Mexico and Missing Out

 

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Her hugs were squeezy-tight and her eyes were a dancing deep chocolate brown. Her name was Azul, Spanish for blue, like the near by ocean at Playa Bonita. She didn’t take long to steal my heart as we spent the week together…and she was beautiful as she hung on to my leg and begged me to take her ‘back’ with me.

Tonight she sat across the table in the sanctuary of Familia de Dios,  sandwiched between her 9 year old brother Luis, and one of the Joni and Friends interns who was helping her uncle with his dinner. We had gotten to know her 3 uncles during that week and discovered that her uncle Israel LOVED his coffee. He sat with dignity in his wheelchair, with a contented face…despite the too big chair with no foot pedals to rest his tightened limbs, and eyes that were clouded over with cataracts making it hard to see his fork.

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His brother Miguel sat across the table, a smile brighter than the Mexican sun spread all across his face as he dug into the potatoes and salad. He didn’t say much but his smile said it all.

As I talked with the petite 24 year old across the table, mother to Azul, Luis, and a chubby 2 year old Ian, the bits and pieces of their story came together. Larissa had grown up with 3 brothers with special needs, and had married young, having 3 beautiful children of her own. Her mother had passed away from HIV just one month before leaving Larissa and her 3 brothers, one in a wheelchair needing complete care, one unable to speak, and the other with learning challenges. So she had picked up her little family and moved in to their home in the barrio to care for her brothers. Their father works nights as a security guard at the hospital so he can’t care for his sons, but he bikes the sandy road to their house to join in for meals.

We had dropped the kids off a few days before at a small concrete building, and Miguel

had announced with so much pride ‘Este es mi casa! This is my home!’

Eight people. In a small, hot, concrete house. With no bathroom. No toilet, no bath to bathe Israel’s stiff muscles.

What was I supposed to say? Words didn’t seem to encompass that kind of hard.

So I listened. I shared that my dad had also passed away a few years back.

The servers brought a second plate of salted beef and mashed potatoes and mango juice, and treated them like VIP guests. The Pastor came and warmly greeted them, finding out ways the church could help provide for them, realizing they had mutual connections as they chatted. One of the Joni and Friends interns helped to feed Israel, and make sure his coffee wasn’t too hot, and another ran around with the chubby cheeked Ian, laughing and delighting in his giggles.

We pointed to their photos in the slideshow as the music played, and Miguel’s smile got even bigger.

Do we understand? We can try…but we don’t.  We were able to shower off the grime of the 100 degree Mexican humidity every day when we returned to our rooms. I have 3 bathrooms in my house and my bedroom alone would fit their entire kitchen and living area.

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But Love speaks when our words fail. When our lives seem a world apart and it just doesn’t seem fair

Larissa hugged me tight as she said good bye, and I felt honoured, so privileged to have met this courageous, beautiful soul.  I shared that she was doing a wonderful thing in caring for her brothers, and that we ALL had been so blessed by our time with them.

 

Seeing Miguel showering sunshine,  feeling his tight hugs that brightened everybody’s
day.  I’m pretty sure his smile had hit instagram before our heads hit the pillow…sharing
with friends and family how much Joy he brought to the day.

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Seeing Israel’s face beaming when he arrived in the morning, ready to spend the day with his new friend Ethan, one of the Joni and Friends interns. And hearing his “GRACIAS” said with effort through tight lips as we pushed his wheelchair over the sandy road to his house with no front door.

‘THANK YOU.’ A word that I often forget to say even though I have so much.

And I come back to the words of Luke 14, to the words that inspired this special dinner tonight… ‘Bring them in, that my house will be FULL….and YOU will be blessed.’

Israel, we need to see your dignity shining through your pain. Miguel, we need your smile that speaks more than words. We need the courage of your care-giving Larissa. Azul we need your squeezy tight hugs.

Or God’s house is not full…and WE are missing out.

 

 

 

 

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Familiar backdrops

“I delight myself in You, captivated by your beauty,

I’m overwhelmed.”

These words sprang from my heart this morning as I jogged in the morning sunlight up the path, yellow flowers waving beside me.  Hills stretching out, melding into blue horizons as they rolled into the distance. A white spire of flower like a giant snapdragon rose into the blue of the morning sky.

The winding hill led me out into a neighboring street, a pink hibiscus floating by my peripheral view, then a bird of paradise sprouting up, flaunting it’s orange beak.

Gardens with white roses and bright reds overflowing their bushes.

It’s been 3 weeks and I still feel like California flowers are dressed in their best just for me. ( I also feel a bit like I cheated the system…leaving the20170412_184615 grey of Ottawa, and friends wishing for sunnier days.. and arriving to full blown spring. I feel a little ‘touristy’ taking out my camera to capture the neighbors rose bush… but hey I’ve never seen so many roses blooming in April!)

I don’t want to lose the enjoyment and the ‘wow’ of this beauty.

But I know how quickly in life the ‘wow’ turns into familiarity. The roses on the front lawn just become a blur as we rush in and out to the next activity. The bird of paradise becomes just another green plant as our mind spins with all that we have to do, or the things we wish we had.  No time to notice the little snail inching his was across the sidewalk leaving a dot-to-dot trail behind him, or the lizard stopping to assess the stranger on the path.

The gift we have been given become just another familiar backdrop to the day and it’s challenges. And instead of taking in the stunning beauty of a yellow daisy against the bluest of skies, my mind churns with the ‘have-not’s’ and the ‘not-yet’s’, the questions I don’t understand,  and the places ‘I wish I was’ in life.

Maybe the writer of Lamentations 3 didn’t want to lose his ‘wow’ either.  Maybe he had just enjoyed a sunrise over the Eastern sky, painting the hills with pinks and peaches in the freshness of dawn.

‘This I call to mind. And I have Hope. His Compassions are new every morning.’

Maybe he also was calling his heart…and ours…to never lose our ‘wow’ at the Compassions of our God. Fresher than a California morning. More vibrant than a pink 20170520_091656hibiscus. More lasting that the waving yellow flowers on the path ahead of my running feet.

New…every morning. When the sky is blue…and when its a grizzly grey. For every new need. Filling  His Word with truth, with promises.

No…I don’t want them to become a backdrop. Something I’ve heard oh so many times. But to jump out and make my heart sing even as I bump into the challenges and questions of the day, and my feet begin to lose their footing.

Because unlike the green of the California hills around me that are quickly turning brown with the strength of the sun and the scarceness of rain — This Word, His Compassions and Promises held inside — will not fade with time and weather.

“The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the Word of our God will stand forever.”

Isaiah 40:8

Perspective

I pedaled my bike around another corner, pushing into each turn, breathing heavily. Almost there… keep pedaling…so close…my thoughts were joining the rhythmic motion of my wheels.

It was one of those days when I just needed to go ‘up’. To push for a view. To move20170509_192305 towards the last rays of the setting sun.

I almost stayed in my room. I had writing to do. Papers to read for my Disability course.  I was tired…it was chilly. (confession…I guess I’m learning to measure ‘chilly in ‘California’ terms…)

And I didn’t have much time before the sun would sink below the horizon. But the path steadily forced me upwards, climbing around one bend in the foothills after another.

Then suddenly it was bending downwards, away from the setting sun, into the shadows. No! I don’t want to go down! I braked around the corner.

But on the next curve the path turned upwards again. Just a couple more hairpin turns and the view opened onto a vista stretching out to the Pacific ocean and the Channel Islands in the distance.  (I couldn’t see them that night, but I was told that they’re out there.)

My heart beat slowed and I propped up the kickstand on my bike.

20170509_193036The road was winding far below on it’s way to the ocean side. The rocky cliff of Boney Mountain was standing stately and firm on my left, and the sun was touching down on a peak to my right.

 

And it was all calling to my heart to stop. To take it in.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know.

Be still.

Be.

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Encanto

The breezy air was just about perfect as I rode down the wide bike path along the strip of neatly groomed grass in20170414_162203.jpg the neighbourhood of Newbury Park. I breathed in the California air, scented with spring blooms and couldn’t stop the stream of thoughts going through my head …’ These hills are so beautiful…this weather is perfect…how can this place be so nice…it’s SO beautiful!’
Sprawling hills wearing a coat of mottled spring green. White stucco houses, with arched doorways and turret entrances tucked safely into their comforting folds.

A peaceful shopping plaza, waterfall bubbling down into a frog pond.

I spotted the tiled sign with the scrolled letters ‘Encanto’ , spanish for ‘Charm’, and knew that was the sign I was almost at my temporary home.

Charming is what this neighbourhood is. Picture perfect. The kind that almost feels too good to be true.

20170430_170516So different from the hot dusty hills of Manchay I left behind in Lima Peru. So different from the gloomy grey days I left behind in Ottawa as spring struggled to make her arrival.

Earlier today I opened my inbox to a picture from home of the park just a few blocks from home.  The spring snow melt had overflowed the Rideau river…and it was clear that the park and the soccer field had fought a losing battle with the river. The bare trees looked dark and leafless…waiting…waiting…for a new spring coat.

And for the few weeks I was home in between Lima sum20170410_155910mer heat…and California spring…I heard it…and felt it in the air around me…the LONGING FOR SPRING. For the snow to melt, for the ground to soften, for the sun to shine! The gardeners waiting to get their hands in the soft earth, kids waiting to shed their jackets, students waiting for their daily dose of Vitamin D, so many waiting for relief from winter blues.

20170426_164337Sometimes I forget HOW LONG spring takes to come. And isn’t it just easier to spend 5 hours in the air and find spring color and sunshine somewhere else?  Just
avoid the flooded paths, and gloomy days…the in between?

Maybe, yes.  My heart IS grateful for this moment, for taking in this season of ‘Instant Spring’.

But I also have felt the exhilaration as the first spreading rays of sun begin to win the battle over the winter chill in Ottawa. When the puddles begin to shrink, and the robins bravely touch down, and the birds let out their tentative song. When the first plucky crocus pushes it’s splash of  yellow sunshine up through the snow like it’s joining ranks with the battle against the cold. When the bikes come out and the path is dry enough for the first chilly ride. When rain boots replace wool liners, fingers come out of their mittened hiding, and hats can be tucked away in the box marked ‘Winter Wear’.

When the first leaves courageously push their way onto the tip of the barest of branches, and the blossoms join not far behind. When the musty smell of earth is traded for apple 575208_10150943341836055_595982229_nblossom and lilac perfume, and my students are shedding their layers and shrieking with delight at a dandelion discovery.

And I want to remember that feeling in the seasons…the areas of life where I am not given ‘Instant Spring.’  When I’m not taken 30,000 feet above the flooded parks and gloomy skies and transported to sunny, charming, California hills. When I’m waiting…waiting….like those bare tree branches.

(although they tell me the green is short lived around here….the hills are quickly turning bare and brown…and the waiting will begin for the morning mist or hint of rain …)

I want to remember that sometimes the waiting…the longing….Makes the bird song louder, the lilac perfume sweeter, and the kiss of sun bring even more life. The JOY richer. And if I need a reminder to keep hanging on when the wait stretches ahead….there is a Book that reminds me in Genesis 8:22 that ‘While the earth remains, Seedtime…shall not cease.”…spring WILL come.  This Book also reminds me that fear and doubt will fight a losing battle when the rays of Hope shine in…

“Our soul waits for the LORD; 

He is our Help and our Shield…

our heart is glad in Him…” 

“… As surely as the sun rises, He will appear;

He will come to us … like the spring rains

that water the earth.”

Psalm 33:20 — Hosea 6:3

No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.  ~ Hal Borland

Even in the Valley

It’s May 14th, almost 6 months since I bumped along in the back seat of this van. These days I’ve been riding along the smooth roads of Southern California. But this week, I have needed to be reminded again…that even in the Valleys, He is with us. 

We were sitting in the back seat of the full van, bumping over the roads from Ica back to Lima. My heart was in my throat more times than I could count, passing cars coming straight for us and nearly missing a trucks bumper. We had one close call that morning 20161218_140641that left my adrenaline racing…but I consoled myself with the fact that drivers here seem to have a sixth sense on the roads and a hairs breadth is all you need. Never mind the ‘Don’t pass on a solid line around a corner when you can’t see what’s coming rule’…There’s always the rutted shoulder if need be. And the ‘Leave- a-cars-length-in-case-of-sudden-stopping’ must not have been part of their driver’s Ed training.

‘They know what they’re doing’ I thought.

We had left the ‘Efata’ orphanage & school for the deaf early that morning and had been driving for hours along the coast. Sandy, dusty hills surrounded us, and my 8 year old friend Camila and I were singing,  practicing ‘O Canada’ in sign language,  and passing the time by watching the beautiful sunset splash across the water and soften the dusty hills.  We paused in our singing and I posed a question to her.  ‘Hey Camelia, why does the light stay even when the sun is already set? ‘

‘Cuz it’s Jesus that has the light! His light never goes off!’ she exclaimed. And she continued, ‘….and his Church is ALWAYS open.’

And she began to sing…’

‘You are the way the Truth and the Light,

Were living by faith and not by sight.”

‘Mira mira’ oh no! Exclamations of horror at a car rolled into the ditch, people stopped on the side of the road, no ambulance or police…and how would they get there in all the traffic anyways?

‘There was a man holding his hand, and trying to get him out’ I heard the little voice of my  8 year old friend Camila . She had seen it too.  Oh so sad. And nothing we could do to help.

My heart sank and my stomach rolled. ONE split second was all it would take.

Fear began to grip my heart, and I just wanted to be safely back at the complex, or better still back home where the paramedics were minutes away and people usually  followed the respectful cars- length- away-from your bumper, and no-passing-on-a-double-line-around-a-corner sort of rules.

But even there…accidents happen. The truth is, I’m not safe. I’m vulnerable. And sometimes that truth fills me with fear.

I heard a little voice beside me.  ‘But even when I walk in the  Valley of the shadow of death, I don’t fear, because your rod and staff are with me….’

Even when. In the Valleys, in the Shadows, You are with me. 

She couldn’t have known how much I need to hear that. But Someone else did.

‘I thought of that because we were in a valley…’ she said.

Even in the valleys. Even when we can’t see clearly, and we have to walk by faith. Even there…He is with us.

Just like the young mom I saw holding her sleeping baby on the bus ride through Manchay, through the town called ‘Fear’ in Quechua. She held him close, covered warmly in a yellow sleeper and hat…and he slept, oblivious to the chaos of the traffic, the jolting of the bus. The poverty of the hills around him…the unknowns of his future.

His Presence, His Love,  loosens the grip of fear on my heart…calling me to Rest. To just let go…and be held.

 

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Remembering

“From God…to me…to you…to others.” 

My thoughts roll over each word like pearls on a string….precious, and costly…said with so much effort, and I choke up thinking about that moment. Said with so much love, so much passion,  as some of the last words I would hear from a man who taught me so much.

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Dad I miss you here in Peru. Speaking Spanish… remembering the Spanish classes we took together and how you loved to communicate with the locals on your rare trips to the Dominican or Mexico. Spending time at the Children’s Home here…and remembering how you loved to take a wiggling, restless little person in your arms, and hug them tight till they felt safe and cared for. Being invited to so many homes for Peruvian dinners…remembering how you and Mom loved to open your home to others, to share their cultures and try new dishes.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 4 years. 4 years of missing.

And yet I am thankful for the 28 years before that. For every day that I woke up knowing I was loved. For the way you taught me, encouraged me, loved and cared for me. I know you weren’t perfect, and you felt your imperfections…thank you for being honest about that. For reminding me of the perfection of my Heavenly Father…of the trueness of His love.

1604522_10153863013835584_1065654502_nThank you for pointing me to the Source of Love…that is still there even though you had to leave. Through your  words, your life…through cards like this one.

“From God…to me…to you….”

Dad, I felt that love. So many times over. One of the girls asked today where I got my ring.
” It’s my birthstone…My Daddy gave it to me.”  I said.  ( I remember…you wanted to give me a necklace, but took me to the store and let me choose what I would most like to wear. And looking back…the gift of your time was even more precious than the pale aquamarine stone.)

“….to others.”

And with every beat of my heart, every moment I’m gifted…may I keep remembering Who loved me first…and may that love continue to flow… (1 John 4)

“Oh I’m running to your arms, 

I’m running to your arms, 

The riches of Your love, 

Will always be enough, 

Nothing compares to Your embrace, 

Light of the world, forever reign.”

 

A Giving Love

It’s February 14th. I wasn’t reminded by hearts and Valentines chocolate in the aisle of every store here in Pachacamac. They didn’t get the put-out-valentines-candy-the-day-after-Christmas-memo here. In fact yesterday my walk in the 30 degree sunshine to 4 different tiendas in search of anything red or pink to decorate sugar cookies…proved fruitless. ‘No, no tengo.’  So our Valentine cookie project at the Juniper Tree Children’s home turned into gingerbread, stars, and bells,  with blue sugar and grey candy to top them off. …and what did it matter that there wasn’t hint of pink? What a fun project to get to roll and squeeze and cut out your very own cookie shapes, maybe for the first time ever. No importa! that they weren’t hearts, that the dough was too sticky in the hot, humid air…there was love in that kitchen as little pairs of hands rolled and sprinkled and tried to wait their turn.

Little Micah* who had not too long ago been sleeping in a park, fending for himself, proudly held up his completed star and placed it on the cookie tray. He was carefully and patiently coached by his new ‘Mama P’ and this ‘gringo’ helper, how to share the rolling pin, to take turns with his brother, to not go too fast or add too much flour. Ooof so much patience needed for those little people.

After cookie making and a craft they headed out to play and I chatted with ‘Mama P” as s16736239_10158275550730584_1658252360_nhe supervised the playground. Asking her how she came to add 4 extra to her family of one, and how she manages it all. Hearing how she and her husband had the same heart in wanting to move from their jungle home to step into the gap for these children at the Children’s Home. Every few sentences we were interrupted with hot little arguments, a shoe being thrown, a tumble and bumped knee. Patiently she encouraged, corrected, mediated, and managed the conflicts. 

“Love is at its most necessary when we are weak, when we feel incomplete, and we must show love to one another at those points.”  a friend shared in a facebook post this morning.  It may not be the kind of love celebrated in store windows,   it may not be the kind of love that first comes to mind with the word ‘Valentine’.

But this is the kind of Love that shines the brightest and most beautifully.

A giving Love.

And it points us to the Source and Author of Love. The One who is there to meet us in our weakest, in our greatest need.

“This is Love…not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and gave His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John :10

In her Nobel Lecture in 1979  Mother Theresa said it so beautifully and challenges my heart with these words…

“...God loved the world so much that he gave his son – it was a giving – it is as much as if to say it hurt God to give, because he loved the world so much that he gave his son, and he gave him to  Mary, and what did she do with him?

As soon as he came in her life – immediately she went in haste to give that good news, and as she came into the house of her cousin…the child in the womb of Elizabeth, leapt with joy. He was that little unborn child, was the first messenger of peace. He recognised the Prince of Peace, he recognised that Christ has come to bring the good news for you and for me. And as if that was not enough – it was not enough to become a man – he died on the cross to show that greater love, and he died for you and for me and for that leper and for that man dying of hunger and that naked person lying in the street not only of Calcutta, but of Africa, and New York, and London, and Oslo – and insisted that we love one another as he loves each one of us.

And we read that in the Gospel very clearly – love as I have loved you – as I love youas the Father has loved me, I love you – and the harder the Father loved him, he gave him to us, and how much we love one another, we, too, must give each other until it hurts. It is not enough for us to say: I love God, but I do not love my neighbour….How can you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbour whom you see, whom you touch, with whom you live.

And so this is very important for us to realise that love, to be true, has to hurt. It hurt Jesus to love us, it hurt him. And to make sure we remember his great love he made himself the bread of life to satisfy our hunger for his love. Our hunger for God, because we have been created for that love. We have been created in his image. We have been created to love and be loved, and then he has become man to make it possible for us to love as he loved us. He makes himself the hungry one – the naked one – the homeless one – the sick one – the one in prison – the lonely one – the unwanted one – and he says: You did it to me. Hungry for our love, and this is the hunger of our poor people. This is the hunger that you and I must find, it may be in our own home.”

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*Not his real name

Beauty in Manchay

28 times in the past 3 weeks I have bumped up and down the road through Manchay.  50 speed bumps for 50 minutes…(they’ve counted.) But I’m told the road used to be completely dirt and potholes, no guard rail to keep cars from heading down the cliff into the valley. So I’ll take the speed bumps…and be thankful they at least slow the speed of the colectivos, and busses narrowly missing us as they pass.

I’m also told that ‘Manchay’ is a Quechua word meaning ‘Fear’. ‘Horror’ and ‘Panic’ were  in the online definition.20170118_124305

Maybe it was a trepidatious traveler on the rocky cliff that gave Manchay it’s name. Maybe the refugees fleeing the militant ‘Shining Path’ in the 1980’s precipitated the name…or maybe it stems from the precarious ownership of land. There seems to be many reasons for fear to reign on these dusty hills.

Small shacks sprawl far up the mountain sides. The view has become the familiar
backdrop to our drives each day…but still  we wonder why. Why are the arid hills, so far from the road and the city a desirable place to live? The bumpy miles of dirt road, the hike when the road ends, the heavy loads that must be carried up daily.

But the Kids Alive staff have explained to us that the land is cheap or free for squatters coming from the outlying and jungle areas…looking for more opportunities in Lima, a better life.  And in some areas, if they stay on the land for 7 years…banding together as families to guard the land 24/7 and make it too much of a fuss  for the police to chase them off, it will become theirs.

7 years. For a few square feet of dusty ground, smaller than my bedroom and a small shack with no running water, and no electricity.

So much effort. Because there is Hope for new opportunities.

But is there opportunity? Or is it a mirage? These hill sides tell the story of so much fear…the kind of fear that invades a family broken by poverty, by alchohol, by abuse and neglect.

And that’s why the colourful mural announcing the Oasis School and Care Centre stands out on the road through Manchay. 20170124_114620The rainbow arch declares that there is Hope, and the scrolling letters at the top remind us that ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me’. 

This is a  place where real-Love-in-action is working to cast out Fear.

As we tour the grounds I see a swing set,  a covered volleyball and basketball court, and a big a wooden boat inviting imaginative little minds to sail right over those dusty hills into the blue of the Pacific ocean.

Bright pink geraniums against a sky blue backdrop stubbornly refuse to let the brown take over the color palette, and the room behind us is full of dedicated teachers taking a hot summer picsart_01-26-02-42-09morning to learn about the benefits of physical education.

The mission of Kids Alive and the Oasis Care Centre is to be present in this poverty, and to rescue children from abuse and neglect. Over time they’ve seen that the most long term benefits come from mentoring and supporting the student’s families . And so the ‘FE’ program exists, ‘Familias con Esperanza’  or ‘Hope’ to mentor, teach, support and counsel the families…and provide a way out of poverty and hopelessness.

The ripple effect is evident.

Last Wednesday we had the privilege of meeting Lina. * She took us up a winding road on the20170118_124918 hill behind the Oasis to visit her rented home, a temporary one till her own home becomes habitable. She led us even farther up the hill in the hot sun to her new house, only reachable by foot. She shared her dreams for the future, a new home where she, her husband and two children could live. They were waiting for the road to be built so a  water truck could drive up and deliver water for them.

Lina is one of the local Manchay moms who has been impacted by the Oasis school and Care Centre.  Her 5 year old girl came bounding out of the house with as much energy as the puppy she was squeezing tightly.  She is one of the students at the Oasis kindergarten program where she is fed, taught, and cared for.

Lina had been struggling to raise her children, when the Oasis came alongside her.  She learned about a God who offers Hope for this life…and beyond. She learned parenting skills,  and sewing skills , in a self sufficient program that makes uniforms and resources to sell to the community. She discovered a talent in working with the students at Oasis and now is studying to be a Speech Therapy Assistant. Even though she has to stay up till 3 am studying in her little 2 room shack  and go to school on Saturdays she is so thankful that so much in her life has changed.

And she gives the credit to her God, and to the Oasis Care Centre.

20170118_123613She asked if we would like to listen to her 11 year old sister play the violin.

There we stood, surrounded by desert and dust… in a humble, hot, kitchen-library-dining-living room and listened to the beautiful notes of a violin piece.  My eyes were drawn to a ‘picture gallery’ of proudly displayed school photos and artwork on the wall.

And a shiny heart with the words ‘Luz del Mundo’ ‘Light of the World’…caught my eye.

Way up on a hillside in Manchay a place called ‘Fear’, in this hot little house, the beauty of the music and the beauty of those words were not obscured by the surroundings.

They were even more beautiful because of them.

*Not her real name

Joy in the Morning

“Joy happens where two poverties meet” I read posted under a Facebook photo.

I think for a while, and nod my head in agreement. I see it happening here in Lima, Peru.

And I felt it last Monday at Cerro Azul beach, jumping into the chilly waves with the
children from the Juniper 20170116_102417Tree Children’s Home, watching them enjoy the cold of the Pacific ocean.

‘Maia’ and ‘Lila’ holding hands and jumping in the waves.

‘Lucas’  having races to see who could stand up first and longest on the surfboard.

‘Milan’  content to just  lie on the surfboard and be pushed again and again into the rush of the wave. ‘Otra vez! Otra vez!’ She pleads, till I’m sure my sunscreen has worn off hours ago.

‘Victoria’ timidly watching from a safe distance, and finally convinced to get on a board and give it her best try.

I stand with the cool waves lapping, the midday sun keeping the perfect balance between 20170116_143058hot and cold.  Pushing surfboards out to the waiting instructors, cheering wildly at the success even if it was a split second before the wave knocked them over. A more picture perfect day South of the Equator there could not be.

Joy is spilling all over this beach.

Just the night before we had been listening to the stories of these children’s lives…filled with neglect, abuse, sadness. Such a contrast to the laughter and joyful shouts all around me.

‘Amy Jo! Go for it!’ I hear. And the instructor is motioning me out. It’s been 3 years since the last time I went out alone with a board. So much waiting and falling and I barely got up. Can I do it?  But the instructor tells me exactly where to position my toes, paddles me out over the breaking waves, and positions me for the perfect run in. ‘Wait’ he says’till I say ‘Ya’, then you go! I look back, see the wave coming and start paddling…ahhhh too soon! And I miss it. But he patiently repeats ‘Wait till I say ‘Ya!” y tu puedes!” The wave is coming, I hold onto the board with tight grip, listening and resisting the urge to look. ‘YA!!” I feel the push, stand and sail in toward shore to whoops and cheers, several of them my own.

And I think back to a journal entry I wrote 3 years ago.

“Surfing…so like waiting on life, needing to be ready, positioned, watching for the opportunities to come, ready to throw everything into ‘catching the wave.’ And all that waiting…so worth it when the power of the wave comes.’

20170116_144257So hard to wait. But so worth it. I am so thankful for this moment, for these children who have been rescued from so much pain, who have been given the gem of a day at the beach. I know that this day, and the  joy they share even through their own poverty are  a gift to the lonely places in my own heart.

“I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”Mother Teresa once said. And there at Cerro Azul beach, I saw so many letters being written. From house parents serving picnic lunches, instructors patiently teaching, big siblings helping little ones.  From the children, their courage to try new things, their laughter,  their discoveries, and their joy.

amy-jo-and-macarenaFrom God Himself who whispers to my heart:

‘Weeping may endure for a night, but JOY comes in the morning’ 

I have stepped for the moment into their world and their lack..and they have stepped into mine. And maybe that’s where the morning dawns.

 

 

Broken Balloons

We sat on the covered canvas swing, trying to avoid the middle-of-the-day heat from the South American sun. I had the privilege of spending the morning with Danielo, my little20161227_122641 charge, who had a hesitant smile that I was trying hard to coax out of him, little by little.  He had been born pre-maturely, with only 5 months of development before he entered into the world, one he would have to navigate with out hearing, or speaking.

I was learning some sign language that he knew…and also that when he wanted to make himself understood  (for instance when he didn’t want to give up his place behind the wheel of the little plastic car.)… he had a stubbornness that would put a ‘burro’ to shame.

A friend had counselled me as I packed for Peru, ‘Bring balloons, there will always be birthdays to celebrate when you’re there!‘ And as I got to know Danielo, I realized that a balloon was one of the things that made his little smile appear. Perfect! I  also learned that it was of utmost importance to have multiple balloons in my bag, or my policing duties on the playground would scale up a notch. Yesterday I may have had to run up a slippery metal slide at lightning speed to separate two little boys (but not in time to stop a bloody nose)…when one communicates only in sign language, and the other arrived the day before from a neglectful family situation and doesn’t know sign language, there’s bound to be some frustration.

But at this moment I was enjoying a moment of calm with Danielo on the swing, showing him a puzzle to coax him out of the heat of the day.

POP!!! The green balloon he was clutching tightly exploded and he looked down in dismay. His lips pursed together stubbornly and he quickly held up the balloon to my mouth with the clear-as-day-message ‘My balloon!! Fix it please!!! Put the air back in!! ‘

Oh Danielo! I can’t! I smiled at his quick thinking solution to the problem and his determination.

If only I could. If only broken balloons were that easily fixed!

20161228_134829But wait! I signed to him. (That’s one sign I quickly learned.) I have another one in my bag…just a few puffs and voila, you can hold a brand new balloon.

If only I could. If only I could fix your broken world Danielo. If only I could put the ‘pieces’ back together and give you a family, a mom , and a dad, that would welcome your birth with joy and provision for all your needs, all your many challenges.

But sometimes things are so broken…they cannot be put back together the way they were. I can’t ‘fix’ the broken balloon. I can’t give Danielo back his Mom and Dad.

‘The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me…he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted”

Jesus came to do what I cannot. To put the pieces back together…to mend what was broken. No, here in this life, everything will not be like it was. It will not be exactly as it should be… but one stroke at a time on the canvas of our lives,  as we offer the pieces to Him, He restores and mends what was broken.

‘All these pieces, broken and scattered, in mercy gathered, mended and whole…’

joy

He came to heal , to add beauty where there was brokenness.

And  He calls us to join Him, to follow the strokes of His brush on the canvas of the
lives around us. I see it happening here, at a children’s home in Lima Peru.  Smiles are coaxed out, one hug, one cup of ‘jugo de mango’, one brightly coloured balloon at a time. A signed conversation, help with a hard task, a  celebration of accomplishments. And with the touch of the Master Artist, all together these strokes will make a beautiful canvas.