Friday, March 23, 2012

Storybook Lives

Our family loves to read and there are times when our life resembles some of the storylines that we have enjoyed!

"Would you, could in a tub?  hanging from a tree?" 
This is one of my all time favorite pictures.  It is from2 006.  Diana, forever creative, hung an old washtub from a tree and sat in it with Josiah to read her little brother a book....two bookworms in a tree...well, almost! 

            The other day I was in school in the afternoon and Alejandro came in.  The following conversation ensued:
            Alejandro: Mom, do you have a band-aid?  (OK, so what Mother gives their kid a band-aid without investigating why they need a band-aid?)
            Me: Alejandro, who cut themselves?
            Alejandro:  Miguel
            Me: How did he cut himself?
            Alejandro:  On a nail.
            Me: Was the nail rusty?
            Alejandro: No
            Me: Bring me the nail.  (OK, so what Mother asks the kids to bring her the nail instead of the bleeding child?  Judging by Alejandro's demeanor I came to the conclusion that the bleeding was not life-threatening and we could first resolve the issue of the rusty/not rusty nail.)
            Alejandro: I can't.
            Me: Why not?
            Alejandro: The nail is attached to the board.
            Me: Then bring me the board.
            Alejandro: I can't.
            Me: Why not?
            Alejandro: The board is attached to the scooter.
            (OK, so this is the point at which this conversation began to remind me of the storyline of: “The House that Jack Built” know the one!  “This is the house that Jack built.  This is the malt that lay in the house that Jack built. This is the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built, etc..."  My little ones love that book because I always read the last four or five pages, which are the last run through of the entire list of “this is the whatever that did whatever of the whatever that whatever the house that Jack built” in just one breath, which means that I end up reading really fast and agitated to get done without fainting!  OK, back to our version of “This is the Cut that Miguel Made”.)
            Me:  Then bring me the scooter (laughing out loud.)  No, please just go bring me Miguel.  (My motherly instinct finally kicked in and I remembered the issue here was not the nail, but my son's bleeding finger.)
            Alejandro:  I can't. 
            Me: (thinking to myself) He can't bring me Miguel?  OK, so he couldn't bring me the nail because it was attached to the board.  He couldn't bring me the board because it was attached to the scooter.  He couldn't bring me the scooter because it is too big.  Now he can't bring me Miguel?  Why not?  (out loud)  Please tell me that Miguel is not attached to the nail that is attached to the board that is attached to the scooter that you can't bring me!?
            Alejandro: No (I don't even remember now the explanation that he gave me as to why he couldn't bring me Miguel!)
            Me: Alejandro, go to the downstairs bathroom.  Under the changing table is a clear plastic box with a  pink lid.  There are band-aids inside.  Tell Miguel to wash his finger with water and soap and put on a band-aid.
            Then, I turned my attention back to Diana and her Word Building homework.

 "Would you, could in the living room with a whole bunch of kids, including little ones playing round about?"
This is back from 2009 (I think) when we homeschooled in the house.  This is our read-aloud time...the Narnia series! 

            Earlier that morning (I think!) we had had another storybook morning.  Victor and Angie were still gone on crusade, the ninth day, and Diana and Martita had done excellent jobs of helping me with the cooking and even a good deal of the cleaning.  This morning Martita was in the big kitchen reheating leftovers sent to us by the youth group on Sunday, but they weren't going to be enough.  We needed to make some additional scrambled eggs with chorizo (a Mexican sausage).  The only person available and capable of such a task was Diana.  The problem was she had already gotten three of the little ones ready that morning (while I had been on the phone with my mom) and had worked a ton all week helping out.  But, I had no other choice than to ask for her help....again!  So, I approached Diana:
            Me: Would you, could you, (this is the point where “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss came to mind) would you, could you make scrambled eggs and a train, with a goat, in a boat, in our kitchen for your siblings?
            Diana: (laughing) Yes, Mom, I will make scrambled eggs and chorizo.
            Whew!  Dilemma solved and breakfast made!

 "Would you, could in a hammock?"  

            So, you see, we truly do live a storybook life....just probably not the storybook you first had in mind, is it?
            There is a storybook that we do desire to live out each and everyday and that is the story of the Bible!  It is a story of redemption, of restoration, of hope, of love, of salvation.  It is a story on which we depend...for our own salvation and for the wisdom to work restoration, love and hope into the lives of our children.  At the same time, our own story is being written and it is a story like none other, just as your story is like none other.  However, my greatest peace and rest is in the fact that I personally know the Author of our story: (“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  Psalm 139:16) and He has promised me that our story has a happy ending (my favorite kind!): (“For I know the plans (the storyline) I have for you, “ declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11)
            Our prayer is that our life, our children's lives and the ministry that the Lord has given us, serves as a letter, (“You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody.  You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the  Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”  2 Corinthians 3:2-3), as a story, that gives testimony to the world of the one and only true Word.....Jesus Christ! (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  John 1:1)
            Let's get to writing some stories....the story of each of our lives, with Christ as the Author and the world as the audience!  I can guarantee you that the end is the best part!

"Would you, could at bedtime?"

"Would you, could outside?"
This is our read-aloud time during our homeschool day now.  If it is nice out, but not too warm in the sun, we love to read outside!  Here we were reading "Mrs.Frisby and the Rats of NIMH" in Spanish. 

 "Would you, could at naptime?"

OK, so after looking for "reading" pictures I realized that maybe I am the one who likes to read and everybody else just gets dragged into this!  In general, when our children first join our family they have had few reading experiences and generally don't like to read.  I thank the Lord that it is becoming more and more common to find them stowed away with a book and, lately, writing their own stories!  (Is there such a thing as "adoptive genetics"?  Or maybe the same reading/writing bug that has bitten their Grandpa and Mom has now bitten them!) One of my hopes and prayers is that they each fall in love with the written word, but, even more so, that the fall in love with the Living Word!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sometimes It Just Can't Get Any Better

It is 12:30 a.m. Mexico time (2:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time)...not my usual hour to write a blog, but some things just have to be said when they have to be said!

I just got done saying goodnight (good morning?) to six of the most precious young ladies on the face of the earth: Diana, Martita, Lolis, Martha, Fatima and Joce, who, by the grace of God, just happen to be my daughters!  We just finished watching a good romantic comedy.  You know, the kind with the great happy ending (that really makes you miss your husband when he is out of town!).  We laughed, ate lots of ice cream, 3 liters of Coca Cola and two bags of chips.  See what I mean when I say that "sometimes it just can't get any better"?

In all seriousness, tonight was our now near traditional "girls movie night when Dad is on crusade".  However, in order to not instill jealousy into the others who don't fit into the adolescent/teen girl bracket, I have extended the tradition this weekend.  Earlier this evening it was the seven youngest, plus Alejandro, and I watching a family friendly dog movie.  Tomorrow night it will be my other three middle boys (a movie with enough violence to make them happy and not enough violence to offend Mom:-)...good luck finding one like that!  So, you see, there are perks to having 18 kids...I get ice cream, pop and chips three times this weekend!  (Somebody please warn my bathroom scale before I step on it Monday morning!)

The two people missing in all of this chip-eating, soda-guzzling, giggling, movie mania?  Victor, the earthly love of my life, and Angie, our eldest!  They are both on one of Fishers of Men's longest crusades of the year (nine days) to the garbage dumps in the city of Puerto Vallarta and then on up into the mountains of the state of Jalisco to some remote and very needy villages.    See what I mean when I say that "sometimes it just can't get any better"?

What could be better than knowing that you are living out the purpose for which you were created in your mother's womb? What could be better than enjoying movie, laughter, fun and food with your kids?  What could be better than knowing that your husband and eldest daughter are sacrificially carrying the love of Jesus Christ in tangible ways to people desperate for hope and healing?


"But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith."  Philippians 3:7-9
"Preach it, Paul!" (The Apostle Paul, that is!)

I am so thankful that nearly each day this last week there was an additional staff member/volunteer here to help us out while Victor is gone:  Nayeli is a young woman who comes three times a week to do laundry...she is quiet and many times we don't even notice her as she goes about her tasks!  However I do notice she has been here, once she has left, when I go to get the little boys dressed the next day and find their little underwear, socks, t-shirts and pants all neatly folded in their drawers and hung in their closet!  You may have never thought about it, but doing laundry for Jesus is a beautiful ministry!  And what a blessing to our lives!

Mireya is a local homeschooling mom who began coming to the Ranch three times a week in order for us to help her teenage son with his English.  Shen then offered her volunteer services in exchange.  Well, she gives much more than she receives!  She now handles all of our first grade Spanish students (Carolina, Ruth and Bernabe...and now Ana and Berenice have joined the class!) three mornings a week and helps out with the older kids on those afternoons. 

But, tomorrow and Sunday it's just me and the 17 (remember, Angie is on crusade with Victor).  What  a huge privilege, honor and joy!

Remember I opened by saying that some things just need to be said when they need to be said?  I needed to write this blog right now because by 3 p.m. tomorrow afternoon when the Saturday chores are not nearly as far along as I would like (happens every week!), when the bickering is at a daily high, when three of the older girls leave for liturgical dance practice, thereby reducing the number of hands available for the unfinished chores, when I can't figure out what to make for supper while getting Saturday baths and showers started, I will need to reread tonight's blog to remember that while "sometimes it just can't get any better", there are many times when it could truly be a whole lot better!  Like earlier this week when we were right on schedule (mind you it was only 8:15 a.m.), when the hot water hose under the sink began to spew all over the kitchen.  Five or so kids quickly grabbed all available brooms and tried to sweep the water out the door as quickly as it was pouring onto the floor; while I sent three of the boys up the hill to turn off the main water hose that feeds our house from the water tank; while I called Cirino (our mason and farmhand) to quickly come to our aid (while Daniel began to explore the quickly forming puddles in the kitchen thinking that this being able to splash in puddles inside the house was a pretty cool thing)!  I'm not sure exactly how the math works in all of this, but while that situation really only took about 30-45 minutes to control and remedy, it seriously set me back an entire morning.  Oh yeah, then I had to give out medicine to at least nine of the kids suffering from a cold (another 2012 crusade tradition: the kids get sick while Dad is gone), which took about an hour and then....well, I really don't know what then, all I know is that we finished breakfast, flooded the kitchen, gave out medicine and then it was, well, time to make lunch!  It was one of the "many times that anything would be better" (otherwise known as: "the many times it just can't get any worse"), which makes it all more important to remember the few "sometimes when it just can't get any better".

So, to help along the "sometimes it just can't get any better" cause of the night, here are a few more snapshots from this week.

I was in school and had just handed 7 year old Caleb a math test.  He took it over to the testing table and sat down.  A few seconds later I glanced over at him, my heart jumped into my throat and my eyes immediately teared up.  There he was, my precious 7 year old Caleb, with his little blond head bowed, his gentle eyes closed and his hands folded in his lap, praying before he started his test!  Praise Jesus!  Thank you, Jesus! May Caleb forever seek Your wisdom and help that way!

I was quickly going back and forth from the warehouse/kitchen/dining room, where we prepare and eat lunch and supper, and our house, getting dishes and ingredients for the next meal to be prepared, when my ears were greeted with a beautiful sound.  Ruth and Carolina, both 6 years old, were singing praises at the top of their lungs while seated underneath the treehouse-in-process.  They had the play guitar, their baby dolls and an audience of One.  Add to that the late afternoon sun and the smell of dry leaves and the entire scene was heavenly!  (We are in the middle of dry season here and it feels like an unseasonably warm late September back in southeast Michigan where I grew up...must of the leaves have fallen off the trees, just brown, no bright colors, so now they crinkle under our feet and send off that musty aroma warmed by a late afternoon sun....just delicious!)

 Ruth and her dolly

Carolina singing praises

Finally, Ana, oh our little Ana (five years old).  I was in my office finishing up devotions the other morning when Victor called for his daily "good morning" call while on crusade.  I picked up the phone in the office and Ana picked up the phone downstairs.  She heard Victor and I talking and then asked:  "Mommy, why are you in the office and not down here?"  "Well, Ana, I was finishing up my devotions when Daddy called."  Up to that point, I had not realized that the other little ones, at least David and Daniel, were also awake and in the living room.  I then hear Ana yell, both through the phone and reverburating through the house, "Hey, kids, come and say hi to Mom!  She's on the phone!"  No matter that I was also simply upstairs in the office, nor did it matter that I was the parent with them 24/7 for these nine days and that the one they really needed to say "hi" to on the phone was Daddy!  The rest of them must have figured it out because nobody came to the phone to say hi to Mommy!

Here Ana is helping chop up tomatoes 
for one of the meals this week.

One of the things that the kids enjoy when Victor and most of our staff are gone on crusades is that I have to do the cooking...although I do very little cooking and a whole lot of instructing as the kids are great about pitching in!  Diana made a mean spaghetti dinner with garlic bread tonight and Martita took the initiative to make homemade jello for everybody...and not just any jello (different flavors, different colors, some two-toned, some milk-based and some water-based!).  
Cooking with your kids....sometimes it just can't get any better!

Then there is our three year old virtuoso piano player, David!  (Actually, he simply loves "playing along" with pre-recorded Demo songs!)  He might not be a virtouso piano player... yet, (the kid has a ton of musical interest and talent) but he does do a pretty convincing acting job!

I am praying that the  Lord will bless you with some "Sometimes It Just Can't Get Any Better" moments soon!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Blessings Beyond Measure

If there were a type of barometer or thermometer to measure one's blessings, ours certainly would have blown out its top!

  • We know, love and serve a living God who has provided eternal salvation through the death and resurrection of His One and Only Son Jesus Christ and who has stamped our lives with GRACE!
  • Not a day goes by that our Heavenly Father does not provide for all of our needs!
  • God has called us to serve Him not because we are capable but because He is, well, God! ("Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God." 2 Corinthians 3:5)
  • He has given us family (our marriage, 18 incredibly beautiful and marvelous children, extended family), a wonderful local church, faithful friends and....YOU!
  • He has showered upon us the amazing opportunity to see lives transformed on a daily basis (albeit a slow transformation at times:-) and individuals come into the light of knowing Jesus Christ
 However, there are times that those blessings become more tangible than others.  The last two weeks for our family was one of those "tangible blessing" times because we had the opportunity to hug, play with and talk to some of those blessings!  Huh?!  Let me explain!

This year my parents (Julie's parents) will be celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary!  There are not words enough, even if you combine the English and Spanish languages, to express my gratitude to God, and to them, for those years!  The older I become (my kids would say that I am old already, I continue to believe I am young!) the more I realize the impact on my life of the solid foundation that my parents provided for my brother and I, not only in our faith in God, but by providing a home where that faith was lived out in a real way everyday.  I cannot describe the richness of the gift for my own children now of having not only parents, but grandparents committed to life-long marriage and, not just marriage, but life-long love, after every single one of them (other than our three biological children) have come from broken homes.  (Broken is not a strong enough adjective to describe their past family situations!)  Dad and Mom/Grandpa and Grandma, through their marriage, their love and the incredible way they love all of their grandchildren (adopted and biological) has enriched and strengthened our family and ministry in ways, once again, beyond measure!

As any mother knows, she is never happier than when all of her children are together!  In our family, that only includes my brother and I, but even with only two of us in the mix times together have been few and far between!  In fact, the last time that our entire family was together was 5 years ago!  God, in His incredible mercy and love, gave the good gifts (Matthew 7:11; James 1:17) to make it possible for my parents to provide our family (the Zaragoza family) and my brother's family with an all-expense-paid vacation to Zihuatanejo, Guerrero so that we could all be together to celebrate their anniversary!

We returned this past Saturday from an incredible time together - the 20 Zaragozas, my parents and my brother with his wife and two kids!  Therefore, we got to hug, play with and talk to some of the richest blessings in our!  ("God sets the lonely in families."  Psalm 68:6)

I could write and write and write about all we experienced, the ways in which God met us, and the renewed spirit with which we have returned to Refuge Ranch and the ministry at hand, but my prayer is that the following pictures would serve as conduits straight to your heart of the love, mercy, joy, and Living Water that was poured into our hearts during these days.  To God be the glory!

 The ENTIRE family!  Praise God!

 Cozy Cousin Time!
 Two of our boys basking in time with their uncle!  (They have never had an uncle before!)
Victor and I and nine of the kids (9 of the youngest) on an early morning crab hunt!

If you have ever been to Refuge Ranch you will know that one of your biggest challenges will be trying to get a picture of Fidel's face (he hates getting his picture taken)!  An even bigger challenge is trying to get a picture of Fidel's face smiling!  (Culturally people in Mexico are taught not to smile for pictures.)  But, praise the Lord, we have found a way to get a smiling picture of Fidel!  Take him Deep Sea Fishing!  My brother blessed Victor and several of our kids with a 1/2 day fishing trip!  Incredible!

Fun in the pool!

Cousins playing together!  It is the picture of the old Sandy Patti song:  "Love in Any Language".  My brother did a great job prepping his son with some basic Spanish, but, besides that, playing cars can be done in any language, any culture and any country.  It is not "culture specific", it's just a boy thing!

What a precious gift...time with my Dad (and, of course my Mom...who is taking the picture!)..and my kids!  (Oh, and don't forget the cup of Starbucks coffee!  Dad continues to put his best foot forward in getting me to stop drinking the "instant stuff" and switch to "true coffee." :-)

Victor and I with a few of the kids enjoying time building with the sand on the beach.

Thank you, Jesus, thank you Dad and Mom and thank you, Grandma Claassen!