West Texas Adventures: The Next Generation

Earlier this month Stephen and I loaded up the boys and all our camping gear and started driving west. The boys were out of school on Friday, and the following Monday we set off. No sense in dilly-dallying to take our summer vacation when the Texas temperatures have started to soar. June would work just fine for our boys’ first adventure in the West Texas mountains that Stephen and I both love.

Over the last year and a half since our marriage, we’ve taken the boys camping several times in parks within an hour’s driving distance of our house, and once at my grandparents’ place. We spent our honeymoon (without the boys, of course) in West Texas, driving and hiking in the mountains around Fort Davis and in the Big Bend area, and many times on that trip we gazed upon the desert landscape from the heights of the mountains and said to each other, “Let’s bring the boys here to camp in a few years.”

Thankfully, we decided not to wait a few years for that trip. Why wait when you’ve got four boys who adore sleeping outside and running around in the trees and rocks for hours and reading by flashlight snuggled up in their tents at night? All four boys love to hike, love to wind through trails looking for sticks and cactus and lizards and birds, and all four would just as soon eat outside at a picnic table with crumbs flying as they would sit at my dining table where the rule is whoever makes the biggest mess has to sweep up at the end of the meal. I love a good picnic myself and am happy to oblige their need for outdoor time.

boys hiking in WT

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every time we take an overnight camping trip, the boys complain that we’re going home too early. When we’ve gone for two nights…same complaint. So we decided to give a longer trip a try. And if you’re going to camp for longer, might as well go all out and trek to a further distant location where the longer stay will be worth the drive. It didn’t take us long to decide. West Texas. Davis Mountains. Balmorhea. Monahans.

Balmorhea campsite

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our first two nights were at Balmorhea State Park, where the boys spent three days swimming in the spring-fed pool. I wrote about this park on my first stay in Balmorhea in March 2012 while still single, a month before Stephen and I started our long distance correspondence — it completely blows my mind that a little over two years later Stephen and I are married and his sons are now my step-children. It is my true delight to have watched these boys play as hard as they could in this watering hole for three magnificent, sun-soaked days, the Davis Mountains keeping watch over us in the background.

Drew on diving board

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From there we moved on to Fort Davis and Davis Mountains State Park. After just three days of camping, the boys acted like castaways who hadn’t had a decent meal in weeks when we took them to dinner at the restaurant in the Indian Lodge inside the state park. If you ever want your kids to gush with gratitude for taking them out to eat, try camping for a few days. They drooled over the menus, took photos with their iPods of everything around them, and ate their dinner with great gusto, like we’d never taken them to a restaurant in their lives. The next day when we took them hiking at the top of Skyline Drive and looked down on the Indian Lodge from above, they reminisced fondly of our meal there the day before, such an impression it made on them.

family pic on Skyline Drive

 

 

 

 

 

 

The boys took hundreds of photos of the landscapes, our campsites, and the hiking trails. I remember carrying around film cameras on our family vacations when I was a kid, maybe using two or three 24-photo rolls of film in the course of a week. I love that the boys shared that same delight to capture all their memories from the trip.

Drew taking mtn pic

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also love that when we told them we were going on our family vacation in West Texas, they didn’t grumble or give us the same response we get from so many people who’ve never been there — “West Texas? There’s nothing out there. Won’t it be really hot? And boring?” You’re thinking of Lubbock. Or Midland. Try the Davis Mountains or Balmorhea. I was wearing long pants and a sweatshirt in the mornings while making breakfast on our camp stove, and it was too chilly for sane people (i.e. me and Stephen, but not the kids) to get in the water to swim until after noon. And we were far from bored, not by a long shot. We came home with a long list of things we didn’t get to do and see on this trip that we’re having to save for the future.

Monahans with boys

 

 

 

 

 

I love that the boys are growing up with this week of camping as their first impression of West Texas. I love that they aren’t suffering under the same false conclusion of the majority of Texans, that you have to go to New Mexico, Colorado, or Wyoming to enjoy the mountains. These boys know the truth. West Texas is the best Texas.

Monahans family pic

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t feel sorry for us for spending our family vacation out here. Be jealous.

Post to Twitter

Book Review: The Explicit Gospel

Review: The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler with Jared Wilson

Available here by Crossway or here from Amazon.

Note: I’m doing this book review as part of Crossway’s Beyond the Page program and received a review copy from Crossway. If you’re a book blogger and interested in more info, click here.

ExplicitGosepl

I’ve been listening to sermons by Matt Chandler of the Village Church in north Texas for several years, since I lived in China and would often download audio for long bus rides. I’ve never visited the church, but something about the Village just feels like home. Many of the issues Chandler addresses for his congregation are ones I’ve personally struggled with, having grown up in the Bible Belt, in a town where it’s culturally expected to at least “act Christian” — to show up on most Sunday mornings at a church, volunteer some, use a certain kind of language, avoid certain types of activities, and generally give off a certain type of appearance. None of those things are wrong, if they’re coming from the overflow of a heart obedient to Christ. But when they’re done for their own sake, to make us feel right, there’s a problem. A big problem.

Living overseas I was able to avoid a lot of the conflict with other Christians that comes from refusing to continue to live that type of lifestyle — refusing to settle for a watered down Christianity that doesn’t go beyond the surface, desiring instead a depth of Christ’s impact on all facets of my life. I was out of the American church for 10 years, relating on a daily basis with nonbelievers and with believers from varied cultures around the world, most of whom weren’t necessarily coming from my same background of a Christianized home culture.

In China I was always an outsider, always a foreigner, always expected to have quirks, some related to being an American, some related to following Jesus. Explaining the difference was an opportunity for me to share the gospel with nonbelievers, since many Chinese people assume that all Americans are Christians. This assumption could be very confusing at times.

Since I’ve been back in the US for four years and back in Texas for a year and a half (how the time flies!), I’m realizing that the same assumption exists here at home — morality and Christianity are equated with our American (or Texan) culture in ways that are dangerous for the gospel. Matt Chandler’s The Explicit Gospel addresses this assumption and this danger at its root. His purpose is to “make sure we are all on the same page here – which is to say, God’s page – and talking about what he is talking about when the gospel is mentioned in the Scriptures.” How deep, exactly, does our definition of the gospel run when we’re talking about its effect on our lives and on our world?

Chandler divides the book into sections discussing the gospel from two angles: the gospel on the ground and the gospel in the air, or the gospel as it relates to Christ’s salvation for the individual who believes and follows him and the gospel as it relates to the entire heavens and earth being redeemed in the consummation of God’s kingdom. From both angles Chandler clearly lays out the Scriptures and explicitly states the gospel, “that our righteousness is imputed to us by Jesus Christ, that on the cross he absorbed the wrath of God aimed at us and washed us clean.” Christ did not come to condemn the world, or to save those who act good enough, or to make us feel good about ourselves — all variations of the “gospel” often preached by our Christian culture. Christ came to earth to live, die, and rise again to save sinners and to redeem a sin-filled world. He is coming again to bring it all to completion.

At times Chandler’s message seems like a harsh word to the American church, but ultimately it’s a loving word. He states, “The religious, moralistic, churchgoing evangelical who has no real intention of seeking God and following him has not found some sweet spot between radical devotion and wanton sin; he’s found devastation.” This is the place so many of us in Texas and other parts of the Bible Belt are coming from, a place where as long as you follow the rules you’ll be comfortable and happy. But our comfort and happiness are not what God has in mind for us, ultimately. He has himself in mind for us, and following him involves the cross and sacrifice and suffering of various sorts. It also involves true joy and contentment, though, in the knowledge of Jesus. And the knowledge of Jesus is worth giving up any measure of temporal comfort and happiness we may be trying to cling to.

Reading Chandler’s book is a lot like listening to Chandler’s sermons. Stylistically, he uses the same wording and examples as those he would use in a spoken setting. For some this might be off-putting, if you’re looking for a theological book written in a formal style. Others will find his casual writing style accessible and engaging. For anyone in an American church setting (particularly, in the Bible Belt or in a multi-generational Christian family, even), this book is a good discussion of the Scriptures to help you refine in your own mind the definition of the good news of Christ, whether as a reminder or as the first time you’ve thought of the gospel in this light.

You can find The Explicit Gospel on the Crossway website or on Amazon.

Post to Twitter

A Stake in West Texas at the Fort Worth Library

All is going well with book signings and readings of A Stake in West Texas in various Texas venues. I never dreamed that this stage of having a book published would arrive in my life, and even though author events weren’t my goal in getting published, it’s still been a fun experience. I’ve really enjoyed the people I’ve met at different bookstores and libraries.

If you’re in the Fort Worth area, I would like to invite you to a discussion of the book (followed by sales and signing, if you’re interested), Thursday, May 8, 6:30 – 8:00 pm, at the Central branch of the Fort Worth Library. As part of the Worth Reading program, I will be participating in the Homegrown Books Series — such fun and such an honor! I always loved visiting the library downtown when I was in high school, so I can’t wait to go back as an adult.

Please join me there if you’re able!

Rebecca Reading B&N

Post to Twitter

The Locust Effect

“While the world has made encouraging strides in the fight against global poverty, there is a hidden crisis silently undermining our best efforts to help the poor.

It is a plague of everyday violence.”

This week marks the book launch of The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of  Violence, by International Justice Mission president Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros. You may remember hearing about IJM in the past, as I participated in the Dressember campaign to raise funds for IJM — and again, thank you to all who helped us in that campaign.

It was during Dressember that I learned of the social media campaign to launch the upcoming book, so I volunteered to read an advance copy and give a review. Little did I know what I was getting myself into! I’ve read extensively in the past about human trafficking, slavery, global poverty, etc, but nothing prepared me for the powerful message of The Locust Effect.

Haugen’s thesis is both simple and complex at the same time: poor people around the world are the most vulnerable victims of violence. They are targeted for violence because they are poor, and they remain poor because of violence. If we want to make a serious effort at helping people out of poverty, we must address the corruption and malfunction plaguing the justice systems and law enforcement agencies of the developing world.

I’m posting a video below that movingly illustrates many of the scenarios touched upon in The Locust Effect. Please scroll down and take three minutes to watch it. But before you do, please consider buying a copy of The Locust Effect during launch week. Your purchase this week would be beneficial for several reasons:

1. You’d be receiving a perspective changing book that I highly recommend for anyone interested in learning more about the everyday situation of the poorest communities in the world.

2. All author royalties will go to IJM, so you’d be supporting an outstanding organization at work fighting injustice around the world.

3. This week, a grant will provide $20 extra to IJM for every copy of the book purchased. So, author royalties + $20. Your purchase will make a difference in rescuing people from slavery and violence!

4. Buying the book this week will help put The Locust Effect on bestseller lists. The issue of violence in the lives of those in poverty is one that direly needs attention. Let’s cause people to sit up and take notice!

Here’s the link to purchase the book on Amazon: click here. Thank you for considering purchasing The Locust Effect.

And here’s the video, “Everyday”:

Post to Twitter

A Stake in West Texas now available for Kindle

WEST TEXAS cover

Good morning, y’all! After 2 1/2 years, the book release is finally here: A Stake in West Texas: Pulling a Chain and Raising a Family Across Big Oil Country is now available for Kindle download (published by The History Press).

To purchase the Kindle version, click here. Even if you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the free Kindle app to read on your computer, tablet, or smartphone.

The paperback version will be released within the next few days, but it’s already available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’ll post news about local Texas bookstores carrying it later, as well.

Thank you again to all my family and friends who have supported me in getting this book written and published. I am truly blessed to know you all!

Post to Twitter

Thank You for Dressember — and a Video

A new year has begun, and Dressember 2013 has come to a close. I want to thank everyone who supported me and Suzie and Beverly in our campaign — our little group raised $1500, and the overall Dressember campaign raised $165,000 for International Justice Mission! That’s something to be excited about!

Though Dressember 2013 has ended, my desire to bring awareness to the issue of the global slave trade and its effects on millions around the world is far from over. This month is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. I’m not going to stop thinking or talking about this issue any time soon, and I want to use my voice here on this blog to share with others what I’m learning.

Today, if you can spare 12 minutes, I would like to ask you watch this chapter from the movie “Girl Rising.” Through the stories of nine young girls from countries like Haiti, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, and Peru, the film illustrates the hardships faced by countless girls today — poverty, sexual violence, abuse, forced labor, child marriage, to name only a few — and also highlights the transformation that can take place in an entire community or nation if the number of girls given an education increases. The storytelling of the film is captivating, and the statistics indicate that these nine stories are repeated over and over in millions of young lives.

Please watch Suma’s story, the Nepal Chapter. Her life started off in difficulty, but the ending of her chapter brings great hope you’ll be glad you watched.

Post to Twitter

A Dressember Reading List

It just wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t find a way to tie in my recent posts on Dressember to one of my favorite subjects of all time: books. Reading has been a big part of making me who I am today, and my thoughts and actions in raising funds and awareness for International Justice Mission this Dressember have also been shaped by books.

Without further fanfare or explanation, let’s jump into my list of recommended reading on the topic of the fight against human trafficking today:

* The Gospels. I don’t mean for this to be the 3rd grade Sunday School answer of “The Bible” to the question “What should I read?” Of course the Bible has something to say on the topic of taking a stand for the least of these in the face of their oppressors — but just because the answer seems obvious doesn’t make it any less important to mention it. The number one reason I want to publicly call attention to the tragedy of modern slavery is that Jesus says he came to this earth to bring freedom. He brings freedom from slavery to sin and death, and by helping to eliminate physical slavery on this earth we are living out a picture of what he has done in our hearts. You can read more about my thoughts on Dressember and the coming of Christ in this blog post.

* Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma. For a comprehensive read on the question of justice and why anyone who is a follower of Jesus should be involved in the work of making right the wrongs of this world, Wytsma’s Pursuing Justice is an excellent, thought-provoking choice. I wrote a full review of the book here, but these lines are from one of my favorite paragraphs in that write-up: “Social justice seems to have become a fad in certain circles, and a lot of us really don’t need another pet cause. What we need is a deeper understanding of what the Bible says about justice so that our heart and our actions line up as we seek to live out a right relationship with God and with other people. After reading the book, I feel challenged not just to continue finding ways to give my time, money, prayer, and efforts to serving in my hometown or around the world, but to look more closely at my personal relationships and how they are or are not a reflection of the gospel of Christ, how I am or am not considering others before myself (Philippians 2:3-4).”

* Sold by Patricia McCormick. I also mentioned this young adult novel on my blog a while back, as part of my list of fave books in 2010. The memory of this story still haunts me in its nightmare portrayal of a young girl trafficked from her home in Nepal to a brothel in India. To understand the realities faced by millions of girls around the world, told in heartbreakingly poetic language, you must read this novel.

* Money, Possessions, and Eternity by Randy Alcorn, if you have a lot of time to read — or The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn if you want a more succinct version of Alcorn’s teaching on giving. Over and over Alcorn points the reader back to the words of Jesus: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) A pretty simple concept, but a life-changing one. If I’m living a life of following Jesus, it should be reflected in how I spend my money, including spending more on supporting work that will last eternally (like bringing freedom to slaves) than on junk I don’t really need.

* The Locust Effect by Gary Haugen. This last one I haven’t read yet — it will be released February 2014, but you can read a free preview here. Written by the president of International Justice Mission, the book explores the idea that the end of poverty requires the end of violence.

Are there any other titles you can think to add to this short list?

(There’s still plenty of time to give to our Dressember campaign — we’re still quite a bit short of our goal and would love your help! You can donate here. 100% of Dressember funds go to the work of IJM. Thanks!)

Post to Twitter

A Stake in West Texas Cover Reveal

WEST TEXAS cover

Introducing the cover art for A Stake in West Texas.

I’m so pleased with the beautiful work by the designer at The History Press. Read what the blurb on the back cover has to say:

“Aspermont to Pecos. Pecos to Fort Davis. Fort Davis to Sanderson. Sanderson to Monahans. In 1950, Ann was eighteen and Bob D twenty when he asked her to marry him and hit the road for West Texas. They packed their station wagon, left home, and began a life of adventure together on Conoco’s West Texas survey crew during the 1950s oil boom. Five kids, twenty-one towns, and thirteen years on the road — Bob D and Ann’s travels along the highways of West Texas are a portrait in a landscape of oil fields, railroads, and ranches. Layering local history with family memoir, author Rebecca D. Henderson reveals a glimpse of mid-century West Texas through her grandparents’ adventures as a young couple raising children on the road.”

A Stake in West Texas will be released January 14 and will be available as both paperback and e-book in bookstores and from online booksellers. You can preorder now from Amazon here.

In the meantime, you can check out this free preview of the e-book version, including color photos from Bob D’s collection.

Look for more news of the book launch in the weeks ahead! You have helped me make this launch possible, and I’m so grateful for you!

Post to Twitter

Advent and Dressember

I’ve made a couple of posts about the fact that I’m participating in Dressember this year to raise money for International Justice Mission, and since wearing my handful of dresses this past several days I’ve had time to reflect on the connection between Dressember for IJM and Advent. I don’t know that the connection was intentional for the creator of Dressember (maybe it was and I’m not aware), but I’ve thought of this connection often, especially as my husband and I have been going through our Advent readings with the boys.

All of the boys have enjoyed reading Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Storybook Bible, but our six-year-old in particular loves the book and is fascinated with certain stories in particular. For a while his favorites were “The Good Shepherd” (a paraphrase of Psalm 23) and “How to pray” (a paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer). You may or may not know that the six-year-old is autistic, and he has an eidetic memory — well, within one or two times of reading the stories, he had memorized these paraphrases of Psalm 23 and The Lord’s Prayer, both of which he delights to recite in his own adorable expressive interpretation (he’s also started memorizing Psalm 23 in Chinese, but that’s an entirely different story). To hear him joyfully recall his favorite passages, line by line, is to experience the living out of Jesus’ own words to let the little children come to him. His love for God’s Word is simple, but not simplistic.

Peter_JSB

One of the lines in Lloyd-Jones’ paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer says “Make everything in the world right again. And in our hearts, too. Do what is best — just like you do in heaven, and please do it down here, too.” As I’ve read these stories with the boys so many times in recent months, I’ve dwelled a lot on those lines. They have caught hold of my heart and won’t let go. I find myself praying in that exact way. That God would make things right again. In my heart, in the hearts of others, in the whole world. And as I’ve been participating in Dressember, I’ve prayed for the men, women, and children who are in captivity around the world, whether in forced labor or in the sex industry, that God would make things right for them, here on earth just like he does in heaven.

Jesus says in Luke 4 that he came to earth to heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, make the blind to see, and set at liberty those who are oppressed — and he did those things both physically and spiritually while on earth. One of the things we’ve tried to emphasize with the boys recently is that Advent means “coming” or “arrival” — we are celebrating Advent to remember the coming of Jesus, both at the first Christmas as a baby and in the future during his second coming. As we look back on Jesus’ first coming to earth and look ahead with longing to his return, we also live out our lives in a way that is a reflection of who he is and who we are in him. If Jesus himself stood up in a crowd and said that he came to set the captives free, then I as his follower should be a part of doing the same thing. One way I can proclaim liberty to the captives is to support the work of an organization that is literally working to set slaves free.

Dressember_Logo_Yellow

And so this December I’m wearing a dress every day and asking for help in donating money to IJM. Would you help? You can donate to the campaign here, and you can share this blog post to spread the word.

Bless you and yours during this Advent season.

Post to Twitter

The Dressember Team

Dressember_Logo_Yellow

Last week I posted about the International Justice Mission fundraiser I’m joining this year — Dressember. Every day of December I’ll be wearing a dress in an attempt to raise awareness of IJM’s work in the fight against human trafficking and sexual slavery. I set a fundraising goal of $5000, knowing that it’s a crazy high amount for one person to attempt in 31 days. But I’m not just one person tackling this Dressember thing myself. I issued a challenge for others to join me, and my sister Suzie and her friend Beverly took me up on it. We’re now a team in the Dressember fundraising campaign — look for us as “Rebecca and Suzie and Beverly” (yes, our first name on the page is “Rebecca and” and our last name is “Suzie and Beverly.”

Dressember_pic_1

The point of Dressember isn’t the dresses. Dresses are a symbol of femininity, and 80% of trafficking victims are women, so it’s a natural tie-in. But Dressember isn’t about going out and buying new dresses — the creator of Dressember is wearing one dress all month, with different accessories. I’m planning to wear three or four dresses of my own throughout the month and borrowing some from my cousin.

The point of Dressember is to get others to think about the horrors of human trafficking taking place around the world today. The point is to let others know that there are people and organizations who have dedicated their existence to fighting the evil of trafficking. The point is that IJM is one of those organizations, and a really great one at that, and they survive on the donations of people like us.

Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday (you know, like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday) — would you consider giving a donation to IJM as part of our Dressember goal? If you’re moved to do so, you can donate on our campaign page here. 100% of the money raised during Dressember goes directly to IJM’s work. Bless you greatly!

Post to Twitter