Monday, December 4, 2017

From Death to Eternity with Her Savior

I felt rather awkward taking pictures at a funeral. But I asked my friend if it was okay, and she said yes. I’m so glad I did. It captures the sentiments of the day in a few quick snaps. 

Jorge and Claudio at the cemetery
As we process Julia’s passing from earth to heaven on November 28th to be with her Jesus, the emotions seem rather jumbled. Even though many people feel it’s good for the heeling, I did not want to see Julia’s body after her death. I want my memories of her to be her beautiful full face, not the skeleton she had become. We are imagining her new life with a new perfect body she’s enjoying as she worships at the feet of Jesus. So when the sadness sets in, as it often does, this is what we dwell on. 

Less than twenty-four hours after Julia’s death, Jorge had a memorial service with the people he and Julia have been ministering to for the past three years in the little space upstairs. What Britt and I noticed the most was not just that Jorge couldn’t keep still, but that he was absolutely fascinating to watch worship. It was like it was just he and God in the room together. I took a partial video of it, though I’m not sure that it truly captures the gravity of the night. 

As humans, our tendency is to expect answers to why. Why did God let her die? Why was it Julia? Why do two small children have to lose their mommy? Why does a devoted husband to the very end have to lose his beloved wife? What is the point to all this? I’ve had plenty of time to dwell on these questions over the past three months since we’ve known Julia’s cancer was terminal. God has used many things, not to answer these questions, but to assure me that it’s okay if we don’t know the answers.  I do hope we see some answers during our lifetime. But if we don’t, it’s okay. I’ve been reminded that God is in control, he has a purpose for everything, and it’s all to bring him glory. This life is not about us. It’s about Him. That doesn’t diminish our purpose in life, but rather gives it more significance. 
There will be many hard days ahead for all of us…mostly Jorge and his kids. I hope we can all learn from Jorge’s example of true worship undeterred by the loss of his earthly love. May many lives be turned to Christ through his example. 

where they placed Julia’s casket
the cement guy bricked it all up while we watched

Monday, October 30, 2017

Hope for Life in a World of Cancer

Late last night, I heard Britt's phone ring. I immediately knew it was Jorge, because his phone announces the caller. My first thought was fear, assuming things have gotten worse with Julia. But there was excitement in his voice on his end. He was letting Britt know that after more than a month without Julia speaking coherently, yesterday morning she spoke. 

I realize it seems forever since I've written about our dear Julia. I realized the other day that it's been so long that there are people who don't know she's dying. Or is she dying? We teeter daily on hope for her life. Will God heal her and restore her whole here on earth or will He take her to be with himself?

Let me back up a bit. After months that seemed like forever of chemo treatments, Julia's condition never changed. The treatments didn't seem to effect her cancer one bit. They went on and applied about 28 radiation treatments to her breast. But partway through, we realized that not only had nothing helped her, but the cancer had even spread. It was by then in her lungs, and we soon found out it spread to her brain as well. About a week after our return from the States in August, Julia lost the use of her left arm and leg, and she seemed confused. At first we thought she'd had a stroke. But after they did a CT scan, we realized the cancer was in her brain now. We were devastated at the news. Her original prognosis was so hopeful. But we knew spreading to the brain meant terminal. 

Julia's regression declined rapidly at first. After just a few weeks, she was bed-ridden, and could no longer communicate. Jorge had to do everything for her, including feeding and bathing her, which is no small task in a house with no bath tubs and no hot water. 

Before she couldn't speak, but was already in and out of awareness, Britt and I went to visit her. It was so difficult to see her like that. I tried to speak a little to her, but she wasn't really coherent until the end of our visit. Right before I left and was alone in the room with her, I leaned in to whisper to her how much I love her and how much she means to me. Tears streamed down her face as she hugged me best she could with her good arm. It was only a day or two after that when she stopped speaking...until yesterday. 

What an internal battle I've fought over God's healing power. My mind and heart know it's possible for Julia to be healed. Yet I also know God could choose not to. I recently read the book, Daring to Love by Katie Davis Majors. She devotes a whole chapter to this very topic because of her experience with a dear woman who died after a long battle of sickness. She was so confident that God was going to heal her. But then God chose to allow her to die. Oh the anguish and struggle she went through was so real. I could relate so well. It took her years to come to grips with God still being good, in fact very good amidst a world of pain and death. I'm still in the struggle. But I'm daring to hope. I'm daring to hope no matter the outcome…whether God chooses to heal for earth or for Heaven only. 

A few weeks ago our pastor was talking about a friend who has terminal breast cancer through her body, but is still living long past her given time. For now, God is sparing her, and she's using this time to share God's love to the fullest. These stories are incredibly encouraging. If you have stories like this, I'd love for you to share them with me. Please pray for Julia. For healing. For Jorge for endurance and encouragement. He's holding up well under a very difficult task. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Learning to Trust Again

One of the best things about being in the States was being able to let my guard down, though it was incredibly hard to do and took me most of my trip to truly relax. I realize not every part of the country has the low crime rate as the places we spent our time. It's amazing how easily you can take for granted the privilege of leaving car doors and houses unlocked, leaving bikes laying in your yard, and allowing your kids to take off on their bikes without an adult accompanying them. There's an amazing freedom to it. My kids felt it too. They reveled in their freedom. It was crazy to mentally battle not clenching my fists when my daughter asked to stay out late with a friend, even though she was within walking distance. 

Another part of that freedom came with driving. I had not driven for nearly two years before our visit. For multiple reasons. Driving was one of the first things on my list. There are a million fears that go through my head when driving in Guatemala. 

Since returning, I've come to realize how much I've let my fears grip and control me. When we first moved here, I had concerns and I was on alert. But the fear did not grip me. My freedom came through trusting Christ and his protection. I knew without a doubt we were here for a purpose and God had gone to great measures to get us here. That in itself gave me great confidence. But over time, you hear stories. Stories that instill fear. And when it hits your own home, you may cave to those fears. I did. The enemy is prowling about eager to kill and destroy. He will use what ever means necessary. In my life he saw a crack, a weakness he thought he could pry open. And it worked. I let my guard down, wasn't equipped for battle and he took advantage. 

But now that I've come face to face with my fears…acknowledging them…I've begun the process of equipping myself. Reading truths. Praying. Even begging for the trust factor to be reinstalled as part of my armor. I can feel a sort of peace coming over me. Not an overconfidence. Just a peace that allows me to live without constant fear. 

Funny thing is, it changes my perspective towards people around me too. I might start loving people better as a result of my trusting God factor. I'm still in the beginning stages. God has a lot of work to do on my still. But I'm moldable…willing to learn and grow. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

So how are you handling the twins leaving? They ask.

So how are you handling the twins leaving soon? They ask.

On the outside I seem fine, I think. But on the inside I’m falling apart. I daily choose not to have a meltdown. And some days I can’t cope. I’m a mess. I feel like I’m expected to keep it together, but it’s a losing battle.

When you move to a foreign country, believing it to be your new permanent residence, you don’t really process the idea of your children growing up and returning to their home country one day. Without you. Nor all the emotions that go along with that. I’ve never been a person consumed by fears, but that very emotion has set in and messed with me beyond expectations in the past few months. They will be completely out of our hands and on their own. In a different country. But you’ve already gone through this. With Mickey. You say. Oh, but it’s completely different this time. It was hard then. Yes. But this feels harder. I feel their apprehension. Mickey had no apprehension. He was ready and couldn’t get out of here fast enough. But with Pierce and Clint it’s different. I hear their unspoken words when they come in my room and pick up Lincoln or lay down beside him to play for a minute. They know he will grow up after they’re gone and they will miss it all.

My heart already aches for every minute we will no longer share with them on a daily basis. We’ve passed so many hours with them under our wings where we can protect them, care for them, teach them and prepare them for this very moment when we release them to independence. I know they will thrive and succeed at whatever they put their hands to. This does not console my aching heart.

April 30th, we are having our first graduation for our three senior homeschooled kids from Presidents Academy, as we have appropriately named it. I’m so proud of these kids. They are each so different and unique in their own gifts and abilities. They amaze me. On May 2nd, Pierce and Clint fly to join their brother and share a house in Wyoming where he found a fencing job for them this summer. I’m super excited that they’ll all be reunited. And I’m super glad I won’t be parenting them anymore under that roof. They will be resolving their own problems on their own. 😁 They should be able to do that just fine without us. I say.

This week Kate has the opportunity to join some friends from back home who came here to do surgeries at a nearby hospital. She gets to translate and assist and observe wherever needed. She’s completely excited, showing about as much emotion on the outside as I typically see from her father. They’re so alike! This will be her test to see if she’s really cut out for the medical world. I’m thrilled for her. Isn’t Kate returning to the States this year as well, since she’s graduating? You ask. Ummm…No. We are not ready for her to be on her own at not yet 17 years of age! An emphatic statement from her daddy. We are currently exploring options for her here in this country. Waiting impatiently. What? I need to know. She wants to know. People want to know. What’s Kate doing next year? Just chill. Alright?

So now you know. It doesn’t get any easier with round two and three. Can you imagine when Kate leaves? The hysteria. He will have to hospitalize me. I’m already dying inside.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Hosting a Team is the Best

The whole team plus their team house hosts
At the Staley’s who hosted the team in their lovely house.
Jorge and Julia’s kids helping the team work on their house.

Last week our first Limitless Ministries team that we’ve had the privilege to host returned to their home in Pennsylvania. It was so great to view our people and this country through their eyes. We put them to work constructing and making beautiful the rooftop at Pastor Jorge’s place a suitable gathering place for his flock. They were also able to rebuild the outer wall of the home of a single mom of three boys and install a new wood-conserving stove for her outdoor kitchen.

Carrying supplies to Lillian’s house
Lillian’s new stove
This group came ready to work hard and accomplished so much.
This is Reagan giving a hand.
Pastor Todd explaining this construction was a gift from their church.
Pastor Jorge’s blessings and thanks to the team.
Btw…this is Julia, who many of you have prayed for through her cancer.

All the kids loved Daniel, including my own.
Lillian’s kids and neighbors

We introduced them to Antigua’s outdoor market (making sure they were exposed to the hanging meat and fish isle for the gag factor) where we gathered food baskets for several of our single moms and Pastor Jorge’s family. They were all blessed. But when we were delivering one basket to a single mom of two, there were tears shed as she explained she didn’t even know how she was going to feed her boys that night as she only had a handful of beans in her house and no money to buy more. God knows our every need before we do. While most of us were food basket shopping, Pastor Todd and Kevin from the team taught and shared at the Saturday morning pastor’s training class.

At the market with all it contrasting colors and Volcano Agua in the background
Purchasing our staples for our food baskets…babies in–tow
Fun baskets for our friends to provide needed nourishment for their families
All our Antigua Market shoppers (and babies) with mucho comida
delivering a few baskets
It wasn’t all work for this lovely group, they were able to experience incredible zip-lining over the coffee farm where our two oldest boys once worked. And probably the highlight…hiking up very active Volcano Pacaya. We’ve never had the experience of actually going into the lava spewing crater until this trip. They all returned exhausted and exhilarated.

the team and our three oldest at Finca Filadelfia for their awesome zip-lining tour
the three seniors first time zip-lining

Everyone who went all the way up to the inside the crater of Volcano Pacaya
The long hike up the volcano

inside the volcano where the lava is spewing
Eric, one of Britt’s best friends, helped lead this team from PA.
He and his wife Kylene have been here 3 times now.
The whole month of March and half of April is pretty insane in Antigua as thousands of visitors come for the weeks leading up to Semana Santa (Holy Week). Our team was able to experience and view a bit of the carpets they build for the somber processions representing the time of Christ’s death. It’s great to experience as a visitor, but can be chaotic and frustrating for residents.

One of my favorite parts of having this team was the interaction they had with my kids. My kids loved doing everything with the team, and the littles especially still talk about the different friends they made and reminisce over that special week. And as providence had it, there was a physical therapist on the team who gave Kate and me some guidance on things we could do to work with Lincoln and help in his development to help strengthen his low muscle tone. Plus Lincoln got lots of extra lovin’s from everyone.

Clint helping with construction. He planned this last semester of school to include time to help with this team.

Karen, Julia’s daughter, loves Kate.
The girls helped paint nails…one of Kate’s specialties.
Lincoln and Addylen spent many hours together so her mommy could be with the team.
We had a physical therapist on the team who helped us with things we could do to improve Lincoln’s development.  Alisha’s husband is holding Lincoln here. It was her goal to convince Lincoln that Kevin was okay by the end of their stay. It worked. Everyone loved Lincoln…we’re used to that though.

But the most important thing that happened as a result of our guests was a renewed vision for me personally. It’s been a long time since we’ve had guests other than family here to participate in our ministry. I’ve grown weary. I’ve hit some pretty hard lows, which probably is mostly to do with having had a baby. But cultural differences start to stand out and get on your nerves after awhile. By seeing our people and this country through the eyes of this group from PA, my spirits were renewed.  I was reminded why we are here and the great need for what we are doing. I see less of the negative and see some hope. And for this I am most grateful for our 11 visitors (and a baby) from Pennsylvania.  Thank you, North Annville Bible for coming and making a difference in our lives. And thank you for believing in what we’re doing here.  (And for all the a whole suitcase full 😳...somebody knows my love language!) We’ve been so encouraged through your visit.