24 September 2016

The Curtain Falls

For most of our Honduran life, I have tried to minimize the differences between how we live and how you live.    Maybe I just wanted to stay connected to you?    Maybe I just didn't want to complain aloud?    Maybe I thought you really didn't want to hear about the challenges?    Maybe I thought I was more of a superhero than I am?  

Well, for some reason, keeping the challenges from our friends has served to create a false picture of our lives.  It also has served to remove our credibility when it comes to setting boundaries for ourselves.

When one acts as if the harsh conditions aren't really that harsh, it is difficult to then say that one has reached their emotional limit.   It is surprising to the listener to hear a boundary when all previous communication showed that we were 'dealing' with it all just fine.

Here's the truth.... this place chews people up and spits them out.   As a fellow missionary said this week, 'this place is hard on everything... people, cars, hearts, buildings, paint, souls, clothing, shoes... everything."     And, it is.

There is no reason for me to pretend to be a superhero here anymore.  I've decided to share more of the 'ICK' in hopes that you can more easily understand why we reach our limits and disappoint or offend you.

Several mornings this week, I have been awakened by the sound of a rat chewing on wood right under my bed.    In the past, my husband getting up has been enough to scare the rat away.   Not now...  this summer, the rats seem to have made our house 'party station number 1' without any fear of the large humans surrounding them.     They have bowled with popcorn kernels, dropped eggs on the floor one-by-one (everyone leaves their eggs out of the refrigerator here)...  they have pooped in all sorts of places, scattered seeds, eaten tomatoes, avocados and clothing.  

I hate rats.

We tried a kitten once and in just the kitten being overnight on the porch, Alex's allergies went nuts.   We have poisoned a million little buggers and they keep making more little buggers.

That same morning, the rain gently soaked my face and pillow before I got out of bed.   Thankfully, this only happens a few times each year as the wind blows in a different direction.

I head on over to the school and find that the doorknob to the office has broken again (quality here is very low) and I cannot get in to begin the day at IVA.      Finally get in the office to find that the rain has deluged the office and ruined a few things.   The IVA rats have enjoyed a fiesta as well    I look for a our last remaining stapler and find that it has been stolen.    
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Alex tries the last functioning generator and finds the cord has been broken by a student.   We are unable to pump water for the school or our house without a generator.    The gasoline here has a lot of water in it and, even though we filter it, machines are quickly harmed.    We constantly have one or more generators in the 'shop' or waiting for parts.

A few hours later, we get a call that a prisoner has escaped from the local jail and has shot an officer in the head and jaw.    We were asked to put our school on lockdown due to the fact that one of our girls is the reason a prisoner is in jail and there was fear that she would be a target.    The shooting actually happened very close to the school and the prisoner got away in a boat with the help of 3 men. Fortunately, it was not the man who had harmed our student.

Alex calls me on one of his trips to buy supplies and he is stuck in the mud.   Thankfully, there are many faithful friends around who can help him.  Just another delay in an already stressful day.

These are typical days in our lives.  There are easier ones and there are much harder ones.  

I share with you in an effort to step out from behind the curtain and to show you that it really is hard and my attempts to make my life equivalent to yours are in vain. :)  

Here's to truth and vulnerability!   Here's to greater understanding and empathy for where folks are, no matter where they are planted.    

11 September 2016

September through my eyes

When I picture the calendar year in my mind, it is January through August on the left side and September through December on the right.   Odd, I know.

The year isn't evenly broken into 6 months and 6 months, nor is it neatly in 3 or 4 columns.  It is a little awkward, my year.

When September arrives, I feel like we are 'comin' round the bend' in the year.   There is a freedom about September that hits me.

The month of September in Honduras is an entire month of celebrating the Independence of this great country.    September 1 is Flag Day, September 10 is Day of the Child and from there, we head into the most important day, September 15.

Before IVA opened, I never understood the huge parade, the incredible expense of all aspects of the 15th and the cancellation of classes for almost an entire month in public schools.   It was beyond my capacity to grasp.

Two years ago, the students really taught me the importance of patriotism and love for country.   They are incredibly proud to prepare their acts for the parade and to execute them well.      These very same students created their own fundraiser to sell paintings and art items to raise funds to buy band instruments and costumes.  

Because they are proud, I am proud!

I love parade days around here.  These days give me the opportunity to open my spiritual eyes and see God's great work in our students and their families.    I remember the tiny 7th graders in 2014 and see how faithful God has been to bring them to their first goal - graduation from 9th grade.   Somehow, watching them all walk down the dusty streets together, with my own children interspersed among them, is powerful.

September is also the month that we start the application process for the incoming students for 2017.   This is our fourth attempt at the process and it just does not get any easier.    There are always many more applicants than spaces, there are stories to sort through and much prayer to be said.

And then, today, the memory of September 11, 2001.   My Aidan was 1 and I was playing with him on our carpeted floor in McKinney, TX, while Alex was on a business trip.   The TV began showing harrowing footage of death and destruction in my own US.      It took Alex some time to get home to us and Aidan had no idea what was going on.    I will never forget.

Today, I feel pride in being an American.   My country is not perfect, but I was born in freedom.   I was born and raised in a place where, as a woman, I could study and seek the American dream, if I wished.   I was considered an individual with important rights.     This is something worth celebrating.

September is a month of remembrances for me and for our Honduran students.    From the horrific to the celebration of freedom...  we can each find reasons to be thankful.

04 September 2016

Stars & Stripes

Sunday, September 3, 2016 was spent in a way that is new to me during this season and a bit odd in this corner of the world....   I finished the first of 6 cross-stitch American flag stars.  

Why am I cross-stitching?   Comic relief is really the underlying reason :).     Home-making has never been my strong suit.   Although I have always admired my mom and many other amazing women who seem to have all of those talents down, I seem to lack them in my own life.  

So, what would lead me to purchase a cross-stitching kit, all kinds of supplies and haul them back with me to Honduras?

My oldest son's graduation in 2018, of course!

I have given myself 2 full years to complete this task.   (I know myself!)    While the quality and beauty may not live up to anyone's evaluation,  the amount of love and serious prayer packed in to this little project will be astounding.    Each sibling is going to pick a word of encouragement for Aidan and I will do my best to embroider that word into the star.

Today, my goal is in the public domain.   I'm setting myself up for a little accountability, just in case I start to talk myself out of this project.    Pray for me.

Aidan is more than worth it.   And each of my younger peeps is now asking when I will start on theirs.   Goodness, now I know what my mom felt like when she started cross-stitching baby quilts for each of her grandchildren!   Overwhelming task with a lifetime of memories.

Onward and upward.  

20 August 2016

Expanding my world

Yesterday (and today), I had the distinct honor of bringing 3 of our teachers to a professional development conference for English teachers in La Ceiba, Honduras.   These 3 are not yet fluent English speakers, but the desire in them is great and I want to nurture that.  The US Embassy provided their hotel, breakfast and conference registration.   Part of their travel expenses were covered by a short term mission team.

And as I watch their faces and see them writing in English... I realize that every penny was a good investment.

Professional development is out of reach for our area... no roads in and out with expensive airplane tickets sort of have that effect.  It has a stifling impact, this infrastructure problem.   Think about it... if tools to nurture your professional growth are out of reach, at some point, you lose interest and settle for mediocrity.   I know I do.

It was expensive for us to come to this event.  One round-trip plane ticket from La Ceiba is $250.  My brain tells me, there has to be an easier, less expensive way.   But, how would you bring 390 fellow teachers and 15+ speakers to La Mosquitia?  That isn't an option.     We could bring one presenter on one topic :)  ... and that may be an option for our future.   We could watch online videos, also a challenge with our antiquated internet.

Infrastructure...  or lack of.   The impact is crippling on a people group that would love to live and work a decent job right in the middle of their culture.  This is a fair request.

Yesterday, I heard that international call centers want to expand their presence into Honduras, but the lack of quality English speakers keeps them from opening additional call centers.   My imagination runs BIG as I remind myself of a prior vision Alex and I had about partnering to bring a call center to La Mosquitia and train IVA students to work there.   But.... infrastructure problems leave us wondering how a problem so large finds step one toward a solution.

How can a call center exist without consistent electricity and phone connection?  

La Mosquitia loses all the way around, at least for today.    But with a vision, comes an intensity and a perseverance...    

Our motivation remains to train our students in English to compete for tourism and future call center jobs that may come up, as well as shoot for international scholarships in English-speaking countries.   This dream is not deterred by the challenges of La Mosquitia.  

The saddest part to me... to shoot for these big things, the students will have to leave La Mosquitia.

My train of thought veers wildly off track.    As I wrest it back to the present and the conference, I smile as I picture those 9th grade faces and how far they have come in every area, but especially in their English.    This quarter in my English class will be dedicated to critical thinking and answering WHY in English.   They will be pushing their limits here, but it is good for them.

Critical thinking and the absence of it, another topic for another day.

This post is really a peek into what happens when my mind has room to explode with possibilities and analyze the realities.   I wonder, how often do we even allow ourselves to go there?    Do you give yourself time and space to imagine, to dream, to pray and allow God to plant BIG things there?   He doesn't just do this for a few...  He does it for all of us.      

Don't let the voice of the 'critic' drown out the dreams that are yours to dream!


18 August 2016

Honduras and the Olympics

Soccer is life in Honduras...  children play soccer (or futbol) from the time they are able to walk.   They play in the dusty ground with any type of round object available.

Futbol is in the blood of Hondurans and of each student at IVA.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to watch the final moments of the Honduras vs. Brazil match in the Olympic semi-finals.    Honduras lost 6-0.    And yet.... this...


This is what I saw on international TV after the Hondurans LOST their match.    I'd say that there is some serious humility here... something beautiful at work in these games of futbol.

Truly, this moment was more touching than thousands of moments of fouls, goals and penalties.  It showed the character of the coaches and players, individuals grateful to God for the opportunity to play on the world stage.

On Saturday, Honduras plays Nigeria for the bronze medal.   This gringa will be cheering on Honduras, proud of the grit and determination of this little country, so often noted only for its violence.

Viva Catrachos!  


13 August 2016

Staying in the Arena

The first time I read the quote, I was a teenager on one of our family vacations.   The quote was written in a biography about the life of Winston Churchill.    However, it was Theodore Roosevelt who actually spoke the words in a 1910 speech.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I remember writing this quote in my journal at the time and thinking that I would never be able to live in the arena.    At a young age, I believed my insecurity and fear of other people would keep me from stepping out in the arena.     But, God...

In God's way, He placed me in situation after situation where I would be required to step into the arena, often getting a whiff of triumph, but more often smelling the foul odor of spoiled effort, never quite feeling like the gifts He had given me were being used well.   More often feeling like, if I had been a bit more vulnerable, putting myself completely out there, maybe the results would have been different.

The small wins and large failures served a great purpose.    Each helped to firmly set my feet on God's power at work within the personality and gifts He had placed in me.    As I learned more about His love, care and expectations, I began to get in the arena more often... comfortable that the results were really His anyway.

The current arena where I fight is in a remote area of Honduras.    However, instead of one big fight, it is the daily series of wins and losses done with great devotion that bring a sense of triumph, even when the defeats loom large.    And God, in His sweet way, allows me to see small victories in the midst of heartbreaking defeat.

The voice of the critic and the heart of one who delights when we stumble is God's business.   I am incapable of completely explaining the calling or even of trying to bring peace anymore.    My trust is in the Lord's ability to do just that while I put on His armor and step back  into the fray to do today's work.

In some way, I pray this encourages you to do the hard thing God asks of you, even when it looks futile and even crazy.   Maybe instead of craziness, it is really love.   And, if by chance it is love, you will experience life in a way you never have before.


11 August 2016

Through the Lens of my Earthly Glasses

Lots of things just don't make sense through the lens of my 'earthly' glasses...   poverty, taxes, politics, human trafficking, Donald Trump,  spousal abuse and on and on.

Beyond any of these things, I tell you, lies one thing that seriously doesn't make sense to me; the brain cancer of an incredible woman, lifetime missionary, beloved friend, Katrina Engle.

I met Katrina over 7 years ago when she visited Dallas on furlough.   By that time in our preparation to be 'missionaries', Alex and I had decided to visit the Miskito Coast, but 'for sure' not move there.   Our dinner with her only sealed the deal... the stories she shared were just too graphic and raw for my Texas-girl mind to wrap around.  And the thought of taking my babies into 'that world' was literally too much to fathom.

She talked of fundraising and George Muller, whose biography we had just been reading.   She told us many stories of God's miraculous provision which strengthened my faith.

I don't think she ever believed this comfortable, suburban couple would actually move to La Mosquitia, Honduras.   I didn't believe it, so why would she?

And yet, in 2010, we showed up, much to all of our surprise.

Katrina was and is my missionary reference point.   She has survived a serious plane crash, malaria, serious theft, childbirth in a grossly deficient hospital and a million other indescribable things.   And,  she survived  brain surgery in July of last year.

Katrina has loved the Miskito people for over 25 years.  She has been Jesus with skin-on to an entire race.   She has served uncountable numbers of disabled children and children who were tossed aside due to horrific life circumstances.   She has raised so many children - her nickname here is Mama Miriki (American Mama).     She has shown grace upon grace to thousands of people.  I'm pretty sure every family here has been touched by Katrina's fingerprints in some way.

As I tried desperately to tolerate the sweltering heat, the language, the intense poverty, the feeling of desperation in my first few years here, I was always able to remind myself that Katrina had survived and thrived in this setting and I could, too.    Her example has always been motivating to me.   And sometimes, her example was my lifeline when I literally felt that I could not survive another day here.

Katrina left Puerto Lempira last July for her first brain surgery in Tegucigalpa. Honduras.  She then went to the US and had chemo and radiation.   This summer she was able to come back 'home' to Honduras for a few months and enjoy her Honduran family.  

After she arrived back in the US, she discovered her brain tumor was 'behaving badly' (to use her words).   She will have a second brain surgery next week.

Please pray for my beautiful friend.   She is at peace and this trial is only an opportunity for her to trust in the God she has loved for so long.     You see, Katrina looks at the world through Eternity Glasses.    She sees with a longer view, a God-sized view.

Me, I'm not at peace and I've misplaced my Eternity Glasses.  I'm wrestling  and grieving and wish we had just a few more hours together before her surgery  to laugh like crazy women and intensely compete against one another in Scrabble. I'm sick when I confront my selfishness with my time and, I wonder, what was so all-fired important in my schedule these last few months that kept me from organizing a Scrabble night???

Lesson for you as you read these words  ...  it may sound over-said but, please, please, please don't let the time get away from you.  If there is something you can do today, do it!  If there is someone you can love today, love them!  If there is a game of Scrabble to be played, dog-gone it, play it!

10 August 2016

Reading for Sanity

I am a reader... I was raised by readers and I am desperately trying to raise readers.  

For this reason, my emotional health is gauged by IF and WHAT I'm reading.   Maybe you are a reader, too?

The last month has been emotionally challenging BUT, in the midst of it all, I have kept reading.  This is a good sign for me!

So, what books are on my Kindle?

Under Our Skin by Benjamin Watson    -    Racial healing should be a high priority on every Christian's list.   As part of the 'global' church, made up of brothers and sisters of every color and culture, we should be the FIRST ones to stand up in opposition to anything that looks, smells and feels like racism.      I didn't even know who Benjamin Watson was before I started reading the book. A friend of mine, eagerly desiring to do her part to bring her friends of different races together,  started a book club where openness and honest dialogue between professional women could take place.    Brilliant idea.  Although I cannot participate in person, I am reading and following along with their discussion in a FB group.   My eyes have been opened through what he writes.  Even though I feel a bit helpless as to be able to make a difference in the US, I am much better equipped to encourage my children in their multi-racial life.  

A Passion for the Impossible - the Life of Lilias Trotter by Miriam Rockness    -   Lilias Trotter was a single, female missionary to Algeria in the 1800s and early 1900s.    She was an incredibly deep thinker, a beautiful artist and a courageous woman.     This book certainly won't appeal to everyone, but anyone interested in the role of women will be touched by her fire!

Common Prayer:  A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne   -    This is a beautiful day-by-day prayer book with songs and monthly action items.     The over-arching theme is peaceful justice for the poor, burdened, beaten and disenfranchised.     While I don't agree with everything here, it pushes me to look deeper at Jesus and His example.

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton   -  A classic that I missed somewhere along the way.   Aidan was reading this in his sophomore year, so I decided to open it up.    Loved it, struggled with it, enjoyed the vibrant descriptions, wrestled with the country-boy-gone-to-the-city trials and wondered about how such things will impact our students when/if they leave La Mosquitia and head to the city.

The Nightengale by Kristen Hannah - Historical fiction about WWII that dug deeper than many I've read before.   Incredible story of bravery and courage set against a horrific backdrop of war.

What is on your nightstand these days?

Yes, I'm trying to get back into writing and sharing... we'll see how this goes!


07 August 2016

Take, Give and Take Some More

I've missed you, virtual friends.  

This season continues to be one of deep experiences that cannot be summarized or wrapped up neatly in a blog post or even in a conversation over coffee.        A journey encompasses a series of summits and valleys.     My spiritual journey, gratefully, includes a Good Father who takes hold of my hand at each moment.   He pulls me to the summit, promising the view will be worth the pain.    He carries me through the valley, reassuring me that the trials produce perseverance and much more.

And so, I write in this space today... sharing an observation or two, stumbling along toward eternity,   And, I find, He has never left.

*****

This year, we hosted two teams,  a vision team for a large church,  a missionary family for a month and an individual volunteer for 6 weeks.    Each of these experiences has served to sharpen several thoughts.    

My initial observation from each visit remains the same... as on-the-ground people, we 'receive' a great deal from Gringos.    They bring us coffee creamer, beef jerky, flashlights, clothes.  They leave their tennis shoes behind, they donate school supplies and money.   They use their vacation, their savings, their offerings.    They sweat, they ache and they cry.    All of these things we receive and so do our sweet students.  

We are grateful in the 'taking'.

It is a humbling thing to live on the receiving end of all that Christian Americans have to give.   It is hard for Alex and I, as people who 'took care of ourselves' to be so dependent on God's provision through others.     We will never be able to say 'thank you' enough times, we will never be appreciative enough and, most likely, we will never be able to give back in return anything of substance to those who are giving.

And yet... (you knew this was coming, right?)

Dependence is just what God asks of us... as His children, we are to trust Him to provide for our needs.   He does this through the hands and hearts of His people and sometimes, He just drops something into our world, right out of the blue.  

I wonder how the everyday American would fare if it were more obvious that God was providing for their needs?   It seems,  that self-earned comfort insulates us from feeling 'needy' and fully relying on God to provide.    What are your thoughts on this?    

Physical need and God's kind provision spills right over into the spiritual.   Even physically satisfied people feel a painful 'need' to be emotionally cared for.    

At times, God offers that care through trusted friends, counselors, Pastor/Shepherds, etc.   In these relationships, we are limited by communication.   It is very rare for me to be able to communicate my heart in words that can comfort another.   More often than not, I muddy the waters and complicate with my words.   It is also very rare for human encouragement to last 10 minutes after the words are spoken.  

But God... in the deep moments, silent moments, alone.... in this time, God is able to pierce the communication barrier.  He is able to know my thoughts from afar, to understand my aching.    He whispers, 'I am here, Laura.   I see you, I made you, I love you,  I will never leave you or forsake you.'     He speaks to me through the words of the Psalms, through the words of my Savior and hope springs anew.  

The 'taking' from willing hands, the 'taking' of love from a Good Father, the 'taking' from the hearts of trusted companions.... and the turning around and the 'giving; it right back to God to use as He sees fit for as many days as I have.     Taking, giving, taking ....    

That, my friends, is real life.







23 March 2016

Numbering

Today is my spicy Aaron Gabriel's birthday.   He was once called 'Little Boy Blue' online because he wasn't officially 'ours' and information in the world wide web is not as private as we would like to believe.    

Little Boy Blue is 9.    9 years old!

When we moved to Honduras, he was 3... just a baby.   He has lived 2/3 of his life in Honduras.  He has spent the last 6 years learning to speak English and Spanish at the very same time.   During these years he has played with monkeys, eaten mangoes off of the tree, swam in lagoons, taken boat trips and befriended a million geckos, crabs, frogs and snails.    

2/3 of a lifetime.   That puts things into perspective for me.

Numbers quantify time a bit.   While I haven't lived 2/3 of my life in Honduras, I have lived a distinct chunk.  6 years.

In comparison, we lived in our country dream house for exactly 5 years.   It seemed like a lifetime.

On our last US visit, we had the distinct privilege to return to our dream home.  The new owners (well, 6 years is hardly 'new') are IVA sponsors and have supported ROH for many years.   They graciously invited us over for dinner.

I imagined that I would be somehow 'homesick' or 'regretful' as I planned to visit this beautiful country house that had been our hearts' desire.    And yet, I felt nothing but happiness for these kind people who had made our house into their home.

Odd.   No regrets.  Not even 1.

As I look forward 6 more years...   my oldest will most likely have graduated from college by that time and my second will be well on her way.    Will we still be living full-time in Honduras?    Will we be spending months here and months there and months in-between - searching for a spot where we are all 'home' again?

Birthdays, anniversaries, new years, deaths...  marking time.

Truly though... the important thing is not the numbering of the years or the speculation about what the tomorrows might illustrate,  but rather the marking of each and every day.  

Are Aaron's days being filled with memories - beautiful, unique, challenging  memories - that will carry him through the next season?      Are my days, individual hours, being used to bring love to my family and students?

Only time will tell.   The same time that measures days, measures years and will tell our stories.   Lord, may my time faithfully tell Your love story.




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