A Prayer for Refugees

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Lord, you are no stranger to the suffering of wandering people. Your written story is all about those who are lost, those who are impoverished, those who are hopeless. Your own son was born in a borrowed bed in a foreign, inhospitable land, open to attacks and dangers from those who hated you.

You know the struggles of the persecuted; You understand the pain of the displaced. Please open our hearts to see refugees the way you see them, not through the lens of fear, but through the lens of compassion and grace.

Forgive our nation when we close our borders. Forgive us individually when we love our comfort more than we love people. Break us, Lord. Help us to feel their pain. Move the heart of our president to be wise in the way he leads this country to protect its citizens, while continuing our long lasting tradition of welcoming the tired, the poor, and those yearning to be free.

Protect and provide for the many who are in need of finding a place to call home, access to safety, shelter, food, water, medical care. We cry to you, Abba Father. Use us, somehow, to bring healing and health to the wanderers of this world.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Emma Lazarus

Tomorrow is Moving Day

Tomorrow is moving day.

He had the kindest smile and the brightest and biggest brown eyes a little baby could ever have. He happily slept through the night just weeks after appearing in my life. He filled my heart with thanksgiving and praise and brought joy to my existence.

Tomorrow is moving day.

When he was 3, he broke his arm. We rushed him to the hospital and he courageously kept from crying while the doctor manipulated his bones back into place.

Tomorrow is moving day.

In preschool he fell madly in love with a beautiful little girl and he told me he wanted to grow up and marry and have brown babies.

Tomorrow is moving day.

It took him forever to talk. I drove him to speech therapy and celebrated every clear word. His best friend, Mitchell, understood him perfectly well. They had hours and hours of fun with cars, legos, and pretend games. They never argued or fought. They just played.

Tomorrow is moving day.

I taught him to read. He was exhilarated every time he finished a book. The stickers on his chart were an outward expression of the pride and happiness he felt. He was a joy to homeschool.

Tomorrow is moving day.

There were very few things Daniel hated. Among those, are vegetables. He sort of still mostly hates them.

Tomorrow is moving day.

He always had a girl crush growing up. From kindergarten through high school, he was (and is) a romantic at heart.

Tomorrow is moving day.

Ryan became his buddy. Ryan is now his best man.

Tomorrow is moving day.

His love for animals was contagious. Nothing like a trip to the zoo or aquarium. He knew the name of every imaginable dinosaur, along with eating habits, time periods, and habitats.

Tomorrow is moving day.

He always had an incredible sense of direction. Lizette and I always relied on him to get us to the right place when we were lost.

Tomorrow is moving day.

I could always count on him when I needed someone to kill a palmetto bug.

Tomorrow is moving day.

The more he grew, the more he resembled his dad, both in looks and personality. Yet, he took after me in this one thing: his love for dancing. He was not shy about hitting the dance floor. His signature move was the worm.

Tomorrow is moving day.

He also loved the spotlight. I guess he gets that from me also (OK, he took after me in a couple of things). He found a love for theater and performing. He loved playing the bishop in Les Mis.

Tomorrow is moving day.

He served in Jamaica a couple of summers. He loved everything about it.

Tomorrow is moving day.

In high school, he fell in love with a long-time friend. Her name is Geneva. They officially became a couple on senior prom night.

Tomorrow is moving day.

He has always been and continues to be a very faithful friend.

Tomorrow is moving day.

His love for his family, especially his siblings, moves me deeply. When his sisters call him with a need, he’s willing to help at the drop of a hat. He is committed to Gabriel and I feel peace in knowing that Daniel will never leave him, but will watch over him with great care and love.

Tomorrow is moving day.

“Danieeeeel!” is what you hear at my house any time an electronic device freezes or malfunctions.

Tomorrow is moving day.

Goofy. ‘nough said.

Tomorrow is moving day.

He has become quite a fabulous young man. He is responsible, interesting, tech savvy, fun, engaging, respectful, and faithful.

Tomorrow is moving day.

Geneva has captured his heart and mind. He is a lucky duck. The two will wed in 2 1/2 weeks and ride into the sunset together.

Tomorrow he is leaving father and mother in order to cleave to his beloved.

My heart is full. I am proud, happy, excited, hopeful, as well as sad, nostalgic, and utterly surprised at how quickly time flew by.

 

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daniel 6

daniel 10

daniel 40

daniel 39

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daniel 36

The Impossibility of Obeying God

One of the pastors at Third Church RVA reminded me yesterday that God calls us to do things we can’t do without him. In his sermon on Luke 9, referring to Jesus feeding the 5,000 people in the crowd, Rich Hutton pointed out that after hearing the request from the disciples to send people home to feed themselves, Jesus gave them a directive instead. “You give them something to eat,” he said. But how would the disciples do this, when they were hungry and tired themselves, as well as broke and needy? Impossible.

God calls me to do the impossible. And God’s calling to you, dear reader, is unattainable as well, at least in your own power. What is God’s calling? What are his commandments? How are we to obey him?

“One of the teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.'” (Mark 12: 28-31)

In my youth, I used to think I could do these things. I believed I could love God with everything in me, and I could love other people. But the more I grow and live, the more I realize it is absolutely, unequivocally impossible for me to do this! I look back at my life and realize that the main motivation for my actions, even the “good” ones, has mostly been self-centered. Not that I realized that. Not that I am that discerning even now! But I’m taking a hard look at myself and finding that even what I do in service of others is often tainted with pride and self-indulgence. Have I ever truly loved God and loved my neighbor? Yes. But have I obeyed God’s commands well, faithfully, and consistently? Absolutely not.

Just as it was impossible for the disciples to feed the crowd, it is impossible for all of us to do what God requires of us. And just like in the story of Mark, we can find comfort in the fact that Jesus not only understands our inability, but is willing to step in and do the work with us and through us!

God calls us to do the impossible, SO THAT HE CAN HELP US! This blows my mind! I so desperately need God’s help and He is so willing to give it! Jesus was the one who fed the crowd, but the disciples were the ones handing out the bread. Their reluctance turned into joy, and their burden into gratitude.

Lord, will you help me today? Will you come to the aid of my readers as well? Do what we cannot do ourselves. May you empower us today to love you with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and may you love others through our service to them. May you purify our hearts so that our motivation for living and our purpose for serving is God-centered and not self-centered. May we pour out honest love and kindness towards those whom are closest to us, spouses, children, parents, friends. May we desire your glory to be displayed for all to see as we serve people outside of our inner circles. May we not seek self-satisfaction from our good works, but instead experience true joy and gratitude that stems from a sincere place of worship to God and service to others.

I thank God that in giving us commandments that are impossible to keep, He also demonstrates his love for us by empowering and supplying for us, to us, and through us.

“The Lord is the strength of his people” (Psalm 28:8a)

 

Great Friday

Today is like no other day.

Today I remember that all the ugliness of my soul and the sinfulness of my heart have been dealt with.

Even on my best days, I end up saying the wrong thing, thinking the wrong thought, or feeling the wrong emotion. Even when I try my hardest to be a great friend, a loving mother, or a selfless wife, if I’m honest with myself, I stink at it! I fail over and over again, and the more I miss the mark, the deepest my tendency to despair.

There is one thing I want more than anything else in life. I desire great faith. I would like to be a strong believer with great love for God, devotion to his Word, and undivided trust in his sovereign will. But in this I fail as well. I pray little, I read lightly, and I do not believe God when things don’t happen the way I want them to.

But this day I remember that God so loved me, that He gave his only Son,  so that He would pay the penalty for all my faults. I cannot comprehend this love. He, who was sitting in heavenly places, became man, clothed in frailty and humanity. He lived life perfectly, and then, at the appointed time, gave his life willingly. Unlike any other god of any other religion, Jesus became a cursed sacrifice. He received God’s justified wrath for my sins and the sins of the world. The punishment that should have been mine, was taken by another. And now, I walk in the freedom of forgiveness. Such astonishing grace!

Therefore, today I am beyond grateful. I am not condemned, even though I should be. I am not an object of wrath. Instead, I am highly valued by God, lavishly loved, and generously pardoned. And the suffering of this life do not compare to the incomparable riches of his mercy.

Today is like no other day. Today, I receive the comfort of the knowledge of my place in heaven. Today I REST. Today I crawl up under God’s embrace and feel the joy of the salvation he has provided. Today I’m OK with being a sinner, because I am secure in Him.

Colossians for You

May you be filled with the knowledge of his will

Through all spiritual wisdom and understanding

That you may please God in every way and bear fruit in every good work

Being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might

So that you many have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to God

He has qualified you to share in his inheritance and rescued you from darkness

He has brought you into his kingdom where you have redemption of sins

So see to it that no one takes you captive through deceptive philosophies

Do not let anyone judge you based on outward, religious customs

For you have been raised with Christ and your life is hidden with him

Therefore set your minds on things above, not on earthly things 

Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature

And clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience

Bear with each other and forgive each other’s grievances, just as the Lord forgave you

Over all thing practice love, which binds all things together in perfect harmony

Make the most of every opportunity and let your conversations be full of grace

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts and his Word dwell in you richly

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of Jesus

The Book of Colossians

sunset in richmond

My Son is a Genius

My son is a genius. No, I’m not kidding. He is a spacial genius. I don’t know if there is a specificity for the genial kind, but as a mom, I’m telling you, Gabriel is incredibly special and highly talented in spacial understanding and memory.

I know you are dying to hear my anecdote, so let me explain:

For the past few months: Gabriel has recently discovered the stimulating world of Google Earth. He has spent numerous amount of hours virtually navigating the streets of Miami, where he lived until four years ago. He has communicated to us that he wants to move back and that he has found a few spots where we can get a “new house”. He has a special spot in South Miami that he really likes. One day we found him looking at rental properties around the area, strategically planted within walking distance of a Pizza Hut.

Three days ago: My husband called me urgently to come into Gabriel’s room and see what his computer screen was displaying. We stared at it in total and absolute amazement, while Gabriel casually “visited” Seaquarium in his tablet.

24 years ago: When Gabriel was 1 year old, Juan and I, along with our two little ones, moved to “Kendall Club Apartments” and lived there for two years. When our third son was born (he was exactly 8 days old), we moved to a single family home nearby. Gabriel was 3. I do not ever recall returning to that apartment since our move. We drove by Kendall Drive many, many times throughout our life in Miami, but never did we enter the apartment complex again.

Three days ago: Gabriel was virtually standing in front of the exact apartment he lived in when he was 3 years old. Simultaneously, in his tablet, his finger moved through the streets of Miami, from the Seaquarium in Key Biscayne to Kendall Club Apartments. First the causeway, then US1, then Sunset Drive, passing by Pizza Hut, of course, to 87th Ave, to Kendall Drive.

He remembers it all. He can navigate it all. If he had the ability to drive, he would get in his car and drive straight from VA to his favorite spot in Miami. He could also take us, practically with his eyes closed, to Marco Island, Disney World (of course), Steve Reed’s house (inside story), Delaware, DC, Virginia Beach, or anyplace where he has been only once.

This may not seem like a genial trait to some. But for an autistic adult who has never driven, never seemed to pay attention to his surroundings, hardly ever looked out the window of a car, never asked or received verbal directions, nor ever studied maps up until recently, this is quite outstanding. None of my other children (who speak and drive) would be able to get to most familiar places of their childhood without any help or hesitation.

Of course, we already knew this about Gabriel. When he was 8 he got upset when I was driving him to school one day, and told me to “turn right”. I obliged, because when Gabriel used words we all made sure he was rewarded for that. After several commands to turn this way or the other, I found myself in Parrot Jungle. Gabriel smiled. He had only been there once before, but when he directed me there, he did so via an unfamiliar road, one that we had never taken to get to Parrot Jungle. Another time we discovered that he had drawn in his pad the entire way to Marco Island, one picture frame at a time, after we visited there once. The pictures took us to the hotel (and the exact room) in which we vacationed. These pictures were drawn several months after the fact.

Autism puzzles and intrigues me. Gabriel amazes me. I thank God that often times He gives, who are closest to him, glimpses of the complexity of thought and depth of personality in him.

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Gabriel elated to get a computer for his birthday

Gabriel and I

My boy and I

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Kendall Club Apartments in Gabriel’s computer screen

New Strength

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Why do you say, O Jacob

And complain, O Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord;

My cause is disregarded by my God”?

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

The creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

And his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary

And increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

And young men stumble and fall;

But those who hope in the Lord

Will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

They will run and not grow weary,

They will walk and not be faint.

-Isaiah

My Man

Next Monday Juan and I celebrate 30 years of marriage! I can hardly believe it. So it seems appropriate to dedicate this next post in my Tributes series to my man.

I could write a book about Juan, thirty years’ worth! But I will simply honor him for the single most important quality that makes him the man he is. This characteristic caused me to fall deeply in love with him when I first met him, and it is still the strongest draw I feel towards him even today. Juan has matured and changed during the course of our marriage, but this single trait has endured and remained constant throughout. I am so very grateful for this.

Juan’s deep and unwavering love for God is his most attractive quality.

It was probably during our third or fourth date that Juan and I sat side by side to journal our prayers to God. He kept a notebook where he would pen longings, dreams, desires, and fears, while pouring out his heart to the Lord. I loved, loved, loved this about him. Today, I still get up in the morning to find him doing the same thing. Another page in another notebook. Another prayer. Another verse. Another breath of hope and comfort as he fellowships with the Spirit. I love, love, love this about him.

Throughout the many trials and suffering we have lived through as individuals, as a couple, or as a family, Juan has never second guessed the goodness and far-reaching love of the Father. While I have questioned God’s purposes, presence, or care, Juan has remained steadfast in his belief in the sovereignty and love of God, without question or hesitation. In the loss of a job, the frightening prognosis of health, the rebellion of a child, or the experience of depression, his default has always been to run towards the light of God, never from it. In desperate times, Juan has kept me steady, directing me to find hope in the right source.

Juan has had an unshakable love for me and our children. In spite of the fact that in our human frailty, we have misunderstood and hurt each other, his love for God has prevailed in all and through all, moving him to forgive, repent, display grace, and move forward. He is filled with incredible hope and optimism, not because he looks at people or circumstances, but because he fixes his eyes on Scripture.

Juan has been a firm rock and a steady source of security for me, for 30 years. I am looking forward to continue to love him and be loved by him for the next 30. I count myself blessed by God for giving him to me.

 

The 12 Months of 15K

On the first month of 15K my true love gave to me

My baby’s graduation party

On the second month of 15K my true love gave to me

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

 

On the third month of 15K my true love gave to me

A fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the fourth month of 15K my true love gave to me

A girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the fifth month of 15K my true love gave to me

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the sixth month of 15K my true love gave to me

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the seventh month of 15K my true love gave to me

Outdoor delights

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the eighth month of 15K my true love gave to me

Seussical adventures

Outdoor delights

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

 On the ninth month of 15K my true love gave to me

Fun in RVA

Seussical adventures

Outdoor delights

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the tenth month of 15K my true love gave to me

Awesome BFFs

Fun in RVA

Seussical adventures

Outdoor delights

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the eleventh month of 15K my true love gave to me

In the skies with Gabriel

Awesome BFFs

Fun in RVA

Seussical adventures

Outdoor delights

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

On the twelfth month of 15K my true love gave to me

Hugs, smiles, and presents

In the skies with Gabriel

Awesome BFFs

Fun in RVA

Seussical adventures

Outdoor delights

Beaches and vacations

Kiiiids and more kiiiids!

Girls’ trip to Miami

Fiddler on the roof

Chilly days with family

And my baby’s graduation party

An Honest Assessment

The end of 2015. I’m not one to over-analyse things. At least that’s what my family tells me. But this year has been especially challenging for me and approaching its end seems to accentuate the urge to remember and recall the blessings received, the difficulties experienced, and lessons learned this past year.

For those of you on social media who view my beautiful family pictures with smiling faces and assume that I am a wonderful person with a wonderful marriage and a perfectly harmonious family, please remember that we take those pictures during happy and peaceful times, during vacations, birthday celebrations, and special moments. These pictures are not deceitful. They are honest. But they do not reflect the full spectrum of life lived.

With that said, here’s a recap of my year (and if anyone out there relates, shout out an amen, will ya?):

Despite my dreams and aspirations to be a good mom and wife, I have to admit I’ve yelled at my husband, said hurtful words to a daughter, acted intolerant towards a son, and neglected my mother. I’ve been impatient with those whom I love and wounded them with my words and actions. Not once or twice, but many more times than I could recount with a shed of dignity. I have cried many tears, especially the months that Gabriel had his eyes (and emotions) shut. Also, my other kids are leaving the house one by one and I confess I have not handled that with faith or trust in God. I have, instead, felt self-pity and self-absorption. Yes, grieving during empty-nesting is natural, and I sure have done that. But I’ve also been consumed with regret and insecurities, all pointing to the fact that my assurance of God’s presence and purpose have been lost in my focus on self. This depression has affected me in more ways than one, and I think I’m experiencing a full-blown hormonal super-charged midlife crisis!

On the flip side, I have rejoiced and given thanks for seeing my children grow in their faith and mature in their choices. I have seen them being courageous, determined, and disciplined. I have cherished the times we have as a family and my heart has been so encouraged seeing the love that they feel for one another. They are the best of friends and they will always be there for each other. What a gift! This year I’m gaining a daughter and the wedding happens in less than 4 months! These are exciting times full of hope and anticipation.  Lizette has recorded an album, Gabriel has had his eyes open for months! (Praise the LORD), Daniel has received a promotion and raise, Geneva has moved to RVA, and Elise has become a board certified CNA. Yay! And despite my many failures as a mom and wife, I have loved well at times, forgiven when needed, brought the family together, cooked for many family gatherings, listened, hugged, given rides, and cheered for my kids. God is certainly at work in my life.

In other news, my job has rocked. Not only do I love what I do but I have made good friends, met wonderful people who pour out their lives for their children and work passionately for their community. I have also been stretched in my skills as a musician. I got to direct the pit orchestra while working as music director for Fiddler on the Roof, a most terrifying and exhilarating experience. I also did my part in directing the music for Seussical in a two week period. Who knew that could be done! And I discovered the LoVetri Somatic vocal technique, which I’m using with all my private voice students with great results. Not only do I love my job, but my husband loves his job. I mean, really? He has left happily in the mornings and returned happily in the evenings. We are both, indeed, quite content in that department. Yay for 2015!

My faith, on the other hand, not so steady. I often times have felt far away from God’s presence, I have stayed away from the Word and doubted God’s goodness. I have not prayed due to lack of trust. But God has sent me encouragement in the form of great sermons, faithful friends, testimonies, facebook statuses, and beautiful sunsets. So despite my weak and feeble faith, God is strong through me and in spite of me. My verse for this year (and for my entire life) has been “I do believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

And friends. While I am sad to say that I don’t have many close, local friends at the moment, I do consider myself blessed by people who have cared enough to pray for me, worry about me, laugh with me, give me words of encouragement, and share their hearts with me. If you are reading this and know you are part of this group, I want to tell you I am so thankful for you!

2015 has been a hard year, but also a good year. I have eaten too much and gained enough to not fit into my clothes, I have traveled and seen new places, I have visited loved ones in Miami, I have made new friends here, I have been loved by those whom I work with, I have read good books, seen the justice system work in favor of the innocent, gotten mad at politicians, discovered the Philadelphia Museum of Art with my mom, gone to the Venetian Pool twice, been criticized for my views on welcoming refugees, seen my nieces dance flamenco, breathed in ocean air, made music videos with Elise, seen Newsies, cuddled with Bosco the horse-dog, learned to make flan, seen Man of la Mancha, had not one, but two blood transfusions, played Balderdash, bought new couches, gone to Carters Mountain with fabulous people, built a snow-man, gone Christmas caroling on Lizette’s birthday, gone to a vineyard, sat in countless amazing auditions, prayed with dear friends in a fellowship group, listened to Hamilton, toured the Supreme Court, chaperoned, attended Bible study, drank 4 sips of wine without getting drunk, and discovered many great little restaurants in RVA.

2015 has forced me to grow. It has been full of life, celebrations, and fabulous experiences, as well as challenges and heartache. God has remained a steady rock through it all. Thank you 2015, it’s been good knowing you.

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