Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Then There Was Addison

I think that God knew the world would need an Addison Jane. 



I think He knew that such a spirit of love, joy, compassion, with such pureness of heart would be necessary in this crazy existence.


For to know her is to hold a gift so dear. 


To have her smile upon you is a treasure for always.


To experience her love is coveted by all. 

And she is mine.





And the truth is, we need her.


Because the world can be an ugly, dark place.


And she makes it all brighter. Every day.


This world better watch out, because one day this girl is going to take her precious love, and change every thing.


And we will all say, that we knew it was coming. We saw it in her eyes.





Because God knew the world would need Addison. Like He knew I needed her. 

Happy 8th Birthday my sweet angel.





Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Seasoned Mom Top Christmas Gifts Toddler- Young Kids

Hey Everyone! I'm am all about buying meaningful gifts for the special people in my life. I am also about simpifying, buying less, being thankful and not litterally buying into the American culture of excess. Living where I live, and knowing the people I know, it is impossible not to change my mindset about how I have thought and spent my money in the past at Christmastime.

For me, I had two choices to make. One, turn a blind eye and forget the abject poverty around me. Then continue to spend in the same way. Decorations, new outfits, food, snacks, clothes, lights... the list goes on and on. I am so ashamed. All the things I thought were necessary for a happy Christmas...  The second choice was to simplify, buy meaningful gifts, do less. And most importantly, give more. My family needs nothing materially. Nothing. 

I'm not saying at all, that we are throwing the giving of Christmas gifts to our kids out entirely. But we are doing less for sure. I love blessing my kids. But it is now primary to Alex and I to teach our kids that a material Christmas is entirely contrary to a Jesus filled Christmas. 

Friday I will share one of the ways that we taught our kids to make Christmas about other people this year.  It was indescribably awesome!!!!!!!! So come back Friday. 

But for today, let me share with a few gift ideas that my kids loved and didn't just toss aside. I was huge into getting hints from the more experienced moms before me, and I hope that I can be that for some of you. Part of having a more Jesus filled, simplified Christmas is not throwing valuable money down the toilet. And that means gifts that will get thrown into a corner creating a mess a week after Christmas.

So without further ado, here are my kids top favorite gifts that they loved/still love:


Toddler Years: Hands down this gift. It was my kids favorite, and every single kid who visited my house.



Preschool Years:

Shopping Cart. Hours upon hours of fun. They loved using the real (non persishable) food from the kitchen. Kids are all about imitation, and Melissa And Doug is such a quality made product.



And puzzles, lots and lots of puzzles.



Young Children:
Books, books and more books. I could have made this entire post about books. But I held back. Literacy is so important to little ones. Please read to your kids! Here are my very, very favorites:

Any book in the "Fancy Nancy" series, hard back, paper back, they are all fantastic... magnifique!



And for the little boy in your life...



And for family reading... Henry Huggins series and Ramona Quimby. This boxed set is an incredible value.




I'll be back with Older Kids another day soon!!!  I hope these ideas help.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christmas Help From a Seasoned Mom- Babies

Thanksgiving is in 4 days. But lets not pretend that you aren't already thinking ahead to Christmas. You are probably feeling the stress of shopping lists for your family and friends. If you are anything like me, you really want to buy someone a gift that they will actually love for more than 5 minutes. And that adds to the stress. Finding the perfect gift is so hard! Who wants to spend hard earned money and have it be wasted time, money, effort and thought? No one.

Yesterday, Alex was telling someone the ages of our kids and I about choked on the ginger ale I was sipping. Long flight, new pilot, different story... But it hit me rather suddenly, that I have been a a mom for 12 years. That's a really long time. Wow. And so, it occurred to me that possibly it is my turn to be the mentor, instead of the men-tee.

In one month my children will be 12, 10, 8 and 6. Holy Guacamole! How did I get here already! I have toddlers and preschoolers don't I??? Don't I?  Weeeeeellllllll. No. And in an effort to move on, I'm going to embrace my new title of "Seasoned Mom" and hopefully share a few helpful gift buying ideas with you. 

So over the next couple of days I'm going to share with you toys and games for different ages. Starting with babies, because they are my fave! And maybe I can save you from the heartbreak and cost of buying a gift that is not touched again after opening it. 

I can also save you from yourself. 
For example. Turn and walk quickly in the other direction from drums, tambourines and maracas. Just trust me on that one. Walk away. They will forever be known as migraine makers and weapons (if you have a boy). Inevitably they will be pulled out to play with when you are on the phone, when another child is having a nap, or during an important conversation. Let them discover that they want to be in a rock and roll band as teenagers, not toddlers. 

So without further ado.... My top, all time favorite baby items. Tested and true.

1. Books! Lots of board books. Read, hold, cuddle and repeat. Even if you don't make it through a whole book without little hands turning the pages or flipping to the end. These are the most precious memories and I can't even begin to share all the scientific data on bonding and brain development. My very favorites are by Sandra Boynton, "The Going to Bed Book" and "Snuggle Puppy." My kids and I also really love the classics like Dr. Seuss and Eric Carle. You cannot go wrong with these books.











Babies have 4 goals in their tiny lives.
1. Eat
2. Sleep (usually when its impossible to put them down to bed)
3.Chew on things.  EVERY thing will go in their mouth. And when teething comes along... every thing goes in, and obscene amounts of drool come out.
4. Dump things out.

So with that in mind, and from my years of baby handling, here are my top picks for those 4 very important baby activites.

1. Gerber Puffs. I will regret to the end of my life that I didn't buy stock in Gerber when these things were first released. They saved me from numerous shopping trip, middle of church, meeting, restaurant meltdowns.


2. This blanket. Like a cloud, Has a satiny edge that my babies loved to rub on their adorable little noses as they fell asleep.  Donovan is almost 6, and still falls asleep immediately with this blanket. His is navy blue and I'm not going to lie.... If D isn't around and his blanket is.... well I just may have a little nap on the couch with it too.



And for the car seat- I had a little mobile that wound up and played music, but these are super adorable little birds and would probably distract baby into sleep in the same way.


3. Chewing
These balls are awesome for little babies. My sister gets one for every baby shower she attends. They are soft, pliable, and the little bitty fingers can really hold on well. Its the super, most adorable thing in the world when a baby has their tiny fingers gripping it, and then they try and chew at the same time and then they get their bitty tongues sticking out too.. oh those baby days.... So cute.



This version is super fun too, the Oball shaker





4. Aside from just letting baby have a go at your pots and pans, or tupperware drawer. This toy was hours of fun for my kids. Cheap, simple, colorful, but very entertaining.



There you have it! These are my absolute favorite baby items. Throw in a pack of the world's best pacifier and you are good to go. If I had been paid on an hourly basis for all the time I spent searching for a pacifier I would be a very wealthy woman. And for my babies, there was no better pacifier than a classic Nuk. And by, "as for my babies" I do also mean, no better pacifier for me.
Happy baby, happy mom.




(I used affiliate links. This is not sponsored. All ideas and opinions are my own. I'm just trying to help you all out! And lets face it, if you like an item, want to buy, and it helps your friendly- international-missionary out at the same time, every one wins.)

Friday, November 7, 2014

This Christmas can mean so much more....





{excuse the poor lighting please... they have no lights or electricity}



Christmas can be so much more than giving more, and more and more, to ourselves, friends, relatives and our kids. It can be giving a gift that will never be repaid this side of Heaven.

Email me at marilee.marks@gmail.com if you would like information on how to provide a bed to a child this Christmas.


(Song Credit: Audrey Assad)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

She Asked For Me

I want you to think a moment about your kids' or grandchildren's sports, choir, band, dance, karate, school, drama, orchestra and end of school year awards events.

You spend weeks ahead of time helping them practice, making sure that they have all the supplies, clothing, equipment they might need. 

On the day of, you feed them a healthy meal, have them take showers, get a good night's sleep. 

You drive them where they need to be, loaded with water bottles, snacks, gear...

You get there on time {or early} so that you are certain not to miss a moment. So that your child KNOWS without a moment's doubt, that their PERSON is there. Someone looking out at them from that audience/crowd LOVES them. Triumph or Failure, someone out there loves them, and thinks that they are the stars, the sun and that the moon all put together. Win or lose, there will be hug waiting. 

But what if a child has no one? A child whose family has done the unthinkable to them. A child who will look out at an audience jam packed with families. Moms, dads, grandparents, aunts... everyone there with someone who loves them.... A child who diligently goes to school, but returns home to a bunk among 60 other bunks. Not alone, but alone. A child who will go to bed with no one to celebrate them. As if she never achieved anything. 

That wasn't the story last night for a girl I love. Something beautiful happened last night and it was an honor I will never forget with my "Jane." When I came for a visit last week, she told me there was going to be a dinner show for her school. She begged me to come and said "I really, really, really want you there." She's 17 years old, an age when many teens don't want to even admit they have a mom, let alone be seen with one. But she needed a mom, a family to celebrate her last night. We came, we ate, we sat on plastic chairs for 4 hours of traditional El Salvador dances, singing, comedy we didn't understand, an unusual raffle process and the crowning of a 2nd grade princess for the year.




It was all worth it for the moment she saw me waiting at our table. 
"They said you were here and I could hardly believe it!! I ran right over to see you! I can't believe you came! I am so, so happy!!!"

She has been let down her entire life, and of course she expected nothing from me. Of course. 

"I'm so nervous" she nervously said with a shake in her voice.

"You're going to be fantastic" I assured her. "You've practiced so much, and I will be watching. I'm so excited to hear you sing!!!"

Simple words, that come naturally to most moms. Simple words that hold a lot of weight when you normally have no one to say them to you. I told her she looked beautiful, and that I was so happy to be there with her. 

And when she took to that stage I had butterflies in my belly for her just as I would for my flesh and blood kids. And I snapped picture after picture, with a huge mile plastered to my face. We all clapped louder and harder at the end than anyone in the audience. 

And when she saw me from the stage...... with a huge grin on her face....... oh my. 


Honor. I was so honored that she asked me to be her person. When the Bible says to care for the orphan, we often think the command solely means 
 "care for their physical needs."
But what if it means so much more than that? To love. To show up. To be a family.

What if doing just one is not enough. What if Jesus asks us all someday, did you care for the orphan? And we say "yes, we fed them and clothed them Lord."
What if He says, 
"What if I only fed and clothed you?
What if I didn't sacrifice a happy, perfect life, for people so un-deserving of my sacrifice?"
What if I didn't die to make you my family?

She asked for me. My heart will never be the same. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Return to InstaFriday!

Its been a long time since I posted a simple, care free blog post. To take the time to remember the little, happy, peaceful moments that needed to be snagged (on instagram) is so important. I think this is my first InstaFriday from El Salvador. Man  life was different when I first started joining in on Jeannett's idea! I'm marijmarks if you want to follow along on our adventures. Plus, Jeannett reminded us all this week that we don't have to have a perfectly crafted blog and/or post to be relevant. Plus my Grandpa has been missing the regular stuff.
Last week was a whole lot of recovering from chikungunya for Izzy, a nasty bronchitis for Addison, and the usual stomach things for the rest of us. So it feels good to take a look back at some happy. Plus I got to see my  "Jane" at the orphanage yesterday. Which is always good.



We got a HUGE shipment of spanish books from my sister's Kindergarten class in Minnesota. The students each added a Spanish version of a book to their Scholastic Book orders and blessed our Nutrition and Development Center kids immensely!!! Kids in the U.S. + Kids in El Salvador = Awesome.  Now they have books to read for the fist time ever. I'm serious. First ever. There are no libraries and no books stores. None.


Banana Smiles :)


Hello gorgeous. 


I love our movie nights. I love "God's Not Dead" in Spanish. I love how excited they get about free popcorn. Sharing Jesus. Its the why in all of this craziness.


Because El Salvador. That's how we roll here... with little blond heads out the moon roof and little boy tushy in my face....
Except only when we are stuck for an hour behind a parade. He thought he was pretty awesome. And didn't draw a bit of attention..... in case you were wondering, his little blond self is ALWAYS drawing attention. Its hard to miss an uber white kid, who is always in the middle of some sort of Star Wars/Avengers/Ninja Turtle battle.



And then he was tackled by some guys from our World Race team, his sister and some friends. Which is Donovan's love language. And in case you were curious, there were 10 people in this 6 person SUV. 

Have a wonderful weekend!


Friday, October 3, 2014

Beautiful Moments

My kids are having what can only be described as a wildly crazy, adventurous, hot, sweaty, hard, sad, once in a lifetime experiences.
We knew when we started out that this time, how ever long, here in El Salvador would be something that would stay with them for a life time. But we didn't quite realize how much their world would be shook.  Their world view had been shattered, and a new one, a better one, wider one, grander, has replaced it.  Children in the United States grow up in such a bubble. I am so thankful that my kids have this opportunity to have their eyes really, truly opened.  I think their hearts have grown 3 sizes, they understand poverty like never before. They have an understanding and willing hearts to sacrifice of themselves, serve and give to others.

So this post is devoted to my kids. You've seen my perspective, so now you get to share in some of the experiences that have popped up in between doing ministry. Please do not go away from reading this thinking that we are on some sort of long term vacation. Because we ABSOLUTELY 100% are not! When you all sacrifice of your paychecks to give us support money to do ministry, it goes 100% to doing just that. 

Tomorrow's post will show you some of the fruits of our work, but this one is about the little blessings that have popped up for our kids. Because they gave up a lot moving from the U.S., God has proven himself faithful to my kids. 

When you live in a place that is home to ancient civilizations, that is near the equator, you naturally have access to all kinds of new adventures in the down time! Every once in a while I take a step back and marvel that they are having these crazy awesome experiences!!


We had to leave the country to renew our visas, and it coincided with my cousin's wedding at the YWAM base in Belize. My littlest daughter and son literally spent 3 days playing with sand. No buckets, toys etc. Just sand. Sand.



What can only be described as a middle of nowhere-jungle/swamp hotel-opening scene in a horror film where idiot family wanders deep into the jungle in search of a hotel.... where everyone watching is yelling "STOP! How can you be so dumb! Go back!!!!!!!"

Spoiler alert- it turned out okay and we did not disappear forever in Guatamala like I feared would happen if we went down the above pictured bridge. I will tell you the story someday.




We were on our way back from Belize when we happened upon this particular life event. And in so doing, discovered that there was a for real castle near by. It was build by Spanish conquistadors, in order to fend off pirates who might want to steal the gold that they were stealing from the Mayans!  How cool is that?! Well, probably more cool for us than for the Mayans.


I also learned something important about myself.... apparently I have a thing for doorways and windows...





Then there was that time we went on a hike with only 3 water bottles because it was billed as a 3 km hike to a beautiful waterfall.....


6 hours, and a police escort later we emerged from our "relaxing" hike to a local La Libertad waterfall, a little dazed and confused.


There have been armadillos...


Volcano hikes... minus police ....


Magnificent Colonial time cathedrals and Mayan ruins, watching giant waves crash, times with friends, swimming and finding blue and purple coral reefs, but none of that holds a candle to yesterday.



Visiting the home of two of our girls. Nothing holds a candle to seeing my children in that setting. Overlooking the stark, destitute house of this family.  The distended bellies didn't matter to them, the bare feet or the naked little ones. They ran and played, and  rode a bike, held hands, held on laps.... just loved.



We have tears. And hard days. Sometimes we want to come running back to the U.S. Some days my kids want their old lives back. So do I. But this is the great big  "Why" of it all. Its so my kids can be Jesus with skin on. So I can hug a mom and become friends, like you do when you share a moment in your home. So we could look past everything they didn't have and just see them. So that Alex could chat with a man fighting for the survival of his family.  That's the why.
These beautiful moments.