Amsterdam bound

Amsterdam bound. Yes, I am, thanks to a dear friend who asked if I would join her on the Missions Focused trip with our church. With this trip, we will learn from our pastor, Jeff Adams, who will teach us about the missionary view and cultural sensitivity. I have heard of so many life-changing experiences from those who have attended this trip in past years, both in their worldview and understanding of God’s grace.

My friend, Wendy, has such a huge heart for reaching out to others. I’m sure this trip will be one of great growth for the both of us. I thought of sharing in my own words why this trip will be so amazing, but allowing my friend, Wendy, to share her story with you will be more than I could ever say.

Wendy’s Story:

But by the grace of God…..that is so true to my life.  I had the husband, two children, two new cars, nice house in the suburbs. Then one day it was gone. The marriage was over, husband did not support us and in turn I could not support my children. He also made threats to harm my children, so I had to make one of the hardest choices of my life and place my children in my brother’s home for him to raise them for me.  It was then and still today is the best choice for my children.

So then I had to try life on my own, well I always had God, but I didn’t access Him. I felt unworthy of God and his blessings. So I tried to control my life on my own…and guess what…it spun out of control. I got a great job for a major company making $38K a year. Bought a car and purchased a house. And oh yeah, the man….he promised me so much and gave so little. But I believed he loved me and if I stood by him and trusted him..well,  I thought he would see his own mistakes. He had a gambling problem, drug problem and loved a life of drama.

He introduced me to the world of prostitution. At first he just asked me to come up with catchy little ads to run in the Pitch (a local newspaper here known for its sex ads). Then he would bring young girls home and ask me to talk to them about how to treat a man, to take the street at out of them, and explain to them how much they would receive and why we would keep their money. At first I thought I was helping them, since they all had drug addictions and would sell themselves for a piece of crack. He convinced me that we were showing them how to make more money to help themselves. I would clean them up, get them a nice outfit, new under clothes, shoes, take their pictures and post an ad on the internet. Didn’t take long to realize, they never got ANY of the money and he keep them under control by supplying them with their drug habits. Sure we gave them a place to stay and fed them, but I would soon find out the price they were paying was much higher than money alone.

The girls would all leave after time and next I was hearing how I didn’t try hard enough for our home. Even though I still had my job making $38K, I needed to do more.  So one day I did.  I posted an ad for myself. The phone rang 15 minutes later and I was off to my first “call”. I don’t remember being nervous on the way there. What I do remember was collecting $700 for a little less than two hours of my time. I remember walking out and getting to the car and crying all the way home. And then when I got home he  was absolutely horrible to me. As a matter of fact he beat me the next day, so badly that I couldn’t go on my next “call” for two weeks, because of the bruises and cuts. Well, this became my life…I would go on calls and about every three weeks or so he would go into a rage and beat me. Each time took me to the hospital. Once I came home on crutches, once I was in shock and didn’t know my name, twice I had a broken collar bone, and once I bled until I passed out on my bedroom floor. But I always went back, I mean he would pick me up from the hospital. I can’t explain to you why, but all I wanted to do was go back to him. Twice I did go to a shelter for battered women, but I had him come and get me. I even went to Minnesota to live with my brother for three months, and guess what….that’s right I came home to him again.  And after being home for two months…he had convinced me to start running ads and make him money again. By now the car and been repo’d, the house in foreclosure, and I had been arrested several times because I was taking the fall for him. Well between the second week of Sept to the last week of Nov. I had made over $40K selling myself, but I was getting evicted and never had any money and life just keep spinning.

Then the most amazing thing happened…I was arrested in Wyandotte County for prostitution. It was amazing because now I had a GOOD reason to stop or at least slow down. With all the money I had made he couldn’t even bail me out. I had to call my parents. My dad. I has daddy’s little girl and I had to tell him what I had done. But he loved me. He came and bailed me out. Had to wait seven hours outside the jail for them to release me, but he waited.

The courts had me go to this place called Veronica’s Voice. I had never heard of it and didn’t want to find out either. But it was go there or get a felony conviction for prostitution and go to prison. So I went. At first I hated it. Didn’t talk much and thought I was different. I’m not. Every single women I met there had been molested as a child (like me), been raped (like me) and choose prostitution for survival (like me).  We were all just women broken.  Needing love and support. God had an angel there waiting to reach out and help me. There was this wonderful family there, a mom and her two kids. They came every week to feed us lunch. The meals were incredible. You felt fed with love at the end of each meal. I began asking them questions about different things; cooking, music, art. I discovered that they attend my church. Wow, what are the chances of that? This is when I started to see God’s love for me and he uses everything in your life to bring you back to him and his love. I started going to church again. But this time I started to listen, not just hear. This time was different. This time I heard God answering. Not long after, that man…well he went to prison and within a couple of weeks, I stopped going on “calls”. I started to understand what I was learning in church, and believe it. That amazing mom that once fed me on Fridays..well her name is Amanda, and she began feeding me with God’s word. I became Amanda’s disciple, which was all part of God’s plan for me. I began to grow through Christ and suddenly life looked so different. And the day came when I just trusted the Lord for everything! No more worries. No more stress.  Just grace and mercy and LOVE.  Don’t get me wrong, I still have struggles, big ones even. But now I trust God to see me through them all. God has never lied to me, never let me down and most important…God has NEVER left my side.

I completed my sentence with the courts, but still am very active with Veronica’s Voice, I have a new job in which I get to help young adults with mental illness learn to live independently, I have been part of a documentary on prostitution, I was asked to speak on behalf Veronica’s Voice at a charity function. I have so many blessings in my life that it would take less time to count to stars than my blessings. I have a wonderful relationship with Christ, and I have devoted my life to do His will. God is awesome! Amen.

Over the past year, I have seen Wendy make the most God honoring choices, difficult choices. Her spiritual growth has in turn caused a greater passion and love for God in my own life. While I was supposed to be the mentor in the relationship, Wendy taught me time and time again about total reliance and faith in God’s providence. And she has been so patient, waiting on God’s timing.

Wendy felt very pulled to go on this trip to Amsterdam. When she asked me to go with her, she was confident that God would provide the money. I have no doubt she is right, and no doubt that this trip to Amsterdam is God calling her further into service for him.

The reality of Wendy’s financial state is not bright. She is now working two jobs to not only pay for the trip, but also to continue to stay above water with her daily living expenses. As one can imagine, a woman with a court record does not get paid a large salary. And she recently experienced vandalism to her car costing more financial pressure.

In an effort to help Wendy raise her funds, I have set up a chip in site for those who would like to contribute. All the money contributed will be sent to the church to be applied to her trip costs.

One very exciting side note for the both of us is that we will have the opportunity to work alongside some people in Amsterdam that minister to women caught in the life of prostitution. What a thrilling opportunity to carry on hope with Wendy’s own life story.

amanda ∞

Art Journal Morphing

First Fridays at VERONICA’s Voice are so much fun. The art journaling class has morphed into a general art class due to necessity. I found it difficult to explore new art journaling techniques when so many times the women in class did not have their journals or had not begun one yet. Many times the class was about making a new journal or altered book which did not develop past the cover. There were a faithful few who brought their altered books to add more to their pages, but overall I began to lose enthusiasm. So today we tried something new.

The assignment was to choose an image from a magazine, any image that spoke to them, and glue it on a piece of cardstock. After adding a bit of gesso, I had them add words, words about their day, their feelings, or why this image spoke to them. Then the layers with creamy Portfolio pastels were added. Some were very satisfied at that point while others journeyed on with layers of paints. My favorite part was listening to the stories behind the finished collages. One spoke of her mother, another of her new life, another of her freedom, beautiful stories, eyes lit up with sharing.







So my sweet artist friends, if you have ideas to share for this art class, please leave comments. I need projects that will work as a one-time class with limited supplies, since the audience is different from month to month. Have you experienced a project or taught a class that would work well in this setting? Art = community.

amanda ∞

Senses

leo & helen groff wedding pictureThis afternoon as I tore the lettuce leaves from the bunch and rinsed them in a colander, I was reminded of my grandmother. Was it the sound of the running water, the smell of the fresh lettuce and dirt, or the touch of water and leaf tossed in my hands? So many times I watched in awe as my grandmother so naturally handled culinary tasks, especially with produce from her garden. She peeled and cut potatoes so quickly. I marvelled that she didn’t cut her thumb. She rinsed and shredded and chopped. She boiled and kneaded and rolled. She sweated and labored and smiled. And it all looked so natural, so easy. When we gathered at her table, the whole family, there were so many dishes; vegetables, relishes, bread, butter, pies, and ice cream, truly a feast.

As Thanksgiving approached the first year I was married, we invited my parents to come for a meal since we’d be spending the actual holiday with my in-laws. I was going to serve just a few things, can’t even remember what the meat dish was, meatloaf or roast perhaps, and maybe scalloped potatoes, definitely green bean casserole, the kind with the French Fried onions. What I found so difficult was the timing. I couldn’t manage to get everything cooked and done at the same time. My mother and I laughed at my inexperience.

And today I find myself rinsing lettuce just like Grandma. I have finally arrived. My kitchen skills have become instinctive, intuitive. I thought of how young I was when I watched her, not really helping, neither of us aware that my senses were fully engaged, that I was absorbing her ways…

amanda ∞

Circle Journal Joy

My dear friend’s inspiration has evolved into something grand. Alexandra invited many of her Artfest sisters to join in on a collaborative altered book project. Since then the idea has become a circle journal with a group of about 15 gals making and sending their journals around the group each with a distinct theme.

I was so fortunate to be the first to receive Alex’s book. Here’s the cover and pages she made using a Victor Hugo novel. I love Victor Hugo, but alas, I could not read it in French:

Her page is on the left which opens up to a sign in page for all the participants:

And the pages I added:

Page in progress (I love mud and weeds):

Done:

My own journal, below, which was sent to Amy has the theme, Symbols – Personal Imagery. I made the journal from a book cover and filled the inside with Bristol paper. The journal is bound with rings so that pages can be easily added and removed, and chunkier pages will not be an issue.

Cover:

Sign in page:

This is an old dictionary page with the definition for symbols, symbolism, symbology, etc. Although I sent this journal on already, when it finally arrives back home, this page may get another going over. It just doesn’t feel done to me. I was in a hurry to mail:

And my personal recurring symbol is trees. The tree on this page is a sketch I did about 8 years ago at a park in Nashville. Ah, memories, the children were so young:

And on the flipside of that notebook paper is a journal entry about my feelings for trees, the cottonwood in particular. It can partially be read if held to a mirror.

Right now I have Jessica’s journal and look forward to adding a page before sending it on. Her theme is Signs and the journal is just incredible.

More pictures to follow as this journey plays out.

amanda ∞

Even, my homeless friend

Our friend, Even, stopped by tonight to show us his new bike. He bought it with lottery winnings. My husband wasn’t home, so I sat on the porch this evening and visited with him. He used to live in a group home down the street, and could always be found riding up and down the streets on his bike unless it had been recently stolen.

Even has had a rough life. I won’t go into the details without permission to share his life story, but I will say that he has lived in survival mode most of his days. He’s been homeless before for 8 1/2 years, and has been homeless again for the past year. He is already talking of the upcoming winter. He says that age 52 he doesn’t know how many more winters he can handle living homeless.

Even is not the stereotypical homeless man. He is not a drunk, he refuses handouts, and most definitely doesn’t beg. I can’t even get him to eat here when he stops by. He doesn’t ever want us to feel like he is using us. He lives on the spare jobs he can get here and there, and on his lottery winnings. And he always talks of someday winning big and being able to buy a home.

My friend, Even, is a reminder to me that not everyone is homeless because of drugs or alcohol, or the lack of a desire to work, or whatever stereotypical reason I can throw out there. His life is different. Because of some brain function issues caused by an accident early in life, Even appears quite normal but just can’t work the system. He just can’t quite fit the norm or hold a job for long. He mentions that most 52 year olds have houses and families, and he talks of his survival without a home. He explains his pulley system that allows him to sleep high in the trees in a hammock and pull his bike up with him to keep it safe. He excitedly shares that someone has been letting him sleep on their property in an old bus, and that he just got a solar shower. He talks of bathing in the public restroom at the park and how there just ain’t nothing like a real shower.

Even also shares the very dark side of being homeless and being kicked while sound asleep for no reason, having rocks thrown at him in the night by a drunk man who tells Even his life is worth nothing because he’s homeless, of trying to find work but employers not wanting to hire someone without a city address. Life is hard.

Tonight I rejoice with Even because he has a nice new bike. And I am thankful that I was here this evening when he knocked on the door.  I invited him back for lunch tomorrow so he can show Scott his bike. I hope he comes.

amanda ∞

I Have 2 Homes

Our recent trip to Jamaica was one of renewing dear friendships. I consider so many of my friends from Harmons, Jamaica as my 2nd family.  When we arrived, it was as if we had never left. That feeling of comfort, of arriving back home, came instantly. I was saddened though as one of my dear family members, Sammy, had passed on since our last visit. I found myself grieving the lack of his earthly presence, the sound of his voice, the smile on his face. I missed him gracing me with a pet name (nickname) for our visit.

Quite humorously, the first thing I mentioned while journaling about our visit was the care and nurturing of my coffee addiction. Needless to say, I was overjoyed when I learned that they had begun roasting their own coffee right where we were staying, so each morning was begun with a cup of freshly roasted, freshly brewed, very native Jamaican coffee. Roll that glorious bean footage:

Coffee tree. See the green beans?

Raw beans.

Ira stirring a batch of beans over the fire.

Mmmm, roasting beans.

My husband gave it a try.

Cooling the freshly roasted beans.

Dean, the coffee expert.

And me drooling over the beans:

Jamaica is full of beautiful wonders, the Doctor Birds, the flora and fauna. The fruit trees are always in glorious display. I love to recall the sights, but the smells of Jamaica are what truly linger. With every turn I was infused with a new smell, very pungent, very pronounced, some divinely sweet, others I would categorize as distinctly odd. Even the earth evokes a greater sense of earthiness by it’s smell, richer, heavier than I am accustomed to. I feel a greater connection to nature in Jamaica, perhaps because everything is fresh, different and therefore I stop to linger on the details.

The little town in which we stay has no running water. Electricity is available, but few people have jobs and therefore no electricity. Take our unemployment rate in the U.S. and flip it to approximate the employment rate in Harmons and surrounding areas. I am once again reminded of the blessing it is to have an indoor toilet and and sink and faucet with running water. The Harmony House, our home away from home, has water trucked in, so we did not have to go without during our stay, but most of the locals do not have this luxury. The cooking is also done outside over a fire when it is not raining both to keep the heat out and because there is not much room in most homes. Occasionally some have a separate kitchen like this:

Many families live in tiny homes like this:

There are nicer homes in the area, but among those construction is a slow process sometimes taking years. They build as the money comes in.

One woman invited me into her home where she lived with her 4 yr old daughter and another couple, friends of hers. The room we entered was the tiny kitchen that was used when it rained. I thought I would fall through the floor. The remaining 2 rooms were tiny bedrooms in which there was truly no privacy. And in that house I left my heart.

The organization that brought us to Jamaica is Won By One to Jamaica. They regularly bring missions teams to this area to build relationships and build homes. I am so pleased with what is becoming of the town in connection with Won By One. The locals are employed by the Harmony House to clean, cook, build, and to provide food for the missions teams. Several local men head up the construction teams when the missions groups help build the houses. Also, a couple large greenhouses have been built with more to come which employ the locals. The produce is sold to the hotel industry on the coasts which reduces import costs for the hotels and provides solid jobs for the workers in the greenhouses; win, win. In this town and the surrounding area, I see progress being made; I see hope.

The greatest aspect of growth that I’ve seen in this town is that of brotherly love. My first trip 10 yrs ago I noticed the children beating on each other, fighting, calling names. There seemed to be a disharmony, an imbalance. The fathers of the children did not seem to be involved in the lives of their “baby mommas” or their own children. Although I still see many lone mothers raising their children, I also have noticed that more couples are marrying. And although I did see a few outbursts of violence among the children, it was a much more rare occurrence. The love of God prevails. This love is becoming something very real and tangible to the locals and the missions groups as their lives collide. All who engage are transformed.

amanda ∞

Botanica Exotica


The last class I took at Artfest was Botanica Exotica taught by Melissa Manley. We formed botanical shapes from wire and added sausage casing. Having had little experience working with wire, I found forming the shapes to be the challenge. Also the lack of sleep from several days of Artfest infusion was affecting my ability to let my intuitive creativity flow. I was having a serious mental block and couldn’t remember what a flower looked like! To top that off, I found myself comparing my work to the others in the class. I caught myself soon enough, but really struggled with it the whole class.

Despite these challenges, I found myself truly enjoying working the SAUSAGE CASING and plan on experimenting more with it this summer. The casing was soaked in water. To apply it to the form, it either needed to be split open to wrap around the form, or slid over the form in its natural tubular shape. The casing adheres to itself when wet, so no adhesive was needed. While wet, it looked like a lumpy white mess, but when dried it had the appearance of aged translucent parchment. I used a type of wire that I knew would rust. I loved how the rust added to the ancient look of the pieces.

My dad’s birthday is this week. He is such a creative, earthy person, I thought this would be the perfect gift for him. Actually, he is the one I would like to work with this summer on some new projects. I hope we have the opportunity.

amanda ∞