Beauty in the brokenness

Yesterday, Leo and I had the privilege of participating in a mission trip here in Bogota.  Some friends (via facebook) were here working with the special needs orphanage that ECA partners with, and asked if we had time to go along with them.  We jumped at the chance!

So, with 10 of us crowded into an 8-passenger van, we set off.  We had a good 1 1/2 hours to get acquainted, get lost, find our way, and get to the orphanage, set high above the city.  I’ve sent my students there over the years, but never had the chance to go myself, so this was a pain-free ministry to visit… still a productive trip as far as “work” goes, but no memories to hover over our time there.   I was really in need of something like that.

Being a school day, most of the able-bodied kids were out studying.  So, the only kids there were the severely disabled and the babies.  As we walked into the room of the older kids, most of whom couldn’t move much besides their faces, it was a little hard to take in.  Bones twisted, faces contorted, drooling, snot, i-v feeding tubes, complete helplessness.  But, as we walked around and greeted each child, some responded to our touch on their exposed arms or their foreheads.  Others smiled with wide eyes gazing into ours.  One little blind boy just started giggling hearing us come closer.  He was so precious!

One little girl, about 8 years old was being fed her lunch in a high-chair.  As Becky and I came closer, she just started laughing and laughing.  We smiled back, and then out from underneath the tray, she pulled a Bratz doll with brown eyes and blonde hair.  She handed it to me with her one good hand, and pointed to the doll and then to me…. then to the doll and to Becky.  We realized that she thought we looked like her precious little bratz doll because of our hair and eye color.  So smart that one!

We finished with our greeting and then continued with our tour around the complex.  Clean.  Shining.  Smelling of disinfectant.  Hundreds of items of clothes hung on the lines to dry.  Pictures on the walls of this beautiful 150-member family.  Crosses.  Teddy bears.  Therapy rooms.  Dentist chairs.  Playground.  Sunlight.  Beauty.

Our tour left us on the very top floor with the babies.  Beautiful lives born to horrible situations of abuse and abandonment.  Blind, deaf, contorted, stiff, smiling babies.  We held, played, tickled, sang with and loved on these precious little ones.  Leo said that he knows he truly saw miracles and angels.

Right before lunch, while we were checking out the dentists’ office, Becky was standing on a chair to get a better look and then jumped off, rolled her foot saying she heard something “pop”.  We called the physical therapist who was there working with the kids, and she said that we definitely needed to take her to the hospital.  Leo and I split up the group, called the driver, and Leo was off with Becky, her husband, and Brooke to the emergency room.   As we were talking with the care-takers about how the rest of us could get home later on, they confirmed that as long as something didn’t happen with one of the kids, we would have a ride.

Then, stories about how many of the kids have been told they were going to die, but yet lived for years… other kids with emergency situations who died in the hospital waiting rooms because no one saw the value of their life… doctors with compassion whose hands were tied up in hospital politics.  Our conclusion:  they need a hospital or doctors on staff for their kids.  People who see the same value in these precious little lives.

My afternoon was filled with 2 little girls.  Lina is an older black girl who can’t move anything besides her face.  Her beautiful chocolate eyes widen as you get close, and her smile shows off all of her beautiful white teeth… even the ones in the back.  I sat with her as she laid on her bean-bag and sang, clapped, smiled, talked, and prayed over her.  Her bones were so twisted that I didn’t know which leg was which, and although her body was lifeless, her face was full of expression and life.  She was beautiful.

As I was sitting with her, all of a sudden Camila came scooting over to me. I didn’t know her disability earlier when I saw her in the high-chair, but now I could see that she had braces on her legs, and used her one good arm to propel herself wherever she needed to do.  She sat close, and one of the nurses said that she wanted to walk with me.  So, I lifted her up, held her by her fore-arms, and we walked and danced.  We both laughed and laughed.  It seemed that she didn’t care where we went, she just wanted to walk… so we went back and forth in the huge space.  My back was killing me after about 30 minutes of this, so I told her that I needed to sit down.  She didn’t seem to like that, until I told her that we were going to race.  I scooted myself all over that floor, up, down, around, taking short-cuts around the different kids in their wheely chairs.  We were laughing so hard!   It was amazing.

We had time to talk with “Hermana” before we left.  She took us to the manager’s office, and as the door opened, we saw that it was a little chapel.  She said “this is request and complaint department”.  She said that absolutely nothing in this orphanage would happen without time spent with the “manager”.   She went on to tell us that years ago, when she felt like the Lord was calling her to open a home for children, she sat in the corner and said, “God, if you want me to do this, You’re in charge.  You are responsible for feeding these kids, You are responsible for bringing them to me, You are responsible for everything they need.  You do those things, and I will love them and be a good steward of what you give me.”  1,000 kids, 7 homes, a special-needs school, a farm, and a vacation home with a pool and facilities for the kids later, all because of God’s faithfulness.

She is the Mother Teresa of Bogota.

There are stories after stories of miracles, provision, changed lives, heart-break, difficulty and success, and she knows it’s all the Lord’s.  They’re His kids, it’s His work.  She’s just a lady loving the least of these the best way possible.

I’m SO excited that our 9th graders are going to be partnering with this ministry for the next 3 years.  Lives are going to change.

Oh, and one more thing:

22 years ago, Hermana adopted a little girl whose mom threw her up against the wall when she was 2 months old because she wouldn’t stop crying.  This little para-plegic girl who can’t do anything but make noises and use her eyes to communicate is going to graduate from high-school this year.  She wants to study medicine and start a school for others like her.  There is a special computer with a special program where people just like her can read books and then turn the pages of the books with their eyes.  She’s been tested and is more than capable to use this program.

The world is open to her.

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”  Gen. 50:20

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Up-rooted

I took a walk in our neighborhood park tonight.  It was a typical misty evening here, and the occasional drops that fell on my hair matched the drops falling from my eyes.

If someone were to tell me 5 years ago as I was planning on coming here that it would hurt this much to leave, I probably wouldn’t have believed them.  Even in my first month, it felt odd to sleep in the same bed for a month straight.  I’d been a vagabond for so long that I didn’t know what it was to have a routine… seeing the same people everyday… having to actually change my clothes more than 2x in a week… letting people in to those deep places of my soul that hadn’t known roots not easily pulled up by the next gig or town waiting for my arrival.  I was used to leaving.

As I walked around this evening, I watched scenes from the last 4 1/2 years.

I saw my summer with Leo’s teenage cousin… teaching him how to throw a softball for the first time. It took him a few days, but he finally stopped throwing like a girl. 🙂

I saw the sleepovers I’ve had with my kids from the south… the mudsliding and laughter.  The frightful smiles as I pushed them higher on the swings than they’d ever gone before. The fear on their eyes as we passed the security guards on our way up to the apartment, sopping wet with grass hanging from our clothes.  Their hidden laughter as I joked with the guards about how incredible the mud puddles were.

I saw the deep conversations that happened with dear friends and students on the various benches… conversations that defined our walks with the Lord.  Conversations that made us laugh so hard we almost peed our pants (or did, maybe just a little).

I walked the cement path winding through the park that my students ran while ringing unsuspecting neighbor’s doorbells.

I walked on the grass that I have so often laid down on watching the clouds pass… only to realize each time that the neighbor’s dogs often “walked on” the same grass.  Gross.

The sleep-overs, volleyball games, impromptu dance parties with music from cell-phones…

I realized that I let myself put down roots here, in this park… in this neighborhood… in this city… in this country.

“May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love.” Eph. 3:17

In a way, I’ve done this before.  I’ve left a place I love… people I love… a season that I dearly loved.  This time it’s different simply because it’s not quite how I imagined.  Each time previous, there was Someone gently leading me through a season of good-byes, a season of “it’s time to go”.  This feels much more violent.  Even when I got malaria, it was basically just leaving a dream behind… a list of “could-have-beens”… not tearing up the roots of love that had planted themselves so snug in my heart.

The last 4 1/2 years in this place have been some of the most challenging, growing times I’ve faced thus far.  ECA, while it was truly my dream “job”, was filled with trials and disappointments… sometimes on a daily basis.  I did many things well after often failing miserably (except grades, writing curriculum and lesson plans… for my “bosses” who are reading this… I know I continued to fail at those things).  I loved deeply and gave much of myself for the cause of Christ, so that people would truly know His love for them.  I buried wanderlust for the call of discipleship and relationship.  I saw needs that God had fitted me perfectly for (with daily chiseling, of course), and had many of those “this is what I was born for” moments… from finally conquering the hardened heart of an abused, crying child with the love of Christ, to writing Christmas musicals that spoke to the heart of our unique situation here, to leading worship for different groups of people, to spending time with incredible teenagers in the Amazon.  There are so many moments that I am grateful to have had the honor of living!

I am an all-or-nothing kind of person, and looking back I can say that I gave all of myself (for better or worse) to the people that I was called to serve, and I wish I was given more time to give even more.

I have 3 more weeks here, and many things on my “to do” list before I leave.  Hopefully, there will be at least one more sleep-over and a few more bench conversations.

But, tonight, it was just me and the Lord.  He was reminding me of His faithfulness through the other seasons of my life; how I let Him lead, and how He led me here to find much more than friends… but my family.  And, He reminded me to continue to trust Him through the pain.

This world is not my home, but yet He let me find a beautiful resting place for a while.

I know I always come back to the following verses… they have become my solid footing through different seasons now.

Jeremiah 29: 4-5,7,10-11

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon”… side-note: for some reason, for me, going back to the States now always seems like “exile”.  But, God keeps sending me back.

“Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce…”

Then, a long bit about making babies and grandbabies.

“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.”

Then, a part about not listening to false prophets who probably tell them that it’s going to be over quickly.

“For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fufill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.  For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”

So, our command for this next season is to settle in, pray, wait.

I don’t know what kinds of roots are waiting for us in the States.  I DO know that the best plants grow in soil that is up-rooted, sometimes violently, in preparation for what is coming.

The deepest roots however, the ones that are truly planted in the soil of God’s marvelous love, keep growing deeper, no matter what is re-planted around it.

He goes before us…

Deuteronomy 31:8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

This verse was told by Moses to Joshua and the Isrealites just as they were crossing the Jordan river into the promised land.  They had been wandering in the desert for 40 years because of their doubt the first time around; and finally the Lord was giving them what He had promised… and what they had been desiring.

I think it’s interesting that even though the Lord had been guiding them to this point for so long, they were still afraid.  Moses had to say these exact three phrases two times in his speech:  “The Lord Himself goes before you”, “He will never leave you or forsake you”, and “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged”. They knew that this final step was God’s plan for them, yet they were still afraid.  I can relate!

I love teaching middle-schoolers!  They’re hilarious, random, able to understand humor, and about as ADD as I am at times.  We have a blast!  But, when I’m teaching them, I know that I need to repeat the main points (usually more than once… ha!).  Everyday, as I’m teaching, I have them repeat the main points after me, sometimes in a loud voice, so I know that it’s sinking in.  Even in our worship songs, I like having songs that repeat main points.  It allows the truth to really sink in… to our bones.  “How He loves”  and “No sweeter name” were some of the favorite worship songs this year in middle school for that reason… we allowed those truths to envelop us.

As I was sitting, thinking about Moses’ speech this morning, I couldn’t help but think how I would encourage a multitude of ECA elementary and middle-schoolers, the kids in the different ministries around Bogota, the kids in the Jungle… the people I was called to minister to the last 5 years.  I would definitely repeat those 3 main phrases, and have them say it out-loud with me. I would have them visualize what those specific phrases mean to them. There would probably be hand motions involved.

And then, I thought about myself and how I need to be reminded of those very important phrases these next few weeks… today… this minute. I probably don’t need hand motions, though. 🙂

Praise God that He’s promised to go before us (believing in an omni-present God, we know that He is already there, working things out in advance for us).

Praise God that He will never leave us or forsake us!

Praise God that because of His presence in our lives, we don’t have to have fear or be discouraged.  Perfect love casts out all fear, and He is the joy and lifter of our heads!

One of my favorite quotes that I often give to people who are in transition is:

The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it His presence and His promise. — Brennan Manning

There are so many things to be grateful for in this process:

That Leo is with our dear friends, Jonny and Suzie Pineda, another bi-cultural ministry couple (now a family!), who did what we’re about to do 3 years ago.  Leo is soaking up all the time with them… asking them the hard questions about leaving behind family, friends and ministry, and what it’s like to start all over again, trusting God to lead him as the head of our family.  Hard questions.

That there are wonderful women here that have spent hours on the phone with me through my tears encouraging me, kicking my butt, praying for me, and offering to help, etc.

That I got an email today from our mission pastor’s wife (also our small-group leader) from Vineyard Columbus informing me that because of the great need for immigration counseling within our church body (there are over 100 nations represented!  We love our church!), she is sending our case to someone we can talk to when we get to the States!  This is a huge relief to both of us!

That ECA is going to be able to rent our apartment to other missionaries, so we don’t have to pack up everything.

That Leo’s dad is coming over on Friday and Saturday to help fix random things around the apartment that we haven’t had time to fix.

That God cares about us so much that He would make it absolutely clear which way we should go!  We’d been praying all year that He would give us direction; and while we didn’t ever imagine He would answer us in this way, He did.  He heard our prayers and answered them!

There are so many things to be thankful for!

You can continue to pray for these specific things:

Good-byes (especially Leo’s family… it hit them pretty hard!)

My focus in sorting and packing (I’m really having a hard time with this… I need help!)

That God would continue to speak to Leo while he’s in the States with our friends

That if God wants the outreach, missions and worship ministries at ECA to continue, that He would put it on people’s hearts to step up to the task.

That God would rise up another worship leader at our church to replace Leo.

That God would rise up someone to continue working with Leo’s indian group.

That we (I) would stop worrying about all of the above.  Ha!

Thank you all so much for your encouragement and prayers for us!

US bound

Sunday, as Leo was going through immigration, he got a very stern talking-to by the immigration officer about the amount of times he’s gone in and out of the US on his resident visa.  We knew this would happen eventually, but we didn’t realize the gravity of it until the immigration officer explained that Leo only has a “conditional” resident visa, not a permanent one; and that when he has to get it renewed in December, Immigration will take a look at his activities to see whether he should be granted a permanent resident visa.  The officer was blunt in saying “I don’t think they’ll renew it if you don’t actually LIVE here.”

Needless to say, Leo was pretty shaken up, and called me right away.  He also wrote to a friend of ours who is an immigration lawyer in Florida to ask for some advice.  Our friend confirmed what the immigration officer said.  We need to live in the States, asap.

It’s not even been 36 hours since we’ve been praying and getting counsel from dear friends and family, and we feel at peace that the Lord has directed this sudden move.  A year ago, our plan was to come to the States this summer so that Leo could go to grad school.  Things kept changing, and it got harder for us to decide when we were going to head to the States.  We’re in deep in many different ministries and wanted 1 more year to transition out well.  But, it seems like whether or not Leo is in grad school this Fall, the Lord wants us in the States.

We have a little bit of an idea of what we’re going to do, and how we’re going to “transition”.  The plan is that Leo is going to come back down to Colombia on July 13th to help finish packing and saying goodbye to our church, friends and family.  Right now, we’re looking at him going back on July 20th to follow-up on job applications we’ll be turning in this week.  I am going to stay a little longer to help with orientation and setting up things for whomever is going to replace me at ECA, and say goodbye to the students and teachers.  I hope to be back in the States on August 8th.

For the time-being, we’re going to live with my parents.  We have a HUGE basement apartment, and they have a car we can borrow.  The idea is that we’ll hopefully either rent or buy something in the Columbus area by September to prove that we’re sticking around a little bit.  We are both going to be looking for jobs as well.  Leo is looking for teaching Spanish or Music lessons in nearby community colleges or Universities.  I’m probably going to get a part-time job at the local Christian bookstore.  We’ll see.  I’m still not completely healthy, so I shouldn’t do more than part-time so I can continue to rest and hopefully get better.

Leo will apply for his visa renewal, and they could deny it.  If they deny it, we’ll be back down in Colombia and have to start the resident process all over again. We’re hoping that by taking these drastic measures in moving to the US, they won’t deny it.   If they renew it, we will need to be in the States for a solid year, without leaving.

As you can probably imagine, this is not going to be easy.  We have 3 weeks to pack-up and move, and a lot of decisions need to be made.

You can join us in praying for the following:

1) That we make the most of the remaining 9 days until Leo comes back down.  That I can be focused and do everything possible to pack and organize.

2) That God gives peace to all the people we are leaving behind: our dear friends, the worship team and our church, the indians Leo has been heavily investing in, ECA, Leo’s family, and the ministries that I have been involved in (especially my ECA students).

3) That if God wants the ministries we’ve been running to continue, that He will provide the people to step in.

4) Wisdom with what to pack and what to leave behind

5) Provision when we get to the States.  We know for sure that we will need a car, and that Leo will need a job that provides insurance.  Also, pray for our housing situation.

Right now, our plan is to live in the states until Leo can get his citizenship… anywhere from 1 1/2-3 years.  After that goal is met, we’ll re-evaluate where the Lord would have us.  Obviously, we’re hoping that He will bring us back to Colombia; but, especially after something like this, we realize that we have no idea what the Lord has for us, and our only prayer is that He would continue to be the lamp to our feet and light to our path… revealing just the very next step we should take.

There are so many things we have been looking forward to about our “eventual” time in the States… our church, the community of friends we have through our church, possibly going to seminary, learning how to minister together in the States, being close to my family for a while, living out the 4 seasons… the list goes on and on.  We’re so grateful that we have these things to be excited about!

So, please join us in praying for this next adventure.

Colombia to the US!  Ha!