Friday, September 6, 2013

Lola "Grandmother"

What is beauty?  So often the world tries to tell you it is to be young, flawless, thin, but I believe it is different.  To me beauty looks like this.

My beautiful mother :) I hope to have
her gentle spirit and
beautiful white hair one day!

Lola reading through the Bible.  Her hands give us a
glimpse of her life.  The wrinkles that show the toil
and care over so many years!

In these pictures I see beauty and so much history.  These are the type of people I desire to spend my time around, people with a past.  Listening and learning from their life and stories.  Seeing what truly matters.  Faith.  Family.  Simplicity.

Lola was a sweet woman who was in pain and suffering.  At that time they were not sure how long she would live, but with the love, gentleness, and attention of the many caregivers, children, and Ate her life lasted longer than anyone anticipated.  Lola speaks tagalog.  I speak English.  And yet she taught me so much with few words.  She shared her heart for her children (who did not live close)- she was still so selfless and caring in her old age.  When I was visiting I would randomly go in to visit Lola.  Usually by myself, sometimes with an interpreter.  Sometimes I peeked in on her, other times I read or sang to her, and no matter what I did her sweet words always blessed me “thank you, po”, she would say.  It makes me tear up now just thinking about her sweet voice.  She passed away a few weeks ago.  I just found out today.  As easy as it would be to be sad, today I rejoice at the gift of having met Lola.  I am joyful that she is no longer in pain, and I picture her worshipping our Savior with her ukelele.  I am blessed to have met such a wonderful woman. 

   So often when we go to serve or volunteer with a ministry our goal is always to bless them or to help in some manner.  What really happens is the change within ourselves.  Each time.  God uses people and situations to stretch me in ways that I don’t allow in my everyday life.  (I wonder how much I must miss out on?)

The one thing that is a constant challenge in this life is the movement.  People come here. Then they leave.  Opening up my heart time and time again with the realty that they will leave and yet I will still be here.  It is easy for me to want to harden my heart and to begin to shut people out, but God is challenging me not to do that.  If I were to do that I would miss out on the “Lola”s in life and for the many friends and acquaintances that have come through this beautiful island. 

My prayer today is…
   “Lord, your design for relationships is so intricate and deep.  I ask for your forgiveness for the times where I have shut people out, pushed people away, or when my pride has gotten in the way.  Thank you for continuing to show me grace not only through your son, but also through the many people that you have placed in my life.  Also thank you for the opportunity to build relationships with the people of the Philippines.  I ask that you would give me a deep love for people.  Not something that would be of my own doing, but something that can only come through your spirit. I am blessed to have a personal relationship with you! I love you! Amen.”

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Mid Year Update

SO I’ve come to realize that I really suck at this blogging thing, but looking back at my older posts I am so happy I took the time to write down what was going on both in my heart and also in my head :)  It is such a great testimony of God’s faithfulness and provision! I am in awe at His awesomeness!

I am going to attempt to do my best to tell you what has happened since I posted almost a year ago.  John would tell you that there is no such thing as the Reader’s Digest Version when it comes to me, but I am going to do my best to give you a rundown of what has been happening with our family.

Last fall is a bit of a blur, but here is what I remember.  I was blessed to go to the Philippines for almost 3 weeks to help keep an eye on things while the director was in Australia speaking and counseling at an adoption conference.  It was such a blessing, but it was also such a test.  I found myself feeling very lonely and having to lean on God in a very different way.  Here is my journal from that day…

 “Today I was done.  I don’t even know why.  Nothing really changed.  The kids were a bit rough today and that was frustrating, but it was done before that.  For one I think I tried to do too much.  Number two I was trying to do things on my own.  Number three I am losing my love and patience with baby B. 

  I miss Hayden and Hannah and John. 

  I think I would do better with another adult here (not Filipino) because it just isn’t the same.  I think today I realized how lonely I was.  I am not depending on God.  He is here and yet I feel alone.  I need to remember –‘I cannot.  God can. I will let Him.’”

I have been separated from my family many times and I have lived in a whole new place, but here I found myself facing both at the same time.  I was away from John and the two older kids and during the daytime I was the only “white” person around.  I knew that God was with me and I had to lean on him multiple times/days as I had to make decisions and do the best I could.  I felt as if it were one of those moments where I really understood the verse
   But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’  2 Corinthians 12:9

Ate Cher returns home!
I remembered that I didn’t have to be perfect, but to trust God and do my best.  I came to a point where I had to depend on God to get me through that trip.  And He did.  I am thankful for the grace that he showed me in my negative heart towards the staff and culture that I was surrounded with.  I actually grew to develop a beautiful relationship with one of the Ate’s there during that trip.  She was such a gift and I am glad that God helped me to change my heart from selfishness to selflessness. 
One of the most beautiful highlights of that trip was on my first trip I connected with a sibling group of 3 and really felt that God was asking me to pray for these children and their future family.  While I was there I was told that they had been matched.  After 6 years of being patient, God supplied their forever family.  Not only was it a true moment of beauty, but as it turned out, their family lives about 5-6 hours north of where John grew up. 

4 days after returning home from the Philippines John and I were whisked off to Oahu Hawaii to represent our church at the Hawaiian Pacific Baptist Convention.  So we left all 3 kids with wonderful friends and left on a jet plane for 7 days in paradise.  It was such a time of refreshment.  I would love to tell you of all the adventures that we had, but I became sick after arriving in Hawaii and was pretty much laid up for 3 ½ days!  I’m sure it was the rest I needed after the crazy 3 weeks I had had before, but nevertheless it was not how I pictured our trip going.  Thankfully my sweet husband took excellent care of me.  With the little bit of time we had left between meetings, fellowship, and worship we were able to take advantage of some stateside shopping and a couple of excursions.  Either way it was such a blessing to have that time for just John and I especially with all the changes that had taken place in the past 11 months.  It dawned on me that it was the longest period of time that John and I have had alone together since we have been married.  We returned home and I pretty much swore off of leaving the kids for a year.  That didn’t happen though.

Visiting with the fam and
eating at Steak n' Shake!
Our church has invested in us so much. I cannot begin to tell you how incredibly blessed we are.  God has given our church the means to be able to fund trips and training that we would not be able to do on our own.  Those moments of investment have spoken louder than words.  In February John and I were off again for 12 days to the states for a Youth Pastor’s and Worker’s Conference.  It was some of the best training and fun I had had in a LONG time! We flew into St. Louis and spent a few days with our family.  Saw snow.  I believe it is still overrated.  Felt as if I about froze to death.  Okay. Slightly exaggerated.  Then we headed up to Indianapolis, Indiana (that was a first).  It was a great little city packed with 4 days of refreshment that I didn’t even realize I needed.  I found myself sitting in the opening session lead in worship by Shane and Shane and all of a sudden I was overcome by the intense weight over the last year that we had had.  We were so blessed over that last year, but to see how everything had come together in a year was unbelievable by any means other than God.  Nevertheless it was hard and draining.  I am used to serving.

At opening ceremonies :)
Serving is something I love doing almost more than anything else.  But I had given and given and given and didn’t realize how dry I had become.  Instead of feeling like my cup was overflowing I found myself trapped in a barren desert.  And it was in that moment that I let it all go.  The tears. The tough front. The mask.  I didn’t have to keep it all together.  I didn’t have to be “mom”, “Mrs. Gretchen”, “John’s wife”, etc.  I just stood pouring out my heart to God and in those 4 days I was filled in ways that I can’t even fully explain.  I wish I had journaled, because it was truly a gift that I will never forget.  I came back with some great decesions to be better at setting boundries, not letting other’s expectations have to become my expectations, and to do what God called me to do.  It was so good. 

John and I at the closing ceremonies!
We were exhausted! 
I feel the need to add that on our way back to visit family before we flew out, we were blessed with visiting the 3 children that I wrote about above as they had come home to their forever family just about 5-6 weeks before. It was such a beautiful sight to see them! Adoption is truly amazing! A gift! A challenge! And worth every bit of it all!

A blessed forever family!
So we came home.  Had a nice spring.  Finished up the school year and went right into the summer.  Summer has been both a time of relaxing and busyness.  John, the kids (all 3), and I lead a team to the Philippines again.  Each team seems to get better and better.  The stories, the relationships, the growth!  I love it there.  I leave a piece of my heart there every trip.  Sometime I need to spend a whole blogpost about the director.  She is such a gift to me. 

To wrap things up in the last year I have experienced and grown SO much!  Its amazing to look back and see the many wonderful friends that have surrounded us with caring for our kids, being a sounding board, supporting us through our highs/lows, and the countless times they have shown us grace as we continue to learn what it means to be in ministry and to be a part of this great community.  I miss family and friends back home.  Some days are harder than others, but then I take the time to look back and I see how much I could have missed and all I can do is say “thank you”.  Thank you to a loving Heavenly Father who is not some far off father, but one who is ever present with me wherever he sends me.   Thank you to a church family that continues to surround us with support.  Thank you to friends who are faithful and give us a much needed sense of community. Thank you to a family that encourages us and loves us from afar.