Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Step One...

Step 1. Get up when the alarm goes off at 4:30
 Step 2. Bathroom while coffee brews
  Step 3. Drink coffee and have some quiet time
   Step 4. Get dressed and RUN

 As I referred to in my last post, this winter has been long. The weather has been less than ideal, I've been a bit tired from working 2 jobs and of course my semester schedule was strange, causing me to need to be at work a little earlier. So, I don't share that to complain, I'm sharing that to talk about how the struggle to exercise has been real, which makes the success feel all the greater.

 I love my exercise time. Temperatures have never bothered me when it comes to running. And getting up early in the morning has never been an issue for me. But this winter it has been a challenge. And many days... the challenge won over the determination factor I usually can put into full force.

 However, my determination cap is back on and I am running again. I MISSED it! The feeling of the fresh morning air. Greeting the day before most people have even gotten out from under the covers. Watching the sun rise. Breathing in the beauty of a new day, new beginnings. Running is part of me. Not running=not feeling completely me. That sounds totally cliche, but I am being serious. And so being back out there every morning is a very good feeling.

 Now, I am feeling like I'm at square one, on that very first run, such as I felt back in 2008 when I began the journey of running. It's a struggle. My breathing is a bit labored and my pace is even less than it used to be (which was never elite) .  And that competitive piece of me cares about that. But... the heart of me does not. It is SO good to be doing something I love again.

 I'll pick up a couple of May races, and I am not out there for a time, but I am out there because it's part of who I am. And it feels good, regardless of where I am in the pack of others. It's not about them; it's about me. It clears my head, shakes my anxieties, gives me a smile and starts me out right for my day.

And so I run again. Truthfully many of my blogs come from running because it is a time I can think without pressure and the thoughts flow freely. I learn much about myself through my training. That's a piece of the beauty in it for me. I look forward to sharing my running journey with you (again.) Sometimes priorities shift, but we should always come back to the core of who we are. Running does not define me, but it is a part of me.
 One step at a time, beginning with that alarm at 4:30 am.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A Finger Painting Masterpiece

My most-read blogs, or my "best" ones, not by the standards of the likes or the comments, but just by my reading back through them recently, are my most vulnerable blogs. I have said that before. And as I was reading through the last several years looking for a few specific things, I remembered lessons learned I had nearly forgotten. And for that reason I am glad that I write.

 Being vulnerable at times is really hard and also scary. And yet, those are the times I allow myself to actually drink in what God is trying to teach me. Rather than just talk about it with the many around me, I am pondering it, processing it and putting it to 'pen and paper.' 

 And so this morning, here I sit. And the image that keeps coming to my mind is finger painting. 

 Do you remember being a kid in preschool or Kindergarten and the teacher bringing out the paint? We were given a semi-glossy fresh sheet of white paper and draped in an apron to spare our clothing and then given free reign over creating a finger painting. 
 More often than not, what happens is that it starts out with separated colors and then the more that the child gets going on the painting, the more the colors just smear together and in the end often create a mess of colors on a page, looking more greenish-brown and just smears, than looking like some type of guided painting. 

 I can't separate that image from my own life right now. I'm not finger painting, but it just feels like everything is overlapping and smearing and getting messier until it's becoming one page of just blurred movements. A lot of "What If's" hang in the wind the last few weeks, leaving me smearing my paint rather than making calculated movements to create a clear picture for presentation. To me, I can see each line I draw with my finger (each what if), and I can see each color I am choosing (each category of life needing decisions) but once I get going with all of those, they blend, becoming a smeared painting. One overlaps the other or depends on what happens in the other area. It's messy and complicated. And to the eye of the beholder ..... not all that pretty.

  At the beginning of the year, I chose the word FAITH as my word of the year. Faith plays a role in my every day life, whether we are referring to my faith in God or faith in others. Faith plays a role in everyone's life one way or another. Even if you don't have faith in something or someone particular, you're probably putting faith in yourself. 

 I had little idea when I chose that word what it would come to mean. Faith is not easy. It's a stretch. and I am an analyzer, so for me I complicate the process of faith. I am not always looking to "fix" something, but neither am I just living it out on faith. 
  Here is what I am learning currently about faith... 
 first of all, I have a very VERY long way to go in being a living example of daily faith in God. I know I refer to my Colombian experiences often, but these friends and moments have taught me and continue to teach me about how little faith I sometimes have. The last few weeks for me have been hard. I'm experiencing a change in just about every area of life and honestly, I don't really have many answers to the questions that are arising. 
 I speak with my Colombian friends nearly daily and in two separate conversations, it was lovingly said to me that I have good health, I have a job, my family is well.... I should be grateful. 
    .... and they were both correct, as they shared with me not having a paycheck for the last several months, stories of ones close to them fighting hard illness and not being able to get the healthcare they need, the difficulties of the government's opposition, and the struggle to survive. And yet do you know what they are doing every day in my conversations with them? 
  They are always saying how good God is. How they don't have fear because they have seen God provide time and time again. They tell me how yes, it can be stressful, but God is in control regardless of what the outcome in their immediate life is. They are teaching me about faith. 
 My problems are real, yes. The changes are affecting me, yes. My depression and anxiety play a role in how I view and feel what is happening, but listening to them, learning from them, always helps me put my own self and faith into perspective. 
   I have a very long way to go. 

 Each change happening for me right now is all faith dependent and I have no control over any of them, mostly. And the "control" I may have is also faith dependent. So, like a wham over the head, even though it's not so simple to act on faith, that is where I stand. Pray. Pray . and Pray some more. And I know that He knows what is going to happen, what the outcomes will be. He never fails. We fail.People around us fail. But He never does.

 The winter has been long. And exhausting. And a season of faith that I have not been embracing all that well. Winters are blah. It is April and the snow is STILL falling here in Ohio (some days). I am dying for spring to come. But, it matches the season of life I've been facing. 
 Hard decisions. Exhausting days. Questioning results. Let me be real for a moment. For the last few months, I have been working two jobs- my day job and one on the weekends. Through that I have learned so much, but it has been draining. My semester has been long- really it's been good, but long. It changed my schedule at work a little, which changed my workout schedule. And then we have the cold, winter days. So, the winter has been long. But a verse came to my mind the other day...

 Isaiah 40:8 "The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever."

 His promises stand true when the grass is dying and the flowers are hidden beneath the snow.  His promises hold me up when others let me down. His word stands true when circumstances change. I am reminded of a hymn from growing up...
  On faith the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. 


 How could I forget that one small word that God whispered in my ear in the early days of January? I didn't know what the year was going to bring.... but HE did! He knew I would need to stand on my faith stronger than I ever have. He knew that I would be tested. he knew that my world was going to change. And HE wanted to stretch me and grow me and give me opportunities to choose faith over fear. (ouch... just typing that... I realize how many times I choose fear....) 

I take you back to my image of the finger painting. It gets messy, right? The paint is all over the page... the paint is often on the apron and on other places besides the fingers. And yet when the finger painting is carried home by the child, how often does a parent take that painting and hang it proudly on the wall or on the refrigerator? Just like a parent does that, God really takes my own messy self and  holds me up as a masterpiece as well...His masterpiece. He created me. And messy or not, He loves me and He is teaching me and He views me as beautifully and wonderfully made, even when I feel like a smeared mess.  Faith.... it makes all the difference in these days.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Human Chain

Today I will  write my final blog about the 2018 Colombia trip. (Although they could keep going...) I have other life lessons taking place that need space on this blog. But I want to close up sharing about the trip.

 On Monday night, our final night in the village, the people of Brisas del Mar prepared a special goodbye for us, as is their usual way of saying "thank you and until next time." As we sat down, waiting for the program to begin, the community filtered in. I have now been there three times, and this goodbye program was packed to the fullest I have ever seen. There were certainly no seats left, and quite honestly. there wasn't much standing room left, either. It was beautiful and exciting to see. THIS is why we come. For these people.
 The last night is always hard for me. I tend to get slightly more quiet because the beauty of the week, the lessons I'v learned, the friendships I have deepend are so rich and I am working through those emotions. I am never ready to leave, because every time I prepare to go home, I leave a tiny piece of my heart there. (ok, actually, a large part of my heart) But also the goodbye night is beautiful and fun. And so I wanted to enjoy the last moments and not be sad.
  And so I watched the kiosk area fill with the community, many faces we had never even seen. When the program began, we really enjoyed what took place. Pastor Javier had created a series of little plays, which involved the younger kids to the older of the village. To see all ages involved was special.  Following the short acts was a comedian, who spoke super fast. It wasn't that I didn't understand him, but the jokes he was telling seemed to be "inside jokes" to the village. They didn't make any sense to us. Whatever he was saying made the community laugh, sounds I won't forget, as their laughter is beautiful, which made us laugh. And lastly, they performed some beautiful dances.
 The dances also ranged from the younger ladies of the village to the oldest ladies in the village. I loved seeing it all come together. Age didn't matter. Language didn't matter. Skin color didn't matter. The evening was beautiful. At the end of their dance performance, they each grabbed one of our hands and brought us into the dance. While I can't dance worth a a penny, it was a blast. Smiling and laughing and not caring who was watching... we just had a beautiful time. It ended with Mike and one of the older ladies dancing with the rest of us circled around them.

 We closed our night with a group devotion, where we all shed many tears. Happy tears, of moments recalled from the week, along with sad tears, hard to say goodbye. Bonds were created.

   As we entered the next morning, the day of our departure, we enjoyed coffee and breakfast. The goodbyes were hard, as they always are. It's hard to explain the bonds we develop there. The community is so loving and beautiful. We go to serve, but I think we leave far more changed by their lives than we change theirs. We hugged, we cried, and we took lots of last minute photos.  And then it was time to go. As we were all settled on the bus and we were pulling away, we always wave out the windows at the people, as they stand with teary eyes as well. Only as we were pulling away, they didn't seem to be in their normal spots. I just figured they had things to do. But as we drove forward, a hundred yards later (or less) the bus stopped. Curious, we all looked ahead to see why...
  And the village had formed a human chain across the road. They were blocking the road so we could not leave. (As if I were not crying enough already. ) Oh, how this village has stolen my heart. And I leave a little piece there more every time.

 Once they broke their human chain, Pastor Javier got back on the bus to share a few words.  He spoke to us with a heart both full and sad, the same as ours. He shared special words.  He said that as they formed their chain and tried to keep us there, really he knows that we have ministries and lives at home and it was time for us to return to home and use our gifts there. But that they would be praying for us.
 They pray for us.

  My family in Brisas del Mar.... until the next trip....

   I close with this last piece to share. People ask me why I go back. Some ask why I use my vacation hours to do hard work. Others want to know why I go to a place that has, well... nothing. But it has become my second home; they have become my family. There I found healing in my heart and hope for the future. I went to change their lives but really, they have changed mine. And each time I grow in a new way, come back a little more reshaped, more challenged. I love to see how they grow- physically but spiritually, too. And I love that for now, this is a calling on my life as much as being a wife, a mom, and a marathon employee are.
   A few of my favorite random photos from the trip....
Jay and Leonardo singing "We Are the World" 

The group in Alto de Julio

Paula, me, and Milena

LOVE this photo of the community surrounding us during the goodbye night

We drank coconut water straight from the coconuts off the tree

This was cool... they formed a line, and one guy up in the tree threw coconuts down and then they passed them down the line for us to have fresh coconut water

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Women's Night

I can't believe a month has passed already since being in Brisas del Mar. So much life goes on in such a short time. One thing Brisas teaches me every time I go is to live in the moment. However, that seems much harder here in the States, in the every day "real life" of course. In a month, a lot can and has happened. (Hence it's taking me time to get these blogs written.)

 I will work on wrapping these blogs up from this trip, but there are still a few things to share, and no doubt, missing some details. Explaining experiences is difficult. And especially ones so profound.

 Today I share with you about the women's night we hosted. This was a new experience for me, for our team. We've never focused on just the women. In August a team went to Brisas and they did ministry for those studying to be pastors, and they also hosted women's events. I was able to help out from the states in giving my ideas and helping plan those a little, but I was not there to see the beauty of it unfold.
 In Brisas, unintentionally, the women do not get the attention or credit they should. They do not get opportunities to pamper themselves. There isn't money or convenient stores for them to buy nail polish or the makeup or go to a spa to get their hair done. They don't have women's get togethers (per say) where they are ministered to and loved on for a few minutes. And so that was our goal. We wanted to build off what the August team had done. And this was our first experience to coordinate, participate and facilitate a night for the beautiful women.

 The night was to take place on Sunday evening. Paula and I had the opportunity to go house to house for  few minutes to personally invite the women. Pastor Javier took us, because if we had gone on our own, they might have wondered why we were coming to their doors. While they are friendly and accustomed to us being in their village, it was a new adventure to go to their homes in this manner, so he joined us to introduce us, to make the invitation more welcoming. That was really special. That gave us a few minutes to talk with these women, inside their homes, even if they should choose not to come to the event, we had time to see a little about their lives.
 In one home, a young girl was making arepas and allowed us to watch and talk with her a few moments. In another home, one of the older ladies was so excited that we were there and she wanted to show us her way of life. Paula got photos (which i need to grab so I can share them.) But she showed us how she would get water and carry it on her head, how she would get the food from very far and carry it for miles and how that took place. She showed us inside her home and she was smiling through every moment of it. To me, where I once would have thought that they would not want us inside their homes for possibly embarrassment or miscommunication of cultures, I think that these women were thrilled to have us there, even if for a few moments.  In another home, we visited the wife of the maintenance man in the village. She was a little timid at first, but full of beauty and fun. As our days went along there, she came more and more to our events, and even to give us hugs goodbye. We only had time to go to 5 houses and then we had to return to another project, but I loved getting to do that.

 When Sunday arrived, Diana, Paula and I sat down to go over everything we would be doing. The 3 of us made a good team. We worked well, we each had different gifts to bring to the event and God worked in all 3 of us as much as He may have been working in the other ladies of the village. I loved partnering with them on this.

 Sunday evening rolled around, and we were ready. Little by little the ladies showed up, curious, but timid. We had to coax them to sit in the front row (no different from here in the States, probably. ) The group grew little by little and we began (almost) on time. Colombia on time is more or less at least 15 minutes after the actual scheduled time. Our first event was to play pictionary. We split the ladies into 2 sides and we had a white board for our drawing board. Now, mind you, these women had never played Pictionary. So, we explained the game and Paula went first, so they could see how it worked. Milena and I "refereed" the event, since we could speak both languages and know if it were guessed by our ladies or theirs. It was so fun once again to play a game (much like singing in Church) where the language is not a barrier. The ladies didn't want to draw at first, but as we got going, it became a time of everyone rolling in laughter. I had tears, we laughed so hard. To hear them laughing, I know they could be heard in the streets because the men told us that, was such a joy. So much so that the joy of it made me cry as much as the silliness of seeing their faces and playing a new game and the banter that went on between them. We were all having a great time.

 Once that settled down, we taught them "I Love You Lord" in Spanish and sang together. And then I brought a lesson. I had something in my heart to share, and I actually pulled it from a blog I wrote a few years back and meshed it into newly learned lessons of my life. It was based off this post here, but elaborated upon with current life lessons about how we are beautiful in God's eyes and He will use all of our stories.
 When we finished, we gave each of them a mirror that on the back of it said "Eres armada" or you are loved.
 The women hugged us as they said thank you, and one very older lady in the group animatedly told us about how she could see herself in the morning and she could pamper herself. It was a spectacular night for us. I hope we can continue having those times with the women.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The ministries in Brisas del Mar

In my previous two trips, I have written about the clinic and about the feeding program, and I could honestly expand on those, but much of the information will be repetitive to those who have followed me through these journeys.
 So, i will give a few recap highlights of both programs.

 The feeding program has grown and it is such a humbling experience to be a part of seeing this. It's more organized and it is expanding. These little children, without this program, would not have food. Barb Benson, one of the previous team members, has taken her love for these children and helped fundraise thousands of dollars along with her church, Amelia United Methodist Church, to keep the program going.
 She even was so touched on her last visit by the need for the kitchen supplies to be updated that we got to go with Bishop to buy supplies in June for the kitchen and when we were there in February, we saw the delivery of a brand new stove that she purchased for the Brisas village to have.

  Pastor Javier has helped organize the program a little better, and as the kids line up, I got to take their "attendance". They are all assigned a number (or they can say their name) and they check in and Pastor keeps track of who comes each day. When they don't come for a few days, he goes to visit them and their families. The program has expanded to include some of the handicapped in the village in great need as well as some of the elderly who cannot get out of their homes.
  I am humbled each time as I watch these little children come to be fed, to see their joy as they get a meal. They bring a bowl and a spoon and their chatter and banter is a heavenly noise. To think that some days they may not have food without this program is heartbreaking. But, for now, they are fed and growing and full of laughter.

The clinic is close to my heart. I am not a nurse or a doctor, nor is medicine my passion. Maybe due to the years I spent caring for my mom, but I understand the importance of medical care and what goes on. My mom did not have insurance, so I understand the loving hands that touch patients with lack of funding.
  The clinic is a free clinic to the patients. They see 700-800 patients a month. The clinic is funded by the church and the government will not help them at all financially. We take in medical supplies each time we go and every time I am humbled by their response in receiving them. Every day items we need they are so grateful to get. Oh, the things we take for granted.

  If the clinic did not exist, the patients would have to go to the nearest hospital, a 45 minute drive (if a vehicle can be found) or up to a two or more hour walk. And then, the patients may even be turned away due to lack of money to pay for the care. So the clinic in Brisas del Mar serves as a huge ministry to Brisas and the surrounding villages of Vista Hermosa and Alto de Julio.
 The clinic administrator, Yuleida, has become one of my very dear friends in life. She fights to keep the clinic running and open, with no government support, she is always looking for creative ways to sustain it. She has a heart for their ministry and is working so hard to keep it going. She has become my sister. We laugh and we cry and we share.

  The doctor I already wrote about, but Yolima is new to the village and the clinic. She is a great addition to the village. Her heart is big and her desire to help is even bigger. She and I became fast friends.

    The clinic is working hard on ways to sustain themselves so they can stay open. This is a month by month battle. If you would have an interest in reading more about them, their ministry or how to help, you can find information on the Colombian church website.
  These people are changing the future of the villages around them with these programs.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

New Friends. Part 2. My Colombian Family

If you don't know by now... I love people :)
 I built some new beautiful relationships with my American team, and I was able to build just as strong of relationships with my Colombian friends. I met some new friends and deepened friendships with the "old" friends.
 There used to be this song my mom would sing " Make new friends, but keep the old, some are silver and the other gold.." I kind of think all of these people are gold. Each person made an imprint on me I'll never forget. Whether they are there the next time I go back or not.... they all play a role  in my life and my growth in this leg of my journey. Let me introduce you, or share with you about my new friends, how they taught me, made me laugh, held my hand while I cried and prayed with me.

  New Friend...

   Yolima is the new doctor in the village and she and I connected immediately. Oh, how we laughed so hard so many times. Sometimes you just connect with someone. Yolima and I were like that. She's young and beautiful and talented, with a heart for the Lord, and a faith that goes deep. She's a great addition to the team in Brisas.
   Yolima and I tended to sit at the same end of the table and I would often translate the conversations going on for her. She would help me when I would make mistakes or she would teach me new words. Just like there are catch phrases in English, there are in Spanish, too. I had fun learning phrases "costeña". Yolima tried her best to teach me to dance, but it was quite the lost cause. She'd make me start with my shoulders but as soon as she tried to add my hips or my knees, I lost the shoulders. At one point we were all laughing so hard we could not talk or hardly breathe. We settled on the Chicken Dance finally... one I could do! (Thanks to Paula for saving me on that one. Paula, who could by the way dance it out well.)  Yolima and I laughed over nothing, really. And we shared tears, too. and many hugs. She didn't give up on my dancing, but perhaps the next trip we can get a better lesson in. Sunday night she and Paula and Miguel and Yuleida and I were sitting outside talking, having been told to "quiet down". But the laughter was just too much and so eventually Mike, team leader, brought us snacks and said if he couldn't get us to be quiet, maybe the food would. We all laughed very hard at that (and welcomed the snack) and then Mike joined in the dancing fun with us. Laughter is so good for the soul. The tears we shared were, too. Parting was not easy. But thankfully we can stay in touch.

Old Friend....

   Miguel is special. He used to be one of the youth and he grew up in the neighbor village of Alto de Julio. On this trip, when we went into Alto de Julio, we got to meet his family and see the home where he grew up. The second trip I was there, Miguel was studying to become a pastor. Miguel has become my brother. Miguel is always laughing, always finding the fun in every situation. You can hear his laugh across the street, it's contagious. He is also studying to be a nurse. He is persevering through difficulty and pursuing his dreams. He leads the youth and they look up to him.  He has become a very dear friend to me. I look forward every time to seeing him and talking with him. My brother.

New Friend....

   Estefania works for the church is the city. She is the secretary to the Bishop. We did not get to spend a lot of time together, but I really enjoyed being around her. We had some fun conversations and she is a hard worker. She has a sweet spirit and is full of beauty. I look forward to getting to know her more.

 Old friend....

  Pastor Javier.
   Javier has been in the village now for a little over the year and works hard to grow the program through loving on the community. He has done a great job of that. he has helped the food program improve greatly, and visits the families on a regular basis. Pastor Javier is always telling jokes, even learning them in English to share with our group, where we would all laugh harder because he was the one telling them. He laughed with us, loved us, cried with us, and cared for us. He has become my  friend, my brother, and a treasured family member in Colombia.

 New Friend....

  Milena is a beautiful woman, inside and out. Every year I've been, there has been a different in-country translator. This year, Milena was our new hostess. She was new to the job and new to us, but she did an amazing job! Milena and I spent a lot of time together, conversing in Spanish at times, and at times English. She was laid back and easy going, but also none of us ever were concerned if the job would get done. She always was making it happen. We laughed hard and made up jokes that if I tried to tell them here it would make no sense (Pero, Milena, para ti... "Porque soy blanca!") We laughed hard together, and on a few occasions, shed small tears (well, hers were small mine were like waterfalls.) She listened well to me, stayed quiet when needed but offered an opinion when asked. She has become my sister.  I love her to death. We tag teamed well translating. She let me be me, loved me for me, and encouraged me to keep growing and being me. And I so look forward to seeing her again very soon.

 On this trip I grew closer to my Colombian family. I am so thankful for them.  Often times they are my support system, even though miles away. I lean on them, we pray for one another, we share life stories, hurts, dreams and fears. I am thankful that I can speak the language and grow these relationships over time. It makes going all the sweeter..... and leaving all the harder. I love these Colombians.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

New Friends. Part 1. My American Family

My trips to Colombia are a part of who I am, help reshape me and grow me, teach me and challenge me. The people in these journeys are a huge part of this! The team I travel with and I share a week together, experiences together, that is a rare bond. So each trip has brought new friendships. Some that are trip only, some that remain in my daily life, and others that are there when I need them.

 I also get to meet more and more native Colombians each time I go. I am a people person and this is part of what I love about these trips. Being immersed with the people- my team and the locals.
 Since I speak the language, I get to know the community a little deeper every time. I fall a little bit more in love with this place each time. But even more so than that, the people teach me about God, about life, about love, and about me.

 Today, I talk a little about the team, a little about the Colombians. Really, the people of the trip could take many blogs. But I try to condense. Today, Part 1, my Team, my American Family.

On this team, it was a little different. Each of us, except Diana, had been there before. Some of us had traveled together, some of us had not. Due to my life schedule, I'd not had the opportunity to meet about half of them yet, so I was not certain what to expect. There were only 3 of us women, and we meshed well together. We laughed a lot, we worked well as a team and both of the ladies - Diana and Paula- taught me about God through our times of sharing.

 The men on the team were Mike, Mark, Ed, Jay, Steve and Keith. Keith and Diana are married.

 With this team, no one competed, every one worked together so well. Everyone was so encouraging. We laughed a lot and we shared tears. We shared ideas and we pushed each other. We became family.

Steve, the brother of Paula, and who I had as a prayer partner, became my big brother as well. Jokes just like my own brothers became a part of the routine conversations. Stories of life and experiences.  It didn't take long for me to become adopted as one of his sisters.

Pastor Ed of course I have traveled with on each trip.  Pastor Ed has taken me as one of his own flock. He helped me in my fundraising efforts and I know he prayed for me steadfastly. His corny jokes remain a part of his reputation, but part of why we love him. I had the opportunity to translate many times for him, and enjoyed that partnership. His teaching is from the heart and I won't forget his opening devotion to us, which spoke of the journey to the Jordan River, which didn't part before the people stood into it, but parted once their faith told them to go, so they did, and once they did God worked His miraculous ways. God went before them. That lesson was powerful to me.

Mike and I work well together. Mike organizes details we will never realize. If it were not for his work behind the scenes every day, these trips would not unfold. He gets tickets, organizes with Colombia, plans the itinerary, hounds (in a very loving, responsible way) us with email reminders (which are so needed!) and loves the Colombian people more than even he himself can express. I am thankful for Mike.
One of my favorite photos of Mike on this trip, in a spontaneous dance evening, where he and this lady became the center
 Keith and Diana are a special couple. I want to be them when I get older. They both love the Lord, both so dedicated to missions, having taken many trips solo as well as some together. The Dominican Republic, Colombia, Romania, just to name a few. This was Diana's first time in Colombia, but how cool to watch them work together. Keith works so hard and honestly, I doubt he ever has a negative word to say about anyone or anything. He is so positive, so much finding the joy. Keith shared some words with me that he doesn't know will have a lifetime impact on my heart. He is every other minute singing the praises of his wife. It's beautiful.

Diana is an incredible woman. She's battled cancer and depression. She has a heart for women and children. She never ever complained about the heat or the exhaustion. She worked hard and she laughed a lot. Learning her story in life challenges me to be a better mom, a better woman. She prays and loves and gives of herself. She is a beautiful woman.
Jay and Mark.... these guys... in part some of the humor and love I felt from these 2 can only be understood if you were a part of the team. Jay liked to play musical chairs at the meals and every time he sat someplace different. Normally I would not have made a deal out of this, but once it was pointed out to me, it became a meal conversation every time. Mark tended to migrate with Jay at times, though I think unintentionally. Then it became a joke to try to get me in between them. We laughed a lot together. Both Jay and Mark are incredibly hard workers. Neither wants attention. Neither is a center of the room kind of guy. Both humble in nature taught me about love.
 Mark's devotion to the scriptures and his heart for prayer humbled me. His love for these people and his ideas for helping them and his huge heart are inspiring.

  Jay said I was the age of one his children, but he became a big brother to me as well. Probably an unexpected, quiet friendship. He taught me more than he might know.

Paula. Paula and I met through our trip in 2016 and have been best friends since. We hang out once a month as much as possible and we laugh a lot. We cry together. We share. On this trip we danced. We sang. We taught. And we grew together once again. Paula is there for me anytime I need her and she is a beautiful woman of God. She does a great job being a team leader.
 We shared a room in the city and we gabbed for a long time. (of course!) Really, words don't do justice to the friend she is to me. And the incredible value she brings as a team leader as well.

 This team blessed me in more ways than they will ever know. Sometimes I stayed quiet in the group sharing, but mostly because to share I usually cried and so I just took in a lot of what they were sharing. In one on one conversations I developed new brothers and sisters and grew a new family. My life has changed yet again and grown even deeper because of these people.
I LOVE this photo!Candid... caught between Jay and Mark in the photo, just like the game at the tables

 Tomorrow I will tell you about my Colombian family.