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.