The Best Kind Of Sight

barb for profile pic

I need to do a lot more processing before I write a proper tribute post to my mother in law, Barb, who passed away early Saturday morning.

A quick thought for the night, though.

I was listening to an interview with Alexander Payne, director of Nebraska, for which Bruce Dern won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival this year. He was talking about how much he liked to watch the film with the sound turned off, that the actors did much of the work of the roles through components of their acting that had nothing to do with what they said. I can’t find the exact quote right now, but it was something like, “You can hear so much without actually hearing a single word.”

Somehow that sentiment could be modified to praise Barb’s approach to the world. She may have been physically blind since 1985, but she “saw” so much in each one of us who was privileged to share time with her.

Dining in the Dark 2009

Dining in the Dark 2009

Faith is the daring of the soul to go farther than it can see. ~ William Newton Clarke

For Barb’s obituary, including information about the visitation (11/18) and funeral (11/19), please click here.

Sustaining Sandra’s Smile (A CFCA “Tell A Story” Post)

I have called you each by name
I love you and you are mine.
From “You are Mine” by David Haas
The child in this picture is Catarina (although she prefers to be called by her middle name, Sandra). I have volunteered to tell Sandra’s story as part of the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging’s “Tell a Story” campaign. I hope that someone who learns about Sandra it will either agree to sponsor her for $30 a month, tell her story to someone else, and/or pray for her.
Here are the basics:
  • Sandra is five years old (her birthday was on March 7)
  • She lives with her father, mother, and 2 year old brother
  • Sandra speaks Kiche
  • The family lives in one room, with adobe walls, dirt floors, and a corrugated metal roof
  • The family members sleep on wooden beds and cook on a firewood stove
(This image of a typical Guatemalan firewood stove
is from this blog.)
  • The family’s approximate monthly income in US dollars is $60
  • Sandra’s father plants black beans and Sandra’s mother washes clothes for other people
(This picture of a Guatemalan black bean plant
 is from this blog.)
Sandra’s profile from CFCA tells us that she likes to sing and play dolls. She is described as “very happy.” I think her smile confirms that!
If you are not familiar with CFCA’s sponsorship program, the $30 per month commitment helps families meet basic needs such as education,  nutrition and medical care. Sponsorship also provides the support and opportunities these families need to improve their life situations and provide a better future for their children. More than 94% of CFCA’s expenses go toward program support. (More about financials here.)
For one sponsor’s perspective, check out Tina Fisher’s post, Heart Treasured Letter, about her family’s experience sponsoring Ryan James from the Philippines. I love how she and her children find a special place to sit and savor Ryan James’s letters. I am not so patient with our sponsored child’s letters!!
I started this post off with an excerpt from the song “You Are Mine” by David Haas. When I was listening to that song during worship yesterday, Sandra and this post were very much on my mind and in my  heart. Other lines of that song say:

I am hope for all who are hopeless
I will be your light

Sandra and her family need the additional hope that a sponsorship gives. Please consider sponsoring her or shining a light on her situation by helping me spread the word!

Here’s a sample tweet:

I am helping “Tell A Story” about Sandra, a 5 year old in Guatemala who needs help via @CFCA sponsorship. Contact @biggreenpen for details!

For more information:
My phone number: (850) 556-3517
My email:
CFCA email:
CFCA phone: 800.875.6564

Artwork by Estela, 6 years old, Guatemala
 (Tenley’s Sponsored Child)

Note from Paula: It is possible that more than one person may contact CFCA about sponsoring Sandra or that a potential sponsor may really have their heart set on sponsoring a boy instead of a girl, a child from one of the 21 other countries served by CFCA, or an elderly person. Please know that CFCA has many sponsorship opportunities available and will be happy to work with you to select who you want to sponsor. You can get more details on that here.


Christmas Beyond Red and Green (An Advent Devotional)

I wrote this devotional as my contribution to the Holy Comforter Episcopal Church “Advent Reflections 2011.” It was written for December 16 (Advent 3). The verses for that day included:

Let all the ends of the earth revere him. Psalm 67:7
…my house shall be called a house of prayer. Isaiah 56:7
…you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. John 5:35
When Tenley and I visited Guatemala in July 2011 as part of a Christian Foundation for Children and Aging Mission Awareness Trip, we had a booklet that outlined “the plan” for each day. For example, we knew that on Monday we would start the day with a reflection, spend the majority of the day visiting with our “sponsored friends” (the children that we had been supporting through financial contributions, correspondence, and small gifts), and end the day with dinner and a video presentation.

The “plan” for Wednesday stated that we would start the day at 7:00 a.m. with the “Mayan Prayer” led by the project team. I had no idea what to expect, except that some of our fellow travelers seemed very excited about the Mayan Prayer.

When Tenley and I arrived downstairs on Wednesday morning, we could see what all the excitement had been about. I don’t know what time the team had woken up to prepare the elaborate presentation, but it was beautiful. A carpet of pine needles surrounded beautiful floral presentations – a floral rosary – the CFCA logo in flowers – representations of earth’s gifts such as corn, wheat, fruit, and beans – and in the very center, a cross of five colors.

In the cross, small green candles represented the center of the earth; red candles represented the east; black candles represented the west; white candles represented the north; yellow candles represented the south.

Many of the team members had dressed in their indigenous clothing; beautifully woven textiles that told stories in themselves. The history of the textiles goes back thousands of years, grounded in a land whose volcanoes and mountains have sustained generations of people who have a deep reverence for the earth and its products.

Each of us was instructed to choose a candle to light. For example, the people who had chosen green approached the center together to light their candles. These candles represented the “green fields, where the beatitudes become a total reality when we are conscious of our daily deeds.” The number of people wanting red (east) was pretty high, so I held back and lit a black candle. Black represented the west, “symbols of our death, the end of our earthly life, but the beginning of a new era.”

The Mayan people may have never worshipped in ornate cathedrals; they may have never had hymnals inscribed, “In Honor of So-and-So.” They may not have had many material worship trappings that most of us have become accustomed to.

But there, in the shadow of Lake Atitlan, the sky was as beautiful a ceiling as the most complicated fresco. My new friends, both the Americans with whom we were traveling and the Guatemalans who embraced us as their Christian “familia,” helped us extend our spiritual reach a bit farther, to more distant “ends of the earth.”

And it was in His light that we all rejoiced.

As you prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth, consider opening your heart to another part of God’s creation that you have not experienced. You may find that reaching farther out brings you closer to the center, where everything is illumined by “the light of mutual love.”


Christian Foundation for Children and Aging Mission Awareness Trip Booklet
Mayan Prayer, Internet

Hope For Carla – The Vlog Version

Hello everyone!

Tonight I am extending my efforts to help find a sponsor for Carla through (I wrote about Carla previously in this post.)

In this video, I talk about how sponsorship can change Carla’s life (and I find a use for that expired grape soda in our fridge – how’s that for multitasking??!!).

If anyone you know has any questions about sponsorship (for Carla or for other children/youth/aging in any of the 22 countries served by CFCA), please let me know!

Complete possession is proved only by giving. All you are unable to give possesses you. -Andre Gide

Note from Paula: It is possible that more than one person may contact CFCA about sponsoring Carla or that a potential sponsor may really have their heart set on sponsoring a boy instead of a girl, a child from one of the 21 other countries served by CFCA, or an elderly person. Please know that CFCA has many sponsorship opportunities available and will be happy to work with you to select who you want to sponsor. You can get more details on that here.

Wordless Wednesday (Goodbye Summer/Adios Verano Edition)

It is time for Wordless Wednesday and Amanda at Parenting by Dummies is partnering with Snapfish to give us one last chance to say goodbye to summer (and win great prizes at the same time!).
I had the opportunity this past July (with the help of countless friends and relatives) to achieve my dream of taking my first international trip, accompanied by my fifteen-year-old daughter. I have used this collage in a previous Wordless Wednesday but I can’t pick just one image of our Guatemala trip; each one speaks to me.
Working clockwise from the top left corner:  Lake Atitlan; Tenley meets Estela, the child she is now sponsoring through Hope for a Family; the Mayan Prayer ceremony we participated in; a statue and roses at an orphanage in Guatemala City; I meet Silvia, the child our extended family has sponsored for 9 years; a sign on a Guatemalan family’s home welcoming us. In the center, two adorable Guatemalan children who danced for us at the orphanage, and Tutti Frutti the unforgettable clown.
It is not too late to enter! Entries are accepted through September 25. Link up here:
If you enter, please add this legalese:

This photo is being entered in the Goodbye Summer, Hello Snapfish photo contest sponsored by Snapfish at parenting BY dummies. If voted the best summer picture I will win a photo canvas and other prizes from Snapfish & pBd.

Gifts from Guatemala

(This is an article I am submitting to our local newspaper in addition to a few other publications, partially to talk more about my and Tenley’s July trip to Guatemala, and partially to support my continued outreach to potential sponsors for Carla from Guatemala.)

Gifts from Guatemala 

A blogger friend of mine does a blog exercise every Tuesday called “Ten on Tuesday.” The blogger has to respond to ten questions. One of her questions in a recent Ten on Tuesday post was “Would you rather live without running water or without electricity?” When my daughter and I visited Guatemala in July 2011, we met many families for whom neither running water nor electricity is available.

Our family has sponsored a Guatemalan child, Silvia, since she was seven years old (she is now seventeen). The “main” purpose of the trip was meeting Silvia. It was important to me that my teenager see the “real” Silvia, not just the face we have seen smiling at us from a picture frame on an end table. The meeting with Silvia was everything I hoped it would be and more, not to mention a true workout for my rusty Spanish skills!

In each of the communities we visited, the 39 of us in the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging delegation were greeted like royalty. Flower petals covered the walkway in front of us; at one location confetti rained down while a marching band heralded us. All of this hoopla felt terribly undeserved, but one key lesson of visiting Guatemala in this capacity was that the people wanted to graciously welcome us; they were as energized as we were by the opportunity to be together.

I came away from my first international trip with many “lessons learned,” but the top three are:

Every mother wants the same thing for her child. Our extended family has given money each month to support Silvia for years. On the pamphlets it sounds so cut and dried – education, food, shelter – you know it is helping and that is a good thing. But when Silvia’s mother (and every single mother we encountered) looked into my eyes and thanked me, it was clear that she felt a partnership with us and that she believed our sponsorship of Silvia had helped her provide a safer future, with more options, than she would have been able to provide alone.

Silvia (the mom), Tenley, Me, Silvia (our sponsored child)

No dictionary definition of “poverty” really explains the term. Merriam Webster’s “lacking a usual amount of money” may define it in an academic sense, but it can’t capture the flip side – the strong desire on the part of many people living in poverty to do dignified work for a decent wage. The people we met, who were undoubtedly in poverty, had a steely strength of character and determination that no dictionary definition seems to capture.

A lovely Guatemalan woman who welcomed us into her home.

 Getting out of your comfort zone really shouldn’t be optional in life! I literally could not sleep the night before we left for Guatemala. My head was swirling with thoughts of trying to get by with my limited Spanish, how to deal with exchanging money, customs, and the news stories and blogs I had read (good and bad) about personal safety in Guatemala, especially in the city. The lost sleep was well worth it; I am glad I wandered far away from my emotional and physical boundaries.

 Dancing in Guatemala!

My daughter and I also came away from Guatemala with the gift of Estela. Estela is a child who Tenley decided to sponsor after she spent time with the children of Guatemala. Estela is the youngest of ten children, and it will be transformative for her to have access to education, health care, and better nutrition.

Tenley and Estela meet for the first time.

(I have agreed to help other children find sponsors. I am currently helping Carla, a Guatemalan six-year-old. If you are interested in finding out how you can be part of changing a Carla’s (and her family’s) life for just $30 a month, please contact me at (850) 556-3517 or





Algo Nuevo (Something New – a #Reverb11 Prompt)

What new thing will you try this month?
When I first read July’s Let’s Reverb prompt (“What new thing will you try this month?), I knew I would wait and write to this prompt after my Guatemala trip. What better than your first international trip to discover many new things to try?
Most of my writing about Guatemala has been pretty “serious” in nature – how I wanted to do it (and why it was so important), how I needed to accumulate financial and moral support to do it, what I hoped to gain. Having completed the trip, I realize there was definitely a place for all of that gravity but come on – you can bet there were humorous moments along the way, especially since I took my fifteen year old!
With that in mind, I have fashioned my “Top 10 List” of things I did differently in Guatemala:
1. Using Different Money
I am not sure Tenley is ever going to let me live down my failure to exchange dollars for quetzales at the airport. I was looking for a specific bank I had read about and, failing to find it, found myself outside the airport with no quetzales. The hotel staff changed a bit of American money for me, and on Monday the CFCA  staff took me to the bank to change my dollars. Even then, Tenley had to force me to ask to have a hundred-quetzal note changed into smaller denominations.
2.  The Toilet Paper Goes Where?
Except for the hotel we were in on our first and last nights in Guatemala, we were not supposed to flush toilet paper because the plumbing systems throughout Guatemala are not very robust. We grew accustomed to seeing receptacles with thick black plastic bags situated near all of the toilets. Friends and family in the US are requested to use white trash bags in their bathroom receptacles in order not to confuse us.
3.  ¿Cómo se dice?
We were fortunate to have translators with us all the time, and somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of my brain I have retained more than I thought I had of the Spanish I began learning back at Roosevelt Roads Elementary School in Puerto Rico as a kindergartner. After a week in a Spanish-speaking country, I am more convinced than ever that immersion is the way to go. We were even exposed to some Mayan dialects, including Kiche, which is the language spoken by Estela, Tenley’s new sponsored child.
4.  Where the *bleep* is the @ sign on this keyboard?
I was happy that we had four shared computers at the place where we stayed for the week. That way we could communicate with our families. But the keyboards were unusual. You could see the “@” sign (which you needed in order to log into Facebook if you were trying to cheat on your social media hiatus and sign in). The “@” sign was on the “q” key but no one could figure out how to type it (we ended up cutting and pasting). It was weird. There are bigger problems in the world, right?
5.  Huggy, huggy.
Some of the information that CFCA sends prior to the trip discusses how to appropriately interact with children in Guatemala. It warns against excessive touching. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that one of the first things we would do was an activity where these adorable little Guatemalan children walked us into the room. So I blew off a cute little guy. It didn’t take long to figure out that hugs are what interacting with cute little Guatemalan children (in a structured setting such as a CFCA event) is all about. Duh. I think he forgave me (hope so!).
6.  Don’t Drink the Water
It has been 8 days since I arrived back and I still feel like an outlaw brushing my teeth with tap water. We had been warned so much not to drink the tap water, not to brush our teeth with it, not to open our mouths in the shower, that we learned our lessons well (and did not get sick – YAY!!). But now it just feels so … wrong …to brush with tap water. The bottled water industry must love tourists in Guatemala.
7.  ¡Baile por favor! (Please Dance)
It’s not that I don’t like to dance in the US, but Guatemala is one dancing country. I couldn’t stop grinning when we were at one of the first subprojects and one of the Guatemalan women grabbed me to dance.
8.  Stop sign, what stop sign?
I can’t think of a single stop sign that was taken all that seriously in Guatemala. Any directional sign for that matter. It all made us Americans seem hypercautious and very regimented.
9.  Bye, bye nighttime snacks
How do you go on vacation and lose four pounds? We never went hungry but the food is so simple and so much less processed than our US food. We ate dinner so much earlier than the Kiger family norm and we did not snack before bed (snacking before bed has always been a habit for me). Thank you, Guatemala, for kicking the snacks-before-bed habit. Pass the tortillas.
10. “Solid” can mean so many things
On a trip where many US-bred digestive systems are adjusting to foreign foods, conversations naturally turn to, um, matters that would seem indelicate back home. “Solid” was good and “did you take your diarrhea medicine?” caused nary a batted eyelash. The ties (and substances) that bind.
Am I glad I tried something (ten things) new? You bet. Are there things to chuckle at along with the deeper lessons? Absolutely.
El cambio es bueno. (Change is good.)

It’s Guatemala Night

All week long, I envisioned this week’s post being about the “2009 Resolutions” that have been in my wallet most of the year.  Scott Ginsberg, of (check him out!) recommended, in our conversation this summer, that I write my primary goals down and put them in my  purse so “they’re always really close, in a physical way, so when you are, for instance, talking with someone at a party, you know your goals are right there within reach.”  Here they are, complete with the crease from being in my wallet for months:

If I tried to discuss these three goals (plus the two I did not write down) in one post, it would be a lengthy post, even if I kept it to an explanation of what each goal is.  I have decided to break it up and dedicate a post to each one, so eventually I’ll write about the other two.  Tonight is Silvia’s night (which means it’s “Guatemala night”).
I have been learning Spanish since our family was stationed at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, when I started elementary school.  If you lived in Puerto Rico, Spanish was automatically part of your curriculum.  Although we moved back to Florida in the middle of my second grade year, I continued to be interested in Spanish, took Spanish in high school, and minored in it in college.  Back when our bench was not quite so deep at Healthy Kids, I somehow stumbled through explaining our program to Spanish speaking callers in a pinch.  It’s a good thing someone caught me when I was trying to publicly explain the program once in Dade County (it was just Dade County then and not Miami-Dade), and said the program cost $500 dollars instead of $15 a month! 
I have always wanted to do a Spanish immersion program or find some way to interact enough in the language that I become more adept at communicating in the language.  But wanting is not doing, I’m 45 years old, and it’s time to “do.”
The “doing” of this goal has morphed a little bit. 
Our extended family has been sponsoring Silvia for about eight years now.  My in-laws send money each month to the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, and this money serves to help Silvia and her family with food, clothing, and education costs.  We receive at least one picture a year, and several letters.  Eight years ago, Silvia was a little girl, 1100 miles away but so relatively close (developmentally) to my daughter:
A few years ago, I learned that it is possible to visit Guatemala and CFCA’s operations there, with a strong possibility of meeting Silvia.  I fantasized about meeting her, and about my children getting to see Silvia in her environment.  As the crush of teenage peer pressure and “gotta have its” has been bearing down on our family and specifically on my daily interactions with my children, I have desperately wanted Tenley and Wayne to see life in a developing country.   Will they “get” the fact that it’s not a crisis to be without a touch screen interface when some children are longing just to touch the pages of a book of their own?  I don’t know, but I feel compelled to try. 
So, it didn’t happen in 2009 but I am going to push harder to get myself (and maybe Tenley) to Guatemala in 2010.  When I picked up the pictures of Silvia from my in laws tonight, my father in law stated his opinion that going to see her “costs too much,” at $450 per person for the lodging, etc., and the cost of flying to Guatemala.  
I saw a quote yesterday for a sports equipment company that said, “We believe the size of the mountain is measured in heart not feet.”  Getting to Guatemala, improving my Spanish, and giving my kids a broader perspective of the importance (or lack thereof) of material goods is my mountain right now, and it seems mighty tall. 
I am planning to apply enough heart that it will no longer be on my list in 2011.    See you this year, Silvia!  (Here’s a recent picture of 15-year old Silvia.)
I’ll “run” into you next week!