Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in Review

I do not make new year's resolutions because I have never been able to keep them for more than a week. When 2009 began I made no resolutions, but certainly had goals that I hoped would be reached by the end of the year. For the most part, all of them were plus some. This year brought so many changes to our lives and our family. Never would we have imagined all that has taken place this year.

For every moment of joy that we have experienced, I am thankful. For every second of pain, I praise Him. From strengthened friendships to broken ones....from confusion to total clarity....from unconditional love to learning to truly forgive....from doubting to increased faith....from making mistakes to ignoring those that spread untruths....from baking cookies to building castles....from intense fear to facing them....from renewed pain to learning to embrace the hurt....from simple to overwhelming....from laughter to tears....from JOY and more happiness than I have ever known....from empty words to actions....from the beginning of the year, through the highest of highs and some pretty low lows, until the end of 2009, He has been here. We have seen Him, we have felt His never ending presence and we know that with every step we have walked this year, He has surrounded us with Himself. We end 2009 with a greater understanding of who He is and begin 2010 knowing that there is more to learn than we will ever be able to comprehend. We end 2009 with just a glimpse of what His plan is for our lives and begin 2010 knowing that He is all that matters and whatever His plan is, it is far greater than ours ever could be.

We look forward to all that 2010 may bring.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pueblo Nuevo Update

While we were in Guatemala, we were blessed to meet a missionary named Tonja and three daughters of other missionaries living in the area. We were introduced to each of them by Carol at Servants 4 Him. Our team was very small and we were in desperate need of help to pull off some of the distributions. Tonja and the three girls helped us with the distribution of shoes, socks and Bible story books as well as helped us at the Pueblo Nuevo Christmas party. We learned quickly that Tonja is an incredible woman and was such a voice of reason and reassurance to all of us that week.

During the Christmas party in Pueblo Nuevo, Tonja told us about a donation she had received and said that she had been praying about how it should be used. Even though she had not worked in Pueblo Nuevo before, she felt that the donation should be used to provide more food to families in the village. I was overwhelmed when she told me that she would be returning to Pueblo Nuevo with food for the families we love so much in the next couple of weeks.

The distribution happened yesterday. Ninety families received bags of food items. I am so thankful for Tonja, the three girls that returned to Pueblo Nuevo to help her and for the person that contributed financially trusting that it would be used for good.

Tonja also sent an update stating that since our last outreach, more than 20 people have joined the church, requiring Marco to have to expand the church area by pushing a wall back, leaving little room between the wall and the bathroom area. There was barely enough space before and I know that even with the expansion, the room is likely still overcrowded. This is awesome news and we are praising the Lord for the hearts He is touching there! Marco's latest prayer request is for chairs. It may sound so simple, but we all know that in Guatemala, even the simplest things are often hard to come by. At this point, they need more chairs, so that is one thing they are praying for. Now that we know about this new need, we will be providing chairs for the ministry right away.

We know what one of our main focuses needs to be in 2010 and we are praying for BIG things this year. Hopefully by the end of 2010, space and basic needs such as chairs, tables, etc. won't even be an issue for the church or the children's ministry.

Tonja - Thank you again for all you did to help us while we were in Guatemala, for following through with distributing food after we left and for having such a big heart for the people of Guatemala. Please also thank the girls for us. We are praying for you as you prepare to leave Guatemala and cannot wait to hear about how your ministry through Central and South America goes.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Eve

I put Tommy in the car on that cold, stormy day and temporarily lost the true meaning of Christmas.

I rushed through the storms that were raging both outside and inside crowded stores. There were still a few gifts to purchase, cookies to bake, stories to read, presents to wrap, a house to clean, toys to assemble, batteries to buy, dinner to cook, church to attend. Through tornado warnings we rode home to shower quickly, fluff instead of iron and make it back out the door again just in time to meet Danny at our Christmas Eve candlelight service.

Again we ran through water puddles, with Tommy refusing to be carried and splashing through them instead of hopping over them. "At least it isn't 90 degrees," I thought, as we made it to the door, received a program and heard, "It's warm inside, little guy," as a response from a sweet old woman decked out in her Christmas sweater to Tommy's chattering teeth. We grabbed our candles and made our way through the crowd to find Danny in our normal spot...back pew, closest to the center aisle....always a necessity when Tommy attends a church service with us. All day I had felt hurried for no good reason at all. Sitting down with my little family was the first moment all day that felt "normal".

But my feeling of normalcy did not last long.

The sanctuary was beautiful. Thousands of tiny white lights glistened off of garland wrapped banisters,wreaths and however many Christmas trees that decorated the front. Candles were lit. Two chairs were set up to look like some one's living room for what would be children's story time. Everyone was joyful, including me, as we waited for the service to start. Our pastor walked the aisles greeting everyone and shaking hands with those he could reach. I admire that so much about him. It seems so many pastors are separated from their congregations. So many that I have seen seem to put themselves on pedestals and build walls between themselves and everyone in the church. We love that our pastor is not like that, regardless of how large our church is. Seeing him that night, truly caring about the people that had come to celebrate the birth of Christ, is what started it all. As soon as I saw Matt (our pastor), I thought about Marco (the pastor we are working with in Pueblo Nuevo).

Sometimes I do an OK job of living two very different lives. One day I may be working in Guatemala and crying my eyes out because I know that I will never be able to do enough and the next week I may be getting a $65 haircut. Yes, I live two different lives. And it sickens me. For the most part, I try to keep it the way I know is right, "practicing what I preach", giving more than I take...but there are times like Christmas Eve when that other side of me comes out. A week after returning from Guatemala, after trying all that time to push some things out of my mind to keep from breaking down, after vowing that this year Christmas would not be more...more...more, after praying for a way to just get through the holidays before really "feeling" all that happened the week before, God decided to use our Christmas Eve service to wake me up...again.

As I saw Matt in his nice slacks, warm sweater and dress shoes, I could not help but think about what Marco must be doing at that moment. He would have been dressed in his best clothes, likely a pair of slacks and a button up shirt and Leddy surely would have been wearing her best, as well, as they made their way from Parramos to church in Pueblo Nuevo that evening. They likely walked those few miles with their children. I could see him speaking to everyone they passed and when they arrived, I know that he must have spoken to most and I'm sure he shook a lot of hands, just as our pastor did. Different circumstances, same purpose...preparing to celebrate the birth of the Saviour that saved them both.

Children dressed in the cutest Christmas outfits skipped in with their parents. Shiny shoes, red ribbons and corduroy galore. What else could I possibly think of than Jesenia, Mildre and Jacquline...Maria, Yenefer and Angel...Yonni, Paola and Carolina...times 50? I know so many of them must have attended a Christmas service, but there were no shiny shoes. There is no way to care for shoes when you walk miles a day on dirt roads through the mountains. There would be no fancy Christmas dresses or dress pants. But there would be joy because they love to attend church. Different children, different parts of the world...learning about the birth of Christ...the same Saviour that is saving them.

The lights dimmed. Five people were baptized. I thought about more than 100 faces that had accepted Christ the week before. They would not be baptized. No baptismal and no body of water around. But that is OK. Same God, same acceptance...different ways of make do with what you've got. No water to baptize in Pueblo Nuevo? That's OK...acknowledge Him, say a prayer, start the walk. Either way, I can't help but believe that angels sing and God smiles.

The music started. A prayer was said. Tommy sang and danced. I could smell the lingering scent of bubble gum bubble bath and graham crackers as he happily sang along with songs he knows...Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful...

His voice was so sweet and I am so thankful for this third Christmas with him. Along with him, I could hear the voices that have become familiar to me even though they speak another language. I could hear their prayer and hear their songs of praise.

My favorite, O Holy Night, began and I closed my eyes to keep from crying. I know how blessed I am. I do not take this life for granted. I do not like to complain and I am not trying to sound ungrateful for all that I have been given. Our lives here are comfortable...far from extravagant, but no where close to lacking anything. I, along with everyone else, enjoy the luxuries that I have. But as I looked at Danny and Tommy that night, as I looked around a large sanctuary full of people, as the tears in my eyes turned all of the tiny lights into one big glow, I wanted to be far, far away.

I wanted to be in a tin room with a dirt floor, celebrating the birth of the same Saviour, just in a different way. I wanted to shed the black heeled boots, black sweater and makeup and trade it in for a pair of jeans, a tshirt and a baseball cap...perfect attire for sitting with children in the dirt. I wanted to be watching our son play with new friends and my husband joke around with Marco. I wanted to spend more time with the families that have left such an impact on my life this year.

There are times when I try to fight these feelings...times when I simply do not want to constantly dwell on Guatemala, on missions work, on poverty around the world...Ghana, Uganda and Cambodia. But this is who I am. I cannot help but to constantly compare my life to the life of others that I know exist because I have seen them with my own eyes. I cannot ignore each time I am so overwhelmed with the thought of being there (in the middle of whatever poverty stricken country He sends us to) that tears spring to my eyes, my hands tremble and all I can do is sob because we aren't "there" yet.

In the middle of our Christmas Eve service, I was thankful for all that Christmas means and wanting nothing other than a ONE WAY ticket to Guatemala with Danny and Tommy. Deep down (and not so deep down) that is all I really ever want these days and until it happens I will probably keep dreaming out loud. I realized that night why it has been so difficult for me to even think about our last trip...why I reacted so differently the day after coming home than I had after the June and October trips...why I have been so hesitant to post anything other than photos here. Now that I have been able to wrap my mind around it all, I will post my thoughts on the trip soon.

I was still joyful as we left that night. Actually, I was more than joyful. I am learning to be content in whatever situation I am in so for now I am content with living this over abundant life that we have been blessed with. It sounds weird to hear...I know. It sounds to strange to hear that I am content with hardwood floors, heat & air conditioning, 2 working vehicles and a closet full of clothes. It isn't that I do not want this life. I would happily go on living it for the rest of mine if that is what He wanted. Knowing that this isn't what my life is to be, though, makes it a little difficult to live it. Waiting for Him to make the timing clear isn't always easy.

None of this may make sense and it's ending abruptly. I am having a hard time expressing myself lately. All I wanted to say here is that for two very different worlds, different lives, different heart is in two parts of the world, in two congregations, with more than one family, but we are all doing the same things...loving the Lord, making Him known, loving and taking care of our families and just trying to survive. We have too much. They have too little. But we all have just enough in Him.

Our Christmas was wonderful. Seeing the joy in Tommy's face that morning was another precious gift, as was time with our families and each other. We could not have asked for a better day. Now, as new toys are scattered around the house, dishes are overflowing the sink and my eyes become heavy, I can clearly see the line that seperates my two lives. Until there is only one, this will always feel strange to me. My Christmas wish for next year will remain the same unless it comes before...a one way ticket to a poverty stricken, rodent filled village that is bursting with children that love big and most of their parents that know that even with nothing, they have more than enough.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pueblo Nuevo Christmas Party

Our party for Pueblo Nuevo turned into something that I never expected. It was total chaos, overwhelming in more ways than one and amazing to be a part of. Marco's message was about the birth of Jesus. When he asked if anyone wanted to ask Jesus to live in their hearts, more than 100 children made their way to where he was standing. After that awesomeness (because there is no other way to describe it), we provided the children with a snack of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, cookies and horchata (a rice drink), had a pinata and distributed toys. We were prepared for just 100 more than 80 have ever attended the ministry when we have been there before and on most days only 30-40 attend. More than 240 children attended the party. While we were not prepared for that many children and we had to cancel craft time and games because of the lack of supplies and space, each child ate and received a toy.

We knew that there would be a line outside. We did not think it would be more than 100. The look on Marco's face when he first opened the door was priceless. He was so excited, as were we, as more than 240 children entered a space that can only hold about 80 children or less comfortably.

Leddy was just a little happy, too. :)

These pictures are out of order. This is some of the more than 100 children that accepted Christ that day.

Hearing their prayer was one of the sweetest things I have ever heard.

Group photo attempt...take 5. No way to get everyone in the went from one of the property to the other.

Their first toys ever...

Jesenia, Jacqueline and Mildre.
Early in the day....Virginia (housekeeper at Casa Bella) and her daughter helping make sandwiches.

Pinata time

A few very happy moms that thanked us constantly throughout the day. Two of them are the mothers of our family's sponsored children. I enjoyed talking with them and am grateful that they each know that we are there because we love their children AND the rest of their families and want nothing but the best for them.

Food Bags

Our shopping madness began as soon as we landed in Guatemala last Sunday. Our first stop was Hiper Paiz in Guatemala City.

The madness continued through Thursday morning. This was at the end of our mad dash through the Bodegona in Antigua. I think we had 6 overflowing grocery carts during this trip. All of the supplies were brought back to Casa Bella by a line of tuk-tuks.

Just the beginning of it all.

Checking in with and purchasing some items from my favorite artisan, Teresa. (Pay no attention to my tiredness.)

Bags were lined from end of the house to the other in order to make sure each included all of the items we had. Each bag contained: masa harina, oil, sugar, salt, pasta, black beans, rice, consomme (chicken bouillon), potatoes, mandarin oranges, chocolate, laundry detergent sticks and more.

The line beginning to form...

I adore this woman! We met her in October and I'm not sure what it is about her, but her smile brings the biggest smile to my face. She is one of the women in Pueblo Nuevo that has no hesitation and no fear...she shares openly with us, is quick to welcome us into her home and hugs us as if she has known us her entire life. I can't wait to really get to know her.

Rehoboth Children's Home Christmas Party

We spent Wednesday celebrating with a Christmas party at Rehoboth Children's Home. We brought pizza, games, a pinata, toys to be given to the children on Christmas morning, school supplies, more vitamins, shirts made by AL students and new child sponsor information with us. AAB also wants to contribute financially to help support these children and we were blessed to be able to give our first financial contribution to Rehoboth last week.
Many of these pictures are of Noe (a 5 year old child that lost his mother to AIDS), Betsy (a 9 year old little girl that spent much of her earlier life in very dangerous situations) and Antoni (a precious child that arrived at Rehoboth suffering extreme malnourishment that he is still fighting through). These just happen to be the children that love to see themselves in photos and want nothing more than to sit on your lap and play all day with you. I so wish we would have gotten more pictures of the older children during this trip, but they were busy playing soccer and football with T. most of the day.


We weren't able to paint exactly what the older boys requested on their arms, so they decided to show us how to do it.

These kids have amazing imaginations and we got some pretty difficult requests for face painting. Butterflies are easy, though. So much fun!

Rehoboth Children's Home

Pinata chaos

Lots of pictures of Betsy coming up...she LOVES the camera.


Moises - such an artist. He is going to enjoy the art project in April. While painting a cross on Moises' arm, I could see a glimpse into his horrific past and my eyes filled with tears as my heart broke for him again. What a blessing this place is for all of the children that have lived through things that no one should ever live through.

Wesler arrived at Rehoboth abused beyond recognition. I am so happy that he is safe with the Barbella's.

More Noe. He is the biggest sweetheart.

Engler won both games and was so excited about his prizes.