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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On teaching adults…

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

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

I love working with kids!

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

I started teaching more and more adults.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was always drenched by the end.

It was exhausting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Our Story! :)

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When people meet us, they are always curious about how we met, where we met, etc.  After living in the States for so long now, people just assume that we met here.  But here’s the real story…

I moved to Bogota, Colombia right before New Years in 2007.  I was invited to teach music at an international school, and knowing that a lot of my world would be in English, I asked if it would be possible to live with a Colombian family instead of with the other teachers.  I was placed with a bi-cultural pastor’s family.  We didn’t know anything about each other until I arrived, but we quickly found out that the Lord had indeed put us together!

They invited me to go on a retreat they were leading with a different church my first weekend in country. It was during that trip they discovered that I was a worship leader/speaker, and we had a BLAST ministering together. I learned a TON of songs in Spanish, and was on my way to becoming bilingual (although I had a LOOOOOOONG way to go).

The following weekend, I had been spending time with the English teachers when I got a call from the pastor asking if I would be willing to play the drums for the services the following day.  He said that their worship team had a few different drummers, but that none of them were available.  I immediately agreed and rushed back to their place so he could take me to the church.

I showed up without makeup, in a t-shirt, baggy torn jeans and crocs.  Lol!  (if you know anything about Colombian women, they would NEVER dress like that…).

None of the guys on the worship team spoke English, and, as Leo later told me, upon seeing me they decided to change the set list to translated Hillsong songs instead of their typical latino-flavored songs.

I had a blast!

I think the guys were a little surprised that I could do it.

After the rehearsal, the electric guitarist (Leo) stuck around to wait for the pastor to pick me up.  I literally had no idea how to say anything about music or life at that point… and he didn’t really know how to say anything about life and music to me, either… but somehow, after sharing our names, how old we were and how many siblings we had (thank you Spanish 1), I communicated that I write music.

Leo immediately turned on the keyboard and asked me to sit and play him something.  I started playing “We will praise You” from my Captivated:Live cd, and just as I got to the 2nd verse, Leo stopped me.  He said…

“No. No. No…. Jazz…. colors!” and then proceeded to hum the melody of the song and completely changed the chords to sounds I would never know how to make in a million years.  I cracked up!  I remember thinking “I think this guy and I are going to be good friends!”

The pastor came right about then to walk me home (he lived only a block away from the church).

The following weekend, and the ones that proceeded it, I was a part of the worship team. We had rehearsal on Saturday afternoons, and then 3 services on Sundays.  In between the services, we would all go to the cafe across the street to get something to eat and I would try my best to communicate what I’d been learning.  In addition to the Sunday services, I started helping out with the youth services on Friday nights, and teaching lessons at the worship academy on Saturdays. I LOVED it!

Leo also happened to be involved with all of those church events, so it gave us a good deal of time together, sharing life and ministry.  He was hilarious, and an incredible guitarist/worship leader.  It was so much fun to find someone with similar interests and passions!

He started walking me home more, and the pastor would always invite him to eat dinner with us.  When Leo would get home, he’d sign on to Skype and we would chat (all written) while the pastor’s daughter sat next to me to translate and help me learn what to say back.  It was hilarious.  We were NEVER without a bilingual dictionary!

One day, I was walking with the pastor and asked him what he thought about Leo.  He said “Wow!  What a guy!  He loves Jesus, loves people and is always here serving at the church!  You really can’t find anyone better!”.  But then he went on to say… “But I recommend you wait 2 years before you start to date.  Get to know him better, get to know the language and the culture better… Here, Colombian christians take dating VERY seriously.  You first start out in groups, and then the moment you go out just the 2 of you, it means that you’re serious about each other.  Dating in our church culture means that you’re seriously contemplating marriage.”

I think 2 weeks later, Leo and I were sitting on the steps out in front of the pastor’s house talking about what we really felt called to do. And, it was exactly the same!  It was at that moment when I had the feeling “I think I’m gonna marry this guy!”.

It was during that conversation where Leo said that he wanted to be my “novio”… and out of respect for the pastor, I told Leo that he would have to ask permission from the pastor if he wanted to date me.

Sidenote: it had always been an agreement between my dad and I when I was in high-school that if a guy wanted to date me, he HAD to ask my dad first.  It was a safety-net for me and to this day I am so grateful!  If a guy called the house (you know… in the ancient days before there were cell-phones), my dad would ask me “do you want to go out with this guy?”  If I said “no”, then so did my dad.  I have always encouraged young girls who are starting to date to have this same arrangement with their fathers.  It is SO important for their safety and health to have their dads involved with any boys who have interest in them.

So, Leo and the pastor met and talked one evening.  They were in the living room, and I was in the kitchen cooking (the pastor’s wife was out of town).   I was SO nervous, especially after the pastor had said that it would be better to wait 2 years, and it had only been 2 1/2 months!

But both he and Leo came into the kitchen beaming… the pastor hugged us both and said “you have our prayers, our counsel, and our best wishes!”.

A year and a half after Leo and I met, we were married in Bogota!  We just celebrated our 9th anniversary.

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Puppies!!!

The day before Leo’s surgery was a Wednesday.  It is the only day I teach outside the home, with 7 neighbor-kids all in a cute suburb.  I asked Leo before I left

“Are you sure you want me to leave you here alone?”

His response: “One of us has to keep working!”.

So, with that, I got in the car and headed towards my first student’s house.  On the way, I called a dear friend from our small group and let her know that Leo would be having surgery the next day, and to just pass the word along to pray.  She suggested that maybe instead of the group meeting at her house, they would all come over to ours to pray, worship and bring us food.  I was so grateful!

I got through my first 2 lessons with no problem, but all of a sudden, during my 3rd lesson, I got a panicked call from Leo.

“Nena!  Canela is having her puppies!”.

What?!?!  Of course… the only day I’m not either at home, or 5 minutes from home.

“Do you want me to come home??” (I had whelped pups before, but Leo’s only experience was watching the YouTube videos in preparation.).

“No, I think I can do it.”

It turns out that Leo also decided not to cancel a guitar lesson, so he put Canela outside while he taught (I would’ve paid money to watch him teach while high on the drugs they gave him… lol!).

When he went to let her in, he couldn’t find her.  She didn’t come running to him like she normally does.  He found her in her favorite spot under our hammock, in a pile of leaves that hadn’t been cleaned up from the winter.  One puppy was already out.

We had a box for her all ready to go in the kitchen, so Leo had to drag it- with his good arm- out to the back patio, reach for the puppy that had already been born, and get Canela in the box.

About every 20 minutes or so, he’d send me another pic or video.  She was such a pro!  He even had time to set up the ipad to record the birth out on the back patio.

I called another friend who loves Canela and really wanted to be there for the birth, and she headed right over to be with them.

Again, I kept asking “Do you need me to come home?”  Leo always answered the same way: “One of us needs to keep working!” So, I kept plugging away at my lessons, finished and got home with just 15 minutes to spare before people started coming over.  Canela birthed the last puppy just as I was walking in the door. It was beautiful.  She did an amazing job!

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I had just a few minutes to clean the kitchen and living room, try to organize space for 12 people, and make sure that Canela was doing well before people started arriving.

It was crazy! (But when, in our lives have things like this never been crazy?).

Worship that night was so beautiful.  We will remember that evening for possibly the rest of our lives.  We were overwhelmed with so many things, and to have our dearest friends over to pray for and encourage us, lifting up the name of Jesus in the middle of our situation… that was priceless!

The puppies were born into a house of worship, and the peace that we all felt was tangible.