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!

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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!

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. 🙂

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! 🙂

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.
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!
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’ll have plenty of reasons to praise him all over again.”
    Yes, living before his face is my saving grace!

I had a moment

This past Sunday, I had a moment…
I was surrounded by middle schoolers in my living room, teaching them some Spanish worship songs for their upcoming trip to the DR. One of the songs that they chose to learn was “No me soltaras”- you never let go by Matt Redman.
I haven’t sung that song in a while, let alone in Spanish.
All of a sudden, I was transported to Casa del Niño, the hospital for kids with cancer in Bogota. I was surrounded by an amazing class of 5th graders who not only sang that song, but acted it out and then prayed for and loved on the other children so well. I could hear their voices singing, see their motions, feel their hearts of hope.
This precious class of 5th graders years ago is now graduating high-school.
The tears were falling on my guitar in my living room, and while I’m sure they noticed, the American kids didn’t say a word… it has been a tough week and they know it.
I had a moment.
The in-between, bitter-sweet feelings of being so grateful to have lived such an amazing season with those precious students; yet so grieved to have missed all of their high-school experience…
and the gratitude that I can continue to use my gifts here in the US, even though my heart so desperately longs to not still be here.
Colombia is no longer my home… the US doesn’t feel like home…
This world is not my home…
It was and will be all just a moment.

The accident

 

A good friend had been over all day helping Leo move a wall in our basement; and although our friend had to leave for the night, Leo was driven and wanted to get the ceiling torn out.

I was up in the living room trying to finish up a project for the day when I heard a loud crash, and “NENA!!!” Canela and I immediately ran downstairs, turned the corner into the room he had been working in and saw him laying on the ground, holding his right elbow.  Canela immediately jumps on him, causing him to scream out.

“I think I dislocated my elbow”.

I carefully stepped around the broken bits of drywall that he was laying on and saw a dislocated elbow for the first time in my life.

I froze.

My sister is an over-night nurse at a local ER, so as soon as I could get my thoughts together, I ran back upstairs to get my phone to call her.

She didn’t answer, but I quickly fired out a text and found out that she wasn’t on that night.

My mind was racing…

Should I move him?

Should we call an ambulance?

Can we afford an ambulance?

I asked “Do you think I can get you up?”

“Carefully, please.  I am in a lot of pain.”

I ran back upstairs to get my shoes so I wouldn’t step on any nails in the drywall rubble.

I’m grateful that I am strong and that Leo is light, as I got him on his feet ok, and then helped him get upstairs.

I quickly ran back down because we had taken out the windows of our split-level basement so the guys could easily put the new drywall in through that space instead of winding down all the stairs and tight corners to get into the basement.

We don’t live in the ghetto, but leaving a hole in our house with recording equipment and a myriad of expensive instruments didn’t sit well with me.

I tried to put the windows in myself, but I was shaking and couldn’t concentrate.

“NENA!  What are you doing? We need to go!!!”

“I need to put these windows in!”

“NO! I am in so much pain, we need to get to the ER.”

Crap.

I carefully get Leo into the car, start on our way to the ER and then call my neighbor.  No answer.  Call again. No answer.

I call my boss, who lives just 5 minutes away.

He says he can come.

The neighbor calls back to see if everything is ok.

While I’m on the phone with her, I miss the turn for the ER, and have to make a u-turn up the road a bit.  Leo is getting more and more frustrated with me.

I swear he felt every single bump on the road in the 3 miles from our house to the hospital.  I tried to drive carefully, yet quickly.  It wasn’t easy… he would wince each time there was even the slightest variance in the road.

We arrived, and immediately the staff recognized me as Leslie’s sister.  We look a lot alike, and I’d been there the year before for a few nights with a friend.

They got us into a room, and immediately gave Leo some drugs to ease his pain.  The results of the x-ray showed that it, indeed, was dislocated… and that they’d need to “reduce” it.  I guess “relocation” wasn’t the correct word.  Imagine that. Lol!

They explained that the best way to do this is to give him a drug that would knock him out for 7 minutes.  They started telling me all the risks… his heart could stop, he could stop breathing, etc.  I quickly texted my sister:  how often did people die in the process of getting their arm relocated?

“Don’t worry about that.  If anything happens, we know what to do.” her text said. “But I would recommend you not be in there when they do the procedure.  It’s not an easily-forgettable sound”.

We signed the papers, and the guys all came in to do the procedure.  I told Leo that Leslie recommended I step out of the room.

“You’re not going to be in here?!?” He asked with a panicked look in his eyes.

“Ok.  I guess I’ll be here.”  I put my hand on his left arm, and stood by his side. As they pumped the milky white liquid into his arm, he looked into my eyes.

“No importa lo que pasa.  Te amo.  Tu eres mi mejor aventura.  Te amo con todo mi corazon.”

And he slumped down. The doctors checked to make sure he was out, got into place and quickly slid his elbow back into place… without a sound.

As he started waking up, he was speaking… at first I wasn’t sure if he was speaking in tongues, as I couldn’t understand a word.

And then, he started making sense, in English.

“Our bodies are so fragile, our lives are so fragile.  We are so fragile. We have to let Jesus take the wheel.  JESUS, take the wheel!  Jesus take the wheel!”

The entire staff in the room started cracking up.  This Colombian man was quoting a Carrie Underwood song as he was coming out of anesthesia.  I wish I would’ve recorded it!

My dad showed up shortly afterwards and was with us while they put Leo back together.  The nurse recommended that we get in touch with an orthopedic surgeon a.s.a.p. They gave Leo good drugs, and we were on our way home.

The next morning, we called around and were able to get in to OrthoNeuro the very next day, 8am.  We took it easy all day, and then I had to go to work later (ie. run a rehearsal for the International Festival) that evening.  The band all took time to pray for Leo’s healing and strength; and our rehearsal was the best yet.

We arrived at the Orthopedic surgeon’s office, hopeful that he would say there were just torn ligaments/muscles, and that surgery wouldn’t be necessary.  However, that’s not what ended up happening.

Shortly after the surgeon entered and introduced himself, he said something like “Well, this is one of the worst cases I’ve seen.  You did the tri-fecta of bone breakage in your elbow.  You need surgery.  Tomorrow.”

Leo almost passed out on the table he was sitting on.  He laid down right away and the surgeon explained that his radial head was broken, amongst other things.  The surgery would try to put whatever bone pieces back together using screws, and we would see how that would work.

We expressed the importance of Leo’s elbow as a guitar player.  The surgeon confirmed that even with the surgery, it could take a year to fully recover.  We drove home in silence, praying in our hearts that it wouldn’t take that long.

 

 

 

 

Guitar Center

When we first moved back to the US 3 1/2 years ago, we had absolutely no idea what the next steps were.  We just knew that we needed to be here.

So, we moved into my parent’s basement, and watched God provide everything we needed in His timing.

One of the most important things was for Leo to find a job.  Unfortunately, his degree in Jazz Composition and Improvisation doesn’t really count for much here, so his desire to teach music wasn’t going to be an option.

He decided to fast.  He knew that God had brought us here, and that He had a plan for us that we couldn’t see.

Through those days of job-searching and prayer, the Lord kept bringing him back to Guitar Center’s website; but there were never any job postings listed.  So, Leo decided to just go to the store and check out the situation.  As he walked around the store he realized that they didn’t have anyone who spoke Spanish, let alone any other international diversity on their staff.

So, he found the manager and introduced himself.

The manager posted a job opening that day, just so Leo could apply.

And, just like that, my kind, humble, ESL, pastor’s heart man was thrown into the world of retail.

I suppose there were some good days thrown in those first few months, but most days were grueling.

In Colombia, it is terribly rude to not introduce yourself and say hello before starting a conversation.  In the US, it’s common.

It’s also, apparently, common to say  “No, I want to talk to someone who speaks English” when someone with an accent answers the phone.

There were so many times Leo would come home absolutely mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted.

And that was before winter hit, and he had to drive 30 minutes from my parent’s farm to the store in the freezing cold, snowy and icy roads.  (something he had never done before).

But, every once in a while he’d come home with a story from the day that didn’t include people being rude, and those were precious.

There was one day when a widow came in and wanted something that would help her read music, as she was almost blind.  Leo took his time showing her different things, talking with her and making her laugh.  By the time they were done, she had tears in her eyes and told him that he reminded her of her husband who had passed.  She was so grateful that he had taken time with her.

There was another day that a man came in and started talking with Leo about all different kinds of things related to sound, and then the man just paused, put his hand on Leo’s shoulder and said “Brother, are you a Christ-follower?”.  Leo lit up, so grateful that the man noticed!  As it turns out, that man was a pastor, and Leo has continued to help their church out with sound over the years.

Eventually, the Lord provided a place for us to live, just 2 miles from the store.  And, it seemed like every time we went out for a date around the area, there were people who knew Leo.

Then, as we built our recording studio, people he had made a good connection with in the store started coming over to the house and recording beautiful music. In the last 2 years, he has recorded and produced songs and albums for people from the Bahamas, Kenya, Peru, Colombia, the Congo, South Africa, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and good ole’ USA.

He started finding purpose beyond just selling stuff and making commission (2%, if you were wondering).  He started connecting with immigrant pastors, and offered his help to install their sound systems and train up their media teams.

I think he has been to every immigrant church in the city… African, Asian, Latino… and even one of the new Lesbian churches downtown.  That is a story for another post. 🙂

He has taken such good care of people, that now, even on Sundays, he’ll facetime with a church or two when they are in crisis, in-between his own worship practice.

He is one of the hardest workers I know, taking advantage of all the different opportunities that the Lord has given him.

And now, we are stepping out on a new adventure:  He quit Guitar Center on Friday.  It is time for him to start doing more of what he loves, and the time he was putting in at the store just didn’t allow for him to do that.

So, spread the word!  Leo is available for installing sound and training up media teams, recording projects, latin jazz gigs; guitar, bass or recording lessons, etc.  We are so excited to see what the Lord is going to do!

We will always be grateful for the 3 1/2 years that Leo spent at Guitar Center.  It is where he learned how to communicate not only with Anglos, but with all different races and economic levels.  It’s where he put to use his amazing people skills, and built lasting friendships with other musicians here in the city.  It’s where he spoke value to Spanish-speaking pastors and worship leaders, hearing what their struggles are beyond just a sound system.

The employee prices on sound equipment and instruments didn’t hurt either. 🙂

On to the next season!