Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Wow! We took a look at our account and couldn’t believe it!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

To give, please click here: First Love International.

It’s been a month since we first announced the trip, and we couldn’t be more grateful for those of you who have chosen to partner with us!

Over this past month, we’ve been working hard on the different materials we will be using. One aspect we’ve been really focusing on is the devotions we will be leading with the church in Ecuador.

Here’s what Kim, the Co-Pastor there, wrote to us a few weeks ago:

As I am doing devotions this morning God has shown me a great truth about the worship in Pallatanga. AW Tozer points out that it’s one’s idea of WHO God is that drives how we worship. (Not a new thought, just one that clicked in my heart today). The people of Pallatanga have been taught that God is judging, punishing, damning God who hates sin. But they are only recently being taught that God is all loving, merciful and fully Good.

When they begin to understand who God really is, they will understand how to worship Him. Pray that Pallatanga will experience who God really is.

We are so excited to partner with these pastors and create space where the people of Pallatanga can experience the Father’s heart for them.

Forgiveness

Mercy

Unconditional love

Goodness

Grace

In Ecuador, our “plan” is to spend time with both the youth and the adults, teaching on different aspects of the Father’s heart, and then creating space to experience it.

We aren’t going with songs that are already written, but we are expecting the Lord to write new songs… melodies, chords and lyrics that come from a fresh experience with Him, grounded in the Word. Songs that will flow from our times together. Songs that will remind us of who He is when we’re tempted to doubt.

This will be new for the people of Pallatanga, as they haven’t really been able to connect the Lord through current worship music. The old style songs that were taught by missionaries of the past are sung out of tradition, but not with any meaning. And the majority of music that is available to them is either translated or seems copied after current styles that just don’t connect.

Our prayer is that the new songs will be birthed with THEIR melodies, chord structures and patterns… the words sing the way THEY would pour their hearts out to the Lord.

We will also be teaching piano and ukelele classes so that they have some kind of musical knowledge to continue writing after we leave.

Our last weekend with them, we will host a “worship on the square”, partnering with the Quito Vineyard. In addition to Leo and I and the Quito Vineyard leading some original songs, it will be beautiful for them to worship Jesus with their brand-new songs!

I know that our 3 weeks there will fly, but we are so excited to have this extended time with this brand-new church plant. We are praying that all of our moments are marked with the Father’s heart.

Praise:

Leo’s elbow surgery went better than we could’ve expected. We were expecting that the surgeon would have to scrape away scar tissue and clear the nerve that was causing Leo so much pain; but in reality, Leo had an anomaly of a weird muscle that was sitting on top of his Ulnar nerve. The surgeon simply cut the muscle and the nerve was no longer compressed. Leo immediately felt better than he has in years! We are so grateful!!!

I was looking up requirements for our (Elias and I) Bolivian visas and realized that I need to get my passport renewed (it expires in October) before I can apply for the visa. I am so grateful I figured that out now, while we still have time!

We are almost done with our bilingual worship album! 4 songs are done, 3 more to finish up!

Prayer:

We are meeting with some folk this week to plan out some fundraising events.

Quality time to work on the different materials we’re going to take with us: a family devotional, kid’s Bible reading devotional, and the songwriting journal.

Our church is sending a team to Ecuador about a month before we arrive. I know the pastors are so happy to have all the different voices joining with theirs in speaking the message of the Father’s heart. Please pray for their time together.

We are still looking for people to house sit/dog sit while we are gone.

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Summer plans

We have been invited to partner with Vineyard churches in Bolivia and Ecuador for the summer. We are heading out mid-June, and will get back just in time for Leo to do a training weekend in Atlanta in mid-August. Whew!

Watch the following video for a little more info:

We are so excited!

But, like we said in the video, we need a LOT of help. We need $11,000 total for the whole trip. That includes plane tickets (Elias will only be able to fly free for the first portion), Visas for Elias and I for Bolivia, costs in-country, costs for supplies and materials, covering things here while we are gone, etc.

If you can donate, please give at First Love International.

Bolivia:

We will be training up leaders in Cochabamba. The first week, we’ll be doing worship and kids ministry workshops for the church there, and then the following weeks we will be helping with a conference for Bolivian La Viña pastors and leaders.

From there, we will head to Pallatanga, Ecuador. You can find out more about the ministry Here.

In Ecuador, we will be doing nightly classes about worship, creating space for them to really connect with the Lord and express their hearts back to him.

A trip like this also needs a LOT of prayer.

These next few weeks, please pray specifically for the following:

Space and time for us to get the training materials together.

Leo has another surgery on his arm coming up in a few weeks. Please pray for complete restoration.

Finding someone (or a few different folk) to dog sit/ house sit for us.

Time to finish our EP

Booking the space for the fundraising concert

Health (we’ve all been knocked down by a cold the last week).

Thanks so much for following along with us! 🙂

Here we go again!!!

Five years ago, Leo had the opportunity to travel to Bolivia with a team of folk from different Vineyard churches and do a week-long training on worship. He loved being able to use his gifts and pour into the pastors and worship leaders!

While there, we knew that some of the pastors would be coming to the States for the International conference the following summer, so I encouraged Leo to really listen to the Lord as to who he should invite to stay with us.

He invited the De la Cruz family… a family of 5 pastors from Lima, Peru.

The week they stayed with us was a blast! They would be up early for the conference, Leo and I helped run the all-day children’s ministry portion, and then we would all stay up late sharing our stories, testimonies and visions in ministry.

Around our kitchen table, the family invited us to go to Lima, spend a month, and teach their people a little more about what we were doing to train up kids in ministry. And we did! That following February, we flew to Lima for a month and stayed in their house. We had an incredible time together sharing life, training their kids and kid teams and helping with two camps.

We came away from that trip feeling like family!

So, it was a no-brainer when they asked us to come speak and help out at their regional conference in Colombia the following year (which also happened to be when we got pregnant!). I taught about kids ministry, Leo taught about being proud of his Latino heritage and how to reclaim indigenous worship. We both felt at home with these dear pastors who became friends.

We made promises to come to Bolivia as a couple for a few weeks and do similar things to what we did in Lima.

But my pregnancy was unexpected and rough… let alone trying to figure out how to be parents…

This past October, when Elias was 15 months old, we were invited to go to the same bi-annual regional conference, but this time in Ecuador. We had a blast! We spent a little over a week with our friends, reconnecting, and renewed our commitment to come visit.

We also met an incredible couple from Pallatanga, Ecuador who, in addition to running a camp and conference center, are planting a Vineyard church. And, while they are phenomenal pastors, neither of them are really musicians nor know how to help their people truly connect with the Lord through music.

The translated stuff just doesn’t cut it for their people, most of whom are indigenous.

We have experience helping different people groups, especially indigenous, find their voices and write worship music with their own melodies, chords, lyrics, etc.

We open up the Word, and create space for people to experience God. Worship always flows as a response to His presence. It’s incredible to watch it happen; to experience people connect to the Lord for the first time through song.

And we can’t wait to be a part of what the Lord is awakening in Bolivia and Ecuador this summer!

On finding your voice

This past year, I’ve ended my Wednesday night teaching schedule at the house of a fun young couple who inherited an incredible grand piano from a relative. They have the most beautiful space for it in their living room with 2-floor ceiling. There is a stunning chandelier that hangs from the ceiling above, and the husband even painted an incredible 10 ft x 8 ft abstract painting to hang on the wall beside it. He had to stretch the canvas himself and everything!

This couple is incredibly talented.

And, upon inheriting their piano, they decided to take lessons. The husband had taken lessons as a child, but nothing “stuck”, and the wife is a viola player.

Our first lesson, par for course, we went over the basics… where the notes are on the piano, where they are on the staff, and we had fun improvising (getting the fingers all moving!).

As the weeks went on, they grew incredibly in their abilities to where the husband could expertly play Moonlight Sonata, and the wife could play Vietnamese songs from her childhood with such skill!

But, one week the conversation changed from piano to voice. Both of them work in public speaking, and they thought that taking voice lessons would help them develop stamina and learn vocal health.

During the conversation, the wife shared that in elementary school, she had auditioned for the choir. The students were all scored based on how well they could sing, and she got the lowest points possible.

It scarred her so deeply that she decided to never sing again…. not in the shower, not in the car, not even humming. Never.

I can’t imagine that!

Now, when I start with a new student, I let them in on how I work: our lesson is a safe space to make mistakes, to try something new and hard, and to keep trying!

And, the truth I speak to my nervous voice students is this:

Everyone can sing, they just have to find the right song in the right key.

So many people compare themselves to singers on the radio (who, lets be honest… are processed and auto-tuned).

My goal is to help everyone find their voice, and to help them sing in a healthy way so that they can sing for their whole life.

So, I let my student in on all my thoughts, and we started with finding her range.

She could sing over an octave, all on pitch! For someone who has NEVER sung, I was super impressed with her!

Once we got the initial jitters out of the way, and with even more encouragement from her husband, she sang “You are my sunshine” perfectly.

It was so beautiful!

For Christmas? She is singing “Mary did you know”, and the sound that comes out of her is absolutely stunning. I get goosebumps every time!

I am just so blessed and honored to be a part of the story of this amazing woman finding her singing voice.

 

So, what about you?

Have you ever been told you couldn’t do something and you actually never tried again?

What would it feel like if you actually took a chance?

Infertility and the holidays

I am currently sitting in the car, with a load of groceries, waiting for my 16 month-old miracle baby to wake up.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and in this very moment my heart is so full of joy and excitement, thinking about all of the amazing family time that is coming over the next few days.

I can’t wait to watch Elias eat all the food, shimmying his happy “yummy food” dance in his high chair. I can’t wait to watch him crack up at all his older boy cousins as they run around and play together.

I can’t wait to talk about all the mom things and toddler-life things, and hear stories from the matriarchs in our family.

It hasn’t always been this way, though.

After missing out on Thanksgiving for the 5 years I lived in Colombia, we were finally able to participate when we moved here 6 years ago. Right after my sister had her baby…. and my cousin was pregnant.

I felt like I had absolutely nothing to give to any conversation. I felt so out of place. Truly, most of Thanksgiving Day, I just avoided any conversation and hung out with the younger kids in the basement, hiding.

On top of culture shock, I was having anxiety about my place in the family, my value; and truly struggled to even be happy for how the family was growing. I found myself feeling jealous and bitter that it wasn’t happening for us.

When I voiced some hesitation and anxiety I was feeling to a family member, it was countered with “why can’t you just get outside of yourself and be happy!”

Yeah… not really helpful.

I know that I have friends who might be feeling anxious in these days as well. It might be for different reasons… maybe you aren’t happy in your job, in your marriage, or in your singleness… or maybe you’re just not feeling joyful and you can’t put your finger on “why”.

In my counseling sessions leading up to the holidays the following year, my counselor told me 2 things that helped me.

1) Find my “safe person”… someone I know loves me no matter what I bring to the table. Someone who either won’t ask me the hard questions, or someone who I feel comfortable talking about the hard things with.

2) Breathe in “I can do all things”…. breathe out “through Christ who gives me strength”.

As I breathed my way through one holiday after another, I realized that I was able to show up for my family members.

Instead of feeling shame and anxiety about what I was lacking, I was able to be a non-distracted listener. And, while family members shared their struggles, especially when it came to kids, I was able to stay calm.

(Don’t get me wrong… in my head I was still saying “at least you can have kids”… but I was able to keep that thought to myself and just keep listening.)

What I learned as I would ask questions and listen, is that ALL of us feel like we’re missing out on something… we all have pain from life not turning out as we thought it would… even those who seem like they have it all together.

So, if you’re dreading family time like I did for years, know that you’re not alone. You don’t need to give anything that you don’t have. It’s ok to just.show.up.

Breathe.

Listen.

Play.

I promise you will find joy in a tiny moment, if you’ll just have courage to look for it.

And, if you’re one of those annoying family members, (like we are this year) for whom things are all going pretty well, be the safe person for your struggling family members.

Listen.

Play.

Make inclusive, memorable moments.

Be the person that your struggling family members are grateful for.

On teaching adults…

For as long as I can remember, I have taught kids. Whether in Sunday school, or as an actual certified teacher… I’ve always been GREAT with kids!

I know how to help them get past their fears of failure of trying something new, how to celebrate that they actually DID it, how to push them just enough so they go farther than they thought they could…

I love working with kids!

But this past year there was a shift in my teaching schedule.

I started teaching more and more adults.

Whether it’s someone who was recommended by a mutual friend, someone who found me online and had “that feeling” that they should call me, to a dad of 3 of my students who wants to sing better so that he doesn’t embarrass his daughters… I’ve been teaching more adults this year than ever.

And when the first phone conversation happens, I can sense a dance between excitement and fear in their voices. I feel like they are expressing things to me, as a stranger, that they might not tell most people. They want to try something new, or get back to something that had given them life before, but are terrified of failure.

One couple even waited to tell their closest friends that they were taking piano lessons until a few months in, once they started really “getting it”. They were SO PROUD to tell their friends and their families of their new-found talent!

One of my first lessons with a new vocal student, she literally trembled almost the entire time. But by the end, her countenance had shifted, her shoulders relaxed, her breath became deeper and she finished her lesson knowing she could sing.

I cheered for her the same as I do for my younger students, and the biggest smile spread across her face.

She had faced her fear of trying something that she felt deep down she wanted to do. Each week when she comes, we peel the layers of stress and anxiety and get to the relaxed singer more and more quickly.

I look forward to her lessons and the breakthrough that comes each time.

5 reasons volunteering, even as a toddler mom, is WORTH IT.

For the last 20 years of my life, I have either been on paid staff, a guest worship leader or speaker, or a key volunteer at a church.

I love The Church. I love serving her, watching even the youngest ones using their gifts to edify Her.

And yes, I know that WE are The Church. It isn’t contained within 4 walls of a building. I get that and believe it with all my heart.

But, there is a pep-rally of sorts that happens, usually on the weekends, when we all choose to come together from our different neighborhoods and corners of our sub-cultures and raise a unique sound that will never be lifted again. We choose to join our hearts and minds together to celebrate, learn, commune and meditate on the person of Jesus. We see Him at work in each other, we see Him in the faces of the other, and we hopefully walk away better and more open to the voice of the Holy Spirit during the week.

Now, my niche in the world of “professional Christians”- those of us who are actually paid by our specific churches- has always been with worship, and teaching children and youth. It is a blast!!! I would ALWAYS say that I had the best job ever!

If you know me in real life, you know that it is my passion to raise up youth and children to know and love Jesus and follow Him. I especially love training them to use their gifts to teach others about Him!

When I had Elias last year, I honestly thought that I would be able to continue working at church. However, at the 6 week mark, when I was done with taking time off, I knew it wouldn’t work.

For starters, I only worked at the church for 20 hours a week, with most of those being weekend hours. I didn’t get maternity leave. I was still not making the amount of money hourly that would actually contribute to our household. And, my husband was also working for the church, so weekends were tricky when we were both pulled in opposite directions. There was also no opportunity for my position at the church to grow… so it was a pretty easy decision (on paper) to step down.

But the reality? When I knew it was my calling? Wow. So hard!

I stayed on as a volunteer on Saturday nights, which was still hard because Elias wouldn’t go to anybody. My husband would run sound most Saturday nights, so as I was in the children’s area rehearsing with my team, he was in the sanctuary and unable to help. Elias was so little, and the noise was too loud during rehearsals. I would try to take him to the nursery but he would SCREAM until he would fall asleep. It broke my heart. There were actually a few times when I “wore” Elias on my back and put his little headphones on so I could lead worship and he could be with me. He loved that!

I was always drenched by the end.

It was exhausting.

I started getting anxious as I would drive to church on Saturday nights. How would he act? Would he be ok? Would he be willing to go to anyone, or would I have to wear him?

During those few months, a few different people stepped in. One staff member would just wear him as she walked around completing her duties at the Saturday service. Another mom he knew would just take him to the nursery and sit with him so he wasn’t with strangers. I was so grateful!

However, with wanting to be at church together on Sunday, it became less and less practical to come both Saturday night and Sunday. So, I stepped down from leading kids worship right around when Elias turned a year old.

We would come with Leo on Sundays, help lead worship, and enjoy being together in one service.

And, again… people stepped in to help. We have such an amazing community!

There was a switch that happened for Elias when he started to walk at around 13 months. He was ok with not being held all the time. He was more ok going to other people.

So, here are my reasons I love volunteering, even with my toddler:

1) Church is literally his favorite place to be. Whether or not I’m leading worship with Leo, Elias walks all the way up to the front during worship, and he lifts his hands, claps and sings along.

When Elias wants to keep moving and not sit still, literally at any point, he can walk down the halls and hear worship. He has been known to walk into the 5th grade room, into the 1st-4th grade room, and even up to the screens projecting the service in our church cafe.

2) Elias loves being around other kids! He knows he is a part of a huge community, and he LOVES being a part of the different music classes I’ve taught. And the kids love him!!! They are so patient and kind. One of the best parts is that our church is filled with people of all different nationalities, languages and races. So his best buddies don’t usually look like him!

3) It solidifies for me that it truly takes a village. I’ve always loved pouring into other people’s’ kids… but my heart absolutely melts watching other people pour into my son!

4) Elias gets to watch his parents love Jesus, teach the Word, lead worship and pray for others! Now, he is starting to join in, and we want him to!

5) Last but not least: being a volunteer means that I can pick and choose the opportunities that fit best for our family. When I was on staff, I was the one who had to pick up the slack when volunteers weren’t able to show up. But now I get to choose. And I am grateful for the opportunity to choose things that fit us the best.

I am so grateful to be able to walk this amazing journey, and to now be able to serve as a family is beyond words.

The flexible nap schedule, the (sometimes) over-stimulation, the poopy diapers that need to be changed at not-so-convenient times… it’s all worth it!