Monday, 27 February 2012

Real Simple

Hi Friends & Family,
In our short time in Jamaica, one of the things that has surprised us the most is how ignorant we were to the luxuries of our life back home.  We’ve always considered ourselves grateful people, keenly aware of God’s blessings and goodness in our lives.  However, being away from our “normal” made us realize how much we took for granted in our daily lives.  There were so many comforts we deemed necessities – air conditioning, a dishwasher, high speed internet, two vehicles.  There were other comforts that didn’t necessarily qualify as necessities, but certainly things we’d rather not live without – Starbucks, DVR, a 24 hour gym, I-Phones, etc.  We strived to live simply and avoid the slippery slope of consumerism, but without even realizing it, we became dependent (or at least accustomed to) comforts of the world.  Not that enjoying worldly comforts is wrong…it was our attitudes that needed to be checked.  It’s crazy how quietly entitlement creeps into your heart, often leaving you ungrateful, unpleasant and unsatisfied.
In a sense, our move to Jamaica has taken us back to the basics.  The Western culture urges us to live for the next big thing: The newest gadget, the next smart phone upgrade, the bigger house, the nicer car.  In Jamaica, most of the people are simply focused on surviving the day: Feeding their children, making a few dollars, having money for the bus fare home.  Here, no one has the luxury of living for “the next big thing.”   Because of this, we’ve found people aren’t looking to “things” for fulfillment.  Instead, they look to invaluable treasures that bring lasting, soul-satisfying joy.  They look to faith, family and friends.  Being surrounded by this mentality made us realize how far we’d gone astray from our desire to live with an eternal perspective.  It has certainly been a humbling and refining process, and something we continue to work on daily.
They say a picture paints a thousand words.  Included below are several photos reflecting how our lives have changed the past few months.  We hope they bring a smile to your face (and don’t deter you from booking your flight to visit!)
With Love,
Kevin & Cass
The Air Conditioning

The Dryer

The 24 Hour Fitness

The Dishwasher

The Monday Morning Traffic

The Trash Collector

The Security System

Monday, 20 February 2012

A Celebration of Love

My Valentine
My other Valentines...celebrating in Jamaica
I love February.  It’s a nice change from the long, mundane month of January, which always seems to pass at a snail’s pace.  It’s a bridge between winter and spring, and the anticipation of fresh blooms, new life and warm weather is always exciting.  My birthday is in February, as is Valentine’s, and these are two of my favorite days of the year.  There is something about Valentine’s Day that makes people happy.   It’s kind of like Thanksgiving.  When you dedicate a day towards giving thanks, you start to realize how much you have to be thankful for.  When you dedicate a day to love, you start to realize how much love is all around you.
This year, there was a paradigm shift in my perspective of Valentine’s.  I’ve always thought of it as a romantic holiday, which it certainly is, but this year it became so much more to me than that.  My parents and sister were in Jamaica over Valentine’s, and instead of a candlelight dinner for two, we had a family dinner with hamburgers, fried plantains, and chocolate cake.  We celebrated the love of family — the people who adore you despite your dysfunction, who always want the best for you, and who embrace you just as you are.
Later that night, we took Valentine’s pictures.  Kevin and I couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves.  Five years ago our relationship blossomed at a Valentine’s banquet.  We were both dressed to the nines, and have lots of glamorous pictures from that night.  This year, we were in sweats, lacking makeup, hairdos, cologne or even a dab of lip gloss.  As we posed for pictures, I felt overwhelmed by how grateful I was for Kevin and so amazed by how our love has grown.  After three months in Jamaica, one of the things we’ve realized is that the best way to work on your relationship is to move to a foreign country, where you don’t know a soul, don’t understand the culture, and don’t have anyone else to turn to but God and one another!  This year, Valentine’s Day was a celebration of our companionship — of the adventure of doing life together, of choosing to cherish one another (even when it’s not easy), and of the love we couldn’t fathom growing this wide or long or high or deep.
I also found myself reflecting on friendship this Valentine’s Day.  When I think of the friends who have shaped me, supported me and shared life with me, my heart nearly explodes with love.  God hand wrapped some of the most beautiful people and gave them to me as friends.  From San Francisco to Washington DC and everywhere in between, I have friends I could call at any hour and they would be here if I needed them.  This year, Valentine’s Day was a celebration of friendship — of friends I talk to once a week and friends I talk to once a year, of friends who have taught me the joy of differences and the gift of grace.  I am a richer, better person because of them.
Lastly, this Valentine’s Day was a celebration of God’s passionate, unfailing love for each of us.  I’ve grown up learning about this love, and always believing in it, but this year it was different.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve needed God so much, and been so dependent on Him during a season full of so many changes and unknowns.  I’ve been acutely aware of my inadequacies and desperately in need of His peace, presence and provision.  He hasn’t failed me yet.  This Valentine’s Day was a celebration of God’s ravishing love — love that restores, redeems and never, ever fails.
I don’t think there is a greater gift than loving and being loved.  Take the final days of this month to love the Valentines in your life with reckless abandon.  Take it from me; you won’t know what to do with the joy that fills your heart.
And now these three remain: Faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love. 
1 Cor. 13:13
With love abounding,

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Prickly Valentines

Good morning Family and Friends!

Please enjoy another guest entry from my wonderful mother, on loving the not-so-lovable Valentines in our lives.  Thanks for writing, Mom!  Your words have been such an inspiration!


When we flew out of Jamaica a few days ago, on our way back to Omaha, it was about 85 degrees.  Really warm and toasty!   We knew the weather would be a wee bit colder in Omaha , but somehow, after spending a week in Jamaica we had forgotten how cold it was back in Nebraska.  As we began our descent into Omaha and looked out the windows, we could see a thick blanket of snow covering everything.  Suddenly the flip-flops I had slipped on at that morning didn’t seem like a good idea at all.  By the time we got out of the airport, walked across the parking garage to find the car that was parked “somewhere in the vicinity of 4A”, got everything loaded, and got the heater warmed up, I could barely feel my toes. 

Interesting how it can be so warm in one little corner of the world, and completely frigid in another.  Sometimes, valentines are like that, too.  Some are warm and friendly and easy to love—the flip-flops kind of valentine.  Others, though, seem to have a blanket of snow covering their hearts.  Simply put, they’re prickly.  And by the end of Valentine’s Day—or most any other day, for that matter—you can barely feel your toes.

There’s a wonderful passage that seems custom wrapped for Valentine’s Week:

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.  (1 Cor. 13: 4-8)

I’ve always loved these words, but there is one part in it that used to cause me pause.  It’s the very last part:  love never fails.  Never?  Really?  I felt it to be true but there was a part of me that questioned it, because quite simply, it seemed that sometimes love failed.  Sometimes it just wasn’t enough…right?

Several years ago I did a Beth Moore study and she talked about this very thing.  She explained it so beautifully that I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.  I’d like to attempt to share it with you—asking for grace in advance given the years it’s been since I heard it, and also simply because I’m not the gifted teacher that Beth is.

Beth stood on the stage with a basket of oranges in one hand.  She explained that the oranges represented acts of love shown to another, and whenever a person tosses out an orange, it is generally caught by the intended recipient.  An orange that was caught represented love working.  If an orange fell to the ground, however, that represented that love failed.  There were various people on the stage, and each time an orange was tossed out, one of them would step in and catch it.  Love went out, love was caught, and love never failed.  For example, if I iron my daughter’s pleated skirt, she “catches” the orange I’ve tossed out with warmth and gratitude and pleasantness.  She receives my love.  She feels good.  I feel good.  Life is good.  Over and over, oranges were tossed, and oranges were caught.  Love in action.  Never failing. 

What happens, then, when the person to whom the love is intended doesn’t catch the orange?  They are those difficult people whose hearts, for whatever reason, appear broken and cold.  You can stand there dropping oranges until you’re blue in the face, and they couldn’t care less.  They don’t even make the slightest effort to catch one. Over and over the oranges fall to the ground.  And in these kinds of cases, love would seem to fail.  Right? 

Wrong.  At this point, Beth drew our attention to a person who was dressed in white, standing on the sidelines.  And when an orange was tossed and completely ignored by the intended recipient, the person in white swooped in and caught it himself, before it hit the ground. 

The Person in white…caught it Himself.  The person represented was Jesus, and the teaching was clear:  When you love another in His name, He takes note of it and catches every toss—the moment it leaves your hand.  Love doesn’t fail…because Christ Himself catches it.  He also catches the love you send out to the warmer people, BTW—it’s just not as challenging to love them.  But when you’re dealing with challenging people who simply don’t “do” love well, remember that you’re also dealing with One who does it best of all.  That’s how love never fails.  It may fail in man’s economy, but it never fails in God’s.   

I don’t know who the prickly people are in your life, but probably you have a few.  Maybe you’ve decided to ignore them in the same way they ignore you.  Maybe you’ve decided that if they want to play hardball, you’ll show’em that two can play that game.  Maybe over the years you’ve turned just as cold as they are, except you veil it better to protect your reputation.  Maybe you don’t veil it at all.  Is that really how you want to live?  Is that really how you think Jesus wants you to live?

Perhaps it’s time to warm up your pitching arm and throw out a toss or two…and leave the results to God.  Satan would love for us to believe that the prickly people in our lives don’t deserve our efforts, but he’s wrong.  We know there’s a Catcher on duty, 24/7, and our tosses matter and they’re caught.  Oh, to stop living by our feelings and start living by our wills. 

I once heard that the person who shows love the least is the one who needs it the most.  It makes sense to me, except it’s just usually a lot more fun to toss oranges to really good orange-catchers.  But maybe the really poor orange-catchers would get better at catching if they had a little practice.  As Valentine’s Week comes to a close, I hope we’re all willing to be those first tossers—to those in our lives who catch well, to those who catch not so well, and especially to those who know next to nothing about catching at all.  One soft toss after another. 

“In as much as ye did it unto the least of these, my brethren, you did it unto Me.”  Matt. 25:40

Thanks so much for the opportunity to share this week.  I love you, dear daughter!  You are my very heart! 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Will you be my Valentine?

Hi family and friends!

Happy Valentine's Day!!  I have my first guest blogger who wrote the entry below--my mom (who is standing in the kitchen making a key lime pie).  She is here visiting for a few days, and since many of you know and love her ALMOST as much as I do, I asked her to write a few thoughts about her Valentine's Day memories.  I hope you enjoy her encouraging words.  In light of such a fabulous day, she'll be posting again this week & I'll be posting as well.  Here's to celebrating love!!!

Before I hand it off to mom, I just want to say a special "Happy Valentine's" to the love of my life, Kevin, who has brought me untold love and joy since the day I met him.  I love you, babe!


VALENTINE’S DAY!  Few words elicit such a smile as those two do.   I haven’t googled how the day got started in history, or what its official meaning is, or whether gods or goddesses are involved, or anything like that.   And I don’t plan to, either.   I just know what it represents to me:  a celebration of love and joy and friendship and family and just plain feeling good about loving and being loved.
My earliest memories of Valentine’s Day begin when I was in first grade.  That was when you actually got to buy a box of valentines at the five and dime store, to give to your classmates.  I can remember my first box, and how I sat in my parents’ bedroom in our little farm house, poring over those valentines.  I had printed the names of everyone in Miss Gaster’s first grade class on a sheet of paper, and I spent hours trying to match the “right” valentine with the “right” classmate.  I mean, this was serious business.   I particularly remember choosing one that was especially charming to give to one of my friends, because I didn’t think she’d get many of the “good” ones from the other kids.  Even at 6 years old, there was a pecking order in the classroom and you pretty much knew which kids were going to get the “good” valentines and which kids weren’t.   The one I gave this friend had an adorable cowgirl on it with an equally adorable pony that she had lassoed—funny what the mind remembers.   

A year later, as a 2nd grader, my big sister Debbie who was 2 yrs older than I was—and who was at the pinnacle of the pecking order in her class, BTW—received a small box of candy and a broach in the shape of a heart (with a ‘diamond’ in it, no less) from a young man in her 4th grade class.  My younger sister Bev and I had known for a long while that this boy liked our big sis.  Women just have a way of knowing those things, even as 1st and 2nd graders!  Getting a gift like that was almost unheard of at our small school, and Bev and I were VERY impressed.  We also wondered if our parents would approve or not.  Daddy and Mom seemed to think it was really cute, and didn’t seem worried in the least that Debbie and Lee were anywhere near eloping.  We all enjoyed a small taste of the candy—even though she ate it so slowly it lasted until well into summer, and it was just four pieces or so to start with.  I am dead serious. 
Valentine’s Day of my 4th grade year did not find me in the same boat.  I didn’t receive any gifts, but my younger sister Bev did.  Honestly, where was the justice in that?  She had a boy in her class who was more well-to-do than most of us, and he got her a big box of candy.  BIG box.  She shared a bit of it with me, and hers only lasted until Easter or so.  However, I did find myself in a dilemma that year.  One of the “good” valentines in my pack had two tigers in a cage looking at each other with goo-goo eyes.  The caption said, “Valentine, I’d like to be encaged with you.”  It seemed “R” rated to this ten year old, but I had to use it or otherwise I wouldn’t have enough for everyone to receive one.  So, after much agitation, I put a boy’s name on it and even watched him open it out of the corner of my eye.   I still remember where his desk sat in Mrs. Besett’s classroom, in relation to mine—up two rows and to the right.  He opened it, read it, and then looked at me and grinned.  I quickly looked away as I didn’t want him to know I’d been watching him.   I remember being very embarrassed, lest he think I wanted to elope sometime soon.  Probably it was my first blush. 

So I sit here on Valentine’s Day and think about all of those childhood memories and how wonderful they were, and then I think of the even more wonderful ones as an adult:  How, in 1980, I was a bride of 11 days and literally felt like Cinderella beginning her love story.  How, four years later,  Wes and I were the proud parents of two day old identical twin daughters—and we were overwhelmed with the crazy love we felt for those two 5 pound babies with the long eyelashes and big blue eyes.  We were also amazed at how they never slept. And four years after that, I was on bed rest, awaiting the birth of our 3rd daughter, whom the twins called “their baby.”  And how, a few months later when she arrived, we were overwhelmed once again at that same crazy love that just blows you away, beyond your wildest imagination. 
As I write that phrase, it reminds me of a verse I have come to love in the past several years—which I never really tied to Valentine’s Day, but now I do.  It’s Ephesians 3:20, and I became aware of it when Wes and I were going through some very difficult times (notice that ‘times’ is pleural!).  It says:   “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us…” There came a long, extended time in our marriage when the storm clouds not only began to blow, but hit with hurricane force winds.  Our little boat was rocking like crazy in a storm-infested ocean.  We didn’t know what to do... but God did.  We were lost…but God wasn’t.  We were discouraged, bone-tired, and beyond weary…but we knew that God was a God of courage, and that He never grew tired or weary.  We knew He never took His eyes off of us or His arms from around us or our little boat.  We knew He specialized in calming raging oceans and storm-tossed boats.  We held on to Him with everything we had.  There have been so many times in the past 32 years that God has proven Himself faithful to this Cinderella and her prince. There were hurdles and challenges and heartaches that we never dreamed we’d face back in 1980…but He did more than we could ever ask or imagine. Way more.   We’ve seen His same faithfulness in the lives of our 3 darling daughters, whom we still love so much it leaves us near breathless.  He has worked, and still works, way beyond our fathoming.

I’d like to close with what to me, is the very best Valentine of all, from John 3:16:  For God so LOVED the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life.”  Now that’s the real deal.  The best Valentine ever.  Way better than cowgirls with lassoes and encaged tigers.   It’s the greatest love story ever written.  And it was written for you and for me, if we would but unwrap and accept it.  And when we do, life is never the same again.   
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone…with much, much love.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Be Joyful Always

It was our first official weekend in Kingston.  Our closets were organized, our pantry stocked and our hearts full of eager ambition for the journey ahead.  We had met the neighbors, opened a local banking account and navigated the Kingston traffic without incident (which is no easy task, mind you, but that’s an entry in itself).  Overall, we were feeling very “Jamaican” and I was feeling extremely self confident.  The world had clearly underestimated my spirit when they said an international move to a third world country might be a difficult transition.

We awoke Saturday morning with plans of spending the day at the beach.  Kevin rolled out of bed with a spring in his step and began packing our beach bag.  I woke up with pink eye and a severe stomach ache.   Because I was still feeling optimistic about my adaptation skills, I crawled out of bed for some ibuprofen, thinking I could sleep it off and we could hit the beach in the afternoon.  I opened my bag for the pills, and a cockroach the size of a small rodent scampered up my arm (Those who know me well know there’s nothing I fear more than roaches).  Things quickly went from bad to worse.  I flew up the kitchen table about as fast as my adventurous spirit came flying down.  Thanks to my heroic husband, the threat was demolished in less than five seconds.  I curled up on the couch in fetal position, feeling sorry for myself and wanting to sleep.  Within a few minutes, I felt the strange sensation of crawling.  I jumped up to find HUNDREDS of ants all over the couch, and all over me.  As Kevin tried unsuccessfully to stifle laughs and show sympathy, I went grumbling upstairs and proceeded to pout.

The thing about pouting is once you start, you sort of pout yourself into a hole and then become too prideful and stubborn to ask for help out.  Down in that hole, all I wanted was for everyone I knew to feel sorry for me.  I wanted them to nurse my wounds, tell me they couldn’t imagine how I did it, and how they’d be on the next flight home if they were in my shoes.  I was wallowing in self-pity, and deep down, embarrassed by it.  All it took was a cockroach and a few harmless ants to knock the wind right out of my sails.  So much for my adventurous spirit.

Because I didn’t know what else to do (not because I was feeling particularly spiritual), I opened my Bible and began reading.  Of course God wasn’t fazed by my meltdown.  As any good Father, He wanted to teach me something through it and help me out of the hole in the process.  Here are the verses I read:  Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess. 5: 16-18).  I reread the verses, thinking there must be a caveat (or maybe my pink eye was interfering with my vision).  Surely Paul didn’t mean always.  Surely international moves and stomach aches and attacks by vicious insects earn you an “Ungrateful-and-miserable-for-a-day” pass.  But try as I might, I found no exceptions.  When the Bible says always, I think it means always.  When Paul said, Give thanks in ALL circumstances, I don’t think he meant MOST circumstances. 

Since that day, whenever I feel self-pity or ingratitude creeping into my heart, I whisper three little words that turn my thoughts around:  BE JOYFUL ALWAYS.  It’s kept me out of the pouting hole on many occasions.  When you’re joyful, it’s hard to wallow, or mope, or let the little nuisances of life get you down.  When you’re joyful, you’re more pleasing to others.  And to God.  And this is how I want to be.

With joy, gratitude, & cockroach juice from Jamaica,

Kevin & Cass

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Back to Bellaire

Our newlywed home sweet home
Bellaire, TX

Our first home as a married couple was in a picturesque Houston neighborhood called Bellaire.  It was a 1,000 square foot 1940’s rental, nestled between million dollar homes, filled with termites and rotting floors and a leaky shower faucet.  It had definitely seen better days and was likely on the city’s list of tear downs, as I think it broke every housing ordinance in existence (I walked into the bathroom one morning to find a mushroom growing in between the baseboard and the linoleum, if that gives you an idea).  It was two houses down from the train tracks, and when the train rolled through around 2:00 each morning (Why wouldn't you ship cargo through a residential neighborhood on a train at that hour?) the entire house would shake from top to bottom.  When we first moved in, we awoke several nights thinking it was an earthquake, but soon it became a comfort—like gentle rocking to a baby.

I loved that house.   With a little TLC it was the cutest house on the block, and we would have chosen it over our million dollar neighbors any day.  We left Bellaire after two years, and headed to the suburbs for a newer house, sans termites and mushrooms.  But a part of my heart stayed in Bellaire, at that house on Wendell Street.  There was just something about it — we didn’t need or want anything more than that little house, because we had each other.  I wasn’t ready to leave the simplicity of that season behind.

Before we moved to Jamaica, we spent a few weeks visiting Kingston, trying to find a place to live.  We looked at over thirty townhomes and apartments.  It was an EXHAUSTING process, especially since we didn't know the city or the neighborhoods, what was safe and what was not, how close we were to Kevin’s work, the airport, the grocery store, etc etc etc.  We spent a lot of time in prayer, asking for God’s guidance in choosing the best place for us (We figured He knew the city, even though we didn’t).  I just love God’s sense of humor and faithfulness.  The complex we ended up in is called “Belair”.

Granted, the spelling is different, but the symbolism means so much.  We couldn’t have asked for a better neighborhood, a safer location, or a more convenient spot in the city.  We feel like God answered our prayers in leading us to this place, and the fact that it’s called “Belair” demonstrates His faithfulness and presence in a very real way.

So here we are, back in Belair, so grateful for a God who is loving and faithful and abundantly good.  People have asked for us to post pictures of our home.  They are included below.  Please enjoy and know you are welcome to our Belair bungalow anytime!!

With Love,

Kevin & Cass 

Townhouse 8, Belair
Kingston, Jamaica

Living Area
TV & Nap Room

Kitchen - Thanks to Mom for making the cabinets so cute! 

Dining Room (Love the IKEA table!)

Guest Room #1 (Ready for visitors!)

Guest Room #2 (Also ready for visitors!)

Back Porch (Home to a family of four cats & counting)