids to college – not mine!” and although laughing it sort-of struck a nerve with my mom…and when we’re together she will now order another margarita featuring a different brand…like Hornitos or Tres (I’m sure you really wanted to know!).

Now, for those of you who don’t know, I work for a local beverage distributor and I LOVE my job. I love supporting my brands…and it KILLS me when my family uses a brand we don’t distribute. They roll their eyes when I make comments (let it be known that while I do give them crap about it – I also am not super psycho – if my mom lived by Patron, obviously I’m not going to get into a bar room brawl about it…but she might hear some verbal digs…I’m loyal – what can I say? 🙂

Okay – so what is this really about? Well, I was driving home today and I started thinking about our finances. This is not unusual…I have a long drive home and my brain tends to wander through various items while I stare at cars on the interstate.

I was thinking about this side hustle I have going on…building a side business while I work full time is a little crazy. I honestly thought I would never be able to do it, but I have a vision of not being held hostage by debt and so I’m pushing through:) Anyways, I started thinking about Starbucks. I LOVE Starbucks… In fact, back in the day, my parents had Starbucks stock and I would joke that my stops at Starbucks were just “supporting my inheritance.”

I was suddenly struck. I’m supporting someone else’s kids college funds by going to Starbucks. And that’s awesome – I’m all about giving back…but right now I need to be focused on my kids. They’re young…but time is FLYING by…

And so I am making this pledge in front of God and WordPress and you fine folks that have opted to read this blog today…I’m GIVING UP Starbucks…now if someone happens to throw me a gift card for a birthday or something I will be more than happy to indulge…but as for my hard earned dollars…They are no longer going to be visiting my favorite coffee house.

I have big dreams. I have big goals. My kids have bigger goals (my 8 year old wants to be a paid writer…that follows the Falcons around the nation…in a camper).

What are you hanging onto today that is keeping you from going after your dreams? I’ll be honest, hanging onto Starbucks as silly as it may sound is a roadblock for me.

That changes today.

So long Starbucks! I bid you adieu!Signature_Pink

 

 

Clarity

I’ve been trying to clarify my thoughts on what happened 2 weeks ago for awhile. I wanted to write a blog post about it, but then, in my head, I was like “Who am I to write about it?”

Who am I?

What happened?

MikeAmyRidderingFriday, January 15, 2016 a man I met while I was in Burkina Faso was killed in a terrorist attack. I had just arrived home when I received a text from a friend from work letting me know about a tweet for Westerners to stay out of Ouga, the capital city of Burkina Faso. I thought it was odd and texted him back saying I’d known there had been a strike a few weeks back…so maybe it was related to that?

Then I jumped online. My feed was blowing up with news of Burkina, the terrorist attack and the fact that know one could find Mike. There’d been a phone call to Amy, Mike’s wife, from a pastor who ended up with his phone, but then it went dead. Mike’s wife was at the orphanage they run together in Yako – 2 hours from Ouga.

The group I went to Burkina with texted and Facebooked each other while we awaited news. The more we read the news stories coming out, the more grim it seemed. Yet we held out hope. Mike is a man of God – doing AMAZING things for the children, widows and families of Burkina. There had to be a miracle.

But there wasn’t. In the midst of our prayers, our searching (okay – truly my fervent searching of Youtube amateur footage and tweeting random news folks ‘on the scene’)…through it all Mike was already in Heaven with Jesus. Saturday morning we saw Amy’s post and suddenly the heaviness of grief was upon us. It hits everyone in weird ways. I’m not a crier…but when it comes to daughters missing their fathers, or really any child without a parent – it hits home to me. I feel like I grieved when Princess Diana died…not because I knew her (I didn’t!) but because she had two kids who were growing up without a mom they loved dearly…and here we are again…not only are Mike’s 4 children growing up without him, but the dozens and dozens of children whom he impacted on a daily basis – the kids who called him Papa…now they were feeling the pain, I’d once felt.

It sucks.

Saturday sucked.

Then Sunday came. Things were not better. Tears were still shed. Yet, we had an immediate reminder that our hope is not found in the now, but in what is yet to come. Mike did amazing things with Amy at the Yako Orphanage…Amy is going to continue the amazing things they did together. That makes me overjoyed!

Prior to this attack I’d already been talking to Tim about going back. He really wanted me to go to Haiti first because he fell in love with the country and her people when he went with Revolution…but I feel the same way about Burkina. I imagine we’d both feel the same way with our roles reversed…and so I want Tim to come with me. The next trip hasn’t been announced yet, but I’m praying about my part.

Lincoln is still intent on going as well:) He wrote our Compassion child, “See you in 4 years!” That is when he will be 12 and we will do a Compassion family trip. I know I freak a lot of people out by talking about going back, especially in the midst of terror that is so fresh, but I can’t help it. It was part of our discussion as we awaited the news of our friend. We’d only just met him, but the impact was profound. We all agreed, trips are in our future. Not everyone will agree with it and that’s okay. God puts a call on our life that we have to answer and no one else can make that decision. Wisdom plays a part (our church bumped the last Burkina trip in October to Christmas due to issues within the country) and we will take all of it to heart.

YakoOrphanageAt the end of the day I want to look at my kids and let them know that there was nothing that would keep me from doing what God asks of me…just as my prayer for them is that they will always follow God’s will for their life. I have several friends who are doing a mission trip called “World Race”. They are traveling across the world and going to 11 countries in 11 months. I imagine their parents were a bit freaked out to find that their children were traveling to Asia, Africa and other countries…not for a few weeks, but for an entire year! It’s scary – but so is being outside of God’s will…and that’s a place I will never ever want to find myself.

I do not know what God has planned for Tim and I  – in Burkina Faso or in Haiti – but I know we will continue to seek God’s will for our lives and the lives of our boys…and we will go where He leads us.

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The Struggle is Real.

StruggleIsRealThis week was long and short. Long because I had several late nights at the office staying for sales meetings and then short because I took Monday off to stay at home with boys. It was emotional too – opportunities are in front of me and they are scary and the pressure is on.

 

 

Meal Plan: I was good with eating for the most part this week. I won’t lie. Coffee has been a BIG part of my day at the office. For one thing, it is FREEZING and I am typically ALWAYS cold…and for another thing, I love coffee…but I’m thinking it will probably be a good idea if I work on getting it out of my system on an everyday basis and into my system on a once in awhile basis…We’ll see how that goes. Beachbody has come out with a Cafe Latte Shakeology flavor so I’m going to test it out. The good thing is that I can get a coffee flavor with out the caffeine (or at least less caffeine that a normal cup of coffee). It comes out January 11th so I’ll let you know what I think about it!

I’ve found that unless I’m at home, the family doesn’t cook SO that may change how I do the meal plans in the future. I DID use a ton of leftover veggies in a root vegetable soup and I ate off of that a lot this week so I’ll include the recipe in this week’s meal plan list. It’s tasty and both of my boys like it – plus it’s FULL of veggies.

Eating is not a struggle for me. I love to eat. I love to drink wine. I love to do both together. The struggle for me is getting up in the morning and working out (thus the zillion late night workouts!). I am NOT a morning person. Tim is a morning person. I am the night owl. I’m finding that Kellen is a morning person and Lincoln is the night owl…This week I took the kids to school late twice. Not a great impression, and sad to say, not the first time…by a long shot. I totally pulled in next to a mom in her pajama pants…I was in mine with matching boots…that’s a bit of a joke. [And when I say pajama pants, I mean the Teddy Bear pajama pants that you see in my workout videos…not stylish…So I joked to the mom next to me that it was PJ day for the adults. I went with it. I’m sure there were others making judgements in their heads…but they were late too, right? ;)]

The lateness drives Tim nuts. It drives Kellen nuts. Lincoln is fine with going back to sleep;) I’ve got to work on the balance between staying up late and getting up early. That being said it is now after midnight…so I’m going to pop off to bed…and probably enjoy a cup of coffee in a few hours when Tim gets up to take the dogs training…I’ll start working on the coffee thing on Monday…or maybe when the Shakeology arrives;)

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The Storm…

The title felt fitting;) The storms aren’t actually hitting yet. There is rain in the forecast, but that’s about it thus far. My life has become quite introspective the last few days. Things that typically aggravate the crud out of me are rolling off my back and the things that I should be chill about are aggravating me…thus a nice glass of red wine greets me at night…oh, that the red wine would make the problems dissipate…

Wine does not make problems go away.

So, my human self is having to deal with the issues and let’s be honest. That’s really how it should be.

Anytime I decide to make a change for the better I am caught up in a struggle of some sort. I have always viewed these struggles as a distraction from what God really wants me to do. Sadly, a lot of times these struggles are self-induced. Laziness hits me and when I know I should stay up just a little later to get things done (or perhaps do those specific things earlier in the evening!) and my brain says…”oh, it’s okay, you’ll get to it tomorrow!” and tomorrow comes…and a week later the items remain undone.

Ugh.

So – 2016 – the year of better-ness! The year of doing things I say I’m going to do – and following through! I can do it – I mean, I wrote a freaking screenplay – I can actually see things through – actually finish them:)

So in the midst of all this change and trying to move through these emotions, I found this book: Living with Less So Your Family has More by Jill and Mark Savage. The intro to Chapter 1 had me hooked and spoke to my heart. I am really excited to see the wisdom they will impart. If you’re trying to figure out ways to improve your day to day living, to improve your family life and really take 2016 by storm – check out this book – and let me know your thoughts!

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The Calm before the Storm

IMG_0683Christmas has come and gone. Per my 8 year old – “This was the BEST Christmas EVER!” Kellen (5) completely disagreed and thought it was the WORST Christmas ever…because it wasn’t snowing. I hated to tell him to get used to it – we live in Georgia kid. Regardless of the warm weather, I am inclined to agree with Lincoln. As crazy as it was (and in a family as large as mine there is always chaos!), it was filled with so many joyful moments. My boys were able to play with their cousins that were visiting from Virginia. They picked up right where they left off.

The adults had a lot of champs which I’ve saved up for moments like these. We downed a bottle of Clicquot Rose faster than I would’ve liked (because who doesn’t want to keep drinking Clicquot?!) and then followed it up with some Luc Belaire…My mom had some Whispering Angel on hand too (finally – some EDI brands in the house!) and let’s just say we had a good time…Dinner was the traditional Chicken Kiev with Christmas Crackers🙂

We went bowling the day after Christmas and Kellen told me later, “I hate bowling.” Shocking – he won the game with a little help from an adorable dinosaur ball slide. I asked why and his response, “I didn’t get to do more bowling!” I cracked up.

Lincoln introduced his cousin to laser tag and while their team lost, they had a lot of fun tracking down the “enemy”. It ended up being a team of kids (all about the same age) and two adults. Lincoln can not wait to go back! Something tells me we may be doing some type of birthday celebration there – thank goodness we have some time to save up;)

Looking back I have few pictures from this weekend, but it’s because I chose not to feel guilty about capturing every moment. My phone was dead a lot of the weekend or had a child playing a game on it (thus the phone being dead)…so while I did limit playtime on the phone, I also wasn’t in a major hurry to recharge it. When things calmed down I did some meal planning and today was able to execute it.

I’m feeling pretty pumped about the New Year – excited about the new things going on at Empire and with Beachbody! I’m pretty sure 2016 will be a year to remember…and it hasn’t even begun yet:)

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Meal Plan: 12/28/15 – 1/2/16

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Our New Year’s resolution (ok, mine) is to be consistent about cooking meals that our whole family can sit down and eat together AND to waste less food that I’ve purchased. We’ll see how well we do…I admit that I am more of a recipe-follower vs a creator of my own recipe person.

Breakfast (will be the same everyday):
Kids: cereal/milk
Adults: Superfood, nutrient-dense shake

Lunch:
Kids:
Peanut Butter Sandwich
Apple
Fruit Leather (*homemade)
Drink: Water

Adults:
Mediterranean Tuna Salad with Greek-Style Pita Chips

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*Update – My first attempt went well. Assembling was super easy, pretty much chop and toss. My pita pieces were super thin so some were super browned, but nothing burned. Next time I’ll watch them a little bit more closely. I used this Greek seasoning. I liked it, but Kellen (5), thought it was a bit spicy (there’s some heat on the finish)…it was the only available at my grocer. I’ll continue to use it for Tim and I, but for the kids I’ll keep looking.

Couscous Chicken Salad

Dinner
Chicken with Tomato, Basil & Feta, Orzo with Pine Nuts
Chicken with Shiitake Mushroom Sauce, Mashed Potatoes

Merry Christmas!

3AM

This Christmas started at 3AM. I awoke to hearing the excitement of 2 little boys who discovered that Santa had indeed stopped at our house. 3AM is early…and reminds me why we need a house with stairs. As a kid, we were not allowed downstairs until my parents authorized it…strong word, but its the truth. So at 3AM we had some tears because we had to send them back to bed…but not before I realized that Lincoln was already WEARING one of his gifts that Santa left him! I LOVED it…and so back to bed they went…of course I didn’t go back to sleep so now I’m writing:)

This Christmas I went into the season with the goal to really MAKE the season. I wanted to focus on the good in the season, what Christ is really about – a baby coming as a gift from God to rescue the world. I wanted to tune out the negativity (is that possible?) and focus on the good things. Then we had the terror attack (I’m a sucker for some CNN) and I could see things headed to where they were last year…the bummer of living in a world that is sinful and selfish. The fear of having my children growing up with the wrong priorities…the fears of choosing job over family or…the list of fears can go on…

This Christmas

This Christmas is different. Christmas Eve started out rough – a power outage at the office (and yes I work Christmas Eve – it’s the liquor industry people;) someone needs to stock and REstock those shelves!) had me in a semi-ability to work. My computer kept turning itself off and on…and then it just quit completely. I gathered my team (and some additional co-workers ready to get something done while we waited) and we had a fabulous brainstorming session. It was fun to talk and laugh and brainstorm ways to make 2016 and 2017 better than 2015. We had some great ideas!

Christmas Eve service arrived and the boys joined us in service. It was crazy. Kellen got a new Bible while he was at my in-laws and he and Lincoln both brought their Bibles to service. Fun fact: Kellen can only read sight words. So each time scripture would pop up on the screen I had Kellen trying to follow along (and when the pastor would start explanations, Kellen would ask where he was, because obviously the pastor was continuing the scripture…so his finger would continue along the page while he would whisper “where is he now?”. Then next to me I had Lincoln, who would slap his Bible each time he got lost OR each time his Bible’s version didn’t match the version on the screen. I’m sure there were several folks who were asking themselves, “What is wrong with that family?! Can’t they keep their kids quiet?!” However, I choose to be stoked that my kids were attempting to follow along:)

At the very end of the service our pastor talked about giving your life to Christ. When I was younger we called it “asking Jesus into your heart”. The words seem cheesy and I think it’s because it doesn’t encompass all that it means…the relationship with Christ, the want to follow someone who gave up His life so that you could have eternity with Him. I have realized that it’s hard to put into words because it is about the environment, the person…and Lincoln asked me about it tonight. It started with the pastor mentioning a gift (hello – gifts are cool) and ended with me taking Lincoln out to talk to Tim who had pulled Kellen out because he was whispering a little too loudly, too often…and he might have whisper-yelled Lincoln at one point for messing with his Bible…maybe. Anyways, I talked to Lincoln and then traded out boys with Tim so they could finish the conversation…Tim told him he could always remember tonight as the night that he gave his life to Christ – whether he’d already felt like he’d done it or not – and Lincoln said, “Next year will be my anniversary!” My heart is SO FULL.

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Santa’s Coming! Santa’s Coming!

SantaKellenThe boys are at my in-laws until Christmas Eve. I have to admit, I was bummed when I realized that the boys would be gone right up until Christmas Eve. Tim thought I was crazy;) Truly though, with Christmas being my favorite holiday, the idea that the boys would not be with me up until the very moment of Christmas had me a bit sad. The laughter and the craziness makes me feel right at home – considering that’s how I grew up – a big family brings lots of noise and fun so this quiet time before the big day is something new.

While the rain is slowly starting to fall on this side of Georgia, I’m reflecting on how I want 2016 to be…The post yesterday shared some of my expectations of what 2016 can hold…More focus on those in need and less focus on the materialistic items – both for myself and my family.

Today I went to the bookstore and found myself perusing the social issues section. I love reading about others who have inspired and met challenges around the world from inner-city high schools to 3rd world countries. I found the companion to 3 Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson which I’m excited to begin reading as well as a few others that I’ll be mentioning in the coming weeks. I’m so grateful for the life God has given me and I want so much to be able to share my journey with others. It hasn’t been easy – the last few years since Tim left full time ministry has been difficult. We have both been learning to face the new reality and while I’m confident that God moved us from our former church, it does not make it any less painful. It’s been slow going, finding our footing. I found that I took just as much ownership in Tim’s former position as he did and while my identity was not his job – a portion of it was that job…that calling. So to find us both navigating the corporate world has been both fun and frustrating. I haven’t talked about that journey except with a few close friends. It’s similar to my journey at work and dreams of the future. Some are hard to vocalize because in stating what you want might make people question the path that you are on…I’m hoping in 2016 I’ll be able to share more of what we’ve learned, what I’ve learned. We haven’t navigated everything perfectly, but we’re not perfect people.

It sounds crazy, but a few years ago I am very confident God provided me with a vision of our future as I drove down I-285. It was the second time in 2 years I had felt God audibly speak to me. I debated whether the vision was exactly what the future would be or whether it was just a vision of what opportunity lay ahead. I’m still not sure, but I hold onto it and I believe that 2016 is the year I will begin to see it unfold.

I have to admit – I’m pretty excited!

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Family Service Project

We did our family service project today  at the Atlanta Community Food Bank. I found the project through the Hands on Atlanta website.

I envisioned is waking up early. I envisioned us having a wonderful family breakfast together and then getting into the car and heading out with plenty of time and maybe even singing together in the car…can you see the cartoon bluebirds following our car?!

So…instead we wake up late…20 minutes to get up, get the kids up and dressed and get in the car…keep in mind, my brother and his kids had a layover in Atlanta last night so our family had dinner at the airport. That meant we did not get home until after 9pm. The sacrifice was well worth it BUT my kids were tired this morning…and tired kids 9 times out of 10 are cranky kids.

So we rush around getting kids dressed (we may have bribed them with a drive thru stop at Dunkin Donuts), trying to print waiver forms (they ended up having them there) and then jumped in the car – kids bickering, adults bickering…yay! Family Service Project Day had commenced.

Let me pause hear to say that I really feel like anytime you are trying to do something positive – family bond building, relationship building, etc. there is going to be some friction. Chalk it up to whatever but I feel like whatever can glorify God will bring Satan out to mess with it a bit…and lack of sleep, rushed chaos, leading to pour attitudes is putty in his hands…As we pulled into the ACFB I asked Tim to pray for the family. It wasn’t fancy. It was short & sweet and in we went:)

The place was pretty packed with the majority of folks headed to the sorting center (special note – we only ended up being 15 min late so thankfully for us – nothing had started yet because people were still arriving). There were 2 other families with kids under 8 and we all headed into the main office area to work on our canvas bags. The kids were excited and started coloring. Lincoln, of course, started with a dolphin and when he felt like he messed up Tim came to the rescue. It’s projects like this that bring out those hidden skills God has blessed us with – the ones we don’t use everyday and Tim’s artistic skills are one of those skills. My man can draw!!


 In the end the kids made a ton of bags, but being kids they got bored about 3/4 through the 3 hour project. So while some of the adults finished the last remaining bags, Nicole our Hands on Atlanta rep. led some games for the kiddos. At the end we got to see the inside of the Project Rescue Center and took a group pic (which I’ll post once I get it:)

For our first project, I’d call it a success and we’ll definitely be back! If you are interested in doing a family service project check out the Hands on Atlanta website. They have lots of filters (age, type of project, etc.) and many projects can be signed up for on the day of so you do last minute projects.


    

Thanks for following along on our journey!

– Courtney