Tag Archives: Quito

Once Upon a Walk

Walking home today by myself, I was nearing the first intersection when I noticed an elderly lady on the ground next to a corner food stand.  I slowed my pace in order to more accurately assess the situation, unclear as to whether she had fallen or was just getting to a standing position after having a small meal.  I noted the walking stick in one hand, more of an obstruction than a help at this point, and an empty, dirty styrofoam bowl in the other.  Upon further scrutiny, I realized she was shuffling forward on her knees, perhaps trying to get to the curb in order to more readily maneuver her feet beneath her.

My eyes averted to the man to the right of the food stand, certainly questioning with my eyebrows if something was amiss.  He glanced toward me, then toward the woman, and went back to reading his newspaper or whatever he was doing at the time.  I had the quick thought that maybe the cameras were rolling to capture what I would do in this situation and, in just a few short seconds, I knew I couldn’t just walk on by.

DSC_0355aI walked up to the lady (who looked like she fell off a charm bracelet) and quietly held out my arm for assistance, knowing there were few words I would be able to say to ascertain her situation.  She reached for me and together we were able to get her feet underneath her, and I grasped and supported her arm and elbow as together we crossed the street.  I inquired with my limited Spanish as to where she was going, to which she replied a number of words in a voice no louder than a mouse and totally obliterated by the traffic noise.  She waved her empty bowl around and I asked again where she wanted to go.  My mind was already racing with the possibilities of how far I would need to support and help this woman, and I scanned the oncoming pedestrians to gauge if anyone would be able to speak English enough for me to engage a translator.Quito 049

On a short rest break a mere half block down the way, she pointed to the scarf around my neck and I was able to pick out “frio” from her mutterings.  Certainly, I could hand off a scarf to help her get warm, so I wrapped it around her neck while she gave me a small smile, and then pointed to my dangling earrings.  I promptly started moving her along, with a nod and smile of them being “muy bonito” before she had a chance to take them out of my lobes.  I let her direct the walk and we crossed the street shortly thereafter, coming to a rest in front of a restaurant.  She spoke again, and I explained to her that my Spanish was very bad, to which she pointed to her bowl and then again to the restaurant.  I assumed the next step was to seek out food for her in the bowl and help her in this way.

I looked around and a lovely, helpful woman saw my plight in a moment of understanding.  She held up a hand to the elderly woman, indicating to her to stay, and ventured in to the restaurant with the intention to help.  I took this opportunity to hand my companion a $1 coin, and proceed on my way, trusting that she now had a new helper.DSC_0195

The rest of my walk home was spent in contemplation and processing.  It is hard to know what to do sometimes with people of all ages begging for money.  Many indicate that you should never give out money on the streets as it just encourages people to continue that lifestyle.  Street corners often have disabled people peddling for coins.  We have a few who know to sit outside our school and you struggle with the daily obligation to perhaps contribute in some way.  It is a constant battle and I am often not sure how to proceed.

While walking, I pondered if Tessa was going to miss the blue and purple scarf I gave away,  I wondered if this weathered woman would sell it for money.  Did she even get food at the restaurant? How far would that one dollar go? Will she sit at the same corner tomorrow hoping for more assistance from one of the gringas/gringos at the nearby school?

But, as I kept replaying the situation, I thought of how many little lessons were tied up in this one scenario –

Seizing opportunity – God provides so many moments in the day where we can share Him and be like Jesus to others.  Constantly, we are faced with these choices, and, many times, we choose to go our own way rather than His.DSC_0358 We second guess the (possible) ulterior motive of the person we are helping instead of letting the Spirit lead as only He can do.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me. Matthew 25:35-40 (NIV)

Allowing margin in our days – I wanted to get home.  I was racing the rain storm.  My list of “to-do’s” was long.  But, carving out time to allow space to care and love is a necessary “re-framing” of our minds.  Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Galatians 6:2-3 (NLT)

DSC_0156Loving well does not always look like a weathered and worn, beautifully aged woman – it can be downright messy and hard.  It can mean listening when you have no ear left to give, serving when your strength is gone, reaching out when you want to retreat.  But, that is when the power of Christ in us is stronger than ever.  But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.  1 John 4:4 (NLT)

If I don’t keep my focus on Christ on a daily basis, I won’t be able to share Him with other people.  I won’t see the urgency, the need, the hurt, the pain, the joys, the frustrations…because I will be too busy looking inward to what I need rather than outward to what Jesus can do.  He is the one and only answer, and I pray we will find ways each and every day to actively share this message with those in our path.

Praying for boldness to have His eyes…and then to focus…

Sarah

PS.  Driving home yesterday, in the distance, across lanes of traffic, we spotted a similar-looking woman ambling down the street with a walking stick.  She had only one shoe.  We wondered what would have transpired if she had been the person I had ventured upon when walking…

Fall 2015 696a

 

When Life Leaves a Scar

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

Spring 2015 622

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

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

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

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Martha Fritz – photo credit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

his purpose for them.

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

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

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

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

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

How do we know?

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

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

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

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

Every. Single. Time.

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

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

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

Clinging to God’s promises…

Sarah

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May my eyes continually be open to see –

Sarah

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Choose Jesus.

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.

What we’ve been up to…

It’s been almost two months since we’ve arrived back in Ecuador.  Although cliché, the time really does fly.  The past few months have definitely been a time of transition and settling into new routines.  It’s been kind of crazy as we’ve tried to make decisions about where to live, what we really are doing, how God wants to use us.  He doesn’t always provide the “ah-ha” light bulb moments, but we are learning that if we continue to seek his guidance and stay in the Word, we can walk WITH HIM in his will, rather than continually trying to “find” it.  So, as we walk, we learn.  Here’s a glimpse of our journey –

Brad is adjusting to his new role as Director of Spiritual Life at the Alliance Academy International School.  More on that in a future post, but, in a nutshell, he is charged with “keeping the main thing the main thing” at the school.  This is a challenging and exciting role for him, and he is working hard to get up to speed and help set direction to support the faculty and staff as they work within the school to reach the future generation.  His white board is out and full of ideas and goals…managing the brainstorm is a work in progress.DSC_0034 DSC_0038

We moved to Quito.  With Brad’s new role and the unpredictability of living outside the city, we found a reasonable, furnished apartment about 15 minutes walking distance from the school.  Being close allows us to pretty much park the truck for the week when we are in town and then walk to most of our destinations.  It’s often times easier to take a bus or taxi to get groceries rather than negotiating traffic, so this has been a blessing for us.  There’s plenty of busy streets to cross as we walk back and forth to school, but so far it has seemed very safe as we vary our routes and don’t walk much after dark.  We’re adjusting to the noise of the city (hello, we live next to a bus station!) and finding our new favorite places in the area.  Being in Quito also allows us the opportunity to strengthen and deepen relationships through playing sports at the school gym for fun (Jacob is helping coach a local baseball team and Brad will be helping with the JV basketball team), lead and participate in bible studies to further delve into God’s word, and have people over to support and encourage the people we are surrounded by.DSC_0020 DSC_0001DSC_0015 (2)

We commute to Calacali for the weekends.  Guess you can say we have a country house and a city house…our plan is to be out at Calacali two weekends a month, but so far the schedule DSC_0245has dictated us to be there more often.  We are trying to focus our efforts on having two times a month be “Spiritual Life weekends” – intentionally seeking out and inviting faculty and staff to stay at the retreat center, supporting them in prayer and encouragement, and providing a weekend of respite and recharge that can only be found in the Spirit.

Calacali worship – the second weekend of the month, we have started to hold either Saturday night or Sunday morning worship services out at Calacali.  While casual in setting, we are able to join together for worship and fellowship, often coupled with a meal of some sort.  Whether it be around the bonfire or in the conference room, we are focusing on the bonds that tie us all together as believers…the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.DSC_0191 DSC_0187 DSC_0183

School – the kids are continuing their online schooling this year and we have been blessed toDSC_0308 be able to use the Black Hills Online Learning Community to support our efforts.  Homeschooling has provided us the flexibility to be able to work out at Calacali when needed, and be flexible with travel and people visiting.

AWANA – The school has set aside Wednesdays after school for Christian Service Outreach programs (CSO).  One of the programs that was on Brad’s heart was the AWANA outreach.  He grew up with AWANA as a child, and had great memories of deepening his faith through that program.  So, Brad, along with several other faculty and close to twenty high school student leaders,  will start a pre-K through 6th grade AWANA program at the school in October.  The boys are both going to be leaders and Tessa will be a participant.  We’re excited about how the high school students are embracing this opportunity and look forward to seeing them develop as young leaders.

DNA (Discipleship, Nurturing, Accountability) group – The last period of the school day on Wednesdays is set aside for DNA groups.  These groups, which meet three times a month, are small cells of kids who come together with a common interest which is used as a launching pad to develop relationships and deepen their walk with Christ.  Many of the high schoolers are non-Christian, so the traditional chapel (which is still held once a month) was not meeting the needs of the majority of students.  Knowing that relationships are often the key to going deeper and being transparent, the DNA groups are a bridge to fill this need and focus on small groups of kids with the intention of developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  My friend Ashley and I have developed a “Diner’s Club Challenge” cooking group in which we collect funds from faculty and staff and use the funds to bless others.  The past two weeks, our group has received funds to bake dozens of cookies which were used to share with faculty at a professional development meeting along with sharing baked goods with the maintenance staff as a thank you for all their hard work.  We have a group of nine students and we are trusting God to do a mighty work in these kids as we prepare to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Just a glimpse, but we ask that you would continue to keep us in your prayers as we seek to serve God first and foremost in these areas.  May we continue to serve him faithfully no matter our location or vocation as we plant the seeds that only the Spirit can bring to fruit.

RC Sproul

Blessed to be held in his hands,

Sarah

 

 

 

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.

retreat

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