Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Re: Estate of Your Brother Greg

I received the following letter today:

Dear Faith:

We have been advised by Surrogate’s Court that they are rejecting your Petition to serve as Administratrix of your brother’s Estate.

Due to the fact that the sole distributee of the Estate is Greg’s son Luke, the only person who can administer Greg’s Estate is the property guardian being appointed for Luke. We are contacting the attorney who is in the process of having a property guardian appointed for Lucas for a further discussion relative to this matter and will advise once we hear from him.

In the meantime, please total all of your out of pocket expenses relative to the Estate so that we can request reimbursement.

Should you have any questions, please call me.

Very truly yours,


Stunned, I called the paralegal at Lawyer & Lawyer.

“We’ve never had this happen before,” she informed me.

I’m shocked, even a little insulted. But in the long run, this might just be for the best. No more calls from the mortgage company, from collection agencies, no more more calling medical facilities that are owed over $34,000, no more drives to check up on the house, no more haggling over extending payment deadlines for gas and electric. No more hassles. If the water pipes burst or the basement floods, it's not my problem. I didn’t stand to inherit anything, nothing at all. Greg’s debts will be far from paid off even after all his estate is dispersed. I just wanted to do what was honorable, what seemed right, but if the courts disagree, so be it.

So that this sort of thing doesn’t happen to our estate or our family, George and I made an appointment for next week to draw up our will.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What can we do in Mexico?

I was elated when Paul called a few days later.

“We’d like to go with you and Tere on a trip to the interior like you described in your Christmas newsletter – all five of us,” I said after greetings and a brief update on our family. “And if there’s room, we’re thinking about taking some of the kids from our youth group at church where George is the youth leader.”

Paul described several options:

“There’s a pastor south of Veracruz who needs help building three houses out of cinder blocks.” (I scratched off that option immediately; a building trip was not what I had in mind.)

“Then there’s a church in Veracruz that needs help getting the building up to specs. They need to put in a tile floor to make it into a daycare center in the daytime. It’s in the center of a squatters’ camp with lots of unwed mothers all around who need to go to work, but can’t because they have no one to look after their children.” (Better because of proximity to the squatters’ camp that I’d want the kids to experience. Perhaps the girls could visit the women while the boys laid tile.)

“And then there’s this school that a pastor built in Oaxaca (pronounced wa-HA-ka). It’s an outreach point. There are indigenous tribes there. They’re extremely poor.” (My heart was beginning to race; this was more like what I’d imagined.)

“They’re about 50 miles from Veracruz in the mountains,” Paul continued. “It takes about three hours to drive there. We could help in some way. They desperately need school supplies. We could do food distribution, give out used clothing that you bring with you, George and I could preach, you could sing, and we can have prayer services for healing.”

I was sold. This was it.

“This is exactly what I had in mind!” I told Paul. I could hardly hold back my excitement. “I want our kids to experience some hardship and see how others live. We live in Disneyland here. We have everything. Our American kids have never experienced or even seen hardship. How many can you take with you?”

“Ten, besides Tere and myself.”

That’s five from our family, five from the youth group. We began to discuss details.

“It’s $30 per night for a hotel, four per room. Or you can stay with families,” Paul offered.

This was better than I’d hoped.

“Definitely with families.”

“You may have to sleep on the floor or in hammocks.”

“Fantastic!” My own children have lamented having to stay in a hotel rather than camping in the past. “The more inconvenient, the better. It’s exactly what they need, Paul.”

By the end of our conversation – I’d been scribbling on a notepad from the start – I had a rough sketch of where we’d go and what we’d do. I even had the beginning of a packing list – suntan lotion, mosquito repellant, and ship the sleeping bags in advance so we could carry more used clothing and school supplies with us.

Oh, this is going to be a great trip, and I’m so excited that I am the one organizing it. What a learning experience this will be, both for me and for my homeschoolers. And any from the youth group brave enough to accompany us.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mission to Mexico

“If you decide to take this leap and join us on one of our trips to the interior, believe me, you will never be the same.”

Those words jumped out from the missionary’s newsletter and touched my heart. That was it: the trip I’m to take with my family this spring, a trip into the interior of Mexico. Since I’m homeschooling, we can go anytime.

When I presented this idea to my husband, he was receptive and gave me the go-ahead to contact Paul. But, God willing, it wouldn’t be just a family mission trip; we’d take some of the church youth group with us.

I had met Paul Gonzalez during a Global Expeditions youth mission trip to Matamoros, Mexico to build house for the destitute. I had gone on the trip with Jacob when he was 14. To go, I underwent training and selection, and was chosen as one of two Country Assistants (which really means go-for and assistant to the Project Directors) on the Matamoros trip, a trip that included 115 youth. Paul was the in-country missionary that we worked with. It was his vision to build the homes; we provided the materials and labor. Of course there was far more to the trip, and that spiritual aspect made the trip special. And so did Paul.

I ended up sitting with Paul and his wife Tere at dinner one evening after a day of ministry. It was the table for “extras,” in a sense, those who were not Team Leaders or youth teams or translators. That table included a Mexican pastor, and missionaries Paul and Tere. I don’t know why I was bold enough to join them. But we hit it off, and I’ve stayed in touch with Paul ever since.

When I heard Paul’s story of how he came to be a missionary living in a tiny shed-like building on a landfill among the stench of burning trash, I was awed. He’d grown up in the States, child of immigrants (like me), and bilingual (he spoke Spanish at home; I spoke Ukrainian). He lived in Texas just across the border from Matamoros and held a good job. His home was much like mine.

Then God touched his heart. He was moved to help those who could never repay him. While still working in Texas, he accompanied a pastor who visited the dump across the border. There Paul saw an elderly couple living under a tree. They had no home; theirs had burned, and they had no money with which to rebuild. Moved by their plight, Paul took money from his own savings and built them a house. Their house, like the others, was more like our shed - a 12- by 20-foot plywood structure with no plumbing or electricity - but it kept out the elements.

Paul has been building houses ever since.

He quit his job, sold his home in America, and now lives with the poor in a tiny shack of a house just like theirs, a house with no running water, no electricity, no flushing toilet.

“I do miss showers,” he admitted to me during the course of my stay in Matamoros. “Sometimes when I visit friends in Texas, they offer me a shower.”

“I can relate to that!” I told Paul about the times our family visits Ukraine and since my in-laws’ house doesn’t have hot running water, upon invitation, the entire family trudges to my husband’s cousin’s house, towels in hand, to take baths. And it’s not considered weird to do that. The rest of the time, we bathe in a basin.

After many days of talking with Paul and photographing his ministry, the youth, the building of the homes, and the destitute that he ministers to on the dump where the garbage trucks roll in, I knew I wanted my husband to meet this man. So a few months later, I bought George a round-trip ticket for his birthday: a round-trip ticket to spend two weeks on the dump with Paul. Perhaps it’s a strange present to send your spouse to a dump, but it shows our family’s character.

Since we both know Paul, we’re willing to take the leap and be changed by another trip with Paul. I emailed Paul’s sister (Paul doesn’t have electricity much less a computer) and awaited Paul’s reply…

Sunday, January 18, 2009


After church service, we went to a local family diner for brunch, something that we do every once in a while. We don’t eat out often, so the omelets and sausages and pancakes and eggs are a special treat. Even though the food is common, being served is not.

But today, we had a very unusual treat. Near the end of the meal, the waitress brought us our check, then after a few minutes, took it away, surely to add something to the bill that she’d left out, I thought. No one paid any attention to that gesture, but all of us noticed. Several minutes later when we were almost ready to leave, the waitress returned.

“Your check was taken care of,” she informed us.

We were all stunned because although we often ran into church friends there, today there was no one in the restaurant that we knew.

“Who…?” several of us asked.

“She didn’t want you to know. It was the sweet older woman sitting right there,” the waitress jerked her head to the now empty booth next to our table. “She said that you were a sweet and well-behaved family, and she wanted to pay for your meal.”

I had hardly noticed who sat in that booth. But George and I immediately knew why she had paid for our meal: it was because we had all stood up and said grace before the meal, honoring God before we partook of the food. And that’s very uncommon in a restaurant. To my shame, I am often embarrassed by George’s insistence that we rise while we pray instead of meekly sitting in our seats with our heads bowed as other Christians do in a public place. But he insists that if an important person entered the room, you would rise to your feet, not talk to him sitting down. So we rose as a unit, prayed, and ate.

And were rewarded in a very unexpected way.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sick days

First it was Alexandra. Vomiting, fever, sore throat. Larissa had the nasal-spray flu vaccine. Perhaps she (and I) would be spared. We were both vaccinated.

But two days later, Larissa didn’t feel so good. “I think I’m gong to throw up,” she told me as she grabbed her stomach.

She didn’t throw up, and she didn’t even get a fever. But she’s been moping around the house with a stomachache for the last day. Neither of the girls did schoolwork. They hung out together in their bedroom in fuzzy bathrobes all day long, playing several games of chess. Jacob is plodding along in his schoolwork alone, but because of the atmosphere of illness at home, I’m not pushing him. Jacob and I are frantically drinking glasses of Airborne and praying daily for protection from illness. George is still coughing from the bad cold (or mild flu?) that he had two weeks ago.

Oh, the joys of winter.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Make your cake and eat it too

When I was 14, I learned to bake a fancy European layered torte. The cake was made of eggs and sugar and grated nuts, and had coffee and chocolate icing. It was exquisite. Thus I became the family baker at a young age. I just didn’t know how to decorate my cakes to make them look as
fancy as they tasted.

Last month at a local Jo-Ann store, I signed up for a Wilton cake-decorating class. But why stop there? I signed up Alexandra and Larissa as well. They needn’t wait until they’re middle-aged to decorate a cake; they could start out baking cakes and decorating them at the same time! They already bake fancy cookies – why not fancy cakes? So off we went to class last month, not realizing just how much we’d learn in three short sessions.

The best part? The classes were during the day, so we were the only three students in the class! Four is the minimum number of students for a class to run, but the fourth class member got pneumonia and couldn’t make it. But the teacher ran the class anyway. It was like a private, intimate tutoring session for just us three!

I must admit that baking three cakes each week so we’d each have a cake to decorate became rather insane. The kitchen showed the remnants of our splattered struggles to bake and mix. We had to make enough icing for three cakes plus extra for practice, and that is a LOT of icing! Spatulas and cake platters, parchment triangles and decorating tips, and pounds and pounds of icing sugar bedecked the kitchen counters. We even sent out Dad for late-night icing sugar runs. I had no idea how much sugar went into this type of icing!

Then we had to schlep our cakes and containers of icing, color gels and toothpicks, aprons and sponges, books and spatulas, decorating tips and bags… And after class – what do you do with three cakes? We’d eat one and give the other two away to neighbors and friends!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Atta boy

Two days ago, I got an email in my corporate email account from a manager:

Good morning all,

Check this post out - nice job in 2008!
Top 10 Posts for 2008

I’ve been contributing to my company’s corporate blog since its inception in September 2006. It’s been a creative release for me, something I truly enjoy doing because I write mostly about my mission trips or things dear to my heart. I’ve written about a visit to an orphanage in Ethiopia, my role as photographer on a medical mission trip to Senegal, West Africa, and many posts about trips to Ukraine to visit family. The company blog seems to have gotten more and more commercial in the last year, promoting company events and products more, personal posts less and less. At first I posted every three weeks. Then every four. Then every six weeks. But in the last year, I was asked to contribute only five times. Since the blog posts a new article every weekday, that’s a lot of posts. I did the math: 260 posts!

Imagine my surprise when I read the “Top 10 Posts for 2008” and found that one of my articles about my daughter was in 7th place for the year. I kept scrolling to see who else had placed. Third place, second place, first… First!? My article that I wrote about my brother’s death got first place?!?

I emailed the manager:

Hi Tom,

I'm stunned and humbled to be put in the #1 spot. Truth be told, I think it's due to my brother's popularity and to the sudden way in which he died. Just curious: did you come up with these top 10 by number of hits? When I looked at the blog metrics, they show that the Olympics blogs got the most hits.

Thanks again for suggesting that I participate in this blog. I've really enjoyed contributing.


He replied that it wasn’t all in the number of hits. I just couldn’t believe that it would be.


I am always touched by your posts, always!

Interest (visits), use of photography, comments, diversity all came into play.


Well, I was so excited that my article got first place that I emailed my family the link to the Top 10 Posts article and waited for a reaction. Wouldn’t they be happy for me? Excited that so many people were touched by the tragedy that befell our family?

I waited.

And waited.

Why is it that we want praise from our own? Wasn’t it enough that the company recognized my writing and photography?

My brother John opened the email – I got the return receipt – and said nothing.

My sister, who’s not a computer whiz, couldn’t get to the article. When I re-mailed the link, her reply was concise:


That led me to wonder whether she meant spot #7, or did she see that I also got spot #1? Or perhaps there was some jealousy? “Nice” was so understated that I thought John’s non-reply might be better. Left me to wondering at least.

Mom didn’t reply at all. She admitted she couldn’t figure out the link and didn’t even scroll down to Tom’s message. Mom definitely needs a bit of coaching on the computer.

Bless her heart, at least my sister-in-law Tammy cheered me:

wow - not one but 2 on the top 10 list, and #1 as well. (just wish it was about a happier occasion.)
you must be proud....

And finally, my busy youngest brother, the lawyer, reacted as I wished my other siblings had:

Wow! #1!

Atta boy Faith! Greg would be tickled.

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
— Albert Pike, Scottish Rite Freemason (1809-1891)