La Viña Cochabamba

There is a legend from Cochabamba about the women.. the “Cochabambinas”. When a big war required all of the men to leave to fight, the women stood their ground and stopped invading troops from taking the city. They are strong, powerful, capable women.

And that translates into the church! The women who serve, preach and minister are amazing. And Esther leads the way!

I have seen a lot of couples minister in my years of traveling and ministry, and Pastor Remberto and his wife Esther are a power couple. They work so hard, serving and giving everything to their flock.

We were blessed to learn from them, spending time with them ministering side by side.

They have recently been pouring into a young group of musicians. Remberto has become like a father to them, and you can see how they respect and love him.

And while Remberto is an incredible pastor, he didn’t know how to help the team grow musically, or how to help the church’s sound be more appealing.

So, that’s where we came in.

We did worship/music/sound workshops, and Leo helped completely re-wire the sound, hanging the speakers and new sound treatments.

And when I say “we”, it was Leo who designed the speaker stands and the sound treatments, and then he found someone who could do the metal-work and fabricate everything from simple aluminum. And when it came time to putting the foam inside the aluminum frames and hot-glue the fabric to everything… that was me. Then the guys measured and drilled holes in the cement wall to hang all 6 sound treatments

We spent a LOT of time with the team… playing music, goofing off, eating delicious food, and sharing life. It was an instant connection! Even Elias loved getting to church because he knew his friends would be there!

Our devotion times with the team were equally as wonderful. We spent time talking about the Vineyard worship values, reading the Word in the Lectio Divino style, and praying for one another. In one of our sessions, Pastor Remberto started singing out “Ven con tu fuego”. I felt strongly that the Lord was giving us a new song, so we started singing and talking through what it looks like for God to come with His fire.

After about 15 minutes, we had the skeleton of a song!

The team was so excited because they had never written a song before!

We kept working on it, and Remberto was able to translate the song into Quechua, his heart language! When we introduced it at church the following weekend, it was a HIT! We could feel the Spirit all over it!!!

A new experience for me was preaching in Spanish! (As a Baptist pastor’s daughter, I grew up with the idea that I need to be ready to preach, pray or die at a moments notice… I’ve always loved to preach, but had never shared more than a testimony in Spanish… so this was totally new!)

I was honored to preach 2 weeks in a row, and as I was preparing, I felt strongly that the Lord wanted me to go with Ephesians chapter 2.

There is spiritual oppression in Bolivia, but a LOT in Cochabamba. There are practices that would shock you if I wrote about them, and we could feel oppression in the air at times. The churches can even be oppressive, which is why La Viña is so counter-cultural… but that’s for another post.

As I was preaching about what it means to be fully accepted sons and daughters, I could see God touching hearts. I ended the sermon reading through Psalm 139, and could hear people crying as they were receiving grace and forgiveness.

Ministry time was powerful. Whole families were coming up for prayer. Even Elias got in on the action, with helping Kim pray for people. He LOVED it.

We are still just so grateful that we were able to give out of our strengths to this beautiful place. The conversations we had were sometimes silly, sometimes deep, and always honest. We hold everyone there in such high regard; and we are just so excited to see how the church keeps growing, both in width and depth. They are ready.

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!

Infertility and the holidays

I am currently sitting in the car, with a load of groceries, waiting for my 16 month-old miracle baby to wake up.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and in this very moment my heart is so full of joy and excitement, thinking about all of the amazing family time that is coming over the next few days.

I can’t wait to watch Elias eat all the food, shimmying his happy “yummy food” dance in his high chair. I can’t wait to watch him crack up at all his older boy cousins as they run around and play together.

I can’t wait to talk about all the mom things and toddler-life things, and hear stories from the matriarchs in our family.

It hasn’t always been this way, though.

After missing out on Thanksgiving for the 5 years I lived in Colombia, we were finally able to participate when we moved here 6 years ago. Right after my sister had her baby…. and my cousin was pregnant.

I felt like I had absolutely nothing to give to any conversation. I felt so out of place. Truly, most of Thanksgiving Day, I just avoided any conversation and hung out with the younger kids in the basement, hiding.

On top of culture shock, I was having anxiety about my place in the family, my value; and truly struggled to even be happy for how the family was growing. I found myself feeling jealous and bitter that it wasn’t happening for us.

When I voiced some hesitation and anxiety I was feeling to a family member, it was countered with “why can’t you just get outside of yourself and be happy!”

Yeah… not really helpful.

I know that I have friends who might be feeling anxious in these days as well. It might be for different reasons… maybe you aren’t happy in your job, in your marriage, or in your singleness… or maybe you’re just not feeling joyful and you can’t put your finger on “why”.

In my counseling sessions leading up to the holidays the following year, my counselor told me 2 things that helped me.

1) Find my “safe person”… someone I know loves me no matter what I bring to the table. Someone who either won’t ask me the hard questions, or someone who I feel comfortable talking about the hard things with.

2) Breathe in “I can do all things”…. breathe out “through Christ who gives me strength”.

As I breathed my way through one holiday after another, I realized that I was able to show up for my family members.

Instead of feeling shame and anxiety about what I was lacking, I was able to be a non-distracted listener. And, while family members shared their struggles, especially when it came to kids, I was able to stay calm.

(Don’t get me wrong… in my head I was still saying “at least you can have kids”… but I was able to keep that thought to myself and just keep listening.)

What I learned as I would ask questions and listen, is that ALL of us feel like we’re missing out on something… we all have pain from life not turning out as we thought it would… even those who seem like they have it all together.

So, if you’re dreading family time like I did for years, know that you’re not alone. You don’t need to give anything that you don’t have. It’s ok to just.show.up.

Breathe.

Listen.

Play.

I promise you will find joy in a tiny moment, if you’ll just have courage to look for it.

And, if you’re one of those annoying family members, (like we are this year) for whom things are all going pretty well, be the safe person for your struggling family members.

Listen.

Play.

Make inclusive, memorable moments.

Be the person that your struggling family members are grateful for.

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!

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

Death and Orchids

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After breaking up with a long-time college relationship, I was talking with my best friend Jill about how I just don’t seem to be able to pick “the right guy”.  She agreed that she also struggled with this!

During our conversation, we talked about a friend of ours who made a plan with her dad.  They agreed on a specific gift that the father would give a guy when he asked for her hand in marriage.  If the father approved of the guy, he would give him this gift to give to his daughter when he proposed.  Jill and I both loved that story, but the reality that both of our dads were out of state, and not really around to give counsel/see the guy in more than just a “dad-pleasing” mode made us think of another way it could work.

We both prayed about it, and asked our Heavenly Dad to put an idea in our heads of something that He would impress on the heart of the “right guy” to give us when he proposed.  For her, the image of purple roses came to mind.  For me, it was orchids.

Now, neither of us really thought that it could really be the Father putting this on our minds, so we didn’t really put much stock in the images, but we definitely held onto those ideas!

And, it even turned out that when Jill’s now-husband proposed to her, he gave her purple roses, not knowing anything about the simple prayer that she had prayed years before!

Fast forward a few years to when I was in full-time ministry… When I lived out of my car traveling the US, I distinctly remember a conversation I had with a youth pastor in Springfield, MO.  He had just gotten back from a mission trip to China that had changed his life.  He talked about how passionate the Chinese Christians were to share Jesus… and how they were willing to pay a price for the Gospel.  I remember the drive from Springfield to Tulsa, and asking God what MY price was…. and I remember that the first word that came to my mind was “marriage”.

I had had a rough time in relationships… desperately wanting to be in one, but feeling like I was settling whenever one would present itself.  It was during that 3-hour drive that I surrendered that part of my heart to Jesus and truly died to the idea of ever getting married.  I went from bitter whenever I would see my friends find the love of their lives, to content knowing that I was enough as I was, and that Jesus was enough for me.

I can honestly say that I loved being single and serving Jesus.  I had such an authentic, intimate relationship with Him at that time… so many miles on the road with just the Word, worship cds (yes, before ipods), and my own songs sung out the car window.  It was a really sacred time.

Fast forward to a month before I went to Colombia.  My friends Jake and Bridget organized a prayer/worship night for me as I was about to head out to Colombia.  It was such a great time being with old college friends!  After everyone left, it was just the 3 of us on their couch, and Jake said “Lilia, I feel like the Lord is going to awaken something that He called you to put to death.  I feel strongly that you are going to find your husband in Colombia.”  I laughed out loud!  I honestly hadn’t even been thinking about it… but made some kind of comment about finding a Jesus-loving, dark-haired hippie musician.

Fast forward to the week after I got to Colombia.  The pastor’s family had a kind of death of their own in the family, and people started bringing over beautiful bouquets of flowers, many of them containing orchids.

I asked the pastor’s wife about it, and she said “oh, you didn’t know?  The national flower of Colombia is the orchid”.

In that moment, the Lord confirmed the word that my friend Jake had spoken…

And He answered a prayer that a silly 20-something broken-hearted girl had prayed years before.

Because of immigration issues, Leo wasn’t able to meet my family to officially ask for my hand in marriage, but the day that we were legally married Leo presented me with

a bouquet of orchids.

 

Friday, May 30th: Leticia and Brazil

Leticia and Brazil:  Friday, May 30th

For pictures from this day, go to:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151471447135215.840603.741380214&type=3&l=1695c28162

We were planning to leave ECA at 10:00am, however, we heard news of horrible traffic and an accident on our route to the airport,  not much unlike our trip last year.  So, we got permission to leave at 9:30am.  Praise the Lord!

We got to the airport just fine, no traffic, and check-in was a breeze!  The people at COPA airlines were amazing; and even if our bags were a few pounds over, they didn’t make us pay.  They even counted 2 smaller bags that totaled 45lbs as one bag so we didn’t have to pay for an extra check-in bag!  I don’t know if this is normally what they do, or if they saw that we were a HUGE group with tons of medicine and donations, but we were SO grateful!!!   I think we will fly with COPA whenever we can!

We got through our check-in and still had plenty of time to get some lunch before the flight.  We also had time in the airport to meet our non-ECA team members.

Only one of our bins had to go through a separate inspection… the one with all the toothpaste!  It was a great chance to talk to the COPA people about what we were going to be doing in the Amazon, and they were really intrigued.  We never know who’s heart is fertile soil to plant seeds in, right?

We got to Leticia just fine, and got a discount on the tourist tax that we normally pay because we weren’t coming in as tourists, but as servants.

At the base, they already had lunch waiting for us!  It was SO good to be back! Our cook from last year, Agusta, even came from Brazil to visit with us!

After lunch, I sent the team to the orphanage to play with the kids while Leo and I stayed behind to organize the medicine with the doctors.    There was so much to organize! (there’s that word again!)

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They got back just in time for dinner, and then we all headed out to find 24 motorcycles to take us to Brazil.  It was so much fun!  This year, Diana took us to an amazing ice-cream place “Los Gordos”.  They had delicious copoacu ice cream and everything!  I got peanut and brownie ice cream.

After only about half the people had gotten their yummy treats, the power went out in the whole town.  So, Kylie went back to the counter with her head-lamp and helped them see what they were doing so that the rest of us could get ours.  We had a blast laughing and taking pictures!  The flash from the camera was the only way we could see each other!  It was so much fun!

We took another motorcycle ride back, and some of us had a nice swim in the pool at the base.  It was a little dirty, but in comparison to the water I knew we’d be swimming in the rest of the week, I took advantage of it! 🙂

We had a great time of worship and prayer together, and then the team headed off to bed.

Leo and I stayed up for a long time talking with the different missionaries at the base.  Monica looked really tired, and when I asked her if she had slept, she just laughed.  After her 2-week trip to Peru, she hadn’t gotten a single day off.  I don’t know how she does it!  All the missionaries at the base are incredible, with amazing stories of living by faith!  They inspire us with their passion for the Lord and their willingness to serve Him, no matter the cost.  I wanted to keep listening, but I was honestly falling asleep. Ha!

I got back to the girls’ room really late, and there weren’t any beds left.  At least there was a small mattress and a space on the floor.  It was going pretty well until Lili had to get up to use the bathroom and almost stepped on my head!  Good times! J

I praise God for the team we have… doctors, teachers, pastors, students… I pray that we work together in unity for the purpose of the villages growing in their knowledge of Christ.