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? 


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 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 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."


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Letter to Daniel

These thoughts originated on October 20th, Daniel's fourth birthday, 
but just now have found their way to cyberspace and your hearts! Enjoy!

 The first picture we ever saw of you:  "our Daniel"

My dearest Daniel,
      Today is your fourth birthday! Wow! Four years ago today, what was I doing? I don’t know. I certainly know that I had no idea that my son was being born, but Jesus sure did! Thank the Lord! Oh dear Daniel, what was that day like? Where were you born? I don't even know that! I can nearly guarantee that your birth didn’t take place in a government clinic, much less a private clinic and forget the possibility of a hospital! Most likely your birth took place in the home where your mother was living, hostage to her own mother and her step-father, your own father, who is also your grandfather! This world is nuts, but I am so glad that Jesus makes some sense out of our nonsense! And I sure am glad that you being part of our family was one way of God making sense out of a senseless world!  
     Was your mother alone? Did your grandmother attend to her? Did your father/grandfather smile?
Daniel, did your mom have any idea that her precious little boy had only half a heart? Were you precious to her or a cruel reminder of the incest she had suffered time and time again? Were your fingernails and lips blue when you were born like they are now? How did you even manage to catch your first breath? How? You may not have been attended to by any doctor and probably not even by a nurse, but you sure were attended to by the angels themselves! Your life is proof of that! 
     Oh, Daniel, I have read blog entry after blog entry of babies born with your same principal heart defect, Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. Words cannot describe the difference between their births and yours! Teams of doctors, surgeons, specialists, neonatal nurses, IV towers, medications, breathing machines and every tube, wire and connection imaginable were at hand for that crucial moment of passage from womb to world. Their parents had read about the defect and prayed for months. As their babies were born, they were whisked away from their mother’s arms into the expert’s hands and knowledge. You were delivered into the hands of God himself who has kept you breathing and your enlarged, half-heart beating until today…four years later.  
     You were not whisked away from your mother’s arms, those hands willingly handed you over! Within two weeks of birth those babies underwent their first surgeries to create new connections in their chests in order to bypass their defects. When you were two weeks old, what was your life like?  I don’t know much, but I do know what I saw when I met you. At nearly two years old you were deathly afraid of chickens and dogs, the result of sitting on dirt floors and being repeatedly threatened and accosted by those animals. The first night I put on your pajamas and rubbed lotion into your little feet, I was shocked by the thick, elephant-like skin covering your ankles and the sides of your feet as a result of pulling yourself along the ground to get where you wanted to go, since you didn’t walk until you were nearly two!
      How you love hearing “your story” about Hermana (Sister) Maria! The phone call: “I have a little boy who needs a family, would you be willing to be his family?” “Of course!” was our response without any need for deliberation or "weighing the costs".  
Missionaries Maria and John and their baby Hannah with Daniel.  Daniel lived with them for two or so months.

     The first meeting: seeing you in the same infamous white crib that had stared at us from those first pictures we had ever seen of you, wanting to run and hold you, but not wanting to scare you out of your wits at this big white lady barreling towards you!  

The white crib picture

     The next morning, after having spent the night in a hotel away from you, we walked into the living room and I gathered you up in my arms. I quickly pulled out a change of clothing and a clean diaper to get you cleaned up and ready for the first day of the rest of our lives together. As my hand rested on your chest, panic consumed me and shouted at me to leave that house running with you in my arms to the nearest cardiologist as your heart felt like it was going to pop right out of your chest it was beating so hard! But, sanity came over me and I simply changed your diaper and hugged you.
      Then, a moment that is forever engraved on my heart and in my mind: Maria had already told me that for the month that you lived with them, she would ask you, “Where is mommy?” You would look around absently and point into the empty space around you, directionless. Well, Daniel, that morning, you were sitting on my lap, after having spent no more than a total of an hour together, when Maria walked into the living room and asked the usual question: “Where’s mommy?” You promptly turned out and pointed your precious little finger right at my chest! She and I were speechless and my heart lept for joy! You were mine, truly mine! You knew it and I knew it! We both had caught on to what Jesus knew all along – Danny was just for us! 
  The "Mommy Moment"

     Just a few hours later, we both stood outside a wooden shack and I met your birth mother for the first time. She reached her arms out to carry you and you turned towards me, grabbed my neck and hung on for dear life! I don’t know what was going through your little mind, but it took you less than half a day to figure out who mommy was!

Daniel and birth mother

      Daniel, I don’t know how many more birthdays we will have together. I know that getting to this one was a miracle and that every single day we witness more miracles as you continue here with us. Every night, the last thing I do before going to bed is go into your room, reach down and rest my hand on your chest. I have to hunt for David’s heart, but not yours! One night, in the dark, I reached down and thought: “Wow! Daniel’s heart beat is a lot less strong than normal, maybe Jesus has fully healed him!” Then I realized that in the dark I had laid my hand on your back instead of on your chest and I was feeling your heart beat through your back! So, I now make sure I find your chest first, feel your heart beat and always pray: “Lord keep his heart beating until morning. (As if I keep your heart beating during the day:-) OK, Lord, so keep it beating until it is your will that it beat no more.”
      He’s getting an incredible place ready for you and as soon as that last coat of paint is on your mansion, you will be going home! Only Jesus knows when that will be. For now, we loved watching you blow out that number 4 birthday candle and, Lord willing, will watch you blow out many more birthday candles, oh precious one!


Friday, November 4, 2011

Welcome, Alejandro!

Yesterday morning I got up at my usual 5:30 a.m. and went into our home office for my devotional time with the Lord (the only way to keep it all together!). The first thing I do each morning, as the water for my coffee heats up, is read a daily calendar I received years ago from my Uncle Tom and Aunt Joan with sayings from Chuck Swindoll and Bible verses. Yesterday’s entry read:

“I know of no realm of life that can provide more companionship in a lonely world or greater feelings of security and purpose in chaotic times than the close ties of a family.”

“Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table.” Psalm 128:3

Well, you can’t even see the table at Refuge Ranch anymore due to all of those olive plants!

The above saying provided the perfect opening line for the scenes played out throughout yesterday on the stage of our lives. You see, Victor and I went to a neighborhood just outside Mexico City to pick up our 18th son, a little boy oh so anxious for those “close ties of a family”, 11 year old Alejandro!

Alejandro playing at Burger King

Several of Alejandro’s comments and conversations yesterday reveal his deep hunger and desire to belong to a forever family:

  • · Our first conversation went something like this: “How old are you, Alejandro?” “Twelve and nobody has ever celebrated my birthday.” Well, I had his birth certificate in front of me, so I knew that he will actually turn twelve in February. This conversation also provided our first experience with Alejandro’s tendency to exaggerateJ!
  • · Our second conversation, after having been with him for just a few minutes: “So, how do you feel about coming to live with us, Alejandro?” “Happy!”
  • · After trying to get a grip on the timeline of Alejandro’s life, we asked why he wanted to come live with us now: “I just decided to.”
  • · While waiting for our hamburgers at Burger King, I pulled Alejandro into our first hug, a side hug, and he spoke up by saying: “Well, another member for the family!”
  • · During lunch we did our best to explain that no matter what he does we will love him and never leave him. I offered the explanation: “You will grow up, finish school, go to college, get married, have kids…” when Alejandro interrupted by saying: “And I will live with you and live with you and live with you.” Ok, so as the years go by we will need to encourage him to someday move back out of the house and follow the steps that the Lord has set for him. But, for now, we will just live together, live together and live together.
  • · Last night, I read the Bible to Alejandro, Miguel and Caleb and then sang them each their own special song and prayed for them individually, as I do with all of the kids. As I sat next to Alejandro and stroked his head, he didn’t really say anything, but it was more like purring sounds coming from him at the joy of actually being put to bed.

Alejandro’s birth mother was, and is, a street prostitute and drug addict. There is no father named on his birth certificate. Alejandro claims that he last lived with his mother when he was 7 years old. However, I have discovered, after some experience, that when children tell you their own story, the timeline part is not accurate, as they don’t have the same sense of passage of time as an adult and, most of our kids had such unstable lives that there were not events like birthdays, school or Christmas to help them measure time. After his birth mother abandoned him, he lived with his grandmother who then passed away. After that, he was shuffled between two different uncles, one of whom we met yesterday. Then Alejandro was sent to live at a men’s shelter for men/boys of all ages. He ran away from there. He then bunked up with some lady who purchases scrap metal. After that he found his way back to one of his uncles who then sent him on to live with a “Christian” lady that we know. She would yell at him a lot, so another “Christian” lady took Alejandro to live with her. However, she began to hit him and would punish him by not feeding him, so the first “Christian” lady took him back. She was getting tired of him and tried to give him back to his uncle. However, the uncle lives with his wife and three children in one bedroom of his mother-in-law’s house. He has no job and a child with juvenile diabetes, an extra financial and emotional burden on his own family. So, the uncle’s plan was to take Alejandro to a main bus terminal in Mexico City and abandon him there. That is when we got involved, about a week ago, when the first “Christian” lady asked us if we were willing to accept Alejandro into our family.

So, in his first 11 years of life, Alejandro has lived in at least 8 different “family” situations, not including ours, and has bounced among those 8 different options repeatedly. Everything about Alejandro yells: “I want stability!”

Alejandro and I (Julie): first picture as Mother and Son

One of my favorite hymns from my growing up years says:

On Christ the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

We thank the Lord that He is our Rock and that He gives us the stability and strength we need so that we can give that stability and strength to children whose lives have been nothing but sinking sand!