Black Socks and Toilet Paper Rolls

For me, Valentine’s Day has always felt like that awkward holiday in which you aren’t sure you want to participate, let alone celebrate.  In high school, the day was surrounded by a weird duality of angst and anticipation…would that special someone step out and support the sophomore class to buy a specific colored chrysanthemum signifying merely friendship, or, maybe, even be bold to choose the one that signifies “I like you”?  Years later, even through college, February 14th seemed to be the one day of the year where, as a young woman, I straddled the fulcrum, one part of me teetering on emotions of immense disappointment while immensely hoping for the joy of feeling safe and secure in a current relationship.

No offense to my husband, but during our younger years, it took us awhile to get on the same page about this holiday…and maybe a few other things…like, actually dating.  Looking back, Valentine’s Day carries a lot of hurt about my expectations versus my reality.  And, because of those feelings, I believe it has changed how I see the holiday now.

My sensitive side is especially heightened this time of year.  I always have a conundrum about posting happy marriage pictures, as I have friends struggling with their relationships.  It’s like announcing your pregnancy when you know your dearest loved one deals with infertility.  I don’t want to toss my joy around inconsiderately when there is so much pain and hurt in the world.

But, bottom line, Valentine’s Day is about love.  It’s about those around you.  Your marital status doesn’t define your happiness.  You know what does?

Black socks and toilet paper rolls.

Huh?

My dad died of a brain tumor when I was twelve.  Certainly, I know how this impacted my world and even how this loss has carried into my adult life.   Looking back, it is apparent that the early years of our marriage were rooted in my fear of losing Brad.  He was late getting home? Certainly that meant he was dead in a ditch somewhere.  Forgot to call?  He was insensitive and uncaring of my insecurities.  For a young married couple, these little issues stretched deep and wide and probably permeated areas more than I care to remember.

Finally, one night after another round of tears and misunderstandings, Brad boldly shared, “I can never be everything to you.  I can’t fulfill all your needs and ease your fears.  I will fail every single time because I am not perfect.  You need to lean on God for filling those holes and healing those wounds.”

Life changing.

Our relationship improved, because my focus cleared.  Instead of looking at all the negative things I felt Brad was doing, I asked the Lord to change me, to fill me, to ease my fears of being left alone as a young mom.  I leaned in to Jesus, deepening my faith through His Word and prayer. My attitude became one filtered through the lens of gratefulness which changed my life and strengthened our marriage.

For my mom, it was black socks.  My dad, being a pastor, would often come home and change clothes, and leave his black socks on the floor beside their bed.  Years after his death, I remember my mom saying how, if life were different, she would not complain about picking up his black socks, but instead be grateful she had the chance to do it.

For me, it’s the toilet paper roll.  It’s a choice, each and every time I see it empty.  I can lament that Brad or my kids forgot to change it out.  I can wave it around in their faces, or pout at the injustice of always having the responsibility fall on me. Or, I can choose thankfulness that I can serve them in that way and be grateful each and every day that we can share life together, empty toilet paper rolls and all.

So, this year, whether you will be spending Valentine’s Day with a spouse, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, or will be passing the time alone, my encouragement for you is to not let your day be defined by your circumstances.  Let your heart be filled up by the living God, and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you can choose to love well the people around you, whoever they are.  With Him at the central core of who you are, you can wait on his timing, and revel in his love.  By no means is it easy, and, truthfully, it may still even be a bit lonely. But, when He fills you to your very soul and you lean in to Him, He can help you see the smallest glimmer of good in even the saddest of situations.  Trust in that promise today because He delivers.  I’m living proof.  Personally, I think that may be the best Valentine’s Day gift of all.

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears
    and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit.   Many are the afflictions of the
righteous but the Lord delivers him out of them all. Psalm 34:17-19

Be thankful for what you have, because each day is a precious gift when surrounded by those we love.  Don’t waste it. Single, married, divorced, widowed, young, old…choose gratitude, and choose Him first.

Challenging you to join me in changing the toilet paper roll  –

Blessed to be His,

Sarah

PS.  If you feel so inclined, would you leave me a note on my Facebook page or in the comments section on what your “toilet paper roll” commitment is?  What will you choose to be grateful about rather than see it as a chore? What is your labor of love and thankfulness for those around you?

That Time We Took the Road Less Traveled…

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I am, once again, long overdue for an update in regards to our family, the happenings here in Quito, Ecuador, and much, much more.  I have been working on a Christmas letter, and now we are slightly past the beginning of the year, so I am right about on time with how we typically roll.  Stay tuned for an update as to how we are all doing as I promise to share that with you soon.

In the meantime, all is well here in Ecuador and we continue to take opportunities to explore and learn more about this beautiful country whenever we have a chance.  Shortly after Christmas, we headed out on a road trip to the nearby tourist town of Baños de Agua Santa.  We have been able to travel here a number of times over the years as it is only about three hours away from Quito, making it a relatively stress-free, reasonable drive.  We enjoyed a few days in the area, doing many of the well known activities and plenty of exploring.

fall-2016-1528 fall-2016-1523On our way home, we decided to venture out and take the road less traveled, and, boy, did that make all the difference.    

fall-2016-1545After crossing a rickety bridge over a huge gorge (and glimpsing the bridge we normally would have traveled upon), fall-2016-1543we traversed some beautiful countryside on a surprisingly well-maintained road with landscapes of farm fields cut into the mountain side.  We captured multiple views of the Tungurahua volcano, which showed its majestic self frequently throughout our three days in Baños.  We saw quaint little towns with cute town squares and unique soccer fields.

fall-2016-1542 fall-2016-1544

It was a beautiful drive, one that we had debated in taking as it was venturing into the unknown…roads could be treacherous, even unmarked, and certainly with possibilities of being a longer route.  We waxed poetic on how this countryside certainly must resemble Italy, and what unique treasures were around every corner. We continued to remark to each other what a wonderful decision we made and how we would have missed this opportunity if we hadn’t been willing to seize the chance of venturing onto the literal road less traveled.

As we journeyed onward, we continued to applaud our courage, citing what a reward we had received.  Our smiles were radiant beams across our faces. Modern day explorers, we were, jubilant in spirit, actually physically patting our truck on the dash as we thanked him for being so reliable and trustworthy.  Making good time, we were ecstatic about finding this route and all the beauty it entailed.

Until we drove into San Miguelito and directly into this rope-stretched roadblock.

fall-2016-1573

Out of nowhere, two days before New Year’s, we encountered barrier after barrier in the form of costumed characters.  San Miguelito stretched on for blocks and blocks, with no alternative route in site to avoid what was in front of us, while Gandalf’s voice reverberated in our ears…

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS”

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Swarmed. Stuck. Stopped – Unless you pay off the masked creatures swarming your car…or take a drink of their offered alcoholic beverage…or both.

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We chose the payment method.  A reasonable fifteen to twenty cents was dropped into their offered basket while unidentified drinks were pushed into Brad’s face.  He politely refused, and we boldly countered with pulling out the camera, having no problem capturing the all too eager subjects.

fall-2016-1550 fall-2016-1548

By the time we were on about stop number twenty-five along this never ending stretch of town, we were scrambling and digging through all our containers for small change and wondering how long this section of road and crazy shenanigans were going to continue.  If it didn’t end soon, we were going to have to start handing out our much coveted dollar coins as our nickels and dimes supply were quickly dwindling.

Our passing through provided a fair share of entertainment value for all the locals, with numerous references to us being gringos and our speaking both English and Spanish. Donald Trump’s name came up a few times in the high pitched gibberish that prevailed at every barrier, echoing in our heads even now as we wonder about most of what was said.

At one of the last stops, we met up with this guy, who, at one point, directed his gun (umm, no orange tip on the end, thank you very much) at Brad’s throat. fall-2016-1577

That was highly unnecessary and just a tad bit disconcerting.

We finally reached the end of this town and breathed a sigh of relief as we continued on our way.  We quickly searched the map to see where we could get off the back roads and onto a main highway, knowing that the Pan American highway would be safe from more of these type of festivities.  We had one more small town to drive through, so rapidly double checked our coin supply and geared up for another onslaught.  To our delight and overwhelming relief, we had no further stops and were able to have an uneventful remainder of our journey.  We certainly spent some time pondering what it would have been like if we had traveled through this town an hour later in the day, one hour deeper into the alcohol that was flowing freely at all the stops (and with many of the stopped drivers), on the verge of darkness and shrouded a bit more in mystery.

It still remains unresolved as to the reason behind the events in San Miguelito – it was one day removed from the Ecuadorian April Fool’s Day, and two days prior to the typical New Year’s Eve traditions, so may have just been isolated to this small little area.  But, it was definitely an unexpected event to encounter as we journeyed the road less traveled, and put yet another unique memory in the books from our time here in Ecuador.

Until next time,

Sarah

Snapshots of Summer

*At the most recent meeting of NBA (Neglectful Bloggers Anonymous)…*

Hi.  I’m Sarah and it’s been six months since my last blog post.

“Hi, Sarah”

What???

My deepest apologies.  It probably has seemed like we have, more or less, dropped off the face of the earth.  Rest assured, we haven’t.  Life has continued on as it always does and blog posts sometimes just don’t make the cut when prioritizing how to spend our days. While the road is paved with good intentions, the internet and computer access seem to be constantly under construction.

While the last few months have been a bit of a settling in period for getting used to “daily life without Josh” (more on that transition in an upcoming post), we had a wonderful summer filled with tons of time around family and friends.  Through graduation parties and baseball games, we crossed paths with many people who made a huge effort to make us feel welcome and loved in our respite months of summer. Here’s a sampling of some of the memories…

lake-2016-058 lake-2016-056 lake-2016-028 lake-2016-020summer-2016-333 summer-2016-244summer-2016-300 summer-2016-316 summer-2016-230 summer-2016-099summer-2016-173 summer-2016-166summer-2016-147 summer-2016-121summer-2016-113 summer-2016-164 summer-2016-087 summer-2016-080summer-2016-019img_20160612_174917 img_20160805_134113img_20160724_150144076
As we reflect back on all the people we were able to see, we see how blessed we are to have such a diverse group of people who share in our ministry and support us in so many ways. We are thankful for each and every one of you…pictured or not!

Stay tuned for future posts about some other summer activities, updates about Josh and our family, and what is happening here at Alliance Academy International.  I promise it won’t be six months until the next communication. Until then…

Sarah

I Am That Person

Earthquake 1

Photo credit: AP

As many of you know, a little over a week ago, the coast of Ecuador was hit with a 7.8 magnitude earthquake.  While only about 100 miles away, the part of Quito in which we live escaped relatively unscathed.  We had experienced tremors before, but knew this one was different the moment it hit…lateral movements, an increased duration, windows and lights swaying…little did we know at the time the massive devastation it had caused just down the road.

Earthquake 2

Image: Carlos Sacoto/AP

It didn’t take long for us to begin to see the extent of the damage on the coast.  We went to bed Saturday night with the preliminary reports of buildings down, but it was easy to rest as no fatalities had been reported.  But, with the light of Sunday morning, it was apparent how tragic this earthquake had become. The reality of escaping this destruction by only miles was startling. We were so thankful for God’s protection in our lives, but, just as readily, confused about why were were able to be granted safety this time around.  The call to action came from the pit in my stomach…I did not want to BE THAT PERSON who turns a blind eye, who sees but does not act, who does not have the eyes of Jesus. I wanted to do something and do it now.  So, I struggled against who I didn’t want to be, but realized exactly who I am.

I am that person who was absolutely stunned by the devastation that has occurred.

I am that person who is glued to Facebook in order to see the latest developments and obtain new information.

I am that person who is heartbroken to know how many children have been orphaned and left alone.

I am that person who is overwhelmed by the realization of how life has changed for the very places we have visited and vacationed.

I am that person who is frustrated that I can’t just go to the coast, comfort people, and shower them with the love of Jesus because I have a huge language barrier.

I am that person who is amazed by those that have immediately and unselfishly answered the “first responder” call and been a part of heroic rescues.

I am that person who is angry because the world keeps revolving as if nothing has happened.

I am that person who, in the past, when tragedy struck in the world, could acknowledge the need, but often failed to respond.

I am that person who can have a heart that breaks for others, but I selfishly continue to focus on what I need and what I desire.

I am that person who desires to do more but is somewhat paralyzed because I want to do it right, efficiently, with good stewardship, and make a difference.

I am that person who must relinquish my illusion of control, and daily hand the reins over to the only One who holds the past, present, and future in His hands. 

There are so many options, so many places to help.  Alliance Academy mobilized the Monday after with the students taking the lead in developing a list of items to donate, a church to deliver the supplies, and a site to provide an option to give money.  What a great start – fantastic opportunities for our students to be involved, to participate, to serve others.  But, is that enough?

(AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Shouldn’t we be heading to the coast, jumping in our trucks, stopping to get the required paperwork to be let into the area, acquire a police escort so as to not be robbed or looted, all in the name of Jesus? Is that what is required of us in this time?  Or, are we to stand back and serve where we are planted, providing support to donation drives, and, perhaps, wait for refugees to enter the city and be an active part of that ministry? What about the orphans?  Shouldn’t we be immediately gearing up to become foster parents in the interim, possibly putting travel plans for the summer on hold so we can be available to the least of these?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions and we struggle continually with how much to do, even what to do, and where to put our resources.

And, then, we come to the realization that no matter what we do, it will never be enough.

We are not going to be able to make this go away.  We are not going to “feel” right about the unfairness of this disaster.  We are not going to be able to just move on as if nothing has happened. We are not going to ever be able to do enough to know that we have met the needs of everyone who is hurting, who is homeless, who have lost everything.

earthquake 5Despite the pain and heartbreaking realizations of this week, it has helped me realize something even more deeply.  This feeling of needing to do something but feeling immensely inadequate is how we would feel if we had to EARN our way to heaven. Because this week of dealing with the immediacy of the earthquake aftermath clearly showed me that you can never feel like you have “made it”. There is no way to ever know with all certainty that what you try to do would ever be enough.  To walk around with that pressure, that concern, and that FEAR would consume your life and be devastating as you tried to earn your way to heaven.

So today, throughout all the heartbreak, the pain, and the sadness going on around us, I can serve my Lord and Savior through my day to day life, striving to do more each day, to be more Christ-like in my words and actions, and to demonstrate Jesus to others in what I do. But, in that, I am amazingly thankful to know and trust with all certainty that I am doing those things as a direct response to the salvation bestowed upon my by accepting Jesus as the Lord of my life.

The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 ESV)

In no way is this a result of anything I have done. My pathetic self could do nothing to gain this salvation because, try as I might, I would always come up woefully short.  Instead, Jesus gave His life for me…and for you.  I know, with all assurance, that upon judgment day, I will not be cast aside into a line labeled “You Tried but Missed it By A Mile.” The line I can join is the one stating “Your Debt has Been Paid in Full by Jesus Christ – No Action on Your Part is Required.” The freedom of the Gospel is joy and life, and I have been reminded this week of the depth and breadth of this gift, no strings attached.

I am that person who is inept on my own accord, but is a new creature because of Christ in me. This brings me hope in this current darkness, and I pray that, with His power, and as a result of the Holy Spirit living in me, I will be that person who can faithfully serve and obey the King of Kings, for our good…and for HIS glory.

Blessed to be His,

Sarah

PS.  Wondering what you can do to help Ecuador at this time?  First of all, please pray for the people of this country.  No one has gone untouched.  Secondly, if you want to talk about options for giving, please drop us an email at bierlefamily@gmail.com and we’d be happy to visit about some ideas.

Armed and Ready

Our walk from our apartment to school takes about 25 minutes, is predominantly downhill, and takes us past construction sites, the Japanese embassy, some busy intersections, a beautiful little park with a sometimes running water feature, and a plethora of dogs being taken out for their morning walk.  On a clear day, we are granted glimpses of at least three volcanoes, snow capped and majestic against the vast blue sky.

Fall 2015 178 Fall 2015 197

Reverse this path at the end of our day, add in the fact that it now takes closer to 30 minutes as it is such an uphill battle, and realize you have a built in exercise program any day we walk to and from our work.

Sounds great, right?

TrafficIt really is…and, the reality of the situation is that it only takes about 15 minutes longer to walk than it does to drive the same route.  With the exception of the final part of the descent, in which you have to navigate mass amounts of traffic, bus fumes, and gas smells, the walk is therapeutic and mind clearing.

Except that you can never fully relax.

We realized how true this really is when we returned to visit South Dakota the first summer after living here.  The shoulders finally came down from being pulled up to your ears, as the stress from always having to be on guard began to recess.  It is a sometimes subtle, sometimes prevalent, type of alertness that you carry, and it becomes a part of you as you walk or drive to various locations here in Quito.  While you don’t live in fear, you do live in a state of awareness, one that keeps you looking over your shoulder, watching for risks, and avoiding situations of danger as much as you can.  And, just when you start to get complacent, you hear of a friend getting her purse snatched, or an attempted robbery in a nearby building, and your guard goes back up again.  Shoulders up and tense, senses heightened.

Don’t misinterpret these statements.  We don’t live in constant fear.  We do not walk around with anxiety and trepidation because of the real possibility of bad things happening.  While we may be considered a “target” because we are sometimes perceived as having MORE due to the fact that we are white foreigners, it does not impede our ability to thrive, explore, and enjoy life.

It simply causes us to be aware of the evil going on around us and demands we be alert, armed, precautionary, and ready.

As I was reflecting on this the other day, I realized how much our daily reality is an example of what we should be doing in our Christian walk.  The enemy has surrounded us and we are in a constant battle.  Satan is jockeying for position, and is around every turn, every bend.  He is waiting to strike when we are not on full alert, or when we have grown complacent.  We may see someone else fall into temptation, or get struck down, and we know we need to amp up our game.  Perhaps we ourselves are in the middle of pain, suffering, unfairness, bitterness, fatigue, fear, or temptation. Maybe we increase our prayer time for awhile.  Perhaps we dig deep into the Word, looking for a quick fix.  We may see the need in the tough times to call upon the name of Jesus and ask for help, and, if we are really honest, we wonder if He will answer, preferably in the method, way, and timing we demand.

policeBut, what do we do to stay alert at all times?  Our life here in Ecuador demands a full diligence when we are out and about.  There is rarely a time when we can let our guard down. We scan the streets when walking.  We walk routes that are populated.  We don’t carry valuables.  We don’t draw attention to ourselves (as much as this is possible with five gringos walking down the street, typically towering a foot above everyone else).  We vary our routes so as to not be predictable.  We keep our windows up when we drive and come to a stoplight to minimize the possibility of a break-in.  We park in areas with parking attendants, willing to pay out anywhere from a quarter to a dollar for them to watch our truck. We live in gated communities, or behind walls topped with glass or barbed wire.  The list goes on and on….but, the fact remains, we are vigilant.

You don’t realize how exhausting it is until you get a reprieve and feel the contrast.

But, here’s the lesson.  Our reprieve is in Jesus Christ.  That battle we fight on a daily basis?Fall 2015 052 It continues day by day, hour by hour, but the war has been won.  Satan has been defeated but still rages in his power here on earth.  As Christians, we’ve been armed but don’t often take up our tools…the Word, prayer, and relationships with other believers.  We want to snatch them up when we feel the pressure, but don’t want to carry them around with us on a daily basis.  That kind of diligence and vigilance takes time, dedication, and practice, and often doesn’t feel like something we want to do day in and day out.

BibleWe don’t have it all figured out.  But, God continues to work on us and help us find clarity in what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  It’s seeking Him daily, in the little things, because that allows us to be faithful for the big things that often come upon us. It’s rejoicing and praising Him when the walk is smooth and straight.  It’s digging into the Word and building foundations that support and sustain us when the battle gets tougher, bigger, heavier. Then, when the storm clouds come, we are trained to look to the Holy Spirit for the power that he has promised us and which is contained within us.  We are prepared, we are armed, and we are ready.  We can fight with the power of Christ leading us into battle.

Last week, in His gracious timing, Psalm 32 was in my daily readings.  So prevalent in this Psalm is the promise of joy when we repent of our sin – no matter how big or how small.  The burdens are lifted when we humbly come before him and seek his grace and forgiveness.  We often want to skip this painful step and get to the good stuff.  But, there is no mistake in the order of God’s words:

When I refused to confess my sin,
    my body wasted away,
    and I groaned all day long.
Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
    My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.

The contrast cannot be missed.  We often want to wallow in our sin, holding it close, not admitting our faults, and, as a result, we are wasting away, heavily burdened and losing strength.  But, look what happens when we confess!

 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
    and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
    And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time,
    that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.
For you are my hiding place;
    you protect me from trouble.
    You surround me with songs of victory. 

 The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
    I will advise you and watch over you.
 Do not be like a senseless horse or mule
    that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”

 Many sorrows come to the wicked,
    but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord.
 So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him!
    Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!

Fall 2015 077The promise is sure and true: He will guide us along the BEST pathway for our life!  Isn’t that an amazing gift?  When we confess our sins, he will forgive them, come alongside us, and put us on the best road to follow.  That is safety, that is security, that is a promise that will not be broken.  And, bottom line, a whole lot easier than taking our own crooked road and experiencing a less than abundant life apart from Him.

Fall 2015 697So, as we walk through this frequently treacherous life, know that it is filled with things of this world that can entice and enslave us.  But, we have all the tools to fight this battle if we seek Him daily.  Fill your cup with Him, through the Word and prayer, so that your cup can overflow into others and the kingdom of God can be advanced.  Confess your sins – seriously, look and see if there is something separating you today from God – and receive the grace and peace that only He can provide.  Humble yourselves before Him, and He will guide you in all His ways.

SEW Sept 2015 192 SEW Sept 2015 196SEW Sept 2015 185We don’t live in fear.  We live in the victory that only comes by knowing the Savior and living in Him.  So, when we walk these Ecuadorian roads and look over our shoulder, it is because we are prepared and diligent against the one who seeks to harm us.  My prayer is that you claim this as well and know the path He has for you is perfect in Him.  That is true freedom, and it is promised in Him!

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that
they may have life and
have it abundantly. John 10:10 (ESV)

Claiming this victory and trusting in Him,

Sarah

PS.  Want to receive our monthly prayer letter?  Email us at bierlefamily@gmail.com and we’ll add you to our list.  Look for it in your inbox (or spam box!) the 15th of each month.

Traveling the Pan American Highway

A few days before Christmas, we took a little family road trip to the city of Cuenca, Ecuador. About seven to eight hours away from Quito, it sits along the Andes mountains, just as our city does, but is further south.  Often times, you can take a quick flight at a reasonable cost, but with five of us going, it made more sense to drive.

road trip

Heading north in South Dakota

Interestingly enough, the Pan American highway is the route that joins the two cities.  Since this roadway encompasses a path from Alaska all the way to the tip of South America, you would expect four lanes of exquisite roads, with plenty of space to enjoy a leisurely road trip, right? Something to wet the road trip whistle?

We’ve driven enough in this country to know that what you want is many times not what you get.

The road was certainly not the leisurely, “don’t have to think because nothing will ever get in your way” straightaway drive you would expect from heading on any major highway in South Dakota.

Passing the car ahead of you is always an exercise in gauging safety versus patience -partly because obeying no passing zones is totally optional: Cuenca 001  Cuenca 002

Fast food restaurants are virtually non-existent along any route, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have choices.  We followed an ice cream truck for quite a ways…Cuenca 006  Cuenca 005

And could have stopped in any small town for a typical Ecuadorian meal…Cuenca 048

Cuenca 046But, instead, we opted for a picnic at our self-made “roadside” rest with curious dogs seeking our leftovers.

If you need to use the restroom, most gas stations are equipped with some sort of baños.  But, you need to think ahead as the facilities are a bit different than what you would expect elsewhere.  Make sure you pack your own toilet paper as most bathrooms are not equipped with any.  At best, they may be staffed with an attendant who will sell you a few sheets of paper for fifteen to twenty cents.  Any type of doors would be a luxury.Cuenca 012

But, despite the extra thought and preparation that comes with a South American road trip, you can be guaranteed that your journey will be filled with a variety of sights that will keep you guessing as to what will be around the next bend.  This Pan American route did not disappoint.

Taking your barnyard animals out for a walk…

Cuenca 381 Cuenca 371Cuenca 020 Cuenca 010 Cuenca 009 Cuenca 044 Cuenca 043 Cuenca 007 Cuenca 022

People waiting for rides…

Cuenca 021  Cuenca 018

Cuenca 016

A probable funeral procession:
Cuenca 367

The overachiever:
Cuenca 366  

A New York bus obviously well off its intended route:Cuenca 362

And absolutely beautiful landscape, including a peek at parts of the Chimborazo volcano:

Cuenca 027 Cuenca 031 Cuenca 373 Cuenca 375

Road trip or not, there are always lessons to be learned –

  • We are thankful to have a reliable vehicle which allows us the ability to travel out of the city and explore God’s creation in unique ways.
  • We are reminded of our blessings of having our needs met as we travel through areas of poverty and squalor.
  • We see glimpses into the simple life of having enough for each day, because you work the land, tend the sheep, and milk the cows.
  • Patience means sometimes waiting for a ride at the side of the road for long stretches of time, especially when a gringo with a full truck bed can’t pick you up.
  • The variety of God’s creation is vastly different from South Dakota to Ecuador, but each place (and everything in between) are beautiful in ways beyond description.

Bottom line, we are blessed beyond measure by the God of the universe who is powerful enough to create a vast and diverse world, but personal enough to have a relationship with each and every one of us who confess Him as our Lord and Savior.

Cuenca 358 Cuenca 353

That is a trip worth taking.

Praying you are on the best road trip of all with Christ at the wheel…

Sarah

Once Upon a Walk

Walking home today by myself, I was nearing the first intersection when I noticed an elderly lady on the ground next to a corner food stand.  I slowed my pace in order to more accurately assess the situation, unclear as to whether she had fallen or was just getting to a standing position after having a small meal.  I noted the walking stick in one hand, more of an obstruction than a help at this point, and an empty, dirty styrofoam bowl in the other.  Upon further scrutiny, I realized she was shuffling forward on her knees, perhaps trying to get to the curb in order to more readily maneuver her feet beneath her.

My eyes averted to the man to the right of the food stand, certainly questioning with my eyebrows if something was amiss.  He glanced toward me, then toward the woman, and went back to reading his newspaper or whatever he was doing at the time.  I had the quick thought that maybe the cameras were rolling to capture what I would do in this situation and, in just a few short seconds, I knew I couldn’t just walk on by.

DSC_0355aI walked up to the lady (who looked like she fell off a charm bracelet) and quietly held out my arm for assistance, knowing there were few words I would be able to say to ascertain her situation.  She reached for me and together we were able to get her feet underneath her, and I grasped and supported her arm and elbow as together we crossed the street.  I inquired with my limited Spanish as to where she was going, to which she replied a number of words in a voice no louder than a mouse and totally obliterated by the traffic noise.  She waved her empty bowl around and I asked again where she wanted to go.  My mind was already racing with the possibilities of how far I would need to support and help this woman, and I scanned the oncoming pedestrians to gauge if anyone would be able to speak English enough for me to engage a translator.Quito 049

On a short rest break a mere half block down the way, she pointed to the scarf around my neck and I was able to pick out “frio” from her mutterings.  Certainly, I could hand off a scarf to help her get warm, so I wrapped it around her neck while she gave me a small smile, and then pointed to my dangling earrings.  I promptly started moving her along, with a nod and smile of them being “muy bonito” before she had a chance to take them out of my lobes.  I let her direct the walk and we crossed the street shortly thereafter, coming to a rest in front of a restaurant.  She spoke again, and I explained to her that my Spanish was very bad, to which she pointed to her bowl and then again to the restaurant.  I assumed the next step was to seek out food for her in the bowl and help her in this way.

I looked around and a lovely, helpful woman saw my plight in a moment of understanding.  She held up a hand to the elderly woman, indicating to her to stay, and ventured in to the restaurant with the intention to help.  I took this opportunity to hand my companion a $1 coin, and proceed on my way, trusting that she now had a new helper.DSC_0195

The rest of my walk home was spent in contemplation and processing.  It is hard to know what to do sometimes with people of all ages begging for money.  Many indicate that you should never give out money on the streets as it just encourages people to continue that lifestyle.  Street corners often have disabled people peddling for coins.  We have a few who know to sit outside our school and you struggle with the daily obligation to perhaps contribute in some way.  It is a constant battle and I am often not sure how to proceed.

While walking, I pondered if Tessa was going to miss the blue and purple scarf I gave away,  I wondered if this weathered woman would sell it for money.  Did she even get food at the restaurant? How far would that one dollar go? Will she sit at the same corner tomorrow hoping for more assistance from one of the gringas/gringos at the nearby school?

But, as I kept replaying the situation, I thought of how many little lessons were tied up in this one scenario –

Seizing opportunity – God provides so many moments in the day where we can share Him and be like Jesus to others.  Constantly, we are faced with these choices, and, many times, we choose to go our own way rather than His.DSC_0358 We second guess the (possible) ulterior motive of the person we are helping instead of letting the Spirit lead as only He can do.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me. Matthew 25:35-40 (NIV)

Allowing margin in our days – I wanted to get home.  I was racing the rain storm.  My list of “to-do’s” was long.  But, carving out time to allow space to care and love is a necessary “re-framing” of our minds.  Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Galatians 6:2-3 (NLT)

DSC_0156Loving well does not always look like a weathered and worn, beautifully aged woman – it can be downright messy and hard.  It can mean listening when you have no ear left to give, serving when your strength is gone, reaching out when you want to retreat.  But, that is when the power of Christ in us is stronger than ever.  But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.  1 John 4:4 (NLT)

If I don’t keep my focus on Christ on a daily basis, I won’t be able to share Him with other people.  I won’t see the urgency, the need, the hurt, the pain, the joys, the frustrations…because I will be too busy looking inward to what I need rather than outward to what Jesus can do.  He is the one and only answer, and I pray we will find ways each and every day to actively share this message with those in our path.

Praying for boldness to have His eyes…and then to focus…

Sarah

PS.  Driving home yesterday, in the distance, across lanes of traffic, we spotted a similar-looking woman ambling down the street with a walking stick.  She had only one shoe.  We wondered what would have transpired if she had been the person I had ventured upon when walking…

Fall 2015 696a

 

Seeking the Light

Over the past few weeks, a recurring theme has come up in a number of different arenas.  As I am a firm believer in God-ordained moments as opposed to coincidence, I have found myself sitting up a bit straighter and paying a tad more attention to the words and ideas that are frequently crossing my path these days.  In fact, today, I’m being nudged to write them down in hopes that these thoughts can be an encouragement to someone along the way.

It’s not new.

It’s not a brilliant revelation.

But, for me, it just seems timely.

Last week Friday, we had a retreat out at Calacali with some of our Spiritual Life team from Alliance Academy International.  To open this time together, Brad shared a number of verses from Psalm 18.  While all were relevant and powerful, these were a focus:

28 You light a lamp for me.
    The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
29 In your strength I can crush an army;
    with my God I can scale any wall.

Brad went on to have us picture in our minds the image of a candle in a dark room.  If you think on this picture, the candle doesn’t light up the entire space.  Corners and shadows still hover in darkness.  But, a pathway exists.  A light to maybe take one step, or perhaps two.

IMG_7901Consider if you are in the middle of a power outage and you need to find your way to another room.  What do you do?  Where do you place the candle in this situation?  You hold it out in front of you.  It lights the way…it gives a path.  It casts light on the way you should go, illuminating your next steps.   You may walk slowly, cautiously, but you move forward despite not being sure of the obstacles ahead.

So it goes with our Christian walk.  God often times, in his sovereignty, does not reveal the whole picture…the whole path for us.  But, He is faithful in showing us the way we should go.  We may stumble, catch a toe, but we can keep moving forward because He is the light.

It’s something we all hear, and I think we all know, but do we really trust this? IMG_7909 Are we content with God showing us but a piece of the overall picture?  Do we fill in the blanks of what we don’t know and cannot see? Do we feel that we are safer if we just go our own way, from what we think we know is best, trusting in our control?  Or, do we venture out further than the light can be cast and find ourselves with the light at our backs instead of out in front?

Bottom line, how many times do we try to go beyond the light because we just plain want to go our own way?

I want to encourage you today…

If you’ve lost someone you love and you just can’t figure out why this has happened…

If you are making decisions for the future and are trying to discern the path God wants you to travel…

If you are struggling with temptations and waging the war on sin controlling your life…

If you are trying to manage all the different responsibilities and feeling overwhelmed with seeking balance…

If you are doubting your ability to be effective in your little corner of the world…

If God feels far away and distant…

If darkness and despair are threatening to overtake you…

Whatever it may be that you struggle with today, focus on the light from the candle in the room.  It may be a flicker, it may be a beacon, but make no mistake about it, there is light.

And…

Do you see what that second part of Psalm 18 says?  Verse 29 states:

29 In your strength I can crush an army;
    with my God I can scale any wall.

He, incredibly, promises us a mighty power, a strength beyond what we can imagine!  Crushing an army? Scaling any wall?  Phrasing it in my own words – he’s got each and every day in day out small, medium, or big problem we face covered through his power.

Period.

We can claim this and trust in His word – whatever your struggle, God is mightier than each and every one of them.   Fall 2015 596

He is the candle that lights our way.  Embrace that today and know that the very next step in your struggle is one of victory and peace when you focus on the light that is Jesus.

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”  John 8:12

Praying you will not only seek but ultimately find the light in the darkness…

Sarah

 

Writing woes

Well, as you can see (or at least read), my last post was how I was back in Ecuador and ready to write.  Yep, ready to write...what I didn’t expect was the obstacles that I would need to overcome in order to actually do what I said.  Fall 2015 019To start, we moved to a new apartment and have been struggling with internet since we signed our (of course) one year contract. Seems as if our modem is only compatible with a certain number of devices being on at one time (typically excluding mine), or only ones that don’t have Windows 10 (mine does), or only a combination of certain number of laptops and tablets (including briefly but more likely excluding mine), or only when the moon is in its 4th quadrant, before midnight, on the 5th day of the month, and, then, only letting me connect for one hour (if I’m lucky).  So, yeah, internet has been a problem.Fall 2015 274

Secondly, my computer crashed partway through last year and we managed to squeak by until late this summer when I purchased a new Dell laptop right before our return to Ecuador.  This computer would be shared by Tessa and myself, providing opportunity for her to do her schoolwork and me to do my work, blogging, and the all important Facebook perusal.  This device was my third attempt over the summer to attain a working laptop, as the previous two tries had compatibility issues with my photo software, and had to be returned.  So, this laptop only got out of the box long enough to make sure it started, and then off it went into the backpack to start its travels to Ecuador (hindsight is 20/20).

Fall 2015 162

Needless to say, I’ve talked on the phone more with Dell support since we’ve returned here than I have to my own mother.  Interestingly enough, my support technician’s name is Karen (my mom’s name), so I can appease the discrepancy simply by reminding myself that I am, indeed, speaking with Karen.  Anyway, she’s a lovely gal, working with me over the internet airwaves (when they work and patiently waiting when they don’t) fixing my laptop to allow me to use the entire keyboard instead of just the right side (try that for awhile – you will find that you do need the vowels “a” and “e” every once in awhile when creating words), reinstalling the entire operating system at least twice, replying to my daily correspondence with the attached file indicating how many times the pretty blue screen came to visit, and, now, sending recovery media to a hotel, to reach our Development Director, Wendy, who in turn was returning to Quito, so she could place this lovely little jump drive into my hands.  Now, the little miracle device sits nicely on my desk as we await the verdict of whether or not the actual modem is causing all these nice little issues, or if I should, once again, start from scratch and rebuild this crazy laptop yet again.

Fall 2015 195If only this type of experience could somehow make me an expert in something computer related.  Instead, it has tested and tried my patience and, believe it or not, sometimes my mood has, maybe, once or twice, reflected a teeny tiny not so pleasant attitude in dealing with this irritant on a day to day basis.  I know none of you reading this can relate to this, but, I am just keepin’ it real. Transparency, folks.  We need more of it.

But, I digress. So, yes, internet and computer woes have complicated the blogging updates.  But, in addition, I have found that there is one other little factor that seems to be a bit of an issue with time management.

It’s called WORKING.

I feel like I have been in the work force for oodles of years in some sort of capacity.  Sometimes it was official, occasionally it was paid, but, in my later years, it has often been from home.  So, this year, I have taken on a more formal, some may even call it official, role at Alliance Academy International, and, well, it has kicked my butt to-do list up a whole new level.

Some recent enlightenments:

  • It’s been quite a while since I have had to get up and out of the house every morning by a set time for a specific reason
  • I have underestimated the amount of clothing decisions that need to be made, mostly revolving around what shoes can be worn for the 25 minute walk down to school and the 35 minute walk back up.
  • I wish I had garanimals to match up the limited clothing options I do have.  There aren’t near enough jean days on the weekly schedule.SEW Sept 2015 210
  • Two children still schooling at home and the middle doing one semester at AAI, complete with volleyball practices from 6:30 to 8pm at night has wreaked havoc on menu planning, food prep, grocery shopping, protein-filled snacks, and cooking all the food that needs to be made from scratch…
  • Laundry…
  • Oh, yeah, there’s that whole waiting to see what happens with this volcano eruption thing…Fall 2015 178

Well, let’s just say, I have a whole new appreciation for women who work OUTSIDE the home, who manage to at least appear like they are all put together in the morning, and somehow manage to feed their family more than dry bread and cereal (which, for the record, is ridiculously expensive so not a staple in this house…one more extenuating complication in the food department).

Fall 2015 113But, honestly, we’re finally now settling into a bit of a routine (two months in!), ebbing and flowing with the various hiccups that inevitably occur with a family of five, and we strive to continue to “keep the main thing the main thing” – serving side by side to further God’s kingdom in our little corner of the world here in Ecuador.

I hope to share with you in the weeks to come (internet and laptop willing…) what our picture of serving currently looks like, and how you can pray for us (and others!) along the way.  So, stay tuned and I’ll do my best to navigate through these obstacles in order to fill in some details of our life here down south of the equator.

Grateful to be partnering with you all,

Sarah

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
1 Corinthians 1:3 (NLT)

Back to Ecuador and Ready to Write

It’s unbelievable to me, but it has been months since I last posted on this blog.  So many weeks have gone by, and I have had numerous thoughts and ideas of things to write.  To say we have been busy seems like such an excuse, but it is true.  In addition, I have also been tired.  Just. plain. tired.  Getting back in the groove of things takes some effort…something I am just starting to find again.

Jacob pitching

Photo credit: Rick Nath

The summer was fantastic.  We were able to watch a tremendous amount of baseball games (sixty or so), visit family, spend time with friends, and relish our time of worship at our home church.  We refueled and recharged, but, honestly, it is good to be back in Quito.  That statement does not, in any way, diminish our love to be with our family and friends, or downplay that we do miss each and every one of you while we are here.  But, there is a certain normalcy about returning to Ecuador and picking up where we left off last spring.  The fact is, God has called us here to Alliance Academy International for this time, and coming back to Ecuador does provide us with a sense of peace and, dare I say it, “coming home.”  I believe there is some sort of confirmation in that – knowing that the restlessness that we perhaps feel in the United States stems from the fact that we are away from the very place that we are to be at this current time.

Last August brought earthquakes and this year our return has been greeted with governmental protests and volcanic eruptions.  Meetings at school are focused on multiple areas, including what to pack in your evacuation backpack.  We have experienced a “run” on water, helping us understand that we indeed do need to have some level of preparedness.

cotopaxi volcano in Ecuadro

Photo credit: Lucas Bustamante/Destination Ecuador

Even though Cotopaxi is 30 miles away, we could experience issues with water supply and ash cover should it finally fully erupt.  It is truly a scary situation for those in its shadow, as the current ash plumes are affecting livestock, plants, and breathing.  Additionally, they predict a twenty minute evacuation window should there be a full eruption, which would melt the glaciers and send the lava and water flowing into the nearby towns.  We are far enough away to be safe from the immediate impact, but would certainly be affected by the residual results of a limited or contaminated water supply as well as heavy ash fall.

Despite the uncertainty around us, we know with ALL CERTAINTY that we are held in the handsLake 2015 of our Lord and Savior who knows what happened yesterday, today, and what each and every day of the future will hold. Worrying about any moment is futile and changes nothing.  So, why not embrace the future with the certainty that comes from knowing Christ?  If we place everything in His hands, and trust in His promises, we can claim them with every assurance that our future is certain, safe, and secure.

Writing those claims and promises seem so easy.  Interesting how knowing and doing are two different ends of the spectrum.  In fact, I would go so far as to say I have struggled more lately with wondering about what each day will bring than I ever have in the past years. I am finding multiple areas of insecurity as I realize how little I can control in my own personal circle. If I let it, these areas can grow and consume me, making me feel like life is spiraling out of control…ironic, as I have no control of any of it anyway.   And, once you start this cycle, it gets harder and harder to not have every little decision or discussion be about how the illusion of control is no longer in my grasp.  Not a fun place to visit, and certainly an even worse place to live.

I have discovered, much to my shame, that it is simply my pride that gets in the way of me wanting to strive for a fuller life ~ one of less control, and more of Jesus.

I deceptively think I can hold it all together, manipulating my little world into a facade of happiness and perfection, only to find that if it is built on my own tasks and plans, it is only an illusion of foundation and strength, which can tumble and fall in a moment’s notice.

That is no way to live.

When you say you want to give the Lord your life and entrust all you have to Him, you can’t pick and choose the areas that are excluded.

Because, anything short of everything will eventually fall apart.

It is indeed a daily surrender to pride and control and a renewal every morning of submission to the Lord of my life.

Simply put, there is an easy solution to avoiding the angst, and, instead, walking toward a life of peace and hope.  I have found that my discontent and fear of the unknown directly correlates to how much time I have spent…or haven’t spent… filling up with God’s Word and spending time in prayer.

It’s that basic, yet I seem to have the tendency to make it complicated.

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.
Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
 
Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds
anything we can understand. His peace will guard your
hearts
and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:6-8 NLT (emphasis mine)

See how we have a part in this?  We are to pray and thank him…and then we will experience God’s peace…and he’ll take care of what is in our heart and mind.  We need to ditch the pride, the facade of control, the illusion that we actually have some say in what the future can hold.  We’re not innocent bystanders – no, we play an active role in decisions and paths we travel.  But, we can do it thinking that simply by making good choices and plans our life will be worry-free, or we can live with Christ at the helm, ask him to guide our decisions, and then we can know with all certainty that the peace He promises is ours now, tomorrow, and forever.Baños_Shell 010

If you struggle like I do in relinquishing control, thinking you can make any difference in what actually happens in the future, or worrying about what happens tomorrow or beyond, won’t you recommit today with me to spending time in prayer and focusing on Christ Jesus?  Won’t you join me in claiming the promise of His peace to those that pray to Him and thank Him for what He has done for us?

It’s basic.  Move over pride…God is in control.

Working on humbling myself each day,

Sarah