Friday, December 28, 2012

No backing out now (by Tara)

Today I did it.

Purchased airline tickets.

 Applied for visas. 

Felt queasy.

Can I hear you cheering us on? 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Christmas gift (by Tara)

I got a Christmas gift from a friend this year. She of the most incredible and influential friends I have been blessed to know in my lifetime. I met her about 7 years ago at church after we had both relocated from different cities to Austin. We quickly became great friends, maybe because we had a lot in common. We worked together in a church calling where we held classes twice a month to teach young girls about setting and achieving goals, did crafts and service projects with them, and helped them build foundations for their lives based on Godly principles. We went to movies, had parties at her house, and our families enjoyed many gatherings together. She taught me how to scrapbook (even though I was a horrible student), she taught me amazing lessons about organization, she taught me sign language (and made me use it!), she let me drive her super fancy car when we'd go out, she taught me to live in the moment, to laugh (belly laugh) at myself, she listened intently anytime I needed to vent, and taught me to never take a moment of my health or my life for granted. 

I talk about her in the present tense, but it's only because I am reminiscing. She is still here and still very much my dear and trusted friend. 

We have so much in common. But the major difference is this. Jenny had a stroke almost 9 years ago that doctors said she would never recover from. In fact, they prepared her family for the fact that she would probably not make it through the night. With 3 children, an amazing husband, and a promising, full life ahead of her, my friend laid in a hospital bed trying to comprehend a diagnosis of "locked-in" syndrome. Her world was shattered. Her communication with the outside world had been reduced to blinking her eyes, even though inside she was still the same person she had been the days, weeks, months and years before. 

I didn't meet Jenny until a couple years after her stroke. And when I met her, it was hard to believe that she was a girl who so recently had only been able to communicate by blinking her eyes. Through partial use of one hand she could type on a keyboard, so email was her main mode of communication. We became friends as we emailed our thoughts and plans to each other. She could finger spell in American Sign Language so when we were together, that is how we would "talk". Eating and drinking was a chore for her, and she felt self conscious eating in front of others, but sometimes she would even let me eat with her, wipe her mouth when she needed it, help her put her foot back on her wheelchair when it would slip off, and eventually drive her a few places.

Over the time I've known her, I cannot believe the miracles that I have witnessed in her life. Her desire to regain that which was lost in that devastating stroke motivates and challenges her, but I have never seen anyone so beautifully rise to such an overwhelming challenge. A few years ago my husband was privileged to be the first from our family to hear her speak. He went to their house to visit and as they were all sitting there, out of nowhere my friend called him a "liar"! They laughed and laughed at her new skill and the word she chose to show it off! Since then she has refined her speaking skills and on her good days, I am able to understand what she has to say. In her own words, here is an excerpt from her own blog explaining things she can/can't do since her stroke:

Last week at church my friend told me she had a Christmas gift for me, but it was in her car. I was busy running around and so she gave the gift to someone in my family to give to me. When I got home from church, there was a perfectly wrapped box with a gift tag attached sitting on the table waiting for me. 
I picked up the box and just held it for a very long time, tears trickling down my cheeks, overcome with feelings of love, admiration, and gratitude for my sweet friend. The tag simply said, "To: Tara From: Jenny", written in her own handwriting. Her own handwriting. 
How many gift tags have we all written this holiday season with no thought behind that miracle?  I hope as we celebrate our Savior's birth this week we can all remember the source of all gifts, and as we are given trials and weaknesses, they do not come without a way prepared to overcome. Our weaknesses, as well as our strengths, are given from Him who knows us, loves us, and never leaves us alone.
"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me, for if they humble themselves before me and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."-Ether 12:27

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Doorman (by Faith)

On a very busy Saturday a few weeks ago, I decided to skip part of my soccer tournament to attend an event where I was invited to sell bracelets. It was a hard choice for me, but I have really been trying hard to reach my donation goals for India, and I knew this would be a great opportunity. 

My excitement started to turn to discouragement when person after person would pass me by as I stood there and held my little sign and tried to talk to them about what I was doing. I had one lady make eye contact with me so I decided to just start talking to her. I told her my name and explained that I was selling bracelets to help children in India and asked if she would like to buy one. She gave me a strange look and said, "I'd like to help the children in India but I don't want to buy one of your bracelets!" And she just kept on walking. 

My back hurt, my stomach was growling, and I looked at the time and realized I had been standing there for 2 1/2 hours. And I had sold one bracelet.

We got in the car to drive to my soccer tournament so I could at least play in some of the games, but my mind wasn't on soccer. I complained to my mom that it was a wasted morning and that it was hard. As she always does, she began to tell me a story.

She has a friend who visits India often. He told the story of a time he visited there in a big city and he was fascinated by all the doormen in town so he asked a doorman some questions about his job. Their only job is to open doors for people going in or out of shopping centers or hotels. The doorman works from open to close, 7 days a week, no matter what (his legs probably ache more than mine did!). If he ever calls in sick, he will be fired because there are lines of other people just waiting for his job. That's not even the bad part. He makes $100.00 per month and he has a family of 7 that he has to feed and care for with that money.

After I heard this story, I figured out that for the 2 1/2 hours I stood there, I made $5 for the kids in India. In the same amount of time, the doorman only made 80 cents for his family of 7. My discouragement made me feel bad. I can't believe what some people have to do just to make pennies. And they consider it a blessing, because in their world, truly every penny counts. I think my bracelets are even more meaningful now. The small penny will always remind me of the doorman, and help me remember to be grateful for all I have.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Friends to the Rescue (by Tara)

I am the room mom for my 5 year old's preschool class. Today was Christmas party day. After staying up yesterday until the wee hours of the morning fashioning 100 ornaments for the children at church (one of my "other" jobs), I collapsed into bed. Painting the sheep for our preschool craft project would have to wait until this morning when I wasn't seeing cross-eyed anymore. As you might imagine, there was a bit of chaos in the air as I was getting the kids ready for school. But in true super-spaz mom style, I managed to make it through. I painted sheep, divvied out 150 yards of yarn on popsicle sticks, practiced piano with one child, made lunches, served a healthy breakfast, signed school folders, and even got the kids to school on time. At 8:45 my friend knocked on the door to pick up my son for preschool. I proudly sent Macoy out the door in his Grinch jammies and gave my thanks to my friend for driving since I was going to be putting finishing touches on the sheep before the party at 11:30.

She looked worried. "Tara", she said. "The party is NEXT Wednesday."

Darn tootin.

At least the sheep would be ready for the party next week.

As my friend was leaving, I glanced over at a bookshelf and an out of place scrapbook caught my eye. Curious, I walked over to the bookshelf and opened it up. There before me was a book that my dear friend compiled for me a few years ago as a birthday gift. The theme was "Why Tara Inspires Me". There were pages full of pictures and notes from numerous friends about how things I have said, done, or exemplified have inspired them. At a very low moment, full of exhaustion and frustration, the words washed over me like a lullaby written just for me. Just for this moment. And I was calm.

The overriding theme in the book was how positively I handle adversity and how I seem to smile my way through things. Sometimes inside I don't feel that way, but I'm grateful that others see that in me. I laughed at my mistake today and decided maybe it was time to go back on Diet Coke. I think someone said once that it helped your memory.

Has anyone ever given you a gift that meant more to you as time went on? Today I celebrate my friend Melissa for being inspired to compile an inspiring book about me, and my friend Cindy for always keeping my schedule straight. They made some serious good change for me today.

Sheep, ornaments and yarn, oh my.
My birthday book

Monday, December 10, 2012

"The Floor Crew" (by Faith)

This story begins with an unfortunate event.  As it turns out, water and wood floors don’t mix well. Our kitchen flooded a few months ago, and fixing it has been a long process. After dealing with some lousy repairmen, my mom finally found a great company. Javier and Gilbert would arrive early each morning with their loud machines and stinky chemicals to fix the floor. Both men were very trustworthy and polite, always greeting us with a cheek-to-cheek smile.

Gilbert proudly told us about his own family - how he has a daughter who just returned from China on a mission trip and his sons who do very well in school. I was amazed to find out that after working long hours at our house, he would go home and work until late in the night remodeling his own house and doing work for other people. For someone who works that hard, I would expect him to be grumpy and tired. But not Gilbert! He always gave us his best while working for us.

Then there’s Javier.  One morning, I was practicing some of my Christmas songs on the piano, which must have reminded him of the Christmases he used to have with his kids. With a sad look on his face, he told my mom he hadn’t seen his kids in 12 years and he missed them very much. He came to America from Mexico for a better life. He wanted to find work so that he could support his family. However, the amazing thing is how he got here.

Javier explained that he arrived here by swimming across a wide river. He was not a strong swimmer, so he knew he was risking his life to get here. Exhausted, and only half way across the river, he felt like he couldn’t go on. So he put his hands up and started to sink. Suddenly, he was caught on an arch shaped branch just tall enough to keep his nose out of the water. Over time, he regained his strength and was able to finish the swim to safety. He said that God must have saved him for a purpose.

His story changed my life. It made me realize how lucky I am not only to have a family, but also to be with them. I wish Javier could be with his family. I wish I could help him. So, I asked Javier and Gilbert if they would like to come over for Christmas. No one should be alone at such a happy time of the year. 

Our floor guys happy & hardworking!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Good neighbors (by Tara)

I was paid the highest compliment possible from my neighbor, a teenage boy, recently. He said, "Mrs. Collins, you are just one of those that I would call if I were ever stuck in a ditch." Ha! I gave him a hug and we both laughed!

I wonder if he knows that there was a time a few years back that I was so concerned for him I lost sleep. I prayed. I cried. I wanted him to know what an amazing kid he was, but he wasn't ready to let me in. Slow and undaunted, time seemed to mock my efforts. Yet at the stories end, I see how perfectly timed it has been. I hope this never happens, but I am armed and ready to pull him out of that ditch should he ever fall!

My young friend Bobby has an equally amazing dad. His wife shared an email with me that epitomizes a change maker. Here is that email:

Hello Mr. Sill, 
My name is Anthony Strait, we met a little over a year ago in an airport in Texas. I just came across your card that i have been looking for for some time now. At the time we met I was on my way to Arizona from Afghanistan to see my family and you had given me your seat on the plane so i could get home earlier. At the time i could not thank you enough and to this day i still think about you and how generous you were in doing so. Now that i have found your card I wanted to reach out to you and thank you again for that. Since my return from my deployment there has been challenging times for me, stress and a number or negative situations but when i feel like that, that the world is now filled with self centered people who do not care, i think about that day and it gets me through my situation. Little things we do in life can have a big impact in some one else's. Thank you again Mr Sill for being a good person and teaching me a life lesson. 
Anthony Strait
Wouldn't it be nice to be surrounded by people like this? I hope you are. And if you're not, maybe you just don't know it. Isn't this a great time to turn a neighbor into a friend? We have much to learn from them.

Bobby & me bowling with our friends

Billy with his baby girl

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Given change in Florida (by Faith)

Recognizing people making change is kind of like the time my parents bought a new car. I never really saw that kind of car on the road, but as soon as we got one, it seemed like I saw them everywhere! Now that I am more aware, I seem to see kindness more than ever before.

Last week my family and I went to Florida for the Thanksgiving holiday. We rode bikes to our favorite ice cream shop, and since the weather was so nice, we sat down to eat our delicious treats. My brother finished his ice cream first, so he went to ride around on his bike while he waited for everyone else. He happened to crash right in front of some people, which started a conversation. They were from Missouri, we were from Texas, and we met in Florida- how cool is that?

As we talked, we told them about our trip to India. After hearing about the work we are doing there, they scrambled through their wallets, each pulling out money to donate. They started handing the money to my mom, then stopped and laughed, handing it to me instead. Looking me in the eyes, they made me promise that I was going to use the money for the kids in India. I promised I would as I gave them each a big hug and a thank you.

We talked for about another hour (thanks to my mom) and then we left. The experience was special because total strangers not only opened their wallets to give to a cause they just learned about, but they trusted me to do the right thing with the money. Beyond that, they made sure they knew our names so we could be included in their prayers.

Our new Missouri friends!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

And so it begins... (by Tara)

Today is a milestone for us. It was 9 months ago that we stood in our kitchen, scouring through pictures on the internet of children half a world away in India. I had just finished hanging a new piece of art on the wall, a picture of the 10 lepers, showing the one leper who turned to show gratitude to Jesus for the miracle of healing. I hung it there so we could remember that significant lesson. Little did I realize, our own lives were about to be knit together with the very people we honored through that piece of art.

A phone call from a friend prompted our search into the leper colonies in India and why such a disease still ravages lives, despite miraculous modern medicine. We learned about the remarkable organization, Rising Star Outreach, and decided that we wanted to spend part of Faith’s 7th grade year there to take part in the incredible work they are doing. It would require taking the year off from public school to study and prepare ourselves to serve the sweet children and their families. Once the decision was made, we blasted full steam ahead.

Plans for a fundraiser began. Our idea was to design a bracelet that would capture the hearts of our own friends and family – more than a donation, maybe a new way to look at life. We talked at length about the great needs around the world, but also the simple need for kindness surrounding each of us daily. We issued a challenge to our friends to send us pictures of a time they did something to make a positive change for someone else, or a time when someone made a positive change for them. The response was overwhelming. You can see that on our video.

Preparations have been unexpectedly challenging. Excitement and grand ideas have given way to weariness at times. But now with a website built, bracelets packed and ready to ship, passport in hand, books read, homeschool somewhat figured out, tears shed and prayers said, we are finally able to share our worthwhile message with the world. As a mother, my greatest hope is that my children will see their significance in the world by showing others theirs. 

Faith is the face of this journey – all we have done to bring positive changes around us, and ultimately to the people of India. It has been my job to support her and encourage her growing mind to see important things with clarity. In the end, she is still just a 12 year old girl (almost 13, she keeps reminding me!). My first daughter. One of my best friends. A teenager in every sense of the word with a heart that instinctively senses the most minute details, which makes her my teacher every day.