Friday, July 28, 2017

The Little Moments

It has been some time since I have written one of my "little moments" post. There is no better time than the present! Having a fresh perspective on life and priorities makes one see all those little moments all the more. Here are a few from the last few weeks...

1. Beautiful new friendships with people in another country. I am so blessed to have some people I can call on to be in my corner here, but also in another country, in another language. They make me smile.

2. A very nice 35 birthday. Last week I turned 35 and now I enter into a new year. I always love those fresh starts. I don't know what this year will hold, but every year I am finding  I am growing more and learning more and becoming a stronger me. I am blessed. And... I got some pretty awesome cards and love from special people on my day. 

3. Running. I have not blogged a lot about that lately- don't worry- it's coming soon! But as I begin to gear up again for the fall races, I am thankful for that outlet and my health to do so. 

4. Pictures. Spend much time with me and you will learn I take a lot of photos! Photos capture the memories and I am so thankful to have them on the days I need a smile or a reminder.

5. A picture of love and sacrifice. I am not going to go into great detail on this one, but every now and then I get this glimpse of someone willing to sacrifice greatly for my greater good and it's something I hold on to without taking it for granted.

6. My siblings. I am forever thankful for them. My brother came to town recently and we had a wonderful time hanging out. And then I got to go visit my sister for a day and we enjoyed time laughing and sharing. My older brother, while quite busy, and I share a love of coffee and enjoy conversations over cups of joe. We all happen to be born in July, too, so we have had some special moments this month together.

 7. My job. How often do we take our income and our job for granted? Or go through the motions of "just needing to work" . I am like everyone else and have my days I will complain, but honestly, I have been so blessed in my work. I love what I do. I have a great boss and good coworkers. My job has allowed me to meet so many people from all different walks of life. And my job provides for my family. I am thankful for this and it has not gone beyond me in the last couple of months what this blessing is. 

8. No TV. Ever gone a few weeks without TV? It's been a recent experiement, for lack of a better word, in our home, and I have been loving it. It won't last, but during these weeks the evenings have been filled with scrapbooking, games, conversations with my kids, reading, and lots of writing. (not blogs, per say, but writing in general.) That can be done with the TV on, but it isn't the same. It's been refreshing for me. 

9. Concerts and Conversations. I thoroughly enjoyed going to an outdoor concert recently with my friend Ginifer. We laughed and cried and talked and sang and it was fun to be carefree for a few hours. 

  Because I have not written these moments out in a while I could make a list a mile long. But we'll start from this one and try to get back to this habit. TGIF my friends! What blessings can you find in the little moments today? 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Colombia... One Month Later

Yesterday marked one month since my arrival back to the states from my trip to Colombia.
 The reality is I could write on and on about this trip. I didn't include the stories about the food program or our day in Cartagena and I could continue this forever. Perhaps I will return to the stories every couple of weeks to keep on sharing. The experiences just sit in my heart and resonate in me. Putting it to words is always a difficult task when the journey has been so monumental.

 My first time there the trip was life changing. This time it was just as much so. I really want to try to put into words for you what I learned and how life has changed for me upon my arrival home, but I am not even sure I can do that adequately.
 The conversations I had while in Colombia and the culture  I took in truly gave me a fresh perspective of who I am and who I want to continue to be and how to view life a little differently. We have a tendency to look through such a narrow lens at times. This trip opened my eyes and heart even wider.
 Here, we focus so easily on things. Our drive often comes from getting to the next best thing in life, whether that's a job, a car, a possession or a place. I have always been a relational person. But I took that in more deeply on this trip. People matter. Love Matters. Relationships matter. We spend so much time bickering over little things or picking at the petty habits or idiosyncracies of others that we lose sight of what matters. Or the focus is on how much money we make or what we do for a job that we don't put time into the things about which we are truly passionate. We get caught up in all these focuses and lose sight of the people and the love in front of us.
 In every activity we did with the community, when we would finish, they made a point of walking around to each of us, hugging us, kiss on the cheek, saying "Dios te bendiga" (God bless you) or telling us they loved us, and we were strangers to them. But they loved us. They have experienced more war and devastation than my blogs could even begin to describe to you, so I have a tendency to leave it out. But in spite of all that, they choose to love. They get it. They aren't perfect people, but they display the concept that so many of us miss..... that life is about loving, not competing. Life is about working together, not bickering or picking. Life is about others, not self.

 There is a Bible verse in 1 Corinthians 13 that the message version words in a way that I really like . 1 Cor 13:3-7 says "If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love."
  That verse comes to mind when I think about my trip to Colombia this time around. Because without love, all those things don't matter.

 I don't mean to get up on a high horse here. I just am saying this is one of the most powerful lessons I walked away with this time. Last year I went and I came home with the different perspective of being grateful for running water and electricity and amenities and a home. And I did learn the power of love there on my last trip as well.
 But the relationships and the conversations and the culture I took in on this journey have been carried home with me in a way that has transformed me. It doesn't make me perfect at this or better than anyone else. It just makes me want to live life a little differently. A little more intentionally.
 Life is about love. It's about getting over ourselves sometimes and investing in others. It's about seeing ourselves as Christ sees us, not as the world wants to tell us we are. It's about crying together, listening to one another, loving eachother, disagreeing maybe but respecting the differences, and helping eachother be the best version of ourselves we can be.

 As the verse said "I'm bankrupt without love." It's not about money or things or looks or body types. It's about love. And the village of Brisas taught me that on a deeper level than I have seen in a long time. A people with nothing who love with everything.
 Our first night there, they sang their national anthem and then played ours for us to sing. Then they braided the colors of our flags together. They were blending two cultures as one because we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. That is love. That is what life is about.

 So, one month from the time I have left that little village, I have been sorting through learning these lessons. I have been processing the many conversations and experiences and putting them into my every day life in new ways. I have grown in a monumental way through these people, this trip that can't quite be articulated into words. Life is not all roses and rainbows, and it isn't for the people there either by any means.  But simple acts of love can go a very long way.

 I close by just sharing a few of my very favorite snapshots from this trip. There really are more stories to go around, but in time....
This girl... Love her. We laughed so much. 

Me and Gin, Eating Mamón. So delicious. 

Eating Mango, not so gracefully. 

Me and Mileth. Love this girl. 

Me and Tía.

Me and Pastor Javier

I love these girls!

It's the little things, like wearing our gloves...

Part of the team at Alto de Julio

Juan, mi hermano.

The team in front of the clinic, right before departure.

I love this photo of us with the youth

Me, Miguel and Mileth

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Colombia #8 The Clinic

Life has hindered sharing these posts a little lately, but Today I share with you about the clinic in Brisas del Mar.

 This clinic is beautiful. It was the first project that teams worked on constructing in the village and it has become a great blessing to Colombia. The clinic does not charge its patients. It's fully funded by the church. The staff are staff of the church. We had the privilege to take medical supplies in to the clinic once again. Kettering Health Medical Center is to thank for this, as they run a ministry with a warehouse full of extra supplies for missions groups to take. We took 8 suitcases full of things for the clinic. I am humbled watching the team there open what we bring and listen to them discuss and laugh and have joy and tears over this simple act of supplies we take for granted.

 Yuleida is the clinic administrator. She lives in Medellín and works for the church, but she oversees all the needs of the clinic. She does all of their inventories and she keeps track of all the records and she does a wonderful job.  I am sure I do not know the half of what she does there. It's a big job. I first met Yuleida last year on my trip to Brisas. We became friends and she has become a part of my encouraging group through the year. She has such a tender heart, so much love for what she does and for the people in Brisas. I feel so blessed that I am able to speak the language and talk with her not just while I am in the village, but during the year.

Doctora Jennifer arrived just one day before we did. She is a beautiful young woman, and happy to serve with her gifts of knowing medicine. I have been asked several times if she is actually a doctor, and the answer to that is yes. She has studied to become a doctor. She comes from the city of Cartagena, but her love for the people, Brisas, helping and the Lord are evident.

While we were there, for one of the first times, a gynecologist came in from the city. Those type of needs are one of the higher on the list in the village, and while a doctor can attend to them, a specialist can make a different type of impact with his expertise. We did not spend much time with him and his assistant, so I neglect to remember their names, but they were as much a part of touching me as the rest of the clinic staff. These two didn't have to come this "forgotten" village, but they did. And I was humbled as they asked me about why we came, why we wanted to be in this little village all the way from the United States. I enjoyed a brief conversation with them before they left and while I may never cross paths with them again in life, they are part of the Colombian experience this time there.

Piedad became a friend. Piedad came with my Tía from the city of Barranquilla. Piedad is an orthodontist. This was also her first time in the village. I enjoyed talking with her in her few days there. We brought with us 300 toothbrushes and toothpastes, and I was amazed watching Piedad teach the kids in Brisas and in the neighboring village of Alto de Julio how to brush their teeth. Something we take for granted so much they were learning to do properly and very likely holding what could have been their very first toothbrush. We take so much for granted here. And I find it humbling and beautiful to be reminded of that.

Tia, me, Piedad

 The clinic is not our project when we go, but I feel a part of it as we take supplies and spend time with the staff. The latest project the clinic is working on is raising money for an ultrasound machine. As I said, that is an area of the village that needs extra attention.
 I was humbled with Yuleida opened the suitcases full of supplies, with tears, and tells us, "These supplies are better than what the city hospitals have." Kettering Health Network, here in Dayton, OH has become more of a blessing to Brisas del Mar and the clinic more than they can ever know, as they supply these items for the clinic at no cost to us. So many extensions of people go into that village that the Lord sees but they don't even know how much they are touching and affecting lives.

 Time is hindering my posts a little, and some may be tiring of hearing about the trip. But it just is such an extension of me, I have to share. I will tell you about the feeding program next, and a really cool opportunity I got to be a part of with that on this trip.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Colombia #7. The Youth

You may recall before I left for my trip that I shared one of things about which I was nervous was the youth night. So, let me share with you about that.

 That night became one of my favorite moments of the week. It is true that much time and preparation went into that lesson, but really, it was Juan who helped it come together in an amazing way. The first night of youth was really a beautiful time I will forever recall. 

 The night began with games. Ashley helped lead them with Juan, and the kids were so animated and watching them and playing along with them gave us all laughs. Then we had the lesson.

The lesson was about who is greater? And it came from the passage of two men asking Jesus which one of them was better than the other. And the end result was Jesus explaining that it's not about who is better or greatest, but that the one who gives himself in service is the greater person. Life is not about self promotion or being the greatest, but we become the greatest when we become the least and serve. 
 So, we talked about this. As I shared, Juan translated, and again, I paid attention to how he elaborated on my words or adjusted them a little in order to reach the teens in a more profound way. They responded, with some prompting from Juan, and listening and watching them respond was really neat.

 But what was really cool was what happened next. With every activity we put on, we add a "craft" type thing for the group, something they can have or do to take home and keep and remember the lesson. It has been my experience in watching this now through two trips that the kids and the teens alike enjoy this experience. But, for this particular lesson, we chose something a little different. Something I wasn't sure how it would be received. 

 Each person was given a piece of paper, we had markers, and they drew their name in a creative way on the paper, and then they began passing their papers around for everyone to write encouraging things about them on their paper. In the end, then, they would take it home and remember and see what the others liked about them. The point was to not think of eachother as competition or "greater" but to encourage all of them to encourage others, to see the best in others and encourage each person to grow in who they are.

 I wasn't sure how that would be received, but as I watched, I had tears. They loved it. And they just kept going with it. And then they brought their papers for us to sign, too. Our time for the event was really far past when it was supposed to be over, but as I mentioned it , no one wanted to say it was time to stop. The teens were enjoying it too much. They needed that time of soaking in the encouragement as well as giving it to others. I took in the scene and could not help but be humbled. 

The teens who were there last year, a lot of them have graduated, so the teens there this year were a new group for me to get to know, and I grew to love them so much. I never saw working with teens as my gift (still don't) but since I have teenagers at home, I found new ways to relate to these kids.  And by the end of the week, the photos with them were some of my favorites. They are hungry for the love and activity just as much as the children are. I felt like I adopted this group of kids in a way. 
 The girls served us our water as we worked on the worksite. The boys became hard workers along side us through the week, and as the week went on, I watched them open up. 

 Our second youth night went well, too. And deserves just as much explanation. But it did not touch me as deeply as this one. Here are some photos of the teens and our youth night(s). 
 Meanwhile, Barb, Chris, Cindy, Gin, and Ed helped keep the kids occupied on the outside of the cabana with games and chalk. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Colombia #6. The Church of Brisas del Mar

Today at work, I wore a skirt I purchased in Colombia as well as a necklace and bracelet set I got which was hand made by the indigenous people. My friend DJ, who works down the hall, asked me "So, when are you moving to Colombia?"
 I laughed.

 But the reality is, that country and village have stolen my heart. Just in case you hadn't gathered that yet from my writings. Today I want to share with you about the church.

 Right now, the church meets under the cabana, where all the community activities are held. (The building we are working on now constructing will become their church once it is complete.) They arrange the chairs and set up the alter table at the front of the cabana. The pastor preaches from up front, just like in any church.

 What may be different there is that everyone attends. I mean by that that the kids are all there, the youth, the adults. Some would find the kids distracting, but they are loved on and it is important they have a place to be, too. There isn't a structured "sunday school" like what we have here.  Not right now, anyway. Once the church building gets built, there will be more classroom types rooms where the kids will have their own space.
 But they meet together.

 It reminds me of the early church, to be honest. The people gathered where there was a space for them. They met and prayed and read scripture and encouraged one another and sang songs. In Brisas, I cannot say that it is much different. And honestly, that is a beautiful picture to me. I hadn't really thought of that the first time I was there, but when you go a second time, you see a place differently, even though it was that way last year. One can only take in so many experiences in a week, so to return a second time a little over a year later, the eyes take in new aspects of the tiny village.

 I loved the worship service. Pastor Javier did not preach; he let Pastor Ed preach. But Pastor coordinated the events of the service. The time of "sacrifice" which is a time for people to come forward, presenting items representing sacrifices made for the community, for Christ.

The communion, which he asked Gin and Chris to help with the serving of it.
 The common takes place with everyone filing a line, coming up front, while music plays, and taking a piece of bread (which Chris held and broke off for each person) and then dipped into the juice (which Gin held the cup). As one takes communion, it is said "The body of Christ broken for you, his blood shed for you."  It's really a beautiful moment.

 My favorite part of the morning is the worship. I always enjoy worship time in church. They had the lyrics printed out and so while I didn't know the song, I could sing along and learn.  I loved joining voices with them. But my favorite moment of worship was when we sang "Open the Eyes of My Heart." That song was sung a lot during my high school years, so the words come easily to me as memorized lyrics. And the others knew that song too. So, as they sang "Abre Mis Ojos" we sang "Open the Eyes" and two languages were intertwined. The same song, different language. Maybe it's because I love languages, but this moment never escapes me. It was one of my favorite moments of the week.
 I wept as we all raised our hands and sang "Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!" There is no language to God. he understands it all. And our voices blended and we were not separated by that barrier. That is worship. That is love. That is a picture of the beauty of the church across the world. We are connected. God sees no lines between, no differences. He hears it all, loves all, embraces all. That is what life is about. And in that moment, it did not escape me how significant that is.
  Tears fell down my face, but tears of absolute love and joy. It was a moment stamped in time for me. People closed their eyes, raised their hands, sang out and loved. Once again, two cultures blended as one.

 That little church that meets in the open air under a palm leaf thatched roof structure knows what it is all about.

  I referenced in an earlier blog about the staff to Pastor Javier. Pastor was not there last year when I was in Brisas. He has only been there since January. But he is doing a great job in that little village. His love for those people is evident in his interactions with them. He has a vibrant personality, with so much energy. Sometimes he helped on the work site, he was invested with the kids and their food program, he interacted with our team, and he is passionate about serving God.
 I can see some changes he has implemented and his way of going to the people is the idea of what love is all about. He does speak some English, in fact, he works very hard to learn the language so he can communicate with us, but also so he can teach the people in the village the language. Every 15 days he walks to the neighbor village to pastor them as well. He oversees a few different village/communities in that way. The love of Jesus shines in him and I am privileged to have been able to work alongside him.

 The church is Brisas del Mar is growing. They are full of love, even though they have seen more than their share of destruction. They desire to learn. They work hard. And they are no different than any of us here. In fact, I have learned much from them in my short 2 weeks I have spent there in the last two years.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Colombia #5. The Team

So many experiences, so many lessons, so many different conversations and moments to share. Breaking it down takes so much time, so much processing.
 Today I want to tell you about my team.

Last year, I had an incredible group of people with whom I traveled. This year, the experience was jut as good. I loved them all so much that after spending that whole week with them, after our 4 hours plane ride from Colombia back to the states, I couldn't wait to talk to some of them again, who had been several seats back. After a week together, it felt like 4 hours was a week apart! We just bonded that well. So, let me share a little about each person with you. I should do this in 2 blogs, because this will get very long, but you can stop reading if you get bored ;)
The team in the city on our last night

 Pastor Ed
 Pastor Ed was on my team last year, and I was looking forward to traveling with him again. True to his nature, he was full of jokes. And nearly any time he'd begin a story that sounded so serious, we all began to "just wait for it" because there would be a punch line in the end. He has a passion for preaching and he loves the people of Brisas del Mar. He is one of the people who is diligent to ask me if I am ok, recognizing when I am in deep thought. And while the answer was always yes, I appreciated the fact that he would take notice that I was reflective.

  James and I traveled together last year as well. James served as team leader this year, and he loved the people of Brisas as well. James is quiet, but when he shares, it comes from his heart. He always cared about making sure each person on the team was taken care of and doing well. He is reflective and pensive and is a huge giver.

 Michael is another team member I went with last year, and Michael is the co-leader. He coordinates the ministries between the states and the Colombian church. He loves the community so much and the kids love him so much. In Brisas, if you saw a group of kids anywhere, it was pretty likely that Michael was in the center of it.

 Barb is a woman with a heart for service. She is a trooper, because the conditions were tough for her. But this was her second time going and she did such a great job! I will talk about the food program there on another day, so I don't want to give it all away in this blog, but Barb has taken that on as her project and has been diligently raising and sending money to Brisas so their children have food to eat for lunch. I loved getting to be with her again on this trip. I will tell you more about her when I write about the food program.
This photo will appear in another blog, it's a cool story

 Oh, Cindy. She is a woman who has a beautiful story. It has only been around a year since she lost her husband, and I commend her for stepping out of her comfort zone to join us. Cindy has a loving, tender heart. She was so good with all of the kids. She worked hard when she could, and when she needed a break, she was often found with the kids as well. I have to tell you, though, that Cindy was our clinic visitor on this trip. Poor Cindy sprained her wrist on day 1. And later in the trip got some sort of weird bite, which was never identified, but the nurses staff fussed over her for it and attended to her needs. She always hated that, but they loved on her. Cindy and I had a total giggle fest our last night together, and it is a moment neither of us will forget. We laughed so hard we could not breathe. Literally. She never had a daughter (she has a son) so I made myself her surrogate daughter, whether she asked for it or not ;).

  This girl is amazing. She always has a smile and I so admire that she knows what she wants to do and be. She knows what she likes and doesn't. She is confident in a healthy way. She laughs so much of the time, and she was so great to have conversations with. She was inquisitive and caring and genuine. Such a positive gal to be around. We also had some great laughs together, which were caught on camera and I will share later because those are a couple of my favorite photos from the trip.
Gin, Emma, Ashley

 I saved these guys for last, because they are a family. And I absolutely admired watching them interact. I saw a father and a husband in a new light. I saw a mother and a wife I admired. I watched this young girl evolve and grow each day. The Swoffords were a neat family.

 Chris is a hard worker. He was innovative and worked hard to understand and communicate with John on the worksite. Well, he worked hard to communicate with everyone,  really. But I saw his skills highly utilized on the construction site. Chris smiled and he cried. He felt with his heart and that was evident to me. He did not always have a hundred words to say, but what he did say had great value. He was so good with the kids in Brisas. He was never afraid to ask questions to learn and I think he took the best photos out of everyone on this trip.

 Emma was the youngest on the trip. She claimed to be shy, but honestly, if she was, she fooled me. She did so good with the kids! And she worked hard to learn Spanish so she could communicate with them. She'd come ask me "how do you say..." and began a little notebook of phrases. At one point, MIleth, who I was trying to teach some English to, and Emma, who was trying to learn Spanish, began helping and teaching each other. She is spunky and feels deeply. I am so happy she had this experience at her age. I love this girl! There were several times I would turn to her and say "Are you my daughter?" because she had such similar tendencies as my own daughter. I had a great time getting to know her.

 Known as Gin as well. Gin became my sister on this trip. We laughed hard, she held my hand while I cried hard on her shoulder, she listened to my very lengthy stories about my activities and family, and she offered me great feedback and advice on more than one occasion. I know she prayed and does pray for me. We shared mom stories and hundreds of other stories and I could not have been more grateful to have her on this team. We did a lot of teamwork together, the 2 of us, on the construction site, and we became a well-oiled machine together, I do believe. A new friend for life. A new sister.

 And that is our team. We were made up a variety of ages and abilities and we blended well. And I am forever changed a little more because of my interactions with each of them. I miss them so much. When you experiences a week so monumental together, words can't really do any one of them justice.