Monday, December 19, 2011

"Adrian and Vero's Wedding" by Ashleigh and Julie

Well, I (Ashleigh) figured that there were so many of you who follow this blog that know Adrian and Vero that it would be a crime not to post about their wedding! :) Aren't you glad I thought so?

It took me almost an hour to upload the pictures but I think it will be worth the effort to take you on a little photo journey of the day. I will admit to you that I was skeptical as to how fancy a Mexican wedding would be because weddings don't seem to be that important within the culture. The 15th birthday is usually a much bigger occasion than a wedding (if a couple even gets around to having a wedding at all). I was greatly surprised and overjoyed when I walked into the wedding location. It was so beautiful and fairytaleish which, in my humble estimation, the bride and groom totally deserved. I was giddy with excitement for Adrian and Vero. I have watched their journey from almost the beginning and hoped for nothing but joy for them on this day. I wasn't the only one excited for them...all of the kids were amazingly obedient and helpful all morning as we prepared. The air was electric with excitement. Little ones were dressed in beautiful gowns and three piece suits for hours but played quietly and stayed in the house where they couldn't get dirty. All of this was accomplished with great attitudes. An answer to many of your prayers and a great gift for Julie! We even got through family photos without any bumps right before the wedding! (Which is actually another post with pictures that I will let Julie share later.)

 The wedding site amid a canopy of avacado trees (The reception was in a tent directly behind this picture)

 The aisle down the center. If you look close it is very mossy which added to the enchanted feel.
 Inside the tent before the wedding. The really cool thing about the tent is that the lights were under a layer of sheer white fabric providing a lovely atmosphere.

 I have rarely seen a bride smile as much as Vero. She was absolutely glowing.

 All of the younger kids were the flower bearers. They had baskets of petals and distributed them down the aisle. It was the most adorable thing EVER!!!!!

 This is approximately half of the "bridesmaids" with Julie playing the piano for the processional.
 Vero walking down the aisle on her father's arm.

 I love this photo. If any of you have met Adrian and Vero you will know that this picture shows their personalities so well. Adrian with a mischievious smirk and Vero with a winning smile.

 This is most of the rest of the bridesmaids for the wedding. As you can see, all of the older girls were in the wedding. Angie, Diana, Martita, Lolis, Martha, and Fatima.

 John and Dani giving them a Bible. (Dani is Adrian's sister) In Mexico they have a tradition of giving gifts to the bride and groom during the ceremony. All the gifts represent something about them and the hope for them as they head into the future. The bride and groom ask specific people in their lives to give certain gifts so that all of them are covered for the ceremony.

 This is the giving of the unity candle.

 Vero and Adrian blowing out their own individual candles to symbolize their unity as one before God.

 This is another gift. We are told in scriptures that we are the salt of the earth. So, in keeping with that someone gives them two bowls of salt of two different colors (their's was pink and blue). They then pour them into a third bowl combining them together so that they cannot be separated and cannot be distinguished from each other. Again symbolizing their unity.

 Vero's father praying over them as they begin their new lives together.

 Adrian's father praying over him.

 Rosa had the honor of giving the gift of the rings to Adrian and Vero. I love this picture because they are all three smiling. This was probably my favorite part of the entire wedding ceremony because Rosa is also so dear and close to my heart.

 Rosa's daughter Marisol and her husband gave the gift of the "laso" to tie them together. It is two circles that are attached and they are ceremoniously placed over each of them.

 The first kiss as husband and wife.

 Walking back down the aisle through a cloud of bubbles!

 Victor, Adrian, Vero and Julie

 James provided the music for the reception with the help of his sister Elizabeth and Diana.

 The bridal party helped serve the food so I got Angie to pose for a photo for me.

 The first dance

Feeding each other cake

Their wedding was marvelous. There are hardly adjectives enough to describe the day. What is even more amazing is their testimony of allowing God to lead their relationship directly in front of all of the Zaragoza children at Refuge Ranch. Thier light shines so incredibly bright. Two amazing people united before God to serve Him more powerfully together as husband a wife. *great sigh of contentment with the day*

Julie's reflections on the day:]
     It was so wonderful to have Ashleigh back at the ranch, even if it was only for a few days!  For those who don't know, Ashleigh spent two years living at Refuge Ranch on staff and is a dear friend of our entire family, and now even of those children whom she had never met!  It was also great to have her help on this blog...just like old times!  But now, for a few of my reflections on this special day!
     The anticipation building up to Adrian and Vero's wedding in our household rivaled the anticipation that the children feel for Christmas!  We had been waiting for a loooong time (over a year?) for Adrian to actually ask Very to marry him and were all overjoyed when that finally happened!  That event then initiated the race to plan the wedding!
     Victor has known Adrian since he was an elementary school boy when they both attended the same church (the church where Victor accepted Christ and left the gang lifestyle behind).  Then, upon moving to Mexico eight years ago, Adrian started attending the church we now attend because he had recently moved into that area of the city.  We met Vero, who also attended our church, at about the same time.  
     They have both served on the Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusades (EMMC) for years now as volunteers.  Their commitment to God, to each other and to Fishers of Men has gradually grown over that time to bring them to this moment where they are leaders of the young adult group at church, now are husband and wife, and serve full-time on staff at Refuge Ranch and with the Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusades with the desire to raise their family here at Refuge Ranch.
     So, we love Adrian and Vero VERY much!  Adrian spends a lot of time listening to the kids, playing with the kids and trying to help their creative ideas come to life (Karaoke parties, building swords and shields, etc.), besides serving as Victor's right hand man for anything and coordinating all of the local EMMC's.  Vero serves on staff as a teacher in our homeschool, as the Spanish secretary for all of Victor's communications, and keeps track of expenses, as well as being one of my best friends.  Whenever Victor and I need to be away, Adrian and Vero serve as substitute parents for the day (or overnight) and do a great job of maintaining our love and discipline towards the kids.
     I hope that that background will help you realize how intimately involved our lives are with each other and, therefore, how special this wedding was for our family!  As Ashleigh mentioned, I cannot stop thanking the Lord for the testimony that Adrian and Vero have been for our kids!  All of our children (other than biological) come from broken homes.  They have a very negative view of marriage, which is reinforced by television and other mass media sources, as well as, sadly, many of the people around them, even members of our own church. One of our passions is to teach our children purity and the importance of waiting for their future husband or wife.  Nothing has supported this passion of ours in a more concrete way than watching Adrian and Vero's relationship grow and develop.  Our children were able to see two young people love each other, care deeply for each other and grow in their relationship while they continued to seek the Lord above all else, serve Him faithfully as individuals and together and then commit to a lifelong relationship through marriage, all while remaining openly sexually pure.  
     The kids witnessed firsthand the freedom, joy and blessing that comes from doing things God's way as they saw all of the blessings He provided for such a beautiful wedding ceremony, fun reception, great honeymoon (we assume:-) and even an incredible apartment upon returning the the ranch (the Marshall's former apartment will now be the Tovar apartment).  God's was is truly the best way!
    So, this all resulted in a lot of primping, pampering and preparation!  All of our boys wore suits, while I was worried about keeping any prospective ladies far away!  All of our girls looked gorgeous in their wedding attire, high heels and their best hair days ever, while Victor was worried about keeping any prospective young men far away!  David and Daniel, our two youngest at ages 2 and 4, could eat, sleep and play in their suits!  They LOVE dress clothes and David actually cried the two times we had him try on his suit and made him take it off!
     The ceremony was beautiful!  Victor officiated the service, while I provided the music, with James' assistance.  Angie, Diana, Martita, Lolis, Martha and Fatima were bridesmaids and David, Daniel, Ana, Carolina, Miguel, Jocelin, Leo and Alejandro served as flower girls and boys.  Ruth helped carry in Vero's train. 
     The reception ended quite early as the wedding was held in a garden near the ranch and most people had to travel a decent distance to get there.  So, by the end of the reception, the only ones present were our family and the young adults from our church.  The music got turned up and we had a great time dancing to Christian remixes of some of our favorite Spanish worship music!  The kids had a blast (OK, so the adults did too!)!  It was great to watch Vero in her wedding gown dancing with our kids and knowing how much she and Adrian love the kids and how important that is for our kids to have positive relationship experiences, learn how to receive love and give it back.  We were home around 9 p.m., but the kids felt like they had been at some wild party until late at night!  It was just great!
     Later today we will welcome Adrian and Vero back from their honeymoon and into their new life at Refuge Ranch as husband and wife!  Praise the Lord!




Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The "NEW" and the "same old, same old"

This week I am surrounded by NEW!  This past Sunday morning our congregation bid farewell to our senior pastor, Ruben Mercado, and his family (including his 19 yr. old daughter, Abi, who has been our eldest daughter Angie's best friend for eight years!).  They are heading back to their native Bolivia to continue pastoring there.

Then, Sunday night, our family and Refuge Ranch staff bid farewell to the Marshall family who are returning to Indiana to serve the Lord there after sharing their lives and love with us for the past two years.  (This includes their daughter, Joanna, Angie's second best friend...so, you can pray for Angie this week as her two best friends have left Mexico to move back to their home countries!)


This coming Saturday our family and staff will be participating in a very important event: Adrian and Vero's wedding!  Adrian and Vero have been on staff at Refuge Ranch and served as Victor's right hand team on the Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusades for several years now.  They are dearly loved by all of us and serve as "surrogate" parents whenever Victor and I have to be away from home for a date, meetings, shopping etc.  They will be married this Saturday, by Victor, and most of our family is participating in some way in their wedding.  It is hard to tell if the kids are more excited about the wedding or Christmas!

Suffice to say, these three families are all heading into new experiences, new adventures, new callings.  As I woke up on Monday morning, the only adult in the house with our 18 children (Victor is accompanying the Marshall's to the Mexico/U.S. border) I had this strangest sense of being "the only one". (Isn't that crazy how you know you aren't the only one experiencing a specific feeling or circumstance, but you certainly feel like the only one?) It was a sense of being "the only one" that wasn't facing something new.  In fact, I was facing simply just trying to make the old better!  Take the old, abused lives of our children and make them new; try to clean and repair the same old house that is getting too small for us in order to make it the best possible in which to raise our children; continue to work on a 13 year old marriage to make it better everyday, etc.  I almost wanted to stay in bed:-)

Enter:  the wonderful mercy, compassion and love of God!  I marvel at the way He speaks to each of us in the midst of our own unique situations, circumstances and feelings.  He immediately brought to mind Bible verses such as:

"It is through the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness."  Lamentations 3:22-23
(I had forgotten that this verse came from the book of Lamentations!  Neat!  When I was reminded of its book of origin I was even more encouraged because I had gone through my own list of lamentations that morning, just like this author, and had come to the same conclusion....keep reading!)

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." 2 Corinthians 4:16

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."     Romans 12:2

Through those verses the Lord assured me that I truly was not living the "same old, same old" thing day in and day out.  Since His compassions and mercies are new everyday, life is new everyday!  In Christ, there is no such thing as "the same old thing"!  Praise Jesus!
He also reminded me, oh so lovingly, that He is making me new each day in my spiritual being and through the renewing of my mind, which then gives me the opportunity and power to make those things around me new.  (Hence, James and Elizabeth get to repaint the first story of the outside of our "old" house!  I mean, if we are going to take seriously this thing about making all things new then let's take it seriously!)

Now, the most wonderful thing about our Lord is that somebody could write a parallel blog about all the new experiences they are going through and the surrounding feelings of doubt, fear, having to depend on God in the unknown, leaving behind what is safe, uncertainty, etc., while I share about having to depend on Him to make the old new, to give the strength to be faithful day in and day out, etc. and He would bring to their mind and life verses to strengthen them and lift them up!  The common thread through the seemingly opposite experiences, facing the new or having to renew the old, is that God speaks to us and walks with us through both the new and the old.

So, today I am excited about having to live the "same old" life because, in Christ, there is no such thing as "the same old thing".  In Christ, there is only "the same old thing" being made NEW!

(Note: Some of you may be wondering how having 18 children could ever lend itself to the feeling of "the same old thing"?  To a certain extent, you are right!  There is never a dull moment!  But even "never having a dull moment" can become "same old" without Christ!  Here is a video I took Monday evening after supper to share with you a "typical" evening at the Zaragoza household!  The two individuals on guitar are James, a short-term missionary from Oklahoma who joined the staff at Refuge Ranch in October and will be here until April 2012, and his sister, Elizabeth, who is here visiting James until Christmas.  Maybe we need to move up on the priority list repairing Josiah's drumset?!  Clarification: the kids are wrestling, not fighting!  It is the almost nightly "after supper burst of energy".  Enjoy!  Suggestion: you may need earplugs!)


video





Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The day after Thanksgiving, our family participated in another Zaragoza Family Tradition...the cutting of the Christmas tree!  Traditions in our family are quite interesting because each year we have added new children to the family that are clueless about our family tradition!  Besides that, the concept of a repetitive family tradition is quite the foreign concept for many of our children when they first join our family.  For some of them, the only family tradition they have ever experienced has been regularly changing families!

We now go to the same tree farm every year on the skirts of "our" volcano, Popocatepetl.  This time around, I think I will let that day's pictures guide us through the story.

  The tree farm our family visits each year the day after Thanksgiving.


One of the attractions at the tree farm are bushes pruned into shapes of animals.  The younger kids like to have their pictures taken with an "animal".  This is Jocelin next to a deer.

Our middle boys, and Fatima, went prepared this year with their heavy artillery - Nerf guns!  The tree farm provided the perfect place for an all out war and plenty of trees to hide behind and dodge between.

 Ruth decided that this "bush animal" was sturdy enough to mount!

Alejandro's first Christmas with us and, actually, his first Christmas ever!


David is nearly almost always ready to strike a pose!


Carrying the tree from its place of origin to the van!  Diana, Fatima, Angie, Jocelin and Miguel did the heavy work!  David is literally sitting on the tree trunk along for the ride!  Dad (Victor) doing his job best - supervising!

 Time for a picnic!  One of the reasons we like this tree farm is that it has a picnic area, a playground consisting of a series of swinging bridges that the kids love and a pine labyrinth that we love to get lost in!

Caleb on one of the swinging bridges.
 Here they all are!  Years ago, on a camping trip, we took a picture of the kids lined up sitting in a water trough coming out of a natural spring.  Seeing this block wall reminded me of that...so we tried to repeat the adventure!  Here goes!  From left to right:  David (2), Daniel (4), Ana (5), Ruth (6), Carolina (6), Caleb (7), Miguel (8), Jocelin (9), Leo (9), Josiah (10), Fidel (11), Fatima (11), Alejandro (11), Martha (13), Lolis (14), Martita (16), Diana (16), Angie (18)

So how did Victor take this picture?

HERE'S HOW!

Fidel and Victor attempting to make the tree stand up!  This method didn't work.   The tree is now in a paint bucket filled with rocks...and tied to the curtain rod!

Angie is our tree lighting expert!

 Here Diana decorates with glitter a new tree skirt that Rosa made for the family.


Carolina decorating her first Christmas tree.

Leo decorating his first Christmas tree.

Martita blessed the family with cinnamon rolls!  Do you see her "rolling pin"?  When you have a big family you do things in a BIG way!  Actually, we couldn't find our rolling pin and the Marshalls were visiting the pyramids that day so we couldn't ask for theirs, so Victor found a long wooden rod (curtain rod?) to use!  Rule number one (and two!) in both missions work and large families - be flexible and be creative!

No big spiritual lessons came out of cutting and decorating a Christmas tree!  Just the reality of the transformational power found in daily family living, loving...and the safety, security and predictability found in tradition!
One thing I did particularly enjoy that day were our "older" children (those that have been with the family longer), informing and giving a running commentary on this tradition to the "new" children.  It warmed my heart that they truly do know what we do and why we do this every year and it really does make them feel special, safe and loved (even though some of them complain every year...that's part of the tradition too!)

Hey, just for fun...here is a bonus video!  Last week Victor was on crusade and I was in charge of cooking!  (Yes, the Lord does do miracles..the rice turned out great this time!)  The kids always pitch in a ton!  Well, one day, Ruth helped shred fresh cheese for tacos and broke into a nursery song that Rosa has taught her!  Thought you would enjoy!

video





Friday, November 25, 2011

Thank You

Riddle: What do purple sweet potato casserole and chest x-rays have in common?  How about dental appointments and perfectly baked rolls? 

Answer: THANKSGIVING AT REFUGE RANCH!

You may never have considered this before, but Thanksgiving is a strictly American (as in U.S.A., Mexico is in America too! :-) holiday!  Thanksgiving takes us back to the very roots, the actual reason for the creation of the United States of America - the religious freedom to publicly worship and serve the One and Only Almighty God.  Now, I like turkeys and all, but does it occur to the majority of the public that, despite being a delicious animal, having a very unique sound and a somewhat interesting appearance, they really do not deserve an entire holiday dedicated to them?  That maybe there is another reason for Thanksgiving...aka giving thanks?

Thanksgiving was always been one of my favorite celebrations growing up so, despite the fact that it is not a Mexican holiday, I'm the Mom...so we celebrate Thanksgiving in the Zaragoza household and at Refuge Ranch!

 Thanksgiving at Refuge Ranch

I remember one particular tradition growing up at my home church in Toledo, OH, where my father continues to pastor today.  Near Thanksgiving the church would make available simple thank you cards to the congregation and encourage us to take several, write thank you notes to other church members and then give them to that individual at the Thanksgiving service on Thanksgiving morning.  Remembering how meaningful that was to me, I took that idea and adapted it to our family.  I printed up thank you cards the size of a business card (to save paper:-).  On one side the card read:  "Gracias a Dios y gracias a....", "Thanks to God and thanks to....here went a different name covering our entire family and staff" and the other side was blank in order for the giver to write his or her own message.  So, since last week, at every meal, our entire family would write on several of those cards in order to have them ready by yesterday!  (Do the math...there are 20 of us in the Zaragoza family and currently 12 individuals between the staff and their families!)

Carolina "writing" some of her thank you notes!

 Dividing up the cards according to recipient!

Yesterday, after our Thanksgiving meal, we handed out the packets of thank you cards to each recipient.  Wow!  The power of a "thank you"!  The dining room/warehouse became pretty quiet (hard to do with over 30 people present) as each individual read their notes, complete with beautiful personal notes for each of us from Lucy and even Joanna!  Seven year old Caleb came up to me, wrapped his arms around my neck and mumbled through his tears into my neck:  "The card that most impacted me was Diana's."  Very little can touch a mother's heart more than watching one child positively impact one of their siblings!  Victor, tough, in-control, former-gang-member turned Dad-in-bulk-quantities, even had to do his best to fight back the tears reading all the ways in which his children are thankful for him.  Five-year-old Ana literally closed her little fist around her envelope and Lucy's note and did not let go of them for hours!  I do believe we have just started another Zaragoza Family Tradition!

We decided to rival the attendance of the first Thanksgiving feast:
Attendance list:
The Zaragoza Family: Victor * Julie* Angie * Diana * Martita * Lolis * Martha * Alejandro * Fatima * Fidel *  Josiah * Leo * Jocelin * Miguel * Caleb * Carolina * Ruth * Ana * Daniel * David (Those are all 18 Zaragoza kids in age order from oldest to youngest, in case you were wondering.  That's how I make sure everybody is present at every meal and every time we go anyplace in a vehicle.  I can rattle that list of pretty quick!) The Marshall family: Mark * Lucy * Aaron * Joanna *  Refuge Ranch Staff Members: Rosa * Adrian * Vero * James  Visitors:  Mireya (a volunteer teacher at the Ranch three days a week) * Mireya's son Jorge * Mireya's son Joel * Mireya's father * Mireya's mother * Dr. Ariel (a volunteer dentist for the Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusades) - hence the dental appointments on Thanksgiving
Total attendance:33


This called for two 14 pound turkeys, 48 perfectly baked homemade rolls, 8 pounds of green beans, sweet potato casserole (It was purple!  Did you know there are purple sweet potatoes?  Well, there are!  And they were the only ones available at market this week!), 2 gallons of Great Grandma Blom's Cherry Applesauce jello, corn casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, an international bean and rice dish made my James (our new 6 month staff member from Oklahoma - you'll meet him later!),deviled eggs (here they are "heavenly" eggs!) and eight pecan pies with freshly beaten whipping cream. 

The Feast

Proof of the Purple Sweet Potato Casserole (Barney would have loved it!)
 

The Crushing Crew for the Pecan Pie

Victor - our official Pie Crust Pincher

Jocelin making Great Grandma Blom's Famous Jello

Great Grandma Blom - your jello was a hit, as always, especially with Ana who took the initiative to literally clean out the bowl with her fingers and tongue!

 Fatima and David making up their own pie crust treats with the leftover dough.

Lucy did an incredible job making over half of these delicacies!  Thank you, Lucy!

So, you may be asking, where do the chest x-rays and dental appointments enter the picture?  Well, these are both related to our four year old son Daniel who has several major congenital heart defects.  (Check out the blog previous to this one if you missed it!)  We received a phone call this past week from an organization in central Ohio that has begun exploring the possibility of finding a doctor to perform a heart cath on Danny in the U.S. and see if he is a candidate for any type of surgery or to confirm our suspicions that Danny's case is truly beyond human medical capabilities.  The leaders of this organization will be meeting this coming Tuesday to discuss Danny's case. (see note at end of blog)  However, as part of the application process we need to prove that Danny does not have HIV, Hepatitis B or tuberculosis.  The only way that our local laboratory has to check for tuberculosis is a chest x-ray!  Hence the trip to the radiologist on Thanksgiving!  

Danny also needs to be free of tooth decay if he is to be seen for his heart/lung conditions.  Hence, the visit from the dentist to clean his teeth and do several fillings!

So, yesterday, while we were picking up the house, finishing up the corn casserole, and organizing literally hundreds of thank you notes, we were also sending Adrian with Danny to the radiologist.  Before we could set the table for our Thanksgiving feast, Dr. Ariel had to take down his dentist chair from having attended to Danny in the dining room/warehouse/and now dental suite.  In the midst of great joy, commotion, and thanksgiving we were attending to our son's fatal condition...and it all seemed normal!  Now that is the power of God!

David beat everybody to a nap by falling asleep during the Thanksgiving meal!

Fatima, James and an after meal game of Guess Who?

Jorge and Diana playing around at the piano.

 A star dish crew!

 Martha, "the UNO queen", challenges her opponents...and wins!

Last night, as I put the kids to bed, Angie, our eldest said: "I love Thanksgiving!"  My heart swelled within me!  They're infected with the Thanksgiving bug!  Yeah!  Success!  Angie was present at our first Thanksgiving eight years ago or so where my mother and I mounted a herculean effort to start the Zaragoza family Thanksgiving tradition and introduce Thanksgiving to our adopted children who were clueless about the point of eating turkey and wearing bonnets and feather headdresses while doing so! 

 Memories of our first family Thanksgiving six years ago - Angie, Ruth and Josiah!  

 A big bonnet with a little bit of Martha beneath and Diana!

Maybe she loves Thanksgiving now because we have dropped the bonnet and headdress tradition! 

Extra note: Please be praying for the right decision to be made about Daniel's medical treatment (again!).  I spoke with the director of the organization on Wednesday.  She told me, once again, what we have heard time after time: that Danny's defects are extremely complicated and serious, that only a handful of surgeons in the entire country have the expertise and experience to operate on him, and that surgery would cost over $1 million (which our prayer is that the hospital and physician would donate).  I was encouraged that she shared that the focus right now is on presenting Danny's case and simply praying, fervently, that God's will for Daniel would be revealed.  My heart literally rested at hearing her emphasis on prayer, God's will and putting Danny in the Lord's hands.  We had pretty much decided that surgery was out of the question for Daniel and had resigned ourselves to enjoy each day, each miracle day with him, until Jesus takes him home.  Now, the door towards surgery has opened a very slight crack again.  So, please join us in prayer that God would move in accordance with His perfect will as Danny's case is reviewed this week.  If God wants Danny to be operated on, no matter the outcome, because that would bring Him the greatest glory: then may He open the doors and show us clearly to walk through them.  If surgery is not His will, may these doors be clearly shut, again.  Makes me wonder:  "Then, Lord, why even open up this crack of an opportunity, only to shut it again?"  When I ask that, the only answer is, and has been, and always will be:  "Trust me, precious daughter, just trust me."

TO GOD BE THE GLORY AND ALL THANKSGIVING!