Friday, April 18, 2014

Rethinking Easter

Last year our family spent Holy Week in Guatemala.  There were no Easter bunnies, baskets, eggs or candy.  It was the best Easter that I've ever experienced.  Every day there were alfombras (sawdust and flower carpets) lovingly crafted in the streets.  In the afternoons and evenings processions would wind through the town to celebrate each day of Holy Week.  We celebrated Jesus, his death, and his resurrection. 

Without the events of Good Friday, there would be no Easter.  Without Jesus' painful death on the cross, there would be no resurrection celebration or assurance of eternal salvation.  Today, we celebrated the gift that we were given when Jesus died for us all on the cross.

"But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed."  Isaiah 53:6

Please enjoy the work of many hands, little and big, in honor of Jesus' death this Good Friday.






















Saturday, April 5, 2014

7: Reflections on Fasting

There have been times over the last 7 months that were hard while others were invigorating.  I have triumphed and failed.  There were even moments when I just wanted to cheat.  I mean who would know?  Brandon won’t really rat me out will he?  (Yes, he would have.)  The greatest benefit over the last 7 months is that I’ve had the time to contemplate our lives.  Many pieces have stuck and we were challenged.  My whole family joined me during several months.

Month 1: Possessions
I felt like a rock star this month.  I love to purge items and clean out.  Clearing out wasn’t so hard, it was actually thinking about how much stuff we had.  I had so many things that I didn’t use.  How much money did they all represent?  I felt so much guilt over the excess that we had.  Truthfully, as I sit here and look around there is more that I’d like to clear out again.  More that we haven’t used.  Keep in mind that we did a second purge recently to cut down on toys following the holidays.  It seems like a never ending battle.  I want our home to reflect pieces that we love and have meaning.  No longer do I care if it looks like a page out of a magazine.  It’s the pages of our life.

Month 2:  Food
This month was torture!  I probably wanted to cheat the most during this month.  My list seemed so well planned but I quickly realized that there just are not 7 foods that I want to eat for an entire month.  I am a spoiled brat.  For me, food is not about nourishment, it’s about enjoyment.  I missed being able to cook the foods that I wanted whenever I wanted.  Even now I think of how spoiled I am.  Just last week, I served black beans, rice, and a tortilla to children.  They didn’t get a choice because the menu doesn’t change.  For some, it was their only meal that day.  I had twice as many options during my month of fasting…

Month 3:  Clothes
Wow do I get ready quicker in the morning when I have so few options!  Don’t get me wrong, I like my full wardrobe but this wasn’t that bad.  As I was packing for Guatemala two weeks ago, I literally reminded myself that I went an entire month with only 7 garments so I needed to pare down to fit more donations.  If I limit my total wardrobe size, I tend to make smarter choices.

Month 4:  Media
I didn’t realize just how much media I consumed until it was gone.  No more Facebook, tv, daily blog reading.  I must admit that I was probably much more productive because I wasn’t take a break to check Facebook or watch just one show in the evening.  Even last week in Guatemala, I didn’t miss the tv.  Cutting down on the electronic influences in our lives is probably a good thing.  I can read more, play games with the kids, and have real quiet time.  But, I’m not giving it up completely because I do enjoy watching certain shows and just relaxing over mindless shows.  I also will not purposely forgo the entire college football post-season anymore.  Missing all of the bowl games was probably one of the things I missed most.

Month 5:  Waste
We were fairly conscious of our wastefulness prior to this month but we did make some changes that stuck.  I’m still toting my own reusable bags to the grocery store.  Honestly, they’re bigger and sturdier than the plastic ones.  Cloth napkins still don our table and lunchboxes because why create more trash?  We don’t use the timers anymore but we’re still trying not to waste water.  We can probably still do better but most of the changes stuck.  I don’t like the idea of having heaping trash cans.

Month 6:  Spending
Cutting down our spending outlets to just 7 places, which included internet banker, was another way to make me think about just how lucky I was.  We actually complained that we couldn’t order pizza.  Really, I know how to make that.  I was annoyed that I hadn’t thought ahead to put money on the girls’ lunch accounts.  In reality, we didn’t even use all 7 of our places.  On the last day of the month we realized that we hadn’t used one, so we order supper from Buffalo Wild Wings.  Even in our fasting, we were still rich in opportunities.  Just goes to prove that we don’t need all the options we have, we just really enjoy them.  It was also nice to have a smaller credit card bill at the end of the month.  That’s one habit that I’d like to keep up.

Month 7:  Stress
I like to do things well if I’m going to try and the last month was the hardest month for me to actually feel like I could conquer.  Maybe that was the point.  I was practicing for an entire month on pausing to be aware and thankful during my day.  I was taking the focus off of myself and putting it onto what God wanted me to acknowledge at that moment.  I was blessed during my trip to Guatemala to experience moments of clarity, only found through the Holy Spirit.  Moments, that only a few years ago, I would have laughed off as absurd. 

We’re still in our oversized house, with our ample possessions and opportunities, but I think we are all more aware of the world around us and our responsibility to do more and do better.  Hopefully we’ll have an exchange student in the fall to help us fill this house a little more…

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Feeding His Sheep

John 21 describes Jesus visiting several disciples as they fished after the resurrection.  Very specifically, he called out Peter.  Three times he asked him, "do you love me?"  Three times, as many as Peter had denied Jesus on the night of his arrest.  Each time, Jesus would reply, "Feed my sheep." 

It was that simple, if you love Jesus then feed his sheep.  Care for his people.  What if we took that call seriously and truly cared for those around us -- the broken, the invisible, the unlovable?

What if Jesus came to you today?  "[Kelly] do you love me?"..."Lord you know all things; you know that I love you"..."Feed my sheep."

Several days this week we took this call literally. We fed children who otherwise would not eat.  In Paraisio we worked at an organization that provides children with lunch everyday and tutoring for those in school.  As I sat with Lourdes and Marlon, I became more aware of just how much they relied on that meal.  We treated them to chicken, French fries, and tortillas.  Many had never had fried chicken before because it is too expensive.  As I sat there eating with them they asked for my unused ketchup packet, so they could eat that as well.  When I was full and still had chicken left, Marlon was more than happy to eat the rest.  Lourdes had half of my tortilla. 



"Feed my sheep."

Friday, we went back to a feeding center right outside the dump.  Every day they feed 260 children whose parents spend their day scavenging through the trash.  Beginning at 12:00, they started filing in for a plate with beans, rice, and a tortilla.  As I filled plates with rice and passed them to Amore for beans, I felt guilty.  I don't like black beans and they looked unappealing but this was the lifeline for these children.  They don't have the choices that I do.  We watched a seven year-old bring his two-year old sibling for lunch, their parents working.  Looking up once, I saw a beautiful, older woman in line.  Children, the homeless, and the elderly rely on this place for their food.  Some days there isn't enough.  I'm afraid yesterday was one of those days.  As we prepared to leave, I  scooped the last of the rice but what if more children came? 



"Feed my sheep."

Friday, March 28, 2014

Life in Donuts

Just inside the security gate of Oakland community sits the Pan Pan Bakery, a brisk ten minute walk from our comfy mission house. 

Yesterday morning we walked to Pan Pan and got donuts for breakfast.  It was a peaceful walk, just the ladies of our team on a beautiful, cool morning.  We chatted and laughed up and back.  All of the guys at the house were happy to see those boxes upon our return.  Just a treat for our team.

36 donuts x Q5 each = Q180

As I lay in bed this morning, I thought again about the donuts.  But this time it was in the context of spending time with my family yesterday.  They are good, hardworking people.  They don't ask for handouts and don't live a life of excess.  They are thankful for all of the blessings around them. 

On the days when the sons worked as construction laborers, they earned Q100 for 8 hours of work.  Laying blocks, digging holes, 8 hours a day for just Q100.  It would cost almost 2 days wages for the donuts that I bought as a treat to our team.  10% of their monthly income would be spent at the bakery. 

I don't know what else to say because that is their reality.  It's the difference between the haves and the have-nots in Guatemala.  The difference between opportunity and survival.  I want to help give more opportunities.

Graduating from Linda Vista

On Tuesday (yes this post is two days late) I traveled back to Linda Vista.  In September we built 2 sets of bathrooms for this community which lies precariously between a major highway and a cliff.  The inhabitants are swatters on the land, having taken up residence due to their sheer need for homes.  At any point the government could decide to reclaim the property and completely demolish all 160 homes there.

In just six short months they have made amazing improvements to their community.  The main path to the lower level is now wide, concrete steps and there is electricity to the homes.  Water lines are being installed and paths are being covered in concrete.  The infrastructure of the community is taking shape.  They are also pursuing ownership of the property.  Prior to September, there was just one toilet for all of the families to share.  The 6 that we installed are so appreciated that everyone must sign up for cleaning detail. 





Our team installed another approximately 50 feet of concrete as sidewalks within a few hours.  Best of all, we worked with the residents to improve their property.  From mixing all the concrete by hand to the bucket line, everyone worked together for a great result.  Such amazing progress has been made because the people there truly want to improve themselves and work to make a difference.  Beyond the physical assistance they have received, they are most appreciative of the visits that we made with them.  We sat with them in their homes and shared the gospel.  We listened to their needs and took the time to pray with them.   Money can fix their house but only Jesus can heal their spirits.




As we were leaving Mario told me that if I come back just one more time, I can graduate from Linda Vista but for now it was just a double thank you. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Reclaiming Childhood

Our first stop this morning was back to the state orphanage.  Once again we spent time with the teen mothers.  This time was both my high and my low of the day.

Again, I was sitting in a room of girls, CHILDREN, who were living in an overcrowded orphanage and were faced with the adult task of raising children.  Not only are these girls facing the pressures and demands of caring for infants and toddlers, but they have all suffered trauma and loss.  No one comes to the state orphanage voluntarily.  They have all been abandoned or rejected in some way.  No one has stepped up to protect and care for them.  Many of the girls have been traumatized by rape, sexual abuse, and physical abuse.  All of them have lost their innocence and childhood. 

Twenty-one girls came through those doors this morning.  Some of them with children in tow, others in various stages of pregnancy.  I wish that my ears and translation had deceived me when I heard one of the last girls tell us her age.  She was only 10 years old.  Please read that again so it sinks in.  She is 10 years old!  This petite little girl is 7 months pregnant.  The atrocity that is her life is completely unfathomable to me.  She is barely old enough to be physically mature enough to become pregnant, no where near emotionally mature enough.  At 10, she isn't even able to make responsible decisions about her own daily care, let alone that of a helpless child.  I don't know her story because I can't handle the details.  My mind simply cannot comprehend the fact that she is pregnant, let alone the circumstances that led to the situation.  Then I think of my own daughter.  Just one year younger, I can't even comprehend how in another year she would be able to be in the same situation.  Those thoughts just don't enter the realm of possibilities for my daughter.  There is no reason to justify what was done to this little girl and to further the abuse, she is now alone at the orphanage, without her family.  But like I said, she was just 1 of 21 girls in that room this morning.

We knew the situations that we would face on our return visit and our mission was to bring hope and joy to those girls for the short amount of time we were there.  Using a Polaroid camera, I was able to take pictures of the girls with their children.  Each girl received a photo and a gift from our team.  Then we took the time to pamper them by painting their fingernails.  They had already spent extra time getting ready that morning because they knew we were coming to take their pictures so the nails just added to their beauty today.  One of the most amazing things that I saw was when the guys on our team joined in.  I'm hoping that their willingness to pamper those girls gives them a new perspective on how men should treat them.  Very few men have shown them compassion during their short lives and they deserve to be loved and respected.







For those short 45 minutes during our return visit, they seemed like children again.  They smiled, laughed, ran around to get pictures with their friends.  They seemed to be happy in a place where joy and hope are so hard to find.  I hope when they see those pictures that they remember today.

Monday, March 24, 2014

How is This Reality?

We spent several hours today at the state orphanage.  After four trips, you'd think that there wouldn't be much new to unnerve me, but that's not my reality. 

As we were walking from the Special Needs girls' exercise class to their dance class I was befriended.  She barely spoke any words but she wanted to hold my hand.  This isn't abnormal with the Special Needs children, they all want to give and receive attention and love.  Standing outside the auditorium, she looked at me and called me "Mama."  I was taken aback.

I've had plenty of children at Dorie's Promise call me "Mama" but never a child at the state orphanage.  It was uncomfortable and I still can't quite process my feelings.  The children at Dorie's have Special Mothers who care for all of their needs.  Some of these children, I truly want to bring home to our family.  I can see myself as their Mama.  But this girl broke my heart when she called me Mama. 

She isn't really a girl.  The one justice that does exist here is that if you are classified as Special Needs, you aren't forced to leave the orphanage at 18.  She is probably close to my age.  Yet, in her mind she is still a child.  In her mind, she needs a Mama.  What breaks my heart is that she needed a Mama a long time ago.  She needed someone to love her, care for her, and give her the opportunities to reach her potential.  If she was loved as a child, maybe she could have developed into a semi-independent adult. 

When I walked out today, who would step in to be her Mama next -- anyone?

After leaving the Special Needs classes we shared with the Teen Moms.  Looking into their eyes I saw hopelessness and pain.  They are girls who have been abused and cast out.  All of the lies that people have told them keep ringing in their minds.  Some are hardened.  Others hurt themselves just for relief from their demons.  For them, there doesn't seem to be a better way or place.  I will never be able to rationalize an 8-month pregnant 13 year old.  Maybe we left them pondering the truth that God loves them, just as they are, and is always there with them.

Who teaches these girls to become mothers in a place where survival is the goal?

And now I must recognize that I can't fix either of these situations but I have a God who is there with them and can help them right where they are.