We “drive” by faith and not by sight

It was around 8:30pm last Thursday night.  We had already pulled over once because the torrential downpour didn’t leave much space for seeing out the front windshield.  Leo thought he could try to drive because I was absolutely exhausted, but alas, I have much more experience driving in this kind of weather.  Lightning striking all around us, lighting up the beautiful Kentucky mountains, my mother-in-law and brother-in-law in the backseat stating “Nunca, nunca hemos tenido una tormenta asi!” over and over again… they’d never seen a storm like this before.  Inside my head I argued that they had, but just had never attempted to drive 300 miles in one.  I mean, who does that?

Wind-shield wipers at full blast did nothing.  I sat way up in my seat, focusing on the rear lights of the car a ways ahead of us, praying that we would just get to Nashville.  We had already been delayed enough.  I just wanted a bed that I didn’t have to pay for.

Then, Leo said it, amongst spoken prayers:  we drive by faith and not by sight.  Nervous laughs filled the car, and we prayed that we would just get there.

Our adventure started out long before we even knew.

My parents have a history of driving high-mileage cars.  It is common for us to have cars with over 250,000 miles, even to 300,000.  Dad knows a few great mechanics who just try to keep us running.  I honestly don’t think I’ve ever driven a car with less that 100,000.  Good times!  So, it was no surprise when, just the week before we were to get to the US, two of the family’s 4 cars officially died.  Mom and dad were in the process of getting a 3rd, so, although we knew it would be tough, we could juggle schedules enough to make something work for a little bit.

We were given leads here and there, but nothing worked out in the timing that we needed it… except for a friends’ dads’ Jeep Liberty that he was selling for more money than we’d ever had at one time in our account during our married life.  Welcome to the US, right?

A friend was really concerned about us getting a car, and when I told him about the Jeep, he said that he might be able to help us out with a no-interest loan.  That sounded do-able.  But, we wouldn’t be able to do anything until we got back from a trip to Nashville to visit dear friends and pick up some stuff that people brought up for us from Colombia.

After post-poning the trip 2 days, we decided to just go for it.  The night before I left, I asked the parents one more time if it would be good for us to just rent a car, and they said that it would be better to just save our money and plan on being back on Sunday evening so that they would have 2 cars when my dad needed to start teaching.

We left Wednesday morning very hopeful and excited about our road-trip!

That is, until about 60 miles south of Cincinnati (only about 3 1/5 hours into the trip), when my dad’s car suddenly started over-heating.  I pulled over at the closest exit and when we opened the lid, there was an odd smell and the engine was steaming.  The coolant tank was empty, so we bought some, poured it in… and it poured right out the bottom.

It was 6:30pm, and all the garages were closed.  We asked the cashier at the gas station where the nearest hotel was, and she smiled and pointed “just up the hill here”.  It was the only hotel on the highway for 40 miles!  And, it had a pool.  And, everyone but me had something to swim in. 🙂

The next day, we slowly drove into town, aided by the rolling hills that we were able to coast down.  No over-heating.  We showed up at Scott’s Garage in Warsaw, KY and were met by some really nice people.  Right away, Scott was honest with us:  it could be simple, and it could be complicated.  Within 20 minutes, we knew it would be complicated so we took a walk to the Dollar General and then down-town.

I must admit, the 4 of us were quite a team.  Patty, Leo’s mom, doesn’t speak much English besides “coffee, please”, and “thank-you”.   So, when she walked into the Dollar store and saw all the treasures, she just kept talking and talking in Spanish about everything!  Then, there’s Santi, Leo’s brother.  He is convinced that for Latinos, speaking with a British accent is much easier than with an American one… so he has mastered the British way of speaking English… even vocabulary.  He had something he needed to throw away, so while Patty is walking up and down every aisle while the workers watch her in wonder, Santi walks up to one of them and asks “Do you have a rubbish bin?”  Remember, we are in Warsaw, KY, and they had no idea what he was saying.  One girl said “you mean, a trashcan?”.  oh my.  Then, there’s Leo who gets nervous every time he starts talking, only made worse by his Colombian accent.  (He says he has a true “southern” accent. ha!).   I tried to smooth things over by explaining that we were not from around here… as if that wasn’t obvious enough.

I just kept laughing.

We walked all around the town, and it was absolutely adorable.  Set right on the Ohio river, there were boats passing by, beautiful gardens, and houses that dated back to the 1800’s.  We picked apples right off the tree, and found cute little antique shops to escape from the heat in.

Patty kept commenting that the town seemed empty.  I explained that the US doesn’t have the culture of “walking around”, especially during the summer.  But we found the town when we walked into a cute bistro for lunch.  It was loud and packed with a line basically out the door.  There was a huge birthday party for a nice little old lady, as well as people eating by themselves.  It was small-town America at its finest.

We had a great conversation with the people in line in front of us.  They were excited that we had come to their little town, even if it was by accident.  When it was our turn, we sat down to classic dishes:  meatloaf and potatoes, shrimp and grits, and chicken fingers.  It was delicious!

After walking around town for 6 hours, we called the garage and he said that they were taking the car on a test-drive, so we could head on back.

Upon getting there, we found out that the root of the problem was a blown head-gasket.  They tried everything they could… and our bill would be $600 to have an un-fixable car.  However, Scott flashed his Tom Hanks look-alike smile, and held up a receipt for $100.  One of the people in the group we talked to in the restaurant dropped by the garage and put $100 towards our repair.  He told Scott all about us, and Scott decided to take an additional $100 off the cost… so we only owed them $400 to fix the car.  “only”.

I called my friend who said he could help with buying the Jeep, and when I asked for $2500, he said “well, you haven’t checked your account then, have you.  I put $4000 in it for you on Tuesday.”  I couldn’t believe it!

I called the owner of the Jeep and he said he could meet us half-way.  It was 5:15 pm, and we found a bank that was open until 6.  The garage owner’s wife was willing to take us and our luggage to the meeting point and drop us off.   We got everything transferred and arrived at the bank with 5 minutes to spare.  She dropped us off where we were going to meet our Jeep, and when I offered her $5, she said “No way.  You’re gonna need that!”.   Scott and Laura are the best!

When our friends got there, we did the exchange and loaded up the Jeep and got back on the road for Nashville.

Unreal.

The $4000 that my friend put in our account paid for the Jeep, the “repairs” on my dad’s car, and the hotel room… almost to the dollar.

Would it have been a lot easier to have rented a car? Yes.  Of course.  Do I sometimes wish that our journey didn’t always have to include stories like this?  Yep.  But, now we have a few more people involved in this story of ours, in the bigger story of God’s grace in our lives, and we have another stone to throw on our alter to God’s faithfulness.

We don’t deserve any of it, but He is gracious to take care of every need.  Santi and Patty got to witness first-hand God’s provision for us, and we know that no matter what these next few months/years hold, the Lord will provide above and beyond what we need.

We walk by faith and not by sight.

And, we have a Jeep!!! 🙂  WOOT!

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Community amidst the chaos

If the last 5 weeks since we decided to move to the US have been chaotic, then these past 8 days have been a complete whirlwind.

2 Saturdays ago, I went to Ciudad Bolivar for the very last time, bringing my girls back up North with me for our very last sleep-over.  We had a blast, as usual, and it was a very bitter-sweet time.  I was faced with the reality that these beautiful girls that I’ve known since they were 9-13, are now beautiful teenage girls living in a world where teen pregnancy and boyfriends that are 10+ years older than them is a constant reality…. whether I like it or not.  Instead of our usual running around and playing games, they were glued to cell-phones and opted for more one-on-one time with each of their “profe’s”.  Conversations about dreams, goals, how to get out of Ciudad Bolivar and whether it was really o.k. to allow men of 25-28 years old call them and give them gifts abounded.

(They are not MY girls… they are the Lords.  He is with them, as He always has been.  Please, Lord, let them continue to hunger and thirst for you.)

We had a laid-back Sunday morning, as the girls all took turns taking nice, hot showers and eating breakfast.  The living room was filled with all our extra mattresses, and there was plenty of popcorn and kernels from the night before all over the place!  We cleaned the best we could before trying to head out the door.

As soon as the door opened for us to leave, the phone rang and it was our land-lord.  He was asking if we would be at the apartment later on, because he wanted to show it to someone who was interested in buying it.  At this very moment, around 20 different questions entered my mind: Can I tell him to wait until we get the place cleaned up a little bit?  Is the person buying it going to keep the contract with ECA?  What the heck are we going to do?  etc….

Leo stayed behind to clean the apartment, and I set off with the girls for church.  It was youth Sunday, and I really didn’t want them to miss it.

I wasn’t disappointed. The youth were in charge of EVERYTHING, including being ushers, leading worship, dancing and preaching.  Worship was energy-filled and even as we walked in the building, the atmosphere was different.  My girls observed at first, and then later participated; and as I looked down the row at them singing their hearts out to Jesus, my heart was full.  We pulled into a little circle and as their teachers, we took turns praying for them… for their hearts to continue to fall more and more in love with Jesus.   We were all in tears, and I know that one of my girls who has had the most resistant and rebellious heart truly gave her brokenness, dreams, and life to Jesus that morning.

I knew I made the right decision to not wear make-up that morning!

Upon getting to the apartment, Leo told me that the land-lord did indeed stop by with someone to look at the apartment, and that they were critiquing every single carpet stain.  I found out later that the contracts here can only be broken with 3 month anticipation or else the land-lord has to pay a fine.  The only way out of it is if they prove that the apartment isn’t being taken care of the way they would like it to be, and then they have every right to break the contract.  Good times.

So, at school on Monday, I was processing with the elementary principal, who happens to be a very dear friend, about the idea of just selling everything.  The idea of our impending fresh start in the States, only to come back to Colombia and start fresh down here again in a few years didn’t really excite me.  She shared with me her own similar story of when her family had to move to Mexico for a few years so her husband could further his studies, and how the Lord worked things out to the very last detail on both ends for her family of 5.  She encouraged me to let it all go.

So, Tuesday and Wednesday we started packing up some things and getting ready for our huge sale.  Thursday morning, Vicky McCollum came by and helped bring order and display to the crazy piles that I had started, and then brought lunch.  Beth let her maid come to our place to clean… and clean she did!  She spent all morning just deep-cleaning the bathrooms and kitchen, while I was emptying out everything and putting it in the living room to be sold… dishes, baking goods, appliances, etc.  Leo told the guards, gardeners and cleaning ladies in our apartment complex to stop by to look, and it began.

Beth stopped by later on that afternoon to see how everything was going, and she just stood there, in shock and disbelief.  It would take a miracle for this to happen in 5 days.

Praise the Lord that He is the God of the impossible.

We sold everything that mattered, and still got to say good-bye to people, and serve for one last time here together.  These last 5 days have been the most emotionally, physically, and mentally draining days of my life so far, but the Lord was so faithful to put people in our path to encourage us, lift us up, and even feed us! 🙂

Yesterday afternoon, 3 of the cleaning ladies from ECA stopped by to check out what we had left… it wasn’t much, but they were happy.  Our conversation went like this:

“Profe, how much for this?” holding up a pillowcase.

“Please, just take it… take anything and everything you want.”

“No, profe… how much?”

“Seriously, just take it.”

“Profe, we want to help you, too.  Please let us pay you something so we can help you.”

“O.k.  Each item is 500 pesos.” (the equivalent of .25)

“Thank you, profe!”

They proceeded to fill up bags of anything and everything, and between them they bought the equivalent of $8.50, but then took so much of our “free stuff”, that they just gave me back the rest of the $1.50 in change that I’d just given them.

We are so grateful that the Lord used this apartment to bless people one last time, even in the midst of the craziness.

We now have money to start over with in the States.

And, stuff is just stuff.

We love our ECA and church communities, and yesterday was a beautiful picture of how we really take care of each other and hold each other up.

At 4:00 pm, we still had a TON to do… finish packing, weigh the suitcases and re-arrange them, tear down Leo’s studio, clean, throw stuff away, etc.  Between 4:15-5:15, an army of 10 people came by to help.  They weren’t emotionally attached to our stuff, so they had no problem throwing things away.  Where Leo and I were exhausted and overwhelmed, they came alongside us and finished the job.  They worked until 7:30 and left us with nothing more than our packed bags and air mattress, and a few things that others were going to pick up either later that night, or today after we leave.

There is no way that would have happened without them.

Watching all of them work yesterday reminded me of the story in Exodus 17 where the Israelites were fighting against the Amalekites.

“8 The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” 10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up–one on one side, one on the other–so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

These last few days, with everything from selling our blankets on Saturday and having people from our church loan us theirs so we could sleep well, to Beth loaning us her air mattress on Monday night when we sold our last mattress at 10pm and didn’t know where we would sleep, to Lauren packing our socks and underwear that I’d kept out so that the students didn’t have to touch them, to the rest of the army who came and did things that we would NEVER had been able to do on our own, to the McCollums who let me crash their place at random times with random requests, to new parents at ECA today who shared with me similar stories of having to leave a place they love only to start all over again in a new country…

We are so grateful to all of you.

You held our arms up when we were weak so that the task before us could be accomplished.

A dear friend once said that God’s Word and presence in our lives should be enough for us.  He is totally enough.  But, the fact that He allows us to share life with others is such a gift, and we should always be grateful.

Our time with you, no matter how short, has been a gift – and we will always be grateful.

We love you.