treehouses and cambodia

Whew. What a day. I got up early and jogged a bit, then headed to my sister Bethany’s house for Five Hours O’ Fun (the girls were off school for Election Day). We had the most beautiful, relaxing day swinging and eating and laughing and loving on Isabelle and playing games in THEIR NEW TREE HOUSE!

Stewart is amazing. He gets these crazy ideas in his head, and then he doesn’t stop until he’s made them reality. And he’s so stinkin’ resourceful that he finds ways to do things for super-cheap/free. (And now that I think about it, all three of my brothers-in-law are like this.)

My favorite invention has got to be Isabelle’s Barbie jeep that Stew hooked up to a remote control. She was riding in that thing when she was just a few months old, hands on the steering wheel like she was driving it herself. You should see the double takes people do!

And now he built a TREE HOUSE! I forgot my camera or I’d have awesome pictures for you. As Bethany said on her blog a couple days ago, “Ever since I saw that episode on Punky Brewster when they built their tree house, I have wanted one, and my dream is finally coming true!”

I love you, Bethany.

Then we drove home to Columbus rush hour traffic, ate a quick supper and headed to our church office for our first CAMBODIA MEETING!! Gabe and I are going with a group from our church to Cambodia! July 7-17! I’m super excited!

But it’s late, and I’m tired, and I need a little bit of time to process everything from our meeting before I tell you all about it. And then I’ve got to get geared up for the daunting task of fund-raising for the trip.

And here’s where I get gut-honest for a moment (and then don’t mention this again). If you were around for the whole Zoo Trip–especially the part where we had our 15 minutes of fame and got on TV and stuff, you might recall some accusations about our family that were made on my blog. Folks who said we mooched off of people and used others’ hard-earned money to finance a year-long vacation around the country. And even though I knew those remarks weren’t true, they hurt. And still do these many months later if I dwell on them for too long.

The truth? We stayed in people’s homes, yes. And they fed us, yes. And many, many times they lavished love and gifts on us that were beyond our comprehension. And bless their sweet, generous, beautiful hearts.

But we didn’t ask for money. And our home and kitchen table are open to anyone who ever needs a place to stay or just wants to pop by for a visit.

And calling us moochers is actually WAY more offensive to the wonderful people we met than it is to us. They gave willingly, freely, from the bottom of their hearts. And man, we love them for it and will never forget a minute of it.

This Cambodia thing is different. Gabe and I will be asking people for money. And I’m not going to apologize for it. If giving toward our trip is something that would bless you, we would love to have your support. If you don’t feel a nudge from God to give, that is 100% totally okay with us. And I mean that. We are constantly getting asked to give toward things like this. Sometimes we feel God saying, “do it!” and other times we don’t.

And if it bothers you that we’re asking for support, I can’t do anything about that. And as my pragmatic, yet comforting, husband would say, “Anytime you’re doing work for God’s kingdom, you’re going to be met with opposition. If there’s no opposition, you’re probably not really doing work for God’s kingdom.”

I would love for you to pray about giving to our trip, but honestly? What I would REALLY love is if you’d pray for us period. And for the people of Cambodia.

And I just totally wrote way more than I meant to. Over the next few days, we’re going to be sending out support letters via snail mail and e-mail. If you’d like us to send you one, please let me know.

I love you guys. And I’m really, really, really looking forward to sharing Cambodia with you in the weeks and months to come!

20 thoughts on “treehouses and cambodia

  1. Beth in the City

    Gabe and Marla,
    When I was a child my parents took us on a couple of cross-country camping/adventure trips. I still think of those times often. I am sure that ONE of the things God will use your 52 zoos trips for is to bless your daughters and remind them of the love you guys have shared through their childhood. I’m so happy you could do that.

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  3. Jill

    I was blessed by the privilege of letting the Taviano family, (a family I had never met), stay with our family in Denver.
    Only God could have coordinated myself to read Marla’s blog during a certain time frame, as well as then placing the irrepressible desire on my heart to invite them to stay at our home. As little as I read blogs, and as few of them as I do read, this would HAVE to be a “God thing.”

    Hospitality and a welcoming spirit, all display the kingdom of God here on earth.
    After all we are asked to LOVE ONE ANOTHER above all.

    Being the hands and feet of Jesus, means so many things. From not only hosting a family you don’t know on a zoo tour, to making a meal for a neighbor, to praying for a friend, feeding the homeless, etc… I speak as a therapist that worked in battered women’s shelter for many years, I have been where the “homeless” and “the least of these” are and can tell you I was equally blessed in giving to the Taviano family last summer.
    Why should giving in one category of giving be better than another?

    Beth my hope and prayer for you today is to take some of the limits off God.
    ALL of life is such a gift. Animals included.
    Sharing in ALL the good that God creates does bring Glory to God. Yet again, EVERY good thing comes from Him.

    Aren’t you proud of this family for walking out what they felt God had led them to do?
    Walking out obedience is no easy feat.
    Shouldn’t we all approach life this way? Who of us is willing to pick up our cross and do WHATEVER He asks?
    I am so relieved to believe in a God that is so BIG, that HE can have these crosses look so many different ways.
    How I share my testimony is going to be so different than how another person does that.
    What you were called to do might look totally different than what I was called to do.
    We are the body of Christ after all, meant to be gifted in different areas.
    I would like to encourage Beth to believe in a God that would also ask us to participate in fun and creative endeavors as well as the tough stuff.

    The Taviano’s reminded me of a much needed lessons….OUR DAILY ACTIONS whatever they might be, mundane to exciting, (for me at the time it was changing diapers, for them it was visiting zoos in 52 states) ALL further the Kingdom of God! To bloom where we are planted is our daily gift to ourselves and others.

    I want to communicate to Beth:
    I am thankful that God remains a mystery and shows us daily his grace and mercies.
    I am thankful that God loves us not because of what we “do”, but for who we are.
    I am thankful that God created so much beauty in the world for us to share and enjoy.
    I am thankful that we are learning and growing daily, and that I have been given this opportunity again today.
    I am thankful that He sees what must seem like small contributions to family, friends and strangers around me, I am hopeful this blesses Him and others.
    I am thankful we are made differently, that we have different paths to walk, because how boring life would be if we were all the same and did the same thing?
    I am thankful I can appreciate your path in life, and hope Beth you can respect mine as well..

    “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
    declares the LORD.

  4. Brian

    It’s obvious the Tavianos bless people where ever they go. God calls us into the World and that includes Zoo trips. If someone thinks that you can only minister to people in homeless shelters they are mistaken. Although I’ve had very little interaction with the Tavianos I’ve been inspired by their creativity and love for the Lord.

  5. Peter P


    I completely understand Beth’s comment but at the same time, I almost completely disagree with her.

    When it all boils down to it, God told you to do the 52 zoos thing. No-one in their right minds would consider taking on such a task without God’s instruction and I remember you telling us that you told God he would have to finance the trip – and he did!

    You got a lot of media exposure at the end of the 52 weeks and you’ll get a lot more when the book is published -and what I really love about you and Gabe and the opportunities that God has given you through this time is that you use those times of media exposure to stand up for your faith. Maybe not in a direct preaching the Gospel kind of way but by being Godly people and showing this world that Christians aren’t just boring bible-bashers but we’re real people who have real lives.

    This culture is one which has a distinct (and quite wrong) view of what it means to be a Christian – and you’re busting that view apart every day.

    You and Gabe are heroes of the faith, in my opinion and, while the zoos project may seem like a waste of time and not a great missional work to some people, I think that is just because our thinking is too narrow and we don’t see the myriad ways that God is glorified through it.

  6. Gabe Taviano

    Wow, Holly. That sure went straight to my heart. I really enjoy helping people out, but don’t get to hear too often how that can be seen as a ministry. My prayer is, as you put it, it’s a modern form of discipleship.

    Loving / caring for people is something this culture is really confused about. Rarely do people realize that sharing our understanding of how to do things in an unselfish manner is something that can be passed on in a “discipleship way”. I’m sure you’ve already been a blessing to someone else with what God’s allowed you to learn!

    In response to Beth – props to you for having a curious mind and wanting to hear (rather than wanting to enforce opinion). My desire, after driving my family 22,000 miles to 52 zoos, is that people can see that the journey of following Christ is not the same for everybody. We all don’t need to mimic what “theologians” do.

    If we want to follow Christ, sometimes He will take us into a bar, a grocery store, a zoo, a new friend’s home, and occasionally a church, LOL. Only God could have made our journey to the zoos work out.

    I’m thrilled that He’s allowed it to be heard / seen by you! We care just as much that God is at work in your life through it than being on television / in magazines! A big reason to be watching for Marla’s NEXT BOOK!

  7. Holly @ Crownlaiddown

    As one of the host homes, may I just put in my two cents? I met the Taviano family the first time, when they came to our home. I “knew” them through a friend we shared in common, Joanne Heim.

    They came on Sunday and we had our church home group (base camp) group that night, too. Everyone that was there found themselves so honored to know the Taviano family and we all enjoyed hearing about their story. In fact the group still talks about it sometimes–an indeliable mark was made upon us!

    Also? Gabe spent the better part of three hours teaching me and helping me learn about web design/ development. He didn’t have to help, but really helped form a solid foundation in my understanding. I am still so grateful!

    So yeah, the Tavianos came and they blessed us way more than we could have blessed them. They epitomized the first disciples, as they went from home to home. They shared their faith openly.

    We love y’all and are honored to call you friends! I still feel bad about the giraffes and my poor time estimate to get there. Come again some time, ok? You are all welcome any time!

  8. Marla Taviano

    Hi, Beth. Thank you for your gracious comment. Great questions, and I’ll attempt to answer them.

    The Zoo Project was a family adventure/challenge, not a missions trip. We didn’t ask for money from people and didn’t expect it. GOD provided money when we needed it (my husband’s work, my books and speaking, selling things we owned, huge sacrifices, etc.). People offered their homes for us to stay in, and that became the hugest blessing of the trip. Meeting people around the country, sharing God’s love with each other, making connections and friendships that have led to so many more amazing opportunities–and yes, many of them ministry-related.

    I can’t explain it all here, and I’m sorry if this explanation isn’t satisfactory (I realize it probably isn’t). The bottom line I guess is this: We never claimed that it was a missions trip. And we didn’t ask for money. Staying with friends (old and new) doesn’t qualify as mooching (in my opinion)–it’s a picture of hospitality, generosity, friendship and fellowship.

    Anyway. I’ll be writing more on the topic. I hope you’ll stay tuned. And again, I totally appreciate your kind response when it would have been so easy just to blast me.

  9. Beth

    I think it’s great that you are able to take this trip to Cambodia! May God bless you on your adventure!

    Regarding the “mooching” accusations from the zoo trips… I’m going to try to say this as non-offensively as possible, because I’m honestly not trying to stir up the fire. From an outsider’s prospective, it’s difficult to understand how your zoo vacations served to “further the kingdom of God.” Now granted, I’ve never met you, I don’t know your heart, and certainly only God can truly know your intentions. BUT, that being said, I still fail to understand how visiting a number of zoos across the country did anything to bring glory to God. (Maybe if you had visited 52 homeless shelters? Or 52 missions organizations? Or something like that… But zoos? I just don’t understand…) I’m not going to call you a moocher, but I do see a canyon of difference between asking for support to fund your zoo trips and asking for support to fund an actual missions trip.

    Again, I don’t know you personally, and I’m not trying to be mean. I’m sorry that you were hurt by the “moocher” comments, but I can kind of understand why those people said what they did.

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  11. Jennifer

    I think it’s AWESOME that you’re going to Cambodia! And I thought it was pretty lame that people would criticize you for your zoo tour last year. You could be completely blameless and upright in all that you do — and people will STILL find a way to criticize. So take their words for what they were worth.

    But anyway, HOORAY for Cambodia! I can’t wait to see all the pictures and hear the stories!

    (Oh, and because I know you bonded with her last year, I wanted to let you know that BC passed away this week. We are so sad around here, but we’re so thankful that she’s not suffering anymore. We’re glad that she had so many happy moments in life — like sitting poolside with you and your girls in Texas! 🙂 )

  12. Denise

    I won’t go into how mad I was that people were saying those awful things about you guys!

    I will say, send us a support letter, we don’t have a lot, but we can give – some. I would love to support you going, especially since I can’t 🙁

    Love you friend – and I know your heart and I love it!

  13. Stephanie your sister

    I’m insanely jealous of the beautiful, relaxing day my sisters enjoyed without me. And deeply saddened that you forgot your camera. 🙂

    SO excited about your trip to Cambodia! Can’t wait to hear more!

  14. Valerie

    Will pray about the trip. I of course want to donate but will first need to consult both the hubby and the checkbook.

    Since we don’t have as much time to prepare for baby boy as we initially thought…. and his hospital bill won’t be covered by her insurance we have to pay that out of pocket. We can add him to our insurance once we have the paper stating he’s in “adoptive placement”. So, hopefully we get that the day of their 72 hour termination hearing.

    Induction date is for the end of June….however birthmom still really thinks he’s going to be here in mid June. Only a little over a month away……

  15. Megan@SortaCrunchy

    I am so sad for the hurtful moocher comments. That’s just dumb. I could say a lot worse, but I know you wanna stay family friendly, so we’ll leave it at dumb.


    Definitely praying, praying, praying for your trip. And SO THRILLED for you and Gabe! ♥♥♥

  16. Sarah Belanger

    Love it ~ Punky Brewster + Cambodia! I’ve started a Cambodia envelope with your name on it (in blue). Oh how our kids will just eat you up!

  17. AKat

    Of course I want a letter and will click on that link above! HEY. I have a zillion comments to catch up on – I’ve been loving your posts. Just not loving not having my own laptop, but it was returned today! Yea! Catch up begins tomorrow. Get ready!

  18. krista

    Cambodia will be a blessing, no questions asked. The fact alone that you and Gabe will be with my hubby during this time is blessing within itself. God is gonna rock your socks off, and I can’t WAIT!
    Love you guys

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