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.

Child's Play

(Written Sunday evening.)

Since I arrived yesterday, our time has been spent enjoying the children here at Dorie's Promise.  It is so good to reconnect with the people that I love so much. 

I was able to spend most of the afternoon and evening with Yire and Alejandra yesterday.  We enjoyed the beautiful sunshine to color outside, did bath time, and helped with supper.  To my surprise and great excitement, when I went in their room to help with bathes, I found that the bears we sent them are still on their beds.  I was completed prepared for them to be gone through rough housing or clean up.  But no, they are still there and Mama Lucy tells me that they sleep with them every night.  A part of us is here with them all the time.

This afternoon we took all of the older kids to the park for a game of soccer and to play.  It is now certified that I am old and out of shape.  My mind still has the speed and moves but my body doesn't agree when competing with teenagers and Guatemalans.  My efforts were rewarded with brush burn from the dirt and peddle field.  Luckily Pablo was right there to spray the antiseptic spray directly onto the cuts in ample quantity when I cleaned my leg up, with a smile on his face.

Nonetheless, it was a great day and I'm looking forward to tomorrow.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Are You Brave Enough to Find Your Place in the World?

My Bucket List isn't like most.  So far -- 1. Visit Cambodia and 2. Visit South Sudan.  Two places with tragic, scarred histories that I want to experience.  I want to walk the path that the Khmer Rouge used to clear the cities during their takeover.  I want to see the people displaced in Sudan and care for them as they continue to struggle. 

Alas, these are places I just want to visit, they aren't my home.  I know where my homes are--with my family in the US and with my family in Guatemala.  (Having two homes just seems so fancy.)  Each of us can understand the need for and comfort of family.  It's the familiarity of the people who love you, the safety and comfort of your home, the support of community.  But what if I asked you to consider another home, away from those comforts?  Without extended family?  Without the comforts of the life that you have built?  Without the security of the known? 

Your second home can be anywhere -- one mile or 5,000 miles away.  There are barriers -- language, financial, cultural, loneliness, fear -- but it's the place where you are called to make a difference.  This is where you go when you choose to be obedient and trust in God's plan instead of our narrow field of vision. 

Yesterday confirmed for me that Guatemala truly is my home.  Out of the airport, Abel found me before I saw him.  My friend was waiting to welcome me.  (and thankfully help me with my 100 pounds of donations and gifts)  Walking into the mission house was like coming home, back to that familiarity of home.  The first trip in that door was different though.  When I came here in 2011 I only knew a couple words in Spanish, I didn't know anyone we would meet here, I didn't even know what Guatemala really looked like.  But, we came because we trusted.

That trust saved and changed me.  My life refocused on more than myself and my family.  I found where I belong.  In this place there are friends who share their life with me, not as an acquaintance but as family.  There is love and excitement.  Confirmation comes in the form of long, tight hugs from the Special Mothers and children.  Joy is found in two bears laying on tiny bunk beds that are treasured gifts for my kids.  Relationship is sharing about my family with them.  Everyone, even the kids, asks for Brandon when I come without him because he is their family too. 

When you find your home, you find love.  That love sets you free to be confident in the passion stirring in your soul.  In 2011 I was uncomfortable with the special needs kids and teen moms at the state orphanage.  This time, I'm planning a special activity with those moms to help them learn to value and love themselves.  Who saw that coming?

These, my friends are the rewards for being just brave enough to trust that nudging that won't go away.  Find the place where you are called and then go back, again and again.  Drive across town, Skype, email, send letters, board a plane.  Build relationships however you are able because that is what sustains long-term change. 

This second home is a better investment than a beach house.  Will you seek yours?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

7: Stress Month & the Stomach Flu

I already fessed up to the fact that this month was going to be hardest for me.  Prayer and daily bible reading just aren't hardwired into me.  If I'm not intentional I just breeze through my day without even realizing that I missed them.  The Outlook tasks are helping.  Both my phone and my computer remind me when I am supposed to pause during the day.  Even if I get behind, I realize that I'm late.

What I didn't see coming was a full-on attack from the stomach flu.  All of us went down--slowly.  First the oldest and youngest kids, then me, then my husband (who was on a business trip), and then the lone holdout.  For four straight days I was home caring for the kids and myself.  All of this--the week I was preparing to leave for this trip. 

As I laid on the couch myself for two days I was going crazy about the amount of tasks that I wasn't accomplishing at home or at work.  My mind was on overload about how I was never going to get everything done.  My daily praises were my grandmother coming to help me or food being dropped off for us, even the end of vomiting.  My work shifted from my office and computer to playing nurse.

All of the chaos taught me something though.  When I thought about my work, I realized that those days my job was to be a mom, not a worker.  I was to be home taking care of my family.  It also taught me that it's okay not to be in motion at all times.  It's also okay to spend some time not working.

Amazingly enough, everything got done before I left--work, clean house, meals prepped, laundry, bills paid--all of it.  I even got to sleep last night.  Normally I stay up all night before these trips working and then sleep on the plane.  But not this time.  It was peaceful (minus the rush to fold a few things so the kids could go to bed) and relaxed (minus having to get 12 pounds out of my bags).

Lesson learned--stuff gets done even when I'm not in crisis mode 24 hours a day.  God used the stomach flu and stress month to teach me a lesson about myself and what is really important.

Friday, March 7, 2014

7: This Praying Thing is Hard

Like I warned you, this is going to be the hardest month for me.  Just last night Becky asked me how my pauses were going—crappy!  I am late for approximately 3 of the 7 pauses each day and the Night Watch is not a guarantee.  I knew that the Night Watch would be hard so I gave myself the grace to pray whenever I was awake at night.  Who knew that 2 of the 6 nights so far this month I wouldn’t wake up until early morning.  That’s completely unheard of for me.


What I do know is that I need to focus more on taking the time to pause each day.  I’ve been able to keep up with a short daily devotional but stopping during the day to pray is just hard.  I’m wired to fit as much as possible into each day.  Slowing down and stopping don’t equate to productivity on my to-do list.  But, it certainly can’t hurt to stop and readjust during the day.  As of tonight, I’m adding Outlook reminders.  We’ll see if it helps when it really is on my to-do list…

Monday, March 3, 2014

Meager Portions and Crumbs

In the realm of culinary underestimating, John 6 is the star. 

As they sit on the mountainside with 5000 men and countless woman and children, Jesus and his disciples are faced with the task of feeding the crowd.  For a week in advance, I make menus, grocery lists, and schedules just to feed 16 people for Thanksgiving.  The total spread for 5000+ people—5 small barley loaves and 2 fish given by a boy. 

Imagine one child opening his lunchbox in the cafeteria and trying to feed his whole class.  It didn’t seem like much, but that child gave everything he had.  His gift was so small that it seemed embarrassing in contrast to the need.  His small portion couldn’t really make a difference, right?  I wonder how many times we don’t act because we feel like our contribution is too small and won’t make a difference.  We don’t have the money or the skill to solve the whole problem or meet the whole need.  So, we do nothing.  Have you ever wished that you could do more but you just couldn’t? Sometimes the smallest gestures mean the most.  There have been times when I really wanted to just fix a situation but I couldn’t, so instead, I just listened because that is what I could do at the time.
That boy’s contribution not only fed all of the people, it was more than enough.  Jesus took his meager portions and created a feast for all present.  That’s what he does with us as well.  He takes our small individual gifts and multiples them for the good of many more.  When we faithfully give our little bit, he uses it to do what we could have never dreamed. 

And what about the leftovers?  “When they had all had enough to eat, [Jesus] said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over.  Let nothing be wasted.” John 6:12.  He cared even about the crumbs that were left.  There is no part of us that he wants to be wasted either.  Those parts that we think are insignificant, those mistakes we made, the lessons we learned, are all crumbs that are part of our story.  These are the pieces that he can use to feed others, the parts of our life that can encourage someone else to understand the all-encompassing love and grace that overcomes all.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

7: Month 7: Stress?!

I thought that Food Month was awful, which it was, but this month may actually be the hardest for me.  Month 7 focuses on Stress, that all-consuming cloud that follows my daily movements.  It is one of the most permanent parts of my life, much by my own doing. 

So this month, I will be observing 7 pauses each day to pray.  Prayer, coupled with bible study, is one of the most difficult things for me to do.  I never learned to pray, beyond rote recitations.  Slowly I learned to just talk to God and not worry about the formality of prayer.  Whenever I feel worried or happy or burdened, I just talk.  To this day, I still don't like to pray in front of other people. 

The prayers this month are different though.  They follow and at times lead the rhythm of my day.  
  • Dawn:  The Awakening Hour--Praising and Celebration
  • Mid-morning:  The Blessing Hour--Mindfulness of the Spirit's presence and the sacredness of our work
  • Midday:  The Hour of Illumination--Illuminating your heart
  • Mid afternoon:  The Wisdom Hour--Surrender, Forgiveness, Wisdom and the Impermanence of Life
  • Early Evening:  The Twilight Hour--Gratitude and Serenity
  • Bedtime:  The Great Silence--Awareness of your day, Protection from darkness, stillness and rest
  • Midnight:  The Night Watch--Advocating for those who suffer and live in darkness: the suffering, abandoned, oppressed and lonely
Day 1 already showed just what the stress looks like around here.  I was getting supper ready while also trying to sign assignment books and a bursting graded work folder.  As I was repeating for at least the 3 time to put the folders away, I reminded everyone that was supposed to be praying.  (Great visual isn't it?)  I was late for The Twilight Hour.  You know, the one that helps to transition from work to home and family... So, I left the kitchen and sat down to pray for a couple minutes.  Nothing burned in the meantime and it helped me just to think about all the things that we have to be thankful for, including children who are able to attend school.

I'm hoping that this month helps me redefine the natural flow of my days.

Guatemala March 2014

I am finally organizing our activities for my next trip.  Several people have asked what I need so here is what I think I would like to take along.
  • infant formula, any brand, sample cans are great
  • Dr. Suess books in Spanish (I think Mama Yo is on the job for this) [Received]
  • teenage boys and girls clothes, especially boys
  • sneakers, all sizes
  • instant, polaroid-type camera with lots of extra film [Received]
  • soccer balls, deflated for easier packing with hand pumps
  • small Spanish bibles or tracts, for lesson on love to teenage moms
  • prize size bubbles or similar toys [Received]
  • travel size hygiene items--toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair brushes, combs, soap, etc
If you have a desire to send something else that is not on the list, Please let me know.

Thanks in advance for all of your love, support, and consideration.