Author Archives: Sarah

Listing my limitations…

Let’s just file this under “a lesson I am STILL learning”…

When Brad and I came to Ecuador for a week-long vision trip four years ago in May, we made a list.  I remember sitting on the bed at the Quito Connection, a sweet, accommodating guest house just a block from Alliance Academy.  We were almost through the week and had met with multiple ministries, visited Calacali, shared cafecito with numerous people, and were truly searching to see if what God had put on our hearts actually matched the reality in front of us.  Starting with a yellow pad of paper, we listed every single item that came to mind in regards to what we felt God was asking us, calling us, or challenging us to do.

Over the years we have been here, this list has come out a few times…retreat weekends, yearly commitment reviews, and, even over our anniversary getaway a year ago last March.  We have used it to make sure we are staying on track with where we thought God was leading, but also as a tool to keep striving to do better and keep stretching.

Doggone #11.

I had to look at it again tonight, because I needed to know what number it was.  I needed to name it.  Because my dear spouse called me out on it this evening.  Again.  Of course, I readily accepted his insight, thanked him for his gracious help in this area of challenge, and immediately changed my behavior without missing a beat.  It is probably one of my biggest areas of struggle, one of my deepest challenges, yet one I recognize as so important and an area in which I truly want to do better.  (Admitting you have a problem is the first step in recovery, right?)

#11 speaks to loving others unconditionally, strengthening relationships…and creating space and time for hospitality.

If you know me, you know I CAN do hospitality well.  I really can.  I love to cook, put together a great dinner, see family and friends enjoying themselves around the dinner table.  When we arrived in Ecuador, I knew family would look different.  It would be friends who we would share life with, enough that they feel like family.  I did well, especially the first few years…I really think I did.  I love the fact that our dinner table will never be the same again.

But. I feel I am backsliding…in #11 and in other areas.

I’m in the middle of the self-evaluative portion of this realization, but I do know this much…every time I give up my control and let Him take over, He blesses it in some substantial way.  But it is a lesson I am still learning.

Like I said in my last post, I’m still under construction. Some people are just slow learners and need to be hit over the head multiple times before they get it.   Don’t judge.



On the second part of our recent roadtrip, after Quilotoa, we traveled on to a beautiful hacienda within the Cotopaxi National Park.  Cotopaxi is one of the world’s highest and most active volcanoes.  Last year, we kept extra supplies on hand at home as a significant eruption seemed imminent but its activity has now tapered off making it safer to venture to its base.  We had the place to ourselves, with the exception of two ladies who shared the dining room with us at dinner, and soon we found ourselves visiting with them next to the fireplace in the living area before we retired to our rooms for the night.

After breakfast the next morning, we were packing up in our room when Brad suggested we give these ladies a ride to the volcano as they were planning on walking the entire way since the bicycle rental was quite expensive.  True to form, my knee-jerk reaction was one ridden with the need for control, logistical concerns, and inconvenience…we would have to change our route and go home a different way, the kids would have no place to sit if it rained, we don’t even know these people…you get the idea.  In retrospect, it always seems pitiful and petty.

But, as Brad laid out the change in plans and how it actually WOULD work, I agreed to the idea, somewhat reluctantly.  And, once again, why am I surprised when God blesses obedience and shows his children his love for us in such unexpected ways?  These women were wonderful traveling companions, appreciative of our hospitality, and great conversationalists.  We had such an enjoyable time with them, and I came away from the experience extremely thankful that we had ventured forward with Brad’s pull on his heart to help…and to have an outward focus based on unconditional love.  Basically, in a nutshell: see a need, act on it!

It is a hard lesson for me to learn, and I failed again today with a situation here at home.  Some of it is tied up in expectations and a difference in perception of what “hospitality” actually looks like.  True, there is no set definition of what it HAS to look like – it may be a gift of a pizza delivery, giving someone a ride home, or even graciously accepting an offering or blessing from someone else.  For me, I need to work to broaden my perspective into areas that will stretch me beyond my comfort zone while digging in to the heart of why I frequently have a knee-jerk negative reaction to opening my home when it is not my plan, my idea, or within my parameters of what hospitality means.   More than likely, as much as I hate to admit this truth, the simple reality is that it probably boils down to my continued selfish, me-first attitude which loves to find ways to rear its ugly head.  I may see a need, but the immediate reaction isn’t necessarily to act on it.

Self-reflection is so over-rated.

I do want to do better, and I know He’s not finished with me yet.  I just wish we could move a little faster in these hard to reach areas.

In my devotion time one morning this week, this statement jumped off the page:

“A Christian is held captive by anything that hinders the abundant and effective Spirit-filled life God planned for her.”

I continue to see the snares Satan sets for me – the ways in which I am held captive -and I am growing to recognize them as potential pitfalls.  But, rather than getting hung up on my shortcomings and wallowing in my failures, or wishing I was more like all those fortunate people who seem to have the immediate reflex of “how can I help?”, I choose following my Savior, because He chose me. While I fail, I strive to do better.  I want to become more like Him today than I was yesterday, all in response for what He has done for me.

“Love is an enormous commitment.  It is a commitment that tests you at your most vulnerable areas of spirituality.  A commitment that will force you to make very hard decisions.  A commitment that will force you to deal with your lust.  A commitment that will force you to deal with your greed and pride.  Love demands from you a quality of commitment which Jesus uses as an analogy of His own relationship with us.”
                                                                                                       ~ Ravi Zacharias

While I may never fully master the elusive #11, I am so thankful that I have the greatest possible example of unconditional love – my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8 (ESV)

Do you have this assurance today?  Do you feel like you fall desperately short?  Know this without a doubt – his unconditional love will surround you and uphold you in a way you have never experienced.  Just confess your sins to him, and place your trust in him as your Lord and Savior. He will meet you where you are and lead you forward.  

Resting in the promises despite my daily failures,


Always Under Construction…

“Partnering with Jesus to advance his kingdom is often difficult and unpleasant, but there are some unexpected upsides.  It is never boring.” – Chris Travis, Insignificant

As is often the case when embarking into an unknown area, we venture out on highways that we have not yet traveled.  We find ourselves leaning forward as we wonder what will be around the next bend.  The anticipation of a new landscape, a breathtaking view, the wonders of majestic mountains coupled with patchwork quilts of farmland never grows old.  Every journey contains a choice – will I eagerly look to what is coming, or dread the unknown?

Image result for cartoon people on bus about choice

A few weeks ago, we were able to venture out of the city on a long weekend to visit Quilotoa, a crater lake located high in the Andes Mountains.  As is our custom, we grabbed a mattress and a blanket, threw the kids in the back (once we were outside city limits), and proceeded on our adventure.  We traveled a bit and then veered off the main highway to the winding road which would take us deep into the mountains.  Once we found a quiet little pullout, we unpacked our picnic lunch and enjoyed the solitude of rolling hills and puffy clouds.


We are always amazed at these spaces and God’s creative handiwork.  We continued to wind around bend after bend, switchback after switchback, particularly thankful that the truck continues to be a faithful and trustworthy companion on our journeys.  Of course, we consider how awful it would be to have a breakdown so far from a main road, yet remain grateful for the many miles we have traveled together without significant incident. As we continue on our way, we eventually happen past a much needed gas station, and, while standing at our pump out in the middle of rural Ecuador, greet a gentleman on a motorcycle who arrived the previous night from Kansas City.  He has been in country less than twelve hours and, with his limited Spanish, is making his way to the coast, stopping at the crater along the way.  Among other things, we discuss with him the beauty of the surroundings and the amazing upkeep of the road we have been on.  It has been lined with flowers in the town, and seemed somewhat new.  We wish him well and pull out ahead of him, eager to continue our journey but marveling at the coincidence of meeting a lone English speaking tourist at a random gas stop in the middle of the mountains of Ecuador.

As the kilometers tick away, I’m not sure why we continue to be surprised when we meet unexpected obstacles, but our North American roots run deep – we often expect the way something is done in the US of A to be the same regardless of where we are.  In this case, our previous musings on the newness of the road bounces up against our unexpected reality that maybe, just maybe, they hadn’t quite finished the project. We must have somehow missed the “construction ahead” signs (there weren’t any) and we had suddenly ventured into some serious change of roadbed.

No flag men, no pilot car, no detour signs; the inconveniences we dread seeing in the States when we are in a hurry to arrive at our destination were nowhere to be found, and, in actuality, nonexistent.

Road under some SERIOUS construction.

Imagine the immediate conversation in the car: “Which lane are we supposed to take?”

“Are we even on the right road?”

“Truck ahead! Can you get around him?”

“Do we try to go forward, or should we turn around and go back?”

“We’ve come this far…there is no way we can change our investment of time and energy at this point!”

After all is said and done and I reflect on this trip from the safety and comfort of my living room chair, I can’t help but notice the parallels of our life journey right now.  We are currently at the crossroads of some major decisions.  Our time here at Alliance Academy International is drawing to a close, and we have been working through the immense emotions and changes that come with a decision such as this.  Many different roads stretch out before us – great choices and opportunities – but the fearful part of me is concerned we will choose the wrong one.  In some ways, certain actions can be interpreted as barriers and discernment is needed to determine if it is simply a detour, a roadblock, or a closed road.  Many people have valid opinions and insight and we must continue to weed through godly counsel as well as personal preferences.  This road is bumpy, winding, and we can’t really see very far in front of us at this point.  To be completely forthright, there are many days where I question everything about what we are doing and where we are going.  Unfortunately, working through all of these thoughts means a whole lot of uncomfortable introspection and a spotlight on my own shortcomings.

Honestly, once in a while, occasionally, sometimes, frequently I want to do things my own way, with my own best interests in mind.   I want to pick my path, what is best for me.  I want to be selfish and choose myself first. I want to not feel bad about the way I treat my husband, or how I speak in anger or frustration towards my kids.  Keeping the best interests of myself in the forefront means I have the right to hang on to past hurts because it is justified to feel this way.  Sure, I may cast my cares down at the feet of the Lord, but pride makes me pick them back up, time and time again.  And, when choices are on an even bigger scale, involving the future and where we will live next, where we will serve in our next phase of life, certainly I have the right to pick and choose based on how I feel and what I will get out of it, right?

In the minds of the world, everything I wrote in the paragraph above would not only be accepted, but perhaps even honored.  It’s understood that I should “get mine”!  But, I have learned over the recent years that my way, although it is self-serving and may sound or feel satisfying in the short-term, is by no means the best way.

Thank the Lord that He has drawn me to himself and called me to be His own!  He chose me, and, each and every day, my choice, despite how much I fail or fall short, is to follow Christ, no matter what.

I don’t have to do anything because he has done it all, through his sacrifice for me.  But, my response, due to my thankfulness for this gift, is to serve him with all that I have and all that I am.  I strive to become more and more like him every day – I want to be more Christ-like today than I was yesterday.  Granted, it is definitely not easy and I fail miserably all the time (see paragraph about selfish tendencies listed above!) but, blessedly, I am forgiven for my shortcomings, so I get up and try to be obedient in letting him lead my life again and again.

The beauty of all this (there’s actually a lot but I’m picking this one today…) is that His plan for me is promised to be SOOOOO much better than my plan for me.

It is promised in John 10:10 and I can claim and trust that promise for my life!

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

Or, if you read it in the NLT version, it shows how it is beyond what I can comprehend…

A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

This life of a Christian is never boring, and it is full of adventure when Jesus IS the pilot car.  I am immensely thankful that I don’t have to venture out alone as we have the gift of the Holy Spirit leading us along.  We know by seeking Him and aligning our hearts with his, he will auto-correct us if we are veering off course.  By  immersing ourselves in his Word while strengthening our relationship through prayer and communication with Him, we can be assured that we are traveling His road, in His time, for His glory. He alone can provide the assurance in each step, each decision, because we trust in his leading, even if we are unclear where it is taking us at any given moment.

Despite the twists and turns and actual obstacles in the road (once again, our truck proved herself to be true as she cleared water pouring over the road and easily bounced over boulders), we eventually reached Quilotoa and were immensely rewarded by the wonder and beauty of God’s creation. Surrounded by snow capped mountains, the lake reflected the ever-changing hues of the sky.  The journey was well worth it due to the destination.  In this case, we were able to see the end product of our journey in just a matter of hours.


Thankfully, as Christians, we also know the ultimate destination at the end of our time here on earth.  We have the assurance of heaven due to Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection for each and every one of us. So, we trust in Him to continue to guide us as we follow wherever he leads.

Things are changing for us…including our location and calling. The new chapter is becoming more clear each and every day. Today, we choose joy in the opportunities coming into focus and continue to experience a peace beyond all understanding as we travel the unknown road into tomorrow.

This is what the Lord says – Your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow.  Oh, that you had listened to my commands!  Then you would have peace flowing like a gentle river and righteousness rolling over you like waves in the sea.” Isaiah 48:17-18 (NLT)

Thankful to be a small part of this amazing adventure ~


PS.  As I have been writing this over the past days, a news story was developing about a tragic accident along the very road we had traveled a few weeks prior.  The excessive rains we have experienced lately were a key factor.  Once again, we are overwhelmed with thankfulness for our safety and protection in this country, and our hearts are heavy for those who are victims of this sad event.  May we ever be mindful of how fleeting life is, and how the urgency to share Christ with others should be our first thought and action in whatever our circumstance.

El bus cayó a un barranco debido a que el puente del lugar colapsó. Tres personas resultaron heridas una de las cuales falleció. Foto: cortesía Bomberos de Pujilí

Photo credit: El Comercio

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.


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,


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.


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…


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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,


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”


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…


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,


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 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,


PS.  Want to receive our monthly prayer letter?  Email us at 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…


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…


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.


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.


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…