Friday, January 6, 2017

A Month's Musings.....Damaged Goods

I've been home a month now, and the emotions are many. I think of the Foundation every single day, and it’s hard being so far away from so many you care for, especially since you were one of few that had the opportunity to do so. 

I was answering some “end of the year reflection questions” and one of them asked how I was different between this year and last.  My first response to that question is that my heart is more damaged and yet more full.  You see, these kiddos keep me up at night.  I was given the opportunity to be there for them in the aftermath of horrible circumstances.  Their lives are tough, and their stories are devastating.  Just thinking about their situations and wondering what is going to happen to them is enough to send me into a full on worry sesh, and I can’t do anything to help them. So, yes, my heart has been damaged more this past year.  I’ve invested time and energy into the lives of hurting and broken kiddos, and I didn’t come out unaffected. 

And yet, somehow, my heart feels so much more full than it did at the beginning of last year.  Loving is hard.  It just is.  I have videos of the kids acting out.  I remember the times they tried to hurt me and the times that they succeeded.  But those aren’t the things that pop into my head daily now that I am back home.  What I remember without even trying to is the game of “Gotcha” that one my favorites (yes, I had favorites.  Sorry.) and I made up.  I wonder to myself almost daily how my girls that are pregnant are doing and feeling.  I worry how “the 7” are going to make it through another devastation together, or whether “together” is even possible or not.  This stuff probably doesn’t make much sense to you, but it is everything to me. 

I guess that what I am trying to say is that regardless of how much it hurt, these kiddos changed me for the better.  They taught me things…..forced me to see more of my weaknesses and more of His greatness.  They broke my heart, and yet filled it up with more love than I had before.  I’m a passionate person, and they gave me more to be passionate about…..them.  I will fight for these kids; they are just worth it.  I’d get lice for them again, regardless of how gross and obnoxious it is.  I’d continue to take the biting, fighting, spitting, and disrespect over and over, although I prefer when we get along more.  I’d take the weird little sicknesses that came and went so often while being there…..the mango allergy reactions, sores in the mouth, stomach issues, fevers, sinus stuff.  And even knowing now how much it hurts to be home and care this much and yet not be able to show them, I would go and do it again. 

Being home has been good, but it is also hard.  All I can do for the kiddos now is pray for them, but I know that my Father has it all under control.  I am trying my best to give them over to Him and smile at all the good times we had together.  Worrying about them doesn’t do any good, and His ways are so much greater than anything I could come up with anyway.  My God is so good, and His faithful love has never left me nor them. 

I cherish the memories I made with these kids.  It wasn’t easy, and to be honest, there were moments that I hated it.  It also sucks to think that I was just a fleeting stranger in their lives for these 3 months.  I hate being just another person to come and go, but they have taught me SO much, and I will continue to pray for them because of this.  While my presence has not changed their lives, it has tremendously altered mine.  I have been given a snippet of what God must feel for us.  It was only 3 months, and they won’t remember me in a year, but they will stick with me for a lifetime.  I would do it again without question.  I am so thankful for this love. 

I ask you to continue to pray for these kids and those caring for them currently.  I don’t have the details on what is going on now, but I do know that tough times are not over for the kids nor the Foundation itself.  Pray for the volunteers, that there would be joy.  Pray for the staff, that there would be unity.  For the kids, that there would be peace.  And for the future families that will be taking these kids in, that there would be love. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Oh My Happys

I have less than one month left in this beautiful place, and my heart isn’t quite ready to accept that.  So instead of bemoaning the fact and thinking sad thoughts, I am going to surprise everyone and write about the happy things.  And I am really excited about it. 

My time here has been really hard.  I have seen things I wish I hadn’t and have been challenged in ways I didn’t even know I could be.  But at the same time, I have had a blast.  I LOVE the kiddos here……I LOVE THEM.  Each day, I add more memories with them, and their little hands grab tighter and tighter around my heart.  I couldn’t be more grateful for the experience.  The things I am learning and the love I am finding is worth all the hardships. 

Kids are hard, but kids are also fun.  Their giggles are my favorite noise.  One day, Briana and I swung the middle aged boys (7-10 year olds) by their arms and legs onto the bed, and I had the biggest smile due to their genuine joy and giggles.  It was so innocent and pure, and I felt that for a second, all the crap in their life was forgotten.  Not much could bring me more joy than this. 

I love my daily hugs.  Sometimes I have to force them to happen in the beginning.  I do things like block them in the room or chase them around the compound until they give me a hug (which now that I see it written sounds a bit like harassment, but I promise it’s not :]), but I think that is half the fun for them sometimes.  The best is when the hugs come out of nowhere.  Sometimes I am just sitting on the steps talking to the older kids when a little munchkin just grabs me around the neck, leans over and kisses my cheek. 

Some days you get to watch a kid who is normally getting into trouble use parts from the three bikes he owns to make two completely functional; it is on these days that you just sit back and marvel at their creativity and give as many high 5s as you can.  Some days you get to watch a 7 year-old girl crash and giggle her way through learning to ride one of said bikes, after she begged you to help her learn; these days you take a lot of videos and do a lot of cheering.  Some days you have a kid who fears the dark ask you to sing him to sleep; it is on these days that you do an inner happy dance, pray with him, and do just what he asked….sing.  Some days you get to be the one who comforts one of the littles while he can’t sleep because he is sick; these days, you pray for him to have a mother soon and hug/rock his cute self until all he can do is sleep. 
And some days you (miraculously) help calm the 4 middle aged boys during “rest time” and witness them all being ASLEEP for some of it; it is on these days that you take pictures then leave the room, brag to all the tias, and then go out for cake to celebrate (we find lots of reasons to do this :]). 

It’s listening to music and making bracelets.  It’s dancing and hair braids (by the talented Briana).  It’s playing soccer, freeze tag, or hide-and-seekIt’s playing “zombies” and reading stories and praising their art work and showing them pictures.  It’s folding laundry and cheering for them during soccer practice.  .  And sometimes, it’s just talking and laughing together. 

Maybe you guys don’t care about all these vague memories, but I can’t tell you how light my soul feels right now recounting all these special moments.  And with all the darkness we have battled, I think it is good for you guys to know that there is also so much light.  There is laughter amidst the tears, tickles among the biting, and “I love you”s within the “SUELTAME!”s (LET ME GO!). 

So please, hear me when I say that I truly do love my time here.  I often share about the hard parts and all that I am being taught through them.  But I am also enjoying myself and learning from fun things too.  Through my good and bad days, God loves me the same.  I want to do that for these kids as well.  I’d do just about anything for them, and I hope that they believe that.  But more important, I hope that they know and believe that there is One that did do the hardest/worst/best thing for them……and that they have Hope because of it. 

Continue to fight for these kids with me.  Pray that they would know Jesus and truly feel His love.  And while you pray for them, say a pray for the tias and all the staff that puts in so much time and effort into their lives.  It’s not easy, and some days require blood, sweat, and tears (literally),  but it is so worth it.  I am so thankful for all that they do. 

These last few weeks are sure to go by very quickly.  I already feel myself trying to put up walls to ease the pain of leaving.  Pray that I continue to be open with the beautiful people surrounding me.  I want to live where my feet are, and do it well.   I want to trust the Father with my heart and future.
Thanks for lifting us up, friends.  We need you.  And I love you. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Danger of Normal

It officially feels normal here.  I don’t know when this happened, but life does feel oh-so regular now, and it’s kind of nice.  I feel like I know what I am doing here for the most part, and we’ve had a more even mix of good, hard, fun, and bad days. 

But now, I am afraid that the normalness of it all is desensitizing me.  And this can’t happen.  It is one of my biggest dangers/fears of being here. 

I’ve been physically fought against, bitten, cussed out, spit on, and completed disregarded by these kids.  I will admit, they have hurt my feelings from time to time, and some days I have been moved to tears.  Humans hurt one another, and love is hard to find in these times.  While I don’t use the specific weapons they wield, I do have methods of hurting those around me (just ask my family… :]) .  I don’t always put these weapons to use, but I will confess that I have wanted to fight back with more than one kid while being here. 

I have seen the spiritual battle in ways that I never have before.  I am remembering more and more in these hard moments that the kids are not the enemy.  I can’t fight them, their flesh and blood, and successfully show them a better way.  I am reminded that my job is not only to show them a better way, but to actually show them the Best Way. 

My fight is not with them but with the spiritual forces that manipulate them with lies.  I am learning that the only way to defeat the king of lies is to flood his spaces with Truth and Love.  And how am I able to share these essential things if I don’t first fill myself with them? 

It is hard to admit that I have worked shifts feelings completely empty of Love and Truth, but it is true.  I was really struggling with spending my down time in the Word and filling myself with His Truths and Love for me and all of us.  I was tired and spent and sad and mad (which is a big reason that I have not had words to share in a blog post for the past couple of weeks).

But God is faithful through it all.  He gently reminds me that I am no different than these kids.  I screw up, sin, hurt others, believe lies, and fail.  But He died for this muddled soul……He knew that we would be messy, and He chose us anyway!  He loves, pursues, and fights for us.  He not only cares about our hurts and disappointments, but He feels them too and offers to carry them for us!  He is always patient, faithful and true, and no matter what we do or what Satan tries to accomplish, He never changes.  He is perfect Love. 

Not only does He show me that I need His grace, but He has also been giving me His eyes for these kids.  They’ve been through hell.  I don’t usually use such strong language, but it’s true.  These kids have been through more than anyone should, and while it doesn’t excuse their behavior at times, it does help to explain it.  But I was becoming desensitized to it all!  And I just can’t do it anymore. 

Desensitizing has been a form of subconscious defense on my part.  If I don’t care as much, if I make their stories and actions “normal”, then I don’t get hurt as much.  It has been said, and I have found it to be true, that the opposite of love is not hate, but rather apathy.  Hate is at least a strong feeling towards something, but apathy is the lack of any feeling or care at all.  And not only is it ineffective for my time here (and life in general, really), but it is actually harmful. 

I want to love well.  I want to make a difference.  I want to show Jesus. And all of this is impossible if I become desensitized to the hurts of these kids and to the things that they do through their hurt.  I can’t do it anymore.  I want to feel things fully, even if that means getting hurt worse.  I’ll take it, if it means that I loved to the best of my ability. 

God has not only been humbling me in showing me that I am no different than these kids in their issues, but He has also been showing me that they are filled with beauty, gifts, talents, and value.  And how are they to believe this themselves, being all that they’ve been through, if I can’t help them see it.  It takes lots and lots of prayer and patience and more prayer, but it is worth it. 

The sum up: God has been really humbling me lately.  I have crud to work on too, and I am here to show Him to these kids.  I can’t show them what I don’t have.  I need more and more of Him daily. 
This post wasn’t fun to write, but I want to give you all a real picture of life here.  Unfortunately, I am a much more natural pessimist with life, but I plan to share some of the great stuff with you guys too, next time.  Thanks for sticking with me, encouraging me, praying for me and the others, kids and staff alike, and just loving me.  I know my ramblings get long, but thanks for allowing me the privilege of processing.  (Shoutout to Jewel for reminding me that writing is indeed a gift and therapy :])

Until next time, friends.  Keep loving hard and well. 

Fun facts:
-        Reading stories in Spanish to kids is hard, but so fun when they actually get into it also. 
-        The new “Black” moccacino  Magnum icecream bars are the BOMB.
-        Mango peelings hurt my lips and make them puff up mucho. 
-        The other volunteers are AWESOME and have been such a blessing in my life, even if we don’t get to see each other that much.  I cherish them and our 5 minute chats.  Shoutout to Briana, who is my much better half here. 
-        Avocado milkshakes exist, and the world is a better place with them. (yes, I realize I eat a lot here.  It’s one of the happys in my life :])

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Until it Hurts...

"I have found the PARADOX-- That if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love." --Mother Teresa

This, friends, is what I am learning. 

Three weeks. I have been in Ecuador now for almost 3 weeks, and time is just flying by. Some days are fun. Some days are hard. But every day I see a little bit more of God and His love for us.

Being here isn't easy. It's much harder than I expected, but for reasons I never really considered, as my first post since being here shared <Rad Dad>.  These kids have been through horrific tragedies already in their young lives. I expected them to love me and beg for my attention to play with them. Some moments, this happens, and that is fun. But most of the time, my life is not that pretty here. Most days are spent trying to figure out new/effective ways to help the kids do their homework and chores, stop fighting each other, play fair, and just listen. Most days, I feel like I have made absolutely no impact in these kids' lives.  Some days, I feel like a complete failure.  But then, there are these rare moments when I see a sliver of the Kingdom being won.  And these moments are enough. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I love it here.  I truly enjoy being at the Foundation and working there, but by the end of the day, I am tired.  One of the older girls actually asked me if I get tired of being there, and I told her that I get tired, but I am not tired of being there.  I told her that I didn’t have to be there, but rather I choose to be there because I want to get to know them more.  I just pray that she and the others truly feel that when I interact with them. 

Two of the last three nights that I have worked have been pretty crazy.  I don’t want to go into the details, but I have never seen some of what went down ever in my life.  It terrified me and also broke my heart.  These kids live with the lie that there is no hope.  They don’t experience much peace, and they desperately need it!  When there is no peace, there is chaos.  I was reminded that I am here, in this moment, this time in their lives, to stand in the gap and declare victory in their lives.  To pray for peace to permeate their hearts.  To claim them for the Kingdom of God.  To love them regardless of their issues.  To fight for them. 

This isn’t easy.  I’ve prayed over some of the kids in ways that I (shamefully) never have before.  In their moments of pain, shame, anger, and hurt, I have been given the privilege of being there.  I’ve held teenagers in my arms who are sobbing, their tears and snot all over my arm.  I’ve sat beside them as they cry and yell as sorrow tried to overtake them.  I’ve come to realize and see with my own eyes just how real this spiritual battle is. 

This isn’t being written to show how great of a person I am.  In contrast, I have come to realize just how broken I am.  I often feel helpless, but that is also a lie.  Truth is that my God is good all the time…..He just is.  Truth is that I have Light when darkness is trying to overtake it all.  Truth is that He alone gives me the strength to continue to fight for these kids.  Truth is that He has already won. 

I ask those who are reading this to stand with me.  The devil is trying his hardest to kill their spirits and fill them with the lies that they are worthless and unloved and not worth it.  Some days, they believe them.  Pray for protection for their minds and hearts against his stupid schemes.  Pray that we would be able to show them just how worth it they are.  Pray that Jesus would be proclaimed in their lives each day.  Pray for PEACE.  Pray for JOY.  Pray for VICTORY.

Thank you for all the prayers you have already offered up on our behalf.  Don’t grow weary in them!  I know I speak for all the volunteers and staff when I say that we NEED your prayers.  These kids NEED your prayers.  They are making a difference.  God has already brought us to some of your minds when we needed your defenses the most.  The battle is real, and your prayers are the flaming arrows that are lighting up this place and fighting off the enemy’s army and attacks.  We thank you for fighting for us when all we feel we can do is hold up our Shield.  Love you. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Beach Bums

Sometimes, God brings the most unexpected people into your life.  Yesterday He did just that.  His creativity in teaching me things never ceases to amaze me. 

The story starts like this.  Briana and I were scheduled to work at 3, so we decided to spend some much needed time of just resting on the beach together.  We quickly found out just how intense the sun is here in Manta.  It was HOT.  Briana almost immediately headed down to the water (which was a little walk from where we parked ourselves since the tide goes out so far), and I stayed and watched our stuff.  There weren’t that many people out at 11:30, but in the distance we could see a small group of guys.  Pretty soon after Briana started for the water, one of the guys from said group started walking my way.  “Oh brother” and “Please walk past” were all I could think.  My wish was not granted. 

Gabriel, as I soon learned, greeted me and asked if he could sit near me or if I would prefer that he not (in Spanish).  I told him I would prefer that he not stay, to which he responded gracefully, but then proceeded to tell me that he wanted to practice his English.  Something in me felt so rude to deny him this, so I reluctantly told him I could practice with him for a little, as I desperately kept looking out to where Briana was in hopes of seeing her return.  His English was actually quite good, and pretty soon Briana came back.  He asked what we were doing in Manta, to which we were very vague in replying.  I did NOT trust this guy at all, but I was trying not to be a typical rude American either. 

After 5 minutes or so, Gabriel told us he would give us our space and returned to his moronic (when you wave, whistle, and yell “hello” to foreigners, you most definitely deserve the title moronic) group of guys.  I soon got restless, as my pale self can’t take the intensity the sun offers for very long, and so we walked down the beach a little ways to seek out shade.  After finding some that also offered the entertainment of watching crabs scurry to and fro, we pulled out our PBnJs and enjoyed the breeze and sound of the ocean. 

Wouldn’t you know, a little while later, Gabriel came walking past us again.  I don’t know if he saw us the first time he went by or not.  But needless to say, Bri and I weren’t trying to make eye contact.  A bit later, he walked past again, going in the opposite direction.  This time he definitely did notice us, much to our dismay, but he walked on by anyway.  We were very grateful, and started making plans to leave and go get some cheap milkshakes down the road before heading to work.  About 20 minutes before we were going to leave, who do we see returning?  You guessed it. 

I was annoyed and asked God to direct his steps into the ocean and away from us.  Briana was a little more tactful and just asked God to send him right by us again.  But God knew what he was doing and actually had Gabriel stop and talk to us again.  He asked us if we would watch his shoes while he went swimming, but I (happily) told him that we were planning on leaving in 5 minutes as we had stuff to do that afternoon.  He told us that wouldn’t be long enough for him to swim, but then proceeded to just stand beside us looking out at the ocean.  I kept giving Bri and look that said, “This is weird.  Why isn’t he moving.” And she kept giving me a look that said, “What should we do?” 

We ignored him for a little, but finally I couldn’t take the awkwardness anymore and asked him where his friends were.  He told us that they were really just acquaintances and that they went to go surfing.  I KNEW that God really wanted me to ask him if he knew Jesus, but I was so against it.  I just wanted to go get my milkshake with Briana and get as far away from this random guy as we could.  But the feeling wouldn’t leave me.  Finally, after glancing at the time and deciding we could spend 10 minutes talking to him, I asked him.  He gave me a funny look and said yes, but he wanted to know why I asked.  I just told him I was curious.  He told us that he was Catholic and that he believed that Jesus came to save us.  And pretty soon, we were in this big old discussion of good people and bad things that happen.  He just didn’t understand why the world wasn’t fair and just.  We kept responding in English and he kept talking in Spanish.  It was kind of awesome.  After a while, I knew that milkshakes were definitely out of the question, and thought that I should probably put more sunscreen on, as this conversation was not ending. 

I won’t go into all that was said, but he was very open with us and we with him.  I even told him that I hadn’t wanted to talk to him!  He told us normally people don’t ask these sort of questions nor is he so open to sharing his personal views so quickly with strangers.  He really thought about the answers and questions he was giving us, and at the end he said that this conversation was his answer from God that he hadn’t been receiving from so long.  He told us he was so thankful for us, and we all promised to pray for each other. 

God is the COOLEST.  Ever.  Gabriel still has a lot of good questions, and we didn’t have the answers to them all, but we encouraged him to keep asking.  Just don’t stop asking!  God will answer.  And we reiterated that God has already won the war.  Bad stuff happens, yes.  But God already won!  We just have to keep fighting and making the world a little brighter where it seems dark. 

I’m just in awe of how God did the complete opposite of what we wanted and how it ended up being the perfect way to spend our last HOUR at the beach.  Quite humbling to say the least.  I told Bri that even God knew that we didn’t need those milkshakes :]

In thinking back, I just find it so sad that these conversations that really matter don’t happen more.  Why is it that I felt I needed to write a blog about this “isolated” event.  Why isn’t this the norm?  Maybe it is for some of you, and that’s great!  But I just want to remind myself and anyone else who feels the same that having Jesus in my life is the greatest strength I have.  Why would we not want to tell others about it and allow them to experience the same friendship?
Please pray for Gabriel if you think about it.  Pray that God continues to send people into his life to ask him hard questions and give him more information. 

An update on the #TiaLife will be coming soon.  Thanks for all your prayers!  We crave them here!  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Rad Dad

It seems I have found myself off on another adventure again.  I am in awe of how much Jesus loves each of us and gives us the best gifts if we just let Him.  He knows me perfectly. 

I’ve only been here for 6 days, and already I am realizing just how hard it is going to be to leave.  Many of you (assuming anyone is reading this) know that I am in Manta, Ecuador serving at the Shekinah Foundation.  I have been confused as to what this place really is, but from what I have gathered and hopefully present correctly is that it is a home for Social Services, mas o menos.  Kids who are at-risk, abused, or otherwise unable to live safely at home can find love here at the Foundation which is able to house 25 kids (although sometimes they have taken in more) from birth up to 18-years-old.  Some have been here for a little while, others a few months, and a few just days.  Some are able to return home after a situation is resolved, and others live knowing they can never return to the places they used to call home.  For these kids, adoption is an option.  Due to the nature of this place and the safety of the kids, I cannot share their personal histories nor their faces with you all, but I hope to be able to convey a bit of the impact their lives are having on my own already. 

I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into when I came here.  I knew I would be helping out at what I thought was an orphanage for 3 months, and I knew that it was probably going to be hard, but I definitely didn’t realize just how challenging it would be.  I was preparing myself to be devastated by the tragedies these kids have had to live through and acknowledging that my Spanish would hopefully improve, but that’s about all I knew.  Now I see that it is SO MUCH more than that!
The kids have already grabbed hold of more chunks of my heart.  It’s amazing how God can tune our hearts to fall in love so quickly, but one thing I didn’t think about was just how much loving hurts.  You can’t escape it.  If you love someone, they will hurt you in some way, at some point, whether they mean to or not.  And these kids have been hurt time and time again.  Those that were supposed to teach and protect them, didn’t.  Those that they thought would remain, left.  And here I come scampering into their territory for a short 3 months with little ability to communicate with them and expecting them to love and trust me.  Ignorant. 

I’ve realized in the 3 days that I have worked there that I am going to hurt these kids.  I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but its unavoidable.  I am going to leave, and only God knows right now if I will ever return.  If they choose to love and trust me during my stay here, I am going to be another person who has come and gone in their life.  Already I have felt the tension of them shutting me out as a way to protect themselves, and I can’t blame them for this.  You can’t lose what you never had, right? 

The thing is, we were made to love.  We were made to have relationships with others, and like I said before, this can be painful.  I don’t want to be another one who has let them down.  I won’t ever stop loving them, but they won’t always believe that.  I’ve been humbled in these 3 days, and I can only imagine what 3 more months will do.  I was told and have definitely come to believe that you cannot lead well without having relationships.  This is so true.  I want to lead and serve these kids well, but I have realized that before anything can happen, I have to focus on each individual child and find a way to connect with them.   This, I believe, is scary for them, but at the same time so wanted and needed. 

I mentioned earlier that this is more challenging than I expected.  I love kids, but I’ve never had to deal with so many at one time or for very long.  Kids are awesome, but kids are also hard.  They have already expanded my perception of love.  For this, I am grateful and ready to continue learning. 
What I am beginning to realize is that Jesus really is the only one who will never fail us.  Ever.  What I want more than anything is for these kids to believe and experience this.  I want to be a reflection of Jesus to them that so compels them to trust Him with all of their hurt and doubt.  He is the only one that will never fail them if they just are willing to trust and rest in Him.  Martin Luther said it best in his Exposition of Psalm 147, “Our works are God’s masks, behind which He remains hidden, although He does all things.”

This boy here has a tight grip on one of those chunks I told you about earlier. And this sight made me very sad at first.  His shirt reads, “Rad Like Dad”, but knowing his story, I know this is a complete lie.  His biological father is not rad; I can think of few that are worse examples than him.  But as I was contemplating this and how horribly wrong the shirt was, I remembered that he does have a very rad Dad.  So rad, in fact, that there is none better.  Like I said before, I am in awe of how much God loves us so perfectly.  Pray with me, that he and the other children here would truly know just how loved and admired they are.  And pray too that I would continue to learn and love just a little more than even I think I can.  More to come, friends.  Until next time. 

Fun facts:
-        Drinkable yogurt is delicious. 
-        When nothing else is working, tickles are a good option. 
-        Ironically, Uno is kind of a hard game to explain when your Spanish is limited.   
-        Naps/rest times being hated by kids is a universal thing.
-        I did not make the boy in the photo pose with the frisbee like that.  The stinker was trying to stop me from taking the picture.  Little did his 4-year-old self know that it was actually perfect for me to share. :]

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Gift of Travelling with Sisters

This picture is one of my favorites.  Thanks so much, Rachel, for capturing the moment as we were completely oblivious.  I saw it for the first time as I was going through all my pictures and picking out the hundreds (literally) that I want to print, and it immediately sparked a desire in me to blog.  I feel like it encapsulates the last 9 months in a snapshot. 

The hike that we were on when this was taken was an awesome one.  We took a lot of pictures, laughed a ton, saw some pretty incredible sights, and there was just a sense of adventure in the entire thing.  We even had a fatality on the way (RIP Briana’s drowned lens cap)!  On our way back to catch the bus, we decided to take a different route, which was actually blocked off at one point.  As we walked on the trail, we didn’t really know where it was going to take us.  It got very hot as we trudged on, but as you can see, we had quite a view to take in the entire time.  Finally, we did end up finding the main road and a familiar bus stop, and all was well. 

My God is a professional mind-blower.  The picture shows a great expanse and screams of His majesty and creativity.  And then, as you take in the whole picture, you see that off to the side are 4 average-looking girls walking an old dirt road.  They aren’t the center of the picture, but rather just a part of it.  And that’s how it is in the journey of life.  You walk a road with people, there are ups and downs, and if you keep your eyes on yourself, all you see is dirt below.  But when you stop making yourself the focus and look around at all He is offering you, the view is breathtaking.  The walk isn’t always easy or fun, and at times you have no idea where the road is leading, but He is faithful.  And when you understand that you are not the center of this life but rather just a part of it, it’s a lot less frustrating and much more beautiful.

I’d go anywhere with these girls.  It’s the truth.  These ladies are full of life, hope, love, and light.  It’s women such as these that make the best travelling companions, and even more than that, friends.  I love them…..not just the flippant sort of love that you say about pretty much anyone.  No, I really love these girls.  They have inspired, blessed, grown, and loved me.  They’ve brought me so much laughter, taught me so much about love and Jesus, seen me at my ugliest and shown me beauty through it, and strengthened me with their constant encouragement. Sure, they’ve also driven me crazy with their incessant “Mom” calling, made me mad, assisted me in annoying our neighbors, hurt my feelings, and pushed my buttons.  We were like sisters……are like sisters.  It’s a part of the journey, and our journey was phenomenal. 

When I think of my girls (a term I still use to refer to them), I see beauty.  Yes, they are gorgeous women, but it’s so much more than that.  There’s a strength and power behind each of them.  They are lovers of life, seekers of depth, spreaders of joy.  I am just so PROUD of each of them.  It was such a privilege to be able to appreciate and witness the growth that each one of them displayed. 

Well, team.  We finished.  We are now spread out in distance, and as we have already experienced, It is a lot harder to keep up with each other’s lives now.  But I just want to say that although far in reality you are very present in my thoughts and prayers.  I tried to express what an impact you all have made in my life above, but it didn’t work as well as I would have liked.  I don’t know if you will ever understand what a blessing you were in my life.  The truth you spoke when I was doubting, encouragement you gave when I was down, and love you showered me with throughout it all has shaped me.  You’ve pushed me to the Father; what could possibly be better than that??  NOTHING.  So…..thank you.  I can’t say more than that really.  I’m grateful not only to you all, but to God as well.  He blessed me with you all and has used your friendship to reveal more of Himself to me.  Os quiero MUCHISIMO……y para siempre. 

So while it’s sad to think that our trip together is over, I am beyond thankful to the Guide that He placed you all in my life and that our journey together on the winding road of life has only begun.