Tag Archives: Ecuador

Always Under Construction…

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

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

Image result for cartoon people on bus about choice

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

 

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

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

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

Road under some SERIOUS construction.

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

“Are we even on the right road?”

“Truck ahead! Can you get around him?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Thankful to be a small part of this amazing adventure ~

Sarah

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

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

Photo credit: El Comercio

That Time We Took the Road Less Traveled…

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

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

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

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

fall-2016-1542 fall-2016-1544

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

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

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

fall-2016-1573

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

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS”

fall-2016-1576 fall-2016-1575 fall-2016-1566 fall-2016-1565

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

fall-2016-1558 fall-2016-1555 fall-2016-1554 fall-2016-1553

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

fall-2016-1550 fall-2016-1548

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

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

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

That was highly unnecessary and just a tad bit disconcerting.

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

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

Until next time,

Sarah

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 –

There and Back Again…A Market Tale

As I take some time to stew on a more in depth, thought-provoking post,  I wanted to share some of the beautiful country in which we are blessed to live.  One of the commitments we have made while residing here in Ecuador is taking time to explore.

Spring 2015 206We have been able to travel to a number of different areas, and Otavalo has been a convenient destination.  Just a few hours from Quito, it touts the largest South American open air market, with vendors selling their wares for blocks and blocks every Saturday.  Like any trip, the journey is part of the experience, almost more so than the destination.DSC_0010

Spring 2015 205 Spring 2015 215 Spring 2015 216

In the past three or so times we have traveled to this gem, we’ve taken different routes, stayed at a rustic cabin, explored surrounding towns, and felt immersed in the culture.  The town of Cayambe, near the same-named volcano, boasts bizcochos.Peguche 004  IMG_9970    Best when taken straight from the wood ovens, they are served with caramel, cheese, and what I would term “clotted cream”.  Similar to biscotti in the United States, they are worth the early morning stop on the way to the market.

IMG_9972 IMG_9976

On one of our adventures, Brad found us a cozy little one room cabin…rustic, but comfy. DSC_0203 We had to follow an old railroad track as a road, and put the truck into four wheel drive to get up the hill, but the view of the Imbabura volcano and Lago San Pablo (San Pablo Lake) along with the neighboring rugged Cotacachi volcano were worth the tense moments. Complete with a shepherdess who walked by twice a day, and a cute little dog to entertain, we also shared breakfast with the family who owned the cabin as they made us scrambled eggs with bread, cheese, and juice for the low cost of $1.50 a person.  Short of the 3:00am wake up call to market for the entire village of San Rafael, it was a great opportunity to share a bit with the culture we are immersed with on a daily basis.

DSC_0169 DSC_0241

DSC_0234

DSC_0197  DSC_0195DSC_0165  DSC_0314

A quick stop at Peguche Falls on the outskirts of Otavalo:

DSC_0107DSC_0142  DSC_0114DSC_0108  

The views of Otavalo, San Vincente, Cotacachi, and Laguna de Cuicocha:

Spring 2015 213 Spring 2015 214

DSC_0345DSC_0332 DSC_0154DSC_0334    DSC_0153  DSC_0206DSC_0318

The beautiful people of Ecuador:

DSC_0336 DSC_0335DSC_0355 DSC_0358 Spring 2015 220 DSC_0156

DSC_0103

Jacob, on our most recent trip, was able to finally purchase a charango…basically, a ten stringed instrument which would most closely resemble a cross between a mandolin and a ukulele.  Hand crafted by the hugely talented artisan Santiago Ayala at La Casa del Bandolin/Intrumentos Ayala, this heirloom will always be a precious reminder of our time here in this country.  Taking time to play it at one of our favorite restaurants on the lake at San Pablo, while overlooking Imbabura, is a memory that will be relished for quite some time.Spring 2015 211Spring 2015 212Spring 2015 238

Spring 2015 252Finally, heading back to Calacali, we took the road less traveled via Perucho and San José de Minas.  This road is not highly used due to its cobblestone base…but it is shorter in distance, with curves that twist and turn on themselves, full of amazing vistas and sweeping views.  A quick stop in Perucho for mandarina juice, and our trip is complete.

DSC_0077 Peguche 011DSC_0078 DSC_0075 DSC_0071 DSC_0370

DSC_0063 DSC_0052DSC_0377 DSC_0375  DSC_0382 DSC_0393 DSC_0380

DSC_0364

We pray we will forever be thankful for these opportunities in front of us, and that we can be faithful to the call that is on our hearts…trusting in the One who guides us on this adventure, wherever it may lead.DSC_0058

Click here for an assortment of online Otavalo market pictures, showing the market in its full Saturday glory…

 

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.

Spring 2015 174  Spring 2015 173

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.

P1010772

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.