Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Summertime Stories: The Time I Got A New Purse

It's another summer evening at home, and the boys want 'another story of You!' And I try to think back, and filter through all the sneaky things I did as a child, because apparently they've inherited my mischief, so they don't need encouragement and fresh ideas. 'Ah... have I told you the story about the time I got a new purse?'

I had just finished my sophomore year in college. Two years earlier, after a crazy and amazing series of events, I had ended up with a full ride to a college in the U.S. Part of the scholarship included a trip home every summer. So, I was back at home. I kept in touch with mom very regularly. In fact, it was after my move up North that my parents got Internet at home (you're welcome, brothers). So, I would email a couple times a week (OK, more like every day, and I also called collect when I needed her to call me), and she would keep me posted on the family gossip - mostly.

Mom had mentioned that there were some hardships at home, but never really got into specifics; she had basically just asked me to be praying. The morning after getting home, the two of us sat down to catch up and I had a chance to fully understand what my family had been going through. My dad had lost his job a few months earlier. Money was tight, and well, things were looking pretty grim. The hardest thing was that my brothers' school tuition was past due a couple months, and they had until that afternoon to pay.

Mom and I, years later, having fun at a wedding.
While the two of us sat in my room, and all this new information was sinking in, she said in a giddy way, 'but look! I got this for you in the closet!'  'The Closet' was a place where different donations came in for the faculty and students of the seminary where my mom worked. A couple of weeks earlier, a large donation of purses had arrived, and she had picked the one she thought I would like. It was an interesting mix of a half-backpack half-purse. Hard to describe. I didn't immediately love it - thought it was not really my style. But in front of me, I saw my mother sit with expectation and delight in her eyes. She loved giving presents. Picking things out for others was one of her favorite things to do. So, there she was, going through dire financial circumstances, without a dime to spare to buy a gift for her daughter, but God had provided her with the opportunity to give me a gift to welcome me home.

I reached for the purse, and started checking it out. It had a couple zippers in the front, and then a few pouches inside. All the front outside was furry, and it had a strap in the back. After thanking my mom, without thinking about it, I felt curious about the front zippers. I opened them, reached inside, and then did the same with the one inside. As I slid my hand inside the small pouch, I felt something. I thought it was probably some silica bags. But it felt different, like a roll of paper. Because most of the stuff we got at the closet was second hand, I thought someone had left their trash there.

As I pulled it out, I realized that it was A BUNCH OF BILLS ROLLED UP! I pulled all this money out, as my mom and I sat on my bed, screaming. We counted the money, and it was THE EXACT AMOUNT that was due at the boys' school, and a little extra - for my cafecitos.

I rocked that purse-backpack for a long time. Turns out, it actually was just my style.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Summertime Stories: The Night It Was Too Cold

Summer nights - warm, restless, too full of energy and wonder nights... As a way of trying to settle the boys down, one evening I started showing them pictures of when they were babies, and making small funny narratives about each picture. It was fun, and they loved looking at pictures and hearing stories. But I didn't want them to be looking at either my phone or my computer right before they went to sleep.

All smiles - my first week as a sister!
So, I pulled the picture box where I have pictures of my childhood and started telling them stories. Soon it became part of our bedtime routine, so I'll be sharing here a few of my favorites.

My parents were both professors at a Bible Institute in Guatemala, and we lived on campus. I was an only child at the time. I must have been two when we moved there, and around five when we moved out. The front door of the house led straight into an open space that was first living room and then dining room, right in the middle of the house. To the left were two rooms and a bathroom - my bedroom and my mom's office. To the right was my parent's bedroom, another bathroom, and the kitchen. The house had a fireplace, and being fairly chilly with no central heating, that was always a good thing to have. I remember we also had an electrical portable heater that sometimes would be in my room to keep me warm. I also was a mix of a heavy sleeper and a kid with night terrors, so I would often make it to my parents' bedroom either because of a nightmare or because I had wet the bed.

Cuteness overload at two years old
My mom used to tell this story: The Night It Was Too Cold, she got up around midnight, as it had become her custom, to take me to the bathroom on a preemptive attempt to minimize laundry (I so get it now!), and after we were done, she thought it was just too cold to take me back to my room. As she held me asleep in her arms, she just felt sorry for me, sleeping alone in such a cold night. She thought it was best to let me snuggle with them for the rest of the night. So, she took me to their room, got in bed, and closed the door. Not too long after, both my parents heard a loud noise. Because my mom's office window faced the street, they both thought someone had smashed the window and broken in. My dad said, if that was the case, the best thing was to wait inside their room and if there was actually a thief inside the house, to let them take whatever they wanted.

As they laid in silence, waiting to hear anything else, they both fell back asleep. (I now always shake my head at this part, because we're talking about the worst years of the Guatemalan civil war, living in the countryside, and these two blessed folks in their late twenties with a preschooler heard a loud thud in their house and FELL BACK ASLEEP!)

Anyway... The next morning I remember very well. I remember getting up, walking out of my parents room to find my house as a white Christmas vision - albeit completely out of place. Everything was white. The floors, the furniture, everything was covered by a layer of white dust. As the three of us walked through the house, mouths wide open, we walked into the source of all the dust: The entire asbestos ceiling in my bedroom had caved in. The major breaking point had been right over my bed, where now a huge plank sat over my pillow.

"Do you see how God saved me that night?" I tell the boys. "But how did you mom know?" asks someone. Well, she didn't. She didn't hear a loud voice from heaven saying 'take your daughter with you, as the ceiling in her bedroom is about to fall.' She just felt a tug in her mama's heart, felt she needed to take me with her, and she did. And quite often, God speaks to us that way - we feel we should call someone. Someone comes to mind. We don't know why but we know we must go out, or come home, or say no to that job or that invitation. It's a mystery to me, this movement of the Holy Spirit within us, but I do want to constantly remember that He does love us and wants to guide our lives. May we constantly have ears to hear and eyes to see.

The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives. 
Psalm 37:23

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Making Good Theater

I spent a good chunk of my time yesterday morning talking to a coworker about budgeting, fundraising and stewardship. We talked about how close to our heart our resources are, and how easy it is to get worried and fearful. We also talked about how Christ constantly invites us to a life of faith and faithfulness to Him. I must confess I left that call feeling so wise. I took a couple minutes to reminiscence about my different experiences of working in Christian ministries for the last fifteen years doing finances. The trip down memory lane left me feeling so pleased with myself. My heart is in the right place, I thought.

A couple hours later, I got a call from the husband who is working with a team from his home church in Jarabacoa this week. They needed a few extra putty knives, and could I please go find them and bring them up when I came later that afternoon. I went to his toolbox, and found the putty knives, and then, in what came as a natural reflex, without giving it much thought, I just reached for the sharpie and wrote down 'Clifford' in both handles. I placed them on my desk, and went about my business.

Toddler napping, and two boys playing in the sandbox, I found myself with time to sit down and unwind. After checking the news for a few minutes, and become quite disheartened, I thought maybe I should just do some Bible reading. I've been doing a series on the Sermon of the Mount, and what do you know, the reading for the day was on Giving.

"Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding." Matthew 6:1 (The Message).

The putty knives with my name on them came to mind. And it suddenly became obvious that my heart is not always in the right place. I thought about how, being honest, I wanted to make sure someone knew those two putty knives were ours.

Look at us, serving together as a family in a foreign land! Look at us, so willing to give our things to the ministry whenever they need them! Look at us, always ready to serve when needed! And please, look out, make sure you take care of my things because, well... they are mine (specially the one that was chewed by our dog!). Look at me, so afraid of fully giving... afraid of losing.

May we learn how to give in a Christ-like manner, in freedom, and complete trust that whatever loss we may foresee when giving will be plenty satisfied by our Heavenly Father.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Unwritten and Wordless

When I was little, one of my favorite people in the whole world moved away. My uncle and aunt went to study in the United States, taking my closest cousin with them. After a couple of years, they went as missionaries to Spain. My parents and her parents stayed in touch. They would send letters and pictures, and every four years, they would come back. In my teenage years, every once in a while, I would write her a letter. Sometimes, I would start it and actually never even get to the end - the unfinished letter being put away with some other papers in my closet. Other times, I would finish it, put it in an envelope, address it, but never take the bus to the nearest post office. Lucky for us, we ended up (very miraculously) going to the same college, so we got three solid years of being only a floor away from each other in the dorm.

I have a box full of wedding thank you notes that I didn't write. After seven years, I finally threw away the ones I wrote but never mailed. Words come easy to me, but they seem to leave as quickly as they come. Maybe I just need to finish what I start. Maybe it's that sometimes, I'm afraid I don't have the right words to truly express what I wish to say. (Maybe that's why this blog has been dormant since November.)

This week, I realized that the same thing happens to me with prayer a lot of times. I pray for others, and if I tell you that I am praying for you, I am. However, when it comes to bringing my own needs before the Lord, words elude me. What do I really want to pray for? What do I need? Where do I even begin? And sometimes, I start and then don't really know where it is that I was going to with the prayer. And so, I just tuck it away.

I was in this nebulous place earlier this week. I was worried about our kids, thinking I needed to pray for them, but not quite getting how to pray, or for what. It bothered me, and I just had this feeling that I needed to pray for something, and I couldn't put a finger on it.

Yesterday, I got a text from one of my dear friends from Guatemala who now lives in Austria. We hadn't spoken since Christmas. She said "you've been on my mind. Everyone doing OK?" So, as we start texting, and I'm trying to think if I can actually dive into a deep conversation right then and there, while at the grocery store with one child in tow, she says 'I dreamed about your kids, and I didn't get much detail, but I understood that the Lord wants me to be praying for them... that I'm supposed to take care of them in prayer.'

Wait. What? For days, I've been feeling that I need to pray, and I can't find the words, and this friend on the other side of the world dreams about having to pray for my children! You see, when I start writing and don't send a letter, or I don't post it, the words fall flat. They vanish.

But with prayer... oh with prayer, it's a whole new different supernatural ball game. Romans 8:26-27 tells us this fun dynamic: "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Giving Thanks

In much of the Dominican Republic, summer is summer is a time of oppressive heat. It is often drier, and the combination of heat and drought make many plants turn brown and even lose their leaves, but without the beautiful fall colors seen in the US. Dominicans don’t talk about spring or fall. These are simply times of slightly less heat. But in the winter, it cools off and we have more rain. We also have little wind. It gets quiet. It is like nature is resting and enjoying the comfortable conditions. There is green growth everywhere.

Right now I feel like this. At camp we had our busiest year ever. While this is good (tons of kids accepted Christ, many of these returned for discipleship weekends and training camps, and 34 Dominican churches made use of Pico for their retreats), it comes at a cost. We are tired. But God is good. He gives us seasons in our lives, including times to slow down a bit and reflect on all He has done for us.

I love Thanksgiving. While this is not an official holiday in the Dominican Republic, we have made it a tradition at Pico Escondido. We take the afternoon off and invite the family members of all of our Pico employees to come for an afternoon of fellowship, followed by a time of reflecting on all we have to be thankful for and then a big evening meal. We had about 60 people around our table this year. We have much for which to be thankful. I am thankful for my family. As someone who didn’t get married until he was in his forties, it is still somewhat of a miracle in my mind that I have an amazing wife and three wonderful kids. I am thankful for all the people that have contributed toward making Pico the place it is today. This list is long: financial supporters who have given generously both to build Pico and sustain me and my family; Pico staff and former staff who have poured their blood, sweat and tears into this place; volunteers from the US who have come and made Pico better through their time here; wise counselors who have helped guide the process of managing these resources. But most of all, we are thankful to God, who makes all things possible.

Thanksgiving dinner at Pico
Thanksgiving, part 1

Monday, November 6, 2017

Of Buiscuits and Life

When it comes to cooking for three small children, it can feel like you're on one of those cooking shows when time is pressing, and there are three judges who will hold nothing back. It's often a hit or miss. Not with biscuits. Biscuits (and tortillas con frijoles) are one of those few tried and true items everyone in our house loves - every time!

So, on Wednesday, I thought biscuits were the right choice for the evening. I was on the phone with a friend, kids were running around, and I was making this recipe I basically know by heart. All was fine, but I inadvertently grabbed the smallest biscuit cutter and I suddenly found myself with over 20 biscuits, needing to use two baking sheets. I was still on the phone when the husband started setting up the table and suddenly there was only one baking sheet with 6 biscuits on it where I had left two.

There's a table on the side of our dinning room, and there I saw the other baking sheet full of biscuits. So, I went ahead and prepped the plates for the boys with what I had in the kitchen, putting two biscuits on each plate to cool off (because, temperature is as key as flavor is, folks), and knowing that the husband and I could get our own from the ones in the dining room.

The boys came in from washing their hands, plates were served for them, each boy with two freshly baked biscuits on their plate, baby girl with one, and I had put one in Roy's plate to finish the ones in the kitchen. But when one of the boys saw this, he completely lost it. Right then and there, this boy who loves biscuits had a meltdown.

As we tried to calm him down and find out what had upset him so, we were able to gather that from his perspective, two biscuits for him wasn't right. He was sad there would be no seconds. He was upset his papa only had one. He was mad that the biscuits had run out before he even sat down. He had no control, no saying, over how biscuits were given. He had not seen the baking sheet on the corner, a sheet full of biscuits, fifteen of them! Even after showing him the other biscuits, it was hard for him to overcome the initial disappointment and it was a while before he could actually enjoy his food.

Later that evening, I was with a group of friends at Bible study, and the subject was on fear of the future. We had watched a video, and we were talking about the different things about the future that make us afraid. I have a brother battling cancer. I have a kid going through a very rough time. I have trips that need to happen soon and what seems like a tight time frame to make them all happen. And as we shared, I thought of the biscuits.

Oh so many times I am that child who receives one of his favorite things for dinner, but the arrangement still doesn't feel quite right. What if I want more? What if I want seconds? Will there be enough for me in the future? What if there's more for someone else but not for me? And while I am asking all these questions, I'm missing out on the meal that has already been set before me.

"You fathers - if your children ask for a fish, do you given them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him." (Luke 11:11)

"Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won't he also give us everything else?" (Romans 8:32)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

When God Gives You Lemons (I Mean, Limes)...

We got home a week ago on Sunday, after being two months in the United States. We had an amazing time seeing friends and family (more on that on the days to come...). After dropping all our bags in, I left to do some grocery shopping to get the basics for the next couple days. When I was in town, I met with my brother and he came to the store with me. As we were walking around, he noticed that the store had limes. He was excited to see limes. He said, "you can't find them anywhere and they're so expensive right now!"

I didn't think too much about it, other than making a mental note of "don't expect to find limes then." A few days later, I was reading Psalms 37, and I noticed verse 19:  "In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty."

What a nice promise, I thought... and for a while just sat there wondering how this could even be possible. How does the Lord do that? What does that look like?

The day progressed, our friend Yudi came to watch the kids, and she was carrying a large black plastic bag. It was full of limes! She told me how there's a tree in her house and she has way too many!

Nowhere to be found, and too expensive... by the handful in my pantry for free!

We got home, hit the ground running, started getting ready to start the weeks of camp ahead of us, but we continue being amazed at how the Lord takes care of us!