What I Don’t Know

9Jun2016 Filed under: blah-blah-blog

His message to me last night was a simple one:

“I wish God had remembered these children at this hour of need, really.”

Our friend in Uganda, the pastor of the orphanage our daughter is from, had messaged me, asking for prayer for the orphans in his care. For several long minutes, I didn’t know what to say.

I finally typed, “He hasn’t forgotten, even though I understand that it seems so.”

But our spotty Internet connection failed before my words could arrive.


I do know that the God who numbers the very hairs on our heads has not forgotten these kids, or that they were supposed to start a new term of school on Monday (and couldn’t). But…it sure looks like it.

It certainly feels like it. I can only imagine how much more acutely they feel it, living it out on the other side of the globe.

Several of the children are teenagers and it hurts them greatly when they have to keep stopping and restarting their education. Food supplies have also been low. They’re hungry.

And the guilt I feel is immense because I haven’t been that great of a friend to them. Not like I promised I would.

Of course, at the time of my promises, I didn’t know the emotional and financial stress that lay ahead for my household. I didn’t know that I’d sometimes find myself too exhausted to keep on top of everything here, much less everything there.

I just didn’t know.

I didn’t know that I could actually be jealous of thriving ministries abroad. That I could feel such a bizarre combination of brilliant awe and piercing rejection when friends raised enough money (in a matter of days!) to build an entire school from the ground up in Ethiopia–while “my kids”, my daughter’s friends, have struggled for three solid years to build one small orphanage to house twenty-plus kids all in one place.

This is a picture of the building two years ago, when we were there (it’s the one to the right):


And over two years later, that little brick building still isn’t livable. My friends Joyce and Butch went to visit in April and saw that the roof had been placed. Here’s a picture of Joyce this year, standing near the same spot the above picture was taken:


But there’s still no plumbing, no working latrine, no electricity. They can’t live there yet. Building it has been a literal labor of laying one brick at a time, of buying and installing one roof panel, one window, one door. With long, inactive months between, when no progress happens because the kids need tuition, they need food, they need medication for the malaria that attacks far too often–and then there’s no money left to keep building.

Our church had helped some, in the past, but other ministries and missions have nudged this project out of the forefront. Still, when our youth group did a fundraiser for World Vision, I didn’t resent it. I mean, I love what World Vision is accomplishing. And Compassion International–you see their widget on my blog. I believe in what these ministries do.

But they’re big, well-known. They have a following. While our kids, well…they have nobody but my family, the Leutharts and a handful of others who have given in the past. None of us are rich by American standards, either. All too often, our tiny pool of donors have to choose between paying our bills or helping Pastor Ronald and the kids.

So I share on Facebook and Twitter, and I ask people to help. But most of the time, the response is crickets chirping.

Why am I even writing this? I guess that’s another thing I don’t know. Maybe because I need to get it off my chest, how this struggle feels. How utterly defeating it feels to have failed over and over again at just trying to help some orphans have the most basic things in life that we all take for granted.

A home, food, an education.


The trouble with trying to help a ministry is that you find yourself judging people automatically sometimes. I try not to, but I do. Can I be real enough to admit that?

Please understand that to some degree, I can’t help myself. Because I’m always doing what my kids and I jokingly call “orphan math”. Here is an example of it.

I sat at a traffic light this morning and counted eight cars pulling into Starbucks. I figured each of them would spend at least $5 on their beverages and snacks–which is pretty conservative for Starbucks. So that’s at least $40 blown in two minutes–at just one restaurant on one long strip of restaurants in one smallish metro-Atlanta city.

In “orphan math”, those eight cups of coffee could buy 80 pounds of maize flour, to turn into the Ugandan mainstay, posho.

Eight measly cups of coffee sure could fill a lot of hungry bellies.

Or, let’s talk protein. It’s summertime. A lot of people are going on vacation, some to the beach or going on cruises. So here’s some orphan math about fish.

According to this chart, whole tilapia is about $5 per kilogram in Uganda. I looked up the cost of a 7-Day Caribbean cruise and it runs about $1,000 per person.

If a person chose to forego that cruise, he or she could buy 200 kg of fresh fish for these kids. That translates into a whopping 440 pounds of much-needed protein, enough for each child in this small orphanage to eat a pound of fish a week for four months. (Did I ever tell you that my daughter binged on chicken, eggs and fish when she first came to America? It was like her little body was trying so hard to recover from so many years of not getting enough protein-rich foods.)

Nobody goes on a cruise alone, so just keep multiplying using that orphan math and and you see why it’s so hard when people tell me, “Gee, I’d love to help but I just can’t afford to.” (Which is usually after their family just got back from vacation.)

I get so weary of the disingenuousness. Just tell me, “I don’t want to help.” Who knows? Maybe the truth would be easier to hear. I try to make myself feel better by telling myself that maybe all of y’all are already giving a huge percentage of your income to charity and I don’t know a thing about it. Or maybe your vacations are financed by rich relatives and you’re all genuinely struggling to make ends meet. I know, I know…at the end of the day, it’s none of my business.

I don’t mind confessing that I have plank eye. Maybe that’s the problem. I think I’m the one judging when actually, people are judging me because I’m asking them to help while I’m not exactly living like John the Baptist.

It would be plenty easy to look at us and think we aren’t giving up enough to have earned the right to say a word about sacrificial giving. We have decent clothes (mostly from Goodwill and eBay), we’re obviously well-fed (via discount grocers and a food co-op), we go to Florida a couple of times a year (to visit my parents, who mostly foot the bill). We have two vehicles–one newish (to save fuel on my husband’s long commute) and the other, a gift that now bears almost 220K miles and a slipping transmission.

We have dogs (free rescues), wireless Internet (needed for our jobs) and cable TV (I admit–that could go). I sometimes blog about Broadway shows, museums and other fun extravagances, but those are nearly always free media events that I’ve been invited to attend and write about.

I really don’t think we live a luxurious life. For heaven’s sake, we live in a c. 1971 brick home with 1,500 square feet of far too many (crumbling) original features. Still, if we’re judging spending, there’s always room to cut back somewhere, or ways to earn more. And I’m thinking like that because of what I don’t know.

I don’t know how to stop caring about these kids in Uganda.

I don’t know how to encourage people to give up a few creature comforts so that a hungry child can eat.

I don’t know how to keep pressing on when people I love don’t want to hear about “our Ugandan kids” or share even a little in the burden of helping them.

And clearly, I don’t know how to fund-raise for orphans, because if I did, that building would’ve been finished a long time ago. And I wouldn’t be sitting up late at night writing about how sad and hopeless I feel sometimes…which is just a fraction of how hopeless and sad those sweet kids feel in Uganda right now.

One thing I do know: it’s easy to donate through the PayPal link Joyce has set up. Click here if you’re so inclined. And if not, know that I love you anyway.

My heavy heart just needed to vent. So thanks for listening and loving me even though I’m that annoying friend who is always asking you to do something.


A glimpse into our wackiness

31May2016 Filed under: blah-blah-blog

I’m not gonna lie–it’s been a rough couple of months at our house. Non-essential tasks have fallen by the wayside, and that includes regular blogging.

But this kind of stuff that I’m posting today…this is what keeps me going. I am so grateful for a family that knows how to laugh!


Earlier today, this conversation transpired. (If you didn’t know, one of our dogs is named Ginger.)

“Hey, Eli–bring me a ginger ale, please.”

“Sure, Mom. Hey! I didn’t realize our dog makes her own beer!”


“But of course!” I replied. “She is one industrious pup!”

And then it all made sense to Eli…

“Well, THAT explains why she’s always escaping. She’s gotta go run that distillery!”

Gingers Pale Ale Label

**Coming soon to a grocer near you!**

Yesterday, Jonah insisted that I take a picture of the happy eggs cooking on the stove.


“Yay! Eat me! Eat me!”

He just laughed and laughed again when he saw me posting this.

OH, and while I’m posting…have you ever seen scarier face swaps?


I look like a geriatric geisha girl and Jonah looks like my father!

Then we have Donnie and Jonah….bwahahaha!


Donnie looks like the bearded lady at the carnival and I think we have a realistic glimpse of what Jonah will look like in 50 years!

Here’s hoping that this glimpse into our everyday wackiness brought a smile to your Monday-flavored-Tuesday.


Thirty Hour Famine

27Apr2016 Filed under: blah-blah-blog

You’re going to have to forgive me because this might be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever said.

(Which is saying a lot, because I’m kinda known for my ability to blurt out some really dumb stuff.)

But, here goes…

My two middle kids are participating with their youth group in World Vision’s 30-Hour Famine this weekend, and this Mama is kinda struggling with the thought of my babies being hungry.

Told you it was dumb. Or maybe “crazy” is the more accurate term.

I mean, it’s only 30 hours. Unlike people in the world who are really starving, they’ll have free access to water and fruit juice. Their suffering will be minimal, but hopefully enough to create a lasting memory of what it feels like to really be hungry. A memory that will hopefully imprint our youth with a lifelong desire to alleviate the suffering of others.

Of course, my daughter is well acquainted with hunger. She boasts about how she can go all day without eating if she wants to, saying that being hungry is no big deal to her. But it still breaks my heart to think of all the times my little girl went to bed hungry in Uganda.

Her main meal for months, years on end was beans and posho–a very thick paste made of cornmeal and water.

beans and posho

She hated posho with a passion, so she usually only had a cup of porridge for breakfast and some beans for dinner. Even now, she won’t eat anything reminiscent of posho–no cream of wheat, polenta or oatmeal. She doesn’t even like the flavor of corn chips or cornbread very much.

Eli, my 14-year-old son that’s also participating, is probably going to have a rougher time of it. He’s in that eat-constantly stage of life and tends to get HANGRY if he goes too long without food. So this is going to be interesting for him. (Not to mention the group leaders who have to deal with his hangry self!)

I wonder if the other youth group moms feel the same way I have? I’m not even participating in the fast, but the thought of my kids being uncomfortable makes me uncomfortable. And I think about the millions (billions?) of moms around the world who at this very moment are watching their kids go hungry for real, and it seems so silly to even feel this way at all.

I know that it’s a universal concern of mothers, to want their children to be comfortable, but what I feel is just a drop in the ocean compared to what they experience. I don’t even want my kids to be hungry for a day! So how excruciating it must be for a mother to have her  children crying for food, and be unable to alleviate their suffering?

W Uganda

That’s the point of the 30 Hour Famine: to raise money to help feed families who otherwise wouldn’t eat. So could you please click here and sponsor our youth group’s team this weekend? All proceeds go straight to World Vision. Donating is super-easy through that link, and no amount is too small.


Because of our connection to Uganda, our youth group has chosen to help Ugandan families with the money they raise through their fast. So won’t you please help out, in honor of our sweet girl who knows all too well the pangs of true hunger?

P.S. There are more kids participating than what shows on the site–some of the kids didn’t make online profiles. Also, if you’re stumbling across this post after our campaign ends, please consider donating to World Vision anyway. They do a lot of good in this world!

The Art of Letting Go

5Apr2016 Filed under: blah-blah-blog

It’s all just an ongoing process of letting go, isn’t it, this business of raising kids?

And I don’t know how to do it.

I didn’t know how to do it when the nurse gently lifted that tiny burrito-blanketed bundle out of my arms and took him to the hospital nursery, even though it was just for the length of the nap I was supposed to take, but couldn’t. Because for the first time in nine months, he wasn’t with me.

I didn’t know how to do it when the lady in the church nursery had to peel his screaming, two-year-old body away from where he clung so desperately to my side.

I didn’t know how to do it when I dropped him off on his first day of kindergarten, and I cried the same tears ten years later because I still hadn’t figured it out on his first day of high school.

Now, the child who once clung is ripping himself out of my arms and my home in the most painful ways possible, barrelling head-first into adulthood even though he isn’t as ready for it as he believes. And I just I marvel over how 18 years of separations still haven’t prepared me one bit for this new reality of not having my oldest child in my life every day.

I don’t know how to do it.

None of my friends sending their kids off to college this fall seem to know how to manage it, either.

My sweet pastor friend in Uganda, Jacob, said goodbye today to his 17-year-old son, who lost a painful battle with bone cancer. A mutual friend of ours says Jacob is “grieving deeply.”

How could a loving parent be doing anything but? How is he even breathing, still? I sob for this child, Vincent, a boy as full of promise as my own son and I can’t imagine a permanent goodbye, no matter how much my eldest and I drive each other crazy right now.

I don’t  know how Jacob and his wife are doing it. I don’t know how.

These children, they’re all just on loan, aren’t they, for just such a short, short time–some, a far too brief moment in time.

And in different ways, at different times, we do indeed have to let them go.

It sounds so simple, but it isn’t, at all.

Just open our hands and let them sift through our fingers, golden dust flecked with diamonds, mingled down into dirt and thorns, where they might grow into something they could’ve never become as long as we held onto them.

Or like Jacob, we are forced to fling them heavenward, where their brightness twinkles over us forever, our nights gently lit by these, our brightest stars.


Never Give Up

30Mar2016 Filed under: blah-blah-blog

On April 11, when The Real Housewives of Dallas premieres on BravoTV, I’m going to have the thrill of witnessing a friend’s dream come true.

I first met Tiffany Hendra almost ten years ago, when she was working as a costume manager for Muse of Fire and my nervous self went out to Hollywood to appear in it. It was definitely a dream-come-true to appear in this documentary based on Operation Homecoming — my first time being nationally published. These are projects I will always, always be grateful to have been a part of. Not only was it hugely meaningful from a military wife’s perspective to share our story, it opened doors for me that wouldn’t have opened otherwise. And it created multiple friendships that have endured.

You couldn’t exactly call Tiffany and me BFFs, and people probably wonder why I’m gushing over her new show as if she’s a close relative or something. I’m not even sure I can fully explain it, but there’s just a kindred-spirit-ness there. I can resonate with this quote on her site: “Sometimes when we’re running from our past, we run smack into our purpose.”

We’ve had some meaningful conversations and discovered that we have a lot in common regarding struggles in our teenage and young adult years, as well as our individual pursuits of God and commitment to faith. Her and husband, Aaron Hendra’s involvement with war orphans in South Sudan was one of the things that first opened my eyes and heart to the needs of children in East Africa. Without divulging personal information, there have just been a lot of warm little God-connections through the years. We even share a birthday.

As she tweeted today, “PINCH ME! So wild to be heading back to my old hood LA for the biggest moment of my career. This is why ya NEVER GIVE UP! #GodRocks #RHOD.”

It’s refreshing to see humility, and feels so fantastic to see her light shine to a wider audience worldwide. She has worked so hard for everything she’s achieved and call me sappy, but it’s incredibly encouraging to see what a strong woman and God can accomplish together!

While she’s been actively climbing the career ladder the past ten years, I’ve been mostly on the mommy track. I’ve needed to work part-time from home, and it’s been a slow, anti-climactic journey following that high in 2006-2007. God has been gracious and given me a six-year run as a newspaper columnist, and after that ended in 2012, various freelancing gigs. This time last year, I was working both for a friend’s web design firm and another friend’s content company. It was good, steady work and I enjoyed it.

But then, within a month of each other, both of these friends made major career moves. All of a sudden, my work was gone.

A memory surfaced on Facebook yesterday. I should just post the screen shot of it here:


Now, let’s fast-forward one year (one incredibly stressful, difficult year that if given the choice, I WOULD have fast-forwarded through!) to this picture:


That’s me, standing outside Cox Media, after a business meeting last week that marked the beginning of my newest gig as a family and parenting web content creator for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

After ten long, jobless months, it’s a blessing to be working again. And during that meeting, it was a simple pleasure to “adult” again. With other adults…and no kids in sight!

In light of my new job, I posted yesterday this response to that memory from a year ago:


I hadn’t seen Tiffany’s post yet, but once again our thoughts fell on the same page. Just don’t give up. No matter how long the darkness lasts, no nighttime lasts forever. Keep pushing until you get there.

Never, ever, ever give up.

I know that there is still a lot in me, more things I want to accomplish, more things I need to achieve. I feel it inside me, like women often know intuitively about a new pregnancy before the test even comes back positive. A former pastor of mine used to say that when you’re going to birth something new, it makes its presence known.

I can pretty much guarantee that whatever awaits around the curves in my road, it won’t include a major role as a Bravo Housewife! But Tiffany’s success makes me realize this truth anew:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,

Nor have entered into the heart of man

The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

-1 Corinthians 2:9