Amanda Dorough | She's Paying It Off

The Story of My Journey to Debt Freedom, One Tiny Step at a Time


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Hope From Dust: Mexico Pt.1

I’m constantly amazed by how God uses us.  The very idea that 160 virtual strangers, with few skills and a wide age spectrum (we’re talking early teens to mid-80’s here) could come together for a week and accomplish so much is mind blowing to me.

I mean I know my way around a camera in general, can paint a picture and can plan a mean vacation, but building a house?  Let’s just say people aren’t knocking down my door to build a bird house for them let alone a people-house.

But still I go, and God reminds me that it’s not by my strength but by his that any of this can get done.  After all, “God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called” right?

This years trip marked my 7th mission trip to Mexico with the group now known as Go Inc., comprised of a collection of churches from WA, OR and CA.  While normally my church flies down on Friday to meet up with the group this year the opportunity presented itself for us to go down on Thursday to help set up camp along with a few other church groups, and man was it hard work.  I’m pretty skilled at setting up a regular camping tent , and have gotten to the point where I can set one up in less than 5 minutes, no problem.  But in Mexico we don’t sleep in regular tents, we sleep in old Army tents, which are huge, and community encouraging but a beast to put together.  I never realized how much work really went into setting up camp or truly appreciated those who did it, but it’s something I will never take for granted again.

I can’t be sure exactly how long it took us to set everything up because of the sheer haze of exhaustion clouding my mind, but I would guess it was somewhere around 4 hours or so.  By 9pm that night, while everyone else stood around the campfire socializing I was back in our mostly empty tent, since the other churches we were with didn’t arrive until the next day, conked out.

tents

tents

And alas, there is no rest for the weary.  We were up bright and early at 6 the next morning ready to work again.  This year I was given the honor of leading my churches Mexico team as well as being a site leader for a team while in Mexico, something I again felt utterly unqualified for.  Part of being a leader is taking part in what we call a 2-day build, which allows leaders to brush up on their skills and the elements of building an Amor house in order the better lead their team members when we set to work the coming Monday.

The two day build is essentially a normal house build just accelerated (it usually takes us 4 days).  That first day 26 of us set to work.  While half the team worked on marking out and leveling the foundation the rest of us sorted through stacks of 2×4 and sawed them to appropriate lengths, getting ready for framing the walls later on and biding our time until we were ready to mix the concrete for the foundation.

campfire

vans

A really cool thing about this two day build is that it was in the same little neighborhood we had worked in the year before. At around 10 o’clock, while I was standing out in the street wrapping up the 2×4 sort this little red car pulls up and lays on the horn.  Next thing I see is a woman jump out of the car yelling “Amanda! Amanda!” followed by her 3 kids. It was Maria, the mother of the family I had built for the year before.  She had seen me from their house and had rushed down to say hi and see if any of the others were there as well.  A couple hours later I got a chance to go up and see their house, the house we had built for them, and it was pretty incredible.  They had finished the inside, putting up drywall and putting laminate on the floor.  Although small, only two rooms, it looked like a real house.  She then led me back to the small one room building that had been their house before, proudly exclaiming that it was her kitchen.  While Maria’s kitchen didn’t look like a kitchen you would find in any American house, I couldn’t help but get the biggest smile on my face.  It was a beautiful kitchen, because she loved it.

2 day build

*Photo by Alex Bateman

That first day on the two day build we were able to finish the foundation as well as a couple roof panels.  That left a lot of work for us to do on the second day, so, as soon as we arrived we got right to framing walls.  By lunch-time the house had been assembled and was ready for us to start covering the walls.  Five hours later the house had been covered in it’s first coat of stucco and was essentially finished.  While we planned on having a team come back to do the second coat of stucco later that week, we finished the day by presenting the keys to the family and officially giving the house over to them.  With about 20 hours of work total the house was technically finished and livable, and for the most part it was amateurs that built it.  That is incredible.

2 day build

*Photo by Alex Bateman

Sunday, like normal, was a day of rest.  We split up to go to different churches in the morning, my team this year once again went to The Ark, a large church in Tijuana.  The last several trips I’ve done to Mexico I’ve been able to go toThe Ark and it’s always such a blessing.  While worship is primarily in Spanish (the way I like it!) the pastor always gets the message translated for us.  This year it was especially hilarious because he kept getting languages confused.  One minute he would be preaching in Spanish and the next in English.  This gave the poor translator a tough time and us a lot of laughs.

The rest of the day was filled with memories.  Van rides with my family for the week, aka Team 5, tacos at El Flaco and palletas for desert, cold sodas and churros from the Amor Store, and just relaxing.  After 3 days of hard work it was a welcomed opportunity to rest and recharge for the week to come, and boy would it be needed.

 

El Flaco

tacos

palletas

Because there are so many parts of Mexico that deserve to be talked about, but attention spans tend to be small, I’ve decided to break this post into two parts.  So don’t fear, the story doesn’t stop here.  Stay tuned for part 2 of the story of Mexico 2014, coming in the next couple days.


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A Story That Starts Out Different Than It Ends

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For those of you that know me, you know that my experiences serving in Mexico each summer during high school altered the course of my life forever.  It showed me that the world was so much bigger than all I knew, all I had ever known, and set me on a course of mission work that has now stretched 14 years.  Half my life.

This summer I have the pleasure of not only going on my 7th trip down to Mexico, but also of leading my churches team.  We’ll join together with about a dozen other churches across the west coast to sacrifice our lives of comfort for a week in order to give a group of Mexican families something tangible, a house.  A small sacrifice, but it’s a start.

As part of the experience each year all of the WA/OR churches come together the first weekend of March on the Oregon Coast to get to know each other, refresh, learn, and figure out a little thing called teamwork.

Winema, the camp we stay at is beyond beautiful… when the sun’s out that is.  The camp sits right on the beach, tall sand dunes standing between the compound and the crashing waves.  I have fond memories from high school walking up and down the beach, climbing sheer rocks faces and all other kinds of dangerous things with my best friends.

When we arrived last friday afternoon the weather was beautiful.  The sun was shining, you couldn’t ask for anything more.  Before heading into Lincoln City for dinner I ran up the dune and was able to snap a photo with my phone.  Boy was it gorgeous, that place makes my heart so happy.

Winema

Part of what the weekend at Winema always includes is an afternoon of work projects to help out the camp.  Last year I pulled branches/logs out of the forest in the pouring rain, it would have been bearable if there’d been no rain, so this year I started monitoring the weather outlook a week ahead of time.  Up until Friday night the weather outlook showed a 100% chance of rain on Sunday but a 10% chance on Saturday.  I thought hooray!  Things are looking up! Even when we woke up on Saturday morning it seemed like the outlook was still Ok.  It was a bit drizzly, but nothing abnormal for the Oregon Coast.

By 12:30, as we prepared to walk outside for our work projects we were in full monsoon mode.  All I could think was “a 10% chance huh?  I never trusted the weatherman.”

This year I was able to get far away from the forest and was instead asked to help lead the teams that would be mixing concrete to pour a couple slabs for the camp.  Excellent! I thought.  We do that in Mexico every summer.  Easy peasy.  Armed with a battalion of wheelbarrows about 30 of us got right to work.  Within 20 minutes everyone was soaked but very few complained.  I was pretty proud.

Winema

We finished the first slab in about an hour and a half then gathered our materials together to move to the second location behind the camps cafeteria.  Where there first slab had been somewhat insulated by other buildings our second location was out in the open and the monsoon quickly turned into a hurricane.  Not only was the rain pounding the wind was gusting so hard sometimes it almost knocked me over, yet everyone persevered, well, almost everyone, but I won’t go into that.  Often we were standing in ankle deep puddles, mixing batches by hand while our arms slowly lost strength, but we pressed on.

The second slab took a little more time.  I blame it on the elements and increasing exhaustion, but despite the tough conditions we finished.  Then here’s where the real trouble started.  Once we had stopped the constant movement of mixing and hauling and started cleaning off the tools I noticed a burn on the front of my thighs every time I took a step.  When I stood still it was fine but when I moved it burned.  I knew cement could burn you, but I’d never had a problem before so I ignored it and spend another 30-40 minutes cleaning up.  By the time I finally made it back to my cabin my thighs were on fire.  Unfortunately when I walked in the door there was already a line for our one shower.  I begged everyone to please let me get in an rinse off because “I had cement burning me.”  Everyone was hesitant, I mean they were dirty too,  but one of my youth, Tiffany, pulled through, she willingly offered to let me go before her (that’s my girl!).

I literally walked into the shower with everything but my shoes on, even my socks, jacket and hat.  It didn’t matter, everything was soaked already but more importantly covered in cement and I wanted to get it off.  When I finally got my jeans off I expected the burning to ease up, and maybe some read skin but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.  The skin wasn’t only red it was REALLY red and even brown/purple in some spots.  My first thought was “at least I didn’t imagine it” and my second thought was “AHHHHHHHHH!!!!!” Because the water hitting the burns was excruciating. I hopped out wrapped myself in a towel and hobbled to my bed.  I removed to the towel to reveal my legs to the world in the light and the air was just as painful as the water.  I quickly pulled on my sweat pants and laid down half on my bed tearing up and unwilling to move.  I pride myself in having a pretty high tolerance of pain, but this really hurt.

When I finally tracked down people who I felt would know what to do the only advice I got was put vinegar on it to neutralize the chemical.  I thought anything was worth a try so armed with a cup of vinegar and a clean washcloth I headed back into the kitchens bathroom.  The parting word Ed gave me with a smile was “don’t scream because they’re about to pray for dinner.” I giggled and then shut the door.

I dipped the cloth in the vinegar and decided to touch it to a small spot to kind of test it out.  Turns out “no screaming” was a legitimate warning, but no need to worry.  My body was so clenched with the pain that I could only manage to scream with my mouth firmly shut.  Imagine the fire of a thousand suns hitting your skin, that was my experience with the vinegar.  Since then I’ve read that it really is the best treatment and that many construction workers carry it with them so they can add it to a bath in a pinch.  Props to them because I don’t think I could ever do that again.

When I woke up the next morning my pajama pants were stuck to my thighs, I’d hardly slept and the pain was much worse.  I limped around camp that morning and didn’t even really have the energy to pack my bags.  I just threw everything in and drug it out to my car.  I still haven’t unpacked actually…

By monday the burns were even worse.  Turns our caustic burns actually get worse/bigger over time.  Fantastic.  I called into work for my first sick day in I don’t know how long.  By Wednesday I knew something was wrong.  The pain was worse, the burns were more swollen and more, well gross, we’ll leave it at that.  I’m the exact opposite of a hypochondriac so making the decision to go to urgent care was a tough one for me.  It was more a fear of getting there and being told “oh they’re fine, they look just like they should, just wrap them and keep them clean.”  Instead I got a “whoa those are infected.”  Well glad I made the decision to come in then.  An hour later I emerged covered in silvadene and with my legs wrapped up like a mummy as I wobbled out to the car.  I made the decision to go into work today, but in the end it just wasn’t a good idea and I ended up setting up pre planned sick days for tomorrow and Saturday.  Hopefully it will give a chance for the burns to start to heal.

This was day 2.  The worst burns aren't even in the picture.  This is before they turned into the deep second degree burns.  No fun.

This was day 2. The worst burns aren’t even in the picture. This is before they turned into the deep second degree burns. No fun.

The most unfortunate part of this story is I wasn’t the only one who ended up with these burns.  I think there were 4 of us in all.  It’s an sad souvenir but a lesson learned.  Every summer while we’re in Mexico team leaders constantly pester everyone to make sure they brush cement off of their skin while those with the cement on them just scoff.  You better beleive I’m going to be the cement nazi on my team this year, if they just laugh I’ll whip out a picture of my legs and then they’ll believe.

Despite the fact that my legs got burned the weekend was still pretty incredible.  I helped pour two slabs for the camp and I got a chance to see my youth step up and lead.  I’m super proud of them and even more confident that it’s going to be a great team for Mexico this summer.

I’ll go ahead an leave you with some beach photos from Winema, after the sun left but before the monsoon rolled in.

Winema

Winema

Winema

Winema

Winema

Winema

Winema


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The Mexico Blog

So there I sat, on a dusty cot, a beam of sunlight sneaking under the open tent flap and searing my back.  It was weird and exhilarating all at the same time.  It had been 6 years since I had last ventured across the Mexican border, and 14 since that first life changing trip.  A lot had changed over time and on that first day I anticipated the movement that would happen that week.

Our Mexico trip this year got off to a bit of an exciting/exhausting start.  We decided to drive down instead of flying in order to cut costs.  The drive started out with momentum and smiles, making stops at Krispy Kreme and Jimmy Johns along the way, but as soon as we crossed over the California border the trouble started.  The next 30 hours involved 2 car repairs, 1 tow truck ride, 5 hours in a Walmart parking lot, little sleep, and a race to get to the Mexican border before it became to dangerous to cross.

Breakdown!

We made it.  Just in time.  We rolled into camp at 10:30 and the place was silent, everyone was asleep. Thankfully the other women in our tent had set up our cots because at that point I didn’t have the energy to do it myself.  I had just enough stored to change into my pajamas, unroll my sleeping bag and crawl into bed.  Sleep was instant.

Saturday was a workday.  It was hard, but by 6am we were up and in line for breakfast.  I was part of a group that headed out to Rosarito to finish of a handful of houses that still needed their last coat of stucco.

Stucco

The first house my team worked on was on the hill overlooking the ocean.  This family litterally had a million dollar view, but their house was the size of an American bedroom.  I was able to use my intermediate Spanish to stumble over words and speak to the family.  Five kids and three grandkids lived with them.  Crowded.

In all teams were able to finish 9 houses for families that day.  The smiles on the families faces as we loaded up vans to leave stretched from ear to ear.  It was contagious.

Love kids!

Then came Monday morning.  My team, team 12 got into our van, tools in hand, excited to get to work on the first step of constructing a house for the Diaz-Fuentes family, the foundation.

This year nearly all teams were building on the same 3 streets, close enough to visit on lunch breaks. The unity that came out of the close proximity was incredible.  Seldom was there a moment without a person from another team on your site helping you get stuff done.

Working Together

Somehow I ended up being the person on my team with the greatest Spanish vocabulary and experience.  A daunting task for me.  Maria, the mom of the family we were building for got used to me stumbling over words and putting together choppy sentences and just laughed with me.  A humbling experience to say the least.

Maria and her husband Alberto were so great to us over the 4 days of the build.  They didn’t have much.  Their family of 5 was living in a small house the size of my bedroom, but they spoiled us with food.  I didn’t have to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich once, and each day  we had a different juice cooled by ice, a luxury I had never experienced in my previous trips.  Maria said “We were blessing her with a house and happy workers work better.” She also wanted to leave a positive impression on us “so that we would come back to Mexico.”  Beautiful.

Jonathan

The rest of the week really flew by.  I didn’t feel well through most of it, so I ended up spending more time in the shade or AC than I wanted. But one of my favorite experiences came on the third day, and it’s a silly one.  We had put the frame up the day before so day three was set aside for covering the the walls and roof.  The roof had always been my favorite part of the build in the past, but this year I didn’t get up there, instead I worked on putting tar paper up on the walls using the most awesome tool I’ve ever held, a hammer tacker.  I know, some of you are out there going “really?”  There’s just something really cool about a tool that does double duty.  You would hit the stuff with it like a hammer, but a staple would came out!  I love it!  I actually decided I’m going to buy my own to bring down with me next year.

IMG_4948

So now it’s hard to beleive that I’ve already been home for 3 weeks.  There was something really special about Mexico this year for me.  The last time I went, in 2007, I enjoyed my time but when thinking about coming back again the next year I felt like I could take it or leave it.  I think now, that I’m established as an adult (although people still often mistake me for a youth, others tell me that’s a blessing, I have mixed emotions concerning it) and a youth leader I feel like I have a role to fill and like there’s something bigger than I can imagine that I can do through this missions vehicle.  It’s funny because I didn’t think it would ever be Mexico.  Thailand, Bolivia, Swaziland maybe, and long term, but a week trip to Mexico, nah.  Now I have a different attitude.  Already I can’t wait to go back next year.  I want to impact lives down in Mexico, but on the flipside I’m also excited about impacting the lives of youth, and I think that’s the avenue that God is telling my to invest in now.

Team 12

 

If you want to see more p pictures from the Mexico trip this year you can click here.


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There’s Gotta Be More To Life

I’ve spent the last 6 months floating in what feels like a bazar form of limbo.  As we rang in the new year oh so many months ago I had the excited feeling in the pit of my stomach that this year was going to be huge.  Big things were going to happen, big changes were coming.  Then day after day after week after month rolled by and it was still the same ole same ole.  My schedule became incredibly predictable.

Wake up go to work.

Come back home for break (because I work a split shift and it stinks).

Go back to work, run around with kids for 3 hours.

Come home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed.

And repeat.

The only thing different about my weekends were no work and plus church.

It’s a lonely life on repeat.  I feel like I’ve been stuck in a deep hole.  I’ve been clawing at the edges to get myself out but the only thing I’ve achieved are fingernails filled with dirt.  Ugh.

Mexican sunset

Yesterday I returned from my first mission trip to Mexico in 6 years.  Since returning from Bolivia last December I’ve often wondered if I made the right decision to come home.  Going to Mexico affirmed that I had.  It was rough in more ways than one and it became pretty clear that physically I am not 18 anymore, but it was so refreshing to my soul.

On Wednesday night I was given the opportunity to get up and speak in front of everyone at campfire.  When I got up I had an idea of what I wanted to talk about, but what came out of my mouth was purely from God.  I know that because it convicted me as well.  My initial plan was to speak on giving up on the American dream.  What came out was more like “God is moving in this world, he’s talking to you and he has big plans so listen and follow.”

Whoa.  It wasn’t anything new to me.  The concept is all to familiar, but I came to a realization.  I had just wasted 6 precious months being lazy.  It wasn’t just that life wasn’t working out for me, I wasn’t working to make it better.  I wasn’t actively pursuing Gods guidance or searching for his gifts.  Instead my chant became “I hate my life” and I let myself sit in that.  Stupid.

Mexico Campfire

So today, as I sit here typing I cry with all my heart for things to change.  A lot of prayer is going to have to go into this next season, but I already have some ideas of what it’s going to look like.

The first step will be to find a new job.  While my current one has been a blessing financially, I feel like it’s sucking the joy and determination from my life.  The second will be applying to the EMT program at Tacoma CC.  I’ve gone back and forth for years deciding if this was the road I should pursue and the best way I can serve.  Going down to Mexico reaffirmed that it is.  So God willing next year when I go back down I’ll be taking some medical skills with me.

So that’s all I have for now.  To be honest, at this moment I would be happier living in a dusty tent in Mexico than in my house here in the US.  I’m definitely made to serve.  So God, I’m trusting that you’ve got something good in store.  Use me dear Lord.  I want to be your hands and feet to the ends of the earth.

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2 Months Later….

Catching Up:

Paused.  That’s what my life has felt like these last few months.  The first week of February I started a new job.  I’ve learned that the split-shift schedule doesn’t agree with me.  In those six hours in-between my shifts I get NOTHING done.  It’s like I can’t even function.  I don’t want to clean, I don’t want to shop I just want to sleep, or sit or not do anything.  I’ve gotten lazy I guess, and I don’t like it.

My first step to getting back to, well, life was to clean.  My bedroom was looking like a pit I tell you.  But my second step is posting here on my blog and to start writing about the things that make me excited.  So here’s my declaration to you, my friends, my family and whoever else may be reading, I will post at least 1 blog a week from here on out.  I can do it!

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The Filler:

Ok, so my last two months weren’t a total waste…

At the end of February I went up to Snoqualmie Pass with my churches youth group to go tubing.  It was practically blizzard conditions.  We got at least 6 inches of snow in our two hours up there and were soaked in minutes, but I think everyone still had fun.

Snowblast

Then, at the beginning of March I went with my Mexico team down to Winema camp on the Oregon coast where all the church’s going on the mission trip come together for a retreat every year.  We had sun most of the time, except for Saturday afternoon, which, unfortunately is also when everyone is out doing various jobs around camp. I helped by pulling logs out of the forest, and I got totally soaked.

Winema

I would also like to tell you that I went to the Jesus Culture concert last week, except I didn’t because no one told me they were coming to town.  Bummer.

So that’s the first couple months of 2013, not super exciting, but I have a good feeling about the rest of the year!


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Sandblast!

When I was in high school, none of the yearly youth group activities got us as excited as Sandblast.  Four days of camping and running around like crazy people in the ruins of Fort Worden, a fort built at the turn of the century (20th not 21st) to help protect Puget Sound, which now sits dark and damp on the tip of the Olympic Peninsula.

I have nothing but good memories of Sandblast, so you can imagine that when I was asked to go along as an adult leader this year I jumped at the chance.

With 12 youth and 5 adults we loaded up three vehicles and headed to the fort.  For 3 nights we “suffered” in the cold, well freezing, but the day’s were pleasant enough and while we did meet some bad-attitude brick walls, we made it through and I think the kids got so much out of it.

When we weren’t running around the forts playing games like sardines, Romans and Christians and capture the flag, we were doing team building activities, sharing testimonies and teaching this hyper group of teenagers how to sit down and get close to God through daily devotions, and it was great.

Fort Worden

Crazy sunset on our first night at the fort.

Fort Worden

Where one of the giant guns used it be. It would take 51 men to load and shoot it. Wow!

Fort Worden

Time for devotions.

Fort Worden

Sandcastle building contest.

Fort Worden

The winners and their sand alligators.

Fort Worden

The upper fort, a perfect place to play a game of smugglers!

Fort Worden

And they’re off! Playing a game of Romans and Christians.

It’s such a joy to be able to help and enjoy times like this with my youth while I’m still in America.  I am so, so thankful that I’ve been home in the summertime so that I not only get to enjoy time with the youth group but time with my family as well.  It’s been such a blessing!