Tuesday, December 27, 2011

First Christmas in Puebla

We weren't sure what to expect our first Christmas in Puebla, but God blessed us with a very special experience with our friends Juan Carlos and Monica.  We've spent a bit of time with our new friends in the last month and have enjoyed getting to know them.

Juan Carlos, Monica, Carlos and Alonso

Just about when we'd decided we'd be spending our first Christmas here alone (and without an oven! yikes.), Juan Carlos and Monica dropped by our house one night last week to invite us to eat Christmas dinner with them.  We were thrilled (and not just because they were planning to have turkey...honest)!  Christmas is about spending time with family and friends...with no family close, spending it with friends like Juan Carlos and Monica is just as special for us.

In Mexico, Christmas is celebrated on the 24th and Christmas dinner is usually eaten sometime during the evening, usually late.  So we spent Saturday preparing the food for dinner that night...I made Venezuelan pan de jamón (ham bread) and Grandma Ople's Applie Pie (you can go here to see pictures of the process).

Pan de jamón

Monica and I with the pies.

Once the food was ready, we went to their church for a Christmas Eve service.  It was kinda hard to leave all that yummy food behind for a while, but we consoled ourselves with a little snack and the anticipation of the feast to come.

Finally, we headed back home and it was time to eat!  And being that we are in Mexico, of course we had to have some rajas (jalapeño strips, carrots and onion in vinegar sauce) to accompany our meal!

After supper, all the kids went out to light their giant sparklers, apparently also a Christmas tradition in Mexico.  We bought ours at a stoplight on our way to church and saw many people selling them at each intersection we went through.

After a brisk round of Manzanas Con Manzanas (Apples to Apples in Spanish!), we came home...it was 1:30 a.m. by the time we got everyone to bed.  Then Miguel and I had to finish wrapping presents and preparing the stockings, so it was even later (or was that earlier?) by the time we got to sleep.

Naturally, the kids were wide awake by 7 a.m. ready to open their presents!  Miguel refused to come down until at least 8:30, however, so I retold the Christmas story while we waited.  Finally, he came down and our gift-giving began.  We like to open the presents slowly, taking our time to enjoy each gift and this year, we had each gift-giver say something meaningful to the gift-receiver.  At first it was a bit awkward for the kids, but by the end, they were enjoying it!

The kids with their stockings.

I made the kids some pillows...they loved them!

Miguel gave me a new cooking pot and I gave him some headphones, which he started using right away!

Love those Razorback pjs, Miguel!

We tried to go to church on Sunday, but didn't last very long since the kids were falling asleep in their seats...so we came on home and rested for most of the afternoon.  Then we went back to Juan Carlos and Monica's house and had round two with the leftovers!

God is good to give us what we desire...fun and fellowship during our first Christmas here in Puebla.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Your Heart

We love stories, especially Bible stories...and we love to share Bible truths through stories as we live and work with people who have more of a oral/story-telling background.  So we were pretty excited to discover this album that has recently been produced about Bible characters.  We quickly made an playlist on Youtube of these songs so that we can listen to them over and over again.  They have all touched our hearts, but we particularly like the song about King David.  I have noticed that more often than not, we will skip other songs to listen to Your Heart before moving on the other songs on the list.

Interestingly, we just finished telling David's story to the kids and in the telling, I think we learned just as much as the kids.  The Bible is neat in the way that it teaches truth on so many levels and reaches everyone who hears.

I've been thinking about the words of this song...particularly the words "When the world looks at me I pray all they see is that my heart looks like Your heart".

And isn't that what the walk is all about, a daily refining and maturing so that our heart begins to look more and more like the heart of Christ?  God said that David was a man after God's own heart, and while it is true that David's heart had a special relationship with God from his youth, he still had to face a refining process in his life just like the rest of us (see Psalm 51).

Refinement of the heart isn't a very easy or glamorous process...sometimes it can just be downright painful and messy.  At times it isn't easy to own my defects and then accept the what or the who that God uses in my life to refine and forge my heart into one that looks more like His.

I've been reading a book titled On Being a Missionary, written by Thomas Hale who spent many years as a missionary himself in the country of Nepal.  This book has really spoken to me...it's funny yet full of practical advice and has often taken me back to reflect on my mission experiences, both growing up as an MK and serving as an AMK (Adult Missionary Kid).  One paragraph really stuck out to me the other day...

"As someone has said, a missionary's pilgrimage doesn't end when he gets to the field; it simply gets bumpier.  That's when he discovers new weaknesses, new temptations, new sins.  These are at the root of most of the emotional struggle and pain we experience as new missionaries.  We learn much about ourselves when we arrive on the mission field.  Some of our flaws and weaknesses may never have been revealed before in the security of our home country.  But now they are.  Our defects are exposed.  Because of them we sustain wounds.  These, in a sense, can be considered battle wounds.  As these wounds are healed, the scars remain.  They will be signs that we've been fighting on the front lines.  They will be scars we can wear without shame."

Looking back on our missionary career, I can see how God has used many things in my life so far in order to bring my weaknesses to light...and all too often I'm tempted to feel some shame about some of the circumstances surrounding my times of refinement.  Perhaps attitudes on my part that weren't quite as godly as they should have been or words that should have remained unspoken.  It's easy to look back and see what I should have done and how I could have responded and much harder to simply trust God with who I was and what I did during those times.  Because it all boils down to trusting God in all things, doesn't it?

I do carry scars from past experiences and wounds that will become scars in time...I hadn't thought to view them as battle scars before, but I think he's right.  In other circumstances, I don't think some of those defects might have been brought to light.  Not that I become proud of these scars by any means, frankly it takes humility to become open and vulnerable enough to expose scars and to admit flaws and weaknesses; in short, it's hard to take off the mask and display anything less than perfection.  But through humility, I can accept the fact that the scars exist and choose to acknowledge the defects that remain in my heart and life, accepting from God's hand the ways (the whats and the whos) that He has chosen to bring out and work on my weaknesses.

Humility has and will allow me to come to the place of thanking God for those hurtful trials and conflicts because those were times of refinement and maturing that were necessary for making my heart look more more like His.  In the same way, humility will also allow me to respect the battle scars of friends, colleagues and coworkers and relating with compassion as God works to refine their hearts as well.

The cry of my heart today...When the world looks at me I pray all they see is that my heart looks like Your heart.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks

This hasn't been the greatest of weeks...come to think of it, hasn't been the greatest of months, to be honest with you.  The kids were sick towards the beginning of November with a stomach flu and then we had just a few healthy days before they got sick again with a respiratory infection/tonsilitis.  In the middle of that, Micah fell in the street at a friends' house and partially dislocated one of the bones in his arm at the wrist...we are very thankful that it didn't fracture, as it could have been a lot more serious than a minor dislocation.  However, he has had to keep a splint on his arm and had to quit soccer practice and I miss my noon-time dish-washer! 

As if that weren't enough, over the weekend I realized that I had a UTI that was already affecting my kidneys a little and spent most of Sunday and Monday in bed guzzling gallons of water and juice and natural remedies in an effort to avoid taking antibiotics.  By Tuesday, I was feeling much better but still not over it and I had to face the fact that I wasn't really able to plan well for Thanksgiving.  I normally would have baked some pies and cornbread dressing and perhaps a chicken or two, but not having an oven kind of put a damper on those ideas.

Wednesday found me feeling stressed and feeling...something, but I wasn't really sure.  And then it hit me, I felt sad!  My first instinct was to shut it down (old habits die hard...), but then I realized that I needed to give myself permission to be sad and I let myself grieve.  I think the depth of my grief surprised me because I hadn't sensed it before.  I grieved being so far away from family and friends on a holiday that really is all about sharing a special meal with family and friends...I also grieved not being able to provide my family with traditional favorites that we usually try to enjoy even if we're overseas.  I would have loved to have shared a meal with some of our new friends here, but grieved not being able to invite someone and then provide them with traditional Thanksgiving fare either. 

I pretty much concluded this Thanksgiving was going to be an epic fail and cried myself to sleep last night.  Some of the last words that went through my mind as I drifted off to sleep were "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5b) and oh how I hoped that joy would come in the morning! 

It didn't feel like much joy had come in the morning, however, and I found my stress levels rising as I dragged myself out of bed late, prepared breakfast, dealt with our puppy who has been less than cooperative this week, and got the family up and around for the day...I found myself easily irritated and raising my tone of voice to the kids and then Miguel about things I could have communicated to him much more calmly and concisely. 

Stressing about the puppy's behavior, I began remembering what I've been learning about puppy training, how dogs can pick up on our emotions and anger/impatience/stress is perceived by dogs as weakness and then they can lose respect for their owners and begin reacting to the 'negative energy' instead of learning how to follow a confident, firm leader.  The articles I've read advise dog owners to visualize the desired positive behavior instead of focusing on the negative behavior the dog is showing so that their pet won't pick up on those negative emotions and react accordingly.  How it's important to relax and enjoy the interactions with the dog so that trust and confidence can be built into the relationship. 

Ironically, it was those puppy training techniques that got me...I began to feel convicted about the way I often  interact with my family, allowing my emotions to run amuck...I began to see how that often my 'negative energy' spills over onto everyone else (puppy included).  How I tend to maximize the negative and minimize the positive and so I tend to see my kids as bundles of failures instead of accepting them just as they are in all their potential...how I am often not relaxed enough to just enjoy my kids or my husband.  How trust and confidence struggle to grow in an environment like that.  I began to realize that something about me needs to change...a lot of change has happened in the last few years, but this is God taking it down another level...

I apologized for my behavior and that's when it happened, peace and joy returned.  Control established, relaxed and peaceful, and with renewed energy I was able to move on into my day with a new confidence that everything was going to be okay.  Things aren't perfect, but they are good and this was going to be a good day.

And it really was.  Puppy cooperated (for the most part...) and the kids and I worked on our new family tradition, a Thanksgiving tree, while Miguel was out shopping for lunch.  Then we gave thanks for home-made mashed potatoes and a roasted chicken and a cheesecake-type pie and we were more than satisfied. 

And while giving thanks, our thankfulness 'grew'.  

Counting blessings is a blessing in and of itself because there are so many to count. 

So there it is, our first Thanksgiving in Puebla. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cooking Class

A couple of weeks ago a friend from church invited me to a cooking class she attends at a local DIF (stands for Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, translation 'Integral Development of the Family').  Local DIFs offer many kinds of classes and services, from cooking to hair-styling to crafts to sports.  Classes are sometimes free, although the cooking classes cost a little to help offset the expenses.  Each class costs 25 pesos, or about 2$ US.

These classes are offered several times a day every day of the week except Sunday, but my friends only go on Wednesday nights.  While the ladies are at the class, the guys usually take all the kids over to the park to ride their bicycles and then everyone eats supper together afterwards.

I decided to go since the ladies are learning to make traditional Christmas dishes and also because it's a good chance to hang out with friends.  I was also curious about the class and figured it would be a great cultural experience!  Since it was somewhat a last-minute invite, I didn't have any ingredients to make anything that day, so I just watched and took pictures.

One of my friends made a carrot cake, but I was more interested in my other friend who made cochinita pibil, a traditional Mexican slow-roasted pork dish.  We love cochinita pibil and I was pretty excited to see it made.

Some of the ingredients for cochinita pibil:  oranges,
lemons, peppercorns, red onions, dried chiles, habanero peppers, 
achiote paste (red annatto seeds mixed with 
vinegar, salt, garlic and spices)

First of all, the cook helped select the right banana leaves to wrap the pork in while it was roasting in the oven.  They put the pork pieces in the oven to bake for about 1/2 an hour before adding the sauce.

Then the dried chiles were de-seeded, soaked in water, warmed and then blended together with some orange juice, the achiote paste and the peppercorns.  Salt, garlic and chicken bullion can be added, too.  Once the sauce was ready, they pulled the pork out of the oven and poured the sauce over the pork and baked for another hour or so.

In the meantime, she prepared the topping to eat with the cochinita pibil...grated carrot, sliced red onions, sliced habanero peppers (yes, it was SPICY!!!) along with lemon and orange juice.  She didn't happen to have another dish handy, so she improvised and used this baking dish.  I thought it looked pretty cool...

When the pork was finally done, we tasted a bit before heading home...the end result was absolutely delicious!  Cochinita pibil is traditionally shredded and then served  inside of corn tortillas and topped with the carrot/onion mixture.

For an actual recipe and more complete instructions on how to make cochinita pibil, check out this page!  It has a few differences from the process I observed, but is probably more complete and therefore more yummy.  :)  I don't have an oven or I would have tried this recipe at home already!

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to go to cooking class last week and my friend couldn't go this week, but I am looking forward to learning how to make something interesting next week!

Friday, November 11, 2011

For my Missionary Mama Friends-Giveaway

Just saw this awesome giveaway idea over at Mrs JohninGhana for missionary women...go check it out!


If I were to get a package from the U.S. I think I'd ask for Starbucks coffee, whole bean (we do have Starbucks here, but it's a bit pricey), maybe some candles, scrapbook materials (paper, stamps, punches, etc) and definitely some chocolate chips or other candy (like Dove dark chocolate...mmmm!).

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Days of the Dead

I've always been a little confused about what exactly is the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) here in Mexico and I assumed that it had something to do with the American celebration of Halloween.  I have learned a little bit more about this celebration, however, and have found out that the origin of Halloween is really All Hallows' Eve.  All Hallows' Eve is the night before All Saints' Day, which falls on November 1st.  And November 2nd is All Souls' Day.  

So while Halloween kind of has something to do with the Día de los Muertos, the American celebration of Halloween that I am familiar with and the Mexican celebration of the Día de los Muertos is a lot different (Mexicans do still participate in Halloween-like activities, such as dressing up in costumes and trick-or-treating...yesterday I saw a little boy in a fringed cowboy costume made completely out of newspaper!).     Obviously, there is an entire history behind these celebrations and the customs will vary from place to place, but this year we have been doing our own culture study on this celebration and are learning from our neighbors and other sources here about their beliefs regarding the Día de los Muertos.

What we have learned is that these are days when families remember and honor their dead loved ones and it is traditionally a time to visit and decorate their graves.  While this reminds me of Memorial Day in the U.S., there is a lot more involved with the Día de los Muertos than merely remembering loved ones.

A Triqui woman pouring Coca-Cola on the grave
of a loved one, Baja California.

It is believed that once a year, the ánimas (souls) of dead loved ones come back from the dead to visit their relatives.  The souls of children and unmarried young people are believed to come on All Saints' Day and the souls of adults or married people are believed to come on All Souls' Day.  Ofrendas (offerings) are made on sometimes elaborate altars in homes or cemeteries to honor and receive the souls.  Candles are burned as it is believed that their light will guide the souls to the altars.  Brightly colored flowers with strong smells, such as marigolds are commonly used to also guide the souls to the offerings.  Incense, such as copal (tree resin incense) is also burned by some.

A trail of flower petals leading into a house.

A trail of flower petals leading to an ofrenda at a school.

Many different foods or other things can be included in the offering, such as pan de muerto (literally, the bread of the dead), whiskey and other drinks, tamales, cigarettes, mole (a traditional chile and chocolate dish), sugar skulls, toys and candy (for the younger souls), sugarcane, fruit and other items that may have been favorites of the dead loved ones.

Pan de muerto, topped with bone-like decorations.

While the Día de los Muertos isn't necessarily a state holiday, we have observed that the 1st and 2nd day of November are días festivos (festive days) and that schools are closed on November 2nd.  Many of our friends who are followers of Christ do not send their children to school around this time of year in order to avoid having their children participate in the celebrations they view as demonic and pagan.

The sign on the gate of the preschool next door to our house says: 
"Homework for everyone: bring a written skeleton for 
Monday and fruit for the offering.  Thank you."

An ofrenda at a town government office.

Another example of an ofrenda set up at a police station.

There is a sign on this ofrenda that says,
"Please don't take anything off of the offering."

An ofrenda set up inside a Catholic church.

Traditionally, on November 3rd families have parties where the offerings are eaten in honor of their dead loved ones.  It is believed that the essence or aromas and the colors of the food and flowers are 'eaten' or used by the dead and some would say that the food that is left has no nutritional value.  

I'm sure that there is a lot more to learn about the Día de los Muertos, but this has been an interesting glimpse into these traditions here in Puebla.  

Weekend at Camp

Miguel and Micah are back from their weekend at camp...I thought they would be home on Monday, but camp went one day longer than we thought, so they got home yesterday afternoon.  The camp they went to was in the northern part of the state of Puebla, about four hours away from here, and it was for Totonac young people from the states of Puebla and Veracruz.  The part of the sierra (mountains) where they were was lush and green...cool at night and warmish during the day.

Miguel helped with various things, including setting up, washing pots and pans and packing up when camp was over.

He was also able to hang out with the kids during their activities.  Miguel said he had several opportunities to talk with the young people and their leaders about various things, such as discipleship, issues they are facing and community life in their churches.

Micah had a pretty good time, although he got sick with tonsilitis on Friday night and had to go see a local doctor for some medicine.  There were several children his age there, so he made a few friends as well.

I am very glad that Miguel and Micah were able to take this opportunity to serve at this camp and to build some relationships there in the sierra.  It's good to have them back, though!  It is also always interesting to see what Miguel brings back for me on his trips (besides the piles of dirty laundry)...

house plants...the one on the right is a coffee bush!

Café Tierras Altas (Coffee from High Lands)...

a few interesting rocks...


and I am so glad that he brought me back my son!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spiritual Survival

I began reading a book this weekend called Spiritual Survival Handbook for Cross-Cultural Workers written by Dr. Robert S. Miller.  It's really good.  It's not a very long book, but there is a lot of wisdom in these pages.  I don't think that just cross-cultural workers would benefit from this book, however, I think that anyone who desires a closer walk with God would be blessed and encouraged by what Dr. Miller has to share.

From the table of contents, the chapter titles are as follows:
  1. Know Your God
  2. Know Yourself
  3. Know Your Enemy
  4. Know the Terrain
  5. Know Your Boundaries
  6. Know How to Lead
  7. Know Your Mission
Epilogue:  Remember the Joy of the Lord

So far, I've read into chapter two, but am finding myself reading too fast and I want to slow down to really soak in what I'm learning.  I've been thinking about some things that I read in chapter 1, Know Your God.  

"So much of what I've learned about survival in ministry is based on the following statement, "Inward before outward; secret before public."  You must win the battle within your own person if you are to survive in ministry."  

Let the river flow into your heart

"There is a river that proceeds from fellowship with the Spirit, a river that waters your thirsty life.  The flow of this river is dependent upon your heart's posture before the Lord.  A subtle shift will cause the flow to pause or even stop.  Without that life-giving river, your heart will become a desert."

"There are times when we attempt to minister apart from this flow.  Such a condition is so prevalent that we can become accustomed to it and think it is normal.  After all, no one is perfect; we're all human.  But the sobering truth is that a missionary that is evangelizing, discipling or church planting apart from abiding in the Spirit may as well be playing the role of a missionary in a Hollywood film.  We cannot give what we do not have.  Without the living water, there is no living, vital ministry."

"How long does it take for a heart to become an arid desert?  Not years and not even months.  Guard your heart daily."

I've been pondering these words all day...it is so easy for my heart to become that desert and I've even lived there at times.  But now that I have experienced more and more what it means to have that flow of living water in my heart, I don't want to go back to the desert.  

This topic reminded me of a study I did recently in Jeremiah 17.  Most of us are familiar with verses 7 and 8...

But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
   whose confidence is in him. 

They will be like a tree planted by the water 
   that sends out its roots by the stream. 
It does not fear when heat comes; 
   its leaves are always green. 
It has no worries in a year of drought 
   and never fails to bear fruit.

But I hadn't really paid much attention to the previous contrasting verses of 5 and 6 until recently...

This is what the LORD says:
   Cursed is the one who trusts in man, 
   who draws strength from mere flesh 
   and whose heart turns away from the LORD. 

That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; 

   they will not see prosperity when it comes. 
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, 
   in a salt land where no one lives.

The context of these verses is Judah's sin (Jer. 17:1).  Jeremiah 2:13 says,

My people have committed two sins: 

They have forsaken me, 
   the spring of living water, 
and have dug their own cisterns, 
   broken cisterns that cannot hold water. 

The specifics of Judah's and Israel's sin was idolatry and trusting in other nations, pagan nations, to protect them from enemies instead of trusting in God to defend them.  The Israelites even asked Egypt of all countries for help.  Egypt, the very country that had enslaved the Israelites for generations!  Seriously?!    

Hadn't God shown Himself to be trustworthy to His people in the past?  Hadn't He shown them time after time that He could deal with anything man could bring against the Israelites?  Scriptures are full of stories about God miraculously intervening on behalf of His people and  they still turned back to worshiping idols and trusting in man.  

I find it fascinating to see how God describes this sin...forsaking the spring of living water and digging cisterns that could not possibly satisfy their thirst.  

It's easy to sit back and judge the Israelites for abandoning God, but isn't that just what I do?  Trusting in my own strength to get through a tough day or maybe many tough days...thinking that I am strong enough to handle what life brings my way.  Finding other ways to solve my problems without taking them to God first. Letting days go by without really spending time seeking God...letting my heart become dry and dusty, like a bush living in a wasteland.  Trying to give to others what I do not have for myself...failing in the secret places while pretending to succeed in public.  

It's shameful how easy it is for me to forsake my God.

But there is grace...grace that will never fail to renew my heart and bring refreshing rivers of living water back to my soul.  

So these are great reminders about where my spiritual priority should be..."The river of fellowship with your Lord and Savior is the key to your life and your ministry; everything else takes second place....I must spend time with Him.  Not just five or ten minutes.  I must linger with Him.  I need the living water.  I need to know Him and to be known by Him.  If I forgo this priority-one appointment, my heart will become a desert and I will die."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Treats From Grammy and Other News

It is always fun to receive packages and stuff from back home when there is a chance to send things with people traveling, so this week when our missions pastor and two other ladies from our home church came for the meetings we had, it was a great opportunity for us to get some care packages.  Most of what we got was our own stuff, two suitcases and one duffelbag's worth of stuff we'd left behind for someone to bring when there was a chance.  I asked a friend to buy me a few things, a couple pairs of new jeans for me, some scrapbook paper, a microscope for Micah's birthday (shhhh!  don't tell!) and some other little things.  Miguel asked for some special theft-deterrent lug nuts for the van tires and a bicycle pump.  My mom was also able to send a few things, including a small suitcase with my sewing machine (that I really didn't expect to get until next year sometime!), a few things we'd left behind at her house and some candy corn!

So even though none of what we got was particularly a surprise, it was still pretty exciting and felt a bit like Christmas!  (Now I am thinking about the group coming from Arkansas next week and thinking I should ask them to bring some peanut butter...LOL!)  One of the things I was most excited to see was the rest of my shoes...I have been living with just four pairs of shoes since August and that was getting old.

The other thing that really made my day was finding the blade attachment and blending cup for my hand blender!  We thought we'd lost it on the road somewhere since we had the rest of it, but those two pieces were nowhere to be found.  Come to find out, Miguel had packed them in one of these suitcases to come later...and then forgot all about it.  So now all the pieces are back together and I am happy.

And God really showed up in a huge way this week during all of our meetings...it was just an amazing time of fellowship and planning, I continue to be so excited and thankful to be a part of what God is doing here.  It was such a blessing to see a diverse group of people come together in humility and of one heart, seeking only God's will for the future of this ministry.  And we continue to be blessed, encouraged and empowered by a leadership whose desire is to serve us by participating together with us in all of these decisions and not just tell us what to do and how to do it.  I just can't tell you how much of a blessing that is!  Our missions pastor even commented on this, mentioning how impressed he has been this week with the quality of leadership that he sees in Tim and Andres...that is a huge confirmation that we are in the right place!

There was a bit of unwanted excitement this week, however, when Jojo got lost in the park!  Losing a child is never a fun thing, but we're so thankful for God's protection of Jojo...it was quite obvious that He was taking care of our son.  Selene, a friend of ours, and her two daughters were taking care of the kids for us on Thursday.  I had gone to pick them up around 1 p.m. but they weren't at home.  Since I knew that they didn't have a car, I figured that they had walked to a park or somewhere in the neighborhood.  I sat and waited for a while, but then the thought occurred to me to try to find a pay phone and give Selene a call on her cell phone.  I drove down the street and asked a shop owner where I could find a phone, and he told me that there was a pay phone that accepted coins right across from his store.  I talked to Selene and she said they were in the park and I understood that I would go down to the main entrance and pick them up.  So I drove the five blocks or so to the park and began looking for them there.  I spotted them a ways off, but it looked like they were leaving the park through another entrance and I wasn't able to catch up with them.

So I got back in the van and drove back up to wait for them at their house.  As I was parking, I noticed Jojo up on the main street waiting to cross and assumed that the whole group was right behind him.  Imagine my surprise when he told me he had come back from the park alone and that he didn't know where Selene and the rest of them were!  I immediately drove back down to the pay phone to call Selene because I figured that she was probably frantic by that time and I was right, she was.  It took them a while to get home, but when they did, Selene was so upset, she just broke down and cried for a long time at the thought of nearly having lost one of my children!  I know that it was a very serious thing to almost have lost Jojo, but I think I was more affected by her emotions...I felt so sorry that she had to go through that experience.  I know exactly what she was going through since we've been there, done that!

I think she was afraid that I would be upset with her, but I reassured her that I was not...I told her of the many other times we've 'lost' Jojo.  The reality is that if any one of our kids is to get lost, it would be Jojo; it has always been that way.  And I recounted to her the ways that God had worked...I had come to pick them up at just the right time, God showed me the pay phone (I don't usually use pay phones!) and if I had not come back from the park when I did, Jojo would not have known how to find their house...as he made his way back from the park, he didn't know where to go, but when he saw me drive by on the way back from the park, he followed me.  And God protected Jojo from getting snatched by someone along the way.

So on top of fervently praising God for watching out for Jojo, we're now teaching all the kids our address and phone number in case that ever happens again!  I also realized we need to reteach Survival Skills 101 (as in when you realize you have gotten separated from your group stay where you are until someone comes back for you or go find a policeman).  Jojo told me that he thought that they had forgotten about him...as if that could ever happen, so he just took matters into his own hands!  I have told him many times since, that we will never forget about him, ever...we might accidentally leave him somewhere, but we will always go back for him...

In other news, on Thursday night Miguel and Micah went up to the mountains in the northern part of the state to go to a camp for Totonac young people.  What a great opportunity for Miguel to serve, to make contacts with others working with this people group, and to have some fun time with Micah!  In the meantime, the rest of us have crashed here at home...it's been a long week with a lot of action, it's just nice to sit around and not have too much to do.  They will be back on Monday, if all goes as planned.

I am quite proud of myself since I've done a lot of driving while Miguel has been gone...I took Tim and Andres out to a mall for supper on Thursday night and then yesterday I was able to take them to the bus station.  I am able to find my way around now in various parts of the city with the help of our handy Guia Roji (literally, the Red Guide, a brand of road and city maps) and that feels good.  Driving here is always an adventure, but so far so good...

So that's the news from this week...I am off to go indulge in some more coffee and a good book...

Monday, October 24, 2011

This Week

We have a pretty full week coming up and we're excited!  For one thing, our Area Leader from PI and another PI leader from Mexico are arriving tonight and will be meeting with us tomorrow and Wednesday just to chat and see how we are doing.  We'll also be talking about our ministry vision and defining some things before we go into our 'big' meetings on Wednesday afternoon.

By that time, the missions pastor from our home church in Arkansas will be here (along with a bunch more of our stuff, we hope!) and will join us, the pastors from El Camino (our Puebla church) and Franco and Barby for strategy/planning meetings that we hope will further define our role in the ministry here.

There is a lot to cover in that short time, but we are praying that it will be a profitable time of talking things out, evaluating the current ministry and sharpening the vision for this work.  We're excited to be a part of this ministry and we hope that God will continue to lead and guide us as we move forward.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Women's Retreat, October 2011

I've been pondering on what to write for a few days now...not that I haven't wanted to, but honestly I've been so busy since I got back from the retreat that I have had very little time for anything else much but the basics!  What happened is that Miguel hurt his back over the weekend and has spent about three days in bed, barely able to sit up in a chair for more than a few minutes at a time.  PTL, he seems to be slowly recovering, but in the meantime, I have been running double duty!  I've even ventured out to the pharmacy and to Walmart on my own in the van...somewhat nerve-wracking, but everything went okay...I'm glad I have a large vehicle that most other vehicles respect!

So anyway, the retreat...wow, what can I say?  I believe that I witnessed God showing up in a pretty incredible way and I am so very humbled and grateful to have been a small part of that.  For one thing, the other Becky (Becky B. we called her) and I got along famously, and like I said in my previous post, we have a lot in common...but then we found out that we have even more in common than we had thought!  Which is really cool.  Here we are at church on Sunday morning...Becky B. is a singer and graced us with some awesome worship times, both at the retreat and at church here in Puebla.  

And what the two of shared and how it really complemented each other is a testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit, seeing as we did not communicate about our sessions beforehand!  But I have to admit that as I listened to Becky B. during her two sessions, I was very thankful that I went first...she would have been a hard act to follow!  She is an accomplished singer and speaker, very used to being in front of the microphone and her Spanish is simply amazing...she really is quite dynamic and had us laughing in many places, while at the same time thinking deeply about our relationship with God.  

The craft session went well, but it was hard to teach 51 ladies how to make boxes all at the same time, so we allowed for another box-making session on Saturday and I think most of the ladies who wanted to learn was able to go home with at least one pretty box plus their model box.  Here are some of the crafts I made from the boxes to show the ladies...including picture frames, Christmas tree ornaments and decorated gift boxes.  The one little box I decorated with some tiny silk flowers and some scraps of ribbon.  They all turned out pretty cute!

As far as my speaking session went, I decided to be very open and transparent in an effort to encourage others to also be more open and transparent.  Speaking about roots, I took the ladies back to how our 'roots' are formed...exploring what the external influences are that are that form the 'soil' in which we grow in this life.  Our family, our culture, our spiritual experiences, our life experiences, etc. are all external influences that form thoughts and beliefs about ourselves, others and God.  These thoughts and beliefs about ourselves, others and God are hidden in the deepest places of our hearts and out of them come our emotions, our motives, our tendencies, our desires...and out of those emotions, motives, tendencies, desires, etc. come our fruit, the external evidence of what is in our hearts at both levels.  

Oftentimes, however, those thoughts and beliefs have been formed subconsciously and we do not recognize what might be driving our hearts and therefore our fruit.  The beauty of salvation is that God transplants us to a new soil, one that is firm and fertile for our new little spiritual life of a tree to grow.  God wants to give us this new environment so that we'll have new thoughts about ourselves, others and God, and new fruit-the fruit of the Spirit...but what can happen sometimes?  We continue to revert to and act on the old thoughts and beliefs about ourselves, others and God...thoughts and beliefs that don't line up with what God's Word says about us and as a result, our new little tree does not thrive and grow...we do not develop a strong spiritual root system.    

In a nutshell, that's what happened to me...for most of my life, I have operated on thoughts and beliefs about myself, others and God that were damaging and hurtful to me.  I did not see myself as having worth, as deserving of God's goodness...I did not ever feel as if I was enough or as if God were pleased with me on any given day.  I had carried those beliefs deep down inside me, never realizing that those beliefs were blocking my spiritual life...my spiritual roots could not thrive and grow deep and strong because I was operating based on the wrong 'soil', not the truth of God's Word...I was not deeply rooted in Christ's love and the knowledge of His Word.  It was as if my heart was like the seed that was thrown among the thorns...the seeds sprouted and grew, but the thorns (the worries of this life) grew up faster and higher and choked out the truth of God's Word.  

I worked very hard at the upper heart level and the fruit level to see change in my life, but it left me empty and dry and weak because I was trusting in man, trusting in myself to somehow make myself better (Jeremiah 17:5-6).  God brought me to the end of myself...a place where I had nowhere else to turn (why do some of us seem to need a harder knock on the head to see God?  Take Paul, for example...not that I equate myself with Paul, but just that some of us seem to just have a harder time finding God), a place where I was led to look deeper down inside me to peer into the depths of my innermost thoughts and beliefs...what I found didn't really surprise me because I knew those hurts were there.  What did surprise me is to find out just how much they had affected me without me realizing it.  What I had done was to deny their effects on me...everybody say it with me, de-NI-al!...and we all know that denying that something doesn't exist doesn't make it go away (try denying gravity by jumping off the roof of your house sometime...it won't be pleasant...).  

For me healing was about surrender and faith...recognizing the reality of those beliefs, surrendering them to God and believing by faith the truths from God's Word about who I am in Christ.  Change didn't happen immediately, from one moment to the next, but as I clung to God's promises and made daily choices to believe, things started to happen and my roots began sinking deeply into the soil that God had prepared for me from the beginning of time as His blessed child.  And just like Abraham, God counted my faith as righteousness (Check out Romans 4).  Those negative, damaging thoughts and beliefs were changed to ones of love and peace and joy.  And I didn't even have to work to produce it...they flowed out of a heart that was grateful for God's gift of new life in Christ.

One day I realized that my depression and insecurity were gone...I looked back and realized how far I had come...I realized that I was becoming more and more resilient as I tapped into a new source of strength and power, becoming more and more secure in my identity in Christ.  There was no more working to please God, just resting in Christ knowing that I already please Him just by existing...He delights in me just because I am...because He made me...that I am enough in Him because He is enough in me...glory be to God!  I had found my joy...the joy of the Lord is my strength...I found my life transformed into a tree planted by the water, sending out my roots to the stream...bearing fruit and having no fear of the drought or the heat (Jeremiah 17:7-8).

So that's pretty much a summary of what I shared, although with more details about some of my life experiences, some of which I've share on this blog...as I shared, I was pleased to notice that I wasn't that nervous (this from someone who used to have trouble even looking people in the eyes out of a sense of insecurity and shame!) and in fact, I rather enjoyed myself.  It felt like I was stepping into a place where I was using my gifts and abilities and while I'm sure there were things I could have done better (this was pretty much my first time sharing at a retreat/conference, so I'm sure I have much to learn), I sense this is perhaps something that God will be calling me to do more of in the future.

I will cautiously say that I believe God used what I shared in the lives of many of the ladies...several ladies shared with me the impact that my openness and transparency had on them, tears streaming down their faces as they recalled hurts from their childhood that they recognized needed healing.  I say 'cautiously', however, because sometimes it's hard to gauge the feedback here in Mexico, they could just be demonstrating politeness and appreciation at my efforts...while in reality my efforts may have been feeble!  And perhaps some of them were merely expressing that politeness, but others did seem to be quite sincere and deeply moved by what I shared.  At any rate, my speaking session was a gift to God for Him to use however He sees fit...I have chosen to focus on that truth and not obsess about whether I did a 'good job' or not.

I will leave you with some more photos of the vacation center where we spent the retreat...it was such a beautiful place and I already want to go back as a family to spend more time there.  It used to be a textile factory, which makes the architecture of the place very interesting.  My favorite picture is the one I took of the volcano Popocatepetl between the two chimneys...I wish I had taken my big camera to have gotten a better shot!  Oh well, next time...