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. :]