Our Day Trip to Tangier Island

Thanks to Groupon, several weeks ago I bought a couple of tickets for a day cruise at Tangier Rappahannock Cruises. With the end of summer approaching, Juan and I found the perfect day to take advantage of the acquisition!  The temperature was a perfect 74H/71L. The clouds gave us a breathtaking display of beauty, without shedding a single drop upon us, and the Chesapeake Bay was bigger and lovelier than I had anticipated.

Tangier Island is tiny: 5 miles long and 1 mile wide, and only 3 feet above sea level. Its population is less than 500 people, but it’s rich in American history. Back in 1608, it was visited by Captain John Smith, who named it. On July 9th, 1645, the Virginia Council took all the male American Indians in the area, ages 11 and up, prisoners, and transported them to this isolated spot, in order to prevent further organized attacks against the English colonists. Governor William Berkeley’s own ship transported and abandoned them there.

More than a century later, during the War of 1812, thousands of enslaved African Americans gained freedom by fighting for the British against the American coastal communities around the Bay. The Virginia militia deflected a British attempt to take Norfolk in 1813, and engaged British forces throughout the war. More than 2,000 African Americans gained their freedom aboard British ships.

Today, fishing is the largest industry of the island, and most especially crabbing, mainly the soft-shelled blue crab (which is de.li.cious.)

The second largest industry of the island is tourism. There are daily cruises, mostly seasonal, and they pride themselves with having a handful (I counted 3) of restaurants serving succulent seafood. We had lunch at Lorraine’s and I must say that their crabby fries were so finger-licking good!

Back to history, in 1686, a man by the name of John Crocket  settled in the island, and his sons’ families did the same in 1814. As we rode through the island, we saw more gravestones than I’ve ever seen in one place, and so many of them had a Crocket name inscribed. Graveyards are found at the church, in backyards, in fields…

We rented a golf cart, which is the choice mode of transportation, even for the natives. We saw a church, a library, a tiny post office, a medical building, a school, and a few inns. We also visited a tiny, yet interesting museum which holds pictures and artefacts of the history and the present culture of this place.

Interesting fact: The Rev. Joshua Thomas (1776-1853) was a waterman so he moved from the mainland to the island, converted to Methodism, became a licensed preacher, and was ordained an elder. He served the Chesapeake region for more than four decades. He traveled in a canoe called “The Methodist” and conducted services for the British forces during the War of 1812. He advised the British troops not to attack Fort McHenry near Baltimore. In a prayer, he predicted they would fail. The expedition was not cancelled, and the British fleet was defeated.

Our Chesapeake Bay experience was unique and relaxing. Being in the island for just a few hours felt as if we were trapped in time. We often wondered how these people stand to live in such an isolated and tiny place! And then we were happy to return, bellies full, minds opened, hearts rested. God gave us a little reprieve from reality, surrounded us with beauty, provided us with more memories and marital friendship, and recharged our batteries to get us back to work tomorrow, first thing in the morning!

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A Prayer for Refugees

blue-ridge-sun-rays-2

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

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

New Strength

sunrise

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.

 

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.

family

 

 

 

Looking Back at My Summer and Forward to What’s Ahead

Back in June, I wrote my Summer Resolutions, outlining my hopes and goals for the past 3 months. As I look back, I can see many things accomplished and some untouched; Great, fun, and fulfilling events as well as hard and painful. Among the most memorable, here are a few:

  • I spent significant time with family, not with all of them at once, and with some more than others, but I am so grateful for the moments we shared. Knowing full well how hard it is to live away from loved ones, I don’t take any face-to-face time for granted.

    Dining out in Dewey Beach

    Dining out in Dewey Beach

  • I vacationed. 🙂 Our family (minus two kids) went to Delaware for some needed R&R at the beach; I got to hang out with two of my best friends in Miami, for a few days; Juan and I spent a day in DC with my sister-in-law and fiance, and my mom and I, again in DC, met with my dear nephew whom I hadn’t seen since I was a kid (always a great treat to catch up with extended family); Our family (again minus two) visited VA Beach; And Gabriel and I got to lounge at the pool a few times. All in all, I am thankful for the times of relaxation and diversion, both of which were highly needed.

    Smithsonian in DC

    Smithsonian in DC

  • I achieved some (but not all) of my cleaning/organizing goals around the house. We began our summer by literally throwing our couches out the window – I have the torn hedge to prove it – and buying new living room furniture after steam cleaning our carpets. That alone felt like a renewal of the soul! My new living arrangements bring me great contentment.

    My living room

  • I had music fun! Went to see Foreigner in concert with friends, a jazz outdoor festival with Juan and a bunch of teenagers, CWorks’ amazing production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as well as a loved musical of mine, Man of La Mancha, at the amphitheater.

    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

  • I spent time with friends, not as much as I wanted, but I am grateful for what I got! With three family birthdays happening, we had opportunities to invite people, have great conversation, play games, and laugh (the best medicine).

    Daniel's birthday. Geneva is the new addition to our family after recently moving to VA :)

    Daniel’s birthday. Geneva is the new addition to our family after recently moving to VA 🙂

  • I worked. Somebody asked me a couple of months, what is it that I do to relieve stress. My answer came out without even thinking about it, “I go to work.” Not only did I have two incredibly packed days of lessons nearly every week, with the most amazing kids ever, but I also worked as a musical director for CWorks’ production of Seussical. I mean, can it get more fun than that? I fall more and more in love with my students and their families, and I count it as a privilege, honor, and blessing to work with each one of them. And as a bonus, I love and thoroughly enjoy the other staff members I get to have fun with. It’s a win-win.

    Horton and I

  • I learned. Attended this incredible vocal pedagogy course at the CCM Institute at Shenandoah University, where I gained great and practical knowledge, which I’ve applied to my teaching already. Next summer, I’ll complete the course and become a certified Sommatic Voicework teacher. I can’t wait!

    With my long-time friend, Kathleen, who happens to be a very talented voice teacher!

  • Probably one of the most significant blessings granted to me this summer, is the fact that I got invited to join a small, intimate, women’s fellowship group. I’ve met with them only a few times, but in these short weeks, they have had a severe impact on my spiritual growth. In a time of emotional instability (can you say pre-menopause?) and during a period in my life where God is firmly and sternly stirring my heart, digging up hidden idols, and exposing my lack of faith and trust in Him, God, who is always kind and gentle, has provided me with praying friends. They have been a tangible expression of God’s love towards me. What a gift!

    jude 1:24-25

    Jude 1:24-25

  • In addition to fun and games, this summer has been a time of growth and self-examination. I, along with my church family, have suffered loss, betrayal, and deceit. But, as with any other God-given tribulation, He has also granted us the gifts of trust, love, mercy, forgiveness, and peace. What a great God we serve!
  • Finally, my husband and I said goodbye to our Kingsway Community Church this past Sunday. I nearly cried when they all prayed for us during our last service there. Needless to say, I feel sad to leave the congregation I’ve grown to love and cherish.  This church has been an integral part of our lives ever since we moved to VA. But now God is moving us to another congregation and opening new opportunities for ministry. He is also calling us to take time to rest, examine ourselves, and listen to His guidance. I feel some grief and some apprehension. I also feel some excitement. I certainly feel peace.

Looking ahead, I am hopeful that God will show Juan and I the direction he has for us (one step at a time), as a married couple, as friends, as his servants. Honestly, I am not looking forward to putting in the effort into building new relationships. That’s the antisocial in me talking. But I am anticipating that little by little, He will help us to grow roots and feel at home at Third Presbyterian Church. 

I am also excited to start a new school year with a growing (actually I’m maxed out!) private music studio, CWorks classes, and music directing a couple of shows. I absolutely love the kids I am working with and can’t wait to spend hours learning, enjoying singing, and growing together.

My year will be busy and packed. But I hope and pray that God helps me to utilize my time wisely and effectively. I want to spend enough time in the Word, because I need it so very, very much. As I am being emotionally and spiritually stretched, I am anticipating that I will look back, at the end of this year, and see that I have become a more God-fearing person, a better wife and mom, a more faithful friend, and a more humble servant.

Billy!

Juan and I were having a conversation yesterday. Billy McKillop’s name came up and my immediate response was “He is one of my favorite people in the world!”, to which Juan answered, “Mine too!”

This is my 6th entry in the Tribute series, and I’m so glad to dedicate it to this awesome person, my friend Billy.

I know Billy from my days at Pinelands Presbyterian Church, in Miami. When Juan and I first started attending that church, we came in as a couple in great need of support and spiritual strength. Billy, more than likely, does not know how big of an impact his life and leadership was for us. In all our years in ministry we had never met a person quite like him. He showed us what true humility looked like. He demonstrated real love for people and a genuine concern for their souls and well being. Billy was not boisterous nor seeking accolades, but he served quietly and wholeheartedly. I remember many days when God’s grace surprised me through Billy’s life. All I had to do was watch him at work or have a conversation with him, and I would often learn something new about compassion and evangelism. I had not fully understood how God’s grace could be so evidently displayed in leadership, until I met Billy McKillop. I am so grateful for the work God did in my heart through him.

Billy has a sweet, thoughtful, and supportive wife by his side, and together they have raised three passionate and loving children. The McKillop family has served in ministry both in local churches and abroad. Wherever they go, they display God’s goodness for all to see. Their commitment to the expansion of God’s kingdom is evident in their life choices. Many have come to the knowledge of the gospel through their labor of love. Thank you Billy, Sherry, Caleb, Zachary, and Gabrielle, for your service to the Lord. I am one of those people whose life has been deeply enriched by yours.

After Billy's installation service at New City Fellowship (Billy and Sherry are second and third from the left)

After Billy’s installation service at New City Fellowship (Billy and Sherry are third and fourth from the left)