Mr. Thoreau’s Advice

Sometimes one would love to speak. To pour out from the deepest depths of the heart grief inducing observances, to shake the world’s numb conscience, to pour fire into veins of lethargy. But sometimes, the words just won’t come. The subject seems too harsh, too awful to actually put into words. Henry David Thoreau commented, “Write while the heat is in you….” Perhaps as believers we chose rather to practice grace, to allow July’s heat to fade into January’s snow before formulating tangible evidence of inner turmoil.

Tonight though, I think I will take Mr. Thoreau’s advice. I have done it before of course; they are words that I hope the world will never have to read. I literally begin to shake, the odd time I chance upon those documents in my writing folder. Somehow, though, I feel tonight’s subject matter necessary. I have to write. I have to publish. 

You know, whenever I post anything, I am very aware that there are eyes on earth reading my thoughts. God above is witnessing every word I send to the world. And, the wicked one below has also the capability of knowing exactly what is written. That can be downright frightening. 

Last post, I mentioned that with the help of God, we felt energized, full of joy in His work. We were looking forward to these years ahead to fill them with the gospel. 

The devil is so wicked. His imagination is filled with hatred towards all things good and true and righteous. He still lifts himself up to bruise man’s heel, he fills our paths with stumbling blocks, he goes again and again to God, to accuse and tear down the hedges. He fills our brains with fog, our hearts with consternation. 

He finds an unsaved neighbor, a fellow mom at a school, a co-worker, he fills them with strange thoughts, hateful imaginations. He sends them on a crusade against us, battling to destroy our testimony and good name before all those around us. They’ll bring in authorities, make stuff up, complicate and frustrate our life. 

Sometimes it is a government, an authority, some reigning power that he inundates with wickedness to ruin the lives of believers, to send them fleeing, to forsake the gospel, to neglect searching for lost souls. He makes it so hard to just live that there is no thought or energy left for the after life. 

And sometimes, yes, sometimes, he looks with incredible astuteness into the very body of Christ. He finds traces of pride, of jealousy, of anger. Oh, how he capitalizes upon our weak flesh! He comfortably hands out beds of ivory, lambs and calves, viols and wine, filling hearts that belong to Christ with the luxury of indulging the flesh. “But they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.” Their brother! Their fellow man! Sold! They had heard his wails, they had seen his dirt streaked face and merely pocketed their few pieces of dirty silver. They had stood there watching as he was dragged off, the Ishmaelites tossing around their newest possession like just another bolt of silk. “Good riddance!” they had cried in relief, fingering again with pleasure the little round coins of assured indulgence. 

Oh my brothers, my sisters in Christ. When will we stop our ears to the whisperings of below? When is false testimony ever okay? When is betrayal ever of God? What place does gossip and verbal attack have among the holy priesthood? At what point did we cease comparing our holiness with God and begin to compare ourselves with a weaker brother? When did sin ever justify sin? 

I ask of you to pray. It is one of those times we literally ask the Lord to send His Heavenly army to camp around our home.  

The accuser, the wicked one, the liar, will never, ever be satisfied as long as there is blood to drink from the veins of Christ’s precious children. 

And now for the sequel, because I wrote that last night. 

We were pretty thrashed today. The last several days have been on the tough side and aside from that, it has been a long time since David was home to just relax in the evening. I told him to stay in. To not worry about evangelizing or visiting. To let someone else do it tonight. 

I’m humbled and thankful he didn’t listen to a wife who was allowing the devil to now use her to hinder the Lord’s work. I am ashamed I let my guard down and gave place to those whispers of complacency. 

He did go and was gone for a long time. 

And he finally came home with the best news we could have hoped to hear. No wonder the devil has been so angry, so determined, so full of attacks. One from his kingdom of chains has been translated. The kingdom of the dear Son is richer by one. To God be the glory. 

Jabin tree, Campeche

These Ten Years

The First Years

I lay very much alone, staring up into the darkness about me. It was overwhelming, the lonesome black coldly ignoring my hot, bubbling emotions, a wallowing of self-pity. No one could understand.  No one knew my contradictory pain. Except for one. I looked up, the tears streaming down my young cheeks and realized for the first time the agony Christ felt at leaving His Father’s home to come to a far country, to do His Father’s perfect will, to suffer for His very obedience. 

It was a moment of epiphany. I was perhaps alone in the world. A slightly naïve, occasionally criticized, 18 year old, about to embark on a lifetime of decisions completely foreign to her peers. No one else in that conference hall had heard the call. No one else was getting married, leaving home, and flying far away at this age. Yes, I was the only one. But alone? Hardly.  There was one; He knew all about and beyond it. He knew exactly what it was to leave the splendors of glory, the home of His loving Father, to descend into the very best the world could offer the Son of God-a dirty, rugged manger.  

That night before our wedding was a culmination of several years’ worth of heart work. Saying yes to David implied not only marriage, but also life on the mission field. Long before, I had known this was where God was leading me. Still, there had been doubts. There had been questions and concerns. Yet superimposed, above them all, I kept seeing those nail pierced hands, stretched out towards my soul, and simply could not turn away. The world and complacent Christianity called. The sufferings of a lifetime ahead threatened. Mesmerized, I walked on. There could be no turning back. The crucified Christ had called and I would follow.

We were married and about a week later flew down, arriving to the tiny airport on the island of Carmen on the 19thof August, 2009.

That night I unpacked my suitcase, hanging my things on the opposite side of David´s already occupied closet (he had been living in that home for almost two years). I remember taking a step back, looking at all my summery, girly, teenager dresses gracing the left side, swaying against harsh, pink, concrete walls, the sweat dripping incessantly down my back, all those khakis and buttoned shirts on the right….then collapsing on the bed and weeping. It was not that I was unhappy to be there or regretted any decisions made. It was simply the finality of it all; the seal on what was my new reality. I was here and this was it. No amount of glowing missionary stories could have prepared me for the change. 

I had read all the books, I had heard all the reports, I had visited several times, had been prepared as much as possible. But all those things simply cannot replace nor adequately prepare anyone for what it is to truly leave all that you know, most of what you love, to arrive to a 115 degree concrete square and be able to say, “I’m home.” 

Perhaps it was for the best that I was only 18. I had nothing to give up, nothing much to leave behind. As hard as the first bit was at times, a young heart and mind is malleable. There were no years of habit or experience that governed my outlook, nothing to inhibit openness to understanding the new world around me. Some traces of the sponginess of infancy still lurked in the corners of my newly minted adult brain. 

I had the unique privilege of marrying someone who was basically native to my new country of residence. The pain of struggling to grasp cultural and linguistic concepts was hugely alleviated. Any question or confusion could be promptly put to ease by simply turning to my husband. He wisely carried me when necessary, pushed me forward when he saw fit, stood in the shadows to maybe let me fall but staying close enough to pick me up again. There were times it really hurt, when I rebelled against leaving my comfort zone, when I wanted to kick and scream like a spoiled child and never again leave my ugly little house. Yet slowly, slowly Calle Francisco I. Madero and Justo Sierra and Avenida Camarón became as familiar as Lansing Ave, Parnall Road and Michigan Avenue. The shouts of street vendors somehow eventually faded into white noise. Feelings of severe seclusion, even among believers, regularly lessened as my ear acclimated itself to Campechean accents and phraseology (you know, those little things you never learn in your high school Spanish class!). 

There was a lot to learn. How to kill a cockroach with the first smack, for example. Onions and potatoes must be refrigerated. Footwear other than flats is a waste of time. Muriatic acid can only be described as a faithful friend. Mosquito bitten scarred legs have no remedy. 

But there were other, more important things as well. Things like patience with believers. It was foolish, impossible, ridiculous to expect new christians to be just like the ones I was accustomed to back home. I had to learn to appreciate freshness, or unique ways of expressing oneself (how awful that sounds now!). It was necessary to listen graciously to advice or correction that went against how I had been raised. I had to learn that gospel work was not magic, like sometimes reports could make it seem. 

The group of believers in Carmen enveloped me in love. Most were (and are!) old enough to be my parents or grandparents. They respected me for being David’s wife and for coming to live among them, but so kindly, so gently, took me under their wings. They were there when our babies were born, they were there for me when David was gone or vice versa, they taught me to eat their food, how to embrace their culture, to love God with simplicity and sincerity. 

During this time, we worked in Carmen, here in Zapata, and with the Lord opening the way, in Paraiso, Yucatán and Cancun as well. They were busy, full, and joyous years, but also years of learning and growing. We knew the pleasure of seeing people saved and experienced the grief of seeing them fall. We felt the pressure of teaching and guiding while we needed it so much ourselves. 

Those first years were really quite paradoxical, looking back. In a lot of ways, we were very lonely. Far from any other foreigners or older, more experienced helps, our days went by largely the two of us struggling together with God, apart from the occasional visit or a weekend at a Bible Conference. From the very beginning, God kindly began teaching us dependence upon Him alone. When days finally came when no help came at all, when we were shunned and ostracized, they were deeply soothed by the balm of His faithful presence known for those first five years. Loneliness was certainly no alien but neither was the kindness of God. 

The Years of Sadness

I tread carefully over the next four years of our life. They were like one long eternal funeral of the deepest grief, a funeral for the living, a funeral for the dead, a funeral for all we had ever known. We lost nearly all there was to lose. No graveside was easy. Your imagination can perhaps fill in the necessary blanks. 

Mexico has taken much from me. She took my youth and health. She stole my innocence, my naivety, my ignorance of the human heart’s depravity. Her soil cradles the body of my baby boy; her winds have carried off plans and dreams. She has also gifted me with more than I could ever express. She has given me mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. She has made me into the adult that I am. God, through her, has patiently molded my heart and mind, teaching and exhorting.  But those things, good or bad, are the very things that have made Mexico a dearer home than ever. I never imagined what these years would bring. I never thought there could be such sadness, such overwhelming, daily grief in the life of a believer. I never really knew that our God would come down and walk beside His children, or that such an intimacy was ever possible. 

I wish there was, dear reader, a way to adequately describe what it is to drag your wounded, ruptured soul back to the foot of the cross, to look up at that broken, bloodied figure, to bathe again in the freshness of His fountain of love. To stand again at the place of the skull, still a bit bruised, still some mangled and to cry out to the heavens and to the four winds of the earth that HE IS WORTHY. 

That is the moral of this story. 

The reality of Mexico’s mission field is that Christ alone is worthy. 

The Last Years

I come to the last few years of my ten years in Mexico with poignant humility. This is the year of the Mexican believer. It is his time to shine. We are workers, servants together with the Lord. We owe so much to these dear, godly people. This work is now their work and with the help of God, will carry it forward for generations to come.

As I look around my house, I see these ten years stamped clearly over our life. My fridge is always home to habanero and cilantro and queso de hebra. Books in English cohabit happily with those in Spanish. I have like 5 liters (liters, no gallons around here!) of fabuloso in the laundry room but not a vacuum to be seen. My kids tell jokes in Spanish, wear sweaters when the temperatures drops to 80, and eat pork rind drenched in hot sauce. 

There are a lot of times I still can’t properly pronounce words. I still don’t eat tons of spice. There are mindsets and certain ideologies that frustrate and confound me. I’ll always be the weird güera with a floppy hat on her head. But I’ve learned to accept those things instead of fighting them, to just ride along with it because they really don’t matter.

As I think back over it all, I feel as if we are just beginning now. My first years, dedicated to getting accustomed to this life, growing into adulthood, gaining bits of experience to help the people here, seem so unproductive, so hesitating and unsure in character. Those middle and later years where just a fight for survival. We did little more than breathe while God chiseled away at all our lives. Yet now, looking forward, it is with a great, bursting hope that finally, with God’s help and grace, we might be able to live in absolute freedom and spiritual energy to see the gospel truly spread and flourish across this great peninsula. 

Because that is why we are here. To see HIS name honored and glorified, lifted high in praise from the lips of men and women won to the resurrected Christ. 

Fried Shrimp

We pull up just as the sun begins her habitual descent into the aquatic horizon, igniting highways from west to east of rippling, glowing fire. The gulf laps quietly against the bows of some fourteen fishing boats, resting sleepily after another long day of relentless toil. Gulls soar overhead, searching for one last treat before complete darkness. The wind begins to pick up, merciless in her endeavor to blast billows of sand onto every exposed inch of sweaty, sticky skin. Natural exfoliation at her finest. Delicious, enticing smells come wafting on the breeze, woodsmoke and frying shrimp. 

I remember the first time I was given shrimp in a home here in Campeche. They served us up enormous bowls of shrimp broth, heads and tails separated but still in the shell. Except I didn’t really know it was shrimp. I thought the heads were maybe some exotic brand of grasshoppers, six-inch long antennae, beady black eyes and oh the legs. So many legs! I whispered my doubts of horror to David. Shrimp, he assured me. I looked with mortification at my bowl. As far as I was concerned and according to small-town Michigan, shrimp came in vacuum-packed black bags in the freezer section of the grocery store with pictures of cute little curly pink things jumbled around a dish of dipping sauce. These enormous, whitish grey creatures floating in my bowl, of which I was expected to reach in and peel and suck and scramble through had to be of absolutely no relation! 

But that was 10 years ago. 

Our friends welcome us under a simple wooden structure, topped with dried palm branches. Their daughter is busy in the kitchen, frying shrimp and little fish, cutting limes, making up tortilla dough. They are old friends, dear people we have known for years. We peel our shrimp by the light of a lantern, it’s greenish glow casting just enough lambency to distinguish faces and whose coke is whose. 

The talk always turns to the sea. 

How do you know where the shrimp will be? Ah, the wind. The wind will tell you were to find them, in close or out far. 

Have you ever had a close call? One time. One time, yes. It was night and we were resting, but not sleeping. We saw a light coming closer and closer. Thankfully our engine was still running. It was a huge boat. It would have run us over but we were able to move just in time. 

Cazón that we eat, do they stay little or do they grow into big sharks? Oh, sister, those are just the babies. Out there are some seven kinds of sharks, there’s hammer head, black fins….all kinds. Because the oil rigs throw their wasted food overboard, the sharks all crowd around below. 

What are those two lights way out there? Those lights there you ask? That’s the Usumacinta oil rig. It exploded about 12 years ago. Those aren’t lights out there, actually. It’s really fire, still exploding from escaping gases. We were here when it happened; not long after a man in a life vest washed up to shore. He was almost gone. An engineer from the rig. We brought him up, washed him, gave him food and drink. We named our son after him. Another man was also found, his leg had been torn off by a shark. Most everyone else died. 

It’s totally black now, except for their couple lanterns. No electricity out at the beach. The kids are shrieking and laughing, spinning around and falling in the sand, loving having older kids to play with. We talk and laugh and share. Time doesn’t seem to matter. They hardly sleep anyhow, swinging in hammocks with half an eye open to watch the boats in their care. 

Good nights are finally said, they stay to their night long labor and to semi rest before another busy day tomorrow, ourselves gone to fly down the lonely beach, salty air whipping our hair into tangled messes. 

It is times like these that one feels so at home. So in love with the people God has chosen for us to live with. These occasions help smooth out the rough ones; they give new life and energy to flagging souls. God help us if we ever think we’re the only ones who can encourage and uplift. A plate of fried shrimp on the gulf shore did more for me tonight than any amount of literary genius scribbled across a thousand pages in Times New Roman ever could.

Emiliano Zapata, Campeche

A Special Day at Quinta Querit

It was my intention to write once a week on Wednesdays to keep myself accountable. I suppose that works for the uneventful, mundane weeks but I am learning that I also shouldn´t limit my writing schedule. Sometimes interesting things do actually happen!

A few weeks ago, a couple teachers from a nearby university stopped by our place. Responsible for classes on communications and specifically English, they came up with the idea to bring students to our home where they could be encouraged to study the English language and to work hard, no matter where you are from or where you live, focusing on our hen farm as an example. They also asked us, in so many words, to encourage them to seek God above all else.

It was no ordinary request. Since when do we normally have 50 some 18 to 20 year olds obligated to listen respectively to the benefits of a Christian life?

They arrived today on two large buses and parked a ways up the street to not block our little lane.

I watched them through the kitchen window, row after row of young adults coming down the two track, past the bamboo, on to the palapa and my heart was filled with thankful humility. We did nothing to arrange it, except to open our doors to a bunch of seeking strangers. God led them straight to our doorstep.

We had a half hour talk in which we shared our story, why we are here and what we do, the ways in which being believers has helped us in life and encouraged them to choose the road that leads to God. We had a time of dialogue in English and answered their many questions, ranging from how many hens we have, to what the style is of our meetings, to what our favorite Mexican food is!

They enjoyed a tour of the hen farm, orchard, and grove then spread out to have their lunch, hold the puppies, and buy their moms some eggs.

Just a few days ago, several boxes arrived with John 3:16 texts, so we were able to share them with the students. One young woman from the island of Carmen exclaimed to David, “my mom has one of these at home!” It was some 10 years ago those texts were distributed.

And I definitely forgot to turn off the porch light this morning…..

These are the little things that keep our flame of service burning, our love of souls warm and reaching, our minds clear and focused on the why of this life.

In some ways though, this was the easy part. It was simple to receive them, give them a tour, befriend and show them the love of God. Now, for me, comes the difficult part.

Is there much purpose in handing them a Bible verse, sending them on their way and forgetting about them, leaving them to the rude chances of university life?

Help me, please, to pray for these young men and women. Pray that their day here at Quinta Querit would be remembered not just for a lovely time out of school in the countryside, but that it would be the special day they realized their need for Christ as Savior.

Wrestler

I confidently clicked the link and waited impatiently for the page to load. Missionaries beheaded in Turkey for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. My heart fell into the deepest pit of my stomach and my throat stifled a threatening NO!! I knew exactly what David was asking me. Except I didn’t want to have to answer. 

We were still just talking about a possible future together, he far away on an island in the gulf of Campeche, I safe and comfy on my creamy suede-covered double bed in a Raspberry Cordial painted room. The article was not him just sharing a piece of interesting, very tragic news in the modern Christian world. He was asking me one of the most serious questions to ever pass through my 17 year old brain. He was not asking me if I loved him, or if I wanted to be a missionary or if I’d mind living in Mexico. It went far beyond marriage and any sort of physical move I would potentially make. He was asking me if I was willing to give my all…my ALL for the gospel. 

I crossed into the ring and started the fight. Yes God, I’ll go. Nooo….don’t ask me too much!! 

I don’t recall how long I was in spiritual agony, only that it was exactly that. An agonizing wrestling match with my God and my Savior. I looked again and again at those nail pierced hands and chided my cowardice. How could I not say yes? I felt thrashed, totally demolished, but full of peace. 

Girlies I met on my very first trip to the island of Carmen, December 2008

Several years later, I sat beside a hotel pool, my heart in shreds, my mind shackled in an absolute dungeon. Three blocks up the street, my nearly two month old, precious baby boy lay sedated in NICU, connected to life support, receiving dialysis and blood transfusions. 

“You can’t have him!” I had been screaming for the past month. “He HAS to get better! He’s my baby and I want him here with me!” There was no way I was giving him up. “While there’s life, there’s hope” I’d say confidently, determined Damian’s Glory Day would be long after mine. But that afternoon I could take it no longer. His suffering, my suffering, David and the other children. I finally let the angel touch my thigh and I limped out, defeated. “Take him, Lord, if you choose. He is yours anyways.” 

And He did. The next day, God sent His angels and lifted my baby from my arms to the arms of Jesus Christ. He went, listening to the lilting strains of  

“See from His head, His hands and feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down, did e’er such love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown?”

Isaac Watts

and opened his little baby eyes to gaze into the face of the Savior. 

I had fought but finally rescinded. God had won, and through the sorrow the deepest peace, that inexplicable peace that only God can give, coursed through my very empty arms. 

Little Damian Philip, during his first week of hospitalization

Not long after we lost our little Damian, I found myself battling it out with the Lord again. We were being treated very wrongly, very unfairly, very carnally by men we thought we could have trusted. My heart rose in rebellion. It wasn’t fair. We were young, we lived so far away, we didn’t deserve this, we were still grieving. I wanted to make them pay, make them realize their utter horridness. Then, those searching words came again: are you willing to give me your all? It wasn’t life to death God was asking of me. He was asking for my living life. Every drop of it. When our financial aid was compromised, would I still trust Him? When our house and living location were attacked, would I stay and live out His call? When we were abandoned by so, so many, was He my everything? When our reputation, doctrinal beliefs and characters were brutally destroyed, could I leave the sorting out to the righteous Judge? Weeping, the kids eating cereal for dinner because I couldn’t emotionally manage anything more, I gave in to God again. Yes, Lord, I will live in poverty if you so choose, I will live abandoned, hated and humiliated for your Name’s sake, I will never forsake your work though all of Hell’s forces work to push me out. The future no longer mattered, I had found peace again with my God.

Finding comfort in chubby cheeks and the great outdoors.

When I became oh, so sick, my nervous system a complete wreck, lupus destroying system after system, the old fight began again. Why me, Lord? Haven’t I suffered enough? Isn’t there some sort of limit to what you expect me to handle? Look at all those around me, they haven’t had to experience all this! Lying there, in too much pain to move, those ancient words of Psalm 73 soothed my ruffled soul. I went into the sanctuary, then understood their end. It wasn’t for me to dictate to God who should and should not have trials or pain, nor could I demand my preferred timeline of punishment. His will at that moment was to have me subjected, at His mercy, and to be totally ok with that. I had to stop fighting His perfect plan. If I was to serve Him and please Him through an inexplicable illness, then that was exactly what I was going to have to do. His peace again flowed through my tormented mind and broken body. 

Playing at the park during one of Mommy’s maaany doctor visits

A couple weeks ago it became very apparent that unless something drastic changed in my body, I would mostly likely be dead before the end of the year. I couldn’t die! I have a husband, three precious little kids, my whole life still stretched before me. It wouldn’t be fair for our family to lose two members. How, oh Lord, how could this happen to us? I fought valiantly. Prayer yielded the slightly ambiguous answer: trust Me. I was desperate for something more specific. “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love.” Then, “Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you.” I realized how weak my faith was. How much I depended upon myself, my medications, my doctors. I realized there was only one way to move forward-absolute, unequivocal, undoubting faith. 

There were two counteracting issues that needed to be resolved. On Wednesday, one was resolved. On Thursday, the other. I would not die, and aside from that, I had been healed. Healed from an illness (pulmonary hypertension) all the doctors had said was not only incurable but degenerative as well. Oh, the joy, the relief, the peace that pervaded my fragmented soul! The goodness of God, without limit, without end! 

Thankful doesn’t begin to describe getting to grow old with this man.

Why do I share these distinct wrestlings with you?  Why expose my own shameful sin and doubt? Why tell the world about intimate, painful experiences? 

I have no answers except that when I started this blog, the Lord told me to tell you about Him. I want you to know how faithful, how loving, how merciful He is, no matter what trial you may be experiencing. I want you to know that His will is always sweet and His ways are always marvelous. You can safely cling to Christ through every dark valley, through each storm, through all those long nights. 

Never would I choose to go through these things, never would I ask for such dark nights for supposed days. There were times I hated myself for how far from the Lord I must have been for Him to feel the need to call me so drastically. How cold, how proud, how self-sufficient! 

And yet, looking back, I am thankful and humbled. 

Our God is one of tender mercy who loves to draw His children close to His side. He sees through to the other side of life and patiently works our souls to burn the dross and shine the gold. 

Incineration is never pretty. Here in the jungle, slash and burn is the preferred method for clearing farmland. It’s usually near impassable acreage, filled with dangerous snakes and scorpions, snagging thorns and poisonous plants. Burning is the only way. Walking passed the charred remains leaves a somewhat empty feeling inside, until you spot those neat, long rows of bright green corn, popping its frilly head above the carnage. 

New grass after a fire in Sabidos, Quintana Roo

That’s what we’re looking for here: extermination of every useless, damaging habit to make way for the precious fruit of the Spirit. Like Jacob, may we stop our wrestling and limp forever, completely conformed to the walk He has chosen for our lives.