Tuesday, June 2, 2015

In the Meantime....

Victor, my husband, is on an Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade this week leading an international, interdisciplinary, multilingual team of over 30 volunteers as they share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in cooperation with a local body of believers in Catemaco, Veracruz, the Mexican witchcraft capital of the nation. 
Here is some of the international flavor on this crusade: Dr. Bill (seated) with three American pre-med students listening to a patient's needs (seated in the white blouse) while our second eldest daughter, Diana (standing in white), translates.

In the meantime, back at the Ranch....I, Julie, am.....hmmm...I think I just am!

Me....just being.  (I had Alejandro take this of me just a few minutes ago as I worked on this very blog.  No staging here...this is real life in central Mexico on a Tuesday afternoon at 5:30 p.m.)

Victor and the team, in the power of the Holy Spirit, are pushing back spiritual darkness with the light of Jesus Christ in a town full of witchcraft and evil practices.
The team hard at work on the crusade in Catemaco, Veracruz

In the meantime, back at the Ranch, we are.....catching mice!

I hate mice! The first night Victor was gone, Caleb and I saw three mice in the living room...one of whom scurried into my bedroom! So, yesterday, our eldest, Angie, went to the store and bought three sticky mice traps. (I don't know how to set those springy mouse traps.) Last night, I went into the bathroom...and a mouse ran into the corner. I quickly set one of those sticky traps by the door with some peanut butter in the middle of the sticky stuff and, within 5 minutes, we had our first mouse! Problem...what to do with the mouse?! The kids were already in bed, but Josiah heard the little commotion and came to my rescue, discarding the mouse while I looked the other way while standing on a chair. Two more mice promptly fell in another trap within 20 minutes. Martha, Jocelin and Josiah rescued me from those mice by discarding them while I hid on my bed. BUT...I still heard another one rustling about in the night. The hunt continues!

Insert imaginary picture here: just use your imagination for the mouse scenes. I thought I would spare you any actual pictures!

Victor and the team, through the truth of Jesus Christ, are leading person after person to the throne of grace to have their sins washed away.
Leonel (on the right), who is the youth pastor at our church, our daughter Martita's boyfriend and, Lord willing,  our future son-in-law, sharing the Gospel with a young woman during this crusade to Catemaco, Veracruz.

In the meantime, back at the Ranch, we do some washing, too! Dishes, lots and lots of dishes. Oh, and clothes too.....and sheets, and towels and rags! Oh, and faces and hair and fingernails and hands!

Victor and the team begin each day with group devotions where they hear the Word, sing His praises and join in one Spirit.
The team during morning devotions on Tuesday morning.

In the meantime, back at the Ranch, we do family devotions too! We hear the Word, sing His praises and.....well, let's just leave it that! The 'joining in one Spirit' part becomes a bit more complicated when the youngest kids fight over the couch during worship time.

Insert your multi-media imagination of three children trying to scramble for the same overstuffed chair and then having to sing a worship song with grumpy faces because somebody else got to the chair before them.  Sitting in the right chair is, after all, one of the most important things on the face of this earth!

Victor coordinates the team as they each carry out their God-ordained and God-given talents, abilities and assignments: from surgery to dental to pharmacy to counseling.

Dr. Leslie, one of our faithful Mexican dentists, working on a patient just yesterday!
In the meantime, back at the Ranch, I check the job chart for the fifth time in one day and look for the child who is supposed to be washing dishes. OK, got him....where did the dish rinser go? Oh, she got tired of waiting for the washer. Finally, good, let's see, we've got the dish drier, the dish putter-awayer, the dish rinser....where did the dish washer go? (hint: “dish washer” refers to a child who washes dishes, not an electronic home appliance)
Our 'job chart central' on the refrigerator.

So many times in our lives we can see where the Lord has placed others and desire their place of service, the way the Lord uses them, their circumstances. We can even get jealous about suffering, thinking that another person's suffering requires less suffering than our suffering!

Oh, for the ability to be content. Oh, for the ability to trust: to trust that God has truly created me...for this...right now. Oh, for the ability to believe that He truly is working out a purpose and good through all things. Oh, for the ability to see the ordinary as extraordinary and the mundane as holy.

Oswald Chambers' words recorded in “My Utmost for His Highest” speak to that need: “It does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours of every day as a saint, going through drudgery, and living an ordinary, unnoticed, and ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus. It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God – but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people – and this is not learned in five minutes.”

Oh, for the ability to do drudgery for Jesus! And, oh, for the ability to see that drudgery as He sees it...and, suddenly, well, at least ever so slowly, we realize that it isn't drudgery!

OK, let me give it a try. My new opening sentence: Julie, home at Refuge Ranch this week, is leading a multi-age, multi-colored, bilingual group of 15 children and youth, while also coordinating a multi-faceted staff, as they work jointly towards the carrying out of daily tasks resulting in the teaching, forming, healing, inspiring, loving and shaping of the next generation of followers of Jesus Christ!

So, do you have some mice to catch this week? Then, let's catch some mice for Jesus! (And, in the meantime, wash some dishes, and mop some floors, and check some homework, etc..:-) )

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Fishing for a Family

Our family recently returned from one of our favorite vacation spots on the Pacific Coast. A Christian acquaintance of ours cuts us an incredible deal to rent her place on the beach....just perfect for our family!

Within a few minutes' drive from the bungalows sits a salt water lagoon, one of our kids' favorite places to explore with its bathtub-like warm water, seagulls, crabs and shells galore! Since my brother introduced the boys to fishing last year, the lagoon has become a favorite fishing hole, especially for 15 year old Alejandro!

Alejandro fishing at the lagoon...first with a fishing pole and then the local way...with a stick, fishing line and a hook!

This year, Alejandro spent some time fishing with the locals...no poles involved, just a stick, fishing line and a hook, which they send out into the water with a whirling movement reminiscent of David slinging the pebble at Goliath. One one excursion, we arrived at the lagoon and began to lather ourselves in sunscreen. Alejandro, stick and fishing line in hand, turned and said to me, with a disappointed tone in his voice: “There's nobody else fishing!”

Now, being the expert fisherwoman that I am (ha ha ha ha!), I assumed that a lack of competition would be good news!  However, Alejandro quickly clarified his dilemma, “Mom, I was going to ask the other guys for bait!”

Alejandro had gone fishing with no bait! (That's a whole other blog and spiritual lesson!)

Always trying to teach our children the purpose of family, I calmly responded, “Alejandro, therein lies one of the benefits of having a father. Ask Dad and he can get you some bait.” At Victor's suggestion, Alejandro inquired at the little restaurant to see if they had any bait available. They ended up giving Alejandro some bait for free and he happily spent the next few hours fishing!

Thankfully, the spiritual lesson has lasted much longer than those few hours!

As an adoptive mom of 18 children, I have witnessed first hand, and felt in my heart firsthand, the difference between those of our children who fully embrace their place in our family and those who do not.

Alejandro, a work in process like all of our children, and each of us, still remains a bit rougher around the edges than most. He joined our family over three years ago at age 11. By the time he reached our doorstep, and our hearts, he had lived in at least 7 different living situations in those 11 years, including on the street, in a stranger's home, at various motels and in an informal halfway house for adult male alcoholics. Alejandro readily identifies Victor and I as his parents, yet, he hasn't quite internalized what it actually means to have a Dad and Mom. For example, if you have a Dad and Mom you don't have to finagle bait from strangers; you can ask Dad and Mom and they, within their capabilities and considering what is healthy and best for you, will actually give you the desires of your heart!

I began to wonder if we don't do the same with our Heavenly Father. We are adopted, too, you know!

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry,Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15

He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” Ephesians 1:5

WE ARE CHILDREN OF GOD! But, do we really embrace being God's son or daughter? Do we enjoy all the benefits of being a child of the Creator, Owner and Sustainer of the universe on a daily basis? We marvel at what life might be like as the child of a famous actor or actress, of the President or some rich oil tycoon, but I am the daughter of the CEO and CFO of the universe!

As an adoptive mother, I find nothing more heartbreaking, and at times frustrating, than to know how much I love each of my children, to know that I have fully accepted them as sons and daughters, and then to watch them reject that love, or that position, and the needless suffering they endure simply because they refuse to fully accept their adoption and live in the abundance that sonship or daughtership affords!

The Zaragoza Family March 2015
Front row:  Carolina, David, Ana, Ruth
Middle row: Fatima, Miguel, Victor, Julie, Caleb, Jocelin
Back row: Fidel, Alejandro, Lolis, Martita, Martha, Angie, Diana, Leo, Josiah
With Jesus in Heaven:  Danny
Alejandro's fishing incident illustrated this reality in a very small, and actually quite insignificant, way. However, upon returning from vacation, our 17 year old daughter Lolis upped the stakes by deciding to permanently return to her hometown and extended biological family. While we would not normally allow a child to make such a decision, Lolis had begun to act in ways hurtful to her life and health in order get what she wanted. So, through the guidance of both our Heavenly Counselor (the Holy Spirit) and the advice of our family's earthly counselor, we felt peace that loving Lolis meant letting her go! So, on Monday, March 16, Victor and I and Martita (Lolis' older biological sister and our third eldest), accompanied Lolis back to her hometown. We reassured her time and time again that 'once our daughter, always our daughter'; that she can count on us throughout her lifetime. However, sadly, she will not enjoy the benefits of her daughtership until she fully accepts the fact that she is our daughter!

As an adoptive mom, I know that my Heavenly Father understands me! How sad and frustrated He must feel at times! He knows how much he loves us and He knows all that He has prepared for us and yet then watches us suffer, stumble and endure times of  great lacking and suffering, not because He is incapable of providing for us or sustaining us, but because we have rendered ourselves incapable of receiving all He has for us due to the fact that we have not fully embraced our sonship or daughtership!

As an adopted daughter of God, watching Lolis and Alejandro not fully embrace their earthly adoption has spurred me on to more fully embrace, and enjoy, my Heavenly adoption and all of its incredible, literally out-of-this-world benefits!

If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you are a child of the King of the Universe! Embrace it! Accept your son or daughtership! Enjoy having God as Father! Approach the throne of grace with full confidence! Let's not loose out on being coheirs with Christ by asking strangers for what our Father is fully capable and willing to give us!

If you have never prayed to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior...today is the day! It would be an honor and privilege to help you become a son or daughter of God! If you would like to belong to an eternal family, then I invite you to pray the following prayer (or you can do so with your own words):

Dear God, on this day I come before you desiring to be your child. I know that I have sinned and that my sin has separated me from you. However, I understand that you sent your only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a cross to pay for my sins and then brought Him back to life winning the victory over sin and death. Please forgive me for my sins. I accept your gift of forgiveness. Please come into my heart and life and be my Father! Thank you because I know now that I will spend the rest of this life enjoying a relationship with You, getting to know You and depending on You, and I will spend all of eternity with You in Heaven. In Jesus name, Amen.”

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Shake, Rattle and Roll!

This year at Refuge Ranch started with a whole lot of shaking and rattling and we are ready to roll...by God's grace, in His strength and according to His will in 2015!

The Lord truly blessed our family and the ministry at Refuge Ranch with the visit of an incredible work team from Pennsylvania, here from January 10-17.  The team consisted of 10 high school seniors from Christopher Dock Mennonite High School and six adults, including fearless leaders Jen and Beth, as well as Dave Moyer, his machines and guys!

Six years ago, the Lord led Dave, owner of a construction company in Pennsylvania, to invest his knowledge, time and resources in the lives and ministry of Refuge Ranch.  The land, and our lives, have not looked the same since!  Through connections at Volvo, Dave gets three huge earth moving machines which he and his guys use for the whole week to move tons and tons and tons of dirt, transforming our land to better enable us to transform lives!  That's where the shaking and rattling came from...the machines working actually make the windows on our current home rattle and you can feel the earth shake!

The youth on the team worked incredibly hard and painted the outside of our current home, as well as the other building at Refuge Ranch, which houses staff rooms, our school, the medical crusade warehouse and our dining room.  I thought those buildings were white, until they got painted!  Now they ARE white and look beautiful!

After that, the team finished pouring the last portions of the cement footers for the main house and even helped tie the first rebar footers, as well as bending lots and lots of rebar for the foundation.  It was amazing!
Bending rebar
Tying the first rebar footers for the new house!  (Notice: my Mom makes a great rebar supervisor! :-)
The new house with all the footers poured and the first rebar being laid.
In the two weeks since the team shared their lives with us, the Lord has revealed to me a parallel of the work done that week and the shaking up that He is doing in my own life.  On one of those first afternoons, our kids stood horrified as they watched Dave and his guys tear down the three trees standing in our playground area, dismantle the slide and swings and turn the only grass on our property into a dustbowl.  One by one, our children came to me with reprimanding voices, tiny hands on their hips, demanding to know what was going on and why I was permitting such destruction!  I calmly explained the vision of the new park: at least 5 times as large as the old park, totally flat and with sufficient room for the slide, swings, and teeter-totter, as well as new playground equipment and a soccer field, all with nice grass!  They stopped their complaining, but by no means were they convinced of our seeming madness.

You see, I have a very clear vision in my mind for what the new park will look like, and the utter confidence that it will come to be, so watching trees go and grass disappear do not bother me, nor does putting up with lots and lots of dust or the lack of a playground for now.  I can clearly see where we are heading and understand the reason for the apparent destruction.  Our kids don't have that same vision...they just have to trust!  Where the kids see destruction, I see construction!

I realized that many times recently I had come into devotions or near to the throne of God with the same reprimanding voice and my not-so-little hands stuck firmly on my hips as I demanded that God explain to me the apparent destruction He was allowing in certain areas of my life.  All I could see were trees toppling and grass disappearing and seeming nothingness replace what had appeared to be green and growing.  Then, one day, He gently reminded me:  He has a vision of what is coming!  He knows that to bring to completion those good and perfect plans for my life, there are other things that need to be removed, changed, and transformed first.  To my eyes, and my heart, it looks, and feels, like a whole lot of destruction.  Pointless and painful destruction.  Just like my kids felt that we were destroying their play area, I sometimes feel that God allows things to enter my life that threaten to utterly destroy me.  But, just as I, their mother, tried my best to comfort them that I have a greater, more beautiful plan in mind, and nearly begged that they trust me, my Heavenly Father knows that He has a greater, more beautiful plan in mind, and begs me in His Word to trust Him!

I know, by faith, that our main house and the accompanying playground will one day be finished, yet I really have very little power to fulfill such a promise.  My Heavenly Father promises to finish what He has started in my life, but, unlike me, He has the power to fulfill that promise!

In the meantime, construction, whether on the land or in our hearts, is just plain messy!  But, bring it on...there's some building going on around here and when the dust settles the playground, the house...and I...will be just beautiful!

"...being confident of this, 
that he who began a good work in you 
will carry it on to completion 
until the day of Christ Jesus."
Philippians 1:6


Enjoy these pictures showing part of the transformation process at Refuge Ranch!  I assure you that similar transformations are simultaneously occurring in the lives and hearts of our children....just can't take pictures of those processes!

The playground and new house area in May 2014...less than a year ago!

The playground and new house area being transformed by Dave and his crew: January 2015.

This is Refuge Ranch in 2008.  In this picture we weren't even using the second story of our current home yet.
This is Refuge Ranch today...literally TODAY (I took this picture this morning!).  The new house construction is on the left (incomplete in this picture), with the new parking area, the graveled ramp up to our current home..and the school/staff/warehouse/dining room building is just off camera to the right.

This is what transformation looks and sounds like!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Two Ships Passing in the Night

This past Sunday night Victor and I acted like two ships passing in the night!

My ship came into home port at 10:30 p.m., along with our five eldest daughters, Angie, Diana, Martita, Lolis and Martha. Victor's ship left home port the same night, but at 3:00 a.m. So, we shared the same dock (our bed) for about a total of three and half hours!

You see, the girls' and my ship had spent the weekend, literally, in the port of Acapulco, Guerrero!

Acapulco, Guerrero
The Lord gave me the privilege of helping lead a pastor's wives' conference, alongside of missionary Barb Conner, on Friday and Saturday. Some thirty pastor's wives from Southern Baptist Churches throughout the state of Guerrero attended the two day event where they learned about the importance of supporting each other through regular times of meeting for prayer, Bible study, fellowship and accountability. This greatly excited me as this embodies exactly what the ladies of the staff here at Refuge Ranch and I do each Friday morning. I would be hard pressed to fully explain all that those gathering times have meant for my own heart and life, my marriage, my parenthood and the ministry here! So, I enthusiastically supported all that Barb shared to encourage and train the ladies in that area.  In addition, I had the opportunity to share a session regarding finding one's identity in Christ (a lifetime message the Lord has placed in and on my heart) as well as a time of testimony of the Lord's working in my life and family.

My five girls and I with fellow conference leader and missionary, Barb, as well as the women's leaders of the state of Guerrero who organized these two events so wonderfully!

Then, on Sunday, the Lord gave me the gift of leading a one day conference for young ladies entitled: “The Power of Purity: God's Plan for your Sexuality”...another one of my passions (no pun intended!)! Forty-seven young women ranging in age from 12 years old through their mid 20's attended! We had a good time and I pray that the seeds planted may grow into strong and fruitful commitments to purity throughout those precious girls' lives.

The Purity Conference

The young ladies hard at work looking up Bible verses about finding their identity in Christ.
"If you know you are a Princess of the King then you will act like a Princess of the King and will look for a Prince of the King that will treat you like the Princess of the King that you know you are!"
During some time off on Saturday afternoon and evening, my girls and I had a great time at the beach, going to dinner and visiting one of the most popular tourist sites in Acapulco, La Quebrada, where divers free dive off of very high cliffs into the Pacific Ocean.

My girls and I modeling our life jackets before our trip on the banana! (Lolis was taking the picture)
Bananas away!
My beautiful daughters at La Quebrada!

Victor's ship, while in our home port all weekend attending to our other 12 little sailors, set sail at 3 a.m. Monday morning, along with all of the other Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade volunteers' boats. They soon traded their ships for a plane as they boarded a flight at 7:30 a.m. Monday morning to Ciudad Juarez for this week's crusade.

Ships ahoy....I mean, take flight!

The Crusade Team at the Mexico City airport ready to go!

This is the first EMMC that has required our team to travel by plane! For some team members, including our own Refuge Ranch staff member ,Vero, it was not only their first time going on crusade by plane, but the first time they had ever even flown! The Lord, in His faithfulness and mercy, provided tickets at a price that made flying even cheaper than having made the 24 hour drive with two crusade vehicles. Each of the volunteers paid for a portion of their own ticket and Fishers of Men, through generous donor contributions, covered the remaining portion, as well as other crusade costs.

Victor on board!

The Crusade Team deplaning in Ciudad Juarez.

Thanking the Lord at the airport in Ciudad Juarez for a safe arrival.
Arriving in Ciudad Juarez, the Fishers of Men team joined forces with the local pastor, Joel, and his wife, Amber, as well as other believers from the Villa Esperanza Church, as well as with Canadian volunteers with the organization Christlike Ministries. So, a three nation effort, Canada, United States and Mexico, has joined forces for something greater than even NAFTA! They have joined forces to share the Good News of Jesus Christ through meeting the physical needs of the people so that many may come to know the Lord in a personal way!

The crusade flier that was distributed locally to invite people to take advantage of this week's crusade and Sunday's special evening tent service!

After getting back into home port, I spent Monday cleaning deck here at home and reorganizing my ropes and supplies, as well as attending to our sailors, before we started our home port routine of school and chores on Tuesday.

I thank the Lord Jesus for being our anchor wherever He sets our sails and we thank you for providing the financial support to keep these ships in “ship shape”: fueled, loaded with the necessary provisions to carry out the mission with which the Creator of the Seas has entrusted us and conditioned to make the sailing as effective as possible!  (Remember: if you would like to financially support this "float" you may do so very simply on the home page of our website: www.fishersofmenmexico.org by clicking on "donate" and using the secure PayPal system to make a one time donation or set up a monthly contribution, which greatly helps our budgeting and administration.)

Thank you for your prayers that sustain our float during stormy waters, that encourage during rough seas and that celebrate with us for each stretch of calm, each port visited and each mission completed!

While Victor and my ships rarely “pass in the night” like this past weekend, and is not something we relish, it was actually a privilege this time around because it was done in obedience to the Master Mariner...our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Friday, October 24, 2014

God healed me....and I didn't even know I needed healing!

A week ago last Sunday, God performed a miracle in my life! A true miracle...one I didn't even know I needed...and I continue to be in awe! Oh, ye, of little faith, I have even waited 10 days to share this miracle publicly in order to make sure that it really was a miracle! Lord, have mercy!

On Sunday evening we arrived home from church as normal, around 6 p.m. A bit later, one of the physiotherapists (massage therapists) from the Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade volunteer team arrived at the Ranch. She had offered to come out and give the ladies of our staff free massages!

So, later that evening I went to the other building on our property, up to one of the extra staff bedrooms off of our classroom area. There the therapist had set up her massage table. Relaxing music floated through the air, dancing with the sweet aromas of therapeutic oils.

As the massage began, I adjusted my earphones to listen to Dad's last sermon before retirement, which he had preached earlier that morning, at my home church, after nearly 40 years of pastoring there. I secretly hoped that that massage would reach all the way to my heart, because it really felt like it needed a massage!

As the message, and massage, continued, the therapist commented: “Julie, do you have problems with your hips?” I thought for a second and then replied: “Yeah, I guess I do, especially with my right hip.” A few seconds later I asked: “How can you tell?” “Oh, I can tell all right!” was her quick response as she continued to work silently and methodically.

Do you know when I realized, though, that I really had had problems with my right hip? As soon as I got off the massage table.....and my hip didn't hurt! A bit later, I walked upstairs....and downstairs....and upstairs....and downstairs....and upstairs (etc....) to put the kids to bed and my hip didn't hurt! The next morning the alarm went off at 5:30 a.m., my feet hit the floor....and my hip didn't hurt! After devotions and 30 minutes on the treadmill.....my hip didn't hurt! My hip didn't hurt during my stretching exercises and I could sit Indian style on the floor....without pain! I went to school and after over an hour of sitting at my desk and attending the kids' questions, I got up....and my hip didn't hurt! I ran up to my office to make a photo copy for school without holding onto the railing...and my hip didn't hurt! I slept all night and didn't have to change positions to accommodate...a hurting hip!

In each of this instances, I was not thinking, “My hip should be hurting.” I did not even expect my hip to hurt, because I really had ignored the pain problem, but once I put weight on the hip and it didn't hurt my brain said: “Hey, that was supposed to hurt and it didn't!”

As I thought more and more about this situation, I realized that my hips, particularly my right hip, had been hurting for months! However, the pain had gotten increasingly worse so gradually that I hadn't even realized how bothersome it had become! (Like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot of water.) I also realized that I had excused the pain as a possible inherited arthritis, like my Grandma, or maybe a different congenital hip condition, like the one with which Josiah had been born born. I assumed that the pain was something I was going to have to learn to live with and knew that God would give me the strength to do so. Now that the pain was gone, I remembered that on many occasions I had had to pray for strength to be able to go up our house steps just one more time! I thought it was just exhaustion, but it had been pain!

The Lord certianly used the therapist's hands during the massage, but He did the miraculous healing! A simple massage session (I had had massages with this therapist before) feel wonderful, but they don't heal! Jesus heals! (The Lord has used this same therapist to heal people on crusade. Our staff has witnessed the elderly arrive totally dependent on a cane and then leave the crusade, leaving the cane behind!)

I have been quite stupefact for the last 10 days....marvelling at life without hip pain, marvelling at the stupidity of living with unnecessary pain, marvelling at the fact that I hadn't even considered the possibility of trying to get rid of the pain, marvelling at the fact that I hadn't even realized how bad the pain had become until it was gone, marvelling at the fact that the pain crept in so slowly and subtly that I hadn't even fully detected it!

How dangerous it can be to become so used to living in a state of pain that we don't even realize we are in pain! Wow! When pain becomes normal!

What happens when emotional pain becomes normal? What happens when we no longer even consider forgiveness because we assume that cold, stony portion of our heart is simply just that way, when we could be living in total and utter freedom?! What happens when loneliness becomes a friendly ache, rather than an impulse to seek friendship with God and others?! What happens when abuse becomes normal and we don't even consider seeking help and healing because we can't even see the abuse because “that's just the way life is”?!

What happens when spiritual pain becomes normal? When “losing your first love” is a part of Christian growth? When the big, dark, vacuum of a whole in our heart is deemed an irremediable human condition?

So, how are you healed of a pain you don't even realize you have?

You depend on God to reveal and heal!

Ask Him today: “Lord, I come to you this day asking that you would reveal any pain present in my life that You would will to heal! Reveal it to me so that I can then go to You as the Great Physician to heal my soul, my heart and my body in accordance with Your perfect will.”

One thing is if the Lord chooses not to heal and quite another is not even realizing we need healing! Let's just not get used to the pain!


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Grief looks like...the one year anniversary

The first anniversary of Danny's passing was on September 8th, 2014.  Now, with a month having passed since that date, I can now gather my thoughts sufficiently to share them with you!

How do you celebrate/recognize/acknowledge the first anniversary of the death of your child? 
 I don't know!

It's not just the event of the first anniversary of the death, but the fact that the first anniversary represents the last of a long line of firsts....first bedtime without him, first family outing without him, first time at church without him, first birthday without him, first Thanksgiving without him, first Christmas without him, first vacation without him, first VBS without him, first everything without him! 

The date, besides being the one year anniversary of Danny's passing, almost needs its own moment of grief because those "firsts" somehow helped us feel closer to him, and now they too have come to an end.  "Seconds" don't sound as comforting!

So, how do you create anniversary experience that allows healing and cleansing when sometimes all you want to do is wallow in the brokenness?

I haven't yet Googled it but I can't imagine a "how-to" or self-help or "Anniversaries for Dummies" book about how to celebrate the one year anniversary after losing a child.  I wouldn't read it anyway, because I don't want anybody telling me how to celebrate my child's passing.  (Sorry for that bit of rather uncharacteristic rudeness.)

So, to figure out how to do this, and help my husband, 17 children and staff do this, I turned to God and one of my best friends.  God had brought quite a few random and unorganized ideas to my head. Thankfully, He has also brought several not-so-random and very understanding friends into my life. So, after a very long, gentle, understanding Facebook chat with one of my soul sisters, Janelle, who understands my need to literally talk things out in order to work them out, there was a plan....a very special plan, to continue celebrating the life of a very special son, brother, grandson, nephew, student, friend and playmate...Danny.

So, how do you do the first anniversary of the death of your child?  I still don't know...but here is the photo journal of how we did ours...our very own 11 step program for the one year anniversary after losing Danny. (I tried and tried, but I just couldn't make it into 12 steps!  :-)  )

Step 1: Cancel School for two days

Step 2: Get everybody up at 7 a.m. on Monday, September 8th, 2014 (the first anniversary of Danny's passing).

Step 3:  Make a sandwich assembly line. (Thank you, Henry Ford, for giving the world the idea of the assembly line!)

      Herein lies the advantage of a family of 19!  We laid everything out on the table and had one kid on either side of the table (so 2 kids per team) at the following stations:
bread cutting station
mayonnaise station
ham station
cheese station
tomato station
onion station
sandwich wrapping station

Then there was the slicing station where Victor and Diana sliced away to keep the tomato and onion stations supplied!

Besides needing Adrian to make a mid-assembly-line-run for more ham, the kids made 150 sandwiches in under an hour!

Step 4: Go to Danny's hospital, the National Pediatric Institute, in Mexico City...a two hour drive one-way!

Step 5: Give away free sandwiches, free drinks, evangelistic tracts, smiles, hugs and even prayers! 

 In the time that it took for us to get our table set up, the signs hung on the table and the cups out to start serving drinks, most of the sandwiches were gone!  We gave away over 100 sandwiches in less than 10 minutes!

This is one of the signs we made to invite people to take a free sandwich and drink.  (In hindsight, we really didn't need to do any inviting the people were so anxious for some free food).

"Sandwiches and water
in honor of Christ
and in rememberance of Danny:
our son, brother and friend."

(Cultural notes:
1) When we say "water" it is not always just regular water.  We use the word "water" to also refer to fruit-based drinks.  They aren't juice, they are blended fruit with water.  We served an artificial version. 
2) There is a huge need, and opportunity, at hospitals in Mexico to serve the patients' families.  Danny's hospital, for example, is the largest and best children's hospital in Mexico, so there are families from all over the country represented there.  However, visitation is extremely limited, so the families spend a lot of time outside on the main patio.  Many do not have the financial resources to pay for hotels and their children do not have a diagnosis that gives them access to a local shelter, so many families actually sleep on the patio.  Their financial resources are strained to the limit with medical costs, so a simple free meal is a huge blessing, and a huge opportunity for us to share Christ's love!)

Diana and Angie, our two eldest daughters, serving drinks.

Victor and Martita, our third eldest daughter, praying for a woman and her son.  We offered to pray for anybody interested and several accepted the offer.  One man even prayed to accept Jesus!  (I had the privilege of praying for a woman and her little boy who just "happened" to be named Danny!  Talk about coming full circle!)

Once the sandwiches ran out, a friend of ours brought a bunch of apples and bananas and Victor went to the Wal-Mart across the street and bought 300 pieces of Mexican sweet bread.  It only took another half an hour for all of that to be given away!

Some of our kids helped serve, others helped pray and many walked around the patio offering evangelistic tracts with the water and sweet bread!  It was so incredible to watch our kids reach out from their pain to the pain of others!  It was so wonderful to see how sensitive our kids were to the other families and patients, knowing exactly how they feel!  Even our most shy and withdrawn kids were walking up to complete strangers to offer them hope and help!

We just might not be able to stay away for a whole year before doing this again....but we'll take at least 300 sandwiches this time!

Step 6: Go to the park with our "hospital Dad and Mom", Ricardo and Susana.  

Ricardo and Susana are the couple that God miraculously provided who live only 5 minutes from Danny's hospital and where Victor and I occassionally slept, where we bathed and ate many delicious homemade breakfasts during Danny's hospital stay.  (Just so you can see how incredible God is:  Ricardo is the sibling of the neighbor of my great aunt in central Ohio.  Did you follow that?  My great aunt, whom I have not seen since I was in elementary school, keeps up with Fishers of Men through my Grandma Blom.  She shared about us with her neighbor who said:  "My brother lives in Mexico City!"  She gave Ricardo our information and we finally connected just one week before Danny's surgery!)

Step 7: Make a family scrapbook.

Back at home that evening I spread out all of the pictures that I had of Danny...over 500, which we had printed up earlier that day, on several tables, along with construction paper, markers, crayons, tape and glue.  We then all began to create unique scrapbook pages which I will be laminating in order to create our own family one year anniversary book.

It was so fun to look at all those pictures....from the very first picture to some of the last pictures...and remember so much life and love!

Step 8 (and Day Two):  Tuesday, September 9, 2014 - the one year anniversary of Danny's burial.  Go to Cemetery.

Our family was joined by our staff as we cleaned up Danny's grave site, set new flowers in the "vases" (old coffee cans) and then gathered in a circle to pray.

Step 9:  Release balloons!  Each family member released a balloon for Danny!

Step 10:  Go to the movies!  

This was not a day that we wanted to spend at home, so after the cemetery, we took off for the movies!
Step 11:  Thank the Lord and continue to live!

Those two days proved to be very special days for our family!  
  • We had the opportunity to serve others through our pain  ("Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." II Corinthians 1:3-4)
  • We had the opportunity to thank and and have fun with those the Lord provided to sustain us during those difficult days (Ricardo and Susana)
  • Those who express themselves best alone and through words and/or art had the opportunity to do so with the scrapbook pages
  • Our kinisthetic (aka hyperactive :-) ) children could express grief through releasing balloons
  • We ended by laughing, playing, having fun and making new memories together at the movies and Kentucky Fried Chicken (buckets are the best value when feeding 19 people out)!
For any of you facing your own grief, our hope would be to walk alongside you through our 11 steps as you take your own steps in this lifelong process!  

"For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

Revelation 7:17

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Most Recent EMMC

     The most recent Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade took place from August 17-23, 2014 as part of our partnership with the Guerrero Baptist Convention and the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma to support their church planting initiative in the greater Acapulco area.  For many, when they hear the word “Acapulco”, images of five star hotels, beaches, restaurants, discotheques and swimming pools come to mind.  However, when the EMMC team hears “Acapulco”, the images that come to mind are quite distinct. A very small portion of Acapulco caters to international, and national, tourists, while many other parts of the city succomb to severe poverty. It is to those parts of the city that Fishers of Men travels in order to shine with the light of Jesus Christ through providing free medical care and share the hope of Jesus Christ through giving the Gospel message.

The volunteer crusade team
The first two days of the crusade were spent at Iglesia Renacimiento (New Birth Church), led by Pastor Calet Lorenzano, also the leader of the church planting initiative in Acapulco. There the team was able to provide 257 attentions. (Remember: each time an individual sees a doctor, dentist, hair stylist or physiotherapist it is considered one attention given. If time allows, the individual may visit more than one of these services, resulting in two or three attentions given to one individual.) Of those attended, all of whom heard the Gospel message presented to them one on one, 27 people made decisions to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Praise the Lord!

The tarp announcing the crusade and the free services available which hung outside the church on the additional temporary tents set up to attend to the patients.

Victor supervising the inside of the church which housed the pharmacy (on the left), the kitchen (in the back) and the doctors (on the right).

Becky (right) sharing the Gospel with an attendee.

The second two days of the crusade were spent at Iglesia Juan 3:16 (John 3:16 Church) where the Lord has called Pastor Memo to serve. Here the team provided 258 attentions and 35 individuals opened their hearts and lives to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. To God be the Glory!

An aerial view of the inside of the church divided into the sections used to meet the needs of the attendees.

Free dental work

An aerial view of the pharmacy....all medications are given out free of charge.

Free haircuts.

Rosa (left) working hard to feed the entire crusade team.

Urban areas, many times, result in fewer people attended to than in rural areas. This may seem contradictory, since there is a greater concentration of people in urban areas, but those individuals tend to have a bit easier access to medical care. In the rural areas, many towns and villages have no medical services whatsoever. The government may send in a doctor once a month or several times a year, but the chances that the doctor's visits coordinate with an individual's illness are slim. However, even considering the “lower” numbers than on other crusades, it only cost Fishers of Men $6.00 to take the Gospel to one person on this most recent crusade! By God's grace, and through the team's efforts, there are 62 individuals who, today, have the real hope of Jesus Christ, the promise of Heaven and the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives! If we consider the cost of this most recent crusade, divided just by those who received Jesus into their hearts, it only “cost” $48 for each of them to receive that gift of eternal life, and free medical attention! (Actually, that is not totally accurate....Fishers of Men donors invested $48 for each of those individuals to make that decision. It cost Jesus Christ His life!)

The names of the two host churches on this crusade very accurately sum up the passion behind all that we do at Fishers of Men: providing the hope and spreading the message of John 3:16, the “heart” of the Bible, so that many may experience New Birth through Jesus Christ! Thank you for making that possible through your prayers and giving! Please continue to pray for Pastor Calet and Pastor Memo, as well as for their families, the new believers and these local churches who seek daily to share the love of Christ in their communities.