Guitar Center

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

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

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

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

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

So, he found the manager and introduced himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On to the next season!

 

Everyday is Woman’s day in the Morales house

We met

Me in my torn jeans and you in your striped ones

With hand signals, broken language and laughter

I wasn’t looking for anything, because I’d been told that I

Was too strong, too independent, too opinionated…

Too much.

I wasn’t soft enough, quiet enough, didn’t dress up enough.

Not enough.

But in the quiet of your soul you heard the words “Open your heart to her”.

You, who had made a promise when young to “not arouse or awaken love”

You, who continued to ask the Lord when someone would catch your eye

You, who obeyed when He said

“Wait”

 

As our language grew stronger, so did our hearts grow together

Up one side of a mountain and down another

Loving on the least of these, guitars in our hands

And for the first time I was free to express all of me.

 

 

In the sea of men who continued to tell me to be quiet and sit down,

You spoke life into those words that were spoken to tear me down

You said that I was created strong

so I could carry the weight of

the pain that I’d seen

You said that I was loud

so I could shout truth

to water the ground the lies had dried up

You said that I was opinionated

so that those whose thoughts and ideas were discredited

could finally be heard

 

You took my hands, looked into my eyes and said

“Your being doesn’t intimidate me or make me feel less.

Your being makes me a better being.”

 

You call me by names that have been withheld from me

because some look to them as titles and not as how they were created to be.

 

Pastor, counselor, teacher, spiritual mother

 

You, who grew up with amazing examples of strong women in your life

You, who have such an incredible sense of worth,

because you know you are created in God’s image, for God’s purposes

You, who uncovers value in everyone you meet

because you know that we are ALL created in God’s image, for God’s purposes

 

You, who patiently waited for me to trade in my independence for your name

 

I am proud to be a woman, because You are my man.

What in the world are the Morales’ doing?!?!

This past summer our church hosted the Vineyard Global Conference. For the first time in the Vineyard’s history, pastors and church leaders from all over the world came together in ONE place to worship and learn from each other.  There were many powerful moments throughout the week.  Leo and I were honored to lead the kids in worship and in a mission experience as the week went on.

We were also honored to host 6 pastors from Peru and Chile for the week.

We would come home absolutely exhausted from working 12 hour days, to sit around our living room sharing invigorating stories of ministry until the early morning hours.

Honestly, the months leading up to this conference weren’t our best as a couple.  We were both so immersed in our own separate worlds that we hadn’t truly served together in a long time.  Yes, Leo supported me in the things I did at church, and I would come alongside him, but we hadn’t felt like we had done anything that was “ours” in a very long time.

Leo would come home with amazing stories of conversations and moments he would have while installing sound and training up media teams in a variety of churches and mosques around the city.  I would beam about all the things the Lord was doing in the kids’ hearts and lives… but we deeply missed walking alongside each other, taking part in each others’ moments.

That all changed at the conference.

We were finally together, for an entire week, serving alongside each other.  Watching the other come alive as we were “in our element”.

We started to dream again.

Our conversations with these amazing, church-planting pastors ended with “you need to come down and partner with us… train up our people in what you’re doing. Come serve alongside us for a few weeks!”.

So, we started planning.

We intentionally started saving.

Then, about 2 months ago, we hosted a Spanish worship night with La Viña.  Leo finally found all the members of the band who understood how to play all styles of music, and who deeply desired to honor Jesus with their musical talents and lead others into worship… and we put together an incredible set infused with some of our original tunes.

That night, something powerful happened inside of us.  We trusted the band to follow us, and we intently listened to Jesus.  There was absolute freedom.  New words and melodies poured out of us.  Leo and I led together like a tree-climbing rope being woven together… I would play something and he would wrap his own style and words around it.  He would sing just a few words, and I would come around with more.  We had never truly experienced anything like it before.  No competition, no tug of war, just pure unity as we truly led together for the very first time.

We came home and songs continued to spill out of us.  OUR songs… not Leo changing or translating my songs, or me putting words to his melodies… we were writing together for the first time in our lives.

Which gave us an idea: is it time to finally finish the Spanish worship album we’ve been working on (ie frustrated with, fighting about, giving up on yet hoping for)?

We started working on it. We invited all the musicians from the worship night over to record together… our studio was filled with beautiful music!  The best part about it was that every single member of the band was from a different country… Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Portugal, Colombia, Mexico.  There was great excitement as they heard these new songs for the first time and put all their hearts into recording their best.  My heart was soaring as I heard what was being made in our humble basement.

This week, we are ending the recording stage with just a few more things to go, and Leo is already working hard on mixing.

We hope to have a digital release in December, with an official “release concert” sometime in February/March.

We leave for Peru, Chile and Argentina in January for a 5-6 week trip (yes… this is still the Morales’ we’re talking about… we don’t nail down specifics until last minute! lol!).

We will be partnering with church planters and leaders to train in Children’s ministry, Worship ministry and recording.  We are even going to be doing a kids and youth camp alongside the leaders so that they can put into practice the ideas we will be working on together.

To say we are pumped is an understatement.

To say we are overwhelmed is also an understatement.

Please pray for us.  There are a lot of things that need to come through for us to be able to follow what we feel like the Lord has laid out.

Pray for these last weeks of finalizing our cd.

Pray for the details to come together for the trip.

Pray for all the things we already had on our plate before we took on these 2 huge projects… Worship club, Christmas activities, Leo’s retail work, family visiting from Colombia, etc.

We want to savor each day, and not get caught up in “getting somewhere”… but also keep the balance of needing to plan and dream. It is a fun tight-rope to walk on.

Thanks!

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.