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!