Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Thoughts on coming home...

For those of you who haven't heard, we are moving to Alabama THIS WEEKEND!!! (we'll arrive Sunday afternoon of Labor Day weekend :)

We have been waiting for this day for quite some time, and now that the move is imminent, my head has been full of "Sweet Home Alabama", "Stars Fell on Alabama", and of course, our official state song, "Alabama" (what can I say... I was an All-State Choir kid! ;)

I really am THRILLED! I love my home state, and all its Southern Hospitality. I am so excited about being closer to both our families, and a ton of my close girlfriends. I am so happy to be back in the land of SEC football, and only an hour and a half away from my beloved Auburn! I can't wait to eat all my favorite foods from Chick-Fil-A, Zaxby's, Guthrie's, Panera, Los Mex, Sonic, and lots of other "local" places. And I am really, really thankful that we won't be making anymore 13 to 18 hour drives (multiple times a year) anymore!

BUT -  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't feeling a little nervous too!

I recently told my friend Katie, that I felt like I was preparing for "re-entry". Re-entry is what you deal with when you return home (to what is "normal" to you) after you've been overseas - living in a different culture, language, climate, etc. Typically it's what people in the military or mission work deal with. I know it may sound silly considering we've been in the same country (technically anyway) but in my head and heart I feel like I'm facing the same things!

There are sooo many ways Michigan is different from Alabama. Even if I tried, I couldn't list them all. There is a different "language" up here and a different climate and culture. People dress differently, interact differently, and like different things. Certain things that are "the norm" down South are not here. I really did deal with "culture shock" when we moved, and I am afraid in some ways I will deal with "culture shock" all over again when we come home!

Then there is the social side of things. For the most part, we have not had much of a social life in Michigan. It has been really hard for us to meet people here, so our only friends are from our church. And at our church, we are 1 of only 2 young married couples (that I know of) without children. So.... we haven't had very many people in our season of life to hang out with. I'm pretty sure that in 2 years and 8 months, we've only "gone out" with people (parties, dinner, etc) maybe a total of 10 or 15 times (in like... 800+ days). So, when I announced we were moving back, and I had 10 or 15 people immediately tell me they wanted to get together, I felt MAJORLY overwhelmed! Don't get me wrong, I was excited initially....but then I started to think, "How I am going to manage having a social life again?!" It sounds silly, but after functioning differently for so long it was overwhelming to me!

And when I think about the possibility of running into people I know again all over town, I totally freak out! In all of our time in Michigan, I can count on ONE hand the times I've run into someone I know in public. (Seriously, like 5 times in over 2 and 1/2 years. That's IT!) I don't even really look at people's faces anymore when I'm running errands, because 99% of the time I won't know them. But in Alabama - I could run into someone from college, or high school, or a random job, or even kindergarten while I'm out and about! And the older I get, and the more we travel, the worse I get at remembering names. (Seriously, is there like, a certain number of names/faces you can remember before your brain can't handle anymore? Because I think I surpassed that number 3 years ago! Either that, or, I'm getting old. Dang it!) I dread running into someone that remembers me and not being able to remember where I met them or what their name is. Those moments just make me feel awful!

But - by FAR - there is one thing I DREAD more than anything else. It doesn't just make me feel anxious, or nervous, or overwhelmed. It feels me with anger and disgust and disappointment.

With every fiber of my being, 
I DREAD being immersed in "Southern Religion" again.

I don't mean specific Southern denominations (like Southern Baptists), I mean the "culture" of Southern Christianity. The rules and regulations and prison of that RELIGION. The place where everyone goes to church because it's socially expected, not because they actually have a relationship with Christ. The place where so many Christians are so steeped in tradition, that it's all about what they DO and how they APPEAR then what's really going on in their hearts. Because, as long as you're in church on Sunday morning and Sunday night and Wednesday night, and wearing the right clothes and singing the right songs, then everything is okay... right? As long as you never miss your 9:45 Sunday School class, then you're definitely going to heaven... right? *sigh.

And don't EVEN get me started on these Christians who are in church every Sunday, and yet find it perfectly acceptable to make racial slurs and prejudice comments! Disgust doesn't even cover it! The South has come a long way from our terrible racist past, but many people still have a long way to go. It makes me sick to see that kind of ignorance and hatred from "Christians" because of the color of someone's skin, and it makes me angry that I have to worry what my child will face someday if we decide to adopt from Africa.

I dread being back in the "Bible Belt" where it's hard to find a safe place to be truly vulnerable, because people like to gossip waaaayyyy too much. I dread being back near the uber conservative churches (and church members) that mandate morality and "write things in" to the Bible, and then hold you to their standards (instead of the standard of Christ Himself). The place where it's a "sin" to have a glass of wine with dinner, but it's perfectly acceptable to be a glutton or to be married to your 3rd wife.

I hate the judgement of it all.... the fact that people (even good people, who are really trying to follow Christ) don't feel free to be themselves because of what people will think, or say, or do in response. The way people shame you with "Jesus Jukes" and their own expectations that half of the time, aren't even Biblical. The place where our Christian leaders are held to an impossible standard and aren't allowed to be human. And somehow, sometimes we (Rusty & I) are held to the same impossible standard. It's like people think, just because we used to have "missionary" attached to our name, that we are now the perfect example of the perfect "textbook" Christian. Newsflash! Missionaries and Pastors and Deacons and Music Ministers and Sunday School teachers don't actually get a cape and special Christian superpowers when they take those positions! They are human too.

I just hate it. Not the people, or the church, but the judgement and the facade of it all. It leaves a terrible taste in my mouth. It causes dis-unity and hurt and deep-seated shame and guilt that some people never, ever get over. And if I'm being honest, I'm not looking forward to that part of being back down South.

I know every church down South isn't like this, (and there are certainly lots of Christians who aren't this way!) but it seems very wide-spread to me. Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe these issues are everywhere....but after almost 3 years up North I haven't seen anything quite like Southern Christianity. And maybe I've offended you all now (sorry!) but I hope this is a place where I can be myself and truly be honest and vulnerable and tell you what's on my heart. *I'll get down off my soap box now.*

Ya'll - pray for me. Because in the midst of all the "re-entry" we're about to go through, I'm just not sure how to handle this ugly side of RELIGION down South with grace and love and truth and honesty.

And if I run into you at church, or Wal-Mart, or the mall and I can't recall your name... would you be kind enough to remind me? Thanks ;)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

House Hunting Results!

"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, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." ~ Ephesians 3:20-21

That's the scripture we've been resting in since we started the "house hunting" process in Alabama. I learned long ago that God loves to bless His children with good gifts (Matt 7:11) but sometimes, we have to ask for them! (Matt 7:8) So Rusty and I sat down, and made a list of everything we were hoping for in a home... from the location, to the number of rooms and bathrooms, to a garage, to a big yard, to good neighbors, and even a dishwasher! We figured we should ASK for what we want.... after all, what's the worst that could happen? God could say no, right? OR He could say YES!

Those details may sound silly, but believe me, we had a specific reason for each of them. And when you live at home, and eat at home, and sleep at home, and entertain at home, and recuperate from crazy long trips overseas at home, oh...yeah...and WORK at home ALL day EVERY day, your home is a pretty important place! And when you travel a lot, it's very important that you trust your neighbors!

Soooo.... we prayed... and searched... and searched.... and prayed.... and got scammed.... and were charged $160 in bogus "fees"..... and wondered if we would actually be able to find anything in our price range... and then..... we found our house!

And, would you believe it - it had everything we asked for (and then some!)

  • It has a garage (which means Rusty can now take care of his grandfather's truck that he inherited when he passed away, which means a LOT to him!)
  • It has a large office (which means plenty of room for working!)
  • It has an extra bedroom (because I have the gift of hospitality and really wanted space to bless visitors! After all, we have stayed in many friends guest rooms over the past 3 years!)
  • It's in a safe area (Rusty quickly vetoed the house with 16 sex offenders in a 1 mile radius.)
  • We have great neighbors (okay... we actually haven't met them yet BUT we know one of them is a policeman, which makes me feel super safe!) 
  • It's 3 miles away from the #1 city on the list of "Best Places to Live in Alabama" (Helena - we are in Maylene/Alabaster)
  • It has a basement area (which is good for all the tornadoes that hit Alabama)
  • It has a dishwasher (which means we can use the juicer we got for our wedding! Yay for healthier options!)
  • It has a big yard and back deck (because sometimes we need to get outside during so many hours at home!)

And it was the ONLY house in our price range (which wasn't much!), in a safe neighborhood, with all these things!

But I left out the BEST parts... the parts we didn't even ask for!

It turns out, this house also has a beautiful 16 foot exposed stone fireplace (we LOVE fireplaces!) and a HOT TUB! (We had no idea until we got there - it wasn't advertised on the flier!)

And, one more detail... one of my favorite trees is the birch tree, and recently I've been trying to find a way to decorate with birch wood in our home. (Except I can't, because it's CRAZY expensive!) Well, wouldn't you know, our backyard is full of these BEAUTIFUL white birch trees! I couldn't help but laugh... God knows that one of the ways I connect with Him best is nature, and He has the back yard all set up for just that!

These things may seem silly to you, but they are a big deal to us! And from the moment we knew we were moving we said, "God is going to provide an amazing home for us, and He is going to get all the glory!" So, we just wanted to brag on God a little to all of you! Isn't my Daddy God AWESOME?!

It really is TRUE... "ask and you shall receive".... He is a good Father who loves to give good gifts to His children!


p.s. - The pic of the birch trees is just from my cell phone, so the quality isn't that great. I promise I'll share pictures of the house when we get all settled in! :)

p.p.s. - If you think this is just a "coincidence", then be sure to ask us about the 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath, full basement home full of big beautiful windows, with a 2 car garage, big front and back porches, on 2 lots of land, with a grape arbor out back that we've lived in for our first 2 and 1/2 years of marriage for only $300 a month. Yeah.... God is GOOD! :)

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Oh my goodness I am behind! Sorry friends... we left Michigan a week ago to go house-hunting in Alabama and things have just been crazy ever since! We've put about 2,200 miles on our car this week (around 30 hours of driving) and I am all sorts of behind now. The good news is we found a place! I promise I'll share more about that later - but for now - the (late) results of our giveaway!

I used the random number generator to determine our winners.  

Winner #1 is....


Courtney, you'll be receiving the mini Arbonne Awaken Lotion! It smells amazing and keeps away those pesky mosquitoes!

Winner #2 is....

JENNIFER FLAVIN! (comment #3) 

Jennifer, you'll be receiving the Arbonne Sample Set, which includes the FC5 Facial Set :: Hydrating Cleanser + Freshener with strawberry cell extracts, Moisturizing Night Creme with mango cell extracts, and Nurturing Day Lotion with SPF 20 and kiwi cell extracts, the Makeup Primer, the Sheer Glow Highlighter, a Sheer Pressed Powder set, and a Natural Radiance Mineral Powder Foundation with SPF 15 set!

I hope you ladies enjoy your free goodies! For all of you who didn't win, please keep checking back for more giveaways! I think they are SO much fun, and I can assure you I'll be looking for more things to share with you all again soon!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Critical Prayer Need :: The Stanley Family

Dear friends,

I know you are so wonderful at praying for me and my family when we need it, so tonight I'm asking that you drop everything and pray for the Stanley family. Becca & Adam Stanley, their 3 year old little girl Jayci, and their newborn son Caden.

Becca & Adam are friendly acquaintances of mine that I met through my dear friend Carrie. They are a precious couple who have given their lives to ministry. They recently bought a house in inner-city Atlanta so that they could reach out to mentor at-risk children in that area. They're truly an amazing couple!

They also have the sweetest little girl - Jayci, who has been so excited to meet her little brother. I hung out with her one afternoon last month while Rusty was working on a video with her parents. We talked about her baby brother in her mommy's tummy.

Her little brother Caden was born Wednesday August 3rd. Everything seemed normal, and Becca & Adam shared the news of his birth with friends and family. Then, their whole world turned upside down. An hour after Caden was born they found out he had severe heart defects. 

At only 5 days old, Caden went through open heart surgery today (August 8th) to repair the defects.  On top of an already risky surgery, he suffered a heart attack. They will have to keep his tiny chest open for 2 days to let the swelling go down before they can close him up. 

I've been following Adam & Becca's blog, their facebook updates, and the updates on the Candles for Caden page on facebook. I can't imagine how difficult the past few days have been for them... but in the midst of it all they are keeping their eyes focused on Christ and they're asking for prayer for their sweet baby boy. According to their latest update, the next 48 hours are CRITICAL. So I am asking all my blog readers to please, please PRAY!

We know that God can still work miracles, so let's lift up little Caden! Pray for HEALING, LIFE, and STRENGTH for his little body. Pray for wisdom for the doctors and nurses treating him. Pray for rest, strength and peace for his family.

I love what Becca wrote on their blog earlier today in a letter to her son...
"...One day, you will be known not for having a heart that was born "defective" but for having an extraordinary heart that loves and serves Jesus in extraordinary ways. "

Friday, August 5, 2011

FREE GIVEAWAY! ~ Awaken Lotion

If you've read our last couple of blogs, then you know we have a lot to be thankful for. We are really encouraged to see how God's been showing up lately in The Sound of Hope, and SO EXCITED to be moving to Birmingham, AL! It's back to the land of SEC football, Chick-Fil-A and Sweet Tea for me! (i.e. - "The Land of Milk & Honey" ;) And I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate than with a FREE GIVEAWAY! After all, our last one was just so much fun!

Up for grabs today is a mini-bottle of Arbonne's Awaken Lotion. If you read my post about "A Few of My Favorite Things" for Summer, then you know this was in it. I love, love, LOVE this lotion! It is my go to summer lotion, because it not only smells great and is all-natural, but its light lemony scent keeps away those pesky mosquitoes too! Who knew there was an option beyond those so-bad-for-you bug sprays with pesticides and those "natural" disgusting smelling citronella sprays? And the best part is - it's great for kids and not too feminine for the man in your life to use too!

This bottle is 2 oz and the perfect size to keep in your purse for those summer nights!

Also up for giveaway is an Arbonne Sample Set. I got these in the mail, and hated to see them go to waste! (I use the full size versions :) So, giveaway #2 will feature samples of the FC5 Facial Set :: Hydrating Cleanser + Freshener with strawberry cell extracts, Moisturizing Night Creme with mango cell extracts, and Nurturing Day Lotion with SPF 20 and kiwi cell extracts (my FAVORITE!), the Makeup Primer, the Sheer Glow Highlighter, a Sheer Pressed Powder set, and a Natural Radiance Mineral Powder Foundation with SPF 15 set (another favorite of mine!) 

Now, all you have to do to WIN is POST A COMMENT below! Be sure to include your NAME (first and last) and EMAIL ADDRESS though - otherwise I won't be able to get in touch with you to ship your prize! (I promise I won't use your email for anything else! Cross my heart!) You can also include in your comment which item you'd like to win the most.

And remember, you don't have to be a personal friend to win! I'd love to get some comments from some of you who've never commented before!

The winner will be announced next Friday, August 12th. Best of luck!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Miracles Happen (Part 2) :: Everything Changes

Difficulty is the very atmosphere of miracle - it is miracle in its first stage. 
If it is to be a great miracle, the condition is not difficulty but impossibility.
L.B. Cowman - Streams in the Desert

Yesterday, I left us in quite a predicament. I shared with you how we (my husband and I) were struggling with the fact that we were always traveling, and how unhealthy and difficult it was for us relationally. I told you how we needed to move - but couldn't afford to. We knew the best thing for us, and our non-profit, would be to relocate to the South, but it just seemed impossible!

The truth is... we probably should have quit. We were on course to make only $20,000 this year. TOTAL. For the two of us together! It seemed ridiculous. Both of us have college degrees and fantastic resumes after all! My husband is an award winning news and sports anchor who used to work for the top TV station in Arkansas. If he just went and got a "real job" - then all our financial worries would be over!

But we couldn't quit. When a friend of mine asked me why we couldn't quit, I told her the honest truth. The children we care for overseas in Thailand, Swaziland, and India need us. Sure, we could walk away from this and quit making all these ridiculous sacrifices.... we could live very comfortable lives. But those kids can't quit poverty. They can't quit the sex industry. They can't quit AIDS. They don't get to stop suffering just because they choose to.

And neither would we. We wouldn't quit because they couldn't quit. We wouldn't give up this work - caring for these kids, empowering them, educating them, and equipping them to QUIT POVERTY - to break OUT of the cycle of poverty and disease and lack of opportunities - we wouldn't give up until their lives were changed! We talked about it together as a couple and we made some decisions. We knew that with only $20,000 of income, within a few months we would not even have enough money to put food on the table and pay the bills anymore. But we told God - we would give it our all. We would go "all in" - and we would take The Sound of Hope as far as we could take it for the kids. And when we didn't have a cent left, then we would quit and get "real jobs". OR - He could show up, and we would continue the work.

It sounds crazy when I see it typed out like that. Who in their right minds would make that kind of deal with God?! But it didn't seem crazy at the time. And honestly, it wasn't some kind of ultimatum for the Creator of the Universe. I have known, from the very first moment we started The Sound of Hope, that it was God's dream.... and I have known, deep down, in the depths of my being, that it would succeed. In every moment of sacrifice, when it would be easier to quit - I knew I could never live with myself if I did. This is what I was meant to do - and I would not be disobedient... no matter the cost. Even if things seemed impossible.

But then, everything changed.

Suddenly, 4 of our monthly supporters decided to double their monthly support. One by one - without our request - they contacted me to let me know they wanted to give more. Then, 3 new people contacted us wanting to support our administrative needs (which help pay our salary). Momentum was building!

And then, last week, an incredibly large donation was made to The Sound of Hope. A donation that changed everything. A donation that renewed our faith, and renewed the hope of our partners overseas. A donation that would save lives in Thailand, and India, and Swaziland.

Because of this donation, we were able to get two of our little girls in India to the specialists they needed to see.

Because of this donation, two un-usable vehicles that the staff in Swaziland needs to get food to the carepoints, and to get the sick to the hospital, are going to be repaired.

Because of this donation, a community garden is going to be built in Swaziland, where the most poverty-stricken people can grow healthy food to sustain their families. And the best part is, the food will be shared with the orphans and vulnerable children who desperately need more than just rice and beans.

Because of this donation, 60% of The Promised Land Project has been funded, and we are so much closer to beginning construction. This Children's Home is going to protect little girls from being sold into sex slavery, and little boys from becoming child soldiers. Because of this donation, they will get to keep their innocence.

And, because of this donation - and because of all our monthly donors continuing to give - and because of those new donors, and the donors who doubled their monthly giving...

We are going to be able to MOVE!!!! 

We will still be on a tight budget, and (as always) we are still dependent on God to provide. But - with this drastic change in our income, we will actually be able to pay rent (above $300 a month) and can begin looking for a home in Birmingham, AL!!!

And of course, when we move down South we will be in a much better place for us, for our family, and for our business.... so - we won't be quitting any time soon! It is quite evident that God has BIG PLANS for us and for The Sound of Hope! He is a good God, and He will care for His children. That is a FACT. We need not fear the economy, for He promises that -

In times of disaster they will not wither; 
in days of famine they will enjoy plenty. 
- Psalms 37:19

And we are living proof of that!

God gets ALL the GLORY for what has happened this month, and I can say with some certainty that He is not done yet! I know He is going to continue to provide - we just have to continue being obedient. I can't wait to see what He will do next!

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, to Him be glory 
in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
- Ephesians 3:20-21


*If any of you reading live in the Birmingham, AL area and know of a home that might be available for rent,  please contact me at erickabennett (at) gmail (dot) com. I'd be glad to tell you specifically what we're looking for and what our budget is. We would love any connections or advice you might have!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Miracles Happen (Part 1) :: Life on the Fringes

We've traveled a lot since we got married. Living far away from family means a lot of trips home, and when our supporters/donors are down South, it means even more trips for work. Add in the fact that our work takes us overseas too, and it's easy to understand why we travel a lot. But this year - it's been worse than ever. We've been home, living in our house, sleeping in our own bed, for 4 weeks today. That's the longest we've been anywhere all year.

Since Christmas, we have been "on the go". We started the year by traveling back to Michigan from the South (where we'd been for the holidays). Then we were off to Thailand (where we traveled continually for the full 3 and 1/2 months we were there), back to Michigan for 2 weeks, to Alabama for a family wedding, over to the Grand Cayman Islands for a family wedding, back to Alabama for work, back to Michigan, back to Alabama for my grandfather's 80th birthday, to Georgia for work, to Mississippi for work, to Arkansas for work, to Tennessee for work, and then back again to Michigan.

Are you tired yet?

Well, listen to this. I have not been able to actually unpack and put away our suitcases since Christmas 2010... that is, not until about the 2nd week of July.

When we came home from our last trip, (July 3rd), I counted up a few figures from our year. According to my estimates (ie - what I can remember) here is a glimpse of what life has been like for us in 2011:

  • From January 1, 2011 to July 3, 2011 - there were 184 days. Of those 184 days, we only slept in our bed 39 nights.
  • During those 6+ months, we slept on 26 different beds, 2 air mattresses, and spent 1 night on the ground in a tent in Thailand.
  • The longest we were any one place at one time was 16 days.
  • We have spent time in at least 25 different cities, 9 states, and 5 countries. 
  • We logged over 20,000 airmiles - which equals around 50 hours in planes. To put that into perspective, that's over 6 (8 hour) workdays.
  • We spent over 150 hours traveling by car. To put that into perspective, that's almost 19 (8 hour) workdays. And I should add, that "regular time" in the car (trips to the grocery store, etc) were not counted. The trips that were counted were only those that were an hour or longer at one time.

As you can imagine, we are tired. But - more than being tired... we are lonely.

With this kind of lifestyle, there is no way for us to have healthy relationships with anyone but each other. We don't really belong anywhere. We aren't really missed anywhere.....because we aren't in one place long enough to leave a void when we are gone. We don't have regular communication with anyone - because we aren't a regular part of anyone's life. And keeping up long-distance relationships, when all you have is long-distance relationships, is pretty much impossible.

It's no one's fault really. When we are down South we are only there long enough to meet a friend for a quick lunch or a coffee break. That's hardly time to have a heart to heart or really catch up with anyone. When we are in Michigan we're only here for a few weeks... and that's hardly enough time to get settled back into a routine - much less become a regular part of other people's lives.

It's a terrible reality, and it's been wearing on us a lot this year. We seem to be living our life on the fringes of everyone else's..... never in one place long enough to plant roots.... unable to find that sense of belonging. We've become "drifters" of some sort, and that's just not what we were made to be. The lack of relationship has not been good - not for our emotional health, not for our marriage (after all, I need girlfriends! and my husband needs guy friends! All of our relational needs are not met by each other.), and not for our spiritual lives (I'm a firm believer that we need to walk through life in community with other people, and we have definitely not had any of that lately).

We knew there was a problem.... but, how could we fix it? The logical reasoning was simple - if we were spending half of our time traveling down South for work and for family, then it would make sense for us to relocate! If we'd just move down South, then half of our travel time would disappear! We'd be able to have a "home base" in the area where all our donors, supporters, and personal networks were located, and as an added bonus, we would also be closer to our families. After all - we'd moved to Michigan for Rusty to work in The World Race office, and not only was he no longer employed with The World Race - but that office had closed and all our coworkers had moved away!

But here is where we hit our dead end. Since we started a non-profit in one of the worst economic recessions in history.... and since we live in an area of Michigan with 30% unemployment.... our finances were lacking. The place we live now (a 3 bedroom house) only costs us $300 a month in rent (totally a "God thing"!) and with our current income we could not afford any more than that. Moving seemed impossible.


One of two things had to happen. Either - #1 - God had to provide a free or cheap house ($300 or less per month) for us to rent down South. - OR -  #2 - We needed some seriously large donations to start coming into our non-profit The Sound of Hope.

But both of those options sound crazy..... right?