Sunday, January 4, 2015

Hiking a Volcano Is Hard

 So we decided to hike a volcano to celebrate the new year.  We chose the volcano, Acatenango, one of three that surround Antigua. We went to the travel company and we were assured that it would not be a problem for our family of four to summit this particular volcano.  It would take four hours to hike up to camp, where we would have a perfect view of all the fireworks in Antigua and the erupting neighboring volcano, and then we would sleep there, wake up at 4:30 and summit on New Year's Day.   Sounds perfect, right?

    Let's just say that things did not go as planned.  The weather here right now is about as perfect as can be--sorry, friends who are cold and wet in Shreveport!  It is dry season here now and it is about 70 degrees and impossibly sunny with a nice breeze.  One of the reasons we chose to do this was that the weather was so clear, we were sure we could see everything from up there.  We began our assent around 11 am and, from the beginning it was almost impossibly steep and the trail is just a collection of loose volcanic soil and rocks.  With every step we took forward, it felt like we slid down two.  We ate a lot of dust.  Our hearts were pounding, we were short of breath and, to be honest, we weren't sure we could make it.  It is a very physically grueling hike and we weren't really prepared for it.  The going was very slow.  Thankfully, we had a very patient guide, Santos.  He encouraged us along the way from up ahead, he sat down and waited beside us when we couldn't take another step, and he prodded us along from behind when we needed it, as well.

    About three hours into the hike we entered the cloud forest.  We were surrounded by huge trees and crazy vines in the midst of the chilly cloud mist.  The clouds stayed with us and, as we climbed higher, the winds picked up.  The weather continued to deteriorate, and we were fading with the light. At five hours into the hike, we had to stop and set up camp at a secondary site because our guide feared that we wouldn't be able to make it to the regular site.  We "slept" at 12,000 ft, in a tent on an incline on top of hard, volcanic rock/soil.  It was primitive to say the least.  With the exception of Elijah, none of us slept great, me, almost none at all.  The wind howled all night long.  It was so strong, I felt for sure that it was going to blow our tent off the side of our ledge.  Being in the clouds, moisture accumulates on everything and the wind was blowing water into our tent.  It was a long, cold, damp night and nary a firework or volcano was seen.  In fact, visibility was so low and the winds were so strong that we weren't even allowed to attempt to summit the next day.  It was deemed too dangerous.  So, we packed up, tried to thaw out in front of the fire and hiked/fell our way back down the mountain. Thankfully, the descent only took two hours.  We were back home by noon on New Year's Day.

    It was hard.  It was disappointing.  It was discouraging.  But, God was with us, and after a few days of reflection and nursing some very sore muscles and bones, I am amazed at the blessing of this trip.  He has helped me to see His truth in the difficulties we faced on the side of that volcano and I believe that they are lessons that He needs us to know before we move off to LIVE on the side of a volcano.

   1) God will take our willingness to go and our heart for adventure and He will supply the power and the strength.  We were not prepared for that trek.  We prayed on the side of that mountain for His strength and perseverance.  Without it, we would not have made it.  We cannot move into an unreached people group that speaks a dead language with no word for forgiveness and think that we can offer them anything.  But God will accept our "Here I am, Lord. Send Me"  and He will supply what we lack.

    2) God doesn't send us out alone.  He provided us with Santos on this hike, and he was a good guide, for sure.  But God gives an even better guide for all of our days.  He sent us the Holy Spirit and He is a faithful companion and guide.  Like a "lamp unto our feet", He will lead us.  He will go before us and behind us, He will hem us in.  We will hear His voice behind us saying, "This is the way, walk in it."

    3) We were very disappointed that we weren't able to summit the mountain and we wanted to disregard the warning and try anyway.  We couldn't imagine doing all of that work and having nothing to show for it.  We had already told people that we were hiking this thing, for goodness sake! Thankfully, we listened to Santos and made it home safely.  Now, I believe that God is helping me learn that we will face many "disappointments" in the coming months and years that we serve on our volcano.  Furthermore, as humans, we often see failure and disappointment (not summiting that mountain) where we should see success or hope (we made it so far!).  Our vision is short-sighted.  May He give us His kingdom-perspective anew each day.

   4) We began to stir around 4:30 am and learned that we were not going to be able to summit.  It had been a difficult night and we were all cold and sore from sleeping on the hard ground.  It would have been so easy to be grumpy, frustrated or angry.  But we were laughing and giggling about the lunacy of this adventure.  Of course we were disappointed that we had not ended 2014 or begun 2015 as we had intended, but we were all together.  This Guatemalan adventure will certainly be difficult, but our family is full of love, for one another and for our Lord.

    Honestly, when put into proper perspective, this camping trip was little more than an uncomfortable night out.  It is a gentle reminder of the truths in the Bible, though.  God has not promised us an easy life where all of our plans and dreams come true.  We are not promised food, water, shelter, community, happiness, good health, financial blessings, physical safety or security.   In fact, the Bible makes us some very different promises.  "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." 2 Timothy 3:12  "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you face trials of various kinds" James 1:2  Jesus tells us that to follow Him, we must take up our cross, deny ourselves, content ourselves with the idea that we will have no place to lay our head, that we will be hated, reviled, persecuted for His names' sake.  We are called to live obediently, in the midst of difficulties.  We are instructed to be content in ALL circumstances in this life.  Because this life is short.  We only need to endure it, but a little while.  And then!  "After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you."  1 Peter 4:10  Now that is a promise!  I pray that we can keep this perspective when we find ourselves up against the disappointments and difficulties of this life, and I am thankful that I serve a God who shows me patience when I lose that perspective for a moment.

Look past the haggard people and get a look at that tree!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Confidence in Him

We are getting nearer and nearer our departure time.  Our days are filled with so much activity.
There are so many details to attend to.  Have I ordered homeschool materials for the next three years yet?  Do I have shoes for the boys?  How do you buy shoes for growing boys three years in advance?  What should I bring from home?  How will I get it there and will it actually show up?  There are funds to be raised, going away parties to plan, and goodbyes to be said.  So, so many goodbyes to say.

We get to the end of most days and wonder what happened with the time, but, invariably, we feel good about what was accomplished and thankful for the friends we saw that day.  God has been so good to give us time with friends and family each day.  In fact, God has been so good...Period.

It is hard to attend to everything without thinking about our end goal.  That goal being to leave all that we know and love to go to a far away place that holds our hearts.  We are choosing this.  We choose it confidently, and that makes all the difference, doesn't it?

We know that our new life will be filled with challenges and dangers that we cannot yet fully imagine, but we also know that God has a work for us there.  I feel so protected and cared for by the Lord.  He has overwhelmed us by His generosity and faithfulness.  His gestures of love are so extravagant and there is no denying His plan for our life.  I am confident of the path that He has laid before us, and it is that confidence that keeps me going when I am afraid or sad.  Of all of His good gifts, this confidence and His assurance is what I most treasure.  Without it, I doubt that I could be obedient to His plans for us.  Our obedience is only the result of perfect peace and absolute certainty of a faithful God who always does what He says He will.

We feel truly blessed to serve the Lord in this way.  Because we have no hope of accomplishing this task without Him, we get to fully surrender each day into His hands.  Each step is taken at His good pleasure.  Each day He asks us to do something impossible and we step out knowing that only by His grace will we succeed.  And as the hymn goes, "He never failed me yet!"  We serve a God who is faithful all the time.  He will keep His promises.

For all of our friends and family who fear for us in this transition, please know that we find great comfort in the confidence the Lord has given us.  We are so thankful for your love and care for us.    We are blessed by your relationships.  We ask that when we have hard days of doubt and fear, that you will listen to us patiently, but also remind us of the confidence we have in Him.  Encourage us to stand strong in the faith.  Somedays will be especially difficult and we will need that reminder.  Remind us that His love is perfect and that perfect love drives our fear.  Please speak with boldness the power of the risen Lord into our lives, not the doubt and fear that spews forth from Satan, the father of lies. There is nothing that He would like more than to have well-meaning loved ones, in their fear, keep us from the unreached Tajumulco Mam people.  Please pray for us and lift us up in these ways.

So, at the end of the day, know that we are excited and nervous, we are sad and scared, we are busy and distracted, but most of all, we are confident.  And, thankfully, our confidence in Christ trumps all of those emotions.

Hebrews 10
22  let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings,...
23  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.
24  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,
25  not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 11
1  Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Can you pass the tissues, please?

Life here at MTI is a mixed bag.  On the one hand, I am surrounded by wonderful new friends who are always around for a fireside chat (or cry, let's be honest) or a game of Settlers of Catan in the evening.  The children have so many friends to play with.  We are surrounded by the beautiful mountains of Colorado, AND it snows here!  It all sounds pretty great.  Until you think about the intense sessions that we face every day, the lack of privacy or alone time, none of your friends or family are here, and the real kicker for me,  I haven't been able to cook for a month!! When I am stressed, I cook. I love to feed people.   Feeling anxious?  I must need to bake something!  It is my coping mechanism of choice, and it is completely unavailable to me.

Last week, we participated in a simulation in which we had to spend an hour in a small wooden box with 16 other people, hiding from rebel forces who were known to be attacking Christians.  It was intense!  I had not been a part of any type of simulation before coming here to MTI.  I don't think I could explain the experience very clearly in this format, but I am so thankful for the commitment of these trainers to do hard things so that we have an opportunity to confront our fears in safety.  It is amazing how a group of people who were strangers three weeks ago can pull together to care for one another in our weakness.  It was a hard day.

This week we have spent a lot of time talking about stress.  The "long-term, hard to manage, unrelenting" stress of the cross-cultural mission field.  Fun, right?  But that's not all.  We also discussed conflict, the different styles and how widely they vary in each culture.  We learned that we will absolutely, unintentionally (likely on a minute to minute basis) offend the people we are going to serve.  Today we talked about grief and loss.  Many tears were shed.  We spent the day talking over the losses we have experienced and making sure that we had properly grieved them.  In grieving, we acknowledge our need for our Father and we experience the blessing of His comfort.  He is the Father of all compassion and God of all comfort.  We cry out to Him, "Father, Help!" And He does.

Tomorrow we learn how to say good goodbyes.  More tears.  More mourning.  I cannot imagine leaving these people.  We have grown so close, bonding over shared tears and fears, joys and heartaches.  They have become a part of our story and we have become part of theirs.  But the reality is, we have only known one another for a month.  How am I going to leave my family?  Or the people who have become my family over the years?  I am blessed by rich relationships with dear, godly women.  We live in a community of believers who love fiercely and loyally. How do you walk into an airport with all of your earthly belongings in a few suitcases and say goodbye to the people you love?  I cannot imagine leaving this life and these people behind.   I am confident that the God who sends us is faithful and that we can trust Him with our family, but on days like today, I am just thankful that He is near to the brokenhearted.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Glimpse of Our Snowy Adventures

Aidan getting airborne!
Paul takes the boys for a hike every morning!

The boys had such a fun time in the snow!

Aidan's miniature snowman
The results of freezing fog

Sunday, February 16, 2014

MTI -The Lost Post

***This post is out of order, but I thought it was lost and just found it.  Those closest to me will understand!

MTI, or Mission Training International, will be our home for a month.  It is located in Palmer Lake, CO, and to say that the area is beautiful would be an understatement.  We are in a kind-of compound nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with 27 other missionary families.  It has been such a blessing for our family!  Friendships were quickly formed between kids and adults alike.

The weekdays are filled with classes that guide language acquisition and phonetics right now.  We are busy working out our lips and tongues all day (while watching our mouths contort in a mirror)!  It feels great to be a little silly, as it relieves the pressure that we all feel about learning new languages for the sake of the gospel.  I will NOT be posting pictures of these exercises!  We also have counseling sessions and sessions about expectations and the paradoxes of going/leaving.  The days are mentally tiring, but we always feel just a bit more prepared, a bit more confident, a bit more 'normal' at the end of them.  Our friendships go a little deeper each night as we sit around and process everything we've learned that day.  We grow a little closer as we share our stories and our struggles with one another.  It is hard to describe how sweet this time is!

The boys are having a blast and they are learning the same things that we are.  They go on field trips, talk about their Yay moments and their Yuck moments, and they spend time with other kids who are getting ready to say goodbye to all of their friends.  Elijah has learned how to sing "God is so good" in French and Swahili.  Aidan is learning Hindi, as well as "God is so good" in four languages!  The best part about this is is that their confidence is being built.  They are discovering that they can learn a new language and it can be fun.  We love seeing their faces when they share their new accomplishments each day!

The program here is intense, but they are mindful of this and our class days end at four during the week and we have the weekends off.  That means time for processing the info we shoved in our brains and time to relax and have fun so we are ready for the challenges of the next day.  Today we are headed to Pike's Peak!

The Days Are Just Packed!

This has been a very intense first week at MTI (Mission Training Institute).  In the words of Bill Watterson, The Days Are Just Packed!  It was a great week and, despite being a bit overwhelmed, I am so thankful to be here right now, just focusing on strengthening our family and preparing for our move. 

 We get up and eat breakfast with new friends and then worship all together.  Then the boys go to their classes and Paul and head to ours.  We are all learning the same things, just on different levels.  These first two weeks focus on language acquisition.  We are practicing speaking correctly and clearly and learning phonetics of symbols that I've never even seen, but will soon be using in my everyday conversation.  We watch our mouths in a mirror to make sure our tongues and lips are in the correct position and then commence with the noise making!  There is some laughter, but, for the most part, we are each intent on figuring this language thing out.  I  never realized how exhausting it could be to spend the day learning how to make sounds!  Aidan, Paul and I are each training in a different language.  The idea is to learn HOW to learn a language, so that you gain confidence and can guide language learning with a language helper on the field.  It is an amazing system and we are having fun.    Aidan is learning Hindi and, according to the adults in his group, he is doing very well.  No surprise there!  Paul is learning Bulgarian and I am learning Russian.  We are having a great time!

Besides the language acquisition, we are also having counseling and personal growth sessions.  We are also talking a lot about expectations and the paradox of excitement and sadness that surrounds the going process.  

All in all, it is an emotionally draining process, but the founders of this program are so smart.  Each day ends at 4:oo and we are free to process and decompress in the evenings and on the weekends.  We love hanging out in the evenings, talking with new friends and getting to know one another's stories.  Not to mention, we are living in a truly beautiful place for the next several weeks!  The boys go hiking every morning and we all play outside in the evenings.  

Yesterday, we went to Pike's Peak and that was an adventure!  We got two miles up the ascent and our radiator gave out!  We trekked back down, found a repair shop, rented a car and went back up while the minivan was being fixed.  It was more complicated than we had planned, but it was so amazing!  The summit of the peak is at just over 14,000 ft.  We made it to just over 13,000 (above the tree line) before they turned us  back.  The winds were sustained around 35 mph with gusts up to 80 mph.  Our car was being swayed a bit.  There were almost no guardrails, but the view was awesome!  We got out of the car at 13,000 ft and had to hold on to little Elijah to keep on the top side!  They loved it, but were a little trepidatious at being so high with such strong winds.  We took some pics and then headed back down 10,000 ft where we had seen a picnic area.  There was so much snow and we had plans to have some fun!  In some parts, Paul sank up to mid-thigh!  For the most part, it was 12-18 in deep.  We had never been in snow like that and it was a blast.  Snowballs were thrown, snow angels were made, snow was eaten.  In general, a great time was had by all!  


Monday, February 10, 2014

Roadtrippin' With My Three Favorite Allies

We got on the road yesterday and headed west.  I have never driven any further west than Dallas, TX, so I had so much fun!.  We woke up to a thick layer of fog over Shreveport, expecting it to lift at some point.  It never did!  As we headed west and then a little north and then a littler higher, the temperature just dropped steadily (from the 48 degrees in S'port).  It was great and I learned about a new-to-me weather phenomenon--freezing fog!  As we drove, everything become more and more beautiful because it was covered in lovely, silvery ice.  The trees and tall grasses, the fences, the furrowed dirt.  It was amazing and the boys could not stop taking pictures!

All in all, it was a wonderful drive across Texas and we all had fun and kept good attitudes, even though it took about nine hours.

We stopped in Amarillo for the night and stayed with the parents of a very sweet friend. We had such a fun night and they have played with and indulged our boys with stops to play in mounds of snow!  The boys are enthralled with the little piles of snow in the parking lots here, so I cannot wait to see their little faces when we actually catch our first glimpse of "real" snow!  

We are headed out this morning for the second leg of our journey and will arrive at Missionary Training International this afternoon.  We are all more than a little excited!