Monday, November 30, 2009
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,
Friday, November 27, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
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
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
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
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,
Friday, November 20, 2009
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.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Toilet Paper Tactics
When we first crossed the border into
I am learning just how true that is. Whenever I leave Refuge Ranch, I always carry my own roll of toilet paper with me. It is useful for blowing your nose, wiping grease off of your hands, silly pranks (as you can see by the picture), and yes, for going to the bathroom. In
Toilet paper seems like such a minor thing, but when you don’t have it, you realize how important it is, and how useful! It may seem like a major hassle to carry it with you, but when you look at the bigger picture, it is just a minor inconvenience. It’s very different from back home in
Just a note to Mom and Dad: After toilet papering Ashleigh’s room, I folded up all the toilet paper for another use. I knew you would be proud!
Monday, November 16, 2009
With love, from a very grateful mother and servant of the Lord,
Friday, November 13, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Photos from our trip to Refuge Ranch
We have been here almost 3 weeks now, and I wanted to share a little about our trip down here in October. We were traveling at the time of the year of the monarch butterfly migration to Mexico. If we had come by plane, we would have missed them, but we drove, so they became part of our story. While driving through the mountains, we saw hundreds of them. I wish I had a picture to share of that, but we were traveling too fast and there was no place to pull off to get pictures. Some of the butterflies were killed by the traffic. The others just kept moving south, soaring on the wind as they pushed onward. I felt like there was a lesson in the butterflies for us.
You see, the timing for us to be in Mexico has been long, and at times, rather difficult. We have known since 2006 that God was calling us to here to Mexico, but it needed to be in His perfect time, not ours. So for 3 years, we have been preparing. Mark was in school, and just last May graduated with a degree in Bible and Ministry. We talked with Aaron and Joanna, and gave them time to adjust to the idea of moving (which was actually one of the easier parts), and we began learning Spanish. We spoke to churches about God's work in Mexico, and maybe the scariest thing of all, we put our house up for sale, sold a bunch of our "stuff," and quit our jobs.
At times, we wondered and questioned if God were truly calling our family to Mexico. After all, it was a pretty crazy idea leaving the security of jobs, home, and family. But every time we doubted, God sent someone to us to confirm the call.
The last week before we moved was the toughest. We started the week with cold rainy weather, and needing to turn on the furnace. We woke up Monday morning to a very cold house, and a strange sound coming from the furnace. It wasn't working! That really wasn't a problem though because Mark is a handyman and can fix anything! But after spending the whole day working on it, he found a large hole in the heat exchanger. That is a BIG problem if you don't know anything about furnaces (like me). We needed to replace the furnace in a house we were moving out of in a week! The cold weather continued as we made plans to replace the furnace, and continued packing. Of course, we questioned, "Why? Why us? Why now?" But we praised God that it didn't happen after we moved when no one would be there or know about it.
On our last Saturday, we had family and friends over to help move some big things out of the house. About an hour into our day, our friend, Mark Musall, fell about 15 feet from our porch roof while helping move a mattress. 911 was called and he was lifelined to Fort Wayne where they found he had a fractured vertebrae, some cracked ribs, and a partially collapsed lung. Once again, we asked, "Why? Why him? Why now?" But we praised God that they expect a full recovery for him, although it will take time, God's time.
We truly felt all of this as a time of testing for us. We wanted to be with Mark as he recovered from this accident, but God told us it was time to go, so we went. We left the following Monday morning, leaving the house, furnace, and Mark in God's hands, fully knowing He would make everything right in His time. (Mark is home now and working a few hours a day as he recovers.)
Now what does all that have to do with Monarch butterflies? Well, they don't question how long or hard the trip south is going to be. They just hear God's call, and they go. Now that is faith! There is definitely a lesson in it for all of us, and I pray we learned it well. I know there will be many other trials as we walk the path He has put us on, but I will remember His butterflies, and have faith.
Jesus said, "Don't be afraid. Just believe." Mark 5:36b NIV
Monday, November 9, 2009
Yahweh Rapha Medical Center Promotional Team
L to R: Victor Zaragoza, Dr. Gisela Kovacs, Dr. Ricardo Escamilla, Francisco Martinez
The Lord truly blessed the team's time in the United States as they visited different churches and made many connections that we trust, in the Lord's time, will bring fruit to make the Yahweh Rapha Medical Center project a reality.
Thanks to connections through several Fishers of Men supporters, the team was able to visit The Toledo Hospital and share with many people there, including administrators and board members, the vision the Lord has given us for the Yahweh Rapha Medical Center. The Toledo Hospital is already saving medical equipment in excellent working condition to be installed in the hospital as soon as it is built!
The promotional team on their visit to The Toledo Hospital
Among the unique opportunities that the Lord provided during the team's visit, was that of a television interview for channel 24 news in Toledo, Ohio.
The story that the news team chose to highlight was that of a member of Julie's Dad's church (Dave Claassen pastors Mayfair Plymouth Church in Toledo, OH) who collects scrap metal to help support Fishers of Men after being inspired by the story of our daughter Martha. It was the perfect story to share as Martha's story shows the beautiful integration of the Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusades (EMMC) and Refuge Ranch. Martha joined our family here at Refuge Ranch as a direct result of an EMMC.
The story also illustrates how your support directly impacts and affects the lives of hundreds of people by making the crusades possible, which affords many the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and, on several occasions, has given a child the opportunity to become a part of our family. Your support also makes daily life at Refuge Ranch possible, which results in children's lives being transformed one day, one hour at a time. Now your support, and that of so many others, will make the Yahweh Rapha Medical Center a reality and thousands of more lives will be changed here on earth and for eternity. Thank you!
Click on the following link and enjoy watching the TV interview for yourself! We praise and thank the Lord for each one of these opportunities and pray that His name would be exalted and glorified and His kingdom would continue to grow here on earth!
Saturday, November 7, 2009
So, that is what happened yesterday. If I remember correctly (which may not be) the forms have to sit for two weeks before they can start taking them down. We are all excited to see the progress that has been made toward the finishing of the Marshall's apartment and the laundry room for Refuge Ranch! Thank you all for your prayers for provision and safety!
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I am glad I don’t get this “Limited or No Connectivity” message when I pray. God is always listening and always understands. There are definitely times when I sense a better and stronger connection, but those are the times that are like taking my laptop down to the Zaragoza’s house. When I remove the walls that separate me from God, I discover that He is always there. He did not build the wall, I did, or I let it happen. While I have been working on this cement roof project, a lot of the work is solo quiet repetitive work, and I find my mind wandering, and thinking about other people. It gives me the opportunity to pray for people. Even though I do not know what they need specifically, I can lift them up and ask for God’s encouragement and blessing on them.
As you pray today, remove the walls that give you “limited or no connectivity.” Remember too those who still have “limited or no connectivity” with the God of all creation. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 NIV
Monday, November 2, 2009
One of the daily responsibilities I have here in Mexico is putting Ana down for her nap. Every afternoon at 2pm I hunt her down, pick her up, and head toward her bedroom. Julie and I played a little game with her almost a year ago now. Since I put her down for her nap and mom puts her to bed we have slightly different routines. When I started putting her down for naps I would just sing a collection of songs depending on what came into my mind at the moment. However, Ana really loved "Amazing Grace - My Chains are Gone" and started requesting it. I also notice that she did NOT like it when I sang "Jesus Loves Me" I shared this with Julie one time and Julie informed me that she sang "Jesus Loves Me" every night to Ana when putting her to bed. We got to thinking that she like me to sing "Amazing Grace - My Chains are Gone" and she liked Julie to sing "Jesus Love Me". Julie tested the theory several nights later by trying to sing "Amazing Grace" and it proved correct. Ana had a fit! Her routine was being messed with! :)
More recently Ana asks me as soon as I pick her up, "Are we going to sleep?" (In Spanish) It's so cute...she knows what time it is. :) Most often, she doesn't have a problem with it but every once in a while I receive whimpers and little imploring murrmurs about how she doesn't want to go to bed.
Today we had an expanded version of that conversation. It went something like this (All in Spanish):
Ana: "Are we going to go to sleep?"
Ana: "ok....Will you sing 'Amazing Grace?'"
Me: "Yes, if you want me to sing 'Amazing Grace'. Do you?"
It was adorable! When we got to her room I wrapped her in a blanket and started singing "Jesus Love Me". She stopped me at the beginning and said, "No, Amazing Grace". I said ok and started with "Jesus Loves Me" again. She started to giggle and stopped me again to request "Amazing Grace". It was great! I played with her for a bit and then we settled into the actual version of Amazing Grace and it wasn't long before she was out. :) She is a little person but has a big personality and is always ready to laugh.