Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Early Morning Reflections

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
Ecclesiastes 3:1

 When I was in the season of raising my kids, I never dreamed that there would be a season where I was living overseas far away from my family and home. Oh, I threatened my kids sometimes saying, “When you are all grown, I’m going to go to Russia and work in an orphanage.” The implication was that those orphans would appreciate everything I did for them which didn’t always seem to be the case with my own children. I never really imagined, however, that I would do such a thing. Now, I find myself at the end of that very season – almost 3 years of living overseas in a different culture, different language, different people – and I don’t quite know what to do with it.

I have four months left – four months to glory in the mountains around me, four months to hear the dogs bark and roosters crow, four months to sing worship songs in Spanish and watch the worship leader spread his arms wide and abandon himself to the Lord, four months to be greeted with hugs and “Tengas cartas?” Only four months. I find myself trying to soak everything in – the sunshine, the sounds, the people. I’m determined not to be sad, but still I cry at the oddest things.

I know it is all part of the passing of this season. I know that the next season of my life, whatever that looks like, will be good because God is good and He is the one leading me. I know that I will love being back in my home with many of my kids, grandkids, and friends close by. I know I will find joy in their laughter and play and deep contentment in conversations carried out face to face. I know that I will delight in the flowers growing in my garden, in the changing colors of the leaves, and yes, even the first snowfall. I know all these things and yet….

I’ve read how once you have served overseas, your heart will always be divided. Your love for home never goes away, but now you have a love for another “home” that is written on your heart just as deeply as the first. No matter where you are, there is always a part of you that misses the other place. I understand now what they meant.

I hope it is okay that this blog post is a little different. I hope those of you who are around me now will offer a little grace when those unexpected tears fall. I hope those of you at home never think that I regret my decision to come home, because I don’t. I hope, trust, and believe that God walks with me as this season ends and a new one begins.

We are all in different seasons in our lives and all go through those beginnings and endings. My prayer for all of you reading this today is that you, too, will know the presence of God and His abiding care as you walk through the seasons of your life.

He has made everything beautiful in its time.
Ecclesiastes 3:11a

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

This and That

A new blog post is long, long overdue, and I know it. Sometimes, though, life just isn’t exciting, and it’s difficult to imagine what I could possibly say that would be of interest to anyone. Would you really care to know that I spent weeks after my return in August proofreading spreadsheets – the information for the progress reports that would go out to sponsors this fall? Or that I made list upon list of questions and information needed and photos to be taken? Or that I spent what felt like hours updating the spreadsheets (and the lists) after a trip to the ministry site or a phone call to a director or an email from someone at the site? Yes, progress reports have consumed my life for the last 2 months, but I’m happy to say that they are done. Well, almost done. I still have to account for two more students. What can I say?
As I sat here reflecting, I realized that there were and are a few other things going on in my life – both good and challenging. This post, then, will simply be a hodgepodge of several of those things in no particular order.
Four weeks ago, I broke my big toe. Our laundry area is a balcony outside the apartment. When the dryer runs, the tile floor becomes wet with the condensation. I forgot that. When I heard the washer making strange noises, I rushed out in my bare feet, hit that wet floor, and fell. My left foot slipped behind me and apparently my toes bent too far in a direction they are not meant to go. After x-rays and a consultation with the doctor (which cost about $20) it was decided that my toe had a hairline fracture. I was told to wrap my two toes together, elevate my foot and stay off it for 3 weeks. Then for 4-6 weeks, I could walk around my apartment, but no strenuous activity. Have to admit, that didn’t really happen, but I did do my best to elevate it whenever I was sitting. My toe has gotten better so I must not have done too badly following the directions. I’m almost ready to get rid of the special shoe I was given which keeps me from bending the toes, and I’m really hoping I can quit wrapping it this week. I’m sure looking forward to getting back to my morning walks!

 A few days after I broke my toe, we had a Kids Alive missionary retreat at a camp in Jarabacoa. It’s in a beautiful setting with nice facilities, including a pool, climbing wall, and giant swing. Since I wasn’t supposed to be walking much, I stayed in a private room with one other person that was on the same level as the meeting room. Everyone else bunked in dormitory-style rooms. I also had the privilege of being driven to the pavilion where we ate our meals since going up and down 120+ steps wasn’t really part of the doctor’s orders. There are some advantages to having a broken toe! We studied the first couple verses of Psalm 23 and heard testimonies from a number of fellow missionaries. It was a restful, blessed time.

We have baby goats! Shortly after I came back, one of the neighbors nearby started tying a goat in the small lot next to our apartment building. After watching a few days, I was pretty sure the goat was pregnant. Sure enough, a couple weeks ago, she gave birth to triplets. I heard their first little bleats and spent most of the afternoon watching them. Two of them were up and nursing right away; the third one struggled. He was obviously weaker and smaller, but he was a fighter. Even though the mother actually stepped on him twice, he managed to get back to his feet and tried to nurse. I named him, Rocky, for his tenacious spirit. Unfortunately, Rocky didn’t survive the first night. The neighbor came and took them away before dark, but only brought back two kids the next day. I must admit that I wonder if any special care was taken for him during the night or if he was left to try and survive on his own. Still, it is great fun to watch the two kids play in the field next door.

We have had lots of rain. Since we were in a drought last year, it’s hard to know if the amount of rain is abnormal, but it sure seems like it. With the rain has come some serious leaking problems in our spare bedroom. The owner had gutters installed on the building. Here in the DR, they don’t use downspouts. They just leave the hole open and let the water stream out. One of the holes is over the flat roof of our bedroom. The water from the third floor roof falls on the flat roof which has become saturated with water. As a result, we have water running through the ceiling. It’s a mess. And now the stains are appearing on the ceiling of my bedroom which also has a flat roof, and the paint is beginning to buckle and fall off.
This week I took a trip to the Santo Domingo School to work on enrollments and Christmas projects for our Dominican sponsors. Juan and Margaret’s school is one of my favorite places to go. The kids there love to have visitors, and I get to see my sponsored girl, Carolina. Even if we don’t accomplish everything we hoped to do, it’s always a good day.

One more note – after months of seeing just an empty shelf, I found applesauce in the grocery store today! Now I can make applesauce crunch for Thanksgiving dinner! Yeah!!
Prayer requests:
·         For the rain to stop long enough for our roof to be repaired and that it would be repaired correctly!
·         For God to protect Carolina and shield her from certain activities that seem to be happening in her home.
·         For a safe trip back to the Goshen area in December.
·         For my small group as we study the book, Inside Out by Larry Crabb. Talk about a challenge!
·         And, always, for the ministry of Kids Alive here in the DR and around the world that more and more children will come to know Jesus and be given all that they need to thrive and grow.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Right or Left?

Recently I took one of those online tests that tell you whether you are left-brained or right-brained. I scored 50% for each. This is not the first time that I have landed in the middle of my brain. It helps me understand why I have such a struggle when faced with major, important, life-changing decisions. Logic (left-brain) fights against emotion (right-brain). Nowhere has this been more true than when I faced deciding how long to stay here in the DR.

Here is what my left brain had to say (taken from a letter to my monthly partners):

“My heart’s desire is to finish my time here well. To me, that means leaving the sponsorship program in better shape than when I arrived and having someone who can take over the role that I have in overseeing sponsorship for the DR. If I were to leave this September, neither of those things would be true.

With the departure of two sponsorship coordinators in April, we now have seven of our ten sites without a coordinator on location. In addition, two families who play major roles in Kids Alive work will be leaving this summer – one for a six-month furlough and the other indefinitely. At this time, there isn’t anyone who could step into my role which will now include directly handling sponsorship at the sites without coordinators…

… I know there will always be a need for workers here, but several factors give me the freedom to end my term at that time. By end of this year, three people who will work in sponsorship are set to arrive in the D.R. One of those is a candidate for taking my position. Also, there are several others in the application/fundraising process who will potentially arrive within the next 12-14 months. With these new arrivals, I believe my work will be done.”

Here, however, is what my right brain was saying (taken from the same letter):

“My return in January was difficult. Emotionally, I was dealing with my mom’s death. Physically, I had contracted a virus which seemed to hang on and wipe out all my energy and strength. I wanted nothing more than to come home.”

While this part of the letter was shorter, the desire to be with my friends and family easily overpowered my logic for many, many days.

Fortunately, the left brain and right brain can work together. One day I visited one of our children’s homes. There I met Hannah (not her real name), a 15-month old girl who had only been living there for one week. She was limp and passive. When this strange, white woman took her to hold, she offered no resistance, and there was no change of expression or sound from her. Her arms and legs were thin and weak. Her belly was slightly swollen from the poor nutrition. She simply watched with her huge, brown eyes. My right brain was immediately engaged. Remembering how active and healthy my own grandchildren were at her age made me want to cry. I wanted to do all I could to ensure that she had a safe place to grow and thrive.

Later when I returned home, my left brain kicked in. How could I best help this little child? By staying here one more year for all the reasons listed above, plus for this little girl and so many others like her. That is the decision I have made. I will stay here in the DR working with Kids Alive until June, 2017. At that time, I will return home to be with my family and friends. Even though I won’t be physically here, I will continue to find ways to partner with Kids Alive to bring hope to the hurting children in the Dominican Republic.

Thank you, little one, for helping bring my brain together.

Prayer requests:

·         Pray for Hannah. That she will gain both physical and emotional health. That she will grow up learning about Jesus and his love for her. That she will receive Him into her heart at just the right time.

·         Pray for my health. Since returning in January, I have struggled through various viruses and parasites. Right now, I am trying to recover from a cough. Pray that my immune system would be strengthened so that I can fight off illness to be able to perform my work efficiently and to enjoy my life here.

·         Pray for the sponsorship work in the upcoming year. Pray that God would bring in people at just the right times to cover the areas where help is needed. Pray that I will have wisdom and strength to meet all my responsibilities.

·         Pray that God will provided everything that is needed for another year here.

·         Pray, most of all, that God would be glorified in me and in the work Kids Alive is doing here in the Dominican Republic.

 For information on how to help me stay in the DR one more year, click on my fundraisers page on this blog.


Friday, February 19, 2016

God's Choice

I met the “star” sponsored child yesterday. You know the one – pretty, intelligent, very friendly, warm and welcoming. The one that everyone wants to sponsor. We were working on Christmas projects, and she was the only one who voluntarily drew some pictures and made her card special for each of her sponsors. I understand why she is the one chosen; after all, she was the one I enjoyed working with the most.

Then there is my new sponsored child, Carolina. My other girl, Limberlyn, graduated from high school last spring and has moved on from the sponsorship program. Being here in the DR has some advantages. I have gotten to know more of the children and could choose which new child I wanted to sponsor. Except, I didn’t really choose. You see, I found myself looking for the cute little girl, the one who was friendly and easy to be with. There were a couple that I had in mind, but God put another girl on my heart. She isn’t overly friendly. She doesn’t smile a lot. She isn’t particularly attractive. She doesn’t like school and is often absent when we go to do projects. She didn’t fit the picture of the child I wanted.

I argued with God a little about this. I asked about the others and pointed out which ones I liked. I really didn’t want a difficult child, but I couldn’t get this girl off my mind. Finally, I wrote the names of all the little girls without sponsors on slips of paper, put them in a bowl and shook them up. I meant to draw one out, but one paper jumped out of the bowl. Yep, it was Carolina. That was a fluke. I planned to draw one out. I put it back in and shook them a little again just to mix them up. Another paper popped out. Before I even looked, I knew it was Carolina.

God is so patient with us. He lets us argue and try to figure out how to get our way. He listens to all our reasoning and rationalizations. I imagine He was somewhat amused by my feeble attempt to get around what He was telling me to do. But He is God and He does make His will clear to us. Then it is up to us to choose – will we follow or not? Carolina is my new, chosen sponsored child. I will love her and pray for her and spend time with her whenever I can. Hopefully, with God’s love and attention, my love and attention, the love and attention of those at the school, she will be transformed into one of those little girls everyone wants to sponsor. But, if not, she will still be mine.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I wrote this post last October, but it never made it to my blog. I don’t really know why. I guess it just felt a little risky. But the question has come up again, at least in my mind. Why is it that some kids are fully sponsored and could actually have 2 or 3 times the number of sponsors allowed while others never have that chance?

I suspect I know why, and I’m not pointing fingers. If you read the above, you know I am just as human as anyone. Remember what God told Samuel when Samuel was to anoint a king for Israel? “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” (I Sam 16:7)

As I sit here and think of all the shy, plain, difficult children who are in our programs, I want to challenge all of us to follow God’s instructions – don’t look at the outward appearance, instead listen to God’s heart and choose a child based upon what you hear from Him.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Another winter storm advisory – the second one in three days. But it is January 11 in northern Indiana so what else can you expect? The thing is I wasn’t supposed to still be here. My plan was to be back in the sunny, warm Dominican Republic by now, and my hope had been to avoid any kind of major winter storm. Until about 5:30 am on Jan 1, my visit home was going according to my plan. The weather in December was unseasonably warm, and we had a green Christmas. There had only been one day of freezing rain/sleet and one minor snowfall. I was able to travel around, accomplish all the things I needed to get done and visit all the people I wanted to see, including my mom at Hubbard Hill. New Year’s Eve as I sorted through what was to go and what was to stay and packed my bags for my return trip, I felt satisfied with my time home and ready to start work again. I had one last weekend to be spent at a lodge with eight of my children and their families. Then it was an overnight in Chicago before flying back to Santiago. Yes, that was my plan.

Proverbs 19:21 reads “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” One phone call early New Year’s morning revealed that God’s purpose was a little different than my plan. It was my sister, telling me that mom had passed away during the night. Shock, pain, panic, disbelief all rolled through me. When I saw on the caller ID that it was my sister, I knew it was about mom, but I expected to hear that she had been taken to the hospital or that the nausea she was experiencing when I visited a couple days earlier had gotten worse. Never did I think that she was gone.

It is strange how we can pray about things and yet be so surprised, shocked even, when God answers. You see, from the time mom suffered her heart attack just before I left for Guatemala in 2014 and we were told she had suffered major damage to her heart and only had 2 weeks to 2 months to live, I had prayed that she wouldn’t suffer a lot of pain, that God would take her home peacefully in her sleep. And that last Wednesday when I visited and she was sick to her stomach and couldn’t eat, the thought/prayer ran through my mind, “God if her time is soon, could you take her home before I leave?” And He did – just like I prayed – quietly, peacefully, in her sleep, three days before I was to leave, He took her home.

I’m not a stranger to grief. I’ve lost two older sisters and my dad, but somehow this time, death has hit me especially hard. Perhaps because I have been out of the country these last months of mom’s life and will be leaving again soon. Perhaps because suddenly I am the oldest living member of my immediate family. Perhaps simply because I myself am older. Whatever the reason, I am struggling – struggling to regain my health and energy after being knocked down with a virus after mom’s funeral, struggling to recapture my drive and enthusiasm for the work God has called me to in the Dominican Republic, struggling to summon up the will to leave my kids, grandkids and friends at this time. Yet even as I struggle, “…I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him…” (2 Tim 1:12)

I deeply appreciate your prayers during this time

·         prayers for my health, both physical and emotional

·         prayers for my sisters whose lives will be changed even more drastically than mine as they no longer sit with my mom every evening before bed

·         prayers for my kids and grandkids as we say good-bye one more time

·         prayers for safe travels as I return to the DR on Monday, Jan 18

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Not So Serious

I’ve been reflecting lately over the last year and my time here in the Dominican Republic. I’ve thought about the changes in my life, the struggles and successes, the people I have met and the lessons I have learned along the way. It occurred to me that others might be interested in some of the lessons I have learned. So, for what they are worth, here are some things I now know that I did not know before:

1.       Roosters crow at any time of the day or night – not solely at sunrise. This lesson was learned on my very first trip to the DR in 2012. It remains true to this day.
2.       Laundry is best done in the early morning – after sunrise but before others are awake and using electricity. There seems to be a sweet spot where the washer actually has enough power to pump the water out of the tub. Miss that sweet spot and drain the tub by hand.

      3.       Electric wires do not have to be attached to a straight pole.  Sometimes a dead tree will work just fine.
       4.       I actually like avocados and guacamole.
5.       Wasps are intelligent. After trying numerous times to build nests on the overhangs outside my windows or on the metal grates of my windows, they have found the perfect place to build – one foot beyond the reach of Raid from my balcony and out of the line of sight (or spray) from either window.
      6.       Never bring a broom in the house without shaking it first – especially after dark. While your intentions may have been to help one lizard who is running along the top of your wall to find the door, chances are you will actually gain a second lizard who jumps off the broom right for your head.
      7.       Raid will kill lizards – no, not the two mentioned above. Before you decide to leave nasty comments on my blog, this was discovered purely by accident. I honestly thought it was a large spider hiding behind the books on my shelf. Not wanting to move the books and deal with it, I sprayed the area thoroughly with Raid only to discover it was actually a lizard who, sadly, did not survive his experience. Please note – the two lizards in #6 above were alive and well when they were escorted out of my apartment.
8.       Lizard poop looks remarkably like mouse poop. For a couple months, I was sure my balconies were being visited by mice every night. Not wanting them to find their way into my apartment, I put out D-Con. Several weeks went by. Nothing touched the D-Con but the poop continued to appear on the balconies. One day, I found the poop on the wall – either there was something else pooping in my space or mice in the DR are extremely acrobatic. A little research via Google and, sure enough, it is lizard poop. The difference? Lizard poop usually has a little white on the end. Who knew that coming to the DR would make me an expert on lizard poop.
There you have it. I hope you will allow me this slightly tongue-in-cheek look at what I have learned in the last year. I have, of course, learned other lessons – deeper and life-changing lessons. One day I will write about some of those, but not today. And for those of you who object to instruments of death – Raid and D-Con to be exact – please forgive me and offer a little grace. The lizards have. They have learned to come around only after dark. I have rarely seen them during the day since the unfortunate demise of their friend. Or, wait a minute, maybe they are actually exacting their revenge by pooping on my balconies every night.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Pennies from Heaven

I found a penny today. That may not seem like remarkable news until you remember that I am in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic and pennies are as scarce as hen’s teeth. (The younger generation may have to look up that expression.) What is equally remarkable is where I found it. To get to my second floor apartment door, I go through three locked gates. This penny was lying on the top of the stairs between the second and third gates. My upstairs neighbor goes through that space to reach her apartment, but she is Dominican. The chances of her dropping a U.S. penny are slim to none.

What really matters, though, is not the “how” but the “why.” Some years ago I read about a man who considered finding a penny on the ground to be a message from God. The words “In God We Trust” that are stamped on it was God’s way of reminding him that he could trust God whatever the circumstances of his life. I liked the idea and adopted it as my own. When I saw a penny, I picked it up and carried it in my pocket. Every time I touched that penny, I was reminded that I could trust Him. Eventually that penny would be lost from my pocket, hopefully for someone else to find and be encouraged. It never ceased to amaze me how God put those pennies in my path just when I needed them the most.

Some months ago when I was going through a difficult time here missing my home, family and friends, I thought about the penny, how much I could use one right then and how impossible the thought was. No penny appeared, but in other ways God brought me back to a place of peace. I forgot about the pennies....until today.

 In our Bible study group this afternoon, we were looking at perseverance. We have the strength to persevere by holding onto God’s promises. God uses hard times to mature us and changes us as we go through them. We can rejoice in hard times because we know there is more to come beyond this life. Toward the end of our time, we talked about those faith heroes mentioned in Hebrews who never received what they had been promised but still persevered to the end (Hebrews 11:39). I shared with the group about my oldest son, Clifford, whom I haven’t seen or heard from in over ten years. Every year that goes by, it gets harder – not easier – to accept. I have to face the questions, “What if I never see him again before I die? Will I continue to trust that God is holding him in the palm of His hand? Will I believe that I will see him in the life to come, if not in this one?" All I could say was that I want to hold fast, that I hope I will continue to believe no matter what.
 So I came home….to find a penny at the top of my stairs. All I could do was laugh. God is so good! What we cannot do on our own, through our strength, He does for us and in us. The words engraved on the penny, “In God We Trust” are engraved on my heart, “In God I will trust”. Yes, I will trust the One who loves me and my son with an unfailing love, who carries my son in the palm of His hand, who brought reconciliation through His death on the cross to a world separated from Him by sin. Nothing is too hard for Him.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.                    Hebrews 12:1-3