Mar 25, 2009

Pot of Gold?

After a storm passed through South Austin, I saw the sun was out in the west and it was still raining east and thought... RAINBOW! Here's a picture I snapped from the back door of our house.
My parents and sister live in North Austin and had golfball to baseball size hail. There was some vehicle damage but none to their houses - Thank God!

Serve Austin Sunday

If there is a fifth Sunday in any month of the year our church, Austin New Church, does not have church at 5:00 p.m. in the Fine Arts Facility of Akins High School as usual. Instead we have church out in our community by serving others. There are usually three or four choices to choose from to volunteer. Roger and I have helped serve burgers to the homeless at a grill out downtown and helped landscape a butterfly garden at Houston Elementary in East Austin. This Sunday, March 29th, from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. we will again be helping landscape but this time it will be the back yard of a training center and transitional home for Foundation for the Homeless. The Restore Community (aka community group) Roger and I are members of hosts a birthday party every month for the children of families who are being served by Foundation for the Homeless while their parents attend trainings on transitioning to self-sufficiency. The back yard of the home is very steep and full of rocks. It's not a safe place for children and not as usable as it could be. We utilize the parking lot of the church next door to play games with the children at our monthly birthday parties. So our community group has a personal connection to this Serve Austin Sunday project and we can't wait to make the back yard great for them. And we could use your help. If you are interested in joining us, just let us know and we'll give you all the details. We would love to have you help us. And we're supposed to get a "cold front" this weekend so the weather will be great for landscaping. Come join us!

Mar 24, 2009

Spring Break

Well, it's really over. Spring break for Austin was last week. It went by too fast. It was crazy here in Austin. Not only was it spring break, but it was the first week of the Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo and South by Southwest, a huge international music and film conference. There were over 1800 bands performing in the area the whole week. It was a crowded, crazy place but it was fun. We had some fun of our own with not one, but two families visiting us during spring break. The first weekend of spring break our friend Kezia from DC went to Houston to visit her sister and family and they all headed to Austin to visit us. That was so sweet of Kezia to share her family time with us. It was so much fun. There was a lot of wine tasting, appetizer eating and game playing with a trip to the capitol and history museum plus some good barbeque thrown in. Good times. Then the last weekend, my brother and his family came to visit us and we went for a ride on the Bertram Flyer with the Austin Steam Train Association. We have been trying to do this together for many years. My five year old nephew Cole said he has been waiting 30 years to ride this train. He is a hoot! It was a lot of fun and very neat. I hope we get to go on a longer train ride next. It was awesome to be able to host entire families in our new house. We love our house even more now that we know we can accommodate more people. So come visit us why don't you?!

Mar 21, 2009

The Shack

I finally finished the book, The Shack, tonight. I know, it took me forever it seems. But with life, moving and my other studies, I had to put it down for a bit. But I am so glad I picked it back up. I highly recommend it. It's amazing, wonderful and unbelievable. I don't usually read fiction, especially Christian fiction. I've always thought to learn about God I need to read non-fiction, you know, real stories, real life, etc. But I am so glad I read this book. I feel like I've learned so much about God in this story compared to the other non-fiction books I've read in a long time. Except for the Bible of course. It has truly touched my life and given me a 'magnificent glimpse into the nature of God.' Even if you aren't a believer or a Christian, it's a thrilling story that you will not want to put down. If you don't believe me, believe this. It is a New York Times best seller and has sold 5.5 million copies!

That being said, I want to quote a part of the book here. I love how God works. He always meets me where I am, telling me what I need to hear, over and over again. He loves us that much. I hear you God, but I need your help.

"All I want from you is to trust me with what little you can, and grow in loving people around you with the same love I share with you. It's not your job to change them, or convince them. You are free to love without an agenda."

Mar 11, 2009

Messages From God

I just wanted to share some things God has revealed to me since my last post.

Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown.
- George Shinn

My personal responsibility is to be a living sacrifice to God: Romans 12 (NLT). I would love to post the entire chapter here, but I've included a link above to a great website that has every version of the Bible. So if the New Living Translation version doesn't speak to you, try the Message version or any version you like. You can change it on the drop down box at the top.

I received quite a few emails and phone calls in response to my last post. I want to thank all of you for your prayer, your concern and your love. It was nice to hear from all of you and I appreciate it. Knowing I can depend on you helps enormously. I'm not having issues with my faith or having problems hearing from God. I am hearing Him loud and clear. I just don't know how to do what He's telling me I need to do and it's definitely out of my comfort zone. So I'm a little scared. But I have learned in the days since that I need to do it with others not just the person I need to do it with. I know God is going to use this for even more amazing stuff. I can't wait to see it.

Mar 6, 2009

Learning Through Struggles

One of my goals in life is to never stop learning and growing in the Lord. I do not ever want to become one of those I know it all believers. They are not only dry and not pleasant to be around, but they have stunted their relationship with God. I hope I never do that. Please my brothers and sisters, kick me in the butt if you see me doing this.

So in order to keep learning and growing, God puts me through situations so He can teach me about Himself and shape my mind and character to be more like Him. So anytime you talk to me, I am most likely going through something to which I am learning about God and His ways in the process. That's a too simple way to explain how it works.

But I'm struggling in one area of my heart right now. Not that I haven't struggled with it before, but I think God believes I may be ready to address it now. I've been working on focusing on His Word and Him so I don't have any distractions from hearing His voice and so I can tell His voice from the other voice that tries to tell me things (and lies to me). And what I have been hearing from Him (God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit) in the last few months is it's time to work on that part of my heart. I am scared because it's a part of my heart that I don't want to address.

If you know me well, you know how I feel about needing and wanting. There's a huge difference between needing and wanting. I don't want to address this but I need to. It's so much easier to just ignore it, but I know I can not live with this much longer. Not only will it prevent me from growing in my relationships with people but it will prevent me from growing closer to God. And that's something I for sure do not want to do.

So there you have it. I don't want to go into any more detail than that. I'm shaking as it is just typing this, on the verge of tears. It's something I am really struggling with and I really want to let go of it but it's hard and I don't know how to let go of it. So please pray for my heart, for the Holy Spirit to teach me how, for Jesus' love to fill me up so I can love like Him and for God to continue to speak to me so I don't push this off any longer. Thanks.

Mar 3, 2009

3 Years!

I had brain surgery on March 3rd, 2006. It's weird to think about where I was and how far I have come. I am so glad to be home too! I spent the last hour going through blogs from Feb 2006 and on for a few months. Maaan.. I am so glad that is behind us. If you're interested, go here Blog Archive Feb 2006 and start and the bottom and read up. The real action starts in March 2006. You can see the dates on the right.

A million thanks to my Holly for being there every single day. I think she had a harder time than I did sometimes. Thanks to my family and many atsnks to our church family at Grace back in DC. We love you guys!

And today also happens to be my sister's birthday. Happy Birthday Mirna!

Mar 2, 2009

I hope you didn’t give some guy in London 500 bucks today

I got to work today and as usual, I start up all of my apps. I usually hop into my Gmail too just to cover the bases. At first it would not let me in… I just figured they had a server down or something. But after an hour or so it started to annoy me. How could Google, the monolith that runs Gmail have a server down? I’ve heard stories of people just losing their accounts… everything just gone. That really worried me. I emailed Holly from my work email at 10:56am just to let her know my Gmail was down. I tended to a few work items and tried again and it still didn’t work. I thought I’d try logging in to Facebook and it didn’t let me in either. It was at that second that I figured something was up.

I got out my phone and fiddled with it to see if I could access something… anything. And while it was in my hand, it rang. The time was 11:53am. It was a 703 area code. Nothing out of the ordinary… northern Virginia… where I lived for three years. I answered it and a female voice at the other end asked, “Roger?” I said yes. “Where are you?” I thought that was a weird question… “I’m at work” I told her. She relented, “but where?” “In Austin,” I was really confused at this point. Then she said, “This is Ava.” Then it clicked who she was. It was a former co-worker of mine whom I worked with in Washington DC. She began to explain that someone was chatting with her on Facebook saying that he was me, and he was in London and was mugged and needed $500 wired to him ASAP to catch a flight home. I sat in shock. How did this punk get into my accounts? That’s what confused me. She tried to lead him on for a while and asked him questions. He tried to answer by pulling information about me from my Facebook. After a while he gave up and stopped talking to her. It was at this point that I didn’t really know what to do next. I thought to myself that I need to get a hold of the banks. We talked for a bit longer, I thanked her profusely for calling me and I let her go.

I managed to get on the credit card and bank website and changed their passwords. I called Holly and we began working on changing all of the passwords to our online accounts… utilities and other email accounts. I finally decided to call Citibank, my credit card, and ask them what I should do. I was on hold for quite a bit, which is uncharacteristic for Citibank compared to my past experiences. I was finally connected to an agent and explained my situation the best I could. He then told me that they had been contacted by the VISA and MasterCard companies about an online merchant whose customer database had been breached. Citibank had already cancelled my cards and reissued new ones.

At first I was caught off guard. But then it made sense. Whoever got their data must have gotten the email address I registered with the site and password I registered with. Stupidly, it was the same as my email and Facebook password! It all made sense now. These guys look for credit cards too, but the number they had was worthless. I use a different virtual credit card number every time I make an online purchase – it’s only good for that one time. But I guess they know to see if you use the same password for the purchase for your email too. That’s where they got me.

I immediately went to Gmail’s site and found a page where you can report that your account was compromised. They make you answer questions about your email setup that only you know and then you just submit the form. I had no idea how long it would be until I heard anything back. I tried to do the same for Facebook, but it was a lot harder and I didn’t get very far. It was just after 12:30pm and I was late for a meeting. I really wanted to keep working on changing passwords, but I know Holly was on it and there wasn’t much else I could do.

I sat through that meeting not really paying very good attention. I was bummed but really more worried. I tried to think everything through that we were doing to make sure we were doing everything that we could do to make sure any damage was limited.

I got out of my meeting around 1:15pm and went right back to my desk. And lo and behold there was an email from Gmail telling me that they had locked my account and all I had to do was click a link to reset everything. I did that immediately and changed the password. I was feeling pretty pumped at this point and went to Facebook and clicked a link there to reset my password and reset it there too! What a relief!! I closed both accounts and called Ava again to ask her to see if she could still see me online on either account. She looked and I was offline in both. I was afraid that maybe he still had it open while I reset the passwords and wasn’t kicked out yet. Me not showing up in chat was a pretty good indication that it was over.

It was a little after 2pm when I was able to put a status update on Facebook telling people that my account was hacked and to let me know if someone contacted them asking for money. Then I went into Gmail and looked to see if he emailed anyone but it didn’t look like it. There were a few emails from ebay stating that my account was disabled due to possible fraudulent activity… that was good. Then I remembered that Gmail keeps a log of all chats and I checked those out. It looked like he contacted a few people – six to be exact. All of them looked like a short number of lines… just four or six. But one had about sixty… and it read like this (I have removed my friend’s name):

11:40 AM me: Hey
Friend: what up dude?
11:41 AM me: Not too good
How are you
11:43 AM Friend: couldn't be better. What's wrong?
11:45 AM me: I Was mugged at gun point in london lastnight
Friend: What?! you on vacation?
11:46 AM me: Yeah
Those muggers took my wallet and bank card with my cellphone
Friend: did you get hurt?
me: Am stuck here at the moment and i need help with my flight ticket back home
11:47 AM Friend: you alone?
11:48 AM me: Am with my wife here
Friend: is she ok?
11:49 AM me: She is not
We need help right now cos we need to leave here in the next two hours
11:50 AM Friend: what do you need bro?
11:51 AM me: My Flight would be leaving in the next two hours i need $700 to complete my flight ticket back home
11:52 AM Friend: how would i get it to you?
me: You can wire the money online to me Via
11:53 AM Friend: How do i know this is really roger, tell me something only you and i would know
11:56 AM me: I Am Roger and Married to Holly Mommaerts
11:57 AM my high school X High 'xx
employer United States Army
Friend: k, let me talk to my wife really quick
me: Ok

---5 minutes---

12:03 PM me: Are you there
Friend: yeah, waiting for my wife to call back
shes at work
12:05 PM convincing her it's not a scam
me: Well am more than these
12:06 PM I Would refund the money back as soon as i return
12:07 PM Friend: i need a recieving country
im on the website
me: Ok
London Uk
12:08 PM Wire it to roger mommaerts
12:10 PM Did you get the message
Friend: Yeah, im registering with the website
12:11 PM me: Ok
12:14 PM Are you through
12:15 PM Friend: sending right now
gave me a number to call to complete transanction, hold on
12:16 PM me: You want to call western union
12:18 PM Friend: im on the ohone right now, she just has to verify everything for security purposes
12:19 PM me: Ok
12:20 PM Friend: she's saying she has to validate my identity
12:22 PM me: Ok
Friend: almost these
12:23 PM she said the soonest you will be able to pick it up will be after an hour from now
is that alright?
me: Yeah
12:24 PM Give me the MTCN NUMBER
Friend: 76xxxxxx62
12:25 PM now get your ass back home
12:26 PM me: Alright

----6 minutes----

12:33 PM Friend: I'll stay online, if you can let me know when you get on the flight
12:34 PM me: Ok i would talk to you

That was it. He had a victim. I immediately chatted with my friend…

2:32 PM me: Friend - you there?
you got scammed
some guy hijacked my gmail and facebook
2:33 PM call western union back asap and tell them it was a scam
you there?
Friend: yes im here
me: it was a scam
Friend: what the hell
2:34 PM me: call western union back
i am so sorry
what is your hopne number?
i will call you
Friend: 5555551212
2:36 PM me: sorry man

I called him and explained what had happened. I urged him to call Western Union immediately and call me back. He called me back at 2:52pm and WU said they already picked up the money. They also advised him to contact the local police where he lives and also the London Metro Police. I asked my friend how he paid and he said credit card. I told him to call the credit card company to see what they could do.

Another friend from DC called me at 3pm to ask me if everything was okay because she was being asked for money earlier in the morning. I assured her all was well.

I was away from my desk and saw that my friend called me at 3:30pm and I missed it. I called him back at 3:45pm and he said he had talked to both police departments and his credit card. And that his credit card company said it would not be charged against him since it was fraud – what a blessing!

Holly and I did place a fraud alert on our credit too just to be on the safe side.

It was nearing 4pm and I had not had a bite to eat since just a banana around 12:30pm. I finally ate my lunch and got some work done. I hung around the office with a splitting headache until around 7:30pm.

The only pending issue I have now is that Facebook has decided to disable my account due to fraudulent use. No duh. I got an email from them earlier and it asked me a security question that I thought was correct. I just got an email that it was not correct and that my account will remain disabled. I replied with what I am sure it really must have been, so we’ll see if they give me another chance. I think it’s a bit weird that they don’t have any other way to reset your account and they just disable it. But that is not a life stopper. Life without Facebook isn’t a biggie. I really haven’t had much time to spend on there recently anyway.

Well, it has been a long mentally and emotionally exhausting day. I guess if there is one lesson I have learned from this it is to make sure all your important accounts have a unique password. Especially different from the ones you use to purchase anything online. I am very thankful that Holly and I were able to keep our wits about us, stay cool and hop on top of everything to regain control. Be very wary about anyone asking you for money, even if it is someone you think is your friend.