Captivated:Live

I turned 39 this past weekend, and to be honest, I am feeling my age for the first time. I think having a baby and not getting much sleep has something to do with it, but the grey hairs that have suddenly appeared over the last year aren’t helping, either.

As I was processing this weekend, I realized that I feel like I’m on my 7th season of life. Lol!

1- the growing up years

2- the college years (shout out to Judson University!)

3- the teaching years (2 years as a 5th grade classroom teacher, 3 years as a reading specialist in the Spanish-speaking suburbs of Chicago)

4- the traveling musician/short-term mission years- where I spent over a year living out of my car, traveling the US leading worship and speaking at youth conferences and university ministry groups.

There was a life-changing trip to Africa and India in between 3 different around-the-US tours.

5- the Colombia years (where I taught music and helped start and lead the social service and missions ministry for 5 years at an international Christian School, El Camino Academy)…. I also met and married my husband there. ūüôā

6- the “back to the US” years- where we were completely uprooted from our lives and ministry in Colombia and moved to Columbus, Ohio to be close to my family and set up life so that Leo could get his citizenship. We quickly settled into life and ministry, and even bought a house! We’ve been here for 6 years now.

The 7 years of infertility span between seasons 5 and 6.

7- the current “Mom-and-learning-how-to-balance-life-and-work-and-ministry” years are what life looks like now. Lol!

Our church is currently in a series of “when life is unfair”, and today’s text happened to be from 2 Corinthians 1:8-11. As soon as it came up on the screen, it brought me back to my testimony of how God healed me from malaria when I was in India.

For those of you who don’t know, I have 3 cd’s on iTunes. The most recent one that is there is a live album recorded when I got back from India. I tell stories of living on the road, of what spending time in Kenya was like, and my testimony of healing.

It seems like so long ago… so many new stories have happened over the last 12 years, but I’ve found myself telling some of these older stories over the past few weeks.

So, look me up on iTunes and enjoy some insights into what life was like for me 12 years ago! ūüôā

The lessons of life

I have been teaching music lessons for over 20 years now, but the reality is that I can’t remember a day I wasn’t exposed to them.

My mother is an incredible musician, and she filled our home with music from the time I was a baby. ¬†She would even take me and my sister to her students’ houses sometimes when our normal babysitters weren’t available. ¬†I heard her students improve week after week, and I remember her sitting patiently by their sides, playing the parts for them or playing the duets.

When I was asked to teach lessons to Dr. Warren Anderson’s kids and¬†other neighbors while I was at Judson, I could feel my mom’s voice speaking through me; her gentle encouragements and duets ¬†flowing out of me as easily as they did from her.¬†

I have always loved music.  From playing the piano and violin at an early age, to playing the clarinet, bassoon, tenor sax and percussion in middle-school and high-school, to finally picking up an acoustic and bass guitar and drum set in college.  I have always had a knack for playing music by ear, as well as a love for Mozart and Beethoven.

Music was my outlet when I had no way to verbally express my emotions. I would play and sing all the time. ¬†I can’t remember when I started writing songs, but by the time I was in high-school, I was writing arrangements of known songs as well as my own melodies and rhymes.

It has always been there. 

One of my greatest joys is teaching music to children. ¬†Even today, I was teaching piano at The Worship Club and showed some 5th graders how to do the simple inversions from G to C and Em. ¬†Their faces lit up! ¬†“That’s so easy!” they exclaimed.

Yep.

I’ve often joked that if you give me music and children, I can do incredible things. ¬†If you make me organize my house or budget… that’s a different matter. Ha!

There are so many life lessons that I love to insert into my music classes.  One of them in particular has to do with tuning the guitar. 

In the days before apps (and clip-on or installed tuners), you had to get a note from a keyboard or a different guitar that was in tune.  And while tuning to a keyboard is handy, there is something beautiful about tuning with another guitar.

You have to listen to the tuned string a few times to get it in your head before you play the un-tuned string with it.  Even the slightest dissonance can be heard, but as you bring the string into tune, the sound that was totally wobbly becomes aligned.

The first time I ever do this exercise with my students, I let them play the un-tuned string at the same time as mine, and they say that they have no idea how to fix their string. ¬†It’s really hard! ¬†I would have no idea how to do that, either.

But then, I have them tune my way… really listening to the string that’s in-tune first. ¬†Then, it’s pretty easy to recognize if the un-tuned string is flat or sharp, and they love the feeling as they bring it to the exact sound as the other string. ¬†Their faces always light up!

Then, I let them in on the lesson:

We HAVE to have the sound of the in-tune string in our ear so that we know how to get in tune. ¬†In the same way, we HAVE to know the voice of our Creator! ¬†If we know the voice of TRUTH in our lives, when Satan comes to try to throw us off (even in the slightest way), we will know! It won’t sound right! When we notice ourselves doing things that are different from the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, we need to stop… listen carefully to the right way, and patiently allow our sounds to line-up again.

It is a powerful lesson that I’m even still learning. ¬†Every time I tune a guitar (which is multiple times a day), it’s a heart-check.

I just read this today, and it’s what prompted this blog post:

Psalm 43:3-5 (the Passion Translation) says:

Pour into me the brightness of your daybreak!
    Pour into me your rays of revelation-truth!
    Let them comfort and gently lead me onto the shining path,
    showing the way into your burning presence,
    into your many sanctuaries of holiness.
4 Then I will come closer to your very altar
    until I come before you, the God of my ecstatic joy!
    I will praise you with the harp that plays in my heart,
    to you, my God, my magnificent God!
5 Then I will say to my soul,
“Don’t be discouraged; don’t be disturbed,
    for I fully expect my Savior-God to break through for me.
¬†¬†¬†¬†Then I‚Äôll have plenty of reasons to praise him all over again.‚ÄĚ
    Yes, living before his face is my saving grace!

Miracle Morales

Between Leo’s accident, a rough pregnancy, and the exhaustion of the first year of being parents, I feel like I’ve lost the last 2 years of my life. ¬†Lol! I also realized that I hadn’t written out the story of our miracle.

It’s long, but worth the read! ¬†Even as I’m typing this out, it isn’t lost on me that some of the characters in this story were people God used to bring other seasons of my life full-circle in HIS story of redemption.

For those of you who have known us for a while, you know that I had quite a few years when I struggled with my health. ¬†As soon as we were married, we took the “we’ll trust God” approach with growing our family, and didn’t really use any measures to prevent it from happening.

After a while, we knew something was wrong.

After finally seeing a fertility specialist here once we go to the States, we got some heartbreaking news: ¬†I probably wouldn’t be able to get pregnant. ¬†He said “we could pump you full of hormones and try, but if I were you, I’d think about just saving my money.” ¬†We were determined to do something, but the day I went in for another check-up, the doctor found yet another cyst on my ovaries and said that there was nothing he could do.

That was in 2014, right around when we got Canela.

Our marriage had been through some hard times before, but nothing like that year.  I felt so guilty, so ashamed, so sorry that Leo had married me.  I knew he would be an amazing dad, and I felt like I was holding him back from something he was made to do.

We had to take an honest look at each other and ask 

“Am I enough for you?”

“Are we enough for each other?”

“If it is just the two of us for the rest of our lives, will we be ok?”

We had to die to the idea of being parents. 

Sidenote: Yes, adoption is an option for most couples, but this is before Leo was able to become a citizen, and we knew we weren’t in the place to even try to adopt or foster.¬†

Fast forward 2 years to the accident.  Leo had taken a brave step to quit his job so he could focus on his ministry and music full-time, and 2 days later falls and shatters his elbow.

Our dog was about to have puppies.

It was crazy!

As people were coming over to our house to pray for Leo’s healing, a few of them bluntly said

“I feel like Jesus not only wants to heal Leo, but wants to heal you, too”.¬†

Not just one person… but a few!

*I have had MANY people pray for me over the years… hands on my belly, crying out to Jesus kinds of prayers… “seeing- us-with-a-crib” kind of prayers… and I had honestly not really put any stock in prayers for a baby for a LONG time… but this time was different.

Leo’s mom had come to visit and celebrate Leo’s citizenship ceremony with us, and in the stress of it all, I went off the rails with my diet. ¬†(I had completely changed my eating habits after the news of our infertility to try to help keep my hormones balanced). ¬†I had another bout with a cyst and anemia that about took me down for a while. ¬†The worst days of bleeding, I was in a dear friend’s wedding, or else I would’ve gone to the hospital.

It didn’t feel like God had heard any of the prayers that I was finally willing to let others pray.

In desperation, I found a Groupon for acupuncture.  I was willing to try anything to get my hormones and cycle back on track. And, just as God would have it, the precious acupuncturist is a Chinese Christian who goes to Vineyard!  She spoke life over my body, almost prophesying as I laid there on her table for 6 sessions over the few weeks.  My period finally stopped.  I was so grateful!

I had also made an appointment at my OB’s office to see if they could figure out what was going on. ¬†I remember going in, and having the ultrasound tech look at everything. ¬†I hadn’t seen my ovaries since the fertility doc, and all I remember then was seeing the cyst. ¬†This time was different, however. ¬†This time, instead of cysts, my ovaries were full of follicles. ¬†I mean, I had never seen that with all the different ultrasounds over the years! ¬†The tech said

“I don’t know… everything looks perfectly healthy and normal.”¬†

I laughed.  I had never heard that before!

In that moment, I felt the Lord say “Get ready!”.¬†

The following week, we were having a worship and healing night at our church.  I always stand towards the back of the sanctuary, just hanging back and watching what Jesus is doing.  Leo was running sound that night, so I just sat in my own little section of chairs on the main floor in the back.

I remember seeing a precious Indian family up in the next section.  During the ministry time, I walked over and offered to pray for them.  They were grateful, and Jesus really moved!  After I was done, the woman looked at me and said

“While we were worshipping, I saw you in the corner. ¬†The Lord told me that you were going to come pray for me, and that I need to pray for you to have a baby.”

Uh… what?! ¬†Ok.

She went on to say “Do you mind if I pray for you in my native language?”

She poured out her heart to God on my behalf for what seemed like 30 minutes.  It was beautiful.  I felt something break off of me, and there was so much peace!

2 days later we left for Colombia for a month.

We got back from our vacation, and while Leo was leading worship at church, I was home. ¬†I decided to take a pregnancy test, since I hadn’t had my period since the bleeding episode almost 2 months before.

It was positive.

I can’t tell you how many tests I’ve taken.

This was the first one that was ever positive.

I was sitting in the bathroom, shaking.  I doubted the test.  I took another one.  Positive.  I thought that maybe it was just that brand, so I took another one that used words instead of symbols.

“Pregnant”

I cried.  I debated calling my best friend, but decided that I should wait to tell Leo first.

But how?

On one of our more hopeful trips to Colombia, we had purchased a baby-sized Colombian soccer jersey. ¬†We kept it out until I couldn’t look at it anymore, and I buried it in a dresser drawer.

It took a while to remember, but I found the little jersey, and wrapped the pregnancy tests up in it. 

When Leo got home, I presented it to him.

“What is this?” He asked?

“I think we’re going to have a baby!” I cried.

We laughed and cried all night!

The next day was Friday, and I called the OB’s office to schedule a blood test and another ultrasound.

They were able to get me in right away for the blood test, and confirmed that I was, indeed, pregnant.

We saw my parents that weekend, for the first time since we had been back from Colombia.

My mom pulled me aside and asked

“Honey, were you in a place where you could foster or adopt any kids?”

“No, why?” I replied

“I had an incredible, tangible experience with the Lord, where I felt Him tell me that you were going to meet your child in Colombia.”¬†

Silence…
Because of all the pain we’d experienced, we didn’t really include our parents in any of our infertility journey… we didn’t want to cause them pain as well… and we had lost ¬†previous pregnancies (that we found out about after the fact) that we also hadn’t included them in on, so I wasn’t really ready to share.¬†

So, I just kept sipping my water, and without looking at my mom said

“Nope, we weren’t doing any ministry with kids this time.”

She slowly replied “That is so weird. ¬†It was such an intense experience, and I just prayed for you everyday you were there.”

“Huh”.

When we had the ultrasound that following week and heard the little heartbeat, we called both sets of parents to share the news and to ask for prayer.

I told my mom “We didn’t meet our baby in Colombia, but it looks like we made it there.”

Our little miracle baby was “made in Colombia” and due on the 4th of July.

Already showing his bi-cultural side!16177700_10158168584320215_2479383839146418530_o

The Kids Worship Club

During my very first job as a music teacher/worship leader at a Christian school and church 16 years ago, I was sometimes stressed out when a new experience was put before me.

There were many things that I had never done before: lead worship from a piano with a band, write out music for orchestral instruments, write songs for the youth that would help them connect to God in worship…

…and during this first “real” season of my life is when I recorded and released my first cd. (Shameless plug… you can find it¬†here.)

Through that amazing time of growth, one of my mentors, Ken Reynolds, would always encourage me with something HIS mentor, Gary J. Blanchard would tell him…

Whenever you’re faced with something new, simply say “Well, I’ve never done that before!”, and go for it!
We would often laugh and say that phrase to each other as a lot of transition happened in our church, and we were often called upon to step out of our comfort zones!
I am so grateful that through the various seasons of my life, I’ve had incredible people encouraging me to face the new challenges with my gifts and talents in one hand, and the power of the Holy Spirit in the other.
Here’s the deal: ¬†my heart is creating space where KIDS can lead KIDS in worship.
I think there’s something powerful about adults stepping out of the way and letting the kids’ voices be heard.
Now, there aren’t a lot of resources out there for how to let KIDS lead. ¬†There aren’t many schools that teach how to play chords on a piano and follow a chord chart, how to recognize chord patterns, how to play band or orchestra instruments with worship songs (using the limited notes that beginners know), how kids can hear the Holy Spirit when they are painting and drawing, how kids need to live lives of worship and not just sing or play pretty… and songwriting courses for kids are not usually something that parents have an option of signing their kids up for.
So, my heart for this was to start something, building on things Leo and I had done in the past.
But this was totally new.
And it would take a team of creatives who “got it”.
This past Worship Club (the ninth one we’d done) was no exception.
We had around 75 kids- 2nd to 8th grade.  17 teachers and 10 helpers for the 7 classes we were offering.
Our band and orchestra class alone was a challenge: ¬†there’s a reason that violins and trumpets usually don’t play together… there are completely different notes that the kids learn on their specific instruments when they begin, let alone that they really only know a few notes!
So, either the string section would be struggling with a specific key, or the horn/woodwind section. Last year, I had incredibly talented people teach each group separately and the strings played on 2 songs, and the band played on 2 others.
This year however, those teachers weren’t available, so it fell onto me to teach them combined. ¬†5 violins and a viola (who didn’t know how to read alto staff), 3 trumpets, 2 saxophones, 2 clarinets and 3 flutes.
It was a huge undertaking…
I’d never done this before!
The kids struggled a bit, but were so willing (and ABLE!) to overcome their obstacles.  It was amazing to watch them progress from the first week to the last, growing not only in their skill sets, but in their friendships and encouragement of each other.
In addition to my class, we had singing, dance, keyboards, media arts, guitar and percussion.
As the Lord brought the various teachers we needed to pour into the kids, He fulfilled another deep desire of my heart:
Every class had at least one minority teacher.  Some classes were even taught by gifted high-school students.
This was truly the nations worshipping together, in many different expressions of worship!
The 3rd week of the club, there was an incredible moment after our devotions.
I got up on our little stage in front of the group to practice with them as they ate their snacks. ¬†The kids joyously sang, danced or beat on the tables as we sang “You are Good”, and “The Good Life”.
Then, as we started into the 3rd song of the set, “Good, Good Father”, the kids really “entered in”. ¬†Hands were raised and eyes were closed as they sang their hearts out to their Father.
During that song, instead of singing the 3rd verse (which is, in my opinion, ¬†a little hard for little minds to understand), I felt led to have people say “You’re a Good Father” in whichever language they wanted.
Around the room, like popcorn, teachers and students alike spoke… French, Spanish, Russian, Tamil, Sign language, Swahili, Kukuyu… it was absolutely beautiful! ¬†I started tearing up in front of them, as my heart filled up with many emotions all at once! ¬†Then, we started back into the chorus… “You’re a good, good Father… it’s who You are… and I am loved by You, it’s who I am….”.
Kids singing in full force, completely swept up in their Father’s love.
At that point, I don’t think a single teacher had a dry eye, and my face and neck were noticeably wet from my tears. ¬†I had no voice to sing with as I was completely choked up, but it wasn’t needed because the kids just continued to sing those phrases over and over while I played my guitar.
This is why we step into un-chartered territory.
The long nights, the stressing over computer/music-writing software issues, the juggling demands of The Club with the rest of our lives and work, the “can we try this instead”‘s, the “I’ve never done this before”‘s that we uttered many times over the 5 weeks…
We do it to raise up THIS generation’s worshippers who aren’t afraid to try something new; because in taking a risk, they learn how to lead worship with their gifts and talents in one hand, and the power of the Holy Spirit in the other.

Processing… and waiting

Leo and I are about to celebrate 3 years of marriage!¬† It’s crazy how fast these few years have gone, and how many obstacles we’ve had to overcome in such a short time!¬† The few months leading up to our wedding, and even a year and a half into our marriage, it felt like it was us against the world!¬† Or, at least, us against the US Immigration laws and other issues that had to do with Leo not being able to get to the States.¬† Now, things have kinda switched around a bit.¬† Leo even took his first trip by himself to the States in March… a kind-of expensive requirement that comes with having a resident Visa… he can’t be out of the States for longer than 6 months.

We are at a bit of a stand-still now, however.¬† Leo would really like for us to have a year-long furlough in the States sometime soon, and I agree that we need a break!¬† Back in October, we were thinking that we could do it this coming January… but things haven’t worked out how we hoped.¬† We were thinking I could get pregnant, have the baby here in Colombia (I don’t have insurance in the States), and then live the last year of Leo’s residency requirement, before he gets US citizenship, in the States being close to family in a kind-of utopian, rest-filled existence.¬† Well, obviously, I’m not pregnant yet, and from what we’ve seen and heard from doctors, even visiting the States isn’t a good option for me because of my hormone issues and how connected my body is to seasons.¬† The two 2-month trips we took during opposite seasons knocked my body off again, and that’s the reason I’m still having a hard time getting pregnant.¬† And, if we went to the States and were able to get insurance, we wouldn’t be able to get pregnant until we’ve paid into the system for 9 months.¬† So, everything is on hold, and it’s not very fun.

All that to say…I’m not doing well… in many ways.

I’ve read 2 books lately that have really helped put words to my emotions.¬† One is “God on Mute” by Peter Greig.¬† He skillfully writes about the many reasons why God doesn’t answer our prayers.¬† Ultimately, it’s because our life is meant to glorify Him, and He will do what He wants with us.¬† We can’t manipulate Him, have enough faith, or do enough good things to change His mind.¬† He knows what is best for us in the long-run, and He will have His way.

The second book I devoured this week is “A Million MIles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller.¬† I know it’s been out for a long time, but I finally had time to read it this week… I was sick at home for 2 days.¬†¬† He writes about the importance of having a story, but yet knowing that our personal story ties in with the big Story that is weaved through generations of lives.¬†¬† The greatest stories are those that have an obstacle too big for the main character to overcome without great sacrifice.

We don’t have many helpful answers to my health issues, but I can’t help think that somehow malaria has something to do with it.¬† My liver was pretty damaged during the whole ordeal, and your liver is what processes your hormones. Almost 7 years ago, I had to understand that if facing death was the price, it was worth knowing Jesus through the pain.¬† I knew the presence of the Lord through my pain… a kind of knowing that gets into your bones and holds everything together.¬†¬† However, the last few years, I haven’t wanted to know Him in my pain and suffering.¬† I have wanted to know Him in the blessing… in the easy things… and nothing has been easy.¬† It’s been rather crazy actually.¬† But, in the area of my health, I’ve had to face another, very real thought:¬† if malaria is the price of not having natural children, is it still worth it? Is this my obstacle that comes with great personal sacrifice?

I don’t know why being in pain as a wife is so much harder than it was being single.¬† Maybe it’s because as a single person, serving Jesus, I knew that He was all I had… it was just me and Him, and as much as I was hurting, He was the only one who could hold me and bring healing… and I was willing to trust Him.¬† Now, as a wife, I serve my husband and Jesus, and my focus gets all off when I forget that my husband, while he can hold me, can’t bring healing or light to the dark, almost hopeless areas of my soul.¬† And while the tangible is seemingly more available than the eternal, I’m mad at both. ¬† It was easier to believe in God’s sovereignty and timing when I thought it more closely lined up with mine.¬† More closely being “o.k. maybe not this month… but definitely this year, right?”.¬† 2 years, and more un-answered questions later, I’m not doing well.

We have a beautiful tangerine tree in our apartment.¬† Our first Christmas together, we couldn’t agree on what kind of tree to have because Leo couldn’t understand the tradition of cutting down a beautiful, living thing just to decorate and watch die; and I couldn’t handle the feel of fake trees. So, we compromised and bought a small tree to decorate.¬† Bogota isn’t the best place for any kind of fruit trees because it’s so cold; but when we got the tree, it had 7 little tangerines growing.¬† The tree is supposed to bloom every 4 months, and then from those blooms, produce fruit.¬† I can count on one hand the amount of times it’s bloomed since it has stayed in the little corner of our living room that gets sunlight, and we’ve only had 1 tangerine grow since we plucked the first 7.

1916172_10150225769190215_6000129_n

This month, however, I saw little buds forming.¬† It was interesting to see them coming up from all different parts of the tree.¬† The buds have since turned into leaves or little white balls that will burst open into the most delicate, sweet smelling flowers.¬† This past week, I’ve been waiting for the first flowers to bloom, and just this morning, we had 3.¬† I remember thinking as I was tending to the tree this week that I don’t know how much bigger those little white buds can get before they break open.¬† They have such tension before they burst!

We are living an overwhelming amount of tension right now, and it’s easy to get mad at the tangible elements: our non-existent savings account, our tiny apartment that wouldn’t even fit a baby if we wanted it to, our lack of material things that would supposedly make things so much easier (… if I could just have a fancy mixer with all those fancy attachments so we could eat even healthier than we do now,¬† or a juicer so we could do one of those “cleanse” diets…), Leo’s citizenship process that is still so expensive (and will continue to be for another year and a half) that he needs to finish before we can adopt, etc.¬† It is overwhelming!

In the midst of this waiting for whatever is supposed to come next, however it’s supposed to come, I’m trying to choose to believe that this tension we are feeling is going to break forth into something beautiful and sweet-smelling soon.¬† It just has to.¬† We are desperate.

Pray for me… pray for Leo… pray for our hearts to be willing to line-up with God’s timing for many different things.¬† Pray for balance between being faithful with what we can control, and having faith for what we can’t.