Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Nice Day in the Village

San Antonio is beginning to feel like home.  The kids recognize the places we go during the day and the people we see.  It's amazing to watch them skip down the streets and make themselves at home.  Just today I watched as my daughters went right back to see Andreas' mother when we arrived at their home after mass.  At lunch time, Caroline went right back to wash up at the pila when we went to Ame's restaurant. 

We spent another day with Andreas' family.  We are all experimenting with the first chicken coop to be built by their family and are working together to get it right.  We even used a text message life line today to the States to get a poultry question answered. It's amazing that I could be in the village, that can't even get any kind of internet service, but still send and receive a text message to the US.  We are dangerously close to finished.  Andreas and his family will finish painting this evening so we can deliver it tomorrow morning. 

She thinks she is in charge.

Caroline spent most of the day with Donnachica learning to weave.


Their new friend Paola
 Our friend asked what we would do about naps for Isaiah while we were gone.  He decided he could sleep in the village just fine.

We'll see what tomorrow holds.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Providing a Means to Improve

One of the best things about the work we are doing on this trip is that we are working with families and helping them sustain themselves and provide additional income. 

Brandon worked all day with a Mayan family to build a chicken coop.  The family builds coffins for a living  but is also using their skills and carpentry tools to help us build a chicken coop for a single mother and her children.   Apparently Spanglish works well in the carpentry trade because the father said that he liked Brandon's work and that he could come back and work for him.  (So just in case we have a back up plan.)  They started with rough hewn lumber for the project and worked towards our finished project.

During the morning, the children and I helped to clear a plot of land and plant a garden.  The family we helped is supported by a widowed mother.  Her children were working to clear the land while she worked at her job making tortillas.  We found the job that our son enjoys--watering the plants.  This same family will receive the chicken coop.  They will be able to have a source of food for themselves but also sell the extra for additional income.

We are all enjoying our time with these families.  They tried to teach me one of the Mayan dialects today but I think I'll stick with learning Spanish for now.  I still can't roll my R's and what I heard today has some very distinct sounds.

A New House and Cupcakes

Day 2 of our adventure allowed us all to work in areas that are our strengths.  At the same time, we are beginning to learn what areas are a struggle for our children.  They are doing awesome but we can see what is hard for them as we work. 

The oldest has a difficult time being physically affectionate and this is a very loving culture.  I can't fault her though because we are not overly touchy feely.  She has to be intentional about hugging and looking at the people she meets.  Our younger daughter thrives in this environment.  She loves being around other people and can easily adapt to the new people she meets.  Even without a common language, she interacts and loves others.  I can't judge the little boy yet.  He was super excited yesterday but was sick today.  By mid afternoon he had a high fever.  One dose of Tylenol later he was back to his silly self.

We spent the day working on a home for the Lopez Hernandez family.  This single mother weaves and washes laundry to provide for her children.  Her oldest son saved money for years to buy the property for his mother's new home.  They rent their current home for $30 per month.  Their new house will have real walls, a bathroom, kitchen, and small garden.

After lunch while Brandon kept working with the two local laborers at the house, we hosted the girls' birthday party.  Children from around San Antonio were invited for pinatas and cupcakes.  Even the littlest kids knew exactly what to do with the pinatas.  They were unsure about the cupcakes.  That isn't common here.  A local lady used my cake mixes and supplies and baked the cupcakes for us.  She allowed us to rent her restaurant so that the kids could decorate their own cupcakes. 

All of the children sang to the girls and the guests received the gifts of clothing that were given from home.  Brandon was still working when the children from the Lopez Hernandez family came running back up the hill with their presents.  They were ecstatic to have received what seems like such a small gift to us. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

An Amazing Start to our Trip

We safety arrived, on time with all of our luggage, this morning in Guatemala.  Our dear friend Desi was waiting for us outside the airport and we started our adventure immediately. 

Holy Week is very serious in Guatemala, but especially in Antigua where we are staying.  The banks were all closed on Wednesday and won't reopen until next week.  A lot of businesses are closed to observe the holiday, other than those directly serving the almost one million people who will descend to witness the celebration.

The Catholic Church in Guatemala holds processions all week leading up to Good Friday.  Good Friday is filled with special masses and extravagant celebrations.  The most noticeable celebrations are the processions that travel through the streets of Antigua.  Families along the route construct elaborate "carpets" from colored sawdust, flowers, fruits and vegetables as a path for the procession.  We had the extreme privilege of being invited to help create one of the alfombras.  Apparently, it is rare for outsiders to be allowed to work on these beautiful creations but Desi was invited to join a family and we were welcomed as well.

We spent 4 hours with Robert's family this afternoon.  His parents, wife, daughter, and extended family all worked on the alfombra.  They have continued this tradition for the past 12 years, since the processional route was changed to pass in front of their home.  Our alfombra is completely made of sawdust, carefully stencilled into designs.

As we were traveling back to the hotel we encountered the beginning of the processional.  I have never seen something this extravagant before.  The smell of incense is your first hint that the processional is nearing.  You begin to hear the horns and drums and then you see the float.  This particular float depicted Jesus carrying his cross after his sentencing.  The ornate float is carried by individuals throughout the streets.

What I find curious about all of this is that they celebrate Good Friday so much but not the Resurrection.  Even in a culture who is so religious, there is still areas to teach and grow.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Having "The Talk"

When any conversation starts with the words "do you think we need to talk to the girls..." I start to squirm.  At supper last night our oldest daughter asked how the mother makes babies that look like the father.  Luckily for me, our younger quickly chimed in with an answer.  "It's the kiss!  That's what does it."  It's hard to believe that our children are getting old enough to ask such questions.

This time though, our talk wasn't about sex.  (We'll try to delay that a little bit longer.)  We had to have another important talk with our daughters--how to be safe in Guatemala and what to do if someone tries to kidnap you.  I haven't felt in danger on my previous trips but we are responsible for our children and their well being while we are there.  We need to raise children that are street smart, especially if we are going to expose them to varied environments--home or abroad. 

It's a very weird conversation but absolutely necessary.  Because we're traveling during Santa Semana there will be large crowds.  There was the normal you need to stay close to us (the oldest one tends to lag behind), don't talk to strangers (the middle is always talking to people), and keep your ipod put away.  But then we had to move into what to do if someone grabbed you.  It's probably the one time I've told the girls to scream, bite, and kick without fear of getting in trouble.  The final piece was what to do if someone did take them.  It's not something that I want to consider could happen but they need to be prepared for even the worst.  Shielding them now won't help them if the worst happens.

These fears have troubled me before but now they are keeping my husband awake.  We know that this is where we are supposed to be, but we will also be vigilant and have the hard talks before we go.  We will trust in God's path.  It's that little nagging fear or doubt that ends so many missions before they even start.

Matthew 6:10 "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven"

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

American Dream

Last Saturday I had the awesome experience of taking my daughters to their first concert--Casting Crowns.  The acoustic tour had an intimate feel that made the experience like sitting with close friends.  (And yes, in my mind it is possible that one day that bus shows up and they just sit down and jam right in my living room.) 

What I love about the songs that Mark Hall writes is that they are real.  Listening to the stories behind the words brings them to life and, if you're willing, allows you to consider the truth.  This song is almost too hard for me to listen to.  For so many reasons it touches me. 

What if this song is about me and my husband?  We work a lot.  I hope that our children understand the reason that we work so hard.  We are responsible for 20 other families.  I am sure that a lot of people wonder why we are willing to work so much, sacrifice so much, raising our children in the midst of the business.  There is a fine line between responsibility to the business and neglecting our family time.  We have learned to celebrate what is important to our children--school concerts, pinewood derbies, the original song performed in our home.  The truth is that we truly believe that these opportunities have been given to us with a greater purpose.  These businesses are a chance to use success to make a difference for other people.  We have been able to make so many connections through our businesses and we are able to fund projects that are truly making a difference. 

There is another part of me that is scared when I hear this song.  What about those who are striving so hard to be successful now but are missing the ultimate prize?  There are people in my life whom I love dearly and respect for everything they have done but I know that it's not enough.  No amount of work or good deeds now can earn their spot.  No gift can give me what I really want.  I really want to know that I will be able to spend eternity with those that I love.  More than anything, I want to know that they have accepted Christ as their Savior.  I want them to know that faith in Christ doesn't sentence you to a life of boredom and penance.  Salvation brings freedom from the past, a peace in the present, and assurance for the future.  Nothing of this world can offer those blessings.

American Dream
Written by Mark Hall

All work no play may have made Jack a dull boy
But all work no God has left Jack with a lost soul
But he's moving on full steam
He's chasing the American dream
And he's gonna give his family, the finer things

"Not this time son, I've no time to waste
Maybe tomorrow, we'll have time to play"
And then he slips into his new BMW
And drives farther and farther and farther away

'Cause he works all day and tries to sleep at night
He says things will get better
Better in time

So he works and he builds with his own two hands
And he pours all he has in a castle made with sand
But the wind and the rain are comin' crashing in
Time will tell just how long his kingdom stands
His kingdom stands

Well this American Dream is beginning to seem
More and more like a nightmare with every passing day
"Daddy, can you come to my game?"
"Oh Baby, please don't work late"
Another wasted weekend and they are slipping away

'Cause he works all day and lies awake at night
He tells them things are getting better
Just take a little more time

So he works and he builds with his own two hands
And he pours all he has in a castle made with sand
But the wind and the rain are comin' crashing in
Time will tell just how long his kingdom stands
His kingdom stands

He used to say, "Whoever dies with the most toys wins"
But if he loses his soul
What has he gained in the end
I'll take a shack on a rock
Over a castle in the sand

Now he works all day and cries alone at night
It's not getting any better
Looks like he's running out of time

'Cause he worked and he built with his own two hands
And he poured all he had in a castle made with sand
But the wind and the rain are coming crashing in
Time will tell just how long his kingdom stands
His kingdom stands

All they really wanted was you
All they really wanted was you
All they really wanted was you


Saturday, March 16, 2013

When Average is Perfect!

Confession #1:  I am a perfectionist who is slowly trying to become reasonable.  Letting my daughters choose their own outfits with minimal Mama vetoing is a big step forward.  Some days if you walked in there might even be last night's dishes still in the sink and I'm feeling less guilty about it.

The real problem with being a perfectionist is that when you add children to the mix, it starts to stress them out.  What I define as the standard for myself as an adult may not always be obtainable for me but is exceedingly outrageous for a child.  I don't regret having high standards for our children but I need to make sure that the standards are appropriate to the child. 

Each of my children are different.  I have the black and white, law and order, struggling with the transition from cute child to tween oldest child.  I have the full color spectrum, wild and crazy, extremely sensitive middle child.  To complete the package, we also have the boy--little enough to still pull the cute card, bossy because he has two older sisters, and already wide open with anything equipped with wheels. 

What really brought my own attitude about perfection to light was receiving some test results in the mail last month.  The girls both took Math and Reading tests at school.  When I was reviewing their scores, I found myself evaluating each individual line and comparing it to the test taken last fall.  That might seem like a responsible parent except that I was extremely concerned that a couple areas had scores a few points lower than last time.  Two or three areas even moved from the High level to Average.  What was going on?  What were they struggling with?  Their report cards were very good and didn't note any deficiencies.  We were really going to need to work on those areas more.  I was already adapting their homework time.

I had catapulted into compulsive mode in a very short amount of time.  Then the conviction started to wash over me.  Why did I want them to be in the High category for everything?  Tests scores don't measure the compassion that they show to other children in class or the assistance they give their teachers.  Tests don't calculate their ability to share the gospel in their own little ways throughout the day.  There are qualities in my children that are just as important (sometimes more) than intellectual prowess.  Am I trying to make myself look better by the achievements of my children? 

What I really need to strive for is that they are doing their own best.  There will come a time when there will be lower grades on their report cards.  There will be a time when they don't do well on a test.  I need to make sure that they understand that we still love them even when they fall short of perfect because perfect isn't realistic.

What are we teaching our children if first is the only acceptable result?  How will they form compassion for others if they are seeking only the pride of being first?  I don't want to create an unrealistic standard that they spend their entire childhood striving to achieve.  I want happy, healthy children.  They may not be the star of the team.  They may not be the Valedictorian.  They may struggle along the way.  I really just want them to love the Lord and be his best workmanship.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Countdown has Begun

Somehow, the winter months have flown by and it's already March.  I can barely remember January and February.  March means that in a few short weeks, we will all be on an airplane headed to Guatemala.  The plane tickets and hotel were booked last fall when traveled seemed so far off.

Now that we are just weeks away, the reality is hitting me--a mix of excitement and anxiety.  I love going to Guatemala.  The e-mail with pictures of the children who the girls will be hosting at a party make me excited for the kids to make connections with the children in the village.  I can't wait to spend time with my friend again.  She is so fun to be with and has such a passion for the work she is doing.  Since we are traveling during Santa Semana (Holy Week) I want to fully experience the beauty and extravagance of the celebration in Antigua. 

Edwin will be a guest at the party.
Gabby will also be our guest.
As I sleep, anxiety creeps in.  One night I had a dream that we were carjacked.  I worry that the children, especially my son, will have a hard time with the cultural differences--the language, the food.  What if the kids don't connect with the children of the village?  What if they are overwhelmed or afraid when we get there?  What if they don't love Guatemala like I do?  Plus, there's so much work to be accomplished before we leave, supplies to buy, and bags to pack.  Not to mention, estudio espanol! 

I won't be naive about what are real dangers in a less developed country but I will not be scared off from doing God's will.  We are told to Go and we will listen.  We will work as a family, sharing our blessings to improve the lives of other families.  We will give our time and use our gifts for others. 

The Lopez Hernandez Family will soon be receiving a new home.

I will continue to trust that our trip will be what God has planned.  Please pray for our family as we prepare and travel.  Please also pray that the hearts of those who we meet are open to hear God's word as we work in San Antonio Aguas Calientes.  More than new clothes and new homes, people need to hear the promise of salvation.