Vunerable

Slowly I’m beginning to write…but the words I pen leave me feeling vulnerable. I’m not sure I have the courage to post them, to let you into my world. It’s not that I have any dark hidden secrets. Anyone who knows me, knows I share my battles freely. I am honest and open, but it’s easier to speak freely when I can look into your eyes…to see your response and when you can look at me too and see my heart which inspires my words.

Sixteen years, almost two decades we have lived in another country. Our girls know it as home, but to me, it will never be home. I will always be a stranger, outsider, foreigner. One day I came to this realization; Mexico will never be home. I will never understand fully their customs, motives or attitudes towards Americans. I won’t understand why they insist on burning trash and brush in March when the winds are at their height, nor why they sprinkle water on the dirt to keep the dust down, all the while making a muddy mess, or why they think that all Americans are rich. I will never think it’s natural to sweep the street in front of my house or throw my trash down on the sidewalk or pick fruit off it trees that don’t belong to me. I will never understand why starting a children’s home automatically means I’m out to take advantage of the children and makes me a suspect of wrong doing.

Oh there are so many more things that I could tell you …more than I want to tell and more than you want to know. It reminds me of a book by Missionary Amy Carmichael entitled, “Things As They Are”, she shared about the struggles she faced being a missionary in India, how people were more interested in her hair and clothes than they were hearing about Jesus.

I feel that way. So many interested in what they could get from us instead of being interested in WHO they could know because of us. Oh there are some who have genuinely been changed by Christ working through us, but others have taken advantage and abused our good nature and it’s left me emotionally exhausted.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time around us, knows that this calling, this mission has taken its toll. Physically I continue to suffer from chronic pain and fatigue. Emotionally, I’m drained. Even last week my back gave way and I am reminded of my frailty. Fortunately spiritually, I’m stable, stronger than when I began this journey. My roots have grown deep in the midst of adversity. And although I’m restless like a fish out of water, I know this season is necessary. This sabbatical that God has called us to, a time of rest and refreshment is necessary for our wellbeing and that of our family and ministry. But rest does not come easy after years of 24/7 work and crisis management. Ironically, it feels like there is something I’m not doing, something I’m forgetting to do. And we’ll that is sort of the point, isn’t it.

Before coming here, as we prepared for this sabbatical, I read that sabbath rest is not easy. That I would be confronted with thoughts, feelings and attitudes that I don’t necessarily enjoy. (And so it is.)

I am no longer enamored with Mexico or Mexicans. Can I say that? Probably not! But I have, and to take it back would not be true to the much needed process. We have been used and taken advantage of and that allows us to understand a slight bit of what it’s like to partake in the sufferings of Jesus. That’s not a bad thing, but it is also not an easy one.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love my boys! And I do not regret any part of starting Hope House. It was worth every heartache and tear. Knowing those boys have a safe and loving home and the opportunity to know Jesus as savior, It was worth it! I would do it again knowing the adversity that lie ahead, but that doesn’t change the fact that these 16 years have taken its toll on me and I need a little time to recuperate.

So here we are stateside after nearly two decades of living south of the border. It’s a strange feeling, a strange feeling indeed.

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Being Stretched

Seems like God is always stretching us, asking us to do what seems impossible. Today I am sitting in Tennessee, in a clean house. I went to church and then ate brunch at Cracker Barrel. I took an afternoon nap and spent time with my family. It was a picture perfect day and yet I am restless. This move has taken more faith than anything I’ve ever done. (Yes, more faith than even moving to Mexico in the first place!)

You know it is easy to work, to stay busy for God’s kingdom, but learning to rest, now that is a different type of work. “Take a sabbatical”, God said! And here we are, trying to rest and all the while feeling like a locomotive derailed. We have run so fast and hard for so long it’s difficult to know how to rest in God’s presence. I thought I would write, but writing has not come easy. It’s not that I don’t have feelings to process, it’s just that sharing leaves you vulnerable and I’m already emotionally exhausted. I’m not ready to hear a barrage of well intended opinions about what others think we should be doing. Mexico, missions, Hope House, Honduras, living in another country with different customs and language, I am left emotionally spent. Those in aid work call it compassion fatigue; and I know I suffer from it. I’ve seen and experienced vicarious trama. The poverty, the pain, the suffering that exists in the world has taken its toll. Now God encourages us to rest, recuperate, rejuvenate, refresh, relax and be revived. But I don’t know how to do that. And so we begin a new phase of this journey called life and I’m being stretched once again by the hand of the almighty.

Clean Freak


I’ve worked with children the better part of my life, but I never have liked to touch dirty kids. Green snot running down their face mixed with food and dirt. Brown sticky hands from the lollipop they ate a couple hours ago.
I used to carry a giant container of wet wipes and some hand sanitizer with me wherever I went, just to knock down the dirt a little before lovin’ on ‘um. 
Call me crazy, but I have never liked dirt. 
I have a friend who has no trouble scooping up the little rascals, hugging and kissing them. It’s like she can’t see the layer of dirt nor the lice crawling on their heads. But not me. I cringe and wrinkle up my nose. I guess God tried to help me get over that, because my youngest daughter had allergies really bad when she was little. Before she started taking allergy shots, she had green snot running down her face for the better part of 5 years. I’m not saying I don’t love kids, nor love on them. All Im saying is that I just feel the need to clean them up a little bit before I’m ready to snuggle. 
But God is working on me. Recently my daughters were telling a story about one of our mission trips to Honduras. They were talking about me holding all the little street orphans and them being covered in dirt and snot and how I didn’t even notice. So I guess I have gotten a little better over the years. 
One thing for sure, It’s a good thing God doesn’t wait for us to get cleaned up before coming to Him! He loves us and loves on us just the way we are. 
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Our Bittersweet Calling

Working with abused and neglected boys is a bitter sweet calling. There are some boys who are grateful to have been rescued from the hell which they were living in and yet there are far more who are bitter, angry and ungrateful, acting as if they have been snatched from a loving family and home. It is a truth of our work that only those who have experienced will truly understand.

There is a hardness which comes after having suffered abuse or having lived on the streets. I think it comes with self preservation. Even the littlest ones have learned all to well the “tricks of the trade”. They have learned to manipulate with tears as they lie behind your back, or worse yet, lie to your face. Even the most enduring, sweet soul can be caught on camera sneaking money from the office change box or overheard telling someone that you hit them or don’t feed them. My husband has been spit on, bitten, punched, lied to, lied about and taken advantage of more times than I can count. And yet he faithfully works on their behalf, with the hope that they could come to know Christ and breaking this vicious cycle of abuse.

From the time I was little I had a heart for the underprivileged. Growing up, I volunteered at soup kitchens, food banks and homeless shelters. In highschool I led work teams at a local rehab shelter and organized food & clothing drives. I have worked with the deaf and handicapped. I taught special education and excelled at reaching pre-teen boys with behavioral issues. But nothing adequately prepared me for this!

I often say that this work is not for the faint at heart and that you certainly need to be “called” to do this. It is difficult to keep perspective when you live day in and day out with these blemished souls. It is also very humbling to give your life for the welfare of those who rarely appreciate you, who often think you are against them or who will turn on you in an instant.

And yet when all is said and done, I know that these guys have a great opportunity to know Christ as Savior and be set free from the hurts of their past. I know that because we are here, they have loving arms to hold them, a safe place to sleep tonight, clothes to wear, food to eat, the opportunity for an education and medical care. I know that because we are here they have hope for a better future & hope for eternity. And that makes the bittersweet, seem just a little bit sweeter.

My Friend Maria 3

Maria (Part 3)
By the time we met the doctor on Friday morning I was exhausted! It had been a long week and instead of winding down, it appeared to be gearing up for even more activity. We left his office and went straight to see Maria’s daughter. She was at work and listened intently as I explained Maria’s diagnosis. Tears rolled down her face when she heard about the urgency of Maria’s condition and the unfortunate fact that there was only one option….Somehow, miraculously, we needed to get Maria admitted to the Civil Hospital located more than an hour away.

After a week of burning the candle at both ends, I was tired. I knew I couldn’t make the drive to Guadalajara. Fortunately a friend agreed to drive us. It had been many years since I had been to the Civil Hospital and even then I had never been inside. I couldn’t quite remember how to get there and had no idea where the Emergency room was located. Once we found the massive building which takes up an entire city block, we had to make two full circles around it before locating the emergency room entrance. Even then, we entered through the back door and had to be escorted by an armed guard through the “Authorized Personnel Only” zone before we arrived in the waiting room. When we stepped inside, I looked around. It reminded me of a sight out of a natural disaster movie. There were people everywhere. An elderly woman sat on a stool in the middle of the waiting area. She was moaning and walling in pain. What appeared to be a homeless man slept a dead sleep on the floor. He was lying on a pallet against the far wall. Another man without any legs slept stretched across some chairs in the opposite corner. The room was covered with a shroud of sickness and was pungent with the stench of body odor and urine. As I looked around, I couldn’t believe that this was the best option available for my friend.

After finding a seat for Maria, I walked to the counter to register her. The polite woman behind the glass informed me that Maria would need to be checked by the nurse and approved for registration before we could even put her name on the list. Heeding her instructions, I returned to stand by Maria. I had a feeling we were in for a long afternoon/evening. When the nurse emerged, I quickly flagged for her attention. I knew it essential to get the admittance process started and that would require us to convince the nurse of Maria’s need. I silently called on God for favor and help and then with a sigh of relief said a prayer of gratitude when the nurse directed me to the registration window.

Only one family member is allowed to accompany the sick in the Emergency Room. Since we entered through the back door we managed to by-passed the two sets of officers who carefully interrogated all who enter. But during the registration process, I had to come clean that I was actually not a family member. I was a bit concerned that I would be asked to leave, but God showed mercy for both Maria and me and I was allowed to stay with her. Finally step one was complete.

While waiting to jump through be next hoop, the room had become even more crowded. There was a line forming outside the door with people waiting to just step foot in the room. Suddenly, the security guard came in and announced that in order to make room for the sick, all accompanying family members would have to wait outside. I thought our luck had run out. Fortunately, I have lived in Mexico long enough to understand the phrase “to see if the gum sticks”. (Sometimes rules and announcements aren’t reinforced here like they would be in the states. They are rather ideas or suggestions which are given to see if anyone will respond.) I decided to lay low and watch before standing up to leave. It didn’t take long before the officer returned outside and the threat of being separated from Maria dissipated.

When the nurse emerged and asked whose vitals still needed to be checked, I heartedly waved my hand and pointed to Maria. She motioned for us to enter the small examination room which also served as a secret passageway to the ER. It was our moment to shine! If we didn’t pass this interview we would be returning home tonight and looking for another surgical option for Maria. The nurse had to believe that Maria really was in desperate need.

Earlier that afternoon as we drove to the hospital, I tried to convey to Maria the urgency of being admitted into the ER. I suggested to her that during this very interview would be an excellent time to shed a few tears. After all the tears I had watched Maria shed over the last week, I suspected that this wouldn’t be very difficult. To my surprise, Maria assured me that she would be strong and not cry. In vain, I tried again to explain that indeed this would be THE appropriate moment for tears…. She never quite understood what I was telling her! True to her word, Maria answered all the nurse’s questions just as calm and unmoved as I had ever seen her. Clearly it would be God’s grace that admitted Maria to the hospital, for in comparison to many others in the waiting room, Maria certainly did not look like the most desperate nor sickest person in the room. In fact, many others who looker more sick than Maria had already been returned to the waiting room without being given the opportunity to be examined by the doctor.

When the nurse asked me if Maria had any specific condition which we were already aware of, I thought I saw a flicker of hope at the end of the tunnel.

Change

Change is never easy, even when we know that it is necessary. We are creatures of habit, often unwilling to veer from our routine, even if it results in our detriment. Alas crisis, proves faithful to bring about the decision which we are otherwise unwilling to make. The end state often better then the current routine in which we are living. Oh change, why do we fear you so?

Typical Days

Many times people ask me what a typical day looks like as missionaries in Mexico. That question is always difficult to answer since each day is full and every week is different. So I thought by sharing a bit of a letter I wrote I would attempt to provide a glimpse into our daily lives.

“The last two weeks all the girls have been out of school for Easter Vacation. The first week we hosted an outreach team and this week we have been doing random things, so both weeks have been mostly a blur. We had a team of 22 from a private school in California come & host a sports camp for the boys and also did several work projects at Hope House. Karlee and I cooked lunch and dinner for 30 people every day while they were here. The girls took turns helping in the kitchen. Rodney was in charge of the work projects, driving the van & emergencies, as well as his normal duties at Hope House. Over the years recovering from such busy weeks is not as easy as it used to be when we were younger.

This week each day has been different. Monday all the girls joined us at Monday Market. We go there each week to sell items from the Carpentry workshop at Hope House. We began attending this ex-patriot market in December of last year to try to help Hope House a little financially and also for some positive community public relations. Things there are really slow now that many of the Americans and Canadians have returned north for the summer. We haven’t sold any wood products in the last few weeks, but each week we are able to speak with someone on behalf of Hole House so I continue going. I am learning how to sell, which is not a skill that I possess, so I find I am being stretched beyond my comfort zone. Tuesday I ran errands, took all the bikes to be repaired and dropped off some pants at the seamstress, after that I had a meeting at Hope House which lasted several hours. Wednesday we had a family day. You would think with the girls being out of school we would have more time as a family, however sadly it was the first day we had together just to enjoy each-other since Easter break began. Thursday we spent 5 hours at the hair salon! (Can you imagine!) Haircuts for six in a culture where “time is something you fill” instead of where “time is “money”, becomes an all day event. Tomorrow we have an all day fundraiser at the lakefront for Hope House. Sunday is church and then Monday school begins again and it will be back to “work”. 😉

As I look ahead to next week, I pull out my “todo” list. I am looking at a ton of projects that are all necessary. It is filled with activities and projects which don’t tend to make me feel like I’ve accomplished anything but will consume an exorbitant amount of time.
1) Make an appointment with US Consulate to renew 2 passports. Prepare documents & photos for appointment.
2) Make appointment with Mexican immigration to complete phase 2 of our US born girls residential visas. This will include a trip to the photographer for visa photos and then later the girls being fingerprinted at immigration. Both photographs and fingerprints will then be sent to Mexico City where the visas are processed and about 6 weeks later we should have to schedule an appointment to return to immigration to pick up the new visas.
3) Make appointment with lawyer to discuss progress on corrections being made to the two birth certificates of the girls who were born in Mexico. This has been a 7 year long process with still no end in sight. 😁
4) Follow up on status of van legalization so that our 15 passenger van can have Mexican license plates.
5) Schedule appointments for Rodney & I to obtain our Mexican Drivers License.
6) Finish accounting for outreach team expenses and prepare report.
7) Write “thank-you” cards.
8) Visit friend who has been hospitalized for the last week and a half.
9) Begin writing Shepherd’s Heart’s monthly statement
10) Assist Rodney in completing 501(c)(3) paperwork.
11) Prepare schedule for next outreach team.
Not to mention Cook, clean house, wash laundry, water garden, grocery shop, oh & rest.

After summarizing 3 weeks of our activities the only conclusion I can come to is that there are no typical days as a missionary.