The blessing of receiving pt. 2

When we moved back to the States 3 years ago, we had some clothes, our instruments, and other random things (like a 70 lb bag full of beads and accessories for our “Colombia to the World” project… lol!).

We had to sell everything that didn’t fit into 8 suitcases.

We arrived to my parent’s house in Sunbury with nothing… no jobs, no cars, no insurance, no certificates that were valid in Ohio to get professional jobs… nothing.

Slowly as the months passed, the Lord opened up doors for everything we needed.  We were able to start working, making friends, and finally got to the point where we could make a budget.

As we were praying about where we could live, we knew 3 things: 1) we needed a house- Leo’s dreams for a recording studio wouldn’t be able to happen in an apartment setting.  2) we needed 3 bedrooms- we have people over all the time, and having space for them to sleep was a priority. 3) we could only afford 1,000/month, utilities included.

It was like we spoke those things into existence, and said “Ok God… GO!”.

People thought we were crazy.

As we waited for the right place to show up, I would buy simple things with our little bit of surplus each month.  One month it was a set of towels on sale.  The next month, it was a comforter set that was on sale.  I stocked these little things up, knowing that we would eventually be able to move out of my parent’s basement.

One day, as I was driving my usual route around the city for work, I had the Zillow app open.  Most of the houses in this particular area were renting for $1300, but one stuck out at $895. I immediately contacted the owner, and he agreed to meet with us the following day.

We had seen other houses, and upon entering the owners would kind of look Leo up and down, ask him a few questions and just hurry us through the house.  Leo never felt peace about those places…

However, when we walked through the door of this particular house, the owner was playing Salsa music, and greeted us in Spanish.  Turns out, he had lived in Puerto Rico for 5 years as a teacher… loved Spanish and the Latino culture!  We walked through the house and fell in love with it!  As we stood in the kitchen and continued conversation, the owner asked us if we were serious about living in this place.  We said YES… but we had 2 issues…

This was just mid-February, and we wouldn’t be able to move in until April. Also, we only felt comfortable signing a 6-month lease because we still weren’t confident that Leo’s immigration status would get renewed.

He said yes to both conditions… and then went on to say,
“So, would you mind if I leave some furniture here for you?  Where I’m going, I don’t need all of it. I will probably take all the living room and master bedroom furniture at least, but it would be great to be able to leave the guest rooms furnished.”

Leo and I looked at each other in disbelief, and said “of course!  Whatever you leave in the house is what we don’t have!”.

So, April 1st rolled around (Easter Sunday that year), and my family all piled their cars up and drove us to our new house.

As we walked in, the owner had a simple trash bag in his hand and said “I just need to pick up a few things”.  I looked in disbelief at the fully-furnished house and said “Um, are you sure? It looks like you have a lot to take!”.

“No, as it turns out, I only needed the coffee table and some lamps”.  He said.

I couldn’t believe it!  The only furniture that we had brought with us was a coffee table and lamps!

My mom happily brought in our comforter set and said “I’ll go make your bed, then!”.  (we were honestly thinking that we’d be sleeping in the guest room on a futon).

Each and every person who has come through our doors has heard this God story.  We know that we have been entrusted with a house that only the Lord could’ve given, and in response, we share it with anyone and everyone.

We have received a beautiful gift… one that will be OURS on paper later this week! But at the end of the day this is God’s house, and it will always be open to anyone who needs a place to stay, a warm meal, and who wants to hear a lot of crazy stories!

We give because we have received.

The blessing of receiving part 1

When Leo and I were dreaming about our wedding in Colombia, we deeply desired for as many people to attend as possible – including the kids from Ciudad Bolivar.  Every 2 weeks we would make the 2-hour bus trek across the city, through traffic, up the steep mountainside and windy roads to the top of the mountain to share life and Jesus with a group of 15 pre-teens.  Many of them came from broken families… and almost none of them had ever attended a wedding before.

We asked the director of the foundation where the group met how we could make this possible… what would we need to provide so that they didn’t feel like “less” in the sea of wealthier Colombians and foreigners.  He advised us to find dresses and suits, dress shoes, and a van for transportation.  He and the other volunteers would be able to pick the kids up, get them all fancy (make-up and nail polish was a MUST for the girls).  I was able to find enough pearl-beaded headbands for all of the girls coming from different worlds so that they all matched.

Leo and I spent weeks scouring the city for the best deals on dresses and suits.  People from the school willingly donated clothing and shoes for the cause, and the week before our wedding we were able to take everything up the mountain to the kids.

I had never seen girls light up and twirl so much in my life!

Before we gave them these gifts, however, we wanted to make it clear:

“We are giving you these things now because we deeply want you to be involved in our wedding, but it doesn’t mean that you will always just be recipients of good things.  There will come a day when you will be able to give as well.  That is what the body of Christ is… a group of people committed to giving and receiving from each other.”

We looked into each of their eyes as we gave them their new outfits, and we knew that they understood.

Fast-forward to our wedding day…

Leo had just arrived to the venue in a taxi, dressed to the 9’s, and with his suitcase for the honeymoon.  Just as he got out and turned back to pay the fee, the driver sped off, stealing Leo’s suitcase.

Now, living with 3 brothers has its advantages… one being that you can all share clothes.  When I realized that Leo moving out would mean taking some of the family wardrobe, I decided that he might need his own, new clothes.  Also, he didn’t have much of a “warm weather” wardrobe… so all of the clothes in the suitcase were brand-new.  Praise the LORD the only items in the suitcase were clothes and shoes, and not money or our tickets for the honeymoon!

When word of this got around (and word spread very quickly amongst our 200 guests!), they decided to take up an offering for us so that we could buy Leo some new clothes.

I will never forget when Jhan walked up to Leo during the reception:

Jhan: Profe, I want you to have this (pulls out a bill that is now the equivalent of $.30)

Leo: What is this for?

Jhan: Profe, I want to help you buy new clothes.  You gave me this suit, it is my turn to give back

Leo and I both hugged him, looked into each other’s eyes and teared up.

He understood!

We have had many people give us things over the years, but that gift is one of the most treasured!

Blessings in the journey

Last week I was given an incredible gift.  A 4-day worship retreat in the mountains of North Carolina.  It was very unexpected, last-minute, and I honestly didn’t think I deserved to go; however, Leo encouraged me and all the pieces came together to work it out.  I mean, it just “happened” to be Fall break for the other therapist that works with my kiddo, so she could cover me at school for the 4 days I would miss.  Crazy!

From the outset of the trip, I was excited.  It turns out that I’m a faster driver than most (big shocker, I know), so the folk I went with wanted me to drive.  No problem.  Driving is like breathing for me… especially when it’s driving through the mountains of West Virginia all the way to Asheville, NC.  I was giddy the whole drive!  The colors, the hills, the curves….  it was amazing!

Now, I’ve had some major health issues the past few years that have kinda all come to a head here in the US; so I am on a VERY strict diet (it’s easier to tell you what I CAN eat than what I shouldn’t).  When traveling with a group over a long distance, it’s pretty much a given that there will be crap food eaten along the way.  We stopped at a Bob Evans, and I looked in disbelief that I couldn’t eat ANYTHING on the breakfast menu.  I was the girl who ordered a no-cheese, no-egg omelet.  Crazy.  I was a bit overwhelmed and disheartened thinking what the rest of the week would look like, to say the least!

Blessing #2 came when we sat down to eat our first meal at the retreat center.  They had food I could eat!!!  I filled up 2 plates with salad, veggies and fish… and was SO relieved.  Throughout the week I could eat at every.single.meal, and not just salad!  It was amazing!

I could go on and on about how amazing the week was… music, food, beer, conversations, laughter, rest, the mountains…

But, there was one experience that stands out above all the rest.

A group of us decided to hike up a “mountain” during our freetime one afternoon.  We called a friend of mine who used to live in the area to see what he recommended, and we set out-  hiking up the road to the trailhead.  We heard that this trail was “moderate”, but that the view was incredible.  Upon getting to the trailhead, there were warnings of bears, so we quickly decided that we should just make noise the whole time up… which wasn’t really a problem for us VERY talkative women!  Ha!

The trail started uphill pretty easily.  Left foot, right foot.  About 1/3 up, it started getting steeper, with steps laid out in front of us.  We’d go up one set, and then the trail would curve around a bit just to reveal another set of stairs.  This.kept.happening. I started to just get frustrated.  We could see through the trees enough to know that we were in a cloud forest, and the folk coming down the trail warned us of rain…. but they all said that if we could make it up before the rain hit, the view would be worth it.

About 4/5ths of the way up, with a bad knee and a current struggle with anemia, I was slowing down.  I’d turn another curve, see another set of stairs and just get more and more frustrated.  I just wanted to get to the top!  I used to walk all.the.time., and had no idea why this was such a hard hike.  I used to love hiking!

As I stood and paused at different points to catch my breath, I caught myself thinking,
“I’m tired of the struggle.  I don’t know if I can keep going”.

I wasn’t talking about the hike anymore.

“Why does this always have to be so hard.  Why can’t I have the strength I used to?  Why does every turn reveal another #$*&%$%* set of obstacles?”

The girls up ahead would call down to me to make sure I was still coming.

I’d go up another set of stairs.

Frustration.

They’d call out.

Up another set…

The difference came, however, when I heard them yell out “OH MY GOSH!!! THIS IS INCREDIBLE!!!  We made it!”

I knew I was only 2-3 climbs away from the top.

They then yelled down “Lilia, it IS worth it!  You gotta get up here!”.

As I rounded the last bend, I saw a rock face that was standing between me and the top.  One girl was there, talking me through how to climb it.  We walked together to the summit.

I then realized that I need to find more people in my life who aren’t just experiencing my struggles alongside of me, but who have been on my journey, with my struggles, and can yell down at me from a higher vantage point than I have right now. Who have struggled up to the top, possibly swearing as they go; and through blood, sweat and tears can proclaim that it really IS worth it.

As we all stood there, looking out at the beauty, we could see the retreat center way below us.  We had no idea how far we’d come until we saw that landmark.  Later on, at dinner, we were able to look out the windows from our table to the top of the mountain we’d climbed, and with absolute joy (and exhaustion) we told of our journey.

We made it.  Together. 1780755_10152322503470841_921857032589956806_n

That night we sang songs of mountaintops and valleys.  Each time, we glanced at each other and giggled under our breaths “we climbed one today!”.

Jesus is enough for me… and I am so grateful that He allows trips like this one to remind me that I still have yet to fully grasp that.  He put people around me to comfort, encourage and love on me so that I am less likely to forget that He really does love me.  He will work all these struggles out for my good… someday.

Reflection

My first year living in Colombia, I had to learn how NOT to remember things by seasons. I never realized how important seasons had been to my midwestern mind, heart and body; but I quickly found myself trying to break the school year into Fall and Spring Semesters, and I was met with quizzical looks from my Colombian friends.

I remember walking home with Beth one day, talking about how much I missed Fall. She looked at me, and said that she loved the 65-80 degree weather year-round. I didn’t think I’d ever get to that point. I’m not from California. I’m from Ohio. Seasons are in my blood.

I remember as the first “fall” was passing in the US. I was glued to Facebook, taking in everyone’s comments about the colder weather, grieving that I couldn’t experience it for myself. I tried to explain the phenomena of the changing smells, colors, foods and scenery to Leo; he smiled but didn’t really understand.

And, as much as I never thought I’d get used to the seasons NOT changing, I DID get used to it. I liked the simplicity of not needing a change of wardrobe for each season. I liked the monotony of the sun rising and setting within the same 30-minute window each day. There were always flowers blooming, always fresh fruits and veggies, and I could walk outside every day. Even “rainy season” was predictable: for the most part, if it was sunny in the morning, you’d get a downpour sometime in the afternoon/evening, and if it was rainy in the morning, vice versa. I got used to life without seasons.

But along with gaining the contentment in that, I think I lost the idea that seasons DO change. Each day kinda rolled into the next with only school breaks or service trips to count time with, and I think I forgot that the season would someday come to an end. I forgot to take in each day for what it was. The monotony of the familiar lulled me into forgetting that time passes quickly, opportunities might never come again, and things really were changing whether the weather marked it or not.

Coming back to the US was a hard transition in many ways, and I remember getting angry that the seasons were changing so quickly. It seemed like just as we’d finally have what we needed for one season, we’d need something for the next one and be behind again. I felt so out of place. Again, I was met with quizzical looks. I’d lived in the land of seasons for 28 years of my life… but the during the 5 seasons of living without them I’d so adopted a new way of living that I couldn’t remember how to go back.

However, I did eventually adjust. I had to remind my husband who wanted to give away all of his winter clothes halfway through summer (he looked at me and said… I haven’t used that in MONTHS), that winter would be back, and we were finally prepared.

Somewhere around December last year, shortly before Leo’s family came to visit us for Christmas, it hit me. There are certain things we can count on:

The sun will rise tomorrow to a brand new day.

Seasons will change.

We aren’t guaranteed to see any of it.

It allowed me to sink into the Truth that each day, conversation, opportunity, experience has its purpose, and most likely will never be repeated.

I am learning to savor everything, knowing that it might never happen again.

I am trying not to take anything for granted, because
this season, too, will change.

Ending a season of silence

Those of you who have come along with me on journeys over the  years know that I love to tell stories.  I love to share everything from the depths to shallow hilarities.

However, I’ve been silent for a while now.

We’ve been in the States for a little over 2 years, and I haven’t written much.  There has been a deep sadness that words on black and white can’t really explain, or shouldn’t be written and put “out there”.  Those words are only for a select few in my life, and they have had their ears full.  However, outside of the brokenness, the silence has been caused by my world shrinking; and the large majority of those with whom I spend my time aren’t people who like to be written about.  Then, there are my jobs with autistic kids and at the church where I can’t really write much because of confidentiality.

At the root of it, though…

It is a lot easier to communicate with my friends being back in the States. I talk with dear people almost every morning on my drive to one job or another, and I spend time with people in the evenings.  So, there isn’t this deep need to be heard, to speak out, to share about differences… because my life isn’t really different from the “normal US life” anymore.

I go shopping at Old Navy.

I buy my groceries at Costco and at the International grocery store down the street.

I drive myself to work on a busy highway everyday.

We have a puppy.

We have a washer, dryer, dishwasher, lawnmower, clothes for every season, and a window air-conditioner (let alone an endless supply of dill pickles and cheddar cheese!).

Leo and I both have “real jobs” with health insurance.

We have great neighbors that we’ve come to love and share meals together.

We have a garden (that our puppy ate most of the veggies out of this year… lol!).

But, in the middle of it all, there has been a slow process of handing over this season to the Lord… for however long it takes. It means handing over each day, each conversation, each moment.  I’ve gone from being angry that we’re here, to realizing that TODAY is the only “today” I’ll get.  I might never have another opportunity for a conversation, or to give (or receive) an encouraging word.  Life goes by so quickly, especially here in the US.  People move so much and are involved in so many different things, that I’ve learned to just take advantage of opportunities to share with people while I have them close.

I’ve learned how easy it is to just send a text to someone when you’re thinking about them.

That not a lot of people really mean “great” when you ask how they’re doing… and it’s not until you ask “how are you REALLY doing” and take time to listen that you learn the truth.

It is a really special thing to just invite someone over to your house for dinner, no matter what the house looks like, and no matter what you cook.  I’ve been blessed to have some great conversations over lentils and rice.

All that to say…

I think there are some moments that are worth writing about now.

We “drive” by faith and not by sight

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

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

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

Our adventure started out long before we even knew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just kept laughing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unreal.

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

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

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

We walk by faith and not by sight.

And, we have a Jeep!!! 🙂  WOOT!

Community amidst the chaos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, profe… how much?”

“Seriously, just take it.”

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

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

“Thank you, profe!”

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

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

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

And, stuff is just stuff.

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

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

There is no way that would have happened without them.

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

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

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

We are so grateful to all of you.

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

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

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

We love you.

Beauty in the brokenness

Yesterday, Leo and I had the privilege of participating in a mission trip here in Bogota.  Some friends (via facebook) were here working with the special needs orphanage that ECA partners with, and asked if we had time to go along with them.  We jumped at the chance!

So, with 10 of us crowded into an 8-passenger van, we set off.  We had a good 1 1/2 hours to get acquainted, get lost, find our way, and get to the orphanage, set high above the city.  I’ve sent my students there over the years, but never had the chance to go myself, so this was a pain-free ministry to visit… still a productive trip as far as “work” goes, but no memories to hover over our time there.   I was really in need of something like that.

Being a school day, most of the able-bodied kids were out studying.  So, the only kids there were the severely disabled and the babies.  As we walked into the room of the older kids, most of whom couldn’t move much besides their faces, it was a little hard to take in.  Bones twisted, faces contorted, drooling, snot, i-v feeding tubes, complete helplessness.  But, as we walked around and greeted each child, some responded to our touch on their exposed arms or their foreheads.  Others smiled with wide eyes gazing into ours.  One little blind boy just started giggling hearing us come closer.  He was so precious!

One little girl, about 8 years old was being fed her lunch in a high-chair.  As Becky and I came closer, she just started laughing and laughing.  We smiled back, and then out from underneath the tray, she pulled a Bratz doll with brown eyes and blonde hair.  She handed it to me with her one good hand, and pointed to the doll and then to me…. then to the doll and to Becky.  We realized that she thought we looked like her precious little bratz doll because of our hair and eye color.  So smart that one!

We finished with our greeting and then continued with our tour around the complex.  Clean.  Shining.  Smelling of disinfectant.  Hundreds of items of clothes hung on the lines to dry.  Pictures on the walls of this beautiful 150-member family.  Crosses.  Teddy bears.  Therapy rooms.  Dentist chairs.  Playground.  Sunlight.  Beauty.

Our tour left us on the very top floor with the babies.  Beautiful lives born to horrible situations of abuse and abandonment.  Blind, deaf, contorted, stiff, smiling babies.  We held, played, tickled, sang with and loved on these precious little ones.  Leo said that he knows he truly saw miracles and angels.

Right before lunch, while we were checking out the dentists’ office, Becky was standing on a chair to get a better look and then jumped off, rolled her foot saying she heard something “pop”.  We called the physical therapist who was there working with the kids, and she said that we definitely needed to take her to the hospital.  Leo and I split up the group, called the driver, and Leo was off with Becky, her husband, and Brooke to the emergency room.   As we were talking with the care-takers about how the rest of us could get home later on, they confirmed that as long as something didn’t happen with one of the kids, we would have a ride.

Then, stories about how many of the kids have been told they were going to die, but yet lived for years… other kids with emergency situations who died in the hospital waiting rooms because no one saw the value of their life… doctors with compassion whose hands were tied up in hospital politics.  Our conclusion:  they need a hospital or doctors on staff for their kids.  People who see the same value in these precious little lives.

My afternoon was filled with 2 little girls.  Lina is an older black girl who can’t move anything besides her face.  Her beautiful chocolate eyes widen as you get close, and her smile shows off all of her beautiful white teeth… even the ones in the back.  I sat with her as she laid on her bean-bag and sang, clapped, smiled, talked, and prayed over her.  Her bones were so twisted that I didn’t know which leg was which, and although her body was lifeless, her face was full of expression and life.  She was beautiful.

As I was sitting with her, all of a sudden Camila came scooting over to me. I didn’t know her disability earlier when I saw her in the high-chair, but now I could see that she had braces on her legs, and used her one good arm to propel herself wherever she needed to do.  She sat close, and one of the nurses said that she wanted to walk with me.  So, I lifted her up, held her by her fore-arms, and we walked and danced.  We both laughed and laughed.  It seemed that she didn’t care where we went, she just wanted to walk… so we went back and forth in the huge space.  My back was killing me after about 30 minutes of this, so I told her that I needed to sit down.  She didn’t seem to like that, until I told her that we were going to race.  I scooted myself all over that floor, up, down, around, taking short-cuts around the different kids in their wheely chairs.  We were laughing so hard!   It was amazing.

We had time to talk with “Hermana” before we left.  She took us to the manager’s office, and as the door opened, we saw that it was a little chapel.  She said “this is request and complaint department”.  She said that absolutely nothing in this orphanage would happen without time spent with the “manager”.   She went on to tell us that years ago, when she felt like the Lord was calling her to open a home for children, she sat in the corner and said, “God, if you want me to do this, You’re in charge.  You are responsible for feeding these kids, You are responsible for bringing them to me, You are responsible for everything they need.  You do those things, and I will love them and be a good steward of what you give me.”  1,000 kids, 7 homes, a special-needs school, a farm, and a vacation home with a pool and facilities for the kids later, all because of God’s faithfulness.

She is the Mother Teresa of Bogota.

There are stories after stories of miracles, provision, changed lives, heart-break, difficulty and success, and she knows it’s all the Lord’s.  They’re His kids, it’s His work.  She’s just a lady loving the least of these the best way possible.

I’m SO excited that our 9th graders are going to be partnering with this ministry for the next 3 years.  Lives are going to change.

Oh, and one more thing:

22 years ago, Hermana adopted a little girl whose mom threw her up against the wall when she was 2 months old because she wouldn’t stop crying.  This little para-plegic girl who can’t do anything but make noises and use her eyes to communicate is going to graduate from high-school this year.  She wants to study medicine and start a school for others like her.  There is a special computer with a special program where people just like her can read books and then turn the pages of the books with their eyes.  She’s been tested and is more than capable to use this program.

The world is open to her.

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”  Gen. 50:20

Up-rooted

I took a walk in our neighborhood park tonight.  It was a typical misty evening here, and the occasional drops that fell on my hair matched the drops falling from my eyes.

If someone were to tell me 5 years ago as I was planning on coming here that it would hurt this much to leave, I probably wouldn’t have believed them.  Even in my first month, it felt odd to sleep in the same bed for a month straight.  I’d been a vagabond for so long that I didn’t know what it was to have a routine… seeing the same people everyday… having to actually change my clothes more than 2x in a week… letting people in to those deep places of my soul that hadn’t known roots not easily pulled up by the next gig or town waiting for my arrival.  I was used to leaving.

As I walked around this evening, I watched scenes from the last 4 1/2 years.

I saw my summer with Leo’s teenage cousin… teaching him how to throw a softball for the first time. It took him a few days, but he finally stopped throwing like a girl. 🙂

I saw the sleepovers I’ve had with my kids from the south… the mudsliding and laughter.  The frightful smiles as I pushed them higher on the swings than they’d ever gone before. The fear on their eyes as we passed the security guards on our way up to the apartment, sopping wet with grass hanging from our clothes.  Their hidden laughter as I joked with the guards about how incredible the mud puddles were.

I saw the deep conversations that happened with dear friends and students on the various benches… conversations that defined our walks with the Lord.  Conversations that made us laugh so hard we almost peed our pants (or did, maybe just a little).

I walked the cement path winding through the park that my students ran while ringing unsuspecting neighbor’s doorbells.

I walked on the grass that I have so often laid down on watching the clouds pass… only to realize each time that the neighbor’s dogs often “walked on” the same grass.  Gross.

The sleep-overs, volleyball games, impromptu dance parties with music from cell-phones…

I realized that I let myself put down roots here, in this park… in this neighborhood… in this city… in this country.

“May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love.” Eph. 3:17

In a way, I’ve done this before.  I’ve left a place I love… people I love… a season that I dearly loved.  This time it’s different simply because it’s not quite how I imagined.  Each time previous, there was Someone gently leading me through a season of good-byes, a season of “it’s time to go”.  This feels much more violent.  Even when I got malaria, it was basically just leaving a dream behind… a list of “could-have-beens”… not tearing up the roots of love that had planted themselves so snug in my heart.

The last 4 1/2 years in this place have been some of the most challenging, growing times I’ve faced thus far.  ECA, while it was truly my dream “job”, was filled with trials and disappointments… sometimes on a daily basis.  I did many things well after often failing miserably (except grades, writing curriculum and lesson plans… for my “bosses” who are reading this… I know I continued to fail at those things).  I loved deeply and gave much of myself for the cause of Christ, so that people would truly know His love for them.  I buried wanderlust for the call of discipleship and relationship.  I saw needs that God had fitted me perfectly for (with daily chiseling, of course), and had many of those “this is what I was born for” moments… from finally conquering the hardened heart of an abused, crying child with the love of Christ, to writing Christmas musicals that spoke to the heart of our unique situation here, to leading worship for different groups of people, to spending time with incredible teenagers in the Amazon.  There are so many moments that I am grateful to have had the honor of living!

I am an all-or-nothing kind of person, and looking back I can say that I gave all of myself (for better or worse) to the people that I was called to serve, and I wish I was given more time to give even more.

I have 3 more weeks here, and many things on my “to do” list before I leave.  Hopefully, there will be at least one more sleep-over and a few more bench conversations.

But, tonight, it was just me and the Lord.  He was reminding me of His faithfulness through the other seasons of my life; how I let Him lead, and how He led me here to find much more than friends… but my family.  And, He reminded me to continue to trust Him through the pain.

This world is not my home, but yet He let me find a beautiful resting place for a while.

I know I always come back to the following verses… they have become my solid footing through different seasons now.

Jeremiah 29: 4-5,7,10-11

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon”… side-note: for some reason, for me, going back to the States now always seems like “exile”.  But, God keeps sending me back.

“Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce…”

Then, a long bit about making babies and grandbabies.

“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.”

Then, a part about not listening to false prophets who probably tell them that it’s going to be over quickly.

“For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fufill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.  For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”

So, our command for this next season is to settle in, pray, wait.

I don’t know what kinds of roots are waiting for us in the States.  I DO know that the best plants grow in soil that is up-rooted, sometimes violently, in preparation for what is coming.

The deepest roots however, the ones that are truly planted in the soil of God’s marvelous love, keep growing deeper, no matter what is re-planted around it.

He goes before us…

Deuteronomy 31:8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

This verse was told by Moses to Joshua and the Isrealites just as they were crossing the Jordan river into the promised land.  They had been wandering in the desert for 40 years because of their doubt the first time around; and finally the Lord was giving them what He had promised… and what they had been desiring.

I think it’s interesting that even though the Lord had been guiding them to this point for so long, they were still afraid.  Moses had to say these exact three phrases two times in his speech:  “The Lord Himself goes before you”, “He will never leave you or forsake you”, and “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged”. They knew that this final step was God’s plan for them, yet they were still afraid.  I can relate!

I love teaching middle-schoolers!  They’re hilarious, random, able to understand humor, and about as ADD as I am at times.  We have a blast!  But, when I’m teaching them, I know that I need to repeat the main points (usually more than once… ha!).  Everyday, as I’m teaching, I have them repeat the main points after me, sometimes in a loud voice, so I know that it’s sinking in.  Even in our worship songs, I like having songs that repeat main points.  It allows the truth to really sink in… to our bones.  “How He loves”  and “No sweeter name” were some of the favorite worship songs this year in middle school for that reason… we allowed those truths to envelop us.

As I was sitting, thinking about Moses’ speech this morning, I couldn’t help but think how I would encourage a multitude of ECA elementary and middle-schoolers, the kids in the different ministries around Bogota, the kids in the Jungle… the people I was called to minister to the last 5 years.  I would definitely repeat those 3 main phrases, and have them say it out-loud with me. I would have them visualize what those specific phrases mean to them. There would probably be hand motions involved.

And then, I thought about myself and how I need to be reminded of those very important phrases these next few weeks… today… this minute. I probably don’t need hand motions, though. 🙂

Praise God that He’s promised to go before us (believing in an omni-present God, we know that He is already there, working things out in advance for us).

Praise God that He will never leave us or forsake us!

Praise God that because of His presence in our lives, we don’t have to have fear or be discouraged.  Perfect love casts out all fear, and He is the joy and lifter of our heads!

One of my favorite quotes that I often give to people who are in transition is:

The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it His presence and His promise. — Brennan Manning

There are so many things to be grateful for in this process:

That Leo is with our dear friends, Jonny and Suzie Pineda, another bi-cultural ministry couple (now a family!), who did what we’re about to do 3 years ago.  Leo is soaking up all the time with them… asking them the hard questions about leaving behind family, friends and ministry, and what it’s like to start all over again, trusting God to lead him as the head of our family.  Hard questions.

That there are wonderful women here that have spent hours on the phone with me through my tears encouraging me, kicking my butt, praying for me, and offering to help, etc.

That I got an email today from our mission pastor’s wife (also our small-group leader) from Vineyard Columbus informing me that because of the great need for immigration counseling within our church body (there are over 100 nations represented!  We love our church!), she is sending our case to someone we can talk to when we get to the States!  This is a huge relief to both of us!

That ECA is going to be able to rent our apartment to other missionaries, so we don’t have to pack up everything.

That Leo’s dad is coming over on Friday and Saturday to help fix random things around the apartment that we haven’t had time to fix.

That God cares about us so much that He would make it absolutely clear which way we should go!  We’d been praying all year that He would give us direction; and while we didn’t ever imagine He would answer us in this way, He did.  He heard our prayers and answered them!

There are so many things to be thankful for!

You can continue to pray for these specific things:

Good-byes (especially Leo’s family… it hit them pretty hard!)

My focus in sorting and packing (I’m really having a hard time with this… I need help!)

That God would continue to speak to Leo while he’s in the States with our friends

That if God wants the outreach, missions and worship ministries at ECA to continue, that He would put it on people’s hearts to step up to the task.

That God would rise up another worship leader at our church to replace Leo.

That God would rise up someone to continue working with Leo’s indian group.

That we (I) would stop worrying about all of the above.  Ha!

Thank you all so much for your encouragement and prayers for us!