A Year in Review

We woke up on July 3 and remarked "exactly one year ago today we got here." I think back to that morning, and can't believe all that has happened in 365 days. The day we arrived, none of our bags came, Damari threw up in the car on the way into the city, and my eyes were puffy from crying sporadically throughout the night, but God had been faithful. In spite of the chaos and the lump in my throat, I felt peace. It was a deep, deep peace that comes only when we are obeying the Lord's will for our lives.

Our teammates had come before us and made all of the beds, left us a basket of food, and made sure the house was clean. When they learned that our bags didn't make it, they brought over a box of toys that afternoon. Our kids had their first play date that afternoon in our new living room. We felt welcomed immediately.

The days that followed were a blur. I went grocery shopping for the first time in this foreign country with no contacts or glasses (I had foolishly put them all in our packed luggage, thinking 'I'll pull them out as soon as we get there'). I stood about 3 inches away from the shelves, squinting at all the labels in Spanish, trying to determine which brands were most cost effective, and what some of the strange food even was.

We went everywhere as a family. We set up our home together, made meals together, ate together, explored our city together. God used our first month in this country as a healing time for our little family of four- the months before our departure were so chaotic and busy with goodbyes that we hadn't really connected as just the four of us in a while. Add onto that the emotional intensity of moving so far away, and we needed some intentional, uninterrupted time together. As I look back at last summer, I am so incredibly thankful for that quiet, peaceful first month- it bonded our family together and prepared us to do ministry together here. That tone that we set in the first month has lasted, and I couldn't be more thankful for that.

As the weeks turned into a month, and then into two, we settled into a routine here. At first, the kids and I (maybe especially me) cried spontaneously and without warning. It was like reliving the 6-week postpartum period all over again. The first holiday that we missed was my dad's birthday, and I remember thinking that my heart was going to fall out of my chest when I called him on FaceTime to wish him a happy birthday. As time has gone on, it has gotten a bit easier to miss holidays with people we love, but my heart always aches when we miss major events and milestones at home. It reminds me to look forward in anticipation to Heaven, when goodbyes are no longer part of what we deal with.

The school year started, and with that, so did our ministry responsibilities. The year has not been without it's challenges in ministry, but we have been so unbelievably humbled to be part of God's larger plan for Ecuador. Aaron is so gifted in building relationships and creating unity, and God used that gift to help us transition into being part of the Youth World team. Aaron is also able to impact youth in such a unique way, and his influence on the young people at Casa Gabriel, Alliance, Quito Quest, and Living & Learning affirms my belief that we have been called to do ministry here. For me, learning to mix teaching with deliberate ministry has been both amazing and stretching. Learning to integrate my faith into my lessons has brought me to my knees many times, but I am astounded at the depth of the young people I get to work with every day. Their questions are raw and honest, and they are earnestly seeking to learn what it means to follow Jesus. It's an honor to walk beside them as they do that. Another joy I have is opening our home to our teammates. I love that our home offers a safe place for our team to come- they come for meals, for coffee, to play with our kids, and most importantly, to get filled up.

Aside from our ministry responsibilities, God has called us each of us to major growth this year. I'll let my family recount their own growth, as I think it's important we all share our own stories. All I can do is share my own. For our entire family, being part of community has always been a priority for us. But coming here, community takes on a whole new meaning. For those of you who know me well, you know that being a perfectionist and a people-pleaser are ingrained in nearly every fiber of my being. Transitioning to a place where my co-workers are also my kids' teachers, where my teammates are also my friends, and where adopted aunts/uncles/grandmas/grandpas/nieces/nephews come from every facet of life, caused my perfectionist tendencies to flare in ways I hadn't experienced before. Very early on, the Lord asked me if I would be willing to walk this road of healing with Him. He challenged the core of my identity, and asked me if I would be willing to place my entire identity in being His daughter.

I whole-heartedly said yes, and He began his work. He very systematically went through every area of my life, from my role as a teacher, to my role with the Youth World team, even to my role as a wife and mother. Each time, he asked me, "are you willing to give this up to me? Are you willing to allow the chaos, and imperfection in this area, to stand independently of your identity and value?" It has not been an easy process, and I am in no way "done" with this process- I think I will fight perfectionist tendencies for my whole life. But the Lord has brought me so far in just one year, and he continues to peel the complex layers with me in such a loving and gentle way. I'm not sure that I can say I'm "excited" for the next stage in this growth process, as that word leaves out the difficulty and the challenge that comes when God prunes me. But I can say that I am ready, and that I am beyond grateful that I have a God who takes such personal interest in my faith walk. And I absolutely can say that I am excited to continue growing into a woman who shows Jesus more clearly. 

When I think back to last July and reflect on all that the Lord has done in us and through us, I am amazed. Our kids have flourished, though saying goodbye to visitors and learning to live away from family has been a huge challenge for them. Aaron and I feel so affirmed that in our obedience, God is using our strengths and giftings here.  It has been quite a year, but we are thriving. There's no better place to be!

 

Punching the Clock

Several weeks ago, Aaron and I were headed out to grab a bite for dinner, and as we pulled up to a stop light, two little boys caught our attention as they stepped in front of the stopped cars and started to perform their routine. Their show included the older boy, who looked to be about 7, doing a handstand, and the younger boy, who we think was about 4, doing a toddler-version of a cartwheel. I scanned the intersection, looking for a parent or older sibling, but there was none to be found. Aaron handed me a few dollars, and I rolled my window down. The older brother came quickly and took the money, shouting "gracias" as he ran off. The younger boy approached me too, eagerly holding his hands up. His right cheek and chin were covered in dry, streaked dirt, and he hollered excitedly as I handed him another coin. They ran to the side of the street and huddled together, counting their spoils. Through Aaron's window, we heard the older brother say, "faltamos un dolar, y ya podemos ir a la casa" ("we just need one more dollar, and we can go home"). Aaron quickly grabbed another dollar and yelled again to the brother. When he put the coin in the boy's hand, he shouted joyfully to his brother to grab his backpack. The little boy looked confused for a moment, then jumped up and down shouting "yah! We can go home!" as he pumped his fist in the air. Both boys grabbed their backpacks, threw them over their shoulders, and took off running through the grid-locked traffic, presumably towards home. As they were leaving, Aaron asked them how much money they had to get in order to "punch the clock" and go home- the older brother answered, "five dollars." And with that, they were off.

We both thought a lot about those boys that night, about how our two kids came home after school, ate a snack, played, had dinner, did the bedtime routine, and were tucked soundly into their beds by 7:30pm. I don't say this to try to emphasize that our way of raising our kids is better, and that the parents of those boys are somehow negligent. Although, to be honest, that's my first response, to assume that those boys are not being cared for because they have to fend, at least in part, for themselves. But in all reality, I have no way of knowing what happens to those boys once they go home. I think I'm right to assume that finances are hard for that family, or else the boys wouldn't be required to "work." But maybe once they leave, they meet up with their parents, purchase a meal with the money they've all made, go home together, and have meaningful family time before they go to bed under a pile of warm blankets. Or, maybe they deliver the money to the parents, eat a meager meal, and sleep with no blankets. Or maybe there's a third or fourth or fifth option that I can't even fathom. I will never know unless the Lord gives me a chance to walk alongside them and actually engage them outside of my one encounter with them.

My interaction with those boys reminded me to stay focused on several things: in every opportunity, I can show someone the love of Jesus. Us supporting those boys and helping them go home gave them cause to celebrate and smile. That's what I want to be about, being an instrument that brings joy to others. I was also reminded that I need to be willing to engage people deeply, to not make assumptions based on one interaction or observation. The way people "punch the clock," for example, is not an indication of every facet of their lives.

I have thought of those boys often, and wonder what their lives are like. I hope I get to see them again, and interact with them. More than anything, I hope that they know Jesus. I also hope that they are safe, and well cared for. I hope that the joy we saw on their faces as they raced for home is an indication of the fulfillment and peace that they might feel. Most likely I will never know, but I'm grateful for having had the chance to interact with them, however briefly.

Girls Retreat Video

A huge THANK YOU to my friend Janelle Groeneweg, who made this video after the retreat. Just click on the blog title above ("Girls Retreat Video") to view it.

We had an incredible time at the retreat. The retreat was held at El Refugio, one of the other Youth World ministries- it is such a joy to plan events for the different ministries to overlap with each other!

It was an action- packed weekend, but the girls had a BLAST bonding with one another, competing in games, doing the ropes course, and participating in "Cake Wars." But... even more importantly, we spoke about our identity in Christ, and the girls got to contemplate where they place their identity, as well as bond with teachers during campfires, read encouraging notes from home, and participate in small group discussions. I spoke the first night (Friday night) to start the weekend, and really loved the opportunity to share God's heart for them, and also to realize how different situations in my past can now be used for God's glory!

Both nights, we had a campfire, and those times were precious! The second night, the girls wanted to know our dating, marriage, kids, etc. stories, so each of the teachers got to share a bit about how God had worked in their lives in those relationships. For many of the girls, those talks were the highlight of the weekend. I think it was for me, too.

We packed in a lot during our 48-hours, but the girls came home encouraged, energized, and with new friendships. We are now in the process of following up with them and giving them opportunities to get involved in mentorship/discipleship. Pray that spiritual growth continues to happen long after the retreat is over!