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

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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

I Am Joining the Lamentations 3 Challenge. Will You?

Once and again I read an article that hits me right between the eyes; You know, the deeply convicting kind. The article that I’m about to share is one of them. And by convicting, I don’t mean that I see what I’m doing wrong and feel guilty about it. I mean that I realize what I’m missing, and want it. My soul yearns for it and calls me to take action. The Spirit moves me to thirst for it, like a deer panting for water.

So, dear reader, here is the challenge I propose:

  1. Read “Six Wrong Reasons to Check Your Phone in the Morning” from Desiring God, by clicking here. Read the article in its entirety. Don’t cheat. Just do it, and then come back to this blog and read the remaining points.
  2. If you long to experience the steadfast love of God and taste his new mercies every morning, then make a commitment, along with myself, to make time for reading Scripture and prayer before checking your phone for notifications, emails, news, or any social media. This may mean that you keep your Bible on your night table, in the bathroom, or breakfast table. In my case, I often tend to read Scripture from my tablet or phone. But since I don’t want to see any notifications before I actually read my Bible, I will only use the actual book (you know, the one with pages made of paper).
  3. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. Well, how about we triple that to make sure it really, really, really sticks! How about a 2-month challenge! I’m starting it tomorrow morning, and so can you. Whenever you read this blog, you too can begin.
  4. If you “like” or “comment” in response to this blog, I will add your name to my prayer list. I will pray that God helps you start and keep this commitment, and that He will establish this pattern as a life style for both you and me. I will appreciate your prayers on my behalf as well. If you share this on social media, use the hashtag #Lamentations3challenge, so we can keep track of each other.
  5. Relax and rest in the Lord. This is not an all or nothing pledge. God is full of grace and understanding for when we are unable to keep our commitment. He is sovereign over emergencies, change of schedules, young children who demand attention, sickness, and even our forgetfulness or mismanagement of time! If you don’t keep your end of the deal, pray and start all over again. Even if we are not faithful, He always is.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him. The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:22-26)

Lamentations 3

Gabriel’s Visit to the Ophthalmologist

Yes, we finally found a great group of ophthalmology at VCU. What a team! Loved, loved, loved them!

After a long wait, Gabriel finally went to have his eyes checked today. The doctors and the technology at VCU were fabulous, and most importantly, Gabriel cooperated fully and kept his eyes open for the entire duration of the many tests he underwent. Juan and I were in awe.

It turns out Gabriel’s eyes are PERFECT. Clean cornea, retina, optic nerve, the whole shebang. There isn’t even a trace of the series of persistent iritis he had six months ago. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

This is great news, of course. And it’s also disconcerting, only because we have pretty much tested him for everything there is to test, and we still don’t know why he has had such a strong decline in behavior and mood. The only possible explanation, as far as I’m concerned, unless I’m missing something, is that it is purely sensory.

On that note, it’ll be fabulous to have our dearest friend, Maggie, come visit next week 🙂 Gabriel is going to flip when he sees her!

Anyway, thank you for all who have prayed for Gabriel. I know many of you have and continue to do so. Please don’t stop. He has had several good days, and his eyes have been consistently open for three of them. This is INCREDIBLE. We have suspended the use of migraine medication, which has actually seems fine without it. But we still need to figure out what he struggles with and how to help him, so keep those prayers coming!!

Specific prayer request: Pray that he will receive his Med waiver. He has been on a waiting list for a long while, and it would be amazing for him to get those funds. We can sure put them to good use. Lord, provide the waiver before the fall of this year!!

Sitting casually at the doctor's office :)

Sitting casually at the doctor’s office 🙂

Model patient

Model patient

Ready to go have pizza!!

Ready to go have pizza!!

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: A Perfect Description of the Past Week

This week has been some week. Seriously, a week of extremes, in circumstances, emotional reactions, and spiritual responses; a week of utter failures and amazing victories. Care to know what happened? Here it goes!

THE BAD

How about we call it, a series of unfortunate events, too many to list. Among others:

  • While the family was out enjoying Christmas activities last Sunday evening, the adorable, cuddly Bosco (the pony-sized puppy which has been living in our house the past two weeks) managed to wreak havoc by plentifully peeing on our rug, eating massive amounts of chocolate cake which in turn produced profuse diarrhea, and drinking out of the toilet bowl (I’ll spare you the details). Two days ago, I came home to chewed up carpet, because, what is more fun to a puppy than tearing up the carpet, of course.
  • On Monday, while getting ready to go out and do some last minute grocery shopping before Christmas, and while trying to maintain enough self-control to not kill the adorable, cuddly Bosco, I heard the loud crying of my oldest daughter who had twisted her ankle outside and was now not able to walk from pain, resulting in a trip to the emergency room. (This run-on sentence describes the run-on emotional toil on my already overflowing cup). Oh, and, get this, while preparing to rush Lizette to the hospital, the puppy bolted out of the house, happily galloping at the speed of sound, while all the kids (except the injured one) ran after him like mad people all over the neighborhood, to the amusement of our neighbors. At the hospital we discovered Lizette had injured ligaments and would then begin a period (which has not ended) of immobilization of the leg, as well as the use of crutches. I do not recommend crutches in a split level home….
  • My original plan was to have a peaceful Tuesday: I would take time to prepare and organize my music, as I was leading the choir for our church and we would have our dress rehearsal that evening. I would also begin my preparations for our Christmas Eve dinner, cooking some, wrapping gifts, and cleaning the house. But then life happened and my Tuesday looked nothing like I had pictured it. It was rainy and cold, and I was out purchasing pain killers, doing the shopping I had not gotten done the previous day, and dealing with relational and emotional, family issues. So I panicked. Yes, I totally panicked. And what do I do when I panic? I pass it on to the husband and the kids, of course. But more on that on the “UGLY” chapter… (how’s that for a transition?)

THE UGLY

Here’s where it gets really good. You see, ugly is so ugly. As I was saying, panic, and worry, combined with perfectionism and pride, make the ideal recipe to, well, let’s say, kill the Christmas spirit. It began on Tuesday as I started anticipating I would not be ready for Christmas Eve. I transferred this pressure to my family (oh, and did I mention that my lovely, future daughter-in-law has been visiting us and watching me in “action” this whole week?). I wish I could blame my hormonal changes. But even though hormones can (and probably do) accentuate my emotional responses, they are not to blame for the sin that so reigned in my heart, putting my family in great distress. After my initial mini-fit on Tuesday, I told myself I would have a good, peaceful day on Wednesday. I got up that morning with a new resolve to be positive and stable. Ha! My “good” attitude lasted for most of the day, until BOOM, I completely lost it! I’m talking hyperventilation, anger, frustration, and worst of all, blaming and shaming. My family had been nothing but helpful and cooperative all day. But the enemy of my soul knew where to get me. A comment. A look. A tone. An unfinished task. A feeling of being out of control. Fear of failure. Pride. You name it!

And so just as our family was leaving the house to go to church, where I would lead the choir in the entire service of Lessons and Carols, in “joyful” celebration of the birth of our savior, I was acting more like a dog with rabies than a daughter of God. I arrived at church in distress and in tears. I then proceeded to lay guilt on my sweet daughter, who had been so loving towards me all day. The choir assembled in the appropriate room at the previously assigned time, ready for their warm-up. I did not show up on time, but walked in 10 minutes late, still red-eyed, as I barely composed myself to lead them in a short warm-up. My incredible sinful attitude was being displayed for all to see, and I needed to get a grip within the next 12 minutes.

THE GOOD

Praise the Lord, the good outweighs the bad and the ugly! The only reason it outweighs it, is because the good comes, not from me, but from God himself. He is perfectly good, and kind enough to shower his children with goodness, not once or twice, but always.

  • Grace: I am a recipient of it. Everyone who saw me at church on Christmas Eve knew I was not well. But every single one of them smiled, said a helpful word, and encouraged me. There wasn’t a single complaint, even if well deserved, but even as I walked in late, I was greeted by happy, forgiving faces and patient hearts.
  • Forgiveness: Boy, did I have to ask for it! Sitting at the table on Christmas Day I asked my family to forgive me, and was blessed by their immediate willingness to do so, without reservation.
  • Rescue: I don’t know how I led the choir on Christmas Eve. Honestly, my mind was only present half of the time. But the service was not about me. It was about Jesus and the goodness and love He displayed so openly by leaving his rightful place in heaven to become a human being. So God took care of it. He enabled the choir to sing their hearts out, he helped me to not be lost or make mistakes, and in the end, He received the attention and the glory, the way it was meant to be.
  • Love and friendship: Despite the disaster earlier in the day, our Christmas Eve dinner was lovely. Our family was happy to share this time with wonderful friends. The food was amazingly delicious. The caroling around the piano was uplifting and sweet, and the joy of God was evident. He had compassion for me and gave me what my heart so deeply desired, even though I did not deserve it.
  • Prayer: Our need has been greater, so prayer has increased. The ability to pray is a gift from God. Because Jesus was born in a manger and grew up to become the sacrifice for our sins, our Passover Lamb, we now have full access to him! We pray and he listens! It’s quite amazing. Not only has our family prayed more, but I have been specifically touched and encouraged by Lizette’s prayers. You see, she has gone years without praying… or believing in God. But God has begun a great work of inward transformation in her. At every turn this week, Lizette was the first to say, “Let’s pray”. No amount of bad or ugly can outweigh the joy of hearing her words and seeing her heart being poured out to God in faith and trust. Isn’t God good and merciful?

Today has been quiet, happy, and peaceful. Bosco is still alive and, somehow, still here (It’s a Christmas miracle). We are learning to keep him away from food and toilet bowls. This morning Lizette, Geneva, and I prayed and laid hands on him so that God would help him as well ;). We are eating delicious left-overs and Lizette’s pain is not as intense any more.

Elise and Bosco. Cute, right?

Elise and Bosco. Cute, right?

With my 3 daughters on Lizette's birthday, last Friday

With my 3 daughters on Lizette’s birthday, last Friday

Gabriel: Answered Prayers!

Back in June, I wrote a desperate request for prayer for Gabriel (In Need of Prayer). Then again, in August (Prayers for Gabriel).

It’s been a couple of years of seeing Gabriel decline, and for close to a year, he has struggled with his eyes, closing them almost 100% of the time, walking around like a blind man, fighting “Iritis”. We have done all sorts of tests on him and have found no cause for the recurring issue. It has been incredibly frustrating. We have also started Gabriel on psych medication for the first time. The process has been long and emotionally taxing.

But today I’m writing with more hope and better expectations, for the following reasons:

  1. Gabriel has been fully opening his eyes for almost 2 weeks! He hasn’t gotten car sick (a side effect of car rides with closed eyes), he is not running into people, and he has been drawing and writing more, just like he used to. This is so encouraging! It is so fantastic to see his beautiful, blue eyes, which have been in hiding for so long!

  2. He seems happier, overall. This means his eyes are probably not hurting and his mood is normalizing again. This also means that the psych meds are probably helping him. Again, encouraging signs for my heart!

  3. He has been approved in a program where I can hire people to work with him at home. I can choose the workers myself and design a program specifically for him! I am currently (and urgently) looking for workers… so message me if you are local and interested 😉

So for all of you who have prayed for Gabriel, THANK YOU! I’m not sure if the Iritis will return or not. I really hope it doesn’t. So I ask you to continue to lift him up in prayer. Please ask the Lord to send us the right people to work with him as well, and to design the program that works best for him.

I am so grateful for all of you. The Lord is attentive to the prayers of his people.

About a month ago, Gabriel posing for the camera with his eyes closed

About a month ago, Gabriel posing for the camera with his eyes closed

For my friends who have recently lost loved ones…

On this Thanksgiving Eve, I pray for those (especially my friends) who have lost loved ones this year. For those sitting at the table without their father or spouse, for the first time. For those unable to bear the pain of not having their son with them any longer, I lift up my eyes to the Lord. He is good, and his strength is powerful enough to sustain the hurting, even when it feels impossible. Death is part of this broken world of ours, but just because it is normal, it doesn’t mean it’s easy, especially when we seem to think it happens prematurely. But the truth is that there is no premature timing in God’s eyes. He holds all our days in his hands. He is bigger than our bad choices. He is bigger than fate or destiny. In his miraculous foreknowledge and his compassionate sovereignty, He uses the bad for good and redeems all circumstances.

On this Thanksgiving Eve, I pray that the hurting children of God will be able to thank him even in their pain. Jesus knows pain. Jesus understands death. He went through both in order to give us life. May He overwhelm my friends with life and hope, even as they sit together and dine with a missing loved one. His mercies are new every morning.

A Prayer For Our Kids

Father, may our children love you more than anyone else in this world, and may they live to please you and glorify you. But if they stumble and fall, if they forget or neglect you, may they remember to call out to you because you are a merciful God who restores the humble.

May they enjoy good health and a long life, and be grateful for the blessings you bestow on them. But if their health fails, may they trust that you are in control of all things and find comfort and joy in you.

May they go through school and get a good education which leads to great jobs, and may they enjoy financial stability. But if they don’t, may they learn to be content and grow in their dependence on you. May they remember that their worth does not derive from their education or financial status, but from the fact that they belong to you.

May they marry great partners and have healthy children, and may their love for their family bring them fulfillment and purpose. But if they ever find themselves alone or childless, may they know that you are the lover of their souls. May they experience your strong presence and peace.

May they always be surrounded by faithful, supportive friends. But if they live through betrayal or abandonment, may they know you and understand you more because you were betrayed and abandoned by your friends.

May they live a life of service to you and to others, and so glorify Christ in all that they do. But if they are driven by selfish ambition and negate your lordship, may your loving chastisement and kind discipline bring them to repentance. May they find rest only in you.

I pray this knowing full well that you love them more than I do because they belong more to you than to me. I trust that you will complete the work that you have begun in each one of them.

My Testimony

It was the summer of 1983 in beautiful Quito, Ecuador. I was a rising senior in high school. I had a good family, a good school, good friends. I lived in a pretty house in a pretty neighborhood. I was minding my own business going about my life, thinking of my future after high school. I was not sure what I wanted to pursue in college, so I opted for a leap year. I would leave town as a foreign exchange student for a year and then decide how to grow up. I was in no hurry. I didn’t feel the need to change.

And then out of nowhere my life was radically transformed. A group of missionaries had moved into a house two blocks away from mine. They went door to door evangelizing, and when they came to mine, they talked to my mom. She was not interested in their message and decided that in order to get them off their back, the best thing would be to send me to one of the meetings they were so eagerly inviting her to attend. I guess I was bored. Not really sure why I even went in the first place, but I did. The meeting took place on Saturday, August 9th. My initial thoughts about it: These people are ridiculous. Their songs are terrible. Why are they so excited? I think they are crazy! Why would I agree to return the following Monday to have a private conversation with one of the missionaries? Certainly there is no logical answer to that question.

On August 11th, 1983 I met a sweet missionary who greeted me warmly and led me to one of the rooms in the house. I had no idea why I was there. I didn’t know what she wanted to tell me. I felt compelled to comply, and that is all I knew. We sat in two adjacent chairs and shortly after some initial chit-chat, she pulled out a little track entitled “Four Spiritual Laws”. She read it out loud as she held it in front of me so I could read it alongside her.

  1. GOD LOVES YOU. Um, yes, I kinda knew that, I thought.

  2. YOU ARE SINFUL AND SEPARATED FROM GOD. I saw a picture of a broken bridge. It all seemed pretty elementary. I guessed she was probably right. I knew deep inside I was a sinner, even though I couldn’t really list a whole list of bad sins. Noting major came to mind.

  3. JESUS IS GOD’S PROVISION FOR YOU. Another picture. The bridge was now repaired by the cross. I was a little confused by it, but I was also encouraged by it. I had never thought I could “reach” God. He had always been far removed and disinterested.

  4. YOU MUST RECEIVE JESUS AS LORD AND SAVIOR. Aha! There had to be a catch. I wasn’t completely sure what that meant, to receive Jesus. Maybe it wasn’t a catch. She proceeded to explain something about putting my faith in him and asking him to come into my heart and forgive me. Frankly, it was all too much for me to understand. The reading of the little pamphlet took about 5 minutes, not enough time for me to digest anything she was saying. I had never heard anything like it. It seemed a bit simplistic, a bit unrealistic. I wasn’t sure what I would get in return.

She read a few scriptures and then asked me if I would like to pray with her and ask Jesus to come into my heart. I nodded yes.

Wait, what?

She verbalized a prayer and asked me to repeat after her. If I were to sit today and share the gospel with another person, I would never pray a pre-written prayer and ask this person to repeat after me. Not a chance. But that is exactly what I did. I repeated. The prayer started with Dear Jesus. Up until then, I had stayed rational and collected. And then a flood opened in my heart, my mind. I cannot describe it well, other than to say that it felt as if I went from being a hard stone to a soaking sponge, absorbing every drop, every word that came out of my mouth. Had someone turned on a switch? I said a quick prayer, but I meant every word. Somehow. My eyes were filled with tears. I didn’t want the prayer to end. I wanted to stay there.

After we said amen I felt very confused about my feelings and what I was experiencing. I had no clue what hit me. The missionary girl looked at me a bit surprised but with a big smile. I couldn’t stop crying, but I wasn’t sure why. She gave me a quick hug and told me to come back in a few days so we could talk some more. I think she gave me another little pamphlet for me to read at home, but I’m not exactly sure about that memory.

I returned the following week. I wanted more.

My new friend asked me if I wanted to study the Bible with her. I replied that I did not own one and that I didn’t think my parents would want to buy me one (truth is I never asked them; I just assumed that if they were not Christians, they would not want to do that). So she said that we should pray for one. Pray? I had never imagined that we could actually pray for something so specific. What a novel idea. Sure, why not? Despite my skepticism, I prayed along with her.

Two weeks later I was on my way to visit a friend in the neighborhood. There is nothing fuzzy about this memory; I remember it as if it were yesterday. A man was walking on the same sidewalk I was on, coming towards me. As we were crossing each other he asked me if I owned a bible. What? No, I said. Then he asked me if I wanted one. I swallowed hard. Y-yes. He handed me a bible. HE HANDED ME A BIBLE. Right there, in the middle of the block, a stranger handed me the bible we had prayed for. It was a brand new one. It was a soft leather-bound, gold-trimmed, prayed-for bible. And then the man left without another word. I never saw him again.

Three weeks prior to this moment, I had had a very emotional experience praying a pre-written prayer. But this moment dug an even bigger and deeper mark into my spirit. My mind was convinced that this God I had prayed to was real, and that he heard me and cared for me. I was completely overwhelmed by his goodness. There would be nothing that could have possibly wiped off the smile on my face for a long time!

I read that bible all. the. time. I woke up and read it before I got out of bed. I read it through the day. I read it in bed before falling asleep at night. I studied it with my friend every Monday. I meditated on it. I LOVED it.

And God changed me.

I took that little pamphlet with the four spiritual laws everywhere I went. I read it to my boyfriend, I read it to my best friend. I read it to my mom. I read it to my math teacher. No one seemed impressed by it. Everyone seemed to think I had lost my mind. But my love for God grew and grew.

My senior year in high school was the beginning of my walk with God. Today marks 31 years from the day I prayed that little prayer. My life was completely and irrevocably transformed, forever.

I planned on leaving to Europe for a year as a foreign exchange student, but my parents changed their mind at the last minute, and did not let me go. I was very disappointed and disoriented, since I did not have a plan B; Yet, with my newly found faith, I trusted that God had a purpose for my life. The turn of events led me to make the decision to come to the United States. My grandfather and his wife, Mary, lived in Miami and I could stay with them. I did not know at the time that they were also Christian and would support me and help me grow in the faith. And that was that. I said good-bye to my friends and family. I took a plane and cried all the way there. I landed in Miami on August 24th, 1884, not knowing what I would do with my life. My grandfather suggested community college. A week later I was sitting in classes at Miami-Dade Community College as a music major.

Five months later, I met Juan. His love for God was irresistible. One month after that I was engaged. And the following January, married. But that is a story I will write in another blog post 🙂

About a year after I became a Christian, my mom believed in the lord Jesus as well. She shared the gospel with my dad and he also believed and was converted. He is now with the Lord.

My understanding of the gospel has grown. My experiences with God have deepened. My knowledge of the bible has increased. But I know one thing for certain. God saved me that day 31 years ago. Among other things, I have learned that a prayer doesn’t save you, but faith does. I did not “decide” to know him. He pursued me. He compelled me. He moved me. He spoke to me. He confirmed his presence to me. He took me from a state of death (that I was not aware I was in) to a state of life. And it was ALL his doing. I was born that day. And I am so grateful!

This is the story of the way God saved me. Fortunately, he continues to save me (otherwise known as “sanctify” me), transforming me constantly through his words given to me in the bible. Not a dull moment with him. Not a single regret. And my heart is full with anticipation at the thought of meeting him face to face one day, after my days are done on this earth. I know when and how my walk with him started, but the even greater news is that it will never end.

The summer I was saved. Spending a week at Salinas, a beautiful Ecuadorian beach

The summer I was saved. Spending a week at Salinas, a beautiful Ecuadorian beach

My senior year in high school, studying at my house with my best friends

My senior year in high school, studying at my house with my best friends

Newly arrived to Miami, FL, sporting my incredibly cute old-beat-up VW

Newly arrived to Miami, FL, sporting my incredibly cute old-beat-up VW