Category Archives: Learning from Him

The Gathering at Calacali…Choclo Edition

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It’s harvest time in Ecuador.  Last year, I chronicled the steps of our choclo harvest at the Calacali property in this post, including the age old tradition of planting and harvesting the South American corn by hand.  We again celebrated the bounty and blessings this past weekend by hosting a good ol’ fashioned “all you can eat” choclo and sloppy joe feed at the Calacali campus for the AAI faculty, staff, and their immediate families.

One of our areas of ministry has been hosting (almost) monthly events at the AAI Calacali campus.  Often, they are camp-style worship gatherings with the intent to provide a place of peace and rest from the day to day routine, fellowship with other believers, and an escape from the city with an opportunity to be refreshed.  These reunions also provide an opportunity for us to work together as a family and focus on serving others.  But, as you can imagine, getting ready for an event such as this takes some coordinated efforts.  This past weekend, the kids and I were on our own initially as Brad had an all day VISTA education program going on at the AAI campus in Quito on Saturday.  Let me just say, these kids of ours stepped it up…For fun, we documented some of the prep time in pictures to give you a bit of a back story of what we do to get ready for our guests.

First off, we have the food prep – this time, it was frying lots of ground beef (20 lbs or so) and assembling the sloppy joe recipe from scratch…no dry packets of mix available here!

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Part of the challenge in this step is figuring out how much each pan can hold and how we can still stir the mixture…We start with one pan, realize it is not quite big enough, move to the one we originally wanted to boil the corn in, realize the spoon barely reaches the bottom, decide to split the mixture into two large pans to cook, and, voilá, never ending dish duty.

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~Next, there are mayonnaise containers to fill (Ecuadorians tend to lean towards mayo on their corn versus the North American counterpart of butter), Calacali 2015 011

~Chairs and tables to wipe down and set up

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~Breaks to take

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~Music to jam to while you’re working…(God’s Great Dance Floor by Chris Tomlin)

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~And, for some reason, these kids still think they have to be fed so we have to prepare food for our own meals (AAARGH!)

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~Bean bags to be repaired for corn hole games to be played…

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~Hugs for the dad who has arrived via bus and is ready to work

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~More arranging

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~And, quality assurance checks for how the choclo tastes

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Sunday arrives, and it is time to move the corn, almost FOUR HUNDRED ears of it…

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Make lemonade, get some help to cut the queso fresco (white cheese – another Ecuadorian tradition),

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And get a jump start on shucking the corn (with a cup of coffee) to have some ready when everyone arrives to enjoy the beautiful day!

Calacali 2015 078 Calacali 2015 082 Calacali 2015 080 Calacali 2015 086 Calacali 2015 085Time to start the water and cook that choclo!

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Let the festivities begin!

Shucking corn…

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Eating…

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Conversation…

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Game playing…

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Holding baby Matias…

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Looking good…

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And hanging out with friends…

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God has truly blessed us with the opportunity to be intentional in celebrating God’s provision, sharing time with the AAI community, and being a part of Calacali.  Our prayer this year has been that the Calacali campus could be a place filled with God’s presence, one in which merely setting foot on site would allow each individual a time of rest and relaxation in order to recharge for continued ministry.  Whether it be for individual retreat, or corporate times of worship and fellowship, Calacali has become a special place to feel God’s presence.

But as for me, God’s presence is my good.
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
so I can tell about all You do.  Psalm 73:28

Praying you will find rest and refuge in the only One who can sustain our every need…

Sarah

Present and intentional

Wednesday was rolling around again, and my continued complaining to Brad had resumed.

“All they do is talk.”

“I don’t feel like we are making any type of impact.”

“I have no idea where these kids are at and I’m pretty sure we aren’t getting anywhere.”

Spring 2015_8Wednesday afternoons, from 2:30pm to 3:30pm, are dedicated to DNA groups at the Alliance Academy International. DNA, short for Discipleship, Nurturing, and Accountability, is a work in progress to bridge the gap between monthly chapels and building intentional relationships with high school students in a small group setting. The group centers around an activity that many have in common and presents a mutual starting point for building community.  With that in mind, my friend Ashley and I started a group that focuses on cooking, and blessing others through the results of the food that is made.

When we started out the year, we had some immediate obstacles due to the some outright animosity between students…the issues ran deep and branched all the way into families. Needless to say, there was much to overcome, and we had kids within the group that didn’t even speak to each other.  When we formed groups, there was no mixing.  We couldn’t have meaningful and deep conversations – we could barely get a cooking activity done.Spring 2015_10

As the days and weeks changed into months, we saw some progress by Christmas.  Now, we could sit around a table for a few minutes at a time, and try to share some short spiritual truths, but, to be honest, I continued to be discouraged, instead focusing on the lack of relationships that I had built with these kids and the feeling that we were just spinning our wheels and not truly discipling, nurturing, or holding anyone accountable.  Spring 2015_16I kept showing up, and did enjoy being around the kids each week and all their energy, but I felt convicted that we should be doing more.  We had a bit of a turnover at semester break with two girls leaving, but adding two back in.  Time to test the waters a bit more by changing up the mix.  We felt convicted to continue to build relationships, and speak Truth when we could.  But, we felt limited in the opportunities of actually making a difference in the lives of these young people in our care for only an hour a week.  I especially felt disjointed as my paths did not cross with most of the high schoolers, short of supporting them in  their extra-curricular activities.  The Enemy knew how to make me feel inadequate, tell me how nothing was making a difference, and whisper to me that we weren’t seeing any seeds being sown.

But, week after week, we would continue to pray for a single opportunity, something that we could grasp hold of and run with.

The Enemy knows how to prey on my weaknesses, so I need to be
equally as diligent
to pray to the One who gives me the strength.

Spring 2015_11But, that’s not always easy to do.  It’s not easy to admit you need help, you don’t have it all together, or that you have to lean on someone else.

But, it seems to me, the more we lean into Christ, the straighter we stand, because the burdens have been lifted off our shoulders.

We participated in an uplifting Easter assembly, complete with Brad reading from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Now, here we are a couple weeks later and all of the DNA leaders receive an email from Ron, the secondary chaplain.  Spring 2015_12Upon opening it, I give it a cursory glance as I note its length, but by Wednesday morning, while Ashley and I are still struggling to land on an activity for our group for later that day.  I read the email thoroughly and find great talking points correlating back to the Easter Assembly.  Further convicted by the Holy Spirit, I know that today we HAVE to talk specifically about the Resurrection of Christ.  With further advisement from my insightful husband, we land on a decision for the afternoon that includes showing the movie clip of Aslan’s death and resurrection.  We prayed that eyes and hearts would be opened to the Truth of Jesus.Spring 2015_18

As much as I’d like to say the discussion led to ten high schoolers on their knees at the end of the session, I do know with all certainty that God continues to work in and through those who are obedient to Him.  Spring 2015_17At the end of the hour, which involved ten kids and two leaders engaged in discussion around a table, two students took the time to share how, at the beginning of the year, they didn’t want to talk, let alone care about the other people in the room that they weren’t already friends with.  I sat back and watched the happy interactions and exchanges as they all, as a group, shared thoughts and ideas.  I saw respect and trust as they listened to what Jesus had done for them and responded with questions and comments.  When they all had left, Ashley and I looked at each other and realized that they were finally to the point where we could ask them for one on one meetings to be able to specifically speak to them individually about their personal relationship with Jesus.

Sometimes, you just have to keep showing up and God will meet you there.

Quito 031It still is hard for me to realize that it is not the big revival moments – it’s the faithful in the day to day.  We want to see fireworks, feel the earth shake, see the hand of God through lightening bolts and know, without a doubt, that we are making a difference in this world.  We want to see our efforts being recognized, rewarded even.  We want to KNOW that what we are doing is worthwhile.

What if God is simply asking you to be present and intentional in the day to day?

Present and intentional are hard when they don’t look glamorous.  But, it is the foundation on which opportunities are built.

Present and intentional means investing in people, in relationships, in time, energy, and it means commitment.

It means doing the down and dirty stuff, working side by side, setting aside your own desires for others, giving of your self until you can’t give any more.  It means hurting, feeling, crying, laughing, rejoicing, sharing deeply, from the depths of your soul.  It means transparency, being real, feeling exhausted, but still moving forward.

That is what present and intentional look like…and there is nothing simple about it.

I give...but not always until it hurts.

I share…but not necessarily with transparency.

I am real…but with very few people.

I am present…but sometimes I have an electronic device in hand.

I am intentional..but often on my own terms.

What would this world look like if we were present and intentional, each and every day, with all of those we come in contact with?  What if we showed the love of Jesus with words, thoughts, feelings, and actions with everyone we met?

Would life look different than it does now?  Would you look back at the end of the day and see that there are no small things?  That God can take any opportunity put in front of us and use it for his glory and kingdom expansion?

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see
the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” Zechariah 4:10 (NLT)

 There will be no harvest if there are not workers faithfully planting on a day to day basis.  Quito 037

Lord, make me ever mindful of the importance to be present and intentional…here and now.

Praying this for myself and for all of you –

I Will Follow

2012-07-03_06-51-01_376Easter has always been a time filled with memories for me.  My dad, who died of a brain tumor at the age of 37, passed away during Holy Week thirty-five years ago. IMG_8961 I was twelve at the time, and remember vividly how dad had hoped to celebrate Easter in heaven that year.  God granted him this desire and goodness knows, all heaven rejoiced as another believer was called home to the fold.  Every year in this season, I am drawn backward in time to his celebration of life, with strains of “Praise to the Lord the Almighty” playing through my head as I vividly see our family walking to the front of the church where the casket holding my dad’s body was waiting.  I see myself in my new Easter dress a whole day early, and I wish I could recollect who sewed it for me, because my mom had been busy making funeral plans.

Unable to stop myself, I go further back to 1976, sitting in my Shawn Cassidy postered room, as my mom and dad told me that dad had a brain tumor.

I remembered that I laughed.

I was all of nine and had no idea how to handle that kind of news.

IMG_8963I have a mixture of garbled memories from the time of his illness…him choking on his food when I was home alone with him, the hospital bed moved into the piano room, mascara running down my Aunt Ruth’s face when dad would have such severe headaches that he couldn’t sit up…a small glimpse at some of the tough ones when you deal with cancer.  Cancer sucks the life right out of you and wreaks havoc on those near and dear.

But, thankfully, shining even more vividly are peaceful moments from the last days.  When a bible was placed in his hands, Dad, who had lost his sight because of the tumor, would “read” Scripture to us as eloquently as if truly seeing the words.  The power of God’s word, memorized, sprung forth and made an eternal impression on me.  I was able to see how biblical truth, stored and treasured in my dad’s heart, poured out to comfort and overflow into our lives.

When I discovered your words, I devoured them.
    They are my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
    O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.  Jeremiah 15:16 (NLT)

Later, after weeks of being unable to talk due to the tumor progression, miraculously, Dad was able to speak the Lord’s Prayer with us during family devotion time.  Furthermore, he raised his hands and pronounced the blessing on his family:

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the
fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2 Corinthians 13:14 (NLT)

He died that night.  The knock on the door, the whispered “daddy’s gone”, the long look at the still body but absolutely certain you can still see his chest moving, the coroner arriving despite the late hour, burned into memory.

The funeral was held the day before Easter – but Sunday was coming.

I’d like to say that my faith had never wavered, that I had never gone astray.  I’d like to say that the impact my dad and mom had on my life was instilled so deep that I never once questioned the love of Christ.  Dad was death #2 in a list of six in seven years.  I was going to get awfully good at this grief thing…and I figured out auto-pilot pretty quickly.IMG_8041

But, thankfully, Sunday was coming.  In fact, Sunday came and stayed.  It was there day in and day out.  Sometimes I saw glimpses of it, sometimes I was overwhelmed by it.  I heard it in my Uncle Kenny singing “Jesus Loves Me” loud and strong at my six year old cousin Heidi’s funeral, just a month after my daddy died.  Years later, at Heidi’s brother Matt’s funeral, Uncle Kenny is behind me in the church, singing hymns with passion and conviction that can only come from a faith tested, but refined.

A few weeks ago, in Montana, we’re in church the Sunday morning before Steve’s memorial service, and I’m singing with the hope that can only come from a God who loves us. Overwhelmed, I stop.  Brad leans over and whispers, “You thinking of Uncle Kenny?”

Oh, to keep singing when the storm is rolling in.

Sundays are here to stay.  Because of this, we can sing with abandon, with hope, and with purpose.  Because the Sunday of all Sundays, where memories rest heavy, points us to the empty tomb and the cross.

As Brad shared with the AAI community at the Easter assembly just last week:

Because of Easter, the cross is transformed from an ugly symbol of
pain, suffering, 
and death into a
beautiful promise of victory, hope, and celebration.

We cling because we know where we place our trust.  We place our trust in the one who has risen from the dead, who has conquered sin and death, and who has left us with the Holy Spirit alive and in us until he comes again.

3-5 What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this
Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead,
we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for,
including a future in heaven—and the future starts now!
God is keeping careful watch over us and the future.
The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.

6-7 I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up
with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold
put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith
put through this suffering comes out proved genuine.
When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that
God will have on display as evidence of his victory.

8-9 You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him,
yet you trust him—with laughter and singing.
Because you kept on believing,you’ll get what you’re
looking forward to: total salvation. 1 Peter 1:3-9 (MSG)

This Easter, I know it to be true.  This past Sunday, as we sang “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Maher to close the service, I look over to my dear husband, who just weeks ago lost his brother, and his hand is outstretched in praise and adoration to the One who holds our future.

Once again, Easter is further etched in my mind as hope and joy despite circumstances.

Through the calm and through the storm, we know and trust the power of the empty grave. And, because of this power, we will continue to follow Him, obedient to His call, wherever it leads – all while singing like Uncle Kenny, because we know our future is safe and secure in the arms of Christ.

When the sea is calm and all is right
When I feel Your favor flood my life
Even in the good, I’ll follow You
Even in the good, I’ll follow You

When the boat is tossed upon the waves
When I wonder if You’ll keep me safe
Even in the storms, I’ll follow You
Even in the storms, I’ll follow You

I believe everything that You say You are
I believe that I have seen Your unchanging heart
In the good things and in the hardest part
I believe and I will follow You
I believe and I will follow You

When I see the wicked prospering
When I feel I have no voice to sing
Even in the want, I’ll follow You
Even in the want, I’ll follow You

When I find myself so far from home
And You lead me somewhere I don’t wanna go
Even in my death, I’ll follow You
Even in my death, I’ll follow You

When I come to end this race I’ve run
And I receive the prize that Christ has won
I will be with You in Paradise
I will be with You in Paradise

© 2013 Sony/ATV Cross Keys Publishing / HBC Worship Music / Jingram Music (ASCAP) / Sony/ATV Tree Publishing / Harvest Worship Songs / Ingram Designee (BMI) All rights on behalf of Sony/ATV Cross Keys Publishing, HBC Worship Music, Jingram Music, Sony/ATV Tree Publishing, Harvest Worship Songs and Ingram Designee administered by Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC.

Blessed to be His and praying that you are as well,

Sarah

Snapshots of hope

After the events of the past two weeks, the first follow-up blog post seems so monumental…so important…especially in light of literally thousands of people who have visited this page to learn more about Steve.

To be honest, we have a multitude of things we want to say – but we’re still processing how to say them.

We are trying to figure out how to explain the depth and breadth of how we have been loved and cared for as a family.

How do you say thank you to people who cared for your kids when you were over two thousand miles away?

How do you put into words what you have learned, how you already know the areas you want to improve in your own life, how you can take away hope from something so tragic?

How can you have so many thoughts in your head while having none at all when you sit at the keyboard?

There are moments we want to share, glimpses of the hand of God at work, stories of the hands and feet of Jesus all waiting to be put to words.

But, for now, we will share pictures with the thought that, for starters, you will see how hope shines through in the form of God’s creation, the generosity in the sharing of housing, food, flowers, and fellowship, and the love of family and friends, both near and far.

Montana 001 Montana 014 Montana 018 Montana 019 Montana 020 Montana 022 Montana 025 Montana 023 Steve 028 Steve 024  Steve 033 Steve 030Steve 029  Steve 034Steve 133  Steve 131FullSizeRender FullSizeRender (6)FullSizeRender (5) FullSizeRender (3)FullSizeRender (1) FullSizeRender (2)

FullSizeRender (4)Steve 035 Steve 174Steve 038 Steve 077   Steve 204

Steve

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15: 13 

Grateful for each and every one of you….

Brad and Sarah, Josh, jacob, and Tessa

So, we figured it would happen eventually…The Rendezvouz

Part 1: To read the beginning of this three part series, click here

Part 2:  To read the Re-enactment, please click here

So, we figured all was said and done as Monday morning rolled around.  Of course, enough things were on our agenda so I had to get my driver’s license taken care of right away…lots of holiday travel makes for random police stops and, well, I’d better be legal if we headed through a checkpoint.  We also had people planning on coming out to Calacali over the Christmas holiday, so Brad would now need to create time to grocery shop with me so we could use his card (yes, we could use cash but that’s a whole different story that we’re not going to go into here), yada, yada, yada, more logistics and, well, all in all, this week was going to be some kind of a pain.

So, Brad is at the school and gets a summons to come into the AAI school office Monday morning.   A mysterious call has come in to the school in regards to some items that have been found on a street, and some of these items happened to have our name on it.  The man calling says he is willing to meet us later that day to return the information that he has found.  Andrea, from our school office, handles the Spanish-speaking call on our behalf, and advises us in the pros and cons of planning a point of rendezvous later that evening.Quito 021  After much discussion and debate with Andrea and others involving distinct opinions of whether or not this was a good idea, we heed Andrea’s counsel based on the seemingly positive phone conversation with the aforementioned gentleman and make the hopefully accurate decision that he is not in on the original crime and out for additional monies.  We proceed with planning a 6:30 pm “drop” outside a very public Burger King by a local mall.  Brad, Jacob, Josh, and our guest, Charlotte, who was visiting from the Netherlands, decide they will all venture down after supper, via bus (no trolley on this route), to the CCI mall to play a role in the live version of the Bourne movies.

Per the phone call, at the designated time, they were to look for a man on a black motorcycle, wearing a black helmet, a black vest, black pants, and black boots.  Interestingly, that describes quite a large portion of the Quito population.  After awkwardly asking three different people at what must be seen as a well known meeting spot if they were Señor Guadalupe, Jacob tried calling him to see if somehow the communication lines had been crossed and other arrangements should be made. Señor Guadalupe was indeed in the neighborhood, but still fifteen minutes away.  One missed call later, the rendezvous point was quickly changed to across the street, in front of a bank (the irony in this is not missed) and the exchange was complete.  A ‘regalito’ (small reward) was offered for the man’s kindness and celebratory ice-cream cones were shared.

The rest of the womanfolk (aka Tessa and myself) had stayed at home, thoroughly safe, tucked behind locked doors, when the renegades returned and the obligatory debriefing began.Spring 2015 361 Operation Rendezvous had been completed successfully.  In hand, was a beautiful sight of three of Brad’s business cards (most likely how they were able to make a point of contact), a factura card, our health insurance card, and, lo and behold, my beloved DRIVER’S LICENSE.  While no passport copy or Diner’s Club credit card was recovered, the mere sight of that Ecuadorian driver’s license was enough to make me giddy.  I would not have to, at least at this point, present myself to the transit authority any sooner than the necessary renewal in the fall of 2015.  That alone was worth the risk of the reconnaissance mission right there (spoken truly by the one who actually didn’t even go).

And that, my friends, is almost the end of the story.  No further implications, problems, or outcomes thus far.  I continue to remain in full pursuit of small change, seeking to re-attain my small fortune of dollar coins, fifty-Spring 2015 360 cent pieces, and quarters.  I am still carrying around the spare purse I happened to have on hand as I have not yet found a new, suitable, clad with iron replacement.  I keep the second coin purse with the residual cut on it as a spare…holding less important items, but still playing an essential secondary decoy role.  We have a new level of diligence…one that can only come from going through the experience and coming out more knowledgeable on the other side.  We don’t think any less of the people we meet on a day to day basis.  We still ride the trolley, full or not.

Every good story has a lesson, and this is no exception.  One of the things we learned from this experience is that no amount of diligence or good intentions can keep bad things from happening.  Isn’t that an analogy that can be applied by and large to our entire life?  If you have read this far, I just ask you stick with me a bit longer.  We felt like we were keeping our eyes open, watching for the appropriate clues, grasping purses and reversing backpacks, all to keep the bad guys away.  Many of us walk through our life the same way – if only we just do all the right things, say the correct words, help people in need, go to church on Sunday, read our Bible, give our designated tithe, our lives won’t be turned upside down.  We won’t experience job loss, death in the family, grief, despair, depression…those things will bypass us and move to someone else who “deserves” it, or, at least, if we are honest and real, someone who wasn’t as prepared and standing a post like us “good” Christians were.

But, that’s not how it works.  We live in a fallen world.  People are sinful and full of evil.  It is everywhere and there is no way to make yourself immune to it.  Whether you are struck down by cancer and trying to see God’s hand in it, a police officer on the streets of Minneapolis being gunned down intentionally, a Christian in Egypt being beheaded in the name of Allah, or on a trolley in Ecuador having your money stolen, (to name but only a few examples) we have to contend with the consequences of being in this world.

As I see it, we have two choices.  We can bemoan the fact that this is our reality, wring our hands, cast our eyes downward, and hide out as much as we can to avoid as many chances as we can of being hurt.  OR, we can claim the promises of Scripture that tell us that we have a power far beyond ourselves that will stand in the gap to help us, to cling to, to know that this world is not the end, but a temporary place to land before Paradise.  We are not doing this alone.  Do you claim his promises?  Do you trust Him today?  Do you cling to him and not your own safety nets that are weak and worldly?

10 “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 (NLT)

For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God. 1 John 5:4-5 (NLT)

I am saying this as much to myself as I am to you, my friend…know that HE alone is the one who can  protect us in this life so there is no need to fear.  Venture into each day, boldly, confidently, claiming His promises…but do it with Him by your side.  Arm yourself with prayer, Scripture, and the body of believers, believing He has given you the Holy Spirit to stay with us in this life, so we rise victorious, despite the evil in this world.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 (NLT)

Be assured of His love for you.  Win the battle that has been waged…with Him by your side.

Sarah

 

So, we figured it would happen eventually…The Re-enactment

If you haven’t read the first part of the story, please click here...

The Re-Enactment:

So, by now, the trolley congestion had lessened somewhat, so we huddled together as a family and tried to sort through the last 15 minutes and what had occurred.  I kept saying to Brad how I couldn’t believe this had happened as I had been holding on to my purse the entire time.  It was strapped across the front of my body and there is no way someone could have reached inside to grab my coin purse.

Then, like an exclamation point, a pen fell to the ground from my purse…as I was holding the top.

I looked down at my purse and pulled it away from my body and discovered a rip in the purse, top to bottom.  Stranger still, it was on the side that had been up against my body.Quito 015

The method of choice, as we have been warned, oftentimes is to slice the backpack or purse straps in order to grab the contents.  That is the reason you wear the backpack backwards and put your purse across the front of your body…an extra precaution to further protect your belongings in order to minimize the risk.

We hopped off downtown, no longer excited to get my desired coffee, (Brad probably only had a $20 in his pocket and goodness knows we would have needed smaller change for my cup of bliss but didn’t have it now!) so instead decided to trolley back home and report our losses.   My purse had contained at  least one credit card, but I needed to check a few things back at our apartment to see what else I did and didn’t have along.  One coin purse of two was removed from my purse, and we knew, at this point that in addition to my credit card, I also had been carrying a copy of my passport, about $30-$35 in cash (including my massive, horded amount of change!), and my coveted driver’s license that I had just received about 3 weeks earlier.  At this point, I was more angry about losing all my accumulated change and having to figure out what to do about my lost driver’s license that I wasn’t even shook up – I was just plain mad.  There was no way I wanted to go back and sit at the Ecuadorian version of the DMV sooner than one year from my license expiration date!  And, Christmas was coming so I knew it was going to be hard to get this all resolved.  Angry.  Frustrated…not even necessarily at the perpetrators.  Just that it had happened despite our diligence.

Because, you see, we thought we had been diligent.  We thought we had been aware.  We thought we had been on guard.  As we further discussed the incident, it was amazing how we were able to see this all unfold – in retrospect.  If only Brad, the kids, and I could have conferred about what we had seen on the trolley just a bit earlier, we would have been more acutely aware of being targets.  I saw certain things, Brad saw other things, and putting them all together, we had the whole picture.

When we first made the decision to take the specific trolley, creepy guy and balance by supernatural powers older woman raced to follow us in the front doors rather than just boarding  at the middle doors they had previously been standing by.  Brad saw that they had let three trolleys go by, just like us, and then quickly adjusted and followed us when we decided to board.  The creepy guy was actually the decoy in this case.  All of our attention was on him because he was staying close to Brad and Jacob, so we naturally assumed he was interested in the backpack, making Brad and Jacob on guard for watching and protecting the contents.  The woman separated Tessa and I from Brad.  I hadn’t even realized that she was with creepy guy.  She utilized my helpful nature by positioning herself next to me and I continued to try and assist her with finding a handrail and a place to hold on to.  She had a large jacket tied around her waist with a large bag slung (similar to mine) across her front.  Her hands never appeared the entire time we were near her.  I felt pulling and tugging a few times on my purse, but assumed it was from people being up next to me and not from the dance that this woman and I were engaged in.  Again, I had my hand on top of my purse, clutching it closed, the entire time.  I was not suspicious of her at all, being more concerned about Brad since the creepy guy was by him.  Brad’s instinct, even though he didn’t know anything had happened, was to follow them off the trolley due to their quick departure.  I was close enough to her that I could pick her out of a lineup, that was how many times I made eye contact and tried to be of assistance.  Oh, yeah, I helped her plenty…$30-$35 worth, for sure.

We got back home and started making calls.  Thankfully, I did only have one credit card in my purse and we were able to contact the AAI Business director to assist us with canceling our credit card.  We were thankful to be able to email with the security adviser of our school regarding my lost license and passport copy and be assured that the passport copy was a minimal identity risk.  I investigated the cost and time of getting a replacement license: no break in the fee for obtaining a new one…plan to proceed to the nearest line and start waiting…Ugh.  I already had begun to dread what the next week was going to look like to resolve these inconveniences.  We combed through our materials making sure there was nothing else of vital importance to take care of, and rejoiced that I hadn’t been carrying my camera or my tablet in my purse as well.

At this point, short of being just plain mad about the whole deal and feeling like somehow, someway, we should have been able to avoid this even though we did feel like we had been on our guard, we were so thankful that no one had been hurt.   We hadn’t been held at gunpoint or knife point like other friends of ours had experienced.  Our financial losses had been minimal in the big picture, and, short of the inconvenience of getting a new credit card at Christmas time and replacing my license, we escaped the whole ordeal with little distress, all in all.

But, come to find out, it wasn’t completely over.  There was still more to add to the story…

Stay tuned for the final installment:  The Rendezvous!

So, we figured it would happen eventually…

About a week before Christmas, Brad, Tess, Jacob, and I set out to explore Quito a bit and charter some new territory.  We hopped on the trolley, as we often do, with a plan in mind, and a rough outline of where we were going to go. Spring 2015_7 A brief trolley ride, a little bit of a walk, and we ventured into the Hotel Quito area.  Located near the United States Ambassador’s house, it was fun to explore the property, see the hotel pool, check out the garden and the view, and wish I had had my camera along.  Of course, it was a glorious volcano sighting day, but I’m smart enough to know when to be cautious about hauling along the Nikon.

After our lovely little outing, we had lunch at a nearby restaurant, bemoaning the fact that soccer was on the televisions instead of American football.  We wondered about the hamburger we were eating as it seemed a bit different, and I proudly shared with the family how I had finally accumulated enough change in my purse that it actually felt physically heavy.  This was no small feat, considering it is extremely difficult to find change here, which actually translates to reduced spending at times simply because you only have a $20 bill and no one who is able to break it.  After lunch, we headed back down the hill to continue our journey to a little coffee haunt and the downtown historical district.

Spring 2015 355At this point, we were waiting in a nearby Ecovia stop…basically, a little glassed-in station where you pay a 25 cents admittance, which then allows you to hop on the trolley and go to whatever stop you want.  This particular stop was much busier than earlier in the day due to the recent ending of a soccer game at a nearby stadium.  We contemplated exiting and flagging a taxi as trolley after trolley was stuffed to the brim.  But, we had already paid our $1.00 for four people, so figured we’d wait it out and jump on one that could fit the four of us and still allow us to breathe.Spring 2015_23

So, as we wait, I am standing against a wall by the middle set of trolley entrance doors, just watching people and wondering how many trolleys we will need to watch go by until we decide to make our move.  I notice a guy getting in my personal space, which tends to happen a fair amount in this city, but, this one seemed different.  This actual trolley stop was not overly crowded, but he kept edging towards me and the alert signals in my brain were heightened to move away…so I did.  Brad was down a bit further, kind of scoping out the first trolley doors, so I moved down by him, noting to him subtly that the dude was creepin’ me out, so we just kept our guard up as we finally decided to push our way onto the next trolley, squeezing in like proverbial sardines into a can.

Spring 2015_25Once on the trolley, we twisted, turned, and weaseled our way into a small space with Tessa and I near each other, and Brad and Jacob a bit separate but closer to the door. This was not by chance…Brad was carrying his tablet in a backpack as we needed a map of the area we were exploring, so the backpack was, essentially, being worn backwards (worn in the front) for security reasons…a typical adaptation here in Ecuador.  Spring 2015_6Jacob then positioned himself in front of Brad in order to “sandwich” in the one thing of any monetary value we had on the trolley.

Tessa and I found ourselves a bit deeper in the trolley, standing room only, of course. Right next to us was an older woman, who caught my eye from the moment we started moving.  At this point, even though you are tightly packed with what feels like a couple hundred of your non-closest friends, you still sway and tip as you traverse the trolley line. Spring 2015 353 It is essential that you are holding on to something, the back of a chair, the provided hand rails above your head – you need to brace yourself in order to center your balance.  I became acutely aware of this woman not being tall enough to reach the heightened rails, so, being that I am so helpful,  I tried my best to continually shift around in order to provide her access to a base of support with the back of a chair, or the waist high railing that was at my back. Noticeably, she never did reach out to grab a support, which I found amazing as I myself rode the surfboard of the trolley.

As we continued to head toward our destination, Brad and I made eye contact across the trolley, not in that super romantic way, but in the “we’re making sure this guy next to us doesn’t take our stuff” kind of communication.  Both our eyes widened in surprise when, at the next stop, the amazingly balanced older lady bolts through the sea of people and out the exit followed immediately by creepy guy. Within a moment, in what seemed to be the slow motion movie theater effect in action, I lift on my purse that had been strapped across my front in typical Ecuadorian safety fashion, only to find, to my dismay, that it was amazingly light.  I had been robbed.  Despite our diligence, our attentiveness, and the fact that I had been clutching my purse from the first trolley stop to the second, the inevitable had happened…

Watch for the next post: The Re-Enactment!

 

My favorite things – kitchen and laundry room edition

A few days ago, I was looking through some old pictures and ran across a couple of photosIMG_6783 from the kitchen in our most favorite house – the one we sold before we came to Ecuador.  We had remodeled about a year before leaving for Ecuador, trading old green tile for updated colors and a modern back splash.  I just loved, loved, loved my updated kitchen…rolling out pie crust on a flat surface…knowing the counter was clean after being wiped off instead of everything sticking in the grout grooves…priceless.

Then, lo and behold, we decided to move to Ecuador and traded in our updated, modern kitchen for something, well, different.  Last year, being exclusively at Calacali, I had certain things that I really liked and some challenges as well.  This year, as we now added an apartment into the mix, I have the need to put into words some different ideas about what makes me thankful to have a kitchen.

Spring 2015 176First of all, I am thankful for drawers.  Believe it or not, in my nice, big, beautiful Sioux Falls, SD kitchen, I had  seven total drawers.  Now, four of them were a part of the island and were used for things like cereal, baking items, towels and dishcloths.  But, the other three were small, and, by default, were used for silverware in one, cooking/stove utensils in another, and the third held things that didn’t fit in the first two – matches, skewers, kitchen scissors…that type of thing.  I didn’t have a junk drawer because, well, there wasn’t a drawer left over for the junk.  Here, in this apartment, I have EIGHT, count ’em, EIGHT drawers.  More than enough room to fill with silverware, matches, dish towels, spices, tea, a $14 roll of aluminum foil, homemade ranch dressing mix (thanks, Aunt Sue!)…eight is, believe it or not, too many to house the actual amount of items we even own…so I can actually find things in them as they all have room to spare.

A six burner gas stove…granted, I use only about two of the burners as I typically only have two pans that I cook with on any given day. But, a gas stove with an electric start that works is definitely something to be thankful for.  When the power outages hit, as they tend to do on a somewhat irregular basis, you can still put a match to the burner and cook away.Spring 2015 169

This chair:  While certainly providing a respite from a hard day on your feet in the kitchen, this lovely piece of furniture serves a function well beyond its normal job description.  The main role of this chair is to hold my stove closed. The hinge is broken and in need of replacement, but, our landlord has not yet chosen to make that investment.  So, we keep it closed with a chair.  If the well-placed chair is not in its place of honor, we would have an oven door jutting into our working space at least twelve inches.  Granted, the stove would definitely become a welcomed heating source, but getting things baked appropriately would then become even more of an issue, stretching even farther beyond the altitude challenges.

Spring 2015 183  Spring 2015 184

This oven rack:  It is the only one in the stove.  I have no idea where the other one is.  This rack tests me every time i use it as it makes me practice my patience and balance.  It is reverse-warped in the middle, thankfully, so that when a heavy casserole dish is placed on it, it actually pushes the ends onto the ridge a bit more to keep it from crashing to the floor of the oven.  But, it does handle all our baking needs, even if it takes twice as long to bake cookies since we have to do them one sheet at a time…all the more time to enjoy the dough between batches.Spring 2015 182

These gas tanks: At $3 a pop for a refill, these tanks provide the life-blood of our cooking and cleaning activities.  Our hot water is powered with gas, as is our stove.

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These gas tanks are highly subsidized by the Ecuadorian government,Spring 2015 162 and, if predictions are correct, when the government switches over to hydroelectric power in the next few years, the price of these tanks will go up to around $15-$20.  But, in the meantime, we flag down the gas man when he pulls into the parking lot with his telltale four horn-honk announcement, and, for a $1 tip, he will bring our new 60-70lb gas tank up to our apartment and take the old one away to be refilled for the next person.  Spring 2015 166Now, we never quite know when the gas man will come…this week alone, he’s been around three days in a row, but we often don’t see him for a week and a half.  So, I am thankful for having TWO tanks, that, if necessary, we can switch on and off to fulfill the duties of the empty tank until it has been replaced.

Our fridge:  Not only does it do the normal functions of keeping items cool, but it also provides patience testing and riddle solving.  As an added bonus, the refrigerator sometimes doubles as  a freezer, on certain shelves, in certain conditions, but none of which can be predicted or prevented.  It tends to like to freeze lettuce, milk, cabbage, and rice, particularly when placed on different shelves and the cooling set to the warmest temperature.  Rotation of items in the fridge is necessary to ensure equal opportunity for freezing, and creativity abounds when realizing part or all of the menu for the evening has reached an untimely and early end to life.   Frozen cabbage heads can easily double as bowling balls, so certainly could, if necessary, provide an evening of entertainment on a slow night.

This soap: Spring 2015 168 I fought using this Ecuadorian cream-soap staple for the first few months we lived here.  Instead, I opted for the dubious imitation of the good ol’ dish soap I grew up with in the US of A.  Try as I might, I found myself using 1/4 of the bottle each time I would wash dishes, desperately seeking the lather I was used to which certainly indicated that it was cleaning efficiently.  Once I embraced the cream soap and the “put it on your sponge, scrub with running water, rinse, and repeat on next dish method”, I have not looked back.  Short of feeling like I am wasting water and the risk of scalding myself at the kitchen sink with the running hot water (set to that temp so our showers can actually be warm), this soap is the bomb and I wonder how many people return home with a life supply in their suitcase.  Spring 2015 175Granted, this brand is not my favorite, but is the one that it is in the best shape and less grungy, so you take pictures of what works.  As an aside, I also have learned to use a scrubby sponge, which I had never used with any consistency before arriving here in Ecuador.   Bless my mom for her continued supply of knitted dishcloths, though, or my counters would never be wiped clean.  That is something only a dishcloth can do well.

Finally, in our old house, I had my laundry right off the kitchen.  Well, for some reason, it just seems so much more practical in this apartment.  Spring 2015 170I LOVE the clothesline that I never had – not only does it add much needed humidity to a dry, high-altitude location, but it saves on our electric dryer bills and provides extra closet space as the clothes are continually in a holding pattern on the line until I am tired of not having any natural light coming into the room.  While we don’t have hot water hooked to the washing machine, we have a great kitchen sink nearby where we can draw hot water to carry only a small distance for those times where washing in cold just won’t do.

All sarcasm aside, we definitely are thankful for what we have, particularly as we look and see those around us making due with much, much less.  Our neighbors in Calacali wash their clothes by hand and hang them all out to dry on the line.  Spring 2015 172I have both a washer and a dryer with a clothesline to boot.  I have a six burner stove and an oven that works, compared to many who may only have a one or two burner hot plate.  I have water to wash our dishes, and two gas tanks in our household…if one is empty, we can still cook and shower with hot water simply by switching the regulator to the other tank.  We have bottled water to drink, clean counter space to prepare our meals, and a refrigerator to preserve the leftovers for the next day.  My kitchen and laundry room may not have the best view, state of the art appliances, or the most space, but it provides for our daily needs and more.

If you have a moment today, I suggest you take a short walk around your kitchen and laundry room.  How often do we take for granted these two simple spaces?  I challenge you to look at these special areas with a fresh eye of thankfulness.  Do you see the amount of dishes, silverware, pots and pans in the cupboards?  Do you see the plethora of Tupperware containers, and more than enough space to house all the extra lids with no matching bottoms?  Are you thankful for the electricity or gas that powers the appliances?  Do you acknowledge His goodness in the majority of times they exhibit working parts?  Have you stopped to think that your dishtowels are absorbent and plentiful?  How He has provided funds to have matching rugs, towels, paint, and trim?  That your drinking water pours straight from your sink?  These, dear friends, are little things that I, too, took for granted.  It took moving to another country for me to really see the gifts that were so abundant and expected.  We grow complacent and somewhat oblivious to the very blessings we have when they are overflowing in front of us.

Thank Him today, with a full heart, for all you have.  He pours out his abundance on us, each and every day.  It is the very least we can do to have eyes that see it.

12 Riches and honor come from You, and You are the ruler of everything. Power and might are in Your hand, and it is in Your hand to make great and to give strength to all. 13 Now therefore, our God, we give You thanks and praise Your glorious name.14 But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? For everything comes from You, and we have given You only what comes from Your own hand.  (1 Chronicles 29:12-14, emphasis mine)

May my eyes continually be open to see –

Sarah

Ridin’ in the back of our pickup truck

Mom and Martha 022Happy New Year!  Hard to believe it’s been weeks since my last post, but, as usual, it has been a busy, crazy few months.  We were blessed to share a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s with our friends (who are like family!) here in Ecuador.  Then, January 5th, my mom and my niece, Martha, came to visit for a bit over two weeks.  What an amazing time we had, sharing our ministry and country with them, while helping them to understand a bit more clearly what we do and how God is at work in this place.

Mom and Martha 202  Mom and Martha 040I thought I would share a bit about how we are managing to get around these days.  Last year, about this time, we realized that a vehicle would be a wise purchase, enabling us to have more mobility, flexibility, and a means to extend hospitality (by being able to buy more groceries than just what we could carry on the bus and get enough to share meals with others!)  Thankfully, the Lord led us to Howard and MaryAnn Scholl, our neighbors in Calacali.  They were heading back to the States, and had a 2006 Nissan truck to sell.  We moved forward with the purchase as we could verify the history and maintenance of the vehicle and work with English speaking people to complete the sale.  Certainly an investment, vehicles in Ecuador are extremely expensive, but they do retain their value (to a point).  The truck may be a little small for great comfort, but affordability was more of an issue than leg room.Mom and Martha 094  IMG_8953

Anyway, this truck is serving us well.  Except for some problems with the battery and a flat tire,  we have been able to “truck” around much of Ecuador.  Our long-legged boys barely fit in the extended cab, but have one great option…the truck bed.

The bed of the truck has been our saving grace with extra people, stretching out leg space, or just the option of getting out and viewing the Andes mountains in the open air.  Rain is always an issue and concern, but, unless you are sitting at a stoplight (high likelihood) or in a torrential downpour (happens here and there) the wind keeps most of the wetness off when you are cruising along.  (Oh, and the well placed tarp pulled up over your head helps as well).IMG_9631  Mom and Martha 021

So, many a person has traveled in this way, and, while we are still looking for a topper to protect our stuff when we travel (both from rain and someone grabbing things out of the back), we continue to make the most of this special little truck and are thankful for the places it takes us, and the people who are willing to ride along!

 IMG_9344   Mom and Martha 103 

It’s interesting, as I sorted through these pictures, that riding in the back of a pickup truck is kind of analogy of certain points in our walk with God.  Many times, we are facing backwards, looking at what the past has been, wondering what it all means, maybe facing regrets and bad decisions.  We see where we have been, and often times know full well the consequences of the sins we have committed.

DSC_0061 (2)BUT, when we are sitting in the back of the truck, we are, most often, still moving forward.  We are continuing on a journey that is not stagnant, not stuck in reverse.  Oh, even the rain may come, but we at least have a tarp to cover us, protecting us from the drenching.  And, if we continue to move forward, the saturation is less.  We have the vantage point of viewing the landscape changing and fading behind us, but we also have the benefit of seeing where we’ve been, and knowing that we are pushing onward.  We may not even have a visual of what is in front of us, where the road will lead, but we know the driver is leading on, and we trust.

Our past is real, and often comes with pain and regret.  But, we move forward, learning from the past, cushioned on this road with the forgiveness and grace of our Driver, the one in whom we trust. Do you trust Him today to relieve you of your past, and completely control your future?  I pray you have this hope that is found only in Him, our Savior and Lord.

Now this is what the Lord says—
the One who created you, Jacob,
and the One who formed you, Israel—
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name; you are Mine.
I will be with you
when you pass through the waters,
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not overwhelm you.
You will not be scorched
when you walk through the fire,
and the flame will not burn you.  Isaiah 43:1-2

Enjoy the view, knowing you are in His hands, past, present or future –

Sarah

Old life versus the new

Ironically, Feliz Navidad is playing on the Christmas playlist as I begin to write this post.  While there are many irritating versions of that song, and, inevitably, I have a hankering for Taco John’s ever time I hear it, but it has become a favorite in our house as of late because of, um, our current location.  We are so in the culture like that.

Ahh, Christmas.  One of my favorite holidays, filled with snow, hot chocolate, festive get-togethers, special treats and cookies, decorations galore…well, you get the picture.  In my previous South Dakota life, I would pull out obscene quantities of rubbermaid bins, filled with garl2013-01-14_18-28-28_328and, nativity sets, ornaments, village pieces, lights, and knick knacks galore, and spend DAYS decorating the inside and outside of our picturesque log cabin style home – a home that just radiated the atmosphere of curling up by a warm fire and gazing at Christmas lights twinkling on the tree, the window, the mantle, the staircase…well, pretty much anywhere in your line of sight.

I wasn’t the only one excited about decorating.  My mom has always had the tradition of giving each of her grandchildren their own nativity set.  So, every year, a new piece is added into the mix, and they absolutely cannot wait to see what figurine they will receive each year around Thanksgiving. We often would be blessed to have my family come stay with us for this feasting holiday, and, of course, we would be so sad when they would have to head home to Minneapolis on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  A couple of years into this, we realized Joshua was never as upset as the rest of us about their departure until we figured out that he was always anxiously waiting for them to leave because he knew that he would then be able to go unpack his whole Christmas nativity set, find it a special location for the holiday season, and figure out where that precious new addition would be so perfectly placed for the next month or so.

Christmas decorations were one of the first steps in our final downsizing excursion.  Decisions 2013-01-15_10-50-27_215had to be made about what would be kept long-term, and what would be sold.  The nativity sets, absolute keep, no question.  But, from there, cutting went deep.  It was the beginning of really separating from the items that had memories, but were not so deeply engrained in us that we felt compelled to give up storage space to hold them.  We kept three bins of close to twenty and know that these items are the nearest and dearest to our heart.

So, shoot forward to where we are now.  No snow, except for the very tops of a couple of the highest volcanoes.  The ground is green, but you will see artificial Christmas trees here and there, decorated in a variety of ways.  The temperatures are warm enough you don’t crave hot chocolate, but you certainly wouldn’t turn it away.  Christmas treeYou can’t find peppermint candy canes and the song “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas” isn’t really true.  You have to WORK at making it  even seem like Christmas, especially when you are from the northern part of the United States where you are use to the climate helping to dictate the season just by the temperature.  Last year, we hung one strand of lights in a display of family unity like you’ve never seen (NOT) and didn’t exchange family Christmas gifts, but opted for a trip to the beach instead.  Yeah, that went over HUGE.   This year, we have graduated to TWO strands of Christmas lights, one which even plays music (turned off, thank you very much), started out with 140 lights and then conveniently went down to seventy within the first two days of use.  We have hung four ornaments, two that were gifts, one we found, and a gift bag that doubles at a decoration.  Tessa tried making string balls as a great idea, and, thankfully, with a few colored lights behind them, they glitter a bit and have added a tad of twinkle to our evenings.

Fall 2014 221   Fall 2014 222

So, by this time, as you are inevitably asking yourself if there is actually a point to this post, I’ll tell you this.  The pendulum has gone from one extreme to another in how our Christmas traditions look.  Part of this is due to circumstances and location, but, honestly, here’s the deal.  We are still navigating what this new life looks like to us and I think it is clearly reflected in our Christmas holiday.  We don’t have a road map of how God wants us to travel on this journey.  We debate what we should invest in, what we should spend money on, what our new traditions should look like, what our kids need, what they can give up, what is important, what isn’t…the Christmas season is a microcosm of our life and the changes that we continue to work through.

Our children still want presents – just because we have a different setting, we don’t lose the desire to have the things we want.  Maybe, just maybe, their wants have become a bit more simplistic based on their current location and less access to everything we had at our fingertips in the States.  Maybe taking a trip to the beach and calling it Christmas is not their perfect or ideal depiction of the holiday.  Perhaps we still need to work on finding the balance from our old life to the present circumstances, which will definitely take time and patience.

I guess what I think I’m trying to say is that we all struggle with finding our way…we’re all traveling the Christian journey and all of our walks look a little different.  We may be caught up in the trappings of the holidays, whether it be decorating, baking, gift-buying, or whatever challenges you face right now.  We may be lamenting the lack of time we have to focus on things that really matter, caught up in the “busy-ness” of the season and the business of Christmas. But, it happens to me, too, in a whole different continent, with no snow, only a few decorations, and less pressure to buy this and buy that.  Changing location doesn’t necessarily change circumstances.  Because, like it or not, our old life (sinful nature) and our new life (redeemed by Christ) are constantly at odds with each other.  It is a struggle we will have until Christ returns to remove us from this temporary life and bring us to him for all eternity.

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And, that, my friends, is the whole purpose of Christmas.  This babe, born in a lowly manager, is the bridge from the old self to the new.  He is the piece of this life that brings us peace.  We are assured of our salvation in our present day and age, but we will continue fight against the chains that bind us as we continually die to sin and live for Christ.  Praise be to God who gives us this victory through the Lord Jesus Christ.

We still live in the here and now with the trials and temptations of this world, but we have a loving Father who guides us as we navigate the path He has for us.  Whether it be finding balance, seeking Him first, resisting worldly offerings, or many other troubles of life, we can rest assured that JOY has come and is there for the taking.  Choose JOY this Christmas.

Choose Jesus.