Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Carrots....by Lucy

Well, it’s our turn to write again. I hope you are not too tired of hearing about Christmas yet because we’ve had a lot of people ask us how our first Christmas in Mexico was. I thought we would share about our day here. Actually Christmas Eve is where I will start because that is when our celebration began. Ashleigh spent the day preparing a feast of lasagna, garlic bread, and ...carrots. You might ask, “Why carrots?” Well, this is sidetracking just a bit, but let me share a quick story about carrots.


Here where we live, sometimes when fruits and vegetables are in season, you can purchase them for next to nothing. Earlier in the week, Victor had found a deal on carrots. They were about $1.50 for a bag that held more than a bushel of carrots! What that means for everyone here is that we will be eating carrots in many ways for a while. Victor bought 10 bags of carrots! We gave most of the bags away to friends, but still had 3 bags to deal with. We have had cream of carrot soup, stir fried carrots, raw carrots, vegetable soup, and carrot cake (Thanks to Kim Roller’s recipe!). We also froze some of the carrots, and have a few left to figure out what to do with.


Anyway, back to Christmas. I pointed out the carrots to show that it was different here than back home in Indiana. After supper, we had 3 piñatas for the “kids” to break open, from the youngest (Daniel) to the oldest (Mark). It was fun to watch the big kids get blindfolded, spun around, and hunt for the elusive piñata being controlled by Victor from on top of the slide! Later after dark, Victor set off fireworks. Since Mark was a volunteer fireman, I figured he might help, but he chose to stay out of Victor’s way! At one point, a firework landed in one of the trees, lighting it up like a Christmas tree. Mark said, “He thought maybe it was the burning bush from Moses’ story, and that God would be speaking with us soon! Anyway, nothing caught on fire, and we enjoyed fireworks for the rest of the night and next day since everyone celebrates with fireworks here (The big booming firecracker kind!).


Christmas morning we slept in till 8 a.m. I went down to put our sausage casserole in the oven, then came back to the school to have “Christmas” with our family and Ashleigh (the unofficial member of our family here in the basement!). We opened stocking stuffers and got to try some new Mexican candy. Then we had our breakfast of sausage casserole and cinnamon rolls. By this time, the Zaragoza family had already finished opening gifts and were playing with their toys. Victor even had to go on a scavenger hunt to find his gift! We opened our gifts from each other, and a few sent by family and friends back home. It was fun, and we enjoyed watching each other open gifts. Joanna has already made a hat on her Nifty Knitter, and is starting a blanket. Aaron will soon be enjoying his punching bag in his own room in our apartment, and some music from I Tunes. We were lazy most of the day, just enjoying each other’s company and no responsibility (although I think if I had let him, Mark would have been back working in the apartment to try to finish it soon!).


It was a different kind of day than we are used to in the States, but it was a good day. It came without the Christmas programs at school, all the Christmas goodies in the teachers’ lounge, the extended family Christmases, the decorations and lights on all the homes we passed, the turkey with all the trimmings, and Christmas caroling (although we did try to carol to the Zaragoza family and Cirino’s family earlier in the week) in the snow and cold.


It reminds me of the story, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” He tried to take away their Christmas by taking all the stuff away that he thought was Christmas to them. Instead, he found out that “Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” Despite being without our normal Christmas routine, Christmas came just the same. The story didn’t change. Jesus came. Praise God!


But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11






Daniel with one of his brother's gifts



Fidel riding his go-cart


Martha's turn with the pinata


Ana bringing the pinata home

Monday, December 28, 2009

"Appologies" by Ashleigh

I know you all were expecting Julie to post today but the day finds Julie in bed with a rather nasty cold and energy levels close to nil. Please pray for a quick recovery and strength to return to everyday activities!

I first off want to apologize for the lack of posting last Friday. I had every intention of posting Christmas evening but life had other ideas. :) I had an airport run that I had to make Christmas Day. I left around 3:20pm and was thinking that I would be back by 6 or 7, with plenty of time to post. The flight was canceled, changed airlines, changed terminals, and then didn't ship the baggage until the next flight from Miami. So, we finally arrived back at the Ranch at around 11pm! By that time my bed had been calling my name for quite some time.

Saturday Victor and Julie were gone most of the day and so I ended up at the house working on some project that had gotten out of control (aka-laundry, refrigerator, bushels of carrots). When Magda and Rosa leave there is a lot that piles up rather quickly! :) Plus, Victor had found bushel bags of carrots on sale for a little over a dollar each so he brought a bunch home. We had almost two bags left on the porch but they were starting to turn black because it had gotten below freezing the other night. Thanks to Lucy and Joanna's help we were able to get those peeled, sliced and frozen for future use. So, by Saturday night I wasn't feeling like blogging either. (I have been fighting a cold for the last week myself but it hasn't gotten as bad as Julie's)

And as for Sunday, I refused to work on needed responsibilities on the day of rest. I spent an hour and a half sitting out in the sun with the Marshalls for a devotional time. As I am not usually out in the sun in the middle of the day for that long I even got a sunburn! (Hey, someone has to "suffer for Jesus"!) We ran to the grocery store, ate lunch, and then I tackled cleaning up Julie and Victor's room as a surprise. No one like to be sick, have no energy and have a messy room that you can't relax in.

As penance for not posting on Friday I am posting a video clip of the staff singing "The Gift Goes On" last Sunday at the Christmas service at church. The sound isn't the greatest as it just picked up what it could but I think it will give you a taste of what we did as a group at church for the Christmas this year.

video

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More Than a Gift, by Mark

It has been difficult for me to get into the "spirit of the season" this year. I have read and reread scripture about the birth of our Savior, including Old Testament prophecy. I don't know if I am missing the cold Indiana weather, the lights and decorations, the goodies that I love to devour this time of year, all the Christmas celebrations, or a combination of them all. But it doesn't "feel" like Christmas. This past Sunday I got a little of each of the possible missing elements. Our church service was moved to 4:00pm and included Christmas music, a Christmas play, and a carry-in dinner.

One of the special musical numbers was the song "The Gift Goes On" sung by the Refuge Ranch Singers. Julie led the group and played the piano. Josiah played the drums. Diana played the violin. Joanna played the flute. Lucy and Ashleigh were featured with solos and Martita, Angie, Joci, Lolis, Fidel, Aaron, Martha, and Erika joined in singing in English and Spanish. I had been listening to this group practice for several days. I was amazed the first time I heard them because I was in our apartment, building walls. I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised. (I can often hear the children playing inside, from outside.) With all those voices singing together, one might think they could be heard in Mexico City!






The Refuge Ranch Singers

"The Father gave the Son,
The Son gave the Spirit,
The Spirit Gives us life
So we can give the gift of love."

The words of the song have continued to play in my mind since Sunday. It is funny to me to see how different events in our lives affect later parts of our lives. Several years ago, (I think before Aaron was born) I was working on our house and asked a friend to give me some pointers on how to finish the seams on my new drywall. He gladly came over, brought new tools and supplies, and taught me the fine art of drywall finishing. Since that time, I have lived in two other houses, one of which I did a major remodel to and got to use the skills Roger taught me. Today I was thinking about Roger again. Who would have thought 17 years ago that I was learning a skill I would put to use in Mexico? Lucy, the kids, and I have been working on the walls of our apartment. We are to the point of taping the seams, so I have been thinking about the gift Roger gave me. It is a gift that continues to go on.


Apartment walls in progress

We have been shopping for Christmas gifts, looking for some way to express our feelings of love and appreciation for those on our gift lists. The amazing thing is that we have this opportunity everyday. There are just a lot of days that I don't take it. Everyday has a chance to give the gift of love. Whether it is teaching a new skill or sharing a smile to let some one know you care, the Gift can go on.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

MERRY CHRISTMAS

Bringing Lolis Home!

Martita and Lolis - together at last!
First of all, sorry for being a day late on this blog. I promised it to you on Monday, but we lost electricity on Sunday night until nearly noon on Monday, which means we also lost internet service because our router needs electrical power. By the time the electricity came back on, Victor and I had left on our once-a-year-marathon-Christmas-shopping-session! But, here is the story you have been waiting for!

Victor and I enjoyed nearly four hours on the road alone with Martita on our way to our state capital, the city of Toluca, early Thursday morning. With twelve children, we relish the one-on-one time that we get with each child! Martita's younger sister is named Maria Dolores, after the girls' birth mother who passed away shortly after the infant Maria Dolores was born. However, now, Maria Dolores likes to be called "Lolis", pronounced "Lo-lees". She has been living for the last two years with an uncle and aunt and their three boys. The uncle is one of the girls' father's 15 siblings!

We arrived at the family flower shop, which was still closed and, as we were turning the van around to go and look for the uncle and aunt's home, one of the girls' cousins came walking up to the shop. So, he got in the van and took us to their home. We had to park a little ways away from the aunt and uncle's home and walk through some paved alleyways and up some steps to get to their home. As we were walking through the alleys, Lolis came around a corner and nearly ran straight into Martita! They both stopped dead in their tracks and stared at each other for a bit, trying to believe that they were really seeing one another! Then, they quickly engulfed each other in a huge hug! They had not seen each other for nearly two years! Needless to say, tears of joy were shed, even by Victor! (I kept myself busy taking pictures or I would have been sopping wet in my own tears!)
Martita and Lolis hugging each other for the first time in nearly two years!

Lolis was dressed in an old pair of jeans, shoes too big for her and had on an old skirt on top of the jeans. This is typical dress for handwashing laundry, where we assume she had just come from. We all climbed up to the aunt and uncle's home and were welcomed by the girls' aunt. Lolis quickly went to take a bucket shower while we visited in the small living room.

Martita and us have been trying to convince this aunt and uncle to let Lolis come and live with us for the last two years and they have never been willing to do so. However, on this visit the aunt's attitude was totally different! In fact, she kept praising herself and her husband for all they have done for Lolis and how much they were going to miss her, but that it would be selfish of them to keep her when they know that the girls really want to be together! Despite the fact that this attitude and even what she was saying did not coincide with all that Lolis had told Martita by phone (that she would be doing laundry until 9:30 p.m. for her cousins, outdoors and in the cold; that she didn't go to school for a long time after living with them, etc.), we went along with all the aunt was saying so as not to rock the boat and be able to get Lolis out of there as soon as possible.

Within an hour we had left the aunt's home, with Lolis, and all of her personal belongings. They all fit in a plastic grocery store bag! As we were walking back to the car, I gave Lolis a side hug, not wanting to overwhelm her with a front hug, and she immediately wrapped her arm around me and locked on! I told her how we had loved her even before we knew her and how happy we were that she was a part of our family. She did not let go of me until we got to the van and even then I had to unwrap her arm from around me so that she could get in!


Martita giving Lolis make-up tips within an hour of being together!


From there, we drove about an hour to the girls' home town, where their grandfather, uncles and aunts live, including the uncle with whom Lolis had been living. (He and his wife, the girls' aunt, have been having some marital problems and he is back in his hometown, rather than in Toluca with his wife and boys. However, it is these marital problems that drove them to their willingness to let Lolis go. Truly the Lord works out all things for the good of those who love Him!)

After meeting several family members at a local flower shop, we drove down a dirt road and stopped alongside it in an area where several more family members live. Soon, we were having an impromptu family reunion in a ditch between the dirt road and a cornfield! Several aunts, cousins, the uncle and grandfather were all present. As soon as we got out of the van, Lolis came to my side, put her arm around me and laid her head down on my shoulder. Ever since her first hug and first look into my eyes I got the feeling that her heart was saying: "Where have you been my whole life? You are finally here! I finally have a family again!" Martita and Lolis ran off to visit another aunt's house nearby as Victor and I continued our conversation with the rest of the family members. Within a few minutes, the girls' uncle (with whom Lolis had been living) was praying to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Quite a few of the girls' family members are Christians and this uncle knew about Jesus, but had never wanted to make a decision to follow Him. However, his life circumstances had driven him to utter desperation and his realization that he truly needed Christ!

Martita and Lolis with some of their extended family members.

Before leaving, this same uncle signed over informal guardianship of the girls to us, as he was the one with guardianship of them. In a little bit we were back on the road heading home!


When we got back to the city of Toluca we splurged and ate at Applebee's! We had seen the Applebee's on the way into Toluca and decided to eat their on the way home. There are only about 5 Applebee's in the whole country and it had been YEARS since Victor and I had eaten at one.


Martita ordered baby back ribs with french fries and Lolis decided on a hamburger with french fries. (I think because there was a picture of one in the menu, and trying to read the menu was a bit overwhelming.) Martita ate her french fries first, so Lolis did too! Then, Lolis said something to Martita that I couldn't hear, but Martita responded: "That's your food, too! Eat it!" Lolis was asking about what to do with her hamburger! She didn't know how to eat a hamburger! So, we showed her how to pick it up and bite into it.

Martita, Lolis, Julie and Victor in Applebee's

Our experiences on Thursday reminded me a bit of Jesus Christ coming to earth as God in human flesh. He was seated at the right hand of God Almighty on his Heavenly throne and then came to be born as a helpless baby in a dirty stable. During Jesus' stay on earth, he was as comfortable among fisherman and shepherds, as around religious leaders and the elite of the city! We experienced a small glimpse of that on Thursday as we sat in a cornfield visiting with the girls' relatives and then, within two hours, were seated in Applebees with the elite of Toluca. (Applebees is an upper class restaurant here.) What a contrast! Yet God's presence, power and peace remain the same wherever we are and there are people in both places that are thirsting to have a drink of the true Living Water.


We got home around 9 p.m. on Thursday night and Lolis was greeted by very eager young siblings and rather hesitant older siblings. But, praise the Lord, by the next morning the Zaragoza family ship had begun to settle once again. Friday morning, Lolis went to open air market with Victor and Angie (our family fashion consultant) to buy some clothing and Friday night she got a new haircut by Angie (also our family hair stylist!).


Angie giving Lolis a haircut.

Lolis is a huge bundle of energy that bounds around everywhere! She tussles with the younger ones and doesn't stop hugging EVERYBODY! She wants hugs, hugs, hugs and kisses, kisses, kisses. Although Lolis is 12 years old, she has the social and emotional maturity of about a 7 year old! From what Martita has told me, she repeated first grade two or three times and was sent to third grade based on her age. So, next week I will spend some time evaluating her educational needs to see what grade we will start her in.


In the meantime, she gets to spend her first Christmas with her new family! Rosa has gone to buy material to sew her stocking and Victor went to go purchase her Christmas present - a new bicycle!

Christmas began with the gift of life - the gift of Jesus' life! So, it is only fitting that our family receive the gift of a human life this year - Lolis' life!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Nativities and Additions" by Ashleigh

I had the perfect idea for this post and was all prepared to type it out. I was going to tell you about art class this afternoon and the fun that we had. I still plan on telling you all about it but something else is pressing in on my thoughts even more. Martita's little sister who arrived last night.

You see, many of you will remember a little girl (Poula) that we were going to bring home from church one Sunday and it all fell through last minute? I was so anxious and nervous the two weeks before while the plans were being made. How do you love someone who is a complete stranger? How do you communicate that you love them (through a language barrier no less) without scarring them to death. To the world, loving someone you don't know is impossible and they cannot see the God factor in the equation. It doesn't enter their minds that God pours forth so much love that if we are willing to receive it, then it spills out onto other people. Especially in this situation. On top of that everything is new and overwhelming to them. You are strange and American. You don't speak Spanish well and what you do speak you have an accent that they are not use to hearing and in the end they understand very little. You don't want to come across as distant or uninterested in them as a person either. So many doubts, fears, question, so many unknowns. I was sick to my stomach with nervousness the day that Poula was suppose to come home with the family.

Getting Martita's sister happened rather quickly (as most things happen around here). I spent the day at the house and yesterday evening until Julie and Victor got back. I have made it a personal guideline to disappear when a new child arrives. The other little kids are usually really excited and kind of pounce when they get home, the new child is scared and overwhelmed, and they need some time connecting as a family without the addition of staff. They can meet me in the morning is my thinking. That's soon enough.

So, when Victor and Julie walked in I gave Julie a very short run down and said goodnight right as Martita and her sister were walking through the door. I wanted to so badly to walk over and just give her a big hug. I can't really express to you the emotions that I was/am feeling but they bring tears to my eyes. My heart wants so badly to share with her that everything is going to be ok now and somehow say it in such a way that she will believe me. But I know that only time and Christ can truly teach that truth.

As I got to my room and got ready for a hot shower a thought stopped me in my tracks, literally. "Where is the fear, the questions, and the doubts that I had about new kids coming? Where is the wondering if I will be able to love them? Where is the anxiousness in my spirit?" Gone...actually, it never existed with the prospect of getting Martita's sister. I know I was here when Daniel came but a toddler and a 12 year old are totally different. By the grace of God and the lessons He has taught me about living in the moment and loving fully, without restraint or fear, are paying off apparently. It is the only thing that my lack of nervousness can be attributed too. I have nothing to lose and a heart full of love to give. What a wonderful place to be in! What an assurance that God is molding me! I can't wait to share stories with all of you about getting to know Martita's sister and learning how best to show her God's love.

As for art class...that seems rather anti-climatic having shared the other stuff. However, it's rather cool also! Back in June Emy brought down a ceramic nativity set that was not painted. Being the art teacher, I will admit to hording it until the Christmas season and using it as a fun art project. I didn't know if the kids would get into it or not (seeing that it had to do with Christmas) but I was pleasantly surprised! They all seemed to really enjoy themselves and do their best. Part way through I turned on some of the Christmas music in Spanish that I had bought and it was well received! I even had some of the kids humming along! We had great fun! So, I thought I would include a couple of pictures of the kids working on their projects. I wanted to include a picture of the finished nativity but it isn't quite ready. I have two more pieces that need painting (one being baby Jesus). I was thinking that would be a good project for Martita and her sister to work on in the next couple of days. (Thank you Emy so much for bringing that down and providing me with an art class as well as an opportunity to create some good Christmas memories with each one of the kids!)

Fidel painting a shepherd

Joanna painting a goat

Josiah painting a wise man

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Search by Lucy

A few days ago, Mark and I went shopping for the perfect Christmas gifts for Aaron and Joanna. We ventured off on our own to see if we could even find Walmart! Luckily, the directions we were given were good (Look for the yellow sign that is higher than all the rest, and turn right between the two Coke signs!), and we arrived at the Walmart in Cuautla. Then it was off to find the perfect gifts for our kids. Four hours later, we finally left Walmart, tired, hungry, and happy to be leaving. We searched high and low for the things on our list. Some we found. Some we did not. Where do you think they stock coffee filters? With the coffee? No. With the paper products? No. Maybe we'll never know. We tried to ask with no success. We were pointed to the instant coffee, an instant fix. But we left Walmart without coffee filters (Sorry Ashleigh!).

The adventure reminded me of the magi, searching for the newborn king. Their directions were very different from ours (Follow the brightest star in the sky.), and they had a much longer journey to endure (and I felt like 4 hours in Walmart was an eternity!). But they had the star to lead the way, and faith that their search would end with a meeting with the king!

Sometimes people find themselves searching, feeling lost (like in Walmart), and not even knowing what they are searching for. Sometimes we find something that we think is the perfect fit, or an instant fix (like instant coffee), and we buy it. But after we get it home, it is not quite right, or it wears out, or we use it up, and we are off on the search again.

The magi found the perfect gift. Their search ended the day they found the little boy, the king of the universe. May we never stop searching until we find Him too, and may we recognize Him for who He is, the perfect gift, sent to save the world.

The star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down to worship Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, and of incense, and of myrrh. Matthew 2:9b-11

Monday, December 14, 2009

I don't know how to do this!

I have always been fascinated by Mary's role in the Christmas story. Every since I was a teenager myself I have contemplated what it would have been like to be so young, so inexperienced and to know that you are carrying the Son of God in your womb, then cradling him in your arms, then teaching him how to read, then hear his voice get deeper as he entered adolescence, then watch him die for your sins!

Amy Grant released a Christmas song sung from Mary's perspective when I was 16 years old, just a little older than Mary would have been when the angel appeared to her announcing God's will for her life. That song greatly impacted me as that was the same year that I had heard the Lord speaking his will into my own life during my first mission trip to Mexico. I spent a lot of time that year wondering if I was willing to truly do whatever he would ask of me, just like Mary. I even sang that song in my home church that winter.

I hadn't heard that song for years, until now. I ran across it in a Christmas piano book that Ashleigh has and sat down to play and sing it the other day. I was shocked at how the words and attitude expressed still apply! You can hear the song by clicking on the following link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2egKS4d1oI

Allow me to share with you some of the lyrics and how real they are now!

I have travelled many moonless nights,
Cold and weary with a babe inside,
And I wonder what I've done.
Holy Father, you have come,
And chosen me now to carry your Son.

I may not have carried God's son in my womb, but I marvel at the fact that, knowing who I am, all that I have thought, said and done, that He would still come and choose me to carry His Son to a hurting world! He has chosen you to do the same! Jesus may not physically be present in our wombs, but His Spirit is present in our hearts and we have been chosen to carry Him and His light wherever we go.

I am waiting in a silent prayer.
I am frightened by the load I bear.
In a world as cold as stone,
Must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now.
Be with me now.

There are times that I look around me and I am truly frightened by the load I bear - of loving my husband in a Godly way, of raising up my children in the Lord's way, of leading others as we minister together, of communicating accurately with you, and more. I am reminded of the coldness of this world when I try to love my children and they reject that love and turn away. Although we all know that we are not alone, sometimes it certainly feels that way, and my heartfelt cry, many times throughout the day is simply: "Be with me now!" Praise the Lord that Jesus is Emmanuel - "the with us God!"

Do you wonder as you watch my face,
if a wiser one should have had my place?
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan.
Help me be strong.
Help me be.
Help me.

Amen to all that! Just several times this past week I have asked the Lord if He really knew what he was doing when He chose me to serve Him in this manner. "Lord, are you sure you didn't pick the wrong gal? I don't know how to raise 11+ children who are each unique, full of ugly, difficult pasts, all different ages, etc., etc., etc.! I don't know how to lead a staff to serve together in unity who come from different countries, speak different languages and who are each so unique...and all of them older than me! I don't know how to build a house! I don't know how to do accounting! I don't know how.....!" After my little rampage with the Lord, the only thing left for me to do is to say: "But here I am, use me as you want, as you desire, as you see fit, BUT, just help me be strong! Sometimes, just help me BE! Just...help me!"

You know what? He always does! Oh, He doesn't fill me with false feelings of capability and self-reliance. No, He usually sends several more situations to remind me just how much I don't know so that I have to keep running to Him and say: "Help!"

Paul reminds us in God's precious Word: "If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness." (2 Corinthians 11:30)

The Lord knows my weaknesses better than anybody (sometimes even better than what I am willing to admit myself) and in His infinite mercy He has chosen me despite of those weaknesses. Actually, I think He chooses us not despite our weaknesses but because of our weaknesses so that He will be glorified, so that we will depend on Him, so that we will move and breathe in Him and so that when we accomplish anything it is obvious that it was truly Him and not us!

So, don't be afraid of that which makes you feel week, powerless, incapable - that is exactly where the Lord wants you, but don't just stay there feeling week, powerless and incapable, run to He who is strong, powerful and capable of all things - for Whom there is nothing impossible!

"Oh, Breath of Heaven, hold us together, be forever near us, lighten our darkness, pour over us your holiness, for You are holy!"


Daniel and I! The most incredible thing is that when we go to those places where we feel we are incapable and God gives us His capability, He also gives us wonderful recompenses - like the honor and privilege of being Daniel's mommy!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"Christmas Ideas" by Ashleigh

Let see, the last two posts have highlighted Jerry and Troy who have been here working on the Marshall's apartment. So, that topic of the week is pretty much covered. Looking back on the week I can't think of anything that is unusual or really worth telling everyone here on the blog.

So, maybe I will just post about Christmas again. It's a favorite topic of mine. I love Christmas! I love the magicalness (a word of my creating) of the holiday and God has been giving me some great ideas to get excited about! Now, I can only share these if you don't tell the kids. Surprise is an integral part in most of what I am about to tell you.

I don't hear the kids playing Christmas music ever. I don't think that they have much in Spanish anyway but even if they did I don't know that they would voluntarily put it on. So, I am on a quest (and have been rather successful already) to get some Christmas music in Spanish. The kind you put on for atmosphere and reminds you of what time of the year it is and why you are so incredibly grateful! That's was the first idea in trying to help the kids be able to "own" wonderful Christmas memories.

The second idea I will admit is probably completely American. However, that's what I have, right? :) I got several of my favorite Christmas cookie recipes from my mom and planning on baking up a storm sometime this next week and encouraging any kids to join me! (Is someone thinking Christmas music during Christmas baking?) I am hoping that can produce some good memory making time.

And my last idea (which I have to attributed most of the brilliance to Lucy and Julie) is the Christmas presents I am making for the kids. They are going to get their own Christmas ornament that is personalized to them! This is my favorite one because next year when it comes to decorating the tree they will have something of their own to put on it and it will be filled with love.

I'm so excited!!! Please be praying that the kids step out of their comfort zone and attempt to get involved in these ideas!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

His Perfect Timing by Mark and Lucy


This week has been exciting. Before we got to work on Monday, we (Mark, Lucy, Aaron, Joanna, Ashleigh, Troy, and Jerry) spent Sunday seeing some local sights. We drove up Mount Popo as far as is allowed for some awesome photos, a snack, and a group Bible study in English. It was a beautiful clear day, and the fresh snow on the peak provided some great pictures. After we drove down the mountain, we headed for the hacienda ruins near Refuge Ranch.

Troy Robertson and Jerry Roller are here from Logansport, and I am enjoying working with them. We are working with different materials than any of us have used before so we are learning as we go. Of course, I was hoping we would be able to frame all the apartment walls and get drywall hung this week. It has been a little slower than we like, but it has been very good progress. We are framing each wall with steel studs, running electrical wiring, and installing styrofoam insulation as we go. We have figured out a process that is working pretty well. Here are some pictures of our current progress.



Neither Troy nor Jerry had ever traveled outside of the country before last Saturday. They did not meet until they saw each other at the airport. They both had wanted to go on mission trips with their church groups to Refuge Ranch, but the time had not been right. Yet God called them to come and help us this week, and we are grateful. He is so good at providing what is needed at just the right time. They both have skills that we needed this week to complete the framing for the drywall. It would have taken much longer to complete without their help and knowledge of construction. God chooses many times to give us just what we need at just the right time. This was one of those times.

Last year, we did a cantata at church for Christmas called “In the Fullness of Time.” When the time was right, God sent His only son to earth to save the people from their sins. When the time is right, He will return to bring His children home. In the meantime, when the time is right, He will send just the right people to Refuge Ranch to do His work here in Mexico. Thank God for His perfect timing.

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born  under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Galatians 4:4-5






Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Right Now

Greetings, once again, from Refuge Ranch! Want to know what's happening...right now?! It is 9:52 a.m. and here goes:
Victor: preparing his sermon for church this Sunday (He preaches periodically.)
Julie: writing this blog (duh!)
Angie: drying dishes
Diana: caring for Caleb, Ruth, Ana and Daniel (Each of the older girls cares for the little ones a different day of the week.)
Martita: washing breakfast dishes
Martha: in school
Fidel: in school
Josiah: playing outside trying to get out of school until I get there!
Jocelin: clearing the breakfast table(s)
Caleb: outside with Diana and his youngest siblings (They are going on a bird-feeding expedition in an open field in front of the main house.)
Ruth: on the bird-feeding expedition
Ana: on the bird-feeding expedition
Daniel: on the bird-feeding expedition
Mark: dry walling the apartment in the basement
Lucy: in school
Aaron: in school
Joanna: in school
Ashleigh: canning pickle relish
Magda: running personal errands in Mexico City
Erika: in school
Cirino: eating breakfast
Bernabe and Berenice: eating breakfast with their dad
Rosa: cleaning up from breakfast and starting lunch preparations
AND...

Two very special visitors: Jerry and Troy from Indiana are here working on dry walling the basement apartment and laundry room! Yeah!

Jerry is a member at Shiloh Christian Church and Troy is from Upper Deer Creek Church and they both heard the Lord calling them to come and help with the dry walling of the Marshall's apartment and the laundry room in the main house. Praise the Lord!

They arrived Saturday night, after a two hour delay in Houston, and enjoyed a relaxing Sunday with the Marshall family and Ashleigh visiting Popo (the volcano near our home) and an abandoned hacienda also near Refuge Ranch.

Yesterday they started the drywall process! How exciting! It is always slow going on the first day of a work team as the workers adjust to new and creative ways of working here in Mexico, so they are looking forward to making lots of progress today.

We thank the Lord that He provided for the drywall through the sale of Mark and Lucy's home in Indiana. Marshall's tithed off that sale and were able to purchase the drywall supplies. As always, we continue to pray for and trust in the Lord's provision for the remaining money needed to finish the apartment and laundry room.
Troy and Josiah playing checkers, no, maybe it's chess, no, I think it is a new game invented by Josiah, but they had fun nonetheless.


Mark and Jerry playing UNO with Jocelin while Lucy looks on.


May the Lord richly bless you all with His peace, presence, purposes and provision in this Christmas season and beyond!

With love,
Julie Zaragoza

Friday, December 4, 2009

"Christmas in the Basement" by Ashleigh

The Christmas tree in the basement

There are many things that I love about Christmas. Most of them don't happen in Mexico. For instance snow, caroling, bundling up and snuggling in blankets, baking with and for my family, sitting with my family drinking coffee in the evenings and looking at the Christmas light strung all over the house.

Now before I give the impression that I am mourning a loss let me assure you that I am not. I am looking forward to adding to the list. I have a sense of anticipation to what Christmas will be like this year. So far, I have gone through a hedge maze at the tree farm, decorated the tree with the Marshall family as they shared memories about many of the ornaments, and I am anticipating making gingerbread houses with the kids for art class in a week (which they have never done) just to name a few.

I greatly enjoyed helping and watching the Marshall's decorate the tree and see them interact as a family. They joyfully shared memories about ornaments or stories of past Christmases that were brought back to mind. I was encouraged to know that there were other people to share the joy of the season with this year. They got excited about a tree, fully incorporated me into the decorating process, and allow me to join in on their family time. God knew how much I needed that for my first Christmas season away from home.

I know Julie shared a little last Monday on what Christmas is like in Mexico. However, I wanted to share a little bit of where my heart and prayers have been also that you may join me in prayer. There is power in numbers!

Luke: 2:10 says, "But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people...'"

The Christmas season is all about the great joy that we have because of the good news we have received. This joy is given to all who believe the good news but we have to chose to receive it and live out of it. That is the focus of my prayers and desires the the children this month. That God would open up their hearts and minds to understand the great joy that they have been given with the good news of Christ! That the enemy would not allow them to dwell on what they "missed" but that God would show them what they have in Him. Please join me in praying that God would be triumphant this season in each one of the children's hearts.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Glory and Majesty by Lucy




El Popo is the active volcano we can see from Refuge Ranch. On a clear day, it is absolutely stunning in its beauty. This morning I decided to do my devotions outside. The sun is shining from behind and to the right of Popo. The sky is blue in that direction, but cloudy and dark in the opposite direction. The sun is shining on the undersides of those clouds, giving them a slightly pinkish hue. I wonder which way the clouds will move? Will they continue down the valley, leaving us with blue sky and a clear view of Popo? Or move toward Popo, covering it and obliterating the sunshine for a time? Either way, I know Popo will still be there, in all its majesty. I've never seen such beauty in the skyline, as I've seen here. It always feels like a promise of what is to come someday.

Some days I feel like my life is filled with clouds, and it is hard to see God, to feel close to Him. But I can rest assured that He is always there. Sometimes I catch just a glimpse of Him peeking through the clouds in my life (Like Popo on a cloudy day), reminding me He is still there. And other times, the clouds are completely gone, and He shines through with a brightness beyond compare. I thank God for His reminders of His majesty each and every day, whether we can see them physically or not. And someday, we will truly see His majesty in all its glory! What a day that will be!

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. 1 Chronicles 29:11

Monday, November 30, 2009

Holiday Realities

It is 6:45 a.m. here at Refuge Ranch and I just opened the curtains of my office to let the sunrise in and....it is really foggy today! Wow! Too bad homeschoolers can't call fog delays!

Like many of you, our family is in the midst of the throes of celebrating this Christmas season. We, along with the staff from Refuge Ranch, trekked to the Christmas tree farm last Friday and cut down two trees - one for the house and one for the basement where we homeschool and our staff lives. After choosing the trees and cutting them down, we had a cookout, played on a swinging bridge playground and went through a labrynth formed by pine bushes. Now, before you all say: "Ahh, what a time of beautiful family unity", let me give you another take on holidays here at Refuge Ranch.

Before I begin, here is a misclaimer - this Thanksgiving and the first preparations for Christmas have gone better this year than any year previous, but they are still not anywhere near "easy" nor fully enjoyable. Read on to find out why!

There are many days that, praise the Lord, I nearly forget each of my children's pasts, where they have come from and what they have suffered. The Lord has done, and continues to do, a miraculous work of restoration in each of their lives. I know only bits and pieces of their abusive childhoods. Even they themselves are not consciously aware of all that they have suffered, but are discovering new scars as they grow older. These scars and memories seem to most rear their ugly heads during family festivities - birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, tainting each one of these events and threatening to steal the joy that the Lord has prepared for us!

For example, just last week, in order to celebrate Thanksgiving, we spent two entire days preparing for the event and, at the last minute, Victor and I were showering and getting on our Sunday clothes for Thanksgiving dinner. One of our daughters came in and, in a tone of voice that teenagers seem to have perfected, said: "Why are you getting so dressed up? What's the big deal?" when she had been a part of the preparations and knew exactly what the "big deal" was. That same child then looked at the thank you notes that I had handwritten for each member of the family and staff and left at their place settings and said: "What are these for?" but with a voice full of mistrust, insecurities and judgement. Ugh! It is so much easier to reject love and inclusion rather than go through the work to learn how to receive and give love.

So, Friday we took off for the Christmas tree farm! In past years this usually means that upon arriving at the farm the older kids disappear between the pine trees, trying to deny the fact that Christmas is coming, while Victor and I do our best to pick out the tree, only to get home and hear complaint after complaint about how ugly the tree is! This year two of our oldest daughters shouted at us from across the tree farm that they had found a tree! My heart lept, I mean, really lept, for joy as Victor and I went to "inspect" their find! Mind you, I didn't care what that tree would have looked like - they had shown an interest in participating in this family tradition and I was going to encourage that as much as possible - the tree they chose was the tree that was coming home with us! (They did do a good job of picking it out - it is gorgeous and it is even more gorgeous because they picked it out!)

Upon arriving at home, I had the help of the youngest children in doing a fine job of "sorting" Christmas tree ornaments as they spread them all over the living room floor. The older children's absence was notorious as they sought refuge in their bedrooms. Soon, one of the girls came back and, praise the Lord, joyfully and energetically helped me string the lights on the tree. Slowly, each one of the kids showed up and began to at least hang around the edges of the living room and even began to participate in small ways. One helped hang up the stockings around the living room window (the fireplace does not have room for 13 stockings!). Another found a broken ornament and fixed it for me voluntarily, refusing to hang it on the tree, but it was a huge step that this individual was even present in the room as we decorated the tree and an even bigger step was taken by offering to fix the ornament!

These attitudes are the ones that we confront as we do advent devotionals, wrap Christmas gifts, plan Christmas dinner and especially on Christmas morning! Why?

The other day one of our kids said: "I hate Christmas." I nonchalantly responded, "Why?" This person answered back: "Because it's about family." I gently reminded this individual that Christmas is not about family, it is about Jesus Christ, God Almighty, taking the form of a human being and coming to earth to save us from our sins! Lord, help us focus on this!

Why is Christmas and family so painful for our kids? For some, our family traditions are acute reminders of all they did NOT have as younger children, reminders of what "should have been" and never was. For some, while they love us, the Christmas season and birthdays are a blatant reminder to them that they would really like to be celebrating these days with their biological families, but that that is not possible. For others, Christmas meant a time of heightened drunkeness as their biological parents sought refuge in alcohol, resulting in more family violence and abuse than the rest of the year. So, while for me, Christmas lights are a reminder of peace and joy, for several of our children, Christmas lights are a reminder of conflict, drunken rages, and physical and emotional abuse. Lord, have mercy!

I share this so that you can pray, and pray with a passion, this Christmas season. Please pray that the Lord would continue to fully restore our children's hearts and lives. Please pray for love, patience and perseverance as Victor and I and the staff seek to lead our children in a Godly celebration. Please pray that the Lord would pour His joy and peace upon our family.

(I have not included any pictures in this blog so as to protect the identity of the children as to who participated and who did not. One of our biggest challenges in sharing with you through the blog, the newsletters and the prayer calendar, is being specific enough so that you can share in our joys and trials, while protecting the privacy of each of the children. Thank you for your patience, understanding and sensitivity!)

With much love,
Julie Zaragoza

Friday, November 27, 2009

"Thanksgiving" by Ashleigh

There are so many things that I can be thankful for this year. One of the most recent would definitely be the visit I had with my brothers here in Mexico! Here are a couple of pictures from their visit.
Ana and Daniel

Stephen and Me

Stephen and Daniel at the hacienda

Daniel and Stephen helped me paint Rosa's room while she was gone on crusade. They played numerous games of soccer with the kids. We went to the hacienda and played games with the older kids. They helped me with my preschool classes, etc.

I said goodbye to them on Tuesday at the airport and then got back to the Ranch in time to help start the Thanksgiving activities. On Tuesday afternoon we spent some time learning about Thanksgiving. Aaron prepared a history lesson and some fun facts about Thanksgiving to share with everyone else. Lucy and Julie worked with the younger ones with a craft and I took the older ones and challenged them to think of things that they are not currently being grateful for and picking something specific to work on becoming more grateful about.

Wednesday was baking day and this year ( mainly because we had more help) the kids participated. Julie made deviled eggs with Aaron, Josiah, Jocelin, and Fidel. Lucy made rolls with Ruth, Caleb, Martha and Joanna. I made pies with Angie, Diana, and Martita. Everything was made successfully and the kids really enjoyed it.

Thursday Lucy and I finished up the rest of the menu and Magda made the mashed potatoes. At two o'clock we all sat down to a feast! The kids seemed to be much more involved and excited this year then last year. I believe it is greatly attributed to the Marhsalls being here, their participation with the preparation, and deeper understanding of what the holiday is all about. This was Magda, Erika, and Rosa's first Thanksgiving dinner and although some of the food was very different for them they said that they liked it! :)

It is getting late this morning I need to get going. Today we are headed out to get the Christmas tree! :)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Count Your Blessings by Mark

Johnson Oatman Jr. wrote the hymn, Count Your Blessings, which I have been thinking about quite a bit lately. If you are reading this from the United States, you are probably getting ready for Thanksgiving. We are also getting ready for Thanksgiving at Refuge Ranch. The kids are learning about what the holiday is all about. Aaron presented an American history lesson with details about the first Thanksgiving. The preschoolers have been building a turkey shaped piñata, which will be opened on T-day. The elementary kids made turkey shaped napkin rings with their thanks written on the tail feathers. The older kids have written about what they are thankful for.

Of all the “stuff” with which I have been blessed I have to say that the people in my life are my greatest blessing, other than the gift of salvation of course. Last week I joined an amazing group of people who do indescribable work. I went on my first EMMC. I have heard about these trips and I have seen pictures, but to experience it first hand is overwhelming. Doctors, dentists, hairstylists, and opticians all working for Christ, dedicated to helping people because Christ first loved us. This group is more than a team of professional caregivers. They are a close-knit family who loves every person who comes for aid. I was also amazed at how included I felt in the family. I could probably write every word I know in Spanish on one piece of paper, and still have room to write all my medical knowledge, but I felt very included. I am looking forward to building these relationships in the future.





Gabrial and Mia Clowning in Tabasco


EMMC in the state of Tabasco; the hands and feet of Christ

While I was gone, two of Ashleigh’s brothers were visiting. I got to spend a couple of days with them when I got back. We had a great time together and I wish I could have been here the whole time they were, but I would not trade the EMMC time. They have returned to the States and will be spending Thanksgiving with their family and friends.

I would like to add a challenge for you with this verse: Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2 NIV). As you gather with your family and friends for the holiday, give up the stress and enjoy each other with an attitude of thanksgiving. As you return to your life’s routine be thankful for all the people in your life. The relationships we have with each other may be the most overlooked blessings we have. Count your blessings.



Monday, November 23, 2009

One-on-One Time

Throughout the week I spend a half an hour of one-on-one time with each of our kids, from Ruth on up. Mondays are for Ruth and Angie; Tuesdays include Caleb and Diana; Wednesdays are Martha (plus bathtime); Thursdays are Josiah and Martita; and Fridays are for Fidel and Jocelin. The younger kids get their half hour right after dinner and the older kids spend it with me after the others have gone to bed.

The kids choose what they want to do with me during their half an hour. Activities can range from soccer to chess and from Barbies to Skip-Bo.

Since Ruth turned four years old a couple of weeks ago, I have started spending specific one-on-one time with her also. So, today she choose to play school. Despite the fact that I was at school from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., she and I went back up to school after dinner, but now SHE was the teacher! She invited Caleb along, so he and I sat on the student side of my desk (where the kids sit when they have questions or need my help) and Ruth sat where I normally sit during a school day. We had a blast!




It was hilarious to be a part of her role play! It was incredible (scary?) the number of things that she tried to do just like Ashleigh and I do during a school day. (Ashleigh is Ruth's preschool teacher.)


Here's a sampling of Ruth's comments as she "taught" Caleb and I:
  • First, she gave Caleb and I paper and pencil and we had to copy a flower, just like hers. It had to be a circle, with petals, a stem, one leaf, water at the bottom, two eyes, a smile and a tongue sticking out! When I asked her if I had done a good enough job to earn a sticker, she got out the stickers and stuck it right on top of the picture Caleb had drawn. He and I looked at each other because covering up the picture with the sticker seemed a little strange to us. Then Ashleigh walked in and I told her about the sticker situation and she started to laugh and brought me one of Ruth's preschool papers. During preschool, Ashleigh plays "Bingo" with the kids and has them put stickers on top of pictures to cover up the spaces that she calls out. Hence, the logic behind covering up the picture with the sticker! When Ruth gets a sticker it is to put ON TOP of the picture!

  • Then she got out the scissors and we had to cut the paper into pieces! (She and Bernabe do lots of cutting with Ashleigh in preschool.)

  • A few minutes later, Caleb was not cooperating and Ruth promptly turned and in her bossiest voice pronounced: "Here you do what I tell you!" (Oops, have those words come out of my mouth? I think Josiah got to hear those just today!)

  • Soon, Ruth got out the flash cards. (We use lots of flash cards for English vocabulary, math facts, etc, just ask Lucy who spends several hours a day doing flash cards with all of the kids!) Well, Ruth pulled out some multiplication cards, showed the top one to me, pointed to the number three and asked: "What animal does three say?" Now, that question may seem illogical, but our reading curriculum and English curriculum use animals to represent each of the phonetic sounds. So, as the kids learn to read, if they can't remember what sound a letter makes we ask: "What animal does this letter read?" They say the animal name, which then reminds them of the letter sound. So, not yet putting this all together and not fully understanding Ruth's question, I responded, "Three." "No," she said. "What animal does three say?" I said, "Tiger...t, t, t." (We were speaking in Spanish so "tres" makes the "t" sound.) "Yes!", she said and went to the next flashcard. "What animal does four (cuatro) say?" "Canguro (Kangaroo)", I obediently answered. "C, c, c, canguro!" Needless to say, my teacher Ruth was very proud of me for answering correctly so quickly!

  • A little while into our playtime, Ashleigh walked into the school area and began asking around about who had drank part of her Coke! She had left her bottle of Coke on her preschool bookshelf and it was now uncapped and partially empy! Ruth, with no qualms or embarassment said: "I did!" Ashleigh and I looked at each other with a puzzled look in our faces and then burst out laughing as we both realized that the Coke drinking was part of fulfilling her teaching role! Several times a week Ashleigh or I will drink a Coke to get us through that afternoon slump, so, in Ruth's estimation, if you are going to be a teacher you need to drink Coke! (Another oops?!)

  • However, the following situation made me laugh the most. As I mentioned, we started out our time sitting at my desk. Since my desk is located near a sky light, there is not a light in the ceiling near my desk because during the daytime the sky light provides all the necessary lighting, while there are regular ceiling lights throughout the rest of the schoolroom. It was already dark outside as we spent our time together, so the area around my desk was quite dim. A few minutes into our playtime Ruth announced, "Let's move over to Caleb's office (his work area for regular school) because this dark scares me." We had to move our "class" because the teacher was afraid of the dark! (Joanna reminded me that we, as Christians, should also flee from the darkness and into the light - God's light! Wow! What you can't learn from a four year old and thirteen year old!)

Sometimes it is really hard for me to carve out the time for the kids because I am tired, or would rather get some more work done or because Barbies or soccer do not naturally appeal to me. But, I cannot express how meaningful this time is for the kids our how important it is to my parenting them and connecting with them. So, next week I just might have to go to "school" again!

In Jesus' school of life,

Julie

Friday, November 20, 2009

"Basement Friends" by Ashleigh


Rosa: This is the best picture I had of Rosa. People in Mexico don't smile for pictures. So even though she looks serious know that she always has a ready smile. :)

This past week Rosa and Mark have been gone on the crusade. While Rosa is gone Magda attempts to take over the huge responsibility of cooking for all of us as well as all of the laundry. Lucy and I have tried to help as much as we can to lighten her load. It also provided the opportunity to cook some american foods. :) However, we all are very greatful when Rosa returns and resumes the cooking responsibilities.

Rosa has been a wonderful addition to the staff here at Refuge Ranch and I have been increadibly blessed to have had the privilage to get to know her. She is quite and very attentive to what is going on around her. She makes the perfect live-in grandmother. :) She is a wonderful example to all of the children on being a hard worker and taking the inititive as she is never found not working throughout a day. If she isn't cooking, she is helping with laundry, mopping the floor, or cleaning the bathroom.

As I am getting better in my Spanish I have also had the opportunity to sit and chat with Rosa and sometimes Magda in the evenings. On ocation we are all making cups of hot tea or coffee at night and conversation will just start about something that happened that day. It is a little blessing that I am so greatful for to be able to connect with them even in little ways.