Category Archives: friends

One Week Ago We Didn’t Even Have Tickets

Can you believe that? One week ago we didn’t even have plane tickets for our family to travel to the U.S.A.. Now, we are here, have a great place to stay while we find a place of our own, and OWN a 7 passenger van (which is a whole story for a separate, dedicated blog post). A small army has been working to gather stuff for our new home. My sister and brother-in-law collected from tons of people: some beds, bedding, dressers, towels, toiletries, some groceries, coats, hats, scarves, toys, games, some kitchen items, laundry soap, a laundry basket, Target gift cards, and a coffee maker. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of a friend who set up a facebook page to organize people, a few churches helping out, and many people networking, we feel very loved and cared for.

My parents, one of my brothers, and one of my sisters met us at the airport. There were hugs, happy tears, and lots of loud. It was great! They helped us get into the house of my brother-in-law’s father, who happens to be away on a golfing vacation and graciously opened his vacant home for us to stay in for free. WOW! I am so grateful for the generosity from someone I have never even met.

Before dawn Friday morning dear, dear friends came and collected us from the missionary housing where we were staying in Cochabamba. We said tearful goodbyes and started the 36 hour journey back to the city where both DaRonn and I were born and raised. The kids are amazing travelers! There were lots of talks about our move down to Bolivia way back in 2001. We compared, contrasted, and reminisced.

Ahead of us now in the coming days are: finding a house, filling it, and settling in. Please pray for us, as I know you already have been. Things seem to be falling into place. I am so grateful.

The kids have said some amusing things these first few days. The laughter has been helpful to break up the fatigue and tension.

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Me: Tyler, when you go to the bathroom you can put your toilet paper in the toilet and flush it down.

Tyler: [look of utter disgust] That is so gross!

Me: Yep, your pee, your poop, and the paper all together.

Timothy: [from the other room, singing loudly] We will all go together when we go down!

Cultural orientation – – – in Bolivia the plumbing systems are different and the used toilet paper is thrown into the trash can beside the toilet. Here in the U.S. the used paper is flushed.

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Can I go drink from the water fountain! (Five children RUN through the airport to quench their thirst.)

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Look, a mailbox! Oh look, there’s another one!

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These houses are so beautiful! (In one of the more simple parts of town.)

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There are SO MANY  [you name it on the shelves in the stores]  to choose from!

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This pizza is SO GOOD!

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It is SO COLD! (The locals are in lightweight shirts and no jackets. We are in layers, coats, hats, and scarves.)

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You can drink the water from the faucet. WHAT? Yes, from the faucet.

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Timothy on day 2: I still feel weird drinking water from the faucet. I mean, it tastes fine, but I am thinking in my head the whole time, “I am drinking bugs!”

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on the wall of the house we are staying at
on the wall of the house where we are staying

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Bravery, a Derivative

My Teen Girls in Uyuni

I really don’t feel strong or brave. Most days I jolt awake as the rush of nervous acid pours into my stomach. The aftereffects of the daily emotional roller coaster ride make me nauseated. The regrets choke. Thus, I have determined that bravery is not an emotion, it is a derivative.

As I share my story with a low voice, tears in my eyes, so many people tell me I am strong, that I am brave. They see me. They see the circumstances. Then they affirm strength??? I really don’t feel it. Oh boy do I wish I did!

I wince at their words, doubt trumps dauntlessness. I bury myself in my notebook. My hand trembles as I make it pull the jumbled words onto paper. My thoughts slow and calm comes as I think about bravery.

Forged in the fires of truth unhindered, time, and surrender comes forth words to define bravery. Definitions help me maintain realistic expectations of myself, and others.

> Bravery is not a stoic face to mask authenticity. Nuh uh.

> Bravery is not a bully who lashes out in fear. Nope.

> Bravery is not an ungodly holler from a maniac who runs reckless to sure defeat. Sorry Sparta, you can keep that crap.

Bravery: Life lived with strength derived from the assurance that 1. I am the beloved of God, 2. God loves everyone, and 3. His love in me enables me to love well.

So when my teenagers come to me distraught and fraught with emotions I can rely on the strength in me derived from the love infusion from my Father God. Then I can attempt to listen with empathy. I can speak, if I need to. Or shut up. I trust that God can love them well when my resources fail. I choose to engage, rather than cower and hide (which is my default mode, by the way).

So when the days topple on top of each other and mash with the piles to-do lists, and I breathe too quick, and my brain begins to spin like the tilt-a-whirl, I can stop the scared screamy sounds in my mind. I see the lips of my friends who tell me I am strong. Yes, I am strong, because this tangible weakness draws me to the source of my bravery. My bravery is a derivative of the assurance I am loved.

So when terrible scenarios of what-if replay on loop in the darkest corner of my heart I can crawl to that place and face the fears. In the past I have shut that part of me away as “bad” and “sinful” and “faithless”. With weak limbs and scraped hands I can do the next thing. Just do the next thing. And the next thing might be a simple flip of a switch on a plastic flashlight to shine a shaft of bravery on the damp, creepy parts of my soul. A simple task made nearly insurmountable by the paralyzed state created by my imaginations of what will be revealed. But my bravery is not brazen or foolish. True brave strength is surrender to Love. Love knows me. Love accepts me. Love sits beside that awful terribleness, and waits with me for the light.

So what do I do when I just do not feel so strong or brave? I cry. I fuss. I complain. I moan. And when I get that all over with I return to the assurance part of my definition. I can rest when I have been assured. Sometimes this blessed assurance comes from those around me. Sometimes the assurance comes from a song whispered in the recesses of my throat, sang with raspy tones. Other times gritty, holy stories or chunks of scripture assure me.

One prayer from the book of Ephesians has brought encouragement.

14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.”  –  Ephesians 3:14 – 21

Love and Peace.

 

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Where is God in All This

We sat on the concrete bench. My eldest son, only five or so at the time, looked out over the city from our perch. Cochabamba boasts of possessing the tallest statue of Christ in the world. We took some visitors up the hill to see it. As they meandered we sat.

“Mama, you know, God is nice to mean people, too,” he said without breaking his gaze.

“Oh, why do you say that?” I asked.

“Well, even if you are nice or mean you still get the air and the rain and the sun,” he explained.

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One of the most ancient names we know of God is ‘I AM’. Later we hear the words of Christ and know that I AM is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Our eternal Lord inhabits the expanse of the Heavens and the Earth, He influences all of time and space, He exists.

To know and believe that God exists unconstrained by our human constructs, yet moving and being within them, is to trust that His character and power affect us all. Regardless of the definition one might give to the way she or he relates with God, or avoids relating with God, we are subject to the Sovereignty of His Majesty; Our Humble King reigns.

God is Love. Sovereign Love casts out all fear. He leads me beside still waters, in paths of righteousness, and through valleys shadowed by death, for His name’s sake. But I gotta still move my feet.

I AM in the air, the rain, and the sun.

I AM in the seen, the unseen, and the hoped for.

I AM in all.

I AM with the evil, and with the kind.

I AM with the doubter, eyes wide open, and with the believer, eyes pressed shut tight, in prayer, in denial, in defeat.

I AM with all.

I AM.

So I trust that He is in all this happening in and around me right now, as he has been from the beginning of time, and will be for all eternity.

Side by side we walk, He and I. Sometime I veer this way or that and He enjoys the exploration, as long as we are together. Sometimes I feel Him take my hand and whisper in my ear, and I lean into His woos. Other times He and I commune in the simple talks between friends, in the deep thoughts shared, in the confessions laid bare in intimacy. He is there, He is here, because He is.

cactus baby

A woman told me that when she was a child she carried one of her mother’s high heeled shoes in her backpack. She was so scared of God’s punishment that she armed herself in the case He should jump out and try to get her. Her plan was to throw the shoe at Him and run away.

Can I tell you that with all these hard times we are living there have been moments when I want to throw a shoe at God? But not so much in fear, rather in indignant anger. I thought I did everything “right”. I thought I followed all the rules. I thought I took the path of greatest devotion. I’m a missionary, for Christ’s sake!

All the while that I am throwing shoes of deserving dutiful devotion laced with manipulative attempts of purchasing a good life at God’s chest, He doesn’t go away. He takes it. He opens His Easter arms, smiles wide and tells me, “Come on, take your best shot, give it all you’ve got, get it all out, I can take it.” He doesn’t run and hide from my insults and fury. He is the I AM Who can withstand my deepest outbursts of rage.

Then my arms fall limp, battle sore and weary. He is, still. He bends His battered form next to mine. He leans my head on His bruised chest. He is, still.

God is in the voice of my counselor. God is in the tears of my friends as they weep with me. God is in the arms of my daughter wrapped around me. God is in this, all this, everywhere. I trust Him.

I trust Him to be able to take it when I question the silence. I trust Him to be able to take it when I want to blame, accuse, and judge. I trust Him to take it all and make it all into something that will be well, and good.

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Firsts Bolivia Gave Me

“It’s not like Bolivia is a blanket that we were using and now we are throwing it to one side. Bolivia is woven into me and it’s threads are a part of who we are forever,” I said with tears blurring my vision as I spoke with my oldest Bolivian friend sitting in front of me in the coffee shop today.

She gave me a butterfly ring as a going away gift, to match my first tattoo. “These are wings as you go on the next part of the journey God has for you.” I settled in and listened, as I have learned to do when I know the time has come to listen, to her speak out from her heart blessings, encouragement, sweet memories, and kind wishes. Bolivians know how to make heartfelt speeches. I was touched.

butterfly ring

Bolivia has given me many ‘firsts’. I came as a 25 year old mother of three small children, practically a blank canvas just getting started with life. Remember those lists I was talking about in the previous post? Here’s a fun one I did.

Firsts in Bolivia

1. Kiss on the cheek greeting

2. Sushi

3. Pedicure

4. Climbed a mountain to the summit

5. Got a massage

6. Went to a spa

7. Changed my mind about drinking

8. Learned I prefer white wine over red

9. Officiated a wedding

10. Served as a pastor

11. Ate Indian food

12. Stayed at a 5 star hotel

13. Got a tattoo

14. Got on social media

15. Used the sci-fi predicted miracle that is Skype

16. Blogged

17. Wrote a book

18. Bore a Bolivian child

19. Adopted a Bolivian child

20. Had major surgery

21. Learned Spanish

22. Held a baby abandoned on a the doorstep

23. Held the hand of a friend as she was losing her baby at 19 weeks of pregnancy

24. Fell in love with cactus plants

25. Got jumped at knife point

26. Owned a cell phone

27. Owned a good camera

28. Became the mother of teenagers

29. Co-founded an orphanage

30. Co-founded a school

31. Co-founded an international collective blog

32. Traveled internationally by myself

33. Traveled internationally with only my nursing baby as company

34. Traveled internationally with only my five children as company

35. Built a snowman with my kids

36. Won an award for my photography

37. Visited children who live in a prison with their criminal parents

38. Ate Bolivian food

 

Since I am now 38 years old I’ll stop there.

We are looking at a season of some new firsts for our family. Some will be fun, some terrifying, some silly, and some very serious.

Please pray with us about a huge first for our youngest, Kaitlynn. She will soon, by the grace of God, become for the first time in her life a citizen of the United States of America. There is paperwork, appointments, and other rigamarole to get through for this to happen. Not impossible, just needs to get done along with all the other stuff that is happening right now. Thanks so much for praying with us.

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Birth Stories – 9 – Mercy

bunny birth stories logoMaking close friends is a necessity for survival when you are far from blood relatives. The Holman family has a few kids the same ages as a few of our kids. Mrs. Holman and Mrs. Washington have formed an especially tight bond. Yes, I just referred to myself in the 3rd person. According to Mr. Holman this is because I rock. I am so grateful for their friendships. I feel so privileged they allowed me to be present at the birth of their Bolivian born daughter, Mercy.

I was in the room the whole time Denise labored. She was so beautiful. The contractions would come and go. She would get quiet, go into herself for a while, and then as the pressure let up she would again engage in the conversation in the room. It wasn’t long. This was their 11th child. I watched, prayed, encouraged, and chatted.

The delivery room they took her to for the final moments of pushing was crowded, hot and teeny tiny. They weren’t there long, so I am sorry I didn’t ask to go with them. I learned then that if I want to walk this path I need to take the initiative to make it happen, not wait for it to come to me. I don’t want to be the one who hangs back left in the waiting room ever again. I know with all my heart that I want to be a midwife.

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Birth Stories – 8 – Jalynne

bunny birth stories logoThe induction was scheduled. Romon and Melinda graciously agreed to allow me to be present for the labor and delivery. I consider this one of the highest honors I have had in my entire life, alongside the honor of birthing our own five children.

The labor pains began slowly then progressively strengthened throughout the day. Morning turned to afternoon. Afternoon turned to evening. Evening became night. The blessed mother began pushing with the contractions, which came rapidly on their own.

The father and I stood at the doorway of the delivery room since we were not allowed to enter. We called out encouragement to the strong mama as she worked with her body to birth their daughter. Melinda remained calm and focused. She did so well!

At one point in the pushing a male nurse mounted the table and crouched over Melinda’s shoulders. He bore down on the belly pushing down on the top of the bulge near the ribs in the direction of the cervix working with a contraction to progress labor. I am curious if this is a modern midwife practice. They seemed pleased with the results.

After 40 minutes of pushing she began with very intense pushing. This intense phase lasted the last 20 minutes of the day. Jalynne was born just a hair before midnight. The first words out of the mama’s mouth after she was born were, “I miss her.” When the baby was out the doctor flipped her purple form around like pizza dough as he unwrapped the cord from her neck. The maneuvers were so quick and skilled I was shocked as I watched the doubly wrapped rope-like cord come away from the baby’s neck. It was an awful and awesome 5 seconds watching him untangle her.

Then she cried. She was born strong and flailed around batting at the nurses and doctor and her papa. I was so very happy for this precious family!

– March 2011

…click the pics to see ’em better

 

EDIT: Addition from the mother…

I remember a pink chair. Feeling like it was impossible to push any more. “There is her head”. Absolutely don’t remember the anesthesiologist jumping over top of me and pushing on my belly. That is a memory I have only because ya’ll told me it happened. Hearing utensils fly all over the place cause Jalynne went wild for a second. And thats about it until a midnight argument with a nurse and Romon about… I’m not really sure. One sweet memory I do have was holding Jalynne on my chest for the first time. So fun to go back and think about that time.

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Eternal Spring

Cochabamba, Bolivia proudly carries the illustrious title: City of Eternal Spring. Here in Bolivia we know how to celebrate important days. Today was the doozy of a day!

September 21st in Bolivia is:

  1. The Day of Love
  2. The Day of the Student
  3. The Day of the Doctor
  4. The Day of the Photographer
  5. The First Day of Spring
  6. The International Day of Peace

Wow!

So if you are a peaceful doctor who is studying and happen to be taking a photo of the person you love in the city of eternal spring, you have celebrated this day to the utmost perfection.

Friday the kids had parties in the parks with their classmates, instead of regular instruction. Today on the streets people sold all kinds of lovely cards and fun, cute gifts. The shops and restaurants are all decorated with flowers and spring colors.

The celebrations don’t stop. Monday my kids are in a parade to remember the founding of the city of Tiquipaya, where our school is. Gabrielle is playing the tambourine in the marching band. Then they have the day free from classes on Tuesday, the actual anniversary of Tiquipaya. Do we know how to party, or what?

Though I am only an amateur photographer I wanted to finish this blog post by sharing some pics from my trip to La Paz to visit my friends, the Bakers. They were super hospitable and kind. I had a great time!

la paz 07 la paz 08 la paz 09 la paz 13 la paz 15

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The Interns We Deserved

Pained eyes narrowed in disappointment as he spat out the maleficent prophecy.  “You just wait until you have interns and see the ungrateful way they treat you,” he said. Hot tears filled his wife’s eyes as she nodded agreement.

We sat opposite our superiors at his desk. Our two years in Santa Cruz working with this organization had come to a frazzled end. (Read more about it here: Banished from Bolivia) The grace to forgive the hurtful words and deeds of many people during that season of our lives came slow but sure by miraculous intervention. (Read about that here: Birds, Lightening Bolts, and Hot Air Balloons) I yearn for the divine ability to forget that which I forgive. As a human, my mental faculties allow me to stare at scars and remember. (Read a series about ‘scars’ starting here: Scars – Introduction)

Words can brandish seething wounds. Take care the words you let slip from your tongue and type.

“It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.” (Matthew 12 in the Message)

We hobbled away from Santa Cruz and began a new life in the city of Cochabamba. Those words about the interns we deserved stayed in the back of my mind and ate at me. Even years after we had established ourselves and the ministry here I could hear those words.

With a high recommendation from a couple who taught some of our mission school classes, a young man contacted us about coming to work with us in Bolivia. We corresponded by email for a few months. It was decided that the timing wasn’t right.

I thought to myself, “Whew, we must’ve dodged a bullet with that one.” I dreaded getting what we deserved. Those words convinced me we had it coming.

Time passed. The young man got married. Then the email conversation was resurrected, and came back in double force. He and his wife told us that they couldn’t get Bolivia out of their minds. Missions burned in their hearts. I felt their passion in every message.

I scrambled for direction. My dread increased. Our punishment drew nigh.

We contacted a few missionaries with experience with interns. One group sent us all their operational documents and told us we could change the names and info to suit our situation. The framework looked perfect. DaRonn and I tweaked a few things and then presented it to this couple. Many provisions in the plans protected both parties from possible abuses. The structure allowed for frequent and clear conversation to span the full length of the intern-mentor relationship. This security snuffed out some of the flames of fear.

  • Can y’all turn in all the paperwork for the extensive  application process? They did.
  • Can y’all raise the funds to come on the scouting trip? They did.
  • Can y’all serve and learn during a three month period here in Bolivia? They did.

Three months of intensive companionship and cooperation is long enough for both groups to decide if this could work long term. It’s also short enough that both have the freedom to back away if it looks like things are not clicking. The mutual agreement was that they would return for a three year commitment of service as interns after a time of fund raising.

Gore family

They served in Christ Nation Ministries here in Bolivia for a little more than three years. If this couple was sent as a form of punishment for our ministerial crimes during our internship in Santa Cruz then the celestial courts got their sentencing mixed up. Retribution felt like being beat with a feather. I have no complaints about the three years working alongside Melinda and Romon Gore. If they are prophetic hellfire and brimstone falling on our pathetic heads then let it rain!

I now know that they are part of God’s long con of redemption.

During their three years working here every once in a while I wondered if it would all go sour. I constantly assessed and analyzed my interactions with them. I worried that we were being set up for a fiasco of tremendous proportions.

To the last day when we said our bittersweet goodbyes at the airport, along with the dozens of people who had come to love them dearly just as we had, I imagined a fight or a disagreement or some other ugliness. Only hope reigned. Only words of goodwill and kindness were spoken. As they disappeared through the security checkpoint the security of grace and mercy’s complete work extinguished the last smoldering embers of the lie.

With humble gratitude I say with full assurance that the intern-mentor relationship of the Gores and Washingtons demonstrates the unfathomable fullness of God’s grace. To God be all the glory for this precious gift.

Thank you Jesus for redeeming us! Thank you Holy Spirit for never abandoning us! Thank you Heavenly Father for working all things for the good! Thank you God! Thank you God! Thank you God!

Washingtons and Gores 1

Though my brain has the power to rehearse hurts, it could never have devised this beautiful scheme of redemption that spanned a course of years to be accomplished. If you find yourself in a place of fear or dread, I want you to be encouraged. I want you to know that God is not looking for a way to smash you to pieces so that you learn a lesson. God is good. God is great. God is gracious. God is kind. God is long suffering. God is love. Trust His eternal character.

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A Season of Transience

Alejandra and me at the beachVacationing with friends… “hasta luego”

We came back from Chile by bus, my friend, her two boys, and me. The end of my week of vacationing with them started their three weeks of winter break from school. They wanted to be with their family in Bolivia for that time. My friend and I saw each other at church, did a double date with our husbands to eat sushi, and found a time to gab some coffee together. I will see her at church one more time tomorrow then they are going back to Chile. I don’t know the next time I will see her. I will miss her very much.

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DSC02015Making memories… sweet remembrance

Today at the House of Dreams we celebrated a birthday. One of our Dreamers who had been adopted to a couple in Spain a few years ago came back for a visit. He happened to have his birthday during their trip. His sweet mom, with the quick Spanish lisp, brought a cake and goodies to share with the children. I cannot believe he is five now! He has his same happy baby face as when we first knew him as an infant, but now with a strong, chunky body. Such a wonderful story of redemption. What a great joy to be included in his new memories.

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Laura, Denise, me and Beth... way back whenThe revolving door… missionaries come and go

When missionaries leave Bolivia one never quite knows what the relationship will look like after the teary goodbyes at the airport. You try with Skype and other Internet based means to stay in touch, but things change. What a rare treat it was, then, to receive a dear friend in my house this morning. She is back for a brief time after a three year absence. They lived in Bolivia about half a decade. We were so close. Along with a handful of close friends around my table over warm drinks we caught up. It was surreal that she stepped from Texas and was sitting in my home.

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DSC04709Home improvements… changes that work

At our home we have done some decorating and repairs. It’s refreshing being in a more comfortable home. We also increased the chores our kids were doing to help on the upkeep. This increase of responsibility came from the necessity of the three week vacation we gave our maid. The industrious spirit and general morale in our family bumped up a few notches. I like it very much! Improved work ethics was something we really needed around here. I am so glad for this change.

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jayber crow by wendell berryFiction that spills into reality… can we see a theme developing?

Coming of age stories in books and movies endear me to the characters like no other genre. I told DaRonn, my husband, yesterday, “I am at that point in the book that I am not ready to say goodbye to these people yet. I have grown to like them very much and I am not ready for the story to end.” That was four chapters away from the final page. This afternoon I bid farewell to Jayber Crow, the narrator and main character of this autobiographical style fiction novel. Good thing I always have more than one book going at a time.

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Shall this season continue all through our Southern winter? I welcome it’s stay.

I wonder, too, what other changes are occurring that I am not yet aware of.

Have you known seasons of transience in your life? Are you in one now? How’s it going?

 

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Whilst in Chile…

My dearest Bolivian friend, Alejandra, moved to Chile with her husband and their three kids last year. I told her I would visit her. So for my 37th birthday present I made the day long bus ride from Cochabamba to Iquique to spend just over a week with her and her family. I am really having a wonderful time. So glad I have an understanding and supportive husband to allow me to do this. So glad my kids are big enough to handle things around the house in my absence.

- in Chile with Ale -
– in Chile with Ale –

 

Whilst we go to the beach, the mall, the plaza, the docks, the restaurants, and para-sailing (fingers crossed it works out to do this) the online world carries on. A while back I wrote an article for A Life Overseas and it got published today. Check it out if you want to. Oh, and I am posting all myvacation photos and blurbs on facebook, instagram, and twitter if you want to find me in those places. Thanks!

Link to article: “My Kid Can Cuss in Two Languages” In which I say:

It’s only fair to blame Bolivia for this child’s special knack, right? The romantic tongue of this Latin people makes allowances for explicit descriptions and colorful expletives. I should expect complete cultural assimilation from my children, right? Oh that blessed blame game… like those songs that never end, they just go on and on my friend…

My kid can cuss in two languages. Not an ideal bumper sticker. Although, it could be plastered right next to the one about honor roll. My kid is on the honor roll, too. Somehow that balance doesn’t soothe me, though.

http://www.alifeoverseas.com/my-kid-can-cuss-in-two-languages/

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