Tag Archives: Ecuador

An Attitude of Gratitude

A few years ago, a friend recommended a book to me that changed my perspective in a tangible way.  Aside from the Bible (yeah, that one changed my life significantly as well) there are only a few other books I would cite as having the impact that this one had.

Interestingly enough,  I didn’t particularly care for the author’s writing style, to the point that I have no desire to go back and reread the book.  But, what has remained with me over the years is the overall concept…looking purposefully at the things we see day to day and finding the joy in the simplicity of life.  By viewing life through the lens of thankfulness, we can move beyond superficial appreciation and enter into an inner gratitude that transcends circumstances.

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Sounds profound, but the concept is remarkably simple.  In my mind, it looks a bit like this:  get up in the morning, put on your thankfulness glasses, and start challenging yourself to see the beauty, the moments, the uniqueness of the world around you.  Throughout the “busy-ness” of the day, take time to savor the interactions with others and view them as opportunities that have been placed before you to make a difference, to matter.  Start SEEING the life you are living instead of simply surviving.

DSC_0009 (2)It’s life-changing, walking through your day this way.  Because you are no longer walking through life…you are meandering, sauntering, savoring, relishing…you are LIVING.  You are caught up in the wonder and amazement of what is happening around you.  You are wearing the proverbial rose-colored glasses, but you don them with confidence, being filled up with gratitude for what our Lord has done for us each and every day.

This works, people, because the focus turns outward instead of on yourself.  It’s awfully difficult to have an unfulfilled life when you are tuned in to the blessings around us.  Brad has been continually focusing on the verse from Zechariah (4:10a) which says “Do not despise the day of small things…” which shows us that all we do and see are important in the scope of God’s kingdom.  From the simplest of tasks, when done with an attitude of worship and focus on others, we can have impact and change lives.  Small seeds are planted which can grow into trees bearing massive amounts of fruit.  Who are we to wonder about our impact this side of eternity?  We can find comfort and rest in knowing that we serve a God greater than ourselves, and, when our hearts are turned to doing what is right, what is good, what is honorable, this cannot turn void.  By looking outward and seeing God’s gifts to us we will, with little effort, translate the joy and contentment we have to serving others and relishing the life of small things.

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How do I know?  Oh, my friends, because knowing this concept and doing it are two separate things.  I’ve seen the good, but lately my focus has been SO much on me that I’ve fallen away from what i know.  When I am NOT focused on the gratefulness I have for everything that has been given to me, I fail miserably in all aspects of my life.  I’m a burden-downed wife, a crabby mom, a co-worker who doesn’t see hurt and pain around her.  I’m self-centered, with a poor-me attitude.  I get overwhelmed by the continual inconveniences that come my way.  They pile up and seem insurmountable, when, in perspective, they are nothing but a mild irritation.  The contrast of living a life of gratitude with that of a life of me, me, me is the difference of living a life with meaning and purpose versus trudging through the day.  I’ve seen both sides, and I want to jump over to the other again.

DSC_0089When I’m caught up in the cycle of inner wallowing, I have to make an intentional effort to get back to the basics.  While I’ve been doing my bible reading daily, I also needed to step things up a notch or two to get back on track.  I need tangibleness…things that I can do to see results.  Here are a few steps I am taking to get back on track when I feel myself slipping back to “Sarah-focus”:

1.  Pick up (or start!) a gratitude journal and write things down:  Even though I am being grateful for items in my mind, seeing them on paper works for me.  I can’t do my tablet or my computer – I need tangible and handwritten.  Just start writing.  Start with the obvious – thankful for food and clothes, but challenge yourself to go deeper and find the little things in your day which mean something to you.

2.  More intentional prayer:  I’m working on the habit of praying in the moment and beyond.  When I say I will pray for you, I’m going to do it right that very minute.  If it’s via Facebook, you can know with all assuredness that the minute I’m done typing you the note, I’m praying.

3.  Keep a praise and prayer journal:  I’m just restarting this again after many failed attempts to keep it up.  I love to see how God is faithful through the good and the bad.  I find it’s easy to keep a prayer journal with all the requests, but harder to keep a praise journal.  I’m incorporating them to be one and the same, because, most of the time, they go hand in hand. (By the way, in the interest of simplicity and margin (see #7) I have combined my gratitude and praise/prayer journal.  Trust me, this is a big step for someone who likes things all neat and orderly and didn’t even start a gratitude journal for years because she couldn’t find the “perfect” journal…but, really, aren’t they all falling under the same general theme anyway?)

4.  Write thank you notes:  This has always been an intention of mine and I find that I fall miserably short.  Instead of spending time in the regret pool, I’m going to write them when I can and make sure I keep them front and center to remember.  If I’m looking outward, I’m going to find lots of opportunities to write and I don’t want to miss the chance.

5.  Take more photos:  I love to take pictures, and I plan to look through my lens with a different eye.  It’s easy to be thankful for the sunset, the beautiful flowers…but the insects?  Dirty dishes?  Amazingly enough, there is beauty in those as well.  I have a special little guy who loves to see bugs…how cool to see the ones from Ecuador.  (Thaddeus, the one below is for you, buddy). The dishes?  We’re blessed with food throughout the day. You get the…picture.

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6.  Encourage others:  While I try to be faithful in this area, I want to continue to grow and be transparent.  Again, seeking others out and helping to reframe life in terms of “joy” is a discipline requiring practice.  When we work together as a community to build each other up, the strength we have together cannot be shaken.  Let’s keep the gossip and drama out of this realm…I want to be a woman who stands to support, not break down those around me.

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7.  Allow margin:  In the world we live in, we are constantly behind, overtired, stretched to the breaking point…when running this race there is no room for reflection and contemplation.  I would go as far as to say that allowing down time in your day is often “frowned upon” by the IMG_0041fast-paced culture we live in.  We need to use more of the “addition by subtraction” principle to seek out the best of things in our life and lose the weights that are keeping us from joy.  I need to continually evaluate my “red flag” areas…particularly in the area of Facebook time.  Am I using up my extra time in areas of growth and gratitude, or by escaping into another world through some other means?  Additionally, if I have no margin in my day, I have no time to take the opportunities that God places before me…in fact, I will probably not even recognize them as ways to make a difference.  This is a daily battle for me, but when I set my heart on Christ the minute I put my feet to the ground, He helps me focus on things that matter.

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Finally….

8.  Keep the first things first:  Best intentions are only that…intentions.  I, on my own power, will fail if I don’t tap into the life source that is a power beyond my own.  I need to be fed through the Word and through other believers.  By the strength of the Holy Spirit, I can be used for his glory and His kingdom work.  I only need to trust Him to lead and guide me.  When I venture my own way, and go the way of the world, the result is angst, uncertainty, being unfulfilled.  When I seek Him first, the path is clear.  Oh, that I may continually keep that as my focus and guiding principle.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.  (Romans 12:2 NLT)

These are my action steps…ones that I need to continually look back to and focus upon to keep my attitude of gratitude.  I’ve slipped away but am heading back in the right direction.  I’m thankful for a gracious God who is patient with us as we meander our way through the one life we have been given.  I continually flounder, but know that when my eyes are focused on Jesus, my life is one of satisfaction and joy, which, when I stop to actually think about it, is truly the only way I want to live. Brad and Sarah

I pray you have found this joy that can only be based in Him.

To God be the glory,

Sarah

PS.  By the way, the name of the book I read was One Thousand Gifts: A Dare To Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp.  Just a book I read – no affiliation or compensation for plugging it.

Blest Be the Tie that Binds – An Overview

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.

Boy, this post is long overdue.

<insert all our excuses here>

Where to start?  The hymn above came to my mind this morning as I was looking through pictures from the past few months.  This past summer was certainly a new experience for us.  How do you “do” travel back to the United States when you no longer have a home, a vehicle, or anything to really call your own?  How do you do it “well”?

DSC_0066And, how do you get used to paying this
<—–when you are used to paying $1.03 for diesel or $1.48 for regular??

While we reflect back on what went right and what we could improve on, I find I have one big regret from our summer in the US…I’m sad that I didn’t take more pictures of each and every sharing time we had with friends and family.  I would have loved to now look back and see every person we were blessed to come in contact with.   But, we did have a summer of strengthening relationships and intentional fellowship which was a gift in itself.  Our time was filled with binding our hearts with others, and, now, as we are back in Ecuador, I cherish the memories and time of encouragement we experienced even more.

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The kids were able to connect with friends and cousins…it’s pretty much a dream summer when you have the “yes” parents who let you see all your friends as much as you possibly can.  Josh and Tess were welcomed into the families of their friends, and Jacob rejoined his baseball team, with team parents who graciously shared hotel rooms and their cars to help us out when we couldn’t attend tournaments and games.  They also had the opportunity to speak to their youth group about what has been happening in Ecuador and how they each have been finding a way to use their gifts to serve others.

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Before our Father’s throne,
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
Our comforts, and our cares.

Probably about eight years ago, Brad was asked to take a position as deacon of our church.  His first impulse was to say no, feeling totally unqualified and certainly too busy to take on this role.  Interestingly enough, through a lot of prayer and searching, “no” became “yes” through obedience and Brad stepping out in faith.  His only condition was that he would never have to stand in front of church and lead a service or speak.  So, of course, as God would have it, Brad was asked to share the message at our home church one Sunday over the summer.  He did a fabulous job of sharing how God is faithful and we only need to cling to the Rocks and the Roots – his promises!  Take a listen…(you may need to allow time for it to buffer and feel free to click on the HD in the bottom right corner to reduce the quality slightly to allow it to load faster)

I was also blessed to be able to be a part of a special women’s retreat put on by my home church, held just days before we left to return to Ecuador.  I can’t describe the feeling of standing before these ladies who have been such a vital and important part of my life for the past years.  While the theme of the event was Invisible: When Only God Sees, I can tell you that these special people are seen by me.  I see women who have been hurt, wounded, stretched, bound, persecuted…but know and trust they have been released and redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.   What an encouragement for me to be with these godly women and challenge them to exercise gratitude on a daily basis to change their life and to affect the lives of those around them.  My soul was plumb filled up to venture forth for another year without them.  We serve in different places, but we serve the same Master.

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We share our mutual woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.

Over the course of this past year, we had been praying for so many people from our family, our friends, our church…while we were home, we once again were able to celebrate joys and share in the sorrows of those we love.  Our dear friends were finally able to bring home their twins from Haiti after delays, heartache, and obstacles.  In God’s perfect timing, we were able to share in the special homecoming and rejoice with the arrival of Judah and Elijah.

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We continue to pray for our brother-in-law, Gary, who lost his best friend to an aneurysm while we were together over the 4th of July.  We were blessed to have met Matt Stefan on many occasions and know he had an eternal impact on those around him.  Once again, the shortness of life brings our focus back to the urgency of sharing the gospel and living for Jesus.

When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.

Coming back to Ecuador felt a bit different this year than last.  While we were excited to return, the excitement of the unknown had diminished and we knew more of what we’d be facing.  We had the whirlwind summer of being with friends and family, deepening relationships that would be now again separated by time and distance.  As the hymn states, it gives us inward pain, but we have the assurance of being united again, if not physically, then in heaven.  This is the promise we cling to and we claim.

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We’ll share more in the upcoming days on what has changed, our challenges, our hopes, and how we are trying to continue to be intentional with sharing the gospel.  There are may exciting changes and challenges ahead, but we are looking to the One who is faithful to guide and direct our paths.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV

 

We saw God today

In a little over a week, Brad, Tess, and I will head back to the States.  Our boys are already well immersed in the American culture, feasting on foods they have not had for ten months, and fully enjoying the joys of the much-beloved idiot box television.  From afar, it appears that they have re-acclimated nicely, and are treasuring their time with family and friends.

We are deeply excited to join them.  We are anxious to see all of our loved ones, have a Starbucks coffee, enjoy some creature comforts that we may miss here, and get reacquainted.

But, honestly, I think it is going to be WEIRD.

Not in a bad way…just different.  I’m not totally sure what to expect.  We’ve gotten used to some things here that we absolutely love.  We miss some things from our previous home.  Put that all together, mix it up, and I’m not sure what is going to happen once we get feet back on the ground in the good ol’ US of A.  People talk about culture shock and that it happens in both directions.  Our boys have eluded to a few observations they have made already, so we’ll need to debrief to see if it truly is a reality for us.  In the meantime, we’ll embrace the time we have together, revel in being with fellow believers, and reminisce about the simple and blessed life we have experienced over the past months.

While we’ve been in Ecuador, we’ve been working on being intentional in slowing down from the hectic pace of life, building relationships, listening to God’s voice, and living in the moment.   It’s often not easy – we get caught up in the “busy-ness” here just like everyone else.  It takes practice to remember, first and foremost, that we are put on this earth to bring people to Christ and serve others.  By taking away all the “noise” and seeing God’s fingerprints in our life, we are more apt to be focused on the true things that matter.  As we become more aware of what is going on around us, and how God is at work in each and every moment, we become less self-centered and inwardly focused.  We start to see the beauty in even the smallest of things, which, in turn, makes him even more real and brings us into His presence.

How do we see Him at work?

It’s full moons and cotton candy clouds at sunset…

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It’s horseback riding thanks to friends who share their expertise.

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It’s spending an entire day setting up a created game with just the supplies you have – and making it work.

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It’s dogs you love and an extra who takes your bed.

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It’s working on projects that someday will make a difference.

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It’s drinking Coke out of real glass bottles.

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Sleepovers in the prayer cabin,

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and Superbowl drawings on the whiteboard.

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It’s about watching luminescent hummingbirds actually land…

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and playing extreme croquet.

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It’s taking time to pet the dog…

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and watch the art of a hard day’s work,

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It’s taking time to wait for your alpha male to come home.

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And a cozy fire.

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It’s seeing a baby calf within a half hour of its birth, and watching it stand for the very first time…

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And playing guitar by yourself, or for others…

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It’s doing schoolwork on the porch swing on a beautiful day…

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Or homemade donuts for breakfast, fried two at a time…

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It’s colorful quilts blowing in the breeze…

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Taking time to swing and hike –

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Stopping to notice the colors that are painted in the landscape,

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It’s not being fazed by a traffic jam of an unexpected sort…

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Or having a different than normal view on your walk to town…

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It’s having to slow the pace to get where you want to go, and enjoying the roads (steep as they are) as you meander your way to the destination…

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Sometimes, just living a simple life helps us treasure every moment as it happens.  It is learning to see the beauty in the day to day, in the normal, in the now.  You don’t have to go to Ecuador to find it.  It’s about being intentional with everything you do and say.  It’s about seeing the Creator in the creation.  It’s how God intends us to live.

Just look around and see how the Creator is calling you to Himself.  He’s just waiting for you to notice.

Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendor and the majesty, for everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to You.  Yours, Lord, is the kingdom and You are exalted as head over all.  1 Chronicles 29:11

Walking His Path

Some days, it just seems so surreal.  When we stop and take a step back to look at the big picture, we can get knocked to our knees with the wonder of what happens when we finally resolved to let God totally lead our lives.  One year ago, Brad and I were here in EcuaIMG_9507dor, taking a “vision trip” of sorts.  There were a number of reasons for the trip – seeking out ministry opportunities, searching for a tangible peace to all of the ideas and thoughts that we felt God had placed upon our hearts, and seeking discernment on final decisions to actually move forward with selling all of our accumulated goods to go “all in” and give up “worldly” security for eternal pursuits.  Now, a year later, we find ourselves in the same scenario as a year ago, here now in Ecuador, reviewing ministry opportunities, seeking peace and discernment for final decisions on our upcoming year.  Amazing how God has brought us full circle.

Last year, when we were here in Ecuador, Brad and I found ourselves struggling with our thoughts about mid-week.  We had met with so many people who had great opportunities.  We were torn about how God wanted us to proceed.  We felt pulled in many directions, all of them good, but yet we were so hoping that God would give us that specific peace about one area so we would at least know how to proceed.  So far, he had led us so specifically in our decision making – selling the house, selling the business…it was disconcerting to be in the IMG_9510middle of the place we felt God wanted us to be with no peace about what we were to do.  So, after praying for guidance, we made a list of why we felt led to follow this crazy path.  We brainstormed item after item, consolidating all the praying, seeking, and guidance that had brought us to this point.  As a result, we wrote down twenty-nine items that we felt were the vital reasons for changing our life and being more intentional about following Christ.  It affirmed to us what we both had been thinking, but, more importantly, it gave us a starting point along with a foundation for determining ministry direction.

We have been blessed to again have a number of amazing opportunities in front of us.  So, as we have been continually seeking direction for the next year, we pulled out the original list.  It was validating to look at something we wrote last May and seeIMG_9505 how God has been at work in so many different areas.  It challenged us to keep pushing and growing in the spots that we didn’t do so well in.  It helped us to regroup and see if our priorities have remained focused, matching them to the possibilities in front of us, providing further support for upcoming decisions that need to be made.  Finally, we could discern if we are continuing to strive to seek his way with the life verse he has placed before us as a family:

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.                                                                                                                 – Colossians 2:6-7

So, we continue to let God lead.  We are trusting Him to set course in whatever decision is made.  We realize, when determining the will of God, it is not so much a turn from one path to another, or changing course, but, instead, it is to walk in God’s will on a moment-by-moment, day-by-day, hour-by-hour basis.  As Oswald Chambers writes,

When you are rightly related to God, it is a life of freedom and liberty and delight, you are God’s will, and all your common-sense decisions are His will for you unless He checks.  You decide things in perfect delightful friendship with God, knowing that if your decisions are wrong He will always check; when He checks, stop at once.                                                                                      – My Utmost For His Highest

We continue to seek Him, to learn more about Him, to commune with Him through His Word, to live in total surrender to Him.  We fail, and we fail miserably.  We want things, we want comforts, we want the easy way.  But, we remain convicted that, by saying to God that we will go wherever he leads and do whatever he asks, He, as our Father, will do what is best for us 100% of the time.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
– Matthew 7:11 ESV

IMG_9515In Him, we continue to move forward.  Armed with the power of the Holy Spirit within us, we seek to be purposeful and intentional with sharing the gospel.  God is preparing the way so we have no reason to fear.  Instead, we have reason for our faith, and, in turn, a necessity to share it with others.  Shouldn’t that be our natural reaction to his best gift to us?  Yet it is not, at least in my own life.  I pray we will continue to turn from the entrapments of this world and seek God with our whole heart.

Let it begin with me.

I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.                                                                           – Galatians 2:20 ESV

From field to table

It’s harvest time in Ecuador.  An obvious difference from our South Dakota roots, where spring has sprung and farmers are certainly working on preparing their fields to plant the corn or the beans…yet here we are, late April, at the end of the growing cycle which we have been able to witness first hand from start to finish.

It all started back when we arrived late summer.  We caught the tail end of the purple corn harvest, a type of corn that is dried and ground into a flour for the specialty drink, colada morada.  A blend of corn, spices, and fruit, this drink is available as a commemoration of the Day of the Dead celebration.  One little field on the property is dedicated to growing this specialty corn.  José Marie picks it by hand and tosses it into the handmade basket on his back in true Ecuadorian style.

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Then, the soil is prepared.  This was late September.  It was so dry…according to José Maria, it was the worst it has been in thirteen years.  But, it doesn’t stop the need to plant the source of your livelihood and pray that God will send the rain.  With this process, there are no tractors for plowing and furrowing the rows.  Just two well-trained oxen, a sturdy yoke, and lots of muscle to turn the soil and make it ready for the seed.

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The fields are ready for planting mid-October.  Through a skilled technique, the women poke, drop, and step, creating symmetric and even rows of seed that will produce choclo, (pronounced choke low), the sweet corn of the Andes.  Row after furrowed row they walk, hand seeding with a baby in a back sling and seeds in the front.

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The rains finally come, but are too little, too late, perhaps, for the last planted field.  It will eventually grow, but there is uncertainty as to whether it will produce.

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José Maria tends the crops right before Christmas by hand hoeing..day after day he comes out of the corn, hunched over from wear and tear, yet is so fit for a seventy year old man.  I reminisce about my tiny little garden and how I hated to take care of the weeds.  It pales in comparison to the size of the fields that need to be maintained.  Certainly not the acres and acres that any farmer would have in America, but a plot of land that brings pride and satisfaction when it grows and produces.  The work ethic of this man is amazing.

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He picked a gunny sack full about a week ago, and, as he carted it off in his wheelbarrow, lamented to us how the market price is only $8 for the entire bag of 250 ears.  It is a bumper crop this year so supply exceeds demand.  He leaves at 2:00am to take a bus to Quito just to see if he can find a better price.  The report comes back that there were trucks and trucks of corn.  The price will be low for now.

But, when the corn is ready, it needs to be picked.  So, despite the price at the market, this week was one of excitement. Workers were hired and the harvest began.

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Through a time-tested ritual, workers entered row upon row to pick the corn, while José Maria and another man ran the gunny sacks back to the piles, dumping sack after sack to be sorted into grande and pequeña groupings.

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Harvest dictates we try a sample platter for lunch, fresh from the field, cooked in a classic “remembering Grandma” pot.  Many Ecuadorians use mayonnaise or cheese, but we stuck with good ol’ butter and salt.

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Two to three days of harvest, and a daily truck run into town with the fruits of their labor.

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And us, blessed to have them farming the land we are able to live on, purchased a bag of choclo to share when we hosted the Homeschool Teen Fellowship group last night.  One hundred ears husked with 150 more to send home with our guests.  Fresh picked the day of cooking.

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Now, that’s farm to table at its finest.

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 “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven:  A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted…”  Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 (KJV)

 

Special words

I had the privilege of growing up in a large extended family (on both sides!), with plenty of same-age cousins to hang out with, and play childhood games like Seven Steps Around the House, and Colored Eggs.  My aunts and uncles were stable figures in our lives when my dad was fighting cancer,as both sides of the family would step in, often taking us into their homes and letting us, for instance, “work” on the farm while dad was getting chemo and radiation treatments.  Through losing grandparents, uncles, cousins, and my father, all in a short time frame, my childhood memories are wrapped up in an intertwining of joy and sorrow as my extended family experienced life and death together.  Some fought and clawed our way to understanding and peace while others provided a firm foundation of faith that we could look to and know that, someday, God would give us enough answers to move forward with a strength and a faith that was refined by the fires we had been through.

When you walk through grief with people, you have a respect for them that goes beyond words.  They are a part of your soul, as you know they understand and feel deeply with you.  You are connected in a way that bonds you for life.  In a nutshell, the opinions and thoughts of the people closest to you matter the most.  Now, throw in a curve ball like moving to Ecuador…

This path of moving to Ecuador was so bathed in prayer and confirmation that Brad and I had a peace about God’s leading like none we had ever experienced in our life.  We knew the risks, but knew God had a plan.  Our only choice was obedience to his calling.  To take a quote from Kisses from Katie:

People often ask if I think my life is dangerous, if I am afraid.  I am much more afraid of remaining comfortable…But I am living in the midst of the uncertainty and risk, amid things that can and do bring physical destruction, because I am running from things that can destroy my soul: complacency, comfort, and ignorance.  I am much more terrified of living a comfortable life in a self-serving society and failing to follow Jesus than I am of any illness or tragedy.  – Katie Davis, pg XIX

Brad and I had reached this point in the decision to move and be more intentional about having God as the primary focus of our life, and the life of our family.  When faced with the uncertainty of our future, we knew our stability was in eternal things, not in those of earthly fortune.  While nothing we were doing made sense from an earthly standard, it was God’s call on our lives to “get mobile” and leave behind the worldly possessions that were tying us down and keeping us from the best of things.

We were now getting closer to leaving for Ecuador.  Tessa and I were at our family reunion on my mom’s side, a wonderful event that is held every year.  I knew this would be the last time I would see these precious cousins, aunts, and uncles, for months and maybe years to come.  I knew they would be coming with me in spirit, because I know they would be some of the strongest pillars of faith who would be covering us with prayer.  But, it was also one of the few times that I would be able to sit face to face and tell these special people why we were walking this path.  Why we were walking away from life as we knew it.  Why we were leaving FAMILY.  These were people who mattered to me.  People who probably wondered what the heck we were doing, but were going to support us anyway.  People who loved us deep and wide.

Martha and me

So far in this process, I was able to guard my heart.   But, as I stepped up to my Uncle Steve for the last goodbye, and he enveloped me into a giant hug, he said something to me that will forever be a balm for my soul:

“Your dad would be so proud of you.”

My eyes overflowed with tears and I think I may have managed a  “thank you”.  All I know is, for the next two hours as I drove home, I cherished and pondered those words.  I didn’t realize how much I had needed to hear that precious thought.  Uncle Steve was an instrument of God that day, confirming yet again how God works mightily when we need it most through the people around us.  That simple sentence showed me the importance of a father’s love and acceptance, even when someone is 40+ years old.  It showed that, even though I had a void in my life from losing my father at the tender age of twelve, I am surrounded with people who love and accept me, and they have stood in the gap.  God is faithful through the years.  He always provides exactly what we need because he loves us with a depth we cannot even begin to understand.

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As I write this, it is Easter Saturday.  I have been reflecting on the unbelievable sacrifice Jesus Christ has made for me.  It is beyond my scope of comprehension, and I truly don’t think I will ever grasp the amazingness of it all.  But, I do know that I am eternally grateful and I want him to use me for his glory.  My desire continues to have him guide our life and we pray we can be ambassadors for Him through all we do and say.

And, I pray, as he welcomes me into heaven someday, and envelopes me in a giant hug, he will say something that will forever be a balm for my soul:

“Your Father is so proud of you.”

Lake cross

You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures.  Psalm 16:11 HCSB

The faces of Calacali

We are in the midst of a wonderful time with Brad’s parents who have joined us in Ecuador for two weeks…a mix of work and play. Brad’s dad is speaking in a number of venues, sharing with Alliance Academy International students in Biology and Bible classes as well as area pastors, staff, and faculty.  Cape, Josh’s friend from Sioux Falls, was also able to travel down with them, and they have been enjoying  an assortment of play along with a mission project of trail blazing up on the mountain.  The time is flying!

While the boys are all hiking up the mountain, I thought I’d take a bit of time to share with you a few faces of the special people who have blessed us with their presence here at the discipleship and ministry center.  We have been able to host a variety of people, from Alliance Academy International staff and families, to church youth groups, to leadership trainings.  Here is just a sampling!

AAI family

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Caretaker Jorge and his father Jose Maria

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AAI Soccer team

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Mennonite church youth group

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AAI 5th graders

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Celebrating Jorge’s birthday

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Alposento Alto youth group

Carmen Bajo church and Compassional International kids

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We have been blessed greatly by all the faces that grace this property and trust that the Lord will do a mighty work in the lives of each and every one of these people .  God’s glorious creation is the perfect setting to draw people closer to him as the evidence of his magnificent glory is all around us.  We pray that all who set foot on this special place may feel his presence in a tangible way.

 

 

When the gringos go to town

When we moved to Quito, we knew it would be awhile before we got a car – if we got one at all.  We were willing to try out the bus and taxi scene and, once Brad got his license, we would potentially look into the feasibility (and investment!) of getting our own vehicle.  Now, certainly, the city of Quito lends itself to getting around fairly easily with a very reasonably priced taxi, but being 45 minutes out of town in Calacali is a game-changer.  Going to the Alliance school, getting groceries, well, let’s just say we’ve become resident experts in the art of bus riding and getting to town.  Alternative transportation is limited.
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For example, let’s say we’re heading into town to get groceries.  Now, one option is to walk a mile into Calacali and head to the Sunday market to get our fruits and vegetables, stop for a few basics of yogurt, eggs, and chips at the local tienda (a small corner store), and grab some buns or enrollados at a panaderia (bread store).  This was (and is) our usual Sunday routine – complete with large bags to fill with potatoes, cauliflower, tomatoes, carrots, pineapple…But, certainly worth the walk and the heavy baggage for fresh, locally-grown produce.

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$6 of fresh produce from the market

Now, unfortunately, we do have to venture in a bit further to get the rest of our goods.  We have become masters of knowing exactly how much food (and weight) each person can fit into a backpack or canvas bag.  It is essential to be able to have the distribution of weight correct, as often times the buses are standing room only, so you have to be able to stand, surf style, hold on to an upper handle while supporting either the backpack or the bag in a protective measure because you never quite know who might want your chifles (plantain chips) or bagged milk.

Once on the bus, you pay your 42 cents to get you about an hour from the MegaMaxi store back to Calacali, where you walk the remaining mile, slightly uphill, all the while thinking about how perseverance (or at least heavy groceries) makes the body stronger.

At times, we may head to Calacali for an almuerzo (lunch).  But, once again, to get to town, we have to be creative…plastic chairs and all.
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Many of the local restaurants have a menu of the day item…here in Calacali, you receive a large bowl of soup, an entree that has a type of meat, rice, and a vegetable, juice of the day, all for the low price of $1.75 to $2.00.  This is where we have experienced an array of protein choices, from liver, to goat, to tongue.  Now, we have learned to ask before we order, because you can always substitute your meat with a fried (over- easy) egg.
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Once a week, at a minimum, we need to head in to the Alliance Academy in Quito.  In order to get there in time for meetings, we leave our home around 6:35am to make the trek into town to catch the 7am bus.  Walking in to Calacali is always an adventure and you never quite know what you will see…
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Luckily, the bus line starts at Calacali, so we are often guaranteed a seat.  This is quite fortunate as the bus becomes EXTREMELY crowded as it picks up people stop after stop.  The early mornings often take a toll, frequently lulling the young (and old)  to sleep…
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And, we recently even tried out the Metro – Ecuador’s version of the subway.  Just like the bus, you just pray you can get on and get off before the doors close!

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But, rewards await.  Getting off at a nearby bus stop, we walk the last 20 minutes downhill to school, stopping off to look at flowers, rest in the park, or have a quick snack at a local bakery.
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And, if we’re lucky, and it’s not raining, we catch a glimpse of at least one volcano on our walk down.

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Cotopaxi

Getting to and around town has sure been an adventure, thus far, but it has also served as a learning tool.  We’ve seen the respect for elders, pregnant women, and women with small children as people immediately give up their seat as soon as one enters the bus.  There is no looking around to see if someone else is going to do it, or a hesitation in hoping a different seat is found.  We’ve seen Ecuadorians go out of their way to make sure we didn’t miss our bus stop when we stay on the bus past the local tourist spot of Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world) to go on to Calacali.   We’ve seen how the bus is a prime place to try and sell a CD, ice cream, cherries, grapes, limes, tomatoes, and homemade goods.  We’ve noticed, though, we are an obvious minority among Latinos, yet we receive many friendly smiles. We’ve seen how little boys and girls like to try out their limited English by saying “hello” and then giggling non-stop when you say hello back.

The bus has been a great experience, and one we will continue to use.  But, thankfully, we now have the option of driving as Brad has received his Ecuadorian license and we can rent a school van when it is available.
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And, in the very near future, we may be the proud owners of a used Nissan truck.  While the bus culture has worked for the short-term, we have found a vehicle that seems to be a good fit for us as a family.  Cars are an investment in this country and are extremly expensive, but retain their value far beyond what you would expect.   We are able to purchase from a family returning to the States, so we will be able to exchange money through American banks.  We know the history of the vehicle, and the current owner is willing to help us with all the transfer of paperwork, which is quite extensive.  Our prayer is that the vehicle will continue to retain its value throughout our time of ownership, and that we will be good stewards of this investment.  It is a BIG step, but one necessary at this time.

God continues to provide us with our every need, and we are thankful for his provision.  He has granted us safety through all our walking and riding.  We pray he will continue to keep his hand of protection upon us in this new adventure of driving!

When hello means goodbye

We’ve been here over six months.
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Hard to believe, but when we look back on these months, we are amazed at God’s hand and provision in our daily lives.  We know we have been uplifted and held up through prayer by many of our dearest friends and family.  It is by God’s grace alone that the transition for our family has been relatively smooth and seamless thus far.
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When we first arrived, we were ushered into the Alliance Academy International fold with a handful of “newbies”.  From the start, we were surrounded by a group of people that had that same “deer in the headlights” look as we plowed through finding bottled water, looking for small change as no one can break a $20 bill, navigating taxis without Spanish to get some basic foods from the grocery store, learning how to sleep through all the barking dogs, waking up to what we thought was the Muslim call to prayer but was really just a vendor driving through the city streets announcing via his megaphone that he was selling papas fritas, or fruit, or gathering metal scraps- yeah, that was the first day or so.

But, these first days, though stressful but exciting, bonded a group of people together in an amazing way.  These are the people that simply have to embrace the adventure and figure it out…and that is a quick way to jump start a friendship.  The term “we’re all in this together” has a whole new meaning when you’re starting over in a new country.IMG_8611   IMG_8456

So, as we are blindly moving forward, day by day, embracing the culture with a kiss on the cheek for and from more people than we will ever remember, you begin to notice how some people choose to instantly embrace the opportunity of relationships with the newcomer, while others stand more at a distance, prepared to guard their heart and reserve relationship until the time commitment has been established.   In short, if you were not sticking around for an extended length of time, you weren’t worth the time investment to forge friendships because you would just be leaving anyway.

Truth be told, my first reaction to this guardedness was a bit judgmental.  I mean, really, people said it to my face – if you weren’t sticking around, you weren’t worth the effort to invest.  Well, they didn’t exactly say it that way, but the filter I had up made it sound that way.  I quickly skipped ahead to thinking how “un-missionary” like this was – to not invest in the people around you simply because they weren’t necessarily going to be here for years on end.

But, then I realized how hello means goodbye.

By simply welcoming someone in the mission field into your life, you are, in a sense, committed to saying goodbye sooner versus later.  We began to see this in action.  In a short amount of time, we grew to love student teacher Mariah, and then said goodbye.Mariah (in the middle)
Caitlin, Mariah, Laura

And then the same thing happened with Laura.
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And Claire.
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And then Julia Marie.
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And, soon it will be Emily, followed by Katie.
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And Caitlin.
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And Daniel.
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And Steve, Kari, Marcos, Christi, Loren, Janelle, Dr. Olson, Bev, Ken, Ann, Keith…and on and on the list goes.

I was in Shell, Ecuador, a couple of weeks ago to visit a K-8 missionary school.  Eighteen kids moved at the end of last year.  The school averages 35 to 40 kids.  That’s a huge hit of enrollment, but, more importantly, that affects relationships.  It affects friendships.

But, is this really limited to the mission field?  This hello means goodbye phenomenon?  Unless the Lord comes in our lifetime, everyone we say hello to will leave in some way – friendships are broken, people move, people die.

We still need to invest.

Iron sharpens iron.  Strength for the downtrodden.  Hope for the weary.  Rest for the restless.  A body of believers.

Everyone can bring something to the table…ideas and thoughts that we can share, discuss, build upon, hope for, desire…and, through relationship, we can expand the kingdom.  Mentorship, multiplication – call it what you want.  But by growing and loving each other, we can shape, mold, correct, rebuke, and share…share God’s Word and truth.  Marriages can be strengthened, family dynamics positively restored.  Children can learn how they are loved and belong to a family with a Father who loves them unconditionally.  By building relationships intentionally, we pray that Christ will be seen through us and shine bright for all to see.

So, when hello means goodbye, and whether I know you for an hour, a day, a year or longer, I pray that the time we spend together will be firmly rooted in the love of Christ.  I choose being intentional, however difficult it may be.

Invest today…you never know how the Holy Spirit will work in the lives of those you touch.