Wednesday, October 27, 2010

God at Work...by Lucy

Leslie brushing teeth after a cleaning
Isabel checking eyes
Amelia and Rosa clowning around
Erika showering the kids with confetti
Becky and Mark pray
Someone reading one of the books we pass out to the kids
Lisa taking a blood pressure reading
"Hold me!"
Haircuts in hot weather
Joanna using her creativity on a different kind of canvas!
Aaron and Mark make the kids laugh
Josiah in the train that Mark and Adrian built,
and Rosa and many others finished the night before we left on crusade!
Leonel praying with a woman accepting Christ as Savior
Children are hungry for the good news about Jesus
Gisela checking a patient
Ana cutting hair, lots of it!
Some of our first patients

We just returned from an EMMC to Guerrero on Sunday. We are still processing the things that we experienced on this crusade. Watching God at work is always a joy to watch, and taking pictures to share with others that same joy, is priceless. I couldn't wait to load the photos on the computer to share with all of you. This crusade was different from the first one we went on together as a family in February. Victor sent us to nice homes where we slept in "luxury" the first time (Break us in gently, I think!). This time we slept in a room we shared with cockroaches. After turning the lights off the first night, within 5 minutes, I had cockroaches in my hair. We slept with the lights on the rest of the nights in that room! I kept praying, "Okay, God. What are you trying to teach me through this?" I knew we could tell Victor, and he would probably move us if we wished, but I knew the people we were staying with were giving us the best they could. It was a sacrifice for them to allow us to stay in that room of their home. They owned a little store and gave us a big bottle of water the first night to help us out. The last day they let the kids take a couple of Cokes. They drove us back and forth to the church every day. They sacrificed for us to do what God called us to do there. Now I know that if I had to do that again, I could. I wonder where Victor will put us next time? God was at work!

We have changed since we went on our last crusade. Watching Aaron and Joanna interact with the people we met was amazing. Aaron was walking around "high-fiving" all the kids and goofing around with the staff. Joanna was helping the doctors get patients from one place to another, answering questions, interpreting for those of us who still can't speak the language! She was awesome! Holding the hand of an elderly woman to make sure she didn't fall, or holding a baby while his mama got some medical attention. God was at work!

Aaron, Joanna, and Mark all did clowning for the children's activities. I was going to, but then who would have taken all the pictures of the clowns? I decided to stick with what I do best! Plus I could see the makeup melting off their faces! Joanna interpreted for Emy and then they all did a skit that made the kids laugh. Mission accomplished! God was at work!

We did things we never imagined we would be doing on this crusade. We might think, "How can God use me on a crusade? I'm not a doctor, or dentist, or optometrist, or hair stylist, or evangelist, or I don't speak the language." So what? All God needs is a willing heart! He will use us to bring glory to His name if we let Him. It's so amazing to watch Him work through my family and wonder where He will take us someday to continue bringing the good news of Christ to a hurting world. God is at work!

After all the hard work, and a road so bumpy I thought I might be sick, we also experienced God's blessings so greatly we were overwhelmed. Victor had planned for us to sleep on the beach one night in between crusade locations. A woman at the first church found out about it, and told him we could stay at her place by the ocean. She rents this home to Americans on vacation. Never in our wildest dreams, would we have ever thought God would bless us like He did while we were there. We stayed in nice rooms with a pool nearby and the ocean just a short walk from the house. It was all so beautiful! The sunset was gorgeous, and we had a baptism for Ana, who had come on her first crusade. We were just overwhelmed. At one point, watching the sun set, Mark said, "I don't deserve this," and He was right. We don't. But God loves us anyway! And He is at work!

"Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; They will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds. They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness." Psalm 145:3-7

Enjoying God's blessings
Ana's baptism

Flying over the waves


Butterflies and Blessings

GOD AT WORK!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

On Loan from the Lord: Part Three

Welcome to the third, and final edition, of "On Loan from the Lord." I hope you have enjoyed, as much as I have, this time of catching up on the Zaragoza kids and a few of the highlights of what God has been doing in each of their lives.

Lolis working on her laundry

Lolis, 13 years old, has been with our family for a little over 10 months now and as her life ever changed! One of the biggest changes, and one that has been noticed even more so in that last several months, is her level of responsibility! The older girls must all do their own laundry and each have a day assigned in which they have priority for the washing machine. We used to have to be after Lolis time and time again to do her laundry. Then, once it was washed we would have to be after her time and time again to not leave the wet clothes in the basket, but actually hang them out on the line! Then, we would have to be after her time and time again to take her clothes OFF the clothesline. Then, we would have to be after her time and time again to fold her laundry and put it away! Now all we have to do is remind her to fold it and put it away every once in awhile, but that is that last step in the process. Praise the Lord that she has learned the other steps!

The other place that her responsibility has really shown through, and a tremendous change in attitude, has been in school! Our homeschool curriculum is very self-driven. The students set their own daily work goals, then must meet those goals, check their own homework and set new goals for the next day. When Lolis first arrived, I would help set goals, but she wouldn't meet them; she would mark goals as done when she had never finished them; she would check her homework sloppily and mark wrong answers as correct. On a daily basis, after checking all of her books myself, I would have to call her back to school for another entire hour's worth of work just finishing or re-doing what she claimed to have already done! It was quite a battle and led to many angry faces and bad attitudes.

Praise the Lord that those days are gone! She sets her own goals, realistic yet not easy goals; and I still go over her books at the end of the day to make sure she is on track, but I rarely have to call her back up to school to make any corrections. I NEVER find an error on a page that she has checked and, if I do have to call her up to school, it is for a missed accent or two on some free exercise whose answers aren't in the key. When I call her up she comes up with a good attitude, laughs at her mistakes, corrects them and leaves whistling! Praise the Lord! One of the biggest signs or symbols of this change has been her cursive handwriting. When she arrived last year she couldn't write in cursive at all. Well, now, Lolis has the best cursive handwriting of all of our students! She writes slowly and meticulously. I praise her handwriting on almost a daily basis. Others will have great handwriting on a day that they felt like truly doing their best, but Lolis' handwriting is consistently gorgeous! To me, her change in handwriting: from not knowing how to write in cursive to having, consistently, the best handwriting in school, is an outward symbol of the incredible inner change that the Lord has worked in her life in the last 10 months.


A copy of Lolis' homework from last week! (When she knew I was going to put this on the blog, she got all sheepish and red and said: "Aw, Mom!" However, at the same time she didn't protest a whole lot because she truly loves all the positive praise and attention.)



Jocelin-8 years old

Jocelin's mother, Pati (Victor's sister), passed away a little over a year ago now and Joce is doing very well! She has really shown a greater and more genuine joy in the last several months. She talks about her mom much more than she used to and in normal, everyday conversation, which is a very good thing. When something reminds her of her mom she will pipe in with: "Mom would do ..." or "Mom always liked...."

One of the biggest changes recently has been Joce's incredible willingness to serve and help. When Pati was alive it was a constant battle to get Joce to do her own chores, much less help with anything extra. After Pati's passing, we continued to battle for a time with the chores issue, but that gradually improved. Well, the improvement just continued and, now, it is rare that I have to go look for Joce to do her chores (except on Saturdays, which continue to be a challenge.) Now, not only does she do her chores, but she offers to help out, a lot! She really loves helping Rosa in the kitchen. This may even be slightly therapeutic, as Pati was our cook and even looked a little bit like Rosa. Joce will come up to me several times throughout the day and ask if there is anything I need. She will help make chocolate milk for the little ones before bedtime, will sweep the house once again, will help me carry my many bags on Sunday morning when we go to church, etc. The other night we had a girls' movie night, which Joce doesn't always get invited to, depending on the movie we are going to watch. However, this night I included her and boy was she excited! She "pretended" to go to bed so that the little kids wouldn't suspect anything out of the ordinary and complain about not getting to stay up and eat ice cream, too. Then, when it was time to pull out the ice cream, whipped topping, chocolate syrup, chips and pop, Joce began to play waitress. She was serving everybody's ice cream, pouring all the pop - before the rest of the girls had even come down to the kitchen. I was thinking: "They might want to pick their own flavors of pop and put their own toppings on their ice cream." I didn't quench her willing service and, sure enough, I got to drink the extra glass of pop because she had picked the wrong flavor for somebody. Oh well, that is not too high of a price to pay :-) to be able to watch Joce willingly work and serve!


Diana - 15 years old

Diana and Angie, biological sisters, have been a part of our family the longest of any of our adopted children. Josiah was about to turn 3 years old when they arrived and Caleb was born two weeks after they came. So, it has been nearly 7 years now! My does time fly!

The Lord has blessed Diana with mountains of talent and tons of brains! She is one of those students who doesn't have to study much, gets really nervous about tests and aces them all! She plays piano and violin and has an incredible ear for music. (In fact, I have to make sure that I don't play a song for her because she will just play it by ear, rather than reading the music!) She is a very creative writer and wrote an incredible short story several weeks ago and even composed a song this past week. Diana is a natural born leader who you very rarely see alone- there is always somebody tagging along behind her (Diana is always the one out in front!). She is the comic of the family and regularly makes us laugh! (Like the time she was taking a shower and says to me: "Mom, hand me the shampoo, would you?" I am thinking: "I just gave the little ones a bath and the shampoo was right there!" As she sensed my hesitation she says: "There is a bottle of shampoo here, but it says that it is for dry hair and mine is wet already!" (I died laughing. For the other blondes out there: the shampoo was designed for dry hair that needed to have special treatment to rehydrate.)

Logic is not Diana's strongpoint. Several nights ago, at about 9 p.m., I heard her and several of the other girls making a lot of racket outside. I was trying to put the little ones down and the girls know they cannot be outside after dark. So, I went downstairs to reprimand them. As I am coming down the stairs, I see Diana leaned over the kitchen sink with a plastic container in the left hand and her red sweatshirt bunched up in her right hand. She looks into the container, obviously not finding what she was looking for, and so she gently shakes out her sweatshirt over the sink. Something dark, small and quick jumps out of the sweatshirt, runs across the counter and down under the counter! We all scream and jump and I yell: "What was that?" I seriously thought it was a tarantula! No, it was a mouse! A mouse! In my house! I HATE MICE! (and all the kids know that very well!)

"Why in the world did you bring a mouse into my house?" I inquired of the three guilty adolescents. Here was their explanation: They had gone to the basement of the main house to get something and ran across this mouse in the schoolroom. Diana caught it in her sweatshirt. One of the girls wanted to see the mouse better so they put it in the plastic container and covered it with Diana's sweatshirt. They then proceeded to come into the house in order to look at the mouse in better lighting. But, when they get to the sink and look into the container, there was no mouse! It had gotten into Diana's sweatshirt, which she then shook out, prompting the mouse to jump down and seek shelter....in our kitchen!

Diana asked if I was mad!? I truly was not mad - I was in utter shock and disbelief that three adolescents would even consider bringing a mouse into the house! Then again, as we discussed the situation we discovered that they hadn't considered what they were doing...they just did it! Thus, the definition of adolescent - act before thinking! Diana's developing adult side did kick in, after seeing my reaction, and she diligently set mouse traps until she caught the little sucker several days later. (She also caught a second mouse that it seems was invited into our home by the first mouse who was brought in so kindly by my daughters!)

Diana has a huge heart for Africa and dreams of being a missionary there, possibly a gynecologist! There is a saying that what you do to your parents comes back around to you through your children. Well, I left the country to follow God's missionary call on my life - but it looks like my daughter may leave the continent! At least I can look to my mom for advice on how to handle having a daughter who lives far away...and maybe I will get to retire in Africa!


Martita

Martita, 15 years old, is Lolis' older biological sister. While Lolis has been with us less than a year, Martita has been with us for nearly three years now! I think that I am most proud of Martita for all of the work that she has done, and allowed the Lord to do, in restoring her heart, her emotions and her ability to be loved and love others. This has been a very difficult process for Martita, but she has been very conscious of the process and makes a very conscious effort to help the process along by rejecting old habits, mindsets , attitudes, reactions and actions. As opposed to Diana, school is not easy for Martita, but she works very hard. Math is especially difficult, as well as English.

However, the dreams that the Lord has planted in Martita's heart are huge and I know they will come true because Martita is pretty stubborn! She wants to major in social work (hmmm, I wonder where she got that from! My degree is in social work.) and would like to counsel kids who have lived through traumatic experiences. She has some experience herself in that department! She is especially attracted to the idea of working in Afghanistan with children who have survived war situations. So, on my way to see Diana in Africa, I will have to stopover in Afghanistan. Depending on the political situation, that trip may be slightly more difficult with my blonde hair, light complexion and U.S. citizenship. I tease Martita that she will have to leave Afghanistan and we can rendezvous somewhere in Europe to see each other!

The other day we were talking about her dreams and goals and how frustrating it is to be so far behind in school (she is still finishing elementary school because her biological dad did not send her to school regularly). She then said: "I am going to finish college and I can't wait to see my biological dad's face the day I graduate because he always told me I was stupid and couldn't study!" Now THAT is motivation!

A closing gift: Here is our latest (almost a year old) and, in my option, best family picture ever!
Back: Jocelin (8), Fidel (9), Josiah (9), Lolis (13), Martita (15), Angie (17)
Middle: Julie, Victor, Caleb (6)
Front: Diana (15), Daniel (3), Ruth (4), Ana (4), Martha (12)

(These are the kids' current ages, not their ages at the time the picture was taken last December.)

May the Lord richly bless each and everyone of you,
our brothers and sisters in Christ,

and fellow laborers in His harvest!




Thursday, October 21, 2010

On Loan from the Lord: Part Two

Here are more stories about the children that the Lord has loaned us to be a part of the Zaragoza family, both biological and adopted, they are all His!

Angie leading devotions with several of her younger siblings.

Angie, our eldest daughter, who is 17 years old, has begun an activity the last several weeks that has truly left me marveling at the Lord's work in her heart over these last 6 years she has been a part of our family. She has begun evening devotions several times a week with several of her younger siblings: Jocelin, Caleb and Ruth. Once a week, our three oldest daughters have youth group with the Marshall Family. Well, Ruth has been asking to have a "Little People's Group", so Angie has started one! They get together, in my office or in Angie's room, and Angie has Jocelin and Caleb read several Bible verses. They are both learning how to read and now enjoy participating in family devotions, also. Four year old Ruth "follows along" in her Bible! Part of their devotional activities include reading a chapter out of a book that highlights different countries from around the world in order to pray about them. The book tells about the country, shares testimonies from that place and prayer requests. I couldn't believe it when I heard Ruth say to me the other night: "We prayed for Afghanistan tonight."!

Last week, there was an evening in which Angie's homework was taking much longer than usual and she was unable to have her devotions with the kids. Both Caleb and Ruth began to cry! Wow! How many pastors could say that their church members cry when a Bible study is cancelled?!

For me, what really impacts me are several aspects of this: 1) Angie spends A LOT of time in school everyday (roughly 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. with breaks for meals) as she is trying to do two school years in one in order to get caught up (she didn't start formal school until she was 11 years old!). 2) Therefore, her evening hours are when she has to practice piano, prep her Sunday School class for Sunday and when she could have a few minutes to relax by herself, but she uses that time to lead devotions with her younger siblings! 3) There is no way that I would have tried to get my younger brother to do devotions with me when I was 17! (Granted, he was 15 when I was 17, maybe THAT was the problem! :-)

We are proud of all that the Lord has done,
is doing and will continue to do in and through Angie's life!


Ruth "reading" her Bible during devotions with Angie.

One of Ruth's outstanding characteristics is her spiritual knowledge and faith. (Maybe the fact that she shares a bedroom with Angie has something to do with this!) She knows her Bible stories like a little four year old theologian. Each evening, as I read her children's Bible to her, I can never get all the way through the Bible story without her interrupting to add some fact that wasn't included in the children's version of the telling; to inform me as to what happened before or after that particular story; or to apply the principles learned from that story to real life ("So, that means, we should....")

The kids take turns praying for meals and after devotions. Whenever it is Ruth's turn she ALWAYS prays: "Heal Danny's heart more." What is interesting is that she used to just pray: "Heal Danny's heart." Two or three months ago she added the "more" at the end. Does she have the faith and the belief that God has already begun to heal his heart and it just needs to be healed a bit more? I don't doubt it! Why do I think that? If you recall, when we first got the call about Daniel and were ready to go to Veracruz to pick him up, we got a second call telling us not to go because there was another couple interested in adopting him. For the next 6 weeks we did not know if Daniel would be adopted by the other couple or if he would eventually become a part of our family. However, during that time, Ruth would pray for and talk about Daniel as if he were already a part of our family. I thought it was just her limited 3 year old vocabulary and understanding, at the time, that prevented her from fully comprehending what was going on and expressing accurately that Daniel may never come to live with us. But, each time that I would correct her and try to explain that we didn't know God's plan for Daniel's life, Ruth would insist that he was her brother and was coming to live with us. That is exactly what ended up happening!

Ruth LOVES learning and adores school! She is ready to start kindergarten, but we have to figure out a way to make the school schedule work so that Lucy, Vero and I can cover all of the different students, levels and activities. Please pray for creativity in solving that problem so that Ruth can start school soon! She is now in a stage where she identifies the first syllable of nearly everything we say! That makes conversations with her take just a bit longer!

Martha cleaning the warehouse/kitchen/dining room
this past Sunday.

As some of you may know, Victor is leading a crusade to the state of Guerrero this week. About half of those who live and work at Refuge Ranch went on that crusade, along with our three largest vehicles! This meant that Magda went to church this past Sunday in our Ford Focus (and this coming Sunday) only with the older girls that HAD to go to church due to their ministry commitments, while I stayed home alone with the younger children. The crusade team had pulled out early that morning, after spending all day Saturday in the warehouse area of the main house preparing and packing things for the crusade and after having eaten breakfast (all 30 or so of them) early that morning. Needless, to say the warehouse/kitchen/dining room was not a pretty sight!

After taking advantage of the opportunity to sleep in, Martha got up, got dressed and immediately went directly to the warehouse and started cleaning! She is 12 years old! Cleaning the warehouse was no small task - it was a mess! In fact, earlier that morning I had cleaned up our house and then thought: "I really need to clean the warehouse! Forget it! I want to relax today some too! I'll have the older girls do it when they get home from church!" Surpise! Martha took care of it! She did a stupendous and thorough job! Can you tell I was impressed? With 12 children, plus four staff children around all day, I actually spend most of the day making sure that they are all doing what they SHOULD be doing: making their beds, doing their chores, studying, putting their laundry away, etc. I feel like an official "make sure you do what you are supposed to do" police officer! So much of the time they haven't done what they were supposed to do and must be told to do what they already know they have to do, that when they do something that they don't even have to do without being told - that is about as close to parting the Red Sea as we get!

When Martha joined our family 6 years ago, she could not speak Spanish or read or write any language. Her right hand was nearly useless due to some kind of defect that has never been identified. So, she couldn't bathe herself, button her clothing or cut her own meat. Severe dyslexia made learning her numbers from 0-10 a tearful experience for both of us! Now, she reads and writes in both Spanish and English, if I hadn't told you about her difficulties with her right hand you would never even notice any difference now and she is learning how to multiply! Her life's dream? To be president of Mexico or a missionary!

She is a powerful testimony to the transforming power
of the presence of Jesus Christ in somebody's life!

Fidel working on one of his inventions/creations

This past Sunday, Fidel was infected by Martha's burst of helpfulness and he joined her in cleaning up the warehouse area! Then, twice throughout the day, he took the broom out of my hands as I was sweeping in order to finish the job himself! He did so in normal Fidel style...no words involved! Fidel is a quiet guy and so many times I pray that the Lord would reveal his thoughts to me to know what is really going on in his head!

Besides being an excellent soccer player (pray that we could find a good quality team to put him on with no Sunday games or practices and with a coach that emphasizes character more than winning!), he is also very creative! Fidel could win a prize for recycling! His bedroom looks like a recycling station! So many odds and ends that we throw away end up in his room to be used to make something else! He is a great artist, loves to take broken electrical appliances apart and also enjoys building "things" out of cardboard, styrofoam and any other materials he can get his hands on.

Besides all that....he is seriously a world class Connect Four player! If you ever come to Refuge Ranch I challenge you to challenge Fidel to a game of Connect Four and see if you can win! I highly doubt it! Grandpa Claassen (my dad) tries every time he is here and is very rarely successful - although the 6 months between each of his trips to Mexico provides the time for him to get hopeful and pumped up, only to be beaten by Fidel.....once again!

We pray that the Lord would plant in Fidel's heart
a vision, dream and passion for his future!


Bonus Pictures!

Daniel, Ana and Ruth taking a bath together:
I love the rainbow effect with the skin colors!




I wanted to include this picture on my last blog about Caleb, but I forgot! This past Sunday built this "water park" all by himself and I thought that it was very creative!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On Loan from the Lord: Part One

"Sons are a heritage from the LORD,
children a reward from him."
Psalm 127:3


If children are a reward from the Lord....then we are well rewarded! This week, while Victor is leading a team on an Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade to the state of Guerrero, I would like to take the opportunity to share with you a little bit about some of the highlights in the lives of each of our children here at Refuge Ranch.

(Please keep the crusade volunteers in prayer. There are about 30 volunteers participating in this crusade. Things at Refuge Ranch are very quiet this week as the following people all went on this crusade: Victor, Martita and Josiah; the entire Marshall family;
Rosa (our cook); Erika (staff member Magda's daughter); Ana (our newest staff member); Adrian and Vero (part-time staff and long-time crusade volunteers). That leaves only 16 of us on-site, as opposed to a normal 28! Keep us in your prayers too! Cirino is watching the grounds and animals; Magda is taking care of the laundry and cooking; and I have 11 children under my care alone in the house and at school!)

Our children belong to the Lord and have been lent to us for us to care for, love, nurture and raise in the Truth of His Word! May this blog be the Lord boasting about all the He has done and is doing in the lives of each of this precious and unique bundles
of potential! Thank YOU for your prayers and financial support that give us all that we need to provide for them physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually in order to make each change, transformation and growth possible.

(The children's stories are in no particular order.)

Daniel

As many of you already know, Daniel's life is already a miracle! The more doctors and hospitals we contact as we look for somebody willing to donate Daniel's medical care, the more I realize how serious his condition is and how miraculous that he is even alive, much less the active toddler that he is! Daniel will be three years old tomorrow! He walks, runs, laughs a ton, loves to play jokes, talks in full sentences and perfectly clearly. When he joined our family about 15 months ago, he couldn't say even one word and had just learned how to walk! Daniel is a blessing for our entire family! Please continue to pray that God's perfect will would be done in Daniel's life and in ours as a family!

Here are a few quotes from the responses we have received from doctors and hospitals that we have contacted. I share this because I want everybody to know how serious Daniel's situation truly is, for several reasons: 1) So that we can all be praying even more fervently; 2) so that when God does a miracle and heals Daniel or provides medical care for him, we will praise Him all the more having known how huge the mountains were that He moved; 3) so that if the Lord decides to take Daniel to his true Home, we will understand just how miraculous it was that we were blessed with him the time that we have had him.

"The cardiologist in Mexico did a thorough echocardiogram report that our cardiologist could review. Unfortunately, as I suspected, Daniel has very complex congenital heart disease and likely heterotaxy syndrome. He has single ventricle anatomy as well as other abnormal cardiac structures. Because he would require a series of 3 surgeries and his follow up care would be complex he does not meet the clinical criteria to be considered as a patient for our program."
Response received yesterday from third hospital to turn down Daniel's case.

"Without corrective surgery, most children with Heterotaxy syndrome and significant heart problems will not survive beyond the first year of life." from the Heterotaxy Foundation website


"Unfortunately, we are unable to approve this request. As much as we would like to approve every request we receive for international charity care we receive, we could not do so and still have the resources to provide for the care of every one of our own local kids without regard to ability to pay. We have exhausted the funds allocated for international care this year. But we also have criteria which we use to choose patients which Daniel does not meet. We try to use the funding we have to help as many kids from as many countries as we can. This causes us to shy away from complex cases like Daniel, which could easily use up all of our resources on just one patient instead of the many we like to help. Even more than that, the repair for Daniel’s kind of heart defect is a three stage repair over two years, and the patients are quite unstable for the first 6 months, requiring intensive and close follow-up which would not be possible long distance. Many of these patients will ultimately come to heart transplant."
Response from second hospital to turn down Daniel's case.

To God be the glory!


Ana

Ana is a four year old bundle of energy that runs, bounces and climbs everywhere she goes! She makes us laugh, and run, a lot! We knew about Ana before she was even born and she joined our family less than 24 hours after her birth. She and Ruth are exactly 9 months apart and so I was able to breastfeed them both at the same time for nearly 2 years! In fact, Ana and Ruth say that they are twins because they breastfed together. Ruth's explanation is that Ana looks like Dad and Ruth looks like Mom!

It has been an interesting experience raising two daughters, one adopted and one biological, of nearly the same age! Studies have shown that children feel loved and accepted, or rejected, even when they are still in the womb! Ana and Ruth's lives are living proof of this scientific discovery.

When Ana's biological mother was pregnant with her, she did not want Ana at all. She made that very well known to the few people who even knew she was pregnant. One of them, a Christian missionary, even encouraged her to try and love Ana, speak loving words to her and care for her, even while in the womb, despite the fact that she would not be raising her after birth. Ruth, on the other hand, was deeply loved the entire time that she was in my womb. Now, even four years later, Ana is very quick to get angry and immediately starts calling herself "ugly" and saying things like: "I am very bad." "I am going to be bad." and other very negative comments.

With prayer and consistent love, Ana has begun now to say, several times throughout the day, "I love you, Mom" and express her love for others through spontaneous hugs and hand-holding. She has also begun to relate her actions to what pleases Jesus. She will repeatedly say, after saying or doing something wrong: "Jesus doesn't like us to....." and then "Jesus wants us to...." It is exciting, and a relief, to see her grow in this way and we pray that the Lord will continue to restore the emotional wounds that were inflicted, even before birth! (Ana got up early this morning and is snuggled up on my lap, even as I type this blog! Thank you, Lord, for the precious gift of Ana's life and this time with her.)

Caleb

Caleb is now 6 years old and in first grade. The Lord has blessed him with an incredible ability to read! Last night he read the Bible verse for our devotions and did so perfectly and quite quickly! He also has incredible logic ability, which comes in handy when doing Math and other problem solving activities.

Caleb's greatest quality is his compassion. He cannot stand to see Victor or I discipline any of his younger siblings. He quickly steps in to defend them; will leave the room crying; or will go and comfort them after the discipline has been handed out.

Caleb and Daniel share a bedroom and, although Daniel goes to bed nearly an hour before Caleb, he will not go to sleep until Caleb is in bed! In fact, Daniel spends that entire hour calling for Caleb. Caleb always responds: "I'm coming Daniel!" As soon as Caleb goes to bed, Daniel stretches his hand through the slats in his crib and grabs Caleb's hand. Many nights the boys fall asleep holding hand. In fact, Caleb has commented that when Daniel, Lord willing, goes to the U.S. for medical care, Caleb will have to go along, because Daniel can't sleep without him!


Josiah

Josiah is now 9 years old. He is on crusade right now with Victor. Through several crusade experiences, Josiah has discovered that he loves clowning! Last week, Victor and several other crusade volunteers went shopping for used clothing at market that could be used for the clowns. When they got home, Josiah was trying on different outfits to find the one that was just right for his clown. Well, trying on all that clothing inspired him!

That same afternoon, several ladies from our church came out to Refuge Ranch in order to continue planning our upcoming women's retreat, of which I am a part. It was one of the lady's birthday that day and we had agreed with her husband to provide a cake and surprise her. Well, Josiah got inspired and he and Erika (our staff member Magda's daughter) practiced one of the clown routines they had a used at a previous crusade and put on a surprise clown show! Ely, our friend from church, was happily surprised at her surprise party and we all enjoyed the show! Josiah seems to have a real natural talent for clowning and, when he puts on his clown outfit and makeup, seems to lose all inhibitions and thoroughly enjoys himself.

Stay tuned for more : "On Loan from the Lord"!



Friday, October 15, 2010

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation - by Mark

We have been working hard for the last couple of weeks, preparing for the upcoming mission trip to Zihuatanejo (see-wha-tah-nae-hoe) in the state of Guerrero. In a way, it is like preparing for a vacation. The car needs to be checked, or in this case, two vans and a truck need to be checked. Last week we put new brakes on the red van and made some other minor repairs. Victor had two new tires put on the red van too. The vehicles should be ready to roll.

We are working on upgrading the clowns who are part of the children's ministry. This required several shopping trips. One trip was to the used clothing area of the open market. This was really fun, digging through huge piles of clothes, looking for funny combinations and bright colors. We also had to make a trip to Chalco, near Mexico City, to get clown make-up and some fun socks. Adrian and I have been building a clown train/puppet stage. The train is an old style locomotive, and the puppet stage attaches to the rear of the locomotive. It is built of PVC pipe, and Rosa is making a cloth cover which will really make it look like a train. Of course, the pipe and fittings and fabric also required another shopping trip. The train is made so a clown can "drive" it by having it strapped on. Then when it is parked, the puppet stage is attached to the rear.

Adrian and me with our train

Adrian sorting the clown clothes

In order to do a Medical Mission trip, it is necessary to have medical supplies. Jhon and Dani brought new medications and supplies that had to be sorted and packed. All the medical travel boxes are opened and set up on the tables in the dining room/warehouse, so all the new supplies can be packed in the right containers.
Sorting and packing medical supplies

For 36 people to travel, work, eat, and enjoy each other, there are a lot of preparations that have to be made. One of the biggest is food. It takes more than a day to do the planning and shopping for the trip, not to mention feeding the 15 people who will be staying at Refuge Ranch. Victor, Julie, and Rosa made the trek to Cuautla for food and supplies. We will also be camping for part of the trip so the tents and portable stove had to be checked.

At the crusade sites, there is also preparation being made. The local people need to know we are coming. There has to be a place for us to gather and to sleep. As we prepare to go and minister to the people, we are also in prayer for them. We pray not only that we will be able to meet their physical needs, but that God will prepare their hearts to hear, believe, and accept the Gospel.

Meanwhile, to go along with preparing for crusade, we (the Marshalls) are preparing for a trip to the US. Lucy is printing pictures to share, and writing down recipes she might want to prepare while we are there. We are checking with people and arranging where and when we will speak. We are working on presentations, and the kids are working ahead in school. I have said for a long time that every day is preparation for the next, but right now, we are in preparation mode.

All the experiences we have prepare us for new experiences. God tells us not to worry about tomorrow, but He does not say not to prepare.

"Be prepared, and prepare yourself, you and all your companies that are assembled about you, and be a guard for them." Ezekiel 38:7


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Steady as She Goes

OK, so I am supposed to blog on Mondays! I didn't blog Monday because I had absolutely no idea what to write! There was nothing new, interesting, different or big happening - just everyday life, everyday!

Then, Tuesday morning I got up thinking: "I really need to blog today." After reading my Psalm and Proverbs for the day, before starting my daily Bible Study time, I opened up the devotional "My Utmost for His Highest" by Oswald Chambers. (I first began using that devotional my senior year of high school, in 1994, and, after the Bible, has probably had the single most greatest impact on my life! Thank you, Stacy Wisnieski, for giving me my first copy and to Emy Bridge for replacing that tattered copy with a leather version several years ago!)

Here was the first paragraph from "My Utmost for His Highest" for October 12:

"The true test of a person's spiritual life and character is not what he does in the extraordinary moments of life, but what he does during the ordinary times when there is nothing tremendous or exciting happening."

Have you ever felt like God just punched you in the gut? You know, one of those parental looks of great love, with a hint of laughter in His eyes that say: "Ok, Julie. Do you get it now?"

You see, an extraordinary life is made of extra-ordinary moments: in other words, lots of ordinary moments. "Extra" means "more of" or "many": extra large is "more" large, so, therefore, "extraordinary" means "lots of" ordinary! Lots of ordinary moments loving each other, forgiving each other, learning, growing, falling and getting back up again leads to an extraordinary life when lived in Christ!

So, here is an extraordinary ordinary moment from the other day:

When you have a family of 14 plus a staff of the same size, that provides the opportunity for the study of the social behavior of humans in groups! People always say that women go to the bathroom in groups and men don't! I remember in Junior High at lunchtime, one of the guys would get up from the table, disappear for less than a minute and come back. However, at some point during lunch, one of the girls at the table would announce to all: "I'm going to the bathroom." That was an immediate invitation for the other 8 of us at the table to get up with her and follow her to the restroom! No matter that there were only 3 stalls in the bathroom - the trip was not out of necessity, but was a social event! We would finally return to the table 15 minutes later: after combing hair, fixing make-up, getting caught up on the latest "news" and, maybe, having actually used the restroom!

Well, those of us who live at Refuge Ranch discovered the other day that such behavior is simply programmed into the female psyche, it is not learned behavior!

We currently have three 4 year old little girls! Berenice, Cirino's daughter, turned 4 in September; Ana, our daughter, turned 4 in August; and Ruth, also our daughter, will be 5 in November. So, for two months out of the year, all three little girls are the same age. (I teased my older girls that having three 4 year old girls at the same time is dangerous, but having four teenage daughters at the same time is simply pure craziness and has to be against some law!)



Ana
















Ruth


















Berenice

So, we are at dinner and Berenice announces: "I am going to the bathroom!" Immediately after she left the dining room (aka: the warehouse), Ana announced: "I have to go the bathroom!" She was no farther than the door when Ruth added: "I need to go to the bathroom!" At nearly the same time our 6 year old son, Caleb, said: "Mom, I'm going to the bathroom." Well, within less than a minute Caleb was back at the table. He went and came back alone - like an honorable man! However, there was no sign of Berenice, Ana nor Ruth! Another minute went by....and then another! I decided it was time to check out this situation.

I went to the house to hunt down my little girls! We have three restrooms in our home, but all three girls were in the main restroom with the door locked! I knocked and heard Ruth say in a hushed yell: "Hide!" She kindly unlocked the door for me and revealed the party scene! Berenice was on the changing table and Ana hiding beneath. Berenice had her pant leg pulled up and I was promptly informed that Ana was caring for a cut (non-existant, mind you) on Berenice's leg. Band-Aid wrappers strewn about on the floor served as proof of Ana's budding medical practice, along with the white antibacterial cream spread on Berenice's knee. My arrival cut their little nursing party short and the three were escorted back to the dinner table.

Theory proven: women were created to go to the bathroom in groups!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mold...by Lucy

Joanna's dresser, while we were cleaning off the mold

For the past several months, we have been in the rainy season here at Refuge Ranch. Having nothing to compare it to, I can say that it is not what we expected. Julie tells us that it has not been a normal season, with more rain than normal. I can tell you that it is unlike any other summer I have ever experienced!

Since June, we have been wearing sweatshirts and jackets most of the day. We have had 3 blankets on our bed! We have kept our windows closed most of the time, and have had to hang laundry inside because of rain, sometimes for 3 days, to get everything dry. The other thing we have dealt with is mold...lots of mold!

We weren't really watching for it at first, so when we first saw it, it was pretty bad. Mark noticed that our curtains had mold growing on them, and then found some of our clothes (which hang against an outside concrete wall) were moldy. We took the day to wash things and put them away again. End of story, right? Nope. The next week, we noticed mold on other things like the baseboards (which are tile) around the wall, the back of the closet Mark had built, our shoes, the back of our dressers, the underside of the bed in our room, on the front door, on the windows, books, wooden spoons...You get the picture. It is difficult to keep up with it. Just when we think we have a handle on the problem, it crops up somewhere else! It is quite a job to be vigilant in watching for it, and getting rid of it before it damages our things. We have used lots of bleach, Lysol, and water, and lots of rags! Of course, prevention is the best solution, but we haven't quite figured out how to do that without a dehumidifier and thermostat! So we continue to watch and wash at the first sign of mold.

It is kind of like sin in our lives. If we are not watching out for it, it can grow into a monster that takes over everything in our lives. We must be vigilant to get rid of it at the first sign that it is there. If we don't, we end up with broken lives (and runny noses in the case of mold!) that need much more work to repair. We have to use the Word of God and prayer against it. We have to use daily Bible study and meditation to overcome it. Jesus, of course, is the ultimate safeguard against sin. After all, He defeated it! But if we allow it to creep back into our lives, it can harm even those around us with its stink! Have you checked your closets today? Is there any "mold" that you need to get rid of there? Don't wait! Take care of it. Take it to Jesus!

"Wash me of all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin." Psalm 51:2
"Direct my footsteps according to your word; Let no sin rule over me." Psalm 119:133

Monday, October 4, 2010

an update on Daniel


As you know, we are in the process of looking for medical care for Daniel in the U.S. and I wanted to give you an update as to how that process is going.

We have put together a packet of information that includes a short newsletter-type publication telling Daniel's story, general information about Fishers of Men and the ministry here at Refuge Ranch, along with, of course, results from medical tests that Daniel has had performed here in Mexico.

We have sent that packet to 5 different hospitals in the U.S. These are hospitals with whom we have been able to make personal contact through individuals already involved with those institutions. The good news? Nobody has contacted us to say that they CAN'T take on Daniel's case. The bad news? Nobody has contacted us to say that they CAN take on Daniel's case.

(Up to the minute update: while uploading the pictures for this blog entry I checked our email. We just got our first rejection email from one of the institutions. They are unable to take Daniel's case mainly due to its complexity. Also, treating him would drain them of all the resources they have available to treat other international charity cases. We will continue to trust, wait and look!)

Besides these 5 institutions, I have also been in contact with a pediatric cardiologist in the Dallas area. For the last several months I have been following the blog of a little baby boy named Bowen. He is the son of the lead singer of the Christian music group "Sanctus Real". This group is originally from Toledo, OH (where I was born and the location of my home church); my home church also has several connections with this group. So, when I heard that the lead singer, Matt's, son had been diagnosed before birth with a serious congenital heart defect, I immediately began following their blog. (Check it out at: bowensheart.com ) I have left comments on several blog entries sharing a little bit about Daniel's situation. One of the other blog followers, whose son also suffers from a congenital heart defect, contacted me and has connected me with their pediatric cardiologist.

We have decided to wait to hear from these institutions before pursuing any others.

Daniel loves to "play" Connect Four - it's all filled up!

"Yeah, they all fall down!"

There are days when I feel so hopeful. There are days when I feel so hopeless. There are days when Daniel's condition doesn't even seem real because he is so active and full of life: such a two year old! But, one look at his bluish fingernails or one listen to the cough that overtakes him due to a lack of oxygen after playing hard reminds me that his little heart isn't functioning correctly.


I really don't know what to think sometimes, other than to trust in God's sovereignty, His perfect wisdom and His perfect timing. While at times the hospitals seem willing to do all they can to help, other times comments are made that remind me that getting medical care in the U.S. is no small feat. It is difficult for non-U.S. citizens to get treatment in the U.S. and difficult for an institution to donate Daniel's care which will cost over $100,000 U.S. dollars! Daniel is dealing with defects in both his heart and lungs. His heart has been working harder than normal for nearly 3 years now and we know that it is enlarged. Therefore, until more testing is done we do not even know if Daniel's heart could handle surgery! But, we need a hospital willing to take his case to do the testing to find these things out!

(Securing a doctor and hospital is just the first step. We must then apply for a medical visa in order to be able to take Daniel to the U.S. and then find an organization willing to fly us to the U.S.)

So, after thinking through all of these things, time and time again, I sometimes feel like a hamster in one of those exercise wheels that runs and runs and doesn't get anywhere. My brain runs and runs and thinks and thinks and I always end up in one place: Daniel's life is in the Lord's hands; Daniel belongs to the Lord; God is sovereign; we just have to do our best to get Daniel the best care that we can and the rest is up to the Lord (opening the doors, healing him, etc.); we simply must love, care for and enjoy Daniel each day that we have him here at home with us.

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." I Corinthians 13:13

Then I think: But isn't that all that we can do with anybody that we have here on earth? Love them, care for them and enjoy them until the Lord takes them home? Knowing that Daniel has a serious heart condition makes it seem so much more urgent to love him and enjoy him now, not knowing how long we will have him. But, isn't that true for everybody? We don't know when an accident could happen or a sudden illness could strike that could take away from us somebody that we assumed we would have around for a long time!

"Man's days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed." Job 14:5

So, Daniel is teaching me to love fully and try to live in THIS MOMENT, because this moment is all that I have. It is 6:32 a.m. 6:31 is gone and 6:33 has not yet arrived. Living that way is such a challenge! It is incredible how the small irritations in life can steal my joy, take my focus off of what is really important and trip me up to offend or hurt those that I love most! May the Lord help us too fully live now, in the fullness of His Spirit and His fruits!

"As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work." John 9:4

We truly covet your prayers in this whole situation: that the Lord's will would be done, because His will is perfect for each of us!

"Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails." Proverbs 19:21

Friday, October 1, 2010

Harmony...by Lucy

Diann, Sherlyn, and Joan

In July, Julie's mom and two aunts were here for a week. It was fun to watch them reconnect since they all live in different parts of the United States and lead very different lives. I'm not sure, but they may have enjoyed a few slumber parties that week. They worked hard together, but played and laughed a lot too. One thing they all share is a talent for music, especially the piano. On the last morning they were all here, they decided to try a trio at the piano. I've heard duets played on one piano, but never a trio!

It was amazing! Julie's aunt Joan was jumping from one end of the piano to the other as they played. There was beautiful harmony and lots more laughter, and smiles all around. I so wish I could do that just like them.

But then I happened to think about how God used them, working together, each doing something different on the piano, but the harmony created was beautiful. God has given each of us gifts and talents to use for His glory. When we use them correctly, we create harmony in the body of Christ. If we try to do the work God planned for someone else, another part of Christ's body, there is discord instead of music. If we joyfully do the work God gave us to do, we too can make beautiful music together, just like Diann, Sherlyn, and Joan. May we always strive to create harmony in the body of Christ, joyfully doing what He created us to do!

"But in fact God arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." I Corinthians 12:18-27