Category Archives: Life as we know it

An Ecuadorian MISadventure

Dorm Life 002The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity as we have sent the boys to the United States, welcomed my cousin’s daughter, Mackenzie, into our home for two weeks, substituted as dorm parents for five days, kept up with Brad’s work activities, and traveled a bit to show our guest a little of the beauty of Ecuador.

Tuesday was our last official day in the dorm, so we packed things up and ran back to our apartment for a quick turnaround before heading to the airport to pick up our friends, Will and Ashley.  IMG_8612After getting Tessa and Mackenzie safely tucked into the apartment for the night, we grabbed the dorm van from school and arrived at the airport a little after 11:00pm.  A few phone calls later, our friends came out with luggage in hand, and we started back to Quito.  We were busy chatting, getting caught up on the wedding they had attended for Will’s sister, and sharing some stories of our time in the dorm so they could be all set with what had transpired while they were gone.

We were about five to seven kilometers away from the airport when suddenly the van lost all power.  We coasted to a stop along the side of the road, and shared the look of “what the heck is happening here?”  Following the mandatory key turns with no success of starting the engine, Ashley surmises that we may be out of gas, despite the tank gauge reading at quarter-full.  She mentions they have been instructed to keep the van gauge at about half-full since it hasn’t been reading right, and, maybe, now that she thinks about it, that might have been something they should have shared with us.  We file that one under the “good to know for future reference” catagory and start problem-solving our situation.

After much discussion and brainstorming, praying for a miraculous start to the carLos Armadillos 052 (God didn’t choose to answer that prayer the way we wanted), Brad and Will both remember there is a gas station somewhere up ahead.  Since all the taxis passing us as they are heading out of the airport seem to be full, Will decides to go for a late-night run, uphill, and calls us when he reaches the station.  The station is open, but does not have gas cans, so he buys a five liter jug of water, dumps it, and fills it with gas.  He hops a ride with a truck at the station heading our way, plows through the rosebushes planted in the median, and arrives safely back to us.

In goes the gas.  We wait a few minutes in anticipation, turn the key…nothing.

Wait a few more, turn the key…nothing.

Discuss the logistics of the gas being totally out, put the van in neutral, let it roll down to the flattest part of the mountain we can find, turn the key…nothing.

Will and Brad pop the hood with the intention of putting the last precious drops of gas directly into the carburetor, follow the lines of the engine only to find it is fuel injected, so that idea is out.

Ashley calls the school mechanic, waking him up of course, to see if we can abandon the vehicle until the next morning.  He strongly advises against that option.

It is now near midnight and we are lamenting:
A) the fact that we don’t have AAA
B) the fact that there is no such thing as AAA in Ecuador
C) we are not sure how we could locate a tow truck or where we would even take the van in the off chance we could even find one
D) we have no tow rope (the typical Ecuadorian solution to this type of issue) or an available vehicle to even tow it behind
E) should we find a tow rope, we have no wish to attempt the above towing idea with the numerous and ridiculously steep ups and downs between the airport and home
F) should any options listed above actually come to fruition, we would need a Spanish translator to execute said option
G) we do not have a Spanish translator

So, because every problem needs a solution, our next plan was for Ashley and Will to head back to the airport and see if we could get some help as the odds slightly increased with that idea compared to sleeping in the van until morning.car  They did finally flag a taxi, and off they went…first all the way down to the first U-turn they could find in the median, then back in the opposite direction to the airport.  Once there, discussions of tow ropes, help from a nearby town of Pifo, and numerous possibilities were entertained with nothing coming to fruition.  The taxi then brought them both back to the van where the driver and his passenger looked at the engine, basically redoing the exact same actions Will and Brad had done, only to find the same results – fuel injected and no options for gas to be poured directly into the carburetor.  Keep in mind, all of these discussions and interactions have been in Spanish, and somehow, someway, communication accurately occurred.  Finally, it was decided that perhaps there just wasn’t enough gas yet in the tank to allow the fuel to arrive at the engine, so the taxi took Will down again to refill his water jug, dropped him off to run through the rose bushes, in went the gas, prayers went up, Brad turned the key…and it STARTED!!!!

Praise God!  We quickly abandoned Will on the side of the road to wait for the taxi (as it, once again, need to travel all the way down to the nearest U-turn to come back to us and we hadn’t paid him for all his time to help us) while we traveled up to the station to get that van filled up with gas.  We drove ahead, marveled at how far and uphill Will had to run for that initial gas fill-up, went down a big hill, did our U-turn to get back to the station, prayed that the uphill climb wouldn’t use up the precious bit of gas in our tank, made it to the station, and rejoiced it was near enough to the airport to be open 24 hours.

We waited a bit for Will to arrive, and off we went, finally on our way to Quito (after one last U-turn to get back on the road heading in the direction of the dorm).  Come to find out, we waited a bit longer at the station because, after the taxi driver picked up Will the last time, he proceeded to turn down an old abandoned road, making Will wonder what the heck was going on and was he going to have gone through all this hassle for the van only to have something happen to him after the rest of us were safe???  No, all was well and the driver just had to drop off his passenger that had been riding and helping us the whole time…and he, of course, lived out in the middle of nowhere, giving Will just a little bit of an extra adrenaline rush for the evening.

We arrived back at the dorm, dropped off our friends, grabbed our truck and headed back to our apartment.  Brad and I quick typed up the powerpoint presentation that still had to be done for the next morning’s social media conference, and our heads hit the pillow at 2:45am.

Obviously, we have so much to be thankful for –

  • We were on one of the most well-lit roads in Ecuador when this happened – the airport main highway
  • We were with friends and had fully charged cell phones so could remain in touch when separated
  • We had a gracious Ecuadorian taxi driver and his friend who went out of their way and stayed for over an hour to help strangers in need
  • We were only about 2 to 3 kilometers from a 24 hour gas station and Will was in good enough shape to run to it
  • You have to buy water in this country, thus the well-stocked 5 Liter jugs which can double as gas carriers
  • We had God’s protection, provision, and safety with no threats of any kind throughout the whole ordeal

We were four tired friends, sharing together in this experience, and calm hearts, minds, and words prevailed… we already look back on it and laugh as we marvel at the ordeals that continue to draw us closer together.

And, ultimately, we are SO thankful for God’s hand being tangible in our lives as we, once again, put another Ecuadorian MISadventure in the books.

For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go. Psalm 91:11 (NLT)

Thankful always for His hand in our life,

Sarah

Letting Them Fly…Year Two

Last night, we put our boys back on a plane again to send them off to the United States. We’re excited because they get to attend my niece’s confirmation before they head to Sioux Falls where Jacob will start baseball practice and Josh will search for ways to supplement his lack of income.dropping off

Almost a year ago to the date, I posted my feelings and reactions on Letting Them Fly.  As I read through my old musings earlier today, I realize not much has changed.  It is still hard to see the children you are raising walk from the normal, everyday life to the unknown of something new. While it is exciting to see them do things on their own and experience amazing adventures, a piece of your heart travels with them wherever they go.

Honestly, this morning, as I followed their flights with my United app, and conversed with them a bit through Google hangouts at 6:30am (thank you, technology!) I was struck, as a mom, to the importance of relationship, not only with our family, but also in terms of our Christian walk.

  • I wonder if He holds his breath as we turn and walk away, going away from the safe and into the new.
    • I wonder if He breathes a sigh of relief when we reach out to communicate and share the joys of little things, like Subway sandwiches at 5:30 in the morning.
      • I wonder if He waits, somewhat impatiently, to hear from us, when there has been down time and loss of communication.
        • I wonder if He watches helplessly as we negotiate and seek direction when obstacles, hardships, and change of plans come our way.
          • I wonder if He has tears in his eyes when, once again, He hears our voice and knows we are safe in His arms.

Since God created us with a free will, I am sure He longingly watches us as we wander from adventure to adventure, making good and bad choices, while silently begging us to seek Him through it all.  We have options – daily – little moments where we can seek God in order to go deeper, build stronger roots, look to His promises, and rest in Him.  Some days, we just coast along, barely calling on Him, trusting in our own instincts and plans.  Then, as life continues to happen, we often are faced with the realization that we can’t go it alone, we need support, and He anxiously and eagerly awaits our choice to invest in communication with Him.

Daily, I realize that it takes discipline to walk with Him
in the good, the bad, and the normal.

As our boys travel and have a few weeks of separation from us, life just won’t feel right.  When tragedy happens to someone we love, cancer comes, or injuries occur, our normal gets all mixed up.  In the same way, if we are separated from our heavenly Father, by sin, lack of prayer time, and not seeking Him first, everything will be off kilter and hectic.  Only by establishing a consistent, disciplined, and purposeful relationship with Christ will separations, hurt, and pain decrease because we can rest in the hands of the One who hears us, comforts us, and holds us – in the good, the bad, and the normal.

I know the Lord is always with me.  
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. Psalm 16:8 (NLT)

My prayer today is that we, myself included, can put Him first and seek multiple daily interactions with Him.  May we work intentionally to build that closeness so when life throws crazy mis-adventures our way, the solid foundation of our faith in Christ can be our anchor and shelter.

Anxiously awaiting our family reunion…in the here and now, and ultimately, in our eternal heavenly home!

Blessed to be His,

Sarah

PS.  Thanks so much for all the prayers after my interaction with the pavement last weekend.  I am slowly getting less sore in my ribs and sternum, my wrist is itching like crazy so we know it is healing, and I’m only somewhat looking like I mistakenly put my makeup below my eye rather than on my lids.  Thankful for healing in the hands of the Great Physician!

When Life Leaves a Scar

“This is definitely going to leave a scar,” Brad says, as he gently traces the outside edge of the ragged wound.

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I had an unfortunate encounter with the pavement this past weekend.  Brad and I had finally ventured out of the apartment to take a much needed mental break and had planned a short bike ride on the streets of Quito, hoping to end up at a little coffee shop for some much needed connection time.  The connection time came within about 100 feet of starting our bike ride…I connected with Brad’s back wheel as I was adjusting my foot on the pedal, and down I went.

Ironically, this was probably about 20 feet from where my mom took a tumble back in January when we hustled across the street and she missed one of the steps by the curb.

Needless to say, the third generation, specifically Tessa, wants to avoid that area of Rio Amazones going forward as she (justifiably so) feels like a sitting duck.

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Martha Fritz – photo credit

On Sundays, Quito has a great bike program that closes down traffic on one of the main streets.  From 8am to 2pm, bikers, walkers, roller bladers, and skateboarders can all travel from the old airport all the way to the historic district without fear of cars, motorcycles, and buses.  We love to take advantage of this opportunity, using our free BiciQuito bike passes, which allow us to check out the city bikes for 45 minutes at a time.  At that point, you check it back in at one of the designated stops, wait ten minutes, and then again become eligible to take another bike.  It’s a great system, especially for those of us who have not yet purchased our own bikes.  You have to be over sixteen, though, so, at this point, without our own cycles, we cannot ride as a family as of yet.

Thankfully, even though the road is quite busy with cyclists, within seconds of my spill, people had stopped their bikes, stared at the crazy gringa, waved people around us, helped me out of the street to the curb, brought over my bike, and were genuinely concerned with my well-being.  Moments later, two traveling medics were checking me out, spraying my arm with antiseptic, making sure I had no broken bones, and asking Brad multiple questions in Spanish.  As we never learned, forgot, didn’t know the words for being light-headed and nauseated, Brad tried his best to act it out for them, and then somehow told them we lived close and would just stay at the side of the road for awhile so they could move along and not need to wait for us.  In the states, a fall like mine would have brought out the ambulance, a few paramedics, and a bit of a hospital bill for the ER visit.  Here, we got three bandaids, some antiseptic spray, and a warm “de nada” (you’re welcome) to our appreciative thanks for their care.

Thankfully, we were close to home but I couldn’t shake the light-headedness and the nausea, so Brad called the boys and had them come help with the bikes while he went to get the truck to drive me the few blocks home.  No easy task, as the main thoroughfare was closed for the biking, and we live in a series of one-way streets.  But, he managed to get it done and come to my rescue.  We’re sure the guards of our apartment building continually shake their heads as to these gringo antics.  This time, Brad and I leave on foot, the boys leave shortly after to come meet us, Brad and Jacob return for the truck, Brad, Jacob, Josh, and I return in the truck but all three of them are packed in the front seat as I am laying down in the back and they can’t see that I am there.  We are entertainment if nothing else.

The rest of the day was spent with ice packs (thank you leftover choclo!) and lots of Advil.Spring 2015 614  All in all, I was so blessed as it could have been much worse.  I had two large burn like abrasions on my arm and two additional scrapes, bruised ribs, and I smacked my cheekbone pretty signifcantly, resulting in a bit of a concussion.  Four days later, my ribs are still pretty sore, I am turning a bit yellow and purple under my eye, and those abrasions are going to leave a scar.

The past few nights have given me ample opportunity to reflect on these injuries as I try to get comfortable on the couch (totally my choice, for the record…) in order to allow Brad some time to sleep without me tossing and turning .  Over and over I kept coming back to the fact that I may have a pretty significant scar on my wrist.  My mind wanders back to my childhood as I think about the scar on my jawbone, a result of playing hide and seek in a cemetery when I was young, and tripping into the corner of a headstone.  I think of the stretch marks that permanently mark me as a mom.  I ponder various decisions made throughout my life, and the implications of emotional scars that have resulted.

2012-11-119512_33_56_I think of Steve’s recent death, and how just viewing some recent pictures opens a would that is still healing – a scar, as you will, in formation.

Many of us have scars in the making.  We have wounds that run shallow, and some that run deep.  We have injuries that people see, and many that we hold close and share with no one. Perhaps a pain exists within your marriage between you and your spouse, or you have been wronged by someone and can’t let go.  Often, our history has consequences of poor decisions, wrongs that seem to be unable to be righted, forgiveness needed but words that just can’t come.

These wounds run deep and often, and, just when they begin to scab over, they get bumped, jarred, scraped, or grabbed.  However it happens, the cycle of healing must begin again, and we hurt, sometimes more than the previous incident(s), and we just want it to be better.

So, you scar.  The wound heals on the outside, and, to the ones who are looking in, things are better.  But, you know, just by glancing or thinking about the reminder, that you have felt pain.  You, in an instant, can be right back to the time of injury.

A scar is a wound healed by time, but with memories that last a lifetime.

Is it possible, that these memories that last a lifetime, could be used and turned to good?

What if we TRULY claimed God’s promise from Romans 8:28?

And we know that God causes everything to work together
for the good of those who love God and are called according to

his purpose for them.

I genuinely want to trust that this is true.  I want to claim God’s promises in Scripture as the road map which guides my life.

Can these scars that I have, that you have, that we all bear, all be something good no matter how deep and wide the pain flows?

Is it merely a choice to see the good in the midst of the pain?

I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I abundance or in need.  Philippians 4:11-12 (HCSB)

I don’t find it a surprise that this verse has been revealed to our family more than once in the past week.  As I ponder the meaning of the scars we all bear, I wonder if these are the things Paul is talking about…in all circumstances – the good, the bad, the ugly, the things we share, the hidden secrets we bury, the loss of loved ones, the diseases we face – all the things which wound us and give us scars…they have meaning and can be turned to good only by the ONE who can help us through the pain.  Despite what we are feeling, or, more specifically, in the midst of the pain we are experiencing, I venture the premise that we can find peace and contentment in the Truth of God’s promises.

How do we know?

               I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4: 13 (HCSB)

He alone can take the scars and help us carry the burden.  He alone, in our darkest hours of sadness and despair, can provide the strength and peace to move forward.  He alone can lift us when we can no longer stand.

He alone has the scars on his hands and feet to show his love to us whenever we look to him.

Just the other night, I was thinking about what it would be like in heaven, and all I could think of was how, whenever we will turn to gaze upon Jesus, we will see his scars.

Every. Single. Time.

And for that simple fact alone, I am able to carry through each and every day, full of wounds and scars, knowing and trusting that His eternal design for my life is far better than my earthly plan could ever be.

He personally carried our sins
    in his body on the cross
so that we can be dead to sin
    and live for what is right.
By his wounds
    you are healed. 1 Peter 2:24 (NLT)

We are a hurting people, full of wounds and scars.  The pain may be old, or it may be new and fresh.  But all are seen, felt, and healed by the blood of the Lamb.  I pray today that you can look and see Jesus’ love for you, and know, with all your heart, that this painful, earthly life, is held safely in His scarred hands.  He is holding you today and always.

Clinging to God’s promises…

Sarah

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!