With The Eye on The Finish Line

I’ve never been good at running. As a child, I was always last in my school’s races. As an adult, I do not have the stamina for it. But I love to watch runners (one of my favorite Olympic sports) and I imagine that being fast and strong would feel free and powerful.

Lately (I love summers when I have tons of time to read) I’ve been learning about runners, such as Glenn Cunningham and Norm Bright, whose lives shone forth dedication, passion, and discipline. They loved to run. Cunningham’s legs were burned as a child and he was not expected to walk, much less run or become the fastest long-distance runner in the world. Bright ran even after he became blind, and it’s told that in his 80’s, he would walk around his care center with his grandnephews, as he timed the walk on his stopwatch.

Paul, the apostle, defined life as a race. I may not understand what it feels to be physically fast, but I think I sort of get the concept of a race, if nothing else, because my life feels like one. I know I have left the starting line, and I am currently running. Sometimes I feel exhaustion, as if I can’t run any longer. Other times I feel energized and renewed, with fresh vision and stamina. And I know there is a finish line waiting for me. We all get there one way or another, sooner or later.

How will I run this race of mine? That is a question I need to answer constantly. Distractedly? Aimlessly? Self-relying? Or will I run it strongly and with macular vision? It is said that Cunningham’s favorite verse in the Bible was Isaiah 40:31: “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” This is my desire, to wait on the Lord and to continually sense the strength-renewing power that comes from abiding in HIM. Oh, I have known this power many times in my race. I have been lifted, dusted off, and energized plenty of times. It is not just wishful thinking. I know this power to be real and effective. Because as I run this race, in the power of God, He gets all the glory.

I do not know when my last day on earth will be. I do not know when I will reach my finishing line. Today, I pray for strength and vision for my next lap, and joy while I run with everything I’ve got. On that day, when my race is done, I will get everything my heart ever longed for, because when I meet Jesus face to face, He will be my everything. Ah, I can hardly contain my excitement and longing! When I cross that line, those who love me should throw a party and rejoice with me, for there is no greater reward than running the race, finishing well, and obtaining one’s reward.

 

Glenn Cunningham, 1933

Glenn Cunningham, 1933

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Phil 3:13-14

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Parenting Disney Style

As I was flipping channels looking for something to watch on TV, I briefly came across a reality TV show. All I could watch was about 7 or 8 minutes before I couldn’t take it anymore. Several girls had traveled to England to meet their Prince Charming. They did not know the man in question was an impostor and at the end of the show, after they “fell in love”, he would reveal his true identity (probably to the horror of the winning contestant).

But this is not a criticism of reality shows (I confess I do watch a couple of them; Have you seen Master Chef?) Rather, this is a perplexed observation of the interviews with these girls as they entered into their quest to find love. The words “fairy tale”, “prince charming”, “happily ever after”, and “soul mate” easily flowed from their mouths, garnished with deep sighs, bright eyes, and pensive smiles.

Let’s face it, girls are practically born romantic. Our little princesses love the idea of growing up and finding their prince. Not just any prince, but the perfect one, you know, like their dad. Through a steady diet of fairy tales, their feminine, little hearts are persuaded they will grow up, meet a great looking boy, fall in love instantaneously, and marry for sheer, eternal joy. Teenage girls’ Pinterest boards are packed with ideas for wedding dresses, wedding hair, wedding pictures, decorations, themes, and menus. Their minds are full of dreams of happily ever afters. It is natural and adorable when they are young. It is worrisome as they grow older.

I don’t claim to have an expert opinion on this issue, but it seems to me that it is actually unhealthy for parents to foster this idea of finding a soul mate, as if each of our kids are “meant” for a specific other person, and that this person will provide the happily-ever-after their hearts long for. It could seem harmless to instill this romantic idea that destiny (in a secular world) or God (in believers) has chosen this one, perfect match.

Am I just a cynic and a pessimist? I’m open to hearing other views, so feel free to chime in. But before you do, let me clarify my point of view:

I believe in marriage. I believe in marriage to one person, until death-do-us-part.

I believe in God, and I know that all things are ordained by him. Everything works out for the good of those who belong to him. Even bad marriages.

I believe that marriage is a really, really good thing. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful husband who has been my absolute best friend for the past 28 years.

I also know that marriage is hard, even painful. Spouses hurt each other, betray each other’s trust, and are hard to live with. Marriage takes WORK and perseverance. The idea of sheer happiness in a marriage, in my opinion, is non-existent. A good, intimate marriage develops in a battle ground where two people are striving and fighting against their own selfishness to love their spouse. It takes time and effort and lots of I’m sorry’s. It takes forgiving and forgetting. It takes self-sacrifice.

It is naive to think that bad things won’t happen, even in the lives of young people who take all the necessary steps to “insure” a future, good marriage. Death happens. Abandonment happens. Abuse and betrayal.

Finally, there are people who remain single, either by choice or by circumstance. The truth is that not all women find their “prince”. Our daughters could be called to God-ordained singleness, which is not a life any less worth living than a married one.

So if our girls, while maturing in age, do not simultaneously mature their thinking from fairy tale to fact, they could find themselves facing the harsh reality of life and not knowing how to respond to it. They could be so disillusioned by their crushed dreams, even to the point of a weakening of their faith in the providence of God.

I’ve been guilty of over-spiritualizing this concept of awaiting for this sole chosen mate. And while I don’t think we should crush little girls’ illusions and dreams, I am also convicted that we are to communicate realistically about their options. Marriage is an option. Singleness is an option. Hopefully they will marry one man and live intimately and lovingly with the same person until their old age. But sometimes things don’t work out that way. To me, what is important is to ground our children in a personal faith in GOD, not in marriage or circumstances in life. A spouse can abandon, but God will never abandon. A spouse can betray, but God has laid it all down for us, proving his faithfulness. We may feel lonely in our life’s journey, but in God we can find steadfast and fulfilling fellowship. So no matter what happens to our little girls as they grow up, if they are anchored in God, by trust, then they’ll not only be OK, but they will be prepared to face whatever comes their way.

Let us reject Disney and fairy tale parenting. Let us, instead, point our children to Christ, regardless of where life takes them.

 

 

6 Reasons Not to Homeschool Your Kids

Whether considering homeschooling or already on that path, examine the statements below. If any of them apply as reasons/motivation to homeschool, you may want to change course, and do it fast. If nothing else, you might at least want to adjust your expectations.

1.  Shielding your kids from the world. It’s true that by homeschooling you will be able to delay the influence of the world on your kids. You can help them think logically and analytically so they can better discern the things of the world. BUT, you cannot shield them from it. Sooner or later, the world will find them, whether it’s through neighbors, TV, friends at church, other homeschoolers, or books. If not while they are school-aged, it will be when they go to college or get a job. Scariest of all is that sin and rebellion resides within their own hearts, and the world is just an extension of collective sinning and rebellion. So the only thing you can realistically expect is to prepare them for the world as much as possible without being fooled that you are actually protecting them from it.

2. Insuring your kids’ salvation. Only God saves. Repeat after me. Only God saves. Teaching your kids the Bible, praying with them, including redemptive perspective in your history and science books, and volunteering at the local shelter will not necessarily lead them to salvation. Yes, Scriptures admonish you to teach and pray and lead by example, and homeschooling provides plenty of opportunity to do so, however, even after you do all you can, salvation only belongs to the Lord. And God finds and saves all kinds of people, from every group, every race, and every style of education. He forms and grows godly men and women from all walks of life.

3. Earning a bonus holy parenting badge. I, myself, have been a member of the holier-than-the-next-guy club, where homeschoolers rank at the top of the list. What self-sacrifice, hard work, discipline, and LOVE for our kids! While I admit not all homeschoolers feel this way, I have also observed it’s an easy temptation to fall into this trap. So do yourself a favor and reconsider your ways if there is even a hint of belief that homeschooling will make you (or demonstrate to others, even God) that you are a more loving and dedicated parent than those who send their kids to school. It’s a lie and it’ll serve you well not to believe it.

4. One-parent vision. This one is simple. Don’t homeschool unless both parents are in full agreement. The last thing you need is for your marriage to suffer as a result of this choice. It will be worst for your kids in the long run. 

5. Counter-cultural peer pressure. You would think peer pressure only works when it comes to doing what the majority does. But I’ve seen enough sub-cultures where there is pressure to be counter-cultural, to believe that by homeschooling, you will change the world, one family at a time. While this could be true (I’m not sure, really), don’t homeschool because you feel pressured to. If you belong to a church made up mostly of homeschooling families, watch out for this kind of thinking. Be sure to homeschool because this is what you believe is the best choice for YOUR family. It’s an individual calling. Homeschool because you love it, not because you have to.

6. You are a homeschooling family. Raise your kids as individuals, not only family members. Homeschooling might work wonderfully for certain members of your family and not for others. Be open to being a “homeschooling family” who has a kid in school, because he/she needed it. Homeschooling is not one-size-fits-all.

DO HOMESCHOOL if both parents feel strongly that God is calling you to do this, if you have an environment which is positive and conducive to great education, and if your child has educational or emotional needs that will not be met in school. In addition to that, homeschool because you love it, and because your children love to learn, and because you grow close as a family. Pray for one another and sing hymns and read about God in your science books, because they won’t be able to do that in public school. Help your kids become best friends and go on lots of field trips and read lots of fun books. I homechooled for 19 years and I wouldn’t take a single one back.

4H awards

4H Awards

Greek Olympics

pineapple plant

Planting a pineapple

Daniel and Elise in biology lab

Biology Lab

Faith, Big Hands, and Preachers

As a parent of 4, I have learned that crossing the street with little ones can be tricky. Young children fidget and love to run while being completely unaware of danger. My grandmother taught me that I could not hold my children by the hand when crossing a busy street, but I needed to grab them securely by the wrist. That way, they couldn’t wiggle themselves away, even if they tried.

Many years ago, Gabriel (my autistic son), then a toddler, took off running while I was inside a store by a busy highway. He saw an open door and made a run for it. My daughter, Lizette, just 2 years older than him, caught up to him a lot quicker than I did, because I was 8 months pregnant with my third child. She latched on to his hand and tried to stop him, but he continued running, dragging not only himself but his sister into what would have ended up in their deaths, had it not been for a man who appeared out of nowhere and grabbed Gabriel firmly, stopping him from running. Yes, that was one of the scariest days of my life, but that’s not the point of this story.

The real point of the illustration is that when in danger, it matters greatly who we’re holding on to. My daughter, Lizette, was not strong enough to protect Gabriel. He needed a big enough set of hands to pick him off the ground into safe arms. So it’s not the act of holding someone’s hand, of reaching out, that saves. What matters is who we’re holding on to.

So much talk about faith, positive attitude, and good energy going around. My Facebook news feed continually shows messages from inspirational leaders, including some who claim to be Christian, whose main message is that we must have faith. But faith in what? In our plans? In our good wishes? In mysterious energy that travels where needed? Do we need faith so that “everything works out”? While the Bible talks about, or demonstrates, faith in just about every page of Scripture, it does not isolate nor exalts the exercise of faith over the object of our faith. According to Scripture, the only faith that is legitimate and real, is the one that believes God. God: Not what He does, not what He gives, but HIM. Biblical faith is directly linked to the object of our faith. But faith without an object is empty; And faith with a weak object is ineffective and trivial, just like holding on to another kid while crossing a busy highway.

Sometimes we tend to over-spiritualize faith, as if it were our faith that achieved results. The more faith we have, the better things turn out. If we are living a “blessed” life (it’s all relative, by the way), then that must mean we have great faith. Obviously the opposite would also be truth. Those who lack faith suffer of bad fortune. But faith for faith’s sake cannot possibly explain the state of our lives. Granted, if you have a positive outlook on life, you might be a happier person, in general, but other than optimism, faith without an object of faith, basically does nothing.

Who or what do we trust? Do we put our lives in the hands of a God who cares and loves and directs our lives with wisdom, justice, and grace? Or do we believe that we can change things, according to our own understanding, by the sheer power of our faith? When we pray, do we trust God enough to not give us what we ask? Do we truly trust that His love for us will often times deny us what we long for? Or do we plan our lives according to what we believe is good for us and demand, by “faith” that he conforms to our will?

If we trust and believe that there are bigger and stronger hands that can hold us, protect us, and provide for us, then that is good and legitimate faith. Whether things go our way or they don’t, our faith won’t change, because it will not be based on an outcome, but on our God. Even when things seem to fall apart, our faith in God can be strong and alive, because He doesn’t vacillate.

“It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you. Strong faith in a weak branch is fatally inferior to weak faith in a strong branch.” –Tim Keller–

From One Church Member to Another

Church friends, can I vent a little? I know we are generally well meaning, and I understand that we have good intentions. But we need to realize that our words are weighty. When we speak to each other in church meetings or prayer groups and talk about reaching the lost, let’s not use phrases like “we are called to love the unlovable” or “there are a lot of sinners out there” or “let us be open to receiving them (you know, the sinners).”

Statements such as these imply that the sinful and the unlovable are out of the church, and by default the lovable and the sinless are inside. We know better, right? We know the Bible says we are as unlovable as the next guy, yet despite ourselves, we are immensely loved. We know that we are sinners, every single one of us, forgiven sinners. We KNOW this. Yet, somehow, when we communicate with each other, we separate ourselves from “those” people, as if we were somehow better or more worthy. Let us remember we were DEAD in our sins, but Jesus, in his great mercy breathed life into us, called us by name, and rescued us. WE DID NOTHING other than believe. And we cannot even take credit for our belief, since we know that even faith is a gift from God.

The Gospel is God’s transforming truth for ALL of us, inside and outside the church. For some, it may be the welcoming into the kingdom of Christ. For others, it’s the shedding of a self-centered lifestyle. But that doesn’t change who we are: LOVED SINNERS. The Gospel is free! Let’s season our words so they say what we really mean. When we communicate, let us include ourselves in the sinners and the unlovable and the needy categories. Because we are. We are part of mankind, and mankind needs a Savior.

Venting complete.

Pride in Self-Exaltation and Pride in Self-Deprecation

Confession: I tend to compare myself to others. I know I’m not supposed to, I know I shouldn’t, I know nothing good comes from it, but I do it, nevertheless. Sometimes I win in my comparison games, and I think I’m better off, more talented, more spiritual, or a better parent. More often than not, I feel like the loser, the one with less wisdom, less education, less financial status, and inferior parenting skills. Sometimes I compare my house, or my kids, or my job, or my dog.

As I’ve grown older and matured, my comparison games have lessened, and I have felt freer to accept who I am. However, I seem to slip back into this pattern when I least suspect it. Why can’t I be like that person who homeschools her children perfectly, or like the one who lives in the perfect house or has the perfect body or the perfect marriage? Yes, yes, I know nothing is “perfect”, but it seems perfect to me at the time.

It’s easier to confess that I think of myself less than others, as the attitude could appear as humility. But, truthfully, sometimes I think I’m better than others as well. There is nothing pretty about admitting this, but it’s the honest truth. I may think of myself as more spiritual or mature or whatever else, until God reminds me of my need of Him (and He does that very skilfully).

Like I said, one kind of comparison may appear as low self-esteem or humility in a twisted kind of way, while the other arrogant. But I think I’ve come to understand that it doesn’t matter what end of the spectrum I’m in, all comparisons stem from pride. Pride if I think of myself higher and pride if I think of myself lower. True humility is to love God and receive what he gives me with gratitude. This includes not only who I am as a person, but also my lot in life. Humility is also understanding my propensity to sin and receiving the forgiveness that only Jesus can grant. When I understand my weaknesses but I also accept his grace and his will for my life, that is when I am truly humble. In that place, I neither exalt myself nor self-deprecate. In fact, I’m not the center of my world, but He is.

I want to live humbly, loving God with all my strength and mind and soul, and loving others as myself. Comparisons have no place in a Christ-centered life.

Lord, forgive me for my pride. Restore me. Help me to live humbly before you. All glory belongs to you.

We Cannot Handle a Son with Autism

My husband and I have heard this a million times: “God knew you could handle it”.

We have an autistic son. Often times people feel “bad” for us: compassion, of a kind, and empathy. In an effort to make sense of the situation, in their minds, they try to comfort us (and convince themselves) by telling us that God knew, in advance, that we could handle it. By implication, this means that He saw something unique in our make up that would better equip us to live with and raise a person with disabilities. As if God scanned through the earth and found the perfect parents for this wonderful angel that would be born, and bestowed on us the well-deserved gift, because, after all, He knew we could handle it.

False.

You see, there is nothing intrinsically better about parents of children with disabilities. We are not superior in any kind of way. We are not more able to bear a burden or to handle difficulty. We are average folk. We are needy people, just like everyone else.

Furthermore, God did not gift us with an autistic child because He knew we could handle it. In fact, He knew we couldn’t handle it. But in HIS goodness, He also gave us (and continues to give us) the love, strength, passion, and determination to care for our son.

However, God DID know this: We would turn into better human beings by having our son in our lives. We would learn to love better, we would grow into more compassionate, understanding people, and we would come to appreciate the smaller things in life.

We are blessed by our Gabriel. Having him as part of our family is a joy and a privilege, and we humbly accept God’s will for his and our lives, not because we are better, but because we are HIS.

Psalm 29:11: “The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace.”

Juan and Gabriel

Letting Go

We give birth to them, enduring discomfort and suffering after months of pregnancy and the pains of labor. We lose sleep and rise up early, cry when they cry, pray for them like we’ve never prayed before, and our entire lives change: priorities, schedules, activities, choices. Children redirect our thinking and cause us to learn how to love passionately and live for others. As we lay ourselves down and sacrifice our own wants and needs, we grow in affection and appreciation of these little people who come to mean the world to us. The more they grow, the heavier our trunk of memories and mementos.  We crave their well-being and happiness; we strive to raise them well and teach them the lessons we ourselves have learned. Our hearts latch on to theirs. We would do anything for them.

I believe it pleases God to give us children. The Bible says they are God’s gift to us. If He, God, has shown us unconditional love and care for us, his children, then it also brings him much joy and honor when we learn to love by having children. God transforms us more and more into his image as we learn repentance, forgiveness, mercy, and grace through relating to our kids.

So here is the conundrum: These people whom we love and die for, need also to be let go of, and often times I find myself feeling like I can never be whole again.

I remember the first time I left Gabriel, my autistic son, in preschool. He was three. We knew he needed to be in that program. But we also knew he had no ability to communicate with us and that if anything happened to him, there were good chances we would never find out. I could not protect him if he needed me. What fear I felt. What heart-wrenching pain. I watched him through the classroom door for a good 40 minutes before I was able to peel myself out of there. I sobbed all the way home.

About a week or so ago I was talking to my friend whose son just left for college. She told me she’s been crying every day since his departure. When I asked her what the biggest source of grief was, she said that she feared he would forget her, very much the way she forgot about her parents when she left home. That fear rang true with me. We might not completely “forget” our parents when we grow into adulthood, but we certainly do not suffer their absence as much as they suffer ours. So here we are left with a heart full of love and commitment and a life given over to our children, just to have to let them go.

Of course, I think growing up is healthy and leaving your parents is natural and actually a good thing. But despite the reason, the age, or the manner and degree in which children leave their parents, it is still a heart-wrenching transition for us. Sometimes the “leaving” comes in the form of the joyous occasion of their marriage, but sometimes it comes in the fearful departure to the military, or in the moving overseas, or in a child who leaves home prematurely, when we fully know they are not ready for it, or losing a child in a custody battle.  And what about when a child dies? How does one go on? How does a shattered heart continue beating? Not all of us experience the tragedy of the death of a child, but most of us do have to live through the letting go, to one degree or another, more than once.

I’ve had to let go many times. Having four living children, most of them now adults, and three miscarriages, the letting go has felt extensive. And there is a lot more coming! So how  will I do this? How does any parent let go of years of recitals or afternoons at the playground, or driving kids to soccer practice? HOW? Where is the switch that turns off the yearning and desire to spend time, to physically touch, or to feel our love reciprocated?

I do not have any answers. I just feel empathy. I feel for my friend whose son has left for college and for another dear friend who is a single mother and recently gave both of her kids in marriage, the same year. While these are great circumstances and blessed events, they also feel heavy and hard on their hearts. I feel for a couple I know who left their son at rehab on the other side of the country and for the parents I know who will be driving their son to boot camp at the end of the summer. I empathize. I understand.

If I were to be fatalistic about this whole thing, I would come to the conclusion that having children is not recommended, or that allowing oneself to love so intensely will only lead to pain and suffering, so why do it? But I do not see having children and loving your children as bad or destructive. I see it as a gift from God, a good thing. Yes, the more we love, the more we will hurt. So if we don’t hurt much it means that we have not loved much. I’d rather love and suffer than not to know such love. Besides, love for children doesn’t only produce suffering, but it also produces great, unimaginable joy. When I understand such love and happiness, I get a glimpse at what God’s love for me must be like. This is good.

While I don’t have answers, I do have hope. All of us, in this world of parenting, CAN have hope. This I know: If we put our hope in the outcome of our parenting, we might come to be sorely disappointed and wounded. In order to make it in one piece, I have found that my hope needs to be elsewhere. So even though my life will be wrapped around the lives of my children for a period of time, my hope for love, fulfillment, even companionship should lie outside the confines of those relationships. If it’s not, then I will cling to my children for dear life, and create a mess in the process. The love I feel for my children must have no strings attached and it should be truly selfless (not that I come close to achieving this but I strive for it’s approximation).

For one, I know that if I am a married woman, the love for my children should never surpass (in essence or in form) the love for my spouse. Practically, this is hard to do, since children tend to be more needy than spouses. But it is important to remember that the relationship with my children will change over time, while the relationship with my spouse is meant to be until death parts us. I can have a close friend and lover always, even when my children are gone. I can expect and hope companionship and equal partnership in a spouse until the very end, therefore I must treat this marital union with the utmost of priority, always.

But we live in a broken world, a world where people fail us, where loved ones die, where we push others away. So there are no guarantees in life: no surety of a lasting marriage, no certainty of faithful friends or financial security. Everything in life is temporary and changing. So even if I focus on my marriage and foster good, lasting friendships, and raise my children well, my hope cannot possibly be firmly placed on those things, because by nature, they could shift or cease to exist altogether. Only one does not change or fade. Only GOD is a rock, which cannot be moved. Therefore I know that as I prioritize my relationship with him, above the one I have with any human being, then I can rest assured that I will be OK, in the end.

I honestly do not have a grasp on how to let go of my kids. So this hope I cling to: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” – (1st Pet 5:10). Suffering “for a little while” might last my life time, which in the scope of eternity is definitely a short time. The strength the Lord gives me comes in pieces and waves. As I need it, He gives it, mercifully. But the suffering, in one way or another, will continue until the day I am fully restored in His presence. What a hope! I do not labor in vain. I do not love and give and cry and pray for momentary happiness. I live through the bad things and the good things, and the great things of this life, with a much bigger calling: To see him, to be trained by him, and to love him more and more. Peter also says in vs. 4: “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” Yes! Yes, yes, yes! So even though the letting go of my children remains a daunting task and the loving of others will prove to be both a blessing and a source of pain in this life, there is an unfading hope of never ending happiness and steadfast fellowship with the one who knows me and loves me more intimately than any human being can possibly do. So maybe, just maybe, if I cling to this hope while going through this life, I can then not only “make it”, but rejoice in ALL my circumstances, even in the letting go.

Image

It’s a gift!

Singing with my boys

Singing with my boys

There is something so deeply entrenched in our souls that makes us, the human race, sing. I’m not sure how it works, but I know, from experience and from observation, that singing is a natural, instinctual even, response and overflow of our emotions. We don’t teach people to sing in the same way we don’t teach them to walk or smile. They just do. It’s simply a part of life: A gift from our maker.

Yes, there are factors which contribute to better or worst singing (I’m a voice teacher, I should know) but in the end, whether in key or out of key, trained or untrained, in company or alone, we allow our feelings to surface as we sing or as we listen to the singing of others.

Do you have legs that work? Then walk! Who am I to tell you that my walking is prettier than yours? Sure, some of us can use our legs for marathons while others simply to transport us a few feet, but if they move, they move. I get it, I basically stink at drawing (my father’s visually artistic genes skipped a generation, apparently), but I refuse to let that stop me while playing Pictionary. I will draw, even if badly, because I have hands that work and eyes that see. So why not sing? We have a built-in instrument that goes with us wherever we go and that requires simply the flow of air and the opening of our mouths. Yes, yes, you don’t need to point out that some singing sounds, well, less than pretty, painful even, but if God intended for only some of us to sing, then He would have given only some of us the vocal folds to do it.

So, why sing? Because you can. And because it’s healing and affirming and all around fantastic. Sing when you are happy and filled with energy; sing with others around a campfire and feel the bond of frienship; sing when you are depressed and in need of a good cry; sing when you’re in love; sing in the shower, you’ll enjoy the acoustics; sing when you worship God, in your car and in your church, and while you vacuum your house. Sing because you can, and because it allows you to feel and to let it all out.

I teach music for a living and I lead the choir at my church. I constantly meet people who believe they can’t sing (when they can.) Such belief usually comes from a time in childhood when they were told by others that they didn’t have a good voice. I have met countless of people who refuse to open their mouths to sing because they are convinced they can’t do it. What a horrible shame. I am not saying that everyone has a pretty voice or that everyone has musical talent. What I am saying is that everyone should sing. Period.

Parents, let’s never tell our kids that they can’t sing! Instead, encourage them. Sing them to sleep when they are babies, sing along to children’s songs with nursery rhymes, sign them up for choirs and music classes in school and after school. If they have a passion for singing, do everything in your means to help them develop their voice and treat it safely, not to obtain fame and wealth (even though that does happen in some cases), but to have longevity in their voice, to bless others, to create songs and record them, and to sing to their kids and grand kids.

Singing is good. And fun.

Only some of us will be professional musicians and singers. Only some of us will be cast in shows or hired as soloists or selected for a band. That should be expected. But singing is not only for the professionals. It’s a gift from God to all of mankind. So sing and worship and cry and laugh, because that what singing is for.

Where is Home?

Our first autumn

Our first autumn

Today marks 2 years since Gabriel and I relocated to VA. Juan had already moved since the previous January and Elise came a month after I did, followed by Daniel and my mom who joined us in September, and Lizette about a year later. It was a time of family separation; a time of tears and goodbyes; so many friends being left behind; so many memories. The weeks leading up to our move were packed and busy and stressful, making arrangements to vacate and sell things and pack vans. Where would the kids stay? How long until I saw them again? I missed my husband, I feared the unknown, I longed for permanence, and I shed many tears and said many prayers.

Then we drove: 1,000 miles north, to start a new life in new surroundings, new climate, new church, new job, and new possibilities. I had a lot more questions than I had answers, and I felt disoriented. We stayed with friends for three months. Even though I knew God was mercifully providing for us and our time with dear TC and Patti was full of grace and love, I constantly felt as if the ground beneath me was shaking and cracking. I longed for the days when our family could be united in a house of our own. Of course, the time came, we moved again, we emptied our storage unit, slept in our own beds and ate from our own dishes. Life was slowly coming together. After 9 months of separation, we were a family again! It felt wonderful. It felt scary too. Inside our house was comfort and stability, but outside were the unfamiliar and the unknown. It seemed like everywhere we turned we were reminded we were not “from around here”. Who knew street names could change every 10 blocks? I had never fathomed that fallen leaves could cover my yard up to my hips! How long would it take for those around us to include us as friends? Outside our four walls, we were just names and faces, without connections or recommendations or people who knew people who knew us. Isolation.

So it’s been two years. And I enter into a self-evaluation kind of mood. How am I feeling? What has God taught me? How is my family doing? Have we grown or benefited from this experience? As I recall my feelings and expectations from two years ago, and I compare them to today, I notice a few things:

  1. I miss my family and Miami friends just as much, if not more, than I did when I first came. There is a deep sadness for not seeing my nieces’ flamenco dance recitals, and for not being able to visit my uncle who is very sick in the hospital. There is a longing to sit down over coffee or soup with my friends. Phone calls or text messages are not enough to satisfy my need to hug a hurting family member. How I miss those Telefunken Sundays with my loud, Cuban friends, and chicken-dances with my brother. I am so grateful I live in an era of facebook and skype and mobile phones, because I feel like the distance is a little closer than it actually is.

  2. I miss Miami: Just the city and the things I loved about it; even the things I hated about it (well, only sometimes. I definitely do not miss the traffic or the constant road construction.) I never knew I would get so many Pollo Tropical cravings! And there have been days, especially during this last winter, that I ached for humidity and heat and beach and salty air. Yes, I complained many a time of the heat when I lived there, but now I miss it.

  3. I can now find my way to River Rd. without a GPS (and without getting lost.) I have been to Charlottesville, Virginia Beach, Yorktown, Williamsburg, and Jamestown and am falling in love with this state little by little. I appreciate that everything is close! As opposed to Miami which is far from everything and everybody, we are driving distance from many other states. We have mountains, we have water, and who knew I would ever spend the 4th of July in Washington DC? I feel blessed to see new things and walk through such old streets and enter buildings which are rich in history and heritage. And seasons! The falling of leaves and the dusting of snow and the springing of flowers and sudden appearance of leaves making everything yellow-green… these make life exciting. If I hate cold days, I know I’ll eventually have hot ones, REALLY hot ones. No same-ole same-ole. And I have so much to learn and visit! It will take me a while, but I have actually considered that VA could feel like my home, hopefully in the not-so-distant future. Maybe it never will, at least not fully, but if it were to depend on my attitude and disposition towards it, it could happen. Only time will tell.

  4. The church. No matter where I live, I know one thing for certain: Finding believers in Christ means I have found my spiritual family. There is a bond I share with the body of Christ that is different, and in one sense, stronger than that of blood related family (how sweet when both blood and spirit unites me to others). The thought of finding a spiritual family here gave me great hope when I first moved. In fact, it was such a powerful force in my thinking and feeling, that it allowed me to take the step to relocate. And so it has been that God has surrounded us with like-minded people who have served us and loved on us since the first day. I have to admit there were many times when I felt disappointed. Perhaps I had unrealistic dreams about what my bond would be with my new family after I arrived. Relationships did not develop at the pace I had envisioned, which contributed to my sense of isolation. But despite the bumps on the road, God has shown himself faithful in providing for us through his children. He has given encouragement and wisdom and laughter, and even Telefunken friends who embrace the bilingual lingo and all. Deep friendships are being fostered in some cases and started in others, and our family feels accepted and embraced. God is good to us.

  5. I am slow to learn, especially the really important things, such as humility and patience. But God who is great in kindness and mercy towards me, teaches me in little bits and chunks. God has been molding my character and showing me who I really am as people and things have been stripped away. I guess this is a really good thing, even though it doesn’t always feel good. If at the end of my life I trust him as much as I can trust him and love him and rely on him as much as I possibly can, then all this and every other difficult and wonderful experience in life will have been worth going through. I want to be trained by every moment, easy or hard. Like I said, I am slow to learn, so more often than not, it’s in the hard things where I learn the most. I think I may have grown in the past two years. I don’t see the growth, necessarily, but I feel the growing pains, so I must have grown. I continue to grow, still.

 

We went from a family of 5 to a family of 7! Our house is always (yes, always) full of noise and laughter and fighting (in good, Cuban style), and sitting around the dining room table telling stories and jokes. More often than not, there is an additional teenager, or three or four, hanging around here. We drive a big conversion van spacious enough to fit all of us and our friends, and are now, officially, the dorkiest family in Chesterfield county. The kids are in school, we have jobs, we serve at church, and we meet new people all the time. There are people we consider sweet friends. I work with precious kids, teaching them songs about pigs and spiders, and I feel happy doing so. Despite the difficulties, we are abundantly blessed and loved by God who understands our deepest needs and desires.

So where is home? That is a question I cannot answer. My heart is here. My heart is there. I guess this is what it should always feel like, in regards to God and his kingdom, shouldn’t it? Living as strangers in a foreign land, isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?